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The start of the 2013 college football season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about preseason predictions and some of the top games to watch in each conference.

The Pac-12 and the Big 12 are the only two conferences that play a nine-game schedule. In the Big 12, a nine-game slate works perfectly, as the conference has a round-robin format. In the Pac-12, things work a little differently. All 12 teams will play nine games, but some programs have to hit the road five times during conference play. While the unbalanced schedule creates some problems, playing more conference opponents is always a good thing.

Oregon and Stanford are the clear frontrunners to win the Pac-12 North title. But the South is expected to be a four-way battle between Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and USC. The Bruins have the inside track since they are the defending division champs. However, USC has a favorable schedule, and the Sun Devils are a team on the rise in Todd Graham’s second year.  

2013 Pac-12 Schedule Analysis

North Division


Aug. 31 Northwestern
Sept. 7 Portland State
Sept. 14 Ohio State
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 at Oregon
Oct. 5 Washington State
Oct. 12 at UCLA
Oct. 19 Oregon State
Oct. 26 at Washington
Nov. 2 Arizona
Nov. 9 USC
Nov. 16 at Colorado
Nov. 23 at Stanford
Nov. 30 Bye Week

* Welcoming two Big Ten teams to town in the first three weeks wouldn’t normally instill fear in the Golden Bears. However, those two programs combined for 22 wins a season ago. And both expect to compete for a Big Ten title this year as well. This is an extremely difficult way to start a coaching tenure for Sonny Dykes.

* The first bye week is perfectly positioned, but the second is completed wasted. The first off week is positioned between two preseason top-five national title contenders (Ohio State and Oregon) and should give Cal time to lick its wounds and prepare for the Pac-12 opener. The second off weekend comes in the season finale, and unless Dykes miraculously leads his team to a North Division title, it will go to waste.

* The Bears will play all nine Pac-12 games on consecutive weekends with no rest. And other than possibly Washington State at home and a road trip to Colorado, it will face seven bowl teams from a year ago. With a tough non-conference slate, Dykes will need to pull a few stunners in league play, most likely at home, to reach the postseason. More on that…

* Cal will play five road conference games and four home tilts. And needless to say, it gets no favors on the road. Oregon, UCLA, Washington and Stanford all come away from home as well as Colorado. It puts more importance on home wins in swing games against Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona and USC. Having guaranteed losses on the road isn’t always a bad thing if it means a few upsets at home.



Aug. 31 Nicholls State
Sept. 7 at Virginia
Sept. 14 Tennessee
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 California
Oct. 5 at Colorado
Oct. 12 at Washington
Oct. 19 Washington State
Oct. 26 UCLA
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 9 at Stanford
Nov. 16 Utah
Nov. 23 at Arizona
Nov. 29 Oregon State (Fri.)

* Throughout history, playing non-conference games against programs like Virginia and Tennessee would be considered marquee intersectional tilts - especially, all the way across the country in Charlottesville. However, both programs are achieving at all-time lows and neither should be able to compete with the Ducks.

* The crossover schedule from the South Division is extremely generous. Games against Utah and Colorado shouldn’t be tests and UCLA comes to Eugene. The Ducks should be heavily favored to sweep the South in those three this fall.

* The first off weekend comes following the non-conference slate and will give the Ducks a chance to breathe before beginning conference play in what should be a manageable early Pac-12 slate. A trip to Washington might be the only close game of the bunch before UCLA comes to town.

* The second off weekend is placed perfectly, following a tricky home game with UCLA and a huge road test at Stanford. The trip to Palo Alto might easily be the toughest game on the Ducks schedule this fall and getting two weeks to prepare will help in a big way. And it will come on primetime TV on a Thursday night. Count us in.

* Oregon should be on upset alert late in November in the desert. Weird things happen when teams visit Arizona late in the year, and Rich Rodriguez’ team will be much better in Week 13 than they will be in Week 4 or 5. A look ahead to rival Oregon State may only further the trap game theory against the Wildcats.

* Oregon will play five home Pac-12 games.

Oregon State

Aug. 31 Eastern Washington
Sept. 7 Hawaii
Sept. 14 at Utah
Sept. 21 at San Diego State
Sept. 28 Colorado
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 12 at Washington State
Oct. 19 at California
Oct. 26 Stanford
Nov. 1 USC (Fri.)
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 at Arizona State
Nov. 23 Washington
Nov. 29 at Oregon (Fri.)

* Mike Riley’s non-conference slate this year is very manageable. While Eastern Washington and San Diego State have won a lot of games in recent years, neither should be able to compete with the Beavers. A 3-0 mark out of the league is a must way to start for Riley (but more on that in a second).

* The beginning of Pac-12 play couldn’t be easier as crossover games with Colorado and Utah are also must-wins for Oregon State. Those two are penciled in as fifth and sixth in the South Division. Following the bye week, the Beavers get Washington State and Cal. This team could easily be 7-0 to start the year — and really must start that way  — if it wants to contend because…

* The second half of the season is absolutely brutal for Oregon State. Stanford, USC, at Arizona State, Washington and at Oregon is about as tough a five-game slate as there is in the league. The only comfort is the bye week situated before USC and the road trip South to Arizona State. A 2-3 mark in this span would be considered successful. Two of those (USC and Oregon) will take place on Friday night.

* Oregon State will play five road Pac-12 games.


Aug. 31 Bye Week
Sept. 7 San Jose State
Sept. 14 at Army
Sept. 21 Arizona State
Sept. 28 at Washington State
Oct. 5 Washington
Oct. 12 at Utah
Oct. 19 UCLA
Oct. 26 at Oregon State
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 7 Oregon (Thur.)
Nov. 16 at USC
Nov. 23 Cal
Nov. 30 Notre Dame

* Not playing in the first weekend has to drive David Shaw nuts. Not only does it delay the hype of a season opener, but it wastes an opportunity to rest his team late in the year between games. The non-conference slate early in the season is perfect for Stanford to break-in his new lineup. Don’t expect Army or San Jose State should press the Cardinal.

* The first five Pac-12 games of the year are nicely positioned with the tougher ones —Arizona State, Washington and UCLA — all coming at home. If one or two of those are Pac-12 title game previews, the Cardinal are lucky they will come at home. Getting one of the South Division contenders Arizona State to start league play isn’t ideal but at least its in Palo Alto.

* While the first off weekend is horribly placed, the second bye is perfectly situated in the toughest three-game stretch of the schedule. Following a tough road trip to Oregon State, Stanford gets the extra week to prepare for the most important game of the year when Oregon comes to town on Thursday night. A trip South to USC one week later has Letdown Alert written all over it.

* Finishing the year with California and Notre Dame at home should be fun for Cardinal fans. The two biggest rivals of the year will cap a tough final month in which three out of four will take place at home.


Aug. 31 Boise State
Sept. 7 Bye Week
Sept. 14 at Illinois
Sept. 21 Idaho State
Sept. 28 Arizona
Oct. 5 at Stanford
Oct. 12 Oregon
Oct. 19 at Arizona State
Oct. 26 California
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 9 Colorado
Nov. 15 at UCLA (Fri.)
Nov. 23 at Oregon State
Nov. 29 Washington State (Fri.)

* The 2012 season ended with a tough but thrilling two-point loss to Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. These two will play back-to-back games as the Broncos come to town to open the season in must-see action involving the opening of new Husky Stadium.

* The first off weekend will allow Washington time to reflect on the tough first weekend and prepare for another tricky non-conference game across the country in the Big Ten against Illinois.

* Last year, Washington struggled through a nasty early season Pac-12 slate. The 2013 season won’t be any different. Arizona, at Stanford, Oregon and at Arizona State is as tough a four-game swing as there will be in the league and a 2-2 record would be considered excellent.

* While the early slate is tough, the close to the season is relatively easy. Games with California, Colorado and Washington State at home are must-wins. The off weekend will help as well. Road trips to UCLA and Oregon State are tough but winnable.

* Washington will get five home Pac-12 games this fall.

Washington State

Aug. 31 at Auburn
Sept. 7 at USC
Sept. 14 Southern Utah
Sept. 21 Idaho
Sept. 28 Stanford
Oct. 5 at California
Oct. 12 Oregon State
Oct. 19 at Oregon
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Oct. 31 Arizona State (Thur.)
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 at Arizona
Nov. 23 Utah
Nov. 29 at Washington (Fri.)

* While Auburn and USC underachieved in 2012, playing back-to-back road games against two of college football’s top programs is a tough way to start for anyone — much less an embattled coach entering his second, but very important season. At least, Southern Utah and Idaho offer some chances at success in the first month because the Pac-12 slate begins in brutal fashion.

* To start Pac-12 play, Wazzu will play the best three teams in the division and will have to visit Cal over a four-week span. A 1-3 mark to start league play would be positive for Mike Leach.

* The first bye week comes after eight consecutive game weekends including five brutal opponents. Having two weeks to prepare for one of the South Division’s top contenders in Arizona State might allow Leach to gameplan for the huge upset. Don’t be shocked if Wazzu plays well against the Sun Devils.

* The second bye week comes oddly after just the one game with Arizona State. But with winnable games in the final three weekend, it comes at a good time. Arizona, Utah and Washington are better teams but getting an extra week to prepare for the home stretch could bode well for Leach and Company.

* Washington State will play five road Pac-12 games.


South Division


Aug. 30 Northern Arizona
Sept. 7 at UNLV
Sept. 14 UTSA
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 at Washington
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 10 at USC
Oct. 19 Utah
Oct. 26 at Colorado
Nov. 2 at California
Nov. 9 UCLA
Nov. 16 Washington State
Nov. 23 Oregon
Nov. 30 at Arizona State

* With Arizona breaking in a new quarterback, the non-conference schedule is a perfect way to start the season. The Wildcats open with Northern Arizona, UNLV and UTSA, which should be three easy victories. And with Arizona heavily favored, it should allow coach Rich Rodriguez to work in a couple of quarterbacks to get snaps in game action.

* The first bye week of the season comes at a good time for Arizona. After playing three non-conference opponents, the Wildcats will have a chance to use the bye week to regroup and sort out the quarterback situation before playing at Washington. Arizona hasn’t had much success recently in Seattle, as it has lost its last two matchups on the road against the Huskies.

* While a bye week before Pac-12 play starts is ideal, Arizona’s second off date has some awful timing. The Wildcats won’t play on Oct. 5, which comes one week after their first bye. With eight Pac-12 games still ahead, the early bye weeks could hurt Arizona later in the season, especially if it suffers any significant injuries.

* Even though Arizona has to play Oregon, it has a favorable crossover schedule with games against Washington State, Washington and California. The Wildcats defeated the Huskies last season and California and Washington State are picked near the bottom of the conference.

* Arizona must play three of its first four conference games on the road, including a trip to USC. The Wildcats are just 1-4 in their last five games at USC.

* After playing most of their early Pac-12 games on the road, the Wildcats play three out of the final four at home. The November homestand should help Arizona close out the season on a high note, as it has winnable games against UCLA and Washington State.

* An interesting trend has developed in the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry in recent years. The Wildcats have won two in a row at Tempe but lost its last two matchups in Tucson? So does home cooking mean anything in this series? 2013 will be an interesting case study.

Arizona State

Aug. 31 Bye Week
Sept. 5 Sacramento State
Sept. 14 Wisconsin
Sept. 21 at Stanford
Sept. 28 USC
Oct. 5 Notre Dame (Arlington)
Oct. 12 Colorado
Oct. 19 Washington
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Oct. 31 at Washington State
Nov. 9 at Utah
Nov. 16 Oregon State
Nov. 23 at UCLA
Nov. 30 Arizona

* Although there are some other ill-timed byes in the Pac-12, Arizona State might earn the award for the worst with its opening week off date. The Sun Devils can use the extra week to prepare for early season games against Wisconsin, Stanford and USC, but an off date in the first week of the year certainly isn’t ideal for Todd Graham’s team.

* After an early bye week, Arizona State finally takes the field for its opener on Sept. 5 against Sacramento State. Playing the Hornets on Thursday night is a plus, especially since the Sun Devils welcome Wisconsin to Tempe on Sept. 14.

* Arizona State and Wisconsin will meet for only the fourth time on Sept. 14. The Sun Devils own a 2-1 edge, but the Badgers won the last meeting 20-19 in Madison in 2010. Arizona State’s run defense is a huge focus for Todd Graham and his defensive staff this spring, and playing a team like Wisconsin with two potential All-Big Ten backs should give the defense a gauge of where it stands heading into Pac-12 play.

* Arizona State opens Pac-12 play with two huge contests: at Stanford and USC. The Sun Devils have lost their last two matchups against the Cardinal, including a 33-14 defeat at Stanford in 2009.

* If Arizona State wants to win the South Division, it has to breakthrough against USC. The Sun Devils are just 1-12 in their last 13 games against the Trojans, with the last victory coming in 2011. Arizona State lost 38-17 at USC in 2012.

* While Arizona State catches Stanford in crossover play, the rest of its games with the North are favorable. The Sun Devils host Oregon State and Washington, along with a road date against Washington State in crossover play – three games they should be favored to win.

* Could the Nov. 23 showdown between Arizona State and UCLA decide the South Division champ? The Bruins have won back-to-back division titles, but the Sun Devils weren’t too far behind last season. Arizona State has lost three out of its last four games to UCLA. However, the last two losses in the series have come by a combined three points.

* Here’s an interesting stat to consider in the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry: The home team has not won since 2008. The Sun Devils won 41-34 in Tucson last season. 


Aug. 31 Colorado State (Denver)
Sept. 7 Central Arkansas
Sept. 14 Fresno State
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 at Oregon State
Oct. 5 Oregon
Oct. 12 at Arizona State
Oct. 19 Bye Week
Oct. 26 Arizona
Nov. 2 at UCLA
Nov. 9 at Washington
Nov. 16 California
Nov. 23 USC
Nov. 30 at Utah

* Mike MacIntyre should be a good fit at Colorado, but the Buffaloes could have a hard time finding victories in 2013. Since there are few guaranteed wins, getting the season started off with a victory against Colorado State is a must. The Buffaloes have won two out of the last three against their in-state rival. But the Rams won 22-17 last season.

* Central Arkansas is one of the few breaks on the schedule, but Fresno State in Week 3 is no easy matchup for Colorado. The Bulldogs destroyed the Buffaloes 69-14 last season and should be a heavy favorite in this matchup.

* The first bye week of the season comes at a good time for Colorado. After getting non-conference play finished, MacIntyre and his staff will have an opportunity to evaluate his team before opening Pac-12 action at Oregon State.

* The Sept. 28 meeting visit at Oregon State will be Colorado’s first trip to Corvallis. The Buffaloes and Beavers have not played since 1988 and interestingly enough, no matchup has taken place in Corvallis.

* While the Buffaloes will be better in 2013, they are likely to be a double-digit underdog in most of their Pac-12 games. So where are the opportunities to earn a victory? How about Nov. 16 against a rebuilding California team? Or Nov. 30 on the road at Utah? Again, opportunities are limited for Colorado. But it should be more competitive than it was last season in conference games.


Aug. 31 Nevada
Sept. 7 Bye Week
Sept. 14 at Nebraska
Sept. 21 New Mexico State
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 3 at Utah
Oct. 12 California
Oct. 19 at Stanford
Oct. 26 at Oregon
Nov. 2 Colorado
Nov. 9 at Arizona
Nov. 15 Washington
Nov. 23 Arizona State
Nov. 30 at USC

* The defending Pac-12 South champions open the year with a wildcard matchup. Chris Ault retired at Nevada at the end of last season, and the school hired Texas A&M assistant Brian Polian as its new head coach. While the Wolf Pack return quarterback Cody Fajardo and some solid pieces on both sides of the ball, it’s hard to know what to expect with a new coaching staff.

* After a bye in the second week of the season, UCLA hits the road for the final time in non-conference play to take on Nebraska. The Bruins won 36-30 in Pasadena last season, and the overall series between these two teams is separated by just one contest (5-6). However, UCLA has lost its last four trips to Lincoln. With two explosive offenses, expect plenty of points when these two teams meet on Sept. 14.

* With both of their bye weeks before October, UCLA will have to navigate a difficult conference slate with no off date until after the Nov. 30 game against USC. And that’s assuming the Bruins don’t win the division and play in the conference title game.

* UCLA’s first two games of conference play should be victories – at Utah and California – but after is where the competition kicks up a notch. The Bruins have arguably the toughest crossover schedule in the South Division, playing at Stanford and Oregon, while hosting Washington. If there’s a reason to pick against UCLA to repeat as Pac-12 South champions, the schedule might be the biggest obstacle.

* UCLA has lost its last four matchups against Oregon. The Ducks won 60-13 in Eugene during the last regular season game between these two schools.

* UCLA has lost five in a row to in-state rival Stanford. The last victory for the Bruins on the Farm was on Sept. 1, 2007.

* Regardless of what happens in the crossover games against Oregon and Stanford, UCLA’s division title hopes could rest on a November stretch that starts with a road trip to Arizona on Nov. 9, then a home date against Washington, which is followed by a home matchup against Arizona State and a short trip across town to play USC on Nov. 30. Even if the Bruins lose to Oregon and Stanford, they can likely win the division by beating both Arizona State and USC.


Aug. 29 at Hawaii
Sept. 7 Washington State
Sept. 14 Boston College
Sept. 21 Utah State
Sept. 28 at Arizona State
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 10 Arizona
Oct. 19 at Notre Dame
Oct. 26 Utah
Nov. 1 at Oregon State
Nov. 9 at California
Nov. 16 Stanford
Nov. 23 at Colorado
Nov. 30 UCLA

* Due to a road trip against Hawaii to open the season, USC will play 13 games in 2013. With the team still on scholarship limitations, is the extra game a bad thing? It’s hard to say, but USC shouldn’t have much trouble with Hawaii or Boston College in non-conference action. Assuming USC doesn’t suffer a rash of injuries before the heart of Pac-12 play, it shouldn’t hurt too much by playing an extra game.

* Outside of the road trip to Notre Dame, USC’s toughest non-conference game will be against Utah State. The Aggies went 11-2 last year and return much of their core, including quarterback Chuckie Keeton.

* Although Washington State should be improved, the Trojans should get a good barometer test of where they stack up in the Pac-12 with a Sept. 28 game at Arizona State. The Sun Devils handled USC 43-22 in Tempe in 2011 but lost 38-17 to the Trojans last year. Arizona State and UCLA are the early favorites to win the South Division. But if USC can go on the road and win, the Trojans can throw their hat into the conversation as well.

* The first bye week of the season comes at a perfect time for USC. With a key South Division game against Arizona on Oct. 10, along with the annual matchup with Notre Dame, the off date is a good chance for the Trojans to regroup.

* USC has won five matchups in a row at Notre Dame. Interestingly enough, the Fighting Irish have won the last two in Los Angeles. Notre Dame should be favored, but the Trojans played the Fighting Irish tough last season, despite losing quarterback Matt Barkley to a shoulder injury the week before against UCLA.

* The Trojans have a favorable crossover schedule with the North Division. Most importantly, USC does not play Oregon. The Trojans host Stanford and play on the road at Oregon State, but they also miss Washington. For a team that underachieved last season, USC has the schedule to make a quick rebound in the conference standings.

* Will USC establish control in the rivalry with UCLA once again? The Bruins snapped a five-game losing streak to the Trojans last year. However, USC has won seven in a row at home.


Aug. 29 Utah State
Sept. 7 Weber State
Sept. 14 Oregon State
Sept. 21 at BYU
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 3 UCLA
Oct. 12 Stanford
Oct. 19 at Arizona
Oct. 26 at USC
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 9 Arizona State
Nov. 16 at Oregon
Nov. 23 at Washington State
Nov. 30 Colorado

* Utah opens its 2013 campaign with back-to-back games against in-state foes. The first matchup is against Utah State, a team breaking in a new coach in Matt Wells. However, the bigger storyline in this game should be revenge. The Aggies snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Utes last year, and with a challenging Pac-12 slate ahead, Utah needs this game to get bowl eligible.

* With only nine returning starters, the Sept. 14 game against Oregon State should give Utah a good barometer test of where it stands in relation to the rest of the Pac-12. The Beavers won nine games last season and are expected to be picked in the top four of the Pac-12 North. Are the Utes going in the right direction? We should have a better idea after the Sept. 14 game against Oregon State.

* Can Utah continue its recent run of success against BYU? The Utes have won four out of the last five meetings, including a 54-10 blowout victory in Provo. Expect the Cougars to have revenge on their mind this season.

* The first bye week comes at a good time for Utah, as the upcoming stretch against UCLA, Stanford, Arizona and USC will be challenging. And considering the schedule, it’s very possible Utah enters November with a 2-6 record.

* In 2013, Utah will play Stanford for the first time since 1996. The Cardinal won the last meeting on Sept. 7, 1996, but these two programs have met only five teams in school history.

* This will be the first meeting between Utah and Oregon as Pac-12 foes. The Utes and Ducks last met 2009 in Eugene but have played 26 times in school history.

* Wins in Pac-12 play are difficult to find for Utah, and the season finale against Colorado could be the only guaranteed victory. The Utes lost to the Buffaloes in Salt Lake City in 2011 but defeated Colorado 42-35 in Boulder last year. 


Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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<p> Pac-12 Football 2013 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 28, 2013 - 07:22
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-assistant-coach-hires-2013

Barring any late movement, college football’s coaching carousel for 2013 has ended.

As with any offseason, there were plenty of changes nationally. Over 100 coordinator jobs have changed hands from 2012 and there were numerous moves among the assistant ranks.

It’s too early to tell which hire is the best but give Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and NC State’s Dave Doeren credit for building excellent staffs at their new jobs.

Another name to watch is Don Brown, moving from Connecticut to Boston College. He helped to coordinate a top-10 defense in Storrs last season and should be a huge asset to a program that has dropped off in recent years.

Which coaching hires will have the most impact for 2013? Keep an eye on these names:

College Football's Top Coordinator Hires for 2013

Dave Aranda, Defensive Coordinator, Wisconsin
Aranda has been on a fast track through the coaching ranks since serving as a co-defensive coordinator at Delta State in 2007. The California native joined the Hawaii coaching staff as a defensive line coach in 2008 and served in that capacity until the start of the 2010 season when he was promoted to coordinator. In Aranda’s first season as a coordinator, the Warriors led the nation in forced turnovers (38) and scored five defensive touchdowns. In 2011, Hawaii was once again one of the top defenses in the WAC, recording 35 sacks and finishing third in the conference against the run. Aranda joined Utah State for one season and led the Aggies a finish of 14th nationally in yards allowed and seventh in points allowed. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen will help mold the defense, but Aranda is clearly a coordinator on the rise after his stints at Utah State and Hawaii.

Related Content: 2013 Wisconsin Spring Preview

Chris Ash, Defensive Coordinator, Arkansas
Ash followed Bret Bielema from Wisconsin to Arkansas and will coordinate the Razorbacks’ defense in 2013. In two years as a coordinator in Madison, the Badgers ranked 15th nationally in total defense in back-to-back seasons. Before coming to Wisconsin, Ash worked at Iowa State from 2002-06 and made a short stop at San Diego State (2007-08), before coming back to Ames in 2009. Ash is considered a good secondary coach, which should help Arkansas improve a pass defense that ranked 113th nationally in 2012.

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Mike Bajakian, Offensive Coordinator, Tennessee
Bajakian has quietly developed into one of the nation’s most underrated coordinators. The New Jersey native has followed Butch Jones at each of his coaching stops, starting with Central Michigan in 2007. Under Bajakian’s watch, the Chippewas were one of the MAC’s top offenses, as he helped tutor record-setting quarterback Dan LeFevour. After three seasons in Mount Pleasant, Bajakian joined Jones for three years in Cincinnati, and the Bearcats finished first or second in scoring in the Big East during his tenure. Tennessee’s offense is in need of repair after quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson left for the NFL. The competition is tougher in the SEC, but Bajakian should ease the transition at quarterback and with the new receiving corps.

Related Content: 2013 Tennessee Volunteers Spring Preview

Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator, Boston College
New Boston College coach Steve Addazio seems to be a good fit in Chestnut Hill, and he made one of the top moves of the offseason by hiring Brown from Connecticut. The Massachusetts native has a wealth of experience in the Northeast, including stops at Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, UMass, Northeastern and Maryland. Brown is known as an aggressive coordinator, and he guided the Huskies to a top-10 finish nationally in fewest yards allowed in 2012. Boston College doesn’t have as much talent as Connecticut had on defense in 2012, but the Eagles should improve under Brown’s watch in 2013.

Neal Brown, Offensive Coordinator, Kentucky
Kentucky is one of the toughest jobs in the SEC, but new coach Mark Stoops has pieced together an excellent coaching staff to turn things around in Lexington. Brown is a perfect fit to direct the Wildcats’ offense, as he played for Kentucky from 1998-2000 and is a native of Danville. Brown has five years of coordinator experience, including the last three at Texas Tech. During his tenure in Lubbock, the Red Raiders averaged 475.7 yards and 34.8 points a game. Life in the SEC will be tougher, but Brown is going to improve Kentucky’s offense.

Matt Canada, Offensive Coordinator, NC State
Canada is on his third job in three years and reunites with Dave Doeren after one season at Wisconsin. He started his career as a grad assistant at Indiana and worked his way up the ranks to coordinate Northern Illinois’ offense in 2003. After one season as the Huskies’ coordinator, Canada left for Indiana and stayed in Bloomington until 2010, when he joined Doeren at Northern Illinois. In 2011, the Huskies averaged 38.3 points a game, and under Canada’s direction in 2012, Wisconsin averaged 393.3 yards per game and ranked 13th nationally in rush offense. Canada needs to develop a quarterback, but his track record suggests NC State should make a smooth transition to its new offense for 2013.

Jim Chaney, Offensive Coordinator, Arkansas
After Derek Dooley was canned at Tennessee, Chaney didn’t have to look far for his next job. The Missouri native stays in the SEC, moving from Knoxville to Fayetteville to coordinate the offense for Bret Bielema. Chaney joined Tennessee in 2009 after a three-year stint in the NFL, leading the Volunteers to an average of 475.9 yards per game in 2012. In addition to his successful stint with Tennessee, Chaney helped tutor Drew Brees at Purdue and also spent time in the NFL as an assistant with the Rams. Bielema was a run-first coach at Wisconsin, and it’s likely Arkansas will keep a similar offensive approach. However, Chaney’s background on offense allows the Razorbacks to implement some spread principles to blend with a pro-style attack.

