Articles By All

Path: /college-football/only-12-college-football-playoff-contenders-2014

Just reading the words “playoff contender” warms the soul, doesn’t it?

Or “playoff berth,” “playoff contention” or “postseason bid.”

No one really knows what to expect from the College Football Playoff or Playoff Selection Committee — not the fans, not the media and not the coaches. But we all can agree that it’s going to be exciting no matter how many teams are left unbeaten at season’s end.

The has been released and (1), (2), (3) and (4) are our picks to make the inaugural CFP. But getting to those four teams, the editorial staff — much like the selection committee — had to sift through copious amounts of data on all 128 teams.

What we learned is that there seems to be a clear line of demarcation between the top 12 teams and the rest of the nation. The first dozen teams in the Top 25 appear to be true playoff contenders and the rest feel like they are operating on a lower tier of expectation. Could someone outside of the top 12 make a playoff run? Of course, but history shows us that champions rarely come from outside the top dozen or so teams.

During the 16-year BCS Era, only twice did the national champion begin the season ranked outside of the top 15 in the preseason and never lower than 22nd (Auburn, 2010, No. 22; Oklahoma, 2000, No. 19). Only four times did the champion come from outside of the top 11 and nine of the last 10 champs were ranked 11th or better in the preseason AP Poll. Even further, eight of the last 10 crystal football winners were ranked seventh or better in the first ranking of the season.

Here is a breakdown of the only 12 teams we deem to be playoff contenders, why we like them and what could be their potential downfall.

Florida State Seminoles
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 6 defense
Projected Record: 13-0, 8-0
Key Games: Clemson, Notre Dame, at Louisville, Florida

Why we like them: The list is long. This roster is one of the top two in the nation along with Alabama. The Seminoles boast the best player in the nation under center, six first-team All-American selections and 11 total All-Americans. One shouldn’t need to explain oneself when talking highly of the defending national champions.

Potential downfall: Complacency and all that comes along with it. That means lack of focus on and off the field. It can mean playing not to lose rather than playing to win. The Noles should be a solid favorite in every game they play so they need to be on guard against a possible letdown.

Alabama Crimson Tide
Returning Starters: 6 offense, 3 defense
Projected Record: 12-1, 7-1
Key Games: Florida, at Ole Miss, at LSU, Auburn

Why we like them: The Crimson Tide still have the best coach in the nation, arguably the best roster in the nation and will be playing a fairly manageable SEC schedule in 2014. Fans can bet Nick Saban will use the way his team ended last year (0-2) to motivate them this offseason. Anyone remember what happened the last time Alabama missed the national title game by losing the last two games of the year? Yup, it won the ’09 national title the following year — the only perfect record of Saban’s SEC tenure.

Potential downfall: Quarterback play and the secondary. Jacob Coker is largely an unknown but won’t be asked to do too much for Saban’s offense so if he can simply not turn the ball over, Bama should be fine under center. The cornerback position also was an issue last year and doesn’t appear to be back to 2009 or '11 strength. Covering big wideouts has been an issue for Bama the last two seasons.

Ohio State Buckeyes
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 6 defense
Projected Record: 12-1, 7-1
Key Games: at Penn State, at Michigan State, Michigan

Why we like them: Braxton Miller, Urban Meyer and the best defensive line in the nation. The schedule also sets up very nicely with two quality (but very beatable) non-conference games and only three tough conference games with a possible letdown alert coming at Minnesota after the rematch with the Spartans. Few teams in the nation boast a head coach-quarterback duo like the Buckeyes.

Potential downfall: The offensive line is returning just one starter and the secondary is replacing first-round talents at both linebacker (Ryan Shazier) and cornerback (Bradley Roby). And the schedule might actually hurt Ohio State should it slip up somewhere along the way. A one-loss OSU team would likely be left out for a one-loss SEC, Big 12 or Pac-12 team due to lack of schedule strength.

Oklahoma Sooners
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 9 defense
Projected Record: 11-1, 8-1
Key Games: Texas, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma State

Why we like them: The defensive front is as good as Bob Stoops has had in a decade and Trevor Knight flashed brilliance against Alabama to end the year. If Knight can stay healthy, the schedule sets up very well for Oklahoma to win the league. All of the key challengers in the league apart from Texas will come to Norman.

Potential downfall: The road schedule includes trips to distant Big 12 outposts in Morgantown, Lubbock, Ames and not-so-distant Fort Worth. Strange things happen to a lot of good teams in those towns. Additionally, many feel that this team could simply be overrated due to one great bowl performance against a less-than-motivated Alabama team.

Listen to a complete playoff breakdown on this week's Cover 2 Podcast:

Oregon Ducks
Returning Starters: 8 offense, 5 defense
Projected Record: 11-2, 7-2
Key Games: Michigan State, at UCLA, Washington, Stanford

Why we like them: Marcus Mariota might be the best player in the nation and, if he stays healthy, could smash Oregon record books this fall. The Ducks also get three of their four biggest games at home, including critical Pac-12 North Division games against the Cardinal and Huskies. From a talent standpoint, there are few teams on offense that can match the Ducks' prowess, speed and athleticism.

Potential downfall: Leadership from the sidelines and a dependency on one player could prove to be just enough to keep Oregon from the postseason. Mark Helfrich is still very much an unknown and when Mariota wasn’t healthy last year, Oregon lost both games with the division crown hanging in the balance. Toss in a nasty overall schedule and the Ducks will need to play near perfect football to reach the playoff. Also, much like Oklahoma, Oregon faces trap games on the road in tough places likes Pullman, Salt Lake City and Corvallis this season.

UCLA Bruins
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 7 defense
Projected Record: 10-3, 7-2
Key Games: at Arizona State, Oregon, at Washington, USC, Stanford

Why we like them: Getting critical swing games with Oregon, Stanford and USC at home is a huge positive for the Bruins, especially with the Trojans and Cardinal visiting in the last two weeks of the season. Brett Hundley is an elite player and the both lines of scrimmage appear to be developing around him.

Potential downfall: There is an overall lack of playmakers on offense and a lot of young faces dotting the starting lineup on defense. This is an extremely talented team but names in the secondary, along the defensive line and at wide receiver need to take big steps forward. Especially, against a schedule that features six games against preseason Top 25 teams.

Auburn Tigers
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 6 defense
Projected Record: 10-2, 6-2
Key Games: Too many to list

Why we like them: Gus Malzahn is a genius and Nick Marshall runs his unstoppable option offense to perfection. In fact, this offense could be even better this year with a deeper receiving corps and four starters back along the offensive line. Marshall should only continue to add balance with his arm as well.

Potential downfall: The defense allowed 420 yards per game last year, gave up over 35 points per game in the final month and the schedule is as tough as any in the nation. Getting through road trips to Kansas State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama unscathed will be virtually impossible while LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M all come to The Plains. Lastly, after one full year of game tape to study, Auburn won’t sneak up on anyone this year and won’t be nearly as fortunate as it was a year ago.

Michigan State Spartans
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 5 defense
Projected Record: 10-2, 7-1
Key Games: at Oregon, Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, at Penn State

Why we like them: Mark Dantonio has built a tradition of defensive prowess that should be able to withstand a lot of key departures. The offense is more stable than a year ago with star power returning in the backfield (Connor Cook, Jeremy Langford). And the schedule sets up nicely with critical conference home tests coming against Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska.

Potential downfall: While the roster is in great shape, there are some heavy losses it must withstand on defense to be the nation’s best unit again in 2014. The offensive line also needs some work with just two returning starters. If nothing else, it will take some time for these units to return to form and an early road trip to nasty Autzen Stadium leaves Sparty’s margin for error razor thin within the Big Ten.

Georgia Bulldogs
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 9 defense
Projected Record: 10-3, 6-2
Key Games: at South Carolina, at Missouri, Florida, Auburn

Why we like them: Jeremy Pruitt steps into run a defense with nine returning starters after having a hand in three of the last four national titles. The offense, although filled with plenty of unknowns, should also be much healthier with Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Malcolm Mitchell clicking on all cylinders this year.

Potential downfall: Georgia has to break in a new quarterback after four full seasons of Aaron Murray. Hutson Mason should have some nice talent to work with at the skill positions but three starters are gone from the O-line as is star tight end Arthur Lynch. The defense tends to underachieve and it’s unknown if Pruitt can simply flip the switch. Clemson and Georgia Tech are tough non-conference games and hosting Auburn in crossover is brutal. Throw in a normally difficult SEC East slate, including road trips to both Columbias, and UGA has one of the harder paths to a playoff berth.

South Carolina Gamecocks
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 6 defense
Projected Record: 10-2, 6-2
Key Games: Georgia, Missouri, at Auburn, at Florida

Why we like them: The offensive line returns entirely intact with Mike Davis fully healthy and ready to churn out yards. The linebackers are now a strength of the defense after being a liability last year. And the Ol’ Ball Coach is still running the show. On the whole, Steve Spurrier has built his program to a new level where it can finally withstand key departures at key positions. Important SEC East games against Tennessee, Georgia and Missouri all come at home as well.

Potential downfall: Key departures at key positions. Connor Shaw, Jadeveon Clowney, Bruce Ellington, Kelcy Quarles and both cornerbacks are all gone and filling those holes will be very difficult. Dylan Thompson has some experience at quarterback but took a small step back last year while the D-line is easily the biggest concern entering the summer against a nasty schedule that features half-a-dozen excellent running attacks.

Baylor Bears
Returning Starters: 4 offense, 4 defense
Projected Record: 10-2, 7-2
Key Games: at Texas, at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State

Why we like them: Art Briles and Bryce Petty are as good a duo in the nation and the offense should once again be the Big 12’s best. The overall talent on the roster has been elevated to unprecedented levels and the new stadium will bring with it serious energy and expectations in Waco, including key swing home games against TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. This team did pound Oklahoma 41-12 last year.

Potential downfall: Heart and soul leaders are gone from the first Big 12 title team in school history and they will be difficult to replace, especially on defense. The schedule is also much more difficult this year with five tricky Big 12 road trips, including to conference front-runner Oklahoma — a place Baylor has never won (0-11). Fans across the nation will learn about Baylor’s staying power this fall.

Stanford Cardinal
Returning Starters: 4 offense, 7 defense
Projected Record: 9-3, 7-2
Key Games: USC, everyone else on the road

Why we like them: The overall depth of this roster is excellent and the physical attitude of this program is unlike any other in the conference. Stanford is the two-time defending champ for a reason. Quarterback Kevin Hogan is back for what should be his best season and the skill players around him are better than they have been in years as the tight end might be back in the playbook this year.

Potential downfall: The Cardinal road schedule is probably the toughest in the nation. Key divisional games against Washington and Oregon as well as important crossovers with UCLA and Arizona State and a non-conference tilt with Notre Dame all take place on the road (read that again). The offensive line and front seven on defense have major holes to plug even if those gaps are being filled with very talented prospects. And defensive coordinator Lance Anderson has big shoes to fill now that Derek Mason is in Nashville.

Next best options: USC Trojans, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Wisconsin Badgers, Ole Miss Rebels, LSU Tigers

The Only 12 College Football Playoff Contenders in 2014
Post date: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/12-college-basketball-teams-decline-2014-15

The days and weeks following the end of college basketball season can be an unfriendly time for coaches.

There are draft early entries, regular transfers, graduate transfers, and, of course, the possibility that some coaches will be asked to look for employment elsewhere.

Turnover can happen at a rapid pace, leaving rosters — and benches — full of fresh faces. Those are usually the teams with the most to lose from year to year, and next season will be no exception. Earlier this week, we brought you a . This is the other side of that list.

College Basketball Teams in Decline in 2014-15

Arizona State
The Sun Devils got to the NCAA Tournament, likely saving Herb Sendek’s job, but the final weeks of the season were forgettable. Arizona State lost its last four games and six of its final eight. With Jahii Carson going to the draft after his sophomore season and three seniors gone, Arizona State returns only one player who averaged more than five points per game. The Sendek hot seat watch begins anew.

Give Baylor credit for regrouping after a 2-8 start in Big 12 play. The Bears won 12 of their final 15 before losing to Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. A few key cogs — big man Isaiah Austin and veterans Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip — are gone. Baylor still has a point guard, Kenny Chery, to run the show. The rest of Chery’s signing class, sophomores Allerik Freeman, Johnathan Motley and Ish Wainwright, will be under pressure to perform.

No more Sean Kilpatrick is bad enough, but Mick Cronin is starting over without his top three scorers — Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles. Cincinnati’s top returning scorer, forward Shaquille Thomas, averaged 6.8 points last season.

The Bluejays are down to one McDermott for the first time in four seasons. Consensus national player of the year Doug McDermott isn’t the only loss, though. The departures of Ethan Wragge, Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat means Creighton won’t come close to last season’s offensive numbers, even with a senior-laden team.

A guard-oriented team loses four guards, Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Michael Dixon Jr. and Chris Crawford. There’s still talent here. Now it’s in the frontcourt, though, with Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols. Memphis will be a top team in the American Athletic Conference, but the Tigers need to find a point guard to contend for bigger prizes.

John Beilein will piece something together — he always does. Still, the Wolverines lose Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary to the draft and Jon Horford as a transfer to Florida. Michigan still has a point guard in Derrick Walton and a budding star in Caris LeVert, not to mention the possibility of adding West Virginia transfer Eron Harris. After reaching the title game and the Elite Eight in the last two seasons, Michigan may be due for a down year.

Frank Haith picked a good year to get out of Columbia. This year’s team is going to struggle, no matter the coach. Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown left early for the NBA Draft, leaving new coach Kim Anderson with a young roster.

New Mexico
The Lobos have won the Mountain West tournament in each of the last three seasons and at least a share of two of the last three regular season titles. Second-year coach Craig Neal will be starting over after seniors Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams have departed and junior Alex Kirk went to the NBA Draft. The Lobos may have trouble reaching the Tournament unless one or two underclassmen can take the leap Bairstow did a year ago.

