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Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-new-york-mets

After the 2011 season, the Mets lost the NL batting champion, Jose Reyes. After last season, they lost the NL Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey. Yet when Sandy Alderson announced Dickey’s trade to Toronto, he declared, “We’re certainly not punting on 2013.” He had to say it — with attendance already plummeting at Citi Field, the Mets don’t need their general manager conceding a season — but it’s clearly misleading. The Mets have no intention of contending this season, which will be the fifth losing campaign in a row for the franchise. On the positive side, they seem to be collecting a promising group of prospects who could grow together in years to come.

The Mets say they wanted Dickey to return, but their offer of a contract extension (two years, $20 million) was laughably out of line for a Cy Young Award winner in an industry with cash. They traded him to Toronto for an impressive prospect haul, but did not get a starter back in the deal. Without Dickey, Johan Santana moves back to the No. 1 spot, and while he has fought valiantly through a variety of physical problems, he’s proven to be unreliable for a full season. Shaun Marcum, twice a 13-game winner for Milwaukee, was signed and should provide quality innings if his shoulder doesn’t get too balky. The starters behind them offer long-term hope, with steady lefty Jon Niese and rising star Matt Harvey. Niese quietly had an outstanding season, going 13–9 overall and posting a 2.93 ERA in the final four months, never once walking more than three in a game over that span. Harvey, the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft out of North Carolina, had an exciting debut, with a 2.73 ERA in 10 starts and 70 strikeouts in 59.1 innings. The rotation falls off steeply after that, with Dillon Gee, a replacement-level righty, having missed the second half of the season after having a blood clot removed from his shoulder. Until Santana is ready for a regular load, Jeremy Hefner will fill in. But the prize of the group for the future is top prospect Zack Wheeler.
Frank Francisco had a 3.55 ERA for Toronto in 2011, and he reversed those digits for the Mets in 2012 — 5.53. That’s not what the Mets had in mind when they signed him for two years and $12 million, but Francisco, in fairness, did not blow a save after June 5. He missed all of July with an oblique strain and may have had arm problems, too. He underwent surgery in December to remove a bone spur from his elbow, and is questionable for Opening Day. If he pitches well, he’ll be trade bait for contenders this summer. Setup man Bobby Parnell was not the best righthander named Robert Allen on the team — that was Robert Allen Dickey — but he did enjoy a strong season, with a career-high in games (74) and a career-low 2.49 ERA. He also earned his seventh save on the final day of the season to give himself another career-best mark. He’ll close until Francisco is completely healthy. Beyond Parnell, though, the bullpen is threadbare. Veteran Brandon Lyon signed late and should be an effective innings eater from the right side. Non-roster veterans Scott Atchison, LaTroy Hawkins and lefty Pedro Feliciano will add depth and give manager Terry Collins some good matchup options. Lefty Josh Edgin can also be a decent match-up guy.

Middle Infield
As up-the-middle combinations go, they’re not exactly Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter. The Mets’ Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada are adequate but limited at the plate, both hitting for a respectable batting average but offering little power or speed to go with it. They’re viable big leaguers, which is saying something for this team, but they’re not difference makers. Advanced defensive metrics are not always reliable, but according to Fangraphs, Murphy’s Ultimate Zone Rating ranked 20th of 22 qualifying second basemen in the majors. Tejada was better, but still not among the upper half at his position, ranking 13th of 21 qualifying shortstops. A strained intercoastal muscle may keep Murphy on the shelf to start the season.

This is by far the Mets’ offensive strength. While Ike Davis struggled at Citi Field last season, he managed to smash 32 homers and drive in 90 runs. He needed only 16.2 at-bats per home run, ranking third in the National League, and at 26 years old, he still has time to get better. Across the diamond, third baseman David Wright had his best season since 2008, the year before the Mets moved to Citi Field, where he struggled at first with the distant dimensions. Moving in the fences suited Wright, who hit more long balls at home (12) than he did on the road (nine). A two-time Gold Glove winner, he also excelled in the field, with the best Ultimate Zone Rating among NL third basemen, according to Fangraphs. The Mets locked up Wright with an eight-year, $138 million contract extension that binds him to the team through 2020.

The Mets won the wild card in 2000 with an outfield of Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton and Derek Bell, and advanced to the World Series that year with Timo Perez replacing Bell. That’s a ragtag group, to be sure, but a juggernaut compared to the outfield in Flushing these days. The Mets have few outfielders who would start for other teams, with Collin Cowgill, veteran Marlon Byrd and Lucas Duda likely to hold down the starting spots. Cowgill — who bats right and throws left — will play for his third team in three seasons after stints with Arizona and Oakland, hoping to establish himself as an everyday player. He showed decent power and an ability to reach base in the minors, so he’s worth a look. Duda is the most established hitter, but he lumbers on defense and the bases and struggled to make up for it at the plate last season. Byrd, a non-roster player, has seen his better days, but should hit for a decent average.

The Mets believe they acquired a foundational piece in Travis d’Arnaud, who is so highly regarded that he’s been traded twice for Cy Young Award winners before his first game in the big leagues. He was hitting .333 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs at Class AAA Las Vegas last year before his season ended when he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while sliding to break up a double play. He also missed half the 2010 season with two bulging disks in his back. Those are troublesome issues for a young player, but the Mets were willing to bank on d’Arnaud’s potential while also acquiring a veteran, John Buck, who could be the starter early in the season. With little hope of contending this year, the Mets have determined they are best-served by leaving d’Arnaud in Class AAA to the start the season, delaying his eventual free agency by shortening his major league service time.

For a team with so many holes in the starting lineup, the Mets actually have a decent bench, with useful players like infielder Justin Turner, outfielder Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin, an infielder/outfielder. Valdespin had five separate stints with the Mets last year and set a single-season club record for pinch-hit homers, with five.

The Mets play hard for manager Terry Collins, but a lack of talent and a rash of injuries have doomed them down the stretch in the past two seasons. Collins burns to win and has vaguely raised questions about his team’s effort at times, but that is mostly just frustration, and players appreciate his generally positive approach in an atmosphere that can be harsh. Alderson knows how to build a winner, but he has mostly been limited to low-cost, low-impact moves, essentially treading water until the team has shed its glut of bad contracts. Owner Fred Wilpon and his son Jeff, who essentially runs the team, have sold minority ownership shares but have yet to prove they have really recovered from the havoc Bernie Madoff wreaked on their finances.

Final Analysis
This season marks the 20th anniversary of the Mets’ last 100-loss season, and they could be headed for another. These Mets could be very bad, and only the filleting of the Miami Marlins will save them from the basement of the NL East. The good thing is that the future is finally coming into focus, and fans can watch Harvey, d’Arnaud, Wheeler and others develop while knowing that Wright will be here for the long haul.

SS Ruben Tejada (R)
In 78 games as the leadoff man last year, he attempted just four stolen bases.
2B Daniel Murphy (L)
His .291 average trailed only Robinson Cano, Marco Scutaro and Aaron Hill among everyday second basemen.
3B David Wright (R)
Greatest Met never to play in World Series faces a long road to get there. For now, just trying to get healthy to avoid starting the season on the DL.
1B Ike Davis (L)
Outstanding power, but must prove he can handle lefties and hit at Citi Field.
RF Marlon Byrd (R)
Veteran batted .270 in 34 games with the Red Sox last season, which was 200 points higher than his first 13 games with the Cubs.
LF Lucas Duda (L)
His OPS in the second half of the 2012 season was a miserable .644.
CF Collin Cowgill (R)
With .291 average in five minor league seasons, he’s ready for a shot.
C John Buck (R)
After making All-Star team with Jays in 2010, hit .213 in two years for Marlins.

OF Mike Baxter (L)
Sacrificed chunk of his season to save Johan Santana’s no-hitter with diving catch at wall.
UT Jordany Valdespin (L)
Pinch-hitter extraordinaire who started at five positions (LF, CF, RF, 2B, SS) as a rookie. Will get some regular time at second until Murphy is 100 percent.
IF Brandon Hicks (R)
Has a .133 career average in parts of three seasons with Atlanta and Oakland.
IF Justin Turner (R)
Proved himself to be a capable reserve (he hit .269 in 171 at-bats) after a year as a starter.
C Travis d’Arnaud (R)
Vaunted prospect should make debut in ’13 and stay for years to come.

LH  Jon Niese
Won 13 games with a career-low 3.40 ERA in his third season as a starter.
RH  Shaun Marcum
Has gone 33-19 with a 3.62 ERA over last three seasons.
RH  Matt Harvey
Power righty projects as long-term ace; only gave up 42 hits in 59.1 innings last season.
RH  Dillon Gee
Missed second half after having blood clot removed from shoulder in July.
LH  Johan Santana
The danger of backloaded contracts — Santana will make $25.5M in 2013. A balky shoulder may keep him on the DL to start the season.
RH  Jeremy Hefner
Former fifth-round pick of the Padres is leading candidate to replace Santana while the former Cy Young winner is disabled.

RH  Frank Francisco (Closer)
First pitcher since 2009 to have at least 20 saves and an ERA above 5.50. Elbow inflammation is not a good sign; likely headed to DL.
RH  Bobby Parnell
Especially stingy at Citi Field, with 1.54 ERA at home last season. Will close in place of the injured Francisco.
RH  Brandon Lyon
Averaged 61 games and 62 innings over last seven seasons.
RH  Scott Atchison
Was effective with Boston last season: a 1.58 ERA in 51.1 innings and a 0.994 WHIP. The 37-year-old has logged more than 1,000 innings in the minors and Japan, just over 200 in the majors.
RH  LaTroy Hawkins
In 2009 and 2011 he had a combined 2.26 ERA; an unimpressive 4.97 in 2010 and 2012. Maybe 2013 will follow that trend.
LH  Pedro Feliciano
Led the NL in appearances all three years from 2008-10 totaling 208 games, but hasn’t pitched in bigs since.
LH  Josh Edgin
Held lefties to .164 average (9-for-55), which was good enough to earn another look.

<p> This season marks the 20th anniversary of the Mets’ last 100-loss season, and they could be headed for another. These Mets could be very bad, and only the filleting of the Miami Marlins will save them from the basement of the NL East.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 13:00
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-philadelphia-phillies

The Phillies are no longer the team to beat in the NL East. Maybe that will be beneficial, because this graying club, which was knocked from its lofty perch by injury and a horrible start in 2012, can use all the edge it can get. “Everyone is a little angry,” says Jimmy Rollins, the team’s longest-tenured player and a key contributor on five straight division championship clubs from 2007-11. “We have that chip on our shoulder to go back out there and prove this is still our division.” Injuries to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay contributed to a woeful 37–50 record before the All-Star break in 2012. Improved health and performance led to a 44–31 second half and fueled hopes that this team, aging but still high on accomplished star power, might have one more run in it.

What’s up, Doc? This is one of the most important questions facing this team. If Halladay is close to the pitcher he was in his first two seasons with the club, the Phillies will be in the enviable position of having three top starters. If Halladay struggles as he did in 2012, the Phils will have to get by with just two. Indications this spring are that the latter might be the case. Having Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee atop the rotation still puts the Phils in good position in the arms race. Hamels continued to blossom into an elite pitcher in 2012, and management recognized his importance by signing him to a six-year, $144 million contract in July. At 29, Hamels’ time to lead this staff has come. He’s talented enough to join Halladay and Lee as a Cy Young winner and lines up to make his first Opening Day start. “I’m still looking for him to have a really big year — 22, 24 wins,” manager Charlie Manuel said after Hamels’ career-best 17 wins in 2012. “It’s in there.” Lee’s win total was down in 2012, but he remains one of the best. He had a brilliant second half and joined Hamels with a top-10 ERA (in NL) finish. After finishing first and second in NL Cy Young voting his first two seasons in Philly, Halladay was a different pitcher in 2012. His 4.49 ERA was his highest in a season in which he pitched over 70 innings. Shoulder problems, likely caused by the wear and tear of over 2,700 big-league innings, sent him to the disabled list for seven weeks. When he was on the mound, he used off-speed stuff more than past years as he tried to compensate for reduced velocity and movement on his signature sinker and cutter. There is no more dedicated pro athlete than Halladay, who turns 36 in May. He has vowed to come back strong in 2013. If he does, everyone from the front office to the cheap seats will breathe easier, and the rotation will be deeper and more formidable. Kyle Kendrick and newcomer John Lannan, the third lefty on the starting staff, round out the rotation. Kendrick gained valuable confidence by recording a 3.20 ERA in his final 12 starts last season. Lannan has something to prove after being pushed out of Washington’s rotation by more talented arms last season. He made 30-plus starts and had a sub-4.00 ERA three times in Washington.
Even with Jonathan Papelbon converting 38-of-42 saves chances, the bullpen was a fatal weakness in 2012. Phillies relievers helped dig that huge first-half deficit by recording a 4.72 ERA, second-worst in the majors, before the break. The eighth inning was particularly disastrous. For the season, the Phils blew an unsightly 13 eighth-inning leads. Management believes it has fixed the problem with the signing of Mike Adams, one of the best setup men in the business. He and Papelbon could form one of the best back-end tandems in baseball. Antonio Bastardo, a lefty with strikeout stuff, will be key in the late innings as well. The Phils are hoping for the emergence of some of their young, high-upside relievers, most notably Mike Stutes and Jeremy Horst.

Middle Infield
The best middle infield combo in franchise history could be nearing the end of a storied run together. Rollins and Utley are both 34. Utley, once the game’s top run-producing second baseman, has averaged just 100 games the last three seasons because of injuries, particularly bad knees. He enters the final year of his contract. He believes he can manage his way through the season, but his batting average and slugging percentage the last two seasons are just .258 and .426, respectively. Rollins won his fourth Gold Glove in 2012 and can still pick it and throw it with the best. He’s never been a prototypical leadoff man because of his aggressive approach at the plate, but he did score 102 runs in 2012. He is signed through 2014 with an option for 2015.

Veteran stars Howard and Michael Young both have something to prove. Howard, long one of the game’s premier power bats, missed three months while recovering from a torn Achilles in 2012. He returned to drive in 56 runs in 260 at-bats, but batted a career-low .219 and struck out 35 percent of the time, a career-worst. Management has challenged him to improve his physical conditioning and approach at the plate. With good health and a full spring training, Howard should hit 30-plus homers and push for 120-plus RBIs. The team needs that from him. Young, who became a spare part after 12 decorated seasons in Texas, takes over at third base. Defense could be an issue, but Young’s deficiencies at third will be tolerable if he can rebound from a career-low .682 OPS and put up numbers similar to 2011 when he hit .338 with 106 RBIs.

This area has been unsettled since Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence were traded in July, and it remains one of the club’s biggest concerns. Management hoped to add a power-defense package in center field, but settled for slap-hitting Ben Revere, who was acquired from Minnesota. The speedy Revere can run down balls, but his arm is weak and his power nonexistent. In their search for a run-producing corner bat, the Phillies signed Delmon Young, last season’s ALCS MVP for Detroit. Liability doesn’t begin to describe him defensively, but he has some pop and his right-handed bat will come in handy. He had ankle surgery. While he recovers, John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix will likely platoon in left field. The Phillies desperately need Domonic Brown to finally seize control of right field, but to this point, the former top prospect has been disappointing.

Carlos Ruiz hit every ball hard, reached career-highs across the board, and became a valuable middle-order bat while making his first All-Star team in 2012. What does he do for an encore after hitting 50 points above his career average? Well, first he’ll serve a 25-game suspension for testing positive for a banned stimulant late last season. At 34, will Ruiz pick up where he left off when he returns, or was his big season a one-year wonder? One thing is sure: Ruiz will handle pitchers well. The staff has great respect for his game management. Veteran Erik Kratz, who showed power, presence and a strong throwing arm while Ruiz was out with a sore foot in 2012, will get the call while Ruiz serves his suspension.

Sure-handed infielder Freddy Galvis is an important piece off the bench. He gives the club a strong defender when Utley or Rollins needs rest, and he can help protect a late lead at third. Kevin Frandsen earned his way into a utility/pinch-hitting role by hitting .338 in 195 at-bats with the big club in 2012. The possibility of outfield platoons could keep the bench sharp.

Manuel is the most successful manager in club history. In eight seasons, he has guided the Phils to the best record in the NL (727–569), five division titles, two pennants and a World Series title. At 69, Manuel is in the final year of his contract. He says he hasn’t decided whether he wants to manage beyond 2013, but a succession plan may have been put into place when Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg was promoted from Triple-A manager to big-league third base coach. Sandberg is considered an excellent managerial prospect.

Final Analysis
With Hamels and Lee, the Phils have a great place to start, and with Adams and Papelbon, a good place to finish. Up the middle, the team is solid with Rollins and Ruiz. If Howard and Young rebound, and Halladay and Utley stay active and productive, this club will push for a playoff spot.

SS Jimmy Rollins (S)
Led NL shortstops in runs (102), extra-base hits (61) and fielding percentage (.978) in 2012.
2B Chase Utley (L)
Finally enjoying a full spring training game since missing the last two springs because of chronic knee issues.
3B Michael Young (R)
Lifetime .301 hitter and seven-time All-Star has played just 65 games at third base since 2010.
1B Ryan Howard (L)
He had 46 RBIs in his final 47 games in 2012 to finish with 56 in 260 at-bats.
C Carlos Ruiz (R)
Tied for second among National League catchers with 47 extra-base hits in 2012. Is suspended for the first 25 games for a positive PED test.
RF Domonic Brown (L)
Had seven assists in final two months of 2012, second-most in NL in that span.
CF Ben Revere (L)
His 37 infield hits (nine bunts) were third-most in the majors in 2012.
LF John Mayberry Jr. (R)
Played in career-high 149 games, including 107 starts, in 2012; only had 46 RBIs in 441 at-bats. Will likely platoon with Laynce Nix until Delmon Young’s ankle is completely recovered from offseason surgery.

IF Freddy Galvis (S)
Was leading team with 15 doubles when he sustained season-ending cracked spine last June.
IF Kevin Frandsen (R)
His 37 hits in August 2012 were tied for third-most in the National League.
C Erik Kratz (R)
Threw out 12-of-30 (40 percent) potential basestealers in 2012, and 18 of his 35 hits were for extra bases.
OF Ender Inciarte (L)
Rule 5 pick hasn’t advanced past High-A with Arizona where he hit .319 last season.
OF Laynce Nix (L)
Hit .342 in his first 17 games in 2012 then missed two-plus months with a calf strain.

