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Path: /nascar/earnhardt-jr-consistent-will-wins-follow

1. Strong start, but when does Dale Earnhardt Jr. win?
Depending on how you judge these things, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is off to the most impressive start to a NASCAR Sprint Cup season in his career. The claim comes with Earnhardt, now second in the point standings, putting together his best average finish (5.0) after four races since he started full-time in 2000.

Or, you could say that it's just been a really consistent start for NASCAR's top-billed man that rivals the start he worked in 2004. That season, he won the Daytona 500 and the season's fourth race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in a start only derailed by a miserable day at Las Vegas in the season's third race.

Each, of course, has their merits. But only one — the incredibly consistent current campaign — matters now. It also begs the question we've asked of Earnhardt plenty in the last half decade: when he is going to win?

A trip to Auto Club Speedway for Earnhardt may provide that answer. It's a track that he both welcomes as a driver's venue and one where he's shown moderate past success. It doesn't hurt that four of the last nine races have been won by Hendrick Motorsports.

"You can run the bottom; you can run on the apron; you can run on the top. It’s a very fun racetrack to drive," Earnhardt said. "And so I’ve got a good attitude about it. I think Steve (Letarte, crew chief) is going to give me a good car. We ran good last year because Steve gave me a good car.”

Earnhardt was scored third last year when rain ended the race on lap 129, good for his fourth top 5 at ACS in 20 career starts.

"There are opportunities to pass when you run a guy down, you can change the line you’re running and get some clean air on your car," Earnhardt said. "You feel confident that if you do the right thing and drive the car well, that you can make a pass. I love that about that racetrack."

2. Toyota still waiting on the checkers to blow their way.
Another Sprint Cup entity hoping to break in to the win column Sunday is a bit larger than even Earnhardt. Toyota, winners of the last nine Nationwide Series races contested at ACS, has yet to find Victory Lane in a Sprint Cup car at the southern California speedway that stands closest to the Torrence, Calif.-based Toyota Racing Development facility where all TRD engines and other parts are manufactured for Toyota teams.

To do so Sunday, they'll have to break a five-race streak of wins held by the Chevrolet camp in NASCAR's top division. Helping the cause will be the addition of Matt Kenseth to the Toyota fold. The former Roush Fenway Racing Ford driver has three wins in Fontana. Kenseth, already a winner at Las Vegas two weeks ago, appeared on pace to grab another before Jeff Gordon's flat tire forced his exit at Bristol last week.

Kenseth will be pushed by his teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing. Denny Hamlin was running second last year until an ill-advised pit stop as rain closed in on the track dropped him back in the pack to finish 11th. Kyle Busch was also plenty strong a year ago at ACS, leading 80 of 129 completed laps before taking second to Tony Stewart.

“We’ve had really fast race cars everywhere we’ve gone so far. Fontana is another place where I’ve always fared well over the years, and I’m hoping we can finally get that victory we’ve been looking for this weekend," Busch said.

<p> Five storylines to follow as the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit heads to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 22, 2013 - 11:33
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2013-majors-no-14-ian-poulter

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

No. 15: Ian Poulter

Born: Jan. 10, 1976, Stevenage, England | Career PGA Tour Wins: 2 (12 on the European Tour)  | 2012 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2012 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,715,272 (45th) World Ranking: 11


Brandel Chamblee's Take

Prior to 2012, Poulter had played in 35 majors and managed only three top tens. But in 2012, he finished in the top ten in three of the four majors and did not miss a cut on either the PGA or European Tours. To cap his consistency, he won the WGC HSBC Champions for his 16th career worldwide win and once again proved that he has the perfect combination of flare and competitiveness, as he almost single-handedly compelled the Europeans to victory in the Ryder Cup. He is one of the most marketable players on the planet, for good reason.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 40
Wins: 0

2012 Performance:
Masters - 7
U.S. Open - T41
British Open - T9
PGA Championship - T3

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 7 (2012)
U.S. Open - T12 (2006)
British Open - 2 (2008)
PGA Championship - T3 (2012)
Top-10 Finishes: 6
Top-25 Finishes: 15
Missed Cuts: 6

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

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

<p> Athlon Counts Down the 20 Golfers to Watch for Majors Season</p>
Post date: Friday, March 22, 2013 - 11:05
All taxonomy terms: College Football, College Basketball, NFL, NBA, MLB
Path: /college-basketball/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-18

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for March 22.

Bleacher Report gives us the 60 hottest fanbases of March Madness. I feel sorry for the eight schools that got left out.

• We've had our first moment of true madness: 14 seed Harvard over 3 seed New Mexico. Harvard's most famous hoops alum took to Twitter to celebrate.

• New Mexico's loss came after Marquette staved off a similar fate with a last-second layup against Davidson.

• In the SEC, there's always a football angle, even when the subject is basketball. Here are five SEC hoops stars who would excel on the gridiron. Speaking of basketball, here's a post that should be titled, "Man, the SEC sucks at hoops."

• The NCAA Tournament can result in some late start times. The Ram was apparently up past his bedtime.

This Onion post is almost too close to the truth to be funny. Almost.

Today, on Ow, My Balls: NCAA Edition.

• Weird injuries to baseball players is an always-amusing genre. Here are spring training's weirdest mishaps.

• Note to self: Never ask Phil Mickelson a dumb question. He may talk about it behind your back.

• Second note to self: Never date Jennifer Capriati and then break up with her.

• If anybody has an excuse to bemoan the physical nature of football, it's Earl Campbell, who's essentially disabled now. But he refuses to do so. Let's hope Roger Goodell is listening.

• New candidate for Dunk of the Year. Extra points for between the legs — and because the dude is 5-9.

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

March 21

• Florida Gulf Coast plays Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday. Given the upset that FGC coach Andy Enfield pulled when he married model Amanda Marcum, I'm going with the Eagles. That's her in the photo; you can find his picture in this article. Talk about a mismatch.

NCAA Tournament figures and their lookalikes. My favorite is probably Marshall Henderson and Sid from "Toy Story."

• In case you're feeling nostalgic, here's what many feel is the Greatest Game Ever Played: Duke-Kentucky, regional final, 1992, in its entirety.

• The final shot of that game naturally made this list: the 10 most memorable moments in tournament history.

• Oops. Papa Johns used a coach who lost in the first round of the NIT in its NCAA Tournament promotion.

• One last cheat sheet: 64 teams, 64 factoids about this year's tournament participants.

• King James is ruler of all he surveys, and we are merely his loyal subjects. Last night, the Heat trailed the Cavs by 27 when LeBron went to work. When he was finished, James had a triple-double and the Heat had their 24th consecutive win.

• Classy move: The Lakers took their team photo and left one seat open for their late owner.

• Note to Lou Piniella: Never start a sentence with the phrase "I don't want to say the word 'raped'..."  If you don't want to say that word, just don't say it.

Arnold Palmer is having a dinner date with Kate Upton. It's good to be The King.

• Many of us will spend the first day of the tournament pining for football. Here are 10 reasons why college football crushes its hoops counterpart.

• Not only did the Heat win their 24th straight, but a guy stormed the floor in the middle of the game to get close to his hero.

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

March 20

• To get you ready for the impending Madness, here's a slideshow of cheerleaders from each No. 1 seed.

Here's how the NCAA Tournament would go if it were based on alumni salaries. Reminds me of the old cheer: "That's alright, that's okay, you'll be working for us someday."

• Words I never thought I'd write: Kentucky lost to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT, resulting in a pretty cool court-storming. Afterwards, former Wildcat running back Derrick Locke called out Big Blue Nation for their fair weather-ness.

• Putting the Fightin' in Fightin' Illini: Former Illinois hoops player and current analyst Kendall Gill tried to beat up a colleague who criticized his analysis. Kendall, in case you're wondering, I think you're doing just fine.

Tom Brady's family photos are better than your family photos.

• That stupid celebrity diving show started last night, but it did result in these fabulous GIFs of Katherine Webb during rehearsals. Or, if that's not your thing, here's a strangely mesmerizing GIF of Louis Anderson's dive. His feet don't stay together; of course, maybe they can't.

The most important players in the SEC West this season.

Bill Walton photobombing Bill Walton. Not sure why this is so funny, but it is.

A Hooters ballgirl committed two errors in one inning and got booed. She's still on track to start in the Mets outfield, though.

• Chris Webber took to the telestrator to break down a guy and girl sharing ice cream. Well done.

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

March 19

• It's official: Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are dating. They announced it on Facebook, posted pictures like this one, and then said, "Leave us alone." Good luck with that.

• Some of this year's NCAA Tournament apples didn't fall far from their trees. Tourney players with athletic pedigrees.

• Les Miles doing the Harlem Shake? Les Miles doing the Harlem Shake.

• The Miami Heat are making history. They earned their 23rd consecutive win in a epic throw-down with the Celtics and now own the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. Jason Whitlock says what they're doing, and the way they're doing it, is revolutionary.

• LeBron James dunked Jason Terry into the Stone Age. Naturally, somebody slapped a Jim Ross call on it.

• A game-deciding call went against the Bulls. Coach Tom Thibodeau was not pleased.

• You could own a piece of cinematic history: The house from "Rocky II" is for sale.

A Hawks cheerleader took a nasty spill and knocked herself out cold.

The NCAA suspended two controversial recruiting deregulation proposals.

• Today's Headline of the Day.

• Billionaires behaving badly: Donald Trump and Mark Cuban have been trolling each other on Twitter.

• If this doesn't get you excited for March Madness, nothing will: The 26 best buzzer-beaters of the season, all in one video.

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

March 18

• Lolo Jones came out and admitted that her foray into bobsled is all about her desperation for Olympic gold. Apparently she's not satisfied with being one of Maxim's Sexiest Athletes on Instagram (pictured).

• Kentucky and Tennessee fans can skip to the next item. It's time for March Madness, and to get you ready, Athlon breaks down the Tournament by the numbers.

• One of the bittersweet things about the NCAA Tournament is that you fall in love with players who promptly disappear from your life. Here are 10 seniors worth following in this tournament who you'll probably never hear from again.

• Along those same lines, a guy you've never heard of can come along and destroy your bracket (anyone remember Weber State's Harold "The Show" Arcineaux?). Here are five relative unknowns who could make some noise and bust some brackets.

• This guy, you've heard of. Nobody can enrage quite like Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson. Here are 20 NSFW Henderson death threats and f-bombs via Twitter. Needless to say, Henderson is one of the four most hated players of this year's tournament.

• To get you ready for wall-to-wall Dickie V on the Worldwide Leader, here's the world's biggest hoops fan failing to realize he's on live TV but then recovering nicely.

The 10 Most Shocking Live TV Moments. The World Series earthquake is on the list.

The bizarre Elvis Dumervil Fax-gate saga. In related news, agent Marty Magid is looking for a job.

• Getty Images captured a nice series of still shots featuring Blake Griffin dunking while the Knicks stood around watching. What else are they going to do? Try to block it and end up on a poster?

• Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin got into it at Bristol. Attention, Sprint Cup drivers: More of this, please.


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

<p> The best sports links from the NFL, college football and basketball, MLB, the NBA, NASCAR and the world of entertainment.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 22, 2013 - 10:44
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy, News
Path: /mlb/2013-fantasy-baseball-sleepers-and-busts-relief-pitcher

Using Athlon Sports' Big Board as the barometer, here are some potential relief pitcher sleepers who get the ball late in games to keep an eye on, as well some possible busts to potentially be wary of. Keep in mind that the "bust" tag doesn't necessarily mean that player won't produce, it's more an indication of concern that he won't do so in relation to his position on the Big Board.

Note: Relief pitcher includes players who have RP eligibility, according to Yahoo!. The player's ranking on the Big Board (200 players ranked) is listed, if applicable. UR means player was not ranked among the top 200. Player rankings from 2012 referenced are from a Yahoo! league that uses the following pitching statistics: W-SO-SV-HLD-ERA-WHIP.

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

2013 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher (RP) Sleepers

Ryan Cook, OAK, RP (UR)
Part of the trade that sent Trevor Cahill to Arizona in December 2011, Cook was a key cog of the A’s bullpen last season. He made 71 appearances, posting a 6-2 record, 2.09 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. For fantasy leagues that use holds, Cook should certainly merit your attention, as he collected 21 of them in 2012. He also is a good source for strikeouts (80 in 73 1/3 innings) and he has to be considered the closer-in-waiting should something happen, health-wise or performance-related, to incumbent Grant Balfour. And speaking of Balfour’s health, he underwent knee surgery in February and is just now getting back on the mound in spring training. Besides being a valuable setup guy, the opportunity could be there for Cook to get some save chances early in the season.

Kyuji Fujikawa, CHC, RP (UR)
The Cubs signed the Japanese lefthander to a two-year, $9.5 million contract to bring him over to the states. The 32-year-old pitched in Japan from 1999-2012 where he posted a 1.77 ERA in 562 games with 914 strikeouts in 692 1/3 innings. Even though he will have to make the adjustment to pitching in the U.S. and against major-league hitters, it should be just a matter of time before Fujikawa, and not incumbent closer Carlos Marmol, is finishing games for the Cubs. Marmol most likely will be traded at some point as the team continues its rebuilding process, and Fujikawa has plenty of experience in the closer role, as evidenced by his 220 career saves in Japan.

David Hernandez, ARI, RP (UR)
All you really need to know about Hernandez is that he struck out 98 batters in 68 1/3 innings last season. He picked up 25 holds and also collected four saves as the Diamondbacks’ setup man, posting a 2.50 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in the process. Even though the team added veteran closer Heath Bell in the offseason, Hernandez figures to get the call should incumbent J.J. Putz, who blew five saves last season, stumble or simply need a day off.

Glen Perkins, MIN, RP (UR)
A starter for the Twins in 2006, Perkins has successfully made the transition to the bullpen. First used primarily as a lefty specialist, Perkins worked his way up the bullpen ladder to setup man in 2011 and the first part of ’12 and then shared the closer duties with Jared Burton from late June on last season. Whether the closer-by-committee continues this season remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised if Perkins ends up with the gig on a full-time basis. All he did in the second half of last season was go 12-for-13 in save chances with a 1.93 ERA, 0.58 WHIP, while posting an 11.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio. If Perkins does end up with the closer job all to himself, he could be good for 30 or more saves at a ridiculously cheap price.

Vinnie Pestano, CLE, RP (UR)
Pestano is one of the more under-appreciated relievers in fantasy baseball, but that could change this season. He finished last season second in the majors in holds with 36 and has a total of 59 for the Indians over his last two campaigns. He’s a reliable source of strikeouts (76 in 70 innings) and doesn’t hurt you in the ERA (2.57) and WHIP (1.10) categories either. Most importantly of all, however, is that Pestano has a good chance of starting the season as Cleveland’s closer since incumbent Chris Perez has been sidelined by a shoulder strain. Perez said he expects to be ready by Opening Day, but if he’s not new manager Terry Francona won’t hesitate to hand the ball over to Pestano. You shouldn’t either for your fantasy team, even if you play in a league that doesn’t use holds.

2013 Fantasy Baseball Relief Pitcher (RP) Busts

Joel Hanrahan, BOS, RP (No. 180 overall)
Hanrahan has been one of the most effective closers the past two seasons, racking up 76 saves in 84 chances for the Pirates. This season, however, he will be changing not only teams, but also leagues, as he takes over the closer role in Boston. Hanrahan’s fly ball rate jumped quite a bit last season, as evidenced by the eight home runs he allowed compared to just one in 2011, and his new home park is not exactly known as being a pitcher’s haven. Fenway ranked third last season in the majors in terms of runs scored, while Pittsburgh’s PNC Park came in at no. 28, according to’s Park Factors. Unless the wheels come completely off, there’s no reason to not expect Hanrahan to save 30 or more games for the Red Sox this season. Just be willing to pay a potentially high price, say in terms of ERA and WHIP, for those saves if you do end up drafting him.

Jim Johnson, BAL, RP (No. 146 overall)
Johnson came out of nowhere last season to lead the league in saves (51) for a surprising Orioles team. Understandably, Johnson went from someone drafted well outside of the top 200 (if at all) in 2012 to a guy who sits comfortably inside of that range for this season. My skepticism related to Johnson’s current Big Board standing as the No. 11 RP has to do with his skill set and the team he pitches for. For one, Johnson is not a strikeout guy (41 in 68 2/3 innings), as he relies on his stuff to produce ground balls. As effective as he is with this strategy, there’s always some concern with guys who pitch more to contact than missing bats. There’s also the matter that Baltimore went 29-9 in one-run games last season, a situation that a closer like Johnson no doubt benefited greatly from. The chances of the Orioles repeating such a performance seem highly unlikely, which in and of itself could be a difference of around 10 saves, if not more. Remember, for a pitcher like Johnson saves are what primarily drive his value since he’s not going to collect a lot of strikeouts.

Craig Kimbrel, ATL, RP (No. 45 overall)
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way – I am not saying that Kimbrel is a bust, as his stats (3-1, 42 SV, 1.01 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 116 SO in 62 2/3 innings) speak for themselves (and rather loudly at that). What I am saying is be careful to not overpay for saves, which I think you run the risk of based on his top-50 overall standing on the Big Board. Jonathan Papelbon is the next reliever on the Big Board, and he comes in at No. 83. The difference between taking Kimbrel in the fifth round and Papelbon in the ninth is pretty substantial, don’t you think? While Kimbrel may be one of the top RPs available, is he really so valuable that he’s worth taking so early? Don’t forget that Jim Johnson and Fernando Rodney both finished with more saves than Kimbrel last season, while Jason Motte and Rafael Soriano had just as many. Even with the high number of strikeouts and an outstanding ERA and WHIP, it’s not like Kimbrel lapped the rest of the RP field in 2012. Also, Atlanta made a concerted effort last season to lessen Kimbrel’s workload as his appearances dropped by 16 games and his innings went down by nearly 15. What’s not to say that this trend doesn’t continue in 2013? After all, the Braves did add former Angels closer Jordan Walden to a bullpen that already has reliable options in Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. I have no problem whatsoever with Kimbrel being the first RP drafted. I would just caution you on pulling the trigger too soon.

