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This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 3:
• Gronk killed it on Kimmel, reading from his erotic fan fiction and describing the end of the Super Bowl as calling for haymakers.
• Tom Brady says he would be happy to give his MVP truck to Malcolm Butler. How generous from the guy with untold millions and a supermodel wife.
• Interesting observation: Bill Belichick used the Broncos' failed gameplan of a year ago to beat the Seahawks.
• I can't stop watching this Vine: Do not leave Russell Wilson hanging.
• This news is burning up my Twitter timeline: "To Kill a Mockingbird" author Harper Lee is finally publishing a second novel.
• Watch Henrik Lundqvist head the puck to a teammate.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
-Chicago Bulls @ Houston Rockets, 8:00 PM ET, ESPN
Derrick Rose is slowly regaining his elite athleticism, and he’ll need every bit of it he can muster if he’s to challenge MVP candidate James Harden on Harden's home court. With Dwight Howard in and out of the lineup, The Beard has become the Rockets’ saving grace, as they’ve had to design nearly all of their offensive sets around his tricky forms of misdirection. See if Jimmy Butler and the rest of the Chicago defense have the formula to slow him down.
-Dallas Mavericks @ Golden State Warriors, 10:30 PM ET, ESPN
Rajon Rondo will be out of action for the Mavericks for some time with facial injuries, and that’s bad news for the Texas ballers. Particularly because the very hardest point guard to contain in the league, Steph Curry, is their assignment this Wednesday. The Mavericks will need some hot-handed shooting from Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons and Dirk Nowitzki to come out of Oakland alive.
-Los Angeles Clippers @ Cleveland Cavaliers, 8:00 PM ET, TNT
Quietly, the Clippers have been the Western Conference’s best team since mid-January. LeBron James and the Cavaliers have reeled off eleven in a row to take that title in the Eastern Conference, as they’re starting to finally live up to the huge hype that’s followed them around ever since the King came home. Between him, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin and Co., this matchup proves to fertile ground for some true superstar fireworks.
-Golden State Warriors @ Atlanta Hawks, 7:30 PM ET
Whether or not anyone saw it coming — or believes in the sustainability of it — the Hawks and Warriors have been basketball’s two very best teams through January. Something must give as their insanely good records collide in Atlanta this Friday, and two of the smartest squads of recent memory meet to give us a dose of pure basketball pornography.
— John Wilmes
Signing Day is one of the top events during college football’s offseason. After months (and potentially years of deliberating) high school prospects can officially fax a letter of intent on Wednesday, Feb. 4 to declare where they will continue their playing career.
Every year, Parade’s annual high school All-America team highlights the biggest stars headed to the next level.
The 2015 team is headlined by Kyler Murray, a dynamic dual-threat quarterback slated to sign with Texas A&M.
Here’s a look at Parade’s All-America team and the honorable mentions for 2015.
Parade 2015 All-America Team
|QB||Kyler Murray||5-11||175||Allen (Allen, Texas)||Texas A&M|
|QB||Ty Storey||6-3||220||Charleston (Charleston, Ark.)||Arkansas|
|QB||Jake Browning||6-2||205||Folsom (Folsom, Calif.)||Washington|
|RB||Jacques Patrick||6-2||230||Timber Creek (Orlando, Fla.)||Florida State|
|RB||Markell Jones||5-11||205||Columbus East (Columbus, Ind.)||Purdue|
|RB||Kellen Overstreet||6-0||190||Penney (Hamilton, Mo.)||Wyoming|
|WR||J.J. Arcega-Whiteside||6-3||210||Dorman (Roebuck, S.C.)||Stanford|
|WR||Trent Irwin||6-2||190||Hart (Newhall, Calif.)||Stanford|
|OL||Richie Petitbon||6-4||320||Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.)||Alabama|
|OL||Tristen Hoge||6-5||300||Highland (Pocatello, Idaho)||Notre Dame|
|OL||Martez Ivey||6-6||270||Apopka (Apopka, Fla.)||Uncommitted|
|OL||Mitch Hyatt||6-6||270||North Gwinnett (Suwanee, Ga.)||Clemson|
|OL||Chuma Edoga||6-3||275||McEachern (Powder Springs, Ga.)||Southern Cal|
|UTIL||Christian Kirk||5-11||195||Saguaro (Scottsdale, Ariz.)||Texas A&M|
|DL||Trent Thompson||6-4||295||Westover (Albany, Ga.)||Georgia|
|DL||Byron Cowart||6-4||255||Armwood (Seffner, Fla.)||Uncommitted|
|DL||Albert Huggins||6-3||280||Orangeburg-Wilkinson (S.C.)||Clemson|
|DL||Daylon Mack||6-1||330||Gladewater (Gladewater, Texas)||Uncommitted|
|LB||Malik Jefferson||6-2||210||Poteet (Mesquite, Texas)||Texas|
|LB||Justin Hilliard||6-2||230||St. Xavier (Cincinnati, Ohio)||Ohio State|
|LB||Porter Gustin||6-5||240||Salem Hills (Salem, Utah)||Uncommitted|
|LB||John Houston||6-3||210||Serra (Gardena, Calif.)||Uncommitted|
|DB||Iman Marshall||6-1||190||Poly (Long Beach, Calif.)||Uncommitted|
|DB||Derwin James||6-2||200||Haines City (Haines City, Fla.)||Florida State|
|DB||A.J. Gray||6-2||210||Washington County (Sandersville, Ga.)||Georgia Tech|
|6-0||175||Warren Easton (New Orleans, La.)||Texas A&M|
|K/P||Austin Seibert||5-10||195||Belleville West (Belleville, Ill.)||Oklahoma|
|QB||Tucker Israel||6-1||200||Lake Nona (Orlando, Fla.)||Clemson|
|QB||Brett Rypien||6-2||185||Shadle Park (Spokane, Wash.)||Boise State|
|QB||Joe Burrow||6-4||210||Athens (The Plains, Ohio)||Ohio State|
|QB||Alex Malzone||6-2||200||Brother Rice (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.)||Michigan|
|QB||Brandon Wimbush||6-2||205||St. Peters Prep (Jersey City, N.J.)||Notre Dame|
|QB||De’Andre Johnson||6-0||175||First Coast (Jacksonville, Fla.)||Florida State|
|QB||Will Hefley||6-5||205||Pulaski Academy (Little Rock, Ark.)||Tulsa|
|RB||Dominick Bragalone||5-11||210||South Williamsport (Pa.)||Uncommitted|
|RB||Reggie Gallaspy||5-11||205||Southern Guilford (Greensboro, N.C.)||N.C. State|
|RB||Ke’Shawn Vaughn||5-11||210||Pearl Cohn (Nashville, Tenn.)||Uncommitted|
|RB||Darrell Henderson||5-9||190||South Panola (Batesville, Miss.)||Memphis|
|RB||Jamarius Henderson||5-11||215||Dale County Chr. (Ozark, Ala.)||Uncommitted|
|RB||Larry Scott||6-0||205||Hubbard (Hubbard, Ohio)||Michigan State|
|WR||Deondre Farrier||6-0||195||Lake Nona (Orlando, Fla.)||East Carolina|
|WR||Damarkus Lodge||6-3||190||Cedar Hill (Cedar Hill, Texas)||Uncommitted|
|OL||Maea Teuhema||6-5||340||Keller (Keller, Texas)||LSU|
|OL||Lester Cotton||6-4||325||Central School (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)||Alabama|
|OL||Drew Richmond||6-5||310||Memphis Univ. School (Tenn.)||Ole Miss|
|DL||D’Andre Walker||6-2||220||Langston Hughes (Fairburn, Ga.)||Georgia|
|DL||Breiden Fehoko||6-3||295||Farrington (Honolulu, Hawaii)||Texas Tech|
|DL||Tim Settle||6-3||300||Stonewall Jackson (Manassas, Va.)||Virginia Tech|
|DL||Darian Roseboro||6-4||265||Lincolnton (Lincolnton, N.C.)||N.C. State|
|LB||Ricky Deberry||6-3||240||Atlee (Mechanicsville, Va.)||Oklahoma|
|LB||Roquan Smith||6-2||205||Montezuma (Macon County, Ga.)||Uncommitted|
|LB||Asmar Bilal||6-3||205||Ben Davis (Indianapolis, Ind.)||Notre Dame|
|DB||Holton Hill||6-2||185||Lamar (Houston, Texas)||Texas|
|DB||Minkah Fitzpatrick||5-11||180||St. Peter’s Prep (Jersey City, N.J.)||Alabama|
|UTIL||Kerryon Johnson||6-1||200||Madison Academy (Madison, Ala.)||Auburn|
|UTIL||Austin Kafentzis||6-1||200||Jordan (Sandy, Utah)||Wisconsin|
Teenagers are complicated, fickle, naive creatures who seldom have any perspective on the trappings of adult life or that every action carries a consequence.
Few 16-year-old kids in this country know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Hell, many adults still struggle with this question.
It’s why uniforms, shoes, weather, license plates and even a coin flip have been used to select a university in the recent past. And I don’t expect National Signing Day 2015 to be much different. Here are some of our favorites from over the years:
What Fred Wanna to do?
My personal favorite came from Florida State Class of 2005 five-star signee Fred Rouse. On our national radio show on Sirius, he was asked, where are you going to college? And Rouse responded with “You know, a lot of people want me to go here or there. But I had to think, you know, what Fred wanna do? And Fred want to go to Florida State.” I think I have replayed that clip a thousand times since. The first-person, verbally illiterate announcement was absolutely hilarious. Unfortunately for everyone involved, his career wasn’t nearly as entertaining on the football field as it was on radio airwaves.
The Imaginary Scholarship
Nothing compares to Kevin Hart’s story — no, not the 5-foot-4 comedian. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound lineman at Fernley (Nev.) High wanted to play college football so badly that he wrote his own fairytale ending complete with press conference. On Feb. 1, 2008, Hart held a historic announcement at his high school in which he picked Cal over Oregon.
“Coach Tedford and I talked a lot, and the fact that the head coach did most of the recruiting of me kind gave me that real personal experience,” Hart said at the announcement. There was only one problem. Jeff Tedford had never spoken to, visited or contacted Hart. Neither had Oregon, Washington or Oklahoma State, his other finalists, for that matter. Eventually, Hart admitted the entire recruitment was fictitious and apologized to all parties involved.
The Forged Signature
In 2011, Reserve (La.) East St. John defensive back Floyd Raven had decided that Texas A&M was the right school for him. There was only one issue, however, his letter of intent had already been sent to Ole Miss. The Rebels' admissions department couldn’t read the signature and asked for a second copy. Raven’s mother wanted him to go to Ole Miss so badly, that she had forged the signature and sent it to Oxford without her son’s knowledge. Eventually, Floyd learned of his mother’s “betrayal” and sent the appropriately signed paperwork to Texas A&M.
Lone Star Identity Theft
The Ron Weaver saga wasn’t really a huge story on National Signing Day since he completely duped an entire university with identity fraud in 1996. In fact, it is the last documented case of identity fraud in major college football. Ron Weaver signed with Texas and played every game of the regular season in the 1996 season under coach John Mackovic as a 23-year-old defensive back. There was only one problem. Weaver was actually a 30-year-old by the name of Ron McKelvey who had used up his collegiate eligibility when he played at Sacramento State back in 1989. He duped Mackovic, the University of Texas at Austin and the NCAA — which later found no wrongdoing in the case by the school. Weaver was suspended the day before the Longhorns lost to the Hokies in the Sugar Bowl.
The Coin Flip
It takes thousands of hours of labor and thousands of dollars to recruit athletes at the highest level. But in 2009, Atco (N.J.) Winslow Township linebacker Ka’Lial Glaud trimmed the entire process to a few cents. After taking five, school-funded official visits, Glaud had narrowed his list to West Virginia and Rutgers. But the linebacker was still so torn he couldn’t make up his mind. So naturally, he decided to let chance decide his fate as he literally flipped a coin between the two programs. Heads he goes to WVU, tails he goes to Rutgers. He has posted 47 total tackles in three seasons for the Scarlet Knights.
Flip-flops happen in recruiting all the time – especially, as National Signing Day draws near. Cyrus Kouandjio, the nation’s No. 2 player in 2011, however, made heads spin in record time. An offensive tackle from Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha, Kouandjio's older brother, Arie, was already at Alabama. Yet Cyrus announced on ESPN that he would be attending Auburn. No more than five minutes after the bright TV lights had gone out, however, the younger Kouandjio recanted his pledge to the Tigers. He never sent in his letter of intent to Auburn and three days later it was revealed he had officially signed with Alabama via Twitter. Longtime commitments are snaked away at the last minute every season, but never has a kid committed on national television only to decide to sign with someone else five minutes later.
The Case of the Stolen LOI
Arkansas’ Alex Collins, a four-star running back from Miami, was one of the biggest stories on NSD ’13. He announced he was signing with Arkansas but it was reported that his mother, Andrea McDonald, had absconded with her son’s Letter of Intent and went into hiding. She wanted him to stay close to home and play for the University of Miami and made sure everyone knew about it. So Collins had to have a second ceremony where he signed another LOI, this time with his father’s approval. While this was going on, it was reported that McDonald hired an attorney to “represent the family’s interests.” Her efforts ultimately fell on deaf ears and Collins, wearing, of course, a camouflage suit, signed with Bret Bielema and Arkansas where he became SEC Freshman of the Year.
The Announcement Props
I am not one who enjoys recruiting announcements. They are filled with superfluous rhetoric from coaches, analysts and handlers. Every now and then, however, if done with style, an announcement can be fun – or infuriating. Georgia’s Isaiah Crowell made fans coo when he pulled out an actual Bulldog puppy to signify his decision to play for Mark Richt in Athens. Andre Smith sent the Crimson Tiders into hysterics when he pulled out the houndstooth hat at his announcement for Alabama.
But Antonio Logan-El’s live announcement back in 2006 was met with a slightly harsher response. The Forestville (Md.) High offensive lineman had been committed to Maryland for the better part of a year. While dressed in Maryland red in front of a Terps crowd at the ESPN Sportszone in Maryland — including head coach Ralph Friedgen’s wife — Logan-El first pulled out a Florida hat before tossing it to the ground. He then pulled out a Tennessee hat. That, too, was tossed aside before picking up the Terps black and red headgear. After a few nice words, Logan-El threw his Maryland hat to the ground and held up a picture of Joe Paterno and announced he would be heading to Penn State. The decision was met with screams of “traitor” and violence nearly resulted.
Who is Brian Butler and why do we care?
The most recent and bizarre trend for elite recruits is to wait until after National Signing Day to make a decision. Terrelle Pryor, Orson Charles, Latwan Anderson, Vidal Hazelton, Seantrel Henderson, Cyrus Kouandjio and 2011's top prospect Jadeveon Clowney all signed their LOIs well past NSD. But Wichita (Kan.) East running back Bryce Brown, and his handler/mentor/coach/agent/leech Brian Butler, set a new low for recruiting sludge back in 2009.
Brown had been committed to the Hurricanes from the early stages. He did not sign on NSD and instead took a couple of extra visits to Tennessee and LSU after Signing Day. The calendar flipped to March without a decision, and Butler, who was a convicted felon and fledgling rapper, set up a website in order to charge $9.99 per month for recruiting updates on his protégé/meal ticket. Eventually, Miami (and others) stopped recruiting the troubled tailback until halfway through March, when Brown got “a sign from god” to go to Tennessee.