Bill Cubit, Offensive Coordinator, Illinois
The Fighting Illini’s offense was a disaster last season, ranking 119th nationally with 296.7 yards per game. Coach Tim Beckman canned co-coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales, which opened the door for Cubit to come to Champaign. The Pennsylvania native was Western Michigan’s head coach from 2005-12 and made stops as an offensive coordinator at Missouri, Rutgers and Stanford. The Fighting Illini’s offense has a lot of question marks, but Cubit’s veteran presence should help this unit escape the Big Ten’s cellar in 2013.

D.J. Durkin, Defensive Coordinator, Florida
Durkin isn’t a name known to most college football fans, but he is highly regarded among coaches around the nation. He started his career at Bowling Green as a graduate assistant in 2001 and served in a similar role at Notre Dame from 2003-04. He returned to Bowling Green as a defensive assistant in 2005-06 and was hired at Stanford by Jim Harbaugh in 2007. After three years with the Cardinal, Durkin joined Urban Meyer at Florida in 2010 and remained on staff after Will Muschamp was hired. Durkin won’t have to coordinate the defense alone, as Muschamp will have a large say in the game plan. But the Ohio native’s quick rise through the coaching ranks shows just how much confidence Muschamp has in him to lead the defense.

Related Content: 2013 Florida Gators Spring Preview

D.J. Eliot, Defensive Coordinator, Kentucky
Eliot was Mark Stoops’ right-hand man at Florida State, as he helped to develop some of the Seminoles’ defensive linemen into NFL talent. Eliot has paid his dues in the coaching ranks, spending time as an assistant at Wyoming, Houston, Miami, Texas State, Tulsa and Rice. This will be Eliot’s first time holding the defensive coordinator title, and Stoops will likely have a large role in the defense each week. However, Eliot is a rising star in the coaching ranks and should help Kentucky’s defensive line develop into an SEC-ready unit in 2013. 

Steve Fairchild, Offensive Coordinator, Virginia
Virginia’s staff got a major overhaul in the offseason, as Mike London hired former NC State coach Tom O’Brien as an assistant, Jon Tenuta replaced Jim Reid as defensive coordinator, and Fairchild was hired after Bill Lazor left for the NFL. Fairchild has a solid resume, spending time as an assistant with San Diego State, New Mexico and Colorado State, before spending seven years in the NFL with the Bills and Rams. He also served as Colorado State’s head coach from 2008-11. Fairchild isn’t going to turn Virginia’s offense into the ACC’s most-prolific unit, but his experience in the NFL should help the Cavaliers find a spark in 2013.

Tony Franklin, Offensive Coordinator, California
Franklin is highly regarded for his work with spread offenses and has been successful at most of his stops, with the exception of a failed stint at Auburn. The Kentucky native spent the last three years working under Sonny Dykes at Louisiana Tech and is following Dykes to California. In a wide-open conference like the Pac-12, Franklin’s spread offense should have no trouble getting on track. Give Dykes and Franklin some time and the Bear Raid offense should rank near the top of the Pac-12.

Scott Frost, Offensive Coordinator, Oregon
The playcalling duties in Eugene will fall on the shoulders of new coach Mark Helfrich, but Frost was promoted to offensive coordinator after Chip Kelly’s departure. The former Nebraska quarterback is a rising star in the coaching ranks and could have a shot to run his own program in the near future.

Dave Huxtable, Defensive Coordinator, NC State
Huxtable is another well-traveled assistant to make this list of top coordinator hires for 2013. The Illinois native made stops as a coordinator at Georgia Tech, North Carolina and UCF, before joining Bret Bielema’s staff at Wisconsin in 2011. After one year with the Badgers, he followed Paul Chryst to Pittsburgh and led a Panther defense that allowed just 21.1 points a game in 2012. Huxtable’s job won’t be easy in 2013, especially since NC State has to rebuild its linebacking corps and secondary this offseason. However, this looks like a good hire for new coach Dave Doeren.

Jeff Jagodzinski, Offensive Coordinator, Georgia State
Remember him? Jagodzinski has been nearly invisible since he was fired from Boston College for interviewing for an NFL job in 2008. After the bizarre end to his tenure at Chestnut Hill, Jagodzinski served as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator but was fired before the first game and worked for one year as the head coach for the UFL’s Omaha Nighthawks. He also spent 2012 working as the wide receivers coach at Ave Maria University. Jagodzinski is a proven coach and has an NFL background. This is a hire that should pay big dividends for FBS newcomer Georgia State.

Ellis Johnson, Defensive Coordinator, Auburn
As evidenced by his horrendous 0-12 record at Southern Miss last season, Johnson just isn’t cut out to be a head coach. However, the 61-year-old coach is one of the offseason’s top assistant hires, as Gus Malzahn brings the veteran coordinator aboard to coordinate the Tigers’ defense. Johnson is no stranger to life in the SEC, as he coached at Alabama from 1990-93 and then again from 1997-2000. He coordinated the defense at Mississippi State from 2004-07 and at South Carolina from 2008-2011. Johnson should help improve an Auburn defense that allowed 420.5 yards and 28.3 points a game last season.

Brian Lindgren, Offensive Coordinator, Colorado
At 32 years old, Lindgren is a name to watch in future head coaching searches. He started his coaching career at the University of Redlands in 2005 and moved to Northern Arizona in 2006. Lindgren spent six seasons with the Lumberjacks, before joining Mike MacIntyre at San Jose State in 2012. The Spartans averaged 34.7 points and 446.2 yards per game with Lindgren at the controls last year. Expect Colorado to show marked improvement on offense this year, which only figures to raise Lindgren’s profile even more going into the offseason.

Clancy Pendergast, Defensive Coordinator, USC
Pendergast should be an improvement over Monte Kiffin, who never seemed to figure out an answer for slowing down spread offenses. In two out of his three seasons coordinating the California defense, the Golden Bears ranked No. 1 in fewest yards allowed. Pendergast is changing USC’s scheme, which has been referred to as a 5-2 scheme in spring reports. With the returning talent, the Trojans should have one of the most-improved defenses in the nation.

Jeremy Pruitt, Defensive Coordinator, Florida State
Pruitt is an interesting choice to replace Mark Stoops as the Seminoles' defensive mastermind. The Alabama native has only been an assistant on the FBS level since 2010 and served under Nick Saban as a secondary coach. While his resume is thin on collegiate experience, Pruitt did work at prep powerhouse Hoover High School in Alabama for three years, including the final two seasons as defensive coordinator. Pruitt doesn’t have much experience, but he is regarded as an excellent recruiter and learned from one of the best at Alabama.

Related Content: 2013 Florida State Spring Preview

Mike Smith/Matt Wallerstedt, Co-Defensive Coordinators, Texas Tech
The Smith-Wallerstedt combination should work out well for Texas Tech’s defense. The Red Raiders showed improvement on that side of the ball last year and return eight starters for 2013. Smith joins his alma mater after working as an assistant with the Jets, while Wallerstedt comes to Lubbock after one season with Texas A&M. Wallerstedt also has experience as a defensive coordinator from 2010-11 at Air Force and during the 2000-02 seasons at Wyoming. With Smith’s NFL background and Wallerstedt’s experience in defending spread offenses from the Mountain West, this pairing should continue to get Texas Tech’s defense moving in the right direction.

Jon Tenuta, Defensive Coordinator, Virginia
Tenuta is a well-traveled assistant and is returning to his alma mater after a three-year stint at NC State. He is no stranger to the ACC, as he also has stops at Maryland, North Carolina and Georgia Tech on his resume. Under Tenuta’s watch in 2012, the Wolfpack recorded 2.5 sacks a game and forced 24 turnovers in 13 games. He is known for his aggressiveness, which should help a Virginia defense that managed only 1.4 sacks a game and forced 12 turnovers in 2012.

Mike Yurcich, Offensive Coordinator, Oklahoma State
Yurcich was an off-the-radar hire by Mike Gundy, but all signs point to this being a home-run pick. The Ohio native has spent only one season on the FBS level (graduate assistant at Indiana), but he was a successful coordinator at Shippensburg, coordinating an offense that averaged 529.2 yards per game in 2012. Yurcich won’t be asked to make many changes, as Oklahoma State plans on keeping the same offense that Dana Holgorsen and Todd Monken have built over the last few years. Even though his experience on the FBS level is virtually nothing, Yurcich’s performance on the lower levels suggest Oklahoma State’s offense won’t miss a beat.

Related Content: 2013 Oklahoma State Spring Preview


Six Wait and See Hires for 2013

Cam Cameron, Offensive Coordinator, LSU
Is Cameron the answer for LSU’s sluggish offense? The veteran NFL assistant has to help the Tigers’ passing attack, which has lacked in recent years. Cameron was fired from the Ravens after Week 14 of the 2013 NFL season and has not coached in college since 2001.

Related Content: 2013 LSU Tigers Spring Preview

James Coley, Offensive Coordinator, Miami
Coley is regarded as an excellent recruiter in South Florida but lacks experience as a playcaller. Although Coley held the offensive coordinator designation at Florida State, Jimbo Fisher called the plays for the Seminoles. Coley served as FIU’s playcaller in 2007 – a season in which the Golden Panthers averaged 15.1 points a game.

Dennis Erickson, Co-Offensive Coordinator, Utah
Erickson was brought in to tutor Utah offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, but he will also have the final say on the headsets in 2013. Erickson was out of coaching in 2012, after spending 2007-11 as the head coach at Arizona State. Having a veteran presence like Erickson will help, but Utah has a young quarterback and must replace running back John White.

Scot Loeffler, Offensive Coordinator, Virginia Tech
Loeffler was not impressive during his one-year stint at Auburn, as the Tigers ranked 115th nationally in total offense. However, he was regarded for his work at Michigan from 2002-07 and spent one year in the NFL with the Lions. Loeffler is tasked with getting Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas back on track.

Ron Prince, Offensive Coordinator, Rutgers
Prince had a mediocre 17-20 stint as Kansas State’s head coach from 2006-08. Since then, he’s served as an assistant in the NFL and worked for one year as Virginia’s special teams coach in 2009. From 2003-05, Prince was the Cavaliers’ offensive coordinator under Al Groh, and he directed an attack that averaged at least 26 points a game each year during that span.

Ted Roof, Defensive Coordinator, Georgia Tech
Roof returns to his alma mater looking to turn around a defense that has struggled to improve in recent years. However, he has a shaky resume, as his defenses at Auburn were nothing special, and his one season at Minnesota resulted in a defense that ranked 10th in the Big Ten in yards allowed. While Roof’s defenses have turned in some suspect performances, he did coordinate a Penn State defense that ranked second in the Big Ten in fewest points allowed in 2012.

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<p> College Football's Top Assistant Coach Hires for 2013</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 28, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /mlb/15-big-things-watch-out-2013-mlb-season

Whether it's turnover in Toronto, sophomore superstars, or Dodger dollars, there's no shortage of storylines coming this 2013 baseball season. To get you up to speed before opening day, here's a look at everything you need to know. 

1. Oh, Canada!

We could probably fill this story with 15 things to watch about the Toronto Blue Jays alone. This team begs for attention, from so many angles, and we know that at least one country will be watching closely. Rival executives have long believed that Canada’s only baseball team, backed by the Rogers Communications fortune, was a sleeping giant. Now, the Blue Jays are wide awake, with emerging young talent (Brett Lawrie), steady veterans (Mark Buehrle), power hitters (Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion) and speedsters (Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio). The Jays co­uld have as many as three aces around Buehrle, who was part of the bounty that general manager Alex Anthopoulos extracted from the Miami Marlins in a November blockbuster. Brandon Morrow has some of the best stuff in the league, Josh Johnson is a former ERA champion, and R.A. Dickey just won the National League Cy Young Award for the Mets. The bullpen is loaded with power arms. The folksy and fiery John Gibbons is back as manager after four years away. And — oh, by the way — the revamped lineup includes Melky Cabrera, who gained a measure of infamy last season when he flunked a steroids test shortly after winning the MVP award at the All-Star Game. The San Francisco Giants refused to activate Cabrera during the postseason, yet won it all in his absence. Cabrera, who cashed in with the Jays for two years and $16 million, would be worth watching wherever he went, to see if he’s anything more than a league-average player without the juice. Here, though, he’s just one storyline on a team that seems poised to take advantage of an AL East that, for the first time in two decades, could be theirs for the taking.

2. Sophomore Stars 

Every now and then, the Rookie of the Year Award winners seem destined to have a significant impact on the future of the game. Think Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001, Eddie Murray and Andre Dawson in 1977, or Tom Seaver and Rod Carew in 1967. It’s been only one season, of course, but Mike Trout and Bryce Harper already have that look. Trout was the runner-up to Miguel Cabrera as the AL Most Valuable Player, putting together the best all-around season of any player in the majors, factoring in speed (an MLB-high 49 steals), power (30 homers) and his nightly highlights on defense. And he just turned 21 in August. Harper is even younger, playing his entire season before turning 20, and while his skills are not quite as advanced as Trout’s, he posted one of the best age-19 seasons in baseball history, batting .270 with 22 homers, 59 runs batted in and 18 steals, while also playing strong defense and showing exceptional instincts. Both players approach the game with passion and relentless drive, and possess such a diverse set of skills that they do something memorable every night. We never know what’s coming next from this pair, and we sure can’t wait to find out.

3. New Dimensions 

The ballpark that gave up the fewest home runs last season was AT&T Park, whose tenants, the San Francisco Giants, won the World Series. Yet building a winning team in an extreme pitcher’s park has been much more challenging for the teams in the 28th- and 29th-ranked parks for home runs. The San Diego Padres (Petco Park, 28th) and the Seattle Mariners (Safeco Field, 29th) have not won much lately, and they decided after the season to move in their fences. In San Diego, the power alleys will be reduced by 12 feet in left field and nine feet in right. Another part of the right field wall will come in by 11 feet. In Seattle, the left field walls will be pulled in, in various spots, from four to 17 feet, with a four-foot reduction for much of right field. “We have been an outlier in terms of the difficulty hitting in our ballpark,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik says. “What we really want to be is a fair ballpark for pitchers and hitters. That’s the biggest thing.” Neither the Padres nor the Mariners (whose retractable roof does not enclose the ballpark) can do much about the cool and heavy local air, which can depress the flight of a ball. But at least their hitters won’t be as frustrated as before. Now, of course, the teams need to find hitters talented enough to take advantage. That could be a much bigger challenge.

4. Dodger Dollars 

It’s been quite a debut for the new owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who last May paid $2.15 billion for a team emerging from bankruptcy with a payroll just over $100 million. Now the payroll is doubled, Dodger Stadium is being renovated, and the team is stuffed with TV stars. That’s no coincidence, since the Dodgers’ spending has everything to do with a lavish new deal for their cable rights. The Yankees showed the value of must-see players (who also win) on the wildly successful YES Network in New York. The Dodgers haven’t grabbed a playoff spot since 2009, so it will be fascinating to see if all their imports can come together and lead them back. Stan Kasten, the team president, promised that it would take more than dollars to win. “I always say smart beats rich,” he said. “The Yankees got as good as they are because they’re both smart and rich. We’re working on it.” All of the newcomers, even Zack Greinke, must prove the Dodgers smart for believing that their best days are in front of them, not behind them. If it turns out that the Dodgers paid Greinke for his Royals success, Carl Crawford for his Rays success and Hanley Ramirez for his Marlins success (and so on), this could turn into a big-budget Hollywood flop.

5. Hamilton’s New Home

It was time for Josh Hamilton to leave the Texas Rangers. After five seasons in which he led them to their first two World Series, the fans had turned on him, and the team made a tepid offer to bring him back. Even so, the Rangers served Hamilton well in his time there, creating an environment in which he could manage his complicated life and thrive. A hefty contract (five years, $125 million), new teammates and a ballpark that is less hitter-friendly bring challenges that Hamilton, a recovering addict, must navigate now that he’s with the Los Angeles Angels. “I have a past history of making mistakes with drugs and alcohol, drinking twice in seven years, which is not good for me,” Hamilton said after signing. “They’re going to help me with my support system to put things in place that I had with the Rangers.” If Hamilton stays clean, he will add another dangerous bat to a glittering lineup that last year added Albert Pujols from St. Louis. Splashy annual signings do not guarantee success, and the Angels are starting to look like their 1980s teams, put together largely by poaching stars like Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson and Fred Lynn from other teams. But if Hamilton makes a smooth transition, the Angels could power their way to the World Series for the first time in more than a decade. 

6. Oriole Luck 

The 2013 Baltimore Orioles will be a fascinating case study in luck. All last season, as they clawed to their first playoff berth in 15 years, they battled the perception that their success was a freakish product of extraordinary good fortune. Never mind that the Orioles won 93 games — their success in one-run games made them a prime candidate for a major regression, or so the thinking went. The 2012 Orioles were 29–9 in one-run games, the best winning percentage in such games for any team in the modern era. It would seem to be unsustainable, but the Orioles believe that their power (214 homers, ranking second in MLB) and dominant bullpen (3.00 ERA, ranking fifth) give them a distinct edge in close games. They lost one power hitter this winter, Mark Reynolds, but bring back four others who hit at least 22 home runs. They’ll also have a healthy Nick Markakis and will get to see heralded third baseman Manny Machado, 20, for a full season. And, of course, they retain manager Buck Showalter, the master in-game strategist, who has turned around every team he has managed but still seeks postseason glory.

7. New League for the Astros 

The Houston Astros’ 51-year run as a mediocre National League franchise is over. They won a single pennant, in 2005, and were probably best known for the now-outdated innovations of artificial turf and the domed stadium. They ended their NL existence with the two worst seasons in club history, losing 106 games in 2011 and 107 last year. It’s a good time to start over, and the Astros are all about new beginnings. They move to the AL West this season, bringing a rookie manager, new uniforms and a largely anonymous and ever-shifting roster. General manager Jeff Luhnow cleaned house in his first year on the job, and former Nationals coach Bo Porter gets his first chance to lead a team. He doesn’t appear to have much talent to work with, though chances are he will find a gem or two in the massive haul of players Luhnow has acquired in trades, waiver claims and Rule 5 draft picks. Given the size of their market, their new cable revenue, and their annual high draft position, the Astros could be a power in a few years. But that time is not now, and a new batch of opponents may not be enough to bring fans back to Minute Maid Park. The Astros’ presence could boost the win totals of the A’s, the Rangers and the Angels, making it possible for both AL wild cards to come from the West Division.

8. Davey’s Farewell 

Tony La Russa retired as a champion with the Cardinals in 2011, and now Washington’s Davey Johnson will try to do the same. Johnson, 70, has declared this to be his final season as a manager, after stops with the Mets, Reds, Orioles, Dodgers and, after more than a decade out of the dugout, the Nationals. He guided the Nats to their first playoff appearance last season, earning the National League Manager of the Year award but losing to St. Louis in a five-game division series. The Nationals were one strike from victory but still lost, the reverse of Johnson’s greatest moment as a manager, when his Mets came within a strike of losing the 1986 World Series, only to stage a furious Game 6 comeback against Boston. That remains Johnson’s only championship team, but he has a chance for another with the Nationals, who led the majors in wins last season (98) and added the durable veteran Dan Haren to the league’s best rotation. Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals’ ace, will have no innings restrictions this year, and Denard Span, the speedy new center fielder, adds another element to the offense. Johnson, brash as ever, welcomes the expectations for his young team. “World Series or bust, that’s probably the slogan this year,” he says. “But I’m comfortable with that.”

9. Testosterone 

Six players were suspended 50 games last season for violating baseball’s steroids policy, the most since 2007. The last three to be caught — former San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera, Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon and San Diego Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal — tested positive for testosterone. So did the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun, in Oct. 2011, before his suspension was overturned last spring. It seems to be no coincidence that some players believe they can successfully avoid the testers when it comes to testosterone, and Michael Weiner, the executive director of the players’ union, called it a troubling trend. He vowed in the offseason to “make sure that our deterrent on testosterone is as strong as it can be,” adding that talks were underway to improve the detection of the drug. The sagas of Braun and Cabrera, especially, were major stories in 2012, and the issue bears watching again this season — for the players caught using testosterone, or (one hopes) for the reduction in positive tests.

10. Padded Hats 

Twice in the final two months of last season, a pitcher was struck in the head by a line drive. Brandon 

McCarthy, then of the Athletics, suffered a skull fracture, brain contusion and epidural hemorrhage in September. The Tigers’ Doug Fister, pitching in the World Series, stayed in the game with no apparent side effects. There is no way to entirely remove the possibility of a batted ball striking a pitcher who does not have time to react, and as McCarthy and Fister showed, the effects of such a blow can vary widely. But baseball deserves credit for trying to reduce the risk. In December, ESPN reported that MLB had examined caps with interior padding and planned to send them to some pitchers for suggestions. Baseball was said to be working with six different companies on prototypes and was hoping to have samples available for pitchers to wear in spring training. Of course, that doesn’t mean pitchers will like them. The caps must be vigorously tested, and beyond that, they must be unobtrusive, since pitching depends so much on precise, repetitive movements. Baseball could try the caps on minor leaguers — the lab rats of the game — before requiring them in the big leagues. But if there’s a way to keep pitchers safer without disrupting their routines, baseball is obligated to consider it. Here’s hoping the prototypes meet with approval and help prevent a tragedy.

11. Kris Medlen 

It’s rare to hear old-timers rave so enthusiastically about newcomers. But the Braves’ Kris Medlen was just that impressive late last season. “I would have liked to have played with Kris Medlen, because I do think he has a communication with a force in pitching that most of us can’t talk to,” Braves announcer Don Sutton, the Hall of Fame pitcher, said in September. “It’s an awareness, it’s a sixth sense.” Don’t blame Sutton for hyperbole; Medlen, at the time, was in the middle of an unprecedented roll. The righthander set a major league record by reeling off 23 consecutive starts in which his team won, a streak that began in 2010, stretched through Tommy John surgery and lasted through the end of the 2012 regular season. Medlen’s luck ran out in the wild card game, which he lost despite pitching well, but it will be fascinating to see if he can carry the full-season load as the Braves’ next ace, at age 27. Short and stocky — 5'10", 190 pounds — he does not look the part of a dominant starter. But that’s what he was, with a turbo changeup that helped him post a WHIP of 0.913. Had he thrown enough innings to qualify, that figure would have led both leagues. Not just last year, either — but in each of the last eight seasons. 

12. Will Anyone Show Up in Miami? 

The Marlins bet big on 2012, and when everything went wrong, owner Jeffrey Loria gave up. There’s no other way to say it. The grand vision of a high-payroll team managed by Ozzie Guillen was given just one season to succeed, before the front office went into the franchise’s default mode and slashed the payroll. The champions of 1997 and 2003 were gutted, piece by piece, and so it is again. Fans in South Florida were already skeptical of Loria, who had promised things would change if only the taxpayers would build him a stadium. Now that he has it, and has slid back so quickly into a major rebuild, the sense of betrayal is greater than ever. Attendance — which reached only 12th in the league last year — seems certain to sink back to last, where it was each season from 2006 through 2011. Loria, of course, should be used to intimate gatherings at his ballparks. He also presided over the final years of the Montreal Expos, and he seems determined to once again turn a nice profit as a welfare case while driving another franchise into oblivion.

13. Royal Contenders  

When Darryl Motley caught Andy Van Slyke’s fly ball to win Game 7 of the 1985 World Series for the Royals, a young Dayton Moore was there, watching from a hillside along I-70 as his favorite team reached the pinnacle. Moore, who was 18 then, could not have known that the Royals would never return — not even to the playoffs, let alone the World Series — for at least 27 years. As general manager of the Royals, it’s Moore’s job to get Kansas City back to being a contender, and as he approaches his seventh year there, the time is now. The Royals won only 72 games last year, their 17th losing season in the last 18. But Moore has positioned them to contend now, acquiring four starting pitchers since the 2012 All-Star break — Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, James Shields and Wade Davis. The last two came from Tampa Bay in a controversial December trade that cost the Royals the Minor League Player of the Year, outfielder Wil Myers, and three other prospects. The hope is that homegrown young players like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will blossom this season, while homegrown veterans who have signed long-term deals, like Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, continue to do their thing. It’s a risky bet, because young, cost-efficient players like Myers are the lifeblood of a small-market franchise. But the Royals are tired of losing, and Shields sees parallels to his former team. “They definitely remind me of our ’07 season going into our ’08 season, in the Rays’ organization,” Shields says. “I think there’s a good possibility we can step in that direction.” The Royals will be overjoyed if that happens; the Rays won the pennant in 2008 and have contended ever since.

14. Bert to the Desert 

If you’ve seen “Baseball Tonight” on ESPN (and since you’re reading this magazine, we’ll assume you have), you know Steve Berthiaume, the host who skillfully combines irreverence with insight. Now he’s the play-by-play man for the Arizona Diamondbacks, giving real baseball lovers another reason to stay up late for those telecasts out West. It’s a treat to hear Vin Scully call the Dodgers and Dick Enberg behind the Padres’ microphone, two old pros still going strong whose familiar sound takes us back through the decades. Berthiaume is just a rookie in this role, with little play-by-play experience, but we’re willing to bet that he’s a rising star whose deep appreciation of the game will make him a fixture on our televisions for a generation. The Diamondbacks might not be the most interesting team in the National League West, but Berthiaume will make them worth watching.

15. Three Injured Yanks 

Few players have had as much impact on baseball in the last decade and a half as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez, and each has undergone major surgery since his last game. Jeter’s season ended in the dirt near second base in Game 1 of the ALCS, when he broke his ankle stretching for a ground ball. Rivera’s ended in May, on the warning track in Kansas City, when he tore his right ACL chasing a fly ball in batting practice. Rodriguez learned after the season that he needed surgery on his left hip. Jeter and Rivera are scheduled to be recovered in time for Opening Day, while Rodriguez is likely out until June. How will Jeter, already limited in range, handle another year in the field at shortstop? How will Rivera, at age 43, respond to the longest break from pitching in his career? And will the rapidly deteriorating Rodriguez be able to summon any of his past greatness, or is he destined to be an albatross for the Yankees in the final five years — yes, five years — of his contract? No athlete, no matter how successful, is guaranteed a fairy-tale ending. And few will be scrutinized as closely as these Yankees.

