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All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/14-things-watch-baseball-2014

Spring training has commenced in Florida and Arizona, which means Opening Day is right around the corner. While there is never any lack of players, teams or topics to follow regarding America's pastime, here are 14 storylines to keep an eye on in MLB this season.

1. Cano in Seattle
The Mariners quantified desperation in December when they plowed $240 million into one player in an effort to escape irrelevancy. That player was the best on the free-agent market, Robinson Cano, who turned 31 in October and is now signed through 2023. Critics panned the deal, citing the recent folly of 10-year contracts to players over 30. “It’ll be another club that in five years from now, maybe less, will be looking to move an enormous contract and eat a bunch of it,” ESPN’s Curt Schilling said at the winter meetings. “It never fails. It’s three, four, five years. Six is a stretch. Because it’s impossible to stay healthy in this sport.” History supports Schilling, the former pitcher, with Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols standing as powerful warning signs the Mariners did not heed. But Cano has been remarkably durable, playing in at least 159 games in each of the last seven seasons, and he is the majors’ most productive second baseman. After losing half their fans since 2002, the Mariners felt that the contract was a risk they had to take. “Anytime you can make your club better — and especially if you can upgrade with a star anywhere — it helps everything,” says Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik. “It helps your club currently, it helps you going forward.” The Mariners, with just two winning seasons in their last 10, hope the Cano decade is a lot better.

2. A’s Held Hostage
How many times must raw sewage seep into the locker rooms at the Coliseum before Major League Baseball lets the Athletics move to San Jose? It happened twice last season, yet MLB continues to let the A’s twist in an ill wind. Commissioner Bud Selig’s indecisiveness on the future of one of the game’s most innovative franchises is baffling. Selig formed a committee to study the situation in 2009 yet has not authorized the A’s to move. The San Francisco Giants claim San Jose as their territory, and Selig seems unwilling to reverse that, even though the Giants got the territory as a favor from the A’s in 1992. The city of San Jose, which is ready to break ground on a baseball-only ballpark, is tired of waiting and filed a lawsuit last year accusing MLB of conspiring to stop the team’s proposed move, which it denied last June 17. As a business, the A’s need clarity on this, if only Selig would act. The whole ordeal stinks, you might say, except for the team’s performance on the field. Despite notoriously low payrolls, the A’s will attempt to win their third AL West title in a row.

3. Instant Replay
When Major League Baseball announced plans to begin using widespread instant replay for the 2014 season, the league warned fans to expect some kinks in the system, which will be reviewed after the year for possible improvements. The evolving process (which began with reviewable home run calls in August 2008) will seek to correct blown calls on the field through a new challenge system, in which managers will get three challenges per game, one in the first six innings and two thereafter. The manager will keep his challenges if he is correct (that is, if the call is overturned), and an unused challenge in the first six innings does not carry over to the rest of the game. A league official monitoring video feeds in New York will make the final call on each challenge, which MLB believes will solve the problem of protracted manager arguments. But will managers really abide by the new rule that prevents them from arguing an overturned call? And if the system works well, will baseball push to expand it even further, to cover checked swings or even balls and strikes? That seems doubtful, but for years it seemed unlikely that MLB would even take this step. But this is a legacy item for Bud Selig, who insists that this will be his final season after more than two decades as commissioner. It should make for a fascinating subplot, where the umpires on the field will finally have access to conclusive footage that fans have had on their televisions for years.

4. Cardinals Pitchers
Year after year, it seems, the St. Louis Cardinals just keep finding them. Young impact pitchers continue to flow from the minor leagues to Busch Stadium. The Cardinal Way got a lot of attention in October as the rest of the league marveled at the instant success of pitchers who did not even start the season in the majors, like Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist and Michael Wacha, who won his first four postseason starts before losing the final game of the World Series. Remarkably, the Cardinals’ postseason roster included only one pitcher — Lance Lynn — who was also on the active roster in their 2011 championship run, and had such depth that a 15-win rookie, Shelby Miller, pitched only once in October. “You’ve got to give the organization their props for what they’ve done in drafting to get these young kids up here,” says the former ace Chris Carpenter, who retired in November. “Not only their stuff but their personalities, because that goes along with it too. These guys want it.” With Jaime Garcia returning from shoulder surgery, the Cardinals could have a logjam in the rotation, with Adam Wainwright, Joe Kelly, Wacha, Lynn, Miller and Martinez, whom the team would like to try as a starter. However it shakes out, expect some little-known rookie to make a major impact, in the rotation or relief, to help the Cardinals continue their reign as the premier team in the National League.

5. Top Twins
The Minnesota Twins probably know they will not contend this season. They have lost at least 96 games in each of the last three seasons, the longest such streak in Minnesota history. But the Twins are inching toward respectability, spending $73 million on free-agent starters Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, and they could soon take a major leap forward. Twins fans will keep a close and hopeful eye on the jewels of the farm system, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, who finished the season ranked first and third, respectively, on’s list of the top prospects in the game. Buxton, a 20-year-old, five-tool center fielder, dominated two levels of Class A ball last season, hitting .334 with 12 homers and 55 steals. Sano, a third baseman who turns 21 in May, hit 35 homers at two levels while batting .280. He reached Double-A last year and could debut in Minnesota this season. Either way, figure on both to be at Target Field for the Futures Game, part of the All-Star festivities this July as the Twins host the Midsummer Classic for the first time since 1985.

6. Kershaw Goes for Four
The race for an ERA title does not capture the imagination the way, say, a home run race does. Earned run average is a rate statistic, not a counting statistic, and the need for a calculator removes some of the romance. But Clayton Kershaw’s pursuit of a fourth consecutive National League ERA crown is worth following. This run by Kershaw, the Dodgers’ dominant lefty, evokes the hallowed name of Sandy Koufax, another Dodgers lefty who was the last pitcher to accomplish the feat. Koufax did it five times in a row, from 1962 through 1966, when he retired at 30 with arthritis in his left elbow. Kershaw, who turns 26 in March, is the first pitcher to win three ERA titles before turning 28. He shared a clubhouse embrace with Koufax at Dodger Stadium after helping the Dodgers advance in the playoffs last October. “He’s the first Clayton Kershaw,” Koufax said. “He doesn’t deserve to be compared to anybody. He is who he is and he’s great.”

7. Ryno Gets His Chance
It’s been 46 years since a Hall of Famer managed in the majors after managing in the minors. Most baseball immortals lack the patience for the climb, or let their ego get in the way. But this is the route Ryne Sandberg took as he worked his way back to the stage he dominated as the National League’s premier second baseman in the 1980s. The Phillies, who sent Sandberg on his way to Cooperstown in a disastrous trade with the Cubs in 1982, are giving him his chance. After managing in their farm system and coaching in Philadelphia, Sandberg replaced Charlie Manuel late last season. Manuel set a club record for wins by a manager and guided the team to the 2008 championship. The problem for Sandberg — a no-nonsense leader who demands attention to detail — is that many of those same players remain on the team, resulting in an aging, injury-prone roster that does not seem ready to win. The Phillies’ front office seems to expect the core of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz and Chase Utley to perform as it did several years ago, with three expensive pitchers — Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon — leading an otherwise threadbare staff. It’s a lot to ask of Sandberg, who is signed through 2016, but nobody expected much from him as a player, either — and we all saw how that career turned out.

8. Chicago Hopeless
The Cubs lost 96 games last season. The White Sox lost 99. The 195 combined defeats were the most ever for the city’s teams in a single season, and this isn’t exactly a town known for winning, with just one championship since 1917. Neither team looks poised to compete for one this season, with both on roughly parallel rebuilding tracks. The Cubs have spent their first two years under Theo Epstein’s leadership trying to flood a lean farm system, and the team appears to have several high-ceiling hitters on the way, like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler. The White Sox started their teardown last season, and their system is not as deep, but they do have some young, impact major leaguers to excite the South Side. Outfielder Avisail Garcia, 22, enters his first full season in Chicago after parts of two seasons with Detroit. The Sox also splurged for the slugging Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu, spending $68 million on a player who hit .360 with three homers in the World Baseball Classic. Neither team has much pitching depth, but the White Sox have a genuine ace in Chris Sale, and the Cubs unearthed an All-Star last season in Travis Wood. Their turnarounds could take a while, but the teams recognize the task ahead of them. The race to respectability is on.

9. End of the Suffering
In the early 2000s, baseball was remarkably democratic. Nine different teams won a championship in the decade from 2001 through 2010, with six of those teams doing so for the first time in decades and two others, the Diamondbacks and the Angels, winning the first World Series in franchise history. The Red Sox erased 86 years of misery, the White Sox 88. The Cardinals won after 24 years without a title, the Phillies after 28, the Giants after 56. The last three seasons, though, we’ve seen some of the same old teams lifting the trophy: the Cardinals again in 2011, the Giants again in 2012 and the Red Sox again in 2013. Across the baseball landscape, eight teams have still never won a championship, and 11 others have gone at least two decades since their last. In other words, a full two-thirds of MLB fan bases are ripe for a catharsis. The outpouring of emotion and affection from proud, long-suffering fans is baseball at its best, and we can’t wait to see who experiences the feeling this fall.

10. Albert, April and the Angels
Last spring training, Angels ace Jered Weaver said that one thing was absolutely, positively essential for the team to succeed. “I’ve been here long enough now to know that it’s not fun playing catch-up,” Weaver said. “Every game’s important no matter whether it’s April or August.” A slow start in 2012 had cost the Angels a playoff spot despite a winning season. Last season, the Angels sputtered to a 9–17 April and wound up with their worst record since 2003. Josh Hamilton had his worst season, the pitching mostly fell apart and
Albert Pujols did not play after July 26 because of plantar fasciitis. Even when healthy, Pujols was rarely the force he had been with the Cardinals, hitting .258 with 17 homers and a career-low .767 OPS. The Angels might have expected such a decline late in his 10-year contract, but not in Year 2. With eight years remaining on his contract, the Angels need some reassurance that Pujols, at 33, can resume his Hall of Fame pace. With the Dodgers rediscovering their mojo in Los Angeles, the Angels cannot afford another bad start. Ideally, they need production from Pujols and Hamilton to fuel a strong April, change the vibe around Angel Stadium and give the game’s best all-around talent, Mike Trout, a chance to shine in October.

11. Just Who Is Stephen Strasburg?
In 2010, the Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg was the most electrifying player in baseball, crackling radar guns with 100 mph fastballs, devastating breaking balls and changeups at 90 mph. Then came reconstructive elbow surgery that wiped out almost all of 2011 and impacted the Nats again in 2012, when they shut him down in early September because of an innings limit and lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Nationals had admirable intentions, but their sluggish follow-up to a division title showed that postseason berths are never assured and served as a model for how not to handle a high-impact young pitcher. Freed from innings restrictions last year, Strasburg still threw only 183, with just one complete game. He was better than his 8–9 record, but he needed offseason surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. That was an ominous sign for a pitcher whose red-flag mechanics didn’t change much after Tommy John surgery, and raises the issue of whether or not he can ever be the durable, dominant ace fans envisioned. As he turns 26 this summer, Strasburg is under pressure to prove he can lead a staff into October, and then endure high-stress innings when he gets there.

12. The Prince of Texas
The Detroit Tigers wasted little time dumping Prince Fielder last offseason, shipping him to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler despite owing him a staggering $168 million for the next seven years. Only one player (Alex Rodriguez in 2004) had ever been traded with so much remaining on his contract. But the Tigers, who included $30 million in the deal, saw an escape hatch and took it, despite winning the AL Central in Fielder’s first two seasons, once advancing to the World Series. Fielder helped the Tigers, providing protection in the lineup for the incomparable Miguel Cabrera, who won the MVP award both seasons. But he hit just 55 homers overall (he once bashed 50 in a single season for Milwaukee), and his .457 slugging percentage last season ranked 12th among qualifying major-league first basemen. In Texas, Fielder moves to a hitter’s ballpark with a jet stream in right center field, and at 29, he has a chance to reestablish himself as one of the game’s elite sluggers. The Rangers, who never adequately replaced Josh Hamilton’s left-handed power last season, need a jolt of power after posting a .412 team slugging percentage, the lowest for the franchise since 1995. Fielder heralded the change by taking a new uniform number: 84, making him only the second player in MLB history to wear that number, after J.T. Snow of the 2006 Red Sox. He chose 84 for the year he was born; the Rangers would be pleased if that represented his home run total for the next two seasons.

13. Hall Managers
Together they won more than 7,500 games in the major leagues, with 17 pennants and eight championships across 91 seasons of writing out lineup cards. This July 27, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre  and Bobby Cox will share a stage in Cooperstown, N.Y. All three were elected unanimously by the veterans committee for induction to the Hall of Fame. All three are master storytellers, with Cox’s avuncular charm, La Russa’s professorial wisdom and Torre’s colorful anecdotes sure to be on display at the podium. With their induction, the Hall of Fame more than doubled its roster of living managers, with Torre, La Russa and Cox joining Whitey Herzog and Tommy Lasorda as candidates elected on the basis of their managing careers. The trio ranks 3-4-5 on the all-time victory list for managers — La Russa, then Cox, then Torre — in careers that stretch back to the late 1970s. “I certainly am honored to go to the Hall with these two guys,” Torre says, “because it just would have felt somewhat empty if one of us was left out.”

14. The Biogenesis Bunch
Before last season, the Toronto Blue Jays signed Melky Cabrera to a two-year, $16 million contract, betting that he could repeat his breakout seasons with the Royals and the Giants despite his bust for performance-enhancing drugs. As it turned out, when Cabrera was healthy, he was ordinary, making his performance spike seem even more suspicious. Then again, the Oakland A’s brought back Bartolo Colon after his suspension, and Colon made the All-Star team. Cabrera and Colon were part of the Biogenesis scandal, which ensnared 13 more players last summer, plus Alex Rodriguez. All served their suspensions (except for Rodriguez, who appealed his) and will be back for 2014, including the 2013 All-Stars Everth Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta, who signed for $53 million with the St. Louis Cardinals. How long will fans maintain their hostility toward the Brewers’ Ryan Braun, a former National League MVP, and will Braun be booed in Milwaukee? He has always seemed sensitive to his image, so how will he react? More important, will Braun return to his usual productivity, or will he decline, calling into question just how good he really is? As Brewers owner Mark Attanasio told the New York Times last summer: “We’re going to find that out.”

—Written by Tyler Kepner for Athlon Sports. This is just one of the features that can be found in Athlon Sports' 2014 MLB Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands and online now. Starting with 21 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy now!

14 Things to Watch in Baseball in 2014
Post date: Monday, February 17, 2014 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-february-17-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 16.

• It's SI Swimsuit week. Here are some choice images of this year's cover models.

An eerie fog has enveloped Sochi. I think Bond villain Vladimir Putin must be behind it.

NBC's frontal assault on an emotional Bode Miller has drawn some criticism.

Bob Costas is finally back in his Olympic booster seat, sans glasses.

Johnny Weir is determined to pummel Sochi into submission with his flamboyance.

A poll suggests that most NFL players would be okay with a gay teammate.

• LeBron came down from Mt. Rushmore to participate in the highest-scoring NBA All-Star Game in history.

• This is an interesting idea: moving ice hockey to the Summer Olympics.

• Today's get-off-my-lawn moment: Mike Ditka criticized Matt Stafford for wearing his cap backwards. Mike Ditka is old and cranky.

• It's Presidents Day. Here's a gallery of presidents playing sports.

According to Vernon Davis, curling requires more strategy than football. Vernon Davis' friends will abuse him for this observation.

• In case you missed last night's All-Star Game, here's a slo-mo recap.


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

Post date: Monday, February 17, 2014 - 11:18
All taxonomy terms: Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Golf
Path: /golf/5-key-stats-northern-trust-open

For a weekend, anyway, Bubba Golf wasn't a roller coaster of missed fairways and impossibly curved and creative wedge shots. Instead, it was a stunning bogey-free display of fairways, greens and a white-hot putter that would have been the envy of Tiger in his prime. Bubba Watson dismantled the legendary Riviera layout with a weekend 64-64 that featured 14 birdies and no bogeys and ended with his first win since the 2012 Masters. Watson's two-shot win over Dustin Johnson at the Northern Trust Open was the fifth of his career and could get golf's folk hero back onto the short list of Masters favorites.

Over two flawless rounds, Watson showed a well-rounded, consistent game that no one knew he had. In addition to his accustomed position atop the driving distance stats, he was tied for eighth in the field in driving accuracy, second in greens in regulation and tied for eighth in putts per green in regulation. It was enough to hold off a charging Dustin Johnson, who put himself in position for his second win of the season but couldn't apply enough pressure with a par-par-par finish.

"You never know when your last win is going to be," said Watson. "My last win could have been The Masters, which would have been a great way to go out. But winning here at Northern Trust is nice. ... I never looked down, I never felt down that I haven't won yet but just keep plugging along and somehow it fell in my lap today."

Here are the key numbers from a beautiful LA weekend.

39 Watson played the final 39 holes of the Northern Trust Open without a single bogey. He was 14-under par for those 39 holes.

28 Watson's final round 64 was the lowest by a winner of the Northern Trust in 28 years.

318.5 Watson's field-leading driving distance, which allowed him to overpower the par 5s at Riviera and left him with short approaches on the par 4s. He was 8-under on the par 5s for the tournament and 7-under on the par 4s for the final two rounds.

