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Path: /nfl/15-greatest-plays-super-bowl-history-2014

What defines a great play?

Degree of difficulty? Gravity of the moment? The greatness of the players involved and their place in NFL history? Entertainment factor? How about all of the above.

Game-winning touchdowns, heroic out-of-body experiences, historic moments and even some hilarious gaffes — looking at you Garo Yepremian — all make the Super Bowl the greatest sporting event of the calendar year. Hall of Fame careers are made and broken in the final football game of the season and trying to narrow down nearly 50 years of action to the 15 best individual plays is virtually impossible.

1. Super Bowl XXXIV: One Yard Short
The Titans and Rams put on a second-half show for the fans in Atlanta. Kurt Warner hit Isaac Bruce on a 73-yard touchdown pass with just over two minutes to go in a tie game to take the lead. Steve McNair then whirled his way down the field to the St. Louis 10-yard line to set up the final play of the game. Mike Jones then made the play of his career by tackling Kevin Dyson of the game-tying touchdown. It would have been the first and only overtime game in Super Bowl history.

2. Super Bowl XXXII: John Elway’s helicopter run
It was the defining moment of what many believe is the best Super Bowl ever played. It was third-and-six from the Packers' 12-yard line with the game tied 17-17 in the second half. One of the game’s greatest players drops back to pass, scrambles right and then dives head-first despite being surrounded by three Green Bay defenders. . Terrell Davis scored the go-ahead touchdown two plays later, as Elway goes on to win his first Super Bowl.

3. Super Bowl XXV: Scott Norwood’s wide right
There have been many game-winning field goals in Super Bowl history — but none on the final snap with one team trailing and the chance to win the game. Adam Vinatieri’s kicks were clutch but those games would have gone into overtime had he missed. No, Norwood became the only true goat of a Super Bowl when his 47-yard field goal sailed just inches wide right. The miss capped an extraordinary drive that capped an extraordinary game stacked with Hall of Fame players and coaches.

4. Super Bowl XXIII: Joe Montana to John Taylor
The 10-yard pass to Taylor with 39 seconds left wasn’t in and of itself a miraculous play. It wasn’t all that difficult and it wasn’t all that remarkable. But it represents all that Montana was as an NFL Hall of Famer. He got the ball with 3:10 left on the clock down 16-13 on his own eight-yard line and all he can think about is John Candy. This touchdown pass stood as the latest game-winner touchdown in Super Bowl history for nearly 20 years.

5. Super Bowl XLII: Eli Manning to David Tyree (and Plaxico Burress)
In terms of degree of difficulty, few plays in any game much less the Super Bowl can match this one. Manning's Houdini act in the pocket to avoid getting sacked is nearly as impressive as Tyree’s duct tape and chicken wire helmet catch in traffic 32 yards down the field. Four plays later, Manning floated a 13-yard game-winning touchdown to a wide open Plaxico Burress to give the Patriots their one and only loss of the season. After three extremely slow quarters, Super Bowl XLII ended in extraordinary fashion.

6. Super Bowl XLIII: Big Ben to Santonio Holmes
The Cardinals entered the fourth quarter trailing the Steelers 20-7. Kurt Warner then proceeded to score 16 straight points to take a three-point lead over Pittsburgh with just over two minutes to play. Ben Roethlisberger then marched his team to the Arizona six-yard line where, with unbelievable accuracy and some magic toes at his disposal, he somehow connects with Holmes with 35 seconds left to play.

7. Super Bowl XVIII: Marcus Allen's 74-yard run
It is likely the most impressive run in Super Bowl history. After twisting and changing directions in the backfield, Allen split the heart of the Washington Redskins defense for the longest run in Super Bowl history (later broken by Willie Parker). The play capped the third quarter and put a fork in the ‘Skins' hopes. Allen finished with 191 yards rushing and was named the MVP.

8. Super Bowl XVII: The Diesel’s fourth-and-one gallop
The Redskins were trailing 17-13 with 10 minutes to go, facing a fourth-and-one on the Miami 43-yard line. Joe Gibbs leaves his offense on the field and calls ’70 chip’ for his star running back John Riggins. The burly runner, nicknamed The Diesel, breaks a tackle, bounces the play off tackle and races 43 yards for the game-winning touchdown. The play epitomized who Riggins was as a ball carrier.

9. Super Bowl X: Lynn Swann’s Magical Reception
When it comes to acrobatic, spectacular catches, David Tyree might not even be able top the grace of Swann. From deep in his own territory, the eventual game MVP reeled in a 53-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw that changed the game. Mark Washington is in perfect position to make a play on the ball for the Cowboys, but somehow Swann out leaps the defender, bobbles the ball and hauls in the pass as he is falling to the ground. Swann finished with four receptions for 161 yards and the game-winning 64-yard touchdown catch as well. This clash of the titans was won with style and grace.

10. Super Bowl III: Joe Namath’s Called Shot/Finger Wag
It wasn’t technically one play, but Broadway Joe’s guarantee and subsequent finger wag will go down in Super Bowl lore. It was likely the most important Super Bowl ever played. It also was the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. And the moment could have only been made possible by a brash personality like Namath.

11. Super Bowl XLIV: Saints onside kick to start second half
Possibly the ballsiest call in Super Bowl history, head coach Sean Payton calls for the onside kick to start the second half. The Saints recover and the gutsy call sets the tone, as New Orleans dominates Indianapolis and the second half to win the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy.

12. Super Bowl XXXVI: Adam Vinatieri Part I
Vinatieri Part I capped Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s coming out party as they upset the heavily favored Rams with a 48-yard game winner.

13. Super Bowl XXXVIII: Adam Vinatieri Part II
An underrated Super Bowl ended with Vinatieri Part II when he broke the 29-29 tie as time expired against the Panthers.

14. Super Bowl XXVII: Leon Lett chased down by Don Beebe
The game wasn’t close and the play didn’t really matter, but no one will ever forget little Beebe embarrassing big Lett at the goal line.

15. Super Bowl I: Max McGee one-hander
A hungover, second-string McGee makes a spectacular one-handed catch to score the first touchdown in Super Bowl history.

Best of the Rest:

16. Super Bowl XIV: Terry Bradshaw to Lance Stallworth for the 73-yard game winning touchdown.
17. Super Bowl XX: William Perry steals Sweetness’ touchdown.
18. Super Bowl XLVI: Eli Manning completes 38-yard sideline fade to Mario Manningham to open eventual game-winning drive agianst New England.
19. Super Bowl XIII: Jackie Smith is "the sickest man in America."
20. Super Bowl XXXI: Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return TD.

15 Greatest Plays in Super Bowl History
Post date: Monday, January 20, 2014 - 19:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/kansas-embiid-athlons-national-player-week

The line about shot blockers is that they can cover up a ton of their team's mistakes.

Beyond the defensive end, freshman Joel Embiid did his share of covering for his Kansas teammates on Saturday against Oklahoma State.

Perry Ellis scored only six points. Wayne Selden was 2 of 9 from the floor. And Andrew Wiggins made only one field goal against the Cowboys. Yet Kansas defeated one of the top challengers in the Big 12 80-78 thanks to an overwhelming performance from Embiid.

A contender for the top spot in the NBA Draft, Embiid finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks. He also had 16 points, nine rebounds and tow blocks in Monday’s win at Iowa State to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week and National Freshman of the Week honors.

In two games against then-top 10 competition, Embiid was 12 of 14 from the floor — and Kansas coach Bill Self thinks he could be getting more opportunities.

“If we would just remember to throw it to him, he is pretty good,” Self said. “That would probably help our team. If you think about it, Perry, Wayne and Wiggins, who would have thought we would win the game with those guys having off-days the way they did.”

National Player of the Week and National Freshman of the Week: Joel Embiid, Kansas
Embiid is playing like the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The freshman center was sensational in Kansas’ 80–78 win over Oklahoma State on Saturday, scoring 13 points (on 5-of-6 shooting) with 11 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Earlier in the week, the Cameroon native scored 16 points and had nine boards and five blocks in a key Big 12 road win at Iowa State.

Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: Julius Brown, Toledo
Toledo’s steady rise in the MAC turned a key corner during the weekend as the Rockets defeated Akron, the league’s representative in the NCAA Tournament in three of the last five seasons, on the road for the first time since 2001. Brown scored 25 points in the 75-61 win over the Zips. Brown added 20 points and a game-winning buzzer beater in Wednesday’s 67-65 win over Buffalo. Toledo is 3-1 in the MAC with wins over two of the league’s better teams.

Other Primetime Players

Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall
Edwin fueled Seton Hall’s second-half rally with 19 of his 24 points in the final 17 minutes to help the Pirates beat Georgetown 67–57 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. A senior guard, Edwin connected on all five of his 3-point attempts in the second half as the Pirates turned a 10-point deficit into a 10-point win. Edwin also recorded five steals and is now the school’s all-time leader with 263. Seton Hall, now 2–3 in the Big East, had not defeated Georgetown on the road since January 2003.

Gavin Ware, Mississippi State
Ware recorded a double-double with 22 points (tying an SEC career high) and 10 rebounds to lead Mississippi State to an 81–72 overtime win over Texas A&M at home. The sophomore forward hit 8-of-11 from the field and 6-of-8 from the foul line en route to his third 20-point game of the season. Guard Craig Sword chipped in a team-high 23 points for Mississippi State, which is 2–2 in the SEC.

Kameron Woods, Butler
Four days after being held scoreless on 0-of-9 shooting in a 28-point loss at Creighton, Woods scored 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in Butler’s 69–57 overtime win over Marquette. The Bulldogs had been 0–5 in the Big East, with three of the five losses coming in overtime. Woods, a 6'9" sophomore, has had at least 10 rebounds in four straight games.

Drew Crawford, Northwestern
Northwestern won its first Big Ten road game in more than a calendar year thanks to a big game from Crawford, who scored 17 points and added 11 rebounds in the Wildcats’ surprising 54–47 win at Indiana. Northwestern, under first-year coach Chris Collins, is 9–10 overall and 2–4 in the Big Ten, but the Cats have won two of their last three games.

Nik Stauskas, Michigan  
Stauskas scored 23 points to lead Michigan to a rare win over Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. The sophomore sharpshooter hit three 3-pointers, none more important than a step back jumper from the left side that gave the Wolverines a four-point lead with under a minute to play. Stauskas added four free throws down the stretch to secure Michigan’s first win in Madison since 1999. The Wolverines, who are playing without standout big man Mitch McGary (out for the season with a back injury), have won seven straight games.

Bryce Cotton, Providence
Cotton scored a game-high 23 points to lead short-handed Providence to an 81–68 win over Creighton, which entered the game with a 5–0 record in Big East play. Cotton, a senior guard, has scored 20 points or more in three straight games — wins over Georgetown, St. John’s (on the road) and Creighton. He is averaging 20.4 points per game.

Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Harrell recorded a double-double for the third time in four games, scoring 18 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in the Cardinals’ 76–64 win at UConn on Saturday night. Harrell, who is shooting .634 from the field, connected on 8-of-10 from the field and also blocked three shots for the surging Cards, who have won three straight games.

Johnny O’Bryant, LSU
O’Bryant, a former McDonald’s All-American, rebounded from a subpar game in LSU’s loss at Ole Miss to score 22 points and grab 12 rebounds in the Tigers’ 81–58 win over Vanderbilt in Baton Rouge. O’Bryant and the LSU frontline dominated Vanderbilt on the glass, outrebounding the Commodores 48-to-24.

Chasson Randle, Stanford
Randle tied a career high with 33 points to lead Stanford to a 79–67 win over Washington late Saturday in Palo Alto. A junior guard from Illinois, Randle hit 11-of-15 from the field and 10-of-13 from the foul line en route to his third game with 30-plus points this season. He leads the team in scoring at 19.5 points per game.

Roberto Nelson, Oregon State
Nelson, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, led the way with 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting as the Beavers knocked off rival Oregon 80–72 Sunday night in Corvallis. Nelson, a 6-4 guard, is averaging 21.5 points and shooting .390 from 3-point range and .877 from the foul line.

Kansas' Embiid is Athlon's National Player of the Week
Post date: Monday, January 20, 2014 - 14:51
All taxonomy terms: Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Golf
Path: /golf/mickelsons-mini-meltdown-costs-him-abu-dhabi

Phil Mickelson played three largely brilliant rounds of golf to finish second at the European Tour's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, one shot behind winner Pablo Larrazabal, leaving Lefty with plenty of positives heading into his PGA Tour season. But one hole was vintage Phil, and not in a good way. On 13 at Abu Dhabi National, Mickelson hit his drive into the brush, then incurred a penalty with a double-hit attempting to get the ball back into play with a right-handed punch, leading to a triple-bogey 7. "I was just trying to dribble it out of the bush because I couldn't get the unplayable penalty lie to give me a shot without stroke and distance and I felt it was worth the risk," he said. "It not only cost a penalty shot, but it also stopped the ball from going to a spot where I could hit again. So after that I got refocused and got aggressive and made some birdies and gave myself a chance. If Pablo had not birdied the last hole to win, I would have gotten into a playoff, and so I give him a lot of credit for finishing the tournament off the right way."

Here's the offending sequence:


Mickelson finished tied with Rory McIlroy, who incurred a penalty of his own on Saturday for failing to take full relief from a spectator crosswalk. Bottom line: If these two titans can get out of their own way, we can expect some great golf from them this season.



Patrick Reed threw his hat into the ring of up-and-coming talent with his second career victory, a two-shot win over Ryan Palmer at the Humana Challenge. The 23-year-old Reed jumped from 73rd to 41st in the Official World Golf Ranking, givign him a spot in next month's 64-man World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship field.

"I always play to try to prove to everybody that I belong out here," Reed said. "As well as, I belong, not only out here on the PGA Tour, but also with the best players in the world."

Zach Johnson and Justin Leonard tied for third at 25-under. Johnson birdied the final five holes for a final-round 62.
Post date: Monday, January 20, 2014 - 11:02
All taxonomy terms: super-bowl, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/athlon-sports-all-time-super-bowl-team

As Super Bowl XLVIII approaches (Feb. 2), it seems like the perfect time to look back at Super Bowls of the past and the great players who made those games so memorable. 

In selecting an all-time Super Bowl team, it is important to establish clear criteria. While there is nothing more subjective than all-time teams, this criteria certainly includes individual statistics, but performance that leads to team success carries more weight. Multiple game appearances help, so longevity counts too.

Athlon Sports' All-time Super Bowl Team

Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco
This is one of a couple of positions where there is no argument. With four Super Bowl wins, Montana has a career passer rating of 127.8, the best ever. Joe Cool tossed 11 touchdown passes to six different receivers with no interceptions. During his Super Bowl career, he threw 28 passes on third down, completing 19 of them for 14 first downs and one touchdown. There has been no one better in the big game.

Honorable Mention: John Elway, Denver; Tom Brady, New England; Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh; Kurt Warner, St. Louis and Arizona

Franco Harris, RB, Pittsburgh
There is no shortage of candidates at running back. Harris rushed for 354 yards in Pittsburgh’s four Super wins in the 1970s and had another 114 yards receiving. In the four games, Harris had 18 touches on third down resulting in 10 first downs and three touchdowns. And Harris is the only runner with more than 100 carries in history.

Roger Craig, RB, San Francisco
In three Super Bowls for San Francisco, all wins, Craig amassed 413 yards from scrimmage with four touchdowns, including 101 yards receiving in Super Bowl XXIII.

HM: Larry Csonka, Miami; Emmitt Smith, Dallas; Terrell Davis, Denver; John Riggins, Washington; Marcus Allen, LA Raiders

Lynn Swann, WR, Pittsburgh
Fans who saw him in the Super Bowl probably remember flying, acrobatic catches. But Swann meant more to the Steelers than just a couple of circus catches. He is second all-time with 364 receiving yards, all coming in three Super Bowls. In his first Super Bowl appearance with the Steelers, Swann was limited to punt return duty.

Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 
Rice is another no-brainer. Let’s see: most Super Bowl receptions in a career (33), most yards receiving in a career (589) and game (215), most yards from scrimmage in a career (604), the only player to score three TDs in a game twice. Oh, and he earned an MVP. And 77 of his receiving yards and a touchdown came at age 40 for Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII.

HM: Deion Branch, New England; John Stallworth, Pittsburgh; Andre Reed, Buffalo; Isaac Bruce, St. Louis; Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona

Jay Novacek, TE, Dallas
One of quarterback Troy Aikman’s favorite clutch targets, Novacek scored the first Dallas touchdown in Super Bowls XXVII and XXX. In three wins he totaled 148 yards and two scores on 17 catches.

HM: Shannon Sharpe, Denver/Baltimore; Marv Fleming, Green Bay/Miami

Jon Kolb, LT, Pittsburgh
The only constant along the Pittsburgh offensive line during their run of four Super Bowls in the 1970s, Kolb led the way for Franco Harris’ running and protected Terry Bradshaw in the passing game.

HM: Mark Tuinei, Dallas; Matt Light, New England

Nate Newton, LG, Dallas
Emmitt Smith became the all-time leading NFL rusher thanks in large — and we do mean large — part to Newton. In Newton’s three Super Bowls, the Cowboys scored 52, 30 and 27 points.

HM: Bob Kuechenberg, Miami; Russ Grimm, Washington

Jim Langer, C, Miami
Langer anchored the line during Miami’s back-to-back titles in the 1970s. In Super Bowl VIII, Miami rushed 53 times for 196 yards, most of it straight up the middle with bruiser Larry Csonka.

HM: Ray Mansfield, Pittsburgh; Mike Webster, Pittsburgh

Joe Andruzzi, RG, New England
In three New England wins, the Patriots rushed for 372 yards, and Andruzzi helped protect MVP Tom Brady allowing him to stay comfortable in the pocket.

HM: Jerry Kramer, Green Bay; Gerry Mullins, Pittsburgh; Larry Little, Miami

Erik Williams, RT, Dallas
The heart and soul of the Cowboys’ offensive machine was the offensive line. Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin were the beneficiaries of the hard work done by the likes of Williams.

HM: Forrest Gregg, Green Bay; Norm Evans, Miami

Charles Haley, DE,  Dallas/San Francisco
Haley was more of an outside linebacker in San Francisco's 3-4 alignment. He is the only player to win five Super Bowls.

Richard Dent, DE, Chicago
The Monsters of the Midway had a stacked roster of defensive stars but Dent won the MVP in Super Bowl XX with 1.5 sacks as the Bears gave up a total of 10 points to New England.

HM: Richard Seymour, New England; Reggie White, Green Bay; Dwight White, Pittsburgh; Willie Davis, Green Bay

Joe Greene, DT, Pittsburgh
As the heart of the front of the Steel Curtain, Greene intimidated quarterbacks, running backs and offensive linemen. In four Super wins, opponents averaged less than 100 yards rushing against Pittsburgh as Greene made life miserable for Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton and Vince Ferragamo.

Russell Maryland, DT, Dallas
The offense received much of the credit, but Dallas recorded eight interceptions and held teams to less than four yards a carry in their three Super Bowl wins in the 1990s. Maryland was a load up front in all three games.

HM: Jethro Pugh, Dallas; Manny Fernandez, Miami; Alan Page, Minnesota 

Jack Lambert, LB, Pittsburgh
Lambert was in the middle of all things defensively for the Steelers for 11 seasons, including four trips to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh would not have been 4-0 in the most important game of the season without him.

Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore
Lewis is one of two linebackers to win a Super Bowl MVP (XXXV) and nearly a decade later posted seven tackles in winning his second Lombardi Trophy with the Ravens. It was his final game in the NFL.

