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Now that the calendar has turned to March, fans of bubble teams may be refreshing web sites of their favorite bracketologists.

As college basketball’s regular season and conference tournament season nears a close, Athlon Sports will keep you up to date on the key developments through the week. Each day brings key developments for the NCAA Tournament, so in this space, we’ll update which teams look to be in the field, which might be playing themselves out as well as the key games of the day.

Related: Key stats of the week

MARCH 4 DAILY MARCH MADNESS TRACKER AND BUBBLE WATCH

Virginia’s bizarre bubble case continues.
The NCAA Tournament resumes for bubble teams are -- by definition -- difficult. But Virginia is pushing the envelope in this department. In one week, the Cavaliers defeated Duke 73-68 in a game that seemed to put the Hoos into the field. Then Virginia turned around to lose to Boston College 53-52 on a three-pointer in the final 8.2 seconds Sunday. Seven games separate Duke and BC in the ACC standings, and 135 spots separated the Cavs’ two opponents in the official RPI to start last week. And that’s just one week. Elsewhere on its resume, Virginia has a win at Wisconsin and a loss on a neutral site to Old Dominion (5-25, 3-15 Colonial).

Michigan bounces back.
A great game with a dubious finish on both sides of the court. First, John Beilein left a 44 percent free throw shooter on the court late in a close game, and later Michigan State failed to execute a final play when it had the ball in the final seconds. Still, Michigan had reason to brag. Trey Burke continued to state a case for National Player of the Year with a steal and a dunk to give the Wolverines the lead in its 58-57 win and then the steal on the game’s final play. And that 44 percent free throw shooter, Mitch McGary, is starting to look like a secret weapon for Michigan. He scored 11 points, giving him another double-figure game late in Big Ten play. He averaged 12 points per game during a three-game stretch against Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin. On Wednesday, Michigan gave Penn State its only Big Ten win of the season, but rebounded in short order. With a regular season finale against Indiana and the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan is still in the running for a No. 1 seed.

Related: Where does Trey Burke rank among this year’s point guards?

Michigan State’s losing streak.
Without a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan State may have lost a chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but there may not be much reason to worry about the Spartans. First, a three-game losing streak to Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan -- the latter two on the road -- should give Michigan State no reason to hide in shame. Another reason not to count out Sparty: Adreian Payne is playing lights out. The  matchup nightmare is averaging 15.3 points and 12 rebounds in the last four games.

Ryan Kelly’s impact on the bracket.
Around this time of year, we talk about how key injuries can hurt a team’s seeding this late in the season. After Saturday, we’re going to see a return from injury boost a team in the bracket. If defeating Miami wasn’t enough, Duke proved what a force it is with Kelly in the lineup. Remember, when Kelly first went down with an ankle injury, Duke was 15-0 and an unquestioned No. 1.

North Carolina back?
The Tar Heels probably sealed an NCAA Tournament bid by defeating NC State on Feb. 23, but does Carolina have a good chance to advance? Roy Williams’ team may be putting things together. Marcus Paige was masterful against NC State and added nine assists in a 21-point rout of Florida State on Sunday. Reggie Bullock is averaging 18 points and 10.7 rebounds in he last three games, and the Heels seem to have found a lineup they like with P.J. Hairston starting.

SEC slipping.
Ole Miss’ NCAA Tournament case has been lacking for some time now, but the Rebels may have played themselves out of the field by losing to Mississippi State 73-67 on Saturday. The Bulldogs’ hadn’t won since Jan. 12, starting a 13-game losing streak that included a pair of 40-point losses in SEC play. With Ole Miss’ loss to South Carolina on Feb. 20, the Rebels have two losses to sub-200 RPI teams in the last two weeks. Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament case is looking better, but the Vols didn’t help themselves by losing 68-62 to Georgia. Tennessee has been swept by Georgia and Ole Miss in the SEC this season. Meanwhile, Kentucky could have done itself a great service by winning at Arkansas on Saturday, but the Wildcats may still have a stronger case than the Rebels and Volunteers, despite a 30-point loss to the latter.

Cantu Can Do.
Will anyone in the Pac-12 want to face USC in the conference Tournament? After sweeping the Arizona schools last week, the Trojans are 7-4 under interim coach Bob Cantu. USC was 7-10 when it fired Kevin O’Neill on Jan. 14. With USC rounding out the regular season against the Washington schools, USC could finish 11-7 in the league.

GAMES ON TAP
All times Eastern.


Cincinnati at Louisville (7 p.m., ESPN)
The Bearcats’ dodged a bubble-bursting loss by pulling out a 61-56 win at home over a Connecticut team playing without leading scorer Shabazz Napier. Winning in Louisville will be tough.

Baylor at Texas (9 p.m., ESPN)
Baylor’s still sitting on the bubble. The Bears can’t spend too much time dwelling on the collapse in the final seconds against Kansas State in Saturday. A loss to Texas (5-11 in the Big 12) would be a compelling reason to keep Baylor out of the field.

BY THE NUMBERS
NCAA TOURNAMENT PROJECTED AT-LARGE LOCKS (34)
ACC (4): Duke, Miami, NC State, North Carolina
Atlantic 10 (3): Butler, Saint Louis, VCU
Big 12 (4): Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Big East (6): Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
Big Ten (6): Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Mountain West (3): Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV
Pac-12 (5): Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
SEC (2): Florida, Missouri
West Coast (1): Gonzaga

ONE-BID LEAGUES (17)
America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Northeast, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Summit, SWAC
Note: Conference USA, the Ohio Valley, the Sun Belt and the WAC likely will be one-bid leagues if their proejcted champions win their conference tournaments.

THE BUBBLE: 17 teams

Teaser:
<p> Daily March Madness Tracker: Reasons for optimism after Michigan-Michigan State</p>
Post date: Monday, March 4, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/byu-cougars-2013-spring-practice-preview
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BYU’s second season as an independent was a little rockier than the first, but the Cougars still finished the season in a bowl game.

Injuries and ineffectiveness meant BYU had to start three quarterbacks through the course of its 8-5 season. The Cougars were a stout defensive team, but struggled to score points against tougher competition. BYU hopes it has its quarterback of the future already on the roster and on the mend in sophomore Taysom Hill.

This spring, he’ll be a handful of players reintroducing himself to the coaching staff. BYU has a handful of players, like Hill, returning from injury, and as usual, the Cougars will welcome a handful of key players coming back from LDS missions.

BYU Cougars 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 8-5

Spring practice dates: March 2-April 5

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 4

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Taysom Hill, 181 of 308, 425 pass yds., 4 TDs, 2 INTs
Rushing: Jamaal Williams, 166 car., 775 yds., 12 TDs
Receiving: Cody Hoffman, 100 rec., 1,248 yds., 11 TDs
Tackles: Daniel Sorensen, 68
Sacks: Kyle Van Noy, 13
Interceptions: Daniel Sorensen, 3

JUCO Transfers to Watch: OL Josh Carter, OL Tim Duran, OL Edward Fusi, DB Sam Lee, DB Trent Trammell, DL Kalolo Uto, OL De'Ondre Wesley

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 at Virginia
Sept. 7 Texas
Sept. 21 Utah
Sept. 27 Middle Tennnessee
Oct. 4 at Utah State
Oct. 12 Georgia Tech
Oct. 19 at Houston
Oct. 26 Boise State
Nov. 9 at Wisconsin
Nov. 16 Idaho State
Nov. 23 at Notre Dame
Nov. 30 at Nevada

Offensive Strength: Beyond questions at quarterback, BYU should feel comfortable at the offensive skill positions. As the Cougars started three quarterbacks last season, Cody Hoffman was the consistent target. He finished with 73 more catches and nearly 1,000 more yards than anyone else on the roster. Jamaal Williams took over the starting running back duties at midseason and finished with 775 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Offensive Weakness: The offensive line is the most uncertain spot on this side of the ball. The most steady lineman, right tackle Braden Brown, is gone. An influx of junior college transfers will be in the mix for starting jobs. The Cougars also have a few health concerns with quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Michael Alisa returning from injuries.

Defensive Strength: BYU’s defensive strength begins with Kyle Van Noy, an All-America candidate. The pass rush extraordinaire finished with 13 sacks last season. Though he was consistent for most of the season, he finished with 9.5 tackles for a loss in the final three games and added a pick six in the bowl win over San Diego State. As a unit, the defense ranked second in the nation in rush defense (86.9 yards per game) and held five opponents to seven points or fewer.

Defensive Weakness: Perhaps not a weakness as much as a question for the spring: BYU loses seven starters on the defense. That includes five in the front seven. The Cougars may have the depth to replace the players gone with experienced backups, a handful of newcomers and several players returning from injuries or LDS missions.

Spring Storylines Facing the Cougars

1. Taysom Hill’s recovery. Hopes are high for BYU’s young quarterback. The dual-threat started twice before missing the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. In his best game of the season (albeit against Hawaii), Hill passed for 112 yards and two touchdowns with an interception while rushing for 143 yards and a score. He’ll have to show this spring he’s healthy and ready to take over the offense full time.

2. Junior college transfers on the offensive line. Left tackle Ryker Matthews may be the only sure thing on the offensive line. That may be startling for a team that returns four starters. BYU addressed its need by adding four junior college offensive linemen to compete for positions.

3. Competition at cornerback. The most uncertain position on the defense may be cornerback where three graduated, including one starter in Preston Hadley. Early enrollee Trenton Trammell may compete for time. Depth beyond the other starting cornerback, Jordan Johnson, is far from settled as well.

4. Returning bodies on the defensive line. All three starters on the defensive line are gone, but there’s no reason for Bronco Mendenhall to panic. Eathyn Manumaleuna started the first four games last season before missing the end of the year with an injury. He earned a medical redshirt, giving BYU a lineman who can play all line positions. In addition, Tuni Kanuch and Sae Tautu are back from LDS missions.

5. Depth at middle linebacker. Like defensive line, the linebacker group lost starters, but a mix of players will give BYU options. Both starting inside linebackers are gone. Austen Jorgensen received a medical waiver and will look to reclaim the form he had in 2010 when he amassed 46 tackles. Uani Unga had 28 tackles as a redshirt freshman last season.

Related College Football Content

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College Football's Top 15 JUCO Transfers for 2013

Teaser:
<p> BYU Cougars 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Monday, March 4, 2013 - 08:45
Path: /college-football/georgia-bulldogs-2013-spring-football-preview
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For the second year in a row, Mark Richt's Bulldogs came up just shy of an SEC championship. This time, Georgia missed a chance at the national title game by just five yards. Yet, the 2013 team will look dramatically different than the last two SEC East champs. Massive defensive turnover, a huge influx of early enrollees and the return of arguably the most talented offense in the conference should make spring practice in Athens extremely entertaining.

Georgia Bulldogs 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 12-2 (7-1)

Spring practice dates: March 2-April 6

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 3

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Aaron Murray, 249-of-386, 3,893 yds., 36 TDs, 10 INTs
Rushing: Todd Gurley, 222 car., 1,385 yds., 17 TDs
Receiving: Malcolm Mitchell, 40 rec., 572 yds, 4 TDs
Tackles: Amarlo Herrera, 70
Sacks: Jordan Jenkins, 5
Interceptions: Damian Swann, 4

Redshirts to watch: DL Jonathan Taylor, LB Leonard Floyd

JUCO Transfers to Watch: DB Shaquille Fluker, DB Kennar Johnson, DL Chris Mayes, WR Jonathon Rumph, DL Toby Johnson

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 at Clemson
Sept. 7 South Carolina
Sept. 14 Bye Week
Sept. 21 North Texas
Sept. 28 LSU
Oct. 5 at Tennessee
Oct. 12 Missouri
Oct. 19 at Vanderbilt
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 Florida
Nov. 9 Appalachian State
Nov. 16 at Auburn
Nov. 23 Kentucky
Nov. 30 at Georgia Tech

Offensive Strength: The backfield. Few teams in the nation will return a backfield combination like Georgia. Aaron Murray at quarterback and Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall at running back gives Richt possibly the best passing-running options in the nation.

Offensive Weakness: Pass catchers. Frankly, there is no weakness on this UGA offense although there is no established star pass-catcher at either wideout or tight end. There is loads of upside with guys like Malcolm Mitchell and Arthur Lynch, but having to replace the likes of Tavarres King and Marlon Brown might be the only concern on offense (if there is one).

Defensive Strength: Depth. This team has loads of talent all over the depth chart. Young names like Ray Drew at end, Damian Swann and Josh Harvey-Clemons in the secondary and Jordan Jenkins at linebacker give this team plenty of elite options.

Defensive Weakness: Experience. Giving the Dawgs three official returning starters might be generous. Twelve contributors departed this defense in the offseason, including 10 of the top 14 tacklers from a year ago. That includes the top four stoppers. Finding dependable bodies and leadership will be paramount this spring.

Spring Storylines Facing the Bulldogs:

1. Find a pass rush on defense. Jarvis Jones, despite some injuries, has been one of the nation's most productive pass rushers over the last two years. Alec Ogletree, Cornelius Washington, Abry Jones and a pair of massive nose tackles must also be replaced in the front seven. Getting the right bodies into the right positions in Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme has to be the primary focus this spring. Will Ray Drew take the next step on the edge of the line? Can Jordan Jenkins become the next Jones in just his second season? There is plenty of talent but Grantham and new line coach Chris Wilson need to get their rotation in order this spring.

2. What will the secondary look like? The front will have a lot of new faces but so will the defensive backfield. Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams are gone from the safety position while Branden Smith and Sanders Commings depart on the outside. Damian Swann could become a star and guys like Harvey-Clemons could develop into All-SEC-type talents. However, there is little experience on the backend and this spring should help develop the next line of defense.

3. Stay healthy along the line of scrimmage. This offensive line could be the best Richt has had in his long tenure in Athens. That is, if it can stay healthy. Chris Burnette (shoulder) and John Theus (foot) will both miss spring practice, giving some of the young bodies a chance to get reps. Getting them healthy and keeping the rest of the starting five — Kenarious Gates, Dallas Lee and David Andrews — at full steam will be important this offseason.

4. Allow the newcomers to compete. Richt welcomes 13 early enrollees in what might one of the biggest such classes in the history of college football. Two junior college prospects, one prep schooler and 10 true freshman will take part in spring practice one semester earlier than the rest of the 2013 class. Tray Matthews, Brice Ramsey and Tramel Terry were all nationally ranked prospects in this haul.

5. Finalize the pass-catching rotation. Malcolm Mitchell will be a superstar if given the chance to shine on one side of the ball. He should be Murray's top target this fall — and spring — and will be backed up by a host of talented weapons. Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome need to take the next steps in their development at tight end and someone else needs to step up in place of the injured Michael Bennett. Chris Conley, Rantavious Wooten, Justin Scott-Wesley and Rhett McGowan will all get plenty of reps.

Related College Football Content

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SEC Team Recruiting Rankings for 2013

Teaser:
<p> Georgia Bulldogs 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Monday, March 4, 2013 - 08:45
Path: /college-football/nebraska-cornhuskers-2013-spring-football-preview
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With Michigan, Northwestern, Michigan State and Nebraska all expected to be in the mix for a spot in most preseason top-25 polls, the Big Ten Legends Division could be the toughest in college football in 2013. The Cornhuskers are the defending division champs but finished the year on a down note. Nebraska was steamrolled by Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and lost 45-31 to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. Bo Pelini’s team loses a lot of talent on defense, but the offense will be one of the best in the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers might have to win a lot of shootouts early on, but a favorable schedule should have Nebraska in the thick of the division title picture.

Nebraska Cornhuskers 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 10-4 (7-1)

Spring practice dates: March 2-April 6

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 4

Returning Leaders:
Passing: Taylor Martinez, 228 of 368, 2,871 yards, 23 TDs, 12 INTs
Rushing: Ameer Abdullah, 226 car., 1,137 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving: Kenny Bell, 50 rec., 863 yards, 8 TDs
Tackles: Ciante Evans, 56
Sacks: Jason Ankrah and Ciante Evans, 2
Interceptions: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, 2

Redshirts to watch: LB Michael Rose, OL Paul Thurston, DE Greg McMullen, LB Jared Afalava, DT Vincent Valentine, WR Jordan Westerkamp, LB Thomas Brown, DE Avery Moss

Early Enrollees to watch: OL David Knevel, LB Courtney Love, DB D.J. Singleton

JUCO Transfers to watch: OL Matt Finnin, DE Randy Gregory, OL Chongo Kondolo

2013 Schedule
Aug. 31 Wyoming
Sept. 7 Southern Miss
Sept. 14 UCLA
Sept. 21 South Dakota State
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Illinois
Oct. 12 at Purdue
Oct. 19 Bye Week
Oct. 26 at Minnesota
Nov. 2 Northwestern
Nov. 9 at Michigan
Nov. 16 Michigan State
Nov. 23 at Penn State
Nov. 29 Iowa

Offensive Strength: It’s hard to find a weakness for the Cornhuskers on this side of the ball. Quarterback Taylor Martinez, running back Ameer Abdullah and receiver Kenny Bell should all earn All-Big Ten honors, while the offensive line returns three starters. 

Offensive Weakness: If there’s a weakness, the Cornhuskers have to point to the trenches. Two tight ends (Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton) are gone from last season, and center Justin Jackson must be replaced after earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.

Defensive Strength: The secondary was clearly the strength of Nebraska’s defense last season, holding opponents to 168.1 yards per game and finishing ninth nationally in pass efficiency defense. P.J. Smith and Daimion Stafford are gone, but the Cornhuskers return plenty of talent, led by seniors Andrew Green and Ciante Evans.

Defensive Weakness: The front seven. The Cornhuskers have a lot of work to do this spring on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps, as end Jason Ankrah is the only returning starter in the front seven. Nebraska has some promising talent on the roster, but how quickly can the line and linebacking corps jell this spring?

Spring Storylines Facing the Cornhuskers

1. More growth from Taylor Martinez? There’s no doubt Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez was one of college football’s most-improved players last season. After throwing for 2,089 yards and completing just 56.2 percent of his passes in 2011, Martinez threw for 2,871 yards and bumped his accuracy to 62 percent in 2012. With most of the supporting cast returning, the Nebraska coaching staff hopes the California native can take another step in his development. Martinez tossed four more interceptions in 2012 than he did in 2011 but also threw nearly 80 more passes. After a solid 2012 campaign, Martinez is entrenched as one of college football’s top-15 returning quarterbacks and should have his best year in his final season in Lincoln.

2. Restocking the offensive line. With two all-conference candidates (Spencer Long and Jeremiah Sirles) and one 14-game starter (Brent Qvale) returning, Nebraska has a good foundation on the line. Two spots will be up for grabs this spring, as the Cornhuskers look to replace center Justin Jackson and guard Seung Hoon Choi. There’s experience returning to compete for the open positions, including Cole Pensick (two starts in 2012), Mark Pelini and Jake Cotton. Sophomore Ryne Reeves also has good potential and figures to push for a starting spot at guard or center. This unit isn’t a huge concern for Nebraska, but coordinator Tim Beck and line coaches John Garrison and Barney Cotton need to get a good look at Pensick, Pelini, Cotton and Reeves to determine how to get the best starting five on the field. 

3. Finding the right answers on defense. Despite finishing fourth nationally against the pass, the Cornhuskers couldn’t feel good about their defense by the end of the year. Nebraska allowed 70 points to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and 45 to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. As if the close to the season wasn’t bad enough for Bo Pelini’s defense, this unit returns only four starters. Gone are first-team All-Big Ten selections in defensive end Eric Martin and safety Daimion Stafford, along with tackle Baker Steinkuhler and linebackers Will Compton and Sean Fisher. The front seven needs the most work this spring, and a handful of newcomers will be expected to push for time this preseason. End Randy Gregory was sidelined at junior college due to an injury last year but could push for a starting job in the fall. With Gregory not in the mix this spring, look for redshirt freshmen Avery Moss, Vincent Valentine and Greg McMullen to gain valuable practice snaps. The linebacking corps is also a work in progress, as David Santos (24 tackles) is the most promising player returning. However, keep a close watch on redshirt freshmen Thomas Brown and Michael Rose. With so many new faces stepping into playing time, Nebraska’s starting 11 on defense could be unsettled until late in fall camp.