4 Dustin Johnson is 4-for-4 in top-six finishes thus far in the 2013-14 season. He won the WGC-HSBC in November, finished tied for sixth at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and has had back-to-back runner-up finishes at Pebble Beach and Riviera.

3 There were three former Georgia Bulldogs in the top 10 at Riviera — Watson, Brian Harman (T3) and Harris English (T10).

The shots of the week included Watson's bunker blast for birdie on the par-3 sixth hole on Sunday, part of a front-nine 30 that allowed him to erase a four-shot deficit.



Sadly, the iconic Eisenhower Pine on the 17th hole at Augusta National fell victim to an ice storm and had to be removed. "The loss of the Eisenhower Tree is difficult news to accept," club chairman Billy Payne said. "We obtained opinions from the best arborists available and, unfortunately, were advised that no recovery was possible."

Post date: Monday, February 17, 2014 - 10:23
Path: /college-football/top-10-big-ten-linebackers-bcs-era

The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

The Big Ten has had some serious tradition and talent when it comes to the linebacker position. This conference has always favored the run and therefore has created some seriously decorated tacklers in the process. Penn State is Linebacker U but Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa each have their own long track record of producing top flight linebackers. Here are the 10 best to play in the Big Ten during the BCS Era:

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. LaVar Arrington, Penn State (1997-99)
Few college players were as intimidating as the rabid Nittany Lions linebacker. Arrington was an elite leader who helped Penn State to a 28-9 record during his three-year tenure in Happy Valley. He was named as the Butkus and Lambert Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker and was the recipient of the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player after 72 tackles, 20 for a loss, nine sacks and two blocked kicks in 1999. He was a consensus All-American and is credited with arguably the signature defensive play of the BCS Era when he leapt over the Illinois offensive line on 4th-and-1 to secure the win. Arrington consistently delivered crushing blows and wound up as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft by the Redskins.

2. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State (2005-08)
Few players in the nation were as decorated, productive, talented and successful as the Minneapolis native. Laurinaitis won the Butkus, Nagurski, two Lambert Awards and two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year awards while being a three-time All-American. He posted three straight seasons of at least 115 tackles and helped Ohio State win a share of four Big Ten titles, including two trips to the BCS National Championship Game. The Buckeyes' tackler was taken in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

3. Paul Posluszny, Penn State (2003-06)
As a junior, the Nittany Lions tackler was recognized as the nation’s top LB when he posted 116 tackles (11.0 TFL) en route to a Big Ten championship, consensus All-American honors and both the Butkus and Bednarik Awards. He followed that up as a senior with a second Bednarik Award and second consensus All-American nod. The in-state Aliquippa (Pa.) Hopewell product was a second-round pick by the Bills in 2007. He left school as Penn State's all-time leading tackler with 372 total stops.

4. Andy Katzenmoyer, Ohio State (1996-98)
His pro career notwithstanding, this Buckeye was one of college football’s greatest tacklers during his time in Columbus. He was the first true freshman to ever start at linebacker for the Buckeyes, won the Butkus and Lambert Awards as just a sophomore and nearly led OSU to the inaugural BCS title game in 1998. He started all 37 games of his college career and finished with 18 sacks and 50.0 tackles for a loss. He was a first-round pick by the Patriots in 1999.

5. A.J. Hawk, Ohio State (2002-05)
Yet another Buckeyes great, Hawk started 38 of his 51 career college games for Ohio State. He contributed to the 2002 BCS National Championship squad as a freshman before earning two-time consensus All-American honors in 2004-05. As a senior, Hawk earned the Lombardi and Lambert Trophies for his play and was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He finished his career with 394 tackles, 41.0 for a loss, 15.5 sacks and seven interceptions. He was the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft by the Packers.

6. Greg Jones, Michigan State (2007-10)
The stabilizing force for four years in East Lansing, Jones was a three-time, first-team All-Big Ten selection and a two-time consensus All-American. In both of those seasons, Jones led the Big Ten in tackles and no one since 2005 has made more stops than Jones. He was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. The star playmaker finished third in school history in tackles (465), second in tackles for a loss (46.5) and sixth in sacks (16.5). He started 46 of 52 career games for the Spartans. 

7. Dan Connor, Penn State (2004-07)
The Nittany Lions know something about playing linebacker and Connor is yet another elite tackler. He was a two-time All-American and won the Bednarik Award in 2007 as the nation's top defensive player. He was a leader and was huge part of the '05 Big Ten/Orange Bowl championship team before posting back-to-back 100-tackle seasons. He broke Posluszny's all-time school record with 419 career stops when he graduated in '07. 

8. Chris Borland, Wisconsin (2009-13)
Few players have been as productive and as successful as the Original Honey Badger. He finished his career with 420 tackles, second most in the Big Ten since 2005, 17.0 sacks, 50.0 tackles for a loss and an NCAA-record 14 forced fumbles. He helped lead his team to three consecutive Big Ten championships and did just about everything for the Badgers, including fake punts, blocked kicks and returning kicks. He was a consummate hard worker and leader for Wisconsin and it earned him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and the Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten Linebacker of the Year award in 2013.

9. Julian Peterson, Michigan State (1998-99)
He only played for two seasons but he was a force for both of them. He was honorable mention All-Big Ten in his first year in East Lansing and an All-American and first-team All-Big Ten as a senior when he posted 15 sacks. In two years, Peterson posted 140 tackles and 25 sacks in just 23 career games. He was the 16th overall pick in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft.

10. Chad Greenway, Iowa (2002-05)
At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Greenway is as gifted as any of the elite names on this list. He finished his illustrious Iowa career with 416 tackles, 31.0 tackles for a loss, 7.0 sacks and four interceptions. He was a two-time All-Big Ten selection and had three straight seasons with at least 113 tackles. His 156 total stops in 2005 rank No. 2 in the Big Ten since 2005. Greenway also played on the 2002 Orange Bowl team as a true freshman and was the 17th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

Just missed the cut:

11. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (2011-13)
The Butkus Finalist this past season was one of the hardest hitting, most explosive linebackers to ever play the game. And he helped OSU to back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons (24-0). He posted 56 tackles as a freshman, 114 stops as a sophomore and 144 in his junior season. He finished with 44.0 tackles for a loss and nine forced fumbles to go with 15.0 sacks in just three years.

12. J Leman, Illinois (2004-07)
A consensus All-American on the first Rose Bowl team for Illinois in over two decades, Leman was one of the most consistent performers in Big Ten history. The two-time All-Big Ten pick finished his career with 407 tackles, 38.0 for a loss, eight sacks and six forced fumbles. He is sixth all-time in Illinois history in tackles.

13. Larry Foote, Michigan (1998-01)
Foote started 28 of the 48 games he played during his career in Ann Arbor. He won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and was an All-American in 2001. Foote was a two-time All-Big Ten pick and finished his career with 212 tackles, 44 for a loss and 11 sacks. He played in the NFL for more than a decade and was part of two Super Bowl-winning defenses in Pittsburgh.

14. Brandon Short, Penn State (1996-99)
Short was a four-year starter at linebacker alongside LaVar Arrington. He and Arrington were the first teammates to both be Butkus finalists in 1999 and Short earned consensus All-American recognition that season as well. He was a two-time All-Big Ten pick, led the team in tackles with 103 (’99) and was the 1998 Citrus Bowl MVP. He was a fourth-round pick in 2000.

15. Tim McGarigle, Northwestern (2002-05)
The tackling machine started 40 games in his career including the last 34 in a row. He is the NCAA’s all-time leading tackler with 545 total stops in his career and he was an All-Big Ten pick twice as an upperclassman. He also added 20 tackles for a loss, three interceptions and four sacks in his career. His leadership and toughness is unmatched by most players of his generation.

Best of the rest:

16. Lavonte David, Nebraska (2010-11)
A Two-time all-league pick and Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten LB of the Year winner in 2011, David started all 27 career games and owns the Nebraska single-season tackles record (152).

17. Max Bullough, Michigan State (2010-13)
Two-time All-Big Ten pick with 299 tackles and 30.5 for a loss while leading MSU to its first Rose Bowl in 20 years.

18. Matt Wilhelm, Ohio State (1999-02)
Three-year starter who earned consensus All-American honors on an undefeated national title team in ’02.

19. Michael Mauti, Penn State (2009-12)
Won Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten LB of the Year in 2012 after leading PSU to a winning record in Year One after Paterno.

20. Mike Taylor, Wisconsin (2009-2012)
Tackling machine with 377 career stops and 38 tackles for a loss on two Big Ten title teams.

21. NaVorro Bowman, Penn State (2007-09)
Posted 218 tackles, 36 TFL and 8.0 sacks in three years. Bowman also was an All-Big Ten selection in 2008.

22. Ian Gold, Michigan (1996-99)
A two-time All-Big Ten selection as an upperclassman and was a second-round pick.

23. Abdul Hodge, Iowa (2002-05)
Has the highest single-season tackle total in the Big Ten since 2005 with 158 stops as a senior.

24. David Harris, Michigan (2003-06)
Posted 191 tackles and earned All-Big Ten honors in his final two seasons on three Rose Bowl teams.

25. Sean Lee, Penn State (2006-09)
Missed all of 2008 but posted 313 career tackles and 30 for a loss as a team captain. A second-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

ORV: Pat Angerer, Shawn Crable, James Morris, Na’il Diggs, Roosevelt Colvin, Denicos Allen

Top 10 Big Ten Linebackers of the BCS Era
Post date: Monday, February 17, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-best-coaching-tandems-acc-2014

No league has changed its identity more in recent decades than the ACC.

What was once a regional league dominated by basketball powers, the ACC has looked to the outside to build a league that can match in football. Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech added to football prestige, and now Syracuse represents the ACC atop the basketball rankings.

In the last season, the program that has been able to succeed in both at a high level may be the most unlikely.

Duke’s success on the basketball court is expected under Mike Krzyzewski. Football, on the other hand, has been irrelevant for two decades. That’s changed under David Cutcliffe, who became the first Blue Devils coach to win 10 games in a season.

For the second consecutive season, Duke tops our coaching tandem ranking in the ACC.

In this ranking, we aimed to reward balance. In short, which school’s fanbase is most likely to be satisfied from September to March? A handful of schools may have an accomplished football coach while the basketball coach is looking to keep his job, or vice versa.

In evaluating coaches, we examined past performance, with more focus on current and recent results and future expectations. We also considered how good a fit a particular coach is for a particular school.

For the ACC, we are ranking the post-expansion lineup with Louisville taking the spot left by Maryland. We’ve also ranked Notre Dame, a full basketball member, in the ACC tandem rankings.

1. Duke
David Cutcliffe | Basketball: Mike Krzyzewski

On the basketball side, Duke has a Hall of Fame coach with four national championships, two Olympic gold medals and more than 900 wins. On the other side, the Blue Devils have a coach who has reached bowl games in back-to-back seasons with the ACC’s worst program. Krzyzewski is four years removed from his most recent national title, but as usual, he’s in contention for another one this season. Meanwhile, Cutcliffe led Duke to 10 wins and the ACC title game last season. One interesting parallel for these coaches: Both had health scares that sidelined them for a year (Krzyzewski’s back in 1995 and Cutcliffe’s heart in 2005), but both coaches are at the top of their games.

2. Louisville
Bobby Petrino | Basketball: Rick Pitino

The Petrino/Pitino sound-alike duo is back in the Derby City. The first time around wasn’t so bad for Louisville. Petrino successfully guided the Cardinals into the Big East era with an Orange Bowl victory in his final season in 2006. Louisville is counting on Petrino to do the same as the Cards move into the ACC in 2014. Since 2009 alone, Pitino has led the basketball program to the 2013 national title, two Final Fours and three 30-win seasons. Certainly, it’s risky bringing Petrino — a career-long flight risk whose Arkansas tenure was bought down by ethical failings — back into the fold.

3. Florida State
Jimbo Fisher | Basketball: Leonard Hamilton

Not long ago, Florida State’s basketball program arguably was more successful that its football program, especially given the expectation level for both. In four seasons, Jimbo Fisher has returned FSU football to national prominence after a 14-0 season, the national championship and a Heisman Trophy. Hamilton’s basketball program may land in the NIT for the second consecutive season, but that shouldn’t overshadow his tenure. Hamilton is the first FSU basketball coach to lead the Seminoles to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments, four consecutive 20-win seasons and an ACC Tournament title.

4. Notre Dame
Brian Kelly | Basketball: Mike Brey

Notre Dame still has work to do in order to be among the national elite. Alabama exposed as much in the BCS championship game after the 2012 season. Still, a title game appearance is more than Kelly’s predecessors in South Bend. Dealt a curve ball with Everett Golson’s academic issues, Notre Dame still went 9-4 in 2013, Kelly’s eighth consecutive season with eight or more wins. Brey hasn’t been as fortunate this season with a key player, Jerian Grant, lost due to academics. Brey’s streak of seven consecutive 20-win seasons and four NCAA Tournament bids likely ends this season, but the track record suggests Brey’s program won’t be down for long.

5. North Carolina
Larry Fedora | Basketball: Roy Williams

The coaches have more in common than a Chapel Hill zip code. Both would like their teams to operate at a fast pace, and neither has ever had a losing season as a head coach. Of course, Williams track record is more impressive with two national titles at North Carolina and a basketball Hall of Fame induction. Fedora’s 8-4 season in 2012 despite a bowl ban was impressive, but last season’s 7-6 performance, the third of Fedora’s career, was a let down.

6. Syracuse
Scott Shafer | Basketball: Jim Boeheim

Few coaching tandems are more lopsided than the one that shares the Carrier Dome. After last season’s trip to the Final Four, Boeheim joked his program was due for one trip to the national semifinals each decade (he wasn’t wrong), but the Hall of Famer has a team capable of doing it again. In his first season in the ACC, Boeheim is building upon his win total with 25 consecutive wins to start 2013-14. The football coach, however, is why Syracuse’s tandem is ranked this low in the ACC. Shafer proved himself a perfectly capable coach in his first season, going 7-6 with a Texas Bowl victory.

7. Miami
Al Golden | Basketball: Jim Larranaga

With the NCAA investigation related to the Nevin Shapiro scandal finished an another Penn State coaching search completed, Miami will look to continue its progress under Golden. The Hurricanes have increased their win total every season under Golden, but they remain a middling ACC program (10-6 the last two seasons).

8. Clemson
Dabo Swinney | Basketball: Brad Brownell

Swinney’s homespun rah-rah personality and his offensive coordinator seem to have made the Clemson football coach underrated — as if motivation and assistant hires aren’t part of the job. Clemson under Swinney is one of eight programs to win 10 games in each of the last three seasons. Meanwhile, he’s led the Tigers to their first top-10 finish since 1990 and first ACC title since 1991. After two lackluster seasons, Brownell has Clemson basketball in contention for its second NCAA Tournament bid in his four-year tenure.

9. Pittsburgh
Paul Chryst | Basketball: Jamie Dixon

Dixon’s consistency — in results and his approach — remain impressive. He’s never won fewer than 22 games and has missed the NCAA Tournament only once in 11 seasons, all without a ton of McDonald’s All-Americans. After two bowl games and a 13-13 record in two seasons, Chryst’s greatest contribution to Pitt has been putting program on stable footing after a revolving door of three head coaches in two seasons.

10. Virginia Tech
Frank Beamer | Basketball: James Johnson

Beamer has built his alma mater into a national power even if the Hokies have gone 15-11 overall and 9-7 in the ACC the last two seasons. The good feelings, though, end after football season as Johnson has struggled to get the Hokies out of the ACC cellar.

11. Boston College
Steve Addazio | Basketball: Steve Donahue

Addazio supervised one of college football’s surprise teams last season as Boston College went 7-6 and produced a Heisman finalist. Donahue supervised one of basketball season’s disappointing teams as the veteran Eagles were out of postseason contention by the end of June.

12. NC State
Dave Doeren | Basketball: Mark Gottfried

Gottfried’s results have been a little better than those of Herb Sendek at the end of his tenure and far better than those from the Sidney Lowe era. Doeren went winless in the ACC in his first season, but he did lead Northern Illinois to an Orange Bowl appearance two years ago.

13. Georgia Tech
Paul Johnson | Basketball: Brian Gregory

Since the 2009 ACC title, Johnson is 28-25 overall and 19-13 in the ACC. Gregory has seen improvement in the basketball program, but the Yellow Jackets are still merely NIT-worthy at best.

14. Virginia
Mike London | Basketball: Tony Bennett

Bennett this season has Virginia doing things they haven’t done since Ralph Sampson played in Charlottesville. Meanwhile, London is 8-24 in ACC games in four seasons at Virginia.

15. Wake Forest
Dave Clawson | Basketball: Jeff Bzdelik

Bzdelik has overcome a disastrous first season at Wake Forest in 2010-11 to build a more competitive program. An NCAA bid, however, remains a long way off. Clawson, who has head coaching stops at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green, steps into some big shoes left by the affable Jim Grobe.

Ranking the Best Coaching Tandems in the ACC in 2014
Post date: Monday, February 17, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/10-things-you-need-know-college-basketball-weekend-feb-17

With all the talk of the NCAA Tournament, the bubble watch and which freshmen will be selected first in the NBA Draft, it’s too easy to forget that conference championships are important.

This weekend seemed to be a good time to reinforce that coaches and teams do put an emphasis on winning the league.

Florida moved a step closer to running the table in the SEC. Thanks to a signature win Sunday, the Big East may be won by a team in Omaha. And the Big Ten, by virtue of two home losses by conference leaders, is wide open again.

