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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]
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.
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.
No head coach has ever had a bad National Signing Day.
No head coach at any school has ever come out on NSD and said, “You know, we just didn’t address any of our needs. We are disappointed with the group we’ve signed. And we are very concerned moving forward about the future of our program.”
Nope, from their viewpoint, every coach in the nation passed the National Signing Day test with flying colors.
Many recruitniks view the first Wednesday in February as the end of a long and arduous process that began years before and ends with two dozen signatures. However, the reality of the situation is that Signing Day is just the beginning. Coaches, new and old, get an injection of talent for their depth chart. Fans have new crushes to fawn over and the players' journey from high school superstar to brutally vicious adulthood actually begins.
And, no, despite what every coach tells you, not everyone was a winner on National Signing Day.
There were 316 four- and five-star prospects in the nation according to the composite 247Sports rankings. Of those 316 top-level recruits, 29 of them had yet to make a decision heading into Signing Day. Of course, there were plenty of surprise flip-flops and decommitments as well.
So now that the dust has settled, who were the big winners and big losers of National Signing Day 2014?
NSD ’14 Winners
The team that had the best day on Wednesday was Steve Sarkisian and the USC Trojans. Three of the top 38 players in the nation, including two five-star talents, picked the Trojans over Pac-12 rivals UCLA, Oregon and others. Adoree’ Jackson (No. 7 overall) was the highest-ranked uncommitted player in the nation and he picked USC over UCLA, LSU and Florida. JuJu Smith (No. 20) was the fifth-highest rated uncommitted player in the country and he picked USC over Oregon, UCLA and Notre Dame. Those two five-star prospects also keep USC’s streak of landing at least one five-star prospect since 2003 alive. Damien Mama (No. 38) is one of the highest-rated four-star prospects in the nation and the massive offensive guard picked USC over UCLA and Notre Dame. Not only did Coach Sark land some elite talent but he beat his conference rivals in the process. The Trojans moved from outside the top 25 to No. 11 in the final team rankings and put together the best class in the Pac-12.
The second-highest rated player available heading into NSD was Auburn (Ala.) High School linebacker Rashaan Evans (No. 15). The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder hails from within the shadows of Jordan-Hare Stadium at Auburn High School and was considered a heavy Tigers lean. But just like last season when Reuben Foster shunned the hometown Tigers to head to Tuscaloosa, Evans signed with the Crimson Tide. The addition of Evans locked Nick Saban’s class in as the best in the nation in 2014 and gave the superstar coach his third consecutive recruiting national championship. According to the composite 247 rankings, Alabama signed six of the top 16, eight of the top 50 and 13 of the top 100 players in the nation. It was once again pure domination from Saban and the Tide on the recruiting trail.
Not only did the Cardinal have one of the best days but they might have done it with the best style. The national headlines began with five-star defensive end Solomon Thomas (No. 25) picking Stanford over Texas, Ohio State and Arkansas. The Coppell (Texas) High product pulled an actual pruned miniature tree out from beneath the table during his press conference and donned the signature Nerd Nation glasses. David Shaw then followed that up with the addition of New Orleans defensive back Terrance Alexander. Stanford’s class moved up to No. 14 nationally and the strong finish gave the Cardinal the Pac-12’s second-best class (USC). Stanford has a clear brand identity and Shaw has honed his ability to effectively sell it on the trail.
Signing Day began with a boom for the Dawgs when they pulled the first big shocker of NSD 2014 when they landed Isaiah McKenzie (No. 307). The four-star wide receiver was thought to be picking between Ole Miss, Florida and Virginia Tech but signed with Georgia in a coup for Mark Richt. Later in the day, Georgia landed another huge blow when it beat Alabama, Florida and LSU for the services of five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (No. 25). Certainly, adding Jeremy Pruitt has helped bolster UGA's recruiting efforts but Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon is the one who deserves the credit. He was named National Recruiter of the Year by 247Sports for the 2014 cycle.
Early in the day, Steve Spurrier flipped three-star defensive end Blake McClain from Nebraska. Then in the early afternoon, Spurrier was back at it again stealing appropriately named four-star defensive tackle Dexter Wideman from the defending champion Florida State Seminoles. Finally, the Ol’ Ball Coach wrapped up his sneaky good NSD by inking four-star defensive back Wesley Green from Lithonia (Ga.) MLK. The three big pick ups for South Carolina moved the Gamecocks into the top 20 nationally. This class features six defensive linemen and five cornerbacks, as stopping the pass is clearly becoming more important in the SEC.
It was a wild day for Florida State fans. Jimbo Fisher was guaranteed an excellent class but there was an outside chance FSU could have pushed Bama for the No. 1 slot. While the Noles didn’t catch Bama — it finished third nationally and No. 1 in the ACC — they certainly had some excitement. Four-star prospects Roderick Johnson (No. 125), Derrick Nnadi (No. 99) and Derrick Kelly got things started in a big way for Fisher and company before five-star wide receiver Ermon Lane (No. 24) and former Virginia Tech commitment Javon Harrison eventually picked the Seminoles. Fisher did lose quarterback Treon Harris to Florida and Dexter Wideman to South Carolina but made up for it by stealing Harrison from the Hokies in the 11th hour. This is an elite group that is poised for another title run or two.
No team jumped more in the team recruiting rankings than the Commodores. Weeks after James Franklin decimated a top-25 class when he headed to Penn State, Derek Mason rallied the troops by flooding the market with scholarships and landing more than a few quality prospects. Four-star defensive end Nifae Lealao (No. 103) was the prized gem of the group as Mason closed strong with a dozen commitments/signings over the last official visit weekend. In the end, Vandy moved up 35 spots in the team rankings in one week and salvaged a top-50 class. Vandy is ranked 50th by Rivals and Scout and 46th by 247Sports after ranking in the 80s for most of the last few weeks.
NSD ’14 Losers
The Big 12
Oklahoma had an excellent finish to its cycle with the additions of Michiah Quick (No. 56) and Steven Parker (No. 108), but on the whole, it was once again a disappointing season on the recruiting trail for the Big 12. New Texas coach Charlie Strong had to recruit against Mack Brown down the stretch and finished well outside of the top 10 (No. 15). Texas’ class would be just the ninth-best class in the SEC and no other Big 12 team landed in the top 25 nationally. As a league, the Big 12 signed just seven top-100 prospects after inking just four top-100 players last year and six the year before that. By comparison, the SEC signed 45 top-100 recruits this cycle and, more painfully, former Big 12 member Texas A&M signed more five-star prospects (3) on Wednesday than its former conference combined (2). This is still a great league with great programs and solid classes but the elite-level talent doesn’t seem to be heading to the Heartland any longer.
The Bruins landed a solid overall class, finishing 21st overall in the team rankings. But when the dust settled in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, the Bruins hadn’t won many battles on Signing Day. Kenny Young (No. 175) from New Orleans picked the Bruins but UCLA missed out on every other prospect it was in on. Five-star talents Adoree’ Jackson, Malachi Dupre and JuJu Smith went elsewhere while Damien Mama, Michiah Quick and Budda Baker shunned UCLA as well. More importantly, three of them — Jackson, Smith and Mama — signed with the crosstown rival Trojans of USC while Baker went to Washington. This is a solid class that finished fourth in the Pac-12, however, with a strong day, Jim Mora could have boasted the best class in the league. Instead, USC is celebrating that moniker.
Brady Hoke wasn’t expecting to have a dramatic finish to his ’14 cycle but the Michigan brand was noticeably absent from any meaningful conversations on Signing Day. The class dropped out of the top 20 nationally as other teams leapt ahead of the Wolverines. The Maize and Blue finished second in the Big Ten, but fell significantly behind Ohio State in the team ranks. Hoke missed out on a five-star in-state talent in defensive end Malik McDowell, who picked arch rival Michigan State instead, and the Wolverines weren't even in the mix for anyone else. It wasn’t supposed to be a big class but the 16 signatures are the fewest by any team ranked in the top 40. So while Michigan treaded water on NSD, Penn State, Michigan State and Maryland made moves and gained ground on the Wolverines within the division. Few schools nationally lost as much momentum on the recruiting trail throughout the course of the football season as the Wolverines did in losing five of their last six games.
Conference expansion has been a huge part of college football over the past few years and it has changed the way some teams are viewed on the recruiting trail. TCU was accustomed to signing the best classes in the Mountain West but finished outside of the top 50 nationally and eighth in the Big 12 on Wednesday. Utah and Colorado boast two of the worst Big 5 classes in the nation as Rivals ranks the Utes last in the Pac-12 while 247Sports ranked Colorado last in the league. Louisville is normally sitting atop its league in the Big East or AAC when it comes to recruiting. However, the Cards ranked ninth in the ACC and 47th overall by 247Sports, was 10th in the ACC and 46th overall by Rivals and didn’t get a top 40 mention by ESPN. Additionally, Syracuse and Pitt finished ninth and 12th respectively in the ACC while Maryland and Rutgers finished ninth and 10th respectively in the Big Ten. Even Nebraska finished sixth in the Big Ten.
Bret Bielema had a nice group, finishing 31st nationally in the team rankings. However, the Hogs, a team that finished very well last year with Alex Collins and Denver Kirkland, missed on their two big targets in Solomon Thomas (Stanford) and Richard Yeargin III (Clemson) this year. The Hogs finished 11th in the SEC in the team ranks, miles behind the top four classes in the league — all of which hail from the SEC West (Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn). The already steep uphill climb appears to be getting tougher rather than easier for the Hogs' field general.
Purdue and Illinois
Neither the Boilermakers nor the Illini had a lot left on their boards entering the day but both Purdue and Illinois finished at the bottom of the Big Ten. The duo finished 70th (Purdue) and 71st (Illinois) respectively in 247Sports national team rankings and finished only ahead of Colorado among Big 5 schools. Tim Beckman was last in the Big Ten in recruiting this year and Darrell Hazell was 13th. The already extremely difficult turnaround projects in West Lafayette and Champaign don’t appear to be getting any easier. And, by the way, Indiana had a solid class ranked in the top 50 nationally by some.
With National Signing Day in the books, coaches have a clear view of their roster for the upcoming season. Although most recruits won’t arrive on campus until the summer, the coaching staff now has a better idea of what the depth chart might look like for the next year.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini finished his sixth season in Lincoln with a solid 9-4 mark, and the Cornhuskers enter spring practice with momentum after beating Georgia in the Gator Bowl.
Pelini has won at least nine games in each of his six years at Nebraska. However, the expectations in Lincoln are to win a Big Ten championship, and Pelini and his staff hopes the 2014 signing class is another step in claiming a conference title.
Where Nebraska’s 2014 Signing Class Came From
The Cornhuskers signed a total of 24 prospects in the 2014 signing class and will bring on 18 players as walk-on recruits.
While some programs can live off in-state recruiting to fill out a class, Nebraska has to go outside of the state borders.
The Cornhuskers inked prospects from 13 states, including four from Texas, three from Florida and two from Missouri.
Here’s the full breakdown of Nebraska’s recruiting class:
|Texas - 4||Nevada - 1|
|Florida - 3||Wisconsin - 1|
|Nebraska - 3||Kansas - 1|
|Louisiana - 3||Virginia - 1|
|Missouri - 2||Alabama - 1|
|Illinois - 2|
|Mississippi - 1|
|Georgia - 1|
Of note: 22 of the 24 prospects signed came from the high school ranks, with only two junior college recruits.
Areas of Focus
|Defensive Backs - 5||Running Backs - 2|
|Wide Receivers - 4||Tight End - 1|
|Offensive Line - 4||Kicker - 1|
|Defensive Line - 4||Linebacker - 1|
|Quarterbacks - 2|
With Nebraska set to lose guards Spencer Long and Andrew Rodriguez, center Cole Pensick and tackles Brent Qvale and Jeremiah Sirles, the offensive line was one of this team’s biggest needs in 2014. Ideally, the Cornhuskers will be able to redshirt their four recruits on the line. However, signing four players will help keep the numbers at a stable level for Pelini. Illinois native Tanner Farmer is the highest rated lineman of the bunch, ranking No. 251 nationally in 247Sports Composite rankings. Nevada’s Nick Gates ranks No. 293 in the same evaluation, while D.J. Foster ranks No. 474 nationally.
As we mentioned above, the signing class in 2014 isn’t necessarily about answering the needs for the upcoming year. Instead, a recruiting class is often the answer for the next two or three seasons. But in Nebraska’s case, with cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, along with safety Andrew Green departing, more depth was needed right away in the secondary. Five defensive backs were signed, including junior college recruit Byerson Cockrell. The other four defensive backs inked by Pelini were all three-star recruits, including Nebraska native Luke Gifford (No. 867 in 247Sports Composite).
Four receivers signed in the 2014 signing class, which is clearly a need with Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell set to expire their eligibility at the end of this season.
Another area of focus was the defensive line, as a total of four prospects are slated to join that unit. Junior college recruit Joe Keels and freshman Peyton Newell are two names to watch this preseason.
Byerson Cockrell, DB (East Mississippi Community College)
Recorded 33 tackles and three interceptions at East Mississippi Community College last season.
Zack Darlington, QB (Apopka High School)
Missed most of senior year due to injury. Rated as the No. 440 national recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite rankings.
Joe Keels, DE (Highland Community College)
Rated as the No. 43 junior college recruit by ESPN.
Potential Impact Recruits for 2014
Zack Darlington, QB
Tommy Armstrong should have the inside track to win the starting job, but redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton and Darlington will have a chance to make their case for the No. 1 spot this preseason.
Tanner Farmer, OL
At 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, Farmer has the necessary size to play as a true freshman. Even if Farmer doesn’t start, he could be a valuable piece of the two-deep on the offensive line.
Nick Gates, OL
Another potential future stalwart on the offensive line will likely factor into the two-deep.
Joe Keels, DE/Byerson Cockrell, DB
When you bring in junior college recruits, you don’t bring them in to sit on the bench. Expect Keels and Cockrell to find a place on the depth chart this year.
Drew Brown, K
Should battle to replace Pat Smith at kicker.
After finishing inside of the top 30 in the team recruiting standings from 2011-13, Nebraska slipped to No. 35 nationally in the 247Sports rankings. The slight drop comes after finishing No. 17 nationally in 2013. Is it a reason to panic? Not at all. As all college football fans know, recruiting rankings are an inexact science. The Cornhuskers wisely added players on the offensive and defensive lines, while offering spots to receivers who can help with depth in 2014 or an even bigger role in 2015. Most of Nebraska’s starting lineup next year is in good shape, so there may be only a few players from the 2014 signing class making an immediate impact.
On paper, this appears to be a solid all-around class by Nebraska. The Cornhuskers finished No. 6 in the Big Ten and signed 22 three-star recruits. There’s always room to improve, but Pelini and the staff added a group that will help Nebraska compete for the Big Ten West Division title in 2014.
Rivals.com, Scout.com, ESPN and 247Sports.com 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. 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 Top 40 team rankings for 2014 — with a familiar name atop the standings once again.
• The SEC dominated again, landing the top two slots, seven of the top nine and 10 of the top 20 classes. Bama won its third straight recruiting title and the SEC's sixth in seven years. The only three teams with top-20 classes and losing records in 2013 were from the SEC (Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky).
• Ohio State left everyone else in the Big Ten in their dust. Michigan dropped on signing day and the rest of the Big Ten stood fairly still. The Buckeyes are lapping the field in the B1G when it comes to recruiting.
• The Trojans are back with a vengeance as they landed three top-40 players, including two five-stars on NSD. Coach Sark closed with a fury and landed the Pac-12's highest-rated class.
• The rest of the Pac-12 held its own, however. Stanford was awesome on Wednesday and Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA and Arizona all landed top-30 classes as well.
• The Big 12 struggled again. Oklahoma and Texas had strong classes but those two schools are accustomed to being in the top five nationally not 13th and 15th respectively. No other Big 12 team landed in the top 25 and only seven total top-100 players signed with the Big 12.
|3.||Florida St (29)||4||4||3||3|
|4.||Ohio St (23)||3||3||5||7|
Texas A&M (21)
|10.||Notre Dame (23)||10||11||6||11|
|16.||Ole Miss (26)||16||19||18||18|
|18.||South Carolina (21)||15||16||24||19|
|20.||Arizona St (28)||23||21||17||21|
|24.||Penn St (25)||24||24||25||24|
|25.||Michigan St (22)||25||22||21||29|
|26.||Oklahoma St (29)||28||27||14||28|
|29.||North Carolina (22)||29||23||31||32|
|30.||Virginia Tech (27)||27||25||37||31|
|32.||NC State (30)||34||30||26||38|
|37.||West Virginia (22)||36||38||40||37|
|38.||Texas Tech (27)||41||43||35||35|
|40.||Mississippi St (23)||38||41||39||36|
Also receiving votes: Indiana, TCU, USF, Northwestern
National Signing Day is essentially Christmas morning for college football coaches. The first Wednesday in February officially marks the addition of 20-30 new players for each roster, which is the result of nearly a year of work on the recruiting trail. And of course, coaching staffs are relieved just to get the class on campus and not have to worry anymore about a player changing his mind at the last minute or wondering if the parents will agree to sign the letter of intent.