Oklahoma State
Maybe Oklahoma State needs a fresh start after all the dramatics of last season. Still, any team without Marcus Smart and Markel Brown will have to rebuild. Le’Bryan Nash is the member of the Cowboys’ big three remaining for 2014-15.  It’s tough to see Oklahoma State improving from last season in the short term, and meanwhile, Travis Ford’s contract, could be a .

The departures are one thing with Mike Moser and Jason Calliste gone, but they’re of secondary concern in Eugene. Dana Altman is embroiled in a scandal related to a sexual assault investigation involving three of his players. All three, Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis and Brandon Austin, were dismissed in early May. Leading scorer James Young will be surrounded by newcomers.

The 25-0 start to 2013-14 is a distant memory as the Orange finished 3-6, including a round of 32 exit in the NCAA Tournament, a one-and-done in the ACC tournament and home losses to Boston College and Georgia Tech. Syracuse won’t be as good as it was at the start of last season and may not be as bad as it was late. Still, the middle ground between the two would qualify as a down year for the Orange. Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Baye Moussa-Keita are gone, and Jim Boeheim will open his third consecutive season with a freshman point guard.

The Volunteers probably won’t be a Sweet 16 team or a top-10 team again. Tennessee may have trouble getting to the NCAA Tournament or NIT in Donnie Tyndall’s first season. While the former Southern Miss coach is a solid hire, he’ll be starting essentially from scratch. He lost all but one starter and all of Cuonzo Martin’s signees. Tyndall filled the gaps with eight newcomers, a haul that includes graduate transfers from Florida Gulf Coast and IUPUI, two junior college transfers and two prep school recruits.

12 College Basketball Teams on the Decline in 2014-15
Post date: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-playoff-picks-and-predictions

The final four teams in the Athlon Sports top 25 countdown were released this week, meaning we've seeded our projections for the first College Football playoff: No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 4 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

This week, Braden Gall, David Fox and Steven Lassan talk about how we arrived at those matchups, how those games might be settled and other contenders for the the first Playoff.

Our hosts also discuss what changes they'd like to see before the Playoff has even begun and some predictions of what we'll see next.

As always, you can reach us on Twitter at @AthlonSports or by email at .

Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Playoff Picks and Predictions
Post date: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 13:49
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/50-cent-throws-comedic-first-pitch-bad-puns-ensue

Rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson threw one of the all-time bad first pitches in MLB history last night against the Pirates, joining a lowlight reel that includes Carly Rae Jepsen, John Wall, Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory and Carl Lewis.

Unfortunately, writers and bloggers proved they weren't much better at making hip hop-related puns.

First, video of the failed first pitch and the puns that followed:

-USA Today

-New York Daily News

-Associated Press

-TMZ Sports

-The Sydney Morning Herald

-Fox 59 Indianapolis

-The Today Show

-US Weekly

-Newark (N.J.). Star-Ledger

-Washington Times

-The Week

50 Cent Throws Comedic First Pitch, Bad Puns Ensue
Post date: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 12:59
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR Amazing Stats, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/nascar-rookie-report-outracing-their-reputations

Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers and more.

Today, David discusses whether the top rookies in this year’s class have out-raced their reputations.

If you watched the three-day-long NFL Draft two weeks ago, you likely would have heard descriptions of the college players making the leap to the professional level. For three or four years, these players created an identity for themselves. “The book on this guy,” as described by ESPN’s Mel Kiper or NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, consisted of traits accumulated from statistics or anecdotes from people close to the player.

“The book on a guy” isn’t complete logic. It’s good for evaluation purposes — the makeup of a prospect is great intel — but it’s all subject to change. The identities young people develop can alter when the stakes rise, for better or worse. And sometimes it stays the same. “The book” is an inexact science — it is an incomplete book, after all — that also exists for budding NASCAR Sprint Cup Series prospects.

A few of the top Cup Series rookies in this year’s class had chapters of their book written prior to their full-time entrance into American racing’s grandest stage. Have their books altered, or stayed the course?

Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing  Kyle Larson
Larson’s book:
In his formative years in Dirt Sprint Cars and related USAC-sanctioned divisions, Larson gobbled up wins like he was Pac Man. He assimilated quickly to new rides within USAC’s most competitive series, Super Late Models (he won in his first race) and Stock Cars (he won the NASCAR K&N East championship in his rookie season). Through one year of NASCAR Nationwide Series racing he demonstrated an affinity for tracks with a competitive high groove and an efficient passing acumen. Although exciting to watch, he was not a prototypical “race dominator.”

What’s stayed the same? It’s safe to say his quick assimilation tendency remains intact. After ranking first in pass efficiency among Nationwide Series regulars in 2013 (53.42 percent), . He currently ranks fifth in the Cup Series in adjusted pass efficiency with — get this — a 53.42 percent efficiency through the first 12 races. He also is scoring high finishes without leading many laps. He’s led zero this year in Cup and only 114 this year in Nationwide, which ranks just sixth in a division thin of talent (he ranked sixth in laps led in his title-winning K&N East season). His three best Cup Series finishes this year were at Fontana, Texas and Darlington, three tracks that offered a competitive high groove.

What’s changed? Not much. He is who we thought he was, which is a driver chock full of talent that’s likely to fulfill his potential.

Austin Dillon, No. 3 Richard Childress Racing  Austin Dillon
Dillon’s book:
His bread and butter in four full seasons across the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series was intermediate tracks, on which he scored three of his five Truck Series race wins and both of his Nationwide Series race wins. A relatively poor passer, Dillon’s strength was being consistent on a race-to-race basis in retaining track position his team provided for him.

What’s stayed the same? Dillon got passed more than he passed last year in the Nationwide Series, amassing a 48.33 percent efficiency. That hasn’t changed thus far in Cup this season, where he holds a 49.27 percent adjusted efficiency that is, on average, 1.27 percent below his average running position’s expected value. Luckily, he is still adept at taking track position and running with it — and .

What’s changed? His reputation for favoring intermediate tracks has dissipated, evident by his results. In the four races on 1.5-mile tracks, his average finish is 18th. His average finish on all other track types is 15.4. It seems as if this pony has more than one trick.

Justin Allgaier, No. 51 HScott Motorsports  Justin Allgaier
Allgaier’s book:
Slow to assimilate, it took Allgaier three full seasons of ARCA to become a regular winner, and eventually a champion, in the series. He was also slow to grow in the Nationwide Series, maturing from a replacement-level producer in 2008 with Team Penske to a winner and under-the-radar results-getter in his last two seasons with Turner Scott Motorsports. His aggressive entry into turns and defense of position proved somewhat successful for him in the passing game, but rubbed fellow drivers the wrong way. He shined on short tracks.

What’s stayed the same? After a brush-up with Danica Patrick at Phoenix this year, . That aggression, regardless of perception, is translating to success in the passing game. He isn’t technically an efficient passer — his 49.92 percent efficiency indicates he is passed more than he passes — but that efficiency is 1.79 percent better than the expected output of his average running position, which stands at 25.458 following the Coca-Cola 600. His short(er) track success seems to have translated; his best four finishes came on tracks 1.366 miles or smaller (Bristol, Richmond, Martinsville and Darlington).

What’s changed? It’s entirely too early to call this since we don’t know what his future results are, but he is showing more life in his rookie Cup Series season than what was probably expected. A bad final restart killed a potential top-15 finish at Richmond (his stat line would be a lot prettier if he had just sealed the deal), and his passing has been one of his best positives of the year. Fans of Allgaier hope that his slow assimilation tendency continues — it’d mean this year’s performance is just the basement of what he is able to accomplish — but the driver needs a litany of good habits to point to in order to stay in a steady ride or get looks from more established organizations. That there is even a list is a small sign of change.

David Smith is the founder of and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projection, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at .

Photos by

Taking stock of the Cup Series' Rookie of the Year contenders
Post date: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 10:19
Path: /college-football/college-football-2014-rankings-and-predictions-26-40

The start of the college football season is less than 100 days away, and Athlon Sports is counting down the top teams for the upcoming year.

Florida State is Athlon’s pick to win the national championship, with Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide projected to finish No. 2 nationally. Of course, there's a new element to college football's regular season with the addition of a four-team playoff, and Athlon Sports is picking Ohio State to finish No. 3 and Oklahoma to finish No. 4. The debate in the preseason is no longer about No. 1 and No. 2 and instead more about the top four teams in the nation.

While there is always plenty of intrigue in filling out the top 25, Nos. 26-40 feature a handful of teams that just missed. Iowa kicks off this batch of teams at No. 26, as the Hawkeyes are capable of winning the Big Ten's West Division. Virginia Tech is Athlon's projected Coastal champion and ranks No. 27. Another intriguing team this release of rankings is Marshall at No. 40 - the highest team from outside of the power conferences in 2014.

With the completion of Athlon's  , it's time to take a look at the rest of the rankings, beginning with Nos. 26-40. 

Follow the top 25 on Twitter  and join the debate at . Follow Athlon's College Football Writers on Twitter: Steven Lassan (), Braden Gall () and David Fox ().

Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2014 season

College Football 2014 Projected Rankings: 26-40

26. Iowa
Many of the pieces are in place for Iowa to continue this latest resurgence under coach Kirk Ferentz, especially on offense. Combine that with a schedule that doesn’t include Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State, and has Iowa State, Wisconsin and Nebraska coming to Kinnick Stadium, and there is reason to believe Iowa can be a legitimate contender in the new Big Ten West Division.

27. Virginia Tech
The offense should benefit from being in Year 2 in coordinator Scot Loeffler’s system, but Year 1 didn’t exactly set the bar high. The Hokies had the 101st-ranked offense nationally in 2013, averaging 356.0 yards per game. Fixing the lagging running game would go a long way toward making Virginia Tech more competitive, since there’s plenty of faith in Blacksburg that defensive coordinator Bud Foster will figure things out like he always does. Frank Beamer is confident that the changes he made to the offensive coaching staff prior to 2013 are taking root but knows that it will take time. Still, the Hokies should contend in a wide-open Coastal Division this year.

28. Louisville
New quarterback, new coach, new conference (the ACC), new, more formidable schedule. There’s a lot to process for a program that won 23 games as well as the Sugar and Russell Athletic bowls the last two seasons. But Petrino has won everywhere he’s coached in college — including a 41–9 record during his first stint at Louisville. If quarterback Will Gardner stays healthy, the Cards have enough weapons to score big on everybody but Florida State, Clemson and Notre Dame. Defense will determine if Louisville can win more than eight.

29. Nebraska
Bo Pelini’s record is 58–24, with at least nine victories in each of his six seasons. But he has yet to coach a conference champion. In fact, Nebraska hasn’t won a conference title since 1999, much too long for a program with three national titles in the five years prior to that.

In the aftermath of a 38–17 regular-season-ending loss to Iowa, speculation spread that Pelini’s tenure as coach might be over. But he has since received a contract extension through the 2018 season. Extension or not, however, there’s pressure to win a championship and return to national relevance. The Huskers should have the defense for that. The question is whether the offense can be balanced enough to get the job done against a schedule that sets up very well in a restructured division of the expanded Big Ten.

30. Miami
Ten wins were once the norm at Miami, and now it’s a place to set the bar for 2014. The last time UM reached double-digit victories was 2003, and the only way it happens this year is with an improved defense and solid quarterback play. Certainly the pieces are in place on offense for an explosive group, but new faces on both sides of the ball need to make significant impacts for Al Golden’s team to reach its goals.

31. North Carolina
The Tar Heels have enough talent to challenge for first place in the ACC’s Coastal Division, which remains unpredictable and up for grabs, but their margin of error is small. In truth, UNC looks to be in better shape for 2015 than for this season. The offense has only one senior on the two-deep depth chart, and the defense would benefit from another year of experience up front and in the secondary. But the Tar Heels have to play the 2014 season first. If they perform better than expected along the offensive line and get a breakout season from someone on a defense that lacks an established star, the future could be now.

32. Michigan
After Michigan went 8–5 and 7–6 over the past two seasons, the shine from Brady Hoke’s 11–2 debut campaign is officially gone. The 2014 season is clearly the most important of Hoke’s tenure at Michigan. This is the youngest team Hoke has had during his time in Ann Arbor, but there is plenty of talent on the roster.

Michigan’s defense should be strong enough to keep it in games early in the season, but if the offense doesn’t show significant improvement, it’s hard to envision this team posing too much of a threat in the new Big Ten East Division.

33. Mississippi State
Expectations are high in Starkville. Mississippi State enters the season with one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC and a defense that has the potential to be among the best in the league. If suitable replacements are found on the offensive line and the special teams improves, the 2014 season could be the best in Dan Mullen’s six years at the school.

34. Texas A&M
A&M’s stadium is undergoing a $450 million redevelopment that will make Kyle Field one of the premier venues in college football when construction is done in 2015. Until that time, however, Kyle Field remains a work in progress. The same could be said for the inhabitants of the facility. With a strong offensive line, a stable of promising, young skill players on offense and a defense that should improve, the Aggies could be a factor in the SEC West. But 2015 may be the year A&M steps back into in the national spotlight.

35. BYU
A tough schedule and a bowl defeat kept BYU stuck on eight victories in 2013, but coach Bronco Mendenhall likes the trajectory of the program. “We win every year, and it’s just a matter of how much,” Mendenhall says. “I think this group wants to do even more than we’ve done before.”

Even after a Fight Hunger Bowl loss ended BYU’s streak of five bowl victories, the Cougars have “tons of momentum,” Mendenhall says. “I like our program a lot right now, and I like our players.”

In BYU’s fourth season of independence, the Cougars are positioned to make some national impact especially if the defensive front seven comes together and quarterback Taysom Hill becomes a more consistent passer.

