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Since it opened in 1969, Talladega has been NASCAR’s racetrack of extremes. When right, the sport’s decision to slap restrictor plates on brings out maximum excitement, the best opportunity for 43 teams to compete on a level playing field. Feel-good stories emerge, like the case of Bob Jenkins, a restaurant owner who has filtered more money into his three-car team just to run 25th, than most will make in a lifetime. Since 2005, he has toiled — once suffering through a season with more than 30 DNQs — and posting only two top-5 finishes in 403 starts prior to Sunday. The dream was to pursue a Sprint Cup victory, but a look at the stat sheet would point one towards financial self-destruction … or a man in need of mental help.

Now, Jenkins can point right back at his critics and towards a trophy that is rightfully his. Jenkins’ Front Row Motorsports drivers Ragan and David Gilliland produced the first 1-2 finish in team history in the Aaron’s 499, outclassing the Goliaths they race against through smarts and speed. At no other track — even Daytona, with NASCAR’s handling package — would such a victory be remotely possible. (Previous best finish for this team in 2013: Ragan’s 20th at Richmond.) It’s the type of victory that brings attention to the sport, giving executives something to sell, potential new car owners justification to compete and the backside of the NASCAR garage a reason for hope. No one will change the way these men feel about plate racing now; heck, you could strap a parachute to the car at Daytona and they’d be happy based on the parity that gives them a chance.

On the other side of the fence sits Ryan Newman whose season, if not more, was mere feet from being cut tragically short on Sunday when an entire car landed on the windshield of his No. 39 Chevrolet. As chaos unfolded in front of him, Kurt Busch’s Chevy entry landed, then rolled over Newman’s car in the midst of a 12-car melee that’s become all too common at Talladega. It’s not the first time the driver has been in physical danger; four years ago, this nasty flip (LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxE1_VZkQKI) left the roll cage bent mere inches from his head.

“We had a race here in the spring, complaining about cars getting airborne,” Newman said then. “I wish NASCAR would do something. That’s not what anyone wants to see.”

Four years later, he’s saying the same words again, this time more viciously after not feeling that NASCAR has lifted a finger on the rules. No one will change the way Newman feels about plate racing now, he just doesn’t want himself or a competitor to end up dead.

Talladega. The land of extremes, where guilt, grief, miracles, merriment, disaster, disgust, rage and redemption come together as one. It’s why everyone is pushing for change, but as they do human nature makes it impossible to look away – keeping us in the same cycle forevermore.


FIRST GEAR: Two Davids snookered the field
Make no mistake, Ragan’s slice ‘n’ dice to the front of the pack would not have been possible without two things. One: Teammate David Gilliland, sitting on his back bumper and not letting go until the two cars were sitting out front. Those feeling like the “push” of tandem drafting was completely dead need to take a second look on how these cars were stuck together like superglue down the stretch.

“I know he wishes that he was sitting in my shoes right now,” said Ragan of his teammate, now winless in 232 Cup Series starts. “I kind of wish that he would have had a chance to win the race, too.”

I’m not sure Gilliland cared much, though. His whole family was in attendance to watch Ragan’s post-race presser, a sign of the teamwork atmosphere this underdog organization has pushed since the beginning. Fact: Ragan now has as many wins with this team (one) in just 15 months as he did in five full seasons driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Turns out all the money in the world can’t buy that all-important chemistry needed for those moments when people need to bring out the best in each other.

“He was driving for a top-tier team, had UPS as a sponsor and when he left, he bought into what we were trying to do at Front Row,” said Jenkins. “His expectations of himself and his team never changed. He didn't look at it as if, ‘Hey, I'm taking a step down here, I realize I'm going to be a back marker.’ He continues to expect a lot out of himself and a lot out of his team, and I think what happened is people bought into that and they followed behind him and we've seen results.”

That belief system brings me to point No. 2: it wasn’t shared by his Sprint Cup competitors. Go ahead, you have my permission to review that final lap. Notice how Matt Kenseth drifts up on the backstretch to draft with Carl Edwards as if he needs to stick with the No. 99 to have a shot. Had he stayed in the middle, the FRM duo would have been blocked and we’d be talking about a different winner today. As for Edwards, he just didn’t see the freight train until it was too late, taking a prime opportunity to win a plate race away from a man who’s been victimized far too often there.

“David just got us,” Edwards said. “He did his job. As long as I’m not upside down, in the fence, it was pretty clean.”

For an organization who, just a few weeks ago stated they needed extra sponsorship for several races the outcome at Talladega was nothing short of incredible.


SECOND GEAR: Is it all getting to Brad Keselowski?
One driver, though, was crying foul over Ragan’s miracle moment. Brad Keselowski, in several tweets after the race, felt his rival lined up in the wrong lane for the final restart. Several photos showed the cars trying to pass each other for position on the backstretch under yellow before NASCAR made the final call as to where Keselowski, Scott Speed and Ragan would line up. The verdict was Speed eighth, Keselowski ninth and Ragan 10th based on where they were at the last scoring loop when the caution came out. Were they right? Judge for yourself at the 2:42 mark of this clip. My take is that’s it’s far too close to call.

Either way, Keselowski was presumptuous to predict one change in lane would have earned him a victory – or cost Ragan one. Plate races are so unpredictable that you’ll get 1,000 different endings per 1,000 green-white-checker finishes. I just wonder, after a disappointing 15th-place finish, whether pressure is starting to get to the reigning champ. The final appeal for his Penske team is Tuesday, where 25 points and suspensions of his top four crew members appear imminent. Winless this season, he’s also posted back-to-back finishes outside the top 10 for the first time since Michigan and Sonoma last June. Every superstar, no matter his or her mental strength, goes through adversity; now might be Keselowski’s time, sitting fifth in points with just a single lap led over the last six events.

He just didn’t have to drag David Ragan into his own psychological hell.


THIRD GEAR: The racing was … what it was
I know. It sounds like a copout. Well, if you ask Newman, who joined Busch in the ranks of “Big One” Demolition Derbys, NASCAR racing here needs to be thrown in the trash bin:

"I am doing this interview to let everybody know I'm alright,” said Newman, who if NASCAR has any consistency (Denny Hamlin, anyone?) will be fined for the comments that follow. “They can build safer race cars, they can build safer walls. But they can't get their heads out of their asses far enough to keep them on the race track, and that's pretty disappointing. I wanted to make sure I get that point across. Y'all can figure out who 'they' is. That's no way to end a race ... I mean, you got what you wanted, but poor judgment and running in the dark and running in the rain.”

To be fair, most didn’t share the driver’s sentiment about the conditions of the track itself down the stretch. Only sprinkles could be felt in the final minutes and, while dark, the race ended earlier than the Nationwide Series event the day before. It’s the other part of Newman’s diatribe — the plate package — that would be under greater scrutiny if not for Ragan’s headline-saving win. I felt like Dale Earnhardt Jr. put it best:

“I don’t really know,” he said. “I don’t know – I thought it was alright, I guess.”

A classic “C, C+” type of response, and clearly not what NASCAR wants out of one of its fan-favorite facilities, especially after Earnhardt raved about the racing in Daytona. But that’s the truth. 30 lead changes were the least since 2002, when Earnhardt laid waste to the field. The draft, while handling multiple grooves unlike its sister track, had a tendency to “stop ‘n’ start.” There would be times when drivers would get stir crazy, and others — like for 30 laps after the rain delay — where they fell in line and passed the time.

It still seemed like, apart from the final lap, the line that had the most cars could make a difference, with the outside groove still holding a substantial edge. There’s work to be done here, although different rules can only do so much. Drivers are smarter. They know nothing matters at these races until less than 20 laps to go. Trying to force them to stay aggressive in the wake of what happened to Newman and Busch is like throwing them in the lion’s den and asking them to play.
 

Teaser:
<p> Reaction from NASCAR's weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.</p>
Post date: Monday, May 6, 2013 - 12:10
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-may-6
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Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2013 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire report every Monday. Our fantasy junkies cover the hottest hitters, best waiver wire pick ups, top starting pitching spot starts and sift through bullpens from around the league each week.

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (Apr. 29-May 5):

  Name Pos. Team R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Carlos Gomez OF MIL 8 3 5 5 .462 1.495
2. Starling Marte OF PIT 7 4 8 3 .333 1.260
3. Ryan Raburn* 2B/OF CLE 5 4 9 0 .591 1.773
4. Miguel Cabrera 3B DET 8 3 10 0 .423 1.391
5. Mike Trout OF LAA 7 3 10 1 .313 1.121
6. Mark Trumbo 1B/3B/OF LAA 5 5 8 0 .286 1.286
7. Michael Saunders* OF SEA 8 3 6 1 .280 1.037
8. Prince Fielder 1B MIL 5 3 10 0 .333 1.122
9. Jason Kipnis 2B CLE 6 2 7 2 .308 1.049
10. Manny Machado 3B BAL 7 3 5 1 .333 1.108
11. Justin Ruggiano* OF MIA 8 3 5 1 .296 1.091
12. Carlos Gonzalez OF COL 6 2 4 1 .458 1.385
13. Nolan Arenado* 3B COL 5 3 8 0 .357 1.129
14. Matt Holliday OF STL 8 3 7 0 .259 .926
15. Jean Segura SS MIL 5 3 7 1 .286 1.043
16. Andy Dirks* OF DET 7 2 3 1 .385 1.140
17. Juan Pierre* OF MIA 6 0 1 5 .320 .734
18. Alfonso Soriano* OF CHC 5 2 7 0 .391 1.200
19. Allen Craig 1B/OF STL 6 1 7 0 .379 1.021
20. Adrian Beltre 3B TEX 5 2 7 0 .360 1.025
21. Mark Reynolds 1B/3B CLE 5 2 7 0 .348 .994
22. Yonder Alonso* 1B SD 4 2 8 1 .280 .841
23. David Wright 3B NYM 6 3 4 0 .333 1.257
24. Lorenzo Cain OF KC 5 0 5 2 .400 1.029
25. Michael Cuddyer 1B/OF COL 5 2 7 0 .333 1.060

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Weekly Waiver Wire:

Yonder Alonso, 1B, SD (20% owned in Yahoo! leagues)
Guys with big-time pedigrees generally find their way onto my roster and if you need first base or batting average help, Alonso is a good place to look. He won't hit 30 bombs but he should be the top RBI man in San Diego and is on pace to blow past his rookie numbers from a year ago.

Ryan Rayburn, 2B/OF, CLE (27%)
The versatile two-sacker has always had spurts of fantasy greatness — try 45 homers in just over 1,000 at-bats from 2009-11 — but has never gotten a full season of action. His 387 ABs in 2011 were a career high. While he is in the lineup he is worth owning, especially with second-base eligibility.

Nolen Arenado, 3B, COL (49%)
True fantasy baseball geeks have known about the star Rockies third base prospect for some time now. But after 10 hits and three home runs in his first seven games, the whole world should know about Arenado. He is a big-time talent and while he is likely to hit his slumps, he is worth adding blindly if you need help at the corner infield position.

A.J. Pollock, OF, ARI (32%)
Last week I suggested an Arizona outfielder and Gerrardo Parra has six hits, a triple, home run and three RBIs in his last five games. This week, I am going back to the Diamondbacks' well with Pollock, one of manager Kirk Gibson's fill-in options until Adam Eaton (elbow) is ready. Pollock is a viable play in standard mixed leagues until Eaton returns, which still appears to be about a month away. Pollock won't give you much help in power departments — roughly one minor league HR per 100 at-bats — but he has always hit (.303 MiLB career BA) and can run. Sitting atop the D-Backs batting order makes him one of the hottest waiver wire names.

Last Week:

Nate McLouth: 3/19, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB
Gerrardo Parra: 4/19, 2 R, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB
Oswaldo Arcia: 6/16, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB
Yuniesky Betancourt: 6/24, 3 R, 3 HR, 5 RBI, BB

 

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Felix Hernandez SEA 22.0 3 23 0.41 0.77
2. Jordan Zimmerman WAS 17.0 2 12 0.00 0.24
3. Justin Verlander DET 21.0 2 21 0.86 0.95
4. Kevin Slowey* MIA 21.0 1 21 1.71 0.62
5. Clayton Kershaw LAD 20.0 1 22 1.35 0.85
6. Clay Buchholz BOS 14.2 2 18 1.23 0.89
7. Tony Cingrani CIN 19.0 1 25 2.84 0.63
8. Jaime Garcia* STL 21.2 3 9 1.25 0.97
9. Jeremy Guthrie* KC 15.2 2 8 0.00 0.89
10. Jeff Locke* PIT 18.0 2 13 1.50 0.83
11. Lance Lynn STL 14.0 2 14 1.29 0.86
12. Kyle Kendrick* PHI 16.0 2 10 1.13 0.81
13. Yu Darvish TEX 19.0 2 34 3.32 1.11
14. Anibal Sanchez DET 14.0 1 26 1.93 0.93
15. Chris Tillman* BAL 20.2 2 13 1.31 1.02
16. Phil Hughes* NYY 21.0 1 24 1.71 1.05
17. Scott Feldman* TEX 15.2 2 14 2.30 0.83
18. Cole Hamels PHI 22.0 1 20 2.05 0.91
19. Hisashi Iwakuma SEA 18.0 1 24 1.50 1.11
20. Max Scherzer DET 20.1 3 24 3.98 1.03

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Top 5 Spot Starts for the Week (Mon. - Sun.):

1. Hyin-Jin Ryu, LAD: Sat., Miami (75% owned)
Ryu at home in three starts this year: 18.2 IP, 2-1, 16 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 23 K. Additionally, he has 20 strikeouts, three earned runs and just six hits allowed in his last two starts prior to Sunday's trip to the Bay. With at least eight punch-outs in each of his four starts prior to pitching against the World Champs on Sunday, the Marlins should pose no threat to the Korean import.

2. Patrick Corbin, ARI: Thur., Philadelphia (59%)
I went to the Corbin well last week and it netted me this: 7.0, W, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 K. Thursday's opponent will certainly be tougher than San Diego but Corbin has been lights out all year: 4-0, 1.80 ERA, 1.08 WHIP.

3. Jose Fernandez, MIA: Fri., at LA Dodgers (33%)
Wins won't be easy for the young Cuban star, but he should still be able to help any rotation when he has his best stuff. He just got his first win at Philadelphia — no easy park to pitch in — by retiring 21 of the 23 batters he faced (7.0, H, B, 0 ER, 9 K). He has nasty stuff and is scheduled to face a HanRam-less Dodgers lineup the end of this week.

4. Kyle Kendrick, PHI: Tues., at San Francisco, Sun., at Arizona (43%)
Getting two starts against two solid teams isn't an elite option but Kendrick has been consistent for most of the year. In six starts since his first, he hasn't allowed more than two earned runs and has posted between four and six strikeouts in each game. He is also 3-0 in those trips to the mound. Two-start pitchers are always worth a look, especially in weekly leagues.

5. Jhoulys Chacin, COL: (Sat.) at St. Louis (47%)
His return from the DL was acceptable with five earned allowed over seven innings against Tampa Bay on Sunday. The year-to-date numbers (2.56/1.04), however, have been excellent and the Rockies have provided their pitching staff with the most run support in the majors.

Closing Morsels:

The Dodgers could be facing a developing situation in their pen. Brandon League has been the designated closer for the season and his eight saves are near the league leaders. Yet, he has allowed a run in four of his five outings and isn't striking people out. Paging Kenley Jansen (frankly, I never liked the League move anyway)... Arizona also has an issue brewing in its pen. Kirk Gibson gave J.J. Putz the dreaded vote of confidence this week after Putz blew his fourth save of the season. Putz has allowed six runs in 12.2 innings and has allowed a home run in three of his last seven outings. David Hernandez and Matt Reynolds appear to be the watch list names... Former set-up man turned closer turned set-up man Kyuji Fujikawa began his rehab assignment on Sunday and is close to returning. He will come back as Kevin Gregg's eighth inning guy for the time being. Gregg has yet to allow a run and is 4-for-4 in save chances through 7.0 innings this year.

Keep up to date all season long with Athlon Sports' Fantasy Baseball Closer Grid

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: May 6</p>
Post date: Monday, May 6, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/10-teams-may-end-secs-national-title-streak-2013
Body:

Spring practice has finished for all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams for 2013. And with spring workouts over, the picture for the national championship battle is starting to come into focus.

The SEC has won seven championships in a row, but will that streak end in 2013? Alabama is a heavy favorite, but as every year shows, anything can happen. The main threat to another national champion coming from the SEC is Ohio State, but Oregon isn’t too far behind. And of course, there’s always a threat from within the conference. What happens if the SEC teams beat up on one another too much, preventing a team from finishing unbeaten? That’s the reason Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M make this list.

Can the SEC take another national title? Or will another team knock the SEC off its perch? Athlon will unveil its top 25 teams for 2013 beginning on May 7, with our pick to win the national title coming later this month.


Top 10 Teams Ready to End the SEC’s Title Streak

1. Ohio State
With the postseason ban over, Ohio State is positioned to be Alabama’s biggest threat to another national title in 2013. The Buckeyes return 13 starters, including one of the front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy in quarterback Braxton Miller. Under coach Urban Meyer last season, Miller threw for 2,039 yards and 15 scores and rushed for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns. With the supporting cast improving, Miller won’t have as much pressure on his shoulders and should be a more polished passer in 2013. And the junior will be protected by a line that returns four starters and should rank among the best nationally. The biggest question mark for Ohio State is a defense that struggled at times last year. The Buckeyes ranked 76th nationally against the pass and sixth in the Big Ten in scoring and total defense. Only four starters are back on defense, and the defensive line is essentially starting over with the departure of four key players. Despite those concerns, linebacker Ryan Shazier is back, and the secondary should be much improved. Even though the line was decimated by departures, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are future stars in the Big Ten. Ohio State’s schedule isn’t too difficult, so another 12-0 season isn’t out of the question. If Miller stays healthy, the Buckeyes will be playing for a national title in January.
 

2. Oregon
Chip Kelly left for the NFL, but the cupboard in Eugene is far from bare. Quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De’Anthony Thomas lead an offense that should once again rank among the best in the nation. The receiving corps is deep with options, which should allow Mariota to throw more in 2013. While losing end/linebacker Dion Jordan and linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay is a huge setback for the defense, seven starters are back, including cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell. The Ducks have to play at Stanford on Nov. 7 but catch UCLA at home and won’t play Arizona State or USC in crossover play. New coach Mark Helfrich is unproven, but his familiarity with the returning talent should keep Oregon among the top five teams in the nation next season.
 

3. Georgia and 4. South Carolina
It may seem strange to have an SEC team on this list, but there are scenarios in which a team from college football’s top conference misses the title game or a team from the East pulls an upset in the conference title game. Assuming Alabama finishes 12-0, Georgia (or South Carolina) could be its biggest threat. If the Bulldogs or Gamecocks have one loss and beat the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship Game, it’s unlikely Alabama could get back into the national title picture. Although Georgia and South Carolina are solid teams, neither appear to be as strong as Alabama. The Bulldogs will have one of the SEC’s best offenses, but the defense has to be rebuilt. The Gamecocks return a Heisman candidate in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, along with two potential starting quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson. Georgia and South Carolina both miss Alabama during the regular season, so the only chance both teams will have to try and knock out the Crimson Tide will be in Atlanta in early December.
 

5. Clemson
2013 isn’t shaping up to be a banner year for the ACC, but Clemson is comfortably one of the top 10 teams in the nation. The Tigers lost only two games last year – Florida State and South Carolina – and return 13 starters from 2012. Tajh Boyd is one of college football’s top five quarterbacks and directs an offense that averaged 41 points a game last season. Boyd will have to find a new go-to target with DeAndre Hopkins leaving for the NFL, but Sammy Watkins is poised to regain his freshman form (82 catches) in 2013. The biggest question mark on offense is finding a new go-to running back, along with finding a dependable tight end after Sam Cooper was lost for the season with a torn ACL in the spring. The defense made strides late last year, and more should be expected in the second go-round under coordinator Brent Venables. The front seven is deep on experience, but the secondary needs to tighten up after ranking 71st nationally against the pass last year. Outside of Florida State, Clemson doesn’t have much to worry about in the ACC. With the Seminoles coming to Death Valley, the Tigers are an overwhelming favorite to win the conference. Of course, beating two SEC opponents – Georgia in the season opener and South Carolina on Nov. 30 – is the key to Clemson’s national title hopes.
 

6. Stanford
The defending Pac-12 champs are loaded for another run at the national title. But the Cardinal will have to fill a few key areas, after the departures of running back Stepfan Taylor (4,300 yards), two of the nation’s top tight ends (Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo) and standout linebacker Chase Thomas. While the personnel losses are significant, Stanford does return quarterback Kevin Hogan, along with one of the nation’s top offensive lines. Center Sam Schwartzstein must be replaced up front, but the Cardinal aren’t hurting for talent in the trenches. Stanford’s defense should remain strong despite the departure of Thomas, especially with Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy returning to anchor the linebacker unit. The secondary is also in great shape, especially with rising star Alex Carter at cornerback. The schedule is manageable, as Stanford hosts Oregon on Nov. 7 and catches two of the top three teams in the Pac-12 South at home (Arizona State and UCLA). If there’s a question mark on this team, it’s a passing attack that lost two key weapons at tight end and has no proven playmakers at receiver.
 

7. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish finished the regular season 12-0 last year but were thoroughly dominated by Alabama in the national championship game. Notre Dame caught a few lucky bounces last season, winning five games by a touchdown or less – including two overtime thrillers against Stanford and Pittsburgh. Despite losing linebacker Manti Te’o, the Fighting Irish could be a better team in 2013. The offense played better in the second half of the season, but quarterback Everett Golson was suspended in May for the 2013 season. With Golson out, Notre Dame will turn to Tommy Rees as the starter. Running back is a concern with the departures of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, but USC transfer Amir Carlisle, George Atkinson III and incoming freshman Greg Bryant should be a capable trio. The defense is loaded in the trenches, as end Stephon Tuitt and tackle Louis Nix III are two of the best linemen in the nation. The schedule is challenging once again, but with a better offense, Notre Dame could make another run at the national championship.
 

8. Texas A&M
The Aggies could fire the first strike in knocking off the SEC from the top spot in 2013. Texas A&M hosts Alabama on Sept. 14 and hopes to repeat last year’s 29-24 upset win in Tuscaloosa. If the Aggies knock off the Crimson Tide, they would jump into the early driver’s seat for a spot in the national title game. And while Texas A&M could run the table and finish unbeaten, there’s also a good chance it loses at LSU. But are the Aggies a better team than last year? Probably not. Texas A&M must fill some voids on defense, as end Damontre Moore and linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart are gone. And now that the rest of the SEC has a full year of game tape and time to plan for quarterback Johnny Manziel, it may be tough to repeat last year’s success. However, the Aggies are still one of college football’s top 10 teams. If Texas A&M knocks off Alabama in early September, it could be the first chance for the rest of college football to keep the SEC out of the national championship, provided Ohio State and Oregon run the table and finish unbeaten.
 