Recruiting evaluations and rankings are an inexact science. Some five-star players won’t pan out into All-Americans, while a handful of two or three-star recruits will develop into some of the top players in the nation.
But while there are misses in recruiting evaluations, some of the star ratings do turn out to be accurate. And with that in mind, it’s time to take a look at which players could make an impact in their first season on campus.
It’s never easy to predict which freshmen could make an early impact in 2014. However, here’s a quick look at 10 players that can make a splash on the gridiron next season, along with a handful of names to watch this preseason.
10 True Freshmen Likely to Make an Impact in 2014
Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M
After two prolific seasons in College Station, Johnny Manziel decided to leave for the NFL. Manziel leaves big shoes to fill, but the Aggies seem to have three capable options waiting to battle for the starting spot. Sophomore Kenny Hill and senior Matt Joeckel have an edge in experience, but Allen’s talent and upside will be tough to keep off the field. The Arizona native was the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the 247 Composite rankings, finishing his high school career with 8,201 yards and 86 touchdowns. Allen doesn’t have Manziel’s mobility, but the 6-foot-3 freshman has a quick release and is one of the most accurate passers in the 2014 signing class. Enrolling in time to participate in spring practice will help Allen’s development, and he is expected to push Hill and Joeckel for the starting job.
Tony Brown/Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
We will cheat just a bit in this space and list two players instead of one. Although Alabama finished No. 2 in the SEC in pass defense, the Crimson Tide need immediate help in the secondary. Deion Belue and John Fulton expired their eligibility, and the cornerback play wasn’t quite up to Alabama’s usual standards last year. Even though it’s tough for true freshmen to make an impact at cornerback in the SEC, Brown and Humphrey should help right away. In the final 247Sports Composite rankings, Brown ranked as the No. 9 recruit, while Humphrey was No. 12. Both players have the athleticism and talent to make an immediate contribution in the secondary. And it’s likely Brown and Humphrey will find their way onto several future All-SEC lists.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Running back is arguably the easiest position to play as a true freshman in college, and Cook is just one of a handful of incoming recruits that will likely make a significant impact on the 2014 season from this position. Cook is the No. 13 recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings and is regarded as a five-star prospect by Rivals. Playing time in the Florida State backfield is available right away, as James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman left early for the NFL. Karlos Williams converted from safety to running back during the 2013 season and is expected to open the year as the No. 1 option. However, Cook should see plenty of action. The Miami native has excellent speed and elusiveness and has the size (5-foot-11, 196 pounds) to be more than a specialty player for the Seminoles. Expect Jimbo Fisher to get Cook involved early and often in 2014.
Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU
With Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry off to the NFL, the wide receiver position is a glaring need for LSU. Travin Dural is the team’s top returning statistical option at the position, catching only seven passes for 145 yards last year. Dural and Avery Peterson provide a solid foundation for new quarterback Anthony Jennings, but Dupre is a big catch on the recruiting trail. The New Orleans native turned down an opportunity to play at Florida State and committed to the in-state Tigers. Dupre was the No. 17 recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings and averaged 17.9 yards per catch as a high school senior. Expect Dupre to be prominently featured in LSU’s passing attack next year.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
As the No. 1 rated recruit in 247Sports Composite ranking, it should be no surprise Fournette makes an appearance on this list. The New Orleans native committed to LSU in early January and is already slated for a big role in the backfield in 2014. The Tigers lost Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue to the NFL Draft, leaving Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard as the top returning rushers. Magee and Hilliard are capable options, but Fournette is a special talent. At 6-foot-1 and 226 pounds, Fournette has the size to be an every-down back, while also possessing good speed to break big plays on the ground. Look for Fournette to emerge as LSU’s No. 1 back (and a potential All-SEC player) in 2014.
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Even though Texas A&M has to replace Johnny Manziel, the defense is an even bigger concern for Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies allowed 6.4 yards per play in 2013 and finished last in the SEC by giving up 32.2 points a game. Youth and injuries played a role in the defensive struggles, but more talent and difference-makers are needed. That’s where Garrett comes into play. The 6-foot-4 defensive end registered 20.5 sacks and three forced fumbles as a high school senior. Most scouting reports believe Garrett has room to improve as a pass rusher, but he has excellent athleticism and has the upside to grow into a dominant defensive end. Garrett is the type of player Sumlin needs to turn Texas A&M’s defense into a strength.
Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
Not only is McMillan poised to claim a spot on the all-name team next season, the Georgia native is likely to be one of the top impact recruits in the nation. Ohio State had an uncharacteristic year on defense last year, finishing seventh in the conference in yards allowed per game and 11th against the pass. Urban Meyer wasn’t going to stand pat after 2013, and changes started on the coaching staff, with Larry Johnson Sr. joining from Penn State and Chris Ash coming from Arkansas to share the defensive coordinator title with Luke Fickell. The back seven of the defense will receive the most attention this preseason, especially after cornerback Bradley Roby and linebacker Ryan Shazier left early for the NFL. McMillan is the No. 22 recruit in the 247Sports Composite ranking and is a five-star prospect by ESPN. The Georgia native is physically ready to play and can anchor the middle of the linebacking corps if he wins the starting job this preseason.
Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
With quarterback Trevor Knight coming off a strong performance in the Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma is a team on the rise for the 2014 season. Can the Sooners build on that momentum and claim a spot in the playoffs? Much will depend on Knight’s development, but Oklahoma also needs a go-to back to emerge. Enter Mixon. Brennan Clay and Roy Finch have expired their eligibility, leaving talented, but inexperienced options in Keith Ford and Alex Ross as the top two running backs. Mixon was rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN, while 247Sports Composite rankings placed the California native No. 21 nationally. Mixon checks in at a sturdy 6-foot-1, 209 pounds and is regarded as one of the top all-around backs in the 2014 signing class. If Mixon is as good as advertised, he might be the final piece in Oklahoma’s run to a Big 12 title next year.
Cameron Robinson, OT, Alabama
Offensive linemen can significantly benefit from a redshirt year to develop in the weight room, but Robinson may not have that luxury. Alabama loses two starters from last year’s line, including standout left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. Robinson is the No. 4 recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings and is considered the top offensive line prospect in the 2014 signing class. The Louisiana native is a mammoth 6-foot-7 tackle prospect that has all of the tools to start for three years at tackle in Tuscaloosa. Although Robinson is eventually the answer to one of Alabama’s tackle spots, with Austin Shepherd returning after starting 13 games last year, and standout junior college recruit Dominick Jackson also on the way to Tuscaloosa, Robinson can ease his way into the starting lineup.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Replacing Tajh Boyd’s production will be no easy assignment for Clemson. That task is made even more challenging with the departures of receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. But the news in Death Valley wasn’t all bad so far this offseason, as offensive coordinator Chad Morris didn’t leave to be a head coach, and the receiving corps is still in good shape with Charone Peake, Adam Humphries and Mike Williams returning for next season. Watson enrolled early to compete with Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly this spring, and there’s a good chance the true freshman will win the No. 1 job. Watson accounted for 17,134 yards in his high school career and was the No. 41 prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings. The Georgia native is also a dual-threat option, and if he quickly picks up the offense this spring, Watson could have a huge freshman campaign under Morris’ direction.
Five More Names Likely to Make an Impact
Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Evans is from Auburn, Ala., yet decided to sign with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. The 6-foot-3 linebacker is a good fit as an edge rusher for the Alabama defense.
Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee
Hurd is one of the top recruits in Butch Jones’ monster 36-man class. The Tennessee native is listed as a five-star prospect by 247Sports.
Ermon Lane, WR, Florida State
Lane is one of two elite receiver prospects to sign with Florida State. The Homestead native could be one of Jameis Winston’s top targets in 2014.
Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State
Rudolph is the second of Florida State’s instant impact recruits at receiver. The West Palm Beach native is regarded for his excellent hands and speed.
Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford
The missing piece in Stanford’s offense last year? A tight end. Schultz should solve that problem in 2014.
Other Names to Know for 2014
Jamal Adams, S, LSU
LSU is loaded with talent in the secondary. Cornerbacks Jalen Mills, Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White anchor one of the top pass defenses in the nation next year, but safety Craig Loston must be replaced. Adams will likely find his way onto the field in some capacity in 2014.
Drew Barker, QB, Kentucky
Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith are back in the mix in 2014, but Barker will be tough to keep off the field. He ranked the No. 6 pro quarterback by 247Sports.
Saeed Blacknall, WR, Penn State
Blacknall was a late pickup in the recruiting process for James Franklin, and he could be one of Penn State’s key additions. With Allen Robinson off to the NFL, Blacknall will have an opportunity to earn immediate playing time.
Andrew Brown, DT/Quin Blanding, S, Virginia
Coming off a 2-10 season, it’s rare to see a program land a five-star recruit. However, the Cavaliers landed two five-star prospects, and Brown and Blanding should be on the field right away this year.
K.D. Cannon, WR, Baylor
Cannon could be Baylor’s answer to replacing Tevin Reese’s speed and big-play ability next season.
Lorenzo Carter, DL, Georgia
Even though the Bulldogs return nearly everyone on defense, Carter – the No. 18 prospect in the 247Composite rankings – will be tough to keep off the field for new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
Matt Elam, DT, Kentucky
Elam is one of the key recruits for Mark Stoops’ second class in Lexington. He should play right away on Kentucky’s defensive line, especially with Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble departing at tackle.
Will Grier, QB, Florida
Tyler Murphy transferred to Boston College, but Jeff Driskel is returning from a leg injury that forced him to miss most of 2013. Driskel is Florida’s likely starter, but Grier will provide competition.
Da’Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama
Nick Saban reeled in another elite recruiting class, which includes one of the top defensive line hauls in the nation. Hand is the No. 5 recruit in the 247Sports Composite and should find his way into the rotation next year.
Brandon Harris, QB, LSU
It’s never easy to start as a true freshman in the SEC. But if Anthony Jennings struggles in his first year as LSU’s starting quarterback, will the Tigers let Harris play?
Drake Harris, WR, Michigan
Although Michigan’s offensive line is the team’s biggest concern this spring, the Wolverines also need to develop more weapons for quarterback Devin Gardner. Harris may provide a boost to the receiving corps right away.
Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina
Even with Khris Francis, T.J. Logan and Romar Morris already in place at running back, North Carolina will have to find a way to get Hood on the field.
Adoree’ Jackson, CB/WR, USC
The No. 7 prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings was a Signing Day pickup for Steve Sarkisian. Jackson could play on offense or defense.
Jeff Jones, RB, Minnesota
The Golden Gophers held off a challenge from other BCS programs to land Jones in the 2014 signing class. Jones should team with David Cobb to give Minnesota an effective one-two punch.
Laurence Jones, S, Alabama
Landon Collins is set at one safety spot for Nick Saban, but who will replace the contributions from Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix?
Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami
Stephen Morris has expired his eligibility at Miami, leaving Kaaya, senior Ryan Williams, redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen and sophomore Gray Crow competing for the No. 1 job.
Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State
It’s rare for Iowa State to sign a top-100 recruit, so getting Lazard to Ames is a big deal for Paul Rhoads. The Cyclones return Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs, but Lazard will be tough to keep off the field.
Damien Mama, OL, USC
The Trojans need bodies on the offensive line with two starters leaving. Mama will play for new coach Steve Sarkisian in 2014 and will take a two-year Mormon mission after his freshman season.
Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M
As his nickname would indicate, Noil is fast, athletic and a potential game-changer for Texas A&M’s offense. The Aggies have one of the SEC’s top receiving corps, but Noil will have a place on the field in 2014.
Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan
Wolverines appear to be set at cornerback with Raymon Taylor and Blake Countess, but Peppers will find a role in Greg Mattison's defense.
Damian Prince, OT, Maryland
The Terrapins have to upgrade their talent to compete in their new Big Ten home, and Prince – a five-star tackle – should help the offense in 2014.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
With Clint Chelf departing, the Cowboys will turn to J.W. Walsh and Rudolph to battle for the starting job this spring.
Foster Sawyer/Grayson Muehlstein, QB, TCU
Casey Pachall is gone, and Trevone Boykin will likely play in an athlete role on offense in 2014. Sawyer or Muehlstein have an opportunity to win the starting job.
David Sharpe, OT, Florida
The Gators need immediate help on the offensive line. Sharpe was selected to the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Arrion Springs, CB, Oregon
Could Springs help fill the void left by Terrance Mitchell’s early departure to the NFL?
Dylan Summer-Gardner, S, Boise State
Summer-Gardner ranks as the No. 87 overall recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings and is the prize of Bryan Harsin’s first recruiting class at Boise State.
Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida
The Gators got a huge contribution from one true freshman at cornerback last season (Vernon Hargreaves III). Could Tabor make the same type of impact?
Rod Taylor, OL, Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze and his staff wasted no time getting top recruit Laremy Tunsil into the mix last year. With that in mind, Taylor could be in the mix for playing time this fall.
Racean Thomas, RB, Auburn
Tre Mason emerged as one of the top running backs in the nation but chose to leave Auburn for the NFL. Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are back, but there’s room for Thomas to find a role in 2014.
Casey Tucker, OT, Stanford
Another standout offensive lineman heads to Stanford. Tucker was the No. 82 prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Tyler Whiley, WR, Arizona State
Whiley was listed by some recruiting services as a cornerback recruit, but he appears ticketed for a spot at receiver in 2014.
Dexter Wideman, DT, South Carolina
Wideman flipped from Florida State to South Carolina on Signing Day. His commitment is huge for a defense that has to replace standout tackle Kelcy Quarles.
Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona
Someone has to replace Ka’Deem Carey. Is this Fresno native the next star running back under Rich Rodriguez?
Joseph Yearby, RB, Miami
Duke Johnson is expected to miss spring practice recovering from a leg injury suffered in the loss to Florida State. The junior should be at full strength for the season opener, but Yearby gives Miami a good fallback option if Johnson needs a lighter workload early in the year.
File Away for 2015
Keller Chryst, QB, Stanford
Kevin Hogan still has two more years of eligibility remaining, but Chryst will be a name to watch in 2015 or 2016 as Stanford’s quarterback of the future.
David Cornwell, QB, Alabama
It’s not out of the question Cornwell wins the starting job this offseason, but with Jacob Coker transferring in from Florida State, it’s hard to envision the true freshman starting in Week 1.
J.J. Cosentino, QB, Florida State
When it comes to quarterbacks, there’s not a better evaluator of talent than Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. 2014 could be Jameis Winston’s last season in Tallahassee, and with a redshirt year ahead, Cosentino could be in the mix to start in 2015.
Morgan Mahalak, QB, Oregon
If Marcus Mariota leaves for the NFL after 2014, Mahalak will be in the mix to take over as Oregon’s starter in 2015. A redshirt year makes sense for the California native with Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues returning as backups next year.
Sean White, QB, Auburn
Is White the replacement for Nick Marshall in 2015?
Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
With Todd Gurley returning and Keith Marshall back from a torn ACL, playing time could be limited for Michel in 2014. However, Gurley isn’t expected to stick in Athens for his senior year, which leaves Michel in position to take the top spot in the Georgia backfield in 2015.
Jacob Park, QB, Georgia
Hutson Mason should be set as Georgia’s starter in 2014. Park seems destined for a redshirt and an opportunity to compete for the starting nod in 2015.
What’s the fun in pinpointing that Doug McDermott is a strong contender for Big East Player of the Year? That’s a little obvious considering he’s the nation’s second leading scorer.
Of course, McDermott isn’t the only clear-cut player angling to be his league’s top player this season. The favorites for conference players of the year are more or less clear in many leagues.
Conference tournaments are roughly six weeks away, so we’re here to say the field for conference players of the year shouldn’t be set.
Granted, players like McDermott at Creighton, C.J. Fair at Syracuse, Jabari Parker at Duke and Nik Stauskas at Michigan are plenty deserving, but others are worth watching for top honors. These players maybe aren’t on the top teams, or they’re poised for great stretch runs, or they’ve only recently gone on hot streaks in league play.
Dark Horses for Conference Player of the Year honors
The Favorites: Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Jabari Parker (Duke)
Dark Horse: Rodney Hood, Duke
If Hood converts his dunk against Syracuse or goes to the free throw line on a Rakeem Christmas foul on Saturday, maybe Hood is up there with the leaders. Either way, he’s still getting less fanfare thanks to playing with perhaps the nation’s best freshman in Jabari Parker. Hood is second on the Blue Devils at 16.9 points per game, but leads them in scoring in conference games (16.4 ppg).
