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Path: /college-football/kansas-state-wildcats-2015-spring-football-preview

Bill Snyder is a mad scientist when it comes to building a roster and developing talent.


His challenge this offseason for Kansas State might be one of his biggest, however, as the Wildcats lose a glut of elite senior leaders.


Will Kansas State likely outperform their preseason expectations anyway? Probably. But that will require more wizardry from Snyder this spring.


Related: 2015 Big 12 Spring Primer and Power Rankings


5 Storylines to Watch in Kansas State’ Spring Practice:


1. Who replaces Jake Waters at quarterback?

Waters wasn’t an elite talent but he was a great leader and consistently willed his team to wins. He must be replaced this spring. Joe Hubener will have the first crack at earning the starting job as he brings a similar skill set to the table as Waters and previous starter Collin Klein. However, Jesse Ertz and early enrollee Alex Delton will be in the mix this spring.


2. Find pass catchers

Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton both topped 1,000 yards receiving last season, the first time a WR duo had done so in Kansas State history. Both are gone along with dependable tight end Zach Trujillo. Kody Clark has some upside and played well in a supporting role last fall. Deante Burton, Judah Jones, Stanton Weber and Andre Davis should all get plenty of looks on the outside. Someone needs to step up as KSU looks to find dependable pass catchers.


Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Big 12 Preview

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3. Plug holes in the front seven

End Ryan Mueller and leading tackler Jonathan Truman are both gone along with tackle Valentino Coleman and linebacker Dakorey Johnson. Mueller will be the toughest one to replace, so finding a pass rusher is a top priority this spring. Jordan Willis needs to take the next step. There are plenty of linebackers on the depth chart prepared to step in and fill voids — Will Davis, Elijah Lee, Charmeachealle Moore — but setting the depth chart this spring is key. 


4. Find a consistent running game

All-American center B.J. Finney needs to be replaced up the middle on an offense that ranked just 104th nationally in rushing offense last year. Cody Whitehair and Boston Stiverson return to the left side of the line but this unit must improve on the ground. Leading rusher among running backs Charles Jones is still around, but there is no experienced depth behind him. Settling the O-line, finding some backs and getting a push up front needs to be a focus this offseason.


5. Junior college contributors

Snyder has made a living on providing instant depth with junior college transfers during his time in Manhattan. Kansas State didn’t enroll a single JUCO prospect this spring, but a large group that failed to contribute much last season could be ready to step into prominent roles. The aforementioned Davis, offensive lineman A.J. Allen, nose guard Terrell Clinskcales and cornerback Jesse Mack could be the top names to watch from a ’14 class that included nine JUCOs.


Pre-Spring Outlook on Kansas State:


Kansas State is always better than most expect. But this team has major holes to fill at key positions after losing historically great players. Quarterback and the defensive front seven are big areas of concern but there are options in the cupboard for Snyder. Should these two areas come into focus, the Wildcats could once again surprise in the Big 12.

Kansas State Wildcats 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /nba/san-antonio-spurs-are-beautiful-again

After a season spent lying about with a championship hangover, the San Antonio Spurs finally look like title contenders again.


Following a 12-3 March campaign, they seem like the only legitimate Western Conference threat to the dominant Golden State Warriors. The Spurs have regained their dazzling, selfless form — the giant has awakened from its slumber, with no game more telling than their recent 114-95 road spattering of the Atlanta Hawks.


Atlanta has been the apple of the league’s eye for much of the year, running out to the East’s No. 1 seed with a formula that coach Mike Budenholzer brought over from the decade-plus tenure he had under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. But the Spurs quickly reminded the league that no one plays their brand of ball as well as they do, with the win.


At the center of their resurgence is Tony Parker, who shot 56 percent from the field through March — an almost unheard-of figure for a point guard. Parker had shot around 40 percent for the previous two months, clearly exhibiting some malaise and creaky body issues, but now he’s back to being the dark horse leader that’s fueled the Spurs’ offense for years.


Alongside Parker’s rise back to prominence has been the continued improvement of Kawhi Leonard, who missed games with various injuries throughout the year but now looks more and more every day like he’s eclipsing Carmelo Anthony, to enter the rare air of top-three NBA small forwards — Kawhi’s still got work to do to stand up to LeBron James and Kevin Durant. But Leonard’s relentless length on defense is difficult for any team to account for.


The ever-steady Tim Duncan, meanwhile, continues to amaze. The soon-to-be-39-year-old has been the Spurs’ most consistent player in 2014-15, netting the seventh best defensive real plus-minus in the league — Leonard’s is fourth.


Perhaps most encouraging of all, though, is the rejuvenation of the league’s most consummate postseason wild card — Boris Diaw. Parker’s French friend is the crazy glue that turns the Spurs into something unstoppable, and that’s just what San Antonio might be again… even against the Warriors.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 16:31
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, New England Patriots, NFL
Path: /nfl/five-perfect-nfl-draft-fits-new-england-patriots

This offseason there seem to be more holes than usual in the New England Patriots' personnel. With the departure of both starting cornerbacks and long-time stalwart Vince Wilfork, as well as questions at guard and unproven depth at running back, the Patriots could have a number of rookies immediately step into starting slots.


The other concern is at linebacker, where both Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower are recovering from injuries and might not be ready to go at the start of the season. The Pats pursued Rolando McClain to reinforce the position, but he ended up re-signing with Dallas.


Usually the Pats have at least a serviceable starting 22 by the draft, but now, in early April, questions still remain.


Here are five potential draft picks that would be great fits in New England.


1. Eddie Goldman - DT - Florida State

The Patriots drafted defensive tackle Dominique Easley in the first round last year and he showed some promise before being shut down to get fully recovered for the 2015 season. Easley is a penetrator and would make a great pairing with Goldman, one of the top defensive tackles in this year's draft class. Goldman is not Wilfork, but has the size to be effective both as a two-gapper and getting up field after the quarterback.


Versatility is key in Bill Belichick's defensive scheme, where the base nickel package has two space-eating defensive tackles at the heart of it. Stopping the run with a six-man box is vital, and Goldman would immediately become a significant part of a rotation with Easley, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones and veteran Alan Branch.


2. A.J. Cann - OG - South Carolina

There might not be another position in more need of a youthful talent infusion than guard and this draft class is rich with prospects who could immediately step in. With captain Dan Connolly still taking free agent visits, the need at the position is almost unheard of at this point in the offseason. Cann could immediately step in and start at left guard, just as Logan Mankins did a decade ago.


Cann's experience, disciplined play and toughness all check key boxes for the Patriots' draft requirements. He would instantly solidify a huge need and form one of the best young interior offensive line tandems with second-year starter Bryan Stork at center.


3. Byron Jones - CB - UConn

With the departure of both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner many are now clamoring for a cornerback in the first round, but the Patriots' standards are extremely high. The last cornerback they took in the first round was Devin McCourty, thought by many to be more of a special teamer than cornerback prospect at the time. However, what he turned into was a four-down player who made the Pro Bowl both as a cornerback in this rookie year and as a safety last season.


Jones has shot up the draft boards with impressive performances at both the combine and UConn's pro day. He's the ultimate leader, something the Patriots definitely look for in prospects. Like McCourty, he could be a four-down player and contribute immediate value, even if he doesn't immediately lock down a starting spot on defense. His athleticism and size would be a welcome addition to the secondary.


4. Duke Johnson - RB - Miami

With Stevan Ridley's likely departure, the Patriots do have some need at running back, although second-year player Tyler Gaffney, plucked off of waivers from the Carolina Panthers, should compete for a role. LeGarrette Blount is a solid piece, but the Pats prefer a committee of running backs and Blount won't be asked to carry the load.

Enter Duke Johnson, an explosive running back, who would immediately bring a new dimension to the Patriots' backfield. Johnson is a downhill runner who will break initial contact and pick up extra yards. He's also a capable receiver and while his protection skills might keep him off the field early in his career, he'll be protected in this respect via the backfield-by-committee philosophy.


5. Bernardrick McKinney - ILB - Mississippi St.

With Mayo and Hightower questionable for the start of training camp, and no experienced depth behind Jamie Collins, the Patriots must bring in some talent to their linebacker corps. They will continue to look at free agent options, but they'll also look at the rookie crop long and hard.


McKinney isn't a flashy choice, he's the kind of player that plays within the defense and makes plays. He has excellent size and length, and runs well enough to not be a major liability in the passing game. While it's always preferable to ease a rookie linebacker in, McKinney would carve out a role even with the eventual return of Mayo and Hightower.



— Written by Mike Dussault, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writer/editor of (@PatsPropaganda), a comprehensive blog covering the New England Patriots.

With notable departures in free agency, the Pats still have some holes to fill. Here are five instant starters.
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/tiregate-defines-nascar-season-following-denny-hamlins-victory-martinsville

As NASCAR prepares for its Easter break, the mood around the garage had turned optimistic. Martinsville, long one of the circuit’s best tracks produced an excellent finish between Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski. After weeks of dominance by Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota flexed some muscle as some new faces made their way to the front. It seemed like the biggest news item this week would simply be following Kyle Larson doctor visits after the young driver fainted and was taken to a Charlotte hospital.


Then, out of the blue NASCAR dropped an anvil straight on an unsuspecting sport. Ryan Newman was docked 75 points Tuesday night when his team was found to make improper adjustments to his tires during the race. According to officials, holes were being poked in his Goodyears to slowly “bleed air pressure” during a run, increasing grip and allowing the handling of his car to stay more consistent. The advantage was costly, as crew chief Luke Lambert was fined $125,000 and suspended for six races. Tire technician James Bender and team engineer Philip Surgen have been suspended for the next six races as well.


Officials had been sniffing around with tires the last few weeks, confiscating them from several top teams following races but had not found anything out of the ordinary, until now. The Newman penalty, while affecting the No. 31 team directly, serves as a stern warning for everyone else. NASCAR has done a lot of work the last few years trying to carve out any type of “gray area” in what was a rulebook that once appeared to be written in invisible ink. The sport is preaching parity and any modifications to major pieces, like tires and engines will be dealt with swiftly and effectively.


At the same time, for Newman the penalty could have been far worse. Early in the season, a six-week suspension gives them plenty of time to recover and regain rhythm before the Chase. While dropping to 27th in the standings, a win will be all it takes for Newman to still gain entrance into the postseason field (he was last year’s championship runner-up). Richard Childress Racing has shown plenty of speed, with its single-car alliances of JTG-Daugherty Racing and Germain Racing posting top-5 and top-10 performances, too. Opportunities will be there for Newman to cash in over the spring and summer, making tiregate a distant memory.


It was the easiest way for NASCAR to fire a warning shot, with Newman the example they’re trotting out in front of the masses. In a year where passing is difficult, teams are trying every which way to get the slightest advantage that will push them through traffic during a long, green-flag run. But playing with fire will come with a steep price, one they won’t want to risk during the postseason. That message was the sport’s Easter egg gift to America.