Related Content:
2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Big Board
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball: Closer Grid
2013 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2013
Fantasy Baseball 2013: Which Injured Players are Worth Drafting?

<p> 2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitcher</p>
Post date: Friday, March 22, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/5-players-watch-sec-spring-practice

With spring practice underway across college football, most of interest will focus on quarterback battles or incoming freshmen that enrolled early to get a jumpstart on making an impact for 2013.

However, there’s always a handful of players – outside of the quarterback position – that fly under the radar that need to have a big spring practice for their team. Whether it’s a running back replacing a 1,000-yard rusher or a lineman stepping into a starting role for an all-conference player, there’s plenty of names that will be under the spotlight this spring.

Athlon continues its spring practice previews with a look at five under-the-radar players to watch in each conference during spring practice. 

5 Players to Watch in SEC Spring Practice

Paul Harris, WR, Tennessee
It’s always risky to bank on true freshmen to make an impact in their first season on campus, but Tennessee desperately needs Harris to deliver on his recruiting hype. With Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and tight end Mychal Rivera departing, the cupboard is bare with proven receiving options on Rocky Top. Harris is getting a jumpstart on learning the offense, as he enrolled early and is participating in spring practice. He ranked as the No. 7 player in Maryland and was a four-star recruit by At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, Harris has the size to be an immediate factor in the redzone and should help Tennessee’s new quarterback (likely Justin Worley) ease into the starting lineup. Fellow freshman MarQuez North will join the fray in the fall, but Harris has a chance to impress and earn a starting spot this spring.

Related Content: 2013 Tennessee Spring Preview

Danielle Hunter/Jermauria Rasco, DE, LSU
We are going to cheat just a bit and list both of LSU’s starting defensive ends in this space. The Tigers were arguably the team hit the hardest by early departures to the NFL, as defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo and tackle Bennie Logan were just three of 11 LSU players to forego their eligibility in Baton Rouge. With the defensive line replacing six players from last season’s unit, Hunter and Rasco are being counted on to fill the void left behind by the departed linemen. Neither player made a start last season, but they combined for 24 tackles and two tackles for a loss. The Tigers appear to be set at tackle with Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson stepping into the lineup. Now LSU needs to see two former top recruits (Hunter and Rasco) live up to their billing at defensive end.

Related Content: 2013 LSU Spring Preview

Henry Josey, RB, Missouri
Before a devastating knee injury, Josey was on his way to being one of college football’s top running backs. In 10 games in 2011, he rushed for 1,168 yards and nine touchdowns and was averaging a ridiculous 8.1 yards per carry. Considering the seriousness of Josey’s injury, there’s no guarantee he is able to return to full strength in 2013. However, the Texas native is participating in spring practice and worked hard rehabilitating his knee last season to get back on the field. Even if Josey doesn’t return to his 2011 form, he should still be a major contributor in Missouri’s backfield. And this spring should give the coaching staff a good idea of what can be expected from the junior in 2013.

Related Content: 2013 Missouri Spring Preview

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

Related Content: 2013 Alabama Spring Preview

Jonathan Williams, RB, Arkansas
Thanks to the departure of quarterback Tyler Wilson and running backs Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis, the Razorbacks are essentially starting from scratch on offense. Coordinator Jim Chaney has been successful at each of his stops, but Arkansas’ offense has a lot of work to do this preseason. With touted freshman Alex Collins arriving this summer, Williams needs to impress the coaching staff this spring to stake his claim for the No. 1 job. In his freshman campaign in 2012, Williams rushed for 231 yards on 45 attempts and caught eight passes for 208 yards and two scores. The Texas native averaged 5.1 yards per carry and rushed for 61 yards against South Carolina. Williams showed potential in limited work last season. And with Collins expected to push for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, he needs to have a big spring to put some distance on the talented freshman.   

Related Content: 2013 Arkansas Spring Preview

Related College Football Content

College Football's Top 10 Defensive Players on the Rise for 2013
Ranking the Top 15 Alabama Teams in School History

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2013

College Football's Top 5 Wide Receivers to Watch for 2013

College Football's Top 20 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2013

SEC 2013 Spring Preview and Storylines to Watch

<p> 5 Players to Watch in SEC Spring Practice</p>
Post date: Friday, March 22, 2013 - 07:50
Path: /college-football/florida-state-seminoles-2013-spring-preview

With the departure of seven all-conference performers and six new assistant coaches, Florida State’s spring practice is all about getting everyone on the same page and acclimated with all of the new faces. Despite the turnover on the roster and coaching staff, the Seminoles are still one of the top-15 teams in the nation and will be Clemson’s biggest threat to an ACC title. The battle to replace EJ Manuel at quarterback will get most of the attention this spring, but Florida State must replace a handful of key contributors on defense, including defensive end Bjoern Werner and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. With all of the changes, there will be an adjustment period in Tallahassee. However, there’s still plenty of talent returning, which could keep Florida State in contention for 10 wins in 2013.

Florida State Seminoles 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 12-2 (7-1)

Spring practice dates: March 20-April 13

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 4

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Clint Trickett, 22 of 34, 272 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Devonta Freeman, 111 car., 660 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving: Rashad Greene, 57 rec., 741 yards, 6 TDs
Tackles: Christian Jones, 95
Sacks: Demonte McAllister, 3.5
Interceptions: Tyler Hunter, 3

Redshirts to watch: QB Jameis Winston, WR Marvin Bracy, DE Chris Casher, DB Colin Blake, DT Justin Shanks, LB Ukeme Eligwe

Early Enrollees to Watch: LB Freddie Stevenson, DE Demarcus Walker

JUCO Transfers to Watch: DE Desmond Hollin

2013 Schedule

Sept. 2 at Pittsburgh
Sept. 14 Nevada
Sept. 21 Bethune-Cookman
Sept. 28 at Boston College
Oct. 5 Maryland
Oct. 19 at Clemson
Oct. 26 NC State
Nov. 2 Miami
Nov. 9 at Wake Forest
Nov. 16 Syracuse
Nov. 23 Idaho
Nov. 30 at Florida

Offensive Strength: Outside of quarterback, the Seminoles are set on offense. Running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. could be the ACC’s best one-two punch in 2013. Also, five players that caught 20 or more passes are back, and the offensive line returns four starters.

Offensive Weakness: It’s only one area, but it’s a big one: Quarterback. EJ Manuel expired his eligibility after the Orange Bowl, which leaves Jacob Coker, Clint Trickett, Jameis Winston and Sean Maguire to battle for the starting job.

Defensive Strength: The strength of Florida State’s defense last year was clearly the defensive line. With Bjoern Werner leaving early for the NFL and Everett Dawkins and Cornellius Carradine expiring their eligibility, the strength of the defense has shifted to the back seven. The Seminoles should have one of the ACC’s top linebacker and secondary units in 2013.

Defensive Weakness: It’s hard to call Florida State’s defensive line a weakness considering the talent this group possesses. However, the Seminoles will have a drop off in performance at this position with the departure of four key players from last season.

Spring Storylines Facing the Seminoles

1. Who starts at quarterback? The biggest question facing the Seminoles in spring practice is the battle to replace EJ Manuel under center. Although he had his moments of inconsistency, Manuel finished his career with 7,741 yards and 47 touchdowns. Four quarterbacks are vying to replace Manuel, but the battle is most likely between junior Clint Trickett and redshirt freshman Jameis Winston. Trickett has two starts under his belt and has 947 passing yards in his career. Winston was regarded as the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the 2012 signing class and spent last season learning the ropes as a redshirt. Winston is playing baseball this spring but is not expected to miss any practice time. Considering the talent at the skill positions, Florida State doesn’t need Trickett or Winston to be an All-ACC quarterback. If Winston is ready, he should be the Seminoles’ No. 1 quarterback for the season opener against Pittsburgh.

2. Shuffling on the offensive line? With four starters back, Florida State should have one of the ACC’s best offensive lines in 2013. However, there’s some uncertainty surrounding this group, as Menelik Watson departed early for the NFL and Daniel Glauser expired his eligibility, which completely vacated the depth at right tackle. So who steps into Watson’s starting spot? Junior Bobby Hart is expected to get a chance to claim the right tackle job, and he has 19 games of experience under his belt. If Hart is unable to claim that spot, center Bryan Stork could slide to right tackle. If Stork does slide to the outside, junior Austin Barron would claim the top spot at center. Other options to watch at right tackle will be sophomore Ruben Carter or junior Sterling Lovelady, along with incoming freshman Wilson Bell. The best scenario for Florida State is for Hart to claim the right tackle position, which would keep Stork at center. Depth could be an issue for the Seminoles on this unit, so keeping the five starting linemen healthy will be a priority.

3. Rebuilding the defensive line. Although Florida State must replace ends Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine and tackles Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud, this unit could still rank among the best in the ACC. Sophomore Mario Edwards is a future star, and sophomore Giorgio Newberry and redshirt freshman Chris Casher were touted recruits coming out of high school. Incoming freshman Demarcus Walker and junior college recruit Desmond Hollin are expected to play a significant role in the rotation in 2013. The tackle position should be set with Timmy Jernigan and Demonte McAllister sliding into the starting lineup, along with the return of Jacobbi McDaniel from a redshirt year. Even with the talent stepping into the lineup, this unit will take a step back. However, if there’s little adjustment from Mark Stoops to Jeremy Pruitt as the coordinator, Florida State’s rush defense should once again rank in the top-10 nationally.

4. Shuffling in the secondary. The Seminoles only have one departure in the secondary, but it’s a big one. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes left early for the NFL after earning first-team All-ACC honors in 2013, and he is expected to be a first-round selection in April. Replacing Rhodes is no easy task, but Florida State has depth in the secondary. Lamarcus Joyner is expected to slide from safety to cornerback in spring practice, and he was a first-team All-ACC pick last year. With Joyner moving to corner, the Seminoles shouldn’t miss a beat in pass defense. The other corner spot has a handful of players competing for time, including Tyler Hunter, Ronald Darby, Nick Waisome, incoming freshman Jalen Ramsey and redshirt freshman Colin Blake. With Hunter, Darby and Waisome out for spring practice, Blake will have a head start on claiming the other corner spot. Regardless of who starts at the other corner spot, Florida State has plenty of options and should be stingy against the pass once again. Expect Terrence Brooks and Karlos Williams to get the starting nod at safety.

5. Replacing Dustin Hopkins at kicker. The departures on offense and defense will get most of the attention in the spring, but Florida State has a huge void to fill on special teams. Kicker Dustin Hopkins set the NCAA career scoring record for kickers and was a Groza Award finalist in 2012. Junior Drew Zloch and redshirt freshman Roberto Aguayo are the only kickers on the spring roster, with Aguayo the likely frontrunner. Hopkins was one of college football’s top kickers during his career at Florida State and will be missed. Will Aguayo ease concerns about Hopkins’ departure this spring? Or will the kicking battle continue into the fall?

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<p> Florida State Seminoles 2013 Spring Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, March 22, 2013 - 07:45
All taxonomy terms: 2013 March Madness, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/harvard-scores-first-major-upset-2013-ncaa-tournament

From eight United States presidents to Mark Zuckerberg, no Harvard student ever watched the Crimson win an NCAA Tournament game until Thursday.

Harvard scored the biggest upset of the first day of the 2013 NCAA Tournament by defeating Mountain West regular season and tournament champion New Mexico 68-62.

As Belmont, Bucknell and South Dakota State were trendy upset picks entering the Tourney, a young Harvard team flew under the radar to defeat the 29-6 Lobos. Harvard, which had an NCAA Tournament drought from 1947-2011, rarely trailed in its first NCAA Tournament victory, turning a Final Four contender into the first major upset victim of the season.

In other key developments from the NCAA Tournament on Thursday:

After Harvard, limited upsets.
Belmont, Bucknell, Davidson and South Dakota State all looked like teams primed for key NCAA wins. But other than Davidson, all lost by significant margins Thursday. Butler was overwhelmed by Arizona’s talent advantage, Butler neutralized Bucknell’s Mike Muscala, and Michigan’s supporting cast of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III more than made up for the stalemate between Trey Burke and Nate Wolters. Marquette needed late-game heroics to defeat Davidson, so score four for the big teams.

Pac-12 acquits itself
Remember when 12-5 upsets used to be a big deal? Not when two of those teams finished in the top four of the Pac-12. Cal and Oregon answered for their lackluster seeding by defeating No. 5 seeds in the first round. Oregon made easy work of Oklahoma State while Cal defeated a UNLV team that struggled to find its offense for most of the game.

Routs for VCU, Syracuse
VCU’s 88-42 win over Akron wasn’t a shock, given the Zips’ limitations with a suspended starting point guard and two key players recovering from the flu. VCU’s 46-point win was the largest in NCAA Tournament history by a team seeded No. 3 or lower for a few hours before No. 4 Syracuse defeated Montana 81-34.

<p> Harvard scores first major upset of 2013 NCAA Tournament</p>
Post date: Friday, March 22, 2013 - 01:15
Path: /college-basketball/gonzaga-survives-scare-no-1-seed-ncaa-tournament

The first win for a No. 16 seed over a No. 1 seed will have to wait. At least until tonight or tomorrow, if not next season.

Southern gave Gonzaga a scare keeping its round of 64 game close all the way to to the end in a 64-58 loss Thursday. Southern had the game tied at 56 with 3:47 remaining before guard Kevin Pangos led Gonzaga’s comeback with seven of the Bulldogs’ last 10 points and an assist on Gary Bell Jr.'s three-pointer.

In a game that included the son of John Stockton (Gonzaga's David Stockon) and Manute Bol (Southern's Madut Bol) Southern followed a tried-and-true method for an NCAA upset by hitting 10 of 23 three-point shots, but Gonzaga’s star center Kelly Olynyk  was too much in the second half for the SWAC champs.

If there was going to be a No. 16 over a No. 1 upset in this Tournament, Gonzaga’s game was a likely candidate. The Bulldogs were the last team selected as a No. 1 seed, and Southern was the only No. 16 seed to win both its regular season and conference tournament titles.

So what does this mean for Gonzaga? The Bulldogs are the 12th No. 1 seed of the 64-team era to defeat a No. 16 seed by fewer than 10 points and only the second since 1997.

Here’s how the others fared for the remainder of the Tournament. The tally includes one team reaching the title game, two reaching the Final Four, two reaching the Elite Eight, three reaching the Sweet 16 and two losing in their second-round game.

2013: Gonzaga def. Southern 64-58
2012: Syracuse def. UNC Asheville 72-65 (lost in Elite Eight to Ohio State)
1997: North Carolina def. Fairfield 82-74 (lost in Final Four to Arizona)
1996: Purdue def. Western Carolina 73-71 (lost in second round to Georgia)
1996: Connecticut def. Colgate 68-59 (lost in Sweet 16 to Mississippi State)
1990: Michigan State def. Murray State 75-71 in OT (lost in Sweet 16 to Georgia Tech)
1989: Georgetown def. Princeton 50-49 (lost in Elite Eight to Duke)
1989: Oklahoma def. East Tennessee State 72-71 (lost in Sweet 16 to Virginia)
1989: Illinois def. McNeese State 77-71 (lost in Final Four to Michigan)
1986: Duke def. Mississippi Valley State 85-78 (lost in championship game to Louisville)
1986: St. John’s def. Montana State 83-74 (lost in second round to Auburn)
1985: Michigan def. Fairleigh Dickinson 59-55 (lost in second round to Villanova)

<p> Gonzaga survives scare as No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 19:23
Path: /college-basketball/vander-blue-keeps-marquette-alive-ncaa-tournament

Marquette busted out of a three-pointer slump just in time against Davidson, but the Golden Eagles didn’t dash the Wildcats’ upset hopes until a layup in the final seconds.

Marquette’s Vander Blue picked up the first bona fide game-winning shot of this year's Tournament on a drive to the basket in the final second of play for a layup to give the Golden Eagles a 59-58 win.

Davidson led by as much as nine in the second half, but went cold from long range and the free-throw line. The Wildcats missed two three-pointers and the front end of two one-and-ones to allow Marquette to narrow the gap.

Marquette, a 30.1 percent three-point shooting team during the regular season, missed 11 of its first 12 shots beyond the arc but quickly hit a hot streak late with three three-point shots in a row, including one from Blue to narrow the lead to two.

Before Blue’s game-winner, Davidson attempted to save a loose ball rolling out of bounds but failed, setting up Marquette for the go-ahead possession.

 The win helped Marquette pick up a round of 64 win in four of five seasons under Buzz Williams.

<p> Vander Blue keeps Marquette alive in NCAA Tournament</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 18:26
Path: /college-basketball/memphis-avoids-becoming-ncaa-tournaments-first-buzzer-beater-victim

The whirlwind travel schedule finally caught up to Saint Mary’s.

After traveling from Moraga, Calif., to Dayton on Monday to defeat Middle Tennessee in the First Four on Tuesday, the Gaels skipped out of Ohio to go to Auburn Hills, Mich., against Memphis.

Memphis led by nine with three minutes to go, but Eividas Petrulis hit a three-pointer in the final five seconds to give Saint Mary’s a chance at the win. The Gaels’ deflected Memphis’ inbound pass of Tigers guard Joe Jackson to set up the potential game-winning shot.

