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For all of last week and into this week, Athlon Sports ranked football and men’s basketball coaching tandems in the power conferences.

It’s a tall task recognizing excellence in both major college sports, but the top of our list, for the most part, includes programs who are in contention for conference championships in both sports, BCS bowls and deep NCAA Tournament runs. Others near the top include one elite coach paired with another who has done excellent work under difficult circumstances (see: Alabama, Oklahoma and Duke).

As with our conference rankings, we tend to favor balance. In short, which coaching duo is most likely to keep its fans happy from August to March.

That is reflected near the top of the rankings, but that prospect gets dicey toward the end of the top 50. Should we reward a program who has slightly above average coaches in one sport or should we reward a program with an elite coach in one and a below average coach in the other?

We believe we looked at all sides and ended up with a solid top 50, but at the same time, it’s one that’s sure to spur debate.

Other coach tandem rankings:
ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC


1. Ohio State
Football:
Urban Meyer | Basketball: Thad Matta

Meyer walked into Ohio State, where he was an assistant under Earle Bruce, and went 12-0 for the second time in his career. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Buckeyes never looked like a team facing a postseason ban. A two-time national champion at Florida, Meyer has also shaken up Big Ten recruiting in one season. Matta rarely is rarely noted as the top basketball coach in the Big Ten, but he’s led the Buckeyes to two Final Fours, three Big Ten tournament titles and at least a share of five regular season conference titles. Ohio State is on its way to its ninth consecutive 20-win season under Matta.

2. Michigan
Football:
Brady Hoke | Basketball: John Beilein

When Michigan raided West Virginia for its football/basketball coaching duo, Rich Rodriguez was pinpointed as the coach who would turn the Wolverines’ fortunes. Instead, Beilein turned out to be the better hire. Never shy about shooting the three-pointer under Beilein, Michigan is more balanced this season, giving the Wolverines their best team since the Fab Five era. The return of defensive line coach Hoke to Ann Arbor is bringing the Wolverines back to basics. They slipped from 11-2 to 8-5 last season, but Hoke is building the classic pro-style powerful Michigan team.

3. Oklahoma
Football:
Bob Stoops | Basketball: Lon Kruger

Big Game Bob has cooled since he had five consecutive top-10 finishes and four BCS games in his first six seasons in Norman, but Stoops still has Oklahoma as one of the consistent frontrunners in the conference. The Sooners have won at least 10 games in six of the last seven years, won the Big 12 in four of the last seven seasons. Stoops' teams obliterated rival Texas the last two seasons. In basketball, Kruger reaffirmed his status as one of the best turnaround artists in the country. In two seasons, he’s resuscitated a program limited by NCAA sanctions under Kelvin Sampson and recruiting misfires under Jeff Capel. If Oklahoma reaches the NCAA Tournament this season -- and it looks like the Sooners will -- Kruger will be the first coach to lead five teams the Tourney.

4. Alabama
Football:
Nick Saban | Basketball: Anthony Grant

There’s not much more we can say about Nick Saban that hasn’t been said since Alabama won its second consecutive national title and third in four seasons. Yet again, he reeled in the nation’s No. 1 signing class, and he's continued to change the face of the SEC. After the SEC was remade by the Fun ‘n’ Gun and the spread, Saban has brought the league back to a combination a punishing run game and physical defense. On the basketball side, Grant hasn’t had the same success as he did at VCU, but hoops isn’t the focus in Tuscaloosa. After a 6-10 SEC season in his first year, Grant has gone 30-14 in conference play since.

5. Notre Dame
Football:
Brian Kelly | Basketball: Mike Brey

Brian Kelly has done what his last three predecessors at Notre Dame failed to do -- restore the Irish to a national-title contending program. That shouldn’t be too much of a shock as Kelly won two Division II titles at Grand Valley State, won a MAC title at Central Michigan and two Big East titles at Cincinnati. Brey lifted Notre Dame basketball out of a similar slump since the end of the Digger Phelps era. In the last eight seasons, Brey has won 20 games each year, and he’s likely to make his ninth NCAA Tournament trip in 13 seasons in South Bend. Brey has not missed the postseason since his first two seasons at Delaware in 1995-97.

6. Louisville
Football:
Charlie Strong | Basketball: Rick Pitino

Athletic director Tom Jurich spent big to keep this duo together when Strong was a hot commodity for Tennessee during the offseason. It’s easy to see why: Louisville is on a short list of programs capable of reaching a Final Four and a BCS game in the same year. Pitino has led the Cardinals to at 25 wins and an Elite Eight or better in three of the last five seasons. Meanwhile, Strong is just getting started with the football program. He’s recruited a young team that will be a Big East favorite in 2013 and potentially a contender in the ACC when the Cards join the league in 2014.

7. Michigan State
Football:
Mark Dantonio | Basketball: Tom Izzo

Tom Izzo is doing it again. While everyone was talking about Indiana and Michigan in the Big Ten, the Spartans may have the league’s best team. Athlon named Izzo its No. 1 basketball coach prior to the season due to Izzo’s regular season and postseason acumen, recruiting and player development skills. All have come into play this season. In football, Dantonio’s star has fallen a bit after going 7-6 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten last season, but he led the Spartans to 22 wins in 2010-11. Now that Michigan and Ohio State are returning to full strength, Danonio’s job is that much tougher.

8. South Carolina
Football:
Steve Spurrier | Basketball: Frank Martin

What Spurrier has accomplished really is quite extraordinary: He brought two SEC programs to national prominence using different approaches at each spot. At South Carolina, he’s abandoned the high-flying pass offense in favor of a standout run game and stout defense (the Gamecocks have ranked in the top four of the SEC in total defense in four of the last five seasons). Before Spurrier, South Carolina had never finished a season in the AP top 10. Spurrier has done it in back-to-back seasons. The Gamecocks’ basketball program now is the one needing a turnaround. Martin is enduring a dismal first season in Columbia as expected, but the fiery former Kansas State coach has a track record of winning at a place others have not.

9. Florida
Football:
Will Muschamp | Basketball: Billy Donovan

Billy the Kid is the longest-tenured SEC basketball coach, landing at Florida in 1996-97. He’s turned the Gators into one of the most consistent programs in the country with 15 consecutive 20-win seasons, two national championships, and three Final Fours and two more Elite Eights. Though a highly coveted assistant, Muschamp was a curious hire for the Gators, whose last coach without previous head coaching experience (Ron Zook) didn’t pan out. After a 7-6 first season, Muschamp returned Florida to top-10 status last season. The Gators’ 2012 was flawed but still managed to win four one-score games against one of the nation’s toughest schedules.

10. Wisconsin
Football:
Gary Andersen | Basketball: Bo Ryan

Ryan has led Wisconsin to a top-four finish in the Big Ten and the NCAA Tournament every season in Madison since he arrived in 2001-02. Yet even this season, no one caught on (Athlon picked the Badgers sixth in the conference this year, and we were hardly alone in underestimating Wisconsin). No coach is better than Ryan at recruiting to his system and developing talent to it. Andersen is a first-year coach in Madison, but he went 18-8 with two bowl games in the last two seasons at Utah State. His commitment to the run game and physical defense will fit well at Wisconsin.

11. Kansas State
Football:
Bill Snyder | Basketball: Bruce Weber

Snyder has to be considered among the all-time greats after his second stint of rescuing Kansas State football. His second tour of duty with the Wildcats is as impressive as the first. K-State has won 21 games and a Big 12 title the last two seasons despite having the lowest-ranked recruiting classes in the league the last five years. Weber’s tenure soured at Illinois, but so far he’s been a boon for K-State basketball, starting 20-5 overall and 9-3 in the league. Weber started well at Illinois, too, going 37-2 and reaching the national title game in his second season.

12. Duke
Football:
David Cutcliffe | Basketball: Mike Krzyzewski

David Cutcliffe gave Duke fans a reason to get excited for football season with its bowl appearance in 2012, only its third since 1960. A quarterback guru, Cutcliffe has had dangerous passing games since he arrived at Duke. If the Belk Bowl isn’t convincing enough, consider he has more wins in his Duke tenure (18 in five seasons) than any coach since Steve Spurrier (20 wins in three). And you know Krzyzewski: Four national titles, 11 Final Fours, 948 wins and no signs of slowing down.

13. Arizona
Football:
Rich Rodriguez | Basketball: Sean Miller

In his first season at Arizona, Rodriguez won winning five of his last seven games as the Wildcats ranked in the top 25 nationally in rushing, passing, total offense and scoring offense. The 8-5 season was a good indication Rodriguez may put up results more similar to his tenure at West Virginia (60-26) than his tenure at Michigan (15-22). In basketball, Sean Miller has restored stability to a program that had two one-season coaches after Lute Olson’s legendary run. Arizona’s not back to level of prominence it enjoyed through the '90s and into the early 2000s, but Miller has already taken Arizona to an Elite Eight and has the Wildcats in contention for its second conference title in his tenure.

14. Miami
Football:
Al Golden | Basketball: Jim Larranaga

This season may be the first in Miami history where the basketball coach has been the Big Coach on Campus rather than the football coach. This isn’t just a knee jerk reaction to Miami’s newfound basketball prominence this season. Larranaga led Miami to a 9-7 season in the ACC a year ago for its first winning season in the conference. That’s on the heels of an accomplished career at Bowling Green and George Mason, where he led the Colonials to the Final Four. Golden’s 13-11 record is nothing special by Miami football standards, but he’s navigating the off-field adversity at Miami with the same skill he used to revive Temple.

15. North Carolina
Football:
Larry Fedora | Basketball: Roy Williams

Roy Williams has his flaws as a coach, some of which are coming to bear this season. But he's nearing 700 career wins with two national championships and seven Final Fours at Kansas and North Carolina. He's already a Hall of Fame coach. North Carolina football remains a sleeping giant, and there’s reason to believe Fedora can be the coach to deliver on that promise once the Tar Heels weather NCAA sanctions. After four consecutive bowl games and a Conference USA title at Southern Miss, he went 8-4 overall and tied for the Coastal Division lead despite a bowl ban last season.

16. West Virginia
Football:
Dana Holgorsen | Basketball: Bob Huggins

Huggins is a potential Hall of Fame coach with 650 Division I wins. He’s been remarkably consistent, going without a losing conference record every season since his first at Akron in 1984-85. He’ll flirt with one this year, however. He’s also four seasons removed from the Final Four. Holgorsen can coach offense as well as anyone, but the Mountaineers’ defense was a major liability in a 7-6 debut in the Big 12. In his first season as a head coach, Holgorsen led West Virginia to a 10-3 record and an Orange Bowl rout of Clemson.

17. Vanderbilt
Football:
James Franklin | Basketball: Kevin Stallings

When was the last time Vanderbilt was a factor in both football and basketball? Since 1974, Vanderbilt has reached the NCAA Tournament and a bowl game in the same calendar year only four times. Kevin Stallings was the basketball coach for three of them. James Franklin was the football coach for two of those years. Vanderbilt is the most unique job in the league as the SEC’s toughest academic school and the only private university in the league. Stallings built his program (six NCAA Tournaments in the last nine seasons) on player development. And Franklin has proven to have the recruiting zeal and enthusiasm to keep the Commodores competitive.

18. Florida State
Football:
Jimbo Fisher | Basketball: Leonard Hamilton

The verdict on Fisher as the coach to return Florida State to national title contention is unsettled. He’s led the Seminoles to their first 10-win seasons since 2004 and their first top-10 finish since 2000. But the Seminoles can’t get back into the title picture thanks to losses to teams like Wake Forest and NC State. He’s facing an interesting season with a handful of staff defections. Basketball is a clear No. 2 sport at Florida State, but Hamilton has taken the ‘Noles to their best era in the sport with four consecutive NCAA Tournaments and an ACC Tournament title last year.

19. Pittsburgh
Football:
Paul Chryst | Basketball: Jamie Dixon

With a 20-6 start in 2012-13, Dixon proved last season’s CBI effort was an outlier. Before 2012, Pittsburgh was one of three teams in the Big East to reach the NCAA Tournament every year since the league reformed in 2005. (Villanova and Marquette were the others). Dixon led Pitt to a 20-win season in all of his 10 seasons with the Panthers, a Big East regular season title in 2011 and a tournament title in 2008. All that’s left is a Final Four. In football, Chryst has had one rocky season with the Panthers, but his decision to stay when his former employer Wisconsin had an opening was a positive for a team with coaching instability. We think Chryst’s philosophy will work well in the long term with Pitt.

20. Texas
Football:
Mack Brown | Basketball: Rick Barnes

This is the most difficult tandem to evaluate in the Big 12 and perhaps the country. On one side, the resumes are impeccable: Brown’s 2005 national title and nine consecutive 10-win seasons and Barnes’ streak of 17 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and the 2003 Final Four. We value consistency, but at Texas, the bar is a little different. Both coaches have a mountain of advantages in resources, exposure and recruiting base. Yet Brown has limped to a 22-16 record the last three seasons, and Barnes may have a losing season on his hands in addition to early exits from the Tournament in recent seasons. Texas coaches should have better results than this.

21. Baylor
Football:
Art Briles | Basketball: Scott Drew

It’s tough to underestimate how far Baylor has come in both sports over the last decade. Briles has turned the Big 12 doormat into a dangerous program with three consecutive bowl games and a Heisman Trophy for Robert Griffin III. In addition, the former Houston coach and Texas high school coach has showed few signs he plans to leave Waco. On the other side, it’s true Baylor’s basketball results haven’t matched it’s talent level, but Drew has led the Bears to two Elite Eights in the last four seasons after winning 21 total games in his first three seasons.

22. Oklahoma State
Football:
Mike Gundy | Basketball: Travis Ford

Gundy has brought Oklahoma State out of Oklahoma’s shadow, winning an average of 9.8 games in each of the last five seasons. Though Oklahoma State didn’t match the 12- and 11-win efforts of the previous two seasons, 2012 may have been his best coaching job, as the Cowboys went 8-5 overall and 5-3 in the Big 12 despite starting three quarterbacks. The Pokes have yet to have similar breakthrough in basketball, but Ford has Oklahoma State on its way to its third NCAA Tournament, its fourth 20-win seasons in five years and perhaps a Big 12 title.

23. UCLA
Football:
Jim L. Mora | Basketball: Ben Howland

UCLA may have the toughest tandem to judge in the Pac-12. Howland has three consecutive Final Fours on his resume, but the program now looks little like the one Howland coached from 2006-08. The Bruins are having their best season of the last four thanks to a signing class that has finally delivered on its promise. But UCLA isn’t immune to puzzling losses (Cal Poly, USC) or criticism from one of its greatest players. On the football side, Mora resuscitated the program with a 9-5 season and a Pac-12 South title, but a three-game losing streak (including two to Stanford) indicates the Bruins still have a way to go to return to national prominence. Still, Howland’s track record and Mora’s quick rebuild is enough to make UCLA’s tandem No. 2 in the league.

24. Boise State
Football:
Chris Petersen | Basketball: Leon Rice

Boise State football had been on a steady ascent since the late 1990s, but Chris Petersen took the program to new heights. The Broncos under Petersen have had two undefeated seasons and BCS wins and three top-10 finishes. Gripe about the level of competition in the WAC and Mountain West, but he’s never finished with fewer than 10 wins in seven seasons as a head coach. The Broncos’ adjustment to major college basketball hasn’t been nearly as quick as the football program’s rise, but Rice, a former Gonzaga assistant may be the coach to lift the Broncos. Boise State is in the mix for an NCAA Tournament bid in the rugged Mountain West.

25. Indiana
Football:
Kevin Wilson | Basketball: Tom Crean

Crean essentially started from scratch at Indiana in 2008-09 with a depleted roster and NCAA sanctions. The Hoosiers won eight Big Ten games his first three seasons in Bloomington, but they arrived to national prominence a year earlier than expected last season. Now, Indiana is a legitimate national title contender again. IU football will always be No. 2, but Kevin Wilson has made progress in two seasons from playing a horde of freshmen in 2011. The Hoosiers improved from 1-11 overall and 0-8 in his first season to 4-8 and 2-6 in his second.

26. LSU
Football:
Les Miles | Basketball: Johnny Jones

The SEC just wouldn’t be the same without Les Miles, whose unpredictability as a gameday coach is matched by eccentricity as a communicator. But he’s had some darn good results at LSU, too. In addition to the 2007 national title, LSU has finished in the top 10 five times under Miles and spent at least one week in the top five in each of his eight seasons in Baton Rouge. In basketball, LSU won’t make the NCAA Tournament in Jones’ first season, but the Tigers could have their best win total since 2008-09. A player on LSU’s Final Four team in 1986, Jones was one of the best coaches in the Sun Belt at North Texas.

27. Clemson
Football:
Dabo Swinney | Basketball: Brad Brownell

With his earnest enthusiasm, Swinney is the kind of character made for college football. He’s good for a chuckle, but he knows how to allocate his budget to top coordinators, especially Chad Morris. His 21 wins in the last two seasons are the most in school history, and the Tigers’ 2011 ACC title was their first since 1991. Brownell came to Clemson with good reputation by taking UNC Wilmington and Wright State to the NCAA Tournament, but he has a two-year postseason drought since reaching the Big Dance in his first season at Clemson.

28. Syracuse
Football:
Scott Shafer | Basketball: Jim Boeheim

Boeheim joined the 900-win club this season and has a chance for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament with this group. He has 16 consecutive 20-win seasons, three Final Four appearances and the 2003 national title. We don’t have any questions about him in these rankings. Shafer is an unknown commodity after he was elevated to replace Doug Marrone during the offseason. The former Stanford and Michigan assistant turned around the Syracuse defense when he first arrived in 2009, but the Orange ranked fifth in the league in total D last season. He is a first-time head coach.

29. Arkansas
Football:
Bret Bielema | Basketball: Mike Anderson

Few tandems in the SEC took their current jobs with resumes as accomplished as Bielema and Anderson. Bielema led Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowls and won at least 10 games four times in seven seasons. Anderson won at UAB, including an upset of Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, and Missouri, where he won 31 games and reached the Elite Eight in 2008-09. The question is how they will fare at Arkansas. Anderson’s road woes may cost the Razorbacks another Tournament bid, and Bielema is entering his first season coaching and recruiting in the SEC.

30. Iowa State
Football:
Paul Rhoads | Basketball: Fred Hoiberg

It takes a special coach to win in either sport at Iowa State. The Cyclones had more success in basketball in its history, but they were largely dormant after a going 32-5 in 1999-2000. Hoiberg, “The Mayor,” has started to bring his alma mater back. The Cyclones could reach their second consecutive NCAA Tournament this season, the first time that’s happened since 2000-01. Iowa State is not nearly as accomplished in football. Rhoads is a master motivator who has made Iowa State a spoiler in the Big 12 or national title race. He has three bowl games in four seasons but only one winning record.

31. Cincinnati
Football:
Tommy Tuberville | Basketball: Mick Cronin

Both coaches are solid in their respective sports. Cronin has led the Bearcats through a lengthy rebuilding process. He started with two losing seasons, but he has Cincinnati on its way to its third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. Tuberville was a somewhat surprising hire as the coach bolted Texas Tech this offseason. Given his baggage of jumping jobs, smacking headsets off assistants and possibly deserting recruits during a dinner, Tuberville is far removed from a his standout stretch at Auburn.

32. Kentucky
Football:
Mark Stoops | Basketball: John Calipari

Calipari may be the top coach in the game right now. Even one of his down teams this season will make a run at an SEC regular season title. From 2005-12, his average record each season was 34-5. And in the outlier (29-9 in 2010-11), Kentucky still reached the Final Four. His strategy of cycling through one-and-dones isn’t everyone’s favorite vision for college basketball, but he proved last season he can win a national title doing it. Football is a second priority at Kentucky, but they’ll hope first-time head coach Mark Stoops is more like Bob than Mike. He impressed on the recruiting trail with the nation’s No. 36 class. Still, in the SEC, that ranks only 13th.

33. Minnesota
Football:
Jerry Kill | Basketball: Tubby Smith

Minnesota is going to have a tough time winning in either sport, but the Gophers at least have the right coaches leading the program. Kill has won at every level from Saginaw Valley State to Emporia State to Southern Illinois to Northern Illinois. He led the Gophers back to a bowl game in his second season. Smith, who led Kentucky to a national championship in 1998, is Minnesota’s first successful basketball coach since crippling sanctions in the late 90s. He should have the Gophers in their third NCAA Tournament in five seasons.

34. Cal
Football:
Sonny Dykes | Basketball: Mike Montgomery

Prior to the season, we rated Montgomery as the Pac-12’s top basketball coach At Stanford, Montgomery never finished lower than second in the conference from 1996-2004. Then, he raised the profile at Cal, reaching the NCAA Tournament three times in his first four seasons at Berkeley. In football, Cal will hope Dykes can restore some excitement to a program that had grown stale under predecessor Jeff Tedford. Dykes is a spread offense guru who coached under Mike Leach at Texas Tech and has experience in the Pac-12 at Arizona. He improved his win total each season at Louisiana Tech.

35. Virginia
Football:
Mike London | Basketball: Tony Bennett

In 2012, the football program slipped back to 4-8 after an eight-win season in London’s second year. The former police officer went 24-5 at Richmond with an FCS title before returning to Virginia. After ending Virginia’s four-year NCAA Tournament drought last season, Bennett has the program in position for its first back-to-back Tournament bids since 1994-95. His offensive and defensive systems will keep scores low, but it’s proven to work when he’s at at talent disadvantage.

36. Virginia Tech
Football:
Frank Beamer | Basketball: James Johnson

Beamer is synonymous with Virginia Tech football even if his streak of eight consecutive 10-wins seasons ended in 2012. The Hokies haven’t missed a bowl game or had a losing season since 1992, Beamer’s sixth season in Blacksburg. Johnson is a much more unknown commodity. He was noted as a recruiter under predecessor Seth Greenberg’s staff, but it’s been a tough season in his debut as a head coach.