Dark Horse II: Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
Brogdon was 0 for 5 from the floor and scoreless in an embarrassing 87-52 loss to Tennessee on Dec. 30, but since then, he’s been Virginia’s most consistent player. Brogdon, who missed all of last season while recovering from foot surgery, has been more productive than teammate Joe Harris since conference play began. The sophomore guard is averaging 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists since league play began.
Dark Horse III: Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh
Patterson is second only to T.J. Warren in scoring in conference games at 18.8 points per game, but the Panthers don’t have any wins over top teams in the league like Syracuse, Duke and Virginia. That may be enough of a knock on Patterson to keep him off a few ballots despite an outstanding season.
The Favorites: Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), Shabazz Napier (Connecticut) and Russ Smith (Louisville)
Dark Horse: Markus Kennedy, SMU
The NCAA gets flak for being cold to athletes at times. Not for Markus Kennedy, though. Kennedy was able to surprise his mother in Philadelphia with a visit Saturday before the sergeant in the Air Force was deployed to Kuwait. SMU obtained a waiver from the NCAA to pay for the flight, but not until after Kennedy was 10 for 10 from the floor with 21 points and 15 rebounds in a key win over Memphis. Kennedy has five double-doubles in American Athletic Conference play for a team that should make its first NCAA Tournament in 21 years.
The Favorites: Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), Andrew Wiggins (Kansas)
Dark Horse: Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
Is Ejim even the best candidate on his own team? That’s debatable. DeAndre Kane is putting up 16.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and six assists per game. Before Iowa State’s brief swoon in conference play, Kane was an All-America contender. Ejim, though, has been a rock in a frontcourt who has helped lift the Cyclones out of their recent slump. Ejim scored 44 total points and added 29 total rebounds in a sweep of the Oklahoma schools in a span of three days to lift his average to 18.8 points and eight rebounds in conference play.
Dark Horse II: Juwan Staten, West Virginia
If the Mountaineers were closer to playing in the NCAA Tournament, Staten would get more of a run for league player of the year. Still, West Virginia has improved from a tough out to a team able to beat teams with better postseason resumes (Baylor and Kansas State). The Dayton transfer is averaging 20.4 points per game in league play.
The Favorite: Doug McDermott (Creighton)
Dark Horse: Bryce Cotton, Providence
This is the league race with the least amount of suspense. McDermott could cap his stellar career as the National Player of the Year. Big East Player of the Year seems to be a given. In any other year, though, Cotton likely would be the guy. The Friars veteran is fourth in the Big East in usage rate, not a surprise considering he averages 21.3 points, 5.8 assists and 39.5 minutes per game. In a head-to-head matchup, Cotton scored 23 points to McDermott's 21 in the Friars' win on Jan. 18
The Favorites: Gary Harris (Michigan State) and Nik Stauskas (Michigan)
Dark Horse: Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
The Hawkeyes need to knock off one of the top teams in the league when the country is watching. Still, Iowa rarely plays down to its competition, and the Hawkeyes have no let downs on the schedule so far. Give credit to the veteran Marble, who averages 17 points per game in league play.
Dark Horse II: Terran Petteway, Nebraska
Another great player on a team that’s going to the NIT. The sophomore Petteway remade himself during his redshirt season after transferring from Texas Tech, and now the 6-6, 209-pound guard averages 18.2 points per game. His emergence came Jan. 26 with a 35-point performance against Minnesota.
The Favorite: Nick Johnson (Arizona)
Dark Horse: Chasson Randle, Stanford
Back from a sophomore slump, Randle is carrying Stanford to a potential Tournament bid. His shooting percentage has gone from below 40 percent last season to 48.1 all while the Cardinal has played most of the season without point guard Aaron Bright. Stanford still needs a few more key wins to feel good about a bid, but Randle is leading the way at 18.8 points per game.
Dark Horse II: Justin Cobbs, Cal
Cobbs’ season isn’t all that different from last year. He’s still averaging more than 15 points per game, and his efficiency numbers from the floor haven’t changed dramatically. But Cobbs is the go-to player this season after playing as the running mate to Allen Crabbe as a junior. Cobbs’ game-winning shot against Arizona, though, makes him a contender.
The Favorites: Jabari Brown (Missouri), Casey Prather (Florida) and Julius Randle (Kentucky)
Dark Horse: Jordan McRae, Tennessee
Jarnell Stokes is the only SEC player averaging a double-double in conference play, but McRae may be the most valuable down the stretch. McRae scored 34 against Arkansas and 26 in a critical win against fellow bubble-dweller Ole Miss. A year ago, McRae went on a streak of eight consecutive games with at least 15 points — including five in a row with at least 20 — down the stretch. After Wednesday's loss to Vanderbilt, Tennessee may need another stretch like that to make the NCAA Tournament.
For most teams, January is the first normal month of the college basketball season.
No breaks for finals. No trips to far-flung locations for tournaments in front of sparse crowds. And no wild fluctuations between the caliber of competition in non-conference schedules.
Now that those teams and players have hit that stride, our college basketball staff takes a look at the most impressive players of the month and the biggest surprises.
Who was the Player of the Month in January?
Mitch Light: I didn’t overthink this one; it’s Doug McDermott from Creighton. The frontrunner for National Player of the Year honors, McDermott was sensational during January, averaging 26.1 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting over 50 percent from the field. He started the New Year with a 30-point, 10-rebound performance in a win at Seton Hall and capped it off with a season-high 39 points — including the game-winning three with 2.5 seconds remaining — in a 63–60 victory over St. John’s.
David Fox: Even though McDermott is a virtual certainty for National Player of the Year, my top player of January is one of the few players in the Big East who can match McDermott’s scoring prowess. Bryce Cotton of Providence has been one of the most underrated players in the country, but the Friars are on the precipice of their first NCAA bid in a decade thanks to Cotton’s play of late. Cotton averaged 21.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in a month that saw Providence beat Georgetown, Creighton and Butler. Even more, Cotton has been a workhorse, averaging 41.1 minutes per game thanks to a double-overtime game against St. John’s in which he played all 50 minutes.
Braden Gall: Few players had as good of a start to the 2014 calendar year as Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick. First of all, the Bearcats went 9–0 in conference play during January, highlighted by wins at Memphis and Louisville. Kilpatrick scored 18 in the road win over the Tigers and 28 in the road win over the Cardinals. On the month, the Cincy sharpshooter averaged 20.1 points and 4.8 rebounds and shot 86 percent from the foul line. In addition, he had just nine turnovers in the final seven games of the month.
What team surprised you the most in January?
Mitch Light: Anyone who watched Virginia in the month of December has to be stunned that the Cavs are off to such a fast start in the ACC. In a four-day stretch in early December, Virginia scored 38 points in a loss at home to Wisconsin and lost at Green Bay. Then after closer-than-expected wins over Northern Iowa and Norfolk State, Virginia was blasted by 35 points at Tennessee. Since that debacle in Knoxville, the Cavs are 8–1, with the only loss coming by three points at Duke. The emergence of sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon as a consistent scorer has been a huge key. Since failing to score in 21 minutes in the loss at Tennessee, Brogdon has averaged 15.2 points, with a low of 11 against Florida State and a high of 18 against Virginia Tech. Virginia is done with Duke and North Carolina, and only has to play Syracuse once — at home. Don’t be shocked if this team stays in the ACC title hunt until early March.
David Fox: Texas is perhaps the biggest surprise of any team since conference play began. With a new athletic director and diminishing results in recent years, Rick Barnes appeared to be on his last legs with the Longhorns. Entering the season, the Horns did not have the look of a team ready to compete in a deep Big 12. The roster had been shed of most of its high-profile recruits — and it’s worth mentioning those prospects didn’t really pan out, anyway. In reality, though, Texas shed itself of malcontents and egos. The Longhorns have become a legit team in the Big 12 and a threat to advance in the NCAA Tournament thanks to the out-of-nowhere emergence of Jonathan Holmes, the arrival of freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor and development of Cameron Ridley.
Braden Gall: Have to go with Texas in this case. Rick Barnes entered this year squarely on the hot seat needing a big season to save the day. And with one upperclassmen on the entire roster, the odds were stacked against the Texas head coach. But he has rallied his troops behind the development of a freshman point guard and two monsters in the paint. The very young and very inexperienced Horns now sit alone in second place in what many consider the best league in the nation. They have crushed Kansas at home, handled Baylor and West Virginia with ease on the road, beat Kansas State and Iowa State at home to top four ranked teams in a row for the first time in school history.
Arizona has announced a small tweak to its football uniforms for 2014. The Wildcats used a gradient look on their numbers last season but will switch to a solid color in 2014.
The gradient numbers are an interesting look for jerseys, but the solid color is easier to identify.
Here’s a look at the updated jerseys for 2014:
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 5.
• Big news, fellas: Derek Jeter and Hannah Davis (pictured) have reportedly broken up.
• It's National Signing Day, when grown men pay an inordinate amount of attention to high school students. Athlon's recruiting expert Braden Gall has lots of good stuff today, including the top 15 recruiting classes of all time.
• Can this possibly be real? George Zimmerman and DMX are apparently going to box.
• The toilets in Sochi are getting a lot of attention, and not without reason. This one is particularly amazing. Sadly, though, the visiting journalists are not feeling the love from their hosts.
• Canada's Olympians are feeling their oats. They're trash-talking Shaun White.
• The best trolls in all of sports. Although I think they're giving Skip Bayless a little too much credit by labeling him a troll. I think he actually believes everything he says.
• Watch a high school game end on an in-bounds alley-oop.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
It’s February and while the groundhog may have seen his shadow, one of the best indicators that winter is coming to an end and that is baseball is just around the corner. To that end, spring training will commence in full in Florida and Arizona in less than two weeks with MLB's official Opening Day slated for March 31. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers get a head start on everyone because of the two-game series they will play in Sydney, Australia, on March 22-23 to open their 2014 campaigns.
Elsewhere, the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox will reunite on Feb. 15 as one of the 15 teams in Florida, otherwise known as the Grapefruit League. Out west, the Cactus League is home to the other 15 teams who gather in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area to prepare for the upcoming 162-game regular season, and hopefully a few more games after that.
To help get you ready for the upcoming season, Athlon Sports' 2014 MLB Preview magazine is available on newsstands and to order online now. Starting with 21 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between.
This year's edition includes features on "14 Things to Watch in 2014," as well as a look back on the 2004 MLB Draft, the newest crop of Cuban stars, the unwritten rules of baseball etiquette and much more. As always, there's team-by-team preview of all 30 clubs, with rosters, stats and schedules as well as a look at each club's farm system and our predictions for how this season will shake out, both for the regular and postseason. Athlon Sports' 2014 MLB Preview is the most complete preseason publication available today. Order your copy now!
Below are the reporting dates and locations for 2014 spring training for all 30 MLB teams:
|Team||Location||Pitchers & Catchers||Position Players|
|Reporting Date||First Workout||Reporting Date||First Workout|
|Arizona Diamondbacks||Scottsdale, AZ||Feb. 6||Feb. 7||Feb. 11||Feb. 12|
|Atlanta Braves||Lake Buena Vista, FL||Feb. 13||Feb. 14||Feb. 18||Feb. 19|
|Baltimore Orioles||Sarasota, FL||Feb. 13||Feb. 14||Feb. 18||Feb. 19|
|Boston Red Sox||Lee County, FL||Feb. 15||Feb. 17||Feb. 18||Feb. 20|
|Chicago Cubs||Mesa, AZ||Feb. 13||Feb. 14||Feb. 18||Feb. 19|
|Chicago White Sox||Glendale, AZ||Feb. 15||Feb. 15||Feb. 20||Feb. 20|
|Cincinnati Reds||Goodyear, AZ||Feb. 14||Feb. 14||Feb. 19||Feb. 19|
|Cleveland Indians||Goodyear, AZ||Feb. 11||Feb. 13||Feb. 15||Feb. 17|
|Colorado Rockies||Scottsdale, AZ||Feb. 15||Feb. 17||Feb. 21||Feb. 23|
|Detroit Tigers||Lakeland, FL||Feb. 13||Feb. 14||Feb. 17||Feb. 18|
|Houston Astros||Kissimmee, FL||Feb. 15||Feb. 16||Feb. 19||Feb. 20|
|Kansas City Royals||Surprise, AZ||Feb. 14||Feb. 15||Feb. 19||Feb. 20|
|Los Angeles Angels||Tempe, AZ||Feb. 13||Feb. 14||Feb. 18||Feb. 19|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||Glendale, AZ||Feb. 8||Feb. 9||Feb. 13||Feb. 14|
|Miami Marlins||Jupiter, FL||Feb. 16||Feb. 16||Feb. 20||Feb. 22|
|Milwaukee Brewers||Phoenix, AZ||Feb. 15||Feb. 17||Feb. 21||Feb. 22|
|Minnesota Twins||Fort Myers, FL||Feb. 16||Feb. 17||Feb. 21||Feb. 22|
|New York Mets||Port St. Lucie, FL||Feb. 15||Feb. 17||Feb. 20||Feb. 20|
|New York Yankees||Tampa, FL||Feb. 14||Feb. 14||Feb. 19||Feb. 20|
|Oakland A's||Phoenix, AZ||Feb. 14||Feb. 15||Feb. 19||Feb. 20|
|Philadelphia Phillies||Clearwater, FL||Feb. 13||Feb. 13||Feb. 18||Feb. 18|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||Bradenton, FL||Feb. 12||Feb. 13||Feb. 17||Feb. 18|
|St. Louis Cardinals||Jupiter, FL||Feb. 12||Feb. 13||Feb. 17||Feb. 18|
|San Diego Padres||Peoria, AZ||Feb. 13||Feb. 14||Feb. 18||Feb. 19|
|San Francisco Giants||Scottsdale, AZ||Feb. 14||Feb. 15||Feb. 18||Feb. 19|
|Seattle Mariners||Peoria, AZ||Feb. 12||Feb. 13||Feb. 17||Feb. 18|
|Tampa Bay Rays||Charlotte County, FL||Feb. 14||Feb. 15||Feb. 19||Feb. 20|
|Texas Rangers||Surprise, AZ||Feb. 16||Feb. 17||Feb. 19||Feb. 20|
|Toronto Blue Jays||Dunedin, FL||Feb. 16||Feb. 17||Feb. 20||Feb. 21|
|Washington Nationals||Viera, FL||Feb. 13||Feb. 15||Feb. 18||Feb. 20|
The "modern" recruiting era is tied directly to the online recruiting websites. Rivals and Scout began the explosion around 2001 and ESPN and 247Sports have powerfully entered the market since. The rankings databases only go back 10 or 11 years, so it is difficult to evaluate historic recruiting classes. But since the turn of the millennium, fans and analysts alike have a tremendous amount of data to evaluate recruiting rankings, talent development and scouting evaluations.
Studying recruiting rankings can highlight coaching deficiencies as well as the overachievers. That said, the best recruiting classes of the modern era are more about salesmanship, brand equity, the NFL and big-time athletic department budgets.
Here are the top 15 recruiting classes of the modern era:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2008
Rank: 1st (Athlon Sports), 32 signees
Key Players: Mark Barron, Julio Jones, Terrence Cody, Marcel Dareus, Dont'a Hightower, Mark Ingram, Barrett Jones, Courtney Upshaw, Damion Square, Michael Williams, Robert Lester, Brad Smelley
Nowhere is the impact of recruiting rankings more apparent that in Tuscaloosa, Ala. On the verge of signing yet another No. 1 class, Nick Saban began his domination of the recruiting trail back in 2008 when he signed Athlon Sports’ No. 1 class. This group was a huge part of the 2009 national championship and obviously was featured in both the '11 and '12 title runs. This group includes five first-round picks and two second-rounders among those who went on to play at the next level. It is hard to argue that a group that won three BCS titles and features double-digit NFL draft picks isn’t the best modern collection of talent ever assembled.
2. USC Trojans, 2003
Rank: 3rd (Rivals), 28 signees
Key Players: Reggie Bush, Sam Baker, Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson, Ryan Kalil, Terrell Thomas, Steve Smith, LenDale White, Fili Moala, John David Booty, Eric Wright, Brandon Ting, Ryan Ting, Drean Rucker, Chauncey Washington
Much like the ’08 Alabama group, this team experienced three national championship runs. Only two ended in victory — it lost to Texas in 2005, but more on that in a second — but this class was the foundation of USC's Pac-10 dynasty. Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy and is one of four first-round picks from this class. Steve Smith, Terrell Thomas, Ryan Kalil and LenDale White were second-round picks while still others went later in the draft. USC dominated recruiting for nearly a decade and it led to seven conference championships from 2002-08.