—by Tyler Kepner

<p> Whether it's turnover in Toronto, sophomore superstars, or Dodger dollars, there's no shortage of storylines coming this 2013 baseball season. To get you up to speed before opening day, here's a look at everything you need to know.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 13:30
Path: /college-football/virginia-tech-hokies-2013-spring-football-preview

The fact that Virginia Tech, despite playing in its 20th straight bowl game and finishing last season with a winning record, was labeled one of the nation’s most disappointing teams in 2012 tells you just how far this program has come. The reality for Frank Beamer and his Hokies is that last season was just that, a disappointment. After all, Beamer’s bunch was expected to be a top-25 mainstay, win the ACC Coastal Division once again and contend for another conference championship in 2012, yet none of that materialized as the Hokies managed just enough wins to maintain its bowl streak and finish .500 in the conference. Despite last season’s shortcomings, the expectations haven’t changed in Blacksburg, so the onus will be on the coaching staff, featuring several new faces on the offensive side, and the players to put in the work this spring if the Hokies hope to get back to where everyone expects them to be – atop the ACC and among the nation’s best teams. The schedule-makers did their part, as Virginia Tech will not face either Clemson or Florida State, the top two projected teams from the Atlantic Division, in the regular season.

Virginia Tech Hokies 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 7-6 (4-4)

Spring practice dates: March 27-April 20

Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 9

Returning Leaders:
Passing: Logan Thomas, 220-of-429, 2,976 yards, 18 TDs, 16 INTs
Rushing: Logan Thomas, 174 att., 524 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving: Demitri Knowles, 19 rec., 240 yards, 1 TD
Tackles: Jack Tyler, 119
Sacks: James Gayle, 5
Interceptions: Antone Exum, 5

Redshirts to watch: WR Joel Caleb, LB Deon Clarke, DE Ken Ekanem, RB Trey Edmunds, WR Joshua Stanford, CB Der’Woun Greene, RB Chris Mangus, WR Mark Irick

Early Enrollees to watch: CB Brandon Facyson, QB Carlis Parker, OT Jonathan McLaughlin, OT Parker Osterloh

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 vs. Alabama (Atlanta, Ga.)
Sept. 7 Western Carolina
Sept. 14 at East Carolina
Sept. 21 Marshall
Sept. 26 at Georgia Tech (Thurs.)
Oct. 5 North Carolina
Oct. 12 Pittsburgh
Oct. 19 Open Date
Oct. 26 Duke
Nov. 2 at Boston College
Nov. 9 at Miami
Nov. 16 Maryland
Nov. 23 Old Dominion
Nov. 30 at Virginia

Related: ACC Football 2013 Spring Preview and Storylines

Offensive Strength: Quarterback. Senior Logan Thomas will be entering his third year as the starter under center. Despite his struggles (51.2 completion percentage, 16 INTs) last season, Thomas broke his own single-season school record for total offense. The talent is clearly there; it’s just a matter of Thomas getting the most out of it on the field.

Offensive Weakness: Playmakers. Thomas is the team’s leading returning rusher, as the running back who gained the most yards rushing last season was J.C. Coleman with 492. Coleman (21 rec.) also is the leading returning receiver, as the departure of the Hokies’ top three wide receivers leaves sophomore Demitri Knowles’ 19 receptions as the most among the remaining pass catchers.

Defensive Strength: Experience. Nine starters are projected to return on a defense that ranked among the top 32 teams in the nation in total, scoring, rushing and pass defense.

Defensive Weakness: Linebacker. Jack Tyler, who is the ACC’s leading returning tackler, is the lone starting linebacker who is back. Tariq Edwards, Ronny Vandyke and Chase Williams, all of whom started at least one game at linebacker last season, also return and should get a chance to state their case for a starting job this spring.

Spring Storylines Facing the Hokies

1. Learn a new offense. After going from 35th in total offense in 2011 to 81st last season, Frank Beamer decided to shake up his coaching staff on that side of the ball. Beamer hired former Auburn offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler to overhaul the offense. While the vast majority of Hokies fans were more than ready for a change, Loeffler’s one season at Auburn doesn’t exactly give the fan base a reason to stand up and cheer. The Tigers ranked near the bottom of FBS schools in total (115th of 120), scoring (112th) and passing (112th) offense, and fared just slightly better than the Hokies did in rushing (148.4 ypg compared to 145.9 ypg) the ball. Loeffler has a talented quarterback to work with in Logan Thomas, but plenty of other question marks after that. As last season showed, the defense can only be expected to carry this team so far. The offense needs to do its part too, so this spring is critical as Thomas and company work with the new coaches.

2. Find a running game. Virginia Tech went from No. 28 in the nation in rushing offense (186.9 ypg) in 2011 to No. 79 (145.9 ypg) last season. Quarterback Logan Thomas was the team’s leading returning rusher in 2012 with 524 yards, marking the first time in two decades (1992) that the Hokies’ top rusher had less than 600 yards. A big part of “Beamer Ball” is running the football, so one of Loeffler’s priorities this spring is to sort out the backfield rotation and find a way to run the ball effectively. There’s no shortage of candidates at running back with senior Tony Gregory and sophomores J.C. Coleman and Michael Holmes all back. The problem is those three combined to average 4.4 yards per carry and seven rushing touchdowns last fall. Coleman, who led all backs with 492 yards on the ground, figures to get the first shot at lead-back duties. Redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds also will enter the mix this spring. The offensive line also will need a fair share of attention with three starters gone from a group that helped the running game manage a measly 3.7 yards per carry. New offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has his work cut out for him this spring as he sorts all of his options and figures out his depth chart.

3. Find Logan Thomas more help in the passing attack. Fair or not, a lot of the blame for Virginia Tech’s offensive struggles last season has been placed on the performance of Thomas. While the quarterback struggled at times with his accuracy (51.2 completion percentage, 16 INTs), he led the team in rushing and broke his own school record for total offense in a single season. The reality is Thomas needs more help from both the running game and his own pass catchers. The top three receivers from last season – Marcus Davis, Corey Fuller and Dyrell Roberts – are all gone, but the trio also was inconsistent at times throughout last fall so perhaps change at wideout won’t be a bad thing. New wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead does have the benefit of getting D.J. Coles back. The senior sustained a knee injury in last season’s opener against Georgia Tech and ended up missing the entire season. Coles should be one of Thomas’ main targets, if he can stay healthy. Sophomore Demitri Knowles came on as last season progressed and his 19 catches are the most among the returning wideouts and tight ends. If he continues to improve, he could pair with Coles to give Thomas two trusted targets. The Hokies also need young players like Joel Caleb, widely regarded as the top prospect in the 2012 signing class, redshirt freshman Joshua Stanford and others to step up and make an impression this spring. Thomas’ breakout 2011 campaign came when Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale were finishing out their collegiate careers. If Thomas wants to finish his Hokies’ career on a high note, he will need help from those on the receiving end of his throws.

4. Identify Jack Tyler’s running mates. Tyler, an All-ACC linebacker and the conference’s leading returning tackler, is back to man his starting linebacker spot. With Bruce Taylor, who led the team with 5.5 sacks, and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow both gone, linebacker is the most unsettled spot on the Hokies’ defense. Tariq Edwards, who played in just seven games because of a leg injury, should get the chance to start alongside Tyler provided he’s able to show he’s fully recovered and hasn’t lost a step. Sophomore Ronny Vandyke, who started two games last season, also figures to get a chance to lay claim to the other starting linebacker spot. Junior Chase Williams and redshirt freshman Deon Clarke will get plenty of looks this spring as well as defensive coordinator Bud Foster looks to develop a healthy and productive two-deep at this critical position.

5. Filling Antone Exum’s spot. The good news for Foster is that his defense is expected to return nine starters this fall, including a deep defensive line corps. The bad news is that one of those starters, second-team All-ACC cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in January. To his credit, Exum is aiming to be ready for the season opener on Aug. 31 against two-time defending national champion Alabama, but the reality is Foster probably should plan on not having his best cover corner (5 INTs, 16 PBU in 2012) and one of his senior leaders to start the season. The secondary still has plenty of experience coming back in fellow senior corner Kyle Fuller as well as starting safety Detrick Bonner and rover/safety Kyshoen Jarrett. What remains to be seen is if sophomores Donaldven Manning or Donovan Riley are ready to step up if Exum isn’t ready to play. The Hokies also will welcome Fuller’s younger brother, Kendall, one of the top cornerback recruits in the nation, into the fold this summer.

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<p> Virginia Tech Hokies 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 13:20
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-atlanta-braves

The Braves have endured their share of postseason frustration. They are 9–20 in playoff games since sweeping the NLDS in 2001 — but have managed to remain relevant through changing times in the tough NL East. Since its run of 11 straight division titles ended in 2006, Atlanta has had a winning record in five of seven seasons and made the playoffs in 2010 and ’12. If the Braves are going to threaten the Washington Nationals in 2013, they’ll do it behind a solid young pitching staff and the addition of the Upton brothers: center fielder B.J. via free agency and left fielder Justin via trade. They’ll also need either Freddie Freeman or Jason Heyward — or perhaps both — to take the next step offensively.

How shrewd did the Braves look last September, when Kris Medlen was the best thing going in the majors, and the Nationals had shut down ace Stephen Strasburg to rest his arm? Both were in their first full seasons after Tommy John surgery, and both were on about a 160-inning limit. But the Braves looked smart for pitching Medlen in relief the first half of the season — at least in the long run. Once Medlen joined the rotation on July 31, he went 9–0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts. He enters 2013 as the staff ace, which is saying something for a pitcher with only 30 career starts. Tim Hudson, who has a 49–26 record over the last three seasons, is a solid No. 2 starter. His numbers were up a bit last year — with a 3.62 ERA (third-highest of his career) and 8.4 hits per nine innings (most since 2009) — but he still has several good seasons in his right arm. Brandon Beachy, the Braves’ best starter the first two to three months last season, aims to return from Tommy John surgery around the All-Star break. Paul Maholm, who was acquired at the trade deadline last year, and Mike Minor, who solidified a spot in the rotation with a dominant second half, give the Braves two quality lefty starters. Julio Teheran, considered a top prospect for a few years, finally has an opportunity to shine
In two seasons since taking over for Billy Wagner, Craig Kimbrel has emerged as the elite closer in the National League. He’s a big reason why the bullpen is one of the Braves’ strengths and among the best in baseball. After winning the NL Rookie of the Year in 2011, Kimbrel finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting last year and was eighth in the NL MVP race. He’ll try to match John Smoltz as the second Atlanta closer to post three straight 40-save seasons, after collecting 46 and 42 saves, respectively, in his first two full big-league seasons. Jonny Venters, who struggled to find consistency with his patented sinker, wasn’t as effective in 2012 as he was the year before. But Eric O’Flaherty followed his breakout season of 2011 with another outstanding campaign. Luis Avilan was a sleeper of a find in Double-A, and the Braves added power righthander Jordan Walden from the Angels in a trade for Tommy Hanson. Manager Fredi Gonzalez kept his word not to overuse the back end of the bullpen like he admittedly did in ’11.

Middle Infield
Dan Uggla knows no middle ground. In his first two seasons with the Braves, he’s endured long stretches of being either hot or frigid. He hit .185 over the final 99 games last season, though he did manage a more-than-respectable .298 clip with nine extra-base hits and 14 RBIs over the final 23 games. Uggla still finished with 19 home runs — well off his 31 per year average — but struck out 168 times. The Braves are excited to see what they’ll get in a full season from Andrelton Simmons, a 23-year-old shortstop who was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft. Simmons is an energetic defensive standout who contributed more offensively than the Braves anticipated. He hit .289 with 19 RBIs in 166 at-bats in 2012. Simmons is a candidate to bat in the leadoff spot.

The Braves were aware that Chipper Jones’ departure would be problematic, but this offseason reinforced the difficulty of replacing him. The Braves’ original intent was to put Martin Prado at third base and acquire another left fielder and leadoff hitter. As it turned out, it took the trade of Prado to acquire their left fielder Justin Upton. In doing so the Braves acquired a platoon partner for Juan Francisco at third in Chris Johnson. Francisco remains a project, but he has huge power potential. The left-handed hitter needs to drop weight and eliminate extra rotation from his swing, but he took steps in that direction in winter ball in the Dominican. Given Jones’ departure, the Braves will also look to Freeman at first base for more offensive production. Freeman avoided a sophomore slump last season, hitting 23 home runs with 94 RBIs, but he needs to improve his .259 batting average.

The Braves love the combination of speed and power both Uptons bring, especially B.J. in center field, as well as their right-handed bats to balance their lineup. Many experts believe the Uptons and Heyward make up the best outfield in the National League. Outfield defense is certainly a team strength. Heyward won his first Gold Glove award in 2012, a big step in his progression as a young star. Offensively, Heyward made strides as well, rebounding from a rough sophomore season to hit a career-high 27 home runs, steal 21 bases and drive in 82 runs. Justin Upton played most of last season at Arizona with a deep bruise on his left thumb suffered on the first weekend of the season but still tied for second in the NL with 107 runs scored. With better health, he should improve on his 2012 totals of 17 homers and 67 RBIs, his lowest numbers in those two categories since 2008.

Another injury-plagued season cost Brian McCann what would have been a sixth Silver Slugger in seven major league seasons. He was hampered by right shoulder and knee problems and underwent shoulder surgery over the winter. The Braves hope he needs only a week or two in April to get healthy and is soon back to being the perennial All-Star and one of the top offensive catchers in baseball. The Braves lost well-respected backup David Ross to free agency — he signed with the Red Sox — but they believe Gerald Laird will fill in nicely, bringing the experience of playing in back-to-back World Series with the Cardinals and Tigers.

Re-signing Reed Johnson, the right-handed outfield bat the Braves added at last year’s trade deadline, gives the Braves a quality fourth outfielder. Johnson, who hit .270 in 43 games with the Braves last season, can play all three outfield spots, but isn’t expected to see much time. Jordan Schafer should also earn a roster spot. Paul Janish, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, or Ramiro Pena will back up at shortstop. Veteran minor leaguer Matt Pagnozzi will back up Laird until McCann returns.

The Braves stuck by Gonzalez after their September collapse in 2011 and saw the fruits of that decision when he led them to a berth in the Wild Card Game last fall. Gonzalez learned from previous mistakes: He didn’t overwork the back end of the bullpen, he wasn’t afraid to bench Uggla at times when the second baseman was struggling, and he worked Jones in and out of the lineup to keep him healthy. General manager Frank Wren bolstered the offense by acquiring the Uptons, but there is risk. B.J. and Justin strike out frequently and will join a lineup that lost its most disciplined hitter in Jones.

Final Analysis
Despite the splash of the Upton acquisitions, the Braves will have a tough time challenging Washington for supremacy in the NL East, but their rotation and bullpen are strong and return largely intact. With Medlen starting all season, Beachy poised to return around the All-Star break, the Braves like their chances to return to the postseason.

SS    Andrelton Simmons (R)    
Rocket-armed defender who showed he could hit too with a .289 average, three HRs in 49 games as a rookie.
RF     Jason Heyward (L)    
Career-high 27 HRs and 21 steals, making him first 20/20 Brave since Andruw Jones in 2000.
RF     Justin Upton (R)    
Tied for second in the NL with 107 runs despite playing most of the season with a damaged left thumb.
1B     Freddie Freeman (L)    
Led the Braves in RBIs with 94 and second in homers with 23, but batting average fell from .282 to .259.
CF     B.J. Upton (R)    
Had career-high 28 HRs, added 31 steals last season for Tampa; 160-plus strikeouts for third straight season.
C     Brian McCann (L)    
Injury-plagued season saw career low in batting average (.230); 121 games were lowest total since 2005. Shoulder surgery
2B     Dan Uggla (R)     
Streak of five straight 30-plus-homer seasons ended with 19 home runs; hit career-low .220.
3B    Juan Francisco (L)    
Hit nine HRs in only 192 ABs, and nine more in Dominican League. Power potential gets him starting shot.

C     Gerald Laird (R)     
Hit .282 in 63 games for Detroit; will be No. 1 catcher in April as McCann recovers from shoulder surgery. Matt Pagnozzi will back up Laird.
OF    Reed Johnson (R)     
Led majors with 18 pinch hits and was second with .419 pinch-hit average; could win platoon role in left field.
IF    Ramiro Pena (S)    
Probably gets nod while Paul Janish recovers from shoulder surgery.
3B    Chris Johnson (R)
Acquired in the deal with Justin Upton, Johnson could be a valuable platoon partner at third with Francisco.
OF    Jordan Schafer (L)
Back for second tour with Braves.

RH    Kris Medlen     
NL pitcher of month for August and September went 9–0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts after moving into rotation.
RH    Tim Hudson     
Put up 3.62 ERA despite coming off spine surgery and pitching through bone spurs in ankle.
LH    Mike Minor     
Came into his own in second half of last season, going 7–4 with 2.21 ERA over last 15 starts.
LH     Paul Maholm     
Went 4–5 with 3.54 ERA in 11 starts as a Brave after midseason trade from Cubs.
RH    Julio Teheran
Long considered a top prospect, with injury to Brandon Beachy and trade of Delgado, the path is cleared.

RH     Craig Kimbrel (Closer)    
Converted 42 of 45 saves while posting 1.01 ERA with 116 strikeouts and 14 walks in 62.2 innings.
LH     Eric O'Flaherty     
Allowed only four earned runs in 49 innings (0.73 ERA) in 55 appearances after May 2.
RH     Jordan Walden     
Closer with Angels (32 saves, 2.98 ERA in 2011) acquired in Tommy Hanson trade. Fastball can touch 100 mph.
LH     Jonny Venters     
ERA jumped from 1.84 to 3.22, reflecting struggles with his sinker and midseason elbow soreness.
LH     Luis Avilan    
Surprise of the year in the bullpen, going 1–0 with 2.00 ERA in 31 games after July 4 call-up from Double-A.
RH     Cory Gearrin     
Side-armer guns for first regular job in majors; 1.80 ERA over 22 appearances with the Braves in 2012.
RH     Cristhian Martinez     
Dependable long man with above-average change-up; went 5–4 with 3.91 ERA in 54 appearances in 2012.

<p> Despite the splash of the Upton acquisitions, the Braves will have a tough time challenging Washington for supremacy in the NL East, but their rotation and bullpen are strong and return largely intact.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 13:00
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-miami-marlins

Talk about a nasty case of buyer’s remorse. In a dizzying span of less than a year, the Miami Marlins: Went through a ballyhooed rebranding. Spent $191 million on three big-name free agents. Moved into a beautiful new downtown ballpark. Served as reality-show fodder for Showtime. Underperformed miserably. Fired manager Ozzie Guillen with three years left on his contract. Hired a rookie manager (Mike Redmond) out of A-ball. And, last but not least: Tore down their roster via a 12-player mega-dump deal with the Blue Jays. Just like old times, eh? South Florida baseball fans, at least what’s left of them, reacted with predictable rage after seeing five proven big-leaguers, including Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, shipped off for a boatload of mostly prospects. Redmond will be asked to pull a Joe Girardi (circa 2006) and whip a bunch of young prospects into a competent big-league ballclub as quickly as possible. Good luck.

Ricky Nolasco, the ace by default, wanted out in the immediate aftermath of the blockbuster deal. The Marlins refused to accommodate him, mostly because Nolasco, who turned 30 this offseason, was the only member of their projected rotation with more than 19 career wins. Plus, if they traded Nolasco and his $11.5 million salary, their net payroll, which opened last season at a franchise-record $112 million, would drop to less than a third of that figure. Henderson Alvarez, who pitched to a 4.85 ERA while spending last season in the Jays’ rotation, is a notable step down from the fellow Venezuelan righthander he essentially replaces (Anibal Sanchez). Young righthander Nate Eovaldi, who came over in a July deal with the Dodgers, has a lot to learn and will likely get 30-plus starts’ worth of education this year. At least he showed signs of sustainable effectiveness during a late-season audition. Wade LeBlanc, the former Padres lefty with 19 wins in five seasons to his credit, figures to occupy one slot. Veteran Kevin Slowey, who last pitched in the majors in 2011 with the Twins, has impressed enough this spring to earn a shot to start the season. But Jacob Turner, acquired from the Tigers last season, will be a key cog in the rotation in the future. He will get a call at some point this season.
Steve Cishek was a revelation for the Marlins in the second half of the 2012 season. The young sidewinder blew just one save after taking over for Heath Bell at the All-Star break. That was enough to convince the Marlins to dump Bell on the Diamondbacks — he wound up costing them $14 million for one horrible season — while turning over the closer’s reins to the former fifth-round draft pick. Sinkerballer Ryan Webb should emerge as the top option for the eighth inning, while Mike Dunn is the best option from the left side. It’s pretty much a no-name bullpen, but after the Marlins relief corps blew 22 saves a year ago, the team is willing to take its chances on some kids. Veterans Jon Rauch and Chad Qualls were signed late and bring some experience and stability.

Middle Infield
The Marlins have had more than their share of standout shortstops in their brief-but-volatile history. Edgar Renteria and Alex Gonzalez each helped them win a World Series, while Hanley Ramirez and Reyes were more noted for their offensive prowess. Now along comes Adeiny Hechavarria, the Cuban defector who should start building his Gold Glove collection in the not-too-distant future. At least that’s what the Marlins are hoping after making him the centerpiece of their deal with the Blue Jays. Hechavarria may hit eventually as well, but so far his bat has only been truly lively in the light air of Las Vegas and the Pacific Coast League. Returning at second base is Donovan Solano, who shined with the Marlins after the Cardinals let him leave as a minor league free agent last winter. The 25-year-old Colombian hit .295 in 285 at-bats with the Marlins in his first season in the big leagues. Solano’s step forward made veteran Omar Infante expendable.

You wouldn’t want to run a relay race with these guys. Logan Morrison, moving back to his original position of first base after spending the past few years in left field, is coming off another arthroscopic knee surgery. When healthy, he’s a defensive weapon at first. Getting his legs underneath him also might help reverse a two-year decline at the plate. But he won’t be near full speed by Opening Day, so Casey Kotchman will likely start the season at first. But Morrison should be back by the end of April. At third base, the Marlins are betting $2.75 million that Placido Polanco’s back woes will somehow subside at age 37. Polanco, who attended college in Miami, has played in the postseason five times. That probably won’t be happening again this season.

If the Marlins were as smart as they seem to believe they are, they would have locked up All-Star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton with a long-term deal before dealing away half their roster. Instead, the burgeoning young slugger ripped the organization in the aftermath of its latest Great Selloff. Stanton, who already has 93 home runs in three seasons, can’t be a free agent until after 2016. However, further static from Stanton, along with what promises to be knee-buckling trade offers from lustful suitors, could accelerate his inevitable departure considerably. Juan Pierre, one of the heroes of the 2003 World Series team, is back to play left field. He signed a one-year, $1.6 million deal after a solid bounce-back year (.307 with 37 stolen bases) with the Phillies. Journeyman Justin Ruggiano looks like the smart bet in center field after a breakthrough season a year ago. The former Tampa Bay Ray hit .313 with 13 home runs in only 288 at-bats in his first season with the Marlins.

John Buck never could hit enough to justify that $6 million annual salary. Maybe, the Marlins figure, they will fare better with a platoon of young Rob Brantly, who came over from the Tigers in the Sanchez/Infante deal, and veteran backup Jeff Mathis. Brantly has a sweet lefty stroke and some pop. Unfortunately, Mathis is pretty much all mitt at this point. His combined OPS in eight big-league seasons is a putrid .570, and he doesn’t do much better against lefties than he does against righthanders. Mathis fractured his collarbone early in spring training, so youngster Kyle Skipworth could begin the season as Brantly’s backup.

Ruggiano will get some competition in center field from Gorkys Hernandez and even Chris Coghlan. Hernandez is out of options after enjoying a big winter season back home in Venezuela. Veteran reserve Greg Dobbs is an excellent safety net for those often-hobbled starters at the corner infield spots.

At the press conference to introduce new manager Mike Redmond, Marlins baseball czar Larry Beinfest admitted the organization had strayed from the Marlins Way — a term that he defined as “outperforming our challenges.” Exactly what challenges the Marlins still have now that they’re playing in a publicly funded, $515 million, retractable-roof ballpark was unclear. Redmond, a key backup on the 2003 World Series champions, has the right blend of personality and energy to get the most out of this young group. Even so, most expect a 100-loss season and a third straight year in the basement of the National League East.

Final Analysis
Say this for the Marlins: They don’t do anything halfway. In the abstract, what they have attempted in churning nearly their entire roster since the middle of last season makes some sense. It’s probably the quickest way to return to consistent playoff contention and eventually end a nine-year playoff drought that now ranks as the fifth-longest in baseball. However, there’s that nagging little piece about $360 million in public money going toward a ballpark that was supposed to help them compete with richer clubs in more traditional baseball markets. The Marlins aren’t giving any of that money back, but they did find a way to offload more than $236 million in future contract obligations since the middle of last season. In the process, they just may have destroyed once and for all the fragile connection that had existed between South Florida and its twice-crowned baseball club.