Bryce lasted one year in Knoxville before transferring back home to Kansas State. He played in two games in 2011, got three carries and comically declared for the 2012 NFL Draft where he was a seventh-round pick of the Eagles.
The first Wednesday in February is essentially Christmas for every college football head coach. After months of hard work on the recruiting trail, coaches will hit the offices bright and early on Wednesday for National Signing Day to welcome a new class full of freshmen and maybe a few junior college transfers to chase a national championship.
With most college football teams signing around 25 prospects on Wednesday, there’s over 3,000 players coming to the FBS ranks next season. And it’s no surprise there are some rather entertaining names among the new group of college players. Athlon combed through the recruits for the 2015 signing class by using the databases at Rivals, Scout and ESPN and rounded up the best (and most interesting) names joining an FBS roster next season.
Note: Positions of players can very from recruiting service. Players in this article were listed by position according to Rivals.
2015 College Football Recruiting All-Name Team
Musa Alsulaimani (Simon Gratz) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Austin Apodaca (Mesa C.C.) Mesa, Arizona
Bartimaeus Bell (Wekiva) Apopka, Florida
Li’Jon Cordier (Landry-Walker) New Orleans, Louisiana
Chris d’Entremont (Golden West C.C.) Huntington Beach, California
Cinjun Erskine (Barnegat) Barnegat, New Jersey
Gabe Gonslaves (Torrance) Torrance, California
Rockman Hunt (Oakland Tech Senior) Oakland, California
Grey Jackson (Fairhope) Fairhope, Alabama
Ryder Kuhns (St. Louis) Honolulu, Hawaii
Emil Neugent (Potomac) Oxon Hill, Maryland
Willy Pflug (Sunset) Portland, Oregon
Benji Philippe (Foothill College) Los Altos, California
Baylor Romney (Franklin) El Paso, Texas
Rope Ruel (Douglas County) Castle Rock, Colorado
Brion Sanchious (Northeast) Oakland Park, Florida
Chance Thrasher (Peachtree Ridge) Suwanee, Georgia
Ruvim Tyutyunnik (Riverview) Finley, Washington
Chason Virgil (West Mesquite) Mesquite, Texas
Chase Whetsel (Refugio) Refugio, Texas
DeUndre Pickett-White (Southwest) Miami, Florida
Soso Jamabo (Piano West) Piano, Texas
Bry’Kiethon Mouton (Acadiana) Lafayette, Louisiana
Shi’kim Coward (Niceville) Niceville, Florida
Bolu Olorunfunmi (Clovis North) Fresno, California
Desherrius Flowers (Vigor) Prichard, Alabama
Mon Denson (La Grange) Lagrange, Georgia
Richard Worship (Valley Forge) Parma Heights, Ohio
Mufasa Abdul-Basir (St. Joseph’s) Trumbell, Connecticut
Jatory Sparks-Brown (DeSoto) DeSoto, Texas
Dare Odeyingbo (Cistercian Prep) Irving, Texas
Hekili Keliiliki (Bentonville) Bentonville, Arkansas
Venus Triplett (North) Olathe, Kansas
Superiorr Reid (Mount San Jacinto CC) San Jacinto, California
Sanjai Bruno (Miramar) Miramar, Florida
Jett Robertson (Ironwood) Glendale, Arizona
Keke Coutee (Lufkin) Lufkin, Texas
Jazz Ferguson (West Feliciana) St. Francisville, Louisiana
Spencer Tears (Richards) Oak Lawn, Illinois
Pace Temple (Geneva) Geneva, Illinois
Fundrail Quimbley (Lee County) Leesburg, Georgia
James Kicklighter (Windsor Forest) Savannah, Georgia
Penny Hart (King’s Ridge Christian) Alpharetta, Georgia
CoChese Temple-Laws (Russellville) Russellville, Arkansas
Richard Ukelegharanya (East Longmeadow, Massachusetts)
Chadwick Maycumber (Lake Nona) Orlando, Florida
Q’ Drennan (Americas) El Paso, Texas
Deric Phouthavong (Hamilton Township) Columbus, Ohio
Raleigh Beougher (Riverside Military Academy), Gainesville, Georgia
Zacchaeus Drew-Toles (College of the Desert) Palm Desert, California
Apollos Hester (East View) Georgetown, Texas
Lucky Jackson (Lafayette) Lexington, Kentucky
Furquan Shorts (Atascocita) Humble, Texas
Buzzy Yokoyama (Orange Coast CC) Costa Mesa, California
Equanimeous St. Brown (Servite) Anaheim, California
Hunter Register (Comeaux) Lafayette, Louisiana
Hamiid Pack (Neshaminy) Langhorne, Pennsylvania
Alex Stump (St. Edward) Lakewood, Ohio
Justice Shelton-Mosley (Capital Christian) Sacramento, California
Greyson Bankhead (Centennial) Corona, California
Kyle Penniston (Mater Del) Santa Ana, California
Daniel Imatorbhebhe (North Gwinnett) Suwanee, Georgia
Alexx Zielinski (Brighton) Brighton, Michigan
Chis Copier (Snow College) Ephraim, Utah
Sebastian Sock (Valor Christian) Highlands Ranch, Colorado
Ceejhay French-Love (Poly) Long Beach, California
Case Brabham (St. Mark’s) Dallas, Texas
Tomond Hampton (Georgia Military College) Milledgeville, Georgia
Critt Johnson (Cox) Virginia Beach, Virginia
Devonaire Clarington (Booker T. Washington) Miami, Florida
Alize Jones (Bishop Gorman) Las Vegas, Nevada
Bar Milo (Chaminade) West Hills, California
Cedric Bigge-Duren (Oceanside) Oceanside, California
Cutler Salmon (St. Mary’s) Stockton, California
Barnabas Baning (St. Mary Ryken) Leonardtown, Maryland
Levon Livingston (Ballou) Washington, District of Columbia
Will Ficka (Dodge City) Dodge City, Kansas
Bravery Ratcliff (Pomona) Arvada, Colorado
Riley Lovingood (Beech Senior) Hendersonville, Tennessee
Cap McClure (Cody) Cody, Wyoming
Athlete (as listed by Rivals.com)
Ray-Ray McCloud III (Sickles) Tampa, Florida
Kai Locksley (Gilman School) Baltimore, Maryland
D’Anfernee McGriff (Leon) Tallahassee, Florida
Shaquery Wilson (Coral Gables) Coral Gables, Florida
Ykili Ross (Riverside Poly) Riverside, California
Tyriuq Trotman (Landstown) Virginia Beach, Virginia
Britain Covey (Timpview) Provo, Utah
Tuli Wily-Matagi (Kahuku) Kahuku, Hawaii
Ernest Gunn (Selma) Selma, Alabama
Evan Rambo (La Salle) Pasadena, California
Ketner Kupp (A C Davis) Yakima, Washington
Olabisi Johnson (Bear Creek) Lakewood, Colorado
Shyheim Lineberry (Asheboro) Asheboro, North Carolina
Nasir Adderley (Great Valley) Malvern, Pennsylvania
Abu Daramy (Westerville South) Westerville, Ohio
KamRon Johnson (Saguaro) Scottsdale, Arizona
Deon Sanders (Centennial) Franklin, Tennessee
Chico McClatcher (Federal Way) Federal Way, Washington
Chukuemeke Egbule (North Sore) Galena Park, Texas
Mehdi El Attrach (Lake Nora) Lake Nora, Florida
Alisshuwa Becoat (Varina) Richmond, Virginia
Ish Seisay (St. Stephens & St. Agnes School) Alexandria, Virginia
Yannia N’Guetta (C.D. Hylton) Woodbridge, Virginia
Na Vonn Gurley (Morton Ranch) Katy, Texas
Raequawon Hascall (Putnam City North) Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Prince Tega Wanogho Jr. (Edgewood Academy) Elmore, Alabama
Benning Potoa’e (Lakes) Lakewood Washington
Mizaire Cromartie (Dudley) Greensboro, North Carolina
Twazanga Mugala (Ardrey Kell) Charlotte, North Carolina
Stone Wolfley (Morgantown) Morgantown, West Virginia
Tipa Galeai (Trinity) Euless, Texas
Winston DeLattiboudere (Howard) Ellicott City, Maryland
Dondaycee Millbrook (Pike) Indianapolis, Indiana
Mufu Taiwo (McDonough) Pomfret, Maryland
Tommy Woo (Oceanside) Oceanside, California
Nicholas Czar (Highland) Highland, Illinois
Sie Doe (Butte CC) Oroville, California
Paris Black (Terry Sanford) Fayettevile, North Carolina
Kyle Power (Cheyenne) North Las Vegas, Nevada
J. Hunter Roman (New London) New London, Connecticut
Hezekiah Applegate (Johnston) Johnston, Iowa
Success Chandler (Merced CC) Merced, California
King Newton (Carroll) Southlake, Texas
Shy Tuttle (North Davidson) Lexington, North Carolina
Olive Sagapolu (Mater Del) Santa Ana, California
Elu Aydon (Leone) American Samoa, NA
Boogie Sewell (Desert Hill) St. George, Utah
Army Motuapuaka (Salem) Virginia Beach, Virginia
Pedro Gomez (Ellsworth CC) Iowa Falls, Iowa
Kingsley KeKe (George Ranch) Richmond, Texas
Royal Silver (Washington) Cedar Rapids, Iowa
C.J. Stalker (Lakota West) West Chester, Ohio
Fotu Leiato (Steilacoom) Steilacoom, Washington
DJ Beavers (Crespi) Encino, California
Porter Gustin (Salem Hills) Salem, Utah
Nas Anesi (St. John Bosco) Bellflower, California
Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane (Hallandale) Hallandale Beach, Florida
Bo Wallace (John Curtis) River Ridge, Louisiana
Riley Whimpey (San Clemente) San Clemente, California
Bull Barge (Colquitt College) Moultrie, Georgia
Caileb Booze (Edmond North) Edmond, Oklahoma
Winner Watts (El Camino CC) Torrance, California
Ty Tyler (Charlotte) Punta Gorda, Florida
Emmitt Smith (Warren Central) Bowling Green, Kentucky
Sam Papa (Mesa CC) Mesa, Arizona
DonTwain Cornish (Lake Forest) Felton, Delaware
Colton Sis (McCook) McCook, Nebraska
Andre Jumper (American Heritage) Plantation, Florida
Sha’mond Squires (New Bern) New Bern, North Carolina
Jay Hockaday (Christ Presbyterian Academy) Nashville, Tennessee
Teamer Terry (Fullerton CC) Fullerton, California
Rufus Rushins (Bishop Fenwick) Peabody, Massachusetts
Prentice McKinney (South Oak Cliff) Dallas, Texas
Simba Short (De La Salle) Concord, California
Shola Ayinde (George Ranch High School) Richmond, Texas
Tank Scott (Highland Springs) Richmond, Virginia
Abdurrahman Yasin (Southwest Dekalb) Decatur, Georgia
Jay’Onn Myles (Pierce C.C.) Woodland Hills, California
Ephraim Kitchen (South Panola) Batesville, Mississippi
Nyhre Quinerly (Lake Taylor) Norfolk, Virginia
Thaddeus Philyaw (De Anza CC) Cupertino, California
Deshadrick Truly (East Mississippi CC) Scooba, Mississippi
Ugo Amadi (John Overton) Nashville, Tennessee
Kode Mwirigi (Las Vegas) Las Vegas, Nevada
Boomer Bakich (Highland Park) Dallas, Texas
Lyrics Klugh (Byrnes) Duncan, South Carolina
Blessuan Austin (Milford Academy) New Berlin, New York
Taj-Amir Torres (Amherst Regional) Amherst, Massachusetts
Afolabi Laguda (Butler County CC) El Dorado, Kansas
Sir’Vegias Steele (New Mexico Military Institute) Roswell, New Mexico
Guy Stallworh (Southwest Mississippi CC) Summit, Mississippi
Cules Rose (Pinnacle) Phoenix, Arizona
Emile Hope (Laney CC) Oakland, California
Blair Manly (Cibola) Albuquerque, New Mexico
James Bond (Trinity Christian Academy) Jackson, Tennessee
Speedy Miles (West Mesquite) Mesquite, Texas
BoBo Jones (Xenia) Xenia, Ohio
Stone Wilson (IMG Academy) Bradenton, Florida
Jarry Jones (Lenape Valley Regional) Stanhope, New Jersey
Chase Vinatieri (Roosevelt) Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Benedict Svwavarsson (Northeastern) Elizabeth City, North Carolina
- By Jesica Parsley
Nearly six years to the day since the receiver class of 2008 signed letters of intent to play college football, the class continued to dazzle.
In Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse fell onto his back, bobbled the football and eventually came up with the 33-yard catch that put Seattle onto the New England 5. The miracle catch won’t sear in people’s memories thanks to the interception two plays later, but Kearse’s catch is why the wide receiver recruiting class of 2008 is the best in recent history.
Kearse was merely the No. 72 receiver in that class, according to Rivals.com, but cracking the top 10 now that all have finished their college careers is achievement unto itself. Kearse was recruited alongside Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Michael Floyd, Justin Blackmon and a host of other great collegians and future pros.
1. Class of 2008
The Stars: Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Michael Floyd, Jermaine Kearse, Justin Blackmon, Kendall Wright, Terrence Williams, Randall Cobb
Best of the Rest: Jonathan Baldwin, DeVier Posey, DeAndre Brown, Jeff Fuller, Juron Criner, Roy Roundtree, Greg Childs, T.J. Moe, Markus Wheaton, Ryan Swope, Cordarrelle Patterson, A.J. Jenkins
The wide receiver class of 2008 may be the best group of recruits at any position during the last 10 seasons. Almost every top prospect delivered on his five-star promise to one degree or another. Julio Jones and A.J. Green were Nos. 1-2 in this class and have since combined for six Pro Bowl selections. The class also had plenty of gems outside of the top prospects. Two-time Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State was ranked No. 91, and consensus All-America selection Terrance Williams of Baylor was a two-star.
2. Class of 2011
The Stars: Sammy Watkins, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Kelvin Benjamin, Brandin Cooks, Marqise Lee, Tyler Lockett, Allen Robinson, Mike Evans
Best of the Rest: Jaxon Shipley, Donte Moncrief, Rashad Greene, Ty Montgomery, Devin Smith, Sammie Coates, DeVante Parker, Davante Adams, Cody Latimer, Kevin White, Phillip Dorsett, Jamison Crowder
The receiver class of 2011 could surpass the star-studded class of 2008. The 2011 receivers arguably topped the 2008 class in terms of college achievements. The class produced two Biletnikoff winners (Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks and USC’s Marqise Lee), three consensus All-Americans (Lee, Cooks and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans) and the NFL rookie of the year (LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr.). The best pro of the bunch, though, will probably be Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. Moreover, West Virginia’s Kevin White, Louisville’s DeVante Parker and Auburn’s Sammie Coates may all end up as first-round NFL draft picks.
3. Class of 2006
The Stars: Michael Crabtree, Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton
Best of the Rest: Kenny Britt, Damian Williams, Hakeem Nicks, Riley Cooper, Greg Salas, Dexter McCluster, Antonio Brown
The No. 1 overall prospect in the class, Percy Harvin, has had a fine career, including two national championships at Florida and Super Bowl win with the Seahawks. Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree was a four-star athlete before twice winning the Biletnikoff and going on to a productive pro career. The rest of the top recruits struggled to live up to top billing, but plenty of lower-ranked prospects and unknowns became superstars. Antonio Brown (Central Michigan) and T.Y. Hilton (FIU) are NFL stars.
