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Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-27-2014
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This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 27.

• The latest NFL Game Day breakthrough: Through a new app you'll be able to order a cheerleader to your seat.

A three-pound banana split served in an actual batting helmet, and other Michelle Obama nightmare fuel that can be yours at MLB ballparks this season.

Here's what dunking on LeBron sounds like. I would know first-hand, except for the restraining order.

• Jeff Fisher mic drop: If you wanna see a dunk, watch basketball.

Tom Brady watched Boston firefighters do their work, then expressed his gratitude. In far less serious Brady news, Tara Reid says she had a fling with him, pre-Gisele and pre-plastic surgery.

Bruce Pearl's candor is refreshing. It's nice to have him back.

Graeme McDowell had to take to Twitter to clarify his Tiger comments.

Some Internet prodigy did a mash-up of a police chase and the end of the Auburn-Alabama game. This is Al Gore's invention at its best.

• The latest in the UNC academic scandal: This 148-word paper on Rosa Parks, written at a fifth-grade level, got an A-minus.

Jim Irsay's arrest report reveals that he was carrying 29 large in cash at the time of his arrest.

• Mike Cammalleri tried to skate onto the ice for warm-ups without blades on his skates. It did not go well.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 27, 2014 - 10:42
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-15-wide-receivers-rise-2014
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Spring practice is underway for nearly all 128 college football teams, and the countdown to the 2014 season has officially started. There’s still a long way to go before August and the start of next year, but it’s never too early to start thinking about which players are ready for a big jump in production.

Earlier this spring, Athlon Sports examined which quarterbacks and running backs are on the rise heading into the offseason. Now, the focus shifts to receivers.

Predicting which receivers will have a breakout season is nearly impossible. With each team having a handful of options in the passing game, catches are often spread out and can also vary from game-to-game. And defensive coverage also plays a large role in how receivers will perform each week.

While this position is tough to peg in the preseason, there are plenty of possible breakout candidates. USC’s Nelson Agholor had a solid year in 2013, but he could be poised for an All-American season with Marqise Lee off to the NFL. Baylor’s Corey Coleman is another name to watch with the departure of Tevin Reese. Rutgers needs more consistency from its quarterbacks, but Leonte Carroo is a big-play threat and a receiver on the rise.

In addition to Miami's Stacy Coley, Agholor, Coleman and Carroo, here are a few other wide receivers that could be breakout stars in 2014.

15 Wide Receivers on the Rise for 2014

Nelson Agholor, USC
Agholor earned a mention in this space last year, and he certainly impressed by catching 56 passes for 918 yards and six scores. While last season was a good year for Agholor, 2014 could be even better. With Marqise Lee gone, it’s Agholor’s turn to move into the No. 1 role in USC’s passing attack. Of course, the return of George Farmer and Steven Mitchell from injuries will factor into Agholor’s touches, but new coach Steve Sarkisian should get the Florida native involved early and often in 2014. In addition to his receiving totals, Agholor averaged 19.1 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns. With Cody Kessler settled into the starting role, USC’s passing attack could be improved in 2014.

Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
There’s a big question mark at quarterback for Rutgers, but if new coordinator Ralph Friedgen can find some stability under center, the Scarlet Knights have a promising group of receivers. And with Brandon Coleman turning pro, Carroo has opportunity to become a No. 1 receiver. He ranked as the No. 29 receiver in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and played in 13 games as a true freshman. In 2013, Carroo was featured more prominently in the passing game, catching 28 passes for 478 yards and nine scores. Carroo’s 17.1 yards per catch average ranked No. 3 among receivers in the American Athletic Conference last year.

Sammie Coates, Auburn
Auburn led the nation in rushing last season, but with left tackle Greg Robinson and running back Tre Mason leaving for the NFL, the Tigers could use quarterback Nick Marshall’s right arm more in 2014. Marshall made a successful transition from junior college quarterback to a starter in the SEC and should be even better with another offseason under his belt. Coates was Marshall’s favorite target last year, catching 42 passes for 902 yards and seven scores. He also averaged a whopping 21.5 yards per catch and had three consecutive 100-yard games in the middle of the season. The average might dip with more receptions, but Coates is poised for a huge season. 

Corey Coleman, Baylor
Antwan Goodley is clearly Baylor’s No. 1 target, but with the departure of speedster Tevin Reese, there’s an opportunity for Coleman or talented sophomore Robbie Rhodes to become an even bigger part of the passing attack in Waco. Coleman was the No. 35 ranked receiver by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class, and in his first taste of action last year, he caught 35 passes for 527 yards and two touchdowns. Baylor isn’t short on receivers, so Coleman may not make a huge jump in receptions this year. But considering his 15.1 yards per catch average, quarterback Bryce Petty could be frequently targeting the sophomore in 2014.

Stacy Coley, Miami
Coley became an instant contributor in the Miami passing attack as a true freshman in 2013. In 12 games, Coley caught 33 passes for 591 yards and seven touchdowns. Coley also averaged 17.9 yards per reception, which ranked No. 4 among ACC receivers with at least 30 catches in 2013. With Allen Hurns expiring his eligibility, the Pompano Beach native should be an even bigger factor in Miami’s passing game and should be a lock for All-ACC honors in 2014.

Quinshad Davis, North Carolina
North Carolina’s offense finished 2013 on a tear, averaging 40.6 points over the final seven games. Even though left tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine will be missed, the Tar Heels should have one of the ACC’s top offenses once again. Quarterback Marquise Williams will compete with Mitch Trubisky for the starting job, but Williams’ experience from 2013 should earn him the No. 1 spot. But regardless of which quarterback starts, there’s a plethora of talent available at the skill positions. After catching 61 passes as a freshman in 2012, Davis’ numbers slipped to 48 receptions in 2013. However, he was more productive in the big-play department, averaging 15.2 yards per catch and reaching paydirt 10 times.

Geno Lewis, Penn State
Replacing Allen Robinson is no easy assignment for new coach James Franklin. Robinson accounted for 97 of Penn State’s 241 receptions last year and led the team with an average of 14.8 yards per catch. The Nittany Lions have a solid collection of young talent at receiver, but there’s no clear No. 1 option. Could Lewis be the new go-to target for quarterback Christian Hackenberg? After redshirting in 2012, Lewis was an immediate factor in the receiving corps last year. He played in all 12 contests and caught 18 passes for 234 yards and three scores. Expect the Pennsylvania native to be featured even more in the passing game in 2014.

Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State
With quarterback Dak Prescott settled into the starting role, Mississippi State’s offense is set to take off in 2014. The Bulldogs have to replace standout guard Gabe Jackson, but there’s a cast of talented players at running back and at receiver. Lewis headlines the receiving corps after a standout 2013 campaign. In 13 games, he grabbed 64 receptions for 923 yards and five touchdowns. Lewis was also playing at a high level to close the year, catching at least six passes in each of his last three games, including a 220-yard performance against Rice in the Liberty Bowl. Prescott seems to have a good connection with Lewis, which should allow the senior to catch over 70 passes this season.

Jaydon Mickens, Washington
Washington’s passing game is unsettled right now, as quarterback Cyler Miles is suspended indefinitely due to an off-the-field incident. The Huskies aren’t short on talent at quarterback, however. Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams are solid options to replace Miles if he doesn’t return. Assuming the quarterback situation doesn’t become a concern for first-year coach Chris Petersen, Mickens and teammate Damore’ea Stringfellow (also suspended) will be two players to watch at receiver. Mickens caught 65 passes for 688 yards and five touchdowns last season but failed to top 36 yards over his last four games. Petersen and receivers coach Brent Pease developed plenty of talent at receiver during their years at Boise State, and Mickens – the No. 185 recruit in the 247Sports Composite in 2012 – could be poised to have his best all-around season in Seattle.

Marquez North, Tennessee
Tennessee’s offensive line is starting over with the departure of all five starters from last year, but Butch Jones has accumulated some intriguing talent at receiver. North made an instant impact as a true freshman in 2013, catching 38 passes for 496 yards and one score. The North Carolina native was a key cog in Tennessee’s upset win over South Carolina by catching three passes for 102 yards (including a nifty one-handed grab), while 16 of his receptions came against Alabama, Missouri and Auburn – arguably the top three teams in the SEC in 2013. North needs more help from his quarterbacks this season, and it’s uncertain if the Volunteers will turn to Joshua Dobbs again or if redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson takes the No. 1 spot. But regardless of which quarterback starts under center, North is poised to take a step forward in his development in 2014.

Shaq Roland, South Carolina
Roland was a huge in-state catch on the recruiting trail for Steve Spurrier, and after catching only five passes as a true freshman in 2012, he appears ready to emerge as the No. 1 receiver for the Gamecocks in 2014. In 10 appearances in 2013, Roland caught 25 passes for 455 yards and five scores. Roland also closed last season on a high note, recording six receptions for 112 yards against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. New quarterback Dylan Thompson has plenty of experience, but there may be a short transition period from Connor Shaw. However, Roland is poised to easily surpass last year’s totals and could sneak into All-SEC consideration if Thompson quickly settles into the job.

Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
With only eight returning starters, 2014 is shaping up to be a transition year for Oklahoma State. While the Cowboys are unlikely to repeat as the Big 12 champions, Mike Gundy’s team should still find a way to be prolific on offense. Quarterback J.W. Walsh has experience, and he will be pushed by incoming freshman Mason Rudolph. Gundy has accumulated some promising talent at the skill positions, led by Seales at receiver and Desmond Roland at running back. Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore have departed at receiver, so Seales is likely to become the team’s top target in the passing game. As a redshirt freshman last year, Seales caught 39 passes for 571 yards and three touchdowns. With another offseason to work under Gundy and coordinator Mike Yurcich, Seales is set for a breakout campaign.

Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M
Seals-Jones was slated to be a key cog in Texas A&M’s receiving corps last season, but an injury sidelined him for the year after the first two games. The Texas native caught three passes for 84 yards and one score in the limited playing time. Seals-Jones ranked as the No. 25 prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100. The Aggies have a lot of talent in the receiving corps, and a quarterback must be found to replace Johnny Manziel. However, assuming he’s back to full strength, Seals-Jones could be the team’s No. 1 receiver by the end of 2014.

Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
With Jalen Saunders departing, Shepard is slated to become the new go-to target for sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight. The Oklahoma City native ranked as the No. 100 recruit in the nation by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class, and he has lived up to the hype through his first two years. Shepard played in 13 games in 2012 and caught 45 passes. As a sophomore in 2013, he started 12 games and grabbed 51 receptions for 603 yards and seven scores. Shepard was playing at a high level at the end of 2013, catching seven passes in back-to-back games against Oklahoma State and Alabama. Assuming Knight picks up where he left off in the Sugar Bowl, Shepard should be among the Big 12’s leading receivers in 2014.

Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
The Rebels’ top-10 recruiting class from 2013 should start to pay big dividends in 2014. Treadwell was one of the top prizes from Hugh Freeze’s haul in 2013, and the freshman receiver caught 72 passes for 608 yards and five touchdowns. Treadwell’s 72 catches led the team, but his 8.4 yards per catch left a little to be desired. However, he is expected to slide to one of the outside receiver spots this spring, which should increase his ability to make big plays downfield. Also, opposing SEC defenses won’t be able to devote too much attention in Treadwell’s direction, as a healthy Vince Sanders will help quarterback Bo Wallace stretch the field in 2014.

Other Receivers to Watch in 2014

Markeith Ambles, Houston
Ambles is a name familiar to many in the recruiting world, as he was a five-star prospect by Rivals in the 2010 signing class. After one year at USC, he transferred to Arizona Western and caught 44 passes for 757 yards in 2012. Ambles spent most of last season catching up, as he didn’t have a full set of fall practices to learn the offense. In 10 games, Ambles caught 17 passes for 252 yards and one touchdown, with six of those receptions coming in the bowl.

Victor Bolden/Malik Gilmore, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks was one of the top receivers in the nation last year, and Oregon State will have a tough time replacing his 128 receptions in 2013. Bolden and Gilmore combined for 13 receptions as freshmen last season and will be a bigger piece of the Beavers’ passing game this year.

Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
Bundrage was Iowa State’s leading receiver in 2014, catching 48 passes for 676 yards and nine scores. The Cyclones should be better on offense this year, as former Kansas coach Mark Mangino was hired to call the plays, and Grant Rohach has stabilized the quarterback spot. If Bundrage continues to develop, he could emerge as one of the top receivers in the Big 12.

Devon Cajuste, Stanford
Ty Montgomery is Stanford’s No. 1 receiver, but Cajuste is a name to watch this season. In 13 games last year, he was the Cardinal’s big-play threat, catching 28 passes for 642 yards and five scores. His 22.9 yards per reception average led the nation.

Reginald Davis, Texas Tech
Eric Ward and Jace Amaro leave big shoes to fill in the receiving corps for Kliff Kingsbury. However, the Red Raiders have the next wave of standout options ready to emerge in 2014. Jakeem Grant is back after catching 65 passes last year, and Davis is a name to watch this season. As a freshman in 2013, Davis caught 15 passes for 200 yards and three scores.

Malachi Dupre, LSU
The Tigers were hit hard by departures in the receiving corps. Travin Dural is the team’s top returning option (7 catches for 145 yards), but all eyes this fall will be on Dupre. The New Orleans native ranked as the No. 17 recruit in the 247Sports Composite and could be an immediate contributor to the Tigers’ passing attack this year.

William Dukes, FAU
FAU’s offense made steady progress late last season, averaging 6.9 yards per play over the final three contests. Helping to continue that development in 2014 will be the return of quarterback Jaquez Johnson, while Dukes is slated to pick up some of the catches left behind by departing senior Daniel McKinney (49 catches for 610 yards in 2013).

Brisly Estime, Syracuse
The Orange quietly won seven games in Scott Shafer’s first season, and with quarterback Terrel Hunt expected to take a step forward in his development, the offense should be improved in 2014. As a true freshman in 2013, Estime caught 28 passes for 257 yards and one score. However, 20 of those came in his last four appearances. The average (9.2 yards per catch) needs to improve, but Estime should be a bigger contributor to the attack.

Devin Fuller/Devin Lucien/Jordan Payton, UCLA
Shaquelle Evans has expired his eligibility, but the Bruins are still in good shape at receiver with Fuller, Lucien and Payton returning. However, there’s one big question facing this group. Which one of this trio will emerge as a true No. 1 target for quarterback Brett Hundley?

William Fuller, Notre Dame
With TJ Jones gone, and DaVaris Daniels suspended, Fuller and Corey Robinson will have a chance to stake their claim for playing time. Fuller was the No. 276 recruit in the nation by 247Sports in the 2013 signing class and caught six passes for 160 yards and one touchdown last year.

Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
Higgins was a good find for coach Jim McElwain on the recruiting trail. In his freshman season with the Rams last year, Higgins grabbed 68 catches for 837 yards and six scores. With four starters gone from the line, as well as the departure of running back Kapri Bibbs, the Rams will lean on the passing attack more in 2014. Expect an even better stat line for Higgins as a sophomore.

Kam Jones, UTSA
Jones led UTSA by averaging 98.1 all-purpose yards per game and caught 34 passes for 345 yards last year. He should be the Roadrunners’ top target in the passing game once again in 2014.

Ermon Lane, Florida State
Rashad Greene should be one of the nation’s top receivers, but the Seminoles are looking to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, so there is playing time available for the incoming freshmen. Jimbo Fisher reeled in some of the nation's top receivers, including Lane (No. 24 prospect in 247Sports Composite) and Travis Rudolph (No. 43). Look for both players to see snaps in 2014.

Jordan Leslie, BYU
Leslie was an honorable mention All-Conference USA selection after catching 44 passes for 612 yards and seven scores at UTEP last season. As a graduate transfer, Leslie is eligible to play immediately and will help BYU’s offense replace standout receiver Cody Hoffman.

Chris Moore, Cincinnati
The Bearcats should be one of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference in 2014. New quarterback Gunner Kiel is unproven but certainly not short on talent. Shaq Washington led the team with 78 catches last year, but Moore led all Cincinnati receivers with nine touchdown receptions. With Anthony McClung expiring his eligibility, Moore should move up in the pecking order in the receiving corps.

Ronnie Moore, Bowling Green
Bowling Green made one of the top head coach hires of the offseason by picking Dino Babers away from Eastern Illinois. Babers runs a pass-first offense, which should thrive with the return of quarterback Matt Johnson. The Falcons lose their top two targets from last year, but Moore returns after catching 28 passes for 547 yards and seven touchdowns in his freshman campaign. Assuming Moore's game continues to move forward this offseason, he should be a dynamic weapon in Bowling Green’s offense.

Breshad Perriman, UCF
The Knights have an impressive collection of receivers, but a new quarterback must be found with the departure of Blake Bortles. J.J. Worton and Rannell Hall were ahead of Perriman in receptions, but the Georgia native wasn’t far behind, catching 39 passes for 811 yards and four touchdowns. Perriman’s 20.8 average on receptions ranked fifth nationally in 2013.

Alonzo Russell, Toledo
Bernard Reedy was one of the MAC’s top receivers over the last few years, and he leaves after catching 62 passes for 840 yards and eight scores in 2013. The Rockets are in good hands at receiver, however, as Russell is poised to emerge as the No. 1 target after catching 59 passes and six touchdowns last year.

Bud Sasser, Missouri
The Tigers are set at one spot with Dorial Green-Beckman, but Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington depart after combining for 108 catches last year. Sasser caught 26 passes for 361 yards last season and should help fill the void left by Washington and Lucas.

Tajae Sharpe, UMass
Sharpe was one of the few bright spots for UMass in 2013. He caught 61 passes for 680 yards and four scores in 11 contests. With an upgrade at quarterback in Marshall transfer Blake Frohnapfel, Sharpe could emerge as one of the top receivers in the MAC.

Joshua Stanford, Virginia Tech
Stanford provided big-play ability for Virginia Tech’s offense last season, catching 40 passes for 640 yards and one touchdown (16 ypc). The Hokies need to find a replacement for quarterback Logan Thomas, but Stanford is an emerging star in the ACC.

Kevin White/Daikiel Shorts, West Virginia
West Virginia’s quarterback situation is unsettled, but the Mountaineers have a promising group of receivers. Daikiel Shorts caught 45 passes as a true freshman, and White was a big-play threat (14.5 ypc) in his first year on campus.

Mike Williams, Clemson
Clemson’s receiving corps has talent, but there is plenty of uncertainty about which players will end up in starting roles. Germone Hopper will miss the rest of spring practice due to academics, and Charone Peake – returning from a torn ACL – was limited early in spring workouts. Williams caught 20 passes for 316 yards as a true freshman and should be an even bigger piece of Clemson’s passing attack in 2014. However, can he hold off a talented group of incoming freshmen for playing time this offseason?

Teaser:
College Football's Top 15 Wide Receivers on the Rise for 2014
Post date: Thursday, March 27, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/rutgers-scarlet-knights-2014-spring-football-preview
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The College Football Playoff Era doesn’t just ring in a new era of postseason football for Rutgers. It’s a complete overhaul.