Let’s take a look back at what else we should focus on heading into NASCAR’s off week.


FIRST GEAR: Joe Gibbs Racing back on track


Hamlin’s Martinsville victory, his fifth at the track, led a strong effort by the sport’s top Toyota outfit. Teammates Matt Kenseth and David Ragan also wound up inside the top 5, the first time that’s happened all season. It was a strong response to the news that team President J.D. Gibbs is undergoing treatment for issues impacting brain function.


“It was about 12, 13 years ago when J.D. happened to just show up at a Hickory test where we were running some late models,” Hamlin explained. “He made a phone call to his dad and thought maybe he had something there that was special. [JGR] signed me up, and J.D. was the key to making that happen.”


As the team has rallied together, prepared to support Gibbs through the illness there’s also signs of recovery from Kyle Busch’s devastating leg injury at Daytona. While Busch keeps pushing through rehab, Ragan seems to have finally gotten comfortable with the No. 18 team in his absence. His first top-5 finish makes it more likely he’ll be in the car for a longer period rather than handing off the reins to youngster Erik Jones.


SECOND GEAR: Hendrick’s horrible day


This year, Hendrick Motorsports cars have flashed the most speed to compete with defending champion Kevin Harvick. But Martinsville, traditionally a strength with teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, turned out to be a huge bump in the road. Johnson was never a factor, getting involved in wrecks and failing to lead a lap en route to 35th. Gordon, on the other hand was in position until a late penalty for speeding sent him to the back of the lead lap during the race’s final caution. He fought his way to ninth but that was small consolation for a car that was one of the fastest in the field.


Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won at Martinsville last fall, was a mess all day. Suffering from multiple broken shifters, he wound up plowing into a wreck and finished one spot behind Johnson in 36th. Young Chase Elliott, making his Sprint Cup debut had a similar problem, a chain-reaction incident leaving him a whopping 73 laps down in 38th. Only Kasey Kahne, who ran 11th avoided significant problems on the day.


“You can’t do anything about bad finishes like this,” explained Earnhardt. “You just have to learn from everything that happened to us and come back here a little stronger next time.”


THIRD GEAR: 1, 2, 3, Contact


After a series of questionable debris cautions, the yellow flag waved 16 times Sunday for (mostly) legitimate reasons. Martinsville lived up to its short track reputation, with three wrecks involving five or more cars dwindling the number of lead-lap finishers to 21. Among the big names involved included Earnhardt, Elliott, Newman and Justin Allgaier.


It was a carnage-filled event but one that harkened back to the old-school days of NASCAR, when you could bump each other and not worry about losing speed or the dreaded “aero push.” During a season where there’s been so little contact, drivers creating their own personal space shortly after a restart the bumping and grinding was nice to see.


FOURTH GEAR: Danica hanging in there


A seventh-place finish, for some would be a drop in the bucket toward building a Chase-contending resume. But for a driver like Danica Patrick, simply looking to survive in the Sprint Cup Series it’s a huge confidence boost for her and crew chief Daniel Knost.


“It’s a disaster to be off and struggling with the car and it’s really fun to have a good car,” she explained, claiming her top-10 finish was a dogfight. “We had both of them today. I don’t think I’ve really been in that situation before.”


Patrick, in the final year of her contract desperately needs to put some finishes together and show she can succeed in Cup over the long-term. Stewart-Haas Racing, pairing her with the inexperienced Knost hadn’t done her any favors but suddenly, their little group is making a bit of noise. If the season ended today, Patrick would be tied for the final Chase spot and she’s done a better job of making the most of her situation each week. In theory, the speed is there to get the job done, especially with teammate Harvick dominating nearly every week. Her position in points, however tenuous, makes her a story to keep an eye on.




Harvick, who led a race-high 154 laps Sunday saw his streak of eight top-2 finishes end. He wound up eighth, shrinking his lead in the points over Joey Logano to just 24… The 31 lead changes we saw at Martinsville, a season high, were more than the last two races combined… Martin Truex Jr. now has six top-10 finishes to start the season with Furniture Row Racing. That’s a career high for him and more than he scored with FRR all of last season… Carl Edwards, 17th on Sunday, still has yet to register a top-10 finish with his new team over at Joe Gibbs Racing.


— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.


Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Tiregate Defines NASCAR Season Following Denny Hamlin’s Victory at Martinsville
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/oregon-ducks-2015-spring-football-preview

For the second time in five seasons, Oregon came up 60 minutes short of a national championship.


This time the Ducks have to rebuild without arguably the greatest player in the history of their program. Five starters are back on defense and seven are back on offense, but the loss of Marcus Mariota obviously cannot be understated.


Mark Helfrich still might have the team to beat in the Pac-12 but will have to address some major issues with his roster this spring if he wants to win a second consecutive conference title.


5 Storylines to Watch in Oregon’s Spring Practice:


1. Keep the seat warm

Vernon Adams threw for 10,438 yards, rushed for 1,232 and accounted for 121 touchdowns in three years at Eastern Washington. He’s likely Oregon's next starting quarterback but won’t show up until June. That leaves Jeff Lockie, Morgan Mahalak and Taylor Alie to run the offense this spring. Having a backup plan ready before Adams arrives would be advised. Keep an eye on true freshman early enrollee Travis Jonsen as well.


2. Fill massive gaps along the line

Hroniss Grasu, Hamani Stevens and Jake Fisher all earned All-Pac-12 honors and all three must be replaced this spring. Tyler Johnstone returns to anchor the unit but the rest of this group is extremely inexperienced and unproven. Look for guys like Doug Brenner, Matt Pierson and Jake Pisarcik to step into bigger roles this offseason. This might be the biggest concern for Helfrich this spring.


3. Develop the secondary

Veterans Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill are gone at cornerback while Erick Dargan departs at safety. And the backups stepping into bigger roles are very young. Reggie Daniels needs to be a leader while Tyree Robinson, Chris Seisay, Khalil Oliver and others will need to step up. Even true freshman early enrollee Ugo Amadi and former wide receiver Charles Nelson could see first-team reps this spring. 


Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Pac-12 Preview

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4. Defensive line rotation

DeForest Buckner is back for Oregon and could be the best player on the entire roster. He likely won’t be a part of spring ball, as he recovers from an unknown leg injury, so Don Pellum needs to establish a defensive line rotation. This unit is stacked with depth but needs to replace Arik Armstead and Sam Kamp while accounting for Buckner’s absence. Alex Balducci and Tui Talia are excellent veterans, but the rest of the unit needs to be organized this spring.


5. Keep playmakers happy

Oregon has a lot of guys who will touch the football this fall and keeping them all happy will be important. Organizing the workload in the backfield is an enviable task with Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner and hybrid Byron Marshall returning. Bralon Addison returns after missing all of last year with a knee injury and will fight for reps with a deep collection of young playmakers on the outside. There is only one football and the Ducks have 8-10 guys who could be stars with the ball in their hands.


Pre-Spring Outlook on Oregon:


The Ducks are loaded with young talent and are returning a core group of players who have won a ton of games. But critical positions — quarterback, offensive line and defensive back — are glaring concerns for Helfrich and staff that need to be addressed this spring. In a brutal conference with loads of quality programs, the Ducks might still be considered the front-runner, provided they can answer a few questions this spring.

Oregon Ducks 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/ranking-sec-wests-toughest-college-football-schedules-2015

Let’s get one thing clear right away. There is no such thing as an “easy” schedule in the SEC.


When putting together Athlon Sports' college football preview magazines each year, a huge part of the process is scheduling. Non-conference games, crossovers, home-road splits and timing all play a role in determining order of finish.


And don’t forget that the College Football Playoff Committee made it very clear in its first season that it values scheduling.


Related: Ranking the SEC East's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2015


So who has the toughest schedule in the SEC West this fall?


* - neutral site


1. Arkansas

Non-Con: UTEP, Toledo, Texas Tech, UT Martin

West Home: Auburn, Mississippi St

West Road: Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, Texas A&M*

Crossover: at Tennessee, Missouri


How about the toughest road schedule in the SEC: Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, Tennessee and neutral field against Texas A&M in Arlington. Getting Auburn, Missouri and Mississippi State at home is nice but this SEC slate is brutal. The non-conference slate isn’t overly taxing but still features a Big 12 opponent (who can score points).


2. Alabama

Non-Con: Wisconsin, MTSU, ULM, Charleston So.

West Home: Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU

West Road: Texas A&M, Mississippi St, Auburn

Crossover: at Georgia, Tennessee


Crossover play for Alabama might be the toughest of any team in the West, and Wisconsin could be the best non-conference game in the division as well. With both Auburn and Georgia on the road, battles against the top two challengers to the Tide’s SEC title will come away from home. However, road trips to Texas A&M and Mississippi State could feature the worst two teams in the division. Huge swing games (Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU) will come at home.


3. Ole Miss

Non-Con: UT Martin, Fresno St, New Mexico St, at Memphis

West Home: Texas A&M, Arkansas, LSU

West Road: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi St

Crossover: Vanderbilt, at Florida


The non-conference schedule has two tricky, but beatable foes with Memphis and Fresno State on the schedule. Crossover play against Vanderbilt and Florida is, at worst, a split. The road slate in the division is what might keep Ole Miss from winning the West, having to visit Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State. Fans also get two big revenge games with LSU and Arkansas at home this year.


Related: SEC West 2015 Spring Preview and Power Rankings


4. Texas A&M

Non-Con: Arizona St*, Ball St, Nevada, W. Carolina

West Home: Mississippi St, Alabama, Auburn

West Road: Ole Miss, LSU, Arkansas*

Crossover: South Carolina, at Vanderbilt


The Aggies-Sun Devils season opener is just awesome — but very difficult. Only having two true road games in the division helps. The best two teams in the league likely have to visit College Station (Alabama, Auburn) and crossover play with the Gamecocks and Commodores is the easiest of any team in the West. Texas A&M will leave the state of Texas just three times all year.


5. LSU

Non-Con: McNeese St, at Syracuse, E. Michigan, W. Kentucky

West Home: Auburn, Arkansas, Texas A&M

West Road: Mississippi State, Alabama, Ole Miss

Crossover: at South Carolina, Florida


The non-conference slate is very manageable and crossover play works in LSU’s favor as well this year with Florida visiting Death Valley. Three road games in the division to Starkville, Tuscaloosa and Oxford, however, keep LSU from having the easiest slate in the West. Add a marquee home schedule with two revenge games (Arkansas, Auburn) and cap it all off with Texas A&M.


6. Auburn

Non-Con: Louisville*, Jacksonville St, San Jose St, Idaho

West Home: Mississippi St, Ole Miss, Alabama

West Road: LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M

Crossover: at Kentucky, Georgia


Louisville is a salty start to the season but this year’s Cardinals team doesn't have the look of a vintage Bobby Petrino squad. All four SEC road trips will take place against teams that are all likely picked well behind the Tigers in the preseason standings. The three biggest games of the season (Ole Miss, Alabama, Georgia) all take place on The Plains.