Chuck Howley, LB, Dallas
This Cowboy is one of two at his position to ever win an MVP (V) and is the only player to win an MVP for a losing team in Super Bowl history. He also won a Super Bowl the following year with a big performance (INT, fumble recovery) in Dallas' win over Miami in Super Bowl VI. He played 13 years with Dallas.

HM: Tedy Bruschi, New England; Mike Vrabel, New England; Rod Martin, Oakland; Jack Ham, Pittsburgh; Keena Turner, San Francisco; Ray Nitschke, Green Bay; Nick Buoniconti, Miami

Herb Adderley, CB, Green Bay/Dallas
Adderley was a member of Green Bay’s first two title teams, returning an interception 60 yards for a score in Super Bowl II. He played in two more for Dallas, winning one and losing one.

Mel Blount, CB, Pittsburgh
Blount played for four winners, and contributed with an interception in Super Bowls IX and XIII.

HM: Ty Law, New England; Larry Brown, Dallas; Deion Sanders, San Francisco/Dallas; Tracy Porter, New Orleans

Jake Scott, S, Miami
Scott intercepted Billy Kilmer twice in Miami’s hard-fought 14-7 win in Super Bowl VII, earning MVP honors.

Ronnie Lott, S, San Francisco
Instrumental in the Niners’ four Super Bowl wins, Lott played corner in the first two before moving to safety. None of his nine postseason interceptions came in the Super Bowl, probably because quarterbacks avoided him.

HM: Cliff Harris, Dallas; Dick Anderson, Miami, Dexter Jackson, Tampa Bay; Willie Wood, Green Bay; Charlie Waters, Dallas; Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh; Mike Wagner, Pittsburgh

Desmond Howard, KR/PR, Green Bay
Earned MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXI with a kick return for a touchdown, but also had two punt returns of more than 30 yards.

Adam Vinatieri, K, New England/Indianapolis
Never has there been a more clutch kicker in the Super Bowl.

Larry Seiple, P, Miami
Always a threat to take off and run (also played some tight end), Seiple kept the Redskins and Vikings bottled up in Super Bowls VII and VIII.

Chuck Noll, Head Coach, Pittsburgh
An easy choice, Noll is the only coach to win four. He won with defense, running and passing. His Pittsburgh teams were complete and dominant.

HM: Vince Lombardi, Green Bay; Bill Belichick, New England; Bill Walsh, San Francisco, Tom Coughlin, NY Giants; Jimmy Johnson, Dallas

Athlon Sports' All-Time Super Bowl Team
Post date: Monday, January 20, 2014 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/98-underclassmen-declare-2014-nfl-draft

The deadline for college football players to enter the 2014 NFL Draft has passed, and the official tally stands at 98 underclassmen declaring early for the next level.

The list of early entrants also includes four players that have already graduated and are leaving with eligibility remaining, including Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard, Arizona State linebacker Carl Bradford and USC safety Dion Bailey.

Here’s the full list of the 98 underclassmen leaving for the NFL, along with four other players that have already graduated and set to move onto the next level.

Davante AdamsWRFresno State
Nick AddisonDBBethune-Cookman
Jace AmaroTETexas Tech
George AtkinsonRBNotre Dame
Odell BeckhamWRLouisiana State
Kelvin BenjaminWRFlorida State
Kapri BibbsRBColorado State
Brendan BigelowRBCalifornia
Alfred BlueRBLouisiana State
Russell BodineCNorth Carolina
Blake BortlesQBCentral Florida
Chris BoydWRVanderbilt
Bashaud BreelandDBClemson
Martavis BryantWRClemson
Ka'Deem CareyRBArizona
Ha Ha Clinton-DixDBAlabama
Jadeveon ClowneyDESouth Carolina
Brandon ColemanWRRutgers
Brandin CooksWROregon State
Scott CrichtonDEOregon State
Isaiah CrowellRBAlabama State
Jonathan DowlingDBWestern Kentucky
Kony EalyDEMissouri
Eric EbronTENorth Carolina
Bruce EllingtonWRSouth Carolina
Mike EvansWRTexas A&M
Ego FergusonDTLouisiana State
Cameron FlemingTStanford
Khairi ForttLBCalifornia
Austin FranklinWRNew Mexico State
Devonta FreemanRBFlorida State
Carlos GrayDTNorth Carolina State
Xavier GrimbleTESouthern California
Terrance HackneyTBethune-Cookman
Victor HamptonDBSouth Carolina
Jeremy HillRBLouisiana State
Kameron JacksonDBCalifornia
Nic JacobsTEMcNeese State
Timmy JerniganDTFlorida State
Anthony JohnsonDTLouisiana State
Jamel JohnsonWRAlabama State
Storm JohnsonRBCentral Florida
Henry JoseyRBMissouri
Cyrus KouandjioTAlabama
Jarvis LandryWRLouisiana State
Cody LatimerWRIndiana
Demarcus LawrenceDEBoise State
Marqise LeeWRSouthern California
A.C. LeonardTETennessee State
Albert Louis-JeanDBBoston College
Colt LyerlaTEOregon
Aaron LynchDESouth Florida
Johnny ManzielQBTexas A&M
Marcus MartinCSouthern California
Tre MasonRBAuburn
Chris McCainDECalifornia
Terrance MitchellDBOregon
Viliami MoalaDTCalifornia
Donte MoncriefWRMississippi
Adam MuemaRBSan Diego State
Jake MurphyTEUtah
Troy NiklasTENotre Dame
Louis NixDTNotre Dame
Jeoffrey PaganDEAlabama
Ronald PowellDEFlorida
Calvin PryorDBLouisville
Loucheiz PurifoyDBFlorida
Kelcy QuarlesDTSouth Carolina
Darrin ReavesRBAlabama-Birmingham
Ed ReynoldsDBStanford
Antonio RichardsonTTennessee
Paul RichardsonWRColorado
Marcus RobersonDBFlorida
Allen RobinsonWRPenn State
Greg RobinsonTAuburn
Bradley RobyDBOhio State
Richard RodgersTECalifornia
Bishop SankeyRBWashington
Lache SeastrunkRBBaylor
Austin Seferian-JenkinsTEWashington
Ryan ShazierLBOhio State
Yawin SmallwoodLBConnecticut
Brett SmithQBWyoming
Jerome SmithRBSyracuse
Willie SneadWRBall State
John SpooneyRBBrown
Josh StewartWROklahoma State
Xavier Su’a-FiloGUCLA
Vinnie SunseriDBAlabama
De’Anthony ThomasRBOregon
Stephon TuittDENotre Dame
Trai TurnerGLouisiana State
George UkoDESouthern California
Pierre WarrenDBJacksonville State
Sammy WatkinsWRClemson
Terrance WestRBTowson
James WilderRBFlorida State
David YankeyTStanford
Dion BaileyDBSouthern California
Carl BradfordDEArizona State
Teddy BridgewaterQBLouisville
Adrian HubbardLBAlabama
98 Underclassmen Declare for the 2014 NFL Draft
Post date: Monday, January 20, 2014 - 10:33
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-january-20-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 20.

. Congrats. She even manages to look good in the bobsled outfit, don't you think?

• We should get a great Super Bowl out of yesterday's results. .

. Pretty impressive accomplishment.

• One thing is clear: Seattle-San Francisco is now the NFL's best rivalry. Look for a couple of salty matchups next year after .

. Careful, Bill, I'm actually starting to like you. Although it didn't stop him from .

• Meanwhile, . It was a calm reaction from Harbaugh after an afternoon spent .

• Terrence "Pot Roast" Knighton is a budding folk hero, but .



• Nick Saban has made it his mission to troll the entire nation. First Lane Kiffin, now the Electric Slide.


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

Post date: Monday, January 20, 2014 - 10:31
Path: /college-football/alabama-coach-nick-saban-does-electric-slide-video

With the college football season completed, the next few weeks are all about recruiting. And there’s not a better coach in the nation at it than Alabama’s Nick Saban.

Last weekend, Saban hosted incoming recruits and their parents at his home. And thankfully, someone captured video of the coach dancing to the Electric Slide.

The clip isn’t very long, but it’s worth your time to watch Saban making a few moves on the dance floor.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban Does the Electric Slide (Video)
Post date: Monday, January 20, 2014 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/very-early-college-football-top-25-2014

College football’s 2014 season won’t start until August, but it’s never too early to take a look at what’s ahead.


Florida State edged Auburn for the national championship in early January, and both teams will be in the mix for a playoff spot next year. But the Seminoles and Tigers will be pushed by Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma and Ohio State.


College football’s new four-team playoff format adds another dimension to an already drama-filled regular season. With a selection committee and new bowl contracts, the postseason is going to look quite different next year.


In December, Athlon Sports released an early top 25 for 2014. But as expected, early entries to the NFL Draft and coaching hires changed the outlook of that top 25 ranking.


With coaching hires and the early entries to the draft declared, let’s revisit the top 25 teams for 2014.

(Rankings updated on Jan. 20)

College Football’s Very Early Top 25 for 2014

1. Florida State
The Seminoles have a few holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but this team is equipped to repeat in 2014. Quarterback Jameis Winston returns after winning the Heisman last year and should only get better with another offseason to work under coach Jimbo Fisher. Winston’s supporting cast is solid, as Karlos Williams and Dalvin Cook are set to replace Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. at running back, and receiver Rashad Greene turned down the NFL for his senior year. Center Bryan Stork will be missed, but Austin Barron is an experienced backup and four other starters return to the offensive line. The defense loses linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and cornerback/safety Lamarcus Joyner. But none of those losses are as big as Timmy Jernigan, who declared early for the NFL Draft. Replacing Jernigan will be a talented, but young group of tackles. Jeremy Pruitt was outstanding in his only year as the defensive coordinator at Florida State. Can Fisher make the right hire once again?

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2. Alabama
A two-game losing streak to end the season should provide plenty of motivation for Nick Saban in 2014. And Saban has already taken steps to prevent another repeat of 2013, as he made a few changes to his coaching staff, including hiring Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator and returning Kevin Steele to a position coach. Kiffin’s top priority in spring practice will be to develop a new starting quarterback. The race to replace AJ McCarron is wide open, with Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod and incoming freshman David Cornwell each having an opportunity to win the job. And regardless of who wins the job in the spring, the job may not be settled into the fall, especially if Florida State quarterback Jacob Coker transfers to Alabama. Until a quarterback is found, the offense can lean on the one-two punch of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry on the ground. Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart will once again develop one of the SEC’s top defenses. But this unit will have concerns to address, starting with replacing linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The Crimson Tide also needs to develop more depth and talent at cornerback. 

3. Auburn
Alabama has a slight edge over Auburn for the top spot in the SEC West in our pre-spring predictions. But the gap between the Tigers and Crimson Tide is slim. Auburn’s run to the national title included a few fortunate bounces, but this team was no fluke in 2013. Gus Malzahn’s offense returns nearly intact next season, and Nick Marshall could be the preseason first-team all-conference quarterback in the SEC. With Marshall working with Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee for a full offseason, he should show improvement as a passer, which is critical with Auburn returning a talented group of receivers. Running back Tre Mason and left tackle Greg Robinson are huge losses on offense. Defensively, the Tigers have a few issues to address. End Dee Ford departs after recording 10.5 sacks. Safety Ryan Smith, defensive tackle Nosa Eguae, cornerback Chris Davis and linebacker Jake Holland are other key departures on defense. Can Auburn quickly reload on that side of the ball? Ford and Eguae are huge losses on the line, but Elijah Daniel, Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson are three talented sophomores ready for a bigger role in 2014.

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4. Oregon
The Ducks were a big winner from the NFL Draft’s early entry deadline. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, center Hroniss Grasu and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu all decided to return in 2014. With Mariota returning, plus a home game against Stanford next year, Oregon gets the nod as the favorite in the North Division. Mariota will have one of the nation’s top supporting casts at his side next year, as all five offensive line starters from the Alamo Bowl are back, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner return at running back, and the receiving corps is headlined by Bralon Addison, Keanon Lowe and tight end Johnny Mundt. While the offense will have no trouble scoring points, there will be a transition period on defense. Don Pellum was promoted to coordinator after Nick Aliotti retired. This will be Pellum’s first chance to call plays, and the Ducks have to replace three key defensive tackles, cornerback Terrance Mitchell and both starting safeties. In addition to Stanford visiting Eugene, Oregon won’t have to play USC or Arizona State from the South Division in crossover play.

5. Oklahoma
When projecting for 2014, we have to be careful to not put too much stock in bowl games. Oklahoma defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, which certainly raised expectations for this team for next year. But the Sooners’ spot in this poll is more than just a reaction on beating the Crimson Tide. In what was essentially a rebuilding year, Oklahoma won 11 games and finished the regular season by defeating Kansas State and Oklahoma State on the road. The Sooners also have a favorable slate next year, as Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State come to Norman. Bob Stoops’ defense returns nearly everyone, but cornerback Aaron Colvin will be tough to replace. But the key to how high Oklahoma climbs in the rankings next season is quarterback Trevor Knight. He struggled in his first year as the starter and finished by throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns against Alabama. Was the performance against the Crimson Tide a sign of things to come? Or was Knight’s 348 passing yards just a one-game mirage?

6. Ohio State
The Buckeyes ended 2013 on a down note by losing their final two games after a 12-0 start. Urban Meyer’s team is a slight favorite to win the Big Ten in Athlon’s early projections, but Michigan State isn’t far behind. Offense certainly wasn’t a problem for the Buckeyes in 2013. Quarterback Braxton Miller, running back Carlos Hyde and a veteran offensive line helped the offense average 7.2 yards per play. Miller decided to return for his senior year, but four starters from the line and Hyde are gone. Meyer and his staff have recruited well, so there is talent in the program. However, losing nearly all of the offensive line and a 1,000-yard back in Hyde won’t be easy to replace. Despite the concerns on offense, the defense is an even bigger issue. Sure, Ohio State might have one of the top defensive lines in the nation. But the back seven is a concern. Linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby decided to leave early for the NFL, only adding to the pressure for a secondary that ranked 11th in the Big Ten. Road games at Michigan State and Penn State will be a huge challenge, but the Buckeyes won’t play Nebraska, Iowa or Wisconsin in crossover play with the West Division.

7. Michigan State
Coming off a 13-1 record with a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford, Michigan State will be hard-pressed to top its 2013 season. However, Mark Dantonio’s team will be in the mix for the conference championship once again. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi turned down an opportunity to be a head coach at UConn, and his return will help rebuild a unit that loses a few key players, including both starting tackles, linebacker Max Bullough, cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Isaiah Lewis. The defense may take a step back, but the offense should continue to improve. Connor Cook solidified the quarterback position (22 TDs, 6 INTs), and running back Jeremy Langford will contend with Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah for the Big Ten’s rushing title. Cook and Langford’s emergence was crucial for the offense’s development, but the line was an underrated cog in the Rose Bowl run. However, three starters depart in 2014. Michigan State plays at Oregon in Week 2 and finishes the regular season at Penn State. But with Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State visiting Spartan Stadium, the path to a Big Ten title runs through East Lansing.

The South Division champion has yet to win the Pac-12 conference title game. Could that change in 2014? UCLA seems to have all of the pieces to challenge Oregon or Stanford for the conference crown. Quarterback Brett Hundley is back after considering an early departure to the NFL. Hundley has room to improve in his junior season, but his job will be made easier by an offensive line that could progress despite losing guard Xavier Su’a-Filo to the NFL. Linebacker Anthony Barr was one of the top defensive players in the nation, and his ability to get after opposing quarterbacks will be missed. But the linebacking corps should remain a strength. Myles Jack is one of college football’s rising superstars, and Eric Kendricks is back after leading the team with 106 tackles in 2013. Owamagbe Odighizuwa missed 2013 due to injury but is set to return in 2014 to anchor the defensive line. And the Bruins could have one of the best defensive backfields in the nation, as all four starters are slated to return. The schedule features a non-conference road trip to Virginia and a neutral site matchup against Texas. In Pac-12 play, UCLA plays at Arizona State and Washington but hosts Stanford, USC and Oregon.

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9. Baylor
Despite losing to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl, the Bears have momentum entering the 2014 season. Baylor is coming off its first conference title since 1980, coach Art Briles didn’t leave for Texas, and quarterback Bryce Petty decided to stay for his senior year. The Bears are also set to open a new stadium in 2014, which figures to only help Baylor continue to climb the ladder in the Big 12 program hierarchy. Petty’s return will keep Baylor’s offense among the best in the nation, and Shock Linwood appears to be a capable replacement for Lache Seastrunk at running back. The line is the biggest concern on offense, as All-American Cyril Richardson and center Stefan Huber and tackle Kelvin Palmer depart. The defense was an underrated part of Baylor’s Big 12 title and several key players have expired their eligibility. Safety Ahmad Dixon, linebacker Eddie Lackey, cornerback K.J. Morton and defensive ends Terrance Lloyd and Chris McAllister are gone. But the news isn’t all bad for coordinator Phil Bennett, as the Bears have recruited better recently, and there’s talent ready to step into the lineup. The schedule is manageable, but trips to Texas and Oklahoma will determine if Baylor can repeat as conference champions.

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10. Stanford
David Shaw has his work cut out for him in 2014. The Cardinal has won at least 11 games in three seasons in a row, but that mark could be in jeopardy next year. Not only is Stanford is replacing a wealth of talent, but one of the key cogs in the recent run – defensive coordinator Derek Mason – is now the head coach at Vanderbilt. The rebuilding effort for next year has to start on the offensive line. The Cardinal return only one starter up front, but there’s talent waiting in the wings, including Joshua Garnett and Kyle Murphy to team with left tackle Andrus Peat. Don’t expect Stanford’s offense to change its philosophy despite the personnel losses, but Shaw can lean more on quarterback Kevin Hogan and a veteran group of receivers. In addition to replacing Mason’s play-calling, the Cardinal loses linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, defensive end Josh Mauro and safety Ed Reynolds. Stanford’s schedule could be one of the toughest in the nation next year. The Cardinal host USC and Oregon State but play at Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA.

11. Georgia
The SEC East will be a tight battle between Missouri, South Carolina and Georgia next year. For now, the early nod goes with the Bulldogs. Mark Richt needs to replace quarterback Aaron Murray, but Hutson Mason started the final two games of 2013 and should be a capable starter. Mason’s transition into the lineup will be easier with running back Todd Gurley returning to full strength, along with Malcolm Mitchell and Keith Marshall back from knee injuries. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham left for Louisville, but the defense upgraded by hiring Jeremy Pruitt from Florida State. Pruitt will have plenty of talent to work with, starting with linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd. The Bulldogs host Auburn in crossover play with the West Division but travel to Missouri and South Carolina next year.

12. South Carolina
The Gamecocks have won 11 games in each of the last three seasons. Coach Steve Spurrier has this program on solid ground, and South Carolina will be back in the hunt for the SEC East title. Quarterback Connor Shaw is a big loss, but Dylan Thompson showed he was a capable option over the last two years. Thompson won’t have to carry the team, especially with running back Mike Davis and four starters returning on the line. While Shaw will be tough to replace, the biggest losses are on defense. The Gamecocks have to replace ends Chaz Sutton and Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles. Cornerback Victor Hampton left early for the NFL Draft. Talent isn’t an issue for South Carolina, but restocking the defensive line to replace Clowney, Sutton and Quarles won’t be easy. South Carolina might have the most favorable path in the East Division to a trip to Atlanta. Missouri and Georgia visit Williams-Brice Stadium and a matchup against Texas A&M in the opener comes at an opportune time with a rebuilding Aggies’ offense. 

