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Path: /mlb/baseballs-mt-rushmores-all-30-teams

Every MLB team should have its own Mt. Rushmore — four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization. Here is one man’s opinion for all 30 Mt. Rushmores from Aaron Cook for Colorado to Babe Ruth for New York. Depending on the organization and how long the franchise has existed, some teams were difficult to find four worthy players. Most teams provided ardent debate.

Below, you’ll find links to all 30 Mt. Rushmores.


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Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him [email protected]

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Post date: Monday, March 3, 2014 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, TCU Horned Frogs, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/tcu-horned-frogs-2014-spring-football-preview

TCU’s transition to the Big 12 hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. After finishing 7-6 overall and 4-5 in conference play in their first season as one of college football’s so-called “big boys,” the Horned Frogs were expected by many to contend for the top spot in the Big 12 in Year 2.

Instead, Gary Patterson’s team took several step backwards, stumbling to 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the Big 12. It was the worst showing by a TCU team in Patterson’s 13 seasons as the head coach and the fewest wins by the program since going 1-10 in 1997.

While TCU’s defense was solid last season, the offense was a disaster, finishing near the bottom of the FBS ranks in both total and rushing yards.  Not surprisingly, Patterson made some changes on his coaching staff, bringing in two new coordinators to overhaul the offense. This will be the key for the Horned Frogs’ hopes this fall, as the defense returns eight starters and could be one of the better units not only in the Big 12, but the entire nation.

TCU Horned Frogs 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 4-8 (2-7 Big 12)

Spring Practice Opens: March 1

Spring Game: April 5

Returning Starters

Offense: 3

Defense: 8

Three Things to Watch in TCU's 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
Aug. 30Samford
Sept. 13
Sept. 27at 
Oct. 4
Oct. 11at 
Oct. 18
Oct. 25
Nov. 1at 
Nov. 8
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 27at 
Dec. 6

1. Starting over on offense. TCU was bad on offense last season. There’s simply no other way to state it. The Horned Frogs finished near the bottom of 125 FBS teams in total offense, rushing offense and third down conversions. Things were so bad on that side of the ball that despite being a top 25 defense nationally, TCU managed just four wins, one of them coming against an FCS opponent. And the other three victories were over Kansas, Iowa State and SMU, teams that went a combined 11-25. Not surprisingly, head coach Gary Patterson made some changes in the offseason, bringing in two new offensive coordinators to hopefully “fix” his offense. Doug Meacham comes to TCU after spending last season as the offensive coordinator at Houston. Sonny Cumbie joins the Horned Frogs’ staff after serving as the quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator at fellow Big 12 member Texas Tech. Last season, the Red Raiders’ and Cougars’ offense finished eighth and 55th, respectively, in the nation in total offense and both also were in the top 40 in scoring offense. Meacham and Cumbie will share offensive coordinator duties at TCU with the former slated to call plays. Meacham also will coach inside receivers, while Cumbie will stay with quarterbacks. It’s probably a good thing these two are working together because as last season showed, they have their work cut out for them. Starting with…

2. Finding a quarterback. Despite having two experienced signal-callers last season, the tandem of Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin produced disappointing results. With both seeing plenty of action, the duo combined to complete 57.1 percent of their passes for 2,666 yards while throwing more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (13). Pachall has exhausted his eligibility, leaving Boykin, a junior, atop the depth chart entering spring practice, at least for now. TCU also has sophomore Tyler Matthews and redshirt freshman Zach Allen who are expected to see plenty of reps this spring, as the Horned Frogs are shifting to more of a spread offensive system under new co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie. Boykin is athletic and versatile enough to operate in a spread, but he won’t just be handed the starting job, not after last season’s results and with new leadership running things. There’s been some talk already that Boykin could be moved to wide receiver, which means Matthews and Allen should get plenty of opportunities to impress the coaching staff and potentially shake up the depth chart. Either way, expect plenty of attention to be paid to what happens under center this spring.

3. Rounding out the defense. TCU returns eight starters from a defense that finished in the top 25 in the nation in yards allowed. This unit should be the strength of this team, but that doesn’t mean that defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas can sit back and take it easy during spring practice. For one, he has some decisions to make regarding his secondary, which is made up of five defensive backs due to the unique 4-2-5 scheme the Horned Frogs have long employed under Patterson. The biggest loss from last season is cornerback Jason Verrett, who earned first-team All-Big 12 honors after leading the conference in passes broken up (14) while recording two interceptions. The secondary should be in good shape with senior strong safety Sam Carter, senior cornerback Kevin White and junior wide safety Chris Hackett forming a strong foundation to build around. However, Bumpas will need someone new to step up at cornerback opposite White and in the free safety spot that was occupied by Elisha Olabode last season. Otherwise, the front six returns largely intact form last year’s starting group, which doesn’t include Devonte Fields. The 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a true freshman, Fields played in just three games last season because of injury. He will start the spring second on the depth chart at right end. Fields also has run into some trouble off the field, including being robbed at gunpoint in January, so he could use a good spring to get things started on the right foot.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 5-7
The good news is that things shouldn’t get any worse for Gary Patterson and company compared to last season. Schedule-wise Minnesota replaces LSU as the marquee non-conference opponent and TCU’s defense should be good enough to keep this team in most games. However, whether or not these Horned Frogs get back to a bowl game will more than likely be determined by the performance of their offense. Patterson has brought in two new coordinators to oversee the offensive overhaul, now it’s just a matter of finding the right pieces and putting it all together. TCU has enough talent to win six games, but its margin of error will probably be pretty thin unless the offense takes a dramatic step forward this fall.

TCU Horned Frogs 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, March 3, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/former-texas-tech-qb-michael-brewer-transfers-virginia-tech

Former Texas Tech quarterback Michael Brewer has decided to transfer to Virginia Tech. The news was announced on Sunday, as Brewer announced his intention to transfer after the 2013 season and he will be eligible to play in 2014.

Brewer was expected to be Texas Tech’s starting quarterback in 2013, but a back injury sidelined him for most of the year.

In four appearances, Brewer threw for 65 yards and one touchdown on seven completions.

In two years with the Red Raiders, Brewer threw for 440 yards and five scores and completed 70.7 percent of his passes.

Mark Leal is considered the favorite to start at Virginia Tech this year, but he has only 48 career pass attempts. Brewer won’t arrive in Blacksburg until this summer. However, Brewer should have a chance to win the starting job in the fall.

Considering the lack of experience among returning Virginia Tech quarterbacks, landing Brewer could pay off for the Hokies in 2014.

Former Texas Tech QB Michael Brewer Transfers to Virginia Tech
Post date: Monday, March 3, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/top-10-big-ten-quarterbacks-bcs-era

The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

The Big Ten is known for its offensive lines and running games but that doesn't mean there haven't been some amazing quarterbacks to come through these ranks. Nothing proves this more than seeing three-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady sitting outside the Top 20.

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. Drew Brees, Purdue (1997-2000)
Stats: 11,792 yds, 90 TDs, 45 INTs, 61.2%, 925 yds, 14 TDs

The two-time Big Ten Player of the Year led Purdue back to the Rose Bowl and finished among the top four in Heisman voting twice (1999, 2000). He set the NCAA record for passes attempted in a game with 83 against Wisconsin in 1998 (broken in 2013) and is the Big Ten's all-time leader in completions (1,026), passing yards, passing touchdowns, total offense (12,692) and total touchdowns (104). His 39 touchdown passes in 1998 are still a single-season Big Ten record by a wide margin. He was a second-round pick of the Chargers in 2001, has posted four of the eight 5,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history and is a Super Bowl champion.

2. Russell Wilson, NC State/Wisconsin (2008-11)
Stats: 11,720 yds, 109 TDs, 30 INTs, 60.9%, 1,421 yds, 23 TDs

Not many players own school records for two different programs but Wilson excelled in both the ACC and Big Ten. He posted the single greatest season by a Wisconsin quarterback in history en route to a league crown and near national title berth. He owns the NCAA record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (38) and the single-season mark for passing efficiency at 191.8. His 33 touchdown passes in 2011 are second all-time in B1G history to only Brees' 39. He was elite at NC State, elite at Wisconsin and has already led Seattle to its first Super Bowl championship. Needless to say, he is one of the greatest college quarterbacks in history.

3. Troy Smith, Ohio State (2003-06)
Stats: 5,720 yds, 54 TDs, 13 INTs, 62.7%, 1,168 yds, 14 TDs

Smith won the AP Player of the Year, Davey O'Brien, Walter Camp awards and is the only Big Ten quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy since Les Horvath won the award at OSU in 1944. Only Smith and Wisconsin's Ron Dayne won a Heisman for the Big Ten during the BCS Era. Additionally, his Heisman Trophy in 2006 was en route to a perfect season, Big Ten championship and BCS Championship Game berth against Florida. The consensus All-American was the first Buckeyes quarterback to go 3-0 against Michigan since the 1930s and is one of just four players in league history to throw at least 30 touchdowns in a single season. His career QB rating of 157.1 is the best in league history. The 2006 Fiesta Bowl MVP was a part of three BCS bowl teams and was a fifth-round pick in the '07 NFL Draft.

4. Antwaan Randle El, Indiana (1998-2001)
Stats: 7,469 yds, 42 TDs, 37 INTs, 49.8%, 3,895 yds, 44 TDs

The electric athlete sparked the glory years of Indiana football. Well ahead of his time as one of the original dual-threat quarterbacks, Randle El had the top three rushing seasons in Big Ten history, including the only 1,000-yard season, by a quarterback until the likes Denard Robinson and Braxton Miller came along and topped his 1,270-yard season of 2000. The Hoosiers star is fifth all-time in Big Ten history with 11,364 total yards of offense and was named the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2001, finishing sixth in the Heisman voting. He was a second-round pick and is the only wide receiver to ever throw a touchdown pass in a Super Bowl.

5. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (2011-pres.)
Stats: 5,292 yds, 52 TDs, 17 INTs, 59.3%, 3,054 yds, 32 TDs

It may seem too early to place Miller this high after just two full seasons under center but his resume is starting to become one of the best in Big Ten history. Along with Brees, Miller is the only other player in league history to win two Player of the Year awards (2012 and '13) after he led his team to back-to-back undefeated regular seasons. He has already accounted for 84 total touchdowns and over 8,000 yards of total offense and will have a chance to catch Brees in both categories by the time his career is over in Columbus. His 3,054 yards rushing is already third all-time in B1G history among QBs and he has an outside chance to top Denard Robinson's record of 4,495 yards.

6. Brett Basanez, Northwestern (2002-05)
Stats: 10,580 yds, 44 TDs,36 INTs, 57.6%, 996 yds, 18 TDs
He didn't post the gaudy touchdown numbers of some of the others on this list, but Basanez ranks among the all-time best in productivity. After back-to-back losing seasons, Basanez helped lead the Wildcats to two bowls in three years and was awarded Big Ten Player of the Year as a senior in 2005. He completed 314-of-497 passes (both top 10 in league history) for 3,622 yards (ninth all-time) and scored 28 total touchdowns. Basanez ranks third all-time in league history with 11,576 yards of total offense and is fourth all-time in passing yards. 

7. Brad Banks, Iowa (2001-02)
Stats: 3,155 yds, 30 TDs, 7 INTs, 58.3%, 574 yds, 7 TDs

He only started one year in the Big Ten but it was a monster season in 2002. Banks was named Big Ten Player of the Year, won the Davey O'Brien Award, was named the AP Player of the Year and finished second in the Heisman voting. He also led Iowa to its first ever BCS Bowl berth. He posted 2,573 yards passing, 26 touchdowns, five interceptions, 423 yards rushing and five more scores in '02.

8. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State (2008-11)
Stats: 9,131 yds, 66 TDs, 64.1%, 30 INTs, 1 rush TD

Winning is what matters and few did that as well as Cousins at Michigan State. He went 4-0 against in-state rival Michigan and posted the programs first-ever 11-win season and a share of the Big Ten title as a junior. He led Sparty to the inaugural Big Ten title game and another 11-win season as a senior. He is tenth all-time in league history with 9,131 passing yards as well as 66 touchdown passes. His 64.1 percent career completion rate is tied for sixth-best in B1G history too. Cousins was a three-time All-Big Ten selection and a fourth-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. His career QB rating of 146.1 is sixth all-time.

9. Chad Henne, Michigan (2004-07)
Stats: 9,715 yds, 87 TDs, 37 INTs, 3 rush TDs

Starting in his first career game as a true freshman, Henne was a true four-year starter for Michigan — just the second true freshman to start his career opener in school history. The freshman All-American eventually finished with every major Michigan passing record in the books. He is seventh all-time in Big Ten history in passing yards and trails only Brees (90) in career touchdown passes (87). Henne started 47 games in the Maize and Blue, posting 33 wins, two Rose Bowl appearances and came just one victory shy from playing in the national championship game in 2006.

10. Denard Robinson, Michigan (2009-12)
Stats: 6,250 yds, 49 TDs, 39 INTs, 57.2%, 4,495 yds, 42 TDs

There were certainly times when Robinson drove the Michigan fans batty but there is no doubting that he is one of the most dynamic, unique and explosive players in Big Ten history. Robinson set a Big Ten record with 4,272 yards of total offense in 2010, earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors and becoming the first player in NCAA history top both 1,500 yards rushing and passing in the same year. He has the top three single-game rushing performances by a quarterback in league history (258) and topped 200 yards rushing five times. His 1,702 yards rushing are a single-season record for B1G quarterbacks and his 4,495 career yards are No. 1 all-time in NCAA history among signal-callers. Robinson's 10,745 yards of offense rank sixth all-time in league history and he is one of only five players in college football history to throw for at least 6,000 yards and rush for at least 4,000.

Just missed the cut:

11. Craig Krenzel, Ohio State (2000-03)
Stats: 4,489 yds, 28 TDs, 21 INTs, 56.8%, 600 yds, 6 TDs

He wasn't the flashiest and he certainly wasn't the most talented but Krenzel was a winner. And he is the only Big Ten quarterback to lead his team to a BCS National Championship when his Buckeyes went 14-0 in his junior season. He was a two-time Fiesta Bowl MVP, finished his career 24-3 as a starter and earned a degree in Molecular Genetics along the way.

12. Michael Robinson, Penn State (2002-05)
Stats: 3,531 yds, 23 TDs, 21 INTs, 52.1%, 1,637 yds, 20 TDs, 52 rec., 629 yds, 3 TDs

The versatile weapon capped his career in Happy Valley by leading Penn State back to a conference championship and the BCS with a Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award-winning campaign in 2005. He threw for 2,350 yards and 17 touchdowns while rushing for 806 yards and 11 scores on the ground that season.

13. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State (2008-10)
Stats: 6,177 yds, 57 TDs, 26 INTs, 60.9, 2,164 yds, 17 TDs

Entering the lineup early in his freshman year, Pryor proved why he was the No. 1 overall recruit in the nation coming out of high school. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year went on to win three Big Ten titles and play in three BCS Bowls in all three seasons under center. His numbers are prolific and his talent was electric, but he is also responsible for a scandal so bad that it took down the entire coaching staff as well.

14. Kurt Kittner, Illinois (1998-01)
Stats: 8,460 yds, 70 TD, 33 INTs, 54.4%, 168 yds, 7 TDs

The all-time leader in school history for passing touchdowns in a career and season, Kittner capped his excellent tenure at Illinois by leading the Illini to an outright Big Ten championship and berth in the Sugar Bowl in 2001. His 70 passing touchdowns are eighth all-time in Big Ten history.

15. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (2010-13)
Stats: 7,258 yds, 56 TDs, 29 INTs, 59.8%, 2,975 yds, 31 TDs

Few players have ever been as explosive and fun to watch as T-Magic was for the Huskers. And had an injury not ruined his final season, there is no telling where Martinez would have wound up in the record books. He owns Nebraska's all-time record for total offense, passing yards, career stars by a quarterback and touchdown passes as well as the single-season school record for total offense and total touchdowns. He led the Huskers to a Big 12 title game appearance as a freshman and was a first-team All-Big Ten pick when he led his team to the Big Ten title game in 2012. Fans in Lincoln were left to wonder what could have been had he stayed healthy this past fall.

16. John Navarre, Michigan (2000-03)
Stats: 9,264 yds, 70 TDs, 30 INTs, 56.1%, 2 rush TDs

Henne owns all of the major Michigan passing records but it was Navarre's marks that he broke. With three full seasons as a starter, Navarre is currently still ninth all-time in Big Ten history in passing yards and fourth all-time in touchdowns. Michigan won 29 games during his three-year run as the starter and went to back-to-back Rose Bowls in 2003-04.

17. Kyle Orton, Purdue (2001-04)
Stats: 9,337 yds, 63 TDs, 28 INTs, 58.8%, 316 yds, 6 TDs

Picking up where Brees left off, Orton posted three consecutive seasons with a completion percentage above 60 and led Purdue to four bowl games. He was named first-team All-Big Ten when he threw for 3,090 yards, 31 TDs and only five picks as a senior — making him one of only four players in league history to top 30 TD passes. He is eighth all-time in passing yards and was a fourth-round pick in 2005.

18. Juice Williams, Illinois (2006-09)
Stats: 8,037 yds, 56 TDs, 44 INTs, 53.3%, 2,557 yds, 18 TDs

The four-year starter for Illinois was one of the most productive players of his era and returned the Illini to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1983 when he got his team to Pasadena in 2007. Williams is seventh all-time in Big Ten history with 10,594 yards and is one of just eight to ever top 10K.

19. Curtis Painter, Purdue (2005-08)
Stats: 11,163 yds, 67 TDs, 46 INTs, 59.9%, 348 yds, 13 TDs

Painter started 41 of his possible 46 career games over four seasons in West Lafayette. His 11,163 career yards passing are second only to fellow Boilermaker Brees in Big Ten history and Painter also is ninth all-time in touchdown passes. He owns two of the Big Ten's top four single-season passing marks, including the conference's top performance with 3,985 yards in 2006. His 569 attempts in 2007 tied Brees for the Big Ten record while his 987 completions rank second all-time to only Brees as well. His 546 yards passing against Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl were the highest single-game total of any B1G QB during the BCS Era and the third most all-time.

20. Adam Weber, Minnesota (2007-10)
Stats: 10,917 yds, 72 TDs, 51 INTs, 57.0%, 873 yds, 10 TDs

A four-year starter, Weber posted four straight seasons with between 2,582 and 2,895 yards during his time in Minnesota. He is third all-time in the Big Ten in passing and fourth all-time in passing touchdowns. He led a 1-11 team as a freshman All-American to back-to-back bowl games as a sophomore and junior. His 11,790 yards of total offense are third all-time in league history.

Best of the rest:

21. Tom Brady, Michigan (1996-99): 4,773 yds, 30 TDs, 17 INTs, 61.9%,  3 rush TDs
22. Daryll Clark, Penn State (2006-09): 5,742 yds, 43 TDs, 16 INTs, 60.2%, 619 yds, 22 TDs
23. Dan Persa, Northwestern (2008-11): 5,181 yds, 34 TDs, 13 INTs, 72.7%, 716 yds, 10 TDs
24. Drew Stanton, Michigan State (2003-06): 6,524 yds, 42 TDs, 28 INTs, 64.2%, 1,512 yds, 15 TDs
25. John Stocco, Wisconsin (2003-06): 7,227 yds, 47 TDs, 22 INTs, 7 rush TDs

Top 10 Big Ten Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
Post date: Monday, March 3, 2014 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/new-helmet-design-coming-southern-miss

Southern Miss hasn’t had much success on the field over the last few years, but the program seems to be trending in the right direction under Todd Monken.

The Golden Eagles have released a few uniform tweaks over the last few years, and a new helmet design could be on the way for 2014.

In the picture below, Southern Miss’ equipment department tweeted out a new design for the school’s helmets for 2014.

If the Golden Eagles shift to this design, it’s a solid look for the helmet with the chrome additions.

New Helmet Design Coming for Southern Miss?
Post date: Monday, March 3, 2014 - 08:45
Path: /college-football/ranking-college-footballs-rosters-2014

Love or hate football recruiting, it matters. Coaching, support staffs, financial situations and even a little bit of luck goes into winning football games, but having great players always helps too.

So recruiting rankings are just one facet of a deliberate and in-depth equation that helps Athlon Sports project the college football season every year.

When the staff sits down to hash out the Athlon Sports preseason Top 25 each year, recruiting rankings are as much a part of the discussion as returning starters, scheduling differences, coaching changes and historic trends. It all gets incorporated into what eventually becomes the best-selling college football preview magazine on newsstands.

My pick for the 2014 national championship is probably going to be Florida State versus Alabama. Nick Saban is the best coach in the nation, and Jimbo Fisher has quickly checked most boxes needed to earn a Hall of Fame induction. Both head coaches have a national championship on their resume — in fact, four of the five BCS titles — and both develop talent, call plays, prepare their team as well as any coach in the game today.

It doesn't hurt that they will have the best players in the nation as well. Alabama has won four straight recruiting national championships and Florida State returns the No. 2 roster in the nation — one that includes the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. 

According to the numbers, objectively, Alabama and Florida State will enter the 2014 season with the best depth charts in college football. Below is each roster in the major six leagues (plus Notre Dame, Boise State and BYU) based on average national recruiting ranking over the last five classes (according to 247Sports). Included is each team's win-loss record over the last four seasons.

 Team '14'13'12'11'10RankW/LConf.
2t.Florida State4103295.645-1026-6
4t.Ohio State3256207.242-1026-6
10t.Notre Dame1051891711.837-15--
15.Texas A&M5916351816.636-1620-13
18.South Carolina162017163019.842-1123-9
22.Ole Miss15846203825.421-297-25
24.Virginia Tech272121363227.437-1724-8
26.North Carolina292843192428.630-2116-16
27t.Oklahoma State283232252728.839-1324-11
27t.Penn State243048311128.830-2020-12
29.Mississippi State382522342929.631-2113-19
30.Michigan State25373332233042-1225-7
33.Texas Tech414625184434.830-2114-21
34.West Virginia36313649333730-2116-16
38.Arizona State234035653138.830-2221-15
49.Oregon State614544434647.824-2617-19
50.NC State345954723751.227-2413-19
52.Georgia Tech547652444153.428-2519-13
59.Boston College528771414358.820-3012-20
61.Kansas State496174516760.436-1623-12
62.Washington State655458676060.815-348-28
63.Iowa State566067596461.219-3111-24
69.Wake Forest62676669716718-3111-21
70.Boise State6755605311169.241-928-5
73.East Carolina756979718575.829-2222-10

Who are the biggest overachievers?

Michigan State
The fifth-best roster in the Big Ten has delivered a Rose Bowl, Big Ten title and three seasons with at least 11 wins.

Kansas State
Bill Snyder's roster ranks 61st nationally in terms of talent but has consistently competed for Big 12 titles.

Gary Andersen picked up where previous regimes left off on the field and might have actually improved UW off of it.

Only the Ducks of Oregon have won more games than the 20th-best roster in the nation. Back-to-back Pac-12 titles.

Bronco Mendenhall has had a winning record every year since his first (9) and has six 10-win seasons. 

Georgia Tech
Paul Johnson has never missed a bowl and consistently competes for ACC titles with 52nd-ranked roster in the nation.

The 13th-best roster in the ACC and 68th-best roster in the nation won 10 games and its division last year.
Arizona State
Todd Graham has established ASU as a top-tier Pac-12 team with middle-of-the-pack (No. 7) talent.

The 13th-rated roster in the SEC just won the East and 12 games.

Art Briles has improved this roster incredibly over the last few years and now has depth that he didn't have before.

Who are the biggest underachievers?

It boasts the top roster in the Big 12 (No. 7 nationally) but is just 18-17 in league play over the last four seasons. 

Eight losses with the second-ranked roster in the nation is completely unacceptable.

There is a reason that there was a regime change just a month into the season in Los Angeles.

Derek Dooley had solid recruiting classes but couldn't deliver on the field. See USC above.

Jeff Tedford had no problems luring talent, leaving Sonny Dykes with plenty to work with in Berkeley.

North Carolina
Not an elite roster but very talented within the league and UNC hasn't lost fewer than three ACC games since 1997.

The time is now for Al Golden and the ACC's second-ranked roster.

Wahoos rank 35th nationally — ahead of Missouri, Wisconsin and Kansas State to name a few. 

The Hogs had their worst season in the program's history despite ranking 25th nationally in terms of talent.
Uphill battle in the SEC but this group has the worst record of any "Big 5" school and is 36th nationally in talent.

Ranking College Football's Rosters for 2014
Post date: Monday, March 3, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/pac-12-2014-spring-preview-and-storylines

The SEC is college football’s No. 1 conference, but the Pac-12 has narrowed the gap in recent years. And this conference will play a key role in shaping college football’s new playoff format, as Oregon, Stanford and UCLA are considered by many to be top-10 teams in 2014.

The North Division is shaping up to be another battle between Oregon and Stanford for the No. 1 spot. The Ducks return nine starters on offense, including quarterback Marcus Mariota. However, the defense is a concern with the personnel losses at tackle. The Cardinal return quarterback Kevin Hogan and a solid receiving corps, but the offensive line and defense will be under the spotlight in spring practice with new faces stepping into starting roles.

In the South Division, UCLA is the early frontrunner. Quarterback Brett Hundley turned down the NFL for another season in Los Angeles, and sophomore linebacker/running back Myles Jack is one of the nation’s most intriguing players for 2014.

But UCLA will be pushed by USC and Arizona State this year, provided both teams answer a couple of key questions in offseason workouts. The Sun Devils need to reload on defense, while the Trojans need to restock on the defensive line and find a replacement for Marqise Lee at receiver.

Arizona is the wildcard team to watch in the South, especially if coach Rich Rodriguez can find a quarterback and a replacement for running back Ka’Deem Carey this spring.

 Seniors DepartingEarly NFL Draft DeparturesReturning Starters: OffenseReturning Starters: Defense
Arizona State27172
Oregon State17276
Washington State19076

North Division Spring Outlook


Art Kaufman’s chance to fix the defense

The final numbers for California’s defense last year were simply dreadful. The Golden Bears allowed 529.6 yards per game and allowed 45.9 points per contest. After the season, Sonny Dykes made staff changes, hiring former Cincinnati coordinator Art Kaufman to call the defensive signals, while Greg Burns was brought aboard to tutor defensive backs. There’s simply no way California can be any worse on defense in 2014. The changes on the staff will make a huge difference for the Golden Bears, along with the return of a couple of key players from injury. End Brennan Scarlett and tackle Mustafa Jalil are back after missing 2013 with injury, while defensive backs Stefan McClure and Alex Logan missed significant time last year. This unit does lose a few key players from last season’s group, but the depth and overall talent level should be improved. The Golden Bears are also bringing in a handful of junior college prospects, including linebacker Sam Atoe, cornerback Darius White, tackle David Davis and end Jonathan Johnson. Improvement should be noticeable for California this year. And this spring is Kaufman’s first opportunity to put his stamp on the Golden Bears’ defense in 2014.


Concerns at defensive tackle:

With quarterback Marcus Mariota and eight other starters returning on offense, the Ducks will be one of the Pac-12’s most prolific offenses once again in 2014. However, the defense – which has been underrated nationally at times – enters spring with question marks. New coordinator Don Pellum will be replacing veteran Nick Aliotti as the Ducks’ play-caller on defense, and five starters return from a unit that held opponents to 4.9 yards per play last year. This will be Pellum’s first opportunity to coordinate the defense, but he is familiar with the personnel and keeps continuity in place for Oregon. Pellum’s biggest concern is on the line, where the Ducks must replace Wade Keliikipi, Taylor Hart and Ricky Heimuli. Alex Balducci was listed as Keliikipi’s backup last season, and he should take on a major role in the line in 2014. Outside of Balducci, the Ducks need more from Sam Kamp at the position, and there could be some shuffling of bodies this spring to anchor the interior. Arik Armstead, Stetzon Bair and DeForest Buckner have the size to play tackle and should see plenty of snaps in 2014. Another name to watch is junior college recruit Tui Talia. Where will he factor into the mix? If Oregon finds the right mix up front, this team will be in the mix for a playoff spot in Helfrich’s second season in Eugene.

Oregon State

New faces on the defensive line:

The Beavers have to find a replacement for receiver Brandin Cooks, but the defensive line is arguably the bigger concern for coach Mike Riley. This unit loses All-Pac-12 second-team end Scott Crichton, as well as tackles John Braun and Mana Rosa. Oregon State’s defensive line wasn’t exactly a strength last year either, as the Beavers allowed 190.3 rushing yards per game and registered only nine sacks in Pac-12 games. Where will the answers come from? Riley hopes junior college recruits Luke Hollingsworth and Kyle Peko are part of the solution, while Miami transfer Jalen Grimble is expected to factor on the interior. Juniors Lavonte Barnett, Akeem Gonzales and Jaswha James will likely battle for the open end spot opposite of Dylan Wynn. Defensive line coach Joe Seumalo and coordinator Mark Banker will have their hands full this spring as they try to shuffle the line around to find the best (and most productive) combination.


Restocking the trenches:

The Cardinal expect quarterback Kevin Hogan to take another step in his development this spring, and coach David Shaw and coordinator Mike Bloomgren want to rely on their ground game to set the tone once again. But there’s a glaring issue on the offense. The line was hit hard by personnel losses, with guards David Yankey and Kevin Danser, tackle Cameron Fleming and center Khalil Wilkes all departing. That’s the bad news. The good news? Talent isn’t an issue. Left tackle Andrus Peat is a future All-American, and Joshua Garnett and Kyle Murphy are highly-touted prospects waiting for their chance to start. Graham Shuler is the frontrunner to replace Khalil Wilkes at center, while Johnny Caspers is likely to replace Danser at right guard. There’s no question Stanford has talent here. But how quickly can this line jell? Additionally, can this unit develop depth this spring?


Filling voids at quarterback and running back:

Chris Petersen’s first spring as Washington’s head coach is already clouded with some mystery. Cyler Miles was expected to be the Huskies’ starting quarterback in 2014, but he was suspended after an off-the-field incident. It’s uncertain when Miles might return to the team, leaving sophomore Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman Troy Williams and incoming freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels as the three candidates vying for time this offseason. Carta-Samuels won’t arrive until the summer, so it’s Lindquist and Williams for the top two spots – for now. Bishop Sankey will be missed at running back, but there’s a handful of options ready to take the top spot on the depth chart. Dwayne Washington was impressive in limited time last season, and Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper have battled back from knee injuries to play a key role in the backfield. Will Washington emerge as the No. 1 back? Or will the Huskies use a committee approach? Petersen and coordinator Jonathan Smith will start to answer those questions when practice opens on March 4.

