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Ranking college football coaches is no easy task. Similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.

While it’s difficult to rank coaches, this aspect of college football is arguably the most important to winning a national or conference title. No matter how much talent a program has, winning a national title is difficult if the coaching is questionable.

Wins are a telling and important statistic, but they don’t provide a complete picture of how successful coaches are. Winning 10 games at Alabama is different than winning 10 games at Kentucky. Also, every program has a different amount of resources available. Hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. A good coach can elevate a program. However, it’s easier for programs like Alabama, Florida, Ohio State and Texas with more built-in advantages to contend for a national title on a more consistent basis.

A couple of other factors to consider when ranking assistant coaches: How well are the assistants paid? A good program is willing to spend big to keep its assistants. And a staff with two of the nation’s top coordinators could be a sign the head coach is better as a CEO and may not be as strong in terms of developing gameplans. How is the coach in the X’s and O’s? Can the coach recruit? Are the program’s facilities on par with the rest of the conference? Much like assistants, a program needs good facilities to win big. If a team is winning at a high level with poor facilities and a small budget, it’s reflects positively on the head coach. Is the coach successful at only one stop? Or has that coach built a solid resume from different jobs?

Again, wins are important. But our rankings also take into account a blank slate. If you start a program from scratch, which coach would you hire?

Considering how important coaches are to teams or even making preseason predictions, Athlon is taking a look at how all 128 college football coaches rank nationally and by conference.

Ranking the Pac-12's College Football Coaches for 2014

1. David Shaw, Stanford
Record at Stanford: 34-7 (3 years)
Career Record: 34-7 (3 years)
Stanford’s Program Rank:

Life without Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines and Andrew Luck at quarterback was supposed to be tough at Stanford. But that hasn’t been the case for the Cardinal, as Shaw as kept Stanford among the best in the nation. The Cardinal is 34-7 over the last three years and has lost only four conference games during that span. Shaw has guided the program to three consecutive BCS bowls and two top-10 finishes in the final Associated Press poll. Stanford signed a small recruiting class in 2013, which finished No. 51 nationally by 247Sports Composite. However, in 2012 and 2014, Shaw inked classes that ranked among the top 15 in the nation. Stanford has claimed at least a share of the North Division title in each of the last three years, but that run could be tested in 2014 with the departure of a talented senior class and defensive coordinator Derek Mason. Despite the personnel losses, expect Shaw to have Stanford back in the Pac-12 title hunt once again.

2. Chris Petersen, Washington
Record at Washington: First Year
Career Record: 92-12 (8 years)
Washington’s Program Rank:

Petersen is a tough coach to rank among his Pac-12 peers. Winning big outside of a BCS conference is a good sign, but the week-to-week grind in the Pac-12 or any of the other BCS leagues is another matter. In eight years at Boise State, Petersen elevated the program to new heights. The Broncos went 92-12 and recorded four top-10 finishes in the final Associated Press poll. Also, Boise State claimed two BCS bowl victories and claimed at least a share of five conference titles. Another notch in Petersen’s resume was the Broncos’ track record against BCS teams. Boise State defeated Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia Tech and Georgia in non-conference or bowl games during Petersen’s tenure. The California native is a good fit at Washington and inherits a solid core of talent to work with in 2014. If there’s any concern about Petersen, it has to be the track record of former Boise State coaches leaving to take BCS jobs. Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins struggled at their next stop after leaving Boise State. Despite the lack of success by Hawkins and Koetter, all signs point to Petersen being a home-run hire for Washington.

3. Todd Graham, Arizona State
Record at Arizona State: 18-9 (2 years)
Career Record: 67-38 (8 years)
Arizona State’s Program Rank:

Graham gets a bad rap from his job-hopping in recent years, but there’s no question he’s one of the Pac-12’s top coaches. At Rice, Graham inherited a team that went 1-10 in the season prior to his arrival, and the Owls improved by six games in his first season and finished 7-6 overall. Graham was hired at Tulsa after one season at Rice and went 36-17 in four seasons. The Golden Hurricane had three years of at least 10 wins and a No. 24 finish in the final Associated Press poll in 2010. Graham took over at Pittsburgh in 2011 and went 6-6, but his stay in the Steel City lasted only one year. Arizona State picked Graham to replace Dennis Erickson, and the program has been on the upswing over the last two years. The Sun Devils are 18-9 under Graham’s watch and claimed the Pac-12 South title last season. Arizona State has started facility renovations to Sun Devil Stadium and inked extensions with Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell. With Graham at the helm, combined with a commitment to keeping good assistants and improved facilities, Arizona State is poised to become a consistent challenger for the South Division title.

4. Mike Riley, Oregon State
Record at Oregon State: 88-73 (13 years)
Career Record: 88-73 (13 years)
Oregon State’s Program Rank:

Riley is in his second stint at Oregon State, and the Beavers have been one of the Pac-12’s most consistent programs under his watch. From 1971-98, Oregon State failed to earn a winning record. But since 2003, the Beavers have eight winning seasons out of the last 11 years. Riley has guided Oregon State to six years of at least eight wins during that span. The Beavers also have 15 bowl appearances in school history – eight of them are under Riley’s watch. So while Oregon State is still looking for a Pac-12 title under Riley, he has clearly elevated a program that struggled mightily prior to his arrival. And if you needed any additional data on Riley’s impact, take a look at recruiting rankings. The Beavers own the No. 10 roster in the Pac-12, yet rank sixth in the conference in conference wins over the last four years.

5. Mike Leach, Washington State
Record at Washington State: 9-16 (2 years)
Career Record: 93-59 (12 years)
Washington State’s Program Rank:

Washington State is the toughest job in the Pac-12. But the Cougars have the right coach to keep this program competitive on a consistent basis. Leach was forced out at Texas Tech after 10 successful years in Lubbock. The Red Raiders never missed a bowl game under Leach and finished five times in the final Associated Press poll. Leach is only 9-16 in two years at Washington State. However, the Cougars improved their win total by three games from 2012 to 2013. Additionally, Washington State went to a bowl game for the first time since 2003 last year. Leach is one of the top offensive minds in college football and will help Washington State move a little closer to contending with the Pac-12 North’s top teams over the next few years.

6. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Record at Arizona: 16-10 (2 years)
Career Record: 136-94-2 (20 years)
Arizona’s Program Rank:

A three-year stint at Michigan is really the only blemish on Rodriguez’s 20 years on the sidelines. The West Virginia native started his coaching career at Salem in 1988 and had his second opportunity as a head coach at Glenville State in 1990. In seven years with the Pioneers, he went 43-28-2 and was hired at Tulane to coordinate the offense after the 1996 season. After two years with the Green Wave, Rodriguez was hired as Clemson’s offensive coordinator (1999-00) and then took over the top spot at West Virginia in 2001. The Mountaineers were 60-26 under Rodriguez and were one win away from playing for the national title in 2007. Rodriguez left his home state for the opportunity to coach at Michigan, but his three years with the Wolverines resulted in a disappointing 15-22 record. And after sitting out a year, Rodriguez jumped back into the coaching game at Arizona. So far, so good in Tucson. The Wildcats have recorded back-to-back 8-5 seasons and two bowl victories under his watch.

7. Jim Mora, UCLA
Record at UCLA: 19-8 (2 years)
Career Record: 19-8 (2 years)
UCLA’s Program Rank:

Mora has only been at UCLA for two seasons, but the former NFL head coach is making a difference. The Bruins are 19-8 under Mora, including a 12-6 mark during the regular season in Pac-12 play. UCLA finished No. 16 in the final Associated Press poll in 2013, which was the program’s first appearance in the last ranking since a No. 16 mark in 2005. Recruiting under Mora is also stable, as the Bruins have signed three consecutive top-20 classes. UCLA also made a big commitment to Mora by signing him to a six-year extension at the end of the 2013 season. With Brett Hundley returning for his junior year, the Bruins will have a chance to take the next step under Mora in 2014. 

8. Steve Sarkisian, USC
Record at USC: First Year
Career Record: 34-29 (5 years)
USC’s Program Rank:

Taking over at USC is essentially a homecoming for Sarkisian. The California native was a successful quarterback at BYU and had a short stint in the CFL. Sarkisian’s first college coaching job was at El Camino in 2000, and he landed at USC in 2001-03 and again from 2005-08 under Pete Carroll. In 2009, Sarkisian was hired at Washington, where he inherited a team that finished 0-12 in the season prior to his arrival. Sarkisian brought immediate improvement to Seattle, guiding the Huskies to a 5-7 mark in 2009 and a 34-29 mark in his tenure. Washington played in four consecutive bowl games under Sarkisian, but never finished higher than third in the Pac-12 North. Elevating the Huskies back to Pac-12 respectability was a good sign. However, Sarkisian needs to win at a higher level at USC. With a solid coaching staff and the No. 11 signing class from 2014, it seems Sarkisian is on the right path. And it certainly won’t hurt Sarkisian’s prospects when the sanctions end and USC has a full allotment of scholarships.

9. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
Record at Colorado: 4-8 (1 year)
Career Record: 20-29 (4 years)
Colorado’s Program Rank:

The arrow is clearly pointing up on MacIntyre’s tenure at Colorado. The Buffaloes were only 4-8 overall and won just one contest in Pac-12 play, but the program took a step forward last year after struggling under Jon Embree. Prior to taking over in Boulder, MacIntyre spent three years at San Jose State, transforming the Spartans from a 1-11 team in 2010 to a 10-2 squad in 2012. According to the recruiting ranks, , and standout receiver Paul Richardson must be replaced in 2014. MacIntyre needs time to successfully rebuild Colorado, but with a few breaks this season, the Buffaloes could make a bowl. After all, that isn't impossible considering MacIntyre’s second team at San Jose State made a four-game jump in the win column.

10. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Record at Utah: 76-39 (9 years)
Career Record: 76-39 (9 years)
Utah’s Program Rank:

It’s pretty easy to see how deep the Pac-12 is with good coaches when Whittingham ranks No. 10. The former BYU linebacker is 76-39 in nine years in Salt Lake City, which includes a 13-0 record with a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama in the 2008 season. In their final three years in the Mountain West (2008-10), Utah went 33-6 and lost only three conference games. However, as expected, the transition to the Pac-12 has been a challenge. The Utes went 8-5 in their Pac-12 debut but have posted back-to-back 5-7 records. Additionally, Utah is just 5-13 in conference play from 2012-13. Considering Whittingham’s wins in the Pac-12 have declined in back-to-back years, 2014 will be an important season to show the Utes are back on track. The addition of Dave Christensen as Utah’s offensive coordinator, combined with a little luck on health at quarterback could be enough for the Utes to get back to a bowl.

11. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Record at Oregon: 11-2 (1 year)
Career Record: 11-2 (1 year)
Oregon’s Program Rank:

Helfrich had a tough assignment replacing offensive mastermind Chip Kelly in 2013. The Ducks were picked by many as a threat to win the national title, but a late-season injury to quarterback Marcus Mariota hindered the offense in November. Oregon finished 11-2 in Helfrich’s debut and No. 9 in the final Associated Press poll. Despite not getting to the national championship, 2014 was a solid debut for Helfrich in his first season on the sidelines in Eugene. Helfrich needs a little time to put his stamp on the program, and with Mariota returning in 2014, Oregon should in the hunt to win college football’s playoff.

12. Sonny Dykes, California
Record at California: 1-11 (1 year)
Career Record: 23-26 (4 years)
California’s Program Rank:

It seems unfair to rank Dykes at the bottom of the Pac-12, but there’s not a bad coach in the conference. Dykes’ debut at California did not go well, as the Golden Bears finished 1-11 and winless in conference play for the first time since 2001. While the final record was not pretty, California had a handful of injuries to key players on defense, and Jared Goff was a true freshman getting his first snaps at quarterback. Dykes took steps this offseason to ensure last year’s 1-11 won’t be repeated. The defensive staff got a major overhaul and a solid recruiting class will help with the overall depth. Prior to his one season at California, Dykes went 22-15 at Louisiana Tech, including a 17-8 mark over the final two years.  

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Ranking the Pac-12's College Football Coaches for 2014
Post date: Thursday, April 3, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/how-2014-final-four-teams-were-built
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The freshman class will be present and accounted for in the Final Four, even if it’s not in the way anyone would have predicted.

The high school graduating class of 2013 will have more players in Dallas than any other class, but their roles will vary wildly.

Of the 13 freshmen in the Final Four, seven are from Kentucky. Five of those are playing major minutes. The other freshmen, whether three-star rookies for Wisconsin or McDonald’s All-Americans for Florida, are playing supporting roles.

The Final Four again includes teams with varying approaches and results in recruiting. Kentucky’s bench, for example, includes more five-star prospects than Wisconsin has signed in the last four years.

Whether it’s Florida’s veterans, Kentucky’s star power or UConn and Wisconsin’s talent development, each team in the Final Four started its roster in different spots only to end up in the same place Saturday.

As we get closer to tipoff at AT&T Stadium, we examined how the four programs in Dallas assembled their teams for a trip to the Final Four. For the purposes of this piece, we counted only players who played at least two games and 15 total minutes in the first two weeks of the Tourney.

Here’s how the Final Four teams were built:

Star Power

Final Four players by high school class*
2009: 1
2010: 9
2011: 5
2012: 6
2013: 13

Final Four players by Rivals.com star ranking*
Not ranked: 2
Two stars: 1
Three stars: 12
Four stars: 7
Five stars: 12
*includes only players who have logged 15 minutes or more in the NCAA Tournament.
• Of the 33 players Athlon Sports tracked, 12 were five-star prospects according to Rivals.com. Seven of them play for Kentucky. Kentucky’s entire starting five is made up of five-star prospects. The rest of the Final Four has only three starters who were five-star prospects (Florida’s Patric Young, UConn’s DeAndre Daniels and Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker).

• Two five-star prospects and McDonald’s All-Americans have played fewer than 40 combined minutes — Florida’s Chris Walker and Kentucky’s Marcus Lee.

• Kentucky and Florida are the only schools in the Final Four with McDonald’s All-Americans getting regular minutes.

• With the exception of Dekker, Wisconsin built its foundation on 3-star prospects. Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson — all starters — were three-star prospects.

• Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin is the biggest steal in the NCAA Tournament. He is the only two-star prospect getting regular minutes in the Final Four — and he’s Florida’s top player.

Veterans Rule

• Throw out Kentucky, and the most prolific high school class for the other three teams in the Final Four was the 2010 graduating class.

