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Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-danica-patrick

Have the GoDaddy domains been taken for “,” “” and “myboyfriendkickedmybuttforrookieof…” OK, you get the picture. Danica Patrick’s rookie year on the Sprint Cup circuit peaked early, with a pole at the Daytona 500 and her only top-10 finish (eighth). She led five laps that day, and believe it or not, that was the last time she was up front for a Cup race. Weeks of torturous performances followed, from ugly wrecks involving back-markers like David Gilliland and Travis Kvapil, to handling woes that were never corrected, to a two-laps-down 30th at Indianapolis — the track that transformed her career.  Danica Patrick

She did have a couple decent runs, particularly at Martinsville, where Patrick posted 12th- and 17th-place head-turners. But the learning curve proved to be a steep one for Patrick, who finished the season 27th in driver points — slotting behind two drivers (Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin) who missed a dozen races total between them.

That said, it’s still hard to overlook “Danica Patrick” off the track. She’s popular with fans, garners plenty of media attention, has a high-profile sponsor and drives a bright green and orange car that’s easily spotted in a crowded field on race day. Her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., could skyrocket into Chase contention this season. But part of the reason she stands out at Stewart-Haas Racing, a team that has suddenly built a stable of thoroughbreds, is how much worse she performs on-track by comparison.

Can things improve? Patrick will continue to work with crew chief Tony Gibson, a veteran leader with whom she communicates well. Beyond Gibson, SHR has infused some new blood into its other teams; Gibson was the only head wrench to keep his 2013 role. New additions mean new ideas that could benefit the No. 10 team while Patrick enjoys the steadying guidance of a familiar crew chief. She has been very willing to learn, and the team around her will be solid. Further, she’s received a hearty vote of confidence from team co-owner Stewart.

Patrick also has a sponsor eager to back her efforts in — along with a couple of races with Aspen Dental — meaning her team is financially set. SHR is also among the sport’s elite in terms of equipment. The cars are as fast as they are durable, with the organization experiencing just a single engine failure last year.

Behind the scenes, a cavalry of elite drivers has been assigned to help her. New teammate Kevin Harvick, in particular, took her under his wing privately last fall, while Martin looks to stay with the organization as a driver coach.

From an on-track perspective, there’s nowhere to go but up for Patrick, whose team and even NASCAR (although it publicly wouldn’t admit to it) are going to give her every opportunity to succeed. But the competition continues to improve around her.

Considering that last season was spent trying to beat those with a sliver of her cash and resources for 30th place, Danica needs to pick it up considerably if the results are to ever come close to matching the hype.

What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media

Despite her sub-par record in NASCAR, few garage insiders can argue that Danica Patrick doesn’t work hard at learning the stock-car trade.

“Very coachable and willing to try whatever it takes to become a better driver,” a rival crew chief says. “The expectations are honestly not that high if she can just improve over last season. GoDaddy is still pumping money into the coffers at SHR. She has two former Cup champions in her organization to learn from and with (Kurth) Busch, (Kevin) Harvick and (Tony) Stewart in the fold, she can actually fly under the radar. She hasn’t driven other stock cars, so her entire frame of reference is the COT/Gen-6 platform.”

And then there’s the “attractive woman” thing: “She’s always going to be viewed as getting her shot because of her looks,” says another. “But most forget that she’s still learning how to race a full-bodied stock car. She’s a small person and these are heavy cars. Even though there is power steering and other amenities in these cars, you still have to wrestle them around the track.”

“She’s not a proven winner,” another contends. “Her one Indy win was a fuel mileage deal. More tracks are going to get tires that wear out, and she’s never had to do deal with tire management.”

No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
No. 10 Dental Chevrolet
Owner: Tony Stewart/Gene Haas/Joe Custer
Crew Chief: Tony Gibson
Years with current team: 3
Under contract through: 2014+
Best points finish: 27th (2013)
Hometown: Roscoe, Ill.
Born: March 25, 1982

Photos courtesy of Stewart-Haas Racing
For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

Danica Patrick joins teammates Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick at powerhouse Stewart-Haas Racing on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit in 2014.
Post date: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 23:53
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-tony-stewart

Tony Stewart has an impeccable résumé. He’s an IndyCar Series champion, coming within a whisker of an Indy 500 victory. He’s a three-time NASCAR Cup champion, the only driver who can lay claim to a “Winston Cup,” “Nextel Cup” and “Sprint Cup” title. He’s currently tied for 13th on NASCAR’s all-time wins list with 48 Cup trophies on his shelf. Stewart is, without a doubt, one of the best drivers ever to grace North American motorsports.  Tony Stewart

But as the 2014 season opens, he’s also damaged goods.

Stewart’s racing career was derailed on Aug. 5, at a racetrack far from the spotlight of NASCAR, when he broke both bones in his right lower leg in a sprint car crash at Southern Iowa Speedway. He had to undergo three different surgeries on the leg, missing the remainder of the 2013 Sprint Cup season. Stewart is slated to return to the seat for Speedweeks, but there will inevitably be questions about his ability to race going forward.

“I have a huge appreciation for just daily things that I can’t do now,” he said in November, while still struggling to walk. “It’s like I have to plan, I have to think about stuff. When I go to leave, I don’t want to have to go back up those steps.”

Those are troubling words for a driver slated to go 200 miles per hour come Daytona. Even though “Smoke” has been cleared to race in the 500, he admits he’ll only be about 65 percent. For a driver who hasn’t raced in six months  — even one of Stewart’s caliber — question marks remain. Will he be less aggressive, subconsciously backing down when it counts due to worry or anticipation of pain? It’s happened before to injured drivers, and until Stewart has a few races under his belt, there’s no way to know what the aftereffects of the injury, physical or psychological, might be. Even this generation’s A.J. Foyt has his limits.

It’s important to note that Stewart’s 2013 season wasn’t exactly championship-caliber before the injury. He was in the top 10 in points only twice before the accident, for a total of two weeks. He did have a win, but his season started out so poorly that he didn’t look like the same driver he was in 2011-12. After Mark Martin posted similar results in a substitute role, crew chief Steve Addington was canned as part of an organization-wide reshuffling.

So in comes Chad Johnston from the No. 56 of Michael Waltrip Racing to lead the No. 14 team’s program. In two-and-a-half seasons together, Johnston and Martin Truex Jr. had one win and a lone Chase appearance (2012). Johnston is a risk-taker, armed with a youthful mindset, which is a good match for an aggressive veteran in Stewart. He’ll be one of three new head wrenches in all as the organization grows to four teams.

How that expansion happened will also have an effect on Stewart’s season. Co-owner Gene Haas made the decision to hire Kurt Busch himself, without consultation, while his partner was struggling through leg surgery. Stewart has downplayed any potential rift, taking the standpoint that you don’t cry over spilled milk. But it’s clear that Haas, enamored with Busch, will be more involved in SHR’s day-to-day operations, an abrupt change for a dogged independent like Stewart. As for the drivers themselves, Stewart, Busch and Kevin Harvick are championship-caliber, but all three are also volatile personalities. In addition, Danica Patrick struggled mightily in her rookie season and needs to improve. If things go south on any front, it could prove to be a distraction.

On the upside, Stewart-Haas Racing gets both chassis and engines from reigning champion Hendrick Motorsports, which should remain ahead of the curve on NASCAR’s Gen-6. Stewart’s 2011 title laid to rest questions of whether Hendrick was giving SHR lesser stuff, and with two new teammates to draw information from, playing “catch-up” could come more easily. Sponsorship from Bass Pro Shops, Mobil 1 and several smaller deals keeps this team top-tier.

The problem is, there are so many question marks: Stewart’s health, a third new crew chief in four years and a team dynamic with the potential to be explosive. It’s a little like a minefield — one wrong move, and this team goes from potential title contender to struggling. Stewart’s had a little of both the past few years, taking the racing legend full circle. As he turns 43 in May, it’s like he’s a rookie with something to prove all over again.

What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media

Despite age and injury, Tony Stewart is still viewed as the gold standard by his competitors.

“Stewart is probably the most well-rounded driver in the series,” one crew chief says. “Not only has he won races in everything he’s run, but he’s won championships in most of them. He’s a badass. He doesn’t care about anything but winning — even at this stage in his career. … He’s proven that he can win in the Chase format, and if he and Chad Johnston can learn how to make the car work on intermediate racetracks, he’ll give the field a run for the title.”

Despite the almost universal respect, there are questions surrounding the three-time Cup champ. “He’s recovering from the broken leg, and that could affect his stamina and may create discomfort while he’s driving,” another crew chief notes. “He’s also had consistency issues with crew chiefs. He is a team owner, and the requirements of running a race team can be a distraction. With the organization increasing to four teams next season — and Kurt Busch coming over against Stewart's wishes — the tension in the shop could be detrimental to his success. Stewart’s temper can get the best of him at times, and that can cause him, and his team, to melt down.”

Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers
: Truly one of the most versatile drivers in NASCAR, Stewart can win — and has won — on every type of track.
Pretty Solid Pick: He’s still a pied piper on the plate tracks — most notably Daytona, where he had the car to beat in last year’s 500 before it was totaled in someone else’s mess.
Good Sleeper Pick: His track record says a lot. But it does not say “sleeper.”
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Darlington, where Stewart is winless in his Cup Series career.
Insider Tip: Stewart has won a race in each of his 15 years in the Cup Series. Only twice in that time has he been limited to one victory in a season (and that includes 2013, when he sat out 15 races).

No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1
Owner: Tony Stewart
Crew Chief: Chad Johnston
Years with current team: 6
Under contract through: N/A
Best points finish: 1st (2002, ’05, ’11)
Hometown: Columbus, Ind.
Born: May 20, 1971

Photos courtesy of Stewart-Haas Racing
For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro


Tony Stewart will return to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing for the first time since August 2013 at Daytona International Speedway.
Post date: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 23:52
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-kevin-harvick

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than a dozen years since Kevin Harvick, at age 25, was thrust into the NASCAR spotlight, handed the impossible task of mending broken hearts just days after the death of Dale Earnhardt. Harvick rose to the challenge, winning two races in 2001 and propelling himself into the top 10 in points as a rookie, despite a temper that would plague him in the early part of his career. A roller-coaster relationship with team owner Richard Childress, built in the midst of tragedy, was often tempestuous in public. But it also produced terrific success — to the point that as of their divorce in November 2013, only Jeff Gordon had been with his current team for longer among the current crop of full-time Sprint Cup competitors.  Kevin Harvick

Now, at age 38, Harvick hopes to be this year’s Matt Kenseth, ending a long-term marriage with the hopes that his NASCAR mid-life crisis reinvigorates his prospects for a championship. His move to Stewart-Haas Racing should be a positive one — in fact, in what organization other than RCR would you expect him to seamlessly fit right in? He and team co-owner Tony Stewart are longtime friends with similar racing styles, and SHR’s equipment is a baby step above RCR’s. The team runs chassis and engines from 2013 champs Hendrick Motorsports, meaning that the cars will be both fast and reliable. While RCR is a championship team, it is also nearly 20 years removed from a Cup title; SHR has the 2011 Sprint Cup trophy in the case.

This full-scale reboot, one that has seen SHR also revamp itself, means Harvick will work with veteran crew chief Rodney Childers. Childers has won races with Michael Waltrip Racing, most recently the 2013 summer race at Loudon, in which he took a surprising win with part-time driver Brian Vickers. Childers is a bold head wrench, not afraid to push the envelope, which has gotten him in hot water in the past. During a period from 2007 through 2011, he was the most penalized crew chief in the series. However, with Vice President of Engineering Matt Borland and VP of Competition Greg Zipadelli still on board, there’s a mix of proven methods and new ideas that could prove beneficial.

Another point in Harvick’s corner is sponsorship. His major backers, Budweiser and Jimmy John’s, both move to SHR with the driver, joining with existing SHR partners for 33 races. The stats give good reason for these companies to stay attached; third in points in three of the last four seasons with RCR, Harvick posted four wins in 2013 while averaging a finish of 11.2 (second only to series champion Jimmie Johnson).

Harvick has matured — the temper is still there, but he no longer races every lap like it’s the last (33 lead-lap finishes last year attest to that). His nickname — “The Closer” — sticks better than ever these days for a driver who’s at his best in a race’s final segment. The question for Harvick, just a few months removed from having a sledgehammer thrown at him on national television, is whether he can keep things from getting personal in-house. In 2013, his team remarkably turned a “lame duck” year into a shot at the championship at Homestead despite internal strife. That alone should give him the benefit of the doubt. In fact, considering the volatile personalities of Stewart and Kurt Busch within SHR, it might be Harvick’s ability to stay calm that keeps this fragile house of cards intact.

So can a Kenseth-like run be in the offing? SHR was a little behind the game in 2013, although Stewart was heating up before an injury ended his season. During down times, Harvick will have to keep communicating, not just to Childers when handling gets rough but also in the shop on Monday. Hotheads typically produce horrific outcomes; there’s a reason why Hendrick Motorsports stays on top year in, year out. But Harvick has already put himself in position to deliver, privately working with Danica Patrick the last few months while downplaying his former dislike of Busch. Successful on intermediates, Harvick also brings Gen-6 knowledge to the table to shore up this organization’s largest weakness.

It’s all part of a brave new world for Harvick, who is finally stepping out of Earnhardt’s shadow to create a legacy of his own. The road ahead is paved with growing pains, but Harvick has managed to defy odds in the past, and things should be no different this season. Expect him to make the most of a chance to write his own chapter.

What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media

“Harvick was in the hunt until the end last season when he was a lame-duck driver,” a rival notes. “It takes a special person to stay competitive when tensions are so high and everyone expects you to fail. Harvick has won races in RCR equipment when the rest of the organization has been less than competitive. He hates to lose and can win on most any type of racetrack.”

“Harvick’s emotions need to be kept in check,” another says. “He can fly off of the handle on his team, his organization and his fellow drivers. He needs to learn that not everyone performs their best if they are being berated whenever they make the smallest misstep. He’s also going to a new team, and any time you go to a new team the chemistry takes a while to be established. He’s going to have to get along with Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart — and that could be a tall order when he gets together with one of them on the track, especially if he thinks one of them is getting better equipment.”

“I whiffed on Harvick big time last year,” one media member says. “He really is a different guy than he was just three years ago. And now that he’s in good buddy Tony Stewart’s house, I think big things are in store.”

Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers:
What makes Harvick so dangerous is that he — unlike many drivers — is capable of winning on any type of track. Plates and shorts seem to be his bread ’n’ butter.
Pretty Solid Pick: Teammates Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch (OK, and Danica) make for some mighty powerful drafting partners.
Good Sleeper Pick: Eleven top 10s in 13 Homestead races? How has he not won there yet?
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Very few. In the CoT/Gen-6 era, Harvick has recorded a top-5 finish at every track except Kentucky and Watkins Glen.
Insider Tip: Chemistry with Rodney Childers bears watching, but we don’t expect Harvick to miss a beat at “Uncles Smoke’s” operation.

No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s/Outback Steakhouse
Owners: Tony Stewart/Joe Custer/Gene Haas
Crew Chief: Rodney Childers
Years with current team: 1
Under contract through: 2016
Best points finish: 3rd (2010, ’11, ‘13)
Hometown: Bakersfield, Calif.
Born: Dec. 8, 1975

Photos courtesy of Stewart-Haas Racing
For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro


After a 13-year tenure at Richard Childress Racing, Kevin Harvick transitions to Stewart-Haas Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Post date: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 23:51
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-kurt-busch

At first glance, Kurt Busch’s move to Stewart-Haas Racing after a season at single-car Furniture Row Racing would seem like the driver won the lottery. Busch, a former series champion, took FRR all the way to the Chase in 2013, and despite not winning a race, finished inside the top 10 in points with a season-long 14.7-place average finish. It was the first time a single-car team made the postseason under NASCAR’s Chase format, with Busch earning more top 5s in one season (11) than the team accrued during its last eight years of existence. With equipment like SHR can offer, Busch is a no-brainer for a 16-team Chase spot this season and, in time, his second Sprint Cup title.  Kurt Busch

In reality, though, the move is a bit more lateral. It’s still a step up, but it’s a step up from Richard Childress Racing equipment, not that of an underfunded, single-car organization. FRR upped its technical alliance with RCR last year to the point where certain employees worked for both programs; despite its Colorado location, FRR was Childress’ de facto “fourth team.” And it was certainly no turn-key operation.

Even in that scenario, Busch remained impressive, earning this opportunity. As an RCR driver, he’d have ranked second only to Kevin Harvick in 2013 after handily outperforming Paul Menard and Jeff Burton. On the PR front, where Busch has posted failing grades for several years, he now rarely missteps under the guidance of girlfriend Patricia Driscoll, who has almost single-handedly remade his image. Even on the track, Busch seemed more controlled last season. Perhaps that was a result of a lack of pressure in a second-tier ride. Or perhaps, after hard lessons learned, Busch has finally grown up.

If so, what he gives SHR, at age 35, is a third title contender in the stable. Busch is a proven champion, along with new boss Tony Stewart, and if RCR cars are a step behind those in Stewart’s house, Harvick should be a favorite as well. What that all means is that if the three teams can share information effectively, it will only make the group stronger. But that’s not a given. All three are elite driving talents, but they are also incredibly volatile — with both Stewart and Harvick having had run-ins with Busch in the past.

In addition, when Busch was announced as the driver of a new, fourth SHR team with sponsorship from in-house Haas Automation, a company owned by team co-owner Gene Haas, Stewart made no secret of his initial dislike of the deal. After all, he had told the media months before that he was cutting Ryan Newman loose because there was no funding for a fourth program. Stewart has mellowed a bit by now, but there is the potential for internal strife. After all, just last April he wanted to punch Busch at Richmond, unhappy with the way he was being raced. But to be fair, Stewart typically wants to do that to someone on a weekly basis.

One team member who will play a key role for Busch’s newly numbered 41 this season is crew chief Daniel Knost. Knost was formerly an engineer for Newman at SHR, and 2014 will be his first season calling the shots for a team. How Knost communicates will be key to success. Even an older, wiser Busch still has a tendency to “lose it” on the radio rather than provide the useful information needed. Knost will need to be able to steer Busch back to fixing the problem rather than compounding it if the team is to be a consistent success.

SHR’s race chassis and engines come from Hendrick Motorsports, so that puts SHR a half-step ahead of RCR. Team owner Haas will make sure the team is well-funded, so there is no reason for Busch not to perform well right out of the box if he can work effectively with Knost. 

The key for Busch, more than any other piece of the puzzle, is to be patient and handle the pressure. It’s obvious that Stewart-Haas Racing is making a move to become even more of a powerhouse than it already is by adding Busch and Harvick to the lineup. But meshing could take time, adding frustration for a driver who has waited two years for that “one last chance” at a title-contending ride. If all goes well, this team makes the Chase, but where it goes from there is still up in the air; 2014 could be a bit of a building year for the future more than one of instant success. Can Busch handle that? In November 2011, no one would have expected he’d get this chance, and he’s done a great job of proving doubters wrong. But 2014 will undoubtedly be yet another big test.


What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media


“Putting the Furniture Row car in the Chase was an enormous compliment to just how good of a driver Busch is,” one competitor says. “He’s able to get the most out of anything that he can drive. His team knows that he gives 100 percent every single time he climbs in the car. And he seems to be a more relaxed individual now that he has his current girlfriend in his life.”

Looking forward, another says: “Busch is going to have to deal with the circumstances around his hiring at Stewart-Haas for some time until his teammates accept him. Whether it’s true or not, the thought that Busch was Haas’s guy and not Tony’s guy is going to weigh heavily on the whole organization. Busch has some lingering bitterness with his new teammates, and if something brings those feelings to the surface, it could get ugly.”

“Kurt has all the talent in the world, but can he co-exist with Stewart and Harvick?” one media member asks. “I can see a Stewart-Harvick clique that excludes Kurt. Despite Stewart saying all the right things, I don’t think he’s a ‘Kurt guy.’ And Haas making this deal basically without Tony’s and Zippy’s knowledge or approval provides an interesting glimpse into the power structure at SHR.”


Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers:
For all the talk about Busch being back in a competitive ride, it’s rarely noted that he’s won only seven races in a CoT or Gen-6 car — and those came bundled in four years while in Penske equipment.
Pretty Solid Pick: That said, he should parlay his new Hendrick/Stewart-Haas ride into strong showings at any number of places. Much like his new teammate, Kevin Harvick, Busch is versatile.
Good Sleeper Pick: Surprisingly, he’s never won a points-paying plate race. He’s got the dancing partners to do so now — if they can all get along.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Martinsville just continues to confound him.
Insider Tip: Will he be “one of the gang” or on an island at Stewart-Haas Racing? If nothing else, this will be fun to watch.


No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Haas Automation/State Water Heaters
Owner: Tony Stewart/Gene Haas/Joe Custer
Crew Chief: Daniel Knost
Years with current team: 1
Under contract through: 2015+
Best points finish: 1st (2004)
Hometown: La Vegas, Nev.
Born: Aug. 4, 1978



Photos courtesy of Stewart-Haas Racing

For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro


Can Kurt Busch co-exist with new teammates Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick at Stewart-Haas Racing? The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season will answer that question.
Post date: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 23:50
Path: /college-basketball/iowa-states-melvin-ejim-named-athlon-sports-player-week

At the end of January, Iowa State appeared to be falling back to earth after a 14-game wining streak to start the season.

After a 2-4 swoon, the Cyclones may be playing some of their best basketball of the season thanks in part to the play of Melvin Ejim.

Ejim set a Big 12 record with 48 points in an 84-69 win over TCU on Saturday, earning Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors. By adding 18 rebounds, Ejim joined Blake Griffin and Michael Beasley as the only three players to have 40 points and 15 boards in a game in Big 12 history.

Before Ejim’s breakout performance against TCU — admittedly the worst team in the Big 12 — the Cyclones senior had 22 points and 13 rebounds in a 98-97 triple overtime win over Oklahoma State. His double-double helped Iowa State end an 18-game losing streak in Stillwater.

Athlon Sports National Weekly Awards

National Player of the Week: Melvin Ejim, Iowa State

Ejim delivered perhaps the finest single-game performance in the history of the Big 12 conference. Iowa State’s senior forward scored a league-record 48 points (on 20-of-24 shooting) and added a career-high 18 rebounds to key Iowa State’s 84–69 win over TCU. Ejim bested the previous mark of 44 points, set by two Kansas State players — Michael Beasley in 2008 and Denis Clemente in 2009.

National Freshman of the Week: Marcus Foster, Kansas State
A lightly recruited guard from Wichita Falls, Texas, Foster scored a career-high 34 points — the most by a Kansas State freshman since Michael Beasley had 39 in March 2008 — to lead the Wildcats to a 74–57 win over Texas. Foster converted 13-of-16 from the field (including 5-of-8 from 3-point range) and has now scored 20-plus points in three of his last four games.

Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: Jordair Jett, Saint Louis
Jett scored 19 of his 25 points in the second half — highlighted by a bucket with four seconds remaining to break a 63–63 tie — to lead Saint Louis to a two-point win at La Salle. The Billikens, who have won 16 straight games overall, are 9–0 in the Atlantic 10.

Other Top Performers:

T.J. Warren, NC State
Warren scored 27 points (nearly half of his team’s total) and grabbed seven rebounds in NC State’s 56–55 win at Miami — the Pack’s first road win in ACC play this season. Warren, a sophomore forward, has averaged 23.8 points in his last six games.

Seth Allen, Maryland
Allen poured in a career-high 32 points, including 21 in the second half, as Maryland beat Florida State 83–71 in College Park. A sophomore point guard, Allen missed the first 12 games of the season with a foot injury.

Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss
Here’s a word you don’t often associate with Henderson — efficient. But that is the type of performance Ole Miss received from its shot-happy senior guard. Henderson scored 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting (8-of-15 from 3-point range) to lift the Rebels to a 91–88 win over visiting Missouri. Ole Miss has sole possession of third place in the SEC with a 7–3 record in league play.

Jaye Crockett, Texas Tech
Crockett was the forgotten star of a game that will unfortunately be remembered for Marcus Smart’s confrontation with a Texas Tech fan. Crockett, a senior forward, tied season highs in points (21) and rebounds (12) to lead the Red Raiders to a 65–61 win over Oklahoma State. Tech, under first-year coach Tubby Smith, improved to 4–6 in the Big 12. Last season, the Red Raiders went 3–15 in the league.

Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker bounced back from a subpar performance in Duke’s overtime loss at Syracuse to average 25 points and 12 rebounds as the Blue Devils coasted past Wake Forest and Boston College last week. The freshman from Chicago was brilliant Saturday at Boston College, setting a career high in both points (29) and rebounds (16) in the Blue Devils’ 21-point win.

Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State
Banchynski scored a career-high 26 points, but it was his work on the defensive end that secured the Sun Devils’ 74–72 win over Oregon. The 7-2 center blocked nine shots, including Joseph Young’s layup at the buzzer, to help Arizona State to its fifth win in the last six games. On Thursday, Banchynski had 17 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks in an overtime win over Oregon State.

Kadeem Jack, Rutgers
Jack and the Scarlet Knights bounced back from a miserable performance at Memphis on Tuesday to beat South Florida 79–69 on the road Saturday night. Jack, a junior forward, led the way with a career-high 31 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and a perfect 13-of-13 from the free throw line.

Xavier Johnson, Colorado
Johnson averaged 23.5 points and 9.5 rebounds as Colorado swept a pair of games from Washington State and Washington last week. In a 91–65 win over Washington, Johnson had a career-high 27 points and was one of three CU players to score at least 20 points (Josh Scott had 21 and Asia Booker had 20).

Iowa State's Melvin Ejim named Athlon Sports Player of the Week
Post date: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 13:14
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2014-sochi-olympics-what-watch-feb-10

Today's Highlights


8-11:30 p.m. Eastern

Spoiler alert: By tonight, all of this will have already happened, so if you want to go in fresh, avoid the usual sports sites today.


1. Alpine Skiing — Women's Super Combined
American sweetheart Julia Mancuso, known for busting out a tiara on the medal stand, chases gold in the nerve-rattling Women's Super Combined. She'll face off with defending Olympic champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany.


2. Alpine Skiing — Men's Moguls
American Patrick Deneen missed the podium four years ago in Vancouver after failing to execute a jump, but he'll try for redemption in the white-knuckle humps and bumps of the Men's Moguls.


3. Short Track Speedskating — Men's 1500m Field
One of the Winter Games' most thrilling and chaotic events, short track speedskating takes center stage tonight. Charles Hamelin, a 29-year-old Canadian, will try to elbow his way past a younger field for gold.

Post date: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 12:33
Path: /golf/5-key-stats-att-pebble-beach-pro-am

He didn't exactly put the foot on the gas during a stumbling Sunday 74, but Jimmy Walker is on some kind of roll. Walker saw his six-stroke third-round lead at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am dwindle to one, but he was able to coax in a five-foot par putt on 18 to finish off a one-shot win over Dustin Johnson and John Renner. The win is Walker's third in eight tournaments in the 2013-14 season — a start that puts him in some rare company. 

"There wasn't a whole lot to celebrate coming down the stretch today, it just felt like I was kind of leaking oil and I felt like I gave it a pretty good little, pretty good little outburst on the last hole," Walker said after a cathartic fist pump on Pebble's impossibly picturesque par-5 18th. "... Holy cow."

Holy cow, indeed. Walker sits atop the FedExCup and Ryder Cup points standings, and he's vaulted himself into the major championship conversation after playing in only six majors in what was, until recently, a nondescript career.

"I think I am more equipped," Walker said of the major opportunities in front of him. "I'm playing better than I have been. ... It's what you want to make it in your head, I think. I really look forward to all of it. It's going to be awesome."

Here are the weekend's key numbers:

4 Walker becomes the fourth player to win as many as three tournaments in eight or fewer events to start a season, joining Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval. Tiger's done it eight times.

4 Walker was also the fourth winner at Pebble Beach to shoot 74 in the final round, joining Johnny Miller (1994) and Dustin Johnson (2010), as well as Graeme McDowell at the 2010 U.S. Open.

23 Walker has improved his position in the World Golf Rankings by 23 spots in his first eight tournaments of 2013-14. He ended the 2013 season ranked 47th and is currently 24th.

-14 Jordan Spieth was a cumulative 14-under par in his first, second and fourth rounds of the tournament. A third-round 78, when Pebble Beach was baring its fangs, left him out of contention. He finished three shots back after a final-round 67.

1 Tour graduate Jim Renner made the cut for the first time in the fifth tournament of his rookie season, and he made it count, finishing tied for second, a single shot behind Walker. Renner did get a trophy for his efforts; he teamed with Consolidated Restaurant Operations CEO John Harkey Jr. to win the pro-am competition.