4. Special Teams. With the heavy personnel losses on defense, it’s easy to overlook the departure of Brett Maher. However, the All-Big Ten kicker will be missed, as he connected on 20 of 27 field goals last season and averaged 41.8 yards per punt. Sophomore Mauro Bondi, Western Illinois transfer Pat Smith and freshmen Spencer Lindsay and Grant Schumacher will battle to win the starting kicker job, while Jordan Bellar is the only punter listed on the spring roster. Special teams are often overlooked, but Maher was one of the best in the country, and the Cornhuskers won’t easily replace him in 2013.


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Northwestern Wildcats 2013 Spring Preview

Teaser:
<p> Nebraska Cornhuskers 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Monday, March 4, 2013 - 06:50
Path: /college-football/acc-football-2013-spring-preview-and-storylines
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With only two teams finishing in the final top 25 poll, 2012 was a down year for the ACC. Will 2013 be any different? On paper, the league should be stronger. Florida State will take a step back with the loss of a handful of key players, but Clemson could be a top-five team, and Miami, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are all worthy of top 25 consideration. The Hurricanes are the early favorite to win the Coastal Division, but the Hokies, Tar Heels and Yellow Jackets aren't far behind. And Miami's hopes of playing in its first ACC Championship could rest on a pending NCAA sanctions case this summer. 

While the top six teams in the league seem set, the rest of the ACC is up for grabs. Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the conference from the Big East, with the Panthers joining the Coastal Division, and the Orange shifting to the Atlantic. Both teams should be in the mix for a bowl game, but it’s unlikely Pittsburgh or Syracuse will win either division in 2013.

New coaches will lead the way for Syracuse, NC State and Boston College next season. Scott Shafer replaces Doug Marrone at Syracuse, Tom O’Brien was canned in favor of Dave Doeren at NC State, and Boston College hired Steve Addazio away from Temple. All three programs seem to have made a good hire, but only time will tell how these new coaches will fare in the ACC. 

ACC Spring Team Storylines and Quarterback Battles to Watch

Atlantic Division

Boston College

Can the Eagles rejuvenate their rushing attack?
In nearly every season since 2008, Boston College has slipped in the national rushing rankings. After ranking 63rd in 2008, the Eagles fell to 71st, then 90th in 2010, before rebounding to 82nd in 2011 and falling to 115th in 2012. New coach Steve Addazio leaned on the run at Temple and expects to implement a similar offense in Chestnut Hill. However, he needs to find a No. 1 back, and Boston College has a few candidates that will get a look this spring. Andre Williams has shown flashes of promise and finished with 599 yards rushing last year. Tajh Kimble and Rolandan Finch also have experience and will factor into the mix. The Eagles aren’t short on options, so Addazio just needs to develop some pecking order and figure out if true freshmen Tyler Rouse or Myles Willis will be a part of the rotation this fall.
 

Clemson

Who will replace Andre Ellington?
Although the Tigers must replace center Dalton Freeman, tight end Brandon Ford and receiver DeAndre Hopkins, all eyes in spring practice will be on the backfield. Andre Ellington exhausted his eligibility last season, and the battle to be Clemson’s new No. 1 back is wide open. Roderick McDowell averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 83 attempts last season, while D.J. Howard chipped in 138 yards on 35 attempts. Zac Brooks was impressive in his freshman year, recording 119 yards on 26 attempts. True freshman Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman can’t be counted out either and should see an opportunity to earn snaps in the fall. Clemson has depth, so a committee approach isn't out of the question. However, the Tigers need to develop a pecking order and find out what options they have this spring.


Florida State

How quickly can the Seminoles reload their defense?
After owning one of the nation’s best defenses in 2012, the Seminoles will have several new faces on that side of the ball in 2013. The change starts on the sidelines, as Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt takes over at defensive coordinator, while Charles Kelly comes over from Georgia Tech to coach linebackers, and Sal Sunseri was hired to work with the defensive ends. Seven starters are gone from last season, including first-team All-ACC selections Bjoern Werner and Xavier Rhodes. There’s no shortage of talent due to Florida State’s recruiting classes in recent years, as sophomore Mario Edwards is due for a bigger role on the defensive line, while junior Timmy Jernigan could be one of the ACC’s best defensive tackles. The secondary will miss Rhodes, but Tyler Hunter, Ronald Darby, Nick Waisome and converted safety Lamarcus Joyner should form a formidable pass defense. With so many new faces, there will be a transition period for Florida State. This spring is all about getting those new faces acclimated as quickly as possible.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Jacob Coker (SO) vs. Clint Trickett (JR) vs. Jameis Winston (FR)
Trickett has two starts under his belt, so he enters spring as the frontrunner by default. However, Winston is the future at this position for Florida State, so he figures to get on the field sooner, rather than later.


Maryland

Who will emerge on defense with only four returning starters?
With the departure of six starters, it will be a challenge for Maryland to match last season’s defensive numbers. The Terrapins ranked 21st nationally in yards allowed and ranked second in the ACC in rush defense in 2012. With the departure of standouts in defensive linemen A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano, along with linebackers Demetrius Hartsfield and Kenny Tate, coordinator Brian Stewart will have his hands full this offseason. Junior Cole Farrand should be a leader on the revamped unit, while the line is expected to get some contribution from A.J. Monroe, who missed 2012 due to a knee injury. Matt Robinson is expected to slide from safety to linebacker, which should help Farrand make up for the losses of Hartsfield and Tate. The Terrapins have some talent returning, but Stewart will need all spring to find the right 11 starters.

Quarterback Battle? Injuries wrecked havoc on the Terrapins’ quarterbacks last season, as three players made starts, and the No. 1 option (C.J. Brown) was lost due to a torn ACL in fall practice. Former New Mexico quarterback Ricardo Young will work as the top option this spring, but Brown is expected to regain the starting nod in the fall.


NC State

Can the Wolfpack find replacements in the secondary?
Considering the talent returning in the secondary last season, it was a surprise to see NC State finish ninth in the ACC in pass defense. The numbers were a little better for the Wolfpack in pass efficiency defense, as they ranked fourth in the conference. Thanks to the departures of cornerback David Amerson and safeties Earl Wolff and Brandn Bishop, this unit will need to be revamped in 2013. Dontae Johnson and Juston Burris will be the leaders for playing time at cornerback and should be a solid duo for new coordinator Dave Huxtable. At safety, the picture is less clear. There’s very little in the way of production returning, with Hakim Jones and Tim Buckley listed as the backups from last season. As with any coaching change, there could be some position changes to get the best four players on the field. 

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Manny Stocker (SO) vs. Pete Thomas (JR)
Thomas was a four-star recruit coming out of high school but didn’t live up to that potential at Colorado State. Stocker threw two passes in limited work last season, and even though Thomas has the edge in experience, Stocker’s dual-threat ability could be a better fit for Matt Canada’s offense.


Syracuse

Which receiver will be the new go-to target?
Not only is Syracuse breaking in a new quarterback, but the Orange are losing their top two receivers from last season. Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales combined to catch 136 passes for 1,952 yards and 15 scores last season and will be missed. While replacing Lemon and Sales is a tall task for new coordinator George McDonald, Jarrod West is back after catching 43 passes last season and tight end Beckett Wales is back in the mix after snagging 35 receptions. West and Wales are a solid one-two combination for the new quarterback, but who are the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers? Is that Christopher Clark or Jeremiah Kobena? Or will Syracuse have to wait and get some help from its freshman class, including touted prospect Corey Cooper?

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Ashton Broyld (SO) vs. Terrel Hunt (SO) vs. John Kinder (JR) vs. Charley Loeb (SR)
Out of all the quarterback battles in the ACC, this one might be the biggest head-scratcher going into spring practice. There’s not much experience returning, and a new coaching staff has added an extra element of uncertainty. Loeb has the edge in experience, but Broyld could move back to quarterback after playing running back in 2012, and Terrel Hunt has intriguing dual-threat ability.


Wake Forest

Will the offensive line find stability?
The final stats on offense for the Demon Deacons weren’t pretty. The offense finished 10th or worse in the ACC in rushing, passing, total and scoring offense. While the offense struggled when receiver Michael Campanaro missed time with a hand injury, the bigger issue for Wake Forest was a young offensive line. Ten players made starts up front, with the final depth chart featuring four freshmen. This unit allowed 2.3 sacks a game and struggled to open holes for its rushing attack (3.0 yards per carry). The line took its lumps last season and should be better with another offseason to work together. However, center Garrick Williams is gone and there’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the starting five. If the Demon Deacons can stabilize the line, it would help stretch the field for its passing attack, along with clearing the way for Josh Harris and Deandre Martin to jumpstart the rushing game.


Coastal Division

Duke

Can the defense show progress in spring practice?
Even though quarterback Sean Renfree is a big loss, the Blue Devils have sophomore Anthony Boone waiting in the wings. If Duke wants to get back to a bowl game, the defense has to make progress after allowing 521.2 yards per contest in ACC games. Seven starters return from last season, including All-ACC cornerback Ross Cockrell. Will that be enough to bring this defense out of the ACC cellar? Injuries forced a lot of players to see time in 2012, which should help with the depth going into 2013. However, the Blue Devils still need to establish a pass rush and replace two starting safeties in Jordan Byas and Walt Canty. Needless to say, this unit will be the under the spotlight in spring practice.

Quarterback Battle? Anthony Boone started one game in relief of Sean Renfree last season and finished with 531 passing yards in 2012. Brandon Connette will likely see time as an all-purpose threat, but Boone appears to be the clear No. 1 passer.
 

Georgia Tech

Is Ted Roof the answer at defensive coordinator?
The Yellow Jackets allowed 20 or more points in five out of the first six games last season, which prompted coach Paul Johnson to dismiss coordinator Al Groh. Charles Kelly wore the interim tag for the remainder of 2012, and this unit showed some progress, holding USC to seven points in the Sun Bowl victory and finishing fifth in the ACC in yards allowed. With eight starters back on both sides of the ball, Georgia Tech should have a good chance to make a repeat trip to the conference championship game. However, much depends on how quickly new coordinator Ted Roof adapts the personnel to his scheme. Will the Yellow Jackets stick with a 3-4 or shift to a 4-3? There’s some promising personnel returning, but the defensive line loses two key contributors, and cornerback Rod Sweeting is gone after recording 58 stops last year. 

Quarterback Battle? Vad Lee pushed Tevin Washington to start last season and barring a bad performance in spring ball, the sophomore will start the season opener.
 

Miami

Can the defense find some answers?
After finishing third in the ACC in scoring defense in 2011, the Hurricanes fell to 10th in the conference last fall, allowing 30.5 points a game. Those numbers simply aren’t good enough to win the ACC. Five starters return in 2013, including promising end Anthony Chickillo, linebacker Denzel Perryman and cornerback Tracy Howard. However, Miami’s defense still has a long way to go to challenge for a spot among the best in the ACC. Each level of the defense needs work, but coordinator Mark D’Onofrio has to find a pass rush after the Hurricanes averaged a paltry 1.1 sacks per game last season.

Related Content: Miami Hurricanes 2013 Spring Preview
 

North Carolina

Who will replace Giovani Bernard?
Despite missing two games due to injury, Bernard was the ACC’s top running back last season. He averaged 122.8 yards per game on the ground and finished the year with 47 receptions. While Bernard will be missed, the cupboard is far from bare for coach Larry Fedora. A.J. Blue worked as the No. 2 back last year, finishing with 433 yards and nine scores. He wasn’t the only back to see time, as Romar Morris recorded 69 attempts and finished with 386 yards and two scores. It’s likely both backs will see time, and despite losing an All-ACC back like Bernard, North Carolina is in relatively good shape considering Blue and Morris have showcased solid potential in limited work.

Related Content: North Carolina Tar Heels 2013 Spring Preview
 

Pittsburgh

Can Paul Chryst find answers on the offensive line?
With a new quarterback taking over, and a season opener against Florida State on the horizon, the Panthers need their offensive line to set the tone early in the year. However, this unit loses second-team All-Big East center Ryan Turnley, along with guard Chris Jacobson, who started all 13 games in 2012. Three starters return for 2013, but there’s plenty of room to grow after allowing 2.9 sacks a game last season. Cory King and Matt Rotheram are the favorites to start at tackle, while Arthur Doakes and Ryan Sclieper have the experience to start out as the frontrunners at guard. True freshman Dorian Johnson is likely to get an extended look in fall practice for one of the tackle spots. Don’t be surprised if Chryst and line coach Jim Hueber work with several combinations this spring to find the best starting five.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Trey Anderson (JR) vs. Tra’von Chapman (FR) vs. Tom Savage (SR) vs. Chad Voytik (FR)
The Panthers have a wide-open battle this spring, as former Rutgers starter Tom Savage appears to have a slight edge over redshirt freshman Chad Voytik and junior Trey Anderson. However, true freshman Tra’von Chapman will get a look this spring. Whoever wins the job will spend a lot of time handing off to sophomore running back Rushel Shell.

Related Content: Pittsburgh Panthers 2013 Spring Preview
 

Virginia

Is Mike London’s team ready to take the next step?
After an 8-5 finish in 2011, hopes were high in Charlottesville that the team was ready for an even bigger season in 2012. Instead, the Cavaliers went in the wrong direction. Virginia finished 4-8 and started 0-4 in conference play. Problems on both sides of the ball prevented the Cavaliers from contending for a bowl game, including quarterback inconsistency, as well as a lack of turnovers forced on defense (12). Due to the disappointing season, head coach Mike London revamped his coaching staff, hiring Steve Fairchild to coordinate the offense, Jon Tenuta to lead the defense, while former NC State coach Tom O’Brien will also serve as an assistant. With 13 starters back, the Cavaliers have enough talent to get back to a bowl game. However, the schedule isn’t easy, as BYU and Oregon both come to Charlottesville in non-conference play, while Virginia faces road trips to North Carolina and Miami late in the year. Could this be a make-or-break year for London? If the team fails to show progress, it will be an interesting offseason in Charlottesville.

Quarterback Battle? David Watford will likely push Phillip Sims for the starting nod, but most expect Sims to emerge as Virginia’s No. 1 quarterback. The Alabama transfer threw for 1,263 yards last season.
 

Virginia Tech

Can Logan Thomas regain his 2011 form?
In an effort to spark Virginia Tech’s offense, coach Frank Beamer made some much-needed staff changes. Former Temple and Auburn assistant Scot Loeffler was hired to coordinate the offense, Jeff Grimes is now in charge of the offensive line, and Aaron Moorehead will coach the receivers. After throwing for 3,013 yards, 19 touchdowns and completing 59.8 percent of passes in 2011, Thomas finished 2012 with 2,976 yards, 18 touchdowns and 16 picks. Considering the lack of a No. 1 running back and a revamped offensive line, it’s hard to place the blame squarely on Thomas’ shoulders. However, there’s no question he has to play better in 2013. Spring practice should give some insight into how quickly the Loeffler-Thomas relationship is coming together.


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Teaser:
<p> ACC Football 2013 Spring Preview and Storylines</p>
Post date: Monday, March 4, 2013 - 06:40
Path: /college-basketball/amazing-college-basketball-stats-week-feb-25-march-3
Body:

Welcome to March.

College basketball’s best month has arrived, and, boy, did it deliver immediate dividends.

The first full slate of games in March brought a classic individual performance — one for the ages, Mike Krzyzewski called it — and one of the best games of the season. And that was just Duke’s win over Miami. Earlier on Saturday, we also had one of the March staples of the unlikely hero when Luke Hancock upstaged guys like Michael Carter-Willaims, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith.

Related: Who is the nation's top point guard?

Meanwhile, Oklahoma came within two free throws of a record. Doug McDermott returned to form. And Ole Miss continued to court the NIT. In short, an eventful weekend. In all likelihood, the first of five wild Saturdays in March.

Here’s a look at the key numbers from the first weekend of March:

1.13. Points per minute for Ryan Kelly after a 13-game layoff
Good luck trying to find a way to overestimate Ryan Kelly’s 36 points in 32 minutes against Miami. The Duke forward missed 13 games due to an ankle injury but returned to score a career high in the 79-76 win over Miami. Beyond the raw numbers, the per-minute average for Duke's wildcard player is equally important. Kelly averaged 1.13 points per minute against Miami. Before his injury, Kelly averaged 0.47 points per minute this season. On Saturday, the senior scored 16 of Duke’s first 28 points against the Hurricanes. By that point, he already exceeded the 13.8 points per game he averaged prior to his injury. Again, the minutes were almost as impressive as his scoring: Kelly exceeded the 32-minute mark only eight times in the last two seasons.

1 of 18. Peyton Siva’s line from the field against Syracuse this season
Peyton Siva is one of the top point guards in the country, but not against Syracuse. On Saturday, Siva missed all nine of his shots from the field, eight of which were from three-point range in Louisville's 58-53 win over Syracuse. Earlier this season, Siva went 1 of 9 from the field against the Orange, including 1 of 7 from three-point range in a 70-68 loss on Jan. 19. Siva failed to reach the free throw line in both games. Lucky for Louisville...

6 of 7. Luke Hancock’s line from three-point range against Syracuse this season
The George Mason transfer was the hero of Louisville's win over Syracuse on Saturday by hitting 4 of 5 shots from the field, all from beyond the arc. Hancock, who started the season in a 4-for-29 slump from three-point range, was the hero in the Cardinals’ win over the Orange with his three-point shooting and a critical steal late in the game. In the first meeting with Syracuse, he scored seven points on 2-of-2 three-point shooting.

12. Margin of victory in Florida’s closest win of the season
Florida hasn’t had to sweat much at home this season — so much so that a 12-point win in the O’Connell Center qualifies as its closest victory of the season. The Gators defeated Alabama 64-52, but they were tied with 7:47 to go and trailed by as much as eight in the second half. Should Florida be encouraged it battled back in the second half or does it reinforce the Gators don’t have a great record in close games late? Florida is 0-5 in games decided by 11 points or less.

41. Season-high scoring by Creighton’s Doug McDermott
A week ago, we noted McDermott’s struggles, relatively speaking. The Creighton forward averaged 16.7 points per game during a six-game span from  Feb. 6-23. This week, the old McDermott returned. The junior scored 32 points against Bradley on Wednesday. He topped that with a season-high 41 points against Wichita State in what could be his final home game if he leaves for the NBA Draft. Creighton had been sliding down mock brackets, but the Bluejays’ 91-79 win over the Shockers clinched a Missouri Valley regular season title. His 41-point outburst (on 15-of-18 shooting) was his sixth 30-point game of the season. And McDermott’s not padding his stats, either. Four of those 30-point games have come against Tournament hopefuls Wisconsin, Cal, Akron and Wichita State.

34 for 34. Oklahoma from the free throw line against Iowa State
The Sooners tied a Division I record with a perfect performance from the foul line, making all 34 free throw attempts in the 86-69 win over Iowa State. Only two other teams have gone 34 for 34 from the line. No team has a perfect mark in a game with 35 or more free throw attempts.

17. VCU steals against Butler
Even for VCU, this got out of hand. The Rams forced 23 turnovers in Saturday’s 85-52 rout of Butler, 17 of those takeaways came from a VCU steal. To put this in perspective, Butler opponents are averaging six steals per game. VCU guard Darius Theus nearly matched that on his own with five.

27. Seasons since Bob Huggins had a losing conference record
West Virginia lost 91-65 to Kansas, which isn’t a surprise given the Mountaineers’ struggles this year. The loss is notable by moving West Virginia to 6-10 in the league to seal a losing Big 12 season. The losing conference record will be the first for a Bob Huggins-coached team since his first as a Division I head coach when Akron went 6-8 in the Ohio Valley in 1984-85. Since then, Huggins has led four different schools to winning records in six leagues: Akron in the OVC, Cincinnati in the Metro, Great Midwest and Conference USA, Kansas State in the Big 12 and West Virginia in the Big East.

10.4. Points per game for Cal’s Allen Crabbe since “the shove”
Cal is surging with its seven-game winning streak to put it within a game in the loss column of the Pac-12 regular season title. The Pac-12 scoring leader, though, is not. Crabbe is averaging 10.4 points per game in four games since the shove that earned Cal coach Mike Montgomery a reprimand from the conference. After the game, Montgomery noted the shove “worked” as Crabbe scored 23 points in the game against USC. Crabbe was averaging 19.8 points per game on Feb. 17, but he scored only eight in Saturday’s 62-46 win over Colorado to drop his scoring average to 18.8 per game.