10 Things You Need to Know from the College Basketball Weekend

1. Florida looks title-worthy
Whether Kentucky or Tennessee is up or down, Florida doesn’t win at either on the road very often. Since 1999, the only Florida teams to win in Lexington ended up winning the national title. At the same time, the Gators have only won in Knoxville once since 2005. The trend changed this week. Florida hadn’t won in Lexington and Knoxville in the same season since 1988. The Gators this year did it within four days. The popular storyline Saturday night was that the Gators, who start four seniors, used their experience to wear down a freshman-laden Kentucky team. That much is true as Florida adjusted to Kentucky’s defense to shoot 60 percent in the second half of a 69-59 win. The Gators feasted on 13 Kentucky turnovers to outscore the Wildcats 14-7 on takeaways. But Florida is more than experience: Scottie Wilbekin picked apart Kentucky for 23 points, and Casey Prather owned the frontcourt, scoring 24 points on 8-of-9 shooting.

2. Creighton owns Villanova
Villanova is a good team. The Wildcats have defeated Kansas and Iowa in the non-conference. And they’re 10-0 against all but one team in the Big East. The outlier, though, is Creighton. The Bluejays have dominated Villanova this season, and the series sweep may lead to a team from Omaha winning the Big East. Creighton defeated Villanova 101-80 on Sunday to join a 96-68 win over the Wildcats in Philadelphia in Jan. 20. Doug McDermott has been outstanding in both games, scoring 39 on Sunday and 23 in the first meeting, but this isn’t a one-man show. Creighton averaged 1.42 points per possession against Villanova, a team that allows 0.925 otherwise this season. Creighton is 30 of 50 from 3-point range against Villanova. The Wildcats allow opponents to shoot 35.2 percent from 3 for the season.

3a. Syracuse has a pact with the devil ... or something
The Orange are 25-0, but the close calls of the last three weeks has to wear on Jim Boeheim. If anything, it’s provided for great drama. Saturday was the latest in the series of unlikely finishes for Syracuse. Freshman Tyler Ennis was uncharacteristically sloppy in the final seconds against NC State, but the Wolfpack was even more uneven in the 56-55 Syracuse win. NC State turned the ball over on its last two possessions, including a steal by the Orange’s Rakeem Christmas that set up C.J. Fair’s game-winning layup. This has been a trend for Syracuse: The month started with the 91-89 overtime win over Duke and continued with Ennis’ deep 3 to beat Pitt on Wednesday.

3b. Tyler Ennis is mortal
Though he’s only a freshman, Ennis has been the best player in the country with the ball in his hands in the final seconds. Though Syracuse won, Saturday night was the only time when Ennis showed any weakness late. The rookie fouled on a 3-pointer with 1:02 to go (NC State made all three free throws) and committed an offensive foul to turn the ball over as Syracuse attempted to take the lead with 15 seconds left. Ennis made up for it with the outlet pass to C.J. Fair off the Rakeem Christmas steal to seal the win.

4a. James Michael McAdoo is reaching his potential
While no one was looking, North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo became the player everyone thought he’d be. McAdoo led the way in a 75-71 win over Pittsburgh with 24 points and 12 rebounds — and remember, this is a Pitt team that twice gave Syracuse all kinds of trouble on the glass. North Carolina has found consistency, and McAdoo’s play is a major reason why. During North Carolina’s six-game winning streak, McAdoo is averaging 18.2 points and 8.8 rebounds.

4b. Pittsburgh is awfully ordinary
The Panthers really needed this week to prove themselves. After narrow losses to Syracuse and North Carolina, Pittsburgh will go to the ACC Tournament with a nice record and no great wins. The Panthers are 0-6 against the RPI top 40, and thanks to a lackluster non-conference schedule, Pitt’s best win might be Stanford or NC State. Pittsburgh doesn’t have any NCAA resume-killing losses, but the Panthers aren’t going to have great seed.

5. Wisconsin is back to its early season form
The Badgers continued a four-game winning streak Saturday with arguably its most impressive win of the Big Ten season with a 75-62 win over Michigan in Ann Arbor. Frank Kaminsky feasted on the Michigan frontcourt, scoring 25 points on 11 of 16 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds. On Thursday, Ben Brust was the star of the show with outside shooting, hitting four 3-pointers and scoring 20 points in a win over Minnesota. More important, Wisconsin appears to have solved the defensive issues that contributed to the 1-5 slide from Jan. 14-Feb. 1.

6a. Michigan State dropped a dud
This was not a good weekend for the state of Michigan with the Wolverines and Spartans losing at home. It might not be fair to be too critical of a team in a first-place tie for the Big Ten lead, but Michigan State has reason to be in panic mode after a 60-51 loss at home to Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are improved, and Michigan State remains the walking wounded. Keith Appling played only 19 minutes. Brendan Dawson is still out. But these aren’t the kinds of games aspiring Big Ten champions lose at home in mid-February. Michigan State was a mess on offense, shooting 12 of 26 from 2-point range and 5 of 24 from 3. The Spartans also got outworked by the upstart Huskers, something that’s becoming a trend. Not a good look for Tom Izzo’s team.

6b. Nebraska is inching toward the NCAA Tournament bubble
The Cornhuskers won’t make mock brackets this week, but they’re worth watching down the stretch. With a win at Michigan State, Nebraska has three RPI top 50 wins, the other two against Ohio State and Minnesota. The Huskers have three not-so-great losses (Penn State, Purdue and UAB) they need to overcome.

7. Indiana is doing something special and not in a good way
The Hoosiers lost 82-64 to Purdue on Saturday to move to 4-8 in the Big Ten, only a year after being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Barring a major turnaround, Indiana won’t return to the field in 2013. It’s not out of the ordinary for a former No. 1 seed, or even a defending national champion, to miss the Tournament the following year. Nine No. 1 seeds in the last 10 seasons missed the Tournament the next year, but Indiana is a non-factor in the Big Ten. Of the 16 No. 1 seeds since 1985 that missed Tournament the following year, Indiana will push 2012 Pittsburgh for the worst conference record. The Panthers went 5-13 in the Big East a year after after earning a No. 1 seed in 2011.

8. Arizona State’s not-so-secret weapon is Jordan Bachynski
No player out West is on a better hot streak that Arizona State’s 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski. Maybe we should have seen Friday night coming, when Bachynski had eight blocks in a 69-66 double overtime win over rival Arizona. Bachynski came a block and a rebound short of a triple-double with 26 points on Feb. 8 against Oregon. And before that, Bachynski had seven blocks in an overtime win over Oregon State. Bachynski has effectively overshadowed the high-scoring backcourt of Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall in the last two weeks as Arizona State has moved into strong NCAA Tournament contention.

9. Baylor has some fight left
Trailing by as much as 10 with nine minutes to go, Baylor fought back to beat Kansas State 87-73 in double overtime. The knock on the Bears has been losing games they should win, but they finally won a game they probably should have lost against the Wildcats. Kenny Chery led the way down the stretch in regulation and finished with a triple-double (20 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds), and Brady Heslip hit the game-winning 3 — his only make in eight tries — to send the game to overtime.

10a. The best team no one is talking about is Saint Louis
The Billikens continue to be one of the best stories in the country as they took a major step to a second Atlantic 10 regular season title with a 64-62 win over VCU. Saint Louis is 10-0 in the league and its only losses are by single digits to Wisconsin and Wichita State. The Billikens did what they’ve been doing all season by shutting down the 3-point line, holding VCU to 2 of 16 from long range. Opponents are converting 26.7 percent of 3-point attempts against Saint Louis this season.

10b. VCU may not be busting brackets this season
Keep this one in your back pocket for your office pools: This version’s of VCU may not stack up with previous Shaka Smart teams. Even though this is a strong A-10 team, the Rams might not be a threat to advance in the NCAA Tournament. The havoc defense is there (17 forced turnovers vs. Saint Louis), but they’re not capitalizing in the offensive end this season.

Short Stuff

• Missouri can relax a bit. Two games and two close calls probably saved Missouri’s NCAA Tournament hopes at least for a week. The Tigers defeated Arkansas 86-85 on Thursday when Jabari Brown scored on a drive to the basket with 12.2 seconds left. Two days later, Missouri defeated Tennessee 75-70.

• UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright combined for 55 points, 10 assists and six steals against Memphis. Although the Tigers shot nearly 55 percent from the floor, they had 18 turnovers and repeatedly sent UConn’s guards to the free throw line. Napier and Boatright each had more trips to the line (12) than Memphis did as a team (nine.)

• Maybe no player had a bigger swing than Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield last week: From 1 of 13 and 3 points in a loss to Texas Tech on Wednesday to 8 of 18 and 22 points in a win at Oklahoma State on Saturday.

• LSU continued to play its way into the NIT. With Saturday’s 81-70 loss at Arkansas, LSU has lost three of the last four, all to teams that aren’t going to the NCAA Tournament (Texas A&M and Georgia were the others).

• No bubble team wants a part of Georgia. The Bulldogs deal another blow to the SEC’s hopes of sending teams to the NCAA Tournament with a 61-60 win over Ole Miss. The Bulldogs have defeated Missouri, Arkansas, LSU and now the Rebels this season. Despite an 8-4 SEC record, Georgia lacks the non-conference resume to be an NCAA team itself.

• SMU’s stay in the polls will be short-lived. The Mustangs lost to a dreadful Temple team 71-64.

• UMass picked up a nice win by defeating George Washington 67-61 on Saturday. The Minutemen had lost four of their previous seven games.

• Middle Tennessee clobbered Southern Miss 81-64 to set up a three-team race atop Conference USA with MTSU, Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech. The win, though, may end C-USA’s hopes of being a multi-bid league. Southern Miss was the only team in the league that had a chance at an at-large bid.

• Green Bay may be worth watching in the postseason. The Phoenix defeated the No. 2 team in the Horizon, Cleveland State, on the road 68-52. Green Bay is 20-5 and hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1996.

10 Things You Need to Know from the College Basketball Weekend Feb. 17
Post date: Monday, February 17, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Martin Truex Jr., NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-martin-truex-jr

Martin Truex Jr. has finally broken away from the nightmare that was the last 11 races of the 2013 season.  Martin Truex Jr.

“It was like getting punched in the face. You didn’t see it coming,” Truex says of the ordeal last year. “It came out of nowhere.”

That punch was the self-poisoning of Michael Waltrip Racing in the name of earning Truex a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup during the Richmond regular-season finale last fall. Late in the race, the team orchestrated a plot that featured an intentional Clint Bowyer spin to cause a yellow and a slowed Brian Vickers to help earn him points. The scheming worked originally — Truex qualified for the Chase that night — but then fell apart in a heap of smoldering debris when further investigation from NASCAR resulted in scorching penalties.

The team lost $300,000 in fines immediately. Truex, seemingly unaware of the events, was booted from the Chase. And just a few weeks later, primary backer NAPA — one of the last remaining full-season sponsors in the sport — let its displeasure be known as it dropped support of the team after 2013.

Talk about a roller coaster of emotions. Truex was a free agent for 2014 just weeks after he was seemingly on his way to being a Chase entrant for the second straight year. With the news coming late in Silly Season, options were few and far between.

Truex, though, has landed on his feet thanks in large part to Kurt Busch and Gene Haas (co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing) striking an unexpected deal last fall. Busch bolted to the multi-car team after a one-and-done year in the Furniture Row Racing No. 78. It was a somewhat unexpected opening of a Sprint Cup seat and one that came later in the season than the sport has seen in recent years.

Just like that, a Cup career was saved. But to hear Truex tell it, the opportunity has some unexpected benefits that Michael Waltrip’s team couldn’t provide. First and foremost: Fast race cars are the priority for team owner Barney Visser.

“Barney says if it makes the car go faster, we get it. Those are the types of things as a race car driver that you look for,” Truex said in November before taking a subtle swipe at MWR. “As much as it sounds crazy, but fan experiences, shop tours and all those kinds of things don’t make cars faster. These guys are 100 percent focused on making race cars faster.”

Truex took the job essentially sight unseen — he never even traveled to the team’s unusual race shop location near Denver before signing the two-year contract — but he’s spot-on in his assessment of what FRR cares about. Visser, the owner, is also the sponsor and uses the race team as a marketing vehicle for his chain of Furniture Row stores. The best marketing? Well, that happens when you’re up front. Busch drove the team to higher levels than ever before last season with his unexpected berth in the Chase, and you can bet Visser will be expecting similar results from Truex.

Can he do it? The move results in a major test, considering how Busch was able to take the car from previous driver Regan Smith and show substantially improved results right away. How quickly Truex adjusts may be one of the more interesting sub-topics throughout the season.

Fortunately, FRR is maintaining a critical piece of its success from last season: its technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing. The agreement basically allowed FRR to operate as a fourth RCR team at the track — Busch and FRR officials meet with RCR drivers and officials each weekend to share data.

In September, Mark McArdle — FRR’s Executive Director of Competition — was named RCR’s Director of Racing Operations, further cementing the relationship between the two operations.

The agreement works surprisingly well for FRR because, as Truex says, the team doesn’t have the red tape that a traditional multi-car operation might have.

“When they want to build a part and put it on the race car, they do it,” Truex says. “There is no five, six weeks of going through a system to get it on the race car. I think that, from a technology standpoint, it’s a great thing.”

Still, the challenge remains steep. Truex must beat more competition — Busch figures to be a Chase contender, Denny Hamlin shouldn’t miss more time, Tony Stewart will return and Brad Keselowski figures to improve — while establishing himself with a new team. Expect him to be competitive, but that’s a lot of talent to beat that wasn’t around in 2013.

What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media
It’s a new year with new surroundings for New Jersey native Martin Truex Jr.

“Truex is jumping into a Chase car, and he no longer has to deal with Michael Waltrip,” one crew chief says. “Furniture Row’s alliance with Richard Childress gives him better engineering and technical support than he had at MWR, and the relationship still gives him teammates to lean on. Plus, he doesn’t have to appear in any stupid commercials. Now he’s out to prove that he really deserved to have made the Chase last season.”

“Funny, he’s already becoming an elder statesman in the sport and only has two wins,” another crew chief says. “Truthfully, he’s just not as good as other drivers. He’ll battle expectations after what Kurt Busch did in the car, too. And while the relationship with Childress is a plus, FRR doesn’t get the brand new technology simply because they’re a satellite team.”

“Furniture Row is paying RCR handsomely for the assistance, and they proved last year that with the right driver, that can be money well spent,” a media member observes. “Still, Kurt Busch didn’t win with it, so it’s hard to imagine Truex jumping in and raising the level of performance.”

Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers:
There’s a chance, sure, but Kurt Busch wasn’t able to secure the victory many were predicting, and he’s the better wheelman.
Pretty Solid Pick: Five top 10s in six CoT/Gen-6 era races at Homestead-Miami Speedway is an encouraging stat.
Good Sleeper Pick: Most places, notably Texas, Phoenix and the road courses.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Despite his DEI pedigree, Truex has never been a masterful plate racer.
Insider Tip: The Furniture Row-Truex match is a comfortable one, but it may resemble the Regan Smith years more than the Busch year. Don’t misinterpret: There is potential for some wins over the next few seasons; just don’t expect those wins to come in bundles.

No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet
Furniture Row
Owner: Barney Visser
Crew Chief: Todd Berrier
Years with current team: 1
Under contract through: 2015
Best points finish: 11th (2007, ’12)
Hometown: Mayetta, N.J.
Born: June 29, 1980

Top photo by Action Sports, Inc.; Truex courtesy of Furniture Row Racing.

Athlon Sports’ 2014 “Racing” annual delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2014 NASCAR coverage. Click here to view more.

For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

Season preview for Martin Truex Jr. in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Post date: Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 23:56
All taxonomy terms: Clint Bowyer, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-clint-bowyer

There are fresh starts in sports, and then there is Clint Bowyer’s fresh start this season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

No, it’s not a clean break for the favorite son of Emporia, Kan. And no, his actions in last year’s regular-season finale — he played a key role amid a web of finishing-order fiddling by his Michael Waltrip Racing team that ignited the sport’s biggest controversy in years — haven’t been completely forgotten.  Clint Bowyer

But when Bowyer fires his Toyota engine and rolls away from pit road to start the 2014 season at Daytona International Speedway, he will at least have broken the calendar connection to the events that left him so defensive and his MWR team in such shambles. This is a new year, and every day is a little farther from a night of itchy arms and questionable pit stops that left him — and NASCAR — with quite the black eye.

Bowyer, of course, has tried to get past it since the night it happened. The public relations part worked pretty well — he basically went silent for much of last year’s final 10 weeks — but the competition side didn’t do much. Of course, that might have been helpful, too. Bowyer led just 69 laps in the Chase and finished in the top 5 only twice. He wasn’t exactly a front and center target for miffed fans.

In fact, Bowyer enters 2014 coming off a winless season for the first time since his 2009 campaign with Richard Childress Racing. For a driver who came so close to the title in 2012 — with three wins and a second-place points finish — the shutout was a bit of a surprise.

Winning is something Bowyer will likely fix early this year. He’s become something of a short track ace, with four top-5 finishes in six races at Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond last season, and could very easily end his winless streak on NASCAR’s smallest venues. But title contention? That’s a tougher go, as Bowyer will drive without a critical teammate who had worked alongside him in his first two seasons at MWR.

Thanks to the Richmond scandal, Martin Truex Jr. departed after major sponsor NAPA decided the negative publicity of the event was too much, dropping support at the close of last season. Truex was forced to scramble for a full-time ride this year and wound up in the No. 78 Chevrolet fielded by Furniture Row Racing.