The Tournament’s first chance at a buzzer-beater, though, missed wide with an airball from Matthew Dellavedova.

On the other side, Memphis got a much-needed NCAA Tournament win, the first under coach Josh Pastner. The fourth-year coach had been under pressure for a lack of big wins in his tenure, including Tournament losses to fifth-seeded Arizona and ninth-seeded Saint Louis. Pastner will have a shot at an even bigger win Saturday against third-seeded Michigan State.

<p> Memphis avoids becoming NCAA Tournament's first buzzer-beater victim</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 17:50
Path: /college-basketball/ranking-every-coach-2013-ncaa-tournament

The NCAA Tournament is a results-based business for coaches. Having the best players or fanbase or reputation isn’t enough. Dean Smith couldn’t even make the Final Four with a team that had Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty and Kenny Smith. Jim Valvano ran wild after motivating a group of nobodies past the future Hall of Fame-laden “Phi Slamma Jamma” of Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

Like it or not, the NCAA Tournament is a proving ground for coaches. And the best in the business inevitably rise to the top. Who are the best suits with dry erase boards in this year’s Field of 64? (Sorry First Four losers.)

Here’s a rundown of the coaches in this year’s NCAA Tournament, broken down by tier — in terms of best results in previous tournaments — and ranked within their group of similarly accomplished peers.

NCAA Champions
It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got a ring. These are the nine coaches who have cut down the nets, for a combined 14 NCAA titles between them. It’s a mix of program builders and powerhouse caretakers. But each has proven capable of sealing the deal with a championship on the line.

1. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
29th NCAA Tournament
11 Final Fours
4-time Champion (1991, ’92, 2001, ’10)
4-time Runner-up (’86, ’90, ’94, ’99)

Coach K finds a way, even if it takes a miracle shot from Christian Laettner to advance or an unanswered Hail Mary from Gordon Hayward at the buzzer to hold on for the win.

2. Rick Pitino, Louisville
18th NCAA Tournament
6 Final Fours
1996 Champion
1997 Runner-up

Pitino has famously taken three different schools (Providence, Kentucky and Louisville) to the Final Four and carries a perfect 10–0 record in Sweet 16 contests. 

3. Tom Izzo, Michigan State
16th NCAA Tournament
6 Final Fours
2000 Champion
2009 Runner-up

The method to Izzo’s March Madness has proven successful year after year, thanks to a physical, possession-by-possession, down-and-distance strategy that is football-like.

4. Roy Williams, North Carolina
23rd NCAA Tournament
7 Final Fours
2-time Champion (2005, ’09)
2-time Runner-up (1991, ’03)

Ol’ Roy has been an underachieving nice guy with several teams at both Kansas and North Carolina. But there’s no denying the Tourney success of Dean Smith’s protégé.

5. Billy Donovan, Florida
13th NCAA Tournament
2-time Champion (2006, '07)
2000 Runner-up
Billy the Kid went from being Rick Pitino's go-to-guy and right-hand-man to having one more title ring than his mentor along with a Pitino-esque 5–1 record in Sweet 16 contests.

6. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
30th NCAA Tournament
2003 Champion
2-time Runner-up (1987, ’96)

Boeheim was a victim of IU’s Keith Smart and a dominant UK team before riding Carmelo Anthony to a title. Still, the overrated Orange are usually overripe by March.

7. Bill Self, Kansas
15th NCAA Tournament
2008 Champion
2012 Runner-up

Self has coached three schools (Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas) to the Elite Eight, but also staggered to early losses — Round of 64 in 2005 and ’06, Round of 32 in ’10 — at KU.

8. Tubby Smith, Minnesota
17th NCAA Tournament
1998 Champion

Won it all — with “Pitino’s players,” according to the Big Blue Nation — in his first season at Kentucky, after leading both Tulsa and Georgia to the Sweet 16 previously.

9. Steve Fisher, San Diego State
13th NCAA Tournament
1989 Champion
2-time Runner-up (1992, ’93)

Made the NCAA title game three times in his first five seasons at Michigan, winning a championship as an interim coach and losing twice with the Fab Five. Not much since.

These guys have come within one win of a big pay raise and bump in historical status. They’ve been there, but they haven’t quite done that. Keep in mind, four of the top six coaches on this list lost the NCAA title before they climbed the ladder to cut down nets.

10. Brad Stevens, Butler
5th NCAA Tournament
2-time Runner-up
(2010, '11)
It doesn’t take Nate Silver or Joe Lunardi to know that the 36-year-old wunderkind Stevens is a chess master in March.

11. Ben Howland, UCLA
10th NCAA Tournament
3 Final Fours
2006 Runner-up

Howland’s star has faded considerably since making three straight trips to the Final Four (2006-08) in his early days at UCLA.

12. Thad Matta, Ohio State
11th NCAA Tournament
2 Final Fours
2007 Runner-up

It took a healthy Greg Oden to get Matta to the title game. Generally speaking, the Buckeyes treat NCAA games like BCS bowls.

13. Bruce Weber, Kansas State
9th NCAA Tournament
2005 Runner-up

The bottom has fallen out on Weber’s brackets since Deron Williams and Dee Brown led the Illini to the final Monday in 2005.

Final Four
This group has either shocked the world or barely lived up to Final Four expectations. Experiencing the final weekend is huge. Handling the hype is easier said than done, but much easier after seeing how it’s done — albeit from a loser’s prospective.

14. Shaka Smart, VCU
3rd NCAA Tournament
2011 Final Four
Havoc ensues when Smart’s teams take the court. No one should be Shaka-ed if and when the Rams win in March.

15. Jim Larranaga, Miami
6th NCAA Tournament
2006 Final Four

Leader of arguably the greatest Cinderella story in Big Dance history — CAA at-large berth George Mason’s run to the Final Four.

16. Jay Wright, Villanova
10th NCAA Tournament
2009 Final Four
4 Sweet 16s

The best-dressed coach has never been best in show at the Big Dance but Wright has lived up to expectations most years.

17. Tom Crean, Indiana
7th NCAA Tournament
2003 Final Four
2 Sweet 16s

Dwyane Wade showed flashes of otherworldly superstardom en route to Marquette making the Final Four. Can Crean take credit?

18. John Thompson III, Georgetown
9th NCAA Tournament
2007 Final Four
2 Sweet 16s

The son and namesake of the 1984 NCAA champion Georgetown coach, JT3 has yet to match is dad’s level of Tourney success.

19. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma
14th NCAA Tournament
1994 Final Four
3 Sweet 16s

Kruger has taken five schools (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma) dancing, but has just three Sweet 16 trips.

20. Mike Montgomery, Cal
16th NCAA Tournament
1998 Final Four
3 Sweet 16s

Monty knew how to disappoint when he was the boss On the Farm at Stanford. Luckily, hopes haven’t been as high at Cal.

Elite Eight
These coaches have all been one win away from the promised land of the Final Four, where the buffalo wings are hot, the beer is cold and the brackets are completely broken.

21. Sean Miller, Arizona
6th NCAA Tournament
2 Elite Eights
3 Sweet 16s

22. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
12th NCAA Tournament
2005 Elite Eights
5 Sweet 16s

23. Bob McKillop, Davidson
7th NCAA Tournament
2008 Elite Eight

24. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh
9th NCAA Tournament
2009 Elite Eight
3 Sweet 16s

25. John Beilein, Michigan
8th NCAA Tournament
2005 Elite Eight
2 Sweet 16s

26. Mark Gottfried, NC State
9th NCAA Tournament
2004 Elite Eight
2 Sweet 16s

27. Larry Eustachy, Colorado State
5th NCAA Tournament
2000 Elite Eight

Sweet 16
The second weekend of the NCAA Tournament is the bare minimum for some programs and a rare thrill for others. There’s plenty of name recognition in this group. But the potential has yet to match the production in March.

28. Buzz Williams, Marquette
5th NCAA Tournament
2 Sweet 16s

29. Mark Few, Gonzaga
14th NCAA Tournament
4 Sweet 16s 

30. Steve Alford, New Mexico
7th NCAA Tournament
1999 Sweet 16

31. Mike Brey, Notre Dame
11th NCAA Tournament
2003 Sweet 16

32. John Groce, Illinois
3rd NCAA Tournament
2012 Sweet 16

33. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
5th NCAA Tournament
2012 Sweet 16

34. Randy Bennett, Saint Mary's
4th NCAA Tournament
2010 Sweet 16

35. Tommy Amaker, Harvard
3rd NCAA Tournament
2000 Sweet 16

Round of 32
Coaches who have a win on Thursday or Friday, but have yet to triumph on Saturday or Sunday in order to punch their tickets to the second weekend of the Big Dance. For a few small school underdogs, one win in the Tourney is a David vs. Goliath story that lives forever. For others, failing to move forward is a major step backward.

36. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
2nd NCAA Tournament
2012 Round of 32

37. Bob Thomason, Pacific
4th NCAA Tournament
2 Rounds of 32

38. Dana Altman, Oregon
9th NCAA Tournament
2 Rounds of 32

39. Travis Ford, Oklahoma State
4th NCAA Tournament
2010 Round of 32

40. Mike McConathy, Northwestern State
3rd NCAA Tournament
2006 Round of 32

41. Greg McDermott, Creighton
5th NCAA Tournament
2012 Round of 32

42. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
9th NCAA Tournament
2007 Round of 32

43. Fran Dunphy, Temple
15th NCAA Tournament
2 Rounds of 32

44. Tad Boyle, Colorado
2nd NCAA Tournament
2012 Round of 32

45. Jim Crews, Saint Louis
5th NCAA Tournament
1989 Round of 32

46. Frank Haith, Missouri
3rd NCAA Tournament
2008 Round of 32

Winless in NCAA
Earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament implies either a conference tournament championship or national respect — or both. But it doesn’t guarantee a win once the Tourney tips off. These coaches have yet to earn a ‘W’ in the Dance.

47. Rick Byrd, Belmont
0–5 in NCAA Tournament

48. Will Brown, Albany
0–2 in NCAA Tournament

49. Marvin Menzies, New Mexico State
0–2 in NCAA Tournament

50. Keith Dambrot, Akron
0–2 in NCAA Tournament

51. Josh Pastner, Memphis
0–2 in NCAA Tournament

52. Dave Rice, UNLV
0–1 in NCAA Tournament

53. Dave Paulsen, Bucknell
0–1 in NCAA Tournament

54. Scott Nagy, South Dakota State
0–1 in NCAA Tournament

55. Wayne Tinkle, Montana
0–2 in NCAA Tournament

56. Tim Cluess, Iona
0–1 in NCAA Tournament

First Four Winners
Still trying to figure out the First Four. Still not liking it. But they’ve survived and “advanced,” I guess.

57. Cy Alexander, North Carolina A&T
6th NCAA Tournament
2013 First Four

58. Ray Harper, Western Kentucky
2nd NCAA Tournament
2012 First Four

59. John Giannini, La Salle
1st NCAA Tournament
2013 First Four

60. Matt Brady, James Madison
1st NCAA Tournament
2013 First Four

First Big Dance
A great group of coaches making their debut in the NCAA Tournament, highlighted by Mr. One Shining Moment and a man whose supermodel Mrs. has been stealing the show.

61. Bryce Drew, Valparaiso

62. Andy Enfield, Florida Gulf Coast

63. Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss

64. Roman Banks, Southern


<p> Ranking Every Coach in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, including Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo, Roy Williams, Billy Donovan, Jim Boeheim, Bill Self, Tubby Smith, Steve Fisher, Brad Stevens, Ben Howland, Thad Matta, Bruce Weber, Shaka Smart, Jim Larranaga, Jay Wright, Tom Crean, John Thompson III, Sean Miller, Bo Ryan, Bryce Drew and Andy Enfield.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 17:30
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournaments-first-big-star-sim-bhullar-emphasis-big

Photo courtesy of

The breakout star of the early round of NCAA Tournament games was kind of like the pace of the first block of games: Slow and lumbering.

The nation got to know New Mexico State’s Sim Bhullar, who happens to be the tallest player in college basketball at 7-foot-5 and 340 pounds.

Bhullar, a Toronto-born freshman who played at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, is a defensive force, as one would imagine. He scored 10.2 points per game in the WAC and blocked a school record 82 shots. In the 64-44 loss to Saint Louis, he had 11 rebounds and scored four points.

But he was the star of the Tourney for a few minutes. That is, until his brother, Tanveer Bhullar, lands on a college roster. He's a mere 7-3.

Here's what others are saying about Sim Bhullar on Twitter:





<p> The NCAA Tournament's first "big" star: Sim Bhullar (emphasis on big)</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 16:46
All taxonomy terms: 2013 March Madness, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/2013-ncaa-tournament-march-madness-viewers-guide-march-22

Thursday (March 21) and Friday (March 22) will feature 16 NCAA Tournament games across four networks. An almost-continuous stream of college basketball will be fun, but it could be tiring.

Here’s everything you need to know for Friday’s slate of games, including the TV schedule, the network, announcers, predictions and bits of knowledge for each game Friday.

| Midwest | South | West

All times p.m., Eastern.

Related: Thursday NCAA Viewers Guide

No. 15 Albany vs. No. 2 Duke
Time and TV: 12:15, CBS
Site and region: Philadelphia, Midwest
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller
What to watch: How valuable is Ryan Kelly? Duke lost to Lehigh last season without him. The Blue Devils are 18-1 this season with him in the lineup and 108-14 during his career.
Game in a Tweet: Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Ryan Kelly spent their entire careers ranked in the AP top 10.
Prediction: Duke

Related: Our best tips for your bracket pool

No. 12 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Wisconsin
Time and TV: 12:40, truTV
Site and region: Kansas City, West
Announcers: Marv Albert and Steve Kerr
What to watch: Word of caution for the Badgers’ ability to advance: Wisconsin ranked 322nd nationally in free throw percentage (63.3 percent)
Game in a Tweet: Wisconsin limited opponents to 3.9 threes per game. Good luck, Marshall Henderson.
Prediction: Wisconsin

Related: 10 Cinderella candidates for 2013

No. 9 Temple vs. No. 8 NC State
Time and TV: 1:40, TBS
Site and region: Dayton, Ohio, East
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg
What to watch: Temple guard Khalif Wyatt averaged 15.8 shots from the field and 11.4 attempts from the free throw line in his last five games. Can NC State limit his scoring chances?
Game in a Tweet: Temple has only one NCAA Tournament win in the last decade.
Prediction: Temple

No. 15 Pacific vs. No. 2 Miami
Time and TV: 2:10, TNT
Site and region: Austin, Texas, East
Announcers: Tim Brando, Mike Gminski
What to watch: Jim Larranaga had more Tournament wins during George Mason’s Final Four run in 2006 than his enitre roster has NCAA Tournament appearances (one, belonging to Florida transfer Kenny Kadji).
Game in a Tweet: Bob Thomasen has been at Pacific since 1988-89, three years after Miami re-started basketball.
Prediction: Miami

No. 10 Cincinnati vs. No. 7 Creighton
Time and TV: 2:45, CBS
Site and region: Philadelphia, Midwest
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller
What to watch: Cincinnati ranked ninth in the country in defensive efficiency (allowing 0.872 points per possession) and now faces the highest-scoring player in the field in Doug McDermott.
Game in a Tweet: Creighton had the highest effective field goal rate (59.1 percent) since 2006-07 Florida.
Prediction: Creighton

No. 13 La Salle vs. No. 4 Kansas State
Time and TV: 3:10, truTV
Site and region: Kansas City, West
Announcers: Marv Albert and Steve Kerr
What to watch: Like guard play? Four of La Salle's top five scorers are guards. Five of Kansas State's top six scorers are in the backcourt.
Game in a Tweet: Bruce Weber went 7-2 in the NCAA Tournament in his first two seasons at Illinois.
Prediction: Kansas State

Related: Ranking the top 16 teams’ chances of reaching the Sweet 16

No. 16 James Madison vs. No. 1 Indiana
Time and TV: 4:10, TBS
Site and region: Dayton, Ohio, East
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg
What to watch: James Madison did just fine without suspended leading scorer Rayshawn Goins for a half in the First Four. Up next: Indiana.
Game in a Tweet: Indiana used the same starting lineup in all but one game this season.
Prediction: Indiana

No. 10 Colorado vs. No. 7 Illinois
Time and TV: 4:40, TNT
Site and region: Austin, Texas, East
Announcers: Tim Brando, Mike Gminski
What to watch: The Illinois-Colorado game features the bottom two teams in the field in terms of assists per field goal (42 percent).
Game in a Tweet: Illinois and Colorado went a combined 20-20 after Jan. 1.
Prediction: Colorado

No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast vs. No. 2 Georgetown
Time and TV: 6:50, TBS
Site and region: Philadelphia, South
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller
What to watch: Otto Porter carried Georgetown a Big East title, can he carry the Hoyas to a Final Four?
Game in a Tweet: Georgetown’s last Final Four (2007) was FGCU’s last season before joining Division I.
Prediction: Georgetown

No. 15 Iona vs. No. 2 Ohio State
Time and TV: 7:15, CBS
Site and region: Dayton, Ohio, West
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg
What to watch: Iona features one player who averages 20 points per game (Arizona transfer Lamont Jones) and another who averages a double-double (David Laury)
Game in a Tweet: Ohio State hasn’t needed Deshaun Thomas to score 20 in any of its eight consecutive wins.
Prediction: Ohio State

No. 9 Villanova vs. No. 8 North Carolina
Time and TV: 7:20, TNT
Site and region: Kansas City, South
Announcers: Marv Albert, Steve Kerr
What to watch: Villanova leads nation by scoring 28.1 percent of its points on free throws.
Game in a Tweet: North Carolina is a No. 8 seed, its lowest since 2000, when it advanced to the Final Four as an 8.
Prediction: North Carolina

