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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
Jim Boeheim called the win over Duke one of the best games he’d coached at the Carrier Dome. ESPN’s Dick Vitale called it one of the best games he’d ever called.
The only question: Why did it take so long for such a game to occur?
Syracuse and Duke lived up to its promise of two national title-contending teams meeting for the first time in 16 years, but it was only a slice of a chaotic basketball weekend.
Seven ranked teams lost to unranked foes on Saturday and Sunday. Five top-10 teams lost, not least of which was one of three remaining undefeated teams (Arizona) and one of the flavors of the week (Michigan).
That leaves Syracuse and Wichita State as the only undefeated teams in the country as the calendar turns to March.
The next question is how long these winning streaks can last. Both Pittsburgh and Duke pushed Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. The Orange will play both on the road in February.
What appears to be the toughest road stretch for Wichita State begins this week with a trip to Indiana State on Wednesday and another to Northern Iowa on Saturday.
The 10 Most Important Things in College Basketball this Week
1a. We want more of what Syracuse and Duke delivered
Few regular season games can match what occurred at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. Syracuse’s 91-89 win in overtime over Duke will stand with any NCAA Tournament game in 2014 as the highlight of the year. Two 900-win coaches went back and forth strategically, the stars performed, and unsung heroes made their impacts. If this is what an expanded ACC — with Louisville joining next season, mind you — we’ll take it.
1b. C.J. Fair and the Syracuse frontcourt delivered
Perhaps an outsized amount of attention has been given to Syracuse’s fantastic freshman point guard. True, Tyler Ennis came up with a key basket at the end and nine assists in the win over Duke, but this was the C.J. Fair show for a good bit. The veteran forward showed off his ability to score from any spot inside the arc, finishing 12 of 20 for 28 points. Jerami Grant added 24, including a perfect 10 for 10 from the free throw line. And Rakeem Christmas defended Rodney Hood on a potential dunk to take a lead with 14.3 remaining. Christmas could have been called for a foul, but the call never came, keeping Syracuse ahead.
1c. Duke is national title worthy
The Blue Devils had their lapses in ACC play, but there was enough Saturday to show Duke has the pieces for a title run. Jabari Parker was in foul trouble, but the Blue Devils kept coming back against undefeated team on the road. Most encouraging was the play of role players like Amile Jefferson with six offensive rebounds, Tyler Thornton with three consecutive 3-pointers late in the second half and Rasheed Sulaimon and Andre Dawkins combining for 30 points.
2a. Arizona is about to get tested twice over
Arizona’s first loss of the season seemed imminent in retrospect. On Wednesday, the Wildcats needed all 40 minutes to pull away for a 10-point win over Utah before a defensive stand and a late 3 from Nick Johnson finally put away Stanford. Saturday's late-night loss to Cal wasn’t so much a shocking loss for Arizona as much as it was a culmination of three consecutive less-than-dominant games. The bigger news is the season-ending injury to starting forward Brandon Ashley, who averages 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds. The Wildcats can insert freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (8 ppg, 5.4 rpg) or go with a three-guard lineup. Either way, this is will be a major adjustment for a team that has gotten this far without a major incident.
2b. This shot from Justin Cobbs:
3a. Rick Barnes has gone from hot seat to possible national coach of the year
After years of letdowns, Texas is basking in being one of the nation’s true surprise teams, a development that took one more giant step with a 81-69 win over Kansas in Austin. Rick Barnes may not win national coach of the year, but he should be in the discussion. Texas, the same team that lost to Houston in the CBI last season, has defeated four ranked teams in four games.
3b. Texas beat up Kansas up front
The most impressive part of Texas’ win? The way the Longhorns outworked Kansas around the basket. Forward Jonathan Holmes finished with 22 points and three blocks while center Cameron Ridley, a McDonald’s All-American who once appeared to be a bust, had 10 rebounds and four blocks. Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins entered the game on a two-game hot streak before finishing 2 of 12 from the field.
4a. Kentucky woke up, but there’s still reason to be worried.
Kentucky came back from a disconcerting loss to LSU to beat Missouri 84-79. That’s a good road win over one of the few NCAA contenders in the the SEC, but there’s still plenty here for John Calipari to nitpick. Kentucky still struggled to defend guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson as most SEC teams do. The Tigers duo combined for 21 of 34 shots and 61 points. Missouri got little outside of that pairing, however. Meanwhile, Kentucky’s four best freshmen combined for 73 points and showed a good spark after the LSU loss.
4b. Hello, Jabari Brown
5. Ohio State has stopped the bleeding while Wisconsin is still in a tailspin
The Buckeyes and Badgers started a combined 31-0 and went 1-9 thereafter. Someone had to win Saturday, and Ohio State waited until the final possession to seal the 59-58 win. The Buckeyes moved starter Shannon Scott to a more familiar role as the top guy of the bench. He and his replacement in the starting lineup, Sam Thompson, combined for only 11 points, but Ohio State was more aggressive in the offensive end. Wisconsin, though, struggled to find a shot for the second consecutive game, finishing 3 of 17 from 3-point range.
6. Yogi Ferrell is keeping things interesting for Indiana
Ferrell was one of the most impactful players of the weekend. He scored 27 points and guarded Nik Stauskas, who scored only six, in Indiana’s 63-52. It’s been tempting to write off the Hoosiers this season after losses to Nebraska on the road and Northwestern at home in recent weeks, but Indiana is still in the thick of the NCAA at-large conversation thanks to wins over Wisconsin and Michigan.
7. Michigan State needs Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson in the worst way
The Spartans perhaps stretched their roster as far as it could go without Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson. Michigan State lost 64-60 to Georgetown at Madison Square Garden on Saturday in what might be the Spartans’ last game without Payne. Dawson’s return is weeks away, but Payne could rejoin the team against Penn State on Thursday after missing seven games. The Hoyas had lost five in a row.
8a. Baylor ended its funk in unlikely fashion
Baylor’s collapse ended (Scott Drew hopes) at a time no one could have envisioned. Baylor visited Stillwater with altered travel plays due to weather and no Kenny Chery due to injury. Even without its point guard, Baylor defeated Oklahoma State 76-70 for the Bears’ second Big 12 win. Gary Franklin had 11 points and five assists subbing for Chery, but Brady Heslip’s long-range scoring was the story of the day as Heslip hit six 3s in a 20-point performance.
8b. What’s wrong with Phil Forte and Marcus Smart?
Smart got his seven assists, but he has not been the Big 12 player of the year contender in recent games. Smart has been brutal from 3-point range in recent games, shooting 3 of 28 from beyond the arc in the last four games. The real question is why a 29.7-percent 3-point shooter is taking seven 3s against Baylor. Sharpshooter Phil Forte also was in a funk, going 0 of 4 from the floor. Oklahoma State hasn’t really been the same since forward Michael Cobbins was lost for the season, and now Stevie Clark is in trouble again. The freshman point guard was arrested for the second time this season during the weekend.
9. Virginia is legitimately in the race for the ACC title
The Cavaliers defeated Pittsburgh 48-45 on the road Sunday to put the Cavaliers in second place in the ACC standings. The Cavaliers don’t have the national notoriety of some of the teams in their league, but they’re right in the ACC race. Virginia is 7-1, already had its meeting with Duke and catches Syracuse at home. The sub-50 point total isn’t appealing, but the Cavs deserve credit for winning on an off night for Joe Harris (4 of 12, 11 points). Malcolm Brogdon was the hero again.
10. Larry Brown is going to the NCAA Tournament
SMU responded from its setback against USF to beat a ranked Memphis team 87-72 on Saturday, a major statement win for a team seeking to beef up its NCAA Tournament resume. As long as the Mustangs don’t collapse down the stretch, SMU can use these two top-50 wins (Connecticut is the other) for an at-large bid. SMU hasn’t been to the Tournament since 1993, and coach Larry Brown hasn’t been since leading Kansas to the 1988 title.
