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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
Path: /college-football/washington-qb-cyler-miles-and-wr-damoreea-stringfellow-suspended-indefinitely

Washington quarterback Cyler Miles and receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow were suspended indefinitely by coach Chris Petersen on Thursday afternoon. According to a release from the school, the players were suspended due to a violation of team rules.

The Huskies are scheduled to start spring practice on March 4, and it’s unclear if there will be any clarification on either player’s status for 2014 by then.

Both players are slated to have significant roles in Washington’s offense this season. Miles completed 31 of 67 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns last year and is expected to be the starting quarterback when spring practice opens. Stringfellow caught 20 passes for 259 yards as a true freshman and was scheduled to see more playing time in 2014.

If Miles does not return to the team in time for spring practice, Troy Williams or Jeff Lindquist will get the nod at quarterback.

Washington QB Cyler Miles and WR Damore'ea Stringfellow Suspended Indefinitely
Post date: Thursday, February 6, 2014 - 22:09
Path: /nfl/early-super-bowl-favorites-2014-nfl-season

The Seattle Seahawks are champions of the NFL and while the celebration in the Pacific Northwest is just getting started, the focus elsewhere across the league has already shifted to next season. As far as the 2014 campaign goes, one thing is for certain: the weather will not be an issue whatsoever when the Super Bowl returns to Glendale, Ariz., next February.

So with that settled, the question then becomes which two teams will meet on the field at University of Phoenix Stadium on Feb. 1, 2015 in Super Bowl XLIX? With the start of free agency still a month away and the draft a little farther down the road; here is an early look at the contenders.

The Reigning Champions

Seattle Seahawks
2013 Record: 13-3 (NFC West, NFC, Super Bowl XLVIII champions)

To the victor go the spoils, which is why the Seahawks understandably top this list. The youngest team to ever win a Super Bowl, according to, Pete Carroll’s bunch appears well positioned for a shot at making history next season. Several of the team’s core players are signed, but there is definitely work to be done this offseason with numerous key free agents and others on the verge of significant pay raises.

Similar to Baltimore after its Super Bowl victory in 2013, don’t be surprised if Seattle’s roster undergoes some rather significant changes. The Seahawks also don’t have a third-round pick in the upcoming draft thanks to the Percy Harvin trade with Minnesota, but this front office has done an excellent job in finding impact players in the later rounds. There’s no reason to expect this team to take a major step backwards next season, but the road back to the Super Bowl will be anything but easy.

The Hated Division Rival

San Francisco 49ers
2013 Record: 12-4 (NFC Wild Card berth, lost to Seattle in NFC Championship Game)

A couple of plays and lucky bounces away from a repeat trip to the Super Bowl, the 49ers are not that far behind the defending champions. Just like Seattle, this team is young and has even more of its core signed to long-term deals. There are decisions to be made with wide receiver Anquan Boldin and several members of the secondary free agents, but the team has some cap space to work with.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick also appears headed for a lucrative new contract, but Jim Harbaugh and the front office have a treasure trove of 12 draft picks at their disposal, including a total of five in the first three rounds. The only negative for San Francisco was the serious knee injury that All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman suffered in the NFC Championship Game loss. He recently underwent surgery and there’s a chance he won’t be ready to go by Week 1 this fall.

The Runner-ups

Denver Broncos
2013 Record: 13-3 (AFC West, AFC champions, lost to Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII)

The sting of the 43-8 drubbing by Seattle in the Super Bowl will no doubt linger, but as long as Peyton Manning’s surgically repaired neck checks out, Denver could find itself in the very same position next February. Keep in mind that this was a team that played without its All-Pro left tackle the entire season and was missing its All-Pro linebacker, as well as a starting defensive tackle and cornerback in the Super Bowl.

John Elway has some work to do with this roster, with running back Knowshon Moreno, wide receiver Eric Decker, linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Shaun Phillips and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie topping a deep group of pending free agents, but there should be enough resources available, as well as motivation, to find a way to keep the band together for another championship run. Also worth pointing out, the AFC West and NFC West play each other in crossover action next season with the Broncos set to pay a visit to Seattle, possibly as early as Week 1. Can you say “must-see TV?”