No. 14 Northwestern State vs. No. 3 Florida
Time and TV: 7:27, truTV
Site and region: Austin, Texas, South
Announcers: Tim Brando and Mike Gminski
What to watch: Florida leads the field in scoring defense (53.4 ppg) while Northwestern State is the “fastest” team in the field in terms of offensive possessions per game.
Game in a Tweet: The Gators were 0-6 in games decided by single digits. Who will be the first to challenge Florida?
Prediction: Florida

No. 10 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 San Diego State
Time and TV: 9:20, TBS
Site and region: Philadelphia, South
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller
What to watch: San Diego State has only two NCAA Tournament wins in school history. Both came in 2011, over Northern Colorado and Temple.
Game in a Tweet: Lon Kruger is the first coach to take five teams to the Tourney (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV, OU)
Prediction: Oklahoma

No. 10 Iowa State vs. No. 7 Notre Dame
Time and TV: 9:45, CBS
Site and region: Dayton, Ohio, West
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg
What to watch: Iowa State has nine players averaging between nine and 15 points per game. Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley is one of six players in the field averaging a double-double per game.
Game in a Tweet: Iowa State leads the field by scoring 37.1 percent of its points on threes.
Prediction: Iowa State

No. 16 Western Kentucky vs. No. 1 Kansas
Time and TV: 9:50, TNT
Site and region: Kansas City, South
Announcers: Marv Albert and Steve Kerr
What to watch: Kansas has held opponents to less than 40 percent shooting every season under Bill Self, including a nation-leading 36 percent this season.
Game in a Tweet: Kansas starts four seniors. Western Kentucky has two seniors on the roster.
Prediction: Kansas

No. 11 Minnesota vs. No. 6 UCLA
Time and TV: 9:57, truTV
Site and region: Austin, Texas, South
Announcers: Tim Brando, Mike Gminski
What to watch: Jordan Adams’ was UCLA’s leading scorer during the last four weeks of the season. His absence gives UCLA a six-man rotation.
Game in a Tweet: Pressure is on Howland and Tubby, is it deserved?
Prediction: Minnesota

Related: All Athlon Sports 2013 NCAA Tournament content

<p> 2013 NCAA Tournament: March Madness Viewer's Guide (March 22)</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 15:30
Path: /college-football/mississippi-state-bulldogs-2013-spring-football-preview

Mississippi State started 7-0 last year before running into the eventual national champs, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, LSU, in-state rival Ole Miss and a Northwestern team that celebrated its first bowl win since 1949. Needless to say, the end of the season didn't go as Dan Mullen had planned. That said, Mullen still led State to its third straight bowl game and its second 4-4 SEC record in three seasons. In a loaded SEC West, sledding will always be tough for the Bulldogs. However, State is 24-15 over the last three years and Mullen has the program consistently overachieving. To maintain this new level of success, Hail State will have to fill plenty of holes this spring.

Mississippi State Bulldogs 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 8-5 (4-4)

Spring practice dates: March 21-April 20

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 5

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Tyler Russell, 231-of-394, 2,897 yards, 24 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: LaDarius Perkins, 205 car., 1,024 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving: LaDarius Perkins, 19 rec., 160 yards, 2 TDs
Tackles: Benardrick McKinney, 102
Sacks: Preston Smith, 4.5
Interceptions: Nickoe Whitley, 3

Redshirts to Watch: LB Richie Brown, LB Beniquez Brown, OL Devon Desper, DL A.J. Jefferson, DB Quadry Antoine

JUCO Transfers to Watch: DB Justin Cox, WR Jeremy Chappelle

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 Oklahoma State (Houston)
Sept. 7 Alcorn State
Sept. 14 at Auburn
Sept. 21 Troy
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 LSU
Oct. 12 Bowling Green
Oct. 19 Bye Week
Oct. 24 Kentucky (Thur.)
Nov. 1 at South Carolina
Nov. 9 at Texas A&M
Nov. 16 Alabama
Nov. 23 at Arkansas
Nov. 30 Ole Miss

Offensive Strength: The backfield and line. Tyler Russell and LaDarius Perkins form one of the best 1-2 punches of any ground attack in the SEC. And four, possibly five, offensive linemen will be back as well.

Offensive Weakness: Pass catchers. The top four receivers are gone from last year's roster, including star wideout Chad Bumphis and dependable tight end Marcus Green.

Defensive Strength: Front seven. One key member of the defensive line (Josh Boyd) and the linebacking corps (Cameron Lawrence) will need to be replaced. However, seven of the top eight defensive linemen and six of the top seven linebackers return.

Defensive Weakness: Cornerback. Stars Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay moved on to the NFL and safety Corey Broomfield departed as well. The secondary needs to find covermen.

Spring Storylines Facing the Bulldogs:

1. Lockdown corners are needed. Banks and Slay were stalwarts for Mullen on the backend of his defense as was Broomfield at safety. Finding lockdown corners to step in and take over will be extremely difficult this offseason but spring practice offers a chance to evaluate the competition. Jamerson Love, Kendrick Market and Taveze Calhoun all saw time last year and are poised to battle for starting time in Starkville this spring. However, junior college transfer Justin Cox (6-3, 190) could be a huge addition this spring as his size and frame gives him the chance to contribute all over the defensive backfield. Will Redmond and Cedric Jones also will get plenty of looks as Mullen and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins try to rebuild their secondary.

2. Find some pass catchers. Receivers Chad Bumphis, Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 141 catches last year while tight end Marcus Green added six touchdowns. All four (and Brandon Heavens) are gone from the Bulldogs roster and Mullen is left to restock his entire receiving corps. Robert Johnson brings size (6-1, 220) and a vertical threat to the offense — as well as a truly legendary Mississippi blues name. He caught 17 passes and two scores last year. Jameon Lewis (5-9, 185) complements Johnson well with shifty slot ability. Joe Morrow, Fred Brown and Ricco Sanders will figure heavily in the mix as well. The wildcard could be junior college transfer Jeremy Chappelle and his prototypical 6-2, 215-pound frame. A big, physical receiver seems to be one of the few positions that has eluded Mullen in Starkville. Malcolm Johnson appears poised to take over for Green at tight end and has intriguing upside.


Fill leadership voids on defense. While most of the depth chart returns at linebacker and defensive line, but there are two major voids of leadership departing. Lawrence was a second-team All-SEC performer and the team’s leading tackler with 120 stops last year. Boyd was an NFL-type talent at tackle up front. And the departing trio in the secondary has been well documented. Kaleb Eulls, Denico Autry and Preston Brown have experience and talent but need to become leaders. Benardrick McKinney and Deontae Skinner are in the same situation at linebacker. There is tons of depth along the line and at linebacker but the huddle needs a new leader with all of the departing senior leadership. Look for younger upside players like Quay Evans to step into much more prominent roles.

4. Keep up with the Joneses. There is no rest for the weary in the SEC, especially in the West. Five of the last six national champions play in the West and it doesn’t appear LSU or Alabama are slowing down. Meanwhile Texas A&M has joined the mix in a big way. Over the last three seasons, Mississippi State is achieving at a higher level than it has since 1998 but still struggled down the stretch last year. Are Mullen and his Dogs destined to finish fifth or sixth every season or can this program rebuild quick enough to challenge the big boys? It likely comes down to coaching and this spring is where Mullen can gain ground on guys like Les Miles.

Related College Football Content

Ranking All 125 College Football Coaching Jobs for 2013

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College Football's Top 10 Spring Storylines to Watch for 2013

College Football's Top 15 Spring Quarterback Battles to Watch

<p> Mississippi State Bulldogs 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 12:25
All taxonomy terms: Dustin Johnson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2013-majors-no-15-dustin-johnson

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

No. 15: Dustin Johnson

Born: June 22, 1984, Columbia, S.C. | Career PGA Tour Wins: | 2012 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2012 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,393,820 (19th) World Ranking: 20


Brandel Chamblee's Take

Johnson appears unaffected by the pressures of golf, perhaps owing to his length and the easy birdies that come his way. He has won in every year he has been on Tour dating back to 2008, and even though he was sidelined due to injury for two months in 2012, he managed a win at Memphis and finished off the year with four top 10s in a row, before opening 2013 with a win at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. At 28 years old, he has plenty of time to fulfill his almost limitless potential. If he improves his short game, he will be in the Hall of Fame someday.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 29
Wins: 0

2012 Performance:
Masters - DNP
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - T9
PGA Championship - T48

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T30 (2009)
U.S. Open - T8 (2010)
British Open - T2 (2011)
PGA Championship - T5 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 5
Top-25 Finishes: 7
Missed Cuts: 3

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

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

<p> Athlon Counts Down the 20 Golfers to Watch for Majors Season</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 10:55
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy, News
Path: /mlb/2013-fantasy-baseball-sleepers-and-busts-starting-pitcher

Using Athlon Sports' Big Board as the barometer, here are some potential starting pitcher sleepers who toe the rubber to keep an eye on, as well some possible busts to potentially be wary of. Keep in mind that the "bust" tag doesn't necessarily mean that player won't produce, it's more an indication of concern that he won't do so in relation to his position on the Big Board.

Note: Starting pitcher includes players who have SP eligibility, according to Yahoo!. The player's ranking on the Big Board (200 players ranked) is listed, if applicable. UR means player was not ranked among the top 200. Player rankings from 2012 referenced are from a Yahoo! league that uses the following pitching statistics: W-SO-SV-HLD-ERA-WHIP.

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

2013 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher (SP) Sleepers

Homer Bailey, CIN, SP (No. 177 overall)
Teammates Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Aroldis Chapman (who has been moved back to the bullpen as the Reds' closer) get more publicity and are ranked higher on the Big Board, but don’t overlook Bailey. For starters, his ERA and WHIP have both decreased in each of the past four seasons, as his ERA alone dropped by three-quarters of a run (from 4.43 to 3.68) in 2012. Further, look what Bailey did in the second half of last season: 6-4, 3.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 92 SO in 103 2/3 innings. He capped of his strong finish by pitching seven innings of one-run, one-hit ball against the Giants in the NLDS with 10 strikeouts and just one walk. Bailey will turn 27 in May and this season may be the time the No. 7 overall pick of the 2004 MLB Draft finally puts it all together.

Alex Cobb, TB, SP (UR)
With reigning American League Cy Young winner David Price, 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson and flamethrower Matt Moore fronting the rotation, it’s easy to lose track of Cobb. However, the 25-year-old righthander more than held his own in his first season in the majors in 2012, going 11-9 with a 4.03 ERA in 23 starts. His development was one of the reasons the Rays were willing to part with James Shields in the offseason, and if his spring training numbers (14 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 23 SO in 19 1/3 innings so far) are any indication, he could be in for a breakthrough campaign in 2013.

Ross Detwiler, WAS, SP (UR)
The 27-year-old lefthander could be the most valuable fifth starter in the National League, if not all of baseball. Detwiler went 10-8 with a 3.40 ERA in 33 games (27 starts) for the Nationals last season. Though he’s not a high strikeout guy like teammates Stephen Strasburg or Gio Gonzalez, Detwiler minimizes the damage done by opposing hitters (149 hits allowed in 164 1/3 innings) effectively. With the Nationals’ lineup supporting him, there’s no reason to not expect another double-digit win season out of Detwiler, who could take that next step as a pitcher if he’s somehow able to improve on his control (52 BB vs. 105 SO in 2012).

Derek Holland, TEX, SP (UR)
A 16-game winner in 2011, Holland managed just 12 wins last season as his ERA went from 3.95 to 4.67. Injury could be somewhat to blame, however, as the Rangers’ lefty came down with a nasty stomach virus in June that apparently led to shoulder fatigue and caused him to miss about a month. The good news is he returned and pitched much better as the second half progressed, finishing the season with a 3.96 ERA and 37 strikeouts over his final six starts (38 2/3 innings). If healthy, Holland should have a chance to get back to his 2011 production, if not better as the 26-year-old continues to mature on the mound.

Paul Maholm, ATL, SP (UR)
Spending his first seven seasons in Pittsburgh, Maholm toiled in obscurity for the most part. This changed in 2012, as the veteran lefty was a reliable starter (9-6, 3.74 ERA) for the Cubs prior to getting traded to Atlanta. Maholm went just 4-5 in 11 starts for the Braves, but he posted an ERA of 3.54 and a WHIP of 1.19 over 68 2/3 innings. If he’s able to maintain that sort of performance for the Braves over a full season with their revamped offense supporting him, there’s no reason to think Maholm can’t match, if not surpass, his career-high win total of 13 from last season. And while he may not strike out a ton of batters (140 total in 189 innings last season), he probably won’t hurt in the ERA or WHIP categories either.

2013 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher (SP) Busts

R.A. Dickey, TOR, SP (No. 52 overall)
Dickey was a deserving recipient of the National League Cy Young award last season, as his knuckleball caused opposing hitters headaches in 2012. My concern with Dickey, who is the No. 12 SP on the Big Board, has to do with his change of scenery. Besides switching teams, Dickey also is changing leagues, going from the NL to the AL. This means he will have to face the DH and some of the tougher lineups in baseball, such as the Tigers, Angels and Rangers. This switch in leagues alone is enough to expect some sort of increase to his ERA, which could also impact his win total. In the end, while I’m not expecting Dickey to fall apart in his first season in Toronto, I think we’ve already seen his ceiling, which means he only has one way to go from here. He should still be a valuable and productive SP, but don’t draft him expecting a repeat of his 2012 masterpiece.

Zack Greinke, LAD, SP (No. 53 overall)
The pitcher with the second-largest contract (six years, $147 million) in baseball history, Greinke hasn’t exactly produced like it since his 2009 American League Cy Young season. Since 2009, Greinke has averaged around 14 wins a season while posting an ERA no lower than 3.48 in any one campaign. A reliable source of strikeouts, Greinke’s overall body of work doesn’t exactly jump off the page, especially considering his new contract numbers. Add to this the fact he’s already been diagnosed with elbow inflammation before the season even starts, and you may want to think long and hard before drafting him among the top 15 SPs and top 50 players overall.

Roy Halladay, PHI, SP (No. 71)
A two-time Cy Young winner, Halladay has been one of baseball’s most dominant and feared pitchers over the past decade. Unfortunately, on the heels of last season’s disappointing performance (11-8, 4.49 ERA) and given his struggles in spring training, it appears that Halladay’s status as an elite fantasy option is in serious jeopardy. Back issues led to shoulder problems last season, reasons why he made just 25 starts and posted his highest ERA since 2000 and fewest strikeouts since 2005. A bigger concern, however, is his troubling spring training numbers (13 H, 9 ER, 3 HR, 7 BB, 10 SO in 12 IP) and the fact he was removed him from his most recent start after just one inning. The team said he was pulled because of illness, not injury, but that has done little to quell the whispers that he is hurt or the reports of diminished velocity, a lack of movement and inability to locate when he has been on the mound. The plan is for Halladay to get back out on the mound on Saturday. At this point, however, the chances of the veteran, who will turn 36 in May, being a top-20 SP in 2013 seem remote at best.

Josh Johnson, TOR, SP (No. 122)
The National League’s ERA champ in 2010, Johnson dealt with shoulder issues that limited his '11 workload to nine starts and followed that up with an 8-14, 3.81 ERA campaign in 2012. While he did rebound to pitch nearly 200 innings and poor run support can be somewhat blamed for the lack of wins, what’s more telling is that Johnson struck out 165 in 191 1/3 innings last season, compared to 186 in 183 2/3 innings in 2010. There have been reports that Johnson didn’t have near the same velocity in 2012 as he once did, so this is something to monitor this season. Johnson, like his new teammate R.A. Dickey (see above), also is switching leagues this season, so don’t be surprised to see the former Marlin go through some growing pains as he deals with the DH and AL lineups. Johnson was barely a top-75 SP-eligible performer in 2012. Even with a likely uptick in wins, it’s hard for me to buy him as a borderline top-30 SP in 2013, which is his current Big Board standing.

James Shields, KC, SP (NO. 78)
Shields was a reliable workhorse for Tampa Bay over the past six seasons. During that span he made at least 33 starts in all but one season and pitched no fewer than 203 1/3 innings in any one campaign. He also won 31 games combined in 2011-12 with an average of 224 strikeouts. Traded by the Rays to Kansas City in the offseason, he now serves as the Royals’ ace. Shields’ consistency aside, it’s the change of venues that have me worried somewhat regarding his outlook for 2013. For his career, Shields is 47-31 with a 3.34 ERA at Tropicana Field compared to a 39-42 mark with a 4.54 ERA in road starts. His road numbers include a 2-1 record with a 6.38 ERA in four career starts at his new home park, Kauffman Stadium. Shields was a top-20 SP in both 2011 and 2012, and that’s where he is currently positioned for this season. As reliable and productive as he’s been the past two seasons, don’t bank on him providing that type of production for a third straight campaign.

Related Content:
2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Big Board
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball: Closer Grid
2013 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2013
Fantasy Baseball 2013: Which Injured Players are Worth Drafting?

<p> 2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitcher</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-2013-heisman-trophy-candidates

Heisman Trophy trends finally appear to be changing. Defensive players are getting invited to New York City with increased regularity as one player from that side of the ball has been a finalist in three of the last four seasons. The age stigma has fallen by the wayside as well with Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel each winning the award in just their second seasons on campus.

Johnny Heisman confirmed his amazing season by putting on a record-setting show in the Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma. But is the redshirt sophomore-to-be the frontrunner to win the Heisman again in 2013? Considering only once in 77 years has someone won the stiff-armed trophy a second time, and that was back in 1975 (Archie Griffin), the odds are distinctly against the Aggies' signal caller.