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13. LSU
Another year, another batch of players departed early for the NFL. After losing 11 players last season, Les Miles lost seven to the NFL this January. But despite the personnel concerns, LSU isn’t short on talent. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has to overhaul the passing game, as quarterback Zach Mettenberger and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham depart. With one of the SEC’s best offensive lines returning and a five-star freshman running back in Leonard Fournette available, Cameron can ease quarterback Anthony Jennings into the starting role. Linebacker Lamin Barrow and safety Craig Loston will be missed by the defense. But the biggest losses are in the trenches, as tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson decided to leave early for the NFL.

14. Wisconsin
The Badgers finished 2013 on a two-game losing streak, but Gary Andersen’s first season in Madison was still a success. Wisconsin has won at least seven games in every year since 2002 and there’s little doubt that streak can continue in 2014. Running back Melvin Gordon turned down an opportunity to enter the NFL Draft and expects to shoulder the bulk of the carries with James White expiring his eligibility. As usual in Madison, the Badgers will be strong in the trenches and on the ground. But the passing attack is a question mark. Quarterback Joel Stave will face competition in the spring, and standout receiver Jared Abbrederis will be missed. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is a rising star in the coaching ranks, but can he keep Wisconsin’s defense among the best in the Big Ten in 2014 with linemen Pat Muldoon, Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer and linebackers Chris Borland, Ethan Armstrong and Brendan Kelly departing? Wisconsin has a favorable path to a Big Ten West Division title. The Badgers host Nebraska and won’t face Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan or Michigan State in crossover play.

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15. Missouri
As mentioned in the Georgia and South Carolina write-ups, the gap in the SEC East is very small. For now, the Bulldogs and Gamecocks are slightly ahead of Missouri and Florida. Despite some key personnel departures, Gary Pinkel’s team should have a good shot at repeating as the East Division champion. Maty Mauk will provide a seamless transition from James Franklin at quarterback, and Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy are set to replace Henry Josey at running back. Replacing left tackle Justin Britt and guard Max Copeland are the biggest question marks on offense. On defense, ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, along with cornerback E.J. Gaines are huge losses. But the Tigers have the necessary depth to ensure there’s not a huge drop in production. Road trips to South Carolina, Florida and Texas A&M will be tough, but Missouri hosts Georgia, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and key non-conference games against Indiana and UCF.

16. USC
New coach Steve Sarkisian isn’t walking into a rebuilding effort, as the Trojans finished 2013 with 10 victories. Quarterback Cody Kessler will have to hold off redshirt freshman Max Browne for the starting spot, but Kessler finished last season on a high note by throwing for 344 yards and four touchdowns against Fresno State. Marqise Lee entered the NFL Draft, leaving Nelson Agholor as the No. 1 target. The offensive line is thin on depth and center Marus Martin, guard John Martinez and tackle Kevin Graf must be replaced. With the Trojans short on proven receivers, expect the ground attack to lead the way on offense next year. The good news for Sarkisian is USC isn’t short on talented runners, including Javorius Allen, Tre Madden and Ty Isaac. Safety Dion Bailey and lineman George Uko left early for the NFL Draft. But the rest of the defense returns largely intact, including standout end Leonard Williams, linebacker Hayes Pullard and safety Su’a Cravens. USC has a challenging schedule, including road trips to Stanford, Arizona, Washington State and UCLA. But the Trojans miss Oregon in crossover play and Arizona State travels to Los Angeles next year. 

17. Arizona State
UCLA is the early favorite to win the Pac-12 South, but Arizona State and USC aren’t far behind. The Sun Devils’ quest to repeat as the division champs starts with an explosive offense that averaged 39.7 points per game in 2013. Quarterback Taylor Kelly headlines the offense, but he will have help from running back D.J. Foster and receiver Jaelen Strong. Having an offense capable of scoring 40 points a game is critical, especially with a defense that has several holes to fill. Gone are tackle Will Sutton, end Davon Coleman, linebackers Carl Bradford and Chris Young, cornerbacks Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor and safety Alden Darby. A rebuilding defense will have time to grow with Weber State, New Mexico and Colorado to open the season. But Arizona State’s next four games will define how high it can climb in the Pac-12 standings: UCLA, at USC, Stanford and at Washington.

18. Clemson
Quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins are huge losses, but Clemson kept one of the top offensive play-callers in college football on its staff – Chad Morris. With Morris returning, the Tigers will rank among the best offenses in the ACC once again. Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly and Deshaun Watson will battle to replace Boyd, while the receiving corps will turn to Mike Williams, Adam Humphries and Charone Peake to become the top targets in the passing game. With Vic Beasley returning at defensive end, Clemson should have one of the top defensive fronts in the ACC. The cornerback spot is a concern, especially after Bashaud Breeland left early for the NFL. Redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander will be a player to watch in the secondary next year.

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19. Ole Miss
With LSU losing a chunk of talent to the NFL, the door is open for Ole Miss to make a run at third place in the SEC West. Despite losing receiver Donte Moncrief to the NFL, the Rebels are poised to push LSU in the West Division and exceed last year’s eight victories. Quarterback Bo Wallace will benefit from another offseason to rehab his shoulder, while Laquon Treadwell is set to replace Moncrief as the top option at receiver. Three starters depart from the line, but Laremy Tunsil is back after a standout freshman season, and guard Aaron Morris returns after missing nearly all of 2013 due to a knee injury. Linebacker Mike Marry and end Cameron Whigham will be missed, but the defense returns nearly intact. This unit will benefit from another year of development out of defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, safety Tony Conner and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche. The Rebels host Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama but travel to Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and LSU. Ole Miss opens the year with a neutral site matchup against Boise State in Atlanta.

20. Notre Dame
It’s been a busy offseason for Brian Kelly. The Fighting Irish lost both of their coordinators (Chuck Martin and Bob Diaco) to head coaching jobs, and tight end Troy Niklas, running back George Atkinson III, defensive end Stephon Tuitt and tackle Louis Nix III all left for the NFL. Perhaps lost in the roster and coaching staff turnover is the return of quarterback Everett Golson. Although Golson will have some rust after missing a year of college football, his return is a boost to the passing game. Replacing Tuitt and Nix III is a tough assignment for new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. But the cupboard isn’t empty. Linebacker Jaylon Smith had a standout freshman season (67 tackles), the line can restock with Sheldon Day, Isaac Rochell and Jarron Jones. The schedule is tough, but Stanford, Northwestern, Louisville, Michigan and North Carolina come to South Bend. 

21. Washington
Washington deserves an A+ for its hire of Chris Petersen, and the Huskies will be one of the Pac-12’s most-intriguing teams to watch in 2014. While Petersen oversaw some of the nation’s top offenses at Boise State, expect defense to carry Washington next year. Seven starters return for coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, including linebacker Shaq Thompson and end Hau’oli Kikaha. Offensively, the Huskies will be solid, but quarterback Keith Price, running back Bishop Sankey and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be tough to replace. Cyler Miles is slated to replace Price after throwing for 418 yards and four scores in eight games in 2013. A favorable schedule should allow Washington to open the year 4-0 before Stanford comes to Husky Stadium on Sept. 27.

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22. Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel is gone, but the Aggies aren’t short on talent. Kevin Sumlin recruited a top-10 class last season and could have a top-five haul in 2014. Replacing Manziel is the No. 1 priority in spring ball for Sumlin and coordinator Jake Spavital. Senior Matt Joeckel has the most experience, but Kenny Hill and incoming freshman Kyle Allen have more upside. The supporting cast is solid for the new quarterback. Brandon Williams, Tra Carson and Trey Williams form a solid trio in the backfield, while four starters return on the line. After allowing 475.8 yards and 32.2 points a game on defense in 2013, the Aggies need considerable improvement to help an offense that will slightly regress without Manziel and receiver Mike Evans. Although the numbers on defense were awful last season, Texas A&M had a host of underclassmen playing major snaps. This unit should be better by default, but another recruiting class is needed to help establish more talent and depth.

23. Kansas State
The Wildcats were one of the Big 12’s hottest teams to finish 2013, winning six out of their final seven games. Despite some personnel losses, Bill Snyder’s team is poised to build off that momentum next year. Kansas State’s offense has to find a new go-to running back with John Hubert expiring his eligibility, but quarterback Jake Waters returns, and Daniel Sams can move to an all-purpose threat if necessary. Receiver Tyler Lockett is quietly one of the nation’s best. Despite only two returning starters, the Wildcats’ defense finished third in the Big 12 in fewest yards allowed and held their opponents to 22.9 points per game. This unit will have a few holes to fill at each level, but end Ryan Mueller is one of the top defenders in the Big 12. Kansas State plays Auburn in non-conference action, while Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma State visit Manhattan.

24. Texas
A new era begins in Austin next year. Charlie Strong takes over for Mack Brown after a four-year stint at Louisville. Can Strong return Texas to the nation’s elite? The Longhorns have talent, but Strong needs some time to find answers on offense. David Ash returns at quarterback after missing most of 2013 due to a concussion. But he will be pushed for the No. 1 spot by sophomore Tyrone Swoopes this spring. Until Strong and his staff can settle on a quarterback, expect the ground attack to be featured on offense. Texas has a wealth of talent at running back, but Johnathan Gray is recovering from a torn Achilles. Strong is known as one of college football’s top defensive coaches, and he inherits a unit that allowed 407.2 yards per game in 2013. Expect immediate improvement with Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford calling the plays. This unit received a boost in January when Cedric Reed and Quandre Diggs decided to return for their senior season.

25. Miami
Another year, more uncertainty in the Coastal Division. North Carolina and Duke will be in the mix, but for now, an early edge goes to the Hurricanes. Is 2014 the year Miami finally plays for the ACC title? The offense has averaged at least 30 points a game in each of the last two seasons, and there’s firepower returning with running back Duke Johnson and receiver Stacy Coley. Departing quarterback Stephen Morris had an inconsistent, but productive career. Will Memphis transfer Ryan Williams replace Morris? Or will offensive coordinator turn to sophomore Gray Crow, redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen or incoming freshman Brad Kaaya? Quarterback is a huge question mark, but the defense is an even bigger issue. Miami allowed 426.4 yards per game (5.7 yards per play) in 2013 and ranked 10th in the ACC in points allowed (26.8 ppg). Despite the lackluster numbers over the last two years on defense, this unit has reason to expect improvement. Linebacker Denzel Perryman and end Anthony Chickillo decided to return for their senior year, and Tracy Howard could be one of the top cornerbacks in the ACC in 2014. More talent is needed on defense, but Miami has to show improvement if it wants to win the Coastal.

The Next Five Teams

26. Iowa
Hawkeyes must replace entire linebacking corps, but a favorable schedule (no Ohio State or Michigan State in crossover play) should have Kirk Ferentz’s team in the mix for the Big Ten West Division title.

27. North Carolina
The offensive line and defense are a concern for Larry Fedora’s team. However, the Tar Heels should be dynamic on offense behind quarterback Marquise Williams, running back T.J. Logan and receiver Quinshad Davis.

28. Florida
There’s simply no way the Gators can be as bad as they were last season. The offense won’t be dynamic but improvement is expected. Florida should be solid on defense.

29. Oklahoma State
Mike Gundy has a significant rebuilding effort ahead in 2014. The Cowboys lose 28 seniors, including quarterback Clint Chelf, linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey, cornerback Justin Gilbert and defensive tackle Calvin Barnett. Receiver Josh Stewart also declared for the NFL Draft.

30. Mississippi State
Dan Mullen’s 2014 squad should be the best in his tenure. Quarterback Dak Prescott returns after averaging 251.7 total yards per game in 2013, and the defense has to replace only one starter.

A Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2014
Post date: Monday, January 20, 2014 - 08:15
All taxonomy terms: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /clone-tiger-woods-vs-jack-nicklaus-tale-tape-updated

Jack NicklausTiger Woods makes his 2014 season debut at the Farmers Insurance Open at a course he loves, Torrey Pines. At this point in Tiger's career, every non-major tournament is merely a step toward his goal of peaking for the majors. You've heard this before, but this is a critical season in Woods' pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record 18 major championship wins. Tiger remains stalled at 14, with his drought now well into its fifth year.

Still, here's a little math that could shut up the naysayers who claim that Tiger's pursuit is permanently stalled.

Heading into this year's Masters, the 38-year-old Tiger has 14 wins in 64 major championship starts as a professional; heading into the 1978 Masters, the 38-year-old Nicklaus had 14 wins in 64 major championship starts as a professional.

That's some amazing career symmetry right there, but it seems appropriate, given that Tiger came out of the gate with Nicklaus' major championship record as his ultimate target.

For a long time, Woods was well ahead of Nicklaus' career pace, but his drought has put a serious dent in Tiger's major aspirations. Of course, Nicklaus won his last major at age 46, giving Woods eight more years of viability on the major championship scene, a reasonable assumption considering the similarity of their career trajectories.

Here are the final four major wins of Nicklaus' career, all of which came at age 38 and beyond:
1978 British Open (age 38)
1980 U.S. Open (age 40)
1980 PGA Championship (age 40)
1986 Masters (age 46)

Woods turns 46 in December 2021. Between now and then, there will be 32 major championships contested; Woods needs to win five of them to reach his career Holy Grail of 19 major championships.

Of course, Tiger has already moved well past Nicklaus into second on the Tour's all-time wins ledger. Tiger trails only Sam Snead, who won 82 times over a 30-year span; Woods has crammed his 79 wins into 18-plus stellar, occasionally storm-tossed seasons on Tour.

Jack thinks he'll do it. "I still think he'll break my record," Nicklaus said last year. "Tiger's talent, at 37 ... it's not that old. I won four after that. They were spread out. It wasn't that difficult. I don't think for Tiger to get four or five more — or six or seven — is that big a stretch.
"But that said, he has still got to do it. He hasn't won one in five years. He had better get with it if he's going to."

So let's look at the two legends — Tiger today, and Nicklaus at a similar point in his career.

Bottom line from the data presented here: Tiger's building the better overall career, but Jack remains the greatest performer in major championship history. That's the carrot that Tiger is still chasing, and he has time to get there.

 Tiger Woods Jack Nicklaus (entering the 1978 season)
Tournaments won    7964
Tournament winning %26.819.4
Majors won (first 64 starts) 1414
Major winning %       21.921.9
Major top 5s   3145
Major top 10s    3852
Longest streak of top-5 in majors   67
Longest streak of top-10 in majors 813
Lowest scoring avg.        9 times8 times
Money leader      10 times8 times


<p> A Comparison of Woods and Nicklaus at age 38</p>
Post date: Monday, January 20, 2014 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/top-10-big-ten-wide-receivers-bcs-era

The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

The Big Ten wide receiver ranks were highlighted by two Biletnikoff Award winners, numerous All-Americans and a host of records from the Joe Tiller-Drew Brees era at Purdue. Here are the Top 10 Big Ten wide receivers of the BCS Era:

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. Braylon Edwards, Michigan (2001-04)
Stats: 252 rec., 3,541 yds, 39 TDs

Not many players have three consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns but that is what the Detroit native did at Michigan. He was uncoverable during his time at Ann Arbor, setting school records in every major receiving category. His 39 career touchdowns remain a Big Ten record. Edwards claimed Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and the Biletnikoff Award as a senior in 2004. The consensus All-American finished 10th in the Heisman voting that season as well.

2. Charles Rogers, Michigan State (2001-02)
Stats: 135 rec., 2,821 yds, 27 TDs, 110 rush, TD, 177 ret. yds, TD

The in-state product from Saginaw played just two seasons for the Spartans but was an All-Big Ten performer both years. He posted back-to-back seasons with at least 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns, earning consensus All-American and Biletnikoff honors in 2002. He set an NCAA record with 13 straight games with a TD catch (since broken) and owns just about every Michigan State receiving record. His 1,470 yards in 2001 trail only one player in Big Ten history…

3. Lee Evans, Wisconsin (1999-2003)
Stats: 175 rec., 3,468 yds, 27 TDs

Despite missing extended time with a torn ACL, Evans is the best wide receiver to play at Wisconsin since Al Toon. His two-year run was as good as any in Big Ten history, posting a league-record 1,545 yards in 2001. He came back after the knee injury and nearly duplicated his numbers with 1,213 yards and 13 TDs in 2003. His 10-catch, 258-yard, 5-TD game against Michigan State might have been the best single performance by any Badger. Evans is one of two B1G players to ever catch five TDs in one game (Omar Douglas) and he is fifth all-time in Big Ten history in receiving yards.

4. David Boston, Ohio State (1996-98)
Stats: 191 rec., 2,855 yds, 34 TDs, 959 ret. yds, 2 TDs

Suspicions of performance enhancers will always hang around Boston's resume so it is difficult to evaluate where he ranks. While on the field at Ohio State, he was dominant. He caught 27 touchdowns over his last two seasons and was the superstar — 85 rec., 1,435 yds, 13 TD — for the '98 team that likely should have played Tennessee for a national championship. His 34 TDs are fourth all-time in league history, he excelled on special teams and was the eighth overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

5. D’Wayne Bates, Northwestern (1995-98)
Stats: 210 rec., 3,370 yds, 26 TDs

From the time he stepped onto Ryan Field, Bates was a playmaker for the Wildcats. He was the leading receiver on the ’95 Rose Bowl team as a true freshman before setting school records for yards (1,196) and touchdowns (12) as a sophomore. After missing all but one game as a junior, Bates returned to break his own receiving records with a huge senior season: 83 receptions and 1,245 yards. In just three years, he also set Northwestern’s career marks for receptions (210), touchdowns (26) and yards (3,370). His 3,370 yards were second all-time when he left Evanston.

6. Allen Robinson, Penn State (2011-13)
Stats: 177 rec., 2,479 yards, 17 TDs

With a fourth full season at Penn State, Robinson would have become one of the greatest wideouts in Big Ten history. His 97 catches in 2013 are tied for fourth in Big Ten history and his 1,432 yards are also good for fourth all-time in league history. And he did all of that with a true freshman quarterback in ’13. He owns basically every major Penn State single-season and career receiving record and consistently made huge plays in huge moments in close games.

7. Plaxico Burress, Michigan State (1998-99)
Stats: 131 rec., 2,155 yds, 20 TDs

Many of Michigan State’s best — Rogers, Burress and Devin Thomas — played only briefly in the Big Ten, yet, their influence is no less felt. The eighth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft was unstoppable in two seasons in East Lansing. He posted a school-record 65 receptions for 1,013 yards and eight scores in his first year. Then broke his own record with 66 receptions, 1,142 yards and 12 touchdowns in his second year. The massive 6-foot-6, 230-pounder rewrote the MSU record book in just two seasons.

8. James Hardy, Indiana (2005-07)
Stats: 191 rec., 2,740 yds, 36 TDs

Few players have ever been as effective in the red zone as Hardy was for the Hoosiers. He scored at least 10 touchdowns in each of his three seasons, capping his remarkable career with a monster junior season: 79 receptions, 1,125 yards and 16 TDs — which is tied for third-best in Big Ten history. His 36 career TD catches rank third all-time in the Big Ten and he owns all three major school career receiving records. His 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame, much like Burress, was impossible to stop in jump ball situations and after leaving Indiana early, Hardy was selected in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft.

9. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin (2010-13)
Stats: 202 rec., 3,140 yds, 23 TDs, 291 rush, 2 TDs, 1,387 ret. yds, TD

From an all-around standpoint, Abbrederis is one of the greatest to ever suit up in the Big Ten. He is one reception from being in the top 10 all-time, is eighth all-time in yards and contributed to UW’s offense in more ways than most wideouts. He was used in the ground game, was an All-American caliber returner and helped lead Wisconsin to three straight Big Ten championships. He played in at least 13 games all four years, finishing with 53 career games to his credit.