LH  Cole Hamels
Notched a career-high 216 strikeouts in 215.1 innings in 2012.
LH  Cliff Lee
His 2.45 ERA after All-Star break was fifth-lowest among NL starters.
RH  Roy Halladay
Did not have a complete game in 2012 for the first time in over a decade. Struggling to find velocity this spring.
RH  Kyle Kendrick
Durability is valuable — has never been on the disabled list; had a career-high 6.6 K/9 IP in 2012.
LH  John Lannan
He is 39–39 with a 3.80 ERA in 115 starts against teams other than the Phillies.

RH  Jonathan Papelbon (Closer)
Has reached at least 30 saves in each of the last seven seasons.
RH  Mike Adams
In 285.2 career innings in the NL, he has 2.11 ERA, 295 strikeouts and 85 walks.
LH  Antonio Bastardo
Ranked third among qualified big-league relievers with 14.02 strikeouts per nine innings in 2012.
RH  Mike Stutes
Showed promise in 2011, but missed much of 2012 with shoulder injury.
LH  Jeremy Horst
Held left-handed hitters to a .170 average (8-for-47) with 17 strikeouts in 2012.
RH  Chad Durbin
Returns to Philadelphia after pitching for Cleveland and Atlanta the last two seasons.
LH  Raul Valdes
Lefties his just .149 last season; righties marginally better at .183.

<p> The Phillies are no longer the team to beat in the NL East. But the aging stars aren’t ready to concede anything this season.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 13:00
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-washington-nationals

There are many things that history could choose to remember about the 2012 Washington Nationals. There was the debut of Bryce Harper, one of the most dynamic rookies to emerge in recent years. There was the franchise’s first division title and first playoff appearance since it moved from Montreal in 2005. And there was the cementing of Davey Johnson’s credentials as a Hall of Fame manager, as he was named Manager of the Year at season’s end. However, in all likelihood, the 2012 Nationals will still be remembered years from now as the team that willingly chose to shut down its ace — when he was completely healthy. In sidelining Stephen Strasburg in such a fashion, the Nationals cited, among other things, their window for winning future titles. That window is now wide open, and the way history ultimately views the Great Strasburg Shutdown of 2012 will depend largely on how the team performs in 2013 and beyond.

As with virtually every segment of the Nationals’ roster, the rotation is blessed with a plethora of younger, controllable players. Even with a couple of generic slop-ballers at the back end, a front three of Strasburg (presumably unleashed in 2013), lefty Gio Gonzalez and righthander Jordan Zimmermann would take this team a long way. But with the December free-agent signing of righthander Dan Haren to fill the role (held in 2012 by Edwin Jackson) of veteran innings-eater, the Nationals can boast a formidable back end of Haren and hard-throwing lefty Ross Detwiler — ensuring that, no matter where an opponent catches the Nationals in their starting rotation, they will be facing a tough night at the plate. An intriguing option for depth is flamethrower Christian Garcia, who emerged as a bullpen force late in 2012.
The shocking end of the Nationals’ 2012 season, in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the Cardinals, could leave lasting marks on young closer Drew Storen, who blew a two-run ninth-inning lead after the Nationals were one strike away from advancing. While Johnson and the Nationals still believe in Storen, the team signed free agent Rafael Soriano to be the 2013 closer. Two of his 42 saves for the Yankees last season came prior to Mariano Rivera tearing his ACL in May. Storen joins Tyler Clippard to form what could be the most dominant setup tandem in baseball. Righthanders Craig Stammen and Ryan Mattheus, stalwarts in 2012, will return to their middle-relief roles. Lefty Zach Duke, who pitched well during a September call-up in 2012, is expected to fill the long reliever role held last year by Tom Gorzelanny.

Middle Infield
Although the Nationals explored trading away second baseman Danny Espinosa this winter — less an indictment of Espinosa than a sign of how highly they regard backup Steve Lombardozzi — the team will return its double-play combo of Espinosa and shortstop Ian Desmond in 2013, and will be perfectly happy to do so. Switched out of the leadoff spot midway through the season (into a more comfortable role as the primary sixth hitter), Desmond had a breakout season that saw him earn his first All-Star appearance and Silver Slugger award (he was also a finalist for a Gold Glove), while becoming the emotional leader of the clubhouse. Espinosa strikes out too much and tends to go into long, deep funks at the plate, but he could also be poised for the same sort of breakout in 2013 that Desmond had in 2012.

After reviving his career with a huge 2012 season (33 homers, 100 RBIs, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, sixth in MVP voting), veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche paid a visit to free agency seeking a long-term deal, but was victimized by the draft-pick compensation rules in the new CBA, and ultimately returned to the Nationals on a two-year deal. LaRoche’s return gives the Nationals a top glove man and a critical left-handed bat in the middle of their lineup. Meantime, Ryan Zimmerman returns at third base following a strange 2012 that is best viewed as being divided into pre- and post-cortisone segments. On June 23, he received his first shot of the painkiller for his ailing shoulder, and his sagging numbers immediately took off. In the end, the popular Zimmerman wound up with a season in line with his career norms, then had a clean-up surgery on the shoulder immediately after the season.

The Nationals had been searching for years for a dependable leadoff hitter/center fielder, and over the winter they finally found their man in Denard Span, acquired via trade with Minnesota. Not only is Span a talented offensive and defensive player, but the Nationals also can envision other pieces falling into place with him on board: Harper (in left) and Jayson Werth (in right) move seamlessly to the corners, while Werth can be freed from the leadoff spot. If all three stay healthy and perform to expectations, the Harper-Span-Werth outfield could be among the best in baseball.

Kurt Suzuki, acquired in an August trade with Oakland, was supposed to have been little more than a two-month stopgap, filling an acute down-the-stretch need but ceding the starting job in 2013 when starter Wilson Ramos returns from injury. However, Suzuki played a critical role in the Nationals’ run to the NL East title. Lest we forget, however — Ramos was considered one of the brightest young catchers in the game before a season-ending knee injury in May. The two catchers proved in spring training that they were deserving of the starting job, and Johnson has decided to begin the season using Ramos and Suzuki every other day, keeping both fresh.

The Nationals were blessed with a potent, highly functional bench in 2012 and will be looking to reconstruct a similar one this year. To that end, they signed Chad Tracy, their top pinch-hitter in 2012, to a one-year extension for 2013, and they will return Lombardozzi, talented fourth outfielder Roger Bernadina and outfield/first base backup Tyler Moore as well.

The highly publicized shouting match between Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo last summer was less a sign of discord within the braintrust than a reminder that these are two bull-headed men who — with plenty of justification — believe strongly in their own abilities. They also happen to like and respect each other. Although Johnson will be 70 on Opening Day and has already indicated that 2013 will be his final year, he remains at the top of his game mentally. (And if Johnson does indeed step down after 2013, the Nationals appear to have already identified his successor in bench coach Randy Knorr.) Rizzo, too, has ascended to the upper tier of his profession, turning a perennial loser into a well-run, self-sustaining, winning organization that is the envy of his peers.

Final Analysis
When Johnson blurted “World Series or bust” during the December 2012 Winter Meetings, he wasn’t being boastful or jingoistic. He was merely stating the obvious: This is a team built to win it all. In fact, all along 2013 was the Nationals’ target for contending — it just so happens that they arrived a year early in 2012. One could even argue that the franchise was caught unprepared for what befell them, based on the lack of a better plan for handling Strasburg’s innings limit. It is always dangerous to define your season as requiring a World Series appearance in order to qualify as a success, since the postseason is a crapshoot to some degree. But at least on paper, the Nationals appear to be as well equipped as anyone to survive both the marathon of the 162-game season and the sprint of October.

CF Denard Span (L)
The type of pure leadoff hitter the Nationals had been lacking; slapped 38 doubles and stole 17 bases in ’12.
RF Jayson Werth (R)
Thrived as leadoff hitter, but Nats believe he’ll be a perfect fit behind Span.
LF Bryce Harper (L)
After historic rookie season, ceiling in 2013 appears limitless for the 20-year-old outfielder.
3B Ryan Zimmerman (R)
Played through shoulder injury, put up representative numbers, with 25 HRs and 95 RBIs.
1B Adam LaRoche (L)
Silver Slugger/Gold Glove exacta spoke to his immense value to the Nationals in 2012
SS Ian Desmond (R)
Arguably the best shortstop in the majors last season; had career highs in average (.292), HRs (25), RBIs (73).
2B Danny Espinosa (S)
Power numbers dipped slightly from 2011 rookie season, but Nationals aren’t giving up on him.
C Wilson Ramos (R)
Will need to earn job back after suffering ACL tear last May that ended his season.

C Kurt Suzuki (R)
Cameo after August trade was enough to earn shot at regular playing time in 2013.
OF Roger Bernadina (L)
Versatile glove-man and emerging hitter could start for many teams; valuable reserve for the Nats.
UT Tyler Moore (R)
Pure hitter was a crucial part of 2012 bench; hit 10 home runs in only 156 at-bats.
IF Chad Tracy (L)
Davey Johnson’s favorite pinch-hitter (12 hits in 46 at- bats) in 2012 returns in same role.
UT Steve Lombardozzi (S)
Steady infielder added outfield to his duties in 2012, increasing his value to the Nats.

RH  Stephen Strasburg
The former No. 1 overall pick is poised for huge 2013 after being freed from controversial innings leash.
LH  Gio Gonzalez
Won 21 games in his first season with the team, kept command issues at bay, kept clubhouse loose.
RH  Jordan Zimmermann
Despite bringing heat, ranked eighth in the National League with only 2.0 walks per nine innings.
RH  Dan Haren
Has averaged 220 innings pitched since 2005, though injuries plagued him in 2012.
LH  Ross Detwiler
On any other staff, he’d be a No. 2 or No. 3, but the Nats are glad to have this 10-game winner in No. 5 hole.

RH  Rafael Soriano (Closer)
Saved 42 games and blew just four last season for the Yankees.
RH  Drew Storen
Had a 0.989 WHIP in regular season; 2012 season was going swell until ninth inning of Game 5 of NLDS.
RH  Tyler Clippard
Had strong run as closer in Storen’s absence, but the Nationals value him as a setup man.
RH   Craig Stammen
Paced the Nats’ 2012 bullpen with 88.1 innings pitched; only gave up 70 hits but walked 36.
RH  Ryan Mattheus
Trusted seventh-inning man allowed opposing batters to hit .161 with runners in scoring position.
LH  Zach Duke
Longtime starter shined in bullpen role last September, and earned himself a big-league contract for 2013.
RH  Henry Rodriguez
Needs to cure wildness (22 walks in 29.1 IP in 2012), but Nats still believe in his power arm.

<p> The Nationals appear to be as well equipped as anyone to survive both the marathon of the 162-game season and the sprint of October.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2013-majors-no-11-adam-scott

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2013 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 11: Adam Scott

Born: July 16, 1980, Adelaide, Australia | Career PGA Tour Wins: 8 (8 on European Tour  | 2012 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2012 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,899,557 (25th) World Ranking: 7


Brandel Chamblee's Take

Scott has long had one of the most beautiful swings in the game, but for most of his career there was a sense he was underachieving, particularly in the majors, where prior to 2011 he had played 39 times and managed only four top 10s. In early 2011, however, he switched to the anchored putter, and he has finished in the top ten four times in the eight majors since, twice finishing second. He's still not a great putter but has the ability to drive the ball longer and straighter than anyone in golf.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 47
Wins: 0

2012 Performance:
Masters - T8
U.S. Open - T15
British Open - 2
PGA Championship - T11

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T2 (2011)
U.S. Open - T15 (2012)
British Open - 2 (2012)
PGA Championship - T3 (2006)
Top-10 Finishes: 8
Top-25 Finishes: 19
Missed Cuts: 15

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

Athlon's 2013 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 20 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, reigning FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

<p> Athlon Counts Down the 20 Golfers to Watch for Majors Season</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 11:18
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-top-10-arena-nicknames

There are many reasons why fans gravitate to the college ranks over the professional ones. For those of us who love college sports, NCAA basketball is a vastly superior product over the NBA. Yes, the NBA features the best athletes in the world playing the game, but many point to a boring regular season, lack of overall defense and me-first holier than thou attitude that comes with million-dollar salaries.

While the level of athlete isn’t even comparable in the college game, there are many other reasons why its more enjoyable. Student sections, campus life, small towns, deeply connected alumni bases, dramatic game play, cheerleaders, defensive effort and kids playing for the love of the game are at the top of that list. But college arenas and stadiums are more intimate and interwoven into the history of a school unlike the NBA buildings (minus maybe Madison Square Garden or the Boston Gardens).


And the traditions of the college game — like arena nicknames — are priceless. Here are college hoops best arena nicknames:


1. The Pit, New Mexico (University Arena)
New Mexico’s famous basketball-only arena opened in 1966 as University Arena and was renamed officially as “The Pit” in 2009. It got its nickname from how the building was constructed, as the floor of the arena is 37 feet below “ground level,” meaning the court is actually built inside of a pit. Because it was built into such a small space with steep grading and relatively tight quarters for 15,411 capacity seating, the Lobos have enjoyed one of the loudest home quarter settings in all of college hoops. It cost a relatively affordable $1.4 million to build and the building itself reminds fans and opposing players that it sits a mile above sea level as well.


2. The Phog, Kansas (Allen Fieldhouse)
Named in honor of former head coach Dr. Forrest C. Allen, who led the Jayhawks program for 39 years and was nicknamed “Phog” for his distinct booming fog-horn voice. Allen Fieldhouse was opened in 1955 following four years of construction, the building currently seats 16,300 and originally cost just $2.5 million to build. The Phog is widely regarded as one of the loudest building in college basketball, and thanks to decades of great teams, is arguably the toughest place to win in all of sports. At home, Kansas is 107-2 since 2007, 263-14 since 1994 (the last renovation) and 699-108 all-time, so all who enter clearly must “Pay Heed.”


3. The Barn, Minnesota (Williams Arena)
One of the older buildings in the nation, Williams Arena was opened in 1928 and cost just $650,000 to build. Its 14,625 rowdy Golden Gophers fans and rounded ceiling shape give it a raucous barnyard feel — which is how the student section (The Barnyard) and building got their of their nicknames. The most unusual characteristic of the building, however, might be the raised floor design. The court is roughly two feet above player benches, press row and the first rows of seats. The Barn has hosted both The NCAA basketball finals (1951) and a pair of Frozen Fours (1958, 1966).


4. The Kennel, Gonzaga (McCarthey Athletic Center)
McCarthey Athletic Center was opened in 2004 and goes by The New Kennel or K2 to fans in the know, however, The Kennel is the best and most fitting. The nickname has carried over from the previous facility in Spokane, the Charlotte Y. Martin Center, and couldn’t be more appropriately named. The Bulldogs play extremely well at home and the boisterous fans pack the tight 6,000-person arena each and every home game. The Kennel cost Gonzaga $25 million to build.


5. The RAC, Rutgers (Louis Brown Athletic Center)
Rutgers’ basketball arena was originally titled the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) when it opened in 1977. It was renamed in 1986 as the Louis Brown Athletic Center but the nickname stuck through the name change. The 8,000-seat building hosted the New Jersey Nets from 1977-81 as well as the Scarlet Knights basketball and volleyball teams. The home team hasn’t been a championship contender, but Rutgers plays great at home and the fans are intimidating close to the action. The RAC just sounds like a great place to play hoops.

6. The Slim Gym, San Diego (Jenny Craig Pavilion)
Jenny Craig Pavilion, or the JCP, was opened in 2000 on the beautiful Toreros campus in San Diego, Calif. Named after famous weight loss guru Jenny Craig, the building quickly became known as the Slim Gym for obvious reasons. The punny nickname is one of the most creative and original nicknames in college hoops. JCP seats 5,100 patrons and cost $17.5 million to build.


7. Octagon of Doom, Kansas State (Bramlage Coliseum)
Kansas State plays all of its men’s and women’s basketball games in a place known as The Octagon of Doom. It seats 12,528, was opened in 1988 and cost $17.5 million to build. The nickname comes from the building’s eight-sided shape and was started by fans who would bring octagonal shaped signs with “Doom” written them due to reputation of tenacious defense. The Manhattan arena’s nickname has quickly (2007) become one of the best pseudonyms in college sports.


8. The Tad Pad, Ole Miss (C. M. Smith Coliseum)
The Ole Miss Rebels have called C. M. Smith Coliseum home since 1965-66 when the building was originally called Rebel Coliseum. Smith was a three-sport star at Ole Miss, a coach and eventually became the Athletic Director in Oxford. The important Mississippi personality went by “Tad” and so the 9,061-seat building is now referred to as The Tad Pad.


9. Dome of Doom, Wyoming (Arena-Auditorium)
With a formal name like Arena-Auditorium, its no wonder the fans in Laramie came up with a nickname for their basketball arena. The 15,028-seat building was built in 1982 for $15 million and is officially the highest arena in NCAA Division I basketball. Situated at 7,220 feet above sea level, the Dome of Doom, or “Double-A,” literally causes headaches to opposing teams and fans.


10. The Rock, Seton Hall/NJIT (Prudential Center)
165 Mulberry Street in Newark, N.J., is home to one of the most well-used buildings in college sports. Named affectionately for the Rock of Gibraltar corporate logo of Prudential Financial, The Rock is home to three different hockey teams, namely the New Jersey Devils, and has hosted both the New Jersey Nets and New York Liberty of the professional basketball ranks in the past. But why it makes this list is famed Seton Hall basketball — as well as NJIT — calls The PC home. The 18,711-seat building (for basketball) cost an astronomical $375 million to build back in 2007. 


The Best of the Rest:

11. The Thriller Dome, Georgia Tech (Alexander Memorial Coliseum)
12. Dean Dome, North Carolina (Dean Smith Center)
13. The Hump, Mississippi State (Humphrey Coliseum)
14. The Dunk, Providence (Dunkin Donuts Arena)
15. The O-Dome, Florida (Stephen O’Connell Center)
16. The Pete, Pitt (Petersen Events Center)

Old-School Honorable Mention:

Big Brown Box that Rocks, Loyola-Chicago (Alumni Gym)
From 1924 to 1996, Loyola-Chicago called Alumni Gym home. The 2,000-seat building was known for its crazy fans and eventually became known as the Big Brown Box That Rocks.

Chamber of Horrors, New Orleans (Human Performance Center)
New Orleans began playing Division I basketball in 1969 and called the Human Performance Center home until 1983 and then again following Hurricane Katrina from 2005-08. It seated just 1,200 fans was known as The Chamber of Horrors.

NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Previews

Re-Ranking the Tournament: The Sweet 16
Midwest Region Sweet 16 Weekend Preview
South Region Sweet 16 Weekend Preview
West Region Sweet 16 Weekend Preview
East Region Sweet 16 Weekend Preview
College Basketball's Top 10 Dunkers of 2012-13
The NCAA Tournament's Biggest Upsets and Closest Calls of All-Time

<p> College Basketball's Top 10 Arena Nicknames</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: USC Trojans, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/who-are-possible-coaching-replacements-usc

The job of finding a new basketball coach at USC just got a little more difficult for athletic director Pat Haden.

The Trojans fired Kevin O’Neill -- hired to shepherd the program after Tim Floyd was fired amid NCAA sanctions -- midseason. Any advantages of getting ahead of the curve may have diminished when USC suddenly became the No. 2 vacant college job in its own city when UCLA fired Ben Howland.

USC is something of a sleeping giant, especially with a new arena and plush facilities. But the Trojans are a football-first program, and after recruiting violations surrounding O.J. Mayo put the program on probation, Haden won’t be able to gamble on a coach with NCAA baggage.

Gib Arnold, Hawaii
If USC is interested in revisiting the Tim Floyd era, it could take a look at Arnold, an assistant at USC for five seasons. In three seasons at Hawaii -- a struggling basketball program when he arrived -- he went 14-16 in the WAC and 10-8 in his first season in the Big West.

Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s
Bennett has built the Gaels into a perennial challenger for Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference. But for all he’s accomplished, he’s yet to grab a major conference job. That will be tougher -- especially as far as USC is concerned -- after Saint Mary’s was hit for sanctions for recruiting violations. Bennett was suspended for five games in 2013-14 for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance after an assistant was found committing major recruiting violations.

Bob Cantu, USC interim coach
Cantu went 7-8 as interim coach, including wins over UCLA and Arizona. The Trojans were 7-10 when Kevin O’Neill was fired.

Mike Hopkins, Syracuse assistant
He’s been an assistant at Syracuse for 18 seasons. And though he’s been acknowledged as a possible successor for Jim Boeheim, Hopkins has been in the mix for other openings and some not as high-profile as USC.

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
After 15 seasons at Winthrop and Wichita State, maybe it’s surprising Marshall hasn’t moved to one of the major conferences yet. After three consecutive seasons of 27 or more wins, back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances at Wichita State and a Sweet 16 berth, now may be the time to jump.

Marvin Menzies, New Mexico State
Menzies’ name has cropped up for openings before, including Colorado State before last season. A former Rick Pitino assistant at Louisville, Menzies also spent time as an assistant at USC and San Diego State. He’s never won an outright conference title with the Aggies, but reached the NCAA Tournament three times by winning the WAC Tournament.

Josh Pastner, Memphis
He was mentioned as an early candidate, but he signed a long-term deal to stay with the Tigers.

Leon Rice, Boise State
A former Gonzaga assistant under Mark Few, Rice led Boise State to its first at-large NCAA Tournament bid in school history after going 9-7 in a difficult Mountain West. That came a year after the Broncos went 3-11 and tied for last place in their first season in the league.

Shaka Smart, VCU
The 35-year-old will be a hot name in the coaching carousel again after the 2011 Final Four and a seamless transition to the Atlantic 10. All indications are Smart is happy at VCU. After all, he turned down Illinois last season.

Buzz Williams, Marquette
After reaching the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons, Williams will be a hot commodity in the carousel. The Golden Eagles have been among the best teams in the Big East despite losing Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, and Williams has proven he can unearth talent on the recruiting trail. He turned down opportunities last season to stay with the program that rolled the dice on him five years ago.

<p> The Trojans made a coaching change at midseason. Who could be the next coach at Southern Cal?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /college-basketball/tubby-smith-fired-minnesota-who-are-possible-coach-replacements

Minnesota raised eyebrows with the firing of Tubby Smith on March 25. The question being, why would Minnesota fire a national title coach who had more fortune than most in program history.

The Gophers have a limited track record of basketball success -- or at least success that wasn't followed by NCAA sanctions -- and they fired a coach who won their first Tournament game since 1997. But Smith never had a winning conference record at Minnesota and had a handful of high-profile transfers under his watch (Colton Iverson and Royce White, for starters).

Minnesota demanded more than what Smith delivered. Still, the Gophers remain a lower-tier job in the Big Ten. Minnesota is in need of a facility upgrade and is lacking in recent tradition. The next coach will be expected to deliver under these circumstances.

Andy Enfield, Florida Gulf Coast
A jump from the Atlantic Sun to a major conference job would be quite a leap, but Enfield is an unusual circumstance as the first coach to guide a No. 15 seed and an A-Sun team to the Sweet 16. Beyond the NCAA Tournament, Enfield proved himself as a program-builder by finishing second in the conference in the league's second season as a full Division I member. This would be a press conference-winning move, but an interesting risk.

Anthony Grant, Alabama
Minnesota’s athletic director, Norwood Teague, worked with Anthony Grant at VCU, so he’ll be in the rumor mill. Grant made two Tourney appearances at VCU, including a win over Duke in 2007. At Alabama, he’s gone 33-17 in conference in the last three years, but that’s translated to only one NCAA appearance.

Chris Mack, Xavier
The last five Xavier coaches have left for major conference jobs, so that’s reason for speculation around Mack. Xavier missed the Tournament in 2013 but reached the Sweet 16 in 2012. Mack is a Cincinnati native who has watched his predecessors go to Arizona, Ohio State and Wake Forest. He has good reason to be choosy.

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
After 15 seasons at Winthrop and Wichita State, maybe it’s surprising Marshall hasn’t moved to one of the major conferences yet. After three consecutive seasons of 27 or more wins, back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances at Wichita State and a Sweet 16 berth, now may be the time to jump.

Steve Prohm, Murray State
The 2011-12 season was a miracle one for Prohm, who won 31 games in his first season as a head coach. After personnel losses, Murray State went 21-10 in 2012-13. The Racers still went 10-6 and won the OVC West in a competitive low-major league. He’s a Southeastern coach, but at 38, he’s at the younger end of the spectrum.

Flip Saunders, former NBA coach
Saunders has been a coach with the Timberwolves, Pistons and Wizards in the NBA. He’s an accomplished alum who’s not coaching now. That makes him an interesting candidate.

Shaka Smart, VCU
A fantasy candidate for Minnesota, for sure. He’s listed only because Minnesota’s athletic director hired Smart at VCU. Smart already turned down a better job in the same conference, and Smart could court dozens of jobs better than Minnesota. That is, assuming he wants to leave VCU in the first place.

Buzz Williams, Marquette
After reaching the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons, Williams will be a hot commodity in the carousel. The Golden Eagles have been among the best teams in the Big East despite losing Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, and Williams has proven he can unearth talent on the recruiting trail. He turned down opportunities last season to stay with the program that rolled the dice on him five years ago.

<p> Minnesota fired Tubby Smith despite a rare NCAA Tournament win. Who's next?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-10-players-rise-2013

With spring practice underway for most college football teams, the countdown to the 2013 season has officially started. With preseason predictions right around the corner, it’s never too early to start thinking about which players might be the next breakout stars. 

As with every college football season, a handful of players will emerge from being a virtual unknown in August to a household name in January. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel is a perfect example from last year. He wasn't guaranteed to be the starter after spring practice but won the starting job and had one of the most prolific seasons by a quarterback in SEC history. Could there be another year by a quarterback that results in a Heisman? It's unlikely, but it can happen.

Looking for college football's next breakout star at quarterback? Look no further than Lubbock, Texas. With Seth Doege expiring his eligibility, Michael Brewer is set to take control of new coach Kliff Kingsbury's high-powered offense. Considering what Kingsbury did with Manziel at Texas A&M, Brewer could have a monster statistical season in his first year as the starter. 

College Football's Top 10 Players on the Rise for 2013

1. Michael Brewer, QB, Texas Tech
With Kliff Kingsbury returning to Lubbock, the Red Raiders will be one of college football’s most intriguing teams in 2013. The former Texas Tech quarterback coordinated one of the nation’s top offenses in 2012 at Texas A&M and helped to engineer a similar attack at Houston with record-setting quarterback Case Keenum. With Seth Doege expiring his eligibility, Brewer is expected to become Texas Tech’s next prolific quarterback. As a backup to Doege in 2012, he threw for 375 yards and four touchdowns on 48 attempts. And the sophomore has been well-versed in spread offenses, playing under Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris when he was the head coach at Lake Travis (Texas) High School. Even though the Red Raiders lose Doege and receiver Darrin Moore, Brewer’s emergence and Kingsbury’s offense should keep Texas Tech in the hunt to match last season’s win total (eight).

2. Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia
The Bulldogs are a slight favorite over South Carolina to represent the East in Atlanta, but winning a third consecutive division championship will rest on a revamped defense. Only three starters return for Todd Grantham’s defense in 2013, and each level of the unit suffered some heavy losses. Defensive lineman John Jenkins and three starters in the secondary won’t be easy to replace, but the linebacking corps was hit hardest by departures, as both Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones chose to enter the NFL Draft. Losing Ogletree and Jones certainly stings, but Georgia has to be excited about Jenkins and the promise he showed last season. In 14 games as a true freshman, he recorded 31 tackles and five sacks, while forcing one fumble. If Jenkins can maintain Georgia’s pass rush off of the edge, the defense may not be in as bad of shape as some may have believed this offseason.

Related Content: 2013 Georgia Bulldogs Spring Preview

3. Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan
Gardner is a familiar name to most in the Big Ten, but he is poised to be a household name by the end of 2013. In three seasons in Ann Arbor, Gardner has thrown for 1,480 yards and 13 touchdowns, while also rushing for 175 yards and catching 17 passes for 268 yards. With Denard Robinson entrenched as the starter going into 2012, the Detroit native was slated to play receiver. However, Gardner shifted back to quarterback once Robinson suffered an elbow injury and started four out of the final five games under center. The junior had a strong showing in the last weeks of the season, throwing for 314 yards and recording six overall touchdowns in a 42-17 win over Iowa. Gardner completed 18 of 36 throws for 214 yards and three scores against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl and never threw more than one interception during his five-game stint at quarterback. Michigan will miss Robinson’s playmaking ability, but Gardner is plenty capable of leading the Wolverines to a Legends Division title. With left tackle Taylor Lewan returning to Ann Arbor, along with the arrival of touted true freshman running back Derrick Green, there figures to be plenty of help for Gardner in his first full season as the starter.

Related Content: 2013 Michigan Wolverines Spring Preview

4. Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
If there’s one area that will keep coach Urban Meyer and co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers awake at night – it’s the defense. The Buckeyes return only four starters on that side of the ball and must replace four key players from the defensive line. Thanks to Meyer’s relentless recruiting efforts, talent isn’t an issue with the new defensive linemen. Spence was one of the most sought-after defenders in last year’s class, ranking No. 4 in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. In 11 games as a true freshman, the Pennsylvania native recorded 12 tackles and one sack. As with any first-year starter, expect a few ups and downs. However, Spence and fellow sophomore Adolphus Washington also will wreck havoc on opposing offensive lines.

Related Content: 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes Spring Preview

5. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
No matter what season it is, LSU always seems to have an All-SEC-caliber defensive lineman ready to step up to replace a departing senior or early entrant into the NFL. This year is no different, as Johnson is expected to ease the blow from losing Bennie Logan and Josh Downs. As a sophomore in 2012, Johnson recorded 30 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss. He also registered three sacks and two quarterback hurries. With LSU losing six key linemen from last season, it’s up to Johnson to keep the Tigers’ defensive line among the best in the SEC.

Related Content: 2013 LSU Tigers Spring Preview

6. Rushel Shell, RB, Pittsburgh
With Ray Graham coming back from a torn ACL last season, the Panthers expected and needed a big contribution from Shell. And considering he ranked as the No. 5 running back in the 2012 signing class, it was no surprise Shell was one of the Big East’s top freshmen last year. In 12 games, the Pennsylvania native recorded 641 yards and four scores, while catching nine passes for 103 yards. Shell’s best game came against Virginia Tech, posting 157 yards on 23 attempts. With Graham expiring his eligibility, the job is Shell’s to lose for 2013. The sophomore will be running behind an offensive line that returns three starters but loses All-Big East center Ryan Turnley and guard Chris Jacobson. Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst molded some of the nation’s top rushing attacks at Wisconsin, and with Shell leading the way in 2013, look for the Panthers to feature a ground and pound approach.

Related Content: 2013 Pittsburgh Panthers Spring Preview

7. Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
With the departure of three of the nation’s best blockers and a new coach, the line is a major area of focus for Nick Saban this spring. Considering the recruiting classes Saban has been able to reel in, there’s no shortage of talent waiting to step into the starting lineup. However, the Crimson Tide has to get all five starters on the same page, along with developing depth in case of injury to one of the new linemen. Kelly is expected to replace Barrett Jones at center this year, and the Ohio native has big shoes to fill. Not only was Jones an excellent player, but he also played a key role in terms of leadership on the offensive side. Kelly was impressive in a backup role last year, as he recorded playing time in 10 games. There will be a drop off from Jones to Kelly. However, if Kelly’s performance last season was any indication, the Crimson Tide’s offensive line isn’t going to take too much of a step back in 2013.

Related Content: 2013 Alabama Spring Preview

8. Mario Edwards, DE, Florida State
With the departure of ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, along with tackles Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud, there will be a lot of new faces on Florida State’s defensive line in 2013. The Seminoles have recruited well, so there is talent waiting in the wings. Edwards is the most likely candidate to emerge as a star in 2013, as he was the No. 2 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and played in 11 games and recorded 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks as a true freshman last year. With another offseason to work in the weight room and learn from new defensive coaches Jeremy Pruitt and Sal Sunseri, Edwards is poised to have a breakout season and challenge for All-ACC honors.

Related Content: 2013 Florida State Seminoles Spring Preview

9. Brendan Bigelow, RB, California
Despite being a potential dynamic playmaker for California and posting an eye-popping 9.8 yards per carry, Bigelow was limited to just 44 rushing attempts and seven receptions last year. The Fresno native did play a key role on special teams, averaging 23 yards per kickoff return in 2012. With a new coaching staff taking over in Berkeley, along with C.J. Anderson and Isi Sofele expiring their eligibility, Bigelow will get an opportunity to secure the No. 1 spot in the backfield this preseason. New coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin built an offense at Louisiana Tech that averaged 227.2 rushing yards and 51.5 points per game in 2012, and both coaches should better utilize Bigelow’s talents. The junior will likely miss spring practice due to knee surgery, but if he’s healthy this fall, Bigelow is due for a breakout season.

10. Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma
While it’s unfair to compare Bell to Tim Tebow, he is following a similar career path to the former Heisman Trophy winner. Tebow was used mostly as a running threat during his first year, which is the same role Bell has fulfilled for Oklahoma in the last two years. After spending the last two seasons as a change of pace player, Bell will make the transition to starting quarterback this spring. The junior has recorded 372 rushing yards and 24 scores on 104 career carries but has only thrown 20 passes. Bell isn’t guaranteed the starting job, as Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight will get a chance to push him for the No. 1 spot in the spring. If Bell shows he can move the offense through the air, his dual-threat ability would provide a different dimension for Oklahoma’s offense, which ranked fifth in the Big 12 last season with an average of 38.2 points a game.

Related Content: 2013 Oklahoma Sooners Spring Preview

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College Football's Top 10 Defensive Players on the Rise for 2013

<p> College Football's Top 10 Players on the Rise for 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 09:35
Path: /mlb/2013-fantasy-baseball-injuries-watch

Opening Day of the 2013 MLB season is right around the corner, but there are quite a few players who won’t be available to help your fantasy team from the outset. For some, their season debuts should only be delayed while others will be on the disabled list for a little longer. Here are some of the key hitters and pitchers who are dealing with injuries headed into Opening Day and how you should handle them during your draft.

Carlos Beltran, OF, STL
Injury: Fractured right toe after being hit by a pitch on Feb. 28.
Time frame: Returned to the lineup and field on Tuesday. He could be ready for Opening Day, miss the first game or two or even start the season on the DL. His situation should become clearer by the end of this week.
Should you draft him? There is no reason to not draft him even if he misses the first week or so. I just would caution against drafting him expecting a repeat of his 2011 numbers (.269-32-97, 13 SB), considering he will turn 36 in late April and his batting average dropped more than 30 points from ’11 (.300) to last season (.269).

Adam Eaton, OF, ARI
Injury: Sprained left UCL in his elbow.
Time frame: Projection was 6-8 weeks at the time the injury was discovered on March 22. A conservative estimate would be a mid-May return.
Should you draft him? Even if Eaton misses the first two months of the season, there should be enough games left for the Diamondbacks’ leadoff man to make an impact, especially in the runs and stolen bases departments. That said, the injury and the uncertainty surrounding his return dampers the buzz the 24-year-old was getting during spring training. If he’s sitting there in the middle or late rounds of your draft, by all means take him, but let someone else “reach” for a guy who has less than 100 at-bats in the majors and could potentially be affected by his elbow issue all season.

Curtis Granderson, OF, NYY
Injury: Fractured right forearm after being hit by a pitch on Feb. 24.
Time frame: Out until at least early May.
Should you draft him? Yes, as long as you are not banking on another 40-home run, 100-RBI season. Even if Granderson is back by the first of May, he will have missed at least 30 games or so. The problem with Granderson is that he has become power-hungry in recent years, as his batting average dropped to just .232 last season and he stole a total of 10 bases. Granderson still has value, but let someone else overpay based on the 84 total home runs he’s hit the past two seasons.

Related: 2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield

Zack Greinke, SP, LAD
Injury: Right elbow inflammation.
Time frame: Missed several weeks of spring training following the discovery of the inflammation. Returned to the mound on Monday for his first action since March 1. At this point he is expected to be ready for the start of the season.
Should you draft him? Greinke was a top-25 fantasy SP last year, but don’t let the biggest deal (six year, $142 million) ever signed by a right-handed pitcher over-inflate his value. Pitching in Dodger Stadium should help, but Greinke has never won more than 16 games in a season and has posted an ERA of less than 3.47 once (2.16 in 2009 with KC). At minimum, he should be good for strikeouts, but even that production slipped a little bit last season. There’s no reason to move Greinke ahead of where he finished the 2012 season, as a top-25 SP, that’s for sure.

