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Opening Day is less than three weeks away, meaning the fantasy baseball season is quickly approaching. Drafts are going across the country, and probably the globe, and Athlon Sports' annual Baseball Preview magazine is available on newsstands everywhere.

Besides providing our comprehensive Fantasy Baseball Big Board, we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman, straight from our magazine for you to peruse, utilize and scrutinize as we get ever so closer to hear those beloved words, "Play ball!"

Rankings Key
A: FRANCHISE PLAYER — You need one to compete, two to win, three to dominate.
B: CAREER YEAR — Veteran with a strong possibility of delivering his best season.
C: SLEEPER — Could be a great acquisition at a price or draft slot below his true value.
D: ROADBLOCKED — Rank has been lowered because there is no current opportunity to play regularly.
E: DECLINER — Expect moderately to significantly worse stats than in 2012.
F: INJURY RISK — Has had a recent injury that could affect performance.
G: INVESTOR’S SPECIAL — Top prospect whose immediate impact may be minimal.

Batting stats are expressed AVG-HR-RBI-R-SB

Fantasy Baseball Positional Rankings: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | DH | SP | RP

Athlon Sports' 2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: First Base

TIER 1
1. Albert Pujols, Angels (A)
Even after Pujols finally got off the longball schneid on May 6, he wasn’t quite the same: stats that would have extrapolated to .305-36-102-78 over 600 at-bats, compared to .328-42-126-123 previously in his career. His final .832 OPS in home games was by far his lowest ever, so this might be the new normal. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

2. Joey Votto, Reds (A)
Votto’s season-ending skid of 147 at-bats without a home run (including playoffs) mirrored Pujols’ 110 to start it. Joey had an excuse: two summer surgeries on his knee. Mulligan taken, we expect a return to his traditional .310-30-100-100 terrain. After a year in which Cincy’s 1-2 hitters’ OBP was a pathetic .281, having Shin-Soo Choo atop the order will be big.

3. Prince Fielder, Tigers (A)
Batting directly behind a Triple Crown winner, Fielder theoretically should not have posted his lowest home run total since 2006 and fallen 33 shy of his RBI high. Still, both his walk and strikeout rates declined by more than 20 percent, and his .313 AVG was a personal best. Such counterintuitive outcomes send us to his full-season norm of .287-37-108-93 for predictive direction.

TIER 2
4. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
Gonzalez can still be a cornerstone hitter, but we’ve amputated his “A” code. Here are his last four HR/PA %s: 5.9, 4.5, 3.8, 2.6 (1.2 at Dodger Stadium). Here are his last four BB/PA %s: 17.5, 13.4, 10.4, 6.1. That data has devolved from disquieting to alarming, so just know that the Grade-A A-Gon might be A-Goner.

5. Allen Craig, Cardinals (B)
Craig is either the all-time opportunist or one of the game’s next great hitters. After missing April, he finished with 21 more RBIs (92) than anyone who played in fewer than 120 games and was the only qualifier to bat .400 with runners in scoring position. Naturally, we need to see this again before Tier-1’ing him.

6. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
Two steals from going 20-20, Goldy was our featured first base sleeper last spring. There’s still a ton of upward mobility in his HR/RBI totals and walk rate, and we’d expect them to advance righteously in 2013.

7. Freddie Freeman, Braves (B)
Freeman still hasn’t settled on what type of hitter he wants to be. The one who ripped .323 with a 15-to-14 BB/SO ratio in July? The one with the 3/19 ratio in June? The one with a .216 AVG but 10 HRs in his last 167 at-bats? He’ll iron out those riddles soon and become an All-Star.

8. Mark Teixeira, Yankees
A fifth straight decline in OPS leads to the inevitable conclusion that Teixeira is, well, in decline. He’s the only regular first baseman other than Carlos “Hollow” Pena to hit below .260 each of the last three years. Yankee Stadium, the site of about 57 percent of his home runs since 2009, keeps him on the “able” side of “viable.” One thing to keep in mind with Tex, however, is that his 2013 season debut will be delayed until at least mid-May because of a wrist injury.

9. Mike Morse, Nationals
Back in 2009, Morse equated with Ryan Langerhans, for whom he was traded by Seattle even-up. His comparable since joining the Nats is more Ryan Zimmerman — .294-29-90 per 162 games versus Zim’s .292-29-100 in the same period. Likely won’t be in D.C. for long after the Nats re-signed Adam LaRoche, but he’s top-10 no matter where he lands.

10. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays (E)
Overhauled mechanics and a rededication to conditioning conjured an off-the-hook 42-homer lightning bolt from a previously oft-injured tease. What this Encarnacion incarnation might hold in store is as nebulous as the debt ceiling.

11. Eric Hosmer, Royals
A case of premature infatuation? Hosmer’s .232-14-60-65-16 was inexplicable after his rousing rookie year. But he oozes ability, and his .255 BAbip was absurdly low for someone who’s not a pure masher. Buy low. Unequivocally.

12. Corey Hart, Brewers
Mercifully relieved of leadoff chores, Hart saw his RBIs climb back into the 80s to go with what is now a three-year standard of 29 homers and 83 RBIs. Struggles to hit the league-average average, and his base-stealing days are over. He underwent surgery on his right knee in January, which will keep him out of the lineup until sometime in May.

13. Adam LaRoche, Nationals
The 2012 first base leader in home runs? Not Pujols, Fielder nor Teixeira, but LaRoche, with 33. Tends to top out around 100 RBIs (excellent), 75 runs (decent) and .270 AVG (neutral).

14. Ike Davis, Mets
There was not a millisecond of 2012 in which Davis’ AVG reached .230. It was a respectable .265 from June 9 on, though, and his 20 homers after the break led NL lefties. But Citi Field (.619 OPS there) just swallows him up.

15. Ryan Howard, Phillies (F)
Though Howard’s injury-delayed 2012 can be somewhat minimized, his 4-to-1 SO/BB ratio was appalling. We’d establish .250-30-75-90 as the upper limit of expectations.

TIER 3
16. Kendrys Morales, Mariners
17. Justin Morneau, Twins
18. Brandon Belt, Giants (C)
19. Yonder Alonso, Padres
20. Paul Konerko, White Sox (E)
21. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
22. Mike Napoli, Red Sox (F)
23. Garrett Jones, Pirates
24. Mark Reynolds, Indians

TIER 4
25. Tyler Colvin, Rockies
26. Logan Morrison, Marlins (F)
27. James Loney, Rays (C)
28. Mitch Moreland, Rangers
29. Brett Wallace, Astros (C)
30. Brandon Moss, Athletics (E)

TIER 5
31. Gaby Sanchez, Pirates (D)
32. Mike Olt, Rangers (D,G)
33. Chris Carter, Athletics
34. Jonathan Singleton, Astros (D,G)
35. Todd Helton, Rockies (F)
36. Justin Smoak, Mariners (D)
37. Carlos Lee, Free Agent (E)
38. Matt Adams, Cardinals (D,G)
39. Mat Gamel, Brewers (D,F)
40. Kyle Blanks, Padres (D,F)

Related Content:
2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Big Board
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball: Closer Grid
2013 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2013

Teaser:
<p> 2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: First Base</p>
Post date: Monday, March 11, 2013 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: free agents, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-free-agency-position-primer
Body:

The Baltimore Ravens and their fans are more than likely still basking in the glow of their Super Bowl XLVII win, but as far as the NFL goes, it’s pretty much ancient history.

The new NFL league year officially begins at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, which also marks the opening of free agency. About 550 players have been designated as either restricted or unrestricted free agents, so it goes without saying that all 32 teams, including the reigning champs, have plenty of work to do.

Similar to last year, this season’s class of free agents is heavy on the defensive side, especially in the secondary. Unlike last year, there is no marquee quarterback on the market, but the same can’t be said for wide receiver. While it may not be the biggest group of offensive free agents (that distinction belongs to the offensive line), it will more than likely be the one that garners the most attention.

Depending on available cap space, some teams figure to be more active in free agency than others, and there also are certain marquee names that bear watching. Whether or not your favorite team makes a big splash in free agency remains to be seen, but every team in the league has free agents, meaning there are holes to fill on rosters.

Related: 2013 NFL Free Agency: Teams to Watch

Here is a closer look at this year’s class of free agents, broken down by position.

Quarterbacks
Quarterback may be the marquee position in the NFL, but this year’s free agency class doesn’t serve as a good representation of this. Not only is there no Peyton Manning on the market, but the only other superstar signal caller that was eligible to be a free agent, Joe Flacco, never got to that point, as the Ravens locked up the Super Bowl XLVII MVP with the biggest contract (six-years, $120.6 million, $52 million guaranteed) in NFL history.

With Flacco off of the table, all that’s left is a host of backups, ranging from former Pro Bowler Derek Anderson to the likes of Jason Campbell and Brady Quinn, both of whom started games for their respective teams last season, but were anything but effective when they were on the field. There are a total of about 20 quarterbacks who are free agents, and while many of these will probably go unsigned, several veterans will either re-sign with their most recent team or go to a new club, if for any reason because this year’s quarterback draft class isn’t projected to be on the same level as last year’s.

Other notable free agent quarterbacks: Charlie Batch, David Carr, Kellen Clemens, Bruce Gradkowski, Rex Grossman, Caleb Hanie, Brian Hoyer (RFA)*, Josh Johnson, Byron Leftwich, Matt Leinart, Drew Stanton

Running Backs
This year’s running back free agency class, which includes fullbacks, numbers around 50 and offers a whole range of options. Steven Jackson has produced eight straight 1,000-yard seasons and has yet to turn 30. The veteran’s days as a workhorse are probably behind him, but he's still looking for a opportunity that will give him a fair share of carries as well as a chance to win.

Reggie Bush put two productive seasons together in Miami and figures to have no lack of potential suitors, provided he’s willing to serve as a complement and not the centerpiece of a team’s backfield. Shonn Greene is another intriguing option as he’s rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. With just four seasons total under his belt, he probably has more tread left on his tires than some others in this group.

Michael Turner was cut by the Falcons earlier this month despite rushing for 800 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, while the Giants released Ahmad Bradshaw even though he rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2012 in just 14 games. Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant, Rashard Mendenhall and Beanie Wells are all similar to Bradshaw in that they each have at least one 1,000-yard season to their credit, but likewise dealt with injuries that severely limited their production last season too. There also are multi-dimensional options like Felix Jones and Danny Woodhead, who have shown they can contribute to an offense when put in the right role.

Other notable free agent running backs: Jackie Battle, Andre Brown (RFA), Ronnie Brown, James Casey, Jerome Felton (fullback), Justin Forsett, Peyton Hillis, Chris Ivory (RFA), Rashad Jennings, Isaac Redman (RFA), Kevin Smith, LaRod Stephens-Howling

Wide Receivers
Without question this is the “it” position in free agency this season. The class as a whole numbers less than 50, but it features three of the most sought-after names on the market — Wes Welker, Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings. And they are not the only appealing options out there.

Besides this distinguished trio, other free agent wideouts include Danny Amendola, Donnie Avery and Brandon Gibson. Randy Moss, one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game, is looking for a job, as is reliable veteran Brandon Stokley. There also are players like Josh Cribbs, Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman and Ted Ginn, who also can help a team on special teams.

This class also features several key restricted free agents* that bear watching, most notably Victor Cruz, but also Danario Alexander and Emmanuel Sanders. In the pass-happy offenses of today’s NFL, it seems that a team can’t have enough wide receivers and there are certainly no lack of options in free agency.

Other notable free agent wide receivers: Ramses Barden, Deion Branch, Plaxico Burress, Austin Collie, Early Doucet, Braylon Edwards, Devery Henderson, Domenik Hixon, Donald Jones (RFA), Louis Murphy, David Nelson (RFA), Kevin Ogletree, Jordan Shipley (RFA), Jerome Simpson

Tight Ends
The biggest free agent tight end out there is Tony Gonzalez, but his outlook is pretty straightforward. The future Hall of Famer will either retire or go back to the Falcons. While there may not another tight end on the level of Gonzalez available, teams do have other options if they are looking to upgrade what is quickly becoming a key position as it relates to an offense’s success.

The Titans chose not to apply the franchise tag to Jared Cook, so the 25-year-old that appears to have a world of potential may be headed to a new team. Martellus Bennett had a breakthrough season of sorts with the Giants, and he is looking to cash in on that production. The same holds true for Brandon Myers, who exploded for 79 receptions for 806 yards and four touchdowns with the Raiders last season.

The Ravens have some work to do in this area as both Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are restricted free agents. Because of the team’s cap situation and the number of free agents on their roster, the world champions may not be able to keep both and could conceivably lose both to other teams.

There also are plenty of veteran tight ends in this year’s group, including Kevin Boss, Dallas Clark, Chris Cooley and Fred Davis.

Other notable free agent tight ends: Tom Crabtree, Jeff Cumberland (RFA), Anthony Fasano, Michael Hoomanawanui (RFA), Dustin Keller, David Thomas, Delanie Walker, Benjamin Watson

Offensive Line
Two of the most appealing potential free agent options along the offensive line never got close to the open market as Denver and Kansas City applied the franchise tags to their respective left tackles, Ryan Clady and Branden Albert.

While those two bookends aren’t going anywhere, a former No. 1 overall pick could be. Miami did not tag Jake Long, who was severely hindered by a triceps injury last season. Long isn’t the only tackle out there either with Phil Loadholt, Sebastian Vollmer, Jermon Bushrod and Andre Smith some of the other names.

Guards and centers are well represented in this class as well, with Andy Levitre, Todd McClure, Brad Meester, Brandon Moore and Chris Spencer figuring to be among some of the most sought-after targets at these two positions.

Other notable free agent offensive linemen: Sam Baker, Jammal Brown, Gosder Cherilus, Phil Costa (RFA), Evan Dietrich-Smith (RFA), King Dunlap, Leroy Harris, Winston Justice, Dan Koppen, Ryan Lilja, Sean Locklear, Bryant McKinnie, Jake Scott, Matt Slauson, Jason Smith, Max Starks, Eric Winston

Defensive Line
Three players — Michael Johnson (Cincinnati), Henry Melton (Chicago) and Randy Starks (Miami) — were tagged from this group, which numbers close to 80 total. While Johnson and Starks may be off the market, there are other defensive ends available including sack specialists like John Abraham and Osi Umenyiora, along with Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Glenn Dorsey.

The available tackles include nose tackle options Casey Hampton and Ma’ake Kemoeatu, and fellow interior space-eaters such as Sedrick Ellis, Richard Seymour and Isaac Sopoaga.

Other notable free agent defensive linemen: Chris Baker (RFA), Alan Branch, Shaun Cody, Mike DeVito, Dwan Edwards, Aubrayo Franklin, Robert Geathers, Israel Idonije, Arthur Jones, Terrance Knighton, Sen’Derrick Marks, Amobi Okoye, Mike Patterson, Matt Shaughnessy, Kevin Vickerson, Ty Warren

Linebackers
Dallas tagged Anthony Spencer for the second straight year, and he was the only linebacker who received the designation. James Harrison, the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year and Dwight Freeney, who has 107.5 career sacks, headline the group of available linebackers. There already have been rumblings of a potential reunion for Freeney with former Indianapolis teammate Peyton Manning in Denver.

Brian Urlacher’s best days are behind him it appears, but it still seems unthinkable that the long-time Bear may play in another uniform. The Ravens already know that Ray Lewis won’t be coming back and have two other linebackers — Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger — who are free agents, while Cincinnati's Rey Maualuga, another linebacker who played in the AFC North last season, could end up in a new division as well.

There is no lack of veteran options in this year’s linebacker free agent class with Nick Barnett, Larry Foote, Daryl Smith, Bart Scott and Takeo Spikes just some of the names on the market.

Other notable free agent linebackers: Chase Blackburn, Jasper Brinkley, Dan Connor, Justin Durant, Scott Fujita, Geno Hayes, Erin Henderson, Leroy Hill, Bradie James, Manny Lawson, Paris Lenon, Rocky McIntosh, Calvin Pace, Shaun Phillips, Keith Rivers, Nick Roach, Demorrio Williams, Will Witherspoon

Defensive Backs
Jairus Byrd (Buffalo) was the only defensive back that received the franchise tag this season. Considering this group has more than 110 free agents in it, there figures to be a lot of movement in defensive backfields across the NFL.

Cornerbacks make up the majority of this season’s defensive back crop with Antione Cason, Chris Gamble, Brent Grimes, Quentin Jammer and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie believed to be among the top targets. Even though it’s smaller, the safety group probably has more name recognition associated with it as future Hall of Famer Ed Reed, former Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson, 2012 All-Pro Dashon Goldson and 12-year veteran Adrian Wilson lead the way.

Other notable free agent defensive backs: Kyle Arrington, Ronde Barber, Yeremiah Bell, Sheldon Brown, Chris Carr, Louis Delmas, Drayton Florence, DeAngelo Hall, Chris Houston, Adam Jones, LaRon Landry, Keenan Lewis, Rashean Mathis, Quintin Mikell, Captain Munnerlyn, Terence Newman, Kenny Phillips, Tracy Porter, Glover Quin, Aaron Ross, Sam Shields (RFA), Sean Smith, Aqib Talib, Cary Williams, Madieu Williams

Kickers/Punters
Who says punters aren’t important? Indianapolis used its franchise tag on punter Pat McAfee. There still are about 10 other punters, including All-Pro Shane Lechler, on the market for teams looking for one. There also are about a dozen kickers, including David Akers, Phil Dawson, Nick Folk, Shayne Graham, Jason Hanson, Steven Hauschka and Lawrence Tynes.

And not be left out, there are about a dozen long snappers who are free agents, although half of them are of the restricted variety. If anyone can recite the qualifying offer for a long snapper, you are a bigger football fan than me.

*RFA strands for restricted free agent. A restricted free agent is a player that received a qualifying offer (predetermined by the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the players association) from his current club. The player can negotiate with any team and sign an offer sheet. However, his old team has “right of first refusal,” which gives them a seven-day window in which it can match the offer sheet and retain that player or choose not to match it, in which case the team may receive some form of draft compensation from the player’s new team. If the player does not receive an offer sheet from another team, his rights revert back to his old club, per the terms of the qualifying offer, at the end of free agency.

Teaser:
<p> 2013 NFL Free Agency: Position Primer</p>
Post date: Monday, March 11, 2013 - 09:55
Path: /college-football/clemson-tigers-2013-spring-football-preview
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Coming off an 11-2 season with a victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, optimism is running high at Clemson. The Tigers are the early favorite to win the ACC in 2013 and will likely be a top-10 team in most preseason polls. With quarterback Tajh Boyd returning to campus for his senior year, Clemson will have one of college football’s top offenses. The Tigers averaged 41 points a game last season, and despite the departure of receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the NFL, this offense can keep that pace going in 2013. While the offense is one of the best in the nation, the defense is still a work in progress. Clemson made some gains in the first season under coordinator Brent Venables, but the Tigers still have some work to do in 2013.

Clemson Tigers 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 11-2 (7-1)

Spring practice dates: March 6-April 13

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Tajh Boyd, 287 of 427, 3,896 yards, 36 TDs, 13 INTs
Rushing: Tajh Boyd, 186 car., 514 yards, 10 TDs
Receiving: Sammy Watkins, 57 rec., 708 yards, 3 TDs
Tackles: Spencer Shuey, 93
Sacks: Vic Beasley, 8
Interceptions: Five players tied with 1

Redshirts to Watch: QB Chad Kelly, WR Germone Hopper, C Jay Guillermo, OL Patrick Destefano

Early Enrollees to Watch: DB Jadar Johnson, DE Shaq Lawson, TE Jordan Leggett, DE Ebenezer Ogundeko

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 Georgia
Sept. 7 South Carolina State
Sept. 14 Bye Week
Sept. 19 at NC State
Sept. 28 Wake Forest
Oct. 5 at Syracuse
Oct. 12 Boston College
Oct. 19 Florida State
Oct. 26 at Maryland
Nov. 2 at Virginia
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 14 Georgia Tech
Nov. 23 Citadel
Nov. 30 at South Carolina

Related Content: 2013 ACC Schedule Analysis

Offensive Strength: The unquestioned strength of Clemson’s offense is quarterback Tajh Boyd and one of the ACC’s top receiving corps. Boyd is the ACC’s No. 1 quarterback for 2013 and should be in the mix for All-American honors.

Offensive Weakness: The Tigers have few weaknesses on offense, but they must find replacements for running back Andre Ellington and center Dalton Freeman.

Defensive Strength: Even though the Tigers will miss defensive end Malliciah Goodman, there’s a lot to like about the front seven. Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford and Tavaris Barnes are back at end, while the Tigers have a handful of contributors ready at tackle. The linebacking corps should be solid, especially if Stephone Anthony can live up to his recruiting hype in 2013.

