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Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-rankings-2013-middle-linebackers

Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country's most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft, held April 25-27, won’t be any different. The best inside linebacker prospect might be the most covered, most scrutinized prospect in the entire draft. Manti Te'o heads a class that isn't all that deep but has some elite playmakers at the top of the board.

1. Manti Te’o, Notre Dame (6-1, 241)
Final Stats: 437 tackles, 34.0 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 7 INT
Where to begin? Te'o was the sure-fire No. 1-best player at his position before the bizarre fake girlfriend scandal broke. There is no doubt it affected his play in the title game and it is that performance against Alabama that might have hurt his stock the most. He dropped a few pounds for 2012, which has given him excellent quickness and burst to go with tremendous strength, tackling skill, physicality, intangibles, leadership and size. His 40-time was underwhelming at the combine, but Brandon Spikes ran a 5.0. Playing middle linebacker is much more about recognition, quickness and football IQ than sprinter speed.

2. Arthur Brown, Kansas State (6-1, 241)
Final Stats (KSU): 201 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 3 INT
Brown could play both inside and out but he checked in bigger than anticipated and could easily stick inside at 240+ pounds. He has the instincts and pedigree to be successful at the next level. It took him a while to get started after transferring from Miami (Fla.) back home to Kansas State, where he eventually developed into a star on a team that competed for league championships the two seasons Brown he started. He is a tremendous all-around athlete and competitor who could be a lights-out defender on the next level. He could have entered the draft last year, but returned to help the Wildcats win a Big 12 championship.

3. Alec Ogletree, Georgia (6-2, 242)
Final Stats: 197 tackles, 20.0 TFL, 1 INT, 3 FF
Physical. Explosive. Can play in any system. He faced the nation’s top programs as a Bulldog. Ogletree has had some issues off of the field but they have been relatively minor and shouldn’t keep him out of the first round. The raw upside on Ogletree makes him one of the most intriguing players in the upcoming draft at any position. If he stays clean off of the field, his speed, explosiveness and physicality will be too much to pass up early on draft day.

4. Kevin Minter, LSU (6-0, 246)
Final Stats: 206 tackles, 18.5 TFL, 1 INT
On a team with little depth and talent around him at linebacker, Minter played excellent football in 2012. He has good size, was the leader of the LSU defense, made plays all over the field and has elite-level toughness. He played behind an NFL defensive line, so scouts will want to see him in traffic more often. The good news for Minter is he has saved his best season for his last and it will help him come daft day.

5. Kevin Reddick, North Carolina (6-1, 243)
Final Stats: 275 tackles, 36.0 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 2 INT
A slow senior season likely cost Reddick some money this fall. He still has excellent size, speed and strength for the interior of any defense. He possesses NFL skills, but didn't make enough big plays to be considered an elite prospect. However, he has the talent needed to be a productive player at the next level.

Related: Athlon Sports 2013 NFL Mock Draft 2.0

6. Michael Mauti, Penn State (6-2, 243)
Final Stats: 183 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 3 INT
The steady veteran displayed elite levels of character, leadership and mental toughness throughout the horrific scandal in Happy Valley. He isn’t overly talented at any one thing but is extremely consistent and physical. Think Sean Lee, Dan Connor or a slightly less talented version of Paul Posluszny. His two ACL surgeries likely raise a glaring red flag with NFL personnel, which could result in him dropping lower on team's boards.

7. Kiko Alonso, Oregon (6-3, 238)
Final Stats: 144 tackles, 21.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 6 INT
It remains to be seen if Alonso has the dedication and leadership skills to lock down a huddle at middle linebacker. But when it comes to versatility and athletic upside, few can match the former Oregon Duck. He has missed time due to injuries and off the field issues, but is big, fast, powerful and dynamic. Just pop in a tape of the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin to see his potential shine.

8. Jon Bostic, Florida (6-1, 245)
Final Stats: 237 tackles, 19.0 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 5 INT
In the midst of a semi-disappointing senior year (from an NFL scouting standpoint), Bostic became a focal point and leader for one of the nation’s elite defenses. He is a tough hitter and can make big plays from all over the field. He has the size and toughness to start inside on the NFL level, but will need to prove his overall talent can handle the prestigious NFL air. He is at his best when playing downhill and attacking.

9. Nico Johnson, Alabama (6-2, 248)
Final Stats: 163 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 2 INT
There is a lot to like about this senior’s resume. He won three national championships with the Crimson Tide and was a big part of one of the nation’s top defenses every year. He was excellent against the run and can play inside or out. Yet, he also displayed long stretches of relatively quiet play. Is that a sign of steady production no matter the situation or a sign of less than elite consistency?

10. Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech (6-1, 237)
Final Stats: 226 tackles, 33.5 TFL, 16.5 sacks
The Hokies defender makes up for a lack of speed and size with excellent overall strength and power. He was extremely well-coached and used his frame to the best of its abilities. He played a lot of productive football for Virginia Tech but also dealt with injuries — which raises questions about his long-term upside.

11. Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers (6-1, 240)
12. Tom Wort, Oklahoma (6-0, 235)
13. A.J. Klein, Iowa State (6-1, 250)
14. Jonathan Stewart, Texas A&M (6-4, 242)
15. John Lotulelei, UNLV (5-11, 233)

2013 NFL Draft Positional Rankings:

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Running Backs
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Tackles
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Guards and Centers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Defensive Tackles
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Middle Linebackers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Outside Linebackers

<p> 2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Middle Linebackers</p>
Post date: Friday, March 8, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NFL, NBA, NASCAR
Path: /college-football/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-4

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for March 8.

• Cuban-American model Yvette Prieto is making an honest man out of Michael Jordan. The two have announced their engagement.

• It's not exactly T.O. and a Sharpie, but JaVale McGee blocked a shot and then pretended to sign the ball.

• The most entertaining showdown of the NASCAR season so far: Denny Hamlin vs. the governing body.

• One more Deadspin link: The glorious nation of Kazakhstan plays soccer even if the fields are under water.

• Mandatory gives us a petition we can get behind.

• Alphabet soup courtesy of Saturdays Down South: CJ and AJ top the list of the SEC's top LBs.

• Renaldo Balkman was once a first-round pick of the New York Knicks. These days, he's melting down and choking teammates in the Philippines League.

Matt Barkley abused one of his biggest detractors, Merril Hoge, in a subtle, understated way. Well played, Matt; you're back on my first-round board.

• Michael Phelps is new to golf, but he's quickly learned how frustrating it is. This is an Olympic-level club toss.

• I know Augusta National has admitted women members, but let's not get crazy.

Could Kentucky miss the tournament the year after winning the thing? Looks that way right now.

• To commemorate Dennis Rodman's bridge-building trip to North Korea, here's the NBA Jam version of his bromance with Kim Jong Un.


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

March 7

• Somehow, highly paid baseball players are able to entice some lovely ladies to date and even marry them. Here's a rundown of the hottest WAGs in the game, including Ryan Braun's finacee Larisa Fraser (pictured).

• Johnny Football's not the only Aggie capable of video magic. A&M wideout Ryan Swope auditions for the all-hands team in this video.

• It's Spring Training, but emotions can still run high. Stephen Strasburg and Roy Halladay exchanged a little purposeful chin music yesterday. Not the guys you want throwing at you.

Nerlens Noel can't play right now, but he can bust rhymes. (Is that still what they call it?)

• Nobody's any good at college basketball this year, but that parity has given us plenty of great moments like this one, where a dismal Georgia Tech team beats Miami at the buzzer.

• Hey, college football players: Just because you don't get a concussion doesn't mean you're not destroying your brain. Thus ends today's buzzkill.

• North Korea has a weird way of scoring basketball games. For instance: Dunks count three points. Three-pointers that don't touch the iron count four. Deadspin re-scored some classic NBA games using North Korean rules, and the results are pretty interesting.

• Every SEC team — even Alabama — has spring concerns. Here are the essential questions facing each team in the SEC East.

• King James is making a lucky woman his queen. LeBron James and girlfriend Savannah Brinson have sent out save the date cards. I'm expecting mine to arrive today.

• Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes went 1-for-10 at the free throw line against Auburn. As a result, he was shooting free throws at 3 am this morning.

Paul Pierce snuck into the Sixers huddle during a timeout. They didn't even seem too mad about it.

• College basketball announcer Dan Dakich got called out by a lone sign-holder for being a Hoosier heartbreaker. Even better, he owned up to it on air.

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

March 6

• Hockey doesn't get a lot of love in this column. I'm addressing that shortcoming today by linking to this slideshow of NHL ice girls and cheerleaders.

SI presents the 50 most powerful people in sports. A glance at the list proves that money equals power.

Hugo Chavez is dead, and as with almost any story, there's a sports angle: He once threw out the first pitch at a Mets game, and he thought golf was a bourgeois sport and said golf carts were proof of laziness. He also banned Coke Zero, but that's another story.

Kevin Costner's making a movie called "Draft Day" where he'll play a fictional GM for the Cleveland Browns. He chose Cleveland over Buffalo. What does that say about Buffalo?

Rory McIlroy faced the music in an hour-long press conference. Says he gives himself a red card for his behavior at the Honda. That's a soccer term for a no-no, in case you're wondering.

• I doubt that this has ever happened before: Indiana lost, and then cut down the nets. In their defense, it was Senior Night, and they were celebrating the fact that they had already clinched a tie for the Big Ten title. Maybe they were also celebrating Victor Oladipo's epic block.

• This doesn't happen very often, either: The cops got involved when players from Notre Dame and St. John's briefly brawled.

Championship Week got off to a rousing start. It was upset city in the Big South, and there was a buzzer-beater in the Horizon.

A BBC reporter started openly hitting on Mila Kunis during an interview, asking her to go to a soccer game and to go drinking with him. Mila proved her awesomeness by playing along.

A ranking of the SEC's best defensive ends. Guess who's No. 1? I'll give you a hint: He weighs 270 pounds and just ran a 4.5 40.

• Yankees GM Brian Cashman made two skydiving jumps for charity. On the second, he severely injured his ankle, to the point that the bone was poking through the skin. Not surprisingly, they only released video of the first jump.

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

March 5

• They say we all have a twin somewhere. Remarkably, that includes Kate Upton. Judge for yourself. That's Kate's doppelganger in the picture.

• When it comes to uniforms, Oregon State has always been the frumpy older sister compared to Oregon — the Wynonna Judd to Oregon's Ashley. But that's changing. The Beaver has gotten a makeover.

• JaMarcus Russell decided that fat and lazy was no way to go through life. His comeback attempt is underway, and NFL QB Jeff Garcia is helping out.

• Any A.J. Greens lurking in the SEC ranks this upcoming season? Here's a rundown of what to expect at the wide receiver position down south this year.

• The countdown begins: Vanderbilt and Ole Miss will kick off the 2013 college football season on Thursday, Aug. 29. That's 177 days from today, in case you were wondering.

• Judging from this clip from the World Baseball Classic, the Chinese team needs to work on baserunning fundamentals.

History's biggest journalism fails. Fortunately, Athlon Sports did not make the list.

• Rory McIlroy realizes he screwed up by quitting at the Honda Classic. Time for some damage control.

Some Northern Iowa receiver you never heard of ran a 4.19 40 at Minnesota's pro day. Wow. Take that, CJ.

• Deadspin has the bizarre saga of former Sonics first-round draft pick Robert Swift. It ain't pretty.

Brittney Griner scored 50 points last night, and two of them came on a dunk.

• The Golf Boys — Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler and Ben Crane — are at it again. If you like whitebread golf rap (and who doesn't?), you'll love this.

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

March 4

• It's March. That means Madness. These girls are already excited. Speaking of March, here are the 10 best things about the month. For me, the best thing is that it's not February. It's early, but the month has already had its first shining moment.

• Magic Johnson has apparently seen those LeBron James pregame dunks that are better than anything in the official NBA Slam Dunk Contest. He's willing to pony up $1 million to see King James throw down.

• Remember that short-lived show "$#*! My Dad Says"? Or the uncensored Twitter version that inspired it? That concept works in other settings, since plenty of people say stupid $#*!. Like, say, baseball players.

• JoePos says that Rory McIlroy's mid-round departure Friday shows that he can't handle the truth that he's the No. 1 player in the world. Not yet, anyway.

• Attention, college hoops nerds: Here's a chart that includes a link to every single bracket projection on the Internet.

• If the GIF at this link doesn't get you to watch that stupid celebrity diving show "Splash," then nothing will.

Serge Ibaka went Karate Kid on Blake Griffin's nether regions. Suspension likely to follow.

• Here's a scary thought for SEC coaches: Kevin Sumlin expects Johnny Manziel to improve this spring.

A Division III pitcher took out a baserunner with a textbook cross-check. Trouble was, the ball was nowhere in the vicinity, and there's no tackling in baseball.

• This could be the greatest buzzer beater in basketball history. I defy you to send us a better one.

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

<p> The best sports links from the NFL, college football and basketball, MLB, the NBA, NASCAR and the world of entertainment.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 8, 2013 - 09:35
Path: /college-football/big-east-football-2013-spring-preview-and-storylines

Another year brings more changes for the Big East. And if you are having trouble keeping up with the changes, you certainly aren’t alone. West Virginia departed for the Big 12 before the 2012 season, while Pittsburgh and Syracuse are joining the ACC in time for 2013. Louisville and Rutgers will have new homes in 2014, as the Cardinals are joining the ACC, while the Scarlet Knights are joining the Big Ten.

With all of the changes, it has been difficult to keep track of which teams are in the Big East for 2013. Making the jump from Conference USA to the Big East is UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU, with East Carolina and Tulane coming board in 2014.

While realignment has dominated most of the headlines in the Big East, Louisville has quietly emerged as a top-10 team for 2013. The Cardinals have one of the nation’s top quarterbacks returning (Teddy Bridgewater) and are coming off a huge bowl victory over Florida.

There’s no clear No. 2 team in the Big East for 2013, but Cincinnati, Rutgers and UCF could each make a strong case to claim that spot.

The Big East will welcome two new head coaches for next season, as Willie Taggart takes over at South Florida, and Tommy Tuberville moves from Texas Tech to Cincinnati. Taggart appears to be a perfect fit for the Bulls, while Tuberville has been successful at each of his head coaching stops.

Big East Spring Storylines and Quarterback Battles to Watch


Replacing running back George Winn
The fans in Cincinnati were accustomed to a spread offense that leaned on the pass under Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, but Tommy Tuberville has made his living off pro-style power football. In order to make that switch, the Bearcats need to find a suitable workhorse tailback. Isaiah Pead gave way to George Winn without a hiccup, but Winn is off to the NFL. Ralph David Abernathy IV is a big-time playmaker, but can he handle 25 touches per game? Tion Green, Dionte Buckley and early enrollee Rodriguez Moore will battle for time behind what should be a very solid offensive line.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Brendon Kay (SR) vs. Munchie Legaux (SR)
With a new coaching staff taking over at Cincinnati, all positions are up for grabs this spring. Legaux was replaced in favor of Kay last season, but the new coaching staff plans to open up the competition. However, Kay was clearly the better quarterback last season and should be Cincinnati’s starter in 2013.


Figure out a way to score points
The worst scoring offense in the conference a year ago has undergone a dramatic change this offseason. And after scoring just 17.8 points per game, change was desperately needed. Coordinator George DeLeone was demoted to OL coach and former Cincinnati receivers coach T.J. Weist is now calling plays. Finding players on the outside to catch passes will go a long way to helping returning signal caller Chandler Whitmer. After tight end Ryan Griffin and his six touchdowns departed, there are two total receiving touchdowns coming back to the offense.


Can the defense find some answers this spring?
Tony Levine’s first season wasn’t a total disaster, but 2012 wasn’t a good year for Houston. As a result of a 5-7 record, Levine revamped the coaching staff and hired David Gibbs to coordinate the Cougars’ defense. Gibbs has not been a coordinator since 2005 (Auburn) but worked with the Chiefs and Texans as an assistant from 2006-10. Needless to say, he will have his hands full this spring, as the Cougars return only four starters and will be switching to a 3-4 scheme. The linebacking corps needs to be revamped, as Phillip Stewart and Everett Daniels depart after combining for 240 tackles last year. Derrick Matthews and LSU transfer Trevon Randle isn’t a bad place to start rebuilding, but Houston needs a big season from hybrid end/linebacker Eric Eiland. With the Cougars moving to a tougher league, struggling to get any improvement on defense is a good way to equal another losing record.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Billy Cosh (JR) vs. Rex Dausin (FR) vs. D’Juan Hines (FR) vs. Brom Kohlhausen (SO) vs. John O’Korn (FR) vs. David Piland (JR)
Even though the Cougars averaged 328.4 passing yards per game, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Doug Meacham should be an upgrade at offensive coordinator and plans to install a similar system to the one Houston used successfully under Kevin Sumlin. Piland is expected to open spring practice as the starter, but the battle likely won’t begin in earnest until the fall when freshmen John O’Korn and D’Juan Hines arrive.


Who replaces center Mario Benavides and left tackle Alex Kupper?
With nine starters returning on defense, most of Louisville’s offseason concerns rest with the offense. While that seems strange to mention with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returning, the Cardinals are losing two key offensive linemen, while running back Jeremy Wright decided to leave the team after rushing for 824 yards last season. With Dominique Brown coming off a redshirt year, and Senorise Perry likely to be 100 percent at the season opener from a torn ACL, Louisville’s biggest issue will be the offensive line. Center Mario Benavides and left tackle Alex Kupper depart after standout 2012 seasons, which leaves the offensive line with some uncertainty heading into spring practice. John Miller and Jake Smith are expected to hold down the guard spots, while Jamon Brown returns after starting all 13 games at right tackle. Sophomore Mike Romano was the backup to Benavides last season but is out for spring practice due to injury. Senior Kamran Joyer and redshirt freshman T.C. Klusman will top the depth chart at center in spring practice. Sophomore Abraham Garcia (6-5, 352 pounds) has the size to be Louisville’s left tackle and played in seven games last year. Keeping Bridgewater upright in the pocket is the Cardinals’ best shot at making a run at a 12-0 regular season mark.


Can the Tigers continue to build momentum?
While a three-game winning streak over Tulane, UAB and Southern Miss to close the season isn’t the gauntlet of schedules, Memphis was able to use that stretch to build momentum for the offseason and for its first year of Big East play. Justin Fuente had a solid year in his debut, but the Tigers are still behind the rest of the conference in terms of talent. Both sides of the ball enter spring practice with question marks, as the offense needs more from quarterback Jacob Karam, while the defense needs to address a secondary that loses a couple of key players. Memphis is headed in the right direction, so another offseason to find a few answers should help this team as it builds to its first season of Big East play. Even if the Tigers fail to match last year’s four-win mark, Fuente should keep pushing this team in the right direction in 2013.

Related Content: Memphis Tigers 2013 Spring Preview


Filling the voids at linebacker
Khaseem Greene was a star for the Scarlet Knights, leading the defense and earning Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors. Steve Beauharnais was a stalwart alongside Greene as well, posting 272 tackles in his esteemed career. Filling the gaping void left by these two dependable tacklers will be paramount this spring. Kyle Flood signed a deep and talented haul of linebackers last year and veterans Nick DePaola, Marcus Thompson and Jamal Merrell will have to hold off the young talent to earn starting spots this spring. 