LF Juan Pierre (L)
Veteran slugged just .190 against lefties, .405 against righties for the Phillies in 2012.
3B Placido Polanco (R)
Missed a combined 112 games the past two seasons with the Phillies, mostly due to back issues.
RF Giancarlo Stanton (R)
Hit 494-foot homer at Coors Field last year, longest in the big leagues since 2009. Probably feels like the Lone Ranger in Miami now.
C Rob Brantly (L)
Already owns big-league home runs off of Stephen Strasburg and reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.
CF Justin Ruggiano (R)
Career .226 hitter in parts of three big-league seasons before shocking breakout with Marlins last year.
2B Donovan Solano (R)
Made just two errors in 58 games at second base after taking over for the traded Omar Infante.
1B Casey Kotchman (L)
His averaged dropped 77 points from 2011 to 2012, but he’s a stellar defender and capable off the bench once Logan Morrison is healthy.
SS Adeiny Hechavarria (R)
Career OBP of .286 in 172 minor league games outside hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

C Jeff Mathis (R)
Has a .198 batting average in nearly 1,600 career plate appearances in the majors. Makes his living with his defense and arm. A broken collarbone early in spring training has opened the door for Kyle Skipworth to start the season as the backup.
3B Greg Dobbs (L)
Started a combined 166 games the past two seasons for the Marlins.
UT Chris Coghlan (L)
Former NL Rookie of the Year remains on the radar due to his versatility.
1B-OF Logan Morrison (L)
Reached base at .436 clip after the count ran full in 2012, with two hits, 15 walks in 39 plate appearances. Should be in the lineup at either first base or left field every day once his knee is sound.

RH  Ricky Nolasco
Has posted an ERA lower than 4.48 just once in seven big-league seasons.
RH  Henderson Alvarez
Only two big leaguers (Clayton Richard and Rick Porcello) allowed more hits than Alvarez in 2012.
RH  Nate Eovaldi
Needs 5,613 more strikeouts to catch the only other big leaguer from Alvin (Texas) High School (Nolan Ryan).
LH  Wade LeBlanc
Turned in quality starts in just three of nine late-season opportunities.
RH  Kevin Slowey
Hasn’t pitched in majors since 2011, but was impressive in spring training.

RH  Steve Cishek (Closer)
Converted 14-of-15 save opportunities after replacing Heath Bell at midseason.
RH  Ryan Webb
Sinkerballer posted a nearly two-to-one groundball/flyball ratio (47-to-26) after Aug. 1.
RH  Jon Rauch
Has thrown at least 50 innings every year since 2006.
LH   Mike Dunn
Career walk rate is 5.7 per nine innings in parts of four big-league seasons.
RH  A.J. Ramos
Struck out 13 and allowed eight hits in 9.1 innings as a rookies last season.
RH  Chad Qualls
Veteran allowed 12 of 27 inherited runners to score while logging 52.1 innings for Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the Yankees.
RH  John Maine
Will serve as long relief man — and probably gets lots of work.

<p> Most expect a 100-loss season and a third straight year in the basement of the<br /> National League East</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 13:00
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-new-york-mets

After the 2011 season, the Mets lost the NL batting champion, Jose Reyes. After last season, they lost the NL Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey. Yet when Sandy Alderson announced Dickey’s trade to Toronto, he declared, “We’re certainly not punting on 2013.” He had to say it — with attendance already plummeting at Citi Field, the Mets don’t need their general manager conceding a season — but it’s clearly misleading. The Mets have no intention of contending this season, which will be the fifth losing campaign in a row for the franchise. On the positive side, they seem to be collecting a promising group of prospects who could grow together in years to come.

The Mets say they wanted Dickey to return, but their offer of a contract extension (two years, $20 million) was laughably out of line for a Cy Young Award winner in an industry with cash. They traded him to Toronto for an impressive prospect haul, but did not get a starter back in the deal. Without Dickey, Johan Santana moves back to the No. 1 spot, and while he has fought valiantly through a variety of physical problems, he’s proven to be unreliable for a full season. Shaun Marcum, twice a 13-game winner for Milwaukee, was signed and should provide quality innings if his shoulder doesn’t get too balky. The starters behind them offer long-term hope, with steady lefty Jon Niese and rising star Matt Harvey. Niese quietly had an outstanding season, going 13–9 overall and posting a 2.93 ERA in the final four months, never once walking more than three in a game over that span. Harvey, the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft out of North Carolina, had an exciting debut, with a 2.73 ERA in 10 starts and 70 strikeouts in 59.1 innings. The rotation falls off steeply after that, with Dillon Gee, a replacement-level righty, having missed the second half of the season after having a blood clot removed from his shoulder. Until Santana is ready for a regular load, Jeremy Hefner will fill in. But the prize of the group for the future is top prospect Zack Wheeler.
Frank Francisco had a 3.55 ERA for Toronto in 2011, and he reversed those digits for the Mets in 2012 — 5.53. That’s not what the Mets had in mind when they signed him for two years and $12 million, but Francisco, in fairness, did not blow a save after June 5. He missed all of July with an oblique strain and may have had arm problems, too. He underwent surgery in December to remove a bone spur from his elbow, and is questionable for Opening Day. If he pitches well, he’ll be trade bait for contenders this summer. Setup man Bobby Parnell was not the best righthander named Robert Allen on the team — that was Robert Allen Dickey — but he did enjoy a strong season, with a career-high in games (74) and a career-low 2.49 ERA. He also earned his seventh save on the final day of the season to give himself another career-best mark. He’ll close until Francisco is completely healthy. Beyond Parnell, though, the bullpen is threadbare. Veteran Brandon Lyon signed late and should be an effective innings eater from the right side. Non-roster veterans Scott Atchison, LaTroy Hawkins and lefty Pedro Feliciano will add depth and give manager Terry Collins some good matchup options. Lefty Josh Edgin can also be a decent match-up guy.

Middle Infield
As up-the-middle combinations go, they’re not exactly Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter. The Mets’ Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada are adequate but limited at the plate, both hitting for a respectable batting average but offering little power or speed to go with it. They’re viable big leaguers, which is saying something for this team, but they’re not difference makers. Advanced defensive metrics are not always reliable, but according to Fangraphs, Murphy’s Ultimate Zone Rating ranked 20th of 22 qualifying second basemen in the majors. Tejada was better, but still not among the upper half at his position, ranking 13th of 21 qualifying shortstops. A strained intercoastal muscle may keep Murphy on the shelf to start the season.

This is by far the Mets’ offensive strength. While Ike Davis struggled at Citi Field last season, he managed to smash 32 homers and drive in 90 runs. He needed only 16.2 at-bats per home run, ranking third in the National League, and at 26 years old, he still has time to get better. Across the diamond, third baseman David Wright had his best season since 2008, the year before the Mets moved to Citi Field, where he struggled at first with the distant dimensions. Moving in the fences suited Wright, who hit more long balls at home (12) than he did on the road (nine). A two-time Gold Glove winner, he also excelled in the field, with the best Ultimate Zone Rating among NL third basemen, according to Fangraphs. The Mets locked up Wright with an eight-year, $138 million contract extension that binds him to the team through 2020.

The Mets won the wild card in 2000 with an outfield of Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton and Derek Bell, and advanced to the World Series that year with Timo Perez replacing Bell. That’s a ragtag group, to be sure, but a juggernaut compared to the outfield in Flushing these days. The Mets have few outfielders who would start for other teams, with Collin Cowgill, veteran Marlon Byrd and Lucas Duda likely to hold down the starting spots. Cowgill — who bats right and throws left — will play for his third team in three seasons after stints with Arizona and Oakland, hoping to establish himself as an everyday player. He showed decent power and an ability to reach base in the minors, so he’s worth a look. Duda is the most established hitter, but he lumbers on defense and the bases and struggled to make up for it at the plate last season. Byrd, a non-roster player, has seen his better days, but should hit for a decent average.

The Mets believe they acquired a foundational piece in Travis d’Arnaud, who is so highly regarded that he’s been traded twice for Cy Young Award winners before his first game in the big leagues. He was hitting .333 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs at Class AAA Las Vegas last year before his season ended when he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while sliding to break up a double play. He also missed half the 2010 season with two bulging disks in his back. Those are troublesome issues for a young player, but the Mets were willing to bank on d’Arnaud’s potential while also acquiring a veteran, John Buck, who could be the starter early in the season. With little hope of contending this year, the Mets have determined they are best-served by leaving d’Arnaud in Class AAA to the start the season, delaying his eventual free agency by shortening his major league service time.

For a team with so many holes in the starting lineup, the Mets actually have a decent bench, with useful players like infielder Justin Turner, outfielder Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin, an infielder/outfielder. Valdespin had five separate stints with the Mets last year and set a single-season club record for pinch-hit homers, with five.

The Mets play hard for manager Terry Collins, but a lack of talent and a rash of injuries have doomed them down the stretch in the past two seasons. Collins burns to win and has vaguely raised questions about his team’s effort at times, but that is mostly just frustration, and players appreciate his generally positive approach in an atmosphere that can be harsh. Alderson knows how to build a winner, but he has mostly been limited to low-cost, low-impact moves, essentially treading water until the team has shed its glut of bad contracts. Owner Fred Wilpon and his son Jeff, who essentially runs the team, have sold minority ownership shares but have yet to prove they have really recovered from the havoc Bernie Madoff wreaked on their finances.

Final Analysis
This season marks the 20th anniversary of the Mets’ last 100-loss season, and they could be headed for another. These Mets could be very bad, and only the filleting of the Miami Marlins will save them from the basement of the NL East. The good thing is that the future is finally coming into focus, and fans can watch Harvey, d’Arnaud, Wheeler and others develop while knowing that Wright will be here for the long haul.

SS Ruben Tejada (R)
In 78 games as the leadoff man last year, he attempted just four stolen bases.
2B Daniel Murphy (L)
His .291 average trailed only Robinson Cano, Marco Scutaro and Aaron Hill among everyday second basemen.
3B David Wright (R)
Greatest Met never to play in World Series faces a long road to get there. For now, just trying to get healthy to avoid starting the season on the DL.
1B Ike Davis (L)
Outstanding power, but must prove he can handle lefties and hit at Citi Field.
RF Marlon Byrd (R)
Veteran batted .270 in 34 games with the Red Sox last season, which was 200 points higher than his first 13 games with the Cubs.
LF Lucas Duda (L)
His OPS in the second half of the 2012 season was a miserable .644.
CF Collin Cowgill (R)
With .291 average in five minor league seasons, he’s ready for a shot.
C John Buck (R)
After making All-Star team with Jays in 2010, hit .213 in two years for Marlins.

OF Mike Baxter (L)
Sacrificed chunk of his season to save Johan Santana’s no-hitter with diving catch at wall.
UT Jordany Valdespin (L)
Pinch-hitter extraordinaire who started at five positions (LF, CF, RF, 2B, SS) as a rookie. Will get some regular time at second until Murphy is 100 percent.
IF Brandon Hicks (R)
Has a .133 career average in parts of three seasons with Atlanta and Oakland.
IF Justin Turner (R)
Proved himself to be a capable reserve (he hit .269 in 171 at-bats) after a year as a starter.
C Travis d’Arnaud (R)
Vaunted prospect should make debut in ’13 and stay for years to come.

LH  Jon Niese
Won 13 games with a career-low 3.40 ERA in his third season as a starter.
RH  Shaun Marcum
Has gone 33-19 with a 3.62 ERA over last three seasons.
RH  Matt Harvey
Power righty projects as long-term ace; only gave up 42 hits in 59.1 innings last season.
RH  Dillon Gee
Missed second half after having blood clot removed from shoulder in July.
LH  Johan Santana
The danger of backloaded contracts — Santana will make $25.5M in 2013. A balky shoulder may keep him on the DL to start the season.
RH  Jeremy Hefner
Former fifth-round pick of the Padres is leading candidate to replace Santana while the former Cy Young winner is disabled.

RH  Frank Francisco (Closer)
First pitcher since 2009 to have at least 20 saves and an ERA above 5.50. Elbow inflammation is not a good sign; likely headed to DL.
RH  Bobby Parnell
Especially stingy at Citi Field, with 1.54 ERA at home last season. Will close in place of the injured Francisco.
RH  Brandon Lyon
Averaged 61 games and 62 innings over last seven seasons.
RH  Scott Atchison
Was effective with Boston last season: a 1.58 ERA in 51.1 innings and a 0.994 WHIP. The 37-year-old has logged more than 1,000 innings in the minors and Japan, just over 200 in the majors.
RH  LaTroy Hawkins
In 2009 and 2011 he had a combined 2.26 ERA; an unimpressive 4.97 in 2010 and 2012. Maybe 2013 will follow that trend.
LH  Pedro Feliciano
Led the NL in appearances all three years from 2008-10 totaling 208 games, but hasn’t pitched in bigs since.
LH  Josh Edgin
Held lefties to .164 average (9-for-55), which was good enough to earn another look.

<p> This season marks the 20th anniversary of the Mets’ last 100-loss season, and they could be headed for another. These Mets could be very bad, and only the filleting of the Miami Marlins will save them from the basement of the NL East.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 13:00
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-philadelphia-phillies

The Phillies are no longer the team to beat in the NL East. Maybe that will be beneficial, because this graying club, which was knocked from its lofty perch by injury and a horrible start in 2012, can use all the edge it can get. “Everyone is a little angry,” says Jimmy Rollins, the team’s longest-tenured player and a key contributor on five straight division championship clubs from 2007-11. “We have that chip on our shoulder to go back out there and prove this is still our division.” Injuries to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay contributed to a woeful 37–50 record before the All-Star break in 2012. Improved health and performance led to a 44–31 second half and fueled hopes that this team, aging but still high on accomplished star power, might have one more run in it.

What’s up, Doc? This is one of the most important questions facing this team. If Halladay is close to the pitcher he was in his first two seasons with the club, the Phillies will be in the enviable position of having three top starters. If Halladay struggles as he did in 2012, the Phils will have to get by with just two. Indications this spring are that the latter might be the case. Having Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee atop the rotation still puts the Phils in good position in the arms race. Hamels continued to blossom into an elite pitcher in 2012, and management recognized his importance by signing him to a six-year, $144 million contract in July. At 29, Hamels’ time to lead this staff has come. He’s talented enough to join Halladay and Lee as a Cy Young winner and lines up to make his first Opening Day start. “I’m still looking for him to have a really big year — 22, 24 wins,” manager Charlie Manuel said after Hamels’ career-best 17 wins in 2012. “It’s in there.” Lee’s win total was down in 2012, but he remains one of the best. He had a brilliant second half and joined Hamels with a top-10 ERA (in NL) finish. After finishing first and second in NL Cy Young voting his first two seasons in Philly, Halladay was a different pitcher in 2012. His 4.49 ERA was his highest in a season in which he pitched over 70 innings. Shoulder problems, likely caused by the wear and tear of over 2,700 big-league innings, sent him to the disabled list for seven weeks. When he was on the mound, he used off-speed stuff more than past years as he tried to compensate for reduced velocity and movement on his signature sinker and cutter. There is no more dedicated pro athlete than Halladay, who turns 36 in May. He has vowed to come back strong in 2013. If he does, everyone from the front office to the cheap seats will breathe easier, and the rotation will be deeper and more formidable. Kyle Kendrick and newcomer John Lannan, the third lefty on the starting staff, round out the rotation. Kendrick gained valuable confidence by recording a 3.20 ERA in his final 12 starts last season. Lannan has something to prove after being pushed out of Washington’s rotation by more talented arms last season. He made 30-plus starts and had a sub-4.00 ERA three times in Washington.
Even with Jonathan Papelbon converting 38-of-42 saves chances, the bullpen was a fatal weakness in 2012. Phillies relievers helped dig that huge first-half deficit by recording a 4.72 ERA, second-worst in the majors, before the break. The eighth inning was particularly disastrous. For the season, the Phils blew an unsightly 13 eighth-inning leads. Management believes it has fixed the problem with the signing of Mike Adams, one of the best setup men in the business. He and Papelbon could form one of the best back-end tandems in baseball. Antonio Bastardo, a lefty with strikeout stuff, will be key in the late innings as well. The Phils are hoping for the emergence of some of their young, high-upside relievers, most notably Mike Stutes and Jeremy Horst.

Middle Infield
The best middle infield combo in franchise history could be nearing the end of a storied run together. Rollins and Utley are both 34. Utley, once the game’s top run-producing second baseman, has averaged just 100 games the last three seasons because of injuries, particularly bad knees. He enters the final year of his contract. He believes he can manage his way through the season, but his batting average and slugging percentage the last two seasons are just .258 and .426, respectively. Rollins won his fourth Gold Glove in 2012 and can still pick it and throw it with the best. He’s never been a prototypical leadoff man because of his aggressive approach at the plate, but he did score 102 runs in 2012. He is signed through 2014 with an option for 2015.

Veteran stars Howard and Michael Young both have something to prove. Howard, long one of the game’s premier power bats, missed three months while recovering from a torn Achilles in 2012. He returned to drive in 56 runs in 260 at-bats, but batted a career-low .219 and struck out 35 percent of the time, a career-worst. Management has challenged him to improve his physical conditioning and approach at the plate. With good health and a full spring training, Howard should hit 30-plus homers and push for 120-plus RBIs. The team needs that from him. Young, who became a spare part after 12 decorated seasons in Texas, takes over at third base. Defense could be an issue, but Young’s deficiencies at third will be tolerable if he can rebound from a career-low .682 OPS and put up numbers similar to 2011 when he hit .338 with 106 RBIs.

This area has been unsettled since Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence were traded in July, and it remains one of the club’s biggest concerns. Management hoped to add a power-defense package in center field, but settled for slap-hitting Ben Revere, who was acquired from Minnesota. The speedy Revere can run down balls, but his arm is weak and his power nonexistent. In their search for a run-producing corner bat, the Phillies signed Delmon Young, last season’s ALCS MVP for Detroit. Liability doesn’t begin to describe him defensively, but he has some pop and his right-handed bat will come in handy. He had ankle surgery. While he recovers, John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix will likely platoon in left field. The Phillies desperately need Domonic Brown to finally seize control of right field, but to this point, the former top prospect has been disappointing.

Carlos Ruiz hit every ball hard, reached career-highs across the board, and became a valuable middle-order bat while making his first All-Star team in 2012. What does he do for an encore after hitting 50 points above his career average? Well, first he’ll serve a 25-game suspension for testing positive for a banned stimulant late last season. At 34, will Ruiz pick up where he left off when he returns, or was his big season a one-year wonder? One thing is sure: Ruiz will handle pitchers well. The staff has great respect for his game management. Veteran Erik Kratz, who showed power, presence and a strong throwing arm while Ruiz was out with a sore foot in 2012, will get the call while Ruiz serves his suspension.

Sure-handed infielder Freddy Galvis is an important piece off the bench. He gives the club a strong defender when Utley or Rollins needs rest, and he can help protect a late lead at third. Kevin Frandsen earned his way into a utility/pinch-hitting role by hitting .338 in 195 at-bats with the big club in 2012. The possibility of outfield platoons could keep the bench sharp.

Manuel is the most successful manager in club history. In eight seasons, he has guided the Phils to the best record in the NL (727–569), five division titles, two pennants and a World Series title. At 69, Manuel is in the final year of his contract. He says he hasn’t decided whether he wants to manage beyond 2013, but a succession plan may have been put into place when Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg was promoted from Triple-A manager to big-league third base coach. Sandberg is considered an excellent managerial prospect.

Final Analysis
With Hamels and Lee, the Phils have a great place to start, and with Adams and Papelbon, a good place to finish. Up the middle, the team is solid with Rollins and Ruiz. If Howard and Young rebound, and Halladay and Utley stay active and productive, this club will push for a playoff spot.

SS Jimmy Rollins (S)
Led NL shortstops in runs (102), extra-base hits (61) and fielding percentage (.978) in 2012.
2B Chase Utley (L)
Finally enjoying a full spring training game since missing the last two springs because of chronic knee issues.
3B Michael Young (R)
Lifetime .301 hitter and seven-time All-Star has played just 65 games at third base since 2010.
1B Ryan Howard (L)
He had 46 RBIs in his final 47 games in 2012 to finish with 56 in 260 at-bats.
C Carlos Ruiz (R)
Tied for second among National League catchers with 47 extra-base hits in 2012. Is suspended for the first 25 games for a positive PED test.
RF Domonic Brown (L)
Had seven assists in final two months of 2012, second-most in NL in that span.
CF Ben Revere (L)
His 37 infield hits (nine bunts) were third-most in the majors in 2012.
LF John Mayberry Jr. (R)
Played in career-high 149 games, including 107 starts, in 2012; only had 46 RBIs in 441 at-bats. Will likely platoon with Laynce Nix until Delmon Young’s ankle is completely recovered from offseason surgery.

IF Freddy Galvis (S)
Was leading team with 15 doubles when he sustained season-ending cracked spine last June.
IF Kevin Frandsen (R)
His 37 hits in August 2012 were tied for third-most in the National League.
C Erik Kratz (R)
Threw out 12-of-30 (40 percent) potential basestealers in 2012, and 18 of his 35 hits were for extra bases.
OF Ender Inciarte (L)
Rule 5 pick hasn’t advanced past High-A with Arizona where he hit .319 last season.
OF Laynce Nix (L)
Hit .342 in his first 17 games in 2012 then missed two-plus months with a calf strain.

LH  Cole Hamels
Notched a career-high 216 strikeouts in 215.1 innings in 2012.
LH  Cliff Lee
His 2.45 ERA after All-Star break was fifth-lowest among NL starters.
RH  Roy Halladay
Did not have a complete game in 2012 for the first time in over a decade. Struggling to find velocity this spring.
RH  Kyle Kendrick
Durability is valuable — has never been on the disabled list; had a career-high 6.6 K/9 IP in 2012.
LH  John Lannan
He is 39–39 with a 3.80 ERA in 115 starts against teams other than the Phillies.

RH  Jonathan Papelbon (Closer)
Has reached at least 30 saves in each of the last seven seasons.
RH  Mike Adams
In 285.2 career innings in the NL, he has 2.11 ERA, 295 strikeouts and 85 walks.
LH  Antonio Bastardo
Ranked third among qualified big-league relievers with 14.02 strikeouts per nine innings in 2012.
RH  Mike Stutes
Showed promise in 2011, but missed much of 2012 with shoulder injury.
LH  Jeremy Horst
Held left-handed hitters to a .170 average (8-for-47) with 17 strikeouts in 2012.
RH  Chad Durbin
Returns to Philadelphia after pitching for Cleveland and Atlanta the last two seasons.
LH  Raul Valdes
Lefties his just .149 last season; righties marginally better at .183.

<p> The Phillies are no longer the team to beat in the NL East. But the aging stars aren’t ready to concede anything this season.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 13:00
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-washington-nationals

There are many things that history could choose to remember about the 2012 Washington Nationals. There was the debut of Bryce Harper, one of the most dynamic rookies to emerge in recent years. There was the franchise’s first division title and first playoff appearance since it moved from Montreal in 2005. And there was the cementing of Davey Johnson’s credentials as a Hall of Fame manager, as he was named Manager of the Year at season’s end. However, in all likelihood, the 2012 Nationals will still be remembered years from now as the team that willingly chose to shut down its ace — when he was completely healthy. In sidelining Stephen Strasburg in such a fashion, the Nationals cited, among other things, their window for winning future titles. That window is now wide open, and the way history ultimately views the Great Strasburg Shutdown of 2012 will depend largely on how the team performs in 2013 and beyond.

As with virtually every segment of the Nationals’ roster, the rotation is blessed with a plethora of younger, controllable players. Even with a couple of generic slop-ballers at the back end, a front three of Strasburg (presumably unleashed in 2013), lefty Gio Gonzalez and righthander Jordan Zimmermann would take this team a long way. But with the December free-agent signing of righthander Dan Haren to fill the role (held in 2012 by Edwin Jackson) of veteran innings-eater, the Nationals can boast a formidable back end of Haren and hard-throwing lefty Ross Detwiler — ensuring that, no matter where an opponent catches the Nationals in their starting rotation, they will be facing a tough night at the plate. An intriguing option for depth is flamethrower Christian Garcia, who emerged as a bullpen force late in 2012.
The shocking end of the Nationals’ 2012 season, in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the Cardinals, could leave lasting marks on young closer Drew Storen, who blew a two-run ninth-inning lead after the Nationals were one strike away from advancing. While Johnson and the Nationals still believe in Storen, the team signed free agent Rafael Soriano to be the 2013 closer. Two of his 42 saves for the Yankees last season came prior to Mariano Rivera tearing his ACL in May. Storen joins Tyler Clippard to form what could be the most dominant setup tandem in baseball. Righthanders Craig Stammen and Ryan Mattheus, stalwarts in 2012, will return to their middle-relief roles. Lefty Zach Duke, who pitched well during a September call-up in 2012, is expected to fill the long reliever role held last year by Tom Gorzelanny.

Middle Infield
Although the Nationals explored trading away second baseman Danny Espinosa this winter — less an indictment of Espinosa than a sign of how highly they regard backup Steve Lombardozzi — the team will return its double-play combo of Espinosa and shortstop Ian Desmond in 2013, and will be perfectly happy to do so. Switched out of the leadoff spot midway through the season (into a more comfortable role as the primary sixth hitter), Desmond had a breakout season that saw him earn his first All-Star appearance and Silver Slugger award (he was also a finalist for a Gold Glove), while becoming the emotional leader of the clubhouse. Espinosa strikes out too much and tends to go into long, deep funks at the plate, but he could also be poised for the same sort of breakout in 2013 that Desmond had in 2012.

After reviving his career with a huge 2012 season (33 homers, 100 RBIs, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, sixth in MVP voting), veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche paid a visit to free agency seeking a long-term deal, but was victimized by the draft-pick compensation rules in the new CBA, and ultimately returned to the Nationals on a two-year deal. LaRoche’s return gives the Nationals a top glove man and a critical left-handed bat in the middle of their lineup. Meantime, Ryan Zimmerman returns at third base following a strange 2012 that is best viewed as being divided into pre- and post-cortisone segments. On June 23, he received his first shot of the painkiller for his ailing shoulder, and his sagging numbers immediately took off. In the end, the popular Zimmerman wound up with a season in line with his career norms, then had a clean-up surgery on the shoulder immediately after the season.

The Nationals had been searching for years for a dependable leadoff hitter/center fielder, and over the winter they finally found their man in Denard Span, acquired via trade with Minnesota. Not only is Span a talented offensive and defensive player, but the Nationals also can envision other pieces falling into place with him on board: Harper (in left) and Jayson Werth (in right) move seamlessly to the corners, while Werth can be freed from the leadoff spot. If all three stay healthy and perform to expectations, the Harper-Span-Werth outfield could be among the best in baseball.