4. Class of 2004
The Stars: Calvin Johnson, Jordan Shipley, Sidney Rice, Dwayne Jarrett, Ted Ginn
Best of the Rest: Eddie Royal, Greg Carr, D.J. Hall, Danny Amendola, Marcus Monk, Austin Collie, James Hardy, Early Doucet
A Biletnikoff winner and three-time All-Pro, Johnson was every bit the star on the college level as he is in the NFL. He was one of three consensus All-Americans in the class along with USC’s Dwayne Jarrett and Texas’ Jordan Shipley. Do-everything receiver Ted Ginn was the No. 2 prospect in the class, but he was listed as a cornerback.
5. Class of 2007
The Stars: Dez Bryant, Golden Tate, Titus Young, Ryan Broyles, Torrey Smith, Greg Little
Best of the Rest: Arrelious Benn, Ronald Johnson, Nick Toon, Leonard Hankerson, Austin Pettis
Dez Bryant was a consensus All-American as a sophomore in 2008 and was on the way to a similar season before an NCAA suspension ended his college career. Golden Tate set the Notre Dame record for single-season receiving yards and tied the touchdown record on the way to the first Biletnikoff in school history. Though listed as a corner, Ryan Broyles set the NCAA career catch record (later broken by East Carolina’s Justin Hardy). Maryland’s Torrey Smith arguably has been a bigger impact player at the NFL level than at the college level.
6. Class of 2003
The Stars: Andre Caldwell, Robert Meachem, Adarius Bowman, Steve Smith, Jordy Nelson, Dwayne Bowe, Jeff Samardzija,
Best of the Rest: Limas Sweed, Todd Blythe, Donnie Avery, Devin Thomas, Craig Davis, Anthony Gonzalez, Chad Jackson
This class has produced a number of productive pros (Robert Meachem, Jordy Nelson, Dwayne Bowe) and not just in football (Jeff Samardzija). Tennessee’s Meachem and Florida’s Andre Caldwell are among the top receivers in their respective schools’ histories, no easy task in either Knoxville or Gainesville. Adarius Bowman played two 1,000-yard seasons at Oklahoma State, but his career was overshadowed by those who came later. Same could be said of USC’s Steve Smith, who was the running mate to Dwayne Jarrett.
7. Class of 2010
The Stars: Robert Woods, Justin Hunter, Jordan Matthews, Justin Hardy, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen
Best of the Rest: Kenny Shaw, Kenny Stills, Paul Richardson, Ace Sanders, Austin Hill, Kaelin Clay, Bud Sasser, Mike Davis, Kenny Bell, Josh Huff, Antwan Goodley
The top recruits in this receiver class struggled to find their way as Kyle Prater, Da’Rick Rogers and Markeith Ambles all transferred for one reason or another. What the class lacked in star power, it made up for in consistent production on the college level. East Carolina’s Justin Hardy caught more career passes than anyone else in college football. Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews caught more passes than anyone in SEC history. Robert Woods and Kenny Bell caught more passes than anyone in USC or Nebraska history, respectively.
8. Class of 2005
The Stars: DeSean Jackson, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Brandon LaFell, Mardy Gilyard, Eric Decker, Victor Cruz
Best of the Rest: Mario Manningham, Mohamed Massaquoi, Louis Murphy, Brian Robiskie, Malcolm Kelly, Earl Bennett, Derrick Williams
Penn State’s Derrick Williams was the No. 1 prospect in this class, and although he had a fine a career, he was eclipsed by another prep star (DeSean Jackson) and guys from Minnesota, Cincinnati and UMass.
9. Class of 2009
The Stars: Alshon Jeffery, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin
Best of the Rest: Rueben Randle, Josh Gordon, Stephen Hill, Eric Ward, Jeremy Gallon, Cobi Hamilton, Aaron Dobson, Mohamed Sanu
The class was kind to West Virginia, sending both Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to the Mountaineers. The star in the class, though, South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery, who has two 1,000-yard seasons with the Bears.
10. Class of 2012
The Stars: Amari Cooper
Best of the Rest: Dorial Green-Beckham, Stefon Diggs, Nelson Agholor, Deontay Greenberry, Gabe Marks, Bryce Treggs, Jordan Payton, Bralon Addison, Leonte Carroo, Jordan Westerkamp, Jaelen Strong, Devin Funchess (TE)
The class produced arguably the best receiver in SEC history and a bit of a mixed bag everywhere else. Dorial Green-Beckham was the can’t-miss recruit in this class, but he’s been away from football for a year after his dismissal at Missouri.
For a fourth time in their history, the New England Patriots are the champions of the NFL. While the party is just getting started in Foxboro, Mass., and for Patriots fans worldwide, the rest of the league’s focus has already shifted to the 2015 season.
While the next game that counts is more than seven months away, it’s not too early to hazard a guess as to which teams could be meeting in Super Bowl 50 (that’s right, no Roman numerals for this one) a year from now. With free agency and the draft on the horizon, a lot will obviously change between now and this fall, but here is an early look at the teams seemingly best positioned to wind up in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Feb. 7, 2016. It’s pretty obvious which two head up this list.
New England Patriots
2014 record: 12-4 (AFC East, AFC, Super Bowl XLIX champions)
Congratulations to the Patriots, who captured their fourth Lombardi Trophy in improbable fashion. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s championship legacies have been cemented, but do they have a “Drive for Five” in them? Brady restructured his contract in late December to free up cap space, which is something the team desperately needs. Defensive backs Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty headline a group of pending free agents that also includes a pair of running backs (Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen) and kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Brady will turn 38 in August and he’s not the only aging keystone piece on this roster. Still, as this season demonstrated, don’t say New England’s championship widow is closing, at least not until its shut tight, locked, the blinds pulled down and the curtains drawn.
The (Shell-Shocked) Runner-ups
2014 record: 12-4 (NFC West, NFC champions, lost to New England in Super Bowl XLIX)
You could say the Seahawks now know how the Packers (see below) feel, but there’s no question this missed (blown?) opportunity is going to hurt more. Just ask the "Legion of Boom," as Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Jeremy Lane are each dealing with serious injuries that will likely require surgery and/or extensive rehab. But while the coaching staff, team, fan base, analysts and anyone who watched one of the most improbable endings in Super Bowl history will play the “what if” game for who knows how long, there’s a silver lining to this seemingly dark cloud. This team’s not going anywhere and there’s every reason to think Seattle has a good shot at making playing on a third straight Super Sunday come next February. Even though there are more than 20 pending free agents on the roster, only three (CB Byron Maxwell, WR Jermaine Kearse, OL James Carpenter) are starters. And while a decision will likely be made regarding running back Marshawn Lynch’s future with the team, the majority of the core is already signed to long-term deals. The biggest exception being quarterback Russell Wilson, who technically has one year remaining on his rookie contract, but don’t be surprised to see that change before the season kicks off. It’s not going to be easy for the Seahawks to bounce back from what transpired at the end of the game, but motivation for next season certainly shouldn’t be an issue.
The Motivated Mile-Highers
2014 record: 12-4 (AFC West champions, lost to Indianapolis in AFC Divisional Round)
Even though John Elway shook up his coaching staff following the disappointing home loss to the Colts, Gary Kubiak’s experience as a head coach and with the franchise should make for a mostly seamless transition. The key to the Broncos’ hopes of making another Super Bowl run lies in whether or not Peyton Manning returns (my guess is he will) and what Elway does in free agency and the draft. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas will likely be Elway’s priorities in free agency, but defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and linebacker Brandon Marshall are also among the list of 20 Broncos slated to hit the market.
The Cheesed-off Pack
Green Bay Packers
2014 record: 12-4 (NFC North champions, lost to Seattle in NFC Championship Game)
Blowing a 16-0 halftime and 19-7 fourth-quarter lead in Seattle in the NFC title game is going to gnaw at the Packers for a long time. Fortunately, the majority of the pieces are in place for Green Bay to contend again, led by two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers. Wide receiver Randall Cobb highlights the team’s list of pending free agents, but the Packers do have rookie Davante Adams waiting in the wings. Defensive line, linebacker and tight end are all position groups that could see a lot of changes this offseason.
The Other Contenders
(in alphabetical order)
2014 record: 11-5 (NFC Wild Card berth, lost to Carolina in NFC Wild Card Game)
Before the season even started, the Cardinals were working with a shorthanded roster, and this situation only got worse as the weeks progressed. Yet, Bruce Arians continued to push the right buttons, as Arizona kept winning. A 9-1 start, gave way to a 2-5 finish, including the Wild Card loss in Carolina, as season-ending injuries to Carson Palmer and Andre Ellington decimated the offense. The good news is that Palmer, who signed a contract extension shortly before tearing his ACL for a second time, and Ellington both should be back to full speed, as well as All-Pro defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, who missed all of 2014. The front office has quite a bit of work ahead of it in terms of salary cap management, and there also will be a new defensive coordinator in charge with Todd Bowles leaving to becoming the Jets’ head coach.
2014 record: 10-6 (AFC Wild Card berth, lost to New England in Divisional Round)
The Ravens couldn’t put the Patriots away on the road in the Divisional Round despite building 14-point leads on two different occasions. With 30 pending free agents and little wiggle room when it comes to projected cap space, changes are coming to this roster, and Joe Flacco also must get acquainted with his new offensive coordinator, Marc Trestman. Justin Forsett, who went from being an afterthought to the No. 5 rusher in the NFL, is a free agent, as is wide receiver Torrey Smith, kicker Justin Tucker and a slew of defensive backs. Tight end Dennis Pitta’s health (another serious hip injury) is a question mark, and his replacement, Owen Daniels, is a free agent. It’s also worth noting that defensive stalwarts nose tackle Haloti Ngata and linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are all on the other side of 30 years old.
2014 record: 12-4 (NFC East champions, lost to Green Bay in Divisional Round)
Jason Garrett not only removed himself from the coaching hot seat, he signed a five-year contract extension after getting the Cowboys back to the postseason. Now the challenge for Garrett and owner/general manager Jerry Jones is keeping the band together. Reigning rushing champion DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant, who hauled in a league-high 16 touchdowns, are both free agents and there are mixed opinions regarding whether Jones will be able to re-sign both given their expected contract demands combined with the team’s existing financial obligations. The franchise tag could be an option for one or both, but this is a situation that bears watching, as otherwise the league’s fifth-highest scoring offense will return intact. Expect defense to be the focus in the draft, as Dallas needs to find its next superstar defensive lineman and to take a long, hard look at its underwhelming secondary. The healthy return of middle linebacker Sean Lee should provide a huge boost, but he’s just part of the puzzle.
2014 record: 11-5 (AFC South champions, lost to New England in AFC Championship Game)
After upsetting the Broncos at home and making it to the AFC title game are the Colts ready to take that next step? Well, a 45-7 loss to New England is enough reason to think twice before jumping on the bandwagon. And there’s also the matter of Indianapolis’ backfield, where it could be argued that its best two running backs are returning from season-ending injuries. Reggie Wayne is a free agent and his days as a Colt could be numbered, as younger guys like linebacker Jerrell Freeman need to be the team’s priority this offseason. Even if Freeman is re-signed, the defense could use more playmakers and the offensive line shored up to reduce the punishment Andrew Luck has taken in his first three seasons. The good news is there should be plenty of resources available to beef up the roster.
2014 record: 11-5 (AFC North champions, lost to Baltimore in AFC Wild Card) Game)
The Steelers won their division, but couldn’t get past the Ravens in the playoffs, as the offense clearly felt Le’Veon Bell’s absence. Next season, the offense should be just fine with the trio of Bell, All-Pro Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger back to terrorize defenses. A reliable backup running back must be found to spell Bell, and the passing game could be even more potent if wideouts Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton continue to develop. Expect the youth movement to continue on defense with Keith Butler replacing Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau as coordinator and the futures of long-time Steelers like Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor up in the air.
The Wild Card
San Francisco 49ers
2014 record: 8-8 (3rd in NFC West)
The 49ers are the early pick for most interesting team to watch in 2015. Jim Harbaugh is gone, off to Michigan, with former defensive line coach Jim Tomsula now in charge and offensive coordinator Jeep Chryst (QBs coach) the only holdovers from a staff that made three straight trips to the NFC title game prior to 2014’s 8-8 showing. Decisions will have to be made on pending free agents running back Frank Gore, wide receiver Michael Crabtree and offensive lineman Mike Iupati, among others, and there could be other roster changes due to salary cap constraints. The defense will get All-Pro linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman back from injury, but the jury is still out on quarterback Colin Kaepernick following a disappointing season. This team has the talent to contend next season or it could totally implode and struggle to break even.
Other Teams to Watch
(in alphabetical order)
2014 record: 10-5-1 (AFC Wild Card berth, lost to Indianapolis in AFC Wild Card Game)
Yes, the Bengals flamed out in the Wild Card round for a fourth straight season, but this team is relatively young and will have plenty of cap space (projected to be around $30 million) at its disposal to address weaknesses. While it’s perfectly reasonable to place all of the blame for Cincinnati’s postseason failures on quarterback Andy Dalton, keep in mind that he was without wide receiver Marvin Jones and tight end Tyler Eifert (combined 1,157 yards receiving, 12 TDs in 2013) for basically the entire season, while No. 1 target A.J. Green also was hampered by injuries. On the other side of the ball, Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict played in just five games because of knee injuries. Burfict’s return is up in the air following microfracture surgery, but the Bengals’ future still looks bright, thanks to the emergence of rookie running back Jeremy Hill. Whether through free agency or the draft, the NFL’s least-productive pass rush (20 sacks) must be addressed.
2014 record: 11-5 (NFC Wild Card berth, lost to Dallas in NFC Wild Card Game)
Jim Caldwell got the Lions to the playoffs in his first season, but don’t bank on a repeat trip. Ndamukong Suh is unquestionably the team’s biggest question mark headed into free agency, but he’s just one of five defensive linemen slated to hit the open market. Detroit has already severed ties with long-time center Dominic Raiola, so the offensive line will have a different look to it, and the secondary continues to be an area of weakness that needs to be addressed. Adding to the Lions’ degree of difficulty for 2015 is a schedule that includes the NFC and AFC West divisions, as well as games against New Orleans and Philadelphia.
New Orleans Saints
2014 record: 7-9 (2nd in NFC South)
Plenty went wrong for the Saints this past season, between injuries to key players, a defense that bottomed out for the second time in three years, and a seeming lack of chemistry and leadership both on and off of the field. However, New Orleans will remain a threat in the NFC South and beyond as long as Drew Brees stays healthy and the offense produces. According to Brees, the coaching staff and front office identified what went wrong and what needs to be fixed, but the problem lies in the fact that the Saints currently just aren’t up against the cap, they are well over it, to the tune of more than a projected $20 million. Getting key pieces like safety Jairus Byrd and wide receiver Brandin Cooks back from injury will help, but running back Mark Ingram is a free agent and some other veterans, like all-time leading receiver Marques Colston, could end up being cap casualties.
San Diego Chargers
2014 record: 9-7 (3rd in AFC West)
The Chargers came one game short of a Wild Card berth, but that doesn’t mean the season was a total failure. Besides beating Seattle and Baltimore, San Diego lost by one point to Arizona in the season opener and held its own against New England in early December. Mike McCoy has gone 9-7 in each of his first two seasons as a head coach, and there’s a chance the Chargers could take another step forward in 2015. The schedule (crossover games vs. AFC and NFC North divisions) won’t be easy, but the offense is in good hands with Philip Rivers at quarterback. The running game will need to be ironed out, with Ryan Mathews and a bunch of offensive linemen pending free agents, and the pass rush is lacking. However, there are plenty of pieces to build around and cap space shouldn’t be a major hurdle towards adding some reinforcements.