Washington State

Replacing three starters on the offensive line:

The Cougars ended 2013 on a down note by losing in the New Mexico Bowl, but there was clear progress for this team in Mike Leach’s second year. As spring practice opens for Washington State in 2014, this team is poised for another step forward. But in order for Leach’s high-powered offense to work, the line will need some new faces to emerge. Center Elliott Bosch, tackle John Fullington and guard Matt Goetz all depart. The left side of the line appears to be set with tackle Gunnar Eklund and guard Joe Dahl returning after starting all 13 games last season. But will the Cougars find answers to the other three spots in the spring? Riley Sorenson was listed as Goetz’s backup at right guard last season, so he could have an inside track on that position. But at center and tackle, both backups also depart. Will the Cougars turn to a junior college recruit from last year’s class (Jacob Seydel) for one of the spots? With three spots up for grabs, this unit will be one to watch this spring in Pullman.

South Division Spring Outlook


New starters at quarterback and running back:

Considering Rich Rodriguez’s track record of developing quarterbacks and finding standouts at running back, there’s not too much concern in Tucson over the new faces stepping in on offense. Quarterback B.J. Denker departs after recording 3,465 total yards last season, while running back Ka’Deem Carey left early for the NFL after another standout year. There’s no clear answer at either position as spring practice opens on March 3 for the Wildcats. At quarterback, Texas transfer Connor Brewer, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon and junior college transfers Jesse Scroggins and Jerrard Randall are considered the frontrunners to replace Denker. The picture remains muddy at running back, as Jared Baker (127 yards) is the top statistical returner, but redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier, Zach Green, Myles Smith and true freshmen Jonathan Haden and Nick Wilson will all have a chance to compete for carries. Baker is recovering from a torn ACL and is not expected to participate in spring practice. Cormier is a slight favorite to handle the bulk of the carries in 2014, but the Wildcats could use a committee approach. Can Rodriguez and his staff narrow the competition or find a starter at both positions this spring?

Arizona State

Rebuilding the defense:

It’s a good thing the Sun Devils return seven starters on offense this year. With only two starters returning on defense, Arizona State will be involved in plenty of shootouts in 2014. Of course, that’s easier to do when you return a quarterback like Taylor Kelly, as well as skill players in the form of running back D.J. Foster and receiver Jaelen Strong. But coach Todd Graham and new co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson will have their hands full rebuilding a defense that ranked fifth in the Pac-12 (conference-only games) in points allowed (26.9 ppg). The list of departures is heavy, starting with defensive linemen Davon Coleman, Gannon Conway and Will Sutton, continuing into the linebacking corps with Carl Bradford and Chris Young, while the secondary loses cornerbacks Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor, and safety Alden Darby must be replaced. Each level of the defense needs to be retooled, and Graham dipped into the junior college ranks for immediate help. Linemen Edmond Boateng and Dalvon Stuckey should factor into the mix right away, and linebacker Darrius Caldwell and cornerback Kweishi Brown will be expected to do the same. Expect the Sun Devils to find the right answers as the season progresses, but this defense will receive some extra attention from Graham and Patterson this spring with a ton of fresh faces stepping into new roles.


Find a replacement for Paul Richardson:

Even though receiver Paul Richardson was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection last year, he didn’t get enough credit nationally for his 2013 season. Richardson caught 83 passes for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns and averaged a healthy 16.2 yards per reception. Nelson Spruce and D.D. Goodson were solid complement options, but it’s clear Richardson will be missed. Just how important was Richardson to the passing attack? He caught 10 of Colorado’s 21 touchdown passes and 83 of the Buffaloes’ 235 receptions. With Richardson departing, Spruce and Goodson need to take on a bigger role in the passing attack, while Tyler McCulloch is due for an increased presence after catching 14 passes in 2013. Devin Ross was a three-star recruit in 2013 and caught six passes for 24 yards in limited action. Expect Ross to be more involved, and the coaching staff is eager to get a look at incoming freshmen Shay Fields and Lee Walker. Colorado may not have a receiver equal Richardson’s numbers. However, there’s enough returning talent to give quarterback Sefo Liufau options in 2014.


Who replaces guard Xavier Su’a-Filo?:

Sacks allowed aren’t necessarily the best indicator of offensive line success or failure, but UCLA gave up 29 in nine Pac-12 contests last year. The Bruins also managed only 3.9 yards per carry, which ranked seventh in the Pac-12. Needless to say, there is room for this unit to improve. That task is complicated by the departure of guard Xavier Su’a-Filo to the NFL Draft. Jim Mora has recruited plenty of talent to Los Angeles over the last few seasons, and some of that youth got involved in the trenches last year, as Alex Redmond started all 13 games at guard, while Scott Quessenberry and Caleb Benenoch combined for 15 starts as true freshmen. With Redmond, Quessenberry and Benenoch having another offseason to work with the coaching staff and weight room, this trio should be even better in 2014. UCLA’s line will be bolstered by the addition of Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche and four-star recruit Kolton Miller in this year’s signing class. Replacing Su’a-Filo is no easy assignment, and he was one of the top guards in the nation last year. Kenny Lacy was listed as the backup at guard last season, but the coaching staff could shuffle some players around this spring. Keeping quarterback Brett Hundley healthy is priority No. 1 for UCLA in 2014. Finding a replacement for Su’a-Filo and the right mix on the line will go a long way to keeping Hundley in the mix to win the Heisman.


New faces set to emerge on the offensive line:

New coach Steve Sarkisian is stepping into a good situation for his first spring in Los Angeles. The Trojans won six out of their final seven games and return 14 starters in 2014. Even though receiver Marqise Lee and a couple of defenders will be tough to replace, most of Sarkisian’s focus this spring should be on the line. The Trojans lost center Marcus Martin, tackle Kevin Graf and guard John Martinez, leaving three starters back for 2014. Left tackle Chad Wheeler, guard/tackle Max Tuerk and Aundrey Walker return, giving Sarkisian and line coach Tim Drevno a solid foundation to build around. But due to scholarship sanctions, depth remains a concern. Can Cyrus Hobbi claim the center spot vacated by Martin? Or will Drevno have to look for other solutions? Jordan Austin and Toa Lobendahn enrolled early to compete this spring, and touted freshmen Chris Brown, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao arrive in the fall. Will any of the recruits crack the lineup? If USC settles the line, it should have an explosive offense with the return of quarterback Cody Kessler, running back Buck Allen and receiver Nelson Agholor.


Improvement on offense:

The Utes finished 2013 by averaging just 4.9 yards per play and ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in yards per game (364.9). To help jumpstart the offense, Kyle Whittingham hired former Wyoming coach Dave Christensen to call the plays. Jim Harding also comes to Salt Lake City via Laramie to coach the offensive line, while former coordinator Dennis Erickson will shift to tutor the running backs. Christensen was a solid pickup as the team’s coordinator, but Utah has a lot of work to do on this side of the ball. The top priority is at quarterback, where Travis Wilson will participate in non-contact drills this spring after his football future was in doubt in November. Wilson’s status for the 2014 season is still in question, but it’s a good sign he is able to work with the team this spring. Assuming Wilson does return to the field in 2014, the Utes need more consistency out of their starting quarterback, but it will help to have Dres Anderson back at receiver, while three starters are back on the line. Christensen needs to develop a few more options for Wilson at receiver, along with securing the line and developing a pecking order at running back. This unit has plenty of room to improve after the 2013 season. With Christensen calling the plays, and Wilson back on the field, the Utes have a chance to take a step forward this spring.

Pac-12 2014 Spring Preview and Storylines
Post date: Monday, March 3, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-weekend-recap-10-things-know-march-3

The first weekend in March was not a bad way to start the greatest five weeks in the college basketball season.

Wichita State wrapped up an undefeated regular season. Virginia came a little closer to winning the ACC. Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky — all preseason top five teams — looked completely out of sorts.

In other words, unpredictability reigns.

More unlikely storylines are sure to occur as conference tournaments start later this week in most of the traditional one-bid leagues.

Our focus for the week, though, starts with the major programs hitting their stride (Wichita State and Virginia) and others with newfound concerns (Syracuse, Michigan State, Ohio State and Cincinnati), plus some of the bubble teams that helped their case Saturday.

College Basketball Recap: 10 Things to Know

1. There is no disputing Wichita State’s bid for history
In the NCAA Tournament, teams like Wichita State generally end up darlings. Turns out going 31-0 draws scrutiny. Wichita State completed the first undefeated regular season in a decade and the first 31-0 start in 23 seasons with its 68-45 win over Missouri State. The achievement, though, has drawn a similar level of scrutiny — or in some cases, scorn — as Boise State’s best teams in college football. And that’s fair. Wichita State is no mid-major deserving to be the lovable underdog. The Shockers pay coach Gregg Marshall $1.75 million, and as , they draw 10,000 fans per game and travel on private planes. But 31-0 against any schedule is worthy of history. We spelled out Wichita State’s , but this is a team that will be favored to make it all the way to an unprecedented 35-0.

2a. Virginia picked up its biggest win in 20 years in unlikely fashion
It's tough to find more unlikely heroes than Akil Mitchell. The senior forward who averages seven points per game scored eight in the first half to keep Virginia afloat in time for Malcolm Brogdon to give the Cavaliers a commanding lead in the ACC standings with a 75-56 win over Syracuse. Brogdon finished with 19 points including eight during the run that decided the game as moved Virginia to 16-1 in the ACC. Think about it: Joe Harris, a preseason ACC player of the year contender, scored six points on 2-of-10 shooting and Virginia still scored 75 against Syracuse.

2b. Time to worry about Syracuse
Despite starting 25-0, the Orange might slip to a No. 2 seed after this 1-3 slide. This team is not ready to advance deep in the Tournament. Syracuse has gone five consecutive games without averaging a point per possession (one point per possession is considered average). Syracuse hasn’t even shot 45 percent from the field since Jan. 25 against Miami. What’s troubling is that the performance against Virginia wasn’t even particularly bad by Syracuse’s recent standards as the Orange shot 35.7 percent from the field and 22.7 percent from 3.

3. Kentucky is an absolute mess
The talk of Kentucky winning a national title or reaching the Final Four is long gone. It’s time to start wondering if Kentucky is going to win a game in the NCAA Tournament. By virtue of being a team far too talented to get a seed as low as Kentucky will get, the Wildcats have a good chance to win a game in the Tourney. But there’s little reason to have any faith in Kentucky after Saturday. Going to overtime with LSU and losing to Arkansas — bubble teams both — is one thing. Losing to South Carolina, the worst team in the SEC, is another. John Calipari got himself ejected arguing with officials, but his team still attempted 42 free throws to South Carolina’s 33. The offensive execution was dreadful as Kentucky shot 35.3 percent from 3-point range and an unbelievable 22.9 percent from 2-point range.

4. We’re not going to say Oklahoma State is back, but...
Any time a team beats Kansas, it’s worthy of note. Oklahoma State has won three in a row since Marcus Smart returned from suspension, no win bigger than a 72-65 defeat of Kansas. Smart scored 21 points, mainly due to volume (14 shots from the field, 14 free throws). Teammate Markel Brown was the more efficient scorer, adding 21 points on 4-of-7 shots from the field and 10-of-10 free throws. Oklahoma State caught Kansas on a night when the Jayhawks committed 22 turnovers, in part due to 11 Oklahoma State steals. Feel free to put Oklahoma State in a bracket, just don’t expect the team you saw in December and January.

5. Louisville collapsed
Winning on the road against a good team is tough, but, still, Louisville did not look great in its collapse against Memphis. The Cardinals had been a dominant team recently, even if it was largely against bad teams in the American. At Memphis, the Cardinals took an eight-point lead with 4:47 to go but ended up losing 72-66. Memphis got hot from the free throw line, but Louisville helped out with no fied goals in nearly five minutes to finish the game.

6. Michigan State suffered a “complete meltdown”
Even in Branden Dawson’s return, Michigan State looked as weak as it has all season. The Spartans lost 53-46 at home to an Illinois team that’s 6-10 in the Big Ten. Michigan State was just as inept in the offensive end as you’d imagine for a team that couldn’t muster 50 points against the Illini. Outside of Gary Harris, who scored 19 points, Michigan State shot 11 of 30 from the field. Tom Izzo called the game a “complete meltdown.” The Spartans are 4-6 since Jan. 21 and stand a chance to enter the Big Ten tournament with seven conference losses as they finish the regular season with Iowa and Ohio State.

7a. Cincinnati’s offensive shortcomings will bite them in March
At least Cincinnati’s defense showed up at UConn. That’s the only reason Cincinnati had a chance to defeat the Huskies in Hartford in a 51-45 loss. At the same time, this game continued to show that Cincinnati may have trouble scoring points in the NCAA Tournament. The Bearcats scored only four points in the first 12:07 in the second half and struggled in traditional (45 points, 27.1 percent shooting) and advanced (0.672 points per possession) metrics. The key is bottling up Sean Kilpatrick, who was the only Bearcat with more than eight points. Cincinnati doesn’t have secondary scorers to overcome a 4-of-16 game from its star player.

7b. Another coach/official confrontation draws attention
Only a week after Jim Boehiem’s tantrum and ejection, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin nearly had a similar confrontation with official Ted Valentine. Cronin didn’t get a technical foul arguing a questionable out-of-bounds and after running in front of his bench toward Valentine. Cronin had to be restrained by three of his players and an assistant, but Valentine didn’t come out of this much better, nearly going nose to nose with the Bearcats coach.

8. No bubble team had a better week than Xavier
The Musketeers have struggled to get into a groove in the Big East, but they’re hitting a stride at a good time. After defeating St. John’s on the road early in the week, Xavier defeated Creighton 75-69 on Saturday. Doug McDermott was productive as usual with 27 points, but Xavier held the rest of the Bluejays to 5 of 22 from 3-point range. For Xavier, Justin Martin had 19 points and 16 rebounds, and Semaj Christon finished with 21 points.

9. Oregon had a decent week, too
It’s time to call Oregon’s turnaround legitimate. The Ducks had lost eight of 10 at one point after starting 13-0, but they have since recovered in the last week. Oregon played their way back into the NCAA Tournament field with a six-game losing streak. The signature win was an 87-83 win in double overtime against UCLA, but Oregon avoided an upset by defeating USC 78-63. The lopsided win as deceptive was the game was tied in the final 10:21

10. SEC bubble teams handled themselves well
Besides Florida, most of the SEC seems to be looking for ways to be disappointed on Selection Sunday. Give at least a little credit to Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas for avoiding home upsets. Arkansas had the toughest challenge, beating Georgia 87-75. Tennessee crushed Vanderbilt 76-38, and Missouri defeated Mississippi State 85-66. Granted, we’re giving these teams credit for doing things they should do anyway, but that doesn’t happen all the time in the SEC. Just ask Kentucky.

Short stuff

• Now is a good time to start doubting Ohio State. Few teams had a worse week than Ohio State, which lost Thursday to Penn State and Sunday to an Indiana team playing without standout freshman Noah Vonleh.

• Pittsburgh isn’t on the bubble, but the Panthers came close to testing that with an 85-81 win over Notre Dame in overtime.

• Utah is going to go to the NIT which is a.) really good for the program Larry Krystkowiak inherited three years ago and b.) a little unfortunate. Utah is 8-8 in the Pac-12, but the Utes gave themselves a paltry non-conference schedule as they continued the rebuilding process. Utah’s strength of schedule is ranked 112th in the RPI.

• The jockeying to be the Atlantic 10’s last at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament will be tight. Dayton defeated UMass 86-79 to stay in contention while Richmond may be out after losing 66-43 to Rhode Island.