Defensive Weakness: There’s plenty of room to grow on the defense, but the secondary probably needs the most attention in spring practice. Defensive backs Rashard Hall, Jonathan Meeks and Xavier Brewer are gone, which leaves a void in the secondary. Getting Martin Jenkins back after missing all of 2012 due to an injury will help this unit.  

Spring Storylines Facing the Tigers

1. Get Sammy Watkins back on track. After a standout freshman season, Watkins was a major disappointment in 2012. Watkins caught 82 passes in 2011 but watched his numbers dip to just 57 receptions in 2012. An illness and an off-the-field incident played a huge role in Watkins’ struggles last season, and with all of that behind him in spring practice, the junior is ready to rebound back to All-American status. Getting Boyd and Watkins back on the same page will be crucial for Clemson’s passing attack in 2013.

2. Replace Andre Ellington at running back. The Tigers seem to have some capable replacements for Ellington, but a pecking order needs to be established. Roderick McDowell rushed for 450 yards and five touchdowns last season and is the likely frontrunner to lead Clemson in yards this season. McDowell had a couple of impressive performances late in 2012, rushing for 83 yards against Duke and NC State, along with 47 yards against South Carolina. Also joining in the competition is junior D.J. Howard and sophomore Zac Brooks. If the rotation isn’t settled by fall camp, incoming freshman Tyshon Dye could get an extended look. The Tigers may lack a 1,000-yard back in 2013, but McDowell, Brooks and Howard should be a capable trio.

3. Who backs up Tajh Boyd? Considering Boyd has made every start in his two years as Clemson’s No. 1 quarterback, durability isn’t a question mark. However, Boyd has just one season of eligibility remaining, and the Tigers have to start thinking about 2014. This spring will be the first opportunity for redshirt freshman Chad Kelly and junior Cole Stoudt to stake their claim to the backup spot, which would setup the winner of this battle in a position to build on that lead in spring practice next season.

4. Find the right mix on the offensive line. With three new starters taking over on the line last season, it was no surprise Clemson allowed 2.4 sacks a game in 2012. This unit returns four starters for 2013, including first-team All-ACC tackle Brandon Thomas. Guards Tyler Shatley and David Beasley are back as returning starters, but the unit must replace center Dalton Freeman. Thomas could slide to guard if Isaiah Battle can claim the left tackle spot, while the coaching staff also hopes to see progress from Giff Timothy after making 11 starts in 2012. The pieces are there for Clemson’s offensive line to be one of the best in the ACC. Can the Tigers find the right mix this spring?

5. Finding more improvement on defense. After finishing 2011 ninth in the ACC in yards allowed and 10th in scoring defense, the Tigers showed solid improvement in the first season under coordinator Brent Venables. Clemson ranked third in the ACC in points allowed and registered 2.6 sacks a game last year. The Tigers held five of their last seven opponents under 25 points and allowed just 219 yards to LSU in the bowl game. If Clemson is going to be a factor in the national title picture, the defense has to take another step forward this spring. Seven starters are back for 2013, and linebacker Kellen Jones is eligible after transferring from Oklahoma, while defensive back Martin Jenkins returns after missing all of 2012 due to injury. Even though this unit needs to replace defensive end Malliciah Goodman and safety Rashard Hall, there’s enough returning to expect more improvement on the stat sheet.

Related College Football Content

Ranking the ACC Coaching Jobs for 2013
ACC's Top Spring Storylines to Watch for 2013

Ranking All 125 College Football Coaching Jobs for 2013

College Football's Top 5 Running Backs on the Rise for 2013
College Football's Top 5 Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2013
Clemson 2013 Recruiting Breakdown
College Football's Top 20 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2013

Teaser:
<p> Clemson Tigers 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Monday, March 11, 2013 - 08:00
Path: /college-basketball/amazing-college-basketball-stats-week-march-4-10
Body:

The most important number of the college basketball weekend was five. As in five teams to clinch NCAA Tournament bids.

Two of the automatic bids went to regular season champions — Creighton in the Missouri Valley and Belmont in the Ohio Valley — who needed every second to win their conference title games. Harvard also clinched its NCAA Tournament bid as the Crimson defeated Cornell and Princeton lost to Brown to hand Harvard the Ivy title and its second consecutive Tourney trip.

Elsewhere, two teams came from obscurity to claim bids. Florida Gulf Coast, in only its second season eligible for the postseason, won the Atlantic Sun tournament, defeating Mercer on its home court. And Liberty rendered its lackluster Big South season moot by winning four in a row to reach the NCAA Tournament despite 20 losses.

March is indeed bringing us Madness as buzzer beaters were a highlight all weekend as were some notable numbers good (for Saint Louis and Pittsburgh) and bad (for Florida and Syracuse).

Here’s a look at the key numbers from the weekend in college basketball:

5. Median margin of victory in 18 games between the Big Ten’s top five
The Big Ten wrapped up a regular season where it seemed to have the best game of the week every week since mid-January. That’s not an exaggeration. Five teams finished with two games of Indiana’s outright title at 14-4. In the 18 games between Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin, the median margin of victory was five points. On Sunday, the Big Ten season ended the way it had been played for most of the season with a one-point win and an Indiana victory in a key game with the Hoosiers’ 72-71 win at Michigan. By defeating the Wolverines, Indiana finished 5-2 against the other top five teams in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers were the only team among the top five with a winning record against the other four. Michigan State and Ohio State each went 4-4, Wisconsin went 3-3 and Michigan went 2-5.

1,224. Games Jim Boehiem coached before his team failed to score 40 points
The final Big East regular season game between Georgetown-Syracuse produced some history, but not the kind Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim wanted. A Boeheim-coached team failed to score 40 points for the first time in his 912-win career as Georgetown won 61-39. His team’s lowest scoring performance waited until its 1,225th career game. Other notable numbers from Georgetown’s win:
♦ Otto Porter, who accounts for 28.3 percent of Georgetown’s scoring in Big East games, scored 10 of the Hoyas’ 61 points against Syracuse (16.4 percent) Saturday. Porter scored 33 of the Hoyas’ 57 points in the first meeting with rival Syracuse.
♦ Syracuse scored a grand total of 84 points on Georgetown this season.
♦ Syracuse had four assists Saturday against Georgetown. The Orange average 14.6 assists per game.

19.7. Points per game for Seth Curry in ACC road games
Duke’s Seth Curry hit his first seven shots on the way to 20 points in a 69-53 win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill to continue his hot play away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. Curry is averaging 19.7 points per game in ACC road games, compared to 15.8 points at home. That road average for the senior guard includes a scoreless game at Miami on Jan. 23. The game against the Hurricanes must have left an impression on Curry. Since being shut out in Coral Gables, Curry has averaged 22.1 points in seven road games.

72.4. Possessions per game for UCLA, most since 2004-05
UCLA clinched the outright Pac-12 title Saturday, so this seems a good time to highlight the adjustments Ben Howland has made. Of course, the freshman class of Shabazz Muhammad, Ryan Anderson and Jordan Adams has been key to UCLA’s 13-5 season in the conference. But Howland also turned up the tempo in a major departure from the previous eight seasons. UCLA averaged 72.4 possessions per game in 2012-13 to rank in the top 30 nationally. To put that in perspective: UCLA averages four more possessions per game more this year than any season since 2004-05. During the Bruins’ run of three consecutive Final Fours under Howland, UCLA was one of the slowest-paced teams in the country, topping out at 66.7 possession per game.

UCLA possessions per game under Ben Howland
Source: TeamRankings.com

Season Possessions/game Nat'l rank
2012-13 72.4 29
2011-12 66.2 262
2010-11 68.9 172
2009-10 67.4 254
2008-09 67.9 239
2007-08* 66.7 262
2006-07* 65.3 263
2005-06* 64.4 308
2004-05 72.9 48
2003-04 68.8 203

*reached the Final Four

7:36. Length of Florida’s field goal drought against Kentucky
Kentucky boosted its NCAA Tournament hopes by defeating Florida 61-57 Saturday. The Gators did their part to help by failing to hit a field goal in the final 7:36. In Florida’s final 14 possessions, the Gators had no points and five turnovers. Kentucky was also allergic to the basket late, too, failing to convert a field goal in the final 4:48. Florida also dropped to 0-6 in games decided by 11 points or less.

56. Years since Saint Louis last won an outright conference title
Few programs battled more adversity this season than Saint Louis. Coach Rick Majerus stepped down for health reasons in August before he died on in Dec. 1. Under interim coach Jim Crews, Saint Louis won its first outright conference title since 1956-57 and first regular season title of any kind since sharing the Missouri Valley crown in 1970-71. Saint Louis played in six conferences (MVC, Metro, Midwestern, Great Midwest, Conference USA) before winning the Atlantic 10 this season at 13-5.

2. Teams from Kansas sharing the Big 12 title
Kansas and Kansas State both finished the season 14-4 in the Big 12, setting up an interesting duo for a shared regular season title. Kansas has won at least a share of the last nine Big 12 titles while Kansas State has not won a conference title of any kind since winning the Big 8 in 1977.

20. Losses for Big South champion Liberty
Liberty became the most unlikely NCAA Tournament team in five years when the 15-20 Flames defeated Big South No. 1 seed Charleston Southern 87-76  in the conference tournament. Liberty is the second 20-loss team to reach the field, joining Coppin State (16-20) in 2008. How unlikely was this run by Liberty? The Flames started the season 1-10 and didn’t defeat a Division I team until Dec. 31. Liberty hadn’t won consecutive conference games all year until it went 4-0 in the Big South Tournament.

71.7. Pittsburgh’s shooting percentage against DePaul, a Big East record
Pittsburgh wrapped up its final season in the Big East and the final season of this iteration of the league by setting a record. The Panthers hit 33 of 46 shots from the field in an 81-66 win over DePaul on Saturday for a 71.7 shooting percentage. The performance from the floor beat the Big East record of 71.4 percent held by Syracuse against DePaul in 2011 and Boston College against Georgetown in 1982.

41 of 47. Temple’s Khalif Wyatt from the free throw line in the last four games
Opponents would be well-advised to keep Temple’s Khalif Wyatt off the free throw line, but that’s easier said than done. Wyatt is 41 of 47 (87.2 percent) from the free throw line in the last four games. That includes a 13 of 16 performance in a critical 84-76 win over VCU on Sunday.

Teaser:
<p> Amazing College Basketball Stats of the Week: March 4-10</p>
Post date: Monday, March 11, 2013 - 07:40
Path: /nascar/matt-kenseth-wins-kobalt-tools-400-las-vegas
Body:

The biggest name in NASCAR's 2012 version of Silly Season made his presence known early in the 2013 season. Matt Kenseth, in only his third start with Joe Gibbs Racing, gave the No. 20 team its first win since June 2012, when he won the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday.

Having spent the first 13 years of his Cup Series career at Roush Fenway Racing where he won two Daytona 500s and the 2003 title, Kenseth accepted one of the most coveted seats in the Sprint Cup Series with Gibbs’ No. 20 team — a group that had only two wins since Tony Stewart left the team following the 2008 season. In the season opener in Daytona, Kenseth was one of a handful of favorites but lost an engine while leading with just over 50 laps remaining. He followed that up with a workman-like top 10 at Phoenix.

On Sunday in Las Vegas, it all came together for the driver, crew chief Jason Ratcliff and the No. 20 bunch.

In classic Kenseth fashion, the Wisconsin native showed up when the money was on the line. In a race dominated by Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson, Kenseth assumed the lead late — with 41 laps remaining — and used clean air at the front of the field to his advantage.

A strategy call on a pit stop under yellow earned Kenseth the point. Taking zero tires while most others took two, he led the field to green and held the top spot even after the second-place machine of Brad Keselowski appeared to jump the start.

A blown engine in the Chevy of Ryan Newman precipitated another restart with 27 laps to go. Again, it appeared that Keselowski jumped the start, but no ruling came from NASCAR. Still, Kenseth recovered quickly, pulling by on the backstretch.

However, Kenseth’s toughest challenge would come from Kahne, who also disposed of Keselowski within a lap of the restart.

Kahne, who led a race-high 114 laps, prowled in Kenseth’s tire tracks for the final 26 laps, but in an ending that proved anti-climactic, never mounted a serious attempt at the pass. Clean air for the leader, coupled with a lack of front-end downforce on his No. 5 Chevy, forced Kahne to settle for second.

“We're only three weeks in, but man, all three races we had a car — if everything would have went right — that we could have won, and it feels pretty awesome to have this win here,” said Kenseth.

Keselowski, Busch and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 5 on an afternoon that witnessed five caution periods.

NASCAR opened the track on Thursday for a test session to give teams extra time with the new Gen-6 car on the circuit’s first intermediate track stop. High-banked intermediate tracks — typically 1.5- or 2-miles in length — make up more than half of the Sprint Cup Series’ 36-race season. The new cars are designed with the intent to improve action on these tracks to allow more side-by-side racing.

Still, aero-dependency ruled the day on Sunday, as evidenced by Kahne not being able to pass Kenseth in the waning laps despite having newer tires — and by all outward appearances, a faster car.

“Clean air is like an extra tire,” said Carl Edwards.

“When I was out front my car was fast as heck,” Busch said. “As soon as (Kahne) went by me (for the lead) I was out of the racetrack, wrecking loose. I had to give up 10 car lengths to him in order to get my car comfortable again to where I could drive it.”

Those teams that were able to hit the setup thrived, as five cars — Kenseth, Kahne, Keselowski, Busch and Johnson — led 261 of the 267 laps. This on the heels of a largely single-file Daytona 500 and a veritably regular trip to Phoenix’s eccentric one-mile oval.

So while the cars may be a work in progress, the chemistry on JGR’s No. 20 team looks well ahead of the curve.

“I'm glad we got a win, but it's still only week three,” Kenseth said of his new team. “I feel like this is the beginning, you know, and I have a lot of confidence — I had a lot of confidence after our first meeting and decided to go do this and just had a great feeling about it. And I still do.”
 

Teaser:
<p> Matt Kenseth won the NASCAR Kobalt Tools 400 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Sunday, March 10, 2013 - 21:49
Path: /college-football/big-12-football-2013-spring-preview-and-storylines
Body:

With no clear favorite entering spring practice, the Big 12 should be college football’s most intriguing conference to watch when preseason picks are released for 2013.

Oklahoma State, TCU, Oklahoma and Texas seem to be the early favorites for next season, but Kansas State and Baylor can’t be counted out. The Horned Frogs should be better in their second tour through the Big 12, while the Cowboys will be a dangerous team if they can settle on one quarterback.

It may seem strange to say this for two high-profile programs, but Oklahoma and Texas are the two darkhorse teams to watch in spring practice. The Longhorns have shown some small progress over the last few years and have the talent to win the Big 12. Oklahoma is coming off a 10-3 season but must replace quarterback Landry Jones and rebuild a defense that allowed 398.3 yards per game last year.

The Big 12 had only one head coaching change this offseason, as Kliff Kingsbury returns to Lubbock to take over for Tommy Tuberville at Texas Tech. Kingsbury helped to engineer some of the nation’s best offenses at Houston and Texas A&M and should be able to immediately put his stamp on the program in 2013. 

Big 12 Team Spring Storylines and Quarterback Battles to Watch

Baylor

Can the defense continue to make progress?
Baylor’s final defensive numbers certainly weren’t anything to be proud of. The Bears finished 2012 ranked 110th nationally in scoring and 119th in yards allowed. However, there were encouraging signs over the final few games of the year, which included a solid performance against UCLA in the Holiday Bowl. Now that coordinator Phil Bennett has been in Waco for two years, the Bears should have a good grasp on his system and more improvement is expected in 2013. And this unit has promising talent returning, including safety Ahmad Dixon, linebacker Bryce Hager and defensive end Terrance Lloyd. With the momentum from the 2012 finish, combined with seven returning starters, Baylor’s defense should show more progress in 2013. Considering the Bears will have a new starter at quarterback, it’s important for the defense to help shoulder more of the burden this year.

Quarterback Battle? Can the Bears continue their recent run of successful quarterbacks? Nick Florence departs after an outstanding year, leaving junior Bryce Petty as the No. 1 passer this spring. Redshirt freshman Seth Russell and true freshman Chris Johnson will get a look this spring, but Petty is expected to be Baylor’s starting quarterback in 2013. 


Iowa State

Finding replacements at linebacker
Quarterback and linebacker seem like they will be the focus almost universally in the Big 12 this spring. Maybe nowhere in the nation, however, is that more apparent than at Iowa State. The Cyclones must replace two All-American-caliber linebackers from a defense that ranked third in the Big 12 in points allowed. A.J. Klein won co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year two years ago and finished his career with 361 tackles. Jake Knott posted 347 stops of his own. Talented tackler Jeremiah George is a good starting point but other names will need to step into more prominent roles at linebacker for the Cyclones to reach the postseason for the third consecutive season. 
 

Kansas

Restocking the offensive line
While the defense is a huge concern, the Jayhawks have to be concerned about their offensive line with the departure of three starters from last season’s unit. Left tackle Tanner Hawkinson was the group’s biggest departure, but center Trevor Marrongelli and guard Duane Zlatnik will also be missed. Considering the only real strength with Kansas last season was the rushing attack, the new pieces on the offensive line have to jell together this spring. The Jayhawks are counting on junior college recruits Mike Smithburg and Ngalu Fuismalohi to fill the gaps at guard, while senior Aslam Sterling should be the starter at right tackle. However, the two most important positions on the line – left tackle and center – are up for grabs. Converted defensive lineman Pat Lewandowski is the frontrunner at left tackle, while sophomore Dylan Admire is listed No. 1 on the spring depth chart at center. Admire played in all 12 games last season but doesn’t have a start under his belt. If this unit struggles, Kansas’ offense will have trouble getting running back Sims on track, along with giving quarterback Jake Heaps time to throw.
 

Kansas State

Rebuild the linebacking corps
Arthur Brown eventually turned into a superstar at Kansas State and was a key factor in the team’s success over the last two years. However, Brown and four other contributors have departed the linebacking position. In fact, the Wildcats boasted seven senior linebackers on the roster in 2012, so Bill Snyder has his work cut out for him this spring. The defensive line and secondary lose a lot as well, so the entire defense needs work, but rebuilding should start in the middle at linebacker. Jonathan Truman, Tre Walker and Mike Moore are the only players returning to the position with any experience at all.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Daniel Sams (SO) vs. Jake Waters (JR)
While Collin Klein will be missed, Kansas State has two solid options to turn to under center this season. Sams was impressive in limited action last year, while Waters threw for 3,501 yards and 39 touchdowns at Iowa Western Community College in 2012. Considering both quarterbacks have no starts at the FBS level, this battle could extend deep into the fall. 
 

Oklahoma

Find a supporting cast for Aaron Colvin in the secondary
Oklahoma’s defense has major holes to fill at a variety of positions, but three of the starting four defensive backs from 2012 have departed the team. The top four tacklers last season were defensive backs — which should indicate just how much the front seven struggled last year — and three of them are gone, including the team’s most talented player and leading tackler Tony Jefferson. Only Aaron Colvin returns, and Bob Stoops needs to find him support this spring. 

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Blake Bell (JR) vs. Trevor Knight (FR) vs. Kendal Thompson (SO)
While the Sooners are listed as a battle, it’s hard to see Knight or Thompson unseating Bell. The Kansas native needs to show he can be a consistent passer but has scored 24 rushing scores in limited action. The battle between Knight and Thompson for No. 2 could be the bigger storyline to watch, especially since the winner of that competition is in line to start if Bell struggles.


Oklahoma State

Who steps up at defensive end?
The Cowboys don’t have many glaring issues to work on in spring practice, but the defensive end spot is a concern for coordinator Glenn Spencer. Oklahoma State loses three key contributors from last season, as Cooper Bassett, Nigel Nicholas and Ryan Robinson expired their eligibility after the bowl win against Purdue. Tyler Johnson is the most experienced option on the outside and he recorded 27 tackles and four sacks last season. Outside of Johnson, there’s not much in the way of proven options. Sam Wren ranked as the No. 16 junior college prospect by ESPN and could win the other starting end spot. True freshman Naim Mustafaa enrolled early to compete in the spring and figures to play a prominent role in the rotation. However, even if Wren and Mustafaa emerge as solid options, depth is still an issue. Expect the defensive staff to spend a lot of time watching the trenches in spring practice.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Clint Chelf (SR) vs. Wes Lunt (SO) vs. J.W. Walsh (SO)
Despite three quarterbacks making starts for Oklahoma State in 2012, the Cowboys finished third nationally and averaged 547 yards per game. All three passers are back this spring, and Oklahoma State should have one of the most intriguing quarterback battles in the nation. Wes Lunt began last season as the starter but lost his job due to an injury. Walsh and Chelf played well in Lunt’s absence, with Chelf finishing the year as the No. 1 quarterback.
 