• Give credit to North Carolina freshman Kennedy Meeks playing a role in the Tar Heels quest for consistency. He had 20 rebounds in 39 minutes in the last two games as North Carolina has won four of five.
• While you were getting ready for Super Bowl festivities, UCLA lost 71-67 to Oregon State. Arizona has its questions coming out of the Cal loss, but UCLA continues to be one of a handful of Pac-12 teams without the ability to consistently defeated the lower-tier teams in the league.
• Point guard DeAndre Kane was the early frontrunner for Big 12 player of the year, but Iowa State forwards Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim have played a lead role in pulling Iowa State out of its funk. Niang had 27 points and Ejim had 22 points and 16 boards in the 81-75 win over Oklahoma on Saturday
• Chris Collins should be in the Big Ten Coach of the Year discussion even if his team won’t play in the NCAA Tournament. Northwestern defeated Minnesota (minus Andre Hollins) 55-54 for back-to-back Big Ten road wins. The Wildcats are 5-5 in the league including wins over Wisconsin and Indiana on the road.
• Not a great look for Xavier: The Musketeers lost 68-60 at home to Seton Hall for its second consecutive loss. Xavier can’t afford many of those kinds of losses.
• Florida State’s stock has plummeted since starting 12-4. The Seminoles’ 53-49 home loss to Clemson was their fourth in five games.
• West Virginia is probably NIT-bound, but the Mountaineers had a nice week with a win at Baylor and a 10-point win over Kansas State. West Virginia needs all the momentum it can get. The schedule down the stretch is brutal.
In deserts thousands of miles apart, two golfers seeking to recapture past glory found more heartache. At the Waste Management Phoenix Open, 2012 Masters champ Bubba Watson, largely missing from leaderboards since donning the green jacket, saw a par putt slip past the hole on 18 to lose by a shot to Kevin Stadler. And in Dubai, Tiger Woods continued his stumbling start to 2014 by finishing T41 in the European Tour's Dubai Desert Classic for the worst two-tournament performance to start a season in his career.
Steady Kevin Stadler emerged from a crowd atop the leaderboard, shooting a final-round 68 in front of record Phoenix galleries and earning his first career win, gaining an invitation to Augusta in the process, where he'll join his dad, 1982 Masters champ Craig Stadler. But the tournament was Bubba's for the taking until he found the water on 15, bogeyed the 16th and failed to get up-and-down to save par on 18. Afterward, Watson tweeted: "I played solid all week, got to keep practicing! 2nd is first loser!!"
Woods' final-round 71 left him 6-under for the tournament, 10 shots behind winner Stephen Gallacher. A talkative Tiger asserted afterward that the problem is on the greens. "I drove it great today, I piped it all day," said Woods. "My iron game was not as sharp as I'd like, and I didn't make anything. I had seven lip-outs. That's quite a few lip-outs."
Here are the key stats from the weekend in golf:
1 Stadler earns a spot in The Masters, where he will join his father Craig in the field. The Stadlers become history's first father-son duo to play in the same Masters. They're the ninth father-son pair to win on the PGA Tour.
189,722 The Waste Management Phoenix Open, known for its huge, boisterous galleries, outdid itself this weekend. The Saturday crowd was 189,722, a record gallery for golf. The tournament total of 563,008 fans was also a record.
42 Phil Mickelson, who withdrew last week at Torrey Pines with back pain, finished tied for 42nd and says he feels fine. "My game is not far off, even though the score says that it is," says Mickelson, who plans to play this week at Pebble Beach. "It was just a fraction off."
60.5 Tiger's average finish in two tournaments this season — at Torrey Pines last week and Dubai this week — is 60.5. It's the worst two-tournament start of his career.
1 Gallacher became the first player to successfully defend his Dubai Desert Classic title. He vaults 30 places in the Official World Golf Ranking to 37, virtually assuring a spot in the Accenture Match Play Championship and getting him closer to his goal of a spot on the European Ryder Cup team.
The Scene at No. 16
With its huge, boisterous galleries offering deafening approval — or disapproval, as the case may be — the par-3 16th hole at Phoenix is unique in golf. Here's a video rundown.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 3.
• Tonight is the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit TV special. Marisa Miller will be there. Say no more.
• So the Super Bowl pretty much sucked, but the Internet was quick to revel in Peyton Manning's epic fail of an evening.
• Manningface wasn't limited to Peyton last night. Although, I suspect that Eli's secretly happy that he's got more rings than big bro.
• The most exciting Super Bowl moment came when some 9/11 truther wacko crashed Malcolm Smith's press conference.
• He botched the coin toss, but Joe Namath can still pull off a fur coat like no man. Or woman, for that matter.
• One person's ranking of the Super Bowl commercials, which ranged from forgettable to stupid.
• So I wasn't blown away by the Super Bowl ads, but this local lawyer ad was pretty amazing. Jamie Casino for the win.
• Today's the 55th anniversary of the Day the Music Died. Here are 11 musical monuments to fallen heroes.
• Frank Caliendo pulled off a nice 30 for 30 promo spoof featuring Richard Sherman.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
All eyes will be on the Russian town of Sochi as the Winter Olympics is set to kick off on Feb. 7 with the games Opening Ceremony. In anticipation of this worldwide sporting event, it's always interesting to look at some of the surprising facts that relate to this historic event. Fortunately for us, someone put together this handy infographic.
Let's face it, the average sports fan has no clue what's going on with curling. What's up with the sweeping? Why is it called "curling"? Who started this crazy game? With the Winter Olympics kicking off soon, it's time you learned. This video will tell you all.
The first Wednesday in February is essentially Christmas for every college football head coach. After months of hard work on the recruiting trail, coaches will hit the offices bright and early on Wednesday for National Signing Day to welcome a new class full of freshmen and maybe a few junior college transfers to chase a national championship. With a new crop of players joining the program on National Signing Day, each coach now has a good idea about how their roster looks for the upcoming season and beyond. While National Signing Day is an important moment in building a national title contender, it also signifies the official start of next year’s recruiting class.
With most college football teams signing around 25 prospects on Wednesday, there’s over 3,000 players coming to the FBS ranks next season. And it’s no surprise there are some rather entertaining names among the new group of college players. Athlon combed through the recruits for the 2014 signing class by using the databases at Rivals, Scout and ESPN and rounded up the best (and most interesting) names joining an FBS roster next season.
Note: Positions of players can very from recruiting service. Players in this article were listed by position according to Scout.
