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As the 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series revs up, we look at the preseason favorites.
1. Ty Dillon (above left)
Without back-to-back tire failures late last the year, Dillon might have become the first rookie to win the series title, driving grandfather Richard Childress’ No. 3. Expect to see more of the same, following in brother Austin’s footsteps to a title in his sophomore season before moving on to the Nationwide Series in 2014.
2. Timothy Peters (above right)
Last season was the best Peters had posted in his career in the Truck Series, with career highs in wins (two), top 5s (10) and points finish (second). He’s paired with powerhouse Red Horse Racing and an intact crew, so there’s no doubt he’ll stay competitive. The organization will experience change, though, as Todd Bodine was released in the offseason in favor of John Wes Townley and his family’s Zaxby’s money. This move may not be as bad as one would think, as the wrecked equipment will cancel out while the money is a boon.
3. James Buescher
Winning back-to-back championships has proven impossible in the Truck Series thus far. However, with the amount of resources and the marked improvement Turner Motorsports showed throughout 2012, it’s hard to believe Buescher won’t be a factor — unless he jumps to the Nationwide Series instead.
4. Nelson Piquet Jr.
It’s hard to bet against anyone from Turner Motorsports after the numbers the organization put up in 2012 — seven victories spread among three different drivers. Piquet earned two, then ended the season with four straight top-10 finishes, a clear sign he’s developing championship consistency. Expect the third full-time season to be the charm here, especially if the Brazilian becomes Turner’s No. 1.
5. Joey Coulter
After grabbing his first career victory with Richard Childress Racing last year, Coulter looks to continue that success with Kyle Busch Motorsports. He hasn’t been the king of consistency, but the 22-year-old posted back-to-back third-place results to close 2012 and will bring that momentum along with him.
6. Matt Crafton
Back with ThorSport Racing for a 12th year in the Truck Series, this veteran mainstay hopes to make a championship push after his No. 88 team struggled in the transition from Chevrolet to Toyota. After a rough start to 2012 (one top 10 in five races), he quietly recovered while setting a career high in laps led (125).
7. Miguel Paludo
The Brazilian is returning to Turner Motorsports behind the wheel of the No. 32 Duroline Chevrolet, but perhaps what’s more important is that Jeff Hensley remains atop the pit box. Late in 2012, the duo began taking detailed notes of every practice and qualifying session in an effort to make the most of their setups. Improvement was slow but steady, as they closed with a fifth at Homestead in the season finale, leaving them optimistic about 2013.
8. Jeb Burton
Though he made only five 2012 starts, Burton (right) impressed with three top-13 finishes, including an eighth at Charlotte. That was enough to open eyes at Turner Motorsports, which now gives him resources to contend. With father Ward lending a guiding hand, this 20-year-old is poised to become another one of NASCAR’s next-generation stars.
9. Johnny Sauter
Coming off of his worst season, when he posted only nine top-10 finishes, Sauter looks to shake off the bad luck that plagued his ThorSport Racing No. 13 Toyota throughout 2012. While he’s been a championship threat in the past, winning four races the past two seasons, it’ll take more consistency for him to get solidly back in the hunt.
10. Ron Hornaday Jr.
After struggling in his first season away from Kevin Harvick, Inc., the organization that helped him win 25 races and two championships, Hornaday looks to utilize a merger with Joe Denette and NTS Motorsports to find his way back to Victory Lane. After career lows in top-5 results (two) and a 13th-place points showing, there’s nowhere to go but up.
—By Beth Lunkenheimer
A wild college basketball season has an eventful week ahead of it.
Entering Tuesday, 11 conferences had ties atop their leagues -- either outright ties or teams tied in the wins or losses column. And these aren’t obscure conferences either: The Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten and Mountain West are all crowded at the top.
Indiana taking the top spot in the Big Ten with Tuesday's win over Michigan State was just the start. Determining conference frontrunners will be the theme of the week.
In the Big 12, Kansas State took sole ownership of first place Monday, but the Wildcats will be in a tie for first by the end of the day Wednesday when Kansas, led by Jeff Withey, and Oklahoma State meet in Stillwater.
Three teams are tied for the Big East lead, with two of those teams -- Georgetown and Syracuse -- facing each other on Saturday. And the wild Mountain West could have a new bell cow -- or Ram -- by the end of the week, as well.
All times Eastern.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL BRACKET UPDATE - FEB. 20
MOST IMPORTANT GAME:
Kansas at Oklahoma State (Wednesday, 9 p.m., ESPN2)
With Kansas’ three-game swoon two weeks ago and Oklahoma State’s seven-game win streak, this game will be for a share of the Big 12 lead -- Kansas State was alone in first place after defeating West Virginia on Monday. The Jayhawks rebounded from their losing streak to beat Kansas State thanks to 30 points from Ben McLemore and then stifling a hapless Texas team. Kansas will revisit Oklahoma State, who won in Lawrence on Feb. 2. Marcus Smart scored 25 points in that game and has shown no signs of slowing down. Kansas may have played itself out of No. 1 seed contention, but a road win against a conference title contender should help the Jayhawks curry favor. For Oklahoma State, a regular season sweep of Kansas could give the Cowboys an edge in seeding and playing closer to home in the NCAA Tournament.
ALL EYES ON: Colorado State
at UNLV (Wednesday, 10 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
New Mexico (Saturday, 4 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
The Rams are moving up from lovable mid-major to a legitimate contender for a Mountain West title and team likely to advance in the NCAA Tournament. The Rams, who lead the nation in rebound rate despite a small lineup, will face the most talented team in the league (UNLV) and the team with a half game lead in the standings (New Mexico). Colorado State will either pick up or shed some believers this week.
UNDER PRESSURE: Ohio State
Minnesota (Wednesday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Michigan State (Sunday, 4 p.m., CBS)
With three losses in the last four games, Ohio State slid into fifth in the Big Ten, a position that's not bad considering the strength of the conference. But since taking Michigan to overtime on the road, the Buckeyes have lost to Indiana by 13 and Wisconsin by 22. The Buckeyes will be tough to beat at home, but they must shoot better than 26.1 percent from three-point range, as they’ve done the last three games.
DePaul (Wednesday, 7 p.m.)
at Syracuse (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
Lampooned for its low scoring games early in the season, Georgetown is averaging 67.2 points per game its last five. That’s not overly impressive, but it's not the sub-50-point games the Hoyas had earlier this season, either. The Hoyas’ style has led to efficiency -- Georgetown leads the Big East in both field goal percentage and field goal percentage defense in conference games. And now that efficiency might lead to a regular season Big East title. The Hoyas are one of three teams tied for the Big East lead at 9-3. One of those is Saturday’s opponent Syracuse, which has a 37-game winning streak at home.
at Connecticut (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
at Notre Dame (Sunday, 2 p.m., CBS)
Cincinnati has been in a team-wide scoring slump. The Bearcats have failed to score 60 points in each of its last four losses, including three since Feb. 6. In the last four games, Louisville is shooting 34.8 percent from the field and 26.4 percent from three-point range. After falling to 7-6 in the Big East, the Bearcats will need to reclaim some credibility on the road, not an easy proposition.
MID-MAJOR TO WATCH:
Creighton at Saint Mary’s (Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN)
BracketBuster games largely don’t impact NCAA Tournament selection, but this one might. Saint Mary’s has a lackluster at-large resume despite its 22-5 record and 11-2 mark in the West Coast Conference. The Gaels lack a top-50 win this year. A win over Creighton would be a key resume-builder. Creighton’s profile is a little stronger, but the Bluejays have struggled recently. They needed a late surge to defeat Evansville 71-68 to end a three-game losing streak in the Missouri Valley.
La Salle at Temple (Thursday, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
This is the rare Big 5 matchup withe Temple where La Salle may hold the upper hand. Temple has played three consecutive games decided by one point, winning two of them.
Cal at Oregon (Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPNU)
Cal is putting together a nice NCAA Tournament resume. The Bears hope to add a season sweep of Pac-12 leader Oregon to wins over Arizona and UCLA.
NC State at North Carolina (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
The ACC is out of reach, but NC State can go for its first regular season sweep of North Carolina since 2003.
Marquette at Villanova (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2)
With a win at Connecticut on Saturday, Villanova is back in the NCAA Tournament conversation. Can the Wildcats handle prosperity this time around?
Arkansas at Florida (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Arkansas can’t defeat anyone (but Auburn) on the road, but the Razorbacks have defeated three sure NCAA teams at home (Oklahoma, Missouri, Florida). Florida’s closest home game was a 14-point win over Ole Miss.
Missouri at Kentucky (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Missouri has Laurence Bowers back. Kentucky doesn’t have Nerlens Noel. The Wildcats’ hopes to prove they’re still a Tournament team continue with a tough home test.
Illinois at Michigan (Sunday, 1 p.m., ESPN)
What’s that? Illinois has won four in a row? The Illini have their longest win streak since early December, and two of those wins (Indiana, at Minnesota) didn’t come cheap.
Dr. Jerry Buss (Jan. 27, 1933 - Feb. 18, 2013) was the greatest owner in NBA history. In fact, the chemist and card player was arguably the best owner in sports history. The day after this year's All-Star Game in Houston, the NBA's brightest star faded away. With Buss's passing, David Stern's Association lost its most accomplished boss, savviest visionary and coolest 80-year-old.
Buss was a brand builder who purchased the Los Angeles Lakers from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979 and transformed the franchise into the "Showtime" staple of Staples Center they are today. He did so by hiring the best and brightest as well as cultivating an environment that attracted the top talent to Hollywood. It starts from the top, but there were plenty of Hall of Famers and all-time greats wearing purple and gold during Buss's reign of 10 NBA Championships:
1. Jerry Buss
The good Doctor knew how to throw a party, making Lakers courtside seats the place to be and be seen while flipping his franchise's price tag from just one piece of a nearly $70 million purchase (which also included the NHL's Kings, The Forum and a ranch) into a $900 million asset, according to a recent Forbes estimate.
2. Magic Johnson
Guard (1979-91, ’96)
Of all the stars in Hollywood, Magic had the brightest smile and the most style, at least while leading a five-time NBA title-winning fast break that changed the way the game is played.
3. Kobe Bryant
Straight out of high school it was clear that Kobe was the next Laker great. Five rings and two Olympic gold medals later, Black Mamba has slithered his way as far up this list as possible.
4. Jerry West
The Logo's playing days were pre-Buss. But his foresight in the front office made West more valuable than even a franchise 7-footer.
5. Shaquille O’Neal
Say what you will about Diesel, he was Superman and Kobe was his sidekick during the three-peat days. It shouldn't take the Big Aristotle to figure that out.
6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Lew Alcindor was better and Roger Murdock was funnier, but Kareem deserves a statue, if only to immortalize the Sky Hook. Right?
7. Pat Riley
A champ as a pre-Buss player on the 1972 title team and an assistant to Paul Westhead on the 1980 title team, Riles was Magic's main man for the next four rings (1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988). The epitome of "Showtime."
8. Phil Jackson
Coach (1999-2004, 2005-11)
The Zen Master won five rings (2000-02, '09-10) with Kobe's Lakers after winning six rings with Michael Jordan's Bulls. Plus, he's engaged to Jerry's daughter Jeanie, so that's like winning a sixth ring for the Lake Show.
9. Chick Hearn
The voice of the Lakers for 3,338 consecutive games, Hearn's last game was a three-peat clinching win over the Nets in the 2002 NBA Finals. No harm, no foul. Never an air ball. Chick was a slam dunk for this list.
10. Jack Nicholson
Heeeeeerrrre's Jackie! No one's cooler. And no, you can't wear sunglasses indoors just cause Jack does. He's Jack, that's why. Jack's been around since before Buss was boss.
11. James Worthy
Big Game James was a No. 1 overall pick and Finals MVP and he can't beat out a play-by-play guy and a courtside season-ticket holder!? You've got to be kidding me!?
12. Pau Gasol
Mike D'Antoni clearly doesn't agree. But D'Antoni has also proven he doesn't know much about the Lakers. Ask Phil, he knows better. If only Jim Buss would ask Phil - or Jeanie, she knows better.
13. Jamaal Wilkes
UCLA legacy carried over to L.A. Lakers, with five championships between the two stops along with a pair of No. 52 retired jerseys.
14. Jeanie Buss
Brilliant and beautiful, daddy's girl has been the brains of the business side since Jerry took a step back several years ago. Thankfully, Jeanie is taking Jerry's seat on the NBA Board of Governors.
15. Mitch Kupchak
When John Malkovich had hair, he looked like Jerry West's protege. Or vice versa?
16. Byron Scott
"Showtime" shooter. Who knew that he really was a "coach on the floor?"
17. Michael Cooper
Lockdown defender was on all five of Magic's championship teams, playing his role to perfection.
18. Derek Fisher
Guard (1996-2004, '07-12)
Another five-ring bearer, Fish came in with Kobe but hoped to go out with anyone but Billy Hunter.
19. Robert Horry
Big Shot Bob has seven total rings, that's more than anyone who didn't play with Bill Russell. Don't forget about Bob playing with Hakeem, Shaq and Duncan, though. Plus, he looked a little like Will Smith when he was in L.A. winning three rings.
20. A.C. Green
Forward (1985-93, '99-00)
Ask anyone what A.C. is known for. It's not for being a basketball player. It's for being a ...
21. Vlade Divac
Center (1989-96, 2004-05)
Well, Vlade's known for being a flopper. Maybe he even introduced the flop to the NBA. But he was also the trade chip that acquired an 18-year-old Kobe Bryant from the Charlotte Hornets. Remember that far back? Not the Charlotte Bobcats, or the New Orleans Hornets, or even the New Orleans Pelicans...
22. Lamar Odom
Love the rumor that Khloe Kardashian is O.J.'s daughter. Lefty Lamar is a point forward with Clippers pedigree, but his best days were as a Laker, that's a reality.
23. Nick Van Exel
Nick the Quick was a second-round steal who turned into a bridge between Magic and Kobe. Someone had to represent the dark, dark championship void.
24. Kurt Rambis
The glasses are timeless.
25. Paula Abdul
Abdul parlayed Laker Girl status into American Idol stardom. Surely she thanks Jerry Buss. Without him, it likely wouldn't have been possible. We all thank you, Jerry. You will be missed. R.I.P.
This summer, those words will be chanted from NASCAR Nation far and wide as the Camping World Truck Series becomes the guinea pig for one of the sport’s most noble modern experiments: a return to dirt racing. On July 24, Tony Stewart’s short track bullring in Rossburg, Ohio, will be the site of the first major sanctioned NASCAR event on dirt since 1970. With a starting field of just 30 trucks, an entry list expected to be double that, and the added bonus of a Wednesday night showdown, it’s not hard to find this division’s biggest storyline entering 2013.
It also shouldn’t come as a surprise. Always known for a perfect mix of veterans and young drivers, this series has become the “chemistry test” as the sport looks to mold its long-term future. Last fall, NASCAR VP Steve O’Donnell suggested heat races could be introduced, along with additional short tracks by 2014, as the series looks to recapture the fan base by getting creative with the series that offers arguably NASCAR’s closest competition. Between the “old school” connection to Rockingham, whose 2012 Truck Series event was its first on the NASCAR schedule since 2004, to the “new school” of Mosport, Ontario, bringing trucks past the Canadian border for the first time in history this September (and on a road course, no less), full-time competitors will be faced with the most diverse set of challenges in the sport.