10. Eric Decker, Minnesota (2006-09)
Stats: 227 rec., 3,119 yds, 24 TDs, 114 rush, TD

Few players have been as consistent as Decker was at Minnesota and had he not missed nearly half a season as a senior, his career numbers would be among the Big Ten’s best. He started 12 games as a freshman and posted an impressive sophomore line of 68 catches, 909 yards and nine scores. He improved on those numbers as a junior, setting career highs with 84 catches and 1,074 yards. He started 44 of the first 45 games of his career. His 227 catches are sixth all-time and his 3,119 yards are ninth all-time. With five more games as a senior, he could have finished in the top five in both categories.

Just Missed the cut:

11. Marvin McNutt, Iowa (2008-11)
Stats: 170 rec., 2,861 yds, 28 TDs 

The speedy big-play target for Kirk Ferentz capped an excellent career with one of the most prolific single-seasons in Big Ten history. He caught 82 passes for 1,315 (seventh-best in league history) and 12 touchdowns. All three of which set or tied Iowa single-season records. No Hawkeye has more career receiving yards than McNutt.

12. Ron Johnson, Minnesota (1998-2001)
Stats: 196 rec., 2,931 yds, 31 TDs

His 31 TD receptions are tied for sixth all-time in Big Ten history. Johnson posted three straight seasons with at least seven touchdowns and caught 115 passes for 1,962 yards and 20 TDs over his final two seasons.

13. Dorien Bryant, Purdue (2004-07)
Stats: 292 rec., 3,548 yds, 21 TDs, 421 rush, 6 TDs, 2,250 ret. yds, 3 TDs

Bryant is No. 2 all-time in receptions with 292 and No. 3 all-time in yards with 3,548. But Bryant was much more versatile than his predecessors. His 6,219 all-purpose yards rank fourth all-time behind Ron Dayne, Archie Griffin and Anthony Thompson.

14. Taylor Stubblefield, Purdue (2001-04)
Stats: 325 rec., 3,629 yds, 21 TDs

Deciphering Joe Tiller's wide receivers is nearly impossible. Stubblefield is No. 1 all-time in the B1G with 325 catches and No. 2 all-time with 3,629 yards. The consensus All-American never had fewer than 73 catches (Fr.) or 789 yards (So.) in any of his four seasons.

15. John Standeford, Purdue (2000-03)
Stats: 266 rec., 3,788 yds, 27 TDs

Standeford is No. 3 all-time in Big Ten history with 266 receptions and No. 1 all-time with 3,788 yards. His final two seasons are one of the top two-year runs by any wideout in league history: 152 rec., 2,457 yards, 17 TDs.

Best of the Rest:

16. Brandon Lloyd, Illinois (1999-02): 155 rec., 2,527 yards, 19 TDs, 328 ret. yds
Talented wideout posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with at least 8 TDs in both.

17. B.J. Cunningham, Michigan State (2008-11): 218 rec., 3,086 yards, 25 TDs
All-time leading MSU receiver is No. 7 all-time in receptions and one of nine to top 1,300 yards in a season.

18. Michael Jenkins, Ohio State (2001-03): 157 rec., 2,746 yards, 16 TDs, Ret. TD
Helped lead OSU to a national title with critical plays and a 1,000-yard season in 2002.

19. Mario Manningham, Michigan (2005-07): 137 rec., 2,310 yds, 27 TDs, 176 rush
Averaged one touchdown catch every 5.1 receptions in just three seasons.

20. Devin Thomas, Michigan State (2006-07): 85 rec., 1,350 yds, 9 TDs, 177 rush, 1,170 ret. yds
His 2,590 all-purpose yards in 2007 are second all-time (Larry Johnson, 2,655) in conference history.

21. Brandon Williams, Wisconsin (2002-05): 202 rec., 2,924 yards, 10 TDs, 2,787 ret. yards, 2 TDs
Versatile do-everything performer is eighth all-time in all-purpose yards. Played 52 games.

22. Courtney Roby, Indiana (2001-04): 170 rec., 2,524 yds, 12 TDs, 207 rush, 2 TDs, 572 ret. yds
Consistent performer for Hooisers before pass-happy offenses took over.

23. Jeremy Gallon, Michigan (2010-13): 173 rec., 2,704 yds, 17 TDs, 991 ret. yards
Owns Big Ten single-game yards record (369) and Michigan season yards record (1,373).

24. A.J. Jenkins, Illinois (2008-11): 167 rec., 2,432 yds, 19 TDs, 773 ret. yds, TD
Monster senior season — 90 rec., 1,276 yards, 8 TDs — made him a first-round draft pick.

25. Chris Daniels, Purdue (1996-99): 170 rec., 1,845 yards, 15 TDs
Owns Big Ten single-game (21) and single-season (121) receptions records.

Top 10 Big Ten Wide Receivers of the BCS Era
Post date: Monday, January 20, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/10-things-you-need-know-college-basketball-week-jan-20

Not long ago, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa State stood among the ranks of the unbeaten.

Now, Bo Ryan, Thad Matta and Fred Hoiberg may wonder when they’re going to win another game.

Around the same time — in December and earlier this month — teams like Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and a few other preseason favorites had legitimate concerns about their ability to contend for big prizes at the end of the season.

Not so much anymore.

Such is the story of the college basketball season. Hot teams cool off. Young teams mature into conference play. That much was clear on Saturday.

The major storyline was the play of Kansas. The Jayhawks endured four losses against the toughest schedule in the country, but they are starting to look like national championship contenders after defeating Oklahoma State 80-78 in Lawrence on Saturday.

The reason wasn’t the play of Andrew Wiggins, but that of Joel Embiid, who is quickly overtaking his freshman teammate in terms of headlines. Sophomore point guard Naadir Tharpe, a liability to start the season, also had a key game.

Consider this: Kansas defeated perhaps the No. 2 team in the Big 12 and with ease for most of the game despite a virtual no-show from, on paper, what could be its best player.

Kansas’ win wasn’t the only major storyline of the weekend, but it was the most important.

10 Things You Need to Know from the Weekend in College Basketball

1a. Joel Embiid is Kansas’ best freshman and it’s not really close
Let the NBA Draft people sort out the futures of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, but right now, Embiid is the best freshman on Kansas’ roster. Embiid was the key player for the Jayhawks as Kansas built a 19-point lead early against Oklahoma State. The freshman finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocked shots in the 80-78. One of Embiid’s many key sequences was a dunk of an alley oop pass from Naadir Tharpe over national player of the year contender Marcus Smart and then moments later swatted away a shot at close range. Meanwhile, Wiggins was near invisible in one of the biggest games of the season. He finished 1 of 5 from the field with one missed shot in the second half.

1b. Naadir Tharpe is becoming a game changer
Tharpe started the season as a liability, but the Jayhawks wouldn’t have defeated Oklahoma State without him in the second half. Tharpe finished with 21 points, including a jumper with 34 second remaining, a dagger that turned out to be the game-winning basket.

1c. Oklahoma State lost all composure early
Bad shots. Bad fouls. Poor composure. Oklahoma State made a game of it late against Kansas, so the Cowboys have to wonder what would have happened if they had played a sharper game from the start in Lawrence. Le’Bryan Nash picked up two early fouls. Markel Brown was in foul trouble in the first half, too, and ended up fouling out after a personal and technical late, one of three OSU technicals in the game. And Marcus Smart was among many Cowboys who couldn’t get a shot until the final minutes.

2. Duke played its best game since December
ACC play has been shaky for Duke so far with losses to Notre Dame and Clemson, but Saturday was a return to form. The Blue Devils demolished NC State 95-60 and won in key ways that had hampered them through ACC play so far. Duke was content to let T.J. Warren score 23 points since it took him 19 shots to get there. And the Duke defense that had struggled mightily forced 21 turnovers, scoring 33 points off of them. Freshman Jabari Parker (23 points, seven rebounds) was great, but Mike Krzyzewski has to be thrilled to get a combined 24 points from Andre Dawkins and Rasheed Sulaimon off the bench.

3. Kentucky gave up 20 offensive rebounds and won thanks to Andrew Harrison
Tennessee jumped to a nine-point lead on Kentucky in part by controlling the glass in the offensive end. The Volunteers finished with 20 offensive rebounds to Kentucky’s 17 defensive boards, but the Wildcats still won 74-66. Point guard Andrew Harrison had his best game of the season, though, with a second-half surge. Harrison finished with 26 points and went 10 of 10 from the free throw line. The Wildcats, who have struggled from the line all season, went 23 of 24 on Saturday.

4. Indiana’s signature win was a mirage
Indiana is back to being a fringe NCAA Tournament team at best despite handing Wisconsin its first loss of the season earlier in the week. The Hoosiers had one of their worst offensive performances of the Tom Crean era in a 57-54 loss at home to a Northwestern team with a losing record. Indiana shot 25 percent from the field (15 of 60) for the most embarrassing loss in the Big Ten this season.

5. Wichita State’s chances of running the table in the Valley look much better
A week after Wichita State’s close call on the road in overtime against Missouri State, the Shockers still look like they could run the table in the Missouri Valley. Wichita State had no difficulty defeating the No. 2 team in the league with a 68-48 win over Indiana State on Saturday. Granted, the Shockers still have to face the Sycamores on the road, but homecourt advantage in Terre Haute isn’t worth 20 points.

6. Pittsburgh acquitted itself as a top ACC team
Syracuse continued its undefeated start to the season, but Pittsburgh earned a bit of credibility in the 59-54 loss. The Panthers never went away against Syracuse and led by 3 with 4:41 to go. Most impressive: Pitt owned the offensive glass as the Panthers grabbed 16 offensive rebounds while Syracuse claimed 24 defensive boards. Syracuse is the class of the ACC, but Pitt may end up being No. 2 or No. 3 by the end of the season. Lamar Patterson, with 18 points and already one of the , might be an ACC player of the year contender.

7. We were too quick to write off Michigan
During the midseason report, Athlon Sports noted Michigan as one of the nation’s . Part of that was in anticipation that of the Mitch McGary injury catching up to the Wolverines. Michigan is 9-0 without him after defeating Wisconsin 77-70 in Madison on Saturday. Guards Nik Stausaks and Caris LeVert made up for the absence of their fellow sophomore by combining for 43 points as the Wolverines withstood a late Wisconsin rally. LeVert had one of the best games of his career, adding seven rebounds and four assists, but Stauskas is a Big Ten player of the year contender. A jump shooter on the team that reached the title game last season, he has a more well-rounded game this season and has become a leader on a team that needed one.

8. Kevin Ollie isn’t happy
The uncalled foul and the ejection probably didn’t play a major role in UConn’s 76-64 loss to Louisville, but Huskies coach Kevin Ollie joined Iowa coach Fran McCaffery on the short list of the .

9. Baylor has an execution problem
If anyone wanted to be generous to Baylor in the Bears’ loss to Texas Tech last week by chalking it up as a one-time lapse on the road, that argument should fall on deaf ears. Baylor has fallen apart in recent games as the Bears returned to Waco to lose 66-64 to Oklahoma for its third loss in four games. The final possession was a disaster — the game ended with the ball in the hands of Royce O’Neal (6.1 ppg) — but this loss was determined earlier. Baylor shot 20 3-pointers, despite making only six, and shot 50 percent from the 3-point line. Baylor is 10 of 40 from 3 and 26 of 54 from the free throw line in the last two games.

10. Watch out: Texas is overachieving
Rick Barnes has been criticized for lackluster results with talented teams in recent seasons — no Sweet 16 trips since 2008, for example. If Texas has been an underachiever in recent seasons, this team has been one of the country’s top overachievers. It’s true Barnes’ recruiting classes aren’t as highly rated as they once were, but fringe top-100 prospects Jonathan Holmes and Javan Felix are leading a Longhorns team ready to contend for the NCAA Tournament. Holmes and Felix combined for 40 points in an 86-76 win over Iowa State. On its NCAA resume, Texas has a non-conference win over North Carolina, three consecutive Big 12 wins and no embarrassing losses.

Short stuff
While everyone was watching the NFC title game, Oregon further proved it is falling apart. The Ducks lost their fourth consecutive game with an 80-72 loss to Oregon State. Oregon started the season 13-0. ... Not many teams are going to win in Salt Lake City. UCLA made the final score look closer with a late push, but Utah dominated in a 74-69 win. The Utes went 8-28 in their first two seasons in the Pac-12. At 3-3, they may double that conference win total this season. Kudos to coach Larry Krystowiak. ... Virginia captured a season sweep of Florida State with a 78-66 win over the Seminoles. Joe Harris (15 ppg in his last four) is rounding into form. ... Seton Hall won at Georgetown for the first time since 2003 with a 67-57 victory. What are you doing, Hoyas? ... Butler picked up its first Big East win by outscoring Marquette 43-25 in the second half and overtime. Marquette may go from preseason conference favorite to missing the NIT. ... Providence isn’t an NCAA Tournament contender yet, but the Friars are worth watching after defeating Georgetown, St. John’s and Creighton in consecutive games.

10 Things You Need to Know in College Basketball This Week Jan. 20
Post date: Monday, January 20, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR News & Notes, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/potential-nascar-chase-changes-sacrificing-credibility-bottom-line

Stop, NASCAR. Just please, stop right now. Hit the pause button. Let’s all take a breath and ponder for a moment.


NASCAR, we know you’re wont to send up trial balloons every so often, and — and thus the very sport itself — is obviously a zeppelin-sized stethoscope on the chest of the fanbase.

We know you are closely monitoring fan reaction; that Fan and Media Engagement Center is getting a workout about now. Caller feedback on SIRIUS XM’s NASCAR channel is being noted and measured. Hopefully, folks are filling your inbox with thoughts and opinions via email that you’re tabulating. And hopefully, the brass safely tucked away in that ivory Daytona Beach tower are in the process of measuring twice before cutting once.


All that said, allow me to wander for a bit.


NASCAR, please, just stop. ... You’re not a stick ‘n’ ball sport. However, Your unwavering determination to become one has us teetering on the brink of divorce.
See, there’s a fine line in what I do. I was a fan of NASCAR long before I could attach a “media” designation anywhere near my name. I’ve played the professional role the best I know how for the last 12 years. I’ve learned how to parry the “but come on, deep down I know you have a favorite driver!” question (mine retired years ago, so no problem there). I transitioned to watching, commenting on and writing about races and current events in the sport as a third party. In fact, I feel I’ve evolved into as unbiased a viewer of all-things NASCAR as anyone you’ll find. I have no allegiance except to the readers.


But every now and then a situation arises that challenges those “fan vs. professional” pitfalls that have been dutifully and strategically programmed into my brain. late last week has managed to dodge and weave said mental pitfalls like Indiana Jones carrying a golden statuette in a South American rainforest.


So for the first time in over a decade, I’m putting my professional hat aside. If the Observer’s report is, in fact, a method for CEO Brian France, president Mike Helton, vice president of competition Robin Pemberton, et al, to gauge fan reaction then I’ll bite. After all, my passion for the sport, built over 25 years, led me to where I’ve been the last 12 years and what I do today.


So NASCAR, please, just stop. Your obsession with appealing to a new demographic has cost you the diehards that once filled your racetracks; it has cost you a television audience that was once there, but no longer is. You’re not a stick ‘n’ ball sport — and that’s why we fell in love with you in the first place! However, your unwavering determination to become one — and line your already deep pockets in the process — has us teetering on the brink of divorce. These points, though, have been discussed ad nauseam over the years, so I will not dwell.


France has often cited “Game 7 moments” as the goal for what his 10-race Chase format would provide. There have been a couple: Kurt Busch’s wheel coming plum off in the inaugural edition and the classic 2011 clash of Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards are two unforgettable moments in the first 10 years of your playoffs, NASCAR.


That isn’t a bad percentage as “Game 7 moments” go. In fact, it’s just about right. After all, Joe Carter — though technically a Game 6 moment — doesn’t belt a walk-off home run to win the World Series every year. If he did, “the amazing” would become “the expected” and the wonderment of “Game 7 moments” would render said moments non-existent.


See NASCAR, that’s what has perplexed me over the last 10 years. As a fan, the ‘80s, ‘90s and early part of this century were magical times. Cars were racy, drivers were renegades and crew chiefs were salty, stubborn men I’d never cross. You truly didn’t know what mayhem would transpire each week, and every so often something like a Kulwicki vs. Elliott season finale mesmerized us all — I mean absolutely topped any crazy scenario I dreamt while using Hot Wheels to run the Kitchen Table 500. Your sport was still niche, but I was part of the niche, so it was high times. I was hooked, I’m telling ya.

Athlon Sports' 2014 Racing Preview hits newsstands Jan. 21.


But then you went and started taking yourself too seriously, NASCAR. You’re like the rock ‘n’ roll bands of my youth: There was an edge and excitement that drew me in, but once you felt you’d hit the “big time,” it was more about the money, merchandise and endorsements than the music. As the great racing scribe Ed Hinton once noted, “greed does not regress.” The outlaw nature of the sport that appealed to me had been replaced by a safeness that guaranteed middle-of-the-road semi-popularity and lots and lots of cash.


However, NASCAR, once you realized that you didn’t actually have 75 million fans, sponsors were no longer plunking down $30 million to back teams and television ratings were no longer in the stratosphere, a playoff system was hatched in an attempt to mirror what worked for the National Football League. I was never fully sold because I was more interested in a rightful and deserving champion than how much money could be made. And I’ve never felt that tournaments work in a sport like auto racing. Make no mistake, the NFL playoffs and the NCAA’s basketball tourney are about making money just as much as they are about crowning a winner, but they work organically. The old “apples and oranges” adage applies well here.


Oh, but that first Chase was a doozy; I’ll give you that, NASCAR. It actually worked. But then you started tinkering with the system. And you haven’t stopped. Any changes that are announced over the coming weeks — and changes are coming — will mark the fourth points tweak in 11 years. That averages to a change to the playoff format — the way you determine your champion — once every two and three-quarter years! How are fans expected to view the championship (not the champion, mind you) with legitimacy if it’s ever-changing?


That brings me to the present day. Potentially, we could see an expanded Chase field (it’s gone from 10 drivers up to 12, then 13 and now possibly 16), built-in eliminations (although those happen naturally as-is) and, worst of all, points resets that would climax in a four-driver, winner-take-all, one-race setting for the championship.


NASCAR, a scenario such as this is nothing more than a blatant gimmick to attract viewers who, at best, will give you a ratings bump in four select races. Oh, you’ll have your “Game 7 moment” each year, but at what cost? At what point will those moments become the norm and not the memorable? And therefore, at what point will you, NASCAR, conclude that further tweaking must be done once again to satisfy your short-term advertising and ratings goals in an effort to wow the masses?


An emphasis on winning is great, but these reported changes are about much more than that. These changes shine a light on a sanctioning body more concerned with its bottom line than a sport’s credibility. And competition without credibility is simply entertainment, not sport.


The truth is that we don’t know what changes will be made to the Chase, only that change in some form seems likely. It may play out in the radical terms that the Observer outlined or fan feedback may talk NASCAR off the ledge. I hope it’s the latter. I so hope it’s the latter that I’m willing to push aside my professional duties and speak purely as a fan.


If gauging fan reaction is the goal of this most recent report then NASCAR, consider this article feedback from a life-long fan.

Follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter:

Potential tweaks to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' Chase for the Championship format rooted in a sanctioning body's bottom line, not the sport's credibility.
Post date: Sunday, January 19, 2014 - 15:38
Path: /nfl/afc-championship-game-preview-and-prediction-new-england-patriots-vs-denver-broncos

It’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 when the Denver Broncos host the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game at 3 p.m. ET on CBS. John Fox’s Broncos (14-3) erased last season’s playoff disappointment by beating the Chargers in the Divisional Round, presenting Peyton Manning with a shot at getting back to the Super Bowl. The Patriots (13-4) ran and need just one more win for their sixth Super Bowl appearance in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era.