3. Florida Gators, 2006
Rank: 2nd (Rivals), 27 signees
Key Players: Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Brandon Spikes, Maurice Hurt, Riley Cooper, Jermaine Cunningham, Lawrence Marsh, Brandon James, Marcus Gilbert, Terron Sanders, Dustin Doe, AJ Jones, Carl Johnson
At one point or another, 16 of the 27 recruits in this class went on to start a game for the Gators. But this class was led at the top by elite superstars Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes. Jermaine Cunningham and Spikes were second-rounders while Maurice Hurt and Riley Cooper went later in the draft. Tebow alone makes this class a gem for Florida and it led directly to two BCS national championships. The depth in the middle and at the bottom are nearly as impressive as the elite-level talent of the top names.
4. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009
Rank: 3rd (Athlon), 28 signees
Key Players: AJ McCarron, Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, James Carpenter, Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker, Eddie Lacy, Quinton Dial, Nico Johnson, Ed Stinson, Anthony Steen, Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, Tana Patrick
This group was a big part of three national championships at the Capstone and played a much bigger role in the 2012 title than the '08 haul. This class has already featured six first-round picks and a few more (such as AJ McCarron) should hear their name called in May. An interesting thing to note about this class is the offensive line. It was the best OL in the nation in 2012 and three-fifths of the starters signed in this class.
5. Texas Longhorns, 2002
Rank: 1st (Rivals), 28 signees
Key Players: Vince Young, Kasey Studdard, Rod Wright, Brian Robison, Aaron Ross, Chase Pittman, Justin Blalock, Aaron Harris, David Thomas, Selvin Young
This group was the core of the 2005 national championship run led by superstar quarterback and five-star recruit Vince Young. He was the gem of the nation’s No. 1 class that eventually featured numerous NFL Draft picks. Ross, Studdard, Wright, Robison, Pittman, Thomas and Blalock were all huge pieces to Mack Brown’s championship puzzle and most of them have gone on to excel in the NFL.
6. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2002
Rank: 5th (Rivals), 24 signees
Key Players: AJ Hawk, Santonio Holmes, Nick Mangold, Troy Smith, Maurice Clarett, Bobby Carpenter, Mike D’Andrea, Doug Datish, Quinn Pitcock, Nate Salley, Roy Hall
This class was a big part of the 2002 national championship run as just freshmen, with Maurice Clarett playing the biggest role. This group features elite offensive firepower and Troy Smith, a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who led his team to the national title game in 2006. This group provided four first-round picks in the 2006 NFL Draft and included six other picks from the 2005-07 drafts as well. Three BCS title appearances and four Big Ten titles over a five-year span indicate that Jim Tressell’s ’02 haul was one of the best in recent memory.
7. Oklahoma Sooners, 2006
Rank: 9th (Rivals), 28 signees
Key Players: Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, Jermaine Gresham, Trent Williams, Demarco Murray, Jeremy Beal, Quinton Carter, Chris Brown, Dominique Franks, Mossis Madu, Tim Johnson, Brandon Caleb, Malcolm Williams, Chase Beeler
All four Sooners who went in first round of the 2010 NFL Draft signed with Bob Stoops in this class and all four NFL draft picks from Oklahoma in the '11 draft came from this class too. Sam Bradford set all types of records, won the Heisman Trophy and led this team to the 2008 BCS National Championship Game. Even a guy who ended up transferring (Beeler) went on to star at his second school (Stanford).
Rank: 1st (Athlon), 29 signees
Key Players: Kelvin Benjamin, Nick O'Leary, Timmy Jernigan, Terrance Smith, Tank Carradine, Rashad Greene, James Wilder, Bobby Hart, Devonta Freeman, Josue Matias, Tre Jackson, Nile Lawrence-Stample, Nick Waisome, Jacob Coker, Jacob Fahrenkrug
This group already has proven itself, as one of the deepest hauls in history led directly to a BCS National Championship. The following class in 2012 — Jameis Winston, Mario Edwards, Eddie Goldman, Chris Casher — might eventually be better, but for now the '11 group is the best of the Jimbo Fisher era. This group, ranked No. 1 in the nation by Athlon Sports in 2011, featured over a dozen starters on the '13 title team and has already delivered two ACC titles as well.
Rank: 1st (Athlon Sports), 24 signees
Key Players: Michael Brockers, Morris Claiborne, Kevin Minter, Rueben Randle, Chris Faulk, Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, Chris Davenport, Bennie Logan, Michael Ford, Craig Loston, Josh Downs, Stavion Lowe, Lamin Barrow, Russell Shepard
This group was the foundation of the 13-0 regular season run to the title game in 2011. And had it finished the job against Alabama, it might be considered the better group. The potential of this class is astounding. It features three first-round picks in Morris Claiborne (6th overall in 2012), Michael Brockers (14th, 2012), and Barkevious Mingo (6th, 2013), and three others were selected in last year's NFL Draft as well. Three-fourths of the starting 2012 defensive line signed in this group as well as star linebacker Kevin Minter. The star power is obvious but the supporting cast is impressive as well.
10. Oregon Ducks, 2008
Rank: 16th (Athlon Sports), 22 signees
Key Players: LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, Darron Thomas, Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso, John Boyett, Nick Cody, Hamani Stevens, LeGarrette Blount, Josh Kaddu, DeWitt Stuckey, Jeremiah Masoli
Four members of this class (Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso, Kenjon Barner, John Boyett) were taken in the 2013 NFL Draft alone. Darron Thomas was the most productive quarterback in school history over two years and led his team to the BCS National Championship Game. Two starting offensive linemen helped pave the way for a trio of running backs any school would covet in one class (Barner, LaMichael James, LeGarrette Blount). The defense is also well represented with steady leaders (Boyett) as well as athletic freaks of nature (Jordan, Alonso). This class went 40-5 in Pac-12 play over a five-year period of time from 2008-12.
10. Michigan State Spartans, 2010
Rank: 25th (Athlon), 22 signees
Key Players: Max Bullough, William Gholston, Kurtis Drummond, Darqueze Dennard, Le'Veon Bell, Jeremy Langford, Marcus Rush, Isaiah Lewis, Nick Hill, Keith Mumphrey, Tony Lippett
It may not have the elite NFL talent of some of the Saban or Carroll classes but fewer units have meant more to their program than the 22 guys Mark Dantonio inked in 2010. This class made up the majority of the nation's top defense, including the Thorpe Award winner, that led the Spartans to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl championship for the first time in 25 years. Two All-Big Ten running backs, William Gholston and a host of contributors in the passing game complete a class loaded with long-time starters and veteran senior leaders. This has to considered Dantonio's finest work on the recruiting trail.
11. Auburn Tigers, 2010
Rank: 7th (Athlon), 32 signees
Key Players: Cam Newton, Jake Holland, Jonathon Mincy, Chad Slade, Michael Dyer, Chris Davis, Corey Lemonier, Ryan Smith, LaDarius Owens, Jeffrey Whitaker, Trovon Reed, Shon Coleman
Not many classes have produced two BCS National Championship berths, a Heisman Trophy winner, No. 1 overall pick and one crystal football but that is just what the 2010 group did for Auburn. Newton was obviously a huge get and an immediate impact player but a host of veteran starters on the 2013 SEC championship squad came to The Plains in the '10 signing class. Holland and Owens were leaders at linebacker while Mincy, Smith and Davis all started in the secondary for the SEC champs. This was a deep and talented haul that Gus Malzahn had a big part in bringing to campus. The worst season in program history in 2012 keeps this group from the top 10.
12. Stanford Cardinal, 2009
Rank: 18th (Athlon), 22 signees
Key Players: Shayne Skov, Stepfan Taylor, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner, Tyler Gaffney, Zach Ertz, Khalil Wilkes, Levine Toilolo, Josh Mauro, Taysom Hill
Stanford had a three-year run on the recruiting trail that featured elite classes in both 2010 and '11, but the group that got it started stands out above the rest. On defense, Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy and Ben Gardner are three players any coach would wish for once in a lifetime much less all in the same signing class. On offense, both Tyler Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor carried their team to Pac-12 championships and Taylor might be the best Stanford running back of all-time. Khalil Wilkes started on both of those title teams at center while a pair of NFL tight ends (Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo) are featured as well. Even BYU got its starting quarterback (Taysom Hill) from this class.
13. LSU Tigers, 2004
Rank: 2nd (Rivals), 26 signees
Key Players: Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Jacob Hester, Early Doucet, Chevis Jackson, Herman Johnson, Quinn Johnson, Craig Steltz, Claude Wroten, Tremaine Johnson, Curtis Taylor, Brett Helms, Lavelle Hawkins
The 2004 class set the foundation for the run at the '07 BCS National Championship. Glenn Dorsey and Jacob Hester were the primary leaders on both sides of the ball and eventually hoisted the crystal football. Five players were selected in the 2008 NFL Draft and four more were taken in the '09 draft. Three star defensive linemen, including two first-round picks in Dorsey and Tyson Jackson led this defense when it dominated Ohio State in the title game. Lavelle Hawkins was a big-time player but did it for Cal after transferring.
14. Georgia Bulldogs, 2009
Rank: 6th (Athlon), 19 signees
Key Players: Aaron Murray, Arthur Lynch, Branden Smith, Shawn Williams, Chris Burnette, Marlon Brown, Austin Long, Dallas Lee, Kwame Geathers, Orson Charles, Rantavious Wooten, Zach Mettenberger, Abry Jones, Washaun Ealey
This class really begins and ends with the most productive quarterback in the history of the SEC. And one that beat Florida like few in school history ever had. Aaron Murray headlines an excellent offensive class that features multiple starting offensive linemen, a trio of extremely athletic pass-catchers and arguably the nation's best tight end in 2013 in Arthur Lynch. Zach Mettenberger didn't last long at Georgia, but eventually ended up at LSU and was the Tigers' starting quarterback the past two seasons. The defense got plenty of production from Shawn Williams, Branden Smith and Kwame Geathers during two runs to the SEC Championship Game. Had this group, in particular, Murray, ever finished with a title, it would be ranked higher.
15. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 2009
Rank: 14th (Athlon), 18 signees
Key Players: Manti Te'o, Zack Martin, Tyler Eifert, Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, Zeke Motta, Chris Watt, Alex Bullard, Jake Golic, Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, Tyler Stockton
This class is headlined by Manti Te'o, one of the most decorated defensive players in college football history. Tyler Eifert was a first-round pick last year and Zack Martin, one of the best players in the nation at his position, leads a strong collection of offensive line talent. Both Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick were solid contributors on offense while this haul also featured a host of defensive starters for a team that went undefeated in the 2012 regular season and put the Irish in the BCS title game.
The Best of the Rest:
Wisconsin Badgers, 2009
Rank: 39th (Athlon), 21 signees
Key Players: Montee Ball, Chris Borland, Jacob Pedersen, Ryan Groy, Travis Frederick, Dezmen Southward, Jordan Kohout, David Gilbert, Tyler Dippell, Conor O'Neill, Pat Muldoon
Florida Gators, 2007
Rank: 1st (Rivals), 27 signees
Key Players: Ahmad Black, Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden, Chas Henry, Aaron Hernandez, Cam Newton, Chris Rainey, Maurkice Pouncey, Michael Pouncey, Major Wright, John Brantley
Georgia Bulldogs, 2006
Rank: 4th (Rivals), 28 signees
Key Players: Asher Allen, Geno Atkins, Shaun Chapas, Akeem Dent, Kris Durham, Akeem Hebron, Reshad Jones, Knowshon Moreno, Matthew Stafford, Kiante Tripp, Clifton Geathers, Prince Miller
Ohio State Buckeyes, 2008
Rank: 2nd (Athlon), 20 signees
Key Players: Mike Adams, Terrelle Pryor, Travis Howard, DeVier Posey, Michael Brewster, Nathan Williams, Garrett Goebel, Etienne Sabino, JB Shurgarts, Andrew Sweat
LSU Tigers, 2003
Rank: 1st (Rivals), 28 signees
Key Players: LaRon Landry, Will Arnold, Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis, Matt Flynn, Alley Broussard, Anthony Hill, JaMarcus Russell, Jonathon Zenon, Justin Vincent
Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 2008
Rank: 4th (Athlon Sports), 23 signees
Key Players: Kyle Rudolph, Michael Floyd, Braxton Cave, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Jamoris Slaughter, Mike Golic, Robert Blanton, Darius Fleming, John Goodman, Jonas Gray, Trevor Robinson, Steven Filer, Sean Cwynar, Dayne Crist, Ethan Johnson
Texas Longhorns, 2005
Rank: 20th (Rivals), 15 signees
Key Players: Colt McCoy, Roddrick Muckelroy, Henry Melton, Jermichael Finley, Quan Cosby, Jamaal Charles, Chris Brown, Aaron Lewis, Roy Miller
USC Trojans, 2005
Rank: 1st (Rivals), 19 signees
Key Players: Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Mark Sanchez, Kevin Ellison, Charles Brown, Patrick Turner, Kyle Moore, Kaluka Maiava, Will Harris, Cary Harris
This is the stage of the season where every coach starts to dread the unexpected.
More or less, we know what to expect from top teams around the country. Of course, there will be upsets and surprises, but for the most part we can count on the good teams to more often than not put a consistent team on the court.
Just take Cincinnati, even if this isn't a team that’s not many people’s idea of a title contender. But the Bearcats have been consistent in at least one way by putting the same five players on the court for every game.
Not every team is as lucky as Cincinnati. Injuries and personnel changes have impacted Oklahoma State and Arizona in ways that could derail their major goals for the season.
From the undefeated teams, to the teams dealing with curve balls and teams that just got a little lucky, here are the key stats of the week.
College Basketball Key Stats of the Week: Feb. 5
24. Teams since 1976 to be undefeated in time for the first polls of February.
Arizona’s loss to Cal means the Wildcats won’t join the elite group to make it to this point of the season with an unblemished record. With Syracuse and Wichita State undefeated at the time of the first AP poll of February, the Orange and Shockers have joined a group of 22 other teams since Indiana’s undefeated team in 1975-76 to be unbeaten at this point. Here’s how the other 22 fared.
1. Starting lineup used by Cincinnati this season.
The Bearcats are 10-0 in the American but still have their share of detractors. That’s not without good reason: Cincinnati’s non-conference schedule is ranked 315th on KenPom. But Cincinnati has wins over Pittsburgh and Louisville, so that has to count for something. What’s most remarkable for Mick Cronin’s team aside from Sean Kilpatrick’s scoring is that Cronin has used only one starting lineup in 23 games this season. Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson, Tutus Rubles, Shaquille Thomas and Ge’Lawn Guyn have started every game this season.
64.6. Free throw percentage against Ohio State in the last two games.
Not that Ohio State has had anything to do with it, but the last two opponents’ struggles at the free throw line have helped the Buckeyes reverse their fortune. Wisconsin went 19 of 29, and Iowa went 12 of 19 from the line as the Buckeyes ended their slump with a pair of wins. To put those numbers in perspective, the 64.6 free throw percentage by Wisconsin and Iowa in the last two games would rank 325th nationally over the course of the season. And if you think home cooking is a factor here, consider that Ohio State was on the road for both dismal free throw shooting performances.
511. Minutes of experience lost by Oklahoma State without Michael Cobbins and Stevie Clark.
The Cowboys have a definite big four in Marcus Smart, Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, but the Pokes’ depth has been decimated in recent weeks with a season-ending injury to forward Michael Cobbins in late December and the dismissal of backup point guard Stevie Clark on Monday. They were only the seventh- and eighth-leading scorers, but their absence has been felt mightily. Combined, they played 511 minutes this season. The rest of the roster behind Cobbins and Clark has played 302 minutes.
8. Percentage points Arizona’s 2-point field goal rate drops without Brandon Ashley.
The loss of starting forward Brandon Ashely is a major hit for Arizona, which has played three consecutive less-than-dominant games. The last of which to Cal resulted in the Wildcats’ first loss of the season and last game with Brandon Ashley. As SI’s Luke Winn points out, Arizona will miss Ashley’s play around the rim. The senior shot 55 percent on 2-pointers this season. Take away his production and Arizona’s 2-point field goal rate drops from 51.2 percent to 50.4. That might not seem like a lot, but it was already middle of the road in the Pac-12. Without Ashley, Arizona’s 2-point field goal rate drops from fifth in the league to ninth.
1,403. Points lost in the AP poll by Wisconsin since Jan. 13.
Saturday’s matchup between Wisconsin and Ohio State ensured that one team would end a slump and another would continued. The Buckeyes’ 59-58 win means the Badgers are still searching for answers. In less than a month, Wisconsin was ranked third in the nation with 1,482 points in the AP poll on Jan. 13. Five losses in six games later, and Wisconsin is unranked with only 79 points in the voting.