• How much of an impact is 2010 having on this Final Four? That class included UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser and Ben Brust and the nucleus for Florida’s team (Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather).

Homegrown Talent

• For another year, transfers were a major topic in college basketball, but not in the Final Four. The teams in Dallas feature only two transfers in the regular lineup: Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith (from Virginia Tech) and UConn’s Lasan Kromah (from George Washington). Both earn significant minutes, but neither are starters.

Sunshine State Stars

• The Final Four teams culled players from Florida high schools and prep schools more than any other state with 11 players who graduated from Sunshine State schools. Granted, the amount of high school transfers means that number shouldn’t resonate quite the same way as in college football recruiting.

• The number of Florida-based players does not focus solely on the Gators, though Billy Donovan culled the core of his roster from in-state schools. UConn (Amida Brimah and DeAndre Daniels) and Kentucky (Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee) also mined the state of Florida.

• Three players in the Final Four ended their high school careers at Montverde (Fla.) Academy — Florida’s Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier II and Kentucky’s Dakari Johnson. All transferred to the Central Florida powerhouse. Hill transferred from Mount Dora (Fla.) Bible School, and Frazier transferred from Tampa (Fla.) Plant. Johnson reclassified from the class of 2014 to the class of 2013 when he transferred to Montverde to follow St. Patrick’s (N.J.) coach Kevin Boyle to Florida.

Who’s Not Here

• Wisconsin has had the least attrition of any of the Final Four teams. The Badgers have lost only three players who signed during the 2010-13 recruiting cycles, according to Rivals.com. Two transferred and one, Evan Anderson, left the team in February.

• Kentucky has lost eight players since 2010 who left as underclassmen for the NBA Draft, more than double the other three teams combined. UConn lost two (Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb), Florida lost one (Bradley Beal) and Wisconsin lost none.

• As none of the Final Four teams are relying on transfers, none have lost major players due to transfers. The Final Four teams have lost a combined eight players from the last four recruiting cycles to transfers.

• Coincidentally, South Dakota State has a loose connection to the Final Four. Cody Larson, who was dismissed from Florida, transferred to play for the Jackrabbits; he averaged 13.1 points this season for SDSU. In January, George Marshall announced intentions to transfer from Wisconsin to South Dakota State.

Teaser:
How the 2014 Final Four Teams were Built
Post date: Thursday, April 3, 2014 - 07:00
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For the second year, Athlon Sports is letting fans choose the Ohio State cover of our 2014 Big Ten College Football Preview magazine.
 
Fans can vote once a day through April 22, with the winning cover hitting newsstands at the end of May.
 
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Pick Athlon's 2014 Ohio State College Football Preview magazine cover
Post date: Thursday, April 3, 2014 - 06:20
Path: /7-greatest-shots-masters-history
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We don’t have footage of Gene Sarazen’s famous double eagle from 1935, but on Masters Sunday 2012, we saw something just as good and just as rare — Louis Oosthuizen's double eagle, the first at the par-5 second hole in Masters history. Later, Bubba Watson joined our countdown with his stunning recovery shot from the pine straw in the playoff. Here are our choices for the seven greatest shots in Masters history.

7. Louis Oosthuizen, 2012
Before Sunday 2012, there had been 19,809 rounds at The Masters, but this was a first: a double eagle at No. 2. Had Oostie gone on to win, his shot would rank No. 1; as it is, he'll have to settle for second in The 2012 Masters and seventh on our list.

 

6. Sandy Lyle, 1988
Lyle had a front-row seat for Jack Nicklaus' charge to the 1986 Masters title. Two years later, he made history of his own with an incredible bunker shot on the 72nd hole, using the slope of the green to set up a clinching birdie. This is great execution for a Tuesday practice round; under Masters pressure, it's one of history's greatest shots.

5. Bubba Watson, 2012
After a day that included a double eagle and two holes in one, Bubba's shot at 10 will be the one they'll still be talking about at the 2050 Champions Dinner.

4. Jack Nicklaus, 1986
Jack’s near hole-in-one on 16 during his final-round 65 was only one of many magic moments that day — but it was pretty epic.


3. Phil Mickelson, 2010
Mickelson’s 6-iron second shot to four feet on the par-5 13th was the kind of hero shot that only he and Tiger Woods would even attempt.



2. Larry Mize, 1987
Playing a few miles from his home, the quiet, unassuming Mize hit the shot of his life, or anyone else’s for that matter, holing an impossible 140-foot pitch shot on the second playoff hole to deny Greg Norman a green jacket.



1. Tiger Woods, 2005
It's a scenario apparently drawn up in the Nike marketing offices — the ball hanging tantalizingly on the edge of the cup, the Nike logo momentarily freeze-framed on our television screens before the ball tumbles into the cup, unleashing an awkward golfer high-five between Tiger and caddie Steve Williams that detracts only slightly from the moment. To answer your question, Verne Lundquist — no, in our lives, we’ve never seen anything like it.

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<p> 7 Epic Moments from Golf's Greatest Tournament</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 17:35
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Consider this the appetizer before the main course. We scoured The Masters record book and found these amazing numbers:

 

10 The record for consecutive under-par rounds at The Masters belongs to Tiger Woods, who shot 10 consecutive rounds under par from the third round in 2000 through the final round in 2002. Not surprisingly, he won the green jacket in 2001 and 2002, after finishing fifth in 2000. Tiger's scoring average for those 10 rounds was 68.5.

 

25 Phil Mickelson holds the record for most birdies in a single Masters, with 25 in 2001. Lefty finished 13-under that year, three shots behind winner Tiger Woods, who was able to muster only 23 birdies for the week.

 

37 Among many Masters records held by Jack Nicklaus is his astounding 37 cuts made at Augusta. That's especially remarkable when you consider that Tiger Woods has only been alive 38 years. Between 1960 and 2000, Jack played in 40 Masters, missing the cut twice (in 1967 and 1994) and withdrawing in 1983. Among Nicklaus' other Masters records: He won a record six Masters, was runner-up a record four times, and he finished in the top 5 a record 15 times, in the top 10 22 times, and in the top 25 29 times.

 

23 Gary Player and Fred Couples share the record with 23 consecutive made cuts at The Masters. Player didn't miss a cut between 1959 and 1982 (he didn't compete in 1973 due to illness). During that span, he won three times and finished in the top 10 15 times. Couples' streak ran from 1983 to 2008, although he didn't play in 1987 or 1994.

 

50 Arnold Palmer holds a record that will likely never be equaled, playing in 50 consecutive Masters from 1955 to 2004. Thankfully, the King is still a fixture in April at Augusta, hitting a ceremonial tee shot along with fellow legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

 

66 That's the record score for a "Senior" player (age 50 or above). Fred Couples shot a 66 at age 50 in 2010's first round; and Ben Hogan, long past his prime at age 54, shot a 66 in the third round in 1967, going on to finish tied for 10th in his final Masters appearace.

 

66 The lowest score by an amateur was a 66 by Ken Venturi, in 1956's first round. Venturi actually held a four-shot lead entering the final round and was in prime position to become the only amateur winner in the event's history, until a windswept final-round 80 left him one shot behind Jack Burke.

 

-12 The lowest total by a first-time Masters competitor was a 12-under 276 in 2011 by Jason Day, who finished tied for second, two shots behind Charl Schwartzel.

 

6 The largest lead lost after three rounds is Greg Norman's 1996 collapse from a six-stroke lead to a five-stroke loss to Nick Faldo following a final-round 78. Coming off the eighth green on that Masters Sunday, Norman was only 1-over par for the day and still held a three-shot lead over Faldo. But three bogeys and two double-bogeys down the stretch doomed Norman to the most painful failure of his star-crossed career.

 

0 Fred Couples won the 1992 Masters, but here's an interesting distinction for Boom-Boom: He's the only player to have never missed a Masters cut in the 20th Century. Couples first played in the tournament in 1983 and didn't miss a Masters weekend until 2008.

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Post date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 17:32
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The Masters is the world's greatest golf tournament, so it's not surprising that it has produced an elite list of champions. We've identified the 10 greatest, who collectively possess 32 Green Jackets and have provided countless classic moments.

1. Jack Nicklaus
Wins - 6
Runner-ups - 4
Top 5 - 15
Top 10 - 22
Notes:
Nobody owns Augusta like Jack. His six wins spanned 23 years of stunning brilliance. In the decade of the 1970s, he never finished lower than 8th. As if to put an exclamation point on his unparalleled career amid the Georgia pines, Jack made one final run in 1998 at age 58, finishing sixth and beating the defending champion, 22-year-old Tiger Woods. Here's a record that may never be broken: Nicklaus made an astounding 37 cuts at Augusta; for reference, Woods has been alive only 37 years.

2. Arnold Palmer
Wins - 4
Runner-ups - 2
Top 5 - 9
Top 10 - 12
Notes:
Arnie came along at the perfect time, the dawn of golf's TV age, and he galvanized an army of fans with his domination at Augusta. Between 1957 and 1967, Palmer won four times and finished in the top 10 every year. He eclipses the No. 3 player on this list only because he made The Masters what it is today.

3. Tiger Woods
Wins - 4
Runner-ups - 2
Top 5 - 10
Top 10 - 12
Notes:
Woods' 12-shot demolition of the field at the 1997 Masters was one of golf's signature moments and ushered in the Tiger era in golf. His epic chip-in in 2005 was another classic moment, although that remains his last green jacket to date. Tiger is the all-time scoring average leader at The Masters for players with 50 or more career rounds.

4. Phil Mickelson
Wins - 3
Runner-ups - 0
Top 5 - 10
Top 10 - 14
Notes:
Lefty's record at Augusta rivals Tiger's. His 2004 breakthrough was perhaps the most eagerly awaited major championship win in history. Phil still has a shot to move up this list given that he's finished out of the top 5 only four times since 2001 and always seems rejuvenated by the trip up Magnolia Lane.

5. Gary Player
Wins - 3
Runner-ups - 2
Top 5 - 8
Top 10 - 15
Notes:
Player made his Masters bones in the 1960s as part of golf's Big Three with Nicklaus and Palmer, but he had some of his greatest Augusta moments in the 1970s, winning in 1974 and charging from seven strokes back in the final round in 1978, shooting 64 to win at age 42.

6. Sam Snead
Wins - 3
Runner-ups - 2
Top 5 - 9
Top 10 - 15
Notes:
Slammin' Sammy enjoyed some of his greatest successes at Augusta, winning three Masters in a six-year span, including a playoff win over rival and defending champion Ben Hogan in 1954.

7. Ben Hogan
Wins - 2
Runner-ups - 4
Top 5 - 9
Top 10 - 17
Notes:
The great Hogan set a Masters record during his Triple Crown season of 1953 with a 14-under total (it would be broken by Jack Nicklaus in 1965), part of an unparalleled run of golf in which he won six majors in eight appearances. In 1967, at age 56, he shot a 66 and finished 10th. His 17 Masters top 10s are second only to Nicklaus' 22.

8. Tom Watson
Wins - 2
Runner-ups - 3
Top 5 - 9
Top 10 - 15
Notes:
Watson's Augusta exploits are overshadowed by his dominance at the British Open, but between 1975 and 1988, no one was better at The Masters — two wins, three runner-ups and 12 top-10 finishes.

9. Jimmy Demaret
Wins - 3
Runner-ups - 0
Top 5 - 6
Top 10 - 8
Notes:
One of golf's most colorful showmen, Demaret was the first three-time Masters winner and parlayed his quick wit and flamboyant wardrobe into an appearance on "I Love Lucy."

10. Byron Nelson
Wins - 2
Runner-ups - 2
Top 5 - 7
Top 10 - 14
Notes:
Lord Byron's love for The Masters was epitomized by the fact that he kept playing at Augusta even after retiring from competitive golf to run his ranch. He probably would have won one or two more Green Jackets had the tournament been held during World War II.

Honorable Mention
• Nick Faldo - A three-time Masters winner, Faldo gets penalized for benefiting from three meltdowns in his three Masters wins — Scott Hoch, who missed a two-foot putt in their playoff in 1989; Ray Floyd, who made a late bogey to fall into a playoff with Faldo and then hit into the water at 11 in Sudden Death; and most notoriously, Greg Norman, who squandered a six-shot lead over Faldo with a final-round 78. Plus, Faldo's three wins were his only Masters top 10s.

• Seve Ballesteros - The late, great Ballesteros won twice and finished second twice. He also had the decency to step aside and allow Nicklaus to charge to his sixth Green Jacket in 1986.

• Horton Smith - The event's first two-time winner, Smith won Green Jackets in 1934 (the tournament's first year) and 1936.

• Ben Crenshaw - Crenshaw's Masters win in 1994, shortly after the death of longtime mentor Harvey Penick, provided one of the most emotional moments in golf history. Crenshaw, a two-time winner, finished in the top 10 11 times.

• Jose Maria Olazabal - Less heralded than his countryman Seve Ballesteros, Olazabal was every bit Seve's equal at Augusta, winning in 1994 and 1999 and finishing the top 10 six other times.

• Bernhard Langer - Langer had his greatest major success at The Masters, winning twice and posting eight top 10s.

• Fred Couples - Couples made 23 consecutive Masters cuts between 1983 and 2008, although he didn't play in 1987 or 1994. He's the only Masters competitor not to miss a cut at Augusta in the 20th Century. He won the tournament in 1992.

• Gene Sarazen - His "Shot Heard Round the World" — a double eagle at 15 during the 1935 Masters — put the tournament on the map and helped establish its major bona fides. It also allowed Sarazen to claim a modern career Grand Slam, the first in history.

• Raymond Floyd - Floyd won the 1976 Masters by a dominating eight strokes, matching Nicklaus' record 17-under total (which would be broken by Woods in 1997). Floyd finished second at Augusta three times, including a crushingly disappointing playoff loss to Nick Faldo in 1990, and had 11 top-10 finishes.
 

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Post date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 17:25
All taxonomy terms: Masters, Overtime, Golf, Overtime, News
Path: /weirdest-and-worst-food-masters-champions-dinner
Body:

It's one of the great traditions of Masters week: the Tuesday night Champions Dinner, where the defending champ gets to pick the menu for everyone. Defending champion Adam Scott of Australia probably won't break out the bloomin' onions; in fact, the word is that he's serving an Australian lobster known as a "Moreton Bay Bug." Okay. Obviously, giving golfers this much latitude can result in some stomach-churning choices. Here's the proof.