Texas

Stop the run without Alex Okafor
Getting star front seven players Jackson Jeffcoat and Jordan Hicks back healthy will obviously go a long way to improving one of the most underachieving units in the nation. Filling holes left by end Alex Okafor and tackle Brandon Moore and stabilizing this unit could be the difference between a conference championship or pink slip for Mack Brown. Manny Diaz needs to figure out a way to improve a defense that allowed 88th nationally in rushing defense. There is a definite sense of urgency with this portion of the depth chart this spring.
 

TCU

Replace two All-Big 12 blockers up front
This team has few weaknesses heading into 2013 and will feature one of the league’s best defenses. Gary Patterson also has two quality options under center as well. Losing guard Blaize Foltz and center James Fry, two All-Big 12 performers from a year ago, will hurt the middle of the offensive line. Foltz was the best lineman on the team and the pivot is a critical position, so filling the gaps inside along the line is key for TCU this spring.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Trevone Boykin (SO) vs. Casey Pachall (SR)
Considering the Horned Frogs have the pieces in place to win the Big 12, this offense needs Pachall to return to his 2011 form. Despite missing eight games last season due to an off-the-field incident, Pachall is expected to edge Boykin for the starting job this spring, but Boykin will have some role on the offense in 2013.


Texas Tech

Rebuilding in the secondary
One year after allowing 485.6 yards per game, the Red Raiders were one of the nation’s most-improved defenses. Texas Tech ranked second in the Big 12 by allowing 367.3 yards per game, while finishing first in pass defense. This unit struggled later in the season, but there’s no question the Red Raiders were better on this side of the ball in 2012. In addition to a new coaching staff taking over, Texas Tech has significant question marks in the secondary. Cornerbacks Cornelius Douglas and Eugene Neboh, along with safeties Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson have expired their eligibility, which leaves the Red Raiders with just one returning starter in the defensive backfield. Cornerback Tre’ Porter is a good place to start rebuilding, while Bruce Jones, Jarvis Phillips, Derrick Mays and Ola Falemi return with experience. While there’s at least some depth at cornerback, the safety position is virtually empty. J.J. Gaines and John White are the only returning safeties on the roster, and the duo combined for just nine tackles in 2012. Incoming freshman Jalen Barnes and junior college recruit Martin Hill could be asked to play a lot in 2013, which is particularly bad news in an offensive-minded league like the Big 12.
 

West Virginia

Who will emerge as the top receivers?
All eyes in Morgantown will be focused on the defense in the spring, but the receiving corps shouldn’t be overlooked. Gone are standouts Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, along with Ryan Nehlen and J.D. Woods. The unit’s top returning receivers are Jordan Thompson (13 catches) and Connor Arlia (7), so it’s easy to see why the coaching staff is bringing in five players in the 2013 recruiting class at the position, including three junior college recruits. True freshman Shelton Gibson is also expected to get into the mix this fall. With a new quarterback and virtually new receiving corps, it may take some time for West Virginia to work out the kinks in the passing game. However, in an offensive-minded league with a questionable defense, the Mountaineers will need to win their share of shootouts in 2013.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Ford Childress (FR) vs. Paul Millard (JR)
Millard has the edge in experience (34 career passes), but the West Virginia coaching staff is excited to see what Childress can do with the No. 1 offense. The Houston native ranked as the No. 18 recruit in the 2012 signing class and spent last season learning the ropes as a redshirt. Even though Millard has the edge in game experience, this is Childress’ job to lose. 

 

Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)


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Teaser:
<p> Big 12 Football 2013 Spring Preview and Storylines</p>
Post date: Friday, March 8, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /mlb/worst-mlb-free-agent-signings-2013
Body:

As baseball's spring training continues in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports offers its thoughts on all the offseason movement. Here are the worst offseason free agent signings in Major League Baseball for 2013:

Lance Berkman, Texas Rangers
1 year, $10,000,000
Injuries and a steady decline in bat speed, especially from the right side, have cost the Big Puma production in recent years. He can help Texas as a spot DH, but he can’t play the outfield and is limited at first base. 
 
Jonathan Broxton, Cincinnati Reds
3 years, $21,000,000
If Aroldis Chapman remains in the starting rotation, Broxton could be a bargain as the closer. But only if he can still handle the workload. If the hefty reliever returns to his set-up role, he will be overpaid, especially the third year.
 
Melky Cabrera, Toronto Blue Jays
2 years, $16,000,000
The suspension for PEDs last season probably cost Cabrera about $50 million. Of course, without the PEDs, how good a hitter would he have been? What player coming back from a PED suspension has ever been productive for an extended period of time? None.
 
Ryan Dempster, Boston Red Sox
2 years, $26,500,000
Prior to his strong first half with the Cubs last season, Dempster had three straight years of rising ERAs and WHIPs. His 5.09 ERA with Texas in 12 starts last season is not a good sign of where his career is heading. With a healthy and productive John Lackey and Clay Buchholz, Dempster will be expected to provide little more than quality innings. He’s an expensive innings-eater with negative trend.
 
Stephen Drew, Boston Red Sox
1 year, $9,500,000
Wow. Really? The A’s declined a $10,000,000 option (shocker) and paid a $1,350,000 buyout. The shortstop ended up with $10,850,000 plus $500,000 in incentives. What an agent that Scott Boras guy is.
 
Jeremy Guthrie, Kansas City Royals
3 years, $25,000,000
Guthrie has never had a winning record in a season of 27 or more starts. Probably not going to break that string in K.C.
 
Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels
5 years, $125,000,000
Having former MVPs Hamilton and Albert Pujols in the same lineup is a dream for an All-Star Game manager. Mike Scioscia will have the luxury of writing their names on the lineup card every night. Realistically, the Angels’ window of winning with this pair is about three years. After that, the club will pay Hamilton $32 million per year at ages 35 and 36. By that time, this will look like a bad deal.
 
Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers
3 years, $22,500,000
The Dodgers will turn the closing duties over to League this season. He was 6-for-6 in closing situations for Los Angeles last season but had only 15 saves for the season. If he succeeds, he’ll be a nice bargain for a closer. If he doesn’t get the job done as closer, he’ll be an expensive set-up man.
 
Russell Martin, Pittsburgh Pirates
2 years, $17,000,000
The Pirates are looking for a backstop who can lead a developing pitching staff. Perhaps Martin can. But he’s merely average throwing out runners and has hit just .236 over the past four seasons with the Dodgers and Yankees. 
 
Brandon McCarthy, Arizona Diamondbacks
2 years, $15,500,000
Made $4,275,000 last year for Oakland. This is the first multi-year deal for McCarthy, who was mediocre until finding a home in Oakland over the last two years. Last season, his ERA was much better at home (2.88 to 3.66), so he may struggle in Arizona, and opponents batted .303 in the second half. We’d feel much better about $4-5 million in 2014 instead of the $9 million Arizona will pay him.
 
Carlos Peña, Houston Astros
1 year, $2,900,000
This is not a huge commitment for the team, but the Astros can lose 110 games with Nate Freiman as their DH for the league minimum.
 
Cody Ross, Arizona Diamondbacks
3 years, $26,000,000
In five seasons as a full-time player, Ross has never hit better than .270 or driven in more than 90 runs. So, we find the $8.5 million per year for 2014 and 2015 puzzling. The five mil for 2013 seems about right.
 
Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers
5 years, $80,000,000
With a lifetime record of 48–51, Sanchez has double-figure wins just twice, and only once since 2006. If you believe he’s getting better and healthier at age 29, then perhaps he’ll average better than 7–9, 3.85 and 145 innings over the next five years, which would match his recent five-year history. 
 
B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves
5 years, $75,250,000
Ever since Upton debuted for Tampa Bay in 2004, experts have agreed that his five tools warrant a big contract. But now his production should be evaluated. The Braves will wish they had Michael Bourn back by the end of this deal.
 
Shane Victorino, Boston Red Sox
3 years, $39,000,000
Victorino parlayed a mediocre season in which he made just $9,500,000 from an existing three-year deal into $13 mil/year. The Flyin’ Hawaiian doesn’t run as he once did, and his defense has diminished greatly in recent years.
 
Kevin Youkilis, New York Yankees
1 year, $12,000,000
A signing held in contempt by both Red Sox and Yankees fans, Youk will fill in at third base until A-Rod is healthy, which may not happen until 2014. The Yankees overpaid.
 

 

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

Teaser:
<p> We run down the biggest financial baseball blunders</p>
Post date: Friday, March 8, 2013 - 10:59
Path: /college-basketball/daily-march-madness-tracker
Body:

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

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

Related: 11 Potential Bid Thieves for bubble teams

MARCH 8 DAILY MARCH MADNESS TRACKER AND BUBBLE WATCH

Kentucky finished as an at-large
Lose at Arkansas? Not good, but plenty of solid teams have lost in Fayetteville this season. Lose to Florida over the weekend? Not good, either, but that would not be unexpected. That said, if Kentucky had one must-win game in its final stretch, it was Georgia. The Wildcats lost 72-62, dimming their hopes to reach the NCAA Tournament as an at-large. It's worth noting CBS' Jerry Palm has Kentucky has his last team in the field Friday while Joe Lunardi tabbed the Cats as one of the first eight teams out. At 15-15, Georgia still has work to do to even reach the NIT, but the Bulldogs may have cost Tennessee and Kentucky trips to the NCAA Tournament. “I’m so disappointed in the job I’ve done with this team,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “I’ve never had a team not cohesive this time of year.”

Call it a day for Virginia, too.
Remember when Virginia beat Duke to end February? Seems like ages ago, right? The Cavaliers have been victims of last second shots on the road the last two games, the latter a runner by Florida State’s Michael Snaer in the final seconds for a 53-51 loss. Losing to teams like Boston College and Florida State in March is no way to make the field as an at-large.

UMass misses opportunity
The Minutemen have been a bubble team, including one of Jerry Palm’s first four teams out Thursday morning. UMass could have solidified its case Thursday, but lost to Butler 73-62. The Minutemen will need a deep run in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, if not a championship to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Colorado makes statement
The Buffaloes solidified their spot in the field by beating Oregon 76-53, but perhaps what was most important about the win was the personnel. Colorado beat the Pac-12-leading Ducks and held them to 37.5 percent shooting despite the absence of Andre Roberson, who missed the game with a “viral illness.” Roberson averages 10.8 points and 11.5 rebounds.

Pac-12 madness
Does anyone want to win the Pac-12? With Oregon’s loss to Colorado, all three of the league’s frontrunners lost early in the week (UCLA to Washington State, Cal to Stanford). Only Oregon or UCLA can win an outright title Saturday as Cal has wrapped up its season.

The WAC may be a one-bid league
If Louisiana Tech loses in the WAC Tournament, it may be tough to sell the 25-4 Bulldogs as an at-large team. Tech lost 78-60 at New Mexico State on Thursday, ending its undefeated run through the conference. The loss was actually the Bulldogs best loss of the season -- New Mexico State is No. 60 in the RPI. Louisiana Tech also lost to a sub-250 team in McNeese State back in December. The Bulldogs have three top-100 wins, none of which against at-large candidate for the Tournament (Southern Miss, New Mexico State and Denver, all at home).

KEY SATURDAY GAMES
All Times Eastern

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIPS
Atlantic Sun:
Noon, ESPN2
Ohio Valley: 6 p.m., ESPN2

Florida at Kentucky (noon, CBS)
Kentucky’s hopes of an at-large bid are all but over, but there's still reason to believe the Wildcats could win the SEC Tournament. The last time Kentucky faced such adversity this season, the Wildcats lost by 30 to Tennessee. Will Kentucky have any energy left to face Florida at home?

Syracuse at Georgetown (noon, ESPN2)
Georgetown will try to re-state its case for a Big East regular season title and a No. 1 seed after losing to Villanova on Wednesday. Syracuse is mired in a puzzling funk. The Orange were 18–1 after beating Cincinnati on Jan. 21. Now, Jim Boeheim’s club is 22–7 after Saturday’s home loss to Louisville. It’s tough to imagine this team winning at Georgetown.

Minnesota at Purdue (noon, Big Ten Network)
The Gophers may be an NCAA Tournament team, but they didn’t make Selection Sunday any easier for themselves by losing 53-51 to Nebraska on Wednesday. Minnesota will need to win this game just to finish .500 in the Big Ten. That won’t be easy against Purdue. The Boilermakers have been feisty in recent weeks defeating Wisconsin in Madison and giving Michigan problems at home.

La Salle at Saint Louis (1:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
The Atlantic 10 title is up for grabs in this game and the VCU-Temple on Sunday. Saint Louis (with a win and a VCU loss) and a the Rams (with a win over Temple and a Saint Louis loss) are the only teams that can claim outright titles. La Salle, one of the last teams in the field, is looking for a share of the A-10 title and a signature win to lock up a Tournament bid.

Ole Miss at LSU (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., SEC syndication)
The Rebels are teetering on the bubble, even after a win over Alabama earlier this week. Ole Miss can’t afford to lose to LSU if it hopes to use the SEC Tournament as a springboard to an at-large NCAA bid.

Kansas State at Oklahoma State (1:30 p.m., Big 12 syndication)
Surprising Kansas State can secure no worse than a tie for the Big 12 title with a win in Stillwater. That, however, won’t be easy. Oklahoma State has lost only twice at Gallagher-Iba Arena, to Gonzaga in December and to Kansas, in overtime, late last month. The Cowboys are a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, but they could use a few more quality wins to improve their seed, especially after Tuesday’s loss at Iowa State.

San Diego State at Boise State (3:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
A handful of teams will be more worried than Boise State about getting into the field. The Broncos have won four of the last five, the loss coming in a heartbreaker to UNLV on Tuesday.

Missouri at Tennessee (4 p.m., ESPN)
This is a must win for a Tennessee team that put itself in a precarious position with a loss at Georgia on Saturday. The Volunteers, who had won six straight before the loss in Athens, only have two top-50 RPI wins — none away from home. Missouri is 2–6 on the road in the SEC, but the last four losses have been in overtime at Kentucky, by two at Arkansas, by two at Texas A&M and by three at LSU. The Tigers are capable of winning in Knoxville.

Notre Dame at Louisville (4 p.m., CBS)
It’s a rematch of the longest regular-season game in Big East history — Notre Dame’s four-overtime, 104–101 victory over Louisville on Feb. 9. The Cardinals haven’t lost since, running their winning streak to six straight with a 67–51 win over Cincinnati on Monday night. Notre Dame is a solid 4–4 on the road in the league this season, highlighted by a 51–42 victory at Pittsburgh last Monday night. The Fighting Irish have an opportunity to enhance their NCAA Tournament seed, but Louisville will be tough to tame at the Yum! Center.

Duke at North Carolina (9 p.m., ESPN)
Both teams have been rejuvenated of late — Duke by the return of forward Ryan Kelly and North Carolina by the move to a smaller lineup. Kelly scored 36 points against Miami in his first game back from injury and 18 against Virginia in his second. North Carolina has only lost once since Roy Williams replaced forward Desmond Hubert with guard P.J. Hairston in the starting lineup. The Tar Heels have played their way off the NCAA Tournament bubble and into “lock” status.

KEY SUNDAY GAMES

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIPS
Big South:
Noon, ESPN2
Missouri Valley: 1 p.m., CBS

VCU at Temple (noon, CBS)
VCU can win at outright Atlantic 10 title in its first season in the league while Temple is trying to keep a first-round bye in the A-10 Tourney. The Owls have won eight of the last nine games to put them on the right side of the bubble, but their last loss is to Duquesne (1-14 in the A-10). Beating VCU and earning a top-four seed in the conference tournament would be huge for Temple.

Illinois at Ohio State (12:30 p.m., ESPN)
Ohio State looked shaky earlier in the season despite a good record. But lately the Buckeyes look awfully dangerous. They’re starting to find secondary scorers, and they had tremendous defensive effort in Tuesday’s 67-58 win at Indiana. Ohio State will be looking for revenge after losing at Illinois by 19 points in early January.

Indiana at Michigan (4 p.m., CBS)
Indiana has already wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, but plenty is at stake. Indiana is eyeing the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, while Michigan is still in play for one of the four top seeds. Big Ten Player of the Year honors could be at stake, as well. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Michigan’s Trey Burke have one more opportunity to state their cases.

Athlon Sports executive editor Mitch Light contributed to this report.

BY THE NUMBERS
NCAA TOURNAMENT PROJECTED AT-LARGE LOCKS (35)
ACC (4): Duke, Miami, NC State, North Carolina
Atlantic 10 (3): Butler, Saint Louis, VCU
Big 12 (4): Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Big East (6): Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
Big Ten (6): Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Mountain West (4): Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Pac-12 (5): Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
SEC (2): Florida, Missouri
West Coast (1): Gonzaga

ONE-BID LEAGUES (18)
America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Northeast, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Summit, SWAC, WAC
Note: Conference USA, the Ohio Valley and the Sun Belt likely will be one-bid leagues if their proejcted champions win their conference tournaments.

THE BUBBLE: 15 teams

RELATED:
All 2013 NCAA Tournament Coverage

Teaser:
<p> Road losses have Kentucky and Virgnia on the outside looking in before huge college basketball weekend</p>
Post date: Friday, March 8, 2013 - 10:30
Path: /nascar/denny-hamlin-vows-avoid-paying-fine-laments-nascar-relationship
Body:

Five storylines for the Kobalt Tools 500 in Las Vegas

1. Hamlin draws NASCAR’s (thin-skinned) ire
NASCAR suddenly, quickly and, well, mistakenly landed a $25,000 shot to Denny Hamlin's wallet on Thursday as Sprint Cup teams set up shop in Las Vegas. And no: this wasn't a case of Brian France cleaning Hamlin's clock at a swanky blackjack table.

Hamlin is expected to pay up for doing, allegedly, at least $25,000 in damage to NASCAR's apparently fragile image for answering a completely legitimate question at Phoenix International Raceway about NASCAR's new race car. Hamlin's most grievous offense can be found in the following span of sentences:

“I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars. This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning.”

Athlon Sports regrets posting such serious and offensive comments.

Wait, what?

That was exactly Hamlin’s reaction Thursday during a break from testing and later in the night when he released a statement on Twitter. NASCAR never contacted Hamlin before the fine was issued, even though it came later than usual. Hamlin has vowed to appeal the fine and voiced even greater concern for the message it sends.

“I feel as if today NASCAR lost one of its biggest supporters vocally of where our sport is headed,” Hamlin wrote in a tweet, conscious of his 2010 “secret” fine for saying things that also crossed NASCAR. “So in the end there are no winners.”

Hamlin said the statement was “taken out of context” and that the fine isn't about money. Instead it’s about his ability to give an honest and fair assessment to reasonable questions.

“Since being fined in 2010 I have been a lot more careful about what I say to media and I felt this past weekend felt completely in my rights to give an assessment of the question asked,” Hamlin wrote.


2. Testing, testing, 1… 2… 3…
Beyond the Hamlin episode, teams got down to work earlier than usual on Thursday, as NASCAR opened the track in Las Vegas to a full day of testing.

It wasn't the first time NASCAR's new Gen-6 car has been on a 1.5-mile intermediate track, but Thursday was the first day Sprint Cup drivers got to toss the new car design around Las Vegas Motor Speedway. NASCAR opened the track a day early for two sessions of car fitness tests that, unlike a typical race weekend practice session, allowed the use of data and telemetry recording devices.

Greg Biffle's lap of 189.427 mph late in the second of two sessions put his No. 16 Ford atop the speed charts — a familiar place for Roush Fenway Racing at LVMS. Kasey Kahne set the track record a season ago in Sin City at 190.456 mph.

“It doesn’t matter how long you have practice or how much testing you have, there will be cars on the track until NASCAR throws the red and black flag,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “And even after all of that, we will always think, ‘Darn, if we only had two or three more laps.’ We are always striving for perfection so there is never enough time in my opinion to get ready for Sunday’s race.”

Indeed, many teams placed focus on race setups to start the second weekend of the early-season West Coast swing for NASCAR. Nine of the top-10 drivers in the second session’s speed charts posted their fastest lap in either the second-to-last or last run of the day, likely with qualifying setups installed.

The last major test on 1.5-mile tracks for most teams came at Charlotte Motor Speedway in January. Snow postponed part of that test conducted in extremely cold conditions — a stark contrast from Thursday’s sunny and mild weather in Las Vegas.
 