2014 College Football Recruiting All-Name Team
Raymond Crochet (Salmen) Slidell, Louisiana
Prince Dukes (Curtis) Staten Island, New York
Bear Fenimore (Westwood) Austin, Texas
Ramroth Finnegan (Whetstone) Columbus, Ohio
Chase Forrest (Mater Dei) Santa Ana, California
Hunter Fralick (Spanish Springs High School) Sparks, Nevada
Baron Gajkowski (Lone Peak) Highland, Utah
Justice Hansen (Santa Fe) Edmond, Oklahoma
Rip Kirk (South Panola) Batesville, Mississippi
Chipper Lucero (Alta) Sandy, Utah
Grayson Muehlstein (Decatur) Decatur, Texas
Rafe Peavey (Bolivar) Bolivar, Missouri
Nicodem Pierre (Coral Reef Senior High School) Miami, Florida
Gunner Roach (UMS Wright Preparatory) Mobile, Alabama
Roosevelt Appleton (Hightower) Sugar Land, Texas
Wadzaire Blanc (Lake Nona) Orlando, Florida
Squally Canada (Milpitas) Milpitas, California
Juan Day (North Little Rock) North Little Rock, Arkansas
Taiwan Deal (Dematha Catholic) Hyattsville, Maryland
Raekwon James (John Curtis Christian) River Ridge, Louisiana
Tommy Mister (St. Rita) Chicago, Illinois
Orange Mooney (Hutchinson C.C.) Hutchinson, Kansas
Devine Redding (Glenville) Cleveland, Ohio
Superiorr Reid (Mount San Jacinto) San Jacinto, California
Tomaria Stringfellow (Sam Houston) San Antonio, Texas
Forrest Town (Zachary) Zachary, Louisiana
Jay’Metric Tucker (Hudson Valley) Troy, New York
Solomon Vault (Gaithersburg) Gaithersburg, Maryland
Chip Wannamaker (Bamberg Ehrhardt) Bamberg, South Carolina
Papi White (Seminole) Seminole, Oklahoma
Ish Witter (Alonso) Tampa, Florida
Traevohn Wrench (Gardner Edgerton) Gardner, Kansas
Geronimo Allison (Iowa Western) Council Bluffs, Iowa
Kd Cannon (Mt. Pleasant) Mount Pleasant, Texas
Freddy Canteen (Eastern
Christian Academy) Elkton, Maryland
Marceles Clash (Muir) Pasadena, California
Bingo Morton (Langston Hughes) Fairburn, Georgia
Picasso Nelson (Oak Grove Attendance Center) Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Devante “Speedy” Noil (Edna Karr) New Orleans, Louisiana
Wisdom Offor (American Senior) Hialeah, Florida
Michiah Quick (Central High East Campus) Fresno, California
Hunter Sharp (Antelope Valley) Lancaster, California
Thaddeus Snodgrass (Springfield) Springfield, Ohio
Ryan Watercutter (Bishop Swenger) Fort Wayne, Indiana
T.V. Williams (McKinney) McKinney, Texas
Freedom Akinmoladun (Grandview Senior) Grandview, Missouri
Jeb Blazevich (Charlotte Christian) Charlotte, North Carolina
Evan Butts (The Episcopal Academy) Merion, Pennsylvania
Marvin Fanfan (ASA) Brooklyn, New York
Stoney Hawkins (Centennial) Frisco, Texas
Austin Rukthavornsakul (McQueen) Reno, Nevada
Cannon Smith (Hammond School) Columbia, South Carolina
Moral Stephens (Taylor County) Perry, Florida
Beau Benzschawel (Grafton) Grafton, Wisconsin
Will Clapp (Brother Martin) New Orleans, Louisiana
Tanner Farmer (Highland) Highland, Illinois
Hunter Knight (Providence Christian) Dothan, Alabama
Damien Mama (St. John Bosco) Bellflower, California
Justin Muehlheausler (St. John Vianney) Kirkwood, Missouri
Hunter Ponder (Mansfield) Mansfield, Texas
Messiah Rice (Orangeburg Wilkinson) Orangeburg, South Carolina
Thor Riemer (Osceola) Osceola, Wisconsin
Hunter Steel (Chartiers Valley) Bridgeville, Pennsylvania
Tennessee Su’esu’e (East) Salt Lake City, Utah
Bentley Spain (Providence) Charlotte, North Carolina
Z Stephenson (Bloomington High School North) Bloomington, Indiana
Bearooz Yacoobi (Dearborn) Dearborn, Michigan
Poncho Barnwell (Nassau) Garden City, New York
Demarcus Christmas (Manatee) Bradenton, Florida
Lion King Conway (Southfield) Southfield, Michigan
Fritz Desir (Gulf Coast) Naples, Florida
Poona Ford (Hilton Head) Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge) Woodbridge, Virginia
Hercules Mata’afa (Lahainaluna) Lahaina, Hawaii
Godspower Ogide (Bishop Kearney) Rochester, New York
Naquez Pringle (Carver’s Bay) Georgetown, South Carolina
Gasetoto Schuster (Polytechnic) Long Beach, California
Breeland Speaks (Callaway Senior) Jackson, Mississippi
Dexter Wideman (Saluda) Saluda, South Carolina
St. Pierre Anilus (Georgia Military) Milledgeville, Georgia
Cash Barden (College of the Canyons) Santa Clarita, California
Coult Culler (Emsley A. Laney) Wilmington, North Carolina
Colton Jumper (The Hun School) Princeton, New Jersey
Thor Katoa (Pine View Middle) St. George, Utah
Greer Martini (Woodberry Forest) Woodberry Forrest, Virginia
Boadie Matts (Sandalwood) Jacksonville, Florida
Raekwon McMillan (Liberty County) Hinesville, Georgia
Justice Rawlins (Monessen SHS) Monessen, Pennsylvania
Serge Trezy (Eastern Arizona) Thatcher, Arizona
Olajuwon Tucker (Junipero Serra) Gardena, California
Budda Baker (Bellevue) Bellevue, Washington
Jukobie Boatwright (Emanuel County Institute) Twin City, Georgia
Zykiesis Cannon (Carolina) Greenville, South Carolina
Mookie Carlile (Stephenville) Stephenville, Texas
Justice Davila (Timber Creek) Sicklerville, New Jersey
Dominique Fenstermacher (Mountain Pointe) Phoenix, Arizona
A.J. Greathouse (Hamilton) Chandler, Arizona
Breckin Gunter (Box Elder) Brigham City, Utah
Sky Manu (Bingham) South Jordan, Utah
Juju Smith (Polytechnic) Long Beach, California
Finus Stribling (Independence) Thompson’s Station, Tennessee
Wonderful Terry (Garden City) Garden City, Kansas
Deshaun Thrower (Muskegon) Muskegon, Michigan
Bright Ugwoegbu (Seven Lakes) Katy, Texas
Vlassios Pizanias (Hubbard) Hubbard, Ohio
The Super Bowl is The Big Game in the NFL. But many of the game’s greatest players never took the field with the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the line. This year, Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey and Seahawks "Beast Mode" running back Marshawn Lynch headline the list of first-time Super Sunday participants in Super Bowl XLVIII. These all-time greats, however, were not so lucky.
1. Barry Sanders, RB, Lions (1989-98)
Playoff record: 1–5
Playoff stats: 386 rush yards (4.2 ypc), TD; 111 receiving yards (5.3 ypc), TD
Best team: 1991 Lions (12–4 record, lost in NFC Championship Game)
Closest call: 1991 (NFC Championship Game, 41–10 loss at Redskins)
After winning his playoff debut 38–6 against the Cowboys, Sanders lost his next five postseason games. Shockingly, one of the most exciting players of all-time was limited to 13 or fewer carries in four of his six playoff contests. The only time No. 20 was given more than 20 carries, he ripped off 169 yards in a 28–24 loss to the Packers. Although Sanders ran wild every year on Thanksgiving Day, he never showed up to the party on Super Bowl Sunday.
2. Deacon Jones, DE, Rams (1961-71), Chargers (’72-73), Redskins (’74)
Playoff record: 0–2
Playoff stats: N/A
Best team: 1967 Rams (11–1–2 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 1969 (Divisional Round, 23–20 loss at Vikings)
The “Secretary of Defense” was known for head-slapping opposing offensive linemen, but the two-time Defensive Player of the Year must have been doing some head-scratching after retiring with zero playoff wins — and zero Super Bowl appearances — despite an unofficial total of 173.5 sacks during his Hall of Fame career.
3. Dick Butkus, LB, Bears (1965-73)
Playoff record: 0–0
Playoff stats: N/A
Best team: 1965 Bears (9–5 record, missed postseason)
Arguably the greatest middle linebacker in history, Butkus played for George Halas — the legendary coach whose name graces the trophy awarded to the winner of the NFC Championship Game — and on the same team as Hall of Fame triple-threat playmaker Gale Sayers. Despite looking great on paper at the time and even better in historical hindsight, Butkus’ Bears were unable to make the playoffs, which is the first step toward advancing to the Super Bowl.