Love shook off the negative energy, later, though.
"Truth be told, I thought it was a pretty good reception, especially from people, familiar faces," Love told reporters after the game. "It was nice to see, shake hands, give a lot of hugs to different people and smile, wave… [Timberwolves owner] Glen and Becky Taylor came over to me and said some really nice stuff. Different teammates from the past, different guys over on the other bench. Flip [Saunders], as well, I gave him some love in the second half. It all went pretty well, and we ended up getting a win. Like I said earlier before the game, that's what we came here to do. We walked away with 10 straight.”
While Wolves fans might not love Kevin at the moment, they shouldn’t have too hard of a time moving past him. The man they got back when they traded him, No. 1 overall draft selection Andrew Wiggins, is thriving as he looks to have the Rookie of the Year race all but decided. The Canada native — whose “Maple Jordan” nickname seems increasingly apt — finished the contest with 33 points, even scoring a good amount of his baskets on LeBron James as he went 14-for-25 from the floor. In January, the 19-year-old took off, shooting 47 percent from the field and putting together an impressive highlight reel.
Love, meanwhile, is still struggling to find his optimal role in Cleveland. He missed the cut for the Eastern Conference All-Star squad this winter and has not been able to find his comfort zone in the Cavs’ offense. These challenges aren’t likely to last all season, as LeBron and Co. knew what they were getting in Love: one of the best offensive big men in the league. He’ll look more like that eventually. But for now, Wiggins’ ascension and Kevin’s stalled game are giving plenty of ammo to skeptics in Cleveland, and lots of relief to fans of the Wolves.
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 2:
• Katy Perry got a commemorative tattoo following her Super Bowl halftime performance. I'd say she earned it.
• As usual, the Internet rose to the occasion with an amusing assortment of memes, including some at the expense of that bizarre Nationwide commercial.
• Now that one last Super Bowl party is out of the way, Johnny Manziel has entered rehab.
• Interesting analysis of the Seahawks' immediately regrettable decision to pass. And here's an even longer read about the inexplicable call.
• In case you were wondering why Doug Baldwin got flagged after his TD, here's why.
• So the Madden simulation accurately predicted the final score. Kinda spooky.
• Not surprisingly, emotions ran high as the Super Bowl ended.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Many believe National Signing Day to be the end of a long, arduous process after months of evaluations, official visits and message-boarding. To me, Signing Day is just the beginning of the process as thousands of new star athletes take the first steps in their collegiate careers by officially picking a school.
Don’t confuse me with a stodgy old man whose crotchety, antiquated beliefs about football lead them to believe that recruiting rankings don’t matter. To win in college football, you must recruit at a high level. But my interest in recruiting begins and ends with team rankings and, of course, the sensational Hollywood-esque horror stories that usually headline National Signing Day.
Be it a legal guardian forging a signature, a recruit accepting a scholarship that doesn’t exist or the use of live animals during an announcement, NSD is always loaded with tales of the weird.
Here are the headlines I’m wishing for on NSD ’15:
No. 1 in the nation will sign his Letter of Intent
Terrelle Pryor, Bryce Brown, Seantrel Henderson and Jadeveon Clowney all refused to sign their letter of intent on National Signing Day. So it could be considered a mild upset when the No. 1 player in the nation in the Class of 2015 boringly inks his name in ordinary and timely fashion. Albany (Ga.) Westover defensive tackle Trent Thompson has been committed to Georgia since mid-August and will sign on Wednesday.
“Strong v. Sumlin” in UFC-Lone Star Match for Kyler Murray
The bizarre recruitment of talented, do-everything athlete Kyler Murray will finally come to an end when Texas’ Charlie Strong and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin meet in a steel cage UFC bout in Lincoln, Texas, (look it up) for the right to sign the Allen High School quarterback. Sumlin and the Aggies are the favorites to sign Murray (because he said so) but every penny I own would be on Strong in the ring.
Fax Machine Wardrobe Malfunctions
Alabama has their famous Fax Cam Girl. Joy Riddle became famous two years ago for her work as Tennessee’s fax cam girl/lingerie model during Signing Day. So the only logical next step is some sort of wardrobe malfunction a la Janet Jackson. Talk about unexpected entertainment for those staring at Internet video of an outdated office machine for 13 hours on Signing Day. Best bets would be West Virginia, Texas A&M or Florida.
Live alligator ransacks NSD announcement
Living creatures are always a fun addition to Signing Day, just ask Isaiah Crowell and his bulldog puppy. But with three five-star recruits from Florida (a state known for ridiculous behavior concerning live gators) set to announce on NSD, there is bound to be some live animal shenanigans. Either Martez Ivery, Byron Cowart or CeCe Jefferson will use a living baby alligator to commemorate his signing and chaos will ensue. Let’s just hope they don’t bring a baby tiger to the ceremony either or else a bizarre Auburn-Florida recruiting battle will end in bloodshed.
Nation’s top QB decommits because of radio host
Josh Rosen is the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the nation and he’s currently enrolled at UCLA. However, Pac-12 Network and SiriusXM Radio analyst Rick Neuheisel will convince Rosen to decommit and sign elsewhere on NSD (despite it being against NCAA rules). Why? Because Slick Rick wants his son, Jerry Neuheisel, to start at UCLA next season. Overzealous dads and moms always create headlines on Signing Day.
Tom Luginbill will say something he regrets to Mack Brown
...over the value of recruiting rankings - a hot topic of debate this time of year. Clearly, Brown isn't one who believes in recruiting rankings or evaluation of prospects in general. But Luginbill has made his living analyzing and ranking prospects. So on The Mothership's National Signing Day coverage, Luginbill and Brown will get into a verbal sparring match over the value of recruiting rankings. And with Brown's spotty track record of recruiting, the low hanging fruit will be too much for Luginbill to avoid.
Gators finish last in the SEC
Jim McElwain hasn’t exactly scorched the earth since taking over as head coach at Florida. He has one verbal commitment since taking the post with boatloads of five-star talents still left on his board. Yet, if Florida misses on names like Martez Ivey, Byron Cowart and CeCe Jefferson, Florida will do the unthinkable and finish dead last in the SEC in recruiting.
Michigan signs worst class in the Big Ten
Not to be outdone, Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines will enter Signing Day ranked dead last in the Big Ten in recruiting. Michigan has done better in a shorter period of time than Florida under their new coach but it still hasn’t been good enough to pass recruiting powerhouses like Purdue, Indiana, Minnesota and Northwestern in the B1G ranks.
The "modern" recruiting era is tied directly to the online recruiting websites.
Rivals and Scout began the explosion around 2001 and ESPN and 247Sports have powerfully entered the market since. The rankings databases only go back 10 or 11 years, so it is difficult to evaluate historic recruiting classes. But since the turn of the millennium, fans and analysts alike have a tremendous amount of data to evaluate recruiting rankings, talent development and scouting evaluations.
Here are the top 10 recruiting classes of the modern era:
Note: All team ranks by 247Sports Composite
1. Alabama, 2008
Rank: 3rd (33 signees)
Key Players: Mark Barron, Julio Jones, Terrence Cody, Marcell Dareus, Dont'a Hightower, Mark Ingram, Barrett Jones, Courtney Upshaw, Damion Square, Michael Williams, Robert Lester, Brad Smelley
Nick Saban began his domination of the recruiting trail back in 2008 when he signed a top three class in his first full cycle. This monstrous haul was a huge part of the 2009 national championship run and obviously featured upperclass stars in the ’11 and ’12 title runs. This group includes five first-round picks and countless other draft selections. It’s hard to argue with a group that won three BCS titles as the best collection of talent ever signed in the modern era.
2. USC, 2003
Rank: 2nd (26 signees)
Key Players: Reggie Bush, Sam Baker, Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson, Ryan Kalil, Terrell Thomas, Steve Smith, LenDale White, Fili Moala, John David Booty, Eric Wright, Brandon Ting, Ryan Ting, Drean Rucker, Chauncey Washington
Much like the ’08 Alabama group, this team experienced three national championship runs. Only two ended in victory — lost to Texas in 2005, but more on that in a second — but this class was the foundation of USC's Pac-10 dynasty. Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy and is one of four first-round picks from this class. This class began USC's dominance in what is now the Pac-12.
3. Florida, 2006
Rank: 2nd (24 signees)
Key Players: Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Brandon Spikes, Maurice Hurt, Riley Cooper, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon James, Marcus Gilbert, Lawrence Marsh, Terron Sanders, Dustin Doe, AJ Jones, Carl Johnson
At one point or another, 16 of the 24 recruits in this class went on to start a game for the Gators. But this class was led at the top by elite superstars Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes. Jermaine Cunningham and Spikes were second-rounders while Maurice Hurt and Riley Cooper went later in the draft. Tebow alone makes this class a gem for Florida and it led directly to two BCS national championships.
4. Alabama, 2009
Rank: 2nd (28 signees)
Key Players: AJ McCarron, Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, James Carpenter, Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker, Eddie Lacy, Quinton Dial, Nico Johnson, Ed Stinson, Anthony Steen, Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, Tana Patrick
This group was a big part of three national championships at the Capstone and played a much bigger role in the 2011-12 titles than the '08 haul. This class produced six first-round picks among those who were taken in the NFL Draft. An interesting thing to note about this class is the offensive line. It was the best OL in the nation in 2012 and three-fifths of the starters signed in this class.
5. Texas, 2002
Rank: 1st (26 signees)
Key Players: Vince Young, Kasey Studdard, Rod Wright, Brian Robison, Aaron Ross, Chase Pittman, Justin Blalock, Aaron Harris, David Thomas, Selvin Young
This group was the core of the 2005 national championship run led by superstar quarterback and five-star recruit Vince Young. He was the gem of the nation’s No. 1 class that eventually featured numerous NFL Draft picks. Ross, Studdard, Wright, Robison, Pittman, Thomas and Blalock were all huge pieces to Mack Brown’s championship puzzle and several of them made a mark in the NFL too.
6. Oklahoma, 2006
Rank: 8th (28 signees)
Key Players: Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, Jermaine Gresham, Trent Williams, Demarco Murray, Jeremy Beal, Quinton Carter, Chris Brown, Dominique Franks, Mossis Madu, Tim Johnson, Brandon Caleb, Malcolm Williams, Chase Beeler
All four Sooners who went in first round of the 2010 NFL Draft signed with Bob Stoops in this class and all four NFL draft picks from Oklahoma in the '11 draft came from this class too. Sam Bradford set all types of records, won the Heisman Trophy and led this team to the 2008 BCS National Championship Game. Even a guy who ended up transferring (Beeler) went on to star at his second school (Stanford).
7. Ohio State, 2002
Rank: 4th (24 signees)
Key Players: A.J. Hawk, Santonio Holmes, Nick Mangold, Troy Smith, Maurice Clarett, Bobby Carpenter, Mike D’Andrea, Doug Datish, Quinn Pitcock, Nate Salley, Roy Hall
This class was a big part of the 2002 national championship run as freshmen, with Maurice Clarett playing the biggest role. This group features elite offensive firepower and Troy Smith, a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who led his team to the national title game in 2006. This group provided four first-round picks in the 2006 NFL Draft and included six other picks from the 2005-07 drafts as well. This group won three Big Ten titles in five years.
8. Florida State, 2011
Rank: 2nd (29 signees)
Key Players: Kelvin Benjamin, Nick O'Leary, Timmy Jernigan, Terrance Smith, Tank Carradine, Rashad Greene, Karlos Williams, Bobby Hart, Devonta Freeman, Josue Matias, Tre Jackson, Nile Lawrence-Stample, Nick Waisome
This group already has proven itself, as one of the deepest hauls in history led directly to a BCS national championship. This group, ranked No. 1 in the nation by Athlon Sports in 2011, featured over a dozen starters on the '13 title team and has already delivered three ACC titles as well. This class produced three draft picks last year, including first-rounder Kelvin Benjamin, with more to come this May.
9. Alabama, 2010
Rank: 5th (25 signees)
Key Players: C.J. Mosley, Dee Milliner, Blake Sims, Brandon Ivory, Jalston Fowler, Arie Kouandjio, Chad Lindsay, Austin Shepherd, DeAndrew White, Adrian Hubbard, Brian Vogler, Nick Perry, Jarrick Williams, Deion Belue
This unit featured six offensive starters on the ’14 SEC championship and playoff squad while both Mosley and Milliner were stars for the ’12 BCS title team and first-round picks. This group has star power at the top and tremendous depth that produced two BCS titles and nearly made a third trip to the title game.
10. LSU, 2009
Rank: 1st (25 signees)
Key Players: Michael Brockers, Morris Claiborne, Kevin Minter, Rueben Randle, Chris Faulk, Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, Chris Davenport, Bennie Logan, Michael Ford, Craig Loston, Josh Downs, Stavion Lowe, Lamin Barrow, Russell Shepard
This group was the foundation of the 13-0 regular season run to the title game in 2011. And had it finished the job against Alabama, it might be considered the better group. The potential of this class is astounding. It features three first-round picks in Morris Claiborne, Michael Brockers and Barkevious Mingo and three others were selected in ’14 NFL Draft as well. The star power is obvious but the supporting cast is impressive in its own right.