When your name is Woods and you play golf (and you bear more than a passing resemblance to your famous uncle), you feel a special kind of pressure. Cheyenne Woods, daughter of Tiger's half-brother Earl Woods Jr., did the family name proud this weekend, winning the Australian Ladies Masters on the European LPGA. But she's anxious to forge her own identity, which she's now well on her way to doing. "I've been pro for two years and, for the majority of it, people just think of me as Tiger Woods' niece, so now I have a game of my own and I have a title now, a win, which is exciting," she said. "It's nice now to say to people that I can play and I'm not just a name."

Post date: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 11:33
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-february-10-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 10.

There was a beach volleyball tournament involving models in South Beach over the weekend. Think about that as you trudge across an icy parking lot to work on a Monday morning.

• The Internet's full of Hot Sports Takes on the Michael Sam coming-out news. My lone link on the subject will stick to actual sports. Okay, one more: about how the team has known since August.

• The weekend's other big story: Marcus Smart was suspended three games for shoving a Texas Tech fan who may or may not have used a racial slur but did cop to calling Smart a "piece of crap."

• More evidence that Mark Richt has lost control: Here's a picture of him being arrested by Imperial Storm Troopers.

• Headline of the Day: "Rodman Drunk, Vomited, Defecated All Over Koryo Hotel in NK." You invite Dennis Rodman over, you deal with the consequences.

The Winter Olympics trudge along, with packs of stray dogs, dangerous courses, yellow water and Bob Costas' lazy eye. Speaking of Sochi, Steven Seagal talked about Olympic safety, because Steven Seagal.

Deadspin catches Rick Reilly plagiarizing himself. Again.

• Over the weekend, a couple of joggers bragged to a reporter about how great it is to jog in the snow. As they trotted off, one of them totally butt-planted, to the delight of the Internet.

Former Bama linebacker Keith McCants is fortunate that there's no "12 Strikes and You're Out" law.

• Suffice it to say that Blake Griffin is happy to have Chris Paul back.


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

Post date: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 10:51
Path: /college-football/college-football-2014-consensus-acc-team-recruiting-rankings
Body:,, ESPN and are the four major recruiting services who all do an excellent job evaluating, tracking and ranking all things recruiting.

But they don't always agree and that is a great thing for fans. It also means the best way to rank the best classes in the nation is to average them all together and come to a consensus. One service may value quantity while another may value quality. One service may really love one prospect while another may not feel as strongly about him. Each site has its own metric for evaluating a class. Again, this is why Athlon Sports publishes its national team recruiting rankings as an average of the four big sites combined.

After another stellar National Signing Day of winners and losers, here are the consensus ACC team rankings for 2014 — with the defending national champions adding yet another title to the trophy case.

• Florida State won its fifth straight ACC recruiting championship by claiming the top class in the conference yet again. Jimbo Fisher has totally flipped the state of Florida in his favor since taking over and it has paid obvious dividends. Much like Ohio State in the Big Ten, the Noles appear to be distancing themselves from their conference foes in impressive fashion.

• Miami and Al Golden quietly put together a stellar class. Dabo Swinney and Clemson did the same. These two programs are the only two teams in the ACC who are even coming close to competing with FSU on the recruiting trail. These three programs generally lead the way in recruiting for this league and it happened once again in '14.

• There seems to be some major disagreements among the recruiting services about the ACC. In particular, Scout seems to be down on the league's better classes. Scout ranked Clemson 28th, Virginia Tech 37th and Virginia 51st. Those numbers are 12, seven and 15 spots lower than their team ranking averages. Mike London's class, which tied Florida State with two five-star signees, was completely disrespected by Scout. Which brings us to...

• London needs to win games now. Virginia had an excellent, albeit smallish, class. The Wahoos finished 36th overall and seventh in the league as London has proven his ability to recruit in the state of Virginia and the Atlantic seaboard. With a roster that is better than half of the league, the fourth-year head man needs to start winning games on the field to keep his job.

• Dave Doeren did an equally impressive job in his first full class despite not winning a single ACC football game this fall. The Wolfpack appear to be rejuvenated on the trail as the second-year coach is poised to improve this NC State squad in short order. It certainly doesn't appear like the Pack can get any worse in 2014.

• The new kids on the block are still struggling. Louisville is accustomed to finishing first or second in the Big East in recruiting so ninth has to be disappointing. Recruiting has never been Bobby Petrino's strong suit but to compete in the ACC, the Cardinals have to be better than ninth. The same can be said about Syracuse's second-straight 12th-ranked class in the ACC. Paul Chryst and Pitt have been the best on the trail of the new teams and again finished in the top eight (seventh last year).

1.Florida St292143rd4433
4.North Carolina220329th29233132
5.Virginia Tech270430th27253731
6.NC State300232nd34302638
10.Boston College280047th52425742
11.Georgia Tech210049th54484754
14.Wake Forest260061st61596463


College Football: 2014 Consensus ACC Team Recruiting Rankings
Post date: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/top-10-big-ten-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.

The Big Ten has long been about running the ball on offense. Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin have some of the best running back traditions in the nation. But so does Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Michigan State and Minnesota. In fact, to be successful in the Big Ten during the BCS Era, you probably had a great running back. Here are the top 10 running backs 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. Ron Dayne, Wisconsin (1996-99)
Stats: 1,220 att., 7,125 yds, 71 TDs, 31 rec., 304 yds

Ricky Williams’ NCAA rushing record didn’t last for very long as the New Jersey native came along the very next year and put everyone in the history of the sport in his rearview mirror. Dayne is the only player in history with 7,000 yards rushing and is one of four players to score at least 70 rushing touchdowns. He carried the ball more than any player in NCAA history (1,220) and he owns multiple BCS bowl rushing records with his two Rose Bowl MVP performances. He capped his illustrious career with a magical 2,000-yard Heisman Trophy and Big Ten championship season. The consensus All-American won Big Ten Player of the Year, Maxwell, Walter Camp and Doak Walker recognition in his final season in Madison. His 2,109 yards in 1996 are still a Big Ten single-season record. His career 7,429 yards from scrimmage may never be broken.

2. Montee Ball, Wisconsin (2009-12)
Stats: 924 att., 5,140 yds, 77 TDs, 59 rec., 598 yds, 6 TDs

Ball won’t ever be confused with the most talented running backs of the BCS Era but few have been as successful and productive. No one player in the history of the sport has scored as many touchdowns (77 rushing, 83 total) as the Missouri native. He also finished fourth in the Heisman balloting as a junior and won the Doak Walker Award as a senior while leading the Badgers to three straight Big Ten championships. His 39 touchdowns in 2011 tied Barry Sanders for the all-time single-season record and Ball earned consensus All-American honors in both seasons. He is fourth all-time in Big Ten history in rushing and is one of just five players in league history to top 5,000 yards in a career.

3. Larry Johnson, Penn State (1999-02)
Stats: 460 att., 2,953 yds, 26 TDs, 65 rec., 681 yds, 7 TDs, 1,181 ret. yds, 3 TDs

The State College local prospect was starter for just one season, but it was special. He rushed for 2,087 yards (second all-time only to Dayne) and 20 touchdowns on 7.7 yards per carry in 2002, earning consensus All-American honors as well as the Doak Walker, Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards. He finished third in the Heisman Trophy race and brought elite size and speed to the backfield. His 327 yards against Indiana in '02 is the sixth-best single-game total in Big Ten history and his 2,655 all-purpose yards that year are still a single-season Big Ten record. He was a first-round pick of the Chiefs in 2002.

4. Anthony Thomas, Michigan (1997-00)
Stats: 924 att., 4,472 yds, 55 TDs, 79 rec., 762 yds, TD

From Louisiana originally, Thomas posted three straight seasons with at least 15 rushing touchdowns, and two seasons with at least 1,257 yards rushing. He posted 734 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns on the unbeaten 1997 national championship team. When he left school, Thomas was Michigan’s all-time leading rusher (since passed by Mike Hart and Denard Robinson) and was second all-time with 1,733 yards on a school-record (since broken) 319 carries in 2000. His 55 rushing touchdowns are tops in school history and fifth all-time in Big Ten history.

5. Chris Perry, Michigan (2000-03)
Stats: 794 att., 3,657 yds, 39 TDs, 64 rec., 569 yds, 2 TDs

Perry capped a solid Michigan career with an elite Doak Walker-winning, Heisman finalist season in 2003. He claimed Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and was a consensus All-American while rushing 338 times for 1,674 yards and catching 44 passes for 367 yards and scoring 20 total touchdowns. It was his second straight 1,100-yard, 14-TD season in a row as Michigan won 10 games in each of his final two seasons. Perry was a first-round pick of the Bengals in the 2004 NFL Draft.

6. Michael Hart, Michigan (2004-07)
Stats: 1,015 att., 5,040 yds, 41 TDs, 67 rec., 566 yds, 2 TDs

Along with Dayne, Ball, Archie Griffin and Anthony Thompson, Hart is one of five players in Big Ten history to top 5,000 yards rushing in a career. That is special territory. He is Michigan’s all-time leading rusher and carried more times than any player in Wolverines history. Hart was a tremendous leader who outworked his opponents and willed his team to victory week in and week out. He played in two Rose Bowls and capped his career with a win in the Capital One Bowl over Tim Tebow and Florida in head coach Lloyd Carr’s final game.

7. Damien Anderson, Northwestern (1998-01)
Stats: 925 att., 4,336 yds, 37 TDs, 54 rec., 490 yds

During the BCS Era, only five players rushed for more yards than Anderson did at Northwestern and one was a quarterback. His 4,485 yards are 10th all-time in Big Ten history and his 2,063 yards rushing in 2000 are fourth all-time in league history. Anderson owns ever major single-season and career rushing record for the Wildcats and he finished fifth in the Heisman voting after his memorable junior year. He was a consensus All-American and had he not missed four games his senior year, he likely would have topped 5,000 yards rushing.

8. Javon Ringer, Michigan State (2005-08)
Stats: 843 att., 4,398 yds, 34 TDs, 96 rec., 719 yds, TD

No one in Big Ten history has ever touched the ball more in a season than Ringer did in 2008 when he got it 429 times. He led the country with 390 carries (second-best in Big Ten history) and 22 touchdowns to go with 418 offensive touches and 2,051 yards that year. He split time during most of his career and showed in his final season what he could do with a full workload.

9. Laurence Maroney, Minnesota (2003-05)
Stats: 660 att., 3,933 yds, 32 TDs, 21 rec., 197 yds, TD, 667 ret. yds, TD

Had Maroney not split time with another one of the greatest Big Ten backs of the generation (more on that in a second), his numbers could have been unreal. He was just the third back in league history to top 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2003 and then first-team Big Ten honors as a sophomore and junior. He left school early and was a first-round pick of the Patriots in 2006. He is second only to the great Darrell Thompson in Minnesota rushing history and would have blown past Thompson's records (4,518, 40 TDs) had he stuck around for his final year.

10. Shonn Greene, Iowa (2005-08) Stats
Stats: 376 att., 2,228 yds, 22 TDs, 11 rec., 72 yds

This portion of the rankings includes some of the best single seasons in Big Ten history and Greene’s 2008 campaign is among them. Greene rushed for a school-record (eighth in the Big Ten) 1,850 yards and 20 touchdowns in '08. He was a consensus All-American, Doak Walker Award winner, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and finished sixth in the Heisman voting. Had he not missed an entire season while getting his grades up at Kirkwood Community College (2007), Greene probably would have been fifth or sixth on this list.

Just missed the cut:

11. Chris Wells, Ohio State (2006-08)
Stats: 585 att., 3,382 yds, 30 TDs, 15 rec., 84 yds

A five-star recruit, the player known as Beanie had big-time expectations heaped upon him when he got to Columbus. And he delivered by leading Ohio State to back-to-back BCS national title game appearances. He posted 576 yards and seven scores as a true freshman in ’06 before back-to-back 1,000-yards seasons in 07-08.

12. Marion Barber III, Minnesota (2001-04)
Stats: 575 att., 3,276 yds, 35 TDs, 21 rec., 190 yds, 1,029 ret. yds

Few players have ever been as tough to tackle as Barber. He rushed for 742 yards as a freshman before missing all but two games as a sophomore. He came back to rush for 1,196 yards and 17 TDs as a junior and 1,269 yards and 11 TDs as a senior. In short yardage and around the goal line, few have ever been more effective than this hard-charging Gophers tailback.

13. Anthony Davis, Wisconsin (2001-04)
Stats: 908 att., 4,676 yds, 42 TDs, 22 rec., 198 yds

The opposite of a one-year wonder, Davis was a stalwart for Wisconsin following Dayne and Michael Bennett. He rushed for 1,466 yards as a true freshman and 1,555 yards as a true sophomore, tempting people with a Dayne-esque start to his career. However, Davis battled injuries the rest of his career and he had to settle for the seventh-most rushing yards in Big Ten history.

14. Maurice Clarett, Ohio State (2002)
Stats: 222 att., 1,237 yds, 16 TDs, 12 rec., 104 yds, 2 TDs

People remember Clarett for many other reasons other than his stellar freshman campaign. He helped carry Ohio State to a unblemished national championship before challenging the NFL’s early entry draft rules. His career spiraled out of control but had he played three full seasons in Columbus, there is no telling what his numbers could have been.

15. James White, Wisconsin (2010-13)
Stats: 643 att., 4,015 yds, 45 TDs, 73 rec., 670 yds, 3 TDs, 750 ret. yds.

He was never the lead ball carrier for Wisconsin but his career is among the best in the history of the league. His 45 rushing TDs are ninth all-time, he played in three Rose Bowls on three Big Ten title teams and is a part of the most productive backfield in history. White (1,444 yards) and Melvin Gordon (1,609) rushed for more yards in 2013 than any backfield tandem in NCAA history.

Best of the Rest:

16. Brian Calhoun, Wisconsin (2003-05) 619 att., 2,760 yds, 27 TDs, 90 rec., 909 yds, 4 TDs
Led NCAA with 348 carries and 401 touches (53 rec.) and tied for NCAA lead with 24 touchdowns in 2005.

17. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska (2009-12): 635 att., 3,329 yds, 30 TDs, 60 rec., 507 yds, 5 TDs
Consummate professional and leader who helped Nebraska to three conference championship games.

18. Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State (2010-12): 671 att., 3,346 yds, 33 TDs, 78 rec., 531 yds, TD
Led the nation with 382 carries and posted 1,793 yards and 13 total touchdowns in monster junior season.

19. John Clay, Wisconsin (2008-10): 629 att., 3,413 yds, 41 TDs, 11 rec., 72 yds
Won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2009 with 1,517 yards and 18 TDs.