4. Gale Sayers, RB, Bears (1965-71)
Playoff record: 0–0
Playoff stats: N/A
Best team: 1965 Bears (9–5 record, missed postseason)
Butkus and Sayers were drafted Nos. 3 and 4 overall, respectively, by the Bears in 1965. But the Hall of Fame duo were unable to translate their individual achievements into team success. Sayers notched a record six TDs in a single game — with nine carries for 113 yards and four TDs, two catches for 89 yards and one TD, and five punt returns for 134 yards and one TD as a rookie — but failed to score even a single Super Bowl trip.
5. Earl Campbell, RB, Oilers (1978-84), Saints (’84-85)
Playoff record: 3–3
Playoff stats: 420 rush yards (3.1 ypc), 4 TDs; 45 receiving yards (9.0 ypc)
Best team: 1979 Oilers (11–5 record, lost in AFC Championship Game), 1980 Oilers (11–5 record, lost in Wild Card Round)
Closest call: 1979 (AFC Championship Game, 27–13 loss at Steelers), 1978 (AFC Championship Game, 34–5 loss at Steelers)
The “Luv Ya Blue” bulldozer was unable to take down the powerful “Steel Curtain” during back-to-back AFC Championship Game losses. In two painful defeats at Pittsburgh, Campbell had a combined 39 carries for 77 yards (1.97 ypc), two catches for 15 yards, and zero TDs. Campbell’s two scoreless games against the Steelers were the only two playoff games in which he failed to find the end zone.
6. O.J. Simpson, RB, Bills (1969-77), 49ers (’78-79)
Playoff record: 0–1
Playoff stats: 49 rush yards (3.3 ypc); 37 receiving yards (12.3 ypc), TD
Best team: 1974 Bills (9–5 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 1974 (Divisional Round, 32–14 loss at Steelers)
Another victim of the mighty Steelers, the Juice had better luck than Campbell — with 18 touches for 86 total yards and one TD — but was unable to lead the Bills to victory in what would be his only postseason appearance. The actor and defendant never basked in the spotlight of the Super Bowl but he was seen by millions during his days as Lt. Nordberg in the "Naked Gun" franchise and his starring role in the Trial of the Century.
7. Eric Dickerson, RB, Rams (1983-87), Colts (’87-91), Raiders (’92), Falcons (’93)
Playoff record: 2–5
Playoff stats: 724 rush yards (4.9 ypc), 3 TDs; 91 receiving yards (4.8 ypc), TD
Best team: 1985 Rams (11–5 record, lost in NFC Championship Game)
Closest call: 1985 (NFC Championship Game, 24–0 loss at Bears)
Upon first glance, the single-season rushing yards record holder posted solid playoff numbers. But take off the goggles and you’ll see that Dickerson’s 248-yard, two-TD outburst during a 20–0 win over the Cowboys in 1985 accounted for one-third of his career postseason rushing yards and half of his total TDs.
8. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers (2001-09), Jets (’10-11)
Playoff record: 4–5
Playoff stats: 468 rush yards (3.6 ypc), 6 TDs; 176 receiving yards (7.0 ypc), TD
Best team: 2006 Chargers (14–2 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 2010 (AFC Championship Game, 24–19 loss at Steelers), 2007 (AFC Championship Game, 21–12 loss at Patriots)
Infamously sulking on the sideline, injured and wearing in a Darth Vader facemask and trench coat at New England — after just two carries for five yards — was clearly the low point of L.T.’s playoff career. Staying on the dark side, three of his five playoff losses were by margins of three points, one defeat came by four points and the most lopsided was a nine-pointer.
9. Tony Gonzalez, TE, Chiefs (1997-2008), Falcons (2009-13)
Playoff record: 1–6
Playoff stats: 30 catches for 286 yards (9.5 ypc) and 4 TDs
Best team: 2012 Falcons (13–3 record, lost in NFC Championship Game), 2010 Falcons (13–3 record, lost in Divisional Round), 2003 Chiefs (13–3 record, lost in Divisional Round), 1997 Chiefs (13–3 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 2012 (NFC Championship Game, 28–24 loss vs. 49ers)
It took Gonzo 16 seasons to finally earn a playoff win. Then, with the Falcons holding a 17–0 lead over the 49ers in the NFC title game, it looked like the future Hall of Fame tight end would be punching his ticket to the Super Bowl and possibly riding off into the sunset as a champion. Nope. Gonzalez came back for a 17th season to end his Super Bowl-less slide. Instead, Atlanta fell to 4–12 record. Sadly, Tony will have to settle for a bust in Canton five years from now.
10. Warren Moon, QB, Oilers (1984-93), Vikings (’94-96), Seahawks (’97-98), Chiefs (’99-00)
Playoff record: 3–7
Playoff stats: 2,870 yards, 17 TDs, 14 INTs, 84.9 passer rating
Best team: 1993 Oilers (12–4 record, lost in Divisional Round)
Closest call: 1993 (Divisional Round, 28–20 loss vs. Chiefs), 1991 (Divisional Round, 26–24 loss at Broncos), 1988 (Divisional Round, 17–10 loss at Bills)
Moon won five consecutive Grey Cups and was twice named Grey Cup MVP in the Canadian Football League. But in these United States south of the border, the former CFL champion was unable to translate his prior success to the NFL Playoffs. Moon’s waning moment came in the worst collapse in postseason history, as his Oilers watched a 35–3 lead evaporate into a 41–38 overtime loss against the Frank Reich-led Bills.
After an extended search, Rutgers coach Kyle Flood has finally hired his offensive and defensive coordinator for the 2014 season.
Joe Rossi held the title of interim defensive coordinator after Dave Cohen was fired, and Flood has decided to keep Rossi on the staff as the full-time coordinator.
On the offensive side of the ball, Rutgers will welcome a familiar face back the college football sidelines. Former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has been hired as the Scarlet Knights’ offensive coordinator. Friedgen has been out of football since he was fired at Maryland after the 2010 season. However, prior to his exit in College Park, Friedgen was regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the ACC. He should significantly upgrade Rutgers’ offense next year.
The hires of Friedgen and Rossi are crucial for Rutgers. With a move to the Big Ten on tap for 2014, the competition is only going to get tougher for the Scarlet Knights, and Flood is on the hot seat after a 6-7 record in 2013.
The race for the national freshman of the year has been in flux for most of the season, which is great news for lists like these.
Jabari Parker started on a hot streak before Aaron Gordon took center stage in a head-to-head matchup between Duke and Arizona. Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid have both looked like Kansas’ best freshman at certain times. And the rest of the Big 12 — Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma — have provided candidates for the most underrated freshman of the season.
This week has a new No. 1 rookie after we picked Embiid seven days ago. This week, we’re going with Parker for the freshman trending upward thanks to three consecutive double-doubles for a team that’s entering its biggest showdown of conference play.
That game against Syracuse could change things up again thanks to the Orange point guard Tyler Ennis. But Kansas’ rookies can’t be ignored in a tough road trip against Texas and the Longhorns’ freshman Isaiah Taylor.
The Freshman 15: Jan. 31
1. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker is in fine form as the Blue Devils visit the Carrier Dome on Saturday with three consecutive double-doubles. The forward also set a Duke freshman record with 12 20-point games this season after a 21-point effort against Pittsburgh.
2. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Has Wiggins reached the turning point of the season? The Oklahoma State game was not a shining performance from the rookie, but since then, he’s twice set career highs. The 27 points against TCU may be easy to overlook but not 29 points and seven rebounds against Iowa State on Wednesday. He was 18 of 29 from the field this week.
3. Joel Embiid, Kansas
Embiid’s per game numbers since Jan. 11 are impressive enough (13.3 points, 8.3 rebounds), but he is averaging 20.8 points and 13 rebounds per 40 minutes.
4. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Ennis is third in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio in conference play (2.9) and second in assists (5.4) and steals (2.0).
5. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Arizona’s close call against Stanford on Wednesday was not helped by a five-point performance by Gordon in one of the few off games of the season. Gordon shot 5 of 23 from the field last week.
6. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Randle struggled on both sides of the court just like everyone for Kentucky in the 87-82 loss to LSU on Tuesday. Defenses are collapsing on Randle, but he’s still averaging 16.1 points and 10.2 rebounds.
7. James Young, Kentucky
Young was one of the few Wildcats making shots in the loss to LSU, hitting 8 of 18 from the field for 23 points. His shot hasn’t been consistent all season, but he’s shot 51.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range in the last three games.
8. Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma
The point guard of one of the nation’s surprise teams, Woodard had 18 points and only two turnovers in his matchup against Marcus Smart for Oklahoma’s signature win of the season.
9. Isaiah Taylor, Texas
Taylor broke out with 27 points in the 74-60 win over Baylor on Saturday, the Longhorns third consecutive win over a ranked team (though Baylor won’t be ranked for much longer).
10. Jordan Mickey, LSU
The Tigers’ top freshman has helped LSU make a push onto the NCAA Tournament bubble in recent games, averaging 13 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in his last four games.
11. Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Vonleh grabbed only three rebounds in the loss to Nebraska on Thursday, but that followed three consecutive double-digit game. Vonleh, however, remains a limited threat in the offensive end.
12. Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
The Huskies won’t go to the NCAA Tournament unless they win the Pac-12 tourney, but Williams-Goss is having an outstanding season at point guard for Lorenzo Romar. He’s filled up the stat sheet with 4.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists while breaking out for 32 points against Oregon State on Saturday.
13. Derrick Walton, Michigan
Walton has come into his own in recent games as Michigan's point guard, highlighted by 19 points, six rebounds and four assists in the signature win at Michigan State on Saturday.
14. Marcus Foster, Kansas State
Foster had his worst game of the season on Tuesday with 2 points on 1-of-8 shooting against Texas Tech, but he’s still averaging 12.9 points in Big 12 games.
15. Bobby Portis, Arkansas
Portis has returned to form in recent games even if Arkansas has not. The power forward had 16 points and seven rebounds against Missouri and 18 points and nine rebounds against Auburn in the last two games.
Super Bowl betting — and prop bets, in particular — attract sharks and suckers alike. Those who can’t afford a $4-million, 30-second commercial spot on FOX’s telecast or a $3,000 nosebleed seat at MetLife Stadium, but do have some lunch money to wager on Super Sunday can let a few bucks ride on a few fun bets.
Here’s a quick look at this year’s Super Bowl prop bets, along with advice on where the smart money should play. For consistency’s sake, all odds and lines are courtesy of online gambling site Bovada.lv.
(For the average Joe who doesn’t speak in Vegas tongues, when the odds are –150, you must wager $150 in order to win $100; when the odds are +150, your $100 bet nets $150.)
How long will it take Renee Fleming to sing the National Anthem?
Over 2:25 (+120)
Under 2:25 (–160)
Last year, Alicia Keys sang the National Anthem in a record 2:36, playing solo piano and going up and down the scales to break Natalie Cole’s oft-criticized 2:32 mark. This year, soprano Renee Fleming will become the first opera singer to sing Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Fleming will be accompanied by the New Jersey Symphony, so it should be a tight performance that sticks to the script. Take the under.
Will Renee Fleming wear gloves when she starts singing National Anthem?
It won’t be that cold, but it will be cold. Expect Fleming to wear gloves.
If Renee Fleming does wear gloves, what color will they be?
Vera Wang is designing a special ensemble for Fleming. Black gloves would seem appropriate.
Heads or tails?
Heads leads 25–22 all-time. It’s tails time to shine.
Which team will win the coin toss?
Seattle Seahawks (–105)
Denver Broncos (–105)
The NFC has a 31–16 all-time lead. The AFC has won the last two tosses after the NFC went on a run of 14 consecutive coin toss victories. The winner of the toss has a 23–24 record. The Seahawks will win and defer.
Who will be seen first on TV after kickoff?
Erin Andrews (–140)
Pam Oliver (Even)
Of course Richard Sherman’s favorite sideline reporter will be the go-to girl for Joe Buck and Troy Aikman once the game gets going.
How many times will “Beast Mode” be said during the game?
Over 2 (+110)
Under 2 (–150)
All Marshawn Lynch has to do is break a few tackles and/or break a long run. “Beast Mode” will be said three times, at least.
How many times will Peyton Manning say “Omaha” during the game?
Over 27.5 (–135)
Under 27.5 (–105)
Manning’s presnap key “Omaha” was shouted 31 times in AFC Championship Game. But the Seahawks will likely take the air out of the ball, giving the Broncos fewer possessions and fewer chances to challenge Warren Buffet’s title as “Oracle of Omaha.”
The Omaha Chamber of Commerce will donate $1,500 for each time Manning says the word. Money will go to Manning’s “Peyback Foundation,” which was founded in 1999 to “promote the future success of disadvantaged youth by assisting programs that provide leadership and growth opportunities for children at risk.”
The 15 local businesses taking part are Omaha Steaks, First National Bank of Omaha, Mutual of Ohama, Omaha Box Company, Omaha Storm Chasers, CenturyLink, ConAgra Foods, Union Pacific, Northstar Financial, Cox Communications, One Transcription Services, HDR, Oriental Trading, Brix and DJ’s Dugout.
Will halftime show break Madonna’s record for most watched ever (114 million)?
Madonna had already taken over the world with her self-titled debut (1983) and second album, “Like a Virgin” (1984) before Bruno Mars was even born (1985). If Beyonce couldn’t break the Material Girl’s record, there’s no way Bruno Mars will.
What will Bruno Mars be wearing on his head at start of halftime show?
Fur Hat (+550)
No hat (+250)
Isn’t a fedora permanently attached to Bruno Mars’ head?
Will any member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers be shirtless during their performance?
That’s like asking what kind of hat Bruno Mars will be wearing.
What color Gatorade will be dumped on the winning head coach after the Super Bowl?
Any team with respect for its coach should dump water on the man. No one wants a stained, sticky shirt during the ensuing championship media whirlwind.
Who will be Super Bowl XLVIII MVP?
Peyton Manning (11/10)
Marshawn Lynch (15/4)
Russell Wilson (15/4)
Percy Harvin (16/1)
Knowshon Moreno (20/1)
Richard Sherman (20/1)
Demaryius Thomas (20/1)
Wes Welker (25/1)
Golden Tate (33/1)
If the Broncos win, Manning is the MVP no matter how he plays. For the Seahawks, Lynch is the best bet. But please, please, please let Richard Sherman make the speech, boss.
Seattle Seahawks (+3) (+115)
Denver Broncos (–3) (–135)
Over 47 (–115)
Under 47 (–105)
Beast Mode on offense. Legion of Boom on defense. Manning throwing ducks. Seattle will win a low-scoring, close game fitting of the No. 1 seeds in the NFC and AFC.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 31.
• Canada is bringing a tasty assortment of athletes to Sochi, including skeleton's Melissa Hollingsworth (pictured).
• Your official Super Bowl party drinking game, although I should warn you that it will lead to dangerous levels of consumption.
• Peyton Manning kind of annoys his teammates with his level of focus and preparation. How sad for them.
• Spoiler alert: Tim Tebow has a Super Bowl commercial that's pretty funny.
• There are lots of weird mascots out there. Warning: Some of these are nightmare fuel.
• A petite mother from Omaha put away 363 wings to demolish Kobayashi's record and win the Wing Bowl. That's 29,403 calories, if you're counting.
• Some adorable puppies predicted the outcome of the Super Bowl on Fallon. Revel in the cuteness.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
It’s a classic, yet unique matchup on tap for Super Bowl XLVIII this Sunday at MetLife Stadium when the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos kick things off at 6:25 p.m. ET on FOX. For the first time since 1991, the battle for the Lombardi Trophy features the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense (Denver) against the No. 1 scoring defense (Seattle).