719. Points gained in the AP poll by Texas since Jan. 13.
Wisconsin’s fall in part has been mirrored by the rise of Texas. The Longhorns didn’t appear on a single AP ballot in the Jan. 13 poll. After winning six games in a row and four consecutive against ranked teams capped by Saturday’s 81-69 win over Kansas. The Longhorns are now ranked 15th.
2. Teams to defeat four ranked teams in consecutive games this season.
On Jan. 20, Kansas did something that hadn’t been done since 1997 by winning defeating four consecutive ranked teams in four games. Texas needed only two weeks to match the feat. The Longhorns defeated No. 8 Iowa State, No. 22 Kansas State, No. 24 Baylor and No. 6 Kansas to match the Jayhawks four-for-four streak earlier this year.
461. Career record for 3-pointers set by Oakland’s Travis Bader.
On Sunday, Oakland’s Travis Bader surpassed J.J. Redick for the most career 3-pointers. Redick left Duke with 457 3-pointers during his career. Bader hit 5 of 7 against Milwaukee, giving him 461 for his career. Just for fun: Marshall Henderson is averaging nearly 4 3-pointers per game in 54 games at Ole Miss. If he averaged that over the 128 games Bader has played at Oakland, Henderson would have 510 3s.
The 2014 Winter Olympic Games are upon us, as the world’s attention will soon focus on Sochi, Russia. More than 2,500 athletes from 88 different nations are scheduled to compete in 98 events over 15 disciplines from Feb. 7-23 in the Russian resort city located on the coast of the Black Sea.
And while the IOC and Sochi Games have their own official accounts, Athlon Sports has put together its list of the 25 other must-follow Twitter accounts for the 22nd Winter Olympics. Whether you are looking for up-to-the-minute coverage or are more interested in what goes behind the scenes or with the athletes themselves, the accounts listed here should be able to satisfy your informational and entertainment needs.
What is curling? Think of it as something akin to shuffleboard on ice. Its origins date all the way back to the 16th century and it was part of the inaugural Winter Olympics in 1924. It’s been an official event since the 1998 Nagano Games and The Curling News, the self-described “global authority” on the sport, will have blanket coverage of both the men’s and women’s tournaments in Sochi. And if you can't get into the sport, there's always the fashion.
Another one of the Winter Games’ unique events, biathlon combines cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship. The United States has never won an Olympic medial in biathlon and will be looking to make history in Sochi with its largest team (5 men, 5 women) in 22 years.
Luge may get its name from a French word that means “small coasting sled,” but when it comes to Olympic-level competition it’s all about speed. Of the three Olympic sliding sports, which also includes bobsled and skeleton, luge is the fastest and most dangerous. One- or two-person sleds race down the track feet-first at speeds up to 87 mph. The United States’ 10-person team (7 men, 3 women) features six first-time Olympians and medal hopeful Erin Hamlin. No American woman has ever medaled in luge at the Olympics.
Speed skater Shani Davis’ Twitter handle reads “Not your average Olympic Champion,” and it’s perfectly understandable why he would make such a claim. During the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, Davis became the first African-American from any nation to win a gold medal in an individual sport at the Winter Games. He repeated his feat in the 1,000 meters four years later in Vancouver and enters these games looking to add to his overall medal haul (four total) and become the first American man to win three gold medals in a single event.
Around The Rings certainly knows its way around the Olympics; having covered them for more than 20 years. Expect their reporters to have the Sochi Games blanketed with plenty of news, interviews, features and other information posted from now until the Closing Ceremonies.
The US Bobsled & Skeleton Federation (USBSF) is the official governing body for the sports of bobsled and skeleton. The U.S. bobsled and skeleton contingency captured two medals four years ago in Vancouver and will be looking for similar, if not better, results in Sochi led by Steven Holcomb, Christopher Fogt and Lolo Jones, to name a few.
The skeleton team had a blast at team processing yesterday! The excitement is building... http://t.co/lsaG30CZmG— US Bobsled Skeleton (@USBSF) January 30, 2014
A member of the gold medal-winning four-man bobsled team in Vancouver, Steven Holcomb is back for more. A five-time world champion, Holcomb’s story of how he overcame depression and an eye disorder to achieve his goals has already been an inspiration for many.
Track My Life says I've been to 111 places, 47 cities, 7 countries, and 2 continents in the past 72 days; and we still have 45 days left— Steven Holcomb (@StevenHolcomb) January 13, 2014
Kikkan Randall loves going up and down hills and the 31-year-old Alaskan is competing in her fourth Olympics. A World Champion cross-country skier, Randall is considered a medal contender in the individual sprint event in Sochi. If she makes the medal stand, Randall would become the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in cross-country and the first U.S. athlete period to medal in the discipline since 1972.
U.S. speed skaters have won 85 Olympic medals, including four at the Vancouver games. You can follow the team’s progress and experience in Sochi through the association’s official account.
The 18-year-old Eagle-Vail, Colo., native may be young and competing in her first Olympics, but Mikaela Shiffrin is no stranger to the big stage. Already the youngest American skier to be World Cup champion (slalom), Shiffrin will be “searching for the fastest way down the mountain” in Sochi.
Honored to have been named Colorado’s Athlete of the Year 2013 alongside Denver Broncos Peyton Manning. Thank you http://t.co/J31RkzjeFO— Mikaela Shiffrin (@MikaelaShiffrin) January 9, 2014
A relative newcomer to the Winter Olympics, there’s no questioning the growing popularity of snowboarding worldwide, as evidenced by the number of countries sending competitors for the six events (three men’s, three women’s). Once again, the U.S. team should be one of the top groups in Sochi led by Shaun White, Hannah Teter, Kelly Clark, Lindsey Jacobellis and also including the brother-sister tandem of Taylor and Arielle Gold, among others.
A four-time World Champion alpine skier, Ted Ligety won gold in the alpine combined in the 2006 Turin games. Participating in his third Olympics, Ligety is looking to bounce back from a disappointing showing four years ago in Vancouver.
The United States is sending its largest ski and snowboarding team ever with a record 94 athletes set to compete in Sochi. On the skiing side, 31 different athletes have previous Olympic experience, including six gold medalists. Nordic combined skier Todd Lodwick is competing in his sixth Olympics, which is the most for any U.S. skier in history and ties the most ever by a winter Olympian. The team members range from 37 years old to 15, as the skiers will compete in alpine, cross-country, freestyle, Nordic combined and ski jumping events.
One of the more high-profile events of the winter games, this is the official account for the governing body for figure skating in the U.S.
A four-time U.S. champion in men’s figure skating, Abbott is looking to bring home a medal in his second Olympics. The 28-year-old isn’t all business, however, as he’s a self-described “total goof ball,” a side of his personality that comes across on his Twitter account.
Has an Olympian ever had a more appropriate name? Women’s figure skater Gracie Gold will be looking to live up to her last name in Sochi as the 18-year-old tries to join the ranks of U.S. greats Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski and Sarah Hughes.
Similar to basketball in the Summer Games, professional hockey players will comprise the majority of the rosters of those countries competing in Sochi as the NHL will take a two-week break. The U.S. men’s and women’s team are defending silver medalists but have their sights set higher this year. You also can follow the action on NBC’s hockey Twitter account, @NBCOHockey.
With Lindsey Vonn (see below) sidelined, Julia Mancuso is arguably the face of the U.S. women’s ski team. The 2006 gold medalist in the giant slalom, “Super Jules” will be skiing for even more success in Sochi.
Heading to my 4th Olympics. So proud to represent team USA, and thankful to everyone who supported me along the... http://t.co/zrNlOj2p0m— Julia Mancuso (@JuliaMancuso) January 27, 2014
The official account of the U.S. Olympic Committee, this year’s team of 230 athletes is the largest delegation for any nation in the history of the Winter Games. Over 200 U.S. Olympians are on Twitter and all of them along with exclusive behind-the-scenes coverage can be found here.
The official broadcast partner of these Winter Games, NBC will have comprehensive coverage of the events in Sochi across all of its platforms. This account will feature instantaneous updates, firsthand accounts, behind-the-scenes photos, observations and so much more.
The most decorated American Winter Olympian of all-time, speed skating great Apollo Anton Ohno will get a different taste of the games in Sochi. The eight-time medalist won’t be competing on the track and instead will serve as a correspondent and analyst for NBC Sports. Besides should something go wrong during his commentary, all Ohno has to do is break out his dance moves, right?
The 2014 Winter Olympics approach us rapidly. Athletes have trained and dedicated most of their lives… http://t.co/WqmRgiIC0w— Apolo Anton Ohno (@ApoloOhno) January 31, 2014
A knee injury will keep Lindsey Vonn from being on the slopes in Sochi, but the 2010 Vancouver gold medalist in the downhill will still be visible during these Winter Games. The 29-year-old will be a part of NBC’s broadcast team, appearing on both the “Today Show” and on the network’s other platforms as a stateside correspondent. There’s also a chance you may see some updates about a certain golfer too.
I won’t be in Sochi but I will be rooting for Team USA all the way! Wishing all of them luck in today’s digital send-off! #GoTeamUSA— lindsey vonn (@lindseyvonn) January 23, 2014
The rare two-Olympic athlete, Lolo Jones is competing in her first Winter Games as a member of the U.S. women’s bobsled team. A World Champion hurdler, a medal in Sochi would be Jones’ first after failing to reach the stand at both the 2008 Beijing and '12 London Olympics.
Like Shani Davis, Shaun White also has a chance of making history as he comes to Sochi with hopes of winning a third straight gold medal in the halfpipe. Regardless of if it’s a snowboard or skateboard, White is well known for winning (most gold medals and overall medals in X Games history), huge aerial tricks and his red hair. Just don’t call him “The Flying Tomato” anymore.
A three-time U.S. champion and two-time Olympic figure skater, Johnny Weir will serve as an analyst for NBC Sports’ coverage. Weir is known for his colorful personality, flamboyance and fashion sense, among other things. It’s no stretch to say that Weir may end up being one of the most fascinating and intriguing figures to follow in Sochi.
I am so happy to be back in Russia. The air and city smell of the Olympic Games. I am proud to be here, wedge booties and all.— Johnny Weir-Voronov (@JohnnyGWeir) January 30, 2014
According to 247Sports, there are 283 four-star prospects and 33 five-star recruits in the class of 2014.
All of them will officially become a member of a college football team on National Signing Day 2014 (NSD). Well, at least, they are supposed to, but who knows what will happen when dealing with 17 and 18 year olds.
Of those 316 four- and five-star recruits in the ’14 class, currently 29 of them have yet to make their college decision. Will someone pull the Bryce Brown or Terrelle Pryor and wait to sign after NSD? Will someone’s mom forge a signature or hire a lawyer to fight her son’s decision? And what types of props will be used?
All of this stuff is wild, wacky and memorable but the only thing that really matters on signing day is where that Letter of Intent get faxed.
Here are the top rated uncommitted prospects who will put pen to paper on Wednesday (ranking by 247):
7. Adoree Jackson, CB (5-9, 182)
Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra
Schools: USC, Florida, LSU, UCLA
15. Rashaan Evans, LB (6-3, 220)
Auburn (Ala.) High
Schools: Auburn, Alabama
17. Malachi Dupre, WR (6-2, 190)
New Orleans (La.) John Curtis
Schools: LSU, Florida St, UCLA
18. Lorenzo Carter, DE (6-5, 232)
Norcross (Ga.) High
Schools: Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Florida
20. JuJu Smith, ATH (6-1, 200)
Long Beach (Calif.) Poly
Schools: USC, Notre Dame, UCLA
24. Ermon Lane, WR (6-3, 190)
Homestead (Fla.) High
Schools: Florida St, Miami, Florida, Alabama
25. Solomon Thomas, DE (6-2, 260)
Coppell (Texas) High
Schools: Stanford, Texas, Ohio St, Arkansas
27. Damian Prince, OL (6-5, 295)
District Heights (Md.) Bishop McNamara
Schools: Maryland, Florida, Florida St, Ohio St
32. Malik McDowell, DE (6-7, 290)
Southfield (Mich.) High
Schools: Michigan St, Michigan, Ohio St, Florida St
The Top 100
38. Damien Mama, OG (6-4, 360)
Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco
Schools: USC, UCLA, Notre Dame
55. Budda Baker, ATH (5-9, 175)
Bellevue (Wash.) High
Schools: Washington, UCLA, Oregon
56. Michiah Quick, ATH (6-0, 170)
Fresno (Calif.) Central East
Schools: Oklahoma, Notre Dame, UCLA
63. Braden Smith, OG (6-6, 290)
Olathe (Kan.) South
Schools: TCU, Auburn, Texas A&M
65. Travonte Valentine, DT (6-3, 335)
Hialeah (Fla.) Champagnat Catholic
Schools: LSU, Miami
99. Derrick Nnadi, DT (6-1, 305)
Virginia Beach (Va.) Ocean Lakes
Schools: Virginia Tech, Florida St, Virginia
The Rest of the Four-Stars
103. Nifae Lealao, DE (6-5, 282)
Sacramento (Calif.) Capital Christian
Schools: Vanderbilt, Stanford
108. Steven Parker, S (6-2, 190)
Jenks (Okla.) High
Schools: Oklahoma, Texas A&M
125. Roderick Johnson, OT (6-6, 315)
Florissant (Mo.) Hazelwood Central
Schools: Florida St, Ohio St
160. Wesley Green, CB (5-11, 170)
Lithonia (Ga.) MLK
Schools: South Carolina, Georgia, Clemson
173. Hoza Scott, LB (6-2, 225)
La Porte (Texas) High
Schools: Texas A&M, Alabama, Florida, LSU
Time: SIGNED (Blinn Junior College)
175. Kenny Young, LB (6-2, 220)
New Orleans (La.) John Curtis
Schools: UCLA, LSU, Texas A&M
205. Chris Lammons, CB (5-9, 170)
Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) Plantation
Schools: South Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin
226. Donte Thomas-Williams, RB (6-0, 220)
Durham (N.C.) Hillside
Schools: West Virginia, Florida St, Clemson
231. Andrew Williams, DE (6-4, 250)
McDonough (Ga.) Eagle’s Landing Christian
Schools: Auburn, Clemson, Georgia
245. Raymon Minor, ATH (6-3, 210)
Richmond (Va.) Benedictine
Schools: Virginia Tech, Marshall, Nebraska, Cincinnati
263. Poona Ford, DT (6-0, 285)
Hilton Head (S.C.) High
Schools: Texas, South Carolina, Louisville, Missouri
266. Richard Yeargin III, LB (6-4, 225)
Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) University School
Schools: Clemson, Notre Dame, Texas, Arkansas
300. Daniel Cage, DT (6-3, 295)
Cincinnati (Ohio) Winton Woods
Schools: Michigan St, Louisville, Missouri, Notre Dame
307. Isaiah McKenzie, WR (5-8, 175)
Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) American Heritage
Schools: Georgia, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss, Notre Dame
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 4.
• We recently brought you the hottest Canadian Winter Olympians. In the interest of equal time, here are the host country hotties.
• The spoils of victory: Russell Wilson played catch with David Letterman last night.
• A staggering 80 recruits have flipped on SEC schools this recruiting season, some by choice and some not. Those solid verbals aren't very solid. Here are some other storylines heading into Signing Day.
• Speaking of recruiting, here's a long-form cautionary tale about Willie Williams, former superstar recruit and current inmate.
• Derrick Williams tried a little garbage time razzle-dazzle. It did not go as planned.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Perhaps the greatest threat to Syracuse’s undefeated start won’t be games like Saturday, when the Orange defeated Duke in overtime in a wild atmosphere at the Carrier Dome.
Instead, the end for Syracuse’s winning streak may be games like Monday. All the emotion from two days earlier had left the building as Syracuse got the best shot from a capable Notre Dame team. Save for 3-point sharpshooter Trevor Cooney, the entire Syracuse roster had an off night in the 61-55 win.
Wichita State will have its own challenge this week with road games against the second place team in the Missouri Valley (Indiana State on Wednesday) and another road trip to a team tied for third (Northern Iowa on Saturday).
Going undefeated is near impossible in college basketball. No team has made it to Selection Sunday undefeated since UNLV in 1990-91 before the Runnin’ Rebels lost in the Final Four to Duke.
Since Indiana finished the 1975-76 season undefeated, 24 teams have been unbeaten at the time of the first Associated Press poll in February.
Making this season more rare is the double of Syracuse and Wichita State unblemished to start the month. Since Indiana ran the table, two teams have been unblemished at this stage of the season only four times before 2013-14.
The last time two teams started February undefeated, a Jameer Nelson-led St. Joseph’s team and Stanford were both 18-0 at this stage of the season.