The Other Contenders
(in alphabetical order)

Carolina Panthers
2013 Record: 12-4 (NFC South champions, lost to San Francisco in NFC Divisional Round)

This young team took a giant leap forward in 2013, but this offseason will go a long ways to determining if the Panthers are going to stick around or be a one-hit wonder. Key pieces like defensive end Greg Hardy, tight end Greg Olsen, offensive lineman Jordan Gross, and defensive backs Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Mitchell headline the free agents and this offense desperately needs help at wide receiver. With the right moves, Carolina could take the next step this fall, but there’s also a chance the Panthers could fall back to the rest of the pack in the NFC South.

Cincinnati Bengals
2013 Record: 11-5 (AFC South champions, lost to San Diego in AFC Wild Card Game)

A promising regular season for the Bengals ended with a disappointing thud in the home Wild Card game loss to San Diego. Couple that with the departure of both coordinators and Marvin Lewis’ team enters an offseason of transition. That said, this was the No. 3 defense in the NFL and that was without All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins for about half of the season. Cincinnati has plenty of cap space to build for both the present and the future, as it looks to reinforce weak areas. Andy Dalton’s maturation as a quarterback could be the difference between another playoff appearance and a potential deep postseason run.

Green Bay Packers
2013 Record: 8-7-1 (NFC North champions, lost to San Francisco in NFC Wild Card Game)

As long as Aaron Rodgers is upright, this team will be a contender. But we saw what happened to the Packers when he got hurt in Week 9 – they went 2-4-1 without him under center. The emergence of Offensive Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy is important, but the NFL’s 25th-ranked defense must be addressed. There also are some concerns regarding the offensive line and several free agents along the defensive line and in the secondary. Green Bay has room to improve, and will need to do so or run the risk of Chicago and/or Detroit possibly overtaking them in the NFC North.

New England Patriots
2013 Record: 12-4 (AFC East champions, lost to Denver in AFC Championship Game)

As long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are together, the Patriots will be right there in the thick of things in the AFC. Especially considering the rest of their division is full of teams in different stages of rebuilding. That said, Brady will be 37 years old when next season opens and it’s no stretch to say New England’s window of opportunity may be closing. There are plenty of free agents on this roster, All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski will be coming back from yet another serious injury that required surgery, cap space is an issue and the Patriots don’t have their usual stash of draft picks to work with. New England should still be the team to beat in the AFC East, but its margin for error is shrinking.

New Orleans Saints
2013 Record: 11-5 (NFC Wild Card berth, lost to Seattle in NFC Divisional Round)

Similar to New England, New Orleans will be a team to be reckoned with as along as Sean Payton and Drew Brees are there tormenting opposing defenses. The Saints finished just behind Carolina in the NFC South and after beating Philadelphia in the Wild Card game on the road, hung tough in Seattle before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champs. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan orchestrated a remarkable turnaround on that side of the ball and the challenge now is to keep enough of the pieces together. New Orleans is projected to be well over the cap, and re-signing tight end Jimmy Graham is the No. 1 offseason priority. It will take some work, but with shrewd moves in free agency and the draft, the Saints should be right in the thick of things again in 2014.

The Wild, Wild NFC West

Arizona Cardinals
2013 Record: 10-6 (3rd in NFC West)

The only 10-win team to not make the playoffs; the Cardinals can’t be taken too lightly even though they are in the same division as the past two NFC champions. All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald restructured his contract in hopes of re-signing key free agents like linebacker Karlos Dansby, as Arizona finished sixth in the NFL in defense in the regular season. The success of this team next season will more than likely come down to the offense, as more is needed out of the running game and the tight end position. Quarterback Carson Palmer is 34 years old, so Bruce Arians and the front office also need to start thinking about the future of this position, especially with so many promising options in this year’s draft.