Who will replace running back Zach Line?
Although June Jones is a pass-first coach, SMU had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the last three seasons. However, the Mustangs are starting from scratch this offseason, as Zach Line finished his eligibility after the Hawaii Bowl. Luke Seeker, Rishaad Wimbley, Jared Williams, redshirt freshman Prescott Line and junior college recruit (and former Texas Longhorn) Traylon Shead will get the first crack at replacing Line. Williams missed last season recovering from a broken leg, while Seeker and Wimbley combined for just 87 yards in 2012. Considering Garrett Gilbert has been inconsistent during his starting tenure, generating production from the rushing attack will be crucial for SMU.

South Florida

Develop a secondary that competes
A new coach and a new quarterback will be the focus of the spring, but the defensive backfield also needs attention. This unit got torched all season long as opposing quarterbacks threw for an average of 251.9 yards per game at an alarmingly efficient rate (110th in pass efficiency defense). Opposing quarterbacks threw 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions against the Bulls a year ago — a number that was the worst in the nation.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Bobby Eveld (SR) vs. Matt Floyd (SO) vs. Mike White (FR)
While B.J. Daniels had his share of ups and downs over the last few seasons, he will certainly be missed in 2013. The Bulls have an unsettled quarterback situation and could turn to White once he arrives on campus this summer. Eveld was injured in his only appearance last season, while Floyd tossed zero touchdowns and five interceptions on 110 attempts.


Rebuild the running game
Matt Brown and Montel Harris are both gone from the Owls backfield that averaged over 200 yards rushing per game a season ago. The duo combined for 246 carries, 1,426 yards and 16 of the team’s 21 rushing touchdowns. With a quarterback battle brewing between Chris Coyer, Juice Granger and Kevin Newsome, a sound ground game will go along way to improving the 107th-ranked total offense from a year ago. New coach Matt Rhule’s first order of business is establishing a pecking order in the running game.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Chris Coyer (SR) vs. Juice Granger (SR) vs. Kevin Newsome (SR)
Not only are the Owls losing their top two running backs from last season, but the offense also has a glaring question mark under center. Chris Coyer started the first nine games of last season and was benched in favor of Juice Granger for the final two contests. Coyer finished the year with 946 passing yards, while Granger recorded 370 yards. With a new coaching staff coming in, this battle is expected to extend until the fall. 


Filling the gaps on defense
Could UCF be the biggest challenger to Louisville in the revamped Big East for 2013? It’s certainly possible, especially with Cincinnati and Rutgers losing key pieces from last season’s team. However, the Knights have some key voids to fill, especially on defense where end Troy Davis, linebacker Jonathan Davis, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Kemal Ishmael depart. UCF ranked first in Conference USA in scoring defense last season, so replicating those numbers could be difficult with the personnel losses. Rebuilding the defense will start up front, as the Knights will lean more E.J. Dunston, while Clayton Geathers needs to become the leader in the secondary after recording 117 stops last season. If coordinator Jim Fleming can quickly reload this side of the ball, UCF will be a dangerous team. 

Related College Football Content

Ranking the Big East Coaching Jobs for 2013
Ranking All 125 College Football Coaching Jobs for 2013

College Football's Top 10 Spring Storylines to Watch for 2013

College Football's Top 20 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2013

College Football's Top 5 Running Backs on the Rise for 2013

College Football's Top 5 Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2013

<p> Big East Football 2013 Spring Preview and Storylines</p>
Post date: Friday, March 8, 2013 - 06:25
Path: /nascar/playing-nascar-odds-kobalt-tools-500-las-vegas

As will be pointed out ad nauseam on FOX this weekend, Las Vegas is the home to gambling, betting, taking chances and all sorts of other illicit activities. So if you want to dial a cliché, cue up NASCAR’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday. To honor this yearly tradition, the Vegas odds makers have beaten everybody to the punch and are already taking bets on who will win the race this Sunday.

Below is how things are shaping up according to the LVH Superbook. If you happen to be going this weekend or have buddy at a bachelor party on site (or still have access to some clandestine off-shore gambling sites) here are the top-10 drivers who stand a shot at making you some cash. Assuming nobody’s right front tire blows out.

So far in 2013, Johnson has finished first and second — and he was whining about the latter result — so you know he’s going to be loaded for bear. The Hendrick camp always comes correct when there’s a new car, plus his sponsor is on the walls this weekend. Remember when Charlotte was Lowe’s Motor Speedway and he’d win everything in sight? This could be the second coming of this for JJ and company this weekend at a track where they’ve won four times in only 11 starts.

It has been an inauspicious start to 2013 for Kyle Busch, who blew an engine at Daytona and cracked the nose at Phoenix. He dominated the Nationwide race last Saturday in his Monster Energy car, but the odds makers are only concerned about what happens on Sunday. Las Vegas is Busch’s hometown, so it is the one track on the circuit where he won’t be showered with the kind of boos that are typically reserved for third world dictators once they’ve passed. Yah, hear that Hugo?! As high as Rowdy is on the list, he may find a rough go of it this weekend. Kyle does have a pair of poles and a win here back in 2009, but his last three finishes have been 23rd, 38th and 15th.

Brad Keselowski is making great strides to project the persona of a Sprint Cup champion. His brutal honesty has gotten him in some hot water with NASCAR, but I seem to remember The Intimidator making a few pointed comments here and there that ended up helping the sport, as well. In 2013, Keselowski has had to work with a new car, a new manufacturer, his fourth teammate in two years and a new engine shop. No matter – a pair of fourth-place finishes have been the result, with Daytona being a constant battle with garbage bag bodywork. The Keselowski/Paul Wolfe combo have once again put this team on their collective back. You saw his championship interview at Homestead, so you know he likes to party. The Blue Deuce will be ready for Vegas.

Matt Kenseth has shown muscle early in his move from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing. Two races in, and the No. 20 is running as it did in the Tony Stewart days. Kenseth had what may have been the strongest car in Daytona (at least the strongest car left) before it fell out with engine failure. He was near the front most of the day in Phoenix, as well. He and crew chief Jason Ratcliff are still working to get on the same page as far as adjustments and late-race decisions, but that is part of a process that takes time to perfect. Kenseth has won twice at LVMS, but back in the, uh, Generation 4 cars, though he did win a pole as recently as 2011. The understated Kenseth has made his bones in recent years on superspeedways, but he’s still a 1.5-miler at heart.

<p> Examining the odds for the NASCAR Kobalt Tools 500 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 17:08
Path: /college-football/usc-trojans-2013-spring-football-preview

USC was billed as a national title contender last season but finished with a disappointing 7-6 mark and ended the year with a three-game losing streak. The Trojans are still under NCAA sanctions, so coach Lane Kiffin doesn’t have a full complement of players. However, USC still has plenty of talent, so another 7-5 season could spell the end of Kiffin’s run. The coaching staff was shuffled after the disappointing year, with Mike Ekeler, Clancy Pendergast, Tommie Robinson and Mike Summers all coming aboard. Pendergast is the biggest addition, as he is charged with getting USC’s defense back on track.

USC Trojans 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 7-6 (5-4)

Spring practice dates: March 5-April 13

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 7

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Max Wittek, 36 of 69, 388 yards, 3 TDs, 5 INTs
Rushing: Silas Redd, 167 car., 905 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving: Marqise Lee, 118 rec., 1,721 yards, 14 TDs
Tackles: Hayes Pullard, 107
Sacks: Morgan Breslin, 13
Interceptions: Dion Bailey, 4

Redshirts to watch: OL Jordan Simmons, LB Scott Starr, OT Zach Banner, CB Devian Shelton

Early Enrollees to watch: DL Kenny Bigelow, QB Max Browne, DB Su’a Cravens, RB Justin Davis, DB Chris Hawkins, DB Leon McQuay III, WR Darreus Rogers

2013 Schedule

Aug. 29 at Hawaii
Sept. 7 Washington State
Sept. 14 Boston College
Sept. 21 Utah State
Sept. 28 at Arizona State
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 10 Arizona
Oct. 19 at Notre Dame
Oct. 26 Utah
Nov. 1 at Oregon State
Nov. 9 at California
Nov. 16 Stanford
Nov. 23 at Colorado
Nov. 30 UCLA

Offensive Strength: Despite the departure of running back Curtis McNeal and receiver Robert Woods, there’s no shortage of skill players for USC. Running back Silas Redd is back for his senior year, while Marqise Lee is the nation’s best receiver heading into 2013.

Offensive Weakness: Quarterback Matt Barkley’s late-season shoulder injury allowed Max Wittek to gain valuable experience. But he failed to seize the starting job, so USC will have an open competition this spring. The offensive line struggled at times last year, and center Khaled Holmes expired his eligibility.

Defensive Strength: Going into last season, the defensive line was one of USC’s biggest question marks. This unit quickly became a strength, as junior college recruit Morgan Breslin was a standout performer, and Leonard Williams and George Uko were solid in the middle. The linebacking corps is also one of the best in the Pac-12, led by Hayes Pullard, Lamar Dawson and Dion Bailey.

Defensive Weakness: With cornerback Nickell Robey leaving for the NFL, the Trojans will have only one returning starter in the secondary. Safety T.J. McDonald will also be missed after recording 112 stops last season. This unit ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in pass defense but will need significant contributions from a few young players in 2013.

Spring Storylines Facing the Trojans

1. The quarterback battle. All eyes in Los Angeles will be on the quarterback battle this spring. Max Wittek filled in for Matt Barkley during the final two games of last season and finished the year with 388 yards and three touchdowns. Wittek showed some promise against Notre Dame but struggled in the bowl loss to Georgia Tech. Sophomore Cody Kessler and true freshman Max Browne are expected to push Wittek for playing time, with Browne the most intriguing name to watch. The true freshman ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and is USC’s quarterback of the future. Wittek’s experience should help him in this battle, but it will be difficult to keep Kessler and Browne on the bench if he struggles in spring practice.

2. Replacing Khaled Holmes on the offensive line. The final numbers weren’t awful for USC’s offensive line, as it allowed 1.3 sacks a game and paved the way for rushers to average 5.0 yards per carry. However, this unit struggled to pass block at times, including a game against Stanford, where Barkley was sacked four times. With first-team All-Pac-12 center Khaled Holmes departing, new line coach Mike Summers will have his hands full this spring. John Martinez and Kevin Graf should be set on the right side, but the other three spots are up for grabs. Marcus Martin could slide to center, while Max Tuerk may move to guard if Aundrey Walker or redshirt freshman Zach Banner can claim the left tackle spot. Don’t be surprised if Summers shakes up the starting five and shuffles a few players around this spring, as USC cannot afford to have an inexperienced quarterback struggling to find time to throw.

3. Adjusting to a new defensive scheme. One of the biggest knocks on Monte Kiffin’s career at USC was his inability to stop spread offenses. The Trojans were gashed for 62 points by Oregon in 2012 and 39 against Arizona. New coordinator Clancy Pendergast comes to Los Angeles from California, where his defense ranked 93rd nationally in yards allowed last season. While Pendergast’s numbers weren’t anything special last year, his flexible defensive scheme could be what USC needs to slow down some of the Pac-12’s top offenses. How quickly the Trojans can adjust to Pendergast’s scheme will determine how high this team can climb in the Pac-12 South this year.

4. New starters in the secondary. With only one starter returning in the secondary, it’s a good thing USC’s defensive line returns nearly intact. Wes Horton is the unit’s biggest departure, but Devon Kennard returns after missing all of 2012 due to injury. Pendergast needs his defensive line to get after opposing quarterbacks to limit the amount of time the secondary has to cover this year. Josh Shaw is expected to slide from cornerback to safety, while true freshman Su’a Cravens may also win a starting job this preseason. One wildcard to watch is linebacker Dion Bailey. The junior could move from linebacker to safety in this spring, but a final determination on his position may have to wait until the fall. Cornerback is a biggest question mark, as Torin Harris, Anthony Brown, Kevon Seymour, Ryan Henderson, Devian Shelton and true freshman Leon McQuay III and Chris Hawkins will all battle for two spots. Considering the quarterback and receiver talent in the Pac-12, USC could be in trouble if it can’t find solidify its starting lineup at cornerback.

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<p> USC Trojans 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 11:45
Path: /college-football/washington-huskies-2013-spring-football-preview

After three consecutive 7-6 seasons, the pressure is starting to build on Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. The Huskies were expected to take the next step into top 25 contention last season, but they opened 3-4 with a difficult schedule and lost their final two games. Washington has the talent to contend for a spot in the preseason top 25, but Sarkisian has to get quarterback Keith Price back on track after a disappointing year. The defense made significant progress under Justin Wilcox last year, and the Huskies can expect even more improvement with seven starters returning for 2013.

Washington Huskies 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 7-6 (5-4)

Spring practice dates: March 5-April 20

Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 7

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Keith Price, 263 of 432, 2,726 yards, 19 TDs, 13 INTs
Rushing: Bishop Sankey, 289 car., 1,439 yards, 16 TDs
Receiving: Kasen Williams, 77 rec., 878 yards, 6 TDs
Tackles: John Timu, 91
Sacks: Andrew Hudson and Josh Shirley, 6.5
Interceptions: Marcus Peters and Shaq Thompson, 3

Redshirts to watch: QB Cyler Miles, QB Jeff Lindquist, OL Cody Fuavai, DB Brandon Beaver, OL Nathan Dean, DB Cleveland Wallace, OL Jake Eldrenkamp, OL Taylor Hindy

Early Enrollees to watch: S Trevor Walker, QB Troy Williams

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 Boise State
Sept. 7 Bye Week
Sept. 14 Illinois (Chicago)
Sept. 21 Idaho State
Sept. 28 Arizona
Oct. 5 at Stanford
Oct. 12 Oregon
Oct. 19 at Arizona State
Oct. 26 California
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 9 Colorado
Nov. 15 at UCLA
Nov. 23 at Oregon State
Nov. 29 Washington State

Offensive Strength: Bishop Sankey went from a virtual unknown to one of the Pac-12’s top running backs last season. The Spokane native averaged 110.7 yards per game on the ground and finished with 33 receptions. The Huskies also have no shortage of weapons in the receiving corps, led by Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

Offensive Weakness: The biggest reason why Washington failed to take the next step on offense last year was due to subpar play from the offensive line. This unit was hit hard by injuries, which forced nine players to make at least one start last season.

Defensive Strength: Washington made significant progress on this side of the ball last year, and this unit could be one of the Pac-12’s best in 2013. Each level should be solid, but the defensive line returns Josh Shirley, Andrew Hudson and Danny Shelton, while the pass rush could get a boost if Hau’oli Jamora returns to full strength after missing 2012 due to a knee injury.

Defensive Weakness: Although Washington made progress in Justin Wilcox’s first season as coordinator, there’s plenty of room to grow. The Huskies need to get better against the run, while the secondary is a concern after Desmond Trufant and safety Justin Glenn expired their eligibility.

Spring Storylines Facing the Huskies

1. Can Keith Price regain his 2011 form? After throwing for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2011, most expected Price to be one of the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks in 2012. Instead of showing progress, Price watched his passing yards (2,726) and touchdowns (19) decrease, while his interceptions rose to 13. Considering the struggles on the offensive line, it’s unfair to pin all of the passing attack’s problems on Price. The senior will be surrounded by one of the conference’s top receiving corps, and the offensive line figures to be better in 2013. If Price can regain his 2011 form, Washington could make a lot of noise in the Pac-12 North. 

2. Sorting out the offensive line. On one hand, it’s bad Washington had so many players start last season. However, the playing time should be valuable experience for this unit, which should give coach Steve Sarkisian hope for 2013. Erik Kohler and Colin Tanigawa are returning from injury, but the Huskies won’t have an idea of how close to 100 percent they are until fall practice. Replacing center Drew Schaefer will be difficult, but Kohler, Tanigawa or junior Mike Criste could fill that void. Addressing who replaces Schaefer should help the Huskies align the other positions, along with developing some chemistry with quarterback Keith Price.

3. Addressing the voids in the secondary. The biggest question mark on defense is the secondary, where the Huskies have to replace two standouts in cornerback Desmond Trufant and safety Justin Glenn. Trufant was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection last season, while Glenn recorded 76 stops and three interceptions. Gregory Ducre, Marcus Peters and Tre Watson are the top returning options, with Peters likely to be Washington’s No. 1 corner in 2013. Depth is a concern with few proven options, so keep an eye on Alabama transfer Travell Dixon, redshirt freshman Brandon Beaver and incoming freshman Jermaine Kelly.

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<p> Washington Huskies 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 11:30
Path: /college-basketball/daily-march-madness-tracker-villanova-iowa-state-make-cases

Now that the calendar has turned to March, fans of bubble teams may be refreshing web sites of their favorite bracketologists.

As college basketball’s regular season and conference tournament season nears a close, Athlon Sports will keep you up to date on the key developments through the week. Each day brings key developments for the NCAA Tournament, so in this space, we’ll update which teams look to be in the field, which might be playing themselves out as well as the key games of the day.

Related: 11 Potential Bid Thieves for bubble teams


Miami won’t be a No. 1 seed
What happened to Miami? Barring a handful of dominoes, the Hurricanes may be eliminated from a No. 1 seed by losing to Georgia Tech 71-69 on Wednesday. At the same time, is it time to start worrying about what Miami can do in the postseason? The Hurricanes lost by only 3 on the road at Duke five days ago, but Miami has lost three of four, including defeats to Wake Forest (5-12 in the ACC) and Georgia Tech (6-11).

Villanova adds another marquee win
With a 67-57 win over Georgetown on Wednesday, Villanova has a win over the top three teams in the Big East standings (the Hoyas, Villanova and Marquette) plus another over Syracuse -- all at home. The Wildcats’ problematic resume includes losses to RPI No. 261 Columbia, RPI No. 114 Seton Hall and a season sweep to RPI No. 79 Providence. Villanova iced a win over the Hoyas on free throws to give it a strong case to enter the field. The Wildcats entered the day projected to land in the First Four, but they may be a candidate for the proper field of 64 ... if they can avoid a first-round loss in the Big East Tournament.

Iowa State making a case
The Cyclones still have something left in the tank after a devastating overtime loss to Kansas (in which Iowa State lost a four-point lead with 23 seconds to go in regulation) and then an 86-69 loss to Oklahoma during the weekend. On Wednesday, Iowa State withstood a late Oklahoma State push as an 11-point lead evaporated to two points in the second half in the 87-76 win. The Cyclones can’t afford to lose to West Virginia or early in the Big 12 Tournament, but their resume, which now includes three top-30 wins, might be enough.

Maryland done for an at-large bid
The Terrapins may have erased any doubts about their at-large hopes with a 79-68 loss at home to North Carolina on Wednesday. They’ll try to be a spoiler for Virginia on Sunday, but it’s ACC Tournament or bust for Maryland. Meanwhile, North Carolina clinched a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament. the one-time bubble team is 6-1 since going to a four-guard lineup.

Really, UCLA? Really, Minnesota?
The Bruins and Gophers may be safely in the field, but both lost to teams with losing records Wednesday. UCLA lost to Washington State 73-61, the Bruins first loss in Pullman since 1993. Earlier, Minnesota lost 53-51 to Nebraska. Minnesota’s second- and third-leading scorers Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins went scoreless.

Related: Experts debate Indiana's MVP: Zeller or Oladipo?

Meanwhile, in the Bay Area...
Cal took its first loss since Feb. 7 when it lost 83-70 to rival Stanford, but that wasn’t the most notable development. A shoving match late in the game resulted in the ejections of three assistant coaches, Charles Payne and Mark Madsen from Stanford and Greg Gottlieb from Cal. No punches were thrown, thanks in part to the three assistants breaking up the skirmish. But NCAA rules forbid anyone but a head coach from leaving the bench to break up a potential fight.