36. Pittsburgh
In recent vintage, Pittsburgh would best be described as unimpressive and/or average. The words are cringe-worthy for those involved with the program, but not inaccurate. The Panthers are 13–13 in two seasons under Chryst and 19–20 since 2011. The good news is that the program firmly belongs to Chryst — only 17 players remain from previous regimes — and young players are making an impact. Chryst played 12 freshmen extensively last season. Still, the Panthers should expect to experience more growing pains, given the uncertainty at quarterback, the precarious nature of the offensive line and a defense that lost the best lineman in the nation. Victories over Notre Dame, Duke and Bowling Green in ’13 can serve as building blocks, but losses to Navy, Georgia Tech and North Carolina are reminders that more work must be done.

37. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State lost 28 seniors from a year ago; it was a special group that matched the best four-year win total of any class in program history. So while Cowboys coaches believe they’ve recruited well, so much turnover, coupled with a challenging schedule that opens with defending national champion Florida State, suggests that a step back is in order. Just how far back depends on how quickly the kids grow up.

38. Duke
The Coastal Division race should be wide open again this season, and Duke should be in the thick of it. Thanks to a pillow-soft non-conference schedule, and the absence of Clemson, Florida State and Louisville among Atlantic Division crossover opponents (the Devils get Syracuse and Wake instead), a third straight bowl game seems highly likely for the Blue Devils. A repeat trip to the ACC title game? Duke seemed to catch just about every late-game break in 2013 (for a change). It’s hard to envision a repeat of that level of magic again this fall. And the Blue Devils certainly won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around.

39. TCU
It became clear to coach Gary Patterson during the Horned Frogs’ second year in the Big 12 that major changes were in order on the offensive side of the ball. His defense, long a program hallmark, was maintaining its success in the new league. But the Frogs missed the postseason for the first time since 2004 largely because the offense — which had moved the ball with ease in the Frogs’ final years in the Mountain West — failed to produce.

If the offense, under new leadership, can make modest gains, the Frogs could emerge as a surprise contender in the Big 12. TCU went 4–8 in 2013, but the Frogs lost four games by a combined 11 points, including one in overtime. In two other 10-point losses, TCU had a chance to win late in the game.

With better play at quarterback and along the offensive line — two areas that underperformed in 2013 — TCU will be in position to win a few more of those close games and put itself back into postseason play.

40. Marshall
Could Marshall go undefeated? When Louisville had to postpone its 2014 date with the Herd due to an ACC-obligated matchup with Notre Dame, Rhode Island became Marshall’s final non-conference opponent. The Herd certainly should be favored each week as long as Cato remains healthy (backup QB is a big concern heading into the fall). The three teams that beat Marshall last year that are on the schedule this year all must visit Huntington, where Marshall has won eight straight. A highly productive offense led by an elite quarterback and solid, veteran defense could lift the Herd to a historic season.

College Football 2014 Rankings and Predictions: #26-40
Post date: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-best-head-coach-quarterback-tandems-2014

The old saying about the Jimmys and Joes is true.

Winning games in college football is about the players. If your favorite team has the best players, more times than not, your favorite team is going to win the game. And the most important player on any gridiron is the quarterback. This isn’t really up for debate.

That said, the head coach (obviously) is the most influential non-player piece to any college football program. So it stands to reason that, when combined, the team with the best quarterback-head coach combination has the best chance to win a division, league or national title.

Of course, predicting wins and losses in college football isn’t nearly this simple. The other 84 scholarship players do, in fact, count for something. As do the other eight members of the coaching staff. Scheduling, home-field advantage, off the field behavior and more can change the course of a season forever as well, and all play a huge role in .

But possessing a great signal-caller mentored by a great head coach is the best way to start when building a championship foundation.

Which team will boast the best head coach-quarterback combination in college football in 2014?

1. Florida State: Jimbo Fisher-Jameis Winston
It’s hard to argue that the defending national champs don’t brag the best combination of quarterback and head coach in the nation. Winston proved a year ago that he is the best college football player in the country by winning the Heisman Trophy. Fisher, , has rebuilt a once-dormant powerhouse into a two-time ACC champ and will enter this season as the reigning champs. Fisher and Winston are 14-0 together on the field and, should the latter stay out of trouble off of the field, the duo could easily find themselves in a position to repeat.

2. Ohio State: Urban Meyer-Braxton Miller
Aside from Waco, Texas, there might not be a more perfect marriage of system and skill set than Meyer’s spread offense and Miller’s dual-threat talents. The duo has produced over 6,000 yards of total offense and a perfect 24-0 record in the regular season over the last two years since Meyer got to Columbus. Miller has improved his completion percentage (54.1 to 58.3 to 63.5) and passer rating (138.37 to 140.48 to 158.08) in each of his first three years and his career TD:INT ratio is a sterling 52:17. He’s also posted back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and was one win away from playing for a national title a year ago. The second-best coach in the land could feature a Heisman Trophy candidate under center this year for a team eyeing a playoff berth.

3. Baylor: Art Briles-Bryce Petty
Few coaches and quarterbacks meshed on the field better last year than the Baylor tandem. Briles excelled with both Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence but Petty’s numbers were the best of the bunch in his first season under center. As in, 4,409 total yards of offense, 46 total touchdowns and just three (3!) interceptions for a team that won its first Big 12 championship ever. Briles has proven to be one of the best in the land (fifth in Athlon Sports’ rankings) and Petty has already accomplished things in Waco no quarterback has ever achieved. A repeat performance this year with less talent to work with and this duo could prove to be the best in the nation.

4. Penn State: James Franklin-Christian Hackenberg
Hackenberg set 11 school records as a true freshman passer a year ago as the all-world recruit clearly lived up to the hype by throwing for 2,955 yards and 20 TDs in his first season. He also led Penn State to a winning record despite heavy sanctions and capped the year with a remarkable road performance against Wisconsin (339 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT). Hack is a No. 1 overall type of talent and, now, he has cult-of-personality James Franklin running the show in Happy Valley. Franklin is unproven in the Big Ten but his SEC resume speaks for itself, as he led the Commodores to unprecedented heights in Nashville. Huge things are in store for this duo, especially considering the easy schedule and the potential removal of the bowl ban in ’14.

5. Auburn: Gus Malzahn-Nick Marshall
Malzahn is a top 10 coach nationally after leading Auburn from worst to first in his first season in charge. Much of that was on the legs and shoulder of another first-year Tiger in quarterback Nick Marshall. The dual-threat signal-caller mastered the Malzahn spread in short order and turned in 3,044 yards of total offense, 26 total touchdowns and one SEC championship. With an even better grasp of the playbook and some development as a passer, Marshall is poised for a first-team All-SEC season on The Plains. How many teams boast a top 10 coach and a top 10 Heisman candidate?

Listen to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 podcast:

6. Michigan State: Mark Dantonio-Connor Cook
It seems odd that a tandem that won 13 games, a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl title would be underrated but that is how things go in East Lansing. Mark Dantonio is consistently overlooked when it comes to the nation’s best coaches and Cook wasn’t even the starter going into last season. Cook’s growth over the second half of the season was obvious as the Spartans' QB set career highs in passing yards in back-to-back wins over Ohio State (304 yds) in the B1G title game and Stanford (332 yds) in the Rose Bowl. Now, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder enters 2014 with massive expectations.

7. UCLA: Jim Mora-Brett Hundley
Mora was . There is no doubting he has gotten more out of this Bruins team than the previous regimes, however, he is still a bit of an unknown commodity on the coaching circuit. His quarterback is not an unknown at all, though. In fact, Hundley is one of the best players in the nation regardless of position. The UCLA head coach-quarterback combination has won 19 games over the last two seasons and a Pac-12 crown in 2014 would vault them into Fisher-Winston range nationally. Hundley has 7,914 yards of total offense and 73 total touchdowns in two seasons in Westwood.

8. Arizona State: Todd Graham-Taylor Kelly
All this duo did was post the best record in the Pac-12 (8-1) a year ago while winning the division and coming one game away from a Rose Bowl berth. Kelly has topped 3,000 yards passing in each of his two seasons as the starter and has carried the ball 306 times for over 1,100 yards on the ground as well. Graham, despite his strange resume, is a proven winner and turned ASU into a Pac-12 contender in just two seasons at the helm. Look for this established tandem to produce big offensive numbers once again in the desert this fall.

9. Oregon: Mark Helfrich-Marcus Mariota
Much like the tandem at UCLA, the Ducks boast one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks and one of the game’s most unproven head coaches. Mariota is brilliant in all facets of the game and could be the only player in the nation capable of competing with Winston for No. 1 overall honors in next year’s NFL Draft. Helfrich had two chances to lock up the Pac-12 title in his first season and couldn’t do it last year. in Athlon Sports’ coaching rankings but could make a huge jump should Oregon win the conference title in ’14.

10. Oklahoma: Bob Stoops-Trevor Knight
Knight was magnificent against Alabama but needs to prove his talents over the course of a full season. Staying healthy is atop this list after throwing just five regular season touchdown passes a year ago. Stoops’ resume speaks for itself — eight Big 12 titles, nine BCS bowls and four trips to the national title game. If Knight develops the way many think he can, this duo could lead the Sooners to a playoff berth and could enter next season as the best QB-head coach combo in the nation.

11. Brian Kelly-Everett Golson, Notre Dame
Kelly is among the nation’s best minds and he will have his guy under center once again when he welcomes Golson back to South Bend. Golson developed into a playmaker during his first year. How many tandems in the nation have been to a national title game together?

12. Gary Pinkel-Maty Mauk, Missouri
Longevity counts for something and Pinkel has that in spades. Along with a great QB resume that includes Brad Smith, Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert and James Franklin. Mauk is the next great Mizzou passer.

13. Hugh Freeze-Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
Wallace isn’t an overly special player but he’s one of the SEC’s best passers. Freeze has proven in short order to be a winner. This tandem needs to take the next step in ’14.

14. Bronco Mendenhall-Taysom Hill, BYU
Hill has special dual-threat playmaking talents and could find himself in the Heisman mix should BYU win enough games. Mendenhall has five 10-win seasons at BYU and has never posted a losing record.

15. Mike Leach-Connor Halliday, Washington State
The Wazzu combo broke some NCAA records last year, and, with a large contingent of receivers returning, the Mad Scientist could have one of his best statistical seasons in years.

16. David Shaw-Kevin Hogan, Stanford
17. Steve Spurrier-Dylan Thompson, South Carolina
18. Bill Snyder-Jake Waters, Kansas State
19. Dan Mullen-Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
20. Mike Riley-Sean Mannion, Oregon State

5 we don’t know about yet:

Nick Saban-Jacob Coker, Alabama
Mark Richt-Hutson Mason, Georgia
Chris Petersen-Cyler Miles, Washington
Bobby Petrino-Will Gardner, Louisville
Kevin Sumlin-Kyle Allen, Texas A&M

Post date: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /nascar/jimmie-johnson-dominates-charlotte-wins-nascars-coca-cola-600

NASCAR has IndyCar’s number when it comes to television, revenue, pretty car colors … you name it, it’s simply a step above. We’ve been over this one time and again where even Indy qualifying lost out to stock car racing’s All-Star event in the latest Nielsen ratings. More than likely, this week it’s NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600, not the Indy 500, that will draw the larger audience overall.  Jimmie Johnson

But Charlotte, which played to a less-than-packed house this weekend, paled in comparison to the fanfare of Indy, where well over 200,000 adoring “houseguests” surrounded the 2.5-mile facility. For the second straight year, they saw a competitive race, with 28 of 33 cars on the lead lap halfway through, a near-photo finish and even a little verbal sparring (however well-handled) by Ed Carpenter towards James Hinchcliffe following a nasty wreck. Former NASCAR pretender Juan Pablo Montoya shined, scoring a fifth-place result while teenage rookie Sage Karam ran inside the top 10 and current stock car full-timer Kurt Busch finished an impressive sixth. An American, Ryan Hunter-Reay, was the cherry on top of it all, scoring just the third victory for the U.S.A. this century in what’s supposed to be the largest and most historic version of this country’s 500-mile automobile race.

Compare that to Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600, which for all the military pomp and circumstance trotted out a bunch of bullets that fired blanks. The race had fewer lead-lap cars by Lap 50 – keep in mind NASCAR’s starting field is 43, not 33 – and ran with just a single lead change until the first green-flag pit stop. In the end, both races had 34 swaps up front but NASCAR also had twice the number of laps (400 to 200) to get there. And while IndyCar’s lead pack creates a “suckup” effect, making it hard not to pass the leader, NASCAR’s aero package is still so dreadful at Charlotte it acts as a magnetic repellent to cars coming within 50 feet. Even the wrecks (that taboo word) were more spectacular at Indy, as debris from the last one caused a red-flag condition that appeared a whole lot more realistic than the invisible trash NASCAR likes to pick up.

What happened at Indy was natural, captivating, something to build on. What happened in NASCAR was a reminder, during a rebuilding year of everything, of what got stock car racing into a rut. It’s a weird juxtaposition, where the underdog beat up on the favorite on a big stage that makes you wonder if the tide ever has a chance to turn. Indy’s crack marketing department (as in, cracked into pieces) would appear to tell you otherwise but NASCAR, on days like these, keeps leaving the door open, the same way that open-wheel split in the 1990s gave stock car racing a free pass to leap through parted waters.

One of these days some sort of auto racing “competition” has a shot of bursting through stock car’s monopoly … right? A healthy rival within the marketplace could serve to make both sides better, drumming up interest in what’s been a struggling sport. Or are fans so stuck in their ways, combined with an 18-to-34 generation currently showing limited interest towards cars in general both, that sides are doomed to mediocrity?

It’s a daunting first question for IndyCar, which is struggled to simply survive in recent years (a lesson for NASCAR in how not to market or build a schedule). The second? Too delicate a flower to mess with on a Memorial Day where we’re supposed to be honoring those who serve our country, not creating memorials for our country’s former fast-growing pastime.