37. Texas A&M
Football:
Kevin Sumlin | Basketball: Billy Kennedy

Sumlin’s teams at Texas A&M and Houston have finished in the top three nationally in total offense in four of the last five seasons. The exception was 2010 when Houston quarterback Case Keenum was injured (Houston still finished 11th nationally). With a Cotton Bowl victory, a win over Alabama and a Heisman Trophy for Johnny Manziel, Sumlin rode that wave to a top-10 signing class, outpacing former recruiting rivals Texas and Oklahoma. The basketball program isn’t where Mark Turgeon and Billy Gillispie had it, but the Aggies have already exceeded last season’s win total (14). Billy Kennedy built Southeastern Louisiana and Murray State over the course of a few years, so his upcoming seasons will be worth watching.

38. Kansas
Football:
Charlie Weis | Basketball: Bill Self

In the last eight seasons, Self has led Kansas to the 2008 national title, the 2012 title game, eight consecutive Big 12 championships and five conference tournament championships. Yet Self still finds a way to be doubted. He’s one of the nation’s top coaches, regular season or postseason. He’s not contributing to the Jayhawks’ low ranking, clearly. Weis was a puzzling hire from the start and did nothing in his first season to make KU’s roll of the dice look great. Weis is 17-32 in his last four seasons as a head coach, including 1-11 in Lawrence.

39. TCU
Football:
Gary Patterson | Basketball: Trent Johnson

Another tough call in the Big 12 rankings. We wouldn’t be shocked if this doesn’t look like a great ranking in a few years. Gary Patterson is one of the nation’s best coaches, and he lived up to that in his first season in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs had to replace their returning starter at quarterback midseason and still reached a bowl game. His future success in the Big 12 will depend on his ability to recruit the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex at an elite level. Trent Johnson is a solid basketball coach who had a good run at Stanford and Nevada but wisely bolted LSU for TCU before landing himself on the hot seat in Baton Rouge.

40. Georgia
Football:
Mark Richt | Basketball: Mark Fox

The hot seat talk form when Georgia went 14-12 and 7-9 in the SEC in 2009-10 has cooled. Richt’s 14-2 record in the SEC the last two seasons is his best in any two-year span at Georgia, though Georgia has been the beneficiary of some fortunate scheduling. Still, the Bulldogs were a play away from reaching the national title game before losing the SEC Championship Game. The hire of Georgia’s other Mark from Nevada was greeted with skepticism as Fox hadn’t coached anywhere near the Southeast. Fox is trying to avoid his third losing season in four years at Georgia.

Also considered:
41. Colorado
42. Northwestern
43. San Diego State
44. BYU
45. Purdue
46. Nebraska
47. Missouri
48. Oregon State
49. Stanford
50. Iowa

Teaser:
<p> Ohio State takes top spot in Athlon's national football/basketball coach tandem rankings.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
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Selection Sunday is less than a month 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.

We looked at RPI, strength of schedule, good wins and bad losses in our projections. You will also see references to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. The selection committee is not instructed to use the rankings during the selection process, but we include them as an added resource.

NCAA TOURNAMENT BRACKET PROJECTIONS: FEB. 21

TOP FOUR SEEDS
Indiana
Miami
Duke
Michigan State

ACC (5)
In: Duke, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia
Worth a mention: Florida State, Maryland
Bubble notes: Virginia entered the field last week and remains in despite road losses to North Carolina and Miami. The Cavs missed a golden chance to all but clinch a bid with the 54-50 road loss to the Hurricanes on Tuesday. Maryland moved one step forward with a win over Duke on Saturday and then one step back by losing to Boston College on Tuesday. The regular season finale between the Terps and Cavs in Charlottesville may be a key game for both. Other than a season sweep of Maryland, Florida State is running low on quality ACC wins.

Related: This week's college basketball power rankings

Atlantic 10 (5)
In: Butler, La Salle, Saint Louis, Temple, VCU
Worth a mention: Charlotte, UMass, Xavier
Bubble notes: VCU has a good resume numbers-wise, but the Rams missed an opportunity to solidify their profile by losing to Saint Louis on Tuesday. Their best win remains Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Temple put itself into a precarious position by losing to Duquesne, which is ranked outside the top 200 in the RPI. Three wins over the Syracuse and Saint Louis, plus wins over bubble teams Charlotte, Villanova and UMass could work in the Owls’ favor. Charlotte is hovering just inside the top 50 in the RPI with its worst loss coming to George Washington on the road. The 49ers two standout wins, however. (La Salle, at Butler). UMass lost on the road to St. Bonaventure on Wednesday, making the Minutemen an at-large longshot.

Related: Key games with postseason implications to watch this week

Big 12 (5)
In: Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Worth a mention: Baylor
Bubble notes: In a game between bubble teams Wednesday, Iowa State defeated Baylor 87-82 for a regular season sweep. If Baylor is left out of the field, it will be due to the Bears' poor performance against the Tournament-bound teams in the Big 12: Baylor's only win over the "in" group was over Oklahoma State at home in January.

Related: Ben McLemore, Marcus Smart or Anthony Bennett: Who is the best freshman?

Big East (8)
In: Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Villanova
Worth a mention: St. John’s
Bubble notes: By defeating RPI No. 32 Connecticut on the road on Saturday, Villanova moves back into the field. The win gave the Wildcats their first top-100 road win, joining a resume that already includes victories over Louisville and Syracuse. ‘Nova has a bad loss to No. 254 Columbia, but that is the Wildcats’ only loss to a team outside of the top 100. St. John’s is fading with three losses in its last five games, albeit all three on the road against Tournament-bound teams (Georgetown, Syracuse and Louisville). Remaining games against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame (on the road) and Marquette may be must-win situations.

Big Ten (7)
In: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Worth a mention: Iowa
Bubble notes: After enduring a 2-7 start to Big Ten play, Illinois looked like it would work its way onto the bubble despite a stellar non-conference performance. Since the lackluster conference start, Illinois has gone on a four-game win streak, defeating Indiana and Minnesota two weeks ago and then 20-point routs of Purdue and Northwestern. Iowa’s case to join the field is getting stronger with Sunday’s 72-51 win over Minnesota, its third RPI top-50 win of the season, all of which at home. The Hawkeyes are being dragged down by a weak non-conference schedule.

Related: Key stats from Feb. 11-17

Conference USA (1)
In: Memphis
Worth a mention: Southern Miss
Bubble notes: Southern Miss has only two top-100 wins (Denver and UTEP), leaving Conference USA as a possible one-bid league if Memphis wins the tournament. The Tigers’ at-large credentials aren’t great, either, with a win at Southern Miss being Memphis’ signature achievement this season.

Missouri Valley (2)
In: Creighton, Wichita State
Worth a mention: Indiana State, Northern Iowa
Bubble notes: The at-large profiles coming out of the Missouri Valley will give the selection committee much to ponder. Wichita State recovered from a three-game losing streak to win four of a row, including Tuesday’s win over NCAA hopeful Indiana State (RPI No. 64) on the road. Creighton ended its own three-game losing streak Saturday with a come-from-behind win at Evansville before dispatching Southern Illinois on Tuesday. A BracketBuster game at Saint Mary’s on Saturday could help both teams’ at-large credentials. Indiana State had been flirting with a spot in the Tournament, but the Sycamores’ three-game losing streak will be tough to overcome. Indiana State lost to RPI No. 226 Missouri State on Feb. 12 and No. 177 Bradley on Saturday.

Mountain West (5)

In: Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a mention: Air Force
Bubble notes: A win over Air Force on Wednesday night combined with a loss by Ole Miss helped Boise State return to the field. The Broncos have top two top-50 wins at Creighton (RPI No. 47) and UNLV (No. 17), which is better than most teams on the bubble. The Broncos have lost their last five MWC road games for a 5-6 mark in the league, but they have a chance to end that streak with a trip to RPI No. 146 Fresno State. Home dates with Colorado State and San Diego State could help the Broncos clinch an at-large bid.

Pac-12 (6)
In: Arizona State, Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
Worth a mention:Stanford
Bubble notes: Colorado split with the Arizona schools last week, which turns out to be good for both the Buffaloes and Arizona State. In the last two weeks, Colorado has a win at RPI No. 38 Oregon for a crucial road victory, and a win at home over No. 11 Arizona. Cal entered the field this week after stringing together back-to-back wins over Arizona on the road and RPI No. 41 UCLA at home. With three top-50 wins and no losses to teams outside the top 100, Cal should feel pretty good. The Sun Devils also entered our field this week with a season sweep of Colorado, defeating the No. 23 Buffaloes in Boulder on Saturday. With losses to Stanford and Utah in the last three games (plus a home loss to DePaul in December), Arizona State doesn’t have much wiggle room. The Sun Devils’ RPI is dangerously low at 67. Stanford entered last week on the bubble and lost at home to UCLA and USC, giving the Cardinal a season sweep to the Trojans, who are ranked 97th.

SEC (2)
In: Florida, Missouri
Worth a mention: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky
Bubble notes: With five losses in the last seven games, Ole Miss may have played itself out of a bid. The Rebels endured their worst loss of the season with a 63-62 defeat to South Carolina on Wednesday. Unfortunately for Kentucky, the selection committee will take injuries into account, and a 30-point loss to Tennessee without Nerlens Noel won’t help the Wildcats’ case. Alabama is in the same spot it was in two seasons ago with a great SEC record but a bubble resume thanks to losses to Dayton, Tulane, Mercer and Auburn. Arkansas should be mentioned for its wins over Florida and Missouri in recent weeks, but the Razorbacks still have a low RPI (74) and a dismal road record (1-6).

West Coast (2)
In: Gonzaga, Saint Mary's
Worth a mention: BYU
Bubble notes: Saint Mary’s could have eased its fears of making the Tournament by defeating Gonzaga, but the Gaels lost 77-60. A BracketBuster game against Creighton on Saturday can’t be understated. Other than a possible rematch with Gonzaga in the WCC tournament, this game will be Saint Mary’s last chance for a top-50 win.

One-bid conference projections

Conference Projected winner Conference Projected winner
America East Stony Brook MEAC Norfolk State
Atlantic Sun Florida Gulf Coast 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 Western Illinois
Ivy Harvard Sun Belt Middle Tennessee
MAAC Niagara SWAC Southern
MAC Akron WAC Louisiana Tech

Teaser:
<p> NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch: Pac-12 adding bids</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/12-players-who-could-dominate-nfl-combine
Body:

Chris Henry was a running back at the University of Arizona from 2003 to 2006. After redshirting, he rushed for 159 yards as a freshman, 119 yards as a sophomore and 581 yards as a junior. Henry had 859 career rushing yards over three seasons before skipping his senior season and declaring early for the NFL Draft. For a frame of reference, Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey led the nation in rushing last fall with 1,929 yards.

The Tennessee Titans selected Henry in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft with the 50th overall selection. Eleven Pro Bowlers and 14 more running backs, including Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Bush, were selected after the Wildcats running back.

Henry rushed for 122 yards in 11 career games over four seasons with two teams and his career was headlined by a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy during his rookie year.

So why would a smart NFL guy like Jeff Fisher waste a valuable draft pick on a guy who wasn't productive, didn't win many games and didn't even start on the college level? The answer is a common narrative told across NFL front offices every season: The Combine. Henry wowed scouts, checking in at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds with a 4.40 40-yard dash, 26 bench reps (225 lbs) and a 36” vertical leap. Those numbers meant nothing once he put on the pads and had to play football.

For every combine freak of nature that pans out — like Vernon Davis, for example — there are boatloads of Chris Henrys. Last season, Stephon Gilmore and Dontari Poe used impressive combine showings to land in the top 11 picks of the 2012 draft. Whether or not Buffalo and Kansas City made quality decisions with those two remains to be seen.

So who will be this year’s workout warriors, freaks of nature and combine stars?

Note: NFL.com player ratings are on a scale of 100 and are in parentheses. Twelve of the 333 combine invitees are currently ranked 90.0 or higher, 52 players are ranked in the 80s, 64 in the 70s and 105 in the 60s. The other 100 prospects rank below 60.0.

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee (90.6) 6-3, 210
There might not be a wide receiver at the combine who has more physical talent than Patterson. And he is already close to being a first-round lock, however, he is an extremely unrefined prospect. He has elite size, speed, power, burst, special teams talent and versatility. But he needs to learn how to play the wide receiver position and that can only come with time spent on the field. He has played just one season of college football and it shows, but his combine numbers will be off the charts.

Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon (88.0) 6-7, 245
If scouts are looking for the next Aldon Smith, from a physical standpoint, Jordan will be their guy. He has elite size, length, range and athletic ability for a pass rusher. He can cover a lot of ground in short order and enjoys playing a physical style of football. However, he lacks overall power and strength and will have to overcome a stigma that he played with inconsistent effort at Oregon. This prospect is already a first-rounder but could easily find himself in the top ten with a freakish performance at the Combine.

Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia (84.0) 6-3, 235
From a physical standpoint, Ogletree is the perfect middle linebacker. He has elite speed to play sideline-to-sideline. He possesses a tough-nosed attitude and won’t hesitate to deliver a big hit. He can cover in pass defense and plays with great quickness. However, he has had plenty of off-the-field issues, including a recent DUI arrest, and missed time due to suspensions at Georgia. Once he learns to control his aggressiveness, he could be a three-down star in the NFL.

William Gholston, DE, Michigan State (74.1) 6-7, 275
The massive defensive line prospect will be extremely intriguing to watch at the combine. He towers over most college offensive lineman and absolutely looks like an NFL starter. He was an elite recruit for a reason and his length and power will be an asset to someone. Understanding the game, maintaining his focus and keeping his motor going full throttle will be key in determining the NFL future of this former Spartan.

Related: The 10 Freakiest Accomplishments in NFL Combine History

John Simon, DL, Ohio State (70.5) 6-2, 260
Simon won’t wow scouts with his 40-time, overall size or length, but when it comes to power and strength, few can match this workout warrior. He owns all types of weight room records at Ohio State and will be extremely impressive in his personal interviews with coaches and front office types. He is one of the top leaders at the combine.

Zaviar Gooden, LB, Missouri (70.0) 6-2, 230
Gooden has the power and strength to play outside linebacker in the SEC and the speed and agility to cover in space in the Big 12. He has been slowed by injuries over the course of his career, but his athletic ability will be obvious in Indy. He is great in the open field and will be able to play sideline-to-sideline. This is one workout warrior that will absolutely find his way into a starting lineup. Gooden is much more of a sleeper than a bust.

Tharold Simon, CB, LSU (70.0) 6-3, 195
Size is a coveted asset for cornerbacks in the modern pass-happy NFL and Simon has it in spades. The LSU coverman can turn and run with receivers with relative ease and it led to plenty of big plays during his three years in Baton Rouge. He doesn’t have the quickness or elite speed of former teammate, Morris Claiborne, who was selected by Dallas in last year's draft with the sixth overall pick, but Simon is bigger, stronger and nearly as intriguing. The scouts at the combine will see an excellent athlete with rare size and small technique issues they believe they can fix.

EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State (68.7) 6-5, 240
In a QB class that features nothing but pocket passers, Manuel’s massive frame and underrated athletic ability will stand out in Indianapolis. His maturity and interviews will be impressive as well. He was an elite recruit who developed slowly and dealt with injuries but led his team to an ACC title as a senior. In the modern era of mobile quarterbacks, Manuel will easily be the best athlete among all the other seemingly statuesque signal callers at the combine.

Marquis Goodwin, WR, Texas (68.6) 5-9, 180
Goodwin might be the fastest player at the combine. The wide receiver has won World Junior Track Championships and was a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, finishing 10th in London in the long jump. He is small, unpolished and will have to define his ability as a pass catcher, but speed can’t be coached and Goodwin has it in spades.

Kiko Alonso, ILB, Oregon (67.1) 6-4, 245
In the new era of hybrid outside linebackers and defensive ends, Alonso possesses excellent athletic ability. He can rush the passer, drop into coverage and hold his ground against the run as his Rose Bowl Defensive Player of the Game award proves (five tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception in the Ducks' win over Wisconsin). He is a freaky athlete who will wow scouts with his upside. However, his downside is all self-inflicted miscues. He has had multiple arrests stemming from a DUI and public intoxication and also dealt with a torn right ACL.

Marcus Davis, WR, Virginia Tech (63.8) 6-4, 230
Few players have more athletic ability than the Virginia Tech wide receiver. He has a massive frame and excellent speed to start on the outside and will bring a vertical threat to an NFL offense. He has all the physical tools to excel on Sundays and will be very impressive at the Combine. However, blocking, route running, focus and consistency kept Davis from ever exploding on the college gridiron. Scouts beware.

Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA (60.8) 6-7, 258
As far as size and athleticism at the tight end position, few will be as impressive at the combine as the former top prospect. The UCLA tight end teased coaches and fans with elite speed and agility for a player of his size. His career culminated with his best year, catching 12 touchdowns in 2012. However, he struggles as a run blocker and doesn’t exhibit top-notch toughness that most NFL tight ends need to be successful.

Related: Athlon Sports' Latest 2013 NFL Mock Draft

Other names to watch:

Datone Jones, DT, UCLA (85.6) 6-5, 280
Elite recruit with excellent size who underachieved his entire career until his final season.

Jonathan Cyprien, S, FIU (84.6) 6-1, 210
Won’t wow scouts with measurables, but huge thumper and elite tackler.

Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee Tech (74.4) 6-3, 210
Total knuckle-head who cares only about himself… but a freakish athlete.

Chris Harper, WR, Kansas State (68.0) 6-1, 230
Extremely impressive athlete who never posted big numbers at either Oregon or Kansas St.

Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State (67.0)
Doesn’t posses high-end speed but elite size, power, strength and dependability.

Teaser:
<p> 12 Players Who Could Dominate the NFL Combine</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 09:40
Path: /college-football/2013-college-football-recruiting-rankings-no-11-florida-state-seminoles
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. When Jimbo Fisher took over in Tallahassee, he reenergized the Seminoles' recruiting base in the region and more importantly in the state of Florida. The 2013 class is once again an excellent haul and it won the ACC recruiting championship, but the league didn't land a single top-10 class and that has to be a concerning sign for the conference.

No. 11: Florida State

ACC: First
Athlon Consensus 100
Signees:
 4
National Signees: 8
Total Signees: 22

Where They Got 'Em:

Florida State has always been able to package a loaded in-state class with a national focus on elite talent. Jimbo Fisher made a conscious effort to focus more on in-state talent since taking over and the 2013 class is the same. He signed 15 Sunshine State prospects in this haul including six of the eight nationally rated players in this class. Border state Alabama supplied three prospects, Tennessee sent its best player to Tallahassee and both Virginia and Louisiana offered up one player each. New York — by way of South Florida — sent a junior college transfer to play in Doak Campbell Stadium too. 

Related: Athlon Sports Top 25 Recruiting Classes for 2013

Areas of Focus:

National Signing Day was a yearly holiday at Florida State under Bobby Bowden, as the legendary coach would dominate the final day of the recruiting calendar each year. Fisher did his own Bowden impersonation by finishing the '13 cycle with a major flurry. He landed elite linebacker Matthew Thomas and yanked star defensive back Jalen Ramsey from USC's grasp. Both were top-15 players nationally and head a star-studded defensive class for the Noles.

Thomas heads a loaded five-man linebacking class that features nationally rated E.J. Levenberry and early enrollee Freddie Stevenson. Rumors swirled that Thomas wanted to sign elsewhere (USC, perhaps?), but should he stick at Florida State, he should be the best pure outside linebacker in the nation. Four of the five names hail from Florida while Levenberry played prep football in Virginia. All but Stevenson are 6-foot-3 and all but Thomas are at least 220 pounds. This group is the next wave of elite Noles tacklers. 

Ramsey is one of only three defensive backs signed in this class, but he is a great one. He has the size and rangy frame to bulk up and play safety but also the quickness and speed to play corner. Look for him to be used at a variety of positions early on before settling in as a cornerback. Marquez White is another tall, rangy corner and Nate Andrews could play either position. 

Along the defensive line, two of the four signees were ranked nationally by Athlon Sports. Demarcus Walker will play defensive end and is the prized gem of the group while Keith Bryant is the big star on the inside at tackle. Walker is joined by Davarez Bryant and Desmond Hollin on the outside, giving Fisher and company an excellent crop of new talent to replace the departed Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner.

Of the 10 total offensive signings, the line (4) and wide receiver (3) will get the most help. Ira Denson leads the offensive line class that could be cut short by one should early enrollee Richy Klepal decide not to play football. His doctors told him his long-term health was at risk following multiple concussions at powerhouse program Tampa (Fla.) Plant. Levonte Whitfield (5-9, 175) is the star wideout of the bunch and brings electric speed to the slot position. Isaiah Jones (6-4, 200) complements the smaller wide receivers with a big frame and down-the-field ability. 

Running back Ryan Green, however, is the highest-rated offensive prospect in the class. The star tailback is an all-purpose dynamo who missed a big chunk of his senior year due to a shoulder injury. With Jameis Winston set to take over the reins for the Seminoles offense, the lone quarterback signee, John Franklin III, appears to be more of a backup plan for the next three seasons. Jeremy Kerr brings a big frame (6-6, 254) as the lone tight end prospect in this class.

Related: National Signing Day 2013 Winners and Losers

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 1, RB: 1, WR: 3, TE: 1, OL: 4
Defense: DL: 4, LB: 5, DB: 3, ATH: 0

AC100/National Recruits:

AC100 Name Pos. Pos. Rk Hometown Ht Wt
8. Matthew Thomas LB No. 3 Miami, Fla. 6-3 210
15. Jalen Ramsey DB No. 3 Nashville, Tenn. 6-1 195
36. Demarcus Walker DE No. 8 (DL) Jacksonville, Fla. 6-3 265
51. Ryan Green RB No. 9 St. Petersburg, Fla. 5-10 197
120. Ira Denson OL No. 17 Madison, Fla. 6-4 317
142. Levonte Whitfield WR No. 16 Orlando, Fla. 5-9 176
183. E.J. Levenberry LB No. 27 Woodbridge, Va. 6-3 230
216. Keith Bryant DT No. 40 (DL) Delray Beach, Fla. 6-2 306

Early Enrollees:

Name Pos. Hometown Ht Wt AC100
Richy Klepal OL Tampa, Fla. 6-4 285 --
Freddie Stevenson LB Bartow, Fla. 6-1 230 --
Demarcus Walker DE Jacksonville, Fla. 6-4 295 No. 36

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

Teaser:
<p> 2013 College Football Recruiting Rankings No. 11: Florida State Seminoles</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 09:20
Path: /college-football/texas-longhorns-2013-spring-football-preview
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Texas enters a critical offseason as the first BCS team to open spring practice in 2013. After recording nine consecutive double-digit win seasons, the Longhorns have failed to reach that mark in each of the last three years. Texas hit rock bottom by going 5-7 in 2010 but has rebounded by going 8-5 in 2011 and 9-4 in 2012. Although Mack Brown’s team is making progress, the Longhorns are still a ways off from contending for a national championship. And at Texas – a place with all of the resources necessary to compete for a title every year – going 22-16 in the last three years is unacceptable.