Kurt Suzuki, acquired in an August trade with Oakland, was supposed to have been little more than a two-month stopgap, filling an acute down-the-stretch need but ceding the starting job in 2013 when starter Wilson Ramos returns from injury. However, Suzuki played a critical role in the Nationals’ run to the NL East title. Lest we forget, however — Ramos was considered one of the brightest young catchers in the game before a season-ending knee injury in May. The two catchers proved in spring training that they were deserving of the starting job, and Johnson has decided to begin the season using Ramos and Suzuki every other day, keeping both fresh.

The Nationals were blessed with a potent, highly functional bench in 2012 and will be looking to reconstruct a similar one this year. To that end, they signed Chad Tracy, their top pinch-hitter in 2012, to a one-year extension for 2013, and they will return Lombardozzi, talented fourth outfielder Roger Bernadina and outfield/first base backup Tyler Moore as well.

The highly publicized shouting match between Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo last summer was less a sign of discord within the braintrust than a reminder that these are two bull-headed men who — with plenty of justification — believe strongly in their own abilities. They also happen to like and respect each other. Although Johnson will be 70 on Opening Day and has already indicated that 2013 will be his final year, he remains at the top of his game mentally. (And if Johnson does indeed step down after 2013, the Nationals appear to have already identified his successor in bench coach Randy Knorr.) Rizzo, too, has ascended to the upper tier of his profession, turning a perennial loser into a well-run, self-sustaining, winning organization that is the envy of his peers.

Final Analysis
When Johnson blurted “World Series or bust” during the December 2012 Winter Meetings, he wasn’t being boastful or jingoistic. He was merely stating the obvious: This is a team built to win it all. In fact, all along 2013 was the Nationals’ target for contending — it just so happens that they arrived a year early in 2012. One could even argue that the franchise was caught unprepared for what befell them, based on the lack of a better plan for handling Strasburg’s innings limit. It is always dangerous to define your season as requiring a World Series appearance in order to qualify as a success, since the postseason is a crapshoot to some degree. But at least on paper, the Nationals appear to be as well equipped as anyone to survive both the marathon of the 162-game season and the sprint of October.

CF Denard Span (L)
The type of pure leadoff hitter the Nationals had been lacking; slapped 38 doubles and stole 17 bases in ’12.
RF Jayson Werth (R)
Thrived as leadoff hitter, but Nats believe he’ll be a perfect fit behind Span.
LF Bryce Harper (L)
After historic rookie season, ceiling in 2013 appears limitless for the 20-year-old outfielder.
3B Ryan Zimmerman (R)
Played through shoulder injury, put up representative numbers, with 25 HRs and 95 RBIs.
1B Adam LaRoche (L)
Silver Slugger/Gold Glove exacta spoke to his immense value to the Nationals in 2012
SS Ian Desmond (R)
Arguably the best shortstop in the majors last season; had career highs in average (.292), HRs (25), RBIs (73).
2B Danny Espinosa (S)
Power numbers dipped slightly from 2011 rookie season, but Nationals aren’t giving up on him.
C Wilson Ramos (R)
Will need to earn job back after suffering ACL tear last May that ended his season.

C Kurt Suzuki (R)
Cameo after August trade was enough to earn shot at regular playing time in 2013.
OF Roger Bernadina (L)
Versatile glove-man and emerging hitter could start for many teams; valuable reserve for the Nats.
UT Tyler Moore (R)
Pure hitter was a crucial part of 2012 bench; hit 10 home runs in only 156 at-bats.
IF Chad Tracy (L)
Davey Johnson’s favorite pinch-hitter (12 hits in 46 at- bats) in 2012 returns in same role.
UT Steve Lombardozzi (S)
Steady infielder added outfield to his duties in 2012, increasing his value to the Nats.

RH  Stephen Strasburg
The former No. 1 overall pick is poised for huge 2013 after being freed from controversial innings leash.
LH  Gio Gonzalez
Won 21 games in his first season with the team, kept command issues at bay, kept clubhouse loose.
RH  Jordan Zimmermann
Despite bringing heat, ranked eighth in the National League with only 2.0 walks per nine innings.
RH  Dan Haren
Has averaged 220 innings pitched since 2005, though injuries plagued him in 2012.
LH  Ross Detwiler
On any other staff, he’d be a No. 2 or No. 3, but the Nats are glad to have this 10-game winner in No. 5 hole.

RH  Rafael Soriano (Closer)
Saved 42 games and blew just four last season for the Yankees.
RH  Drew Storen
Had a 0.989 WHIP in regular season; 2012 season was going swell until ninth inning of Game 5 of NLDS.
RH  Tyler Clippard
Had strong run as closer in Storen’s absence, but the Nationals value him as a setup man.
RH   Craig Stammen
Paced the Nats’ 2012 bullpen with 88.1 innings pitched; only gave up 70 hits but walked 36.
RH  Ryan Mattheus
Trusted seventh-inning man allowed opposing batters to hit .161 with runners in scoring position.
LH  Zach Duke
Longtime starter shined in bullpen role last September, and earned himself a big-league contract for 2013.
RH  Henry Rodriguez
Needs to cure wildness (22 walks in 29.1 IP in 2012), but Nats still believe in his power arm.

<p> The Nationals appear to be as well equipped as anyone to survive both the marathon of the 162-game season and the sprint of October.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2013-majors-no-11-adam-scott

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2013 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 11: Adam Scott

Born: July 16, 1980, Adelaide, Australia | Career PGA Tour Wins: 8 (8 on European Tour  | 2012 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2012 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,899,557 (25th) World Ranking: 7


Brandel Chamblee's Take

Scott has long had one of the most beautiful swings in the game, but for most of his career there was a sense he was underachieving, particularly in the majors, where prior to 2011 he had played 39 times and managed only four top 10s. In early 2011, however, he switched to the anchored putter, and he has finished in the top ten four times in the eight majors since, twice finishing second. He's still not a great putter but has the ability to drive the ball longer and straighter than anyone in golf.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 47
Wins: 0

2012 Performance:
Masters - T8
U.S. Open - T15
British Open - 2
PGA Championship - T11

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T2 (2011)
U.S. Open - T15 (2012)
British Open - 2 (2012)
PGA Championship - T3 (2006)
Top-10 Finishes: 8
Top-25 Finishes: 19
Missed Cuts: 15

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

Athlon's 2013 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 20 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, reigning FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

<p> Athlon Counts Down the 20 Golfers to Watch for Majors Season</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 11:18
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-top-10-arena-nicknames

There are many reasons why fans gravitate to the college ranks over the professional ones. For those of us who love college sports, NCAA basketball is a vastly superior product over the NBA. Yes, the NBA features the best athletes in the world playing the game, but many point to a boring regular season, lack of overall defense and me-first holier than thou attitude that comes with million-dollar salaries.

While the level of athlete isn’t even comparable in the college game, there are many other reasons why its more enjoyable. Student sections, campus life, small towns, deeply connected alumni bases, dramatic game play, cheerleaders, defensive effort and kids playing for the love of the game are at the top of that list. But college arenas and stadiums are more intimate and interwoven into the history of a school unlike the NBA buildings (minus maybe Madison Square Garden or the Boston Gardens).


And the traditions of the college game — like arena nicknames — are priceless. Here are college hoops best arena nicknames:


1. The Pit, New Mexico (University Arena)
New Mexico’s famous basketball-only arena opened in 1966 as University Arena and was renamed officially as “The Pit” in 2009. It got its nickname from how the building was constructed, as the floor of the arena is 37 feet below “ground level,” meaning the court is actually built inside of a pit. Because it was built into such a small space with steep grading and relatively tight quarters for 15,411 capacity seating, the Lobos have enjoyed one of the loudest home quarter settings in all of college hoops. It cost a relatively affordable $1.4 million to build and the building itself reminds fans and opposing players that it sits a mile above sea level as well.


2. The Phog, Kansas (Allen Fieldhouse)
Named in honor of former head coach Dr. Forrest C. Allen, who led the Jayhawks program for 39 years and was nicknamed “Phog” for his distinct booming fog-horn voice. Allen Fieldhouse was opened in 1955 following four years of construction, the building currently seats 16,300 and originally cost just $2.5 million to build. The Phog is widely regarded as one of the loudest building in college basketball, and thanks to decades of great teams, is arguably the toughest place to win in all of sports. At home, Kansas is 107-2 since 2007, 263-14 since 1994 (the last renovation) and 699-108 all-time, so all who enter clearly must “Pay Heed.”


3. The Barn, Minnesota (Williams Arena)
One of the older buildings in the nation, Williams Arena was opened in 1928 and cost just $650,000 to build. Its 14,625 rowdy Golden Gophers fans and rounded ceiling shape give it a raucous barnyard feel — which is how the student section (The Barnyard) and building got their of their nicknames. The most unusual characteristic of the building, however, might be the raised floor design. The court is roughly two feet above player benches, press row and the first rows of seats. The Barn has hosted both The NCAA basketball finals (1951) and a pair of Frozen Fours (1958, 1966).


4. The Kennel, Gonzaga (McCarthey Athletic Center)
McCarthey Athletic Center was opened in 2004 and goes by The New Kennel or K2 to fans in the know, however, The Kennel is the best and most fitting. The nickname has carried over from the previous facility in Spokane, the Charlotte Y. Martin Center, and couldn’t be more appropriately named. The Bulldogs play extremely well at home and the boisterous fans pack the tight 6,000-person arena each and every home game. The Kennel cost Gonzaga $25 million to build.


5. The RAC, Rutgers (Louis Brown Athletic Center)
Rutgers’ basketball arena was originally titled the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) when it opened in 1977. It was renamed in 1986 as the Louis Brown Athletic Center but the nickname stuck through the name change. The 8,000-seat building hosted the New Jersey Nets from 1977-81 as well as the Scarlet Knights basketball and volleyball teams. The home team hasn’t been a championship contender, but Rutgers plays great at home and the fans are intimidating close to the action. The RAC just sounds like a great place to play hoops.

6. The Slim Gym, San Diego (Jenny Craig Pavilion)
Jenny Craig Pavilion, or the JCP, was opened in 2000 on the beautiful Toreros campus in San Diego, Calif. Named after famous weight loss guru Jenny Craig, the building quickly became known as the Slim Gym for obvious reasons. The punny nickname is one of the most creative and original nicknames in college hoops. JCP seats 5,100 patrons and cost $17.5 million to build.


7. Octagon of Doom, Kansas State (Bramlage Coliseum)
Kansas State plays all of its men’s and women’s basketball games in a place known as The Octagon of Doom. It seats 12,528, was opened in 1988 and cost $17.5 million to build. The nickname comes from the building’s eight-sided shape and was started by fans who would bring octagonal shaped signs with “Doom” written them due to reputation of tenacious defense. The Manhattan arena’s nickname has quickly (2007) become one of the best pseudonyms in college sports.


8. The Tad Pad, Ole Miss (C. M. Smith Coliseum)
The Ole Miss Rebels have called C. M. Smith Coliseum home since 1965-66 when the building was originally called Rebel Coliseum. Smith was a three-sport star at Ole Miss, a coach and eventually became the Athletic Director in Oxford. The important Mississippi personality went by “Tad” and so the 9,061-seat building is now referred to as The Tad Pad.


9. Dome of Doom, Wyoming (Arena-Auditorium)
With a formal name like Arena-Auditorium, its no wonder the fans in Laramie came up with a nickname for their basketball arena. The 15,028-seat building was built in 1982 for $15 million and is officially the highest arena in NCAA Division I basketball. Situated at 7,220 feet above sea level, the Dome of Doom, or “Double-A,” literally causes headaches to opposing teams and fans.


10. The Rock, Seton Hall/NJIT (Prudential Center)
165 Mulberry Street in Newark, N.J., is home to one of the most well-used buildings in college sports. Named affectionately for the Rock of Gibraltar corporate logo of Prudential Financial, The Rock is home to three different hockey teams, namely the New Jersey Devils, and has hosted both the New Jersey Nets and New York Liberty of the professional basketball ranks in the past. But why it makes this list is famed Seton Hall basketball — as well as NJIT — calls The PC home. The 18,711-seat building (for basketball) cost an astronomical $375 million to build back in 2007. 


The Best of the Rest:

11. The Thriller Dome, Georgia Tech (Alexander Memorial Coliseum)
12. Dean Dome, North Carolina (Dean Smith Center)
13. The Hump, Mississippi State (Humphrey Coliseum)
14. The Dunk, Providence (Dunkin Donuts Arena)
15. The O-Dome, Florida (Stephen O’Connell Center)
16. The Pete, Pitt (Petersen Events Center)

Old-School Honorable Mention:

Big Brown Box that Rocks, Loyola-Chicago (Alumni Gym)
From 1924 to 1996, Loyola-Chicago called Alumni Gym home. The 2,000-seat building was known for its crazy fans and eventually became known as the Big Brown Box That Rocks.

Chamber of Horrors, New Orleans (Human Performance Center)
New Orleans began playing Division I basketball in 1969 and called the Human Performance Center home until 1983 and then again following Hurricane Katrina from 2005-08. It seated just 1,200 fans was known as The Chamber of Horrors.

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<p> College Basketball's Top 10 Arena Nicknames</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: USC Trojans, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/who-are-possible-coaching-replacements-usc

The job of finding a new basketball coach at USC just got a little more difficult for athletic director Pat Haden.

The Trojans fired Kevin O’Neill -- hired to shepherd the program after Tim Floyd was fired amid NCAA sanctions -- midseason. Any advantages of getting ahead of the curve may have diminished when USC suddenly became the No. 2 vacant college job in its own city when UCLA fired Ben Howland.

USC is something of a sleeping giant, especially with a new arena and plush facilities. But the Trojans are a football-first program, and after recruiting violations surrounding O.J. Mayo put the program on probation, Haden won’t be able to gamble on a coach with NCAA baggage.

Gib Arnold, Hawaii
If USC is interested in revisiting the Tim Floyd era, it could take a look at Arnold, an assistant at USC for five seasons. In three seasons at Hawaii -- a struggling basketball program when he arrived -- he went 14-16 in the WAC and 10-8 in his first season in the Big West.

Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s
Bennett has built the Gaels into a perennial challenger for Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference. But for all he’s accomplished, he’s yet to grab a major conference job. That will be tougher -- especially as far as USC is concerned -- after Saint Mary’s was hit for sanctions for recruiting violations. Bennett was suspended for five games in 2013-14 for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance after an assistant was found committing major recruiting violations.

Bob Cantu, USC interim coach
Cantu went 7-8 as interim coach, including wins over UCLA and Arizona. The Trojans were 7-10 when Kevin O’Neill was fired.

Mike Hopkins, Syracuse assistant
He’s been an assistant at Syracuse for 18 seasons. And though he’s been acknowledged as a possible successor for Jim Boeheim, Hopkins has been in the mix for other openings and some not as high-profile as USC.

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
After 15 seasons at Winthrop and Wichita State, maybe it’s surprising Marshall hasn’t moved to one of the major conferences yet. After three consecutive seasons of 27 or more wins, back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances at Wichita State and a Sweet 16 berth, now may be the time to jump.

Marvin Menzies, New Mexico State
Menzies’ name has cropped up for openings before, including Colorado State before last season. A former Rick Pitino assistant at Louisville, Menzies also spent time as an assistant at USC and San Diego State. He’s never won an outright conference title with the Aggies, but reached the NCAA Tournament three times by winning the WAC Tournament.

Josh Pastner, Memphis
He was mentioned as an early candidate, but he signed a long-term deal to stay with the Tigers.

Leon Rice, Boise State
A former Gonzaga assistant under Mark Few, Rice led Boise State to its first at-large NCAA Tournament bid in school history after going 9-7 in a difficult Mountain West. That came a year after the Broncos went 3-11 and tied for last place in their first season in the league.

Shaka Smart, VCU
The 35-year-old will be a hot name in the coaching carousel again after the 2011 Final Four and a seamless transition to the Atlantic 10. All indications are Smart is happy at VCU. After all, he turned down Illinois last season.

Buzz Williams, Marquette
After reaching the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons, Williams will be a hot commodity in the carousel. The Golden Eagles have been among the best teams in the Big East despite losing Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, and Williams has proven he can unearth talent on the recruiting trail. He turned down opportunities last season to stay with the program that rolled the dice on him five years ago.

<p> The Trojans made a coaching change at midseason. Who could be the next coach at Southern Cal?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /college-basketball/tubby-smith-fired-minnesota-who-are-possible-coach-replacements

Minnesota raised eyebrows with the firing of Tubby Smith on March 25. The question being, why would Minnesota fire a national title coach who had more fortune than most in program history.

The Gophers have a limited track record of basketball success -- or at least success that wasn't followed by NCAA sanctions -- and they fired a coach who won their first Tournament game since 1997. But Smith never had a winning conference record at Minnesota and had a handful of high-profile transfers under his watch (Colton Iverson and Royce White, for starters).

Minnesota demanded more than what Smith delivered. Still, the Gophers remain a lower-tier job in the Big Ten. Minnesota is in need of a facility upgrade and is lacking in recent tradition. The next coach will be expected to deliver under these circumstances.

Andy Enfield, Florida Gulf Coast
A jump from the Atlantic Sun to a major conference job would be quite a leap, but Enfield is an unusual circumstance as the first coach to guide a No. 15 seed and an A-Sun team to the Sweet 16. Beyond the NCAA Tournament, Enfield proved himself as a program-builder by finishing second in the conference in the league's second season as a full Division I member. This would be a press conference-winning move, but an interesting risk.

Anthony Grant, Alabama
Minnesota’s athletic director, Norwood Teague, worked with Anthony Grant at VCU, so he’ll be in the rumor mill. Grant made two Tourney appearances at VCU, including a win over Duke in 2007. At Alabama, he’s gone 33-17 in conference in the last three years, but that’s translated to only one NCAA appearance.

Chris Mack, Xavier
The last five Xavier coaches have left for major conference jobs, so that’s reason for speculation around Mack. Xavier missed the Tournament in 2013 but reached the Sweet 16 in 2012. Mack is a Cincinnati native who has watched his predecessors go to Arizona, Ohio State and Wake Forest. He has good reason to be choosy.

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
After 15 seasons at Winthrop and Wichita State, maybe it’s surprising Marshall hasn’t moved to one of the major conferences yet. After three consecutive seasons of 27 or more wins, back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances at Wichita State and a Sweet 16 berth, now may be the time to jump.

Steve Prohm, Murray State
The 2011-12 season was a miracle one for Prohm, who won 31 games in his first season as a head coach. After personnel losses, Murray State went 21-10 in 2012-13. The Racers still went 10-6 and won the OVC West in a competitive low-major league. He’s a Southeastern coach, but at 38, he’s at the younger end of the spectrum.

Flip Saunders, former NBA coach
Saunders has been a coach with the Timberwolves, Pistons and Wizards in the NBA. He’s an accomplished alum who’s not coaching now. That makes him an interesting candidate.

Shaka Smart, VCU
A fantasy candidate for Minnesota, for sure. He’s listed only because Minnesota’s athletic director hired Smart at VCU. Smart already turned down a better job in the same conference, and Smart could court dozens of jobs better than Minnesota. That is, assuming he wants to leave VCU in the first place.

Buzz Williams, Marquette
After reaching the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons, Williams will be a hot commodity in the carousel. The Golden Eagles have been among the best teams in the Big East despite losing Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, and Williams has proven he can unearth talent on the recruiting trail. He turned down opportunities last season to stay with the program that rolled the dice on him five years ago.

<p> Minnesota fired Tubby Smith despite a rare NCAA Tournament win. Who's next?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-10-players-rise-2013

With spring practice underway for most college football teams, the countdown to the 2013 season has officially started. With preseason predictions right around the corner, it’s never too early to start thinking about which players might be the next breakout stars. 

As with every college football season, a handful of players will emerge from being a virtual unknown in August to a household name in January. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel is a perfect example from last year. He wasn't guaranteed to be the starter after spring practice but won the starting job and had one of the most prolific seasons by a quarterback in SEC history. Could there be another year by a quarterback that results in a Heisman? It's unlikely, but it can happen.

Looking for college football's next breakout star at quarterback? Look no further than Lubbock, Texas. With Seth Doege expiring his eligibility, Michael Brewer is set to take control of new coach Kliff Kingsbury's high-powered offense. Considering what Kingsbury did with Manziel at Texas A&M, Brewer could have a monster statistical season in his first year as the starter. 

College Football's Top 10 Players on the Rise for 2013

1. Michael Brewer, QB, Texas Tech
With Kliff Kingsbury returning to Lubbock, the Red Raiders will be one of college football’s most intriguing teams in 2013. The former Texas Tech quarterback coordinated one of the nation’s top offenses in 2012 at Texas A&M and helped to engineer a similar attack at Houston with record-setting quarterback Case Keenum. With Seth Doege expiring his eligibility, Brewer is expected to become Texas Tech’s next prolific quarterback. As a backup to Doege in 2012, he threw for 375 yards and four touchdowns on 48 attempts. And the sophomore has been well-versed in spread offenses, playing under Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris when he was the head coach at Lake Travis (Texas) High School. Even though the Red Raiders lose Doege and receiver Darrin Moore, Brewer’s emergence and Kingsbury’s offense should keep Texas Tech in the hunt to match last season’s win total (eight).

2. Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia
The Bulldogs are a slight favorite over South Carolina to represent the East in Atlanta, but winning a third consecutive division championship will rest on a revamped defense. Only three starters return for Todd Grantham’s defense in 2013, and each level of the unit suffered some heavy losses. Defensive lineman John Jenkins and three starters in the secondary won’t be easy to replace, but the linebacking corps was hit hardest by departures, as both Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones chose to enter the NFL Draft. Losing Ogletree and Jones certainly stings, but Georgia has to be excited about Jenkins and the promise he showed last season. In 14 games as a true freshman, he recorded 31 tackles and five sacks, while forcing one fumble. If Jenkins can maintain Georgia’s pass rush off of the edge, the defense may not be in as bad of shape as some may have believed this offseason.

Related Content: 2013 Georgia Bulldogs Spring Preview

3. Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan
Gardner is a familiar name to most in the Big Ten, but he is poised to be a household name by the end of 2013. In three seasons in Ann Arbor, Gardner has thrown for 1,480 yards and 13 touchdowns, while also rushing for 175 yards and catching 17 passes for 268 yards. With Denard Robinson entrenched as the starter going into 2012, the Detroit native was slated to play receiver. However, Gardner shifted back to quarterback once Robinson suffered an elbow injury and started four out of the final five games under center. The junior had a strong showing in the last weeks of the season, throwing for 314 yards and recording six overall touchdowns in a 42-17 win over Iowa. Gardner completed 18 of 36 throws for 214 yards and three scores against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl and never threw more than one interception during his five-game stint at quarterback. Michigan will miss Robinson’s playmaking ability, but Gardner is plenty capable of leading the Wolverines to a Legends Division title. With left tackle Taylor Lewan returning to Ann Arbor, along with the arrival of touted true freshman running back Derrick Green, there figures to be plenty of help for Gardner in his first full season as the starter.

Related Content: 2013 Michigan Wolverines Spring Preview

4. Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
If there’s one area that will keep coach Urban Meyer and co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers awake at night – it’s the defense. The Buckeyes return only four starters on that side of the ball and must replace four key players from the defensive line. Thanks to Meyer’s relentless recruiting efforts, talent isn’t an issue with the new defensive linemen. Spence was one of the most sought-after defenders in last year’s class, ranking No. 4 in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. In 11 games as a true freshman, the Pennsylvania native recorded 12 tackles and one sack. As with any first-year starter, expect a few ups and downs. However, Spence and fellow sophomore Adolphus Washington also will wreck havoc on opposing offensive lines.

Related Content: 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes Spring Preview

5. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
No matter what season it is, LSU always seems to have an All-SEC-caliber defensive lineman ready to step up to replace a departing senior or early entrant into the NFL. This year is no different, as Johnson is expected to ease the blow from losing Bennie Logan and Josh Downs. As a sophomore in 2012, Johnson recorded 30 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss. He also registered three sacks and two quarterback hurries. With LSU losing six key linemen from last season, it’s up to Johnson to keep the Tigers’ defensive line among the best in the SEC.

Related Content: 2013 LSU Tigers Spring Preview

6. Rushel Shell, RB, Pittsburgh
With Ray Graham coming back from a torn ACL last season, the Panthers expected and needed a big contribution from Shell. And considering he ranked as the No. 5 running back in the 2012 signing class, it was no surprise Shell was one of the Big East’s top freshmen last year. In 12 games, the Pennsylvania native recorded 641 yards and four scores, while catching nine passes for 103 yards. Shell’s best game came against Virginia Tech, posting 157 yards on 23 attempts. With Graham expiring his eligibility, the job is Shell’s to lose for 2013. The sophomore will be running behind an offensive line that returns three starters but loses All-Big East center Ryan Turnley and guard Chris Jacobson. Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst molded some of the nation’s top rushing attacks at Wisconsin, and with Shell leading the way in 2013, look for the Panthers to feature a ground and pound approach.

Related Content: 2013 Pittsburgh Panthers Spring Preview

7. Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
With the departure of three of the nation’s best blockers and a new coach, the line is a major area of focus for Nick Saban this spring. Considering the recruiting classes Saban has been able to reel in, there’s no shortage of talent waiting to step into the starting lineup. However, the Crimson Tide has to get all five starters on the same page, along with developing depth in case of injury to one of the new linemen. Kelly is expected to replace Barrett Jones at center this year, and the Ohio native has big shoes to fill. Not only was Jones an excellent player, but he also played a key role in terms of leadership on the offensive side. Kelly was impressive in a backup role last year, as he recorded playing time in 10 games. There will be a drop off from Jones to Kelly. However, if Kelly’s performance last season was any indication, the Crimson Tide’s offensive line isn’t going to take too much of a step back in 2013.

Related Content: 2013 Alabama Spring Preview

8. Mario Edwards, DE, Florida State
With the departure of ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, along with tackles Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud, there will be a lot of new faces on Florida State’s defensive line in 2013. The Seminoles have recruited well, so there is talent waiting in the wings. Edwards is the most likely candidate to emerge as a star in 2013, as he was the No. 2 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and played in 11 games and recorded 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks as a true freshman last year. With another offseason to work in the weight room and learn from new defensive coaches Jeremy Pruitt and Sal Sunseri, Edwards is poised to have a breakout season and challenge for All-ACC honors.