There is certainly no lack of storylines when it comes to this game, one of the biggest being the on-field conditions at the first-ever outdoor Super Bowl in a cold-weather city. NFL Commissioner Roger Gooddell and many others have been waiting for this moment – hosting the biggest game of the year in the New York metropolitan area – for some time. And while it may be a little on the cold side (projected day-time high of 46 degrees on Sunday, low of 26 according to weather.com), it does appear that otherwise (slight chance of precipitation, minimal wind) Mother Nature will cooperate.
On the field, Pete Carroll is hoping to lead Seattle to its first Super Bowl victory in two tries, while John Fox and Denver are aiming for the franchise’s third world championship in seven appearances. Besides the No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense aspect, this is the first Super Bowl that pits the top seeds from each conference since New Orleans defeated Peyton Manning and Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV and just the second such matchup in the past 20 seasons.
This also is a pairing of former division rivals, as the Seahawks and Broncos were both in the AFC West from 1977-2001. For what it’s worth, Denver holds a 35-18 edge in the all-time series, which includes one previous postseason encounter. Seattle won that game, defeating the Broncos 31-7 in a wild card game during the 1983 playoffs. The last time these two teams faced each other was during the 2010 season, a 31-14 Broncos victory at home.
Super Bowl XLVIII Breakdown
When the Seattle Seahawks run:
During the regular season, Seattle averaged 136.8 yards rushing per game, good for fourth in the NFL in that category. In two playoff games, that number has increased to 144.5 per game thanks to a heavy dose of Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks’ powerful, punishing workhorse, Lynch has 249 yards rushing on 50 carries in wins over New Orleans and San Francisco. That 5.0 yards per carry average is right in line with his career postseason mark of 5.1 in six playoff games.
Seattle’s offense is built around running the ball, so Denver’s defense can expect to see a heavy dose of Lynch. Besides being productive, Lynch’s presence forces the defense to load up in the box, which then opens up things in the passing game for Russell Wilson, especially in play-action situations. While Lynch is the main cog of the Seahawks’ ground game, he’s not the only effective ball carrier. Wilson is second on the team with 555 yards rushing (5.4 ypc), and uses his athleticism and mobility to frustrate pass rushers and often turn what appears to be a big loss on a play into a positive gain.
Understandably overshadowed by the exploits of the offense, Denver’s defense has done a solid job against the run all season. The Broncos were just as effective as Seattle’s mighty defense in defending the run (101.6 ypg) during the regular season and has taken that performance to another level during the playoffs.
In their wins over the Chargers and Patriots, the Broncos’ defense yielded a total of 129 yards rushing on 34 carries (3.8 ypc). Even more impressive, this unit is missing All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, starting defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson and starting cornerback Chris Harris. Tackle Terrance Knighton (6-3, 335) has been an immovable object in the middle of the line for Denver and the man affectionately known as “Pot Roast” needs to make his presence felt if the Broncos want to keep Lynch from reaching “Beast Mode” Sunday night.
The linebackers, sans Miller, also will be key as Danny Trevathan, Wesley Woodyard and Nate Irving will be responsible for making sure Lynch doesn’t break through the second level. Lynch was second in the league with 574 yards rushing after contact (YAC) during the regular season and he’s added another 107 in the playoffs. The Broncos allowed just 1.4 YAC per rush in the regular season, the fifth-best mark in the NFL, according to ESPN’s Stats & Info.
Seattle finished 26th during the regular season in passing offense at 202.3 yards per game. This ranking is the lowest of any team to ever reach the Super Bowl. While it may not be anywhere near as prolific as Denver’s, Seattle’s passing attack has certainly been effective.
Despite ranking 16th in the league in yards passing (3,357), Russell Wilson tossed 26 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions. The end result was a 101.2 passer rating, which was seventh overall. For his career, including playoffs, Wilson has produced a 56:20 TD:INT ratio in 36 career games. Only 25 years old, Wilson plays with the poise and maturity of a 10-year veteran, so don’t expect him to be rattled on the game’s biggest stage.
Wilson doesn’t possess the weapons in the passing game that Peyton Manning does, but he could get a big boost with the expected return of Percy Harvin. One of Seattle’s key acquisitions during the offseason, Harvin has played in just two games because of hip surgery and a concussion. His on-field impact to this point has been limited, but Harvin possesses the speed, explosiveness and big-play ability that could make him a difference-maker in this game.
In Harvin’s absence, Wilson has relied on wide receivers Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin to do the heavy lifting. Tate leads the team in receptions and yards, and he and Baldwin are both capable of breaking off a long play once the ball is in their hands. Tight ends aren’t completely ignored in the Seahawks’ passing game, but they aren’t a focal point either. Zach Miller is the primary tight end and he could become an option for Wilson, especially in play-action situations.
Denver’s pass defense has been busy this season, if anything because of the numbers and points the offense has put up. Large leads established by Manning and company have forced the opposition to throw, which is part of the reason why the Broncos’ defense gave up so many yards and touchdowns through the air.
Denver finished the regular season 27th in passing defense at 254.4 yards per game, but has really tightened things up recently. Over the past six games, including the two playoff wins, the Broncos have given up just 185.3 yards passing per game. Things figure to be a little tougher against the Seahawks without Harris, but the secondary features plenty of experience in cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and some decent size in strong safety Duke Ihenacho (6-1, 207). The main priority for the defensive backs in this game will be limit the big plays through the air to force Seattle to convert on third down and sustain drives.
Von Miller’s presence as a pass rusher will certainly be missed, but Denver has other options in ends Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers and rookie tackle Sylvester Williams. Even with all of his mobility, Wilson was sacked 44 times during the regular season (tied for the third most), but the key for the Broncos will be making sure they bring down the athletic, mobile quarterback should the pressure get to him.
When the Denver Broncos run:
While Peyton Manning’s assault on the record books was the talk revolving around Denver’s offense this season, it’s not like the Broncos weren’t getting the job done on the ground exactly. Led by a career year from Knowshon Moreno, Denver averaged 117.1 yards rushing per game during the regular season, which placed the Broncos 15th in the league.
For comparison’s sake Denver’s yards per carry average (4.1) and rushing touchdowns (16) in the regular season are more than comparable to Seattle’s numbers (4.3, 14) and the Broncos had 48 fewer carries than the Seahawks over their first 16 games. Moreno posted his first 1,000-yard season with 10 rushing touchdowns and he didn’t lose a single fumble in 301 total touches (241 rushing).
Rookie Montee Ball, who was expected by many to be Denver’s lead back, has gotten better as the season has progressed. He’s averaged 4.8 yards per carry over his past eight contests and has gotten double-digit carries in five of those, including both playoff wins. Ball also has done a better job holding onto the ball with just one fumble in his last 92 touches (74 rushes).
If there is any chink in the armor of the NFL’s No. 1 defense it may be on the ground. The Seahawks finished tied with the Broncos for seventh in rushing defense during the regular season at 101.6 yards per game. This includes back-to-back games against the Rams and Buccaneers in which the defense gave up more than 200 yards rushing. In the playoffs, Seattle has yielded an average of 135 yards on the ground to New Orleans and San Francisco.
While it may give up some yards, one thing the Seahawks’ defense does really well is prevent teams from getting into the end zone. Seattle surrendered just four touchdowns on the ground during the regular season, which tied Carolina for the fewest. The Seahawks have one of the deepest defensive lines in football with the likes of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril coming off of the bench in support of Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant and Chris Clemons.
The linebackers are led by tackling machine Bobby Wagner with Bruce Irvin bringing pressure and making big plays, very similar to what Miller brings to Denver’s defense when healthy. And of course, everyone knows about Seattle’s secondary, which is just as good against the run as they are the pass thanks to their collective size, athleticism and physicality.