20. Ladell Betts, Iowa (1998-01): 832 att., 3,686 yds, 25 TDs, 72 rec., 702 yds, 2 TDs
Had at least 188 carries in all four seasons and is No. 2 all-time leading rusher in Iowa history.

21. Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois (2005-08): 388 att., 2,539 yds, 22 TDs, 59 rec., 564 yds, 5 TDs
Won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and got Illinois to its first Rose Bowl berth since 1983.

22. PJ Hill, Wisconsin (2006-08): 770 att., 3,942 yds, 42 TDs, 39 rec., 358 yds, 2 TDs
Burly two-star recruit turned touchdown machine. Topped 1,000 yards and 13 TDs in all three seasons.

23. Kory Sheets, Purdue (2005-08): 664 att., 3,341 yds, 48 TDs, 108 rec., 814 yds, 5 TDs, 789 ret. yds, TD
Do-everything producer who is sixth all-time in Big Ten history with 48 rushing touchdowns.

24. Fred Russell, Iowa (2000-03): 523 att., 2,760 yds, 17 TDs, 8 rec., 45 yds, 361 ret. yds
Posted two monster seasons as an upperclassman in leading Iowa to its first BCS Bowl (Orange, 2002).

25. Evan Royster, Penn State (2007-10): 686 att., 3,932 yds, 29 TDs, 61 rec., 562 yds, 3 TDs
Consistent performer posted three straight 1,000-yard seasons while playing all 39 games from 2008-10.

Top 10 Big Ten Running Backs of the BCS Era
Post date: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/10-things-you-need-know-college-basketball-weekend-feb-10

Let’s face it: There aren’t many reasons college basketball would dominate the SportsCenter conversation these days. Even with the Super Bowl over, there’s the NBA and the Winter Olympics to dominate coverage.

Then, Marcus Smart shoved a fan in the final seconds of a loss to Texas Tech. The weekend could have been spent celebrating Iowa’s first major win of the season, Melvin Ejim’s record breaking day at Iowa State or Marcus Foster’s one-man wrecking ball performance against Texas.

Instead, Smart’s outburst will dominate the news cycle. Was the fan out of control? Did Smart’s intensity get the best of him? The answer is probably yes to both. In any event, a player whose intangibles were above reproach to start the season are now in question.

That wasn’t even the only unfortunate interaction between fans and players this week.

More on the Smart situation is available elsewhere on Athlon Sports. Here’s the remainder of the major news this week in college basketball.

10 Things You Need to Know from the College Basketball Weekend

1. Oklahoma State’s season takes another bad turn
Losing to Texas Tech for four consecutive losses and five in the last six games is bad enough for Oklahoma State’s season. The three-game suspension for Marcus Smart related to the shoving incident is the latest blow to a team that’s limping through the Big 12 season. Michael Cobbins is out for the remainder of the season, Stevie Clark has been dismissed, and without Smart, Oklahoma State is down to a six-man rotation without its best player.

2a. Iowa finally got its big win
Two things we knew about Iowa when Saturday started: The Hawkeyes can demolish the teams they’re supposed to beat and they can’t close against teams closer to their league. That changed a bit Saturday was Iowa defeated Michigan 85-67 to end an 0-5 start against the RPI top 20. Sure, the game was at home against a team that’s slumping, and Iowa never really had to play in crunch time. Still, it’s good to see this Final Four sleeper team make a statement against one of the top teams in the Big Ten.

2b. Roy Devyn Marble should be near the top of the Big Ten player of the year discussion
Marble was dominant against Michigan, especially in the first half. The senior finished with 26 points, all but four before halftime. He torched Michigan from 3-point range, hitting 6 of 10 shots from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, he drew the defensive assignment on Nik Stauskas. Michigan’s star guard was limited to only six shots from the field and 10 points.

2c. Teams have figured out how to defend Nik Stauskas
Stauskas at one point was the MVP of the Big Ten back when he scored 19 points a win at Michigan State on Jan. 25. The last three games, though, have been a problem. Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Iowa’s Marble have been able to keep him in check as Stauskas is 5 of 15 from the field in the last three games. Michigan has been able to take a Big Ten lead without Mitch McGary, but the Wolverines clearly can’t absorb a slump from Stauskas.

3. Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim had perhaps the best game of the year
We’ve long been fans of Melvin Ejim around here, but Saturday was something new. Ejim scored a Big 12 record 48 points in the 84-69 win over TCU, a total that was also the best so far this season. He added 18 rebounds to put him in a class with Blake Griffin, Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant. More than the totals, Ejim was ridiculously efficient, going 20 of 24 from the field. TCU had no answer for him around the basket, but Ejim also hit two 3-pointers.

4a. Marshall Henderson did Marshall Henderson things
The Ole Miss shooting guard has been quiet in terms of his off-court persona, but he can still be just as prolific a 3-point shooter. Henderson scored 29 points on 8 of 15 3-point shots against Missouri, including two in the second half that held the Tigers’ rally at bay. The 91-88 win keeps Ole Miss in the NCAA Tournament discussion despite road losses to Tennessee and Kentucky in the last two weeks.

4b. Missouri is in trouble
Whoever is the No. 3 team in the SEC after Florida and Kentucky, it’s not Missouri. The Tigers have lost three in a row to fall to 4-6 in the SEC and haven’t defeated a top-50 RPI team since Dec. 7 against UCLA.

5. Marcus Foster demolished Texas
Before Melvin Ejim pushed 50 points later in the day, Kansas State's Marcus Foster was the player of the day in the Big 12. The freshman scored 34 points to halt Texas’ hot streak and to pick up a key 74-57 win for the Wildcats. Foster was the star of the day with 13 field goals to Texas’ 18 as a team, but Kansas State may have played its best all-around game of the year. The Wildcats had 13 steals and held Texas to 32.7 percent shooting to halt a 1-3 streak.

6. Wichita State should get to Arch Madness undefeated
For weeks, Wichita State’s two-game road swing against Indiana State and Northern Iowa appeared to be the primary barrier to being undefeated for the Missouri Valley Tournament. The Shockers conquered both without much trouble defeating Indiana State 65-58 on Wednesday and Northern Iowa 82-73 on Saturday. The Shockers won’t face another RPI top 150 team until it faces No. 102 Missouri State in the regular season finale at home on March 1.

7. The team of the week was SMU
SMU basketball is a thing in 2013-14. The Mustangs had been building for Big East, and now American Athletic Conference, inclusion for a few seasons. Now, that work, the hire of coach Larry Brown and arena upgrades have come to fruition. SMU had been an NCAA contender for several weeks, but Saturday’s 76-55 win over No. 7 Cincinnati signaled that something more may be on the horizon. Entering this season, SMU hadn’t defeated a ranked team since 2003, but the Mustangs have defeated three in 2013-14.

8. Gonzaga missed its golden opportunity
Memphis’ 60-54 win over Gonzaga is the Tigers’ best win as far as the RPI is concerned (it’s Memphis’ third-best win according to KenPom). Make no mistake, Gonzaga needed this far more than Memphis. In crunch time, Gonzaga flopped. The Bulldogs took a 9-point lead with 5:15 to go, but hit one field goal thereafter. Memphis outscored the Zags 17-2 over the final 4:51 for the win. Gonzaga is 21-4, but no lock for an NCAA at-large bid. The Bulldogs’ only top 50 win is over BYU at home. Memphis was only the third top 50 team Gonzaga faced all year, and the West Coast Conference isn’t going to help the strength of schedule the rest of the way.

9. North Carolina, Kentucky overcame slow starts to win games they should win anyway
North Carolina and Kentucky have had their problems with consistency this season, so let’s give credit where it’s due. The Tar Heels fell behind by 9 at Notre Dame in the first half, but made easy work of the Irish the rest of the way in a 73-62 win. Kentucky was tied on the road against lowly Mississippi State at the 7:34 mark of the first half before pulling away for a 69-59 win. It’s nice for both to pull away for comfortable wins, but these early lapses — plus perimeter shooting — aren’t great signs for either teams’ postseason hopes.

10. Adreian Payne returned this week, but Michigan State still isn’t back to full strength
Tom Izzo had plenty of faith Saturday in Adreian Payne, who returned Tuesday from a nagging foot injury. Down 3 in the final 15 seconds against Wisconsin, Michigan State came out of a timeout and called for Payne to come off a screen to hit a 3-pointer. Payne hit the shot to tie the game with 12 seconds left. Wisconsin answered with just as gutsy a shot as Treveon Jackson scored on a mid-range jumper for the Badgers 60-58 win. The story, though, is Payne who finished with 24 points. The game still reinforced that the Spartans aren’t playing at full strength as Keith Appling missed his second consecutive game with a wrist injury. Branden Dawson’s return is still weeks away.

Short stuff

• St. John's is making up for lost time. One of the nation's biggest disappointments around January, the Red Storm defeated Creighton 70-65 on Sunday night for its sixth win in seven games. Look closer, and this emergence has been on the horizon. The last three losses have been by 2, by 2 in double overtime and by 3 on the road against Creighton. St. John's is back on the bubble.

• Pittsburgh lost credibility in a win.  Pittsburgh needed two overtimes to beat Virginia Tech (8-15 overall, 1-10 ACC) on Saturday. The Panthers’ 62-57 win was one of the most unwatchable games involving a ranked team as Virginia Tech failed to hit a field goal in the final 13:07 — yet Pitt still needed two overtimes to put this team away. Lamar Patterson was dreadful, hitting only 1 of 9 shots against the Hokies.

• The Ducks are done. A team that started 13-0 will be hard-pressed to make the NCAA Tournament after Saturday. The Ducks fell to 3-8 in Pac-12 play in a 74-72 loss to Arizona State. The final score was close, but the Ducks fell behind by 20 early.

• Oklahoma got a win it needed to have by defeating Baylor 88-72. Isaiah Cousins, the Sooners’ fifth-leading scorer, finished with 21 points after a second-half surge. Before Saturday, Oklahoma had lost back-to-back road games to Iowa State and West Virginia.

• Minnesota ended a losing streak of its own, three games, with a 66-60 win over Indiana.

• Xavier ended a three-game losing streak by defeating Providence 59-53 to keep the Musketeers in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament spot. After a standout January, Providence has slid back to earth with three losses in the last four games.

• Arkansas finally picked up a quality conference road win with a 77-75 win over Vanderbilt. Before Saturday, the Razorbacks’ only SEC road wins under Mike Anderson were against Auburn.

• Georgetown won a game in which it shot 1 of 12 from 3-point range by defeating Butler 71-63.

10 Things You Need to Know from the College Basketball Weekend Feb. 10
Post date: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /nascar/nascar-media-roundtable-legacy-richmond-scandal

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.

Undoubtedly, the biggest story of the 2013 NASCAR season was the actions and ensuing fallout from the Richmond race. Five years from now, what will the legacy of “Spingate” be for the sport of NASCAR?

Ryan McGee ( The Magazine@ESPNMcGee): The lesson learned is that you have to think big picture before acting. One idiotic idea made the entire sport look awful for weeks. Past that, the legacy will be embarrassment. I think back on incidents like the nitrous oxide mess at Daytona in 1976 or the “jet fuel” disaster of ’07, even Richard Petty’s 198th career win, which came via an illegal engine at Charlotte. All of the people involved in those, from Darrell Waltrip to A.J. Foyt to Michael Waltrip, still get questions about those, even now, years later.

Over time it’ll fade and the topic will come up less, but this will be like the “black spot” for Michael, Clint Bowyer and Ty Norris. It’ll never fully go away. I just hope we don’t look back and say this was the night that Martin Truex Jr.’s career died.

Bob Pockrass (The Sporting News@bobpockrass): The legacy will be more scrutiny over every maneuver by every driver at Richmond and Homestead. Just listening to Brad Keselowski’s radio in the Nationwide race at Homestead and his asking about what he should do (with Penske teammate Sam Hornish Jr. in a championship battle) — and the reaction of fans that followed — means that this is not over. It is the nature of teammates to do subtle things to help teammates.

NASCAR has opened up a quagmire that it could have prevented if it just had penalized Clint Bowyer for intentionally spinning under caution. It also has opened itself up to scrutiny with an ambiguous “100 percent” rule as well as the precedent of adding an additional driver to the Chase.

Nate Ryan (USA Today@nateryan): In late September, in the wake of the announcement of NAPA’s impending departure, I’d have said the team orders scandal at Richmond International Raceway probably would rank as triggering the biggest sea change in 21st century NASCAR competition. But as with most Sprint Cup controversies that have a half-life of roughly three to five days, Richmond faded much more quickly than anticipated.

Aside from the Michael Waltrip Racing repercussions, its impact seemed negligible by the midpoint of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Its legacy will be more about how it challenged perceptions and changed the personas of the major players — Brian France taking charge and weathering crisis with his predecessors’ iron-fisted panache; Michael Waltrip facing the greatest escape act in a career filled with them; Clint Bowyer stripped of the happy-go-lucky charm that made him a favorite of fans and peers — than whether it significantly influenced philosophies in the long term.

Richmond will stand among the most apocryphal tales in recent NASCAR history, and it’s unlikely that such dirty pool ever will unfold that way again. But the multi-car business model and consistency-based points structure still ensure there will be future scandals of a similar ilk.

Nick Bromberg (Yahoo! Sports; @NickBromberg): Unfortunately for NASCAR, it will be the way that the incident was handled by the sanctioning body, simply because there will forever be a 13th driver listed in the (Chase) box score. Whether it’s via teammates moving over for another to lead a lap or a start and park car being entered to pull off the track early, manipulation isn’t a new phenomenon. No other sport would add another team to its playoffs, and the addition of Jeff Gordon will be forever annotated.

Mike Hembree (Athlon Sports; @mikehembree): Tighter scrutiny. It often takes an outlandish event like this to spur serious action by NASCAR, but, once it’s in place, it’s generally productive. Radio chatter isn’t as much fun.



Pete Pistone (Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio and MRN Radio; @PPistone): As much as some want to sweep it under the carpet I think the Richmond scandal will hang over the sport for years to come. The actions by MWR and NASCAR’s response by altering the Chase with a 13th driver will go down in history as a couple of dark days in the sport’s legacy while the “100 percent rule” is fraught with complications.



Mike Mulhern (; @mikemulhern): No, the biggest story of 2013 was Brian France pulling off the multi-billion-dollar NBC TV deal and getting FOX to also agree to funding the sport through 2024. “Spingate” will hardly be recalled next season, except as just one more poorly handled issue by NASCAR and the Daytona brass.