Menu: Haggis, mashed potatoes, mashed turnips
Sandy Lyle, 1989

You know what they say about haggis — it looks the same coming out as it does going in. For the uninitiated, this Scottish dish is basically stuff fished out of the trash at the butcher shop: sheep's heart, liver and lungs cooked in the stomach, with a few bits of actual food (onions, oatmeal, spices) thrown in to confuse you. 
 


Menu: Elk, wild boar, Arctic char, Canadian beer
Mike Weir, 2004

Apparently they were fresh out of grizzly bear, so this had to do. Well, at least there was a little liquid bread to wash down all the animal flesh. Hey Mike, how about a salad?

 


Menu: Cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, french fries, milkshakes
, 1998

At first glance, this sounds fine. But when you have access to great chefs and an unlimited budget, do you really want to reproduce the drive-thru of the Augusta McDonald's?

 


Menu: Seafood tom kah, chicken panang curry, baked sea scallops with garlic sauce, rack of lamb with yellow kari sauce, baked filet Chilean sea bass with three flavor chili sauce, lychee sorbet
Vijay Singh, 2001

Surely this overly pretentious selection was part of some elaborate practical joke perpetrated by Vijay. We’re pretty sure Tiger and Phil hit the Augusta McDonald's drive-thru afterwards.


 
Menu: An Argentine asado, a multicourse barbecue featuring chorizo, blood sausage, short ribs, beef filets and mollejas (sweetbreads)
Angel Cabrera, 2010

Sampling another culture's cuisine can be a mixed bag. This menu is evidence. Short ribs and beef filets sound good, but anything with blood in the title doesn't. And sweetbreads? That's just a tasty-sounding name for the thymus gland of some animal. No. Just, no.
 


Menu: Bobotie (a spiced minced meat pie with an egg topping), sosaties (type of chicken skewer), spinach salad, milk tart and South African wines
, 2009

Rule of thumb: If I can't pronounce it, I ain't eating it. The wine sounds good, though.  

Teaser:
<p> Winning golfers select haggis, wild boar and 10 foods we can't pronounce.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 17:21
All taxonomy terms: MLB, MLB, News
Path: /50-best-baseball-nicknames-ever-2014
Body:

What is it with nicknames and baseball? In high school I played with Doggie, Bird, Soup, Clone, Rooster, T and White Legs. Nicknames and baseball players just seem to go together like bat and ball. For as long as young boys and men have been batting baseballs around, they have given each other descriptive nicknames for facial features, deformed body parts, the way they played the game, hair color and, the most popular, shortening their surnames. In fact, some players with nicknames were given nicknames for their nicknames. 

Here are the 50 best—and often very politically incorrect—nicknames in baseball history.

50. Don Mossi
Ears
 (
also The Sphinx)
Perhaps you had to see Mossi to really appreciate the name. In Ball Four, Jim Bouton said Mossi “looked like a cab going down the street with its doors open.”

49. Ernie Lombardi
Schnozz

Not to allow Mossi and his ears steal all the thunder, the catcher who was also known as the world’s slowest human had a beak of monumental proportions. But the catcher hit his way into the Hall of Fame.

48. Nick Cullop
Tomato Face

Cullop spent 23 years in the minors, hit 420 home runs and had 2,670 hits, both minor league records when he retired.

47. Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown
Three Finger

Known more commonly as Three Finger Brown than by Mordecai, Brown capitalized on losing most of his index finger in a childhood farming accident. Apparently that helped him throw a devastating curveball described by Ty Cobb as the toughest in baseball.

46. Don Zimmer
The Gerbil

Despite the success for the Red Sox in the late 1970s, Zim is blamed for the team’s collapse in 1978, ultimately losing a playoff game at Fenway Park (commonly known as the Bucky Dent game). Because of this, lefthander Bill Lee, with whom Zimmer often sparred, gave him the name Gerbil.

45. Bill Lee
Spaceman

And speaking of Lee, it wasn’t as though he was a mental giant himself. The lefthander’s outrageous, often irreverent personality and his fearless rhetoric earned him the name Spaceman, allegedly, from John Kennedy (the Red Sox utility infielder, not the former President). Just being left-handed in Boston was probably enough.

44. Jim Grant
Mudcat

Grant, who became one of the most successful African-American pitchers in the 1960s, credits Leeroy Irby for the nickname. Seems Irby thought Grant was from Mississippi and others were happy to make the name stick.

43. Jim Hunter
Catfish

Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finely often seemed more interested in flashy P.R. than winning baseball games. Evidently, this nickname was a product of the PR-conscious Finley more than any angling the Hall of Fame pitcher might have done in his home state of North Carolina.

42. Randy Johnson
Big Unit

Okay, get your mind out of the gutter. Former Expos teammate — yes, Johnson was originally a member of the Expos — Tim Raines once collided with him during batting practice, looked up at the 6’10” hurler and proclaimed, “You’re a big unit.”

41. Mark Fidrych
The Bird

The affable righthander enjoyed talking to the baseball while on the mound and manicuring the mound on his hands and knees between innings. But it was because of his resemblance to Big Bird of Sesame Street fame that Fidrych was given his name.

40. Marc Rzepczynski
Scrabble

Some surnames scream for nicknames, like Yastrzemski with Yaz, and Mazeroski with Maz. But there are few names that could earn more points in the famous word game than this lefthander’s.

39. Doug Gwosdz
Eye-chart

Ancestors of the former catcher of the San Diego Padres must have misspelled this name somewhere down the line. But as astute teammates surmised, his jersey resembled those charts hanging on walls in optometrists’ offices.

38. Johnny Dickshot
Ugly

First of all, that is his real name. And secondly, he referred to himself as the “ugliest man in baseball.” So, we have no qualms about Dickshot making the list.

37. Luke Appling
Old Aches and Pains

Dubbed by teammates, it’s unclear whether the name was given in jest. But it is clear that Appling didn’t mind complaining about the physical demands of the job all the way to the Hall of Fame.

36. Roger Bresnahan
The Duke of Tralee

Nothing really unusual about this name; after all many players were named in honor of their hometowns. Earl Averill was the Duke of Snohomish after his hometown in Washington. But, Bresnahan was from Toledo. For some reason he enjoyed telling folks he was born in Tralee, Ireland.

35. Bob Feller
Rapid Robert

Taking the American League by storm as a teenager led to this nickname as well as The Heater from Van Meter (Iowa).

34. Edward Charles Ford
The Chairman of the Board

Well known as Whitey because of hair color, the lefty dominated the American League for 16 seasons as a member of the Yankees. As a tribute to his calm, cool demeanor in tough situations, he became known as the Chairman of the Board.

33. Leon Allen Goslin
Goose

Several sources agree on how Goslin acquired his name. Evidently, he waved his arms as he chased fly balls, had a long neck, and was not the most graceful player.

32. Willie Mays
Say Hey Kid

There is no definitive agreement on how Mays acquired this classic name.

31. Mickey Mantle
The Commerce Comet

Mantle, a star athlete from Commerce, Oklahoma, was offered a football scholarship by the University of Oklahoma, but wisely chose baseball.

30. Joe Medwick
Ducky-Wucky
(also Muscles)
According to Baseball-Reference.com, fans called Medwick Ducky-Wucky more than merely Ducky, presumably because of his gait, or perhaps the way he swam. Teammates, seemingly out of self-preservation, never called him Ducky-Wucky, but chose instead the name, Muscles.

29. Brooks Robinson
Vacuum Cleaner

If you ever saw Brooksie do his work around the hot corner, you would quickly understand the moniker. Teammate Lee May once quipped, “Very nice (play)...where do they plug Mr. Hoover in?”

28. Aloysius Harry Simmons
Bucketfoot Al

With an exaggerated stride toward third base. Bucketfoot Al bashed major league pitching at a .334 clip on his way to the Hall of Fame.

27. Lynn Nolan Ryan
Ryan Express

No one readily admits giving him the name, but any hitter who stood in the box against Ryan is keenly aware of what the name means.

26. Darrell Evans
Howdy Doody

One look at the famous puppet and a glance at the power-hitting lefty, and you’ll know why.

25. Dennis Boyd
Oil Can

Born in Mississippi (where beer may be referred to as oil), the colorful righthander carried the nickname on to the major leagues.

24. Johnny Lee Odom
Blue Moon

Reportedly, a classmate in grade school thought Odom’s face looked like the moon. Really?

23. Frank Thomas
Big Hurt

Given to Thomas by White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson. Thomas put the big hurt on American League pitching for 19 years.

22. Garry Maddox
Minister of Defense

If you watched Maddox patrol center field for the Phillies in the 1970s, you immediately get the name.

21. Mike Hargrove
Human Rain Delay

And you think Nomar Garciaparra invented the step-out-of-the-box-and-adjust-your-batting-gloves routine. Nope. Seasons changed between pitches when he was at bat.

20. Daniel Joseph Staub
Le Grand Orange

Known as Rusty by the Texans while with the Colt .45s, he became Le Grand Orange in Montreal as a member of the original Expos.

19. Jimmy Wynn
Toy Cannon

His small stature and powerful bat led to this moniker.

18. Steve Balboni
Bye-Bye

Presumably, Balboni was given the name because of his propensity to hit home runs. It may also be noted that a double meaning could be bye-bye, as in “He gone” back to the dugout because of his propensity to strike out.

17. Joakim Soria
The Mexicutioner

A two-time All-Star when he was the Royals' closer, Soria has since undergone Tommy John surgery and returned to ninth-inning duties with the Rangers. Besides switching uniforms, Soria also would appreciate not being known by his nickname, as its association with the violence in his native country hits a little too close to home.

16. Frank Howard
The Capital Punisher

While playing in the nation’s capital, Howard punished AL pitching for 237 home runs in seven seasons, twice leading the league with 44, and finishing second in 1969 with 48.

15. Carl Pavano
American Idle

After signing a four-year, $38 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2005 season, Pavano made just nine starts in four seasons, going 3-3 with a 5.00 ERA.

14. Lawrence Peter Berra
Yogi

Evidently when Berra sat with arms and legs crossed a friend suggested he looked like a Hindu yogi. Now the term Yogi is associated with malaprops more than Hindu.

13. Mariano Rivera
The Sandman

Good night batters.

12. Rickey Henderson
Man of Steal

One look at his stats and you understand this one: 1,406 career steals and a record 130 in 1982.

11. Shane Victorino
The Flyin’ Hawaiian

Victorino plays the game with endless energy and spunk, but his heritage rules the day.

10. Vince Coleman
Vincent Van Go

A true artist of the stolen base.

9. Ken Reitz
Zamboni

Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon marveled at how the St. Louis third baseman could pick up everything.

8. Pablo Sandoval
Kung Fu Panda

The loveable Giant Panda.

7. Fred McGriff
Crime Dog

One of ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman’s nicknames that actually stuck. Thanks McGruff, the cartoon Crime Dog.

6. Kenny Rogers
The Gambler

“Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser. The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”

5. Jose Bautista
Joey Bats

Bautista was terrific as Joey Bats in “The Hitman” on YouTube. He’s been even better as himself for the Blue Jays.

4. Harry Davis
Stinky

Poor Davis lost his job as Detroit first baseman to some kid name Hank Greenberg in 1933.

3. Ron Cey
The Penguin

Playing for Tommy Lasorda in the minor leagues must have had its pros and cons. Having your manager dub you Penguin because of your awkward running style would probably fall on the con side.

2. William Ellsworth Hoy
Dummy Hoy

As if anyone needed reminding, here’s a clear indicator of just how far political correctness has come in 100 years. William Ellsworth Hoy lost his hearing and ability to speak as a result of childhood meningitis. At only 5’4”, he was difficult to strike out and was the first player to hit a grand slam in the American League. He died in 1961, just five months shy of his 100th birthday.

1. George Herman Ruth
Babe 
(also the Bambino, Sultan of Swat, The King of Sting, The Colossus of Clout)
Babe was the only major leaguer large enough for five larger than life nicknames.

 

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie.

Teaser:
50 Best Baseball Nicknames Ever
Post date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 16:04
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-10-brandt-snedeker
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 10:

Born: Dec. 8, 1980, Nashville, Tenn. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 6 | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $5,318,088 (5th) World Ranking: 20

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Brandt Snedeker has finished third and fifth, respectively, the last two years on the money list, and has two wins in each of those seasons. Had he not been sidelined with an injury for a period in 2013, he might have challenged for the money title as well as the FedExCup. From 50-125 yards, he was the best on Tour last year and continues to enjoy tremendous success on the greens as well. A streaky player because he struggles tee-to-green periodically, he is unfazed by miscues and continues to play decisively, which makes him fun to watch and also makes him better than the sum of his statistics.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 25
Wins: 0

2013 Performance:
Masters - T6
U.S. Open - T17
British Open - T11
PGA Championship - T66

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T3 (2008)
U.S. Open - T8 (2010)
British Open - T3 (2012)
PGA Championship - T18 (2007)
Top-10 Finishes: 5
Top-25 Finishes: 13
Missed Cuts: 9

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the . Be sure to follow him  on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2014 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 11:10
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/pick-athlons-2014-georgia-college-football-preview-magazine-cover
Body:
For the second year, Athlon Sports is letting fans choose the Georgia Bulldogs cover of our 2014 SEC College Football Preview magazine.
 
Fans can vote once a day through April 22, with the winning cover hitting newsstands at the end of May.
 
Teaser:
Pick Athlon's 2014 Georgia College Football Preview magazine cover.
Post date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL Free agency, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-free-agency-losers
Body:

Similar to last year, free agency has not been kind to the NFL’s reigning champions. While nothing will take away from Seattle’s dominating victory over Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seahawks team that will take the field in Week 1 as defending champions will look considerably different than the one that manhandled the Broncos in MetLife Stadium less than two months ago.

Seattle isn’t the only playoff team that looks worse on paper right now compared to last season either. Carolina, Cincinnati and Indianapolis also have gone through some roster shuffling, which has left each with new holes or areas of weakness that need to be addressed.

Dallas entered free agency hamstrung by their own cap issues, so it’s not surprising to see them on this list of “losers,” but then there’s the curious case of Oakland. The Raiders have not been shy about spending money and bringing in new faces. However, a closer look at the moves the struggling franchise has made is yet another example of how quantity doesn’t necessarily equal quality.

Related:

2014 NFL Free Agency Losers (in alphabetical order)

Carolina Panthers
Even after San Francisco beat Carolina at home in the NFC Divisional Round to end the Panthers’ season, things seemed to be looking up for head coach Ron Rivera and his young team. Unfortunately, the reigning NFC South champions have seen their top three wide receivers and two starting defensive backs sign with other teams and their Pro Bowl left tackle retire.