Besides this representing the 15th head-to-head matchup between future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, this also serves as a rematch of the teams’ Week 12 showdown. That game was won 34-31 by the Patriots in overtime in Foxboro and was one of the more thrilling contests during the regular season. The Broncos are hoping for a different result at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, where they have gone 8-1 this season.

5 Things to Watch

Brady-Manning Bowl XV
Let’s just go ahead and get this one out of the way shall we? Any informed football fan knows that this will be the . Tom Brady holds a comfortable 10-4 edge over Peyton Manning in these games, including a 2-1 mark in the playoffs. This also represents the third time that Brady and Manning will meet in the AFC Championship Game, a feat that has happened just three other times since the NFL-AFL merger of 1970. They have split the title game matchups, with Brady winning in the 2003 playoffs at home and Manning returning the favor in ’06. Both times the winner of the AFC Championship Game went on to win the Super Bowl and be named the MVP. From a numbers standpoint, Brady has performed much better in their postseason encounters than Manning. Brady has completed 61 of 98 passes (62.2 percent) for 613 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions along with a rushing score. Manning has connected on 77 of his 136 attempts (56.6 percent) for 824 yards, but just two touchdowns compared to six picks. He also has scored on the ground. As far as this game goes, Manning will enjoy the comfort of playing at home and he’s also coming off of the most prolific regular season of any quarterback in NFL history. Manning has five different targets who have caught at least 60 passes this season, while Brady has just one. He also won’t have tight end Rob Gronkowski, who played a big part in the Patriots’ regular-season win over the Broncos, to throw to. Neither Brady nor Manning put up huge numbers last week, but any informed football fan knows well that No. 12 and No. 18 will have plenty to say in the outcome of this afternoon’s game before all is said and done.

What Happened Back in November
It was a tale of two completely different halves when Denver traveled to New England for a Week 12 primetime showdown. The Broncos sprinted out to a 17-0 first-quarter lead behind a 60-yard fumble return by Von Miller and a short Knowshon Moreno touchdown run. Peyton Manning stretched that lead to 24-0 with a touchdown pass to Jacob Tamme in the second quarter. Seemingly down for the count, the Patriots responded with a touchdown on the opening possession of the second half and then scored again after recovering a Montee Ball fumble in Denver territory. Tom Brady found Rob Gronkowski in the end zone on their next possession to cut the lead to just three points headed into the fourth quarter. An interception of Manning set the Patriots up deep in Broncos’ territory once again and Brady connected with Julian Edelman three plays later to make it 28 unanswered points by the home team. A Stephen Gostkowski field goal staked New England to a seven-point lead before Manning and the Broncos responded with a 13-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a Demaryius Thomas touchdown catch and a tie game with 3:06 remaining. Neither team got into scoring range after that, sending the game into overtime. In the extra period, both teams struggled to sustain drives turning the game into a battle of field position. That was until the Patriots punted with a little more than three minutes on the clock. With former New England star Wes Welker awaiting the Ryan Allen punt, the kick landed short and hit the Broncos’ Tony Carter. The Patriots fell on the ball at the Denver 13-yard line and Gostkowski sent the home crowd happy one play later with a game-winning 31-yard field goal, completing the improbable comeback. Brady torched the Broncos’ defense, especially in the second half, for 344 yards and three touchdowns, while Manning was held to season lows in both yards (150) and completion percentage (52.8) with two touchdowns and an interception. Knowshon Moreno picked up the slack and then some, rushing for a career-high 224 yards and a score on 37 carries, but Denver’s season-high 280 yards rushing weren’t enough to hold off Brady and overcome four turnovers. Once again, Manning came up short against Brady and Bill Belichick, as the Patriots got to within one game of the Broncos for the top spot in the AFC.

Denver’s Defensive Depth
After the disappointing loss in New England, Denver bounced back to win four of its final five games to claim the AFC West title and No.1 seed in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Broncos have lost two key pieces of their defense in getting to this point. All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, who opened the scoring in the first game against the Patriots with a fumble return for a touchdown, tore his ACL in the Week 16 win in Houston, ending his season. After missing the first six games due to suspension, Miller returned and helped reinvent a Denver defense that had been struggling some without him. In nine games, Miller registered five sacks and forced three fumbles, and his absence puts even more pressure on starting linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan, as well as defensive end Shaun Phillips, the Broncos’ main pass-rushing threat. As bad as Miller’s injury was, the bigger blow could end up being the loss of cornerback Chris Harris, who tore his ACL in last week’s win against San Diego. Up until his injury, Harris had played the most snaps of any Denver defender and his importance can’t be overstated. According to ESPN Stats & Information, when Harris was on the field the Broncos allowed a QB Rating of 43.6. When he was not on the field, that number ballooned to 93.0. Harris’ absence has resulted in some shuffling in Denver’s defensive backfield. Champ Bailey, who has played in just six games this season because of a foot injury, is expected to slide over to take Harris’ spot at cornerback. Veteran Quentin Jammer got the call last week, but struggled trying to contain San Diego rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen, who caught two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. The team also signed former Patriot Marquice Cole this week to shore up its cornerback depth. Tom Brady had his way with Denver’s pass defense in the first game (344 yards, 3 TDs) and the Broncos’ secondary will definitely have its work cut out this afternoon with Harris sidelined.

New England’s Next Man Up
If there’s any silver lining to the challenge facing Denver’s patchwork defense, it’s that it won’t have to worry about All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. In the first game, Gronk caught nine passes for 90 yards and a touchdown, but his injury-plagued season came to an abrupt end in December when he tore his ACL in Week 14 against Cleveland. Michael Hoomanawanui has taken over as the starting tight end, but he is nowhere near the factor in the passing game (12 rec., 136 yds., TD) that Gronk was. On the other side of the ball, New England’s defense has been devastated by key injuries, as All-Pros Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork, along with starters Tommy Kelly and Adrian Wilson all went down before the Patriots even hosted the Broncos in Week 12. New England lost another starting linebacker before the playoffs started when Brandon Spikes went on injured reserve because of a knee injury. Spikes had nine tackles in the first game against Denver and had replaced Mayo as the leader of this unit. Now that role falls to second-year man Dont’a Hightower, who along with rookie Jamie Collins and veteran Dane Fletcher, man the middle for the Patriots. Fortunately, this group played very well, in particular Collins, in last week’s win against Indianapolis, but going up against Peyton Manning and the NFL’s No. 1 offense at home represents an entirely different challenge.

Gaining Ground or Running in Place?
Back in Week 12, Denver rushed for a season-high 280 yards with Knowhson Moreno picking up 224 of those. New England had 116 yards on the ground, but still won the game in overtime thanks to Tom Brady’s right arm and one timely turnover. Since that game, the Broncos have relied less on the running game, while the Patriots have leaned heavily on theirs. Denver has averaged 25.8 rushing attempts over its last six games, including 34 in its win over San Diego. New England has carried it 32.2 times per game over the same span, highlighted by the 46 attempts last week against Indianapolis. The main catalyst behind the Patriots’ running game has been LeGarrette Blount. After posting just two carries for 13 yards against the Broncos, Blount has averaged 15.8 attempts over the last five games and has totaled 355 yards and six rushing touchdowns in his last two contests alone. As good as Moreno and Blount have been, they aren’t the only productive ball carriers in their respective backfields either. Denver’s Montee Ball is averaging 6.3 yards per carry over his last six games, while Stevan Ridley led New England in rushing during the regular season and had two rushing touchdowns last week. The Broncos have done a good job against the run this season and limited the Chargers to just 65 yards on the ground last week, but this defense will be missing three key run-stoppers this afternoon in linebacker Von Miller, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson and cornerback Chris Harris. The Patriots’ defense is equally thin up front without defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly as well as All-Pro middle linebacker Jerod Mayo. This is a big reason why this unit struggled to stop the run during the regular season (134.1 ypg, 30th in the NFL). New England’s defense did hold Indianapolis to just 69 yards rushing last week, but an early 14-0 lead had a lot to do with the Colts throwing the ball 41 times compared to just 21 rushing attempts. Hall of Fame-bound quarterbacks aside, this game could end up being won or lost in the trenches.

New England Key Players: Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, LBs
If healthy, the Patriots’ top linebackers are All-Pro Jerod Mayo and running mate Brandon Spikes. Unfortunately, Mayo played in just six games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury while Spikes joined him on injured reserve (knee) the week after the regular season ended. With these two sidelined, the middle of the defense will most likely be manned by Collins and Hightower (right), who both got the start in the first game against Denver. A rookie, Collins was the team’s second-round pick in April and recorded a season-high 10 tackles in the Week 12 win over the Broncos. He had an even bigger impact last week when he picked up his first career sack and interception against the Colts. Hightower was the 25th overall player taken in the 2012 NFL Draft and finished as the team’s leading tackler with 97 stops in the regular season. He also picked off Andrew Luck last week and has stepped up his game in the absence of Mayo and Spikes. If the Patriots stick with their five-defensive back alignment this afternoon against Denver, Collins and Hightower figure to have their hands full yet again. Not only with run support, but also in pass coverage as the Broncos use a lot of screens in their passing game and also like to employ their running backs as receivers out of the backfield. The duo of Collins and Hightower held up quite well the first time it faced off against Peyton Manning and company. Can the tandem do so again, this time on the road and with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line?

Denver Key Player: Wes Welker, WR
Peyton Manning isn’t the only Bronco who enters this game with something to prove. Tom Brady’s favorite target in his six seasons with New England, Welker went 0-2 in Super Bowls with the Patriots. To see if the third time’s the charm, Welker first has to beat his former team, something that didn’t happen back in Week 12. In that game, Welker’s contributions as a receiver were limited to just four catches for 31 yards He also returned two punts for a modest 13 yards, but it was the one he didn’t catch that ended up being the biggest play of the game. After forcing New England to punt with a little more than three minutes to go in overtime, Welker didn’t try to field Ryan Allen’s kick, which bounced well short of where Welker was standing. Welker waved his hands to signal his teammates to stay away from the ball, but Tony Carter either didn’t get the message or simply lost track of where the ball was, as it bounced up and hit him. The Patriots pounced on the live ball deep in Denver territory and won the game two plays later on a short field goal. After the game, Welker accepted the blame for not communicating properly to his teammates. Whether Welker ends up returning punts this afternoon remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt he’s itching to redeem himself on the field this afternoon.

Final Analysis

While this may be a rematch of their regular-season meeting, don’t be a bit surprised if this game ends up looking very little like the one that took place back on Nov. 24. For one, the venue is different with Denver being the home team. Outside of San Diego, no team has been able to slow down the Broncos’ offense at home.

Another reason is it was quite cold that night in Foxboro, Mass., which not only impacted the players (total of six lost fumbles), it also caused both the game and play clocks to go out at one point early on. The forecast for this afternoon calls for temperatures to be comfortably in the mid to upper 50s. Then there’s the matter of some key players who won’t be playing today, such as All-Pros Rob Gronkowski and Von Miller as well as key defenders Chris Harris and Brandon Spikes.

The Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning angle is without a doubt one of the main storylines for this game, as the former is looking to maintain his head-to-head success against No. 18 while the latter is looking for a measure of redemption following the greatest statistical season produced by a quarterback in NFL history. And with neither defense anywhere close to full strength, both signal-callers should get their share of scoring opportunities, especially if their ground games are clicking.

And in the end, I think this game will come down to which team fares better in the running game, on both sides of the ball, compared to what happens under center. Although the Patriots have been running over people with ease lately, I think they will find the yards a little tougher to come by against a motivated Broncos defense. Denver’s running game can be productive in its own right, and look for Manning to make the right audibles at the line to take advantage of a depleted New England defense that finally feels the pinch of a stretched depth chart.

Brady may still hold a sizable edge on the overall scorecard, but when Round 15 comes to an end, Manning will be the one holding the Lamar Hunt Trophy aloft.

Denver 27, New England 24

AFC Championship Game Preview and Prediction: New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos
Post date: Sunday, January 19, 2014 - 08:00
Path: /nfl/nfc-championship-game-preview-and-prediction-san-francisco-49ers-vs-seattle-seahawks

Division archrivals are set to face off for the first time ever in the playoffs when the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks meet in the NFC Championship Game at 6:30 p.m. ET on FOX. Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers (14-4) defeated division winners Green Bay and Carolina on the road to earn a trip to their third straight conference title game. All that’s standing in their way of a repeat trip to the Super Bowl are Pete Carroll and the Seahawks (14-3), who won the NFC West and claimed the No. 1 seed behind the NFL’s No. 1 defense and a punishing running game.

Even though San Francisco was a wild card team, this is a matchup of teams that finished with the best records in the NFC (Carolina and San Francisco both went 12-4) during the regular season. The 49ers and Seahawks split their two earlier meetings, with the home team holding serve on their field.

This will be the first-ever playoff game between these two teams, who have split their 30 regular-season matchups. San Francisco and Seattle have both been in the NFC West since the 2002 season.

4 Things to Watch

Recap of Rounds 1 and 2
San Francisco and Seattle split their regular-season meetings, with the home team winning on their respective field. Although the Seahawks outscored the 49ers 46-22, a closer look at the statistics paints a different picture. Just 29 yards separated the two teams in terms of total offense (554 for Seattle, 525 for San Francisco) in the two games, with the discrepancy in first downs (32 to 31), rushing yards (258 to 263), total drives (24 to 23) and total plays (120 to 115), as well as sacks (6 to 7) being even smaller. Both offenses struggled on third down (10 of 28, 35.7 percent for Seattle; 8 of 25, 32 percent for San Francisco) and while Seattle won the time of possession battle (64:15 to 55:45), both teams averaged 4.6 yards per play. If there was one area that wasn’t particularly close, it was turnovers. The Seahawks forced seven takeaways, while the 49ers had just two. In fact, turnovers played a huge part in Seattle’s dominating 29-3 win back in Week 2, as San Francisco’s offense was short-circuited by five costly miscues, four of them by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The first points of this game came via a safety by the Seahawks, who set the tone early and ran over the 49ers (172 yards rushing) in the win. San Francisco returned the favor in Week 14, outgaining Seattle 163 to 86 on the ground and riding Phil Dawson’s leg (four field goals, long of 52 yards) to victory. This one was much more of a back-and-forth affair, as the teams traded scoring drives in the second quarter, which ended with the 49ers holding a slim, two-point (16-14) lead. The defenses took over from there as the only points scored over the final 30 minutes were via field goals. Dawson’s 22-yarder with 26 seconds left put San Francisco on top for good, 19-17. Neither Kaepernick nor Wilson played all that well in either game, which is not surprising considering the Seahawks finished the regular season first in the league in total defense with the 49ers coming in at No. 5. Will the rubber match follow the same script as the first two or will tonight’s game feature a few more offensive fireworks?

The 49ers are the hottest team in the NFL right now, winners of eight in a row overall, five of those coming on the road. Over its last two seasons, San Francisco is 12-5 on the road, including playoff games. Unfortunately, none of these wins have come in Seattle, as the 49ers have lost their last two trips to the Pacific Northwest by a combined score of 71-16. The Seahawks won 42-13 in Week 16 of last season and 29-3 back on Sept. 15. Some common themes in these games are running the ball, turnovers and poor quarterback play by Colin Kaepernick. Seattle has outgained San Francisco 248 to 182 on the ground over the last two games at CenturyLink Field. Marshawn Lynch has outrushed the 49ers by himself, picking up 209 yards on 54 carries (3.9 ypc), along with three touchdowns. This postseason, San Francisco has given up a total of 217 yards rushing in two games, and this defense knows how important Seattle’s ground game is to its offense. The 49ers also need to do a better job protecting the football, as they have coughed it up seven times in their last two trips to Seattle, compared to just two miscues for the home team. Kaepernick is responsible for five of these (four INTs, fumble), which pretty much sums up how poorly he has played at CenturyLink Field. In two games in Seattle, Kaepernick has completed exactly half of his passes (32 of 64) for 371 yards, one touchdown and four picks. He has been his team’s leading rusher in each of these contests, but his totals of 16 carries for 118 yards (7.4 ypc) only serve to reinforce the discrepancy between the two offenses in this area. The 49ers enter this game with plenty of momentum, but the Seahawks have thoroughly dominated their divisional foe at home recently. Which trend will continue tonight?

Offensive Momentum
Neither San Francisco nor Seattle is an offensive juggernaut, coming in at 24th and 17th, respectively, in total yards per game in the regular season. However, the 49ers appear to have a little more momentum on that side, as their offense has shown better results recently. During their eight-game winning streak, which includes a Week 14 home win against Seattle and two postseason contests, the 49ers have averaged 348.3 yards per game. Contrast that to the Seahawks, who have averaged 246 yards of offense over their last three home games, including last week’s win against the Saints. San Francisco’s offense has been re-energized since the return of wide receiver Michael Crabtree from a torn Achilles tendon. In seven games, including the first two playoff wins, Crabtree has caught 30 passes for 435 yards (14.5 ypr) and a touchdown. Now while those numbers may not seem huge, Crabtree is Colin Kaepernick’s most trusted target, which has helped the quarterback’s confidence in the pocket, and his presence means that defenses can’t solely focus on fellow wideout Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis. Russell Wilson doesn’t have the weapons in the passing game that Kaepernick does, especially considering wide receiver Percy Harvin played in just one game in the regular season after undergoing offseason hip surgery. He returned last week against New Orleans, but suffered a concussion early in the game and has already been ruled out for tonight's contest. That leaves fellow wideouts Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin as Wilson’s top two targets. The concern there is that their combined production (114 rec., 1,676 yds., 10 TDs) in the regular season was similar to the numbers put up by Boldin and Crabtree (104 rec., 1,463 yds., 8 TDs), even though Crabtree played in just five games. At tight end, there’s no comparison between Davis (52-850-13) and the Seahawks’ committee of Zach Miller, Luke Wilson and Kellen Davis, who have combined for 56 receptions for 691 yards and seven scores. Offensively speaking, the numbers have been very similar between these two teams over their first two meetings. However, San Francisco’s unit appears to be peaking at just the right time, while Seattle’s is in the midst of a mini-slump of sorts. With the defenses getting most of the attention, the opportunity is there for either offense to make its own statement or come up short at the absolute worst time possible.

Gene Steratore
An NFL official since 2003 and a referee since ’06, the 50-year-old Steratore will head up the officiating crew for the NFC Championship Game. Considering the physicality of these two teams and their utter dislike of one another, how much on-air time Steratore gets, particularly after a yellow hanky has been thrown, could be a key factor in this game. In the first two meetings, San Francisco and Seattle had a total of 38 penalties for 360 yards called on them. Each team was responsible for 19 penalties with the flags thrown on the 49ers accounting for more than half (191) of the yardage. Nine of the 63 total first downs gained by both teams in these two games were gained via penalty. As it relates to Steratore, he and his crew finished in the middle of the pack in terms of total penalties called (210) during the regular season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. For comparison, Jeff Triplette’s crew led the way with 244. In the regular season, the Seahawks led the league in total penalties (128) with the 49ers coming in at 12th with 103. Last week, San Francisco benefited from a few personal foul calls against Carolina, while Seattle was flagged just six times compared to New Orleans’ eight. There’s no question that this game will feature some dirty laundry. But how many flags are thrown and which team benefits and/or is hurt most by these infractions is certainly something worth keeping an eye on.