What can Syracuse and Wichita State expect for the remainder of the season? In all likelihood, a loss. The Shockers have the easier schedule, but they also haven’t won the Missouri Valley Tournament since 1987.
Here are a few other notables looking back at the teams undefeated at this stage of the season:
• In the last decade only three of the six teams that started February undefeated stayed that way into March. The best winning streaks to start the season since 2003-04 are as follows:
2004-05 Illinois (29-0, ended March 6 at Ohio State)
2003-04 St. Joseph’s (27-0, ended March 11 by Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Tournament)
2003-04 Stanford (26-0, ended March 6 at Washington)
2007-08 Memphis (26-0, ended Feb. 23 by Tennessee)
2010-11 Ohio State (24-0, ended Feb. 21 at Wisconsin)
2011-12 Murray State (23-0, ended Feb. 9 by Tennessee State)
• Since Indiana went undefeated in 1975-76, only one other team undefeated at the start of February won the national title (2001-02 Duke), three others reached the title game (2007-08 Memphis, 2004-05 Illinois and 1978-79 Indiana State), and three topped out in the Final Four (1995-96 UMass, 1990-91 UNLV, 1980-81 Virginia)
• Jim Boeheim has been here before as his 1999-2000 Syracuse team started 19-0 before losing on Feb. 5 to Seton Hall. Among the coaches who also have twice reached the first week of February undefeated since 1975-76 include John Calipari at UMass and Memphis, Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV and Ray Meyer at DePaul.
• The names of players who have been undefeated at this point of the season is staggering: Larry Bird at Indiana State, Ralph Sampson III at Virginia, Michael Jordan at North Carolina and Christian Laettner at Duke.
|Undefeated in the first week of February since 1975-76|
|Wichita State (23-0)|
|2011-12||Murray State (23-0)||31-2||Round of 32 (lost to Marquette)|
|2010-11||Ohio State (21-0)||34-3||Sweet 16 (Ohio State)|
|2007-08||Memphis (21-0)||38-2||National runner up (Kansas)|
|2004-05||Illinois (23-0)||37-2||National runner up (North Carolina)|
|2003-04||Stanford (18-0)||30-2||Round of 32 (Alabama)|
|St. Joseph's (18-0)||30-2||Elite Eight (Oklahoma State)|
|1999-2000||Syracuse (20-0)||26-6||Sweet 16 (Michigan State)|
|1996-97||Kansas (22-0)||34-2||Sweet 16 (Arizona)|
|1995-96||UMass (21-0)||35-2||Final Four (Kentucky)|
|1991-92||Duke (17-0)||34-2||National champion|
|Oklahoma State (20-0)||28-8||Sweet 16 (Michigan)|
|1990-91||UNLV (18-0)||34-1||Final Four (Duke)|
|1987-88||BYU (15-0)||26-6||Round of 32 (Louisville)|
|1983-84||North Carolina (20-0)||28-3||Sweet 16 (Indiana)|
|DePaul (17-0)||27-3||Sweet 16 (Wake Forest)|
|1982-83||UNLV (18-0)||28-3||Round of 32 (Utah)|
|1981-82||Missouri (18-0)||27-4||Sweet 16 (Houston)|
|1980-81||Oregon State (17-0)||26-2||Round of 32 (Kansas State)|
|Virginia (18-0)||29-4||Final Four (North Carolina)|
|1979-80||DePaul (19-0)||26-2||Round of 32 (UCLA)|
|1978-79||Indiana State (20-0)||33-1||National runner up (Michigan State)|
|1976-77||San Francisco (21-0)||29-2||First round (UNLV)|
|1975-76||Indiana (18-0)||32-0||National champion|
While the fun-loving Julia Mancuso, 29, may not have the name recognition of fellow skier Lindsey Vonn, she does have something better — more Olympic medals. In fact, Mancuso has amassed more than any other American female alpine skier ever — one gold from Turin, Italy, in 2006; and two silver from Vancouver in 2010.
The Squaw Valley, Calif., resident heads into the Sochi Olympics looking to add more hardware to her haul, as she hopes to take on four events: the downhill, super-G, super-combined and giant slalom.
At this stage in Mancuso’s 15-year career, skiing comes as naturally to her as walking. She first slid around on skis as a two-year-old, and shortly thereafter entered the sport to emulate her sister April, who’s four years her senior. “That helped me to get to the next level,” says Mancuso. “I wasn’t looking at girls around me who were my age. I was looking up at her. She was the target.” Mancuso finally beat her sister at 13 years old, turned pro at 15 and was off to world-class races.
In an age when many professional athletes conceal their personalities off the field, Mancuso refreshingly shows hers, whether she’s posting a Facebook photo of herself skiing off of a sand dune in a bikini, or stating on her Twitter page that she “skis better than you.”
Heading into Sochi, she leads a high-profile U.S. women’s ski team that won’t include Vonn, who’s out nursing a knee injury. The void, however, leaves the unpredictable Mancuso, who’s been known to wear a toy tiara on the medal stand, with the opportunity to take center stage in the world’s biggest winter sporting event.
Where do you keep your Olympic medals?
My mom keeps my medals and has them on display in her living room. She is more responsible than me, so I know I’ll never lose them if she has them in her possession.
Besides skis, what is the one thing you always travel with?
My ukulele. I’ve been playing for about a year. Some of my teammates play the guitar, so if I wanted to join the band, I had to bring an instrument to have a jam session.
What does a normal day of practice look like for you during the season?
I ski three to four hours and then spend two to three hours in the gym.
During the offseason, you live in Maui and spend a lot of time cross-training in the ocean. What’s your workout go-to?
Stand up paddling has a direct correlation to skiing because you are in a similar position to skiing and trying to keep your lower body stable while moving your upper body.
Describe what it feels like to fly down a mountain at 50 mph on what are essentially toothpicks.
When I’m having a fast run, it feels both like I’m out of control and have enough time between gates to think about being in the right body position. I’m never behind the gates, always in front of them, and there is a bit of that false reality where the next gate looks so far away.
What does it feel like to crash?
Time slows down a little. The first thing I think about is guessing what the consequences will be and hope that once I stop everything will be okay.
Tell us something about your life off the slopes that people would be surprised to know about you.
I recently took a free diving course and found out that I can hold my breath for three-and-a-half minutes. And that was without training. It taught me that we have so much potential we have yet to discover.
If and when you stand atop the podium in Sochi, will you don your tiara?
Always. I think it’s a really fun thing. Wearing a tiara is a big part of my Olympic podium and I hope to get the chance to wear it again.
What motivated you to start your lingerie line, Kiss My Tiara?
Back when I was 18, I would always get the same question from reporters: ‘Wow, you really surprised us today. How did you do so well?’ I work really hard and was skiing really well, so I didn’t really see why it was a surprise that I won. I started answering with silly replies. I decided I was going to wear these underwear — they said Super Julius on them and I changed them to Super Jules — and I wore them in a race so I could say that I had won because I was wearing my Super Jules underwear. That’s how it started.
Where does the name come from?
A few years later, I got some flak from (former skier) Picabo Street for wearing the tiara, so I combined the two things and came up with Kiss My Tiara. I don’t get asked any ‘surprise’ questions anymore.
What are your goals for Sochi?
My goal for these Olympics is to get another medal and win gold. I feel like I have a good chance in every event that I enter, and if I can actually win a medal, that will be success, but my ultimate goal is to win gold.
—By Matt McCue
New jerseys, helmets and color schemes are the latest craze in college football, and several new designs will likely be unveiled throughout the long offseason.
Indiana unveiled six helmet designs last season, but that may not be all that’s coming in the way of new headgear for the Hoosiers.
According to this picture posted by receiver Cody Latimer (entering the NFL Draft in 2014), Indiana has a more potential designs in the works, including a red matte helmet with a black stripe down the center.
Children are complicated, fickle, naive creatures who seldom have any perspective on the trappings of adult life. Few 16-year-old kids in this country know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Hell, most of them have never even done their own taxes.
It’s why uniforms, shoes, weather, license plates and even a coin flip have been used to select a university in the recent past. And I don’t expect National Signing Day 2014 to be much different.
The 2014 cycle has already provided plenty of excitement. Coaches like Butch Jones, Mark Stoops and Gus Malzahn have done an elite job putting together their first full classes at SEC programs. New USC coach Steve Sarkisian is preparing for a monster final day of recruiting. And April Justin, mother of Landon Collins and Gerald Willis, has not once (Collins, 2012) but twice (Willis, 2014) witnessed her offspring shun the in-state LSU Tigers for an out-of-state SEC rival against Mama's wishes on national TV (Willis picked Florida over LSU).
Willis is just one of many interesting, bewildering and sometimes hilarious recruiting decisions. My personal favorite came from Florida State signee Fred Rouse. On our national radio show on Sirius, he was asked, where are you going to college? And Rouse responded with “You know, a lot of people want me to go here or there. But I had to think, you know, what Fred wanna do? And Fred want to go to Florida State.” I think I have replayed that clip a thousand times since. The first-person, verbally illiterate announcement was absolutely hilarious. Unfortunately for everyone involved, his career wasn’t nearly as entertaining on the football field as it was on radio airwaves.
The Imaginary Scholarship
Nothing compares to Kevin Hart’s story. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive lineman at Fernley (Nev.) High wanted to play college football so badly that he wrote his own fairytale ending complete with press conference. On Feb. 1, 2008, Hart held a historic announcement at his high school in which he picked Cal over Oregon. “Coach Tedford and I talked a lot, and the fact that the head coach did most of the recruiting of me kind gave me that real personal experience,” Hart said at the announcement.
There was only one problem. Jeff Tedford had never spoken too, visited or contacted Hart. Neither had Oregon, Washington or Oklahoma State, his other finalists, for that matter. Eventually, Hart admitted the entire recruitment was fictitious and apologized to all parties involved.
The Forged Signature
April Justin isn’t the first parent to disapprove of their son’s educational choices. In 2011, Reserve (La.) East St. John defensive back Floyd Raven had decided that Texas A&M was the right school for him. There was only one issue, however, his letter of intent had already been sent to Ole Miss. The Rebels' admissions department couldn’t read the signature and asked for a second copy. Raven’s mother wanted him to go to Ole Miss so badly, that she had forged the signature and sent it to Oxford without her son’s knowledge. Eventually, Floyd learned of his mother’s “betrayal” and sent the appropriately signed paperwork to Texas A&M.
The Coin Flip
It takes thousands of hours of labor and thousands of dollars to recruit athletes at the highest level. But in 2009, Atco (N.J.) Winslow Township linebacker Ka’Lial Glaud trimmed the entire process to a few cents. After taking five school-funded official visits, Glaud had narrowed his list to West Virginia and Rutgers. But the linebacker was still so torn he couldn’t make up his mind. So naturally, he decided to let chance decide his fate as he literally flipped a coin between the two programs. Heads he goes to WVU, tails he goes to Rutgers. He has posted 47 total tackles in three seasons for the Scarlet Knights.
The Five-Minute Flip-Flop
Flip-flops happen in recruiting all the time – especially, as National Signing Day draws near. The recruiting picture gets clearer for all parties involved, while schools get desperate to fill needs with late scholarship offers. Cyrus Kouandjio, the nation’s No. 2 player in 2011, however, made heads spin in record time a few years ago. An offensive tackle from Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha, Kouandjio's older brother, Arie, was already at Alabama. Yet Cyrus announced on ESPN that he would be attending Auburn, not Alabama. No more than five minutes after the bright TV lights had gone out, however, the younger Kouandjio recanted his pledge to the Tigers. He never sent in his letter of intent to Auburn and three days later it was revealed he had officially signed with Alabama via Twitter. Longtime commitments are snaked away at the last minute every season, but never has a kid committed on national television only to decide to sign with someone else five minutes later. The venom of the Yellowhammer rivalry only added to the drama of the younger Kouandjio's signing.
Lone Star Identity Theft
The Ron Weaver saga wasn’t really a huge story on National Signing Day since he completely duped an entire university with identity fraud in 1996. In fact, it is the last documented case of identity fraud in major college football.
Ron Weaver signed with Texas and played every game of the regular season in the 1996 season under coach John Mackovic as a 23-year old defensive back. There was only one problem. Weaver was actually a 30-year old by the name of Ron McKelvey who had used up his collegiate eligibility when he play at Sacramento State back in 1989. He duped Mackovic, the University of Texas at Austin and the NCAA — which later found no wrongdoing in the case by the school. Weaver was suspended the day before the Longhorns lost to the Hokies in the Sugar Bowl.
Mom Hires A Lawyer
Alex Collins, a four-star running back from Miami who had an excellent first year in the SEC, was one of the biggest stories on NSD ’13. He announced he was signing with Arkansas but it was reported that his mother, Andrea McDonald, had absconded with her son’s Letter of Intent and went into hiding. She wanted him to stay close to home at play for the University of Miami and made sure everyone knew about it.
It was later reported that she did not, in fact, steal the LOI but still stood firmly against letting her son play at Arkansas. So Collins had to have a second ceremony where he signed another LOI, this time with his father’s approval. While this was going on, it was reported that McDonald hired an attorney to “represent the family’s interests.” Her efforts ultimately fell on deaf ears and Collins, wearing, of course, a camouflage suit, signed with Bret Bielema and Arkansas.
For what it was worth, Collins was named SEC Offensive Freshman of the Year this past season after rushing for 1,026 yards on 190 carries.
The Announcement Props
I am not one who enjoys recruiting announcements. They are filled with superfluous rhetoric from coaches, analysts and handlers. They go on too long and rarely does a recruit offer any pertinent news or information other than his college of choice. Every now and then, however, if done with style, an announcement can be fun – or infuriating. Georgia’s Isaiah Crowell made fans coo when he pulled out an actual Bulldog puppy to signify his decision to play for Mark Richt in Athens. Andre Smith sent the Crimson Tiders into hysterics when he pulled out the houndstooth hat at his announcement for Alabama.
But Antonio Logan-El’s live announcement back in 2006 was met with a slightly harsher response. The Forestville (Md.) High offensive lineman had been committed to Maryland for the better part of a year. While dressed in Maryland red in front of a Terps crowd at the ESPN Sportszone in Maryland — including head coach Ralph Friedgen’s wife — Logan-El first pulled out a Florida hat before tossing it to the ground. He then pulled out a Tennessee hat. That, too, was tossed aside before picking up the Terps black and red headgear. After a few nice words, Logan-El threw his Maryland hat to the ground and held up a picture of Joe Paterno and announced he would be heading to Penn State. The decision was met with screams of “traitor” and violence nearly resulted. Logan-El, much to the pleasure of Terps fans, washed out at Penn State after only one redshirt year.
At least he actually made a decision, however, as the worst recruiting press conference in history has to belong to Greg Little. The peculiar wide receiver held a press conference in October of his senior year to announce what school he would be attending. Fans waited with anticipation while Little huddled with his family and coaches for a long period of time. He emerged from the mini-summit to announce that he had narrowed his list to Notre Dame and North Carolina. It’s the only news conference I can remember where a recruit officially announced that there was nothing to announce.
The Slimy Mentor
The most recent trend for elite recruits, for some reason unbeknownst to me, is to wait until after National Signing Day to make a decision. Terrelle Pryor, Orson Charles, Latwan Anderson, Vidal Hazelton, Seantrel Henderson, Cyrus Kouandjio and 2011's top prospect Jadeveon Clowney all signed their LOIs well past signing day. But Wichita (Kan.) East running back Bryce Brown, and his handler/mentor/coach/agent/leech Brian Butler, set a new low for recruiting sludge back in 2009.
Brown, whose older brother Arthur was enrolled at Miami, had been committed to the Hurricanes from the early stages. He did not sign on NSD and instead took a couple of extra visits to Tennessee and LSU after Signing Day. While Brown watched the calendar flip to March without a decision, Butler, who was a convicted felon and fledgling rapper, set up a website in order to charge $9.99 per month for recruiting updates on his protégé.
Threats from Butler about Brown potentially skipping college for the Canadian Football League only further exemplified how ridiculous the handler’s influence was over Brown. Meanwhile, Miami (and others) stopped recruiting the troubled tailback until halfway through March, when Brown got “a sign from god” to go to Tennessee. Arthur left Miami for Kansas State (where he became an All-American) shortly thereafter. Bryce lasted one year in Knoxville before transferring back to Kansas State as well. He played in two games in 2011, got three carries and comically declared for the 2012 NFL Draft where we was a seventh-round pick of the Eagles.
Obviously, most of the names who waited until beyond Signing Day to make their decision official have had major trouble getting their careers started on the next level (with the exception of Clowney). So there does appear to be a fairly simple and obvious lesson to be learned here: Sign the stinking papers and get to work because nothing is guaranteed on the next level.