8 of 36. Marshall Henderson from the field in Ole Miss’ losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State
If Ole Miss misses the NCAA Tournament, the culprit almost certainly will be bad losses to South Carolina on Feb. 20 and Mississippi State on Saturday. Marshall Henderson struggled in the two games. Though he scored 16 points against Mississippi State and 11 against South Carolina, he was woefully inefficient. Henderson was a combined 8 of 36 in these two resume-killing losses. He went 4 of 19, including 3 of 18 from three-point range against Mississippi State and 4 of 17 from the field and 3 of 11 from beyond the arc against South Carolina.

Teaser:
<p> Amazing College Basketball Stats of the Week: Feb. 25-March 3</p>
Post date: Monday, March 4, 2013 - 06:25
Path: /nascar/carl-edwards-holds-jimmie-johnson-wins-phoenix
Body:

A new season brings new hope. And no one in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is in more need of hope than Carl Edwards.

On the outside looking in at last season’s Chase for the Championship, Edwards has been mired in a winless skid that dates back to March 6, 2011. And his 2013 season got off to a dubious start in Daytona during Speedweeks, where he was involved in four wrecks (and a fifth in a test session in January), ultimately finishing 33rd in the Daytona 500.

Factor in a new contract that he signed in 2011 with Roush Fenway Racing that made the 33-year-old Ford Racing’s figurehead, as well as being given RFR’s ace crew chief in Jimmy Fennig, and it’s easy to understand how the pressure has mounted on Edwards to perform.

Consider the weight lifted.

Edwards led the final 78 laps in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 on Sunday, holding off Jimmie Johnson in a green-white-checker finish en route to the win at Phoenix International Raceway.

“It’s tough to go that long without winning, “Edwards said. “And then you come into the season with Jimmy (Fennig) who did so well last year (three wins with Matt Kenseth) … and everybody did so well. We’ve got the fastest pit crew on pit road — and I thought ‘We’ve got to go win some races.’”

Edwards seemingly had the scheduled 312-lap race in hand, cruising nearly a half-second in front of Johnson as the laps wound down. However, a caution for Ken Schrader’s blown tire with three circuits remaining forced the event into NASCAR’s version of an overtime finish. And with fuel an issue, many were unsure if they had enough in the tank to survive the caution laps and a three-lap shootout on Phoenix’s one-mile layout.

The leaders — Edwards, Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. — had plenty in reserve, though. When the green waved, Keselowski pushed Edwards, on the inside lane, by Johnson and the driver of the No. 99 did the rest. In clean air, the Missouri native easily held off the pack, winning his 20th career Cup race.

“I was trying to suspend my emotions after that last caution.” Edwards said. “There was two laps to go and I’m saying, ‘Were going to win this race.’ And Brad pushed me — that sealed it right there. I knew that if we were the first ones down into the corner (Turn 1), we’d win this thing.”

Meanwhile, Johnson, Keselowski and Hamlin engaged in a thrilling battle for second. With Johnson and Keselowski door-to-door exiting Turn 2 on the final lap, Hamlin cut across the apron of the track in the dogleg, blocking Keselwoski and pulling even with Johnson. The two came to the finish line trading paint, with Johnson edging out Hamlin. Keselowski was fourth, Earnhardt Jr. fifth.

Johnson, though, was none-too-happy with the deciding restart.

“The leader is not supposed to slow down before he takes off (coming to the green),” Johnson said. “And he (Edwards) did that twice. It put me in a bad position with the 2 (Keselowski) inside of me … and off we went.”

“I was going for anything,” Hamlin said of the finish. “I didn’t have much all day. The pit crew and Darian (Grubb, crew chief) really carried us today getting track position. (It was) just so hard to pass. You’re going to hear it a lot this week that we’ve got a lot of work to do this week to get these cars to pass each other.”

Johnson, with finishes of first and second is off to a hot start this season, but Sunday was about Edwards, his new crew chief, a re-tooled team in only their second race together and NASCAR’s Gen-6 car, which seems to like clean air as much as its predecessor.

Is Phoenix an indication of what lies ahead for the 99 team? Will Edwards be a driver to deal with throughout the season as he was in 2011, or will he fade into obscurity like 2012?

“I think we are (back),” said Edwards. “But next week I think is going to be the true test (for the car) — at the mile-and-a-half (track in Las Vegas).”
 

Teaser:
<p> Carl Edwards breaks winless skid, wins in Phoenix.</p>
Post date: Sunday, March 3, 2013 - 20:16
All taxonomy terms: Phoenix International Raceway, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/nascar-2013-phoenix-international-raceway-track-information
Body:

Phoenix International Raceway Race Stats

2013 Race Length: 312 miles/312 laps 

Track Qualifying Record: 138.766 mph (Kyle Busch, 2012) 

Race Record: 118.132 mph (Tony Stewart, 1999)

 

Anonymous Crew Chief's Take on Phoenix International Raceway

“Phoenix is a tough racetrack. The track is going to season, but we’ve tested out there a bunch between the 2013 car and racing out there. It has three unique corners, and the driver has to sign up for that track because it’s fast with a lot of gas and throttle control. I hope NASCAR doesn’t mess with the cars driving across the inside of the backstretch. I think it is fun to see the drivers try something different. They have enough other stuff to worry about without messing with where we race at Phoenix.”

 

Classic Moments at Phoenix International Raceway

The old man couldn’t be denied.

Mark Martin, back behind the wheel full-time in 2009 after two years of semi-retirement, became the third-oldest winner in NASCAR history and snapped a 97-race winless skid with a commanding victory in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Martin, 50, won for the first time in only his eighth start with Hendrick Motorsports, the organization he joined in 2009 after two partial seasons with Dale Earnhardt Inc./Ginn Racing following two decades of competition with Roush Racing.

Martin, long known as one of NASCAR’s most physically fit drivers, started from the pole and led 157 of 312 laps on the way to his first win since 2005.

Martin would use the Phoenix victory as a springboard to four more triumphs that season. For the fifth time in his lengthy career, he would finish second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings — this time as bridesmaid to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.

 

Fantasy NASCAR Take on Phoenix International Raceway

Contenders

Denny Hamlin—His Phoenix win last February helped spark a season-long resurgence following a dismal 2011. He backed up that showing with a second-place finish in the fall race and is one of only two drivers with three top-15 finishes on the newly configured PIR.

Kevin Harvick—Harvick salvaged his 2012 with a late-season victory in the desert last fall. The win was foreshadowed by a February performance that saw him average a race-best third-place running position and finish second.

Sleeper

Ryan Newman—Ranking fourth in the MotorsportsAnalytics.com Phoenix-specific PEER rankings is Newman, who has a pair of top-5 finishes on the new track surface and led five laps last fall.

Runs on Seven Cylinders

Dale Earnhardt Jr.—A two-time winner on the old PIR surface, Earnhardt has yet to come away with an admirable finish on the new configuration, finishing 24th, 14th and 21st in the last three races.


RELATED: 8 Amazing NASCAR Stats for Phoenix International Raceway

RELATED: Fantasy NASCAR Picks for Phoenix International Raceway

Teaser:
<p> A NASCAR fan's guide to Phoenix International Raceway</p>
Post date: Sunday, March 3, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /nascar/ranking-nascar-sprint-cup-series-racetracks
Body:

The NASCAR Sprint Cup season is a long and winding road consisting of 36 points-paying races held on 23 racetracks across America. The venues are diverse, with half-mile bullrings, twisting road courses, high-speed intermediates and white-knuckle plate tracks. Some thrill, some bore, some are in steeped in history, others lack any semblance of uniqueness.

But we have them all here, ranked from best NASCAR Sprint Cup racetrack to worst, having factored in entertainment value, historical significance, location and the overall ambiance of the facility:


 

1. Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega, Al. • 2.66-mile tri-oval • 2013 dates: May 5, Oct. 20
The one track that defines speed in a sport dictated on going fast, Talladega is the be-all, end-all of superspeedway racing. The original 200 mph track that Buddy Baker christened in 1970 in a winged Dodge, Talladega is the site of the fastest qualifying lap, the fastest 500-mile NASCAR race and some of the scariest crashes in motorsports history. In 1987, Bobby Allison went airborne and tore part of the frontstretch fencing down, nearly taking out the flag stand and putting the car in the front row. Thus, restrictor plate racing was born. The National Motorsports Hall of Fame is located at Talladega as well, and the infield on race weekend is essentially Mardi Gras without the cops.

2. Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Fla. • 2.5-mile tri-oval • 2013 dates: Feb. 24, July 6
When Bill France Sr. conjured the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, he wanted it to be the fastest and most impressive track in auto racing. Mission accomplished. Thirty-two degrees of banking in the turns, wide-open throttles and host to everything from NASCAR, GRAND-AM, AMA Motorcycle, go-karts and Monster Energy Super Cross events. It has also been witnessed some of NASCAR’s most memorable finishes and wild aerial antics — as well as the sport’s darkest hour in February 2001. Two weeks of NASCAR racing, known as Speedweeks, kick off the season, with the Truck Series, Nationwide, ARCA and Sprint Cup running their premier events. Hope always springs eternal on the beach in February.

3. Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville, Va. • .526-mile oval • 2013 dates: April 7, Oct. 27
If nostalgia is your thing, look no further than Clay Earles’ gem in Martinsville, Va. At .526 miles, it’s the shortest track on the circuit, but also NASCAR’s oldest, dating to the first year of the sport in 1948. While some fans may bemoan how NASCAR has gone “too corporate” and “lost its soul,” Martinsville is viewed as a holdout, amidst pink hot dogs and the Grandfather clock that serves as racing’s coolest trophy. There is no shortage of beating, banging and retaliation – and Victory Lane is held right on the frontstretch for all the fans to experience.

4. Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol, Tenn. • .533-mile oval • 2013 dates: March 17, Aug. 24
“Racin’ the Way it Oughta Be!” the track located in what is known as Thunder Valley promotes — and with good reason. The August night race was once the hardest ticket to get in racing, but has recently become obtainable. A track repave in 2008 created two groves of racing, and therefore eliminated the wreck-fest that once was Bristol. The .533-mile oval is a bit secluded, but that is part of its allure. When you walk into the grandstands that reach over 10 stories high, you get a feel for what it must’ve been like at Roman coliseums or what Rudy’s dad felt when he saw Notre Dame Stadium for the first time: “This is the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen.”

5. Darlington Raceway
Darlington, S.C. • 1.336-mile oval • 2013 date: May 11
“The Track Too Tough to Tame,” introduced in 1950, was NASCAR’s first speedway longer that one mile. Though it looked like one of racing’s grandest tracks, Darlington was on its way out a few years ago. But the addition of lights around the 1.336-mile, egg-shaped oval has kept it relevant. During a time when many tracks can’t give tickets away, Darlington continues to sell. Once a Labor Day tradition, the famed Southern 500 is now Saturday Night’s Main Event in early April. While that smacks in the way of tradition, Darlington’s gritty and abrasive surface — once ground smooth following a repave — refuses to be anything but old school. What sporting facility do you know of whose shape and construction was dictated by the landowner wanting to retain his minnow pond? At least that’s the way the grand old tale is told.

6. Richmond International Raceway
Richmond, Va. • .75-mile oval • April 27, Sept. 7
Following the first race of the 1988 season, the old .542-mile Richmond Fairgrounds was reconfigured into the modern .75-mile short track gem that it is today. An hour or so outside of Washington D.C., it’s a great destination for family, friends, racing and history. Often credited as being the ideal track for stock cars, Richmond is old-school charm with new-school amenities. It also serves as the transfer race into NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff.

7. Charlotte Motor Speedway
Concord, N.C. • 1.5-mile quad-oval • 2013 date: May 18 (All Star), May 26, Oct. 12
The track that Curtis Turner built with the help of mob money and a .38 Smith, the city that serves as the heart of NASCAR is also the home to NASCAR’s crown jewel speedway. Home to the sport’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600, and the All-Star Race, Charlotte is home to some of NASCAR’s most endearing memories. The original 1.5-mile oval is no cookie cutter, though following its 2005 repave, it has lost a bit of its character. Virtually all of the NASCAR teams are located within a stone’s throw of the speedway, so shop tours are must-see attractions if you’re going to a race. Plus, Uptown Charlotte is as nice as Chicago – minus the murder and congestion. Drive 20 minutes outside of town to and you’re instantly transported back to Mayberry.

8. Watkins Glen International
Watkins Glen, N.Y. • 11-turn, 2.45-mile road course • 2013 date: Aug. 11
Fans are hot and cold on road course racing, but what’s not to like about The Glen, located in upstate New York? If you can’t get your old lady to go with you, fear not, Niagara Falls is just around the bend. This track seems to bring out the best in drivers, so there’s usually some scrapping (Boris Said vs. Greg Biffle; Kevin Harvick vs. Juan Pablo Montoya), great insults (Sterling Marlin calling Biffle a “bug-eyed dummy”; Ryan Newman saying Sterling’s hair piece fell down over his eyes), and some wild, late-race action. Last year’s tussle between Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose was easily the best finish of the season.

9. Atlanta Motor Speedway
Hampton, Ga. • 1.54-mile quad-oval • 2013 date: Sept. 1
Before Michigan went Mayfield on speed last June (and until the plates come off at Talladega and Daytona), Atlanta was pretty much the fastest ticket on the circuit. Geoff Bodine reeled off a lap of 197.478 mph – and that was in 1997, 16 years and 150 horsepower ago. It’s also played host to a couple of the closest finishes in NASCAR history (Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Labonte in 2000 and, ironically, Kevin Harvick driving what was the Intimidator’s car following his untimely passing in 2001). Although it isn’t Darlington, it honorably holds down the Southern 500’s former date on Labor Day weekend. As this list has proven, the oldest tracks produce the best racing – and Atlanta is no different.

10. Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Speedway, Ind. • 2.5-mile oval • 2013 date: July 28
When the term “hallowed ground” was coined, it likely was done so when describing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 2.5-mile oval is most famously known as the home of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the Indianapolis 500. But in 1992, when fans packed the grandstands to watch a NASCAR/Goodyear tire test, it all but sealed the deal as to what track would soon be on NASCAR’s schedule. As a “bucket list” destination for any sports fan, prime seats are not a challenging get for the Brickyard 400 — and although you can’t see the entire track from any one location, it’s kind of hard to find a bad seat.

11. Texas Motor Speedway
Fort Worth, Texas • 1.5-mile quad-oval • 2013 dates: April 13, Nov. 3
Everything’s bigger in Texas, and this is no exception. Yeah, it’s a 1.5-miler, but the speeds are crazy fast and the banking falls away exiting Turn 2. The racing has matured since it received a second date in 2005, and usually provides some big speed and late race heroics; witness last year’s door slamming battle between Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. Besides, where else do drivers get a shotgun for winning the pole and a pair of six-shooters for claiming victory in the race?

12. Sonoma Raceway
Sonoma, Calif. • 12 turn, 1.99-mile road course • 2013 date: June 23
To many fans, it’s still Sears Point because no one could figure out what an Infineon was. This used to be NASCAR’s best road course until they messed with success and installed “The Chute” rather than utilize the Sports Car carousel course. It has now devolved into a fuel mileage venue, but late-race yellows tend to spring up and foster a fight to the finish. The elevation changes and curb bouncing are a break from the left turn-only rules, and how someone hasn’t plowed into the tire barrier at Turn 3a is beyond me. Plus after the race, go get glazed on a vineyard tour if you’re in attendance. Or if you’re at home, just wait until the 3:00 pm start time while basting in Midwest midsummer humidity.

13. Michigan International Speedway
Brooklyn, Mich. • 2-mile D-shaped oval • 2013 dates: June 16, Sept. 18
The Irish Hills of Brooklyn, Mich., are home to two races a year. About an hour outside of Detroit, this is one of the races that has always been key for the manufacturers to brag about having won — which has to sting a bit with Toyota having won four of the last seven. Michigan used to pack ’em in uncomfortably close, but seating rearrangements have made it comfortable again to see a spectator-friendly 400-miler. MIS has also updated the facilities in recent years and has done a masterful job of resolving the traffic and parking issues that made getting out of the track a perfect excuse to not go at all. The middle stages of a Michigan race can get strung out, however things historically tighten up at the end for a memorable finish. They were hitting 215 mph into Turn 1 here in practice last year before a slower tire was introduced, reducing the pole speed to a pedestrian 203.241 mph. Will the new Gen-6 cars push the envelope back over 210 this year?

14. New Hampshire International Speedway
Loudon, N.H. • 1.058-mile oval • 2013 dates: July 14, Sept. 22
Kyle Petty once said they should fill NHIS up with water and make it a bass pond. Of course, everyone cites Petty as saying that about every track, so who knows at this point. Anyway, many agreed with him after the Magic Mile produced nothing but duds the first 12 years or so on the circuit. Recently, it has provided a number of memorable finishes, and in part dictated the outcome of the 2010 Chase. It produced some of the closest finishes of the CoT era, and is notable for being the track to help draw fans from the Boston market. Say what you will about the recent downturn in attendance – NHIS fans still show up, even packing the stands for the must-see Modified race.

15. Dover International Speedway
Dover, Del. • 1-mile oval • 2013 dates: June 2, Sept. 29
Dover used to be the most brutal race on the schedule. You think the races are bad at 400 laps? They used to be 500 – on asphalt. Now, with its concrete makeover, it’s basically a big Bristol, only faster. Much like in the old days, the races can get a bit strung out during the middle portion, but if somebody loses it in the tight confines, there’s really no place for others to go, making this a treacherous joint.

16. Phoenix International Raceway
Avondale, Ariz. • 1-mile, D-shaped oval • 2013 dates: March 3, Nov. 10
How have times changed in NASCAR? Phoenix is now considered a short track even though it’s one mile in length, yet measured in kilometers. Don’t ask me what the KPH is for the pole speed, because I’m not wired that way. Phoenix now hosts two dates, and by the time drivers get back in November, they’re usually pretty cranky after nine months on the road. Therefore, tempers run high, water bottles are thrown at cars, and sometimes Clint Bowyer will run through the garage to beat up Jeff Gordon after getting turned head-on into the wall.

17. Kansas Speedway
Kansas City, Kan. • 1.5-mile tri-oval • 2013 dates: April 21, Oct. 6
Bristol has Thunder Valley, Kansas has Tornado Alley. Hosting its first NASCAR race in 2001, Kansas was a welcome addition to the schedule, particularly for fans located in the Midwest, Great Plains and all points westward. Built during an era where cookie cutter, 1.5-mile tracks were being churned out with the kind of regularity seen only in a maternity ward, it’s not exactly the most unique track on the circuit. With the addition of a casino outside the track, there’s more to do than watch the race, get sunburned and corn. Lots of corn. On the downside it is Kansas, so be prepared for an onslaught of Wizard of Oz puns, costumes and innuendo.

18. Homestead Miami Speedway
Homestead, Fla. • 1.5-mile oval • 2013 date: Nov. 17
Another 1.5-mile speedway built in the late 1990s, Homestead-Miami Speedway became host to the season ending racing, replacing one of Atlanta’s dates on the schedule. Homestead-Miami was first envisioned as essential to the growing Latino market in South Florida and inclusion into another major sports market during NASCAR’s boon years. All three touring series wrap up the year here, so it’s going to be witness to some close racing for both wins and championships. It underwent a facelift in 2003, switching from a flat track format to progressive banking. Suddenly, the racing was interesting and the first Chase for the Championship in 2004 saw one of the most dramatic finishes in the sport’s history for a title go down to the last lap between five drivers. It ranks a bit low here due to it having only one date, being a long trek for many and because it’s place on the calendar falls the week before Thanksgiving. The last time I checked though, you don’t have to shovel sunshine.

19. Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Las Vegas, Nev. • 1.5-mile tri-oval • 2013 date: March 10
Las Vegas Motor Speedway — or more accurately, its owner, Bruton Smith — has been clamoring for a second date since it received its first in 1998. It’s a major market track, and unlike some venues, there is actually something to do besides going to the racetrack. The only issue is the race probably won’t be the highlight of your trip. But that’s not really a problem, as it is still a great vacation destination; LVMS is also home to the Richard Petty Driving Experience, as well as exotic car rentals. Depending on the day, you can indulge your inner Dean Martin or Mark Martin. And since its Las Vegas and in the desert, your inner Jeremy Mayfield. Or Ron Jeremy. Whatever floats your boat.