No one around the league was surprised when Carolina and Steve Smith, the franchise’s all-time leading wide receiver, decided to part ways. However, his exodus to Baltimore along with Brandon LaFell signing with New England and Ted Ginn joining Arizona, leave former Steeler Jerricho Cotchery and former Buccaneer Tiquan Underwood along with holdovers Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King as quarterback Cam Newton’s inexperienced (in terms of playing together) and relatively unproven receiving corps.

Additionally, while the team franchised defensive end Greg Hardy to make sure he wouldn’t get away, the loss of cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Mitchell opens up two holes on a defense that was the team’s strength in 2013. There’s also the matter of replacing the now retired Jordan Gross, who has been a mainstay at tackle, primarily on the left side, since he was drafted eighth overall in 2003. Put it all together and general manager Dave Gettleman and Rivera have their work cut out for them in the draft if they want to carry over any momentum in a division that includes New Orleans and Atlanta. On top of that, Tampa Bay has been busy this offseason, first hiring Lovie Smith as its new coach and then being one of the more aggressive teams early in free agency.

Cincinnati Bengals
Like the Panthers, the Bengals were coming off of a division title and seemed to be on the upswing. Cincinnati also entered free agency with plenty of cap space to use on either extending or re-signing its current core or to address areas of weakness. Instead the defending AFC North champions have seen both coordinators leave to take head coaching jobs and also have been fairly quiet in free agency so far, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Standout defensive end Michael Johnson signed a huge five-year, $43.75 million deal ($24 million guaranteed) to go to Tampa Bay and the Bengals also lost starting tackle Anthony Collins to the Buccaneers as well.

Perhaps even more painful, especially for Bengals fans, is that division rival Cleveland signed wide receiver Andrew Hawkins to an offer sheet that Cincinnati decided to not match. The Bengals did sign a few players, notably former Browns backup quarterback James Campbell and Green Bay offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse, but they have yet to sign a replacement for Johnson and it just seems like this is a team that should have acted with more sense of urgency. While the three straight playoff appearances (a franchise first) are a welcome sight, there’s still plenty of work left to do – the Bengals haven’t won a postseason game in more than two decades (1990).

Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys and archrival Redskins found themselves in the same boat this offseason. Their penchant for spending freely and wildly during free agency and poor salary cap management in previous years coupled with some harsh penalties handed down by the NFL for their actions during the uncapped 2010 season finally came home to roost. Both teams were severely hamstrung by their roster and cap situations, which limited their ability to make many moves in free agency this offseason.

However, the reason the Cowboys show up here and not the Redskins is because Washington made the most of what little cap room it had to sign several players to modest deals, while Dallas had to cut ties with two of its top defensive players and a former Pro Bowl wide receiver. To be fair, while cutting wide receiver Miles Austin was probably a difficult decision, the move also made plenty of sense as his production had slipped in recent seasons.

The loss of DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, however, is a different story entirely, as the Cowboys’ defense must replace two starters who were responsible for half of the team’s sacks last season. And this doesn’t include fellow defensive lineman Anthony Spencer, who remains an unrestricted free agent. If he doesn’t return, that’s another hole Jerry Jones, head coach Jason Garrett and new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will have to fill on that side of the ball alone.

So with Ware now in Denver hoping to get that long sought-after Super Bowl ring and Hatcher on the other side of the Dallas-Washington rivalry, the Cowboys are hoping that Henry Melton, the former Bear recovering from a torn ACL, and Jeremy Mincey can somehow fill these fairly large holes on a defense that ranked last in the NFL in 2013. Having missed the playoffs each of the last four seasons, Garrett already had enough to worry about and that was before free agency began and further depleted his roster.

Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are the reigning AFC South champions, have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in Andrew Luck and had plenty of cap space to beef up the supporting cast around him. While re-signing cornerback Vontae Davis, especially after long-time safety Antoine Bethea bolted for San Francisco, was a priority, Indianapolis was reported to be targeting either Eric Decker or Julian Edelman to bring in another weapon for Luck and the passing game. That didn’t happen, however, as the team invested heavily in Davis, former Cleveland linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and former Raven defensive lineman Arthur Jones.

To be fair, Indianapolis’ defense needed to be addressed. The Colts gave up 87 points and more than 900 yards in their two playoff games. However, Davis ($15 million guaranteed) and Jackson ($10.4 million guaranteed) didn’t come cheap. Besides Bethea, another key departure was running back Donald Brown, who signed with San Diego. Indianapolis did sign former Giant wideout Hakeem Nicks for one year and brought back running back Ahmad Bradshaw, but the former has seen his stock drop considerably in recent seasons while the latter is coming back from a serious neck injury.

So as it stands now, the Colts have lost their top defender (Bethea) and running back (Brown) and also are counting on 35-year-old Reggie Wayne, who tore his ACL last season, to return and immediately be of Luck’s most productive targets right out of the gates. Oh yeah, Indianapolis also doesn’t have a first-round pick in May’s draft because of the trade for Cleveland running back Trent Richardson, who scored four touchdowns and averaged less than three yards per carry for his new team. Sure sounds like a team that should have done more in free agency, no?

Oakland Raiders
On one hand the Raiders have been one of the busier teams in the NFL so far, having signed 11 free agents from other teams and five of their own. The activity doesn’t end there, as Oakland has seen seven players from last year’s roster depart and also traded for former Houston starting quarterback Matt Schaub.

To this point, however, the additions don’t equal the subtractions, as two of the players that have left were arguably the Raiders’ best on each side of the ball – defensive end Lamarr Houston (signed with Chicago) and left tackle Jared Veldheer (Arizona). Also gone are running back Rashad Jennings (New York Giants), defensive tackle Vance Walker (Kansas City) along with cornerbacks Tracy Porter (Washington), Phillip Adams (Seattle) and Mike Jenkins (Tampa Bay).

Oakland has brought in some recognizable names in defensive end Justin Tuck, linebacker LaMarr Woodley, wide receiver James Jones and cornerback Carlos Rogers, but how effective each can be at this point in their respective career and given their supporting cast remains to be seen. Perhaps even more curious is that even though running back Darren McFadden re-signed for one year, the team still went out and added former Jacksonville Jaguar Maurice Jones-Drew (three-year deal).

There’s no question the Raiders needed to do something to address one of the weaker rosters in the league. However, there are plenty of questions surrounding how they have gone about doing it. The majority of the new players signed or the holdovers brought back are at least 30 years old, while the team let two young building blocks (Houston and Veldheer) leave seemingly without much of a fight. And even with Schaub now on board, the Raiders’ quarterback situation is far from settled.

So while the names on Oakland’s roster have certainly changed, it still looks an awfully lot like the same old Silver and Black. And that’s not a good thing.

Seattle Seahawks
It’s hard to call the Super Bowl champs “losers,” but just like Baltimore a year ago the Seahawks are finding out how much tougher things are once you are on top. A year ago, the Ravens were the victim of their own success, as salary cap issues and other factors forced them to bid farewell to several starters and other key contributors from the team that won the Lombardi Trophy.

This year it’s the Seahawks’ turn, as the team’s blueprint for success – maximizing on draft picks, especially in later rounds and identifying young players who didn’t work out for other teams – makes it virtually impossible to keep the roster intact. Especially with Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Russell Wilson and All-Pro defensive backs Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas among those in line for lucrative contract extensions.

As far as this offseason went, Seattle made re-signing defensive end Michael Bennett a priority and got the job done with a four-year, $28.5 million ($16 million guaranteed) pact. In turn, however, fellow starting defensive linemen Clinton McDonald and Chris Clemons decided to sign elsewhere, joining Tampa Bay and Jacksonville respectively. The Jaguars also lured end Red Bryant, a key cog in the defensive line rotation, away while cornerbacks Brandon Browner (New England) and Walter Thurmond (New York Giants) departed as well.

However, one of the biggest potential losses could end up being wide receiver Golden Tate. Wilson’s top target in his first two seasons, Tate signed a five-year deal to become Calvin Johnson’s sidekick in Detroit. The Seahawks still have Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse on the roster, but Tate’s value to this team went beyond the passes he caught. Seattle also lost a piece of its offensive line as right tackle Breno Giacomini signed with the Jets.

There is still a lot of talent left for Pete Carroll to coach, starting with the likes of Wilson, Sherman, Thomas, Bennett and Harvin. However, there’s also no disputing that the team that takes the field in Week 1 when the Seahawks begin defense of their championship will look distinctively different. Again this was the case last year with Baltimore and the Ravens went on to finish 8-8 and not make the playoffs. Will Seattle follow the same path? Free agency already seems to have made any chances of a repeat that much tougher.

Teaser:
2014 NFL Free Agency Losers
Post date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-april-2-2014
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for April 2.

• With baseball season in full swing, enjoy , including Mat Latos' wife Dallas (pictured).

. She stopped by Traitor Joe's on the way home.

• More sign fun: . Irony is not dead.

.

.

Kinda looks like it.

.

.

• Just because:

.

.

• New Washington coach Chris Petersen pulled off a nice April Fool's prank on his unsuspecting team. Well done.

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 10:53
Path: /college-football/ranking-accs-college-football-coaches-2014
Body:

Ranking college football coaches is no easy task. Similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.

While it’s difficult to rank coaches, this aspect of college football is arguably the most important to winning a national or conference title. No matter how much talent a program has, winning a national title is difficult if the coaching is questionable.

Wins are a telling and important statistic, but they don’t provide a complete picture of how successful coaches are. Winning 10 games at Alabama is different than winning 10 games at Kentucky. Also, every program has a different amount of resources available. Hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. A good coach can elevate a program. However, it’s easier for programs like Alabama, Florida, Ohio State and Texas with more built-in advantages to contend for a national title on a more consistent basis.

A couple of other factors to consider when ranking assistant coaches: How well are the assistants paid? A good program is willing to spend big to keep its assistants. And a staff with two of the nation’s top coordinators could be a sign the head coach is better as a CEO and may not be as strong in terms of developing gameplans. How is the coach in the X’s and O’s? Can the coach recruit? Are the program’s facilities on par with the rest of the conference? Much like assistants, a program needs good facilities to win big. If a team is winning at a high level with poor facilities and a small budget, it’s reflects positively on the head coach. Is the coach successful at only one stop? Or has that coach built a solid resume from different jobs?

Again, wins are important. But our rankings also take into account a blank slate. If you start a program from scratch, which coach would you hire?

Considering how important coaches are to teams or even making preseason predictions, Athlon is taking a look at how all 128 college football coaches rank nationally and by conference.

Ranking the ACC's College Football Coaches for 2014

1. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Record at Florida State: 45-10 (4 years)
Career Record: 45-10 (4 years)
Florida State’s Program Rank:

In four years in Tallahassee, Fisher has returned Florida State to national prominence. The Seminoles slipped at the end of the Bobby Bowden era, but Fisher has three seasons of at least 10 wins and has claimed back-to-back ACC titles. Florida State is 26-2 over the last two years and won the national championship last year, defeating Auburn in the final title game of the BCS era. Another factor working in Fisher’s ranking is his record against Florida State’s rivals. Fisher is 4-0 against Miami and 3-1 against Florida. Fisher’s success isn’t just limited to the on-field results, as he’s an excellent recruiter and talent evaluator and has a good eye for finding assistant coaches. With Fisher at the helm, there’s no more debate: Florida State is back and will be a factor in college football’s national championship picture for the foreseeable future.

2. David Cutcliffe, Duke
Record at Duke: 31-44 (6 years)
Career Record: 75-73 (12 years)
Duke’s Program Rank:

Cutcliffe’s career mark with the Blue Devils is only 31-44, but as we mentioned in the introduction, not all coaches can be judged solely on wins and losses. Duke is one of the toughest coaching jobs in a BCS conference. From 2000-07, the Blue Devils won only 10 games and had six seasons of at least 10 losses. Cutcliffe needed some time to establish a foundation, but Duke has turned a corner under his watch. The Blue Devils went 15-33 in Cutcliffe’s first four years. However, Duke is 16-11 over the last seasons and claimed the Coastal Division title in 2013. And in terms of recruiting, the Blue Devils have the No. 13 roster in the ACC, which only adds credit to the job Cutcliffe has done in Durham. Prior to his stint at Duke, Cutcliffe went 44-29 at Ole Miss, including a 10-3 record in 2003. Sustaining success with the Blue Devils won’t be easy. However, Cutcliffe is a sharp offensive mind and the program has made steady progress under his watch. Expect Duke to consistently be in the mix for bowl games under Cutcliffe in future seasons.

3. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
Record at Louisville: 41-9 (4 years, 2003-06)
Career Record: 83-30 (9 years)
Louisville’s Program Rank: 

Petrino is a polarizing figure in college football. There’s no doubt he’s made mistakes, but he’s also an outstanding coach – and likely one of the best in the nation. After stops at Arkansas, Western Kentucky and in the NFL with the Falcons, Petrino has returned to Louisville. From 2003-06, the Cardinals went 41-9 under Petrino’s direction and finished No. 5 in the final Associated Press poll in 2006. Petrino transformed Arkansas from a 5-7 program in 2008 to an 11-2 team in 2011. However, his tenure ended with the Razorbacks after he lied to athletic director Jeff Long following a motorcycle crash in 2012. After sitting on the sidelines for a year, Petrino was hired by Western Kentucky to replace Willie Taggart, and the Hilltoppers finished 8-4 in Petrino’s only season. Again, there’s no question Petrino comes with baggage. But the Montana native is a proven winner – 83 wins in nine years – and one of the top offensive minds in college football.

4. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Record at Virginia Tech: 224-109-2 (27 years)
Career Record: 266-132-4 (33 years)
Virginia Tech’s Program Rank: 

Beamer is the dean of college football coaches with 33 consecutive years of head coach experience. The North Carolina native worked as an assistant at Citadel and Murray State from 1973-80 and was promoted to the top spot with the Racers in 1981. In six seasons as Murray State’s head coach, Beamer went 42-23-2 and finished his tenure with four consecutive winning records. Beamer started his tenure at Virginia Tech with losing records in four out of the first six years. However, the Hokies have been one of the nation’s most consistent teams since 1993. Virginia Tech has played in 21 straight bowl games and has won at least 10 games in eight out of the last 10 years. While the program has been remarkably consistent, the Hokies are 15-11 in the last two seasons. Even though that record marks a slight drop from the early 2000s, there’s no reason to hit the panic button in Blacksburg going into 2014.