All Times Eastern

Related: College basketball power rankings: Gonzaga takes top spot

Kentucky at Georgia (7 p.m., ESPN)
The Wildcats remain a bubble team heading into the final regular season games. At this point, Kentucky has to avoid a second consecutive loss to a non-Tournament team after losing to Arkansas 73-60 Saturday. Georgia won’t be a pushover. The Bulldogs defeated surging (at the time) Tennessee 78-68 during the weekend. Since Kentucky’s disastrous loss to Tennessee in its first game without Nerlens Noel, forward Willie Cauley-Stein is averaging 13 points on 71 percent shooting with 8.8 rebounds in the last four games.

Virginia at Florida State (7 p.m., ESPN2)
What is going on with Virginia’s resume? Last week, the Cavaliers beat Duke 73-68 and then lost 53-52 to Boston College. To stay on the right side of the bubble, Virginia probably can’t afford to lose at Florida State (RPI No. 94) and at home to Maryland (RPI No. 84) to round out the regular season.

Butler at UMass (7 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
UMass has put together a nice resume this season, with an RPI just outside of the top 50 (but ranked 82nd on The Minutemen have few top 50 wins, but a 7-7 record against the top 100. A defeat of Butler, which lost back-to-back games to Saint Louis and VCU, would make UMass one of the top teams to watch in the conference tournaments.

Wisconsin at Michigan State (9 p.m., ESPN)
A game for seeding purposes -- both in the NCAA and Big Ten tournaments -- and perhaps how you should pick either for your bracket. The Badgers and Spartans are tied for fourth in the Big Ten at 11-5, and the top four teams receiving a bye in the conference tourney. Wisconsin finishes at Penn State, and Michigan State finishes at home against Northwestern. Barring an upset in the regular season finale, the winner of this game will get a bye while the loser will face the last-place Nittany Lions in the Big Ten Tournament opener. It’s worth mentioning Michigan State has lost three in a row while Wisconsin is coming off a puzzling 69-56 loss at home to Purdue.

Oregon at Colorado (9 p.m., ESPN2)
Wednesday’s losses by UCLA to Washington State and Cal to Stanford mean a holding pattern atop the Pac-12. The Ducks can take a one-game lead in the win column by defeating Colorado on the road. The Buffaloes have a strong NCAA resume to begin with, but a win over the Ducks would seal a winning season in the conference.

ACC (4): Duke, Miami, NC State, North Carolina
Atlantic 10 (3): Butler, Saint Louis, VCU
Big 12 (4): Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Big East (6): Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
Big Ten (6): Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Mountain West (4): Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Pac-12 (5): Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
SEC (2): Florida, Missouri
West Coast (1): Gonzaga

America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Northeast, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Summit, SWAC
Note: Conference USA, the Ohio Valley, the Sun Belt and the WAC likely will be one-bid leagues if their proejcted champions win their conference tournaments.

THE BUBBLE: 16 teams

All 2013 NCAA Tournament Coverage

<p> Daily March Madness Tracker: Villanova, Iowa State make cases</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 11:25
Path: /college-basketball/11-teams-could-burst-ncaa-tournament-bubbles

Finishing the season on the NCAA Tournament bubble is a tight-rope walk to start. In addition to a handful of teams looking to build their NCAA Tournament resumes, bubble teams must also keep an eye on conference tournaments starting this week.

Bid Thieves are everywhere.

Bid Thieves are teams that otherwise who would not make the NCAA Tournament, but win their conference tournaments to steal an at-large bid from an otherwise “deserving” bubble team.

Think of 2008 Georgia, a team that wasn’t going to sniff the postseason but won the SEC Tournament to banish one unsuspecting at-large team to the NIT. Last season it was Colorado. The No. 5 team in the Pac-12 won the conference tournament for an NCAA bid, perhaps at the expense of its own regular season league champion. A sixth-place USC team did the same in the 2009 Pac-10 Tourney.

We have targeted 11 potential Bid Thieves. Among our criteria to be a Bid Thief, the team must:

1. Not be on the NCAA bubble now and unlikely to play in the Tournament without winning a league tournament.
Be able to win a conference tournament. DePaul winning the Big East

2. Tournament would steal a bid, but DePaul isn’t winning the Big East Tournament.

3. Come from a multi-bid league, or by virtue of winning the conference tournament, turn a one-bid conference into a multi-bid conference.

Here are 11 teams that could pull off such a feat.


How the Razorbacks could steal a bid: Win the SEC Tournament, bonus points for defeating bubble teams Alabama, Ole Miss or Tennessee.
Why they're a bid thief: Arkansas has quality players in B.J. Young and Marshawn Powell and a difficult defensive system for which to prepare under Mike Anderson. All of that has been enough for the Hogs to defeat NCAA hopefuls Florida, Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Tennessee in Fayetteville. The only reason Arkansas isn’t a tournament team is its 1-9 road record. Lucky for Arkansas, the SEC Tournament is played at a neutral site. Unfortunately for Arkansas, the Hogs are 0-2 on neutral sites.

Arkansas State
How the Red Wolves could steal a bid: Win the Sun Belt Tournament, making Middle Tennessee an at-large selection.
Why they’re a bid thief: Middle Tennessee has a five-game advantage over the rest of the Sun Belt, but the Blue Raiders haven’t won a conference tournament since 1989 in the Ohio Valley. Beyond that, the last two Sun Belt Tournament champs have had a losing conference record (Western Kentucky in 2012, UALR in 2011). Middle Tennessee doesn’t have any top-50 wins, but the Blue Raiders have won 27 games. They may be tough to leave out of the field. Why Arkansas State? The Red Wolves are the only Sun Belt team to defeat Middle Tennessee this season with a 66-60 win on Jan. 3.

Related: Ryan Kelly leads key stats of the week

Air Force
How the Falcons could steal a bid: Win the Mountain West Tournament.
Why they’re a bid thief: Air Force flirted with the possibility of being at at-large bid in February when the Falcons started 5-2 in the league. With an RPI outside the top 80, a 7-8 Mountain West record and no notable non-conference wins, Air Force looks like a team outside the field. But the Falcons have notched home wins this season over UNLV, San Diego State and Boise State. One hot streak by guard Michael Lyons could vault the Falcons to the MWC’s automatic bid.

How they could steal a bid: Win the WAC Tournament, making Louisiana Tech an at-large selection.
Why they’re a bid thief: Louisiana Tech is undefeated in the WAC and had a gaudy record at 26-3 (the Bulldogs, however, finish on the road against New Mexico State and Denver before the conference tournament). Despite the record and top-50 RPI, Louisiana Tech’s at-large credentials would be shaky if the Bulldogs fall in the WAC tournament -- Louisiana Tech’s best win is over Southern Miss while it has lost to Northwestern State and McNeese State. After a slow start, Denver may be the most likely team to upset in the WAC Tournament. The Pioneers have won 15 of the last 16, including a BracketBreaker win at Northern Iowa on Feb. 23.

Related: Experts debate Indiana's MVP: Zeller or Oladipo?

How the Purple Aces could steal a bid: Win Missouri Valley Tournament, making Creighton and/or Wichita State at-large selections.
Why they’re a bid thief: Creighton and Wichita State have been shaky in recent weeks, and Evansville has been in position to pounce. The Purple Aces swept Wichita State this season, and Creighton needed a late push to beat Evansville 71-68 on Feb. 16. The Aces’ top player, wing Colt Ryan, enters the MVC Tournament on a tear at 28 points per game in his last four.

How the Terrapins could steal a bid: Win the ACC Tournament, bonus points for beating bubble team Virginia.
Why they’re a bid thief: The Terrapins likely played themselves out of at-large contention by losing to Florida State, Boston College and Georgia Tech on the road since Jan. 30 and then a loss to red-hot North Carolina at home Wednesday. Maryland can beat good teams, as it defeated NC State and Duke earlier this season, both at home. If Dez Wells continues playing at a high level and Alex Len plays like a top draft pick, Maryland could catch a winning streak in the ACC Tournament.

Related: College basketball power rankings: Gonzaga takes top spot

Murray State
How the Racers could steal a bid: Win the Ohio Valley Tournament, making Belmont an at-large selection.
Why they’re a bid thief: The Ohio Valley has not supplied two teams to the NCAA Tournament since 1987, but newcomer Belmont could be an exception if the Bruins lose in the conference tournament. Belmont has been in the top 25 of the RPI for most of the season and defeated Middle Tennessee, Stanford and Ohio in the non-conference schedule. Murray State would be a strong candidate to upset Belmont in the OVC tourney. The defending league champs still have Isaiah Canaan and defeated Belmont 79-74 on Feb. 7.

Northern Iowa
How the Panthers could steal a bid: Win the Missouri Valley Tournament, making Creighton and/or Wichita State at-large selections.
Why they’re a bid thief: Northern Iowa is in a similar boat as Evansville. A well-coached team under Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa looks to take advantage of Creighton and Wichita State’s recent inconsistency. The Panthers defeated both the Bluejays and the Shockers in their most recent meetings as well. Balanced scoring, strong defense and good free throw shooting will make Northern Iowa a dangerous postseason team.

Southern Miss
How the Golden Eagles could steal a bid: Win the Conference USA Tournament, making Memphis an at-large selection.
Why they’re a bid thief: Conference USA may end up a one-bid league, but the only way to find out is if Memphis loses in the conference tournament. Southern Miss’ is the league’s second-best team, but lost by a combined 29 points to the Tigers in two meetings in February.

How the Trojans could steal a bid: Win the Pac-12 Tournament
Why they’re a bid thief: USC stole a bid before in 2009 when it won the Pac-10 tournament as a No. 6 seed. Meanwhile, no one wants to play the Trojans now with interim coach Bob Cantu in charge. USC has won six of the last nine, including an overtime win at UCLA on Jan. 30 and an 89-78 win over Arizona on Feb. 27.

How the Musketeers could steal a bid: Win the Atlantic 10 Tournament, bonus points for defeating bubble teams UMass.
Why they’re a bid thief: Xavier has not been consistent late in the season, failing to win back-to-back games since Feb. 9-13. The Musketeers, though, can beat anyone on a good day at home. Xavier defeated Saint Louis 77-66 in overtime Wednesday and Memphis 64-62 on Feb. 26. If not for losses to Richmond, UMass and Dayton in February, the Musketeers would be a stronger bubble team. For a team that hasn’t missed the NCAA Tournament since 2005, the Musketeers wouldn’t shock anyone if it went on a run in the conference tournament.

All 2013 NCAA Tournament Coverage

Athlon Sports' bracket projections and bubble watch

<p> 11 teams that could burst NCAA Tournament Bubbles</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 09:45
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-rankings-2013-defensive-tackles

Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country's most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft, held April 25-27, won’t be any different. The nose tackle position is a rare commodity that is highly coveted by every NFL franchise. And the 2013 class features a deep collection of elite prospects at the top of the rankings. However, after the top ten names are called, there could be a severe drop off in talent. Look for teams to go early on defensive tackles.

1. Star Lotulelei, Utah (6-2, 311)
The big fella from Utah was voted as the best defensive lineman in the Pac-12 by his peers last season. If the offensive linemen who try to block him each Saturday say he is the best in the league, scouts tend to believe them. He is a three-down tackle who can be used against the pass and run equally. He has great size, was extremely productive in college and is stout at the point of attack. There are questions swirling around a potential heart condition that may or may not influence his draft stock. Many scouts are in wait-and-see mode with this Star, but if deemed healthy, he is downright unblockable.

2. Sharrif Floyd, Florida (6-3, 297)
The Gators' active lineman is lighter than his elite-level counterparts and is generously listed at 6-foot-3. But he is extremely active, disruptive and will make plenty of plays on the next level. This nose tackle was an elite recruit back in 2010 and made an immediate impact as a freshman in Gainesville. As his career went on, he continued to show marked improvement in both production and technique. He has excellent upside and should be compared favorably to Warren Sapp.

3. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri (6-2, 294)
Despite his wordy taunts, Richardson is one of the most talented tackles in the nation. Every SEC coach to have scouted the Tigers pointed to the defensive line as the area to focus on, and most of that was due to the play of this big guy. He has had some injury issues in the past (shoulder), but the upside is obvious for the one of the highest-rated recruits to ever sign with Mizzou. He is an incredible overall athlete.

4. Jonathan Hankins, Ohio State (6-3, 320)
The big Buckeye lineman has just a touch less upside than Lotulelei, but Hankins possesses a similar skill set. He has a massive frame that is excellent at clogging space in order to stop the run. If he can prove he is a three-down tackle who can get penetration and disrupt the passer from the interior he will be a franchise player for years to come. In what should be a very deep and talented defensive tackle class, Hankins could be one of the best.

5. Kawann Short, Purdue (6-3, 299, Sr.)
Purdue's heart and soul on defense has tons of ability. He is roughly the same size as Floyd but is slightly less explosive. He has demonstrated his ability to play in opposing backfields with four years of consistent play in the middle of a defense that rarely gave him the help he deserved. He is a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year-type athlete who was a two-time team captain.

6. Jesse Williams, Alabama (6-3, 323)
There isn't anything flashy or freakish about this young Australian, but he absolutely gets the job done with tremendous strength and technique. He has been coached by the best, been extremely productive against the best and should be viewed as one of the best. He doesn't wow scouts with any one talent, but should be a major contributor on the next level for years to come.

7. John Jenkins, Georgia (6-4, 346)
Few players in this class are bigger than Jenkins. While he will need to prove his stamina, flexibility and commitment to physical conditioning, he doesn't have to prove much in the form of on-field production. He has experience in a pro-style 3-4 defense that was one of the best in the vaunted SEC. He has the skills and size to develop into one of the better players at his position in this class, but needs to refine his fitness, size and consistency.

8. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina (6-3, 313)
The big Tar Heel has been a fast riser throughout the draft process. He has the needed size and power to play at the next level but needed to prove himself after quitting the game following high school. He was surrounded by elite talent and was a junior college transfer, yet has continued to improve and held his own without names like Coples, Quinn or Powell there to support him this past fall. He has upside but may not be athletic or explosive enough to warrant a first-round pick.

9. Bennie Logan, LSU (6-2, 309)
Only one player on the Tigers' roster gets to wear No. 18 each season as the unquestioned leader of the program and Logan got that distinguished honor in 2012. He is as tough a leader as there is at the position, but doesn't have one talent that makes him a sure-fire early draft pick. He is a dependable performer that will give scouts exactly what they expect. Logan has limited upside but extremely low downside.

10. Josh Boyd, Mississippi State (6-3, 310)
The motor and effort are what makes Boyd an intriguing prospect. He works hard to track down tacklers and never takes a play off. The question is whether or not he has enough raw natural physical talents to start in the NFL?

Other names to watch:

11. Everett Dawkins, Florida State (6-2, 292)
12. Akeem Spence, Illinois (6-1, 307)
13. Jordan Hill, Penn State (6-1, 303)
14. Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern State (6-1, 335)
15. Cory Grissom, USF (6-1, 306)
16. Montori Hughes, Tennessee-Martin (6-4, 329)
17. Kwame Geathers, Georgia (6-5, 342)
18. Stacy McGee, Oklahoma (6-3, 308)
19. Chris Jones, Bowling Green (6-2, 302)
20. T.J. Barnes, Georgia Tech (6-6, 369)

2013 NFL Draft Positional Rankings:

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Running Backs
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Tackles
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Guards and Centers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Defensive Ends

<p> NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Defensive Tackles</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-rankings-2013-defensive-ends

Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country's most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft, held April 25-27, won’t be any different. If the quarterback is the most important player on the field and the guy who protects the quarterback — the left tackle — is the second-most valuable position on the field, then the player who can neutralize both must be No. 3, right? The defensive end position varies from scheme to scheme, but the goal is the same: get pressure on the quarterback. The 2013 class is loaded with different types of players that have one thing in common — they all can rush the passer.

Measurables: Height, Weight, 40-time (if available)

1. Bjoern Werner, Florida State
Measurables: 6-3, 266, 4.83
A small recruit from a small school in Connecticut, Werner developed into one of the best defensive players on a great defense. He posted 40 tackles, 18.0 tackles for a loss and led the ACC in sacks with 13.0 — three of which came against the Florida Gators. Once counterpart and fellow draft prospect Brandon Jenkins was injured (Week 1), offenses began to focus on him more often, causing his production to slow a bit throughout the season. However, his size, strength and work ethic gives him very little downside when it comes to the next level.

2. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
Measurables: 6-4, 250, 4.95
Versatility is the name of the game for Moore. He can play outside linebacker like a Jarvis Jones in a 3-4 scheme, can play either weakside or strongside end in a traditional 4-3 and could even slide inside on passing downs to get more pressure on the quarterback. He was moved from outside backer to true end for the 2012 season and his burst off of the edge helped him become a disruptive force. He finished with 80 total tackles, 12.5 sacks, 20.0 tackles for a loss, two blocked kicks and a forced fumble. And he did it against the SEC instead of the Big 12 this fall. He will need to overcome a poor showing in the Combine to work his way back into the top ten but Moore could easily end up the best pass rusher in this class.

3. Dion Jordan, Oregon
Measurables: 6-6, 248, 4.60
Jordan is a very similar prospect to Aldon Smith. Jordan offers the long, rangy frame and versatility, at times standing up in more of an outside linebacker position. And like Smith, he is more of a project than some of the other players at his position. Jordan never really fully utilized his talents to his fullest potential. That said, 2012 was his best season as he posted 44 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks for what many believe was Oregon's best defense since the Haloti Ngata era. His numbers at the Combine were predictably gaudy and if he stays focused and committed to his craft, he will be a star in the NFL.

4. Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
Measurables: 6-5, 271, 4.63
The Cougars' defensive lineman boasts a unique combination of size and speed that has scouts excited. He is a raw prospect with much to learn about the end, tackle or outside backer position but he could play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme at a variety of positions. Kyle Van Noy was the BYU defensive lineman who got most of the opposing offensive line's attention but Ansah showed loads of growth in 2012, which was his first season of full-time football. He has admitted to conditioning issues and his Senior Bowl week of practice was subpar. However, his performance in the Senior Bowl itself was dominant, while his Combine showing was eye-opening for a player with so much potential for growth.

5. Barkevious Mingo, LSU
Measurables: 6-4, 241, 4.58
Comparing him to teammate Sam Montgomery is extremely difficult. Mingo is rangier, lankier and a bit more explosive — as his Combine numbers indicate. But he isn't as fundamentally sound or as strong at the point of attack. He may be a better fit as a rush outside backer in a 3-4 whereas Montgomery could play in either scheme. His 2012 season was quieter than expected for LSU as he finished with 33 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss and just 4.0 sacks. He did pressure the QB 12 times last season and scouts have fallen in love with his upside. However, his production simply hasn't matched his measurables... yet.

6. Sam Montgomery, LSU
Measurables: 6-3, 262, 4.81
He hasn't been as flashy as some of the other names on this list but his upside is solid. He has a good frame and pedigree to be a consistent NFL starter. He can play both a pure defensive end position as well as the hybrid outside rush backer. He plays much tougher at the point of attack than some of his smaller counterparts at this position as well as his teammate Mingo. He led the Tigers in sacks (7.0) and also finished this past season with 12.0 tackles for a loss for one of the SEC's best defenses. A head-to-head struggle against potential top-ten pick Luke Joeckel is a concern, as is the confirmed rumors of concerns with his effort.

7. Margus Hunt, SMU
Measurables: 6-8, 277, 4.60
The Combine was Hunt's show. He is arguably the biggest player in the draft and posted well above average quickness, speed and agility numbers. He has dominated the line of scrimmage at times while at SMU and will be compared to Aldon Smith much like Dion Jordan. Originally from Estonia, the 25-year old is an elite kick blocker (17 in four years) and will excel on special teams. Hunt should fly up draft boards late in the process.