Texas Longhorns 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 9-4 (5-4)

Spring practice dates: Feb. 21-March 30

Returning Starters: Offense – 9 Defense – 9

Returning Leaders:

Passing: David Ash, 214 of 318, 2,699 yds., 19 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Johnathan Gray, 149 car., 701 yds., 3 TDs
Receiving: Jaxon Shipley, 59 rec., 737 yds., 6 TDs
Tackles: Steve Edmond, 103
Sacks: Jackson Jeffcoat, 4
Interceptions: Quandre Diggs, 4

Redshirts to Watch: OL Curtis Riser, DB Bryson Echols, DT Alex Norman, QB Connor Brewer, OL Camrhon Hughes, DT Paul Boyette, DL Hassan Ridgeway, QB Jalen Overstreet, LB Tim Cole

Early Enrollees to Watch: LB Deoundrei Davis, OL/DE Jake Raulerson, TE Geoff Swaim, QB Tyrone Swoopes

JUCO Transfers to watch: TE Geoff Swaim, OL Desmond Harrison

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 New Mexico State
Sept. 7 at BYU
Sept. 14 Ole Miss
Sept. 21 Kansas State
Oct. 5 at Iowa State
Oct. 12 Oklahoma (Dallas)
Oct. 26 at TCU
Nov. 2 Kansas
Nov. 9 at West Virginia
Nov. 16 Oklahoma State
Nov. 28 Texas Tech
Dec. 7 at Baylor

Offensive Strength: Skill players. The Longhorns have amassed an array of skill players, including one of the nation’s deepest backfields in Johnathan Gray, Malclom Brown and Joe Bergeron. The receiving corps is in good shape with the return of Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley, while Daje Johnson, Cayleb Jones and Kendall Sanders are promising options.

Offensive Weakness: The biggest weakness for Texas undoubtedly rests under center. Although David Ash has shown some flashes of promise, he struggled against Oklahoma and Kansas and nearly lost his starting job to Case McCoy. Ash holds the keys to Texas’ season. If he’s continues to improve, Texas can win the Big 12 title in 2013.

Defensive Strength: It’s hard to find a ton of superlatives for a defense that allowed 29.2 points a game last year. However, Texas returns standouts in defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and cornerback Quandre Diggs, while linebacker Jordan Hicks is back after missing most of last season with an injury. The secondary ranked 36th against the pass last season and should be a strength with Diggs, Adrian Phillips and Carrington Byndom returning.

Defensive Weakness: If Texas wants to win the Big 12 title, it has to find a way to stop the run. The Longhorns ranked 88th against the run last year and was steamrolled for 29 rushing scores. An injury to linebacker Jordan Hicks hindered the front seven last year, but questions remain about the front seven even with his return.

Spring Storylines Facing the Longhorns

1. With Bryan Harsin leaving to become the head coach at Arkansas State, Major Applewhite has been handed the reins to coordinate the offense in 2013. The former Longhorn quarterback had a so-so debut in the Alamo Bowl, as Texas scored only 10 points in the first half and never managed to get its rushing game on track against Oregon State. However, the Longhorns came alive in the fourth quarter, scoring two touchdowns to pickup a 31-27 Alamo Bowl victory. Applewhite will make a few changes from Harsin’s offense, as Texas wants to increase the pace on offense. Increasing the tempo and spreading the ball around through the air is an opportunity for Texas to spark an offense that ranked seventh in the Big 12 in scoring last year. How much of the new offense can Applewhite implement this spring? That’s the big question, just behind this one…

2. Is David Ash the answer at quarterback? Through his first two seasons on campus, Ash has shown flashes of promise but needs to be more consistent. Thanks to his performance in the fourth quarter of the Alamo Bowl, the junior finished 2012 on a high note. With some building confidence, the Texas coaching staff now wants to see Ash take the next step in his development. If Ash struggles early, redshirt freshmen Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet, along with senior Case McCoy will have an opportunity to replace him. Ash is a good fit for Applewhite’s desire to speed up the tempo, but can he elevate Texas offense into a position where it can contend for the Big 12 title?

3. In addition to seeking more consistency and production from Ash, the Longhorns need a big spring from receivers Daje Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Cayleb Jones, along with the offensive line. While Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley are entrenched as the top two receivers, the Longhorns lack proven options as the No. 3 and No. 4 spots. Johnson, Sanders and Jones have the talent and will be counted upon to fill the void left by Marquise Goodwin. The front five showed improvement last season and should have more depth in 2013. Is that enough to help the Longhorns contend for the Big 12 title?

4. There’s no doubt Texas was one of the most disappointing defenses in the nation last season. The good news for coordinator Manny Diaz is nine starters are back, including end Jackson Jeffcoat who missed seven games due to an injury. Jeffcoat’s return is crucial for this defense, especially since Alex Okafor has exhausted his eligibility. The Longhorns also unexpectedly lost defensive tackle Brandon Moore to the NFL Draft, which should provide an opportunity for sophomore Malcom Brown to have a huge season, along with a chance for redshirt freshmen Paul Boyette, Alex Norman and Hassan Ridgeway to work their way into the mix. Fixing the rush defense starts with interior play, so the spotlight is on Desmond Jackson, Brown and Ashton Dorsey this spring.

5. Not far behind the concerns on the defensive line are question marks at linebacker and in the secondary. Getting Jordan Hicks back in the lineup will immediately improve Texas’ linebacking trio, but the rest of the unit has to play better. Steve Edmond and Kendall Thompson could be pushed for snaps from Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens. The linebacking corps has question marks, but considering the talent in place, this unit could end up among the best in the Big 12 by the end of the year. The secondary is in a similar position, as Quandre Diggs could be moved to safety, which would ease the loss of first-team All-Big 12 selection Kenny Vaccaro. If Diggs is moved to safety, sophomore Duke Thomas is the likely his replacement at cornerback and will be someone the coaching staff has to monitor closely in spring practice. Finding the right mix of talent and players in both units will be crucial for Texas this spring. 


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Teaser:
<p> Texas Longhorns 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 08:59
Path: /mlb/spring-training-battles-national-league
Body:

2013 Spring Training camps are open and many players will compete against teammates for jobs before taking on other baseball teams in April. Here are some position battles to keep an eye on this spring. 

National League East

Atlanta Braves
The trade of Randall Delgado to Arizona in the Justin Upton deal eliminates most of the questions surrounding the rotation. This team is pretty much set as far as regulars go. Waiver claim Jordan Schafer will be competing with Jose Constanza for a backup outfield spot and a chance to return to the major leagues with the team that drafted him in the third round in 2005.

Miami Marlins
Journeyman outfielder Justin Ruggiano enjoyed a breakout season in 2012, when he hit .313 with 13 homers in 91 games, and he will get the first crack at the starting job in center field. If he falters this spring, Gorkys Hernandez or former National League Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan will be there to pick up the pieces. Wade LeBlanc, who got a late-season look in the rotation, will fight it out with the likes of fellow lefty Brad Hand, righty Alex Sanabia and retread John Maine for the fifth starter’s spot. Former Cubs lefthander Scott Maine will compete with Rule 5 pick Braulio Lara and Sam Dyson among others, for a spot in the setup crew.

New York Mets
Amazingly for a team projected to finish so low in the standings, the Mets have few questions in the lineup and rotation, such as they are. With closer Frank Francisco ailing, there is an opening for closer, at least to start the season. Brandon Lyon with 79 career saves is the front runner. Bobby Parnell will be in the mix as well.  

Philadelphia Phillies
Roy Halladay will be highly scrutinized as he tries to rediscover the electricity on his pitches after an offseason spent reconditioning his high-mileage shoulder. While that drama plays out on the mound, rookie Darin Ruf will try to build on a remarkable year in which he hit 52 homers in three leagues on two continents. Blocked at first base by Ryan Howard, the less-than-fleet-footed Ruf is trying to become a left fielder at 26. If he can play the position and keep driving balls, he will earn some playing time. With the equally inept defensively Delmon Young coming off also in the mix, perennial prospect Dom Brown and John Mayberry Jr. will be necessary as defensive replacements.

Washington Nationals
With the rotation, starting lineup and bench basically set in stone, precious few battles remain in spring training for roster spots, but there could be opportunities in the Nationals’ bullpen. The Nationals have a decided preference for hard throwers, which means that righthander Christian Garcia, who impressed with his 100-mph heat last September, has an inside track for one of those spots, provided the Nationals don’t convert him to a starter. The Nats might look to add a situational lefty before Opening Day.


National League Central

Chicago Cubs
There is a logjam for the final two positions in the rotation. Carlos Villanueva started 29 games for the Blue Jays the last two seasons. Travis Wood was second on the team with 156 innings pitched last year but now has to fight for a spot. Free-agent signees Scott Baker (who missed 2012 after elbow surgery) and Scott Feldman are other candidates. Feldman, a 17-game winner with Texas in 2009, was told he had a spot in the rotation before Jackson and Villanueva signed. In the outfield, David DeJesus will likely hold off prospect Brett Jackson for now, although Jackson is an intriguing combination of power and speed.

Cincinnati Reds
Aroldis Chapman and Mike Leake are vying for that No. 5 rotation spot, and it’s very possible the Reds use Leake at the start of the season and bring Chapman along slowly or some other creative strategy to utilize both pitchers. It will affect the bullpen makeup, as will the health of Nick Masset. Logan Ondrusek has had 60-plus appearances in three straight seasons and could easily wind up on the final 25-man roster. How catcher Devin Mesoraco develops also deserves attention. He won’t beat out Ryan Hanigan but needs to show improvement from last season.

Milwaukee Brewers
With the league’s most potent starting lineup returning intact, there will be no spring training battles among position players, but if shortstop Jean Segura doesn’t convice manager Ron Roenicke he is ready for prime time, veteran Alex Gonzalez will pick up the slack. The Brewers hope Gonzalez will merely serve as a mentor this season. However, the starting pitching rotation is an entirely different matter. Only No. 1 starter Yovani Gallardo is a proven commodity. Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson have pitched well in stretches, but both battled injuries a year ago. Young arms Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers and Tyler Thornburg will also compete for starting roles, and even Hiram Burgos has a shot to crack the rotation. Kelvim Escobar signed a major league contract in January. He will get a look as a starter, as well.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Both corner outfield spots are open, and it will likely come down to two competitions — Starling Marte vs. Alex Presley for left field and Jerry Sands vs. Travis Snider vs. Jose Tabata for right field. Presley and Tabata began last season as the starters but lost their jobs to Marte, a highly touted prospect, and Snider, who was acquired from Toronto in a late-July trade. Sands is a wild card after being acquired from Boston in the offseason. Six young pitchers will compete for one spot in the starting rotation. Lefthander Jeff Locke and righties Kyle McPherson and Jeff Karstens are the favorites, but lefties Andrew Oliver and Justin Wilson will get a look as well.

St. Louis Cardinals
Despite winning 18 games and being an All-Star in 2012, righthander Lance Lynn will enter spring training with no guarantee of leaving it as a starter. The Cardinals are throwing open two spots in the rotation for auditions, inviting Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller to make their claim. Lynn has the edge, but the three young righties have starter’s stuff. The World Baseball Classic will allow playing time for prospect Kolten Wong, who will get a long look at second base, where Pete Kozma, Ryan Jackson, Matt Carpenter and incumbent Daniel Descalso will compete. That contest will carry into the season before Cards have an answer.



National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks
Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs, who have been paired most of their careers since coming to the D-backs from the Angels in the 2010 Dan Haren deal, will battle for the final spot in the starting rotation along with Randal Delgado, acquired from the Braves in the Justin Upton trade. Cliff Pennington could face a spring challenge from rookie Didi Gregorius, but the D-backs appear inclined to have Gregorius open the season at Class AAA Reno. Cody Ross enters spring as the starting center fielder, but it will be interesting to see how rookie Adam Eaton fits in the mix. The speedy 24-year old made a strong impression with his defense and energy in a September call-up after hitting .381 with 46 doubles and 38 steals in 488 at-bats at Triple-A last summer.

Colorado Rockies
With the return of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Rutledge will slide back to second base, where he will challenge DJ LeMahieu for the starting job. LeMahieu played well last season and improved as a hitter. The Rockies have to choose a third baseman from among Jordan Pacheco, Chris Nelson and newcomer Ryan Wheeler. The latter is a left-handed hitter, creating the possibility of some platooning at the position. Lefties Drew Pomeranz and Christian Friedrich and righthander Tyler Chatwood, all of whom struggled with the Rockies last year, will compete for the fifth starter’s spot in the rotation.

Los Angeles Dodgers
The most important battles will take place in the trainer’s room. The Dodgers’ fortunes in 2013 will be affected heavily by the health of a handful of key players — outfielders Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford and righthander Chad Billingsley chief among them. Kemp (shoulder) and Crawford (wrist and elbow) are recovering from serious surgeries during or following the 2012 season. Billingsley spent the offseason rehabbing and working out in hopes of avoiding surgery to repair a partially torn ligament in his pitching elbow.

San Diego Padres
The only position battles will be for the middle infield spots. Everth Cabrera, Alexi Amarista, Logan Forsythe and prospect Jedd Gyorko are in the mix. Heading into camp, Forsythe is penciled in as the starting second baseman and Cabrera at shortstop, with Amarista on the bench. Gyorko is one of the organization’s top prospects. His development is one of the reasons the Padres haven’t given third baseman Chase Headley a long-term extension. There will also be the usual battles at the back end of the rotation and bullpen. Casey Kelly, who made his big-league debut on Aug. 27, and Robbie Erlin will be considered for rotation spots.

San Francisco Giants
Gregor Blanco might have been the most impressive player in the Cactus League a year ago while winning a spot on the Giants’ Opening Day roster. He’ll need another big spring performance to hold off Andres Torres as the starting left fielder. Although the Giants system has plenty of young pitching, not much of it is big-league-ready. So prospects like Chris Heston and Michael Kickham will get a long look in exhibition games. With the lineup and rotation set, this spring will be about staying healthy and deciding on a final spot or two on the bench and in the bullpen.

RELATED: 2013 MLB Spring Training Battles: American League


 

Want more baseball? Check out Athlon Sports' 2013 Baseball Annual for the most complete preview available. Order your copy now! 

Teaser:
<p> Spring Training camps are open and many players will compete against teammates for jobs before taking on other teams in April. Here are some postion battles to keep an eye on this spring.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 08:45
Path: /college-football/ranking-pac-12s-college-football-coaching-jobs-2013
Body:

We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money  — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach? Today we focus on the Pac-12.

(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)

Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the Pac-12 for 2013

1. USC

Pros: The USC coaching staff has the ability to stock its roster with elite talent without ever having to jump on a plane. The program has a rich tradition, but it doesn’t live in the past; the Trojans were dominant in the 2000s, winning seven straight Pac-10 titles (2002-08) and two national championships.

Cons: USC is the top job in L.A., but the city does have another program with tremendous potential. It doesn’t take much of a dip to lose your status as the No. 1 program in your own town.   

Final Verdict: If you’re a West Coast guy, coaching the Trojans is as good as it gets. It’s the best job in the Pac-12 and you are in the most fertile recruiting area in the country.
 

2. Oregon

Pros: As long as Phil Knight and the University of Oregon remain in good graces, this program will be blessed with tremendous financial resources. The Nike founder and former Oregon track athlete has donated over $100 million to the school’s athletic department. In addition, the Ducks have a tremendous home field advantage at 54,00-seat Autzen Stadium, regarded as the most raucous atmosphere in the Pac-12.

Cons: Right now, it’s difficult to find many good reasons why the head coaching position at Oregon would not be attractive. The school does lack tradition, but the Ducks have averaged nine wins per season since 1994.

Final Verdict: Ten or 15 years ago, Oregon wouldn’t be nearly as high on this list, but Knight’s money, Mike Bellotti’s recruiting and Chip Kelly’s offensive wizardry transformed this program. It is now clearly one of the most-desirable positions in the country.
 

3. UCLA

Pros: UCLA shares the same built-in recruiting advantages as its cross-town rival USC. The 2000s were relatively lean, but UCLA won or shared three Pac-10 titles in the 1990s and four in the ‘80s.

Cons: Life can be tough when you are forced to share a city with one of the elite programs in the nation. And while the Rose Bowl is a beautiful place to play, the facility is 30 miles from campus.

Final Verdict: The Pac-12 is a very good league, but USC and Oregon are the only programs that have enjoyed sustained success in the past 15 years. The right coach can have this program in contention for conference titles on a consistent basis.


4. Washington

Pros: This is a proud program with great tradition. The Huskies won a national title in 1991 and claimed at least a share of five Pac-10 titles from 1990-2000. UW is in a great city (Seattle) and has an SEC-like following when things are going well.

Cons: The school has addressed the program’s only significant weakness — facilities — with the $250 million renovation to Husky Stadium. Washington’s in-state recruiting base is solid but lags signficantly behind the four California teams in the Pac-12.

Final Verdict: The past decade has proven that it can be difficult to win at Washington. But this is still a very good job. Is it a great job? Not anymore. But it is still a prestigious program that can attract elite talent. You can win at UW.
 

5. California

Pros: Cal is one of the premier public institutions in the nation located in a great area, giving the Bears a recruiting edge against most of the other schools in the Pac-12. The school is also located in the fertile recruiting area of Northern California. And the facilities, long time an issue at the school, have recently received a major upgrade.

Cons: Bears have had trouble winning consistently; they have two Pac-12 titles (none outright) since 1958.

Final Verdict: Cal is an intriguing job. There is a lot to like, but there are certain drawbacks. You can win in Berkeley, but the culture of the university will likely prevent the football program from ever reaching elite status.
 

6. Arizona State

Pros: The Sun Devils have made a significant investment in their facilities in recent years, with an indoor practice bubble and new weight and locker rooms. And recently, plans were announced to upgrade Sun Devil Stadium. Arizona State has won three Pac-12 titles in its 30-plus years in the league (1986, ’96 and ’07). Oh, we can’t forget about the weather.

Cons: While the school has experienced pockets of success (three league titles), the Devils have strung together back-to-back winning Pac-10 seasons only once since John Cooper bolted in 1987.

Final Verdict: Arizona State offers a pretty good situation for a school without a strong local recruiting base. The weather is great and the tradition is good enough. USC, Oregon and UCLA will always the top jobs in the league, but with the right coach in place, ASU can be a consistent force in the Pac-12.
 

7. Arizona

Pros: Arizona has never been a Pac-10 power, but the school has more than held its own for much of its 32 years in the league. The Wildcats had 11 winning Pac-10 seasons in a 13-year stretch from 1982-94. Good coaches have shown the ability to attract talent to Tucson.

Cons: Since 1994, Arizona has only had a winning Pac-12 record twice — 1998 and 2009.

Final Verdict: Being a good recruiter is obviously important at every school, but it is of paramount importance at Arizona. The school is without many of the built-in advantages (tradition, top facilities, etc.) that exist at some of the Pac-12 programs, so you have to convince players to come to Arizona for reasons other than the weather.
 

8. Stanford

Pros: Stanford offers the best combination of elite academics (top 5 in U.S. News & World Report) and big-time college football. The school’s outstanding reputation allows the staff to recruit nationally.

Cons: Until recently, sustained success had been tough to achieve on The Farm. From the late 1970s through the late 2000s, Stanford was unable to string together more than two straight wining seasons. The school’s strict academic standards — even for athletes — shrinks the recruiting pool considerably.

Final Verdict: Stanford is not for everybody, but it is a great job for a coach who embraces the school’s mission. The Cardinal struggled for much of the 2000s, but this is a program that has emerged as a national power in recent years.
 

9. Colorado

Pros: Colorado lacks the tradition of some of the Pac-12 powers, but this program has enjoyed strong pockets of success over the past 25 years. The Buffs won three Big Eight championships in a row from 1989-91 (along with a national title in ’90), and they won four Big 12 North titles in the 2000s. With the right coach in place, this is a school that will attract quality players.

Cons: The facilities at Colorado lag behind most BCS conference schools, and the school’s commitment to athletics has been questioned in recent years. The Buffaloes recently announced a $170 million facility upgrade proposal, which is a step in the right direction. Also, the CU fans can be fickle; Folsom Field (53,750) has rarely been filled to capacity over the past few seasons.

Final Analysis: Three different coaches have won 10 games in a season since 1990, so it’s possible to win big at Colorado. But until the school makes a significant commitment to the program — which it claims to be doing now — CU cannot be considered an elite job.


10. Oregon State

Pros: This is not longer the Oregon State of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The program has proven it can be relevant in the Pac-12 for an extended period of time.

Cons: Oregon State is No. 2 program in a state that does not produce a high volume of Pac-12-quality players. The school has improved its facilities, but they pale in comparison to what the University of Oregon — funded by Nike — has to offer.

Final Verdict: This job is far more attractive now than it was in 1997, when Mike Riley began his first stint as the boss in Corvallis. But it’s a difficult job. Almost every school in the league has more going for it — from tradition to fan base to recruiting base — than Oregon State.
 

11. Utah

Pros: Prior to its move to the Pac-12, Utah had emerged as one of the few non-BCS conference teams that was able to compete on the national scene. The Utes have averaged 9.2 wins over the past 10 years, highlighted by two perfect seasons punctuated by BCS bowl wins. As a member of the Pac-12 South — along with USC and UCLA —  the Utes should enjoy success recruiting in Southern California.