The Scarlet Knights will play in their third different conference in three years after the defunct Big East gave birth to the American Athletic Conference. Life in the Big Ten will be an entirely different beast, however, as Rutgers has never faced the level of competition it will now be seeing week in and week out in the B1G.

Landing in the same division as Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State doesn’t help either. It means that Kyle Flood and his staff will have their work cut for themselves this spring as they prepare for the much deeper and more treacherous waters of the most lucrative league in the nation.

Getting nine starters back on offense is a big positive and there are a lot of developing names on defense, but this team will have to improve significantly across the board if it wants to return to the postseason as a Big Ten representative. Flood is hoping that a reworked coaching staff will provide the spark needed to compete at a higher level in '14.

2014 Schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 30at 
Sept. 6Howard
Sept. 13
Sept. 20at 
Sept. 27
Oct. 4
Oct. 11Bye Week
Oct. 18at 
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8Bye Week
Nov. 15
Nov. 22at 
Nov. 29at 

Rutgers Scarlet Knight 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 6-7 (3-5 AAC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 1

Spring Game: April 11

Returning Starters

Offense: 9

Defense: 5

Three Things to Watch in Rutgers' 2014 Spring Practice

Find consistency under center
Kyle Flood totally overhauled his coaching staff this offseason, bringing in offensive guru Ralph Friedgen to run the offense. His first order of business is to find a stabilizing force under center for the Knights after a season in which Rutgers quarterbacks threw 22 interceptions and just 22 touchdowns. This is why Flood has opened up the position battle this spring despite Gary Nova (2,159 yds, 18 TDs, 14 INTs) returning after starting most of last year (until the final three games). He will have to battle redshirt junior Mike Bimonte, redshirt sophomore Blake Rankin, and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano. Rankin is the most dynamic athlete of the bunch but Laviano might be the one to watch. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound pocket passer has impressed during his short time in Piscataway and could press Nova for starting duties should he develop quickly and take to the new offense this spring. Nova has a major experience edge but has been entirely too inconsistent. This position must improve if the Knights want to compete in the Big Ten.

Get back to pounding the football
Friedgen is known for his ability to develop a passer but that would be so much easier if this team could get back to running the football like it did under Greg Schiano. Rutgers ranked 100th in rushing offense nationally a year ago and was 106th in sacks allowed. So while all five starters return along the offensive line and three very capable backs return as well, this team must be more productive on the ground. Especially in a league known for pounding the rock on offense. The O-line needs to develop a killer instinct and the backs need to stay healthy. Should these two things happen in spring ball, it would allow time and creativity for both the quarterback and play-caller.

Shore up the secondary
The entire defense needs to continue to develop after a host of talented recruits got their feet wet a year ago. But this team was still 120th nationally in pass defense and 100th in pass efficiency defense last fall and something has to change in that department (especially, with Christian Hackenberg, Braxton Miller, Connor Cook and Connor Halliday on the schedule). Lorenzo Waters is the lone returning starter at strong safety and the rest of the starting spots will be up for grabs this spring. Gareef Glashen, Nadir Barnwell and Anthony Cioffi may be the leaders heading into spring at cornerback while new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi will need to find some complementary pieces at safety. This unit was filled with inexperience last year and ideally that youth will develop during the offseason. At least, that is what Rossi and Flood are hoping anyway.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 4-6
Under Schiano, Rutgers blossomed from perennial bottom feeder to conference contender. That is a tough act to follow for anyone let alone for someone who hadn’t ever been a head coach in college — or a head coach of any kind since coaching high school ball in 1994. Flood has reeled in some good talent on the recruiting trail and has ushered in a totally new era of Rutgers football. However, if this team doesn’t show marked improvement in ’14 and continues its downward trajectory, he may not be around to bask in the glory of all that Big Ten money. And the schedule offers little breaks. The division slate is impossible and crossover play features arguably the top two teams from the West. Baring some minor miracles from Friedgen (which is totally possible), the first year of the playoff era could be a forgettable one for the State school of New Jersey.

Teaser:
Rutgers Scarlet Knights 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 27, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/washington-state-cougars-2014-spring-football-preview
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It only took two seasons for Mike Leach to turn a perennial Pac-12 doormat into a bowl team.

The Cougars went to three straight bowls from 2001-03 but hadn’t been back to the postseason since. Leach capped his first season with a remarkable comeback win over archrival Washington and that catapulted Washington State to its best record in a decade.

And, of course, he did it with a record-setting quarterback.

Connor Halliday returns under center in 2014 — now with expectations to not only reach the postseason but to win a bowl game and post a winning record. Halliday should have loads of weapons to work with in terms of pass-catchers and ball-carriers, as the top 13 receivers on the roster a year ago will be back this fall — 10 of which caught at least 25 passes. It’s protecting Halliday with three new linemen and establishing a running game that should be the focus of Leach and company this spring.

Improving the 102nd-ranked defense in the nation would help Washington State’s chances at making the postseason as well.

2014 Schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 28
Sept. 6at
Sept. 13Portland State
Sept. 20
Sept. 27at 
Oct. 4
Oct. 11at 
Oct. 18Bye Week
Oct. 25
Nov. 1
Nov. 8at 
Nov. 15Bye Week
Nov. 22at 
Nov. 29

Washington State 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 6-7 (4-5 Pac-12)

Spring Practice Opens: March 27

Spring Game: April 29

Returning Starters

Offense: 7

Defense: 6

Three Things to Watch in Washington State's 2014 Spring Practice

Replace three O-line starters
Leach will never build an offense that focuses on the running game but developing some sort of balance on offense would go a long way in helping Wazzu compete for Pac-12 titles. Not to mention, it would likely help keep his quarterback upright and healthy. And with four guys who started along the O-line departing the offense, this is a major area of concern this spring. Elliott Bosch is gone from the center position after receiving All-Pac-12 honors a year ago and guards John Fullington and Matt Goetz have moved on as well. Filling the void up the middle of the offensive line will be critical for the Cougars this spring. Joe Dahl got 13 starts a year ago and is expected to slide from guard to tackle in 2014. Gunnar Eklund was the team's left tackle in 2013, but he is taking Dahl's spot on the interior. Having Eklund and Dahl back this spring should help ease the transition there. Filling the voids around these two big bodies is really the only offensive question marks on this team.

Find leadership on defense
First-team All-Pac-12 safety Deone Bucannon led the Cougars in tackles (114) and was one of the best players in the nation at his position. Linebacker Justin Sagote was No. 2 on the team in tackles with 106 stops a year ago. Both are gone from a defense that wasn’t all that great a year ago. Leach’s teams have never been elite on this side of the ball but in the Pac-12, where quarterbacks and offensive playmakers reign supreme, some semblance of defensive fortitude would go a long way to make Washington State a contender. Names like defensive end Xavier Cooper (who led the team in sacks a year ago), linebackers Darryl Monroe and Cyrus Coen (the top two returning tacklers) and safety Taylor Taliulu will need to step into leadership roles this spring. Finding a voice in the defensive huddle that can lead and motivate is critical for a defense that needs improvement across the board.

Rebuild the secondary
There is good news and bad news with the Cougars' secondary. Three of the team’s top four cornerbacks have moved on, including all-league coverman Damante Horton. Two of the top three safeties are gone as well, with the loss of Bucannon being the biggest blow to the defense. That’s the bad news. The good, however, is that the WSU secondary was one of the worst in the nation a year ago, ranking 112th in passing defense and 89th in pass efficiency defense. Daquawn Brown and Taliulu return with some experience but this unit needs to be addressed this spring in a league with elite quarterback play. Mitchell Peterson, Isaac Dotson and Tracy Clark need to take the next step in their development process during spring camp.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 5-7
Leach is an excellent coach and a proven offensive commodity. In just two short seasons the Cougars have returned to West Coast relevance and are competing for postseason berths already. What’s more exciting is the amount of overall production returning to what was the fourth-best passing attack in the nation last year. The schedule offers plenty of opportunities to steal wins but the Cougars will play three of the top four teams from the South with the exception of UCLA. The out-of-conference slate could provide three wins if WSU can start hot and the Cougs should be more than capable of snagging three league wins. A second straight trip to the postseason should be the expectation in Pullman this spring.

Teaser:
Washington State Cougars 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 27, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/sweet-16-preview-and-picks-arizona-wildcats-vs-san-diego-state-aztecs
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No one would doubt the coaching credentials for Sean Miller and Steve Fisher. Nor would anyone discount Arizona and San Diego State as two of the nation’s top programs right now West of the Rocky Mountains.

Still, a bit of legitimacy is on the line.

At Xavier and Arizona, Miller had advanced to the Sweet 16 or better five times. All that’s missing is a Final Four, Arizona’s first since 2001. Since taking over in 1999, Steve Fisher has supervised one of the best rebuilding jobs in college basketball by turning San Diego State into an NCAA regular. The next step is the Aztecs’ first regional final.

A win over Arizona, viewed as a national title contender since the preseason, would serve a dual purpose.

“We think we're one of the best teams (in the West),” San Diego State forward Dwayne Polee said. “Now that we've proven that we can hang with the big dogs and not only the West coast but in the nation, I think that we can be mentioned among the Arizonas and UCLAs.”

The two teams have changed a bit since their first meeting, a 69-60 Arizona win on Nov. 14. Arizona has recovered from the season-ending injury to forward Brandon Ashley while Aztecs forward Dwayne Polee II has become one of San Diego State’s most valuable players despite sitting out the first meeting on a coaches’ decision.