8. Corey Lemonier, Auburn
Measurables: 6-3, 255, 4.60
The talented edge rusher might be the only bright spot on an otherwise worthless 2012 Auburn squad. This is partly why he failed to build on a huge sophomore season in 2011 (47 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks). He finished with just 34 tackles, 5.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks in 2012. Yet, he has 25 quarterback hurries over the last two seasons and his raw potential is still elite. He has great size and athletic ability and everyone agrees that he possesses massive upside. His motor, size and speed should push him up draft boards as the the process moves along.

9. William Gholston, Michigan State
Measurables: 6-6, 281, 4.96
This is the definition of risk versus reward. Gholston has elite raw talent, size, potential and upside. He is big, long, powerful and productive against both the run and the pass. He can play the true end position or slide inside to tackle. However, he also has been suspended multiple times and has displayed the occasional lack of focus. He posted 50 tackles, 12.0 for a loss along with 3.5 sacks in 2012. He could play anywhere along the line and in any scheme — if scouts can figure out a way to keep him focused, out of trouble and how to maximize his potential.

10. Datone Jones, UCLA
Measurables: 6-4, 283, 4.80
Jones has a great frame and a long pedigree of potential. He was an elite recruit who never developed into the star scouts thought he would be... until 2012. He was a part of a horrendous defense at UCLA until Jim Mora showed up on campus. He has all the physical tools and looks the part of an NFL defensive lineman, but his production was below average prior to last fall. Of his career 36.0 tackles for loss, 19.0 came last season while 5.5 of his 12.5 sacks came in 2012 as well. He was fourth on the team in sacks last year behind three other potential future NFL prospects Anthony Barr, Cassius Marsh and Damien Holmes.

11. Tank Carradine, Florida State
6-4, 276
Prior to a major knee injury late in the year, Cornellius "Tank" Carradine had first round written all over him. But his injury has hurt his stock and some team could get a steal should he fall too far past the first day. He posted 80 tackles, 13.0 tackles for a loss and 11.0 sacks in 11 games this fall before the injury. Health and overall experience are the main concerns for Carradine.

12. Alex Okafor, Texas
Measurables: 6-4, 264
Okafor is a prototypical end prospect. He posted 46 tackles, 11.5 for a loss, 8.0 sacks and three forced fumbles as a senior and appears best suited for a traditional end position. He isn't overly explosive but plays the game the right way and should be an NFL contributor.

13. John Simon, Ohio State
Measurables: 6-1, 257
One of the strongest, hardest workers in this class will have to overcome his obvious lack of size and speed. He registered 44 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss and led the Big Ten in sacks with 9.0. He is an unquestioned leader and will be one of the strongest players in the league the second he steps on an NFL field. He will be worth the reach.

14. Brandon Jenkins, Florida State
Measurables: 6-2, 251
He is one of the smaller prospects at his position and has a glaring injury to overcome, but Jenkins has plenty of NFL upside. His major foot injury robbed the Noles' rush end of a season to display his skills and talents, but he fits the new hybrid 3-4 scheme too well to be ignored early in this draft.

15. Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky
Measurables: 6-5, 250
He missed two games but still led the nation in sacks per game (1.25). He had 38 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks as well as a 75-yard INT returned for a TD. The level of competition he faced as a Hilltopper and learning the subtle nuances of the game are his big question marks.

16. Michael Buchanan, Illinois (6-5, 240)
17. Joe Kruger, Utah (6-6, 269, 4.8)
18. Malliciah Goodman, Clemson (6-4, 276, 4.87)
19. Stansly Maponga, TCU (6-2, 256)
20. Trevardo Williams, UConn (6-1, 241, 4.57)
21. Devin Taylor, South Carolina (6-7, 266, 4.72)
22. Lavar Edwards, LSU (6-4, 277, 4.80)
23. Nathan Williams, Ohio State (6-3, 241, 4.88)
24. Ty Powell, Harding (6-2, 249, 4.64)
25. Kapron Lewis-Moore, Notre Dame (6-4, 298)
26. Abry Jones, Georgia (6-3, 313)
27. Quinton Dial, Alabama (6-5, 318)
28. Walter Stewart, Cincinnati (6-4, 246)
29. Armonty Bryant, East Central (6-4, 263, 4.86)
30. Tourek Williams, FIU (6-3, 260, 4.92)

2013 NFL Draft Positional Rankings:

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Running Backs
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Tackles
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Guards and Centers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Defensive Tackles

<p> NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Defensive Ends</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/texas-am-wide-receiver-ryan-swope-does-trick-shot-video

Following in the trick shot video footsteps of his teammate Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M all-time leading receiver Ryan Swope showcases his skills. Swope's amazing talent, you guessed it, is making incredible grabs, whether it's snagging eggs dropped off a building or catching five footballs back to back without dropping the previous ones. The video is part of an effort to get Swope on the cover of the next EA Sports' NCAA Football. Will it work? We'll see. 

<p> Texas A&amp;M Wide Receiver Ryan Swope Does Trick Shot Video</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /college-football/pac-12-football-2013-spring-preview-and-storylines

Coming off a season where eight teams made bowl appearances, along with the rise of Stanford and Oregon into annual top-five status, the arrow on the Pac-12’s future is clearly pointing up.

The Cardinal and Ducks have been jockeying for Pac-12 supremacy over the last few years, and with both teams returning most of their core for 2013, the Ducks and Cardinal are the favorites to win the conference once again. And it wouldn’t be a shock to see either team make an appearance in the national title game. Of course, there are a few question marks for both teams to address, as Oregon transitions from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich at head coach, while Stanford must find a way to jump start it’s passing attack.

Outside of Eugene and Palo Alto, hope is running high at Arizona State and UCLA. The Sun Devils won eight games in Todd Graham’s first season in Tempe, while the Bruins have won back-to-back Pac-12 South titles. Arizona is also on the right track behind coach Rich Rodriguez, but a questionable defense and a quarterback battle have the Wildcats likely battling for third or fourth in the South this season. USC is the South Division’s biggest wildcard. The talent is there for Lane Kiffin’s team to make a run at a division title, but quarterback play is a concern.

The Pac-12 will have two new coaches for 2013, as Mike MacIntyre was hired from San Jose State to rebuild Colorado, while Sonny Dykes was picked to replace Jeff Tedford at California. Both hires were two of the best in the nation but success may not be easy in 2013. The Buffaloes have a talent gap to close with the rest of the conference, while the Golden Bears are searching for a No. 1 quarterback.   

Pac-12 Team Spring Storylines and Quarterback Battles to Watch

North Division


Switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense
New defensive coordinator Andy Buh has the unenviable task of switching the base 3-4 defense used under former head coach Jeff Tedford to a new 4-3 scheme. Finding the right guys for the right spots quickly will be paramount this spring. The line between outside linebacker and defensive end is blurred and finding explosive edge pass rushers is important for any 3-4 gameplan. Ends become tackles, tackles become ends and linebackers will be changing positions all spring long. The coaching staff is experimenting with linebackers Brennan Scarlett and Chris McCain at end this spring, which should help some speed off the edge. Getting the right guys in the right lines on the depth has to be the primary focus of Cal’s spring practice. (Other than quarerback, of course).

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Kyle Boehm (SO) vs. Allan Bridgford (SR) vs. Jared Goff (FR) vs. Austin Hinder (JR) vs. Zach Kline (FR)
The winner of California’s quarterback battle should put up some big numbers in Tony Franklin and Sonny Dykes’ offense. Bridgford has the most experience, but the winner of this job will likely come down to Kline, Hinder or Goff.

Related Content: California Golden Bears 2013 Spring Preview


Replace senior leadership in the front seven
The Ducks didn’t just lose its heralded head coach this offseason, they also lost a ton of senior leadership and talent off both sides of the ball. In particular, the defensive front watched end Dion Jordan and linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay depart this winter. Filling those voids is the primary focus of new coach Mark Helfrich and new defensive line coach Ron Aiken. The time has come for Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner to impose their will on the defensive line. A long list of talented young tacklers will vie for time at linebacker — Tyson Coleman, Joe Walker, Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone – to name a few.

Oregon State

Continue the defensive line trend
Oregon State ranked dead last in the Pac-12 against the run in 2011 after allowing 196.8 yards per game on the ground (101st nationally). Last season, Mike Riley and coordinator Mark Banker did a remarkable job developing the defensive line and it resulted in the 27th-best rushing defense in the nation, which was good enough to rank third in the Pac-12 (129.5 ypg). Now, both starting defensive tackles have moved on. Scott Crichton is a star to build around, but the reinstated Mona Rosa won’t be available this spring. Finding a supporting cast who can continue the recent and obvious growth along the defensive line is important this spring.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Sean Mannion (JR) vs. Cody Vaz (SR)
The Beavers have two options they can win games with, but the offense needs one quarterback to settle into the No. 1 role. Sean Mannion has more talent, but he lost the starting job to Vaz at the end of the year. Expect this battle to go deep into fall camp.


Find Kevin Hogan some playmakers
The offensive line has holes, but an elite recruiting class two years ago will help stabilize that position. The same can be the said about the running back position. So finding playmaking pass-catchers for quarterback Kevin Hogan should be the focus this spring. This team has lost a trio of elite tight ends over the last two years and didn’t have a wide receiver catch more than 33 passes last fall. David Shaw has restocked the tight end position with converted fullbacks and a defensive lineman and who is argue? But at wide receiver, only Ty Montgomery returns with more than two catches. Shaw needs to find talent on the outside.

Related Content: 2013 Stanford Cardinal Spring Preview


Keep the offensive line intact
Two years ago, the defense was atrocious and Keith Price threw for school records on offense. Last year, the defense showed marked improvement, while the offensive line dealt with widespread injuries and poor play. The youngsters who were tossed into the fire last year should enter this spring with the confidence of returning starters. Keeping this group healthy and intact will make the difference for Price and the offense in 2013. Does this group benefit from unexpected playing time or are they simply not good enough to compete at a high level? This spring might help answer that question.

Related Content: 2013 Washington Huskies Spring Preview

Washington State

Figure out a way to pick up positive yards on the ground
Four times in 2012 Washington State was held to negative yards rushing in a game. Three more times, the Cougars were held below 20 yards rushing. Needless to say, improving the 120th-ranked rushing offense in college football will be key — even for a Mike Leach-coached team. The offensive line also ranked 120th in sacks allowed at nearly five per game (4.75). No matter how complicated and innovative it is, no offense will be successful without pathetic offensive line play. Leach must address this immediately this spring.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Austin Apodaca (FR) vs. Connor Halliday (JR) vs. Tyler Bruggman (FR)
Washington State was one of the most disappointing offenses in college football last season. With the arrival of Mike Leach, most expected the Cougars would be one of the Pac-12’s highest-scoring teams. Every level of the offense has room to grow, but quarterback play will be under the microscope this spring. Halliday has shown promise in his career but will face competition from Apodaca this spring, along with Bruggman when he arrives the fall. 

Pac-12 South


Improving the defense
All eyes on Tucson will be situated on the quarterback battle, but if the Wildcats are going to push Arizona State, UCLA or USC for the Pac-12 South title, the defense has to make major strides in 2013. The Wildcats ranked 105th nationally against the run, 117th versus the pass and allowed 499 yards per game last season. Needless to say, those numbers have to decrease if Arizona expects to contend with a first-year quarterback. While last year’s statistics are the bad news, the flipside is the Wildcats bring 11 starters back for 2013. And the defense suffered no significant losses in terms of depth. With another spring practice to work under coordinator Jeff Casteel, the players should have a better grasp on the scheme, which should allow Arizona to show improvement on the stat sheet.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Javelle Allen (FR) vs. B.J. Denker (SR) vs. Jesse Scroggins (JR) vs. Anu Solomon (FR)
With Scroggins nursing a foot injury and Solomon arriving on campus after spring practice, Arizona won’t have much clarity to its quarterback picture. Denker has the most experience after making one start last year, but Allen, Solomon and Scroggins have the talent to unseat him this preseason. 

Related Content: 2013 Arizona Wildcats Spring Preview

Arizona State

Finding new receivers for quarterback Taylor Kelly
With a new quarterback and offensive scheme, it was a surprise to see the Sun Devils finish second in the Pac-12 in scoring last season. A big part of last year’s success was the emergence of quarterback Taylor Kelly, along with a backfield that featured three solid running backs. Kelly should be able to build on his 2012 campaign this season, but receivers Jamal Miles and Rashad Ross expired their eligibility after the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Kevin Ozier, Richard Smith and Alonzo Agwuenu are the top three returning receivers but none had more than 21 receptions. Todd Graham and his staff dipped into the junior college ranks for two prospects – Joseph Morris and Jaelen Strong – while true freshman Ellis Jefferson is another name to watch. The Sun Devils have some options and talent at this position but developing a pecking order will be crucial this spring. 


Finding answers on defense
There’s no sugarcoating it: Colorado’s defense was horrendous in 2012. The Buffaloes ranked 117th nationally in yards allowed and last (120th) in scoring defense. Colorado also allowed 226 rushing yards per game and generated just 1.6 sacks a game. Needless to say, those numbers won’t get it done if the Buffaloes want to win more than one game in 2013. New coordinator Kent Baer has a wealth of experience and did a good job rebuilding San Jose State’s defense during his tenure under Mike MacIntyre. The first order of business for Baer is to rebuild the front seven, which loses defensive lineman Will Pericak and linebackers Jon Major and Doug Rippy. The secondary has a few promising young players, but this unit also needs to show progress after allowing quarterbacks to throw for 39 touchdowns last season. In addition to finding the right personnel, Colorado has to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and force a few more turnovers.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Shane Dillon (FR) vs. Stevie Joe Dorman (FR) vs. Nick Hirschman (JR) vs. Sefo Liufau (FR) vs. Jordan Webb (SR) vs. Connor Wood (JR)
With a new coaching staff, expect a wide-open quarterback battle this spring. Liufau is a good fit for MacIntyre’s offense, but Webb, Wood and Hirschman have the edge in experience. Considering the uncertainty surrounding this position, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Colorado start more than one quarterback in 2013.


Who replaces Johnathan Franklin?
With 12 starters returning from last season, the Bruins are in the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 South for the third consecutive year. Brett Hundley is one of the conference’s best quarterbacks, but the offense needs to find him a go-to running back this spring. Johnathan Franklin expired his eligibility after a standout career at UCLA, which opens the door for Damien Thigpen, Malcolm Jones, Steven Manfro, Jordan James or redshirt freshman Paul Perkins to claim the No. 1 spot. Perkins has generated a lot of buzz this offseason, but Thigpen, James and Jones own an edge in experience. Thigpen is recovering from a late-season knee injury, so the battle for carries could be undecided into fall camp. Whether it’s a committee approach or someone emerges as a No. 1 option, UCLA needs to sort out its running back plans this spring. 


Adjusting to Clancy Pendergast’s defense
Regardless of which quarterback starts for USC in 2013, contending for the South Division is likely to rest on improvement from the defense. This unit wasn’t awful statistically last season, as the Trojans finished 41st nationally in total defense and allowed 24.3 points a game. However, USC was torched by Oregon for 62 points, by UCLA for 38 and by Arizona for 39. Defending the spread was a huge problem under former coordinator Monte Kiffin. Pendergast’s defense at California wasn’t any better on the stat sheet in 2012, but he should have a better idea of how to matchup against some of the conference’s top offenses. The defensive line should be USC’s strength on defense, but the secondary needs a lot of attention with just one returning starter.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Max Browne (FR) vs. Cody Kessler (SO) vs. Max Wittek (SO)
With three touted players competing for time, USC’s quarterback battle is one of the top ones to watch this spring. Wittek finished the year as the starter but did not play well in the bowl game against Georgia Tech. Browne ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and will get a chance to win the job this spring. USC’s offense has the pieces to be explosive, but a clear No. 1 needs to emerge for this unit to thrive in 2013.

Related Content: 2013 USC Trojans Spring Preview


Rebuilding the defensive line
Just like Arizona and USC, the Utes have question marks to address on offense, but the defense is a bigger concern. Utah has to replace standout tackle Star Lotulelei, along with defensive end Joe Kruger and tackle Dave Kruger. With three key members of the line departing, the Utes needed to replenish this group through recruiting, so five new players will join the team this season. Junior college recruit Sese Ianu will be asked to play right away, while freshmen Myron Aiava, Filipo Mokofisi, Sam Tevi and Keio Vaenuku could push for time this preseason. However, the most pressing issue for coach Kyle Whittingham might be where to play Trevor Reilly. The honorable-mention All-Pac-12 selection could slide to defensive end after playing a hybrid end/linebacker role the last few seasons. Without Lotulelei in the middle of the line, Utah’s rush defense may take a step back this season. 

Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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<p> Pac-12 Football 2013 Spring Preview and Storylines</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 06:25
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-kobalt-tools-500-las-vegas

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season rolls on to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Kobalt Tools 500. To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long will be offering up his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes—A-List, B-List, C-List.

So, without further ado, Dustin's fantasy predictions for Las Vegas, ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag (or at least finishing toward the front):

A-List Drivers

1.Tony Stewart
Won last year’s race after finishing second there the year before. Has led 290 of 534 laps (54.3 percent) run in the last two races at Las Vegas.

2. Jimmie Johnson
Has the highest driver rating (110.9) in the last eight races at Las Vegas. Also has the highest average finish of 9.4 during that span. Has a victory and a runner-up finish in last five starts but placed 16th or worse in the other three starts in that stretch.

3. Clint Bowyer
Has finished eight or better in three of the last four Las Vegas races. Also has qualified in the top four in three of the last four races on 1.5-mile tracks (same size as Las Vegas).

4. Jeff Gordon
Has run a series-high 84 percent of his laps in the top 15 in the last eight races at Las Vegas. Also has led the most laps (370) during that time, among current drivers.

5. Kevin Harvick
Has two top-five finishes in his last five Las Vegas races and has led 15 laps during that stretch.

6. Kasey Kahne
Has three poles in Vegas, including last year, but only finished 19th in the race.

7. Matt Kenseth
Won the pole in Vegas in 2011, but has one top-10 finish in last five starts here.

8. Denny Hamlin
Has never started better than 16th at Las Vegas. Has one top-10 in his last four starts there, a seventh in 2011. Has never led a lap in a Cup car at Vegas.

9. Brad Keselowski
Has never finished better than 26th in four career starts at Las Vegas. Best starting position in that time is a 13th in 2009. Also has led only one lap there.

<p> Dustin Long ranks each driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit for this weekend's Kobalt Tools 500 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 18:25
Path: /college-football/big-ten-football-2013-spring-preview-and-storylines

With two of its best teams ineligible for a bowl game, 2012 was mostly a year to forget for the Big Ten. Despite having nothing to play for, Ohio State ran the table and finished with a perfect 12-0 record. The Buckeyes were joined by Penn State in NCAA timeout, as the Nittany Lions finished with a solid 8-4 record in Bill O’Brien’s first season. With Ohio State and Penn State out of the picture, only six Big Ten teams qualified for the postseason and none finished inside of the top 15.

The Big Ten’s outlook in 2013 is a little brighter, as Ohio State is eligible to play for the national championship, and the Buckeyes are likely to be a top-five team in most preseason polls. The Nittany Lions are banned from postseason play once again, but the conference should be stronger, as Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Northwestern could all be ranked inside of preseason top-25 polls.