St. Louis Rams
2013 Record: 7-9 (4th in NFC West)

In another division, the Rams could be considered the frontrunner, but instead they find themselves battling in the league’s toughest four-team grouping. The defense has the potential to be just as good as its divisional brethren, which is saying something, but the offense has a long ways to go. First Jeff Fisher and the front office have to decide whether they are committed to quarterback Sam Bradford, who is returning from a torn ACL, long term or if they need to use an early pick on another quarterback. The good news is the team has a bevy of selections in May’s draft, including the No. 2 overall pick thanks to the 2012 trade with Washington and the Redskins’ subsequent collapse (3-13) this season. The offensive line has some holes, but if running back Zac Stacy and wide receiver Tavon Austin and some others continue to develop, this offense, and likewise the Rams, could surprise.

Other Teams to Watch
(in alphabetical order)

Atlanta Falcons
2013 Record: 4-12 (4th in NFC South)

From hosting the NFC Championship Game just a season ago to a 4-12 train wreck, it’s been quite the roller-coaster ride for Mike Smith and the Falcons. Injuries absolutely decimated this team on both sides of the ball and there will be changes this offseason. However, with quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Steven Jackson and wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, Atlanta has plenty of offensive firepower to work with. Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez will be tough to replace at tight end, but the focus needs to be on beefing up the offensive line and reinforcing the defense. The Falcons figure to be active in free agency and it’s not out of the question that they pull off a Carolina-esque turnaround in 2014.

Houston Texans
2013 Record: 2-14 (4th in AFC South)

Everything that could possibly go wrong for the Texans this season did and as a result they have a new head coach in Bill O’Brien and the first pick in May’s draft. Quarterback is obviously a priority and O’Brien and the front office will identify their guy and target him in the draft. Running back Ben Tate is a free agent and will probably cash in elsewhere, but as long as Arian Foster returns healthy, the backfield shouldn’t be an issue. Houston doesn’t have much cap space to work with, but it’s not like O’Brien is starting completely over from scratch either. Depending on what happens at quarterback, the Texans could be next season’s version of Kansas City – go from being the worst team in the NFL to a playoff participant.

Indianapolis Colts
2013 Record: 11-5 (AFC South champions, lost to New England in AFC Divisional Round)

The defending AFC South champions have one of the best young quarterbacks in the game and some talented pass-catchers. However, the backfield is a mess and the offensive line needs some attention. The good news is the Colts are projected to have a lot (as in $33 million) of cap space to work with, but the team also has a lot of pending free agents on the roster. Indianapolis can’t count on much help coming from this draft either, as the Trent Richardson trade with Cleveland cost the Colts their first-round pick. In fact, as of right now, Indianapolis has just four picks.

Philadelphia Eagles
2013 Record: 10-6 (NFC East champions, lost to New Orleans in NFC Wild Card Game)

Even though the Eagles lost to the Saints at home in the NFC Wild Card game, Chip Kelly’s first season in the NFL couldn’t have gone much better. Now the question becomes what does he and his team have in mind for an encore? Philadelphia appears to be well positioned considering the current state of affairs that exists with its divisional foes. Washington has a new coaching staff, Dallas has salary cap issues galore and the New York Giants are a team in transition. Offensively, the Eagles are pretty much set with Pro Bowl-caliber skill players and an outstanding offensive line in place. Wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, who missed all of last season, are both free agents, but otherwise the biggest area of concern appears to be in the secondary. Don’t be surprised if defense is the focus in free agency and the draft.

Early Super Bowl Favorites for the 2014 NFL Season
Post date: Thursday, February 6, 2014 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /10-olympians-who-will-dominate-sochi

The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics are finally here. After months of hearing about Vladimir Putin, homophobia, double toilets, sub-tropic climates, IOC corruption, lack of infrastructure and threats of terrorism, the Games of the XXII Olympiad are hitting the ice and snow for what should be a memorable month, for better or worse. As usual, the USA is bringing a star-studded field of gold medal hopefuls. These are 10 USA Olympians who will dominate Sochi, whether it’s on the medal stand or on NBC’s television coverage.