Teaser:
<p> Five storylines to follow as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Las Vegas for the Kobalt Tools 500.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 8, 2013 - 10:23
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-rankings-2013-outside-linebackers
Body:

Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country's most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft, held April 25-27, won’t be any different. Georgia's Jarvis Jones leads a fairly deep class of athletic defenders who should be capable of contributing on the next level.

1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia (6-2, 245)
Final Stats: 155 tackles, 44.0 TFL, 28.0 sacks, 9 FF, 1 INT
The star Bulldog defender isn't a true outside linebacker in the 4-3 sense, but he is undoubtedly one of the most talented pass-rushers in the nation. He is a perfect fit in the 3-4 as a hybrid James Harrison-type of player. He is a tenacious (just pop in the tape of the Missouri or Florida games from 2012) blitz backer who can play in space if need be. He isn't as big as some other hybrids of recent memory, but he makes up for it with elite-level quickness and explosion. He can't really "grow" into a 4-3 defensive end and his strengths aren't suited for the traditional 4-3 OLB either, but his skill set is perfect for the outside 3-4 backer that is used off of the edge to make plays. If he can prove the health issues aren't reoccurring, he is a surefire starter in year one at the professional level. He posted back-to-back double-digit sack totals and led the nation in QB takedowns as a sophomore.

2. Chase Thomas, Stanford (6-3, 244)
Final Stats: 229 tackles, 50.5 TFL, 27.5 sacks, 9 FF, 2 INT
When star middle linebacker Shayne Skov was lost for the season in 2011, it was Thomas who stepped in and became the centerpiece of the Cardinal defense. He constantly plays behind the line of scrimmage and has a huge, powerful frame. He has excelled in the traditional 4-3 outside position in college, but his size and instincts give him Clay Matthews-type of skills. He is a fundamentally sound athlete who rarely is out of position and has little downside after an extremely productive college career. All of that on the most physical, stingiest defensive front West of the Mississippi — one that has won a ton of games.

3. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers (6-1, 241)
Final Stats: 387 tackles, 31.0 TFL, 11.5 sacks, 2 INT, 12 FF
Stable. Athletic. Fast. Dependable. And in the modern NFL world of speed and passing attacks, Greene's overall athleticism makes him an intriguing upside prospect. He played safety in his first two seasons and, after some adding some bulk, he shifted closer to the line of scrimmage to get his playmaking talents around the football. He played on the league's top defense and if Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano wasn't already loaded with young linebackers, he wouldn't pass on the tackler he recruited and coached at Rutgers.

4. Sean Porter, Texas A&M (6-1, 229)
Final Stats: 261 tackles, 34.5 TFL, 14.5 sacks, 1 INT
Von Miller Porter is not. But he did have an excellent junior season filling the pass-rushing void left by Miller's departure. However, the Aggies shifted to a 4-3 under a new coaching staff and Porter was shifted into a more traditional 4-3 outside role. He simply wasn't asked to rush the passer at all his last season in College Station. Scouts will have to decide if his position experience is a good thing (meaning versatility) or a bad thing (limited to one thing). He has plenty of talent, but only time will tell where he should be playing on the next level.

5. Zavier Gooden, Missouri (6-1, 234)
Final Stats: 256 tackles, 20.5 TFL, 5 INT
This prospect is a freaky athlete with an NFL-ready body. He was a converted safety and has the speed, quickness, burst and range to match. His rare physical talents have allowed him to grow into an elite outside linebacker prospect. With good coaching, Gooden is all but assured a starting role on the next level.

Related: Athlon Sports 2013 NFL Mock Draft 2.0

6. Gerald Hodges, Penn State (6-1, 243)
Final Stats: 249 tackles, 21.0 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 3 INT
Hodges is the definition of a traditional outside linebacker position in a traditional 4-3 defense. He has excellent athletic ability and was successful in all phases of the game in college — blitzing the passer, playing physical and displaying discipline against the run, and he also is fluid and quick in space against the pass. Some added bulk and strength would only help improve his stock and professional outlook.

7. Jamie Collins, Southern Miss (6-3, 250)
Final Stats: 314 sacks, 45.0 TFL, 21.0 sacks, 7 FF, 3 INT
The undersized defensive end was stellar in his time at Southern Miss to the point of being unblockable as a senior. He was incredibly disruptive and constantly is playing behind enemy lines in the backfield, including on special teams. He appears destined for the hybrid role on the outside of a 3-4 scheme as he will be learning to play standing up in the NFL all over again. He will have to overcome the level of competition criticism as Conference USA offensive tackles aren't exactly a proving ground of NFL talent. Does he have the athleticism to make the speed and position transition at the next level?

8. Sio Moore, UConn (6-1, 245)
Final Stats: 274 tackles, 44.0 TFL, 16.0 sacks, 4 FF, 3 INT
Moore is a well-coached, dedicated prospect who takes his work seriously. He is disciplined and rarely out of position, giving him the chance to make plays on a regular basis. He is a fundamentally sound tackler who is almost certain to out-perform his draft stock. He showed much better than expected at the Combine.

9. Jelani Jenkins, Florida (6-0, 243)
Final Stats: 182 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 3 INT
The Gators tackler is a superb athlete. He can run and cover from sideline-to-sideline and moves well in open space. He needs to learn to get tougher at the point of attack and is limited in his position versatility. If he can learn better technique and develop a nasty streak, he could be a steal come draft weekend.

10. Etienne Sabino, Ohio State (6-2, 247)
Final Stats: 120 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT
Sabino was a big-time recruit coming out of high school and his overall athletic ability and strength proved the scouts were right. He can play inside as well and likely lands on the strongside. He doesn't possess elite quickness or agility but he was rarely out of position during his Buckeyes career.

11. Keith Pough, Howard (6-2, 239)
12. Brandon McGee, Arizona State (5-11, 223)
13. Jake Knott, Iowa State (6-2, 243)
14. DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina (6-1, 243)
15. Cornelius Washington, Georgia (6-4, 265)
16. Mike Taylor, Wisconsin (6-1, 234)
17. Lerentee McCray, Florida (6-2, 25)
18. Sam Barrington, South Florida (6-1, 246)
19. Nick Moody, Florida State (6-1, 236)


2013 NFL Draft Positional Rankings:

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Running Backs

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Tackles

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Guards and Centers

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Defensive Tackles

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Middle Linebackers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Outside Linebackers

Teaser:
<p> NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Outside Linebackers</p>
Post date: Friday, March 8, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-rankings-2013-middle-linebackers
Body:

Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country's most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft, held April 25-27, won’t be any different. The best inside linebacker prospect might be the most covered, most scrutinized prospect in the entire draft. Manti Te'o heads a class that isn't all that deep but has some elite playmakers at the top of the board.

1. Manti Te’o, Notre Dame (6-1, 241)
Final Stats: 437 tackles, 34.0 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 7 INT
Where to begin? Te'o was the sure-fire No. 1-best player at his position before the bizarre fake girlfriend scandal broke. There is no doubt it affected his play in the title game and it is that performance against Alabama that might have hurt his stock the most. He dropped a few pounds for 2012, which has given him excellent quickness and burst to go with tremendous strength, tackling skill, physicality, intangibles, leadership and size. His 40-time was underwhelming at the combine, but Brandon Spikes ran a 5.0. Playing middle linebacker is much more about recognition, quickness and football IQ than sprinter speed.

2. Arthur Brown, Kansas State (6-1, 241)
Final Stats (KSU): 201 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 3 INT
Brown could play both inside and out but he checked in bigger than anticipated and could easily stick inside at 240+ pounds. He has the instincts and pedigree to be successful at the next level. It took him a while to get started after transferring from Miami (Fla.) back home to Kansas State, where he eventually developed into a star on a team that competed for league championships the two seasons Brown he started. He is a tremendous all-around athlete and competitor who could be a lights-out defender on the next level. He could have entered the draft last year, but returned to help the Wildcats win a Big 12 championship.

3. Alec Ogletree, Georgia (6-2, 242)
Final Stats: 197 tackles, 20.0 TFL, 1 INT, 3 FF
Physical. Explosive. Can play in any system. He faced the nation’s top programs as a Bulldog. Ogletree has had some issues off of the field but they have been relatively minor and shouldn’t keep him out of the first round. The raw upside on Ogletree makes him one of the most intriguing players in the upcoming draft at any position. If he stays clean off of the field, his speed, explosiveness and physicality will be too much to pass up early on draft day.

4. Kevin Minter, LSU (6-0, 246)
Final Stats: 206 tackles, 18.5 TFL, 1 INT
On a team with little depth and talent around him at linebacker, Minter played excellent football in 2012. He has good size, was the leader of the LSU defense, made plays all over the field and has elite-level toughness. He played behind an NFL defensive line, so scouts will want to see him in traffic more often. The good news for Minter is he has saved his best season for his last and it will help him come daft day.

5. Kevin Reddick, North Carolina (6-1, 243)
Final Stats: 275 tackles, 36.0 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 2 INT
A slow senior season likely cost Reddick some money this fall. He still has excellent size, speed and strength for the interior of any defense. He possesses NFL skills, but didn't make enough big plays to be considered an elite prospect. However, he has the talent needed to be a productive player at the next level.

Related: Athlon Sports 2013 NFL Mock Draft 2.0

6. Michael Mauti, Penn State (6-2, 243)
Final Stats: 183 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 3 INT
The steady veteran displayed elite levels of character, leadership and mental toughness throughout the horrific scandal in Happy Valley. He isn’t overly talented at any one thing but is extremely consistent and physical. Think Sean Lee, Dan Connor or a slightly less talented version of Paul Posluszny. His two ACL surgeries likely raise a glaring red flag with NFL personnel, which could result in him dropping lower on team's boards.

7. Kiko Alonso, Oregon (6-3, 238)
Final Stats: 144 tackles, 21.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 6 INT
It remains to be seen if Alonso has the dedication and leadership skills to lock down a huddle at middle linebacker. But when it comes to versatility and athletic upside, few can match the former Oregon Duck. He has missed time due to injuries and off the field issues, but is big, fast, powerful and dynamic. Just pop in a tape of the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin to see his potential shine.

8. Jon Bostic, Florida (6-1, 245)
Final Stats: 237 tackles, 19.0 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 5 INT
In the midst of a semi-disappointing senior year (from an NFL scouting standpoint), Bostic became a focal point and leader for one of the nation’s elite defenses. He is a tough hitter and can make big plays from all over the field. He has the size and toughness to start inside on the NFL level, but will need to prove his overall talent can handle the prestigious NFL air. He is at his best when playing downhill and attacking.

9. Nico Johnson, Alabama (6-2, 248)
Final Stats: 163 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 2 INT
There is a lot to like about this senior’s resume. He won three national championships with the Crimson Tide and was a big part of one of the nation’s top defenses every year. He was excellent against the run and can play inside or out. Yet, he also displayed long stretches of relatively quiet play. Is that a sign of steady production no matter the situation or a sign of less than elite consistency?

10. Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech (6-1, 237)
Final Stats: 226 tackles, 33.5 TFL, 16.5 sacks
The Hokies defender makes up for a lack of speed and size with excellent overall strength and power. He was extremely well-coached and used his frame to the best of its abilities. He played a lot of productive football for Virginia Tech but also dealt with injuries — which raises questions about his long-term upside.

11. Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers (6-1, 240)
12. Tom Wort, Oklahoma (6-0, 235)
13. A.J. Klein, Iowa State (6-1, 250)
14. Jonathan Stewart, Texas A&M (6-4, 242)
15. John Lotulelei, UNLV (5-11, 233)

2013 NFL Draft Positional Rankings:

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Running Backs
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Tackles
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Guards and Centers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Defensive Tackles
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Middle Linebackers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Outside Linebackers

Teaser:
<p> 2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Middle Linebackers</p>
Post date: Friday, March 8, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NFL, NBA, NASCAR
Path: /college-football/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-4
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for March 8.

• Cuban-American model Yvette Prieto is making an honest man out of Michael Jordan. The two have announced their engagement.

• It's not exactly T.O. and a Sharpie, but JaVale McGee blocked a shot and then pretended to sign the ball.

• The most entertaining showdown of the NASCAR season so far: Denny Hamlin vs. the governing body.

• One more Deadspin link: The glorious nation of Kazakhstan plays soccer even if the fields are under water.

• Mandatory gives us a petition we can get behind.

• Alphabet soup courtesy of Saturdays Down South: CJ and AJ top the list of the SEC's top LBs.

• Renaldo Balkman was once a first-round pick of the New York Knicks. These days, he's melting down and choking teammates in the Philippines League.

Matt Barkley abused one of his biggest detractors, Merril Hoge, in a subtle, understated way. Well played, Matt; you're back on my first-round board.

• Michael Phelps is new to golf, but he's quickly learned how frustrating it is. This is an Olympic-level club toss.

• I know Augusta National has admitted women members, but let's not get crazy.

Could Kentucky miss the tournament the year after winning the thing? Looks that way right now.

• To commemorate Dennis Rodman's bridge-building trip to North Korea, here's the NBA Jam version of his bromance with Kim Jong Un.

 

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


March 7

• Somehow, highly paid baseball players are able to entice some lovely ladies to date and even marry them. Here's a rundown of the hottest WAGs in the game, including Ryan Braun's finacee Larisa Fraser (pictured).

• Johnny Football's not the only Aggie capable of video magic. A&M wideout Ryan Swope auditions for the all-hands team in this video.

• It's Spring Training, but emotions can still run high. Stephen Strasburg and Roy Halladay exchanged a little purposeful chin music yesterday. Not the guys you want throwing at you.

Nerlens Noel can't play right now, but he can bust rhymes. (Is that still what they call it?)

• Nobody's any good at college basketball this year, but that parity has given us plenty of great moments like this one, where a dismal Georgia Tech team beats Miami at the buzzer.

• Hey, college football players: Just because you don't get a concussion doesn't mean you're not destroying your brain. Thus ends today's buzzkill.

• North Korea has a weird way of scoring basketball games. For instance: Dunks count three points. Three-pointers that don't touch the iron count four. Deadspin re-scored some classic NBA games using North Korean rules, and the results are pretty interesting.

• Every SEC team — even Alabama — has spring concerns. Here are the essential questions facing each team in the SEC East.

• King James is making a lucky woman his queen. LeBron James and girlfriend Savannah Brinson have sent out save the date cards. I'm expecting mine to arrive today.

• Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes went 1-for-10 at the free throw line against Auburn. As a result, he was shooting free throws at 3 am this morning.

Paul Pierce snuck into the Sixers huddle during a timeout. They didn't even seem too mad about it.

• College basketball announcer Dan Dakich got called out by a lone sign-holder for being a Hoosier heartbreaker. Even better, he owned up to it on air.

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


March 6

• Hockey doesn't get a lot of love in this column. I'm addressing that shortcoming today by linking to this slideshow of NHL ice girls and cheerleaders.

SI presents the 50 most powerful people in sports. A glance at the list proves that money equals power.

Hugo Chavez is dead, and as with almost any story, there's a sports angle: He once threw out the first pitch at a Mets game, and he thought golf was a bourgeois sport and said golf carts were proof of laziness. He also banned Coke Zero, but that's another story.

Kevin Costner's making a movie called "Draft Day" where he'll play a fictional GM for the Cleveland Browns. He chose Cleveland over Buffalo. What does that say about Buffalo?

Rory McIlroy faced the music in an hour-long press conference. Says he gives himself a red card for his behavior at the Honda. That's a soccer term for a no-no, in case you're wondering.

• I doubt that this has ever happened before: Indiana lost, and then cut down the nets. In their defense, it was Senior Night, and they were celebrating the fact that they had already clinched a tie for the Big Ten title. Maybe they were also celebrating Victor Oladipo's epic block.

• This doesn't happen very often, either: The cops got involved when players from Notre Dame and St. John's briefly brawled.

Championship Week got off to a rousing start. It was upset city in the Big South, and there was a buzzer-beater in the Horizon.

A BBC reporter started openly hitting on Mila Kunis during an interview, asking her to go to a soccer game and to go drinking with him. Mila proved her awesomeness by playing along.

A ranking of the SEC's best defensive ends. Guess who's No. 1? I'll give you a hint: He weighs 270 pounds and just ran a 4.5 40.

• Yankees GM Brian Cashman made two skydiving jumps for charity. On the second, he severely injured his ankle, to the point that the bone was poking through the skin. Not surprisingly, they only released video of the first jump.

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


March 5

• They say we all have a twin somewhere. Remarkably, that includes Kate Upton. Judge for yourself. That's Kate's doppelganger in the picture.

• When it comes to uniforms, Oregon State has always been the frumpy older sister compared to Oregon — the Wynonna Judd to Oregon's Ashley. But that's changing. The Beaver has gotten a makeover.

• JaMarcus Russell decided that fat and lazy was no way to go through life. His comeback attempt is underway, and NFL QB Jeff Garcia is helping out.

• Any A.J. Greens lurking in the SEC ranks this upcoming season? Here's a rundown of what to expect at the wide receiver position down south this year.

• The countdown begins: Vanderbilt and Ole Miss will kick off the 2013 college football season on Thursday, Aug. 29. That's 177 days from today, in case you were wondering.

• Judging from this clip from the World Baseball Classic, the Chinese team needs to work on baserunning fundamentals.

History's biggest journalism fails. Fortunately, Athlon Sports did not make the list.

• Rory McIlroy realizes he screwed up by quitting at the Honda Classic. Time for some damage control.

Some Northern Iowa receiver you never heard of ran a 4.19 40 at Minnesota's pro day. Wow. Take that, CJ.

• Deadspin has the bizarre saga of former Sonics first-round draft pick Robert Swift. It ain't pretty.

Brittney Griner scored 50 points last night, and two of them came on a dunk.

• The Golf Boys — Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler and Ben Crane — are at it again. If you like whitebread golf rap (and who doesn't?), you'll love this.

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


March 4

• It's March. That means Madness. These girls are already excited. Speaking of March, here are the 10 best things about the month. For me, the best thing is that it's not February. It's early, but the month has already had its first shining moment.

• Magic Johnson has apparently seen those LeBron James pregame dunks that are better than anything in the official NBA Slam Dunk Contest. He's willing to pony up $1 million to see King James throw down.

• Remember that short-lived show "$#*! My Dad Says"? Or the uncensored Twitter version that inspired it? That concept works in other settings, since plenty of people say stupid $#*!. Like, say, baseball players.

• JoePos says that Rory McIlroy's mid-round departure Friday shows that he can't handle the truth that he's the No. 1 player in the world. Not yet, anyway.

• Attention, college hoops nerds: Here's a chart that includes a link to every single bracket projection on the Internet.

• If the GIF at this link doesn't get you to watch that stupid celebrity diving show "Splash," then nothing will.

Serge Ibaka went Karate Kid on Blake Griffin's nether regions. Suspension likely to follow.

• Here's a scary thought for SEC coaches: Kevin Sumlin expects Johnny Manziel to improve this spring.

A Division III pitcher took out a baserunner with a textbook cross-check. Trouble was, the ball was nowhere in the vicinity, and there's no tackling in baseball.

• This could be the greatest buzzer beater in basketball history. I defy you to send us a better one.

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

Teaser:
<p> The best sports links from the NFL, college football and basketball, MLB, the NBA, NASCAR and the world of entertainment.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 8, 2013 - 09:35
Path: /college-football/big-east-football-2013-spring-preview-and-storylines
Body:

Another year brings more changes for the Big East. And if you are having trouble keeping up with the changes, you certainly aren’t alone. West Virginia departed for the Big 12 before the 2012 season, while Pittsburgh and Syracuse are joining the ACC in time for 2013. Louisville and Rutgers will have new homes in 2014, as the Cardinals are joining the ACC, while the Scarlet Knights are joining the Big Ten.

With all of the changes, it has been difficult to keep track of which teams are in the Big East for 2013. Making the jump from Conference USA to the Big East is UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU, with East Carolina and Tulane coming board in 2014.

While realignment has dominated most of the headlines in the Big East, Louisville has quietly emerged as a top-10 team for 2013. The Cardinals have one of the nation’s top quarterbacks returning (Teddy Bridgewater) and are coming off a huge bowl victory over Florida.

There’s no clear No. 2 team in the Big East for 2013, but Cincinnati, Rutgers and UCF could each make a strong case to claim that spot.

The Big East will welcome two new head coaches for next season, as Willie Taggart takes over at South Florida, and Tommy Tuberville moves from Texas Tech to Cincinnati. Taggart appears to be a perfect fit for the Bulls, while Tuberville has been successful at each of his head coaching stops.