Only two Big Ten teams changed coaches from last season, with Gary Andersen replacing Bret Bielema at Wisconsin, and Darrell Hazell taking over for Danny Hope. Both coaches should be a good fit at their new school, with Hazell having the bigger rebuilding job in 2013.

While Andersen and Hazell have job security for now, Illinois’ Tim Beckman and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz are on the hot seat. Thanks to a big contract, Ferentz isn’t in any real danger of being fired, but the program seems to be trending in the wrong direction. Beckman had a disastrous first season in Champaign and won’t stick around for 2014 if he goes 2-10 once again. 

Big Ten Team Spring Storylines and Quarterback Battles to Watch

Leaders Divsion

Illinois Fighting Illini

Stabilizing the line of scrimmage
The defensive line has been a solid part of the Illini program in recent years, but it will need to replace some big names this spring, as Michael Buchanan, Glenn Foster and Akeem Spence have all moved on. The offensive line was largely ineffective a year ago, ranking 11th in the Big Ten in rushing (97th nationally) and dead last in sacks allowed (111th) on an offense that didn’t even average 17 points per game (119th). Needless to say, Tim Beckman needs young players and new faces to step up in the trenches this spring.

Quarterback Battle? Although Nathan Scheelhaase struggled last season, the Fighting Illini’s problems were more than the quarterback. An inconsistent rushing attack and poor offensive line play were largely to blame for Illinois’ lackluster performance. Assuming Scheelhaase stays healthy, he should be the Fighting Illini’s starting quarterback.

Indiana Hoosiers

Figure out a way to stop the run
Kevin Wilson proved in two seasons that he can construct a competitive offense, even without his starting quarterback. But without top defensive linemen Larry Black Jr. and Adam Replogle, Wilson is entering a key season along the defensive line. This unit allowed a Big Ten worst 231.3 rushing yards per game a year ago, which ranked 116th nationally. The Hoosiers also finished dead last in the Big Ten in total defense and scoring defense. Reinforcements could arrive in the form of junior college talent this spring, but this unit needs to make big strides if Indiana wants to continue its upward trend.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Cameron Coffman (JR) vs. Tre Roberson (SO) vs. Nate Sudfeld (SO)
Regardless of which quarterback wins the starting job, the Hoosiers should be explosive on offense. Roberson was the starter before suffering a season-ending leg injury, while Coffman and Sudfeld threw for 22 touchdowns in his absence. If healthy, Roberson is likely to open the year as the No. 1 passer.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Restocking the defensive line
This is starting to become a trend in the Leaders Division, but Urban Meyer must replace all four starters along his defensive line. Johnathan Hankins, Nathan Williams and John Simon set the entire tone on and off the field and replacing them won’t be easy. The good news is Meyer landed two elite defensive line classes in a row, including the best D-Line haul in the nation in 2012. Look for those big-time recruits — Adolphus Washington, Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt, for example — to flourish this spring in Columbus. A truly elite defensive line might be the only thing that could keep Ohio State from the BCS title game next year.

Related Content: Ohio State Buckeyes 2013 Spring Preview

Penn State Nittany Lions

Leadership at linebacker
In 2012, this team went through a unique season in Happy Valley to say the least. But a big part of why it was so successful in the face of heavy-handed NCAA sanctions and an emotional scandal was the leadership of guys like Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. Both are gone from a position Penn State has made famous for decades. Mike Hull will have to step into a leadership role and names like Ben Kline and Nyeem Wartman will battle for starting reps. If Bill O’Brien can stabilize this position, the rest of his defense should fall into place.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Steven Bench (SO) vs. Tyler Ferguson (SO) vs. Christian Hackenberg (FR)
After turning Matt McGloin into one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks last season, Bill O’Brien will have his hands full once again. Bench has the most experience of the quarterbacks on the roster, but Ferguson and Hackenberg will get a chance to push him in the preseason. Hackenberg is regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2013 signing class but won’t arrive until this fall.

Purdue Boilermakers

Establish an identity
This is a major year of turnover for Purdue, both on the sideline and on the field. A new coaching staff has taken over and will face a laundry list of position needs this spring, not the least of which is picking a quarterback. However, this spring should be about implementing the “process” and establishing a business culture. Darrell Hazell has four months to decide who should replace Kawaan Short, but setting the foundation and tone for the entire program has to happen this spring.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Austin Appleby (FR) vs. Danny Etling (FR) vs. Rob Henry (JR) vs. Bilal Marshall (FR)
Darrell Hazell’s first season at Purdue could be a rocky one if a quarterback doesn’t emerge this spring. Three freshmen are in the mix, while Rob Henry already has seven starts under his belt. 

Wisconsin Badgers

Transition to a new regime
The secondary has holes to fill, and the quarterback battle should be rather intriguing (although, Joel Stave should be the starter), but dealing with coaching turnover is an unusual issue in Madison. Wisconsin hadn’t held a legitimate coaching search since the 1980s, until searching for and finding Gary Andersen this winter. Now, in back-to-back seasons — Bret Bielema had to replace all but one assistant last year — UW players will be working with a totally different coaching staff. Much like Purdue, the new regime needs to put its process in place and establish an identity as soon as possible, and this spring will be Andersen’s first time on the field with his new roster.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Bart Houston (FR) vs. Tanner McEvoy (SO) vs. Danny O’Brien (SR) vs. Curt Phillips (SR) vs. Joel Stave (SO)
The Badgers have no shortage of options, as Phillips, Stave and O’Brien have all started in Madison. McEvoy is the most intriguing player to watch this preseason, as he is a good fit for coordinator Andy Ludwig’s offense. Although Phillips finished the season as the starter, Stave could unseat him as the No. 1 quarterback.


Legends Division


Can the Hawkeyes find some weapons for the new quarterback?
Whether it’s Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol or C.J. Beathard taking snaps as the starting quarterback, the Hawkeyes have to find receivers capable of stretching the field. Only three Iowa players had over 20 catches last season and none averaged more than 12.1 yards per catch. Transitioning to Greg Davis’ offense and playcalling was certainly a challenge for quarterback James Vandenberg and the receiving corps, but another spring practice should help work out some of the kinks for 2013. Kevonte Martin-Manley is the top returning receiver, but the Hawkeyes need to figure out who can be the No. 2, No. 3 and even No. 4 option. Tevaun Smith, Jordan Cotton and Don Shumpert are the top statistical returning leaders, while junior college recruit Damond Powell should get into the mix this preseason. If the Hawkeyes can find a few more playmakers, it will help to reduce the pressure on whichever quarterback wins the job.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Jake Rudock (SO) vs. C.J. Beathard (FR) vs. Cody Sokol (JR)
With injuries taking a toll at running back, and the Hawkeyes trying to adjust to a new coordinator and scheme, James Vandenberg had a senior year to forget. Iowa’s quarterback situation is a virtual unknown heading into 2013, as Sokol redshirted last season and Rudock has yet to throw a pass in his career.


How quickly can Michigan restock the defensive line?
Going into the 2012 season, the Wolverines had to find three new starters on the defensive line. And while this group wasn’t dominant last season, it’s also hard to call it a weakness. Michigan finished 51st nationally against the run and generated 1.7 sacks a game – both numbers coordinator Greg Mattison wants to improve upon in 2013. This unit suffered two key departures, as Craig Roh and Will Campbell expired their eligibility after the Outback Bowl. Juniors Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer lead the way at end, while Quinton Washington, Jibreel Black and potential breakout star Ondre Pipkins will be asked to man the middle. The cupboard isn’t bare for Mattison, but he needs to solidify replacements for Roh and Campbell, while developing a few more options for depth. Getting tougher against the run and generating more pressure on opposing quarterbacks are also spring priorities for this unit. 

Michigan State

Who will replace Le’Veon Bell?
Considering the Spartans averaged only 359.3 yards and 20 points a game last season, spring practice is all about finding a spark on offense. Each unit on the offense has question marks, but Michigan State has to find a new No. 1 running back to help its quarterback. Le’Veon Bell carried the offense last season, averaging 137.9 yards per game and scoring 12 rushing scores. With Bell leaving early for the NFL, the battle for the No. 1 spot in the backfield is wide open. Nick Hill is the team’s top returning rusher and has 163 yards on 51 attempts. Junior Jeremy Langford, redshirt freshman Nick Tompkins and incoming freshmen Gerald Holmes, R.J. Shelton and Delton Williams will all figure in the battle for carries in the preseason. Hill has the early edge due to his experience, but Tompkins was one of Michigan State’s top recruits last season and ranked as a top-15 all-purpose back by Losing Bell is a huge blow for an offense that struggled mightily last season. Don’t expect one player to assume the workhorse role, but the Spartans have a couple of options to share the load.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Connor Cook (SO), Andre Maxwell (SR), Tyler O’Connor (FR), Damion Terry (FR)
Maxwell had a forgettable debut as Michigan State’s quarterback, completing only 52.5 percent of his throws and averaging just 200.5 yards per game. Cook sparked the offense in the bowl win over TCU, and the coaching staff will give O’Connor and Terry an extended look this preseason. Maxwell has an edge in experience, which should give him the upper hand. However, Cook proved in the bowl game he is capable of being Michigan State’s No. 1 quarterback.


Finding replacements in the secondary
The Golden Gophers quietly had one of the Big Ten’s top defensive backfields last season, finishing 12th nationally against the pass and fourth in the conference in pass efficiency defense. Replicating those numbers in 2013 will be difficult, especially with the departure of cornerbacks Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire. There’s plenty of candidates waiting to emerge, including seniors Martez Shabazz (two pass breakups in the Meineke Car Care Bowl) and Jeremy Baltazar (16 tackles last year). The safety position should be in good shape with the return of Derrick Wells and Brock Vereen. And it’s a good thing Wells and Vereen are back, as both players will need to be active in coverage with two new cornerbacks stepping into the starting lineup.

Quarterback Battle? Although the Minnesota coaching staff has promised Philip Nelson won’t be handed the starting job, the sophomore should be the No. 1 quarterback at the end of spring ball. Nelson completed 7 of 16 throws against Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl and should be able to build off that performance for 2013.


Bo Pelini’s rebuilding project on defense
The Cornhuskers aren’t starting from scratch on defense this spring, but this unit suffered some heavy losses. Gone are defensive linemen Eric Martin and Baker Steinkuhler, linebackers Will Compton and Sean Fisher, along with safeties P.J. Smith and Daimion Stafford. Kicker/punter Brett Maher was also a valuable weapon and will be missed. Each level of the defense has key players to replace, but addressing the defensive line should be considered priority No. 1 for Bo Pelini. Jason Ankrah is expected to start at one end spot, while junior college recruit Randy Gregory could nab the other side in the fall. Thad Randle recorded 21 stops last season and needs to anchor the middle with very little experience returning around him. Redshirt freshmen Avery Moss, Vincent Valentine and Greg McMullen should expect to see plenty of snaps this year.

Related Content: Nebraska Cornhuskers 2013 Spring Preview


Restocking the offensive line
The offensive line was an underrated part of the Wildcats’ success on offense last season, but three starters must be replaced. Tackle Patrick Ward and guards Brian Mulroe and Jack Deiters are huge losses for the Wildcats, with center Brandon Vitabile and right tackle Jack Konopka opening spring practice as the returning starters. Unfortunately for Northwestern, Konopka, guard Matt Frazier and tackle Paul Jorgensen are out for spring practice, which means this unit may be unsettled heading into the fall. With the loss of three starters and injuries preventing other players from participating this spring, keep an eye on redshirt freshmen Adam DePietro, Kenton Playko and Ian Park.

Related Content: Northwestern Wildcats 2013 Spring Preview

Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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<p> Big Ten Football 2013 Spring Preview and Storylines</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 13:45
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/sabermetrics-baseball-what-sabermetrics-means

The world of advanced statistics can be intimidating for the casual baseball fan. The acronyms can be confusing. The numbers lack meaning. Fans understand a .300 batting average or a 2.50 ERA or 50 saves. More esoteric are the meanings behind numbers like a .900 OPS, a 3.00 FIP or 10 wins above replacement. Once you understand the logic behind the statistics, it’s easy to see why they’re helpful in understanding the game. Here’s a guide to some of the most commonly used advanced metrics, and why they’re useful. 

1. WAR

What: Wins Above Replacement, a catch-all metric designed to quantify a player’s overall contribution to his team’s win total. The statistic measures offense, defense and baserunning for position players. There are two prominent versions: One from, the other from Each uses a separate formula. 

Why: Let’s get this out of the way. Few sabermetrically inclined writers view WAR as the end-all, be-all of statistics. It’s used as the start to a conversation, not the end of it. WAR operates as a tool to add up all the disparate things a player does on the field. It also adds value based on the defensive spectrum, recognizing that positions like center field and shortstop are more difficult to play than first base or a corner outfield spot.

Example: The reason Mike Trout finished 2012 with 10 WAR, according to Fangraphs, and Miguel Cabrera finished with 7.1 WAR, is simple. Trout plays much better defense. He runs the bases much better. And their offense was also comparable, considering that Trout plays his home games in an extreme pitchers’ park, while Cabrera plays in a more neutral park. 

2. OPS

What: This statistic is a very simple way to measure a batter’s offensive output. It stands for On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage, and it means what it says. You add up a player’s OBP and his slugging. 

Why: Because there are more effective ways to measure a player’s offensive output than just batting average. OPS paints a rudimentary picture of a player’s season: How often did he get on base? How many bases did he accumulate with each at-bat? 

Example: Jose Reyes led the National League in 2011 with a .337 batting average. Ryan Braun finished second with a .332 batting average. Yet Braun was the far more accomplished hitter that season. His OPS was .994, the best in the National League and third-best in baseball. Reyes’ OPS was .877, the 26th-best in baseball. 


What: Weighted On-Base Average attempts to add some nuance to OPS further, as a way to calculate a player’s overall offensive value. The numbers read like batting average: A .400 mark is considered excellent. A .300 mark is considered poor.

Why: OPS treats on-base percentage and slugging percentage as equals. They are not. Getting on base is considered a bit more valuable. wOBA reflects that. It takes the basic picture created by OPS and refines the number, placing added emphasis on the game’s most critical skill: Getting on base. 

Example: Joey Votto may be the premier on-base machine in baseball. Since 2010, only Miguel Cabrera rates higher in wOBA (.428 to .425). Cabrera also has a 1.025 OPS to Votto’s .998 OPS. Votto makes up the difference with a .434 OBP, compared to Cabrera’s .420.


What: Batting Average on Balls in Play records just that: How often a player gets credited with a hit when he puts the ball in play. 

Why: Because there’s so much luck involved once a batter makes contact. He can sting a liner right at an outfielder. Or he can bloop a broken-bat double. During the course of the season, BABIP helps measure how much a player is affected by luck or defense. The average mark settles in around .300, with higher marks expected for speed-base players.  

Example: In 2008, Nick Swisher muddled through the weakest season of his career. He hit 24 homers, but still finished with a middling .743 OPS. Yet during the next four seasons, his OPS jumped back to an average of .850. The best explanation for his trying 2008 year resides in his .249 BABIP, a mark more than 50 points below his career average (.303). Once his luck evened back out, Swisher went back to being a solid corner outfielder. 

5. ISO

What: ISO measures true power. To calculate this, subtract a player’s batting average from his slugging percentage. A .200 ISO is considered very strong.  

Why: This is a simple way to measure a player’s ability to accumulate extra-base hits. Sometimes slugging percentage can be deceiving. ISO helps provide more information about the batter’s season: Is the slugging percentage a result of good BABIP luck (and a high batting average) or a series of extra-base hits?  

Example: Since 2010, Jose Bautista leads all of baseball with a freakish .322 ISO. To put that in context: Babe Ruth’s ISO was .348. So even though Bautista batted just .271 during that time period, with a mediocre .256 BABIP, when he made contact, he did serious damage. 

6. UZR 

What: Ultimate Zone Rating is probably the most popular defensive metric. The methodology is difficult to explain, but in essence, the statistic measures how many runs a defender prevents (or allows) based on range, ability to avoid errors, arm and ability to turn double plays. 

Why: There’s so much information available about offense — and comparatively so little about defense. UZR is a start. These numbers can be fickle, especially in a small sample size. But with several years of data, you get a sense of how a player handles his position.  

Example: From 2009-11, David Wright was one of the worst third basemen in the majors. He allowed about 10 runs more than the average defender. But an offseason adjustment in the winter of 2012 — a new emphasis on positioning his feet and using his whole body when throwing across the diamond — led to a remarkable change. In 2012, he was worth 15.4 more runs in the field than the average defender. 

7. FIP

What: Fielding Independent Pitching measures ERA by removing batted-ball luck from the equation. In other words, pitchers are judged on the three things they specifically can control: Strikeouts, walks and home runs.  

Why: This statistic can help predict future success — or future struggles — with a bit more nuance than ERA. In general, it is believed a pitcher cannot control what happens once a hitter makes contact. There’s so much variance involved, as we explained with BABIP. The defense might be terrible. The pitcher’s luck might be poor. FIP measures performance if all things were considered equal.  

Example: James Shields had terrible luck in 2010, despite a solid 3.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His BABIP against was a career-high .344 and more homer-prone than ever. So while his ERA was 5.18, his FIP was a more reasonable 4.24. In the past two seasons, as his luck evened out and his strikeout-to-walk ratio remained about the same, Shields’ ERA slipped back down to a cumulative 3.15.  


What: SIERA takes FIP one step further. It stands for Skill-Interactive ERA, and it adds some batted-ball results into the equation. SIERA rewards pitchers for ground balls and pop-ups (because those are tougher to turn into extra-base hits).  

Why: Pitching is not simple. FIP treats it as such — which is useful for predicting what might happen in the coming years. SIERA tries to crack through the complexity of the craft by measuring batted-ball results. 

Example: Cliff Lee leads the majors in SIERA from 2010-12 with a 2.93 mark. He hits all the checkmarks: He strikes out a ton of batters (24.1 percent of the hitters he faces). He doesn’t walk anyone (3.4 percent). He gets a good deal of grounders (44.4 percent) and infield pop-ups (11 percent). 

—By Andy McCullough


Want more baseball? Check out Athlon Sports' 2013 Baseball Annual for the most complete preview available. Order your copy now! 

<p> A casual fan's guide to Sabermetrics</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 11:20
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-rankings-2013-offensive-tackles

Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country's most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft, held April 25-27, won’t be any different. Left tackle is the second most important position on the field, as salaries and a history of early draft picks have indicated. It's fairly simple, actually. If the quarterback is the most important player on the field then he who protects the quarterback is No. 2. And the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 could be a bookend tackle.

1. Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M (6-6, 306)
The big blocker from Arlington, Texas, saw his level of competition increase significantly last season when his Aggies joined the SEC. He faced LSU, Florida and Alabama and gave his team a chance to win each of these games. He has perfect size, power and fundamentals to play the prototypical left tackle position. He was the cornerstone of the line for an offense that was one of, if not the, best in the SEC led by a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

2. D.J. Fluker, Alabama (6-5, 339)
Coming out of high school in Foley, Ala., Fluker was considered one of the biggest prospects in Alabama history, both literally and figuratively. He was a surefire can’t-miss superstar. It took him some time to adapt to the SEC, but he blossomed into one of the better tackles in the nation. He has a huge, powerful frame, has the best coaching in the country, has a national championship ring and has plenty of experience facing the nation’s best defensive linemen. The only thing keeping him from top-five status is the belief that he will stick at right tackle instead of left.