20. Pocono Raceway
Pocono, Penn. • 2.5-mile tri-oval • 2013 dates: June 9, Aug. 4
The tricky triangle in the middle of the mountains, Pocono is one of NASCAR’s oldest speedways, technically being a superspeedway, as it is 2.5-miles in length. Pocono is unique in that it’s not an oval, drives like a road course and even the Turn 4 wall has a question mark painted on it. Pocono was patterned to comprise three famous flat American racetracks: Turn 1 after the Turn 1 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; the Tunnel Turn is an ode to the track in Trenton, N.J.; the final turn a tip of the cap to the Milwaukee Mile. Pocono has been witness to some of the most heart-wrenching and endearing moments in the sport’s history: Bobby Allison’s near-fatal accident in 1988, Davey Allison’s violent tumble in ’92 and Dale Earnhardt’s and Rusty Wallace’s emotional tribute to fallen competitors Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki in ’93. It was also the first race Tim Richmond won after being hospitalized for what later would be revealed to be AIDS. And, of course, who could forget Earnhardt flipping off Jeremy Mayfield after getting his cage rattled on the final lap in 2000?

21. Auto Club Speedway
Fontana, Calif. • 2-mile, D-shaped oval • 2013 date: March 24
The sister track to Michigan, the 2.0-mile oval in Fontana, Calif., has fallen off the map in recent years. An hour outside of Los Angeles, it was once heralded as the most important new track for NASCAR to gain ground in a major market. How far has it fallen? ACS used to have two 500-mile dates, including a Chase race, but now only hosts the fifth race on the schedule – and even that has been reduced to 400 miles. Attendance has been a major issue in recent years, with completely empty grandstands being attributed to fans shopping for souvenirs during the race. Uh, yeah. Okay. However, after dialing it down to a one-and-done locale, Auto Club has been the site to some interesting races, with Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart racing to beat the rain in 2012 and a last-lap, three-way battle between Busch, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson in 2011.

22. Kentucky Speedway
Sparta, Ky. • 1.5-mile tri-oval • 2013 date: June 29
Located in Sparta, Ky., Kentucky Speedway is probably best known for having a traffic problem. The inaugural event in 2011 didn’t go so smoothly, with a number of fans missing the first hour of the race while being stuck on the highway — and others actually being turned away completely. With all of the hoopla surrounding it “finally” getting a date, the real question should have been why it needed one at all. Last year’s event was a snoozer, with a margin of victory of 4.399 seconds. There are existing tracks with twice the character that would provide a more competitive show than this 1.5-mile oval.

23. Chicagoland Speedway
Joliet, Ill. • 1.5-mile tri-oval • Sept. 15
Chicagoland hosted its first Sprint Cup race in 2002. Since then, it has been host to 12 races – eight of which had a margin of victory less than one second. Needing a promotional kick in the fender, NASCAR awarded Chicago the first Chase date in 2011, however that’s been a bumpy ride for the facility. The first year was rained out and run on a Monday. Last season, Brad Keselowski won by over three seconds, with the final 73 laps run under green flag conditions. It seats 75,000 people, which is 25 percent less than what Wrestlemania III pulled in 1986 at the Silverdome. About an hour outside of Chicago proper, you’ll likely not find a track with less character. But if you want to visit a wayward uncle in prison, this is your ticket.


by Vito Pugliese
Follow Vito on Twitter: @VitoPugliese

Agree? Disagree? Let us know your favorite and least favorite tracks in the Comment section below.
 

Teaser:
<p> Ranking NASCAR's racetracks.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 1, 2013 - 19:07
Path: /mlb/top-20-mlb-prospects-world-baseball-classic
Body:

The 2013 World Baseball Classic starts March 2, with round robin pool play getting the party started for the 16-team international tournament won by Japan in both 2006 and ’09. The championship round runs from March 17-19 at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Until then, many of the world’s top players will be going head-to-head from Tokyo to Miami.

Here’s a rundown of the top 20 MLB prospects playing in the WBC this time around.


Top 10 WBC Prime Prospects
These twentysomethings are players who are either working their way up an MLB farm system or making big enough waves internationally that they could make the jump to the bigs sooner rather than later.

Player, Pos., Country
Ht., Wt., Team, Age
2012 Statistics


1. Jose Abreu, 1B, Cuba
6-2, 258, Cienfuegos, 26
Cuban NL: .394, 35 HR, 99 RBI, 1.379 OPS


The Cuban slugger’s combination of plate discipline and power have drawn comparisons to both Miguel Cabrera and Barry Bonds. If his 2011-12 season wasn’t awesome enough, his age 24 year in 2010-11 produced a .453 average, 33 HR and a 1.583 OPS. Abreu has been hyped as the “best offensive weapon on the planet.”

2. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Netherlands
6-3, 185, Boston Red Sox, 20
A-AA: .307, 20 HR, 81 RBI, .896 OPS


The Red Sox top prospect is the most exciting shortstop the farm system has seen since Hanley Ramirez. The X-man leads a loaded Dutch lineup that also includes Andrelton Simmons and Jonathan Schoop as well as veteran Andruw Jones.

3. Jameson Taillon, RHP, Canada
6-6, 225, Pittsburgh Pirates, 21
A-AA: 9–8, 3.55 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 116-142 K-IP


The No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, Taillon is one of the Pirates’ co-aces of the future, along with 2011 No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole.

4. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Japan
6-2, 205, Rakuten, 24
JPPL: 10–4, 1.87 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 169-173 K-IP


Now that Yu Darvish is stateside, Tanaka is the ace of the Land of the Rising Sun. His 2012 season was a down year compared to 2011, when Tanaka went 19–5 with a 1.27 ERA, 0.875 WHIP and 241 strikeouts in 226.1 innings.

5. Alfredo Despaigne, OF, Cuba
5-8, 214, Granma, 26
Cuban NL: .326, 36 HR, 105 RBI


Another Cuban power hitter, the diminutive Despaigne homered off Stephen Strasburg in the 2008 Olympics and has twice set the HR record in Cuba — with 32 in 2008-09 and then 36 jacks in 2011-12, breaking the record held by last year’s AL Rookie of the Year runner up Yoenis Cespedes.

6. Jonathan Schoop, 3B, Netherlands
6-1, 195, Baltimore Orioles, 21
AA: .245, 14 HR, 56 RBI, .710 OPS


Schoop can scoop anywhere in the infield, providing dynamic defense from short, second or third. That versatility will come in handy for Holland.

7. Andre Rienzo, RHP, Brazil
6-3, 190, Chicago White Sox, 24
A-AA-AAA: 7–3, 2.53 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 113-103.1 K-IP


The ace of Barry Larkin’s Brazilian beisbol club has pitched well since being suspended 50 games for a positive PED test.

8. Jose Berrios, RHP, Puerto Rico
6-0, 187, Minnesota Twins, 18
RK: 3–0, 1.17 ERA, 0.62 WHIP, 49-30.2 K-IP


A teenage Puerto Rican prodigy who is mature for his age, Berrios those BBs over the plate.

9. Kenta Maeda, RHP, Japan
6-0, 161, Hiroshima, 24
JPCL: 14–7, 1.53 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 171-206.1 K-IP


Japan’s other ace, Maeda has a three-quarter delivery and excellent command of the strike zone.

10. Hayato Sakamoto, SS, Japan
6-1, 176, Yomiuri, 24
JPCL: .311, 14 HR, 69 RBI, 16 SB, .815 OPS


Bigger and stronger than Kaz Matsui, Japan’s best shortstop has downplayed his interest in MLB.


Next 10 WBC Prospects
Not quite in their prime, these prospects are either too old, too young or unlikely to defect or post.

11. Phillippe Aumont, RHP, Canada
6-7, 260, Philadelphia Phillies, 24

Potential closer of the future pitched 14.2 innings with a 3.68 ERA for the Phils last season.

12. Yulieski Gourriel, 3B, Cuba
6-0, 196, Sancti Spiritus, 28

Son of former National Team star, Lourdes, has been called the “Cuban Derek Jeter” but is unlikely to defect.

13. Frederich Cepeda, OF-DH, Cuba
5-10, 201, Sancti Spiritus, 32

One of the Cuban mainstays, Cepeda hit .500 with three HRs in 6 games and 24 AB in the 2009 WBC.

14. Alexei Bell, OF, Cuba
5-8, 187, Santiago, 29

Another usual suspect on Cuba’s National Team, Bell was the first player to hit 30 HR and 100 RBI in Cuba.

15. Seung-Yeop Lee, 1B, Korea
6-0, 210, Samsung, 36

“The Lion King” has still got it, crushing for .307, 21 HR, 85 RBI and a .966 OPS in Korea last season.

16. Shinnosuke Abe, C, Japan
5-11, 214, Yomiuri, 33

The big-hitting backstop mashed .340, 27 HR, 104 RBI and a .994 OPS in Japan last season.

17. Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP, Chinese Taipei
6-1, 198, Sanmin Senior High School, 18

Wanting to sign with an MLB team as soon as he can, Tseng’s game will be on display at the WBC.

18. Erisbel “Barbaro” Arruebarruena, SS, Cuba
6-0, 198, Cienfuegos, 22

A slick-fielding newbie to Team Cuba, “Barbaro” is a mystery man who could have baseball abuzz soon enough.

19. Tae-Kyun Kim, 1B, Korea
6-0, 220, Chiba Lotte, 30

A big hitter who shined in the 2009 WBC but has slipped of late, jumping from Korea to Japan professionally.

20. Kang Jung-Ho, SS, Korea
6-0, 180, Hyundai, 25

One of Korea’s rising stars for many years, Jung-Ho has come into his own and should shine in the WBC.


WBC Hall of Fame Five
These WBC alums were relative unknowns who have since evolved into high-paid MLB stars.

Yu Darvish, RHP, Japan
6-5, 216, Texas Rangers, 26
MLB: 16–9, 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 221-191.1 K-IP

Served as the lights out closer on Japan’s second straight WBC championship team.

Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Cuba
6-4, 205, Cincinnati Reds, 25
MLB: 5–5, 1.51 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 38 SV, 122-71.2 K-IP

An erratic yet charismatic lefty for Cuba was one of the top closer’s in MLB last year.

Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Cuba
5-10, 210, Oakland A’s, 27
MLB: .292, 23 HR, 82 RBI, 16 SB, .861 OPS

A five-tool quick-twitch outfielder who carried the A’s to a longshot playoff berth.

Norichika Aoki, OF, Japan
5-9, 176, Milwaukee Brewers, 31
MLB: .288, 10 HR, 50 RBI, 30 SB

Japan’s best outfielder since Ichiro has not been a star but has been serviceable.

Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, Korea
6-2, 255, Los Angeles Dodgers, 25

The rising MLB rookie was a horse for Korea’s gold medal-winning 2008 Olympic team.
 

Teaser:
<p> Top 20 MLB Prospects in World Baseball Classic, including Cuba's Jose Abreu, Netherlands' Xander Bogaerts, Canada's Jameson Taillon, Japan's Masahiro Tanaka, Cuba's Alfredo Despaigne, Netherlands' Jonathan Schoop, Brazil's Andre Rienzo, Puerto Rico's Jose Berrios, Japan's Kenta Maeda, Japan's Hayato Sakamoto, Canada's Phillippe Aumont, Cuba's Yulieski Gourriel and Korea's Seung-Yeop Lee.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 1, 2013 - 14:23
Path: /college-basketball/daily-march-madness-tracker-virginia-seals-bid
Body:

Now that the calendar has turned to March, fans of bubble teams may be refreshing web sites of their favorite bracketologists.

As college basketball’s regular season and conference tournament season nears a close, Athlon Sports will keep you up to date on the key developments through the week. Each day brings key developments for the NCAA Tournament, so in this space, we’ll update which teams look to be in the field, which might be playing themselves out as well as the key games of the day.

Related: Conference-by-conference Tourney projections and bubble watch

MARCH 1 NCAA TOURNAMENT TRACKER AND BUBBLE WATCH

Virginia seals a bid?
The question for sometime has been what would Virginia need to do to overcome a handful of really bad losses. The Cavaliers’ loss to Old Dominion early in the season would be one of the worst for an NCAA at-large teams and that doesn’t get to a home loss to Delaware, a road loss to George Mason and ACC road losses to Wake Forest, Clemson and Georgia Tech. Well, defeating Duke at home might be the game that clinches the NCAA Tournament for Virginia. The Blue Devils entered Thursday ranked No. 1 in the RPI, but Mike Krzyzewski spent most of the evening in a foul mood. With a 73-68 win over Duke, Virginia has top-30 wins over Duke, NC State, North Carolina and Wisconsin, the latter on the road.

Gonzaga’s case for a No. 1 seed.
Gonzaga already had momentum for a No. 1 seed, but in the last week Duke lost to Virginia, Michigan lost to Penn State, Indiana lost to Minnesota, Florida lost to Tennessee, Miami lost to Wake Forest, and Michigan State lost twice. Gonzaga, though, keeps winning. The Zags defeated BYU 70-65 on Thursday with one game left before the West Coast Conference Tournament. Not a bad week for Gonzaga’s seeding hopes.

Temple survives a scare.
The Owls may have played themselves into the field int the last two weeks with a four-game winning streak, but they had to survive a non-conference scare Thursday night. Khalif Wyatt scored 12 of the last 14 points to defeat Detroit 83-78. Defeating Detroit (RPI No. 61) won’t make-or-break a Tournament bid for Temple, but it’s better to have an extra top-100 win on the resume.

Related: Roundtable debate: Who are the top five point guards?

Deshaun Thomas in a supporting role.
Thomas remains Ohio State’s top scorer, but Thad Matta has to be pleased others besides Thomas have led the way. Only seven times all season a Buckeye other than Thomas has led Ohio State in scoring, and two of those were in back-to-back games. Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored 24 points as Ohio State had to sweat through a 63-53 win over Northwestern. Thomas scored 19. Against Michigan State on Sunday, Aaron Craft led Ohio State in scoring with 21 points.

Big East maneuverings.
News reports from SI.com and ESPN on Thursday afternoon indicated the Catholic Seven could break off from the Big East as soon as next season and could add Butler and Xavier from the Atlantic 10 immediately. Creighton, Dayton and Saint Louis could be realistic targets at a later date if the league expands to 12.

Just for fun, let’s look at what that league would be this season. Here’s a look at the new 12-team league with projected NCAA Tournament seedings from Jerry Palm’s latest bracket.

Team Seed
Georgetown 1
Butler 4
Saint Louis 4
Marquette 5
Creighton 10
Villanova 12
St. John's NIT
Xavier NIT
Providence NIT
Dayton  
Seton Hall  
DePaul  

WEEKEND ON TAP
All times Eastern


SATURDAY
Louisville at Syracuse (noon, CBS)

When these two teams first met on Jan. 19, no one would have projected Georgetown to be the Big East’s most likely team to be a No. 1 seed, but here we are. The Cardinals are still in the mix for a regular season conference title, sitting a game behind the Hoyas. Syracuse is still in the mix, but this likely is a must win before the Orange visit D.C. in the regular season finale.

Alabama at Florida (noon, ESPN)
The Tide simply have too many bad losses (Dayton, Mercer, Tulane, LSU) to be a strong at-large candidate. A win in Gainesville would set up for a more meaningful SEC Tournament for Bama.

Butler at VCU (noon, ESPN2)
VCU is getting close to wrapping up an NCAA Tournament bid. A win over Butler may do it. If the Bulldogs can defeat VCU in Richmond, where the Rams haven't lost in Atlantic 10 play, it could be a further boon to the seeding of a team that has defeated Marquette, North Carolina, Indiana, Gonzaga and Temple.

Tennessee at Georgia (1:30, SEC Network)
Want to be in the Tournament, Tennessee? Take care of business by beating Georgia on the road. The Vols’ last road trip was a quadruple overtime win over Texas A&M.

Iowa State at Oklahoma (1:30 p.m., Big 12 Network)
The Cyclones lost in devastating fashion to Kansas. Iowa State may be in the field, but Fred Hoiberg’s team can erase doubts by winning in Norman.

Wichita State at Creighton (2 p.m., ESPN2)
We’re starting to wonder how many bids the Missouri Valley could get. Wichita State and Creighton once looked like locks, but the Shockers lost to Evansville twice and Southern Illinois. Meanwhile, Creighton has lost four of seven. The winner of the MVC regular season finale may sleep a little easier about its at-large prospects.

Connecticut at Cincinnati (2 pm., Big East Network)
After losing five of the last six, Cincinnati has played itself on the bubble. The Bearcats have to find some way to stop this slide or risk being left out of the field.

Kentucky at Arkansas (4 p.m., CBS)
Athlon put the Wildcats back in the field this week. A game at Fayetteville is a great chance to prove the Wildcats can compete without Nerlens Noel. Florida and Missouri lost at Arkansas, so a Kentucky win would be a statement. Arkansas is on the bubble, but its dismal road record is holding back the Hogs. The Razorbacks need to win this game to set up a key game at Missouri on Tuesday.

Miami at Duke (6 p.m., ESPN)
After Miami lost to Wake Forest, Duke missed an opportunity to make up ground for a regular season ACC title by losing at Virginia on Thursday. Miami clinched at least a share of the regular season title with the Blue Devils’ loss.

Kansas State at Baylor (7 p.m., ESPN2)
Baylor’s big statements that it belongs in the field were a home win over Oklahoma State on Jan. 21 and a road win at Kentucky on Dec. 1. Do the Bears have anything more to show us?

St. John’s at Providence (8 p.m., Big East Network)
The Red Storm are trying to get into the Tournament picture. Providence has been a tough out this season, defeating Villanova twice plus Cincinnati and Notre Dame.

Arizona at UCLA (9 p.m., ESPN)
The Pac-12 title is up for grabs, but Oregon and Cal are also in the mix with the two preseason favorites. Arizona may not be in danger of losing a Tournament bid, but Arizona has something to prove after losing by 11 to USC on Wednesday.

SUNDAY
Villanova at Pittsburgh (noon, Big East Network)

The Wildcats ensured no one would feel sorry for them if they miss the field when they lost to Seton Hall. Villanova can prove it belongs by finishing well against Pitt and Georgetown -- or it can go to the Big East Tournament riding a three-game losing streak.

Michigan State at Michigan (4 p.m., CBS)
Did Michigan play itself out of a No. 1 seed by losing to Penn State on Wednesday? Maybe. Michigan State is still in the mix. Trey Burke’s rebound from a six-turnover effort against the Nittany Lions is another key storyline.

BY THE NUMBERS
NCAA TOURNAMENT PROJECTED AT-LARGE LOCKS (32)
ACC (4): Duke, Miami, NC State, North Carolina
Atlantic 10 (2): Butler, Saint Louis
Big 12 (4): Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Big East (6): Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
Big Ten (6): Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Mountain West (3): Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV
Pac-12 (4): Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
SEC (2): Florida, Missouri
West Coast (1): Gonzaga

ONE-BID LEAGUES (17)
America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Northeast, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Summit, SWAC
Note: Conference USA, the Ohio Valley, the Sun Belt and the WAC likely will be one-bid leagues if their proejcted champions win their conference tournaments.

THE BUBBLE: 19 teams


RELATED: Tourney Hopes—A Deep Dive Into The SEC's Current Resume

Teaser:
<p> Daily Bubble Watch and NCAA Tournament Tracker: Virginia seals bid?</p>
Post date: Friday, March 1, 2013 - 11:04
Path: /college-football/arizona-wildcats-2013-spring-football-preview
Body:

Front the first snap to the last, Rich Rodriguez' first season in Tucson was extremely entertaining if nothing else. He took a team that won four games and was primarily a passing offense and turned it into a bowl-winning squad built around his patented zone-read spread option attack. With all 11 starters returning on defense and a Heisman Trophy-contending tailback returning on offense, expectations in the desert should be much higher in season two under RichRod — even without a proven commodity at quarterback.