5. Al Golden, Miami
Record at Miami: 22-15 (3 years)
Career Record: 49-49 (8 years)
Miami’s Program Rank:

Golden is a tough coach to rank among his ACC peers. On the positive side: Miami has increased its win total in each of the last two seasons after winning six games in Golden’s debut. The Hurricanes are also seeing an uptick in recruiting, bringing in the No. 12 (2014), No. 14 (2013) and No. 10 (2012) classes after signing the No. 33 group in 2011. But here’s the bad news: This is Miami – the No. 3 coaching job in the ACC. The Hurricanes are still looking for their first appearance in the conference championship, and Golden has yet to produce a ranked team in the final Associated Press poll. , Miami needs to win at a higher level. Prior to taking over in Coral Gables, Golden took Temple from a 1-11 record in 2006 to a program with back-to-back winning seasons in 2009-10. Some of the Owls’ success under Golden was due to the transition to the MAC, but Golden helped to mold Temple from one of the worst programs back to respectability. 2014 should be a telling year for Golden and his overall leadership at Miami, as the Hurricanes have the talent to win the Coastal. However, enough questions remain that Miami could finish third in the division. 

6. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Record at Clemson: 51-23 (6 years)
Career Record: 51-23 (6 years)
Clemson’s Program Rank:

Swinney has helped Clemson shake the underachieving label recently, recording a school-record 32 victories over the last three years. The Tigers are 14-2 in the last two seasons of ACC play and have two BCS bowl appearances in three years. Clemson finished No. 8 in the final Associated Press poll in 2013, which is the best final ranking for the program since Danny Ford guided the Tigers to a No. 8 ranking in 1982. Swinney is at his best in the program CEO role. Coordinators Chad Morris and Brent Venables are two of the nation’s highest-paid assistants, and Morris’ arrival in 2011 sparked instant improvement on offense. Prior to hiring Morris, Swinney was just 19-15. One trouble spot for Swinney is his record against rival South Carolina and Florida State. The Gamecocks have won five in a row over Clemson, while the Tigers are 2-4 under Swinney against the Seminoles. In order for Swinney to take the next step as a head coach, he has to consistently beat Florida State and South Carolina.

7. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Record at Georgia Tech: 47-32 (6 years)
Career Record: 154-71 (17 years)
Georgia Tech’s Program Rank: 

Johnson has been a successful coach at three different jobs, starting with Georgia Southern in the FCS ranks in 1997. The Eagles went 62-10 under Johnson, which included back-to-back FCS Championships. At Navy, Johnson went 2-10 in his first year (2002) but finished his tenure with a 45-29 record and a No. 24 final ranking in the 2004 Associated Press poll. Johnson was hired at Georgia Tech in 2008 and is 47-32 in six years. Additionally, the Yellow Jackets have not finished under .500 in conference play under Johnson’s watch and won the ACC title in 2009. Despite his success, there seems to be unrest at Georgia Tech. But here's something to keep in perspective: Georgia Tech ranks as the No. 9 job in the ACC. The Yellow Jackets have 19 wins in conference play over the last four years – only Virginia Tech has more during that span in the Coastal Division. Johnson is also regarded as one of the ACC’s top X’s and O’s coaches. Sure, the option might not be the most exciting offense to run at a BCS program, and the recruiting at Georgia Tech isn’t getting any better. However, Johnson has finished first or second (outright or shared) in the Coastal in five out of the last six years.

8. Steve Addazio, Boston College
Record at Boston College: 7-6 (1 year)
Career Record: 20-17 (3 years)
Boston College’s Program Rank: 

Addazio brought instant improvement in his first season at Boston College. The Eagles went 6-18 from 2011-12 under Frank Spaziani, but Addazio guided Boston College to a 7-6 record in 2013. Addazio had plenty of talent in the upperclassmen ranks to help his transition, and his work on the recruiting trail should ensure the Eagles continue to be a factor in the bowl picture. Before taking over at Boston College, Addazio went 13-11 in two years with Temple. The Owls went 9-4 in the MAC in 2011 but slipped to 4-7 in the tougher Big East Conference. As a Connecticut native, Addazio is familiar with the recruiting scene in the Northeast and what it takes to win at Boston College. The Eagles lose several key players from last year’s seven-win team, so some regression in the win total should be expected. However, Addazio has this program trending in the right direction for 2015 and beyond.

9. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
Record at North Carolina: 15-10 (2 years)
Career Record: 49-29 (6 years)
North Carolina’s Program Rank: 

Fedora could be a spot or two higher on this list, but there’s not much separating the middle of the pack when it comes to ACC coaches. The Texas native has North Carolina on the right track, and the Tar Heels should be in contention for the Coastal Division title in 2014. Fedora’s record at North Carolina is 15-10, with a 9-7 mark in ACC play. The Tar Heels were ineligible to play for the Coastal Division title in 2012 or play in a bowl, but Fedora guided North Carolina to a 5-3 conference record – the first for the program since a 5-3 mark in 2004. Prior to his stint at North Carolina, Fedora coached at Southern Miss and recorded a 34-19 mark with a No. 20 rank in the final Associated Press poll in 2011. If the Tar Heels take a step forward as expected in 2014, Fedora will rank higher on this list next season.

10. Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh
Record at Pittsburgh: 13-13 (2 years)
Career Record: 13-13 (2 years)
Pittsburgh’s Program Rank: 

Coaching uncertainty surrounded Pittsburgh from 2010-12. The Panthers went through three head coaches – Dave Wannstedt, Mike Haywood and Todd Graham – in two seasons. However, Pittsburgh got it right went they hired Chryst. Yes, his record is only 13-13, but this program is on the right track. Chryst went 6-7 in his debut but guided the Panthers to a 7-6 mark in his second year and Pittsburgh’s ACC debut. Prior to taking the top spot with the Panthers, Chryst was a successful offensive coordinator at Oregon State and Wisconsin and spent some time in the NFL with the Chargers. The talent level in the Steel City is promising. Quarterback Chad Voytik, running back James Conner and receiver Tyler Boyd are three potential standout sophomores, and the offensive line seems to be on the right track after struggling over the last few years. Chryst needs more time to build the roster, but all signs suggest Pittsburgh is trending in the right direction going into 2014.

11. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Record at Wake Forest: First Year
Career Record: 90-80 (14 years)
Wake Forest’s Program Rank:

After successful tenures at three previous stops, Clawson finally gets his chance to run a BCS program. From 1999-2003, he recorded a 29-29 mark at Fordham. The Rams went 0-11 in his debut and made steady improvement over the next five years, including a 10-3 record with an appearance in the FCS playoffs in 2002. Clawson was hired at Richmond in 2004 and guided the Spiders to a 29-20 record with two playoff appearances. After a one-year stint as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator in 2008, Clawson was hired at Bowling Green and led the Falcons to a bowl game in his debut. Under Clawson’s watch, Bowling Green won 32 games, claimed the MAC title in 2013, and made three bowl trips. Considering his history of improving programs that were struggling prior to his arrival, Clawson is the right pick to take over at Wake Forest.

12. Dave Doeren, NC State
Record at NC State: 3-9 (1 year)
Career Record: 26-13 (3 years)
NC State’s Program Rank:

Doeren’s first season was disappointing, but there’s no reason to panic at NC State. The Wolfpack had only eight returning starters last year, and the offense had its share of quarterback injuries. With Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett eligible at quarterback, combined with another year for the players to adapt to the coaching staff, NC State could be the most improved team in the ACC. Prior to taking over at NC State, Doeren went 23-4 at Northern Illinois and led the Huskies to an appearance in the Orange Bowl during the 2012 season. Sure, Doeren has plenty to prove in the ACC. And going winless in conference play in your debut isn’t exactly a strong introduction to the rest of the ACC. However, he has a track record of success as a head coach and was a regarded assistant during his tenure at Wisconsin and Kansas.

13. Scott Shafer, Syracuse
Record at Syracuse: 7-6 (1 year)
Career Record: 7-6 (1 year)
Syracuse’s Program Rank:

Shafer picked up where Doug Marrone left off, guiding Syracuse to a 7-6 record with a victory over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl. After a 3-4 start, Shafer rallied the Orange for a solid second half of the season and won four out of the final six games. Syracuse’s only losses over the final six games were to national champion Florida State and a one-point defeat to Pittsburgh. Prior to his promotion to head coach at Syracuse, Shafer served as the defensive coordinator under Marrone and also has stops in his career as an assistant at Michigan, Stanford, Western Michigan, Illinois and Northern Illinois. The Orange had some key faces to replace going into 2013, so Shafer deserves a lot of credit for guiding this program back to a bowl in its first season of ACC play. Now the task for Shafer is to sustain success, which seems like a reasonable goal considering he signed the No. 50 recruiting class in 2014 – an improvement on the No. 73 class from 2013. Shafer could be higher on this list, but Doeren’s success at Northern Illinois gave him a slight edge for the No. 12 spot.

14. Mike London, Virginia
Record at Virginia: 18-31 (4 years)
Career Record: 42-36 (6 years)
Virginia’s Program Rank:

London enters 2014 squarely on the hot seat and in need of a major turnaround to remain Virginia’s head coach in 2015. Considering the Cavaliers have the No. 6 roster according to the recruiting rankings, it’s hard to grasp why Virginia has just two ACC wins over the last two years. Tough non-conference scheduling and inconsistent quarterback play have played a large role in the Cavaliers’ recent struggles, but this program should be winning at a higher level. Prior to taking over in Charlottesville, London went 24-5 in two seasons at Richmond, including a FCS title from the 2008 season. And he went 4-8 in his first year at Virginia but went 8-5 with an appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in 2011. But even with momentum on the recruiting trail and staff changes, London has yet to build on his successful 2011 record.

Teaser:
Ranking the ACC's College Football Coaches for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/pick-athlons-2014-nebraska-college-football-preview-magazine-cover
Body:
For the second year, Athlon Sports is letting fans choose the Nebraska Cornhuskers cover of our 2014 Big Ten College Football Preview magazine.
 
Fans can vote once a day through April 22, with the winning cover hitting newsstands in early June.
 
Teaser:
Pick Athlon's 2014 Nebraska College Football Preview magazine cover
Post date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 07:01
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/2014-final-four-dream-team
Body:

The Final Four is a collection of fine players, but like the NCAA Tournament as a whole, the diverse pieces make for a more interesting puzzle.

The stars have been stars on the way to the Final Four, including UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin.

Meanwhile, the four teams in North Texas wouldn’t be here without some players taking the next step (Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison) or those that emerged from nowhere (Kentucky’s Marcus Lee).

Rather than ranking the top prospects or picking the best players, Athlon Sports put together the ultimate Final Four roster from the four teams that will face off Saturday.

Most indispensable: Shabazz Napier, UConn
No player means more to his team than Napier does to Connecticut. Just think of how many categories he could fill on this list below: He is UConn’s clutch shotmaker from inside and out. He’s an 86.6 percent free throw shooter. And he’s an excellent rebounder for a guard with a team-leading 5.9 boards per game. As long as Napier keeps up his 23.3 points per game pace in the Tourney, comparisons to Kemba Walker will only increase if UConn wins another game.

Floor general: Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
Wilbekin hasn’t turned the ball over since midway through the first half against Pittsburgh ... in the round of 32. That’s more than two and a half games without coughing up the ball. His assist numbers are down a bit (3.0), but Wilbekin has answered the question of who is going to be Florida’s go-to scorer in the Tournament. He’s averaging 16.8 points in the Tourney, including two buzzer beaters at the end of first halves in four games.

Sharpshooter: Michael Frazier II, Florida
More than three-quarters of Frazier’s attempts from the field have come from 3-point range. Frazier has also been efficient on all those long shots, converting 44.8 percent. That’s significantly better than other jump-shooting specialists in the Final Four, Wisconsin’s Ben Brust (39.2 percent) and Kentucky’s James Young (34.6 percent)

Shotmaker: Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
Aaron Harrison’s emergence has been one of the keys for the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament, allowing Kentucky to start to play like the team the Wildcats were expected to be early in the season. Harrison is leading Kentucky at 16 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, highlighted by his game-winner against Michigan. The Wolverines could not have defended Harrison any better, but the 3 fell to send Kentucky to the Final Four.



Matchup nightmare: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Arizona, one of the nation’s best defensive teams with big men Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski, were lost against the 7-foot Kaminsky. The revelation of Wisconsin's season has his share of post moves, but he's also the kind of outside shooting threat that befuddles bigger defenders. Kaminsky hit 3 of 5 3-pointers in the win over Arizona in the Elite Eight.

Pure talent: Julius Randle, Kentucky
Of all the superstars in this freshman class, Randle is the only one still playing. Randle will have to wait to find out if his draft stock is significantly improved as a result of the Tournament, but the last two weeks certainly haven’t hurt. Randle has picked up a double-double in every Tournament game, averaging 16 points and 12 rebounds per game.

Mr. Universe: Patric Young, Florida
Young has looked like the most physically dominant player on the court for several seasons. He’s also among the hardest-working players in the Final Four. He’s been quiet on the score sheet, but he had four blocked shots against both Pittsburgh and Dayton. He's also the best recruiting tool for Florida's strength program.

Glue guy: Josh Gasser, Wisconsin
Florida’s Patric Young was named the captain of on SI.com, but we’ve already slotted the Gators senior elsewhere. On our Final Four Dream Team, we’ll go with another one of Davis’ glue guys in Gasser. The senior is a capable point guard who moved to make room for Traevon Jackson while losing none of his offensive efficiency or perimeter defense.

Mr. Clutch: Traevon Jackson, Wisconsin
Perhaps this pick is counterintuitive with players like Napier and Wilbekin on he team, not to mention Aaron Harrison, the owner of the game-winning 3 to beat Michigan. Jackson isn’t quite as dramatic, but just as effective. His free throw shooting late has been critical. Jackson has made 36 of 44 free throw attempts in the final four minutes of games decided by 10 points or fewer, .

Defensive difference-maker: Ryan Boatright, UConn
Boatright has been more than a complement to Napier in the Huskies, though he’s been solid in the last four games. Boatright has averaged 13.8 points in the Tournament, but his biggest contribution was four steals against Michigan State.

Defensive specialist: Will Yeguete, Florida
The Gators forward averages only five points per game, but he’s also Florida’s best interior defender. Yeguete averages 5.2 rebounds per game, third on the team, but he leads the Gators in defensive rebound rate.