So with the NFL Draft deadline well in the rear-view mirror and spring practice in full swing across the nation, Athlon delivers its Top 25 Heisman Trophy candidates for 2013 — complete with Vegas odds. Keep in mind, Manziel wasn't one of the top 50 most likely players to win the award a year ago heading into the fall.

The Heisman Finalists:

1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (7/1)
The Buckeyes' quarterback was easily the biggest finalist snub this past season, as he ended up finishing fifth in the voting. As the unquestioned leader of an unbeaten Ohio State squad, Miller single-handedly carried the Bucknuts to victory week after week. He was fourth in the Big Ten in rushing (105.9 ypg), second in passing efficiency and second in total offense. Few players on this list can improve their numbers like Miller will in his second year in Urban Meyer's unstoppable spread scheme. His electric play-making ability, raw toughness and perfect fit in the system make him a virtual lock as a Heisman contender next season — as well as potential top overall NFL Draft pick.

2. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (15/1)
Few players posted numbers comparable to Johnny Heisman, but Boyd was one of them. He led the ACC in passing efficiency (165.59) and total offense (339.2 ypg) and was fifth and seventh in each category nationally. He scored 46 total touchdowns (36 pass, 10 rush) and has a host of elite weapons returning. More importantly, this team should be the preseason favorite in the ACC with Boyd under center and Chad Morris calling the plays. He is one of few players who will have the numbers, the marquee showdowns (vs. Georgia, at South Carolina), the potential championship and the offensive support to win the Heisman.

3. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (12/1)
There is little doubt that Clowney is the most physically gifted player in the nation. He is a near lock as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. And because he set the table as a sophomore with a monster hit against Michigan and huge numbers statistically, he has a great chance at landing in New York. The monster defensive end finished third in the nation in sacks (1.08 pg) and second nationally in tackles for loss (1.96 pg). He enters his third year with 21.0 sacks, eight forced fumbles and 35.5 tackles for loss and because he plays a stat-heavy defensive position, his boxscore will speak for itself. However, winning the SEC East might be a must if Clowney wants to become just the second true defensive player to ever win the award.

4. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (4/1)
What else is there to say about Manziel? His numbers speak for themselves and his Cotton Bowl performance will go down in Aggie lore as one of the greatest postseason performances by a Heisman winner of all time. But Tim Tebow couldn’t repeat. Neither could Mark Ingram, Matt Leinart or Sam Bradford. All were elite talents like Manziel, but the odds of repeating are 1-in-77. And now that SEC defensive coordinators will be spending the next five months figuring out ways to stop him, a repeat of his production seems highly unlikely mostly because he set the bar so high for himself in 2012.

5. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (18/1)
Manziel gets most of the love as a redshirt freshman, but Mariota wasn’t far behind. He rarely played in any second halves and led the nation in road passing efficiency. Overall, he led the Pac-12 in passer rating and scored 37 total touchdowns. He plays with poise and confidence well beyond his years. The big question mark will be the loss of head coach Chip Kelly. The last time Oregon switched head coaches internally, there was little drop off, but one has to think this offense will take a small step back. Yet, as the leader of Oregon's offense, the supremely gifted 6-foot-4, 200-pound second-year starter should be destined for at least one trip to NYC in his career.

6. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona (33/1)
Carey was the most underrated player in the nation last fall. He led the nation in rushing (148.4 ypg, 1,929 yards), set the Arizona single-season rushing record and the Pac-12 single-game rushing record (366 yards). He scored 24 times and helped turn the Wildcats from a four-win team in 2011 to an eight-win, zone-read monster. And he did all of this as a sophomore. With spread guru Rich Rodriguez calling the shots, the tough-nosed workhorse has a chance to post huge numbers once again in 2013. Although Carey's on-field performance merits inclusion, there is one glaring issue with Carey. Should his off-the-field behavior — a domestic abuse issue and basketball game incident — become an issue, he drops out of the Heisman race. Currently, he is being disciplined internally and is practicing, so he makes the list.

The Top Challengers:

7. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia (10/1)
The Dawgs' signal caller will make a push to rewrite the Georgia and SEC record books with another big year in Athens. He led the nation in passing efficiency and has 77 total touchdowns in the last two seasons. With a loaded offense returning around him, Murray just needs to eliminate the bizarro game from his resume — e.g., Florida and South Carolina in 2012, Mississippi State in 2011 — to be an NYC finalist. He might also need to finish a season in Atlanta with a win instead of a loss.

8. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon (10/1)
An elite big-play machine, Thomas’ biggest weakness is actually one of his biggest strengths. The Oregon scheme lends itself to huge numbers but it also distributes the football. Simply put, he needs more than 137 touches on offense to get to New York. The change in head coach will also play a role with Thomas' campaign like it will Mariota's.

9. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia (--)
It will be tough for Gurley to top his freshman numbers in the brutal SEC, but his quarterback and offensive line return intact. He led the league in rushing by a running back and scored 17 times. Only Trent Richardson has ever scored 20 rushing TDs in SEC history as a running back. With Murray and Gurley in the same backfield, one has to wonder if the UGA vote will be split between two elite players.

10. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama (18/1)
Looking for another true sophomore to win the award? Look no further than the extremely gifted Yeldon. As just a freshman, he rushed for 1,000 yards and 10 scores as a backup last season en route to a national championship. Nick Saban’s offense is a proven Heisman commodity for running backs and Eddie Lacy has moved on to the NFL. If Yeldon gets 200+ touches, he easily has the skill to make it to New York.

11. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (12/1)
The De’Anthony Thomas of the East Coast, Johnson led the ACC in kickoff returns and was third in all-purpose running as just a freshman. As the season went on, Al Golden trusted Johnson more on offense and he topped 100 yards three times in his last four games. The key will be his role in 2013 as Golden looks to get him more involved in the traditional offense. He could see a big jump from 139 carries a year ago, and should that happen, fans can bet the sophomore speedster's numbers will be eye-popping.

12. Marqise Lee, WR, USC (9/1)
With a proven commodity at quarterback coming back, Lee would be in the “Finalists” category. But with Matt Barkley — and counterpart Robert Woods who drew plenty of defensive attention — leaving for the NFL, Lee’s numbers will almost assuredly go down. He is an elite player who may not have the supporting cast to get to Radio City Music Hall.

13. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (--)
The hot name du jour is the Cards' signal caller after his electric performance against Florida’s nasty defense in the Sugar Bowl. The numbers have to get bigger and better for him to be a finalist, however, as Louisville's system is the most bland of any of the other contenders. Charlie Strong isn't going to throw the ball 50 times a game. Also, The Ville likely needs to run the table for the junior-to-be to get an invite to the Big Apple.

14. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska (15/1)
Few players make the eye-popping plays in the backfield like Martinez. He showed marked improvement in efficiency and decision making this fall, leading the Big Ten in total offense and passer rating. A pair of potential showdowns with Braxton Miller will likely determine T-Magic’s Heisman fate. Four more losses for the Big Red and Martinez will find it hard to get to New York without elite statistics.

15. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA (20/1)
The Bruins finally found a quarterback. The redshirt sophomore-to-be threw for three 300-yard efforts in his first four career games. He then led his team to the Pac-12 title game, scored 38 total touchdowns and produced nearly 4,100 yards of total offense in just his first year under center. The show will be all his in Westwood now that Johnathan Franklin is gone.

16. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama (12/1)
A big part of why Yeldon will be successful will be the return of McCarron. The O-line will have to be rebuilt (to some extent), but the talent at the skill positions could be better than Saban has ever had at the Capstone. If McCarron goes for 30 TDs and just three interceptions again, he will most definitely be in the Heisman race. The biggest issue is his offensive system may never allow for big numbers from the quarterback as names like Ingram, Richardson, Lacy and Yeldon get most of the attention.

17. Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan (40/1)
Fans in Ann Arbor have been waiting for Gardner for years and 2013 will be his chance to shine. In just five starts last year, the former elite recruit accounted for 18 touchdowns, just five interceptions and 264 yards of offense per game. He fits Brady Hoke's scheme better than Denard Robinson but has similar athletic ability. His ability to pass the football could set him apart from his former teammate.

18. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (--)
When it comes to raw upside and physical talent, Watkins is second to none nationally. But staying healthy and focused has been an issue for the electric play-maker, causing him to miss four games in his first two years. With DeAndre Hopkins off to the NFL and his quarterback Boyd returning, the sky could be the limit for the star wideout. Consistency will be the name of the game for the junior-to-be.

19. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor (20/1)
Seastrunk's journey to Heisman contender has been long and winding, but he is finally here. He left Oregon before ever playing a down and finally set Waco afire in the second half of 2012. The former five-star recruit rushed for 831 yards, including five 100-yard games, and six of his seven touchdowns in the season's final six games. Art Briles system is set up for big numbers but he needs solid play from a new quarterback to get to NYC.

20. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State (--)
The Fresno State offensive system will allow Carr to air it out all season long. He has 7,648 yards passing and 63 touchdowns against only 16 interceptions over his last two seasons. An unbeaten record and BCS bowl bid would go a long way in elevating the Heisman profile for the Bulldogs' starter.

21. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (18/1)
Nebraska has always loved to run the football and the explosive back will finally be the full-time starter in Lincoln. After starter Rex Burkhead went down with an injury, the sophomore stepped in and provided big support in the running game. He posted six 100-yard efforts over a nine week span in place of Burkhead and should get the lion's share of carries this fall.

22. Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois (--)
For Lynch to get to Manhattan next December, he would have to improve on what could be considered the best single-season in MAC history. A BCS bowl bid, nearly 2,000 yards rushing, over 3,000 yards passing, 44 total touchdowns and just six interceptions will be tough to reproduce.

23. Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern (--)
The Northwestern offense is as dynamic as any in the nation and Mark will be the centerpiece. He rushed for 1,366 yards, caught 20 passes and scored on two punt returns. He can do everything for a team looking to win its first Big Ten title since 1995. With exciting players returning around him, Mark's only negative heading into the season will be the losses along the offensive line. That said, the Wildcats normally plug in the next guy on a roster that isn't ever overloaded with talent.

24. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech (--)
Many people, myself included, were massively disappointed by the 260-pound quarterback in 2012. He rallied the Hokies late and the offense should be improved in 2013 under new coordinator Scott Loeffler, but Thomas needs to show quite a bit more growth as a passer (18 TD, 16 INT) to get to New York. The good news is he did run the ball more effectively and threw it with more accuracy as a sophomore than he did as a junior. A return to 2011 will get Thomas back in the mix.

25. Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma (30/1)
Bell has one of the most bizarre stat lines in college football. As a backup quarterback entering his first season under center, the massive 6-6, 260-pound passer has had more rushing touchdowns (24) than passing attempts (20). He has rushed 104 times and has scored on nearly a quarter of his attempts. On a team poised to make yet another run at a conference crown, passing the football effectively is still the overwhelming concern for Bell's Heisman candidacy.

Some Defensive Long Shots to Consider:

Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Is a terror off of the edge and will push for nation's lead in sacks.

Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
Elite recruit produced All-Big 12 season as just a freshman. The sky is the limit.

Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Legacy talent needs to stay healthy all year to prove how dominant he can be.

C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Elite leader is one of few major defensive stars who elected to return to college.

Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Lost a lot of talent around him, but no one hits harder and bigger than Shazier.

Will Sutton, DL, Arizona State
Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year back on a team that could push for a division title.

Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
Elite playmaker who should blossom into an All-American as just a sophomore.

Stephon Tuitt, DL, Notre Dame
Supremely gifted athlete could pass Louis Nix as top Irish defender this fall.


Related College Football Content:
College Football's Top 10 Defensive Players on the Rise for 2013

5 Players to Watch in ACC Spring Practice

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch in 2013

College Football's Top 5 Wide Receivers on the Rise for 2013

College Football's Top 20 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2013

<p> College Football's Top 25 2013 Heisman Trophy Candidates</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 07:25
Path: /college-football/5-players-watch-pac-12-spring-practice

With spring practice underway across college football, most of interest will focus on quarterback battles or incoming freshmen that enrolled early to get a jumpstart on making an impact for 2013.

However, there’s always a handful of players – outside of the quarterback position – that fly under the radar that need to have a big spring practice for their team. Whether it’s a running back replacing a 1,000-yard rusher or a lineman stepping into a starting role for an all-conference player, there’s plenty of names that will be under the spotlight this spring.

Athlon continues its spring practice previews with a look at five under-the-radar players to watch in each conference during spring practice. 

5 Players to Watch in Pac-12 Spring Practice

Devon Kennard, DE, USC
Even though USC has a question mark at quarterback, it may not be the biggest issue facing this team in 2013. The defense is undergoing some changes after allowing 394 yards a game last season and finishing eighth in the conference against the run. Monte Kiffin left the coaching staff, so Lane Kiffin hired former California and NFL defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast to resurrect the defense. Pendergast’s experience with the Pac-12 should come in handy at USC, but the Trojans will also get a boost from seven starters coming back, along with Kennard’s return from a season-ending injury last year. In three years with USC, Kennard has recorded 135 tackles and four sacks. And after shuffling between defensive end and linebacker in the early part of his career, the Arizona native should be a perfect fit in Pendergast’s defense. Kennard is expected to spend some time on the line of scrimmage but will also drop back into coverage and rush the quarterback similar to a 3-4 linebacker. With Kennard at full strength and back in the lineup, he is expected to be a key component to what should be a much-improved defense in 2013.

Related Content: 2013 USC Spring Preview

Boseko Lokombo, LB, Oregon
The Ducks return seven starters on defense, but the four departing players were among the best in the Pac-12 at their respective positions. End/linebacker Dion Jordan, tackle Isaac Remington and linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay will be missed. With the front seven in need of repair, coordinator Nick Aliotti will be leaning on Lokombo for leadership in the linebacking corps. In 13 games last season, Lokombo made 12 starts and recorded 39 tackles and two sacks. And in his career, Lokombo has registered 108 stops and four total sacks. With the departures of Alonso and Clay, Lokombo will team with Derrick Malone and Tyson Coleman to help keep Oregon’s defense near the top of the Pac-12.

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA
Running backs are usually one of the easiest places to replace production, but UCLA will have its hands full as it tries to fill the big shoes left by Johnathan Franklin. During his four years in Westwood, Franklin rushed for 4,403 yards and 31 touchdowns and caught 58 passes for 517 yards and three scores. With Damien Thigpen recovering from a torn ACL, Jordan James and Malcolm Jones failing to claim the top spot, the door is open for Perkins to win the starting job this spring. The Arizona native was a three-star recruit by in the 2012 signing class and was redshirted by the coaching staff in his first year on campus. Perkins doesn’t have to be Franklin, but he needs to give UCLA’s rushing attack some punch. If Perkins doesn’t claim the job, the Bruins’ backfield situation will be a concern going into fall practice.

Richard Smith, WR, Arizona State
With the departure of Jamal Miles and Rashad Ross, Arizona State’s receiving corps will be under the spotlight in spring practice. The Sun Devils have Pac-12 South title aspirations, but new playmakers must be found to help quarterback Taylor Kelly. Tight end Chris Coyle should be among the best in the conference, but no returning receiver had more than 21 catches last year. After catching 14 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns last year, Smith is expected to emerge as one of Arizona State’s top receivers in 2013. The sophomore isn’t the biggest target at 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, but he possesses excellent speed and quickness. If Smith steps up this spring, it would go a long way towards easing some of the coaching staff’s concerns about the receiving corps.

Khalil Wilkes, C, Stanford
Outside of replacing running back Stepfan Taylor, the biggest task for coach David Shaw this preseason is to fill the void left behind by Sam Schwartzstein at center. Wilkes is the early frontrunner to claim the starting job, but he is locked into a tight battle with Graham Shuler, Conor McFadden and Kevin Danser. The senior made 13 starts last season at left guard but shifting to center would strengthen Stanford’s offensive line, as it would allow sophomore Andrus Peat to crack the lineup at left tackle. Even if Wilkes doesn’t win the starting center spot, he is a valuable swingman to have around, especially since he saw time at tackle and guard last year.

Related Content: 2013 Stanford Spring Preview

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Pac-12 2013 Spring Practice Storylines to Watch
anking the Pac-12 Coaching Jobs for 2013
Ranking All 125 College Football Coaches for 2013

<p> 5 Players to Watch in Pac-12 Spring Practice</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 07:22
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-auto-club-400-auto-club-speedway

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit heads back out west for the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List.

So, without further ado, Dustin's fantasy predictions for Auto Club — or California, if you prefer — ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag — or at least finishing toward the front:

1. Jimmie Johnson

Why would you take anyone else this week? He has 10 consecutive top-10 finishes at Auto Club Speedway (average finish of 3.3 during that stretch) and has led laps in each of those races. He had an average finish of 3.0 in the first three races of the season and was headed for another top 10 before a blown tire sent him into the wall late at Bristol last week.

2. Matt Kenseth
He’s why you might want to pick someone else. Kenseth won at Las Vegas two weeks ago in the first test of the new car at a track where horsepower and aerodynamics matter (just like Auto Club Speedway). He had a teammate finish in the top five at Vegas, showing the strength of Joe Gibbs Racing on the big tracks. He’s also led more miles (323) than any other driver this season.

3. Brad Keselowski
Then again, there’s this guy. Keselowski has not finished worse than fourth in any of the first four races this season, collecting a bevy of points for those who put him on their team. He’s also led laps in each race this year.