• Saint Louis has lost two in a row after starting 12-0 in the Atlantic 10, and neither game, whether at home against a bad Duquesne team or on the road at VCU, has been particularly close.

• From the land of the bizarre, the SWAC . If an ineligible team wins the tournament, the SWAC’s automatic bid will be awarded to the eligible team that advances the furthest or the highest-seeded team if multiple teams are eliminated in the same round. The four ineligible teams includes league leader Southern (13-2 in the SWAC), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (8-7), Mississippi Valley State (5-10) and Grambling State (2-10).

College Basketball Weekend Recap: 10 Things to Know March 3
Post date: Monday, March 3, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /harvick-dominates-desert-wins-nascars-trip-phoenix

Judging by garage chatter and practice speeds at Phoenix International Raceway there was really no doubt that Kevin Harvick was the driver to beat in what turned out to be the aptly named “The Profit on CNBC 500” … that, of course, if the spelling of the race sponsor were “Prophet.”  Kevin Harvick

Regardless, Harvick and his new No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team was far and away the strongest bunch in the desert after a speedy NASCAR Speedweeks in Daytona, winning in just their second race together.

Harvick led a race-high 224 of 312 laps — after topping the speed charts in Friday and Saturday practice sessions — and commandingly held off a top 5 that consisted of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon over four restarts in the final 61 laps to notch his first Cup win in a car not owned by Richard Childress.

“This just solidifies some many things — so many decisions,” Harvick said of his defection from Richard Childress Racing, where he had spent his entire 13-year Cup career, to good friend Tony Stewart’s team. While driver of the No. 29 Chevy at RCR, the Bakersfield, Calif., native garnered 23 wins in the Sprint Cup Series, including the 2007 Daytona 500, 2003 Brickyard 400 and two victories in the Coca-Cola 600 (2011, 2013).

Harvick was the cause of a final-turn crash in last weekend’s Daytona 500, where he placed 13th, but had no such dramatics in Phoenix. Harvick took the lead for the first time on lap 74 on Sunday and surrendered it for only 15 circuits over the remainder of the afternoon. Try as they might in the final four restarts of the race, the competitors were mostly resigned to be racing for second.

“We were a little faster at the end, but (Harvick was) stellar,” said Earnhardt, who followed up his Daytona 500 win with a second-place finish in Phoenix. “Those guys were two-tenths (of a second) faster than anybody all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal. To be able to run with them as we did all day was a big confidence builder for us.”

It was Harvick’s third win at PIR in the circuit’s last four visits and fifth overall.

“The back of Kevin’s car says ‘Freaky Fast’ and they weren’t lying!” said Logano, referring to Harvick’s Jimmy John’s sponsorship decals. “Such a fast car — he’s got something figured out here.”

Thus far, Harvick’s 2014 showing has resembled Matt Kenseth’s 2013 performance as a driver who jumped to a new team after earning tenure elsewhere over the first 13 years of his Cup career. Kenseth left Roush Fenway Racing following the 2012 season and enjoyed a career year last season, registering seven wins and a runner-up points showing with Joe Gibbs Racing.

“They were really prepared,” third-place finisher Brad Keselowski said of Harvick’s team in the offseason. “We saw it all the way through testing, that they were dominant. They showed it when they came to the actual racetrack to race.

“I would look for big things out of that team. They looked a lot like the 20 car (Kenseth) did last year at this time. They have that honeymoon syndrome going on and taking full advantage of it.”

If there were one team besides RCR where Harvick would seem a natural fit, it’s SHR, which is co-owned by his good friend, Stewart.

“It wasn't that I couldn't be a part of the championship before, it's just that we hadn't won a championship before,” Harvick said. “We do this to win. You want to win races. We've been fortunate to do that in the past, but in this arena it's about winning championships and trying to be competitive on a weekly basis. I felt like I needed that enthusiasm to show up to work. I get to do this with a lot of my friends, with Tony.

“As we’ve gone through time, I've sat and talked with Tony about what's expected. He expects me and Rodney (Childers, crew chief) to help lead the charge on the competition side as to what needs to be the direction.”



Meanwhile, Earnhardt and the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports bunch seem poised to make crew chief Steve Letarte’s final season with the team — he’ll abandon pit box duties at the end of the year — a successful one. Earnhardt’s first- and second-place showings in the season’s first two races signify the best start of his 16-year Cup career.

“Our team is performing so well — got a lot of great chemistry and good communication going back and forth,” Earnhardt said. “Everybody's confidence is very high. Everybody's mood and morale is really high. Hopefully we can maintain that and not have any bad luck or make any mistakes and continue to keep working towards winning more races.

“If we run second enough, we're bound to at least trip into one or two. We ran second quite a few races in the last 10 or so (last season). I feel really good. I feel like we're coming around the corner, peaking at the right time this season to try to run for the championship.”

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Kevin Harvick won NASCAR's The Profit on CNBC 500 in a dominating performance over Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Post date: Sunday, March 2, 2014 - 21:14
Path: /college-basketball/wichita-state-wraps-undefeated-regular-season-superlatives-shockers

When Wichita State reached the Final Four last season, the Shockers were a part of a trend, a team outside of the power structure reaching the final weekend of the college basketball season.

George Mason did it. VCU did it. Butler did it twice.

What the Shockers did Saturday night puts them in a company all their own. Or if Wichita State is put into a category, it stands in even more rare company than simply making a Final Four.

Four wins in two weeks is one thing. Winning 31 games in a row is another.

Wichita State wrapped up an undefeated regular season, a feat that hasn’t been matched in a decade with a win total that hasn’t been matched in 23 years.

Here’s how Wichita State stacks up with history:

• Wichita State is the first team to reach 31-0 since UNLV won their first 34 games in 1990-91. Led by Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony, that Runnin’ Rebels squad won the national title a year earlier before falling to eventual national champion Duke in the Final Four for their only loss of 1991.

• The Shockers have been downright dominant during this run. Wichita State’s win to seal a 31-0 regular season played out like so many this season — in lopsided fashion. Wichita State defeated opponents by an average 15.5 points per game, both against the overall schedule and in conference. The Shockers played in only five games all season decided by fewer than 10 points.

• The Shockers are the first team to reach the conference tournament undefeated since St. Joseph’s, led by Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, did it in 2003-04. The Red Hawks started 27-0 before losing to Xavier in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals that season. The game against Xavier also was their first game as the No. 1 team in the polls.

• St. Joe’s chances for a No. 1 seed were questioned after the loss to Xavier, but the Red Hawks ended up as a top seed in the East region before falling to second-seeded Oklahoma State 64-62 in the Elite Eight.

• All but one of the reached the Final Four. The exception was 1974-75 Indiana, which topped out in the regional final.

• The NCAA selection committee is not supposed to look at what Wichita State did last season, but we can. The Shockers are 61-9 in the last two seasons. Since March 1 last year, the only teams to defeat Wichita State are Creighton twice and eventual national champion Louisville.

• If the Shockers win the Missouri Valley Tournament, they will match UNLV’s 34-0 start and likely will grab a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If Wichita State wins its first NCAA Tourney game — and no No. 1 seed has lost to a No. 16 — Wichita State will be college basketball’s first 35-0 team.

• Don’t dismiss the Missouri Valley Tournament as a formality for Wichita State, though. The Shockers haven’t won Arch Madness since 1987 under Eddie Fogler.

• Wichita State’s status as a No. 1 seed likely depends entirely on being 34-0. Other than the loss column — and it’s worth reiterating that’s not to be ignored — the Shockers don’t have a No. 1 seed profile. Wichita State is 3-0 against the RPI top 50 with the only win against a sure NCAA Tournament team coming on the road against Saint Louis. Wichita State has only six top 100 wins and only two of those (the season sweep of Indiana State) are in conference play.

• Advanced analytics are a little more kind to Wichita State than the RPI, which does not count margin of victory among any other things in its formula. Wichita State is ranked sixth in . However, the Shockers have one trait that every national champion has had since 2003, a top 20 ranking in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency.

• You haven’t seen the last of Wichita State after this season, either. The Shockers have one senior among their top seven scorers. That’s a major piece in Cleanthony Early (15.7 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game), but sharpshooter Ron Baker and point guard Fred VanVleet are sophomores.

Wichita State wraps up undefeated regular season: Superlatives on the Shockers
Post date: Saturday, March 1, 2014 - 18:14
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/who-are-worst-sports-teammates-all-time

The locker room is a sacred place. It is also an extremely fragile place.

The smallest change in attitude or perception can cause one to implode or splinter in the worst possible way. Critical injuries, lack of leadership from the coaching staff or a nosey, overbearing owner are a few reasons why the delicate pursuit of a championship can be derailed. Other times, the locker room can be infested with teammates who clearly aren't committed to winning. It can rub off on others, can be a distraction in the media and is obviously a terrible way to represent yourself in your community to so many who look up to those in pro sports. Sometimes — most times — these athletes have so much talent that they continually are given chances to succeed. It generally leaves fans wondering what if?

Here are some of the most parasitic and dangerous teammates of all-time:

Ryan Leaf, QB, NFL
The torrid and tawdry tale of the San Diego Chargers' first-round pick in the 1998 NFL Draft is well documented. His off-the-field drug issues as a coach alone make him one of the most tragic members of any locker room in all of sports. Yet, simply as an NFL quarterback, Leaf failed to live up to his 6-foot-5 frame. He was in yelling matches that nearly developed into physical altercations with teammates, general managers, fans during practice and one famous reporter who should have "knock(ed) it off." The list of bizarre and ignorant decision-making is shocking. He skipped the final day of the rookie symposium. He complained to the front office about a standard rookie credit card prank. He constantly blamed teammates publicly for his poor play. He missed practice with an injury to play golf. He refused to have surgery when doctors told him he should. There is a reason he won only four of his 21 career starts.

Tonya Harding, Figure Skater
Aside from never being able to get to the arena or onto the ice on time, I'm not sure it gets any worse than physically assaulting your teammate with the direct intent of ending their career. On Jan. 6, 1994, Harding conspired with ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt, to break teammate and competitor Nancy Kerrigan's right leg. They hired a man named Shane Stant to assault Kerrigan at Cobo Arena in Detroit, causing Kerrigan to withdraw from the 1994 US Championships. The attack didn't keep Kerrigan from competing in the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer where she won the silver medal. Harding would end up pleading guilty to conspiracy.

Latrell Sprewell, Guard, NBA
Few players have wasted more talent on nonsense than Sprewell. Not many players can say they have literally choked their head coach. His excuse? "It's not like he was losing air or anything." Spree's laundry list of locker room dust-ups is too long to comb through. But choking your coach and publicly wondering how he was going to feed his family on a $21 million contract is enough to make this list.

Richie Incognito, OL, NFL
Spitting on players, fighting in games, fighting during practice and in bars all dot his resume. And that was just before he transferred from Nebraska to Oregon in college. Repeated incidents in the NFL have led to Incognito playing for three different teams, each ending with a bang. The latest, of course, coming in the Miami Dolphins' locker room involving supposed friend Jonathan Martin. He is widely regarded as one of, if not the, dirtiest player in the NFL.

Manny Ramirez, OF, MLB
No one makes you shake your head quite like Man-Ram. Yes, he has had physical altercations with teammates and even apparently knocked over an elderly secretary. He was an extraordinary hitter and one of the most bizarre outfielders in the history of the game. Cutting off throws, disappearing into the Green Monster and landing on the baseball only scratch the surface. He was also suspended for using steroids while playing for the Dodgers late in his career. But Manny is also guilty of the worst crime in all of sports: intentionally not playing hard. Manny Being Manny was great for a laugh — if you didn't play with him.

John Terry, Centre Back, English Premier Soccer
One of the most decorated English soccer plays of all-time, Terry won "Dad of the Year" in 2009. The voters must not have known about his bar fights, airport altercations, handicap parking tendencies and general sleaziness. He has been investigated for racial abuse and was busted for having an extramarital affair with a teammate’s significant other. Well done, sire.

Carlos Zambrano, SP, MLB
He was suspended for arguing with teammate Derrek Lee. He got in a fight between innings with catcher Michael Barrett. His temper and childish behaviors were caught on film numerous times on the North Side of Chicago. Why do you think new management was willing to pay millions for him NOT to be in their clubhouse? In recent news, he had to apologize for starting a brawl in the Venezuela's winter series final.

Bill Romanowski, LB, NFL
The burly and physical tackler was a menace on the field as one of the nastiest hitters in the game and off the field as one of the worst teammates. During his playing days, he was linked to potential steroid use that likely led somewhat to his insane practice habits. No less than six major violent incidents with teammates dot Romanowski's resume. He shattered Marcus Williams' eye-socket, ending his career, broke Kerry Collins' jaw and attacked Tony Gonzalez. He kicked another teammate in the head, spit in another's face and was known to aim for an extra-sensitive area of the body with the football from time to time. Now several years removed from the game, Romanowski has since toned down his antics dramatically and has been slowly working to rebuild his image off of the field.

Barry Bonds, OF, MLB
Possibly the most talented and most high profile player on this list, it seems awfully appropriate that the seven-time MVP never won a World Series. The stories from teammates, fans and reporters stretch out longer than one of his bombs into the Bay. Not showing up for team photos, blaming teammates for failed drug tests, berating journalists, distracting the team and constantly distancing himself from his team. There is a report from Rob Dibble that Pirates players would offer steak dinners and cash to opposing pitchers if they would hit Bonds. He was hit 106 times in his career and, for the most part, his home run record is sneered at for a reason.

Delonte West, G, NBA
This one isn't too hard. Over a three-year period, West was traded three times and eventually waived by the Minnesota Timberwolves. His career began unceremoniously when officers found a concealed handgun in his pocket and, I can't make this up, a shotgun in a guitar case on his back during a speedy stop — while on a motorcycle. In 2010, he got into a locker room fight with Von Wafer, one that witnesses say West instigated. In 2012, he wasn't allowed to attend the Mavericks' trip to the White House and he reacted with an intense Twitter rant. Finally, and even I will admit, the most far-fetched tale involving West is of his alleged indiscretions with The Chosen One's Mom. No, I am not kidding. He never averaged more than 12.2 points per game in any season and averaged in double figures only three times in eight years in the NBA.

Terrell Owens, WR, NFL
Constantly throwing teammates under the bus, Owens' selfish attitude on and off the field cost his locker room any cohesion and, at times, cost his team yards on the field. Effort was never his issue like some other prima donna wideouts in the NFL, but to blame quarterbacks and coaches for his own failures is absurd. And to infer certain things about Jeff Garcia in a negative way is unacceptable, distasteful and classless. Especially, coming from a guy as vain as T.O.

Gilbert Arenas, G, NBA
He has long been known to berate and verbally abuse teammates. He has also been connected with some of the more vicious rookie hazings. However, being suspended for nearly an entire season because you brought a handgun into the locker room takes the cake. Which is unacceptable, especially if you are a career 42.1 percent shooter.

Steve Smith, WR, NFL (Carolina)
Multiple fights with multiple teammates during training camps have made Smith a constant headline even before the season gets started. He has been sued, fined, suspended and sent to anger management training for the better part of a decade. It’s not working. He has long been one of the most talkative — and generally not using pleasantries — players in all of the NFL.

Jeff Kent, 2B, MLB
Few players have ever been as abrasive as Mr. Kent. Stories of Barry Bonds — yes, Barry Bonds — having to play the role of peacekeeper in the Giants' clubhouse should tell you all you need to know about Kent. Teammates, media, coaches and fans can't stand to be around him. Neither could the people on "Survivor" apparently.