3. Eric Fisher, Central Michigan (6-7, 306)
The scouting report should be fairly easy to pinpoint for the big guy from Rochester, Mich. He has great size and was a steady force on the edge for the Chippewas. His MAC ties do raise a few questions about the level of competition he faced in college, however. While there has been some NFL-ready talent developed by CMU taken in recent drafts, dominating opposing linemen in the MAC doesn’t mean you can block in the NFL. Still, Fisher has one of the best frames in the draft at his position, has demonstrated an ability to hold the edge in pass protection consistently and shows excellent overall athleticism. There is little downside to Mr. Fisher.

4. Lane Johnson, Oklahoma (6-6, 303)
Few players have the resume that Johnson possesses. He converted to left tackle from quarterback and has the foot speed, quickness and agility to match. He has a long, rangy frame that will need to carry more weight and strength. His raw athletic ability packaged with his adept understanding of the game gives him as much upside as any player at any position in this draft. He proved during his Sooners career, protecting Landry Jones for years, that he is capable of playing tackle at the highest level.

5. Oday Aboushi, Virginia (6-5, 308)
The Cavs have a sneaky good tradition of offensive linemen and Aboushi is the next one on this list. He won’t be considered elite until he proves he can consistently be a dominant force. At times, he has shown himself to be the prototypical blocker with great size, solid quickness and a killer instinct. Other times, his play was rough around the edges, resulting in him getting beat. Added strength would go a long way towards locking in a starting spot on the next level. He was well-coached and prepared for the next level at a school known for its solid offensive line play.

6. Dallas Thomas, Tennessee (6-5, 306)
He isn’t the most talented prospect in the class so he may not stick at tackle, but he is one of the more versatile. The Volunteers' offensive line as a whole showed marked improvement over the past few seasons thanks in large part to Thomas’ leadership. He played relatively well against elite-level competition in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina during his career. Where scouts evaluate his long-term future will largely determine if he lands in the first round at tackle or slips into the second round as a guard. Either way, he has little downside.

7. Justin Pugh, Syracuse (6-4, 307)
He doesn't have the biggest frame for the tackle position, but exhibits all the needed tools and skills to be successful on the next level. He has loads of experience, excellent fundamentals, solid athleticism and versatility. His smallish frame — e.g., short arms — limits his raw upside, but he should be a dependable part of any NFL team.

8. Brennan Williams, North Carolina (6-6, 318)
The steady road grader has watched his stock steadily climb over the last two seasons after finally earning a starting spot as a junior. A tremendous commodity in the running game, he still needs to prove to teams that he can hold his own against elite pass-rushers. He is one of the bigger players at his position, but scouts need to figure out if the Tar Heels' O-line was greater than the sum of its parts. Williams teamed with elite guard Jonathan Cooper to form one of the better units in the ACC. Quickness and fundamentals will be key to what side of the line he plays on.

9. Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin (6-6, 308)
The Bagders have been churning out excellent linemen for the better part of two decades and this offense has been amongst the nation’s best over the last few seasons. Wagner has a solid frame and is an excellent athlete for his size but questions remain about his overall upside. Players like Whitney Mercilus and William Gholston were able to play effectively against him. He might be more of a right tackle as his overall toughness and consistency needs to improve.

10. Reid Fragel, Ohio State (6-8, 308)
Long, rangy prospect who has elite upside, plenty of room to grow and solid athleticism. He also played at an elite program against Big Ten defensive lines. He is still learning the position after a late move to offensive line, so bulking up and studying the finer points of blocking are sure to come early in his NFL career. There is plenty of intrigue with Fragel, but there is plenty of risk involved as well.

Related: Athlon Sports 2013 NFL Mock Draft 2.0

11. David Quessenberry, San Jose State (6-5, 302)
He owns an impressive all-around set of skills but will need to prove he can get bigger and stronger to stick at left tackle. His versatility, however, makes him a sure-fire contributor somewhere along the line.

12. Menelik Watson, Florida State (6-5, 310)
He is as physically gifted as any player in this class but is extremely raw and will need plenty of work in order to land as a starting left tackle. Learning the position will be paramount for Watson early on.

13. Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff (6-5, 306)
A late riser through the draft process, Armstead shows excellent athletic ability. He moves well in space and is quick in pass protection. He will need to get stronger and prove he can play with elite athletes.

14. David Bakhtiari, Colorado (6-4, 299)
He lacks the ideal size, length and strength to excel on the NFL level right out of the gate. But he has an NFL pedigree and proved to be dependable on a bad team.

15. Xavier Nixon, Florida (6-6, 321, Sr.)
Formerly the nation’s No. 1 OL prospect as a recruit, Nixon started the better part of four seasons in Gainesville. He has a huge frame and excellent build but needs to refine the subtle parts of his game to start at left tackle.

16. Chris Faulk, LSU (6-5, 331)
17. Nick Becton, Virginia Tech (6-5, 323)
18. Jordan Milles, Louisiana Tech (6-5, 315)
19. Luke Marquardt, Azusa Pacific (6-8, 315)
20. J.C. Tretter, Cornell (6-4, 307)
21. Braden Brown, BYU (6-5, 310)
22. Mark Jackson, Glenville State (6-5, 328)
23. Manase Foketi, West Texas A&M (6-5, 318)
24. Rogers Gaines, Tennessee State (6-6, 334)
25. John Wetzel, Boston College (6-7, 315)
26. Emmett Clearly, Boston College (6-7, 316)
27. Tanner Hawkinson, Kansas (6-5, 298)
28. Vinston Painter, Virginia Tech (6-4, 306)
29. Jordan Devey, Memphis (6-7, 317)
30. Jamaal Johnson-Webb, Alabama A&M (6-5, 313)

2013 NFL Draft Positional Rankings:

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Running Backs
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Tackles
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Guards and Centers

<p> NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Tackles</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-rankings-2013-guards-and-centers

Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country's most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft, held April 25-27, won’t be any different. Guards and centers generally don't go very high in the draft as good ones can be found in the mid-to-late rounds. Two guards were taken a year ago in the first round — No. 24 and No. 27 overall — and no centers. The 2013 interior linemen class features one of the best guards scouts have seen in years and it means more than two inside blockers could go in the first round.


1. Chance Warmack, Alabama (6-2, 317)
War-Daddy is the phrase most used when dealing with Warmack. He isn’t the biggest blocker in the nation, but he might be the most physical and most consistent. Like teammate Barrett Jones (see below), he plays for the best coach in the land and has won multiple national championships. He has paved the way for a host of elite running offenses and there are no weaknesses in his game. In fact, he might be the safest pick in the draft, but his position most likely will prevent him from being taken anywhere near No. 1 overall.

2. Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina (6-2, 311)
The big Tar Heel blocker has long been considered one of the top players in the nation at his position. He is an extraordinary run blocker and has the size and makeup to contribute at an early stage of his NFL career. He is the only other guard prospect with a shot at landing in the first round along with Warmack and his “luxury” of facing elite NFL prospects every day in practice has to have helped his stock. He is a complete player who is developing nicely as a pass blocker.

3. Larry Warford, Kentucky (6-3, 332)
Kentucky was not good in 2012 but it wasn’t Warford’s fault. He has elite size and has long been considered one of the top blockers in the SEC. He faced elite defenses each and every weekend, including a few potential first-rounders like Sheldon Richardson, Sharrif Floyd and John Jenkins, and more than held his own. His teams were generally overmatched, making his efforts even more impressive, which were a result of his work ethic and toughness.

4. Kyle Long, Oregon (6-6, 313)
Long has dealt with injuries but there is a lot to like about the big blocker from Oregon. He is one of the taller, longer guard prospects in this class and showed excellent athleticism with a 4.94 40-time at the Combine. He also has the pedigree to be a solid NFL player as he is the younger brother of Rams defensive end Chris Long and the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long. He tried his hand at baseball first at Florida State before landing with the Ducks and demonstrating his raw upside.

5. Brian Winters, Kent State (6-4, 320)
The experienced blocker from the MAC has few weaknesses. He started at tackle as just a freshman and was a long-time starter for the Flashes ever since. He finished plays with gusto and worked extremely hard to engage and finish blocks. He was a wrestler growing up and those skills have translated extremely well to the interior of the line.

6. Earl Watford, James Madison (6-3, 300)
7. Alvin Bailey, Arkansas (6-3, 312)
8. Hugh Thornton, Illinois (6-3, 320)
9. Chris Barker, Nevada (6-3, 305)
10. Oscar Johnson, Louisiana Tech (6-5, 331)
11. Jeff Baca, UCLA (6-3, 302)
12. Travis Bond, North Carolina (6-6, 329)

Related: Athlon Sports 2013 NFL Mock Draft 2.0


1. Travis Frederick, Wisconsin (6-4, 312)
The burly Badger blocker shifted to center for the 2012 season, but he may end up playing guard for the team that drafts him. He has a huge frame, great power and strength and was productive against top-notch competition. He may not have the overt quickness and athleticism the NFL demands at center but makes up for it with smarts, size and power. He is an excellent run-blocker who has upside at the position because he is still learning how to play at the pivot.

2. Barrett Jones, Alabama (6-4, 306)
Jones' resume is remarkable. He is a three-time national champion, as well as an Outland Trophy winner as the nation’s top offensive lineman, and did it while playing three different positions. He was an All-SEC performer at tackle, then guard, and finally, at center. He still could end up at either guard or center, but his skills will play on the next level regardless. He is extremely intelligent, hard working, versatile and physical. He will need to prove he can handle the massive nose guards to stick at center, but no matter where he ends up, Jones should make an early impact on Sundays.

3. Khaled Holmes, USC (6-3, 302)
If nothing else, scouts should realize how important and talented Holmes is considering he didn’t play against Stanford. The Cardinal abused the interior of the USC line while Holmes watched from the sideline. He returned, despite a bum ankle, and battled with potential first-round pick Star Lotulelei — winning some and losing some against the Utes' powerhouse. Overall, Holmes has tremendous athletic ability, is a natural fit at center and has a large frame that could carry additional weight. He is a complete player who started since he was a sophomore and his absence was noticeable along USC's line when he wasn't on the field last season.

4. Brian Schwenke, Cal (6-3-324)
The Cal pivot is a lightning quick, experienced blocker who knows how to play the game at a high level — both at guard and center. He uses excellent technique and fundamentals to create leverage and win one-on-one battles. However, his overall power and strength will need work at the next level and he also will need to continue to develop as a pass blocker.

5. Braxton Cave, Notre Dame (6-3, 303)
When it comes to experience against elite-level competition, few have the resume that Cave boasts. He was a big-time recruit and proved himself against the likes of Kawann Short, Mike Martin, Jerel Worthy, Stanford’s front seven, USC's and many more. Notre Dame’s schedule is typically one of the toughest each season and this factor alone has given scouts loads of film on the slightly undersized center.

6. T.J. Johnson, South Carolina (6-4, 310)
7. P.J. Lonergan, LSU (6-3, 304)
8. Joe Madsen, West Virginia (6-3, 310)
9. Matt Stankiewitch, Penn State (6-3, 302)
10. Mario Benavides, Louisville (6-3, 280)

2013 NFL Draft Positional Rankings:

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Running Backs
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Tackles
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Guards and Centers

<p> NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Guards and Centers</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/north-carolina-tar-heels-2013-spring-football-preview

North Carolina fans could really not be any more pleased with how Year 1 of the Larry Fedora era in Chapel Hill went in 2012, other than the fact the Tar Heels couldn’t capitalize on their first-place tie in the ACC Coastal Division because of their NCAA-mandated postseason ban. The good news is that the ban was just for one season, so there are no such distractions to worry about for 2013. With All-ACC quarterback Bryn Renner and electric wide receiver Quinshad Davis returning, the offense should be just as explosive, if not more so, although there are question marks surrounding the offensive line and just how productive the running game will be with Giovani Bernard headed to the NFL. The defense returns six starters, but has plenty of room for improvement following last season’s up-and-down performance in the new 4-2-5 alignment. Despite these question marks, there’s no reason to not expect another winning season (and this time a bowl berth with it) from Fedora’s team this fall, especially considering there’s no Clemson or Florida State on Carolina’s ACC slate.

North Carolina Tar Heels 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 8-4 (5-3)

Spring practice dates: March 6-April 13

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7

Returning Leaders:
Passing: Bryn Renner, 276 of 422, 3,356 yards, 28 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: A.J. Blue, 82 att., 443 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving: Quinshad Davis, 61 rec., 776 yards, 5 TDs
Tackles: Tre Boston, 86
Sacks: Kareem Martin, 4
Interceptions: Tre Boston and Tim Scott, 4

Redshirts to watch: OL Caleb Peterson, OL J.J. Patterson, S Clint Heaven, S Joe Jackson, TE Terrance Knox, OL Jon Heck

Early Enrollees to watch: QB Mitch Trubisky, WR Jordan Fieulleteau, RB Khris Francis, OL R.J. Prince

2013 Schedule

Aug. 29 at South Carolina (Thurs.)
Sept. 7 MTSU
Sept. 14 Open Date
Sept. 21 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 28 East Carolina
Oct. 5 at Virginia Tech
Oct. 12 Open Date
Oct. 17 Miami (Thurs.)
Oct. 26 Boston College
Nov. 2 at NC State
Nov. 9 Virginia
Nov. 16 at Pittsburgh
Nov. 23 Old Dominion
Nov. 30 Duke

Related: ACC Football 2013 Spring Preview and Storylines

Offensive Strength: Quarterback Bryn Renner may not be the ideal fit for Larry Fedora’s no-huddle spread attack, but he has proven that he can be successful and productive in it. Last season Renner finished third in the ACC in passing efficiency and touchdown passes, while also setting a school single-season record with his 28 touchdown tosses. With a full season of experience in the new offensive scheme under his belt and dynamic pass-catchers led by wide receiver Quinshad Davis and tight end Eric Ebron, look for similar, if not better, numbers from the senior signal caller this season.

Offensive Weakness: The cupboard is far from bare, but it will not be easy for the Tar Heels to replace three All-ACC offensive lineman and first-team All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard. Bernard led the ACC with 1,228 yards rushing last season, while left guard Jonathan Cooper, who will likely be a first-round pick in April’s NFL Draft, was named the conference’s Offensive Lineman of the Year.

Defensive Strength: Just like the offense, the defense has now had a full season learning and getting comfortable with the unique 4-2-5 alignment. Six of Carolina’s top 10 leading tacklers from 2012 return, including four from its defensive backfield.

Defensive Weakness: Hopefully with experience will come better results, as this unit struggled at times last year, especially against the pass (81st in the nation). Even though seven starters return, the departures of first-team All-ACC honorees defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and linebacker Kevin Reddick, as well as starting Bandit (hybrid DL/LB) Dion Guy can’t be overlooked.

Spring Storylines Facing the Tar Heels

1. Rebuilding the offensive line. North Carolina set single-season school records for total (485.6 ypg), passing (291.8 ypg) and scoring offense (40.6 ppg) last season. While the shift to new head coach Larry Fedora’s no-huddle spread attack had a lot of do with this production, another key was the offensive line. Not only did Jonathan Cooper, Travis Bond and Brennan Williams earn All-ACC honors in 2012, they started a combined total of 99 games as Tar Heels. They are all gone, leaving left tackle James Hurst, a second-team All-ACC performer last season, and starting center Russell Bodine as the only offensive linemen with more than four career starts. Three other starters and the rest of the rotation need to be determined, and there’s no doubt spring practice could play a huge role in how the line will look and perform come this fall.

2. Revamping the running game. Giovani Bernard left early for the NFL after leading the ACC and finishing 33rd in the nation in rushing with 1,228 yards as a sophomore in just 10 games. Junior A.J. Blue and sophomore Romar Morris both rushed for more than 400 yards and averaged better than five yards per carry in 2012, but combined the duo had fewer carries (151) than Bernard (184). Whether Fedora and offensive coordinator Blake Anderson name either Blue or Morris as the primary ball carrier or goes with a committee approach remains to be seen, but this is one of the skill position battles to watch this spring.

3. Finding more weapons in the passing game. Barring injury, quarterback Bryn Renner has a good chance of owning most, if not all, of the major passing records in program history before his senior season comes to an end. Renner’s favorite targets this fall most likely will be wide receiver Quinshad Davis, who led the team in catches and receiving yards as a freshman last season, and athletic tight end Eric Ebron, a junior. If another receiver or two can step up and establish themselves this spring, it will not only help the aerial attack, which relies on tempo and quick strikes to wear down defenses, but also take some pressure off of a rebuilt offensive line and revamped running game. Junior wideout Sean Tapley, who tied for the team lead with five touchdown catches last season, should get the first shot, but there’s no lack of candidates on the roster. Other returnees include wideouts Mark McNeill and Nic Platt, as well as early enrollee and in-state product Jordan Fieulleteau and Jonathan Howard, a highly regarded four-star recruit from Georgia who will arrive on campus later in the summer.

4. Will Year 2 of 4-2-5 bring better results? It’s one thing to change coaching staffs. It’s entirely another to change your entire defensive philosophy. North Carolina did both leading into last season, as new head coach Larry Fedora installed new offensive and defensive schemes. Not only was co-defensive coordinators Dan Disch’s and Vic Koenning’s 4-2-5 scheme new, it’s also unique as few schools in college football employ it. The results in 2012 were definitely mixed, as the Tar Heels’ defense fared well enough to let the offense do its thing and finish with a winning record, but struggled mightily at times. The defense gave up more than 500 yards of total offense three straight games at one point, including 588 in a 68-50 home loss to Georgia Tech. Six starters and several others on the depth chart return with a full year of experience playing in a 4-2-5, which should help. However, the defense also will have to replace several key contributors, most notably All-ACC performers defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and linebacker Kevin Reddick, as well as starting Bandit (hybrid DL/LB) Dion Guy. More help is on the way in the form of redshirts and incoming freshmen, but the onus will be on them to learn the ins and outs of the scheme quickly, while the burden will fall to the veterans to show just how much they learned as rookies in the new system last season.

5. The quarterback of the future. Renner is firmly entrenched as the starter and, barring injury, should make a run at All-ACC honors again. Eventually, however, the focus will have to shift to 2014 and who will take over at quarterback. Marquise Williams, one of the top signees in the Tar Heels’ ‘11 recruiting class, was believed to be the leading candidate, but he is not currently enrolled in classes at UNC and his status on the team is somewhat of a mystery. For his part, Fedora has said that Williams is still a part of the team and that he will be back in the summer. Until then, this presents early enrollee Mitch Trubisky, a four-star recruit from Mentor (Ohio) High School, with a golden opportunity to take full advantage of spring practice and stake his claim to the backup job headed into the summer. If anything, Williams’ sudden departure, even if it does end up being temporary, makes it even more critical that Renner make it through not only spring practice, but also this coming season, healthy.

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<p> North Carolina Tar Heels 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 10:35
Path: /college-basketball/daily-march-madness-tracker-ohio-state-ryan-kelly-rise

Now that the calendar has turned to March, fans of bubble teams may be refreshing web sites of their favorite bracketologists.

As college basketball’s regular season and conference tournament season nears a close, Athlon Sports will keep you up to date on the key developments through the week. Each day brings key developments for the NCAA Tournament, so in this space, we’ll update which teams look to be in the field, which might be playing themselves out as well as the key games of the day.

Related: College basketball power rankings: Gonzaga takes top spot


Time to get excited for Ohio State?
The Buckeyes are an NCAA Tournament lock, but they may have helped their seeding with a 67-58 win over Indiana. More than the seeding, should we start to buy Ohio State as capable of making a deep run? There was a lot to like in this game: Ohio State held Indiana to 39.6 percent shooting from the field and a season-low 58 points. The Buckeyes kept IU’s Victor Oladipo from taking a shot from the field in the first half, and they continued to get nice contributions from their secondary scorers with Aaron Craft scoring 15 and Shannon Scott scoring eight off the bench.