Phew! Getting the soldier salute in, as we should, while hoping auto racing keeps soldiering through their tough times. “Through the Gears,” post-Charlotte, we go …

FIRST GEAR: The house that Jimmie built … again
Jimmie Johnson heard the naysayers. He heard that 0-for-11 start and the critics saying, “What if the No. 48 could be in position to miss the Chase?” After last Saturday, when both driver and crew chief got a little snippy on the radio — a theme over the past month of competition — people were starting to wonder if the six-time champ had finally lost his mojo.

Silly us. Johnson put a muzzle on everyone Sunday night, battling with Kevin Harvick early and then making the right adjustments late to burst through traffic and past Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 late. Leading a race-high 164 laps, Johnson returned to the form that once had NASCAR aficionados labeling Charlotte Motor Speedway “Johnson’s House.” His seven points victories at the track are now more than any driver in series history and yet another record to stack on his resume while back in pursuit of the ultimate number: seven championships.

“What the hell are you all going to write about now?” he joked to the media. “We won.”

Indeed. Now Johnson is all but locked into the Chase, can spend the summer testing like his other major rivals and work on squeezing out a little extra speed. Considering Charlotte is in the postseason, along with Dover this weekend (Johnson’s best oval) the No. 48 once again becomes your title favorite. How could he not be? Kevin Harvick has shown to have the fastest car this year, but he has yet to get over the hump — and has Stewart-Haas racing engines going blitzkrieg left and right.

SECOND GEAR: Charlotte really is the pits
A 600-mile race is the ultimate test of NASCAR teamwork for man and machine where focus is needed from everyone for the better part of four hours. Sometimes, that means nothing, as engines expire due to the stress of an extra 100 miles they never get on the track. We saw that for a few drivers on Sunday, most notably Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch (we’ll get to that) whose normally reliable Hendrick Motorsports powerplants went up in smoke.

But the biggest culprit Sunday night wasn’t inside the race car so much as Goodyear tires — or the thought of a Goodyear tire going down. A loose wheel ruined a potential winning combination for Brad Keselowski, his fuel strategy putting the No. 2 car in position to win until a poor stop made it all fall apart. For Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. it was the idea they had a tire go flat that brought them scurrying to unscheduled stops. It wasn’t the case for either, as they watched potential top-5 finishes go up in the smoke of mental spooks.

However, Kasey Kahne made the biggest mistake of all, missing his pit box on an early green-flag stop and having to circle around the track a second time. That cost the No. 5 car a lap — one it would never get back — at a track Kahne has won more than any other throughout his career. You know that winning setup Johnson used? The No. 48 got it straight from Kahne’s crew chief, Kenny Francis. No doubt this team could have been a factor up front, a lost opportunity to “steal one” during a year where it’s questionable whether they’ll be able to make the Chase on points alone.

THIRD GEAR: Kurt Busch’s “Double” goes boom  Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch’s Indy drive? Nothing short of splendid. A sixth-place finish, making him the top rookie, found him within striking distance of the leaders over the final laps. After spending much of the race running mid-pack, Busch seized opportunities late and sliced through the field during a time when most rookies get fall prey to more experienced drivers.

Compare that to Cup, where his No. 41 Chevy met another ugly end in the form of catastrophic engine failure. Busch now has half as many top 10s in IndyCar (one) as his NASCAR season that would be a bona fide “F” without a Martinsville victory in hand.

“The motor just expired,” said Busch. “It's a tough break. It takes a team if you're going to do 1,100 miles. It's not just one individual. We came up just short.”

Busch chose his words carefully but he has to be getting frustrating with SHR’s development. Sunday was a real opportunity to seize momentum, as Busch charged from the back into the top 15 and could have easily scored a lead-lap, top-10 finish to wrap up the double. Even Kevin Harvick’s radio channel (whom I was listening to at the time) had some choice words for the No. 41 that got cut off once they recognized the public was listening.

Bottom line, the feat was still impressive, but the confidence in Busch’s NASCAR program, if you read between the lines post-race, seems less secure than with his one-month tenure with Andretti Autosport. That’s where it really counts, creating a troubling disconnect, albeit justifiable considering the mechanical mayhem he’s been through in 2014.


Couch Potato Tuesday:

FOURTH GEAR: Kenseth keeping Gibbs in the game
Matt Kenseth fell short Sunday night, a running theme this season as 2013’s seven-time winner remains shut out of Victory Lane. So far in 2014, Joe Gibbs Racing has won twice in 12 races compared to three times each for rivals Hendrick, Stewart-Haas and Penske.

But a funny thing is happening with Kenseth’s series of “almosts:” league-leading consistency. No one questions the fact JGR has fallen a step behind on intermediates, yet this season Kenseth has no finish lower than 13th outside of Talladega. He’s second in points, just 11 behind Jeff Gordon and should make the Chase regardless of whether that trip to Victory Lane comes. It’s a tough time for JGR, but Kenseth has kept them close and breathing easy (nine top-10 finishes) so the next few months can be all about finding speed instead of scrambling.

“I feel like we’re gaining on it,” he said after. “I thought today, all things being equal and nobody having trouble that we had at least a fifth-place car. We’re not where we were last year yet, but I feel like certainly we’re gaining on it. We are just a little bit off and just need to get it a little better somehow.”

They will, but until then this former champ knows how to keep them in the ballgame without getting flustered. So don’t forget about JGR: all three teams will be there come September with just as much of a shot at this title as anyone.

Trevor Bayne
was invisible Sunday, driving to a ho-hum 20th for the Wood Brothers, but more will be expected next season. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner will finally move up to the Cup Series full-time driving the No. 6 for Nationwide Series employer Roush Fenway Racing, bringing back the car made famous by Mark Martin. The Wood Brothers are now searching for a 2015 replacement and are still expected to run a part-time schedule in their No. 21. … Martin Truex Jr. had the run he needed for the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 all wrapped up in a neat little bow at Charlotte. The combination seemed headed toward its first top-5 finish together, attempting to erase the smell of a stinky season until an axle broke with less than 10 laps left, erasing their most consistent performance of 2014. Truex wound up two laps back in 25th, hopefully harnessing some confidence from it all before heading to his hometown track in Dover, Del., this weekend. … Three of NASCAR’s four cautions during the first 227 laps of the race were for debris. Can we just call them timeouts already? The amount of unforced stoppages within the race are getting silly for things fans never see in the name of safety. That’s especially so when it changes the outcome on a night where Harvick and Johnson could have lapped up to the fifth- or sixth-place car the way those two were hooked up early on.

Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter:
Photos by

Post-race reaction from Jimmie Johnson's win in NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Post date: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - 12:08
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Iowa Hawkeyes, Big Ten, News
Path: /college-football/iowa-offensive-tackle-brandon-scherff-takes-unusual-path-stardom

Somewhere in Iowa, a few ex-high school athletes have stories to share.
One tale might be about a 250-pound sophomore quarterback running over linebackers on a second-and-5 sneak.

Another might be about the time a 230-pound high school freshman returned volleys effortlessly for the varsity tennis team.

“It was a sight,” Denison (Iowa) athletic director Dave Wiebers said. “You see a kid that big and you think he’ll never get to anything. But they’ll lob it over the top and he’ll be there in one or two steps.”

Both stories are about the same high school athlete from Denison, and there are probably more about the same 250-pounder all-state pitcher, a center flashing post moves or a state title-winner in the shot put.

“I’ve read somewhere where he was claiming 1,400-1,600 (passing) yards,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I don’t doubt that it happened, but I want to see the video.”


Specialization didn’t come for Brandon Scherff until the last possible moment in high school at Denison. Only when Scherff committed to go to Iowa as an offensive linemen did Scherff start playing tackle full time on the football field.

Five years later, Scherff is one of the top offensive tackles in the country as an Athlon Sports preseason second-team All-American and likely a first round NFL draft pick.

It’s no fluke that Iowa would find its latest great lineman — a tradition that includes Robert Gallery, Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff — first in the form of a high school quarterback/pitcher/center/tennis player. Molding Scherff into a star offensive tackle was on the radar from day one, even before Scherff moved to the line.

“Not many have the athletic ability that he has,” Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz said. “He moves very well. You want to see guys who play with their feet. You want guys who play with their eyes. You can’t do anything if you don’t have good eyes.”

Wiebers, who coached Denison football and track, didn’t play Scherff at quarterback on a lark, though. He simply didn’t have anyone but the 250-pound sophomore to play the position at the time.

Scherff had a strong arm, but his real asset was picking up momentum in the run game in Denison’s veer offense.

“I threw the ball every once in a while,” Scherff said. “I tried to run quarterback sneaks on second and 5. Those were always nice.”

Still, Iowa essentially recruited Scherff as a lineman sight unseen.

Midway through Scherff’s junior year, Wiebers had a more traditional quarterback in Ricky Torres, who would go on to play basketball at the NAIA level. Scherff, who was on his way to becoming a 6-5, 295-pound high school senior, would move to tight end.

“You probably got to see more of his athletic ability from his tight end position,” Wiebers said. “In that transition, you could see what a good athlete he is in the trenches and catching the ball.”

For Scherff, the move from tight end to offensive tackle as a senior was more practical. He also gave up summer baseball to prepare for his new role in college.

“I didn’t want to come here not knowing what to do,” Scherff said.

He was still raw when he arrived at Iowa, but going up against All-America defensive end and eventual first-round draft pick Adrian Clayborn on the scout team as a freshman forced him to catch up in a hurry.

Scherff started at left guard as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and moved to left tackle for each of the last two seasons.

He improved to a point where he had a legitimate dilemma on whether to go to the NFL Draft after his junior season. He elected to stay in school to improve fundamentals and technique.

For now, he’s “pure power,” Brian Ferentz said. Scherff is also only a year-and-a-half removed from a broken leg and dislocated ankle that cost him half of the 2012 season.

The return, though, gives Iowa a chance to win the Big Ten West division with Schreff blocking for returning starting quarterback Jake Rudock and grinding running back Mark Weisman.

“The biggest thing is, all those measurables, all those things where you’re testing, every one of those shows up when he plays,” Brian Ferentz said. “A lot of times there are guys have weight room strength, or guys who have football strength. He has everything. He’s an extremely functional football player.

“You could put a football player in a test tube, you’d want them to look like him.”

And now Schreff is a football player only. He’ll still play basketball with friends, and he’s taken up golf. But he’s not going to show up in a quarterback meeting anytime soon.

“I absolutely don’t miss quarterback,” Scherff said. “It’s kind of fun throwing the ball around, but I love hitting people and being physical.”

Images courtesy of Iowa Athletic Communications.

Iowa Offensive Tackle Brandon Scherff Takes Unusual Path to Stardom
Post date: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - 11:51
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-may-27-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for May 27.

• Good news, fellas: .

• The weekend's best sports photo (of the ones I've seen, anyway): .

• The weekend's best sports fan: .

. People are disgusting.

• A palate-cleanser after that last story: .



• Cool story: Astros prospect Conrad Gregor launched a three-run dinger. .

. Light on his feet for a big fella.

. The reaction is priceless.

, so chill out, pearl-clutching reporters.

• The pool dunk genre has been taken about as far as it can go. But here's one last link to a pool dunk video to kick off the summer. The best part is watching the brahs celebrate their achievement.


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

Post date: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - 10:29
Path: /college-basketball/12-college-basketball-teams-rise-2014-15

No program last season was more ascendant than UConn, even if the Huskies didn’t look the part until the final six games of the season.

The Huskies were banned from the NCAA Tournament in 2013 due to low APR scores. They came back to go 12-6 in the American, a solid if unspectacular performance by UConn standards.

Then came the Shabazz Show as Napier led UConn to one of the most unlikely national championships since the Tournament field expanded.

Following up that kind of rise will be tough, but there are a handful of candidates of teams that could turn a disappointing 2013-14 into a surprising 2014-15.

Here are our top 12 contenders for programs on the rise for the upcoming season.

College Basketball Teams on the Rise in 2014-15

Talent hasn’t been the issue for Mike Anderson’s teams at Arkansas. For whatever reason, the Razorbacks haven’t been able to put together an NCAA-worthy season. That may change this season as the Hogs return six of their top seven scorers including the inside-out duo of forward Bobby Portis and guard Michael Qualls. After struggling on the road in Anderson’s first two seasons, the Hogs started to prove they could win away from Fayetteville last season.

For the second consecutive season, Georgia was the team no bubble team in the SEC wanted to play. The Bulldogs went 12-7 in the league, but they lacked the non-conference resume to be a legitimate NCAA contender. Maybe that changes this season. After getting hit with untimely early entries to the NBA Draft, Mark Fox has his top five scorers returning.

Gonzaga had a typical Gonzaga season in 2013-14, 29 wins, a West Coast Conference title and an early exit from the NCAA Tournament. The record, though, was somewhat hollow. Gonzaga defeated one top-50 team all year (BYU, twice). With a solid backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. plus the arrival of Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga will have top-10 potential.

The Illini won six of its last nine Big Ten games including the league tournament. Not a bad turnaround for a team that reeled off eight consecutive Big Ten losses at one point. After a lost year, John Groce has rebuilt his roster around returners Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu. He’ll add another round of transfers and a top-50 freshman forward, Leron Black, to the mix this season.

How could Kentucky be a team on the rise after reaching the national title game? Well, with nine McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster and now experience, Kentucky should have a more consistent season from beginning to end after last year’s freshman-laden team lost 11 games last season.

The Hurricanes lost nearly every key player from the team that won the 2012 ACC title. Help was on the way, even if it was delayed a year. Transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClendon (Texas) will be eligible. Don’t count out coach Jim Larranaga, who coaxed an 8-12 ACC season out of last season’s short-handed team.