The "Worst" of the Rest:

Albert Haynesworth, Defensive Lineman, NFL
A paycheck player who refused to play certain positions and never stayed in shape following his payday.

Keyshawn Johnson, Wide Receiver, NFL
Was always wondering why the Jets were throwing the ball "to that little white guy." Hmmm...

Stephon Marbury, Guard, NBA
Constantly battling with teammates and even his GM, he single-handedly derailed the Knicks.

Allen Iverson, Guard, NBA
Game effort was never the issue. His Diva persona and attitude towards practice was.

Joe Horn, Wide Receiver, NFL
On the field antics and sleeping with a teammate's wife qualifies Horn for this list.

JaMarcus Russell, Quarterback, NFL
Lazy, out of shape and unfocused in regards to anything that had to do with winning games.

Milton Bradley, Outfielder, MLB
Eight teams in 12 years for the short-tempered maniac. Also has had multiple domestic abuse issues.

Who are some of the worst teammates of all-time in pro sports?
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 16:30
Path: /college-basketball/profiling-oklahoma-state-ncaa-tournament-bubble-watch

Expectations have changed drastically in Stillwater in the last two months.

What looked like a team that would challenge Kansas’ reign atop the Big 12 at the start of the season is now fighting for an NCAA Tournament spot.

Drawing a first-round bye in the conference tournament, earning an NCAA Tournament bid and winning a game once in the field is now one of the most optimistic prospects for the Cowboys.

The good news for coach Travis Ford is that all of that looks attainable. Marcus Smart appears refreshed since his return to the lineup two games ago, and the Pokes have ended a seven-game losing streak.

A win over Kansas on Saturday would be a tall task, but it would seem to all but clinch a bid for the Cowboys. Here’s how Oklahoma State’s profile looks heading into the final stretch:

Remaining scheduleBy the numbers
March 1: Kansas
March 3: Kansas State
March 8: at Iowa State
Record: 18-10, 6-9 Big 12
RPI: 49
Strength of Schedule: 42
KenPom: 27
Best win: Texas at home
Worst loss: Texas Tech on the road

How Oklahoma State could be in the Tournament
The Cowboys need to come back from a seven-game losing streak from Jan. 27-Feb. 17. Defeating Texas Tech and TCU in Marcus Smart’s first two games back from suspension is a start. Smart has been the playmaker the Cowboys’ need with 17 assists in two games, but his shot is still inconsistent (0 of 3 from 3 against Texas Tech, 1 of 8 from 2 against TCU).

How Oklahoma State could be left out
The seven-game losing streak is tough to ignore, even if it includes only one loss to a team that’s certainly outside of the field (Texas Tech). The Cowboys’ personnel is not what it was during the non-conference schedule when forward Michael Cobbins was healthy and backup point guard Stevie Clark was on the roster. The final stretch will be tough against Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and a tough opponent in the Big 12 tournament.

Oklahoma State needs to: Defeat Kansas State and/or Iowa State
The Cowboys can probably afford a loss to Kansas at home Saturday, but that puts more pressure on the Pokes to at least split the last two Big 12 regular season games and win a game in the conference tournament. Defeating the Jayhawks on Saturday or winning in Ames next week would be the best thing Oklahoma State could do for its NCAA prospects.

Oklahoma State can’t afford to: Lose to Kansas State or go winless in the Big 12 Tournament
Kansas State is drifting onto the bubble. Oklahoma State may be able lose to Kansas and Iowa State and still have a decent NCAA profile, but it certainly can’t lose at home to the Wildcats. Seventh place in the Big 12 — where Oklahoma State is tied right now — would draw TCU in the conference tournament. That does nothing for the NCAA resume, but at least it draw the No. 2 seed in the next game.

Insight from the Oklahoma State beat: , The Oklahoman
“The Cowboys were playing as well as anyone in the country into January, when they lost post player Michael Cobbins to a blown Achilles. And they haven’t been the same since, with the impact of that injury way more damaging than anyone imagined, leaving them exposed in the middle on both ends of the floor. They’ve gone from the front end of the AP Top 25 to the back end of the Big 12 standings. Since returning from a three-game suspension, point guard Marcus Smart seems to have rediscovered the 'facilitator' style that made him a special freshman a year ago. He’ll need to maintain that mindset to lead a surge down the stretch.”

Profiling Oklahoma State: NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 12:28
Path: /nascar/earnhardts-post-500-focus-stewarts-readiness-highlight-nascar-weekend-phoenix

Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, a new qualifying procedure for the Cup Series, the evolution of the Gen-6 car, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-Daytona 500 focus, Tony Stewart’s health and a new title format’s effect on race strategy lead us into the 312-miler at Phoenix International Raceway.

1. Phoenix hosts debut of new Sprint Cup qualifying format
There’s no denying that NASCAR’s single-car qualifying had largely become an exercise in boredom in recent years. Fans weren’t turning out to watch it in person like they once did and the two- to three-hour sessions weren’t adding anything exciting to the race weekend.

So NASCAR came swinging with a drastic overhaul in the offseason and largely got it right. Phoenix serves as the Sprint Cup debut for NASCAR’s new group qualifying format that will feature two different rounds to set the order for Sunday’s race. It all fits in a TV-friendly one-hour window, too.

It’s pretty simple: all drivers are eligible for the first round and will have 25 minutes to put down the best lap possible. They can draft, they enter and exit pit road for small adjustments and they can enter the track whenever so desired. When the first session ends, the top 12 drivers earn a spot in the final round to go for the pole. Larger tracks have three rounds.

It’s a product that may also lead to competitive strategy and aggression. NASCAR will police grave qualifying infidelities — intentionally crashing or blocking another car won’t fly — but these teams and drivers are too smart. They’ll find ways to interfere without appearing to interfere. They’ll play games. They’ll compete.

All told, it’s a better system. It could be a lot of fun, too.

2. Gen-6 debut a year ago less than stellarThe constant hype and hyperbole at Daytona last season from the sport’s talking heads about NASCAR’s then-new Gen-6 race vehicle produced a pretty predictable result when the series made it out to Phoenix. The second race of the year was largely a dud with limited passing and Carl Edwards going to victory lane based mostly on pit strategy.

It ignited, too, into NASCAR’s still-ludicrous decision to penalize Denny Hamlin for hardly defamatory comments about the new vehicle after the race. Bygones are bygones, though, and Phoenix this time marks the one-year anniversary of the Gen-6’s restrictor-plate track debut.

What can we expect? Hopefully a better race. The second-to-last race of the 2013 season — also at Phoenix — produced competition that was remarkably different. Lead changes jumped from 12 to 23 as Kevin Harvick took the win as Edwards ran out of gas coming to the white flag.

NASCAR put in some substantial work on finding a better aerodynamic package for the Gen-6 over the offseason. Sunday will be the first time we see if any of it made a difference in the part of the game NASCAR can’t gloss over with a shiny new championship system.

3. Earnhardt Jr. in unchartered NASCAR territory  Dale Earnhardt Jr.What a week it has been for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Just before midnight last Sunday, Earnhardt won the prize that seems to mean the most to him — he took his second Daytona 500 — and has subsequently been on the traditional media barnstorming tour for winners of NASCAR’s biggest race. He also joined Twitter and has quickly proved to be one of the most prolific and best users among NASCAR drivers.

It’s a tour that typically raises questions about whether or not the Daytona 500 winner can actually prepare and focus again for the next race. No 500 winner since Matt Kenseth in 2009 has won the very next race, though that’s not exactly a fair barometer for judging a driver or team’s post-500 preparation.

There’s good news for Earnhardt, however. For the first time in NASCAR history, how well he does Sunday largely doesn’t matter.

Earnhardt is the first qualifier for NASCAR’s revamped Chase system — as long as he can stay inside the first 30 positions in the point standings, of course — and has lost the weight and worry of winning a race during the regular season. It’s an interesting position that gives the No. 88 team the freedom to race for wins and experiment with setups for the tracks in the Chase.

That said, Earnhardt will not come to Phoenix with his eye off the ball. He tweeted earlier this week that Hendrick Motorsports engineers had already been emailing him data and statistics about Phoenix while on the cross-country media tour. You can bet that crew chief Steve Letarte — a pretty strict process-follower himself — has been preparing like normal.

Still, the new system and Earnhardt’s role in it all will be fascinating to watch Sunday.

4. Tony Stewart still has to prove race readiness  Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart’s return to racing at Daytona after his gruesome leg injury last August wasn’t exactly a rejuvenating shot in the arm. He took hard hits in a Sprint Unlimited crash and suffered through fuel pick-up issues during the Daytona 500. He was also forced to skip the Nationwide Series race that he’s so routinely dominated, likely out of fear of more injury.

Perhaps the lone bit of good news — and it certainly is good — was that all seemed well for Stewart health-wise after Speedweeks. He’ll race Phoenix Sunday afternoon, though not without questions.

It’s Stewart’s first return to traditional racing and his first real test of strength in his injured leg. Though only a mile in length, Phoenix’s configuration is no easy load on a driver. Turn 1 requires heavy braking, the backstretch kink is a high-speed ride not unlike a roller coaster and Turn 3 is flat and long.

Stewart has always been tough in these situations but he’s never had an injury so severe. Is his endurance ready for Sunday’s race? It’s a story to watch.

5. Will Chase change late race pit calls?
Daytona being Daytona — it’s the Daytona 500, after all — will always force the gambling hands of crew chiefs and drivers in the final laps. That’s pretty much always been the tone of the Great American Race.

Knowing that, it’s hard to use the 500 as a barometer for just how hard teams will push to grab a win under NASCAR’s new Chase for the Sprint Cup format. Good news: Phoenix International Raceway could do that just fine.

That new format from NASCAR, of course, guarantees every NASCAR race winner in the regular season (up to 16) earns a spot in the championship battle at race No. 27 as long as the driver is in the top 30 of the series point standings. NASCAR’s hope is that the increased emphasis on regular season winning — a spot in the playoffs is pretty valuable — will increase risk-taking on track and on pit road.

While it’s a safe bet that NASCAR teams and drivers have long pushed to win no matter what, it’ll be interesting to see if late-race strategy at Phoenix becomes crazier than normal. More teams may risk fuel mileage gambles. Some may avoid a late trip to pit road completely. Or everything may remain much like it has always been.

They’ll have to race for us to find out.

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Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, a new qualifying procedure for the Cup Series, the evolution of the Gen-6 car, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-Daytona 500 focus, Tony Stewart’s health and a new title format’s effect on race strategy lead us into the 312-miler at Phoenix International Raceway.
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 11:57
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-projections-bubble-watch-and-key-games-march-1

The NCAA Tournament field is ever-evolving at this time of year.

A week or so ago, Arkansas was barely on the NCAA Tournament radar. After Thursday’s win over Kentucky, the Razorbacks can claim a spot in the field barring a major loss. Minnesota has enjoyed the same turnaround after defeating Iowa.

Five of six ranked teams in action Thursday night lost, perhaps signaling a wild two weeks before the major conference tournaments begin.

Here are the games that will determine the field, plus projections of the bubble teams under pressure in the final weeks.

Key Games with NCAA Tournament Implications this Weekend

Providence at Seton Hall (Friday, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
The Friars once looked like an NCAA Tournament team, but their only three wins in the last month are against DePaul twice and Butler once. With two wins over Georgetown and one over Xavier, Seton Hall is relishing its spoiler role.

Vanderbilt at Tennessee (Saturday, noon, ESPN2)
While the fans in Knoxville scream for a Bruce Pearl return, Cuonzo Martin is still on the edge of NCAA Tournament consideration. Not with a home loss to Vanderbilt, though.

Texas Tech at Baylor (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Big 12 Network)
Texas ended Baylor’s four-game winning streak with a 74-69 win on Wednesday. Baylor can’t afford to take losses in bunches again like it did back in January.

Louisville at Memphis (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS)
The possibility of a repeat won’t seem too far-fetched for Louisville if the Cards win in Memphis.


Missouri State at Wichita State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
The only thing standing between Wichita State and an undefeated regular season is the last team to truly challenge the Shockers this season.

LSU at Florida (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
A win in Gainesville may be one of the last hopes for LSU to get an at-large bid. Good luck. The Gators have won 30 in a row at home.

Syracuse at Virginia (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
The Orange draw their second consecutive road game against a delirious crowd, this time against a Cavaliers team with an ACC title on its mind.


Texas at Oklahoma (Saturday 4 p.m., Big 12 Network)
The two teams are jockeying for seeding in the Big 12 tournament. The Longhorns are still looking to buck the trend of dismal road play.

Creighton at Xavier (Saturday, 5 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
The Musketeers are seeking their first RPI top 50 win since defeating Cincinnati on Dec. 14.

Minnesota at Michigan (Saturday, 6 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Welcome back to the bracket projections, Minnesota. The Gophers’ win over Iowa on Tuesday puts Richard Pitino’s team in a better spot. Winning in Ann Arbor might seal a bid.

Cal at Arizona State (Saturday, 6 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
The Bears defeated Arizona the first time around but lost by 28 in the return trip. Not a great look for a team trying to build an NCAA resume.

Iowa State at Kansas State (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
The Cyclones keep rolling while Kansas State is 2-2 since the upset of Kansas. The Wildcats’ two wins were over TCU and Texas Tech.

Kansas at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Oklahoma State roared back in the second half against Kansas during the first meeting in Lawrence before coming up short. Seems like ages ago.


NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch

ACC (5)
Feeling good: Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia
Bubble in: Pittsburgh
Bubble out: Clemson

American (5)
Feeling good: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis
Bubble in: SMU
Bubble out: None

Atlantic 10 (5)
Feeling good: George Washington, Saint Louis, UMass, VCU
Bubble in: St. Joseph’s
Bubble out: Richmond, Dayton

Big 12 (7)
Feeling good: Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas
Bubble in: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State
Bubble out: West Virginia

Big East (4)
Feeling good: Creighton, Villanova
Bubble in: St. John’s, Xavier
Bubble out: Georgetown, Marquette, Providence

Big Ten (6)
Feeling good: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Bubble in: Minnesota
Bubble out: Nebraska

Mountain West (2)
Feeling good: New Mexico, San Diego State
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: Boise State

Pac-12 (7)
Feeling good: Arizona, Stanford, UCLA
Bubble in: Arizona State, Cal, Colorado, Oregon
Bubble out: None

SEC (4)
Feeling good: Florida, Kentucky
Bubble in: Arkansas
Bubble out: LSU, Missouri, Tennessee

West Coast (2)
Feeling good:
Bubble in: BYU, Gonzaga
Bubble out: None

Favorites in one-bid leagues (22)
America East:
Atlantic Sun: Mercer
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: High Point
Big West: UC Santa Barbara
Colonial: Delaware
Conference USA: Southern Miss
Horizon: Green Bay
Ivy: Harvard
MAAC: Iona
MAC: Toledo
MEAC: North Carolina Central
Missouri Valley: Wichita State*
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Belmont
Patriot: Boston University
Southern: Elon
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
Sun Belt: Georgia State
SWAC: Texas Southern
WAC: New Mexico State
*Wichita State would be an at-large if the Shockers lose in the MVC tournament

NCAA Tournament Projections, Bubble Watch and Key Games
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 11:52
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-game-preview-virginia-seeks-acc-title-vs-syracuse

Virginia wasn’t one of the first major stories of the season in the ACC, but it may be the last.

The Jabari Parker Watch was alive at Duke for most of the early part of the year, and Syracuse started 25-0 with a series of wild finishes.