9. Louisville
With an easy schedule and one of the nation’s top quarterbacks under center, Louisville could have the most favorable path to a 12-0 mark in 2013. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw for 3,718 yards and 27 scores last season and had a standout performance in the Sugar Bowl win over Florida (266 yards, two touchdowns). Bridgewater will be throwing to one of the nation’s top receiving corps, but the offensive line must replace two key starters, including center Mario Benavides. The Cardinals ranked 23rd nationally in total defense last season but need to get tougher against the run after allowing 148 yards on the ground per game in 2012. Most of the defense returns intact, but cornerback Adrian Bushell is a big loss. Louisville doesn’t have a strong nonconference schedule, so winning and looking impressive in Big East play is a must.
 

10. Oklahoma State
Let’s be honest: It’s a longshot the SEC doesn’t win or at least play for the national title. And it could be an even bigger mountain for a team from the Big 12 to play for the championship in 2013. We list Oklahoma State as the very early front-runner to win the conference crown, but it’s really anyone’s guess with Texas, TCU and Oklahoma all having legitimate Big 12 title hopes. The Cowboys return 12 starters and should have one of the conference’s top offenses with the return of receiver Josh Stewart and running back Jeremy Smith. The defense has room to improve against the pass, and there’s very little in the way of proven depth at defensive end. With a favorable schedule, however, Oklahoma State seems to have the most favorable path to a Big 12 title. Make no mistake: It’s certainly a longshot that Oklahoma State can get to the title game this year. However, if Clint Chelf settles into the quarterback spot, a champion of the Big 12 can never be counted out of the national title picture.

Related Content: Which Team Will Win the Big 12 in 2013?


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Teaser:
<p> 10 Teams That May End the SEC's National Title Streak in 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, May 6, 2013 - 07:45
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-top-five-team-2013
Body:

Notre Dame is always one of the most polarizing teams when it comes to preseason rankings.

The Fighting Irish are coming off a 12-1 season but was handled by Alabama in the national championship game.

The offense should be better in 2013, especially with quarterback Everett Golson having another offseason under his belt. Notre Dame also returns a solid offensive line, and the defense will remain one of the nation’s best, despite losing linebacker Manti Te’o.

Notre Dame’s schedule isn’t easy, but the Fighting Irish navigated a tough slate to finish unbeaten last year. 

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Is Notre Dame a Top-Five Team for 2013?

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This is a great debate that has many different angles to consider. Traditionally, the Irish play one of, if not the, most difficult schedules in the nation. So if Notre Dame wins 10 or more games, they generally have earned a lofty ranking. However, two losses would likely knock Brian Kelly's squad out of the top five. Home games with Oklahoma, Michigan State, USC and BYU are brutal while road trips to Michigan, Stanford and Pittsburgh (and Purdue and Air Force) are tough. As is the neutral site test with the likely Pac-12 South favorite Arizona State in Cowboys Stadium.

Offensively, Notre Dame should be better as Everett Golson has become the clear leader of this team now that Manti Te'o is gone. Defensively, replacing Te'o won't be easy but the defensive line and secondary could actually be better in '13. Does this team run the table in the regular season again in '13? I say no. But one loss, say, to the Wolverines early in the year on the road, won't knock them out of the top five. The Irish will go 11-1, get a another BCS bowl bid and finish justifiably ranked in the top five.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though Notre Dame may lose a regular season game or two this year, I think there’s a chance the Fighting Irish are a better overall team in 2013. That may seem strange to say considering Notre Dame made the national championship game last season, but the Fighting Irish are deeper in terms of talent, and quarterback Everett Golson will be better in his second year as the starter.

Linebacker Manti Te’o will be tough to replace, but Notre Dame’s defensive line will be one of the best in the nation, and the secondary is in great shape after allowing only 199.8 passing yards per game in 2012.

Despite being a better team, I don’t think Notre Dame will be ranked in the top-five at the end of the season. Every break seemed to go the Fighting Irish’s way last season, and the schedule features tough road games against Michigan, Stanford and a neutral site affair against Arizona State. Notre Dame will play in a BCS bowl this season, but I think they finish just outside of the top five. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
My initial inclination would be to say no, but then again I don't think anyone really predicted the Fighting Irish would run the table in the regular season last fall either. Motivation shouldn't be an issue for this team, considering how poorly Notre Dame performed in the BCS title game, but there will be no lack for competition atop the rankings either.

Starting with defending national champion Alabama, the SEC could have as many as three teams in the top five when you also throw Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M into the mix. Then there's Ohio State and possibly Michigan from the Big 12, Oregon and Stanford from the Pac-12 and Clemson from the ACC. That's without including anyone from the Big 12 (Oklahoma State? Oklahoma?) or a potential dark horse like Louisville from the AAC (former Big East) or Boise State from the MWC that has added a championship game to help improve its BCS profile.

In other words, there are a lot of teams Notre Dame would have to, in essence, climb over to get into the top five in the first place and then stay there. As was the case last year, the Irish do have one thing going for them - their schedule. As an independent, the Irish can largely dictate their own schedule, which because of established rivalries and other factors, is usually pretty strong. This season is no different with the aforementioned Cardinal, Sooners and Wolverines on tap, as well as Pac-12 contender Arizona State, BYU, Michigan State and USC.

It's really quite simple for Brian Kelly and his Irish - win them all (again) and they'll be right back in the BCS mix. Will they accomplish this in 2013? I have my doubts even though starting quarterback Everett Golson should be even better in his second season, and one of the nation's best defenses in 2012 returns eight starters including All-America candidates in linemen Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt.

It's not easy to win every regular-season game once, let alone twice in a row, and let's face it, Notre Dame got several fortuitous bounces and breaks last season on it way to 12-0 by the end of November. I don't see the luck of the Irish in full effect this fall and the strength of the schedule will result in at least one slip up. That doesn't mean Kelly can't lead his team back to a BCS bowl, but I do think the Irish will end up outside of the top five when the regular season ends.

 

Related College Football Content

Ranking All 125 College Football Coaches for 2013
College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era

Early NFL Draft Rankings for 2014

Ranking the College Football Coaching Jobs for 2013

Ranking the Top 10 Teams in Notre Dame History

25 Things to Know from College Football's Spring Practices

Teaser:
<p> Is Notre Dame a Top-Five Team for 2013?</p>
Post date: Monday, May 6, 2013 - 07:40
Path: /nascar/wild-nationwide-finish-highlights-inconsistent-nascar-calls
Body:

A wild finish to Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Talladega Superspeedway once again led to confusion concerning how the sanctioning body scores finishes on the sport’s two restrictor plate tracks.

A quick glance at the final lap of the race — in an event that was shortened due to impending darkness and that battled precipitation throughout the day — shows the three cars of Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Regan Smith racing to the start-finish line with the checkered flag in the air. Meanwhile, chaos ensues when a multi-car accident breaks out behind the trio as yellow caution lights flash.

NASCAR obviously made the right call to display the caution — and I rarely use the word “obviously.” Cars were wrecking at nearly 200 mph. I mean, how do you not wave the yellow flag?

However, confusion over who was flagged the winner reigned when NASCAR took time to review the final dash. Television commentators and print media on Twitter initially, and tentatively, believed Kahne beat Logano and Smith to the line by a nose. One NASCAR scoring monitor in the media center even showed Logano’s No. 22 car at the top of the scoring list. In post-race interviews, the drivers themselves admitted to racing to the start-finish line, believing that mark would determine the winner.

That wasn’t the case, though. In actuality, NASCAR scored Smith the victor for being in the lead when the caution was displayed. In essence, the field was frozen at that moment.

So what’s the beef? Seems clear-cut, right?

Wrong.

And the reason it’s not is because the race directors in the scoring tower seem to waver in their judgment each and every time the series visits Daytona and Talladega.

In Saturday’s instance, a massive wreck in the tri-oval on the final lap constituted a caution flag that, in NASCAR’s judgment, froze the field. Thus, racing to the start-finish line was negated; Smith was declared the winner for being in front at the second the yellow was displayed. However, in countless other cases the sanctioning body has thrown (or not thrown) a caution in a last-lap mess while allowing the leaders that were beyond the fray — and in the clear — to drag race back to the line where the winner was flagged.

The most notable instance? Look no further than the sport’s most prestigious race, the Daytona 500. In 2007, Mark Martin and Kevin Harvick raced through the tri-oval and back to the line as cars wrecked, in one case upside down and on fire, behind them. Martin’s initial reaction, as captured in audio on his in-car radio, was that he led at the time the melee unfolded. So he was the winner, right? NASCAR, however, did not freeze the field, flagging Harvick the winner at the start-finish line, instead.

Was this decision made because it was the Daytona 500? Because the sport’s most attentive audience watched by the millions on network television in a prime-time slot? Because it needed a “true” finish?

Hard to say. Though that should not factor into the decision-making process.

Admittedly, each race (and final-lap wreck) is different, with its own unique set of circumstances and perils. But the fact that the drivers — not to mention fans and media — are unclear as to what the ruling will be is a problem that dogs the sport’s decision makers. Further, the fact that on Saturday, Kahne, Logano and Smith ignored the caution lights and continued to race back to the start-finish line implies that it was their belief that that line — not a scoring loop or a frozen-field judgment call — would determine who went to Victory Lane. After all, how can they be expected to let off if the ruling could be any one of three alternatives? Cover all your bases, boys.

Few would argue that driver and fan safety is paramount. So why is it that safety is sometimes ignored in favor of a thrilling finish, while other times it prompts a “stoppage in play” as the leaders scream to the finish?

Who won and who lost is inconsequential in this, or any, instance. Consistency from NASCAR is all that is asked by fans, media and competitors. Unfortunately, the only consistency the sport has ever displayed is in its habitual subjectivity of how to score the most important lap of the race — the final one.

And that’s where confusion still reigns.
 

Teaser:
<p> An inconsistent call by NASCAR finds Regan Smith the winner in the Aaron's 312 at Talladega after a wild, accident-marred final lap.</p>
Post date: Sunday, May 5, 2013 - 12:12
Path: /nascar/should-denny-hamlin-return-racing-talladega
Body:

1. Should Denny Hamlin really return this weekend?
Denny Hamlin will likely start Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway, his first since his back injury in March at Fontana. He's not expected to finish, much less make it past lap 20. Still, he's hoping it will help his Chase for the Sprint Cup odds.

Simultaneously, the idea is both genius and insane.

Hamlin only received clearance from both his personal doctors and NASCAR officials Thursday to actually get in the car this weekend. He and the No. 11 team initially plan to take advantage of the NASCAR scoring rule that awards championship points only to the drivers who actually start the race. In a Joe Gibbs Racing perfect world, a caution will wave inside the first five laps and Hamlin can come to pit road and hop out in favor of a relief driver. Hamlin will then be credited with the points earned by wherever the relief driver finishes.

Hamlin, who has been injured in a crash at Talladega before, doesn't want to further his injury at one of NASCAR's most wreck-prone racetracks. It's a line of thinking that makes perfect sense in NASCAR's point structure. But it also makes zero sense when factoring in how unpredictable that both racing and race cars can be. Even if Hamlin dropped a half-mile behind the pack at the race's start, there's still plenty that can go wrong in a hurry.

Because of that, it seems incredibly questionable as to why NASCAR would clear Hamlin to participate when he's fully acknowledged he's not prepared to run the whole race. Points about the strategy making a mockery of the sport aside, Hamlin seems to face some legitimate danger of only making his back injury worse.

Talladega, after all, isn't simply a morning commute.


2. Talladega style of racing still an unknown commodity for NASCAR's new car
What can we expect to fill Talladega's 500 miles on Sunday? As of now, it seems pretty wait-and-see.

Much like Daytona in February, Talladega brings another first for NASCAR's new car. At Daytona, the over-hyped machine produced largely flatline racing for much of NASCAR's signature event thanks to myriad factors like cool temperatures and tires failing to show signs of wear. By and large, drivers were fine with the aerodynamic package — many felt more in control at Daytona than in years past — and only wanted to mix it up at the end when the money bell was ready to sound.

Talladega could easily bring more of the same, if only because these teams have learned that leading a lap for one bonus point isn't quite enough to get aggressive early in the race. The result of such actions is often abundantly clear at Talladega and Daytona and it takes the form of the “Big One.”

Sunday's weather forecast also has the implication that it could limit the show's total product. Cool temperatures in the mid-60s are expected, meaning the track will have more grip in every lane. That reduces tire wear over a run and makes it less likely for handling to factor while racing in a pack. When handling is an issue, drivers often have little choice to start passing and getting a bit more daring.

One thing does seem sure for Sunday, however: Tandem racing has been largely abolished in the Sprint Cup Series thanks to the new car design with irregular front and rear design assemblies. If you're looking for that, check out Saturday's Nationwide Series race.


3. Harvick buoyed by Richmond success just wants to finish
Kevin Harvick was one driver who ultimately left Daytona Speedweeks in February disappointed with his luck in the Daytona 500. The No. 29 had seemed to assert itself as a pre-race favorite with commanding performances that became wins in the Sprint Unlimited and a Gatorade Duel qualifying race.

Instead he finished a lowly 42nd after being swept into a multi-car crash on lap 47.

“I like restrictor-plate racing, but our luck hasn’t been that great lately on that style track. Last season, we thought we were going to have a chance to win coming to the checkers during the second races of the season at Daytona and Talladega, but we wound up coming in on a wrecker," Harvick said. "We just haven’t gotten the finishes we thought we would at those tracks, even though we’ve had good runs."

Harvick followed Daytona with several races of mediocre to decent racing, but never looked like a contender to win. The late-race yellow changed that last week at Richmond International Raceway when Harvick benefited from a good final pit stop and a solid car to steal a win on a green-white-checker finish. He led just three laps all night.

Now inside the top 10 in Sprint Cup points for the first time in 2013, Harvick could continue his upward swing at a track where he's fared pretty well. Harvick's rate of finishing at Talladega is over 93 percent, easily the highest among active drivers with more than 10 Talladega starts. He otherwise has a win, six career top-5 finishes and 10 career top 10s at Talladega. You can also bet he'll find the lead at some point Sunday: he's led a lap at Talladega in seven straight races.


4. Puzzle pieces starting to fit for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing
Don't worry, you're reading this right: Juan Pablo Montoya dominated the closing stages of a NASCAR short track race.

Yes, Montoya, the road racing expert and otherwise decent if unlucky oval racer finally seemed to show some flashes of what we really expected from him in this, his seventh year of full-time Sprint Cup racing. Montoya ultimately led 67 laps and wound up with a third-place finish for his efforts after a late caution flag threw last Saturday's night's race into a dizzying finale of pit stops and track position.

It was Montoya's best finish since a third-place run more than two seasons ago at Las Vegas. For Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, the finish was its fourth of the season inside the top 10 after a 2012 campaign where it collected just five. Montoya's teammate, Jamie McMurray, may be the best candidate to tie the team's 2012 performance Sunday at Talladega.

Last fall, McMurray led a race a race-high 38 laps. A crash with just a handful of laps to go then took him out of the race and pushed him to a disappointing 34th-place finish. Still, McMurray has built a bit of name for himself on restrictor plate tracks in recent years. The 2010 Daytona 500 winner has a win at Talladega and five top-5 runs.

A win or decent finish for McMurray — he's now 12th in points — could have him pretty close to (if not in) the top 10 in the series point standings. A year ago, McMurray never was higher than 16th in points and finished in 20th.
 

Teaser:
<p> Five storylines to follow as the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the Aaron's 499.</p>
Post date: Friday, May 3, 2013 - 15:20
Path: /nfl/ranking-fantasy-footballs-top-rookies-2013
Body:

Doug Martin (1,454) and Trent Richardson (950) were No. 2 and 3 among all rookie NFL running backs last year in rushing yards. They were both first-round picks and played as such in their first season.

Alfred Morris (1,613) led all rookies after being drafted in the sixth round. Vick Ballard (814) was a fifth-round pick and was No. 4 among all rookies. Bryce Brown (564) was fifth among all rookie runners and he was a seventh-round selection.

Justin Blackmon (865 yds, 5 TD), Kendall Wright (626 yds, 4 TD) and Michael Floyd (562 yds, 2 TD) were No. 1, No. 4 and No. 5 in receiving yards among rookies and all were first-round picks. But T.Y. Hilton (861 yds, 7 TD) and Chris Givens (698 yds, 3 TD) were No. 2 and 3 respectively as third- and fourth-round picks in the 2012 NFL Draft.

The point of this exercise is to prove that fantasy production doesn’t always come from first-round picks.

So who are the top 15 fantasy rookies from the 2013 NFL Draft?

1. Montee Ball, RB, Denver
The Wisconsin running back was the most productive college fantasy running back ever. No player in the history of the sport scored more touchdowns — 77 rushing and 83 total — than the Badgers back. And now Peyton Manning is his quarterback and he will be running behind, much like in college, one of the best O-lines in the game. Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and/or Willis McGahee are not concerns as none have the workhorse skill set of Ball — and his 983 career NCAA touches. 

2. Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis
The most dynamic weapon in the draft this year was easily the speedster from West Virginia. Is workload and durability a concern for the 5-foot-9, 175-pounder? Certainly, but his speed, big-play ability and chance to play right away are fantasy gold. He will run the ball and return kicks as well as catch passes, so his chances of starting right away are all but assured.

3. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati
Bernard might be the most talented running back in the draft not named Marcus Lattimore. In just two college seasons — which means there is plenty of tread left on the tires — Bernard proved he could do it all. He rarely takes a big hit, is an excellent receiver, has elite open field speed and quickness, can return kicks and picks up the blitz. It means he should get upwards of 200 touches as the Bengals phase out the aging BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

4. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston
The Clemson product has a big frame and is in a perfect situation. Is he overly explosive with game-changing speed? No, but he is productive and will be learning from one of the game’s greatest in Andre Johnson. The “situation” is perfect as the running game and other receivers (namely, Johnson) will take most of the focus from the defense. Hopkins should be in the starting lineup in Week 1 and that should provide adequate low WR2, high WR3 numbers.

5. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego
Few pure outside wide receivers are as polished and talented as the junior from Cal. An elite five-star prospect from North Carolina, Allen was an instant star as a freshman. He posted big numbers despite getting little support from quarterback and half brother Zach Maynard (58.2 percent completion rate, 37 career INT). He has elite ball skills, a natural understanding of the position, prototypical size and Philip Rivers throwing him passes instead of his sibling. Vincent Brown, Robert Meachem, Danario Alexander and Malcolm Floyd are nice players but Allen is the most gifted wideout on the roster the second he shows up to camp.

6. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay
The Alabama running back steps into a great situation because he won’t be asked to carry the load. That is a good thing in that defenses will focus on No. 12 in Green Bay but it limits his fantasy upside because he is more likely to be in the 200-touch range as opposed to the 270-touch range. That said, he should get the first and second down carries as well as goal line looks. Had Johnathan Franklin not been added later in the draft, Lacy might have been No. 1 on this list.

7. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh
From a situational standpoint, few rookies step into a bigger workload than Bell. He appears to be the starter right away in Pittsburgh and will be playing behind a solid offensive line and quality quarterback. Yet, the issue that will keep Bell’s fantasy value down might be his overall lack of talent. He isn’t overly explosive or quick and will have to work for every yard he gets. A sub-4.0 yards per carry and 6-8 touchdowns feels about right. A quality RB3.

8. Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati
A shot was certainly fired across Jermaine Gresham's and Orson Charles' bow with this first-round pick. The clear-cut most talented and productive tight end in the draft lands in a great situation as Andy Dalton and his deep and talented supporting cast of receivers will take away focus. Look for plenty of two-tight end packages in Cincinnati making Eifert a fringe weekly starter in deeper leagues.

9. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Arizona
Taylor was wildly underrated on “draft day” and could be a sneaky good fantasy play in 2013. He has workhorse talents inside and out of the tackles, can catch passes, pick up the blitz and rarely makes mistakes. He won’t get the start right away but he will force his way onto the field with his overall dependability.

10. Johnathan Franklin, RB, Green Bay
Few “third down” backs have first and second down capabilities but that is what Franklin can do. The Mayor of L.A. has speed, toughness, hands, leadership, productivity and overall play-making skill. He will be a change-of-pace back for Lacy at first but could force Mike McCarthy to split the carries more evenly. UCLA’s all-time leading rusher should be a late-round target for everyone.

11. EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo
Heady, hard-working dual-threat is the only QB with fantasy upside in 2013.

12. Robert Woods, WR, Buffalo
Undersized but elite talent with huge numbers in college and should play right away.

13. Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas
Polished player should finish the year as clear-cut No. 2 to Dez Bryant. Great situation.

14. Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh
Dynamic do-everything type who will be used all over the field right out of the gate.

15. Josh Boyce, WR, New England
Big-play threat can play inside or out. Is much more talented/dynamic than Aaron Dobson.

Honorable Mention: Marcus Lattimore, RB, San Francisco
For you keeper GMs, there will be no such thing as too early for Lattimore. He likely won’t play much in 2013 but could be activated to contribute late in the season. When healthy, he is easily the most talented runner in this class and the Niners were the perfect landing spot for him to rehab and, eventually, explode in 2014.

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota
Geno Smith, QB, NY Jets
Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia
Joseph Randle, RB, Dallas
Matt Barkley, QB, Philadelphia

Teaser:
<p> Ranking Fantasy Football's Top Rookies in 2013</p>
Post date: Friday, May 3, 2013 - 12:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NBA, MLB
Path: /college-football/athlons-essential-11-links-day-april-29
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for May 3.

What colleges produce the smartest, sexiest graduates? Harvard gave us Rashida Jones (pictured), so it's on the list.

• Tomorrow, people in comically oversized hats will gather to watch horses run. Here's a rundown of memorable Derby fashion statements. Speaking of the Derby, this article takes issue with calling it the greatest two minutes in sports.

A toddler with his pants at his ankles wandered through the background of the Houston Rockets postgame show. Given that this is the NBA. the kid could be anyone's, but my money's on Calvin Murphy.

Hockey player Lars Eller lay on the ice last night in a pool of his own blood. How was your night?

• Bizarre story of the day: The mother of an Alabama basketball player was arrested for kidnapping a six-year-old.

• For people my age, this is simultaneously interesting and depressing: Catching up with the greatest pro wrestlers of the '80s and '90s.

• Did you know that Texas A&M's Kyle Field will soon be the SEC's biggest stadium? You invite the new kid in and they think they own the place. Here's a list of all the SEC stadiums and their seating capacities.

Is Clay Buchholz a cheater? Buchholz says no; the Blue Jays broadcaster says yes.

The Angels game was delayed on account of bees. That's not the kind of buzz those fans came for, amirite?

• This one's for a niche audience, but here are the 15 Greatest Sports Moments from FX's hilarious spy spoof Archer.

• Golden State's Steph Curry has emerged as a superstar in these playoffs. Here are 12 minutes of Curry brilliance condensed into a one-minute video.

 

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


May 2

• It's NBA playoff season. SI has a dandy slideshow of dancers and cheerleaders from every playoff team.

• This is cool: Dream matchups brought to you via GIFs. I think the Babe was surprised by the movement on Yu's fastball.

Jay Bruce lashed out at his Twitter haters. His first mistake is paying attention to his Twitter haters.

A kid with cancer had a dream come true when he played in a soccer match against the Portland Timbers. In related news, there are too many kids with cancer.

In the case of Deion Sanders Jr., the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. He has Versace sheets on his dorm room bed, because of course he does.

• Les Miles has a dilemma: His star running back apparently can't stop living the thug life.

• Golfers aren't often considered cool. Steve Rushin may make you reconsider, at least in a few cases.