Photos 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

As part of the 2014 NASCAR season preview, Athlon Sports sits down with seven of the sport's leading journalists to answer the question of how the sport will deal with the legacy of Michael Waltrip Racing's “Spingate” scandal at Richmond in 2013.
Post date: Sunday, February 9, 2014 - 22:36
All taxonomy terms: Brad Keselowski, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-brad-keselowski

Ask Brad Keselowski how quickly one can go from “champ” to “chump.”  Brad Keselowski

One year after winning the 2012 Cup title, he found himself out of the hunt to defend his position atop the points after missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Unlike drivers Denny Hamlin or Tony Stewart, though, Keselowski didn’t get physically hurt. Instead, it was a year when the team mentally hurt itself. There was off-track controversy, including a February article that NASCAR saw as so scathingly critical that it earned Keselowski a one-on-one with CEO Brian France. There was a failed inspection in April, leading to a 25-point penalty, a lengthy appeal and crew suspensions that cost driver and team its rhythm. Then, there were the strategy shortcomings — losing races for everything from running out of gas to poor tire calls — that left both Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe at wit’s end.

“It’s been one of those years, where you say, ‘How much more can they throw at you?’” Keselowski said after Charlotte in October, the site of his lone 2013 win.

But Keselowski isn’t the type of driver to get down. Instead, after a strong Chase recovery that left him 14th in the standings, the best of drivers not to compete for a title is using the failed title defense as motivation. And a driver who excels when playing the role of underdog is good news for his Penske team as it moves forward.

In truth, driver and team aren’t really that far off. As an example, Keselowski's average finish in 2013 was 14.9. In 2011, with an average of 14.8, the same driver finished fifth in points. He hasn’t completely slipped, just slipped up at the wrong times. A wreck at Bristol in August that left him 30th was followed by a blown engine at Atlanta (35th). The two-week stretch cost him 60-plus points just before the Chase.

A manufacturer switch prior to the 2013 season also led to growing pains. But after moving from Dodge to Ford, Team Penske has quietly become a top Blue Oval team, outpacing current engine supplier Roush Fenway Racing down the stretch last season. Now in Year 2, they’re working more closely together, shrinking the information gap while gaining a level of mutual respect. Roush-Yates engines are durable (Keselowski suffered one engine failure last year) and produce good power. Penske’s two-car outfit may be a hair off of the top teams’ speed, but they’re plenty capable of winning races.

The most interesting move by Penske in 2013 was locking down Keselowski through the 2017 season with a contract extension. This move served a two-pronged need: granting the driver the raise he’d earned and, more important, keeping him in the fold.

When Keselowski jumped the Hendrick ship in 2009, team owner Rick Hendrick fired a warning shot, saying, “Wherever he goes, he’ll always be close enough for me to get him and bring him back. I’ve said all along I want him to have the best opportunity, and we have several options, but the one thing I told him is, ‘Look, if you decide to do something different, I want you to have the best opportunity, and whoever you go to drive for just tell them don’t get pissed off when I come after you.’”

With sponsorship on Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 team expiring in 2014 (AARP) and 2016 (Axalta) — and the veteran presumably exiting the seat sooner rather than later — Penske’s extension dodges a couple of Hendrick bullets.

Longtime sponsor Miller Lite will be back, but for only two dozen races — which tells us the driver got a well-deserved bonus for delivering “The Captain” his first Cup title. MillerCoors isn’t paying less; the asking price for sponsoring a title-winning driver and team went through the roof. Since, longtime Penske associate Alliance Truck Parts (eight races), as well as the Wurth Group (four), have come on board to fill out the season.

Wolfe will also be back at the helm, along with most of the crew, as both driver and chief believe 2013 was a mere anomaly. Wolfe and Keselowski are a formidable duo, calculating and aggressive. They communicate well and are able to adapt to a changing racetrack as well as overcome a bad situation during a race. They don’t often lose their cool, and that’s a big part of why they’re champions in a series that demands concentration and the ability to adapt. Wolfe is an excellent team leader, and his style yields results.

Given talent, equipment and the organization around him, it’s unlikely that Keselowski will stumble two years in a row. The team does need to improve on the intermediate tracks, where its average finish was a mediocre 17th. However, that late-season win at Charlotte, combined with four straight top-11 finishes to close out 2013, makes one think that most of the speed bumps are now behind them. Overall, the No. 2 team may still be a notch below Jimmie Johnson in terms of money, manpower and RPMs, but that gap didn’t stop Keselowski in 2012.

“A champion is forever,” he said at Homestead, not skipping a beat. “It might not be reigning, but you’re still a champion forever.  I’m proud of that.  I’m looking forward to the opportunities in the future to become a two-time champion.”

For Keselowski, those chances start right now. A Chase berth in a 16-team field is a lock in 2014 and a run at a second title wouldn't be a surprise.

What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media

“He’s the 2012 champion and he and Paul Wolfe continue to mature as a team,” a rival crew chief says. “Penske Racing will give him anything that he thinks he needs to succeed. Keselowski is still early on in his career development and can adapt to any variables thrown at him. He’s proven he can get more out of a car than most anyone, just look at what he did in JR Motorsports equipment and what everyone else has done in it since.”

“Keselowski is in a Ford, and they struggled for most of 2013,” another crew chief says. “Keselowski’s opinions can get him in trouble with the sanctioning body and that can add to the stress of the team. Another year of mediocrity could cause the talk of Kes being a one-hit wonder to surface.”

One media member asks: “The driver-crew chief duo is too good to not rebound, right? Last season was full of change for them: new manufacturer, new teammate, new alliance with RFR, new stature as the champ. I bet Kes & Wolfe learned a lot from it and it’ll probably make them better. Plus, I can’t help but think this team was penalized by NASCAR because of Keselowski’s pre-Daytona interview with USA Today. I really believe that.”

Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers:
It takes a special breed to excel at Talladega on a consistent basis — and the thinking here is that Keselowski is one of those types.
Pretty Solid Pick: Keselowski’s last four Martinsville results show finishes of ninth, sixth, sixth and fourth. He’s trending in the right direction.
Good Sleeper Pick: Though not often mentioned as contenders in Loudon, N.H., this bunch has runs of sixth or better in four of the last five races.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Nothing jumps out, but this is worth mentioning: In only four full seasons, Auto Club Speedway is the lone top-10 outlier on his résumé. That’s pretty impressive.
Insider Tip: Keselowski and Paul Wolfe are too smart and talented to suffer a second straight sub-contender season. Use as an A-lister on most any weekend.

No. 2 Team Penske Ford
Miller Lite/Alliance Truck Parts/Wurth Group
Owner: Roger Penske
Crew Chief: Paul Wolfe
Years with current team: 5
Under contract through: 2017
Best points finish: 1st (2012)
Hometown: Rochester Hills, Mich.
Born: Feb. 12, 1984

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro


Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Team Penske group shoot for a second NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in 2014.
Post date: Sunday, February 9, 2014 - 21:54
All taxonomy terms: Joey Logano, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-joey-logano

In the year in which he turned 23, the driver whom Mark Martin once called the “best of his generation” finally started living up to those lofty expectations. In his fifth Cup Series season, Joey Logano had a career year in 2013 after moving to Team Penske from Joe Gibbs’ operation, stabilizing the No. 22 car after becoming its fourth different driver in less than two years.  Joey Logano

Logano ran up front consistently, won from the pole at Michigan in August, and then made the Chase for the first time in his career. An eighth-place points finish was eight spots better than his previous best of 16th (2010). Logano also showed that he wouldn’t back down from conflict, either in or out of the race car. In one turn — on the last lap at Fontana — contact with Denny Hamlin altered a season, while older drivers learned to think twice about messing with a youngster coming into his own.

Now, the trick for Logano in 2014 is to remain among NASCAR’s elite. Can he? Yes, and with an expanded Chase field, he shouldn’t have an issue with a postseason bid — even if teammate Brad Keselowski, along with 2013 injury victims Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin, return to form.

At least Logano comes to battle armed with a solid support system. No major changes are expected on the No. 22 team this year, allowing Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon to build on the foundation they established in 2013. While he’s relatively new to the Cup scene, Gordon has been around the block in the sport, and he understands how to handle the young Logano well. Their pairing shows how chemistry can be fickle: With Gordon, Logano has already equaled the wins scored with Tony Stewart’s right-hand man, Greg Zipadelli, with whom he was paired at JGR from 2009-11.

Perhaps most important, the youngster has a true mentor in Keselowski. The former Cup champ has taken the driver under his wing, building a relationship that inspires a level of confidence that Logano never had at JGR. The 2013 season showed, through the off-track comments of Kyle Busch and the on-track rivalry with Hamlin, that JGR wasn’t exactly “Three’s Company.” Everyone at Penske has invested in Logano’s growth over the long term.

That sense of security extends to the boardroom. Team Penske announced in late 2013 that sponsor Shell-Pennzoil had signed a multi-year deal to remain the primary sponsor of the No. 22 for the foreseeable future. It’s a major vote of confidence; previous funding deals for Logano had been in place prior to his taking the wheel of a ride, but Pennzoil’s re-upping was all about him — and Roger Penske’s empire didn’t hurt, either.

So why is he still on the Chase bubble? One easy answer is equipment. The team made the switch from Dodge to Ford prior to last season and rivaled Roush Fenway Racing as the top Ford operation. That said, the Blue Oval crowd spent the season’s first half chasing its tail while Chevy and Toyota ran circles around them. It’s a small gap, one that superstars like Keselowski and Carl Edwards still overcome through skill and veteran experience. Can Logano be placed in that category? Roush-Yates engines, while stout, also failed in the opening Chase race, killing momentum. Two failed motors will be two too many in 2014.

The road also gets a bit rocky when it comes to consistency. Logano didn’t really have a pattern to his performances in 2013 — he had strong runs in initial track visits and not-so-strong runs the second time around, or vice versa. There wasn’t one type of track that the team could look at as an area of overall strength. That’s good in the sense that there are no glaring weaknesses, but it makes it harder to focus on specifics. The team also needed recovery time from a September distraction in which it was accused of conspiring with Front Row Motorsports to earn Logano more points at Richmond. Nothing was ever proved, and while Logano would have made the Chase regardless, questions dogged him far into the postseason.

That makes 2014 a critical year. On paper, it’s easy to count the youngster out due to the history of “sophomore slumps” with new teams and the experience of drivers around him. But at some point, Martin’s prediction needs to come true. A superstar is no one-year wonder; can Logano finally shed the critics for good?

Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers:
Logano has become quite the intermediate tracker. The bigger the better — think Atlanta, Auto Club, Texas, et al.
Pretty Solid Pick: His win-from-the-pole performance at Michigan last year was pretty impressive, no?
Good Sleeper Pick: Think past his Dover tumble in 2009 and realize that he has four consecutive top 10s on the concrete high banks.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Since scoring a pair of top 10s at Martinsville in 2010, he’s limped to a 17.8-place average (zero top 10s) in the six races since.
Insider Tip: Logano found himself in some scrapes early in the 2013 season but rebounded to post personal bests for points finish, top 5s, top 10s, laps led and average finish. The thinking here is the kid’s finally for real.

What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, competitors and media
“He’s doing well with his teammate at Penske,” a rival crew chiefs says. “Logano was one of the few drivers to win in a Ford last season. And honestly, he was rushed into the Cup Series before he was ready — he’s just now getting to the point where he should have been beginning to figure out how it works at this level. That said, he’s going to be second fiddle to Brad Keselowski until he’s able to match him by winning a title in the Cup Series.”

While last season’s improvements were obvious to any observer, another crew chief says that there are still questions about the 23-year-old: “Some drivers feel like he’s been given his ride and hasn’t earned it. Plus, he just got engaged, and there are a lot of times that a commitment to a woman can derail a driver’s career. Also, his dad can be a bad influence. Logano is at a point in his career that he needs to get out from his daddy’s shadow.”

“Logano’s success last season was two-pronged,” says a media member. “One, he needed to get out at JGR; that place was doing him no favors. Two, he landed at possibly the best spot he could with a big-money sponsor and a defending-champion teammate welcoming him with open arms.”

No. 22 Team Penske Ford
Owner: Roger Penske
Crew Chief: Todd Gordon
Years with current team: 2
Under contract through: 2015
Best points finish: 8th (2013)
Hometown: Middletown, Conn.
Born: May 24, 1990

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

Joey Logano crew chief Todd Gordon lead the No. 22 Team Penske group into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Post date: Sunday, February 9, 2014 - 21:31
All taxonomy terms: Marcos Ambrose, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-marcos-ambrose

After improving steadily for three seasons — on the track and in the points standings — Marcos Ambrose still wasn’t much of a week-to-week contender for NASCAR’s Chase in 2013. But a distinct ability to win on road courses, combined with the occasional oval-track success, always kept the Chase door slightly open for him to make it in as a wild card entrant when the payoffs were a 12-driver affair.  Marcos Ambrose

Alas, the streak of improvement unraveled with a nightmare year in 2013. Ambrose failed to win a third straight Cup race at Watkins Glen, the site of his lone premier series triumphs. Even worse, he failed to notch a top-5 finish anywhere (road course or oval) for the first time in his Cup career. That meant Ambrose wasn’t in the hunt for an outside Chase berth down the stretch. In fact, he wasn’t even close.

Amid a deep pool of impressive young drivers working their way up the ranks, improved results for Ambrose might be necessary for the former Australian V8 Supercars champion to stay with Richard Petty Motorsports for a fifth season in 2015. That’s if he even wants to stay; the last two years, rumors have run rampant that Ambrose has given serious thought to returning to Australia, where Ford would put him in a top-tier ride, before choosing to remain in the States.

Either way, the No. 9 seat is a year-to-year deal. That leaves Ambrose vulnerable if the youth movement now beginning in the sport’s top level continues to take shape. It’s a demographic the 37-year-old Ambrose is no longer a part of. Instead, his seat happens to be a perfect landing spot should Ford or RPM — now with three development drivers under its umbrella after Dakoda Armstrong joined Corey Lajoie and Ryan Truex late in the 2013 season — decide a new driver in its portfolio is more deserving of a Sprint Cup opportunity.

But those are all “what-ifs” for now. What can we legitimately expect from Ambrose in 2014?

Well, 18th-26th-place ranking over the last five years doesn’t exactly exude confidence. Nor does his alliance with the manufacturer that struggled the most in 2013.