Best of the Rest:
11. Oregon, 2008
Rank: 23rd (24 signees)
Key Players: LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, Darron Thomas, Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso, John Boyett, Nick Cody, Hamani Stevens, LeGarrette Blount, Josh Kaddu, DeWitt Stuckey, Jeremiah Masoli
12. LSU, 2004
Rank: 3rd (25 signees)
Key Players: Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Jacob Hester, Early Doucet, Chevis Jackson, Herman Johnson, Quinn Johnson, Craig Steltz, Claude Wroten, Tremaine Johnson, Curtis Taylor, Brett Helms, Lavelle Hawkins
13. Michigan State, 2010
Rank: 21st (22 signees)
Key Players: Max Bullough, William Gholston, Kurtis Drummond, Darqueze Dennard, Le'Veon Bell, Jeremy Langford, Marcus Rush, Isaiah Lewis, Nick Hill, Keith Mumphrey, Tony Lippett
14. Auburn, 2010
Rank: 6th (32 signees)
Key Players: Cam Newton, Jake Holland, Jonathon Mincy, Chad Slade, Michael Dyer, Chris Davis, Corey Lemonier, Ryan Smith, LaDarius Owens, Jeffrey Whitaker, Trovon Reed, Shon Coleman
15. Oregon, 2011
Rank: 11th (26 signees)
Key Players: Marcus Mariota, De'Anthony Thomas, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jake Fisher, Tyler Johnstone, Andre Yruretagoyena, Tyson Coleman, Christian French, Colt Lyerla, Tacoi Sumler, Anthony Wallace, Devon Blackmon
16. Stanford, 2009
Rank: 18th (23 signees)
Key Players: Shayne Skov, Stepfan Taylor, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner, Tyler Gaffney, Zach Ertz, Khalil Wilkes, Levine Toilolo, Josh Mauro, Taysom Hill
17. Ohio State, 2013
Rank: 2nd (26 signees)
Key Players: Joey Bosa, Vonn Bell, Jalin Marshall, Eli Apple, Ezekiel Elliott, Dontre Wilson, J.T. Barrett, Darron Lee
18. Notre Dame, 2009
Rank: 15th (21 signees)
Key Players: Manti Te'o, Zack Martin, Tyler Eifert, Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, Zeke Motta, Chris Watt, Alex Bullard, Jake Golic, Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, Tyler Stockton
19. Alabama, 2012
Rank: 1st (25 signees)
Key Players: Amari Cooper, Landon Collins, T.J. Yeldon, Reggie Ragland, Kenyan Drake, Denzel Devall, Eddie Williams, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Anderson, Geno Smith
20. Florida, 2007
Rank: 1st (29 signees)
Key Players: Ahmad Black, Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden, Chas Henry, Aaron Hernandez, Cam Newton, Chris Rainey, Maurkice Pouncey, Michael Pouncey, Major Wright, John Brantley
21. Georgia, 2009
Rank: 5th (21 signees)
Key Players: Aaron Murray, Arthur Lynch, Branden Smith, Shawn Williams, Chris Burnette, Marlon Brown, Austin Long, Dallas Lee, Kwame Geathers, Orson Charles, Rantavious Wooten, Zach Mettenberger, Abry Jones
22. Florida State, 2012
Rank: 3rd (19 signees)
Key Players: Jameis Winston, Mario Edwards, Eddie Goldman, P.J. Williams, Ronald Darby, Reggie Northrup, Robert Aguayo, Chris Casher
23. Texas, 2005
Rank: 13th (15 signees)
Key Players: Colt McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Roddrick Muckelroy, Henry Melton, Jermichael Finley, Quan Cosby, Chris Brown, Aaron Lewis, Roy Miller
24. USC, 2005
Rank: 1st (19 signees)
Key Players: Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Mark Sanchez, Kevin Ellison, Charles Brown, Patrick Turner, Kyle Moore, Kaluka Maiava, Will Harris, Cary Harris
25. Notre Dame, 2008
Rank: 1st (23 signees)
Key Players: Kyle Rudolph, Michael Floyd, Braxton Cave, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Jamoris Slaughter, Mike Golic, Robert Blanton, Darius Fleming, John Goodman, Jonas Gray, Trevor Robinson, Steven Filer, Sean Cwynar, Dayne Crist, Ethan Johnson
26. LSU, 2003
Rank: 3rd (28 signees)
Key Players: LaRon Landry, Will Arnold, Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis, Matt Flynn, Alley Broussard, Anthony Hill, JaMarcus Russell, Jonathon Zenon, Justin Vincent
27. Wisconsin, 2009
Rank: 44th (21 signees)
Key Players: Montee Ball, Chris Borland, Travis Frederick, Jacob Pedersen, Ryan Groy, Dezmen Southward, Jordan Kohout, David Gilbert, Tyler Dippell, Conor O'Neill, Pat Muldoon
28. Georgia, 2006
Rank: 3rd (26 signees)
Key Players: Knowshon Moreno, Matthew Stafford, Geno Atkins, Shaun Chapas, Akeem Dent, Kris Durham, Akeem Hebron, Reshad Jones, Asher Allen, Kiante Tripp, Clifton Geathers, Prince Miller
29. Mississippi State, 2009
Rank: 20th (32 signees)
Key Players: Fletcher Cox, Gabe Jackson, Chad Bumphis, LaDarius Perkins, Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay, Josh Boyd, Tyler Russell, Cameron Lawrence
30. Ohio State, 2008
Rank: 8th (20 signees)
Key Players: Mike Adams, Terrelle Pryor, Travis Howard, DeVier Posey, Michael Brewster, Nathan Williams, Garrett Goebel, Etienne Sabino, J.B. Shurgarts, Andrew Sweat
The era of the superstar running back is coming to a close.
Or is it about to be re-started?
In the last two NFL drafts, no team felt it necessary to take a running back with a first-round pick. The 2008 draft class that included five first-round running backs seems to be ages ago.
NFL teams have learned that effective runners can be found just as much in the later rounds or outside of the draft entirely.
At the same time, though, the college game as seen a resurgence in superstar runners. The 2014 signing class produced 10 1,000-yard rushers last season, indicating that the next two seasons might belong to the running backs.
Since 2002, we’ve seen our share of superstar running back recruiting classes. To help us sort them out, we asked Mike Farrell, national recruiting director from Rivals.com for his input on the best running back singing classes since 2002.
1. Class of 2004
The Stars: Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, Arian Foster, Chris Johnson
Best of the Rest: Jerome Harrison, Mike Hart, Peyton Hillis, Brandon Jackson, Rafael Little
What the class of 2004 lacks in numbers compared to the 2006 class at No. 2, it makes up for in NFL stardom. This class amassed 20 Pro Bowl selections, six first-team All-Pro selections, four NFL rushing titles and an NFL MVP. The class also included Michigan’s all-time rushing leader (Mike Hart) and a consensus All-American out of Washington State (Jerome Harrison).
Farrell’s take: “The best 1-2 punch we have ever seen at running back with AP and Lynch but also some huge surprises like Foster and Chris Johnson. Those two guys couldn’t get looks at all for different reasons. Hart was a guy we had as a three-star and we got a lot of heat for that but top-end speed was not his thing. However, he had a great college career.”
2. Class of 2006
The Stars: Darren McFadden, Jamaal Charles, Ray Rice, Kevin Smith, Steve Slaton, Rashard Mendenhall
Best of the Rest: Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones, James Davis, Javon Ringer, Donald Brown, Shonn Greene, Montario Hardesty
Star power, depth, college studs and NFL feature backs — the running back class of 2006 had it all. The headliner is Arkansas’ Darren McFadden, a two-time consensus All-American, two-time Doak Walker winner and two-time Heisman finalist. This is the same class that produced Arkansas’ other great running back, Felix Jones, who would have been a superstar in any other backfield. The class produced five first-round draft picks (McFadden and Jones, Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart, Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall, UConn’s Donald Brown), two Doak Walker winners (McFadden and Iowa’s Shonn Greene), and five consensus All-Americans (McFadden, Green, Michigan State’s Javon Ringer, UCF’s Kevin Smith and West Virginia’s Steve Slaton).
Farrell’s take: “Ray Rice was a guy who really stepped up his game as did Donald Brown, both were really under-recruited as was Slaton. McFadden and Stewart were special and the second group there of Davis, Charles and Mendenhall were all very well thought of.”
3. Class of 2003
The Stars: Reggie Bush, Maurice Jones-Drew, Laurence Maroney, LenDale White
Best of the Rest: J.J. Arrington, Chris Henry, Tony Hunt, Michael Bush, Tashard Choice
This class was awfully kind to the state of California, helping the Pac-10 re-establish itself as a national power. Heisman-winner Reggie Bush led the way at USC, but the Trojans also picked up his backfield mate LenDale White in this class. UCLA signed a future NFL rushing champ (Maurice Jones-Drew), and Cal signed a consensus All-American (J.J. Arrington).
Farrell’s take: “Reggie Bush was the real deal and I wanted him to be No. 1 but [Florida State signee and eventual linebacker] Ernie Sims won out. Jones-Drew we liked a lot despite his lack of size. I remember how fast Choice was and how big Bush was. He was one of the biggest backs I’d seen with good feet like that. LenDale White was a big deal in that class as well and Maroney was a big deal as well.”
4. Class of 2006
The Stars: LeSean McCoy, C.J. Spiller, Toby Gerhart, DeMarco Murray
Best of the Rest: Knowshon Moreno, Beanie Wells, Mike Goodson, Dexter McCluster, Anthony Dixon, Ben Tate, Evan Royster
This class produced the last two NFL rushing leaders in LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray, though neither were consensus All-Americans in college. The biggest collegiate stars in this class were Clemson’s C.J. Spiller, the ACC’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards by a wide margin, and Stanford’s Doak Walker winner Toby Gerhart.
Farrell’s take: “McCoy was special but we didn’t know how he’d recover from that awful ankle break he suffered. He was a five-star talent, that’s for sure. Spiller was a five star as was Beanie Wells and Moreno. Murray and Goodson were all high four stars as was Ben Tate who a lot of people didn’t know about at the time. This could be the most talented class at the top of all of them as far as talent coming out of high school.”
5. Class of 2009
The Stars: Trent Richardson, Montee Ball, Eddie Lacy
Best of the Rest: Carlos Hyde, Christine Michael, Lamar Miller, David Wilson, Knile Davis, Charles Sims, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee, Stepfan Taylor
This class has been full of surprises on the NFL level. A fourth-round pick from Miami (Lamar Miller) has rushed for more pro yards than All-American Trent Richardson, and a fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt (Zac Stacy) has rushed for more yards than FBS career touchdown leader Montee Ball. The career leading rusher out of this class so far is Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy, who played second fiddle to Richardson in Tuscaloosa.
Farrell’s take: “Richardson was a beast. He was special and looked like an NFL back already. Hyde really got a lot faster in college than he was in high school, Lacy was a beast as well, he would mule kick anyone who came near him. David Wilson was a great athlete, Michael was a five-star kid who had so much potential. and Ball and Taylor were also big deals. This was a really good class as well as far as depth.”
6. Class of 2008
The Stars: Mark Ingram, LaMichael James, Ryan Williams, Kenjon Barner
Best of the Rest: Jonas Gray, Isaiah Pead, Jaquizz Rodgers, Chris Polk, Andre Ellington, Mike Leshoure, Daniel Thomas (junior college)
What the 2003 running back class was to California’s Pac-12 schools, the 2008 class was the same for the Pacific Northwest. Oregon picked up two consensus All-Americans in this group (LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner), Oregon State and Washington both picked up their No. 2 career rushing leaders (Jacquizz Rodgers and Chris Polk). Oh, and the class produced Alabama’s first Heisman winner, Mark Ingram.
Farrell’s take: “This class is an interesting one because James was a speedster from Texas and a perfect fit for Oregon, Ryan Williams was an amazing talent and Ingram went south to play for ‘Bama, but no one knew he would be a Heisman winner. Gray was an absolute beast, we loved him and Barner was a sleeper for sure. Ellington was the most athletic of the group.”
7. Class of 2011
The Stars: Melvin Gordon, Ka’Deem Carey, Tre Mason, Jeremy Hill, Ameer Abdullah
Best of the Rest: Bishop Sankey, Jay Ajayi, Malcolm Brown, Dee Hart, Devonta Freeman, De’Anthony Thomas
The pro potential of this class hasn’t been tapped yet, but it’s off to a good start. LSU’s Jeremy Hill led all rookies in rushing with more than 1,000 yards for a playoff team. The best of the bunch, though, may be Gordon, whose 2,587 yards is the second-best rushing total in college football history.
Farrell’s take: “Gordon was tall and has the look of a linebacker coming out of high school but turned into a great back, Hill was coming off heaps of trouble out of high school but was very talented. Hart had a lot going for him but those knee injuries hurt him. Carey and Sankey were both excellent. Mason and Freeman were both excellent out of Florida, and Thomas was probably the most talented of the group when it came to explosion and getting you out of your seat. He was just small.”
8. Class of 2014
The Stars: Nick Chubb, Samaje Perine, Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook
Best of the Rest: Nick Wilson, Sony Michel, Royce Freeman, Nick Wilson, Jalen Hurd, Justin Jackson
It’s not too early to heap praise on this group of running backs who were only true freshmen a year ago. This group produced 10 1,000-yard rushers (Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, Georgia’s Nick Chubb, Arizona’s Nick Wilson, Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Northwestern’s Justin Jackson, New Mexico State’s Larry Rose III, USF’s Marlon Mack, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook) and the FBS single-game rushing leader (Perine). This class may end up No. 1 by the time it reaches the NFL.
Farrell’s take: “Chubb is a guy I’m kicking myself for not making a five star and looks like he will have a great career, Fournette was the consensus No. 1 back while Michel, Cook and Hurd were all five-star talents. Perine was a four star but is playing above his ranking, and Freeman was another guy who just missed five-star status and was under scouted because he was so far down south in Cali. This is an amazing crop and could turn out to be No. 1 before all is said and done.”
9. Class of 2007
The Stars: Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, Kendall Hunter, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley
The Best of the Rest: John Clay, Jonathan Dwyer, Jahvid Best, Boom Herron, Alfred Morris, Daniel Thomas, Roy Helu, Chris Rainey, Noel Devine
Few classes ended up as upside down as this one. The best pros in this class ended up at Boise State (Doug Martin), Fresno State (Ryan Mathews) and FAU (Alfred Morris) while the can’t-miss prospect at the top of the class, Joe McKnight, was hardly the second coming of Reggie Bush at USC.
10. Class of 2010
The Stars: Marcus Lattimore, Gio Bernard, Le’Veon Bell, Andre Williams
Best of the Rest: James White, Lache Seastrunk, Michael Dyer, Silas Redd, Storm Johnson
The class was well-traveled that’s for sure. Four of the top 10 running backs in the class transferred — Michael Dyer (from Auburn to Louisville), Lache Seastrunk (from Oregon to Baylor), Silas Redd (from Penn State to USC) and Storm Johnson (from Miami to UCF). Marcus Lattimore had the most potential of the group before his career was interrupted by injuries, Boston College’s Andre Williams was a Heisman finalist and North Carolina’s Gio Bernard and Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell turned out to be solid pros.
Farrell’s take: “Lattimore was special, he was a three-down back who could make you miss, run you over and catch the ball and such a great kid as well. Bernard had some injury issues to overcome, but he did a great job showing durability after being hurt often in high school. Andre Williams was a big, fast kid that BC stole and kept hidden, Dyer and Seastrunk were five-star talents, and I loved Redd’s strength and cutting ability. Bell was too big to be a running back — oops.”
Running back Ezekiel Elliott was one of the key performers in Ohio State’s run to the college football national championship in 2014. The sophomore rushed for at least 220 yards in each of his final three games and is one of the early favorites to win the 2015 Heisman Trophy.
And Elliott isn’t going to forget the Buckeyes’ title anytime soon, as the St. Louis native recently had a tattoo added to his left arm that showcases the college football playoff trophy.
In addition to the championship trophy, Elliott’s tattoo also features the Ohio State Block “O” logo, his number (15) and the Gateway Arch.
Check out Elliott’s new tattoo:
Glendale, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - New England quarterback Tom Brady was named the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLIX after leading the Patriots to a 28-24 come-from-behind victory over the Seattle Seahawks for his fourth career Lombardi Trophy.
Brady threw two of his four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, the last a 3-yard strike to Julian Edelman that put the Patriots ahead with 2:02 remaining. The 37-year-old finished 37-of-50 for 328 yards and shook off a pair of costly interceptions, the first coming at the goal line in the opening quarter and the other leading to a Seattle touchdown in the third.
Making a record sixth Super Bowl start at quarterback, Brady earned his third career MVP award to tie boyhood idol Joe Montana for the most in the game's history.
Brady also earned his fourth career Super Bowl win, which was sealed by rookie Malcolm Butler's interception of Russell Wilson at the Patriots' 1-yard line with 20 seconds left. That ties him with Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most by a quarterback.
The savvy veteran also broke Montana's record for most career Super Bowl touchdown passes during the game, with the four giving Brady 13 all-time. His 37 completions against the Seahawks, meanwhile, established a new Super Bowl mark.
Brady was also the MVP of New England's first two Super Bowl triumphs, which came in Super Bowls XXXVI (against St. Louis) and XXXVII (against Carolina).
As the calendar turns to February, Kentucky stands alone.
The Wildcats are the only undefeated team remaining after Virginia’s 69-63 loss to Duke on Saturday, allowing Kentucky to enter rare territory.