Big East Spring Storylines and Quarterback Battles to Watch

Cincinnati

Replacing running back George Winn
The fans in Cincinnati were accustomed to a spread offense that leaned on the pass under Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, but Tommy Tuberville has made his living off pro-style power football. In order to make that switch, the Bearcats need to find a suitable workhorse tailback. Isaiah Pead gave way to George Winn without a hiccup, but Winn is off to the NFL. Ralph David Abernathy IV is a big-time playmaker, but can he handle 25 touches per game? Tion Green, Dionte Buckley and early enrollee Rodriguez Moore will battle for time behind what should be a very solid offensive line.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Brendon Kay (SR) vs. Munchie Legaux (SR)
With a new coaching staff taking over at Cincinnati, all positions are up for grabs this spring. Legaux was replaced in favor of Kay last season, but the new coaching staff plans to open up the competition. However, Kay was clearly the better quarterback last season and should be Cincinnati’s starter in 2013.
 

Connecticut

Figure out a way to score points
The worst scoring offense in the conference a year ago has undergone a dramatic change this offseason. And after scoring just 17.8 points per game, change was desperately needed. Coordinator George DeLeone was demoted to OL coach and former Cincinnati receivers coach T.J. Weist is now calling plays. Finding players on the outside to catch passes will go a long way to helping returning signal caller Chandler Whitmer. After tight end Ryan Griffin and his six touchdowns departed, there are two total receiving touchdowns coming back to the offense.
 

Houston

Can the defense find some answers this spring?
Tony Levine’s first season wasn’t a total disaster, but 2012 wasn’t a good year for Houston. As a result of a 5-7 record, Levine revamped the coaching staff and hired David Gibbs to coordinate the Cougars’ defense. Gibbs has not been a coordinator since 2005 (Auburn) but worked with the Chiefs and Texans as an assistant from 2006-10. Needless to say, he will have his hands full this spring, as the Cougars return only four starters and will be switching to a 3-4 scheme. The linebacking corps needs to be revamped, as Phillip Stewart and Everett Daniels depart after combining for 240 tackles last year. Derrick Matthews and LSU transfer Trevon Randle isn’t a bad place to start rebuilding, but Houston needs a big season from hybrid end/linebacker Eric Eiland. With the Cougars moving to a tougher league, struggling to get any improvement on defense is a good way to equal another losing record.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Billy Cosh (JR) vs. Rex Dausin (FR) vs. D’Juan Hines (FR) vs. Brom Kohlhausen (SO) vs. John O’Korn (FR) vs. David Piland (JR)
Even though the Cougars averaged 328.4 passing yards per game, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Doug Meacham should be an upgrade at offensive coordinator and plans to install a similar system to the one Houston used successfully under Kevin Sumlin. Piland is expected to open spring practice as the starter, but the battle likely won’t begin in earnest until the fall when freshmen John O’Korn and D’Juan Hines arrive.


Louisville

Who replaces center Mario Benavides and left tackle Alex Kupper?
With nine starters returning on defense, most of Louisville’s offseason concerns rest with the offense. While that seems strange to mention with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returning, the Cardinals are losing two key offensive linemen, while running back Jeremy Wright decided to leave the team after rushing for 824 yards last season. With Dominique Brown coming off a redshirt year, and Senorise Perry likely to be 100 percent at the season opener from a torn ACL, Louisville’s biggest issue will be the offensive line. Center Mario Benavides and left tackle Alex Kupper depart after standout 2012 seasons, which leaves the offensive line with some uncertainty heading into spring practice. John Miller and Jake Smith are expected to hold down the guard spots, while Jamon Brown returns after starting all 13 games at right tackle. Sophomore Mike Romano was the backup to Benavides last season but is out for spring practice due to injury. Senior Kamran Joyer and redshirt freshman T.C. Klusman will top the depth chart at center in spring practice. Sophomore Abraham Garcia (6-5, 352 pounds) has the size to be Louisville’s left tackle and played in seven games last year. Keeping Bridgewater upright in the pocket is the Cardinals’ best shot at making a run at a 12-0 regular season mark.
 

Memphis

Can the Tigers continue to build momentum?
While a three-game winning streak over Tulane, UAB and Southern Miss to close the season isn’t the gauntlet of schedules, Memphis was able to use that stretch to build momentum for the offseason and for its first year of Big East play. Justin Fuente had a solid year in his debut, but the Tigers are still behind the rest of the conference in terms of talent. Both sides of the ball enter spring practice with question marks, as the offense needs more from quarterback Jacob Karam, while the defense needs to address a secondary that loses a couple of key players. Memphis is headed in the right direction, so another offseason to find a few answers should help this team as it builds to its first season of Big East play. Even if the Tigers fail to match last year’s four-win mark, Fuente should keep pushing this team in the right direction in 2013.

Related Content: Memphis Tigers 2013 Spring Preview


Rutgers

Filling the voids at linebacker
Khaseem Greene was a star for the Scarlet Knights, leading the defense and earning Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors. Steve Beauharnais was a stalwart alongside Greene as well, posting 272 tackles in his esteemed career. Filling the gaping void left by these two dependable tacklers will be paramount this spring. Kyle Flood signed a deep and talented haul of linebackers last year and veterans Nick DePaola, Marcus Thompson and Jamal Merrell will have to hold off the young talent to earn starting spots this spring. 

 

SMU

Who will replace running back Zach Line?
Although June Jones is a pass-first coach, SMU had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the last three seasons. However, the Mustangs are starting from scratch this offseason, as Zach Line finished his eligibility after the Hawaii Bowl. Luke Seeker, Rishaad Wimbley, Jared Williams, redshirt freshman Prescott Line and junior college recruit (and former Texas Longhorn) Traylon Shead will get the first crack at replacing Line. Williams missed last season recovering from a broken leg, while Seeker and Wimbley combined for just 87 yards in 2012. Considering Garrett Gilbert has been inconsistent during his starting tenure, generating production from the rushing attack will be crucial for SMU.


South Florida

Develop a secondary that competes
A new coach and a new quarterback will be the focus of the spring, but the defensive backfield also needs attention. This unit got torched all season long as opposing quarterbacks threw for an average of 251.9 yards per game at an alarmingly efficient rate (110th in pass efficiency defense). Opposing quarterbacks threw 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions against the Bulls a year ago — a number that was the worst in the nation.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Bobby Eveld (SR) vs. Matt Floyd (SO) vs. Mike White (FR)
While B.J. Daniels had his share of ups and downs over the last few seasons, he will certainly be missed in 2013. The Bulls have an unsettled quarterback situation and could turn to White once he arrives on campus this summer. Eveld was injured in his only appearance last season, while Floyd tossed zero touchdowns and five interceptions on 110 attempts.
 

Temple

Rebuild the running game
Matt Brown and Montel Harris are both gone from the Owls backfield that averaged over 200 yards rushing per game a season ago. The duo combined for 246 carries, 1,426 yards and 16 of the team’s 21 rushing touchdowns. With a quarterback battle brewing between Chris Coyer, Juice Granger and Kevin Newsome, a sound ground game will go along way to improving the 107th-ranked total offense from a year ago. New coach Matt Rhule’s first order of business is establishing a pecking order in the running game.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Chris Coyer (SR) vs. Juice Granger (SR) vs. Kevin Newsome (SR)
Not only are the Owls losing their top two running backs from last season, but the offense also has a glaring question mark under center. Chris Coyer started the first nine games of last season and was benched in favor of Juice Granger for the final two contests. Coyer finished the year with 946 passing yards, while Granger recorded 370 yards. With a new coaching staff coming in, this battle is expected to extend until the fall. 
 

UCF

Filling the gaps on defense
Could UCF be the biggest challenger to Louisville in the revamped Big East for 2013? It’s certainly possible, especially with Cincinnati and Rutgers losing key pieces from last season’s team. However, the Knights have some key voids to fill, especially on defense where end Troy Davis, linebacker Jonathan Davis, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Kemal Ishmael depart. UCF ranked first in Conference USA in scoring defense last season, so replicating those numbers could be difficult with the personnel losses. Rebuilding the defense will start up front, as the Knights will lean more E.J. Dunston, while Clayton Geathers needs to become the leader in the secondary after recording 117 stops last season. If coordinator Jim Fleming can quickly reload this side of the ball, UCF will be a dangerous team. 

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Teaser:
<p> Big East Football 2013 Spring Preview and Storylines</p>
Post date: Friday, March 8, 2013 - 06:25
Path: /nascar/playing-nascar-odds-kobalt-tools-500-las-vegas
Body:

As will be pointed out ad nauseam on FOX this weekend, Las Vegas is the home to gambling, betting, taking chances and all sorts of other illicit activities. So if you want to dial a cliché, cue up NASCAR’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday. To honor this yearly tradition, the Vegas odds makers have beaten everybody to the punch and are already taking bets on who will win the race this Sunday.

Below is how things are shaping up according to the LVH Superbook. If you happen to be going this weekend or have buddy at a bachelor party on site (or still have access to some clandestine off-shore gambling sites) here are the top-10 drivers who stand a shot at making you some cash. Assuming nobody’s right front tire blows out.


JIMMIE JOHNSON  5-1
So far in 2013, Johnson has finished first and second — and he was whining about the latter result — so you know he’s going to be loaded for bear. The Hendrick camp always comes correct when there’s a new car, plus his sponsor is on the walls this weekend. Remember when Charlotte was Lowe’s Motor Speedway and he’d win everything in sight? This could be the second coming of this for JJ and company this weekend at a track where they’ve won four times in only 11 starts.

KYLE BUSCH  8-1
It has been an inauspicious start to 2013 for Kyle Busch, who blew an engine at Daytona and cracked the nose at Phoenix. He dominated the Nationwide race last Saturday in his Monster Energy car, but the odds makers are only concerned about what happens on Sunday. Las Vegas is Busch’s hometown, so it is the one track on the circuit where he won’t be showered with the kind of boos that are typically reserved for third world dictators once they’ve passed. Yah, hear that Hugo?! As high as Rowdy is on the list, he may find a rough go of it this weekend. Kyle does have a pair of poles and a win here back in 2009, but his last three finishes have been 23rd, 38th and 15th.

BRAD KESELOWSKI  8-1
Brad Keselowski is making great strides to project the persona of a Sprint Cup champion. His brutal honesty has gotten him in some hot water with NASCAR, but I seem to remember The Intimidator making a few pointed comments here and there that ended up helping the sport, as well. In 2013, Keselowski has had to work with a new car, a new manufacturer, his fourth teammate in two years and a new engine shop. No matter – a pair of fourth-place finishes have been the result, with Daytona being a constant battle with garbage bag bodywork. The Keselowski/Paul Wolfe combo have once again put this team on their collective back. You saw his championship interview at Homestead, so you know he likes to party. The Blue Deuce will be ready for Vegas.

MATT KENSETH  8-1
Matt Kenseth has shown muscle early in his move from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing. Two races in, and the No. 20 is running as it did in the Tony Stewart days. Kenseth had what may have been the strongest car in Daytona (at least the strongest car left) before it fell out with engine failure. He was near the front most of the day in Phoenix, as well. He and crew chief Jason Ratcliff are still working to get on the same page as far as adjustments and late-race decisions, but that is part of a process that takes time to perfect. Kenseth has won twice at LVMS, but back in the, uh, Generation 4 cars, though he did win a pole as recently as 2011. The understated Kenseth has made his bones in recent years on superspeedways, but he’s still a 1.5-miler at heart.
 

Teaser:
<p> Examining the odds for the NASCAR Kobalt Tools 500 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 17:08
Path: /college-football/usc-trojans-2013-spring-football-preview
Body:

USC was billed as a national title contender last season but finished with a disappointing 7-6 mark and ended the year with a three-game losing streak. The Trojans are still under NCAA sanctions, so coach Lane Kiffin doesn’t have a full complement of players. However, USC still has plenty of talent, so another 7-5 season could spell the end of Kiffin’s run. The coaching staff was shuffled after the disappointing year, with Mike Ekeler, Clancy Pendergast, Tommie Robinson and Mike Summers all coming aboard. Pendergast is the biggest addition, as he is charged with getting USC’s defense back on track.

USC Trojans 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 7-6 (5-4)

Spring practice dates: March 5-April 13

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 7

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Max Wittek, 36 of 69, 388 yards, 3 TDs, 5 INTs
Rushing: Silas Redd, 167 car., 905 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving: Marqise Lee, 118 rec., 1,721 yards, 14 TDs
Tackles: Hayes Pullard, 107
Sacks: Morgan Breslin, 13
Interceptions: Dion Bailey, 4

Redshirts to watch: OL Jordan Simmons, LB Scott Starr, OT Zach Banner, CB Devian Shelton

Early Enrollees to watch: DL Kenny Bigelow, QB Max Browne, DB Su’a Cravens, RB Justin Davis, DB Chris Hawkins, DB Leon McQuay III, WR Darreus Rogers

2013 Schedule

Aug. 29 at Hawaii
Sept. 7 Washington State
Sept. 14 Boston College
Sept. 21 Utah State
Sept. 28 at Arizona State
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 10 Arizona
Oct. 19 at Notre Dame
Oct. 26 Utah
Nov. 1 at Oregon State
Nov. 9 at California
Nov. 16 Stanford
Nov. 23 at Colorado
Nov. 30 UCLA

Offensive Strength: Despite the departure of running back Curtis McNeal and receiver Robert Woods, there’s no shortage of skill players for USC. Running back Silas Redd is back for his senior year, while Marqise Lee is the nation’s best receiver heading into 2013.

Offensive Weakness: Quarterback Matt Barkley’s late-season shoulder injury allowed Max Wittek to gain valuable experience. But he failed to seize the starting job, so USC will have an open competition this spring. The offensive line struggled at times last year, and center Khaled Holmes expired his eligibility.

Defensive Strength: Going into last season, the defensive line was one of USC’s biggest question marks. This unit quickly became a strength, as junior college recruit Morgan Breslin was a standout performer, and Leonard Williams and George Uko were solid in the middle. The linebacking corps is also one of the best in the Pac-12, led by Hayes Pullard, Lamar Dawson and Dion Bailey.

Defensive Weakness: With cornerback Nickell Robey leaving for the NFL, the Trojans will have only one returning starter in the secondary. Safety T.J. McDonald will also be missed after recording 112 stops last season. This unit ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in pass defense but will need significant contributions from a few young players in 2013.

Spring Storylines Facing the Trojans

1. The quarterback battle. All eyes in Los Angeles will be on the quarterback battle this spring. Max Wittek filled in for Matt Barkley during the final two games of last season and finished the year with 388 yards and three touchdowns. Wittek showed some promise against Notre Dame but struggled in the bowl loss to Georgia Tech. Sophomore Cody Kessler and true freshman Max Browne are expected to push Wittek for playing time, with Browne the most intriguing name to watch. The true freshman ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and is USC’s quarterback of the future. Wittek’s experience should help him in this battle, but it will be difficult to keep Kessler and Browne on the bench if he struggles in spring practice.

2. Replacing Khaled Holmes on the offensive line. The final numbers weren’t awful for USC’s offensive line, as it allowed 1.3 sacks a game and paved the way for rushers to average 5.0 yards per carry. However, this unit struggled to pass block at times, including a game against Stanford, where Barkley was sacked four times. With first-team All-Pac-12 center Khaled Holmes departing, new line coach Mike Summers will have his hands full this spring. John Martinez and Kevin Graf should be set on the right side, but the other three spots are up for grabs. Marcus Martin could slide to center, while Max Tuerk may move to guard if Aundrey Walker or redshirt freshman Zach Banner can claim the left tackle spot. Don’t be surprised if Summers shakes up the starting five and shuffles a few players around this spring, as USC cannot afford to have an inexperienced quarterback struggling to find time to throw.

3. Adjusting to a new defensive scheme. One of the biggest knocks on Monte Kiffin’s career at USC was his inability to stop spread offenses. The Trojans were gashed for 62 points by Oregon in 2012 and 39 against Arizona. New coordinator Clancy Pendergast comes to Los Angeles from California, where his defense ranked 93rd nationally in yards allowed last season. While Pendergast’s numbers weren’t anything special last year, his flexible defensive scheme could be what USC needs to slow down some of the Pac-12’s top offenses. How quickly the Trojans can adjust to Pendergast’s scheme will determine how high this team can climb in the Pac-12 South this year.

4. New starters in the secondary. With only one starter returning in the secondary, it’s a good thing USC’s defensive line returns nearly intact. Wes Horton is the unit’s biggest departure, but Devon Kennard returns after missing all of 2012 due to injury. Pendergast needs his defensive line to get after opposing quarterbacks to limit the amount of time the secondary has to cover this year. Josh Shaw is expected to slide from cornerback to safety, while true freshman Su’a Cravens may also win a starting job this preseason. One wildcard to watch is linebacker Dion Bailey. The junior could move from linebacker to safety in this spring, but a final determination on his position may have to wait until the fall. Cornerback is a biggest question mark, as Torin Harris, Anthony Brown, Kevon Seymour, Ryan Henderson, Devian Shelton and true freshman Leon McQuay III and Chris Hawkins will all battle for two spots. Considering the quarterback and receiver talent in the Pac-12, USC could be in trouble if it can’t find solidify its starting lineup at cornerback.

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Teaser:
<p> USC Trojans 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 11:45
Path: /college-football/washington-huskies-2013-spring-football-preview
Body:

After three consecutive 7-6 seasons, the pressure is starting to build on Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. The Huskies were expected to take the next step into top 25 contention last season, but they opened 3-4 with a difficult schedule and lost their final two games. Washington has the talent to contend for a spot in the preseason top 25, but Sarkisian has to get quarterback Keith Price back on track after a disappointing year. The defense made significant progress under Justin Wilcox last year, and the Huskies can expect even more improvement with seven starters returning for 2013.

Washington Huskies 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 7-6 (5-4)

Spring practice dates: March 5-April 20

Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 7

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Keith Price, 263 of 432, 2,726 yards, 19 TDs, 13 INTs
Rushing: Bishop Sankey, 289 car., 1,439 yards, 16 TDs
Receiving: Kasen Williams, 77 rec., 878 yards, 6 TDs
Tackles: John Timu, 91
Sacks: Andrew Hudson and Josh Shirley, 6.5
Interceptions: Marcus Peters and Shaq Thompson, 3

Redshirts to watch: QB Cyler Miles, QB Jeff Lindquist, OL Cody Fuavai, DB Brandon Beaver, OL Nathan Dean, DB Cleveland Wallace, OL Jake Eldrenkamp, OL Taylor Hindy

Early Enrollees to watch: S Trevor Walker, QB Troy Williams

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 Boise State
Sept. 7 Bye Week
Sept. 14 Illinois (Chicago)
Sept. 21 Idaho State
Sept. 28 Arizona
Oct. 5 at Stanford
Oct. 12 Oregon
Oct. 19 at Arizona State
Oct. 26 California
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 9 Colorado
Nov. 15 at UCLA
Nov. 23 at Oregon State
Nov. 29 Washington State

Offensive Strength: Bishop Sankey went from a virtual unknown to one of the Pac-12’s top running backs last season. The Spokane native averaged 110.7 yards per game on the ground and finished with 33 receptions. The Huskies also have no shortage of weapons in the receiving corps, led by Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

Offensive Weakness: The biggest reason why Washington failed to take the next step on offense last year was due to subpar play from the offensive line. This unit was hit hard by injuries, which forced nine players to make at least one start last season.

Defensive Strength: Washington made significant progress on this side of the ball last year, and this unit could be one of the Pac-12’s best in 2013. Each level should be solid, but the defensive line returns Josh Shirley, Andrew Hudson and Danny Shelton, while the pass rush could get a boost if Hau’oli Jamora returns to full strength after missing 2012 due to a knee injury.

Defensive Weakness: Although Washington made progress in Justin Wilcox’s first season as coordinator, there’s plenty of room to grow. The Huskies need to get better against the run, while the secondary is a concern after Desmond Trufant and safety Justin Glenn expired their eligibility.

Spring Storylines Facing the Huskies

1. Can Keith Price regain his 2011 form? After throwing for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2011, most expected Price to be one of the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks in 2012. Instead of showing progress, Price watched his passing yards (2,726) and touchdowns (19) decrease, while his interceptions rose to 13. Considering the struggles on the offensive line, it’s unfair to pin all of the passing attack’s problems on Price. The senior will be surrounded by one of the conference’s top receiving corps, and the offensive line figures to be better in 2013. If Price can regain his 2011 form, Washington could make a lot of noise in the Pac-12 North. 

2. Sorting out the offensive line. On one hand, it’s bad Washington had so many players start last season. However, the playing time should be valuable experience for this unit, which should give coach Steve Sarkisian hope for 2013. Erik Kohler and Colin Tanigawa are returning from injury, but the Huskies won’t have an idea of how close to 100 percent they are until fall practice. Replacing center Drew Schaefer will be difficult, but Kohler, Tanigawa or junior Mike Criste could fill that void. Addressing who replaces Schaefer should help the Huskies align the other positions, along with developing some chemistry with quarterback Keith Price.