Related Content: 2013 Florida State Seminoles Spring Preview

9. Brendan Bigelow, RB, California
Despite being a potential dynamic playmaker for California and posting an eye-popping 9.8 yards per carry, Bigelow was limited to just 44 rushing attempts and seven receptions last year. The Fresno native did play a key role on special teams, averaging 23 yards per kickoff return in 2012. With a new coaching staff taking over in Berkeley, along with C.J. Anderson and Isi Sofele expiring their eligibility, Bigelow will get an opportunity to secure the No. 1 spot in the backfield this preseason. New coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin built an offense at Louisiana Tech that averaged 227.2 rushing yards and 51.5 points per game in 2012, and both coaches should better utilize Bigelow’s talents. The junior will likely miss spring practice due to knee surgery, but if he’s healthy this fall, Bigelow is due for a breakout season.

10. Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma
While it’s unfair to compare Bell to Tim Tebow, he is following a similar career path to the former Heisman Trophy winner. Tebow was used mostly as a running threat during his first year, which is the same role Bell has fulfilled for Oklahoma in the last two years. After spending the last two seasons as a change of pace player, Bell will make the transition to starting quarterback this spring. The junior has recorded 372 rushing yards and 24 scores on 104 career carries but has only thrown 20 passes. Bell isn’t guaranteed the starting job, as Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight will get a chance to push him for the No. 1 spot in the spring. If Bell shows he can move the offense through the air, his dual-threat ability would provide a different dimension for Oklahoma’s offense, which ranked fifth in the Big 12 last season with an average of 38.2 points a game.

Related Content: 2013 Oklahoma Sooners Spring Preview

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<p> College Football's Top 10 Players on the Rise for 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 09:35
Path: /mlb/2013-fantasy-baseball-injuries-watch

Opening Day of the 2013 MLB season is right around the corner, but there are quite a few players who won’t be available to help your fantasy team from the outset. For some, their season debuts should only be delayed while others will be on the disabled list for a little longer. Here are some of the key hitters and pitchers who are dealing with injuries headed into Opening Day and how you should handle them during your draft.

Carlos Beltran, OF, STL
Injury: Fractured right toe after being hit by a pitch on Feb. 28.
Time frame: Returned to the lineup and field on Tuesday. He could be ready for Opening Day, miss the first game or two or even start the season on the DL. His situation should become clearer by the end of this week.
Should you draft him? There is no reason to not draft him even if he misses the first week or so. I just would caution against drafting him expecting a repeat of his 2011 numbers (.269-32-97, 13 SB), considering he will turn 36 in late April and his batting average dropped more than 30 points from ’11 (.300) to last season (.269).

Adam Eaton, OF, ARI
Injury: Sprained left UCL in his elbow.
Time frame: Projection was 6-8 weeks at the time the injury was discovered on March 22. A conservative estimate would be a mid-May return.
Should you draft him? Even if Eaton misses the first two months of the season, there should be enough games left for the Diamondbacks’ leadoff man to make an impact, especially in the runs and stolen bases departments. That said, the injury and the uncertainty surrounding his return dampers the buzz the 24-year-old was getting during spring training. If he’s sitting there in the middle or late rounds of your draft, by all means take him, but let someone else “reach” for a guy who has less than 100 at-bats in the majors and could potentially be affected by his elbow issue all season.

Curtis Granderson, OF, NYY
Injury: Fractured right forearm after being hit by a pitch on Feb. 24.
Time frame: Out until at least early May.
Should you draft him? Yes, as long as you are not banking on another 40-home run, 100-RBI season. Even if Granderson is back by the first of May, he will have missed at least 30 games or so. The problem with Granderson is that he has become power-hungry in recent years, as his batting average dropped to just .232 last season and he stole a total of 10 bases. Granderson still has value, but let someone else overpay based on the 84 total home runs he’s hit the past two seasons.

Related: 2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield

Zack Greinke, SP, LAD
Injury: Right elbow inflammation.
Time frame: Missed several weeks of spring training following the discovery of the inflammation. Returned to the mound on Monday for his first action since March 1. At this point he is expected to be ready for the start of the season.
Should you draft him? Greinke was a top-25 fantasy SP last year, but don’t let the biggest deal (six year, $142 million) ever signed by a right-handed pitcher over-inflate his value. Pitching in Dodger Stadium should help, but Greinke has never won more than 16 games in a season and has posted an ERA of less than 3.47 once (2.16 in 2009 with KC). At minimum, he should be good for strikeouts, but even that production slipped a little bit last season. There’s no reason to move Greinke ahead of where he finished the 2012 season, as a top-25 SP, that’s for sure.

Chase Headley, 3B, SD
Injury: Broken right thumb sustained sliding into second on March 17.
Time frame: Could possibly return mid-April, but more likely will miss at least the first three weeks or so.
Should you draft him? Headley is still one of the top 10 third base options out there, but the injury pushes him to the outer edge of this range in my opinion. Before the injury, the chances of him repeating last season’s production (.286-31-115, 95 runs scored) were slim considering his numbers were fueled in large part by an insane second half (.308-23-73, 56 runs scored). Now that he’s dealing with an early thumb injury, it would be wise to temper expectations even further.

Derek Jeter, SS, NYY
Injury: Recovery from fractured left ankle sustained in Game 1 of 2012 ALDS against Detroit
Time frame: Jeter himself acknowledged on Tuesday that he won't be ready to go on Opening Day as he has been limited in spring training by ongoing soreness and stiffness in his ankle. The Yankee captain will start the season on the DL, but because the team can backdate the start of the 15-day period, he is expected to be eligible for activation on April 6.
Should you draft him? Only if you are a big Jeter/Yankee fan or for sentimentality. The reality is that Jeter will turn 39 in June and clearly is in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career. As far as 2013 goes you are better off taking your chances with another shortstop.

Brett Lawire, 3B, TOR
Injury: Strained left rib cage.
Time frame: Will open season on the DL, but stint will be backdated so he could return as early as April 6.
Should you draft him? Absolutely, but with the caveat that there’s a good chance this will not be his only DL stint this season. Remember, the 23-year-old played in just 125 games last season because of various injuries, but the talent and potential is still too tantalizing to pass up. I wouldn’t let Lawrie slide too far down your draft board especially once Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, David Wright (see below), Adrian Beltre and Ryan Zimmerman are taken.

Hanley Ramirez, 3B/SS, LAD
Injury: Torn right thumb ligament sustained in the championship game of the World Baseball Classic on March 19.
Time frame: Underwent surgery on March 22, expected to be out at least eight weeks, if not longer.
Should you draft him? Yes, but be sure you are covered while he is out and don’t be surprised if it takes him a few weeks to get his timing and rhythm back at the plate once he returns. Ramirez is still one of the top fantasy options at shortstop (provided he’s still eligible there), but there’s no reason to take him over Jose Reyes, Starlin Castro or potentially even Ian Desmond and Elvis Andrus with HanRam expected to be out until the latter part of May, at the earliest. Yes, Ramirez went 20-20 again in 2012, but he needed 157 games to get there. At best, he may play in 110 games this season.

Mark Teixeira, 1B, NYY
Injury: Partially torn tendon in his right wrist.
Time frame: Not expected to return until some point in May, but strong possibility he could miss all of first two months.
Should you draft him? I would not unless you have already covered yourself at first base or are big on risks. Teixeira is sure to miss even more games than either of his Yankee teammates Jeter or Granderson, and even once he returns he’s no sure thing. For one, his batting average, on-base percentage and OPS have all declined over each of the past four seasons and he only played in 123 games in 2012. The power may still be there, but this also becomes a concern any time you are dealing with a wrist injury. There are too many other first base options out there for me to even consider taking a chance on the Yankee switch-hitter.

David Wright, 3B, NYM
Injury: Intercostal strain sustained while playing for team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
Time frame: He served as the DH in minor-league games on Tuesday. He is hoping to be ready by Opening Day, but it's safer to assume he will miss at least the first few games. The Mets will probably keep him out of spring training games so they can backdate his DL stint, if it comes to that.
Should you draft him? Without hesitation, unless something happens in the next few days that sets him back even further. He was participating in infield drills and batting practice the beginning of this week and will probably be eased back into spring training action. The problem is that there are just a few exhibition games left and the team has to decide if they think he’s ready to go or not. Still, at this point there’s no reason to not draft him as one of the top third basemen available.

Other injury situations:

David Freese, 3B, STL – A nagging back issue means Freese will start the season on the DL. A productive player (.293-20-79) when he’s in the lineup, Freese’s injury history and documented back troubles make him hard to trust. Freese is a classic risk-vs.-reward case and it’s possible his reputation could cause him to fall far enough in your draft to negate the former.

Matt Garza, SP, CHC – Garza can’t seem to shake the injury bug as he sustained a strained left lat muscle in spring training while continuing his recovery from last season’s elbow issue. Garza could be back on the mound in the first part of May, but between his injury history and the fact he plays for a Cubs team not expected to contend, he shouldn’t even be on your radar until the middle to late rounds of your draft.

Roy Halladay, SP, PHI – If he’s injured, neither he nor the Phillies are saying, but what’s clear is that the two-time Cy Young winner is not his old self. After dealing with shoulder issues last season, Halladay has been ineffective to say the least during spring training with reports of diminished velocity, a lack of movement and inability to locate. Put it all together and it’s a recipe for disaster and why you should stay far away from the former fantasy ace.

Corey Hart, 1B/OF, MIL – Hart is expected back sometime in May after undergoing knee surgery in January. Even with the missed time, Hart could be an intriguing late-round option considering he will get his starting job back at first base upon his return and he hit 30 home runs with 83 RBIs and 91 runs scored last season.

Ryan Madson, RP, LAA – Madson is still making his way back from last April’s Tommy John surgery. He could make his return to the mound by the end of the opening month of the season, but that’s not a guarantee. The Angels have a reliable closer option in Ernesto Frieri while Madson is out, so be wary of drafting him as a sure-fire ninth-inning option when he does finally return.

Brian McCann, C, ATL – McCann is progressing in his recovery from the shoulder surgery he underwent in October and could be back behind the plate as early as late April. If you are one of the last to grab a catcher in your league, McCann may be worth a look as a late-round pick too. Don’t forget he’s produced at least 20 home runs in each of the past five season and his .230 batting average in 2012 was the first sub-.269 mark of his career.

Jason Motte, RP, STL – Motte is dealing with what the team is calling a mild strain in his right elbow and is pretty much guaranteed of starting the season on the DL. The Cardinals have yet to announce any sort of timeline for his return, which only adds to the uncertainty surrounding his status. I would still keep him in mind on draft day, but he probably should drop several slots down your board, at minimum.

David Ortiz, 1B/DH, BOS – Big Papi has yet to see any spring training action because of right heel inflammation. Even if Ortiz carries 1B-eligibility in your league, his age (37), injury history (90 G in 2012) and decreasing production are enough reasons to move him down your draft board.

Pablo Sandoval, 3B, SF – Sandoval is dealing with some nerve irritation in his right elbow. At this time, the Giants have not expressed any real concern he won’t be ready come Opening Day, but it’s not like the Kung Fu Panda is a stranger to the DL (117 G in 2011, 108 in ’12) either.

Related Content:

Fantasy Baseball Positional Rankings: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | DH | SP | RP

2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball: Closer Grid
2013 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2013

<p> 2013 Fantasy Baseball: Which Injured Players Are Worth Drafting?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/auburn-tigers-2013-spring-football-preview

Auburn fans can't forget about the 2012 season quick enough. The first 0-8 season in SEC play, as well as widespread off the field chaos, led to the eventual ouster of head coach Gene Chizik, who led the Tigers to a BCS title in the 2010 season. Enter Gus Malzahn, who was the offensive coordinator for that undefeated national championship team. He takes over a roster that was recruited well but clearly not coached much at all. Malzahn has his work cut out for him but there are plenty of four- and five-star recruits walking around The Plains right now. Developing this talent in the spring will go a long way to making Auburn competitive once again.

Auburn Tigers 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 3-9 (0-8)

Spring practice dates: March 20-April 13

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 9

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Kiehl Frazier, 62 of 116, 753 yards, 2 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Tre Mason, 171 car., 1,002 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving: C.J. Uzomah, 7 rec., 136 yards, 1 TDs
Tackles: Demetruce McNeal, 90
Sacks: Dee Ford, 6.0
Interceptions: Trent Fisher, 1

Redshirts to watch: OL Alex Kozan, OL Jordan Diamond, TE Ricky Parks, DB T.J. Davis, DL Tyler Nero

Early Enrollees to watch: QB Nick Marshall, DT Ben Bradley, OL Devonte Danzey, DB Brandon King, LB Kenny Flowers

JUCO Transfers to watch: RB Cameron Artis-Payne, DT Ben Bradley, OL Devonte Danzey, LB Kenny Flowers, DB Brandon King, QB Nick Marshall

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 Washington State
Sept. 7 Arkansas State
Sept. 14 Mississippi State
Sept. 21 at LSU
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Ole Miss
Oct. 10 Western Carolina
Oct. 18 at Texas A&M
Oct. 26 FAU
Nov. 2 at Arkansas
Nov. 8 at Tennessee
Nov. 16 Georgia
Nov. 23 Bye Week
Nov. 30 Alabama

Related Content: SEC's All-Underrated Spring Team

Offensive Strength: The running game. Tre Mason returns as arguably the team's best player and four starters are back along the line.

Offensive Weakness: Quarterback. This is a major concern heading into the 2013 season as few teams played as poorly under center as Auburn did a year ago.

Defensive Strength: Defensive backs. This is the position that was hit the least with departures as only one key player (T'Sharvan Bell) doesn't return to the secondary.

Defensive Weakness: Front seven star power. Corey Lemonier, Daren Bates and Jonathan Evans leave three holes in the front seven — soon to be front six. This group has talented bodies but someone needs to step up and lead.

Spring Storylines Facing the Cardinals

1. Who will start under center? By far the biggest question mark swirling on The Plains is who will start at quarterback for the Tigers? Kiehl Frazier is the leading returning passer — if what he did last year can be called passing — but he is fairly young and his skills fit what Malzahn wants to do on offense.While Jonathan Wallace might be a slightly less refined (if that's possible) and talented version of Frazier, he was more effective last fall. With three highly touted passers coming to town in the summer, both Wallace and Frazier need to make major headway this spring. New offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will bring the no-huddle hurry-up back to Auburn and that system should allow the two scholarship players on campus to make plays with their legs. Are they keeping the seat warm for junior college transfer Nick Marshall or elite freshmen Johnny Johnson and Jason Smith or can Frazier/Wallace realize their potential and grasp the starting job?

2. Develop an edge up front on offense. The good news is the offensive line returns four starters. The bad news is those starters were horrendous last season. This group was dead last in the SEC at protecting the quarterback (3.09 sacks allowed per game) and finished 78th nationally in rushing. Creating a push and playing with a killer instinct up front will go a long way in helping develop a quarterback. This group has talent according to the recruiting sites but it hasn't played with the intensity and edge needed to be successful against SEC defenses. Look for Lashlee and Malzahn to instill some toughness in this group and develop talent up front on offense this spring.

3. Grow the defensive line. Gabe Wright has tons of upside at nose guard. So too does Dee Ford, the team's leading sack artist last fall, Nosa Eguae and LaDarius Owens on the outside. No one player may be able to replace Lemonier but as a whole this unit could be improved in 2013. Of course, on a team that was 14th in the SEC in rushing defense, 11th in the SEC sacks and 12th in tackles for a loss, the only place to go is up. Developing this area of the field, more so than any other, will help Auburn get back to competitive football as quickly as possible.

4. Create depth at linebacker. Jake Holland is the only returning linebacker with any substantial experience after Jonathan Evans and Daren Bates graduated. Ellis Johnson is moving this defense to a 4-2-5 and so this position might not be as big a concern had the switch (from 4-3) hadn't happened. However, Holland needs some help to step up around him. Kris Frost is someone Auburn fans have been excited about for some time and this spring is his chance to shine. Cassanova McKinzy has some time under his belt but needs to iron out his game to earn a starting spot while Justin Garrett also figures heavily into the mix.

5. Find playmakers on offense other than Mason. The Tigers' starting tailback, while not a true SEC workhorse, was the most productive player on the team last year. But there is little depth around him at running back, wide receiver or tight end in terms of playmakers. Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen are gone and this spring will likely see Malzahn attempt to find supporting pieces for Mason and his quarterbacks. Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and tight end C.J. Uzomah have upside and should develop into starters while Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis and running backs Corey Grant, Cameron Artis-Payne and Peyton Barber will look to create depth. Finding big-play options at running back, wideout and tight end will be huge this spring for the soon-to-be fast-paced offense.

Related College Football Content

College Football's Pre-Spring Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2013
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College Football's Top 20 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2013

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Ranking the SEC Coaching Jobs for 2013

Ranking All 125 College Football Coaching Jobs for 2013

<p> Auburn Tigers 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 08:15
Path: /nascar/7-amazing-nascar-stats-week

This weekend provides a rare off day on the jam-packed NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, but that doesn’t mean analysis will stop. After five races, there is a litany of story-telling statistics in a series that continues to one-up itself, to the delight of news desks everywhere.

Secondary to all the controversial opinions, fighting and crashing, the most popular driver in the sport is the one sitting atop the NASCAR mountain. Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads the point standings, which, as you will read below, is well deserved.

For PEER and other metrics with which you may be unfamiliar, I refer you to my glossary of terms on

4.4 and 2.3   Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his No. 88 team lead full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitors in average finish (4.4) and finish deviation (2.3).

What does this mean? Earnhardt is the most consistent driver in the series right now — a zero deviation would mean the same finish over and over — while bringing home tremendous results. Junior Nation should be rejoicing, because that isn’t just the sort of thing that gets a driver to the Chase; what Earnhardt and his Steve Letarte-led race team are doing are habits of potential champions.

+54.2%  Earnhardt’s finishes are an increase of 54.2 percent over his average running position with 10 percent of a race to go.

That plus-54.2 percent position retainment difference is another habit of a title contender. That increase is worth about 26 positions — think of that as 26 extra points — earned in the waning laps of each race. On fresh tires, Earnhardt navigated through a firestorm of activity last Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, driving from 13th to second in the final 20 laps for his most lucrative home-stretch run of the season.

100%  Four teams in the Cup Series have finished in the top half of fields in all five races for a relevance percentage of 100.

“Relevance” is finishing in the top half of fields (21st or better in the Cup Series). This is important because hitting the 80 percent mark through the 26-race regular season all but lands a team one of the 10 automatic Chase spots. Of the four driver-team combinations currently with perfect relevance percentages, two of them aren’t surprises (Earnhardt and the No. 88 team and Greg Biffle with his No. 16 team) and two sort of are (Paul Menard and the No. 27 team and rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and the new-look No. 17 team). It is no coincidence that all four teams are currently inside the top 12 of the point standings at this juncture.

41  The No. 16 team with Greg Biffle has gone 41 races without registering a DNF (Did Not Finish, a status frequently used in NASCAR box scores to indicate why a driver finished so poorly).

In today’s NASCAR, with Chase implications attached to every position gained or lost, consistency matters. That starts with finishing races, which is something Biffle and crew chief Matt Puccia have done in their sleep over the last year. Their most recent DNF was an engine failure in the 2011 season finale at Homestead, so credit the Roush Yates engine department for holding strong behind one of Ford’s best entries. Biffle himself deserves a tip of the cap for being able to avoid accidents well enough to go 76 races without an accident-related DNF.

<p> David Smith reveals seven NASCAR stats about Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Casey Mears and AJ Allmendinger in the Sprint Cup Series.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 17:16
All taxonomy terms: Pac 12, UCLA Bruins, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/ucla-fired-howland-who-are-possible-coaching-replacements

UCLA is in the market for a new coach after the legendary program fired Ben Howland on March 25.

Finding the right fit won’t be easy, and the job isn’t for the timid.

UCLA fired a coach who went to three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08 and won the Pac-12 regular season title this season. But the program has fallen from the national elite since ’08. The Bruins missed the NCAA Tournament in two of the last four years and failed to reach the second weekend on each of the last three trips. Player transfers, recruiting classes that didn’t pan out and in-team turmoil all played a role in Howland’s ouster.

Candidates may be lining up for UCLA, but here are a few Athlon Sports think could be a good fit for the Bruins.

Tad Boyle, Colorado
Boyle revived Colorado basketball step-by-step from an NIT in 2011, a surprise Pac-12 tournament title in 2012 and a secure NCAA at-large bid in 2013. The three-year run marked the first back-to-back Tourney appearances since 1963 and first time the Buffaloes reached the postseason in three consecutive seasons. That’s despite losing a player like Alec Burks. Boyle can win on the major conference level, but he also laid the groundwork at low-major Northern Colorado.

Mike Brown, former Los Angeles Lakers coach
Brown was fired early in the season with the Lakers and has no college coaching experience. Working in the NBA with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, though, would give him something to sell on the recruiting trail.

Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Cronin rebuilt the Bearcats after the end of the Bob Huggins era, leading Cincinnati to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. He’s spent his career at Cincinnati, Murray State and Louisville, so he might be an odd fit out of the tri-state area. And if anyone’s looking for an exciting up-tempo brand of basketball, Cronin might not fit the bill.

Billy Donovan, Florida
Florida hung onto its two-time national championship coach despite two Kentucky coaching searches and got Donovan back a week after he took the Orlando Magic job. It might take a special opening to pry Donovan away from Florida. UCLA, perhaps?

Mark Gottfried, NC State
Gottfried can recruit, and he’s a former UCLA assistant. His name is being floated around for the Bruins, but the let down this season at NC State will be tough to sell.

Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
He’ll get attention in the coaching carousel as long as he’s leading Iowa State to the Tournament. But his nickname isn’t The Mayor for nothing. Iowa State gave Hoiberg his first college coaching job. If the Ames native and Iowa State alum leaves after three years, the Cyclones would be devastated.

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
After 15 seasons at Winthrop and Wichita State, maybe it’s surprising Marshall hasn’t moved to one of the major conferences yet. After three consecutive seasons of 27 or more wins, back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances at Wichita State and a Sweet 16 berth, now may be the time to jump.

Lorenzo Romar, Washington
His tenure at Washington has been up-and-down, but the Huskies have played in the NCAA Tournament six times in 10 seasons under his watch. He can recruit at a high level, and his teams are usually fast-paced. Of interest to UCLA, he was an assistant on the last Bruins team to win a national title in 1995.

Shaka Smart, VCU
The 35-year-old will be a hot name in the coaching carousel again after the 2011 Final Four and a seamless transition to the Atlantic 10. All indications are Smart is happy at VCU. After all, he turned down Illinois last season.

Brad Stevens, Butler
Stevens is even more entrenched at Butler than Smart at VCU. He’s an Indiana native who has shown little interest in moving to a new job. Also working in Butler’s favor: The job keeps getting better. The former Horizon League power will be in the Big East along with Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, Xavier and Creighton in the coming years.

Buzz Williams, Marquette
After reaching the Sweet 16 in three consecutive seasons, Williams will be a hot commodity in the carousel. The Golden Eagles have been among the best teams in the Big East despite losing Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, and Williams has proven he can unearth talent on the recruiting trail. He turned down opportunities last season to stay with the program that rolled the dice on him five years ago.

Jay Wright, Villanova
It may be an odd sight to see Wright leave Villanova, where he’s coached since 2001. But the program has leveled off a bit since reaching the Final Four in 2009. In the last four seasons, Villanova has reached the Tournament three times and failed to reach the Sweet 16 in each trip.

<p> After UCLA fired Ben Howland, which coaches around the country are possible candidates?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 15:58
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2013-majors-no-12-jason-dufner

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2013 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 12: Jason Dufner

Born: March 24, 1977, Cleveland, Ohio | Career PGA Tour Wins: | 2012 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2012 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,869,304 (4th) World Ranking: 18


Brandel Chamblee's Take

Dufner made the fewest bogeys per round on the PGA tour in 2012 and at the end of the year had the longest made cut streak at 21 events. He has become one of the most consistent players in the world through the bag, and his all-around rank of third is evidence that he doesn’t have any weaknesses. At almost 36, he is a late bloomer, but the promise he showed in 2011 was fulfilled in 2012, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 15
Wins: 0

2012 Performance:
Masters - T24
U.S. Open - T4
British Open - T31
PGA Championship - T27

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T24 (2012)
U.S. Open - T4 (2012)
British Open - T31 (2012)
PGA Championship - 2 (2011)
Top-10 Finishes: 3
Top-25 Finishes: 4
Missed Cuts: 5

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

Athlon's 2013 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 20 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, reigning FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

<p> Athlon Counts Down the 20 Golfers to Watch for Majors Season</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 12:02
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournaments-all-time-biggest-upsets-and-closest-calls

While none of the 112 No. 16 seeds has won a game in the NCAA Tournament (more on that below), six No. 15 seeds have shocked No. 2s since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. And two of them took place during this year's March Madness. Here's our look at the biggest upsets and closest calls from college basketball's NCAA Tournament. 

THE BIGGEST UPSETS: No. 2 vs. No. 15 (7-109)

Florida Gulf Coast 78, Georgetown 68 (2013)

The dunk-fest that is Florida Gulf Coast is partly why Sunday's second (or third, officially) round action was the highest-rated in 20 years. Andy Enfield — and his famous wife Amanda Marcum — led the Eagles to an improbable upset over the second-seeded Hoyas. Atlantic Sun Player of the Year Sherwood Brown scored 24 points as FGCU outplayed the regular season Big East champs from start to finish. And just to prove that it wasn't a fluke, Brown and the Eagles ran the seventh-seeded San Diego State Aztecs out of the building 81-71 to become the first 15-seed to ever make it to the Sweet 16. Gulf Coast's high-flying alley-oops were the top story of the first weekend of play in 2013 — and Enfield got a paltry $10,000 bonus for making the Sweet 16. Fans can bet he will be getting a big raise in the off-season.