Key Positional Matchup: QB Colin Kaepernick vs. QB Russell Wilson
In a game that features two of the top five defenses during the regular season, it sort of goes without saying that quarterback play will be key. However, that is especially the case for this game considering one quarterback has struggled mightily in this venue while the other has not been at his best recently. Kaepernick is 0-2 at CenturyLink Field with both games ranking among the worst performances in his young career. He has completed just half of his passes with more turnovers (five) than total touchdowns (one). Wilson (right) has posted a 5:2 TD:INT ratio in these two games, but his completion rate (57.5) and yardage total (313) leave something to be desired. With Wilson, however, the concern is more related to how he has performed over the past month. Since Week 14, the Seahawks are averaging just 144.2 yards passing per game. That’s a big reason why they have scored just 20 points per contest during this stretch of five games and have gone a mediocre 3-2. Third down in particular has been an issue for Wilson. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, Wilson has posted a 70.1 passer rating and just one first down on three rushes on third down over his last five games. In comparison, Kaepernick has produced a 101.6 passer rating along with six first downs on 11 rushes during the same span. Wilson is 16-1 in his career at home, including last week’s win over New Orleans. Kaepernick is 3-0 in his career in road postseason games. As the saying goes, something’s gotta give.

Final Analysis

Longtime division rivals who absolutely despise each other get together for the first time in the playoffs with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line? It doesn’t get much better than this. For one, the rivalry goes beyond the players, as both coaches have established history with each other that goes back to their time matching wits in the Pac-12.

In nine career matchups, Jim Harbaugh is 6-3 against Pete Carroll, including a 4-2 mark in their San Francisco vs. Seattle clashes. Harbaugh also has enjoyed more success than Carroll, as this is his third straight NFC Championship Game appearance in as many seasons while Carroll is in his first in four campaigns with the Seahawks. Familiarity certainly hasn’t resulted in friendship either, as both have taken their share of veiled (and some not-so-veiled) shots at the other’s team.

So it’s only fitting that these two franchises will “settle” things on the field, as they spilt their regular-season meetings. Seattle has been near unbeatable at home this season and has thoroughly dominated San Francisco in its last two trips to CenturyLink Field. This 49ers team, however, is battle-tested and has won its last three true road playoff games.

So what should one expect in this clash of NFC titans? Once again, the defenses will more than likely dictate the proceedings, but this is not the same 49ers offense that the Seahawks manhandled back in Week 2. Yards and points will be tough to come by for either unit, but in the end I think Colin Kaepernick is a little more productive than Russell Wilson because he has better weapons in the passing game.

Marshawn Lynch does his best to carry Seattle to the Super Bowl, but Wilson’s late-season struggles finally catch up to him and the offense. Harbaugh’s playoff-savvy squad controls the second half, propelling the 49ers back to the Super Bowl.

San Francisco 20, Seattle 17

NFC Championship Game Preview and Prediction: San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks
Post date: Sunday, January 19, 2014 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/vanderbilt-hires-derek-mason-its-new-head-coach

A week after James Franklin decided to leave for Penn State, Vanderbilt has found his replacement. According to the Tennessean, Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason will be the Commodores’ next coach.

Mason is a highly regarded defensive coach and was a key piece in Stanford’s recent run of success. The Arizona native worked at Stanford from 2010-13, including the last three years as the defensive coordinator.

Prior to his stint at Stanford, Mason worked for three years as an assistant with the Vikings (2007-09) and served as an assistant at various stops in college from 1994-2006.

Mason’s experience at an academic institution like Stanford should be a huge plus at Vanderbilt. And he is also regarded as an excellent recruiter and motivator.

There's no question James Franklin set the bar high for Vanderbilt, and Mason has some work to do in order to get the Commodores back in a bowl game in 2014. This appears to be a solid hire for Vanderbilt and one that should help continue to improve its football program. 

Vanderbilt Hires Derek Mason as its New Head Coach
Post date: Friday, January 17, 2014 - 16:40
Path: /nfl/ranking-all-14-manning-brady-bowls

This weekend’s AFC Championship Game between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots is also Manning-Brady Bowl XV — or the 15th time Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have gone head-to-head in their Hall of Fame careers. Here’s a look back at the 14 prior meetings between the generation’s finest signal-callers, ranked in order of historical significance, in-game excitement and individual performance.

1. Manning-Brady Bowl IX
2006 – AFC Championship at Indianapolis
Colts 38, Patriots 34

Peyton Manning – 27-of-47, 349 yards, TD, INT, rush TD
Tom Brady – 21-of-34, 232 yards, TD, INT

Tony Dungy and Manning finally punched their ticket to the Super Bowl with a thrilling come-from-behind win in the AFC title game. Trailing 21–3 in the second quarter, it looked as if Bill Belichick and Brady would cruise to victory. But Manning rallied back, leading an 80-yard drive that ended in a go-ahead TD run by Joseph Addai with one minute remaining. Brady’s last-ditch, last-second effort ended in an interception by Marlin Jackson. The Colts went on to win a rainy Super Bowl XLI against the Bears in Miami.

2. Manning-Brady Bowl XIV
2013 – Week 12 at New England
Patriots 34, Broncos 31 (OT)

Tom Brady – 34-of-50, 344 yards, 3 TD
Peyton Manning – 19-of-36, 150 yards, 2 TD, INT

In what was easily the most hyped and arguably the most exciting game of the season, Manning’s Broncos jumped out to a 24–0 lead only to have Brady’s Patriots charge back to take a 31–24 edge late in the fourth quarter — after scoring on the first five possessions of the second half. But Manning wasn’t done, finding Demaryius Thomas for a touchdown to force overtime at 31–31. The game ended with not a bang but a whimper, as a botched punt return set up a chip shot field goal to clinch a New England win.

3. Manning-Brady Bowl IV
2003 – AFC Championship at New England
Patriots 24, Colts 14

Tom Brady – 22-of-37, 237 yards, TD
Peyton Manning – 23-of-47, 237 yards, TD, 4 INT

The first of soon-to-be four playoff meetings between Brady and Manning was a rough one for the true blue horseshoes. Manning threw four picks in the snow — three to Ty Law and one to Rodney Harrison, who also forced a fumble of Marvin Harrison — in a physical game many point to as a catalyst for the implementation of the more pass-happy rules we know and love (hate?) today. New England then went on to win the “breast Super Bowl ever,” book-ending Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” with a win over the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

4. Manning-Brady Bowl VI
2004 – AFC Divisional Round at New England
Patriots 20, Colts 3

Tom Brady – 18-of-27, 144 yards, TD, rush TD
Peyton Manning – 27-of-42, 238 yards, INT

The second of soon-to-be four playoff meetings between Brady and Manning was owned by the home team Patriots, who dominated time-of-possession 37:43-to-22:17 — including a 21:26-to-8:34 edge in the second half — in a Foxborough snowstorm. Adding insult to injury, Rodney Harrison sealed the win with an interception in the end zone with 10 seconds remaining. From there, Brady’s Patriots marched to wins at Pittsburgh and against Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXIX.

5. Manning-Brady Bowl XI
2009 – Week 10 at Indianapolis
Colts 35, Patriots 34

Peyton Manning – 28-of-44, 327 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT
Tom Brady – 29-of-42, 375 yards, 3 TD, INT

The Manning-Brady Bowl skipped a year following the 2008 season-ending knee injury suffered by Brady in the season opener. But the two made up for lost time in 2009. Manning threw a game-tying scoring strike to Reggie Wayne — who made a highlight reel diving catch in the end zone — before Matt Stover’s extra point gave Indianapolis a one-point lead with 16 seconds remaining.

6. Manning-Brady Bowl III
2003 – Week 13 at Indianapolis
Patriots 38, Colts 34

Tom Brady – 26-of-35, 236 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT
Peyton Manning – 29-of-48, 278 yards, 4 TD, INT

Despite Manning’s best efforts — throwing four TDs to four different receivers — the Colts lost a close call following a dramatic 4th-and-1 stop with 18 seconds to play. Willie McGinest stuffed Edgerrin James for a one-yard loss to secure turnover on downs and Brady victory formation.

7. Manning-Brady Bowl X
2007 – Week 9 at Indianapolis
Patriots 24, Colts 20

Tom Brady – 21-of-32, 255 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT
Peyton Manning – 16-of-27, 225 yards, TD, INT, rush TD

The Patriots improved to 9–0 by defeating the 7–0 Colts en route to an 18–0 start to a season that ended with a painful loss to Eli Manning’s Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Touchdown Tom threw three TDs for a record ninth consecutive game, breaking Peyton’s record of eight straight. In a tale of two halves, Indy outgained New England 229-to-114 in the first half, only to see the Pats outgain the Colts 228-to-100 in the second half.

8. Manning-Brady Bowl I
2001 – Week 3 at New England
Patriots 44, Colts 13

Tom Brady – 13-of-23, 168 yards
Peyton Manning – 20-of-34, 196 yards, TD, 3 INT, rush TD

Brady’s first career start came against Manning, the man who would become his chief rival over the next decade-plus. But Brady’s first career TD pass didn’t come until Week 5. But he did go on to throw his first career playoff TD in a Super Bowl XXXVI win over Kurt Warner’s heavily favored Rams.

9. Manning-Brady Bowl VII
2005 – Week 9 at New England
Colts 40, Patriots 21

Peyton Manning – 28-of-37, 321 yards, 3 TD, INT
Tom Brady – 22-of-33, 265 yards, 3 TD

After starting his career 0–6 head-to-head, Manning finally earned his first victory over Brady. The stable of Colts playmakers helped their quarterback as much as they could — with Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne all topping 100 yards from scrimmage. The statement win moved Indy to an 8–0 start in a 2005 season that saw the Colts jump out to 13–0 before staggering down the stretch and going one-and-done in the playoffs against the eventual Super Bowl XL champion Steelers.

10. Manning-Brady Bowl V
2004 – Week 1 at New England
Patriots 27, Colts 24

Tom Brady – 26-of-38, 335 yards, 3 TD, INT
Peyton Manning – 16-of-29, 256 yards, 2 TD, INT

The NFL kicked off the 2004 season with Manning vs. Brady in a rematch of the 2003 AFC Championship Game. The results were the same, despite a solid effort from Manning and 142 rushing yards from Edgerrin James. Indy won nearly every statistical category but was just 3-of-7 in the Red Zone, which ultimately dropped Manning to 0–5 against Brady.

11. Manning-Brady Bowl XIII
2012 – Week 5 at New England
Patriots 31, Broncos 21

Tom Brady – 23-of-31, 223 yards, TD, rush TD
Peyton Manning – 31-of-44, 337 yards, 3 TD

Just when it looked as if there may never be another Manning-Brady Bowl — due to the four (or more) neck surgeries that caused Manning to miss the 2011 season — the rivalry was renewed in style. Manning’s jersey was different but his game was the same. Unfortunately for No. 18, Brady led four scoring drives of at least 80 yards as the Patriots set a franchise record with 35 first downs.

12. Manning-Brady Bowl XII
2010 – Week 11 at New England
Patriots 31, Colts 28

Tom Brady – 19-of-25, 186 yards, 2 TD
Peyton Manning – 38-of-52, 396 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT

New England started strong in each half, taking a 21–7 advantage in the second quarter and 31–14 lead early in the fourth quarter. Playing from behind all game was good for Manning’s stats. But it was Brady — who leaned on a combined 165 yards and two TDs on the ground from running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead — who had the last laugh.

13. Manning-Brady Bowl VIII
2006 – Week 9 at New England
Colts 27, Patriots 20

Peyton Manning – 20-of-36, 326 yards, 2 TD, INT
Tom Brady – 20-of-35, 201 yards, 4 INT

For a second straight season, Indianapolis improved to 8–0 following a Week 9 win at New England. Brady threw four INTs after entering the game with just five picks through the season’s first seven games. Adam Vinatieri also hit two field goals in his first game against the Patriots as a member of the Colts.

14. Manning-Brady Bowl II
2001 – Week 6 at Indianapolis
Patriots 38, Colts 17

Tom Brady – 16-of-20, 202 yards, 3 TD
Peyton Manning – 22-of-34, 335 yards, TD

Remember when Brady and Manning were in the same division? Those were the days. The Patriots and Colts shared the old AFC East prior to the 2002 Texans expansion and subsequent divisional realignment. Had Brady and Manning stayed in the same division — and history had played out exactly as it did — we’d be prepping for Manning-Brady Bowl XXVI this week.

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have produced some of the best games in recent history.
Post date: Friday, January 17, 2014 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-weekend-preview-jan-18-19

Basketball fans, clear your schedule for Saturday around 4 p.m. Eastern.

Certainly, there’s other action this weekend, but the 4 p.m. time slot will pack the most action. Rather than going up against the NFL playoffs, college basketball all but vacated Sunday except for one key game. As a result, Saturday afternoon is a little crowded.

The late afternoon Saturday will feature Oklahoma State at Kansas, Pittsburgh at Syracuse and Indiana State and Wichita State. In other words, two undefeated teams and the biggest star power in the Big 12.

The main storyline of the weekend — especially with so many top teams playing at home — will be teams looking to rebound from disappointment in recent weeks. Wisconsin and Iowa State suffered their first losses since last Sunday. Baylor needs to prove its loss to Texas Tech was a fluke. And Duke needs to prove it can guard someone, anyone.


College Basketball Weekend Preview: Jan. 18-19

Game of the Week
Oklahoma State at Kansas (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)

The Cowboys’ Big 12 title hopes took a hit with the injury to big man Michael Cobbins. Still, any team with the core of Marcus Smart, Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown is going to win a lot of games. Kansas’ freshmen are starting to play to their potential. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden are averaging a combined 44 points per game in Big 12 play compared to 35.1 during the non-conference schedule. Embiid may be able to take advantage of the absence of a key big guy for Oklahoma State.

Statement Game
Pittsburgh at Syracuse (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)

These two long-time rivals have made the move from the Big East to the ACC, but not much else has changed. They are both winning a bunch of games. Syracuse has been stingy on defense of late, having allowed no more than 59 points in their last five games. Pittsburgh feasted on a soft non-conference schedule before opening up league play with wins over NC State, Maryland and Wake Forest. The Panthers are shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from 3 in ACC games.

Must-win Game
Marquette at Butler (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS Sports Network)

Marquette’s NCAA Tournament hopes are on life support. The Eagles have not defeated a top 50 team in the RPI since beating George Washington on Nov. 29. Butler is off to an 0-5 start in the Big East, though the run included overtime losses to Villanova, DePaul and Georgetown. The Bulldogs are about to start a stretch of five consecutive games against the lesser teams in the league, which includes matchups with Marquette. Butler expected to have a down season in the first year without Brad Stevens, but it’s time to show that moving up from the Horizon to the Atlantic 10 to the Big East wasn’t a mistake.

Lighting Up the Scoreboard
NC State at Duke (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS)

Duke is having one of the worst defensive seasons in recent memory for Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils are allowing 101 points per 100 possessions, a figure that ranks 12th in the ACC and 125th nationally. NC State is even worse at 102 points per 100 possessions. The Wolfpack’s T.J. Warren is averaging 22.2 points per game this season, but Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood is averaging a league-best 22 points per game in ACC games.

Needs a Bounce Back
Oklahoma at Baylor (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)

The Big 12 won’t have many sure-fire road wins in the league this season, but Texas Tech is supposed to be one of the easier matchups in the conference. Not for Baylor, apparently. The Bears lost 82-72 in Lubbock in a game that wasn’t competitive from the get-go. The Red Raiders shot 23 of 38 (60.5 percent) from 2-point range against Baylor. Surprising Oklahoma is also looking to bounce back from a road loss to Kansas State on Jan. 14.

Tricky Road Trip
UCLA at Utah (Saturday, 4 p.m., Fox Sports 1)

The Bruins have flourished under new coach Steve Alford, especially in terms of finding a handful of go-to players from Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson to Zach LaVine and Norman Powell. Utah has some playmakers, too, in Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge. The Utes defeated Oregon State and USC easily in Salt Lake City and took Oregon to overtime at home two weeks ago.

Under-the-radar Game of the Week
Indiana State at Wichita State (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)

Not that anyone should overlook an undefeated team, but the Shockers are in the crowded 4 p.m. Eastern time slot on Saturday. The Sycamores, who won in Wichita by 13 last season, may be Wichita State’s toughest opponent in the Missouri Valley this season. With Manny Arop, a Gonzaga transfer two years ago, and veteran Jake Odum, Indiana State may be able to keep up with Wichita State again.

Others to watch:

Tennessee at Kentucky (Saturday, noon, CBS)
These two SEC rivals only play once this season — and it’s a huge game for a Tennessee program searching for quality wins. With victories over Virginia (by 35) and at LSU (by 18), the Volunteers had seemingly played their way out of an early season slump, but their momentum was derailed with a shocking loss at home to Texas A&M on Saturday night. Kentucky’s young big men will be tested by UT’s Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. The Wildcats’ ability to bounce back from an overtime loss at Arkansas also will be tested.

Florida State at Virginia (Saturday, noon, ACC Network)
This will be the second meeting between these two teams in the first three weeks of the ACC season. Florida State lost the first matchup, 62–50 at home, but bounced back to beat Clemson on the road and Maryland at home by 24 points. Virginia saw its three-game winning streak end on Monday with a 69–65 loss at Duke, but the Cavs had been playing their best ball of the season in recent weeks. Both teams are in the top 30 of the RPI, but a season sweep of Florida State could be a key statement for the Cavaliers.

Michigan at Wisconsin (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
The loss of big man Mitch McGary to season-ending back surgery has weakened the Wolverines’ roster, but this is still a team with quality offensive weapons and one of the game’s elite coaches in John Beilein. This, however, a tough test for Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan’s freshman point guard. Wisconsin plays good defense, and despite a late-game scoring slump in the loss to Indiana, the Badgers rarely take bad shots.

Michigan State at Illinois (Saturday, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Illinois’ NCAA Tournament profile — shaky at best to this point of the season — is falling apart with three consecutive Big Ten losses, including Northwestern and Purdue. Beating Michigan State, obviously, would be huge for John Groce’s young team. The Spartans have been winning games despite not playing their best basketball. They blew a huge lead against Ohio State last week before winning in overtime and then had to go to OT to beat Minnesota on Saturday.

Louisville at Connecticut (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Losses to Houston and SMU on the road to start American play were a concern for UConn, but the Huskies have since rebounded with wins over Harvard and Memphis, the latter on the road. Louisville’s roster isn’t quite what we thought it would be, but Rick Pitino still has enough talent to do some damage in March. The re-emergence of Luke Hancock as an offensive weapon of late has been a big boost.

Minnesota at Iowa (Sunday, 1 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Under 31-year-old coach Richard Pitino, the Gophers are off to an impressive start in Big Ten play. Iowa is hoping to keep its own hot streak rolling rolling after Sunday’s big win at Ohio State. The Hawkeyes don’t have a ton of star power, but they are as deep as any team in the Big Ten.

Athlon Sports’ Mitch Light contributed to this report.

College Basketball Weekend Preview: Jan. 18-19
Post date: Friday, January 17, 2014 - 14:14
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-january-17-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Jan. 17.


, including Ashley Sky (pictured).

• This is incredibly disturbing, but I can't look away: .

• All eyes are on Brady-Manning this weekend, but .

. It did not go well. Kinda creepy, in fact.

. They involve Boston Market and "sexual congress with oneself." Elsewhere in Athletes Behaving Badly, .



. Sounds like the plot of a movie.

• Looks like there's white smoke rising from Kirkland Tower. .

. This time, the viewers were wrong.

• It's been a rough season for the Predators, but .

• To get you through another chilly Friday, here are four minutes of insane surfing wipeouts.