Chase Headley, 3B, SD
Injury: Broken right thumb sustained sliding into second on March 17.
Time frame: Could possibly return mid-April, but more likely will miss at least the first three weeks or so.
Should you draft him? Headley is still one of the top 10 third base options out there, but the injury pushes him to the outer edge of this range in my opinion. Before the injury, the chances of him repeating last season’s production (.286-31-115, 95 runs scored) were slim considering his numbers were fueled in large part by an insane second half (.308-23-73, 56 runs scored). Now that he’s dealing with an early thumb injury, it would be wise to temper expectations even further.

Derek Jeter, SS, NYY
Injury: Recovery from fractured left ankle sustained in Game 1 of 2012 ALDS against Detroit
Time frame: Jeter himself acknowledged on Tuesday that he won't be ready to go on Opening Day as he has been limited in spring training by ongoing soreness and stiffness in his ankle. The Yankee captain will start the season on the DL, but because the team can backdate the start of the 15-day period, he is expected to be eligible for activation on April 6.
Should you draft him? Only if you are a big Jeter/Yankee fan or for sentimentality. The reality is that Jeter will turn 39 in June and clearly is in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career. As far as 2013 goes you are better off taking your chances with another shortstop.

Brett Lawire, 3B, TOR
Injury: Strained left rib cage.
Time frame: Will open season on the DL, but stint will be backdated so he could return as early as April 6.
Should you draft him? Absolutely, but with the caveat that there’s a good chance this will not be his only DL stint this season. Remember, the 23-year-old played in just 125 games last season because of various injuries, but the talent and potential is still too tantalizing to pass up. I wouldn’t let Lawrie slide too far down your draft board especially once Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, David Wright (see below), Adrian Beltre and Ryan Zimmerman are taken.

Hanley Ramirez, 3B/SS, LAD
Injury: Torn right thumb ligament sustained in the championship game of the World Baseball Classic on March 19.
Time frame: Underwent surgery on March 22, expected to be out at least eight weeks, if not longer.
Should you draft him? Yes, but be sure you are covered while he is out and don’t be surprised if it takes him a few weeks to get his timing and rhythm back at the plate once he returns. Ramirez is still one of the top fantasy options at shortstop (provided he’s still eligible there), but there’s no reason to take him over Jose Reyes, Starlin Castro or potentially even Ian Desmond and Elvis Andrus with HanRam expected to be out until the latter part of May, at the earliest. Yes, Ramirez went 20-20 again in 2012, but he needed 157 games to get there. At best, he may play in 110 games this season.

Mark Teixeira, 1B, NYY
Injury: Partially torn tendon in his right wrist.
Time frame: Not expected to return until some point in May, but strong possibility he could miss all of first two months.
Should you draft him? I would not unless you have already covered yourself at first base or are big on risks. Teixeira is sure to miss even more games than either of his Yankee teammates Jeter or Granderson, and even once he returns he’s no sure thing. For one, his batting average, on-base percentage and OPS have all declined over each of the past four seasons and he only played in 123 games in 2012. The power may still be there, but this also becomes a concern any time you are dealing with a wrist injury. There are too many other first base options out there for me to even consider taking a chance on the Yankee switch-hitter.

David Wright, 3B, NYM
Injury: Intercostal strain sustained while playing for team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
Time frame: He served as the DH in minor-league games on Tuesday. He is hoping to be ready by Opening Day, but it's safer to assume he will miss at least the first few games. The Mets will probably keep him out of spring training games so they can backdate his DL stint, if it comes to that.
Should you draft him? Without hesitation, unless something happens in the next few days that sets him back even further. He was participating in infield drills and batting practice the beginning of this week and will probably be eased back into spring training action. The problem is that there are just a few exhibition games left and the team has to decide if they think he’s ready to go or not. Still, at this point there’s no reason to not draft him as one of the top third basemen available.

Other injury situations:

David Freese, 3B, STL – A nagging back issue means Freese will start the season on the DL. A productive player (.293-20-79) when he’s in the lineup, Freese’s injury history and documented back troubles make him hard to trust. Freese is a classic risk-vs.-reward case and it’s possible his reputation could cause him to fall far enough in your draft to negate the former.

Matt Garza, SP, CHC – Garza can’t seem to shake the injury bug as he sustained a strained left lat muscle in spring training while continuing his recovery from last season’s elbow issue. Garza could be back on the mound in the first part of May, but between his injury history and the fact he plays for a Cubs team not expected to contend, he shouldn’t even be on your radar until the middle to late rounds of your draft.

Roy Halladay, SP, PHI – If he’s injured, neither he nor the Phillies are saying, but what’s clear is that the two-time Cy Young winner is not his old self. After dealing with shoulder issues last season, Halladay has been ineffective to say the least during spring training with reports of diminished velocity, a lack of movement and inability to locate. Put it all together and it’s a recipe for disaster and why you should stay far away from the former fantasy ace.

Corey Hart, 1B/OF, MIL – Hart is expected back sometime in May after undergoing knee surgery in January. Even with the missed time, Hart could be an intriguing late-round option considering he will get his starting job back at first base upon his return and he hit 30 home runs with 83 RBIs and 91 runs scored last season.

Ryan Madson, RP, LAA – Madson is still making his way back from last April’s Tommy John surgery. He could make his return to the mound by the end of the opening month of the season, but that’s not a guarantee. The Angels have a reliable closer option in Ernesto Frieri while Madson is out, so be wary of drafting him as a sure-fire ninth-inning option when he does finally return.

Brian McCann, C, ATL – McCann is progressing in his recovery from the shoulder surgery he underwent in October and could be back behind the plate as early as late April. If you are one of the last to grab a catcher in your league, McCann may be worth a look as a late-round pick too. Don’t forget he’s produced at least 20 home runs in each of the past five season and his .230 batting average in 2012 was the first sub-.269 mark of his career.

Jason Motte, RP, STL – Motte is dealing with what the team is calling a mild strain in his right elbow and is pretty much guaranteed of starting the season on the DL. The Cardinals have yet to announce any sort of timeline for his return, which only adds to the uncertainty surrounding his status. I would still keep him in mind on draft day, but he probably should drop several slots down your board, at minimum.

David Ortiz, 1B/DH, BOS – Big Papi has yet to see any spring training action because of right heel inflammation. Even if Ortiz carries 1B-eligibility in your league, his age (37), injury history (90 G in 2012) and decreasing production are enough reasons to move him down your draft board.

Pablo Sandoval, 3B, SF – Sandoval is dealing with some nerve irritation in his right elbow. At this time, the Giants have not expressed any real concern he won’t be ready come Opening Day, but it’s not like the Kung Fu Panda is a stranger to the DL (117 G in 2011, 108 in ’12) either.

Related Content:

Fantasy Baseball Positional Rankings: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | DH | SP | RP

2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball: Closer Grid
2013 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2013

<p> 2013 Fantasy Baseball: Which Injured Players Are Worth Drafting?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/auburn-tigers-2013-spring-football-preview

Auburn fans can't forget about the 2012 season quick enough. The first 0-8 season in SEC play, as well as widespread off the field chaos, led to the eventual ouster of head coach Gene Chizik, who led the Tigers to a BCS title in the 2010 season. Enter Gus Malzahn, who was the offensive coordinator for that undefeated national championship team. He takes over a roster that was recruited well but clearly not coached much at all. Malzahn has his work cut out for him but there are plenty of four- and five-star recruits walking around The Plains right now. Developing this talent in the spring will go a long way to making Auburn competitive once again.

Auburn Tigers 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 3-9 (0-8)

Spring practice dates: March 20-April 13

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 9

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Kiehl Frazier, 62 of 116, 753 yards, 2 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Tre Mason, 171 car., 1,002 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving: C.J. Uzomah, 7 rec., 136 yards, 1 TDs
Tackles: Demetruce McNeal, 90
Sacks: Dee Ford, 6.0
Interceptions: Trent Fisher, 1

Redshirts to watch: OL Alex Kozan, OL Jordan Diamond, TE Ricky Parks, DB T.J. Davis, DL Tyler Nero

Early Enrollees to watch: QB Nick Marshall, DT Ben Bradley, OL Devonte Danzey, DB Brandon King, LB Kenny Flowers

JUCO Transfers to watch: RB Cameron Artis-Payne, DT Ben Bradley, OL Devonte Danzey, LB Kenny Flowers, DB Brandon King, QB Nick Marshall

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 Washington State
Sept. 7 Arkansas State
Sept. 14 Mississippi State
Sept. 21 at LSU
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Ole Miss
Oct. 10 Western Carolina
Oct. 18 at Texas A&M
Oct. 26 FAU
Nov. 2 at Arkansas
Nov. 8 at Tennessee
Nov. 16 Georgia
Nov. 23 Bye Week
Nov. 30 Alabama

Related Content: SEC's All-Underrated Spring Team

Offensive Strength: The running game. Tre Mason returns as arguably the team's best player and four starters are back along the line.

Offensive Weakness: Quarterback. This is a major concern heading into the 2013 season as few teams played as poorly under center as Auburn did a year ago.

Defensive Strength: Defensive backs. This is the position that was hit the least with departures as only one key player (T'Sharvan Bell) doesn't return to the secondary.

Defensive Weakness: Front seven star power. Corey Lemonier, Daren Bates and Jonathan Evans leave three holes in the front seven — soon to be front six. This group has talented bodies but someone needs to step up and lead.

Spring Storylines Facing the Cardinals

1. Who will start under center? By far the biggest question mark swirling on The Plains is who will start at quarterback for the Tigers? Kiehl Frazier is the leading returning passer — if what he did last year can be called passing — but he is fairly young and his skills fit what Malzahn wants to do on offense.While Jonathan Wallace might be a slightly less refined (if that's possible) and talented version of Frazier, he was more effective last fall. With three highly touted passers coming to town in the summer, both Wallace and Frazier need to make major headway this spring. New offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will bring the no-huddle hurry-up back to Auburn and that system should allow the two scholarship players on campus to make plays with their legs. Are they keeping the seat warm for junior college transfer Nick Marshall or elite freshmen Johnny Johnson and Jason Smith or can Frazier/Wallace realize their potential and grasp the starting job?

2. Develop an edge up front on offense. The good news is the offensive line returns four starters. The bad news is those starters were horrendous last season. This group was dead last in the SEC at protecting the quarterback (3.09 sacks allowed per game) and finished 78th nationally in rushing. Creating a push and playing with a killer instinct up front will go a long way in helping develop a quarterback. This group has talent according to the recruiting sites but it hasn't played with the intensity and edge needed to be successful against SEC defenses. Look for Lashlee and Malzahn to instill some toughness in this group and develop talent up front on offense this spring.

3. Grow the defensive line. Gabe Wright has tons of upside at nose guard. So too does Dee Ford, the team's leading sack artist last fall, Nosa Eguae and LaDarius Owens on the outside. No one player may be able to replace Lemonier but as a whole this unit could be improved in 2013. Of course, on a team that was 14th in the SEC in rushing defense, 11th in the SEC sacks and 12th in tackles for a loss, the only place to go is up. Developing this area of the field, more so than any other, will help Auburn get back to competitive football as quickly as possible.

4. Create depth at linebacker. Jake Holland is the only returning linebacker with any substantial experience after Jonathan Evans and Daren Bates graduated. Ellis Johnson is moving this defense to a 4-2-5 and so this position might not be as big a concern had the switch (from 4-3) hadn't happened. However, Holland needs some help to step up around him. Kris Frost is someone Auburn fans have been excited about for some time and this spring is his chance to shine. Cassanova McKinzy has some time under his belt but needs to iron out his game to earn a starting spot while Justin Garrett also figures heavily into the mix.

5. Find playmakers on offense other than Mason. The Tigers' starting tailback, while not a true SEC workhorse, was the most productive player on the team last year. But there is little depth around him at running back, wide receiver or tight end in terms of playmakers. Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen are gone and this spring will likely see Malzahn attempt to find supporting pieces for Mason and his quarterbacks. Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and tight end C.J. Uzomah have upside and should develop into starters while Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis and running backs Corey Grant, Cameron Artis-Payne and Peyton Barber will look to create depth. Finding big-play options at running back, wideout and tight end will be huge this spring for the soon-to-be fast-paced offense.

Related College Football Content

College Football's Pre-Spring Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2013
5 Players to Watch in SEC Spring Practice

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

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Ranking the SEC Coaching Jobs for 2013

Ranking All 125 College Football Coaching Jobs for 2013

<p> Auburn Tigers 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 08:15
Path: /nascar/7-amazing-nascar-stats-week

This weekend provides a rare off day on the jam-packed NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, but that doesn’t mean analysis will stop. After five races, there is a litany of story-telling statistics in a series that continues to one-up itself, to the delight of news desks everywhere.

Secondary to all the controversial opinions, fighting and crashing, the most popular driver in the sport is the one sitting atop the NASCAR mountain. Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads the point standings, which, as you will read below, is well deserved.

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

4.4 and 2.3   Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his No. 88 team lead full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitors in average finish (4.4) and finish deviation (2.3).

What does this mean? Earnhardt is the most consistent driver in the series right now — a zero deviation would mean the same finish over and over — while bringing home tremendous results. Junior Nation should be rejoicing, because that isn’t just the sort of thing that gets a driver to the Chase; what Earnhardt and his Steve Letarte-led race team are doing are habits of potential champions.

+54.2%  Earnhardt’s finishes are an increase of 54.2 percent over his average running position with 10 percent of a race to go.

That plus-54.2 percent position retainment difference is another habit of a title contender. That increase is worth about 26 positions — think of that as 26 extra points — earned in the waning laps of each race. On fresh tires, Earnhardt navigated through a firestorm of activity last Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, driving from 13th to second in the final 20 laps for his most lucrative home-stretch run of the season.

100%  Four teams in the Cup Series have finished in the top half of fields in all five races for a relevance percentage of 100.

“Relevance” is finishing in the top half of fields (21st or better in the Cup Series). This is important because hitting the 80 percent mark through the 26-race regular season all but lands a team one of the 10 automatic Chase spots. Of the four driver-team combinations currently with perfect relevance percentages, two of them aren’t surprises (Earnhardt and the No. 88 team and Greg Biffle with his No. 16 team) and two sort of are (Paul Menard and the No. 27 team and rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and the new-look No. 17 team). It is no coincidence that all four teams are currently inside the top 12 of the point standings at this juncture.

41  The No. 16 team with Greg Biffle has gone 41 races without registering a DNF (Did Not Finish, a status frequently used in NASCAR box scores to indicate why a driver finished so poorly).

In today’s NASCAR, with Chase implications attached to every position gained or lost, consistency matters. That starts with finishing races, which is something Biffle and crew chief Matt Puccia have done in their sleep over the last year. Their most recent DNF was an engine failure in the 2011 season finale at Homestead, so credit the Roush Yates engine department for holding strong behind one of Ford’s best entries. Biffle himself deserves a tip of the cap for being able to avoid accidents well enough to go 76 races without an accident-related DNF.

<p> David Smith reveals seven NASCAR stats about Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Casey Mears and AJ Allmendinger in the Sprint Cup Series.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 17:16
All taxonomy terms: Pac 12, UCLA Bruins, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/ucla-fired-howland-who-are-possible-coaching-replacements

UCLA is in the market for a new coach after the legendary program fired Ben Howland on March 25.

Finding the right fit won’t be easy, and the job isn’t for the timid.

UCLA fired a coach who went to three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08 and won the Pac-12 regular season title this season. But the program has fallen from the national elite since ’08. The Bruins missed the NCAA Tournament in two of the last four years and failed to reach the second weekend on each of the last three trips. Player transfers, recruiting classes that didn’t pan out and in-team turmoil all played a role in Howland’s ouster.

Candidates may be lining up for UCLA, but here are a few Athlon Sports think could be a good fit for the Bruins.

Tad Boyle, Colorado
Boyle revived Colorado basketball step-by-step from an NIT in 2011, a surprise Pac-12 tournament title in 2012 and a secure NCAA at-large bid in 2013. The three-year run marked the first back-to-back Tourney appearances since 1963 and first time the Buffaloes reached the postseason in three consecutive seasons. That’s despite losing a player like Alec Burks. Boyle can win on the major conference level, but he also laid the groundwork at low-major Northern Colorado.

Mike Brown, former Los Angeles Lakers coach
Brown was fired early in the season with the Lakers and has no college coaching experience. Working in the NBA with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, though, would give him something to sell on the recruiting trail.

Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Cronin rebuilt the Bearcats after the end of the Bob Huggins era, leading Cincinnati to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. He’s spent his career at Cincinnati, Murray State and Louisville, so he might be an odd fit out of the tri-state area. And if anyone’s looking for an exciting up-tempo brand of basketball, Cronin might not fit the bill.

Billy Donovan, Florida
Florida hung onto its two-time national championship coach despite two Kentucky coaching searches and got Donovan back a week after he took the Orlando Magic job. It might take a special opening to pry Donovan away from Florida. UCLA, perhaps?

Mark Gottfried, NC State
Gottfried can recruit, and he’s a former UCLA assistant. His name is being floated around for the Bruins, but the let down this season at NC State will be tough to sell.

Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
He’ll get attention in the coaching carousel as long as he’s leading Iowa State to the Tournament. But his nickname isn’t The Mayor for nothing. Iowa State gave Hoiberg his first college coaching job. If the Ames native and Iowa State alum leaves after three years, the Cyclones would be devastated.

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
After 15 seasons at Winthrop and Wichita State, maybe it’s surprising Marshall hasn’t moved to one of the major conferences yet. After three consecutive seasons of 27 or more wins, back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances at Wichita State and a Sweet 16 berth, now may be the time to jump.

Lorenzo Romar, Washington
His tenure at Washington has been up-and-down, but the Huskies have played in the NCAA Tournament six times in 10 seasons under his watch. He can recruit at a high level, and his teams are usually fast-paced. Of interest to UCLA, he was an assistant on the last Bruins team to win a national title in 1995.

Shaka Smart, VCU
The 35-year-old will be a hot name in the coaching carousel again after the 2011 Final Four and a seamless transition to the Atlantic 10. All indications are Smart is happy at VCU. After all, he turned down Illinois last season.

Brad Stevens, Butler
Stevens is even more entrenched at Butler than Smart at VCU. He’s an Indiana native who has shown little interest in moving to a new job. Also working in Butler’s favor: The job keeps getting better. The former Horizon League power will be in the Big East along with Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, Xavier and Creighton in the coming years.

Buzz Williams, Marquette
After reaching the Sweet 16 in three consecutive seasons, Williams will be a hot commodity in the carousel. The Golden Eagles have been among the best teams in the Big East despite losing Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, and Williams has proven he can unearth talent on the recruiting trail. He turned down opportunities last season to stay with the program that rolled the dice on him five years ago.