7. Mississippi State

Non-Con: at So. Miss, Northwestern St, Troy, La. Tech

West Home: LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss

West Road: Auburn, Texas A&M, Arkansas

Crossover: Kentucky, at Missouri


The non-conference slate will once again offer up four should-be wins for Mississippi State. Crossover play could feature two bottom-half teams in the East. And three of the top four teams in the West will likely have to visit Starkville. There is no schedule that is easy in the West, but State gets the nod here for the purpose of this exercise.

Ranking the SEC West's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2015
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Hot Seat, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-coaches-hot-seat-2015-spring-practice-edition

Coaching changes are a big part of any college football offseason. The 2015 carousel was relatively quiet with just 15 changes. However, from 2009-13, there were at least 21 coaching moves each year. While it’s too early in the season to know how many changes could be coming at the end of 2015, it’s never too soon to take a look at which coaches are on the hot seat.


Virginia’s Mike London tops the list of coaches on the hot seat, with Illinois’ Tim Beckman a close No. 2. Hawaii’s Norm Chow is the first coach from outside of the Power 5 conferences on this list. Here’s a spring edition of the top coaches on the hot seat for 2015.


Top 10 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2015


1. Mike London, Virginia

Record at Virginia: 23-38 (5 seasons)


London was on the hot seat last season but returns to the Virginia sideline after a 5-7 record. The five wins in 2014 was the Cavaliers’ second-highest victory mark under London, but Virginia still finished at the bottom of the Coastal Division. London has recruited well, but the Cavaliers have ranked ninth or worse in the ACC in scoring offense in four consecutive years. Getting to a bowl this season likely would keep London in Charlottesville for 2016.


2. Tim Beckman, Illinois

Record at Illinois: 12-25 (3 seasons)


Beckman’s teams have showed improvement over the last three years. Illinois finished 2-10 and winless in Big Ten play during Beckman’s first season (2012). However, the Fighting Illini won four games in 2013 and improved to 6-7 with an appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl last year. While Illinois won six games in 2014, it suffered a 38-27 loss to Purdue and posted narrow victories over Texas State (42-35) and Western Kentucky (42-34). Additionally, the Fighting Illini is just 4-20 under Beckman’s direction in Big Ten games.


3. Norm Chow
Record at Hawaii:
8-29 (3 seasons)


Hawaii isn’t an easy job, but Chow is just 8-29 in his three seasons. The Rainbow Warriors started Mountain West play 1-15 under Chow and have lost at least nine games in each of the last three years. San Diego State should be the clear favorite in the Mountain West’s West Division in 2015 and plenty of uncertainty surrounds usual contenders Nevada and Fresno State. With major question marks for the teams outside of the Aztecs in the West Division, there’s an opportunity for Hawaii to improve. With a new athletic director in place, the pressure is on Chow to win in 2015.


4. Al Golden, Miami

Record at Miami: 28-22 (4 seasons)


After taking a Temple program that was among the worst in the nation to respectability in the MAC, Golden seemed like a good fit to elevate Miami back into the ACC’s elite. However, it hasn’t worked out for Golden in four years, and there’s plenty of pressure on this coaching staff in 2015. The Hurricanes are just 16-16 in four years in ACC play under Golden and finished 3-5 in league action last season. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for Miami. However, this program is still looking for its first appearance in the ACC Championship since joining the league in 2004.


5. Ron Caragher, San Jose State

Record at San Jose State: 9-15 (2 season)


San Jose State has regressed since Mike MacIntyre left for Colorado. Even with standout senior quarterback David Fales under center, the Spartans finished 6-6 and missed on a bowl appearance in 2013. The program took another step back last season with a 3-9 record, with just two victories coming in Mountain West play. Caragher made a few staff changes this offseason, including well-traveled assistant Al Borges as the team’s offensive coordinator. San Jose State outgained its conference opponents by an average of 81.1 yards per game in 2014, and if Borges can find an answer at quarterback, the Spartans could inch closer to .500 play in the Mountain West.


6. Willie Taggart, South Florida

Record at USF: 6-18 (2 seasons)


Taggart was regarded as one of the top coaching hires prior to the 2013 season, but the Bulls are just 6-18 under his watch. USF won only two games in Taggart’s debut and increased its win total by two last season (4-8). According to recruiting rankings, the Bulls have one of the top rosters in the American Athletic Conference. Will it show in the win column in 2015? Getting to six victories is a realistic goal if the scheme change to an up-tempo attack on offense works out, along with the development of the team’s young talent.  


7. Ron Turner, FIU

Record at FIU: 5-19 (2 seasons)


FIU’s hire of Turner was an unusual one, and the Panthers slumped to 1-11 in his debut in 2013. But there were a few signs of life from Turner’s second team last season. FIU finished 4-8 overall and went 3-5 in conference play. The Panthers also lost four games by three points or less last season, providing hope for a winning record in 2015 if the team’s young offense develops this spring. Turner’s staff was hit hard by departures this offseason, including rising star defensive coordinator Josh Conklin leaving for Pittsburgh.


8. Paul Haynes, Kent State

Record at Kent State: 6-17 (2 seasons)


Kent State has recorded only one winning record since 2002, and Haynes’ first two seasons have been a struggle with a 6-17 mark. Considering Haynes is a former Kent State defensive back and worked as an assistant with the Golden Flashes as an assistant in 1999-00, he certainly knows what it takes to win at this program. The hire of Don Treadwell as the team’s offensive play-caller should pay dividends for a unit that managed only 16.4 points per game in 2014. 


9. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Record at Iowa: 115-85 (16 seasons)


Ferentz is the third-longest tenured coach in college football, and he’s had plenty of success at Iowa. During his 16 seasons in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes have recorded 115 victories and played in 12 bowl games. But is a fresh start needed for Iowa? The Hawkeyes have not finished in the final Associated Press poll since 2009 and has only one winning record in Big Ten play since 2010. And a Ferentz mention in a hot seat article wouldn’t be complete without a reference to his hefty buyout. While it can be accomplished, it’s not easy for a coach to stay in one place and succeed for a long time. Has Iowa reached its breaking point if Ferentz goes 6-6 or 5-7 in 2015?


10. Kevin Wilson, Indiana

Record at Indiana: 14-34 (4 seasons)


Indiana is a tough place to win consistently in the Big Ten, and the challenge for the Hoosiers only increased with the new divisional alignment featuring annual games against Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Wilson improved Indiana’s win total in each of his first three seasons, but the program took a step back after an injury to quarterback Nate Sudfeld in 2014. With Sudfeld back in the mix, along with the addition of UAB transfer Jordan Howard at running back, the Hoosiers should be in good shape to make a run at a bowl game in 2015.


Getting Warm?


Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech

Beamer isn’t going to be fired, but it’s worth noting Virginia Tech is just 22-17 over the last three years. That’s a big downgrade after recording eight consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins from 2004-11.


Larry Fedora, North Carolina

The ongoing NCAA mess around North Carolina (if it results in sanctions or any additional scandal) could make it difficult to find a new coach if Fedora is fired. The Tar Heels are 21-17 under Fedora but will have a revamped (and improved) defensive staff in 2015.


Darrell Hazell, Purdue

Hazell’s 2014 team showed progress after a 1-11 record in his debut at Purdue in 2013. Barring a complete collapse in 2015, Hazell should be back on the Boilermakers’ sidelines in 2016.


Derek Mason, Vanderbilt

A young roster provides optimism for Vanderbilt in 2015, but there’s still major concerns about the offense after averaging only 17.2 points per game last year. The Commodores can’t afford to fall too far behind in the SEC East.


Paul Rhoads, Iowa State

Iowa State is one of the toughest Power 5 jobs, and Rhoads guided the program to three bowl appearances in his first four years. The Cyclones have slipped over the last two seasons, winning only two Big 12 games and finishing 5-19 overall.


Scott Shafer, Syracuse

Shafer will be working under a new athletic director in 2015, and the Orange finished 2014 by losing nine out of their last 10 games. It’s critical for Shafer to show this team is headed in the right direction.

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat: 2015 Spring Practice Edition
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /nba/warriors-clippers-rivalry-rages

If L.A. is basketball’s capital city, then California is most certainly its most important republic. And no NBA storyline is doing the state more good these days than the current rage between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors.


Golden State beat Lob City 110-106 last night, and the game provided a rare dose of intrigue during the stale final weeks of the regular season. The Clippers are still fighting for optimal playoff seeding, and while the Warriors have already locked down the West’s No. 1 seed, their season-long mission toward perfection wasn’t about to stop against their thorniest foe.


Steph Curry delivered a deep blow to the Clippers swagger in the contest, when he crossed L.A. leader Chris Paul over so hard that all he could do was engage in crab-walk stance:


The Warriors overcame a terrific performance from Blake Griffin, who dropped 40 points and 12 rebou nds at the Staples Center, on 16-of-25 shooting. Perhaps even more encouraging, though, was who Golden State got the victory without — Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green sat for this one. 



But Draymond, as he’s wont to do, still made his presence felt. When asked by reporters about his reason for missing action (rest) Green said, “I’ve got Blake-itis,” taking a jab at Griffin.


Dubs coach Steve Kerr also beamed confidence before the game, stating matter-of-factly that "this game is really important to them. It's more important to them than it is to us… If this meant anything,” he said about Green, “we would play him.”


The Clippers have been playing very well this spring, coming into the game against G.S. on a seven-game winning streak. But what the Warriors are doing is singular, historical, special. They’ve now won ten games in a row when their regular season stakes are all but risen to zero, because they’re a cocky, destructive winning machine now. At 61-13, they’re still in the running for one of the league’s all-time best records.


Can anyone in the West hope to beat them?


— John Wilmes


(h/t Diamond Leung, Bay Area News Group)


Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 09:59
All taxonomy terms: Sergio Garcia, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-6-sergio-garcia

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.