Who says there aren't any jobs to be had?

Here are the 10 best things about the month of May.

Awesome pictures of athletes with giant fish. Some of these guys are going to need a bigger boat.

The Sharks announcers got annoyed with Vancouver's Green Men fans, calling them "40-year-old virgins," among other things. Charlie Kelly does not approve.

• The Pirates lineup, SNL style. Somebody snarkier than me might say that the last time the Pirates were good, SNL was actually funny.

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


May 1

• One person who was surprised when she heard Jason Collins was gay? Carolyn Moos (pictured), his ex-fiancee.

Warriors-Nuggets is getting testy, and interesting.

• This is always interesting: How were this year's first-round picks ranked as recruits? Two of the top 5 had no star rating at all.

Adrian Peterson: By the way, this 2,500 yard thing? I'm serious about that.

Feel better, Bryce Harper. At least you didn't do a Canseco and let the ball bounce off your head for a homer.

100 photos of athletes as fresh-faced rookies, before the money and the trappings of fame corrupted them.

• Apparently, deer antler spray is A-OK with the PGA. Vijay Singh got cleared to play, then promptly withdrew.

The interesting, though complicated, backstory of the Tiger Woods ruling at The Masters.

• I'm no hockey expert, but shouldn't goaltenders stay kinda close to the goal? Like this guy, who cost his team a playoff game.

• Speaking of hockey, according to this broadcaster, the Blackhawks had a tremendous season in more ways than one.

Tommy Lasorda is about as impressed with PSY as I am.

• Danica Patrick tried some shots from center ice at the Blackhawks game. One went well, the other three not so much. Now we've found two sports Danica sucks at. I kid, I kid.

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


April 30

• I'm late to this little dust-up, but a female blogger got in hot water for suggesting that this Oklahoma City Thunder dancer was too fat. What say you, Essential Links readers?

• Jason Collins came out in SI this week. Yawn. I'm more interested in the fact that he was high school teammates with actor Jason Segal.

Here's some news you can really use: Pizza prevents cancer.

• Fans in Oakland got a two-for-one — a 19-inning marathon that ended in a walk-off and a pie in the face.

Move over, Grantland Rice. This is the greatest lead ever written: "Henry Gribbohm says he lost his life savings, $2,600, on a carnival game and all he has to show for it is a stuffed banana with dreadlocks."

Josh Hamilton has transformed the simple autograph into a new social medium.

Welcome to San Diego, Manti Te'o.

• For Draftniks, it's never too early to think about next year. Here are some SEC prospects for 2014. Athlon chimes in with its top 75 for next year's draft.

• Insult to injury: Tennessee's Tyler Bray declared, went undrafted, and didn't even make this year's all-undrafted team.

Cheer up, Tim Tebow. Somebody wants you.

• Sometimes, the posterizer gets posterized. Last night, Carlos Delfino victimized Kevin Durant.

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


April 29

• April is almost in the books, and the folks at Coed were kind enough to assemble the sports ladies who wowed us this month. Like the USC Song Girls (pictured).

Michael Jordan got married this weekend to longtime GF Yvette Prieto. The guest list was pretty impressive: Tiger Woods, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Toni Kukoc, Usher, Spike Lee. I don't think Juanita was there, though.

The Jets have waived Tim Tebow. I still think Jacksonville makes the most sense for Tebow. That, or Canada. Or The Bachelor. Here's a collection of amusing Tebow tweets in the wake of the announcement.

Rays reporter Kelly Nash took the most amazing selfie of all time (if it's real, which I'm still not convinced it is).

Nats pitcher Henry Rodriguez had some, ahem, control problems yesterday.

• Many athletes turn to the silver screen when their competing days are over. Some are not very successful at the transition. The worst athletes-turned-actors of all time.

• Staggering stat of the day: 25 percent of this year's NFL Draft picks were from the SEC. It's almost unfair at this point.

Smokin' Jay Cutler played along with the meme, with the help of his baby mama.

• Dwight Howard's had a rough season in LA. The low point: Getting called out on Twitter by Magic.

J.J. Watt charged the mound in a celebrity softball game benefiting his own charity. He was just goofin' around. I think.

• Got two minutes? Watch this cartpath-aided 500-yard drive by Louis Oosthuizen.

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

Teaser:
<p> Rounding up the web's best sports links so you don't have to.</p>
Post date: Friday, May 3, 2013 - 10:52
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Missouri Tigers, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/will-missouri-tigers-make-bowl-2013
Body:

As expected, Missouri found life in the SEC more difficult than the week-to-week grind of the Big 12.

The Tigers had their streak of seven straight winning seasons snapped, slipping to 5-7 and no bowl appearance since the 2004 season.

For Missouri to return to the postseason, the Tigers need a big season from quarterback James Franklin. And a replacement for standout defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson must be found.

The schedule won’t be easy. But Missouri could show improvement in 2013 and return to the postseason after a one-year absence.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Will the Missouri Tigers Make a Bowl in 2013?

Jon Cooper, lead writer and editor Saturday Down South, (@JonSDS)
Outside of four teams on Missouri’s schedule – Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M, the rest of the eight games are truly winnable. If last year showed us anything, it’s that Missouri should play better on defense than we anticipate. The offense, on the other hand, remains the biggest question mark.

Injuries set the tone for the Tigers’ season before it even got started last year. If they can collectively stay healthy this season, they will make a bowl game. New offensive coordinator Josh Henson comes from a pro-style background, and Missouri’s style of play should be tweaked for the better. It’s hard to even win eight games with a straight spread offense in the SEC with a quarterback not named Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton or Tim Tebow. James Franklin isn’t any of the three, and implementing and tweaking the offense is necessary to even win six games. The good news is that the pieces around Franklin should be better this year, especially in the backfield and at wide receiver.

This is a make-or-break year for Gary Pinkel. He’s on the proverbial hottest seat in the conference entering 2013. Missouri winning six may still result in a bowl game, but it could also part ways with its coach in the process. 
 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Missouri’s long-term prospects of competing in the SEC are iffy, especially now that the East is starting to regain balance with the West. I’m not even sure if a healthy season from James Franklin and Henry Josey will help matters for the Tigers in 2013. For one, a healthy Franklin isn’t assured of keeping his starting job with Maty Mauk gaining ground on the veteran signal caller. Josey had a great season in 2011, but he is coming off major knee surgery. The SEC isn’t always kind to players returning from injury. Throw in the loss of key players at each level of the defense, and I’m skeptical about Missouri being able to get to the six-win mark in the second season in the SEC.


Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Could the postseason fate of the Tigers be decided in a road non-conference trip to Indiana in Week 4? As shocking as that may sound, a win over the Hoosiers is a must for Mizzou to make it to a bowl game. Gary Pinkel's bunch will have to win three SEC games this year if it loses to the much-improved Indiana team and that seems virtually impossible. Crossover play in the league is tough with Texas A&M at home and a road trip to Ole Miss on the schedule, so 2-6 feels like the best case scenario in SEC play. Therefore, it all goes back to the Sept. 21 trip to Bloomington. Should the Tigers lose to IU, there is little chance of making it to a bowl game. I will call for the upset and say Mizzou fails to make it to the postseason for the second consecutive season. 


Mike Mitchell (@MrSEC), MrSEC.com
The 2013 Missouri Tigers could be this year’s version of Mississippi State – a team that starts fast and finishes slow. In both cases, the schedule plays a huge role. Mizzou opens with four non-conference games – Murray State, Toledo, Indiana and Arkansas State.  A 4-0 start is possible, perhaps even likely. But then the brutal reality of SEC play sets in.  Other than the home-road switch, the only other change to this year’s conference schedule is that the Tigers swap out a home game against Alabama for a road contest at Oxford to face a young and improving Ole Miss team.  Missouri will likely be favored against just two opponents, Tennessee and Kentucky, the only two teams the Tigers defeated in the conference last year. With a banged-up offensive line and injured quarterback James Franklin, the Tigers offense never gelled in 2012.  But with better health, the return of running back Henry Josey, who missed all of last season, and perhaps some fresh approaches from new offensive coordinator Josh Henson, the Tigers offense should be better.  But what about the defense?  Last year, the Tigers gave up 41 points to Georgia, 31 to South Carolina, 42 to Alabama and 59 to Texas A&M and that was with star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, now NFL-bound to the New York Jets.  With a projected 6-6 record, this is a bubble bowl team.  The Tigers should score more points but can the defense stop anybody?


Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though Missouri loses defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and two key linebackers, I think the Tigers will be a better overall team in 2013. The biggest reason for optimism is quarterback James Franklin, as he should be closer to 100 percent in his second year removed from shoulder surgery. The offense will also get a boost with the return of running back Henry Josey, who missed all of 2012 due to a knee injury. Missouri’s offensive line should have more stability this year, and receiver Dorial Green-Beckham proved this spring he is ready to be the No. 1 receiver.

Even if Missouri is an overall better team in 2013, will it translate to more than five wins? I’m not sure it will. The Tigers should go 4-0 in non-conference play, but Indiana and Toledo won’t be easy outs. Missouri draws an improving Ole Miss team from the West Division in conference play, along with a home date against Texas A&M. The Tigers host Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee but it’s hard to see two wins against that trio. Is pulling an upset against Vanderbilt or winning on the road against Kentucky possible? Absolutely. However, the Wildcats and Commodores are both on the upswing and will be tough to beat.

Gary Pinkel has done a lot of good things at Missouri, but another 5-7 season could spell the end of his tenure in Columbia. The Tigers will be in the mix to get to six wins, but I think another 5-7 season is the most-likely scenario. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Missouri endured a rough introduction into the SEC last season with key injuries only adding to the Tigers' woes. Gary Pinkel's team just missed out on a bowl in 2012 with a 5-7 overall record, but Mizzou also managed just two conference wins. On top of that, these wins came against Kentucky and Tennessee, who went a combined 1-15 in SEC play themselves. So with all of this said, things have to get better in 2013 right?

Maybe, but only if the Tigers make the most of a relatively soft non-conference slate and not slip up against an improving Indiana team in Bloomington or have Toledo or Arkansas State upset them at home. Three wins at minimum by the end of September are crucial to keeping any postseason hopes alive because after that it's all SEC action. Opportunities to beat Kentucky and Tennessee again are there and will need to be capitalized on, but more than likely an upset will be needed to against the likes of Ole Miss or Vanderbilt to get that necessary sixth win.

Missouri's got talent, especially if the Tigers catch a few more breaks on the injury front this season, but I still don't think they have the depth needed to compete in the SEC on a weekly basis. I believe the Tigers will be a better team, especially on offense, in 2013, but unfortunately I don't think it will be enough to get back to the postseason.
 


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Teaser:
<p> Will the Missouri Tigers Make a Bowl in 2013?</p>
Post date: Friday, May 3, 2013 - 07:40
Path: /college-football/boise-state-or-fresno-state-who-wins-mountain-west-2013
Body:

Three teams tied for the Mountain West title last season, but with the addition of Utah State and San Jose State, determining a conference champion will much easier in 2013.

With 12 teams, the Mountain West will hold a conference title game in early December, which should add plenty of intrigue for the league this year.

Boise State and Fresno State are the frontrunners to win the Mountain West in 2013. The Broncos return only nine starters, but Chris Petersen’s team always reloads. The Bulldogs lost by 10 points at Boise State in 2012 but return All-Mountain West quarterback Derek Carr, along with a talented group of receivers.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Boise State or Fresno State: Who Wins the Mountain West in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
What was supposed to be a down year for Boise State still yielded an 11-2 season, a share of the Mountain West title and a pair of losses by a combined six points. Oh man, what a let down. Meanwhile, Fresno State’s best season in in five years still produced a share of the MWC title, but a 10-point loss to Boise State and another puzzling bowl loss. The Broncos have won every meeting in this series since 2005, and although the gap is closing, there’s no reason to mess with Boise State’s track record. As one would expect, first-year starting quarterback Joe Southwick improved as the season went along, with an efficiency rating 15 points higher in his final five games compared to the first eight. After throwing nine touchdowns and six interceptions in the first two months of the season, he had a 10-to-1 ratio in the final two. Boise State will have some questions on defense, especially against the pass. That could be problematic against Derek Carr and Fresno State on the road in September or a potential MWC title game, but I still like Boise State’s defensive front with Demarcus Lawrence and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe leading the way.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Boise State's two-point home loss to San Diego State was the deciding game in the Mountain West last season. It created a three-way tie between the Aztecs, Broncos and Bulldogs after Boise State slipped past Fresno State 20-10 at home. Boise State, behind leadership of second-year starter Joe Southwick, looks to be improved from a year ago and won't lose another league game in 2013 like it did against SDSU last fall. It will, however, have to visit Fresno State early in the year (Week 4) and the outcome of that game will likely decide the conference crown. Fresno State has an elite quarterback in Derek Carr and gets the game at home, but the rest of the team isn't as deep or talented as Boise, so I will take the Broncos to win the MWC for the second time in as many tries.
 

Jeremy Mauss, Mountain West Connection, (@JeremyMauss)
Based off of history, it is easy to say Boise State should win the Mountain West this year, and particularly against Fresno State who has always struggled against the Broncos. However, this year things look to be different for Fresno State as they have quarterback Derek Carr who is one of the nation's best, plus they have wide receiver Davante Adams who had 102 catches as a freshman as well as Isaiah Burse. That pair should be the best in the Mountain West.

A few of the concerns for Fresno State is that they lose All-Mountain West running back Robbie Rouse, and he will likely be replaced by BYU transfer Josh Quezada who was a three-star recruit in his own right coming out of high school. Also, their offensive line takes a hit by losing a pair of multi-year starters, but they do have some experience returners with five players who saw significant time or started this past year.

Getting Boise State at home is the first step in winning the Mountain West title, because a win would mean that Fresno State would likely host the conference title game. For Fresno State to win the title they will have to defeat Boise State for the first time since 2005, and also gave the Broncos two conference loses for the first time in over a decade. If this Fresno State team does not win the title it may be a long time before they do.


Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s very tempting to pick Fresno State, but it’s hard to see Boise State losing the Mountain West in 2013. The Bulldogs’ only defeat in conference play last season came against the Broncos, losing 20-10 in Boise. Fresno State returns most of its core, including All-Mountain West quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Davante Adams. The defense will miss linebacker Travis Brown and safety Phillip Thomas, but nine starters are back from a unit that ranked 22nd nationally in yards allowed.

Boise State had a rebuilding season last year, yet still finished 11-2 overall and 7-1 in Mountain West games. A handful of key players are departing, but the Broncos should still end up as conference champs. Quarterback Joe Southwick will be more comfortable in his second year under center, and running back Jay Ajayi is a rising star. The front seven should be solid, but the secondary is a question mark with the departure of cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins.

If there’s a reason to pick Fresno State, it’s Boise State’s weakness in the secondary, along with a Sept. 20 home date against the Broncos. Considering the winner of that matchup could end up with homefield advantage in the conference title game, it’s crucial for Fresno State to win the early season matchup. Despite the reasons to like the Bulldogs, I still think Boise State claims the Mountain West title in 2013.  
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Both Boise State and Fresno State are similar in that they are led by experienced quarterbacks who direct productive offenses, but also have defenses who can get the job done. I fully expect both teams to win their respective divisions in the new-look Mountain West this season, with Boise State reaching the apex of the Mountain Division and Fresno State showing its the best of the West Division.

Even though the Bulldogs are returning more starters (16 compared to Boise State's 9) and have a potential Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Derek Carr, I still think the Broncos' overall talent and track record under head coach Chris Petersen will win out. Boise State Petersen is 51-4 in conference play (five seasons in the WAC, last two in the MWC) as the Broncos' head coach, which includes five outright or shared conference titles in seven seasons.

It's tough for me to pick against that type of sustained success, although Fresno State will get its chance to send a strong message when it hosts Boise on Sept. 20. Regardless of how the opening round goes, I'll take the Broncos to claim the contest that really counts - the MWC championship game on Dec. 7.
 

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Teaser:
<p> Boise State or Fresno State: Who Wins the Mountain West in 2013?</p>
Post date: Friday, May 3, 2013 - 07:35
Path: /college-football/25-things-know-spring-football
Body:

Depending on your point of view, spring practice is either a respite from the football-free months of winter and a taste of things to come in August. On the other hand, it’s only appealing to the hardcore football fan.

Sure, there’s the same questions every year -- is my team’s defense really good or is the offense really bad, or vice versa. But there’s also plenty of news and notes.

Spring practice has ended for every team across the country. Athlon Sports takes a quick snapshot at the nation, cutting through some of the minutiae for the top 25 things you need to know from spring football.

25 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW FROM SPRING FOOTBALL

Braxton Miller airs it out
Urban Meyer seems intent to prove Braxton Miller can command a two-dimensional offense. The junior quarterback completed 16 of 25 passes for 217 yards with two touchdowns in the spring game for a passing performance that would have been one of his best during the 2012 season. Miller threw more than 25 passes in a game once last season and topped 200 yards four times.

Oregon’s offense is just fine
No Chip Kelly, no Kenjon Barner, but the Oregon offense rolls on. Take it for what it’s worth, but the two offenses in the spring game combined for 802 yards and nine touchdowns with Marcus Mariota going 13 of 15 for 169 yards and two touchdowns in four series against the second-team defense. Beyond Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, wide receiver Bralon Addison (243 yards, 11 yards per catch in 2012) and running back Byron Marshall (447 yards, 5.1 yards per carry last season looked like potential breakout players for Mark Helfrich’s first season.

ACL injuries claim Michigan’s top linebacker, backup quarterback
Michigan has aspirations to win the Big Ten Legends Division, but the Wolverines may have to do it without their leading tackler and backup quarterback. Jake Ryan (88 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss) and Russell Bellomy both went down with torn ACL since March, putting both of their seasons in doubt. The most decorated defensive player for Michigan last season, Ryan is the bigger loss, though the Wolverines are hopeful he could return by mid-October. Without Bellomy, who threw four interceptions in 21 attempts last season, Michigan may look to incoming freshman Shane Morris to handle backup QB duty.

Jameis Winston’s emergence at Florida State is West Virginia’s gain
The redshirt freshman is looking the part as the starter at the quarterback position, where Florida State has produced more first-round draft picks (EJ Manuel and Christian Ponder) in recent years than All-ACC first-teamers. Winston was 12 of 15 for 205 yards with two touchdowns in the spring game while Jacob Coker went 11 of 19 for 153 yards and a score. Winston’s rise was enough to convince veteran Clint Trickett to transfer to West Virginia, where he’ll compete with Ford Childress and Paul Millard to replace Geno Smith. Trickett was 66 of 106 for 947 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions the last two seasons.

Banged up at South Carolina
South Carolina tried to calm the masses after defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the top defensive player in college football, missed the end of spring with neck and back pain and a possible concussion. He’s expected back for the fall, and the injuries aren’t out of the ordinary. But Clowney is the presumptive No. 1 overall draft pick in 2014 and a Heisman contender. Meanwhile, starting quarterback Connor Shaw missed the spring to nurse a foot injury sustained in the Outback Bowl. As he did last year, backup Dylan Thompson looked capable of taking over if needed.

Arrest clouds Jeremy Hill’s season at LSU
Running back is traditionally a spot where LSU has plenty of depth. That may be put to the test with leading rusher Jeremy Hill (755 yards, 12 touchdowns) indefinitely suspended. Hill was arrested on charges of simple battery early in the morning April 27 after an altercation in a Baton Rouge bar. The Tigers still return Kenny Hilliard (463 yards, six touchdowns) and Alfred Blue (6.8 yards per carry), but Hill will be missed if his suspension leads into the opener against TCU or longer.

Florida putting together a puzzle
For a team that returns only four defensive starters, the Gators don’t have much to worry about on defense. Will Muschamp spent most of the spring figuring out where to play his top players on defense. Spring drills ended with Dominique Easley at tackle (he started at end last season), Dante Fowler at the “buck” end/linebacker position, Ronald Powell at strongside linebacker (his natural position is “buck”) and Jaylen Watkins at safety (he started last year at corner). Meanwhile, cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy spent time on offense to boost a lackluster wide receiver position.

Penn State will start from scratch at quarterback
Steven Bench, who threw a total of eight passes last season, elected to transfer after the spring, meaning Penn State will have no experienced quarterbacks vying for the job in spring. Junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson appeared to take the lead in the race during the spring, but he’ll be joined in the fall by freshman Christian Hackenberg, the No. 13 prospect in the Athlon Consensus 100.

Dominique Brown at tailback for Louisville
The former quarterback is preparing for his first full season at running back after missing all of last year with an injury. Brown rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries in the spring game, adding six catches for 30 yards. His emergence will be key for a run game that field to produce 100 yards in a game after the season-ending injury to Senorise Perry.

Oklahoma State’s competition goes on
A year ago, Mike Gundy named then-freshman Wes Lunt his starting quarterback during the spring. This decision won’t be quite so easy. Gundy first said Clint Chelf was his frontrunner but then backtracked to say J.W. Walsh and Lunt were neck-and-neck-and-neck. Doesn’t seem like he could go wrong with any, but it will be interesting to see if there are any bruised egos come Aug. 31.

Oregon State still choosing
Like Oklahoma State, Oregon State has multiple qualified quarterbacks who won games last season. Neither Sean Mannion nor Cody Vaz won the job in the spring, meaning Mike Riley will wait until fall to choose between his veteran QBs.

Not so fast on Oklahoma’s Blake Bell and USC’s Max Wittek
Two quarterbacks who saw spot duty at national powers aren't assured of starting in 2013. Athlon Sports still thinks Bell is a player on the rise for 2013, but Bob Stoops isn’t saying as much. He’s the most experience quarterback on the roster, but almost all of that is running in short-yardage situations. Sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight gave him competition in the spring for Oklahoma’s first quarterback battle since 2007. At USC, Wittek went down for a week with a knee injury opening the door for Cody Kessler and freshman Max Browne, one of the top quarterbacks in the class of 2013.

Pachall returns to TCU
Gary Patterson has been guarded in his comments about Casey Pachall’s return to TCU after leaving the team after four games to deal with substance abuse. Pachall is the odds-on favorite, but Trevone Boykin, who went 3-6 as a starter against nine bowl teams, can’t be ignored. How Pachall fits into the offense in his return will be a storyline worth watching as TCU hopes to contend for a Big 12 title.

Texas linebackers get a makeover
The Longhorns’ run defense was a mess last season, allowing 200 yards or more five times and giving up 4.6 yards per carry. Spring indicated there may be some help with a new-look linebacker corps. Jordan Hicks, who was injured for most of the season, will return healthy along two promising sophomores, Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens.

Virginia Tech still limping on offense
The Hokies were in the bottom four of the ACC in passing, scoring offense and total offense, but Virginia Tech didn’t have its usual performance in the run game, either. Virginia Tech’s 3.7 yards per carry was its worst since 2007, and the returning cast might not have a lot of hope to improve. Michael Holmes is facing a felony charge after a fight in Blacksburg two weeks ago, and Tony Gregory missed the spring with a rib injury. The pair were among the Hokies’ top four rushers, but failed to top 300 yards.

Arizona loses top receiver
The Wildcats are starting over in the passing game, first with Matt Scott exhausting his eligibility and now with a torn ACL for wide receiver Austin Hill. The junior was as second-team All-Pac-12 performer with 81 catches for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. The injury leaves David Richards (29 catches, 264 yards, three touchdowns) as the top returning wide receiver.