Overall race speed for RPM was a problem last season. Between Ambrose and teammate Aric Almirola, the organization led a total of just 82 laps. Ambrose’s average running position also dropped 2.6 spots, to 19.5, illustrating a sustained drop of pace. Even hiring crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, a former Roush wrench who led Matt Kenseth to the 2009 Daytona 500, hasn’t put RPM equipment in sync.

The introduction of the Gen-6 chassis may be partly to blame, but the distinct struggles of most Ford teams last year played a big role, too. RPM operates in conjunction with Roush Fenway Racing, the kingpin of a Blue Oval hierarchy. However, there are many drivers — like Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano — who simply get the fruits of improvement from a manufacturer before RPM. Such is life on the NASCAR totem pole, where this organization’s two-car tandem is sixth and seventh in line, respectively.

Will info trickle down to Ambrose and make an impact beyond the road courses? Eh. A future trip back Down Under seems more likely.

What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, competitors and media
Marcos Ambrose has developed the reputation of being a one-hit wonder — as in, only hitting it out of the park on one type of track.

“His strength is obviously road courses,” one competitor notes. “Most of those guys with that background, whether it is Juan Pablo Montoya or Marcos, shine at those tracks, but there are typically only two of them a year. His positives are definitely the road courses.”

We’re not breaking any news with that assessment. But one area of his performance that seems to have taken a dip is on the intermediate tracks.

“I think the program at RPM isn’t doing him any favors in that respect,” a media member says. “There is a hierarchy in any program, and Ford Racing’s priorities are with Roush and Penske. Plus, Ambrose is all RPM can afford. He seemed most successful on the ovals with Todd Parrott atop his box, and that’s gone now.”

“He needs to work on the ovals,” says another crew chief. “He seems to either be in contention or completely out to lunch. He needs to find a balance where they’re able to score decent points every race on ovals instead of being so inconsistent.”

No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
DeWalt/Stanley Tools/Twisted Tea
Owners: Andy Murstein/Doug Bergeron/Richard Petty
Crew Chief: Drew Blickensderfer
Years with current team: 4
Under contract through: 2014
Best points finish: 18th (2009, ’12)
Hometown: Launceston, Australia
Born: Sept. 1, 1976

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

For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

Marcos Ambrose and his no. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports team face a make-or-break year on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit in 2014.
Post date: Sunday, February 9, 2014 - 21:15
All taxonomy terms: Aric Almirola, NASCAR, News
Path: /2014-nascar-driver-profiles-aric-almirola

Plenty of the elements around Aric Almirola’s ride in Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 remain the same from last year to this year. The team is sticking with Ford, Marcos Ambrose returns as his teammate, and primary sponsorship from Smithfield Foods, among others, remains solid amid a swarm of investor cash.  Aric Almirola

Yet one big shift — one that Almirola dealt with in the final races of the 2013 season — could have some negative effects on the team’s performance going forward. It’s big enough that Almirola, considered a long-shot threat at best to make the Chase last year, could see a sizable drop in on-track production come 2014. That shift is the loss of crew chief Todd Parrott.

Parrott, known mostly in NASCAR circles for commanding Dale Jarrett to the 1999 Cup Series title and a pair of Daytona 500 wins, was suspended by the sanctioning body late last year for violating the sport’s substance abuse policy. He was fired from RPM a week later.

One of the sport’s most experienced and respected head wrenches, Parrott seemed to have instilled some confidence in Almirola. That came with solid car setups capable of contending, especially at the 1.5-mile tracks that dot so much of the schedule. Early in 2013, Parrott led Almirola to consecutive top-10 finishes at Texas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Richmond International Raceway.

That stretch was the highlight of Almirola’s campaign before he unexpectedly faded some down the stretch, scoring just one top-10 run in the final 17 races. That finish also came at Kansas, one of his best tracks in recent seasons.

After interim crew chief Greg Ebert did little, Parrott has been replaced for 2014 by Trent Owens, a former Nationwide Series crew chief for both Braun Racing and Turner Scott. Between the two teams, Owens has five career wins from atop the pit box, but the vaunted No. 43 will be Owens’ first Sprint Cup gig.

When RPM announced Owens, Almirola was quick to dispel a notion that the new crew chief would cause a seismic shift.

“Our team is the same,” he says. “We’re getting better, but we need more top 10s, top 5s and wins. I believe Trent can help us do that.”

But this duo faces the challenge of going to battle with a manufacturer that fell behind on-track in 2013. The typical lack of speed from the Ford camp last season could set a low ceiling that no crew chief can fully overcome.

No matter the result, 2014 may be a pivotal campaign for the Floridian’s future. RPM isn’t where Almirola can reach the top rungs of the sport, but it’s also not a place where he’s been able to dazzle routinely in mid-level equipment. In short, it’s been a marriage of convenience. RPM investors still seek “big-name” drivers, making runs at Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch in recent years, leaving Almirola vulnerable should he endure a year of bad performances.

Should he keep progressing — Almirola bumped his lead-lap finishes from 15 to 24 in one season — he’ll likely be OK. But RPM hasn’t made it easy on him.

What the Competition is Saying:
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, competitors and media
Aric Almirola is a qualified driver working with the most revered icon in the sport.

“Almirola has the wisdom of Richard Petty to lean on to help develop his career,” a rival crew chief says. “He has a very solid relationship with his sponsors — of which the Air Force is one — so he will not have to worry about making it to the racetrack on a given race weekend.”

Regardless of talent, the organization for which he drives is only capable of so much, though: “Richard Petty Motorsports is a complete customer race shop,” says another crew chief. “They purchase everything. They only have a finish operation — they don’t fabricate anything on their own. Ford was behind with the Gen-6 car (last) season, and if they don’t make progress this year, he’ll be fighting an uphill battle against the other manufacturers.”

There are also questions about his life away from the track — and how changes in one’s personal life can affect focus. Says another crew chief: “Almirola is a new dad. Several drivers have struggled after welcoming their first child into the world.”

No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
Smithfield Foods/US Air Force/STP/ From Florida
Owner: Andy Murstein/Doug Bergeron/Richard Petty
Crew Chief: Trent Owens
Years with current team: 3
Under contract through: 2014
Best points finish: 18th (2013)
Hometown: Tampa, Fla.
Born: March 14, 1984

Top photo courtesy of NASCAR; Almirola courtesy of Action Sports, Inc.

For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

Aric Almirola and new chief Trent Owens lead the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 team into the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Post date: Sunday, February 9, 2014 - 21:00
Path: /college-basketball/fan-shoving-incident-tarnishes-difficult-season-marcus-smart

In an interview before the season, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart said Texas Tech was his least favorite opposing arena.

“The atmosphere just isn’t there,” he said.

On Saturday, the atmosphere at Texas Tech was too much.

Smart, a preseason All-American and one of the top prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft, shoved a fan in the final seconds of Oklahoma State’s 65-61 loss to Texas Tech in Lubbock.

As he fouled Texas Tech’s Jaye Crockett on a fast break layup attempt, Smart fell to the floor behind the basket. As he got up, Smart reacted to a man in the front row behind the baseline, shoving Texas Tech spectator Jeff Orr.


Less than 24 hours later, the Big 12 suspended Smart three games, and Smart issued an apology. Smart's return will be Feb. 22 during a home game against this same Texas Tech team.

In a statement released by Texas Tech, Orr volunteered not to attend Texas Tech basketball games, home or away, for the remainder of the season. Orr also iindicates he called Smart a "piece of crap." Texas Tech also released a video with inconclusive audio.

A Cowboy Radio Network analyst told the Tulsa (Okla.) World he heard Smart tell Oklahoma State coaches that a fan called Smart a racial slur. In a Sunday afternoon news confernece, neither Smart nor Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford provided details on what the spectator said.

"I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere apologies to Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, Tubby Smith and the Texas Tech Men's Basketball program," Orr said in the statement. "My actions last night were inappropriate and do not reflect myself or Texas Tech - a university I love dearly. I regret calling Mr. Smart a 'piece of crap' but I want to make it known that I did not use a racial slur of any kind."

What’s clear is that no party comes out of this with any way to save face:

• Smart committed one of the most egregious acts an athlete can commit by physically confronting a spectator. The incident comes only games after Smart apologized on Twitter for losing his composure after a loss to West Virginia.

• The Big 12 officials assessed a technical foul on Smart but didn’t eject him, saying the rule book doesn’t provide for a disqualification for a player-fan confrontation.

• The Oklahoma State staff allowed Smart to linger on the court and on the bench despite only 6.2 seconds remaining in a game that had been decided. When Smart finally left the floor, the game had ended and Texas Tech fans were rushing the court. A incident could have escalated quickly.

• Orr’s conduct at games came under scrutiny following the incident.

The next step will be a suspension handed down by the Big 12 and Oklahoma State, probably both. The Cowboys have eight games remaining before the conference tournament.

The suspension, though, may end up being a footnote to how the incident shapes Smart’s reputation from now on.

Anyone who follows college basketball knows Smart as the player who came up from extreme poverty, who is one of the game’s great leaders and who shocked everyone by making a calculated risk to skip the NBA Draft.

Smart knew what he was getting into by returning to school — delaying his first NBA contract by a year and risking a drop in the draft. He often talked of the reward of returning and spending another year as a college student.

Smart also has to know he won’t escape this incident. College basketball is a niche game until the NCAA Tournament. Now, scores of fans know Smart as for this ugly confrontation first and the rest of Smart’s background second, if at all.

Entering this season, Smart's greatest assets were his maturity, leadership and intangibles. All that is in question.

Now, Oklahoma State’s season has spiraled out of control. An injury to Michael Cobbins hurt depth in the frontcourt. Smart’s backup, Stevie Clark, was kicked off the team after his second legal incident of the season. A team that was expected to contend for the Big 12 title has slipped to 4-6 and almost certainly will slide even further while Smart is suspended.

Smart himself has struggled. He had one of the nation’s most dominant performances of any player early in the year against Memphis. The last few weeks had been forgettable until Saturday. His reputation for flopping has been criticized. After a dismal game against West Virginia, Smart stormed off the court in a huff.

Smart returned to school to compete for a championship and dismissed criticism that he should have taken his shot at the NBA Draft.

“I bet on myself,” Smart told Athlon Sports in a preseason interview. “I know what I can do. I believe in my ability.”

Fan Shoving Incident Tarnishes Difficult Season for Marcus Smart
Post date: Sunday, February 9, 2014 - 17:42
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oklahoma Sooners, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/oklahoma-qb-blake-bell-moving-tight-end

With Trevor Knight entrenched as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback, Blake Bell is looking for a way to get on the field. Bell started eight games at quarterback in 2013, but the coaching staff plans to move the Kansas native to tight end this spring.

Knight finished the season with a standout performance against Alabama, completing 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl.

Bell came into the 2013 season as a potential All-Big 12 quarterback but never settled into the No. 1 role.

At 6-foot-6 and 252 pounds, Bell has the size to be a nightmare matchup for opposing defensive backs. And with Oklahoma losing Lacoltan Bester and Jalen Saunders, more weapons for Knight are needed in 2014.

On paper, this seems like a good move for Oklahoma. If Bell transitions to his new role, he could be a valuable piece of the passing game next season.

Oklahoma QB Blake Bell Moving to Tight End
Post date: Friday, February 7, 2014 - 16:59
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /5-crazy-things-watch-sochi-olympics

The Sochi Winter Olympics are the Games of the XXII Olympiad. They are also shaping up to be a potential dumpster fire on all fronts — politically, socially and athletically. The infrastructure to host 2,850 Olympians from 88 countries, plus fans and media, doesn’t appear to be in place. The government is playing by its own rules, as usual. And there are 17 days to make it through before breathing a sigh of relief for a job, well, done.

Collectively, everyone is rooting for Sochi to stick the landing, so to speak. But these are five things to keep an eye on during the 2014 Winter Olympics:

1. Vladimir Putin
Russia’s President is a real life James Bond villain. The 61-year-old former KGB Lieutenant Colonel rides shirtless on horseback, hugs snow leopards and is rumored to have a lovechild with reported girlfriend Alina Kabayeva, an Olympic gold medalist in rhythmic gymnastics. She’s like Kate Upton if she could put her leg behind her head. Well played, Putin.

There is nothing Putin could do that would be shocking. The man is scheming a $50 billion Winter Olympics in Sochi, whereas the 2010 Vancouver Olympics cost only $7 billion. Brilliant. Putin loves “sport” — he hunts, skates, shoots and scores — so the Sochi stage could provide an opportunity for another surreal photo-op or GIF from the larger-than-life (and terrifying) character.

2. Toilet Humor
Don’t flush the toilet paper. Try not to bother the person sitting on the toilet next to you, even though there may or may not be a dividing stall wall. Don’t go fishing in the toilet. These are just a few of the key rules when going to the bathroom in Sochi. And it’s just the beginning of the tweets and Instagram photos exposing the underwhelming facilities.

3. Homophobia
Much has been made of the lack of human and civil rights in Sochi — which, according to Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov, has no gay people in the town of nearly 400,000 people. Despite the propaganda and paranoia, the government is showcasing Russian pop duo t.A.T.u., a pseudo-lesbian act most well known for kissing each other in a school-girl outfitted, wet tee-shirt contest music video 10 years ago.

4. Terrorism
In December 2013, two suicide-bomb attacks at Volgograd train station — some 14 hours north of Sochi, but still — killed 32 people and injured nearly 100. The state government believes the criminal mastermind in charge of the jihadist group was killed earlier this week. But ominous threats were made by members of the group and, on the day of Opening Ceremonies, a passenger attempted to hijack a plane headed for Sochi. The Olympics are intended to be a peaceful gathering of nations. Hopefully there will be no rogue attacks (especially with toothpaste bombs). But the threat of terrorist activity is definitely a dark cloud lingering over these games.

5. Injuries
Team USA’s highest profile snowboarder, Shaun White, injured his wrist training on Sochi’s slopestyle course and immediately withdrew from the event, saying “the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympic goals on.” White’s not the only athlete who has already been injured on the slopestyle course; there have been broken collarbones and injured knees.

Since Sochi has a subtropical climate, there is concern that the course — which is roughly 656 feet long and includes jumps 18- and 72-feet high — was overbuilt in anticipation of melting. If Putin doesn’t flex his muscles, the toilets don’t overflow, there are no hate crimes or terrorist activity, there could still be ACLs popping and wicked, life-threatening spills taken to cement the legacy of the Sochi Olympics.

The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics could be the wildest ever
Post date: Friday, February 7, 2014 - 14:42
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-signing-day-recap

The Cover 2 makes its return after a brief hiatus to talk all the big-picture news from Signing Day.