In the last 10 seasons, only five teams have been undefeated for the first AP poll in February. They are: 2015 Kentucky, 2014 Wichita State and Syracuse, 2011 Ohio State and 2008 Memphis.
While Kentucky’s feat is notable, the Wildcats’ final game of January — a 70-55 home win over Alabama — was another performance that’s becoming routine for a team that’s towering over the rest of its conference.
For entertainment value, we have to go to the ACC. The 15-team league has been full of drama, no more so than this week.
Duke, a team that seemed to be flirting with disaster (by Duke standards), suddenly regrouped in the final five minutes to beat undefeated Virginia. The Blue Devils, days after dismissing a key veteran, were on the verge of falling to 4-4 in the ACC before rallying to topple an unbeaten team on the road.
In other games this week, Louisville came back from down 18 in the second half to aid a North Carolina collapse. A Pittsburgh team that just to lowly Virginia Tech beat a 20-win Notre Dame squad that has had the magic touch in the last two minutes. And NC State, a team that’s been no stranger to late-game disappointments, mustered a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired in overtime to avoid a potential devastating loss to Georgia Tech.
What the ACC will give us in March is anyone’s guess, but the league is giving us a memorable January and February.
1. Duke was magnificent in winning time
Magnificent, flawless, resilient — whatever word you want to put on Duke’s final five minutes against Virginia, it’s probably appropriate. Virginia did to Duke what it does to every opponent — shut down action around the basket on defense and wear down opponents with a methodical offense. In the final 5:08, though, Duke cracked the code. After Duke’s Justise Winslow was called for a flagrant foul for grabbing at the leg of Justin Anderson at the baseline, the Blue Devils outscored Virginia 22-9 for a 69-63 win. What really made the difference was Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones from beyond the arc. Duke missed its first nine 3-point shots before making six of its final eight, including the dagger from the freshman Jones. The win comes at a critical time in the season for Duke, after losing in the final seconds against Notre Dame, losing in lopsided fashion to NC State and Miami in the last seven games and dismissing junior wing Rasheed Sulaimon. A team that can rally like this on the road against an undefeated team is going to be scary in March.
2. Virginia was mighty impressive, too
This was a huge moment for Duke but also a game that Virginia could have won. That said, don’t jump off the Virginia bandwagon yet. The Blue Devils had to empty the tool box to beat the Cavaliers on the road. Duke suddenly got hot from 3 late and mixed up defensive looks to throw Virginia’s methodical offense off balance. Before the final moments, Virginia played one of its finest games of the season. The Cavs held Jahlil Okafor in check for most of the game as the stud freshman finished with as many field goals as turnovers (five). Virginia itself shot only 3-of-13 from 3, but grabbed 15 offensive rebounds. If this is the kind of effort and ability it takes to beat Virginia, watch out.
3. Wisconsin is in March form ... without its starting point guard
This much is certain: The last team Iowa wants to see in the Big Ten tournament is Wisconsin. In two games against the Hawkeyes since Jan. 20, Wisconsin has won 82-50 in Madison and 74-63 in Iowa City. Iowa has trouble guarding just about anyone, but especially the Badgers. And it’s not just Iowa that should fear Bucky. Wisconsin is averaging 1.38 points per possession during its last four games, remarkable considering that the Badgers are without starting point guard Traveon Jackson. Wisconsin is also averaging 2.2 assists per turnover in four full games without Jackson, who is out with a broken foot. Perhaps Wisconsin is just an awful matchup for Iowa this season, but Wisconsin is going to be a matchup problem for almost any team when the Badgers are finally healthy. Case in point...
5. North Carolina’s collapse is Louisville’s gain
The Tar Heels wasted a perfect opportunity to move to the top of the ACC standings with an epic collapse in a 78-68 overtime loss at Louisville. The Tar Heels led comfortably for most of the matchup and led 57-53 with eight minutes to go. Then, Carolina fell apart after the 7:18 TV timeout. The Heels went 0-of-7 from the field with three turnovers to finish regulation and 3-of-5 from the field with two turnovers and 2-of-6 from the free throw line in overtime for a 14-point swing in less than 12 minutes. For Louisville, though, this was a critical win, giving the Cardinals their first top-30 RPI victory of the season.
6. Notre Dame ran out of miracles
During the last two weeks, Notre Dame has been the king of wild finishes. The Irish overcame a four-point deficit in the final minute to beat NC State, and on Wednesday, Jerian Grant recovered his own turnover to hit a wild shot with a second left on the shot clock to help beat Duke. Against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame ran out of good fortune. Notre Dame trailed Pittsburgh for most of Saturday’s game before Grant recovered from an ineffective start to score Notre Dame’s final nine points, including the go-ahead free throw. On the ensuing possession, Pitt’s James Robinson hit the game-winning jumper with 13 seconds left and picked up the game-clinching steal to hand Notre Dame only its third loss of the season. The wild finish capped a week in which a Pitt team that lost to Virginia Tech turned around to beat a team that just defeated Duke.
7. A new leader in the Missouri Valley?
Northern Iowa was ready for its moment. With a 19-2 start and top-20 AP ranking, the Panthers’ season had been building to this matchup with Wichita State. Northern Iowa savored it with a 70-54 rout of the Shockers in which the Panthers led for the final 28:34. Wichita State had won 29 regular season MVC games in a row, but the Shockers were no match for senior forward Seth Tuttle, who scored a career-high 29 points. The 3-point line summed up the game effectively. Both teams made five 3-pointers. Northern Iowa needed seven shots to do it. Wichita State needed 24. The Panthers and Shockers are tied at 9-1 for the MVC lead. They’ll meet again in Wichita on Feb. 28 for the regular-season finale.
8. Florida is not done yet
Florida’s margin of error to reach the NCAA Tournament is razor-thin, but give the Gators credit for getting back into the discussion. Anything but the NIT looked like a dream a week ago when Florida had dropped three in a row to fall to 10-9. The Gators bounced back this week to beat Alabama on the road and Arkansas at home, both top 50 teams on KenPom. Florida will have double-digit losses — the worst so far to RPI No. 132 Florida State on the road — but the wins this week will be key resume-builders. Florida needed every second to get to this point, too. After a 2-for-9 game from the floor, Michael Frazier rose to occasion to hit the game-tying and game-winning free throws with 1.9 seconds left to beat Arkansas 57-56. The star of the day, though, was Dorian Finney-Smith, who had 16 points, four assists, four offensive rebounds and a pair of highlight-reel buckets.
9. VCU suffered a devastating loss
VCU took its first Atlantic 10 defeat of the season, falling to Richmond 64-55 at home, but the Rams suffered a bigger loss. Senior guard Briante Weber suffered a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus against Richmond, ending his brilliant career. Weber was the leader of VCU’s havoc defense for four years. His 374 career steals was 11 short of the all-time NCAA record held by John Linehan of Providence. He’s a team leader and the face of VCU’s signature style. Few teams will suffer a more crippling injury this season.
10. Texas’ time has come and gone
The Longhorns were still ranked in the top 25 for some reason last week. Clearly, pollsters’ habits are hard to break. That should change. At this point, it’s impossible to ignore Texas’ struggles. The Longhorns lost 83-60 to Baylor in another lopsided game that’s become commonplace for Texas in conference play. The Longhorns aren’t a good defensive team, but they don’t help their case with inefficient games like this. For some reason, Texas took 26 3-point shots (making only five) and got only seven buckets from centers Cameron Ridley and Myles Turner. Texas had 70 shots from the field and scored only 60 points. At this point, the 14-7 Longhorns are one of the nation’s most disappointing teams.
• Seton Hall has recovered from a 1-4 swoon in the Big East and will be well-positioned for the second half of the conference season. After defeating Marquette on the road on Wednesday, Seton Hall defeated Xavier 90-82 to move to 5-4 in the league. Most important was the return of freshman Isaiah Whitehead. After missing nine games with a foot injury, Whitehead came off the bench to score 18 points in 23 minutes.
• It’s still tough to buy into Villanova as a top national contender. Twelve days after losing to Georgetown by 20, the Wildcats were shredded in the first half against DePaul. Nova regrouped in the second half to win 68-55, but that’s too many absentee performances for what’s supposed to be the top team in the Big East.
• St. John’s has been hanging by a thread in recent weeks, so give the Red Storm credit for beating a hot Providence team 75-66 and holding LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn to five points each in the first half. If St. John’s (now 3-5 in the Big East) can get through Butler, Creighton and DePaul, the Red Storm will have a critical stretch ahead of them through the end of February.
• Bruce Pearl made his return to Knoxville, but his Auburn team lost 71-63 to Tennessee. The competitive game was a clear sign that Pearl’s program is going to get better. Donnie Tyndall, whose tenure is in the shadow of an NCAA investigation from his days at Southern Miss, needed this win to end a two-game losing streak to stay relevant in the SEC.
• The best individual stat line of the weekend couldn’t salvage a bad loss. LSU’s Anthony Mickey had 25 points and 20 rebounds in a 73-67 loss to Mississippi State.
• We’ll say this: NC State games this season are always exciting to the end, no matter the opponent and no matter the result.
The college basketball Saturday has turned into the Day of Dunksand that’s before the primetime slate has started.
Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell gave us perhaps the alley oop of the season, but all good things have to wait.
Let’s walk through the Day of Dunk so far:
• From the morning session, Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes sprints from off screen to the rim to get the put back against Iowa.
• Then, Florida’s Alex Murphy shows us how to beat the press against Arkansas.
• In the same game, Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith drives to beat the shot clock.
• And finally, this Montrezl Harrell alley oop for Louisville sends us to a different universe.
New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made some spectacular one-handed receptions as a rookie, and the LSU product recently grabbed 33 one-handed catches in 60 seconds to set a new record. The previous mark in the Guinness World Records was just 10.
After Beckham’s 33 catches in a minute, you can bet other receivers started to plot on how to break the new record.
Iowa’s Tevaun Smith (43 catches with the Hawkeyes in 2014) went after Beckham’s record on Friday and broke the mark with 41 in 60 minutes.
Check out Smith’s 41 one-handed catches:
Here's Odell Beckham's 33 catches from Super Bowl week:
Seattle can join a rather exclusive club with a win over New England in Super Bowl XLIX. It would mark the ninth time in the Super Bowl era that a team was able to repeat as champion.
Where would the Seahawks rank among past repeat champs? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, they need to win first; but Super Bowl victories over slam-dunk Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady would be a strong start for any argument.
Here’s a look at the eight teams that have managed to repeat and how we rank them. Keep in mind, we are really splitting hairs here.
1. Miami, Super Bowls VII and VII
Regular season record: 26-2
Points in their favor: This was perhaps the most dominant two-season run in the Super Bowl era. The Super Bowl VII champs remain the only undefeated team since 1929, led the league in offense and defense and can even boast a road playoff win, as some odd scheduling rules at the time sent them to Pittsburgh for the AFC title game. Even though Miami didn’t go undefeated in 1973, the Dolphins still put together an impressive season, and they were more dominant in the postseason than they had been the year before.
What hurts their case: About the only knock you can come up with for this run would be that Miami’s Super Bowl competition was not as strong as some others on this list. The games were less than memorable, save for kicker Garo Yepremian’s ill-fated attempt at a pass that resulted in Washington’s only points in Super Bowl VII.
2. Dallas, Super Bowls XXVII and XVIII
Regular season record: 25-7
Points in their favor: The Cowboys won the league’s toughest division at the time in both 1992 and ‘93. They also had to get by equally dominant San Francisco in the NFC title game both years, the first time on the road. While the two Super Bowls look like easy wins if you just look at the final scores, Dallas was not rolling over teams just happy to be there. Buffalo was loaded with Hall of Famers, desperate after two previous Super Bowl losses and in fact led in both games. The Cowboys just rolled over them.
What hurts their case: Both Super Bowls got out of hand, so perhaps there is a “clutch” factor missing here that can be found elsewhere on this list. But in terms of overall dominance for two seasons, including facing tough playoff competition, this run is difficult to beat.
3. San Francisco, Super Bowls XXIII and XXIV
Regular season record: 24-8
Points in their favor: This was the height of the 49ers’ powers, as they were in the league’s top five offensively and defensively in both 1988 and '89. Their 10-6 record in 1988 sent them on the road for the NFC title game, but they routed Chicago, 28-3. The 1989 team was outstanding, going 14-2 and winning its playoff games by a combined score of 71-16. The Super Bowl wins may be the most impressive on this list when you consider they beat the league MVP (Boomer Esiason) in the first and a Hall-of-Famer (John Elway) in the second.
What hurts their case: It’s impossible to ignore a 10-6 regular season when matching this team up against the undefeated 1972 Dolphins. Some may also be less-than-impressed with a rout of a Denver team losing its third Super Bowl in four years, but those Broncos had given up the league’s fewest points.
4t. Pittsburgh, Super Bowls IX and X
Regular season record: 22-5-1
Points in their favor: We’re copping out a bit by not picking one Steelers’ repeat over the other, but it’s essentially the same cast of characters. The perception is that the Steelers’ first two Super Bowl teams were carried by the defense, and to some extent that is true. But both the 1974 and ‘75 squads were also in the league’s top 10 on offense, as stars such as Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and Terry Bradshaw were just hitting their primes. The 1975 Steelers were the league’s most dominant team all season as Bradshaw finally started every game at quarterback, adding a big-play element to a dominant running game. It would make the difference in the Super Bowl as Swann caught four passes for 161 yards to earn MVP honors in a 21-17 win over the Cowboys.
What hurts their case: The 1974 team may have dodged a bullet in that they hosted wild-card Buffalo in the divisional round of the playoffs despite having the AFC’s third-best record due to the league’s odd rotation for playoff matchups at the time. But the road win at Oakland in the AFC title game was impressive enough to make up for that, and the Super Bowl was no contest as the Steelers ran over the Vikings.
4t. Pittsburgh, Super Bowls XIII and XIV
Regular season record: 26-6
Points in their favor: The 1978-79 Steelers were still dominant defensively (ranking third and second, respectively, in the NFL) but much more explosive offensively than the 1974-75 teams that won the Super Bowl. In fact, in six postseason wins on the way to winning Super Bowls XIII and XIV, Pittsburgh averaged 32 points per game. The Steelers also defeated a defending Super Bowl champ in Super Bowl XIII, one of only two teams on this list to do so.
What hurts their case: While these may have been more balanced teams than the earlier Pittsburgh Super Bowl champs, the earlier teams faced tougher competition in the postseason. While the Super Bowl win over defending champ Dallas is impressive, it is cancelled out by facing a 9-7 Rams team in Super Bowl XIV.
6. New England, Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX
Regular season record: 28-4
Points in their favor: New England’s 28-4 regular season record is eclipsed only by the 1972-73 Dolphins when it comes this list. The Patriots also had impressive playoff wins along the way, beating Peyton Manning and the Colts both seasons and going on the road to defeat 15-1 Pittsburgh in 2004. While many others on this list cruised to Super Bowl wins, New England was tested twice and came out on the winning end of two 3-point games.
What hurts their case: Some would argue that two clutch Super Bowl wins could also be called “less-than-dominant.” Needing a last-second field goal to beat upstart Carolina was especially surprising. The Pats were also not loaded with Hall of Fame players like some teams on this list. It’s certainly harder to keep a team together and repeat in the 21st century, so perhaps that is in their favor; but in terms of overall dominance, this is a tough list with which to compete.