Rushel Shell bolts from Pittsburgh
It wouldn’t be a Pittsburgh offseason without a little bit of turmoil. As the Panthers moving into the ACC, they’ll do so without a rising star at running back. Expected to take over for Ray Graham, Rushel Shell transferred to UCLA. Shell was one of Pittsburgh’s top recruits in the 2012 class, rushing for 641 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman. Isaac Bennett and Malcolm Crockett, who combined for 191 yards and 41 carries last season, will take over ball-carrying duties.

Wisconsin’s David Gilbert calls it quits
Recurring foot injuries caused Wisconsin defensive end David Gilbert to end his career before spring practice. After recording 9.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks last season, Gilbert was expected to anchor the Badgers’ pass rush in coach Gary Andersen’s first season.

Georgia’s defense is going to be OK
With a handful of injuries and suspensions, Georgia ranked 12th in the SEC in rush defense and sixth in total defense despite two first-round picks in the front seven and seven overall draft picks on the defense. With early enrollee Tray Matthews and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons shining in spring practice, Georgia hopes for better results with less name recognition.

Johnny Manziel played actual football during the spring and did OK
The defending Heisman winner worked to trademark his nickname, spent some time on vacation, got courtside seats for NBA games and had a love-hate relationship with Twitter. He also played actual football, passing for 303 yards and three touchdowns in his spring game against the second-team defense.

James Franklin’s job is in jeopardy at Missouri
As a sophomore, Missouri quarterback James Franklin looked ready to step into a the Tigers’ quarterback lineage of Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert. After an injury-plagued junior season and a lackluster spring practice, Franklin may have trouble hanging onto his job as a senior. Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk impressed during the spring as the Tigers have had a changing of the guard of sorts on offense with longtime Gary Pinkel assistant David Yost leaving for Washington State.

Notre Dame finds replacement for Manti Te’o
The early returns on Jarrett Grace replacing Te’o at middle linebacker were positive, though no one expects the junior from Cincinnati to duplicate Te’o’s season. He’ll have the advantage of playing behind Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. Despite an uneventful spring game, George Atkinson III impressed during spring practice, now that he could be Notre Dame’s primary back.

Boise State’s Joe Southwick continues to improve
Southwick didn’t throw an interception in Boise State’s final four games, all wins, after throwing seven picks in the first nine. In his second spring as the starter, Southwick completed 79 percent of his passes in team drills, for what that’s worth. The senior also showed more willingness to run after rushing for 121 yards last season.

Stanford’s Josh Nunes retires after freak injury
Nunes, who was beat out by Kevin Hogan for the quarterback job at midseason, ended his career after a painful weight room injury resulting in a torn right pectoral muscle. His departure will cut into Stanford’s depth at quarterback beyond Hogan.

Nick Saban is unhappy
Alabama has won back-to-back national titles and is likely the No. 1 team in the preseason. So, of course, Nick Saban is a little cranky on his tour of Alabama alumni groups, saying: “They all want me to make a comparison between this year’s team and last year’s team and the team before that and the team before that. I wasn’t happy with any of those teams at this point. If I was happy with them, we wouldn't have summer conditioning, we would not have fall camp, we wouldn't have 30 practices to get ready for our first game against Virginia Tech. We'd just pack it in and say, 'All right, let's go to Atlanta and play the game.' We're not there yet."


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Teaser:
<p> Spring practice has ended, here are all the key injuries, personnel decisions and storylines</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 13:00
Path: /college-football/which-team-will-win-pac-12-south-2013
Body:

The power in the Pac-12 is clearly titled to the North Division, which should have Oregon and Stanford ranked among the top-10 in most preseason polls.

The South Division lacks a top-15 team but four squads will be in the mix for the conference title.

UCLA is the back-to-back champion of the South Division. Arizona State and Arizona are headed in the right direction under second-year coaches, while USC has far too much talent to be finishing 7-6 each season.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Which Team Will Win the Pac-12 South in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
UCLA would be my favorite in the South, but we learned last year the Bruins can’t beat Stanford. Never mind defeating Oregon and Stanford in back-to-back weeks. What might be the best team in the South could be out of it by the end of October thanks to a brutal schedule. By default, the pick is Arizona State, the fewest major flaws and a team with a solid coach, no matter what you think of Todd Graham. As long as an early season schedule which includes a road trip to Stanford and games against Wisconsin and Notre Dame don’t take their toll on Arizona State. The Sun Devils are the pick here.


Kyle Kensing, Editor at SaturdayBlitz.com, (@kensing45)
Arizona State is primed for a run to the South division crown, and a Pac-12 championship appearance. The Sun Devils became the odds-on favorite for me when tackle Will Sutton eschewed the NFL draft. He is one of the best defensive lineman in the country and sets the tone for the No. 2 sacking defense last year. Linebacker Carl Bradford is another potential All-American keying the defensive side, while dual-threat quarterback Taylor Kelly settled into his role by season's end.

ASU put up a surprising 38.4 points per game -- only Oregon was more prolific among Pac-12 teams. Perhaps most importantly, the Sun Devils look like the only South team without glaring questions marks: USC is still paper thin, UCLA must replace its record-setting running back, and Arizona is replacing star quarterback Matt Scott while trying to solve its defensive woes. 
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
UCLA is the back-to-back champion of the Pac-12 South and returns most of its core, so it’s hard to pick against the Bruins. However, I think UCLA will be dethroned this year, as Arizona State is my pick to claim the division title in Todd Graham’s second season in Tempe.

The Sun Devils nearly won the South Division last year but a 45-43 defeat to UCLA in late October was just enough for the Bruins to play Stanford in the conference championship. Graham made a big difference in Tempe last season, as Arizona State cut down on the bad mental mistakes that plagued this team under Dennis Erickson and ranked in the top 30 of total offense and defense. Both units are in great shape for 2013, as the offense returns quarterback Taylor Kelly, one of the nation’s top running back duos in Marion Grice and DJ Foster, along with an offensive line that returns three starters. The defense has room to improve, but this unit can only get better with Will Sutton turning down the NFL for one more year in Tempe, along with the return of seven other starters.

In addition to the returning talent on both sides of the ball, Arizona State’s schedule is very favorable. Yes, the Sun Devils have to play at UCLA, but the other teams in contention for the South title – USC and Arizona – both come to Sun Devil Stadium. Also, Arizona State does not play Oregon in crossover play and hosts Oregon State and Washington in games with the North Division. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
An argument can be made for either California team (UCLA, USC) or either Arizona team (Arizona, Arizona State) to win the Pac-12 South this season. That's what happens when a team like USC, which was pretty much everyone's preseason national champion last fall, goes 7-6 and ends up in the Sun Bowl, not the BCS title game.

Can UCLA make it two division titles in a row for second-year coach Jim Mora Jr.? The Bruins have the quarterback in Brett Hundley, but gone is running back Johnathan Franklin and several other starters on both sides of the ball. Then there's the schedule, which is pretty brutal. Of the four South teams mentioned, UCLA is the only one that has to play both Oregon and Stanford from the North. And both of these games are on the road, as is a non-conference tilt with Nebraska and divisional games against Arizona and USC.

Speaking of the other team from Los Angeles, USC is trying to pick up the pieces from last season's debacle, but will have to do so without quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods, among others. Talent has never been an issue for the Trojans, but if last season showed us anything, it's that talent's not enough. I expect Lane Kiffin's crew to be better in 2013, but not division champion-caliber.

Out in the desert, Rich Rodriguez has Arizona fans excited about football thanks to a high-octane offense powered by the nation's leading rusher in 2012, Ka'Deem Carey. Quarterback, however, is a bit of a question mark with the departure of Matt Scott and even though every starter returns on defense, this is a unit that has a long ways to go (last in the Pac-12, No. 118 in the nation in yards allowed in 2012). Don't be surprised to see the Wildcats involved in a bunch of high-scoring affairs this fall.

No, my pick to reign supreme in the South is the Sun Devils. Todd Graham appears to have something brewing in Tempe and it could all come together in 2013. The offense is led by quarterback Taylor Kelly and a collection of productive backs and receivers. The defense has All-American lineman Will Sutton and seven other starters back. The Sun Devils were second only to Stanford last year in the Pac-12 in total defense and could be even better this season if they can improve against the run (182.9 ypg, 10th).

Arizona State will get a chance to show how good they are early with Wisconsin coming to Tempe on Sept. 14 followed by consecutive games against Stanford (road), USC and Notre Dame (both home). If the Sun Devils can navigate this part without too much difficulty, they should be in good shape as the sledding gets much easier with both Arizona and USC at home. I think Arizona State, true to its nickname, will "rise" to the occasion in 2013 and finish atop the Pac-12 South standings.

 

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Teaser:
<p> Which Team Will Win the Pac-12 South in 2013?</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 07:22
Path: /college-football/which-team-will-win-big-12-2013
Body:

Unpredictable is the best word to sum up the Big 12 heading into the 2013 season.

The defending Big 12 champs (Kansas State) lost several key pieces, including quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown. However, it’s hard to bet against Bill Snyder.

Texas seems to be on the right track after going 9-4 last year. But is the defense capable of turning things around after a disappointing 2012 campaign?

Oklahoma loses quarterback Landry Jones and is short on bodies on the defensive line, but the Sooners can’t be counted out of the title picture.

Oklahoma State and TCU could have the most upside of any of the teams in the conference and will be popular selections at the top of the league for 2013.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Which Team Will Win the Big 12 in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Oklahoma State says it doesn’t know who will be the quarterback when the season starts, but even if you take that at face value (not saying that I do), there’s still more of a comfort level with the Cowboys quarterbacks than there was a year ago. Mike Gundy has good reason to feel comfortable with any of his QBs - Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh or Wes Lunt - to win their share of games in a watered-down Big 12. Oklahoma State lost its last three road games last season - Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State - but the Cowboys comeback with more experience at QB and a veteran-laden defense. As much as I don’t want to pick against Oklahoma, a team that finds a way to win the Big 12 time and time again, or Texas, which should rebound, I’m sticking with Oklahoma State. Gundy went 8-5 in a year in which everyone thought the Cowboys would struggle and on top of that Okie State had a revolving door at quarterback. He’s a coach you can trust.
 

Allen Kenney, @BlatantHomerism, BlatantHomerism.com
Once dominated by its power programs, the Big 12 has morphed into possibly the most competitive conference in the country. Pound for pound, the Big 12 might have the best collection of coaches around, and with Oklahoma and Texas sliding back to the pack, the door has been cracked open for some of the league's upstarts to sneak in and grab the conference crown.

I really think you're talking about as many as five teams in contention to win the league this year: Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, TCU and Oklahoma State. Ultimately, I'm betting it comes down to the Horned Frogs and Cowboys.

Gary Patterson's TCU team might be the best in the conference. The Horned Frogs have a defense led by defensive lineman Devonte Fields that is well-suited to slowing down the rocket-powered offenses in the Big 12. The bigger news is on the other side of the ball, where talented quarterback Casey Pachall returns to give TCU some offensive firepower.

I make the Cowboys the favorite this year, though. OSU went 7-5 in the 2012 regular, but the Cowboys lost close games to Baylor, Texas and OU. They also had a bizarre meltdown against Arizona that could be chalked up to inexperience.

The Pokes bring back the majority of their key performers from a season ago, including three quarterbacks who can win games. Yet, the biggest advantage OSU has is the schedule. Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU all come to Stillwater this fall. I expect that will tip the scales in favor of Mike Gundy's squad.


Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Big 12 is the toughest BCS conference to predict in 2013. There’s no clear frontrunner, as a case could be made that four teams are deserving of the No. 1 spot. And if Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU are the top four favorites, Baylor and Kansas State aren’t far behind. A big reason for the unpredictability is the turnover at quarterback. Of the six teams mentioned above, three lost their starter, and Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU entered the offseason with some uncertainty under center.

Although Oklahoma State has some holes to fill, I like the Cowboys to win the Big 12 title in 2013. Mike Gundy’s team went 8-5 last season in a rebuilding year, and even though he hasn’t started a full year, Clint Chelf should be one of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks in 2013. The skill players are loaded with talent, including running back Jeremy Smith and receiver Josh Stewart. The biggest concern is a defense that is thin on proven ends and needs it secondary to play better after ranking 110th nationally against the pass last year.

While the Cowboys are in great shape personnel-wise, the schedule is one of the biggest reasons to pick Mike Gundy's team as the Big 12 favorite. Oklahoma State gets Kansas State, TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma at home. The Cowboys have to play Texas and Texas Tech on the road, but it seems two or three Big 12 losses may win the conference.

I have a hard time seeing any of the Big 12 teams being ranked inside of the top-10 in most preseason polls this year. However, this could be one of the most-competitive leagues in the nation with six teams having a shot to win the conference crown. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
In the Big 12, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas appear to be the likeliest contenders. Oklahoma will be breaking in a new quarterback, Oklahoma State has three solid ones to choose from, TCU could turn its offense back over to its former starter and Texas is hoping for more consistent production out of its signal caller.

That said, it shouldn't be that surprising that I am leaning towards the Cowboys or Horned Frogs to win the conference this season. Mike Gundy has built a consistent winner in Stillwater, Okla., and the same can be said for Gary Patterson in Forth Worth, Texas, who has show everyone that his Frogs belong in one of the so-called power conferences.

Oklahoma State's offense should be among the nation's most productive, but this team will only get as far as its defense, which returns seven starters, takes them. On the other hand, TCU's offense could be pretty potent in its own right with former starter Casey Pachall poised to reclaim the quarterback job and enough weapons returning in the backfield and at receiver. The difference between these two could be on defense. TCU returns nine starters from a defense that finished first or second in the Big 12 in total, scoring and rushing defense last season.

My only concerns when it comes to TCU is that the Frogs are still relatively new to the rigors of the Big 12 and their schedule. TCU opens the season against LSU in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and will play both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on the road, as well as Kansas State. The Cowboys have a difficult season-opener of their own (vs. Mississippi State in Houston), but their toughest road conference games are against West Virginia and the Longhorns. TCU won't go down without a fight, but I think Gundy and the Cowboys lasso another Big 12 title this fall.
 

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Post date: Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 07:22
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Greatness is defined in so many different ways. Statistical production, individual awards, team success, longevity, supporting cast, level of competition, raw talent and athletic ability all factor heavily in determining overall greatness. Sometimes, you simply know greatness when you see it.

So all factors were considered when trying to determine who the greatest running backs of the BCS era have been. Here are the Top 50 ball carriers since the BCS was implemented in 1998:

Agree or disagree with our ranking of College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era? Let us know on Twitter at @AthlonSports, using the hashtag #AthlonRB50.

1. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06)
Stats: 747 att., 4,045 yds, 41 TD, 24 rec., 198 yds, TD

The BCS version of Herschel Walker or Bo Jackson was the three-year star from Palestine (Texas) High. A three-time first-team All-Big 12 runner finished No. 2 in the Heisman Trophy voting as a true freshman in 2004. His 1,925 yards was an NCAA record for a true freshman and it earned him unanimous All-American honors. Despite missing chunks of time with injuries in each of his next two seasons, “All Day” Peterson still topped 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. His natural blend of power, speed, size and balance has never been duplicated during the BCS era. He rushed for 970 yards for the Vikings in 2011 in a season shortened by a torn ACL, the only time since high school that A.D. hasn’t rushed for at least 1,000 yards. He is the Sooners No. 3 all-time leading rusher.

2. Ricky Williams, Texas (1995-98)
Stats: 1,011 att., 6,279 yds, 72 TD, 85 rec., 927 yds, 3 TD

One of Williams’ spectacular seasons took place during the BCS era so he is eligible. The power back from San Diego gave fans in Austin a preview of things to come when he rushed for 990 yards as a true freshman fullback. His two-year run as an upperclassmen may never be matched as he posted back-to-back seasons with at least 1,800 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. Williams was a two-time consensus All-American, a two-time Doak Walker Award winner, a two-time Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and claimed the Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and Heisman Trophy as a senior. He left school as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher (since broken) and he is one of four players to ever score at least 70 rushing touchdowns.

3. Ron Dayne, Wisconsin (1996-99)
Stats: 1,220 att., 7,125 yds, 71 TD, 31 rec., 304 yds

Williams’ NCAA rushing record didn’t last for very long as the New Jersey native came along the next year to break the record held by Williams and, before that, by Pitt's Tony Dorsett and Ohio State's Archie Griffin. Dayne is the only player in history with 7,000 yards rushing and is one of four players to score at least 70 rushing touchdowns. He carried the ball more than any player in history (1,220) and he owns multiple BCS bowl rushing records with his two Rose Bowl MVP performances. He capped his illustrious career with a 2,000-yard Heisman Trophy and Big Ten championship season. The consensus All-American won Big Ten Player of the Year, Maxwell, Walter Camp and Doak Walker recognition in his final season in Madison.

4. Darren McFadden, Arkansas (2005-07)
Stats: 785 att., 4,590 yds, 41 TD, 46 rec., 365 yds, 2 TD (2, 2)

When it comes to pure breakaway speed and big play ability, few can match Run-DMC’s talent. The North Little Rock prospect finished second in Heisman balloting in back-to-back seasons, coming up just short to Troy Smith in 2006 and Tim Tebow in 2007. McFadden won the Doak Walker and SEC Offensive Player of the Year awards in both consensus All-American seasons. His 4,590 yards is No. 2 all-time in SEC history to only Herschel Walker. He helped lead Arkansas to the SEC Championship Game in 2006 but came up short against eventual national champion Florida.

5. LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU (1997-00)
Stats: 943 att., 5,387 yds, 43 TD, 43 rec., 267

Tomlinson might be the greatest NFL running back in history so some may feel he is getting slighted for being No. 5 on this list. The mid-level recruit from Rosebud (Texas) Waco had one of the greatest careers in NCAA history. After two solid but uneventful seasons, L.T. took over the national scene as a junior with 1,974 yards and 20 touchdowns, including the NCAA single-game rushing record of 406 yards against UTEP. He backed that up with another 2,158 yards and 22 scores, winning the Doak Walker, his second WAC Offensive Player of the Year award, consensus All-American honors and a fourth place finish in the Heisman voting. He scored 162 TDs in his NFL career.

6. Reggie Bush, USC (2003-05)
Stats: 433 att., 3,169 yds, 25 TD, 95 rec., 1,301 yds, 13 TD, 2,081 ret. yds, 3 TD

The superstar recruit from La Mesa (Calif.) Helix brought a unique skill set to the evolving running back position. Sort of a first of his kind, the all-purpose talent was unstoppable with the ball in his hands. He played a prominent role on the 2003 National Championship team before providing 908 yards rushing, 509 yards receiving, nearly 1,000 return yards and 15 total touchdowns during USC’s 2004 romp to a second national title. He exploded as a junior, rushing for 1,740 yards on a ridiculous 8.7 yards per carry and scoring 19 total touchdowns, coming up just short of his third national title. He earned his second consecutive Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year award as well as the Doak Walker, Walter Camp and Heisman Trophy. His career 7.3 per carry average is fourth all-time and his legacy is only vaguely tarnished by the scandal that put USC on probation and caused him to "return" his Heisman.

7. Darren Sproles, Kansas State (2001-04)
Stats: 815 att., 4,979 yds, 45 TD, 66 rec., 609 yds, 2 TD, 1,224 ret yds, TD

Few players have ever been as valuable to their school as the diminutive Sproles was to Kansas State. The all-purpose dynamo rushed for at least 1,300 yards in three straight seasons and he helped lead the Wildcats to an improbable Big 12 championship in 2003. His 323 yards from scrimmage and four total touchdowns against Oklahoma in the title game will go down in history as arguably the greatest single game performance by any Wildcat in history. The Sunflower State native finished fifth in the Heisman voting that year and has proven himself by carving out an extremely productive niche in the NFL as an all-purpose talent.

8. Ray Rice, Rutgers (2005-07)
Stats: 910 att., 4,926 yds, 49 TD, 37 rec., 334 yds, TD

Much like Sproles, Rice meant more to his team and university than most everyone else on this list. He rushed for nearly 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in three years after back-to-back seasons with at least 335 carries, 1,794 yards and 20 touchdowns. He is second all-time in rushing yards and carries in Big East history and has developed into one of the most talented running backs in the NFL. A stout lower body has allowed the smaller back from unlikely New Rochelle (N.Y.) High to withstand the punishment of being a true workhorse, making him one of the game’s most talented players.

9. Montee Ball, Wisconsin (2009-12)
Stats: 924 att., 5,140 yds, 77 TD, 59 rec., 598 yds, 6 TD

Ball won’t be confused with the most talented running backs of the BCS era but few have been as successful and productive. No one player in the history of the sport has scored as many touchdowns (77 rushing, 83 total) as the Missouri native. He also finished fourth in the Heisman balloting as a junior and won the Doak Walker as senior while leading the Badgers to three straight Big Ten championships. His 39 touchdowns in 2011 tied Barry Sanders for the all-time single-season record and Ball earned consensus All-American honors in both seasons.

10. DeAngelo Williams, Memphis (2002-05)
Stats: 969 att., 6,026 yds, 55 TD, 70 rec., 723 yds, 5 TD, 824 ret yds

Not many players have claimed three conference player of the year honors but the Wynne (Ark.) High prospect did so in Conference USA for Memphis. He finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting in 2005 after his second straight 1,900-yard season. He is one of only three players with at least 6,000 yards rushing and he scored 60 total touchdowns during his career. Only once (2003) did Williams not average more than 6.0 yards per carry.

Related: The Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

11. Cedric Benson, Texas (2001-04)
Stats: 1,112 att., 5,540 yds, 64 TD, 69 rec., 621 yds, 3 TD (6, 6)

The Longhorns running back is one of the most productive running backs in history. He finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting two separate times and is one of only six players to score at least 60 rushing touchdowns. The Midland (Texas) Lee star posted four season of at least 1,050 yards and 12 touchdowns while in Austin.

12. Trent Richardson, Alabama (2009-11)
Stats: 540 att., 3,130 yds, 35 TD, 68 rec., 730 yds, 7 TD, 720 ret. yds, TD (3)

Richardson is one of the most physically imposing running backs to ever play the game. The Pensacola product only started for one season but became the only SEC running back to rush for 20 touchdowns in a season. He won two national titles and is one of the rarest combinations of size, speed and agility.

13. Mark Ingram, Alabama (2008-10)
Stats: 572 att., 3,261 yds, 42 TD, 60 rec., 670 yds, 4 TD

Ingram is the only Heisman winner in Alabama’s storied history, and he might not have been the best back on his own team. From Flint, Mich., Ingram led Bama to the national championship in 2009 with 1,658 yards and 17 scores. It was his only 1,000-yard season while in Tuscaloosa. No Bama player has scored more rushing touchdowns than Ingram.

14. C.J. Spiller, Clemson (2006-09)
Stats: 606 att., 3,547 yds, 32 TD, 123 rec., 1,420 yds, 11 TD, 2,621 ret. yds, 8 TD

Versatility and explosiveness are the words that come to mind when dealing with Spiller. With elite burst and big-play ability, Clemson used Spiller as a multi-faceted weapon. He is No. 2 in ACC history in yards from scrimmage and total touchdowns and is the NCAA’s all-time leader with seven kickoff return touchdowns.