What hasn’t changed is both teams’ defensive prowess, as the two teams in Anaheim rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency.

Arizona vs. San Diego State
Time: 10 p.m.
TV: TBS
Announcers: Marv Albert, Steve Kerr
Region: Anaheim (West)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Arizona 67-60
Braden Gall: Arizona 72-59
Mitch Light: Arizona 84-74
Nathan Rush: Arizona 72-66
How Arizona got here:
The Wildcats continued to play stifling defense in the first weekend of the Tournament. Arizona held Weber State to 25 percent shooting from 2-point range in the round of 64 and held Gonzaga to 42.1 percent. Freshman Aaron Gordon locks down the inside while Nick Johnson guards on the outside. Both are among the national elite.

How San Diego State got here:
San Diego State survived a poor shooting day against New Mexico State to beat the Aggies in overtime in the round of 64. The Aztecs came back to make 7 of 16 3-point shots against North Dakota State in the round of 32, led by 30 points from Xavier Thames.

Other Sweet 16 previews:
Stanford-Dayton | Wisconsin-Baylor | Florida-UCLA

Key for Arizona to get to the Elite Eight: Say it again, shoot free throws
Arizona shot 13 of 18 from the line against Gonzaga in the round of 32, helped largely by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson making all eight of his attempts. This is still the worst 3-point shooting team left in the NCAA Tournament. Arizona shoots 65.5 percent from the line.

Key for San Diego State to get to the Elite Eight: Find a way to score on the interior
Let’s assume Thames can’t get 20 points against Arizona. That means forwards Winston Shepard, Josh Davis and J.J. O’Brien will need to play a bigger role. Arizona holds opponents to 40.1 percent shooting from inside the 3-point line, ranking second nationally. San Diego State ranks 303rd in that offensive category.

Player to watch: Nick Johnson, Arizona
Johnson will be Arizona’s counterpoint in the key matchup of the game. As one of the country’s best perimeter defender, Johnson will be tabbed with containing the heart of San Diego State’s offense. Xavier Thames averages 17.3 points and 3.3 assists per game. Either by field goal or assist, Thames has accounted for 55.6 percent of the Aztecs’ baskets in the first weekend of the Tournament.

Teaser:
Sweet 16 Preview and Picks: Arizona Wildcats vs. San Diego State Aztecs
Post date: Thursday, March 27, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/sweet-16-preview-and-picks-wisconsin-badgers-vs-baylor-bears
Body:

Perhaps it’s inevitable Wisconsin and Baylor would meet in the Sweet 16 with the way the season has gone.

Both teams started on hot streaks — Wisconsin at 16-0 and Baylor at 12-1 — before falling apart early in conference play.

In the last month or so, both teams have rediscovered the magic from early in the season, powering the Badgers and Bears to a Sweet 16 game Thursday. Meanwhile, both have arrived here in unexpected ways: Wisconsin scoring 85 points in a win over Oregon, Baylor blowing out Creighton 85-55.

“You don't beat Creighton by 30, but it happened,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “That's a pretty formidable foe. But every team that's in it now has done some things during the year. They played well towards the end of the year. We think we have. So it's two teams that get a chance.”

Wisconsin vs. Baylor
Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: TBS
Announcers: Marv Albert, Steve Kerr
Region: West (Anaheim)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Wisconsin 74-71
Braden Gall: Wisconsin 79-76
Mitch Light: Baylor 78-72
Nathan Rush: Wisconsin 65-64
How Wisconsin got here:
This Wisconsin team is flipped from the typical Bo Ryan squad, ranking fourth in offensive efficiency and 55th on defense. The Badgers can score in a variety of ways, from Frank Kaminsky around the basket to Ben Brust and Josh Gasser on the outside. In Wisconsin’s 85-77 win over Oregon, the highest-scoring NCAA Tournament game, all five starters scored in double figures.

How Baylor got here:
Isaiah Austin is playing like a potential NBA Draft pick, and point guard Kenny Chery is expertly guiding the Baylor attack. Baylor has lost once in March — to Iowa State in the Big 12 title game — and drilled both of its NCAA Tournament opponents in Nebraska and Creighton by a combined 44 points.

Other Sweet 16 previews:
Stanford-Dayton | Florida-UCLA | Arizona-San Diego State

Key for Wisconsin to get to the Elite Eight: Shooting against the zone
Baylor handled Creighton, the nation’s best offensive team, with the zone defense. That will put pressure on Badgers guard Ben Brust, and to a lesser extent Sam Dekker and Josh Gasser, to hit 3-point shots. If Creighton couldn’t do it, Wisconsin might struggle, too.

Key for Baylor to get to the Elite Eight: Score from the perimeter
Chery’s return from a toe injury has been one of the keys to Baylor’s turnaround late in the season. The junior college transfer will try to take advantage of Wisconsin’s poor perimeter defense. Against Oregon, guard Jason Calliste scored 20 points, partly due to an 11-for-11 performance from the free throw line.

Player to watch: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Baylor’s Isaiah Austin has been one of the most improved players in the country in the last few weeks. The 7-foot-1 center anchored Baylor’s zone against Creighton. The 7-foot Kaminsky may be able to challenge Austin in a way the Bluejays could not.
 

Teaser:
Sweet 16 Preview and Picks: Wisconsin Badgers vs. Baylor Bears
Post date: Thursday, March 27, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/sweet-16-preview-and-picks-florida-gators-vs-ucla-bruins
Body:

Florida and UCLA are as familiar as two teams from opposite ends as the the country can be.

The Gators and Bruins will meet in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time since 2006, each at a different stage. Florida defeated UCLA in the 2006 title game, the 2007 Final Four and the 2011 round of 32. Moreover, Florida and UCLA could have met again in the round of 32 had the Bruins defeated Minnesota in Ben Howland’s last game.

This Sweet 16 matchup will be different, perhaps, from the other three, primarily due to a coaching change on the other bench.

Steve Alford took over for Howland this season and has brought the Bruins to their first regional semifinal since 2008. The biggest difference will be UCLA’s offensive approach as the Bruins excel at grabbing quick baskets in transition. The matchup may be the toughest defensively for Florida since non-conference play.

“The name on the jersey happens to be the same one that we've maybe played three different times in the NCAA Tournament, but everything else is really a lot different,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I don't think the last time we played UCLA in the NCAA Tournament any of our guys were even on that team.”

Florida vs. UCLA
Time: 9:30 p.m.
TV: CBS
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller
Region: South (Memphis)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Florida 62-59
Braden Gall: Florida 75-53
Mitch Light: Florida 78-67
Nathan Rush: Florida 68-60
How Florida got here:
The Gators responded to a sluggish game against No. 16 seed Albany with a 61-45 thumping of Pittsburgh in the round of 32.

How UCLA got here:
The Bruins are one of the least turnover-prone teams in the country and proved it against Stephen F. Austin with only three giveaways (compared to 22 assists on 29 field goals). Kyle Anderson is UCLA’s MVP, but Jordan Adams has been on a hot streak. After missing the NCAA Tournament last season, Adams has averaged 19.7 points per game going back to the Pac-12 final against Arizona.

Other Sweet 16 previews:
Stanford-Dayton | Wisconsin-Baylor | Arizona-San Diego State

Key for Florida to get to the Elite Eight: Solve the matchup with Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams
Florida is one of the top defensive teams in the country, but they’ll have two tough matchups against Kyle Anderson and Adams leading an explosive UCLA offense. Anderson is a 6-9 guard starts UCLA on the fast break while averaging 8.7 rebounds. Adams is another big guard at 6-5, 220 pounds

Key for UCLA to get to the Elite Eight: Beat Florida in transition
If there’s a spot where UCLA matches Florida strength for strength on offense, it’s the Bruins’ game in transition. UCLA is one of the best teams in the country in scoring out of the fast break while Florida is adept at making teams work for their shot. Transition baskets could be the equalizer for UCLA.

Player to watch: Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
Wilbekin is embracing his role as Florida’s go-to player. He scored 21 points against Pittsburgh, with no one else scoring more than 10. That’s a rarity for this balanced Florida team. UCLA was below average defensively in Pac-12 play.
 

Teaser:
Sweet 16 Preview and Picks: Florida Gators vs. UCLA Bruins
Post date: Thursday, March 27, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/sweet-16-preview-and-picks-stanford-cardinal-vs-dayton-flyers
Body:

The first game of the Sweet 16 is a classic example of why bubble talk is so captivating.

All a team has to do is get into the field and anything can happen.

In early March, neither Stanford nor Dayton were assured of spots in the field. Only a late push by both landed these teams in the NCAA Tournament, and now they’ve taken out Kansas, Syracuse, Ohio State and New Mexico.

For only the second time in Tournament history, a No. 10 seed will face a No. 11 in the Sweet 16 (the other was VCU’s win over Florida State in 2011 on the way to the Final Four).

And now one of them will be a game away from the Final Four after Thursday

Stanford vs. Dayton
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: CBS
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller
Region: South (Memphis)

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Dayton 62-58
Braden Gall: Stanford 60-58
Mitch Light: Stanford 67-66
Nathan Rush: Dayton 65-55
How Stanford got here:
Stanford’s defense has been outstanding in two games. The Cardinal baffled Kansas with 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones, preventing Andrew Wiggins and the Jayhawks’ athletic forwards to get good looks. New Mexico struggled in a round of 64 loss to get outside shots against Stanford as well (4 of 21 3-point shooting).