While the numbers may suggest otherwise, Denver does run the ball and uses it to set up the pass and vice versa. As effective as this game plan has been this season, doing so against Seattle’s defense will be no easy task. One of the keys for the Broncos will be can the offensive line open up some holes for Moreno and Ball to get through in hopes of forcing the Seahawks to adjust their alignment and get them out of their comfort zone?
When the Denver Broncos pass:
The most prolific passing offense in the history of the game versus the No. 1 passing defense and a secondary known as the “Legion of Boom.” What more could a football fan want? Peyton Manning’s record-breaking season has been well documented, but he has yet to face a defense like Seattle’s.
Less than three years removed from multiple neck surgeries that threatened to end his quarterbacking days, Manning is playing arguably the best football of his career. Besides his ridiculous regular-season totals, Manning has been on point during the playoffs too. In wins over San Diego and New England, he has completed 57 of 79 passes (72.2 percent) for 630 yards, four touchdowns and just one pick, good for a passer rating of 107.0. The experience gleaned from his two previous Super Bowl appearances should also aid Manning in his quest for a second Lombardi Trophy.
Manning can’t beat the Seahawks alone, however, which is where his impressive stable of pass-catchers comes in. Seattle may have the NFL’s best secondary, but a strong case could be made that Denver has the best weapons. Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker combined to average nearly 14 yards per catch and 35 touchdowns during the regular season while tight end Julius Thomas exploded from virtually nowhere to catch 65 passes and 12 touchdowns.
There’s also running backs Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball, who combined for 80 receptions for 693 yards and three scores, as well as role players like wideout Andrew Caldwell and tight ends Jacob Tamme and Virgil Green who are all capable of making a play when called on. With the exception of Welker, the Broncos’ pass-catchers feature decent size, which makes them a better match against the Seahawks’ big defensive backs.
One of the keys to Denver’s passing game is Manning’s ability to make quick decisions in the pocket and get rid of the ball in a matter of seconds, while the offensive line has done a fine job of keeping No. 18 upright. Manning was sacked just 18 times during the regular season, but the line knows it will have its work cut out for it against Seattle’s aggressive, unrelenting pass rush.
The Seahawks have allowed just two teams (Houston, New Orleans in the Divisional round) to throw for more than 300 yards on them this season. Overall, Seattle is giving up just 177.8 yards passing per game and this defense has been waiting for this opportunity to matchup against Manning and company.
Although All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman may do the most of the talking, both on the field and off of it, he is not a one-man wrecking crew. Fellow All-Pro Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor form arguably the hardest-hitting safety tandem in the league, while cornerback Byron Maxwell has more than held his own in coverage. Sherman and Chancellor both stand 6-3, while Maxwell is 6-1, but this is one game in which the Seahawks won’t enjoy much of a height advantage on the opposition.
Seattle’s secondary likes to play physical, so it will be interesting to see how closely the officials call things on the outside and across the middle, especially considering how many crossing routes and rub patterns Denver likes to run. The Broncos’ pass-catchers also need to be ready for some pushing and shoving and not back down from the contact at the line or allow the Seahawk defenders to disrupt their route.
Seattle will try and pressure Manning, who isn’t near as mobile as Wilson nor as effective a passer when he’s moved from his spot in the pocket or forced to hold onto the ball longer than he wants. The Seahawks’ pressure may be effective even if it doesn’t result in sacks, as it could help create some rushed or errant throws, which plays right into the hands of this ball-hawking (28 INTs) unit.
No one knows how much Percy Harvin will play on Sunday, but if there’s one area he could have a big impact in it’s special teams. In his career, Harvin has averaged 28.2 yards per kickoff return and has five touchdowns. His only return this season went for 58 yards and with Matt Prater not kicking in the Mile High City, whomever gets the call back there should get some chances to bring one back. Golden Tate (11.5 ypr) should handle the punt return duties for the Seahawks.
Steven Hauschka has been solid this season, connecting on 33 of 35 field goal attempts, including just one miss (14 of 15) from 40 yards and beyond. He shouldn’t have any trouble kicking in the cold, as he’s well versed in dealing with the conditions in the Pacific Northwest. Punter Jon Ryan has been effective (39.2 ypp) by limiting returns (3.9 ypr) on his kicks.
While Seattle may finally get Harvin back on kick return duty, Denver has its own special teams weapon in Trindon Holliday. He has returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown this season and is averaging nearly 28 yards per kickoff return. The only question may be will the Broncos let him handle both assignments on Super Sunday, as Eric Decker and Wes Welker have been called on for punt return duty during the playoffs.
Denver has a pretty solid punter-kicker tandem in Britton Colquitt and Prater, but neither will have the benefit of kicking in the thin air of their home stadium in this game. Colquitt placed more than a third (23) of his 65 punts inside the 20-yard line during the regular season, while Prater missed just one (25 of 26) field goal attempt and nailed an NFL-record 64-yarder back in Week 14.
Key Factor: Turnovers
Seattle led the NFL with a plus-20 (39 takeaways, 19 giveaways) turnover margin during the regular season and has posted a plus-three mark in the playoffs. Denver tied for 13th in the league with a zero turnover margin (26 of each), and has gone minus-two in its two postseason victories. Despite this large discrepancy (Seattle is plus-23 overall, while Denver is minus-two), both teams enter this game with identical 15-3 records.
The Seahawks would no doubt love to force the Broncos into some mistakes, but Peyton Manning has thrown just 11 interceptions compared to his 59 touchdowns in 738 total pass attempts this season. He has fumbled it away six times and some of Denver’s other players have had their own issues with ball security, so it’s imperative that the Broncos keep two hands firmly wrapped around the pigskin when its in their possession. After all, they know full well how opportunistic Seattle’s defense has been this season.
On the other side, the Seahawks’ offense has committed fewer miscues, but Russell Wilson and company will need to continue to take good care of the football as it does not want to give Manning and the Broncos additional opportunities, especially should those turnovers occur in Seahawks territory. One thing is for sure, winning the turnover battle will more than likely go a long ways towards deciding Sunday night’s outcome. The team with fewer turnovers in the Super Bowl is 35-3 all-time.
Is this Peyton Manning’s (final?) chance at redemption or a golden opportunity to cap off the greatest season in the history of the game? Will Russell Wilson establish himself as the NFL’s top young quarterback? Will Denver’s experience be too much for Seattle’s talent and athleticism to overcome? Can the No. 1 defense slow down the highest-scoring team the league has ever seen?
These are just some of the storylines surrounding this game and that’s without even bringing up the weather. The bottom line is this: these two teams were the best in their respective conferences and what better way to decide which one is truly No. 1 than to settle things on the field?
While it can certainly be said that the stakes for John Fox’s Broncos are higher given where Manning and others are in their careers, that doesn’t mean there’s any less pressure on Pete Carroll’s team. After all, regardless of how young and talented a team you are, there is no guarantee you will make it back to the Super Bowl before that so-called window of opportunity closes. Just ask Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers.
Manning and Wilson may take center stage at MetLife Stadium Sunday night, but both defenses will have plenty to say before this game is decided. So what happens when the top-scoring offense in the league goes head-to-head with the stingiest defense? Fortunately for us as football fans, we get to find out.
Athlon’s editors make their pick for Super Bowl XLVIII:
|Rob Doster||27-21||Peyton Manning|
|David Fox||35-21||Peyton Manning|
|Braden Gall||31-28||Peyton Manning|
|Steven Lassan||27-24||Peyton Manning|
|Mitch Light||27-21||Russell Wilson|
|Rich McVey||21-17||Peyton Manning|
|Mark Ross||27-24||Peyton Manning|
|Nathan Rush||27-23||Marshawn Lynch|
|Corby Yarbrough||31-28||Marshawn Lynch|
The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.
The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.
So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.