15. LaMichael James, Oregon (2009-11)
Stats: 771 att., 5,082 yds, 53 TD, 51 rec., 586 yds, 4 TD

Few players accomplished more in three seasons than James. Three straight 1,500-yard campaigns, a Doak Walker Award, consensus All-American honors and a trip to the BCS title game make the speedy and allusive back one of the BCS era’s greatest tailbacks. The Texarkana, Texas, native finished third in the Heisman voting in 2010 and 10th in 2011.

16. Steven Jackson, Oregon State (2000-03)
Stats: 743 att., 3,625 yds, 39 TD, 66 rec., 680 yds, 6 TD

From a pure talent standpoint, Jackson is the best Oregon State player of all-time and is one of the most talented runners of the BCS era. The Las Vegas native led the nation in rushing two straight seasons and owns the OSU single-season rushing record. He has eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in the NFL for a team that rarely pressed for the postseason.

17. Larry Johnson, Penn State (1999-02)
Stats: 460 att., 2,953 yds, 26 TD, 65 rec., 681 yds, 7 TD, 1,181 ret. yds, 3 TD (3)

The State College  prospect only started for one season, but that one year was special. He rushed for 2,087 yards and 20 touchdowns on 7.7 yards per carry in '02, earning consensus All-American honors as well as winning the Doak Walker, Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards. He finished third in the Heisman Trophy race and brought elite size and speed to the backfield.

18. Toby Gerhart, Stanford (2006-09)
Stats: 671 att., 3,522 yds, 44 TD, 39 rec., 395 yds

The Norco (Calif.) High prospect had just 515 yards and one touchdown entering his junior year. In two years as the starter, Gerhart posted 43 rushing touchdowns and over 3,000 yards in his final two seasons. He won the Doak Walker and Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year awards and earned consensus All-American honors by leading the nation in rushing touchdowns (28), attempts (343) and yards (1,871).

19. Quentin Griffin, Oklahoma (1999-02)
Stats: 714 att., 3,842 yds, 43 TD, 154 rec., 1,282 yds, 7 TD

A steady performer in both the running and receiving game, Griffin blossomed as a superstar in his senior season. He rushed for 783 yards and 16 touchdowns while catching 45 passes for the unbeaten 2000 National Champions before exploding in his final season in 2002. He finished 10th in the Heisman voting after 1,884 yards rushing and 18 total touchdowns in 2002. 

20. Shaun Alexander, Alabama (1996-99)
Stats: 727 att., 3,565 yds, 41 TD, 62 rec., 798 yds, 8 TD

Alexander was a steady, four-year player at Alabama. The Florence, Ky., talent is the all-time leading rusher in Alabama history and he capped his career with an SEC Offensive Player of the Year season when he scored 23 total touchdowns and rushed for a career high 1,383 yards rushing in 1999.

21. Steve Slaton, West Virginia (2005-07)
Stats: 664 att., 3,923 yds, 50 TD, 65 rec., 805 yds, 5 TD (4)

The mid-level recruit from Pennsylvania showed college coaches around the nation what they missed on by rushing for at least 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns in each of his three seasons. His speed and big-play potential fit perfectly in Rich Rodriguez’s zone read scheme, and had he not left early for the NFL, would have rewritten the WVU record books.

22. Kevin Jones, Virginia Tech (2001-03)
Stats: 616 att., 3,475 yds, 35 TD, 24 rec., 229 yds 

Jones was one of the most important signings of the Frank Beamer era out of Chester, Pa. His talent was obvious from day one as he nearly topped 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. His 1,647-yard, 21-TD junior year earned him consensus All-American honors and led him to depart early for the NFL. Jones was the first in a long line of elite Hokies running backs.

23. Avon Cobourne, West Virginia (1999-02)
Stats: 1,023 att., 5,039 yds, 42 TD, 57 rec., 459 yds

The Big East’s all-time leading rusher burst onto the scene with a 1,138-yard, 10-TD season as a true freshman in 1999. The Camden, N.J., prospect capped his stellar four-year starting career with a 1,710-yard, 17-TD season as a senior. The short but burly back was a true workhorse who still sits atop the Mountaineers all-time rushing list.

24. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma (2007-10)
Stats: 759 att., 3,685 yds, 50 TD, 157 rec., 1,571 yds, 13 TD, 1,462 ret. yds, 2 TD

An underrated talent from Las Vegas, Murray was as productive across the board as any player in Sooners history. He is sixth in school history in rushing, first in total touchdowns, fixth in receptions and No. 1 in all-purpose yards.

25. Chris Perry, Michigan (2000-03)
Stats: 794 att., 3,657 yds, 39 TD, 64 rec., 569 yds, 2 TD

Perry capped a solid Michigan career with an elite Doak Walker-winning, Heisman finalist season in 2003. He claimed Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and was a consensus All-American. Perry touched the ball 382 times on offense for 2,041 yards and 20 touchdowns in his final season.

26. Marshawn Lynch, Cal (2004-06)
Stats: 490 att., 3,230 yds, 29 TD, 68 rec., 600 yds, 6 TD, 744 ret yds 

Beast mode started back in Berkeley where Lynch averaged 6.6 yards per carry over a three-year college career. He never had one elite season but his 1,684-yards from scrimmage, 15-total touchdown season led to a Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year award in 2006. His power and speed was obvious ever since he signed with Cal out of Oakland (Calif.) Technical.

27. Cadillac Williams, Auburn (2001-04)
Stats: 741 att., 3,831 yds, 45 TD, 45 rec., 342 yds, TD, 911 ret. yds 

He never got the ball all to himself and that likely keeps him from being in the top 25. He topped out in 2003 with 1,307 yards and 17 touchdowns before his second 1,000-yard season during the unbeaten 2004 campaign. He has scored more rushing touchdowns than anyone in school history and is No. 2 to only Bo Jackson in rushing. 

28. Michael Turner, Northern Illinois (2000-03)
Stats: 940 att., 4,941 yds, 43 TD, 43 rec., 451 yds, 3 TD, 646 ret. yds, 2 TD

Turner the Burner was a star in DeKalb before blossoming as an NFL workhorse. He had three seasons with at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage and at least two with 1,900 yards from scrimmage. He isn’t the MAC’s all-time leading rusher, but he is the league’s most talented running back alum.

29. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State (2008-10)
Stats: 788 att., 3,877 yds, 46 TD, 151 rec., 1,056 yds, 5 TD

Little “Quizz” defied logic by producing at workhorse levels despite his 5-foot-7 stature. He carried at least 250 times in all three seasons and never rushed for less than 1,184 yards. He also averaged over 50 receptions per season and won the 2008 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year award.

30. Ken Simonton, Oregon State (1998-01)
Stats: 1,023 att., 4,959 yds, 58 TD, 58 rec., 472 yds, TD

A four-year starter who rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each season prior to his senior year. He set the school's single-season rushing record (since broken) and is the all-time leading rusher at a program known for its running backs.

Related: The Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

31. Maurice Jones-Drew, UCLA (2003-05)
Stats: 481 att., 2,503 yds, 26 TD, 64 rec., 819 yds, 7 TD, 1,366 ret. yds, 6 TD
Formerly Maurice Drew, the UCLA tailback was a consensus All-American in 2005, yet never rushed for more than 1,007 yards in any season. An all-around talent.

32. Anthony Thomas, Michigan (1997-00)
Stats: 867 att., 4,230 yds, 52 TD, 79 rec., 762 yds, TD
Michigan's No. 4 rusher with three straight seasons with at least 15 rushing TDs. Was a big part of the Wolverines unbeaten national title as a freshman.

33. Michael Hart, Michigan (2004-07)
Stats: 1,015 att., 5,040 yds, 41 TD, 67 rec., 566 yds, 2 TD
Michigan's all-time leading rusher was a consistent overachiever. The hard worker got the most of his ability led his team to two Rose Bowls.

34. Kevin Smith, UCF (2005-07)
Stats: 905 att., 4,679 yds, 45 TD, 55 rec., 444 yds, TD
Posted the NCAA's No. 2 season with 2,567 yards on an NCAA record 450 carries to go with 29 rushing touchdowns. Level of competition is only knock.

35. Thomas Jones, Virginia (1996-99)
Stats: 823 att., 4,065 yds, 37 TD, 72 rec., 578 yds, 4 TD
A consensus All-American who finished eighth in the Heisman voting ('99) and is Virginia's all-time leading rusher.

36. Willis McGahee, Miami (2001-02)
Stats: 349 att., 2,067 yds, 31 TD, 28 rec., 355 yds
One-year starter who was a consensus All-American, conference player of the year and finished fourth in the Heisman while leading Miami to a second BCS title game in a row.

37. Garrett Wolfe, Northern Illinois (2004-06)
Stats: 807 att., 5,164 yds, 52 TD, 58 rec., 588 yds, 5 TD
Explosive tailback who posted career LOWS of 242 carries, 1,580 yards and 16 TDs (all in 2005). Could have been an all-time great had he not left early.

38. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (2009-12)
Stats: 843 att., 4,300 yds, 40 TD, 97 rec., 778 yds, 5 TD
Workhorse back who is Stanford's all-time leading rusher after three straight seasons with at least 250 touches. Is No. 1 all-time in total touchdowns scored (45) at Stanford.

39. Shonn Greene, Iowa (2005-08)
Stats: 376 att., 2,228 yds, 22 TD, 11 rec., 72 yds
Posted one elite Doak Walker-winning season after having to leave Iowa for community college for one year. A consensus All-American and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

40. LenDale White, USC (2003-05)
Stats: 541 att., 3,159 yds, 52 TD, 31 rec., 331 yds, 5 TD
Leads USC all-time in rushing touchdowns and was the perfect compliment to Reggie Bush for two national championship teams.

41. Travis Prentice, Miami (OH) (1996-99)
Stats: 1,138 att., 5,596 yds, 73 TD, 54 rec., 522 yds, 5 TD

42. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (2010-12)
Stats: 555 att., 2,677 yds, 38 TD, 74 rec., 767 yds, 3 TD

43. Kevin Faulk, LSU (1995-98)
Stats: 856 att., 4,557 yds, 46 TD, 53 rec., 600 yds, 4 TD

44. Ian Johnson, Boise State (2005-08)
Stats: 752 att., 4,184 yds, 58 TD, 60 rec., 642 yds, 1 TD

45. Knowshon Moreno, Georgia (2007-08)
Stats: 498 att., 2,734 yds, 30 TD, 53 rec., 645 yds, 2 TD

46. J.J. Arrington, Cal (2003-04)
Stats: 396 att., 2,625 yds, 20 TD, 42 rec., 299 yds, 3 TD

47. Chris Brown, Colorado (2001-02)
Stats: 493 att., 2,787 yds, 35 TD, 11 rec., 76 yds

48. Doug Martin, Boise State (2007-11)
Stats: 617 att., 3,431 yds, 43 TD, 67 rec., 715 yds, 4 TD, 739 ret. yds, TD

49. Javon Ringer, Michigan State (2005-08)
Stats: 843 att., 4,398 yds, 34 TD, 96 rec., 719 yds, TD

50. Damien Anderson, Northwestern (1998-01)
Stats: 925 att., 4,336 yds, 37 TD, 54 rec., 490 yds

The Next 50:

51. Taurean Henderson, Texas Tech: 587 att., 3,241 yds, 50 TD, 303 rec., 2,058 yds, 19 TD
52. Luke Staley, BYU: 418 att., 2,493 yds, 41 TD, 86 rec., 1,000 yds, 7 TD
53. Matt Forte, Tulane: 833 att., 4,265 yds, 39 TD, 103 rec., 985 yds, 5 TD
54. Chris Johnson, East Carolina: 624 att., 2,982 yds, 32 TD, 125 rec., 1,296 yds, 10 TD, 2,715 ret. yds, TD
55. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina: 423 att., 2,481 yds, 25 TD, 92 rec., 852 yds, 6 TD
56. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: 788 att., 4,403 yds, 31 TD, 58 rec., 517 yds, 3 TD
57. Laurence Maroney, Minnesota: 660 att., 3,933 yds, 32 TD, 21 rec., 197 yds, TD, 667 ret. yds, TD
58. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona: 394 att., 2,354 yds, 29 TD, 51 rec., 506 yds, 3 TD, 565 ret. yds
59. Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky: 895 att., 4,542 yds, 35 TD, 80 rec., 682 yds, 5 TD, 1,682 ret yds 
60. Lee Suggs, Virginia Tech: 535 att., 2,767 yds, 53 TD, 15 rec., 171 yds, 3 TD
61. Donald Brown, UConn: 698 att., 3,800 yds, 33 TD, 48 rec., 276 yds, 2 TD
62. Edgerrin James, Miami: 497 att., 2,960 yds, 32 TD, 42 rec., 595 yds, 3 TD
63. Jamaal Charles, Texas: 533 att., 3,328 yds, 36 TD, 49 rec., 539 yds, 3 TD
64. LeSean McCoy, Pitt: 584 att., 2,816 yds, 35 TD, 65 rec., 549 yds, TD
65. Ryan Mathews, Fresno State: 534 att., 3,280 yds, 39 TD, 19 rec., 268 yds, 2 TD
66. Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State: 910 att., 3,994 yds, 42 TD, 56 rec., 449 yds, 4 TD 
67. Chris Wells, Ohio State: 585 att., 3,382 yds, 30 TD, 15 rec., 84 yds
68. Bernard Pierce, Temple: 663 att., 3,570 yds, 53 TD, 19 rec., 178 yds, TD
69. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech: 403 att., 2,132 yds, 30 TD, 26 rec., 289 yds, 2 TD
70. Jamal Lewis, Tennessee: 487 att., 2,677 yds, 17 TD, 39 rec., 475 yds, 4 TD
71. Ronnie Brown, Auburn: 513 att., 2,707 yds, 28 TD, 58 rec., 668 yds, 2 TD
72. Brock Forsey, Boise State: 813 att., 4,045 yds, 50 TD, 101 rec., 1,175 yds, 18 TD, 1,113 ret. yds
73. Travis Henry, Tennessee: 556 att., 3,078 yds, 26 TD, 20 rec., 99 yds 
74. Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State: 708 att., 4,181 yds, 37 TD, 63 rec., 519 yds, 2 TD
75. Kenjon Barner, Oregon: 582 att., 3,623 yds, 41 TD, 54 rec., 591 yds, 7 TD, 1,634 ret. yds, 2 TD
76. Chris Barclay, Wake Forest: 840 att., 4,032 yds, 40 TD, 62 rec., 381 yds, 517 ret. yds
77. Brian Calhoun, Colorado/Wisconsin: 619 att., 2,760 yds, 27 TD, 90 rec., 909 yds, 4 TD
78. Michael Bush, Louisville: 435 att., 2,508 yds, 39 TD, 50 rec., 651 yds, 2 TD
79. Maurice Clarett, Ohio State: 222 att., 1,237 yds, 16 TD, 12 rec., 104 yds, 2 TD
80. Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech: 517 att., 3,226 yds, 35 TD, 15 rec., 263 yds, TD 
81. David Wilson, Virginia Tech: 462 att., 2,662 yds, 18 TD, 37 rec., 363 yds, 5 TD, 1,324 ret. yds, 2 TD
82. Jonathan Stewart, Oregon: 516 att., 2,891 yds, 27 TD, 49 rec., 334 yds, 4 TD, 1,664 ret. yds, 2 TD
83. Felix Jones, Arkansas: 386 att., 2,956 yds, 20 TD, 39 rec., 383 yds, 3 TD, 1,760 ret. yds, 4 TD
84. James Davis, Clemson: 753 att., 3,881 yds, 47 TD, 51 rec., 441 yds, 2 TD
85. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt: 581 att., 3,143 yds, 30 TD, 46 rec., 415 yds
86. Andre Ellington, Clemson: 621 att., 3,436 yds, 33 TD, 59 rec., 505 yds, 2 TD, 645 ret. yds, TD 
87. Robbie Rouse, Fresno State: 898 att., 4,647 yds, 37 TD, 110 rec., 794 yds, 5 TD
88. Damion Fletcher, Southern Miss: 1,009 att., 5,302 yds, 44 TD, 109 rec., 904 yds, 2 TD
89. Yvenson Bernard, Oregon State: 876 att., 3,862 yds, 38 TD, 118 rec., 790 yds, 3 TD
90. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska: 635 att., 3,329 yds, 30 TD, 60 rec., 507 yds, 5 TD
91. Anthony Davis, Wisconsin: 908 att., 4,676 yds, 42 TD, 22 rec., 198 yds
92. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State: 564 att., 3,085 yds, 40 TD, 108 rec., 917 yds, 3 TD
93. Noel Devine, West Virginia: 729 att., 4,317 yds, 29 TD, 98 rec., 710 yds, 2 TD, 736 ret. yds
94. Marion Barber, Minnesota: 575 att., 3,276 yds, 35 TD, 21 rec., 190 yds, 1,029 ret. yds
95. William Green, Boston College: 501 att., 2,974 yds, 33 TD, 31 rec., 343 yds, 2 TD
96. Evan Royster, Penn State: 686 att., 3,932 yds, 29 TD, 61 rec., 562 yds, 3 TD
97. Daniel Thomas, Kansas State: 545 att., 2,850 yds, 30 TD, 52 rec., 428 yds
98. Chester Taylor, Toledo: 803 att., 4,646 yds, 55 TD, 61 rec., 554 yds, 5 TD
99. Lamont Jordan, Maryland: 807 att., 4,147 yds, 36 TD, 76 rec., 737 yds, TD
100. Dontrell Moore, New Mexico: 1,028 yds, 4,973 yds, 51 TD, 92 rec., 857 yds, 8 TD


Agree or disagree with our ranking of College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era? Let us know on Twitter (@AthlonSports), using the hashtag #AthlonRB50

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 07:45
Path: /college-football/michigan-favorite-2013-legends-division-title
Body:

With four teams battling for the top spot, the Legends Division should be one of the most competitive title races in college football this season.

Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern each have a strong case to be ranked No. 1 in the division next year, but each team is chasing Ohio State in the overall Big Ten standings.

Nebraska claimed the division title last season, but the Cornhuskers enter 2013 with significant question marks on defense. Nebraska isn’t the only team dealing with its share of preseason issues, as Michigan has holes to fill on the offensive line and developing more skill players for quarterback Devin Gardner, Northwestern must replace a couple of key performers from its offensive line, and Michigan State has to develop consistency on offense after averaging only 20 points a game last season.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Is Michigan the Favorite for the 2013 Legends Division Title?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Michigan is a favorite in the Legends, but not the runaway favorite Ohio State is in the Leaders Division. Let’s not forget Nebraska won this division a year ago thanks to a 23-9 win over Michigan. I understand this was a game in which Denard Robinson got hurt before halftime, but Nebraska’s defense was a mess last season. Michigan managed only two field goals with Robinson and then a third thereafter with Russell Bellamy, not Devin Gardner, throwing three interceptions. The Wolverines should continue to improve, but we’re all assuming Gardner is going to be a standout player through the course of the season. What if he’s not? Nebraska has the more proven offense that led the league in rushing and total offense. I don’t think Northwestern is out of the Legends Division race, either. In other words, I’ll pick Michigan, but there are too many other things that could happen to make it a slam dunk.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Just because I think Michigan is the frontrunner in the Legends Division doesn't make them my pick to win it. Brady Hoke enters his third season with a quarterback that finally fits his system in Devin Gardner. Getting Taylor Lewan back to protect the blindside helps in a big way as well. That said, there are still minor questions along the line, in the running game and outside at wide receiver. The defense continues to evolve under Hoke, going from fourth in the Big Ten in total defense to second a year ago. There is a lot to like about the Maize and Blue and the odds will favor the Wolverines to win the Division this fall, however, the schedule is downright nasty. Home games with Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State will be brutal while road trips to Penn State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa won't be easy. Meanwhile, Nebraska features the league's best offense and won't have to play Ohio State or Wisconsin in crossover play. With two fairly evenly matched teams led by two electric senior quarterbacks, this division should be one of the most entertaining to watch all season long. A home win or loss against Ohio State in the season finale will likely determine if Michigan heads to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis or not.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern all have legitimate Legends Division title hopes. But even though the Wolverines are a team with plenty of question marks, I like Brady Hoke’s team to win the division in 2013.

With only 11 starters returning, Hoke and his staff have some work to do this preseason. Quarterback Devin Gardner is a rising star, and the offense caught a break when tackle Taylor Lewan decided to turn down the NFL for his senior year in Ann Arbor. The biggest question mark for Michigan’s offense has to be skill players. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is coming off a broken leg, which should open the door for true freshman Derrick Green to make an instant impact. Jeremy Gallon was a big-play threat last year, but the Wolverines need to develop more playmakers on the outside. The interior of the offensive line is an issue with only two starters returning.

Although linebacker Jake Ryan may miss the season with a torn ACL, I think Michigan’s defense will rank near the top of the Big Ten once again. Finding a pass rusher to replace Craig Roh is coordinator Greg Mattison’s top spring priority, but the return of cornerback Blake Countess from a torn ACL - and the emergence of linebacker James Ross III  - that should be enough to withstand Ryan’s injury and the lack of a proven edge rusher.

The Big Ten schedule is challenging, especially with road dates at Penn State, Michigan State and Northwestern and a home matchup against Ohio State in the regular season finale. Considering how competitive the Big Ten Legends Division will be in 2013, two or three conference losses could win the division. In terms of overall record, Michigan could finish 9-3 and play Ohio State once again in the Big Ten title for a chance to play in the Rose Bowl.
 

Kevin McGuire, No2MinuteWarning.com andNittanyLionsDen.com(@KevinonCFB)
Michigan is quite an interesting team in the Big Ten in 2013. They lose a good chunk of starters on both sides of the football, including a good portion of the offensive line and that concerns me in a year when the offense may be short on skill player depth. But the offense should have a new look this year and for that I think the Wolverines will be better suited to make a run to Indianapolis.  They must get back to basics on offense and trim down on the turnovers after finsihing 10th in the Big Ten in turnover differential in 2012. If they can establish a healthy ground game with a healthy Fitzgerald Toussaint and incoming stud freshman Derrick Green to take the pressure off of quarterback Devin Gardner, the Wolverines should be able to pick up a number of wins.  But are they the favorite?

I look at Michigan's schedule and I see some tough hurdles to get by, highlighted by a home game in the regular season finale against an Ohio State team I expect to conference's best. Michigan also gets their next toughest game in conference play at home, against Nebraska. Michigan also plays at Penn State in October. But there be no team in the Big Ten playing a more brutal November schedule. Road games at Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa combined with the home games against the Buckeyes and Cornhuskers means if Michigan comes out on top of the Legends Division, they will undoubtedly have earned it.
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
There are four teams in the discussion when it comes to contenders in the Legends Division - Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern. Sorry, Iowa and Minnesota fans, not this year. The first team I am eliminating is the Spartans. As much as I like that defense, I think MSU will struggle on offense, as there are questions at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. The offensive line should be solid, but last time I checked they don't throw, run or catch the football.

Next on my chopping block is Northwestern. I really want to like this team more, as I am big fan of coach Pat Fitzgerald, but the Wildcats drew a tough conference slate this season. Not only do they play both Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Leaders division, these two games are in a row. Northwestern should make it six straight bowl bids with no problem, but I don't foresee a trip to the Big Ten championship game in its future, at least not in 2013.