It’s hard to say if Truex and Bowyer were incredibly close — there was no real public emotion from either about the unplanned separation — but there is little doubt that they had built common ground on how to work together for setups as teammates. Relationships like that naturally take time to build. Now, Bowyer must adjust to Brian Vickers, the part-timer with the team who earned a full-time ride after winning at Loudon in July. Meanwhile, team co-owners Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman have put smiley faces on the situation, saying two streamlined teams can still be successful in NASCAR (see: Team Penske).

There’s truth to that. It’s not a drastic setback, but it’s a new and unexpected layer of complexity. Plus, don’t underestimate the cost to MWR of losing such a significant moneymaker like NAPA. The team had to lay off employees as a result, which could mean fewer resources devoted to finding speed. Even Vickers, returning from blood clots, is a bit of a question mark; one health problem leaves Bowyer the lone ranger (Jeff Burton, hired part-time, will run only a handful of races).

Despite it all, MWR’s top driver should fully expect to be a Chaser for the fourth time in the last five seasons thanks to continued consistency and a sport-mandated easier road to qualification. Bowyer pulled off a fairly remarkable feat from late 2006 to early 2010, when he failed to finish only one of 113 races. After six DNFs in his final year at RCR in 2011, Bowyer has steadily been improving in that department again with four DNFs in 2012 and two last year.

There’s little doubt that Bowyer used that foundation to shape himself into a pretty secure Chase spot last season, as he averaged a modest regular-season finish of 12.4. He did match his career best in top-5 finishes last season (10) and had the most lead-lap finishes of his career (32).

While Bowyer still hasn’t completely emerged from the dark cloud last season brought, NASCAR’s continued tinkering with the Chase format in the offseason has significantly shifted fans’ focus. If the on-track trends continue, Bowyer will be just fine by the time the series returns to the scene of the crime, in Richmond, for a second time.

What the Competition is SayingAnonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media
“Clint is very easy to talk to, and that makes him a sponsor’s dream,” a competing crew chief says. “He’s on the verge of being a championship driver. He’s proven he can win on several types (of track) — most likely due to his dirt track background, which gives him excellent car control. Bowyer overcame the runner-up jinx and had a strong run in the points again last season.”

“His team is in turmoil,” another counters. “If he does anything remotely suspicious this season, he’s going to get examined worse than a TSA strip search. MWR has cut back on employees, and the reduced resources are going to make it more difficult to win. … Also, he is now engaged. There are many people who think having a woman that involved in your life can be detrimental.”

“I bet he’s glad that’s all over,” a media member says, referring to last year’s Richmond controversy. “I really don’t know what to think about MWR right now, though I believe Bowyer can rise above any deficiencies. He should be entering his peak from a career abilities perspective, but I don’t think too much of (Brian) Vickers as a teammate — but honestly, he’s not much different than (Martin) Truex.”

Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers:
All jokes about Richmond aside, his two wins and eight top 10s in 14 CoT/Gen-6 era races ain’t bad. In fact, they’re pretty darn good.
Pretty Solid Pick: And his CoT/Gen-6 era results at Talladega — two wins, eight top 10s — are eerily similar to the Richmond numbers.
Good Sleeper Pick: We’re thinking that witty quips about under-the-radar road course winners have expired since the likes of our boy here, along with Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne, have loosened the stranglehold formerly held by the Stewarts, Gordons and Ambroses.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Darlington. It’s always been Darlington.
Insider Tip: The career numbers may not yet reflect it, but give Bowyer the horses and he’ll drive anything to the front. A classic “jack of all tracks, master of none.”

No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
5-Hour Energy/Peak Motor Oil/AAA Mid-Atlantic
Owners: Michael Waltrip/Rob Kauffman/Johnny Harris
Crew Chief: Brian Pattie
Years with current team: 3
Under contract through: 2014
Best points finish: 2nd (2012)
Hometown: Emporia, Kan.
Born: May 30, 1979

Top photo by Action Sports, Inc.; Bowyer courtesy of Michael Waltrip Racing

Athlon Sports’ 2014 “Racing” annual delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2014 NASCAR coverage. Click here to view more.

For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

Season preview for Clint Bowyer in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Post date: Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 23:54
All taxonomy terms: Brian Vickers, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-brian-vickers

Brian Vickers is a talented race car driver. We’ve known that since he won the then-Busch Series championship with Hendrick Motorsports in 2003. We were reminded of it again last July when he stunned the Sprint Cup Series with a win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It was the first for a part-time driver in the sport’s top division since Trevor Bayne pulled off his upset win in the 2011 Daytona 500, and just the third since 2009. It was the first on a non-restrictor plate track since Jamie McMurray won in Charlotte in the fall of 2002.  Brian Vickers

That left Vickers back in the position to rebuild his career. Following the win, Michael Waltrip Racing solidified a deal with longtime sponsor Aaron’s that brought Vickers back to full-time participation in the Cup Series this season. It was a sunshine and rainbows moment, closing the road to redemption after prior illness and the closure of Red Bull Racing, which left Vickers without a full-time gig.

If only the fairy tale could have wrapped up so nicely. Last fall, the medical issue Vickers faced once before — blood clots — returned, forcing him out of the final four races of 2013.

The move, combined with the real-life health scare, disrupted the rhythm of this Cup Series transition. With Mark Martin off to Stewart-Haas Racing filling in for an injured Tony Stewart, Vickers was set to finish the season in MWR’s No. 55. It was a beautiful symphony of opportunity for him to get as comfortable as possible before the pressure of points and Chase qualification in 2014 kicked in.

Instead, Vickers sat on the sidelines.

“If there’s anything to be positive about with (this) news it’s that this is only a temporary setback,” he said in October. “The timing for this is never good, but I’m glad we’ll get it out of the way now and be ready to run for a championship with the Aaron’s Dream Machine in 2014.”

Undoubtedly, Vickers had decent timing on the matter, because he’ll be eligible to compete when the season begins. But there is little doubt that this second instance of blood clots is raising more and more red flags about long-term commitments to his racing activities — from potential sponsors to potential new teams, including his current one.

Fortunately, the blood clots aren’t explicitly dangerous to Vickers when he’s in the car. It’s the medication to break them apart that creates a danger of internal bleeding should he be involved in a serious incident. Vickers’ time away allowed him to take the medication as prescribed and returning only when treatment was complete.

Vickers also lost more than just seat time last season. The original plan when MWR signed him to the full-time deal was that longtime MWR crew chief Rodney Childers would be on board. But Childers’ profile was rising in the sport — he was on the pit box for Vickers’ New Hampshire win — and when Stewart-Haas Racing came calling in need of a crew chief for Kevin Harvick, Childers took the deal. He was let go by MWR just days later. Competition director Scott Miller stepped in to run the No. 55 in Childers’ absence, but in December the team’s lead engineer, Billy Scott, was promoted to the role. This season will mark his first as a crew chief in the Cup Series.

Vickers, who played a small role as a pawn in that Chase scandal last fall at Richmond, also lost a teammate and second source of on-track information when sponsor NAPA Auto Parts officially cut ties with the organization. Martin Truex Jr. was forced to find a new ride, leaving Jeff Burton as a part-timer in the newly christened No. 66 at MWR. Only Vickers and Clint Bowyer will run full-time for the title.

After years of growth, MWR is again left scrambling to ensure it remains a competitive, well-funded entity. Will that lead to more pressure on Vickers to perform? Likely.

Adding to the concern is Vickers’ propensity for tearing up equipment. In his 17 starts in 2013, Vickers finished only 12 of them. Four of the DNFs were due to crashes — a rate that, if extrapolated over the course of a 36-race season, would be obnoxiously high.

Vickers has shown improvement and increased on-track maturity through most of the stops in his career. He’ll need to double down on commitments to those ideals, stay healthy and keep away from mid-race trips to the garage if he wants his full-time gig to stick.

What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media
“Vickers has proven to be very fast in spurts and has been able to run near the front in equipment that other people could not perform in,” a competitor says. “He is a very humble person and will do whatever the team needs to get better. He won’t take crap from other drivers as we saw with (Tony) Stewart at Sonoma a couple of years ago. Vickers also fits in well from a fan base perspective. He’s big in the extreme sports hobbies that attract fans.”

“The blood clot problem is a big concern,” a rival crew chief says. “Whether they can claim that they were explainable and there was an obvious reason, it still doesn’t eliminate the fact that they happen. Try as you might, another clot could show up again and then a team would need to find a replacement driver. That’s hard for a team, especially at the Cup level, to make that kind of commitment when the driver could be out of the game at any point in time.”

“He’ll show flashes, but he tears up a lot of equipment,” one media member says. “And I worry about this blood clot issue. I mean, if it keeps happening — once I can understand, but a second time? How does a team convince a sponsor to invest in a driver who’s health is iffy?”

Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers:
Since the inception of the CoT, Vickers’ six Michigan starts have been fruitful, to the tune of one win, two top 5s and five top 10s.
Pretty Solid Pick: Atlanta has been kind as well, with a 10th-place average finish in his last seven starts.
Good Sleeper Pick: His last four starts at Bristol line up like this: fifth, fourth, eighth and fourth. Betcha didn’t realize that.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Phoenix, where he’s recorded only one top-10 finish (fifth) in his 14 Cup starts.
Insider Tip: Vickers stepped up and delivered in his “something to prove” period. Now that he’s got the job, will the results hang steady, or will he revert back to his wrecking ways?

No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
Owners: Michael Waltrip/Rob Kauffman/Johnny Harris
Crew Chief: Billy Scott
Years with current team: 2
Under contract through: 2015
Best points finish: 12th (2009)
Hometown: Thomasville, N.C.
Born: Oct. 24, 1983

Photos courtesy of Michael Waltrip Racing

Athlon Sports’ 2014 “Racing” annual delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2014 NASCAR coverage. Click here to view more.

For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

2014 season preview for Brian Vickers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Post date: Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 23:52
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/nascar-media-roundtable-nascar-reaching-unattainable-goal

Each day from mid-February through late November, a small band of motorsports journalists work nearly around the clock — this being the digital age — to keep rabid NASCAR fans as up-to-the-second informed as possible. Many of these media members are ensconced in the sport’s “traveling circus,” working in garage areas, media centers and pressboxes nearly 40 weeks a year. So who better to go to for a “state of the sport” talk than them?

While drivers may toe the company line — keeping sponsors happy and staying in the sanctioning body’s good graces are important to their livelihood — it’s the job of these journos to provide news, insight and opinion in a sport that has no shortage of any.

In this nine-part feature, Athlon Sports sits down with seven media professionals from different outlets to get a healthy cross-section of ideas, opinions and feedback on the biggest issues alive and well in the sport of NASCAR, circa 2014.

NASCAR continues to search for a more exciting form of racing. On this topic, Jack Roush stated that, “It's an impossible thing (NASCAR is) looking for, to make the (racing) increasingly exciting. Because there is only so much you can do with four tires and a 3,400-pound car.” Aside from simply trying to improve its “on-track product,” is NASCAR reaching for an intangible goal that’s simply not attainable? Or should this be the sanctioning body’s priority?

Nick Bromberg (Yahoo! Sports; @NickBromberg): Fascinating question. NASCAR is never going to be able to have every race finish with two cars mere inches from each other, nor will it be able to eliminate fuel mileage races and other things that a vocal bunch doesn’t care for. And that’s fine. Every other sport has blowouts and unentertaining games, and it’s those events that make the close and exciting ones so special and breathtaking.

Ryan McGee ( The Magazine@ESPNMcGee): Mr. Roush isn’t wrong. There are a lot of folks out there who think that every finish — heck, every lap — should be like the final lap of the 1979 Daytona 500. But here’s the thing about that race … it was awful until the last few laps. If they ran that race today, Twitter would collapse under the weight of all the complaints. You can’t blame the sanctioning body for wanting to make everything awesome all the time, but no matter whether you are at your local short track or the Bristol night race, “riding around” until you get the car right or the checkers are in sight is just part of a real race experience.

Pete Pistone (Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio and MRN Radio; @PPistone): NASCAR has to bring in new customers to an aging fan base, and if it means changing some long-standing practices or procedures, so be it. The 3-point shot, designated hitter and shootouts in hockey were born out of the same goal, and big-league stock car racing simply has to change with the times in order to entertain and remain relevant.

Nate Ryan (USA Today@nateryan): Roush makes a hugely incisive point. Jimmie Johnson has made it more subtly in noting that NASCAR should consider fixing racetracks after putting so much of the onus on teams and Goodyear to ‘fix’ the cars with the aim of improved racing. Rather than expend so much effort on chasing an unattainable goal, it might be wiser to launch a clever marketing campaign that would redefine competitiveness and help manage the unrealistic expectations of incessant excitement in a sport that can be inherently boring.

Bob Pockrass (The Sporting News@bobpockrass): Yes and yes. Much like safety, there is only so much one can do. But NASCAR must continue to find ways to improve the product. There’s no harm in trying.

Mike Hembree (Athlon Sports; @mikehembree): This is a difficult issue for NASCAR because its “playing field” changes so much from week to week — from very short tracks to gigantic ones, from fresh asphalt to aging surfaces, from 200 miles per hour to half that. Developing the perfect car for such a wildly varied schedule is virtually impossible. The best approach would be to fit the car to the 1.5-mile tracks — because there are so many — and let teams work out the resulting issues at other tracks.

Mike Mulhern (; @mikemulhern): Jack is wrong, and considering the problems Team Ford had last season, it’s understandable why he’s is aggravated.

One easy way to make the racing more exciting is to eliminate the rules that give such an advantage to the race leader — drop the wave-around, for one, and leave pit road open the entire race, for another. There is no good reason for closing pit road; that is a rule that dates back to the early 1990s when scoring miscues at North Wilkesboro, Pocono and elsewhere, led NASCAR to just “stop pit stops” until the scoring tower could sort out the running order. That is no longer an issue. Keep pit road open and let the teams take their chances when the caution comes out. There’s nothing wrong with “chance” playing a role in this sport, the way it did for so many years.

Another way to make racing more exciting is to slow the durn cars. The slower a car, the “wider” the track, thus the more opportunities to pass, and the less the effects of aerodynamics. Simple physics.

Yet another way to make racing more exciting: Cut into the Chevrolet advantage. Check out how many races Chevrolet has won the past 10 years, compared to Ford and Toyota and Dodge. And maybe ask Dodge execs why they really decided they didn't need NASCAR marketing any more. When a performance car company drops NASCAR, there’s something wrong somewhere.

Photo by Action Sports, Inc.

Athlon Sports’ 2014 “Racing” annual delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2014 NASCAR coverage. Click here to view more.

For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

In an offseason full of drastic changes, is NASCAR trying too hard to improve its on-track product?
Post date: Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 23:50
Path: /college-basketball/11-need-know-facts-about-creightons-doug-mcdermott

More and more, the college basketball regular season fades into the background for the general sports public.

Early entries to the NBA Draft have left the sport with few players who become household names by the time they are upperclassmen.

Creighton’s Doug McDermott should be in that rare class of college basketball superstar, but his career began in the Missouri Valley Conference, giving him a barrier to notoriety other productive seniors — Tyler Hansbrough, for example — never had to battle.

McDermott is wrapping up one of the best careers in college basketball along multiple fronts. He’ll finish among the top career scorers in college basketball history, but he’ll join even more elite company than just the 3,000-point club.

Here's why McDermott's four seasons shouldn't be overlooked.

Updated March 8.

11 Need-to-Know Facts about Doug McDermott

He in the rare 3,000- points club.
McDermott became the eighth 3,000-point scorer in Division I history thanks to a career night March 8 with 45 points against Providence. McDermott became the first player to hit the 3,000-point milestone since 2006 and one of the few in recent decades to do it while playing for a nationally prominent program.

Top Scorers in College Basketball History
PlayerLast YearTotal Points
1. Pete Maravich, LSU19703,667
2. Freeman Williams, Portland State19783,249
3. Lionel Simmons, La Salle  19903,217
4. Alphonso Ford, Mississippi Valley19933,165
5. Harry Kelly, Texas Southern19833,066
6. Keydren Clark, Saint Peter’s20063,058
7. Doug McDermott, Creighton20143,011
8. Hersey Hawkins, Bradley  19883,008
9. Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati19602,973
10. Danny Manning, Kansas19882,951
11. Alfredrick Hughes, Loyola (Ill.)19852,914
12. Elvin Hayes, Houston19682,884
13. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina20092,872
14. Larry Bird, Indiana State19792,850
15. Otis Birdsong, Houston19772,832

This season alone, he overtook some big names.
McDermott is going to pass some college basketball giants as he climbs the list above, but he’s passed some giants just in the last two months. Among the names on the all-time scoring list McDermott has overtaken since he joined the 2,500-point club on Dec. 29: Kansas' Danny Manning, Cincinnati's Oscar Robertson, Indiana State's Larry Bird, Princeton’s Bill Bradley, BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, Davidson’s Stephen Curry, Oklahoma’s Wayman Tisdale and Navy’s David Robinson.