Cons: Utah is a decent state for high school talent, but there aren’t nearly enough high-level players to stock the rosters both at Utah and BYU. 

Final Verdict: Utah had carved out a niche as one of the top non-BCS programs in the nation. The move to the Pac-12, however, changed the profile of the program. It’s uncertain if Utah can be a significant player in the Pac-12 on a consistent basis. It’s tough to envision this program being a more desirable destination than USC, UCLA and both of the Arizona schools.
 

12. Washington State

Pros: Only four schools have played in the Rose Bowl in the past 11 seasons. USC, Oregon, Stanford and … Washington State. That, along with the fact the Cougars won 10 games in three straight seasons (2001-03) proves that you can win games in Pullman.  

Cons: Pullman is the most remote outpost in the Pac-12. It can be difficult to attract prospects from California to play collegiately in Eastern Washington. The school has upgraded facilities in recent years, but it still lags behind most schools in the league on this front.

Final Verdict: Washington State’s biggest hurdle is its location. In a league that includes four teams in California, one in Phoenix, one in Seattle and one just outside Denver, it’s tough to remain relevant when your school is 280 miles from the nearest big city (Seattle).


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Grading College Football's Head Coaching Hires for 2013

Teaser:
<p> Ranking the Pac-12's College Football Coaching Jobs for 2013</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 06:19
All taxonomy terms: Brad Keselowski, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/brad-keselowski-conversation-nascar-champion
Body:

How long can it take to complete a journey from rags to riches? For Brad Keselowski, it took six years. The driver spent the 2006 offseason mourning the pending bankruptcy of his family operation, and was forced to drive for a minor-league, suspect organization that was running junkyard equipment simply to make ends meet. How bad was it? The driver who this season added hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers mid-Daytona 500 didn’t even make the field for the February 2007 then-Busch Series event at the same track.

 
Now, Keselowski heads to the 2013 version of the Great American Race with a Sprint Cup title trophy and more money than most 28-year-olds could ever dream of. It’s a historic turnaround that won’t often be repeated in this sport, especially in modern times. But Keselowski, a man known for speaking his mind no matter the cost, has also never forgotten the values that got him there — he spent some of that title money bailing his parents out of debt. It’s a complex mix of private heart and public bravado that puts him in position to attract a whole new breed of fans into the sport as the reigning Sprint Cup champ.
 
How does he plan to do it? How has reaching the top changed him? And what motivates the bid for a repeat? Keselowski talked to Athlon Sports about all that and much more this December in between trips around the holiday party circuit. 
 
What has the offseason been like for you?
(Laughs) It hasn’t really existed yet. Still working my way through it.
 
Has being the champion sunk in yet? Or do you think it won’t sink in until reaching Daytona in February?
Probably the pinnacle of how it will sink in, in my eyes — and this is something I give NASCAR a lot of credit for — is when they stage your car in the first position in the garage all season long. I really like how NASCAR does that.
 
Have you been surprised at anything that’s happened so far? Have you been asked to do things you didn’t expect? Or has it been everything you’ve thought of?
No, no. It’s been pretty good. Nothing’s really stuck out, although I’ve had a lot of fun — I can tell you that. But no real surprises.
 
How many girls’ numbers have you gotten since Homestead?
(Laughs) Enough to be happy. 
 
The championship can give you one hell of a pickup line.
Yeah, no kidding. (Laughs) I got this trophy…
 
Humor aside, you’ve taken the responsibility of leading this sport very seriously. What’s the main goal you have off the track that you’re looking to accomplish with this championship tenure?
I want the sport to be stronger. Our futures are tied into this sport, all of ours. And in my eyes, I would like to see the sport grow or at least stop some of the decline that it’s seen. And I want to be instrumental in making that happen. I think it’s very, very possible.
 
So how do you think you can do that as champion?
I think it’s a work in progress. I don’t think it’s one thing. I think it’s a list of slow and steady improvements and updating the sport in different times.
 
There are critics, of course, in every sport. What do you say to people who say Jimmie Johnson lost this championship instead of you winning it?
I say that’s why we race four more years, and we’ll find out if that’s the case.
 
Is there an extra sense of pride here in that you left Hendrick Motorsports in 2009 because a full-time Cup ride was never guaranteed — and then you go to Penske, and over a three-year period build up an organization capable of beating them?
You know, that was a tough go, making those decisions. Certainly, it adds an element to everything that happened and the difficulty of success. It’s very sweet to win a championship, and you just add those things up. … I don’t feel like one championship is enough for me to really solidify that position of greatness in the sport. You need to win multiple championships, and that’s my goal.
 
OK. Well you’ve had a month to think about it; for this first one, what do you think the difference was in 2012?
I think we were really strong through the (whole) Chase. We obviously earned our way into it by winning two or three races beforehand, but in the Chase we were able to find another level, and that’s critical.
 
In talking to drivers throughout the garage, it becomes clear that you’ve gone from someone who was questioned to someone that, hey, they may disagree with what you say, but you are universally respected. That shift seemed to come during this title run. What, if anything, do you think caused that, and do you feel you’re behaving any differently from two, three years ago?
I’m thinking I’m winning more. There’s a bit of swagger that comes with that which others respect. Success breeds respect. 
 
So you don’t think, personality-wise, you’re any different than you were a couple of years ago?
I don’t think so. I’m sure other people would say that. But I don’t.
 
A couple of years ago we were talking about your move to Penske, and you said something that stuck with me: “I’m never going to change. I’m Brad, and this is who I am — like it or leave it.” Do you feel like you’ve adhered to that?
Well, I believe there are some slight adaptations you have to have from year to year, to continue to evolve to be the best you can. But the core of who I am hasn’t changed one bit.
 
Some people have come out and said your sister in particular has made a big difference in your life off the track as of late. How is your true “inner circle” different from two or three years ago, and what are the challenges of keeping it once you’ve enjoyed this type of success?
Well, you’re a product of the people you surround yourself by. That’s some of the most important life decisions you’ll make — whether it’s your personal relationships, marriage, etc. Your family or friends, or even co-workers. The people I’m around, they just keep getting stronger, we keep finding common ground to be the best we can. That’s part of why I’m where I’m at. Obviously, I don’t want to lose that, and I have no intention to do so. 
 
No extra protections once you’re famous?
No, you just have to learn the art of respect for saying, “No.”
 
Got some state of the sport questions for you. Clint Bowyer is still mad at Jeff Gordon — everyone seems surprised by that. What’s your take, and do we need more people mad at each other in this sport?
Anger is a difficult emotion. I think that you look at today’s society, and (people) relate very well to emotion. They like seeing that out of us as drivers, without a doubt. And that can be healthy. But I think there’s a way to show emotion that obviously can play out — I don’t want to use the word “responsibly” — but a little friendlier than what happened at Phoenix. 
 
But could one say we’ve lost the element of “rivalry” in the last couple of years? Or is it still around? 
No, I don’t feel that way. There’s rivalries out there, there always have been. I just think they’re a little more hidden than they’ve ever been. There actually might be more now than ever. 
 
OK, if they’re hidden, how do we un-hide them in a way that’s healthy?
It’s a difficult question, because you look at rivalries in the NFL, and it’s stuff that works very well for them, as well as other sports. It’s a difficult question, for sure. … I think right now the way the business platform is, the business model of racing, the sponsors really make it the hardest sell of all. 
 
Because you look at a sponsor, and when you create a rivalry, you have to understand what you’re doing is pitting two people against each other. So what happens next is the fan base goes against each other. So the next thing you hear from the fans and so forth, “I hate such and such driver because I’m a such and such fan.” And those messages, the angry messages are always the first messages to get through to people, whether it’s on Twitter or at the race. Those are always the first messages to get through, because boos are always louder than cheers. And I think those boos really scare off those sponsors or put that driver in a particularly bad position. When that happens, the way the business model of the sport is, that driver finds it hard to get a sponsor. And when you find it hard to get a sponsor, you know, you essentially have bankrupted your team and robbed yourself of your own competitiveness that you need to be relevant. 
 
So, I think the business model is very complicated for allowing rivalries.
 
I read with interest this offseason in a USA Today interview that “you felt like you were the last driver to slide through a door” where talent, not money moves you up. But if you’re technically the last person, does that mean the sport’s facing a serious problem, where money is the only way that gets you to the Cup Series? How do you make it stop? 
It’s collective across racing, that funded drivers are getting the majority of new positions that open up. And that’s what I would say, for at least a short time period, will be the case for all rides. The natural way for that to change would obviously be if elite talents come up and prove themselves. Guys like Ryan Blaney. But we (as Cup competitors) all have to run behind those guys (for them to succeed).
 
And not only that, but some doors have to open. You’re looking at a Cup field where the average age is in the 30s. Most of these drivers are in their prime. So, you look at the field, with the exception of three or four drivers, they’re not going anywhere for a long time period. That means there’s going to be very few rides open, very few seats to come open. And there’s not a crop of drivers that’s going to replace them.
 
That puts the sport in a very interesting position. And eventually, it’ll cycle back when that talent pool gets so depleted where, essentially, the seats will open up. But as it stands now, the talent pool doesn’t lend itself to that happening. 
 
Well, one could argue new rides could open up if we get new owners who want to race. The core group of owners is getting older — yours, Roger Penske, will be 76 years old in 2013. How much longer do you think he’ll do this, and do you worry he may one day step back? 
Yeah. I hope Roger does it forever, I think that’s his intentions. I would assume he’s mortal — although I’m not sure of that sometimes (laughs). I imagine he’ll be in it until he proves otherwise, as far as his mortality is concerned. 
 
But I think new owners are very important to the sport. It’s been very interesting to see owners leave the sport, because if you look at periods of time, NASCAR has made it a point to ensure there was a large owner pool from a standpoint of being able to protect the sport in case those owners were to bond together. And that’s slowly disappearing, which I find interesting. I think it’s in the best interest of the sport, purely from NASCAR’s standpoint, to add some owners back into it. To keep everyone honest, so to speak. I think NASCAR sees that, too, but it’s not an easy road to get some owners back in the sport. That’s something they have to work on.
Will the new qualifying rules opening it up to everyone help with that?
Yeah, I think qualifying was more of a perception matter. The perception of the fans was there was the potential for wrong drivers to get into a race. I would argue that has happened before, in the decade prior, but I would also argue in the last two to three years, that hasn’t really been an issue. But I can understand the fan perception — it is what it is.
 
Heading into next year, you’ve got a new teammate, new car, new manufacturer, and new engine package. Could you have made it any harder on yourself to repeat?
You’re asking the question, could I have made it any harder, and I answer back with, “Could I have made it any easier?” That’s the reality of it. I feel the exact opposite, because I think all of those will be an upgrade from our perspective. I know already that Ford is going to provide an elite car. It will probably be more competitive than what we had last year. I think, without a doubt, our teammate situation with Joey Logano will be improved. I think that whole team has changed internally with different people to be stronger. We’re all curious to see how that pays off. 
 
I think this new car will open up some doors; they’re less aero sensitive, and you’ll be able to pass a little more readily. That’s one of my stronger suits. So I think all of these matters are not to my detriment but in my favor.
 
For years, you’ve had to sit there and put the bull’s-eye on Jimmie Johnson. Now that you’ve got the bull’s-eye, does that change your perspective at all?
I don’t think I’m the bull’s-eye, for one. I don’t feel like that I’m the bull’s-eye at all. So it’s not fair for me to answer that question if I don’t feel that way. 
 
I would like to be the bull’s-eye one day. But I look at it as 12 to 1. 12 to 1. I told my guys at the Penske Racing Christmas Party — it’s very easy to lose motivation after becoming a champion. But I feel like you have something to prove (still) because everyone keeps telling you you’re the greatest.
 
Well, I’ll tell you, people aren’t telling me I’m the greatest. I read all these previews, and all this stuff that comes out as Vegas and they have us as 12-to-1 to win the championship. That’s not even in the top 5. So Vegas doesn’t even think we can be in the top 5 next year. I would say that means we’re not a bull’s-eye.
 
What’s it going to take for people to start believing in you?
I don’t know. It’s not something … I used to be very jaded about it earlier in my career. Now it gives me something to laugh about. Every step of the way, I’ve had people who don’t believe in me. It’s been fuel for the fire. It’s made us stronger. Now, it’s almost to a point where I relish it.
 
One last question. What’s the status on the tank? 
You know, I’ll be honest. I’m struggling. I’ve got a lot of people calling me, but I don’t trust any of them. I haven’t found what I want. I would put my progress bar at less than five percent. I thought it would be a lot easier than it is, I will tell you that. There are plenty of tanks out there, but nobody really wants to sell them. And the ones that do want to sell them just want to make a huge profit — I’m not going to let that happen.
 
—By Tom Bowles
 
This story first appeared in the 2013 Athlon Sports NASCAR Racing Preview Magazine.

Teaser:
<p> We talk to Brad Keselowski, the NASCAR champ, about his rags-to-riches journey to the top.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 17:00
Path: /nascar/how-nascar-sets-starting-lineup-daytona-500
Body:

Setting the starting lineup for the Daytona 500 can be a trial of confusion for those that choose not to read the syllabus. And let’s be honest, that’s why you’re reading this, right? You want the CliffsNotes.

Fair enough. So allow me to explain this as painlessly as possible.

In the beginning — in this case, Sunday — a battery of 45 cars took to the track in qualifying, yet only two machines locked in their spots on the grid. In case you hadn’t heard, Danica Patrick qualified her No. 10 Chevy on the pole with a lap of 196.434 mph. She, along with Jeff Gordon (who posted the second quickest time) will, by history’s standards, comprise the front row. Note that if either has to go to a back-up car after Thursday’s Duel races, they’ll be forced to start at the rear of the field in the 500.

“Duel races?” you’re asking. “What are they and how do they factor?”

OK, qualifying for the Daytona 500 is a bit different from any ol’ weekend on the NASCAR circuit. For the 500, two Duel races will determine positions 3-32. Yes, they actually split the 45 cars that have shown up into two groups (based on even and odd positions in Sunday’s qualifying times) and cut ’em loose for 150 miles.

In those two races, the highest finishing 15 cars from each race (excluding our buddies Danica and Jeff) earn their spots for the big show. The top 15 finishers in the first Duel will line up in the inside lane for the 500; the top 15 in Duel No. 2 occupy the outside lane.

“Now wait,” you’re saying, “Danica and Gordon … do they have to race in those events? After all, you told us just a minute ago that they’re locked in up front.”

True enough. And yes, they do. However, they don’t have to play it fast and loose. In fact, with front row spots all but locked in, each may be wise to drop to the rear of the field and let the chaos happen well in front of them. However, that’s another column for another day.

“OK, so we’ve got a field of 32. Isn’t this a 43-car race?”

Yep. And it gets even more fun here. Positions 33-36 are awarded to the four fastest cars from qualifying that have not yet earned a spot. A hypothetical: Ryan Newman, who had the fourth fastest time on pole day has a tire go flat in his Duel and drops a lap down, eventually finishing 19th. Since he did not qualify via the Duel, yet had a fast qualifying time, he’s in.

“Gotcha. So there’s 36 cars … can it get any more complicated?”

Not too much, but positions 37-42 are called “provisionals” and go to the highest six cars in 2012 owner points not already in. And as for the 43rd? That can go one of two ways: Either a past series champion who made a start in 2012 (and not already qualified) gets it, or — if there’s no past champ — it is assigned to the next highest car in owner points from 2012.

Make sense?

“I suppose. So how do they go about setting the field next week at Phoenix, and the week after in Las Vegas?”

Oh that. Yeah, it’s this astonishingly simplistic method of just taking the fastest 36 and assigning the rest via provisionals. How arcane, right?
 

 
Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 16:52
All taxonomy terms: Monthly
Path: /monthly/healthy-habits-2013
Body:


Want to learn more about getting heathly and staying active? Visit PHIT America, a year-round educational and advocacy campaign dedicated to creating A Movement for a Fit & Healthy America.


Teaser:
<p> Healthy Habits for 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 15:38
Path: /mlb/major-league-baseballs-all-steroid-team
Body:

Steroids are now just as synonymous with baseball as hot dogs or cold beer. It is an unfortunate era of the game that fans of all ages must accept. Are the use of performance-enhancing drugs terrible for the body and a form of cheating? Yes, and this country should work diligently to combat their growth. But steroids are a part of why the game of baseball returned to the nation’s heart after a work stoppage and no World Series in 1994.

The 1998 home run chase between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, for example, revived a lifeless sport and, like it or not, everyone from the owners and the players to the managers and the fans benefited.

Should steroid users be in the Hall of Fame — alongside plenty of other great players who bent the rules? Who benefited more from PEDs: Hitters or pitchers? Will there ever be confirmation of who used what when? Since there will likely never be a definitive answer to these questions maybe baseball should build a “Steroid Wing” in Cooperstown and just lump everyone from 1990 to 2006 — when Bud Selig finally created the Joint Drug Prevention and Blunt Treatment Program.

How would that roster look? Here is the all-time steroid team made up of names who have been connected in one way or another to some sort of PED at some point. The starting lineup is a murderer’s row and the rotation has one of the all-time greats fronting it.

C: Pudge Rodriguez (1991-2011)
Key Stats: .296/.798, 2,844 H, 311 HR, 1,332 RBI
Awards: All-Star (14), Gold Glove (13), Silver Slugger (7), MVP

He is one of baseball’s all-time greatest catchers. He has more putouts (14,864) than any other catcher in history by a wide margin as his 21-season career would indicate. He hit over 20 home runs, however, just five times. They all came in consecutive seasons with the Rangers after playing three years with Jose Canseco. His 35-homer, 113-RBI MVP season is a clear outlier as Canseco claimed to have personally educated Rodriguez about steroid use. He never topped 30 home runs or 100 RBIs in any other season. Following the release of Canseco's inflammatory book, Juiced, the 215-pound catcher showed up at Tigers camp at 187 pounds and never hit more than 14 homers the rest of his career. Honorable Mention: Mike Piazza, Javy Lopez

1B: Mark McGwire (1986-2001)
Key Stats: .263/.982, 583 HR, 1,414 RBI
Awards: All-Star (12), Silver Slugger (3), Gold Glove (1), Rookie of the Year

McGwire is one of the few who has openly admitted that he used PEDs during his playing career. In fact, he dates his use of steroids back to as early as 1989 when he and Canseco won the World Series in Oakland — the modern birthplace for steroids. The Big Mac would have been a big bopper no matter what drugs he took, but breaking Roger Maris’ single-season home run record two years in a row seems highly unlikely. Especially considering he did it at age 34 (70 HR) and 35 (65). Honorable Mention: Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Bagwell

2B: Bret Boone (1992-2005)
Key Stats: .266/.767, 252 HR, 1,021 RBI
Awards: All-Star (3), Gold Glove (4), Silver Slugger (2)

Boone’s career stat sheet is one that steroid haters point to on a regular basis. How could a 5-foot-10, 180-pound second baseman who hit a total of 62 home runs in his first six seasons somehow blast 37 dingers and lead the league in RBIs (141) with a .331 average at age 32? His .950 OPS that year dwarfed his career .767 mark. In eight of 14 seasons, Boone hit 15 round trippers or less. But from 2001 to 2003, he hit 96 of his career 252 homers. Once again, it was Canseco’s book that fingered Boone as a potential steroid user. Honorable Mention: Brian Roberts, Chuck Knoblauch

3B: Alex Rodriguez (1994-present)
Key Stats: .300/.945, 647 HR, 1,950 RBI, 318 SB
Awards: All-Star (14), Silver Slugger (10), MVP (3), Gold Glove (2)

Playing in Seattle and Texas, two steroid hotbeds, A-ROD tested positive for PEDs in 2003 and eventually confessed to his use of banned substances from 2001-03. He has also seen his name mentioned prominently with more recent accusations hailing from Biogenesis in South Florida. He was an elite player with elite skills but his 40-40 season, multiple MVPs and historic numbers have all been called into question by his decision to cheat. His legacy will be an interesting one to track over the next, say, five seasons? Honorable Mention: Ken Caminiti, Mike Lowell, Gary Sheffield

Fantasy: Athlon Sports 2013 Fantasy Baseball Big Board

SS: Miguel Tejada (1997-2011)
Key Stats: .285/.793, 304 HR, 1,282 RBI
Awards: All-Star (6), Silver Slugger (2), MVP (1)

Tejada was arguably the top shortstop in the game during a five-year stretch from 2000-04. He hit over 30 home runs in four out of five seasons, led the majors with 150 RBIs in 2004 and won the 2002 MVP as a key cog in the emergence of the "Moneyball" era in Oakland. But like many Bay Area players, the Latin star was fingered for steroid use by a variety of people. Rafael Palmeiro accused him of giving him tainted B-12 shots. Canseco accused him in his book. And then his name was featured prominently in the Mitchell Report. It all eventually led to a somber confession in 2009, as he was facing federal perjury charges, leaving little doubt that his career is tainted.