Arizona Wildcats 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 8-5 (4-5)

Spring practice dates: March 2-April 13

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 11

Returning Leaders:

Passing: B.J. Denker, 25-of-37, 259 yds., 3 TDs, 1 INT
Rushing: Ka'Deem Carey, 303 car., 1,929 yds., 23 TDs
Receiving: Austin Hill, 81 rec., 1,364 yds, 11 TDs
Tackles: Jake Fischer, 119
Sacks: Marquis Flowers, 5.5
Interceptions: Marquis Flowers, 3

Redshirts to watch: DE Kyle Kelley, WR Trey Griffey, DL Dwight Melvin, WR Jarrell Bennett, OL Zach Hemmila, OC Beau Boyster, QB Javelle Allen

JUCO Transfers to Watch: QB Jesse Scroggins (JC), OL Steven Gurrola (JC)

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 Northern Arizona
Sept. 7 at UNLV
Sept. 14 UTSA
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 at Washington
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 12 at USC
Oct. 19 Utah
Oct. 26 at Colorado
Nov. 2 at Cal
Nov. 9 UCLA
Nov. 16 Washington State
Nov. 23 Oregon
Nov. 30 at Arizona State

Offensive Strength: The running game. The best player on the team may be the best running back in the nation. Ka'Deem Carey returns with Heisman aspirations and three starting offensive lineman to block for him.

Offensive Weakness: Under center. Matt Scott redshirted as a junior and it could not have worked out better in his one season as the starter. He led the Pac-12 in total offense last year, and now, RichRod has to fill a gap that produced 343.8 yards per game.

Defensive Strength: Depth and experience. The linebacking corps is the most talented area of the defense, but the top 15 tacklers, including all 11 starters, are back on defense. Needless to say, this doesn't happen too often in college football.

Defensive Weakness: Overall production. The bodies are there. The experience and depth is there. But the numbers were not. This unit ranked 118th in total defense and 102nd in scoring defense last year. Yes, the Pac-12 has great offenses, but this side of the ball has to be more productive.

Spring Storylines Facing the Wildcats

1. Evaluate your quarterbacks. RichRod's top goal in the spring is to figure out what type of players he has under center. True freshman Anu Solomon isn't getting to campus until summer and USC transfer Jesse Scroggins is dealing with a foot issue that will limit his participation this spring. Leading the offense this spring then falls to senior B.J. Denker, redshirt freshman Javelle Allen and sophomore Louisiana Tech transfer Nick Isham. Isham has the most on-field experience and Denker saw the field last fall for Arizona. Organizing the pecking order at QB will be key for Arizona this spring.

2. Get Ka'Deem Carey focused. Despite multiple incidents in the offseason, Carey is a go for spring ball. His pretrial hearing for misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct charges stemming from a December incident involving his pregnant ex-girlfriend has been pushed back to March 20. Carey also was kicked out of a Wildcats basketball game on Jan. 24 following a verbal altercation with a police officer. Carey needs to learn that no one is bigger than the game and even rushing for 2,000 yards doesn't mean he can get away with stupid, inappropriate conduct. The offensive line returns three starters and the running game could be one of the nation's best — if Carey can become a leader instead of a liability.

3. Overcoming injuries. Like many teams this spring, the Wildcats are dealing with numerous injuries and will be without many key performers in practice. Star linebacker Marquis Flowers (shoulder), starting cornerbacks Shaquille Richardson (shoulder) and Jonathan McKnight (shoulder) and nose tackle Dan Pettinato (knee) will be missed on defense. But so will key reserves C.J. Dozier (shoulder) and Kirifi Taula (shoulder). Supporting cast players on offense like wide receivers David Richards (foot) and Trevor Ermisch (hernia) also will be sitting out this spring. This is a great opportunity to get some young talent on the field and develop the depth chart. 

4. Improve fundamentals on defense. Considering all of the shoulder injuries on defense, maybe form tackling will be an area of focus during spring practice? In fact, all fundamentals will need some work on this side of the ball. This team returned just four starters a year ago and faced the best offenses in the nation out West, so excuses can be made to try to explain the horrific defensive statistics from the 2012 campaign. With so much talent returning with a full season or more of experience, there won't be nearly as many excuses this time around. So fine-tuning their overall defensive prowess should be the focus this spring.

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Teaser:
<p> Arizona Wildcats 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, March 1, 2013 - 10:40
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-debate-who-nations-top-point-guard
Body:

In a college basketball season marked by uncertainty, determining the nation’s top players at any position is a tall task.

That starts at point guard. At midseason, we picked Trey Burke, Phil Pressey and Michael Carter-Williams as All-America point guards up to then. But we acknowledged we wouldn’t be shocked to see that group change order or welcome newcomers.

The order changed, but not at the top.

Burke separated himself from every other point guard on our panel of eight reporters, bloggers and editors. In addition to being a near-unanimous No. 1, Burke was the only point guard to appear on every ballot.

We asked eight writers and editors from inside the Athlon offices and outside to provide a their top five point guards and an explanation of their top picks.

Here are the results of the voting, awarding five points for each point guard at No. 1, four for No. 2 and so on.

Name Pts. Name Pts.
1. Trey Burke, Michigan 39 7. Aaron Craft, Ohio State 7
2. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse 18 8. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State 4
3. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State 16 T-9 Peyton Siva, Louisville 2
4. Phil Pressey, Missouri 13 T-9 Nate Wolters, South Dakota State 2
5. Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary's 12 11. Myck Kabongo, Texas 1
6. Shane Larkin, Miami 8    

THE PANEL

Dienhart’s ballot
1. Burke
2. Carter-Williams
3. Pressey
4. Canaan
5. Siva

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com
Point guard may be the deepest position in the nation. I have to go with Burke. He showed again on Sunday why he's so good, notching 26 points, eight assists and one turnover in a win over Illinois. Burke is so quick, able to get to the rim off the bounce and also pull up for a jumper. He's deadly in transition and limits turnovers. And, best of all: Burke, who averages 18.6 points and 6.9 assists, makes those around him better as a deft passer.

Eisenberg’s ballot:
1. Burke
2. Larkin
3. Smart
4. Pressey
5. Dellavedova

Jeff Eisenberg, The Dagger on Yahoo! Sports
It's a testament to how good Trey Burke has been this season that selecting the nation's best point guard isn't a greater challenge. Although Shane Larkin has thrived in Miami's ball-screen heavy offense and Marcus Smart has transformed Oklahoma State with his versatility and competitiveness, no point guard has made a greater impact than the Michigan sophomore. Burke can win a game so many different ways, from his 39.7 percent outside shooting, to quick first step to the basket, to his ability to create for his teammates. Better yet, his exceptional decision making enables him to use those tools at the appropriate time. Not only is he averaging 18.9 points per game, his assist-to-turnover ratio is best among all point guards nationally.

Ennis’ ballot
1. Burke
2. Craft
3. Dellavedova
4. Pressey
5. Siva

Mark Ennis, Big East Coast Bias
It wasn’t easy ranking point guards because each has his own skill set that fits the role his respective team needs him to play. I put Trey Burke first because he’s been a consistent scoring threat while also getting the rest of the Michigan lineup involved. Aaron Craft is driving Ohio State’s late season surge with his defense and leadership. Matthew Dellavedova and Phil Pressey are the heart and soul of their respective teams, carrying the offenses at times for clubs that will be tough come tournament time. Peyton Siva, like Craft, makes his team better not so much by scoring, but by steadying the team and playing smothering defense.

Fox’s ballot
1. Burke
2. Larkin
3. Smart
4. Carter-Williams
5. Pressey

David Fox, Athlon Sports
Despite struggling mightily against Penn State earlier this week, Burke is my clear No. 1 point guard with his ability to run Michigan’s offense to near-perfection, never mind scoring the way he does. It took that fluke of a loss to reinforce how great Burke has been. His six turnovers that night were the most since the end of last season and as many as his previous five games combined. For the remainder of my ballot, I gave strong consideration to two point guards who elevated their teams to new heights in Larkin and Smart. And when Pressey and Carter-Williams are on, they rival Burke. But both have played out-of-control at times this season.

Gall’s ballot
1. Burke
2. Carter-Williams
3. Craft
4. Pressey
5. Canaan

Braden Gall, Athlon Sports
Aaron Craft is the best defender and the best leader. Micheal Carter-Williams is the most talented and the best future NBA prospect. Phil Pressey is the best pure passer and ball handler. But the best all-around floor leader in the nation is Michigan's Trey Burke. He can score from the outside, in fact, his only weakness is his penchant to take too many threes. He has the size and speed to be a lottery pick and has a 3.6 assist-to-turnover ratio on the season. Throw in more than three boards per game on what could be the best team of the group and it's hard to argue with Burke as the nation's top point guard.

Light’s ballot:
1. Smart
2. Burke
3. Carter-Williams
4. Pressey
5. Dellavedova

Mitch Light, Athlon Sports
This was very tough, but I will give the nod to Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State over Trey Burke of Michigan. Smart has made a tremendous impact on the Oklahoma State program as a freshman. Heading into the weekend, the Cowboys are 21–6 overall and 11–4 in the Big 12, one game behind Kansas and Kansas State. Smart’s production has been solid (14.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.4 apg), but his value to the team — and pardon the cliché — cannot be measured by the box score. He is a tremendous leader, even as a freshman, who is willing to do whatever it takes to get his team a win.

Ross’ ballot
1. Burke
2. Dellavedova
3. Carter-Williams
4. Wolters
5. Smart

Mark Ross, Athlon Sports
Not only is Burke the nation's top point guard in my eyes, he's one of the leading contenders for national player of the year honors. Burke does it all, leading the Wolverines (23-5, 10-5 Big Ten) in scoring (18.8 ppg), assists (6.9 apg) and steals (1.4 spg). He leads the Big Ten in assists and is second in scoring, while also leading the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.9. He also shoots 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from beyond the arc and nearly 80 percent from the free-throw line. There may be other point guards that score more or are better on defense, but when it comes to the complete package there's none better than Burke.

Rush’s ballot
1. Burke
2. Smart
3. Dellavedova
4. Carter-Williams
5. Kabongo

Nathan Rush, Athlon Sports
Burke has established himself as the premier point guard in the college game this season, while Smart is clearly the top pro prospect among lead guards eligible for the 2013 NBA Draft. Burke has been brilliant — averaging 18.8 points, 6.9 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game while posting FG-FT-3PT shooting percentages approaching the 50-80-40 trinity. Burke's most impressive statistic, however, is his 3.57 assist-to-turnover ratio. He's also led the Wolverines to a 23–5 overall record and undefeated mark in Ann Arbor. Burke is the best.

Jim Young, ACCSports.com
Why is Miami on top of the ACC? Perhaps it’s because Larkin has emerged as the league’s top point guard. Larkin doesn't overwhelm you with scoring (just 12.7 ppg in league play) but, given the talent around him, he doesn't have to. He passes (4.8 apg), takes care of the ball (2.2 A/TO ratio) and takes it away (1.9 spg). Oh, and he's efficient (112.4 ORtg). Most impressive? When it comes down to crunch time, on a team loaded with seniors, it's clear that Larkin, a sophomore, is the go-to guy.

Teaser:
<p> College basketball debate: Who is the nation's top point guard?</p>
Post date: Friday, March 1, 2013 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/tcu-horned-frogs-2013-spring-football-preview
Body:

The 2012 season was a year of transition for Gary Patterson and the TCU Horned Frogs. Patterson didn't lose a single conference game (23-0) the three years prior to entering the Big 12. In their first season as a "BCS" or power conference team, the Frogs lost five conference games — as many as the previous five seasons combined. But that was to be expected now that Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas State were on the schedule instead of Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado State. This team proved it could win on the road with all four Big 12 wins coming away from home, but the grind of a tougher schedule took its toll. That said, TCU acquitted itself well in its first year against the big boys, and with an extremely talented defense returning, the Horned Frogs could be in store for a return to national prominence in 2013.

TCU Horned Frogs 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 7-6 (5-3)

Spring practice dates: March 1-April 6

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 9

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Trevone Boykin, 167-of-292, 2,054 yds., 15 TDs, 10 INTs
Rushing: B.J. Catalon, 123 car., 582 yds., 2 TDs
Receiving: Brandon Carter, 36 rec., 590 yds, 6 TDs
Tackles: Joel Hasley, 79
Sacks: Devonte Fields, 10
Interceptions: Jason Verrett, 6

Redshirts to watch: QB Tyler Matthews, OL Chad Childs, WR Ja'Juan Story (transfer)

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 LSU (Arlington, Texas)
Sept. 7 Southeastern Louisiana
Sept. 14 at Texas Tech
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 SMU
Oct. 5 at Oklahoma
Oct. 12 Kansas
Oct. 19 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 26 Texas
Nov. 2 West Virginia
Nov. 9 at Iowa State
Nov. 16 at Kansas State
Nov. 23 Bye Week
Nov. 30 Baylor

Offensive Strength: Quarterback. The old adage goes "if you have two QBs, you have none." But that might not ring true with TCU. Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin both have proven to be quality options and each brings a different dimension to the offense. The duo give Patterson plenty of options for 2013.

Offensive Weakness: Leadership. Starting quarterback Casey Pachall was the antithesis of leader when he was dismissed from the team early in the year. With star power departing at running back and wide receiver, someone needs to step up and become the leader of the offense.

Defensive Strength: The secondary. Jason Verrett returns as one of the nation's top covermen, as do the other four starters in TCU's unique 4-2-5 defensive scheme. As a whole, this unit returns its top nine defensive backs, including three all-Big 12 performers.

Defensive Weakness: New coaches. This defense has loads of upside and talent returning despite the loss of star defensive end Stansly Maponga. But coordinator Randy Shannon must be replaced on the defensive coaching staff. Former Kansas assistant DeMontie Cross needs to prove his mettle this spring.

Spring Storylines Facing the Horned Frogs:

1. Trevone Boykin vs. Casey Pachall? Casey Pachall had an outstanding sophomore season in 2011 and was on a tear through four games (10 TD, 1 INT) to start 2012. However, substance abuse issues caused Patterson to remove Pachall from the field and locker room for the rest of the season. The good news was redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin stepped in and did an admirable job. However, now that Pachall is back in the fold, Patterson has to decide what to do with his QBs. Each player brings a unique skill set to the offense and the play calling would be dramatically different depending on who is on the field. The earlier this decision can be made, the better.

2. Find a workhorse back. Patterson has long used a stable of backs to power his rushing attack. However, it might be time to find a workhorse back that the offense can count on. Waymon James led the team in rushing in 2011 and returns to the field after missing most of 2012 with an injury. Sophomore-to-be B.J. Catalon led the team in rushing last year but didn't reach paydirt one time nor did he surpass 600 yards on the ground. There's also another option as elite recruit Aaron Green will be eligible after transferring from Nebraska. There's no arguing the success Patterson has enjoyed with his committee approach, but it might be time to turn one guy loose and give him the bulk of the carries. Patterson will use the spring to help sort out the pecking order in the backfield.

3. Replace two All-Big 12 blockers up front. The best named offensive lineman in program history, guard Blaize Foltz, has to be replaced up front. He and center James Fry were All-Big 12 performers and both are no longer on campus. Finding pieces to plug the holes up the gut of the offensive line will be huge this spring. The pivot is the most important position and Foltz was the best blocker on the team. Look for Joey Hunt and John Wooldridge will get the first crack at center and guard respectively.

4. Develop play-makers at linebacker. Devonte Fields is a superstar in the making and will anchor the defensive line as a just a sophomore. The talent and depth in the secondary is well documented. However, without All-Big 12 linebacker Kenny Cain (graduation), the linebacking corps looks to be the area of focus this spring. Joel Hasley is the lone returning tackler with experience, as no other linebacker on the roster had more than 18 tackles a year ago.

Related College Football Content

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Teaser:
<p> TCU Horned Frogs 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, March 1, 2013 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/miami-hurricanes-2013-spring-football-preview
Body:

One of the youngest teams in the country may be a little closer to growing up.

Miami played 21 freshmen last season, including 10 who started at least one game. That made the Hurricanes one of the youngest teams in the country.  On the field, it showed -- particularly on defense. The ‘Canes endured a three-game losing streak in October and had one of the worst defenses in the league.

Yet Miami finished 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the ACC despite having the prospect of a bowl game and a conference title game yanked away midseason. Al Golden returns with 14 players who started at least seven games, but that does not include a handful of players who contributed greatly -- including budding star Duke Johnson.

Miami Hurricanes 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 7-5 (5-3)

Spring practice dates: March 2-April 13

Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 5

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Stephen Morris, 245 of 421, 3,345 yds., 21 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: Duke Johnson, 139 car., 947 yds., 10 TDs
Receiving: Phillip Dorsett, 58 rec., 842 yds., 4 TDs
Tackles: Shayon Green, 67
Sacks: Anthony Chickillo, 4
Interceptions: James Gaines, 2

Redshirts to Watch: LB Jawand Blue, DL Jacoby Briscoe, WR Jontavious Carter, QB Preston Dewey, DL Dwayne Hoilett, OL Danny Isidora, WR D'Mauri Jones, DL Jake O'Donnell

Early Enrollees to Watch: TE Standish Dobard, OL Hunter Knighton

JUCO Transfers to Watch: LB Devante Bond, DL Ufomba Kamalu, TE Beau Sandland

2013 Schedule

Aug. 30 FAU
Sept. 7 Florida
Sept. 21 Savannah State
Sept. 28 at USF
Oct. 5 Georgia Tech
Oct. 17 at North Carolina
Oct. 26 Wake Forest
Nov. 2 at Florida State
Nov. 9 Virginia Tech
Nov. 16 at Duke
Nov. 23 Virginia
Nov. 29 at Pittsburgh

Offensive Strength: Start with sophomore Duke Johnson, who become Miami’s most explosive offensive threat in several seasons. The running back was ninth in the nation in all-purpose yards per game and averaged 10.7 every time he touched the ball. He finished the season with 14 total touchdowns, including 10 rushing, one receiving, one passing and two on kickoff returns. He’ll be back in 2013 running behind an offensive line that returns all five starters. Quarterback Stephen Morris is also back after passing for 3,354 yards, the fifth-highest total in program history.

Offensive Weakness: Johnson will be the Hurricanes' top threat on offense, but Miami’s meager rushing averages are surprising. Miami ranked 81st nationally at 144.9 yards per game and 42nd in yards per carry at 4.7. Mike James, who carried eight more times than Johnson last season, is gone. No other tailback had more than 16 carries. With Eduardo Clements battling injury, Miami may look to newcomers to spell their star running back. Johnson topped out 16 carries in a game last season, but twice in the final three games. Developing depth will be a major question during the spring.

Defensive Strength: Miami graduated one senior starter on each side of the ball. On defense, the Hurricanes will have to hope last season’s youth contributed to producing one of the worst units in the ACC. With a full season under its belt, this group of returning veterans may be improved simply by having more experience. The Miami defense could also be a takeaway-prone group at times last season. Four times last season, Miami forced three or more turnovers as UM averaged two takeaways per game.

Defensive Weakness: The Hurricanes were a mess on defense last season, finishing last in the ACC in both rushing yards and passing yards allowed per game. The run defense may be more pressing, however. Miami mixed and matched its starting lineup all season, but nowhere more than in the linebacker corps. Most of the Canes’ personnel there returns, with the exception of starting linebacker Gionni Paul. Eddie Johnson, another returning starter at outside linebacker, is suspended indefinitely.

Spring Storylines Facing the Hurricanes

1. Miami v. The NCAA. This is an off-field story, but one that could have repercussions throughout college sports. University president Donna Shalala’s fiery response to the NCAA notice of allegations indicated Miami is not going to take many more sanctions without a fight. If more news develops during spring practice, coach Al Golden will continue to be the public face, especially concerning Miami’s postseason eligibility.

2. Miami’s revamped offensive coaching staff. The Hurricanes scored a victory in the assistant coaching carousel when they hired James Coley from Florida State as offensive coordinator to replaced Jedd Fisch, who took the same position with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Coley will call plays at Miami, an opportunity he didn’t have at Florida State with Jimbo Fisher manning those duties. The ‘Canes didn’t do too much shuffling on his staff, moving Hurlie Brown from an administrative role to running backs coach, Brennan Carroll from tight ends coach to wide receivers and hiring Larry Scott from USF to coach tight ends. With the nine returning starters including Duke Johnson and Stephen Morris, there might not be much reason for Coley to change things drastically.

3. Getting the most out of the defensive line. Miami needs help all over the defense, but the Hurricanes have a substantial chance to improve across the defensive front. Tackle Curtis Porter played only the final four games last season. Having him healthy could be a huge asset to Anthony Chickillo and the pass rush. Expectations have been high for Chickillo, but his 2012 production was similar to 2011. Added talent at the tight end position from the junior college ranks enabled Miami to move starting tight end Dyron Dye to defensive end.