The Cavaliers, though, may end up as league champions after Saturday. Virginia ascended to the ACC lead last week and will play their biggest game in decades against the Orange.

For its part, Syracuse is trying to reassert itself after a series of close calls and two losses in recent weeks.

The game may be a test in momentum. Through the course of the ACC season, Virginia has found complementary scorers for preseason conference player of the year contender for Joe Harris, or in the case of Malcolm Brogdon, a new leading scorer. Even freshman London Perrantes has emerged as a 3-point threat in recent weeks.

Many of the things that worked for Syracuse during that undefeated start have shown some cracks: C.J. Fair has been inconsistent, freshman Tyler Ennis is no longer invincible in end-of-game situations, and the 3-point shot has gone dormant.

What’s on the line for Syracuse
This is a tough question to ask of a team that started 25-0, but where is Syracuse going? After losses to Boston College and Duke, Syracuse bounced back to beat Maryland, but it was another close game and another narrow victory over a team not going to the NCAA Tournament. A game in Charlottesville is an opportunity for the Orange to regain their early season form.

What’s on the line for Virginia
History, pretty much. With a win over Syracuse, Virginia would lead the ACC by three games in the win column. Virginia has not won an outright ACC regular season title since 1981.

Syracuse at Virginia
Saturday, 4 p.m. Eastern, ESPN

About Syracuse
Record: 26-2, 13-2 ACC
: 4
: 9
: 10
: 15

About Virginia
Record: 24-5, 15-1 ACC
: 12
: 14
: 4
: 10

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Virginia 58-52
Braden Gall: Virginia 55-51
Mitch Light: Virginia 55-51
You’ll tune in to watch: Virginia’s bid for time in the national spotlight
Despite that gaudy conference record, Virginia won’t be a contender for a No. 1 seed based on non-conference losses to VCU, Wisconsin, Green Bay and Tennessee. The Cavs quietly took the lead in the conference with a little help from the unbalanced schedule in the ACC. Virginia’s conference strength of schedule is ranked 15th in the ACC in KenPom. Win this game, and Virginia will be overlooked no more.

Pivotal player: Trevor Cooney, Syracuse
Since Cooney went for nine 3-pointers against Notre Dame, Syracuse’s top threat from beyond the arc is 11 of 40 from long range. The Cavaliers are allowing ACC opponents to shoot only 30.8 percent from 3-point range, the best rate in the league.

Biggest question: Will C.J. Fair take charge?
Fair is the senior and Syracuse’s leading scorer, but he’s also streaky. In the last five games, he’s shot 32 of 82 from the field (39 percent). Such a high-volume shooter probably needs to be more efficient, but that’s going to be tough against Virginia’s stingy defense.

College Basketball Game Preview: Virginia seeks ACC title vs. Syracuse
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 11:18
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-game-preview-louisville-seeks-flex-muscles-vs-memphis

If Louisville is truly rounding into postseason form, Memphis will be the key test Saturday.

The Cardinals flopped at home against the Tigers in the first meeting back on Jan. 9, losing 73-67. Memphis’ entire starting five scored in double figures that day, the last time an opponent scored more than 70 points against Louisville.

“Our worst game of the season was Memphis,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “You have to give them credit because they made us look bad. That was our poorest performance of the season at the defensive end. We did a lot of things that were uncharacteristic of us, but we are a much different team now then when we played them.”

Going into Thursday, Memphis had hopes of scoring a rare season sweep of Louisville, but the Tigers may have a new host of problems with a 77-68 loss to Houston. The loss was only the third for a team in the top five of the American standings against a team in the bottom six — SMU owns the other two losses to USF and Temple.

What’s on the line for Louisville
The Cardinals moved into a tie with Cincinnati for the American Athletic Conference lead with a win Thursday against Temple. Louisville’s road to the top seed in the conference tournament will be tougher with Saturday’s game at Memphis, a road trip to SMU and the home finale against UConn. Meanwhile, Cincinnati face UConn and Rutgers on the road and Memphis at home.

What’s on the line for Memphis
With a 73-67 win over Louisville on Jan. 9, Memphis is seeking its first season sweep of the Cardinals since 1996-97 when both were in Conference USA. Like Louisville, the Tigers wrap up their season with a tough stretch (at Cincinnati, vs. SMU). Memphis was sloppy in a loss Thursday to Houston, allowing 21 points on 14 turnovers.

Louisville at Memphis
Saturday, 2 p.m. Eastern, CBS

About Louisville
Record: 24-4, 13-2 American
: 7
: 28
: 2
: 4

About Memphis
Record: 21-7, 10-5 American
: 21
: 39
: 45
: 46

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Louisville 71-65
Braden Gall: Louisville 74-68
Mitch Light: Louisville 64-60
You’ll tune in to watch: The Russ Smith Show
The Louisville guard scored only 10 points against Cincinnati on Saturday, but the last two were the only ones anyone will remember. Smith continues to be an All-America caliber guard who is having a season even better than what he did year ago. Now a darling of advanced analytics, Smith is shooting 52 percent from 2-point range (up from 45.8) and 37.6 from 3 (up from 32.8). He’ll be matched up against Memphis’ standout defensive duo of Geron Johnson and Michael Dixon.

Pivotal player: Austin Nichols, Memphis
The 6-8 freshman could be a key player for Memphis late in the year. The guard-oriented Tigers have had four standout games from Nichols in a row with 12 points per game in that span. Facing a small lineup against UConn and two bad AAC teams in Rutgers and Temple may have helped.

Biggest question: Who will hit free throws?
Struggling to hit free throws is usually a red flag in March. Few teams are more concerned than Louisville and Memphis, who are two of the worst in the country from the line. Memphis ranks 304th (65.8 percent), and Louisville is a few steps behind at No. 313 (65.5).

College Basketball Game Preview: Louisville seeks to flex muscles vs. Memphis
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 11:03
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas A&M Aggies, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/texas-am-aggies-2014-spring-football-preview

Texas A&M’s second go-around in the SEC wasn’t quite as prolific as its 11-2 record in 2012, but the Aggies still won nine games and finished No. 18 in the final Associated Press poll.

When building a program, it may be necessary to take a step back before taking a step forward. That could be the case at Texas A&M, especially with the program making significant facility upgrades and the monetary commitment to keep coach Kevin Sumlin in College Station.

Sumlin and his staff have recruited back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes, so the future is bright for Texas A&M. However, replacing quarterback Johnny Manziel, left tackle Jake Matthews and receiver Mike Evans is no easy task. And the Aggies still need to find answers for a defense that allowed 6.4 yards per play. With key personnel losses on offense, the defense has to improve if Texas A&M wants to match last year’s nine wins.

Texas A&M Aggies 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 9-4 (4-4 SEC)

Spring Practice Opens: February 28

Final Practice: April 5 (no spring game)

2014 Schedule 
Aug. 28at 
Sept. 6Lamar
Sept. 13
Sept. 20at 
Sept. 27 (Arlington)
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 11
Oct. 18at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8at 
Nov. 15
Nov. 27

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 8

Three Things to Watch in Texas A&M’s 2014 Spring Practice

1. Replacing Johnny Manziel: As one of the top quarterbacks of the BCS era, Manziel’s production will be impossible to replace in 2014. However, the Aggies aren’t hurting for options and talent at quarterback. Senior Matt Joeckel has made 10 career appearances and threw for 293 yards and two scores on 22 completions last year. Sophomore Kenny Hill was 16 of 22 for 183 yards and one touchdown in limited work in 2013 and ranked as the No. 24 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class. But the wildcard and perhaps most intriguing option is true freshman Kyle Allen. The Arizona native was the No. 10 recruit in the 2014 signing class in the 247Sports Composite ranking and threw for 2,535 yards and 29 touchdowns as a high school senior. Allen enrolled early to compete for the job this spring. Will one of the three quarterbacks emerge as a frontrunner before the final spring practice on April 5? Or will this battle extend into the fall? It’s unrealistic to expect any of the quarterbacks to post Manziel-like numbers. However, Texas A&M’s offense should still be lethal regardless of who wins the job.

2. Developing chemistry on the offensive line: With four starters returning, Texas A&M should have one of the top offensive lines in the SEC. However, this unit isn’t without question marks as spring practice opens. Left tackle Jake Matthews expired his eligibility, and the coaching staff is expected to move right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi – a likely first-round pick in 2015 – to the left side. Ogbuehi’s move creates a void at right tackle, and a couple of players could get into the mix. Joseph Cheek was listed as the backup last season, and Jeremiah Stuckey was a top-100 junior college recruit in the class of 2013. And this year’s signing class brought in Jermaine Eluemunor and Avery Gennesy from the junior college ranks, with both players expected to push for time. Although moving Ogbuehi to the left side is likely the only position change, the coaching staff may shuffle some players around to find the best combination before settling on the starting five.

3. Fixing the defense: Instead of breaking down each individual unit on defense, let’s just lump everything into this category. There’s really no way to sugarcoat the numbers on defensein a positive way for Texas A&M last season. The Aggies struggled mightily on this side of the ball and were bailed out by an explosive offense. But with Manziel off to the NFL, it’s unlikely Texas A&M will average 44.2 points per game. Considering the offense will slightly regress, the defense has to do its part to keep Texas A&M in contention for nine wins once again. There’s certainly no shortage of talent in College Station, but Sumlin and coordinator Mark Snyder will have a lineup that features a lot of youth in 2014. Incoming freshman Myles Garrett is a potential difference maker in the trenches, but can he play major snaps as a true freshman? The good news for Snyder is eight starters are back, including linebacker Darian Claiborne, tackle Isaiah Golden, cornerback Deshazor Everett and end Julien Obioha. The Aggies don’t have to be a shutdown defense in 2014, but there has to be progress to help cover for the losses on offense.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9
As we mentioned earlier, Texas A&M is due to take a step back with Manziel, Evans and Matthews moving to the NFL. But the program isn’t in bad shape, and there’s a positive trajectory for this team with Kevin Sumlin at the helm. With a new starting quarterback and a rebuilding defense, the Aggies are a team in transition. The schedule doesn’t provide for many breaks either, as Texas A&M opens at South Carolina and plays road games at Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn. Ouch. However, expect the young talent to improve with each snap, and the Aggies will be a tough out for everyone in the SEC this year.

Texas A&M Aggies 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Baylor Bears, College Football, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/baylor-bears-2014-spring-football-preview

When Art Briles arrived at Baylor after the 2007 season, he inherited a team that won just seven games in the two years prior to his arrival. Even though Briles recorded back-to-back 4-8 marks in his first two seasons, there was no doubt he would eventually get the program on the right track. Mission accomplished. Baylor has won 29 games over the last three years and claimed the Big 12 title in 2013.

Even with personnel losses hitting the roster, Baylor has reached a point where it can simply reload, rather than face a significant rebuilding effort. Briles has upgraded the recruiting, and the Bears have inked back-to-back top-30 classes. Combine the improving talent with one of the best coaching staffs in the country, and it’s easy to see why Baylor has emerged as one of the new powers in college football. 

As Baylor turns the page from a successful 2013 season to 2014 spring practice, the Bears have a few holes to fill. However, as we mentioned above, this program is in great shape to repeat as the Big 12 champion.

Baylor Bears 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 11-2 (8-1 Big 12)

Spring Practice Opens: February 28

Spring Game: April 5

Returning Starters

Offense: 4

Defense: 4

Three Things to Watch in Baylor’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
Aug. 31
Sept. 6Northwestern State
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 27at 
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 11
Oct. 18 at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8at 
Nov. 22
Nov. 29 (Arlington)
Dec. 6

1. Solidifying the supporting cast around Bryce Petty: Art Briles and coordinator Philip Montgomery usually have no trouble finding talent at the skill positions. And despite losing running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin and receiver Tevin Reese, Baylor shouldn’t miss a beat on offense. The next wave of standout skill players in Waco is ready to emerge, and the receiving corps can lean on Antwan Goodley (71 receptions in 2013), along with Levi Norwood, Clay Fuller and Corey Coleman. Reese’s ability to stretch the field was a huge asset and one of the returning players needs to fill that void. Incoming freshmen K.D. Cannon and Davion Hall (enrolled early to compete this spring) will have a chance to compete for time. Another name to watch is Robbie Rhodes. He was the No. 2 recruit in the Big 12 by Athlon Sports last season and caught 10 passes for 157 yards in 10 games. Rhodes could be an even bigger factor in the offense in 2014. At running back, Briles and Montgomery already have a potential star in Shock Linwood. But who will share carries with Linwood? Will it be sophomore Devin Chafin? Redshirt freshmen Johnny Jefferson and early enrollee Terence Williams will push Chafin for the No. 2 role.

2. New faces on the offensive line: Although skill players like running back Lache Seastrunk and receiver Tevin Reese will be missed, the losses on the offensive line are more of a concern for Briles. Guard Cyril Richardson was one of the nation’s top linemen and was the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year last season. Center Stefan Huber and tackle Kelvin Palmer also depart. The good news is there are pieces to work with, and Baylor will welcome left tackle Spencer Drango back in the lineup after he missed the final four games due to back surgery. Drango earned first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2013 and could be in the mix for All-America honors in 2014. Since he is still rehabbing from the surgery, Drango won’t participate in spring practice, but all signs point to a return to full strength by the fall. Center will be a contested spot this spring, and Kyle Fuller (listed as the backup last season) will get first shot at replacing Huber. Junior Pat Colbert played in all 13 games in 2013 and is expected to factor into the mix, while tackle Troy Baker should be healthy being a full year removed from a torn ACL. Desmine Hilliard is back after starting all 13 games at right guard last year and will have to help fill the void left behind by Richardson. Hawaii transfer Blake Muir and junior college recruit Jarell Broxton are two other names to keep an eye on this spring. The pieces seem to be there for Briles, and this group can develop depth with Drango out. However, Richardson is a huge loss, and players like LaQuan McGowan, Hilliard and Broxton have big shoes to fill at guard in 2014.

3. Breaking in seven new starters on defense: As long as Briles roams the sidelines in Waco, offense isn’t going to be an issue. However, that hasn’t necessarily been the case on defense in recent years. Baylor finished ninth or worse in the Big 12 in yards allowed from 2009-12. Last year, this unit emerged as a strength, holding opponents to just 4.8 yards per play. The Bears also limited Big 12 opponents to 25.7 points per game and forced 29 turnovers. This spring is crucial to building off that momentum, especially with seven new starters stepping into the lineup. There are significant losses at each level, starting up front with the departure of end Chris McAllister, at linebacker with Eddie Lackey, and in the secondary with safety Ahmad Dixon and cornerbacks Demetri Goodson and K.J. Morton. While there will be some new faces dotting the depth chart, improved recruiting has bolstered the talent available to coordinator Phil Bennett. Penn State transfer Shawn Oakman was an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection last year and could be in for a breakout performance in 2014. Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu is a name to watch at end this spring. The interior is also set with the return of defensive tackles Beau Blackshear, Andrew Billings and Byron Bonds. The back seven needs to be retooled, but the good news is linebacker Bryce Hager returns, and there’s some experience returning at safety. The biggest concern for Bennett has to be at cornerback, and junior college recruits Chris Sanders (out this spring with shoulder surgery) and Tion Wright will be expected to contribute immediately. There are a lot of question marks on this side of the ball. How many answers can the Bears find this spring?

