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All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/nl-centrals-top-storylines-watch-2015

The tide could finally be turning in the National League Central division. The St. Louis Cardinals have long been the class of the division, as they have appeared in the last four NL Championship Series. The Pirates and the Cubs have other ideas, and the Brewers have redemption in mind following last season’s meltdown.


The NL Central could be the best division in baseball in 2015, full of fantastic narratives that will develop over the course of the summer. Here are the top storylines to watch for the NL Central in 2015.


The Return of Joey Votto

Joey Votto told members of the baseball media this week that he is feeling “normal.” Normal for Votto isn’t the same normal for you and I. When Votto is healthy, he is normally an All-Star and MVP candidate. Last season Votto was anything but his “normal, missing 100 games due to knee and quad issues.


Even when Votto was in the Reds’ lineup in 2014, he wasn’t the same, hitting just .255 in 62 games, 55 points under his career average. There is no way around it, the 2015 Reds are going to live and die with Votto. Him feeling “normal” is great news for fans in the Queen City.


Votto is entering his age-31 season and approaching the heart of a contract that will pay him approximately $206 million over the course of the next nine seasons. That amount of money makes Votto the cornerstone of this Reds franchise, which has to make the front office in Cincinnati a little uneasy as last season was the second time Votto’s left leg caused him to miss significant time.


Votto has proven that he can return to form after injury. In 2012 Votto had arthroscopic knee surgery and missed 51 games but still hit .337 and led the NL in on-base percentage (.474) for the third consecutive year. In 2013, Votto played in all 162 games, hitting .305 with 24 homers and once again led the NL in OBP (.435) and walks (135). The Reds are hoping that their franchise player can return to his 2010 MVP form, when he slashed .324/.424/.600, posting a  1.024 OPS, along with 37 home runs and 113 RBIs, in 2015.


After trading away starting pitchers Alfredo Simon and Matt Latos, it’s clear that the Reds are planning for the future, but having a healthy Votto, along with Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey and Brandon Phillips, for all of 2015 will make the allure of contention in ‘16 seem more realistic.


Cubs’ Youth Movement

A lot has been made about the Cubs’ offseason, and reasonably so. Some publications have even gone as far as to pick the Cubs to win the World Series. Let’s pump the brakes on the Cubs popping champagne in ski goggles in October.


No doubt about it, the Cubbies made great moves this offseason signing manager-savant Joe Maddon and ace Jon Lester, trading for leadoff man Dexter Fowler and catcher Miguel Montero. Those are all great moves that puts this team in contention for the NL Central, but don't forget about all the youth the Cubs have waiting on deck.


The Cubs’ lineup is currently built around shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, the team’s All-Star tandem and current cornerstones of the franchise entering their age-25 seasons. Maddon’s lineup card also could have several “new” faces in it, as Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, eventually Kris Bryant, and possibly even Addison Russell, are expected to be the first wave to come from the Cubs’ stocked farm system. Besides being highly regarded, this group of prospects have two things in common — none of them are older than 23 and none of them have played a full season in The Show.


Soler, Baez, and Alcantara all spent time with the big club last season. Alcantara hit just .205 in 70 games, but showed his versatility in the field and pop at the plate. Baez, whose swing has been often compared to Gary Sheffield’s, hit nine home runs but also struck out 95 times in 52 games. Soler was the brightest highlight, hitting .292 with five homers and 25 RBIs in just 24 games, not a big sample size.


But none of the Cubs’ prospects are generating more buzz than Bryant. The 2013 Arizona Fall League MVP and 2014 Minor League Player of the Year according to USA Today and Baseball America, Bryant is pacing the field with six home runs in spring training. He’s also making plenty of news off the field, as the debate of service time and his Opening Day status has heated up, thanks to an assist from super agent Scott Boras. Last season Bryant hit .325 with 43 home runs (most of any player in baseball in 2014) and 110 RBIs for Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. Barring something unforeseen happening, Bryant will the Cubs’ starting third baseman, although his debut may be delayed until later in April.


While all of these prospects and new additions are legitimately raising expectations in Wrigleyville, it is too early for that amount of pressure for young players that haven’t even played a full big-league season. If there is one certainty in baseball, it’s that prospect projections are always a crapshoot.  Let’s see how these young guns develop over the course of 2015 before we give the Cubs the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Related: Joe Maddon's Arrival Signals Next Step in Chicago Cubs' Resurgence


Cardinal Power Shortage?

We all know about The Cardinals’ Way. Great pitching, reliable defense, solid managing, roster depth, advanced scouting and timely hitting have been the ingredients to the Cardinals’ great success over the past decade. All of those special elements can be expected in 2015, but one thing is missing. Where is the power?


The NL Central will be decided by power, whether that be the Cubs’ young bombers or the Pirates’ slugging depth. The Cardinals are clearly lacking in this field. Coming into 2015, the Cards have just two players that hit at least 20 home runs last season, that being the aging Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta who hit 20 and 21, respectively.


The rest of the St. Louis lineup doesn't appear to provide much more pop, as Matt Adams is third on the team in returning homers with 15, followed by second baseman Kolten Wong (12) and third baseman Matt Carpenter (8). Wong, in his second season, could turn out to be a complementary piece to Peralta both in the field and at the plate. Newly acquired infielder Mark Reynolds hit 22 last season for the Brewers, but his batting average was just .196 and he drove in in only 45. He’s expected to add some pop, but only in a limited role off the bench.


The NL has been long known for small ball and as the Royals proved in last season’s World Series run, power isn’t everything. However, this season could be a pivotal one for the Cardinals. The Pirates are no longer bottom dwellers in the NL Central, the Cubs’ young talent is starting to bloom, and the Brewers could easily play spoiler. I’m not sure the Cards have what it takes at the plate to power their way back to October. 


- By Jake Rose

NL Central's Top Storylines to Watch in 2015
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-season-too-long

82 games is a lot of games. That’s how many they play every year in the NBA, and it doesn’t always produce the best results for fans — in fact, it rarely does.


Commissioner Adam Silver is a smart man, so — in spite of what he says — he probably knows this. But the volume of the season is directly related to the bottom line of his business, so it’s unlikely he’ll be modifying the the schedule much.


"I'm not looking to reduce the length of the season," Silver recently said to reporters including Candace Buckner of the Indy Star. "It's no secret, it's an economic issue for the league and the players if we were to cut the number of games in a season and I don't think that's the issue. Frankly, as I travel, people only want more NBA, not less NBA.


"We're going to look at everything but to me, in the first instance, we've got to look at how we can do a better job scheduling within the existing number of dates. Then beyond that, should we be starting a little bit earlier? Can we go a little bit later? Those are also the kinds of things we can look at to try to stretch the season out a little bit."


There’s an old adage that’s generally true, and it definitely is in this case: quality is better than quantity.


This season, the league has seen prolonged injury absences from the likes of Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Chris Bosh, Bradley Beal, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin — all of whom only begin the list.


It’s also seen a playoff race that, save for a spot or two at the bottom of each conference, has largely been over since mid-December. Everyone already knows who’s going to the big dance, as 53 percent of the league does so every year. Plus, many teams don’t take seeding all that seriously — they just want to be sure that they’re in. 


So our season is rife with games that offer little more than a chance to watch squads fine-tune themselves, for when the competition begins in earnest come springtime. Exciting, heart-on-the-sleeve, competitive showdowns are the exception for NBA viewers in this reality, not the rule. Unfortunately, this doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 14:39
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/2015-ncaa-tournament-thursday-round-64-preview-and-predictions

The field of 64 hasn’t even started, and already we have a full dose of March Madness.


From Albany’s wild shot to get into the NCAA Tournament on Saturday to a 94-90 Ole Miss win in the First Four, we hope college hoops has given us only an appetizer of what’s to come.


With three No. 3 vs. No. 14 games kicking things off and the fourth finishing the opening day, this Tournament could set the tone for upsets right from the start.


Here’s what you’ll need to know to get through the first day of round of 64 action.


No. 14 Northeastern vs. No. 3 Notre Dame

TV: 12:15 p.m., CBS

Site: Pittsburgh (Midwest Region)

Preview: Notre Dame has been bounced by a double-digit seed in each of its last four trips to the NCAA Tournament, including three times in the first round. This wouldn’t seem to be one of those times. Northeastern, which ranks 170th nationally in defensive efficiency, is going to have a tough time guarding Jerian Grant.

Prediction: Notre Dame 80-68


No. 14 UAB vs. No. 3 Iowa State

TV: 12:40 p.m., truTV

Site: Louisville, Ky. (South Region)

Preview: The first day of the field of 64 starts with another 3-14 game between a high-powered, up-tempo offensive team against a sub-100 defensive team. UAB’s best hope will be to slow the pace. The Blazers rank 218th in possession length while Iowa State ranks second.

Prediction: Iowa State 78-65


No. 14 Georgia State vs. No. 3 Baylor

TV: 1:30 p.m., TBS

Site: Jacksonville, Fla. (West Region)

Preview: Georgia State’s hopes to upset Baylor may rest in the health of point guard Ryan Harrow. The Kentucky transfer has played six minutes in the last two games while nursing a hamstring injury. The best pro prospect on the floor may be Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter, a 6-6 guard who averages 19.8 points per game. The Panthers will need to get him going against a Baylor team that hasn’t lost in the first weekend in its last four trips to the Tourney going back to 2008. Baylor plays a zone defense, but the Panthers’ 3-point shooting (31.9 percent, ranked 272nd nationally) may be ill-suited for the upset.

Prediction: Baylor 65-59


No. 15 Texas Southern vs. No. 2 Arizona

TV: 2:10 p.m., TNT

Site: Portland, Ore. (West Region)

Preview: Texas Southern is the second-lowest ranked team on in the field, but the Tigers have two high-major wins on their ledger this season (Michigan State and Kansas State) and have lost only twice in the new year. Arizona, ranked third nationally in defensive efficiency and 11th in offensive efficiency, shouldn’t have much trouble.

Prediction: Arizona 67-50


No. 11 Texas vs. No. 6 Butler

TV: 2:45 p.m., CBS

Site: Pittsburgh (Midwest Region)

Preview: Texas will have a major size advantage with Jonathan Holmes, Myles Turner and Cameron Ridley in the frontcourt against a Butler team with one regular taller than 6-foot-7. The 3-point shooting of Butler guards Kellen Dunham and Alex Barlow, who shoot a combined 40 percent from long range, will be key. Texas is plenty talented, but the Longhorns found a way to lose 13 games this season.

Prediction: Butler 72-68


No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 6 SMU

TV: 3:10 p.m., truTV

Site: Louisville, Ky. (South Region)

Preview: Larry Brown is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1988, and he’ll face one of two teams he took to the Final Four. UCLA was the most controversial pick in the bracket, and it’s easy to see why. To win its first NCAA game since 1988, the Mustangs will have to beat a team that ranks 76th in defensive efficiency, ranks 241st in free throw rate and has no depth to speak of.

Prediction: SMU 71-62


No. 11 Ole Miss vs. No. 6 Xavier

TV: 4:10 p.m., TBS

Site: Jacksonville, Fla. (West Region)

Preview: Ole Miss went from one of the last teams in the field to one of the must-watch teams. The Rebels scored 62 points in the second half of a 94-90 win over BYU in First Four. The must-watch matchup will be the 5-10 dynamo Stefan Moody and 6-10 center Matt Stainbrook.

Prediction: Ole Miss 76-71


No. 10 Ohio State vs. No. 7 VCU

TV: 4:40 p.m., TNT

Site: Portland, Ore. (West Region)

Preview: One of the nation’s best freshmen and prettiest passers, D’Angelo Russell, takes on VCU’s havoc defense in a first-round game. That makes this one of the most intriguing matchups of the first day of the Tournament. VCU’s defense is weakened without Briante Weber, but this is still a tough draw for an Ohio State team that picked up few wins over top teams this season.

Prediction: Ohio State 64-60


No. 16 Lafayette vs. No. 1 Villanova

TV: 6:50 p.m., TBS

Site: Pittsburgh (East Region)

Preview: Villanova ranks fourth in the nation in offensive efficiency. Lafayette ranks 337th. See you in the second round, Wildcats.