No statement of parity describes the Truck Series better than this little-known fact: In 18 years, there’s never been a repeat champ. Current titleholder James Buescher may not even get the chance, as it’s believed he’ll move up to the Nationwide Series. Even without Buescher, there’s plenty of talent on hand in a diverse set of title challengers (from rookie Jeb Burton to sophomore Ty Dillon to 12-year veteran Matt Crafton) in what’s bound to be a wide-open title chase. Younger drivers could find themselves a part of the fray, too — at least part-time — as new rules, announced late last season, allow drivers as young as 16 to compete on shorter tracks (1.1 miles or less) along with road courses.
Even the most competitive series comes with its share of concerns, though. Most events on the schedule haven’t changed, with only five races in the first three months. That means teams and fans alike will once again struggle to find momentum. As with the Nationwide Series, purse money is so low at some tracks ($6,000-plus for a finish in the 30s) that sponsorship becomes a necessity to survive.
Still, with a healthy TV contract (FOX/SPEED has re-signed through 2022) and after another set of nailbiting finishes in 2012, this series should be thought of as healthier than its Nationwide counterpart. While the title race is undecided, one thing that can be counted on is that Trucks will once again put on the best show. Perhaps it’s race length; maybe it’s drivers looking to make an impression, trying to work their way up the ladder. It could be that truck chassis, less aerodynamic than their “car” counterparts, produce closer competition. Regardless of the cause, know that the Truck Series remains the sport’s hidden gem entering 2013.
Eldora’s about to find out.
—By Beth Lunkenheimer
2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Schedule
Athlon Sports has dissected the 2013 racing calendar and picked the top 10 must-see events of the year. Races from the Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series, Truck Series, IndyCar Series and Formula-1 were considered and events must take place within the lower 48 states. So gas up the RV and stock the coolers, because Athlon’s motorsports road trip is getting started this weekend:
1. Indianapolis 500 (97th)
Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Where: Indianapolis, Ind.
When: May 26
Defending Champ: Dario Franchitti
Beginning in 1911, the Indy 500 is called the Greatest Spectacle in Racing for a reason. The releasing of the balloons, the singing of "Back Home Again In Indiana" by Jim Nabors, the drinking of the championship milk and the most famous words in motor sports will send chills down the spine of any racing fan. Drivers, crew chiefs and owners come from all over the world to compete at the world’s greatest track — a 2.5-mile oval complete with its own gold course — many of which will only compete in one race all season long. When an open-wheel rocket ship flies past Gasoline Alley or Tower Terrace down the front stretch and into the nastiest turn in racing at 230 miles per hour, the 300,000 spectators can’t help but smile. Many racing purists believe that the turns at IMS are the ultimate test for a driver. For many drivers, nothing in life will equal the Borg-Warner Trophy. And the Mardi Gras-esque party the night before is worth checking out (at your own risk, of course) too.
2. Daytona 500 (55th)
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Where: Daytona Beach, Fla.
When: Feb. 24
Defending Champ: Matt Kenseth
The Daytona 500 is to stock car racing as the Indy 500 is to open-wheel competition. The 500-mile Sprint Cup race stands alone as NASCAR’s most prestigious and most important race of the season each year. And as the sport’s “kickoff classic,” the build-up is nearly as entertaining as the event itself. Speedweek provides fans with ample opportunity to enjoy the Rolex 24, ARCA Series, Nationwide Series, Bud Shootout and qualifying throughout the weeklong festivities. The Great American Race, due in large part to restrictor plates, puts roughly 40 cars at full throttle inches from each other at over 200 miles per hour. It is the ultimate test of wills with the payoff being as high as there is in any sport.
Get Athlon Sports' complete Daytona 500 coverage
3. Mudsummer Classic (1st)
Track: Eldora Speedway
Where: Rossburg, Ohio
When: July 24
Defending Champ: N/A
While the Indy and Daytona 500s are steeped in unmatchable history, tradition and lore, the inaugural Mudsummer Classic offers something totally different to fans this year. For the first time, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will race on dirt at famed Eldora Speedway in Ohio. The legendary half-mile oval track was built in 1954 and has been owned by Tony Stewart since 2004. The prospects of running a major series truck race on dirt smack-dab in the middle of the season has everyone excited about the late July trip to Rossburg. It will be the first NASCAR-sanctioned National Tour event held on dirt since September 1970. You don’t want to miss this one.
4. Irwin Tools Night Race (52nd)
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway
Where: Bristol, Tenn.
When: Aug. 24
Defending Champ: Denny Hamlin
The first time Bristol Motor Speedway hosted a night race under the lights was the Volunteer 500 in 1978. It has been one of the hottest and most entertaining NASCAR tickets ever since. The half-mile track is the fourth largest sports venue in America (165,000) and is nestled in “Thunder Valley” deep in the hills of East Tennessee. The track has long hosted two weekends, and both are excellent experiences, but the August race is clearly the one to go to if you can only pick one. Not only is racing under the lights more entertaining (and more comfortable for fans) but the late August date has become a key cog in NASCAR’s playoff structure. The driving is intense and physical and every seat in the house is perfect. There is a reason the Bristol night race is one of the hottest tickets in sports every year.
5. Formula-1 United States Grand Prix (2nd)
Track: Circuit of the Americas
Where: Austin, Texas
When: Nov. 17
Defending Champ: Lewis Hamilton
Technically, the F-1’s U.S. Grand Prix has been running on and off since 1908. Watkins Glen, Indianapolis and Phoenix have all hosted the event, but Austin’s brand new Circuit of the Americas appears to be its new home. The late November trip to Texas will be the series’ only visit to the United States in 2013, and for F-1 fans, will be a circled date on the calendar. The 3.4-mile track features 20 turns and will once again be the penultimate race of the F-1 season. Lewis Hamilton won the inaugural event a year ago over eventual points champion Sebastian Vettell by a mere six tenths of a second.
6. Camping World RV Sales 500 (45th)
Track: Talladega Superspeedway
Where: Talladega, Ala.
When: Oct. 20
Defending Champ: Matt Kenseth
Since its inception in 1969, the race has been held in either September, August or July, and now resides in October, where it has been following a schedule change in 1997. It has become the wild-card event in the NASCAR Chase for the Championship with massive wrecks, bizarre racing strategies and unpredictable finishes. Many fans believe that restrictor-plate racing is the most entertaining in the sport and, much like the Daytona 500, wide-open engines inches from each other for 188 laps around the 2.66-mile tri-oval is one of the marquee dates on the racing calendar each season.
7. Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200
Track: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
Where: Lexington, Ohio
When: Aug. 17
Defending Champ: N/A
While the truck series debuts on dirt in The Buckeye State, the Nationwide series will make its debut at a new track in Ohio as well. The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was opened in 1962 and has hosted GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, IndyCar, AMA Pro Racing, Le Mans and motorcycle events throughout the years. However, the Nationwide Series will bring a new audience to the 15-turn, 2.4-mile road course. And with the recent success and entertainment value of road races in all NASCAR circuits, this one should be filled with fireworks.
8. NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race (29th)
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Where: Concord, N.C.
When: May 18
Defending Champ: Jimmie Johnson
Four 20-lap segments followed by a no-holds barred, every-man-for-themselves, rubbing is racing, 10-lap showdown for $1 million makes the NASCAR All-Star event one of the most intriguing and entertaining all-star events in all of American professional sports. Team orders and points championships mean nothing when roughly 20 drivers are thrown into a blender in NASCAR’s home town of Charlotte. The only drivers allowed to compete are winners from the previous and current seasons, the last ten All-Star winners and former points champions. It is a straight cash grab — except it’s done by the world’s best drivers using 900-horsepower performance machines.
9. Federated Auto Parts 400 (55th)
Track: Richmond International Raceway
Where: Richmond, Va.
When: Sept. 7
Defending Champ: Clint Bowyer
Famed Richmond International has hosted a late-season NASCAR event since 1958 when Speedy Thompson won the 100-mile event. It has gone by dozens of names over the years, but in 2004 the race at the asphalt 0.75-mile oval took on new meaning. It is the final race of NASCAR’s regular season and, with the newly implemented wild card points system, every lap at Richmond provides edge-of-your-seat action. Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch battled feverishly on every lap at RIR last season in an attempt to secure a spot in the Chase for the Championship.
10. Goody’s Fast Relief 500 (64th)
Track: Martinsville Speedway
Where: Ridgeway, Va.
When: Oct. 27
Defending Champ: Jimmie Johnson
Few races combine the importance of the moment, the tradition of the location and the excitement of elite racing like Martinsville. Additionally, positioned with just four races to go in the NASCAR season, few races will play as big a role in the Sprint Cup Championship like The Paperclip as well. Martinsville Speedway also is the longest active location in the series as at least one race has been run here every year since 1949 and the fall race has been running every year since 1950. Its unique slender shape and sharp turns help the 0.526-mile half-asphalt, half-concrete course produce some of the best on-track action of any venue on the circuit.
Best of the Rest:
“The Brickyard” (Sprint Cup)
July 28, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Southern 500 (Sprint Cup)
May 11, Darlington Raceway
DuPont Pioneer 250, U.S. Cellular 250 (Nationwide)
June 8 and Aug. 3, Iowa Speedway
Coke Zero 400 (Sprint Cup)
July 6, Daytona International Speedway
Aaron’s 499 (Sprint Cup)
May 5, Talladega Superspeedway
Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 (IndyCar)
May 5, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Road America 200 (Nationwide)
June 22, Road America
Food City 500 (Sprint Cup)
Mar 17, Bristol Motor Speedway
Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (Sprint Cup)
Aug. 11, Watkins Glen International
Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (IndyCar)
Mar. 24, St. Petersburg, Fla.
We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach? Today we focus on the Big East.
(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)
Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the Big East for 2013
Pros: Louisville has solid facilities and is in a good spot geographically to consistently attract top recruits. Kentucky is not a great talent producer, but Louisville can recruit Ohio and Illinois due to its proximity to those states and has always done a good job recruiting Florida. Also, the school “survived” the realignment wars, finding a home in the ACC beginning in 2014.
Cons: The school lacks football tradition and doesn’t have the fan base that most of the other schools have ranked in the top 50 of this list. When the Cards are good, they draw well. But in 2009, in the final season of the Steve Kragthrope era, they ranked 71st in the nation in attendance, averaging 32,540 per game.
Final Verdict: Like many of the schools in the Big East, Louisville is only as good as its coach. Bobby Petrino won big in his four years. Kragthorpe flopped in his three seasons. Charlie Strong has done well in his three seasons. With the right fit, Louisville competes for league titles.
Pros: Rutgers’ location affords the coaching staff the opportunity to stock its entire roster with local talent. The facilities have been upgraded in recent years, most notably the $102 million expansion to Rutgers Stadium. Also, being just over 30 miles from New York City — the media capital of the world — can’t hurt.
Cons: The school has almost no tradition; prior to the mid-2000s, the program was irrelevant. And while support for Rutgers football has grown in recent years, pro sports will always be No. 1 in the metropolitan area.
Final Verdict: Long considered the sleeping giant on the East Coast, Rutgers has emerged as a consistent winner in the Big East. Whether or not this is a true destination job is up for debate, but it’s clear that you can win a bunch of games and go to bowl games at Rutgers.
3. South Florida
Pros: South Florida has a tremendous local recruiting base and is a member of the conference with the least resistance to a BCS bowl (for now). The Bulls proved they can be a consistent winner in the FBS ranks, averaging 8.4 wins from 2006-10.
Cons: South Florida lacks tradition and does not have an on-campus stadium. The Bulls play their home games 15 miles from campus. And while the recruiting base is strong, South Florida will always have a tough time beating out the Big Three — Florida, Florida State and Miami — for top prospects.
Final Verdict: Many view South Florida as an emerging national power. The school does have a ton of potential, but it is difficult to get overly excited about a program that is the fourth-most relevant program in its own state — even if that state is Florida.
Pros: Cincinnati is in a fertile recruiting area. Ohio produces a ton of talent, and the school is also relatively close to Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina.
Cons: Support isn’t great. The school won a share of its fourth Big East title in five years yet averaged only 29,138 fans per game to Nippert Stadium. Being stuck in the Big East for the foreseeable future.
Final Verdict: Cincinnati isn't perceived to be a top-flight program, but the school has been consistently strong in the BCS era. Since 2000, four different coaches have won at least seven games twice. That’s impressive.
Pros: Location. Location. Location. Houston is an elite area for high school talent. And the school has decent tradition, having spent 20 years (1976-95) in the Southwest Conference. Starting in 2014, the Cougars will be playing in a new, on-campus stadium.
Cons: With Texas and Texas A&M relatively nearby — not to mention the NFL’s Houston Texans — University of Houston football will never be the No. 1 show in town.
Final Verdict: With a new stadium and great recruiting base, Houston has an opportunity to rise to the top of the reconfigured Big East. The school’s small fan base will always be an issue, but you can win a lot of games at this school.
Pros: UCF is located in the heart of talent-rich Florida. Bright House Networks Stadium (capacity 45,323) opened in 2007 and is one of the nicest on-campus facilities in the nation.
Cons: UCF is still relatively new to the FBS ranks (1996) and has little brand recognition in the college football word. Attendance hasn’t been great, either. Last year, UCF ranked 68th in the nation with 34,608 fans per game.
Final Verdict: UCF will always have access to a ton of players, but it’s tough to envision this program taking too big of a leap forward in the next decade, even with the move to the Big East.
Pros: The school has top-notch facilities and has proven that it can be relevant on the national landscape. The Huskies won eight games or more six times in an eight-year span, culminating with the trip to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010.
Cons: Recruiting at UConn has never been easy. Now, it’s become more difficult. The school’s chief rivals for prospects in the Northeast — Boston College, Syracuse and Rutgers — each found a home in a power conference. UConn did not.
Final Verdict: This can be a good job — there is solid support in state for the program — but the school is in a tough spot right now. The Big East is simply not where you want to be in college football heading into the mid 2010s.
Pros: SMU’s greatest strength is its location, in the fertile Metroplex in North Texas. Yes, there is a ton of competition for the players, but there is more than enough talent to keep the Mustangs’ roster well-stocked.
Cons: Interest in SMU football is not high. The school averaged only 21,292 per game last year, which ranked 92nd in the nation. It’s tough to attract top-flight recruits to play in front of so many empty seats.
Final Verdict: SMU is similar to several schools making the move from Conference USA to the Big East. It’s in a great location but lacks the tradition and fan base to make too much of a dent on the national landscape.
Pros: Temple plays its home games at an NFL stadium and its on-campus facilities are top-notch. Being competitive in football is important to the school.
Cons: Temple lacks tradition and fan support. Philadelphia loves the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Flyers and college basketball. College football? Not so much.
Final Verdict: Al Golden did a tremendous job transforming Temple from arguably the worst program in the nation into a reputable team that won a total of 26 games from 2009-11. The school should be able to compete in the new-look Big East, but this is not a destination job.
Pros: The school has made a significant financial commitment to the football program in recent years — something that previously was not the case. (Just ask Tommy West). The city of Memphis is known more for basketball, but does a solid job producing FBS-level prospects.
Cons: Basketball is the No. 1 sport at Memphis — by a wide margin. The school has struggled to compete for years, with only four winning seasons since 1994.