4. Kasey Kahne
Finished second at Las Vegas and then won at Bristol. Has shown speed this season and that’s a good sign for Auto Club where he’s finished 14th, ninth and fourth in his last three starts.

5. Kevin Harvick
Has five consecutive top-10 finishes at this track, including a win in 2011 when he passed Johnson on the last lap.

6. Tony Stewart
Rallied late to finish 11th at Las Vegas after his car was awful in the first half of the race. Never had a chance at Bristol with a flat tire that sent him into the wall early. Needs a strong race this weekend and he’s coming to the right track. He’s won two of the last three at Auto Club.

7. Clint Bowyer
Both top-10 finishes this season have come at tracks one mile or less. Although he finished 27th at Las Vegas, his teammates placed eighth and 14th, showing that Michael Waltrip Racing could have some success at Auto Club.

8. Denny Hamlin
The center of controversy the past two weeks (NASCAR fine, Joey Logano dust-up), Auto Club has presented mixed results. He won the pole last year but has finished outside the top 10 in three of his last four races there.

9. Jeff Gordon
Was the only Hendrick driver who struggled at Las Vegas two weeks ago. Was never a factor, finishing 25th. Misfortune struck at Bristol, blowing a tire and crashing while leading. Needs a strong run or risks falling further behind the leaders in the points, but he’s finished 18th or worse in three of his last four starts in Fontana.

1. Kyle Busch

Finished fourth at Las Vegas and led 27 laps, showing the strength of a team with a new car in its first race at a big track. Also has been good at Auto Club Speedway, finishing in the top three the past two years there. Overall, he has six top-five finishes in 15 career starts.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Has finished in the top 10 in each of the first four races of the season for the first time in his career, rewarding those who have put him on their team. Placed seventh at Las Vegas but knew they were a little off compared to the leaders. Will he close the gap this week? He finished third in Fontana last year.

3. Carl Edwards
Finished fifth at Las Vegas and now comes to a track where he’s placed in the top 5 in seven of his 15 career starts, one of the best marks among active drivers.

4. Martin Truex Jr.
Placed eighth at Las Vegas two weeks ago. Has finished in the top 10 in 10 of the last 11 races at non-restrictor-plate tracks of 1.5-miles and larger since last season.

5. Mark Martin
Back after taking Bristol off. Started third last year and finished 12th at Auto Club.

6. Ryan Newman
Has finished seventh or better in his last three starts in Fontana. When he’s made it to the finish he’s placed in the top 10 this season, but that’s happened only twice. In the other two races he was eliminated because of an accident or a blown engine.

7. Joey Logano
Certainly ran better than he finished at Bristol. He thought he was better than his 12th-place finish at Las Vegas but a pit road speeding penalty hurt him there. Can he avoid trouble and show where he can finish?

8. Kurt Busch
His fourth-place finish at Bristol last week was only the fourth top-five finish for Furniture Row Racing in 203 career starts. Busch has four top 10s in his last six starts at Auto Club Speedway, including a ninth-place finish in last year’s rain-shortened event with the underfunded Phoenix Racing team.

9. Greg Biffle
Auto Club Speedway has not been the best place for him. Although he finished sixth last year, he has placed outside the top 10 in eight of the last 12 races there.

10. Paul Menard
This marks the fourth consecutive year he’s been in the top 10 in points after four races — the only driver to accomplish that feat. Was 10th at Las Vegas, but Auto Club has not been as good to him. He’s never finished in the top 10 in 10 starts at the 2-mile oval.

11. Aric Almirola
Placed 16th at Las Vegas two weeks ago. He and Richard Petty Motorsports have shown greater success on the bigger tracks, going back to the end of last season.

12. Marcos Ambrose
Has finished between 18th and 22nd in each of his four starts this season.

13. Jeff Burton
Has one top-10 finish in his last seven starts at Auto Club Speedway. Has finished on the lead lap only once this year, placing 10th at Phoenix.

14. Jamie McMurray
His 10th-place finish at Bristol last week was his first top 10 in the last 26 races, dating back to last year. Has not finished in the top 10 in his last 11 starts at Auto Club Speedway.

15. Juan Pablo Montoya
Has not had a top-10 finish in his last 25 starts, dating back to an eighth-place finish at Michigan in June.

16. Bobby Labonte
Has finished better than 20th only twice in his last 15 starts at Auto Club Speedway.

<p> Dustin Long ranks each driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit for this weekend's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 18:34
All taxonomy terms: Seattle Mariners, MLB
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-seattle-mariners

The Mariners head into their fifth year under general manager Jack Zduriencik with too many holes in their offense and pitching rotation to fix in one offseason. Significantly improving the roster became a challenge once the Mariners were outbid by $25 million for Josh Hamilton and saw the price for shorter-term fixes like Torii Hunter, Kevin Youkilis and Mike Napoli spiral away from them. And when potential trade partners demanded too many top prospects, Seattle’s game plan shifted toward a more cost-effective approach to upgrading. Rather than spend on Nick Swisher or Cody Ross in the outfield corners, the Mariners signed cheaper free agents Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez to one-year deals. They also filled a hole in the middle of the order by trading left-handed starter Jason Vargas to the Angels for first baseman Kendrys Morales. Despite a so-so comeback year in 2012, Morales had better numbers than any full-time Mariners hitter and provides an answer at designated hitter or first base while Justin Smoak finds his way. Seattle scored 513 runs in 2010 — second-fewest in club history — and 556 runs in 2011. The Mariners’ production improved to 619 runs in 2012, but the bats could again doom the team’s fortunes without improvement from several members of the lineup. With more hitter-friendly dimensions this season, the Mariners should get an offensive boost by scoring more runs at Safeco Field, where they averaged 3.2 runs per game last season compared to 4.5 on the road. But Seattle’s pitching allowed only 3.2 runs per game at home compared to 4.8 on the road, so any offensive gains from a revamped ballpark could be quickly offset. The Mariners’ pitching could also regress without surprises by starters not named Felix Hernandez. Vargas and Kevin Millwood pitched a combined 378.1 innings last season, but neither is back in the rotation in 2012. The Mariners need some new starters to step up.

Hernandez, the 2010 Cy Young Award winner, has averaged only 13.3 wins in the past three seasons but is still considered one of the elite pitchers in the game. He went 13–9 with a 3.06 ERA in 2012 but did not win a game in his final six starts. The Mariners re-signed Japanese import Hisashi Iwakuma to a two-year, $14 million deal based primarily on the strong second half to his first season in the big leagues. Iwakuma, who went 8–4 with a 2.50 ERA in his final 15 starts, will be the No. 2 starter after 2012 wins leader Vargas was dealt. The loss of Vargas is tough to gauge, given his success in a pitcher-friendly home park and struggles away from it. There was concern the new, smaller Safeco Field would hurt Vargas. Veteran Joe Saunders will fill in innings in the middle of the rotation. After his trade from Arizona, the Orioles won four of his seven starts down the stretch, scoring just two, one and zero runs in the other three. The Mariners have younger arms with big-league experience in Blake Beavan (24), Erasmo Ramirez (22) and Hector Noesi (26). But their best prospects remain in the minors, most notably James Paxton, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and Brandon Maurer.

Second-year closer Tom Wilhelmsen, with his lethal curveball, leads a bullpen crew long on potential but short on experience. That’s why Seattle re-signed veteran lefthander Oliver Perez, who impressed the organization with his 2012 conversion to a late-innings specialist. The pen looks southpaw-heavy with Perez, Charlie Furbush and former Rule 5 pickup Lucas Luetge. The Mariners also have 100 mph flamethrowers Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor, and both profile as late-inning specialists — or potential trade bait. Another 2012 surprise was Josh Kinney. He missed most of the spring with a rib cage injury giving veteran Kameron Loe an opportunity to prove himself.

Middle Infield
Advanced metrics indicate shortstop Brendan Ryan is the game’s best defender at his position, but he hit only .194 last season. That has to improve. Second baseman and leadoff man Dustin Ackley hit .226 in a dismal sophomore season while battling bone spurs in his ankle. The spurs were removed during the winter, and Ackley should be healthy in 2013. The Mariners jettisoned light-hitting backup Munenori Kawasaki and traded for Robert Andino, who also doesn’t hit much. But Andino is still an upgrade, and he can play any spot on the infield.
Morales says he’s 100 percent after breaking his leg in 2010. He’ll play first base a few times per week, but will be the primary designated hitter. That will allow Smoak another chance to prove himself at the plate. Smoak, the former No. 11 overall pick by the Texas Rangers, hit only .217 with a .654 OPS in 2012. Ibanez can also play first, which gives the Mariners the option of sending Smoak to Class AAA to begin the season. Third baseman Kyle Seager likely profiles better at second. He led the team with 20 homers in 2012, and the Mariners lack options at the hot corner. With Ackley entrenched at second, Seager will remain at third base.

Seattle acquired Michael Morse from Washington and the former shortstop will be the left fielder. He hit .303 with 36 doubles and 31 homers in 2011 for the Nationals before injuries slowed him last season. His defense is sub-par, but he has the hitting thing figured out. Franklin Gutierrez is the starter in center field. He hit .260 with only four home runs and three stolen bases in an injury-plagued 2012. Michael Saunders will likely be the everyday right fielder. Casper Wells could remain on the roster as a reserve outfielder, but he’s out of minor league options and getting squeezed by incoming vets.

The Mariners have an offensive-minded catcher in Jesus Montero, who will get only limited at-bats at DH this season after the acquisitions of Morlaes and Morse. Acquired from the Yankees before the 2012 season, Montero was solid in his first full season in the big leagues. He hit .260 with 15 home runs in 515 at bats. Those are decent numbers — especially on a team like Seattle — but the Mariners are expecting more production in ’13. Montero started 55 games behind the plate last year and 77 games as the DH. He will catch more often this season and he must improve defensively.

Morales improved as the season wore on. Ibanez and Bay will also see significant time as the DH as well as filling in on the corners in the outfield. Andino doesn’t hit much, but he’s a versatile defensive player who will see time at all four infield spots. Veteran Kelly Shoppach is a capable backup to Montero.
Eric Wedge has implored his players to adopt a “ready to hit” mentality by swinging at hittable pitches and taking fewer walks. The team OPS improved from .640 to .665 in 2012 while runs jumped from 556 to 619 — but much work remains. Wedge doesn’t tolerate the clubhouse discord that toppled Seattle managers in 2008 and 2010, but he lost Miguel Olivo, one of the team leaders last season. He now will lean on newcomers Ibanez and Bay for leadership. There’s pressure on Wedge for tangible results in his third season. The only change on his coaching staff is the addition of Dave Hansen as the hitting instructor. He will replace Chris Chambliss. The Mariners says they can spend $90 million or more on payroll, but it appears that their 2013 Opening Day roster will be in the high-$70-million range.  Zduriencik has yet to match Billy Beane, his counterpart with the A’s, in producing cost-effective winners.

Final Analysis
The Mariners could flirt with the .500 mark with modest improvements on offense. They will also get a boost by playing 19 games against the Astros in the AL West. But contending is not likely in a division that features two teams that won 93 games in 2012 (Oakland and Texas) and another in the Angels that features arguably the best lineup in baseball. Anything higher than fourth place in the AL West would be a surprise.

2B     Dustin Ackley (L)    
Hit .226 in first full season, but played much of it with bone spurs in ankle.
CF     Franklin Gutierrez (R)    
Injuries limited him to 163 plate appearances in 2012 after only 344 in 2011 due to stomach condition.
3B     Kyle Seager (L)    
Was team’s most productive regular with .259 batting average, 20 homers and 86 RBIs in first full season.
LF    Michael Morse (R)
Returns to Seattle where he was primarily a shortstop.
DH     Kendrys Morales (S)     
Posted OPS of .900 in August and .829 in September/October in comeback season with the Angels.
C     Jesus Montero (R)    
Showed some power with 15 homers, but hit just .228 off right-handed pitching.
1B     Justin Smoak (S)    
Demoted to Class AAA in second half of season in which he hit .217 with 19 homers, but strong September raised hopes.
RF     Michael Saunders (L)    
Seattle’s best power-hitting regular in 2012 with 19 homers and .432 slugging percentage.
SS     Brendan Ryan (R)    
Gold Glove finalist and arguably the game’s top defender at his position, but hit just .194 in 470 plate appearances.

C    Kelly Shoppach (R)
Has thrown out 37 percent of would-be base stealers over the past two seasons.
OF     Raul Ibanez (L)     
Will get plenty of at-bats, either in LF, 1B or DH; had OPS of .811 versus righthanders in 2012.
IF    Robert Andino (R)    
Mariners feel he’ll rebound from down year in Baltimore and provide upgrade in over departed Munenori Kawasaki.
OF     Jason Bay (R)    
Mariners need the right-handed power he used to display before he hit .165 in final New York flameout.

RH    Felix Hernandez    
Added perfect game in August to résumé that includes 2010 Cy Young Award, but went 0–4 with 6.62 ERA from Sept. 1 on.
LH    Joe Saunders
Has made at least 28 starts each of the last five seasons.
RH    Hisashi Iwakuma    
Went 8–4 with 2.50 ERA in 15 second-half starts. Had one start and 4.84 ERA in 15 first-half outings.
RH     Erasmo Ramirez    
Missed two months with elbow injury, then posted 2.86 ERA in four starts and one relief outing in September.
RH    Blake Beavan    
Made 26 starts and logged 152.1 innings in first full season for former first-rounder.

RH    Tom Wilhelmsen (Closer)    
Notched 29 saves in 34 opportunities after taking over closer role from Brandon League in May.
RH    Carter Capps    
Proved capable of hitting 100 mph on radar gun and landing some off-speed pitches in second-half call-up.
RH    Stephen Pryor    
Debuted last June, but missed seven weeks with groin injury and struggled with off-speed stuff.
LH    Oliver Perez    
Mariners leaned heavily on his veteran presence and late-inning stuff in second half of a 2.12 ERA season.
LH    Charlie Furbush    
Was a reliable late-inning and multi-inning reliever until July triceps injury cost him a month.
RH     Josh Kinney    
Mostly minor league journeyman became a go-to guy late for manager Eric Wedge because of tough slider. He has missed most of spring training with a rib cage injury.
LH    Lucas Luetge
Lefties hit .193, righties .318.
RH     Kameron Loe
Appeared in 142 games over last two seasons with Milwaukee.

<p> The Mariners could flirt with the .500 mark with modest improvements on offense, but anything higher than fourth place in the AL West would be a surprise.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 16:00
All taxonomy terms: Los Angeles Angels, MLB
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-los-angeles-angels

If at first you don’t succeed — buy and buy again. Last winter, the Angels rocked the baseball world with the biggest one-day spending binge in the sport’s history. They committed over $320 million to free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, signing the two within hours one day in December. Even with the emergence of dynamic rookie Mike Trout, that did not get the Angels back into the postseason picture. So this winter, the Angels shocked everyone with another unexpected free-agent splurge, signing outfielder Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $123 million contract. If that isn’t enough to get the Angels into the playoffs for the first time since 2009, it’s hard to imagine who Angels owner Arte Moreno might try to buy next winter.

The Angels thought they had assembled one of the best rotations in baseball last season when they added lefthander Wilson to ace Jered Weaver and righthanders Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. The rotation was solid for most of the season and even added Zack Greinke in midseason. But Haren and Santana underperformed, dragging the rotation down in the second half of the season and leading to an offseason makeover. Greinke didn’t re-sign. Santana was traded, and Haren was allowed to leave as a free agent. Angels GM Jerry Dipoto used trades (for lefthander Jason Vargas and righthander Tommy Hanson) and free agency (signing Joe Blanton) to rebuild 60 percent of the rotation for 2013. After Weaver and Wilson, the quality drops off. The Angels will be happy just to get consistent performances from the rest of the rotation.

More than any other area of the team, it was the Angels’ bullpen that kept them from the playoffs in 2012. Angels relievers blew 22 saves, tied for the most in the American League and third in the majors. To no one’s surprise, the group received a major makeover for 2013. After electing not to sign an established closer for 2012 — Dipoto said he did not believe it was wise to invest big money in relief pitchers — the Angels signed closer Ryan Madson as a free agent this past winter. Madson had 32 saves for the Phillies in 2011 but missed all of 2012 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and will be limited to start this season. Dipoto also added free-agent lefthander Sean Burnett to a group of holdovers that is led by Ernesto Frieri, who led the Angels with 23 saves last year but will probably slide into a setup role when Madson is healthy. Veteran lefthander Scott Downs and righty Kevin Jepsen are two more dependable options for manager Mike Scioscia’s rebuilt pen. Downs has given up only 82 hits in 99.1 innings pitched in his two seasons with the Angels. Jepsen had a 3.02 ERA and 1.142 WHIP in 44.2 innings in 2012.

Middle Infield
The Angels have set their keystone in stone for the next few seasons after giving contract extensions to both second baseman Howard Kendrick and shortstop Erick Aybar last spring. Neither has lived up to the potential that seemed to lie ahead in their early years — Aybar hit .312 in 2009 and won a Gold Glove in 2011; Kendrick made the All-Star team in 2011 — but both offer above-average defense and could become more productive offensively as they continue to mature. One (most likely Aybar) is likely to get the enviable boost of batting second in the Angels’ lineup this year between Trout and Pujols. That cushy slot led to a career revival for veteran outfielder Torii Hunter in 2012.