College football will welcome more than 3,000 new faces to its ranks on Wednesday.
National Signing Day is a mix between Christmas morning and Valentine’s Day for most diehard NCAA fans. New toys in the form of 6-foot-4, 240-pound linebackers are neatly wrapped under the tree and new crushes are fawned over by fan and coach alike when a bunch of high school prospects sign their Letter of Intent for the first time — making them an official member of a collegiate roster.
Every year, the media and fans (as well as many athletic directors) make a big fuss about recruits decommitting and switching teams, especially when coaches change jobs around this time of year. “Recruits commit to a school, not a coach” is the standard cry across the board.
I am here to tell you this isn’t true. Recruits commit to a coach and they sign with a school. All is fair in love and recruiting.
So National Signing Day is the first time that anything binding between recruit and school takes place. These future stars can commit to whomever they like for months on end, but come NSD, they must put pen to paper to certify their final decision.
To be sure, it isn’t an easy one to make. It is a decision that will shape and mold the rest of their lives. And not just on the football field.
It’s an intense and stressful but very fun time for all parties involved — coaches, players, fans and, yes, even us in the media (try an 18-hour work day trying to sift through 3,000-plus new roster additions).
Love or hate recruiting rankings, the bottom line is NSD matters in a big way. It shapes and molds the future of college football and is the lifeblood of future championships.
To those who don’t agree with imperfect “star rankings” I submit this fact: Of the 32 teams to play in the BCS National Championship Game, only one, Virginia Tech in 1999, had an average recruiting ranking outside of the top 15.
You gotta have quality players to win titles, folks. Plain and simple.
So how will the 2014 edition of NSD influence college football? What are the storylines to watch? The teams and players to keep an eye on? And what wackiness will ensue?
Here is what I am watching for come Wednesday:
How bad ass is the SEC?
The SEC's reign of terror technically ended in January when Florida State finally snapped the Southeastern Conference’s seven-year BCS title streak. Mike “Vito” Slive has finally been slain.
Or has he? No matter which recruiting service you subscribe to, the SEC is still the top dog. And it’s not even close.
According to 247Sports, seven of the top 10 and 10 of the top 20 classes heading into Wednesday hail from the SEC. According to Rivals, six of the top 10 and nine of the top 15 classes heading into NSD are SEC programs. Scout has seven of the top 12 classes coming from the SEC. ESPN’s team rankings include seven SEC teams in its top 10 as well.
Using Athlon Sports’ composite team rankings and assuming that Alabama will hold onto the top spot again this year, the No. 1 class in the nation has come from the SEC in six of the last seven years, including what will be Nick Saban’s third straight No. 1 class. More impressively, three different teams have claimed the mythical recruiting national championship as Florida claimed the top spot in 2010 and LSU in '09 (Bama won it in '08).
The only non-SEC team to win the recruiting championship according to Athlon Sports was, you guessed it, Florida State in 2011. That class helped lead the Seminoles to a BCS title this season.
Finally, the No. 1 recruit in the nation will sign with an SEC school for the fifth straight year when New Orleans running back Leonard Fournette signs with LSU. Again, what’s more impressive is that all five No. 1 overall players have come from different SEC states and signed with different SEC schools.
|2014||Leonard Fournette||RB||LSU||New Orleans, La.|
|2013||Robert Nkemdiche||DL||Ole Miss||Loganville, Ga.|
|2012||Dorial Green-Beckham||WR||Mizzou||Springfield, Mo.|
|2011||Jadeveon Clowney||DE||South Carolina||Rock Hill, S.C.|
|2010||Ronald Powell||DE||Florida||Moreno Valley, Calif.|
Will the Big 12 struggle… again?
Keith Ford was the top-rated recruit in the Big 12 last year, finishing as the No. 24 overall player in the nation according to the 247 composite rankings. He would have been the 14th-rated player in the SEC, the sixth-rated Pac-12 recruit and only the fourth-best player in the ACC. In all, only four of the top 100 players in the nation signed with the Big 12 in 2013 — down from 10 the year before. By comparison, the SEC bragged 42 top-100 signees last year while 11 of the 14 SEC programs inked at least one top-100 player.
Will 2014 continue what has to be a very scary trend for the Big 12? It appears so. Heading into NSD, the Big 12 has six top-100 players committed thus far while the SEC boasts 41. That is a massive talent differential that no coach — not even Bill Synder — can overcome. The Big Ten now boasts two of the most dynamic recruiting personalities in the nation (more on that in a second), the ACC just claimed the national title and the Pac-12 appears to be on par with the SEC. If the Big 12 doesn’t regain its recruiting strength — looking at you “Stronghorns” — the league could significantly fall behind the rest of college football in a dangerous way.
The James Franklin ripple effect
Vanderbilt had a top-25 class when James Franklin left Nashville to return home to The Keystone State to coach Penn State. No one can blame him for the move but what he has done to the Dores' recruiting class is downright absurd. Vandy has some quality prospects set to sign on Wednesday but is now ranked 82nd in the nation by 247Sports. So unless new coach Derek Mason works a few minor miracles, the Commodores are looking at an extremely disappointing class in 2014.
On the flip side, Penn State’s recruiting has been buoyed by the addition of Franklin and his crack staff of ace recruiters. The Lions flipped five of the Dores' commitments and have jumped way up the team rankings into the top 25. The Lions, despite major scholarship limitations, are competing with the likes of Oregon, South Carolina and Oklahoma for positioning in the team rankings. Basically, Franklin has been a godsend for the Nittany Lions.
But the ripples from Franklin's new address go much farther than just State College or Nashville, Tenn. Franklin’s emergence in the Big Ten is a direct challenge to the recruiting powers that be in the Midwest — aka Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio, Michigan and Nebraska. Bo Pelini and Dantonio are having a hard enough go of it as it is against Meyer and the Buckeyes, but Franklin knocks them even further down the pecking order. Michigan State and Nebraska are sitting at 34th and 35th respectively entering NSD. Wisconsin isn’t much better at 30th in the nation and don’t even get started with new members Rutgers and Maryland. A powerful PSU presence in the DC/Maryland and New Jersey areas are a nightmare for both programs as they enter the Big Ten fray.
The battles on the trail — and hopefully in the media — between Franklin and Meyer should be the stuff of legends. With two polarizing, take-no-prisoners personalities, its only a matter of time before the verbal barbs start flying between Columbus and State College.
Can anyone stop Nick Saban?
As mentioned earlier, Saban is looking for his fourth recruiting championship in seven seasons. That is a Pete Carroll-level of production on the recruiting trail as Saban is beginning to redefine recruiting greatness. Alabama is ranked No. 1 in all four major online services’ team rankings (ESPN, Scout, 247, Rivals) heading into NSD this week. The Tide leads the nation with five five-star commitments — no other team has more than three — and is second only to Tennessee (16) with 15 four-star commits.
Saban still has some big-time targets left on his board like five-stars Rashaan Evans, a linebacker from Auburn, Ala., or John Curtis (La.) wide receiver Malachi Dupre among others. Even if Bama misses on every one of its remaining targets on NSD (which is highly unlikely), it is still in great shape to finish atop the team rankings for the third straight year.
Ohio State, Texas A&M, LSU, Florida State and Tennessee are nipping at Saban’s heels, however. Florida State (27) and Tennessee (34) already have massive classes, yet each will find it hard to reach Bama’s level. But the Buckeyes, Bayou Bengals and Aggies each have enough space and enough targets left on the board to potentially challenge for top billing.
My prediction? Saban lands one or two more big names and crushes the field again on the recruiting trail. What he is doing right now in terms of attracting talent is downright unfair.
New coaches get their first taste
The coaching carousel had a unique year in that huge jobs came open and not many of them were filled with first-time head coaches. So while Mason at Vandy will be going through his first National Signing Day as a head coach, most new faces are old veterans when it comes to recruiting. Steve Sarkisian has not only been through many a Signing Day but has done it at USC as an assistant. Franklin’s effectiveness at Vandy was well documented and Charlie Strong recruited extremely well at Louisville.
Still, each of these names must acquaint themselves with a totally new zip code and what it takes to recruit in that area. In particular, Strong moving to a massive state with elite talent where he has very few ties. And his comments about closing the borders were direct shots at Bob Stoops, Art Briles, Mike Gundy and Kevin Sumlin. Now, fans in Austin will see if he can back it up on his first Signing Day on the 40 Acres.
One unique name to watch will be Chris Petersen at Washington. Coach Sark had Husky recruiting rolling when he headed south to Los Angeles and Petersen hasn’t ever had to recruit at this type of level. Can he keep U-Dub’s momentum going on the trail and is he equipped to battle the Pac-12’s big boys — Stanford, Oregon, USC, UCLA, Arizona State — when it comes to recruiting. Keep in mind, he won a lot of games at Boise State without ever calling, much less signing, a five-star recruit.
The Ol’ Switcharoo
Decommitments are a part of recruiting like official visits or Letters of Intent. Each Signing Day there will be plenty of names who flip at the last second. Some do it for family reasons. Others because a late sales pitch struck a chord. And sometimes, shockingly, adolescent teenagers change their mind at the last minute. Last year, A’Shawn Robinson flipped from Texas to Alabama and became one of the best freshmen in the SEC. A couple of years ago, top-100 wide receiver Deontay Greenberry signed with Houston without even telling Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly that he had decommitted. A big name or two will change their minds, make no mistake, so don’t be surprised when it happens.
Who will close strong?
Bobby Bowden wrote the book on closing strong over the years at Florida State and Jimbo Fisher has revived that tradition in Tallahassee. Clemson also has been a strong finisher under Dabo Swinney. Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze have proven in very short order that they are two of the best closers in the SEC currently after dominating the headlines on NSD last year.
So who will make a big move this year? Sarkisian at USC could be a prime candidate to make a big push on signing day. The Trojans could land three superstars in five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson, five-star athlete JuJu Smith and four-star blocker Damian Mama. Land all three and USC could move from outside the top 25 to near the top 10. Malzahn, Fisher and Freeze should all make waves as well on Wednesday. But don't forget about Saban at Alabama. The Tide are sure to make some big moves on Wednesday as well en route to yet another recruiting title.
National Signing Day will always have some bizarre storylines. Alex Collins last year — who was one of the better running backs in the SEC this year — couldn’t get his family to sign his LOI and it turned into one of the bigger stories in 2013. How about Floyd Raven’s mother forging his signature to Mississippi State when he sent his LOI to Texas A&M? Who could forget Kevin Hart’s public selection of Cal over Oregon at a press conference? There was only one problem, he didn’t have a scholarship offer from either school and Jeff Tedford hadn’t ever heard of Hart.
And, of course, there was Ron Weaver. Weaver signed with Texas in 1996 and played most of the season, however, Ron Weaver wasn’t Ron Weaver. Weaver had assumed the identity of someone else, Ron McKelvey, and faked his way into Texas despite being a 30-year old who had run out of eligibility. The hoax was discovered just days before the Texas-Virginia Tech Sugar Bowl and Weaver/McKelvey was promptly suspended. The NCAA ruled that he had officially duped everyone, including the entire University of Texas.
So what will 2014 bring? The good money might be on April Justin. The outspoken and disappointed mother of Landon Collins and Gerald Willis. She obviously wanted them both to play at LSU and Willis is scheduled to sign with Florida. Will she let another one of her boys leave The Pelican State?
I, for one, can’t wait until tomorrow.
Stringing together wins in the Big Ten hasn’t been easy this season, even for the most historically consistent of teams.
Wisconsin and Ohio State have faltered since undefeated starts. A different Indiana team shows up nearly any night.
And then there’s Northwestern, winners of four of five and in fourth place in the league standings. The Wildcats are one of four teams without a losing record in conference play.
Drew Crawford has led the way in the last week in a pair of road wins over Wisconsin and Minnesota, earning Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.
Crawford missed all but 10 games last season due to shoulder surgery but has returned to lead the Wildcats to a surprising season in the first year under coach Chris Collins. Crawford scored 30 points in a 65-56 win at Wisconsin on Wednesday and 17 points in a 55-54 win over Minnesota on Saturday.
Athlon Sports National Award Winners: Feb. 3
National Player of the Week: Drew Crawford, Northwestern
It was a huge week for the Northwestern program, which won at Wisconsin on Wednesday night by 11 and Minnesota on Saturday by one. Crawford, a fifth-year senior who flirted with transferring in the offseason, averaged 23.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in the two wins. The Wildcats, under first-year coach Chris Collins, have won three straight Big Ten road games for the first time since the 1959-60 season.
Freshman of the Week: Jordan Mickey, LSU
The Tigers had their best week of the season with home wins over Kentucky and Arkansas. One of the centerpieces was the forward Mickey. The freshman had 22 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks in an 88-74 win over Arkansas on Tuesday. Earlier in the week, Mickey added 14 points, six rebounds and five blocks in the 87-82 win over Kentucky on Tuesday.
Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: Maurice Ndour, Ohio
Ohio moved into a tie for the MAC East division and a three-way tie for the best record in the league overall thanks to a pair of double-doubles from Ndour. The junior college transfer from Senegal had 28 points and 12 rebounds in the 95-90 win over MAC leader Toledo on Saturday. Earlier in the week, Ndour had 21 points and 11 rebounds in a 71-67 win over Central Michigan.
Other Top Performers
C.J. Fair, Syracuse
Fair scored 28 points and played all 45 minutes as Syracuse held off Duke 91–89 in overtime in one of the most exciting regular-season games in recent years. Fair, a senior forward, controlled the paint for the bigger, more physical Orange, who are now ranked No. 1 in the nation with a 21–0 record.
Justin Cobbs, California
Cobbs delivered one of the most memorable shots of the season, drilling a step-back jumper with 0.9 seconds remaining to lift Cal to a 60–58 win over top-ranked Arizona. Cobbs, who scored the Golden Bears’ final 12 points, scored 19 points and handed out seven assists. The Bears had lost their previous three games.
DeAngelo Harrison, St. John’s
Harrison scored 27 points and added six rebounds and two blocked shots to lead St. John’s to a convincing 74–59 win over Marquette. The Red Storm lost their first five Big East games but have since won three of four to improve to 3–6 in the league. Harrison, a junior guard from Texas, ranks third in the conference in scoring at 18.1 points per game.
Jabari Brown, Missouri
His team came up short on Saturday afternoon — losing 84–79 at home to Kentucky — but Brown was the best player on a court loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans. Brown, a former 5-star recruit who began his career at Oregon, led Missouri with 33 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the floor and 10-of-12 from the foul line. Earlier in the week, Brown scored 24 points (on only 11 shots) in the Tigers’ 75–71 win at Arkansas.
Juwan Staten, West Virginia
Surging West Virginia won for the third time in the last four games thanks to a career day from its junior point guard. Staten, a one-time Dayton Flyer, scored 35 points and had four rebounds and five assists (and only two turnovers) in 38 minutes of action in the Mountaineers’ 81–71 win over Kansas State. West Virginia, who upset Baylor in Waco earlier in the week, is now 5–4 in the rugged Big 12.
Marcus Kennedy, SMU
SMU bounced back from a midweek loss at South Florida to beat Memphis 87–72 on Saturday in one of the biggest games the school in decades. Kennedy, a 6-9, 245-pound Philadelphia native, led the way with 21 points (on a perfect 10-of-10 from the field) and 15 rebounds for Larry Brown’s team. Kennedy has recorded a double-double in four of the last five games.
Josh Scott, Colorado
Scott scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead struggling Colorado — which had lost four of five games — to a 79–75 overtime win at home against Utah. The Buffaloes were expected to be one of the top teams in the Pac-12 but have struggled since point guard Spencer Dinwiddie went down a season-ending injury.
Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
Tennessee bounced back from a disheartening 67–41 loss at Florida with two convincing wins over SEC foes last week. Stokes, a junior forward, scored 13 points and had 14 rebounds in a midweek 86–70 win over Ole Miss and then had a dominating 22-point, 15-rebound effort in Saturday night’s 17-point victory at Alabama.
Tyler Haws, BYU
BYU has been a disappointment this season, but the Cougars are getting great production from Haws. A junior guard from Alpine, Utah, Haws averaged 35.5 points while shooting 59.5 percent from the field to lead BYU to wins over Pacific and Saint Mary’s last week. He is averaging 24.6 points.
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
With Indiana desperate for a quality win, Ferrell delivered in the clutch, scoring 27 points to lead the Hoosiers’ offense and helping slow down Michigan’s Nik Stauskas on the defensive end of the floor. Ferrell hit 8-of-10 from the floor, including 7-of-8 from 3-point range, in Indiana’s most important win of the season.