Sixth man: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Hayes is a physical 6-7, 250-pound freshman with a bright future, but Wisconsin has plenty of veterans. Hayes has made the most of his time, though. His 17.7 points per 40 minutes is second only to Kaminsky among Wisconsin regulars.

X-factor: DeAndre Daniels, UConn
UConn is often criticized as a team with a major size disadvantage. That may be true, but it’s not nearly as pronounced when Daniels is playing the way he has during the last month. The 6-foot-9 forward is averaging 16.1 points and 7.4 rebounds since March 8, including 28 points and 10 rebounds in the Sweet 16 against Iowa State.

Sleeping giant: Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
The Badgers forward is averaging 9.3 points and 6 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament, scoring only seven points apiece against Baylor and Arizona in the regional. Wisconsin has come this far without Dekker being a major focal point. The Badgers could be national champions if he approaches his season averages.

Teaser:
The 2014 Final Four Dream Team
Post date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/martinsvilles-magic-why-it-remains-best-track-nascar
Body:

NASCAR's short tracks often bring out the best and worst of the sport. The best being the tight, aggressive nature of the racing — a style rarely seen on the giant intermediate palaces of speed whose aero-dependent layouts dominate the circuit.

 

The same aggressive nature that so entertains fans can bring out the worst in the very competitors that wheel their 3,300-pound vehicles around the tracks for hours on end. But of course, that's part of the reason the fans show up in the first place.

 

Of NASCAR's three short tracks — Bristol, Richmond and Martinsville — the latter packs more physical action into an afternoon than the others combined.

 

That's not a knock on the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway, a track that has transcended NASCAR consciousness on the sporting landscape. Yet, Bristol's rousing physicality has been neutered by pure speed; the high banks encourage Evernham-like engineering over Earnhardt-esque manhandling.

 

Nor is it a slight to Richmond International Raceway, which strikes the best balance of what the paying fan vs. the paid driver enjoys most out of a racetrack. However, even Richmond's three-quarter mile layout — much like Bristol — has fallen prey to higher banking and thus, higher speeds and the fine-tuned geometry they coax.

 

That leaves Martinsville Speedway, a half-mile jewel that has fought off a sanctioning body's one-time desire to take from the facilities that “got it here” and move events to big-market locales where new fans, new money and a decidedly different style of racing exists.

 

Quaint little Martinsville, in tiny Ridgeway, Va., is as throwback as they come. It was one of eight tracks on the sport's inaugural 1949 Strictly Stock season — the forerunner of today's Sprint Cup Series. Then a dirt track, Martinsville is now part concrete, part asphalt. 

 

Yes, the speeds have increased, but it's nearly flat turns have disallowed the head-spinning speeds seen at the two aforementioned venues. Its seating capacity is now roughly five times what it was then, but train tracks still line the countryside just outside of the backstretch and its “world famous” hot dogs can still be had for two bucks.

 

It's ironic — and devilishly appropriate — then, that the shortest track with the largest character still plays host to the most intense 500 laps that NASCAR enjoys each spring and fall. Money and sparkling new amenities can buy entry, but they cannot guarantee quality.

 

On Sunday in the STP 500, the field of 43 failed to make it two laps before the torquey straightaways and hairpin turns got the best of it. The event was interrupted only once for NASCAR's infamous debris caution (a method the powers-that-be use to bunch up the field to spike the entertainment ante).

 

Make no mistake, there was debris everywhere — rubber from tires, bits of sheet metal, hot dog wrappers, loose nuts and bolts — but there was no need for action-encouraging hijinks from the control tower.

 

Instead, Martinsville's no-frills, short-track confines once again forced race fans to reflect on the tracks they grew up visiting on hot summer evenings — the little quarter-mile joint out in the county, whose frontstretch (such as it was) was lined with old wooden bleachers. Martinsville provides the same intensity — 33 lead changes on Sunday — but does so at the major league level. And it does so every single time the circus comes to town.

 

 

Race-winner Kurt Busch's car would have been a half-second off the pace on one of NASCAR's 1.5-mile monstrosities; he never would've stood a chance. An early-race run-in with Brad Keselowski damaged each car and played witness to the “right” kind of payback that only a short track affords. Busch was able to soldier on, though, because aerodynamics mean little at Martinsville.

 

He eventually ran down, passed and held off mighty Jimmie Johnson — an eight-time Martinsville winner — in an ending that easily rivals the season-opener on the plate track in Daytona Beach.

 

“That's an epic-type battle at a short track, with a six-time champion,” Busch said. “To go back and forth and exchange the lead, a couple taps, a couple moves, a little bit of a chess game - that was the hardest 30 laps I ever drove not to slip a tire in my life.”

 

A couple taps, a couple moves, a little bit of a chess game. That's Martinsville, where time-tested results continue to stubbornly trump the allure of NASCAR's modern-era glitz and glamour.

 


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Teaser:
Martinsville Speedway's STP 500 provided NASCAR fans with the best flag-to-flag action since the season-opening Daytona 500.
Post date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 00:17
Path: /nascar/exclusive-qa-nascar-rookie-justin-allgaier
Body:

Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers, and more.

Following the race last Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, rookie Justin Allgaier, driver of the No. 51 Brandt Chevrolet SS for HScott Motorsports sat down with David for an extended interview. What follows is an edited transcript of their chat.


Justin Allgaier: Hey, just to let you know I’m on dad duty today, so I might have to tend to Harper as this goes on.

David Smith: I’m good with it, and actually that’s a good starting point. You’re a relatively new father (daughter Harper was born last August), and there’s an adage in racing that suggests you lose a little of your aggression whenever a child enters the picture. Do you feel as if you have experienced this?

I think the best example of that is Jimmie Johnson. I don’t see that guy slowing down too much after having kids. For me, the way I look at is that I feel my drive and my hunger got even more focused now that I have a daughter. I’m still trying to make my way in the sport and I want to be here for a long time. I want her to grow up knowing her dad is a race car driver, and a successful one.


Focusing on aggression, in recent years, you’ve had some rather colorful post-race chats with the likes of Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick. When another race car driver points to you and says ‘Justin Allgaier races me hard’ or ‘is very aggressive,’ what, in your opinion, prompts them to say that?

I won’t deny that there are times when I’m more aggressive than most, but I wouldn’t say you hear my name associated with driving against someone and wrecking them or retaliating or anything like that. When I was younger I was in a lot of 20- and 25-lap features where you fought for every position. Obviously my job is to go out and win races. I’m not going to say that there aren't times when I should probably give up a spot or two, but at the same time, I would say the people that have a problem with me have raced me a certain way in the past. I tend to race people the same way that they race me. , but now we’re on the same page and we race each other really well. , and I feel like we race each other well now. A lot of times these conversations end with going back on the track and racing each other with respect.


I track passing statistics, and you’re what is called (a plus-3.27 percent surplus passing value through Martinsville). Are you finding that it’s as easy to pass in your neighborhood of the running order in the Cup Series as it was in the NASCAR Nationwide Series?

We started out this year with our share of problems — bad luck, or whatever you want to call it — that hindered us from running where we should be running. When we get into the race, I don’t always feel like we start where we should be and if we have a good race and we’re running well, I feel like we can pass to where we should be. In the Nationwide Series we were qualifying around 12th and finishing somewhere around eighth to 10th. I wasn’t moving around a whole lot and I felt like I raced where I should have been. There were times when we had good races and won or finished second or third and there were times we had bad races and we finished 15th to 20th. I definitely feel like we have more to show on the Cup side — and we’ll get there eventually — to where we’re starting and finishing better.


What’s been the primary difference for you between racing in the Nationwide Series and racing in the Cup Series?

I think the biggest difference is that in the Nationwide Series, there are 15 to 20 good cars and if you have a bad day you finish 20th. And that’s frustrating, right? But on the Cup side, if you have a bad day you finish 41st. It’s crazy … (at Martinsville) we finished 23rd and that was the hardest-fought 23rd-place finish of my entire career. We were running better than that at one point and got moved out of the way. The competition level and the quality of cars are absolutely insane to me.


What about the competition level – Restarts? Pitting? Closing? – is harder than outside observers think it would be?

Probably qualifying. You get out there and your first lap on the racetrack is usually going to be your fastest. When you qualify, you’re on such an edge. Once the race starts, you can kind of calm down. Restarts tend to get a little bit crazy, but to me, qualifying is the thing that’s harder than it looks, just based on how hard you have to go.

 

NASCAR Mailbox:


Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne are all former Dirt Sprint Car and Midget racers, as are you. They also happen to be adept at road course racing. You have a road course win in the Nationwide Series (Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2012) to your credit. Is there causation behind this correlation? Is there something about road courses that just clicks with you dirt kids? Or is having a dirt background a giant coincidence?

I think it’s multi-fold. Number one, in dirt you learn car control that you just don’t find developing on asphalt. The other thing is that in dirt racing you’re constantly searching for a line that allows you to go faster. It’s entering fast, slowing down in the middle and accelerating off the corner or carrying speed through the center; whatever the track calls for, you do it. On asphalt, a lot of times especially in oval racing, you’re going to want to carry center corner speed. That’s the goal, to carry center corner speed. On a road course, that’s not always the key. I feel like dirt racers tend to search around a lot more and maybe that’s why it clicks easier.


You took part in the Roush Fenway Racing gong show tryout (in 2005) and you weren’t picked as the winner. You also were with Team Penske and parted ways with them after two years. By making it to the Cup Series, do you feel a little bit of redemption over teams and decision makers that might not have thought of you as Cup material?

What I’ve felt lately is satisfaction in myself. Back then, I thought I could do it and had the talent to do it. But there are a lot of people that think they have the talent do it, and probably do. I’m very blessed in the situations I’ve been put in and it’s taken every one of those opportunities to get me to where I am now. Had I not been a part of those, there’s no way I would have made it to the Cup Series. I understand that this sport is a business probably more than I want to. I don’t blame anybody for what happened to me. I’m glad everything worked out and that I’m still blessed enough to be in the sport.


David Smith is the founder of and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projection, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at .

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Teaser:
An exclusive Q&A session with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie Justin Allgaier.
Post date: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 23:31
All taxonomy terms: Dustin Johnson, Golf
Path: /golf/wedge-shots-dustin-johnson
Body:

Given his 300-plus-yard bombs off the tee, Dustin Johnson has a wedge in his hands quite often, so improving the accuracy of his wedge game has been an important factor in his success. As Butch Harmon says, "He has tremendous self confidence with the driver — he just needed to clean up the looseness with the short irons." That "cleaning up" started with shortening the swing. Here, Dustin explains his thought process with a wedge in his hands.

My swing on my wedge shots has definitely gotten a lot shorter, a little more compact. Forme, the wedge game is really important, I hit a lot of wedges, so if I'm wedging it well, I'm playing well.

It all starts with driving it in the fairway, of course.

Once I'm in the fairway with a wedge in my hands, controlling the flight really helps me with my distance and helps me get the ball close to the hole. I like to hit wedges with a lower trajectory; I don't like to hit it way up in the air. Obviously there are certain situations where you have to hit it up in the air, but for a normal shot, I hit it lower, because I feel like I have more control.
Most of the time I want to draw it two or three yards. My natural swing produces a draw, but you do have to hit it a little bit from the inside so that it will start just right of your target. Hitting a little draw is a good way for amateurs to learn to hit the ball and picture the golf swing, because it gives you better distance control and corrects some common flaws.

 

Butch Harmon says:

DJ's wedge game was inconsistent because his swing was too long. We've worked to make it a wider, shorter swing that accelerates through the ball. In other words, we've made it a mini version of the full swing. He's worked very hard on it.

 

 

This article appears in the 2014 issue of Athlon's Golf Annual. .

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 18:03
All taxonomy terms: Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /golf/tiger-woods-miss-masters-following-back-surgery
Body:

Even while winning 79 PGA Tour events and 14 majors, Tiger Woods has suffered an alarming litany of injuries, to the point that we have to wonder whether he’ll ever be truly healthy again. Tiger announced today that he would miss The Masters, where he's a four-time champion, after surgery to correct a pinched nerve in his back.

"After attempting to get ready for The Masters, and failing to make the necessary progress, I decided, in consultation with my doctors, to have this procedure done," Woods said in a statement.
The statement went on to add that he would be undergoing "intensive rehabilitation and soft-tissue treatment" within a week, and that he hopes to return to competition "sometime this summer."

On the occasion of his latest malady, we present a breakdown of many (but not all) of the well-known injuries that have befallen Woods — and this doesn’t include anything that may or may not have happened to his face on that fateful Thanksgiving night in 2009. Not to mention the injuries to his pride, reputation and self-esteem.

Teaser:
<p> Tiger Woods' Injury History: A Visual Breakdown</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 12:17
All taxonomy terms: Jason Dufner, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-11-jason-dufner
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 11:

Born: March 24, 1977, Cleveland, Ohio | Career PGA Tour Wins: 3 | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,132,268 (16th) World Ranking: 16

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Jason Dufner would have a greater chance to win more tournaments if course set-ups weren't biased toward television ratings. Giving in to the excitement of the slash-and-gouge world that golf has drifted towards, courses are more democratic, and so Jason’s genius for finding fairways and greens is underappreciated — except for major weeks, where, for the most part, severe penalties still exist for tee-to-green inconsistencies. Look for him at The Open Championship and to offer a good defense of his PGA Championship title.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 19
Wins: 1

2013 Performance:
Masters - T20
U.S. Open - T4
British Open - T26
PGA Championship - 1

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T20 (2013)
U.S. Open - T4 (2012, '13)
British Open - T26 (2013)
PGA Championship - 1 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 5
Top-25 Finishes: 7
Missed Cuts: 5

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the . Be sure to follow him  on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2014 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-april-1-2014
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for April 1.

• It's only Tuesday, but it's not too early to celebrate .

• Check the calendar before believing anything you read today. And in the spirit of April 1, .

• Apparently not a prank: .

• It was a rough Opening Day all around. on the ceremonial first pitch at the Angels game. . Cubs catcher . And the as he threw out the first pitch at the Mets game.

. Looks like they're trying new strategies to attract fans to Citi Field.

• Conversely, . Sometimes there's no justice.

. Translation: He pulled a gun on a dude during a case of road rage.

• Sure signs of spring: warmer temps, blooming flowers and .

• The Falcons tried their hand at an April Fool's Day prank. Judge the results for yourself.

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 11:19
All taxonomy terms: NFL Free agency, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2014-nfl-free-agency-winners
Body:

The new NFL league year is not even a month old, but teams have been plenty busy with free agency ongoing while also getting ready for the draft in May. While hundreds of players are still on the market, plenty have already found their new homes.