How Dayton got here:
Both Aaron Craft and Tyler Ennis had the ball in their hands with a chance to beat Dayton, and neither were able to capitalize. Maybe Dayton’s a little lucky, but the Flyers proved during the regular season they could compete with major programs.

Other Sweet 16 previews:
Wisconsin-Baylor | Florida-UCLA | Arizona-San Diego State

Key for Stanford to get to the Elite Eight: Limit Dayton on the perimeter
Despite the results against New Mexico, Stanford was not a great team defending 3-point line during the season. If Jordan Sibert, Khari Price and Devin Olver get hot from outside, Stanford will be in trouble.

Key for Dayton to get to the Elite Eight: Limit Stanford’s size advantage
Dayton can score in a handful of ways, but the Flyers have few regulars taller than 6-7. With Dwight Powell, Stefan Nastic and Josh Huestis, Stanford will have a significant size advantage.

Player to watch: Chasson Randle, Stanford
Stanford has the big forwards, but an undersized point guard leads the Cardinal attack. Randle scored 23 points against New Mexico and 13 against Kansas, but the key will be the 3-point shot. Stanford went 0-of-9 from long range against Kansas. It’s tough to see Stanford advancing if it extends that drought into the Sweet 16.

Teaser:
Sweet 16 Preview and Picks: Stanford Cardinal vs. Dayton Flyers
Post date: Thursday, March 27, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/ranking-best-and-worst-mlb-managerial-jobs-2014
Body:

Would you rather live in San Diego or Cleveland? Who you rather play in Yankee Stadium or Tropicana Field? Who would you rather work for? A Steinbrenner or a giant cable company?

Certainly, winning baseball is really all that matters in the end, but these things and much more go into ranking MLB’s managerial jobs. Job security, pressure to win, ownership, tradition, fan support, TV contracts, geography and a path to a championship all factor into determining what is the best job in baseball.

There are some things that don’t count, however, because they are dynamic in nature. For example, a team’s current roster doesn’t factor into the mix (nor do horrible contracts) because that will change so dramatically in a short period of time. The same can be said about General Managers. So if all things were considered equal — say, every team has the same roster and same GM — which managerial job would be the best in Major League Baseball?

1. New York Yankees
Is the pressure to win greater in the Bronx than anywhere else? Yes. Has ownership been overbearing in the past? Yes. But putting any other team at No. 1 in baseball is just being cute. The Pinstripes are the most prestigious, most successful and most revered brand in the sport and leading the Yanks to a championship immortalizes you like nowhere else — except maybe the upper half of Chicago.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are under new ownership that is clearly willing to spend money — the Dodgers led the league with $254 million payroll in 2013. Los Angeles has a massive new cable network contract and led the majors in attendance a year ago (3.7 million) by a wide margin. This brand has history and tradition like its East Coast brethren and is the best job in the National League.

3. Boston Red Sox
Fenway Park alone makes this job extremely attractive. It's a pro sports gem. The fan support is one of the best in the majors and ownership is committed to winning — Boston had the third-highest payroll in the game last year. From an overall brand equity standpoint, few managerial gigs in the league can match what the Bo-Sox have to offer in terms of cultural significance.

4. St. Louis Cardinals
Unless you wear Cubbie Blue, the Cardinals fans are among the best in all of professional sports. The city of St. Louis cares more about its baseball team and does it in a way that only the Midwest can offer. It's why the Cards were No. 2 in attendance last year (3.3 million) and it's why the Redbirds have been in the postseason in 10 of the last 14 seasons.

5. San Francisco Giants
The Giants have proven that you can win big in the Bay Area and the name brand is one of the most storied and tradition-laden in the game. The ballpark is second to none and that is partly why the Giants were No. 3 in attendance last year (3.3 million). CEO Larry Baer seems to stay in the background allowing his people to work and creating nearly unmatched stability. There is a lot of value in a non-meddling figure head.

6. Chicago Cubs
There is a history of instability and the stadium needs to be “addressed” — whatever that means — but there wouldn't be a more significant American sports championship than if the Cubs were to win the World Series. The Ricketts family took over in 2009 and has slowly but surely shown that they are committed to making that happen by hiring the right people in the front office.

7. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers were one of just three American League teams to average more than 38,000 fans per game and the history of the franchise speaks for itself. Ownership is willing to spend the money to compete as the Tigers were fourth in the league last year with $154 million payroll. Finally, the path to a championship against the Royals, Twins, Indians and White Sox appears easier than in, say, the AL East.

8. Los Angeles Angels
There isn’t a huge difference between this team and its crosstown rival. This team has a great owner in Arte Moreno who is willing to spend money and offer job security to a skipper. The city has its pluses and minuses but is still in a beautiful part of the country — especially, on a manager's salary. Stabilizing the future of the ballpark — one of the oldest in the league (1966) — will go a long way in determining the future of this managerial job.

9. Cincinnati Reds
A historic brand in a solid park in a town that loves baseball makes managing the Reds one of the league’s better jobs. Ownership has changed hands a few times over the last two decades but the current regime has clearly been the most successful. There is no better place to be on Opening Day than in Cincinnati.

10. Atlanta Braves
There is a lot to love about managing the Bravos. History, success, tradition, their own cable network and a richly populated area of raw baseball talent makes this a great job. It’s not top five, however, because attendance has always been a question (even in the postseason) and the fact that Turner Field won’t even last two decades leaves a very odd and poor taste in the mouth.

11. Philadelphia Phillies
A passionate fanbase, committed payroll and recent run of big-time success make this a very attractive place to manage. Sometimes the fans can be “too” passionate and the city will heap expectations on their sports team unlike anywhere in the country. But when things are going well, this front office, ballpark and clubhouse is a great place to be.

12. New York Mets
Being second in your own town can be both a positive and a negative. It means the pressure to win isn’t as great but it means there's a tough fight for headlines as well. Citi Field is a newly minted gem of a park and working in the world’s biggest media market is a huge plus. Ownership has been forced to be stingy of late but has a track record of spending money.

13. Baltimore Orioles
Camden Yards began a ballpark revolution when it comes to design, intimacy and fan experience when it opened 1992. Ownership also has appeared to have a renewed commitment to winning of late, increasing payroll to over $100 million for the first time in franchise history last season. Baseball is more fun when the Orioles are good.

14. Texas Rangers
It took 36 years for this franchise to reach the playoffs for the first time (1996) and has gone from whipping boy in the 80s to annual AL West powerhouse today. The stadium isn’t new (1994) but attendance has been one of the AL’s most consistent, finishing second in the AL last season (3.1 million). The city isn’t all that great and ownership can be finicky but overall this has the makings of an elite job should the spending ($138 million last year) continue.

15. Washington Nationals
The Nats have a brand new park (2008), are willing to spend money ($112 million last year) and appear to be luring fans to the park (11th in attendance). That said, there is a lot to compete with in the D.C. area and the Orioles have a longer history and tradition of support in the region. The front office appears to be one of the more committed after increasing spending in each of the last seven seasons. And that makes this an intriguing job.

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16. Chicago White Sox
Managing on the Southside will never be confused with managing on the Northside but one Chicago team has a championship in the last 100 years and the other does not. Attendance and payroll dipped last season to decade-lows and that is a concerning trend but after seven straight years of $100 million-plus payrolls, the fans cannot complain about effort from ownership. The new park is starting to get stale but baseball fans in the Windy City will certainly support a winner.

17. Arizona Diamondbacks
This team has the vibe and makeup to be a major market franchise if it so chooses. It has never been below two million in gross attendance in any year and has proven it is willing to spend money in the past — over $100 million in 2002 following a trip to the World Series. It's located in a big city that is extremely attractive to most and has proven it can be a winner with five playoff appearances in just 16 total years of existence.

18. Pittsburgh Pirates
Many believe that PNC Park is the best in the game today, and, finally, last year the fans had a reason to pack it to the gills. Current ownership took over in 1996 after the past regime had spent a paltry $905,517 on payroll in ’95. It appears like this team is finally willing to spend money and it resulted in the highest attendance (2,256 million) since PNC’s first year in 2001 and the highest payroll ($96 million) in franchise history. It should be no surprise that the Pirates posted their first winning season since 1992.

19. Minnesota Twins
From a job security standpoint, few teams can match the Twins commitment to their personnel. The new ballpark has some negatives (like being outside in Minnesota) but is extremely well done and virtually brand new. The history is rich and the only missing piece is the big market payroll (27th in ’13).

20. San Diego Padres
This team plays in one of the best towns in the nation in one of the nicer parks in the league. And the Padres have only had two managers since 1995, so stability seems to like San Diego. Attendance has consistently topped 2 million per year since the mid-90s but the payroll has consistently been in the bottom third of the league. This seems like a much better job than most give it credit for on the surface.

21. Cleveland Indians
The fans are passionate but Cleveland is definitely a football town first and a baseball city second. Progressive Field was a big step up from Memorial Stadium, but it opened two decades ago and the Indians were 29th in attendance last year. Dolan Family ownership took over a team that had been to the playoffs five straight seasons and has delivered a postseason roster only three times in the last 15 years.

22. Oakland Athletics
There is a lot to like and a lot to be concerned about with Oakland. The stadium situation has to be fixed and that could mean a move across town — or a move across the country. There is plenty of history and tradition of success and a lot worse places to live than the Bay Area. However, this team traditionally acts like a small market squad when it comes to spending money. And for what it’s worth, this team has had four managers since 2002. Moving into a new ballpark could rocket this franchise up the list. Staying put could drop it like a rock to the bottom.