No. 6: Sergio Garcia


Born: Jan. 9, 1980, Borriol, Castellon, Spain | Career PGA Tour Wins: 8 (11 on the European Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,939,606 (5th) World Ranking: 8

2014 Key Stats:

      Scoring Average (Actual): 69.38 (2nd)

      Strokes Gained, Total: 1.984 (2nd)

      Scrambling: 66.67% (2nd)


Brandel Chamblee's Take

Garcia is no longer called El Nino (“the little boy”), as he was referred to when he first skipped-jumped into golf stardom at the age of 19. Nor is he El Jefe (“the boss”) as the world of golf might have thought he would’ve grown into by the age of 34. What he is, is a victim of his own early success and exuberance. It seems that nothing that he has ever achieved has been good enough for his critics — nor, at times, for him. Chronologically cursed to play in his youth against Tiger Woods and now as a thirtysomething against Rory McIlroy, he plays the role of immensely talented supporting player to superstars, a similar fate to ‘70s players Tom Weiskopf and Bruce Crampton. Those two had the misfortune to play when Jack Nicklaus was playing his best as well, leaving them both endlessly frustrated, which is not an unfamiliar disposition for Sergio. In recent years though, Garcia’s smile and his game have returned, perhaps in conjunction with his newfound aptitude around and on the greens to complement his genius from tee to green. Only Rory had a lower scoring average than Sergio in 2014 and only Jim Furyk was able to get up and down around the greens more frequently than the talented Spaniard. With the U.S. Open being played at Chambers Bay on the Puget Sound southwest of Tacoma, Wash., and the PGA Championship being played at Whistling Straights on Lake Michigan, links golf will be rewarded more than usual in 2015, and given his penchant for that style of play, so too might Garcia.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 65
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T35
British Open - T2
PGA Championship - T35

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T4 (2004)
U.S. Open - T3 (2005)
British Open - 2/T2 (2007, '14)
PGA Championship - 2/T2 (1999, 2008)
Top-10 Finishes: 19
Top-25 Finishes: 28
Missed Cuts: 18


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


Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 09:49
Path: /college-football/cover-2-college-football-podcast-2015-big-ten-early-preview


Hosts Braden Gall and Steven Lassan go in-depth with an early 2015 Big Ten conference preview.


The Big Ten enters a season as a defending champ for the first time since 2002 and only the third time since 1968. However, could a repeat be more likely than you think?


Who are the top challengers to the Buckeyes in the East? How does Michigan State move forward without former defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi? Can James Franklin address issues along the O-line at Penn State? And what sort of impact can Jim Harbaugh make in his first season at Michigan?


In the West, potential front-runners Wisconsin and Nebraska each welcome a new head coach. Who can make their mark quicker? Can Jerry Kill keep working miracles in the Twin Cities? Where is the breaking point for Iowa and Kirk Ferentz? 


The fellas touch on every team and how the predictions might shake out in the Big Ten in 2015.

Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall or @AthlonSteven or email [email protected]. The podcast can be found on, iTunes, Stitcher and our podcast RSS feed.

Cover 2 College Football Podcast: 2015 Big Ten Early Preview
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: New York Knicks, NBA
Path: /nba/phil-jackson-sends-video-letter-knicks-ticket-holders

It’s been a historically bad year for the New York Knicks. At 14-60, they’re the worst team in the NBA, with little sight of Carmelo Anthony or any other recognizable star at Madison Square Garden for months.


Maybe that’s a good thing, though. Team executive Phil Jackson is hoping season ticket holders can believe so, anyway.


In a recent video letter from Jackson to the Knicks’ customers, he made sure to mention that the Knicks, for the first time in a long time, will have a top pick in June’s draft, and enough cap space to lure a big-name free agent. The bottoming out of 2014-15, unsightly as its been, is laden with silver linings; this is what it takes to move on from the bloated mistakes of years past, goes the argument.


"We have a clear plan and expect our efforts to take really take shape as we enter the 2015 draft and free agency in the months ahead," Jackson said in the video, as reported by ESPN’s Ian Begley. "I ask that you remain optimistic and hope you will join us on our continued journey as we build a team that once again reflects the spirit of being a New York Knick.”


Of course, “the spirit of being a New York Knick” hasn’t meant anything too honorable for the better part of the young century. Skeptics of the team and Jackson’s vision for the future will be quick to note that large salary offers and the glitz of Manhattan have only done so much to build title-worthy teams in years past, and that young talent hasn’t blossomed in New York, either.


Jackson, of course, has nothing to do with those sorry old campaigns — only his own, inaugural folly of the 2014-15 season. He deserves fair judgment, to be sure, but the chips are stacked way against the Zen Master as he strives to break the Knicks’ curse.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 17:01
All taxonomy terms: College Football, UCLA Bruins, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/ucla-bruins-2015-spring-football-preview

UCLA is coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 1997-98 and 18 starters are back from a team that nearly won the Pac-12 South last year. Coach Jim Mora has reeled in four consecutive top 20 classes on the recruiting trail, so talent certainly isn’t an issue for 2015. However, there’s a big question mark surrounding the Bruins, as standout quarterback Brett Hundley must be replaced. Talented freshman Josh Rosen enrolled in time to compete in spring ball, but Jerry Neuheisel has the edge in experience. Outside of replacing Hundley, UCLA also has to replace linebacker Eric Kendricks.


5 Storylines to Watch in UCLA’s Spring Practice


1. Quarterback Battle

The quarterback battle between Jerry Neuheisel and freshman Josh Rosen is easily the top offseason storyline to watch at UCLA. Brett Hundley left for the NFL after passing for 3,155 yards and 22 scores and rushing for 644 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Neuheisel has the edge in experience and guided the Bruins to a win over Texas in 2014 after Hundley left due to injury. Rosen ranked as the No. 12 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite and enrolled in time for spring ball. Can Rosen pass Neuheisel in time for the opener? Or will Neuheisel’s experience pay off for the top spot?


2. Solidify the Offensive Line

UCLA’s offensive line struggled early in 2014, allowing 25 sacks through the first six games. However, this unit showed improvement in the second half of the year, allowing 15 over the final seven contests. The emergence of Conr McDermott at left tackle helped to stabilize the starting unit, and all five starters from the Alamo Bowl win over Kansas State return in 2015. Center Jake Brendel earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season, while guard Scott Quessenberry and tackle Caleb Benenoch earned honorable mention honors. There’s no shortage of talent here and the overall depth has improved. Line coach Adrian Klemm was suspended indefinitely this offseason due to an investigation into rules violations. How will his absence impact this group?


3. Tom Bradley’s Stamp on the Defense

Tom Bradley was a key addition to UCLA’s staff this offseason, and the veteran assistant inherits a group with eight returning starters and a talented cast of young players. What stamp will Bradley put on this defense? Mora has used a 3-4 approach over the last few years, but Bradley is experienced in the 4-3 from his time at Penn State and the 3-3-5 from spending 2014 at West Virginia.


4. Who Replaces Eric Kendricks?

UCLA’s defense returns eight starters but has a massive void to fill at linebacker. Eric Kendricks won the Butkus Award in 2014 after recording 149 tackles and three interceptions. Kendricks has expired his eligibility and will be playing on Sundays in 2015, which opens the door for Myles Jack, Deon Hollins, Kenny Orjioke and Kenny Young to take on a bigger role in the defense. Jack is already one of the Pac-12’s top defenders and should elevate his performance even higher in 2015. But who replaces Kendricks? Could freshmen Keisean Lucier-South, Josh Woods, Cameron Griffin or Dwight Williams factor prominently into the rotation?


5. Replacing Owa Odighizuwa

Few question marks exist for UCLA’s defense in 2015, but the losses of Kendricks, end Owa Odighizuwa and safety Anthony Jefferson are significant. Odighizuwa recorded six sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss in 2014. Who steps up to replace his production? The Bruins are set with Eddie Vanderdoes at one end spot, while Kenny Clark is a rising star at defensive tackle. Is Takkarist McKinley or Jacob Tuioti-Mariner ready to claim the other end spot opposite of Vanderdoes this spring?


Pre-Spring Outlook on UCLA in the Pac-12:


USC is the early favorite in the South Division for 2015. However, UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State aren’t far behind. The Bruins don’t lose much from last year’s team, but the personnel losses are significant. Quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker Eric Kendricks will be tough to replace in 2015. Until a quarterback emerges, UCLA can lean on a solid defense and running back Paul Perkins. However, the schedule provides few breaks, as road trips to Arizona, Stanford, Utah and USC will be challenging, along with home dates against BYU and Arizona State. If the Bruins struggle to replace Hundley, finishing third or fourth in the South Division is a realistic possibility. However, if Rosen or Neuheisel steps up under center, UCLA will be in the thick of the South title picture.

UCLA Bruins 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-defensive-players-rise-2015

With the volume of high-powered offenses and talent at the skill positions every year, it’s not easy being a defensive coordinator or a player on that side of the ball. However, there’s no shortage of standouts that emerge each season out of spring practice and the regular season.


After taking a look at the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers on the rise for 2015, it’s time to shift focus and take a look at the top defensive players on the verge of a breakout year.  


RELATED: Top 20 Wide Receivers on the Rise for 2015


Note: To be considered for the “on the rise” designation, a player could not have earned all-conference (first or second team honors last season). 


Otaro Alaka, LB, Texas A&M

Texas A&M’s defense should take a step forward with John Chavis as the coordinator in 2015. And in addition to Chavis’ arrival, the Aggies have a talented group of young players primed to take on a bigger role in the defense. Alaka is one of those players, as he played in 12 games last season and recorded 33 tackles and two forced fumbles. After starting the final five games as a true freshman in 2014, Chavis is counting on Alaka for an even bigger role in 2015.


Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson

Alexander is one of two Clemson players to make this list. The Florida native was forced to redshirt in 2013 due to injury but quickly emerged as the team’s top defensive back last season. Alexander started all 13 games, recorded 21 tackles and six pass breakups, while also playing the most snaps by a freshman in school history. Alexander should be one of the ACC’s top cornerbacks in 2015.


Budda Baker, S, Washington

Washington’s secondary experienced its share of ups and downs last season. However, after playing freshmen and sophomores in major roles in 2014, the Huskies should see improvement from a secondary that gave up 55 passing plays of 20 yards or more. Baker was regarded as the No. 55 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite and played significant snaps as a true freshman. In 13 games, Baker recorded 80 tackles, one sack, one interception and six pass breakups. 


Kendell Beckwith, LB, LSU

Beckwith ranked as one of the top 100 recruits in the 2013 signing class but had a relatively quiet debut (11 tackles). However, the Louisiana native became a bigger part of the defense in 2014, starting the final seven games and recording 77 tackles, two sacks and one interception on his final stat line. Over LSU’s final seven games, only one opponent (Notre Dame) managed more than 140 rushing yards. Beckwith’s emergence at middle linebacker is a key reason why the Tigers were tougher against the run in the second half of 2014, and the junior is primed for a big season with a full-time starting spot in Kevin Steele’s defense.


Harold Brantley, DT, Missouri

Missouri has been a factory for All-SEC talent at defensive end over the last two seasons, but don’t overlook Brantley’s contributions to the defense in 2014. The Pennsylvania native made six starts as a freshman in 2013 and emerged as the team’s top interior player last year. In 14 games, Brantley recorded 30 tackles (five for a loss) and three pass breakups. With two seasons under his belt, Brantley should be poised for his best year in a Missouri uniform.


Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia

With Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Carter returning, Georgia should boast one of the SEC’s top linebacker groups for 2015. Getting all three outside linebackers on the field at the same time will be an interesting offseason experiment for coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, but all three players have All-SEC talent. Carter played significant snaps as a true freshman last season, recording 41 tackles (seven for a loss) and 4.5 sacks. 