Related: Experts debate Indiana's MVP: Zeller or Oladipo?

Ryan Kelly no one-hit wonder
The Duke forward tore through Miami for 32 points Saturday, but it was fair to ask how he could sustain that level of play down the stretch. His second game back from his return from a foot injury was another effective outing. Kelly scored 18 points with nine rebounds and five assists in an 85-57 win over overmatched Virginia Tech. Keep Duke in the national title conversation.

Related: Kelly leads key stats of the week

Ugly finish for St. John’s
By the time a skirmish broke out in the St. John’s-Notre Dame game, the Red Storm already faced a blow to their NCAA Tournament hopes with a 66-40 loss to the Irish. With three consecutive losses and a 2-6 stretch, the Red Storm’s Tourney hopes are all but gone. Making matters worse, Sir’Dominic Pointer will be suspended for the regular season finale against Marquette after being ejected in the fracas with Notre Dame’s Cameron Biedscheid. Pointer averages 6.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. St. John’s had already lost D’Angelo Harrison (17.8 ppg) to a suspension for the end of the season. St. John's can start planning for the NIT.

Ole Miss still clinging to the bubble
The damage to the Rebels’ NCAA Tournament hopes may be done after losing to two of the SEC’s worst teams -- Mississippi State and South Carolina -- but at least a run in the league tourney could be meaningful. Ole Miss defeated Alabama 87-83 in a virtual elimination game for at-large hopes. Alabama fell behind early before narrowing the deficit to one possession in the final seconds. Alabama and Ole Miss have identical SEC records at 11-6, and they’re separated by two spots in the RPI. That said, Ole Miss has the head-to-head win and one more top-50 win than the Tide (Missouri in Oxford).

Boise State lets one slip away
The Broncos are looking like an strong at-large candidate, but Boise State let a key win slip away in a 68-64 loss at UNLV. The Broncos led by 10 with 9:17 to go and then by 6 at the 5:01 mark before the Rebels finished the game on an 18-8 run. The Broncos still have a top-50 RPI and three top-50 wins to make them a strong at-large candidate, especially if they can defeat San Diego State in the regular-season finale.

The first March upset
Conference tournaments started Tuesday with the first notable upset. Longwood, in its first season in the Big South and sixth in Division I, defeated UNC Asheville 87-72. UNC Asheville, seeded No. 3 from the South division, had won the last two Big South Tournament titles and last year’s regular season title. Meanwhile, Longwood improved to 8-24.

Conference tournaments continue
Keep printing brackets: The Atlantic Sun, Northeast, Patriot, Ohio Valley and West Coast tournaments start today.

All Times Eastern

North Carolina at Maryland (7 p.m., ESPN)
The Tar Heels are 6-1 with guard P.J. Hairston in the starting lineup, including the last six games and the Dec. 29 win over UNLV. That smaller lineup will go up against Maryland and seven-footer Alex Len before facing Duke in the regular season finale. This is a chance for a huge finish for the Heels.

Georgetown at Villanova (7 p.m., ESPN2)
The pattern for Villanova has been a big win or two followed by a puzzling loss -- the Wildcats beat Louisville and Syracuse and lost to Providence a week later, then they beat Marquette and lost to Seton Hall. Those losses to Providence and Seton Hall could keep ‘Nova out of the tournament field as the Wildcats teeter on the bubble. Both CBS’ Jerry Palm and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi have Villanova in the First Four in their bracket projections, which means Jay Wright’s team has little room for error. With a finish against Villanova on the road and Syracuse at home, Georgetown’s hopes to win the Big East regular season title are in range.

Oklahoma State at Iowa State (7 p.m., ESPNU)
Iowa State may be in the field right now, but it’s getting dicey for the Cyclones. Iowa State took Kansas in overtime on Feb. 25 and then lost 86-69 to Oklahoma over the weekend. The Cyclones haven’t defeated a projected NCAA Tournament team since defeating Oklahoma at home on Feb. 4. Beating Oklahoma State (12-4) in the Big 12 would be boon to the Cyclones' resume.

Saint Louis at Xavier (9 p.m., local TV only)
The Billikens may be an NCAA Tournament lock, but winning the Atlantic 10 regular season would be huge for seeding and important for a program that hasn’t won a conference title since 1971. It won’t be easy for Saint Louis, which finishes at Xavier and at home against La Salle. The Billikens have a one-game lead on VCU and two-game lead on La Salle. Meanwhile, Xavier is a few rungs down on the NCAA Tournament bubble after losing to UMass on Saturday, but the Musketeers have opportunities with Saint Louis, Butler and the A-10 Tournament on the horizon.  Xavier has defeated Butler, La Salle, Memphis and Temple at home, but its best win away from Cincinnati is over St. Bonaventure.

ACC (4): Duke, Miami, NC State, North Carolina
Atlantic 10 (3): Butler, Saint Louis, VCU
Big 12 (4): Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Big East (6): Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
Big Ten (7): Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Mountain West (4): Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Pac-12 (5): Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
SEC (2): Florida, Missouri
West Coast (1): Gonzaga

America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Northeast, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Summit, SWAC
Note: Conference USA, the Ohio Valley, the Sun Belt and the WAC likely will be one-bid leagues if their proejcted champions win their conference tournaments.

THE BUBBLE: 15 teams

All 2013 NCAA Tournament Coverage

Athlon Sports' bracket projections and bubble watch

<p> Daily March Madness Tracker: Ohio State, Ryan Kelly on the rise</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 10:26
Path: /college-football/pittsburgh-2013-spring-football-preview

After an up-and-down season, Pittsburgh is ready to reboot in spring practice.

The Panthers were one of the nation’s most confounding teams in 2012, starting the season with back-to-back losses to Youngstown State and Cincinnati before bouncing back to defeat Virginia Tech. Later in the year, Pitt took Notre Dame to triple overtime, only to lose to Connecticut the following week.

Spring 2013 will be a chance for Pittsburgh to find some consistency. That might not be easy, though. The Panthers must replace a three-year starting quarterback for their first season in the ACC while looking for a sophomore to be the next star tailback.

Pittsburgh Panthers 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 6-7 (3-4)

Spring practice dates: March 5-April 12

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 9

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Trey Anderson, 2 of 2, 53 yds.
Rushing: Rushel Shell, 141 car., 641 yds., 4 TDs
Receiving: Devin Street, 73 rec., 975 yds., 5 TDs
Tackles: Jason Hendricks, 90
Sacks: Aaron Donald, 5.5
Interceptions: Hendricks, 6

Redshirts to watch: OL Adam Bisnowaty, DB Trenton Coles, WR Chris Davis, WR Demitrious Davis, LB Devon Porchia, LB Deaysean Rippy, QB Chad Voytik, OL Gabe Roberts

Newcomer to watch: QB Tom Savage (Rutgers transfer)

2013 Schedule

Sept. 2 Florida State (Mon.)
Sept. 14 New Mexico
Sept. 21 at Duke
Sept. 28 Virginia
Oct. 12 at Virginia Tech
Oct. 19 Old Dominion
Oct. 26 at Navy
Nov. 2 at Georgia Tech
Nov. 9 Notre Dame
Nov. 16 North Carolina
Nov. 23 at Syracuse
Nov. 29 Miami (Fri.)

Offensive Strength: Hopes are high for Rushel Shell to step into a line of Pittsburgh running backs including LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis and Ray Graham. The decorated prep tailback split carries with Graham last season, but he’ll need to shoulder the load with Graham gone. Pitt also has a standout receiver returning in Devin Street, who caught a team-high 73 passes a year ago.

Offensive Weakness: Pittsburgh’s ability to keep its quarterback upright improved in 2012, but it still remained last in the Big East, giving up nearly three sacks per game. Pitt will be looking for a fresh start both from its quarterback, where Tino Sunseri has exhausted his eligibility, as well as new faces on the line.

Defensive Strength: Led by tackle Aaron Donald, defensive line may be Pitt’s top position on the defense. Donald finished with 18.5 tackles for a loss last season. The most notable loss is of starting end Shayne Hale.

Defensive Weakness: The defensive line is a strength, but Pittsburgh will look to produce more of a pass rush. The Panthers ranked second to last in the Big East in sacks last season at 1.9 per game, down from 3.3 a year earlier.

Spring Storylines Facing the Panthers:

1. Solving an intriguing quarterback battle. Pittsburgh has the classic quarterback competition with the veteran, but seldom used backup (junior Trey Anderson), the transfer (Tom Savage, from Rutgers) and the potential QB of the future (redshirt freshman Chad Voytik). Anderson has attempted 35 career passes, but only two last season. Savage was a major recruit when he signed with Rutgers and enjoyed some success as a starter a freshman before he lost his started job midway through the 2010 season. Voytik was a U.S. Army All-American who was a key recruit to stay after Todd Graham bolted for Arizona State after one season.

2. Offensive line movement. Pittsburgh will try to solve its offensive line issues this spring by shifting players around and adding new faces. Redshirt freshmen Adam Bisnowaty (left tackle) and Gabe Roberts (center) enter spring with a chance to start at key positions. Meanwhile, last season’s starters at tackle, Cory King and Matt Rotheram, are slated to move to the guard spots, which are their natural positions.

3. Finding receiver depth. Street will contend for All-ACC honors, but who else will catch passes for the new quarterback. Mike Shanahan is gone as is multi-threat back Ray Graham, who caught 36 passes. Look for tight end J.P. Holtz, who caught 10 of his 13 passes last season in the final five games, to be more of a target.

4. How good can a healthy linebacker corps be? Shane Gordon, Dan Mason and Todd Thomas missed a combined 11 games last season. If this group stays healthy, this could be one of the team’s strengths.

5. A full spring with the same coach. This can’t be overstated. Pittsburgh will have back-to-back spring practices with the same coach for the first time since the end of Dave Wannstedt’s tenure. Only one assistant, defensive line coach John Palermo, is new since last season. Early in the season, the Panthers were a disjointed group, perhaps contributing to Pitt’s inconsistency. The stability on the coaching staff will be a welcome relief for a group of veterans who have had spring practice under three coaches.

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<p> Pittsburgh 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-2013-spring-football-preview

Ohio State fans will forever wonder "what if" about their undefeated 2012 football team. Urban Meyer led the Buckeyes to an unbeaten 12-0 record in his first season in Columbus and Braxton Miller blossomed into a Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback. There are holes to plug on defense, but with two elite recruiting classes waiting in the wings and the entire offense returning, expectations are as high as possible in C-Bus this spring. The Buckeyes also won't waste any time getting things started. Spring practice will be more halfway over by March 28, which is when Ohio State first hit the practice field a year ago.

Ohio State Buckeyes 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 12-0 (8-0)

Spring practice dates: March 5-April 13

Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 4

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Braxton Miller, 148-of-254, 2,039 yds., 15 TDs, 6 INTs
Rushing: Braxton Miller, 227 car., 1,271 yds., 13 TDs
Receiving: Corey Brown, 60 rec., 669 yds, 3 TDs
Tackles: Ryan Shazier, 115
Sacks: Ryan Shazier, 5.0
Interceptions: 3 tied at 2

Redshirts to watch: RB Warren Ball, OL Kyle Dodson, DB Najee Murray, DB Tyvis Powell

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 Buffalo
Sept. 7 San Diego State
Sept. 14 at Cal
Sept. 21 Florida A&M
Sept. 28 Wisconsin
Oct. 5 at Northwestern
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 Iowa
Oct. 26 Penn State
Nov. 2 at Purdue
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 at Illinois
Nov. 23 Indiana
Nov. 30 at Michigan

Offensive Strength: Up the middle. Both guards, an All-Big Ten center, star quarterback Braxton Miller and four experienced running backs give OSU one of the best offensive foundations in the nation.

Offensive Weakness: Big-play pass-catchers. Corey Brown is a solid player but Miller has no elite, No. 1-type wideout and Meyer needs to find one on an offense that really has no other weaknesses.

Defensive Strength: Secondary. Bradley Roby and two honorable mention All-Big Ten safeties return to one of the best defensive backfields in the nation.

Defensive Weakness: Defensive line. All four starting defensive linemen — three seniors and one junior — have departed. The good news is that Meyer has plenty of bodies to compete for these openings.

Spring Storylines Facing the Buckeyes:

1. Rebuild the defensive line. Johnathan Hankins, John Simon, Nathan Williams and Garrett Goebel have all departed the defensive line leaving four open starting sports up front for Meyer. But fans can expect the '12 recruiting class to be featured prominently along the front this spring. Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt are all second-year players who could star in new starting positions. Joel Hale, Steve Miller and Michael Bennett are in the mix heavily as well. Frankly, this is an embarrassment of riches for one team losing all four starting linemen.

2. Supply Ryan Shazier with some support. Shazier is an All-American-caliber linebacker who might be the hardest hitter in the nation. He makes overzealous mistakes, at times, but has elite upside and will be the leader of the defense in 2013. He is a proven commodity but will need support alongside him. Jamal Marcus, Curtis Grant, David Perkins and Josh Perry will be the first names to get a crack at filling the voids left by Etienne Sabino, Zach Boren and Storm Klein.

3. Find a star on the outside. Corey Brown had a nice season last year, but he leads a non-descript collection of wide receivers and tight ends. Miller has no go-to star on the outside catching passes for him and this offense could use a down-the-field playmaker. Does Brown take another step? Will Devin Smith, Michael Thomas, Evan Spencer or Chris Fields develop into a legitimate No. 1? Who will fill the tight end void left by Jake Stoneburner's graduation?

4. Establish a pecking order in the backfield. The offensive line returns four starters and the backfield returns the top five leading rushers so the running game should be elite. Carlos Hyde scored 16 times last season and nearly rushed for 1,000 yards. However, Bri'onte Dunn or Rod Smith, two bigger workhorse backs, might be more talented and will certainly press for time. Organizing the deep backfield and slotting players into specific roles in the offense will be important this spring.

5. Keep Braxton Miller grounded... and healthy. Miller plays the game with reckless abandon, and many times, had to play through injuries to lead Ohio State to victory last year. He knows he is a remarkable player with the highest of upsides, in both team and personal expectations. A trip to the BCS national title game and a potential first-round slot in the 2014 NFL Draft are undoubtedly in his sights, so keeping him focused, grounded, healthy and out of trouble will be important throughout the offseason. No news is good news with Miller.

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<p> Ohio State 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 06:40
Path: /nascar/6-amazing-stats-las-vegas-motor-speedway

The Gen-6 car for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, after a two-race introduction, appears to be a work in progress. Passing last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway was at an all-time low for its current configuration (1,213 green-flag passes, down from 1,995 in the 2012 race) and pit stop speed decided the race for a driver who hadn’t seen Victory Lane in almost two calendar years.

This weekend’s race at speedy intermediate Las Vegas Motor Speedway is expected to provide a jump in on-track excitement. While I can’t possibly guarantee a more enticing product, there are some intriguing story lines within the numbers this week that should pique your interest and they involve a bevy of fan-favorite drivers. So that’s some excitement there, right?

For PEER and other metrics with which you may be unfamiliar, I refer you to my glossary of terms on

12.8 and 84.29 percent  During the Carl Edwards 70-race winless streak, the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing team averaged a 12.8-place showing and finished in the top half of fields 84.29 percent of the time.

Those numbers aren’t awful. Despite not winning, Edwards and team were, for most intents and purposes, admirable across that two-year winless stretch. The perceived slump is just that; any team in the Cup Series would welcome the finishing average and that high of a relevance mark (finishes in the top half of fields encapsulates a team’s ability to avoid mistakes). The No. 99 team was never a downtrodden unit. It just didn’t win for an extended period of time. The last place Edwards won at prior to Phoenix? Funny you should ask …

6.750  With two Vegas wins in the last five races, Edwards leads the series in track-specific PEER (Production in Equal Equipment Rating) during that time frame.

The most recent winner in the Cup Series just happens to be a stud on the Vegas 1.5-mile quad-oval track. His performance has been feast with a little bit of famine; outside of his two victories at LVMS in the CoT era, he has finished fifth (last year), 12th and 17th. His winning past doesn’t make him a lock for the victory this weekend, but with the recent headlines, he’ll be one of a handful of drivers in the spotlight.

<p> Six amazing stats for NASCAR's Kobalt Tools 500 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - 15:53
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-rankings-2013-wide-receivers

Each year a unique set of wide receiver prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country's most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft, held April 25-27, won’t be any different. This group will feature freaks of nature who need to polish their game. It has lightning quick jitter-bugs who will dominate the open field from the slot position. And it has elite, big-framed, down-the-field vertical threats as well. Whatever offense your favorite team runs, there is a wide receiver in this draft for you.

Measurables: Height, Weight, 40-time, vertical

1. Keenan Allen, Cal (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-2, 206, N/A
Final Stats: 205 rec., 2,570 yds, 17 TD, 30 att., 258 yds, 2 TD, 658 ret. yds, TD
The Greensboro, N.C., native is a freak athlete. He has elite size, elite speed, elite jumping ability and elite after-the-catch skills. He is good on the outside stretching the field vertically. He is good over the middle in traffic. And he can be used in the return game as well as in the running game. He is a complete player who produced big numbers at Cal despite the wildly inconsistent and sub-par quarterback play. He is a superior athlete who stood out in a conference loaded with big-time playmakers at wide receiver. He has dealt with smaller ankle and knee issues, the later keeping him from working out at the combine. 

2. Robert Woods, USC (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-0, 201, 4.51, 33.5"
Final Stats: 252 rec., 2,930 yds, 32 TD, 14 att., 142 yds, 1,547 ret. yds, TD
Woods was the Athlon Sports High School Senior of the Year at Junipero Serra High School in SoCal. All he did in his first two seasons at USC was set the single-season Pac-12 record for receptions with 111 in 2011. He then went on to pass Dwayne Jarrett as the school's all-time leader in catches and also set a school record with four TD catches against Colorado. He is an electric athlete with elite burst who can be used in all phases of the passing game and could be a major contributor on special teams as well (1,364 kick return yards in 2010-11). He has tremendous hands, fluid route-running skills and is dynamic with the ball in his hands after the catch.

3. Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-2, 216, 4.42, 37.0"
Final Stats: 46 rec., 778 yds, 5 TD, 25 att., 308 yds, 3 TD, 772 ret. yds, 2 TD
The fast riser demonstrated quickly at Tennessee that he is a freakish athlete with loads of big-play potential. He was used in the rushing game with great effectiveness and was a special teams dynamo as well. He has prototypical size and speed for the next level and has wowed scouts with his raw athleticism. However, he had to go the junior college route for a reason and still has a long ways to go to refine his overall skills as a wide receiver. He only has one major season of college football under his belt, but his athletic ability was painfully obvious on Saturdays. He is a project but will pay dividends quick enough.

4. Tavon Austin, West Virginia (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-8, 174, 4.34, 32.0"
Final Stats: 288 rec., 3,413 yds, 29 TD, 109 att., 1,031 yds, 6 TD, 2,840 ret. yds, 5 TD
Speedy, fluid, explosive, versatile, agile. These are the things a team will get in the massively productive WVU wideout. He is very undersized but makes up for it with toughness and the ability to contribute to all aspects of an offense. He can run the ball, is right at home in the slot, will return kicks and punts and does it as one of the better leaders in the huddle. He will get knocked for his size come draft day, but in the modern NFL era where speed in space kills, Austin is the best in this class.