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 9-11

With Texas in transition and Oklahoma State losing a chunk of talent, the Big 12 appears to be a two-team race between Oklahoma and Baylor. The Bears defeated the Sooners last season, but this year’s matchup is in Norman. Briles has this program trending in the right direction, and even if this team falls short of winning the conference title, an appearance in one of college football’s premier bowl games is a strong possibility. The offense has some concerns to address on the line, but expect Briles and Montgomery to find the right answers this spring. The defense is the bigger issue with seven new starters. The development of the defense is the key to winning the Big 12 or finishing second behind Oklahoma.

Baylor Bears 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 10:30
Path: /golf/athlons-2014-golf-annual-available-now

Athlon's 2014 Golf Annual is available now — .

From professional golf's winningest 20-something to the game's pre-eminent elder statesman, this year's edition of Athlon Sports Golf Annual has it all.

Dustin Johnson is the PGA Tour's winningest golfer in his 20s, but he heads to Augusta seeking that career-defining major championship victory at the tournament he values most. Dustin spent some time with us sharing his approach to the game, which is enhanced by his incomparable athleticism but still has plenty to teach the average player, starting with his effective use of effortless power. Athlon also spoke to golf's top teacher, Butch Harmon, to get his thoughts on one of his prize pupils.

There’s never been a more important golfer than Arnold Palmer, and Athlon was fortunate enough to gain an audience with The King for an exclusive, wide-ranging interview on topics from anchored putters to Adam Scott to the drink that bears his name. Enjoy a relaxed conversation with golf royalty in this year’s edition of Athlon Sports Golf.

Tiger Woods has already won twice as many majors as Palmer, but he’s still hounded by the question: When will he win another one? The drought has reached Death Valley proportions — it’s been almost six years since he limped past Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open. And the pressure’s self-imposed, given Woods’ stated goal of surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ major haul of 18. Controversial Tiger critic Brandel Chamblee of the Golf Channel thinks the drought is on the verge of ending, although Brandel remains a little skeptical of Woods’ unusual approach to the game. In his article "Build and Destroy," Brandel dissects Woods’ unusual habit of periodically tearing down his game and starting over.

The only thing that Tiger’s latest rebuilding project has failed to produce is a major, but this year’s venues set up well for some long-awaited drought relief. Athlon takes you on a tour of this year’s four major tracks — Augusta National, Pinehurst No. 2, Royal Liverpool and Valhalla — and lets you know what to expect from these four high holy weeks on the golf calendar.

Speaking of Pinehurst, emotions will be running high as Phil Mickelson makes what he hopes will be a triumphant return to the North Carolina sandhills. We all remember the 1999 U.S. Open, where Phil posted the first of six runner-up Open finishes and where Payne Stewart consoled him on the 18th green. Fifteen years later, Mickelson can come full circle by completing a career grand slam at the spot where his flirtation with the U.S. Open became a major obsession. You can read about Phil’s quest in this year's edition.

We unwind with a little R&R in our "Resorts and Real Estate" golf destination tips, look at "18 Holes to Play" for anyone working on their bucket list along with their golf game, and highlight the best clubs, apparel, shoes, shades and gear on the market.

Athlon Sports' Golf Annual is the most complete 2014 golf preview available today. Order your copy now!

Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 10:13
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-february-28-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 28.

• The best part of this weekend's Oscars: lots of Jennifer Lawrence. .

. Or serial killer.

. Surprised this doesn't happen more often.

. The NCAA Tournament is going to be ridiculous.

• Is the "hot hand" in basketball really a thing? .

. The commenters smelled blood in the water and attacked.

• Also from Deadspin: .

. The twittersphere delivers yet again.

. Dr. J huge fro alert.

• Funny photo of the day: .


• Jimmy Fallon and LeBron did a vintage rap video.


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

Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-tens-football-rosters-2014

Love or hate football recruiting, it matters. Coaching, support staffs, financial situations and even a little bit of luck goes into winning football games, but having great players always helps too.

So recruiting rankings are just one facet of a deliberate and in-depth equation that helps Athlon Sports project the college football season every year.

When the staff sits down to hash out the Athlon Sports preseason Top 25 each year, recruiting rankings are as much a part of the discussion as returning starters, scheduling differences, coaching changes and historic trends. It all gets incorporated into what eventually becomes the best-selling college football preview magazine on newsstands.

The Big Ten has seen plenty of movement of late. Not only does the conference welcome the Playoff Era in 2014 but it also welcomes two new teams — two new faces with fertile recruiting bases in the Northeast that should benefit every team in the league to some degree. The coaching ranks have seen plenty of turnover as well with changes taking place at powerhouses Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin over the last two years in addition to Purdue and Illinois.

One guys still stands above the rest when it comes to Big Ten recruiting. However, could there be a new face in the league poised to challenge in the very near future?

Here is how the Big Ten rosters rank entering the 2014 season. Below is each roster in the Big Ten based on average national recruiting ranking over the last five classes (according to 247Sports), each team's win-loss record over the last four seasons and some analysis of what it all means heading into the '14 season.

 Team '14'13'12'11'10RankW/LConf.
1.Ohio State3256207.242-1026-6
4.Penn St243048311128.830-2020-12
5.Michigan State253733322330.042-1225-7

What did we learn?

Lapping the field
Urban Meyer has had two full recruiting classes in the Big Ten and the level with which he is attracting talent is putting the rest of the conference to shame. Ohio State has posted three consecutive top-five classes nationally under Meyer while only Michigan (6th in 2012 and 4th in 2013) brags even one class inside the top 20 nationally. The Buckeyes have the fifth-best roster in the country and sit well ahead of the rest of the conference. Only Michigan at 12th overall is ranked in the top 20 nationally in terms of talent. In the Big Ten, there is Ohio State and then everybody else when it comes to recruiting.

Who can challenge Urbs?
This one is easy. James Franklin at Penn State is the perfect mix of energy, talent, charisma, success, support and swagger that is needed to attempt to battle Urban Meyer head-to-head on the recruiting trail. This team remarkably posted 10 conference wins in two heavily sanctioned seasons under Bill O’Brien. The Nittany Lions don’t take any steps back with the transition to the new coaching staff and, in fact, Franklin is a better fit considering his background and love of the college game. Penn State enters this fall with the fourth-best roster in the league and 28th-best roster overall. Fans in Happy Valley should fully expect that ranking to improve dramatically over the next few recruiting cycles.

What happened to Michigan?
Losing five of your last six games will have an impact on recruiting, and, while Brady Hoke still landed a top-20 class in 2014, Michigan limped to the finish on National Signing Day. Michigan still brags what is clearly the second-best roster in the Big Ten and now the Wolverines' division has gotten even tougher. This team is dramatically more talented than every other team in the league not named Ohio State and there really is no excuse for the offensive ineptitude the Maize and Blue have experienced over the last 18 months. This, of course, is why Hoke made a change on his offensive staff. New coordinator Doug Nussmeier has obvious talent to work with and a returning quarterback in Devin Gardner. This coaching staff has to show marked improvement in 2014 or Hoke's seat will only continue to heat up in Ann Arbor.

Death, taxes and four losses for Nebraska
Bo Pelini is a fascinating head coach for a variety of reasons. His demeanor and overall prickliness aside, Nebraska is a lock for four losses every year under Pelini as he’s lost exactly four games in each of his six seasons. Nebraska has won either nine or 10 games in each season as well. The Cornhuskers haven’t recruited at an elite level nationally — ranking 23rd in the country in terms of talent over the last five classes. But that is good for third in the Big Ten (or first in the West Division) and it should allow for the Huskers to compete for championships in this league. It means it's time for the Pelini regime to break through and do something other than lose four games.

MadOverachievement in MadTown
The Badgers will enter the 2014 season as one of the championship frontrunners and one of the top contenders in the West Division. But they also will enter ’14 with the ninth-best roster in the league. And that was with a five-year high national ranking of 33rd in the latest cycle. Wisconsin has always been a middling program when it comes to recruiting but both Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema built teams that overachieved. Gary Andersen is a fantastic coach and will undoubtedly continue the profound level of overachievement that has taken place in Madison over the last few seasons.

What about the defending champs?
All of the other major players in the Big Ten seem to steal the headlines from Michigan State both on and off the field. But that is probably how Mark Dantonio wants it. His team quietly goes about its business, seemingly winning 11 games every season with little pomp or circumstance. And that should once again be the case in 2014. Dantonio returns the fifth-best roster in the league despite massive departures on defense, as the Spartans represent the last team among the top talent tier in the league. The drop off from No. 5 Michigan State to No. 6 Rutgers (and the rest of the league) appears to be glaring.

Early success for new faces?
Unlike Colorado and Utah in the Pac-12, Missouri in the SEC or Syracuse in the ACC, the Big Ten’s new editions are already on somewhat of an equal playing field in terms of talent. Missouri ranks 13th in the SEC, Syracuse is 12th in the ACC and Colorado is dead last in the Pac-12 when it comes to recruiting over the last five years. Rutgers and Maryland, however, appear on the surface to be in much better shape as they get ready to enter the Big Ten. The Knights boast the sixth-best roster in the league heading into the summer and the Terps are seventh in terms of talent entering 2014. These two coaching staffs are headed in opposite directions but both rosters look very capable of competing in their new league. To put it another way, Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota all have “less” talent than the B1G newcomers, at least on paper.

Ranking the Big Ten's Football Rosters for 2014
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/top-10-big-12-offensive-linemen-bcs-era

The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

Texas and Oklahoma have dominated this league in all senses of the word for a long time. Nebraska has a long track record of great offensive line play (mostly before the BCS Era) and both Oklahoma State and Baylor have emerged recently with elite line play. But the rankings are still headlined by the Red River rivals — five of the top 10 Big 12 blockers and six of the top 12 during the BCS Era hail from either Norman or Austin.

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. Jammal Brown, Oklahoma (2001-04)
Starting his career as a defensive tackle, Brown exploded onto the national scene as a blocker as a sophomore. He helped lead the Sooners to the BCS National Championship Game twice and was recognized as the nation’s top offensive lineman in 2004 when he was awarded the Outland Trophy. The consensus All-American paved the way for Adrian Peterson’s NCAA record-setting freshman season. Brown was the 13th overall pick by the Saints in the 2005 NFL Draft and also was awarded the Jim Parker Trophy as the nation’s top offensive lineman before he left college.

2. Dominic Raiola, Nebraska (1998-00)
At a school known for its big uglies, Raiola is the Huskers’ best of the BCS Era. He was the first freshman O-lineman to start since 1991 when he took the field in '98. The following two seasons he set school records for knockdowns. As a junior, Raiola was the Rimington Trophy winner as the nation’s top center, was an Outland Finalist and earned consensus All-American honors before leaving school early for the NFL. The Huskers were 31-7 during his three seasons and won their last conference championship with Raiola leading the way in ‘99.

3. Justin Blalock, Texas (2003-06)
The star blocker for the Horns helped return Texas to the promised land by paving the way for Vince Young on the 2005 BCS title team. He was an absurd four-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and earned Big 12 Lineman of the Year honors in 2006 as a senior. He was a consensus All-American that year and was a second-round pick of the Falcons in 2007. He led the way for some of the greatest offenses in Texas and Big 12 history.

4. Cyril Richardson, Baylor (2010-13)
Few players have meant as much to their school’s success as Richardson has to Baylor. He led the charge on the first Big 12 championship team in school history as well as the program’s first BCS bowl appearance. He was named a two-time (2012, '13) recipient of the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year award and also was a consensus All-American and given the Jim Parker Trophy as the nation’s top offensive lineman his senior season. Baylor went 36-16 during his four-year career and he never experienced a losing record while in Waco.

5. Russell Okung, Oklahoma State (2006-09)
The star left tackle for the Pokes was a four-year starter after entering the starting lineup four games into his college career. Okung was a freshman All-American, a two-time, first-team All-American (2008-09), an Outland Trophy finalist, the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year (2009) and claimed the Jim Parker Trophy as the nation’s top blocker in his final season. He was the sixth overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and has already been to one Pro Bowl.

6. Trent Williams, Oklahoma (2006-09)
The big fella was forced into action as a true freshman and earned freshman All-American honors in 2006. He paved the way for arguably the most productive backfield in Sooners history (Sam Bradford, Demarco Murray) and helped lead the Sooners to the 2008 BCS National Championship Game as a first-team All-Big 12 blocker in his junior season. He was a consensus All-American in 2009 and was the fourth overall pick by the Redskins in the 2010 NFL Draft. Oklahoma won three Big 12 titles and 42 games during Williams' four-year career.

7. Duke Robinson, Oklahoma (2005-08)
The guard from Atlanta was one of Bob Stoops' greatest players. He was a two-time consensus All-American in 2007 and '08 and helped lead Oklahoma to the BCS title game against Florida as a senior. Robinson was an Outland Trophy finalist that year and was a fifth-round draft pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Oklahoma went 34-8 during Robinson’s final three seasons, including three straight Big 12 championships.

8. Toniu Fonoti, Nebraska (1999-01)
This monster of a blocker set the Nebraska single-season and all-time record for pancake blocks. He was an All-American, a two-time, first-team All-Big 12 pick, Outland Trophy finalist and helped the Huskers return to the BCS National Championship Game in 2001. Like Raiola, Fonoti left early for the NFL and was a second round pick in the 2001 draft.

9. Nate Solder, Colorado (2007-10)
The massive left tackle — who checks in at 6-foot-8 and 320 pounds — began his career at tight end before moving to the line as a sophomore. In three seasons along the line, Solder was a two-time, first-team All-Big 12 pick, a consensus All-American, first-round NFL Draft pick (17th overall in 2011) and Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year (2010). He also was one of three Outland Trophy finalists during his senior season.

10. Jonathan Scott, Texas (2002-05)
Along with Blalock, Scott helped lead the Longhorns to their first national championship since 1970 when Texas went unbeaten during his senior season in 2005. Scott was a two-time, first-team All-Big 12 pick and an unanimous All-American during his time in Austin. He was a fifth-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.

Just missed the cut:

11. Leonard Davis, Texas (1997-00)
The 6-foot-6, 355-pound stud from Wortham, Texas, was a consensus All-American in 2000 and an Outland Trophy Finalist in his final season. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft and has gone to three Pro Bowls in the NFL. Davis helped turn Texas from a 4-7 team in ’97 to one with three straight nine-win seasons from 1998-2000.

12. Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma (2010-13)
After his freshman All-American season in 2010, Ikard went on to earn three consecutive first-team All-Big 12 selections. Oklahoma went 43-10 during his four-year career, winning the 2010 Big 12 title outright and a share of the '12 conference crown.

13. Nick Leckey, Kansas State (2000-03)
The top KSU blocker from the BCS Era has to be the four-year starter from Dallas County, Texas. Leckey started 41 straight games, earning third-team All-Big 12 honors as a sophomore and back-to-back first-team honors as an upperclassman. He was a Rimington finalist and was on the Kansas State team that stunned previously undefeated Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game in 2003.

14. Andre Gurode, Colorado (1998-01)
The big blocker from Houston played both guard and center at a high level for the Buffaloes. He was a two-time, first-team All-Big 12 pick and a consensus All-American as a senior. Gurode was a second-round pick in 2002 and has been invited to five Pro Bowls.

15. Jon Cooper, Oklahoma (2005-08)
On the same team with Duke Robinson and Trent Williams, Cooper actually was the top lineman in the league on the 2008 squad that lost to Florida in the BCS title game. He won three Big 12 championships and was a two-time,  first-team All-Big 12 pick. The three-year starter went undrafted.