3. Addressing the voids in the secondary. The biggest question mark on defense is the secondary, where the Huskies have to replace two standouts in cornerback Desmond Trufant and safety Justin Glenn. Trufant was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection last season, while Glenn recorded 76 stops and three interceptions. Gregory Ducre, Marcus Peters and Tre Watson are the top returning options, with Peters likely to be Washington’s No. 1 corner in 2013. Depth is a concern with few proven options, so keep an eye on Alabama transfer Travell Dixon, redshirt freshman Brandon Beaver and incoming freshman Jermaine Kelly.

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Teaser:
<p> Washington Huskies 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 11:30
Path: /college-basketball/daily-march-madness-tracker-villanova-iowa-state-make-cases
Body:

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

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

Related: 11 Potential Bid Thieves for bubble teams

MARCH 7 DAILY MARCH MADNESS TRACKER AND BUBBLE WATCH

Miami won’t be a No. 1 seed
What happened to Miami? Barring a handful of dominoes, the Hurricanes may be eliminated from a No. 1 seed by losing to Georgia Tech 71-69 on Wednesday. At the same time, is it time to start worrying about what Miami can do in the postseason? The Hurricanes lost by only 3 on the road at Duke five days ago, but Miami has lost three of four, including defeats to Wake Forest (5-12 in the ACC) and Georgia Tech (6-11).

Villanova adds another marquee win
With a 67-57 win over Georgetown on Wednesday, Villanova has a win over the top three teams in the Big East standings (the Hoyas, Villanova and Marquette) plus another over Syracuse -- all at home. The Wildcats’ problematic resume includes losses to RPI No. 261 Columbia, RPI No. 114 Seton Hall and a season sweep to RPI No. 79 Providence. Villanova iced a win over the Hoyas on free throws to give it a strong case to enter the field. The Wildcats entered the day projected to land in the First Four, but they may be a candidate for the proper field of 64 ... if they can avoid a first-round loss in the Big East Tournament.

Iowa State making a case
The Cyclones still have something left in the tank after a devastating overtime loss to Kansas (in which Iowa State lost a four-point lead with 23 seconds to go in regulation) and then an 86-69 loss to Oklahoma during the weekend. On Wednesday, Iowa State withstood a late Oklahoma State push as an 11-point lead evaporated to two points in the second half in the 87-76 win. The Cyclones can’t afford to lose to West Virginia or early in the Big 12 Tournament, but their resume, which now includes three top-30 wins, might be enough.

Maryland done for an at-large bid
The Terrapins may have erased any doubts about their at-large hopes with a 79-68 loss at home to North Carolina on Wednesday. They’ll try to be a spoiler for Virginia on Sunday, but it’s ACC Tournament or bust for Maryland. Meanwhile, North Carolina clinched a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament. the one-time bubble team is 6-1 since going to a four-guard lineup.

Really, UCLA? Really, Minnesota?
The Bruins and Gophers may be safely in the field, but both lost to teams with losing records Wednesday. UCLA lost to Washington State 73-61, the Bruins first loss in Pullman since 1993. Earlier, Minnesota lost 53-51 to Nebraska. Minnesota’s second- and third-leading scorers Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins went scoreless.

Related: Experts debate Indiana's MVP: Zeller or Oladipo?

Meanwhile, in the Bay Area...
Cal took its first loss since Feb. 7 when it lost 83-70 to rival Stanford, but that wasn’t the most notable development. A shoving match late in the game resulted in the ejections of three assistant coaches, Charles Payne and Mark Madsen from Stanford and Greg Gottlieb from Cal. No punches were thrown, thanks in part to the three assistants breaking up the skirmish. But NCAA rules forbid anyone but a head coach from leaving the bench to break up a potential fight.

KEY THURSDAY GAMES
All Times Eastern

Related: College basketball power rankings: Gonzaga takes top spot

Kentucky at Georgia (7 p.m., ESPN)
The Wildcats remain a bubble team heading into the final regular season games. At this point, Kentucky has to avoid a second consecutive loss to a non-Tournament team after losing to Arkansas 73-60 Saturday. Georgia won’t be a pushover. The Bulldogs defeated surging (at the time) Tennessee 78-68 during the weekend. Since Kentucky’s disastrous loss to Tennessee in its first game without Nerlens Noel, forward Willie Cauley-Stein is averaging 13 points on 71 percent shooting with 8.8 rebounds in the last four games.

Virginia at Florida State (7 p.m., ESPN2)
What is going on with Virginia’s resume? Last week, the Cavaliers beat Duke 73-68 and then lost 53-52 to Boston College. To stay on the right side of the bubble, Virginia probably can’t afford to lose at Florida State (RPI No. 94) and at home to Maryland (RPI No. 84) to round out the regular season.

Butler at UMass (7 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
UMass has put together a nice resume this season, with an RPI just outside of the top 50 (but ranked 82nd on kenpom.com). The Minutemen have few top 50 wins, but a 7-7 record against the top 100. A defeat of Butler, which lost back-to-back games to Saint Louis and VCU, would make UMass one of the top teams to watch in the conference tournaments.

Wisconsin at Michigan State (9 p.m., ESPN)
A game for seeding purposes -- both in the NCAA and Big Ten tournaments -- and perhaps how you should pick either for your bracket. The Badgers and Spartans are tied for fourth in the Big Ten at 11-5, and the top four teams receiving a bye in the conference tourney. Wisconsin finishes at Penn State, and Michigan State finishes at home against Northwestern. Barring an upset in the regular season finale, the winner of this game will get a bye while the loser will face the last-place Nittany Lions in the Big Ten Tournament opener. It’s worth mentioning Michigan State has lost three in a row while Wisconsin is coming off a puzzling 69-56 loss at home to Purdue.

Oregon at Colorado (9 p.m., ESPN2)
Wednesday’s losses by UCLA to Washington State and Cal to Stanford mean a holding pattern atop the Pac-12. The Ducks can take a one-game lead in the win column by defeating Colorado on the road. The Buffaloes have a strong NCAA resume to begin with, but a win over the Ducks would seal a winning season in the conference.

BY THE NUMBERS
NCAA TOURNAMENT PROJECTED AT-LARGE LOCKS (35)
ACC (4): Duke, Miami, NC State, North Carolina
Atlantic 10 (3): Butler, Saint Louis, VCU
Big 12 (4): Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Big East (6): Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
Big Ten (6): Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Mountain West (4): Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Pac-12 (5): Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
SEC (2): Florida, Missouri
West Coast (1): Gonzaga

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

THE BUBBLE: 16 teams

RELATED:
All 2013 NCAA Tournament Coverage

Teaser:
<p> Daily March Madness Tracker: Villanova, Iowa State make cases</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 11:25
Path: /college-basketball/11-teams-could-burst-ncaa-tournament-bubbles
Body:

Finishing the season on the NCAA Tournament bubble is a tight-rope walk to start. In addition to a handful of teams looking to build their NCAA Tournament resumes, bubble teams must also keep an eye on conference tournaments starting this week.

Bid Thieves are everywhere.

Bid Thieves are teams that otherwise who would not make the NCAA Tournament, but win their conference tournaments to steal an at-large bid from an otherwise “deserving” bubble team.

Think of 2008 Georgia, a team that wasn’t going to sniff the postseason but won the SEC Tournament to banish one unsuspecting at-large team to the NIT. Last season it was Colorado. The No. 5 team in the Pac-12 won the conference tournament for an NCAA bid, perhaps at the expense of its own regular season league champion. A sixth-place USC team did the same in the 2009 Pac-10 Tourney.

We have targeted 11 potential Bid Thieves. Among our criteria to be a Bid Thief, the team must:

1. Not be on the NCAA bubble now and unlikely to play in the Tournament without winning a league tournament.
Be able to win a conference tournament. DePaul winning the Big East

2. Tournament would steal a bid, but DePaul isn’t winning the Big East Tournament.

3. Come from a multi-bid league, or by virtue of winning the conference tournament, turn a one-bid conference into a multi-bid conference.

Here are 11 teams that could pull off such a feat.

11 TEAMS THAT COULD BURST NCAA TOURNAMENT BUBBLES

Arkansas
How the Razorbacks could steal a bid: Win the SEC Tournament, bonus points for defeating bubble teams Alabama, Ole Miss or Tennessee.
Why they're a bid thief: Arkansas has quality players in B.J. Young and Marshawn Powell and a difficult defensive system for which to prepare under Mike Anderson. All of that has been enough for the Hogs to defeat NCAA hopefuls Florida, Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Tennessee in Fayetteville. The only reason Arkansas isn’t a tournament team is its 1-9 road record. Lucky for Arkansas, the SEC Tournament is played at a neutral site. Unfortunately for Arkansas, the Hogs are 0-2 on neutral sites.

Arkansas State
How the Red Wolves could steal a bid: Win the Sun Belt Tournament, making Middle Tennessee an at-large selection.
Why they’re a bid thief: Middle Tennessee has a five-game advantage over the rest of the Sun Belt, but the Blue Raiders haven’t won a conference tournament since 1989 in the Ohio Valley. Beyond that, the last two Sun Belt Tournament champs have had a losing conference record (Western Kentucky in 2012, UALR in 2011). Middle Tennessee doesn’t have any top-50 wins, but the Blue Raiders have won 27 games. They may be tough to leave out of the field. Why Arkansas State? The Red Wolves are the only Sun Belt team to defeat Middle Tennessee this season with a 66-60 win on Jan. 3.

Related: Ryan Kelly leads key stats of the week

Air Force
How the Falcons could steal a bid: Win the Mountain West Tournament.
Why they’re a bid thief: Air Force flirted with the possibility of being at at-large bid in February when the Falcons started 5-2 in the league. With an RPI outside the top 80, a 7-8 Mountain West record and no notable non-conference wins, Air Force looks like a team outside the field. But the Falcons have notched home wins this season over UNLV, San Diego State and Boise State. One hot streak by guard Michael Lyons could vault the Falcons to the MWC’s automatic bid.

Denver
How they could steal a bid: Win the WAC Tournament, making Louisiana Tech an at-large selection.
Why they’re a bid thief: Louisiana Tech is undefeated in the WAC and had a gaudy record at 26-3 (the Bulldogs, however, finish on the road against New Mexico State and Denver before the conference tournament). Despite the record and top-50 RPI, Louisiana Tech’s at-large credentials would be shaky if the Bulldogs fall in the WAC tournament -- Louisiana Tech’s best win is over Southern Miss while it has lost to Northwestern State and McNeese State. After a slow start, Denver may be the most likely team to upset in the WAC Tournament. The Pioneers have won 15 of the last 16, including a BracketBreaker win at Northern Iowa on Feb. 23.

Related: Experts debate Indiana's MVP: Zeller or Oladipo?

Evansville
How the Purple Aces could steal a bid: Win Missouri Valley Tournament, making Creighton and/or Wichita State at-large selections.
Why they’re a bid thief: Creighton and Wichita State have been shaky in recent weeks, and Evansville has been in position to pounce. The Purple Aces swept Wichita State this season, and Creighton needed a late push to beat Evansville 71-68 on Feb. 16. The Aces’ top player, wing Colt Ryan, enters the MVC Tournament on a tear at 28 points per game in his last four.

Maryland
How the Terrapins could steal a bid: Win the ACC Tournament, bonus points for beating bubble team Virginia.
Why they’re a bid thief: The Terrapins likely played themselves out of at-large contention by losing to Florida State, Boston College and Georgia Tech on the road since Jan. 30 and then a loss to red-hot North Carolina at home Wednesday. Maryland can beat good teams, as it defeated NC State and Duke earlier this season, both at home. If Dez Wells continues playing at a high level and Alex Len plays like a top draft pick, Maryland could catch a winning streak in the ACC Tournament.

Related: College basketball power rankings: Gonzaga takes top spot

Murray State
How the Racers could steal a bid: Win the Ohio Valley Tournament, making Belmont an at-large selection.
Why they’re a bid thief: The Ohio Valley has not supplied two teams to the NCAA Tournament since 1987, but newcomer Belmont could be an exception if the Bruins lose in the conference tournament. Belmont has been in the top 25 of the RPI for most of the season and defeated Middle Tennessee, Stanford and Ohio in the non-conference schedule. Murray State would be a strong candidate to upset Belmont in the OVC tourney. The defending league champs still have Isaiah Canaan and defeated Belmont 79-74 on Feb. 7.

Northern Iowa
How the Panthers could steal a bid: Win the Missouri Valley Tournament, making Creighton and/or Wichita State at-large selections.
Why they’re a bid thief: Northern Iowa is in a similar boat as Evansville. A well-coached team under Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa looks to take advantage of Creighton and Wichita State’s recent inconsistency. The Panthers defeated both the Bluejays and the Shockers in their most recent meetings as well. Balanced scoring, strong defense and good free throw shooting will make Northern Iowa a dangerous postseason team.

Southern Miss
How the Golden Eagles could steal a bid: Win the Conference USA Tournament, making Memphis an at-large selection.
Why they’re a bid thief: Conference USA may end up a one-bid league, but the only way to find out is if Memphis loses in the conference tournament. Southern Miss’ is the league’s second-best team, but lost by a combined 29 points to the Tigers in two meetings in February.

USC
How the Trojans could steal a bid: Win the Pac-12 Tournament
Why they’re a bid thief: USC stole a bid before in 2009 when it won the Pac-10 tournament as a No. 6 seed. Meanwhile, no one wants to play the Trojans now with interim coach Bob Cantu in charge. USC has won six of the last nine, including an overtime win at UCLA on Jan. 30 and an 89-78 win over Arizona on Feb. 27.

Xavier
How the Musketeers could steal a bid: Win the Atlantic 10 Tournament, bonus points for defeating bubble teams UMass.
Why they’re a bid thief: Xavier has not been consistent late in the season, failing to win back-to-back games since Feb. 9-13. The Musketeers, though, can beat anyone on a good day at home. Xavier defeated Saint Louis 77-66 in overtime Wednesday and Memphis 64-62 on Feb. 26. If not for losses to Richmond, UMass and Dayton in February, the Musketeers would be a stronger bubble team. For a team that hasn’t missed the NCAA Tournament since 2005, the Musketeers wouldn’t shock anyone if it went on a run in the conference tournament.

RELATED:
All 2013 NCAA Tournament Coverage

Athlon Sports' bracket projections and bubble watch

Teaser:
<p> 11 teams that could burst NCAA Tournament Bubbles</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 09:45
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-rankings-2013-defensive-tackles
Body:

Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country's most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft, held April 25-27, won’t be any different. The nose tackle position is a rare commodity that is highly coveted by every NFL franchise. And the 2013 class features a deep collection of elite prospects at the top of the rankings. However, after the top ten names are called, there could be a severe drop off in talent. Look for teams to go early on defensive tackles.

1. Star Lotulelei, Utah (6-2, 311)
The big fella from Utah was voted as the best defensive lineman in the Pac-12 by his peers last season. If the offensive linemen who try to block him each Saturday say he is the best in the league, scouts tend to believe them. He is a three-down tackle who can be used against the pass and run equally. He has great size, was extremely productive in college and is stout at the point of attack. There are questions swirling around a potential heart condition that may or may not influence his draft stock. Many scouts are in wait-and-see mode with this Star, but if deemed healthy, he is downright unblockable.

2. Sharrif Floyd, Florida (6-3, 297)
The Gators' active lineman is lighter than his elite-level counterparts and is generously listed at 6-foot-3. But he is extremely active, disruptive and will make plenty of plays on the next level. This nose tackle was an elite recruit back in 2010 and made an immediate impact as a freshman in Gainesville. As his career went on, he continued to show marked improvement in both production and technique. He has excellent upside and should be compared favorably to Warren Sapp.

3. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri (6-2, 294)
Despite his wordy taunts, Richardson is one of the most talented tackles in the nation. Every SEC coach to have scouted the Tigers pointed to the defensive line as the area to focus on, and most of that was due to the play of this big guy. He has had some injury issues in the past (shoulder), but the upside is obvious for the one of the highest-rated recruits to ever sign with Mizzou. He is an incredible overall athlete.

4. Jonathan Hankins, Ohio State (6-3, 320)
The big Buckeye lineman has just a touch less upside than Lotulelei, but Hankins possesses a similar skill set. He has a massive frame that is excellent at clogging space in order to stop the run. If he can prove he is a three-down tackle who can get penetration and disrupt the passer from the interior he will be a franchise player for years to come. In what should be a very deep and talented defensive tackle class, Hankins could be one of the best.

5. Kawann Short, Purdue (6-3, 299, Sr.)
Purdue's heart and soul on defense has tons of ability. He is roughly the same size as Floyd but is slightly less explosive. He has demonstrated his ability to play in opposing backfields with four years of consistent play in the middle of a defense that rarely gave him the help he deserved. He is a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year-type athlete who was a two-time team captain.

6. Jesse Williams, Alabama (6-3, 323)
There isn't anything flashy or freakish about this young Australian, but he absolutely gets the job done with tremendous strength and technique. He has been coached by the best, been extremely productive against the best and should be viewed as one of the best. He doesn't wow scouts with any one talent, but should be a major contributor on the next level for years to come.

7. John Jenkins, Georgia (6-4, 346)
Few players in this class are bigger than Jenkins. While he will need to prove his stamina, flexibility and commitment to physical conditioning, he doesn't have to prove much in the form of on-field production. He has experience in a pro-style 3-4 defense that was one of the best in the vaunted SEC. He has the skills and size to develop into one of the better players at his position in this class, but needs to refine his fitness, size and consistency.

8. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina (6-3, 313)
The big Tar Heel has been a fast riser throughout the draft process. He has the needed size and power to play at the next level but needed to prove himself after quitting the game following high school. He was surrounded by elite talent and was a junior college transfer, yet has continued to improve and held his own without names like Coples, Quinn or Powell there to support him this past fall. He has upside but may not be athletic or explosive enough to warrant a first-round pick.

9. Bennie Logan, LSU (6-2, 309)
Only one player on the Tigers' roster gets to wear No. 18 each season as the unquestioned leader of the program and Logan got that distinguished honor in 2012. He is as tough a leader as there is at the position, but doesn't have one talent that makes him a sure-fire early draft pick. He is a dependable performer that will give scouts exactly what they expect. Logan has limited upside but extremely low downside.

10. Josh Boyd, Mississippi State (6-3, 310)
The motor and effort are what makes Boyd an intriguing prospect. He works hard to track down tacklers and never takes a play off. The question is whether or not he has enough raw natural physical talents to start in the NFL?

Other names to watch:

11. Everett Dawkins, Florida State (6-2, 292)
12. Akeem Spence, Illinois (6-1, 307)
13. Jordan Hill, Penn State (6-1, 303)
14. Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern State (6-1, 335)
15. Cory Grissom, USF (6-1, 306)
16. Montori Hughes, Tennessee-Martin (6-4, 329)
17. Kwame Geathers, Georgia (6-5, 342)
18. Stacy McGee, Oklahoma (6-3, 308)
19. Chris Jones, Bowling Green (6-2, 302)
20. T.J. Barnes, Georgia Tech (6-6, 369)

2013 NFL Draft Positional Rankings:

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Running Backs
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Tackles
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Guards and Centers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Defensive Ends

Teaser:
<p> NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Defensive Tackles</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-rankings-2013-defensive-ends
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Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country's most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft, held April 25-27, won’t be any different. If the quarterback is the most important player on the field and the guy who protects the quarterback — the left tackle — is the second-most valuable position on the field, then the player who can neutralize both must be No. 3, right? The defensive end position varies from scheme to scheme, but the goal is the same: get pressure on the quarterback. The 2013 class is loaded with different types of players that have one thing in common — they all can rush the passer.

Measurables: Height, Weight, 40-time (if available)

1. Bjoern Werner, Florida State
Measurables: 6-3, 266, 4.83
A small recruit from a small school in Connecticut, Werner developed into one of the best defensive players on a great defense. He posted 40 tackles, 18.0 tackles for a loss and led the ACC in sacks with 13.0 — three of which came against the Florida Gators. Once counterpart and fellow draft prospect Brandon Jenkins was injured (Week 1), offenses began to focus on him more often, causing his production to slow a bit throughout the season. However, his size, strength and work ethic gives him very little downside when it comes to the next level.

2. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
Measurables: 6-4, 250, 4.95
Versatility is the name of the game for Moore. He can play outside linebacker like a Jarvis Jones in a 3-4 scheme, can play either weakside or strongside end in a traditional 4-3 and could even slide inside on passing downs to get more pressure on the quarterback. He was moved from outside backer to true end for the 2012 season and his burst off of the edge helped him become a disruptive force. He finished with 80 total tackles, 12.5 sacks, 20.0 tackles for a loss, two blocked kicks and a forced fumble. And he did it against the SEC instead of the Big 12 this fall. He will need to overcome a poor showing in the Combine to work his way back into the top ten but Moore could easily end up the best pass rusher in this class.

3. Dion Jordan, Oregon
Measurables: 6-6, 248, 4.60
Jordan is a very similar prospect to Aldon Smith. Jordan offers the long, rangy frame and versatility, at times standing up in more of an outside linebacker position. And like Smith, he is more of a project than some of the other players at his position. Jordan never really fully utilized his talents to his fullest potential. That said, 2012 was his best season as he posted 44 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks for what many believe was Oregon's best defense since the Haloti Ngata era. His numbers at the Combine were predictably gaudy and if he stays focused and committed to his craft, he will be a star in the NFL.

4. Ezekiel Ansah, BYU
Measurables: 6-5, 271, 4.63
The Cougars' defensive lineman boasts a unique combination of size and speed that has scouts excited. He is a raw prospect with much to learn about the end, tackle or outside backer position but he could play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme at a variety of positions. Kyle Van Noy was the BYU defensive lineman who got most of the opposing offensive line's attention but Ansah showed loads of growth in 2012, which was his first season of full-time football. He has admitted to conditioning issues and his Senior Bowl week of practice was subpar. However, his performance in the Senior Bowl itself was dominant, while his Combine showing was eye-opening for a player with so much potential for growth.

5. Barkevious Mingo, LSU
Measurables: 6-4, 241, 4.58
Comparing him to teammate Sam Montgomery is extremely difficult. Mingo is rangier, lankier and a bit more explosive — as his Combine numbers indicate. But he isn't as fundamentally sound or as strong at the point of attack. He may be a better fit as a rush outside backer in a 3-4 whereas Montgomery could play in either scheme. His 2012 season was quieter than expected for LSU as he finished with 33 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss and just 4.0 sacks. He did pressure the QB 12 times last season and scouts have fallen in love with his upside. However, his production simply hasn't matched his measurables... yet.

6. Sam Montgomery, LSU
Measurables: 6-3, 262, 4.81
He hasn't been as flashy as some of the other names on this list but his upside is solid. He has a good frame and pedigree to be a consistent NFL starter. He can play both a pure defensive end position as well as the hybrid outside rush backer. He plays much tougher at the point of attack than some of his smaller counterparts at this position as well as his teammate Mingo. He led the Tigers in sacks (7.0) and also finished this past season with 12.0 tackles for a loss for one of the SEC's best defenses. A head-to-head struggle against potential top-ten pick Luke Joeckel is a concern, as is the confirmed rumors of concerns with his effort.

7. Margus Hunt, SMU
Measurables: 6-8, 277, 4.60
The Combine was Hunt's show. He is arguably the biggest player in the draft and posted well above average quickness, speed and agility numbers. He has dominated the line of scrimmage at times while at SMU and will be compared to Aldon Smith much like Dion Jordan. Originally from Estonia, the 25-year old is an elite kick blocker (17 in four years) and will excel on special teams. Hunt should fly up draft boards late in the process.

8. Corey Lemonier, Auburn
Measurables: 6-3, 255, 4.60
The talented edge rusher might be the only bright spot on an otherwise worthless 2012 Auburn squad. This is partly why he failed to build on a huge sophomore season in 2011 (47 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks). He finished with just 34 tackles, 5.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks in 2012. Yet, he has 25 quarterback hurries over the last two seasons and his raw potential is still elite. He has great size and athletic ability and everyone agrees that he possesses massive upside. His motor, size and speed should push him up draft boards as the the process moves along.

9. William Gholston, Michigan State
Measurables: 6-6, 281, 4.96
This is the definition of risk versus reward. Gholston has elite raw talent, size, potential and upside. He is big, long, powerful and productive against both the run and the pass. He can play the true end position or slide inside to tackle. However, he also has been suspended multiple times and has displayed the occasional lack of focus. He posted 50 tackles, 12.0 for a loss along with 3.5 sacks in 2012. He could play anywhere along the line and in any scheme — if scouts can figure out a way to keep him focused, out of trouble and how to maximize his potential.

10. Datone Jones, UCLA
Measurables: 6-4, 283, 4.80
Jones has a great frame and a long pedigree of potential. He was an elite recruit who never developed into the star scouts thought he would be... until 2012. He was a part of a horrendous defense at UCLA until Jim Mora showed up on campus. He has all the physical tools and looks the part of an NFL defensive lineman, but his production was below average prior to last fall. Of his career 36.0 tackles for loss, 19.0 came last season while 5.5 of his 12.5 sacks came in 2012 as well. He was fourth on the team in sacks last year behind three other potential future NFL prospects Anthony Barr, Cassius Marsh and Damien Holmes.

11. Tank Carradine, Florida State
Measurables:
6-4, 276
Prior to a major knee injury late in the year, Cornellius "Tank" Carradine had first round written all over him. But his injury has hurt his stock and some team could get a steal should he fall too far past the first day. He posted 80 tackles, 13.0 tackles for a loss and 11.0 sacks in 11 games this fall before the injury. Health and overall experience are the main concerns for Carradine.

12. Alex Okafor, Texas
Measurables: 6-4, 264
Okafor is a prototypical end prospect. He posted 46 tackles, 11.5 for a loss, 8.0 sacks and three forced fumbles as a senior and appears best suited for a traditional end position. He isn't overly explosive but plays the game the right way and should be an NFL contributor.

13. John Simon, Ohio State
Measurables: 6-1, 257
One of the strongest, hardest workers in this class will have to overcome his obvious lack of size and speed. He registered 44 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss and led the Big Ten in sacks with 9.0. He is an unquestioned leader and will be one of the strongest players in the league the second he steps on an NFL field. He will be worth the reach.

14. Brandon Jenkins, Florida State
Measurables: 6-2, 251
He is one of the smaller prospects at his position and has a glaring injury to overcome, but Jenkins has plenty of NFL upside. His major foot injury robbed the Noles' rush end of a season to display his skills and talents, but he fits the new hybrid 3-4 scheme too well to be ignored early in this draft.

15. Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky
Measurables: 6-5, 250
He missed two games but still led the nation in sacks per game (1.25). He had 38 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks as well as a 75-yard INT returned for a TD. The level of competition he faced as a Hilltopper and learning the subtle nuances of the game are his big question marks.

16. Michael Buchanan, Illinois (6-5, 240)
17. Joe Kruger, Utah (6-6, 269, 4.8)
18. Malliciah Goodman, Clemson (6-4, 276, 4.87)
19. Stansly Maponga, TCU (6-2, 256)
20. Trevardo Williams, UConn (6-1, 241, 4.57)
21. Devin Taylor, South Carolina (6-7, 266, 4.72)
22. Lavar Edwards, LSU (6-4, 277, 4.80)
23. Nathan Williams, Ohio State (6-3, 241, 4.88)
24. Ty Powell, Harding (6-2, 249, 4.64)
25. Kapron Lewis-Moore, Notre Dame (6-4, 298)
26. Abry Jones, Georgia (6-3, 313)
27. Quinton Dial, Alabama (6-5, 318)
28. Walter Stewart, Cincinnati (6-4, 246)
29. Armonty Bryant, East Central (6-4, 263, 4.86)
30. Tourek Williams, FIU (6-3, 260, 4.92)

2013 NFL Draft Positional Rankings:

NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Running Backs
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Tackles
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Guards and Centers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Defensive Tackles

Teaser:
<p> NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Defensive Ends</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/texas-am-wide-receiver-ryan-swope-does-trick-shot-video
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Following in the trick shot video footsteps of his teammate Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M all-time leading receiver Ryan Swope showcases his skills. Swope's amazing talent, you guessed it, is making incredible grabs, whether it's snagging eggs dropped off a building or catching five footballs back to back without dropping the previous ones. The video is part of an effort to get Swope on the cover of the next EA Sports' NCAA Football. Will it work? We'll see. 

Teaser:
<p> Texas A&amp;M Wide Receiver Ryan Swope Does Trick Shot Video</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /college-football/pac-12-football-2013-spring-preview-and-storylines
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Coming off a season where eight teams made bowl appearances, along with the rise of Stanford and Oregon into annual top-five status, the arrow on the Pac-12’s future is clearly pointing up.

The Cardinal and Ducks have been jockeying for Pac-12 supremacy over the last few years, and with both teams returning most of their core for 2013, the Ducks and Cardinal are the favorites to win the conference once again. And it wouldn’t be a shock to see either team make an appearance in the national title game. Of course, there are a few question marks for both teams to address, as Oregon transitions from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich at head coach, while Stanford must find a way to jump start it’s passing attack.

Outside of Eugene and Palo Alto, hope is running high at Arizona State and UCLA. The Sun Devils won eight games in Todd Graham’s first season in Tempe, while the Bruins have won back-to-back Pac-12 South titles. Arizona is also on the right track behind coach Rich Rodriguez, but a questionable defense and a quarterback battle have the Wildcats likely battling for third or fourth in the South this season. USC is the South Division’s biggest wildcard. The talent is there for Lane Kiffin’s team to make a run at a division title, but quarterback play is a concern.

The Pac-12 will have two new coaches for 2013, as Mike MacIntyre was hired from San Jose State to rebuild Colorado, while Sonny Dykes was picked to replace Jeff Tedford at California. Both hires were two of the best in the nation but success may not be easy in 2013. The Buffaloes have a talent gap to close with the rest of the conference, while the Golden Bears are searching for a No. 1 quarterback.   

Pac-12 Team Spring Storylines and Quarterback Battles to Watch

North Division

California

Switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense
New defensive coordinator Andy Buh has the unenviable task of switching the base 3-4 defense used under former head coach Jeff Tedford to a new 4-3 scheme. Finding the right guys for the right spots quickly will be paramount this spring. The line between outside linebacker and defensive end is blurred and finding explosive edge pass rushers is important for any 3-4 gameplan. Ends become tackles, tackles become ends and linebackers will be changing positions all spring long. The coaching staff is experimenting with linebackers Brennan Scarlett and Chris McCain at end this spring, which should help some speed off the edge. Getting the right guys in the right lines on the depth has to be the primary focus of Cal’s spring practice. (Other than quarerback, of course).

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Kyle Boehm (SO) vs. Allan Bridgford (SR) vs. Jared Goff (FR) vs. Austin Hinder (JR) vs. Zach Kline (FR)
The winner of California’s quarterback battle should put up some big numbers in Tony Franklin and Sonny Dykes’ offense. Bridgford has the most experience, but the winner of this job will likely come down to Kline, Hinder or Goff.

Related Content: California Golden Bears 2013 Spring Preview
 

Oregon

Replace senior leadership in the front seven
The Ducks didn’t just lose its heralded head coach this offseason, they also lost a ton of senior leadership and talent off both sides of the ball. In particular, the defensive front watched end Dion Jordan and linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay depart this winter. Filling those voids is the primary focus of new coach Mark Helfrich and new defensive line coach Ron Aiken. The time has come for Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner to impose their will on the defensive line. A long list of talented young tacklers will vie for time at linebacker — Tyson Coleman, Joe Walker, Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone – to name a few.
 

Oregon State

Continue the defensive line trend
Oregon State ranked dead last in the Pac-12 against the run in 2011 after allowing 196.8 yards per game on the ground (101st nationally). Last season, Mike Riley and coordinator Mark Banker did a remarkable job developing the defensive line and it resulted in the 27th-best rushing defense in the nation, which was good enough to rank third in the Pac-12 (129.5 ypg). Now, both starting defensive tackles have moved on. Scott Crichton is a star to build around, but the reinstated Mona Rosa won’t be available this spring. Finding a supporting cast who can continue the recent and obvious growth along the defensive line is important this spring.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Sean Mannion (JR) vs. Cody Vaz (SR)
The Beavers have two options they can win games with, but the offense needs one quarterback to settle into the No. 1 role. Sean Mannion has more talent, but he lost the starting job to Vaz at the end of the year. Expect this battle to go deep into fall camp.
 

Stanford

Find Kevin Hogan some playmakers
The offensive line has holes, but an elite recruiting class two years ago will help stabilize that position. The same can be the said about the running back position. So finding playmaking pass-catchers for quarterback Kevin Hogan should be the focus this spring. This team has lost a trio of elite tight ends over the last two years and didn’t have a wide receiver catch more than 33 passes last fall. David Shaw has restocked the tight end position with converted fullbacks and a defensive lineman and who is argue? But at wide receiver, only Ty Montgomery returns with more than two catches. Shaw needs to find talent on the outside.

Related Content: 2013 Stanford Cardinal Spring Preview
 

Washington

Keep the offensive line intact
Two years ago, the defense was atrocious and Keith Price threw for school records on offense. Last year, the defense showed marked improvement, while the offensive line dealt with widespread injuries and poor play. The youngsters who were tossed into the fire last year should enter this spring with the confidence of returning starters. Keeping this group healthy and intact will make the difference for Price and the offense in 2013. Does this group benefit from unexpected playing time or are they simply not good enough to compete at a high level? This spring might help answer that question.

Related Content: 2013 Washington Huskies Spring Preview
 

Washington State

Figure out a way to pick up positive yards on the ground
Four times in 2012 Washington State was held to negative yards rushing in a game. Three more times, the Cougars were held below 20 yards rushing. Needless to say, improving the 120th-ranked rushing offense in college football will be key — even for a Mike Leach-coached team. The offensive line also ranked 120th in sacks allowed at nearly five per game (4.75). No matter how complicated and innovative it is, no offense will be successful without pathetic offensive line play. Leach must address this immediately this spring.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Austin Apodaca (FR) vs. Connor Halliday (JR) vs. Tyler Bruggman (FR)
Washington State was one of the most disappointing offenses in college football last season. With the arrival of Mike Leach, most expected the Cougars would be one of the Pac-12’s highest-scoring teams. Every level of the offense has room to grow, but quarterback play will be under the microscope this spring. Halliday has shown promise in his career but will face competition from Apodaca this spring, along with Bruggman when he arrives the fall. 


Pac-12 South

Arizona

Improving the defense
All eyes on Tucson will be situated on the quarterback battle, but if the Wildcats are going to push Arizona State, UCLA or USC for the Pac-12 South title, the defense has to make major strides in 2013. The Wildcats ranked 105th nationally against the run, 117th versus the pass and allowed 499 yards per game last season. Needless to say, those numbers have to decrease if Arizona expects to contend with a first-year quarterback. While last year’s statistics are the bad news, the flipside is the Wildcats bring 11 starters back for 2013. And the defense suffered no significant losses in terms of depth. With another spring practice to work under coordinator Jeff Casteel, the players should have a better grasp on the scheme, which should allow Arizona to show improvement on the stat sheet.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Javelle Allen (FR) vs. B.J. Denker (SR) vs. Jesse Scroggins (JR) vs. Anu Solomon (FR)
With Scroggins nursing a foot injury and Solomon arriving on campus after spring practice, Arizona won’t have much clarity to its quarterback picture. Denker has the most experience after making one start last year, but Allen, Solomon and Scroggins have the talent to unseat him this preseason. 

Related Content: 2013 Arizona Wildcats Spring Preview
 

Arizona State

Finding new receivers for quarterback Taylor Kelly
With a new quarterback and offensive scheme, it was a surprise to see the Sun Devils finish second in the Pac-12 in scoring last season. A big part of last year’s success was the emergence of quarterback Taylor Kelly, along with a backfield that featured three solid running backs. Kelly should be able to build on his 2012 campaign this season, but receivers Jamal Miles and Rashad Ross expired their eligibility after the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Kevin Ozier, Richard Smith and Alonzo Agwuenu are the top three returning receivers but none had more than 21 receptions. Todd Graham and his staff dipped into the junior college ranks for two prospects – Joseph Morris and Jaelen Strong – while true freshman Ellis Jefferson is another name to watch. The Sun Devils have some options and talent at this position but developing a pecking order will be crucial this spring. 
 

Colorado

Finding answers on defense
There’s no sugarcoating it: Colorado’s defense was horrendous in 2012. The Buffaloes ranked 117th nationally in yards allowed and last (120th) in scoring defense. Colorado also allowed 226 rushing yards per game and generated just 1.6 sacks a game. Needless to say, those numbers won’t get it done if the Buffaloes want to win more than one game in 2013. New coordinator Kent Baer has a wealth of experience and did a good job rebuilding San Jose State’s defense during his tenure under Mike MacIntyre. The first order of business for Baer is to rebuild the front seven, which loses defensive lineman Will Pericak and linebackers Jon Major and Doug Rippy. The secondary has a few promising young players, but this unit also needs to show progress after allowing quarterbacks to throw for 39 touchdowns last season. In addition to finding the right personnel, Colorado has to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and force a few more turnovers.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Shane Dillon (FR) vs. Stevie Joe Dorman (FR) vs. Nick Hirschman (JR) vs. Sefo Liufau (FR) vs. Jordan Webb (SR) vs. Connor Wood (JR)
With a new coaching staff, expect a wide-open quarterback battle this spring. Liufau is a good fit for MacIntyre’s offense, but Webb, Wood and Hirschman have the edge in experience. Considering the uncertainty surrounding this position, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Colorado start more than one quarterback in 2013.
 

UCLA

Who replaces Johnathan Franklin?
With 12 starters returning from last season, the Bruins are in the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 South for the third consecutive year. Brett Hundley is one of the conference’s best quarterbacks, but the offense needs to find him a go-to running back this spring. Johnathan Franklin expired his eligibility after a standout career at UCLA, which opens the door for Damien Thigpen, Malcolm Jones, Steven Manfro, Jordan James or redshirt freshman Paul Perkins to claim the No. 1 spot. Perkins has generated a lot of buzz this offseason, but Thigpen, James and Jones own an edge in experience. Thigpen is recovering from a late-season knee injury, so the battle for carries could be undecided into fall camp. Whether it’s a committee approach or someone emerges as a No. 1 option, UCLA needs to sort out its running back plans this spring. 
 

USC

Adjusting to Clancy Pendergast’s defense
Regardless of which quarterback starts for USC in 2013, contending for the South Division is likely to rest on improvement from the defense. This unit wasn’t awful statistically last season, as the Trojans finished 41st nationally in total defense and allowed 24.3 points a game. However, USC was torched by Oregon for 62 points, by UCLA for 38 and by Arizona for 39. Defending the spread was a huge problem under former coordinator Monte Kiffin. Pendergast’s defense at California wasn’t any better on the stat sheet in 2012, but he should have a better idea of how to matchup against some of the conference’s top offenses. The defensive line should be USC’s strength on defense, but the secondary needs a lot of attention with just one returning starter.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Max Browne (FR) vs. Cody Kessler (SO) vs. Max Wittek (SO)
With three touted players competing for time, USC’s quarterback battle is one of the top ones to watch this spring. Wittek finished the year as the starter but did not play well in the bowl game against Georgia Tech. Browne ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and will get a chance to win the job this spring. USC’s offense has the pieces to be explosive, but a clear No. 1 needs to emerge for this unit to thrive in 2013.

Related Content: 2013 USC Trojans Spring Preview


Utah

Rebuilding the defensive line
Just like Arizona and USC, the Utes have question marks to address on offense, but the defense is a bigger concern. Utah has to replace standout tackle Star Lotulelei, along with defensive end Joe Kruger and tackle Dave Kruger. With three key members of the line departing, the Utes needed to replenish this group through recruiting, so five new players will join the team this season. Junior college recruit Sese Ianu will be asked to play right away, while freshmen Myron Aiava, Filipo Mokofisi, Sam Tevi and Keio Vaenuku could push for time this preseason. However, the most pressing issue for coach Kyle Whittingham might be where to play Trevor Reilly. The honorable-mention All-Pac-12 selection could slide to defensive end after playing a hybrid end/linebacker role the last few seasons. Without Lotulelei in the middle of the line, Utah’s rush defense may take a step back this season. 
 

Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)


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Teaser:
<p> Pac-12 Football 2013 Spring Preview and Storylines</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 06:25
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-kobalt-tools-500-las-vegas
Body:

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season rolls on to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Kobalt Tools 500. To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long will be offering up his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes—A-List, B-List, C-List.

So, without further ado, Dustin's fantasy predictions for Las Vegas, ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag (or at least finishing toward the front):


A-List Drivers

1.Tony Stewart
Won last year’s race after finishing second there the year before. Has led 290 of 534 laps (54.3 percent) run in the last two races at Las Vegas.