He’ll join elite company as a scorer and rebounder.
McDermott isn’t just an elite scorer. The 6-8 forward is also a standout rebounder who has averaged 7.6 boards per game in his career. His scoring totals combined with his rebounding totals puts him into more exclusive company. McDermott is one of eight players with 2,750 career points and 1,000 rebounds, joining, among others, Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson, Kansas’ Danny Manning, Indiana State’s Larry Bird, North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough and Loyola Marymount’s Hank Gathers

He’ll join even more elite company as a three-time All-American.
McDermott’s most recent comparison in terms of four-year players collecting numbers and winning awards is probably the Tar Heels' Hansbrough, but the Creighton forward can do something even Psycho T couldn't. McDermott already has been a first-team All-American selection twice, and he’s a virtual lock to do so a third time. If that’s the case, he’ll join Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing and OU’s Wayman Tisdale as the only three players to be named first-team consensus All-Americans three times.

Dougie McBuckets isn’t a bad nickname.
McDermott couldn’t be this productive for this long without a nickname, so Dougie McBuckets it is. McBuckets — err, McDermott — has led the nation in field goals two seasons in a row with 307 in 2011-12 and 284 in 2012-13. No player had done it in back-to-back years since 1995-96. McDermott is running neck and neck with NC State's T.J. Warren for the national lead in field goals.

He’s half of one of the best father/son tandems in college basketball.
We’ve seen productive father and son scoring duos on the college level, including one of the most prolific this season. McDermott and his father, Greg McDermott, are having one of the most productive careers for a son playing for his father the coach. When McDermott passed Tennessee’s Allan Houston (2,801 points playing for his father Wade) on the scoring list, Doug and Greg became the second-leading scoring tandem of a son playing for his father. The leaders won’t be caught — LSU’s Press and Pete Maravich. McDermott likely will join Pistol Pete as the second player to win national player of the year honors while playing for his dad.

He's a walk on
When Creighton starting guard Grant Gibbs was granted a sixth year of eligibility during the summer, McDermott gave up his scholarship to make room for his teammate. McDermott, or more accurately his father, is paying Doug's full tuition at Creighton this season. Not a bad investment.

He’s efficient, and he's clutch
McDermott wouldn’t put up these kinds of numbers if he didn’t take a ton of shots from the floor. Indeed, he’s averaged 13.9 shots from the field per game in his career. But he’s also never shot less than 50 percent from the field in a season and has a career average of 45.6 percent shooting on 3-pointers. With a game-winning 3-pointer in the final minute against Butler on Thursday, McDermott has three game-winning baskets late in games this season, including this last-second trey against St. John’s.

He’s not a Missouri Valley creation.
Many of the top scorers of all time have been the product of a player facing overmatched competition in a lower-level league. First, the Missouri Valley was one of the best mid-majors, a league that produced a Final Four team in 2013, while McDermott was in the conference. Before Creighton began Big East play, McDermott averaged 22 points in 23 games against major conference competition (we’re including the Mountain West since McDermott faced San Diego State twice in his career). McDermott is averaging 29.1 points per game against Big East competition this season.

No one saw this coming, not even his dad.
Creighton lucked out by getting McDermott to play in Omaha but not because his father as the coach allowed the Bluejays to sign a player they otherwise wouldn’t have landed. McDermott was originally committed to go to Northern Iowa, where his Greg was the coach before he took the Iowa State job. So why didn’t Greg recruit Doug to play at Iowa State? Dad didn’t think his son could thrive at the Big 12 level. And it’s not just Greg McDermott who was caught unawares. McDermott was high school and AAU teammates at Ames (Iowa) with Harrison Barnes, the No. 2 prospect in the class. Barnes was recruited by plenty of high-major programs before landing at North Carolina. Moreover, another of McDermott’s AAU teammates, Zach McCabe, landed a Big Ten scholarship to Iowa. McDermott didn’t land at Creighton until he was released from his scholarship at Northern Iowa after his father took the job in Omaha.

He hasn’t won in the postseason.
The last box for McDermott to check in his career is NCAA Tournament success. Creighton has twice lost in the NCAA round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, losing to No. 2 seed Duke in 2013 and No. 1 seed North Carolina in 2012. Creighton reached the championship game of the CBI when McDermott was a freshman before losing two out of three in the final series to Oregon.

11 Need-to-Know Facts About Creighton's Doug McDermott
Post date: Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /nascar/nascar-sprint-unlimited-what-we-learned-daytona

Denny Hamlin is loaded for bear. The winner of the 2013 season finale in Homestead, Fla., Hamlin won all three segments of Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway in an event that unofficially kicked off NASCAR’s 2014 season.

Hamlin sat out four races last year when an accident at Auto Club Speedway left him with multiple fractures in his lower back. His title hopes gone, Hamlin was relegated to a test driver down the stretch for his Joe Gibbs Racing team, which fielded cars for championship contenders Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch.

Was that Homestead victory a sign of things to come? Judging by Saturday’s performance, it very well could be. Richard Childress Racing cars have shown the most pure speed at Daytona through offseason testing and Speedweeks — and are favorites for the the front row — but there was little doubt who had the piece to beat in race trim.

“The best car won, that’s for sure,” said Hamlin in Victory Lane. “That was survival of the fittest for sure. With three (laps) to go we were at the tail end of a small pack and it’s really tough to get a run — but this car was phenomenal.”

Phenomenal it was. Hamlin led 27 of 75 laps – easily a race high — staying in front of the mayhem that played out in the pack. And survival it was as well. With attrtition high, only eight cars lined up for a final five-lap dash to the finish.

“Passing's going to be tough no matter what aero package they have in these cars,” Hamlin continued. “The fewer the cars, the tougher it is to get runs. That's probably what saved us at the end of the race is that the few guys that were left were fighting each other versus lining up and getting a run on us once we got out there so far.”

As others battled for position over the final five circuits, Hamlin used a push from Busch to launch into the lead. He held off the small pack from there, scoring his second career Sprint Unlimited victory. Brad Keselowski, Busch, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top 5.

Full moon fever
What was learned that could translate to next weekend’s Daytona 500? Well, when a wreck eliminates all but nine cars at the halfway mark, the lessons are relative. With that in mind, the aero package for the Cup cars may have changed — with more intense racing throughout the event being the goal — but don’t expect a three-wide, nine-deep battle for 500 miles.

“The reason we were all racing around (was because we) could go anywhere we wanted to — there was more space,” Busch said of the thinned field. “Less cars, more space gives you opportunity to do stupid things, I guess you'd say. You can't make moves like that bottom to top, top to bottom, when there's 30 cars out there.”

Like last year’s Daytona 500, drivers will mind their manners until “go time.” The field ran in single-file formation through a large portion of the first segment not because drivers were pigeonholed into doing so, but because it only made sense. Winning demands one be there at the end, so why do anything too crazy, too early?

Well, actually, it did get too crazy, too early. When Kenseth dipped to the low side and clipped Logano in Segment 2, he set off a grinding crash that eliminated seven competitors.vThat left nine drivers to battle it out in what was a virtual all-star race with only a trophy and cash on the line.

Blocking and daring passes will surely shape the closing laps in the Great American Race, but don’t expect the intensity to be at a fever pitch until the final 100 miles.

Popular attrition
Drivers involved in the second segment’s “Big One” on lap 35 included Kenseth, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick, Kurt Busch and Harvick (though he was able to continue), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (who smashed into his girlfriend after she had seemingly made it through the mayhem), Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards.

Jimmie Johnson crashed on lap 28 of the first segment, ending his evening. Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired after tangling with Marcos Ambrose, and then the wall, with 10 laps remaining in the final segment.

By the final sprint to checkers, only Hamlin, Keselowski, Logano, Kyle Busch, Harvick and Jamie McMurray were left to spar for the win. Expect a group three times that size to be jockeying for the Harley J. Earle trophy next week.

Smoke is Stoked
Sidelined since August with a broken leg suffered in a sprint car crash in Iowa, Tony Stewart was chomping at the bit in his return to racing.

Not satisfied with running a high-speed parade in the Unlimited, Stewart didn’t hold back in the event’s first segment, jumping out of line multiple times while the rest of the field seemed content to take it easy. His moves didn’t always pay off, but they served a purpose: Stewart was afforded the opportunity to work some pent-up adrenaline out of his system before the racing that really matters unfolds later in the week.

“I waited seven months to race,” Stewart later quipped. “I damn sure wasn’t going to ride around in line.”

For Stewart, the storybook ending never materialized; he was swept up in Kenseth’s crash on lap 35 and eliminated but emerged from the car under his own power and showed no ill effects.

Protect your line
The low line again appeared to be the preferred groove at Daytona. While Stewart noted that side drafting made passing difficult, there was no shortage of action. Taller rear spoilers have increased the closing rate while making cars less stable in the pack. Being out front and protecting the low groove was the most secure place to be.

“There was some interesting moments where the inside lane started going (when) guys were trying to make the outside lane go,” Kyle Busch said. “Seemed like more guys were trying to get the third lane going up against the wall, that kind of killed the middle lane a little bit, so the bottom persevered.”

Johnson used that low line to win his second Daytona 500 last season while most ran in formation on the high side. Prior to his crash on lap 28, Johnson worked his way from 18th to third by passing on the low side.

Not even the pace car was safe
In one of the evening’s most bizarre moments, the pace car caught fire while leading the field prior to Segment 3. A battery pack in the trunk used for the external caution lights overheated, causing the fire. I’ll save the comparisons between pace driver Brett Bodine and Daytona jet-dryer destroyer Juan Pablo Montoya and simply say that with a full moon presiding over an exhibition race on a plate track, was the pace car going up in flames really that surprising a development?

Follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro


Rundown and reaction from the NASCAR Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
Post date: Sunday, February 16, 2014 - 01:13
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2014-sochi-olympics-what-watch-feb-14

Today's Highlights


8-11:30 p.m. Eastern

A little history will be made on NBC's Valentine's Day Olympic broadcast, as Meredith Vieira becomes the first woman to anchor Olympic coverage while Bob Costas continues to battle a stubborn eye infection.


1. Alpine Skiing — Men's Super Combined
One ominous note for U.S. fans: American medal favorite Bode Miller has expressed concern over the course in Sochi, saying: "If by the luck of the draw you draw (bib number) 5, you're running 45 minutes to an hour before somebody who's ranked two points behind you who draws 29. In these conditions, the course really changes a lot in an hour."


2. Freestyle Skiing — Women's Aerials

Ashley Caldwell, a 20-year-old from Virginia, is the top American medal hope in an X-Games-style event that produces maximum air and maximum thrills.


3. Women's Skeleton

The Women's Skeleton wraps up today with American Noelle Pikus-Pace in prime medal position.


4. Figure Skating — Men's Free Skate

American Jeremy Abbott's dramatic fall eliminated him from contention, and Russian legend Evegeni Plushenko withdrew, but high drama will still reign at the Men's Free Skate. Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu set a scoring record in the short program and will try to hold off Canada's Patrick Chan for gold.

Post date: Friday, February 14, 2014 - 12:58
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-february-14-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 14.

• Ladies and gentlemen (mostly gentlemen), your 50th anniversary SI Swimsuit cover. Happy Valentine's Day.

A heartfelt Valentine's greeting from Bill Belichick.

• Keeping with the love theme: Derek Jeter's dating diamond. It's impressive, especially strong up the middle.

An assortment of Valentines for the totalitarian dictator in your life.

A Russian perspective on the Miracle on Ice. I say, who cares? U-S-A!

Today's heartwarming story of Olympic sportsmanship.

Bob Costas' eye funk is allowing Meredith Vieira to make history.

• A craftsman never blames his tools, but some are blaming the U.S. speedskaters' uniforms for their poor performance.


The Internet's obsession with Kate Hansen's dancing continues.

The week's funniest tweets. Some real gems there.

The report to the Commissioner about the Incognito-Martin situation is out, if you'd care to dig in.

• Cat's already out of the bag, but here's video of Jimmy Kimmel's big reveal of the Swimsuit cover.


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

Post date: Friday, February 14, 2014 - 10:42
Path: /ranking-all-23-nba-slam-dunk-contest-champions

The 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contests lifts off on Saturday, Feb. 15, in New Orleans. The Raptors' defending Slam Dunk Contest champion Terrence Ross, Pacers’ 360 windmill man Paul George, Wizards' John Wall, Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, Warriors' Harrison Barnes and Kings' Ben McLemore will follow in the flight paths of MJ, Dr. J and Dominique.

With that in mind, we judge all 23 Slam Dunk Contest champions since the ABA introduced the competition in 1976 and the NBA brought it back in 1984.

Mount Rushmore

One-name icons with star power, style and the ability to jump out of the gym — or from the free-throw line, as it were — no one in history has had the hang time or staying power of these four fly guys.

1. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls (1987, 1988)
“Air” Jordan was an aerial artist who transcended the act of putting a ball through a rim.

2. Julius Erving, New York Nets (1976 in ABA)
“Dr. J” was the originator — complete with an Afro and red-white-and-blue ABA ball.

3. Dominique Wilkins, Atlanta Hawks (1985, 1990)
The “Human Highlight Film” windmilled and tomahawked his way into dunk history.

4. Vince Carter, Toronto Raptors (2000)
“Half Man, Half Amazing” could jump over French dudes and through 10-foot hoops.


Freak Shows
There’s just something about watching a sub-six-footer or near-seven-footer take over the Dunk Contest that adds to the spectacle of Saturday night’s three-ring circus.

5. Spud Webb, Atlanta Hawks (1986)
The shortest (5’7”) champ ever beat his teammate in front of his hometown crowd.

6. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (2008)
Superman’s hand missed the rim on his most famous dunk, but it was out of this world.

7. Nate Robinson, New York Knicks (2006, 2009, 2010)
The only three-time champion in event history was 5’9” of Kryptonite for Dwight.


Big Names, Bigger Air
No matter how great the dunks are it’s always better when there is a name that matters on the marquee. Lately, the lack of cachet has taken the air out of the slam-dunk sails.

8. Larry Nance, Phoenix Suns (1984)
The underrated Nance could get high in his high socks, winning the NBA’s first contest.

9. Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks (2005)
The ATL native paid homage to Nique with a throwback jersey to go with pogo hops.

10. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers (1997)
Remember when Kobe was bald, Brandy was his girl and Adidas was his shoe of choice?

11. Kenny Walker, New York Knicks (1989)
“Sky” Walker could rise with the best of them, rocking Knicks No. 7 before Carmelo did.

12. Jason Richardson, Golden State Warriors (2002, 2003)
One of three repeat champs in history, along with Michael Jordan and Nate Robinson.


Props Plus Hops
The All-Star Game sideshow has featured its fair share of gimmicks, third parties and prop comedy that almost always ends in winning over the crowd and the trophy.  

13. Dee Brown, Boston Celtics (1991)
Brown Pump-ed up his Reeboks and covered his eyes with his arm to take the title.

14. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (2011)
Jumping over a car — the type of Kia he endorses — was Griffin’s modus operandi.

15. Cedric Ceballos, Phoenix Suns (1992)
Ceballos put on a blindfold that he may or may not have been able to see through.

Signature Style
To contest connoisseurs, these are two of the more exciting dunkers. Each had a signature dunk that every kid who ever had an eight-foot goal attempted over and over.

16. Harold Miner, Miami Heat (1993, 1995)
“Baby Jordan” matched his namesake with two Slam Dunk Contest statement wins.

17. Isaiah Rider, Minnesota Timberwolves (1994)
Wild child “J.R.” went between the legs midair in front of the Twin City crowd.


White Man Can Jump
His dad Granny-shot free-throws but Bones could throw down like no one this side of Woody Harrelson — and he remains the only white guy to win it all in event history.

18. Brent Barry, Los Angeles Clippers (1996)
Not quite from the free-throw line, but Barry did take off from near the charity stripe.

Hi and Bye
Who are you? And why are you here? Okay, you can dunk. Nice job. But I still wish the field had more star power. After all, literally every player in the NBA can dunk…


19. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors (2013)
Wearing a Vince Carter jersey does not make you Vince Carter.

20. Gerald Green, Boston Celtics (2007)
Sure this wasn’t the NBDL Dunk Contest?

21. Desmond Mason, Seattle SuperSonics (2001)
The Sonics? Is that a WNBA team?

22. Fred Jones, Indiana Pacers (2004)
You mean the character from Scooby-Doo?

23. Jeremy Evans, Utah Jazz (2012)
Is that the Ray Bandit who stole sunglasses?

<p> Best Slam Dunk Contest Championship of All-Time, including Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins, Vince Carter, Spud Webb, Dwight Howard, Nate Robinson, Larry Nance, Josh Smith, Kobe Bryant, Kenny Walker, Jason Richardson, Dee Brown, Blake Griffin, Cedric Ceballos, Harold Miner, Isaiah Rider, Brent Barry, Gerald Green, Desmond Mason, Fred Jones and Jeremy Evans.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 14, 2014 - 10:15
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/derek-jeters-dating-diamond-graphic
Since it's Valentine's Day and Derek Jeter is readying for his final season, it seemed like the perfect time to highlight this graphic of Jeter's off-the-field accomplishments with the ladies. 
Source: SportsNation
Since it's Valentine's Day and Derek Jeter is readying for his final season, it seemed like the perfect time to highlight this graphic of Jeter's off-the-field accomplishments with the ladies.
Post date: Friday, February 14, 2014 - 08:47
Path: /college-football/top-10-big-12-running-backs-bcs-era

The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

In a league with a tradition of high-flying passing attacks and decorated wide receivers, the list of running backs to star in the Big 12 is remarkable. The Big 12 boasts some of the greatest to ever play the position during the BCS Era, including the top two runners of the Era regardless of conference.