OF: Barry Bonds (1986-2007)
Key Stats: .298/1.051, 762 HR, 1,996 RBI, 514 SB
Awards: All-Star (14), Silver Slugger (12), Gold Glove (8), MVP (7)

The most high-profile steroid user in the history of baseball also just happens to be its all-time home run champ. Everyone knows the number 755 but few know Bonds’ 762. This is all, of course, due to his miraculous late-career power surge. He never hit over 50 home runs in a season until he blasted 73 in 2002 at age 36. He hit over 40 dingers only three times in his career before topping 45 in five straight seasons from 2000 to 2004 — his 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th seasons. He was at the center of the BALCO scandal playing in a roided-up city during the peak of the steroid era. This one is a no brainer and it’s a shame, because he might have been one of the greatest hitters of all-time if he hadn't cheated. Honorable Mention: Ryan Braun, Gary Sheffield

OF: Sammy Sosa (1989-2007)
Key Stats: .273/.878, 609 HR, 1,667 RBI, 234 SB
Awards: All-Star (7), Silver Slugger (6), MVP (1)

This should be the only stat you need to know about Sosa and the steroid era: The Cubs' slugger broke Maris’ single-season home run record three times (1998, 1999, 2001) and never once led his league in homers. Think about that? He was a power hitter despite his 6-foot, 165-pound frame before 1998, but his numbers spiked dramatically during his historic home run chase with McGwire. He hit 207 HR in his first nine seasons and 292 long balls from 1998 to 2002. His 2005 Congressional hearing performance was one for the ages and he was fingered by The New York Times in an article stating Sosa tested positive for PEDs in 2003. Seriously, Baseball-Reference has him listed at 6-foot and 165 pounds… and he has 609 home runs? Honorable Mention: Jose Canseco, Juan Gonzalez

OF: Manny Ramirez (1993-2011)
Key Stats: .312/.996, 555 HR, 1,831 RBI
Awards: All-Star (12), Silver Slugger (9)

There weren’t many better right-handed hitters in all of baseball than Man-Ram in his prime. But that all came crashing down when he tested positive in 2009 for testosterone levels and was suspended 50 games. He then tested positive again in 2011 for a banned substance. All of this after he was fingered as a user back in the infamous 2003 drug test that reportedly also implicated Sosa, A-Rod and others. He was an elite hitter who delivered in the clutch and led his team to four different World Series. But he also quit on his team and earned the "Manny Being Manny" moniker after bizarre and often inexplicable on-field behavior. Honorable Mention: Brady Anderson, Melky Cabrera

DH: David Ortiz (1997-present)
Key Stats: .285/.928, 401 HR, 1,326 RBI
Awards: All-Star (8), Silver Slugger (5)

Big Papi has a strange career boxscore. In six seasons with the Twins, Ortiz slugged just 58 home runs — or less than 10 per season. But paired up with Man-Ram in Beantown for an organization that is willing to do anything to win and he became the greatest hitting DH of all-time. He has averaged 34 home runs per season in his 10-year Red Sox career and topped out at a league-leading 54 in 2006. Ortiz, like so many others on this team, reportedly tested positive for steroids in 2003, information that finally came to light in 2009, and his power numbers have dropped ever since that disclosure. Honorable Mention: Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui

SP: Roger Clemens (1984-2007)
Key Stats: 354 W, 4,916.2 IP, 4,672 K, 3.12 ERA
Awards: All-Star (11), Cy Young (7), MVP (1)

The Bonds of the mound, Clemens used PEDs to match the slugger's MVPs with seven Cy Young awards. He led the league in ERA seven different times, including a sterling 1.87 mark — his career best — at age 42 while pitching in a notorious steroid town (Houston) in 2005. The change in his career dates back to his move north of the border. After four middling years in Boston from 1993-96, he signed with Toronto and went 41-13 in 498.2 innings with a 2.33 ERA and 563 strikeouts — at age 34 and 35. He was then traded to New York and made more than $97.8 million from age 37 to 44. His name came up 82 times in the Mitchell Report and he has been fingered by former trainers and even teammates as a possible rule-breaker. Honorable Mention: Andy Pettitte, Kevin Brown, Jason Schmidt,

RP: Eric Gagne (1997-2008)
Key Stats: 187 SV, 643.2 IP, 718 K, 3.47 ERA
Awards: All-Star (3), Cy Young (1)

Gagne was magical when he was at his best. He converted an MLB-record 84 straight saves and closed 152 games with 365 strikeouts and a 1.79 ERA in just 247.0 innings from 2002 to 2004. In his other seven seasons combined, he closed 35 games total. However, pitching on the West Coast during those years will raise major question marks and he was named prominently in the Mitchell Report complete with extremely incriminating evidence. He was never the same pitcher following his Tommy John surgery in 2005. Honorable Mention: John Rocker, Guillermo Mota

 

Note: This is simply for fun and not intended to cast official judgment of anyone named above nor is it investigative journalism.

Teaser:
<p> Major League Baseball's All-Steroid Team</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 15:30
Path: /nascar/7-amazing-nascar-driver-stats-datytona-500
Body:

Daytona. For the casual fan, it’s the one time a year in which tuning in is a must, not an option. For the hardcore fans and industry veterans, it’s a spiritual revival. It suffices as the start of a new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season when teams have spotless records and sky-high optimism.

For some drivers, there’s red still left over from the previous season’s ledger that they’re eager to erase. For a few, there are trends they’d like to keep on keepin’ on. This week’s batch of numbers shows those trends. Some of the metrics used are from my home site, MotorsportsAnalytics.com, but you’re encouraged to read a quick glossary of the terms.

3 and 2.3  Matt Kenseth has scored three victories and earned a 2.3 average finish across his last six restrictor plate races.

Kenseth, long lauded as an intuitive racer, has transformed himself into something of a restrictor plate racing stalwart. The 2.3-place average finish in that timeframe — and that includes a fifth-place run in last Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited, his first outing for Joe Gibbs Racing — is easily the best among drivers in the Cup Series and his minuscule 1.6-position deviation for those six finishes indicates incredible consistency for races often dubbed “crapshoots.” His 7.853 PEER (Production in Equal Equipment Rating) on plate tracks is not only the highest among 50 drivers from the 2012 season, but also pure statistical absurdity. Kenseth is ridiculously good at this style of racing.

-1.050  Danica Patrick’s replacement-level PEER ranked last in the Cup Series in 2012. PEER measures the on-track production of a race car driver in an “all equipment even” scenario. For perspective, Ken Schrader, in a 13-race S&P effort, registered at 49th, with a -.250 PEER. That’s a large gap.

Danica Patrick became the first woman to win a pole in the history of the Cup Series last weekend and the fourth rookie to win the pole for the Daytona 500 (following Loy Allen, Mike Skinner and Jimmie Johnson). Cue pandemonium.

But let’s be real for a sec; we’re discussing a rookie driver who amassed a negative replacement-level PEER across 10 races last season (translation: beyond bad). At Daytona specifically, she competed in two races — her qualifying Duel race and the 500 — and crashed out of both. If you’re a Danica fan, enjoy the moment. Eat, drink and be merry, but also, be realistic. It’s feasible she’ll lead laps on Sunday, but pump the brakes on the delusion of Chase-making grandeur.

3  Jimmie Johnson has crashed out in each of the last three races at Daytona; last year’s Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 and this year’s Sprint Unlimited.

Johnson Tweeted about his frustration following Saturday night’s race. Come on, Five-Time. Every chance you’ve had to get some drafting practice in (i.e. January testing, practice last Friday), you didn’t even attempt to take advantage. You need it; that 47th-best -0.167 plate track PEER you earned last year won’t get better without putting in the work. 

Teaser:
<p> 7 Amazing NASCAR Driver Stats for the Daytona 500</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 14:59
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-preview-and-picks-daytona-500
Body:

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season kicks off Feb. 24 with the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The Great American Race also marks the beginning of the fantasy NASCAR season for fans who are again met with the tough decision of choosing the best drivers to fill their fantasy line-up. To help guide you through the 2013 season, Athlon Sports will be offering up our best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, we'll be breaking down our picks according to their NASCAR driver classes—A-List, B-List, C-List.

So, without further ado, we give you our fantasy predictions for the 2013 Daytona 500, ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag (or at least finishing toward the front):

A-List Drivers

1. Matt Kenseth — Kenseth finished in the top 3 in all four plate races last year and was strong in last weekend’s Sprint Unlimited.

2. Tony Stewart — Has second-highest driver rating (96.5) for points-paying races at Daytona in the last eight years.

3. Kevin Harvick — Started week strong, winning Sprint Unlimited but that race winner hasn’t won the Daytona 500 since 2000. With four top-10s in his last six Daytona starts, could Harvick end that drought for Sprint Unlimited winners?

4. Jeff Gordon — Has the most top-fives (12) among active drivers in the Daytona 500.

5. Denny Hamlin — Has never had a DNF in 14 career starts at Daytona but has had only 2 top-10s in those races.

6. Clint Bowyer — Does not have a top-10 finish in his last five Daytona starts, including two DNFs during that stretch.

7. Kasey Kahne — Has schizophrenic track record. Has not finished better than 25th in the last four Daytona 500s but in the July Daytona race he has three consecutive top-10s.

8. Brad Keselowski — Last July’s Daytona race was his first top-10 finish at the track in seven Cup starts.

9. Jimmie Johnson — Has one top-15 finish in his last nine Daytona starts and has failed to finish the last two races there.

 

B-List Drivers

1. Kyle Busch — He has the highest driver rating for points races in the last eight years at Daytona at 97.6, and has the highest percentage of laps run in the top 15 (72.4) during that time)

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Among active drivers, he has the best average finish in Cup races at Daytona at 14.5 and has placed second in two of the last three Daytona 500s.

3. Jeff Burton — Only driver, other than Matt Kenseth, to score top-five finishes in both Daytona races last season.

4. Kurt Busch — Ranks third in laps led in points-paying races in the last eight years at Daytona behind only Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch.

5. Carl Edwards — Has six top-10s in his last seven Daytona starts.

6. Greg Biffle — Led 79 laps in the two Daytona races last year, second only to Matt Kenseth, who led 139 laps in those races.

7. Joey Logano — In his last three Cup races at Daytona, he’s finished third, ninth and fourth.

8. Mark Martin — Has an average finish of 12.0 in last four Daytona 500s.

9. Paul Menard — In his last four Cup races at Daytona, he’s finished ninth, eighth, sixth and 14th.

10. Martin Truex Jr. — He’s the only driver to have led at least one lap in each of the last four Cup races at Daytona. His reply via Twitter: “time to lead the last one.’’

11. Bobby Labonte — Has three top-15 finishes in his last four Daytona starts, including a fourth in the 2011 Daytona 500.

12. Aric Almirola — Has scored four top-20 finishes in his last five starts in restrictor-plate races.

13. Ryan Newman — Since winning the 2008 Daytona 500, he has one top-15 finish at Daytona, a fifth-place finish last July.

14. Juan Pablo Montoya — Did not finish better than 28th in any of the four restrictor-plate races last season.

15. Marcos Ambrose — Has an average finish of 24.1 in eight career Cup races at Daytona and has yet to lead a lap.

16. Jamie McMurray — Since winning 2010 Daytona 500, he’s not had a top-10 finish at the track in a Cup race.

 

C-List Drivers

1. Michael Waltrip — Was challenging for the lead at Talladega in most recent restrictor-plate race last fall before the big last-lap crash. Has three top-20 finishes in last five Daytona starts.

2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 20th in last year’s Daytona 500, his first start in the race. Place second in July Nationwide race at Daytona last year.

3. Austin Dillon — Making his first Cup start at Daytona. Finished in the top five last year in both Nationwide races there.

4. Trevor Bayne — 2011 Daytona 500 winner has had one top-10 finish in seven restrictor-plate races since that momentous day.

5. Danica Patrick — Daytona 500 pole-sitter has an average finish of 16.4 in the previous five 500s. Last pole-sitter to win Daytona 500 was Dale Jarrett in 2000.

6. Terry Labonte — Has three top-20 finishes in last four Daytona starts.

7. David Ragan — Won the July Daytona race in 2011 but failed to finish either Daytona race last year, placing 26th and 43rd.

8. Joe Nemechek — Has finished inside the top 30 three times in his last 10 Daytona starts.

9. Casey Mears — Has finished in the top 25 in each of his past two Daytona starts.

10. Dave Blaney — Has never finished better than 14th in 24 races at Daytona.

11. Travis Kvapil — 16th-place finish at Daytona in July was his best finish at track in 12 career starts.

12. David Gilliland — Placed third in the 2011 Daytona 500. Has finished 16th, 23rd and 31st in the three Daytona races since.

13. Regan Smith — Since placing seventh in the 2011 Daytona 500, he’s finished 24th, 24th and 34th in his last three Daytona starts.

14. David Reutimann — Has not led a lap in 12 Daytona starts.

15. Mike Bliss — Last ran at Daytona in Cup in 2010. Did finish ninth that day in the July race.

16. Scott Speed — Last Daytona start was in 2010 in the July race where he finished 10th.

17. Michael McDowell — Has an average finish of 34.6 in five previous races at Daytona.

18. JJ Yeley — Has finished 40th and 43rd in his last two starts at Daytona.

19. Josh Wise — Did not run in last year’s Daytona 500 but in the other three restrictor-plate races last season, he finished 43rd, 38th and 42nd, completing a total of 57 laps.

—By Dustin Long


 

RELATED: NASCAR 2013: Camping World Truck Series Preview

 

Teaser:
<p> Predicting the best fantasy drivers at Daytona in 2013 so you don't have to.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 14:20
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-freshman-year-bennett-mclemore-smart-enter-debate
Body:

Like just about everything else this college basketball season, the National Freshman of the Year race is a bit of a mess.

A week ago, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel could have been considered a frontrunner, not only for the top freshman, but also the National Defensive Player of the Year. His season-ending injury likely takes him out of the running.

The race for Freshman of the Year has fewer contenders now, but the debate is no less settled. For now, three appear to be the frontrunners -- UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, Kansas’ Ben McLemore and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart.

With McLemore and Smart facing each other tonight in Stillwater, a rematch from a game Oklahoma State won on Feb. 2, Athlon Sports decided to take a look at all three.

NATIONAL FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR - WHO IS THE LEADER?

ANTHONY BENNETT, UNLV
The case for Bennett: Bennett is second in the Mountain West in scoring at 18 points per game and fifth and rebounding at 8.7 per game. In key wins over New Mexico and San Diego State in the last two weeks, Bennett had a double-double in each, his ninth and 10th double-doubles of the season. His 12 20-point games leads the conference.

The case against Bennett: UNLV has underachieved in Mountain West play, going 6-5 in the league. Bennett hasn’t been the only reason for those struggles, but he scored fewer than 10 points in losses to Air Force and Colorado State and shot 5 of 16 in a loss to an 8-16 Fresno State team. Of Bennett’s 10 double-doubles this season, only three have come in Mountain West play.

BEN McLEMORE, KANSAS
The case for McLemore: Before the season started, few talked about Kansas as a national title contender. McLemore’s emergence as a redshirt freshman powered a 19-1 start. The 6-foot-5 guard has scored in double figures in all but two games this season, both of which Kansas won easily. He’s capable of flash like a 360-degree dunk on Texas, but he’s also an 87.1 percent free throw shooter. He’s been the fastest riser on NBA Draft boards this season and may end up being the No. 1 overall pick.

The case against McLemore: Kansas slipped in a three-game losing streak to start February. McLemore wasn’t awful during that stretch, but he was 6 of 16 from the field and 0 of 6 from three-point range in an embarrassing loss to TCU. He lost in a head-to-head meeting with Marcus Smart on Feb. 2, but he finished with 23 points and five rebounds that day.

MARCUS SMART, OKLAHOMA STATE
The case for Smart: Smart has transformed the Oklahoma State season. The all-effort point guard is among the Big 12 leaders in scoring, assists, rebounds and steals. During Oklahoma State’s seven-game winning streak, he’s averaging 19.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists. In the head-to-head matchup against McLemore and Kansas, Smart had 25 points and nine rebounds

The case against Smart: Oklahoma State wasn’t the same team early in the season as it is now, starting 12-5. In losses, Smart scored 23 points against Gonzaga and 25 against Kansas State. His worst game of the season was a 10-point, 3-of-10 effort in a loss to Oklahoma. Unlike Bennett and McLemore, Smart is not the leading scorer on his own team, but he is the best facilitator -- by far -- of anyone in the group.

Stats from Statsheet.com, including a side-by-side comparison of all three.

COMPARISON: BASIC STATS

  Bennett McLemore Smart
Points per game 17.9 16.7  15.0
Rebounds per game 8.7 5.5 5.8
Assists per game 1.1 1.9 4.5
Field goal percentage 53.9 51.1 41.6
Free throw percentage 70.7 87.1 77.6
Steals per game 0.8 1.2  2.9
Blocks per game 1.2  0.9 0.8

Notes: It's not a surprise to see Bennett, the power forward, with the biggest edge in rebounding over the two guards. Neither is it a surprise to see Smart, the point guard, with the edge in assists. What sticks out here is McLemore’s overall efficiency -- 51.1 percent from the field is outstanding for a guard, and 87.1 percent from the line is outstanding for anybody.

COMPARISON: ADVANCED STATS

  Bennett McLemore Smart
Points per 40 minutes 25.8 21.1 18.2
Points per FG attempt 1.52   1.52 1.37
Effective FG % 58.6 60.0 50.8
True shooting % 61.5 64.7 54.5
Plus/minus per game +8.2 +12.2 +10.8

Notes: Bennett gets a major bump in points per 40 minutes since he averages the fewest minutes per game. Bennett averages fewer than 28 per game while Smart averages nearly 33 and McLemore averages 31.5. McLemore’s advantage in the efficiency numbers shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, either. Effective field goal percentage is designed to give added weight to better three-point shooters, and McLemore is the best in that area. The same goes for true shooting percentage, which takes into account efficiency from both the three-point line and free throw line. Although Smart is often referred to as the most valuable freshman, McLemore leads the trio in plus/minus per game (the difference between points scored and points allowed while a given player is on the court). Kansas has the best record of the three teams and  has an edge over Oklahoma State in points allowed and points scored as a team.

COMPARISON: “TOP” CONFERENCE COMPETITION
Is anyone padding numbers? For McLemore and Smart, we removed TCU, Texas Tech, Texas and West Virginia from their Big 12 averages. For sake of comparison, we removed Fresno State, Nevada and Wyoming from Bennett’s numbers in Mountain West play:

  Bennett McLemore Smart
Points per game  15.4 21.0 19.3
Rebounds per game 8.5 5.4 6.7
Assists per game 0.9 1.3 4.7
Team record 4-4 5-2 4-3

Notes: This is a sort of-arbitrary and sort of-sensible way to look at the three candidates by measuring their impact in the toughest conference games. These numbers disregard UNLV’s loss to Fresno State and Kansas’ loss to TCU, two major losses that are part of the picture. It also doesn’t count McLemore’s games against NCAA contenders Michigan State, Saint Louis, Colorado, Belmont, Ohio State and Temple. Kansas scheduled the toughest early in the season, so McLemore deserves credit for his role in the 12-1 nonconference record in addition to scoring 21 points per game against Big 12 Tourney contenders. These numbers, though, underscore how valuable Smart has been in the Big 12 race. His scoring average against the Big 12’s best teams is four points per game better than his overall scoring average, and that doesn’t get to his stat-sheet stuffing prowess in rebounds and assists. Bennett’s numbers, however, declined against the top teams in the Mountain West.

Teaser:
<p> College basketball freshman of the year: Bennett, McLemore, Smart enter the debate</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 11:40
Path: /mlb/spring-training-battles-american-league
Body:

2013 Spring Training camps are open and many players will compete against teammates for jobs before taking on other baseball teams in April. Here are some position battles to keep an eye on this spring.

American League East

Baltimore Orioles
The fifth starter spot is wide open. Candidates include Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter. Japanese pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow last May, is ahead of schedule in his recovery and could join the fray. Nolan Reimold isn’t ready to concede left field to Nate McLouth. The last bench spot won’t be handed to Danny Valencia. Infielders Yamaico Navarro and Ryan Flaherty and outfielder Steve Pearce, among others, will try to avoid the minors. Executive VP Dan Duquette speaks highly of first basemen Conor Jackson and Travis Ishikawa and has indicated that they could contribute to the big-league club.

Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox aren’t opening too many starting spots to competition. The main area to watch will be catcher. With David Ross already announced as a backup who’ll play more than average, that leaves Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway battling for the starting spot. If the former wins, the latter will return to Triple-A. If Lavarnway wins, Saltalamacchia immediately becomes trade bait. The fifth starter’s spot should be a dogfight, too, with Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales battling newcomers like Rubby De La Rosa. The bullpen will be a free-for-all as well, with former dominant setup man Daniel Bard on the outside looking in at the moment.

New York Yankees
It was notable that the Yankees chose David Phelps for a postseason roster spot over Ivan Nova. True, Phelps worked 22 games as a reliever and Nova worked none, but there was no mistaking that the Yankees had more confidence in Phelps to get big outs. Nova was 12–8 in the regular season, but he had a 6.38 ERA after July 1. Phelps flopped in October, losing twice, but he had a solid rookie season and at the very least should challenge Nova for a rotation spot. Michael Pineda, a 2011 All-Star for Seattle, is recovering from shoulder surgery and could be a factor by May or June. Travis Hafner and Eduardo Nunez will compete for at-bats at the DH spot.

Tampa Bay Rays
If super-prospect Wil Myers makes the roster, it’s to play every day. If he doesn’t, four (instead of three) utility spots will be available to contestants Sean Rodriguez, Kelly Johnson, Ryan Roberts, Mike Fontenot and Tim Beckham. Rookies Brandon Guyer and Stephen Vogt will battle Luke Scott for DH duties. An all-out scrum for two of the six bullpen jobs is anticipated, with Cesar Ramos standing the best chance of survival because he’s left-handed and out of options. Most intriguing of all is who, out of at least four serious suitors, will be the fifth starter. Jeff Niemann is the pre-injury incumbent; Jake Odorizzi is the most polished rookie; Chris Archer has the highest ceiling; and the brass thinks it can resuscitate Roberto Hernandez’s star-crossed career.

Toronto Blue Jays
It seemed a little redundant for the Blue Jays to trade for Emilio Bonifacio shortly after signing Maicer Izturis. Both are switch-hitters with little power, and both could start at second base. Izturis has more experience there and is considered a better fielder. But Bonifacio profiles as a better bat and is more of a threat to steal bases. Bonifacio plays more positions, having started at least 17 career games at all three outfield positions and at least 65 at third, short and second. There’s room on the team for both, so expect John Gibbons to use their versatility to mix and match, with a slight edge to Bonifacio as the starting second baseman if he shows enough skill in the field.

American League Central

Chicago White Sox
Carlos Sanchez is ticketed to open the season alongside Brent Morel, Tyler Saladino and Andy Wilkins in the Triple-A infield but could make life uncomfortable for Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez in his first big-league spring. As a switch hitter with speed and strong base-running skills, he could add some balance to a lineup that will lean to the right side without A.J. Pierzynski. John Danks’ health will determine if there are one or two openings for a group of starting pitchers including Jose Quintana, Hector Santiago, Dylan Axelrod, Andre Rienzo, Charlie Shirek, Simon Castro and Nestor Molina.