1. Lolo Jones, bobsled
Nearly 400,000 Twitter followers — plus plenty of NBC cameras — will be watching Lolo Jones’ every move in Sochi. The highest profile brakeman in bobsled history, Jones was also in the spotlight at the last two Olympics; they just happened to be Summer Games. The gold-medal favorite in the 100-meter hurdles at both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics, Jones had a pair of disappointments that made her one of the most talked-about (and polarizing) Olympians in recent memory. After stirring a minor controversy by beating out bobsled veterans for the final spot on Team USA, Jones hopes her third Olympics proves to be a charm. And although she’s representing the red, white and blue, Lolo wants #Gold.

2. Gracie Gold, figure skating
Some of the most memorable American Olympians have been women’s figure skaters. Names like Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Nancy Kerrigan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski, Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen are historic. But there may never have been a name more perfect for the Olympic stage than that of 18-year-old Gracie Gold — who will attempt to live up to her last name and prevent South Korea’s Yuna Kim from becoming the first repeat gold medalist in the most-watched event since East Germany’s Katarina Witt (1984 Sarajevo, ’88 Calgary).

3. Ryan Suter, hockey
“Do you believe in miracles?! Yes!” Al Michaels’ iconic call of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” will certainly be replayed in Sochi, probably with Suter’s face on-screen. Suter’s father, Bob, was a member of the Team USA squad that upset the Soviet Union and went on to win the gold medal at the Lake Placid Olympics. Thirty-four years later, a second-generation Olympian is hoping to bring home the family’s third medal. The 29-year-old Minnesota Wild defenseman was an alternate captain and silver medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics — which was only the second hockey medal Team USA had won (silver, 2002 Salt Lake City) since the “Miracle.”

4. Shani Davis, speed skating
The first black athlete in Winter Games history to win individual gold, Davis is the two-time defending 1000-meter gold medalist and two-time defending 1500-meter silver medalist, having taken the podium twice in 2006 at Turin and in 2010 at Vancouver. The 31-year-old Chicago native is already the second-most accomplished long track speed skater, behind five-time gold medalist Eric Heiden. Another strong showing in Sochi would only add to his legacy.

5. Julia Mancuso, alpine skiing
This wild child will undoubtedly wear her trademark tiara on the medal stand in Sochi. If you have a problem with that, you know what? You can kiss her tiara — or “Kiss My Tiara,” the name of her line of lingerie. The 29-year-old snow bunny is not afraid to let the world know how she feels. In fact, she doesn’t appear to be afraid of anything, whether it’s flying down a mountainside or daring to bare her body in the pages of GQ magazine, which she did recently. The three-time Olympic medalist is one the best, brightest and most beautiful athletes in Sochi. She will dominate on all fronts.

6. Mikaela Shiffrin, alpine skiing
Don’t call Shiffrin the “next” Lindsey Vonn or Julia Mancuso, even though the 18-year-old is clearly on the cusp of claiming the alpine throne. The youngest American skier to be World Cup champion is slaloming her way to stateside stardom but is already a one-named phenom in Europe — where “Mikaela” is Madonna in ski boots. And while the Material Girl was known to go platinum worldwide, Mikaela is hoping to go gold in Russia.

7. Shaun White, snowboarding
Shaun White’s band, Bad Things, recently released its debut album. But the red-headed lead guitarist has long been a rock star on the slopes, where the world’s most famous snowboarder is the two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist on the halfpipe. The biggest stop on White’s world tour will likely feature old hits like his “Double McTwist 1260” — the move White used to clinch gold four years ago. Unfortunately the 27-year-old will not be playing some of his new stuff, as promised. White notably withdrew from the slopestyle — a first-time Olympic event in which White has won eight medals (including five gold) at the Winter X Games — citing safety concerns.

8. Sarah Hendrickson, ski jumping
The women will be flying high for the first time in Olympic history, as ski jumping goes coed, so to speak, in Sochi. Men have been ski-jumping in the Olympics since 1924. It’s about time women were invited to the party. The biggest star will likely be 19-year-old Hendrickson, who is coming back from knee injury but is expected to be in tip-top shape at the Olympics. The 2013 World Ski Championships gold medalist will be the favorite to dominate the 300-foot slope at roughly 65 miles per hour. Look out below.

9. Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux, hockey
The Lamoureux twins may not be as well known as the NHL’s Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, but they might come close in Sochi. The blonde forward tandem starred on the silver medal-winning Team USA at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The duo is aiming for gold this time around. If Team USA has any chance at ending Canada’s streak of three straight gold medals, Monique and Jocelyne will need to light up the nets in Sochi. A gold medal would be the USA’s second ever, having won at inaugural gold medal game over Canada at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

10. Bode Miller, alpine skiing
A five-time Olympian, Bode was ripped to shreds in the media — and on the late night talk show circuit — for a lackluster effort eight years ago in Turin, when he infamously told the Associated Press: “I got to party and socialize at the Olympic level.” Expectations have been tempered since and the five-time Olympic medalist may have even mellowed at the old age of 36. Hide all the vodka in the Russian Olympic Village and dude bro Bode might just become the life of the medal stand party in Sochi.


Team USA's highest profile athletes at the Sochi Olympics
Post date: Thursday, February 6, 2014 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-february-6-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 6.

Maria Sharapova is attempting to put a happy face on her hometown of Sochi. It's a nice start, I have to say.

• Ready or not, the Sochi Games are underway. Here's a handy introduction to the American team courtesy of SI.

• Fun with language barriers: People in Sochi keep tweeting pictures of menus that say "in the ass." Somebody get them some decent translation software, stat. Here's a larger rundown of misadventures in Putin's paradise.

Athlon's Braden Gall runs down Signing Day's winners and losers. Winners: SEC. Losers: Not SEC.

Rod Stewart and Pacman Jones pose poolside. That is all.

• Nothing can move us quite like sports. Here are 25 shots of fans being moved to tears by what they're watching.

• Speaking of being moved to tears by insignificant things, Sandra Bullock got choked up while saying goodbye to Jay Leno.

• Today's public service announcement: Phrases you should never search for on YouTube.

Seattle's 12th Man held a Moment of Loudness at 12:12. I must admit, 700,000 people can get loud.

• Holy cow. They really commit to their prank videos in Japan.

• Fireball whiskey joins Skittles among things that Marshawn Lynch enjoys.

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

Post date: Thursday, February 6, 2014 - 10:50
All taxonomy terms: News, Olympics
Path: /2014-sochi-olympics-what-watch-feb-6

Action is underway at the Winter Olympics, and Sochi's preparedness as a host city comes under the microscope right out of the chute, as a slopestyle course whose safety has come into question sees some early action in the 2014 Winter Games. Here are the highlights of what to watch on tonight's coverage on NBC. If you want to watch these events as though they're live, we suggest avoiding certain corners of the Internet today.


Today's Highlights


8-11:30 p.m. Eastern


1. Snowboarding — Men's and Women's Slopestyle

Surprisingly, American superstar Shaun White has dropped out of the slopestyle event, which Bob Costas dubbed "one of those Jackass sports" in the lead-up to the games. White didn't come out and blame safety concerns, but he alluded to those concerns in his announcement that he was sitting this event out. "There are definitely concerns about the course," White said. "It's been interesting to see how it's developed and changed over the past few days, and the question is if it will continue to change. Every day, they hold a riders' meeting, they get feedback and sometimes there's changes and sometimes there's not. So ..." Canadian Max Parrot, who won this event at the Winter X Games, is among the men to watch, while American Jamie Anderson leads the women.


2. Figure Skating — Team Pairs and Men's Short Program

For the first time, figure skating is a team event, as 10 nations, led by Canada, Russia and the U.S., earned the right to compete for team gold based on their performance at the World Figure Skating Championship, giving skaters from those nations the chance to earn multiple medals. Seven of the eight members of the American World Championship team are competing in Sochi.


3. Alpine Skiing — Women's Moguls

American Hannah Kearney, the 2005 and 2013 world moguls champion, is the odds-on favorite to earn Olympic gold in this event. "Everyone gets faster every year and better every year but I'd like to think I'm included in that," she said.

2014 Sochi Olympics: What to Watch Feb. 6
Post date: Thursday, February 6, 2014 - 10:12