Final Verdict: Memphis has an SEC recruiting base with Conference-USA support. Will that change as the school makes the move to the Big East? Not likely. You can win games at Memphis, but the football program will never reach the stature of Tiger basketball.
Related College Football Content
Big East Consensus Team Recruiting Rankings for 2013
Ranking the Big East's Coaching Tandems for 2013
College Football's Top 5 QBs on the Rise for 2013
College Football's Top 15 Impact JUCO Transfers for 2013
College football's 2013 National Signing Day is in the books and Athlon Sports kicks off its 2013 team recruiting rankings countdown with an in-depth look at the best classes in the nation. Gus Malzahn took over for Gene Chizik on The Plains and instantly brought a renewed energy to the Auburn program. His Tigers were one of the big winners on National Signing Day and it resulted in a top 10 class that should build the foundation for a return to success on the field.
No. 10: Auburn Tigers
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 3
National Signees: 7
Total Signees: 23
Where They Got 'Em:
Malzahn has the unenviable task of recruiting at an elite level in the same state as Nick Saban. And while Alabama landed the top five players in the state, Auburn did an excellent job inside the Yellowhammer State. Six new faces that hail from Alabama signed with Auburn, including two nationally rated quarterbacks who will vie for playing time in the new offense.
Florida (4), Georgia (3) and Mississippi (1) will always be a focus for the Auburn coaching staff and this season was no exception. Oklahoma, Indiana and Colorado are non-traditional recruiting territories for Auburn, but Malzahn went into each state and landed one player, while community colleges in Kansas (5) and California (1) also added to the Tigers' haul.
Areas of Focus:
Auburn had many issues a year ago, and not all of them will be addressed in one recruiting class, but Malzahn is looking to check the quarterback position off his "to do" list. Jeremy Johnson is the highest-rated prospect at the position and has elite upside. He is generously listed at 6-5 and 215 pounds and earned Mr. Football honors in Alabama after throwing for 3,193 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2012. He will battle with another nationally rated signal caller in Jason Smith. The 6-1, 180-pounder is a dual-threat talent who will bring a different dimension than Johnson to the new Auburn offense. Should either freshman not prove to be ready, Malzahn has another option in junior college transfer Nick Marshall. The dynamic athlete threw for 3,142 yards and rushed for 1,095 a year ago at Garden City (Kan.) Community College.
Joining the talented trio of quarterbacks in the backfield are three new running backs. Under previous regimes the power rushing attack was a signature of Auburn football, however, under Chizik this offense lacked the physical presence many fans were accustomed to (minus Cam Newton, of course). While none of the three are nationally ranked by Athlon, speedster Johnathan Ford, early enrollee junior college prospect Cameron Artis-Payne and Peach State workhorse Peyton Barber should more than take care of the backfield woes on The Plains.
On the outside of the offense, four wide receivers provide new playmaking ability. Tony Stevens (6-3, 175) and Earnest Robinson (6-2, 200) bring big frames and plenty of vertical talent to an offense that needs some big-play talent. Marcus Davis (5-10, 165) will play in the slot and two-way star Dominic Walker (6-2, 195) can play all over the offense.
Malzahn signed only two offensive linemen in this class and neither were nationally rated.
After struggling so mightily to control the line of scrimmage against elite SEC offensive lines, Auburn had to address the defensive line. And it did so in a big way as all three AC100 signings will play along the D-line. The best three players in this class — Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel — make this one of the more intriguing defensive line groups in the nation. Adams, who is one of the top tackle prospects in the nation if not the top player at his position, will run with JUCO Ben Bradley on the interior while Daniel and Lawson provide serious talent on the edge. Replacing Corey Lemonier won't be easy but this class has the talent to come close.
A fairly non-descript four-man secondary class and two-man linebacking class provide some interesting depth to the back end of the defense. While none of the defensive backs are nationally ranked, the group has some excellent upside. Khari Harding and Brandon King bring elite size to the safety spot while Mackenro Alexander and Kamryn Melton will man the cornerback position.
It's a long and uphill battle to catch up with Alabama within the state lines, but Auburn's new coaching staff took a big first step with a top ten class in 2013.
Offense: QB: 3, RB: 3, WR: 4, TE: 0, OL: 2
Defense: DL: 4, LB: 2, DB: 4, ATH: 0, K: 1
|10.||Montravius Adams||DT||No. 4 (DL)||Vienna, Ga.||6-3||310|
|21.||Carl Lawson||DE||No. 6 (DL)||Alpharetta, Ga.||6-2||250|
|50.||Elijah Daniel||DE||No. 12 (DL)||Avon, Ind.||6-4||250|
|155.||Jeremy Johnson||QB||No. 14||Montgomery, Ala.||6-5||215|
|167.||Tony Stevens||WR||No. 17||Orlando, Fla.||6-3||175|
|180.||Jason Smith||QB||No. 19||Mobile, Ala.||6-1||180|
|190.||Earnest Robinson||WR||No. 23||Pinson, Ala.||6-2||205|
|Cameron Artis-Payne||RB||Harrisburg, Pa.||5-11||210||--|
|Ben Bradley||DT||Hutchinson, Kan.||6-1||305||JUCO|
|Devonte Danzey||OL||Hutchinson, Kan.||6-4||295||JUCO|
Athlon Sports 2013 Recruiting Classes:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
4. Florida Gators
5. Michigan Wolverines
6. Ole Miss Rebels
7. LSU Tigers
8. Texas A&M Aggies
9. UCLA Bruins
10. Auburn Tigers
As the 2013 NASCAR season prepares to get underway, Athlon Sports ranks the top teams to hit the track.
The NFL Scouting Combine (Feb. 20-26) is just one step in the job interview process leading up to the NFL Draft (April 25-27). But the “Underwear Olympics” is a big deal. Millions of dollars are on the line during the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical leap, broad jump, cone drills, Wonderlic and BOD Pod tests.
Here’s a look at 10 workout warriors who aced their tests at the Combine.
1. Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn – 1986
The two-sport tall tale weighed in at a chiseled 6’1”, 230 pounds before running an unofficial hand-timed 4.12 in the 40-yard dash — a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring effort that is still a part of Combine folklore.
2. Tony Mandarich, OT, Michigan State – 1989
In hindsight, the most impressive thing the “Incredible Bulk” did was pass his steroid drug screening during the Combine. At 304 pounds, Mandarich ran a 4.65 in the 40, exploded for a 30” vertical and 10’3” broad jump, and ripped off 39 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
3. Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland – 2006
Davis looked like a body builder or, at the very least, an actor from an Under Armour commercial en route to running a 4.38 in the 40, skying for a 42” vertical, 10’8” broad, and slamming 33 reps on the bench press.
4. Mike Mamula, LB, Boston College – 1995
After all these years, Mamula remains the go-to cautionary tale of the Combine. The BC beast vaulted up draft boards after a 4.58 in the 40, 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench, a 38” vertical and a 49-of-50 on the Wonderlic Test. Mamula never looked as good in pads as he did in shorts.
5. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor – 2012
The fastest quarterback in Combine history, RG3 was a track star on the fast track to NFL and commercial superstardom — with a blistering 4.41 in the 40-yard dash to go along with a dunk contest-worthy 39” vertical.
6. Chris Johnson, RB, East Carolina – 2008
Before he became CJ2K, the gold-grilled CJ4.24 was the gold standard official record-holder in laser-timed 40-yard sprints, posting a 4.24 and hitting the first-round finish line in-stride. CJ has not, however, been able to set up a race against Usain Bolt.
7. Deion Sanders, CB, Florida State – 1989
The ultimate showman (and show-boater), Deion showed up fashionably late (and probably fashionably loud) to the Combine, then ran his 40-yard dash only once — in a time between 4.19 and 4.29, depending on whose hand-timed stop watch you trust. But Prime Time didn’t stop running once he hit the finish line; Sanders ran out of the building to a limousine waiting to take him to the airport.
8. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech – 2007
With his draft stock holding strong near the top of the class, Johnson planned on kicking back and watching the festivities. But once the fireworks started, Megatron’s competitive juices started flowing and he decided he wanted to run after all. The only problem? He didn’t bring any track shoes. So Johnson borrowed a pair of spikes from East Carolina’s James Pinkney — then proceeded to run a blistering 4.32 in the 40.
9. J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin – 2011
In hindsight, the numbers that Watt put up at the Combine were a window into his dominant Defensive Player of the Year future. At 6’5”, 290 pounds with 11 1/8” hands and 34” arms, Watt ran a 4.84 in the 40, soared for a 37” vertical and 10’ broad jump, and threw up a long-armed 34 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
10. Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State – 2008
One of the main reasons teams remain skeptical of off-the-charts Combine stats, Gholston was the classic “look like Tarzan, play like Jane.” In shorts and a muscle shirt, Gholston ran a 4.67 in the 40, had 37 reps on the bench and lifted off for a 35.5” vertical and 10.5” broad jump.
College football's 2013 National Signing Day is in the books and Athlon Sports kicks off its 2013 team recruiting rankings countdown with an in-depth look at the best classes in the nation. Jim Mora got his tenure at UCLA kick-started with a great season on the field, nearly winning a conference championship. He parlayed it into the Pac-12's No. 1-rated recruiting class, dethroning the USC Trojans from their typical perch.
No. 9: UCLA Bruins
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 3
National Signees: 10
Total Signees: 24
Where They Got 'Em:
Jim Mora didn't over-think his first full recruiting class at UCLA. He targeted the best states for talent in the nation, by landing 13 players from California, three from Texas and two from Florida. Otherwise, he picked and chose his way through a handful of other states for elite players. He landed a nationally rated player from Arizona, Washington, Hawaii and Tennessee as well. In all, the Bruins used seven states to sign 24 new players.
Areas of Focus:
The back seven of the defense got the most attention in the Bruins' 2013 haul. Nine new faces will play defensive back or linebacker for Mora and seven of them are nationally rated in the AC100 rankings. Star top 100 safeties Priest Willis and Tahaan Goodman, as well as Tyler Foreman, form one of the most impressive safety classes anywhere in the nation. Johnny Johnson is the lone cornerback of the group as all four defensive backs are four-star recruits.
Three of the five linebackers are highly touted as well with Isaac Savaiinaea, Myles Jack and Deon Hollins Jr. the highest-rated of the bunch. All three bring great height (6-3, 6-3, 6-2) and excellent size (230, 230, 222) to campus with them. Interestingly enough, all three hail from outside of California. Jayon Brown and Cameron Judge are smaller, quicker players who likely fit perfectly on the outside. This is a balanced and talented linebacking class.
A pair of defensive lineman, including top-rated Kylie Fitts, gives Mora a couple more bodies to help the deep group that is already returning to Westwood.
On offense, the line of scrimmage was clearly the area of focus. UCLA didn't sign a running back, picked up just one tight end and only one quarterback signed with the Bruins. Yet, seven offensive lineman inked scholarships with UCLA. Only Christian Morris is rated nationally and he comes to the West Coast all the way from Memphis, Tenn., but overall this group is extremely deep and helps rebuild an area of the team that has been a major concern under previous regimes. Morris will battle with Poasi Moala and Kenny Lacy at the tackle position. Caleb Benenoch, John Lopez and Alex Redmond will compete at guard while Scott Quessenberry appears to be the next starting center. This is an excellent group that has tremendous balance.
Quarterback Asiantii Woulard could be the star of this class, however, once this group begins to contribute on the field. Coming to UCLA all the way from Florida, the talented dual-threat player wanted to play in the UCLA scheme Brett Hundley made successful last fall. He can do everything this offense asks of its quarterbacks and he could be the heir apparent to Mr. Hundley.
A trio of unranked wide receivers signed in this class as well. Early enrollee Eldridge Massington (6-3, 205) brings a big frame and outside, vertical ability while the smaller Darren Andrews and Jalen Ortiz will fill the slot roles in the near future.
Offense: QB: 1, RB: 0, WR: 3, TE: 1, OL: 7
Defense: DL: 2, LB: 5, DB: 4, P: 1
|39.||Priest Willis||DB||No.||Tempe, Ariz.||6-2||200|
|65.||Tahaan Goodman||DB||No.||Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.||6-2||190|
|93.||Isaac Savaiinaea||LB||No.||Honolulu, Hawaii||6-3||230|
|103.||Kylie Fitts||DL||No.||Redlands, Calif.||5-11||180|
|137.||Myles Jack||LB||No.||Bellevue, Wash.||6-3||230|
|147.||Johnny Johnson||DB||No.||Fresno, Calif.||5-10||180|
|152.||Asiantii Woulard||QB||No.||Winter Park, Fla.||6-3||205|
|169.||Tyler Foreman||DB||No.||Encino, Calif.||6-2||190|
|178.||Deon Hollins Jr||LB||No.||Missouri City, Texas||6-2||222|
|207.||Christian Morris||OL||No.||Memphis, Tenn.||6-6||285|
|Eldridge Massington||WR||Mesquite, Texas||6-3||205||--|
Athlon Sports 2013 Recruiting Classes:
Newly crowned Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski admits that he’s caught himself admiring NASCAR’s next generation of racers.
“They’re almost as good as I am, if not better right now,” he says.
It’s not just one or two drivers catching his eye but several, ranging from teenagers to those in their early 20s. They’re winning races, capturing championships and setting records — taking advantage of opportunities previous classes did not receive.
When the economy tanked a few years ago, many teams ditched driver development programs or altered them drastically. It left young racers with few avenues to reach the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The result was a string of forgettable Sprint Cup Rookies of the Year — Stephen Leicht, Andy Lally and Kevin Conway — who combined for two top-20 finishes the past three years.
Today’s young drivers race toward the front in their divisions and show they deserve good rides. As Cup drivers age — one-third of this year’s 12-man Chase featured drivers 40 and older — these younger drivers are positioning themselves to be the sport’s future.
“I’ve been in this sport long enough to see Lee Petty, Junior Johnson, that whole group of guys, Joe Weatherly, hand the torch over to Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson,” car owner Richard Childress says. “Now you’ve got Jeff Gordon, (Kevin) Harvick, Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. This group is getting up (in age and) some day they’ll hand it over to the Stenhouses and hopefully the Dillons and Blaneys. We’ve got a great group of young talent coming up.”
This could be the dawn of a new era. With so many to choose from, here are seven young drivers to watch in the coming years along with evaluations from David Smith, editor-in-chief of Motorsports Analytics, a site that offers analysis and commentary on drivers in numerous series.
KYLE LARSON, 20, ELK GROVE, CALIF.
Jeff Gordon is among many watching the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion — who won the title in his first full year racing stock cars.
“He’s very talented,” says Gordon, who has texted Larson after races. “To be able to win the K&N East Series against the talent that is out there with as limited amount of experience as he has in a full-bodied stock car says a lot about his talents and skill.”
The 20-year-old Larson, whose background is in sprints and midget cars, scored a 10th-place finish at Kentucky in late June in his Camping World Truck Series debut. He followed it with two more top-10 finishes and was running in the top 5 at Homestead when an aggressive move late in the race led to a crash.
Larson, a development driver for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, has run more than 200 races in various series the past two years. That experience helped him transition to stock cars.
“I’ve been racing open-wheelers, so many different types of open-wheel cars, I think it really helped me become versatile because I jump in different cars each and every night it seems like, so I can adapt pretty quickly,” Larson says.
He notes that Earnhardt Ganassi Racing is working on plans for his 2013 schedule. Expect to see him in more Truck races and also Nationwide events.