Jay Wright, Villanova
It may be an odd sight to see Wright leave Villanova, where he’s coached since 2001. But the program has leveled off a bit since reaching the Final Four in 2009. In the last four seasons, Villanova has reached the Tournament three times and failed to reach the Sweet 16 in each trip.

<p> After UCLA fired Ben Howland, which coaches around the country are possible candidates?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 15:58
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2013-majors-no-12-jason-dufner

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2013 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 12: Jason Dufner

Born: March 24, 1977, Cleveland, Ohio | Career PGA Tour Wins: | 2012 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2012 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,869,304 (4th) World Ranking: 18


Brandel Chamblee's Take

Dufner made the fewest bogeys per round on the PGA tour in 2012 and at the end of the year had the longest made cut streak at 21 events. He has become one of the most consistent players in the world through the bag, and his all-around rank of third is evidence that he doesn’t have any weaknesses. At almost 36, he is a late bloomer, but the promise he showed in 2011 was fulfilled in 2012, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 15
Wins: 0

2012 Performance:
Masters - T24
U.S. Open - T4
British Open - T31
PGA Championship - T27

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T24 (2012)
U.S. Open - T4 (2012)
British Open - T31 (2012)
PGA Championship - 2 (2011)
Top-10 Finishes: 3
Top-25 Finishes: 4
Missed Cuts: 5

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

Athlon's 2013 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 20 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, reigning FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

<p> Athlon Counts Down the 20 Golfers to Watch for Majors Season</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 12:02
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournaments-all-time-biggest-upsets-and-closest-calls

While none of the 112 No. 16 seeds has won a game in the NCAA Tournament (more on that below), six No. 15 seeds have shocked No. 2s since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. And two of them took place during this year's March Madness. Here's our look at the biggest upsets and closest calls from college basketball's NCAA Tournament. 

THE BIGGEST UPSETS: No. 2 vs. No. 15 (7-109)

Florida Gulf Coast 78, Georgetown 68 (2013)

The dunk-fest that is Florida Gulf Coast is partly why Sunday's second (or third, officially) round action was the highest-rated in 20 years. Andy Enfield — and his famous wife Amanda Marcum — led the Eagles to an improbable upset over the second-seeded Hoyas. Atlantic Sun Player of the Year Sherwood Brown scored 24 points as FGCU outplayed the regular season Big East champs from start to finish. And just to prove that it wasn't a fluke, Brown and the Eagles ran the seventh-seeded San Diego State Aztecs out of the building 81-71 to become the first 15-seed to ever make it to the Sweet 16. Gulf Coast's high-flying alley-oops were the top story of the first weekend of play in 2013 — and Enfield got a paltry $10,000 bonus for making the Sweet 16. Fans can bet he will be getting a big raise in the off-season.

Norfolk State 86, Missouri 84 (2012)

The Missouri Tigers were a chic pick to make it to the Final Four in 2012 after winning the Big 12 tournament. But Mizzou failed to make it out of the first round despite shooting 52.7% from the floor and making 13 three-pointers. It wasn’t enough to top the MEAC tournament champs from pulling off the monumental upset. Kyle O’Quinn led the Spartans with 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting and 14 rebounds. A big reason the guard-heavy Tigers got beat? Norfolk State dominated the glass 35-23 in the two-point victory.

Lehigh 75, Duke 70 (2012)

The Mountain Hawks entered the tournament as Patriot League champions, led by superstar guard C.J. McCollum. The junior finished with 30 points, six rebounds and six assists in the startling upset of the powerhouse Blue Devils. Making the upset even more improbable was where the shocker took place: Greensboro, N.C. Duke missed 20 of its 26 three point shot attempts in the five point loss.

Hampton 58, Iowa St 57 (2001)

The Pirates of Hampton became only the fourth 15-seed to win in the first round when Tarvis Williams made a four-foot jumper with less than seven seconds left in the game. The Cyclones’ Jamaal Tinsley went the length of the floor and missed a point-blank lay-up to give Hampton the historic win. One of college basketball’s most memorable images is Hampton head coach Steve Merfeld sprinting around the court and being hoisted into the air, legs flailing wildly, by backup David Johnson.

Coppin St 78, South Carolina 65 (1997)

The Eagles of Coppin State entered their first-round tilt against South Carolina as a 30-point underdog. After Coppin State took the lead with just over six minutes left, the Gamecocks crumbled. For a team that, to this day, has not reached the second round of the tournament since 1973 — much less the Final Four — the loss to Ron “Fang” Mitchell’s upstart Eagles was especially painful.

Santa Clara 64, Arizona 61 (1993)

A Canadian freshman point guard by the name of Steve Nash knocked down six of eight free throws down the stretch to key the Broncos’ upset win over the Wildcats. Arizona, featuring a roster littered with future NBA players — Reggie Geary, Damon Stoudamire, Chris Mills and Khalid Reeves — put together a 25–0 run that spanned the end of the first half and the opening minutes of the second half. The Broncos answered with their own 19–7 run, and Pete Eisenrich’s jump shot gave them the lead late in the game before Stoudamire missed a three at the buzzer. Nash would go on to win two WCC Player of the Year awards.

Richmond 73, Syracuse 69 (1991)

The Spiders, led by 18 points and six assists from Curtis Blair, pulled off the first upset by a No. 15 seed in NCAA Tournament history. Billy Owens and the Syracuse zone were ineffective, as Richmond never trailed during the game. A Michael Edwards 3-point attempt that would have tied the game fell short with four seconds remaining, and 12-year coach Dick Tarrant had his signature moment as the Spiders’ head man.



It’s been well-documented that a No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but there have been some extremely close calls. Did you know that five teams have nearly pulled-off what might be considered the biggest obstacle in mainstream sports?

Here are five 1 vs. 16 games decided by four points or less.

Purdue 73, Western Carolina 71 (1996)

The Southern Conference champs, coached by first-year head man Phil Hopkins, employed a zone defense that stymied Purdue for most of the game. The Catamounts actually had two chances to put themselves in a category all their own, but both the potential game-winning 3-pointer by Joel Fleming and the possible game-tying Joe Stafford 15-footer hit off of the back of the rim in the final seconds. Ironically, this Boiler team had to forfeit 18 of its 26 wins, including this game, the most recent near-miss by a 16 seed. Another interesting sidenote: Hopkins’ top assistant at the time, Thad Matta, is now the head coach at Ohio State.

Michigan St 75, Murray St 71 (OT, 1990)

The Ohio Valley champions, led by sophomore center Ronald “Popeye” Jones, pushed the vaunted Spartans to overtime by drilling a 3-point basket at the end of regulation. Jones’ game-high 37 points and 11 rebounds were not enough to slow MSU’s Steve Smith, who posted a team-high 22 points, including six of his team’s 10 overtime points. With 26 seconds left, Jones missed an interior shot and the Spartans snatched the rebound and held on to win the only 1-vs.-16 matchup ever to go to overtime.

Oklahoma 72, ETSU 71 (1989)

In the first of four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament for ETSU, the Buccaneers’ starting lineup featured three sophomores and two freshmen. Point guard Keith “Mister” Jennings, a 5'7" dynamo, led the Bucs to a 17-point lead over OU. The Sooners’ defense led the comeback, and after Jennings fouled out, Oklahoma found itself with the ball and a one-point lead shooting a one-and-one with four seconds left. Oklahoma’s Mookie Blaylock missed the front end, giving ETSU one final heave at the buzzer. The half-court air ball fell short, and Oklahoma escaped the historic upset.

Georgetown 50, Princeton 49 (1989)

In Pete Carril’s 22nd season as the Princeton head coach, the Tigers nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. With Princeton trailing by one with eight seconds left, Georgetown center Alonzo Mourning blocked two Princeton shots — one by Bob Scrabis and the other by Kit Mueller — to preserve the Hoya victory. To this day, Princeton fans still claim Mueller was fouled.

Michigan 59, Fairleigh Dickinson 55 (1985)

Head coach Tom Green spent 26 seasons leading Fairleigh Dickinson, but it was in his second year when he almost made his biggest mark. Despite losing four players to fouls, the Knights took the top-seeded Wolverines to the wire. Two late Roy Tarpley free throws sealed the win for the Maize and Blue. Villanova, the lowest-seeded team ever to win the title, proceeded to beat Michigan in the second round by the exact same score — 59–55 — en route to its famous upset of Georgetown in the finals.

<p> While none of the 116 No. 16 seeds has won a game in the NCAA Tournament, seven No. 15 seeds have shocked No. 2s since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-houston-astros

The American League West is arguably the toughest division in baseball, which isn’t great news for an Astros team making its move into the division while trying to rebuild following the two worst seasons in franchise history. Coming off a club-record 107 losses in their final year in the National League in 2012 and 106 losses in 2011 — the Astros enter the AL with new uniforms, a new logo and a new manager in Bo Porter. The club is committed to staying the course of rebuilding through the draft and player development, which means playoff contention is likely years down the road. That’s especially true in the AL West, where the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and Oakland A’s are all built to contend, while the up-and-coming Mariners are no pushovers. Enter the Astros, who will play each of these teams 18 or 19 times while they try to give young players looks at several positions all over the diamond. Astros owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow, entering their second seasons with the club, are committed to youth and don’t plan to start spending major money in free agency until the team’s youngsters start coming of age. Baseball fans in Houston, who will get to see a different set of teams come through Minute Maid Park this year, can only hope the team grows up sooner than expected because life as the punching bag in the AL West won’t be fun.

The first three arms in the rotation are set, with righthanders Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell and Jordan Lyles. Norris will need to rebound following a 7–13 campaign in which he battled various injuries and went three months without getting a win. Harrell was one of the biggest bright spots for the Astros last year, coming out of nowhere to go 11–11 with a 3.76 ERA while making a team-high 32 starts as a rookie. He led the team in wins and innings pitched and went at least five innings in all but one of his starts. Lyles pitched all last year at 21 years old and struggled through a 5–12 season, though he threw a shutout in his final appearance. The Astros hope this is the year the promising youngster finally puts it all together and becomes a mainstay in the rotation. The final two spots in the rotation are up for grabs among a group of arms that includes lefthander Erik Bedard, a non-roster player, veteran Edgar Gonzalez and newcomers John Ely, Alex White and Philip Humber, who threw a perfect game with the White Sox in 2012. The odds are now that Humber and Bedard will break camp as starters.

The Astros’ youth shows in their bullpen, which was made up of fresh faces after Brandon Lyon and Brett Myers were traded last July. The team gave the closer job to Wilton Lopez to finish the season, but he was dealt to Colorado in December. Houston signed veteran Jose Veras — who will be on his sixth team in five seasons — to handle the closing duties, not that there figure to be too many chances to save games. The Astros also plan to give Josh Fields, taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft, a chance to pitch late in games too. Among those returning to the bullpen this year are righthanders Hector Ambriz and Rhiner Cruz and lefties Wesley Wright and Xavier Cedeno.

Middle Infield
The middle of the infield, perhaps the Astros’ biggest area of strength last season, may now be only half full after the trade of shortstop Jed Lowrie. All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve returns for his second full season. Tyler Greene, who seemed to always be on the cusp of a breakout season with St. Louis, takes over at short. Altuve, the 5'5" dynamo, hit .290 with seven homers, 37 RBIs and 33 steals last year, getting plenty of time at the top of the lineup. At 22, he was the second-youngest member of the NL All-Star team after Bryce Harper and led the Astros with 147 games played, including 142 starts at second. Greene hit .246 in 39 games with Houston after managing just .218 in 77 games with the Cardinals. His speed is his greatest asset offensively. The two middle infielders will bat 1-2, perhaps even rotating until the offense finds a groove.

Brett Wallace got most of the time at first base last year following the July 4 trade of Carlos Lee and will enter the season as the favorite to hold onto the job this year. That’s assuming veteran Carlos Pena, who signed with the club in December, gets most of his at-bats at designated hitter. If Wallace can keep hitting for power, though, the position will be his. The Astros enter the season at third base with Matt Dominguez, who has a great glove and has hit well in a limited look. Then there’s Rule 5 pick-up Nate Freiman, who hit .298 with 31 doubles, 24 homers and 105 RBIs in 137 games with Double-A San Antonio (Padres) in 2012. Chris Carter, acquired from Oakland, is penciled in the outfield, but is more suited to first base. Stay tuned.

The competition for spots in the Astros outfield has been a free-for-all this spring. The only player assured of a spot somewhere in the outfield is Justin Maxwell, who slugged 18 homers and 53 RBIs last year as the club’s biggest power threat. Maxwell played all over the outfield a year ago, and where he winds up in 2013 may have more to do with which players lock down the other spots. J.D. Martinez will get another long look after a disappointing 2012 that saw his season end prematurely because of hand surgery. The Astros liked what they saw last year from Fernando Martinez, who along with Maxwell hit some of the longest homers in the majors. If his knees hold up, the former Mets top prospect could win a starting job, or at least platoon. Carter has impressed with his bat and will find his way into the lineup somewhere, most likely in left field, leaving the Martinezes to share right. Brandon Barnes proved he could play center field at a high level, though his bat remains a question mark.

Former first-round pick Jason Castro returned in 2012 after missing all of the previous season following ACL surgery and played well offensively. His knee forced him to the DL at one point, but he wound up hitting .257 with six homers and 29 RBIs, including a .281 average and five homers and 17 RBIs in his final 160 at-bats. Castro is the starter entering the season, but he’s going to have to improve his defense. He let too many balls scoot past him last year, which put his pitchers in tough spots. Castro has enough talent and smarts to be a solid everyday catcher.

Moving to the American League for 2013, the Astros were forced to find their first full-time designated hitter and wound up signing Pena to a one-year deal. He hit 19 home runs with 61 RBIs last year for Tampa Bay, but he doesn’t hit for much average anymore. Houston could also give Wallace some time at DH, but Pena figures to get most of the at-bats. The bench is thin with Marwin Gonzalez backing up in the middle of the infield and Carlos Corporan at catcher. Whichever player from the outfield mix of Fernando Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Barnes doesn’t win a starting job will likely be asked to come off the bench.

This will be the first season as manager for the 40-year-old Porter, who was hired after spending last year as the third base coach of the Nationals. He’s hired a diverse and experienced staff to help him along, but until the team puts better players on the field, it’s going to be challenging to deliver wins.

Final Analysis
The Astros will be young and should play hard, but it’s difficult finding a scenario in which they won’t finish in the cellar of the AL West. They’re light years behind the veteran teams in Texas and Anaheim, and Oakland has proven it’s going to contend in the division for years. Perhaps the Astros can look at the A’s as hope that they can reach the playoffs sooner than expected, but they’re in the middle of a long-term rebuilding project and will continue to take lumps at the big-league level.

SS     Tyler Greene (R)     
Combined to hit .230 with the Cardinals and Astros last year and showed some good power numbers.
2B     Jose Altuve (R)    
Named team MVP after breakout season during which he hit .290 with seven homers, 33 steals and 37 RBIs.
DH     Carlos Pena (L)    
The Astros signed him to be their first full-time DH with hopes he can hit for average again.
LF    Chris Carter (R)
Hit just .148 after Aug. 31 for the A’s last season, essentially forced to sit out the team’s late surge. Could be an adventure in the outfield.
1B     Brett Wallace (L)     
Finally began to show the power stroke the Astros wanted, hitting nine homers in 229 at-bats.
CF     Justin Maxwell (R)    
Played in a career-high 124 games; led the team with 18 homers and was second with 53 RBIs.
C     Jason Castro (L)    
Bounced back from injury that cost him 2011 season to hit .257, including .281 in his final 61 games.
RF     Fernando Martinez (L)    
Martinez doesn’t run well anymore, but he showed last year he has plenty of power in his bat.
3B     Matt Dominguez (R)    
He’s a polished defensive player at the hot corner who showed promise with the bat to end last year.

OF     J.D. Martinez (R)    
He couldn’t duplicate his promising half season of a year earlier, but still led team with 55 RBIs. He will platoon with Fernando Martinez in right field.
C     Carlos Corporan (S)    
Veteran did a nice job with the Astros, hitting .269 in 78 at-bats with four homers and 13 RBIs.
SS     Marwin Gonzalez (S)    
He’s about as good as they come defensively at short, but can his bat keep him in majors?
OF     Rick Ankiel (L)    
The athletic outfielder will make at least two throws this season that you cannot believe you saw.

RH     Bud Norris    
The Astros’ “ace” is a combined 22–34 with a 4.41 ERA over the last three seasons.
RH     Lucas Harrell    
Was named Astros Pitcher of the Year after going 11–11 with a 3.76 ERA in team-high 32 starts as a rookie.
RH     Jordan Lyles    
As a 21-year-old in 2012, he set career highs in innings, starts, strikeouts, quality starts and wins in going 5–12.
RH     Philip Humber     
Native Texan returns home to pitch for Astros after going 5–5 with a 6.44 ERA — and a perfect game — last year for White Sox.
LH    Erik Bedard
Was a no-so-inspiring 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA in 24 starts for Pittsburgh last season.

RH     Jose Veras (Closer)     
5–4 with a 3.63 ERA in 72 games for Brewers in 2012, averaging 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings.
LH     Wesley Wright    
Appeared in a career-high 77 games last year, which led the club; held lefties to a .198 average.
LH     Xavier Cedeno    
Lefty bounced between minors and majors, but didn’t allow a run in 16 of his final 17 games with the Astros.
RH     Hector Ambriz     
Signed as a minor league free agent in June, he did nice work, appearing in 18 games for the Astros.
RH     Rhiner Cruz    
He throws harder than just about anyone on the staff, but he needs to refine control from 2012 rookie season.
RH     Josh Fields    
The No. 1 overall pick in Rule 5 draft, Fields went 4–3 with 2.01 ERA with 78 strikeouts in minors.

<p> Coming off a club-record 107 losses in their final year in the National League in 2012 and 106 losses in 2011 — the Astros enter the AL with new uniforms, a new logo and a new manager in Bo Porter.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-ranking-teams-sweet-16

The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament has caused us to rethink some things, specifically all those brackets with Gonzaga, New Mexico and Georgetown making deep runs.

We’ve learned a little bit -- we know where Florida Gulf Coast actually is, apart from, you know, the Gulf Coast of Florida. We know La Salle is actually pretty good, despite being one of the last teams in the field.

But some things remain the same in our reassessment of the final 16 teams in the field. Louisville, the No. 1 overall seed to start the Tournament, is looking every bit the favorite as is preseason No. 1 Indiana.