One starter, Austin Hollins, is gone from the NIT champions. The Gophers still have Andre Hollins and Dre Mathieu, a duo who helped Minnesota defeat Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa to get onto the NCAA Tournament bubble in the first place. The Big Ten doesn’t figure to be the gauntlet it has been in the last two seasons, so Richard Pitino’s team could take a significant step forward after going 9-11 in the league in his first season.

How can the Cornhuskers’ top last last season when Nebraska reached its first NCAA Tournament since 1998? With the way Nebraska finished, it’s easy to forget the Huskers were 9-9 overall and 1-5 in the Big Ten on Jan. 23. With Terran Petteway returning and only one significant departure (guard Ray Gallegos), Tim Miles’ team is set to carry the momentum from last season into 2014-15.

Notre Dame
Not much went right in Notre Dame’s first season in the ACC. The Irish played the entire conference schedule without Jerian Grant, who was averaging 19 points per game before he was an academic casualty. The normally stable Irish went 15-17 overall and 6-12 in the ACC, missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. With Grant returning alongside senior Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame should top 20 wins in 2014-15.

The NCAA selection committee snubbed the Mustangs, but Larry Brown’s team figures to make the in-or-out decision easier this time around. SMU reached the NIT final last season with just two seniors on the roster. The returning cast alone would make SMU worth watching, but the Mustangs add freshman point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. The 6-5 point guard from Arlington could be an All-American and one of the top prospects in the 2015 NBA Draft.

After two subpar seasons, including an early loss to Houston in the 2013 CBI, Texas is in the midst of a resurgence under Rick Barnes that once seemed unlikely. The Longhorns return every key contributor from a team that went 24-11 and finished third in the Big 12. More important for Barnes’ long-term hopes, the Longhorns are pulling major in-state recruits again with the arrival of freshman center Myles Turner.

Larry Krystkowiak has led one of the most impressive turnarounds in the the country in the last three seasons. When he started at Utah in 2011-12, Krystkowiak took over a roster with only four returning players for the program’s first season in the Pac-12. After going 6-25 in his first season, Utah has improved to 21-12 in his third. With Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge leading a now-veteran team, Utah will push for a winning record in the Pac-12 and its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2009.

12 College Basketball Teams on the Rise for 2014-15
Post date: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/13-amazing-indianapolis-500-stats-you-need-know

The Indianapolis 500 is the Greatest Spectacle in Racing for a reason.

Nestled in the suburbs just west and north of downtown Indianapolis, the greatest racetrack and the biggest sporting venue in the world is host to the most prestigious event in motor sports every Memorial Day weekend.

The Indy 500, for those in the know. And, trust me, I know.

I’ve been to seven such events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — and one Brickyard 400 — and there is no experience in sports like watching 33 open-wheel rocketships fly past your nose at over 220 miles per hour. And all seven, even the ones that ended early by rain (looking at you Ashley Judd), gifted me an unforgettable experience.

We celebrate those who have fought and died to protect this country on Memorial Day weekend, and for three decades, my family has done that by enjoying the most coveted championship in racing.

The 98th running of the esteemed 500-mile sprint won’t be any different. Here are my favorite stats you need to know before settling in for 200 laps around IMS on Sunday afternoon:

187.433: Record average speed for 2013 race
The fastest Indy 500 ever run took place just last year when fan favorite Tony Kanaan won the event with an average speed of 187.433 MPHs. It was only the second time in the history of the race in which the average speed was in excess of 180 MPH — Arie Luyendyk in 1990 at 185.981 MPH. The race took a record two hours, 40 minutes and three seconds to finish. The ’13 race also featured the most lead changes (68) and different leaders (14) in Indy 500 history. Never before had a race seen more than 35 lead changes until ’13.

236.986: Fastest qualifying lap in history
Speaking of Luyendyk, the French champion owns the fastest qualifying lap in race history when he won the pole in 1996 with an average speed over four laps of 236.986 miles per hour. Hometown hero Ed Carpenter won his second consecutive pole this year with an average four-lap speed of 230.661 MPH.

6: Former winners racing in this year’s event
Including the defending champion Kanaan, there are six former winners in the field in 2014. Helio Castroneves (2001-02, ‘09), Scott Dixon (2008), Juan Pablo Montoya (2000), Buddy Lazier (1996) and Jacques Villeneuve (1995) all have hoisted the Borg-Werner Trophy. The record for most race winners in one field is 10 back in 1992 and this year’s field also will include seven rookies. Castroneves is attempting to join elite company…

4: Most Indy 500 championships by a driver
Only three drivers in history have ever won the Indy 500 four times. A.J. Foyt (1961, ’64, ’67, ’77), Al Unser (1970, ’71, ’78, ’87) and Rick Mears (1979, ’84, ’88, ’91) are the three most successful names in IMS history and Castroneves could join them with a win this weekend. Foyt also owns the record for most consecutive starts in the race at 35 while Roger Penske’s 15 wins are a record for an owner.

257,325: Capacity of Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Affectionately known as IMS, the historic track is the largest sporting venue in the world. The official seating capacity is reported at 257,325 seats but the infield space and standing-room-only crowd push attendance over 300,000 annually. The Associated Press has reported in the past, at the height of its popularity, that the race drew roughly 400,000 spectators a year — making it the largest sporting event in the world every year.

0.043: Seconds of margin of victory in 1992
The closest finish in race history took place when Al Unser Jr. held off Scott Goodyear in 1992 by a fraction of a second. The duo battled for laps and were nose-to-tail coming off of turn four on lap No. 200. Goodyear peaked inside “Little Al” right at the finish line but was unable to complete the pass. The IMS Radio Network call still gives me chills and nearly brings me to tears to this day:

253: Acres within the track
The infield at IMS is a sight to behold. Four holes of The Brickyard Crossing golf course are located along the backstretch of the 253-acre infield. The remaining 14 holes run just outside of the backstretch. According to, the infield could house Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium, The Rose Bowl, The Roman Coliseum and The Vatican City combined.

1.9: Miles-to-the-gallon the current Indy car obtains
One lap around the famed Brickyard is 2.5 miles and it takes roughly 1.3 gallons of fuel to make it all the way around the perfect oval. So the current Indy car gets roughly 1.9 miles/gallon in fuel mileage. The fuel capacity of the current vehicle is 18.5 gallons (70 liters), meaning the fuel window for the machines is roughly 35 laps.

28: Worst starting spot for a race winner
The race has been run 97 times and only 10 times has a winner started 20th or worse. The lowest starting spot to crown a winner is 28th and it happened when Ray Harroun won the inaugural event in 1911 and then again in 1936 when Louis Meyer was a champion. Only twice since 1936 has a winner come from 20th or worst — Johnny Rutherford started 25th in 1974 and Al Unser began the race 20th in 1987. The best starting position to never win a race is 18th. Oriol Servia has the unlucky draw of beginning the race on the outside of Row 6 this weekend.

1: Fewest race laps led by a champion
The late Dan Wheldon won arguably the most painful finish of any of the 97 Indy 500s. Rookie J.R. Hildebrand held the lead by a wide margin entering the final turn of the 500-mile race when he slid into the outside wall while passing a much slower car. The wreck allowed Wheldon to make the final lap pass and clinch his second Indy 500 win. It was the only lap Wheldon led all race long, giving him the fewest laps led by any winner. Only one other time has a winner led fewer than 10 total laps and that was American Joe Dawson in 1912 when he led just two laps. The final lap pass by Wheldon was also only the second last lap lead change in race history. This historic final lap by Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 might have been the most dramatic finish in race history (and I was lucky enough to see both) and is the only other final lap pass by a champion:

8,116 and 17,527: Oldest and youngest champions in race history (in days)
The youngest driver to win the Indy 500 was Troy Ruttman in 1952. He was 22 years, two months and 19 days old — or 8,116 days. The oldest driver to win the championship was Al Unser in 1987, who was 47 years, 11 months and 25 days old — or 17,527 days.

1,100: Miles Kurt Busch will attempt to race on Sunday
It’s been a decade since Robby Gordon attempted to run both the Indianapolis 500 and the Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. Kurt Busch will attempt the double-dip this weekend. He will start on the outside of Row 4 at Indy and there is no possible way he won’t qualify for the 600. In all, should he finish both races, Busch will race 1,100 miles in one day on two tracks while also traversing the 500-mile distance between Indianapolis and Charlotte. The help of a Cessna Citation X 750 — which flies at 600 miles per hour — will allow Busch to run both races.

1: Pace car wrecks
In only once in Indy 500 history has the pace car wrecked. In 1971, Eldon Palmer, a local car dealer in Indiana, paced the start of the race in a gorgeous red Dodge Challenger. The only problem is he lost control of the car and crashed into an entire grandstand at the end of pit lane. Unbelievably and fortunately, no one died in the bizarre incident.

13 Amazing Indianapolis 500 Stats You Need to Know
Post date: Friday, May 23, 2014 - 14:00
Path: /nascar/busch-prepares-tackle-double-coke-600-need-spark

Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Indianapolis 500 share center stage over racing’s biggest weekend.

Coca-Cola 600 in need of a spark
Racing 600 miles at Charlotte has long been NASCAR's attempt at one-upping the open-wheel gang and that group's lasting importance of the Indianapolis 500.

The 600 has certainly turned in to one of the sport's favorite traditions — I'd recommend ignoring anyone who complains about the length of the race this weekend — largely based on the excess of the mileage but also due to its move to a day-night event in 1993. It was a race that had developed its own unique flair, allowing it to stand out on an otherwise long calendar.

A combination of events, however, have come together to reduce some of the race's prestige. Advances in racing technology have made the race less of a taste of endurance, a glut of NASCAR night racing has lessened the unique day-night draw and, for more than a decade, the event hasn't been part of NASCAR's former bonus program that established the race as a crown jewel event. Faster speeds and a heavier dependence on aerodynamics has also caused some separation in the racing.

Mind you, the Coca-Cola 600 isn't failing and it’s not on a last leg. But the race certainly isn't held in the same reverence on the NASCAR calendar that it once was.

What's the best cure? It's impossible to know. But the race needs a shot in the arm.

Car transition period key for Busch at Charlotte  Kurt Busch
"Doing the double" is a phrase that has once again become relevant at Charlotte Motor Speedway beyond special requests at the concession stand, all thanks to Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kurt Busch. Busch, of course, is planning to race 1,100-plus miles Sunday by becoming the first NASCAR driver since 2004 to start both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600.

After a brief taste of that back-and-forth racing lifestyle last weekend, crew chief Daniel Knost noted this week that Busch's greatest challenge in the double won't necessarily be fitness. Instead, it'll be about transitioning from IndyCar handling sensibilities to Cup car sensibilities upon Charlotte arrival.

"I think that the cars are really different, so it may take him a little while to get settled into our car," Knost said.

Knost is talking from experience. In an interview at Indianapolis 500 qualifying Sunday, Busch noted that he spent most of the All-Star Race's first segment getting back acquainted with the heavier, less nimble car. Such a process makes it tough to make significant strides forward in race conditions.

Busch's teammate knows that firsthand. After racing the Indianpolis 500 in 2001, Tony Stewart became the 600's first caution when he spun on Lap 3. However, he recovered to a third-place finish. Good race cars, after all, cure most ills.

"I think, if the car is good enough, (Busch will) be able to go up there and compete," Knost said.

Now time for Danica's consistency  Danica Patrick
There is no doubt that Danica Patrick's top-10 finish at Kansas Speedway was her best overall Sprint Cup race to date. Patrick methodically improved the car and her track position during the race, though largely seemed to lose most of her gained ground during restarts.

Regardless, Patrick's Kansas run — she's long been known to hate driving loose race cars and felt the Kansas car was fast largely because she finally felt secure on the track — was a success on the level of expectation. The key now for Patrick is turning runs like Kansas into significant streaks of success.

Starting fourth on Sunday night is a step in the right direction. But the biggest hurdle she still faces is consistency.

Charlotte ages back to Jimmie's liking?  Jimmie Johnson
An underlying current of last week's All-Star Race was an improved groove around Charlotte's 1.5-mile track. Finally, some eight years after Charlotte went through its full repave in 2006, the track seems to be finding some age and character again.

It's undoubtedly still lightning fast — drivers were barely blipping the throttle and dragging the brake during qualifying laps in the 27-second range during last week's All-Star qualifying — and remains an aero-dependent track. However, drivers seemed less and less perturbed by the dreaded aero push and had some longer runs side-by-side and nose-to-tail than previously seen in recent CMS races.

Familiar bumps on the backstretch and entering Turn 3 also seem to be reappearing.

All told, that may be music to Jimmie Johnson's ears. In the eight races immediately prefacing the 2006 repave, Johnson won five times. In the 16 races since, he has one win and just five top-5 finishes.

Botched qualifying for several top names
Thursday night's group qualifying session for the Coca-Cola 600 went quite well for Jimmie Johnson. For other big names, it didn't go so hot.

The first sign of trouble came from Ryan Newman when significant handling issues quickly brought him back to pit road. The culprit? A left side tire had been inadvertently mounted on the right of the car — heavily skewing the car out of balance.

Meanwhile, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch slogged through the opening round with poor performing cars. Neither advanced to the second round, leaving the former champions scheduled to start 27th and 28th.

The last bit of silly business happened at the close of the final five-minute round for the pole. Two drivers — Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth — tried to play the countdown clock to their advantage by taking the green flag just before it expired. The thinking behind that strategy allows a car to cool down longer than others and attempt a lap in the coolest possible conditions.

Those objectives are lost, of course, when a driver fails to click by the start-finish line on a flying lap before the clock hits zero. Harvick and Kenseth both made that embarrassing mistake Thursday, relegating their starting positions to 11th and 12th and missing any shot at the pole.

Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter:
Photos by

Five things to watch on racing's biggest weekend with IndyCar's Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 on tap.
Post date: Friday, May 23, 2014 - 11:03
Path: /college-football/college-football-win-total-projections-released-2014

Need a good way to make it through the long offseason? First, buy and read an Athlon Sports College Football preview magazine and then take a look at these win total projections provided by 5Dimes.