Prediction: Villanova 85-60


No. 9 Purdue vs. No. 8 Cincinnati

TV: 7:10 p.m., CBS

Site: Louisville, Ky. (Midwest Region)

Preview: An 8-9 game that includes only three guys averaging double figures this season. Winner gets Kentucky. They can’t all be classics.

Prediction: Purdue 65-59


No. 13 Harvard vs. No. 4 North Carolina

TV: 7:20 p.m., TNT

Site: Jacksonville, Fla. (West Region)

Preview: Harvard was a preseason top 25 team with guys like Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers returning to an Ivy team that has won first-round games in each of the last two Tournaments. The Crimson, though, might not be able to keep up with North Carolina’s offensive track meet.

Prediction: North Carolina 80-70


No. 12 Stephen F. Austin vs. No. 5 Utah

TV: 7:27 p.m., truTV

Site: Portland, Ore. (South Region)

Preview: This will be a heck of a 12-5 matchup. The Lumberjacks have lost once since Nov. 24 while Utah hasn’t defeated a team in the field since Jan. 4 — and that team was UCLA. Stephen F. Austin moves the ball as well as any team in the country, ranking fourth in assists per field goals made while Utah is an elite defensive team on the perimeter.

Prediction: Stephen F. Austin 67-65


No. 9 LSU vs. No. 8 NC State

TV: 9:20 p.m., TBS

Site: Pittsburgh (East Region)

Preview: Who knows what we’re going to get out of this game. The seasons for both teams were marked by inconsistency. There’s plenty of talent on both rosters, but these teams combined for 23 losses. Between LSU’s end-of-game mishaps and NC State point guard Cat Barber’s hot-and-cold game, this could be a wild one.

Prediction: NC State 69-66


No. 16 Hampton vs. No. 1 Kentucky

TV: 9:40 p.m., CBS

Site: Louisville, Ky. (Midwest Region)

Preview: At least Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. is a good sport about the mismatch that’s on its way. The Pirates entered the MEAC Tournament 12-17 and has one regular taller than 6-7. This won’t be pretty.

Prediction: Kentucky 87-50


No. 12 Wofford vs. No. 5 Arkansas

TV: 9:50 p.m., TNT

Site: Jacksonville, Fla. (West Region)

Preview: This will be a battle of tempo — Arkansas presses and runs at the 11th-fastest tempo while Wofford is a methodical team ranked 316th in tempo. The question is how Wofford’s undersized lineup will find a way to stop Arkansas’ forward Bobby Portis.

Prediction: Arkansas 67-60


No. 13 Eastern Washington vs. No. 4 Georgetown

TV: 9:57 p.m., truTV

Site: Portland, Ore. (South Region)

Preview: Georgetown has lost to a double-digit seed in each of its five trips to the NCAA Tournament since the 2007 Final Four. Now the Hoyas have to face a dynamic offensive team led by Tyler Harvey (22.9 points per game). Eastern Washington can’t guard at all, so this might end up being a shot-for-shot game between Harvey and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera.

Prediction: Eastern Washington 78-76

2015 NCAA Tournament: Thursday Round of 64 Preview and Predictions
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 13:16
All taxonomy terms: NCAA Tournament, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/bluegoldsportscoms-guide-picking-your-ncaa-tournament-bracket

Have you not yet filled out your tournament bracket for the BGS NCAA Pick’em Contest? Need help figuring out who you should pick? David Schmulenson has all the answers. Notice which team Dave picks first through his scientific selection process.




— Posted by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.


Teaser:'s Guide to Picking Your NCAA Tournament Bracket
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 12:30
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/arkansas-razorbacks-2015-spring-football-preview

Arkansas opens its third set of spring practices under coach Bret Bielema hoping to improve off last year’s 7-6 record. This team showed considerable progress in 2014 and is poised to take another step forward with 14 starters back in the mix. Bielema will have a new offensive play-caller with former Central Michigan coach Dan Enos hired to replace Jim Chaney. However, the formula for success in Fayetteville isn’t going to change, as the Razorbacks remain a run-first and defense team in 2015.


5 Storylines to Watch in Arkansas’ Spring Practice


1. Development of the Passing Game

Arkansas showed marked improvement with its passing game in coach Bret Bielema’s second year. After averaging just 148.5 yards per game in 2013, the Razorbacks improved that total to 188 in 2014. Quarterback Brandon Allen was hindered by a shoulder injury in 2013 but stayed healthy until late in the year and finished with just six interceptions on 339 attempts. Allen should take another step forward in his development this spring, especially with the return of tight end Hunter Henry and receiver Keon Hatcher. How much of an impact will new play-caller Dan Enos have on the offense in 2015? It’s up to Enos and Allen to continue to build off a solid 2014 season by the offense.


2. Shuffled Offensive Line

With four starters returning, the Razorbacks should have one of the SEC’s best offensive lines in 2015. But there’s a couple of tweaks coming to the front five this spring, as guard Denver Kirkland has shifted to left tackle, and Dan Skipper is shifting from left tackle to the right side. This move should only strengthen the offensive line, but this spring will be about meshing all of the pieces together and building a cohesive group once again.


3. Development of Wide Receivers

In addition to Brandon Allen’s development, Arkansas needs its receiving corps to take a step forward to help the passing game grow in 2015. Keon Hatcher (43 catches in 2014) is the leading target, and tight end Hunter Henry is one of the best in the nation. But who steps up to replace A.J. Derby as the No. 2 tight end and who emerges as a solid No. 2 or No. 3 option for Allen at receiver?


4. Restocking the Trenches

Robb Smith was one of the SEC’s top coordinator hires last season, and the Arkansas defense allowed only 28 points in its last four contests. In order for Smith to build off that total in 2015, he needs to find a few replacements for standouts in the trenches. Trey Flowers (six sacks) and tackle Darius Philon (11.5 tackles for a loss) have departed, leaving a void up front. It’s up to players like JaMichael Winston (DE) and Taiwan Johnson (DT) to pickup the slack in the trenches. Perhaps this unit won’t have an All-SEC player, but the overall depth and ability to rotate will be a strength.


5. Replacing LB Martrell Spaight

Spaight was one of the SEC’s most underrated defenders in 2014. In 13 contests, Spaight recorded 128 tackles (10.5 for a loss) and earned first-team All-SEC honors. Brooks Ellis (72 tackles) should be the leader of the linebacking corps in 2015, but sophomore Khalia Hackett is a name that will be watched closely in spring ball.


Pre-Spring Outlook on Arkansas:


The SEC West is not only the toughest division in college football, but it’s also one of the most intriguing races to watch in 2015. Arkansas made considerable progress in Bielema’s second year and showed improve once again in 2015. But the schedule isn’t easy, featuring crossover games against likely top 25 teams in Missouri and Tennessee, along with road trips to Ole Miss, LSU and Alabama. How high the Razorbacks can climb in the West likely depends on the development of the passing game and how quickly the defense can reload in the front seven. 

Arkansas Razorbacks 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-18-2015

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 18:


SI swimsuit model Samantha Hoopes gets you ready for March Madness.


• Strange times at the 'Cuse: AD Daryl Gross is out, and coach Jim Boeheim will retire in three years.


Watch March Madness announcers imitate each other's signature calls.


• The Madness has begun: Hampton's coach called Jesus during his postgame presser, and the big guy hung up on him. Also, the Hampton bench players pulled off a Major League free throw celebration. Too bad they won't be around long.


This WSJ writer throws cold water on the whole nasty business of March Madness.


• In case you're interested, here's POTUS revealing his bracket


• The Spurs allowed a Larry Bird-style performance from some guy named Alexey Shved in a loss to the Knicks, prompting Gregg Popovich to call his team "pathetic."


Reggie Jackson was shocked to learn he had 20 assists last night.


The office of NFL Commissioner is too dignified for Between Two Ferns.


• DeAndre Jordan fulfilled a fantasy that many of us harbor: He wiped boogers on JJ Redick.


• Watch Kevin Nealon describe his pranking at the hands of the Manning brothers.


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

Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 11:20
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Georgia Bulldogs, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/georgia-bulldogs-2015-spring-football-preview

Georgia opens spring practice as the early favorite in the SEC East. The Bulldogs just missed on a division title last season and return 12 starters for 2015. Coach Mark Richt’s team will be busy this spring, as this team has question marks on both sides of the ball and three new coaches are spending their first spring in Athens. Offensive play-caller Brian Schottenheimer was the biggest coaching move from the offseason, but Rob Sale (offensive line) and Thomas Brown (running backs) are also under the spotlight.


5 Storylines to Watch in Georgia’s Spring Practice:


1. The Quarterback Battle

Hutson Mason has expired his eligibility after starting all 13 games for Georgia last season. Mason threw for 2,168 yards and 21 scores in 2013. Replacing Mason is a three-way battle, headlined by Brice Ramsey (24 of 39, 333 yards, 3 TDs). The sophomore has the edge in experience, but Faton Bauta and redshirt freshman Jacob Park will push for time.


2. Replacing David Andrews at Center

The lone departure on Georgia’s offensive line was a big one. Center David Andrews expired his eligibility after earning All-SEC honors last season. Who steps up to replace Andrews? It’s expected Isaiah Wynn and Hunter Long will have the first opportunity to fill the void at center.


3. Options at Receiver

Chris Conley and Michael Bennett depart after catching 73 of Georgia’s 217 passes last season. Malcolm Mitchell missed nearly all of 2013 due to a knee injury and returned in 2014 to catch 31 passes for 248 yards and three scores. Can Mitchell regain the form from his first two seasons (85 catches)? And what other receivers will emerge as key targets in 2015? Will Justin Scott-Wesley return to full strength after only playing in six games last year?   


4. Secondary Shuffling

The Bulldogs ranked near the top of the SEC in pass defense, limiting conference opponents to just 10 passing scores in eight games. But this unit loses top cornerback Damian Swann, and coordinator Jeremy Pruitt isn’t afraid to mix and match personnel. Will Aaron Davis and Devin Bowman start at corner? Or can Malkom Parrish claim a starting job in his second year on campus? The safety spots are also up for grabs, with Quincy Mauger and Dominick Sanders as the favorites.


5. New Faces on the Defensive Line/Linebacking Corps

Three seniors depart from a defensive line that allowed 172.9 rushing yards in SEC contests in 2014. And it’s a safe bet coach Mark Richt and line coach Tracy Rocker are only writing their spring depth chart in pencil here. Freshman Jonathan Ledbetter will participate in spring ball, but No. 1 recruit Trenton Thompson won’t arrive until this summer. At linebacker, standouts Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera must be replaced. Junior college recruit Chuks Amaechi is a name to watch, along with the development of sophomore Lorenzo Carter.


Pre-Spring Outlook on Georgia:


As we mentioned above, Georgia is the very early No. 1 pick in the East. But is that almost by default? Florida has a new coach (Jim McElwain), Missouri has significant personnel losses, and Tennessee might be a year away. Georgia’s schedule certainly doesn’t provide many breaks, as this team has road trips to Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia Tech, along with a home date against Alabama. The Bulldogs have one of the league’s best players (running back Nick Chubb) and four starters back on the offensive line. The defense returns six starters, but there are question marks in each unit as spring practice opens. The quarterback battle is the biggest storyline to watch this offseason, along with the development of the offense under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Even with question marks on both sides of the ball, Georgia has enough returning talent and potential to be a top 10 team in 2015.

Georgia Bulldogs 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Clemson Tigers, College Football, News
Path: /college-football/clemson-tigers-2015-spring-football-preview

Clemson has won at least 10 games in a row in four consecutive seasons and enters the spring as one of the favorites to win the ACC in 2015. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is a rising star and is expected to return at full strength from ACL surgery by the fall. In addition to Watson, the offense is loaded with talent at the skill positions, including Artavis Scott and Mike Williams at receiver, along with Wayne Gallman at running back. Play-caller Chad Morris left to go to SMU, but coach Dabo Swinney promoted from within (Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott) to ensure continuity.


The defensive side of the ball is undergoing renovations with the loss of several key players. Only two starters return from a group that was arguably the best defense in the nation in 2014. While the losses are heavy, there’s young talent in place to prevent a major drop in production.