7. Denver, Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII
Regular season record: 26-6
Points in their favor: The 1997 Broncos represent the only non-division champ on this list. But despite finishing second in the AFC West, they were top-five in offense and defense and had the league’s best point differential. They also defeated defending champ Green Bay in the Super Bowl. The 1998 team featured league MVP Terrell Davis and beat a 14-2 Atlanta team in the Super Bowl.
What hurts their case: We knocked the Niners down a peg for a less-than-dominant regular season, so we have to consider that Denver was a wild card team in 1997. Also, while the 1998 Falcons were very good, the fact that they upset a 15-1 Vikings juggernaut in the NFC title game leaves us wondering what might have been in Super Bowl XXXIII.
8. Green Bay, Super Bowls I and II
Regular season record: 21-6-1
Points in their favor: The Packers are victims of bad timing here, because their two Super Bowl wins came at the tail end of a run that saw them win five NFL titles in seven seasons. If the Super Bowl Era had started even one season sooner, odds are we are talking about the only three-peat ever.
What hurts their case: Green Bay’s stars were all aging at this point. In fact, legendary backs Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung moved on after Super Bowl I, while other stars such as Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Willie Wood, Forrest Gregg and Jerry Kramer were all on the wrong side of 30. There is no denying the greatness of this dynasty, but the pre-Super Bowl Packers were the stronger and more dominant teams.
-- By John Gworek
1. Atlanta Hawks (38-8)
There’s no better way to put it: the Hawks have beaten the crap out of everybody, east and west, for multiple months running. Until their 17-game winning streak comes to a halt, there’s no reason to drop them from this spot.
2. Golden State Warriors (36-7)
Despite having their 19-game home court winning streak snapped by an inspired Chicago Bulls squad this week, the Warriors are still sitting pretty, and they’re still the favorites to represent their conference in the Finals.
3. Memphis Grizzlies (34-12)
Quietly, quietly, quietly — that’s how the Grizzlies have always compiled top marks in the regular season, and this year is no exception. Marc Gasol is finally getting some overdue recognition as a starter for the Western Conference All-Stars, but otherwise the Grizz are still an unseen title contender.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (32-14)
The Clippers have snapped out of their malaise and won six in a row, climbing up the prickly Western standings and finally looking urgent enough to perhaps meet their championship-or-bust expectations.
5. Houston Rockets (32-14)
The Rockets have endured a lengthy absence from Dwight Howard already, and the recent buzz about his knee suggests they might have to do it again. If they come out of this one still shining, James Harden’s MVP campaign will only grow stronger.
6. Washington Wizards (31-16)
John Wall has become the best pure point guard in the league, and the addition of Paul Pierce continues to give the Wiz an added calm and edge. Washington isn’t talked about as a potential Eastern Conference champion too often, but they should be.
7. Portland Trail Blazers (32-14)
LaMarcus Aldridge has foregone surgery on this thumb to play through the pain. He must believe there’s something special on the horizon with this Blazers squad to jeopardize his body that way.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers (27-20)
The Cavs’ trades for Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert have paid off, and LeBron James is spry and back to playing MVP-level ball. It doesn’t hurt that Kyrie Irving is having his most productive season yet, too.
9. Chicago Bulls (30-18)
A shocking win at Golden State — along with wins over the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks — was par for the Bulls’ 2014-15 course. So was their double-overtime loss to the lowly Los Angeles Lakers. It’s been a confounding season for this so-called title contender.
10. San Antonio Spurs (30-17)
The Spurs are looking better with Kawhi Leonard back in the fold, but doubts about their remaining motivation will persist until they go on one of their signature late-season winning streaks. Do they have another one left in them?
11. Toronto Raptors (31-15)
The Raptors had a bad January. Their recent four-game winning streak is encouraging, but this team nevertheless looks day by day more like one that’s not built for a tough seven-game series just yet.
12. Dallas Mavericks (30-17)
Rajon Rondo’s been a strange, awkward fit in Dallas. They’ve made it work, for the most part, but a recent four-game skid has raised some questions — particularly about their thin front court behind Tyson Chandler.
13. Phoenix Suns (27-20)
The Suns are holding tight to the eighth and final playoff spot in perhaps the best Western Conference of all time, but the New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder are coming. And in the case of Kevin Durant’s Thunder, they’re coming fast.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder (23-23)
OKC has a lot of questions to answer, but the response to almost all of them is this: more great play from Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of the most fearsome players of this era. You should be surprised if you don’t see them sneak into the playoffs.
15. New Orleans Pelicans (24-22)
Monty Williams is on the chopping block for his job with the Pelicans, but he probably shouldn’t be. After Anthony Davis, this is a team with a ton of problems and shortcomings, and that falls on general manager Dell Demps’ shoulders.
16. Milwaukee Bucks (24-22)
The young Bucks are one of the best surprises of the season, as they’ve created one of the league’s best defenses under second-time coach Jason Kidd. They could scare some overdogs in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
17. Miami Heat (20-25)
The Heat continue to struggle through the post-LeBron era, despite the emergence of big man Hassan Whiteside. The latest road bump? An indefinite absence from the freshly injured Dwyane Wade.
18. Charlotte Hornets (19-27)
After a disastrous start to the season, the Hornets have gotten their defense together and strung some wins together off the radar. They’re still falling well below expectations, but Charlotte should be able to fit into the playoff picture out East.
19. Denver Nuggets (19-28)
The Nuggets have as little direction as any of the NBA’s lost teams. The good news is that they did well to trade for rookie sensation Jusuf Nurkic, a 20-year-old from Bosnia who could be the best big man of his class.
20. Brooklyn Nets (18-27)
The Nets remain a depressing collection of bad contracts and ambitions no higher than the east’s eighth playoff spot. It’s no mystery why owner Mikhail Prokhorov wants to sell this underperforming team.
21. Sacramento Kings (16-28)
DeMarcus Cousins is an All-Star snub. What else is new? Boogie is the best offensive big man in the game, but the league still seems far from recognizing him as such.
22. Detroit Pistons (17-30)
Brandon Jennings’ tragic ACL tear has derailed one of the best stories of the NBA season, and the Pistons look as bad the last week as they did in their season’s terrible beginning. Can they get back on course without their point guard?
23. Utah Jazz (16-30)
The Jazz continue to lose competitive games, which is the very best they can do as a young, learning squad. Look for them to make a leap next year, after a summer spent absorbing the lessons of these growing pains.
24. Indiana Pacers (17-31)
The Pacers won’t be competitive until they get Paul George back. Even then, though, this season has demonstrated that they might need another significant piece before they can get back toward the top of the Eastern Conference.
25. Orlando Magic (15-34)
Head coach Jacque Vaughn doesn’t look long for the job these days. A talented young crew hasn’t made the expected jump this season, and the Magic are said to be actively seeking a replacement.
26. Boston Celtics (16-28)
The Celtics stay in their holding pattern, waiting out the season to make noise in the draft again — especially now that Jeff Green and Rondo are out the door, taking the chance of real Celtics’ competition with them.
27. Los Angeles Lakers (13-34)
The Lakers suck. Everybody loves it, because this never happens. Kobe Bryant’s out for the year, and things look bad for the short term. But don’t be surprised if a star reaffirms the glamour of playing in Tinseltown, and signs there this summer.
28. New York Knicks (9-38)
The Knicks have begun their rebuild in earnest, and any team interested in their leftover veteran pieces should not hesitate to call Phil Jackson about a trade. Losing is the new winning in New York.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (8-37)
Andrew Wiggins has been the premier rookie in the league for quite a while now, and the Wolves look destined for another great prospect as they keep dropping contests. They’re not far from being the league’s best farm system, if they aren’t already.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (9-37)
The Sixers are tanking. Didn’t you hear? And guess what? It’s working. They’ll be back at the top of the draft this June, just like they planned.
— John Wilmes
Two teams with their sights set on making history will conclude the 2014 NFL season when the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks face off Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX on NBC. The Seahawks have come to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., with a goal of becoming just the eighth franchise in history to win back-to-back Super Bowls. The Patriots, who accomplished said feat in the 2003-04 seasons, are looking to snap a two-game losing streak on Super Sunday and claim the franchise’s fourth Lombardi Trophy.
Although Deflate-gate has unfortunately (pardon the pun) taken some of the air out of this matchup, the focus should finally shift back to what will happen on the field by the time kickoff approaches. Not only do we have the top two seeds from each conference going head-to-head, we also will be treated to storylines such as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the historic duo in search of their record-tying fourth Super Bowl ring, versus Pete Carroll and Seattle’s vaunted “Legion of Boom” defense.
And they aren’t the only ones expected to take on starring roles Sunday night either. Seattle has Russell Wilson, set to become the youngest quarterback to start two Super Bowls, as well as Richard Sherman, the brash mouthpiece of the Seahawks’ defense, and Marshawn Lynch, the bruising running back who clearly would prefer to do all of his talking on the field. New England has Rob Gronkowski, its All-Pro tight end who is never at a loss for words and has the Legion of Boom’s full attention.
Even though New England and Seattle were once both members of the AFC (1977-2001), this is just the 17th all-time meeting between these two teams. The series is tied 8-8 with the most recent matchup occurring in 2012. The Seahawks beat the Patriots 24-23 in Seattle in what was just the sixth career start for Wilson. Needless to say, the stakes are considerably higher for their first-ever postseason pairing.
New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks
Kickoff: Sunday, Feb. 1 at 6:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: New England -1
5 Things to Watch
Backfields in Motion
Marshawn Lynch is getting the most attention, thanks to his “talkative” media sessions earlier this week, when it comes to the running backs and for good reason. Fourth in rushing (1,306 yards) in the regular season, Lynch’s 157 yards were pivotal in Seattle’s overtime comeback win over Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game. Even though Russell Wilson is fully capable of making plays with his legs, the priority for New England’s defense is to prevent Lynch from going Beast Mode on it. That doesn’t mean that the Patriots’ running game should be completely overlooked, however. For one, LeGarrette Blount rumbled for 148 yards and three scores in the AFC title game. And there also is the fact that the Seahawks have allowed more than 130 yards rushing to each of their postseason opponents. Seattle’s the run-happy team, but New England’s ground game also could wind up being a factor come Super Sunday.
Wide Receiver Play
Similar to the backfields, while Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” is as good as advertised, New England’s secondary is no slouch. Headed up by All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Patriots’ back end also features former Seahawk Brandon Browner serving up the big hits and Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty. To put it another way, both wide receiver corps have their work cut out for them. If Seattle can get big plays out of Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse like the ones that happened late in the NFC title game, it should only make things easier on Russell Wilson and open up the running game even more. On the other side, New England has tight end Rob Gronkowski to take some of the burden off of the wideouts, but Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell will still need to make their presence felt. If anything, maybe all of the attention directed towards keeping Gronk in check will free up Edelman or LaFell, or perhaps maybe Danny Amendola, to make plays elsewhere. After all, no tight end has ever been named Super Bowl MVP.
Coaching Chess Match
Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll have plenty in common. Both have won a Super Bowl, come from defensive backgrounds, and each is well respected by players and coaching peers alike. Both also are known for running franchises their way, as well as for thinking outside of the box and going against the grain when it comes to in-game decisions and play calling. Belichick and the Patriots have gotten plenty of attention for the unconventional formations they have used this postseason, while Carroll had the guts to not only call for a fake field goal in the NFC title game, but later an onside kick that, if not recovered, likely would have ended the Seahawks’ Super Bowl repeat hopes. What either has in store for Sunday is anyone’s guess, but this head-to-head matchup could be just as entertaining, and equally important, as anything that happens on the field. And just to add some extra spice to this pairing, there’s this: Carroll was New England’s head coach from 1997-99 before he was fired and replaced by none other than Belichick. Revenge anyone?
In last year’s Super Bowl win, Seattle dominated Denver in the turnover department (4-0). The Seahawks picked off Peyton Manning twice and also recovered two fumbles. Seattle converted three of the takeaways into touchdowns (one coming on a INT return by MVP Malcolm Smith), or nearly half of its 43 points. This season, the Seahawks and the Patriots both did a good job protecting the ball and maximizing their opponents’ mistakes. New England tied for second (plus-12) in turnover margin, while Seattle was next at plus-nine. In the playoffs, the Patriots have posted a plus-three margin in two games, while the Seahawks are even because of their five turnovers in the NFC Championship Game. And just how important is protecting the football on Super Sunday? Very, considering that the team with fewer turnovers is 36-3 in Super Bowl history, a statistic each team is familiar with. Combined, these two teams have played in seven previous Super Bowls. In those seven appearances, the team that won the turnover battle is 3-1. Only once did either team finish with more turnovers than its opponent and that game did not end well. In Super Bowl XLVI New England had just one turnover (interception), but it was still costly in a tough loss to the Giants. And as for that one loss when winning the turnover battle? That was in 2006, when Seattle posted a plus-one margin against Pittsburgh, but still lost Super Bowl XL. However, that is definitely the exception rather than the rule when it comes to ball security, as a winning percentage of 92.3 over a sample size of nearly 40 games will certainly attest.
Related: 5 X-Factors for Super Bowl XLIX
Red Zone Success
In the regular season, Miami was the only team with more red zone possessions on offense than New England’s 67. The Patriots found paydirt 39 times or 58.2 percent, making them the ninth-most efficient team once they got to their opponent’s 20-yard line. Seattle converted a little more than half of its red zone looks (31 of 60) into touchdowns, putting them 20th. This success has carried over into the postseason, as the Seahawks are at 50 percent (3 of 6) in this category. The Patriots meanwhile have turned all but one of their 10 red zone trips (90 percent) into six points. Not surprisingly, the difference for Seattle has been on other side of the ball. After limiting teams to a league-low 37 red zone possessions in the regular season, the Seahawks have allowed touchdowns on just three of seven such trips in the playoffs. This is why despite committing four first-half turnovers, Seattle only trailed Green Bay 16-0, as the Packers got to the Seahawks’ one-yard line on successive drives following a takeaway, but ended up kicking a short field goal both times. Compare that to New England, whose defense yielded a touchdown on five of the six red zone possessions it faced against Baltimore and Indianapolis. A three-point swing may not seem like much, but ask Green Bay what the difference is between a touchdown and a field goal.
One way or the other, history will be made Sunday. Either Seattle joins the exclusive club of repeat Super Bowl champions or Bill Belichick and Tom Brady cement their legacies with a fourth Lombardi Trophy. Russell Wilson also has a chance to enter some pretty exclusive company with a second Super Bowl victory, especially considering this is just his third NFL season.
There is certainly no lack of intriguing storylines for this game, which is to be expected when it involves the league’s top two teams. But when it comes to the matchups on the field, it really boils down to one — how will New England’s offense fare against Seattle’s defense? Will it be another coronation for Belichick and Brady or will the “Legion of Boom” steal the Super Sunday spotlight once again? At least we don’t have to wait much longer to find out.
Athlon editors pick which team will win Super Bowl XLIX and who will be named MVP:
|Rob Doster||24-20||Tom Brady|
|David Fox||35-24||Marshawn Lynch|
|Braden Gall||27-23||Darrelle Revis|
|John Gworek||24-20||Marshawn Lynch|
|Steven Lassan||27-24||Marshawn Lynch|
|Mitch Light||30-24||Tom Brady|
|Rich McVey||27-21||Tom Brady|
|Mark Ross||26-22||Russell Wilson|
|Nathan Rush||24-23||Marshawn Lynch|
Great college basketball teams can only go as far as their star players take them.