David Smith says: “Kyle has talent in spades. This year in K&N East he ranked second in Pro Series East PEER (4.500). Usually it’s a really big hurdle going from open wheel to stock car, but he made it look easy. He’s going to start a legacy of crossover kids (from open wheel) that are going to try what he did but just won’t be able to make that transition as quick. He’s got to learn to pace himself and be patient. He has what, theoretically, you can’t teach. He’s got the aggression, natural sense of any kind of race car. He just needs to learn the strategic part of how to go about winning these races in NASCAR.”
RYAN BLANEY, 19, HIGH POINT, N.C.
The son of Cup driver Dave Blaney grabbed attention by finishing seventh in his Nationwide debut at Richmond in April. The focus continued throughout the summer as he scored top-10 finishes in limited series appearances. His performance earned him a ride with Brad Keselowski’s Truck Series team beginning in August.
Blaney rewarded Keselowski by winning at Iowa in September in his third career series start. Blaney also became the youngest driver to win a Truck Series race at age 18 years, eight months and 15 days — eclipsing Kyle Busch’s record (20 years, 18 days) set in 2005 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Dave Blaney admits he wasn’t surprised his son won so quickly.
“I haven’t been surprised at anything that kid has done since he was about 14,” Dave Blaney says. “It seems like, naturally, he can pick things up and just make good decisions. And that eventually helps him be in the hunt for race wins in every series he’s been in.”
Ryan Blaney will run select Nationwide races for Penske Racing in 2013 while also running in the Truck Series for Keselowski’s team.
David Smith says: “Blaney and (Kyle) Larson are the top two prospects. They haven’t fulfilled their destiny in the Nationwide and Truck levels yet, but they could. I would place Blaney ahead of Larson just for the fact that Larson is trying to learn what Blaney already knows. Blaney has the intuition to check out the landscape of the race, understand what his equipment offers him and makes the conscious decision to say, ‘OK, maybe I don’t have the car tonight, but here’s how I’m going to win this race.’ His affinity for patience has translated to the Nationwide Series — he had a Top 15 Efficiency of plus-6.9 percent which allowed him to average finishes better than his average running positions. Based on his PEER he was a fringe contender in both Nationwide (2.038, ranked 16th and higher than Penske Racing counterpart Sam Hornish) and Trucks (2.611, ranked ninth).”
JAMES BUESCHER, 22, PLANO, TEXAS
Few could say they had a better year in 2012 than this 22-year-old. He married in January, won the Daytona Nationwide race in February and won four Camping World Truck Series races en route to winning the championship for Turner Motorsports.
He is the second-youngest series champion in the series’ 18-year history, behind only Austin Dillon.
“This year has been incredible for me,” Buescher said in the offseason. “Being the champion of the Truck Series definitely trumps winning a race at Daytona, but the race at Daytona is still pretty high up there. But it’s been a phenomenal year for my racing career and for my personal life. I just feel really blessed.”
All four of his Truck wins came at 1.5-mile speedways (Kansas, Kentucky, Chicago and Kentucky), and nearly three-quarters of the laps he led (505) were on 1.5-mile speedways.
Buescher also ran 20 Nationwide races, with one win and eight top-10 finishes. He’ll return to Turner Motorsports in 2013.
David Smith says: “The reigning Truck Series titlist was a bit of a one-trick pony in 2012, scoring all four of his wins on 1.5-mile soft intermediate tracks. While worse drivers have made careers out of being adept at one specific track, Buescher, who ranked sixth in the series in PEER (2.886), still has time to improve on short tracks and the 1.5-mile quad-oval facilities that are visited more frequently in the Cup Series.”
DYLAN KWASNIEWSKI, 17, LAS VEGAS, NEV.
He was the youngest winner in the K&N Pro Series West in 2011 and became its youngest champion last season at age 17.
This high school senior is articulate and engaging, traits that entice sponsors along with his success on the track.
He earned the West title by winning three races and scoring 12 top-5 finishes in 15 races, never finishing outside the top 10 in a series race. In fact, he’s registered only four finishes outside of the top 10 in the West Series in 28 starts.
His success goes back to the time he was introduced to racing before he was five years old.
“I just had a true passion for the sport,” Kwasniewski says. “I think my parents saw that there was something. We just furthered my career and then it grew into this.”
His next step is to compete in the K&N Pro Series East division in 2013 for Turner Motorsports.
David Smith says: “Kwasniewski’s rise to the top of NASCAR’s Pro Series West division was meteoric. In 2011, his rookie campaign, he earned a serviceable 1.667 PEER through the first half of the season. In the second half he registered a 3.929 PEER, foreshadowing even more improvement in 2012. Against fields littered with veteran drivers and owners, he won last year’s title with three wins, a 3.8 average finish and a series-best 5.233 PEER. The question you ask is whether he can he come East and do the same thing against a series that is a high competitive jump. I think he can do well, but I think that question does exist. It’s time to see what he can do in a series against kids that are just as good as he is. Can he outthink them? Can he outdrive them?”
AUSTIN DILLON, 22, LEWISVILLE, N.C.
The 22-year-old grandson of car owner Richard Childress will attempt to make this year’s Daytona 500. He has climbed NASCAR’s ranks quickly. Dillon was Rookie of the Year in the Truck Series in 2010 and won the series title the following year. He finished third in the points last season in the Nationwide Series, earning Rookie of the Year honors.
At Phoenix in November, he led the rookie meeting for Truck Series drivers.
“It’s pretty cool to go run a rookie meeting and only be 22 years old,” he says. “It’s kind of hard thinking you’re gaining respect from them because they’re the same age. It’s cool that they listened.”
He’ll run a full season of Nationwide again this year along with as many as seven Cup races, including the Daytona 500, for Childress. Dillon is expected to move full-time to Cup in 2014 and very well could bring the No. 3 with him, marking that number’s first return to Cup since Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.
David Smith says: “I was not a fan of him in the Truck Series just because that No. 3 team was very strong, very consistent, didn’t have many miscues or incorrect setups. This year in the Nationwide Series, now we’re starting to see what Austin has the potential to do. He’s a driver that doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes. He earned a 2.879 PEER and two wins (both at Kentucky) in a season of staggering consistency that saw no accident-related exits from races. A second go-round of a full Nationwide slate should conjure visible improvement.”
TY DILLON, 20, LEWISVILLE, N.C.
Austin’s younger brother, Ty has shown he is as good as his big bro. Ty, 20, won Rookie of the Year honors in the Camping World Truck Series, finishing fourth in the points with one win and 17 top-10 finishes in 22 starts in 2012. He also ran in three Nationwide races, finishing in the top 10 in each of them, including a third-place result at Indianapolis.
“I couldn’t really ask for much more besides a championship in our rookie year,” he said after the season finale at Homestead.
Just like his brother, he’s followed a path set by grandfather Richard Childress that has put him in a position to succeed. He’ll run again in the Truck Series in 2013 with plans to participate in select Nationwide races and one Cup race before a planned move full-time to the Nationwide Series in 2014.
David Smith says: “I like Ty. He didn’t come away the champion, but Dillon had an impressive rookie season in the Truck Series. A strong showing in his maiden voyage at Martinsville and beating Kyle Busch to the finish line in a spectacular mano-a-mano battle at Atlanta were two of his more brilliant flashes. There’s room for improvement in 2013 — he ranked just 15th in Trucks PEER (2.023) and was an above-average crasher (seven times in 22 races).”
COREY LaJOIE, 21, CONCORD, N.C.
The son of two-time Nationwide Series champion Randy LaJoie finished second in the 2012 K&N Pro Series East Series despite not having the budget of some other teams. LaJoie won a series-high five races and had 10 top-five finishes in 14 events with his smooth driving style. His results improved greatly compared to 2011 — when he went winless and collected only four top-5 finishes — as he steered clear of trouble.
The question with LaJoie is whether the 21-year-old can find the funding for a full-time ride in a division above the East Series. If so, keep an eye on him.
David Smith says: “There’s nothing to dislike about LaJoie. Outside of the car, he’s an endearingly outspoken, Chuck Taylor-wearing blue-collar kid. In the car, he demonstrates a savant-like ability to conserve tires, methodically stage passing opportunities and close races. He scored five Pro Series East victories in 2012 and his 4.607 PEER mark bettered Joey Logano’s vaunted East division production rating of 4.462 from 2007. He’s the only full-time guy that did it on a microscopic budget (in 2012), compared to what (Joe Gibbs Racing) had and like what Darrell Wallace Jr. had and what Hendrick (Motorsports) had with Chase Elliott. So what he did was incredible. All that he’s taught himself to do is going to translate to another level.”
—By Dustin Long and David Smith
David Smith is the founder and editor-in-chief of Motorsports Analytics. Smith looks past racing stats like “Wins,” “Tops 5s,” and “Top 10s” to evaluate drivers by taking advanced statistical concepts that he created. His PEER stats (Production in Equal Equipment Rating) are weighted statistics that measure the on-track production of a driver in an “all-equipment-even” scenario (i.e., the best equipment receives the highest handicap). It is constructed using data from past performances.
4.000 and Above = Historic Performance — This driver is attempting to re-write the record books in this particular series. The higher the level of racing, the more rare a 4.000 PEER becomes.
3.999 to 3.000 = Serious Title Contender — This driver is exhibiting the ability to compete for a series championship while producing higher finishes than those with a Fringe Title Contender-level PEER.
2.999 to 2.000 = Fringe Title Contender — This driver is exhibiting the ability to compete for a series championship.
1.999 to 1.000 = Serviceable — This driver can be counted on for an occasional race win in this series.
0.999 and Below = Replacement Level — This driver’s production level in this series can be easily found elsewhere.
Another week, another Big Ten showdown with national implications.
With a five-game win streak including last week’s 75-52 rout of Michigan, Michigan State has gone from sneaky Final Four contender to potential No. 1 seed. The Spartans, who moved from No. 9 to No. 3 in our rankings this week, will have their chance to test that in their second meeting with Indiana this season.
On Tuesday, Michigan State will face Indiana for the conference lead in yet another Big Ten game of national significance. The Spartans lost to Indiana 75-70 on Jan. 27 in Bloomington.
Beyond Michigan State and Indiana tied for Big Ten supremacy, other conference races were shook up by last week's action: Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State are tied for the Big 12 lead. Syracuse, Georgetown and Marquette are in their own three-way tie in the Big East.
Elsewhere in this week’s power rankings, two Atlantic 10 teams entered the top 25 with VCU at No. 23 and Saint Louis in No. 24. Both have a chance to strengthen their cases when they meet Tuesday. Saint Louis also visits Butler this week.
Related: Key stats from Feb. 11-17
COLLEGE BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS: FEB. 19
1. Indiana (23-3, 11-2 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 1
Last week’s results: Defeated Nebraska 76-47, defeated Purdue 83-55
This week: at Michigan State
Buzz: The Hoosiers swept rival Purdue by a combined 65 points this season.
2. Miami (21-3, 12-0 ACC)
Last week’s rank: 3
Last week’s results: Defeated Florida State 74-68, defeated Clemson 45-43
This week: Virginia, at Wake Forest
Buzz: The Hurricanes eked past Clemson on Sunday night to extend winning streak to 13 games.
3. Michigan State (22-4, 11-2 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 9
Last week’s results: Defeated Michigan 75-52, defeated Nebraska 73-64
This week: Indiana, at Ohio State
Buzz: The surging Spartans can start thinking about a No. 1 seed.
4. Michigan (22-4, 9-4 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 2
Last week’s results: Lost to Michigan State 72-52, defeated Penn State 79-71
This week: Illinois
Buzz: Trey Burke is averaging 7.0 assists and only 1.9 turnovers per game.
5. Florida (21-3, 11-1 SEC)
Last week’s rank: 8
Last week’s results: Defeated Kentucky 69-52, defeated Auburn 83-52
This week: at Missouri, Arkansas
Buzz: The Gators’ closest SEC win? By 14 points over Ole Miss.
6. Gonzaga (25-2, 12-0 West Coast Conference)
Last week’s rank: 7
Last week’s results: Defeated Saint Mary’s 77-60, defeated San Francisco 71-61
This week: Santa Clara, San Diego
Buzz: Gonzaga emerges from week on the road with nation-leading 25 wins.
7. Syracuse (21-4, 9-3 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 5
Last week’s results: Lost to Connecticut 66-58, defeated Seton Hall 76-65
This week: Providence, Georgetown
Buzz: The Orange rank 239th in nation in 3-point shooting (32.3 percent).
8. Duke (22-3, 9-3 ACC)
Last week’s rank: 4
Last week’s results: Defeated North Carolina 73-68, lost to Maryland 83-81
This week: at Virginia Tech, Boston College
Buzz: Maryland shot 60 percent from the floor in win over Duke.
9. Kansas (21-4, 9-3 Big 12)
Last week’s rank: 10
Last week’s results: Defeated Texas 73-47
This week: at Oklahoma State, TCU
Buzz: Redemption week upcoming for Kansas, but the Big 12 lead is also on the line.
10. Louisville (21-5, 9-4 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 11
Last week’s results: Defeated St. John’s 72-58, defeated USF 59-41
This week: Seton Hall
Buzz: The Cardinals gave up a total of 79 points in two games against USF.
11. Arizona (21-4, 9-4 Pac-12)
Last week’s rank: 6
Last week’s results: Lost to Colorado 71-58, defeated Utah 68-64
This week: Washington, Washington State
Buzz: Wildcats needed win at Utah to snap a two-game losing streak.
12. Kansas State (21-5, 10-3 Big 12)
Last week’s rank: 12
Last week’s results: Defeated Baylor 81-61, defeated West Virginia 71-61
This week: at Texas
Buzz: Only two Wildcats average more than 8.3 points per game.
13. Oklahoma State (19-5, 9-3 Big 12)
Last week’s rank: 16
Last week’s results: Defeated Texas Tech 91-67, defeated Oklahoma 84-79 (OT)
This week: Kansas, at West Virginia
Buzz: Marcus Smart is thriving in a leading role as a freshman.
14. Georgetown (19-4, 9-3 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 17
Last week’s results: Defeated Cincinnati 62-55
This week: DePaul, at Syracuse
Buzz: The surprising Hoyas move into a three-way tie for first in the Big East.
15. Marquette (18-6, 9-3 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 20
Last week’s results: Defeated Pittsburgh 79-69
This week: at Seton Hall, at Villanova
Buzz: The Eagles improved to 14–0 at home with win over Pitt.
16. Wisconsin (18-8, 9-4 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 18
Last week’s results: Lost to Minnesota 58-53 (OT), defeated Ohio State 71-49
This week: at Northwestern
Buzz: Closing Big Ten schedule favors Wisconsin.
17. Ohio State (18-7, 8-5 Big Ten)
Last week’s rank: 13
Last week’s results: Defeated Northwestern 69-69, lost to Wisconsin 71-49
This week: Minnesota, Michigan State
Buzz: The Buckeyes’ 49 points against Wisconsin was a season low.
18. Butler (21-5, 8-3 Atlantic 10)
Last week’s rank: 15
Last week’s results: Lost to Charlotte 71-67, defeated Fordham 68-63
This week: Duquesne, Saint Louis
Buzz: Bulldogs are one game back in the chase for the A-10 title.