What’s ahead for the Tigers this spring? I asked David Hood (@MDavidHood) of to help us preview Clemson and answer some of the key questions and storylines to watch:


1. With Chad Morris leaving to be the head coach at SMU, the focus shifts to co-coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott to keep Clemson’s offense among the best in the ACC. Should this be an easy transition for the Tigers? Or will Clemson’s offense take a step back without Morris calling the plays?


Clemson scored 40 points in the Russell Athletic Bowl win over Oklahoma, and with Tony Elliott calling the plays the offense moved the ball pretty well. Both Elliott and Scott have spent the last few years calling the plays in the scrimmages and the spring games and learning the art of calling plays under Morris, and head coach Dabo Swinney made the transition easier by saying that the offense is a "Clemson offense" and not changing the scheme or plays. As long as quarterback Deshaun Watson is healthy, the offense shouldn't miss a step without Morris.


2. The offensive line loses three starters from a unit that allowed 27 sacks last season. How big of a concern is this for Clemson with quarterback Deshaun Watson recovering from a knee injury? Also, can true freshman Mitch Hyatt factor prominently into the offensive line rotation this year?


I think this is the biggest concern on the offensive side of the ball. The good news is that two of the new starters - left guard Eric Mac Lain and right tackle Joe Gore - have each started games over the last few seasons and have played significant snaps. Add in center Ryan Norton and left tackle Isaiah Battle and the Tigers have plenty of experience at four of the spots. That leaves right guard Tyrone Crowder to prove he belongs. If the Tigers get back center Jay Guillermo - who is out this spring - Norton can move to the right guard spot and Clemson would then have five starters who have started games in the past. Mitch Hyatt has all the tools and came to camp at 282 pounds, and he will see action this season. His best position is left tackle, but with Battle (who has NFL talent) in front of him those snaps will be limited. If he sees action, it could be at the right tackle spot. Gore didn't impress against Georgia and South Carolina State last season, and another rough start might mean Hyatt gets thrown into action early.


3. In terms of skill talent, Clemson should have one of the best groups in the ACC next year. Is this Wayne Gallman’s job to lose at running back? Or will the Tigers use a committee approach? And at receiver, how much more involved will Artavis Scott be in 2015?


The job is Gallman's to lose. For now. Tyshon Dye missed the first part of the season in 2014 recovering from an Achilles tear and didn't make an appearance until late October. Swinney has said that Dye - who is a bigger back - fits more into Clemson's style of attack and that Dye just needed a spring practice to get fully invested in the offense and completely healthy. He is getting that chance this spring, and will push Gallman for that starting spot. However, Elliott told us last week that because Clemson wants to run 80-plus plays per game there will be plenty of playing time for everybody. Artavis Scott came on strong at the end of last season, and you have to figure he will be even more involved in the offense this season. He is playing in Sammy Watkins' old spot, and Elliott can get him the ball on the run, in the Wildcat, orbit motion and down the field.


4. The defensive line was hit hard by departures, including standouts in end Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett. But this unit returns a rising star in Shaq Lawson at end and some promising talent from the recruiting class. How big of a drop-off will there be in 2015 for this group?


There isn't too much of a drop-off in terms of talent - the Tigers have recruited well the past few years - but will sorely lack in experience. There will be new starters across the board in the front seven, and despite the talent I am sure there will be growing pains. But don't expect too much of a drop-off. While earning the title of the nation's number one ranked defense probably isn't feasible, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that this group can still be Top 20 nationally.


5. Outside of Lawson and cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who are a few players that might step up on defense this year to help replace some of the departed standouts from 2014?


Defensive tackles Carlos Watkins and D.J. Reader have both started games, as have linebackers Ben Boulware and B.J. Goodson. Boulware started for Stephone Anthony in the bowl game and returned an interception for a touchdown, and he is a tackling machine whenever he's on the field. He's also a fan favorite with his reckless style of play. Safety Jayron Kearse came to camp at 6-4, 217 pounds and appears ready to take that next step into elite playmaker after a solid season last year. There are also some freshmen in Christian Wilkins and Albert Huggins - both highly-recruited defensive linemen - who could see major playing time. 


- Visit for the latest Clemson news and analysis for the 2015 season.


Clemson’s Pre-Spring Outlook in the ACC Atlantic:


Despite the personnel losses and movement on the coaching staff, Clemson is still one of the favorites to win the ACC and should push for 10 wins in 2015. The Tigers and Florida State are considered the No. 1 and No. 2 teams (in some order) in the Atlantic next season. The transition from Chad Morris to Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott will be a key storyline to watch in the fall. However, there’s no question the offense is loaded with talent with quarterback Deshaun Watson and talented skill players. The offensive line is the biggest concern for Scott and Elliott this spring. The defense must be revamped, but coordinator Brent Venables should be able to quickly reload to prevent a major drop in production. With Florida State visiting Death Valley in 2015, the road to the Atlantic Division title is favorable for the Tigers.

Clemson Tigers 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 10:30
Path: /nba/john-wall-demarcus-cousins-say-their-kentucky-team-better-current-one

The University of Kentucky Wildcats are good this season — real good.


If you’re filling out an NCAA March Madness bracket, chances are that you picked them to win it all. That’s because they haven’t lost yet this year — coach John Calipari’s squad has followed a balanced attack of Tyler Ulis, Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns and the rest to a 34-0 record.


Washington Wizards All-Star point guard and Kentucky alum John Wall is impressed — but not that impressed. He remains convinced that his 2009-10 squad (also featuring fellow All-Star DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings) was superior.


When asked whether the current Wildcats are better than his, Wall bristled. ”Well, they got the better record, but I wouldn't say that,” he told “We were a better team, but we didn't win … They’re going to have the leverage because they went 40-0 and got a national championship to back it up.”


Cousins echoed his buddy’s sentiment. "I mean, yeah. [John is] right. They would be considered the best, but we all know the truth," the big man said. "Hopefully these guys do pull this off.”


Wall and Cousins’ team fell just short of the Final Four in their postseason run, so it’s hard for them to boast too much about their college success. 


But regardless of how things pan out in the 2015 tourney, the contemporary Wildcats have a tall NBA order to fill if they’re to live up to the professional acumen of their forebears.


Not only did that team feature Wall and Cousins — two max-contract players worthy of building a winning roster around — but they had six other ballers who’ve done NBA time. The most prominent of which are Patrick Patterson, currently a key rotation player for the Eastern Conference contender Toronto Raptors, and Eric Bledsoe, the Phoenix Suns’ dynamo who would be an All-Star himself if he played on the other coast.


In time, we’ll see if these young Wildcats can have as big of a collective impact beyond this spring.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 10:07
All taxonomy terms: Bubba Watson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-16-bubba-watson

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


No. 16: Bubba Watson


Born: Nov. 5, 1978, Bagdad, Fla. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 7 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 3 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $6,336,978 (2nd) World Ranking: 2

2014 Key Stats

      Driving Distance: 314.3 (1st)

      Strokes Gained, Tee to Green: 1.322 (7th)

      Putting from 15-20’: 28.45% (3rd)


Brandel Chamblee's Take

At 36 years old, Watson has finished in the top 10 in only four majors, but two of those were wins at Augusta National. This more than anything illumines the talents and troubles of one of the game’s most intriguing players. In 2014 he led the Tour in driving distance and was yet again one of the best with long and mid irons, but more impressive and more responsible for his improved consistency was a better year from 50-125 yards and a corresponding improvement from 15-20 feet on the greens, where those wedges put him on many occasions. A win late in the year and overseas at the WGC-HSBC proved for the first time that his game could travel outside the U.S., and that success causes one to at least raise an eyebrow when considering his chances at an Open Championship. Patience is as much his adversary as creativity and length are his gifts, but if he can play a whole year and control his emotions, he could win at major venues other than Augusta National, where the reverence of the patrons and the dogleg left preference of the course fit him like a Savile Row suit.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 28
Wins: 2

2014 Performance:
Masters - 1
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T64

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1 (2012, '14)
U.S. Open - T5 (2007)
British Open - T23 (2012)
PGA Championship - 2 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 4
Top-25 Finishes: 8
Missed Cuts: 10


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


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

Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 09:58
Path: /nfl/new-england-patriots-sticking-proven-philosophy-free-agency

The New England Patriots' decade-and-a-half of dominance was not built with over-priced free agents, yet every offseason the collective followers of the team seem to forget this simple fact.


Despite handing out plenty of top end deals over that time, usually to their own players who are just hitting the primes of their careers, the Pats are often labelled as "cheap." That was once again the case last week when Darrelle Revis signed a monster contract with the New York Jets. For many Patriots fans, no price was too high for the shutdown corner Revis.


There was certainly an argument to be made for Revis' value, but at that price it was unrealistic to expect the Patriots to ignore the methodology that has kept them in the thick of the Super Bowl hunt since the turn of the century. Sure, it's hard when the Pats' AFC East rivals are each making huge, splashy signings, but the Patriots know how to stay the course.


Now that most of the overpriced and over-30 big names are off the market, the Patriots are starting to strike their sweet spot - the undervalued veterans with something to prove, along with a smattering of special teams performers and depth players.


While names like Kevin Dorsey, Brandon Gibson, Jonathan Freeny and Chimdi Chekwa won't get many people excited, it's important to remember Rob Ninkovich was once a similar unknown castoff long snapper. These kind of low-risk unknowns are where the Patriots find their value.


But it hasn't been all unknowns.


The first big signing came in the form of Jabaal Sheard, a defensive end from Cleveland who had gotten lost in the shuffle due to multiple coaching changes. Sheard has been a perfect Pariots fit since he entered the league, and was a popular mock draft pick for the team in 2012.


Sheard instantly adds a third edge presence, joining Chandler Jones and Ninkovich, for what should be a solid rotation. The Patriots have run Ninkovich and Jones into the ground the last two seasons, with Ninkovich playing more snaps than any other defensive end in the NFL in 2014. Sheard can help them ease back a bit on Ninkovich's and Jones' snaps and potentially make them more effective.

Sheard's 23 sacks in his first four seasons point to a needed skill set in New England, but it's his run defense that might make him the best fit of all. He's a physical and versatile addition who should make a big impact.


The next notable signing was tight end Scott Chandler, who had 28 catches, 384 yards and four touchdowns in eight career games against New England while with Buffalo. If there's another tried-and-true methodology for Bill Belichick, it's signing players who have hurt the Patriots in the past. Wes Welker was one of the greatest examples of that.


At 6'7", 270 pounds, Chandler will form a monstrous combination with Rob Gronkowski, one that should be especially difficult to defend in the red zone. Chandler will also allow the Patriots to be even more creative with how they use Gronkowski.


The Pats latest signing, Travaris Cadet, is another typical move by them. Cadet, a promising receiving back, was not tendered by cap-strapped New Orleans this offseason. New England jumped on him, making him the current favorite to replace Shane Vereen in the vital receiving back role in their offense.


With holes remaining at guard and cornerback, the Patriots are not done in free agency yet, but they'll continue to build their team the same way that has brought continued success, with low risk, mid-range free agents on manageable contracts and maximizing draft value to mitigate risk with as many picks as possible.


The Pats' unprecedented run of success during the salary cap era should be all the proof we need that this philosophy works, but that will never stop those who prefer to see big splashes in free agency with risky contracts on players whose best days are close to behind them.


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

The Patriots are attacking the low-risk bargain bin of free agency.
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/13-coaches-rise-2015-ncaa-tournament

The NCAA Tournament will be the moment in the spotlight for previously unknown players and tiny schools across the country.


This is also a big moment for coaches. It’s no secret that NCAA Tournament success plays a big role in how coaches move up through the ranks from low-majors to mid-majors to high-majors. One Tournament win can make a career.


The following are the young coaches who are poised to make names for themselves whether or not they win in this year’s field. If your program is getting ready to make a coaching hire (hello, Alabama and DePaul fans!) these might be some of the names to watch this week.


Will Brown, Albany

The 43-year-old has been at Albany for 13 seasons, taking the Great Danes to their only five NCAA Tournament trips in school history. He’s currently riding a three-year streak in the field. One oddity: Albany is doing this almost entirely through the America East tournament. The Great Danes haven’t won a conference regular season title since 2006.