Cleveland Indians
Backup catcher Lou Marson could be pushed by newcomer Yan Gomes, who hit .328 with the Blue Jays’ Class AAA affiliate last year. If lefthander Scott Kazmir, once one of the most promising young pitchers in the game, has anything left, he’ll get a chance to crack the rotation. Trevor Bauer, Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber should have a hotly contested competition for the last two spots in the rotation.

Detroit Tigers
As might be expected from a team with championship aspirations, there are few job battles in the truest sense of the term. There is still some uncertainty at the front end of the bullpen and the far end of the bench. But the biggest question could be the fifth starter’s job, where Rick Porcello is the incumbent and Drew Smyly the challenger. However, knowing what we know about the attrition rate with pitchers, it is almost certain the Tigers will need both of them at some point.

Kansas City Royals
Two to watch: second base, where Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella continue competition for the third straight year; and the fifth spot in the rotation between Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar, who spent last season as the club’s top two starters. Getz was having a career-best season in 2012 until injuries intervened, but Giavotella is generally viewed as having the higher upside. There are other possibilities — Miguel Tejada and Christian Colón — but it’s likely to be Getz or Gio. Either Chen or Hochevar could be traded to fill another need. Otherwise, their battle shapes up as a choice between back-of-the-rotation consistency (Chen) against unfulfilled upside (Hochevar).

Minnesota Twins
Brian Dozier should be a man on a mission this spring. After being named the Twins Minor League Player of the Year in 2011, he had a disappointing 2012 both offensively and defensively. The Twins gave him an 84-game audition at shortstop, and he made 15 errors and posted a .271 on-base percentage. He’ll get another chance to win a starting spot this spring, either at shortstop or second base. Pedro Florimon is the favorite to land the shortstop job, and veteran Jamey Carroll can play either position if the others aren’t ready, so it should lead to some healthy competition.

American League West

Houston Astros
The Astros have no shortage of candidates for the final two spots in the pitching rotation, with lefty Dallas Keuchel and righthanders Philip Humber, Alex White, Edgar Gonzalez, John Ely and elite prospects Brad Peacock and Jarred Cosart among those battling for innings. The outfield also figures to be a battle in the spring. Justin Maxwell is likely to start at one of the three outfield spots, but the other two starters will come from a group that includes Brandon Barnes, Trevor Crowe, J.D. Martinez, Fernando Martinez and Jimmy Paredes or even Rick Ankiel. As expected with a team predicted to lose 100-plus games, there should be plenty of interesting battles from among the youngsters in the bullpen, as well.

Los Angeles Angels
Young righthander Garrett Richards nearly pitched his way into the rotation last spring and seemed poised to step into a spot in 2013. The Angels’ offseason moves, adding veteran starters Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton, have pushed Richards out of the picture. He might be in the position of battling a handful of other pitchers for the final spot in the bullpen rather than make a return trip to Triple-A. Offensively, the Angels will have some decisions to make about their batting order this spring, most prominently who gets the enviable task of batting between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols at the top of the lineup.

Oakland A’s
If you trust OPS as the definitive measure of offensive value, then Jemile Weeks was the worst hitter in the majors last season, with a .609 mark that ranked last among qualifiers. Weeks has talent; he was a first-round pick with a brother in the big leagues, and hit .303 as a rookie in 2011. But he also has competition at second base in Scott Sizemore, who tore his ACL last spring but should be healed now. It’s tough to say who has the edge — a player like Sizemore who missed all of last season, or a player like Weeks who performed so poorly. Spring training will decide it, but the early bet is on Sizemore, who has shown more power. Jed Lowrie and Hiroyuki Nakajima will compete for time at shortstop. The odd man out could see some time at second as well.

Seattle Mariners
If Justin Smoak isn’t dealt, he’ll battle Kendrys Morales for first base time and Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse for DH duty. Left fielder Jason Bay needs to show something to make the team. He’s guaranteed only $500,000, and Casper Wells can fill his role. Lucas Luetge shined as a rookie situational lefty, but fellow southpaws Oliver Perez and Charlie Furbush might force him to Class AAA. Luetge might stay if the team keeps only one of the two fireballing righties — Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps. Non-roster invitee Jeremy Bonderman hasn’t pitched since 2010 and will compete for a fifth starter job with Hector Noesi and top minor leaguers.

Texas Rangers
The most interesting question will be what the team does with super prospect Jurickson Profar. He just turned 20 and showed signs last September that may be ready for the bigs, middle infielders Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler are well-established. It wouldn’t make sense to keep the youngster, who has never played at the Triple-A level, as a bench player in lieu of getting him regular playing time at Round Rock. Martin Perez enters camp as the fifth starter. The lefthander has been one of the Rangers’ top prospects almost since the day he was signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela. He’ll be 22 on April 4, and the Rangers are expecting him to deliver on all the promise they have seen. The Rangers want Perez to be in the rotation, but he could pitch himself out of the job if he struggles with his command. It’s not just throwing strikes, but quality strikes. Righthander Justin Grimm, another top prospect who also debuted in 2012, could land the job if Perez slips.

 

 

 

RELATED: 2013 MLB Spring Training Battles: National League

RELATED: Very Early Baseball Predictions for 2013

RELATED: 75 Funny Fantasy Baseball Team Names


 

Want more baseball? Check out Athlon Sports' 2013 Baseball Annual for the most complete preview available. Order your copy now! 

Teaser:
<p> Spring Training camps are open and many players will compete against teammates for jobs before taking on other teams in April. Here are some position battles to keep an eye on this spring.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 10:45
Path: /nascar/nascar-2013-preseason-top-10-camping-world-truck-series-drivers
Body:

As the 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series revs up, we look at the preseason favorites.

1. Ty Dillon (above left)

Without back-to-back tire failures late last the year, Dillon might have become the first rookie to win the series title, driving grandfather Richard Childress’ No. 3. Expect to see more of the same, following in brother Austin’s footsteps to a title in his sophomore season before moving on to the Nationwide Series in 2014.

2. Timothy Peters (above right)

Last season was the best Peters had posted in his career in the Truck Series, with career highs in wins (two), top 5s (10) and points finish (second). He’s paired with powerhouse Red Horse Racing and an intact crew, so there’s no doubt he’ll stay competitive. The organization will experience change, though, as Todd Bodine was released in the offseason in favor of John Wes Townley and his family’s Zaxby’s money. This move may not be as bad as one would think, as the wrecked equipment will cancel out while the money is a boon.

3. James Buescher

Winning back-to-back championships has proven impossible in the Truck Series thus far. However, with the amount of resources and the marked improvement Turner Motorsports showed throughout 2012, it’s hard to believe Buescher won’t be a factor — unless he jumps to the Nationwide Series instead.

4. Nelson Piquet Jr.

It’s hard to bet against anyone from Turner Motorsports after the numbers the organization put up in 2012 — seven victories spread among three different drivers. Piquet earned two, then ended the season with four straight top-10 finishes, a clear sign he’s developing championship consistency. Expect the third full-time season to be the charm here, especially if the Brazilian becomes Turner’s No. 1.

5. Joey Coulter

After grabbing his first career victory with Richard Childress Racing last year, Coulter looks to continue that success with Kyle Busch Motorsports. He hasn’t been the king of consistency, but the 22-year-old posted back-to-back third-place results to close 2012 and will bring that momentum along with him. 

6. Matt Crafton

Back with ThorSport Racing for a 12th year in the Truck Series, this veteran mainstay hopes to make a championship push after his No. 88 team struggled in the transition from Chevrolet to Toyota. After a rough start to 2012 (one top 10 in five races), he quietly recovered while setting a career high in laps led (125). 

7. Miguel Paludo

The Brazilian is returning to Turner Motorsports behind the wheel of the No. 32 Duroline Chevrolet, but perhaps what’s more important is that Jeff Hensley remains atop the pit box. Late in 2012, the duo began taking detailed notes of every practice and qualifying session in an effort to make the most of their setups. Improvement was slow but steady, as they closed with a fifth at Homestead in the season finale, leaving them optimistic about 2013.

8. Jeb Burton

Though he made only five 2012 starts, Burton (right) impressed with three top-13 finishes, including an eighth at Charlotte. That was enough to open eyes at Turner Motorsports, which now gives him resources to contend. With father Ward lending a guiding hand, this 20-year-old is poised to become another one of NASCAR’s next-generation stars.

9. Johnny Sauter

Coming off of his worst season, when he posted only nine top-10 finishes, Sauter looks to shake off the bad luck that plagued his ThorSport Racing No. 13 Toyota throughout 2012. While he’s been a championship threat in the past, winning four races the past two seasons, it’ll take more consistency for him to get solidly back in the hunt.

10. Ron Hornaday Jr.

After struggling in his first season away from Kevin Harvick, Inc., the organization that helped him win 25 races and two championships, Hornaday looks to utilize a merger with Joe Denette and NTS Motorsports to find his way back to Victory Lane. After career lows in top-5 results (two) and a 13th-place points showing, there’s nowhere to go but up. 

—By Beth Lunkenheimer


RELATED: NASCAR 2013: Camping World Truck Series Preview

 
Teaser:
<p> As the 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series revs up, we look at the preseason favorites.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 10:20
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-bracket-update-big-12-tourney-implications-kansas-oklahoma-sta
Body:

A wild college basketball season has an eventful week ahead of it.

Entering Tuesday, 11 conferences had ties atop their leagues -- either outright ties or teams tied in the wins or losses column. And these aren’t obscure conferences either: The Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten and Mountain West are all crowded at the top.

Indiana taking the top spot in the Big Ten with Tuesday's win over Michigan State was just the start. Determining conference frontrunners will be the theme of the week.

In the Big 12, Kansas State took sole ownership of first place Monday, but the Wildcats will be in a tie for first by the end of the day Wednesday when Kansas, led by Jeff Withey, and Oklahoma State meet in Stillwater.

Three teams are tied for the Big East lead, with two of those teams -- Georgetown and Syracuse -- facing each other on Saturday. And the wild Mountain West could have a new bell cow -- or Ram -- by the end of the week, as well.

All times Eastern.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL BRACKET UPDATE - FEB. 20

MOST IMPORTANT GAME:
Kansas at Oklahoma State (Wednesday, 9 p.m., ESPN2)

With Kansas’ three-game swoon two weeks ago and Oklahoma State’s seven-game win streak, this game will be for a share of the Big 12 lead -- Kansas State was alone in first place after defeating West Virginia on Monday. The Jayhawks rebounded from their losing streak to beat Kansas State thanks to 30 points from Ben McLemore and then stifling a hapless Texas team. Kansas will revisit Oklahoma State, who won in Lawrence on Feb. 2. Marcus Smart scored 25 points in that game and has shown no signs of slowing down. Kansas may have played itself out of No. 1 seed contention, but a road win against a conference title contender should help the Jayhawks curry favor. For Oklahoma State, a regular season sweep of Kansas could give the Cowboys an edge in seeding and playing closer to home in the NCAA Tournament.

ALL EYES ON: Colorado State
at UNLV (Wednesday, 10 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
New Mexico (Saturday, 4 p.m., NBC Sports Network)

The Rams are moving up from lovable mid-major to a legitimate contender for a Mountain West title and team likely to advance in the NCAA Tournament. The Rams, who lead the nation in rebound rate despite a small lineup, will face the most talented team in the league (UNLV) and the team with a half game lead in the standings (New Mexico). Colorado State will either pick up or shed some believers this week.

UNDER PRESSURE: Ohio State
Minnesota (Wednesday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Michigan State (Sunday, 4 p.m., CBS)

With three losses in the last four games, Ohio State slid into fifth in the Big Ten,  a position that's not bad considering the strength of the conference. But since taking Michigan to overtime on the road, the Buckeyes have lost to Indiana by 13 and Wisconsin by 22. The Buckeyes will be tough to beat at home, but they must shoot better than 26.1 percent from three-point range, as they’ve done the last three games.

RISING: Georgetown
DePaul (Wednesday, 7 p.m.)
at Syracuse (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)

Lampooned for its low scoring games early in the season, Georgetown is averaging 67.2 points per game its last five. That’s not overly impressive, but it's not the sub-50-point games the Hoyas had earlier this season, either. The Hoyas’ style has led to efficiency -- Georgetown leads the Big East in both field goal percentage and field goal percentage defense in conference games. And now that efficiency might lead to a regular season Big East title. The Hoyas are one of three teams tied for the Big East lead at 9-3. One of those is Saturday’s opponent Syracuse, which has a 37-game winning streak at home.

SINKING: Cincinnati
at Connecticut (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
at Notre Dame (Sunday, 2 p.m., CBS)

Cincinnati has been in a team-wide scoring slump. The Bearcats have failed to score 60 points in each of its last four losses, including three since Feb. 6. In the last four games, Louisville is shooting 34.8 percent from the field and 26.4 percent from three-point range. After falling to 7-6 in the Big East, the Bearcats will need to reclaim some credibility on the road, not an easy proposition.

MID-MAJOR TO WATCH:
Creighton at Saint Mary’s (Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN)

BracketBuster games largely don’t impact NCAA Tournament selection, but this one might. Saint Mary’s has a lackluster at-large resume despite its 22-5 record and 11-2 mark in the West Coast Conference. The Gaels lack a top-50 win this year. A win over Creighton would be a key resume-builder. Creighton’s profile is a little stronger, but the Bluejays have struggled recently. They needed a late surge to defeat Evansville 71-68 to end a three-game losing streak in the Missouri Valley.

TIP-INS:
La Salle at Temple (Thursday, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
This is the rare Big 5 matchup withe Temple where La Salle may hold the upper hand. Temple has played three consecutive games decided by one point, winning two of them.

Cal at Oregon (Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPNU)
Cal is putting together a nice NCAA Tournament resume. The Bears hope to add a season sweep of Pac-12 leader Oregon to wins over Arizona and UCLA.

NC State at North Carolina (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
The ACC is out of reach, but NC State can go for its first regular season sweep of North Carolina since 2003.

Marquette at Villanova (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2)
With a win at Connecticut on Saturday, Villanova is back in the NCAA Tournament conversation. Can the Wildcats handle prosperity this time around?

Arkansas at Florida (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Arkansas can’t defeat anyone (but Auburn) on the road, but the Razorbacks have defeated three sure NCAA teams at home (Oklahoma, Missouri, Florida). Florida’s closest home game was a 14-point win over Ole Miss.

Missouri at Kentucky (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Missouri has Laurence Bowers back. Kentucky doesn’t have Nerlens Noel. The Wildcats’ hopes to prove they’re still a Tournament team continue with a tough home test.

Illinois at Michigan (Sunday, 1 p.m., ESPN)
What’s that? Illinois has won four in a row? The Illini have their longest win streak since early December, and two of those wins (Indiana, at Minnesota) didn’t come cheap.

Teaser:
<p> Conference frontrunner status is on the line in the Big 12, Big East, Mountain West and more</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nba/25-greatest-los-angeles-lakers-jerry-buss-era
Body:

Dr. Jerry Buss (Jan. 27, 1933 - Feb. 18, 2013) was the greatest owner in NBA history. In fact, the chemist and card player was arguably the best owner in sports history. The day after this year's All-Star Game in Houston, the NBA's brightest star faded away. With Buss's passing, David Stern's Association lost its most accomplished boss, savviest visionary and coolest 80-year-old.

Buss was a brand builder who purchased the Los Angeles Lakers from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979 and transformed the franchise into the "Showtime" staple of Staples Center they are today. He did so by hiring the best and brightest as well as cultivating an environment that attracted the top talent to Hollywood. It starts from the top, but there were plenty of Hall of Famers and all-time greats wearing purple and gold during Buss's reign of 10 NBA Championships:


1. Jerry Buss
Owner (1979-2013)
The good Doctor knew how to throw a party, making Lakers courtside seats the place to be and be seen while flipping his franchise's price tag from just one piece of a nearly $70 million purchase (which also included the NHL's Kings, The Forum and a ranch) into a $900 million asset, according to a recent Forbes estimate.


2. Magic Johnson
Guard (1979-91, ’96)
Of all the stars in Hollywood, Magic had the brightest smile and the most style, at least while leading a five-time NBA title-winning fast break that changed the way the game is played.


3. Kobe Bryant
Guard (1996-present)
Straight out of high school it was clear that Kobe was the next Laker great. Five rings and two Olympic gold medals later, Black Mamba has slithered his way as far up this list as possible.


4. Jerry West
Executive (1980-2000)
The Logo's playing days were pre-Buss. But his foresight in the front office made West more valuable than even a franchise 7-footer.


5. Shaquille O’Neal
Center (1996-2004)
Say what you will about Diesel, he was Superman and Kobe was his sidekick during the three-peat days. It shouldn't take the Big Aristotle to figure that out.


6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Center (1975-89)
Lew Alcindor was better and Roger Murdock was funnier, but Kareem deserves a statue, if only to immortalize the Sky Hook. Right?


7. Pat Riley
Coach (1981-90)
A champ as a pre-Buss player on the 1972 title team and an assistant to Paul Westhead on the 1980 title team, Riles was Magic's main man for the next four rings (1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988). The epitome of "Showtime."


8. Phil Jackson
Coach (1999-2004, 2005-11)
The Zen Master won five rings (2000-02, '09-10) with Kobe's Lakers after winning six rings with Michael Jordan's Bulls. Plus, he's engaged to Jerry's daughter Jeanie, so that's like winning a sixth ring for the Lake Show.


9. Chick Hearn
Broadcaster (1965-2002)
The voice of the Lakers for 3,338 consecutive games, Hearn's last game was a three-peat clinching win over the Nets in the 2002 NBA Finals. No harm, no foul. Never an air ball. Chick was a slam dunk for this list.


10. Jack Nicholson
Fan (1970-present)
Heeeeeerrrre's Jackie! No one's cooler. And no, you can't wear sunglasses indoors just cause Jack does. He's Jack, that's why. Jack's been around since before Buss was boss.



11. James Worthy
Forward (1982-94)
Big Game James was a No. 1 overall pick and Finals MVP and he can't beat out a play-by-play guy and a courtside season-ticket holder!? You've got to be kidding me!?


12. Pau Gasol
Forward (2007-present)
Mike D'Antoni clearly doesn't agree. But D'Antoni has also proven he doesn't know much about the Lakers. Ask Phil, he knows better. If only Jim Buss would ask Phil - or Jeanie, she knows better.


13. Jamaal Wilkes
Forward (1977-85)
UCLA legacy carried over to L.A. Lakers, with five championships between the two stops along with a pair of No. 52 retired jerseys.


14. Jeanie Buss
Executive (1995-present)
Brilliant and beautiful, daddy's girl has been the brains of the business side since Jerry took a step back several years ago. Thankfully, Jeanie is taking Jerry's seat on the NBA Board of Governors.


15. Mitch Kupchak
Executive (1986-present)
When John Malkovich had hair, he looked like Jerry West's protege. Or vice versa?


16. Byron Scott
Guard (1983-93)
"Showtime" shooter. Who knew that he really was a "coach on the floor?"


17. Michael Cooper
Guard (1978-90)
Lockdown defender was on all five of Magic's championship teams, playing his role to perfection.


18. Derek Fisher
Guard (1996-2004, '07-12)
Another five-ring bearer, Fish came in with Kobe but hoped to go out with anyone but Billy Hunter.


19. Robert Horry
Forward (1997-2003)
Big Shot Bob has seven total rings, that's more than anyone who didn't play with Bill Russell. Don't forget about Bob playing with Hakeem, Shaq and Duncan, though. Plus, he looked a little like Will Smith when he was in L.A. winning three rings.


20. A.C. Green
Forward (1985-93, '99-00)
Ask anyone what A.C. is known for. It's not for being a basketball player. It's for being a ...


21. Vlade Divac
Center (1989-96, 2004-05)
Well, Vlade's known for being a flopper. Maybe he even introduced the flop to the NBA. But he was also the trade chip that acquired an 18-year-old Kobe Bryant from the Charlotte Hornets. Remember that far back? Not the Charlotte Bobcats, or the New Orleans Hornets, or even the New Orleans Pelicans...


22. Lamar Odom
Forward (2004-11)
Love the rumor that Khloe Kardashian is O.J.'s daughter. Lefty Lamar is a point forward with Clippers pedigree, but his best days were as a Laker, that's a reality.


23. Nick Van Exel
Guard (1993-98)
Nick the Quick was a second-round steal who turned into a bridge between Magic and Kobe. Someone had to represent the dark, dark championship void.


24. Kurt Rambis
Glasses
The glasses are timeless.


25. Paula Abdul
Laker Girls
Abdul parlayed Laker Girl status into American Idol stardom. Surely she thanks Jerry Buss. Without him, it likely wouldn't have been possible. We all thank you, Jerry. You will be missed. R.I.P.
 

Teaser:
<p> Jerry Buss (1933-2013) led the L.A. Lakers to 10 <a href="http://www.athlonsports.com/nba" target="_blank">NBA</a> championships after buying the team in 1979, designing an empire that included Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Jerry West, Shaquille O'Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Chick Hearn, Jack Nicholson, James Worthy, Pau Gasol, Jamaal Wilkes, Jeanie Buss, Mitch Kupchak, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry, A.C. Green, Vlade Divac, Lamar Odom, Nick Van Exel, Kurt Rambis and the Laker Girls.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/nascar-2013-camping-world-truck-series-preview
Body:

Eldora. Eldora. Eldora.

This summer, those words will be chanted from NASCAR Nation far and wide as the Camping World Truck Series becomes the guinea pig for one of the sport’s most noble modern experiments: a return to dirt racing. On July 24, Tony Stewart’s short track bullring in Rossburg, Ohio, will be the site of the first major sanctioned NASCAR event on dirt since 1970. With a starting field of just 30 trucks, an entry list expected to be double that, and the added bonus of a Wednesday night showdown, it’s not hard to find this division’s biggest storyline entering 2013.