With a few months until kickoff, expect to see more win total projections released, but 5Dimes has 35 teams and the wager prices for 2014 to help us pass the time until August.

Here’s a look at the team and projected win totals by 5Dimes:

TeamProjected Win Total
Alabama 10.5 (Over -140, Under +100)
Auburn 9.5 (Over -155, Under +115)
Baylor 9.5 (Over -130, Under -110)
BYU 8.5 (Over -160, Under +120)
Clemson 9.5 (Over -150, Under -190)
Duke 8.5 (Over +120, Under -160)
Florida 7.5 (Over +110, Under -150)
Georgia 9.5 (Over -120, Under -120)
Indiana 5.5 (Over +145, Under -185)
Kansas State 8.5 (Over -130, Under -110)
Maryland 7.5 (Over +100, Under -140)
Miami 7.5 (Over -160, Under +120)
Michigan 7.5 (Over -140, Under +100)
Michigan State 9.5 (Over -155, Under +115)
Mississippi 7.5 (Over -140, Under +100)
Missouri 9.5 (Over +110, Under -150)
Nebraska 7.5 (Over -130, Under -110)
North Carolina 7.5 (Over -140, Under +100)
Notre Dame 9.5 (Over +110, Under -150)
Ohio State 10.5 (Over -140, Under +100)
Oregon 10.5 (Over +100, Under -140)
Penn State 8.5 (Over +100, Under -140)
Rutgers 4.5 (Over -110, Under -130)
South Carolina 9.5 (Over -140, Under +100)
Stanford 9.5 (Over -120, Under -120)
Tennessee 5.5 (Over -160, Under +120)
Texas 8.5 (Over -110, Under -130)
Texas A&M 7.5 (Over -110, Under -130)
TCU 6.5 (Over +120, Under -160)
UCLA 9.5 (Over +100, Under -150)
USC 8.5 (Over -130, Under -110)
Virginia Tech 7.5 (Over -150, Under +110)
Washington State 5.5 (Over -165, Under +125)
West Virginia 5.5 (Over -190, Under +150)
Wisconsin 9.5 (Over -135, Under -105)
College Football Win Total Projections Released for 2014
Post date: Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 13:09
Path: /overtime/21-unintentionally-dirty-sports-photos-web

Ahh, photography. It can catch a split-second moment in time and turn it into a hilarious photo that can be interpreted the completely wrong way. And sports provides more of these moments than most other subjects--usually because there's a lot of sweaty dudes rolling around with each other and celebrating as only sweaty dudes know how. Here are 21 unintentionally funny sports photos that are hilarious even if you don't like sports.

<p> These photos caught athletes doing things we only see in the movies (dirty movies.)</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 12:42
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-may-22-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for May 22.

to change the name of the Washington Redskins.

when the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks visited The White House on Wednesday.

• Mexican national "soccer" team coach during The World Cup. He does know it's being played in Brazil, right?

• Want a quick, by-the-numbers look at the Indy 500 this weekend? .

• The real . The daughter of team co-owner Wesley Edens went from 249 twitter followers to, at last count, over 43,000 followers in less than two days.


• Two things here: (1)  and (2) Barry "Switzer would drink a 'Crown on the rocks within five minutes" of arriving on recruiting visits.

• Scout’s Jamie Newberg is producing . It’s fascinating analysis of what cities, states and regions produce the most NFL talent. (.)

• The Tampa Bay Rays threw a one-hitter against the Oakland A's on Wednesday.

• The Cubs lack of support for Jeff Samardzija is growing comical. The Chicago pitcher tosses seven scoreless innings on Wednesday and lowering his league-leading ERA to 1.46. Yet, , pushing his winless streak to 16 consecutive starts. He has no wins in 2014.

• One of NASCAR’s long-time writers and aficionados has all of the fancy new Coca-Cola 600 paint schemes covered, including .

I believe the great Dodgers announcer Charley Steiner says it perfectly, "I hate to break the news to Puig, but that's the third out."


Post date: Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 10:06
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-may-21-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for May 21.

• It's become more common for teammates to pester MLB players doing in-game dugout interviews, but that doesn't make .
• If you haven't seen UFC Octagon Girl Vanessa Hanson, you really should.
• In one of the most groan-inducing moments in recent NBA history, the Cleveland Cavaliers scored the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft on Tuesday, marking the second straight year and the third time in four years they will select first. .
• Keeping with the tradition of rewarding teams with new stadiums, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Tuesday that .
We're looking at you Tampa Bay. 
• There's something truly great about . Truly great. 
• If you love to hate, then you'll love this list of the s. 
• The Charlotte Bobcats officially adopted the “Hornets” moniker on Tuesday, and social media accounts to reflect the name change. 
• There's a reason I don't play rugby.
Post date: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - 08:38
Path: /nascar/nascar-rookie-report-jumping-competition-600

Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers and more.

Today, David attempts to isolate each rookie from his team and equipment and properly rank the driving chops of each member of this year’s rookie class.

600 miles of racing at Charlotte might be a NASCAR tradition. It’s also utter ridiculousness.

A trump card to the Indianapolis 500, the race formerly known as the World 600 — as in, “What could possibly be bigger than the Indianapolis 500?” — is a four-hour slow-burn endurance race that crosses from day into night. A joke among fans is that you can watch the green flag drop, go see two movies and come back for the finish. For drivers, the length of the race is no joking matter.

It’s a beast of an event for competitors, and one historically kind to young drivers. The likes of Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Matt Kenseth scored their first wins in the Coca-Cola 600, but they had a lot of help. Their crew chiefs at the time — Ray Evernham, Jimmy Makar and Robbie Reiser, respectively — were titans in their time atop the pit box and still roam the garages to this day, commanding respect from those hoping to follow in their footsteps. Each rookie in this year’s crop has a race-caller prepared for an event such as this in which strategy can heavily dictate the outcome.

Though caution trends are futile, one might surmise that in a 400-lap race around the 1.5-mile quad-oval track, drivers tend to pace themselves a bit more than usual. It means less aggression, which could mean fewer cautions. A dearth of caution flags creates the need to pit under green-flag conditions. Green-flag pitting allows crew chiefs to enact short-pitting strategy in an attempt to pass cars without actually passing cars; using lap time falloff as a way to jump the cars in front of them for track position. It’s called jumping, which is measured by a metric called jump plus/minus.

In this week’s Rookie Report rankings, we’ll take a closer look at the position jumping capabilities of the crew chiefs working on behalf of their driver to manufacture track position:

Kyle Larson1. Kyle Larson, No. 42 (previous ranking: 1)  Everything about Larson’s rookie season has been above average, but his team’s ability to pick up positions during green-flag pit cycles has been mundane. Larson lost a total of 17 spots across 15 green-flag cycles in the first 11 races. To be fair to crew chief Chris Heroy, 18 spots were due to Larson’s pit-road speeding infraction — of which he was awarded a pass-through penalty — at Las Vegas. With that stop omitted, they hold a balanced jump plus/minus of plus-1. Luckily for Heroy, they are getting track position the old-fashioned way; Larson happens to be one of the top five passers in the series with an adjusted pass efficiency of 53.3 percent.

Austin Dillon2. Austin Dillon, No. 3 (previous: 2)  Dillon and crew chief Gil Martin are the best closers in the Cup Series by virtue of their 90.91 percent position retention and 36 positions gained in the final 10 percent of races, so it’s clear that Martin is making effective use of his adjustment opportunities with each pit stop; however, their green-flag pit cycle gains have been minimal. They’ve maintained their position 53.33 percent of the time and only gained one position across 15 cycles. That plus-1 jump number represents a drop for Martin, who gained 16 positions across green-flag cycles in 2013 with driver Kevin Harvick.

Justin Allgaier3. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 (previous: 3)  A passing slump by Tony Stewart in the beginning of the 2013 season forced then-crew chief Steve Addington to target short-pitting tactics in an attempt to gain track position. Through Stewart’s abbreviated season, the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team was an adept jumper, earning a plus-18 with Stewart and a plus-4 with Austin Dillon behind the wheel. This year, Addington is applying the same philosophy with rookie Justin Allgaier for HScott Motorsports. Allgaier ranks first among rookies in positions jumped (plus-11) and is tied for first in position retention during green-flag pit cycles (73.33 percent).

Cole Whitt4. Cole Whitt, No. 26 (previous: 4)  Outside of a half-dozen races atop the pit box, Randy Cox is tackling the Cup Series for the first time in 2014. Swan Racing and BK Racing might not have provided him with the best, top-of-the-line equipment, but his pit strategy decisions have resembled those of a veteran race-caller. His 73.33 percent position retention across green-flag cycles ensures that Cole Whitt has just under a three-quarter chance to keep his position on long runs, and his plus-8 spots gained ranks second among crew chiefs with rookie drivers.

Michael Annett5. Michael Annett, No. 7 (previous: 5)  Bono Manion’s full-season effort for Jamie McMurray in 2013 was rather ordinary. They finished the season with a plus-2 positions gained during green-flag pit cycles. This year with Michael Annett, he has helped maintain the team’s position just under 75 percent of the time and netted the rookie four extra positions on the track. Unfortunately, his yellow-flag pit work has garnered mixed results. It came under scrutiny last week when he made a strange decision to forego tires in the Sprint Showdown, propelling Annett to the lead, after which they quickly dropped 16 positions.

Alex Bowman6. Alex Bowman, No. 23 (previous: 6)  A rookie in need of track position — his average running position through 11 races, 32.69, ranks 36th in the series — is Bowman, who hasn’t been helped much by crew chief Dave Winston. The bad news is that they have lost a total of eight positions on the racetrack because of green-flag pitting, but the good news is that their retention (66.67 percent) indicates they maintain or gain positions more often than they lose them. With time, that minus-8 should become a more balanced tally.

Ryan Truex7. Ryan Truex, No. 83 (previous: 7)  Truex has undergone a crew chief change, from Dale Ferguson to Doug Richert, and so far it appears to be for the better. Ferguson kept Whitt’s position 60 percent of the time, but lost him three positions during green-flag cycles. Richert’s retention is 20 percent better and his jump plus/minus is a balanced zero. There isn’t much to write home about in regards to track position attainment, but the No. 83 BK Racing program is at least heading in a positive direction.

David Smith is the founder of and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projection, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at .

Ranking the seven-driver crop of rookies in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Post date: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - 18:57
Path: /college-basketball/ranking-best-and-worst-college-basketball-coach-hires-2014-15

The coaching carousel is funny sometimes. Last season brought a few major job openings — chief among them, UCLA — but few big names moving to new jobs.

This season seems to be the opposite. The names involved in the coaching carousel arguably are bigger than the jobs they filled.

Buzz Williams’ name had surfaced in coaching searches before, but Virginia Tech, a program that has made the NCAA Tournament once since 1996, ended up being his landing place. Bruce Pearl, once one of the top coaches in the SEC before his NCAA-hastened departure, starts over at one of the toughest jobs in the league. And Kelvin Sampson, who led Oklahoma to the Final Four, landed at Houston.

Another big name could have been in the carousel as three-time Final Four coach Ben Howland was on the job hunt, but he’ll likely have to wait for next season after pulling out of the Oregon State search.

Since the coaching carousel has essentially ended, now is a good time to review the new coaches for 2014-15.

The Elite Eight Hires for 2014-15

1. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Williams was so desperate to get away from Marquette, a school without a president and an athletic director, that he grabbed the first halfway decent major conference job. That job turned out to be Virginia Tech. Positions at Tennessee and Missouri would open after Williams landed in Blacksburg, so the hire has to be seen as a coup for the Hokies. What Virginia Tech gets is a coach who reached the NCAA Tournament in five of six seasons at Marquette and reached the Sweet 16 or better three times. He’ll be unconventional, something Virginia Tech will need to be competitive in the ACC. At Marquette, Williams built a program that could go toe-to-toe with Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh — all teams he’ll face in the ACC.

2. Bruce Pearl, Auburn
If Pearl can’t revive Auburn basketball, or at least interest in Auburn basketball, it’s worth asking if anyone can. Auburn is taking a bit of a risk in hiring Pearl, who was fired at Tennessee after he lied to NCAA investigators about hosting then-high school junior Aaron Craft at the coach’s home during an unofficial visit. Pearl is still under a show-cause penalty that prohibits him from any contact with recruits until August. The potential payoff is worth it, though. Pearl went to the NCAA Tournament every season at Tennessee, including a 31-5 season in 2007-08. His biggest task will be to fill seats in Auburn’s new basketball arena.

3. Donnie Tyndall, Tennessee
Tyndall arrives at Tennessee with arguably a better track record than Cuonzo Martin did three years ago. Tyndall led Morehead State two a pair of NCAA Tournaments, including a 2011 upset of Louisville behind the play of Kenneth Faried. He picked up where Larry Eustachy left off at Southern Miss, taking the Eagles to a pair of NIT appearances. Tyndall is a former LSU and Middle Tennessee assistant, so he’s familiar with some of the terrain in Knoxville.

4. Kelvin Sampson, Houston
Auburn wasn’t the only school to hire a coach with a checkered NCAA past to revive the program. Sampson’s five-year show cause stemming from impermissible calls to recruits while the coach at Oklahoma and Indiana expired just in time for Houston to make this move. The Cougars are getting a coach who took OU to the Final Four in 2002 and spent his exile from college basketball as an NBA assistant. Even better, the calls that cost him his job at Indiana are now OK by NCAA rules. Houston desperately needs any kind of credibility it can get. The Cougars are 0-4 in the NCAA Tournament since the Phi Slama Jama days.