One name stands above the rest when it comes to dominance along the defensive line in the Big 12. It also feels like a few schools — shockingly, Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska — have dominated the all-conference teams for the last 16 seasons.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09)
That one name that stands above the rest is the Boy Named Suh. The star defensive tackle from Portland, Ore., won the 2009 Outland and Nagurski Trophies as well as the Lombardi, Bednarik and Willis Awards. He was the first defensive player to win AP Player of the Year honors since its inception in 1998 and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in ’09. That year Suh claimed the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award and he came just seconds shy of leading the Huskers to their first conference championship since 1999. He finished his career with 215 tackles, 57.0 for a loss, 24.0 sacks and six blocked kicks.
2. Brian Orakpo, Texas (2005-08)
The trophy case for the former Longhorn defensive end is packed with a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Nagurski, Lombardi, and Hendricks trophies. He was an All-American who played in 47 career games in Austin, posting 132 tackles, 38.0 tackles for a loss, 22.0 sacks and six forced fumbles in his tenure. The Big 12 Freshman of the Year and Freshman All-American saw his career slowed by a knee injury in 2007 or else his totals would be even higher. He was a contributing member in all 13 games of the 2005 BCS national championship run and was taken 13th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft.
3. Tommie Harris, Oklahoma (2001-03)
Harris was a dominant interior lineman for three of the better Sooners teams of the BCS Era. He helped lead his team to the BCS championship game in 2003 while claiming the Lombardi and Willis Trophies. He was a two-time consensus All-American selection as the Sooners went 35-6 during his three-year tenure. Oklahoma won the Cotton and Rose Bowls before losing in the Sugar Bowl in his final season. Harris was downright unblockable in Norman and was the 14th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
4. Casey Hampton, Texas (1996, 98-00)
From 1997-2000, Hampton started 37 straight games for the Horns and finished with 54 tackles for a loss — fifth all-time in Big 12 history. He posted an absurd 329 tackles from his line position and forced nine fumbles. He was a consensus All-American, two-time, first-team All-Big 12 pick and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2000. The All-Pro Super Bowl champion was taken in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft with the 19th overall pick.
5. Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma (2007-09)
After redshirting, McCoy was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year after playing in all 13 games on the Big 12 championship squad. He was a two-time All-American as a sophomore and junior, helping to lead Oklahoma to the 2008 BCS National Championship Game against Florida. He finished his career with 83 tackles, 33.0 for a loss and 14.5 sacks from the tackle position while winning two Big 12 titles. McCoy was taken with the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by Tampa Bay.
6. Justin Smith, Missouri (1998-00)
The Mizzou standout has developed into one of the NFL’s most consistent and productive players for two teams. He left Columbia after a huge junior season that featured 97 total tackles, 24 tackles for a loss — good for eighth all-time in Big 12 history — and 11 sacks. He was an All-American that year and also was a two-time All-Big 12 selection. His 53 career tackles for a loss in just three seasons ranks seventh all-time in league history as well. He was the fourth overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft by the Bengals.
7. Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma (2007-10)
Beal is one of just two players in Big 12 history to rank in the top five in both career sacks and career tackles for a loss. He finished his collegiate career third all-time with 58.5 TFL and fifth all-time with 29 sacks — good for second all-time in school history. His 10 forced fumbles rank third in Big 12 history and he helped the Sooners capture three Big 12 titles and earn one trip to the BCS title game in 2008. Beal was a model of consistency, posting three straight seasons with at least 60 tackles, 15.5 TFL and 8.5 sacks. The three-time all-conference selection finished with 224 total tackles.
8. Rod Wright, Texas (2002-05)
The big fella inside made an instant impact, starting nine games as a true freshman and earning Freshman All-American status and claiming Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors as well. He went on to start 36 more games over the next three years, earning All-Big 12 honors in three straight years (first team his final two seasons). He was a consensus All-American and started every game for the 2005 BCS national champions and finished as a Lombardi Trophy finalist. Wright finished with 227 tackles, 42 tackles for a loss and 17.5 sacks.
9. Dan Cody, Oklahoma (2001-04)
He began his career as a redshirt tight end on the scout team for the 2000 BCS champs but turned into a force on the defensive side of the ball. He helped lead his team to three Big 12 crowns and two appearances in the BCS title game. Cody was an All-American his senior season and finished his career with 42 games played, 117 tackles and is sixth all-time in Big 12 history with 25 sacks. No. 80 was a second-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
10. Darren Howard, Kansas State (1996-99)
Other than Beal, Howard is the only other player in the Big 12 to be ranked in the top five of both career sacks and tackles for a loss. He finished tied for fifth with 54.0 TFL and is third all-time with 29.5 sacks. Howard was a big part of the Wildcats' success in the late '90s, as Kansas State went 42-7 during his four-year career, including two division titles and two postseason wins (Fiesta, Holiday). He played 10 years for the Eagles after being a second-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.
Just missed the cut:
11. Kevin Williams, Oklahoma State (1999-02)
K-Will was a huge part of the rebuilding that took place in Stillwater. He posted 160 tackles, 38 for a loss and 18.5 sacks during a career that saw the Pokes go from three wins to eight. The ninth overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft got OSU back to a bowl for just the second time in 14 seasons.
12. Shaun Rogers, Texas (1997-00)
Playing alongside Hampton, Rogers set a Big 12 record with 27.0 tackles for a loss in 1999. His 53 career TFLs rank tied for seventh all-time in Big 12 history. He also had 199 total tackles and 14 sacks before getting picked in the second round by the Lions in 2001.
13. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (2010-13)
The son of Jim Jeffcoat made an instant impact in Austin, playing in eight games as a true freshman. He capped his outstanding career with Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year honors and the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation’s best defensive end. Jeffcoat posted 174 tackles, 49.5 for a loss and 26.0 career sacks — good for sixth all-time in Big 12 history — despite missing more than half of his junior season due to injury.
14. Jared Crick, Nebraska (2008-11)
The Cornhuskers' edge rusher missed most of his senior season or he would be higher on this list. He posted two monster seasons by combining for 143 tackles, 27.0 tackles for a loss and 19.0 sacks in 2009 and '10. The two-time All-Big 12 pick was an All-American and fourth-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
15. Frank Alexander, Oklahoma (2008-11)
Alexander earned Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2011 with 54 tackles, 19.0 TFL and 8.5 sacks to go with three forced fumbles. The fourth-round pick finished with 142 stops, 44.0 for a loss, 20.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. He played in one BCS title game and two BCS bowls on the back of two Big 12 titles (2008, '10).
Best of the rest:
16. Adam Carriker, Nebraska (2003-06)
Two-time All-Big 12 pick and 2006 Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year.
17. Brian Smith, Missouri (2003-06)
Big 12’s sack master with record 34 career QB sacks. Sixth all-time with nine forced fumbles.
18. Cory Redding, Texas (1999-02)
Fourth all-time in league history with 57 career TFL, including 24 in 2002.
19. Aldon Smith, Missouri (2009-10)
Big 12 Freshman of the Year, first-round pick and 17.0 sacks in only two seasons.
20. Mike Rucker, Nebraska (1995-98)
Played a key role on two national championship teams and is fourth in school history with 40 TFL.
21. Alex Okafor, Texas (2009-12)
Seventh all-time with 13 sacks in 2012. Two-time All-Big 12 pick and an All-American.
22. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M (2010-12)
Consensus All-American finished his career with 26.5 sacks in just three seasons in College Station.
23. Aaron Hunt, Texas Tech (1999-02)
Second all-time in Big 12 history with 34 career sacks.
24. Adell Duckett, Texas Tech (2001-04)
Fifth all-time in league history with 28 career sacks.
25. Kelly Gregg, Oklahoma (1996-98)
Tied for fourth all-time with 24.0 TFL in 1998 and is ninth all-time with 53.0 career TFL.