It also shouldn’t come as a surprise. Always known for a perfect mix of veterans and young drivers, this series has become the “chemistry test” as the sport looks to mold its long-term future. Last fall, NASCAR VP Steve O’Donnell suggested heat races could be introduced, along with additional short tracks by 2014, as the series looks to recapture the fan base by getting creative with the series that offers arguably NASCAR’s closest competition. Between the “old school” connection to Rockingham, whose 2012 Truck Series event was its first on the NASCAR schedule since 2004, to the “new school” of Mosport, Ontario, bringing trucks past the Canadian border for the first time in history this September (and on a road course, no less), full-time competitors will be faced with the most diverse set of challenges in the sport.

No statement of parity describes the Truck Series better than this little-known fact: In 18 years, there’s never been a repeat champ. Current titleholder James Buescher may not even get the chance, as it’s believed he’ll move up to the Nationwide Series. Even without Buescher, there’s plenty of talent on hand in a diverse set of title challengers (from rookie Jeb Burton to sophomore Ty Dillon to 12-year veteran Matt Crafton) in what’s bound to be a wide-open title chase. Younger drivers could find themselves a part of the fray, too — at least part-time — as new rules, announced late last season, allow drivers as young as 16 to compete on shorter tracks (1.1 miles or less) along with road courses.

Even the most competitive series comes with its share of concerns, though. Most events on the schedule haven’t changed, with only five races in the first three months. That means teams and fans alike will once again struggle to find momentum. As with the Nationwide Series, purse money is so low at some tracks ($6,000-plus for a finish in the 30s) that sponsorship becomes a necessity to survive.  

Still, with a healthy TV contract (FOX/SPEED has re-signed through 2022) and after another set of nailbiting finishes in 2012, this series should be thought of as healthier than its Nationwide counterpart. While the title race is undecided, one thing that can be counted on is that Trucks will once again put on the best show. Perhaps it’s race length; maybe it’s drivers looking to make an impression, trying to work their way up the ladder. It could be that truck chassis, less aerodynamic than their “car” counterparts, produce closer competition. Regardless of the cause, know that the Truck Series remains the sport’s hidden gem entering 2013.

Eldora’s about to find out.

—By Beth Lunkenheimer

2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Schedule

 

 
 
Teaser:
<p> A look at the season ahead for NASCAR's Truck Series</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 09:20
Path: /nascar/10-races-every-motorsports-fan-must-attend-2013
Body:

Athlon Sports has dissected the 2013 racing calendar and picked the top 10 must-see events of the year. Races from the Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series, Truck Series, IndyCar Series and Formula-1 were considered and events must take place within the lower 48 states. So gas up the RV and stock the coolers, because Athlon’s motorsports road trip is getting started this weekend:

1. Indianapolis 500 (97th)
Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Where: Indianapolis, Ind.
When: May 26
Defending Champ: Dario Franchitti

Beginning in 1911, the Indy 500 is called the Greatest Spectacle in Racing for a reason. The releasing of the balloons, the singing of "Back Home Again In Indiana" by Jim Nabors, the drinking of the championship milk and the most famous words in motor sports will send chills down the spine of any racing fan. Drivers, crew chiefs and owners come from all over the world to compete at the world’s greatest track — a 2.5-mile oval complete with its own gold course — many of which will only compete in one race all season long. When an open-wheel rocket ship flies past Gasoline Alley or Tower Terrace down the front stretch and into the nastiest turn in racing at 230 miles per hour, the 300,000 spectators can’t help but smile. Many racing purists believe that the turns at IMS are the ultimate test for a driver. For many drivers, nothing in life will equal the Borg-Warner Trophy. And the Mardi Gras-esque party the night before is worth checking out (at your own risk, of course) too.

2. Daytona 500 (55th)
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Where: Daytona Beach, Fla.
When: Feb. 24
Defending Champ: Matt Kenseth

The Daytona 500 is to stock car racing as the Indy 500 is to open-wheel competition. The 500-mile Sprint Cup race stands alone as NASCAR’s most prestigious and most important race of the season each year. And as the sport’s “kickoff classic,” the build-up is nearly as entertaining as the event itself. Speedweek provides fans with ample opportunity to enjoy the Rolex 24, ARCA Series, Nationwide Series, Bud Shootout and qualifying throughout the weeklong festivities. The Great American Race, due in large part to restrictor plates, puts roughly 40 cars at full throttle inches from each other at over 200 miles per hour. It is the ultimate test of wills with the payoff being as high as there is in any sport.

Get Athlon Sports' complete Daytona 500 coverage

Mudsummer Classic3. Mudsummer Classic (1st)
Track: Eldora Speedway
Where: Rossburg, Ohio
When: July 24
Defending Champ: N/A

While the Indy and Daytona 500s are steeped in unmatchable history, tradition and lore, the inaugural Mudsummer Classic offers something totally different to fans this year. For the first time, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will race on dirt at famed Eldora Speedway in Ohio. The legendary half-mile oval track was built in 1954 and has been owned by Tony Stewart since 2004. The prospects of running a major series truck race on dirt smack-dab in the middle of the season has everyone excited about the late July trip to Rossburg. It will be the first NASCAR-sanctioned National Tour event held on dirt since September 1970. You don’t want to miss this one.

4. Irwin Tools Night Race (52nd)
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway
Where: Bristol, Tenn.
When: Aug. 24
Defending Champ: Denny Hamlin

The first time Bristol Motor Speedway hosted a night race under the lights was the Volunteer 500 in 1978. It has been one of the hottest and most entertaining NASCAR tickets ever since. The half-mile track is the fourth largest sports venue in America (165,000) and is nestled in “Thunder Valley” deep in the hills of East Tennessee. The track has long hosted two weekends, and both are excellent experiences, but the August race is clearly the one to go to if you can only pick one. Not only is racing under the lights more entertaining (and more comfortable for fans) but the late August date has become a key cog in NASCAR’s playoff structure. The driving is intense and physical and every seat in the house is perfect. There is a reason the Bristol night race is one of the hottest tickets in sports every year.

5. Formula-1 United States Grand Prix (2nd)
Track: Circuit of the Americas
Where: Austin, Texas
When: Nov. 17
Defending Champ: Lewis Hamilton

Technically, the F-1’s U.S. Grand Prix has been running on and off since 1908. Watkins Glen, Indianapolis and Phoenix have all hosted the event, but Austin’s brand new Circuit of the Americas appears to be its new home. The late November trip to Texas will be the series’ only visit to the United States in 2013, and for F-1 fans, will be a circled date on the calendar. The 3.4-mile track features 20 turns and will once again be the penultimate race of the F-1 season. Lewis Hamilton won the inaugural event a year ago over eventual points champion Sebastian Vettell by a mere six tenths of a second.

6. Camping World RV Sales 500 (45th)
Track: Talladega Superspeedway
Where: Talladega, Ala.
When: Oct. 20
Defending Champ: Matt Kenseth

Since its inception in 1969, the race has been held in either September, August or July, and now resides in October, where it has been following a schedule change in 1997. It has become the wild-card event in the NASCAR Chase for the Championship with massive wrecks, bizarre racing strategies and unpredictable finishes. Many fans believe that restrictor-plate racing is the most entertaining in the sport and, much like the Daytona 500, wide-open engines inches from each other for 188 laps around the 2.66-mile tri-oval is one of the marquee dates on the racing calendar each season.

7. Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200
Track: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
Where: Lexington, Ohio
When: Aug. 17
Defending Champ: N/A

While the truck series debuts on dirt in The Buckeye State, the Nationwide series will make its debut at a new track in Ohio as well. The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was opened in 1962 and has hosted GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, IndyCar, AMA Pro Racing, Le Mans and motorcycle events throughout the years. However, the Nationwide Series will bring a new audience to the 15-turn, 2.4-mile road course. And with the recent success and entertainment value of road races in all NASCAR circuits, this one should be filled with fireworks.

8. NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race (29th)
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Where: Concord, N.C.
When: May 18
Defending Champ: Jimmie Johnson

Four 20-lap segments followed by a no-holds barred, every-man-for-themselves, rubbing is racing, 10-lap showdown for $1 million makes the NASCAR All-Star event one of the most intriguing and entertaining all-star events in all of American professional sports. Team orders and points championships mean nothing when roughly 20 drivers are thrown into a blender in NASCAR’s home town of Charlotte. The only drivers allowed to compete are winners from the previous and current seasons, the last ten All-Star winners and former points champions. It is a straight cash grab — except it’s done by the world’s best drivers using 900-horsepower performance machines.

Related: Ranking Pro Sports' Most Popular All-Star Events

9. Federated Auto Parts 400 (55th)
Track: Richmond International Raceway
Where: Richmond, Va.
When: Sept. 7
Defending Champ: Clint Bowyer

Famed Richmond International has hosted a late-season NASCAR event since 1958 when Speedy Thompson won the 100-mile event. It has gone by dozens of names over the years, but in 2004 the race at the asphalt 0.75-mile oval took on new meaning. It is the final race of NASCAR’s regular season and, with the newly implemented wild card points system, every lap at Richmond provides edge-of-your-seat action. Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch battled feverishly on every lap at RIR last season in an attempt to secure a spot in the Chase for the Championship.

10. Goody’s Fast Relief 500 (64th)
Track: Martinsville Speedway
Where: Ridgeway, Va.
When: Oct. 27
Defending Champ: Jimmie Johnson

Few races combine the importance of the moment, the tradition of the location and the excitement of elite racing like Martinsville. Additionally, positioned with just four races to go in the NASCAR season, few races will play as big a role in the Sprint Cup Championship like The Paperclip as well. Martinsville Speedway also is the longest active location in the series as at least one race has been run here every year since 1949 and the fall race has been running every year since 1950. Its unique slender shape and sharp turns help the 0.526-mile half-asphalt, half-concrete course produce some of the best on-track action of any venue on the circuit.

Best of the Rest:

“The Brickyard” (Sprint Cup)
July 28, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Southern 500 (Sprint Cup)
May 11, Darlington Raceway

DuPont Pioneer 250, U.S. Cellular 250 (Nationwide)
June 8 and Aug. 3, Iowa Speedway

Coke Zero 400 (Sprint Cup)
July 6, Daytona International Speedway

Aaron’s 499 (Sprint Cup)
May 5, Talladega Superspeedway

Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 (IndyCar)
May 5, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Road America 200 (Nationwide)
June 22, Road America

Food City 500 (Sprint Cup)
Mar 17, Bristol Motor Speedway

Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (Sprint Cup)
Aug. 11, Watkins Glen International

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (IndyCar)
Mar. 24, St. Petersburg, Fla. 

Teaser:
<p> The 10 Races Every Motorsports Fan Must Attend in 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-easts-college-football-coaching-jobs-2013
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We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money  — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach? Today we focus on the Big East.

(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)

Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the Big East for 2013

1. Louisville

Pros: Louisville has solid facilities and is in a good spot geographically to consistently attract top recruits. Kentucky is not a great talent producer, but Louisville can recruit Ohio and Illinois due to its proximity to those states and has always done a good job recruiting Florida. Also, the school “survived” the realignment wars, finding a home in the ACC beginning in 2014.

Cons: The school lacks football tradition and doesn’t have the fan base that most of the other schools have ranked in the top 50 of this list. When the Cards are good, they draw well. But in 2009, in the final season of the Steve Kragthrope era, they ranked 71st in the nation in attendance, averaging 32,540 per game.

Final Verdict: Like many of the schools in the Big East, Louisville is only as good as its coach. Bobby Petrino won big in his four years. Kragthorpe flopped in his three seasons. Charlie Strong has done well in his three seasons. With the right fit, Louisville competes for league titles.
 

2. Rutgers

Pros: Rutgers’ location affords the coaching staff the opportunity to stock its entire roster with local talent. The facilities have been upgraded in recent years, most notably the $102 million expansion to Rutgers Stadium. Also, being just over 30 miles from New York City — the media capital of the world — can’t hurt.

Cons: The school has almost no tradition; prior to the mid-2000s, the program was irrelevant. And while support for Rutgers football has grown in recent years, pro sports will always be No. 1 in the metropolitan area.

Final Verdict: Long considered the sleeping giant on the East Coast, Rutgers has emerged as a consistent winner in the Big East. Whether or not this is a true destination job is up for debate, but it’s clear that you can win a bunch of games and go to bowl games at Rutgers.
 

3. South Florida

Pros: South Florida has a tremendous local recruiting base and is a member of the conference with the least resistance to a BCS bowl (for now). The Bulls proved they can be a consistent winner in the FBS ranks, averaging 8.4 wins from 2006-10.

Cons: South Florida lacks tradition and does not have an on-campus stadium. The Bulls play their home games 15 miles from campus. And while the recruiting base is strong, South Florida will always have a tough time beating out the Big Three — Florida, Florida State and Miami — for top prospects.

Final Verdict: Many view South Florida as an emerging national power. The school does have a ton of potential, but it is difficult to get overly excited about a program that is the fourth-most relevant program in its own state — even if that state is Florida.
 

4. Cincinnati

Pros: Cincinnati is in a fertile recruiting area. Ohio produces a ton of talent, and the school is also relatively close to Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina.

Cons: Support isn’t great. The school won a share of its fourth Big East title in five years yet averaged only 29,138 fans per game to Nippert Stadium. Being stuck in the Big East for the foreseeable future.

Final Verdict: Cincinnati isn't perceived to be a top-flight program, but the school has been consistently strong in the BCS era. Since 2000, four different coaches have won at least seven games twice. That’s impressive.  
 

5. Houston

Pros: Location. Location. Location. Houston is an elite area for high school talent. And the school has decent tradition, having spent 20 years (1976-95) in the Southwest Conference. Starting in 2014, the Cougars will be playing in a new, on-campus stadium.

Cons: With Texas and Texas A&M relatively nearby — not to mention the NFL’s Houston Texans — University of Houston football will never be the No. 1 show in town.

Final Verdict: With a new stadium and great recruiting base, Houston has an opportunity to rise to the top of the reconfigured Big East. The school’s small fan base will always be an issue, but you can win a lot of games at this school. 
 

6. UCF

Pros: UCF is located in the heart of talent-rich Florida. Bright House Networks Stadium (capacity 45,323) opened in 2007 and is one of the nicest on-campus facilities in the nation.

Cons: UCF is still relatively new to the FBS ranks (1996) and has little brand recognition in the college football word. Attendance hasn’t been great, either. Last year, UCF ranked 68th in the nation with 34,608 fans per game.

Final Verdict: UCF will always have access to a ton of players, but it’s tough to envision this program taking too big of a leap forward in the next decade, even with the move to the Big East. 


7. Connecticut

Pros: The school has top-notch facilities and has proven that it can be relevant on the national landscape. The Huskies won eight games or more six times in an eight-year span, culminating with the trip to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010.

Cons: Recruiting at UConn has never been easy. Now, it’s become more difficult. The school’s chief rivals for prospects in the Northeast — Boston College, Syracuse and Rutgers — each found a home in a power conference. UConn did not.

Final Verdict: This can be a good job — there is solid support in state for the program — but the school is in a tough spot right now. The Big East is simply not where you want to be in college football heading into the mid 2010s.  
 

8. SMU

Pros: SMU’s greatest strength is its location, in the fertile Metroplex in North Texas. Yes, there is a ton of competition for the players, but there is more than enough talent to keep the Mustangs’ roster well-stocked.

Cons: Interest in SMU football is not high. The school averaged only 21,292 per game last year, which ranked 92nd in the nation. It’s tough to attract top-flight recruits to play in front of so many empty seats.

Final Verdict: SMU is similar to several schools making the move from Conference USA to the Big East. It’s in a great location but lacks the tradition and fan base to make too much of a dent on the national landscape.
 

9. Temple

Pros: Temple plays its home games at an NFL stadium and its on-campus facilities are top-notch. Being competitive in football is important to the school.

Cons: Temple lacks tradition and fan support. Philadelphia loves the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Flyers and college basketball. College football? Not so much.

Final Verdict: Al Golden did a tremendous job transforming Temple from arguably the worst program in the nation into a reputable team that won a total of 26 games from 2009-11. The school should be able to compete in the new-look Big East, but this is not a destination job.  
 

10. Memphis

Pros: The school has made a significant financial commitment to the football program in recent years — something that previously was not the case. (Just ask Tommy West). The city of Memphis is known more for basketball, but does a solid job producing FBS-level prospects.

Cons: Basketball is the No. 1 sport at Memphis — by a wide margin. The school has struggled to compete for years, with only four winning seasons since 1994.

Final Verdict: Memphis has an SEC recruiting base with Conference-USA support. Will that change as the school makes the move to the Big East? Not likely. You can win games at Memphis, but the football program will never reach the stature of Tiger basketball.


Related College Football Content

Big East Consensus Team Recruiting Rankings for 2013
Ranking the Big East's Coaching Tandems for 2013

College Football's Top 5 QBs on the Rise for 2013

College Football's Top 15 Impact JUCO Transfers for 2013

Teaser:
<p> Ranking the Big East's College Football Coaching Jobs for 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 06:45
Path: /college-football/2013-college-football-recruiting-rankings-no-10-auburn-tigers
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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. Gus Malzahn took over for Gene Chizik on The Plains and instantly brought a renewed energy to the Auburn program. His Tigers were one of the big winners on National Signing Day and it resulted in a top 10 class that should build the foundation for a return to success on the field.

No. 10: Auburn Tigers 

SEC: Sixth
Athlon Consensus 100
Signees:
 3
National Signees: 7
Total Signees: 23

Where They Got 'Em:

Malzahn has the unenviable task of recruiting at an elite level in the same state as Nick Saban. And while Alabama landed the top five players in the state, Auburn did an excellent job inside the Yellowhammer State. Six new faces that hail from Alabama signed with Auburn, including two nationally rated quarterbacks who will vie for playing time in the new offense.

Florida (4), Georgia (3) and Mississippi (1) will always be a focus for the Auburn coaching staff and this season was no exception. Oklahoma, Indiana and Colorado are non-traditional recruiting territories for Auburn, but Malzahn went into each state and landed one player, while community colleges in Kansas (5) and California (1) also added to the Tigers' haul.

Related: Athlon Sports Top 25 Recruiting Classes for 2013

Areas of Focus:

Auburn had many issues a year ago, and not all of them will be addressed in one recruiting class, but Malzahn is looking to check the quarterback position off his "to do" list. Jeremy Johnson is the highest-rated prospect at the position and has elite upside. He is generously listed at 6-5 and 215 pounds and earned Mr. Football honors in Alabama after throwing for 3,193 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2012. He will battle with another nationally rated signal caller in Jason Smith. The 6-1, 180-pounder is a dual-threat talent who will bring a different dimension than Johnson to the new Auburn offense. Should either freshman not prove to be ready, Malzahn has another option in junior college transfer Nick Marshall. The dynamic athlete threw for 3,142 yards and rushed for 1,095 a year ago at Garden City (Kan.) Community College.

Joining the talented trio of quarterbacks in the backfield are three new running backs. Under previous regimes the power rushing attack was a signature of Auburn football, however, under Chizik this offense lacked the physical presence many fans were accustomed to (minus Cam Newton, of course). While none of the three are nationally ranked by Athlon, speedster Johnathan Ford, early enrollee junior college prospect Cameron Artis-Payne and Peach State workhorse Peyton Barber should more than take care of the backfield woes on The Plains.

On the outside of the offense, four wide receivers provide new playmaking ability. Tony Stevens (6-3, 175) and Earnest Robinson (6-2, 200) bring big frames and plenty of vertical talent to an offense that needs some big-play talent. Marcus Davis (5-10, 165) will play in the slot and two-way star Dominic Walker (6-2, 195) can play all over the offense.

Malzahn signed only two offensive linemen in this class and neither were nationally rated.

After struggling so mightily to control the line of scrimmage against elite SEC offensive lines, Auburn had to address the defensive line. And it did so in a big way as all three AC100 signings will play along the D-line. The best three players in this class — Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel — make this one of the more intriguing defensive line groups in the nation. Adams, who is one of the top tackle prospects in the nation if not the top player at his position, will run with JUCO Ben Bradley on the interior while Daniel and Lawson provide serious talent on the edge. Replacing Corey Lemonier won't be easy but this class has the talent to come close.

A fairly non-descript four-man secondary class and two-man linebacking class provide some interesting depth to the back end of the defense. While none of the defensive backs are nationally ranked, the group has some excellent upside. Khari Harding and Brandon King bring elite size to the safety spot while Mackenro Alexander and Kamryn Melton will man the cornerback position.

It's a long and uphill battle to catch up with Alabama within the state lines, but Auburn's new coaching staff took a big first step with a top ten class in 2013.

Related: National Signing Day 2013 Winners and Losers

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 3, RB: 3, WR: 4, TE: 0, OL: 2
Defense: DL: 4, LB: 2, DB: 4, ATH: 0, K: 1

AC100/National Recruits:

AC100 Name Pos. Pos. Rk Hometown Ht Wt
10. Montravius Adams DT No. 4 (DL) Vienna, Ga. 6-3 310
21. Carl Lawson DE No. 6 (DL)  Alpharetta, Ga. 6-2 250
50. Elijah Daniel DE No. 12 (DL) Avon, Ind. 6-4 250
155. Jeremy Johnson QB No. 14 Montgomery, Ala. 6-5 215
167. Tony Stevens WR No. 17 Orlando, Fla. 6-3 175
180. Jason Smith QB No. 19 Mobile, Ala. 6-1 180
190. Earnest Robinson WR No. 23 Pinson, Ala. 6-2 205

Early Enrollees:

Name Pos. Hometown Ht Wt AC100
Cameron Artis-Payne RB Harrisburg, Pa. 5-11 210 --
Ben Bradley DT Hutchinson, Kan. 6-1 305 JUCO
Devonte Danzey OL Hutchinson, Kan. 6-4 295 JUCO

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

Teaser:
<p> 2013 College Football Recruiting Rankings No. 10: Auburn Tigers</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/ranking-best-teams-nascar-2013
Body:

As the 2013 NASCAR season prepares to get underway, Athlon Sports ranks the top teams to hit the track.