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

Post date: Friday, January 17, 2014 - 10:48
Path: /nfl/grading-nfls-new-coaching-hires
It’s always hard to tell which is the best way for a franchise to go when looking toward the future. And it’s not always the smart decision to just throw lots of money at the best-known coach they can find. Sometimes the smart hire is an unknown assistant. Sometimes it’s a retread who was a failure someplace else.
After all, Bill Belichick was a disaster in Cleveland before he went to New England and became one of the greatest coaches of all time.
So now that six of the seven head coaching vacancies have been filled — only the Cleveland Browns, obviously the worst of the seven jobs remains unfilled — it’s probably too early to really know who did the best and worst with their hires. But it’s never too early to give a preliminary grade and at least make a guess.
Here’s how they rank:
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New coach: Lovie Smith
Talk about a home-run hire. The Bucs got the most well-respected former coach out there (at least the most well-respected one still young enough to be a serious candidate), a man who is loved by his players and known for running a professional and winning organization. No, he never won a championship in Chicago, but he was 83-63 in nine seasons, got to a Super Bowl and another NFC Championship Game, had only three losing seasons and was fired after a year in which his team went 10-6. The Bucs were supposed to get professionalism under Greg Schiano, but the last year was more like total chaos, with an MRSA scandal and problems with their franchise quarterback who was traded away. Smith brings instant credibility, respectability, and will likely stabilize what sure looked like a sinking ship.
GRADE: A-plus
2. Detroit Lions
New coach: Jim Caldwell
Caldwell is known for two things: His unflappable, stoic, unchanging sideline demeanor and his offensive mind. Most recently he was the offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens – and his appointment to that role is a big reason why they’re the defending Super Bowl champs. But he also made it to the Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts, whom he coached from 2009-11. Sure, the Colts went 2-14 in his final season, but that was the year between Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. He had no shot. What the Lions needed is what they got – a well-respected coach with an offensive mind who can help turn quarterback Matthew Stafford from an erratic starter into a champion. He will calm down what is often an undisciplined team and refine the offense. It’s a good bet they will end up being contenders for years to come.
GRADE: A-minus
3. Minnesota Vikings
New coach: Mike Zimmer
The real reason the Cincinnati Bengals have been so good in recent years is because of their defense, and it’s about time someone recognized that it wasn’t just about head coach Marvin Lewis, but that their defensive coordinator was pretty good, too. Zimmer is well-respected, loved by his players and bubbling with energy, and many around the NFL think he’s long overdue for his chance to lead a franchise. The only odd part of this hire is that he’s a defensive mind, when the problem in Minnesota is on the offensive side. They have been unable to develop a quarterback and unable to truly take advantage of having Adrian Peterson, the best running back in football. His choice of an offensive coordinator will absolutely be key to his success.
4. Houston Texans
New coach: Bill O’Brien
After his quick, but well-received work at Penn State, O’Brien was near the top of a lot of lists. And it made sense. He took over a Penn State program riddled by scandal and torn apart by a loss of scholarships and some key transfers and was successful in keeping the program afloat. There are few people who could’ve bridged the gap from the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the death of Joe Paterno to where the Nittany Lions are now, and O’Brien deserves credit for that. Here’s the only worry, though: As wonderful as Bill Belichick has been, he hasn’t exactly spawned a successful head coaching tree. From Romeo Crennel to Charlie Weis to Eric Mangini to Josh McDaniels, it’s not like plucking one of Belichick’s minions has been a ticket to the playoffs. Maybe O’Brien will be the guy to buck the trend, but the odds aren’t stacked in his favor.
5. Tennessee Titans
New coach: Ken Whisenhunt
There was a time when Whisenhunt was considered an offensive “whiz,” and in some quarters he still is. There is, however, a segment of the NFL that believes he’s one of those guys who’s better suited to be a coordinator than the man in charge. The center of that debate is this: Do you believe his trip to the Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals in 2008 was deserved or a fluke? Because he took over one of the NFL’s worst franchises in 2007 and the next year had them sneak into the playoffs at 9-7 and come within a whisker of a championship. Does he deserve the credit for that, or was it all because of his Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback, Kurt Warner? It’s a good and fair question. Whisenhunt was 45-51 in his six seasons in Arizona and missed the playoffs in each of his final three years.
GRADE: B-minus
6. Washington Redskins
New coach: Jay Gruden
Well, he certainly is a big name, but his brother Jon — who remains in the ESPN booth — is the one with the coaching credentials. Gruden was a successful coach in the Arena League, and that’s something. He also had three relatively successful years as the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, where he did a nice job with quarterback Andy Dalton. And he got a lot of attention and several interviews for head coaching vacancies. He may end up injecting some life into the Redskins, too, and with his offensive mind he could be huge for Robert Griffin III. But it’s hard to argue that there weren’t more qualified candidates available, and it’s hard not to wonder if some of the attention lavished on him isn’t about his famous last name.
GRADE: C-plus
— By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN
It’s always hard to tell which is the best way for a franchise to go when looking toward the future. And it’s not always the smart decision to just throw lots of money at the best-known coach they can find. Sometimes the smart hire is an unknown assistant. Sometimes it’s a re-tread who was a failure someplace else.
Post date: Friday, January 17, 2014 - 10:25
Path: /college-football/early-big-ten-football-predictions-2014

The Big Ten is set to grow by two teams next year, but a familiar set of programs will lead the way in the conference in 2014.

Ohio State is the early favorite to win the Big Ten next season, but Michigan State and Wisconsin are the next two teams in the mix. The Spartans are the defending Big Ten champions but have a few holes to fill on defense. The Badgers have a favorable slate in the West Division, but similar to Michigan State, Gary Andersen’s team has a few holes concerns on defense.

Penn State made a splash by hiring James Franklin away from Vanderbilt. But the Nittany Lions are still banned from postseason play for 2014. Michigan is one of the conference’s biggest wildcards. The Wolverines have talent. But Brady Hoke’s team underachieved in 2013, and left tackle Taylor Lewan departs from an already questionable offensive line.

The Big Ten welcomes Rutgers and Maryland into the mix next year. The Scarlet Knights finished 6-7 in the American Athletic Conference last season, but there’s some talent returning to Piscataway. The Terrapins are coming off their first bowl appearance under coach Randy Edsall. But with the move to the Big Ten, the expectations (and competition) will be higher starting in 2014.

Early East Division Predictions for 2014

by Braden Gall ()

1. Ohio State
Buckeye Nation received huge news when two-time reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller announced he will return for his senior season. His supporting cast on offense, however, is what will give preseason prognosticators pause when considering this team for playoff contention. Four starters along the line are gone, as is stud workhorse Carlos Hyde, so Urban Meyer will need to rebuild his offensive front and find playmakers to support Miller — a guy who already takes too many hits. Meyer finds himself in much better shape on defense. After losing all four D-Line starters entering last season, Meyer could boast the best defensive line in the nation in 2014. An elite front will help alleviate concerns about the departure of star playmakers like Ryan Shazier. The schedule sets up nicely for Ohio State, with the Bucks missing what could be the top four teams in the West — Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern. Home games with Virginia Tech and Michigan are certainly interesting, but two late-season trips to Happy Valley and East Lansing are likely the toughest two games of the year for Ohio State.

2. Michigan State
For the first time since Kirk Cousins returned for his senior season, the Spartans head into spring practice with a known commodity at quarterback. Connor Cook hasn’t lost a Big Ten game as a starter (9-0) and will get his star tailback Jeremy Langford back, giving this team tremendous balance on offense. Replacing three starters up front on the line and finding a go-to target to replace Bennie Fowler will be key. But having the backfield locked in stone is an excellent starting point. Conversely, for the first time in years, there are major question marks on the defensive side of the ball. Keeping defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi in the fold might have been the biggest piece of offseason news for Spartans fans, as The Broyles Award winner is the architect of the vaunted MSU defense. Narduzzi has his work cut out for him, however. The Spartans have to replace two senior defensive tackles, two senior linebackers, the Thorpe Award winner in Darqueze Dennard and a senior safety in Isaiah Lewis. Never fear, there is plenty of talent in East Lansing, but don’t expect to be ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense again. The schedule has some major speed bumps — a road trip to Oregon in Week 2, for example — but huge divisional swing games with Ohio State and Michigan will come at home, giving the defending Big Ten champs as much of a claim to the B1G throne as anyone else in the preseason.

3. Michigan
Brady Hoke knows the pressure to win is growing in Ann Arbor, as evidenced by firing offensive coordinator Al Borges for Doug Nussmeier nearly two weeks after the season ended. Nussmeier's first order of business is to develop consistency and efficiency from his supposed star quarterback Devin Gardner. The senior-to-be has shown flashes of Heisman brilliance in some games (SEE: Notre Dame, Ohio State) while causing fans to shake their heads in other contests (SEE: Every other game). Improved offensive line play, despite replacing both tackles, and an effective running game would go a long way in helping Gardner iron out his kinks. With Jeremy Gallon gone, someone around him needs to step up and make plays, be it tight end Devin Funchess or rising sophomore Derrick Green. The defense shouldn’t be an issue as seven starters return to a unit that has been ranked in the top half of the Big Ten every year since finishing dead last in defense the season before Hoke arrived. Non-conference games at Notre Dame and Utah at home certainly won't be easy, and both matchups come before a tough start to conference play: Minnesota, at Rutgers, Penn State and at Michigan State. Indiana, Northwestern an open week and Maryland make for a nice build-up, however, to the season-ending trip to Columbus. The schedule isn’t overly difficult considering how tough the East Division should be so Hoke will be expected to make obvious headway in 2014 — or his job could be in jeopardy.

4. Penn State
There are plenty of know commodities for Penn State. The Nittany Lions have a franchise quarterback in Christian Hackenberg and a vibrant new head coach in James Franklin. Penn State also has nine of 11 starters backs on defense as well. Holes need to be plugged along the offensive line where the Lions lose three starters and replacing Allen Robinson, the program’s most prolific pass catcher, won’t be easy. But Franklin and Hackenberg have plenty of weapons to work with at tight end and running back. The key for PSU, as is the case for all teams facing roster sanctions, will be depth throughout the season. Facing UCF in Dublin to start the year won’t be nearly as tough without Blake Bortles, so PSU could be an easy favorite in each of the first five games. The toughest road trip comes at Michigan but is sandwiched between off weekends and Franklin will get two weeks to prepare for Ohio State at home on Oct. 25. The road schedule isn’t daunting at all with key swing home games with Ohio State, Michigan State and Maryland coming in Beaver Stadium. If Franklin can correct some wrongs, like the bizarre performance at Indiana in 2013, then Penn State should easily post a winning record — which would mean a trip to a bowl game should the NCAA lift the sanctions. The Nittany Lions won’t play any of the projected top four teams from the West.

5. Maryland
This fall will usher in a brand new era for Maryland football. While there is a lot to like about the overall direction of the program under Randy Edsall, the schedule looks extremely daunting. The non-conference slate includes games with “Big 5” teams West Virginia and Syracuse before Big Ten play begins at Indiana. After that, however, it is hard to find wins until the season finale against Rutgers. The Terps will play arguably the toughest six-game Big Ten schedule in the league next fall: Ohio State, Iowa, at Wisconsin, at Penn State, Michigan State and at Michigan. There is good news for a team that has shown improvement each year of Edsall’s tenure, though. Four starters are back along the offensive line, along with oft-injured quarterback C.J. Brown, and electric superstar Stefon Diggs should be back after missing most of 2013. On defense, 10 of the 11 players who started in the bowl game should be back as well. The roster is finally returning to respectability in College Park, but the move to the Big Ten will likely hurt this team in the short term due to an increased level of competition.

6. Indiana
The Hoosiers have improved every year under Kevin Wilson — from one win to four wins to five wins overall. But improvement in Year Four might be a tall order. Wilson’s offenses have taken major strides and should once again be potent behind the leadership of both Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson. But the defense has a long way to go after it finished dead last in the Big Ten at 527.9 yards per game allowed and 6.74 yards per play. The defense does have 10 starters returning but the question remains if that is a good or bad thing? Five of the 10 were freshmen and sophomores, so logic would indicate improvement on this side of the ball. However, the East Division schedule makers didn’t do IU any favors. Over a seven-week span from Oct. 11 to Nov. 22, Indiana will play at Iowa, Michigan State, at Michigan, Penn State, at Rutgers and at Ohio State. The next step for Wilson is a bowl game but that might be too much to ask in 2014.

7. Rutgers
Kyle Flood will have his work cut out for him as he enters the Big Ten in 2014. The schedule in the East Division is already a significant increase from the American Athletic Conference. However, crossover games with Nebraska and Wisconsin, along with a long non-conference trip to face Washington State on the road, makes a postseason berth a difficult proposition in Piscataway next fall. The good news is Gary Nova returns under center along with eight other offensive starters. The defense only loses four starters and developing front-seven mainstays like Steve Longa, Darius Hamilton, Kevin Snyder and Djwany Mera have loads of upside and each started every game of the season minus one (Hamilton against Cincinnati). There are reasons to be excited about Rutgers football as it moves into the Big Ten, but a winning record in 2014 might not be one of them.

Early West Division Predictions for 2014

by Steven Lassan ()

1. Wisconsin
Gary Andersen’s second year in Madison shouldn’t be much different than the first. The Badgers will continue to rely on one of the conference’s top ground attacks, especially with Melvin Gordon returning for another season instead of leaving for the NFL. James White departs as Gordon’s backfield mate, but Corey Clement is a capable replacement. Wisconsin’s passing attack has to perform better in 2014, and the coaching staff will likely give Tanner McEvoy, Bart Houston and incoming freshman D.J. Gillins a chance to unseat Joel Stave under center. The defense has several new faces stepping into starting roles, as linebackers Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong, end Ethan Hemer and fellow linemen Pat Muldoon and Beau Allen depart. Borland was one of the top defenders in the Big Ten in 2013 and leaves big shoes to fill next year. Wisconsin opens the year with a non-conference matchup against LSU but hosts Nebraska and Minnesota in conference play. The Badgers won’t play Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan in the regular season, and their toughest road game could be at Iowa on Nov. 22.

2. Iowa
After a 4-8 mark in 2012, low expectations surrounded Iowa heading into the 2013 season. But the Hawkeyes were one of the top surprise teams in college football, finishing 8-5 with losses to Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and LSU. There’s certainly no shame in any of those five defeats, and with most of its core returning in 2014, Iowa is positioned to contend for the West Division title. Quarterback Jake Rudock, left tackle Brandon Scherff and running back Mark Weisman headline the returnees on offense. The Hawkeyes have room to improve on offense after finishing ninth in the Big Ten (conference games only) in yards per game. The defense returns mostly intact, but all three starters are gone from the linebacking corps. The Hawkeyes have one of the Big Ten’s most favorable schedules next season. There’s no Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State in crossover play, while Nebraska and Wisconsin visit Kinnick Stadium in November.

3. Nebraska
The Cornhuskers take the third spot in our early Big Ten predictions for 2014, but Bo Pelini’s team isn’t far behind Wisconsin and Iowa. Nebraska ended last year with a little momentum, beating Georgia in the Gator Bowl to earn the sixth season of at least nine wins under Pelini. Can the Cornhuskers build off that momentum next year? With running back Ameer Abdullah returning, the biggest question mark on offense turns to the quarterback situation. Tommy Armstrong has the edge to start entering spring practice, but redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton could push for the starting spot. The offensive line returns only one starter and will be a focal point for the staff in the spring. Nebraska allowed only 318.5 yards per game in conference action in 2013 and most of the front seven returns intact. End Randy Gregory should be in the mix for All-American honors. The biggest concern on defense is the secondary. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, safety Andrew Green and cornerback Ciante Evans have expired their eligibility.

4. Minnesota
Minnesota takes the No. 4 spot in our early West Division, but Northwestern should bounce back in 2014. The Golden Gophers dropped their first two Big Ten games last year but rallied to win four in a row, including a 24-10 win over Penn State and a 34-23 victory over Nebraska. Minnesota finished 2013 by losing its last three games, but there’s clear progress under coach Jerry Kill. The Golden Gophers have a tough road slate ahead in 2014, with trips to Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan and TCU on the schedule. Mitch Leidner heads into spring practice with an edge at quarterback after Philip Nelson decided to transfer. Running back David Cobb headlines an offense that should lean on its ground attack in 2014. The defense ranked fourth in the Big Ten by holding opponents to 22.2 points a game last year. This unit will have a few personnel losses to overcome, including tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, linebacker Aaron Hill and cornerback Brock Vereen.

5. Northwestern
The Wildcats were one of the top disappointments in the Big Ten last year. Northwestern was pegged by some as a preseason top-25 team but finished 5-7 and missed on a bowl for the first time since 2007. Expect the Wildcats to return to the postseason in 2014, especially with a healthy Venric Mark returning at running back. Kain Colter departs at quarterback, but Trevor Siemian has experience and will face competition from Zack Oliver and Matt Alviti. Another reason for optimism on offense is the return of all five starters on the offensive line. Northwestern allowed 423.4 yards per game on defense last season, but most of last year’s starting group returns. End Tyler Scott, linebacker Damien Proby and tackle Will Hampton must be replaced.

6. Illinois
The Fighting Illini made a two-game improvement in the win column from 2012 to 2013. Coach Tim Beckman enters 2014 on the hot seat, but he has some help coming in the way of former Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt. The sophomore will be eligible to play in 2014 after sitting out a year due to a transfer. Lunt should provide a seamless transition from Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback. Lunt’s supporting cast is a concern, as the top three statistical receivers from last year are gone, and two starters depart from the offensive line. Despite the personnel losses, the offense should be the strength for this team. But the defense is another story. The Fighting Illini allowed 35.4 points a game in 2013 and ranked 11th in the conference in yards allowed per contest. This unit doesn’t lose much, but does Illinois have enough talent to show drastic improve next season?

7. Purdue
Darrell Hazell had a less-than-stellar debut at Purdue, but the Boilermakers didn’t have a wealth of talent on the roster either. After hitting rock bottom last year, Purdue should show signs of improvement in 2014. The Boilermakers have to replace left tackle Kevin Pamphile, receiver Gary Bush and right tackle Justin Kitchens, but the rest of the offense returns intact. Quarterbacks Danny Etling, Austin Appleby and incoming freshman David Blough are talented and will improve with more snaps. Running back Akeem Hunt and receivers DeAngelo Yancey and Cameron Posey will be the top playmakers on offense. While the offense has to improve to escape the cellar in the West Division, the defense is also a concern after finishing 10th in the conference last year. The Boilermakers allowed 459.9 yards and 38 points per game in 2013. There’s a handful of significant losses on defense for Hazell, as end Bruce Gaston, nose guard Ryan Isaac, cornerback Ricardo Allen and end Greg Latta all depart. Purdue misses Ohio State in crossover play, but Michigan State visits Ross-Ade Stadium in early October.

Early Big Ten Football Predictions for 2014
Post date: Friday, January 17, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-coordinator-hires-2013

An underrated part of coaching is hiring the right coordinators. College football head coaches can be strong X’s and O’s leaders, but coordinators are a huge piece of the puzzle and are often the fall guy when things go wrong. And if a coach is more of a program CEO, then coordinators and position coaches become even more important.

If you need proof of how important coordinator changes are, take a look at the national championship game. Florida State was forced to revamp its staff after six assistant coaches departed in the offseason. However, Jimbo Fisher made the right hires, including bringing Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt over from Tuscaloosa to coordinate the defense. Pruitt was a key piece in the Seminoles’ national title run but left for Georgia a week after hoisting the crystal ball. Auburn also had two new coordinators in 2013.

Pruitt and Auburn coordinators Ellis Johnson and Rhett Lashlee are just a small sample of the top hires for 2013. BYU's Robert Anae, Wisconsin's Dave Aranda and LSU's Cam Cameron all made significant contributions to their new team. 

As we look to put a bow on the 2013 season, let’s take a look at some of the top coordinator hires from last year and the impact it made on some of the teams. 