Bryce Drew, Valparaiso

His father was an institution at Valpo, and Bryce is the most famous player in school history. The 40-year-old has won three Horizon League regular season titles and two conference tournament titles in his four seasons at his alma mater. Will Bryce stay at Valpo like his father or will he follow brother Scott into a power conference?


Jerod Haase, UAB

Haase has never won more than 20 games in a season or finished higher than fourth in Conference USA, but he’s a former Kansas and North Carolina assistant. That will get him some looks.


Jim Hayford, Eastern Washington

Hayford cut his teeth in the Division III ranks before landing at Eastern Washington four seasons ago. The Eagles won 26 games this season, a school record, and reached their first NCAA Tournament since 2004. Hayford’s team has only two seniors playing major minutes — and one of them is not national leading scorer Tyler Harvey. Hayford could be in for a huge 2015-16 before moving up through the ranks.


Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa

Gregg Marshall’s name is floated for every high major coaching position, and now Jacobson could join his Missouri Valley rival as one of the most in-demand coaches if the Panthers can advance. Jacobson led Northern Iowa to an upset of Kansas on the way to the Sweet 16 in 2010. His team now is playing the role of favorite as a No. 5 seed.


Steve Masiello, Manhattan

The Rick Pitino disciple was as target for job openings last season when South Florida hired Masiello following the Jaspers’ 25-win season and NCAA appearance a year ago. Masiello was eliminated from consideration for the job when it was revealed he never graduated from Kentucky as indicated on his résumé. Manhattan allowed Masiello to return if he completed his final three credits for his degree. He did, and Manhattan returned to the Tournament as a play-in seed. The omission might make some schools wary, but two Tournament trips in four seasons and the Pitino pedigree — Manhattan has ranked in the national top 30 in turnover rate in each of the year three years — will make him a hot target again.


Marvin Menzies, New Mexico State

Menzies has taken New Mexico state to the NCAA Tournament five times in the last six seasons, but this season was the first in that span that the Aggies actually won the WAC regular season title. Menzies interviewed for the Colorado State job in the past and was mentioned for the Texas Tech post.


Archie Miller, Dayton

Like his brother Sean at Arizona, Archie is a superstar in the making. This season may have been his best coaching job — and this is after Miller led Dayton to wins over Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford on the way to the Elite Eight in last year’s Tournament. Dayton’s frontcourt was decimated this season by injuries and off-court issues — the Flyers have no regulars taller than 6-foot-6. And yet Dayton went 23-7 overall and 13-5 in the Atlantic 10. He’ll be a top target for high majors.


Leon Rice, Boise State

Boise State is making its second appearance in the First Four under Rice, but these are also the Broncos’ first at-large bids to the Tournament in school history. The Broncos have won at least 20 games in four of five seasons under the former Gonzaga assistant, and this season might have been the best coaching job of Rice’s tenure. Boise State has been without Anthony Drimic for all but seven games this year, but the Broncos managed to win 15 of their last 17 games to get into the field.


Andy Toole, Robert Morris

He’s 34 years old, and he’s already been a head coach for five seasons. And a successful one at that. Toole has led Bobby Mo to two Northeast Conference regular season titles, but this is his first NCAA Tournament trip. Toole also presided over the biggest win in school history — a 59-57 win over Kentucky in the NIT in 2013. 


Russ Turner, UC Irvine

The former Mike Montgomery assistant has made UC Irvine relevant in the Big West. The Anteaters are playing in the first NCAA Tournament a year after winning their first Big West regular season since 2002. Turner, 44, has won 20 games in each of his last three seasons at Irvine. 


Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin

Underwood is 61-7 as a head coach with one NCAA Tournament win under his belt. His teams certainly have an identity, too. The Lumberjacks’ press has finished in the top 10 in turnover rate in each of the last two seasons. This year’s team has been a better offensive squad. Underwood is a former junior college coach who broke into the college ranks under Frank Martin at Kansas State and South Carolina.


Mike Young, Wofford

Young has been at Wofford for 12 seasons, reaching the NCAA Tournament in four of the last six. He’s turned Wofford into a regular Southern Conference contender in those dozen years. His teams generally like to slow the pace and play disciplined basketball under the 51-year-old Virginia native.

13 Coaches on the Rise in the 2015 NCAA Tournament
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 08:30
Path: /nba/thunder-lose-serge-ibaka-after-knee-surgery

The hurt just keeps on coming for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Power forward Serge Ibaka — a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year — will join reigning MVP Kevin Durant on the bench, after undergoing successful arthroscopic surgery to his right knee.


Ibaka, according to Thunder P.R., is expected to miss four to six weeks.


It should be remembered that Ibaka was deemed out for the season at the onset of last year’s Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, only to return in Game 3 and lead OKC back into the series with his typically excellent rim protection.


It’s unlikely now — as it always is — that Ibaka is playing possum, though. This is just more bad luck for a team that’s come to be symbolized by the mask their star Russell Westbrook wears. Even he, their indestructible warrior, is covered in plastic protection.


Westbrook’s triple-double-laden campaign has been the silver lining keeping the Thunder alive through injuries and roster reshuffling alike. OKC currently has seven players acquired either over the summer or midseason, and their superstar point guard has been the only consistent factor through their effort to jell, while fighting for their playoff lives as Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans nip at their heels.


At time of publication, New Orleans is just a half game behind Oklahoma City for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot. Either team will have the not-so-welcome treat of squaring off with the 53-13 Golden State Warriors if they get in. Provided that the Thunder are the team to land the spot against basketball’s best team, they better hope the indispensable Ibaka is back on the earlier side of his recovery timeline. They’ll need everything they can get to pull off the upset.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 17:41
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/what-most-popular-college-basketball-team-each-state

Sorry, Louisville, people in Kentucky love Kentucky.


Ticket broker TicketCity released this map detailing what it calls the most popular college basketball team in each state.


Most of the revelations aren’t that surprising, for example, with Big Blue Nation taking hold of its state. Or Kansas, Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, LSU, Arkansas and Arizona leading their states.


A few states, though, produced interesting results. For example:


• What are you doing Virginia? The Cavaliers are a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and back-to-back ACC champs, but VCU is the most popular there.


• How about Bruce Pearl in the state of Alabama? Auburn leads that state, edging rival Alabama. UAB, incidentally, is the only team from the state actually in the field.


• Memphis takes hold of the state of Tennessee over SEC programs Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Like Alabama, a mid-major (Belmont), is the state’s only representative in the 2015 field.


Ticket City says it used “fan engagement metrics (google searches by state, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, ticket prices, and attendance as percentage of stadium capacity)” to determine the data.


Disclosure: TicketCity is an advertiser on


What is the Most Popular College Basketball Team in Each State?
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 16:09
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Overtime, News
Path: /college-basketball/butler-dog-shames-its-mascot-after-butler-blue-barfs-court

Butler dog-shamed its own mascot Tuesday after Butler Blue III vomited on the court of Madison Square Garden before a Big East tournament game last week.


Butler Blue represents Butler as the Twitter account to follow for the Bulldogs in our 68 must-follows for the NCAA Tournament and this is exactly why:


If you missed it Thursday, Butler Blue vomited on the court before the Bulldogs’ game against Xavier. We have no scientific basis for this, but we assume it was the most viral moment featuring dog barf.




Butler lost to Xavier 67-61 in overtime.

Butler Dog Shames its Mascot After Butler Blue Barfs on Court
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 12:19
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NFL, News
Path: /college-football/maurice-clarett-blasts-academic-athletic-culture-wake-chris-borland-retirement

Opinions are plentiful regarding San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland’s decision to retire from the NFL at age 24 citing concerns of the potential for debilitating head injuries.


One voice the rose above the din was that of former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett.


In a series of tweets from @ReeseClarett13, the freshman star of the 2002 national champions was critical of coaches athletic programs that usher athletes through what he calls “nonsense degrees” to keep them eligible.


The criticism comes not only amid the Borland retirement but at the same time of a wide-reaching controversy at North Carolina involving bogus classes for athletes and widespread fraud in the Afro-American Studies major.


Here is what Clarett Tweeted on Tuesday morning:




Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards and 18 touchdowns for the 14-0 Buckeyes who upset Miami for the national title in 2002. His path to stardom was derailed when he was dismissed from Ohio State for receiving improper benefits before his sophomore year.


Clarett attempted to enter the 2004 NFL Draft but had to wait until 2005 when he was drafted in the third round. After he was cut by the Denver Broncos, Clarett was jailed for three-and-half years after a police chase in 2006.


Now living in Columbus, Clarett has taken on an active role in mentoring young athletes.

Maurice Clarett Blasts Academic-Athletic Culture in Wake of Chris Borland Retirement
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 12:01
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/nl-wests-top-storylines-watch-2015

The National League West very well could wind up being the defending World Series champion Giants and Dodgers duking it out at the top of the mountain — and then everyone else planning for 2016. Let’s face it, the best thing that could happen to the Diamondbacks this year might have already occurred when Will Ferrell hilariously played left field for them in a spring training game last week against the Reds. But that doesn't mean that the NL West won’t be one of the more intriguing divisions in baseball to watch in 2015.


We are now in the heart of spring training, as mid-March signals that Opening Day is just a few more weeks away. To get you ready for the upcoming MLB season, here are a couple of storylines to keep an eye on in the NL West in 2015.


Are Tulo and CarGo Colorado trade bait?

The time is now for the Rockies. No, not time to win, that time passed last season. It is now time for new general manager Jeff Bridich to put his two best players and biggest liabilities officially on the trade block. It is time for Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to be traded.


Let’s be blunt here. For the Rockies to be competitive at all in 2015 every single chip would have to fall in the most perfect of places, and I’m not one to really believe in a team whose pitching rotation is put together with duct tape and unproven arms, and as one fellow Athlon writer wrote, “retreads.” For the Rockies to be a contender would also require Tulo and CarGo to play as close to a full season as humanly possible — a tall order for those two.


In Tulowitzki’s eight big-league seasons he has played in 150 games or more just twice. Last season Tulo played in just 91 games after undergoing surgery to repair the labrum in his left hip. When he is healthy, Tulo is well worth the price of admission, whether you’re a fan of those who swing the bat or flash the leather. In a little more than half a season, Tulowitzki was putting together an MVP-caliber 2014 campaign, hitting .340/.432/.603 with a ridiculous OPS of 1.035 (OPS+ of 171), to go along with 21 homers, 18 doubles and 52 RBIs.


Tulowitzki is entering his age 30 season and is owed at minimum $114 million until 2020, with a $15 million club option for ’21. That is a lot of dough to keep in limbo for a franchise player on a club desperate for wins.


The Rockies are in the same boat with Gonzalez. When he is healthy enough, CarGo is one of the game’s best five-tool players. Problem is, he is rarely healthy, as he has played in more than 135 games just once in seven seasons. That one time was in 2010 when he slashed .336/.376/.598, led the NL in total bases, batting average and hits, finished third in the NL MVP voting and was award a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove. In 2014, Cargo appeared in just 70 games and was sidelined after having a benign tumor removed from his left index finger and also having surgery to repair the patella tendon in his left knee.


How much longer can the Rockies keep their fingers crossed on the health of their franchise players? Hard to say. What needs to be said is that it is time for Colorado to cut ties with Tulo and CarGo and start rebuilding for the long-term future.



On a good day, Yasiel Puig can set the baseball world on fire, hitting bombs into Dodgertown, stealing bases, making impossible throws from the warning track, stretching doubles into triples. On a bad day, Puig can make the SportsCenter’s “Not Top 10” list, showing up late to the ballpark, arguing with manager Don Mattingly, overthrowing cutoff men, striking out on three straight pitches. Both his flaws and his talents are the reasons that legendary Dodgers’ broadcaster Vin Scully has dubbed Puig “The Wild Horse.”


Now is the time for Puig to put it all together and be the MVP for one of the National League’s top contenders. There isn’t a single player in the NL that has all of the tools that Puig does, except for maybe Andrew McCutchen — maybe.