Pujols seemed unaffected by human distractions as he rolled out year after year of consistent production with the Cardinals, earning the nickname “The Machine.” All of that changed last season. Changing teams and leagues for the first time in his career, facing a steady diet of unfamiliar pitchers and trying to live up to the massive pressure of his $250 million contract all proved too much for Pujols last year. Early in May, he was hitting .194 with no home runs and only five RBIs when Scioscia benched him. Buoyed by the arrival of Trout, Pujols was more like himself the rest of the way and finished with enviable numbers (.285, 30 home runs, 105 RBIs). But those numbers have been in a three-year decline now, and The Machine isn’t what he used to be. Teamed with Hamilton in the middle of a deep Angels lineup in 2013, though, he won’t have to be. Third base, meanwhile, remains an unsolved riddle for the Angels — as it has been since Troy Glaus left following the 2004 season. The Mark Trumbo experiment did not last long last spring, and Alberto Callaspo spent another season as the Angels’ primary third baseman. Callaspo is an above-average defender but little more than a placeholder until something better comes along. He hit only 10 home runs with 53 RBIs in 520 plate appearances in 2012.

The 2012 season was transformative for the Angels — not because of Pujols’ debut but due to the arrival of Trout. At age 20, Trout had one of the best rookie seasons in baseball history and one of the most dynamic of any kind. Trout’s promotion in late April last season transformed the Angels’ lineup from a dysfunctional unit dragged down by underperforming veterans (i.e., Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu and Pujols) into one of the most productive offenses in the American League. Hamilton’s addition for 2013 and beyond should take the Angels’ offense to another level. Defensively, the Angels will often field an outfield of three center fielders — Trout in left and Hamilton in right flanking Peter Bourjos — each capable of Gold Glove-caliber coverage that could make the team’s pitchers look better than they really are.

Satisfying Scioscia’s defensive demands and still offering some offensive contributions has proved too much for a generation of Angels catchers. Chris Iannetta is the latest to try, and Dipoto gave him a three-year contract extension as a vote of confidence. Iannetta did his best work in 2012 after returning from a wrist injury — he hit .306 in August.

The Angels’ decision to trade the limited Kendrys Morales clears the way for Trumbo to become the primary designated hitter. Trumbo figures to still see plenty of playing time in right field and first base with Hamilton and Pujols rotated through the DH spot on a regular basis. The bench, meanwhile, figures to offer little on a team where the everyday lineup is virtually set.

Friction between Dipoto and Scioscia was evident as the Angels got off to a bad start in 2012, reaching a head when Dipoto fired long-time hitting coach (and close Scioscia friend) Mickey Hatcher in May. The Angels turned around their season, but Scioscia figures to be on a very hot seat if the Angels underachieve again after Dipoto has handed him arguably the game’s top lineup.

Final Analysis
In the past two years, the Angels have added two of the best players of the past 10 years (Pujols and Hamilton) and one who could be the best player of the next 10 years (Trout). That should allow them to field one of the most productive offenses in baseball and a defense capable of covering some of the team’s pitching deficiencies. The financial commitment it took to put that team together, however, figures to create high expectations and a pressurized atmosphere for Scioscia with a clubhouse now devoid of Hunter’s stabilizing presence. The Angels did not handle that pressure well last year, and it remains to be seen whether Moreno’s checkbook can buy a winner.

LF     Mike Trout (R)    
Hard to believe his historic rookie season did not result in third MVP-Rookie of the Year double in MLB history.
SS     Erick Aybar (S)    
Torii Hunter thrived last year in this cushy spot between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. Was one of best hitters in AL from June 2 until end of season (.326 with 111 hits in 91 games).
1B     Albert Pujols (R)    
Numbers have declined for three consecutive years — but still reached 30 HR-100 RBI plateau in 2012.
RF     Josh Hamilton (L)    
His K rate increased in 2012 (to 25.5 percent) fueled by jump in fastball miss rate (13.7 in ‘11 to 24.6 in ‘12).
DH     Mark Trumbo (R)    
Was his second-half slump a sign of growing pains or a regression to the mean?
2B     Howard Kendrick (R)    
Has hit between .279 and .287 with 14 steals in each of the last three seasons.
3B     Alberto Callaspo (S)    
Combined .664 OPS of Angels’ third basemen in 2012 ranked 28th in majors, 13th in American League.
C    Chris Iannetta (R)    
Missed 70 games in his debut season with the Angels with a wrist injury and a forearm strain.
CF     Peter Bourjos (R)    
Gold Glove-caliber defense but questionable offensive potential, though he did hit .271 in 552 at-bats in 2011.

C     Chris Snyder (R)    
Mike Scioscia loves veteran catchers who can handle pitchers.
OF     Vernon Wells (R)    
The Angels would give anything to be out from under this disastrous contract.
IF     Andrew Romine (L)    
Slick fielder can handle shortstop or third base but has yet to show he can hit at big-league level.
OF     Kole Calhoun (L)    
Scrappy player but scrappiness can get you only so far when your batting averages hovers below .200.

RH     Jered Weaver     
Has pitched at Cy Young level for three seasons now without winning the award.
LH     C.J. Wilson     
Blames bone chips in elbow for second-half slump last year — 4–5, 5.54 ERA, 1.57 WHIP in final 16 starts.
LH     Jason Vargas    
Benefited greatly from Safeco Field — ERA (2.74 to 4.78), WHIP (1.02 to 1.31) jumped on the road last year.
RH    Joe Blanton    
Two-year deal with innings-eater seems unnecessary with Garrett Richards knocking on door.
RH     Tommy Hanson    
Started 2009 10–4 with 2.44 ERA, .190 average against — in 36 starts since is 14–13 with 4.96 ERA, .277 average.

RH     Ryan Madson (Closer)    
During 32-save 2011 with Phillies had 62 Ks, only eight unintentional BBs, two HRs allowed in 62 appearances. Doubtful to start the season as closer.
RH     Ernesto Frieri    
Unhittable in debut with Angels — no hits in first 13 innings, no runs in first 26.1 with 45 strikeouts. Will assume the role of closer until Madson is ready.
LH     Sean Burnett    
Held left-handed hitters to .211 average with 28-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2012.
LH     Scott Downs    
Veteran had shoulder issues, was not as reliable in the second half last season — hence the Burnett signing.
RH     Kevin Jepsen    
After two years of knee problems and command issues, righthander has regained his velocity and reliability.
RH    David Carpenter
Allowed 22 hits with 22 whiffs to right-handed batters in his debut season.
LH    Brad Mills
Logged 378.2 minor league innings over the past three seasons.
RH    Jerome Williams
Will be the long relief man and available for spot starts.

<p> In the past two years, the Angels have added two of the best players of the past 10 years (Pujols and Hamilton) and one who could be the best player of the next 10 years (Trout). The financial commitment it took to put that team together, however, figures to create high expectations and a pressurized atmosphere. The Angels did not handle that pressure well last year, and it remains to be seen whether Moreno’s checkbook can buy a winner.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 15:20
All taxonomy terms: Texas Rangers, MLB
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-texas-rangers

Consider this about how far the Rangers franchise has come: Their 93 wins in 2012 were viewed as a major disappointment for a team that has disappointed often since coming to Texas in 1972. Fans in the Metroplex had reason to be upset after the Rangers blew a five-game division lead with nine to play. Texas bowed out of the playoffs with a 5–1 loss to Baltimore in the inaugural AL Wild Card Game. The offseason didn’t start out any better, as five-time All-Star Josh Hamilton bolted to the division-rival Angels, and free agent Zack Greinke turned down the Rangers’ pile of money for a bigger one with the Dodgers. But the Rangers’ lineup, despite losing Hamilton, is still productive. The rotation should be a strength, assuming it can avoid the injuries that led to the club’s downfall last year. There’s too much talent to count this team out.

Failed bids to land Greinke and James Shields were met with dismay by Rangers fans, but the team’s rotation likely will feature three All-Stars and a 16-game winner. Yu Darvish finally lived up to the hype as he thrived down the stretch in 2012. The Rangers saw an ace-in-the-making who went 3–0 with a 2.21 ERA over his final five starts. Darvish made the AL All-Star team via the Final Vote contest on Matt Harrison could be considered the ace after winning a career-high 18 games. He dominated in June, when he was the AL Pitcher of the Month, and was a first-time All-Star in July. The third All-Star is Alexi Ogando, who made the AL team as a starter in 2011. The Rangers have settled on using Ogando as a starter after he spent the 2012 season in the bullpen. Ogando uses three pitches, though a mid- to upper-90s fastball is his best one. Derek Holland, who went 16–5 in 2011, and prospect Robbie Ross will round out the rotation, but the Rangers are expecting a significant contribution later in the year from Colby Lewis as he returns from surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon last summer.

There is little doubt that the Texas bullpen will be much stronger in the second half. That’s when the crew will be at full strength after the return of injured pitchers Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria and Martin Perez. And with the return of Lewis to the rotation by then, Ross will have returned to his valuable role in the bullpen. Soria, the former Royals closer will be an impact arm, but not until late May as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Jose Lindblom, who was acquired from Philadelphia in a trade for Michael Young, takes another spot. He’s a power pitcher who relies on a mid-90s fastball and a slider, but he gave up too many homers (13 in 71 innings) in 2012. Closer Joe Nathan, who saved 37 games, headlines the group of returning relievers. Feliz should return from Tommy John surgery around midseason. Perez may miss a couple of months.

Middle Infield
There were multiple offseason discussions about where All-Stars Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus would play in 2013. The reason is top prospect Jurickson Profar. Club brass would like to see the switch-hitting Profar in the lineup every day. To do so, though, either Kinsler would have to be moved from second base or Andrus would have to be moved to another team. With free agency looming for Andrus after 2014 and with Scott Boras as his agent, the shortstop’s willingness to stay in Arlington is in question. Profar, who turned 20 early in spring training, is considered the top prospect in baseball. The Rangers believe his bat would upgrade a lineup that was inconsistent for much of 2012, and he’s athletic enough to play second base regularly even though he has been developed as a shortstop. He still could very well force his way into the Opening Day lineup, but the more likely scenario is that he will begin the season in the minors getting regular at-bats.

Adrian Beltre stands as the Rangers’ undisputed best player after Hamilton left for the Angels’ $125 million offer. Beltre, though, was moving toward that title last season as he swatted 36 homers with 102 RBIs and a .321 batting average. He also played spectacular defense, committing only eight errors, and earned his second straight Gold Glove — as well as the Platinum Glove, given to the best defensive player in the American League. The other side of the diamond, though, could be in flux. Mitch Moreland entered spring training as the starting first baseman, but wasn’t oozing with job security. The Rangers had flirted with the idea of playing Kinsler at first base in an attempt to make room for Profar. Moreland is the only true first baseman on the roster, but the left-handed hitter hasn’t shown much success against lefty pitchers. He also hasn’t had many chances the past two seasons, with the right-handed-hitting Young, Napoli and Mike Olt playing against lefties.

The loss of Hamilton obviously hurts, but there were a couple winners in the fallout of his departure. David Murphy will take over left field on a permanent basis. Murphy, who bats left-handed, hit a career-high .304 last season in 457 at bats and proved that he could hit left-handed pitchers (.347 in 75 at bats). The other winner was Leonys Martin, who defected from Cuba in 2010. He has power in his bat, though he will find more gaps than outfield seats, and his speed allows him to be a threat on the bases and a weapon in the outfield. Martin will open the season in a platoon with another strong-armed speedster, Craig Gentry, but the Rangers want to see Martin seize everyday duties. Nelson Cruz has manned right field since late in 2008, but leg injuries have made him less effective despite having the strongest arm in the outfield.

Along with the bullpen, catcher was the other area that the Rangers needed to address during the offseason. Free agent A.J. Pierzynski signed a one-year deal to be the Rangers’ primary catcher, with Geovany Soto re-signing to be the backup. Pierzynski had his most productive season in 2012, with a career-high 27 homers and a career-high-tying 77 RBIs for the White Sox. Numbers like that ordinarily warrant a multi-year deal, but at 36 years old, Pierzynski’s most attractive offer was the Rangers’ one-year pact. Soto disappointed after being acquired from the Cubs on July 31. He batted only .196 after the trade, but many pitchers preferred to have him as their catcher rather than the departed Napoli.

The Rangers like to use the DH spot as a chance to rest regulars without taking their bat out of the lineup, but the addition of Lance Berkman will limit that practice. Berkman might not be able to play 150 games, but it isn’t outrageous to think he will get 400 at-bats. Some of those could come at first base. Gentry will most likely serve as the fourth outfield, assuming Martin seizes center field. Veteran Jeff Baker appears to have won a reserve spot as a non-roster player. The most interesting decision remains what to do with Profar. Keeping him would most likely send Moreland to the bench. Sending him to the minors would open a spot for utility infielder Leury Garcia, a switch-hitter who has never played above Double-A.

Ron Washington is back for his seventh season as manager. His primary strength is that he consistently gets the most out of his players and allows them to play an exciting brand of baseball. But he also stresses the fundamentals, and the Rangers had their best season defensively since he took over, but their worst on the bases. Hitting coach Dave Magadan left the same post in Boston and takes over an offense that led the majors in runs (808) and finished third in batting average (.273). Dave Anderson and Gary Pettis are swapping coaching boxes, with Pettis heading to third as the Rangers try to maximize the base-running knowledge he had as a player.

Final Analysis
The Rangers won’t be favored to win the West this year after losing Hamilton and failing to make an offseason splash. But this team still has multiple All-Stars, including three in the infield and three in the rotation, and they have the prospects and financial flexibility to alter the roster before the July 31 trade deadline. In short, the Rangers know how to win and still have the talent to compete for the AL West title.

2B     Ian Kinsler (R)    
Kinsler is looking for a rebound season after a subpar 2012. Don’t be surprised to see him play some first base, too.
SS     Elvis Andrus (R)    
He set career-highs in average, on-base percentage and RBIs in 2012, and was terrific defensively.
DH     Lance Berkman (S)    
Nolan Ryan helped woo the veteran to Arlington. If Berkman is healthy, he can be a threat in the middle of the lineup.
3B     Adrian Beltre (R)    
The Rangers’ best player put up huge numbers for a second straight year. No one in the clubhouse is respected more.
RF     Nelson Cruz (R)    
A more slender Cruz produced career-highs in doubles and RBIs, but was streaky. He’s in his walk year, so look for a big 2013.
LF     David Murphy (L)    
The longtime fourth outfielder seized his chance to play every day over the final two months of 2012.
C     A.J. Pierzynski (L)    
Signed in late December, the veteran upgrades the catching situation and provides a needed left-handed bat.
1B     Mitch Moreland (L)    
He must show that he can stay healthy and handle left-handed pitchers. He had only 46 at-bats against them in 2012.
CF    Leonys Martin (L)    
A .323 average in 533 minor league at-bats has the Rangers believing he’s ready to succeed in the major leagues.

C    Geovany Soto (R)    
A .196 hitter after the July trade from the Cubs, this former Rookie of the Year expects more from himself in 2013.
OF     Craig Gentry (R)    
The defensive-minded outfielder showed something at the plate in 2012, but he is not viewed as an everyday player.
UT    Jeff Baker (R)
Hit just .248 for three different teams last season.
UT    Leury Garcia (S)
The Rangers are likely to keep Garcia as a bench player and allow Jurickson Profar the opportunity for regular at-bats in the minors.

RH     Yu Darvish    
The Japanese import was one of the league’s top pitchers over the final two months, giving the Rangers high hopes for 2013.
LH     Derek Holland    
His 2012 was a disappointment after a 16-win 2011 season. Holland’s main problem was the long ball (32 HRs allowed).
LH     Matt Harrison    
He has won 32 games the past two seasons, tied for eighth-best in the majors. Won a career-high 18 in 2012.
RH     Alexi Ogando    
An All-Star in 2011, Ogando was back in the bullpen last year. He’s a starter once again, and it’s the job he wants most.
LH     Robbie Ross    
A longshot to make the 2012 roster, he posted All-Star numbers before fatigue caught up to him. He’s a key piece in 2013, and injuries to others have opened a door to the rotation.

RH     Joe Nathan (Closer)    
The veteran was a workhorse and an All-Star in 2012, and must be again while some key relievers try to overcome injuries.
RH     Joakim Soria    
The former Kansas City closer won’t be ready until late May (Tommy John surgery); will give the bullpen a boost on return.
RH     Josh Lindblom    
Acquired in the Michael Young trade, Lindblom gave up 13 homers in 71 innings in 2012. He knows that must improve.
RH     Tanner Scheppers    
Made big-league debut in ’12, two years later than anticipated. Fastball can hit 98 mph but straightens out too frequently.
LH     Michael Kirkman    
The former starting pitcher has found a home in the bullpen, and his slider is a key pitch against tough left-handed batters.
RH     Jason Frasor    
Says he’s healthy after hitting the DL (forearm strain) for the first time in his nine-year career in 2012.

<p> The Rangers won’t be favored to win the West this year after losing Hamilton and failing to make an offseason splash, but the Rangers know how to win and still have the talent to compete for the AL West title.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 15:05
All taxonomy terms: Oakland A's, MLB
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-oakland

Since these are the Oakland Athletics, subject of a popular motion picture you may have heard about, we can say it without exaggeration: The 2012 season unfolded like a movie. Billy Beane, their mad scientist of a general manager, traded three All-Star pitchers before the season started, then used the pieces he got in return to build another unlikely winner. The A’s roared to a 33–13 finish after Aug. 15 to capture the AL West title on the season’s final day. They lost a five-game division series to Detroit but return nearly the entire roster in an effort to get back to the playoffs.

The A’s ranked third in the American League in starters’ ERA, with their 3.80 mark trailing only Tampa Bay and Detroit. They managed this despite having only two pitchers, Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker, make 25 starts, while losing another, Bartolo Colon, to a suspension for testosterone use in August. Still another starter, Brandon McCarthy, had his season end in early September when he took a line drive off of his head. McCarthy has since signed with the Diamondbacks, but the A’s are bringing back everyone else,including Colon, who returns on a one-year, $3 million contract. Perpetually overweight, nearing 40 and presumably off performance-enhancing drugs, Colon is no sure thing. But there is young depth around him, with Milone, Parker and A.J. Griffin having gone a combined 33–19 as rookies last season, and lefty Brett Anderson ready for his first full season after Tommy John surgery. Dan Straily looked promising last season in his first seven career starts.