Hunter Dimick/Jason Fanaika, DE, Utah

The Utes led the nation with 55 sacks last season, and even with Nate Orchard expiring his eligibility, Utah’s pass rush will be among the best in the Pac-12. Dimick and Fanaika were solid complement options up front last season, as the duo recorded combined for 15 sacks. And the edge rushers will have plenty of help from the interior, as tackle Lowell Lotulelei will be in the mix for all-conference honors. Even without Orchard, expect to see the Utes frequently getting after opposing quarterbacks in 2015. 


Nate Gerry, S, Nebraska

We will cheat just a bit here and list Gerry in this ranking since he earned second-team honors from the Big Ten media last season but only earned honorable mention by the coaches. The South Dakota native started all 13 games in 2014 and recorded 88 tackles and five interceptions. New defensive backs coach Brian Stewart should help Gerry develop into one of the Big Ten’s top performers at safety in 2015.


C.J. Hampton, S, Ole Miss

The Rebels led the SEC by limiting opponents to just 16 points per game in 2014. This unit returns largely intact, but cornerback Senquez Golson and safety Cody Prewitt will be tough to replace. Hampton ranked as the No. 96 player in the 2014 247Sports Composite and played in all 13 games last season. He recorded 10 tackles in limited action. Coordinator Dave Wommack will be counting on Hampton to play a bigger role in the defense in 2015, especially with Prewitt leaving big shoes to fill at safety.


Jason Hatcher, DE, Kentucky

Kentucky is starting over at defensive end with the departures of Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree. After two years as a backup at the position, Hatcher – a four-star recruit in 2013 – is slated to take on a bigger role in 2015. Hatcher recorded 28 tackles (5.5 for a loss) and 1.5 sacks in 2014.


Dravon Henry, S, West Virginia

With the return of safety Karl Joseph and cornerback Daryl Worley, the Mountaineers have one of the Big 12’s top defensive backfields for 2015. And this unit will only get better as Henry continues to develop in his second season in Morgantown. The Pennsylvania posted a strong freshman campaign in 2014, starting all 13 games for coordinator Tony Gibson and recording 45 tackles and two interceptions.


Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC

Jackson is one of the Pac-12’s most explosive players and one of the nation’s top all-around playmakers. The Illinois native caught 10 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns last season and scored four times on special teams. Jackson also recorded 49 tackles (four for a loss) and broke up 10 passes in 2014.


Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

Jefferson ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite and big things are expected from the Texas native in 2015. With the Longhorns replacing Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond, Jefferson has a clear path to major snaps or a starting role. Expect Jefferson to be one of college football’s top freshmen performers.


Derwin James, S/Derrick Nnadi/Lorenzo Featherston, DL, Florida State

Florida State’s roster is loaded with young talent and it won’t be long before the Seminoles are back in contention for the national title. James, Nnadi and Featherston are three future stars in Tallahassee, and each player could see significant snaps in 2015. Nnadi recorded 18 tackles in nine games in his true freshman campaign last season, while Featherston played in 11 games and made 19 stops and one sack. James ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite and is physically ready to start in Florida State’s secondary. Expect to hear plenty about these three players in 2015.


Hootie Jones, S/Tony Brown/Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

Improving the secondary is at the top of coach Nick Saban’s priority list this spring after the Crimson Tide allowed 19 passing plays of 30 yards or more in 2014. Adding to the uncertainty of this group is the departure of Landon Collins to the NFL. Cyrus Jones is settled into one cornerback spot, but a second cornerback needs to emerge. Brown and Humphrey were two of the nation’s top 15 prospects in the 2014 signing class and will be asked to take on a bigger role in 2015. Jones recorded two tackles last season and is expected to factor prominently in replacing Collins’ production.


Peter Kalambayi, LB, Stanford

Stanford’s defense will have a different look to it in 2015, as only four starters return from a unit that ranked second nationally by limiting opponents to just 16.4 points per game in 2014. While A.J. Tarpley and James Vaughters will be missed at linebacker, Kalambayi is ready for a bigger role in the defense to replace the production lost by the departing seniors. In 13 games, Kalambayi recorded 32 tackles (9.5 for a loss) and 6.5 sacks. He should be in the mix for all-conference honors in 2015.


Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn

Lawson missed all of 2014 due to a torn ACL. If he returns at full strength in 2015, Lawson should provide an instant boost to an Auburn pass rush that generated only 21 sacks in 2014. As a freshman in 2013, Lawson played in all 14 games and registered four sacks and seven quarterback hurries. The Georgia native should thrive under new coordinator Will Muschamp.


Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

Clemson ranked first nationally by holding opponents to just four yards per play in 2014. But coordinator Brent Venables will have his hands full this spring, as the Tigers return only two starters and lose several standouts from the front seven. Lawson is expected to be one of the defense’s top linemen after recording 34 tackles and 3.5 sacks in a backup role last season.


Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State

Even with five returning starters for 2015, the strength of Kansas State’s team should be its defense. The defensive front has a few changes with end Ryan Mueller and linebacker Jonathan Truman departing, but Lee’s freshman debut provides plenty of optimism for coordinator Tom Hayes. In 13 games, Lee recorded 19 tackles (4.5 for a loss) and 4.5 sacks. He’s slated to take on a bigger role in the defense this year.


Jordan Lucas, S, Penn State

Lucas had a standout year for Penn State’s defense at cornerback last season, but the New York native is expected to slide to safety for the 2015 season. In 13 contests last year, Lucas recorded 58 tackles, two sacks and nine pass breakups. Lucas will also have extra help in learning the position, as coordinator Bob Shoop oversees the safeties on Penn State’s staff. Expect the Nittany Lions to have a flawless transition from Adrian Amos to Lucas at safety. 


Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State

McDowell was a huge catch on the recruiting trail for coach Mark Dantonio, and the Michigan native didn’t disappoint in his true freshman campaign. McDowell played in all 13 games and recorded 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks. With Lawrence Thomas expected to move to defensive end this spring, McDowell is expected to take on a bigger role with the line for 2015. Expect to see McDowell wreaking havoc against opposing Big Ten offensive lines this year.


Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

Ohio State’s defense doesn’t have many question marks entering spring ball, but the linebacker corps is looking for a new starter after the departure of Curtis Grant. There should be a flawless transition from Grant to McMillan, as the Georgia native was regarded as the top recruit in the Big Ten for the 2014 signing class. McMillan played in 14 games last season and recorded 54 tackles, one interception and 2.5 sacks.


Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan

Peppers was expected to play a meaningful role in Michigan’s secondary last season, but the New Jersey native was sidelined after three games due to a leg injury. With a full offseason to recover, Peppers is ready to become a key contributor for the Wolverines. New coordinator D.J. Durkin plans to use Peppers as a safety in 2015, which should allow the No. 3 prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite to emerge as a impact defender for Michigan this year.  


Chris Seisay, CB, Oregon

Seisay was thrown into the spotlight after Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a season-ending knee injury prior to the Rose Bowl matchup against Florida State. In the Ducks win over the Seminoles, Seisay recorded six tackles and filled in admirably for Ekpre-Olomu in his second career start. The California native finished 2014 with 33 tackles, four passes defended and one forced fumble. He should claim a full-time starting position at cornerback this offseason.


Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee

It’s possible Sutton is the SEC’s most underrated defender. The Georgia native was only a three-star recruit coming out of high school but has developed into one of the league’s top cornerbacks. Over the last 25 games, Sutton has recorded 76 tackles, five interceptions, one forced fumble and 20 pass breakups. Despite his solid 2014 season (16 passes defended), Sutton did not earn all-conference honors. Expect that to change in 2015.


Other Names to Watch


Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB, Purdue

Bentley was a bright spot on a Purdue defense that gave up 31.7 points per game in 2014. As a true freshman last year, Bentley recorded 76 tackles, one interception and recovered three fumbles.


Andrew Brown, DT, Virginia

Brown ranked as the No. 11 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite but was slowed by injuries last year. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound tackle should be one of the top performers for the Cavaliers’ defensive line in 2015.


Cam Denson, CB, Arizona

Denson was one of the top recruits in Arizona’s 2014 signing class and shifted from receiver to cornerback. The Arizona native recorded 21 tackles, two interceptions and two pass breakups as a true freshman.


Brooks Ellis, LB, Arkansas

Ellis is slated to fill the void left behind by Martrell Spaight in 2015. Ellis recorded 72 stops in 2014.


KeShun Freeman, DE, Georgia Tech

Freeman was one of the ACC’s top freshmen performers last year, as the Georgia native played in all 14 games and earned first-team Freshman All-American honors from Athlon Sports. Freeman should push for All-ACC honors after recording 54 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2014.


Josh Harvey-Clemons, S, Louisville

Louisville must replace all four starters from one of the nation’s top defensive backfields in 2014. Harvey-Clemons transferred from Georgia after making 11 starts in 2013 and should claim a starting spot at safety.


Deon Hollins, LB, UCLA

Hollins finished the 2014 season on a tear, recording six sacks over his final four games. His late-season improvement should help a UCLA pass rush that managed only 29 sacks in 13 contests in 2014.


Seth Jacobs, LB, Oklahoma State

Jacobs was a breakout performer for coordinator Glenn Spencer last season. In 13 games, Jacobs recorded 92 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and intercepted two passes.


Nazair Jones, DT, North Carolina

New coordinator Gene Chizik inherits six returning starters but plenty of question marks from a defense that allowed 39 points per game in 2014. Jones (a sophomore) is a promising piece of the defensive line after recording 35 tackles (7.5 tackles for a loss) and 2.5 sacks in 2014. 


Mike Mitchell, LB, Texas Tech

Mitchell was a top 100 recruit in the 2013 signing class and transferred to Texas Tech after one season at Ohio State. He should be an impact newcomer for the Red Raiders.


Yannick Ngakoue, LB, Maryland

The Terrapins are switching to a 4-3 alignment, and Ngakoue is slated to move from linebacker to end. Ngakoue recorded 37 tackles (11.5 for a loss) and six sacks last year.


Steven Parker, S, Oklahoma

The Sooners need better play from their secondary after giving up 50 passing plays of 20 yards or more in 2014. Parker played in 13 contests (four starts) and recorded 31 tackles as a true freshman last year. Parker’s development is critical for Oklahoma’s pass defense.


Tegray Scales, LB, Indiana

Indiana’s defense needs to take a major step forward this year if the Hoosiers want to go bowling in 2015. Scales is one of the players expected to make a jump in production after recording 46 tackles and two sacks as a true freshman last season.


Tashon Smallwood, DT, Arizona State

Smallwood started seven games and recorded 23 tackles and two sacks as a true freshman in 2014. The sophomore should see an increased role in the Sun Devils’ aggressive defense in 2015.


Chad Thomas, DE, Miami

Thomas was a big-time catch on the Florida recruiting trail for coach Al Golden, and the Miami native saw limited work in 2014 (seven tackles). Thomas should be slated for a bigger role in the ‘Canes defense in 2015, as starter Anthony Chickillo has expired his eligibility.