19. Colorado State (21-4, 8-2 Mountain West)
Last week’s rank: 22
Last week’s results: Defeated San Diego State 66-60, defeated Air Force 89-86
This week: at UNLV, New Mexico
Buzz: This could be a make-or-break week for Colorado State’s goals of winning the Mountain West
20. Pittsburgh (20-7, 8-6 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 14
Last week’s results: Lost to Marquette 79-69, lost to Notre Dame 51-42
This week: at St. John’s
Buzz: The Panthers' hot streak has come to a halt, but the remaining schedule isn't daunting.
21. Memphis (22-3, 11-0 Conference USA)
Last week’s rank: 24
Last week’s results: Defeated UCF 93- 71, defeated Marshall 71-59
This week: Houston, Southern Miss
Buzz: The Tigers’ C-USA’s foes are shooting only 40.8 percent on two-pointers.
22. New Mexico (21-4, 9-2 Mountain West)
Last week’s rank: 21
Last week’s results: Defeated Fresno State 54-48, defeated Boise State 60-50
This week: at Colorado State
Buzz: The Lobos are getting it done on the defensive end.
23. VCU (21-5, 9-2 Atlantic 10)
Last week’s rank: NR
Last week’s results: Defeated UMass 86-88, defeated George Washington 84-57
This week: at Saint Louis, at Xavier
Buzz: The Rams steal the ball on 17.7 percent of opponents’ possessions.
24. Saint Louis (19-5, 8-2 Atlantic 10)
Last week’s rank: NR
Last week’s results: Defeated Charlotte 75-58
This week: VCU, Butler
Buzz: Billikens are riding a seven-game winning streak ahead of huge week against VCU and Butler.
25. Notre Dame (21-6, 9-5 Big East)
Last week’s rank: 19
Last week’s results: Defeated DePaul 82-78 (OT), lost to Providence 71-54, defeated Pittsburgh 51-42
This week: Cincinnati
Buzz: Notre Dame started 1 of 19 from the field but still managed to beat Pitt on Monday night.
Out: No. 23 Cincinnati, No. 25 San Diego State
Brian Cashman called it a “perfect storm.” CC Sabathia said it was “embarrassing.” The New York tabloids weren’t as kind: "Dear Yankees, We don’t date losers! Signed New Yorkers" read the back of the New York Post.
Detroit’s sweep of the Yankees in the 2012 ALCS was a complete domination. The Tigers never trailed during the series, and their combined 19–6 run differential was an indication of New York’s incompetence. The Yankees batted a mere .157 in the series, and they struck out a whopping 36 times, or on one-third of their outs. At times, it appeared as if the New York hitters had never faced big-league pitching before.
“When you get into a short series, you say, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’” says Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones. “If you execute it, you win. If you don’t, and you make poor pitches, you won’t win.”
While many love to deliver swift boots to the collective posterior of the Yankees when they are laid low, their fan-tastic performance against the Tigers wasn’t so unusual in the context of the 2012 season. First off, Detroit pitchers ranked fifth among all MLB clubs in strikeouts. But more importantly, the ’12 season was historic throughout baseball for whiffing.
Six major league clubs fanned at least 1,300 times last season. That’s three more clubs than the previous high for aggregate plate futility and one more than the total number from baseball’s beginning through the 2006 season. Another 12 teams struck out at least 1,200 times, four more than the previous record. In other words, a full 60 percent of teams whiffed 1,200 or more times last year, establishing a new high (or, if you prefer, low) for swing-and-miss futility. The Yankees’ fruitless pursuit of Tiger pitching was merely a high-profile example of the culture that has taken over major league baseball.
“There are definitely more ‘guess’ hitters in the game than there used to be,” Jones says. “You have guys looking for a certain pitch. If they don’t get it, they can look bad swinging.”
To give an idea of how profound this increase in useless at bats has become, consider that before 2001, no team had ever struck out 1,300 times in a single season. Before 1996, only one squad ever fanned 1,200 times. That distinction belongs to the 1968 Mets, who struck out 1,203 times. But they played 163 games that year, and after the season, Major League Baseball decided to lower the mound six inches. Back in 1978, the leader in strikeouts, Cincinnati, had only 899. Many of today’s teams have that many well before August is over. Contrast that with 1928, when the Yankees whiffed only 553 times in 154 games.
There are plenty of reasons why K is becoming baseball’s favorite letter. Jones’ theory on hitters’ guessing makes perfect sense. So does the fact that pitchers’ velocities are increasing, as is the menagerie of “out” pitches they are learning at earlier levels of baseball. The growing specialization of staffs allows managers to create matchups that are to their teams’ advantages. And the amount of information available to teams about hitters’ tendencies allows them to create scouting reports and battle plans that are more effective. Just ask the Yankees about that.
There’s one other, more philosophical cause at work, at least according to Padres’ hitting coach Phil Plantier. He cites what he refers to as “the live ball era” as having an impact on hitters as they grow into big-league players. That’s his euphemism for the steroid era, when homers rained down upon bleacher bums all over the game. As youngsters watched their pumped-up heroes cranking out 50 homers — and more — each season, they developed habits that might produce long balls but could also lead to high strikeout totals. For instance, in 1996, just two years after the MLB strike and the first season during which Mark McGwire hit more than 50 home runs (52), eight teams whiffed 1,100 times or more — an all-time high. From there, the strikeout totals have climbed steadily to 2012’s peak.
“The past generation of players just went through an unrealistic baseline expectation of hitters,” Plantier says. “If you look at trends of hitters prior to the ‘live ball’ era, it’s probably more indicative of where the game will go back. But it’s taking some time.”
Back in 1987, when Plantier reported to Elmira, N.Y., for his first minor league stint, he didn’t find an army of coaches ready to mold him on his first step to the majors. The club didn’t even have a weight room.
“We had a manager, and he did everything,” Plantier says.
Today, teams have too much money invested in players to leave it all to one person. There are hitting coaches, strength coaches and pitching coaches at every stop along the developmental chain. Not everyone is going to make it to the big time, but teams aren’t taking any chances on missing a potential major leaguer.
They also aren’t going about accumulating prospects the same way, especially on the mound. The process by which teams scout and ultimately select young pitchers has been altered since the days when Plantier was making his baseball journey.
“It all starts at the beginning,” he says. “Scouts are identifying athletes now as pitchers and have been for the last generation. Before, the majority of pitchers were non-athletes with good arms. Now, they’re getting better quality athletes on the mound.”
According to Plantier, the more athletic a pitcher is, the higher his ceiling might be. Now, no one can be certain whether Walter Johnson or Sandy Koufax would have fared well in the decathlon, but many of today’s pitchers are more accomplished athletically. They are also bigger and stronger. It’s become rare when a team spends a high draft choice — or in some cases any draft choices — on pitchers who aren’t at least 6'0". It’s hard to imagine someone like 5'11" Ron Guidry or 5'6" Bobby Shantz, who was once blown off the mound during a game, getting a second look today. When exposed to the intense training and instruction teams provide from rookie ball on up, they can develop into better pitchers — even if they don’t have the liveliest arms.
“At the lower levels, organizations are developing pitchers better, and they are teaching them how to become strikeout pitchers,” Plantier says.
A lot of those strikeout pitchers are succeeding with fastballs that get into the 90s consistently. Brewers’ hitting coach Jerry Narron was once a special assignment scout for Texas, and he was with Josh Hamilton in 2009 when Hamilton did a rehab stint in the minors after surgery to repair an abdominal tear. He noticed right away the vast differences between the caliber of pitching at the Triple-A level and the majors, a big reason why many younger players struggle to make contact.
“It’s not only the starters but the relievers who throw hard,” Narron says. “Everybody out of the pen seems to throw in the mid-90s, and at the back end of the pen, they’re throwing in the upper 90s. The velocity across the board jumps off the page.”
Jones agrees. “It seems like every guy is throwing 95 now,” he says.
Narron says teams’ obsessions with pitch counts have contributed to rising strikeout totals as well — and not just because those hard-throwing relievers are ready to throw smoke and overpower pitchers in favorable lefty-lefty or righty-righty matchups.
“Starters can afford to be more assertive,” Narron says. “They’re only going to pitch five, six or seven innings.”
The amount of information available gives pitchers advantages, too. Most MLB clubs, including the Tigers, look at what hitters’ tendencies are in every possible count. They feed pitchers information that allows them to know who is looking for fastballs early, who is less likely to be more careful with two strikes, and of course, who struggles with breaking balls.
“When guys are aggressive early in the count, they are people you can exploit by going out of the strike zone,” Jones says. “We know how aggressive guys are late in the count and how aggressive they are with men on base.”
It’s not guaranteed that a pitcher armed with that information is going to be successful, but if he makes pitches according to the plan, it’s more likely he will have an advantage. Detroit pitcher Doug Fister is known for throwing strikes early and often — he walked only 37 batters in 161.2 innings last year. So, hitters will often go up in the first few innings of a game hoping to get something to hit right away. If they are aggressive and making outs, Fister stays with his original program. But if they are hitting him, he has to change.
“They’ve made their adjustments, so we have to adjust,” Jones says.
It’s just not fair, really. Those mean pitchers are bigger and throw faster than ever. They have all sorts of fancy information and knowledge about tendencies and hitters’ weaknesses. Lower the mound! Make it four strikes per out.
The pitchers are better, but the hitters have a huge responsibility for the rising numbers. One All-Star starter who requested anonymity explains why it’s sometimes easy to pile up the strikeouts. “A lot of guys go up there looking for a certain pitch, and if they don’t get it, they pretty much give up the at-bat,” he says.
According to Narron, some hitters consider a strikeout “just another out.” Of course, nobody scores from third with fewer than two outs on a K — barring a wild pitch, of course. You can’t move the runner from first to second when you fan. And hitting the ball, even if it’s right at a defender, forces him to make a play and could lead to an error. Narron sure doesn’t think that all outs are the same.
“I don’t believe that,” he says. “There’s a lot you can accomplish with two strikes on you. You want to get something out of an at-bat that’s more than just a zero. The only thing you might get out of a strikeout is pushing the pitcher to eight pitches. That’s okay.”
Hitting coaches speak constantly of having a “plan” or “approach” at the plate. That can apply to a team’s macro philosophy of being aggressive against certain pitchers and careful versus others, and it has micro applications based on various hitters’ strengths and weaknesses. It’s okay to swing at strikes early in the count, provided that’s the way to get after a pitcher. Hitters who just rip away at anything may get on base, but their ultimate success depends on being more opportunistic, especially when the count isn’t in their favor.
“The one thing I stress to hitters is that every at-bat is important,” Narron says. “You just can’t give anything away.”
That philosophy doesn’t appeal to all hitters, especially power hitters. They believe the home run is the preferred outcome, even if dinger numbers are dropping all over baseball. Slapping a ball to the opposite field with two strikes isn’t as appealing as jacking one into the fourth deck, even if the risk associated with that approach is high.
Plantier’s Padres were members of the 1,200-strikeout club last year, but he was much happier with his players’ performance at the plate during the season’s second half, once they approached at-bats differently and tried to be more productive each time up.
“We were as big a culprit as there was in the league,” he says of the Padres’ propensity to strike out. “But we started to have better at-bats and improved our contact rate. We made mechanical adjustments and also had better plans at the plate, according to what we needed at that moment in time.”
As 2013 dawns, pitchers have the advantage. They are throwing high-octane fuel at hitters who don’t necessarily care whether they strike out or not, so long as the possibility exists of the magic long ball that made their baseball ancestors stars.
“You’ve got a lot of power guys who aren’t going to change their swings with two strikes,” Jones says. “They’re still trying to drive the ball to the gaps and over the fence.”
If they strike out, they strike out. For many, it’s not a problem.
Until the League Championship Series. Then, it’s a problem.
—By Michael Bradley
Want more baseball? Check out Athlon Sports' 2013 Baseball Annual for the most complete preview available. Order your copy now!
We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach? Today we focus on the ACC.
(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)
Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the ACC for 2013
1. Florida State
Pros: You can make the argument that Florida State offers all of the positives of Florida without the brutal competition of the SEC East. Would you rather battle Clemson, NC State and Boston College or Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina every year?
Cons: Florida State has a nice following, but its fans can be on the fickle side. Last season, when the Seminoles had legitimate national title ambitions, Doak Campbell was “only” filled to 92 percent capacity. Not bad, but not quite up to standards of most programs of similar stature. Also, the ACC has been relatively weak in recent seasons; an undefeated ACC champ might not automatically play for a national title.
Final Verdict: Florida State enjoyed an unbelievable run of success from the late 1980s through the early 2000s. But the Noles lost five games or more three times from 2006-10. Winning is no longer automatic.
Pros: Clemson is an SEC-like school that has the luxury of playing an ACC schedule. The fans are rabid, the stadium is huge (capacity 81,500), and unlike many its ACC brethren, Clemson is a football school.
Cons: Clemson seemingly has so much going for it, yet the program has only won two ACC titles in the past 24 seasons. If you are a coach interested in the job, you’d have ask yourself the following question: Why is this program a chronic underachiever?
Final Analysis: Clemson presents a great opportunity. The program is a major player in the recruiting game, and it has so many built-in advantages compared to almost every school in the league. The Tigers have the ability to compete for the ACC title on an annual basis.
3. Virginia Tech
Pros: Virginia Tech has a very strong (and underrated) recruiting base, most notably the Hampton Roads-Tidewater area — better known as the ‘757’ by recruiting gurus. The Hokies also have a passionate fan base that creates a tremendous environment at Lane Stadium.
Cons: The school has only been relevant on the national scene under Frank Beamer’s watch. Can another coach recreate the magic?
Final Verdict: Virginia Tech isn’t quite college football royalty, but it’s not far off. Before last season’s 7–6 hiccup, the Hokies had won at least 10 games in at least eight straight seasons. You can win a national title in Blacksburg.
Pros: With the possible exception of USC and UCLA, no school in the country has a better local recruiting base. And while the Canes have struggled in recent years, the program won a national championship as recently as 2001 and played for a title in ’02.
Cons: Miami has the smallest fan base of the top 25 teams on this list. Last season, the Canes ranked 44th in the nation in attendance, averaging 47,719 per game at Sun Life Stadium. The facility is 20 miles from campus and lacks the big-time college football atmosphere.
Final Verdict: Miami is an intriguing job. The recruiting base is outstanding — which gives you a great opportunity to win — but the position lacks many of the other qualities that make coaching at a big-time school so attractive.
5. North Carolina
Pros: The school is an easy sell for a recruiter: It’s is one of the premier public institutions in the nation, and its location, in picturesque Chapel Hill, is ideal. UNC has also made a huge financial commitment to football in the past decade.
Cons: North Carolina is — and always will be — a basketball school. That is something that every football coach must accept. And while the school has enjoyed pockets of success, it’s been difficult to win consistently at UNC. Since Mack Brown bolted for Texas after the 1997 season, the Tar Heels have averaged 3.5 ACC wins.
Final Verdict: North Carolina’s lack of success over the years might surprise even a knowledgeable college football fan. The Tar Heels have not won an ACC Championship since 1980 and have not strung together back-to-back winning ACC seasons since the mid-1990s. Still, this is a desirable position for a coach. It’s a great school that has made a strong commitment to the football program.
Pros: Pittsburgh is located in the heart of Western Pennsylvania, which gives the Panthers a solid recruiting base. The school also shares its football facility with the Pittsburgh Steelers — which can be a positive (NFL influence) or negative (no on-campus stadium).