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06)
Stats: 747 att., 4,045 yds, 41 TDs, 24 rec., 198 yds, TD

The BCS version of Herschel Walker or Bo Jackson was the three-year star from Palestine (Texas) High. A three-time, first-team All-Big 12 runner finished No. 2 in the Heisman Trophy voting as a true freshman in 2004. His 1,925 yards was an NCAA record for a true freshman and it earned him unanimous All-American honors. Despite missing chunks of time with injuries in each of his next two seasons, “All Day” Peterson still topped 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. His natural blend of power, speed, size and balance has never been duplicated during the BCS era. He rushed for 970 yards for the Vikings in 2011 in a season shortened by a torn ACL, the only time since high school that A.D. hasn’t rushed for at least 1,000 yards. He is the Sooners' No. 3 all-time leading rusher.

2. Ricky Williams, Texas (1995-98)
Stats: 1,011 att., 6,279 yds, 72 TDs, 85 rec., 927 yds, 3 TDs

The power back from San Diego gave fans in Austin a preview of things to come when he rushed for 990 yards as a true freshman fullback. His two-year run as an upperclassman may never be matched, as he posted back-to-back seasons with at least 1,800 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. Williams was a two-time consensus All-American, a two-time Doak Walker Award winner, a two-time Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and claimed the Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and Heisman Trophy as a senior. He left school as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher (since broken) and he is one of four players to ever score at least 70 rushing touchdowns.

3. Darren Sproles, Kansas State (2001-04)
Stats: 815 att., 4,979 yds, 45 TDs, 66 rec., 609 yds, 2 TDs, 1,224 ret yds, TD

Few players have ever been as valuable to their school as the diminutive Sproles was to Kansas State. The all-purpose dynamo rushed for at least 1,300 yards in three straight seasons and he helped lead the Wildcats to an improbable Big 12 championship in 2003. His 323 yards from scrimmage and four total touchdowns against Oklahoma in the title game will go down in history as arguably the greatest single-game performance by any Wildcat in history. The Sunflower State native finished fifth in the Heisman voting that year as his 2,735 all-purpose yards is the best single-season performance by any Big 12 running back during the BCS Era (fourth all-time). Sproles has proven himself by carving out an extremely productive niche in the NFL as an all-purpose talent.

4. Cedric Benson, Texas (2001-04)
Stats: 1,112 att., 5,540 yds, 64 TDs, 69 rec., 621 yds, 3 TDs

The Longhorns' running back is one of the most productive in history. He finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting two separate times and is one of only six players to score at least 60 rushing touchdowns. The Midland (Texas) Lee star posted four seasons of at least 1,050 yards and 12 touchdowns while in Austin — one of just eight players in NCAA history to post four 1,000-yard seasons. He won the ’04 Doak Walker and carried more times (1,112) than any Big 12 back in history.

5. Quentin Griffin, Oklahoma (1999-02)
Stats: 714 att., 3,842 yds, 43 TDs, 154 rec., 1,282 yds, 7 TDs

A steady performer in both the running and receiving game, Griffin blossomed as a superstar in his senior season. He rushed for 783 yards and 16 touchdowns while catching 45 passes for the unbeaten 2000 national champions before exploding in his final season in 2002. He finished 10th in the Heisman voting after 1,884 yards rushing and 18 total touchdowns in '02 — which was the seventh-best single-season rushing total in Big 12 history and his 2,184 all-purpose yards that year are eighth-best all-time. Griffin is seventh all-time in rushing in the Big 12.

6. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma (2007-10)
Stats: 759 att., 3,685 yds, 50 TDs, 157 rec., 1,571 yds, 13 TDs, 1,462 ret. yds, 2 TDs

An underrated talent from Las Vegas, Murray was as productive across the board as any player in Sooners history. He is sixth in rushing, first in total touchdowns, fifth in receptions and No. 1 in all-purpose yards. In 2008, he helped lead the Sooners to a Big 12 title and a berth in the BCS title game, as he racked up 2,171 all-purpose yards, which is good for ninth-best all-time in Big 12 history. His 65 career touchdowns are fourth all-time behind Williams, Benson and Taurean Henderson.

7. Jamaal Charles, Texas (2005-07)
Stats: 533 att., 3,328 yds, 36 TDs, 49 rec., 539 yds, 3 TDs

Charles was a major contributor on the undefeated national title squad of 2005 by posting 1,035 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns. He capped his three-year stint in Austin with a 1,619-yard, 18-TD season in 13 games in 2007. Charles posted at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage in all three of his seasons and at least eight touchdowns each year. He was drafted in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft.

8. Chris Brown, Colorado (2001-02)
Stats: 493 att., 2,787 yds, 35 TDs, 11 rec., 76 yds

He didn’t play for very long in the Big 12 but his final season was nearly as good as any of the Hall of Fame types atop these rankings. He carried 303 times for 1,841 yards and 19 touchdowns — after a 946-yard, 16-TD season in ’01 — en route to a Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year award. He finished eighth in the Heisman voting and was a third-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.

9. Taurean Henderson, Texas Tech (2002-05)
Stats: 587 att., 3,241 yds, 50 TDs, 303 rec., 2,058 yds, 19 TDs

Certainly, the Mike Leach Air Raid offense bolstered his numbers, but it’s hard to argue with what Henderson accomplished in Lubbock. He scored more touchdowns (69) than anyone in league history except Ricky Williams and is one of just 10 players in NCAA history to catch at least 300 passes. His 5,299 yards from scrimmage is among the best in conference history.

10. Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State (2007-10)
Stats: 708 att., 4,181 yds, 37 TDs, 63 rec., 519 yds, 2 TDs

Hunter was a consensus All-American and posted two different 1,500-yard, 16-TD seasons in 2008 and '10. Injuries shortened his junior campaign, otherwise Hunter might be even higher up the Big 12’s all-time rushing charts. Still, Hunter is fifth all-time in league history in rushing and eighth all-time in carries. The Pokes' top rusher helped elevate Oklahoma State from middle-of-the-pack Big 12 program to eventual conference champ in ’11.

Just missed the cut:

11. Daniel Thomas, Kansas State (2009-10)
Stats: 545 att., 2,850 yds, 30 TDs, 52 rec., 428 yds, 155 pass yds, 2 TDs

When it comes to a two-year run in the Big 12, few have been as productive as Thomas. He carried 247 times for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first year and then backed it up with 298 carries, 1,585 yards and 19 touchdowns in his second. He was a quality receiver and Wildcat quarterback as well for Bill Snyder’s bunch.

12. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State (2010-12)
Stats: 564 att., 3,085 yds, 40 TDs, 108 rec., 917 yds, 3 TDs

For the 2011 Big 12 champions, Randle ran for 1,216 yards, caught 43 passes for 266 yards and scored a school-record 26 total touchdowns. He came back the next year and ran for 1,417 yards and scored 14 more rushing touchdowns. Randle carried on the Pokes' impressive streak of great backs before leaving early for the NFL.

13. Roy Helu, Nebraska (2007-10)
Stats: 578 att., 3,404 yds, 28 TDs, 54 rec., 501 yds

Helu posted three straight seasons of at least 800 yards and seven scores and back-to-back seasons with 1,100 yards and 10 scores. Helu helped lead Nebraska to back-to-back division titles and Big 12 title game appearances in his final two seasons before getting drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft.

14. Ricky Williams, Texas Tech (1997-01)
Stats: 789 att., 3,661 yds, 36 TDs, 172 rec., 1,151 yds, 6 TDs

The other Ricky Williams actually overlapped the more famous version by two years. This Williams is fifth all-time in league history with 5,992 all-purpose yards and is 10th all-time in rushing in the Big 12. He also caught 172 passes as a receiver. And he did all of this before Mike Leach got to town.

15. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M (2008-11)
Stats: 632 att., 3,298 yds, 30 TDs, 103 rec., 776 yds, 6 TDs, 2,349 ret. yds, 2 TDs

Gray was an all-around dynamo for the Aggies for four full seasons. Gray played 49 career games for Texas A&M and is third all-time in all-purpose yards in Big 12 history with 6,423 yards — behind only Sproles (6,812) and Murray (6,718). He scored 38 total times in his career.

Best of the rest:

16. Darren Davis, Iowa State (1996-99): 823 att., 3,763 yds, 26 TDs, 74 rec., 649 yds, 5 TDs
17. James Sims, Kansas (2010-13): 798 att., 3,592 yds, 34 TDs, 72 rec., 587 yds, 2 TDs
18. De’Mond Parker, Oklahoma (1996-98): 578 att., 3,404 yds, 21 TDs, 42 rec., 504 yds, TD
19. Jorvorskie Lane, Texas A&M (2005-08): 489 att., 2,193 yds, 49 TDs, 26 rec., 271 yds, TD
20. Henry Josey, Missouri (2010-13): 395 att., 2,771 yds, 30 TDs, 24 rec., 175 yds, TD
21. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska (2009-12): 635 att., 3,329 yds, 30 TDs, 60 rec., 507 yds, 5 TDs
22. Alexander Robinson, Iowa State (2007-10): 705 att., 3,309 yds, 27 TDs, 83 rec., 789 yds, 4 TDs
23. Tatum Bell, Oklahoma State (2000-03): 634 att., 3,409 yds, 34 TDs, 36 rec., 258 yds, 2 TDs
24. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (2012-13): 289 att., 2,189 yds, 18 TDs, 9 rec., 107 yds, TD
25. Rodney Stewart, Colorado (2008-11): 809 att., 3,598 yds, 25 TDs, 93 rec., 969 yds

ORV: Bobby Purify, Vernand Morency, Zack Abron, Christine Michael, Baron Batch, Correll Buckhalter, Keith Toston, Brian Calhoun


Top 10 Big 12 Running Backs of the BCS Era
Post date: Friday, February 14, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-weekend-preview-florida-kentucky-among-highlights

Snow through the Southeast and mid-Atlantic derailed basketball schedules Wednesday and Thursday, pushing the first Duke-North Carolina matchup into the third week of February.

The weekend may make up for missed time.

Quality games highlight both days of the weekend, with key matchups atop the SEC and Big East spread across Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Florida rarely has been tested in SEC play, but even an inconsistent Kentucky team could be the Gators top hurdle in the league, especially with the game in Lexington.

And in the Big East, the first matchup between Creighton and Villanova — a 3-point fest for the Bluejays — suggested the Missouri Valley imports will be just fine in their new league. A Villanova win will put further distance between the Wildcats and Creighton in the standings while a Bluejays could signal a new leader in the league.

Those aren’t the only key road trips, of course. Pittsburgh needs to regroup from Wednesday’s heartbreaker against Syracuse or else risk sliding onto the bubble before the ACC Tournament. And Wichita State will again get another team’s best shot in another MVC road trip.

College Basketball Weekend Preview: Feb. 14-16
All times Eastern.

Saturday’s Top Game:
Florida at Kentucky (9 p.m., ESPN)

Just as John Calipari’s talented young team appeared to be making progress, the Wildcats limped to a 64-56 win over lowly Auburn. James Young, Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison combined to shoot 6 of 28 from the field against Auburn, but they did contribute on the defensive end. The stumbles in the offensive end of the court aren’t a great sign against a Florida team that is one of the best defensive teams in the country. Even if this isn’t the Kentucky team most expected to see at the start of the season, Florida needs a strong performance to solidify their national title contender status. The Gators haven’t faced a ranked team since a Dec. 17 win over Memphis.

Related: College Basketball Power Rankings Heading into the Weekend

Sunday’s Top Game:
Villanova at Creighton (5 p.m., Fox Sports 1)

Remember what happened the last time these teams met? Led by Ethan Wragge’s school-record nine 3-pointers, Creighton drilled Villanova, ranked No. 4 at the time, 96–68 in one of the most stunning results of the season. The Wildcats, who have not lost since, will be eager to exact some revenge, but that won’t be easy. Creighton has not lost at home since last February. Creighton is one game behind Villanova in the Big East standings. A season sweep would give the Bluejays an excellent chance to be the No. 1 seed in the league tournament.

Pittsburgh at North Carolina (Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS)

Pittsburgh’s 20-5 record is starting to look awfully hollow. Tyler Ennis’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer robbed the Panthers a chance of pulling off one of the biggest wins of the season. Now, the Panthers’ last chance for their top win of the regular season is against the inconsistent Tar Heels. Pitt has only one RPI top 50 win (Stanford) and won’t face another certain NCAA Tournament team until the ACC Tourney. Behind Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina has found its stride with five consecutive wins, mostly against the second tier of the conference.

Related: 26 Teams on the NCAA Tournament Bubble

Best Coaching Matchup:
Wisconsin at Michigan (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)

A list of the top coaches in college basketball would have Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and Michigan’s John Beilein near the top. Shocking as it may be, Ryan has a 12-1 record against Beilein since both have been in the Big Ten. Worth watching will be the continued development of Michigan’s freshman point guard, Derrick Walton Jr., The rookie had 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists against Ohio State, a key development for a Wolverines team looking to find scoring options beyond Nik Stauskas.

Backcourt Bonanza:
Memphis at Connecticut (Saturday, noon, ESPN)

UConn’s lack of size remains a major concern for the Huskies’ ability to advance in March, but it might not be too much of a liability at home against the guard-heavy Tigers. Memphis’ Joe Jackson and UConn’s Shabazz Napier are both productive veterans, but their shots can be streaky.

Bubble Watch:
West Virginia at Texas (Saturday, 8 p.m., Longhorn Network)

West Virginia is making a late push to reach the NCAA Tournament, and Juwan Staten, a transfer from Dayton, has emerged as one of the top players in the league. Texas is still hanging around in the Big 12 race. The Longhorns are one game behind Kansas in the loss column, but they already have a win over the Jayhawks and still have one game remaining with KU.

Upset Alert:
Wichita State at Evansville (Sunday, 6 p.m., MVC TV)

Evansville is not a great team, but for some reason Wichita State trailed the Purple Aces by 15 at one point when these teams first met on Feb. 1 in Wichita. The Shockers still won 81-67. Wichita State allowed Southern Illinois to stick around for most of a 78-67 win on Wednesday as well. Are the Shockers losing their grip on an undefeated season?

Defensive Wizardry:
VCU at Saint Louis (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)

Saint Louis might be the best team few people are watching closely. That’s certainly the case on the defensive end of the court where the Billikens rank third nationally in defensive efficiency on KenPom. A major component of Saint Louis’ defense is the ability to shut down the 3-point line. Of course, VCU’s bread and butter is the pressure defense that leads the nation in forced turnover rate. VCU is 1.5 games behind Saint Louis for the A-10 lead.

Under-the-Radar Game of the Week:
UMass at George Washington (Saturday, 2 p.m., CSN Mid-Atlantic)

The Minutemen still have a good RPI at No. 21, but UMass did all of its best work against a solid non-conference schedule. UMass is 3-4 in its last seven, including Wednesday’s home loss to a 9-15 George Mason team. The Minutemen are desperate for a big win while George Washington is looking to re-establish itself in the Atlantic 10.

Other Key Games:

Arizona at Arizona State (Friday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
In a rare Friday night game of merit, Arizona State hosts its in-state rival in a key game for its NCAA Tournament hopes. The Sun Devils are on the bubble, but they’ve defeated Colorado, Cal and Oregon in the last five games. One key to the game will be quick Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson against the Wildcats’ standout defense but also big man Jordan Bachynski against the short-handed Arizona frontcourt.

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
All is not well in the basketball version of Bedlam. Oklahoma State’s problems are well-established, and Oklahoma has been in a 1-3 funk itself. The Sooners needed a late rally to make a 68-60 home loss to Texas Tech look more respectable.

NC State at Syracuse (Saturday, 3 p.m., ACC Network)
The Wolfpack started 1-4 in the ACC, but it will enter Saturday’s game in the Carrier Dome at 6-5. NC State is about to embark on a three-game road swing, and, obviously, this is the toughest game. Syracuse will look to limit T.J. Warren’s action near the rim. He’s a high-volume shooter, but he hits 57.7 percent of his shots from 2-point range.

Tennessee at Missouri (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2)
Missouri’s NCAA chances have taken a hit thanks to a three-game losing streak that has left the Tigers with an overall record of 16–7 and a 4–6 mark in the SEC. It’s fair to say this is a must win for Mizzou, which does not play a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team the rest of the way. Tennessee might be on the good side of the bubble at this point, but the Vols sure could use a win or two away from Thompson Boling Arena.

Maryland at Duke (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
This will have little impact on the ACC standings, but it’s a significant game because it’s the last meeting between these two rivals before Maryland heads to the Big Ten next season. Duke has had the upper hand of late, but over the years Maryland has played the Blue Devils as well as any ACC team not named North Carolina. The Cameron Crazies will be ready.

Kansas State at Baylor (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Baylor continues to be one the most disappointing teams in the nation. The Bears, loaded with talent, dropped to 15–9 overall and 3–8 in the Big 12 with a loss at Oklahoma on Saturday. Kansas State, on the other hand, has overachieved. The Wildcats, who beat Kansas in overtime on Monday night, are in position to earn an NCAA Tournament invite for the fifth straight season.

College Basketball Weekend Preview: Florida-Kentucky among highlights
Post date: Friday, February 14, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-pre-weekend-power-rankings-feb-14

Tyler Ennis made sure Wednesday there wouldn’t be a change atop the Athlon Sports power rankings this weekend.

His unlikely 35-footer as time expired to defeat Pittsburgh keeps Syracuse undefeated and at the No. 1 spot in the power rankings for another week.