Jack Tocho, CB, NC State

Tocho has started 20 games in his two-year career at NC State, and the junior should push for All-ACC honors in 2015. Tocho recorded 41 tackles and led the team with 11 pass breakups in 2014.


Kemoko Turay, DE, Rutgers

Turay shined as a pass-rush specialist for Rutgers’ defense last year, accumulating 7.5 sacks in 13 games. The sophomore is slated for a bigger role in 2015, as the Scarlet Knights must replace David Milewski at end.


Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern

Walker stepped up after an injury sidelined Colin Ellis and finished the year with 51 stops (nine for a loss) and two interceptions. He should only get better with more experience as a sophomore in 2015.


Jihad Ward, DE, Illinois

Ward was an impact recruit from the junior college ranks by the Illinois coaching staff. The Pennsylvania native recorded 51 tackles (8.5 for a loss), three sacks and two forced fumbles in 2014.


Stephen Weatherly/Nigel Bowden, LB, Vanderbilt

The strength of Vanderbilt’s defense should be its linebackers in 2015. Weatherly (4.5 sacks) and Bowden (78 tackles) are two promising players for coach Derek Mason to build around.


Taylor Young, LB, Baylor

Young emerged as one of the top performers in Baylor’s linebacker corps last season, as he finished 2014 with 92 tackles and four sacks. He should be an All-Big 12 performer in 2015.

College Football's Top 25 Defensive Players on the Rise for 2015
Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/mlb-expert-poll-who-best-clutch-hitter-baseball

Your favorite team is down by a run in the bottom of the ninth. There is a runner at second base. There are two outs. And it's game seven of the World Series?


Who do you want at the plate?


Athlon Sports has polled 10 experts from around Major League Baseball in an effort to figure out who is the best clutch hitter in the game.


Related: MLB Expert Poll: Who do you want on the mound in Game 7?


A first-place vote earns five points and a second-place vote earned four points — so on and so forth with a fifth-place vote earning one point. Below are the voters and results, including first-place votes and number of ballots.

Here is who our experts voted the best clutch hitter in the game today.


The Voters:


Tyler Kepner, NY Times

Andy Baggarly,

Jeff Wilson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

John Tomase, WEEI

Juan Rodriguez, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Gordon Wittenmyer, Chicago Sun Times

Bill Plunkett, Orange County Register

C. Trent Rosencrans, Cincinnati Enquirer

Derrick Goold, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Jack Magruder,


The Results:


 PitcherTeamPoints (1st)Ballots
1.Miguel Cabrera31 (4)8/10
2.Mike Trout28 (1)9/10
3.Andrew McCutchen18 (1)6/10
4.Giancarlo Stanton125/10
5.David Ortiz10 (2)2/10
6.Pablo Sandoval9 (1)2/10
7.Buster Posey62/10
8t.Robinson Cano52/10
8t.Paul Goldschmidt52/10
8t.Joey Votto52/10
8t.Troy Tulowitzki5 (1)1/10
12t.Victor Martinez41/10
12t.Adrian Beltre42/10
14.Jose Abreu32/10
15t.Matt Carpenter21/10
15t.Jose Altuve22/10
17.Aramis Ramirez11/10


The Analysis:


Miggy at the bat

Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers' slugger and career .320 hitter, was on eight of 10 ballots and is considered by our MLB experts as the best clutch hitter in the game today. The two-time MVP and 2012 AL Triple Crown winner topped the Angels’ Mike Trout — who was on more ballots (9-of-10) — by a slim margin. Cabrera, by the way, is only a career .278 postseason hitter despite his .364 mark last year. Trout has one career postseason hit in three career postseason games.


Lots of first-place votes

What is most interesting, however, is the amount of players who received a first-place vote. Among our 10 voters, six different players were voted as the best clutch hitter in the game. In fact, Troy Tulowitzki and David Ortiz ONLY got first-place votes while Andrew McCutchen and Pablo Sandoval — who is a career .344 postseason hitter — each also got a first-place nod.


BoSox should be good come October

The Red Sox are picked by many to win the AL East due in large to their lineup. Should they make it to October, this lineup should have no issues getting clutch hits. Boston and Detroit are the only two teams with two players receiving votes but the Sox boast the fifth- and sixth-best clutch hitters in the game in Sandoval and Ortiz. Add to this duo Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez and manager John Farrell has a lineup built for postseason success.


Guys I’d be happy with:

There are more than a few guys on this list I’d be just fine with having at the plate with the game on the line who weren't in the top five. Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, Buster Posey, Robinson Cano are all names I’d feel excited to have in the batter’s box with Game 7 hanging in the balance.



Jose Altuve is the defending AL batting champion won’t ever be a slugger but is one of the best pure hitters in the game. He hit .341 last year, is a career .302 hitter and has the speed to beat out plenty of infield grounders in a bottom-of-the-ninth situation. He was just 15th on this list. Meanwhile, I love Giancarlo Stanton and rarely miss one of his at-bats. But he's a career .271 hitter and has never played in the postseason. If my squad is down by two and needs a home run, he's my guy. But he might be overrated at No. 4 on this clutch list.


Names not on the list:

A quick look at the active career batting average list shows that three of the top four active hitters didn’t get a single vote. No. 2 Joe Mauer (.319), No. 3 Ichiro (.317) and, most shockingly, No. 4 Albert Pujols (.317) didn’t get a single vote. Additionally, other active top-15 career hitters Matt Holliday (7), Ryan Braun (8), the aforementioned Ramirez (10) and Pedroia (11), and David Wright (15) didn’t get a vote either.


MLB Expert Poll: Who is the best clutch hitter in baseball?
Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-buckeyes-2015-schedule-and-analysis

Ohio State is the defending national champions and has a schedule that should allow the Buckeyes to defend their title with relative ease.


Urban Meyer has one tough road game in conference, will play two of the worst teams from the Big Ten West Division and has one revenge game on the road in the non-conference. And Ohio State boasts what is by far the best roster in the Big Ten.


Otherwise, the 2015 schedule sets up nicely for the Buckeyes to get back to the College Football Playoff. 


Related: 2015 Ohio State Spring Football Preview


2015 Ohio State Buckeyes Schedule


Bye: Week 9, * - Mon.


1.Sept. 7*Blacksburg, VA
Revenge Game The Hokies shocked the world with a two-touchdown win over Ohio State in Columbus last year. What could be an ugly revenge match at Lane Stadium on Monday night will be just the second all-time meeting between the two programs.
2.Sept. 12Columbus, OH
The home opener in The Shoe will feature a wildly overmatched Warriors squad from The Islands. It will be the first time these two teams have ever played.
3.Sept. 19Columbus, OH
The second of three home non-conference tilts against Group of Five teams should be the "toughest." The Huskies are 0-1 all-time against OSU, but have proven to be one of the nation's best "mid-major" programs.
4.Sept. 26Columbus, OH
A final non-conference tune-up at home should provide plenty of chances for young players to get their feet wet before Big Ten play. This also will be the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
5.Oct. 3Bloomington, IN
The Buckeyes have won 20 consecutive games over Indiana and haven't lost to the Hoosiers in 22 tries. A 41-7 drubbing by Indiana in 1988 is the last time Ohio State lost to the Hoosiers. That said, this could be Kevin Wilson's best team in Bloomington.
6.Oct. 10Columbus, OH
Ohio State won 52-24 in College Park a year ago in the only meeting between the now divisional opponents. This rivalry may take some time to develop.
7.Oct. 17Columbus, OH
Larry Johnson Bowl II These two played an overtime classic in Happy Valley last year in Larry Johnson's first season away from Penn State since 1996. Johnson's Buckeyes have won three straight in the series but have only a slim 16-13 series edge in 29 all-time meetings.
8.Oct. 24Piscataway, NJ
Much like Maryland, Ohio State has faced its new division foe only once in history. That was a 56-17 drubbing in Columbus a year ago.
10.Nov. 7Columbus, OH
The Gophers played valiantly against OSU a year ago but that was in Minnesota in the snow. Expect a much more lopsided affair with the Buckeyes' toughest crossover opponent coming to Columbus this time around. Ohio State is 43-7 all-time against UM and has lost to the Gophers just once since 1981.
11.Nov. 14Champaign, IL
Look Ahead This isn't expected to be a vintage Illini squad, but there have been plenty of upsets and close calls in this series. Ohio State has won seven straight over Illinois and could be looking ahead to its two biggest games of the year. (But probably not.)
12.Nov. 21Columbus, OH
East Division Championship Game The best two teams in the league over the last half-decade will battle in Columbus on the season's penultimate weekend. These two rivals have alternated wins in five consecutive games, including a 10-7 Sparty win the last time they played in Columbus.
13.Nov. 28Ann Arbor, MI
Rivalry Game This season's meeting will have added juice with the addition of Jim Harbaugh. Michigan leads the all-time series 58-46-6, but Ohio State has dominated with wins in 10 of the last 11 meetings. It's always closer than the experts think and nothing would make Michigan fans happier than to knock an unbeaten OSU from the playoff picture on the final weekend.


Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Big Ten Preview

Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

Ohio State Buckeyes 2015 Schedule and Analysis
Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 10:30
Path: /nba/raptors%E2%80%99-derozan-scores-42-bests-childhood-friend-james-harden

Los Angeles is the basketball capital of the world. The home of the Lakers, the sport’s most storied franchise, is also the breeding ground for many of the NBA’s best ballers, and will likely continue to be for a long, long time.


Two of the most notable current alumni of the city of angels squared off in Toronto last night, and got to reawaken some friendly childhood rivalry while they did so. DeMar DeRozan and James Harden go way back, and DeRozan’s 42 points in a 99-96 Raptors victory over the Houston Rockets sent DeRozan into some delightful nostalgia about their bond.


"He didn't have no beard back then," DeRozan kidded about Harden, after the win. "It's definitely cool because we've been playing against each other since we were kids. That’s one of my close friends in the league to this day. I'm close to his family, he's close to my family, so it's always cool. Now we can cherish this 20 years from now, 30 years from now, just joking, you know, have fun together."


DeMar, of course, might end up cherishing it more than James. Harden’s 31 points, five rebounds and five assists weren’t enough to push Houston to a road victory, one they needed in their race toward optimal playoff seeding. As the Western Conference standings lie today, they’re in the conference’s No. 3 spot, and would face the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. Taking the second position from the Memphis Grizzlies would net them the much more beatable Dallas Mavericks.

Toronto, meanwhile, is trying to bump up from No. 4 in the East, and displace the three-seeded Chicago Bulls. As it stands, they’d face John Wall and the Washington Wizards to start the playoffs. If they can get ahead of Chicago, though, they’ll go up against the unseasoned Milwaukee Bucks. Stay tuned as these races develop.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 10:06
Path: /college-football/ranking-sec-easts-toughest-college-football-schedules-2015

Let’s get one thing clear right away. There is no such thing as an “easy” schedule in the SEC.


When putting together Athlon Sports' college football preview magazines each year, a huge part of the process is scheduling. Non-conference games, crossovers, home-road splits and timing all play a role in determining order of finish.