Cons: It’s been tough to win consistently at Pitt over the past three decades. The Panthers have only had a winning record in 14 of the 29 seasons since Jackie Sherrill bolted.
Final Verdict: Former coach Dave Wannstedt proved that you can attract talent to play at Pittsburgh. But it’s a school with a ceiling. The Panthers should consistently win seven or eight games per season, but can you win a national title? Not likely.
7. North Carolina State
Pros: The facilities at NC State are among the finest in the ACC. The spectacular Murphy Center, a football-only building, houses coaches’ offices, the weight room and dining area for the players, among other things. The school’s recruiting base, the Carolinas and Virginia, is strong.
Cons: The school doesn’t have a strong record of success. NC State hasn’t won an ACC title since 1979 and has had only seven winning league seasons since 1990.
Final Verdict: This program has underachieved over the past decade. Everything is in place — facilities, fan support, recruiting base — to be a consistent winner in the ACC.
Pros: Virginia is great school in a great college town, and the state consistently produces a high number of BCS level recruits.
Cons: The school has a surprisingly bad track record in football. George Welsh had a nice run in the 1980s and 90s, but other than that, the Cavaliers have had a tough time fielding a consistently competitive program. UVa has won a total of two championships (both shared) in its 56 years in the ACC. Recruiting can also be tough at Virginia, based on the school’s relatively tough academic standards.
Final Verdict: This school should be able to be consistently competitive in the ACC. Other than its lack of tradition, everything is seemingly in place to elevate the profile of this program.
9. Georgia Tech
Pros: Georgia is annually one of the top talent-producing states in the nation, giving the Yellow Jackets’ staff an opportunity to land quality recruiting classes despite the fact that the University of Georgia is the top Dawg in the state. Tech has also proven over time that it can win consistently in the ACC; the Jackets have been .500 or better in league play in 19 straight seasons.
Cons: Georgia Tech will always be the second most popular program in its own city, which is probably more of a problem for the school’s fans than its players and coaches. The male-to-female ratio (about 2-to-1) at the school can’t help recruiting, either.
Final Verdict: Georgia Tech might not come to mind when you think about some of the top programs in the nation, but this is a solid football school with underrated tradition. It’s been proven that you can win titles — both ACC (2009, 1998, 1990) and national (1990).
Pros: Maryland has enjoyed pockets of success over the last three decades. Bobby Ross won three straight ACC titles from 1983-85 and Ralph Friedgen went a combined 31–8 from 2001-03, and won eight-plus games in 2008 and 2010. And while it isn’t to the Oregon/Nike level, the school’s close ties with UnderArmour is a positive.
Cons: The impending move to the Big Ten will help the school in many ways, but it might have a negative impact on the football program’s recruiting. Maryland isn’t going to beat out many Big Ten schools for prospects from the Midwest, and the school won’t have the same appeal for many players in the Mid-Atlantic Region and Southeast now that the Terps won’t be playing an ACC schedule.
Final Verdict: Maryland is a lower-tier job in the ACC. And it will be a lower-tier job in the Big Ten. You can win games, but it will be very difficult for any coach to compete for championships in the current landscape.
Pros: As recently as the early 2000s, Syracuse was a top-25 program. The Orangemen, as they were called then, won nine games or more eight times in a 15-year span from 1987-2001. Doug Marrone had the program headed in the right direction before bolting to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
Cons: The program has been an afterthought in the past decade, with only two winning seasons since 2001. Support has not been good, either. Last year, when the Orange shared the Big East title, the school ranked 61st nationally in attendance (37,853 per game).
Final Verdict: Syracuse is a tough job. It’s tough to lure recruits from the South, specifically Florida, to upstate New York, and there simply aren’t a lot of top-flight prospects in the Northeast.
12. Boston College
Pros: Boston College was one of the most consistent programs in the nation from the late 1990s through the late 2000s. The Eagles averaged 8.7 wins from ’99-09 and won one Big East title (2004) and two ACC Atlantic Division titles (2007, ’08). The school’s strong academic reputation will allow it to recruit top students from the Northeast who want to remain close to home.
Cons: As the Northernmost outpost in the ACC, Boston College will always have a difficult time recruiting players from outside its region.
Final Verdict: Once the model of consistency, Boston College has slipped to the bottom of the food chain in the ACC. The Eagles went 15–11 in Frank Spaziani’s first two seasons but won four games in 2011 and two in ’12. First-year coach Steve Addazio will have a tough time returning this program to the top half of the league.
13. Wake Forest
Pros: Jim Grobe proved it can be done at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons won 11 games and captured the school’s second-ever ACC title in 2006.
Cons: No one has been able to sustain success at Wake Forest. The program has enjoyed three-straight winning seasons only once (from 2006-08) since the early 1950s.
Final Verdict: The overall strength of the ACC academically doesn’t allow Wake Forest, a small private school, to differentiate itself like programs such as Vanderbilt in the SEC, Northwestern in the Big Ten and Stanford in the Pac-12. If a strong student wants to play football in the ACC, there are several attractive options — North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia Tech — that have better overall football programs.
Pros: Duke has struggled to compete in football for the majority of the past 40 years, but the schools, consistently ranked among the top-10 in the country academically, still has a strong national brand.
Cons: The interest in the football program at Duke is not high — and that is being kind. This past season, the Blue Devils went to a bowl game for the first time since 1994 yet only averaged 28,170 fans per game, ranking 79th in the nation. Temple was the only AQ conference school lower on the list.
Final Verdict: David Cutcliffe has made Duke respectable, but it’s hard to envision this program making much of move in the ACC. The lack of tradition and lack of support make Duke football a tough sell to top recruits.
Related College Football Content
ACC Team Consensus Recruiting Rankings for 2013
College Football's Top 15 Impact JUCO Transfers for 2013
10 True Freshmen Likely to Make an Impact in 2013
Grading College Football's Coaching Hires for 2013
A certain champion-to-be fired off a now-famous tweet during the 2012 Daytona 500, but long before @keselowski, there was @dennyhamlin. Since he’s still active and engaged on Twitter, we figured the most natural way to conduct an interview with the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry (circa 2013) was through the use of 140-character questions and answers.
Pitchers and catchers have reported, the World Baseball Classic is around the corner and fantasy baseball season is nearly here. The weather is heating up and it's time to name your fantasy baseball team. You could always go with one of the classics like Chico's Bail Bonds, Springfield Isotopes, New York Knights or Myrtle Beach Mermen. But you might as well go with one of these 75 funny fantasy baseball team names.
Bats in the Pelfrey
Better Safe Than Soria
Big League Choo
Big Wang Theory
Clown Question Bros
Come Sale Away
Cuckoo for Coco Crisp
Davey Johnson’s Tweeter
Depends on Asdrubal
Dick Pole’s Staff
Ethier Said Than Dunn
G’s Up, Scott Downs
Grand Theft Votto
Griffey Jr.’s Tonic
Hall of Shamers
Harang 'em High
Harper Valley OBP
Hey Upton Upton
High Plains Fister
Honey Nut Ichiro's
Horse walks into Aybar
I’m Rich, Litsch!
Jeter’s Gift Baskets
Jeters Never Prosper
Joe Maddon Gnomes
Jon Jay Jack Jim Joe
Kimbrels 'n Bits
Lay down the Lawrie
Less is Morrow
Man walks into a Bard
A Mighty Lind
Next of Kinsler
Not at the Table Carlos
Old Hoss’s Beaneaters
Out of Saito
Outfield Fly Rule
Sam Above the Fuld
Scratch My Ichiro
Senior Circuit Rascals
Smoak a Swisher
Take Maholm Tonight
Talent-less South Beach
The Bourn Supremacy
The Melky Way
The Price Is Wrong
The Scioscial Network
The Yankee Clippard
Thome Don’t Play That
Vin Scully’s Homeboys
Yellow Brick Gload
Yu Da Man
Zero Dark Cooperstown
2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Big Board
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball: Closer Grid
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2013
Want more baseball? Check out Athlon Sports' 2013 Baseball Annual for the most complete preview available. Order your copy now!
Another lackluster NBA All-Star weekend wrapped up in Houston Sunday night. The dunk contest isn't what it used to be and the game features superstars playing some sport vaguely akin to professional basketball. But on the surface, the NBA All-Star game gets rave reviews from die-hard fans and celebrity hoopsters alike. The pomp and circumstance of the NBA — and its overall culture — lends itself perfectly to a glamorous, exclusive weekend where only the elite get an invite.
However, the numbers say something different about its popularity. Fewer people tune in to the NBA All-Star game than both the Pro Bowl or MLB's midsummer classic. Yet, for some reason, people love to publicly, and rather loudly, hate the Pro Bowl.
Well, they are all just liars.
Because the Pro Bowl — a game the players don't want to play in and one this particular football fan hasn’t watched in nearly a decade — is still the most popular all-star event in professional sports. And there is a reason the Pro Bowl is the most popular All-Star event in all of the major American sports.
1. NFL Pro Bowl (Jan.)
Despite more public grumbling and finger-wagging than any other sport, the NFL’s Pro Bowl is still the most popular all-star game in American professional sports. The game pulled a 7.1 U.S. rating last month, down slightly from the previous year’s rating of 7.3. The game itself is actually the farthest from its regular-season form than any other sport, as the NFL implements rule changes for safety concerns. It's also the only all-star game in which the athletes have no real interest in actually competing at a high level. How could it possibly be in the best interest of Haloti Ngata to give it his all in the Pro Bowl? There is no incentive to play a "real" game, and better yet, is it even reasonable to expect that from these gladiators who destroy their bodies for the fans every Sunday? The high-scoring devolution of the game might deserve some credit for pulling in viewers, but the real answer is much more simple. The worst all-star event is the most popular all-star event because football is king. If the oblong spheroid is on the TV, people will watch.
2. MLB All-Star Game (July)
The midsummer classic was as much a part of my childhood as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. But if the recent viewership trends continue, the game could be relegated to cable TV sooner rather than later. Broadcast on FOX since 2001, MLB’s All-Star Game has watched a steady decline in ratings since its peak in 1970 (28.5). It reached a historic low last summer with a 6.8 number. Making it “count” by adding home-field advantage to the stakes hasn’t had the impact Commissioner Bud Selig had hoped. This game seems to rouse the most nostalgia and seems to be the most highly thought of by dedicated sports fans (myself included). However, the trends are concerning and it clearly sits well behind the NFL.
3. NBA All-Star Game (Feb.)
It is hard to argue that the NBA All-Star festivities didn’t peak in the early 1990s. The Dunk Contest was electric because the best players in the game took it seriously and delivered a show for the fans every year (looking at you Michael and Dominique). And the ratings for the game itself prove that out with a high-water TV mark of 14.3 in 1993. However, since the early '90s, the game has seen a steady decline until recently. After bottoming out with a 4.2 rating in 2007, the game reached its highest numbers last fall since '03 (6.6). The 2012 event posted a 5.4 U.S. rating, up slightly from the '11 game, which drew a 5.2 U.S. rating. Is this a trend that will continue and potentially allow the NBA to move ahead of baseball? Or will competing with Sunday night TV and occasionally the Oscars eventually halt any growth the league has seen in recent years?
4. NASCAR All-Star Race (May)
NASCAR’s all-star event is extremely entertaining and might be one of the few events that actually improves on the regular-season product. A shortened field running a shortened race over various segments with no points implications and loads of cash on the line? Yes, please. In all but one year — Atlanta in 1986 — the event has been held at Charlotte Motorspeedway, the home track and birthplace of the entire sport. Yet, much like the rest of the NASCAR viewership, the ratings simply don’t carry the weight of football or baseball. That is the bad news. The good news is that the numbers have been stable for a long period of time pulling a 2.2 in 2012 after three straight 2.1’s from 2009-11. This might be the most underrated of the professional all-star events.
5. NHL All-Star Game (Jan.)
As expected, this is easily the lowest rated all-star event of the four main professional sports. This is partly due to Olympic and work stoppage interruptions but also because the sport has been relegated to smaller cable networks. It’s unfortunate since the gameplay itself is some of the most enjoyable of any of the pro events. The game still pulls solid ratings in Canada but the overall US viewership is clearly the lowest of the major sports. The 2011 event pulled a 1.3, up 33 percent from the '09 game, and was the highest such number since the '04 event that landed a 2.7 U.S. mark. After two years of steady TV ratings, it will be interesting to see what happens to the NHL mid-season classic. The work stoppage this season led to the game being cancelled and there will be no all-star game in 2014 due to the Winter Olympics in Russia. So the 60th annual NHL All-Star game in Columbus, Ohio, has been pushed back until January 2015.
6. MLS All-Star Game (July)
One of the least popular pro sports in America is soccer. And despite pockets of deeply passionate fans — kudos to you fútbol fans in Seattle, by the way — the sport has lagged behind its other professional brethren since its inception in 1996. So the other all-star game played in the summer is relegated to a mid-week broadcast on ESPN2. The game pulled a 0.34 U.S. TV rating in 2012, down from a 0.46 in '11. Unfortunately, soccer will never be huge in this country and neither will its all-star event.
With college football’s spring practice and basketball’s postseason around the corner, Athlon Sports decided this would be a good time to evaluate each school’s coaching tandem.
In this ranking, we aimed to reward balance. In short, which school’s fanbase is most likely to be satisfied from September to March? A handful of schools may have an accomplished football coach while the basketball coach is looking to keep his job, or vice versa. We did not grade on a curve in those cases.
In evaluating coaches, we examined past performance, with more focus on current and recent results and future expectations. We also considered how good a fit a particular coach is for a particular school.
The Big Ten has perhaps the best collection of coaching duos in the country, especially at the top.
The Jim Tressel/Thad Matta tandem was one of the best in the country before scandal cost Tressel his job. The Buckeyes may have enhanced their coaching duo even more with the hire of Urban Meyer. Ohio State’s new football coach, however, is no stranger to sharing the spotlight with a top basketball coach. He and Billy Donovan won a combined four national titles at Florida from 2006-08.
But the choice for Ohio State at No. 1 wasn’t easy. Michigan has two coaches who have led the Wolverines from mediocrity to the top of the Big Ten in Brady Hoke and John Beilein. And Michigan State the basketball coach we ranked No. 1 prior to the season and a football coach one year removed from playing for the Big Ten title.
Other coach tandem rankings:
ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Pac-12 | SEC
1. Ohio State
Football: Urban Meyer | Basketball: Thad Matta
Meyer walked into Ohio State, where he was an assistant under Earle Bruce, and went 12-0 for the second time in his career. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Buckeyes never looked like a team facing a postseason ban. A two-time national champion at Florida, Meyer has also shaken up Big Ten recruiting in one season. Matta rarely is rarely noted as the top basketball coach in the Big Ten, but he’s led the Buckeyes to two Final Fours, three Big Ten tournament titles and at least a share of five regular season conference titles. Ohio State is on its way to its ninth consecutive 20-win season under Matta.
Football: Brady Hoke | Basketball: John Beilein
When Michigan raided West Virginia for its football/basketball coaching duo, Rich Rodriguez was pinpointed as the coach who would turn the Wolverines’ fortunes. Instead, Beilein turned out to be the better hire. Never shy about shooting the three-pointer under Beilein, Michigan is more balanced this season, giving the Wolverines their best team since the Fab Five era. The return of defensive line coach Hoke to Ann Arbor is bringing the Wolverines back to basics. They slipped from 11-2 to 8-5 last season, but Hoke is building the classic pro-style powerful Michigan team.