That leaves us with Michigan and Nebraska. Both the Wolverines and Cornhuskers have potent offenses led by dual-threat quarterbacks. And while Nebraska's Taylor Martinez clearly has the experience advantage over Michigan's Devin Gardner, who is entering his first season as the full-time starter, I think Gardner is better suited for the type of offense Wolverine head coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges want to run. If the Maize and Blue can find a reliable running game, I think Gardner could put up some decent numbers through the air.

As far as the respective defenses go, Michigan's has quickly developed into one of Big Ten's best under coordinator Greg Mattison. The Wolverines lost some key pieces from last year's unit, which finished second in the conference and 13th in the nation in total defense, but the cupboard is far from bare with young talent ready to step up. On the other hand, Nebraska loses all but one starter from last season's front seven, which struggled at times against the run (192.5 ypg) in 2012. The secondary should be one of the best in the Big Ten, but I'm not as confident in the other levels of the Cornhuskers' defense.

There's also this - Michigan hosts Nebraska at the Big House on Nov. 9. While I'm typically inclined to take the home team in these types of matchups, that's especially the case here because of who will be walking the sidelines. At home or on the road, I'll take Hoke over Nebraska's Bo Pelini when it comes to head coaches. That's why I think Michigan fans will have plenty of reasons to head to Indianapolis in early December.


Related College Football Content

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Ranking the Big Ten Coaches for 2013

Ranking All 125 College Football Head Coaches for 2013

College Football's Top Assistant Coach Hires for 2013

Ranking the Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

College Football's Top 25 Pre-Spring Heisman Contenders

Teaser:
<p> Is Michigan the Favorite for the 2013 Legends Division Title?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 07:34
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-aarons-499-talladega
Body:

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit heads to the Deep South this weekend to big, bad Talladega Superspeedway for the Aaron’s 499. To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List.

So, without further ado, Goeffrey’s fantasy predictions for Talaldega ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag — or at least finishing toward the front:


A-List
1. Matt Kenseth

Kenseth has the most laps in the top-15 during the last 16 Talladega races of any driver (63 percent) and he’s the defending track winner. Of course, that was before the whole “three grams” incident.

2. Clint Bowyer
No one has scored more points at Talladega in the last 10 races than NASCAR’s favorite Kansan. Seven career Talladega top 10s with two wins in 14 starts isn’t shabby, either. He might even stop by your Talladega infield party.

3. Brad Keselowski
Two wins, three top 5s and six top 10s in his last eight Talladega races. Oh, and he's back in that familiar Blue Deuce instead of that bad luck red Richmond car.

4. Kevin Harvick
Don't sleep on how good Harvick and that No. 29 were at Daytona. Talladega's a great place to continue his anti-lame duck crusade.

5. Jimmie Johnson
Johnson basically has a whole race on the rest of the field in the point standings and, after Richmond, an angry Chad Knaus. Doesn't have a top 5 at Talladega since his win in 2011.

6. Jeff Gordon
Six-time Talladega winner seems to have gotten really good at making the wrong move just in time for the checkered flag at restrictor plate tracks. Still, how much can you bet against the sport's active Talladega wins and top-5 finishes leader?

7. Tony Stewart
He'll certainly block someone on Sunday, causing a stink thanks to his outspoken anti-blocking crusade of late. It's a bit hard to believe Stewart has just one top-15 finish at 'Dega since leaving Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008.

8. Kasey Kahne
He might have an average Talladega finish of 20.3, but his last three Talladega races have produced a slightly better average of 7.3.

9. Denny Hamlin
Even if starts the race, he's not finishing it thanks to the back issues. Still, if you pick Hamlin, he starts the race, and then his substitute driver pulls off a miracle, you'll get full points Sunday. Of all the places it could happen, Talladega is it.
 

Teaser:
<p> Geoffrey Miller ranks each driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit for this weekend's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 20:22
Path: /nascar/nascar-numbers-game-5-key-stats-talladega-superspeedway
Body:

Let’s say you’re a gambler. Parading across the casino floor, you feast your eyes on the roulette wheel. It’s noted next to the wheel that the last five spins have landed on black. Your chips are now burning a hole through your pocket because you know that the next spin is due to land on red. You throw your chips down, bet on red and as the wheel once again lands on black, you’re filled with confusion. What just happened?

You’re a sucker. That’s what happened.

Each individual spin of the roulette wheel is independent of all other spins, meaning what happened in prior spins has no effect on the current spin or future spins. Trusting previous spins is fool’s gold. You know what else is foolish? Trusting previous races to determine when cautions come out and how many cars get collected. This is actually something that crew chiefs do, but it is flawed logic. A caution-filled race one year can be a green-flag feeding frenzy the next, at the same track … unless we’re discussing Talladega Superspeedway.

The 2.66-mile restrictor plate track is its own behemoth. Watching races on television don’t do the beast any justice. It’s wide, fast and scary as hell. It’s Daytona if Daytona took performance-enhancing drugs.


5 of 9+   Dating back to 2010, there have been five crashes that included nine cars or more in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega.

This is probably the best running definition of “the big one.” In the last six races at Talladega, there have been five big ones. The numbers are sort of deceiving, though. The crashes aren’t spread out; those five crashes spanned just three races, meaning half of the races in that time frame didn’t have a crash that wadded up the majority of the field. Contrary to what you’ll hear on television this weekend, a giant field-cutting wreck isn’t a matter of when. The big one is a matter of if.


18 of 2 to 6   In the last six Talladega races, there have been 18 multi-car crashes consisting of six cars or less.

We’ll call these the ankle biters. The big one has given away to a plethora of mini multi-car crashes that swoop in and eliminate around 12 percent of the field at any given time. Want to know why the big one hasn’t been a big concern the past three years? It has to do with these types of crashes, the ones that systematically eliminate the competition to a point where there aren’t enough cars remaining to actually have a giant crash.

Now, let’s be careful here. This isn’t a trend. A crash is something that occurs when a driver error or mechanical malfunction happens. A trend would read as follows:

“Driver A is going to become aero loose, overcorrect himself, crash, and take out 12.7 cars.”

That thought is wrong in so many ways. At Talladega, where large pack racing is on the menu, a mistake could occur at any point in the race, triggering an accident. The magnitude of the accident is based on the radius and reaction time of the cars around the trigger. It’s also based largely on luck. The best thing to do in avoiding accidents is to be out ahead of them, as we saw last year in Matt Kenseth’s restrictor plate race efforts.
 

Teaser:
<p> David Smith crunches the numbers and finds the key NASCAR stats for the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 19:37
Path: /mlb/15-most-indispensable-players-baseball
Body:

At the end of the season, the major awards voters will evaluate players in their own way, with a variety of definitions applied to the word “Valuable” in Most Valuable Player. There are the Sabermetricians who will argue each player’s effect on his team winning, commonly using the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stats. Traditionalists will focus on raw stats that can be calculated without logarithms. But what about the players that teams can ill-afford to lose, the truly indispensable? Some of the players mentioned below will get MVP consideration, others will not. But at this point in the season, these are the 15 most indispensable players.

 
1. Clayton Kershaw, L.A. Dodgers
The Dodgers’ offense, with all its expensive firepower, has been strikingly anemic this season. With a largely unproven bullpen and starters Chad Billingsley (Tommy John surgery) and Zack Greinke (broken collarbone) out, Kershaw must carry this pitching staff, which gets little offensive support.
 
2. Yadier Molina, St. Louis
St. Louis pitchers never shake off their catcher. If Yadi puts it down, that’s what they throw. Manager Mike Matheny regularly rotates his lineup to give players an occasional day off, but Molina rarely gets a break, and no one is missed more than the backstop. He’s missed one game this season, a loss naturally. And if that weren’t enough, there’s high praise from the Redbirds’ former manager Tony La Russa, who called Molina the most indispensable player on the Cardinals — and that was when Albert Pujols was still on the roster and in his prime.
 
3. Buster Posey, San Francisco
When the former Rookie of the Year and the 2012 MVP is healthy, the Giants win the World Series. The lineup is not very deep and Posey hits for average and power as well as drives in runs.
 
4. Joey Votto, Cincinnati
The Reds’ first baseman drew 24 walks in the first 16 games. That’s Barry Bonds territory. No hitter in Cincinnati’s lineup garners more respect from opponents than Votto, who currently carries a .500 OBP.
 
5. Justin Upton, Atlanta
The first splash in Atlanta was the signing of center fielder B.J. Upton. The final splash in Atlanta over the winter was the trade for Justin Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks. While B.J., fellow outfielder Jason Heyward and other Braves struggled, Justin Upton flourished. He has carried the offense with 12 home runs, 11 of them solo shots.
 
6. Bryce Harper, Washington
Few 20-year-olds are considered among the most indispensable players. For a team bent on winning the World Series, April has not been kind to the Nats. But Harper, bent on being the best player in the game, is hitting .360 while his teammates are scuffling at .225. 
 
7. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
It doesn’t matter that the all-time saves leader is 43 years old. It doesn’t matter that he is returning from a torn ACL suffered last May. Somehow the Yankees are in contention despite being decimated with injuries. Getting nine saves from Rivera in April has been huge, but the intangibles he brings may be even more important. 
 
8. Austin Jackson, Detroit
Okay, no one in their right mind would take Jackson over Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder. But numbers tell us that it’s Jackson who is the offensive catalyst for the Tigers. When he delivers, they win. 
 
9. Dustin Pedroia, Boston
The mighty mite leads the team offensively, he leads the team on the field and he leads the team in the clubhouse. 
 
10. James Shields, Kansas City
The Kansas City Royals have been grooming top prospects for a few years now. The club has been asking fans to be patient. Believing that this was the year to go for it, the team acquired Shields over the winter to fill the role of ace as well as mentor a staff of young pitchers. To this point, Shields has earned high marks in both areas. Without him, the Royals are not in first place.
 
11. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay
With run production almost non-existence and other starters like 2012 Cy Young winner David Price off their game, Moore has been unhittable. He’s credited with five of the team’s 11 wins. The team has enough pitching and guile to stay in the AL East race, but without Moore, the Rays would be closer to fifth than first.
 
12. Matt Harvey, N.Y. Mets
New York fans are not exactly the most patient. So enduring a rebuilding process is difficult. Difficult for the front office, the players and the fans. So what Harvey has done on the mound — 4-0 with 1.54 ERA, 14 hits, 10 walks and 39 Ks in 35 innings — may not be as important as the lift he’s given fans and the belief he’s instilled in the organization that the future at Citi Field is bright.
 
13. Adam Jones, Baltimore
Chris Davis is off to a torrid start in Baltimore. But Jones is quickly becoming one of the best players in the game and will be in the AL MVP discussion all season. 
 
14. Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland
The second-year slugger has struggled out of the gate to the naked eye, but with him in the lineup the A’s are 10-2. Without him, 4-10.
 
15. Felix Hernandez, Seattle
With King Felix on the hill, the Mariners know they’ll get seven strong innings. What they don’t know is whether they’ll get any runs or not. When they do, they win.
Teaser:
<p> 15 Most Indispensable Players in Baseball</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 14:45
Path: /mlb/15-amazing-mlb-stats-week-april-22-28
Body:

Each week during the 2013 MLB season, we highlight the most important, intriguing and bizarre stats in baseball. 

.516    David Ortiz’s Batting Average
Big Papi is back and the Red Sox are loving it. Already in first place in the AL East, Boston received a lift when Ortiz returned recently. He’s hit safely in all eight games he’s played batting .516 and driving in 11 runs. Dating to last July 2, the slugger has a 20-game hitting streak and is batting .471 during the stretch with a .743 slugging percentage and .558 OBP.

39    Strikeouts by Braves hitters during weekend at Detroit
The Tigers swept the Braves and Detroit pitchers dominated Atlanta hitters. Led by Anibal Sanchez’s 17 whiffs — a single-game franchise record — on Friday night, the Tigers’ pitchers held Atlanta to a .186 average and just five walks in the series.

37:1    Strikeout-to-walk ratio for Adam Wainwright
The Cardinals’ ace set a modern record with 35 strikeouts to start the season before issuing his first walk. Through the week, he had four wins, 37 Ks and just one walk. Not since the dead ball era has a pitcher won 20 games and finished the season with more wins than walks.

.177    Yankees shortstops’ batting average
Just how much do the Yankees miss Derek Jeter? This season Yankee shortstops are batting a combined .177 with just one home run, seven RBIs and seven runs. Last season at the end of April, Jeter was hitting .389 with four homers, 13 RBIs and 16 runs.

12    Homers for the Marlins and Justin Upton
Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins ended his home run drought over the weekend with a clout on Saturday and two on Sunday. Those were his first homers of the season and tied the Marlins with Justin Upton of the Braves with 12 this season.

.151    Cubs batting average with RISP
There must be something about Chicago this season. The White Sox own the lowest mark in the American League at .188.

9    Saves for Mariano Rivera
With three saves last week, Rivera has nine this season. Only once (2011) in his Hall of Fame career has Rivera had nine saves in April prior to this season. The Sandman just keeps going and going and going.

.143    Combined batting average for Adam LaRoche, Adam Dunn and B.J. Upton
The trio will make a combined $37 million this season. They are currently batting a combined .143 with 11 homers and 24 RBIs. The home run and RBI totals would rank second and fourth in the majors, respectively.

34    At-bats with RISP for Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera
Last season’s American League Triple Crown winner is batting .500 with 23 RBIs in those situations. With two outs and runners in scoring position, his average jumps to .615.

14    At-bats with RISP for Paul Konerko of the White Sox
Like Cabrera, Chicago’s first baseman is batting .500 in those situations, but has just 11 RBIs.

.198    Kansas City cleanup hitters batting average
The Royals are one of the most improved teams in the majors this season. While most teams expect their cleanup hitters to produce runs, especially with the long ball, the Royals are getting very little production. At the end of the week, No. 4 hitters for K.C. were hitting .198 with no home runs and just six RBIs.

0    Home runs by cleanup hitters against Detroit pitchers
Through 24 games, Detroit pitchers have given up 12 home runs, but none of them were hit by opposing cleanup hitters in their 88 at-bats.

5    Home runs for Brandon Crawford
Not Buster Posey or Pablo Sandoval, and not even Hunter Pence was leading the Giants in home runs by week’s end. It was shortstop and No. 8 hitter Brandon Crawford who led the Giants with five homers. Crawford had just seven career homers coming into this season.

1.54    ERA for Matt Harvey
The Mets’ Harvey is 4-0, and lest you think this might have something to do with pitcher-friendly Citi Field, the rest of the Mets’ staff is 6-13 with a 4.88 ERA.

3.14    ERA of the Chicago Cubs rotation
While this speaks well for the Cubs’ starters, their 5-12 record speaks volumes about the Cubs’ anemic offense.

Teaser:
<p> Big Papi returns, Mo Rivera keeps saving games, cleanup hitters are failing and NO. 8 are awaiting. All this and more Amazing Stats this week.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 14:25
Path: /mlb/2013-major-league-baseball-power-rankings-april-30
Body:

Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week.

 1.  Red Sox—Big Papi is back and hitting better than .500 so far.
 2.  Rangers—11-5 vs. AL West, but don’t face Oakland for another two weeks.
 3.  Braves—Went 3-7 on painful road trip, now four key games with Nats.
 4.  Rockies—Rox get scare with Tulowitzki shoulder injury.
 5.  Giants—No. 8 hitter Brandon Crawford leads team in homers and OPS.
 6.  Yankees—Shortstops sans Derek Jeter are hitting just .177.
 7.  Tigers—Pitching dominated Atlanta in key sweep.
 8.  A’s—Lost eight of 10 vs. AL East.
 9.  Nationals—Jordan Zimmermann becoming new ace.
10.  Diamondbacks—Won all five of Patrick Corbin starts.
11.  Pirates—Took two of three in St. Louis to move into first place.
12.  Royals—Clean-up hitters batting just .198.
13.  Cardinals—Will get two starts from Adam Wainwright this week.
14.  Reds—Shin-Soo Choo has brought a .492 OBP to the leadoff spot.
15.  Orioles—Own three of the top 10 batting averages in the majors.
16.  Dodgers—Big week coming up vs. Rockies and Giants.
17.  Rays—Five of last six losses have been by one run or in extra innings.
18.  Phillies—Spent just two days at .500 this season, can’t rise above.
19.  Brewers—Facing 19 straight games against winning teams.
20.  Twins—Kevin Correia has revitalized his career.
21.  Mets—Matt Harvey is 4-0, 1.54 ERA. Rest of staff: 6-13, 4.88.
22.  Mariners—Tom Wilhelmsen last 10 IP: 3 hits, 0 walks, 0 runs, 8 Ks.
23.  Angels—Easy to blame superstars, but Angels aren’t getting good pitching.
24.  White Sox—Batting .229, scoring less than 3.5 runs/game.
25.  Padres—Starters must get deeper into games.
26.  Cubs—Starters have a 3.14 ERA, but just a 5-12 record.
27.  Indians—Lost eight of last 12.
28.  Blue Jays—Season falling apart eerily similar to Miami in 2012.
29.  Astros—Have Seattle’s number this season.
30.  Marlins—On pace to rank with all-time worst teams.
 
 
AL Player of the Week
David Ortiz, Boston
Big Papi was a welcome sight at Fenway Park last week. The slugger, on the disabled list to begin the season, has hit safely in all games he has appeared including six last week. For the season, he’s batting a robust .516 with six multi-hit games so far. For the week, he hit .478 with a couple of home runs and nine RBIs.
 
AL Pitcher of the Week
Matt Moore, Tampa Bay
The Rays continue to rely on their pitching to keep the club in the race. Moore has been nothing short of spectacular all season. In 14 innings last week, the lefthander gave up five hits and four walks and struck out 18 to win both of his starts.
 
NL Player of the Week
Russell Martin, Pittsburgh
The surging Pirates bolted into first place after winning two of three in St. Louis. The Bucs’ catcher raised his season average last week from .216 to a respectable .267 by batting .375 with four homers.
 
NL Pitcher of the Week
Jeff Locke, Pittsburgh
The young lefthander found his groove last week, tossing 13 shutout innings in road wins over Philadelphia and St. Louis. In 13 innings, he allowed just five hit and four walks. He struck out 10.
Teaser:
<p> 2013 Major League Baseball Power Rankings: April 30</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/which-team-favorite-win-acc-coastal-2013
Body:

Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Miami all finished 5-3 in ACC play last season, making the Coastal Division one of the tightest races in college football.

Another close division battle should be expected in 2013, as all three 5-3 teams from last season, and Virginia Tech could make a case to be picked first.

Clemson is the heavy favorite to win the ACC this season, but all four challengers from the Coastal Division will try to crack the top 25, along with improving their win total from the previous year. 

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Which Team is the Favorite to Win the ACC Coastal in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
It really seems like tempting fate to pick against Virginia Tech given the Hokies track record. But I like Miami this season even though the Hurricanes face Florida State on the road (North Carolina and Virginia Tech miss Atlantic favorites Florida State and Clemson, Georgia Tech faces Clemson only). With Stephen Morris at quarterback, Duke Johnson at running back and a strong offensive line, Miami should have the most dynamic offense in the ACC other than Syracuse. The defense is a concern after giving up 6.1 yards per play, but the Hurricanes should be optimistic this side of the ball is going to get better. Guys like Anthony Chickillo need to play to their potential, and Miami’s top-10 signing class from 2012 needs to come into its own. Al Golden has done a great job holding the program together despite the cloud of sanctions. This seems as good a time as any to take the next step.
 

Jim Young, (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com
Might as well ask what one hand clapping sounds like. There are four teams - Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech - who can all reasonably expect to make a run at the Coastal Division crown. I'm not sold on any of them, so I'll go by process of elimination. While Larry Fedora's offenses typically take off in year two, the Tar Heels' defense needs a TON of work and Bryn Renner will miss the three offensive linemen recently taken in the NFL draft. Virginia Tech's finally making changes on offense, but that could result in some early struggles that might make playing at Georgia Tech and then against UNC too much to handle. Georgia Tech? There's a lot to like here, particularly if you think that the Yellow Jackets might actually be able to pass some with Vad Lee. But the schedule makers did Paul Johnson no favors. So Miami, the last team standing here, is my pick to win. Stephen Morris, Duke Johnson and ... I mean, that defense has to get better ... right?


Ryan Tice (@RyanTice), TheWolfpacker.com
It’s always hard to predict who will win a division title in April, especially in the ACC, and the Coastal Division is a toss-up. Every team has at least one major question mark, and while there are some nice pieces, there is no runaway favorite. Miami returns a division-best 20 starters, and they face just seven teams that were bowl eligible last season, but I also expect Virginia Tech to rebound from last season. The team that recorded last year’s best record, North Carolina (8-4), is also lurking but they return just 14 starters on offense and defense, and must replace the majority of their marquee weapons. If I have to gamble on one of those, I think the safest bet is banking on Frank Beamer finding a way to get it done once again at Virginia Tech behind a strong defense, but that will require a bounce back campaign from quarterback Logan Thomas.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This will be the most entertaining and wide-open division in all of college football. Four teams have a legitimate case to be the frontrunner in 2013 and five of the six were bowl eligible a year ago. North Carolina will score a bunch of points but has loads of talent to replace. Georgia Tech will be a tough out as usual, and Vad Lee could be an upgrade at quarterback, but this team may not have the upside of some of Paul Johnson's past teams. That leaves the talented but turnover prone Logan Thomas and the Hokies battling with the underrated Stephen Morris and the Hurricanes for top billing. The schedules are fairly even as both miss Clemson and Virginia Tech avoids Florida State in crossover play. The division crown could be decided Nov. 9 in South Florida when Tech visits Miami, possibly giving the Canes a small edge. Al Golden's team improved in his first offseason and tied for the division crown a year ago with a starting lineup stacked with freshmen and sophomores. There is no reason to believe this team won't continue to improve under his leadership in 2013. Meanwhile, there was a lot of turnover on the coaching staff in Blacksburg after the program took a major step back last fall. Give me The U to win the Coastal.
 

Anson Whaley, Founder and Editor of Cardiac Hill@AnsonWhaley
The ACC Coastal Division is wide open as far as I'm concerned and I could see any number of teams winning it. If my hand is forced, I'll take Miami, though. They return most of their offensive starters and quarterback Stephen Morris shook off some early jitters and played incredibly well down the stretch (12 TDs against only one interception in his last five games). And with running back Duke Johnson, the ACC Rookie of the Year, I can see them putting up a lot of points. The concern, obviously, is the defense. The unit was lackluster (okay, they were bad) in 2012 and I'm not sure it gets much better this fall. But I like what the offense can do and as long as the defense isn't horrendous, I could see Miami winning the division.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
A strong case could be made that four teams – Miami, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Georgia Tech – have a legitimate case to win the Coastal. While this division battle should be entertaining to watch as it unfolds during the year, I’m not sold that any of these teams should be ranked inside of the top 25 in preseason polls.