5. Justin Hunter, Tennessee (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-4, 196, 4.44, 39.5"
Final Stats: 106 rec., 1,812 yds, 18 TD
The bio on Hunter is well known. He was a big-time recruit out of the talent-rich Virginia Beach area. He posted a big freshman year and was dominating opponents until a torn ACL in Week 3 against Florida ruined his sophomore year. He has an NFL-ready frame (think A.J. Green) that is long and rangy. He has tremendous straight-line speed and overall athleticism (as his 40 and vertical numbers indicate) but scouts will wonder if his explosiveness in the short spaces has returned after the injury. He posted adequate numbers as a senior but, at times, appeared to be playing conservatively and with his injury in mind. Proving his toughness and dependability will be his biggest hurdles.

Related: Athlon Sports 2013 NFL Mock Draft 2.0

6. Terrance Williams, Baylor (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-2, 208, 4.52, 32.5"
Final Stats: 201 rec., 3,294 yds, 27 TD, 979 ret. yds
This Waco product has had the benefit of playing with elite quarterbacks and fellow wide receivers, but has been productive on his own as well. Williams proved his worth after both Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright departed and he still produced his best season (97 rec., 1,832 yds, 12 TD). He has a great frame with excellent size and strength. He has excellent straight-line speed that makes him a tremendous deep threat. When it comes to short space agility or burst, however, he will not be as rated as highly as some of the more dynamic players in this class. He is a well-rounded, quality football player who will be a factor on Sundays for years to come.

7. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-1, 214, 4.57, 36.0"
Final Stats: 206 rec., 3,020 yds, 27 TD
Teammate Sammy Watkins is the better overall player but Hopkins was remarkable while Watkins missed a fair number of games over the last two seasons. He broke multiple Clemson and ACC receiving records in 2012 and has the overall size and talent to be a big-time producer on Sundays. He may not be elite at any one thing, but he does everything an NFL wideout needs to do well. He is not a special teams return man and won't be used in the slot or on trick plays in the backfield. He might be the purest outside wide receiver in the class.

8. Stedman Bailey, West Virginia (Jr.)
Measurables: 5-10, 193, 4.52, 34.5"
Final Stats: 210 rec., 3,218 yds, 41 TD, 2 att., 13 yds, 213 ret. yds
This Mountaineer doesn't do any one thing in elite fashion, however, his production cannot be ignored. He is undersized and produced decent numbers at the combine but nothing stands out. Except, of course, his 37 receiving touchdowns over the last two seasons. His final season in Morgantown was epic — 114 rec., 1,622 yards, 25 TDs — but he will need to prove those numbers weren't a product of the system and/or playing alongside the more gifted Austin.

9. Markus Wheaton, Oregon State (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-11, 189, 4.45, 37.0
Final Stats: 227 rec., 2,994 yds, 16 TD, 83 att., 631 yds, 5 TD
There is a lot to like about the former Beavers wideout. He is small but compact and extremely strong — he posted 20 reps at 225 pounds at the combine. He is extremely versatile as well, as he could be used in the running game or on special teams if needed. He is a prototypical slot receiver and has the toughness to survive in the close quarters of the NFL. Wheaton was a very underrated player nationally in college due to playing in Corvallis.

10. Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-0, 204, 4.53, 33.0"
Final Stats: 183 rec., 2,594 yds, 24 TD
Potential first-round pick Johnathan Banks from Mississippi State had to cover Patton in 2011 and has stated he was the best receiver he ever faced. The former junior college transfer put together two massive seasons for the Bulldogs. He has adequate size, tremendous heart and excellent quickness. Certainly, his level of competition wasn't ideal in the WAC, but Patton proved he belongs on the next level with huge games against top teams — try 21 receptions for 233 yards and four touchdowns against Johnny Heisman and Texas A&M back in October.

11. Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee Tech (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-2, 217, 4.52, 39.5"
Final Stats: 139 rec., 2,100 yds, 21 TD, 20 att., 120  yds, TD,  411 ret. yds, TD (Tennessee 2010-11, Tennessee Tech 2012)
This prospect has elite physical skills and upside. He is big, physical, strong, explosive and difficult to cover in any offensive scheme. However, he held the Tennessee locker room hostage multiple times with selfish play, immature decisions off of the field and an overall lack of commitment to the game. If he matures, he will last a while in the NFL, otherwise, he is a total head case that screams Charles Rogers or Braylon Edwards.

12. Ryan Swope, Texas A&M (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-0, 205, 4.34, 37.0"
Final Stats: 252 rec., 3,117 yds, 24 TD
There are no weaknesses in Swope's game. He posted elite speed and athletic numbers at the combine. He was productive with three separate quarterbacks in three consecutive seasons. And he had a tendency to make huge plays in key moments — just pop in the tape of last season's Texas A&M-Alabama game. He opened eyes at the combine and he won't be a sleeper in the draft process any longer. He is gritty, tough-nosed and dependable.

13. Kenny Stills, Oklahoma (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-0, 194, 4.38, 33.5"
Final Stats: 204 rec., 2,594 yds, 24 TD
He never really seemed to realize his full potential on the college gridiron but his talent is obvious. He doesn't have a large frame but is well-built for his size and plays bigger. He played in a wideout-friendly system with a tenured and experienced quarterback. He posted elite speed numbers at the combine and could develop into a much better NFL player than he was in college. Stills, a football legacy, has tons of upside.

14. Josh Boyce, TCU (Jr.)
Measurables: 5-11, 206, 4.38, 34.0"
Final Stats: 161 rec., 2,535 yds, 22 TD
When it comes to deep, vertical threats in this class, few players have as much upside as Boyce. He made big plays in key situations, even though his overall numbers took a hit following starting quarterback Casey Pachall;s dimissal from the team last season. His raw speed and strength will play in the NFL. 

15. Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-2, 212, 4.56, 29.5"
Final Stats: 175 rec., 2,854 yds, 18 TD
The Hogs wideout has prototypical NFL size and strength. Two seasons ago, he was overshadowed by a trio of NFL wideouts who got drafted in the 2012 draft but a 303-yard performance against Rutgers this fall proved he is deserving of a Sunday roster spot. He has all the tools needed to be a solid No. 2 wideout on the next level but might lack the overall physical talents to be a No. 1.

16. Denard Robinson, Michigan (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-10, 199, 4.43, 36.5"
Final Stats: 6,250 pass yds, 49 TD, 39 INT, 723 att., 4,495 yds, 42 TD
Dynamic converted QB with elite speed, agility and versatility.

17. Marquess Wilson, Washington State (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-3, 194, 4.51, 34.5"
Final Stats: 189 rec., 3,207 yds, 23 TD
Great size and huge production. Needs to prove he can stay focused and committed.

18. Aaron Dobson, Marshall (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-3, 210, N/A
Final Stats: 165 rec., 2,398 yds, 24 TD
Brings excellent size and red zone ability. Overall production, level of competition aren’t elite.

19. Marquise Goodwin, Texas (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-9, 183, 4.27
Final Stats: 120 rec., 1,364 yds, 7 TD, 46 att., 405 yds, 3 TD, 1,007 ret. yds, TD
Track-star, Olympic speed and versatility. Very unpolished football player.

20. Marcus Davis, Virginia Tech (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-3, 233, 4.56, 39.5"
Final Stats: 105 rec., 1,827 yds, 13 TD
Freakish size and speed combination, but never really delivered on potential in Blacksburg.

Other names to watch:

21. Ace Sanders, South Carolina (5-7, 173)
22. Tavarres King, Georgia (6-1, 200)
23. Rodney Smith, Florida State (6-5, 215)
24. Dan Buckner, Arizona (6-4, 215)
25. Chris Harper, Kansas State (6-1, 230)
26. Brandon Kauffman, Eastern Washington (6-5, 215)
27. Aaron Mellette, Elon (6-2, 217)
28. Mark Harrison, Rutgers (6-3, 231)
29. Darius Johnson, SMU (5-9, 180)
30. Conner Vernon, Duke (6-2, 195)

2013 NFL Draft Positional Rankings:

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Running Backs
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Tackles
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Guards and Centers

<p> NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - 12:00
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-rankings-2013-tight-ends

Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country’s most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft, held April 25-27, won’t be any different. The evolution of the tight end position has been interesting to track over the last few seasons. Smaller, quicker players are being lined up in the slot while bigger, more physical options are getting time in the backfield. Even the Colts drafted two tight ends last year, one to catch passes and stretch the field and the other to block and be a red-zone target. Just ask Bill Belichick how valuable a good tight end can be — he uses his like no other coach in history. Be it pure pass-catchers or complete three-down options, this should be another solid collection of rookie tight ends.

Measurables: Height, Weight, 40-time, 225-lb reps

1. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-5, 250, 4.68, 22
Final Stats: 140 rec., 1,840 yds, 11 TD
The big Fighting Irish tight end is easily the top prospect at his position for this upcoming draft. But poor quarterback play has limited his statistical production throughout his career. He entered his final season as more of a pass-catcher, but has gotten stronger at the point of attack as ND looked to pound the football more in 2012. He projects as an excellent receiver on the next level and, should he continue to develop as an in-line blocker, he should hear his name called somewhere in the first round.

2. Zach Ertz, Stanford (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-5, 249, 4.76, 24
Final Stats: 112 rec., 1,434 yds, 15 TD
Ertz is a slightly less talented version of Coby Fleener. He isn’t quite as fast and isn’t quite as a explosive, but he doubled Fleener's production from the year before. He is a very similar player with similar skills and might be the better all-around prospect. He has played in a pro-style attack that focuses on NFL skills at the tight end position and has excelled all over the formation. Few programs have prepared this position for the next level like Stanford.

3. Jordan Reed, Florida (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-3, 236, 4.72, 16
Final Stats: 79 rec., 945 yds, 6 TD, 77 att., 328 yds, 5 TD, 252 pass yds, 3 TD, INT
He will likely function more as an H-Back due to his overall lack of size and elite speed, but there are no weaknesses to his overall game. He is strong, physical and solid in a blocking role. He has quickness on the outside in the passing game and will stretch the middle of the defense. And he showed loads of versatility as a runner and quarterback prior to the Gators switching to a pro-style attack in 2012. He dealt with three different coordinators in three seasons in Gainesville, so he is only scratching the surface of his overall potential.

4. Dion Sims, Michigan State (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-5, 262, 4.75, 22
Final Stats: 59 rec., 707 yds, 8 TD
Sims entered his final season with no help at quarterback or wide receiver and was arguably the top target in a one-dimensional offense. He is a powerful blocker with a huge frame and solid athleticism. He won’t wow scouts with his overall speed or quickness, but he has enough talent to stay on an NFL field due to his physicality and overall size for years to come. He should be a solid first- and second-down option with red zone potential.

5. Vance McDonald, Rice (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-4, 267, 4.69, 31
Final Stats: 119 rec., 1,504 yds, 15 TD
Rice has produced solid tight ends of late and McDonald is the next one. He is extremely versatile and can be used all over the offense. He is a smooth pass-catcher with excellent athletic ability and will be a matchup nightmare in the open field. He also showed excellent strength with 31 reps on the bench at the combine. However, he needs to develop as a blocker and could refine his ball skills. He has some of the biggest upside in the draft at this position.

6. Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-3, 258, 4.94, 21
Final Stats: 59 rec., 628 yds, 14 TD
Without being elite at any one thing, Lutz could be the complete package at tight end. He has suffered through horrendous quarterback play, multiple offensive systems and complete coaching turmoil. Yet, back in 2010 with Cam Newton as his quarterback, he produced in key situations and was a big part of the championship run as only a sophomore. He delivers big plays in clutch situations — short yardage third downs and in the red zone. While not overly athletic, he can be a difficult matchup. As an H-back he also has proved to be a solid blocker and his ability to move around in the formation gives him some upside.

Related: Athlon's 2013 NFL Mock Draft 2.0

7. Michael Williams, Alabama (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-5, 268
Final Stats: 51 rec., 503 yds, 7 TD
The pros for Williams: A huge frame. A nasty, powerful run blocker. He played in a pro-style system coached by football czar Nick Saban. He was a huge part of three BCS national championship runs and he is as dependable as any prospect in the draft. His pass-catching skills are limited, particularly down the field, but there is plenty of room in the NFL for a guy with his in-line blocking talents and overall skill set.

8. Gavin Escobar, San Diego State (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-6, 254, 4.84
Final Stats: 122 rec., 1,646 yds, 17 TD
He is a very natural pass-catcher with good ball skills and great awareness in the passing game. He isn't overtly athletic and won't make people miss in the open field or run away from defenders. He also isn't a developed run blocker yet either. He is a great third-down, passing game option but lacks the complete skill set needed to play all three downs.

9. Travis Kelce, Cincinnati (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-5, 255, N/A
Final Stats: 59 rec., 875 yds, 10 TD
The Bearcats prospect might have the best overall frame for an NFL tight end of anyone in the class. He has excellent strength and power and uses his frame well in the passing game. There is a major red flag as he was suspended for an entire season for violating team rules. He also doesn't have elite speed or burst. He was an excellent blocker and has an excellent frame, but with only one season of production, Kelce has some question marks.

10. Levine Toilolo, Stanford (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-8, 260, 4.86, 17
Final Stats: 50 rec., 763 yds, 10 TD
No player at this position will bring a bigger, better frame to the next level than Toilolo. His is massive. He can be used equally as a pass-catcher and in-line blocker, but needs to refine his talents at both. He is a more of a long-term project than some of his peers, but few can match his raw upside. When it comes to working vertically down the seam or in the red zone, few have the potential to be as dangerous as the 6-8 monster from out west. He has experience in a pro-style attack that has developed a number of NFL tight ends of late.

11. Joseph Fauria, UCLA (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-7, 259, 17 reps
Final Stats: 88 rec., 1,139 yds, 20 TD
From a pure athletic stand point, few players in the nation will match the size and speed combination Fauria brings to the table. He has more upside as a receiver than a blocker but is adequate at both. He needs to polish his overall game and prove his dedication and commitment to being a great player. Developing a killer instinct might be his only weakness.

12. D.C. Jefferson, Rutgers (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-6, 255
Final Stats: 47 rec., 560 yds, 2 TD
Unfortunately, Jefferson's combine was cut short due to a pectoral injury sustained during his bench press. However, he has intriguing athleticism and upside. He has drawn comparisons to Martellus Bennett — physically, not mentally. He was talented enough to enter college as a quarterback and will have to prove his skills across the board to make an impact on the NFL level. But size, speed and work ethic are all solid aspects of his game.

Other Names to Watch:

13. Ryan Otten, San Jose State (6-6, 245, Sr.)
14. Ryan Griffin, UConn (6-6, 245, Sr.)
15. Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State (6-5, 245, Sr.)
16. Justice Cunningham, South Carolina (6-3, 258, Sr.)
17. Chris Gragg, Arkansas (6-3, 236, Sr.)
18. Mychal Rivera, Tennessee (6-3, 245, Sr.)
19. Nick Kasa, Colorado (6-6, 260, Sr.)
20. Matt Furstenburg, Maryland (6-4, 245, Sr.)

2013 NFL Draft Positional Rankings:

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Running Backs

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends

<p> NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - 12:00
Path: /college-basketball/daily-march-madness-tracker-cincinnati-baylor-out

Now that the calendar has turned to March, fans of bubble teams may be refreshing web sites of their favorite bracketologists.

As college basketball’s regular season and conference tournament season nears a close, Athlon Sports will keep you up to date on the key developments through the week. Each day brings key developments for the NCAA Tournament, so in this space, we’ll update which teams look to be in the field, which might be playing themselves out as well as the key games of the day.

Related: College basketball power rankings: Gonzaga takes top spot


Baylor on the outs.
Baylor’s NCAA Tournament case was pretty slim to start, with only one top-50 win at home over Oklahoma State on Jan. 21 (the Bears also have a win over RPI No. 51 Kentucky on the road). Baylor’s 79-70 loss to Texas on Monday may be the end of Scott Drew’s NCAA Tournament hopes if the Bears don’t make a strong showing in the Big 12 Tournament. The loss dropped Baylor to 8-9 in the conference and 3-8 in its last 11 games.

Cincinnati looking good despite loss.
Cincinnati’s dysfunctional offense was a mismatch against Louisville, contributing to the Cardinals’ season-high 21 takeaways. Despite a 67-51 loss to Louisville, the Bearcats could remain in the field. In Tuesday morning’s bracket projections, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had Cincinnati as a No. 9 seed and CBS’s Jerry Palm had the Bearcats as a No. 10. Cincinnati is 2-6 in its last eight, but four of those losses have been on the road (Providence, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Louisville). The Bearcats may have a strong case for the field, but not so strong they can absorb a loss to USF on Saturday.

Siva from the field.
Louisville also had a handful of important developments as it chase a No. 1 seed and a Big East regular season title. Peyton Siva, who went 0 for 9 from the field Saturday against Syracuse, came back to hit 5 of 13 of his shots for 11 points against Cincinnati. The Cards are a half game behind Georgetown for the Big East lead and the top seed in the Big East tourney. The Hoyas play DePaul and Syracuse to finish the regular season while the Cards will have a rematch with Notre Dame from the four overtime classic on Feb. 9. Louisville is 7-4 against the RPI top 50 with the win over the Cats.

Related: Experts debate Indiana's MVP: Zeller or Oladipo?

All Times Eastern

Arkansas at Missouri (7 p.m., ESPN)
The Razorbacks have defeated Florida, Missouri, Kentucky and Oklahoma in Fayetteville, but Arkansas had an RPI at No. 80 on Monday thanks to a 1-10 record on the road and on neutral courts. Arkansas’ last chance for a road win will be in Mike Anderson’s return to Missouri. Think the Tigers’ crowd will be fired up?

Related: Key stats of the week

St. John’s at Notre Dame (7 p.m., ESPN2)
The Red Storm are on the outer fringes of the NCAA Tournament bubble, especially after losing to Providence during the weekend. St. John’s may need to win at Notre Dame and/or beat Marquette on Saturday before the Big East Tournament to be a legitimate at-large team.

Ohio State at Indiana (9 p.m., ESPN)
Gonzaga and Duke are putting together nice resumes for No. 1 seeds. Indiana seems to be the best bet for a Big Ten representative on the top line. Rounding out the regular season with wins over Ohio State and Michigan would be a boon to the Hoosiers’ seeding. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes got 24 points from Lenzelle Smith Jr. on Thursday. They need that trend to continue.

Alabama at Ole Miss (9 p.m., ESPNU)
The Crimson Tide fell short in an upset bid at Florida on Saturday. Ole Miss lost to Mississippi State and South Carolina in the last two weeks. Both teams have slim at-large hopes as it is. A loss for either here could mean elimination.

Boise State at UNLV (10 p.m., Time Warner Sportsnet)
The Broncos are starting to look like an NCAA Tournament team again after reeling off four consecutive wins, including a 78-65 win Saturday over Colorado State. That said, Boise State has won only one of its last six road games. The Broncos could be in good position before the Mountain West Tournament if they can defeat UNLV or San Diego State.

ACC (4): Duke, Miami, NC State, North Carolina
Atlantic 10 (3): Butler, Saint Louis, VCU
Big 12 (4): Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Big East (6): Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
Big Ten (6): Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Mountain West (4): Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Pac-12 (5): Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
SEC (2): Florida, Missouri
West Coast (1): Gonzaga

America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Northeast, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Summit, SWAC
Note: Conference USA, the Ohio Valley, the Sun Belt and the WAC likely will be one-bid leagues if their proejcted champions win their conference tournaments.

THE BUBBLE: 16 teams

All 2013 NCAA Tournament Coverage

Athlon Sports' bracket projections and bubble watch

<p> Daily March Madness Tracker: Cincinnati in, Baylor out?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - 10:30