23. Milwaukee Brewers
The ballpark is excellent and the good people of Wisconsin love going to sporting events but Miller Park was only three-quarters of the way full last fall (31,248 per game). Some of that may be due to the lack of success historically that this team has experienced. It’s been to two postseasons since 1982 and many of the big ticket items were not retained by the franchise (Prince, Greinke, CC).

24. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies boast an excellent ballpark in a great town and, regionally, face little competition from other baseball franchises. At tenth in the league in attendance (2.7 million), the fans have been willing to support their team even in some of the worst baseball conditions in the league. In fact, Colorado has been above 2.3 million every year since getting to the World Series in 2007.

25. Houston Astros
Ownership does appear to be pointing this organization in the right direction but it has a long way to go. The stadium is quirky but nice and fairly modern. And the Stros have been to a World Series in the last decade. The $14 million payroll from a year ago is hugely concerning and the move to the American League makes for a strange combination of NL history and current AL batting orders.

26. Tampa Bay Rays
The stadium might be the worst in the majors, rumors of the team leaving town have long swirled around the Bay, it plays in arguably the toughest division and attendance — despite lots of winning — has been atrocious (last in ’13). Ownership lets Joe Maddon do his thing, and that is a huge plus, but this team excels without any advantages that other teams in the division thrive on.

27. Seattle Mariners
Clearly the front office is willing to spend money and has done a solid job developing pitching but this team is playing in one of the better divisions in the game and attendance is slipping in a big way. This team drew 3.5 million in 2002 and has watched numbers drop ever since to 1.7 million last year. It may be unfair, but the Mariners also feel out of sight and out of mind stuck up there in the Pacific Northwest.

28. Kansas City Royals
Kauffman Stadium is a nice place to watch a game but this team hasn’t drawn more than 1.8 million fans since the ballpark opened in 1993. Ownership changed in 2000 and payroll has consistently risen but only recently (last year) did it top $70 million for the first time in franchise history. There is some history here but it is in the distant past as the Royals haven’t made the playoffs since 1985.

29. Toronto Blue Jays
The only team not located in the United States plays in a stadium that lacks the warmth (both literally and figuratively) of true outdoor natural grass parks. Ownership has been around since 2000 (Rogers Communications) and has spent serious money of late but this organization has yet to prove it can make the right maneuvers in the toughest division in baseball.

30. Miami Marlins
The one thing the Marlins franchise had going for it — a brand new ballpark — was totally botched due to lack of distinct and innovative engineering. All sports teams in Miami have a tough enough time drawing fans to a game without a giant fishy optical illusion in center field. Ownership has proven it can build a winner but it has also proven that it can dismantle a team quicker than a Giancarlo Stanton line drive. No payroll, no attendance and no history make this the toughest job in the league.

Teaser:
Ranking the Best and Worst MLB Managerial Jobs in 2014
Post date: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 16:00
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/18-holes-you-need-play-2014
Body:

Gambling and golf have gone together since the betting days of famed golf hustler Titantic Thompson. Fortunately you don’t have to take a chance on losing your shirt with these golf holes; they represent some of the best that reside on courses connected with casinos. So enjoy them and see how many you can play this year, but stay away from the man who says he can beat you playing with only a Dr. Pepper bottle for a “friendly little wager.”

 

No. 1
Contraband Bayou, Par 5, 611 yards

Lake Charles, Louisiana

The course was redesigned three years ago, and this hole was chosen as the new opener. It is a much better way to start the round at this course. There is water visible from the tee box, but it is more for appearance than as a hazard. There is plenty of other difficulty, including a fairway bunker on both sides of the landing area that will capture wayward tee shots. Reaching the green will be difficult except for the longest of hitters. Another hazard on the left will get any errant layups. The green has trouble on the left with two bunkers and a lake.
Contact: 866-580-7444, www.llakecharles.com/amenities/golf-course

 

No. 2
Firekeeper, Par 4, 480 yards

Mayetta, Kansas
This hole is part of a six-hole stretch of prairie grass, and the native grass surrounds most of this picturesque long par 4. Don’t get lulled by the scenery or you may find yourself in one of the five fairway bunkers. Stay on the right side of the fairway on the drive to set up your approach shot. Take a little more club on your second shot to ensure clearing the rectangular bunker in front of the green appropriately named “The Coffin” for its size and what it will do to your score. The green narrows from front to back and is guarded by two additional bunkers.
Contact: 785-966-2100, www.firekeepergolf.com

 

No. 3
Sequoyah National, Par 5, 532 yards
Whittier, North Carolina

A slightly elevated tee makes reaching this hole in two shots even more possible. The dogleg right layout is framed by trees on both sides of a fairway that slopes significantly from right to left. The fairway squeezes in dramatically the longer the tee shot, so accuracy is a must. The trees clear for the second shot, and the fairway opens up to an elevated green that continues to the right. A medium-sized bunker on the right before the green serves to fool golfers into thinking that the putting surface is closer than it really is and will also gobble up any short second shots.
Contact: 828-497-3000, www.sequoyahnational.com

 

No. 4
French Lick (Donald Ross Course), Par 3, 240 yards
French Lick, Indiana

The first par 3 on this classic Donald Ross design is a challenge that will test every level of golfer. The long par 3 is made even longer by being uphill and into the wind, so coming up short is a real possibility. Come up too short and there is a chance the ball will roll down the false front and into one of two bunkers. Shots to the far left will find two additional bunkers. Guard too much to the right and miss the green, and your ball will roll down the slope and present an improbable up-and-down opportunity. The green has a bowl effect, so shots will funnel to the center.
Contact: 888-936-9360, www.frenchlick.com

 

No. 5
Cherokee Hills, Par 4, 440 yards
Catoosa, Oklahoma

The hardest hole on the golf course tests golfers from the tee to the green. The opening shot is to a tight fairway that is guarded by bunkers on both the left and right sides. Miss the fairway and the second shot will have to find its way through the trees that frame the hole. Golfers will also have to negotiate a creek to get to the green. If not on the fairway, the smarter play might be to lay up to avoid the big number on the scorecard. The green was built on top of a large rock that provides a significant separation from left to right. This will wreak havoc on long putts and make saving par difficult.
Contact: 800-760-6700, www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com/golf/cherokee-hills

 

No. 6
Salish Cliffs, Par 3, 168 yards
Shelton, Washington

A legitimate birdie hole that can be taken advantage of but can also be a round killer if not played wisely. Club selection is key on this downhill par 3, and both the elevation change from tee to green and the prevailing wind should factor into your club selection. Going left will find a large greenside bunker, and too much club will put golfers in an almost impossible spot to save par. The green has a steep slope that runs from front to back.
Contact: 360-462-3673, www.salish-cliffs.com

 

No. 7
Journey at Pechanga, Par 4, 330 yards
Temecula, California

This is a funky little hole that is both scenic and challenging. The tee boxes are slightly elevated, and golfers will see a large oak in the middle of the fairway that doglegs to the left. Use the tree as an aiming spot and go left of the tree for the optimal approach shot. Make sure the ball gets past the oak, because if it doesn’t, the only option on your second shot will be a punch-out past the large obstacle. Even going long right is a better option than being behind the massive tree. The green is oval shaped and small. Missing the green means landing in a bunker or worse.
Contact: 951-770-8210, www.pechanga.com/golf

 

No. 8
Circling Raven, Par 4, 386 yards
Worley, Idaho

Tall pine trees frame this course’s signature hole that features a hill on the left hand side of the fairway and three medium-size fairway bunkers on the right. Going left should be okay since a lot of the balls will funnel back in the fairway, although if you venture too far left, the hill will gobble up the tee shot. Too far right is trouble, too, as balls will likely find one of the bunkers. An iron off the tee might be the right play for a more accurate shot. The approach is a fairly easy shot to a large green, but going over the putting surface puts you in the protected wetlands.
Contact: 800-523-2464, www.cdacasino.com/golf

 

No. 9
The Wilderness at Fortune Bay, Par 4, 396 yards
Tower, Minnesota

What a way to finish the front nine. This challenging hole has a generous landing area off the tee for a conservative tee shot. Golfers who want to get a little more aggressive will see the landing area cut in half and protected by a bunker on the left. The second shot is over a pond that borders the entire front of the oval-shaped green. Going long is not an option as a large bunker awaits any errant shots. Once you're safely on the green, enjoy the cascading water that feeds into the pond. It will be a nice sound as you putt for birdie.
Contact: 218-753-8917, www.golfthewilderness.com

 

No. 10
Inn of the Mountain Gods, Par 4, 354 yards
Mescalero , New Mexico

This is a classic risk/reward hole that will tempt the long hitters but can yield disastrous results if not played perfectly. The hole features an island landing area in the middle of a lake; golfers must decide if they are going to lay up to the island or try and clear it to get closer to the green. It is about 280 yards of carry to make it to the other side. Stay left, though, because too far right and you will find the water that guards the right side of the green. The more conservative play is to hit a shot about 170 yards from the tee, leaving an approach shot of just under 150 yards.
Contact: 800-545-9011, www.innofthemountaingods.com

 

No. 11
Lake of Isles (North Course), Par 3, 196 yards
North Stonington, Connecticut

Water surrounds the left side of this hole, but there is also a small pond on the right side that can’t be ignored. Teeing off from the back tees will present an additional challenge as trees on the left obscure a golfer’s sight and in some instances will require a right-to-left shot to navigate around them. A tee shot to the right side of the green is the best strategy for this hole since it will keep balls dry, and the natural slope of the green will funnel shots closer to the hole, especially for a lower left pin. Too far right, however, and you'll find the greenside bunker — or worse, the water.
Contact: 888-475-3746, www.lakeofisles.com

 