3. Michigan State
Football: Mark Dantonio | Basketball: Tom Izzo
Tom Izzo is doing it again. While everyone was talking about Indiana and Michigan in the Big Ten, the Spartans may have the league’s best team. Athlon named Izzo its No. 1 basketball coach prior to the season due to Izzo’s regular season and postseason acumen, recruiting and player development skills. All have come into play this season. In football, Dantonio’s star has fallen a bit after going 7-6 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten last season, but he led the Spartans to 22 wins in 2010-11. Now that Michigan and Ohio State are returning to full strength, Danonio’s job is that much tougher.
Football: Gary Andersen | Basketball: Bo Ryan
Ryan has led Wisconsin to a top-four finish in the Big Ten and the NCAA Tournament every season in Madison since he arrived in 2001-02. Yet even this season, no one caught on (Athlon picked the Badgers sixth in the conference this year, and we were hardly alone in underestimating Wisconsin). No coach is better than Ryan at recruiting to his system and developing talent to it. Andersen is a first-year coach in Madison, but he went 18-8 with two bowl games in the last two seasons at Utah State. His commitment to the run game and physical defense will fit well at Wisconsin.
Football: Kevin Wilson | Basketball: Tom Crean
Crean essentially started from scratch at Indiana in 2008-09 with a depleted roster and NCAA sanctions. The Hoosiers won eight Big Ten games his first three seasons in Bloomington, but they arrived to national prominence a year earlier than expected last season. Now, Indiana is a legitimate national title contender again. IU football will always be No. 2, but Kevin Wilson has made progress in two seasons from playing a horde of freshmen in 2011. The Hoosiers improved from 1-11 overall and 0-8 in his first season to 4-8 and 2-6 in his second.
Football: Jerry Kill | Basketball: Tubby Smith
Minnesota is going to have a tough time winning in either sport, but the Gophers at least have the right coaches leading the program. Kill has won at every level from Saginaw Valley State to Emporia State to Southern Illinois to Northern Illinois. He led the Gophers back to a bowl game in his second season. Smith, who led Kentucky to a national championship in 1998, is Minnesota’s first successful basketball coach since crippling sanctions in the late 90s. He should have the Gophers in their third NCAA Tournament in five seasons.
Football: Pat Fitzgerald | Basketball: Bill Carmody
The star of Northwestern’s Rose Bowl teams has led the Wildcats to their most sustained period of success. Fitzgerald’s five consecutive bowl games is only one fewer than Northwestern had before he was promoted to replace the late Randy Walker. With a 10-3 season and a Gator Bowl win, Fitzgerald led Northwestern to its first 10-win season since 1995 and first bowl win since the 1948 season. Carmody has yet to lead Northwestern to its first NCAA Tournament in program history, but four consecutive NITs is a big deal for the Big Ten’s most historically downtrodden program.
Football: Darrell Hazell | Basketball: Matt Painter
Purdue isn’t a factor in a standout season for Big Ten basketball, but that shouldn’t diminish Painter’s tenure. The Boilermakers have reached six consecutive NCAA Tournaments, won a game on each trip and reached the Sweet 16 twice. Purdue could have been ever better those seasons if Painter had a full roster including a healthy Robbie Hummel. Hazell is a first-year coach who led Kent State to 11 wins last season. He has Big Ten ties as an assistant at Ohio State before landing with the Golden Flashes.
Football: Bo Pelini | Basketball: Tim Miles
Pelini has won nine or 10 games in each of his five seasons at Nebraska, but the Cornhuskers are still struggling to reach their '90s level of prominence. Nebraska has also lost exactly four games each season, including three consecutive bowl defeats. Miles built the Colorado State program from single-digit wins his first two seasons to 20 and an NCAA Tournament berth in his last. He’ll face a similar uphill battle with Nebraska hoops.
Football: Kirk Ferentz | Basketball: Fran McCaffery
The longest-tenured football coach in the Big Ten is having trouble keeping Iowa competitive. The Hawkeyes won a share of the Big Ten in 2002 and 2004 and went to the Orange Bowl in 2009, but they’ve struggled since. The Hawkeyes are 10-14 in the Big Ten the last three seasons. After three seasons, McCaffery has rebuilt a downtrodden program into an NCAA Tournament contender in the rugged Big Ten.
11. Penn State
Football: Bill O’Brien | Basketball: Pat Chambers
It’s only been a year, but O’Brien has done a masterful job of navigating the adversity at Penn State. Despite a handful of transfers and a bowl ban, O’Brien led the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 season in 2012. He held together a standout recruiting class, but the job is going to get tougher. After winning 42 games in two seasons at Boston University, Chambers took one of the toughest jobs in the Big Ten. Without their best player, Tim Frazier, Penn State is winless in the league this season.
Football: Tim Beckman | Basketball: John Groce
After a hot start in basketball, Illinois has skidded into Big Ten play. A win over Indiana in February, however, hints the Illini aren’t out of it yet. In two NCAA Tournament appearances with Ohio, Groce helped the Bobcats to advance both times, but he was 34-30 overall in the MAC. After a nice three-year run at Toledo, Beckman had a disastrous first season at Illinois, going 2-10 overall and winless in the Big Ten.
BIG TEN COACH TANDEM RANKINGS - 2014 LINEUP
1. Ohio State
3. Michigan State
Football: Randy Edsall | Basketball: Mark Turgeon
Maryland is banking on Edsall not being nearly as bad has his first two seasons may indicated. Turgeon may be a year away from truly contending with the Terrapins.
12. Penn State
Football: Kyle Flood | Basketball: Mike Rice
Flood led Rutgers to a share of the Big East title in his first season as head coach. Rice is 19-33 in the Big East in three seasons.
College football's 2013 National Signing Day is in the books and Athlon Sports kicks off its 2013 team recruiting rankings countdown with an in-depth look at the best classes in the nation. No team in the nation has capitalized more on its recent conference defection than the Texas A&M Aggies. Yes, finally hiring a quality coach and a redshirt freshman Heisman Trophy winner help, but make no mistake, the little "SEC" logo on shoulder pads and coaching polos is making the biggest impact on the recruiting trail. And with the recent struggles of Mack Brown at Texas, the Lone Star State could be up for grabs.
No. 8: Texas A&M Aggies
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 3
National Signees: 9
Total Signees: 32
Where They Got 'Em:
The battle for the state of Texas could be one of the more intriguing recruiting tugs-of-war to watch over the next few years. Kevin Sumlin has the Aggies brand riding at an all-time high, and while the Longhorns are always the biggest program in the state, he has noticeably closed the in-state gap. The Aggies landed 23 players from the Lone Star State, including eight nationally ranked prospects. It's the exact same number that Mack Brown landed at Texas this year and that is a huge step in the right direction for Sumlin.
New SEC territories, Louisiana (3) and Georgia (2), delivered five prospects to College Station while Sumlin went out West for a total of four players from California (2), Hawaii and Arizona.
Areas of Focus:
The overall depth of this class is tremendous. In fact, some are wondering how Texas A&M is going to get all 32 players under the scholarship limitations (star wideout Derrick Griffin doesn't even count). But with eight early enrollees counting back towards the 2012 class, Sumlin should be able to restock his roster with one of the largest hauls in the nation. And the passing game stands out like a Johnny Manziel touchdown run.
Six wide receivers, one tight end and two quarterbacks give Sumlin and his high-flying passing attack an entirely new toy box. Ricky Seals-Jean is the top-rated player in this class and brings a massive (6-5, 225) frame to the vertical passing game. Smallish speedsters Sebastian Larue and LaQuvionte Gonzalez will be dynamic in the slot and short passing game. And former AC100 (2012) wide receiver Ja'Quay Williams will finally get to a college campus after a year of prep school. He is an elite 6-3, 210-pound big-play machine who might be the most gifted pass-catcher in the class. Toss in former Tennessee tight end Cameron Clear and Manziel should have loads of weapons to throw to.
Backing up Manziel will be two nationally ranked quarterback prospects from Texas. Few teams can lure more than one elite player at this position but the chance to play in Sumlin's system is obviously a big draw. Kohl Stewart (6-2, 200) and Kenny Hill (6-1, 215) each bring a different style to the position. Stewart was a three-star prospect who is more of a pure passer while Hill earned Texas Gatorade Player of the Year and 5A Offensive Player of the Year honors at storied Southlake (Texas) Carroll. Technically, Manziel could leave A&M for the NFL following the 2013 season and having two elite passers to back him up is quite a luxury.
One running back and three offensive line prospects also signed with the Aggies in this class. None are considered nationally ranked prospects.
Even though Sumlin is an offensive coach with an elite scheme, he understands that to win in the SEC he will have to be strong on defense. In particular, the front seven. He signed six defensive lineman and linebackers in this class, completely restocking his defensive front. The defensive line is especially talented as three of the top five players in this class will play along the D-line. Justin Manning and Isaiah Golden are stud tackles who will stabilize the interior of the line while Daeshon Hall, a late signing day flip-flop from Washington, gives the line a tremendous pass-rushing presence. Jay Arnold and Jordan Points will join Hall on the outside while Hardreck Walker will play inside with Manning and Golden. This was a key area of focus and could be the key to success in the SEC.
None of the six-man linebacking class were nationally ranked but they are an extremely deep and versatile group. The seven-man secondary class was headlined by nationally ranked safety Kameron Miles. He is one of four safeties to sign with the Aggies. Sumlin also signed three cornerbacks to bolster the outside of his pass defense. His defensive class isn't loaded with five-star talent but it is one of the deepest groups in the nation with 19 signees headed for that side of the ball.
Offense: QB: 2, RB: 1, WR: 6, TE: 1, OL: 3
Defense: DL: 6, LB: 6, DB: 7, ATH: 0
|25.||Ricky Seals-Jean||WR||No. 3||Sealy, Texas||6-5||225|
|76.||Justin Manning||DT||No. 15 (DL)||Dallas, Texas||6-1||270|
|94.||Isaiah Golden||DT||No. 17 (DL)||Carthage, Texas||6-2||320|
|127.||Sebastian Larue||WR||No. 15||Los Angeles, Calif.||5-11||180|
|136.||Daeshon Hall||DE||No. 24 (DL)||Lancaster, Texas||6-6||225|
|170.||Kohl Stewart||QB||No. 16||Tomball, Texas||6-2||200|
|185.||LaQuvionte Gonzalez||WR||No. 22||Cedar Hill, Texas||5-10||165|
|195.||Kameron Miles||S||No. 32 (DB)||Mesquite, Texas||6-1||215|
|219.||Kenny Hill||QB||No. 23||Southlake, Texas||6-1||215|
|Reggie Chevis||LB||Houston, Texas||6-1||255||--|
|Cameron Clear||TE||Yuma, Ariz.||6-6||270||JUCO|
|A.J. Hilliard||LB||Klein, Texas||6-2||210||Transfer|
|Jordan Points||DE||Rockwall, Texas||6-3||255||--|
|Tommy Sanders||LB||Butler, Kan.||6-2||210||JUCO|
|Alex Sezer Jr||CB||Orange, Texas||5-9||180||--|
|Brett Wade||LB||Kennedale, Texas||6-1||225||--|
|Ja'Quay Williams||WR||Fork Union, Va.||6-3||210||Prep School|
Athlon Sports 2013 Recruiting Classes:
A handful of players hit multiple milestones this week, but they weren’t necessarily the most notable numbers of the week.
Creighton’s National Player of the Year contender Doug McDermott reached the 2,000-point mark, Kansas’ Jeff Withey set the Big 12’s career blocks record and Ohio’s D.J. Cooper moved into a tie for 15th on the all-time assists list.
Meanwhile, Kentucky and John Calipari flopped in a major way in its first game without Nerlens Noel, Indiana and Florida kept rolling over opponents, and Wisconsin soared at home.
In a wild season, we still found notable storylines in the numbers this week.
KEY COLLEGE BASKETBALL STATS FOR FEB. 11-17
30. Margin of defeat for Kentucky against Tennessee on Saturday
Before Saturday, Kentucky knew Nerlens Noel was its top player and the most consistent piece on a marginal NCAA Tournament team. But Tennessee proved the Wildcats could be lost without him. The Wildcats’ 88-58 loss to Tennessee was the biggest defeat of the John Calipari era by a long shot. The previous biggest losses were by 17 to eventual national champion Connecticut in the Maui Invitational in 2010 and by 17 to Florida on Tuesday, when Noel originally sustained a torn ACL. The numbers fallout was astounding: Zero fast-break points for Kentucky, 50 first-half points allowed and a 39-point deficit that wasn’t erased until the Wildcats ended the game on an 11-2 run.
How valuable is Nerlens Noel? Take a look at Kentucky’s key numbers in games with their National Defensive Player of the Year candidate and one game without him:
|KENTUCKY||WITH NOEL||AGAINST TENNESSEE|
|Points allowed||62.8 per game||88|
|Field goal % defense||38.2||58.0|
|Blocks||7.5 per game||6|
|Steals||6.4 per game||7|
|Defensive rebound %||69.4||45.0|
|Offensive rebound %||34.8||33.3|
21. Average margin of victory for Indiana and Florida this season
This isn’t a shock to anyone following college basketball this season, but when Indiana and Florida win this season, they tend to win big. That continued Saturday when Indiana 83-55 defeated Auburn and Indiana defeated Purdue 83-52. That boosted the Hoosiers’ nation leading average scoring margin to 21.9 points per game and the Gators to 21.7 per game. What do those near-identical scores mean? According to Matt Woods of TeamRankings.com, both teams have the highest average scoring margin since 2001 Duke (22.6 points per game). The last time two teams in a season averaged a scoring margin of 20 points per game, Kansas and Memphis met for the national title in 2008. Of the last 11 teams to defeat opponents by 20 points per game in a season, four won a national title. In his post, Woods notes how each team fared in the NCAA Tournament.
31. Auburn’s largest margin of defeat at home since 1952
The Tigers haven’t been a great basketball program, but the 83-53 rout to Florida was the worst for Auburn at home since the Tigers lost by 40 to Kentucky on Jan. 30, 1952. That game was notable more for the names in the arena that day -- Adolph Rupp was the coach at Kentucky and future Georgia football coach Vince Dooley played for Auburn.
60. Maryland’s shooting percentage against Duke
Maryland shot 60 percent from the field (27 of 45) in an 83-81 win over Duke on Saturday, the first time any team shot that well against the Blue Devils since Jan. 30, 2010. In that game, Georgetown shot 71.7 precent from the floor on 33-of-46 shooting. Both hot shooting teams were anchored by big men -- Georgetown by Greg Monroe in 2010 and Maryland by Alex Len on Saturday. Len was 6 of 8 from the field and 7 of 8 from the free throw line for 18 points, outdueling Mason Plumlee who fouled out with four points. The must-win game for the Terps boosted their RPI from No. 70 to 63 in one day.
6-1. Wisconsin’s Big Ten home record
Wisconsin’s 6-1 Big Ten home record isn’t all that impressive -- most top-25 teams will have similar or better home conference records. But Wisconsin’s 71-49 throttling of Ohio State further illustrated the Badgers’ dominance at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin has defeated three RPI top-25 teams at home (Michigan, Ohio State and Minnesota) and two other NCAA Tournament contenders (Illinois and Iowa). Moreover, three Wisconsin players average in double figures at home (Jared Berggren, Ben Brust and Ryan Evans) while none average 10 points per game on the road.