This weekend, though, could reshuffle things. Besides Syracuse, the rest of our top five goes on the road this weekend. All of which have reason for concern. Arizona and Wichita State are looking to avoid letdowns while Villanova and Florida are playing perhaps their biggest games of the conference season.

Here’s how the rest of the college basketball landscape looks heading into the weekend.

Related: Previewing Florida-Kentucky and the rest of the weekend action

College Basketball Power Rankings: Feb. 14
All games Saturday unless noted.

1. Syracuse (24-0, 11-0 ACC)
This weekend: NC State
With a win over NC State, Syracuse will be the first team to start 25-0 since 2007-08 Memphis, a team led by Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts.
Last week: 1

2. Arizona (23-1, 10-1 Pac-12)
This weekend: at Arizona State (Friday)
After the loss to Cal, Arizona has been just as stingy in the defensive end. The Wildcats held two of the top five scorers in the Pac-12 (Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson and Oregon’s Joseph Young) to 8 of 23 from the field and a combined 24 points. Jahii Carson is next.
Last week: 2

3. Florida (22-2, 11-0 SEC)
This weekend: at Kentucky
Averaging 18.7 points in his last three games, point guard Scottie Wilbekin is becoming the go-to player as the Gators angle for an SEC title and another deep run in the Tourney.
Last week: 3

Related: 26 Teams on the NCAA Tournament Bubble

4. Wichita State (26-0, 13-0 MVC)
This week: at Evansville (Sunday)
The last time the Shockers faced Evansville, they faced a 15-point deficit in the first half. Wichita State won by 14.
Last week: 5

5. Villanova (22-2, 10-1 Big East)
This weekend: at Creighton (Sunday)
Villanova hasn’t won the Big East regular season title since 2006. If the Wildcats can win in Omaha to split the season series with Creighton, the championship is in their grasp.
Last week: 6

6. Kansas (18-6, 9-2 Big 12)
This weekend: TCU
Freshman big man Joel Embiid has been hobbled the last three games with knee and back injuries. He could be held out this weekend, and let’s face it: TCU isn’t a bad game to miss.
Last week: 7

7. Duke (19-5, 8-3 ACC)
This weekend: Maryland
The Blue Devils will be well-rested after the North Carolina game was postponed. An upcoming three-game week, though, will include Georgia Tech (Feb. 18) and North Carolina (Feb. 20) on the road and Syracuse (Feb. 22) at home.
Last week: 12

8. Michigan State (21-4, 10-2 Big Ten)
This weekend: Nebraska (Sunday)
Thursday's 85-70 win over Northwestern gave Tom Izzo a chance to empty his bench — 14 players saw court time for the ailing Spartans.
Last week: 9

9. San Diego State (21-2, 10-1 MW)
This weekend: Air Force
The Aztecs finally met their match against a well-coached Wyoming team. San Diego State shot 5 of 21 from 3-point range in the loss in Laramie.
Last week: 4

10. Virginia (20-5, 11-1 ACC)
This weekend: at Clemson
Virginia at Clemson will feature two of the bottom four teams in the ACC in possessions per 40 minutes.
Last week: 15

11. Saint Louis (22-2, 9-0 Atlantic 10)
This weekend: VCU
Jordair Jett, who had the game-winning shot in a scare against La Salle last week, is averaging 17.8 points, 5 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game in A-10 play.
Last week: 14

12. Iowa State (18-5, 6-5 Big 12)
This weekend: Texas Tech
West Virginia averaged 1.36 points per possession in a 102-77 win over the Cyclones. Iowa State normally allows 0.979 points per possession.
Last week: 13

13. Michigan (18-6, 10-2 Big Ten)
This weekend: Wisconsin (Sunday)
Teams are doing a better job of guarding Nik Stauskas. Fortunately for Michigan, Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert have stepped up.
Last week: 8

14. Creighton (20-4, 10-2 Big East)
This weekend: Villanova (Sunday)
The Bluejays shot 56 percent from the free throw line in Madison Square Garden. Don’t expect a repeat in Omaha’s biggest game of the season Sunday.
Last week: 10

15. Cincinnati (22-3, 11-1 American)
This weekend: Houston
The key to beating Cincinnati? Force Sean Kilpatrick to take a ton of shots from the perimeter. Kilpatrick was 3 of 12 against SMU.
Last week: 11

16. Iowa (18-6, 7-4 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Penn State
Iowa hasn’t won back-to-back games in nearly a month. That could change this weekend, but Penn State isn’t an easy out in Happy Valley.
Last week: 16

17. Kentucky (19-5, 9-2 SEC)
This weekend: Florida
John Calipari made his former assistant, Auburn coach Tony Barbee, look good in a 64-56 win over the Tigers.
Last week: 18

18. Wisconsin (20-5, 7-5 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Michigan
The Badgers' perimeter defense was vastly improved in the rematch against Minnesota.
Last week: 23

19. Louisville (19-4, 8-2 American)
This weekend: at Temple (Friday)
This is not the Big East: Louisville is amid a five-game stretch against team that rank between 150-200 in KenPom.
Last week: 17

20. Memphis (19-5, 8-3 American)
This weekend: at UConn
The Tigers will hope their lackluster performance against UCF on Wednesday is due to play Gonzaga in the game before and looking ahead to UConn on Saturday.
Last week: 20

21. UConn (19-5, 7-4 American)
This weekend: Memphis
The Huskies defeated UCF and USF by a combined 63 points last week. The next three home games will be huge: Memphis, SMU and Cincinnati.
Last week: NR

22. Texas (18-5, 8-3 Big 12)
This weekend: West Virginia
The Longhorns will hope to have Jonathan Holmes (knee) back to face a red hot Mountaineers team.
Last week: 19

23. SMU (19-5, 8-3 American)
This weekend: at Rutgers
SMU basketball was ranked in the AP poll for the first time since 1985. Football hasn’t been ranked since 1986.
Last week: NR

24. Ohio State (19-6, 6-6 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Illinois
LaQuinton Ross has the consistent scorer the Buckeyes have been lacking.
Last week: NR

25. UCLA (19-5, 8-3 Pac-12)
This weekend: Utah
Kyle Anderson has five double-doubles in his last six games — three with points and assists, two with points and rebounds.
Last week: 25

College Basketball Pre-Weekend Power Rankings: Feb. 14
Post date: Friday, February 14, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/nascar-media-roundtable-catering-television-vs-honest-competition

Each day from mid-February through late November, a small band of motorsports journalists work nearly around the clock — this being the digital age — to keep rabid NASCAR fans as up-to-the-second informed as possible. Many of these media members are ensconced in the sport’s “traveling circus,” working in garage areas, media centers and pressboxes nearly 40 weeks a year. So who better to go to for a “state of the sport” talk than them?

While drivers may toe the company line — keeping sponsors happy and staying in the sanctioning body’s good graces are important to their livelihood — it’s the job of these journos to provide news, insight and opinion in a sport that has no shortage of any.

In this nine-part feature, Athlon Sports sits down with seven media professionals from different outlets to get a healthy cross-section of ideas, opinions and feedback on the biggest issues alive and well in the sport of NASCAR, circa 2014.

Sticking with the parity theme from yesterday’s Roundtable question, some claim that today’s Cup cars are too closely matched and that “wave-around” and “Lucky Dog” rules keep the field more tightly grouped. Is this simply a product of “sports,” circa 2014? Has the importance of catering to a television audience trumped honest, on-track/on-field competition?

Mike Hembree (Athlon Sports; @mikehembree):In a word, yes. But NASCAR always has been about “manufactured” racing, to a degree. In a perfect racing world, a driver who works hard to build a two-second advantage on the track during green-flag racing should retain that margin after a caution. That isn’t feasible, of course, and entertainment value certainly is boosted by repeated green-flag restarts. The wave-around? A bit ridiculous.

Bob Pockrass (The Sporting News@bobpockrass): Yes, it caters to television and is a product of sports circa 2014. But so what? You need rules that keep fans interested. The free pass and wave around do that, and they also play a key safety role as drivers don’t race back to the start-finish line when the yellow comes out. The wave-arounds also keep a nearly lapped-down car from racing the leaders on a restart. There’s nothing wrong in giving a driver who has a flat tire early in the race a little more hope thanks to these rules.

Nate Ryan (USA Today@nateryan): It’s the product of a governing body that might be too attuned to the whims of its followers. More tricks have been added in the past decade of NASCAR’s premier series than in its first 55 years. Though it’s wise to be mindful of fans’ demands, it’s a fine line of catering to entertainment at the expense of competition. NASCAR can’t roll back many of the changes that have been made, but eradicating the “free pass”/wave-around rule and the three attempts at a green-white-checker finish (one is plenty) would be a good start.

Ryan McGee ( The Magazine@ESPNMcGee): When I talk to the old-timers, these lead-lap rules drive them nuts, way more than stuff like the Chase or the new points system. NASCAR has gotten ripped over the years for being such a dictatorship, but perhaps their biggest flaw in recent years is that they’ve reacted to fan feedback a little too much. That’s where some of all these parity-driven policies have come from — hits and misses. But what’s fascinating to me is that no matter how hard they work at creating that mythical 43-wide finish, the best teams still win the most races and championships. And I can tell you firsthand the catering-to-TV theories are overstated. If that was the primary impetus for all decisions, then no race would last longer than three hours.

Nick Bromberg (Yahoo! Sports; @NickBromberg): Continuing with the “close doesn’t always equal competitive” theory, I’ve never taken an issue to NASCAR’s institution of the wave-around and Lucky Dog rules. It replaced a gentleman’s agreement of racing back to the caution flag; an agreement that had different terms each time it happened. The equal terms of the official rule is more important than any perception of parity-forcing.

But I’m not sure how those rules are catering to a television audience rather than a common sense simple major-league sports move. It was only natural that NASCAR was going to have to increase rules and regulations when teams started to spend more and more to find speed.

Mike Mulhern (; @mikemulhern): NASCAR Cup racing has become a made-for-TV show; at-track fans have been all-but MIA. The sport's decline since 2007 has been striking, and it's unclear why Daytona/NASCAR has been unable or unwilling to make the major changes to shake things up. The wave-around rule was a bad idea to begin with, and it's become a terrible part of the sport — one big reason for lack of competition on Sundays — because the leader always gets clean air on restarts instead of having to fight his way back to the front. The “Lucky Dog” is OK, as Dale Jarrett and many others, like Bobby Allison, can attest. Yes, the Cup cars today are way too tightly regulated, which plays right into the hands of the mega-teams that can afford engineering armies. You ask why the Hendrick teams dominate? Just look at the rulebook ... and count the engineers on the Hendrick payroll. NASCAR is changing the rules for 2014? Then expect another Jimmie Johnson championship.

Pete Pistone (Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio and MRN Radio; @PPistone): I think NASCAR has done a good job in walking that fine line between competition and entertainment but it’s not going to get any easier in the coming years. The sport simply has to cater to a new breed of fans' expectations while maintaining its core of long-time supporters. Tough balance to say the least.

Photo by Action Sports, Inc.

Athlon Sports’ 2014 “Racing” annual delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2014 NASCAR coverage. Click here to view more.

For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

Are today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup cars are too closely matched so that “wave-around” and “Lucky Dog” rules keep the field more tightly grouped. Is this simply a product of “sports,” circa 2014? Has the importance of catering to a television audience trumped honest, on-track/on-field competition?
Post date: Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 23:58
All taxonomy terms: Austin Dillon, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-austin-dillon

Richard Childress Racing’s iconic, stylized No. 3 will make its return to the Cup Series for the first time since February 2001. That will undoubtedly be one of the sport’s biggest headlines heading into the 2014 Daytona 500, as Childress promotes grandson Austin Dillon to the seat Dale Earnhardt made famous. And the expectations that come with carrying one of the most recognized and revered numbers in motorsports history are not lost on him.  Austin Dillon

Childress, in fact, believes Dillon is the man to face them head-on. “We had quite a few discussions on it,” Childress says. “Sure, there’s pressure, but I think the pressure from the number drives him.”

The stats back the claim. The 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, Dillon also has a Camping World Truck Series title to his credit (2011). He comes from a racing pedigree — the Childress connection is well documented, and his father is former journeyman racer and current RCR general manager Mike Dillon. Childress made it clear that Earnhardt would approve of the move, claiming that “The Intimidator” wanted a replacement who could compete for titles, year in and year out.

RCR, as expected, is throwing every resource at this venture to ensure that happens. Sponsorship comes from Dow Chemicals, General Mills and Bass Pro Shops, strong sources of funding to ensure competitive equipment. Earnhardt-Childress engines are ultra-durable, with just one failure among all three RCR teams in 2013, and that means that if Dillon avoids trouble, his cars should be running at the end of the day. Crew chief Gil Martin engineered three third-place points finishes over the last four seasons for Kevin Harvick, and he has been a mainstay at the company since 2000. He’ll provide veteran leadership that will be critical to the young driver’s success.

But while Dillon has the support system in place, it’s not going to be as easy as the lower divisions appeared to be for the young driver. While RCR equipment is among the best in the Cup Series, several teams can make the same claim, and that means there will be a lot of drivers fighting for real estate on the points chart this year. The teen positions around the Chase cutoff, in particular, will be a slugfest — and Dillon is on that cusp. A Nationwide championship doesn’t guarantee success; just ask Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who finished 19th in the premier series one year removed from an NNS title in a previously top-5 car.

Perhaps the best asset Dillon brings is consistency. He captured the NNS title without a single win, and he doesn’t tear up race cars. To date, his Cup numbers are far from earth-shattering — though 11th- and 14th-place runs at Michigan last year are reason for optimism. Also, a top-3 run-gone-wrong on the final lap at Talladega was impressive in that it showed he had the composure to hang with the big boys. However, running sporadically and for multiple teams did not allow Dillon to establish any kind of rhythm or communication with a crew chief.

Considering the challenges ahead — as a rookie and with the “special circumstances” that come with the ride — a top-20 points finish over a full 36-race slate would be a very successful debut.

What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media
“He's won titles in two national series and comes from a racing family that enjoys racing anything,” a rival crew chief says. “His dirt experience will serve him well when he goes to the next level. He already has several races in Cup cars so he’ll be able to give quality feedback to his team. … Gil Martin is going to be his crew chief. He has been a proven winner in Cup for a long time, and he’ll help bring Dillon along.”

“He’s driving the 3 (car). Whether people love it or hate it, they’re going to be talking about it,” another crew chief says. “There is going to be all sorts of pressure about driving that car, and the longer it takes him to succeed the more attention he’s going to get from fans and media. He’s also always going to have to battle the perception that he was given the ride and didn’t earn it.”

“Dillon wasn’t bad in faux-RCR stuff and in the 14 (car) last year,” a media member points out. “Though I sometimes wonder about his killer instinct. I’m not convinced a poor finish really hurts his heart — unlike his brother Ty, who strikes me as the one with a little chip on his shoulder.”

No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Dow Chemicals/General Mills/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet
Owner: Richard Childress
Crew Chief: Gil Martin
Years with current team: 2
Under contract through: N/A
Best points finish: N/A
Hometown: Lewisville, N.C.
Born: April 27, 1990




Top photo by Action Sports, Inc.; Dillon courtesy of Richard Childress Racing.

Athlon Sports’ 2014 “Racing” annual delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2014 NASCAR coverage. Click here to view more.

For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro


2014 season preview for Austin Dillon in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Post date: Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 23:54
All taxonomy terms: Ryan Newman, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-ryan-newman

After five years with Stewart-Haas Racing, Ryan Newman seeks a new beginning with Richard Childress Racing for 2014. And RCR? It hopes Newman becomes the steadying, stable force inside the organization it just released in Jeff Burton.  Ryan Newman

When Kevin Harvick’s defection to SHR was made public over a year ago, the handwriting was on the wall for Newman in the No. 39 ride. Ultimately, the organizations made what amounted to a trade, with Newman slotting into Burton’s former No. 31 ride and Austin Dillon transitioning into Harvick’s seat. With the rookie, Dillon, and journeyman Paul Menard already signed on at RCR, the right free agent pickup was key to keep the company in position to challenge heavyweights like Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.

On paper, the 36-year-old Newman seems to fit the bill at RCR. His record is more current than Burton’s, with wins in five of the last six seasons and five Chase appearances on the résumé. Since 2008, he joins Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray as the only drivers to win both the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.

On the flip side, eight of Newman’s 17 career wins are bundled in one season with Penske Racing (2003), and he’s never finished higher than sixth in the final standings, so whether he’s a championship-caliber driver isn’t a question with an easy answer.

What became a tired act for former boss Gene Haas was Newman’s pesky habit of hovering right around the Chase’s cutoff. His “bubble” performance at Richmond last year, in which a win evaporated late in the race, was the trigger for the whole race-fixing fiasco. In the end, NASCAR’s penalties awarded him the spot, but historically he’s far from the postseason top-5 finisher that Harvick has been in five of the last eight years.

In a 16-team field, however, he’s easily capable of qualifying for the playoffs. What he does in such an inclusive (and eliminative) format remains to be seen.

At least Newman has funding and stability behind him — an issue that dampened his efforts at SHR. RCR reportedly has backing in place for his No. 31 for the entire season, as Quicken Loans will come with Newman for a dozen events, with staunch Childress-backer Caterpillar and WIX Filters along with Kwikset filling out the docket. Add in family funding from teammate Menard, which benefits the entire organization, and this team should have money to burn.