Here’s our reevaluation of the Sweet 16.

1. Louisville (Midwest)
Opponent: Oregon
Coach: Rick Pitino (10-0 in the Sweet 16, 6-4 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: The Cardinals’ press has hit its stride, with opponents averaging 21.4 turnovers since the start of the Big East Tournament. If that’s not enough, the Cards’ offense is doing just fine, too. Russ Smith scored 50 combined points in the first weekend while Louisville as a team shot 56.9 percent against North Carolina A&T and Colorado State.
Bad news: Louisville’s regional includes a red-hot Oregon team and either Michigan State or Duke.
Breakout: Montrezl Harris, who was released from his letter of intent at Virginia Tech less than a year ago, has been integral in the postseason. After scoring 20 against Syracuse in the Big East title game, Harris scored 19 points in 36 minutes in the first weekend.

Related: Midwest Region Preview

2. Indiana (East)
Opponent: Syracuse
Coach: Tom Crean (1-1 in the Sweet 16, 1-0 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: Indiana demolished James Madison as it should have. The Hoosiers showed good resilience in a matchup against Temple where the Owls’ tempo forced IU to prove it could win a game without scoring 60 points -- the Hoosiers had been 0-3 when scoring less than 60 this year. Khalif Wyatt scored 31 on Indiana, but the rest of the team scored 21 on 9-of-38 shooting.
Bad news: Jordan Hulls played only 19 minutes against Temple due to a shoulder injury. The Hoosiers don’t have the greatest depth, so this will be worth watching.
Breakout: It was against overmatched James Madison, but freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell’s surprising scoring output (16 points) was good to see for an aspiring national champion.

Related: East Regional Preview

3. Michigan (South)
Opponent: Kansas
Coach: John Beilein (1-1 in the Sweet 16, 0-1 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: The Wolverines, who stumbled late in the season, won their first weekend games by a combined 40 points. Michigan had little trouble with Nate Wolters and even less against VCU’s defense.
Bad news: Trey Burke had seven assists in each game, but he went 2 of 12 from the field against South Dakota State and had seven turnovers against VCU.
Breakout: Freshman Mitch McGary gave Michigan a much-needed physical presence, especially with an upcoming matchup against Jeff Withey. McGary had 21 points and 14 rebounds against VCU.

Related: South Region Preview

4. Ohio State (West)
Opponent: Arizona
Coach: Thad Matta (3-2 in the Sweet 16, 2-1 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: The seas parted for the Ohio State to have easiest path to the Final Four, at least as far as the seeds are concerned. Arizona is the top team left in the West, and the Wildcats were shaky for most of the season. After that, it’s either Wichita State or La Salle.
Bad news: There’s no shame in going down to the wire with Iowa State. Aaron Craft missed the front end of two one-and-ones and turned the ball over twice late to put the Cyclones back into the game, but he atoned for it with his game-winning shot.
Breakout: Sam Thompson scored 20 points and 10 rebounds against Iona, but LaQuinton Ross’ 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting against Iowa State may be more encouraging. And Craft’s 18 points was his fourth-highest scoring total of the season.

Related: West Region Preview

5. Michigan State (Midwest)
Opponent: Duke
Coach: Tom Izzo (7-3 in the Sweet 16, 6-1 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: Michigan State cruised past Valparaiso and then made easier work of Memphis. Adreian Payne was at his best against Memphis with 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. Michigan State’s passing down low and rebounding stood out against the Tigers.
Bad news: The Spartans’ 17 turnovers against Valpo and 18 against Memphis was alarming for a team with Final Four aspirations.
Breakout: Michigan State gets a two-fer here: Derrick Nix took advantage of a size advantage to score 23 points with 15 rebounds against Valpo, and freshman guard Gary Harris scored a season-high 23 against Memphis.

6. Duke (Midwest)
Opponent: Michigan State
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (12-8 in the Sweet 16, 11-1 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: Doug McDermott scored 21 points against Duke, but it wasn’t easy, especially in the second half. The Creighton star went 4 of 16 from the field.  It was an uneven effort against Creighton offensively, but the Blue Devils had the scoring depth to counter the Bluejays.
Bad news: Ryan Kelly scoring eight points against Albany and then scored one point while fighting through foul trouble against Creighton. It will be tough to get through Michigan State and Louisville/Oregon without Kelly at full speed.
Breakout: Rasheed Suliamon filled the gaps on the scoresheet against Creighton with 21 points, but Tyler Thornton was nearly as important with eight points and six rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench Sunday.

7. Florida (South)
Opponent: Florida Gulf Coast
Coach: Billy Donovan (5-1 in the Sweet 16, 3-2 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: The Gators defeated their first weekend opponents by a a combined 46 points, but the first was a No. 14 seed and the second was a No. 11 who fired its coach the next day. Worth noting, the last team Tubby Smith defeated was UCLA, which also fired its coach. Why is Florida this low? The Gators beat up on lesser teams all season. The first weekend was not totally unexpected.
Bad news: Florida let Minnesota chip away at a 21-point lead in the second half, which is a concerned for a team that failed to win close games all season.
Breakout: Mike Rosario has been frustrating to watch at times, but he carried Florida against Minnesota with 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 6-of-9 from three-point range.

8. Oregon (Midwest)
Opponent: Louisville
Coach: Dana Altman (first Sweet 16)
Good news: Oregon defeated Oklahoma State and Saint Louis with all-around efforts in both games. The Ducks crushed both opponents on the boards, thanks to the play of Arsalan Kazemi while holding the Cowboys and Billikens to a combined 8 of 38 three-point shooting.
Bad news: Oregon didn’t have the resume of a No. 12 seed, but it didn’t have the resume of the top three teams in its region (Louisville, Duke and Michigan State), either. Will the Ducks fall to earth?
Breakout: Damyean Dotson was one of the top freshmen in the Pac-12, but he’s been at his best in the postseason. He went scoreless in a loss at Utah on March 9, but since then he’s averaging 16.8 points per game since then. He scored 17 against Oklahoma State and 23 against Saint Louis.

9. Miami (East)
Opponent: Marquette
Coach: Jim Larranaga (1-0 in the Sweet 16, 1-0 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: Between Larranaga’s dancing and Julian Gamble’s photobombing, Miami seems to be enjoying itself in the Tournament. The Hurricanes defeated Pacific 78-49 and survived Illinois 63-59 in the round of 32. Shane Larkin played the role of star as usual.
Bad news: Illinois kept itself in the game with 15 offensive rebounds against the Canes.
Breakout: Rion Brown has been able to offer a spark off the bench all season, adding his third 20-point game of the season with 21 against the Illini.

10. Syracuse (East)
Opponent: Indiana
Coach: Jim Boeheim (5-11 in the Sweet 16, 3-2 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: Syracuse trounced Montana for the biggest victory for a team seeded third or lower in the NCAA Tournament (47 points). In the second game, Syracuse held Cal’s best players, Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, to a combined 13 points.
Bad news: The second game was a little more spotty. Syracuse struggled to put away Cal despite the struggles of Crabbe and Cobbs. The Orange went 26 of 41 from the free throw line and went for 12 minutes without a field goal at one point.
Breakout: Baye Moussa Keita flourished in his matchup the the Cal frontcourt, scoring 11 points with seven rebounds. Most of Keita’s work came at the free throw line where the big man went 7 of 10.

11. Kansas (South)
Opponent: Michigan
Coach: Bill Self (7-2 in the Sweet 16, 2-5 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: Kansas responded to its close call with 16th-seeded Western Kentucky to defeat North Carolina 70-58 in a game that was not in question by halftime. Jeff Withey has led the way with a combined 33 points, 22 rebounds and give blocks.
Bad news: Ben McLemore was 0 for 9 against North Carolina and spent most of the second half on the bench. He’s 0 for 8 from three-point range in two Tournament games. The Jayhawks finished the weekend with five total three-pointers.
Breakout: Travis Releford filled the gaps left by McLemore, scoring 22 points against North Carolina with eight rebounds.

12. Arizona (West)
Opponent: Ohio State
Coach: Sean Miller (2-1 in the Sweet 16, 0-2 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: A popular upset pick in the round of 64, Arizona cruised past 11th-seeded Belmont and 14th-seeded Harvard.
Bad news: Do we know a whole lot about Arizona? The Wildcats were rarely challenged over the weekend, which can be a good thing. Arizona will be put to the test against Ohio State.
Breakout: A major question entering the postseason was the play of Mark Lyons. He’s playing like the seasoned Tournament veteran he is with 27 points against Harvard and 23 against Belmont

13. Marquette (East)
Opponent: Miami
Coach: Buzz Williams (0-2 in the Sweet 16)
Good news: Vander Blue is emerging as one of the stars of this Tournament. He delivered the game-winner against Davidson and then scored 29 against Butler.
Bad news: Is Marquette living on borrowed time? The Golden Eagles defeated Davidson on a Wildcats meltdown, and Butler had its chances to beat Marquette thanks to a late turnover. Marquette has 14 assists to 24 turnovers in the Tourney so far.
Breakout: Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett had his best game since February with 13 points against Butler. He contributed 36 and 38 minutes off the bench in the first weekend.

14. Wichita State (West)
Opponent: La Salle
Coach: Gregg Marshall (first Sweet 16)
Good news: Talk about resilience. Wichita State trailed 49-41 and had two key players in foul trouble in the second half against Gonzaga, but came back to win 76-70. The reason was hot three-point shooting, but also defense in the first two games of the Tournament. Wichita State held Gonzaga and Pittsburgh to a combined 40 of 113 (35.4 percent) from the field and 9 of 49 from three-point range (18.4 percent).
Bad news: Wichita State had to play well to win, for sure, but how much did Gonzaga cough up an upset? The Shockers trailed by eight with less than 12 minutes to go. Wichita State’s 14 of 28 three-point shooting against Gonzaga was out of character (but, then again, so was the 2-of-20 performance against Pitt).
Breakout: Ron Baker, a redshirt freshman who missed a big chunk of the regular season with a foot injury, played 33 minutes and surprised Gonzaga with four three-pointers and 16 total points.

15. La Salle (West)
Opponent: Wichita State
Coach: John Giannini (first Sweet 16)
Good news: Ramon Galloway is one of the stars of the Tournament, scoring 24 points on Ole Miss, 19 on Kansas State and 21 on Boise State.
Bad news: La Salle played one bad half of basketball in three games, shooting 3 of 18 in the second half against Kansas State. Otherwise, La Salle shot 56.3 percent from the field.
Breakout: Known for its guard play, La Salle got a major lift from a forward. Jerrell Wright was one of the key players of the upset of Kansas State with 21 points and eight rebounds. He was extremely efficient, making all six shots from the field and 9 of 10 free throws.

16. Florida Gulf Coast (South)
Opponent: Florida
Coach: Andy Enfield (first Sweet 16 appearance)
Good news: Florida Gulf Coast. In the Sweet 16. Everything about this story is good news. This is no fluke, either. FGCU led by as much as 19 against Georgetown in the second half and went on a 17-0 run against San Diego State late in the second half to seal the win.
Bad news: The secret’s out. We don’t know how Florida Gulf Coast is going to react if a good defensive team like Florida limits the alley oop/dunk game.
Breakout: The whole team is a breakout, but let’s highlight Florida Gulf Coast’s defense: The Eagles forced 14 Georgetown turnovers and 17 San Diego State turnovers, both above those team’s season averages.

<p> Louisville is looking every bit the part of a title contender, other top teams not so much</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/big-ten-football-2013-schedule-analysis

The start of the 2013 college football season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about preseason predictions and some of the top games to watch in each conference.

Scheduling has been a hot topic in the Big Ten recently, as the conference is expected to move to a nine-game slate in the future. Maryland and Rutgers are slated to join the Big Ten in 2014, and an increased conference schedule is coming (likely) in 2016.

But for 2013, the Big Ten is at 12 teams and the usual eight-game slate. Ohio State is a heavy favorite to win the conference title, but Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern and Michigan State could all be top-25 teams in most preseason polls.

Athlon continues its spring coverage with Big Ten schedule analysis for 2013:

Leaders Division


Aug. 31 Southern Illinois
Sept. 7 Cincinnati
Sept. 14 Washington
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 Miami (Ohio)
Oct. 5 at Nebraska
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 Wisconsin
Oct. 26 Michigan State
Nov. 2 at Penn State
Nov. 9 at Indiana
Nov. 16 Ohio State
Nov. 23 at Purdue
Nov. 30 Northwestern

* While all four non-conference games will be at home for Illinois, three of the four won’t be easy. Cincinnati and Washington might both be favored over the struggling Illini while Miami (Ohio) is always a tricky out for Big Ten teams. Two non-conference losses to start the year could doom Tim Beckman’s second year.

* Big Ten play starts for Illinois with arguably four of the top six teams in the league. The consistency of powerhouse divisional rivals like Wisconsin and Penn State is what Illinois aspires to and these two outscored the Illini 66-21 a year ago. Playing Michigan State and Nebraska (as well as Northwestern) in crossover play is about as brutal as it gets.

* Illinois will play six of its first seven games at home and three of its last five on the road.

* Despite a home game with Ohio State mixed in, the final month of the season is where Beckman’s team can make some headway. Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern could be competitive games and will be huge barometer tests for a coach finishing his second season on the job.


Aug. 29 Indiana State (Thur.)
Sept. 7 Navy
Sept. 14 Bowling Green
Sept. 21 Missouri
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Penn State
Oct. 12 at Michigan State
Oct. 19 at Michigan
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 Minnesota
Nov. 9 Illinois
Nov. 16 at Wisconsin
Nov. 23 at Ohio State
Nov. 30 Purdue

* Making headway early in the year will be key for Kevin Wilson and his growing Hoosiers. A non-conference slate could feature three straight wins to start and will build up to the key swing game with Missouri. A home win over an SEC team would be a landmark victory for IU and it could mean a bowl game.

* Indiana has a nasty month of October to navigate between off weekends. The three-game stretch features Penn State and two road trips North to Michigan sandwiched between the two bye weeks — which is the only welcome sight during the second month of the year.

* The final month offers some intriguing opportunities — Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue — and two huge "prove it" games with Wisconsin and Ohio State. If Wilson can beat the bad teams, Indiana could easily earn a postseason berth.

* Forget about buying road tickets to support your Hoosiers in 2013. It might be the toughest road schedule in the history of the Big Ten, as Indiana will visit Michigan and Michigan State in crossover play as well as Ohio State and Wisconsin in the division. Best of luck to Mr. Wilson and company.

Ohio State

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

* The non-conference slate should offer little to challenge Ohio State other than a long road trip to Cal. The Bears' new coaching staff and stadium will likely be fired up for Ohio State but do they have the players to compete with the Buckeyes? Doubtful.

* There is no break early in the year, however, as Ohio State will play six straight to start including two key Big Ten matchups to begin conference play. Wisconsin at home and at Northwestern will set the tone for the Big Ten season prior to the first off week.

* Located between the bye weeks in October is an intriguing three-game stretch. Iowa at home doesn’t figure to be too difficult but hosting Penn State will be exciting. And visiting Ross-Ade Stadium in Purdue likely causes nightmares for Bucknuts everywhere. Ohio State has lost two in a row in West Lafeyette, Ind.

* The final month of the season figures to be warm up for the best rivalry in college football. Despite the history with Purdue, Ohio State will be a heavy favorite in its first three November games before having to travel North to take on Michigan.

* For a team that figures to be among the top five in the preseason polls, this is a very manageable schedule.

Penn State

Aug. 31 Syracuse
Sept. 7 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 14 UCF
Sept. 21 Kent State
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 at Indiana
Oct. 12 Michigan
Oct. 19 Bye Week
Oct. 26 at Ohio State
Nov. 2 Illinois
Nov. 9 at Minnesota
Nov. 16 Purdue
Nov. 23 Nebraska
Nov. 30 at Wisconsin

* Four fairly easy non-conference games will help Bill O’Brien break in a new quarterback and new linebacking corps. Yes, Syracuse has been tricky of late but it also is replacing its star quarterback and head coach. A 4-0 start is very possible before the first bye week of the year separates the Big Ten slate from the non-conference tilts.

* The second bye week is perfectly situated between what should be the two toughest games of the year. Following a visit from Michigan in mid-October, Penn State will get two weeks to prepare for a brutal road trip to Ohio State.

* The Nittany Lions will get a breather following their trip to Columbus. Penn State will face Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue in three consecutive weeks, which should allow O’Brien to seal a second straight winning season.

* Any wins in the season’s final two weekends would be an extra bonus. This team will be dramatically better at season’s end than at the beginning and finishing with both Big Red’s will be tough. However, a win in either of those two could give PSU as many as eight or even nine wins.


Aug. 31 at Cincinnati
Sept. 7 Indiana State
Sept. 14 Notre Dame
Sept. 21 at Wisconsin
Sept. 28 Northern Illinois
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 12 Nebraska
Oct. 19 at Michigan State
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 Ohio State
Nov. 9 Iowa
Nov. 16 at Penn State
Nov. 23 Illinois
Nov. 30 at Indiana

* No team in the league has a tougher start to the season than Purdue — both in and out of the Big Ten. In non-conference play, the Boilermakers will play two BCS bowl teams in Northern Illinois and Notre Dame while having to visit Big East co-champ Cincinnati in Week 1. A 1-3 non-con record isn’t far-fetched for new coach Darrell Hazell.

* Mixed in with the tough non-conference slate is a road trip to Wisconsin followed by a home game with Nebraska and a road trip to Michigan State. Those are the first seven for Purdue and 1-6 isn’t out of the question. At least this team will get a breather following the first seven with the second bye week of the season. Well, before Ohio State comes to town.

* The second half provides some easier tests but isn’t much better than the first. Ohio State, Iowa and Illinois will visit West Lafayette while Purdue will visit Penn State and Indiana over the final five weeks. Yes, Purdue has been good against OSU at home of late, but it will be a huge underdog this time around. This a nasty schedule, perhaps the league’s toughest, and Purdue will be favored in no more than five games (Indiana State, Northern Illinois, Iowa, Illinois, at Indiana) and more likely just three.


Aug. 31 UMass
Sept. 7 Tennessee Tech
Sept. 14 at Arizona State
Sept. 21 Purdue
Sept. 28 at Ohio State
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 12 Northwestern
Oct. 19 at Illinois
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 at Iowa
Nov. 9 BYU
Nov. 16 Indiana
Nov. 23 at Minnesota
Nov. 30 Penn State

* The early season slate is highlighted by a long road trip to the desert to battle Arizona State. The rebuilt secondary will be put to the test by a deep and talented returning Sun Devils offense led by star quarterback Taylor Kelly and offensive whiz Todd Graham. Expect the Devils to be looking for revenge from their 20-19 loss in Madison in 2010.