4. Adjusting personnel in the back seven. Linebacker and defensive back will see the most changes of any position on the team. Besides losing a full-time starter at linebacker and cornerback, outside linebacker Eddie Johnson, who was fourth on the team with 59 tackles, is suspended indefinitely. Part-time starting cornerback Thomas Finnie also left the team.

5. The arrival of Beau Sandland. Miami was once a home for great tight ends from Jeremy Shockey to Kellen Winslow to Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham. Like many position groups at Miami, tight end took a dip in the last few years. Miami is eager to add a true difference-maker at the position, and the Hurricanes may have one in 6-4, 250-pound junior college transfer Beau Sandland.


Related College Football Content

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Teaser:
<p> Al Golden's young Hurricanes look to grow up during spring practice</p>
Post date: Friday, March 1, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, College Basketball, NFL, NBA, Golf
Path: /college-football/athlons-essential-11-links-day-Feb
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for March 1.

Rory McIlroy withdrew from the Honda Classic today after chopping up the first eight holes (Nike hardest hit). At least Rory has girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki to console him. She's history's 29th-most stylish athlete, according to refinedguy.com's top 100 countdown. Here's the complete list.

• Breaking news: High school recruit 40 times are a sham. Either that, or guys get slower after spending four years in a world-class weight and conditioning program.

• One magazine rack in the DFW airport is censoring the one belonging to Kate Upton.

• You've probably seen adidas' hideous new college basketball uniforms by now. If not, put on your sunglasses and click here.

Coach K is complaining about court-storming following Virginia's upset of Duke and subsequent celebration. I'm inclined to agree. Putting drunk, euphoric college kids in close proximity with large, angry opposing athletes is a recipe for disaster.

An offseason rundown of SEC quarterbacks. With Johnny Football, AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray carrying the torch, the SEC takes a back seat to no one in the QB department. Speaking of the SEC, MrSEC.com opens its recruiting notebook to examine LSU

• Call it hockey-tonk: An interesting read on how Nashville became a hockey town.

• David Feherty is not afraid to look like a jackass. The latest example: He crashed a bike into Paul Azinger's bushes with cameras rolling.

Ryan Swope: Breaking stereotypes, and making the NFL safe for white wideouts.

• I've never linked to a Harlem Shake video before. I guess I should before the thing totally dies. Here's the Miami Heat treating us to their version.

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


Feb. 28

• February's ending, and it's been a good month for fans of comely ladies. Here's a rundown of the month in sports-related babes.

Louisville's Chane Benahan absolutely threw down last night. If he had to take out a guy's jaw with his knee to do it, so be it. Gotta break some eggs to make an omelet.

• Some guys are really worth rooting for. Kansas' Ben McLemore is one.

Stephen Curry had his MSG moment last night, like all the great ones do. He poured in 54 in a losing effort against the Knicks.

Monta Ellis tossed in a ridiculous game-winner, then nonchalantly ran off the court, like Barry Sanders tossing the ball to an official. Badass.

• SEC first-team running backs Eddie Lacy and Mike Gillislee are gone. But that doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of capable rock-toters left. The best returning running backs in the SEC.

Ten compelling storylines coming out of the NFL Combine. One of them is Manti Te'o, about whom one team rep said, "I'm just not sure he's good enough to offset the crap. It's a road I hope we don't go down. I'd rather find a better athlete." Ouch.

Alex Smith's trade to the Chiefs is mother-approved. That's a relief.

• Today's fun countdown: the seven biggest freakouts in sports history. I'm sure we all could think of more.

• Athlon Sports sells great sports collectibles. Athlon does not sell any of these items: the worst sports collectibles of all time.

• While major leaguers soft-toss and soak in the sun, real baseball is being played in small stadiums across the country. In one of them, NC State's Brett Williams made a major league-quality catch.

• The Wizards broadcaster mistook an airball for a game-winner. Comedy ensued, as he continued to celebrate while players walked dejectedly off the court.

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


Feb. 27

• They've announced the cast for the next season of Dancing with the Stars, and as usual, the world of sports is well represented. Here's a slideshow of sports figures who have competed in past seasons, including the lovely Erin Andrews (right).

This jackass coach swept the leg of an opposing pee-wee hockey player, earning a suspension. I hear there's an opening for him at the Cobra Kai dojo.

• Speaking of the jerk from "Karate Kid," here are some of the worst coaches in sports movie history.

Shamarko Thomas ate it on his 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He gets an A for effort, though.

• Speaking of Combine 40s, it's become an annual ritual: Rich Eisen runs the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, suit and all.

• There was news yesterday that A-Rod's charity didn't funnel much of its money to its actual mission. Color me shocked. A-Smith is a different story, however. Alex Smith's charity is a model of efficiency.

LeBron threw down another pregame dunk that was as good as anything at the NBA Slam Dunk competition.

Stephen Curry went on an ankle-breaking spree last night, unleashing a couple of filthy cross-overs.

• Blake Griffin did what Blake Griffin does, only this time he did it left-handed.

• More strangeness from Rocky Top: A former Tennessee strength coach apparently broke into the Thompson-Boling Arena offices armed with a saw.

• English teens have a tenuous grip on what the American version of football is all about, although as one commenter says, they probably know more about football than I know about soccer.

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


Feb. 26

• We're living in the Year of Jennifer Lawrence. Just when you think the reigning Best Actress couldn't get any more adorable, she has this precious post-Oscar encounter with the great Jack Nicholson.

• Les Miles and Nick Saban are duking it out over another recruit. Oh, and this one's in the eighth grade. Recruiting is officially out of control. Of course, once you check his highlight reel, you'll wonder why your favorite coach hasn't offered him too.

• Now that NASCAR season is in full swing, here's a rundown of the stupidest NASCAR-related products available for purchase. Not even your redneck brother-in-law with the Dale Jr. bedsheets will want this stuff.

This local anchor didn't do her homework before interviewing Olympic runner Mo Farah. As one of the commenters points out, she probably works for NBC and hasn't seen the tape-delayed results yet.

Dennis Rodman has gone to North Korea on a diplomatic mission. We can all sleep easier tonight.

• My Twitter feed is overflowing with Combine 40 times. Rather than dissect the DB times, I'd prefer to watch this hypnotic GIF of Landry Jones' unusual gait

• The PGA Tour commissioner is opposed to the proposed ban on anchored putters. His announcement only muddied the waters.

• Today's trip down MJ Memory Lane: Jordan scored 58 (a Bulls record that he would break several times) on this date in 1987 against the Nets. Here are the highlights.

• More classic, vintage hoops footage: Bill Russell, in his San Francisco Don days, goes coast to coast and leaps over a hapless defender for a layup. If Russ played today, he might be a wicked slasher.

Tackling a streaker can be risky business.

• Sometimes, kids do things that actually give you hope for the future. Today's video features one of those times.

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


Feb. 25

• Tragedy and triumph marked the weekend at Daytona, but I'll leave the analysis to the professionals. Here's a rundown of NASCAR-affiliated hotties, including Jeff Gordon's better half, Ingrid Vandebosch (pictured).

• Rapper 50 Cent made an awkward, ill-fated attempt to kiss Erin Andrews as the two roamed the Daytona infield. Deadspin slowed it down and put it to music.

• Speaking of Daytona, the day after the disaster, the fans came back.

• Okay, it's official: James Franco must be kept away from open microphones. I think this was an honest mistake, but it sure sounded like an insult.

• So what will scheduling look like in college football's brave new world of realignment and playoffs? Here's your answer.

• The only thing better than fat-guy touchdowns is fat guys running the 40 to the Chariots of Fire theme.

A kid's first ski jump did not go well. He's fine, so it's okay to laugh.

Is Kevin Sumlin getting a little full of himself? I guess when you win 11 games and coach the Heisman winner, you're entitled.

• In case you work and had to go to bed at a decent hour, here's a complete list of last night's Oscar winners.

Ed Reed patrolled the Oscars red carpet like he does the Ravens secondary: like a boss.

Floyd Mayweather celebrated his birthday in the most Floyd Mayweather way possible.

• The buzzer-beating trend has trickled down to third graders. Here's a half-court game-winner. They'll have time to work on their court-storming.

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

Teaser:
<p> The best sports links from the NFL, college football and basketball, MLB, the NBA, NASCAR and the world of entertainment.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 1, 2013 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/baylor-bears-2013-spring-football-preview
Body:

Baylor finished 2012 as one of the hottest teams in college football, winning five out of its last six games, including a 49-26 victory over UCLA in the Holiday Bowl. The Bears are coming off three consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history and despite the departure of a few key players, Art Briles’ team should be in the mix for another postseason appearance. The biggest spring question mark will be replacing quarterback Nick Florence, as well as finding more improvement from a defense that finished at the bottom of the Big 12 in yards allowed last year.

Baylor Bears 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 8-5 (4-5)

Spring practice dates: March 1-April 6

Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 7

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Bryce Petty, 7 of 10, 97 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Lache Seastrunk, 131 car., 1,012 yards, 7 TDs
Receiving: Tevin Reese, 53 rec., 957 yards, 9 TDs
Tackles: Bryce Hager, 124
Sacks: Chris McAllister, 6
Interceptions: Eddie Lackey, 4

Redshirts to watch: WR Corey Coleman, WR Lynx Hawthorne, S Terrance Singleton, OL Tre’Von Armstead, QB Seth Russell, OL Kyle Fuller, LB Kendall Ehrlich, DL Dominique Banks

Early Enrollees to watch: QB Chris Johnson, WR/DB Kiante’ Griffin, DE/LB Brian Lance, TE Gus Penning

JUCO Transfers to watch: TE Gus Penning, DL Terell Brooks

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 Wofford
Sept. 7 Buffalo
Sept. 14 Bye Week
Sept. 21 ULM
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 West Virginia
Oct. 12 at Kansas State
Oct. 19 Iowa State
Oct. 26 at Kansas
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 9 Oklahoma
Nov. 16 Texas Tech (Arlington)
Nov. 23 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 30 at TCU
Dec. 7 Texas

Related Content: Texas Longhorns 2013 Spring Preview

Offensive Strength: Running back Lache Seastrunk started slow last season but finished with an average of 138.5 yards per game over the final six contests. If he picks up where he left off, Seastrunk will be the Big 12’s No. 1 running back in 2013. He isn’t the only option in the backfield, as Glasco Martin returns after rushing for 15 touchdowns last season. The offensive line returns three starters, including All-American guard Cyril Richardson and honorable mention All-Big 12 tackle Troy Baker.

Offensive Weakness: Quarterback. Despite losing Robert Griffin, the Bears never missed a beat on offense last year. Baylor averaged 340.5 passing yards per game and finished fourth nationally in scoring. Can the Bears keep it going in 2013? Nick Florence departs after a successful year as the starter, pushing junior Bryce Petty into the starting role. Petty has the talent to keep this offense performing at a high level, but he has only 14 career passing attempts.

Defensive Strength: With Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey returning, Baylor could have one of the Big 12’s top linebacker units in 2013. Hybrid linebacker/safety Ahmad Dixon also returns after recording 102 tackles and two interceptions.

Defensive Weakness: The Bears showed signs of progress on defense late in the year, but this unit still has a long ways to go. The line will be getting a lot of attention from coordinator Phil Bennett this spring, especially with the departure of tackles Gary Mason Jr. and Nick Johnson. Cornerback Chance Casey and safety Mike Hicks will be missed in the secondary.

Spring Storylines Facing the Bears

1. Is Petty ready to lead Baylor’s offense? Transitioning from Robert Griffin to Nick Florence proved to be no big deal for Baylor. Will the same be said for the Bears at the end of 2013? Petty served as Florence’s backup last season, completing 7 of 10 throws for 97 yards and one score. Most of his work came in the season opener against SMU, but Petty did see time in the 49-21 loss to TCU. Breaking in a new quarterback always requires some transition. However, the track record of quarterbacks and offenses under Art Briles suggests the Bears won’t suffer too much in terms of production. If Petty struggles, true freshman Chris Johnson and redshirt freshman Seth Russell will get a chance to play. 

2. Finding help for Tevin Reese. With Terrance Williams and Lanear Sampson exhausting their eligibility, Reese is set to be Baylor’s No. 1 receiver in 2013. That shouldn’t be a problem for the senior, as he averaged 18.1 yards per reception last season and has 149 career catches. Outside of Reese, Baylor has dependable options in Levi Norwood and Antwan Goodley, along with tight end Jordan Najvar. However, the Bears would like to find a few more receivers to add depth and playmaking ability to the passing attack. Help could come in the form of incoming freshman Robbie Rhodes and redshirt freshman Corey Coleman. This isn’t a glaring concern for Baylor, but it’s important to find a few more weapons to take some of the pressure off of Reese.

3. Shuffling on the offensive line. Baylor quietly had one of the Big 12’s top offensive lines last season, allowing just 1.5 sacks per game and paving the way for the offense to average 5.1 yards per rush. This unit has a few holes to fill this spring, as center Ivory Wade and guard Cameron Kaufhold have exhausted their eligibility. Wade was one of the nation’s most underrated centers and made 49 career appearances. The cupboard isn’t bare for Briles, as guard Cyril Richardson is one of the nation’s best, left tackle Spencer Drango started all 13 games as a redshirt freshman last season, and Troy Baker made 13 starts at right tackle. Senior Stephan Huber could replace Wade at center, while Desmine Hilliard or Kelvin Palmer will likely battle to fill the void left behind by Kaufhold at right guard.

4. Taking the next step on defense. The final defensive statistics weren’t pretty. Baylor finished 2012 119th nationally in yards allowed, 110th in scoring and 119th in pass defense. While the final ledger was an eye sore, the Bears showed some progress at the end of 2012. Phil Bennett’s defense held UCLA to 26 points in the Holiday Bowl and forced three interceptions in a win over Kansas State. While it’s not a huge improvement, Baylor showed some life in the final few games. With seven starters returning, the Bears should be able to build on their defensive success in 2013. And playing better on this side of the ball should help relieve some of the pressure off of Petty's shoulders.


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Teaser:
<p> Baylor Bears 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, March 1, 2013 - 09:05
Path: /college-football/texas-am-aggies-2013-spring-football-preview
Body:

Texas A&M took the SEC by storm last season, finishing with an 11-2 mark with an upset over Alabama in Tuscaloosa and a Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma. The Aggies are an emerging power behind head coach Kevin Sumlin, and this team has to be considered one of the top-five national title contenders for 2013. Quarterback Johnny Manziel returns after winning the Heisman Trophy, allowing the Aggies to rank among the nation’s best on offense once again. While the offense is in good shape, the defense has some major holes to fill and will be the top focus during spring practice.

Texas A&M Aggies 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 11-2 (6-2)

Spring practice dates: March 2-April 13

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 5

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Johnny Manziel, 295 of 434, 3,706 yards, 26 TDs, 9 INTs
Rushing: Johnny Manziel, 201 car., 1,410 yards, 21 TDs
Receiving: Mike Evans, 82 rec., 1,105 yards, 5 TDs
Tackles: Steven Jenkins, 79
Sacks: Steven Jenkins, 2
Interceptions: Deshazor Everett, 2

Redshirts to Watch: LB Jordan Richmond, QB Matt Davis, OL Germain Ifedi, LB Tyrone Taylor, DL Polo Manukainiu, OL Kimo Tipoti

Early Enrollees to Watch: WR Ja’Quay Williams, LB Reggie Chevis, TE Cameron Clear, DE Jordan Points, LB Tommy Sanders, OL Jeremiah Stuckey, LB Brett Wade, CB Alex Sezer Jr.

JUCO Transfers to Watch: TE Cameron Clear, OL Jeremiah Stuckey, LB Tommy Sanders

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 Rice
Sept. 7 Sam Houston State
Sept. 14 Alabama
Sept. 21 SMU
Sept. 28 at Arkansas
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 12 at Ole Miss
Oct. 19 Auburn
Oct. 26 Vanderbilt
Nov. 2 UTEP
Nov. 9 Mississippi State
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 at LSU
Nov. 30 at Missouri

Related Content: SEC West Schedule Analysis for 2013

Offensive Strength: With Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel returning to College Station, the Aggies should have no trouble scoring points in 2013. Manziel led the team with 1,410 rushing yards, while throwing for 3,706 yards and recording 47 overall touchdowns. In addition to Manziel, the Aggies return a deep backfield and No. 1 receiver Mike Evans.

Offensive Weakness: It’s hard to call the offensive line a weakness, but the Aggies lose All-American tackle Luke Joeckel and center Patrick Lewis. Again, this unit may not be a weakness, but it’s also hard to say it will match last season’s production.

Defensive Strength: Considering the personnel losses on defense, it’s hard to pinpoint one position as a particular strength. While one level of the defense doesn’t stand out, this unit does have some promising young talent, including cornerbacks Deshazor Everett and De’Vante Harris and end Julien Obioha. A top-10 recruiting class should help improve the depth across the board for Kevin Sumlin's team.

Defensive Weakness: Expect the defense to get plenty of attention from Sumlin and coordinator Mark Snyder this spring. End Damontre Moore left for the NFL, and linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart exhausted their eligibility, so the defense is looking for a few impact performers. With Moore leaving, finding a pass-rusher and someone who can force turnovers is a top priority.

Spring Storylines Facing the Aggies

1. Transition at offensive coordinator. Kliff Kingsbury did an excellent job in developing Johnny Manziel from a first-year starter into a Heisman winner. However, Kingsbury departed Texas A&M for Texas Tech before the Cotton Bowl, which prompted Kevin Sumlin to promote Clarence McKinney from running backs coach to co-offensive coordinator. McKinney will be joined by Jake Spavital to share the offensive coordinator title, but he will call the plays. Considering the layoff between Texas A&M’s regular season finale and the Cotton Bowl, there’s enough time to gameplan and soften the blow from losing a coordinator like Kingsbury. McKinney and Spavital should be a good replacement for Kingsbury, but in-game adjustments during the season will be something to watch. Also, what nuisances will they bring to the table in 2013? Don’t expect a drop-off in Texas A&M’s offense, but this will be interesting to watch as the season unfolds.

2. Developing a rotation at running back. The Aggies lose Christine Michael, but there’s little concern about the rushing attack in 2013. Ben Malena rushed for 808 yards and eight touchdowns last season and should open spring practice as the No. 1 back. Trey Williams had a stellar debut in 2012, averaging 5.8 yards per carry and 22.3 yards per kick return. The backfield will get even deeper this spring with transfers Brandon Williams (Oklahoma) and Tra Carson (Oregon) ready to push for snaps. Considering the depth, this is a good problem for Kevin Sumlin to have. Developing a pecking order after Malena and finding different ways to get multiple backs on the field will be something to keep an eye on this spring.

3. Revamping the offensive line. It’s a little harsh to use the word revamp to describe Texas A&M’s offensive line situation, but the Aggies are losing two standout players in left tackle Luke Joeckel and center Patrick Lewis. Joeckel could be the No. 1 pick in April’s 2013 NFL Draft. While the Aggies will miss Joeckel, getting Jake Matthews to stick around for his senior year was a huge break for the offense. Matthews is expected to flip to left tackle. How will the rest of the lineup shake out? Junior college recruit Jeremiah Stuckey could get in the mix at right tackle, but guard Cedric Ogbuehi will likely slide outside and claim the starting job. Jarvis Harrison should claim one guard spot, while the other could go to Kimo Tipoti or incoming freshman Joas Aguilar. Sophomore Mike Matthews will likely start at center.

4. Improving the defense. Texas A&M’s defense wasn’t dominant last year and allowed 390.2 yards per game, but it held opponents to 21.8 points a contest. This unit loses its three best players from 2012, so there’s some work to be done. In addition to the personnel losses, the Aggies have to get after the quarterback and force more turnovers in 2013. With Damontre Moore leaving, the spotlight will be on sophomore Julien Obioha to play a bigger role on the line, while sophomore Brandon Alexander (returning to action after a redshirt year) and freshmen Daeshon Hall and Tyrone Taylor will also be asked to factor prominently into the pass rush. In addition to the concerns on the defensive line, the linebacking corps will have two new starters, while the secondary has room to grow after finishing 12th in the SEC in pass defense. The Aggies have talent waiting in the wings, but how quickly can that turn into production?