16. Louis Vasquez, Texas Tech (2005-08)
One of the most physically dominant players in Big 12 history, Vasquez earned his first All-Big 12 honor when he didn’t allow a sack in the nation’s top passing attack in 2007. He returned and earned All-Big 12 honors again for the historic and memorable 11-2 Red Raiders squad of 2008.

17. Levy Adcock, T, Oklahoma State (2009-11)
Alongside Grant Garner, Adcock started for two of his three seasons in Stillwater. He helped Oklahoma State claim its first Big 12 championship and BCS bowl berth in 2011, earning consensus All-American honors in his final year. Adcock was a first-team All-Big 12 pick in both seasons that he started for Mike Gundy.

18. Seth McKinney, Texas A&M (1998-01)
A four-year starter at center, McKinney started all 50 of his possible career games in college. He was an all-conference selection multiple times and received some All-American consideration in his final season. McKinney was a third-round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft and also was a Rimington finalist.

19. Adam Spieker, Missouri (2004-07)
Playing on some of the most successful teams in school history, Spieker was a two-time honorable mention All-Big 12 player as a sophomore and junior before winning co-Offensive Lineman of the Year honors as a senior in 2007. He was a part of the 12-win Tigers team that was the first in school history to play in the conference title game.

20. Cody Wallace, Texas A&M (2004-07)
Wallace was a three-year starter in College Station, earning some sort of all-conference recognition in all three seasons. He capped his career by winning co-Offensive Lineman of the Year honors in the Big 12 with Adam Spieker. He was a Rimington finalist and a fourth-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

21. Anthony Collins, Kansas (2004-07)
Collins was an All-American and huge part of arguably the best Kansas football team in recent memory. He helped lead the Jayhawks to their only BCS bowl victory in its only such appearance as a senior protecting quarterback Todd Reesing.

22. Grant Garner, Oklahoma State (2007-11)
A two-year starter in Stillwater, Garner was honored as the Big 12’s best offensive lineman in 2011 — the same year Oklahoma State won its first Big 12 championship and first BCS bowl game.

23. Brandon Carter, Texas Tech (2006-09)
A guy with as big a personality as his 6-foot-6, 320-pound frame, Carter was a consensus All-American in 2008 on the historic 11-win Red Raiders squad that nearly won the Big 12 South championship.

24. Derrick Dockery, Texas (1999-02)
A four-year letterman and two-year starter, Dockery earned consensus All-American honors in his final season in Austin as he was a big part of the rebuilding process under Mack Brown. Dockery was a third-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.

25. Davin Joseph, Oklahoma (2002-05)
Playing on multiple Big 12 title teams and in multiple BCS National Championship Games, Joseph was a mainstay for the Sooners. He started 29 of the 50 career games he played in and earned consensus first-team Big 12 honors in 2005.

Top 10 Big 12 Offensive Linemen of the BCS Era
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/sec-west-2014-spring-preview-and-storylines

With Alabama and Auburn expected to be ranked near the top of most preseason polls in 2014, the SEC West is the best division in college football. The Crimson Tide and Tigers could play twice next year, as the next playoff format could create rematches from the regular season. Considering the success of both Alabama and Auburn last year, it’s not out of the question that both teams are vying for playoff spots in 2014.

But the SEC West’s strength isn’t just limited to Alabama and Auburn. LSU is on solid ground and has the talent to replace a handful of early departures to the NFL. The Tigers have won at least 10 games in four consecutive seasons and will be a factor in the division title picture once again.

Texas A&M loses quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and left tackle Jake Matthews, but coach Kevin Sumlin is building something in College Station. The Aggies are reeling in elite talent, and incoming freshman quarterback Kyle Allen is a future star in the SEC.

Ole Miss and Mississippi State aren’t far behind Texas A&M in the West. The Rebels and Bulldogs are chipping away at the gap between the top tier of the division, and both teams could pull a surprise or two in 2014.

Arkansas should be better after a 3-9 mark last season. However, the Razorbacks still have a ways to go in Bret Bielema’s second year.

Early NFL Draft DeparturesReturning Starters: OffenseReturning Starters: Defense
Mississippi State13088
Ole Miss26159
Texas A&M13258

SEC West Spring Outlook


The quarterbacks:

AJ McCarron’s place among SEC quarterbacks, as well as his candidacy as it related to All-American recognition and the Heisman Trophy was heavily debated throughout his senior campaign. Regardless of where anyone thinks McCarron belongs in those discussions, no one can dispute that he threw for nearly 10,000 yards in his career (9,019) and finished with 74 passing touchdowns and 15 interceptions. So while McCarron may not have had the talent of Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, he was a key piece of Alabama’s success over the last three seasons. Now, a wide-open quarterback battle is set to begin this spring and will carry into the fall with the arrival of Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. Blake Sims was listed as McCarron’s backup last season and has attempted 39 passes over the last two years. But Sims is considered a longshot to win the starting job, as Coker is considered the favorite to claim the top spot when he arrives this summer. Coker and Sims won’t be the only quarterbacks battling for time in the spring, as Parker McLeod, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman and incoming freshman David Cornwell are set to stake their claim for the job. Cornwell was the No. 79 prospect in the 247Sports Composite but is recovering from a knee injury suffered in the fall. While Coker is considered the favorite, can Sims or one of the other quarterbacks make a strong push for the No. 1 spot before fall practice? Or will Alabama head into the fall with a wide-open quarterback derby once again?


Improvement from quarterback Brandon Allen:

Coming off a 3-9 record in 2013, Arkansas has plenty of concerns as spring practice opens on March 16. Both sides of the ball have glaring issues, and coach Bret Bielema also needs to blend a few new faces on the coaching staff with the players. Although the Razorbacks are unlikely to significantly improve on last year’s win total, there is reason for optimism, starting with the return of running back Alex Collins, tight end Hunter Henry and end Trey Flowers. But Arkansas will struggle to be more competitive in the SEC if it doesn’t get more from quarterback Brandon Allen in 2014. As expected, Allen had his share of ups and downs in his first year as the starter. The Arkansas native finished 2013 with 1,552 yards and 13 touchdowns and tossed 10 interceptions. Additionally, Allen completed only 49.6 percent of his throws last season and averaged only 145.5 yards per game in SEC action. Considering the Razorbacks were short on proven options at receiver and had two true freshmen on the offensive line, it’s unfair to blame Allen for all of the problems on offense. However, with a full season of snaps under his belt and another spring to work with coordinator Jim Chaney, Arkansas needs Allen to take a step forward in 2014.


Finding the right answers on defense:

When you first glance at the stat sheet from 2013, the numbers aren’t pretty for Auburn. The Tigers allowed 466.6 yards and 29.6 points per game through nine SEC contests. However, a deeper look at the numbers suggests this defense made stops when it had to. Auburn led the SEC in fewest third-down conversions allowed and ranked second in the conference in red zone defense. Timely stops are a good sign, but the Tigers still need to be better on this side of the ball in 2014. Thanks to outstanding 2014 recruiting class, Auburn has improved its depth and talent on this side of the ball. But there are holes to fill with end Dee Ford, tackle Nosa Eguae, linebacker Jake Holland, cornerback Chris Davis and safeties Ryan White and Ryan Smith expiring their eligibility. Ford and Eguae will be missed on the line, but there appears to be a wave of new standout linemen waiting in the wings with Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel set to play major snaps in 2014. At linebacker, Kris Frost is poised for a big season after finishing 2013 with seven tackles in the national championship game against Florida State. The secondary can lean on Jonathon Mincy at cornerback and Jermaine Whitehead at safety. But more depth is needed in the defensive backfield, which could open the door for junior college recruit Derrick Moncrief to play right away at safety. Ellis Johnson is one of the SEC’s top defensive coordinators, and the veteran assistant will be busy this spring as he looks to keep Auburn’s defense on a positive trajectory.


Starting over on offense:

The Tigers have been a model of consistency under Les Miles, winning at least 10 games in seven out of the last nine years. Even though LSU has played in only one BCS bowl in the last six seasons, this program is still one of the best in the SEC. After rebuilding a defense that featured only three returning starters last year, the focus for Miles turns to the offense. Six starters are back from a unit that made significant progress in 2013. First-year coordinator Cam Cameron helped the Tigers average over six yards per play for the first time since 2006. But Cameron will have his hands full this spring as LSU has to replace quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill, guard Trai Turner and receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Anthony Jennings started the Outback Bowl with Mettenberger out due to a knee injury and completed 7 of 19 passes for 82 yards against the Hawkeyes. Jennings is the frontrunner to replace Mettenberger, but true freshman Brandon Harris and redshirt freshman Hayden Rettig will have a chance to win the job. Top recruit Leonard Fournette should be the answer at running back, and the New Orleans native will have no trouble finding running room behind one of the SEC’s best offensive lines. Outside of finding a new starting quarterback, replacing Landry and Beckham is the top spring priority for Miles. Last season, Landry and Beckham combined for 136 of LSU’s 205 receptions. There’s not much in the way of proven talent at receiver, which opens the door for incoming recruit Malachi Dupre and redshirt freshman Avery Peterson to play significant snaps in 2014. This spring is LSU’s first opportunity to start the rebuilding effort on offense and reload for another run at the SEC title.

Mississippi State

Dak Prescott’s growth at quarterback:

At times last year, the quarterback position was a revolving door for Mississippi State. Injuries prevented Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell’s from playing a full complement of snaps in 2013, and true freshman Damian Williams was forced to start against Ole Miss in the regular season finale. Fast forward to 2014, and there’s some clarity at the position. Russell expired his eligibility, and Prescott finished 2013 by throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns and adding 78 yards and two scores on the ground against Rice in the Liberty Bowl. With Prescott in full control of the starting job and a solid supporting cast at his disposal, this could be the best offense of Dan Mullen’s tenure in Starkville. The biggest loss on offense is guard Gabe Jackson, but three starters return on the line. This spring is all about Prescott and continuing the momentum from the offense’s performance against Rice in the Liberty Bowl.

Ole Miss

Revamping the offensive line:

Hugh Freeze and the Rebels made slight progress last year after going 7-6 in 2012, finishing 8-5 with a 27-24 win over LSU the highlight of the season. Considering the personnel losses at Texas A&M and LSU this offseason, Ole Miss has an opportunity to climb in the West Division standings in 2014. Provided the offensive line is able to mesh this spring, the offense should be explosive. The Rebels return quarterback Bo Wallace and receivers Vince Sanders and Laquon Treadwell. But the line is a source of concern for coach Hugh Freeze, as guard Jared Duke, center Evan Swindall and tackle Pierce Burton expired their eligibility. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil had a strong freshman debut last season, earning second-team All-SEC honors. Tunsil is one part of the solution, and the return of guard Aaron Morris from a knee injury should solidify the left side of the line. But what about the other three spots? Ben Still was listed as Swindall’s backup at center last season and is expected to get the first shot at earning the job. Junior college recruit Fahn Cooper won’t arrive until after the spring session, but he could factor into the mix. The Rebels will also take an extended look at true freshman Rod Taylor in the fall, as he could help at guard this season. The good news is Freeze has recruited well, and there is talent to work with. However, this line will be young and inexperienced in 2014.

Texas A&M

Finding answers on defense:

There’s really no way to sugarcoat the numbers in a positive way on defense for Texas A&M last season. The Aggies struggled mightily on this side of the ball and were bailed out by an explosive offense. But with quarterback Johnny Manziel off to the NFL, it’s unlikely Texas A&M will average 44.2 points per game again. Considering the offense is expected to slightly regress, the defense has to do its part to keep Texas A&M in contention for nine wins once again. There’s certainly no shortage of talent in College Station, but Sumlin and coordinator Mark Snyder will have a lineup that features a lot of youth (much like this unit had in 2013) in 2014. Incoming freshman Myles Garrett is a potential difference maker in the trenches, but can he play major snaps as a true freshman? The good news for Snyder is eight starters are back, including linebacker Darian Claiborne, tackle Isaiah Golden, cornerback Deshazor Everett and end Julien Obioha. Claiborne and Golden were suspended after an off-the-field incident in February. It’s uncertain how the arrest will affect either player heading into the upcoming season. The Aggies don’t have to be a shutdown defense in 2014, but there has to be progress to help cover for the losses on offense.

SEC West 2014 Spring Preview and Storylines
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Funny, Jeff Gordon, videos, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/jeff-gordon-gets-revenge-pepsi-max-test-drive

NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon may have a supermodel wife, a tony New York City pad overlooking Central Park and a lifetime contract with the most powerful organization in the sport with Hendrick Motorsports, but he knows how to get his redneck on.

And he knows how to get revenge.

When longtime sponsor Pepsi about a year ago, many called foul. And for good reason — much of the ad was staged using a stunt driver (oh, the irony!). Among those .

So with a little help from Okulski’s bosses, Gordon, a six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion with 88 race wins in the sport’s premier series, donned, as he described on Twitter, “sideburns, a mullet and a taxi cab” to, as Jalopnik explained, “scare the crap out of our .”

According to Okulski’s Twitter feed, “This is real thing. It really happened. It’s not fake. At all.” We tend to believe him. So sit back and enjoy the ride, folks. And pray — for Jalopnik’s sake — that this time, nothing was staged.




by Matt Taliaferro

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Jeff Gordon's Pepsi Max spoof ad, which gets revenge on Jalopnik writer Travis Okluski.
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 00:04
Path: /college-basketball/profiling-arkansas-ncaa-tournament-bubble-watch

For several seasons, Arkansas has been close to the NCAA Tournament but not quite in the field.

The culprit primarily has been any game away from Fayetteville. The Razorbacks are near-unbeatable at home. During the last three seasons, Arkansas is 50-6 at home and 5-30 in road and neutral games.

That trend will need to change immediately if Arkansas is going to stay in NCAA Tournament contention when the Razorbacks face Kentucky. Arkansas hasn’t reached the filed since 2008, John Pelphrey’s first season as head coach. This matchup could be the critical game for the Razorbacks to be an at-large team.

Remaining scheduleBy the numbers
Feb. 27: at Kentucky
March 1: Georgia
March 5: Ole Miss
March 8: at Alabama
Record: 18-9, 7-7 SEC
RPI: 69
Strength of Schedule: 83
KenPom: 52
Best win: Kentucky at home
Worst loss: Texas A&M on the road

How Arkansas could be in the Tournament
The Hogs could finish the season on a hot streak that would potentially include wins over LSU, Kentucky, Georgia and Ole Miss. The onus will be on the 6-10, 242-pound Bobby Portis to give Kentucky the same trouble LSU big man Johnny O’Bryant III did twice this season.

How Arkansas could be left out
Without a win over Kentucky or a few wins in the SEC Tournament, Arkansas’ resume isn’t overwhelming. The Razorabcks played seven teams ranked 200 or worse, including two sub-300 teams in the RPI. The Hogs allowed a Feb. 13 road game against Missouri slip away for an 86-85 loss, a defeat that could have given Arkansas breathing room on the bubble.

Arkansas needs to: Sweep Kentucky
The Razorbacks defeated Kentucky 87-85 in overtime on Jan. 14 in a game marked by an unlikely game-winning put-back by Michael Qualls and curious officiating that led to a combined 81 free throw attempts. A win at Rupp, especially if it’s a little cleaner, could make Arkansas the No. 3 team in the SEC.

Arkansas can’t afford to: Lose in Tuscaloosa
Missouri slipped in the NCAA Tournament projections after a loss to Alabama on Saturday. That’s not something Arkansas can afford to do, either. The Razorbacks can’t afford home losses to Georgia or Ole Miss either, but Alabama would be the most damaging.

Profiling Arkansas: NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch
Post date: Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 17:42