College Football's Top Coordinator Hires from the 2013 Season

Robert Anae, offensive coordinator, BYU
Anae returned to BYU in 2013 after a two-year stint at Arizona. The veteran coach installed an up-tempo attack in Provo, which was a good fit for new quarterback Taysom Hill. The Cougars averaged 493.7 yards per game and scored 30.2 points per contest. Both of those numbers were an improvement from 2012. BYU has room to improve in the red zone and needs to eliminate a few turnovers, but Anae’s return gave the Cougars’ offense an identity and an uptick in production.

Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin
Aranda followed Gary Andersen from Utah State to Wisconsin and guided the Badgers to a No. 7 national rank in total defense in 2013. Wisconsin's defense allowed just 4.7 yards per play, forced 21 turnovers and allowed just 16.3 points per game. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider the Badgers were transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 approach. Aranda’s defense at Utah State ranked No. 14 nationally in 2012, and his defenses at Hawaii showed marked improvement during his two years with the Warriors. Aranda is an underrated coordinator and will have his work cut out for him this offseason, as the Badgers have several key players leaving.


Don Brown, defensive coordinator, Boston College
As expected, Brown made a huge difference for Boston College’s defense. After recording only six sacks in 2012, the Eagles picked up 35 in 2013. Brown is known as an aggressive play-caller, which helped Boston College record 20 turnovers and finish third in the ACC in red zone defense. Despite some personnel losses for 2014, the Eagles are in good shape on defense with Brown calling the signals.

Cam Cameron, offensive coordinator, LSU
If Florida State’s Jeremy Pruitt is the top coordinator hire from this season, Cameron is a close second. The veteran coach made a big difference in LSU’s offense in 2013. The Tigers ranked 11th in the SEC in passing in 2012 and averaged only 374.2 yards per game. Cameron helped to develop Zach Mettenberger into an All-SEC candidate at quarterback, while the offense averaged 453.3 yards per game. LSU also averaged six more points per contest in Cameron’s first season.

Geoff Collins, defensive coordinator, Mississippi State
Collins was promoted to call the defensive signals for Mississippi State in 2013. The Georgia native came to Starkville in 2011 and served as an assistant at FIU, UCF and Alabama prior to his stint with the Bulldogs. Collins helped Mississippi State improve in four critical defensive categories (pass, rush, total and scoring), while the Bulldogs ranked fourth in the SEC in third-down defense. Mississippi State also forced 25 turnovers and allowed only 19 plays of 30 yards or more. With a slew of talent returning next year, Collins should have the Bulldogs’ defense performing at an even higher level in 2014.

Bill Cubit, offensive coordinator, Illinois
The Fighting Illini’s offense ranked last in the Big Ten in points and yards per game in 2012. Tim Beckman needed a quick fix, and Cubit proved to be the right answer. Illinois averaged 426.7 yards per game in 2013 (No. 5 in the Big Ten) and scored 30 points seven times last season. Cubit’s worked wonders for quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. This offseason, he gets to develop Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt.

Ryan Day, offensive coordinator, Boston College
There wasn’t much flash to Boston College’s offense, but that’s not a necessity when you have a running back like Andre Williams. Under Day’s direction, the Eagles averaged nearly one more yard per play in 2013 (6.04 to 5.13 in 2012). Boston College was lethal in the red zone, converting 32 of 33 attempts for scores. Day has to develop a new quarterback for next season, but he can lean on a veteran offensive line and running back Myles Willis to lead the way early in the year.


Scott Frost, offensive coordinator, Oregon
Replacing Chip Kelly as Oregon’s play-caller was no easy task. But Frost did an admirable job this year. The Ducks led the Pac-12 in total offense and averaged 7.6 yards per play. Oregon’s scoring average was down slightly in 2013 (45.5) from 2012 (49.6). However, the Ducks had more plays of 30 yards or more this season (41) than last year (36). Frost is a rising star in the assistant ranks and will be a head coach in the next few seasons.

David Gibbs, defensive coordinator, Houston
After working as the defensive coordinator at Minnesota (1997-00) and Auburn (2005), Gibbs dropped off the college radar for a few years. He spent time as an assistant with the Chiefs and Texans, along with a one-year stop in the UFL before joining Houston’s staff in 2013. Gibbs made an immediate impact on the Cougars’ defense. Houston finished ninth in the American Athletic Conference in yards allowed, but this unit made up for the yards by forcing a whopping 43 turnovers. The Cougars also finished third in the conference in red zone defense and held opponents to just 21.8 points per game.

Eddie Gran, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati
Gran has a wealth of experience as an assistant, starting his coaching career at Cal Lutheran in 1987. But despite his experience, Gran was never a play-caller until 2013 at Cincinnati. The Bearcats had seven starters returning on offense and didn’t miss a beat under the new coaching staff. Cincinnati led the American Athletic Conference by averaging 472.1 yards per game and nearly matched its scoring average from 2012 (32.1 in 2013 to 32.3 in 2012).

Chuck Heater, defensive coordinator, Marshall
Marshall’s defense was simply awful in 2012. The Thundering Herd ranked last in Conference USA in scoring defense (43.1 ppg) and allowed 456.6 yards per game. But under Heater’s direction, Marshall’s defense showed significant progress. The Thundering Herd allowed just 4.9 yards per play in 2013 and finished fifth in Conference USA in total defense (368.7 ypg). Marshall held its opponents to 22.9 points per game, generated 32 sacks and forced 26 turnovers.

Josh Henson, offensive coordinator, Missouri
Henson had some good fortune on his side, as the Tigers regained the services of running back Henry Josey and had a healthy James Franklin at quarterback this year. But the first-year play-caller pushed the right buttons in 2013. Missouri averaged 25.8 points a game in 2012, but Henson guided this attack to average of 39.1 in 2013. The offense also recorded 23 plays of 40 yards or more and was third in the SEC in red zone efficiency (87.5%).

Ellis Johnson, defensive coordinator, Auburn
Auburn nearly hit rock bottom with its 3-9 record in 2012. But the Tigers quickly rebounded under the direction of Gus Malzahn, who made a splash by hiring Johnson as his defensive coordinator. Johnson was fired after one year as Southern Mississippi’s coach, but the veteran coach is right at home in the coordinator ranks. Auburn’s defense wasn’t elite (12th in the SEC in total yards allowed). However, the Tigers led the SEC in fewest third-down conversions and ranked second in the conference in red zone defense. With more talent coming from the recruiting trail and another year to learn under Johnson, Auburn’s defense should take another step forward on the field in 2014.

Rhett Lashlee, offensive coordinator, Auburn
Gus Malzahn is the main architect and play-caller for Auburn’s offense, but Lashlee is a valuable soundboard for the head coach. Lashlee played under Malzahn in high school and worked with him at Arkansas, Arkansas State and Auburn. 


Brian Lindgren, offensive coordinator, Colorado
Lindgren played a key role in the development of San Jose State quarterback David Fales and has already made an impact in one season at Colorado. The Buffaloes ranked last in the conference in total offense but improved by averaging 67.6 more yards per game than they did in 2012. With a full offseason to work with quarterback Sefo Liufau, Colorado’s offense should take another step forward in 2014.

Doug Meacham, offensive coordinator, Houston
Meacham’s stay in Houston lasted only one year, but he made an impact on the Cougars’ offense. After starting quarterback David Piland was forced to retire, the offense turned to true freshman John O’Korn. Behind Meacham’s play-calling, Houston still managed to average 419.5 yards per game (5.7 yards per play) and 33.2 points per contest. Meacham left for TCU before the bowl game, and coach Tony Levine promoted Travis Bush to call the plays for the Cougars in 2014.

Todd Orlando, defensive coordinator, Utah State
Orlando inherited seven starters from a unit that allowed only 15.4 points a game in 2012, and this unit didn’t miss a beat with a new play-caller. Utah State led the Mountain West in total defense and allowed only 4.6 yards per play. The Aggies generated 34 sacks, 30 turnovers and allowed just 17.1 points per game.

Clancy Pendergast, defensive coordinator, USC
Even though Pendergast is searching for a new job for 2014, his work with USC should not be overlooked. After spending three years at California, Pendergast had a solid grasp on offenses in the Pac-12, which helped the Trojans’ defense improve from No. 7 in the conference to No. 1 in fewest yards allowed. USC held opponents to just 21.2 points per game and led the way in red zone defense in the Pac-12.

Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Florida State
Pruitt’s debut at Florida State was a smashing success. In his first year as a defensive coordinator on the collegiate level, Pruitt had to replace seven starters from a unit that allowed just 254.1 yards per game in 2012. The Seminoles’ defense was among the best nationally once again despite the departed players, as Pruitt guided this unit to a No. 1 rank in fewest points allowed per game (12.1). Florida State also limited opponents to just 4.09 yards per play. Pruitt was hired away from Tallahassee to coordinate Georgia’s defense in 2014. 

Ted Roof, defensive coordinator, Georgia Tech
Roof was hired away from Penn State to coordinate the Yellow Jackets’ defense and his first year was an improvement from Georgia Tech’s 2012 performance. The Yellow Jackets held opponents to 5.5 yards per play after allowing 5.7 last year. Georgia Tech also finished second in the ACC against the run and held opponents to just 22.8 points per game. Roof didn’t have a dynamic impact on the defense, but there was noticeable improvement in 2013.

Timm Rosenbach, offensive coordinator, UNLV
UNLV is Rosenbach’s fourth career stop as an offensive coordinator. Prior to joining Hauck’s staff in Las Vegas, he worked as the play-caller at Montana, New Mexico State and Eastern Washington. Rosenbach also has five years of experience from a stint as an assistant at Washington State. UNLV’s offense made noticeable improvement across the board in 2014. The Rebels averaged 43.9 more yards and eight points per game in 2013 than they did in 2012. Rosenbach’s work with quarterback Caleb Herring was a big reason why UNLV made a bowl trip in 2013.

College Football's Top Coordinator Hires from 2013
Post date: Friday, January 17, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-midseason-freshman-power-rankings

Even against the toughest schedule in the country, Kansas’ 9-4 start had to be troubling. The play of Kansas’ star-studded freshman class, in particular, was puzzling.

The schedule isn’t getting any easier midway through January, either. The Big 12 is tougher than most expected. Even the league’s two gimmes — TCU and Texas Tech — come with caveats. TCU defeated Kansas last season in Fort Worth, and Texas Tech just made easy work of Baylor on Wednesday night.

Kansas’ freshmen, though, are proving they’re up to the challenge. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden all have had among their best performances of the season just in the last two weeks.

Wiggins takes over the No. 1 spot in our freshman power rankings for this week, but Embiid isn’t far behind. Syracuse's Tyler Ennis is also becoming a major factor thanks to his near-flawless play as the point guard of an undefeated team.

For now, though, we're where we startedt his season with Wiggins leading the way.

College Basketball Midseason Freshman Power Rankings

1. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
For those waiting for Wiggins to take off this season, now is the time to tune in. Wiggins had 17 points and 19 rebounds in front of frenzied crowd in Ames for 77-70 win over Iowa State. That performance came two days after 22 points in a win over Kansas State.

2. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
How big a role does Ennis play for Syracuse? Either by an assist or a field goal, Ennis is responsible for 36.9 percent of the Orange’s baskets this season.


3. Joel Embiid, Kansas
Could the 7-footer from Cameroon take the No. 1 spot in the NBA Draft? Embiid is starting to take over with 16 points against Iowa State and 11 against Kansas State on a combined 12 of 15 shooting.

4. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Opponents are averaging 87 points per 100 possessions against Arizona, the fifth best average in the country, thanks in part to Gordon’s defense.


5. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Randle’s brief slump ended with 20 points and 14 rebounds in the overtime loss to Arkansas. Credit his above-average free throw shooting (10 of 14 against the Razorbacks).

6. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker’s scoring average has dropped from 21.4 points per game to 18.8 since ACC play began.


7. Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Vonleh’s jumper capped a 12-0 run that gave Indiana the lead for good in the 75-72 win over Wisconsin on Wednesday.

8. Wayne Selden, Kansas
Selden’s hot streak came to a screeching halt against Iowa state in Monday, but he still had six assists.


9. James Young, Kentucky
If Young is going to continue to take 15.5 shots per game — as he has in the last four — his shot will need to be more consistent.

10. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
Less has been more in recent games for Harrison, who is 9 of 17 from the field with 30 total points in road games against Vanderbilt and Arkansas.

11. Bobby Portis, Arkansas
The forward from Little Rock scored 11 points in a win over Kentucky and 16 in an overtime loss to Florida last week.

12. Marcus Foster, Kansas State
A 3-of-12 day from the field in a loss to Kansas put a damper on a surprising season, but Foster returned to score 18 in a win over a ranked Oklahoma team on Tuesday.

13. Zach LaVine, UCLA
After a lackluster performance against Arizona, LaVine returned to hit 8 of 12 shots for 19 points in a win over Arizona State on Sunday.

14. Josh Hart, Villanova
The under-appreciated guard has scored in double figures in seven consecutive games for the Big East leaders.

15. Jordan Mickey, LSU
Mickey had seven blocks against Ole Miss, but he was 1 of 5 from the field in what could be a disastrous loss.

College Basketball Midseason Freshman Power Rankings
Post date: Friday, January 17, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-pre-weekend-power-rankings

Three undefeated teams remain to start this week, and at least one will stay that way by Sunday morning.

Top-ranked Arizona is off this weekend after defeating Arizona State on Thursday. After Wisconsin and Iowa State lost their unbeaten status last week on the road, Syracuse and Wichita State at least have the comforts of home for the weekend.

The Orange face Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome while the Shockers bring Indiana State to Wichita.

Whether the weekend ends with three undefeated teams or not, we’re sure to see more changes in the power rankings if this week is any indication. Baylor suffered an embarrassing loss. Colorado suffered a key injury. And Kentucky endured a loss on the road in Fayetteville. All played a major role in shuffling this week’s rankings.

College Basketball Power Rankings: Jan. 17
*All games Satuday unless noted.

1. Arizona (18-0, 5-0 Pac-12)
This weekend: Off
Pac-12 opponents are shooting 36.4 percent against the Wildcats.

2. Syracuse (17-0, 4-0 ACC)
This weekend: Pittsburgh
C.J. Fair, Trevor Cooney, Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis make up nearly 75 percent of Syracuse’s scoring.

3. Michigan State (16-1, 5-0 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Illinois
Adreian Payne is the latest to fall to the Michigan State injury bug, and Gary Harris has hit a cold snap from 3-point range (3 of 17 in the last three games).

4. Villanova (15-1, 4-0 Big East)
This weekend: DePaul
DePaul is not as horrendous as you think this season. Will ‘Nova get caught looking ahead to Creighton on Monday?

5. Wisconsin (16-1, 3-1 Big Ten)
This weekend: Michigan
Indiana’s bench outscored Wisconsin’s 17-6 in the Badgers’ first loss of the season Wednesday.

6. Florida (14-2, 3-0 SEC)
This weekend: at Auburn
Michael Frazier (21 points vs. Georgia) and Dorian Finney-Smith (22 points, 15 rebounds vs. Arkansas) are filling the void left by injured Casey Prather.

7. San Diego State (15-1, 4-0 Mountain West)
This weekend: UNLV
The Aztecs lead the nation in allowing the fewest points per possession at 84 points per 100 possessions.

8. Kansas (12-4, 3-0 Big 12)
This weekend: Oklahoma State
The Jayhawks are in the ninth game of a streak of 11 consecutive games against top 100 teams.

9. Iowa State (14-2, 2-2 Big 12)
This weekend: Texas
DeAndre Kane answered any questions about his health with 21 points and eight rebounds against Kansas.

10. Iowa (14-3, 3-1 Big Ten)
This weekend: Minnesota (Sunday)
Roy Devyn Marble is averaging 19.8 points per game against Big Ten opponents.

11. Wichita State (18-0, 5-0 Missouri Valley)
This weekend: Indiana State
The Sycamores could be Wichita State’s toughest opponent in MVC play.

12. Oklahoma State (15-2, 3-1 Big 12)
This weekend: at Kansas
Marcus Smart scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds in his last trip to Lawrence last season.

13. Creighton (15-2, 5-0 Big East)
This weekend: at Providence
Doug McDermott took the top spot in Ken Pomeroy’s .

14. Kentucky (12-4, 2-1 SEC)
This weekend: Tennessee
Kentucky’s last game featured 81 total free throws in an overtime loss to Arkansas.

15. Louisville (15-3, 5-1 American)
This weekend: at Connecticut
Luke Hancock is averaging 16.8 points per game since conference play began.

16. Ohio State (15-3, 2-3 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Nebraska
Two mentally draining Big Ten losses and a 10-point defeat at Minnesota may signal Ohio State's 15-0 start was a mirage.

17. Memphis (12-3, 3-1 American)
This weekend: Le Moyne-Owen
Suddenly, Memphis has dropped back-to-back American Athletic Conference home games to Cincinnati and UConn ... with a road win over Louisville sprinkled in.

18. Cal (13-4, 4-0 Pac-12)
This weekend: Washington
Never doubt Mike Montgomery: Cal started conference play with three consecutive road wins.

19. Saint Louis (16-2, 3-0 Atlantic 10)
This weekend: Fordham
After a key road win over Dayton, Saint Louis got a scare against St. Bonaventure at home.

20. Baylor (13-3, 1-2 Big 12)
This weekend: Oklahoma
The Bears allowed Texas Tech to shoot 60.5 percent from 2-point range in an embarrassing loss.

21. UMass (15-1, 3-1 Atlantic 10)
This weekend: at Elon
The Minutemen began a three-game road swing with a one-point win over a 7-10 George Mason team.

22. Cincinnati (16-2, 5-0 American)
This weekend: USF
Opponents are shooting only 40.1 percent from 2-point range against the Bearcats.

23. Duke (13-4, 2-2 ACC)
This weekend: NC State
The Blue Devils can’t guard anyone and now face ACC leading scorer T.J. Warren.

24. UCLA (14-3, 3-1 Pac-12)
This weekend: at Utah
The Bruins took advantage of Colorado team missing Spencer Dinwiddie for easy win Thursday.

25. Michigan (12-4, 4-0 Big Ten)
This weekend: at Wisconsin
The Wolverines are 8-0 without Mitch McGary this season, but the schedule is about to get much tougher.

College Basketball Pre-Weekend Power Rankings
Post date: Friday, January 17, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/qb-philip-nelson-transfers-minnesota

One of the key pieces in Minnesota’s offense has decided to transfer. Quarterback Philip Nelson will depart Minneapolis after two years with the Golden Gophers.

Nelson threw for 1,306 yards and nine touchdowns and added 364 yards and six rushing scores in 2013.

Nelson’s 2013 numbers were a slight improvement from 2012, but the Minnesota native still has a ways to develop as a passer.

With Nelson’s decision to transfer, sophomore Mitch Leidner is expected to open spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback.

Leidner threw for 619 yards and three scores in 2013, including 205 yards and two touchdowns in the bowl loss against Syracuse.

QB Philip Nelson Transfers from Minnesota
Post date: Thursday, January 16, 2014 - 21:08
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-james-franklins-recruiting-tactics-and-impact-penn

Discussing the personality differences on the big new coaches hired at Penn State, USC at Texas and how James Franklin, Steve Sarkisian and Charlie Strong will attack their respective jobs.

Franklin’s hire set off more news as he continued to recruit Vanderbilt commitments at Penn State. Should recruits be off limits when coaches move or is all fair in the recruiting game?

Lastly, Athlon Sports’ Steven Lassan makes a special appearance to pick the teams that benefited the most from the NFL Draft early entry deadline and who is losing out.

Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall or @DavidFox615 or email . The podcast can be found on, and .

Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: James Franklin's recruiting tactics and impact at Penn State
Post date: Thursday, January 16, 2014 - 17:46