Although I’m not convinced the defense will be much better, I have to go with Miami as my pick to win the Coastal Division. The Hurricanes went 2-1 against the other three challengers, with a four-point defeat to North Carolina in early October. New offensive coordinator James Coley doesn’t have much experience calling the plays, but he has plenty of talent to work with, including rising star Duke Johnson at running back, quarterback Stephen Morris, one of the ACC’s top offensive lines and a solid receiving corps. Miami’s schedule isn’t particularly overwhelming, as it misses Clemson and hosts Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

Al Golden has Miami moving in the right direction, and the Hurricanes are my pick to win another tight, competitive race in the Coastal. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
I may be the contrarian in this debate, but I am going to take North Carolina over Miami in the Coastal this year, with Virginia Tech lurking. The Hokies are the hardest team in the division to get a handle on at this point because while the defense should be pretty solid, the offense is working under a new coordinator and the early results from the spring game were less than encouraging.

That leaves us with the Tar Heels and the Hurricanes, both of which tied Georgia Tech for the best record (5-3) in the Coastal last season, but also were ineligible for the postseason, which is why the Yellow Jackets went to Charlotte to play Florida State in the ACC championship game. Both UNC and UM lost key personnel from last year's team, but they also each return quite a bit of talent and experience, so there's no reason to not expect similar, if not better, results from these two teams this fall.

Carolina's offense should be just as explosive and productive this season even without All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard because quarterback Bryn Renner is back and he won't lack for weapons. And as poorly as the defense may have played at times last season (namely in the Tar Heels' 68-50 blowout loss to the Yellow Jackets), statistically it still finished in the top half of the ACC in just about every major category.

The same cannot be said, the Hurricanes' defense, which ended up near the bottom of these same conference rankings. With a year of experience in coordinator Dan Disch's unique 4-2-5 system, I fully expect the Tar Heels, with seven returning starters, to be better on defense. Miami returns just five starters on that side of the ball and let's face it, they have farther to go in terms of improvement than Carolina when you look at last year's performances.

Don't get me wrong, the Hurricanes' offense should be pretty good in its own right, especially with All-America candidate Duke Johnson in the backfield, but this unit will be under the direction of a new coordinator, as James Coley comes over from in-state rival Florida State to replace Jedd Fisch. Miami returns nine starters on offense, but the experience factor could be somewhat tempered by the adjustment and acclimation period associated with a reworked coaching staff.

The other reason I like Carolina over Miami is because of their respective ACC schedules. With the addition of Pittsburgh (Coastal) and Syracuse (Atlantic) to the conference, division teams play just two crossover opponents. The Tar Heels will host Boston College and make the short trip to Raleigh to play in-state rival NC State from the Atlantic, while the Hurricanes get Wake Forest and will go to Tallahassee to face the Seminoles. I think it's fair to say advantage Tar Heels here, right? Also, and perhaps the clincher, if you will, is the fact that UNC will host Miami in Chapel Hill on Oct. 17. That Thursday night game may still be early as it relates to the calendar, but it very well could decide who wins the  division. I'll take the Tar Heels at home in the middle of October and to represent the Coastal in Charlotte in December. That is, unless the Hokies get their offensive act together by the fall.
 

Related College Football Content

Will Maryland Play in a Bowl Game in 2013?
Ranking the ACC Running Backs for 2013
Ranking the ACC Quarterbacks for 2013

Syracuse or Pittsburgh: Who Will Have More ACC Wins in 2013?

Ranking the ACC Coaches for 2013

Ranking All 125 College Football Head Coaches for 2013

Ranking the Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

College Football's Top Assistant Coach Hires for 2013

College Football's Top 10 Head Coaches on the Rise

Teaser:
<p> Which Team is the Favorite to Win the ACC Coastal in 2013?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 07:25
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-april-29
Body:

Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2013 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire report every Monday. Our fantasy junkies cover the hottest hitters, best waiver wire pick ups, top starting pitching spot starts and sift through bullpens from around the league each and every week.

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (Apr. 22-Apr. 28):

  Name Pos. Team R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Nate McLouth* OF BAL 10 1 6 4 .545 1.433
2. Edwin Encarnacion 1B TOR 8 5 8 0 .308 1.264
3. David Ortiz 1B BOS 7 2 9 0 .478 1.413
4. Omar Infante* 2B DET 7 2 5 1 .526 1.603
5. Giancarlo Stanton OF MIA 6 3 8 0 .364 1.280
6. Josh Donaldson* 3B OAK 4 0 10 1 .545 1.497
7. Russell Martin* C/1B PIT 5 4 6 0 .375 1.333
8. Ryan Howard 1B PHI 5 2 10 0 .308 .950
9. Manny Machado 3B BAL 5 0 5 2 .433 1.118
10. Alex Gordon OF KC 5 2 7 1 .318 1.011
11. Nelson Cruz OF TEX 4 2 9 0 .360 1.107
12. Justin Upton OF ATL 6 3 5 0 .333 1.250
13. Miguel Cabrera 3B DET 5 1 8 0 .450 1.228
14. Starling Marte OF PIT 5 0 0 5 .333 .829
15. Howie Kendrick 2B LAA 4 2 6 0 .375 1.131
16. Buster Posey C/1B SF 3 2 6 0 .429 1.310
17. Dustin Pedroia 2B BOS 5 0 4 2 .370 .971
18. Pedro Alvarez* 3B PIT 4 2 6 0 .360 .970
19. Evan Longoria 3B TB 5 2 5 0 .345 1.008
20. Carl Crawford OF LAD 5 3 4 1 .217 .889
21. Yuniesky Betancourt* 1/2/3B MIL 3 2 8 0 .333 .958
22. Alcides Escobar SS KC 4 1 3 2 .381 1.077
23. Kyle Seager 2B/3B SEA 5 2 5 0 .346 1.010
24. Robinson Cano 2B NYY 5 2 4 1 .296 .938
25. Carlos Gomez OF MIL 5 1 2 1 .450 1.292

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Weekly Waiver Wire:

Nate McLouth, OF, BAL (48% owned in Yahoo! leagues)
McLouth has been driving fantasy GMs nuts for years. This is a guy who is capable of huge fantasy success — try 113 R, 26 HR, 94 RBI and 23 SB in 2008 — but has been a huge disappointment ever since — 38 homers in four seasons. He showed signs of life last season, smacking seven bombs and stealing 12 bases in just 209 at-bats. Now, with 17 games in the leadoff spot for the Orioles, McLouth is hitting .382 with 21 runs scored and eight stolen bases. His power is well behind him but he should produce as long as he remains in the one-hole. He is worth a shot at this point if you are desperate for runs and stolen bases.

Gerardo Parra, OF, ARI (32%)
Parra always teases fantasy owners, and while GMs will have to deal with noticeable swoons, the gritty outfielder has the talent to explode from time to time. He hit .417 last week and has a tidy roto line thus far in 2013: 18 R, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 3 SB, .320/.864. No, it's not overwhelming but it's very helpful in more than one category. As long as Adam Eaton is on the DL, Parra will get playing time atop the D-Backs order.

Oswaldo Arcia, OF, MIN (1%)
Not many Twins are worthy of regular playing time in mixed leagues but Arcia might be worth a look in deeper situations. He hit .316 over 1,449 minor league at-bats with 56 home runs. The 6-foot, 220-pounder has the ability to hit for power — he hit two dingers and drove in six runs last week — and should he work his way up the order (six games batting seventh, two batting sixth and one batting third), he could provide some value. Arcia is also a great keeper option. Aaron Hicks, by the way, has a modest five-game hitting streak going. 

Yuniesky Betancourt, 1B/2B/3B, MIL (37%)
I love guys who can play multiple positions and Betancourt can help at three different positions. That said, I am staying away from the pesky Brewer. He won't slug enough to be a play at first and he isn't going to help in the speed category at all. Would his .274 average and .788 OPS help at second base or middle infield? Possibly. But that is all fantasy owners can expect from the career journeyman.

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Felix Hernandez SEA 22.0 2 28 0.82 0.77
2. Matt Moore TB 20.2 3 25 1.74 0.82
3. Tony Cingrani* CIN 18.0 2 28 1.50 0.89
4. Yu Darvish TEX 13.0 2 21 0.00 0.85
5. Jordan Zimmerman WAS 23.0 2 14 1.96 0.61
6. Kyle Kendrick* PHI 22.0 1 15 0.82 0.77
7. Lance Lynn STL 19.0 3 21 2.37 1.00
8. Kevin Correia* MIN 22.0 3 12 1.64 1.00
9. Doug Fister DET 21.0 2 18 2.14 0.86
10. A.J. Burnett PIT 18.0 2 21 2.00 0.94
11. Homer Bailey CIN 21.0 0 24 1.29 0.81
12. Justin Grimm* TEX 13.0 2 13 0.69 0.92
13. Wei-Yin Chen* BAL 14.0 2 7 0.64 0.79
14. Ervin Santana* KC 14.0 2 12 1.29 0.86
15. Roy Halladay PHI 13.0 1 14 2.08 0.54
16. Mat Latos CIN 14.0 1 14 0.64 0.86
17. Adam Wainwright STL 15.1 2 13 1.76 0.98
18. Hisashi Iwakuma SEA 17.0 0 21 1.06 0.94
19. Alex Cobb TB 15.2 2 10 1.72 0.96
20. Jeremy Hellickson* TB 20.0 1 23 3.15 0.85

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Top 5 Spot Starts for the Week (Mon. - Sun.):

1. Tony Cingrani, CIN: at Chicago Cubs (Sat.) 60% owned
The fill-in for Johnny Cueto has been electric since being called up. Last week he tossed seven innings with nine strikeouts, no walks and just two earned in a no-decision against the Cubs. Cingrani followed that up with a win on the road against the Nationals with 11 Ks and no earned runs. With 28 whiffs in 18.0 innings and a 1.50 ERA, there is no reason not to take a chance against the lowly Cubbies this week.

2. Tim Hudson, ATL: NY Mets (Sun.) 76% owned
The savvy veteran has allowed more than three earned runs in just one start so far this season and posted a quality start (at least 6 IP, 3 ER or less) in three of his first five outings. On Sunday, he's scheduled to take the mound at home against the Mets. In his career, Hudson is a 15-10 with a respectable 3.60 ERA in 27 career starts against the Braves' division rival.

3. Ervin Santana, KC: Tampa Bay (Thur.) 60% owned
I have never been a big supporter of Santana and his overrated career 4.27/1.29 rate. But he does have his moments of brilliance. In 2013 so far, the righty is sporting a 31:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and has allowed just four earned runs over his last four starts. He won three of those and pitched at least seven innings in each one. Tampa Bay isn't a great matchup but it's at home and he is too hot to ignore.

4. Wade Miley, ARI: at San Diego (Fri.) 75% owned
He was a bit wild over the weekend — seven walks in 4.1 against the Rockies — but the Padres should pose much less of a threat this week. Miley didn't allow a run in that shortened start and still boasts a 2.37 ERA with nearly one strikeout per inning. Look for a bounce back start from the young D-Back.

5. Patrick Corbin, ARI: at San Diego (Sat.) 45% owned
I added the young lefty for his start against the Rockies and ended up with a win and five strikeouts with two earned runs. In fact, Corbin has 12 strikeouts and no walks over his last two starts (14.0 IP) while allowing just four earned runs. His 1.91/1.06 ratio plays in any park, but especially PETCO.

Closing Morsels:

Kevin Gregg is the Cubs closer, for now. He is 3-for-3 in save chances and hasn't allowed a run in five appearances this year. Which means he is likely to blow up in your face shortly but there are few other options on the waiver wire if you are desperate... Jose Valverde could be a God-send for the Tigers. He has yet to allow a base runner in three innings and has worked two perfect saves. Add, plug and play... No, Matt Reynolds isn't going to close many games for the Diamondbacks. J.J. Putz was unavailable and David Hernandez blew his chance in the ninth last week. Yet, he may be worth owning in holds leagues. He hasn't allowed a run, has two saves and one hold. There could be some value there... Huston Street has pitched three straight scoreless innings and picked up three saves last week. All is well with the aging veteran. Get him back in your lineup. (But keep Luke Gregerson and Dale Thayer on your watch list though)... Edward Mujica, Jim Henderson and Andrew Bailey all had great weeks and appear to locking themselves into the ninth inning for their respective clubs.

Keep up to date all season long with Athlon Sports' Fantasy Baseball Closer Grid

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: April 29</p>
Post date: Monday, April 29, 2013 - 12:30
Path: /college-football/early-2014-nfl-draft-rankings
Body:

The 2013 NFL Draft is in the books.

Some fans, in Minnesota and St. Louis for example, should be ecstatic about their new toys (Sharrif Floyd, Tavon Austin) while others, in Cleveland, Dallas or Oakland perhaps, might be wondering what just happened in New York. So while more than 250 bright-eyed and bushy-tailed prospects prepare for the long summer trek from being a draft pick to making an NFL roster, the next wave of college stars are already preparing themselves for the 2014 NFL Draft.

And so is Athlon Sports.

With a solid 2013 season on the field and, ideally, an uneventful year off of it, another crop of prospects will hear their name called in Radio City Music Hall in April 2014.

Here are the top 75 prospects to watch on the college gridiron this fall:

* - underclassmen with eligibility remaining

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (6-6, 272)*
Many believe that if the freakish Gamecocks defensive end would have come out this year, he would have been the top pick in the draft. His size, speed and ability to dominate makes him all but a sure-thing on the next level. He was the unanimous No. 1 recruit in the nation who was named SEC Freshman of the Year in 2011 before earning the Hendricks Award as the nation’s top pass-rusher in 2012. He enters his third and, all but certain, final season in college with 86 career tackles, 33.5 tackles for loss, 21.0 sacks and seven forced fumbles — and one earth-shattering hit on that poor Michigan Wolverine.

2. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama (6-6, 310)*
The only player who might be able to push Clowney for top billing is AJ McCarron’s bookend left tackle. The only player considered more important and more valuable than an elite pass-rusher is the guy who can neutralize him — as the top two picks of the 2013 draft indicated. The star left tackle trailed only Clowney in the recruiting rankings two years ago as incoming freshman and both have clearly lived up to the hype. This prototype blocker could play three years at Alabama and walk away with three national championships.

3. Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame (6-6, 303)*
Few defensive ends can match the size and power of those prototypical left tackles — like Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher — but Tuitt has the goods. The Monroe (Ga.) High prospect was an elite recruit and has proven that his freakish size was the real deal by playing most of his freshman season and blossoming into a star as just a sophomore last fall. He led an unbeaten team in sacks (12.0) while posting 47 tackles, 13.0 for loss and forcing three fumbles. And just pop in the tape of the 300-pounder returning a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown against Navy to see how well the big fella moves in space. The scouts will fall in love with the talented Golden Domer.

4. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (6-5, 305)
He isn’t as big or as talented as Joeckel, his former teammate, but he isn’t far behind. He has the pedigree as the son of NFL O-line legend Bruce Matthews and it didn’t take long for the star recruit to make an impact. He was named to the Big 12's all-freshman team in 2010 before leading the way in the SEC for Texas A&M’s prolific offense last season. He possesses the toughness, killer instinct and polished technique most players his age lack, undoubtedly from being coached by an NFL Hall of Famer since he first put on a helmet.

5. Marqise Lee, WR, USC (6-0, 195)*
He is undersized but doesn’t lack for big-play ability. The speedster likely would have been the first wide receiver taken had he been able to come out early this spring. He broke all kinds of school and conference records as a sophomore when he led the nation in receptions (118), was second in yards (1,721) and third in all-purpose yards (2,683). He has scored 27 times in just two seasons. Yes, he is undersized but Tavon Austin just proved a smallish all-purpose dynamo can land in the top 10 of the draft.

6. C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama (6-2, 232)
He doesn’t have the ideal frame for a linebacker taken this high in the draft but no player in this class can come close to matching the production, leadership and overall athletic ability of the Theodore (Ala.) High prospect. He is looking for his third national championship in 2013 after a breakout junior season last fall where he tallied 107 tackles, 8.0 for loss, 4.0 sacks, two interceptions and one touchdown. He is the leading tackler and heartbeat at a leadership position on the best team in the nation coached by Nick Saban. Enough said.

7. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (6-7, 308)
The eccentric blocker from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral has elite size and athleticism to go with loads of experience. He enters his final season with 35 starts under his belt and a chance to land in the top 10 of the 2014 draft with another solid season this fall. Under Brady Hoke, Michigan has gone pure pro-style on offense and Lewan has benefited. Now with Devin Gardner under center, Hoke’s offense should flourish with the All-American protecting the blindside.

8. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (6-3, 215)*
The elite recruit from South Florida powerhouse Miami (Fla.) Northwestern is poised for a run at a national championship this fall. The versatile quarterback earned Big East Rookie of the Year honors as a freshman before leading the Cardinals to an 11-2 record, a co-Big East title and high-profile win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl. He is efficient — career 66.9 percent completion rate and 27:8 TD:INT rate last year — and has shown the necessary growth as a passer in two year to warrant a top 10 selection. His offensive system won’t allow him to throw for huge numbers but no quarterback in next year’s class combines leadership, efficiency, football IQ, toughness and upside like Bridgewater.

9. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU (6-3, 304)*
The consensus No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in 2011, Johnson earned Freshman All-American honors by multiple media outlets after providing support on that excellent LSU defense. Last year, the New Orleans native produced solid numbers backing up four NFL Draft picks along the D-line. His stats — 30 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks — could triple now that he is a starter and the unquestioned leader of the Bayou Bengals defense.

10. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA (6-4, 245)
DeMarcus Ware comes to mind when watching Barr except the San Pedro (Calif.) Loyola product might be quicker and more athletic. Barr was a five-star recruit who had no position when he got to campus, but in 2012 under Jim Mora, he developed into a freakish edge rusher with an elite combo of size and burst. The All-American posted 21.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks to go with 83 stops. There is no replacement for big-time production at a coveted position against big-time competition. Look for Barr to have a second All-American campaign in 2013.

Related: Grading every pick of the 2013 NFL Draft first round

11. Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame (6-3, 340)
Nix has uncoachable size and power. He is the heart and soul of the interior defensive line for a team that was undefeated in the regular season a year ago. He got very little help from his back seven against Alabama and he will have a year to erase the memory of what took place in the Orange Bowl. He is an active nose guard who fits into multiple defensive schemes and has an excellent understanding of the game. He posted 50 tackles, 7.5 for loss and 2.0 sacks from his tackle position last year. The interior defensive line class looks especially deep in 2014 and this massive Floridian is a big reason why.

12. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (6-3, 210)*
If fans are looking for the next Robert Griffin III, look no further than the Ohio State quarterback. While he isn’t as polished a passer as the Redskins quarterback, he exudes toughness, leadership and freaky athletic ability like RG3. He takes care of the football — 10 interceptions in 411 attempts — and is just now entering his junior season. He willed his team to an unbeaten record last year and has the Buckeyes poised for a national championship run in 2013. He has the frame, toughness and athletic ability to start in the NFL, and should he refine his in-pocket passing skills, he could press Bridgewater as the top quarterback available.

13. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama (6-1, 210)*
Do the Crimson Tide and former defensive back Nick Saban produce quality NFL prospects in the secondary? Mark Barron, Dee Milliner, Dre Kirkpatrick, Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson would say so. Like Barron, Milliner and Kirkpatrick, Clinton-Dix was a five-star Southern-bred prospect who has developed into one of the nation’s best during his time at Alabama. He has the speed and quickness to play in the slot and over the top and the size and toughness to fill against the run and play around the line when needed. “Ha-Ha” will give Saban yet another first-round defensive back on his resume.

14. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (5-11, 195)*
The Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge prospect doesn’t have elite height like recent first-rounders Dee Milliner or Xavier Rhodes, but Roby will more than hold his own in man coverage. He enters his third year as a starter after 110 tackles, 6.0 for loss, five interceptions and 23 passes broken up over the last two seasons. He has great football instincts, excellent quickness and an uncanny knack for making big plays around the football. At the new glamour position, Roby could easily be the top option in next year’s draft.

15. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington (6-6, 266)*
The junior from Fox Island (Wash.) Gig Harbor is as good a tight end prospect as the draft has seen in years. He broke all kinds of freshman receiving records for the Huskies before posting an All-Pac-12 season (69 rec., 850 yards, 7 TDs) a year ago. He has elite size, great hands, excellent athletic ability and will be used in the running game as a blocker. He is a complete tight end prospect in the mold of Tony Gonzalez.

16. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama (6-3, 195)
Hideous chest tattoo aside, there is little to not like about McCarron’s resume. He has size, accuracy, poise, footwork, toughness, leadership and is arguably the most successful quarterback in NCAA history when it comes to winning. Yes, he has played on loaded rosters but he also led the nation in passing efficiency and has three national championship rings — two as a starter — and is targeting a fourth. In the modern age of dual-threat athletes under center, McCarron is as traditional as they come.

17. David Yankey, OL, Stanford (6-5, 311)
Where scouts project Yankey on the next level will determine if he is a early or late first-round pick. If the NFL thinks he will stick at tackle, his toughness, leadership and overall size will push him up draft boards. Otherwise, his consensus All-American talents for a team known for producing elite blockers could make him the top interior lineman in the ’14 class. He was voted as the Pac-12's best O-lineman by his defensive line peers a year ago — which includes ’13 first-round names like Star Lotulelei and Datone Jones.

18. Tim Jernigan, DT, Florida State (6-2, 298)*
Just behind Johnson in the recruiting rankings was this Lake City (Fla.) Columbia prospect. Cut from the Sharrif Floyd mold in terms of size and skill, Jernigan was an elite performer for the ACC champs a year ago despite only starting twice. He posted 45 tackles, 8.0 for loss and 1.5 sacks behind 2013 draft picks Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, and he should explode on to the national scene as a full-time starter and leader of the Seminoles' defensive line.

19. Aaron Lynch, DE, USF (6-6, 275)*
Lynch, from Cape Coral (Fla.) Island Coast was never a fit off the field at Notre Dame and it led to a transfer closer to home at South Florida during the 2012 season. On the field, however, Lynch led the Irish in sacks (5.5) as just a true freshman. He finished the year with 33 tackles, 14 QB hurries and 7.0 tackles for loss. He is an absolute monster and should dominate the American Athletic Conference as a third-year player this fall. He may not be running with the Bulls too long.

20. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (6-1, 205)*
Few true freshmen have ever had a season like Watkins had two years ago in 2011. The National Freshman of the Year was unstoppable as a receiver, return man and occasional running back, posting 1,219 yards receiving, 826 return yards and 231 rushing yards to go with 14 total touchdowns. His burst and explosiveness makes him a much bigger and stronger version of Tavon Austin. That said, he has dealt with off-the-field hurdles that aren’t too worrisome when taken individually but create a track record of poor decision-making. He is an elite big-play machine when focused and healthy, and ideally, 2013 will be a bounce-back campaign.

21. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State (6-2, 225)*
Few players in the nation are as explosive around the football and hit as hard as the Ohio State tackler. He is undersized and will need to prove he can play against linemen more than 100 pounds heavier, but he has speed to burn and plays extremely well in space. After 115 tackles, 19.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, three forced fumbles and 11 passes deflected as just a sophomore last year, the Plantation (Fla.) High prospect is eyeing a national title run in 2013.

22. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (6-1, 227)
Boyd could have been a first-rounder had he come out after his 46-touchdown junior season. He is a pocket passer with some added mobility and fits the ideal dual-threat mold the NFL is looking for (think Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers, not Cam Newton or Michael Vick). He has a big arm, plays in a complex scheme, has posted huge numbers and will be looking for a championship in 2013. A run at an ACC — or national — title will push Boyd up draft boards.