A division title, conference championship or even Super Bowl ring won’t necessarily be won or lost based solely on what a team accomplishes in free agency, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some teams that clearly look like “winners” at this point either.

AFC contenders Denver and New England both addressed areas of weakness, while teams like Arizona, Chicago, Detroit and Miami targeted and signed players that were atop their wish list. Even lowly Jacksonville got into the act, as the Jaguars really beefed up their defense in hopes of turning things around.

However, no team was as aggressive and intentional in remaking their roster than Tampa Bay, something that has to bring a smile to new head coach Lovie Smith’s face.

2014 NFL Free Agency Winners (in alphabetical order)

Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals have signed 13 free agents to this point, including seven of their own. Of the other six, two should have a significant impact this season. Left tackle Jared Veldheer, arguably Oakland’s best player, fills a significant need, as offensive line has been a major issue for Arizona the past few seasons. The Cardinals were just 23rd in rushing offense in 2013 and the line gave up 41 sacks.

With Veldheer and last year’s first-round pick guard Jonathan Cooper returning from injury, Arizona’s offensive line is in considerably better shape headed into training camp. Even better, the Cardinals got Veldheer for a reasonable price (five years, $35 million, $10.5 fully guaranteed), especially compared to the deals that peers Branden Albert (Miami) and Eugene Monroe (Baltimore) signed.

Arizona also caught a break when Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie got cut right before the start of free agency. Although clearly interested, and in the end the team got their man. Cromartie will pair with Patrick Peterson and it’s possible this duo could end up being the best cornerback tandem in the NFC West. This would be no small feat considering the division also houses the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks.

Although not as significant as the Veldheer and Cromartie signings, adding former Pittsburgh running back Jonathan Dwyer, Carolina wide receiver/return specialist Ted Ginn and veteran tight end John Carlson gives Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians even more pieces to work with on offense.

Chicago Bears
After giving up a franchise-record 478 points last season, Bears general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman were intent on making over their defense. Besides bidding farewell to defensive end Julius Peppers, fellow defensive linemen Henry Melton and Corey Wootton also have departed, along with defensive backs Zack Bowman and Major Wright.

In their place, Chicago signed Oakland defensive end Lamarr Houston and two former Lions in Willie Young and Israel Idonije, who played for the Bears from 2004-12, to overhaul the line. The team also re-signed linebacker D.J. Williams and All-Pro cornerback Charles Tillman along with safeties Ryan Mundy (Pittsburgh) and M.D. Jennings (Green Bay).

Emery made a major push towards signing highly sought-after defensive ends Michael Bennett and Michael Johnson as soon as free agency began, but he was rebuffed on both fronts. However, the GM kept plugging away and he was rewarded when former Minnesota All-Pro Jared Allen declined a chance to join Seattle and signed a four-year deal with his former division rival instead. Two years younger and more productive (11.5 sacks in 2013) than Peppers (7.5 sacks), Allen should not only spark an unproductive Bears pass rush (30 sacks last season), but also serve as a vocal leader in the locker room. Whether or not these new faces produce better results on defense this season remains to be seen, but you certainly can’t say that Emery and Trestman didn’t try.

Denver Broncos
There’s little doubt that the 43-8 Super Bowl XLVIII shellacking by Seattle still stings, which is why general manager John Elway did what he thought was necessary to keep the Broncos’ championship window open. While the team did watch wide receiver Eric Decker leave for the Big Apple and allowed leading rusher Knowshon Moreno sign with Miami among several other key departures, Elway also wasted neither time nor money in addressing his team’s biggest holes.

The first salvo fired by the defending AFC champs was signing Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib (top) away from the New England Patriots, just like Denver did last year with wide receiver Wes Welker. Even though Talib has a history for both injuries and his share of off-the-field issues, there’s no disputing his talent and ability to shut down a team’s best receiver. Talib won’t be the only new face in Denver’s secondary either, as he will team with former Cleveland safety T.J. Ward to try and replace the departed Dominque-Rodgers Cromartie (signed with the Giants) and Champ Bailey (still unsigned).

The loudest shot, however, came when Elway got DeMarcus Ware, after he was released by Dallas, to come to the Mile High City. Even though he’ll be 32 years old this season, Ware’s pass-rushing ability is something Denver desperately needs, especially with linebacker Von Miller coming back from a torn ACL. And while Elway certainly recognizes the need to improve the defense to take some of the pressure off of his MVP quarterback, he also made a shrewd move by signing former Pittsburgh wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to replace Decker as one of Peyton Manning’s preferred targets. As bad as the Broncos looked in the Super Bowl, they still have to be considered one of the favorites to represent the AFC in Glendale, Ariz., in Super Bowl XLIX.

Detroit Lions
The Lions weren’t particularly active, but still made two important moves that could go a long ways towards determining how head coach Jim Caldwell’s first season in the Motor City goes. The biggest one was singing wide receiver Golden Tate away from the Super Bowl champion Seahawks. The five-year, $31 million ($13.25 million guaranteed) deal gives All-Pro Calvin Johnson a legitimate sidekick for the first time, as Tate will replace the departed Nate Burleson. Quarterback Matthew Stafford also had to be happy when tight end Brandon Pettigrew re-signed with the Lions, as these two moves now means general manager Martin Mayhew can now focus his attention on beefing up the defense through the draft.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Can it be? The Jaguars are considered “winners” for a change? That’s what happens when owner Shad Khan opens up his checkbook, allowing general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley the opportunity to get aggressive in molding this roster. While cornerstone running back Maurice Jones-Drew is no longer a Jaguar, Bradley tapped his Seattle roots to beef up a defense that ranked near the bottom in every major category in 2013.

The Seahawks’ defensive coordinator from 2009-12, Bradley convinced defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons to join him in Jacksonville. Those two along with former Pittsburgh end Ziggy Hood and the re-signed Jason Babin will allow Bradley the opportunity to constantly bring pressure by rotating fresh, able bodies in. Cornerback Will Blackmon also should step right in and be an immediate contributor in the secondary.

All the attention wasn’t paid to the defense, however, as former Denver guard Zane Beadles fills a major need and Toby Gerhart, Adrian Peterson’s backup in Minnesota, should get his chance to shoulder the backfield load for the Jaguars. Caldwell also was able to trade former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert to San Francisco for a sixth-rounder in the upcoming draft. The Jaguars still have a long ways to go as they work their way back to competing on a consistent basis, but this offseason was a positive step in that direction.

Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins were one of the more aggressive teams in free agency last season, adding wide receiver Mike Wallace, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Brent Grimes, among others. The ‘Fins didn’t stay on the sidelines this time around either, as the biggest fish they reeled in was former Kansas City left tackle Branden Albert. The 6-5, 316-pound blocker didn’t come cheap (five years, $47 million, $20 million guaranteed), but he was considered by many the best tackle available and he’s clearly an upgrade over what the Dolphins had (and had to deal with) last season.

New general manager Dennis Hickey and head coach Joe Philbin also decided to address their struggling running game, which ranked 26th last season, by bringing in Knowshon Moreno. The oft-injured running back is coming off his best season, rushing for 1,038 yards and adding another 548 on 60 catches while scoring 13 total touchdowns for Denver. Signed for one year at just $3 million, Moreno will try and build on last season’s success, as he will compete with incumbents Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas for touches.

Miami took care of important business on defense by re-signing defensive tackle Randy Starks and cornerback Brent Grimes, while also inking St. Louis Ram castoff Cortland Finnegan to further bolster its secondary. Most off all, the Dolphins are “winners” in that they made sure to rid themselves of offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, the two central figures in the bullying scandal that overshadowed and sullied their 2013 season.

New England Patriots
It was almost déjà vu for the Patriots in free agency. After watching wide receiver Wes Welker leave for Denver last season, it looked like the Broncos had stuck it to their rivals again when they signed cornerback Aqib Talib. This time, however, Bill Belichick and the front office did not just sit idly by, instead pouncing on All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis as soon as he was released by Tampa Bay. Unlike Talib’s lengthy, expensive contract (six years, $57 million, $26 million guaranteed), Revis signed a one-year, $12 million pact with the Patriots that gives him a chance to prove to everyone (especially the New York Jets, his former employer and now division rival) that he’s fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered in 2012.

And the hooded one wasn’t done there either. The team added a second physical corner in Brandon Browner, despite the drug-related suspension that still looms over the former Seahawk. But perhaps most importantly, the Patriots also made sure that their current top wide receiver, Julian Edelman, didn’t leave the nest like Welker did last March. New England still has other holes and needs to address, but Belichick is doing all that he can in hopes of building a supporting cast that can hopefully get him and Tom Brady back to the Super Bowl.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Talk about your housewarming gifts. All Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer and new general manager Jason Licht have done to welcome new head coach Lovie Smith is gift wrap one of the top defensive ends (Michael Johnson) and cornerbacks (Alterraun Verner) on the market. They along with tackle Clinton McDonald and corner Mike Jenkins should team with the pieces already in place (defensive linemen Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn, linebacker Lavonte David, safeties Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson) to form one of the nastier defenses in the NFL.

On the other side of the ball, new additions include center Evan Dietrich-Smith, tight end Brandon Myers and quarterback Josh McCown, the former Bear who has familiarity with Smith and will challenge second-year pro Mike Glennon for the starting job. It’s early, but if Tampa Bay can maximize its draft picks, settle on a starting quarterback and make the transition to Smith’s preferred Tampa-2 defensive scheme, the Buccaneers could mimic what division rival Carolina did last season – go from worst to first in the NFC South.

Teaser:
2014 NFL Free Agency Winners
Post date: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Akron Zips, College Football, MAC, News
Path: /college-football/akron-unveils-shiny-gold-helmets-2014
Body:

New helmets and jerseys are a big part of every college football season, and Akron appears to have unveiled a new gold (and rather shiny) helmet for 2014. The Zips have made considerable progress in Terry Bowden’s first two years and improved to 5-7 last year.

The new gold helmets resemble Baylor or Notre Dame’s recent shiny designs, with one having a blue facemask, while the other has a gold front.

Overall, this is a pretty sharp look for Akron. And who knows, maybe it’s just what the Zips need to make a bowl in 2014.

 

Teaser:
Akron Unveils New Gold Helmets for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-secs-college-football-coaches-2014
Body:

Ranking college football coaches is no easy task. Similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.

While it’s difficult to rank coaches, this aspect of college football is arguably the most important to winning a national or conference title. No matter how much talent a program has, winning a national title is difficult if the coaching is questionable.

Wins are a telling and important statistic, but they don’t provide a complete picture of how successful coaches are. Winning 10 games at Alabama is different than winning 10 games at Kentucky. Also, every program has a different amount of resources available. Hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. A good coach can elevate a program. However, it’s easier for programs like Alabama, Florida, Ohio State and Texas with more built-in advantages to contend for a national title on a more consistent basis.

A couple of other factors to consider when ranking assistant coaches: How well are the assistants paid? A good program is willing to spend big to keep its assistants. And a staff with two of the nation’s top coordinators could be a sign the head coach is better as a CEO and may not be as strong in terms of developing gameplans. How is the coach in the X’s and O’s? Can the coach recruit? Are the program’s facilities on par with the rest of the conference? Much like assistants, a program needs good facilities to win big. If a team is winning at a high level with poor facilities and a small budget, it’s reflects positively on the head coach. Is the coach successful at only one stop? Or has that coach built a solid resume from different jobs?

Again, wins are important. But our rankings also take into account a blank slate. If you start a program from scratch, which coach would you hire?

Considering how important coaches are to teams or even making preseason predictions, Athlon is taking a look at how all 128 college football coaches rank nationally and by conference.

Ranking the SEC’s College Football Coaches for 2014

1. Nick Saban, Alabama
Record at Alabama: 79-15 (7 years)
Career Record: 170-57-1 (18 years)
Alabama’s Program Rank: ()

Ranking coaches in any conference or nationally is a tough assignment, but there’s little doubt about which one ranks as the best in college football. Saban is at the top of his game and is easily the No. 1 coach in the nation. In seven years at Alabama, Saban is 79-15 and has claimed three national championships. The Crimson Tide has finished in the top 10 of the final Associated Press poll in each of the last six years and only one of Saban’s seasons resulted in less than 10 victories. And as many around the SEC already know, Saban’s success isn’t limited to just Alabama. He recorded a 48-16 mark in five years at LSU, a 34-24-1 record in five seasons at Michigan State and a 9-2 mark in one year at Toledo. Saban is one of the nation’s top defensive minds, an excellent recruiter and also one of the best - if not the No. 1 coach - in college football at developing talent. As long as Saban is on the sidelines in Tuscaloosa, Alabama will be factor every season in the national championship picture.

2. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Record at South Carolina: 77-39 (9 years)
Career Record: 219-79-2 (24 years)
South Carolina’s Program Rank: ()

Spurrier needed a few years to build the talent level at South Carolina, but heading into his 10th season in Columbia, the Gamecocks are a consistent East Division title contender. Through his first five years at South Carolina, Spurrier posted a 35-28 record with zero appearances in the final Associated Press poll. But since 2010, the Gamecocks are 42-11 and finished No. 4 in the final Associated Press poll last year. Spurrier was successful at Florida from 1990-2001 using the pass-first Fun ‘n’ Gun offense. However, the veteran coach has adapted at South Carolina and has been winning with a strong defense and a balanced offense. With successful stops at Florida and South Carolina in the SEC, along with a 20-13-1 three-year stint at Duke, Spurrier is without question one of the top coaches in college football. And even though Spurrier will be 69 years old when the season starts, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

3. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Record at Auburn: 12-2 (1 year)
Career Record: 21-5 (3 years)
Auburn’s Program Rank: ()

Malzahn has only been a head coach for two years on the FBS level, but he is already ranks near the top of coaches in the SEC. The Texas native was a successful high school coach before making the jump to coordinate Arkansas’ offense in 2006. Malzahn left the Razorbacks to be the offensive coordinator at Tulsa from 2007-08, before returning to the SEC as Gene Chizik’s play-caller from 2009-11. Malzahn was one of the key pieces in Auburn’s national championship season in 2010 and landed his first chance to be a head coach in 2012 at Arkansas State. The Red Wolves went 9-3 in his only year, as Malzahn was hired by Auburn to replace Chizik at the end of the 2012 season. The Tigers went 3-9 in 2012, but Malzahn provided a quick fix, leading Auburn to a 12-2 final record with an appearance in the national championship. Prior to last season, Malzahn was already regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football. And after guiding the Tigers to a No. 2 finish in the final Associated Press poll, Malzahn deserves to be ranked among the top 10-15 coaches nationally.