Braden Gall and David Fox explain why Alabama’s day was almost non-news and why Tennessee and Kentucky turned out to be the big winners.

Charlie Strong at Texas gave us a reason to look into recruiting in the state of Texas and whether his words about the virtues of being a “gadget program” have merit. Has Strong already fallen too far behind Coach Cool at Texas A&M?

Then, we talk about the most interesting long-term recruiting trend whether it’s USC vs. UCLA or Ohio State pulling away from the rest of the Big Ten.

If you're looking for a few stories referenced in this podcast, here is Travis Brown's survey of high school coaches for the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram, plus our Signing Day winners and losers and our consensus rankings.

The podcast can be found on, iTunes and our podcast RSS feed.

Please send any comments, questions and podcast topics to @AthlonSports, @BradenGall and @DavidFox615 on Twitter or email [email protected].

Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Signing Day Recap
Post date: Friday, February 7, 2014 - 13:08
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-february-7-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 7.

SI is unveiling its swimsuit rookies leading up to the arrival of this year's Swimsuit Edition. Today's rookie: Dutch beauty Marloes Horst.

This is a bizarre story involving the Winter Olympics, an underwear company and some guerilla marketing.

• In other Winter Games shenanigans, here's today's best headline: "Deaf Japanese Composer Who Wrote Music for Olympics Is Neither Deaf Nor a Composer."

• The story of the Games thus far: Bob Costas' disgusting pinkeye.

Actually, these Games, like every other, are already producing stories of poignancy.

• Olympic GIF of the day: A luger nearly lost it but made a remarkable recovery.

Here's a classic of the "unintentional weather pee-pee" genre. I'm sorry, you didn't know I was actually six years old?

Deadspin did some intensive research and brings you the story of all 110 black quarterbacks to play in the NFL.

The week's funniest Tweets. Trust me, there are some gems in there.

• Classic proud papa behavior: A dad edited in a SportsCenter graphic over footage of his son's first basket.

A couple of Washington Huskies allegedly expressed their feelings about the Super Bowl by randomly beating up celebrating Seahawks fans.

• Note to TNT producers: Don't make Charles Barkley try to pronounce Jonas Valanciunas ever again.


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

Post date: Friday, February 7, 2014 - 10:43
Path: /college-football/recruiting-complete-breakdown-sec-early-enrollees-2014

Enrolling early is a fairly new trend that is clearly used by one league more so than any other.

Fans always ask how the SEC does it? How can one league become so dominant? The simple answer is it cares more. The SEC is more dedicated to winning championships than your favorite conference, from the last graduate assistant on the sidelines to the last row of fans in the nosebleed seats at Neyland Stadium to the big-dollar donors and $7 million coaches.

It’s why enrolling early has become such an important aspect to SEC recruiting. This league more than any other mercilessly ignores senior prom in exchange for spring practice. While on the surface, a few extra months of work shouldn’t change the course of a coach’s career, enrolling players early can be extremely beneficial.

And the rest of college football needs to follow the SEC’s lead.

The hardest part of true freshman life in major college football isn’t on the field. Athletes are more prepared physically than ever to contribute early. It is the mental side of the game that is tough to adjust to — and that includes little things like finding a classroom or learning a road map.

Eight extra months of practice time to acclimate to college life, learn to function independently and work with teammates all while not having to worry about wins and losses is invaluable. It also allows athletic departments to fudge scholarship numbers forwards or backwards to accommodate the NCAA.

Just look at how many high school athletes who should be still in high school are already on an SEC campus today:

Tennessee (14)

Butch Jones' No. 5-ranked class was clearly about size and roster turnover. He signed 36 players and 14 of them are already enrolled. The offensive skill positions got a big boost this spring with the additions of names like Josh Malone, Jalen Hurd, Daniel Helm and Ethan Wolf. Otherwise, the line of scrimmage got plenty of help as three offensive linemen and a pair of D-liners enrolled early for the Vols. This is one of the largest classes of early enrollees in history and should help churn the depleted Tennessee roster quickly this spring.

NamePos.HtWtHometownNat'l Rank
Josh MaloneWR6-3195Gallatin, Tenn.No. 36
Jalen HurdRB6-3227Hendersonville, Tenn.No. 40
Daniel HelmTE6-4225Chatham, Ill.No. 198
D'Andre PayneDB5-9176Washington, D.C.No. 264
Ethan WolfTE6-5243Minster, OhioNo. 325
Dimarya MixonDE6-3263Compton, Calif.No. 579
Neiko CreamerATH6-3223Wilmington, Del.No. 638
Coleman ThomasOL6-6299Max Meadows, Va.No. 639
Jakob JohnsonLB6-4240Stuttgart, GermanyNo. 642
Ray RaulersonOL6-5275Tampa, Fla.No. 849
Emmanuel MoseleyDB5-11165Greensboro, N.C.No. 857
Von PearsonWR6-3185Newport News, Va.No. 4 (JC)
Dontavius BlairOL6-8300Anniston, Ala.No. 8 (JC)
Owen WilliamsDL6-2285Macon, Ga.No. 113 (JC)

Florida (9)

The Gators need some offensive help and Will Muschamp and new coordinator Kurt Roper got some with this group. Will Grier is a special athlete who could be ready to help at quarterback in the fall because he will get a full spring to get accustomed with the Gators' program, offense and campus. With the loss of two stud cornerbacks, Muschamp also added some needed depth to the secondary with two of the top rated players in the class in Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson.

NamePos.HtWtHometownNat'l Rank
Jalen TaborDB6-1188Washington, D.C.No. 14
Will GrierQB6-2190Davidson, N.C.No. 48
Duke DawsonDB5-10190Cross City, Fla.No. 194
Nolan KelleherOL6-6305Mt. Pleasant, S.C.No. 356
Brandon PowellRB5-9175Deerfield Beach, Fla.No. 400
Taven BryanDL6-5260Casper, Wyo.No. 533
DeAndre GoolsbyTE6-4230Derby, Ky.No. 535
Kavaris HarklessOL6-5275Jacksonville, Fla.No. 809
Drew SarvaryOL6-6318Tallahassee, Fla.No. 150 (JC)

Alabama (8)

Alabama welcomed eight new faces to campus this spring, including the top player in the class (Cam Robinson) and the No. 4-ranked quarterback in the nation (David Cornwell). In all, Nick Saban enrolled five top-100 prospects early and will have them for spring practice. He also brought in two four-star junior college players, both of which will help bolster the defensive line.

NamePos.HtWtHometownNat'l Rank
Cam RobinsonOL6-6325Monroe, La.No. 4
Tony BrownDB6-0195Beaumont, TexasNo. 9
Hootie JonesDB6-2215Monroe, La.No. 50
David CornwellQB6-5240Norman, Okla.No. 79
Cam SimsWR6-4200Monroe, La.No. 84
Dion HamiltonLB6-0240Montgomery, Ala.No. 203
Jarran ReedDL6-4310Goldsboro, N.C.No. 13 (JC)
D.J. PettwayDL6-3255Pensacola, Fla.No. 15 (JC)

Texas A&M (7)

Kevin Sumlin will get some immediate help from his early enrollees at two key positions. Wide receiver and offensive line got much deeper with the addition of five-star prospect Speedy Noil. Three blockers, including two elite junior college prospects, should help rebuild the depth along the offensive front quickly. Sumlin also gets his prized gem in the form of the nation's top quarterback, Kyle Allen, onto campus early.

NamePos.HtWtHometownNat'l Rank
Speedy NoilWR5-11190New Orleans, La.No. 8
Kyle AllenQB6-3200Scottsdale, Ariz.No. 10
Zaycoven HendersonDT6-1310Longview, TexasNo. 219
JJ GustafsonOL6-5310Dallas, TexasUR
Jermaine EluemunorOL6-4315Danville, N.J.No. 7 (JC)
Avery GennesyOL6-5310Southhaven, Miss.No. 9 (JC)
Josh ReynoldsWR6-4190San Antonio, TexasNo. 37 (JC)

Kentucky (7)

Mark Stoops did an excellent overall job with this class and his much-maligned offense should get a big boost with seven early enrollees. Drew Barker is the QB of the future in Lexington and is one of the highest rated players in this class overall. He will be joined by three other skill position prospects in wideouts Thaddeus Snodgrass and T.V. Williams and running back Mikel Horton. This is a strong group for the Cats.

NamePos.HtWtHometownNat'l Rank
Drew BarkerQB6-3217Burlington, Ky.No. 119
Thaddeus SnodgrassWR6-1180Springfield, OhioNo. 304
Mikel HortonRB6-1223West Chester, OhioNo. 380
T.V. WilliamsWR5-10165McKinney, TexasNo. 687
Dorian HendrixLB6-0230Huber Heights, OhioNo. 761
C.J. JohnsonDT6-3275Columbia, S.C.No. 30 (JC)
A.J. StampsCB6-0190Vicksburg, Miss.No. 215 (JC)

Ole Miss (7)

Only two true freshman early enrollees signed with Ole Miss so Hugh Freeze's class features mostly junior college prospects, one transfer and one prep schooler. But at least they are highly touted, as Marquis Haynes was the No. 5-rated prep school prospect in the nation and all three JUCOs are ranked in the top 50 nationally. Christian Morris comes to Oxford from UCLA after signing there originally in the 2013 class.

NamePos.HtWtHometownNat'l Rank
C.J. HamptonDB6-1195Meridian, Miss.No. 96
Kendrick DossQB6-2215Florence, Ala.No. 610
Marquis HaynesDE6-3225Jacksonville, Fla.No. 5 (PS)
Christian RussellLB6-1235Fayetteville, N.C.No. 25 (JC)
Fahn CooperOL6-5315Crystal Lake, Ill.No. 28 (JC)
Jeremy LigginsATH6-4295Oxford, Miss.No. 48 (JC)
Christian MorrisOL6-6290Memphis, Tenn.Transfer

Auburn (5)

Gus Malzahn didn't get too many true freshman early enrollees (2) but he brought in quality junior college prospects. D'haquille Williams is considered the top JUCO player in the nation and he should help on the outside in short order. In fact, a total of three pass-catchers enrolled early to help Nick Marshall and the passing attack this spring.

NamePos.HtWtHometownNat'l Rank
Stanton TruittWR5-10185Monroe, Ga.No. 317
Chris LayeTE6-5240Cumming, Ga.Unranked
D'haquille WillamsWR6-3205LaPlace, La.No. 1 (JC)
Derrick MoncriefS6-3225Prattville, Ala.No. 11 (JC)
Xavier DampeerOL6-2300Mendenhall, Miss.No. 194 (JC)
Missouri (5)

Gary Pinkel didn't bring in much elite talent but getting five new faces on campus early is a big help. Brandon Lee is the only nationally ranked freshman joining the roster early and he should help fill out a depleted front seven. Kenya Dennis is a quality JUCO prospect who also will help rebuild depth on the defensive side of the ball for Mizzou.

NamePos.HtWtHometownNat'l Rank
Brandon LeeLB6-2215Indianapolis, Ind.No. 276
Logan CheadleDB5-9175Lee's Summit, Mo.Unranked
Michael FairchildOL6-4275Overland Park, Kan.Unranked
Marvin ZandersQB6-2185Jacksonville, Fla.Unranked
Kenya DennisDB6-0200Raymond, Miss.No. 100 (JC)
Arkansas (4)

Bret Bielema didn't have a great National Signing Day overall. The rest of the SEC West kept improving while the Hogs missed out on all of its big NSD targets. Getting four names onto campus early, however, will allow this class to help the winless Razorbacks address their needs sooner. In particular, the passing game should get some help this spring with two wideouts and a quarterback enrolling early in Fayetteville.

NamePos.HtWtHometownNat'l Rank
Rafe PeaveyQB6-2212Bolivar, Mo.No. 355
Chris MurphyCB5-10180Marietta, Ga.No. 622
Jared CorneliusWR6-1185Shreveport, La.No. 907
Cody HollisterWR6-4205Bend, Ore.No. 232 (JC)
The Rest of the SEC:
Les Miles and LSU only bring in two early enrollees but both are highly touted, four-star recruits. It is sort of startling to see only one early enrollee for Mark Richt and Georgia. He normally brings in a half-dozen or so in January. South Carolina only had one while Mississippi State got two to enroll early and Vanderbilt had none.
NamePos.HtWtHometownNat'l Rank
Edward ParisS6-1190Arlington, TexasNo. 42
Brandon HarrisQB6-2195Bossier City, La.No. 75
Mississippi St
Nick FitzgeraldQB6-5220Richmond Hill, Ga.Unranked
Jocquell JohnsonOL6-6307Jackson, Miss.No. 97 (JC)
Jacob ParkQB6-3200Goose Creek, S.C.No. 114
South Carolina
Abu LaminDT6-4295Fayetteville, N.C.No. 16 (JC)



Recruiting: A Complete List of SEC Early Enrollees in 2014
Post date: Friday, February 7, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-football-2014-consensus-big-12-team-recruiting-rankings
Body:,, ESPN and are the four major recruiting services who all do an excellent job evaluating, tracking and ranking all things recruiting.

But they don't always agree and that is a great thing for fans. It also means the best way to rank the best classes in the nation is to average them all together and come to a consensus. One service may value quantity while another may value quality. One service may really love one prospect while another may not feel as strongly about him. Each site has its own metric for evaluating a class. Again, this is why Athlon Sports publishes its national team recruiting rankings as an average of the four big sites combined.

After another stellar National Signing Day of winners and losers, here are the consensus Big 12 team rankings for 2014 — with familiar names atop the standings.

• The Sooners and Longhorns paced the Big 12 once again but neither was as strong (pardon the pun) as they are accustomed to being. Oklahoma's 13th-rated class nationally would be eighth in the SEC, third in the ACC and second in the Big Ten and Pac-12. Texas would be the same except third in the Pac-12. These two powerhouses have to be clicking on all cylinders on the trail for the Big 12 to be at its best.

• Overall, the league hasn't signed elite talent since Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri left the ranks. In 2014, the Big 12 signed two five-star prospects and 29 four-star prospects. The Aggies alone inked three five-star while the SEC signed 119 four-star recruits. The Big 12 landed seven top-100 players this year after just four last year and six the previous cycle. The Big 12 is improving across the board with great coaches but the nation's most elite players don't appear to be interested.

• Bill Snyder finished eighth in the Big 12... again. And he doesn't care... again. The Wildcats ranked outside of the top 50 nationally in recruiting for the sixth consecutive cycle with the 2007 class — ranked 30th — being the last Kansas State group to land inside the top 50. Yet, somehow, Snyder is one of the winningest coaches in the league — his 27 conference wins since returning to Manhattan in 2009 rank third in the Big 12 behind Stoops and Gundy.