Norfolk State 86, Missouri 84 (2012)

The Missouri Tigers were a chic pick to make it to the Final Four in 2012 after winning the Big 12 tournament. But Mizzou failed to make it out of the first round despite shooting 52.7% from the floor and making 13 three-pointers. It wasn’t enough to top the MEAC tournament champs from pulling off the monumental upset. Kyle O’Quinn led the Spartans with 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting and 14 rebounds. A big reason the guard-heavy Tigers got beat? Norfolk State dominated the glass 35-23 in the two-point victory.

Lehigh 75, Duke 70 (2012)

The Mountain Hawks entered the tournament as Patriot League champions, led by superstar guard C.J. McCollum. The junior finished with 30 points, six rebounds and six assists in the startling upset of the powerhouse Blue Devils. Making the upset even more improbable was where the shocker took place: Greensboro, N.C. Duke missed 20 of its 26 three point shot attempts in the five point loss.

Hampton 58, Iowa St 57 (2001)

The Pirates of Hampton became only the fourth 15-seed to win in the first round when Tarvis Williams made a four-foot jumper with less than seven seconds left in the game. The Cyclones’ Jamaal Tinsley went the length of the floor and missed a point-blank lay-up to give Hampton the historic win. One of college basketball’s most memorable images is Hampton head coach Steve Merfeld sprinting around the court and being hoisted into the air, legs flailing wildly, by backup David Johnson.

Coppin St 78, South Carolina 65 (1997)

The Eagles of Coppin State entered their first-round tilt against South Carolina as a 30-point underdog. After Coppin State took the lead with just over six minutes left, the Gamecocks crumbled. For a team that, to this day, has not reached the second round of the tournament since 1973 — much less the Final Four — the loss to Ron “Fang” Mitchell’s upstart Eagles was especially painful.

Santa Clara 64, Arizona 61 (1993)

A Canadian freshman point guard by the name of Steve Nash knocked down six of eight free throws down the stretch to key the Broncos’ upset win over the Wildcats. Arizona, featuring a roster littered with future NBA players — Reggie Geary, Damon Stoudamire, Chris Mills and Khalid Reeves — put together a 25–0 run that spanned the end of the first half and the opening minutes of the second half. The Broncos answered with their own 19–7 run, and Pete Eisenrich’s jump shot gave them the lead late in the game before Stoudamire missed a three at the buzzer. Nash would go on to win two WCC Player of the Year awards.

Richmond 73, Syracuse 69 (1991)

The Spiders, led by 18 points and six assists from Curtis Blair, pulled off the first upset by a No. 15 seed in NCAA Tournament history. Billy Owens and the Syracuse zone were ineffective, as Richmond never trailed during the game. A Michael Edwards 3-point attempt that would have tied the game fell short with four seconds remaining, and 12-year coach Dick Tarrant had his signature moment as the Spiders’ head man.



It’s been well-documented that a No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but there have been some extremely close calls. Did you know that five teams have nearly pulled-off what might be considered the biggest obstacle in mainstream sports?

Here are five 1 vs. 16 games decided by four points or less.

Purdue 73, Western Carolina 71 (1996)

The Southern Conference champs, coached by first-year head man Phil Hopkins, employed a zone defense that stymied Purdue for most of the game. The Catamounts actually had two chances to put themselves in a category all their own, but both the potential game-winning 3-pointer by Joel Fleming and the possible game-tying Joe Stafford 15-footer hit off of the back of the rim in the final seconds. Ironically, this Boiler team had to forfeit 18 of its 26 wins, including this game, the most recent near-miss by a 16 seed. Another interesting sidenote: Hopkins’ top assistant at the time, Thad Matta, is now the head coach at Ohio State.

Michigan St 75, Murray St 71 (OT, 1990)

The Ohio Valley champions, led by sophomore center Ronald “Popeye” Jones, pushed the vaunted Spartans to overtime by drilling a 3-point basket at the end of regulation. Jones’ game-high 37 points and 11 rebounds were not enough to slow MSU’s Steve Smith, who posted a team-high 22 points, including six of his team’s 10 overtime points. With 26 seconds left, Jones missed an interior shot and the Spartans snatched the rebound and held on to win the only 1-vs.-16 matchup ever to go to overtime.

Oklahoma 72, ETSU 71 (1989)

In the first of four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament for ETSU, the Buccaneers’ starting lineup featured three sophomores and two freshmen. Point guard Keith “Mister” Jennings, a 5'7" dynamo, led the Bucs to a 17-point lead over OU. The Sooners’ defense led the comeback, and after Jennings fouled out, Oklahoma found itself with the ball and a one-point lead shooting a one-and-one with four seconds left. Oklahoma’s Mookie Blaylock missed the front end, giving ETSU one final heave at the buzzer. The half-court air ball fell short, and Oklahoma escaped the historic upset.

Georgetown 50, Princeton 49 (1989)

In Pete Carril’s 22nd season as the Princeton head coach, the Tigers nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. With Princeton trailing by one with eight seconds left, Georgetown center Alonzo Mourning blocked two Princeton shots — one by Bob Scrabis and the other by Kit Mueller — to preserve the Hoya victory. To this day, Princeton fans still claim Mueller was fouled.

Michigan 59, Fairleigh Dickinson 55 (1985)

Head coach Tom Green spent 26 seasons leading Fairleigh Dickinson, but it was in his second year when he almost made his biggest mark. Despite losing four players to fouls, the Knights took the top-seeded Wolverines to the wire. Two late Roy Tarpley free throws sealed the win for the Maize and Blue. Villanova, the lowest-seeded team ever to win the title, proceeded to beat Michigan in the second round by the exact same score — 59–55 — en route to its famous upset of Georgetown in the finals.

<p> While none of the 116 No. 16 seeds has won a game in the NCAA Tournament, seven No. 15 seeds have shocked No. 2s since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-houston-astros

The American League West is arguably the toughest division in baseball, which isn’t great news for an Astros team making its move into the division while trying to rebuild following the two worst seasons in franchise history. Coming off a club-record 107 losses in their final year in the National League in 2012 and 106 losses in 2011 — the Astros enter the AL with new uniforms, a new logo and a new manager in Bo Porter. The club is committed to staying the course of rebuilding through the draft and player development, which means playoff contention is likely years down the road. That’s especially true in the AL West, where the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and Oakland A’s are all built to contend, while the up-and-coming Mariners are no pushovers. Enter the Astros, who will play each of these teams 18 or 19 times while they try to give young players looks at several positions all over the diamond. Astros owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow, entering their second seasons with the club, are committed to youth and don’t plan to start spending major money in free agency until the team’s youngsters start coming of age. Baseball fans in Houston, who will get to see a different set of teams come through Minute Maid Park this year, can only hope the team grows up sooner than expected because life as the punching bag in the AL West won’t be fun.

The first three arms in the rotation are set, with righthanders Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell and Jordan Lyles. Norris will need to rebound following a 7–13 campaign in which he battled various injuries and went three months without getting a win. Harrell was one of the biggest bright spots for the Astros last year, coming out of nowhere to go 11–11 with a 3.76 ERA while making a team-high 32 starts as a rookie. He led the team in wins and innings pitched and went at least five innings in all but one of his starts. Lyles pitched all last year at 21 years old and struggled through a 5–12 season, though he threw a shutout in his final appearance. The Astros hope this is the year the promising youngster finally puts it all together and becomes a mainstay in the rotation. The final two spots in the rotation are up for grabs among a group of arms that includes lefthander Erik Bedard, a non-roster player, veteran Edgar Gonzalez and newcomers John Ely, Alex White and Philip Humber, who threw a perfect game with the White Sox in 2012. The odds are now that Humber and Bedard will break camp as starters.

The Astros’ youth shows in their bullpen, which was made up of fresh faces after Brandon Lyon and Brett Myers were traded last July. The team gave the closer job to Wilton Lopez to finish the season, but he was dealt to Colorado in December. Houston signed veteran Jose Veras — who will be on his sixth team in five seasons — to handle the closing duties, not that there figure to be too many chances to save games. The Astros also plan to give Josh Fields, taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft, a chance to pitch late in games too. Among those returning to the bullpen this year are righthanders Hector Ambriz and Rhiner Cruz and lefties Wesley Wright and Xavier Cedeno.

Middle Infield
The middle of the infield, perhaps the Astros’ biggest area of strength last season, may now be only half full after the trade of shortstop Jed Lowrie. All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve returns for his second full season. Tyler Greene, who seemed to always be on the cusp of a breakout season with St. Louis, takes over at short. Altuve, the 5'5" dynamo, hit .290 with seven homers, 37 RBIs and 33 steals last year, getting plenty of time at the top of the lineup. At 22, he was the second-youngest member of the NL All-Star team after Bryce Harper and led the Astros with 147 games played, including 142 starts at second. Greene hit .246 in 39 games with Houston after managing just .218 in 77 games with the Cardinals. His speed is his greatest asset offensively. The two middle infielders will bat 1-2, perhaps even rotating until the offense finds a groove.

Brett Wallace got most of the time at first base last year following the July 4 trade of Carlos Lee and will enter the season as the favorite to hold onto the job this year. That’s assuming veteran Carlos Pena, who signed with the club in December, gets most of his at-bats at designated hitter. If Wallace can keep hitting for power, though, the position will be his. The Astros enter the season at third base with Matt Dominguez, who has a great glove and has hit well in a limited look. Then there’s Rule 5 pick-up Nate Freiman, who hit .298 with 31 doubles, 24 homers and 105 RBIs in 137 games with Double-A San Antonio (Padres) in 2012. Chris Carter, acquired from Oakland, is penciled in the outfield, but is more suited to first base. Stay tuned.

The competition for spots in the Astros outfield has been a free-for-all this spring. The only player assured of a spot somewhere in the outfield is Justin Maxwell, who slugged 18 homers and 53 RBIs last year as the club’s biggest power threat. Maxwell played all over the outfield a year ago, and where he winds up in 2013 may have more to do with which players lock down the other spots. J.D. Martinez will get another long look after a disappointing 2012 that saw his season end prematurely because of hand surgery. The Astros liked what they saw last year from Fernando Martinez, who along with Maxwell hit some of the longest homers in the majors. If his knees hold up, the former Mets top prospect could win a starting job, or at least platoon. Carter has impressed with his bat and will find his way into the lineup somewhere, most likely in left field, leaving the Martinezes to share right. Brandon Barnes proved he could play center field at a high level, though his bat remains a question mark.

Former first-round pick Jason Castro returned in 2012 after missing all of the previous season following ACL surgery and played well offensively. His knee forced him to the DL at one point, but he wound up hitting .257 with six homers and 29 RBIs, including a .281 average and five homers and 17 RBIs in his final 160 at-bats. Castro is the starter entering the season, but he’s going to have to improve his defense. He let too many balls scoot past him last year, which put his pitchers in tough spots. Castro has enough talent and smarts to be a solid everyday catcher.

Moving to the American League for 2013, the Astros were forced to find their first full-time designated hitter and wound up signing Pena to a one-year deal. He hit 19 home runs with 61 RBIs last year for Tampa Bay, but he doesn’t hit for much average anymore. Houston could also give Wallace some time at DH, but Pena figures to get most of the at-bats. The bench is thin with Marwin Gonzalez backing up in the middle of the infield and Carlos Corporan at catcher. Whichever player from the outfield mix of Fernando Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Barnes doesn’t win a starting job will likely be asked to come off the bench.

This will be the first season as manager for the 40-year-old Porter, who was hired after spending last year as the third base coach of the Nationals. He’s hired a diverse and experienced staff to help him along, but until the team puts better players on the field, it’s going to be challenging to deliver wins.

Final Analysis
The Astros will be young and should play hard, but it’s difficult finding a scenario in which they won’t finish in the cellar of the AL West. They’re light years behind the veteran teams in Texas and Anaheim, and Oakland has proven it’s going to contend in the division for years. Perhaps the Astros can look at the A’s as hope that they can reach the playoffs sooner than expected, but they’re in the middle of a long-term rebuilding project and will continue to take lumps at the big-league level.

SS     Tyler Greene (R)     
Combined to hit .230 with the Cardinals and Astros last year and showed some good power numbers.
2B     Jose Altuve (R)    
Named team MVP after breakout season during which he hit .290 with seven homers, 33 steals and 37 RBIs.
DH     Carlos Pena (L)    
The Astros signed him to be their first full-time DH with hopes he can hit for average again.
LF    Chris Carter (R)
Hit just .148 after Aug. 31 for the A’s last season, essentially forced to sit out the team’s late surge. Could be an adventure in the outfield.
1B     Brett Wallace (L)     
Finally began to show the power stroke the Astros wanted, hitting nine homers in 229 at-bats.
CF     Justin Maxwell (R)    
Played in a career-high 124 games; led the team with 18 homers and was second with 53 RBIs.
C     Jason Castro (L)    
Bounced back from injury that cost him 2011 season to hit .257, including .281 in his final 61 games.
RF     Fernando Martinez (L)    
Martinez doesn’t run well anymore, but he showed last year he has plenty of power in his bat.
3B     Matt Dominguez (R)    
He’s a polished defensive player at the hot corner who showed promise with the bat to end last year.

OF     J.D. Martinez (R)    
He couldn’t duplicate his promising half season of a year earlier, but still led team with 55 RBIs. He will platoon with Fernando Martinez in right field.
C     Carlos Corporan (S)    
Veteran did a nice job with the Astros, hitting .269 in 78 at-bats with four homers and 13 RBIs.
SS     Marwin Gonzalez (S)    
He’s about as good as they come defensively at short, but can his bat keep him in majors?
OF     Rick Ankiel (L)    
The athletic outfielder will make at least two throws this season that you cannot believe you saw.

RH     Bud Norris    
The Astros’ “ace” is a combined 22–34 with a 4.41 ERA over the last three seasons.
RH     Lucas Harrell    
Was named Astros Pitcher of the Year after going 11–11 with a 3.76 ERA in team-high 32 starts as a rookie.
RH     Jordan Lyles    
As a 21-year-old in 2012, he set career highs in innings, starts, strikeouts, quality starts and wins in going 5–12.
RH     Philip Humber     
Native Texan returns home to pitch for Astros after going 5–5 with a 6.44 ERA — and a perfect game — last year for White Sox.
LH    Erik Bedard
Was a no-so-inspiring 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA in 24 starts for Pittsburgh last season.

RH     Jose Veras (Closer)     
5–4 with a 3.63 ERA in 72 games for Brewers in 2012, averaging 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings.
LH     Wesley Wright    
Appeared in a career-high 77 games last year, which led the club; held lefties to a .198 average.
LH     Xavier Cedeno    
Lefty bounced between minors and majors, but didn’t allow a run in 16 of his final 17 games with the Astros.
RH     Hector Ambriz     
Signed as a minor league free agent in June, he did nice work, appearing in 18 games for the Astros.
RH     Rhiner Cruz    
He throws harder than just about anyone on the staff, but he needs to refine control from 2012 rookie season.
RH     Josh Fields    
The No. 1 overall pick in Rule 5 draft, Fields went 4–3 with 2.01 ERA with 78 strikeouts in minors.

<p> Coming off a club-record 107 losses in their final year in the National League in 2012 and 106 losses in 2011 — the Astros enter the AL with new uniforms, a new logo and a new manager in Bo Porter.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-ranking-teams-sweet-16

The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament has caused us to rethink some things, specifically all those brackets with Gonzaga, New Mexico and Georgetown making deep runs.

We’ve learned a little bit -- we know where Florida Gulf Coast actually is, apart from, you know, the Gulf Coast of Florida. We know La Salle is actually pretty good, despite being one of the last teams in the field.

But some things remain the same in our reassessment of the final 16 teams in the field. Louisville, the No. 1 overall seed to start the Tournament, is looking every bit the favorite as is preseason No. 1 Indiana.

Here’s our reevaluation of the Sweet 16.

1. Louisville (Midwest)
Opponent: Oregon
Coach: Rick Pitino (10-0 in the Sweet 16, 6-4 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: The Cardinals’ press has hit its stride, with opponents averaging 21.4 turnovers since the start of the Big East Tournament. If that’s not enough, the Cards’ offense is doing just fine, too. Russ Smith scored 50 combined points in the first weekend while Louisville as a team shot 56.9 percent against North Carolina A&T and Colorado State.
Bad news: Louisville’s regional includes a red-hot Oregon team and either Michigan State or Duke.
Breakout: Montrezl Harris, who was released from his letter of intent at Virginia Tech less than a year ago, has been integral in the postseason. After scoring 20 against Syracuse in the Big East title game, Harris scored 19 points in 36 minutes in the first weekend.

Related: Midwest Region Preview

2. Indiana (East)
Opponent: Syracuse
Coach: Tom Crean (1-1 in the Sweet 16, 1-0 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: Indiana demolished James Madison as it should have. The Hoosiers showed good resilience in a matchup against Temple where the Owls’ tempo forced IU to prove it could win a game without scoring 60 points -- the Hoosiers had been 0-3 when scoring less than 60 this year. Khalif Wyatt scored 31 on Indiana, but the rest of the team scored 21 on 9-of-38 shooting.
Bad news: Jordan Hulls played only 19 minutes against Temple due to a shoulder injury. The Hoosiers don’t have the greatest depth, so this will be worth watching.
Breakout: It was against overmatched James Madison, but freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell’s surprising scoring output (16 points) was good to see for an aspiring national champion.

Related: East Regional Preview

3. Michigan (South)
Opponent: Kansas
Coach: John Beilein (1-1 in the Sweet 16, 0-1 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: The Wolverines, who stumbled late in the season, won their first weekend games by a combined 40 points. Michigan had little trouble with Nate Wolters and even less against VCU’s defense.
Bad news: Trey Burke had seven assists in each game, but he went 2 of 12 from the field against South Dakota State and had seven turnovers against VCU.
Breakout: Freshman Mitch McGary gave Michigan a much-needed physical presence, especially with an upcoming matchup against Jeff Withey. McGary had 21 points and 14 rebounds against VCU.

Related: South Region Preview

4. Ohio State (West)
Opponent: Arizona
Coach: Thad Matta (3-2 in the Sweet 16, 2-1 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: The seas parted for the Ohio State to have easiest path to the Final Four, at least as far as the seeds are concerned. Arizona is the top team left in the West, and the Wildcats were shaky for most of the season. After that, it’s either Wichita State or La Salle.
Bad news: There’s no shame in going down to the wire with Iowa State. Aaron Craft missed the front end of two one-and-ones and turned the ball over twice late to put the Cyclones back into the game, but he atoned for it with his game-winning shot.
Breakout: Sam Thompson scored 20 points and 10 rebounds against Iona, but LaQuinton Ross’ 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting against Iowa State may be more encouraging. And Craft’s 18 points was his fourth-highest scoring total of the season.

Related: West Region Preview

5. Michigan State (Midwest)
Opponent: Duke
Coach: Tom Izzo (7-3 in the Sweet 16, 6-1 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: Michigan State cruised past Valparaiso and then made easier work of Memphis. Adreian Payne was at his best against Memphis with 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. Michigan State’s passing down low and rebounding stood out against the Tigers.
Bad news: The Spartans’ 17 turnovers against Valpo and 18 against Memphis was alarming for a team with Final Four aspirations.
Breakout: Michigan State gets a two-fer here: Derrick Nix took advantage of a size advantage to score 23 points with 15 rebounds against Valpo, and freshman guard Gary Harris scored a season-high 23 against Memphis.

6. Duke (Midwest)
Opponent: Michigan State
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (12-8 in the Sweet 16, 11-1 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: Doug McDermott scored 21 points against Duke, but it wasn’t easy, especially in the second half. The Creighton star went 4 of 16 from the field.  It was an uneven effort against Creighton offensively, but the Blue Devils had the scoring depth to counter the Bluejays.
Bad news: Ryan Kelly scoring eight points against Albany and then scored one point while fighting through foul trouble against Creighton. It will be tough to get through Michigan State and Louisville/Oregon without Kelly at full speed.
Breakout: Rasheed Suliamon filled the gaps on the scoresheet against Creighton with 21 points, but Tyler Thornton was nearly as important with eight points and six rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench Sunday.

7. Florida (South)
Opponent: Florida Gulf Coast
Coach: Billy Donovan (5-1 in the Sweet 16, 3-2 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: The Gators defeated their first weekend opponents by a a combined 46 points, but the first was a No. 14 seed and the second was a No. 11 who fired its coach the next day. Worth noting, the last team Tubby Smith defeated was UCLA, which also fired its coach. Why is Florida this low? The Gators beat up on lesser teams all season. The first weekend was not totally unexpected.
Bad news: Florida let Minnesota chip away at a 21-point lead in the second half, which is a concerned for a team that failed to win close games all season.
Breakout: Mike Rosario has been frustrating to watch at times, but he carried Florida against Minnesota with 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 6-of-9 from three-point range.

8. Oregon (Midwest)
Opponent: Louisville
Coach: Dana Altman (first Sweet 16)
Good news: Oregon defeated Oklahoma State and Saint Louis with all-around efforts in both games. The Ducks crushed both opponents on the boards, thanks to the play of Arsalan Kazemi while holding the Cowboys and Billikens to a combined 8 of 38 three-point shooting.
Bad news: Oregon didn’t have the resume of a No. 12 seed, but it didn’t have the resume of the top three teams in its region (Louisville, Duke and Michigan State), either. Will the Ducks fall to earth?
Breakout: Damyean Dotson was one of the top freshmen in the Pac-12, but he’s been at his best in the postseason. He went scoreless in a loss at Utah on March 9, but since then he’s averaging 16.8 points per game since then. He scored 17 against Oklahoma State and 23 against Saint Louis.

9. Miami (East)
Opponent: Marquette
Coach: Jim Larranaga (1-0 in the Sweet 16, 1-0 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: Between Larranaga’s dancing and Julian Gamble’s photobombing, Miami seems to be enjoying itself in the Tournament. The Hurricanes defeated Pacific 78-49 and survived Illinois 63-59 in the round of 32. Shane Larkin played the role of star as usual.
Bad news: Illinois kept itself in the game with 15 offensive rebounds against the Canes.
Breakout: Rion Brown has been able to offer a spark off the bench all season, adding his third 20-point game of the season with 21 against the Illini.

10. Syracuse (East)
Opponent: Indiana
Coach: Jim Boeheim (5-11 in the Sweet 16, 3-2 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: Syracuse trounced Montana for the biggest victory for a team seeded third or lower in the NCAA Tournament (47 points). In the second game, Syracuse held Cal’s best players, Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, to a combined 13 points.
Bad news: The second game was a little more spotty. Syracuse struggled to put away Cal despite the struggles of Crabbe and Cobbs. The Orange went 26 of 41 from the free throw line and went for 12 minutes without a field goal at one point.
Breakout: Baye Moussa Keita flourished in his matchup the the Cal frontcourt, scoring 11 points with seven rebounds. Most of Keita’s work came at the free throw line where the big man went 7 of 10.

11. Kansas (South)
Opponent: Michigan
Coach: Bill Self (7-2 in the Sweet 16, 2-5 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: Kansas responded to its close call with 16th-seeded Western Kentucky to defeat North Carolina 70-58 in a game that was not in question by halftime. Jeff Withey has led the way with a combined 33 points, 22 rebounds and give blocks.
Bad news: Ben McLemore was 0 for 9 against North Carolina and spent most of the second half on the bench. He’s 0 for 8 from three-point range in two Tournament games. The Jayhawks finished the weekend with five total three-pointers.
Breakout: Travis Releford filled the gaps left by McLemore, scoring 22 points against North Carolina with eight rebounds.

12. Arizona (West)
Opponent: Ohio State
Coach: Sean Miller (2-1 in the Sweet 16, 0-2 in the Elite Eight)
Good news: A popular upset pick in the round of 64, Arizona cruised past 11th-seeded Belmont and 14th-seeded Harvard.
Bad news: Do we know a whole lot about Arizona? The Wildcats were rarely challenged over the weekend, which can be a good thing. Arizona will be put to the test against Ohio State.
Breakout: A major question entering the postseason was the play of Mark Lyons. He’s playing like the seasoned Tournament veteran he is with 27 points against Harvard and 23 against Belmont

13. Marquette (East)
Opponent: Miami
Coach: Buzz Williams (0-2 in the Sweet 16)
Good news: Vander Blue is emerging as one of the stars of this Tournament. He delivered the game-winner against Davidson and then scored 29 against Butler.
Bad news: Is Marquette living on borrowed time? The Golden Eagles defeated Davidson on a Wildcats meltdown, and Butler had its chances to beat Marquette thanks to a late turnover. Marquette has 14 assists to 24 turnovers in the Tourney so far.
Breakout: Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett had his best game since February with 13 points against Butler. He contributed 36 and 38 minutes off the bench in the first weekend.

14. Wichita State (West)
Opponent: La Salle
Coach: Gregg Marshall (first Sweet 16)
Good news: Talk about resilience. Wichita State trailed 49-41 and had two key players in foul trouble in the second half against Gonzaga, but came back to win 76-70. The reason was hot three-point shooting, but also defense in the first two games of the Tournament. Wichita State held Gonzaga and Pittsburgh to a combined 40 of 113 (35.4 percent) from the field and 9 of 49 from three-point range (18.4 percent).
Bad news: Wichita State had to play well to win, for sure, but how much did Gonzaga cough up an upset? The Shockers trailed by eight with less than 12 minutes to go. Wichita State’s 14 of 28 three-point shooting against Gonzaga was out of character (but, then again, so was the 2-of-20 performance against Pitt).
Breakout: Ron Baker, a redshirt freshman who missed a big chunk of the regular season with a foot injury, played 33 minutes and surprised Gonzaga with four three-pointers and 16 total points.

15. La Salle (West)
Opponent: Wichita State
Coach: John Giannini (first Sweet 16)
Good news: Ramon Galloway is one of the stars of the Tournament, scoring 24 points on Ole Miss, 19 on Kansas State and 21 on Boise State.
Bad news: La Salle played one bad half of basketball in three games, shooting 3 of 18 in the second half against Kansas State. Otherwise, La Salle shot 56.3 percent from the field.
Breakout: Known for its guard play, La Salle got a major lift from a forward. Jerrell Wright was one of the key players of the upset of Kansas State with 21 points and eight rebounds. He was extremely efficient, making all six shots from the field and 9 of 10 free throws.