No. 12
Atlantic City Country Club, Par 3, 134 yards
Northfield, New Jersey

Play the hole where the term "birdie" originated in 1903; a plaque commemorates the occasion. Getting your own birdie is very possible on this short, very straightforward hole. There are large bunkers on both sides of the slightly elevated green and no room for error, but unless there is a mistake in club selection, golfers should be able to find the putting surface. The green is large and slopes from back to front. Take dead aim and try and get a birdie on the same hole that Arnold Palmer, Bob Hope and Sam Snead once played.
Contact: 609-236-4411, www.accountryclub.com

 

No. 13
Fallen Oak, Par 5, 575 yards
Saucier, Mississippi

This one's not reachable in two shots for very many golfers because of the length and elevation increase. The opening shot is helped along by an elevated tee, but the hole gets more difficult as you go. The hole doglegs to the left with a generous landing area, and cutting the corner is possible to take away more yardage for the second shot. Take plenty of club on the second shot, because it plays uphill approximately 40 feet, but also make sure the third shot is a wedge to get the ball close. The green is also elevated and features a 10-foot deep bunker guarding the front.
Contact: 877-805-4657, www.fallenoak.com

 

No. 14
Turning Stone Atunyote, Par 4, 385 yards
Verona, New York

Though it is the shortest par 4 on the golf course, Tom Fazio designed it with plenty of hazards to keep a golfer on his or her toes. The first is the creek that runs up the entire left side of the hole and expands into a beautiful lake complete with a distracting waterfall at the green. Any shot left will find the water. There is a large tree on the right side that will snare any tee shot that goes too far in that direction. Another clever hazard is the bunker on the right side that appears to be closer to the green than it is. The putting surface is filled with subtle contours.
Contact: 800-771-7711, www.turningstone.com

 

No. 15
Southern Dunes, Par 4, 496 yards
Maricopa, Arizona

Truly a beast of a hole. Not only is it long but it is also uphill, and getting there in two shots will definitely be a challenge. The spot to aim for is the first visible fairway bunker, but be careful, because taking too much off this dogleg-left hole could find one of two hidden sand traps. The fairway slopes from right to left and will channel balls to an area that will set up a nice second shot. The approach shot should favor the right side, because if a shot is missed it will avoid the large bunker on the left guarding the green. There is a smaller bunker on the right to avoid as well.
Contact: 480-367-8949, www.golfsoutherndunes.com

 

No. 16
Edgewood, Par 5, 564 yards
Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Running toward the famous lake with stunning views of the mountains, this downhill hole is reachable in two shots. Don’t be fooled by the yardage; you are up in elevation and the ball will carry much further, so getting to the hole in two is a distinct possibility. This is a tight fairway, though, and tall pine trees line both sides (there's one in the middle of the fairway, too), so accuracy is a must. Go after the green with caution because of the many bunkers surrounding the putting surface. But be sure to enjoy one of the prettiest holes in all of golf.
Contact: 775-588-3566, www.edgewoodtahoe.com

 

No. 17
Sweetgrass, Par 4, 427 yards
Harris, Michigan

Playing from the back tees will bring the water into play, and using the rock in the fairway as a guide will help tee shots not only stay dry but also avoid the large fairway bunker. This is one of the few holes on the course that has trees incorporated into the design. The rock comes into play on the approach shot and should be avoided, as should the four bunkers that guard the green. The putting surface is long and slopes from back to front. This hole is titled "Wisdom," and it will take plenty of it to get a birdie — not to mention skill.
Contact: 800-682-6040 ext. 2251, www.sweetgrassgolfclub.com

 

No. 18
Bali Hai, Par 4, 486 yards
Las Vegas, Nevada

Situated on one of only two courses on the Strip, hole, called "Kuda Bay," is a great finishing hole that combines beauty and brawn. The longest par 4 on the course demands a strong drive, and even though the fairway is tight, playing a second shot from an adjoining fairway is possible, so let ‘er rip. The only hazard off the tee is a bunker on the left side. It is the approach shot that is fraught with peril. There is a waste bunker on the right side and a bunker on the left side that makes the green appear closer than it is. The biggest hazard on this hole is the large lake on the right side, where there's also a bunker.
Contact: 888-427-6678, www.balihaigolfclub.com

 

— John Reger, vegasgolfmag.com

Teaser:
Gambling and golf have gone together since the betting days of famed golf hustler Titantic Thompson. Fortunately you don’t have to take a chance on losing your shirt with these golf holes; they represent some of the best that reside on courses connected with casinos. So enjoy them and see how many you can play this year, but stay away from the man who says he can beat you playing with only a Dr. Pepper bottle for a “friendly little wager.”
Post date: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 15:17
All taxonomy terms: Jim Furyk, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-14-jim-furyk
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 14: Jim Furyk

Born: May 12, 1970, West Chester, Pa. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 16 | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,204,779 (15th) World Ranking: 24

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Jim Furyk is already close to Hall of Fame numbers, but at 43 he still has another five good years left to add to his resume. With this being a Ryder Cup year, Jim perhaps feels an extra motivation to make the U.S. team to avenge his painful play in that event in 2012. The Ryder Cup aside, the 2003 U.S. Open champion continues to play at a very high level and is still one of the most consistent players on tour. His second-place finish in last year’s PGA Championship was his 20th top ten in a major, and with The Open Championship returning to Hoylake, a place where he finished fourth in 2006, Jim looks to be, sooner or later, a multiple major winner.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 73
Wins: 1

2013 Performance:
Masters - T25
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - 2

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 4 (1998, 2003)
U.S. Open - 1 (2003)
British Open - 4/T4 (1997, 1998, 2006)
PGA Championship - 2 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 20
Top-25 Finishes: 35
Missed Cuts: 15

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2014 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 11:20
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-26-2014
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 26.

• My Michelle Jenneke obsession continues. Click here and see why.

The Buffalo Bills left a single light on to honor late owner Ralph Wilson.

Enjoy this time-lapse video of the creation of the Final Four floor.

USF couldn't hire Pitino protege Steve Masiello because he never got his degree from Kentucky, even though his resume said he did. Details, details.

Meet one of the guys who parachuted off One World Trade Center.

This Nick Young highlight is truly classic. He pulled the Larry Bird celebrate-the-three-before-it-goes-in. With one problem.

Here's a rundown from the owner votes on proposed rules changes from the NFL's Competition Committee. Five rules changes in all. Moving the extra points got tabled. They rejected expanding instant replay to include personal foul penalties, which I would support. Jeff Fisher also says they're cracking down on taunting.

Guess who's donning the shades and other tings of dis nature to play the T-800 yet again? Yep. Ahnuld.

After 250 years, women will be allowed to join the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. What's next, letting them vote?

More evidence that the NCAA is just the worst.

• I don't really follow hockey, but I think this is frowned upon.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 10:59
Path: /college-football/virginia-tech-hokies-2014-spring-football-preview
Body:

After eight straight seasons of at least 10 wins or more and dominating the ACC since entering the league, Frank Beamer has stubbed his toe over the last two campaigns.

At least, relatively speaking.

Virginia Tech is accustomed to competing for conference titles and playing in BCS bowls so 11 combined losses in the last two years doesn’t sit well with the passionate fans of VPI. Yes, Beamer hasn’t missed a bowl game since Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, but his offense, in particular, has grown stagnant over the last two seasons.

After changes on the staff a year ago — and one massive departure under center this year — Beamer is hoping to return to the ACC title picture in 2014.

And finding a replacement for the turnover-prone and oft-embattled yet record-setting quarterback Logan Thomas will be his first order of business this spring.

2014 Schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 30William & Mary
Sept. 6at 
Sept. 13
Sept. 20
Sept. 27
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 11Bye Week
Oct. 16at 
Oct. 23
Nov. 1
Nov. 8Bye Week
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22at 
Nov. 28

Virginia Tech Hokies 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 8-5 (5-3 ACC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 27

Spring Game: April 26

Returning Starters

Offense: 8

Defense: 5

Three Things to Watch in Virginia Tech's 2014 Spring Practice

Is Mark Leal the answer?
Leal, a rising redshirt senior, is the most experienced quarterback on the roster and he threw just four passes during the regular season a year ago. The most action he saw was in the Sun Bowl blowout against UCLA when Thomas was hurt. He completed 11-of-24 passes for 128 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. His performance in that one game isn’t indicative of his potential success or failure in 2014 but it certainly looked like he was in over his head. This means that rising junior Brenden Motley and sophomore-to-be Andrew Ford should get plenty of chances this spring to prove themselves. All three need to make waves this spring before talented Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arrives this summer. Leal is the frontrunner but will have to play very well to hold off the more pro-style Brewer once fall camp opens. A great spring for Leal would go a long way to settling the QB debate in Blacksburg.

Fill holes along the defensive line
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is as proven a coaching commodity as there is in college football and fans can bet his unit won’t take a big step back in 2014. That doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t have his work cut out for him on the D-line this spring. Luther Maddy, the team’s leading sack artist (6.5) returns but James Gayle, Derrick Hopkins and J.R. Collins are all gone from the rotation. That trio posted 149 tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss and 16.0 sacks a year ago. The return of Corey Marshall, who missed all of last year with an injury, will help replace Hopkins at tackle. Otherwise, Dadi Nicolas, Ken Ekanem, Seth Dooley and Dewayne Alford will all compete for playing time up front. Maddy is a solid pass rusher but this group needs to be developed around him if Tech wants to stop the budding offensive rushing attacks in the ACC.