* Wisconsin begins Big Ten play in a big way with two divisional games before the end of September. This includes a road trip to Ohio State that will be an early Leaders Division elimination game. The welcomed bye week falls following the first five weeks of the year.

* The heart of the schedule isn’t all that daunting for the Badgers. Northwestern at home and a road trip to Illinois are manageable games located between the bye weeks. A road trip to rival Iowa is always a tough test for UW and fans on both sides are happy to get this contest back on the schedule. Wisconsin will play these five Big Ten games between Week 7 and 13: Northwestern, at Illinois, at Iowa, Indiana and at Minnesota.

* A November 9 visit from BYU is oddly placed for Wisconsin. Traditionally, UW plays its first four games against non-conference play so fans might be thrown for a loop when a non-conference opponent comes to town in Week 11. And BYU is a good one at that.

* The home game against Penn State to end the season will likely determine the Leaders Division pecking order behind Ohio State. It could easily be the difference between a New Year’s Day bowl for new coach Gary Andersen or a third-place trip to San Antonio.

* Wisconsin will miss Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State in crossover play.

Legends Division


Aug. 31 Northern Illinois
Sept. 7 Missouri State
Sept. 14 at Iowa State
Sept. 21 Western Michigan
Sept. 28 at Minnesota
Oct. 5 Michigan State
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 at Ohio State
Oct. 26 Northwestern
Nov. 2 Wisconsin
Nov. 9 at Purdue
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 Michigan
Nov. 29 at Nebraska

* For a team that will be hovering right around the six-win mark, the non-conference schedule isn’t going to be favorable for getting to a bowl game. Iowa opens with Northern Illinois, a team it beat 18-17 in Chicago last season. The Huskies played in the Orange Bowl last season, and despite some losses on defense, could be favored to win in the opener.

* If the Hawkeyes lose the opener against Northern Illinois, it will only add to the pressure facing this team on Sept. 14 at Iowa State. Iowa has lost the last two meetings to the Cyclones, including a 9-6 game in Iowa City last year. The Hawkeyes have not lost three in a row in this series since 2000-02.

* Will Iowa retain the Floyd of Rosedale? The Hawkeyes beat Minnesota 31-13 last season but lost the last two matchups against the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis. With Iowa and Minnesota expected to be picked near the bottom of the conference, this game could decide who avoids the cellar in the Legends Division.

* Iowa didn’t get any breaks from the schedule-makers, as it has a brutal crossover schedule. The Hawkeyes play at Ohio State and host Wisconsin – arguably the top two teams from the Leaders Division. Iowa also has to play on the road against Purdue, which isn’t a guaranteed win.

* Even if Iowa manages to sweep its non-conference schedule, it will need an upset win somewhere along the way to get bowl eligible. Where could that upset come? How about an Oct. 5 matchup against Michigan State? The Hawkeyes knocked off the Spartans 19-16 in overtime at East Lansing last season. Considering the returning personnel for both teams, Michigan State should be favored. However, Iowa usually thrives when it is under the radar. Will that theory hold true after a disappointing 4-8 season? 



Aug. 31 Central Michigan
Sept. 7 Notre Dame
Sept. 14 Akron
Sept. 21 at Connecticut
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Minnesota
Oct. 12 at Penn State
Oct. 19 Indiana
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 at Michigan State
Nov. 9 Nebraska
Nov. 16 at Northwestern
Nov. 23 at Iowa
Nov. 30 Ohio State

* The Wolverines meet Connecticut for only the second time in school history on Sept. 21. Michigan defeated the Huskies 30-10 in 2010 but travel to Storrs for this matchup. Connecticut will be picked near the bottom of the Big East and has to rebuild a defense that ranked in the top 10 nationally in fewest yards allowed.

* The Michigan-Notre Dame matchup is one of the most intriguing early non-conference games of the 2013 season. The last four games in this series have been decided by a touchdown or less, with the Wolverines owning a 3-1 edge during that span. While Michigan isn’t expected to be a national title contender in 2013, a win over Notre Dame could set up a 7-0 mark for the Wolverines going into the Nov. 2 game at Michigan State.

* Michigan’s Oct. 12 date at Penn State will be the first meeting between these two programs since 2010. After winning nine consecutive matchups, the Wolverines have lost three in a row to the Nittany Lions. Penn State is breaking in a new quarterback and must restock its defensive line and linebacking corps, but it will give Michigan all it can handle in Happy Valley.

* Can Michigan regain control in its in-state rivalry with Michigan State? The Wolverines won 12-10 in Ann Arbor last year, which snapped a four-game losing streak to the Spartans. Prior to Michigan State’s winning streak, Michigan won 10 out of the last 12 meetings from 1996-2007.

* Michigan is facing one of the toughest November schedules of any team in the nation. The Wolverines play their top three challengers in the Legends Division and host rival Ohio State. Needless to say, if Michigan wins the division title – it will have earned it.

* Could the Nov. 23 game against Iowa be a trap game? Michigan has lost its last two meetings in Iowa City and three out of its last four against the Hawkeyes. Coming off a road game against Northwestern and with a home date against Ohio State looming one week later, the Wolverines have to be careful not to overlook Iowa.

Michigan State

Aug. 30 Western Michigan
Sept. 7 South Florida
Sept. 14 Youngstown State
Sept. 21 at Notre Dame
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 at Iowa
Oct. 12 Indiana
Oct. 19 Purdue
Oct. 26 at Illinois
Nov. 2 Michigan
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 at Nebraska
Nov. 23 at Northwestern
Nov. 30 Minnesota

* The Spartans couldn’t ask for a better schedule to start the 2013 season. With a offense that struggled mightily in 2010, along with a question mark at quarterback, matchups against Western Michigan, South Florida and Youngstown State should give Michigan State plenty of time to work out the kinks before a road trip to Notre Dame on Sept. 21. Speaking of the early-season road contest in South Bend…

* Michigan State has lost three out of its last four against Notre Dame, with the only win coming in 2010 on a trick play in overtime. The Spartans will be an underdog against the Fighting Irish, but this should be a good test for Michigan State’s offense against the Notre Dame defense.

* Regardless of what happens in the Sept. 21 date against Notre Dame, Michigan State has a favorable road in Big Ten play. The Spartans play Iowa, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois in October – all teams that will likely be picked near the bottom of their division. Although Michigan State lost to Iowa last season, there’s a good chance the Spartans are 7-1 going into November.

* If the Spartans want to be a factor in the Legends Division, they have to beat in-state rival Michigan on Nov. 2. The Wolverines snapped a four-game losing streak in this series last year, but Michigan State has won two in a row in East Lansing.

* Both of Michigan State’s bye weeks just happen to hit at the right time in 2013. The Spartans have an off date on Sept. 28 before the start of Big Ten play and also on Nov. 9 after playing Michigan. The second bye week is crucial, as the Spartans play at Nebraska and Northwestern the following two weekends.

* Even if Michigan State beats Michigan on Nov. 2, the Spartans still have to navigate two road dates late in the year: at Nebraska and at Northwestern. The Cornhuskers have won both matchups between these two teams as Big Ten foes, while the Wildcats knocked off Michigan State 23-20 in East Lansing last year.


Aug. 29 UNLV
Sept. 7 at New Mexico State
Sept. 14 Western Illinois
Sept. 21 San Jose State
Sept. 28 Iowa
Oct. 5 at Michigan
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 at Northwestern
Oct. 26 Nebraska
Nov. 2 at Indiana
Nov. 9 Penn State
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 Wisconsin
Nov. 30 at Michigan State

* Jerry Kill’s team showed progress last year, improving from 3-9 to a 6-7 mark with a bowl loss against Texas Tech. Although Minnesota was a better team in 2012 than it was in '11, a favorable non-conference schedule was a huge factor in getting to the postseason. The Golden Gophers have a similar setup in 2013, as UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois and San Jose State are all winnable games. The Spartans are the best team out of that group but will be breaking in a new coach.

* If Minnesota wants to go bowling, it has to start the season 5-0. Big Ten play opens with a favorable home game in the battle for Floyd of Rosedale against Iowa. The Hawkeyes won 31-13 in Iowa City last year, but Minnesota won the two previous games in the series.

* It’s a good thing Minnesota opens with Iowa, as it won’t catch a break the rest of October. The Golden Gophers play arguably the three best teams from the Legends Division in October, starting with Michigan on Oct. 5, Northwestern on Oct. 19 and then Nebraska on Oct. 26. If Minnesota starts 5-0, it’s possible it will be 5-3 by the time they play Indiana on Nov. 2.

* Assuming Minnesota is 5-3 before the Nov. 2 road date against Indiana, finding one more win in conference play isn’t going to be easy. The Hoosiers are a much-improved team, while the Golden Gophers will be underdogs in games against Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. It’s certainly not impossible, but Minnesota will have a tough task just getting to six victories.

* Minnesota has not defeated Wisconsin since 2003. The Badgers have won nine in a row against the Golden Gophers, with the last three matchups decided by 15 points or more.


Aug. 31 Wyoming
Sept. 7 Southern Miss
Sept. 14 UCLA
Sept. 21 South Dakota State
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Illinois
Oct. 12 at Purdue
Oct. 19 Bye Week
Oct. 26 at Minnesota
Nov. 2 Northwestern
Nov. 9 at Michigan
Nov. 16 Michigan State
Nov. 23 at Penn State
Nov. 29 Iowa

* Nebraska should score three easy wins in non-conference play with Wyoming, Southern Miss and South Dakota State. The Cowboys will be the toughest matchup from that trio, especially with the return of quarterback Brett Smith. However, Wyoming has to rebuild its offensive line and front seven on defense.

* The Cornhuskers’ toughest non-conference matchup should come against UCLA on Sept. 14. The Bruins defeated Nebraska 36-30 last season, which was the 11th meeting between these two teams in their program history. UCLA returns quarterback Brett Hundley but must replace running back Johnathan Franklin. Even with Franklin leaving, UCLA’s offense will be a difficult matchup for Nebraska’s rebuilt defense.

* If Nebraska can get by UCLA, there’s a good chance the Cornhuskers will be 7-0 heading into the final month of the season. However, there’s also a downside to the scheduling, as Nebraska plays its three toughest challengers in the Legends Division in November and has a road date at Penn State on Nov. 23. Ouch.

* Expect another close game when Northwestern and Nebraska meet on Nov. 2. The only two matchups these two teams have played as Big Ten foes have been decided by three points or less. And with both teams possessing some of the league’s top offensive playmakers, there should be no shortage of points on Nov. 2.

* Is the Nov. 9 matchup at Michigan the biggest game for Nebraska’s 2013 season? With Northwestern and Michigan State visiting Lincoln, there’s a good chance the Cornhuskers sweep both of those games. If Nebraska can win in Ann Arbor – which is no easy task considering the Wolverines beat the Cornhuskers 45-17 at Michigan in 2011 – the division title could be wrapped up, regardless of what happens in the final two games.

* Nebraska has won its only two meetings as a member of the Big Ten against Penn State. The Cornhuskers defeated the Nittany Lions 17-14 in Happy Valley in 2011 and won 32-23 in Lincoln last season.


Aug. 31 at California
Sept. 7 Syracuse
Sept. 14 Western Michigan
Sept. 21 Maine
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct.  5 Ohio State
Oct. 12 at Wisconsin
Oct. 19 Minnesota
Oct. 26 at Iowa
Nov. 2 at Nebraska
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 Michigan
Nov. 23 Michigan State
Nov. 30 at Illinois

* Non-conference games against California and Syracuse aren’t guaranteed wins, but Northwestern is catching both teams at the right time. The Wildcats travel to Berkeley for the first game of the season, but the Golden Bears are breaking in a new coaching staff and quarterback. And the same can be said for Syracuse, as it looks to find its footing under new coach Scott Shafer. Neither game will be a blowout victory for the Wildcats, but Northwestern should start the year with a 2-0 mark.

* The first bye week of 2013 comes at a good time for Northwestern. After a likely 4-0 start from non-conference action, Northwestern kicks off Big Ten play with a home date against Ohio State. The Wildcats have lost 28 out of the last 29 matchups to the Buckeyes. The only win came in 2004, with Northwestern pulling out a 33-27 victory in Evanston, Ill. Ohio State is expected to be one of the top five teams in most preseason polls this summer. Can Northwestern open Big Ten play with an upset? It’s certainly not out of the question.

* As if the Big Ten opener against Ohio State wasn’t tough enough, Northwestern travels to Wisconsin for its second conference contest. The Wildcats have not defeated the Badgers in Madison since 2000, but have split with UW in the last four meetings overall.

* After the brutal start to Big Ten play, Northwestern catches a break with Minnesota and Iowa to close out October. The Wildcats can’t afford to overlook anyone, but Iowa and Minnesota will be picked near the bottom of the conference. Expect Northwestern to have a 6-2 record heading into November.

* Even with the difficult start to the conference schedule, Northwestern still has a chance to make some noise in the division. With home games against Michigan and Michigan State, the Wildcats can win both contests and have an opportunity to get back into the division title mix. However, those two games won’t be the only thing that decides Northwestern’s title hopes, as a road game on Nov. 2 at Nebraska will be difficult. Three losses could win the Big Ten Legends Division. However, the Wildcats would feel a lot more comfortable if they finished conference play at 6-2.

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


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<p> Big Ten Football 2013 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /college-basketball/2013-ncaa-tournament-east-region-sweet-16-preview

Washington, D.C.

Top Dog — Indiana (1)
The Hoosiers are headed to their second straight Sweet 16. But IU has not advanced to the Elite Eight since 2002, when Indiana was an unlikely national runner-up to Maryland. After cruising past James Madison, 83–62, the Hoosiers earned a hard fought victory over Temple, 58–52. Victor Oladipo hit a top-of-the-key three — on a kick-out swing pass from Cody Zeller — with 14 seconds to play to take a four-point lead Indiana would not relinquish, as the Hoosiers capped their come-from-behind win over the Owls on a 10–0 run. Now IU prepares for a Sweet 16 showdown with Syracuse in a rematch of the 1987 national title game.

Underdog – Syracuse (4)
Coach Jim Boeheim is making his 16th trip to the Sweet 16, with his signature 2-3 zone defense leading the charge yet again. The Orange suffocated Montana, 81–34, to get the party started. Syracuse then outlasted California, 66–60, in front of a partisan San Jose crowd, holding the Bears to just 4-of-21 shooting (19.0 percent) from 3-point range. The triumph over Cal marked Boeheim’s 50th career NCAA Tournament win.

Player to Watch – Shane Larkin, Miami (2)
Barry Larkin’s son has been a catalyst for the Canes all season, earning ACC Player of the Year honors along the way. After advancing to the school’s second Sweet 16, Miami will continue to lean on Larkin on the second weekend of the Tournament. In a Sweet 16-clinching 63–59 win over Illinois, Larkin capped a 17-point night with a clutch go-ahead 3-pointer.

The Quote
“I know everybody on our team — we weren’t ready to go home. We had two close games. We had a lot of those this year. What we went through earlier this year prepared us for this weekend.” — Marquette guard Vander Blue, who scored 29 points on 9-of-15 shooting in a 74–72 victory over Butler and 16 points in a 59–58 win over Davidson.

Sweet 16 Previews:
Midwest Region
West Region
South Region
East Region


<p> 2013 NCAA Tournament: East Region Sweet 16 Preview, including the Indiana Hoosiers, Miami Hurricanes, Marquette Golden Eagles, Syracuse Orange, Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Shane Larkin, Jim Boeheim and Vander Blue.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 17:01
Path: /college-basketball/2013-ncaa-tournament-south-region-sweet-16-preview

North Texas

Top Dog — Kansas (1)
Coach Bill Self earned his 300th career win with a 70–58 victory over North Carolina — and former Kansas coach Roy Williams. The Jayhawks struggled to pull off a 64–57 win over No. 16 seed Western Kentucky in the Round of 64. KU’s leading scorer this season, redshirt freshman shooting guard Ben McLemore has disappeared during the Tournament, with just 13 total points on 2-of-14 shooting from the field and 0-of-8 from 3-point range over two games. Senior big man Jeff Withey has picked up the slack, however, averaging 16.5 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks per game over the Tournament’s first weekend.

Underdog – Florida Gulf Coast (15)
Andy Enfield was a cult hero heading into the Tournament because he is a self-made millionaire with a supermodel wife. Now the Eagles coach is leading the greatest Cinderella story in Big Dance history. FGCU upset No. 2 seed Georgetown, 78–68, before taking down San Diego State, 81–71, to become the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16.

Player to Watch – Trey Burke, Michigan (4)
The National Player of the Year candidate got off to a rocky start, scoring just six points on 2-of-12 shooting in a 71–56 win over South Dakota State. But Burke bounced back with 18 points, seven assists and two steals in a 78–53 statement win over VCU to advance to Michigan’s first Sweet 16 since 1994. Burke will need to bring his A-game in order for U-M to earn a trip to the Final Four for the first time since the Fab Five in 1993.

The Quote
“The one thing that coach talked to me before I transferred here (from Rutgers), he said ‘You’re putting yourself in big moments and big games.’ … I really took full advantage of it tonight and I told myself, ‘If I’m open, I’m going to knock down the shot.’” — Florida guard Mike Rosario, who scored 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting in a 78–64 win over Minnesota.

Sweet 16 Previews:
Midwest Region
West Region
South Region
East Region


<p> 2013 NCAA Tournament: South Region Sweet 16 Preview, including the Kansas Jayhawks, Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, Michigan Wolverines, Florida Gators, Trey Burke, Andy Enfield, Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 16:55
Path: /college-basketball/2013-ncaa-tournament-west-region-sweet-16-preview

Los Angeles

Top Dog — Ohio State (2)
The Buckeyes were the only top-four seed in the West Region to advance to the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles. And it wasn’t easy. Ohio State edged No. 10 seed Iowa State 78–75 on an Aaron Craft 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds remaining. The Buckeyes, who led by 13 points at one point of the second half, fell behind on two separate occasions with less than four minutes to play. While it was tougher than most OSU fans would have liked, beating Iowa State could be a good omen: The last three single-digit seeds to defeat the Cyclones in the NCAA Tournament went on to win the national title — 2012 Kentucky, 2005 North Carolina and 2000 Michigan State.