Puig dazzled us when he arrived to The Show in 2013. He instantly became a household name with his play and his antics, and we all welcomed it. But when the antics spilled over into his second season, baseball shook its collective head. While Puig still had an All-Star 2014 (.296/.382/.480, 37 doubles)  it didn’t quite live up to the promise we all saw in ‘13. Puig hit just five home runs in his final 100 games last season after hitting 11 in the first 48. He hit 14 round-trippers in 2013, even though he played in 44 fewer games (104) than he did in ’14 (148) and finished with the same number of stolen bases (11) too.


With the loss of the resurgent Matt Kemp to San Diego, the presence of an aging Carl Crawford in left field, and the insertion of rookie centerfielder Joc Pederson, it is now Puig’s time to be the leading man in Hollywood’s outfield. If the Dodgers have hopes of making it to the World Series in 2015, they will only go as far The Wild Horse takes them.


Are the new-look Padres for real?

I hope you didn’t hibernate this winter, because if you did you won’t recognize the San Diego Padres. New general manager A.J. Preller turned the heat up on the hot stove by making several trades to improve one of baseball’s weakest offenses in an attempt to halt a postseason drought that has lasted almost a decade. Preller made moves that brought in Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks. Kemp, Upton and Norris have been All-Stars, while Myers and Middlebrooks were once considered among the top prospects in the game.


While a lot has been about those moves, much depends on the health of those players acquired. Upton is the closest to a sure thing out of the new guys after he hit .270/.342/.491 in 2014 with 29 homers, 34 doubles and 102 RBIs. Kemp had a great bounce back in the second half last season after what seemed like an eternity jumping on and off the disabled list. While Kemp may never reach the his near-MVP numbers from 2011, he has proven that he can still be very productive on a daily lineup card.


Middlebrooks and Myers both took turns for the worse in 2014. Middlebrooks hit just .191 in 63 games with the Red Sox, a far cry from the .288 average and 15 homers he posted in his rookie campaign in 2012. Myers missed most of his sophomore season thanks to a broken wrist. When Myers was healthy, he wasn’t the same player that won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2013, hitting just .222/.294/.320 in half a season’s work.


Norris was one of seven A’s All-Stars in 2014, hitting .270/.361/.403 with 10 homers and 55 RBIs as a catcher. Norris is only 26 and has improved noticeably in each of his three seasons. 


With a rotation that features free-agent acquisition James Shields, a promising Andrew Cashner and first-time All-Star Tyson Ross, along with a bullpen that compiled the second-best ERA in 2014, the Padres have a very realistic chance at making some noise on the West Coast this summer. 


- By Jake Rose

NL West's Top Storylines to Watch in 2015
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-17-2015

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 17: 


The 68 cheerleading squads of March Madness 2015.


This dunk over assorted home appliances is pretty amazing.


Notable St. Patrick's Day moments in sports history. And here are things you think are Irish, but aren't.


• Possible game-changer: Chris Borland walks away from football at age 24 over health concerns. His fellow NFLers were quick to react.


Tommy Lasorda's dance moves will haunt your dreams.


Ashley Judd got defensive over her and Dickie V's public displays of affection.


Rory replaces Tiger as the cover boy for EA Sports golf.


Fun with the Tim Tebow Eagles tryout.


Evander Holyfield is going to rearrange Mitt Romney's handsome face for charity.


• Colin Kaepernick showed off his uncommon athleticism.


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

Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 11:03
Path: /college-football/pac-12-football-2015-schedule-analysis

Never before has scheduling been a bigger issue than the 2014 College Football Playoff.


The committee clearly took a stance on Baylor’s weak non-conference matchups and it cost the Bears a chance at the national championship. That shouldn’t ever be the issue in the Pac-12 — also known as college football's second-best league.


Most will point to the depth of the South Division and how five different teams could be picked to win it. But the North continues to win league championships and compete for national titles.


Scheduling is a huge part of Athlon Sports’ process of making predictions. Here is what you need to know about the Pac-12's football schedules in 2015.


North’s Best Game: Oregon at Stanford (Nov. 14)

Stanford had pushed the Ducks around en route to Pac-12 championships prior to last year’s drubbing in Autzen Stadium. Oregon made a statement in this game last year and these two programs will likely enter the summer as the two front-runners in the North once again.


South’s Best Game: USC at Arizona State (Nov. 14)

The South’s round-robin format features several great matchups but these two programs could be the top two front-runners in the South entering the season. Who could forget how this one ended last season?


Best crossover: USC at Oregon (Nov. 21)

When it comes to brand equity and national intrigue, it’s hard to argue against the Trojans-Ducks matchup in late November. A playoff berth and spot in the Pac-12 title game could be on the line for both programs.


Other crossovers to watch:

Oregon’s visit to Tempe to battle Arizona State might be as important as the Trojans-Ducks meeting and it could be tougher since it comes on the road. Stanford also plays USC (road), UCLA (home) and Arizona (home) in great crossover action as well. 


North’s Toughest Schedule: Cal

There is no easy schedule in the North but Cal is probably the most unlucky team in the division. Road trips for the season include games at Texas, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Utah and Washington with USC and Arizona State at home. Washington also has a tough run starting Week 6: at USC, Oregon, at Stanford, Arizona, Utah, at Arizona State.


North’s Easiest Schedule: None (Oregon State)

I tried hard to find one schedule that stands out as “easiest” but they are all hard. Stanford has three nasty non-conference games, travels to Eugene and plays USC, UCLA and Arizona from the South. Oregon plays road games at Michigan State, Arizona State, Stanford and Washington as well as home tilts with USC and Utah. Oregon State wins the award by default because the Beavers miss both Arizona State and USC in crossover and get Stanford, Washington and UCLA at home. A non-con trip to Michigan still keeps this slate from being far from "easy" however.


South’s Toughest Schedule: USC

Arizona State and USC have the two toughest slates in the South division but the Men of Troy get the nod here. The Trojans have to face Notre Dame on the road in non-conference action as well as the projected top four teams in the North: Oregon (road), Stanford (home), Washington (home) and Cal (road).


South’s Easiest Schedule: Arizona

First of all, there is no easy schedule in the South. Five teams could win the division so crossover play and non-conference games are the deciding factors. UCLA and Arizona have the two easiest slates because both avoid Oregon from the North, but Zona gets the nod due to a non-conference slate that should provide three easy wins.


Top 10 Non-conference games:


1.Sept. 12
2.Oct. 17
3.Sept. 5*
4.Nov. 28
5.Sept. 4
6.Sept. 12
7.Sept. 26
8.Sept. 19
9.Sept. 19
10.Sept. 5

* - neutral site

2015 Pac-12 Football Schedule Analysis
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: San Francisco 49ers, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/chris-borland-retires-doesnt-spell-doom-nfl

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland shocked the NFL world by retiring after a stellar rookie season at age 24.


It’s an important, courageous decision not made lightly by a player who is thinking well beyond his playing years.


He isn’t the first player to step away from the game early and he won’t be the last. Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and Robert Smith were superstar running backs, made plenty of money and decided to walk away in the prime of their careers.


Borland's not even the first to do so this offseason, as Patrick Willis (30), Maurice Jones-Drew (29), Jake Locker (26) and Jason Worilds (27) have each retired with plenty of gas left in the tank.


You can think it’s stupid for a rising star who hasn’t made his big paycheck yet — Borland made just under $600,000 in 2014 — to retire from a dream career basked in the glory of the NFL spotlight.


The game is more violent than ever. The players are bigger and faster than ever. But no one has the right to tell anyone else what to do in this situation. The key is informed decision-making.


It’s no different than smoking cigarettes or eating Big Macs everyday. They will both kill you eventually, but this is America and if you want to live off special sauce and nicotine, you are allowed to.


Just as long as you know what’s happening.


If an athlete wants to make millions of dollars playing a sport knowing full well what the risks are who are we to tell them what to do?


"I think when you sign up for this job, you know what you're getting into,” said Lions offensive lineman Dominic Raiola during the NFL’s concussion lawsuit two years ago.


Raiola is making an informed decision and it’s his to make. Just like Borland, Locker, Willis or any parent who is faced with the choice to allow their child to play football.


Is this a concerning trend for the sport? Not according to the bank accounts. The TV ratings are through the roof, the Super Bowl is more popular than ever and the league is printing money with the biggest partnership contracts any sport has ever seen.


The game isn’t going anywhere, and as long as we are all informed, we should be allowed to make whatever decisions we want. Whether we are an All-Pro linebacker who decides to retire at 24 or a concerned parent.

Chris Borland Retires at 24, Doesn't Spell Doom for NFL
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 10:36
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/25-best-baseball-players-25-and-under-2015

Is MLB becoming a young man’s game? There’s certainly no lack of young, impact talent on major-league rosters. Look no further than the fact that the reigning AL MVP, last season’s World Series MVP, the majors’ top home run hitter and batting champion all fall into the 25 years old or younger crowd.


So who is the best of the best of baseball’s youngest superstars? Here is one fan’s list of the 25 best baseball players who are 25 years or younger as of Opening Day (April 6).


1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

Not only is Trout the best player 25 years or younger, he’s the best player period. The 2012 AL Rookie of the Year and reigning AL MVP, Trout has slashed a ridiculous .311/.403/.963 in his first three full seasons, while averaging 31 home runs, 97 RBIs, 118 runs scored and 33 stolen bases. If that’s not enough, consider this: even though Trout was the MVP last season, he posted better overall numbers in each of his first two campaigns.


2. Madison Bumgarner, P, San Francisco Giants

The 25-year-old lefty won’t be on this list next season, but that matters little after his postseason performance for the ages. Bumgarner put the Giants on his back and carried them to their third World Series title in five years by simply dominating the Pirates, Cardinals and Royals. The NLCS and World Series MVP, Bumgarner went 4-1 in the postseason with a mind-blowing 0.99 ERA in six starts (52 2/3 IP). He’s been pretty good in the regular season too, going 67-49 with a 3.06 ERA in 148 career starts.


3. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins

The Marlins’ $325 million man led the NL with 37 home runs last season, proof of the damage Stanton can do when he’s able to stay in the lineup. Now signed through 2027 (can opt out after 2020), Miami has its cornerstone to build around, a 25-year-old slugger who isn’t afraid to take a walk and is averaging one home run every 14.9 at-bats in his career.


4. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves

The Braves have made wholesale changes in their lineup, but Freeman isn’t going anywhere. Freeman played in all 162 games last season, making his second straight All-Star team while posting respectable numbers (.288-18-78) at the plate and playing his usual solid defense at first. Atlanta has plenty of question marks entering this season, but Freeman is the least of the Braves’ worries.


5. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros

The diminutive (5-6), Altuve swung a big bat in 2014, leading the majors in batting average (.341) and hits (225), while pacing the AL in stolen bases (56). The All-Star second baseman racked up 47 doubles and struck out just 53 times in 660 at-bats. Don’t let his stature fool you – Altuve is a big-time player and one of the reasons to be excited about the Astros’ future.


6. Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington Nationals

The sixth pick of the 2011 draft broke out in a big way last season, as Rendon led the NL with 111 runs scored and pounded out 66 extra-base hits on his way to finishing fifth in the MVP voting. Rendon’s emergence forced All-Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman across the diamond to first, which is what happens when you flash 20/20 potential at the plate and a sufficient enough glove at the hot corner on the big-league level.


7. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs

After scuffling somewhat in 2013, Rizzo put it all together last season, finishing second in the NL in home runs to Giancarlo Stanton with 32. A left-handed hitter with a pretty good eye at the plate (73 BB, 116 SO), Rizzo made the leap thanks to much more success against southpaws (.300 vs. LHP in 2014, .189 in ’13). With a better supporting cast around him, can Rizzo take the next step and become a MVP contender in 2015? He finished 10th last season.


8. Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

Puig may give his manager a headache, rub his teammates the wrong way at times and seemingly have no clue what’s going on around him, but you can’t deny his five-tool potential. An All-Star in 2014 who got some MVP votes, Puig has batted .305 in his first two full MLB seasons while showing flashes of both his power (35 HR) and speed (22), not to mention some pretty nifty glove work and a rifle for an arm out in right field. If he’s able to put it all together and stay focused for an entire season, watch out.


9. Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals

Other than Mike Trout, it’s entirely possible that Harper ends up eclipsing everyone ahead of him on this list. That’s how much talent and upside Harper, who is still only 22 years old, possesses. Already a two-time All-Star, Harper just needs to find a way to harness his all-out motor so that he can stay on the field for a full season. Once he does that, the numbers should start to pile up.


10. Jason Heyward, OF, St. Louis Cardinals

Believe it or not, but Heyward just turned 25 this past August. Entering his sixth season in the majors, Heyward is making his St. Louis debut following his trade from Atlanta. A two-time Gold Glove recipient, Heyward provides plenty of value with his defense alone, but he’s also swatted 27 home runs in a season (2012), while stealing 20 or more bases twice (2012, ’14). A more than capable leadoff hitter (.351 OBP in 2014), it will be interesting to see if Heyward blossoms as a complementary piece in a much-deeper and more dangerous Cardinals lineup.


11. Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs

After a disappointing, some would even say discouraging, 2013, Castro bounced back in a big way, hitting .292 with 14 home runs and making his third All-Star team. With more lineup support and manager Joe Maddon now in charge, Castro could put together the best statistical season in his young career. Don’t forget he already has 846 career hits even though he turns 25 two weeks before the season starts.


12. Jose Fernandez, P, Miami Marlins

If not for last season’s Tommy John surgery, Fernandez would be higher on this list. The 2013 NL Rookie of the Year, Fernandez may not make his season debut until the summer, but it shouldn’t be too long before he’s dominating opposing hitters once again.


13. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies

A two-time Gold Glove recipient, Arenado hit .287 with 18 home runs in 111 games last season. With half of his games at hitter-friendly Coors Field, health appears to be the only obstacle in Arenado’s way of establishing himself as one of the NL’s top third basemen.


14. Matt Harvey, P, New York Mets

Another Tommy John patient, Harvey has the advantage over Jose Fernandez in that he will be back on the mound sooner. That’s good news for the Mets, considering the last time Harvey did toe the rubber he was making opposing hitters look downright silly (135 H, 191 K in 178 1/3 IP in 2013).


15. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves

One of, if not the best, defensive players in baseball regardless of position, Simmons’ glove at shortstop is irreplaceable. Anything he provides at the plate is a bonus; although the Braves do hope Simmons can rediscover his 2013 form (.248-15-59) after hitting just .244 with only seven home runs last season.


16. Manny Machado, 3B/SS, Baltimore Orioles

After bursting on the scene in 2013, Machado has been slowed by injuries. Limited to just 82 games last season, the Orioles hope Machado’s health issues are behind him. Because when he’s in the lineup, Machado is a Gold Glove defender at third and a potent (.283-14-71 in 2013) threat at the plate.


17. Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals

A workhorse backstop (146 G caught in 2014), Perez is a two-time All-Star because he’s just as productive with the bat. A .275 hitter over the past two seasons, Perez was a big part of the Royals’ World Series run in 2014.


18. Julio Teheran, P, Atlanta Braves

After a solid rookie season in 2013, Teheran took the next step and established himself as the Braves’ ace in ’14. While the record (14-13) wasn’t overly impressive, Teheran posted a 2.89 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 33 starts and was named to his first All-Star team.


19. Sonny Gray, P, Oakland A’s

The A’s traded away or bid farewell to several members of last season’s rotation, but Gray remains. The unquestioned ace of the rebuilt staff, Gray won 14 games in 2014 while posting a 3.08 ERA and recording two complete game shutouts in 33 starts.


20. Yordano Ventura, P, Kansas City Royals

The 23-year-old flamethrower went 1-0 with a 1.46 ERA in two World Series starts against the Giants. The Royals hope 2015 is the year Ventura establishes himself not only as one of the top strikeout arms in the AL, but also as a legitimate front-of-the-rotation starter.


21. George Springer, OF, Houston Astros

From a power-speed standpoint the only ones on the same level as Springer are Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, and Harper may even be a stretch. In just 78 games in his MLB debut, Springer cranked out 20 home runs before injuries got in the way. He stole only five bases, but the 30/30 potential is clearly there and take the over on the home runs if he cuts down on the strikeouts (114 in 295 AB).


22. Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins

Nowhere near the power hitter like his teammate Giancarlo Stanton, Yelich still has a knack for getting on base (.362 OBP), scoring runs (94) and can steal his share of bags (21 SB). A Gold Glove left fielder, Yelich, Stanton and Marcell Ozuna form one of the youngest and most talented outfield trios in the majors.


23. Gerrit Cole, P, Pittsburgh Pirates

The potential is clearly there for the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft, but Cole just hasn’t put it all together for a full season. Injuries and other issues have limited him to just 41 starts in two seasons, in which he’s gone 21-12 with a 3.45 ERA and 238 strikeouts in 255 1/3 innings.


24. Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds

A menace on the base paths (56 SB), Hamilton got off to a blistering start last season before struggling through a second-half slump. His speed atop the Reds’ lineup cannot be underestimated, especially if he works on his plate discipline (34 BB, 117 SO), gets on base more (.292 OBP) and picks his spots to run a little more carefully (23 CS).


25. Corey Dickerson, OF, Colorado Rockies

Seemingly a man without a position entering last season, injuries presented Dickerson with an opportunity to play everyday. And the 25-year-old took full advantage, batting .312 with 24 home runs, 27 doubles, 76 RBIs and 74 runs scored. Even bigger numbers are not out of the question if Dickerson can improve against lefties (.253-3-14) and away from hitter-friendly Coors Field (.252-9-23).


Next 10

(alphabetical order)

Mookie Betts, 2B/OF, Boston Red Sox

Xander Bogaerts, SS/3B, Boston Red Sox

Shelby Miller, P, Atlanta Braves

Jake Odorizzi, P, Tampa Bay Rays

Marcell Ozuna, Miami Marlins

Wily Peralta, P, Milwaukee Brewers

Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

Trevor Rosenthal, P, St. Louis Cardinals

Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals

Alex Wood, P, Atlanta Braves


Others to Watch in 2015 

(alphabetical order)

Arismendy Alcantara, 2B/SS/OF, Chicago Cubs

Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Minnesota Twins

Javier Baez, 2B/SS, Chicago Cubs

Trevor Bauer, P, Cleveland Indians

Archie Bradley, P, Arizona Diamondbacks

Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs

Dylan Bundy, P, Baltimore Orioles

Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers

Avisail Garcia, OF, Chicago White Sox

Kevin Gausman, P, Baltimore Orioles

Scooter Gennett, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers

Ken Giles, P, Philadelphia Phillies

Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals

Brett Lawrie, 2B/3B, Oakland A’s

Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians

Matt Moore, P, Tampa Bay Rays

Wil Myers, OF, San Diego Padres

Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

Jose Peraza, 2B, Atlanta Braves

Carlos Rodon, P, Chicago White Sox

Addison Russell, SS, Chicago Cubs

Danny Salazar, P, Cleveland Indians

Danny Santana, SS/OF, Minnesota Twins

Aaron Sanchez, P, Toronto Blue Jays

Corey Seager, 3B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

Marcus Semien, 2B/3B/SS, Oakland A’s

Noah Syndergaard, P, New York Mets

Yasmany Tomas, 3B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

Taijuan Walker, P, Seattle Mariners

Zack Wheeler, P, New York Mets

Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners


NOTE: Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman would have been on this list, but he tore his ACL in spring training and is out for the season.

25 Best Baseball Players 25 and Under
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Patrick Reed, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-17-patrick-reed

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


No. 17: Patrick Reed


Born: Aug. 5, 1990, San Antonio, Texas | Career PGA Tour Wins: 4 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,026,076 (14th) World Ranking: 15


Brandel Chamblee's Take

Reed is someone his peers should pay attention to — not for any particular skill, but for the audacity with which he plays the game. In an era of over-coached talent, he wins because too many of those who would otherwise outshine him have had their genius coached out of them, and their timidity or confusion is no match for his belief in himself. It is this belief that we should admire above technical skill, but such is the aesthetic desire in all of us that we look for and seek the beautiful swings and overlook the sloppy ones like Patrick’s. He reminds me of a Lanny Wadkins or Hale Irwin or Hubert Green, all of whom had whirlybird easy-to-find-fault-with moves that were propped up by an inner arrogance that took them all to the Hall of Fame. Reed will keep winning, and too many of his peers will keep looking in the mirror.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 4
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T35
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T58

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - Cut (2014)
U.S. Open - T35 (2014)
British Open - Cut (2014)
PGA Championship - T58 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 0
Top-25 Finishes: 0
Missed Cuts: 2


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


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

Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 09:57
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/who-are-best-coaches-2015-ncaa-tournament

Just as a sprint is different from a marathon, winning in the NCAA Tournament is different from winning during the regular season.


Seeding, luck, clock management and style of play all seem to be magnified during March Madness. And all of it could be undone because of another team's 3-point shooter.


Granted, many of the best coaches in the game tend to win big in March just like they do in January and February. Some, though, have a knack for upsets or being upset.


As your filling out your brackets, perhaps this will be a useful tool in breaking down the coaches you might trust the most in this year’s field.


We’ve ranked all 68 coaches in the 2015 field based solely on their performance through the years in the NCAA Tournament. We looked at at wins, Final Fours and championships but also how often they performed against higher or lower seeds.


Mid-major coaches who tend to give higher seeds trouble in the Tournament were given credit. Power conference coaches who lost repeatedly in upsets were docked.


1. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke (82-26, 11 Final Fours, four national championships)

These are strange times for Duke. Two of the last three NCAA Tournament trips have ended in first-round losses to Mercer and Lehigh. Duke haters understand this: We can hold that against him and still think Coach K is the best Tournament coach out there. Krzyzewski has four more Final Four appearances than any other active coach (Rick Pitino and Roy Williams) and 19 more Tournament wins than any other active coach (Roy Williams). 


2. John Calipari, Kentucky (43-14, five Final Fours, one championship)

When was the last time time Calipari suffered a major upset in the NCAA Tournament? He had a seventh-seeded Memphis team that lost to a No. 10 seed Arizona State in 2003 and a No. 2-seeded UMass team that lost in the second round to No. 10 seed Maryland in 1994. That’s about it.


3. Tom Izzo, Michigan State (42-16, six Final Fours, one championship)

Izzo has taken Michigan State to the NCAA Tournament in 17 consecutive seasons entering this year, and he’s reached at least the Sweet 16 a dozen times in that span. The times that his teams have lost early, they’ve lost as a No. 10 seed twice, as a No. 9 and as a No. 7. The only time he’s been a part of a bona fide first-round upset was to the No. 11 seed George Mason team that reached the Final Four in 2006.


4. Rick Pitino, Louisville (50-17, seven Final Fours, two championships)

Last year’s loss to Kentucky was the first time Pitino had lost in the Sweet 16 in his career. He’s won national titles at two different schools and taken Providence to the Final Four. His second national title in 2013 is bookended by losses to Kentucky and Calipari in 2012 and 2014. 


5. Roy Williams, North Carolina (63-22, seven Final Fours, two championships)

Roy’s last two trips stalled in the round of 32, but those teams were seeded sixth and eighth. At Carolina, Williams is 3-0 in the Sweet 16 and 2-0 in the national title game. The last major upset for Williams was to 11th-seeded George Mason in 2006. 


6. Bill Self, Kansas (36-15, two Final Fours, one championship)

Since losing to Bucknell in 2005 and Bradley in 2006, Self is 23-7 in the Tournament, including the 2008 national title.


7. Steve Fisher, San Diego State (25-13, three Final Fours, one national championship)

Fisher started his career with a 6-0 run to the 1989 national title when he replaced Bill Frieder at Michigan. Fisher the coached the Fab Five in two Final Fours in 1993-94. More recently, Fisher has taken San Diego State to the Sweet 16 — as would be expected for teams seeded fourth (2014) and second (2011). Fisher was also on the losing end of the first No. 15 seed reaching the Sweet 16 when Florida Gulf Coast upset his seventh-seeded Aztecs in the second round in 2013.