5. Danny Manning, Wake Forest
Manning, the 1988 National Player of the Year and No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick, has two seasons of head coaching experience, but his second season at Tulsa yielded Conference USA regular season and tournament titles. It’s going to be tough for Wake Forest to be one of the top programs in the ACC, but hiring Manning, a 47-year-old with plenty of name recognition, is the kind of risk the Demon Deacons need to take.

6. Cuonzo Martin, Cal
Even after a Sweet 16 appearance and Tennessee’s first NCAA bid in three years, Martin knew his days were numbered in Knoxville. Martin tried for Marquette before ending up at Cal, replacing the retired Mike Montgomery. This may be a risky hire for the Bears as Martin hasn’t coached anywhere west of Missouri State. Martin’s teams, though, have improved progressively each season at both Missouri State and Tennessee.

7. Saul Phillips, Ohio
Phillips, a former Tim Miles assistant at North Dakota State, led the Bison to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2009 and first NCAA win in 2014. Far from a one-year NCAA Tournament wonder, North Dakota State twice won Summit League regular-season titles and went 24-10 two years ago.

8. Wayne Tinkle, Oregon State
Reached the NCAA Tournament in three of the last five seasons at Montana, including a pair of Big Sky regular season titles. Oregon State is one of the toughest jobs in a major conference with only two winning teams in the last 25 years. Montana, though, has a knack for turning out successful coaches, including Larry Krystkowiak (now at Utah), Blaine Taylor, Stew Morrill, Mike Montgomery and Jud Heathcote.

5 Notable First-Time Coaches

Orlando Antigua, USF
Manhattan’s Steve Masiello would have been a fine hire, but Plan B could be just as interesting. USF is the latest program to roll the dice with a John Calipari assistant, all of which have been lauded as great recruiters.

Jason Gardner, IUPUI
The former Arizona star and Indiana Mr. Basketball will be 34 when the season starts. A former assistant at Loyola-Chicago and Memphis, Gardner replaces Todd Howard struggled to fill the shoes left by Ron Hunter, who left for Georgia State.

Kevin Keatts, UNC Wilmington
UNC Wilmington has struggled to find its way since Brad Brownell left in 2006, but this could be a big-time hire. The Seahawks mined the Rick Pitino coaching tree for Louisville’s top recruiter.

Chris Jans, Bowling Green
Bowling Green hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1968. Unlike his predecessors, Jans, a former Wichita State assistant, has the benefit of more resources thanks to a $20 million donation from Bill Frack.

Steve Wojciehowski, Marquette
Marquette is a big job for a first-time head coach, even though the last two coaches (Buzz Williams and Tom Crean) had a grand total of one year as a head coach before taking over. Wojo is as experienced as any assistant, serving under Mike Krzyzewski since 1999-2000.

4 Most Questionable Hires

Jim Christian, Boston College
Christian is a good MAC coach. Boston College is not in the MAC. His last job at a tough spot in a major conference was an 18-44 stint in the Mountain West at TCU.

Kim Anderson, Missouri
He won a national title last season — in Division II. Not many coaches make the leap from Division II to a major Division I program at age 59, but he is a former Missouri assistant.

Dan D’Antoni, Marshall
Mike D’Antoni’s brother hasn’t coached in college since 1971 at Marshall and hasn’t been a head coach other than in high school. Dan D’Antoni been in the NBA for nearly a decade, albeit on his brother’s staff.

Michael Curry, FAU
FAU loves coaches who have had bigger jobs (Mike Jarvis, Matt Doherty), so at least Curry fits a profile. He spent one season as the head coach of the Detroit Pistons, but this is his first college gig as an assistant or otherwise.

3 “Boomerangs” (i.e. coaches who returned to a level lower than their last job)

Frank Haith, Tulsa
Given heavy personnel losses at Missouri, Haith probably made a wise move to get out before the Tigers could fire him. Haith lands in the American Athletic Conference at Tulsa, a program that made the NCAA Tournament eight times from 1994-2003.

Ernie Kent, Washington State
Kent’s Oregon teams were streaky in his 13 seasons, going both 29-8 and 8-23 in his final four year in Eugene. Wazzu, one of the toughest places to win in the Pac-12, will gladly take the happy medium.

Doc Sadler, Southern Miss
Sadler sat out a year before returning to the Conference USA level. Sadler was 48-18 as the coach at UTEP from 2004-06, and now he takes over a Southern Miss program that is one of the better jobs in C-USA thanks to the last two coaches.

Ranking the best and worst college basketball coach hires for 2014-15
Post date: Monday, May 19, 2014 - 15:49
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Monthly
Path: /timhoward

If Team USA feels good about its chances at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it's in no small part due to a 6'3", tattooed brick wall named Tim Howard.

Since 2010, the New Jersey native has been Team USA’s starting goalkeeper, compiling a .500 winning percentage in four World Cup games. He is, quite literally, one of the only things standing between failure and the first men's World Cup title for America. Fortunately, the 35-year-old Howard isn't new to the game. He grew up as a soccer prodigy, battling through the uncontrollable muscle twitches caused by Tourette's syndrome, to play his first professional game at age 17. His career has included stops in the MLS with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, as well the English club Manchester United and his current team, Everton.

Ironically, his greatest career achievement might not be saving a goal, but scoring one. In an English Premiere League game, he became only the fourth goalie in league history to achieve the rare feat.

As the men’s national team faces off against powerhouses Germany, Portugal and Ghana in group play beginning June 16, we caught up with Howard to ask about his battle with Tourette's, his miraculous goal, and Team USA’s chances.

Pundits have described Team USA’s draw as the “group of death.” Is that a fair assessment?

If you go to the World Cup and expect to get an easy draw, then I think you’re under some sort of illusion. Also, because of how the seeds were weighted, we were always going to get tough teams. It wasn’t a surprise to the players. We need to play at our best over the course of three games and that won’t change no matter what group we’re in.

The U.S. has fielded arguably its strongest team ever. What’s contributed to the development of American soccer players in recent years?

Our players have gotten better because a lot of them have gone over to play abroad at a young age. Competing against the best competition hardens you as a player, so when we come together, our group is stronger.

How do you decide which way to dive during a penalty kick?

Sometimes it’s luck, sometimes it’s instinct, but strikers today are so clever most of the time goalies don’t get it right. I used to think there were telltale giveaways, but it’s really a chess match. A lot of times strikers go on a hard run up, then slow down or lean one way and shoot the other. It’s a crapshoot.

You’ve been known to play through broken bones. (Late in a 2013 Everton match, he broke two non-weight-bearing bones in his back and finished the game.) Care to explain? 

It’s either toughness or stupidity—I haven’t quite figured it out. Adrenaline is the best pain reliever and often that’s what helped get me through. I’m also of the school of thought that if you can play on, you should. You should never take yourself off the field if you don’t have to. Again, that might be stupid. 

In sixth grade you were diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome. What impact has that had on you?

It has had a huge positive impact on my life. There are all sorts of challenges with Tourette’s because it’s such a noticeable condition. You can’t hide it. Its challenges made me resilient and pushed me beyond whatever barriers were in front of me. I can get knocked down and continue to get back up.

As a member of the Everton team, you live in England most of the year. What aspects of European culture have you embraced?

I drink espresso after every meal. And driving on the opposite side of the road. You have to embrace that or else you won’t last very long.

Tell us how you scored a goal (in 2012).

It was a pass back that set up just right, and I cleared it as hard as I could. It was a blustery night and the ball caught the wind and, as it bounced, the other team’s forward chased it. He threw his goalie off, and the ball skipped and went in. It was crazy, but, unfortunately, we lost the game 2-1.

You’ve got a lot of body art. What is the newest tattoo you’ve had inked?

It was by Cally-Jo who works at Bang Bang studio in New York and is a superstar. I told her I wanted an original piece, and she did an old Victorian-style sacred heart. 

What’s on your training table?

I follow the Paleo Diet pretty religiously—high proteins and fats. Most stuff is off limits, but my cheat meal is usually pizza and Ben & Jerry’s.

You’re 6-foot-3. Can you dunk?

Dunking a basketball has always been a way to measure my athletic ability, going all the way back to high school. I used to be able to dunk it on the first try, but these days I need to warm up first.

What was it like to play your first professional soccer game before you had graduated from high school?

It was tough at the time, but, when I look back on it, I think all of those games paid so many dividends. Those games allowed me to make mistakes, to see things differently, and, as the games got faster at every level, they forced me to get faster in order to move up and climb the ladder professionally.

You can spend large parts of the game not directly involved in the action. What are you thinking about during those lulls?

My mind is very clear. I’m in the moment. I’m doing a lot of talking. Even when people can’t hear me, I’m managing the game. I react more than I think. I don’t think much, to be honest.

As a member of the Everton team, you live in Europe most of the year. What one thing do you miss most from the U.S.?

The weather. The weather over here (in England) sucks. And the American culture. I appreciate European culture, but I also like being home (in North Brunswick, N.J.) and flying under the radar and not being noticed.

Tell us something few people know about you.

I’m very much Jekyll & Hyde on (and off) the field. I’m zoned in, passionate about winning and very demanding of myself and my teammates. And I show that. People see it and say that I yell and scream. Off the field, I’m private and quiet until I warm up to people. I like to keep to myself, but I think sometimes that comes off as arrogance. I’ve got two different sides to me.

—By Matt McCue

Post date: Monday, May 19, 2014 - 14:38
Path: /nascar/jamie-mcmurray-wins-nascar-all-star-race-charlotte

Jamie McMurray has one of the strangest resumes you’ll find in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition. He’s a record 0-for-10 on Chase appearances — making the Missouri native the only driver who’s run full-time since 2004 to get shut out. Despite wheeling playoff-capable equipment with respected car owners Chip Ganassi and Jack Roush, he’s never finished better than 11th in series points, as inconsistency and mediocre performances have been his hallmark. Heck, McMurray has only posted wins in five of 13 career seasons while racing Cup.  Jamie McMurray

But it’s the magnitude of those victories that keeps this driver, at age 37, hanging around NASCAR’s top level. After Saturday night’s $1 million All-Star Race triumph, McMurray has career wins in the sport’s Super Bowl (Daytona 500) and at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis along with the aforementioned All-Star event. Mark Martin never had that type of trophy case. Neither did Hall-of-Famer Rusty Wallace or current stars Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and brothers Kurt and Kyle  Busch.

It’s a big moment for McMurray, however unexpected (Vegas odds were 40-1), after 2014 was shaping up to be another make-or-break year. With rookie teammate Kyle Larson in Chase position, McMurray is far down the points list in 24th, and likely needing a victory to seize a bid. But now, the pressure is lessened; it’s hard to see Ganassi firing a driver who just earned a $1 million bonus in one of the sport’s most prestigious events. While not a Hall-of-Fame caliber talent, McMurray has learned the next best skill for any athlete at a major-league level:

He knows how to keep his job.

“Through the Gears” we go, post All-Star Race …

FIRST GEAR: Small steps toward success
It’s no secret NASCAR’s great exhibition — May’s All-Star Race — has suffered in recent years. The reason? Not much different than what stick-and-ball sports have been going through in terms of incentive. Split into multiple segments between 80 and 100 laps each year, too many were simply positioning themselves — and not truly racing — until the final 10 circuits. Add in a cookie-cutter intermediate track where aero is king (Charlotte) and a single-file, snoozer parade ruins a race designed for fans.

NASCAR’s weird system of tracking average finishes per segment to set the field for the final 10 laps has helped a bit. No one can do the math off the top of their head but at least drivers and crew chiefs get a bit more aggressive. And while wrecks don’t define a race, for the first time in recent years a few crashes made it seem, at least, that the field was giving 100 percent. A side-by-side battle between McMurray and Edwards in that final segment was icing on the cake this year, one of the better two-man fights for the win we’ve seen in this event over the past decade.

Does that mean the race was perfect? Far from it. Charlotte still lacks the physical rough-and-tumble atmosphere of, say, Bristol, that I think fans prefer for this type of event. But if NASCAR’s wish is to keep it near 90 percent of the major race shops, I think you saw a step in the right direction Saturday night. Neither McMurray nor Edwards gave an inch in those final 10 laps — until they absolutely had to. It was a refreshing change from a points race in which many would have recognized the consequences of crashing and backed off. 

“I am like, ‘I don't really care if we wreck, I don't care what happens, I'm racing for a million dollars,’” said McMurray of those final moments. “I get to start on the front row and I'm going to make the very most out of the restart and everything that goes with this.”

For his part, Edwards thought his rival had a perfect ending, claiming “he’d do things differently” if given a second chance but that he couldn’t match McMurray’s toughness down the stretch. There was genuine disappointment in his voice, matching the excitement of the victor, which conveyed an important message fans haven’t received in recent years: these guys were going all-out for the win, consequences be damned.

SECOND GEAR: Fan vote follies  Josh Wise
Perhaps the most interesting note on the All-Star Race, besides the finish itself, was who made it into the field through the fan vote. Danica Patrick, the sophomore GoDaddy girl, was expected to be a slam dunk based on popularity. Instead? A Dogecoin/Reddit campaign pushed Josh Wise in the underfunded Phil Parsons Racing No. 98 car into the field while NASCAR’s “First Lady” wound up watching from the infield.

“It is what it is,” Patrick said, trying to downplay the outcome. “It’s outside sources that are in control.”

Wise, as you might expect, was ecstatic considering his longshot circumstances. The Reddit community was not exactly a NASCAR hotbed before its sponsorship this season, so Wise’s presence in the race was a chance to drum up new fan interest. Sadly, more speed never materialized in the car and Wise was barely shown on television all night, placing 15th, the last car on the lead lap.

THIRD GEAR: Big names drumming up drama?
Jimmie Johnson, seeking his third straight victory in the All-Star Race, was never a factor Saturday night. Running sixth, a two-tire stop sent him skating back through the field mid-race and once again, he and Chad Knaus weren’t on the same page in terms of communication. At first, their “conflicts” seemed artificially inflated by us media types, but the last few weeks have seen a clear uptick in tension — at least on the radio in-race. The No. 48 team, whose teammates Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne appeared to have far better cars for Charlotte, looks like no better than a top-10 entrant for the 600, an event in which they’re typically a heavy favorite.