The 2013 NFL season is officially over and the Seattle Seahawks have won their first-ever world championship after dominating the Denver Broncos Sunday night in Super Bowl XLVIII. While the game at MetLife Stadium might have been a massive dud for fans not from the Pacific Northwest, the 48th playing of the greatest sporting event on the planet was not without some remarkable, amazing, historic and memorable stats.
Here are the 10 best stats from Super Bowl XLVIII:
3: Coaches to win a Super Bowl and NCAA national championship
Pete Carroll’s improbable career path from failed NFL coach to championship college coach at USC to persona non grata in Los Angeles to Super Bowl champion is fascinating. But when his Seahawks dominated the Broncos 43-8 on Sunday, he joined an elite fraternity of coaches to win a title on both the college and NFL levels. Barry Switzer at Oklahoma and Jimmy Johnson at Miami both won NCAA national championships in college before winning a Super Bowl for Dallas. Carroll is now one of three men to win the NCAA title and a Super Bowl. For the record, Paul Brown won a national title at Ohio State in 1942 and then a number of NFL championships — prior to the advent of the Super Bowl.
3: Jersey number won by Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson is easy to root for. He is an affable character with a great story, great personality and great maturity. But the odds he would be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy this year seemed slim to none. Wilson became the first quarterback to win the Super Bowl wearing jersey No. 3 and just the second African-American quarterback to win the Super Bowl (Doug Williams). He became just the fourth quarterback to win the big game in just his second season (Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, Ben Roethlisberger). Wilson is also 5-foot-11 and a third-round pick (sounds like Drew Brees to me).
11-12: Peyton Manning’s playoff record as a starter
Manning was playing for a lot on Sunday. A second Super Bowl title and perhaps the legacy of being labeled the greatest of all-time. However, Manning was flustered all day, threw two critical interceptions and got little to no help from his defense. His all-time playoff record dropped below .500 again (11-12) during his remarkable career. One of his two interceptions was returned 69 yards for a touchdowns by Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith — the longest interceptions return since the Saints' Tracy Porter took one back 74 yards in Super Bow XLIV against, you guessed it, Peyton Manning. The phrase “he’s the greatest regular-season quarterback in NFL history” will be heard at every water cooler in America this week as he fell to 1-2 on Super Sunday.
0: Interceptions thrown by Russell Wilson in the playoffs
Manning is the name that gets all of the recognition. And rightly so. However, Wilson, after struggling for much of the final month of the regular season, played flawless football this postseason. After an effective performance against Denver (206 yards, 2 TDs on 72 percent passing), Wilson capped his championship run without throwing an interception in 68 attempts. His final playoff statline for this year: 43-68 (63.2 percent), 524 yards, six touchdowns, zero interceptions, 11 rushes for 42 yards. Coincidentally, zero is also the number of quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl with two different teams — something Peyton Manning would have done on Sunday had his team not laid a giant egg.
12: Seconds it took for Seattle to score the game’s first points
The fastest score in Super Bowl history was Devin Hester’s kickoff return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLI. It took him 14 seconds to work his way 92 yards down the field against the Colts quarterbacked by… Peyton Manning. When Manning stepped up to the line on the first play from scrimmage Sunday night in MetLife Stadium, the snap sailed past everyone and into the end zone for a safety just 12 seconds into the game. It was the fastest points scored in Super Bowl history. It also means that Seattle led the Super Bowl for a record 59 minutes and 48 seconds.
3: Straight Super Bowls with a safety
The opening safety was as bizarre as it gets from a prop bet standpoint — someone likely cashed in big with “safety” as the first scoring play — but the two-point play makes for an interesting Super Bowl trend. It marks the third straight Super Bowl with a safety. The Ravens took a safety late in the game to preserve the lead with four seconds to play. Two years ago, New England's first offensive play of the game was a safety when Tom Brady was called for intentional grounding with 8:52 left in the first quarter. It also was the first score of the game.
19: Minutes it took the Broncos to get a first down
Manning and the Broncos looked completely out of sorts for the entire game. Seattle’s front seven pressured him on every dropback and the running game offered little to no support — try 27 yards on 14 carries. It took 19 minutes of game time and four drives for the most prolific offense in NFL history to get a first down. The Broncos' first possession ended on one play (safety), the second was a three-and-out and the third featured Manning’s first interception on a third down. But on third-and-one roughly midway through the second quarter, Knowshon Moreno rushed five yards and picked up Denver’s first first down of the game.
13: Super Bowl-record number of receptions for Demaryius Thomas
Thomas would likely trade his personal success for more team success but at least no one can say they caught more passes in a Super Bowl than Thomas. He finished with a Super Bowl-record 13 receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown. The previous record was 11 held by four different players: Cincinnati tight end Dan Ross (XVI), New England’s Deion Branch (XXXIX) and Wes Welker (XLII) and the legendary Jerry Rice (XXIII).
34: Super Bowl-record numbers of completions for Peyton Manning
Like Thomas, Manning set a completely worthless record in the Super Bowl on Sunday. He completed a Super Bowl-record 34 passes on 49 attempts. The previous record was 32, set by Tom Brady in Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Panthers and Drew Brees against the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Both Brady and Brees took home the Lombardi Trophy.
7/1: Odds Seattle will repeat as Super Bowl champions
Vegas works quickly and the odds are out (according to Pregame.com’s RJ Bell) for Super Bowl XLIV. Seattle and Denver top the list at 7/1 and 8/1 respectively, as Bell is calling for a rematch next year. San Francisco is tied with the Broncos at 8/1 while New England (12/1), Green Bay (20/1) and New Orleans (20/1) round out the top five. Bring up the rear, Jacksonville and Oakland are the least likeliest teams to win the Super Bowl next season at 200/1.
Super Sunday has come and gone and another team has taken its place in the annals of NFL lore.
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are champions — the first for the franchise and the city of Seattle.
Pete Carroll became the third coach in American football history to win the Super Bowl and the NCAA national championship (Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer). His defense was the star of the show, scoring points and stuffing Peyton Manning unlike the football world has ever seen. Congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks family.
Despite a horrific Super Sunday, however, Manning's 2013 campaign is still one of the best ever assembled by a professional passer. Certainly, his second Super Bowl victory would have been a better way to cap the year — and likely would have given him the greatest single season by a quarterback in NFL history — but let's not overlook a tremendous first 18 games from No. 18.
Toughness, leadership, statistical production, winning championships, clutch performances and overall physical ability are just a few of the ways to quantify greatness. It is using a combination of all these factors that Athlon ranks the greatest complete NFL seasons a quarterback has ever had—from Week 1 through Super Sunday.
1. Steve Young, San Francisco, 1994
There hasn't been a more complete NFL season than the year Young and offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan put together in 1994. The 49ers finished the regular season with the best record in the league at 13-3 while Young set an NFL single-season record for efficiency with a 112.8 QB rating, breaking the previous record set by former mentor Joe Montana. He also came 0.3 percentage points from breaking Ken Anderson's NFL mark for completion percentage at 70.6 percent (Young's 70.3 percent still sits at No. 4 all-time). He started all 16 games, finished with 3,969 yards and an NFL-best 35 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions. Additionally, Young led the team in rushing touchdowns with seven as he compiled 293 yards on 58 carries. For all of this he earned the NFL MVP, but what made the '94 campaign special is what took place following the regular season. The Niners steam-rolled the Bears, Cowboys and Chargers en route to Young's first Super Bowl — a win commemorated by a record six touchdown passes, 325 yards passing, the MVP trophy and Gary Plummer's famous monkey exorcism. Oh, and No. 8 was the game's leading rusher as well. Young posted 623 yards passing, 128 yards rushing, 11 total touchdowns and nary an interception in San Francisco's three playoff games. It was the finest season a quarterback has ever seen.
2. Peyton Manning, Denver, 2013
Regardless of the outcome in Super Bowl XLVIII, nearly the entirety of the NFL’s single-season record book was re-written by Manning and the Broncos this season. His final game was a massive disappointment and will go down in history as one of the most bizarre Super Bowl performances in NFL history. But no player — regular season or otherwise — has ever thrown for more yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55) than Manning did in the 2013 regular season. He added 910 and five more scores to his totals in three postseason games while boasting a 15-4 overall record for the year. Manning finished with an NFL-record 6,387 yards and 60 touchdown passes. He also tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in the season opener and ran the NFL’s greatest offense. Denver broke the NFL record for scoring with 606 points in the regular season and total touchdowns with 76 — both set by New England in 2007 (589 and 75). The Broncos were the first team in NFL history with five players with at least 10 touchdowns. The great quarterback finished with 280 yards and one scoring strike in the loss to Seattle, and, had he won on Sunday, it would have completed the best single-season performance by any quarterback in history. However, the lasting image of Manning's '13 campaign will forever be the 43-8 loss to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
3. Kurt Warner, St. Louis, 1999
Part of what makes Warner's '99 campaign so memorable is how the Northern Iowa signal-caller ended up a Super Bowl champion and NFL MVP. The undrafted rookie finally broke into the league four years after graduating from UNI and led the inept Rams to the best record in the NFC (13-3) as a first-year starter. The 28-year-old led the NFL in touchdown passes (41), completion rate (65.1 percent), yards per attempt (8.7) and QB rating (109.2) while finishing with a franchise-record 4,353 yards passing. He then proceeded to complete over 81 percent of his passes for 391 yards and five touchdowns in his first career playoff start — a 49-37 win over Minnesota. By the end of Super Bowl XXXIV, Warner had thrown for 414 yards and two touchdowns to earn his second MVP trophy of the season. The huge numbers, the sheer improbability and ultimate victory combined to produce what was nearly the greatest season in history.
4. Tom Brady, New England, 2007
Today's sports culture values the championship and quarterbacks rarely disagree. So had Brady finished his magical romp through the NFL in 2007, he would be sitting at No. 1 on this list. He is only one of two QBs to ever finish a regular season 16-0 and eventually worked the record to 18-0 before the show-stopping loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII . Brady threw for a franchise-record 4,806 yards, good for third all-time in NFL history at the time. His QB rating of 117.2 was second all-time in NFL history and he became the first player to ever throw 50 touchdown passes in one season. He threw only eight interceptions and led the league in 11 passing categories. In the postseason, Brady and the Pats took care of business against Jacksonville in the Divisional Round, but the Michigan grad struggled in his final two games of the year. He threw three interceptions and had his second-worst yardage day of the year (209 yards) in the AFC title game win over San Diego. He capped his MVP season with an underwhelming performance against the extraordinary Giants defensive line, costing him his fourth Super Bowl ring and the unbeaten immortality of 19-0.
5. Dan Marino, Miami, 1984
Marino was well ahead of his time back in only his second year in the league. He set an NFL record for passing yards (5,084) that would stand for nearly 30 years and an NFL record for touchdowns (48) that would stand for 20 years. He led the Dolphins to the best record in the AFC at 14-2, claimed the MVP trophy and returned Miami to the Super Bowl where they fell just short of defeating the 18-1 Joe Montana-led 49ers. The Pitt Panther threw for 1,001 yards and eight scores in three postseason games. The 23-year-old with a lightning-quick release led the NFL in completions, attempts, QB rating and yards per attempt in a season that totally changed the way the game of football was played. He paved the way for what we see today on Sunday and came up 22 points short of a championship.
6. Joe Montana, San Francisco, 1989
The Golden Domer wasn't ever the most talented or fastest or strongest quarterback on the field, but his 13 regular-season games — and subsequent playoff run — during the 1989 season were as brilliant as most's 16-game seasons. Montana completed 70.2 percent of his passes, led the NFL at 270.8 yards per game and finished with a then-NFL record 112.4 QB rating. His completion rate was second all-time to only Ken Anderson and is still one of only five seasons with a completion rate of better than 70 percent in history. The 49ers finished 11-2 in his 13 starts and 14-2 overall and Montana was the MVP of the league. Montana threw for 3,521 yards, 26 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. He also added 227 yards rushing and three more scores on the ground. However, what made No. 16's '89 campaign one of the greatest in history was his thorough destruction of the NFC and Denver Broncos in the postseason. He completed 65 of his 83 passes (78.3 percent) for 800 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero picks, finishing his historic season with arguably the most dominant Super Bowl performance to date by crushing John Elway and company 55-10. Three more games puts Montana over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns and moves him ahead of Marino and Brady on this list.
7. Drew Brees, New Orleans, 2009
One could argue Brees' 2011 season was better, but I am guessing if you ask him which year was better, he would take 2009 everyday and twice on Sunday. He led the NFL in completion rate (70.6 percent), breaking the aforementioned Anderson's NFL single-season record. He also topped the charts in touchdown passes (34) and QB rating (109.6) en route to a 13-3 final record. He finished with 4,388 yards and only 11 interceptions. He then capped New Orleans' magical resurrection with 732 yards passing, eight touchdowns and no interceptions in three playoff wins. His performance in the Super Bowl XLIV win over the Colts and Peyton Manning gave the Saints franchise their first championship. Brees completed 82.1 percent of his passes and claimed the game's MVP honors.
8. Drew Brees, New Orleans, 2011
It is hard to argue that from a statistical perspective, no quarterback has ever had a better regular season than Brees last fall (until Manning). He set NFL records for completions (468), passing yards (5,476) and completion rate (71.2 percent) while leading the Saints to a 13-3 record. He then proceeded to throw for 928 yards and seven touchdowns in two playoff games. His defense let him down in the postseason and he contributed two of the team's costly five turnovers in the Divisional Round loss to the 49ers.
9. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis, 2006
Manning has posted better numbers in a season (2013, '04), but when it comes down to his best two seasons as a Colt, the Super Bowl ring in '06, trumps the statistics he compiled in '04 (see below). In 2006 he threw for 4,397 yards on 65.0 percent passing and a league-leading 31 touchdown passes. This also was the only year in which No. 18 threw fewer than 10 interceptions (9). His 101.0 QB rating also led the NFL that season and he added four rushing scores for good measure. Manning led his Colts to four postseason wins that year (16-4 overall) and the 29-17 Super Bowl XLI win over Chicago in which he claimed the game's MVP trophy.
10. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay, 2011
In a season in which three passers topped 5,000 yards and numerous NFL records were broken, Rodgers' season can get lost in the shuffle. Yet, the Packers' quarterback set every major franchise passing record and led a team that finished 15-1 in the regular season. The year ended with a whimper with Rodgers sitting out the regular-season finale and then losing to the Giants in the first playoff game. But his 4,643 yards, 10.5 yards per attempt and absurd 45:6 TD:INT ratio gave No. 12 the most efficient season in NFL history (122.5 QB rating) — and it earned him the league's MVP trophy. Had he posted Matt Flynn's (480 yards passing, 6 TDs) numbers in the final week of the regular season, he would have hit 50 TDs and topped 5,000 yards. That said, Packers fans will always look at '11 with "what-if" memories.
Others to consider:
Peyton Manning, Indianapolis, 2004 (12-4, Postseason: 1-1)
Stats: 4,557 yds, 49 TDs, 10 INTs, 121.1 QB rating
Dan Fouts, San Diego, 1981 (10-6, Postseason: 1-1)
Stats: 4,802 yds (NFL record), 33 TDs, 17 INTs, 90.6 QB rating
Warren Moon, Houston, 1990 (8-7, Postseason: None)
Stats: 4,689 yds, 33 TDs, 13 INTs, 96.8 QB rating, 215 rush yds, 2 TDs
Randall Cunningham, Philadelphia, 1990 (10-6, Postseason: 0-1)
Stats: 3,466 yds, 30 TDs, 13 INTs, 91.6 QB rating, 118 att., 942 yds, 5 TDs
Brett Favre, Green Bay, 1996 (13-3, Postseason: 3-0) MVP, Super Bowl
Stats: 3,899 yds, 39 TDs, 13 INTs, 95.8 QB rating, 136 rush yds, 2 TDs
Michael Vick, Atlanta, 2004 (11-4, Postseason: 1-1)
Stats: 2,313 yds, 14 TDs, 12 INTs, 78.1 QB rating, 120 att., 902 yds, 3 TDs
Michael Vick, Atlanta, 2006 (7-9, Postseason: None)
Stats: 2,474 yds, 20 TDs, 13 INTs, 75.7 QB rating, 123 att., 1,039 yds, 2 TDs
Brett Favre, Minnesota, 2009 (12-4, Postseason: 1-1)
Stats: 4,202 yds, 33 TDs, 7 INTs, 107.2 QB rating
Michael Vick, Philadelphia, 2010 (8-3, Postseason: 0-1)
Stats: 3,018 yds, 21 TDs, 6 INTs, 100.2 QB rating, 100 att., 675 yds, 9 TDs
Tom Brady, New England, 2011 (13-3, Postseason: 2-1)
Stats: 5,235 yds, 39 TDs, 12 INTs, 105.6 QB rating, 109 rush yds, 3 TDs