And don’t forget that the College Football Playoff Committee made it very clear in its first season that it values scheduling.


So who has the toughest schedule in the SEC East this fall?


* - neutral site


1. Tennessee

Non-Con: Bowling Green, Oklahoma, W. Carolina, N. Texas

East Home: Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt

East Road: Florida, Kentucky, Mizzou

Crossover: Arkansas, at Alabama


Road trips to Florida, Missouri and Alabama will be downright nasty considering the way the Vols have performed against those programs. Oklahoma, Georgia and Arkansas at home are salty as well. There are three guaranteed wins on this schedule and even Vanderbilt and Kentucky have proven to be tricky for the Big Orange of late.


2. Georgia

Non-Con: UL Monroe, Southern, Ga. Southern, at Ga. Tech

East Home: South Carolina, Mizzou, Kentucky

East Road: Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Florida*

Crossover: Alabama, at Auburn


The Dawgs have the toughest crossover schedule in the East with arguably the best two teams from the West on tap. Road trips to Tennessee and Georgia Tech are very tricky as well. But every home division game is very winnable and is why the Vols are No. 1 on this list.


3. South Carolina

Non-Con: North Carolina*, UCF, Citadel, Clemson

East Home: Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida

East Road: Georgia, Mizzou, Tennessee

Crossover: LSU, at Texas A&M


Non-conference tilts with North Carolina and Clemson give the Gamecocks not one, but two tough OOC games. Road trips to Georgia, Mizzou, Tennessee and Texas A&M also figure to make it tough on the Gamecocks' chances of piling up wins away from Williams-Brice. Toss in home games with Florida and LSU and reaching a bowl game starts to look tougher and tougher.


Related: SEC East 2015 Spring Preview and Power Rankings


4. Kentucky

Non-Con: ULL, E. Kentucky, Charlotte, Louisville

East Home: Florida, Mizzou, Tennessee

East Road: South Carolina, Georgia, Vanderbilt

Crossover: Auburn, at Mississippi St


There is one SEC game that Kentucky has a shot to win on the road (Vandy) but the Wildcats have a handful of upset chances at home. Hosting Auburn and facing Mississippi State on the road will be tough in crossover play as will the in-state, rivalry matchup against Louisville.


5. Florida

Non-Con: New Mexico St, East Carolina, FAU, Florida St

East Home: Tennessee, Vandy

East Road: Kentucky, Mizzou, South Carolina, Georgia*

Crossover: Ole Miss, at LSU


The Gators play just two home SEC East games with Georgia in Jacksonville and the road slate in the division isn’t overly difficult either. Crossover dates against Ole Miss and LSU are salty and Florida State at the end of the year is always brutal. But this is a manageable slate for Jim McElwain in his first season in Gainesville.


6. Vanderbilt

Non-Con: W. Kentucky, Austin Peay, at MTSU, at Houston

East Home: Georgia, Mizzou, Kentucky

East Road: South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee

Crossover: at Ole Miss, Texas A&M


The Dores have the toughest division schedule as the worst team in the SEC East and crossover features a tough road trip to Oxford. But the non-conference slate isn’t overly difficult at all and getting Missouri, Texas A&M and Kentucky at home offer some chances at wins. And the Dores won their last two trips to Gainesville and Knoxville, for the record.


7. Missouri

Non-Con: SEMO, at Arkansas St, UConn, BYU*

East Home: South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee

East Road: Kentucky, Georgia, Vanderbilt

Crossover: Mississippi St, at Arkansas


The non-conference slate is extremely manageable with BYU in Kansas City as the only semi-tough game. Facing Mississippi State and Arkansas could feature two teams in the bottom half of the West in crossover. And getting two easy road SEC East games (Vandy, Kentucky) helps the schedule as well. Three key swing games in the East come at home.

Ranking the SEC East's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2015
Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Martin Kaymer, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-7-martin-kaymer

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.


No. 7: Martin Kaymer


Born: Dec. 28, 1984, Dusseldorf, West Germany | Career PGA Tour Wins: 3 (11 on the European Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,532,537 (10th) World Ranking: 13

2014 Key Stats:

      Approaches from 125-150 Yards: 19’6” (3rd)

      All Around Ranking: 480 (28th)

      Strokes Gained, Putting: -.114 (120th)


Brandel Chamblee's Take

Kaymer has one of the most fluid swings in the game today; his move is a perfect combination of elegance and fury. When he is winning, as he did wire-to-wire last year at both The Players and the U.S. Open (the latter by eight shots), one wonders how it is that he doesn't win every week. If he improves his short game, which is the main reason he struggles at Augusta National and fails to contend when he is not spot on tee to green, then he could become as consistent as he is brilliant. This year’s majors line up well for him, as the PGA Championship returns to Whistling Straits, site of his first major win in 2010, and The Open goes to St. Andrews, where he finished seventh during that same year.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 28
Wins: 2

2014 Performance:
Masters - T31
U.S. Open - 1
British Open - 70
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T31 (2014)
U.S. Open - 1 (2014)
British Open - T7 (2010)
PGA Championship - 1 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 5
Top-25 Finishes: 7
Missed Cuts: 10


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


Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 09:58
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/top-20-players-2015-final-four

During the next few days, many of the headlines for this Final Four will surround the powerhouse programs and Mount Rushmore of coaches who will vie for the national title.


All of that is true. Rarely has the Final Four had this many accomplished names on the jerseys and the bench.


The players, though, are just as big in terms of star power.


Three members of the first-team AP All-America team are still playing. Nine potential first-round draft picks also will be on the court.


Who are the best of the best? We’ll try to take a look, obviously tilting toward each player's college production and performance in this NCAA Tournament.


1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

The National Player of the Year contender is coming off a 29-point performance against Arizona. In last year’s Final Four, Kentucky held him to eight points on seven shots from the field and no free throws.


2. Justise Winslow, Duke

Winslow has spent most of the season splitting headlines with Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones. In the NCAA Tournament, though, Winslow has arguably been Duke’s best player in the postseason for his multi-faceted play. Winslow is averaging 14 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and better than 1.5 steals and blocks per game in the last four games.


3. Jahlil Okafor, Duke

Okafor has spent most of the season as the presumptive No. 1 overall draft pick with good reason. Opponents have worked to take him out, and that was successful to a degree in the regional. Okafor topped 20 points in the first two games and then 15 total points in the regional on 7-of-16 shooting against Utah and Gonzaga.


4. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky

It says a ton about this Kentucky team that the Wildcats remain undefeated and are heading to the Final Four without a double-digit scoring game from Cauley-Stein in the Tournament. He’s still Kentucky’s MVP with his defensive game at the rim and on the perimeter.


5. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin

The junior had the best games of his career in the West regional against North Carolina and Arizona, twice setting career highs with 23 and 24 points. He had only six career 20-point games entering this Tournament, but he’s averaging 21.8 points in the last four games.


6. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky

Towns has been arguably Kentucky’s best player the last two months of the season, averaging 12.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game since Jan. 31. Towns was unstoppable around the basket for 25 points in the Elite Eight against Notre Dame.


7. Tyus Jones, Duke

Jones has been the playmaker in the Tournament he was all season. He’s averaging 11.5 points and 5.5 assists in the last four games, while playing his most efficient basketball all of the year (3.7 assists per turnover).


8. Quinn Cook, Duke

The emotional and senior leader for Duke, Cook is averaging a career-high (by far) 15.5 points per game this season.


9. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky

The Wildcats’ most clutch shooter still has the magic touch. He hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 3:18 to go as Kentucky beat Notre Dame in the Elite Eight.


10. Travis Trice, Michigan State

No player’s emergence in the NCAA Tournament has been more instrumental for the Spartans than Trice's. He’s averaging 15.4 points for the season, but he’s averaging 19.8 points per game. His free throw shooting (16-of-18) has been critical.


11. Branden Dawson, Michigan State

The Spartans have needed Dawson to be the do-it-all player to reach this point of the season. He doesn’t have to score as much as a Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine, but his rebounding has been critical. Dawson is averaging 9.3 boards per game in the Tournament and had the key rebound to seal the win over Louisville in the Elite Eight.


12. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

The 6-foot-7 sophomore is a solid No. 3 scorer for the Badgers (12.3 ppg in the Tournament) and No. 1 for stenographers and lady reporters.


13. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky

Harrison has averaged 9.8 points and 2.3 assists per game in the Tournament.


14. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

After a 1-of-6 performance against Virginia in the round of 32, Valentine went 13-of-32 from the field in the regional against Oklahoma and Louisville.


15. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin

Koenig averaged 11.4 points per game after starting point guard Traevon Jackson was hurt in January. He averaged 4.9 points per game before then.


16. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

Kentucky’s smallest player (5-foot-9) may be its best distributor. Ulis has 14 assists, six steals and four turnovers in the Tournament.


17. Trey Lyles, Kentucky

He’s the third big man on a team with Towns and Cauley-Stein, but he’s embracing his role and making the most of his opportunities. He’s 16-of-36 from the field in the Tournament with 11 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.


18. Devin Booker, Kentucky

Kentucky’s best jumpshooter shook off an ineffective first and second round to hit 9-of-14 shots in the regional, including 4-of-8 from 3.


19. Josh Gasser, Wisconsin

Gasser hasn’t scored in double figures once since Feb. 3, but he’s a glue guy who gives the Badgers a little bit of everything.


20. Matt Jones, Duke

Jones has moved into the starting lineup after the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon. He’s a complementary player, but he’s proven he can hit the big 3 when necessary (4-of-7 from 3 against Gonzaga).

The Top 20 Players in the 2015 Final Four
Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA
Path: /nba/bucks-guard-khris-middleton-breakout-star

Among the NBA’s most devoted followers, one previously obscure name keeps coming up, over and over again, throughout the 2014-15 season: Khris Middleton.


The Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard has swiftly become one of the game’s most admired young players, modestly developing into one of the best “three-and-D” guards in the league. He has the best defensive real plus-minus among anyone at his position, and shoots 41 percent from deep. He’s also quite adept at creating his own shots.


An alumni of Texas A&M and the D-League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants — where the Detroit Pistons had him assigned in 2012, before trading him to Milwaukee — Middleton is headed for restricted free agency this summer. The Bucks can match any offer sheet a competing team may send his way, and they’re likely thanking their lucky stars for that.


Middleton has improved consistently under new head coach Jason Kidd, with his star peaking when he hit one of the season’s most memorable shots against the Miami Heat last week. Here’s his buzzer-beating game-winner, which sent the Bradley Center into a tizzy:


The shot was not only exciting in isolation — it also carried big playoff implications. The Bucks have struggled to hold onto their seed since a roster mixup at the trade deadline, in which they sent Brandon Knight to the Phoenix Suns in a multi-team trade that netted them Michael Carter-Williams from the Philadelphia 76ers.