2. Jimmie Johnson
Has the highest driver rating (110.9) in the last eight races at Las Vegas. Also has the highest average finish of 9.4 during that span. Has a victory and a runner-up finish in last five starts but placed 16th or worse in the other three starts in that stretch.

3. Clint Bowyer
Has finished eight or better in three of the last four Las Vegas races. Also has qualified in the top four in three of the last four races on 1.5-mile tracks (same size as Las Vegas).

4. Jeff Gordon
Has run a series-high 84 percent of his laps in the top 15 in the last eight races at Las Vegas. Also has led the most laps (370) during that time, among current drivers.

5. Kevin Harvick
Has two top-five finishes in his last five Las Vegas races and has led 15 laps during that stretch.

6. Kasey Kahne
Has three poles in Vegas, including last year, but only finished 19th in the race.

7. Matt Kenseth
Won the pole in Vegas in 2011, but has one top-10 finish in last five starts here.

8. Denny Hamlin
Has never started better than 16th at Las Vegas. Has one top-10 in his last four starts there, a seventh in 2011. Has never led a lap in a Cup car at Vegas.

9. Brad Keselowski
Has never finished better than 26th in four career starts at Las Vegas. Best starting position in that time is a 13th in 2009. Also has led only one lap there.
 

Teaser:
<p> Dustin Long ranks each driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit for this weekend's Kobalt Tools 500 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 18:25
Path: /college-football/big-ten-football-2013-spring-preview-and-storylines
Body:

With two of its best teams ineligible for a bowl game, 2012 was mostly a year to forget for the Big Ten. Despite having nothing to play for, Ohio State ran the table and finished with a perfect 12-0 record. The Buckeyes were joined by Penn State in NCAA timeout, as the Nittany Lions finished with a solid 8-4 record in Bill O’Brien’s first season. With Ohio State and Penn State out of the picture, only six Big Ten teams qualified for the postseason and none finished inside of the top 15.

The Big Ten’s outlook in 2013 is a little brighter, as Ohio State is eligible to play for the national championship, and the Buckeyes are likely to be a top-five team in most preseason polls. The Nittany Lions are banned from postseason play once again, but the conference should be stronger, as Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Northwestern could all be ranked inside of preseason top-25 polls.

Only two Big Ten teams changed coaches from last season, with Gary Andersen replacing Bret Bielema at Wisconsin, and Darrell Hazell taking over for Danny Hope. Both coaches should be a good fit at their new school, with Hazell having the bigger rebuilding job in 2013.

While Andersen and Hazell have job security for now, Illinois’ Tim Beckman and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz are on the hot seat. Thanks to a big contract, Ferentz isn’t in any real danger of being fired, but the program seems to be trending in the wrong direction. Beckman had a disastrous first season in Champaign and won’t stick around for 2014 if he goes 2-10 once again. 

Big Ten Team Spring Storylines and Quarterback Battles to Watch

Leaders Divsion

Illinois Fighting Illini

Stabilizing the line of scrimmage
The defensive line has been a solid part of the Illini program in recent years, but it will need to replace some big names this spring, as Michael Buchanan, Glenn Foster and Akeem Spence have all moved on. The offensive line was largely ineffective a year ago, ranking 11th in the Big Ten in rushing (97th nationally) and dead last in sacks allowed (111th) on an offense that didn’t even average 17 points per game (119th). Needless to say, Tim Beckman needs young players and new faces to step up in the trenches this spring.

Quarterback Battle? Although Nathan Scheelhaase struggled last season, the Fighting Illini’s problems were more than the quarterback. An inconsistent rushing attack and poor offensive line play were largely to blame for Illinois’ lackluster performance. Assuming Scheelhaase stays healthy, he should be the Fighting Illini’s starting quarterback.
 

Indiana Hoosiers

Figure out a way to stop the run
Kevin Wilson proved in two seasons that he can construct a competitive offense, even without his starting quarterback. But without top defensive linemen Larry Black Jr. and Adam Replogle, Wilson is entering a key season along the defensive line. This unit allowed a Big Ten worst 231.3 rushing yards per game a year ago, which ranked 116th nationally. The Hoosiers also finished dead last in the Big Ten in total defense and scoring defense. Reinforcements could arrive in the form of junior college talent this spring, but this unit needs to make big strides if Indiana wants to continue its upward trend.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Cameron Coffman (JR) vs. Tre Roberson (SO) vs. Nate Sudfeld (SO)
Regardless of which quarterback wins the starting job, the Hoosiers should be explosive on offense. Roberson was the starter before suffering a season-ending leg injury, while Coffman and Sudfeld threw for 22 touchdowns in his absence. If healthy, Roberson is likely to open the year as the No. 1 passer.
 

Ohio State Buckeyes

Restocking the defensive line
This is starting to become a trend in the Leaders Division, but Urban Meyer must replace all four starters along his defensive line. Johnathan Hankins, Nathan Williams and John Simon set the entire tone on and off the field and replacing them won’t be easy. The good news is Meyer landed two elite defensive line classes in a row, including the best D-Line haul in the nation in 2012. Look for those big-time recruits — Adolphus Washington, Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt, for example — to flourish this spring in Columbus. A truly elite defensive line might be the only thing that could keep Ohio State from the BCS title game next year.

Related Content: Ohio State Buckeyes 2013 Spring Preview
 

Penn State Nittany Lions

Leadership at linebacker
In 2012, this team went through a unique season in Happy Valley to say the least. But a big part of why it was so successful in the face of heavy-handed NCAA sanctions and an emotional scandal was the leadership of guys like Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. Both are gone from a position Penn State has made famous for decades. Mike Hull will have to step into a leadership role and names like Ben Kline and Nyeem Wartman will battle for starting reps. If Bill O’Brien can stabilize this position, the rest of his defense should fall into place.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Steven Bench (SO) vs. Tyler Ferguson (SO) vs. Christian Hackenberg (FR)
After turning Matt McGloin into one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks last season, Bill O’Brien will have his hands full once again. Bench has the most experience of the quarterbacks on the roster, but Ferguson and Hackenberg will get a chance to push him in the preseason. Hackenberg is regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2013 signing class but won’t arrive until this fall.


Purdue Boilermakers

Establish an identity
This is a major year of turnover for Purdue, both on the sideline and on the field. A new coaching staff has taken over and will face a laundry list of position needs this spring, not the least of which is picking a quarterback. However, this spring should be about implementing the “process” and establishing a business culture. Darrell Hazell has four months to decide who should replace Kawaan Short, but setting the foundation and tone for the entire program has to happen this spring.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Austin Appleby (FR) vs. Danny Etling (FR) vs. Rob Henry (JR) vs. Bilal Marshall (FR)
Darrell Hazell’s first season at Purdue could be a rocky one if a quarterback doesn’t emerge this spring. Three freshmen are in the mix, while Rob Henry already has seven starts under his belt. 


Wisconsin Badgers

Transition to a new regime
The secondary has holes to fill, and the quarterback battle should be rather intriguing (although, Joel Stave should be the starter), but dealing with coaching turnover is an unusual issue in Madison. Wisconsin hadn’t held a legitimate coaching search since the 1980s, until searching for and finding Gary Andersen this winter. Now, in back-to-back seasons — Bret Bielema had to replace all but one assistant last year — UW players will be working with a totally different coaching staff. Much like Purdue, the new regime needs to put its process in place and establish an identity as soon as possible, and this spring will be Andersen’s first time on the field with his new roster.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Bart Houston (FR) vs. Tanner McEvoy (SO) vs. Danny O’Brien (SR) vs. Curt Phillips (SR) vs. Joel Stave (SO)
The Badgers have no shortage of options, as Phillips, Stave and O’Brien have all started in Madison. McEvoy is the most intriguing player to watch this preseason, as he is a good fit for coordinator Andy Ludwig’s offense. Although Phillips finished the season as the starter, Stave could unseat him as the No. 1 quarterback.

 

Legends Division

Iowa

Can the Hawkeyes find some weapons for the new quarterback?
Whether it’s Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol or C.J. Beathard taking snaps as the starting quarterback, the Hawkeyes have to find receivers capable of stretching the field. Only three Iowa players had over 20 catches last season and none averaged more than 12.1 yards per catch. Transitioning to Greg Davis’ offense and playcalling was certainly a challenge for quarterback James Vandenberg and the receiving corps, but another spring practice should help work out some of the kinks for 2013. Kevonte Martin-Manley is the top returning receiver, but the Hawkeyes need to figure out who can be the No. 2, No. 3 and even No. 4 option. Tevaun Smith, Jordan Cotton and Don Shumpert are the top statistical returning leaders, while junior college recruit Damond Powell should get into the mix this preseason. If the Hawkeyes can find a few more playmakers, it will help to reduce the pressure on whichever quarterback wins the job.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Jake Rudock (SO) vs. C.J. Beathard (FR) vs. Cody Sokol (JR)
With injuries taking a toll at running back, and the Hawkeyes trying to adjust to a new coordinator and scheme, James Vandenberg had a senior year to forget. Iowa’s quarterback situation is a virtual unknown heading into 2013, as Sokol redshirted last season and Rudock has yet to throw a pass in his career.
 

Michigan

How quickly can Michigan restock the defensive line?
Going into the 2012 season, the Wolverines had to find three new starters on the defensive line. And while this group wasn’t dominant last season, it’s also hard to call it a weakness. Michigan finished 51st nationally against the run and generated 1.7 sacks a game – both numbers coordinator Greg Mattison wants to improve upon in 2013. This unit suffered two key departures, as Craig Roh and Will Campbell expired their eligibility after the Outback Bowl. Juniors Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer lead the way at end, while Quinton Washington, Jibreel Black and potential breakout star Ondre Pipkins will be asked to man the middle. The cupboard isn’t bare for Mattison, but he needs to solidify replacements for Roh and Campbell, while developing a few more options for depth. Getting tougher against the run and generating more pressure on opposing quarterbacks are also spring priorities for this unit. 
 

Michigan State

Who will replace Le’Veon Bell?
Considering the Spartans averaged only 359.3 yards and 20 points a game last season, spring practice is all about finding a spark on offense. Each unit on the offense has question marks, but Michigan State has to find a new No. 1 running back to help its quarterback. Le’Veon Bell carried the offense last season, averaging 137.9 yards per game and scoring 12 rushing scores. With Bell leaving early for the NFL, the battle for the No. 1 spot in the backfield is wide open. Nick Hill is the team’s top returning rusher and has 163 yards on 51 attempts. Junior Jeremy Langford, redshirt freshman Nick Tompkins and incoming freshmen Gerald Holmes, R.J. Shelton and Delton Williams will all figure in the battle for carries in the preseason. Hill has the early edge due to his experience, but Tompkins was one of Michigan State’s top recruits last season and ranked as a top-15 all-purpose back by Rivals.com. Losing Bell is a huge blow for an offense that struggled mightily last season. Don’t expect one player to assume the workhorse role, but the Spartans have a couple of options to share the load.

Quarterback Battle Breakdown: Connor Cook (SO), Andre Maxwell (SR), Tyler O’Connor (FR), Damion Terry (FR)
Maxwell had a forgettable debut as Michigan State’s quarterback, completing only 52.5 percent of his throws and averaging just 200.5 yards per game. Cook sparked the offense in the bowl win over TCU, and the coaching staff will give O’Connor and Terry an extended look this preseason. Maxwell has an edge in experience, which should give him the upper hand. However, Cook proved in the bowl game he is capable of being Michigan State’s No. 1 quarterback.
 

Minnesota

Finding replacements in the secondary
The Golden Gophers quietly had one of the Big Ten’s top defensive backfields last season, finishing 12th nationally against the pass and fourth in the conference in pass efficiency defense. Replicating those numbers in 2013 will be difficult, especially with the departure of cornerbacks Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire. There’s plenty of candidates waiting to emerge, including seniors Martez Shabazz (two pass breakups in the Meineke Car Care Bowl) and Jeremy Baltazar (16 tackles last year). The safety position should be in good shape with the return of Derrick Wells and Brock Vereen. And it’s a good thing Wells and Vereen are back, as both players will need to be active in coverage with two new cornerbacks stepping into the starting lineup.

Quarterback Battle? Although the Minnesota coaching staff has promised Philip Nelson won’t be handed the starting job, the sophomore should be the No. 1 quarterback at the end of spring ball. Nelson completed 7 of 16 throws against Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl and should be able to build off that performance for 2013.
 

Nebraska

Bo Pelini’s rebuilding project on defense
The Cornhuskers aren’t starting from scratch on defense this spring, but this unit suffered some heavy losses. Gone are defensive linemen Eric Martin and Baker Steinkuhler, linebackers Will Compton and Sean Fisher, along with safeties P.J. Smith and Daimion Stafford. Kicker/punter Brett Maher was also a valuable weapon and will be missed. Each level of the defense has key players to replace, but addressing the defensive line should be considered priority No. 1 for Bo Pelini. Jason Ankrah is expected to start at one end spot, while junior college recruit Randy Gregory could nab the other side in the fall. Thad Randle recorded 21 stops last season and needs to anchor the middle with very little experience returning around him. Redshirt freshmen Avery Moss, Vincent Valentine and Greg McMullen should expect to see plenty of snaps this year.

Related Content: Nebraska Cornhuskers 2013 Spring Preview
 

Northwestern

Restocking the offensive line
The offensive line was an underrated part of the Wildcats’ success on offense last season, but three starters must be replaced. Tackle Patrick Ward and guards Brian Mulroe and Jack Deiters are huge losses for the Wildcats, with center Brandon Vitabile and right tackle Jack Konopka opening spring practice as the returning starters. Unfortunately for Northwestern, Konopka, guard Matt Frazier and tackle Paul Jorgensen are out for spring practice, which means this unit may be unsettled heading into the fall. With the loss of three starters and injuries preventing other players from participating this spring, keep an eye on redshirt freshmen Adam DePietro, Kenton Playko and Ian Park.

Related Content: Northwestern Wildcats 2013 Spring Preview


Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)


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Teaser:
<p> Big Ten Football 2013 Spring Preview and Storylines</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 13:45
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/sabermetrics-baseball-what-sabermetrics-means
Body:

The world of advanced statistics can be intimidating for the casual baseball fan. The acronyms can be confusing. The numbers lack meaning. Fans understand a .300 batting average or a 2.50 ERA or 50 saves. More esoteric are the meanings behind numbers like a .900 OPS, a 3.00 FIP or 10 wins above replacement. Once you understand the logic behind the statistics, it’s easy to see why they’re helpful in understanding the game. Here’s a guide to some of the most commonly used advanced metrics, and why they’re useful. 

1. WAR

What: Wins Above Replacement, a catch-all metric designed to quantify a player’s overall contribution to his team’s win total. The statistic measures offense, defense and baserunning for position players. There are two prominent versions: One from FanGraphs.com, the other from Baseball-Reference.com. Each uses a separate formula. 

Why: Let’s get this out of the way. Few sabermetrically inclined writers view WAR as the end-all, be-all of statistics. It’s used as the start to a conversation, not the end of it. WAR operates as a tool to add up all the disparate things a player does on the field. It also adds value based on the defensive spectrum, recognizing that positions like center field and shortstop are more difficult to play than first base or a corner outfield spot.

Example: The reason Mike Trout finished 2012 with 10 WAR, according to Fangraphs, and Miguel Cabrera finished with 7.1 WAR, is simple. Trout plays much better defense. He runs the bases much better. And their offense was also comparable, considering that Trout plays his home games in an extreme pitchers’ park, while Cabrera plays in a more neutral park. 

2. OPS

What: This statistic is a very simple way to measure a batter’s offensive output. It stands for On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage, and it means what it says. You add up a player’s OBP and his slugging. 

Why: Because there are more effective ways to measure a player’s offensive output than just batting average. OPS paints a rudimentary picture of a player’s season: How often did he get on base? How many bases did he accumulate with each at-bat? 

Example: Jose Reyes led the National League in 2011 with a .337 batting average. Ryan Braun finished second with a .332 batting average. Yet Braun was the far more accomplished hitter that season. His OPS was .994, the best in the National League and third-best in baseball. Reyes’ OPS was .877, the 26th-best in baseball. 

3. WOBA

What: Weighted On-Base Average attempts to add some nuance to OPS further, as a way to calculate a player’s overall offensive value. The numbers read like batting average: A .400 mark is considered excellent. A .300 mark is considered poor.

Why: OPS treats on-base percentage and slugging percentage as equals. They are not. Getting on base is considered a bit more valuable. wOBA reflects that. It takes the basic picture created by OPS and refines the number, placing added emphasis on the game’s most critical skill: Getting on base. 

Example: Joey Votto may be the premier on-base machine in baseball. Since 2010, only Miguel Cabrera rates higher in wOBA (.428 to .425). Cabrera also has a 1.025 OPS to Votto’s .998 OPS. Votto makes up the difference with a .434 OBP, compared to Cabrera’s .420.

4. BABIP

What: Batting Average on Balls in Play records just that: How often a player gets credited with a hit when he puts the ball in play. 

Why: Because there’s so much luck involved once a batter makes contact. He can sting a liner right at an outfielder. Or he can bloop a broken-bat double. During the course of the season, BABIP helps measure how much a player is affected by luck or defense. The average mark settles in around .300, with higher marks expected for speed-base players.  

Example: In 2008, Nick Swisher muddled through the weakest season of his career. He hit 24 homers, but still finished with a middling .743 OPS. Yet during the next four seasons, his OPS jumped back to an average of .850. The best explanation for his trying 2008 year resides in his .249 BABIP, a mark more than 50 points below his career average (.303). Once his luck evened back out, Swisher went back to being a solid corner outfielder. 

5. ISO

What: ISO measures true power. To calculate this, subtract a player’s batting average from his slugging percentage. A .200 ISO is considered very strong.  

Why: This is a simple way to measure a player’s ability to accumulate extra-base hits. Sometimes slugging percentage can be deceiving. ISO helps provide more information about the batter’s season: Is the slugging percentage a result of good BABIP luck (and a high batting average) or a series of extra-base hits?  

Example: Since 2010, Jose Bautista leads all of baseball with a freakish .322 ISO. To put that in context: Babe Ruth’s ISO was .348. So even though Bautista batted just .271 during that time period, with a mediocre .256 BABIP, when he made contact, he did serious damage. 

6. UZR 

What: Ultimate Zone Rating is probably the most popular defensive metric. The methodology is difficult to explain, but in essence, the statistic measures how many runs a defender prevents (or allows) based on range, ability to avoid errors, arm and ability to turn double plays. 

Why: There’s so much information available about offense — and comparatively so little about defense. UZR is a start. These numbers can be fickle, especially in a small sample size. But with several years of data, you get a sense of how a player handles his position.  

Example: From 2009-11, David Wright was one of the worst third basemen in the majors. He allowed about 10 runs more than the average defender. But an offseason adjustment in the winter of 2012 — a new emphasis on positioning his feet and using his whole body when throwing across the diamond — led to a remarkable change. In 2012, he was worth 15.4 more runs in the field than the average defender. 

7. FIP

What: Fielding Independent Pitching measures ERA by removing batted-ball luck from the equation. In other words, pitchers are judged on the three things they specifically can control: Strikeouts, walks and home runs.  

Why: This statistic can help predict future success — or future struggles — with a bit more nuance than ERA. In general, it is believed a pitcher cannot control what happens once a hitter makes contact. There’s so much variance involved, as we explained with BABIP. The defense might be terrible. The pitcher’s luck might be poor. FIP measures performance if all things were considered equal.  

Example: James Shields had terrible luck in 2010, despite a solid 3.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His BABIP against was a career-high .344 and more homer-prone than ever. So while his ERA was 5.18, his FIP was a more reasonable 4.24. In the past two seasons, as his luck evened out and his strikeout-to-walk ratio remained about the same, Shields’ ERA slipped back down to a cumulative 3.15.  

8. SIERA

What: SIERA takes FIP one step further. It stands for Skill-Interactive ERA, and it adds some batted-ball results into the equation. SIERA rewards pitchers for ground balls and pop-ups (because those are tougher to turn into extra-base hits).  

Why: Pitching is not simple. FIP treats it as such — which is useful for predicting what might happen in the coming years. SIERA tries to crack through the complexity of the craft by measuring batted-ball results. 

Example: Cliff Lee leads the majors in SIERA from 2010-12 with a 2.93 mark. He hits all the checkmarks: He strikes out a ton of batters (24.1 percent of the hitters he faces). He doesn’t walk anyone (3.4 percent). He gets a good deal of grounders (44.4 percent) and infield pop-ups (11 percent). 

—By Andy McCullough


 

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

Teaser:
<p> A casual fan's guide to Sabermetrics</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 11:20

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