Luke Lambert will return to the No. 31 as crew chief in 2014 after guiding Burton to a handful of top-10 finishes last year. Lambert is a young talent in the garage, and some new ideas could give Newman an infusion of speed if the two see eye-to-eye. Lambert also has a history of working with veterans, making him big on both fuel-mileage and track-position gambles. That’ll mesh well with a driver who can thank in-race strategy plays to get in position on final restarts for two of his last four victories on tour.

Lambert’s first goal, though, will be to rebuild confidence following a 2013 roller coaster that left Newman too vulnerable for even good friend and co-owner Tony Stewart to save the pink slip. His final stats were still respectable: an 11th-place points finish, a win at Indianapolis and a pair of poles. But an 11th-hour inclusion in the Chase didn’t boost momentum like it did for Jeff Gordon. During the final 10 races, Newman never cracked the top 5, the only Chaser who failed to do so.

Of course, on-track success isn’t the only goal listed here. RCR tapped Newman for his brains as well as his talent; a strong mentor would be helpful to young Dillon and even Menard. There’s just a risk involved in labeling him “Jeff Burton Jr.” Newman’s role as a team player has been questioned in the past, and it’s unlikely that he’ll make a sudden about-face in that department. His engineering knowledge is extensive — as is Lambert’s — and that should undoubtedly be a plus, but they’ll have to make Newman want to share it outside the No. 31 circle.

Childress also seems to be overly focused on grandson Austin’s promotion to the Cup Series. It was enough to cause Harvick to leave in a huff; will playing second fiddle, a role Newman filled too much at SHR, eventually frustrate him?

All in all, Newman was a prime pickup for RCR in a market where the choices were limited. He’ll be a better example to Dillon than, say, the volatile Kurt Busch — who was rumored to fill this slot before Silly Season truly kicked in last year. But Newman doesn’t quite fill the driver’s shoes left by Harvick or the mentor’s role left by Burton. What he does bring is consistency, the ability to grab a win or two each year and the potential to contend for a Chase spot.

What the Competition is SayingAnonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media
Ryan Newman’s No. 39 team was the leader of the pack at Stewart-Haas Racing last season — due in large part to teammate Tony Stewart’s season-ending injury after 21 races. How he adapts to the new environs at Richard Childress Racing this year will be key.

“He seems like he’s good at playing the strategy game — whether taking two tires or staying out,” a rival crew chief says. “He seems to be very capable of taking a car that shouldn’t win and putting it in a position to do so even if it doesn’t deserve to.”

“Newman’s consistency — particularly last year — wasn’t there,” another rival says. “He was either really good or really bad and, all around, his team was the best of the organization at SHR. We’ll see how that changes at RCR. Obviously, he’ll be working with a new group of guys, so we’ll find out if it was a chemistry issue the last few seasons.”

“A hard-nosed driver like Newman and an old-school racer like Childress? Heck, it seems to be a match made in heaven,” one media member says. “(Austin) Dillon’s effort in that No. 3 car will be the organization’s focal point, but that may actually benefit Newman and Luke Lambert. Let those two do their thing quietly in the background, and you just might be surprised with the results.”

Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers:
He’s usually good for about one win a year these days, and it seems the flatter the track, the better.
Pretty Solid Pick: Keep an eye on this bunch at Loudon — a track where Newman won in 2011, and where Luke Lambert engineered third- and eighth-place finishes for the 31 team last season.
Good Sleeper Pick: Newman hasn’t won in Jake and Elwood country since 2003, but he can claim top 10s in six of his last seven visits.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Road courses, where Newman is 1-for-12 in the top 10 category in the CoT/Gen-6 era.
Insider Tip: Pairing the driver-engineer in Newman and the engineering-minded Lambert as crew chief in what many claim are indestructible cars at RCR will make for an intriguing watch.

No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
 Caterpillar/Quicken Loans/WIX Filters/Kwikset
Owner: Richard Childress
Crew Chief: Luke Lambert
Years with current team: 1
Under contract through: 2016
Best points finish: 6th (2002, ’03, ’05)
Hometown: South Bend, Ind.
Born: Dec. 8, 1977

Top photo by Action Sports, Inc.; Menard courtesy of Richard Childress Racing.

Athlon Sports’ 2014 “Racing” annual delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2014 NASCAR coverage. Click here to view more.

For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

2014 driver preview for Ryan Newman on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 23:52
All taxonomy terms: Paul Menard, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-paul-menard

Paul Menard has spent the past few seasons of his Sprint Cup career on the fringe of success. He has just one win on his Cup résumé, in 2011, but it’s one of the most prestigious wins a driver can have: the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He’s good for a top 5 and a few top 10s per year and, through conserving equipment, can achieve consistency. He was good enough to run inside the top 10 in points for 10 weeks in 2013.  Paul Menard

The problem is, Menard has never been able to sustain a hot streak or be consistently good enough to contend for a Chase berth. In seven full-time Sprint Cup seasons, he has cracked the top 20 in points three times, but never finished better than 16th (2012). With Cup competition stronger than ever heading into this season, Menard could very well struggle to make it into that top 20 if he simply maintains the status quo.

The No. 27 team itself remains stable for 2014. Crew chief Slugger Labbe is signed through 2016, and Richard Childress Racing equipment was strong enough for Kevin Harvick to make a 2013 title run, so race cars will not hold Menard back. Labbe is a veteran presence on the box and also has one of NASCAR’s biggest races, the Daytona 500, in the win column. His mechanical excellence will continue to be a boon to Menard.

But perhaps the driver’s best asset in today’s NASCAR is his homegrown sponsorship. Menards, the retail chain owned by Paul’s father, John, is the driver’s primary backer, and that family money means he is virtually a lock for a ride with a decent team every year. In a day and age when money rules NASCAR — and even a winning record isn’t the guarantee of a ride it once was — Menard’s future is as secure as that of the sport’s elite.

That’s not to say he is undeserving of the ride. While his numbers will never be mistaken for Jeff Gordon’s, he has proven to those in the garage that he can hang.

This season should resemble most on the Wisconsin native’s Cup résumé. He’s had at least eight top-10 runs in each of his three years at RCR, and if the planets align, he could pick up a win on an intermediate oval, where he’s earned five of his 10 career top-5 finishes. The problem is, the same can be said of a lot of drivers this year. While Menard has everything he needs behind him to make a driver successful, he has yet to have a breakout season in which he stomps out the naysayers once and for all. Even in 2013, with such a hot start — Menard was the only driver to complete every lap in each of the first nine races — he failed to earn a top-5 showing until Michigan in August.

Typically the aforementioned numbers aren’t enough to sustain employment, but Richard Childress Racing is using a creative method to provide organizational funding.

Menard has shown flashes of talent — but just flashes — over a seven-year career. A points finish in the back half of the teens or low 20s reflects said talent in a deep Cup field and is in line with past results.

What the Competition is Saying

Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media
“He has quite a few years of experience and continues to develop his racing skills,” a rival crew chief says. “He’s a well-known driver and pretty consistent. Paul has the ability to win a race at any point because he runs decent on all types of racetracks. That tells me he has a good feel for what he wants in his car. Plus, he’s a strong team player who shares information well with his teammates — that’s a big plus.”

For every compliment, though, there is criticism: “He doesn’t seem to have the killer instinct needed to bring a fifth-place car to the point,” says another crew chief. “He’s a good driver, but not Chase-caliber. Honestly, his tenure in the sport has been significantly lengthened due to the money he brings to the table, but Slugger Labbe is a good crew chief — yet even he hasn’t been able to take the team to the next level.”

But another crew chief plays his trump card: “He’s won the Brickyard. I wonder how many drivers can lay claim to that?”

“You know what you’re going to get with Menard,” says a media member. “You know what his season-ending stats are going to look like before the season even starts. That said, he brings great insight when addressing the media. Wish we heard more from him.”

No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Owner: Richard Childress
Crew Chief: Richard “Slugger” Labbe
Years with current team: 4
Under contract through: 2016
Best points finish: 16th (2012)
Hometown: Eau Claire, Wis.
Born: Aug. 21, 1980



Top photo by Action Sports, Inc.; Menard courtesy of NASCAR.

Athlon Sports’ 2014 “Racing” annual delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2014 NASCAR coverage. Click here to view more.

For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro



Driver preview for Paul Menard on the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 23:50
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/baseballs-all-time-valentines-day-lineup

With MLB camps open in Florida and Arizona, no doubt there are a few WAGs missing their sweethearts today. In honor of the Day of Love, we present the all-time Valentine’s Day lineup including Flowers, a Rose, Candy, a Cookie, a Jewel and an appearance by Cupid himself.

Tyler Flowers

The former 33rd-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves has increased his hit total over the past four years from 1 to 23 to 29 to 50. The career .200 hitter is shooting for 80 this season as the likely starter behind the plate for the Chicago White Sox.

Paul Goldschmidt

Every lady loves a little gold for Valentine’s Day, and the Diamondbacks certainly struck the mother lode with their first baseman, a future National League MVP.

Cupid Childs

The pudgy second baseman was one of the best players of his era, but has received only modest support for the Hall of Fame over the years. He amassed 1,721 hits over a 13-year career. All but 189 of those hits came in the 1800s while playing for the Quakers, Stars, Spiders, Perfectos and Orphans. He was a part of multiple trades, once for Gid Garner, another time for Cub Striker. Also known as Fats and Fatty, according to, the Grand Rapids Democrat called him “the most curiously built man in the baseball business ... he is as wide as he is long, yet there are few men who can get over the ground faster than the ‘dumpling.’”

Cookie Lavagetto

Cookie was an all-star for Brooklyn from 1938-41, and then spent the next four years serving his country. Thank you for your service, sir.

Bobby Valentine

Once a budding prospect in the Dodgers’ system, this Valentine was on his way to stardom in the city of Angels when a gruesome collision with an outfield wall derailed his career. With nearly 1,200 wins and one National League pennant in his 16 seasons as manager of the Rangers, Mets and Red Sox, Valentine also fits the bill as the ideal skipper for this unique team.

Jim Ray Hart

The sweet-swinging Hart averaged .290-29-92 with an OPS+ of 136 over his first four seasons in the bigs. Unfortunately, he was overshadowed by guys named Mays, McCovey and Cepeda in the same lineup.

Pete Rose

No player ever got to first base more than the all-time hits leader. He wasn’t bad at scoring either.

Ellis Valentine

No prudent base runner dared to sneak an extra base when this Valentine was throwing darts from right field.

Sugar Cain

Cain pitched in an offensive era in the 1930s for the Philadelphia A’s, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox, so he didn’t win many games. Evidently, he wasn’t afraid to issue free passes. He led the league in walks once, logged more than 100 in three successive seasons and ended his career with 5.6 BB/9IP.

Abraham Lincoln “Sweetbread” Bailey

The righthander fashioned a non-descript career with only six starts and 46 relief appearances, but this name must be on any list compiled in February.

Scott Diamond

Currently in the Twins’ rotation, the lefthander was a real Diamond in the rough in 2012 with a 12-9 mark, leading the league in fewest walks per nine innings. But in 2013, he was merely a rough Diamond.

Slim Love

At 6-7 and 195 pounds, we’re guessing his frame is the origin of the name. He won 13 games for the Yankees in 1918 and gave up only eight home runs in his career, but some who victimized him are memorable names: Swede Risberg and Hap Felsh of Black Sox fame, Smoky Joe Wood, George Burns and, of course, the Babe.

Lynn Lovenguth

The journeyman won 193 games in the minors for eight different organizations, but pitched a scant 27 innings for the Phillies and Cardinals in the 1950s. Evidently, Lynn wasn’t exactly the loving sort. He was reportedly kicked out of the dugout by his own manager, Cot Deal, in the minors for complaining about a lack of defensive support.


Jewel Winklemeyer Ens

The first baseman didn’t see much action in the majors, but he played with Hall of Famers Max Carey, Pie Traynor and Kiki Cuyler with the Pirates. Yet there was only one authentic jewel on that team.

Diamond Jim Gentile

With a nickname like Diamond Jim and a surname pronounced “jen-TEEL” the slugging first baseman must be in the Valentine’s Day lineup. He was third in AL MVP voting in 1961, the year Roger Maris hit 61 home runs, Mickey Mantle slugged 54 and Norm Cash batted .361.

Corey Hart

Hart was broken during the 2013 season in what ended up being his final go-round with the Brewers. He’s moved on to Seattle leaving Milwaukee, well, um, Hartless.

Rudolph Valentino Regalado

Yep, that’s his name. Whether or not the backup infielder made women in Cleveland swoon or not is unknown. But in 91 games for the Indians he had no effect on pitchers whatsoever.

Candy Maldonado

A personal favorite of mine ever since his pennant-clinching pinch-hit for my Strat-O-Matic team in 1989.

Baseball’s All-Time Valentine’s Day Lineup
Post date: Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 17:00
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /college-football/athletes-recall-impact-tennis-great-arthur-ashe
If the athletic record were our only method of judging Arthur Ashe’s impact on U.S. history and culture, it would be pretty impressive.
His life, however, was much more than that.
Ashe won three Grand Slam tennis titles — Wimbledon, U.S. Open, Australian Open — and was the first African-American to capture each. He was the first black man to be named to the U.S. Davis Cup team and reached the second spot in the ATP computer rankings in 1976. 
But Ashe was so much more than a trailblazing athlete, and his legacy goes far beyond the courts. He crusaded against apartheid in South Africa and the cruel treatment of Haitian refugees. His efforts raised millions for the United Negro College Fund and for inner-city tennis programs. Ashe established the African-American Athletic Association. As his friend, former Atlanta mayor and United Nations ambassador Andrew Young said, “He took the burden of race and wore it as a cloak of dignity.”
Ashe died in 1993 of AIDS-related pneumonia after contracting HIV from a blood transfusion during heart surgery. Though his life ended too early, Ashe’s impact on society was enormous and is celebrated below by athletes who remember his great influence.
Andrew McCutchen, outfielder, Pittsburgh Pirates: Arthur Ashe was a pioneer in athletics for African-Americans, breaking down barriers by being the first African-American to win a singles title in a Grand Slam. His accomplishments led to a great level of acceptability for African-American athletes throughout the entire sports world. He also persevered off the tennis court, battling HIV and AIDS, while using his platform to help toward treatment and cures for the deadly disease.
Ozzie Newsome, GM, Baltimore Ravens; Hall of Fame tight end, Cleveland Browns: Arthur Ashe was a champion both on and off the tennis court. He inspired a generation of athletes who otherwise would not have tried tennis to get on the courts. He used the notoriety he gained in tennis to improve the world, especially in education and toleration. His dignity was evident throughout his life, including handling a debilitating illness until he passed. While I did not know him, you could see he was a man of tremendous character, courage, intelligence and a role model for many of us.
Adam Jones, outfielder, Baltimore Orioles: His career as a tennis player speaks for itself. I think he is the greatest African-American tennis player that ever lived. But what sticks out to me is how much he did for others, when he could have done nothing. Through no fault of his own, he acquired a horrible disease, but instead of doing nothing, he raised awareness for HIV and AIDS research and started foundations that would carry on his legacy long after he had passed. To me, what he did after his tennis career is more important than what he did during it, and we should all strive to make the kind of impact Mr. Ashe did.
Tyrone Wheatley, coach, Buffalo Bills; running back, New York Giants and Oakland Raiders: Arthur Ashe picked up where Althea Gibson left off but did not settle for just breaking down barriers. He took it to another level. He wanted South Africa banned from the tennis federation. A lot of athletes who were at the peaks of their careers did not want to make trouble. They just wanted to collect their money. Arthur Ashe said, “This is who I am, and I am going to bring to light what’s going on.” His accomplishments for civil rights were not publicized, but he did a lot. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in team sports, but tennis wasn’t trying to include black athletes. It was trying to keep things the way they were. When you think about the strength it took every day to go through that, it did more than what he did publicly. I don’t know if I would have had the mental toughness to do that.
Mike Singletary, Hall of Fame linebacker, Chicago Bears: I think Arthur Ashe was before his time. He allowed a lot of African-American athletes and people of color to get interested in a sport that was very non-traditional for them. To bring the class that he brought and to play the way he played and to overcome the things he overcame in a sport that was not traditional for African-Americans speaks volumes about him. I’m very proud of what he was able to accomplish and what he was able to do.
Isiah Thomas, Hall of Fame point guard, Detroit Pistons: Arthur Ashe impacted America on the tennis court with his groundbreaking championship play. He not only shattered racial barriers with his play, but he inspired us with his dignity and grace – sometimes against amazing odds. He made us better and bigger people because of the way he handled the racial prejudices and social injustices he faced. He was often quoted as saying, “My potential is more than can be expressed within the bounds of my race or ethnic identity.” Today, we salute his memory. I thank him for not only opening doors to a level playing field in tennis and sports but for using his celebrity status to promote a more educated and just society.
Tom Jackson, ESPN analyst, linebacker Denver Broncos: Arthur Ashe was one of the greatest athletes ever, not only for what he did on the court, but off the court as well. The courage and class he showed when he was HIV positive, and the stigma attached to it back then, we should all aspire to be so courageous.
Keyshawn Johnson, ESPN analyst, wide receiver, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers: Arthur Ashe is somebody who achieved greatness against major odds. He showed me and many young people like me who grew up in the inner city, that with courage and perseverance, you can succeed in any sport or career you choose.
—by Michael Bradley
Main Photo Credit: Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo Item number 927-7839
Athletes Recall the Impact of Tennis Great Arthur Ashe
Post date: Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 15:08