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College Football 2013 Recruiting Rankings: No. 8 Texas A&M

Teaser:
<p> Texas A&amp;M Aggies 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, March 1, 2013 - 06:45
Path: /college-football/2013-college-football-recruiting-analysis-south-carolina-gamecocks
Body:

College football's 2013 National Signing Day is in the books and Athlon Sports kicks off its 2013 team recruiting rankings countdown with an in-depth look at the best classes in the nation. Steve Spurrier has the Gamecocks achieving at the highest levels in the history of the program. And it began with controlling in-state recruiting battles while also being able to dip into talent-rich border states.

South Carolina Gamecocks

National Rank: 18th
SEC: Eighth
Athlon Consensus 100
Signees:
 2
National Signees: 3
Total Signees: 21

Where They Got 'Em:

Carolina only needs a regional approach to land elite classes each season. Border states North Carolina (4), Georgia (6) and Florida (4) as well as The Palmetto State (4) provided 18 of the 21 signees. In fact, few states have as much talent as those near the Gamecocks' home base and each year Spurrier capitalizes on this geographical advantage. Alabama, Maryland and Pennsylvania — one prospect each — were the only other states to supply talent to the Cocks in this recruiting cycle.

Related: Athlon Sports Top 25 Recruiting Classes for 2013

Areas of Focus:

On offense, Spurrier clearly focused on one area of concern — the offensive line. Five of the eight offensive signings will play along the line including massive (6-4, 335) early enrollee D.J. Park. He will be joined at the tackle position by J.P. Vonashek (6-6, 285), Na'ty Rodgers (6-5, 295) and Alan Knott (6-4, 272) giving this offense plenty of options at left tackle. Bryce King is one of the nation's top-rated centers.

Otherwise, one quarterback and a pair of runners make up the offensive pieces of this class. Connor Mitch (6-3, 220) is one of the most prolific passers in North Carolina prep football history. He threw for 12,078 yards and 153 touchdowns at Wakefield High and has already enrolled in classes. Spurrier has to be excited about the future of his signal caller position. Philadelphia product David Williams (6-1, 200), the third-rated player in this class, rushed for 1,904 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior en route to a 14-1 record. Williams continues the recent trend of Carolina signing Keystone State prospects.  Jamari Smith (5-10, 183) is a smaller back who also posted huge numbers as a senior (2,178 yards, 24 TDs).

South Carolina didn't sign a single pass catcher of any kind as Spurrier didn't ink a wide receiver or tight end.

The defense got the most attention as 13 of the 21 new faces are headed to that side of the ball. Five new defensive backs, four new linebackers and four defensive linemen give this group tremendous balance. Nose guard Kelsey Griffin is the top-rated player in the class and has a chance to be a special player up the middle for the Gamecocks. Three defensive ends will play alongside Griffin: Devan'te Covington (6-4, 220), Gerald Turner (6-2, 256) and Devin Washington (6-3, 225). 

Larenz Bryant is the second-highest player in the class and he leads the new linebacking corps. He brings tremendous athletic ability — he excelled as a running back in high school as well — and will be able to play all over the field. David Johnson (6-1, 268) brings a massive frame and one has to think he will have his hand in the dirt at some point. Skai Moore and Jonathan Walton with help on the outside and inside respectively. 

In the secondary, Spurrier signed three cornerbacks and two safeties to thoroughly restock the defensive backfield. Ali Groves (5-10, 184), Pharoh Cooper (5-11, 194) and early enrollee Ronnie Martin (5-11, 173) aren't a big trio of covermen but bring speed and depth. Mohamed Camara (6-1, 191) and Jasper Sasser (6-0, 192) bring excellent athleticism to the backend of the defense.

This is a deep and balanced defensive class with key positions on the offensive depth chart (OL and QB) getting much-needed help too. Put it all together and the end result was a top-20 recruiting class for the Cocks.

Related: National Signing Day 2013 Winners and Losers

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 1, RB: 2, WR: 0, TE: 0, OL: 5 
Defense: DL: 4, LB: 4, DB: 5, ATH: 

AC100/National Recruits:

AC100 Name Pos. Pos. Rk Hometown Ht Wt
89. Kelsey Griffin DT No. 17 (DL) Buford, Ga. 6-2 290
96. Larenz Bryant LB No. 11 Charlotte, N.C. 6-0 215
204. David Williams RB No. 23 Philadelphia, Pa. 6-1 200

Early Enrollees:

Name Pos. Hometown Ht Wt AC100
Ronnie Martin CB Spartanburg, S.C. 5-11 175 Prep
Connor Mitch QB Raleigh, N.C. 6-3 220 --
D.J. Park OL Dillon, S.C. 6-4 335 --

Athlon Sports 2013 Recruiting Classes:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
4. Florida Gators
5. Michigan Wolverines
6. Ole Miss Rebels
7. LSU Tigers
8. Texas A&M Aggies
9. UCLA Bruins
10. Auburn Tigers
11. Florida State Seminoles
12. Georgia Bulldogs

Teaser:
<p> 2013 College Football Recruiting Analysis: South Carolina Gamecocks</p>
Post date: Friday, March 1, 2013 - 06:40
Path: /nascar/nascars-gen-6-face-new-challenges-phoenix
Body:

1. Gen-6 downforce track debut
NASCAR's two weeks of warm sunshine in Daytona Beach provided the first on-track action of the much-acclaimed new car in the Sprint Cup Series. It proved to be amicable, handing drivers more input in restrictor plate-style car setup. In the race, it proved to be just a little too dominant as a lead car.

But for all that teams now know about how these cars race with the throttle essentially taped to the floor, none of that matters when the track opens for practice Friday at Phoenix International Raceway.

Fortunate or unfortunate as that may be depending how Daytona went for specific drivers, Phoenix invites a weekend where the Gen-6 platform will reveal quite a bit more about its racing ability and character. The proverbial NASCAR onion is destined to expose several more layers.

"This weekend will be one of the most difficult and challenging ever," said Alan Gustafson, crew chief on Jeff Gordon's No. 24. "Our new Chevy SS has significantly more downforce than last year's car. With the new Gen-6 car, the new rules, a new tire compound and new inspection process, we don't really have anything that we can base this weekend off of."

In the Toyota camp, Martin Truex Jr. predicts a weekend with "a lot of things that come up that we didn't expect" while his teammate is ready to take a swing at NASCAR's qualifying record books thanks to increased downforce from the old car.

“I think when we get in these cars at Phoenix they are going to stick like glue," Mark Martin said. "These new Gen-6 cars are going to break a lot of track records in 2013 and I think that could start as soon as Friday in Phoenix."

Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson, however, thinks the biggest leap for the new piece is still a week away. Viva, Las Vegas, he says.

"I feel when we get to Vegas, we will have a downforce track under our belts," said Johnson, "We'll have a chance to see an amazing race at Vegas — great side-by-racing that everybody will want to see."


2. Can Johnson re-focus after a taxing week?
Johnson may also be looking ahead to Las Vegas because of what a week's worth of responsibilities as winner of the Daytona 500 has done to him. His public relations representative Kristine Curley tweeted Wednesday night that Johnson will have made stops in eight cities for interviews, events, media appearances and more since popping the champagne corks in Daytona's Victory Lane.

"It's going to be hard to re-focus," Johnson said. "There's such a high that comes from winning the 500 — and then the type of racing that starts now is so different than what we just had. It will be a challenge."

Johnson’s first Daytona 500 win in 2006 didn’t hamper his efforts a week later, however. He finished second to Matt Kenseth at Auto Club Speedway. Still, this week Johnson is putting a bit more on the shoulders of crew chief Chad Knaus.

“I know Chad's been buttoned up and the guys have been back at the shop all week, but from my side I've been very detached from my normal routine in preparing for the race,” Johnson said, detailing how he’s missed a debrief with Knaus and the entire Hendrick team. “I'll have to play catch-up as the week goes on and we get in to the weekend.”

It shouldn’t be terribly tough for the five-time champion: Johnson has four wins at Phoenix and also owns the best average running position of any current driver at the track. He’ll also have extra seat time this weekend as he’s racing the Nationwide Series event — the first oval event in that series he’s raced since 2008. 

Teaser:
<p> Five storylines to follow as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Phoenix for the Subway Fresh Fit 500.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 18:20
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-projections-and-bubble-watch
Body:

Selection Sunday is just a few weeks away, and the picture for who’s in and who’s out of the NCAA Tournament is becoming more clear.

In general, most of the 68 spots are fairly certain. Of the 32 conferences, we’ve tabbed 20 as being one-bid leagues, determined solely by conference tournaments. On the other end of the spectrum, at least 30 teams are safely in the field barring a total collapse between now and March 17.

That leaves the bubble, where every win and loss is magnified and every result from November and December takes on a renewed significance.

Here’s our look at the NCAA Tournament field for 2013. This is not intended to be a prediction, per se, but a snapshot at how the field may look right now.

NCAA TOURNAMENT BRACKET PROJECTIONS: FEB. 28

TOP FOUR SEEDS
Indiana
Duke
Gonzaga
Kansas

ACC (5)
In: Duke, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia
Worth a mention: Florida State, Maryland
Bubble notes: There hasn't been a ton of movement in the ACC of late. Virginia remains an interesting case study: The Cavs have a low RPI (65) and some very bad losses (six to teams ranked 120 or lower), but they have three top -25 wins (including one at Wisconsin) and are 6–2 vs. top-100 teams. UVa hosts Duke Thursday night. Maryland has one great win (vs. Duke at home), but only two other top-100 wns. The Terps' "best" win away from home is at Northwestern (RPI 133). Other than a season sweep of Maryland, Florida State is running low on quality ACC wins.

Atlantic 10 (5)
In: Butler, La Salle, Saint Louis, Temple, VCU
Worth a mention: Charlotte, UMass, Xavier
Bubble notes: Temple rebounded from its crushing loss at home to Duquesne (RPI 215) by beating UMass and Charlotte on the road and La Salle at home. That's three top-65 wins to pad the Owls' profile. La Salle has a lofty RPI (35) and wins over Butler (RPI 27) and at VCU (RPI 34). UMass has hurt its chances over the last week with losses at VCU, at home vs. Temple and at St. Bonaventure. Xavier has four top-40 wins — but they are all at home — and five losses to teams ranked 135 or lower. The Musketeers are playing well of late but have too many warts on their resume. Charlotte has played its way out of the picture by losing five of its last six.

Big 12 (5)
In: Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Worth a mention: Baylor
Bubble notes: Poor Iowa State. The Cyclones are so close to being an absolute lock. They have two painful losses in overtime to Kansas, a two-point loss at Oklahoma State and a three-point overtime loss at Texas. Iowa State only has two top-50 RPI wins (a low number for a team in a league projected to send at least five teams to the NCAAs), and both came at home. The loss at Texas Tech is troubling. As we've stated before, Baylor has a roster that is could enough to be in the NCAA Tournament, but the Bears' resume is lacking. They are 2–7 vs. top-50 teams and 4–9 vs. top-100 teams. Also, they have losses at home to Northwestern (RPI 133) and College of Charleston (150). Baylor might sneak in with home wins over Kansas State and Kansas in the final two weeks of the regular season. 

Big East (8)
In: Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Villanova
Worth a mention: St. John’s
Bubble notes: It's tough to keep Villanova, which lost at Seton Hall, in the field this week, but it's also tough to keep out a team that has four top-35 RPI wins. The Wildcats will be in decent shape if they can split their final two regular-season games — at Pitt, vs. Georgetown. Cincinnati is struggling, with four straight losses and six in their last seven games. Only one of the losses, however, is to a team ranked outside the top-40 of the RPI — and that game was Providence, which is playing very well of late. The Bearcats are hanging their hat on three top-50 wins, two away from home, and no bad losses. St. John's has some decent wins (at Cincinnati, vs. Notre Dame, vs. UConn), but the Red Storm's RPI is 61, and they have three losses to sub-100 RPI teams. 

Big Ten (7)
In: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Worth a mention: Iowa
Bubble notes: Iowa was in the midst of mounting a late-season charge to the NCAA Tournament until the Hawkeyes lost at Nebraska 64–60 last weekend. They bounced back to beat Purdue on Wednesday, but this team still has a long way to go. With an RPI of 90, a non-conference strength of schdule of 321 and an overall record of 18–10, Iowa is in a tough spot. Win at Indiana this weekend and then we have something to talk about. Minnesota stopped the bleeding (four losses in five games) with a huge win over Indian on Wednesday. The Gophers' remaining schedule is soft by Big Ten standards — Penn State, at Nebraska and at Purdue. Barring an implosion, the Gophers are in great shape. 

Conference USA (1)
In: Memphis
Worth a mention: Southern Miss
Bubble notes: Southern Miss lost its only hope for an at-large bid by losing at Memphis last weekend. The Golden Eagles, with no top-80 wins, will need to win the C-USA Tournament. 

Missouri Valley (2)
In: Creighton, Wichita State
Worth a mention: Indiana State, Northern Iowa
Bubble notes: Creighton, with an RPI of 44 and three top-50 wins (two away from home), is still in decent shape, but the Bluejays missed a great opportunity with last weekend's loss at Saint Mary's. Indiana State had been flirting with a spot in the Tournament, but the Sycamores’ recent skid (four losses in their last five games) will be tough to overcome. Indiana State lost to RPI No. 212 Missouri State on Feb. 12 and No. 172 Bradley. Northern Iowa was building some late-season momentum (six straight wins), but the Pantheres lost at home to Denver last week in a BracketBusters game. They have no shot an at-large.

Mountain West (5)
In: Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a mention: Air Force
Bubble notes: At first glance, Boise State might not have the most impressive profile, but keep in mind that this team has winning record in the nation's No. 2 RPI conference. The Broncos beat UNLV at home and won at Creighton — though that win isn't quite as impressive now. Air Force, too, has a winning record in the Mountain West, though the Falcons still have to visit San Diego State and play New Mexico State home. Their RPI is 64, 17 spots lower than Boise State's.

Pac-12 (5)
In: Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
Worth a mention: Arizona State, Stanford
Bubble notes: Arizona State was one of the final teams out this week. The Sun Devils have lost two straight, vs. Washington and at UCLA to fall to 9–7 in the league and drop their RPI to 88. They have four top-50 wins but two losses vs. teams ranked 175 or lower. They have a great chance to pick up a marquee win in their regular-season finale on March 9 at Arizona. Stanford played its way into the discussion a few weeks ago but has since lost four of five and five of seven. The home loss to USC on Feb. 14 was very damaging. With an RPI of 68 and 13 losses, the Cardinal will now need to win the Pac-12 Tournament. California has been playing very well. The Golden Bears have won five straight and now have four top-50 wins (including two on the road) on their resume. This team is in great shape. 

SEC (3)
In: Florida, Kentucky, Missouri
Worth a mention: Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Tennessee
Bubble notes: The SEC is a mess. The league could end up with two teams — or five teams. Kentucky picked up a huge win at home over Missouri on Saturday night, but we still don't know how good this team can be without Nerlens Noel. The Wildcats only have one top-50 win. That's not good. What is good, however, is that UK has no bad losses. Tennessee, like last year, is making a late charge. The Volunteers' RPI is up to 51, and they now have three wins vs. top-50 teams. All three wins, however, are at home. Their best win away from home is against UMass (RPI 57) on a neutral court. Ole Miss beat Texas A&M at home on Wednesday night to improve to 10–5 in the league, but the Rebels still have work to do. They only have on top-50 win, though that number could be bumped to three if Tennessee (RPI 51) keeps winning. Ole Miss swept the Vols. The Rebs' RPI (currently 56) might not climb too much even if they win out. The schedule features Mississippi State (RPI 238), Alabama (62) and LSU (91). Alabama has a gaudy league record (11–4) but that was padded with a lot games vs. the bottom half of the league. The Tide's RPI is 62, and they have four losses to sub-RPI 100 teams (three at home). Arkansas should be mentioned for its wins over Florida and Missouri in recent weeks, but the Razorbacks still have a low RPI (81) and a dismal road record (1-8).

West Coast (2)
In: Gonzaga, Saint Mary's
Worth a mention: BYU
Bubble notes: Saint Mary’s doesn't have much to excited about on its resume, but the Gaels also don't have many warts. Their RPI is solid (45), but they only have one top-100 win (Creighton). Saint Mary's can't do much to improve its standing the rest of the way (a win over Gonzaga would come in the WCC Championship Game, which would make the SMC an automatic qualifier). 

One-bid conference projections

Conference Projected winner Conference Projected winner
America East Stony Brook MEAC Norfolk State
Atlantic Sun Mercer Northeast Robert Morris
Big Sky Montana Ohio Valley Belmont
Big South Charleston Southern Patriot Bucknell
Big West Long Beach State Southern Davidson
Colonial Northeastern Southland Stephen F. Austin
Horizon Valparaiso Summit North Dakota State
Ivy Harvard Sun Belt Middle Tennessee
MAAC Niagara SWAC Southern
MAC Akron WAC Louisiana Tech

Teaser:
<p> NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch: Kentucky sneaks in.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 09:45
Path: /mlb/10-unlikely-al-pitchers-who-could-win-cy-young
Body:

We all know the favorties to win the American League Cy Young award this season: David Price, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver. But who are the longshots that could come out of nowhere. Here's a quick list of 10.

Healed and Ready
Brett Anderson, Oakland
After making 30 starts as a rookie in 2009, Anderson has been plagued by injuries, succumbing to Tommy John surgery in 2011. He was healthy enough last season to make six starts and shut down the Tigers over six innings in a Game 3 win in the ALDS, allowing just two hit and two walks.

Out of the Shadows
Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle
During his first year in the states, Iwakuma not only had to deal with the usual culture adjustments, but also the severe illness and eventual death of his father in Japan. He began the season in the bullpen and struggled. The 31-year old earned his first big league save in a 21-8 blowout, and his second save in a 12-inning affair. After joining the rotation in July, Iwakuma was 8-4 with a 2.65 ERA as the Mariners won 10 of his 16 starts.

Wade Davis, Kansas City
After two seasons in the Rays’ rotation with mixed results, Davis found a groove as a setup man last season. After June 28, opponents batted just .153. During that stretch he had a 1.82 ERA, 0.923 WHIP and 52 Ks in 34.2 innings.

Matt Moore, Tampa Bay
With stalwart James Shields traded to Kansas City, more burden will fall to Moore, a 23-year-old lefthander. He allowed more than two earned runs just three times in his last 14 starts. He appears ready to turn the corner.

Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay
The Rays are loaded with Cy Young candidates, beginning of course with reigning winner David Price. But Cobb, who has been overshadowed by Price, Shields, Moore and 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, had two rough starts last season that raised his ERA from 3.22 to 4.03. Opponents batted just .173 during his five September starts.

Ready for Limelight
Jose Quintana, Chicago
Quintana shouldered a much larger role than expected last season and tired a bit down the stretch. Over his first 15 starts, he had a 2.94 ERA and a 1.214 WHIP.

Zach McAllister, Cleveland
Over a six-start stretch in June and July — all against winning teams — he went 3-1 with a 2.65 ERA as opponents hit just .248.

A Rookie Cy?
Dylan Bundy, Baltimore
After two brief appearances in relief last season, it would not be a shock to see the prized prospect in the rotation out of spring training. The first-round pick in 2011 has just a scant more than 100 innings of minor league experience.

Trevor Bauer, Cleveland
The former top pick of the Diamondbacks owns a 13-3 mark at Double-A or higher in the minors. Manager Terry Francona will give Bauer a long look during the spring.

Kyle Gibson, Minnesota
The Twins are in dire need of pitching and their former first-round pick is completely recovered from Tommy John surgery, making 11 starts in the minors last season. If he breaks camp in the starting rotation, the Twins will monitor his innings closely.

RELATED: 10 Unlikely AL Pitchers Who Could Win the Cy Young

Teaser:
<p> We all know the favorties to win the American League Cy Young award this season: David Price, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver. But who are the longshots that could come out of nowhere. Here's a quick list of 10.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-10-spring-storylines-watch-2013
Body:

The battle to win college football’s 2013 national championship is officially underway. Spring practice kicked off for a handful of teams in February and will begin for most of the remaining FBS teams in March. While it’s often difficult to glean much from spring practice, it’s a time of new beginning for a1l 125 teams. Quarterback battles, coaching staff transitions and breakout players are always a preseason tradition in March and April.

With spring practice underway, it’s time to examine some of the biggest storylines around college football. All 125 teams have question marks or some uncertainty they want to sort out this preseason. For some teams, the depth chart is mostly set, while others are dealing with just a few returning starters.