Underdog – La Salle (13)
According to the official seed list released by the NCAA, La Salle was the second-to-last at-large team to make the field of 68. Now, the Explorers are two wins away from the Final Four. Led by Ramon Galloway, a transfer from South Carolina, La Salle defeated Boise State, Kansas State and Ole Miss in a magical five-day stretch. Galloway averaged 21.3 points and converted 22-of-41 from 3-point range in La Salle’s three wins.

Player to Watch – Mark Lyons, Arizona (6)
Lyons, a senior point guard at Arizona, will become the first player to play in the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons for two different teams. Lyons played his first three seasons at Xavier, which advanced to the Sweet 16  in 2010 and ’12, then enrolled at Arizona as a post-graduate transfer for his final season of eligibility. He scored 23 points in Arizona’s 81–64 win over Belmont then followed up with 27 in a 74–51 in over Harvard.

The Quote
“You know what I asked them? ‘On Oct. 15, down eight with eight minutes to go, would you take it for the right to go to Los Angeles in the Sweet 16?’ And they did it from there.” — Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, on what he told his team when they fell behind No. 1 seed Gonzaga by eight points in the second half.

Sweet 16 Previews:
Midwest Region
West Region
South Region
East Region


<p> 2013 NCAA Tournament: West Region Sweet 16 Preview, including the Ohio State Buckeyes, Arizona Wildcats, Wichita State Shockers, La Salle Explorers, Aaron Craft and Mark Lyons.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 16:46
Path: /college-basketball/2013-ncaa-tournament-midwest-region-sweet-16-preview


Top Dog — Louisville (1)
Louisville is playing like the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals advanced to the Sweet 16 with a surprisingly easy 82–56 win over a very good Colorado State team. Shooting guard Russ Smith, never known to be the most efficient player on the Cards’ roster, scored 27 points on only 15 shots to lead the way for Rick Pitino’s club. In its two wins, Louisville is shooting a combined 56.9 percent from the floor and has forced an average of 20.5 turnovers. That’s a formula for success at any level of basketball.

Underdog – Oregon (12)
It flew a bit under the radar, but No. 12 seed Oregon recorded one of the most impressive wins of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, rolling past Saint Louis 74–57 on Saturday. The Ducks, grossly underseeded by the Selection Committee, knocked off the No. 5 and No. 4 seeds by a combined 30 points. Oregon is led by a pair of senior forwards, E.J. Singler (younger brother of former Duke star Kyle Singler) and Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi. The Ducks are outstanding on the defensive end of the court and are a very good rebounding team. They do, however, struggle from the 3-point line, ranking 298th in the nation at 27.5 percent.

Coaching Showdown to Watch: Izzo vs. Coach K
Two of the great NCAA Tournament coaches of all time — Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski will meet in the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis. Duke, the No. 2 seed, is a slight favorite over the No. 3-seeded Spartans. Izzo is 1–7 all-time vs. Coach K, but the one victory came in the 2005 Sweet 16. These teams last met in November 2011 at Madison Square Garden. Duke won 74–69.

The Quote
“I don’t want to put the pressure on Rick and his guys, but they’re special. They need a little luck like everybody does to win it all, but that’s as impressive team as I‘ve been against, certainly.” — Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy, after his team lost to Louisville.

Sweet 16 Previews:
Midwest Region
West Region
South Region
East Region


<p> 2013 NCAA Tournament: Midwest Region Sweet 16 Preview, including the Louisville Cardinals, Oregon Ducks, Michigan State Spartans, Duke Blue Devils, Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo and Coach K.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 16:38
Path: /college-basketball/10-biggest-disappointments-ncaa-tournament

There was plenty of action on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Florida Gulf Coast became the first No. 15 seed Cinderella to make the Sweet 16 of the Big Dance. Wichita State “shocked” No. 1 seed Gonzaga to become just the fifth No. 9 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 since 1985. Buzzer-beaters and pep bands, coeds and coaches, commercials and cheerleaders — all the usual March Madness was in full effect. But there were also a few letdowns in the Rounds of 64 and 32.

1. Overreaction to Aaron Craft charge call
The Zapruder film was replayed in super-slow-mo fewer times than Craft’s controversial, momentum-shifting charge taken with 1:41 left and Ohio State trailing Iowa State by one. The call wiped out a made basket and free-throw attempt by Will Clyburn and gave the Buckeyes the ball. Craft eventually nailed a game-winning 3 with 0.5 seconds to play. But all anyone wanted to talk about was the charge call.

2. Over-hyped, over-seeded mid-major “powers”
Gonzaga (No. 1 seed), New Mexico (No. 3) and Saint Louis (No. 4) entered the NCAA Tournament with a combined 89–16 record as the champions of the West Coast, Mountain West and Atlantic 10 Conferences, respectively. Then the Zags, Lobos and Billikens lived up to their untrustworthy nicknames and soft resumes, belly-flopping on the biggest stage in college basketball.

3. UCLA, especially Shabazz Muhammad
Ben Howland was kicked to the curb after the underachieving Bruins were bounced from the Tourney with their usual lackluster showing. But the bigger news was that of Muhammad’s reported age bouncing from 19 to 20 years old, thanks to the slip of the tongue from an apparent snake-oil salesman father. UCLA’s dumpster fire season caused so much stress, every Bruin fan this side of Bill Walton likely aged in Shabazz years, too.

4. Ben McLemore’s disappearing act
Ray Allen comparisons and talk of going No. 1 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft had McLemore sitting pretty prior to the start of the Big Dance. But a combined 2-of-14 shooting effort, including 0-of-8 from 3-point range, has the Jesus Shuttlesworth fantasy cooling off. McLemore has scored just 13 points over two NCAA Tournament games, missing layups, mishandling alley-oops and bricking wide open corner threes.

5. Scootie Randall’s shooting vs. Indiana
Temple’s second leading scorer was 0-of-12 from the field and 0-of-6 from 3-point range in a 58–52 loss to Indiana. The Owls’ go-to guy, Khalif Wyatt, dropped 31 points but got no help from his partner-in-crime. Randall joined Connecticut’s Khalid El-Amin as second player to shoot 0-of-12 or worse in an NCAA Tourney game since 1985.

6. Lack of Dick Vitale announcing
After all these years, college basketball fans are forced to wait one more week before they are graced with the voice of Dick Vitale. In his 34-year career, Vitale has yet to work the Final Four. Needless to say, fans of international TV are ready for Dickey V. He still won't be a PTPer, but he'll be at the Big Dance, baby.
7. Davidson late-game meltdown vs. Marquette
Steph Curry was not walking through that door for Davidson in the Round of 64 against Marquette. The No. 14-seed Wildcats were outscored 13–5 over the last 1:33 of a 59–58 loss to the No. 3-seed Golden Eagles, including a game-winning drive to the rim by Vander Blue.

8. Marshall Henderson meltdown vs. La Salle
Everyone’s favorite villain in college hoops left the court with birds a’ blazin’ — flipping off the crowd with a double-barreled effort at the Sprint Center in Kansas City following Ole Miss’ 76–74 loss to La Salle. That seems so tame for Marshall, yet such an appropriate ending for the Rebel.

9. Lame TruTV, Wichita State Shocker jokes
What channel is TruTV, anyway? There’s a team called the Shockers? Insert lame joke. Really? This is Twitter comedy at its worst.

10. Wardrobe of Amanda Marcum Enfield
The wife of Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield isn’t even wearing a bikini. What? But at least FGCU isn’t playing Wichita State. Or Brent Musburger isn't calling games.

<p> 10 Biggest Disappointments in NCAA Tournament, including the overreaction to the Aaron Craft charge call, over-hyped mid-major powers exiting early, Shabazz Muhammad's false age, Ben McLemore's disappearing act, Marshall Henderson's meltdown and Andy Enfield's wife.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 16:00
All taxonomy terms: Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /golf/11-amazing-stats-tiger-woods-win-bay-hill

Yep, Tiger Woods is back. In fact, he's just had one of the better days of a career that's had more shining moments than a decade's worth of NCAA Tournaments. Here's a rundown of Tiger's weekend, by the numbers. And I think we can officially retire that stupid question (Is he back?) once and for all.

8 Tiger's win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was his eighth in the event, tying Sam Snead's record for the most wins in a single event (Snead won at Greensboro eight times). Snead was 52 when he won his eighth Greensboro; Tiger is 37.

1 Woods returns to the No. 1 slot in the Official World Golf Ranking, passing Rory McIlroy and assuming the top spot for the first time since Oct. 30, 2010.

624 This week marks the 624th week of his career that Woods has spent as the No. 1 golfer in the world. That's 12 years. Four-time major winner Ernie Els has spent 19 weeks at No. 1. Phil Mickelson, zero.

6 The win is Woods' sixth in his last 19 stroke-play events.

43 Tiger has gone into Sunday with an outright lead 45 times, and he's won 43 of those tournaments, including this one. If he's had at least a share of the third-round lead, he's now 52-for-56.

+3.89 Tiger led the field at Bay Hill with +3.89 Strokes Gained Putting Per Round. His previous career best for a single tournament was +2.34. If he's putting that well at Augusta, it's over before it starts.

77 Woods has 77 wins at the age of 37 years, two months, 24 days. Sam Snead, whose 82 career wins Woods is chasing, earned his 77th win at the age of 45 years, three months, 10 days.

27 Tiger has now won 27 percent (77 of 284) of his starts on the PGA Tour.

7 Tiger's eight wins at Bay Hill are more than former World No. 1 players Lee Westwood and Tom Lehman have for their PGA Tour careers combined (seven). Throw in Colin Montgomerie, who was shut out on the PGA Tour, and it still holds. (h/t Paul Azinger)

2009 Woods has now won back-to-back starts for the first time since 2009  (Buick Open, Bridgestone Invitational).

18 Entering The Masters, Woods' major drought now stands at 18 consecutive majors (four which Woods did not enter). That drought is in mortal danger.

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Post date: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 14:31
Path: /nascar/logano-hamlin-rivalry-manifested-last-lap-wreck-stewart-fighting-mad

For 15 years, Fontana has played the role of weird aunt in the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. You know the one. It’s who you have to suck it up and speak with every reunion even though the hug creeps you out, she believes aliens live on the street corner and “didn’t you just do the cutest thing you don’t remember when you were four.” Extended conversation makes you sleepy … or suicidal.

That, in a nutshell, is what watching every race scheduled at this two-mile oval has been like. (The fact Jimmie Johnson, criticized for his cookie-cutter personality on camera, is the all-time winner here speaks volumes.) But Sunday, in the midst of NCAA basketball’s showcase weekend, stock cars created a miracle all their own. For perhaps the first time in an L.A. market dominated by movie stars, an unscripted Hollywood race car finish became the talk of the town. Suddenly, a track that lost one of its two dates on the schedule becomes — dare I say it? — a “must see event” in 2014, one that puts someone like Tom Cruise back in attendance and not just some “D” level star from a movie you never heard of dropping the green flag.

If NASCAR’s Gen-6 car can make the weird aunt normal and relevant in the midst of another sport’s heyday, then the potential is there for sustained success. Let’s go “Through the Gears” on how it got to this point …

FIRST GEAR: NASCAR rivalries make or break this sport.
Denny Hamlin. Joey Logano. A finish so impressive, we need to watch it again. For a first-timer, that ending is exciting enough. But anyone who watches a lick of NASCAR racing will tell you their heart was pounding, regardless of who they root for, long before the white flag. Knowing the two went at it at Bristol, sparking a soap opera week of light shoving, Twitter tantrums and unaccepted apologies, the last 10 minutes came paired with a strong sense of anticipation. You just knew something was going to happen, with drama down the stretch providing that “hook” which takes a fan’s interest another level.

The spark of those rivalries (what drives that other March Madness) is what had been missing from NASCAR in recent years. Sure, we’ve had Brad Keselowski, the reigning champ and his “I don’t get no respect!” routine, but his main adversary (Johnson) won’t even turn on the jets to respond until September. The sport needed an ending with this type of spark, a reminder its A-list stars won’t always “go through the motions” when they’re sitting with a good points day in the spring.

As for where we go from here? Clearly, Logano has been listening to everyone from Keselowski to the media who say he needs to stand up for himself. But while any wreck can turn tragic, there’s a major difference between speeds at Bristol or Martinsville and Fontana, where 200-plus mph is not uncommon. Sure, Penske Racing’s newbie was doing all it took, fighting for victory just like he should. But there was a point, in the midst of Turns 3 and 4, where the game changed and Logano made a choice. Hamlin, on the top line, had fresher tires and the angle off the turn — and was in position to take the checkers (or finish second to Kyle Busch). At that point, Logano could have backed off; a wreck did neither one any good. But he didn’t, causing the incident and the comments afterwards make it sound like the action was clearly intentional. “Now we’re even,” he said on the radio before following up with a “that’s what he gets” to a crowd of reporters while Hamlin was being loaded up in an ambulance.

Yes, I know we have to remember the guy is only 22 years old. Unfortunately, after three-plus years in the Cup Series and paired with one of the sport’s most prestigious owners, Logano doesn’t get the luxury of being immature. What would have happened there if Hamlin was seriously hurt … or worse? (He was kept overnight, for hospitalization complaining of back pain.) Nationwide Series driver Michael Annett is out for 6-8 weeks after being injured at these types of speeds; you can’t just “assume” the cars will be safe.

I see a classic case of overreaction here. A young driver reeling from comments he’s too passive and feeling he needs to make up for it immediately in one full swoop. Problem is, it doesn’t work like that. Earning respect is a gradual thing, and judging by Tony Stewart’s comments after the checkered flag — championed by many peers on Twitter — Logano just isn’t quite there.

“It’s time he learns a lesson,” Stewart said. “He’s run his mouth long enough … he’s nothing but a little rich kid that’s never had to work in his life. He’s going to learn what us working guys who had to work our way up (know about)how it works.”

SECOND GEAR: Smoke is blowing Smoke, well, everywhere.
Those comments from Stewart, a three-time champ, came 10 minutes after an interview peppered with enough profanity to spice up anyone’s Sunday. Somewhere in between the bleeps was a simple message for Logano: I’m going to tear you in two.

But the car owner, more than anything, is just frustrated. As we spoke about last week, his slow start is even slower than usual and a block by Logano on the final restart robbed the No. 14 car of its momentum. That left him drifting outside the top 20, on a day where a top-5 result could have kept him from digging a deeper hole. Now he sits 22nd in the point standings, 37 markers behind 10th-place Hamlin and with some tracks ahead (Martinsville, Texas) where he’s not a surefire favorite.

With that said, seeing the Stewart of old, the rogue entertainer who once got fined regularly for “telling it like it is,” was a refreshing sight to see — even if his thought process was irrational. I seem to remember a Chase wreck at Talladega last fall caused in part by a Stewart block. Wasn’t Logano doing the same thing, making a whatever-it-takes move to win the race? It’s hard to be disrespectful on a restart that late in a race when you’re running for first place.

<p> Reaction from the wild events at Auto Club Speedway. From a last-lap wreck to a post-race fight, the Auto Club 400 was classic NASCAR.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 12:35
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-10-best-dunkers-2013

Part of what makes basketball such a fan-friendly sport is the high-flying, eye-popping feats of athleticism witnessed regularly on the hardcourt. And the dunk is the single most exciting, electric and jaw-dropping play in the sport. And as March Madness 2013 wraps up its first weekend, we thought we would provide the fans with our choices for the best dunkers in college hoops today.

Some of whom could be playing deep into the tourney this month.

1. Markel Brown, G, Oklahoma State (6-3, 190, Jr.)
What makes Brown so electric is his ability to build a highlight reel as just a 6-foot-3 guard. He can elevate and make defenders look silly. Depsite an early exit against Oregon in the first round of the Big Dance, Brown has still given fans in Stillwater plenty to cheer about. In fact, my favorite Brown throwdown is one against Mizzou that was so fierce he got a technical four and was ejected from the game.

2. Victor Oladipo, G, Indiana (6-5, 214, Jr.)
Few players showed as much improvement this season as Oladipo. And his unreal athletic abitlity is part of what has made him a National Player of the Year candidate. He has played huge in huge games and this play against Ohio State, in which he comes out of nowhere to throw it down, was downright sick.

3. Rodney Williams, F, Minnesota (6-7, 200, Sr.)
The senior has long been a fixture above the rim in The Barn at Minnesota. So here is a compilation of high-flying throwdowns from one of the nation's best athletes.

4. D.J. Stephens, G/F, Memphis (6-5, 188, Sr.)
Memphis has had a tremendous tradition of elite athletes who play above the rim over the last decade or so. And Mr. Stephens is this year's torch-bearer in that respect. This one in particularly was impressive because it came in the biggest game of the conference season for the Tigers.

5. Sam Thompson, F, Ohio State (6-7, 200, So.)
The Ohio State Buckeye might be one of the freakiest athletes in all of the nation. His dunking ability has been on full display since getting to Columbus two years ago and it could be a key piece to a deep Tournament run for Thad Matta's team.

6. Kyisean Reed, F, Utah State (6-6, 215, Sr.)
Reed is one of the darkhorses to watch in the 2013 Dunk Contest in Atlanta come Tournament end. He is a underrated player because of where he plays, but his ability to throw down with the best isn't underrated at all.

7. C.J. Fair, F, Syracuse (608, 25, Jr.)
Cuse has loads of lengthy, rangy athletes who can play above the rim and Fair is certainly among them. This particular dunk against National Player of the Year candidate Otto Porter of Georgetown was especially impressive.

8. Doug Anderson, F, Detroit (6-6, 212, Jr.)
Because he plays at a small school, many don't know about Anderson. Be he clearly has uncanny ability to star in a dunk contest — or just a regular season game.

9. Cody Zeller, C, Indiana (6-10, 240)
Zeller makes his living around the rim and has a long highlight reel of impressive dunks, many coming on forceful put backs. We'll simply call this one against Michigan at home Exhibit A.

10. Deuce Bello, G, Baylor (6-4, 187, So.)
For a guard, Bello has extreme hops. He is more of an honorable mention since he wasn't a huge part of his team this season, playing just over 11 minutes a game. But his historic prep career at Westchester Country Day (N.C.) more than served as a showcase for his dunking ability. This video has a slow start but delivers the goods and is worth checking out.

Best of the Rest:

Andre Roberson, Colorado
Chris Evans, Kent State
Ronald Roberts, St. Joseph's
Shaquille Johnson, Auburn
C.J. Leslie, NC State
Roman Galloway, La Salle
Vander Blue, Marquette
Nick Johnson or Gabe York, Arizona
Dezmine Wells, Maryland

<p> College Basketball's 10 Best Dunkers of 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 11:10