Here’s a closer look at Wisconsin’s overall home/road splits:
|Field goal %||44.9||37.9|
|Field goal % defense||37.1||44.3|
|Scorers averaging 10+ ppg||3||0|
28, 7 and 4. Marcus Smart’s stat line against Oklahoma
With UNLV and Anthony Bennett struggling to stay above .500 in the Mountain West and with Nerlens Noel out for the season, the National Freshman of the Year spotlight may turn to the Big 12. Kansas’ Ben McLemore and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart will be in the discussion, and Smart’s game against Oklahoma will highlight the rookie guard’s credentials. Smart’s 28 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the 84-79 overtime win over the Sooners underscored what a unique player his in the Big 12. In conference games, Smart is the only player in the Big 12 to rank in the top five in scoring, assists and steals and the only player to rank in the top 15 in scoring, rebounding and assists.
63. Combined points for UCLA’s top three freshmen against Stanford
Ben Howland’s freshman class of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams was tabbed as the trio that would salvage UCLA basketball. It’s been an up-and-down season, but the trio showed what they could do when they’re all on their games at the same time. The three rookies combined for 63 points in an 88-83 win over Stanford with 25 from Muhammad, 20 from Adams and 18 from Anderson. The 63 points was the most they’ve had as a group in Pac-12 play; the previous high was 46. It was also the most since combining for 72 against Fresno State on Dec. 22.
25-6. Amount Villanova freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono outscored UConn leading scorers Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright
Connecticut isn’t going to the NCAA Tournament, but the Huskies might end up helping Villanova find its way to the field. The Wildcats earned a resume-boosting win by defeating Connecticut 70-61 on Saturday for their first top-40 win since defeating Louisville and Syracuse in consecutive games in January. Streaky freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono outdueled UConn’s top guards Ryan Boatright (four points) and Shabazz Napier (two), though Napier had 10 assists.
4. Consecutive Big East wins for Providence
Hopes are high for Providence under second-year coach Ed Cooley, and the Friars have had a taste of what that might mean in the last two weeks. With a 71-54 win over Notre Dame on Saturday, Providence has won four consecutive Big East games, its longest conference winning streak since 2003-04. And the Friars aren’t ganging up on the have-nots in the Big East -- three of their four wins have come against NCAA contenders Notre Dame, Cincinnati and Villanova. Providence has had only minimal contributions from its standout freshman class, too. Kris Dunn is averaging only 5.6 points per game and Ricky Ledo has not qualified academically.
4. Active coaches in the Basketball Hall of Fame
Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, SMU’s Larry Brown, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams are the only active men’s college basketball coaches in the Basketball Hall of Fame, but that number could increase by one before next season. Louisville’s Rick Pitino was named as one of 12 finalists to be enshrined this season along with former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian. The Hall of Fame Class of 2013 will be announced before the national title game in Atlanta.
They’re the best of the best and worst of the worst in NASCAR. The pretty and the ugly, the cool and the lame. They made us cheer, laugh and, as Robert Plant once said, taught us “to weep and moan.”
They are the recipients of the Athlon Awards — back by popular demand — recognizing excellence (and lack thereof) from the 2012 NASCAR season. Some are fairly obvious, others off the wall. But none pull any punches. So, without further ado, the Athlon Awards.
Daytona Beach, Fla., is steeped in motorsports history. Known as “the birthplace of speed,” land speed records have been set on its white sand beaches. Drivers from a variety of disciplines have visited its victory lanes. One of the world’s great monuments to auto racing, the Daytona International Speedway, sits nestled within the city limits. Even North America’s most popular racing series — NASCAR — was founded at the Streamline Hotel, just off the beach in 1947.
On Sunday, Daytona Beach played host to another motorsports first when Danica Patrick became the first female to win a pole in 65 years of NASCAR competition. And she did so for the sport’s most prestigious event, the Daytona 500.
Patrick, who was the eighth of 45 cars to qualify, posted a lap of 196.434 mph. She held off Jeff Gordon (196.292 mph), who will start second and is the only other driver to be locked into a qualifying spot on the gird. The remainder of the field will be set in Thursday’s Duel 150s.
“It was a fast Chevy,” Patrick said of her No. 10 GoDaddy.com SS that also paced the field in Saturday’s qualifying practice session. “If you’re anywhere but the front row, it’s hard to see on race day. This just speaks volumes about Stewart-Haas Racing — I thought we were going to be 1-2-3 for a while.”
Indeed, Patrick’s three-car operation, co-owned by Tony Stewart, was impressive on pole day. It was Stewart whom she knocked off the top spot and teammate Ryan Newman who shared the front row with the Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year candidate for much of the session. Newman’s time of 195.946 mph eventually landed him fourth (2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne was third), while Stewart was fifth. Hendrick Motorsports’ Kasey Kahne was sixth, the final driver to be guaranteed a spot in the field based solely on Sunday’s qualifying session.
“I think it shows how hard Stewart-Haas Racing has worked on this new car,” Patrick said of what NASCAR is billing as its “Gen-6” car, that boast bodies unique to each manufacturer. “And obviously, Hendrick has done a great job giving us good engines.”
Hendrick Motorsports supplies SHR with engines, chassis and other technical support, serving as a mothership of sorts for the five-year old organization. Stewart acknowledged the pure speed Hendrick’s powerplants supplied, saying, “I wish I could say it was her, or myself or Ryan today, but it’s those guys in the engine shop.”
Of course, a car going fast by itself and being competitive in a pack — which horsepower-sapping restrictor plates at Daytona dictate — are two different things. That was apparent in Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited exhibition race at the 2.5-mile superspeedway. In that event, Stewart, along with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Kenseth, appeared to have the strongest cars in the 19-car field. However, it was Kevin Harvick who emerged with the win after throwing blocks on Stewart and Ford’s Greg Biffle on the final lap to secure victory.
And the last pole-sitter to win The Great American Race? Dale Jarrett, over a decade ago, in 2000.
But for the next week, Patrick will enjoy the history she made on Sunday. A history that was a long time in the making, as the previous highest qualifying female in a Cup race was Janet Guthrie, who qualified ninth at Bristol and Talladega in 1977.
“It’s nice to hear families talk about the fact that a little girl might say, ‘But Mommy, Daddy, that’s a girl out there.’” Patrick said. “Then they can have the conversation with their kid about you can do anything you want and being different doesn’t, by any means, allow you to follow your dreams. I love to think that conversation happens in households because of something I’ve done.”
by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
It’s been a unique start to Speedweeks in Daytona for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. Though technically, I guess most starts are unique. This one, however, has taken a new (if not predictable) turn since Danica Patrick went public concerning her relationship with fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to re-hash, quote-for-quote, the events of the week.
Peppered with questions on Media Day — coincidentally held on Valentine’s Day this year — the couple, as well as most all other drivers, answered a bevy of most un-race-oriented queries largely in stride. The mere existence of questions, of course, drew the ire of many fans and media members alike, though in defense of those interested there hasn’t been much else to talk about.
After all, a similar “Media Tour” was held just three weeks ago in Charlotte with the sport’s principles. Then, drivers, crew chiefs and owners dutifully answered competition-related questions. On their teams’ 2013 outlook, drivers were “excited;” on the new cars, crew chiefs toed the NASCAR line, praising the new body lines, noses and whatever else makes this new “Gen-6” car unique (there’s that word again) from homogenized models used since 2007. Owners smiled, talked of optimism in filling out sponsorship livery, practically giddy in how new personnel were coming together to make this season what’s sure to be their best yet.
Patrick waited until after the Media Tour to admit to the Associated Press that the long-circulated rumor of a budding romance with Stenhouse was, in fact … uh, fact. And with only closed team tests in the two weeks that followed, there honestly hasn’t been much from a competition perspective to reveal, aside from prognostication and conjecture.
If the Big 12 goes through Kansas, the Oklahoma schools might be in good shape.
A three-game losing streak for the Jayhawks has flipped the Big 12 race around, leaving the Cowboys and Sooners, who both defeated KU, as two of the biggest beneficiaries.
Three teams are tied for the Big 12 lead. Half of the conference is within a game of first place. And for the first time in a several seasons, the Oklahoma schools are in that mix. Oklahoma State is tied with Kansas and Kansas State for the Big 12 lead at 8-3 while Oklahoma is sitting at 7-4. For the first time since 2009, both schools are poised to reach the NCAA Tournament in the same season.
Behind the stellar play of guards Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, Oklahoma State has won six in a row, including a road win at Kansas. The Cowboys are a lock for the third NCAA Tournament appearance under coach Travis Ford, but their sights might be higher for a potential Big 12 title. After facing Oklahoma on Saturday, Oklahoma State will catch Kansas again in Stillwater on Wednesday.
Oklahoma is a longer shot to win the league, but the Sooners’ toughest opponent for the remainder of the regular season will be the rival Cowboys in Stillwater on Saturday. Either way, Lon Kruger’s turnaround season with the Sooners is remarkable as Oklahoma is poised for its first 20-win season and NCAA bid since Blake Griffin played in Norman in 2009.
Related: NCAA Tournament projections and bubble watch
GAME OF THE WEEK
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena
Stillwater, Okla. (cap. 13,611)
TV: Big 12 syndication
OKLAHOMA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Isaiah Cousins (6-3/182, Fr.)
G Steven Pledger (6-4/219, Sr.)
G Je’Lon Hornbeak (6-3/180, Fr.)
F Romero Osby (6-8/232, Sr.)
F Amath M’Baye (6-9/208, Jr.)
OKLAHOMA STATE PROBABLE STARTERS
G Marcus Smart (6-4/225, Fr.)
G Markel Brown (6-3/190, Jr.)
F Le’Bryan Nash (6-7/230, So.)
F Michael Cobbins (6-8/200, So.)
C Philip Jurick (6-11/260, Sr.)
Game-defining matchup: Oklahoma’s Steven Pledger vs. Oklahoma State’s Markel Brown
Brown has been on a hot streak recently, scoring 25 against Texas Tech on Wednesday and riding an explosive first half against Kansas two weeks ago on the way to 28 points. He’s an explosive dunker, but he can step out and shoot the three-pointer, going 7 of 8 against Tech and 7 of 10 against Kansas. When he’s on, Oklahoma State’s tough to stop. Steven Pledger has had his struggles in recent weeks, but the Sooners need one of their most experienced players to be on his game on both ends of the floor against a tough Cowboys backcourt.
Players we’re watching: Oklahoma’s Cam Clark and Je’lon Hornbeak
Kruger has been tinkering with his lineups in recent weeks, putting Hornbeak and later freshman Isaiah Cousins at the point. But Kruger's hand will be forced with the energetic Bobby Hield out for four to six weeks with a broken foot. Hornbeak hit a three-pointer and a few big free throws late in the win over Kansas, but he’s a freshman. Clark is a 6-foot-6 junior guard who can contribute in a number of areas.
Stat that matters: Free throw shooting
If the game is close near the end, it will be interesting to see who wins the free throw battle. Oklahoma State (74.3 percent) and OKlahoma (73.8 percent) are the top two teams in the Big 12 from the line.
How Oklahoma can win: Let Osby and M’Baye take over
Romero Osby is one of the league’s most improved players, making a run at conference player of the year honors. In his second go-round against Kansas’ Jeff Withey, Osby owned the matchup with 17 points and eight rebounds. He and Amath M’Baye (10.5 ppg) will need to take charge against the Cowboys’ frontcourt for Oklahoma to have its best chance to win.
How Oklahoma State can win: Dominate the backcourt matchup
Freshman Marcus Smart has been every bit the transformative player Oklahoma State hoped he would be, but he’s not the only freshman standout. Phil Forte has scored in double figures in six of his last nine games. Together, Smart, Brown and Forte are averaging 50.3 points per game during the Cowboys’ six-game win streak. With an undermanned and young Oklahoma backcourt, the Cowboys will look to the guards to take over the game.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 72, Oklahoma 67
WEEKEND ON TAP
All times Eastern
Georgetown at Cincinnati (Friday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
The Hoyas’ NCAA credentials have improved greatly since mid-January as Georgetown has won six in a row. In terms of field goals, Georgetown is the most efficient team in the Big East on both ends of the floor: The Hoyas lead the Big East in field goal percentage (45.6 percent) and field goal defense (38.1 percent) in conference games. After a two-game skid, Cincinnati got a much needed win over Villanova on Tuesday.
Virginia at North Carolina (Saturday, noon, ACC syndication)
Where did Virginia’s offense come from? The Cavaliers scored 78 on Clemson, 80 on Maryland and 73 on Virginia Tech in the last three games. North Carolina had a win at Duke within its sights before poor free throw shooting sunk the Tar Heels. How short on good wins is North Carolina? The Heels’ best victories are over UNLV, Florida State, Maryland and Long Beach State.
Pittsburgh at Marquette (Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS)
This is a key game in what is turning out to be a wild race in the Big East. With Syracuse’s loss to Connecticut on Wednesday, Marquette is in a three-way tie for first in the league with the Orange and Georgetown. Pittsburgh has been one of the hottest teams in the nation over the last month. The Panthers have lost only once — by three points at Louisville — since their 74–67 defeat, in OT, at Marquette on Jan. 12.
Missouri at Arkansas (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2)
Mike Anderson, who won 111 games in five seasons as the head coach at Missouri, takes on his former school for the first time since making the move to Arkansas. The Razorbacks have been brutal on the road but nearly unbeatable at home. Arkansas seems to be the safe pick here, but Mizzou is capable of beating any team in the nation when it shoots well from the 3-point line.
Colorado State at Air Force (Saturday, 4 p.m., Altitude)
After a two-game swoon, Air Force is back in NCAA Tournament conversation after drilling UNLV 71-56. Colorado State is in even better shape with a chance to win the Mountain West title after a late burst from Dorian Green gave the Rams a 66-60 win over San Diego State on Wednesday. Colorado State leads the nation in rebound rate despite having only one player taller than 6-foot-6.
Baylor at Kansas State (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
It’s pretty clear where Baylor stands in the Big 12 with a 1-4 record against Tournament contenders Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and a 6-0 record against Texas, Texas Tech, TCU and West Virginia. Kansas State’s Rodney McGruder is averaging 20 points per game over his last three.
Ohio State at Wisconsin (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Thursday's OT loss to Minnesota notwithstanding, Wisconsin has mastered the art of the narrow victory. Each of the Badgers’ last five wins has come by six points or less, including two in overtime. Ohio State used a win over Northwestern to recover from a tough week, with losses to two of the top-five teams in the nation (Michigan and Indiana). The Buckeyes’ last two road losses — at Michigan and at Michigan State — have come by a total of five points. This team has the mental toughness to win at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Minnesota at Iowa (Sunday, 2 p.m., Big Ten Network)
This is a pivotal game for both teams. Minnesota, which opened the season with 15 wins in its first 16 games. The Golden Gophers have lost six of their last nine, none more damaging than last Sunday’s home game against Illinois. After defeating Wisconsin in overtime Thursday, Minnesota could string together some good wins with another victory in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes improved to 5–7 in the Big Ten with wins over Northwestern and Penn State. With a soft schedule down the stretch — by Big Ten standards — Iowa will have an opportunity to play its way into the NCAA Tournament.
Athlon Sports managing editor Mitch Light contributed to this report.