Alabama is a heavy favorite to win the 2013 national championship, but this spring is the first chance for Oregon and Ohio State to find the right answers to push the Crimson Tide in January. Outside of Oregon and Ohio State, Stanford, Georgia and Texas A&M are top-10 title contenders but need to fill a few key voids.  

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

1. Reloading Alabama’s offensive line
Perhaps the only obstacle standing in the way of a third consecutive title for Alabama is an offensive line that loses three All-American performers. Center Barrett Jones was one of college football’s most versatile linemen in his career, while guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker were a big reason why Alabama averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 2012. And as if the personnel losses weren’t enough, line coach Jeff Stoutland left for the NFL, with former FIU coach Mario Cristobal hired as his replacement. While Jones, Warmack and Fluker are huge losses, the Crimson Tide does return two starters. Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is a future first-round pick in the NFL Draft, while guard Anthony Steen has 25 career starts. Ryan Kelly will have the first crack at replacing Jones at center, and he earned SEC All-Freshman honors for his performance in a relief role last season. Junior college recruit Leon Brown and early enrollee Brandon Hill, along with last season’s backups in Chad Lindsay, Alphonse Taylor, Arie Kouandjio and Austin Shepherd will likely be fighting to fill the voids at left guard and right tackle. Don’t expect Alabama to have a huge drop in offensive line play. However, it’s also unrealistic this fall to expect this unit to produce at a level similar to 2012.
 

2. Ohio State’s rebuilding project on defense
After a perfect 12-0 mark last season, the Buckeyes have their sights set higher in 2013. The one-year bowl ban is over, and Ohio State is a legitimate national title contender. Quarterback Braxton Miller should take the next step in his development under Urban Meyer, and the offense also has an emerging cast of weapons ready to take the pressure off of Miller’s shoulders. However, the defense should have Meyer and his staff feeling a little nervous. Only four starters are back from last season’s unit, which ranked sixth in the Big Ten in total and scoring defense. While the Buckeyes played better defense in the second half of the season, there are some holes to fill with the departure of end John Simon, tackle Johnathan Hankins, linebacker Zach Boren and cornerback Travis Howard. Talent is never an issue for Ohio State but how quickly will young players like Noah Spence, Doran Grant and Adolphus Washington perform at a high level? If the defense comes together quickly, the Buckeyes could be Alabama’s biggest threat to a national championship.
 

3. Transitioning from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich at Oregon
Chip Kelly’s decision to go to the NFL came as no surprise to the folks in Eugene. And the Ducks were prepared for the transition, as Mark Helfrich makes the move from offensive coordinator to head coach. Promoting from within has worked well for Oregon in the past, but there’s always a transition period whenever a new coach takes over. Helfrich has no head coaching experience and didn’t call the plays under Kelly’s watch. However, he’s familiar with the players and doesn’t plan on making many drastic changes to Oregon’s up-tempo attack. The Ducks don’t have many holes to fill, but Helfrich needs to find a No. 1 back to replace Kenjon Barner, along with rebuilding a front seven on defense that loses Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay. Most expect an easy transition from Kelly to Helfrich. But this spring is the first test and should provide more clues on whether or not Oregon is a national title contender.
 

4. Quarterback battles in the Big 12
Take a look at the early predictions for the 2013 season, and you will see a lot of variety in the projected pecking order for the Big 12. Why the uncertainty? Quarterback play. All 10 teams head into spring practice with some type of quarterback question mark. For TCU, can Casey Pachall regain his confidence and find the form that allowed him to throw for 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2011? At Oklahoma State, three quarterbacks were forced to start last season. And all three are capable of winning games. Who does Mike Gundy turn to? If the Cowboys settle on a No. 1 quarterback, they could be the pick to win the Big 12. Landry Jones has exhausted his eligibility, which means Blake Bell steps into the full-time role. The junior has shown impressive rushing ability in limited action but is still an unknown as a passer. Kansas State must replace Collin Klein, West Virginia will likely turn to redshirt freshman Ford Childress to replace Geno Smith, and Texas is turning the offense over to David Ash once again. So much uncertainty, so little time for the 10 Big 12 coaches to sort out the quarterback position. 


Related Content: College Football's Top 15 Spring Quarterback Battles
 

5. Encore for Kevin Sumlin and Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M?
The Aggies took the SEC by storm last season, winning 11 games – including a road upset against Alabama – and produced Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. What will Texas A&M do for an encore? How about contend for the national title? Reaching college football’s championship game is certainly within reach for Sumlin’s team, but the Aggies do have a handful of question marks facing this team. The defense ranked ninth in the SEC in yards allowed and 12th in pass defense. Improving on those totals will be difficult, especially with the departure of end Damontre Moore, linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart and safety Steven Terrell. Manziel will be just as dangerous in 2013, but Texas A&M must replace standout left tackle Luke Joeckel and receiver Ryan Swope. The Aggies host Alabama early in the year, and a victory over the Crimson Tide would put Sumlin and Manziel in control of the SEC West.
 

6. Make or break year for Lane Kiffin at USC?
After opening spring practice in 2012 with national title aspirations, there’s a different feeling hanging over the program in 2013. The Trojans were one of the most disappointing teams in college football last season, and coach Lane Kiffin could be entering a make-or-break season. Unfortunately for Kiffin, there’s a host of question marks surrounding his team this spring. There’s a rebuilt coaching staff, starting with defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, and it’s still uncertain whether or not Kiffin will call plays this year. The Trojans also have a quarterback battle on their hands, with Max Wittek and Max Browne set to square off for the No. 1 job. While seven starters are back on defense, All-Pac-12 cornerback Nickell Robey and safety T.J. McDonald must be replaced. The good news for USC is the 2013 schedule isn't all that daunting. The Trojans miss Oregon in crossover play with the North division, and swing games against Arizona and UCLA will be in the Coliseum. Getting to eight wins likely means Kiffin is back for 2014. Anything less than that mark will likely mean a coaching change is coming to USC.
 

7. How quickly can Todd Grantham rebuild Georgia’s defense?
The race between South Carolina, Georgia and Florida to win the SEC East should be one of the closest battles in college football next season. Each team has question marks, but if they can find answers, all three programs will be in the mix to compete for a national title. Georgia is the early favorite to win the SEC East, but the Bulldogs return only three starters. Coordinator Todd Grantham was courted by the NFL, and his return is key for the Bulldogs’ hopes of a quick reload on defense. Each level of the defense was hit hard by departures, as linemen John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers depart, while the linebacking corps must replace standouts Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, and the secondary lost Sanders Commings, Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams. Talent isn’t an issue in Athens, as sophomores Jordan Jenkins (LB) and Sheldon Dawson (CB) are potential stars. However, Georgia needs to find a tackle capable of occupying blockers at the line of scrimmage, as well as find someone to generate a consistent pass rush.
 

8. Can Stanford find a spark in the passing game and replace Stepfan Taylor at RB?
With 14 returning starters and promising young talent waiting in the wings, Stanford is in position to make a run at an appearance in the national title game. The Cardinal didn’t suffer a ton of personnel losses, but tight ends Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz will be missed, while Stepfan Taylor departs after three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. There’s no clear replacement for the tight ends at Stanford, but the picture at running back has a little more clarity. Anthony Wilkerson, Remound Wright and redshirt freshman Barry Sanders will compete for time this spring, while Tyler Gaffney will rejoin the team later this offseason after a one-year absence. Gaffney rushed for 449 yards in 2011 and is a key addition to the backfield. Stanford may not replace Taylor’s production with one player, but there’s enough talent returning that a committee approach would work. In fact, the rushing attack is the least of coach David Shaw's concerns on offense. Quarterback Kevin Hogan garnered honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors last season but lacks weapons at receiver. The Cardinal will be strong in the trenches and on defense once again. However, if the passing game doesn’t find a spark, beating Oregon for the Pac-12 title could be difficult.
 

9. Everett Golson’s development at Notre Dame
Even though the Fighting Irish were handled by Alabama in the national championship, finishing 12-1 and making a BCS bowl were a sign the program is headed in the right direction. Notre Dame loses some key pieces from last season, including linebacker Manti Te’o, tight end Tyler Eifert and running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick. While those losses are significant, returning to 10 wins and a BCS game in 2013 will hinge prominently on the development of quarterback Everett Golson. As a redshirt freshman last season, he threw for 2,405 yards and 12 scores and rushed for 298 yards and six touchdowns. Golson played better in the second half of the season, and Notre Dame needs the sophomore to take the next step in 2013. Golson doesn’t have to be Johnny Manziel, but if he can cut down on the mistakes, he should spark the Fighting Irish’s passing attack and soften the blow from the departure of two key running backs and Eifert.
 

10. Conference realignment
It seems to be an ongoing and evolving animal, but college football’s conference landscape will change once again in 2013. Pittsburgh and Syracuse will move from the Big East to the ACC, while UCF, Memphis, Houston and SMU leave Conference USA to join the Big East. The conference realignment shifts didn't impact just the BCS conferences either, as Conference USA expanded to 14 teams, the Mountain West gains Utah State and San Jose State from the WAC, while the Sun Belt added Texas State and Georgia State. Moving conferences doesn’t have much impact on the play on the field, but there’s a lot of new faces in different places in 2013 and spring practice is the first opportunity for these teams to start preparing for life in their respective new leagues.
 

Other key storylines to watch

Clemson
Are the Tigers ready to take the next step? Improving the defense is a priority for coach Dabo Swinney, along with finding a replacement for running back Andre Ellington.
 

Florida
Will the Gators find playmakers at running back and receiver?


Florida State
Will highly touted redshirt freshman Jameis Winston win the quarterback job?
 

Louisville
Running back and offensive line will be the areas of focus for coach Charlie Strong.


Miami
Can the defense find some answers after a miserable 2012 season?


Michigan
Can the Wolverines find some help at receiver and running back for Devin Gardner?
 

Nebraska
Can the Cornhuskers rebuild a defense that allowed 115 points in their final two games?
 

SEC
How will the new coaches at Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee mesh with their rosters this spring?
 

Texas
Is David Ash ready to take the next step at quarterback?
 

Virginia Tech
Can quarterback Logan Thomas get back on track under new coordinator Scot Loeffler?
 

Washington
Will quarterback Keith Price regain his 2011 form?


Related College Football Content

Ranking All 125 College Football Jobs for 2013

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 10 Spring Storylines to Watch for 2013</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/2013-college-football-recruiting-analysis-nebraska-cornhuskers
Body:

College football's 2013 National Signing Day is in the books and Athlon Sports kicks off its 2013 team recruiting rankings countdown with an in-depth look at the best classes in the nation. Bo Pelini's recruiting at Nebraska has been scrutinized heavily as he has landed just one top-20 class during his time in Lincoln. His 2013 class was the second such top-20 haul for the Big Red. In fact, his good-but-not-elite recruiting rankings match his good-but-not-elite records on the field. With two top-20 classes in the last three seasons, Pelini's recruiting should help push his win-loss record to the next level. 

Nebraska Cornhuskers

National Rank: 17th
Big Ten: Third
Athlon Consensus 100
Signees:
 0
National Signees: 2
Total Signees: 26

Where They Got 'Em:

The Cornhuskers have long had to extend their recruiting base into other regions to land talent. And the 2013 class illustrates this national approach for Pelini and his staff. Nebraska used 13 different states from coast to coast and even Canada to land 26 new players. Texas, which used to be a recruiting stronghold for the Huskers, led all states with four signees. Talent-rich states like Florida (3), California (3) and Ohio (3) trailed just behind Texas. Louisiana (2), Missouri (2) and Indiana (2) were the only other states to send more than one player to Lincoln. 

Nebraska, Illinois, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Maryland, New Jersey and Ontario each shipped one player to Nebraska. In all, Pelini used seven different Big Ten (or future Big Ten) states to land talent.

Related: Athlon Sports Top 25 Recruiting Classes for 2013

Areas of Focus:

This class is all about depth rather than star power. Only two players were ranked nationally and none were ranked in the AC100. But this class has loads of depth and has more than enough big-time prospects to make Big Red fans happy, especially on the defensive side of the ball. 

Six defensive linemen, three linebackers and four defensive backs give Pelini 13 new faces on defense. Local product Josh Banderas is a known commodity and will be a perfect fit in his hometown. He is joined by nationally rated Marcus Newby and early enrollee Courtney Love (yes, that is his name). This is a fast and versatile group and should continue the lofty tradition of Nebraska linebackers.

The deepest position in this class is the defensive line. Kevin Maurice (6-3, 270) and Maliek Collins (6-2, 285) aren't monster space eaters but have plenty of room to grow and possess excellent agility for nose tackles. On the outside, four lengthy defensive ends join the squad. Junior college defensive end Randy Gregory (6-6, 230) might be the most ready to play immediately while Ernest Suttles (Fla.) and Dimarya Mixon (Texas) bring big-time prep experience from talent-rich states to Lincoln. 

On the back end of the defense, Pelini has signed four incredibly long defensive backs. All but one of the four are listed at 6-foot-2 and all weigh at least 190 pounds. Nathan Gerry (6-2, 210) brings a huge frame and could grow into a linebacker.

On offense, the line of scrimmage got the primary focus of the coaching staff. Five offensive linemen and two tight ends will restock the always important Nebraska front line. Two junior college blockers, Matt Finnin (6-7, 305) and Chongo Kondolo (6-4, 290), have a chance to contribute right away while Dwayne Johnson, Zach Hannon and early enrollee David Knevel add solid depth.

The top-rated player in the class will be running behind the line of scrimmage, however. Terrell Newby rushed for over 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons and accounted for 105 total touchdowns at West Hills (Calif.) Chaminade. He will be pushed for playing time by a bigger back in Texas product Adam Taylor. This position has been in good hands in Lincoln for decades and that should continue with these two star recruits. 

Wide receivers Tre'Vell Dixon and Kevin Gladney are both listed at 6-1 and 185 pounds. Both played all over the field in high school and could do the same in college. Dual-threat quarterback Johnny Stanton (6-2, 220) is the lone signal caller in this class.

Related: National Signing Day 2013 Winners and Losers

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 1, RB: 2, WR: 2, TE: 2, OL: 5
Defense: DL: 6, LB: 3, DB: 4, LS: 1 

AC100/National Recruits:

AC100 Name Pos. Pos. Rk Hometown Ht Wt
123. Terrell Newby RB No. 18 West Hills, Calif. 5-10 180
228. Marcus Newby LB No. 29 North Potomac, Md. 6-1 210

Early Enrollees:

Name Pos. Hometown Ht Wt AC100
David Knevel OL Brantford, Ontario 6-9 300 --
Courtney Love LB Youngstown, Ohio 6-1 225 --
D.J. Singleton DB Jersey City, N.J. 6-1 195 --

Athlon Sports 2013 Recruiting Classes:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
4. Florida Gators
5. Michigan Wolverines
6. Ole Miss Rebels
7. LSU Tigers
8. Texas A&M Aggies
9. UCLA Bruins
10. Auburn Tigers
11. Florida State Seminoles
12. Georgia Bulldogs

Teaser:
<p> 2013 College Football Recruiting Analysis: Nebraska Cornhuskers</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 06:26
Path: /college-football/cincinnati-bearcats-2013-spring-football-preview
Body:

For the fourth time since 2004, Cincinnati will begin spring practice with a new coach. Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly and Butch Jones all put an imprint on the program despite three-year stints for each. The most experienced coach Cincinnati has hired during this run, Tommy Tuberville arrives from Texas Tech to a program that has won at least 10 games in five of the last six seasons. He’ll be expected to continue the tradition with the Bearcats, but they’re not without their question marks. The development of the offense will be worth watching as both starting quarterbacks from a year ago return to a unit short on proven skill players.

Cincinnati Bearcats 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 10-3 (5-2)

Spring practice dates: March 1-April 13

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 6

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Munchie Legaux, 120 of 230, 1,716 yds., 13 TDs, 9 INTs
Rushing: Ralph David Abernathy IV, 69 car., 366 yds., 3 TDs,
Receiving: Anthony McClung, 34 rec., 539 yds., 2 TDs,
Tackles: Greg Blair, 138
Sacks: Nick Temple, 2.5
Interceptions: Arryn Chenault, 3

Redshirts to Watch: DB Drake Bruns, DL Jonathan Burt, WR Nate Cole, QB Bennie Coney, DB Marcus Foster,  LB Joey Jones, LB Ey'Shawn McClain, DL Alex Pace, OL Kyle Williamson

Early Enrollees to Watch: DB Zach Edwards, ATH Javon Harrison, OL Kyle Williams

JUCO Transfers to Watch: DB Darren Dodson, DL Jerrell Jordan

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 Purdue
Sept. 7 at Illinois
Sept. 14 Northwestern State
Sept. 21 at Miami (Ohio)
Big East schedule TBA:
Connecticut
Louisville
SMU
Temple
at Houston
at Memphis
at Rutgers
at USF

Offensive Strength: Cincinnati returns its entire starting offensive line, including All-Big East first-team selection Eric Lefeld at left tackle and second-team selection Austen Bujnoch at left guard. This group of five started all but the first two games last season as Cincinnati had the Big East’s best rushing attack in terms of yards per game (201.5), yards per carry (5.4) and touchdowns (25).

Offensive Weakness: How will the skill positions shake out? The Bearcats lost their bedrock of their offense in running back George Winn plus their top two targets in the passing game in tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Kenbrell Thompkins. At quarterback, Brendon Kay, who wrestled the starting job from Munchie Legaux late last season, is the incumbent starter, but Legaux remains on the roster.

Defensive Strength: Greg Blair provides a solid foundation at middle linebacker.  The senior led the Big East with 138 tackles and earned first-team all-conference honors. Although the Cincinnati pass rush will be a concern, the tandem of defensive tackles in front of Blair returns. The Bearcats ranked in the top three in the Big East in both rush defense and pass efficiency defense.

Defensive Weakness: The Cincinnati pass rush stalled for a few games after Walter Stewart, who was an All-Big East second-teamer despite playing only half the year, was lost for the season. The Bearcats still finished second in the league in sacks, but they’ll miss Stewart and ends Dan Giordano and Brandon Mills. No returning lineman had more than one sack last season.

Spring Storylines Facing the Bearcats

1. How the new staff impacts the offense. In the last two seasons, Cincinnati’s offense has been anchored by a 200-plus-carry running back as George Winn filled the shoes of Isaiah Pead. Tuberville ran a spread offense at Texas Tech, but he hired Florida State assistant Eddie Gran to run his offense. Gran was a long-time running backs coach for Tuberville at Auburn, suggesting Cincinnati will continue a more balanced approach.

2. A change in the run game. As noted, Winn is gone, but that does’t mean Cincinnati lacks for options in the run game. Keep in mind, no one was familiar with Winn when Isaiah Pead left. Ralph David Abernathy IV is the top returning rusher, but he may be more effective as a change-up rather than an every-down back. Two returnees are in the mix (Deionte Buckley and Tion Green), but the position battle may not be settled until junior college transfers Rodriguez Moore and Hosey Williams arrive in the fall.

3. A full spring for Brendon Kay. After steadying the Cincinnati offense with three consecutive wins to end the season, Kay is the presumptive starter over Legaux.  Although former coach Butch Jones didn’t close the quarterback competition until late in the preseason, Legaux was the odds-on favorite since the end of 2011. How will Kay react to starting spring practice with the quarterback job to lose, especially with a new coaching staff on board?

4. Finding big-play contributors on the defense. Though Cincinnati finished second in the Big East in sacks and interceptions, no individual player stood out in terms of big play production, for better or worse. No one on the roster had more than five sacks or three interceptions. After losing veterans in the front seven and experienced defensive backs Drew Frey and Camerron Cheatham, Cincinnati is also looking for a bit of leadership.

5. Defensive improvement. Besides finding a big-play threat on the defense, new coordinator Art Kaufman will be tasked with leading another defensive facelift. Though Cincinnati’s defensive numbers against the run and the pass weren't awful, Cincinnati still ranked last in the Big East in yards allowed per game (yet fourth in yards allowed per play). Kaufman was in charge of one of the best defensive turnarounds last season at Texas Tech, so there’s reason to believe he’ll be able to hone in on Cincinnati’s defensive strengths while tweaking the areas where the Bearcats need help.

Related College Football Content
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Teaser:
<p> New coach Tommy Tuberville tries to build on solid foundation as Cincinnati opens spring practice.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 06:24

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