• There were some rumors that Mack Brown, on his way "out" of town, told his class of players to look around at other options. So Charlie Strong, in theory, had to recruit against his own school over the first month of his tenure. The Longhorns had a solid class, ranking 15th nationally, but Strong did very little on the recruiting trail over the last month despite big promises at his press conference. The 2015 haul will be intriguing to watch from the outside looking in.

• Kliff Kingsbury and Texas Tech were the only team in the league that didn't sign at least one four-star recruit. He brought in a big (27) group filled entirely of three- and two-star recruits that landed in the top 40 nationally. Everyone knows he is confident and believes in his system but can Tech contend against the big boys in Austin and Norman with nary a four-star player?

• One class that experts can't seem to agree on is Oklahoma State. Scout is much higher on Mike Gundy's group than the other three sites, ranking them 14th in the nation as the Big 12's second-best class. However, 247, Rivals and ESPN had the Pokes at 27th or 28th nationally and both 247 and ESPN had OSU ranked fourth in the conference. Only time will tell who is right about Oklahoma State's '14 haul. 

3.Oklahoma St290526th28271428
5.West Virginia220237th36384037
6.Texas Tech270039th41433535
8.Kansas St240151st49465657
10.Iowa St250156th56565259


College Football: 2014 Consensus Big 12 Team Recruiting Rankings
Post date: Friday, February 7, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-weekend-preview-iowa-seeks-defining-win-vs-michigan

After last week, maybe college basketball needs a bit of a breather for the weekend.

Syracuse’s overtime win over Duke was the game of the year, but Saturday and Sunday also wrecked the top 25 with seven ranked teams losing to unranked foes.

This week, only two games will feature two ranked teams (Michigan-Iowa and Gonzaga-Memphis). On one hand, the weekend will lack a true No. 1 matchup, but the potential for chaos is still high.

Creighton, Texas, North Carolina and Oregon all face critical road trips while teams like Iowa and Gonzaga are getting into desperation mode for season-defining wins.

Navigating this week in basketball won’t be as easy as pointing you to Syracuse and Duke, but there’s plenty here to appreciate as the regular season enters its stretch run.

College Basketball Weekend Preview: Feb. 8-9

Game of the Week:
Michigan at Iowa (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)

The Big Ten has become a two-team race with Iowa dropping to 6-4 in the league with a Tuesday loss to Ohio State at home. The Hawkeyes have only one RPI top 25 win — over Ohio State in Columbus. Iowa has been tabbed as a potential NCAA sleeper with the Hawkeyes’ standout offense and flawless ability to take a care of business against lesser teams. Fran McCaffery’s team, though, needs to show it can beat an upper-tier Big Ten team if it’s to be taken seriously in the second weekend of the Tourney. Michigan rebounded from its first conference loss of the season last week against Indiana to take care of Nebraska 79-50 in Ann Arbor. Big Ten Player of the Year contender Nik Stauskas, though, has been in a slump, shooting 2 of 9 from the field for 15 points in the last two games.

Great Non-Conference Game:
Gonzaga at Memphis (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)

This will be a key game for NCAA seeding, particularly for Gonzaga. The Bulldogs’ at-large resume is lacking a big wins, and this will be the last chance for the Zags to acquire one. Only one West Coast Conference team, BYU, is in the RPI top 40. The two teams in Memphis will be evenly matched, particularly at point guard where Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos will face the Tigers’ Joe Jackson in a meeting of two underrated veterans.

Upset Alert:
Creighton at St. John’s (Sunday, 7 p.m., Fox Sports 1)

Welcome to Madison Square Garden, Doug McDermott. The National Player of the Year contender will play his first game in New York against a hot St. John’s team with the talent to get on a late-season roll and make a run at the NCAA Tournament. The Red Storm’s only loss in the last five games came by three at Creighton on a McDermott 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Creighton is 8–1 in the Big East and leads the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency in conference games.

Tricky Road Trip:
North Carolina at Notre Dame (Saturday, noon, ACC Network)

The Tar Heels have recovered from a disastrous start in ACC play and once again appear to be a team capable of winning some games in the NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame has struggled to remain relevant in the ACC without Jerian Grant, who was lost for the season due to academics. Mike Brey’s team is very tough to beat at home — the Irish knocked off Duke in South Bend on Jan. 4 — but Carolina has the decided edge in talent.

Bubble Watch (East Coast Edition):
Providence at Xavier (Saturday, 3 p.m., Fox Sports 1)

Providence and Xavier are among a pack of teams fighting for third place — behind Creighton and Villanova — in the new-look Big East. Both teams feature star power, with Bryce Cotton leading the way for Providence and Semaj Christon continuing to shine at Xavier. The Musketeers, though, have been in a funk. Xavier has lost three in a row, starting with an 81-72 loss to Providence on the road. The Friars built momentum in January, but they’ve lost two of the last three to NIT-caliber team like Marquette and St. John’s. The loser of this game will be in some trouble.

Bubble Watch (West Coast Edition):
Oregon at Arizona State (Saturday, 5 p.m., Fox Sports 1)

This is a key game between two middle-of-the-pack Pac-12 teams who figure to be fighting for at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. Arizona State rebounded from a slow start in league play and is now 5–4 with a three-game homestand looming. Oregon stopped the bleeding with a win over USC at home on Saturday, but the Ducks have not played well since the end of December. Arizona State’s dynamic point guard Jahii Carson will look to exploit an Oregon team that has struggled to guard anyone since conference play began. Carson is averaging 22.8 points per game in his last five.

Baylor at Oklahoma (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2)

Baylor has been in a must-win situation for weeks now. The Bears are 2-7 in the Big 12, but they stopped a five-game losing streak with a surprising — and potentially season-saving — win at Oklahoma State last Saturday. This team has enough talent to work its way back into the NCAA Tournament picture. Oklahoma needs a victory in its own way after dropping back-to-back road games to Iowa State and West Virginia. The Sooners return to Norman against a team they defeated 66-64 on Jan. 18.

Best Potential for Fireworks:
Missouri at Ole Miss (Saturday, 5 p.m., SEC Network)

Two of the nation’s most feared 3-point shooters will be on display in Oxford this weekend when Marshall Henderson and the Rebels host Jabari Brown and Mizzou. Henderson’s overall shooting percentage is down from last season, but he’s been more accurate from 3-point range despite attempting more shots per game. Brown, the SEC’s leading scorer (20.1 ppg), is shooting 47.4 percent from beyond the arc.

Other Key Games:

Texas at Kansas State (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Big 12 Network)
Texas went from being a nice story in the Big 12 to garnering national attention last week when the Longhorns smashed Kansas 81-69 in Austin. The Longhorns have defeated Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor and KU in the last five games. Not bad for a team picked to finish anywhere from eighth to 10th in the Big 12 in the preseason. The Wildcats’ small frontcourt may have trouble with Texas big men Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes.

Cincinnati at SMU (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU)
It’s gone largely unnoticed, but Cincinnati is off to a 10–0 start in the new American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats, who already have wins at Memphis and Louisville, will be tested on Saturday at suddenly relevant SMU. The Mustangs, under the guidance of Larry Brown, improved to 6–3 in the American with a resounding win over Memphis last weekend. SMU is closing in on its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1993.

Wichita State at Northern Iowa (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN2)
Wichita State’s likelihood of getting to the Missouri Valley Tournament undefeated took another step when the Shockers defeated Indiana State 65-58 in Terre Haute for their toughest road trip of the conference season. Northern Iowa is traditionally a tough opponent in the Valley, but the Panthers are 11-12 and 5-6 in the league. Wichita State likely won’t play a top 100 team in KenPom again unless it catches the Sycamores in the MVC Tournament.

Michigan State at Wisconsin (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Both teams hope they’re starting to return to form. Michigan State saw big man Adreian Payne return to the lineup Thursday against Penn State. Wisconsin ended its 1-5 stretch with a 75-63 win over Illinois on the road on Tuesday. Even in the win, the Badgers still let an opposing guard as Rayvonte Rice score 24 points in 30 minutes.

Athlon Sports' Mitch Light contributed to this report.

College Basketball Weekend Preview: Iowa Seeks Defining Win vs. Michigan
Post date: Friday, February 7, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-pre-weekend-power-rankings-feb-7

Determining the top spot this week was easy. Arizona lost. Syracuse won its biggest game of the season. And that’s that.

The rest of the rankings, though, remain difficult to determine. Wichita State, San Diego State and Florida are slicing through their schedules, continuing to move up by attrition.

The top teams in the Big Ten lost last week with Michigan falling to Indiana and Michigan State falling to Georgetown. Meanwhile, teams like Cincinnati and Virginia continued to make us believers with major victories in the last week.

All in all it's an exercise in momentum. One loss isn't enough to drop too far, but teams in cold snaps like Oklahoma State and Wisconsin are getting close to making us forget about all they did earlier in the season.

Here’s where everyone stands entering the weekend:

Related: College Basketball Weekend Preview

College Basketball Pre-Weekend Power Rankings: Feb. 7

1. Syracuse (22-0, 9-0 ACC)
This weekend: Clemson (Sunday)
Trevor Cooney tied a school record with nine 3-pointers in Monday’s win over Notre Dame. That’s also as many treys as he had in the previous five games combined.
Last week: 2

2. Arizona (22-1, 9-1 Pac-12)
This weekend: Oregon State (Sunday)
The Wildcats have been walking a tightrope in the last two weeks. Arizona has to be thankful to have escaped at 3-1 after another close call with Oregon on Thursday.
Last week: 1

3. Florida (20-2, 9-0 SEC)
This weekend: Alabama
How balanced is Florida? No single player accounts for 20 percent of the Gators’ scoring in conference games.
Last week: 3

4. San Diego State (20-1, 9-0 MW)
This weekend: Nevada
The Aztecs dodged their first loss since Nov. 14 when they overcame a 14-point deficit to beat Boise State. With the game-winning assist, Xavier Thames continues to state his case as an All-American.
Last week: 5

5. Wichita State (24-0, 11-0 MVC)
This weekend: at Northern Iowa
After defeating Indiana State on Wednesday, Wichita State won’t face another RPI top 100 team until it hosts Missouri State on the last day of the regular season.
Last week: 9

6. Villanova (20-2, 8-1 Big East)
This weekend: Seton Hall
Since a cold start to Big East play, James Bell is averaging 21.3 points in his last six games.
Last week: 8

7. Kansas (17-5, 8-1 Big 12)
This weekend: West Virginia
Naadir Tharpe in three games from Jan. 20-Feb. 1: 6 of 14 from the field, 21 points. Naadir Tharpe against Baylor on Thursday: 9 of 13, 22 points.
Last week: 4

8. Michigan (17-5, 9-1 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Iowa
On Sunday, Indiana was the first opponent since Charlotte on Nov. 24 to hold Michigan to less than a point per possession. The Wolverines responded with 1.2 points per possession against Nebraska.
Last week: 6

9. Michigan State (20-3, 9-1 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Wisconsin
Adreian Payne returned Thursday in the win over Penn State, but now Michigan State is down Keith Appling.
Last week: 7

10. Creighton (18-3, 8-1 Big East)
This weekend: at St. John’s (Sunday)
The Bluejays score 40.4 percent of their points from the 3-pointer.
Last week: 10

11. Cincinnati (22-2, 11-0 American)
This weekend: at SMU
Sean Kilpatrick has averaged 25.3 points per game in the last four games as Cincy is running away with the AAC.
Last week: 14

12. Duke (18-5, 7-3 ACC)
This weekend: at Boston College    
Mike Krzyzewski is showing more faith in Rasheed Sulaimon. The sophomore had 19 points and five assists against Wake Forest and 16 points and six assists against Syracuse.
Last week: 11

13. Iowa State (17-4, 5-4 Big 12)
This weekend: TCU
The next week or so will give Iowa State a chance to climb the Big 12 standings against TCU, West Virginia and Texas Tech.
Last week: 20

14. Saint Louis (21-2, 8-0 A-10)
This week: at La Salle
The Billikens need to get through La Salle to set up the Atlantic 10 game of the year against VCU in a week.
Last week: 15

15. Virginia (18-5, 9-1 ACC)
This weekend: at Georgia Tech
Virginia’s bench outscored Boston College’s reserves 39-10 on Wednesday night.
Last week: 15

16. Iowa (17-6, 6-4 Big Ten)
This weekend: Michigan
The Hawkeyes fell out of Big Ten race due to inability to close out big games.
Last week: 12

17. Louisville (19-4, 8-2 American)
This weekend: Off
The Cardinals still have time to work out issues with an off week followed by Temple, Rutgers and USF.
Last week: 16

18. Kentucky (17-5, 7-2 SEC)
This weekend: at Mississippi State
Welcome back, Willie Cauley-Stein. The sophomore big man had 18 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks Tuesday against Ole Miss.
Last week: 19

19. Texas (18-4, 7-2 Big 12)
This weekend: at Kansas State
The Longhorns are second in the Big 12 in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom.
Last week: NR

20. Memphis (17-5,7-3 American)
This weekend: Gonzaga
Six Tigers scored in double figures in 101-69 rout of Rutgers on Tuesday.
Last week: 22

21. Oklahoma (17-6, 6-4 Big 12)
This weekend: Baylor
Iowa State and West Virginia shredded the Sooners’ defense in the last two games.
Last week: 13

22. Oklahoma State (16-6, 4-5 Big 12)
This weekend: at Texas Tech
The Cowboys are 4-5 without Michael Cobbins this season and 3-3 without Stevie Clark. Neither will return this season.
Last week: 17

23. Wisconsin (18-5, 5-5 Big Ten)
This weekend:
Michigan State (Sunday)
The Badgers last three Big Ten wins are over Illinois twice and once against Purdue.
Last week: 18

24. Gonzaga (21-3, 11-0 WCC)
This weekend: at Memphis
Even if the Bulldogs are down this season, they don’t have a true challenger in the West Coast Conference. Saturday will be huge for the resume.
Last week: NR

25. UCLA (17-5, 6-3 Pac-12)
This weekend: at USC
The Bruins strung together three nice wins (Stanford, Cal, Oregon) only to lose at Oregon State.
Last week: 24

Dropped out: No. 21 UConn, No. 23 Pittsburgh

College Basketball Pre-Weekend Power Rankings: Feb. 7
Post date: Friday, February 7, 2014 - 07:00