16. Florida Gulf Coast (South)
Opponent: Florida
Coach: Andy Enfield (first Sweet 16 appearance)
Good news: Florida Gulf Coast. In the Sweet 16. Everything about this story is good news. This is no fluke, either. FGCU led by as much as 19 against Georgetown in the second half and went on a 17-0 run against San Diego State late in the second half to seal the win.
Bad news: The secret’s out. We don’t know how Florida Gulf Coast is going to react if a good defensive team like Florida limits the alley oop/dunk game.
Breakout: The whole team is a breakout, but let’s highlight Florida Gulf Coast’s defense: The Eagles forced 14 Georgetown turnovers and 17 San Diego State turnovers, both above those team’s season averages.

<p> Louisville is looking every bit the part of a title contender, other top teams not so much</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/big-ten-football-2013-schedule-analysis

The start of the 2013 college football season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about preseason predictions and some of the top games to watch in each conference.

Scheduling has been a hot topic in the Big Ten recently, as the conference is expected to move to a nine-game slate in the future. Maryland and Rutgers are slated to join the Big Ten in 2014, and an increased conference schedule is coming (likely) in 2016.

But for 2013, the Big Ten is at 12 teams and the usual eight-game slate. Ohio State is a heavy favorite to win the conference title, but Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern and Michigan State could all be top-25 teams in most preseason polls.

Athlon continues its spring coverage with Big Ten schedule analysis for 2013:

Leaders Division


Aug. 31 Southern Illinois
Sept. 7 Cincinnati
Sept. 14 Washington
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 Miami (Ohio)
Oct. 5 at Nebraska
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 Wisconsin
Oct. 26 Michigan State
Nov. 2 at Penn State
Nov. 9 at Indiana
Nov. 16 Ohio State
Nov. 23 at Purdue
Nov. 30 Northwestern

* While all four non-conference games will be at home for Illinois, three of the four won’t be easy. Cincinnati and Washington might both be favored over the struggling Illini while Miami (Ohio) is always a tricky out for Big Ten teams. Two non-conference losses to start the year could doom Tim Beckman’s second year.

* Big Ten play starts for Illinois with arguably four of the top six teams in the league. The consistency of powerhouse divisional rivals like Wisconsin and Penn State is what Illinois aspires to and these two outscored the Illini 66-21 a year ago. Playing Michigan State and Nebraska (as well as Northwestern) in crossover play is about as brutal as it gets.

* Illinois will play six of its first seven games at home and three of its last five on the road.

* Despite a home game with Ohio State mixed in, the final month of the season is where Beckman’s team can make some headway. Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern could be competitive games and will be huge barometer tests for a coach finishing his second season on the job.


Aug. 29 Indiana State (Thur.)
Sept. 7 Navy
Sept. 14 Bowling Green
Sept. 21 Missouri
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Penn State
Oct. 12 at Michigan State
Oct. 19 at Michigan
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 Minnesota
Nov. 9 Illinois
Nov. 16 at Wisconsin
Nov. 23 at Ohio State
Nov. 30 Purdue

* Making headway early in the year will be key for Kevin Wilson and his growing Hoosiers. A non-conference slate could feature three straight wins to start and will build up to the key swing game with Missouri. A home win over an SEC team would be a landmark victory for IU and it could mean a bowl game.

* Indiana has a nasty month of October to navigate between off weekends. The three-game stretch features Penn State and two road trips North to Michigan sandwiched between the two bye weeks — which is the only welcome sight during the second month of the year.

* The final month offers some intriguing opportunities — Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue — and two huge "prove it" games with Wisconsin and Ohio State. If Wilson can beat the bad teams, Indiana could easily earn a postseason berth.

* Forget about buying road tickets to support your Hoosiers in 2013. It might be the toughest road schedule in the history of the Big Ten, as Indiana will visit Michigan and Michigan State in crossover play as well as Ohio State and Wisconsin in the division. Best of luck to Mr. Wilson and company.

Ohio State

Aug. 31 Buffalo
Sept. 7 San Diego State
Sept. 14 at Cal
Sept. 21 Florida A&M
Sept. 28 Wisconsin
Oct. 5 at Northwestern
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 Iowa
Oct. 26 Penn State
Nov. 2 at Purdue
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 at Illinois
Nov. 23 Indiana
Nov. 30 at Michigan

* The non-conference slate should offer little to challenge Ohio State other than a long road trip to Cal. The Bears' new coaching staff and stadium will likely be fired up for Ohio State but do they have the players to compete with the Buckeyes? Doubtful.

* There is no break early in the year, however, as Ohio State will play six straight to start including two key Big Ten matchups to begin conference play. Wisconsin at home and at Northwestern will set the tone for the Big Ten season prior to the first off week.

* Located between the bye weeks in October is an intriguing three-game stretch. Iowa at home doesn’t figure to be too difficult but hosting Penn State will be exciting. And visiting Ross-Ade Stadium in Purdue likely causes nightmares for Bucknuts everywhere. Ohio State has lost two in a row in West Lafeyette, Ind.

* The final month of the season figures to be warm up for the best rivalry in college football. Despite the history with Purdue, Ohio State will be a heavy favorite in its first three November games before having to travel North to take on Michigan.

* For a team that figures to be among the top five in the preseason polls, this is a very manageable schedule.

Penn State

Aug. 31 Syracuse
Sept. 7 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 14 UCF
Sept. 21 Kent State
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 at Indiana
Oct. 12 Michigan
Oct. 19 Bye Week
Oct. 26 at Ohio State
Nov. 2 Illinois
Nov. 9 at Minnesota
Nov. 16 Purdue
Nov. 23 Nebraska
Nov. 30 at Wisconsin

* Four fairly easy non-conference games will help Bill O’Brien break in a new quarterback and new linebacking corps. Yes, Syracuse has been tricky of late but it also is replacing its star quarterback and head coach. A 4-0 start is very possible before the first bye week of the year separates the Big Ten slate from the non-conference tilts.

* The second bye week is perfectly situated between what should be the two toughest games of the year. Following a visit from Michigan in mid-October, Penn State will get two weeks to prepare for a brutal road trip to Ohio State.

* The Nittany Lions will get a breather following their trip to Columbus. Penn State will face Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue in three consecutive weeks, which should allow O’Brien to seal a second straight winning season.

* Any wins in the season’s final two weekends would be an extra bonus. This team will be dramatically better at season’s end than at the beginning and finishing with both Big Red’s will be tough. However, a win in either of those two could give PSU as many as eight or even nine wins.


Aug. 31 at Cincinnati
Sept. 7 Indiana State
Sept. 14 Notre Dame
Sept. 21 at Wisconsin
Sept. 28 Northern Illinois
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 12 Nebraska
Oct. 19 at Michigan State
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 Ohio State
Nov. 9 Iowa
Nov. 16 at Penn State
Nov. 23 Illinois
Nov. 30 at Indiana

* No team in the league has a tougher start to the season than Purdue — both in and out of the Big Ten. In non-conference play, the Boilermakers will play two BCS bowl teams in Northern Illinois and Notre Dame while having to visit Big East co-champ Cincinnati in Week 1. A 1-3 non-con record isn’t far-fetched for new coach Darrell Hazell.

* Mixed in with the tough non-conference slate is a road trip to Wisconsin followed by a home game with Nebraska and a road trip to Michigan State. Those are the first seven for Purdue and 1-6 isn’t out of the question. At least this team will get a breather following the first seven with the second bye week of the season. Well, before Ohio State comes to town.

* The second half provides some easier tests but isn’t much better than the first. Ohio State, Iowa and Illinois will visit West Lafayette while Purdue will visit Penn State and Indiana over the final five weeks. Yes, Purdue has been good against OSU at home of late, but it will be a huge underdog this time around. This a nasty schedule, perhaps the league’s toughest, and Purdue will be favored in no more than five games (Indiana State, Northern Illinois, Iowa, Illinois, at Indiana) and more likely just three.


Aug. 31 UMass
Sept. 7 Tennessee Tech
Sept. 14 at Arizona State
Sept. 21 Purdue
Sept. 28 at Ohio State
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 12 Northwestern
Oct. 19 at Illinois
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 at Iowa
Nov. 9 BYU
Nov. 16 Indiana
Nov. 23 at Minnesota
Nov. 30 Penn State

* The early season slate is highlighted by a long road trip to the desert to battle Arizona State. The rebuilt secondary will be put to the test by a deep and talented returning Sun Devils offense led by star quarterback Taylor Kelly and offensive whiz Todd Graham. Expect the Devils to be looking for revenge from their 20-19 loss in Madison in 2010.

* Wisconsin begins Big Ten play in a big way with two divisional games before the end of September. This includes a road trip to Ohio State that will be an early Leaders Division elimination game. The welcomed bye week falls following the first five weeks of the year.

* The heart of the schedule isn’t all that daunting for the Badgers. Northwestern at home and a road trip to Illinois are manageable games located between the bye weeks. A road trip to rival Iowa is always a tough test for UW and fans on both sides are happy to get this contest back on the schedule. Wisconsin will play these five Big Ten games between Week 7 and 13: Northwestern, at Illinois, at Iowa, Indiana and at Minnesota.

* A November 9 visit from BYU is oddly placed for Wisconsin. Traditionally, UW plays its first four games against non-conference play so fans might be thrown for a loop when a non-conference opponent comes to town in Week 11. And BYU is a good one at that.

* The home game against Penn State to end the season will likely determine the Leaders Division pecking order behind Ohio State. It could easily be the difference between a New Year’s Day bowl for new coach Gary Andersen or a third-place trip to San Antonio.

* Wisconsin will miss Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State in crossover play.

Legends Division


Aug. 31 Northern Illinois
Sept. 7 Missouri State
Sept. 14 at Iowa State
Sept. 21 Western Michigan
Sept. 28 at Minnesota
Oct. 5 Michigan State
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 at Ohio State
Oct. 26 Northwestern
Nov. 2 Wisconsin
Nov. 9 at Purdue
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 Michigan
Nov. 29 at Nebraska

* For a team that will be hovering right around the six-win mark, the non-conference schedule isn’t going to be favorable for getting to a bowl game. Iowa opens with Northern Illinois, a team it beat 18-17 in Chicago last season. The Huskies played in the Orange Bowl last season, and despite some losses on defense, could be favored to win in the opener.

* If the Hawkeyes lose the opener against Northern Illinois, it will only add to the pressure facing this team on Sept. 14 at Iowa State. Iowa has lost the last two meetings to the Cyclones, including a 9-6 game in Iowa City last year. The Hawkeyes have not lost three in a row in this series since 2000-02.

* Will Iowa retain the Floyd of Rosedale? The Hawkeyes beat Minnesota 31-13 last season but lost the last two matchups against the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis. With Iowa and Minnesota expected to be picked near the bottom of the conference, this game could decide who avoids the cellar in the Legends Division.

* Iowa didn’t get any breaks from the schedule-makers, as it has a brutal crossover schedule. The Hawkeyes play at Ohio State and host Wisconsin – arguably the top two teams from the Leaders Division. Iowa also has to play on the road against Purdue, which isn’t a guaranteed win.

* Even if Iowa manages to sweep its non-conference schedule, it will need an upset win somewhere along the way to get bowl eligible. Where could that upset come? How about an Oct. 5 matchup against Michigan State? The Hawkeyes knocked off the Spartans 19-16 in overtime at East Lansing last season. Considering the returning personnel for both teams, Michigan State should be favored. However, Iowa usually thrives when it is under the radar. Will that theory hold true after a disappointing 4-8 season? 



Aug. 31 Central Michigan
Sept. 7 Notre Dame
Sept. 14 Akron
Sept. 21 at Connecticut
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Minnesota
Oct. 12 at Penn State
Oct. 19 Indiana
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 at Michigan State
Nov. 9 Nebraska
Nov. 16 at Northwestern
Nov. 23 at Iowa
Nov. 30 Ohio State

* The Wolverines meet Connecticut for only the second time in school history on Sept. 21. Michigan defeated the Huskies 30-10 in 2010 but travel to Storrs for this matchup. Connecticut will be picked near the bottom of the Big East and has to rebuild a defense that ranked in the top 10 nationally in fewest yards allowed.

* The Michigan-Notre Dame matchup is one of the most intriguing early non-conference games of the 2013 season. The last four games in this series have been decided by a touchdown or less, with the Wolverines owning a 3-1 edge during that span. While Michigan isn’t expected to be a national title contender in 2013, a win over Notre Dame could set up a 7-0 mark for the Wolverines going into the Nov. 2 game at Michigan State.

* Michigan’s Oct. 12 date at Penn State will be the first meeting between these two programs since 2010. After winning nine consecutive matchups, the Wolverines have lost three in a row to the Nittany Lions. Penn State is breaking in a new quarterback and must restock its defensive line and linebacking corps, but it will give Michigan all it can handle in Happy Valley.

* Can Michigan regain control in its in-state rivalry with Michigan State? The Wolverines won 12-10 in Ann Arbor last year, which snapped a four-game losing streak to the Spartans. Prior to Michigan State’s winning streak, Michigan won 10 out of the last 12 meetings from 1996-2007.

* Michigan is facing one of the toughest November schedules of any team in the nation. The Wolverines play their top three challengers in the Legends Division and host rival Ohio State. Needless to say, if Michigan wins the division title – it will have earned it.

* Could the Nov. 23 game against Iowa be a trap game? Michigan has lost its last two meetings in Iowa City and three out of its last four against the Hawkeyes. Coming off a road game against Northwestern and with a home date against Ohio State looming one week later, the Wolverines have to be careful not to overlook Iowa.

Michigan State

Aug. 30 Western Michigan
Sept. 7 South Florida
Sept. 14 Youngstown State
Sept. 21 at Notre Dame
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 at Iowa
Oct. 12 Indiana
Oct. 19 Purdue
Oct. 26 at Illinois
Nov. 2 Michigan
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 at Nebraska
Nov. 23 at Northwestern
Nov. 30 Minnesota

* The Spartans couldn’t ask for a better schedule to start the 2013 season. With a offense that struggled mightily in 2010, along with a question mark at quarterback, matchups against Western Michigan, South Florida and Youngstown State should give Michigan State plenty of time to work out the kinks before a road trip to Notre Dame on Sept. 21. Speaking of the early-season road contest in South Bend…

* Michigan State has lost three out of its last four against Notre Dame, with the only win coming in 2010 on a trick play in overtime. The Spartans will be an underdog against the Fighting Irish, but this should be a good test for Michigan State’s offense against the Notre Dame defense.

* Regardless of what happens in the Sept. 21 date against Notre Dame, Michigan State has a favorable road in Big Ten play. The Spartans play Iowa, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois in October – all teams that will likely be picked near the bottom of their division. Although Michigan State lost to Iowa last season, there’s a good chance the Spartans are 7-1 going into November.

* If the Spartans want to be a factor in the Legends Division, they have to beat in-state rival Michigan on Nov. 2. The Wolverines snapped a four-game losing streak in this series last year, but Michigan State has won two in a row in East Lansing.

* Both of Michigan State’s bye weeks just happen to hit at the right time in 2013. The Spartans have an off date on Sept. 28 before the start of Big Ten play and also on Nov. 9 after playing Michigan. The second bye week is crucial, as the Spartans play at Nebraska and Northwestern the following two weekends.

* Even if Michigan State beats Michigan on Nov. 2, the Spartans still have to navigate two road dates late in the year: at Nebraska and at Northwestern. The Cornhuskers have won both matchups between these two teams as Big Ten foes, while the Wildcats knocked off Michigan State 23-20 in East Lansing last year.


Aug. 29 UNLV
Sept. 7 at New Mexico State
Sept. 14 Western Illinois
Sept. 21 San Jose State
Sept. 28 Iowa
Oct. 5 at Michigan
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 at Northwestern
Oct. 26 Nebraska
Nov. 2 at Indiana
Nov. 9 Penn State
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 Wisconsin
Nov. 30 at Michigan State

* Jerry Kill’s team showed progress last year, improving from 3-9 to a 6-7 mark with a bowl loss against Texas Tech. Although Minnesota was a better team in 2012 than it was in '11, a favorable non-conference schedule was a huge factor in getting to the postseason. The Golden Gophers have a similar setup in 2013, as UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois and San Jose State are all winnable games. The Spartans are the best team out of that group but will be breaking in a new coach.

* If Minnesota wants to go bowling, it has to start the season 5-0. Big Ten play opens with a favorable home game in the battle for Floyd of Rosedale against Iowa. The Hawkeyes won 31-13 in Iowa City last year, but Minnesota won the two previous games in the series.

* It’s a good thing Minnesota opens with Iowa, as it won’t catch a break the rest of October. The Golden Gophers play arguably the three best teams from the Legends Division in October, starting with Michigan on Oct. 5, Northwestern on Oct. 19 and then Nebraska on Oct. 26. If Minnesota starts 5-0, it’s possible it will be 5-3 by the time they play Indiana on Nov. 2.

* Assuming Minnesota is 5-3 before the Nov. 2 road date against Indiana, finding one more win in conference play isn’t going to be easy. The Hoosiers are a much-improved team, while the Golden Gophers will be underdogs in games against Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. It’s certainly not impossible, but Minnesota will have a tough task just getting to six victories.

* Minnesota has not defeated Wisconsin since 2003. The Badgers have won nine in a row against the Golden Gophers, with the last three matchups decided by 15 points or more.


Aug. 31 Wyoming
Sept. 7 Southern Miss
Sept. 14 UCLA
Sept. 21 South Dakota State
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Illinois
Oct. 12 at Purdue
Oct. 19 Bye Week
Oct. 26 at Minnesota
Nov. 2 Northwestern
Nov. 9 at Michigan
Nov. 16 Michigan State
Nov. 23 at Penn State
Nov. 29 Iowa

* Nebraska should score three easy wins in non-conference play with Wyoming, Southern Miss and South Dakota State. The Cowboys will be the toughest matchup from that trio, especially with the return of quarterback Brett Smith. However, Wyoming has to rebuild its offensive line and front seven on defense.

* The Cornhuskers’ toughest non-conference matchup should come against UCLA on Sept. 14. The Bruins defeated Nebraska 36-30 last season, which was the 11th meeting between these two teams in their program history. UCLA returns quarterback Brett Hundley but must replace running back Johnathan Franklin. Even with Franklin leaving, UCLA’s offense will be a difficult matchup for Nebraska’s rebuilt defense.

* If Nebraska can get by UCLA, there’s a good chance the Cornhuskers will be 7-0 heading into the final month of the season. However, there’s also a downside to the scheduling, as Nebraska plays its three toughest challengers in the Legends Division in November and has a road date at Penn State on Nov. 23. Ouch.

* Expect another close game when Northwestern and Nebraska meet on Nov. 2. The only two matchups these two teams have played as Big Ten foes have been decided by three points or less. And with both teams possessing some of the league’s top offensive playmakers, there should be no shortage of points on Nov. 2.

* Is the Nov. 9 matchup at Michigan the biggest game for Nebraska’s 2013 season? With Northwestern and Michigan State visiting Lincoln, there’s a good chance the Cornhuskers sweep both of those games. If Nebraska can win in Ann Arbor – which is no easy task considering the Wolverines beat the Cornhuskers 45-17 at Michigan in 2011 – the division title could be wrapped up, regardless of what happens in the final two games.

* Nebraska has won its only two meetings as a member of the Big Ten against Penn State. The Cornhuskers defeated the Nittany Lions 17-14 in Happy Valley in 2011 and won 32-23 in Lincoln last season.


Aug. 31 at California
Sept. 7 Syracuse
Sept. 14 Western Michigan
Sept. 21 Maine
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct.  5 Ohio State
Oct. 12 at Wisconsin
Oct. 19 Minnesota
Oct. 26 at Iowa
Nov. 2 at Nebraska
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 Michigan
Nov. 23 Michigan State
Nov. 30 at Illinois

* Non-conference games against California and Syracuse aren’t guaranteed wins, but Northwestern is catching both teams at the right time. The Wildcats travel to Berkeley for the first game of the season, but the Golden Bears are breaking in a new coaching staff and quarterback. And the same can be said for Syracuse, as it looks to find its footing under new coach Scott Shafer. Neither game will be a blowout victory for the Wildcats, but Northwestern should start the year with a 2-0 mark.

* The first bye week of 2013 comes at a good time for Northwestern. After a likely 4-0 start from non-conference action, Northwestern kicks off Big Ten play with a home date against Ohio State. The Wildcats have lost 28 out of the last 29 matchups to the Buckeyes. The only win came in 2004, with Northwestern pulling out a 33-27 victory in Evanston, Ill. Ohio State is expected to be one of the top five teams in most preseason polls this summer. Can Northwestern open Big Ten play with an upset? It’s certainly not out of the question.

* As if the Big Ten opener against Ohio State wasn’t tough enough, Northwestern travels to Wisconsin for its second conference contest. The Wildcats have not defeated the Badgers in Madison since 2000, but have split with UW in the last four meetings overall.

* After the brutal start to Big Ten play, Northwestern catches a break with Minnesota and Iowa to close out October. The Wildcats can’t afford to overlook anyone, but Iowa and Minnesota will be picked near the bottom of the conference. Expect Northwestern to have a 6-2 record heading into November.

* Even with the difficult start to the conference schedule, Northwestern still has a chance to make some noise in the division. With home games against Michigan and Michigan State, the Wildcats can win both contests and have an opportunity to get back into the division title mix. However, those two games won’t be the only thing that decides Northwestern’s title hopes, as a road game on Nov. 2 at Nebraska will be difficult. Three losses could win the Big Ten Legends Division. However, the Wildcats would feel a lot more comfortable if they finished conference play at 6-2.

Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)


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<p> Big Ten Football 2013 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /college-basketball/2013-ncaa-tournament-east-region-sweet-16-preview

Washington, D.C.

Top Dog — Indiana (1)
The Hoosiers are headed to their second straight Sweet 16. But IU has not advanced to the Elite Eight since 2002, when Indiana was an unlikely national runner-up to Maryland. After cruising past James Madison, 83–62, the Hoosiers earned a hard fought victory over Temple, 58–52. Victor Oladipo hit a top-of-the-key three — on a kick-out swing pass from Cody Zeller — with 14 seconds to play to take a four-point lead Indiana would not relinquish, as the Hoosiers capped their come-from-behind win over the Owls on a 10–0 run. Now IU prepares for a Sweet 16 showdown with Syracuse in a rematch of the 1987 national title game.

Underdog – Syracuse (4)
Coach Jim Boeheim is making his 16th trip to the Sweet 16, with his signature 2-3 zone defense leading the charge yet again. The Orange suffocated Montana, 81–34, to get the party started. Syracuse then outlasted California, 66–60, in front of a partisan San Jose crowd, holding the Bears to just 4-of-21 shooting (19.0 percent) from 3-point range. The triumph over Cal marked Boeheim’s 50th career NCAA Tournament win.

Player to Watch – Shane Larkin, Miami (2)
Barry Larkin’s son has been a catalyst for the Canes all season, earning ACC Player of the Year honors along the way. After advancing to the school’s second Sweet 16, Miami will continue to lean on Larkin on the second weekend of the Tournament. In a Sweet 16-clinching 63–59 win over Illinois, Larkin capped a 17-point night with a clutch go-ahead 3-pointer.

The Quote
“I know everybody on our team — we weren’t ready to go home. We had two close games. We had a lot of those this year. What we went through earlier this year prepared us for this weekend.” — Marquette guard Vander Blue, who scored 29 points on 9-of-15 shooting in a 74–72 victory over Butler and 16 points in a 59–58 win over Davidson.

Sweet 16 Previews:
Midwest Region
West Region
South Region
East Region


<p> 2013 NCAA Tournament: East Region Sweet 16 Preview, including the Indiana Hoosiers, Miami Hurricanes, Marquette Golden Eagles, Syracuse Orange, Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Shane Larkin, Jim Boeheim and Vander Blue.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 17:01
Path: /college-basketball/2013-ncaa-tournament-south-region-sweet-16-preview

North Texas

Top Dog — Kansas (1)
Coach Bill Self earned his 300th career win with a 70–58 victory over North Carolina — and former Kansas coach Roy Williams. The Jayhawks struggled to pull off a 64–57 win over No. 16 seed Western Kentucky in the Round of 64. KU’s leading scorer this season, redshirt freshman shooting guard Ben McLemore has disappeared during the Tournament, with just 13 total points on 2-of-14 shooting from the field and 0-of-8 from 3-point range over two games. Senior big man Jeff Withey has picked up the slack, however, averaging 16.5 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks per game over the Tournament’s first weekend.

Underdog – Florida Gulf Coast (15)
Andy Enfield was a cult hero heading into the Tournament because he is a self-made millionaire with a supermodel wife. Now the Eagles coach is leading the greatest Cinderella story in Big Dance history. FGCU upset No. 2 seed Georgetown, 78–68, before taking down San Diego State, 81–71, to become the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16.

Player to Watch – Trey Burke, Michigan (4)
The National Player of the Year candidate got off to a rocky start, scoring just six points on 2-of-12 shooting in a 71–56 win over South Dakota State. But Burke bounced back with 18 points, seven assists and two steals in a 78–53 statement win over VCU to advance to Michigan’s first Sweet 16 since 1994. Burke will need to bring his A-game in order for U-M to earn a trip to the Final Four for the first time since the Fab Five in 1993.

The Quote
“The one thing that coach talked to me before I transferred here (from Rutgers), he said ‘You’re putting yourself in big moments and big games.’ … I really took full advantage of it tonight and I told myself, ‘If I’m open, I’m going to knock down the shot.’” — Florida guard Mike Rosario, who scored 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting in a 78–64 win over Minnesota.

Sweet 16 Previews:
Midwest Region
West Region
South Region
East Region


<p> 2013 NCAA Tournament: South Region Sweet 16 Preview, including the Kansas Jayhawks, Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, Michigan Wolverines, Florida Gators, Trey Burke, Andy Enfield, Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 25, 2013 - 16:55