23. Iko Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon (5-10, 190)*
Much like Roby, Ekpre-Olomu isn’t overly tall or lengthy, but he has elite speed, better than advertised toughness and bulk and an instinctual nose for the football. He consistently makes big plays in a league stacked with elite passing attacks. The Chino Hills (Calif.) High product finished his sophomore season with 63 tackles, four interceptions (one touchdown) and 16 pass break ups.

24. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford (6-2, 205)
The Floridian who went across the nation for college is a well-coached and savvy competitor who brings excellent size and instincts to the back end of the secondary. In his first full season as the starter, Reynolds posted 47 tackles and six interceptions that he returned for 301 yards. He is a leader of a defense that is one of the stingiest and most disciplined in the nation.

25. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia (6-1, 210)*
The undersized gunslinger has been compared to Drew Brees ever since he overcame a broken leg in high school to lead his powerhouse prep team at Tampa (Fla.) Plant to the state title. When it is all over at Georgia, Murray will be the most prolific passer in SEC history (yards, TDs). If he can eliminate the eight quarters of bizarro atrocious play each season and finish the year with a win in Atlanta, he could hear his name called in the top 20. The numbers, intangibles, winning and passing ability equates to NFL starter but the Dawgs signal caller will have to overcome his lack of size.

26. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas (6-5, 245)
Had the star defensive end not been injured for the year against Oklahoma a year ago, he might have entered the draft as a junior. Few players are refined and polished with prototypical NFL size as the son of former NFL star Jim Jeffcoat. He earned a starting spot as just a true freshman three years ago and has been a starter for the Longhorns ever since. He has 117 total tackles, 38.0 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks entering his final season.

27. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU (6-3, 235)
A second outside linebacker from BYU could find his way into the first round in 2014. Van Noy is a much more polished, albeit smaller and slightly less athletic version of former teammate Ezekiel Ansah. He had an all-everything junior season in which he posted 53 tackles, 22.0 tackles for loss, 13.0 sacks, six forced fumbles, two interceptions and two blocked kicks. He is undersized to play along the line (think Jarvis Jones) but few players are as productive as the star from Reno, Nevada.

28. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida (6-1, 190)*
The star coverman from Pensacola (Fla.) Pine Forest has never missed a game in his two-year Gators career. In a scheme designed to put the corners on an island, Purifoy uses his elite length, size and quickness to lockdown receivers. He has 78 tackles through two seasons and rarely gets tested by anything but the best of quarterbacks. Look for Purifoy to blossom into an All-American in 2013.

29. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee (6-6, 332)*
Size and athleticism is unteachable and Richardson has the goods in that department. He has developed into a leader on one of the best offensive lines in the nation and will have a chance to improve his stock significantly with a great season in 2013. He has good feet, prototypical size and has flashed the ability to compete with the games best (pop in the South Carolina tape last year). "Tiny" Richardson could easily work his way into the top 10 with a stellar '13.

30. Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona (5-10, 199)*
He may not look like a workhorse but he plays like one. Carey, as just a sophomore, led the nation in rushing (1,929), set a Pac-12 single game rushing record (366) and scored 24 total touchdowns — all in his first season as the starter. He can play on all three downs and is right at home between the tackles. Packaged with great hands, excellent speed and huge production, Carey is a can't-miss prospect. However, he has dealt with some off-the-field issues (domestic abuse, campus police) and will need to prove he can be a professional to be drafted in the first round.

31. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (6-4, 211)*
Quiet feet, poised, athletic and leadership are the most common words used to describe the redshirt sophomore to be. Mariota plays the game like a fifth-year senior and has exactly what new NFL schemes are looking for — say, Chip Kelly, perhaps. He led the nation in road passing efficiency, proving his unflappable demeanor. Mariota scored 37 total touchdowns in just his first year on a college gridiron and will be one of the reasons fans in Eugene won't miss Kelly in 2013.

32. De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon  (5-9, 176)*
He won't ever be a full-time running back in the NFL so landing in the first round might be a reach, but no player in the nation is more of a big-play threat than The Black Mamba. Although, St. Louis just used the No. 8 overall pick to draft someone with virtually identical skills. In two seasons, Thomas has scored 18 rushing touchdowns on 147 carries, 14 touchdowns on 91 receptions and four total return touchdowns. Used in the right role — think Darren Sproles — his home run ability will play on Sundays for years.

The Second Round:

33. Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama (6-6, 252)*
34. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State (6-3, 260)*
35. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (6-0, 200)*
36. Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas (5-10, 200)*
37. Aaron Colvin, DB, Oklahoma (6-0, 185)
38. Will Sutton, DL, Arizona State (6-1, 290)
39. Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor (6-5, 335)
40. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State (6-3, 210)
41. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt (6-3, 205)
42. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor (5-10, 210)
43. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA (6-3, 225)*
44. Morgan Breslin, DE, USC (6-2, 250)
45. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State (6-4, 320)
46. Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford (6-6, 260)
47. James Hurst, OT, North Carolina (6-7, 305)
48. Josh Shirley, OLB, Washington (6-3, 230)*
40. Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma (6-6, 260)*
50. Lemarcus Joyner, DB, Florida State (5-9, 195)
51. A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee (6-2, 240)*
52. Chaz Green, OT, Florida (6-5, 310)*
53. Dion Bailey, OLB/S, USC (6-1, 210)
54. Gabe Ikard, C, Oklahoma (6-3, 298)
55. Christian Jones, OLB, Florida State (6-4, 232)
56. Dominique Easley, DT, Florida (6-2, 285)
57. Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia (6-1, 195)*
58. Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida (6-0, 180)*
59. David Fales, QB, San Jose State (6-3, 220)
60. Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State (6-3, 245)*
61. Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon (6-5, 250)*
62. Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina (6-4, 295)*
63. Deshazor Everett, CB, Texas A&M (6-0, 185)*
64. Craig Loston, S, LSU (6-2, 205)

The Next 11:

65. Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA (6-3, 305)*
66. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State (6-0, 200)
67. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech (6-6, 260)
68. Cassius Marsh, DL, UCLA (6-4, 270)
69. Trey DePriest, OLB, Alabama (6-2, 245)*
70. Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford (6-3, 245)
71. Bryan Stork, C, Florida State (6-4, 312)
72. Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota (6-6, 310)
73. Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia (6-5, 260)
74. Anthony Steen, OG, Alabama (6-3, 310)
75. Zach Martin, OT, Notre Dame (6-4, 280)

Teaser:
<p> Athlon takes a very early look at who could have their name called in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 29, 2013 - 11:30
Path: /nascar/harvick-montoya-burton-highlight-wild-nascar-night-richmond
Body:

One of the knocks on NASCAR in recent years has been that it’s too predictable Well, not anymore. Try telling that theory to Las Vegas bookies this week while they’re busy recovering from heart attacks. In the final 10 laps at Richmond, you had a driver with 75/1 odds out front as well as a man who’s never won a race on an oval and without a top-10 finish for 10 months. Moments later, the lead was surrendered to the equivalent of a 15 seed in the NCAA tournament — 100/1 odds, no laps led to that point in the season and no victories in nearly five years. Add in three types of tire strategies and a green-white-checker finish and you had a double-file restart where one of about 15 different drivers, many of them underdogs, had a chance at the win.

It’s the perfect snapshot of why Richmond is one of NASCAR’s best facilities, worshipped by both fans and drivers alike. In the end, that was the only predictable part after a wild week off the track; this .75-mile oval, every time out, forces us to focus on nothing more than what happens on it.

Once the dust settled, Saturday’s winner could certainly relate to that theory as well. We delve into his shocking upset while shifting “Through the Gears” on Richmond storylines …


FIRST GEAR: And it’s Harvick for the steal
There’s a reason Kevin Harvick’s nickname is “The Closer.” Just two years ago, he won three races early in the season by leading a total of just nine laps. Saturday night’s trip to Victory Lane was another classic example of how Harvick has a knack for stepping up late. Starting 17th, his No. 29 Chevrolet was a 10th-place car through lap 300. It took a little strategy — pitting off sequence than other frontrunners for four fresh tires along with one final tweak — to loosen the car up that gave them an extra boost of speed.

“We probably made more adjustments on the car than we’ve made in any race in a couple years,” said crew chief Gil Martin. “But it was right when it needed to be.”

So was the luck. While shot out of a cannon, climbing up to second during the final 50 laps, Harvick would never have passed Juan Pablo Montoya unless a final yellow flag, flown for Brian Vickers’ wreck, to set up a free for all green-white-checker finish. The leaders, sitting ducks on old tires, were forced to pit in a move that jumbled the field. When the dust settled, after choices ranged from staying out to full-service stops, Harvick found himself on the inside line, seventh with four fresh tires while Montoya was stuck on the outside. That made the difference; when the cars came up to speed, “The Closer” had the room to throw his fastball, darting through traffic on the inside while Montoya wound up cornered by the wall.

“We were fortunate to have it all line up,” Harvick said. “I drove it in there, hoped for the best. Figured four, eight, 12 … whatever was on the outside tire-wise would be plenty to lean on and by the time we got to the backstretch, everything had cleared out.”

By the white-flag lap Harvick had moved up six spots, disposing of teammate Jeff Burton, and darted off to the win. His three laps led, total, tripled his total output in that category after a miserable first eight races of 2013.

That’s why this win is so big. Harvick, for all his bravado about dumping the “lame duck” status, is moving on from Richard Childress Racing at the end of the season. Outside the top 10 in points for much of the year, his No. 29 team has been little more than a top-15 car — six of his ninth finishes, in fact, are between 12th and 14th. Making the Chase was far from a guarantee, especially when considering his pending departure. Now, he and a penalized Matt Kenseth may be forcing struggling veterans like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and the injured Denny Hamlin to capture at least two victories should they use up those “wild card” spots.
 

Teaser:
<p> Reaction from NASCAR's weekend at Richmond International Raceway.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 29, 2013 - 11:13
Path: /college-basketball/revised-college-basketball-early-top-25-2013-14
Body:

The NBA’s early entry draft deadline has come and gone, creating enough movement to make us re-evaluate our early rankings for 2013-14.

Chief among them, we re-visited Oklahoma State after the Cowboys returned point guard Marcus Smart. Originally, we did not rank Oklahoma State under the assumption Smart, projected to be a top-three pick, would leave for the draft. His return makes Oklahoma State the early Big 12 favorite.

We also bumped Louisville up one spot to No. 2, giving the Bluegrass State the top two teams heading into the season. Russ Smith elected to return to school, boosting Louisville’s chances of repeating. As long as Kentucky doesn’t stand in the way.

A handful of key moves could still impact the rankings for 2013-14, chief among them an announcement by freshman Andrew Wiggins. The top prospect in the 2013 class is considering Florida State, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina.

Tarik Black, who announced his intention to transfer from Memphis, has become a highly coveted commodity despite meager output last season (8.1 points, 4.8 rebounds). But teams like Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, Oregon and others badly need a big man.

And aside from transfers, most of the rosters are set for 2013-14. Here’s how things shake out right.

REVISED COLLEGE BASKETBALL EARLY TOP 25 FOR 2013-14

1. KENTUCKY

Key players gone: Archie Goodwin, Julius Mays, Nerlens Noel

Top returners: Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Kyle Wiltjer

New faces: Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Julius Randle, James Young (all freshmen)
The loss to Robert Morris in the NIT is a distant memory for Kentucky, mainly because most of the key players for 2013-14 didn’t play in the game. The Wildcats will be back in national title contention thanks to a recruiting class that includes six of the top 15 prospects in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. If Kentucky lands top-ranked recruit Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky would have four of the top five prospects. Even if last season went awry, John Calipari has proven he can win a title with freshmen of this caliber.

2. LOUISVILLE
Key players gone: Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva

Top returners: Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, Luke Hancock, Montrezl Harrell, Russ Smith, Kevin Ware
New faces: Anton Gill (Hargrave Military Academy), Chris Jones (junior college), Terry Rozier (Hargrave)

Smith’s father said after the Cardinals’ title that his son would head to the NBA Draft, but Smith instead returned to school for more development. His return gives Louisville an even better opportunity to defend its title (Athlon had Louisville ranked third in its first swipe at 2013-14). With Siva gone, the junior college transfer Jones takes over the point, and now Gill and Rozier give the Cards an enviable rotation in the backcourt. The returning cast of Hancock and Harrell were at their best late in the season, and Behanan had one of his best games of the year in the title game.

3. MICHIGAN STATE
Key players gone: Derrick Nix

Top returners: Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice

Nix is the only one of the top seven scorers gone from a team that went 27-9. Harris considered the draft, but the smooth-shooting guard returned after averaging 12.9 points per game and 45.6 shooting from the field. Payne took his decision down to the wire, but his return gives Tom Izzo a veteran team with Final Four potential.

4. DUKE

Key players gone: Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee

Top returners: Quinn Cook, Andre Dawkins, Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee, Rasheed Sulaimon, Tyler Thornton

New faces: Rodney Hood (Mississippi State transfer), Matt Jones (freshman), Semi Ojeleye (freshman), Jabari Parker (freshman)

The losses of Curry, Kelly and Plumlee are huge, but this is Duke. Sulaimon is the top returner. He stood out on the defensive end last season and proved he could carry the scoring load. Cook was a pleasant surprise at point guard for a team that spent most of the season in the top three. Of the newcomers, Parker could fill Kelly’s versatility and Jones could fill Curry’s role as a shooter. Dawkins, who averaged better than eight points per game in each of his last two seasons, returns after he sat out in 2012-13.

5. ARIZONA
Key players gone: Solomon Hill, Grant Jerrett, Mark Lyons, Keith Parrom

Top returners: Brandon Ashley, Nick Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski

New faces: Aaron Gordon (freshman), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (freshman), T.J. McConnell (Duquesne transfer)
Arizona will miss Hill’s leadership and Lyons’ scoring, but Sean Miller can restock a roster. The Wildcats got a major boost for the upcoming season when they landed McDonald’s All-American power forward Aaron Gordon. Hopes are high for Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell to become a floor general at point guard. Jerrett, who averaged 5.2 points per game and 3.6 rebounds, made a surprising decision to leave for the draft

6. FLORIDA

Key players gone: Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy, Mike Rosario

Top returners: Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguette, Patric Young

New faces: Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech transfer), Damontre Harris (South Carolina transfer), Kasey Hill (freshman), Chris Walker (freshman)
The Gators’ season looks a bit better with Young electing to return to school, but he still needs to become a more dominant player befitting his size. Wilbekin and Yeguette, who anchored the Gators’ in the defensive end, also return. Much will depend on the newcomers. Hill is one of the top point guard recruits to come to Florida under Billy Donovan. Finney-Smith, a McDonald’s All-American in 2011, was one of the top freshmen in the ACC at Virginia Tech, averaging 6.3 points and seven rebounds. With Chris Walker, Florida will have one of the top front lines in the country.

7. OKLAHOMA STATE

Key players gone: Philip Jurick

Top returners: Markel Brown, Michael Cobbins, Phil Forte, Kamari Murphy, Le’Bryan Nash, Marcus Smart

New faces: Stevie Clark, Detrick Mostella (freshmen)
Smart’s return was a shocker. It also may be the first threat to Kansas’ dominance in the Big 12 in a few years. The Cowboys return four scorers who averaged double figures last season and went 13-5 in the Big 12 before running into under-seeded Oregon in the NCAA Tournament.

8. OHIO STATE

Key players gone: Deshaun Thomas, Evan Ravenel

Top returners: Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson, Amir Williams

New faces: Marc Loving, Kameron Williams (freshmen)
Much of Ohio State’s season will depend on how the Buckeyes’ replace Thomas’ prolific scoring. LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. started to show they were capable of carrying the load near the end of the season, but they need to be ready for bigger roles.

9. NORTH CAROLINA
Key players gone: Reggie Bullock, Dexter Strickland

Top returners: P.J. Hairston, James Michael McAdoo, Leslie McDonald, Marcus Paige

New faces: Nate Britt, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks (freshmen)
James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston both elected to return to school after North Carolina struggled to live up to expectations last season. The Tar Heels didn’t find their groove until going to a four-guard lineup so it will be interesting to see how incoming freshman big men Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks impact the rotation.

10. MICHIGAN

Key players gone: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr.

Top returners: Spike Albrecht, Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas

New faces: Zak Irvin (freshman)
Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. didn’t shock anyone by going to the draft. Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III returned for their sophomore seasons to give the Wolverines a chance on building on last season, though a return to the Final four may be tough. The pressure will be on McGary to prove he carry his tournament momentum into a full season.

Related: Grading the new coaches for 2013-14

11. SYRACUSE

Key players gone: Michael Carter-Williams, James Southerland, Brandon Triche

Top returners: Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney, C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant, Baye Keita

New faces: Tyler Ennis, Ron Patterson, Tyler Roberson (freshmen)
Replacing the starting backcourt of Carter-Williams and Triche will be challenging as the Orange move to the ACC. Syracuse is counting on incoming point guard Ennis and shooting guard Patterson, who signed with Indiana before going to prep school, to take those roles. Fair is the only returning player who averaged more than 5.1 points last season.

12. WICHITA STATE

Key players gone: Malcolm Armstead, Carl Hall, Demetric Williams

Top returners: Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, Cleanthony Early, Fred VanVleet, Jake White

New faces: D.J. Bowles (freshman), Kadeem Coleby (Louisiana-Lafayette transfer), Earl Watson (junior college), Evan Wessel (redshirt)
The Shockers will miss Armstead and Hall from the Final Four run, but don’t forget Wichita State played most of the season without the redshirt freshman Baker. With Early, Baker and Cotton, there’s enough returning to win the Missouri Valley this season. The Shockers should fill their void with two players who redshirted last season -- 6-foot-9 Louisiana-Lafayette transfer Coleby and local 6-5 guard Wessel.

13. VCU

Key players gone: Darius Theus, Troy Daniels

Top returners: Rob Brandenburg, Treveon Graham, Juvonte Reddic, Melvin Thomas, Briante Weber

New faces: Jordan Burgess (redshirt)
Five of the top seven players return to VCU, including three who averaged double-figure scoring. Theus’ 2.4 steals per game will be missed in the defensive end, but there’s a lot to like about a VCU team that went 12-5 in its first season in the Atlantic 10.

14. WISCONSIN

Key players gone: Jared Beggren, Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans

Top returners: Ben Brust, Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson

Players come and go, but Wisconsin is pretty much automatic to contend in the Big Ten and reach the NCAA Tournament under Bo Ryan. In 2013-14, the Badgers return one of the Big Ten’s most underrated freshmen in Sam Dekker plus a healthy Josh Gasser.

15. TENNESSEE

Key players gone: Kenny Hall, Skyler McBee

Top returners: Trae Golden, Jeronne Maymon, Jordan McRae, Josh Richardson, Jarnell Stokes

New faces: Robert Hubbs (freshman)
The Volunteers came together late in the season, but it wasn’t enough to get in the NCAA Tournament. With the core of Golden, McRae and Stokes, plus a healthy Maymon, this should be the year for Cuonzo Martin. Stokes considered the draft but elected to return to school.

16. MARQUETTE

Key players gone: Juan Anderson, Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan, Trent Lockett
Top returners: Davante Gardner, Chris Otule, Jamil Wilson

New faces: Deonte Burton (freshman), JaJuan Johnson (freshman), Jameel McKay (junior college), Duane Wilson (freshman)

Vander Blue’s departure hurts and knocks Marquette out of the preseason top 10. Gardner (11.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Jamil Wilson (9.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg) still give Buzz Williams veterans to work with in 2013-14. In addition to the returners, Marquette may have a new point guard (Wilson) and two major freshmen in Johnson and Burton.

17. CONNECTICUT

Key players gone: None

Top returners: Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun, DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey, Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander

At 20-10 overall and 10-8 in the Big East, Connecticut had the look of an NCAA Tournament team despite the postseason ban. With nearly everyone returning after Napier’s decision to return to school, the Huskies should be able to realize that goal.

18. MEMPHIS
Key players gone: Tarik Black, D.J. Stephens, Adonis Thomas

Top returners: Chris Crawford, Shaq Goodwin, Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson

New faces: Markel Crawford, Kuron Iverson, Nick King, Austin Nichols, RaShawn Powell (all freshmen)
After winning a Tournament game, going 16-0 in Conference USA and adding another top recruiting class, Memphis has the most momentum it’s had under Josh Pastner. Now, the Tigers head to the American Athletic Conference.

19. GONZAGA
Key players gone: Elias Harris, Guy Landry-Edi, Kelly Olynyk

Top returning players: Gary Bell Jr, Sam Dower, Przemek Karnowski, Kevin Pangos, David Stockton

New faces: Gerald Coleman (Providence transfer), Angel Nunez (Louisville transfer)
The front line takes a hit without Olynyk and Harris, but Mark Few’s backcourt should be solid.

Related: Winners and losers from the NBA Draft early entry deadline

20. COLORADO

Key players gone:
Sabatino Chen
, Andre Roberson
Top returners: Askia Booker, Spencer Dinwiddie, Xavier Johnson, Josh Scott, Andre Roberson

Led by Dinwiddie and Booker, Colorado’s roster returns mostly intact after the program’s second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The Buffaloes struggled down the stretch, but a handful of freshmen played key minutes. This should be Colorado’s breakout season under Tad Boyle if the Buffs can find away to replace Roberson's prowess on the glass.

21. NEW MEXICO
Key players gone: Tony Snell, Demetrius Walker
Top returning players: Cameron Bairstow, Alex Kirk, Hugh Greenwood, Kendall Williams

New faces: Cullen Neal (freshman)
Craig Neal was promoted to coach a 29-6 team that returns virtually intact. The Lobos may be the preseason pick to win the Mountain West, but that Tournament loss to Harvard will be tough to forget.

22. INDIANA

Key players gone: Remy Abell, Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford, Cody Zeller

Top returning players: Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey

New faces: Luke Fischer, Stanford Robinson, Noah Vonleh, Troy Williams (all freshmen)
Indiana can’t help but take a step back with all those losses, but the Hoosiers have recruited well enough to stay in the mix in the Big Ten. The pressure will be on the point guard Ferrell.

23. UCLA

Key players gone: Shabazz Muhammad, Larry Drew II

Top returners: Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, David Wear, Travis Wear

New faces: Zach LaVine (freshman)
Steve Alford is set up nicely in his first season at UCLA with Adams and Anderson returning.

24. KANSAS

Key players gone: Elijah Johnson, Ben McLemore, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey, Kevin Young

Top returning players: Perry Ellis, Naadir Tharpe

New faces: Joel Embiid (freshman), Conner Frankamp (freshman), Brannen Green (freshman), Landen Lucas (redshirt), Wayne Selden (freshman)
Kansas loses its starting five, but it’s risky to bet against the Jayhawks in the Big 12. They’ll find a way.

25. SAINT LOUIS
Key players gone: Kwamain Mitchell, Cody Ellis

Top returners: Dwayne Evans, Jordair Jett, Rob Loe, Mike McCall

Jim Crews has the job full-time and a chance to repeat in the Atlantic 10. Replacing Kwamain Mitchell’s 30 minutes per game will be tough.

Also considered: Alabama, Baylor, Cal, Creighton, Harvard, Iowa, Notre Dame, Virginia, Villanova

Teaser:
<p> NBA Draft's Early Entry Deadline shuffles teams in our look at next season</p>
Post date: Monday, April 29, 2013 - 11:00

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