4. Mark Richt, Georgia
Record at Georgia: 126-45 (13 years)
Career Record: 126-45 (13 years)
Georgia’s Program Rank: ()

Richt has experienced his share of ups and downs in Athens, but he has been one of the nation’s most consistent coaches since his hire in 2001. Over the last 13 years, Georgia has averaged 9.7 wins a season under Richt. Additionally, the Bulldogs have recorded three top-five finishes in the final Associated Press poll and claimed at least a share of the East Division title six times. The only thing missing on Richt’s resume is a national championship. The Bulldogs have not played in a BCS bowl since the 2007 season, but the new playoff format should help this team, especially with more spots in elite bowls open to the SEC. Also, the addition of former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is an upgrade over previous defensive play-caller Todd Grantham, which should bolster Richt's chances of winning a SEC title in the next few years.

5. Les Miles, LSU
Record at LSU: 95-24 (9 years)
Career Record: 123-45 (13 years)
LSU’s Program Rank: ()

The Mad Hatter is a bit of a gambler when it comes to making on-the-field decisions, and is always a good sound byte for the media, but let’s not overlook the Ohio native’s on-field success in recent years. In nine years at LSU, Miles is 95-24 and has won at least 10 games in each of the last four years. The Tigers had a slight dip in wins from 2008-09, finishing just 17-9 during that span. However, Miles returned LSU back to SEC and national prominence, and the Tigers finished No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll in 2011. Miles’ success isn’t just limited to LSU, as he recorded a 28-21 mark in four years at Oklahoma State from 2001-04. There’s no doubt regarding Miles’ ability to recruit (four top-10 classes over the last five years), and he has one of the SEC’s top staffs with proven coordinators in John Chavis and Cam Cameron, along with regarded assistants in Jeff Grimes, Frank Wilson and Brick Haley. 

6. Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Record at Missouri: 102-63 (13 years)
Career Record: 175-100-3 (23 years)
Missouri’s Program Rank: ()

Much like Mark Richt at Georgia, Pinkel has been a consistent winner during his career at Missouri. The Tigers slipped to 5-7 in their SEC debut in 2012, but injuries – especially to quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey – were the driving factors behind the disappointing season. However, one year later, Missouri won the East Division and finished No. 5 in the final Associated Press poll. Under Pinkel, the Tigers have winning records in eight out of the last nine years, with four double-digit win totals since 2007. Prior to Missouri, Pinkel was a successful coach at Toledo, recording a 73-37-3 record in 10 years with the Rockets. It was easy for some in the SEC to write off Pinkel after the 5-7 record in 2012. But heading into 2014, Missouri looks like a contender for the East Division title once again, and Pinkel has the program on stable ground entering its third year in the SEC.

7. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Record at Texas A&M: 20-6 (2 years)
Career Record: 55-23 (6 years)
Texas A&M’s Program Rank: ()

Armed with the SEC logo, facility renovations and Sumlin’s coaching, Texas A&M is poised to be a factor on the national scene for the foreseeable future. The Aggies went 11-2 and finished No. 5 nationally in the final Associated Press poll in 2012 but slipped to 9-4 and just .500 (4-4) in SEC play last year. Prior to his stint at Texas A&M, Sumlin went 35-17 in four years at Houston. Building a program into a consistent national title contender will take time. And sometimes it's necessary to take a step back before moving forward. Through two years in College Station, Sumlin guided Texas A&M through a difficult conference transition, produced a Heisman Trophy winner (Johnny Manziel) and has recruited back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes. Without Manziel and standout receiver Mike Evans, the Aggies may take a step back in 2014. However, with all of the young talent on the roster, the future looks bright in Aggieland.

8. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Record at Ole Miss: 15-11 (2 years)
Career Record: 45-18 (5 years)
Ole Miss’ Program Rank: ()

Freeze still has plenty to prove within the SEC, but there’s also a lot of potential. The Mississippi native has brought instant success to each of his three college coaching jobs, starting at Lambuth in 2008. The Eagles won seven games in the two seasons prior to Freeze’s arrival, but he went 8-4 in 2008 and 12-1 in 2009. Freeze served as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas State in 2010 and was promoted to head coach in 2011. The Red Wolves won the Sun Belt title in Freeze’s only season, finishing 10-2 with a trip to the GoDaddy Bowl. In two years at Ole Miss, Freeze is 15-11 and 6-10 in SEC play. Those totals aren’t particularly overwhelming, but the Rebels finished 6-18 in the two years prior to his arrival. With two top-15 recruiting classes, the talent level is on the rise in Oxford. Freeze needs time to match the depth at Alabama, Auburn and LSU, but the gap is slowly starting to close.

9. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Record at Mississippi State: 36-28 (5 years)
Career Record: 36-28 (5 years)
Mississippi State’s Program Rank: ()

Winning at Mississippi State is no easy task. Just how difficult? Counting Mullen, the last seven coaches in Starkville had a losing record in SEC play. Jackie Sherrill guided the Bulldogs to an appearance in the SEC Championship, but his final record in SEC contests was just 43-59-1. Considering how difficult it is to win at a high level at Mississippi State, it’s unrealistic for Mullen to compete for SEC titles every year. In five years with the Bulldogs, Mullen is 36-28 and has guided the program to four consecutive bowl appearances. Additionally, Mullen is 4-1 against rival Ole Miss. Closing the gap on the rest of the West Division will be challenging, but Mullen clearly has the program going on the right direction. Considering the challenge of winning at Mississippi State, a strong case could be made Mullen needs to rank higher on this list of SEC coaches. 

10. Butch Jones, Tennessee
Record at Tennessee: 5-7 (1 year)
Career Record: 55-34 (7 years)
Tennessee’s Program Rank: ()

In his first year at Tennessee, Jones had a similar overall record to his predecessor (Derek Dooley), but the Volunteers appeared to take a step forward in 2013. Tennessee lost to Georgia by three points in overtime and fell to Vanderbilt 14-10 in late November. The signs of progress were small, but Jones is recruiting at a high level and has a track record of success. From 2007-09 at Central Michigan, Jones went 27-13 and won two MAC titles. At Cincinnati, Jones recorded a 23-14 mark and finished with a 10-4 mark in the Big East over the final two years. Jones is unproven in the SEC, but all signs point to progress on Rocky Top heading into 2014.

11. Will Muschamp, Florida
Record at Florida: 22-16 (3 years)
Career Record: 22-16 (3 years)
Florida’s Program Rank: ()

What a difference a year makes. At this time last season, Muschamp could have ranked in the top half of the coach rankings in the SEC. After 2013, he deserves to be ranked in the bottom four. In his debut with the Gators in 2011, Muschamp went 7-6 and defeated Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. Florida went 11-2 in Muschamp’s second year and finished No. 9 in the final Associated Press poll. The Gators may have caught a few lucky breaks in 2012, especially with a turnover margin that was a +15 and an offense that averaged only 334 yards per game. Even if Florida was a tad lucky in 2012, it’s hard to understand why this team went 4-8 in 2013. Yes, there were injuries and the offense had its share of struggles. However, the Gators recruit at a high level and . Simply, going 4-8 at Florida should not happen. But Muschamp has another chance to guide the program back in the right direction, and staff changes to the offense should help. Muschamp is still a bit of a mystery heading into his fourth season, and it’s clear he needs a winning season to avoid hot seat talk in November.

12. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Record at Arkansas: 3-9 (1 year)
Career Record: 71-33 (8 years)
Arkansas’ Program Rank: ()

Bielema’s debut at Arkansas did not go well. The Razorbacks finished 3-9 and winless in SEC play. However, there were signs of improvement late in the year. Arkansas seemed to play better over the final three games of the season, taking Mississippi State to overtime and losing to LSU by just four points in Baton Rouge. While the final record was ugly, the late-season improvement is a good sign for 2014. Also, Bielema deserves some time to build the program, as he inherited a team that went 4-8 in 2012 and played that year with an interim coach. Bielema was a successful coach at Wisconsin, winning 68 games in seven years and leading the Badgers to three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. It’s easy to panic after one bad year of a coaching tenure. However, Bielema has a solid track record and should help Arkansas take a step forward in 2014.

13. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Record at Kentucky: 2-10 (1 year)
Career Record: 2-10 (1 year)
Kentucky’s Program Rank: ()

Considering Stoops inherited a Kentucky team that had just four SEC wins in the three years prior to his arrival, it’s tough to judge him based on 2013. The Wildcats went 2-10 and winless in conference play in Stoops’ first season, but there were signs of progress. Kentucky lost two conference games by seven points or less, and Stoops signed another signing class filled with talent. The Wildcats ranked No. 34 nationally in the 247Sports Composite rankings in 2013, but Stoops inked the No. 22 class in 2014. Prior to taking over at Kentucky, Stoops was a successful defensive coordinator at Florida State, and he also had prior stops at Arizona, Miami, Houston and Wyoming. It’s going to take Stoops some time to get the program on track. However, recruiting is going well, and the Wildcats showed signs of improvement last season. If Kentucky takes another step forward in 2014, it’s a good sign for Stoops’ long-term outlook in Lexington.

14. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Record at Vanderbilt: First Season
Career Record: First Season
Vanderbilt’s Program Rank: ()

Mason takes over for James Franklin after a successful stint as Stanford’s defensive coordinator. The Arizona native has been on a steady climb through the ranks as an assistant, spending time at Weber State, Idaho State, Bucknell, Utah, New Mexico State and Ohio. In 2007, Mason joined the Vikings staff and spent three years as a defensive backs assistant in the NFL. Jim Harbaugh hired Mason at Stanford in 2010, and he was promoted to the co-defensive coordinator role in 2011, before taking over the sole play-calling abilities in 2012. Under Mason, the Cardinal finished first in the Pac-12 in total defense in 2012 and second in 2013. Additionally, Stanford’s defenses allowed less than five yards per play from 2012-13. As evidenced by his work under Harbaugh and David Shaw, Mason is a rising star in the coaching ranks and one of the top defensive minds in the nation. However, without any experience as a head coach, it’s hard to place Mason higher in the SEC coach ranks.

Teaser:
Ranking the SEC's College Football Coaches for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 07:15
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The first eight games of the Mark Helfrich era were nearly perfect. Oregon was undefeated, ranked in the top five of the polls and had scored at least 50 points six times. Marcus Mariota was the leading Heisman Trophy candidate and was on the verge of setting a Pac-12 record for consecutive passes without an interception.

Then Oregon went to Stanford and completely melted down — due in large part to a mysterious injury to Mariota’s knee. Two weeks later, with control of its own Pac-12 championship destiny, in Tucson against Arizona, Mariota threw an interception for the first time in over a year and the Ducks got run out of the building in hideous fashion against a team that finished with a losing record in league play.

Needless to say, Helfrich took over a Rolls Royce program with massive expectations and had chances to deliver. But he didn't.

With Mariota back and, more importantly, healthy, expectations for Oregon are sky high (no pun intended) once again in Eugene. Nine starters are back on offense and five return on defense while the most critical game of the year (Stanford) will take place in the not-so-friendly confines of Autzen Stadium.

Before all of that can happen, however, Helfrich needs to execute the second spring camp of his tenure.  Replacing key departures at defensive tackle, safety and wide receiver as well as all-purpose weapon De’Anthony Thomas must be addressed this spring.

2014 Schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 28South Dakota
Sept. 6
Sept. 13
Sept. 20at 
Sept. 27Bye Week
Oct. 2
Oct. 11at 
Oct. 18
Oct. 24at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8at 
Nov. 15Bye Week
Nov. 22
Nov. 29at 

Oregon Ducks 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 11-2 (7-2 Pac-12)

Spring Practice Opens: April 1

Spring Game: May 3

Returning Starters

Offense: 9

Defense: 5

Three Things to Watch in Oregon's 2014 Spring Practice

Life without Nick Aliotti
On a team loaded with elite offensive weapons at quarterback and running back, not to mention the entire offensive line returning, spring practice should be focused on the defense. First and foremost, the team must get acclimated to Don Pellum now running the defense after spending the last 15 years under the guidance of Nick Aliotti. Pellum has been with Oregon since 1988 in some capacity and has been the linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator since 2000. He will need to fill voids at defensive tackle and safety in particular while trying to work in a host of extremely young, highly touted prospects. Additionally, Pellum needs to establish himself as the leader in an effort to make the transition a smooth one.
Plug up the middle of the D-line
Taylor Hart was a second-team All-Pac-12 pick, Wade Keliikipi was honorable mention All-Pac-12 and Ricky Havili-Heimuli played critical minutes in 12 games. All three defensive tackles have moved on from this roster and Pellum's first order of business is to find some run stuffers up front. Arik Armstead was a five-star prospect who has shown loads of potential while getting snaps in 13 out of 14 games a year ago. It is time for him to make his mark along the D-line. The same goes for Alex Balducci and Sam Kamp, both of whom should figure heavily in the rotation in the trenches.

Build around IEO
The good news in the secondary is that All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu decided to come back to Eugene and that means Pellum can largely ignore one half of the field. And it should make replacing both Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson at safety and Terrance Mitchell at corner a little bit easier. The safety duo combined for 151 tackles a year ago and both Patterson and Mitchell constantly found himself around the ball. Much like Armstead, safety Erick Dargan and cornerback Dior Mathis have loads of talent and will be asked to step into starring roles. Others like Issac Dixon and Reggie Daniels will have an opportunity to prove their mettle this spring as well. In a league stacked with elite signal-callers and relentless offensive coaches, stabilizing the back end of the Ducks' defense around one of the best corners in the nation should be a key this offseason.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 10-12
The Ducks have one of the best rosters in the nation and arguably the best quarterback in college football. The backfield is stacked, the offensive line is loaded and the young talent on defense should develop quickly despite the loss of Aliotti. So targeting a Pac-12 title, Rose Bowl and/or a playoff spot should be the expectation level for Oregon. The schedule is fascinating, however, as the Ducks will host one of the most intriguing non-conference games when Big Ten and Rose Bowl champ Michigan State comes to town early in the year. The Ducks ease their way into conference play and, frankly, get a nice crossover draw from the South. A trip to UCLA on Oct. 11 is tough but both Arizona State and USC are noticeably absent from the slate. Additionally, getting both Stanford and Washington at home could be the difference between another Alamo Bowl berth or a trip to the national championship game. 

Teaser:
Oregon Ducks 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 07:15

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