8. Larry Brown, SMU (19-6, three Final Fours, one national title)

Brown is riding a six-game winning streak into this year’s NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, that streak started in 1988. 


9. Thad Matta, Ohio State (23-12, two Final Fours)

Outside of those two Final Fours, Matta has had a No. 1 seed stall in the Sweet 16 against Kentucky and a No. 2 seed stall in the Sweet 16 to Tennessee.


10. Sean Miller, Arizona (14-7)

Miller is 8-3 in the Tournament since arriving at Arizona. He’s reached the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight in each of his last five trips to the to the NCAA Tournament at Zona and Xavier. One oddity: He’s 0-2 against Thad Matta, coach of his potential second round opponent this season.


11. Shaka Smart, VCU (7-4, one Final Four)

Smart took VCU from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011, but the Rams are 2-3 in the Tourney since. VCU lost to 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin last season.


12. Bob Huggins, West Virginia (27-20, two Final Fours)

Huggins took West Virginia to the 2010 Final Four, upsetting No. 1 seed Kentucky along the way. From 1997-2002, Cincinnati was a top-three seed six teams and failed to reach the Sweet 16 five times during that span. Only one of those teams had an injured Kenyon Martin.


13. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin (20-13, one Final Four)

Wisconsin went to the Final Four last season, but before that Ryan-coached teams were eliminated by lower-seeded teams in three of their previous four Tournament appearances including by Ole Miss in 2013, Butler in 2011 and Cornell in 2010.


14. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State (6-10, one Final Four)

Losing to a No. 8 seed and a No. 12 seed in two of the last three trips, but those losses were to Kentucky and VCU. In between, Marshall took a ninth-seeded Wichita team to the Final Four before losing by 4 to eventual national champ Louisville.


15. Jay Wright, Villanova (13-11, one Final Four)

Wright’s first five trips to the Tourney with Villanova ended in the Final Four, an Elite Eight and two Sweet 16s. Nova hasn’t made it out of the first weekend since. The Wildcats twice lost as No. 2 seeds to No. 10s in the second round to 2014 UConn and 2010 Saint Mary’s.


16. Tony Bennett, Virginia (5-4)

Just watch: If Virginia doesn’t make it out of the first weekend, this will be the year detractors start to say he can’t win in the Tournament. It happened to Bo Ryan, and it will happen to Bennett. Taking Washington State and Virginia to the Sweet 16 is still awfully impressive.


17. Scott Drew, Baylor (8-4)

The last three NCAA trips, Baylor has gone to the Elite Eight twice and the Sweet 16 once. Of Baylor’s all-time NCAA Tournament wins only three of them don’t belong to Drew.


18. Mike Anderson, Arkansas (7-6)

Getting to the Tournament has been an issue for Anderson. Once there, his style works well. He led UAB to a Sweet 16 and Missouri to an Elite Eight.


19. Archie Miller, Dayton (3-1)

His first two NCAA Tournament games were upsets of No. 6 Ohio State, No. 3 Syracuse and No. 10 Stanford. His team was seeded 11th.


20. Bob McKillop, Davidson (3-7)

His three NCAA wins were during a Stephen Curry-led run to the Elite Eight in 2008, but ask Marquette, Louisville or Ohio State if they want to see a No. 13 or 14 seed Davidson in the first round.


21. Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa (2-2)

His four NCAA Tournament games have been decided by an average of 4.25 points per game. Both of Jacobson’s wins were in a trip to the 2010 Sweet 16, including an upset of No. 1 seed Kansas.


22. Rick Barnes, Texas (21-21, one Final Four)

Barnes hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2008, but it’s not because his team is losing in egregious upsets. The problem has been Texas teams being seeded 11th (2015), seventh (2014), 11th (2012), eighth (2010) and seventh (2009).


23. Tom Crean, Indiana (9-7, one Final Four)

Crean’s non-Dwyane Wade teams are 5-6 in the Tourney, including a No. 1 seeded Indiana that lost in the Sweet 16.


24. Steve Lavin, St. John’s (11-7)

Lavin reached the Elite Eight once and Sweet 16 four times at UCLA. In the middle of all that the Bruins also lost to Detroit in a 12-5 upset. In Lavin’s only NCAA appearance since 2002, St. John’s lost to No. 11 seed Gonzaga in the first round.


25. Dana Altman, Oregon (5-10)

The ledger has five first-round exits, but one trip to the Sweet 16 with Oregon and a 12-5 upset of Florida while at Creighton.


26. Matt Painter, Purdue (8-7)

Painter has never really had a full deck in the NCAA Tournament at Purdue, leading to two Sweet 16 appearances in six trips. Purdue has been eliminated by a No. 1 seed three times under Painter.


27. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma (14-15, one Final Four)

Kruger is a standout coach during the regular season, but the Tournament is a different story. He’s riding a four-game NCAA losing streak, including last year’s exit against No. 10 seed North Dakota State. He’s been to the Sweet 16 just once since taking Florida to the Final Four in 1994.


28. Mark Gottfried, NC State (8-10)

Gottfried’s best Tournament runs haven’t been cheap. His 2012 NC State team upset No. 6 seed San Diego State and No. 3 seed Georgetown on the way to the Sweet 16. His 2005 Alabama team upset No. 1 Stanford and No. 5 Syracuse on the way to the Elite Eight. He also had a second-seeded Alabama team lose to No. 10 seed Kent State in 2002.


29. Chris Mack, Xavier (4-4)

He’s not Sean Miller or Thad Matta, his predecessors at Xavier, but Mack took a No. 10 seed to the Sweet 16 in 2012 (with an assist from No. 15 Lehigh upsetting Duke) and upset a No. 3 seed Pittsburgh in 2010.


30. Tommy Amaker, Harvard (4-4)

Amaker took 10th-seeded Seton Hall to the Sweet 16 and scored an out-of-nowhere upset of third-seeded New Mexico in 2013.


31. Mark Turgeon, Maryland (5-5)

Turgeon took Wichita State to the 2011 Sweet 16 where the Shockers were bounced by George Mason. He went 3-4 in the Tourney at Texas A&M.


32. Fran McCaffery, Iowa (2-6)

McCaffery’s two Tournament wins are first-round upsets over No. 8 Ohio State in 2009 and No. 4 Vanderbilt in 2008 while he was the coach at Siena.


33. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State (4-3)

Hoiberg’s biggest NCAA win was as a No. 7 seed over a No. 10 Notre Dame in 2013. Otherwise, Iowa State has lost to two eventual national champions (2014 UConn and 2012 Kentucky).


34. Mike Brey, Notre Dame (6-11)

Brey hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2003. His teams have been bounced by double-digit seeds in five of his last six trips, including 2010 Old Dominion and 2007 Winthrop, the latter coached by Gregg Marshall.


35. Cliff Ellis, Coastal Carolina (8-9)

Ellis has taken South Alabama, Clemson, Auburn and Coastal Carolina to the Tourney and reached the Sweet 16 three times. One of those teams was a No. 1 seed upset by Ohio State in the regional semifinal.


36. John Thompson III, Georgetown (8-9, one final Four)

Thompson went to the Sweet 16 and the Final Four in his first two NCAA appearances at Georgetown. Since then, he’s gone 2-5 with all five losses coming to double-digit teams. That record is egregious, but in context, there’s a bit of bad luck at play. Those losses have included Florida Gulf Coast, which also beat San Diego State that year, a Final Four-bound VCU, and a Stephen Curry-led Davidson. 


37. Mark Few, Gonzaga (15-16)

Detractors will get on Few for never reaching the Final Four, but six of his last eight teams have been seeded seventh or lower. It’s not his fault you’re picking a bad bracket. That said, he had a No. 1 seed that failed to get out of the first weekend against Wichita State in 2013, a No. 3 seed that lost to a sixth-seeded Texas Tech team in 2005 and a No. 2 seed that lost to a 10th-seeded Nevada in 2004.


38. Mike Davis, Texas Southern (7-6, one Final Four)

Davis has a career in reverse. He took Indiana to the national title game in 2002 and then lost a play-in game at UAB for a No. 12 seed and a second play-in game with Texas Southern for a No. 16 seed.


39. Steve Alford, UCLA (7-8)

Last year’s trip to the Sweet 16 was Alford’s first since 1999 at Missouri State. The Bruins defeated two double-digit seeds to get there, which is only important because three of Alford’s previous four NCAA losses were to double-digit seeds.


40. Dave Rose, BYU (4-7)

Rose took BYU to the Sweet 16 in 2011, but he’s also 0-3 as a No. 8 seed and 0-1 in Dayton for the First Four.


41. Larry Krystkowiak, Utah (1-2)

In two appearances at Montana, he led a 12-5 upset of Nevada in 2006 and lost by 11 to No. 1 seed Wisconsin by 11 in 2005.


42. Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin (2-1)

In one NCAA appearance, Underwood led 12th-seeded SFA to a 77-75 upset of VCU before a loss to UCLA in the second round.


43. Mark Fox, Georgia (2-4)

Both of Fox’s NCAA wins were in his first three seasons at Nevada in 2005 and 2007. The best team of his career — No. 5 seed Nevada in 2006 — lost to 12th-seeded Montana, a team led by current Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak.


44. Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss (1-1)

In his lone NCAA appearance, the Rebels and Marshall Henderson upset No. 5 Wisconsin and lost to No. 13 La Salle.


45. Rick Byrd, Belmont (0-6)

The closest Byrd came to his first NCAA Tournament win was as a No. 15 seed in a 71-70 loss to Duke in 2008.


46. Mike Young, Wofford (0-3)

All three appearances have been at Wofford, including a mere four-point loss to a fourth-seeded Wisconsin team in 2010. With Wofford’s slow pace, he’ll get an upset one of these days.


47. Ed Cooley, Providence (0-1)

His lone Tourney appearance was a two-point loss to No. 6 seed North Carolina last season.


48. Steve Masiello, Manhattan (0-1)

The Jaspers gave Louisville all it could handle last season. Was that a case of knowing the Rick Pitino system inside and out?


49. Travis Ford, Oklahoma State (1-5)

Ford’s lone Tourney win was in an 8-9 game against Tennessee. Ford has lost twice to double-digit seeds.


50. Marvin Menzies, New Mexico State (0-4)

Menzies has been to the NCAA Tournament five times and has won the WAC regular season only twice. That math has to count for something.


51. Will Brown, Albany (1-4)

The lone win was in last season's play-in game for a No. 16 seed over Mount St. Mary’s


52. Leon Rice, Boise State (0-1)

Rice is making his second appearance in a play-in game after losing to Sweet 16-bound La Salle in 2013.


53. Johnny Jones, LSU (0-2)


54. Bryce Drew, Valparaiso (0-1)


55. Ron Hunter, Georgia State (0-1)


56. Edward Joyner, Hampton (0-1)


57. Fran O’Hanlon, Lafayette (0-2)


58. Larry Shyatt, Wyoming (first appearance)


59. Bobby Hurley, Buffalo (first appearance)


60. Chris Holtmann, Butler (first appearance)


61. Andy Toole, Robert Morris (first appearance)


62. Jim Hayford, Eastern Washington (first appearance)


63. Ross Turner, UC Irvine (first appearance)


64. Larry Davis, Cincinnati (first appearance)


65. David Richman, North Dakota State (first appearance)


66. Bill Coen, Northeastern (first appearance)


67. Matthew Driscoll, North Florida (first appearance)


68. Jerod Haase, UAB (first appearance)

Who are the Best Coaches in the 2015 NCAA Tournament?
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/must-follow-twitter-accounts-each-68-ncaa-tournament-teams-2015

First, our sincere condolences for anyone who isn’t able to sneak away from work on Thursday or Friday to take in one of the greatest days in the sports calendar.

With 16 games, 32 teams to follow in one day is tough enough with multiple screens but perhaps impossible with the boss looking over your shoulder.

Athlon Sports will do what it can to help you follow each team in the field with these Twitter accounts for every team in the NCAA Tournament.

For a bird’s-eye view, we’ve also included 16 must-follow national accounts to aid your viewing experience.

And of course, even if you did call in sick, we’d urge you follow these accounts for insight on every team.