Where would UConn be last March without Shabazz Napier’s constant heroics? As the calendar flips to February and conference play intensifies, coaches are looking for their stars to separate themselves from the rest of the conference crowd and lead their teams deep into March.
Here is our list of top Conference Players of the Year contenders with a little more than a month left in the season.
The Favorite: Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
After sitting out most of last season for academic reasons, Jerian Grant has become the ACC’s most explosive and complete offensive weapon. Grant leads the Irish in points (17.4) and assists (4.6) while shooting better than 51 percent from the floor. After Wednesday’s 23-point, 12-assist, six rebound performance in a win over Duke, Grant has overthrown Jahlil Okafor as the favorite for ACC Player of the Year for the time being.
Other Candidates: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Virginia’s Justin Anderson
The Favorite: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
The Sooners have slumped of late, but Hield is still averaging better than 20 points per game in league play. Overall, he leads the Big 12 in scoring (18.6 points per game) while contributing 5.5 rebounds. He’ll have a better shot of holding off other contenders if Oklahoma can turn its fortunes down the stretch.
Other Candidates: Iowa State’s Georges Niang, West Virginia’s Juwan Staten
The Favorite: LaDontae Henton, Providence
A year ago, Providence had Bryce Cotton leading the Friars to the NCAA Tournament. Now, Providence has another prolific scorer who has Ed Cooley’s team on the way to a second consecutive Tourney for the first time since 1989-90. Henton is ninth in the country in scoring at 20.8 points per game while averaging 5.6 rebounds. His season-high 38 points in a 75-74 win over Notre Dame back on Nov. 23 looks more impressive now than it did at the time.
Other Candidates: Butler’s Kellen Dunham, Seton Hall’s Sterling Gibbs
The Favorite: D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Russell is the most complete and physical guard in the nation. Second in the conference in scoring (19.4 points) and fourth in assists (5.1 assists), Russell has almost single-handedly kept Ohio State in the NCAA conversation. He has posted 21, 27, 33, and 22 points in his last four Big Ten games. The Buckeyes will only go as far as their freshman point guard takes them in March.
Other Candidates: Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell
The Favorite: Delon Wright, Utah
The 6-5 Wright has a sterling 6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio to add to his 129.9 offensive rating and 14.6 points per game, making the Los Angeles native one of the nation’s most efficient players. A lockdown defender, Wright is the heartbeat of the No. 11 Utes, playing 31 minutes and pulling in four rebounds per contest. If Utah wishes to dethrone Arizona as kings of the Pac-12, Wright’s continued success is going to be vital.
Others Candidates: Stanford’s Chasson Randle, Arizona’s Stanley Johnson
The Favorite: Bobby Portis, Arkansas
Portis is the most versatile piece in the Razorbacks' high-scoring offense. Able to connect from behind the arc or play on the block, the 6-11 Portis is a matchup nightmare. Ports leads the SEC in scoring (17.7 points) and is fourth in rebounds (8.5) all while shooting 56 percent both from 2 and from 3.
Other Candidates: Tennessee’s Josh Richardson, Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein
The Favorite: Ryan Boatright, UConn
With the departure of Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright is coach Kevin Ollie’s go-to player and senior leader. Boatright is responsible for 28.1 percent of the Huskies total scoring, shooting 27.1 percent of the team’s shots and connecting 42.7 percent of the time. The Huskies are a long-shot to make the Big Dance with just 11 wins, but if anyone knows about getting hot at the right time, it’s the American’s leading scorer and most efficient player.
Other candidates SMU’s Nic Moore, Tulsa’s Shaquille Harrison
-By Jake Rose
College football’s 2015 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to think about the Heisman frontrunners.
Bovada is keeping the offseason chatter alive by releasing early 2015 Heisman odds, which features Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott as a 6/1 favorite, followed by Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott at 7/1.
There’s a few interesting odds in the first release, as Georgia running back Nick Chubb (12/1) is the same as UCLA running back Paul Perkins (12/1). And all three Ohio State quarterbacks – Cardale Jones (14/1), J.T. Barrett (16/1) and Braxton Miler (18/1) are in the first release.
Some names to watch: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (33/1), Florida State running back Dalvin Cook (33/1) and Oregon running back Royce Freeman (25/1).
Early 2015 Heisman Odds from Bovada
|Player/Position/Team||Early 2015 Odds|
|Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State||6/1|
|Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State||7/1|
|Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU||7/1|
|Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU||15/2|
|Cody Kessler, QB, USC||12/1|
|Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia||12/1|
|Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA||12/1|
|Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State||14/1|
|Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama||14/1|
|Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma||14/1|
|J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State||16/1|
|Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn||16/1|
|Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State||18/1|
|Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State||20/1|
|Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin||25/1|
|D.J. Foster, RB/WR, Arizona State||25/1|
|Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon||25/1|
|Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami||33/1|
|Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State||33/1|
|Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson||33/1|
|James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh||33/1|
|Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech||33/1|
|Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona||33/1|
|Seth Russell, QB, Baylor||33/1|
|Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State||40/1|
|Jacoby Brissett, QB, NC State||50/1|
|Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee||50/1|
|Jared Goff, QB, California||50/1|
|Marquise Williams, QB, North Carolina||50/1|
|Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss||66/1|
|Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona||66/1|
Strange times are afoot in the ACC.
The Tobacco Road power structure in the league may still command ratings and attention, but it hasn’t yielded a league regular season or tournament championship since 2012.
The reigning champion Virginia is in prime position to extend that drought for another year.
Duke, coming off a loss to Notre Dame, now sits in a tie for sixth in the conference at 4-3 in the league. Meanwhile, Virginia sits alone atop the standings at 7-0 in the conference and 19-0 overall.
Unbalanced scheduling has played a part in conference standings looking a little out of whack compared to the rankings, but the Cavaliers place as the top team in the league is undeniable.
One of two undefeated teams in the country, Virginia is one of the season’s great stories. Despite a lack of McDonald’s All-Americans and NBA Draft lottery talent, Virginia is a Final Four contender that expects to go toe-to-toe against the more heralded Duke team that visits Charlottesville on Saturday evening.
Duke at Virginia
Site: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, Va.
Time: Saturday, 7 p.m. Eastern
What’s on the line for Duke
The Blue Devils need to re-establish themselves as national contender. Duke is 3-3 since its 14-0 start, leaving the Blue Devils looking awfully vulnerable. Guards at NC State, Miami and Notre Dame have thrived against Duke in the last three weeks, and St. John’s, too, gave Duke trouble for most of Sunday’s game. A team that once looked like it could contend for the national title is suddenly facing a handful of adversity from on-court play to personnel changes. Beating Virginia on the road would immediately re-establish Duke’s bona fides.
What’s on the line for Virginia
If Virginia can defeat Duke, the Cavaliers would have a legitimate claim as the current power in the ACC. Virginia won the ACC regular season a year ago and defeated Duke for the conference tournament title. Virginia isn’t the draw for the casual fan like Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Syracuse, but it’s tough to argue against a team that keeps winning. During the last two seasons, Virginia is 23-2 in the ACC with the only losses coming on the road in overtime to Maryland and on the road by four against Duke.
You’ll tune in to watch: How Duke attacks Virginia’s defense
Virginia and Kentucky are an easy 1-2 as the best defensive teams in the country. The Cavaliers do their work by giving opponents precious few possessions and few great shots. Virginia is second in the nation in defensive field goal percentage from two-point range (26.9 percent) and effective field goal rate. And on top of that, Virginia keeps teams off the offensive glass. So the question for Duke is how to score on the pack-line defense. Getting the ball to Jahlil Okafor in the post may be tough, even for a freshman point guard as outstanding Tyus Jones. Duke will need Quinn Cook (39.6 percent from 3) and Justise Winslow, who may be busting out of his slump, to knock down jumpers.
Pivotal player: Justin Anderson, Virginia
Anderson may end up the ACC player of the year, a remarkable feat considering he averages only 13.9 points per game. Here’s why: he’s ridiculously efficient and he’s Virginia’s MVP. Anderson is shooting 48.4 percent from 2-point range and 51.9 percent from 3 (on 81 attempts). And only a week after an aberrant 0-of-8 day from the floor against Boston College, Anderson carried the Cavs late in the second half of the come-from-behind win over Virginia Tech on Sunday.
Biggest question: What impact will Rasheed Sulaimon’s dismissal have?
Dismissals of key players at this stage of the season are no small matter. Rahseed Sulaimon’s role had dwindled over the years, but his 7.5 points per game and defense isn’t a negligible loss for the Blue Devils. Krzyzewski, by coach-dismissing-a-player standards, didn’t mince words. Sulaimon “repeatedly struggled” to live up to the standards of the program. His performance indicates Duke will miss him, but the comments indicate he may have been a detriment to chemistry. What will we see Saturday?
David Fox: Duke 65-62
Mitch Light: Virginia 68-60
Jake Rose: Virginia 67-61
One perk of the Super Bowl taking over the airwaves all day Sunday is a mega-Saturday of college basketball.
Nearly every key game of the weekend — with the exception of Michigan-Michigan State — will be crammed into one day Saturday.
No conference will be more in the spotlight than the ACC as four of the top five teams face each other, starting with North Carolina-Louisville in the afternoon followed by the game of the week when Duke visits Virginia.
Jan. 31-Feb. 1 College Basketball Weekend Preview
All times Eastern
Providence at St. John’s
Saturday, noon, FOX
St. John’s looked to be trending upward at the end of December with an 11-1 start that included wins over Minnesota and at Syracuse. Since then, St. John’s is 2-5 in the Big East, the latest loss a 77-74 loss to a Creighton team that had started 0-8 in the league play. St. John’s needs to get its act together and fast, particularly on the defensive end. That’s going to be tough against a hot Providence team that features guard Kris Dunn, who recorded a triple double (27 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists) on Thursday against DePaul.
Pick: Providence 77-68
Wisconsin at Iowa
Saturday, noon, ESPN
Iowa has lost two in a row and three of five in Big Ten play. To turn their fortunes, the Hawkeyes must beat a team that defeated them 82-50 on Jan. 20. And they might have to do it without big man Aaron White, who is questionable with a stinger in his shoulder and neck. Wisconsin, since a loss to Rutgers with a depleted roster, has regrouped with Bronson Koenig filling in at point guard for Traevon Jackson. Koenig has averaged 12.3 points with seven assists and two turnovers in his last three games as the starter.
Pick: Wisconsin 72-51
Arkansas at Florida
Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS
Arkansas continues to be an inconsistent team on the road. The Razorbacks engineered a comeback against Georgia in Athens earlier this season, but the Hogs have also lost to Tennessee and Clemson on the road and needed free throws to escape Missouri. Florida is an 11-9 team and even has Billy Donovan doubting if the Gators are NCAA Tournament material. Still, the Gators ended a three-game losing streak by beating Alabama and former Florida assistant Anthony Grant 52-50 on the road on Tuesday. If things are turning around for Florida, a good showing against Arkansas would be a good place to start. The last time the Gators played in Gainesville, they lost by 18 to LSU.
Pick: Florida 63-58
North Carolina at Louisville
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN
The last time these two teams faced each other Jan. 10, North Carolina engineered a comeback from down 13 in the second half to beat the Cardinals 72-71. Things will be tougher this time around for the Tar Heels, whose depth has taken a hit due to injuries to guard Joel Berry and forward Theo Pinson. That might not yield for a great matchup on the road against Terry Rozier, 24.5 points per game last week, and Chris Jones, 22.5 points per game last week.
Pick: Louisville 75-68
Wichita State at Northern Iowa
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2
Wichita State hasn’t lost to a current Missouri Valley team since a 59-56 defeat to Evansville on Feb. 27, 2013. Northern Iowa, though, may be the first legitimate threat to the Shockers’ Valley dominance since Doug McDermott and Creighton left the league. The Panthers are 8-1 in the league and haven’t lost since Jan. 1. Northern Iowa is second in the MVC in offensive and defensive efficiency — second only to Wichita State in both categories.
Pick: Wichita State 65-60
Texas at Baylor
Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2
At one point, Texas looked like it could be a Big 12 contender, especially with a healthy Isaiah Taylor at point guard. The Longhorns, though, have come unraveled with four losses in the last six in the Big 12. Texas has been a mess in the defensive end, allowing three Big 12 teams to average more than a point per possession. On Tuesday, Iowa State averaged 1.27 points per possession and shot nearly 55 percent from the field in an 89-86 win over the Longhorns. Baylor’s not that much better a defensive team, ranking ninth league games in effective field goal rate on defense.
Pick: Baylor 76-70
Duke at Virginia
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
This is the game of the year in the ACC and the only matchup between the Blue Devils and Cavaliers at least until the ACC tournament. All the celebration surrounding Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,000th win has obscured that his team is 3-3 since starting 14-0. Moreover, Duke dismissed veteran Rasheed Sulaimon on Thursday. His conduct may have been a detriment, but his presence as a defender will be missed for a team that has given up an average of 84.7 points per game in its losses. Virginia, of course, doesn’t have to approach 90 points to beat even a team like Duke. The Cavaliers have been tested in recent weeks against Notre Dame, Boston College and Virginia Tech on the road, but Virginia has been able to stay undefeated with efficient play in both ends of the court in the final minutes.
Pick: Virginia 64-59
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN2
For some reason, the AP poll and KenPom rankings hold Oklahoma in high regard. The Sooners needed a home date with Texas Tech to stop a 1-4 skid in the league. The 81-36 win over the Red Raiders was impressive, even if they are the worst team in the league. If Oklahoma can defeat Oklahoma State on the road, maybe there will be more reason for confidence in the Sooners. The Cowboys — a two-player team for most of the season — is coming off a win over Baylor in which the Pokes showed impressive balanced. Four players scored in double figures, taking some of the heat off Phil Forte and Le’Bryan Nash.
Pick: Oklahoma 64-60
Memphis at Gonzaga
Saturday, 10 p.m., ESPN2
This game might not be all that competitive as one of the most balanced offensive teams in the country faces one of the most flawed. Still, Gonzaga doesn’t get face many name teams once it gets into its West Coast Conference schedule. A road trip to Saint Mary’s and a home date with BYU may be tougher games for Gonzaga than Memphis, but it’s still worth keeping an eye on the Bulldogs facing a top 100 RPI team at this stage of the season.
Pick: Gonzaga 80-61
Michigan at Michigan State
Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS
It’s too early to start thinking of Michigan as an NCAA Tournament team. Caris LeVert isn’t coming back, and those losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan will be anchors for their resume. Still, the Wolverines took Wisconsin to overtime and beat Nebraska 58-44. The next two weeks for the Wolverines will be brutal, starting with a road trip to East Lansing. The Spartans are stumbling, too, and need a nice showing against Michigan to build confidence.
Pick: Michigan State 68-64
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 30:
• Katy Perry held her Super Bowl press conference, and it was just what you'd expect.
• This is pretty incredible: Marshawn Lynch and Rob Gronkowski playing Mortal Kombat X with Conan O’Brien.
• While we celebrate Brady and Belichick, let's not forget Wilfork.
• Hilarious, epic Twitter trolling of Clay Travis by DeMarcus Cousins. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
• Watch TNT NBA announcer Kevin Harlan get hit in the head by a loose ball. Handled it like a pro, though.
• This one's for the millennials: How a 3rd Rock Super Bowl episode killed the '90s.
• Just as a reminder, here's the ad that started the early, viral approach to Super Bowl ad roll-outs.
• Matt Damon and Ben Affleck offer up a wicked smaht defense of the Patriots.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]