 
1. Hendrick Motorsports
 
An elephant is probably one of the few things Rick Hendrick doesn’t own. But for what the owner faces in 2013, you need look no further than the American version, otherwise known as the Republican Party.
 
Just like the presidential election, Hendrick endured a narrow loss in the championship fight with prized candidate Jimmie Johnson, who, like Mitt Romney, has been there, done that — successful many times over, but now a loser for a second straight cycle. So does HMS stick with the status quo, armed with the knowledge that without a broken rear gear (like Romney’s great swing-state disaster of Florida), Johnson may very well be your series champ? Hendrick had a hand in six straight Cup titles with Johnson and Tony Stewart, so at some point, the law of averages was going to catch up.
 
Or does the car owner think a “Republican revolution” on the inside is what’s needed? Other challengers to the throne are restless, including the Ron Paul of this group, Jeff Gordon, who’s been increasingly marginalized during J.J.’s prime. His time for a fifth title, and his patience, are running short. (See: the Clint Bowyer brawl that likely ended his ability to guest-host for “Live with Kelly & Michael.”) Kasey Kahne, the Marco Rubio of his organization, flexed some muscle last season and has time — at age 32 — plus a line of companies willing to shell out millions on his side. Heck, even Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport’s most popular driver, can’t get big money anymore with multiple races open in late December. (It’s assumed they will be filled by Fortune 500 companies — Jeb Bush, a “supposed” early favorite for 2016, can relate.) Are we at a point with Earnhardt that, without a major change in attitude, laps led, or victory total, the men that make decisions (or in the Republicans’ case, millions of voters) are no longer willing to give this famous last name a second look?
 
All fair and good points, but the honest answer is that Hendrick Motorsports remains the most well-funded, successful and resourced team in the sport. One, if not more, of Rick’s boys will have a say in the 2013 championship. After all, the last time NASCAR changed race cars, in 2007, HMS was so far out front it was like he was given a copy of the rulebook six months in advance. Or maybe he was; after all, John Middlebrook sure came over for dinner a lot that offseason. 
 
Juuuust kidding.
 
 
2. Joe Gibbs Racing
What part hasn’t broken on a Joe Gibbs Racing car during the Chase? We don’t have the answer, but never fear — you’ll find out this September. When it comes to finding the “F” in DNF, JGR always saves the best for last, as spectacular failures derailed an otherwise strong 2012 for Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota. The problem for Hamlin, an expectant father in 2013, is the growing number of “Mark Martin” therapeutic tragedies on his résumé. They say you need to lose one before you can win one, but when you lose two, three, four, or more … then you start to believe it’ll never happen. 
 
To help get over the hump, Hamlin lobbied openly for former champ Matt Kenseth to earn Joey Logano’s former spot at the No. 20 Toyota. The tragicomedy is that through that process, he’s forgetting how easily this new hire can beat him. One other caveat: The soon-to-be 40-year-old Kenseth can’t fix a broken master switch — only the crew and head wrench can be held responsible. Kenseth’s veteran leadership should help with the chemistry, though, within an organization that hasn’t had a guiding hand since Tony Stewart left the team in 2008.
 
Notice how we haven’t mentioned Kyle Busch. J.D. Gibbs’ strategy appears to be somewhat similar, hoping that by holding a new contract up towards the ceiling, he can get Busch to jump higher, like a puppy dog learning new tricks in order to get the treat. He drove like a man possessed after missing the Chase, lending credence to the method. But know that there are plenty of opportunities elsewhere beyond 2013. Busch was burned by Hendrick for the cold, hard cash Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought in 2007 and knows that loyalty in this business is only a contract-by-contract proposition. That means that this team, more than any other, faces the widest range of possibilities: All three teams could make the Chase, all three could be chasing each other’s tails, or a few parts failures at the wrong times could lead to some internal explosions. 
 
And Kenseth was supposed to end this soap opera…
 
 
3. Penske Racing
Oddsmakers have already labeled Brad Keselowski as the underdog to win two straight titles. And that’s just fine with him. Filling the role of David is just how one of the sport’s most outspoken drivers likes to operate. Vegas has a right to be concerned, though, about the number of obstacles in the way: A switch from Dodge to Ford. Penske’s abandoning its own engine program for someone else’s. The fact only three drivers since 1990 have pulled the repeat (Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson). A new teammate, Joey Logano, who could be labeled at best a work in progress.
 
Perhaps the biggest question, though unspoken, is how much longer Mr. Penske wants to run around in circles, since he turns 76 in 2013. He’s quietly been affected by health issues — though none overly serious — in the recent past, and at some point, one has to wonder if there’s some sort of succession process in place. In some ways, he’s already stepped back, allowing Keselowski to leave his touch on the organization with important changes that clearly resulted in a championship. But the driver can’t do it all, as he’s already adding the role of “teacher” to his list in 2013 for Logano, a key cog as Shell/Pennzoil badly needs to start seeing some success. 
 
Keselowski possesses as much mental strength as anyone in the Cup Series garage, so it wouldn’t be surprising for him to will his way to another title. It’s just that the burden he has to carry in 2013 grows ever larger.
 
 
4. Stewart-Hass Racing
Most teams are spending the winter working on testing for 2013. Stewart-Haas Racing is busy working overtime in another department: building race cars. Not only does it need a third set for Danica Patrick’s full-time entry in the No. 10, but it’s also working on a fourth for when she’s done crashing that fleet. OK, so it may not be that bad, but it is the type of unrated content GoDaddy didn’t want released but becomes public knowledge weekly beginning with this year’s Daytona 500.
 
You know it’s a bad sign when people are predicting that a “best-case scenario” is simply finishing the race in one piece, right? Patrick’s push to the front will be hot and heavy, though, as the GoDaddy sponsorship will be up for renewal at season’s end. Money has been hard to come by for this organization of late, with Old Spice, Office Depot and the U.S. Army just some of the major backers jumping ship over the last two years. And that’s with Tony Stewart winning a championship! Reports are that Ryan Newman had to take a sizeable pay cut, forced back into that “other tax bracket” in order to stay employed. With patchwork deals on the No. 39, plus Kevin Harvick on the way in 2014, it’s easy to find the guy on the hot seat here.
 
That means that for Stewart, 2013 will be a real test of just how independent one car can be within a multi-car team. Brad Keselowski had that problem last year but still streaked to a title. Can Stewart, faced with Distraction Central and the monumental task of getting Eldora NASCAR ready, do the same?
 
 
5. Michael Waltrip Racing
From laughingstock to lovable to lauded, the transformation of this program is nothing short of amazing. Suddenly, fans know Martin Truex Jr. for more than an annoying commercial karaoke sequence. Sponsor 5-Hour Energy, after years of being more crumpled than an empty soda can when shown on television in the Nationwide Series, can trumpet the effects of its product through Clint Bowyer’s track and field Phoenix sprint. And then there’s the ageless Mark Martin, 54 in 2013, who can still whip a 27-year-old’s tail on the track.
 
But just like any organization that has made a worst-to-first-type ascension, the battle to shed the label of “one-year wonder” won’t be easy. The last time Truex won, Barack Obama had just started his first term — as the U.S. Senator from Illinois. Hendrick Motorsports, as payback for what Bowyer did to Gordon, let him finish second in the standings, through a parts failure at Homestead, to inherit the role of “runner-up jinx.” The last driver to finish in the top 5 in points, let alone contend for a championship the following year after winding up second? Matt Kenseth, in 2006-07. Ever since, teams have gone winless, missed Chases, flipped into the catchfence at Talladega … you know the deal.
 
Then there’s Martin, facing the inevitable transition from first-year success to second-year questions like, “When is someone else going to take over the driver’s seat?” We’ve heard this story play out before, back during the “Salute To You Tour V” days with Hendrick Motorsports, but this time there’s validity. What if super-sub Brian Vickers wins a championship with Joe Gibbs Racing in the Nationwide Series and has an offer from a rival Toyota Cup team? Or worse, a rival Chevy team? Could MWR really let a man who could serve it well for 10 years get away over someone at the tail end of his career? Such are the questions facing a suddenly stout team with championship aspirations.
 
 
6. Roush Racing
So let’s get this straight. The man who won the most races at Roush Fenway, Matt Kenseth, was allowed to walk. The one with the most expensive contract, Carl Edwards, hasn’t won since March 2011 and is paired with his third crew chief in seven months. The most successful driver left, Greg Biffle, is 43 and arguably less exciting than 400 miles in Fontana. And the newcomer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., has all of five Cup Series starts to his credit.
 
All is not well in Roush-land, mirroring the decline of its co-ownership Boston Red Sox brethren. The questions for recovery are numerous, with the first being why its most veteran crew chief, Jimmy Fennig, is paired with Edwards when common sense says a rookie needs to be balanced by experience. Is RFR really that desperate to turn Cousin Carl’s performance around? And does former head wrench Bob Osborne have health-related issues or what?
 
In all seriousness, perhaps the biggest adjustment here in 2013 isn’t even Kenseth’s departure, the crew chief swaps or sponsorship issues (Stenhouse could use more). It’s that Ford now has a new kid on the block in Roger Penske after Roush spent the last three or four years as the manufacturer’s main squeeze. How will these two titans of motorsports co-exist in the same house? 
 
There are more questions than answers here. While history tells us that RFR never stays down for long, one must wonder if a turbulent year lies ahead.
 
 
7. Richard Childress Racing
Contrary to popular belief, the name on the marquee hasn’t changed to “Dillon Childress Racing.” But all signs point in that direction for 2014 and beyond, right? Owner Richard Childress, still dealing with the fact that Kevin Harvick will depart for Stewart-Haas Racing at season’s end, must right the ship after an underachieving 2012 with an eye on the suddenly foggy future.
 
RCR’s Cup Series lineup now consists of a “lame duck” in Harvick, a perplexingly underperforming Jeff Burton and daddy-supported Paul Menard. Down in Nationwide, a departing Elliott Sadler has been replaced by family-supported Brian Scott, teamed with grandson Austin Dillon, while a third car may serve as GoDaddy darling Danica Patrick’s ride in 8-to-10 races. In the Truck Series, younger grandson Ty Dillon continues his learning process while Joey Coulter leaves. Who pops in? Brendan Gaughan, known more for his father’s casinos than NASCAR success.
 
See where we’re going here? Outside funding, from family-supported drivers, helps RCR keep up with the ­Joneses, providing a place to race while eliminating the jealousy/threats that may result from a focus on the Dillon boys. Pretty smart, actually. 
 
Perhaps that’s why Harvick ran for the door — his problems with patience, combined with the difficulty of a “lame duck” status, make him unlikely to lead this team to success. Of the three drivers in Cup, Burton may have the best chance to make the Chase, handed “golden wrench” Luke Lambert, whose presence at the No. 31 car provides a spark. But when your top dog is a 45-year-old veteran, clearly past his prime … well, those Dillon boys can’t use that extra cash to conquer the minors and make it to the Cup level fast enough.
 
 
8. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Talk about the Odd Couple. In this corner, we have a former Daytona 500 winner who is as well liked by his peers on the track as he is personable off it. And in this corner, we have a former Indy 500 winner who continues to make waves on the track with fellow competitors and can be a bit frosty off it.
 
Such is life at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, where Goldilocks needs to show both Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya the NASCAR formula of racing “just right.” That’s something both have to relearn after running the entire schedule without a top-5 finish, virtually unheard of for a program with this kind of big-time sponsorship money (Target, McDonald’s).
 
What can make it better? Last year, Ganassi made sweeping personnel changes — though none in the driver lineup — and it made things worse. So what do you do if you’re not going to make any changes behind the wheel?
 
If you have an answer, write in, because then you could be working for Mr. Ganassi. That’s how bad the NASCAR side has gotten despite an open-wheel juggernaut on the other side of the shop that’s bound to continue for the rest of this decade.
 
 
9. Richard Petty Motorsports
It’s hard to believe it’s now been 20 years since Richard Petty last drove in the Cup Series. Turning 76 years old in 2013, NASCAR’s “King” continues to search for sustained success from the famed No. 43. Aric Almirola came close once last season, when a miracle Kansas performance was derailed by a few flat tires. Can the longtime prospect turn potential into reality? The answer may come with how much Ford, along with RPM investors, chooses to market Petty’s name rather than spend the money needed to land the company in Victory Lane. When your top driver, Marcos Ambrose, is threatening to leave the country and head back to Australia rather than re-sign, there’s a perception that the team can only go so far. When a manufacturer, in Dodge, sees the Petty name and still scoffs, then leaves the sport entirely, there’s an impression that funding is more limited than you think.
 
Something — a lucky break, a sponsor signing, expansion — has to happen here to get this train to leave the station.

 


 
Get all of your favorite racing stats, exclusive interviews and more in our 2013 Athlon Sports NASCAR Racing Preview Magazine, available at newsstands and online now. 

 

Teaser:
<p> Ranking the Best Teams in NASCAR for 2013</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 19:26
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/nascar-2013-nationwide-series-preview
Body:

Heading into 2013, the Nationwide Series hopes to continue building momentum without some of its signature stars. Despite losing perhaps its two most notable drivers, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick, to the Cup Series, a quality consolation prize for NASCAR’s second-tier division is the fact that there are new up-and-comers to market.
 
Prior to the 2011 season, the sanctioning body began requiring drivers to declare one series in which they would receive driver points. It was an effort to rein in the “Cupwhackers” from NASCAR’s top series who would drop down on Saturday to “practice” through domination. From 2005 through 2010, these moonlighters won most of the races and controlled the second series’ championship chase. 
 
Not anymore. Stenhouse Jr. won the title in 2011, with the new requirements in place, but 2012 was the season that truly saw a shift back towards series regulars. Without a single Cup driver running full-time, Stenhouse repeated the championship last year and would have done so without the new rules. More importantly, he and fellow regulars like Elliott Sadler, Austin Dillon and Justin Allgaier dominated the win column, capturing 13 victories among them. That’s the most for the full-time, Nationwide-only contingent in eight years. 
 
Without the lure of a championship and the sponsorship constraints that come with it, Cup drivers no longer overrun the series, although they still participate enough to allow NASCAR and the tracks to use their presence to promote races. Against what seemed like long odds, the Nationwide Series is getting a chance to build its own personality and stars, with ratings that held steady year-to-year despite NASCAR’s Nielsen decline in Cup.
 
Looking to 2013, the “new face” of this division is beginning to resemble the perfect mix of young and old. When Cup drivers held the majority of competitive seats, development drivers either ended up with lower-tier teams or nowhere at all. Now, drivers like Dillon, Regan Smith, Trevor Bayne and Brian Vickers find themselves as legitimate championship contenders. Others, like James Buescher, Parker Kligerman, Ryan Truex, Ryan Blaney, and Darrell Wallace Jr., have opportunities to build solid résumés in the sport. They’ll race alongside veterans like Sadler, Mike Wallace and Joe Nemechek in 2013, gaining quality experience that’ll teach the young drivers the ropes.
 
What’s encouraging is that drivers are willing to stay for longer than just one full season — and the owners are happy to keep them there. Stenhouse and Patrick just wrapped up three-year stints; Cup hopefuls Allgaier and Michael Annett are starting season five. Once again, these young talents, especially when linked to Cup owners, are spending a meaningful amount of time in the second-tier series before making the leap. And when they leave, like in the case of Stenhouse, the opportunities remain for talented replacements. Bayne will run for Roush Fenway in 2013, while Dillon’s ride will go to brother Ty when he moves up to the Cup Series in 2014.
 
But while the series may be headed in the right direction, plenty of obstacles remain. This season, 27 of the 33 NNS races will be run as companion events to the Cup Series. Only Iowa (two events), Road America and Mid-Ohio remain as venues where the “big boys” never run, with the other standalone races taking place at Cup intermediates Chicago and Kentucky.
 
Yes, companion events have benefits. They offer fans coming to the track the ability to get the most racing action out of the weekend, and the tracks can offer package deals in an effort to sell more tickets and get otherwise uninterested fans hooked on young Saturday stars. 
 
But six standalones are simply not enough for a series attempting valiantly to stand on its own. Racing “away from Cup” more would allow the series to further build its own identity and fan base. The races most fans seem to remember (and clamor for) are ones that were run at places like O’Reilly Raceway Park or South Boston — smaller, unique short tracks that provided the best action. For years, these venues were the home of what was then known as the Busch Series.
 
Since then, the conversation has centered on empty stands and switches to larger tracks, like Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that haven’t exactly attracted a larger audience. The Nationwide Series is now racing mostly at places built to seat Cup crowds. Realistically, the second series does not need to race exclusively at tracks that hold 70,000-plus fans when a sensible draw for an NNS event is less than half that number.
 
Of course, the key for an exclusive return to those quaint facilities is money. Renovations, including SAFER barriers, pit improvements and accommodations, on top of a $750,000 sanctioning fee, make staging events at smaller tracks more difficult in modern times. Perhaps NASCAR needs to take a more realistic look at the economics of attendance, ticket prices, purses, and sanctioning fees and adjust accordingly.
 
Economics remains a challenging subject for NASCAR. Purse reductions in the Nationwide Series continue to plague the smaller teams; so many of them start-and-parked in 2012 that the field size was reduced to 40 out of necessity. That will help the final payouts slightly, but the major-league expenses remain exorbitant for what is, at times, a league comparable to Triple-A baseball. The economy has still not recovered to the point that companies are clamoring to spend big bucks on team sponsorship in Cup, let alone the $6-$8 million that a top Nationwide team can command. NASCAR is fighting a two-pronged war, as attendance and ratings continue to decline, so controlling costs in its lower divisions has become a primary concern.
 
Still, the Nationwide Series offers a good option for companies looking to get exposure on a smaller budget. Cup teams have had to move to a new model of multiple primary sponsors, a strategy expected to trickle its way down. From a sponsorship standpoint, backing off the Cup drivers was a risk given their name value, but this shift in success back to the youngsters should get cash flowing again.
 
As a whole, though, the NASCAR Nationwide Series looks to be pointed in a positive direction for the future, and it’s primed for an amazing championship battle ahead. Anyone from Dillon to Sadler to Smith to Vickers could win the title. In the past, names like Kevin Harvick or Carl Edwards would dominate, and most fans could be better served falling asleep.
 
It may not show it in the stands quite yet, but that’s progress.
 
—By Toni Montgomery
 

 
Get all of your favorite racing stats, exclusive interviews and more in our 2013 Athlon Sports NASCAR Racing Preview Magazine, available at newsstands and online now. 

 

Teaser:
<p> A look ahead at the exciting NASCAR season.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 16:53
Path: /nfl/10-most-athletic-freaks-nfl-combine-history
Body:

The NFL Scouting Combine (Feb. 20-26) is just one step in the job interview process leading up to the NFL Draft (April 25-27). But the “Underwear Olympics” is a big deal. Millions of dollars are on the line during the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical leap, broad jump, cone drills, Wonderlic and BOD Pod tests.

Here’s a look at 10 workout warriors who aced their tests at the Combine.



1. Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn – 1986
The two-sport tall tale weighed in at a chiseled 6’1”, 230 pounds before running an unofficial hand-timed 4.12 in the 40-yard dash — a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring effort that is still a part of Combine folklore.


2. Tony Mandarich, OT, Michigan State – 1989
In hindsight, the most impressive thing the “Incredible Bulk” did was pass his steroid drug screening during the Combine. At 304 pounds, Mandarich ran a 4.65 in the 40, exploded for a 30” vertical and 10’3” broad jump, and ripped off 39 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.


3. Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland – 2006
Davis looked like a body builder or, at the very least, an actor from an Under Armour commercial en route to running a 4.38 in the 40, skying for a 42” vertical, 10’8” broad, and slamming 33 reps on the bench press.


4. Mike Mamula, LB, Boston College – 1995
After all these years, Mamula remains the go-to cautionary tale of the Combine. The BC beast vaulted up draft boards after a 4.58 in the 40, 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench, a 38” vertical and a 49-of-50 on the Wonderlic Test. Mamula never looked as good in pads as he did in shorts.

 


5. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor – 2012
The fastest quarterback in Combine history, RG3 was a track star on the fast track to NFL and commercial superstardom — with a blistering 4.41 in the 40-yard dash to go along with a dunk contest-worthy 39” vertical.


6. Chris Johnson, RB, East Carolina – 2008
Before he became CJ2K, the gold-grilled CJ4.24 was the gold standard official record-holder in laser-timed 40-yard sprints, posting a 4.24 and hitting the first-round finish line in-stride. CJ has not, however, been able to set up a race against Usain Bolt.


7. Deion Sanders, CB, Florida State – 1989
The ultimate showman (and show-boater), Deion showed up fashionably late (and probably fashionably loud) to the Combine, then ran his 40-yard dash only once — in a time between 4.19 and 4.29, depending on whose hand-timed stop watch you trust. But Prime Time didn’t stop running once he hit the finish line; Sanders ran out of the building to a limousine waiting to take him to the airport.


8. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech – 2007
With his draft stock holding strong near the top of the class, Johnson planned on kicking back and watching the festivities. But once the fireworks started, Megatron’s competitive juices started flowing and he decided he wanted to run after all. The only problem? He didn’t bring any track shoes. So Johnson borrowed a pair of spikes from East Carolina’s James Pinkney — then proceeded to run a blistering 4.32 in the 40.

 


9. J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin – 2011
In hindsight, the numbers that Watt put up at the Combine were a window into his dominant Defensive Player of the Year future. At 6’5”, 290 pounds with 11 1/8” hands and 34” arms, Watt ran a 4.84 in the 40, soared for a 37” vertical and 10’ broad jump, and threw up a long-armed 34 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.


10. Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State – 2008
One of the main reasons teams remain skeptical of off-the-charts Combine stats, Gholston was the classic “look like Tarzan, play like Jane.” In shorts and a muscle shirt, Gholston ran a 4.67 in the 40, had 37 reps on the bench and lifted off for a 35.5” vertical and 10.5” broad jump.
 

Teaser:
<p> 10 Most Athletic Freaks in NFL Combine History, including Bo Jackson, Tony Mandarich, Vernon Davis, Mike Mamula, Robert Griffin III, Chris Johnson, Deion Sanders, Calvin Johnson, J.J. Watt and Vernon Gholston.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 13:30

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