As well as the Oakland starters pitched last season, the relievers were even better. Only the Rays had a better bullpen ERA in the AL than the Athletics, whose 2.94 mark was more than a full run better than that of the division-rival Angels. Grant Balfour, the hard-throwing, fist-pumping, rage-inducing Australian, secured a closer’s role for the first time in his nine big-league seasons, earning 24 saves in 26 opportunities. And Balfour wasn’t even the bullpen’s All-Star — that honor went to Ryan Cook, who also pitched well in the second half before stumbling a bit in the playoffs. After knee surgery in February, Balfour may not be ready to start the season, leaving closing duties in Cook’s hands. Cook and sidewinder Pat Neshek, who was devastating against righties, provide strong right-handed setup relief for Bob Melvin, who could carry three lefthanders if Travis Blackley stays on the roster as a long man and spot starter. Jerry Blevins is prone to the long ball but generally holds lefties in check. And Sean Doolittle, a former first-round pick as a first baseman, made a remarkably swift transition to the mound, blowing hitters away with his heat while featuring, perhaps, the coolest Twitter handle in baseball (@whatwouldDOOdo).

Middle Infield
When the A’s look at what’s new this spring, they’ll train their eyes on the middle of the diamond. Scott Sizemore’s 2012 season ended before it even started due to a knee injury sustained in February. Jemile Weeks struggled to replace him, with a .304 slugging percentage that was even lower than his .305 on-base percentage. Cliff Pennington ended up starting at second in the playoffs but was traded to Arizona, so Weeks and Sizemore remain in the mix at the position. At shortstop, the A’s let Stephen Drew leave for the Red Sox and signed Hiroyuki Nakajima for two years and $6.5 million. Nakajima, a right-handed batter who hit for average and power in Japan, played in the World Baseball Classic in 2009 but did not participate this spring.

Nobody could have predicted at the start of last season that Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson would be starting at the infield corners for a playoff team. The duo had combined for zero hits in the majors in 2011, Moss having gone 0-for-6 in a brief call-up with the Phillies, and Donaldson having spent the entire season in the minors. Their unexpected rise was just further evidence of the charmed existence of the 2012 Athletics, and it’s fair to wonder whether either can maintain their success. So it’s difficult to blame the club for trading for Jed Lowrie. Having played shortstop with Houston last season, the A’s will pencil Lowrie in at third and in the No. 2 hole in the lineup. With Moss, it’s probably unrealistic to expect anything more. In just 84 games last season, he belted 21 homers, drove in 52 runs and posted an OPS of .954.

The A’s lost Jonny Gomes, their high-on-base, high-energy, high-strikeout slugger, to the Red Sox, who gave him $10 million for two years. Even so, the A’s bring back three solid, athletic outfielders — Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick — who cover lots of ground and bring a diverse set of skills to the lineup. Cespedes can do it all and seems to have all the indicators of a possible breakout season in 2013. The Cuban defector has had a year to adjust to the United States and has already shown he can handle the majors, finishing as the runner-up for Rookie of the Year by hitting .292 with 23 homers and 16 stolen bases. At 27, he should be squarely in his prime and is the closest thing Oakland has to a legitimate superstar. Crisp is the old man of the offense, at 33, but he’s plenty spry enough to cover lots of ground in the outfield and is one of the top base-stealing threats in the league. Reddick — another former Red Sox player — blossomed with a full-time role in Oakland, drilling 32 homers and showing off a great arm in right.

The A’s got a catcher from the Nationals before last season (Derek Norris) and then traded a different one (Kurt Suzuki) to Washington during the season. Suzuki was popular in the Oakland clubhouse, but the A’s are fine with the swap. Norris didn’t show much at the plate last year, but he’s only 24 and his minor league numbers suggest the kind of hitter Oakland has long loved: high on-base percentage, big power. He also showed enough leadership qualities and rapport with a young pitching staff to get the most out of their abilities during the heat of the pennant race. The A’s also brought in John Jaso over the winter. He and Norris should split time, keeping both fresh throughout the season.

Seth Smith can play all three outfield spots, but will be the primary DH. The A’s pulled off the rare October trade, acquiring Chris Young from the Diamondbacks shortly after their loss to Detroit in the division series. Parker, who played with Young in Arizona, told the San Francisco Chronicle he loved the move. “He’s similar to a lot of guys we have here. He’s young. He’ll have a lot in common with everyone. It’s going to be exciting to see him.” It’s a bit unclear where Young fits, exactly, because he’s a good defensive outfielder. But the A’s already have three of those, so expect Young to see at least some time at designated hitter while mixing in and out of the outfield to keep everyone fresh. Donaldson is the first option as a backup infielder.

It’s difficult to think of any manager/GM combination that had a better year than Beane and Melvin. Beane’s bold trades of Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez netted both quantity and quality, at low cost, and his signing of Yoenis Cespedes was a masterstroke. The A’s did not expect to win a division in 2012, but they did, and the level-headed, approachable Melvin clicked nicely with a young, exuberant roster. Melvin earned American League Manager of the Year honors, and Beane’s moves give the A’s the chance to keep their core while waiting for baseball to decide if owner Lew Wolff can ever build a ballpark in San Jose.

Final Analysis
The unsettled stadium issue hangs over the franchise, but Beane showed last season that he could still win a brain race against division rivals with much more cash to throw around. As the Angels spend lavishly to recapture their recent glory — Albert Pujols one year, Josh Hamilton the next — and the big-budget Rangers try to re-tool, the A’s have a strong chance to at least make things interesting again. It’s probably asking too much to make Oakland the favorite on paper, but with the talent and grit of this group, and with plenty of winnable games against Seattle and Houston, it’s foolish to count the A’s out.

CF     Coco Crisp (S)     
In three seasons with A’s, has 120 steals and .314 average with runners in scoring position.
3B     Jed Lowrie (S)    
When healthy, he’s proven to be an all-around solid player and one of team’s top power threats.
LF     Yoenis Cespedes (R)    
Four-year, $36M deal looked puzzling at the time; looks shrewd now for this emerging star.
1B     Brandon Moss (L)     
Led the American League with .545 average (18 for 33) when putting first pitch in play.
RF     Josh Reddick (L)     
Embodies the A’s offense — lots of homers (32) and lots of strikeouts (151).
DH     Seth Smith (L)     
Made final out of 2007 World Series with the Rockies and 2012 ALDS with the A’s.
C    John Jaso (L)
Had a .394 OBP in 108 games with Seattle.
2B     Scott Sizemore (R)     
A’s are eager to see how he comes back from knee surgery that kept him out all last season.
SS     Hiroyuki Nakajima (R)    
Hit .302 with four seasons of at least 20 homers in Japan; signed a two-year deal with the A’s.

C     Derek Norris (R)     
Pitchers’ ERA was 3.13 with him behind plate, best for any AL catcher (min. 50 games). Will get significant at-bats against left-handed pitching.
OF     Chris Young (R)    
Strong defensive ability could be asset as fourth outfielder.
3B     Josh Donaldson (R)     
Former Auburn Tiger will need to improve .289 OBP to have a chance as an everyday starter.
1B    Daric Barton (L)
Has hit .209 with one home run in 597 plate appearances since hitting .273 with 10 dingers in 686 Pas in 2010.

LH     Brett Anderson    
Southpaw has held opponents to .195 average with runners in scoring position over last three seasons.
RH     Jarrod Parker    
Former first-round pick by Arizona went 13–8 and had seven quality starts in his eight no-decisions.
LH     Tommy Milone    
Tossed Oakland’s only complete game with win vs. Dodgers last June.
RH     Bartolo Colon    
Won double-digit games for first time since 2005. Still must serve final five games of 50-game suspension.
RH     A.J. Griffin    
Slumped to 7.27 ERA in final four starts of regular season in his rookie campaign.

RH    Grant Balfour (Closer)    
Last blown save of 2012 season came on April 29; allowed only 41 hits in 74.2 innings. Will miss the beginning of the season due to knee surgery.
RH     Ryan Cook    
Held opponents scoreless in 22 of final 23 regular-season appearances in his first season in Oakland. Will fill in as closer until Balfour is healthy.
LH     Sean Doolittle    
Former first baseman hit 22 homers with 90 RBIs in minors in 2008.
LH     Jerry Blevins    
Allowed six first-batter home runs, most by A’s reliever in more than 30 years.
RH     Pat Neshek    
Righties went just 5-for-53 off Neshek after Orioles sold him to A’s in August.
RH    Chris Resop    
Threw a career-high 73.2 innings, seventh among NL relievers, for Pirates last season.
RH    Fernando Rodriguez
Torn ACL leaves season in doubt.

<p> It’s probably asking too much to make Oakland the favorite on paper, but with the talent and grit of this group, and with plenty of winnable games against Seattle and Houston, it’s foolish to count the A’s out.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: 2013 March Madness, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-thursday-viewers-guide

Thursday (March 21) and Friday (March 22) will feature 16 NCAA Tournament games across four networks. An almost-continuous stream of college basketball will be fun, but it could be tiring.

Here’s everything you need to know for Thursday’s slate of games, including the TV schedule, the network, announcers, predictions and bits of knowledge for each game Thursday.

| Midwest | South | West

All times p.m., Eastern.

No. 14 Valparaiso vs. No. 3 Michigan State
Time and TV: 12:15, CBS
Site and region: Auburn Hills, Mich., Midwest
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
What to watch: The Spartans played the nation’s toughest schedule according to, which is to say they played in the Big Ten and piled on with Kansas, Miami, Boise State and UConn.
Game in a Tweet: Kids, ask your folks about Bryce Drew’s shot 15 years ago. He’s coaching Valpo now.
Prediction: Michigan State

Related: Our best tips for your bracket pool

No. 11 Bucknell vs. No. 6 Butler
Time and TV: 12:40, truTV
Site and region: Lexington, Ky., East
Announcers: Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel
What to watch: Butler will get to know Bucknell’s stat-sheet stuffer Mike Muscala (19 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 2.3 apg, 2.4 bpg). The Bulldogs will need Rotnei Clarke to get hot from three-point land.
Game in a Tweet: Bucknell is 2–3 round of 64 games despite never being seeded higher than No. 9.
Prediction: Bucknell

Related: Bucknell among our top Cinderellas for 2013

No. 9 Wichita State vs. No. 8 Pittsburgh
Time and TV: 1:40, TBS
Site and region: Salt Lake City, West
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb
What to watch: Both Jamie Dixon and Gregg Marshall are looking for that elusive second weekend. Dixon has been to the Sweet 16 once in four tries since 2007, Marshall has never been.
Game in a Tweet: Pitt outscored opponents by 9.5 points per game in the second half, best in the country.
Prediction: Pittsburgh

No. 13 New Mexico State vs. No. 4 Saint Louis
Time and TV: 2:10, TNT
Site and region: San Jose, Midwest
Announcers: Brian Anderson, Dan Bonner
What to watch: Saint Louis forward Dwayne Evans has averaged 18.1 points and 9.8 rebounds since Feb. 6.
Game in a Tweet: A WAC team hasn’t won a Tournament game since Nevada went to the Sweet 16 in 2004.
Prediction: Saint Louis

No. 11 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 11 Memphis
Time and TV: 2:35, CBS
Site and region: Auburn Hills, Mich., Midwest
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
What to watch: Saint Mary's is 17-0 since Jan. 1 against teams not named Gonzaga. The Gaels are defeating those teams by an average of 14.8 points per game.
Game in a Tweet: Six players contribute between 10 and 18 percent of Memphis’ scoring.
Prediction: Memphis

No. 14 Davidson vs. No. 3 Marquette
Time and TV: 3:10, truTV
Site and region: Lexington, Ky., East
Announcers: Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel
What to watch: Marquette has advanced to the Sweet 16 in each of the last two seasons — as a No. 3 seed last year and a No. 11 in 2011.
Game in a Tweet: Davidson was the only team to make at least 80 percent of its free throws (80.1).
Prediction: Marquette

Related: How safe is Marquette for another Sweet 16: We rank the top teams

No. 16 Southern vs. No. 1 Gonzaga
Time and TV: 4:10, TBS
Site and region: Salt Lake City, West
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb
What to watch: Indiana and Michigan spent most of the season in the top two, but Gonzaga finished the season first in points per possession.
Game in a Tweet: Gonzaga’s rotation includes two from Canada, one from Germany and one from Ivory Coast.
Prediction: Gonzaga

No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State
Time and TV: 4:40, TNT
Site and region: San Jose, Midwest
Announcers: Brian Anderson, Dan Bonner
What to watch: Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart may be one of the nation’s most indispensable players, but Oregon is much better than a No. 12 seed with Dominic Artis in the lineup.
Game in a Tweet: Oregon has six players averaging at least 8.5 ppg.
Prediction: Oklahoma State

No. 16 North Carolina A&T vs. No. 1 Louisville
Time and TV: 6:50, TBS
Site and region: Lexington, Ky., Midwest
Announcers: Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel
What to watch: Peyton Siva took over during Tournament time last season. Are we seeing the same after Siva won Big East Tourney MVP honors?
Game in a Tweet: Rick Pitino has only two round of 64 exits in his career. He’ll still have two after this game.
Prediction: Louisville

No. 13 South Dakota State vs. No. 4 Michigan
Time and TV: 7:15, CBS
Site and region: Auburn Hills, Mich., South
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
What to watch: Don’t expect to see free throws: Michigan and South Dakota State were No. 1 and 2 in the country in limiting their opponents’ trips to the line.
Game in a Tweet: Trey Burke and Nate Wolters average a combined 45.7 points and 13.8 assists per 40 minutes.
Prediction: Michigan

No. 11 Belmont vs. No. 6 Arizona
Time and TV: 7:20, TNT
Site and region: Salt Lake City, West
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb
What to watch: Belmont has one of the field’s most dynamic backcourts with Ian Clark from the perimeter and Kerron Johnson driving to the basket.
Game in a Tweet: Arizona is on upset alert, but Coach Sean Miller is 4-1 in the round of 64.
Prediction: Belmont

No. 12 Cal vs. No. 5 UNLV
Time and TV: 7:27, truTV
Site and region: San Jose, East
Announcers: Brian Anderson, Dan Bonner
What to watch: Despite being led by the backcourt, Cal made the fewest three-pointers per game in the field (four).
Game in a Tweet: UNLV has only advanced to the Sweet 16 once — in 2007 as a No. 7 seed — since Jerry Tarkanian was forced out in 1992.
Prediction: Cal

No. 9 Missouri vs. No. 8 Colorado State
Time and TV: 9:20, TBS
Site and region: Lexington, Ky., Midwest
Announcers: Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel
What to watch: Colorado State led the nation in rebound rate despite only one regular (leading scorer and rebounder Colton Iverson) taller than 6-6.
Game in a Tweet: The starting lineups feature a combined five transfers plus a first-year coach at Colorado State.
Prediction: Colorado State

No. 12 Akron vs. No. 5 VCU
Time and TV: 9:45, CBS
Site and region: Auburn Hills, Mich., South
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
What to watch: VCU picked up 11.2 extra scoring chances per game, nearly three more pre game than No. 2 Louisville.
Game in a Tweet: Take away suspended point guard Alex Abreu, and Akron has a 0.87 assist-to-turnover ratio. Good luck against VCU.
Prediction: VCU

No. 14 Harvard vs. No. 3 New Mexico
Time and TV: 9:50, TNT
Site and region: Salt Lake City, West
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb
What to watch: The Lobos will look to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1974.
Game in a Tweet: New Mexico leads the field by assisting on 66.5 percent of its made shots.
Prediction: New Mexico

No. 13 Montana vs. No. 4 Syracuse
Time and TV: 9:57, truTV
Site and region: San Jose, East
Announcers: Brian Anderson, Dan Bonner
What to watch: Which Syracuse shows up? Syracuse is 8–8 in its last 16 games. The Orange opened the season with an 18–1 record.
Game in a Tweet: Montana’s coaching pedigree: Jud Heathcote, Mike Montgomery, Stew Morrill, Larry Krystkowiak
Prediction: Syracuse

Related: All Athlon Sports 2013 NCAA Tournament content

<p> NCAA Tournament: Thursday Viewer's Guide</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: Matt Kuchar, Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2013-majors-no-16-matt-kuchar

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

No. 16: Matt Kuchar

Born: June 21, 1978, Winter Park, Fla. | Career PGA Tour Wins: | 2012 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2012 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,903,065 (11th) World Ranking: 9


Brandel Chamblee's Take

Kuchar has won only five times on Tour, but his consistency is impossible to ignore — he has 42 top 10s since 2009. When someone comes that close that often, the experience they’ve gained in contending will eventually make them comfortable enough on Sundays to realize the potential of their talent — talent that was on display when Kuchar won the Players in 2012, and in the WGCs, where he has eight top 10s in the last 10 events he has played and won the 2013 Accenture Match Play. A multi-win year is certainly possible, as is a major for this under-the-radar player.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 29
Wins: 0

2012 Performance:
Masters - T3
U.S. Open - T27
British Open - T9
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T3 (2012)
U.S. Open - T6 (2010)
British Open - T9 (2012)
PGA Championship - T10 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 4
Top-25 Finishes: 9
Missed Cuts: 15

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

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

<p> Athlon Counts Down the 20 Golfers to Watch for Majors Season</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 10:56