The Sweet 16


@MarchMadnessTV: CBS’ official account with video of every key play
@SethDavisHoops: CBS, “Sharpie” czar
@GoodmanESPN: Jeff Goodman, ESPN
@GaryParrishCBS: Gary Parrish,
@RobDauster: Rob Dauster,
@MattNorlander: Matt Norlander,
@NicoleAuerbach: Nicole Auerbach, USA Today
@KenPomeroy: Ken Pomeroy,
@JayBilas: Jay Bilas, ESPN
@ClarkKelloggCBS Clark Kellogg, CBS
@bubbaprog: Tim Burke, Deadspin, GIFs and screen grabs
@BrianHamiltonSI: Brian Hamilton,
@FranFraschilla: Fran Fraschilla, ESPN
@JasonKingBR: Jason King, Bleacher Report
@ESPNDanaOneil: Dana O’Neil,, memes and such



1. Kentucky: @KyleTucker_CJ, Kyle Tucker, Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal

16. Hampton: @Hampton_MBB

16. Manhattan: @nybuckets, John Templon,

1. Villanova: @Brian_Ewart,

16. Lafayette: @LafayetteHoops

8. Cincinnati: @bkoch, Bill Koch,

9. Purdue: @jppalmCBS, Jerry Palm,

8. NC State: @RyanTice, Ryan Tice, The Wolfpacker

9. LSU: @RandyRosetta,

5. West Virginia: @Blue_GoldSports,

12. Buffalo: @BobbyHurley11, Bobby Hurley, coach

5. Northern Iowa: @CarsonTigges, Waterloo-Cedar Falls (Iowa) Courier

12. Wyoming: @rpgagliardi, Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle

4. Maryland: @TerrapinNation, Scott Greene,

13. Valparaiso: @NWIOren, Paul Oren, Northwest Indiana Times

4. Louisville: @MarkEnnis, Mark Ennis,

13. UC Irvine: @mamadoundiaye14, Mamadou Ndiaye, college basketball's tallest player

6. Butler: @ButlerBlue3, Butler's canine mascot

11. Texas: @kbohls, Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman

6. Providence: @friarblog,

11. Boise State: @IDS_Southorn, Dave Southorn, Idaho Statesman

11. Dayton: @KevinKuwik, Dayton assistant

3. Notre Dame: @PeteSampson_, Pete Sampson, Irish Illustrated

14. Northeastern: @GoNUathletics

3. Oklahoma: @ryaber, Ryan Aber, The Oklahoman

14. Albany: @PeterHooley12, Albany guard

7. Wichita State: @GoShockers

10. Indiana: @insidethehall, Alex Bozich, Inside the Hall co-founder and editor

7. Michigan State: @joerexrode, Joe Rexrode, Lansing (Mich.) State Journal

10. Georgia: @ChipTowersAJC, Chip Towers, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

2. Kansas: @mellinger, Sam Mellinger, Kansas City Star

15. New Mexico State: @mrudi19, Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun News

2. Virginia: @WhiteysWorld365, Whitelaw Reid, Charlottesville (Va.) Daily Progress

15. Belmont: @BelmontMBB


1. Wisconsin: @FSKPart3, Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin center

16. Coastal Carolina: @GoCCUSports

1. Duke: @LauraKeeley, Laura Keeley, Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer

16. North Florida: @OspreyMBB

16. Robert Morris: @BCT_AChiapazzi, Beaver (Pa.) County Times

8. Oregon: @TheOregonDuck, mascot

9. Oklahoma State: @jjhelsley, John Helsley, The Oklahoman

8. San Diego State: @sdutzeigler, Mark Zeigler, San Diego Union Tribune

9. St. John's: @SJUCoachLavin, Steve Lavin, coach

5. Arkansas: @BobHoltADG, Bob Holt, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

12. Wofford: @WoffordMBB

5. Utah: @tribkurt, Kurt Kragthorpe, Salt Lake Tribune

12. Stephen F. Austin: @CoachBradSFA, Brad Underwood, head coach

4. North Carolina: @_andrewcarter, Andrew Carter, Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer

13. Harvard: @THCSports, The Harvard Crimson

4. Georgetown: @CasualHoya, SB Nation

13. Eastern Washington: @EWUAthletics

6. Xavier: @CoachChrisMack, Chris Mack, coach

11. BYU: @drewjay, Jay Drew, Salt Lake Tribune

11. Ole Miss: @NativeFlash22, Marshall Henderson, former player

6. SMU: @BillNicholsDMN, Bill Nichols, Dallas Morning News

11. UCLA: @DufresneLATimes, Chris Dufresne, Los Angeles Times

3. Baylor: @OurDailyBears, SB Nation

14. Georgia State: @GaStCoachPardue, Claude Purdue, assistant coach

3. Iowa State: @TravisHines21, Travis Hines, Ames (Iowa) Daily Tribune


7. VCU: @timpearrelltd, Tim Pearrell, Richmond (Va.) Times Dispatch

10. Ohio State: @clubtrillion, Mark Titus, former Ohio State walk on

7. Iowa: @PatHarty, Pat Harty, Iowa Press Citizen

10. Davidson: @StephenCurry30, Stephen Curry, former player

2. Arizona: @ghansen711, Greg Hansen, Arizona Daily Star

15. Texas Southern: @TSUMBB

2. Gonzaga: @SRJimm, Jim Meehan, Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman Review

15. North Dakota State: @NDSUmbb


Must-Follow Twitter Accounts for Each of the 68 NCAA Tournament Teams in 2015
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/kevin-harvick-makes-it-two-wins-row-continuing-dominance-phoenix

Kevin Harvick dominated the race at Phoenix, leading 224 of 312 laps while dealing with perhaps one minor challenge (Jamie McMurray) en route to the checkered flag. That, in itself was expected as Harvick has now won four races in a row out in the desert, a record for the one-mile facility. It’s hard to be a groundbreaking story when everyone expects you to win.


Instead, we leave Phoenix focused on a bit of closure to one of the sport’s big stories to start the year: Kurt Busch. Busch, who was fifth in his return to the sport Sunday, was reinstated one week after he was cleared of criminal charges in a domestic violence case. While a Delaware County Commissioner has still issued a protective order against Busch, keeping him away from ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll, prosecutors felt there was not enough evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” to press forward with the more serious charges.


Immediately, the reinstatement put Busch on the offensive, looking to put his final stamp on the conflict through an interview with FOX Sports. “Domestic abuse is a serious issue,” he said. “The worst problem with that is when you’re falsely accused of it.”


Busch, who remains Chase eligible after NASCAR granted a waiver forgiving his suspension that kept him out of the first three races, was then asked if he’s made any mistakes along the way.


“Not changing the code on my motorhome door,” he said, referencing that September night in which Driscoll claimed he banged her head against the wall multiple times. “And frankly, choosing the wrong woman to date. It’s been... not just a tough five months but a tough three-and-a-half years.”


With the issues surrounding the case national news, it kept Harvick’s win off the front pages. Much was made of that distraction, as those within the sport seem to be breathing a sigh of relief that now we can focus on the racing at hand. But honestly? I take a different approach. The Busch case kept eyes on the sport during a three-week stretch where there hasn’t been much competition. Harvick, and Jimmie Johnson have combined to dominate Atlanta, Vegas, and Phoenix.


The new rules package, still a work in progress has been enough of a disappointment NASCAR is rushing their 2016 changes to be tested under race settings as soon as Charlotte’s All-Star Weekend in May. The lone rookie candidate, Jeb Burton, has yet to finish within striking distance of the lead lap and the current Chase field is littered with familiar faces.


Other years, that would have left half the fan base falling asleep. Instead, the Busch brothers’ saga (Kyle Busch was injured at Daytona) has kept some interest aflame and extra eyes on the sport regardless of the actual racing. Now, we head to Fontana this weekend, a place that’s produced plenty of passing in recent years and one of the circuit’s best intermediates. It’s the right time for the cameras to turn back to on-track action, leaving the Busch case behind at perhaps the best possible time.


Time to close the book and go Through The Gears...


FIRST GEAR: Harvick Heads Toward Record Territory


In this case, the numbers alone really do tell the story. Harvick has four top-2 finishes to start the season, a record last matched by Richard Petty in 1974. Dating back to 2014, Phoenix was his seventh straight top-2 result, a victory that locks in a Chase bid and keeps him on top of the point standings by 22 over his nearest challenger. The rest of Stewart-Haas Racing may be a step behind, but so is the field.


“I think at this point, everybody just expects you to keep winning,” Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers said Sunday. “That's what makes it hard on all of us.  Yeah, I feel like we've got a team that can do that.  We have a driver that can do that.  We have the resources to do that.”


They also have the next 22 races to do that with minimal repercussions. Staying inside the top 30 in points, as long as Harvick attempts to qualify every week is a certainty; it would take a catastrophic series of DNFs to strip momentum from the program. From this point on, Harvick can take on a more aggressive attitude each week, a “wreckers or checkers” attitude that could lead to a large number of race wins. After all, who cares if you’re leading the points in September with the new Chase format? All that matters is that you’re prepared to go through it.


SECOND GEAR: Newman Makes His Move


While the Richard Childress Racing satellite teams have been solid, placing two cars within the top 5 in points (Martin Truex, Jr. and AJ Allmendinger) the main ones have been a step behind. However, Phoenix is one of the best tracks for Ryan Newman, last year’s championship runner-up, and he led the way Sunday for this group. Posting a third-place finish while getting better throughout the entire race, he’s now got two straight top-5 finishes to jump up to eighth in the standings.


“We’re knocking on the door,” he said after the race. “That’s two Top 3s in a row. But it was a good points day. We’re four races in and we’ve got two Top 5s. It took us until June last year to get our first one. We’ll keep digging.”


Newman now has a 7.0 average finish at this track since joining RCR in 2014. Just as pertinent were the performance of his teammates, Paul Menard and Austin Dillon who ran inside the top 15 after rollercoaster starts to the season. After relying on consistency to make the Chase last year, could this organization collect some wins this season instead?


THIRD GEAR: Wrecks, Wrecks and More Wrecks


A variety of right-rear tire failures combined with some weird situations on Sunday led to seven wrecks, a season high. One of the more bizarre incidents included a hard crash on Lap 1 by Brian Vickers, whose spotter appeared to misjudge Johnson behind him. He wound up behind the wall, later joined by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart as the outside wall of PIR got an uncharacteristic amount of work.


“You can’t wear out the tire,” said Earnhardt, who refused to blame Goodyear for the blown right rear that caused his problems. “You have to get your car handling better.”


Vickers and Stewart were the big losers on the day, both of whom are sitting a whopping 69 points behind Greg Biffle for the last spot in the Chase. It’s becoming clear quickly either one will have to win a race in order to stand a chance of making the postseason field.


FOURTH GEAR: New Asphalt, Old Problem?


Phoenix, the shortest track NASCAR’s raced on to date has spent the last three-plus years trying to wear down new pavement. While Harvick likes it, taking the track by storm, side-by-side battles have yet to improve. We’ve seen a lot of single-file, parade-style spreading of the field after restarts and no more than 25 lead changes in any race since the repave. (Sunday’s race had just eight). Compare that to the Feb. 2011 race before the new pavement, won by Jeff Gordon with 28 switches up front.


Most of the comments after the race focused on track position. It’s becoming one of the most negative words you can hear in this sport; if you need it, then you know you can’t pass and that’s a problem.




Kasey Kahne scored a fourth-place finish in his 400th career start in the sport. “I’m hoping to get 400 more,” he said afterwards and is well on his way… the driver sits a solid fourth in the points… Martin Truex Jr. now has four straight top-10 finishes to start the season for the first time in three years. It’s the best start to a season for the one-car team he drives for, Furniture Row Racing since 2005… Kurt Busch, fifth in his return already has more points in one race than owner/teammate Stewart has in four. Time to sound the alarm with the No. 14 team… Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ran 12th for Roush Fenway Racing, his best finish of the season but his organization as a whole continues to struggle. No RFR driver sits inside the top 15 in points.


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


Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Kevin Harvick Wins Second Sprint Cup Race in a Row by Continuing his Domination at Phoenix
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 17:21