Perhaps the more surprising move was Kevin Harvick, whose team has been on a roll, calling out his crew post-race on television after a slow stop. Yes, dropping two positions out of the front row for the final segment was just enough to cost him the race (Harvick wound up third). It was a rough ending, costing him a potential $900,000, but you wonder if biting the hand that feeds you in public is a wise decision. All season, the No. 4 has been the car to beat and its speedy crew has played a large part in exceptional performance. So why not cut them a break for one bad moment? Those words speak to the continued volatility at Stewart-Haas Racing.

FOURTH GEAR: Tony’s troubles continue
Speaking of Stewart-Haas Racing, its co-owner was a decided non-factor in the All-Star Race. Finishing 12th, the No. 14 car never so much as sniffed the top 10 as Stewart was decidedly slower than teammates Harvick and Kurt Busch. The chemistry with new crew chief Chad Johnston, a transplant from Michael Waltrip Racing, doesn’t seem to be there yet. It’s a small surprise, considering Harvick’s success with former MWR man Rodney Childers and the degree to which all the head wrenches work together in that shop.

How much is that healing broken leg affecting Stewart? The answer should be “not at all,” because it’s not like he’s out there doing leg presses. But while Stewart is off to a slow start (all but a handful of career wins have come after June 1st) this one is especially glaring considering past injuries. An average finish of 19.7, if it holds, would be his worst while leading a career-low one race and 74 laps to date (Texas, April).

That said, the driver seems to be

Wrecks took a lot of innocent victims out of NASCAR’s All-Star Race before they had a real chance. Kyle Busch, while trying to avoid contact with brother Kurt, dove behind Clint Bowyer, made contact and went for a wild ride down the backstretch and into Turn 3. That incident collected Joey Logano, knocking him out while minimizing the impact of Bowyer, who entered the event through Friday night’s Sprint Showdown victory. … The other transfer spot from Friday’s “last chance” race went to AJ Allmendinger, who also found himself wrecked by the end of the night. But the most serious incident involved Jeff Gordon, whose No. 24 car shot up the track inexplicably and collected Martin Truex Jr. and Greg Biffle in Turns 3 and 4. Gordon, who wound up 17th, was OK despite the hard hit. … Kasey Kahne was angry at NASCAR, claiming his crash was the result of sloppy track cleanup. According to the Hendrick Motorsports veteran, oil was the culprit after he and Ryan Newman hit the same patch of slick stuff exiting Turn 4. Both cars were wounded but NASCAR, for its part, has held firm that track cleanup was fully complete with no complaints from other teams before that incident.

Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter:
Photos by


Post-race reaction from Jamie McMurray's win in NASCAR's Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Post date: Monday, May 19, 2014 - 12:04
All taxonomy terms: Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/20-sporting-events-tide-you-over-until-football-starts

The Athlon Sports 2014 Top 25 Countdown is underway and preseason football magazines are just weeks from arriving at a newsstand near you.

For many, including myself, this signifies the start of a new college football season.

It doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t plenty of time to debate, discuss, argue and prognosticate about conference championships and playoff berths for the next few months before actual games start up on Aug. 28.

College football is king in my world. It’s my favorite sport and counting down the days until the kickoff of a new season is both exhilarating and excruciating all at the same time. But I am a fan of all great sporting events and there are plenty of things to keep us busy until LSU and Wisconsin meet in Houston or Texas A&M and South Carolina clash in Columbia or Boise State and Ole Miss hook up in Atlanta.

Aside from some vacation time, plenty of grilling and a few cold beverages, here is what my sports calendar will look like this summer:

May 24: UEFA Champions League Final
For the first time in series history, two teams from the same city will battle for Europe’s top soccer honor. After 124 matches over nearly a full calendar year of action, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid will square off in Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, Portugal, for the right to be called the 59th Champions League winner.

May 25: Memorial Day Race Weekend
This one is near and dear to my heart as I have been to more than half-a-dozen Indianapolis 500s over the last decade. But the Greatest Spectacle in Racing is just the tip of the asphalt iceberg on Memorial Day Weekend. The day gets started with Formula 1’s Monaco Grand Prix at 7:30 a.m. ET before the Indy 500 starts at 12:15 p.m. ET. The day wraps up with the Coca-Cola 600 from Charlotte Motor Speedway at 6 p.m. ET. This year Kurt Busch will be the first driver in a decade to attempt the Indy-Charlotte Double.

June: Stanley Cup Final
The best postseason in major American professional sports ends up with two teams dueling in a best-of-seven series. Sudden death overtime in Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final might be the truest form of reality TV ever created by sports. Especially, if the Montreal Canadiens, who have won the most championships of any team in the league (24), can get past the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals to make their first cup appearance in over 20 years.

June: NBA Finals
For those who prefer the hard court to the ice, the NBA Finals heat up (pun intended) in June. The Spurs and Thunder will battle in the Western Conference Finals while the Heat and Pacers will duel in the Eastern Conference Finals. Will the NBA crown a new king in Kevin Durant? Will fans get a rematch of last year’s Spurs-Heat seven-game thriller? Can LeBron three-peat?

June 5-7: MLB Draft
The Pirates drafted UCLA stud right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole No. 1 overall in 2011. Less than two years later, Cole helped Pittsburgh reach the postseason for the first time in two decades in just his first professional season. The gap between the traditional first-year player draft and debuting in the majors has shrunk every year and the MLB Draft is the first chance to glimpse the future of MLB.

June 7: The Belmont Stakes
Kentucky Derby favorite California Chrome won the first leg of the esteemed Triple Crown and then went on to claim the second leg of the Triple Crown at The Preakness. The third and final leg of the usually unobtainable Triple Crown will take place June 7 in Elmont, N.Y. The 146th running of The Belmont Stakes will reportedly carry a purse worth upwards of $1.5 million in prize money. Should California Chrome win the third race, it would become the first horse to win the trio of esteemed races since 1978 (Affirmed).

June 12-15: U.S. Open Championship
Long roughs, narrow fairways and beautiful rolling hills. That is the signature of the United State Open Championship and this year it will be played at famed Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, N.C. As an Open Championship, the tournament is technically open to any and all comers who qualify. It’s a true American sports tradition.

June 12-July 13: The World Cup
Every four years the world turns its attention in the same direction as 32 different nations vie for the most prestigious world championship in sports. Brazil will host the 64-match, 32-team, 8-group tournament this year for the first time in South America since 1978. The winner of the 20th World Cup will earn $35 million in prize money. The USA will play Ghana (Mon., June 16), Portugal (Sun., Jun 22) and Germany (Thurs., June 26) in group play before the elimination tournament begins Sat., June 28.

June 14-25: College World Series
One of the coolest national events in NCAA sports takes place over two weeks in Omaha, Neb., every year. TD Ameritrade Park will host eight teams from all over the country in a double-elimination round robin tournament in an effort to crown the best the nation has to offer. The city is great and welcoming and the event is as unique as any in American sports. UCLA topped Mississippi State a year ago to win the championship and both instant replay and lower seems (on the baseball) will be experimented with in 2014. 

June 26: NBA Draft
The 2013 NBA Draft left much to be desired, both by NBA teams and fans. But the 2014 version of the NBA Draft will feature a boatload of future hoops stars. Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and dozens more will find out for the first time where they will be playing professional basketball. This year’s event will take place at 7 p.m. ET at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

July 4: Hot Dog Eating Contest
Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest is the world's most famous eating contest held every year on Coney Island. Joey Chestnut has won seven consecutive titles after eating a record 69 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes last year. If you are into competitive eating, the Takeru Kobayashi-Chestnut rivalry is as delicious as it gets.

July 5: Daytona Night Race
Since 1988, the second race at Daytona each year — one held under the lights — has been held on the first Saturday in July. Packaged with Independence Day and originally titled the Firecracker 250 back when it debuted in 1959, the 400 miles around the 2.5-mile oval is one of most anticipated races of the season on the Sprint Cup circuit. Cars boasting 900 horsepower racing just inches from each other with the throttles stuck wide open sounds like fun to me.

July 6: Wimbledon Final
Whatever you want to call it, Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world. Despite lagging popularity nationally, the fortnight of matches across the pond features the best the world has to offer. Hosted by the All England Club since 1877, The Championships are considered the the highest honor in men's, women's and double's tennis worldwide. In 2013, Andy Murray became the first British man to win the prestigious tournament since Fred Perry 77 years prior.

July 13: World Cup Final
The month-long futbol tournament in Brazil will culminate with a winner take all golden goal championship bout in Estadio do Maracana. The Rio de Janeiro stadium opened during the 1950 World Cup when Uruguay upset the host Brazilian squad 2-1 in the final match. Over 200 nations compete for four calendar years to get to one final decision on July 13, 2014. 

July 15: MLB All-Star Game
I had my first opportunity to attend an All-Star game with a future ace on the mound at my favorite team's home stadium. Matt Harvey's rehab aside, the experience was unforgettable. The 83rd annual Midsummer Classic pits the best the National and American League have to offer in an exhibition game that will decide which league will host the World Series. The game is hosted by the Minnesota Twins at Target Field in 2014 and there is nothing like seeing 15 different uniforms on the same field at the same time. For what it's worth, the National League owns a 43-39-2 all-time mark against the American League.

July 17-20: The Open Championship
The most unique major golf championship and the only one played outside of the United States also is the oldest major tournament. The British Open, Open Championship or even just The Open is held on one of nine links courses throughout Scotland or England every third weekend in July. The first tournament was held in 1860 and first place wins about $1.4 million. Phil Mickelson won last year's event at Muirfield Golf Links in Scotland and the '14 edition will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club. It will be the 12th time the Merseyside course will host the The Open.

July 23: Mudsummer Classic
Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, is home to the most unique events in major American motorsports. Last year, the NASCAR Truck Series began running one race per season on the half-mile dirt track owned by Tony Stewart. The race lasts 75 miles, 150 laps and takes place on Wednesday evening. Austin Dillon won the inaugural event in 2013 after a green-white-checker finish pushed the race to 153 laps.

July 5-27: Tour De France
If you are a fan of National Geographic, HD TV, colorful commentary and elite-level competition, then the world's most important bike race is for you. The French countryside is loaded with rich history and beautiful vistas all covered from road, boat and air in gorgeous high-definition. Toss in some of the most comical broadcasting lingo in major pro sports and the grueling ride through France becomes very interesting. International competition only adds to the pride attached the century-old, 23-day, 3,500-mile race.

July 27: The Brickyard
It will never be the Indianapolis 500 of the open-wheel variety, but NASCAR's edition of kissing the bricks is also must-see TV. The track has been designed to push motor vehicles to their pinnacle around the most prestigious oval in the world. The race has only taken place since 1994, but the Sprint Cup community — both the fans and drivers — understand the significance of winning anything at the most famous track in motor sports.

Aug. 7-10: PGA Championship
The fourth and final major golf championship of the season is the PGA Championship. And the 96th edition will be held at famed Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. Despite being considered the least prestigious of the four majors, the PGA Championship is actually the most lucrative of the bunch with a purse of $10 million. The U.S.' Jason Dufner is the defending PGA champion.

Aug. 23: Bristol Night Race
Thunder Valley is an appropriate name for one of NASCAR's premiere events. The half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway offers 160,000 fans a bird's-eye view of 43 cars racing nose-to-tail for 500 laps (266.5 miles). The first race took place in 1961 and Matt Kenseth is the defending champion. Since 1978, the race has been held on the final Saturday evening in August and is one of the most difficult tickets to acquire in all of sports due in large part because there isn't a bad seat in the house.

20 Sporting Events to Tide You Over Until Football Starts
Post date: Monday, May 19, 2014 - 11:50
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, NC State Wolfpack, News
Path: /college-football/nc-state-unveils-black-helmets-2014

NC State heads into 2014 looking for some positive momentum after a 3-9 record in Dave Doeren’s first season.

The Wolfpack have a promising quarterback in Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett, so improvement from Doeren’s team is expected.

But as with any offseason, teams often unveil new uniforms to build buzz for the upcoming year.

NC State did just that on Sunday, as the Wolfpack unveiled a new black helmet for 2014.

Of course, it isn’t just the color that is intriguing. Along with a patch of red at the back, the helmet will feature eyes in the back. Yes, you read that correctly:

NC State Unveils Black Helmets for 2014
Post date: Monday, May 19, 2014 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-may-19-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for May 19.

• If you haven't checked out . Like you really, really should.


• Wonder if they can get that many for the last game of the season? 


• Some truly sad news. outside a James Island, S.C., nightclub early Saturday.


• The photo (see above) included Tom Brady and Kliff Kingsbury.


• Speaking of selfless, .


• An — concluding a 55-year association with the Razorbacks.


• For just the second time in collegiate baseball history, Friday.


• Poor Vols fans.

•  (Kenan Thompson) and his heated relationship with Donald Sterling.


• Watch as a . He seems much happier about it than we would be. 


• Watch as a young fan switches out his foul ball souvenir and gives the decoy ball to a pretty girl behind him. Smooth kid. Sma-ooth. 

Post date: Monday, May 19, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/video-jameis-winston-crab-leg-surveillance-released

Surveillance video of FSU QB Jameis Winston was released by the Leon County Sheriff's Office yesterday. The video shows the Heisman winner walking into a Publix and then leaving without paying for crab legs on April 29. Winston claims that he simply forgot to pay. You be the judge.

What did we learn?
1. Winston didn't conceal the crab legs.
2. He likes to walk around Publix a lot. We mean A LOT.
3. Despite the fact that your phone can shoot in HD, surveillance cameras apperently are built on technology from the mid-'80s.
Post date: Friday, May 16, 2014 - 08:23