Losing Knight hurt in the short term, but it was done in anticipation of free agency. The Bucks calculated that they didn’t want to pay both Knight and Middleton big money, so they opted to carve out a space in their purse for Middleton, instead. Alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, the guard is part of one of the most promising young trios in all of the NBA.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Monday, March 30, 2015 - 14:14
Path: /college-basketball/texas-freshman-myles-turner-declares-nba-draft-0

Heralded University of Texas freshman Myles Turner announced on Monday via Youtube that he will enter the upcoming NBA Draft which takes place in June. Turner’s decision comes the day after head coach Rick Barnes and Texas officially parted ways after 18 years.


Turner, a 5-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American from Trinity High School in Euless, Texas, averaged 10.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game with the Longhorns. His 89 blocks this season led the Longhorns.


Turner chose to play college basketball at Texas over schools like Duke, Kansas, Oklahoma State and many others. Now he will have an opportunity to showcase his talent at the next level.


While it can be argued that Turner wasn’t as polished in games as Texas fans expected to see, his upside in the NBA is undeniable. Turner is projected to be a top-15 draft pick with a strong potential to be selected as a lottery pick.


Turner left Longhorn fans with this message via Twitter:


— Written by Aaron Carrara, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and co-publisher of (and @HornSports), your source for Texas sports and recruiting news.

Texas Freshman Myles Turner Declares for the NBA Draft
Post date: Monday, March 30, 2015 - 13:15
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-30-2015

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 30:


Matt Harvey's taste runs towards supermodels. Not that he's unique in that; he's just in position to do something about it. 


Ponytailed bro Adam Morrison is tears-free these days, but he's still hated by Duke fans.


• How good is this Final Four? Coaches aside, there could be eight lottery picks on the floor Saturday.


Tiger Woods is outside the top 100 in the World Golf Ranking for the first time since 1996. The No. 1 song at the time? The Macarena. 


Aaron Rodgers and Dennis Dodd got into a Twitter slapfight the other night.


Chris Mullin to St. John's would seem to make a lot of sense, but I guess we'll see.


• Hoops insider Jon Rothstein's Twitter shtick has become a source of comedy.


WrestleMania 31 was the other night, in case you're into that sort of thing.


Chris Mullin to St. John's seems to make a lot of sense.


A team lost a state championship on a seldom-called rim-hanging technical.


Matt Stafford's fiancee has his back.


• Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and golfer Keegan Bradley got together for some star-studded pickup hoops.


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

Post date: Monday, March 30, 2015 - 12:01
Path: /college-football/washington-huskies-2015-spring-football-preview

Washington opens its second spring under coach Chris Petersen with just 10 returning starters and major concerns on both sides of the ball. The quarterback position is up for grabs, and the battle includes true freshman Jake Browning after he enrolled in time to compete this spring. Defensive standouts Shaq Thompson, Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton must be replaced, and the secondary needs to take a step forward after ranking near the bottom of the Pac-12 last season.


5 Storylines to Watch in Washington’s Spring Practice


1. The Quarterback Battle

Petersen planned to open the quarterback battle to all candidates after the Huskies ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 in passing offense in 2014. However, this battle became even more of a question mark after it was announced Cyler Miles was taking a leave of absence from the team. Miles is not expected to play in 2015, which leaves three candidates vying for the starting job: Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and freshman Jake Browning. Will a leader emerge this spring?


2. Improvement at Receiver

While improved play from the quarterback position is needed, Washington has to develop more playmakers at receiver. This unit loses DiAndre Campbell (24 catches in 2014) and Kasen Williams (20 receptions) but returns Jaydon Mickens (60), Kendyl Taylor, Dante Pettis and two-way talent John Ross. This is a big spring for players like Ross, Pettis and Brayden Lenius to take the next step in their development.


3. Restocking the Offensive Line

The Huskies must replace three starters from a line that allowed 28 sacks in 2014. There’s a foundation to build around with the return of guard Dexter Charles, center/guard Siosifa Tufunga and tackle Coleman Shelton. How quickly can Washington find a consistent starting five this spring? Will freshmen like Matt James, Henry Roberts (arrives in the summer) or Kaleb McGary make a push for playing time?


4. Rebuild the Front Seven

Washington finished third in the Pac-12 by holding opponents to 24.8 points per game last season. The Huskies have some major issues to address if they want to match that number in 2015. The front seven must be revamped with Shaq Thompson (LB) leaving for the NFL, along with Danny Shelton (NT), rush end Hau’oli Kikaha (rush end), John Timu (LB) and Andrew Hudson (DE) expiring their eligibility. Elijah Qualls is a potential breakout candidate up front, but can coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski find a few answers at end? Joe Mathis is a name to watch after recording two sacks in a backup role last year.


5. Improvement in the Secondary

The Huskies struggled to prevent big plays in the secondary last season, giving up 55 plays of 20 yards or more. Youth was largely to blame, as the depth chart from the Cactus Bowl against Oklahoma State showed mostly freshmen and sophomores in the rotation. With another spring to work under Kwiatkowski, it’s safe to assume the secondary will show improvement in 2015. But how will the starting spots look by the opener? Sidney Jones (cornerback) and Budda Baker (safety) are two rising stars in the Pac-12, while fellow sophomore Naijiel Hale could claim the other spot at cornerback. How healthy is Jermaine Kelly after playing in only two games last season? Petersen also recruited a junior college safety (Ezekiel Turner) to add to the mix this spring. Could Ross slide back to cornerback after playing here last season? Or will Petersen keep Ross on the offensive side?


Pre-Spring Outlook on Washington in the Pac-12:


Petersen was considered one of the top coaching hires in the 2014 cycle, but Washington didn’t show major improvement in the win column and capped the year with a bowl loss to Oklahoma State. Surpassing last year’s win total would be a surprise with the new faces and question marks on both sides of the ball, but the future looks bright with several talented freshmen and sophomores receiving significant snaps. If the Huskies find a quarterback, finishing third in the North is a realistic goal. 

Washington Huskies 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, March 30, 2015 - 11:00
Path: /nba/ranking-nba-playoffs%E2%80%99-biggest-x-factor-players

6. DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks

If the Cleveland Cavaliers can be stopped from reaching the NBA Finals, Carroll might have more to do with it than anyone. He’s been the closest thing to a LeBron James antidote this season, holding James relatively in check through three Hawks victories over the Cavs since November. Carroll’s peripheral role in the Hawks’ offense — in which he usually takes the fewest shots among fellow starters — means he’s one of the less noticeable players to the casual eye. But his defense on the wing could very well prove to be the fulcrum that decides whether LeBron can make it five straight trips to the championship round.


5. Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls

It’s not often that you see a rookie like Nikola Mirotic. The 24-year-old has already been the MVP in one of the better non-NBA pro leagues, in Spain, and now he’s a serious difference maker for an American contender. In March, Mirotic has been the Bulls’ saving grace through injury issues, averaging 20.8 points per game off the bench, often acting as the team’s deadly closer as he lights it up in the fourth quarter. Tom Thibodeau and Co. have found especially compelling use of the Montengro native by occasionally slotting his 6’10” frame into the small forward spot — a role made possible by Mirotic’s unusual mobility for his size.


4. Timofey Mozgov, Cleveland Cavaliers

If there was an annual award for “best role player,” Mozgov would be in contention for this season’s trophy. The Russian center has filled huge dividends since coming over from the Denver Nuggets in a winter trade. Cleveland needed someone who’d be happy to do dirty work down low on defense, and act as a screen-setting pylon on offense — and to be okay without the ball in his hands very often. Mozgov has more than risen to that task, as the Cavs have thrived with him in the lineup as their thunderous, selfless tree.


3. Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors

The Warriors have been basketball’s best team this year, and the competition hasn’t been especially close behind them. Golden State’s +10.9 point differential is the stuff of legends, and nothing like it has been seen since the Boston Celtics’ magical first year with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen — an outfit that finished the season with a +10.2 difference. Bogut is the least recognized piece of the Warriors’ equation, but he’ll likely be their second-most important player behind MVP candidate Steph Curry in their race to an NBA title. His robust rim protection and uncanny wingman skills as a seven-footer are what can take the Warriors to the extra level they’ll need to squeak by the defending champion Spurs.


2. Jeff Green, Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies’ midseason trade for Jeff Green makes total sense, in a vacuum. The former Celtics’ wing is an able scorer, and Memphis was able to get him for relatively little. But the strength of the Grizzlies lies in their cohesive, steely core, and Green hasn’t been an entirely natural fit in their typically bone-crunching defense. Green has remained a minus defender as he’s switched from green jersey to blue. And while’s certainly helped their spacing on offense, the playoffs will truly tell us whether the Grizzlies’ identity barter was a worthwhile endeavor.


1. Boris Diaw, San Antonio Spurs

Don’t look now, but the Spurs are beautiful again. The defending champions appeared to be struck by an unusually large dose of malaise for much of the season, but in March they’ve gone 11-3 as they’ve manhandled more than one fellow playoff team. The Spurs are undeniably back in the title mix with their suddenly revitalized chemistry, and everyone knows that Diaw will be the extra-difficult piece of the puzzle to account for. At an agile, hyper-intelligent 250 pounds, Boris creates headaches for wingmen all over the league, and no team is better suited to capitalize on his very rare skill set like San Antonio is.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Monday, March 30, 2015 - 10:41
All taxonomy terms: Rickie Fowler, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-8-rickie-fowler

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.


No. 8: Rickie Fowler


Born: Dec. 13, 1988, Murrieta, Calif. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,532,537 (10th) World Ranking: 12

2014 Key Stats:

      Bounce Back: 24.07% (9th)

      Putting from 5-15’: 50.36% (7th)

      Scrambling from the Rough: 61.27% (15th)


Brandel Chamblee's Take

Fowler works under the tutelage of Butch Harmon, who is as much a sport psychologist as he is teacher. With Harmon, Fowler has retooled his very idiosyncratic golf swing to become more consistent, and in a very short period of time, he laid the groundwork for one of the most memorable years in the majors that the game has ever seen. Only Jack Nicklaus in 1971 and 1975 and Tiger Woods in 2000 and 2005 were able to do what Rickie Fowler did in 2014 — finish in the top five in all four of the game’s biggest events. Of course, both Nicklaus and Woods won majors in those years, and the best finish Rickie could muster was a runner-up in both the U.S. Open and Open Championship, but the conclusion to draw from those finishes is a big 2015 for the 26-year-old. Increased clubhead speed, improved putting and an uptempo freedom to his play give Fowler the aura of a superstar that belies his lone PGA Tour victory, but that win total will increase this year and be more commensurate with his stature in the game.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 20
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T5
U.S. Open - T2
British Open - T2
PGA Championship - T3

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T5 (2014)
U.S. Open - T2 (2014)
British Open - T2 (2014)
PGA Championship - T3 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 6
Top-25 Finishes: 8
Missed Cuts: 4


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


Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Post date: Monday, March 30, 2015 - 10:31