Find leadership at linebacker
Foster must replace Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum at the back end of his defense, but since his roster is so loaded (SEE Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson), the linebacker position is of much greater importance this spring. Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards are gone after a combined 174 tackles a year ago and Tyler’s leadership, in particular, will be missed. Josh Trimble isn’t going to be a superstar but he has the most experience and the inside track on a starting spot. Ronny Vandyke is back after missing all of last year with a shoulder injury but will be moving slowly (and carefully) in spring camp. Otherwise, it’s a lot of unknowns competing for time at one of the most prestigious defensive positions in the ACC. Playing linebacker for Foster is an honor and names like Chase Williams, Deon Clarke, Dahman McKinnon, Derek DiNardo and Drew Burns are all vying for snaps this spring. Beamer has always had elite linebackers at Tech and he will need to find his heir apparent after losing both Tyler and Edwards this offseason.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9
Nationally, some are wondering what the future of the Hokies' program is after two “down” years in Blacksburg. The ACC has gotten a lot better around Tech over the last few years and that makes it tougher on everyone. Beamer and Foster are proven winners and will have another salty defense this year. But coordinator Scot Loeffler’s offense needs to improve in short order without a proven signal-caller if Virginia Tech wants to win the Coastal Division. The good news is the schedule. There is no Clemson, no Florida State and no Louisville on the slate in crossover play and games with Georgia Tech and Miami take place in Blacksburg.

Teaser:
Virginia Tech Hokies 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/michigan-state-spartans-2014-spring-football-preview
Body:

Mission accomplished.

It was 1987 the last time Michigan State won an outright Big Ten championship or played in the Rose Bowl. Mark Dantonio ended both of the streaks in one awesome performance against undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten title game last fall.

Then he capped the emotional trip to Pasadena by suspending his senior captain and MSU legacy and still managed to topple mighty Stanford for a Rose Bowl championship — winning a school-record 13 games in the process.

Now Dantonio, a coach who has built his legacy on elite defensive football and a power running game, faces arguably his toughest rebuilding test — in particular, on defense. Six senior starters are gone from the defense and three All-Big Ten players have moved on from the offensive line.

So if Sparty wants to repeat as Big Ten champs, this coaching staff will have to plug holes in the back seven of the defense and in the trenches along the offensive line.

2014 Schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 30Jacksonville State
Sept. 6at 
Sept. 13Bye Week
Sept. 20
Sept. 27
Oct. 4
Oct. 11at 
Oct. 18at 
Oct. 25
Nov. 1Bye Week
Nov. 8
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22
Nov. 29at 

Michigan State Spartans 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 13-1 (8-0 Big Ten)

Spring Practice Opens: March 25

Spring Game: April 26

Returning Starters

Offense: 6

Defense: 5

Three Things to Watch in Michigan State's 2014 Spring Practice

Find leadership at linebacker
Max Bullough didn’t play in the Rose Bowl, but he was as big a part of a title run as any player in school history. He hails from a family steeped in Spartans' football history and was a four-year starter. He and playmaking linebacker Denicos Allen have expired their eligibility and that leaves major leadership voids in the middle of the Spartans defense. Taiwan Jones (67 tackles) has some experience and may be looked to as the future leader of the unit as he moves inside to middle linebacker. Ed Davis, Jon Reschke and Darien Harris got limited playing time a year ago and should gain more prominent roles as well. Dantonio and coordinator Pat Narduzzi have plenty of options to choose from as MSU always seems to find quality bodies at linebacker, (SEE: Kyler Ellsworth) but this group needs to come together quickly this spring as the Spartans enter a dramatically more intense offensive division in the East.

Fill holes along the offensive line
Connor Cook developed into one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten last year. Jeremy Langford returns with All-American aspirations in 2014. And the receiving corps is quietly becoming one of the deeper units in the league. But the offensive line — Michigan State’s bread and butter — needs to fill three large voids left by right tackle Fou Fonoti and guards Blake Treadwell and Dan France. Jack Allen returns to anchor the O-Line and Jack Conklin started 13 games at left tackle, so Dantonio has two quality pieces to work with before trying to fill the other three spots. Donavan Clark, Connor Kruse and Travis Jackson should figure in the mix prominently and are listed atop the spring depth chart currently. How quickly this group comes together may determine how far Sparty can go in 2014. It’s one thing to have a great backfield and great playmakers on offense, but if you cannot open up running lanes or protect the passer, it can all go to waste.

Rebuild the secondary
Darqueze Dennard was considered the best defensive back and top cover corner in the nation when he was awarded the Thorpe Award. He and honorable mention All-Big Ten safety Isaiah Lewis were mainstays for Sparty on the backend and will be missed in 2014. Safety Kurtis Drummond returns to anchor the safeties, and Trae Waynes has loads of upside at cornerback, but little in the way of experience returns to the secondary outside of those two. Demetrious Cox and RJ Williamson will play a bunch at safety and should replace Lewis capably. Jermaine Edmondson, Darian Hicks, Arjen Colquhoun and Ezra Robinson will try to fill the massive void left by Dennard at cornerback. Hicks and Cox are listed as the starters in the spring depth chart and have the inside track on earning starting positions.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 9-11

With at least 11 wins in three of the last four seasons, Dantonio has proven that he reloads rather than rebuilds. This team has some glaring holes to fill at offensive line, linebacker and in the secondary. However, the roster has steadily improved over time and replacing talent is getting easier for the Spartans. Cook and Langford is arguably the top QB-RB tandem in the Big Ten and the offense, shockingly, could carry this team through an “easier” early schedule. Removing a premier national non-conference game with Oregon in Eugene (which doesn’t impact the Big Ten race obviously), the Spartans should be heavy favorites in their first six (maybe seven) games. Following an off weekend, the slate toughens up in the final month but both Ohio State and Maryland come at home. A repeat as Big Ten champs will likely come down to two November games with the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions.

Teaser:
Michigan State Spartans 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-top-coaches-without-final-four
Body:

The NCAA Tournament will go on without Mike Krzysewski, Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams.

At least as far as the Final Four is concerned, that means new blood.

Of the 16 coaches left in the NCAA Tournament, only six have been to the Final Four. Some of the others are young coaches making their first major impression (Dayton’s Archie Miller, UConn’s Kevin Ollie), but the Sweet 16 is more notable for the coaches who have accomplished nearly everything they can in their career without reaching the Final Four.

Bo Ryan and Sean Miller may be on anyone’s top 10 or 20 coaches in the country, but neither have reached the Final Four. That may change, perhaps in a meeting between the two of them in the Elite Eight.

As the NCAA Tournament moves into the regionals, we’d be shocked if one coach does not reach his first Final Four, though it’s certainly possible all of them get left out yet again.

Suffice to say, no one wants to be on this list next season.

Top 20 active coaches who have never been to the Final Four

1. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
Closest call: Wisconsin lost to North Carolina in the 2005 Elite Eight.
Ryan’s approach is consistent as they come, going back to when he won four Division III titles at Wisconsin-Platteville. Thanks to unflinching player development and disciplined defensive play, Ryan's teams have never finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten. Success in the NCAA Tournament has eluded him. Ryan’s Wisconsin teams have made it out of the first weekend three times since 2005 and stalled in the Sweet 16 each time. With a No. 2 seed, only the second time he’s been seeded this high, Ryan may have his best chance to reach the Final Four of his career.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? Yes, but he’ll have to go through Scott Drew (2-0 in the Sweet 16) and either Sean Miller or Steve Fisher to do it.

2. Sean Miller, Arizona
Closest call: Arizona lost by 65-63 to Connecticut in the 2011 Elite Eight, and Xavier lost to UCLA in the 2008 Elite Eight.
In 10 seasons as a head coach, Miller has reached the Sweet 16 five times and the Elite Eight twice with two schools. He has restored Arizona to its place as one of the premier programs in the West and should reach the Final Four sooner rather than later. At 45, Miller's first Final Four probably won’t be his last.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? Yes, with a No. 1 seed, Miller’s Arizona team will be the favorite in the region.

3. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh
Closest call: A No. 1 seed in 2009, Pitt lost on a buzzer-beating layup by Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds in the Elite Eight.
Dixon has been remarkably consistent at Pittsburgh in the Big East and the ACC, missing the NCAA Tournament only once in his 11 seasons as a head coach. Dixon’s two best teams, though, lost in heartbreakers in the NCAA Tournament. His 2009 team lost on a buzzer-beater by Villanova in the Elite Eight. And two years later, Pittsburgh committed two late fouls that enabled eighth-seeded Butler to hit the free throws to advance to the Sweet 16.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Probably not. Pitt may be heading into another rebuilding year with Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna leaving next season.

4. Mark Few, Gonzaga
Closest call: An Adam Morrison-led Gonzaga team lost in a 73-71 heartbreaker to UCLA in the 2006 Sweet 16.
Gonzaga was a Tournament darling when the Bulldogs reached the Elite Eight under Dan Monson in 1999. Now, Gonzaga may be more well known for busting your brackets. The Bulldogs’ first No. 1 ranking and No. 1 seed was marred in 2013 when Gonzaga lost to Final Four-bound No. 9 seed Wichita State. Few has reached the Sweet 16 only once since 2006.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Probably not, and it will take a special group to get him there. Gonzaga has been seeded higher than seventh only twice since 2006.

5. Bruce Pearl, Auburn
Closest call: Tennessee lost 70-69 to Michigan State in the 2010 Elite Eight.
Pearl’s second exile from coaching ended a week ago when the former Tennessee coach was hired at Auburn. He’ll have an uphill battle at one of the SEC’s least successful programs over the last 10 years, but if Pearl can’t win at Auburn, few coaches could. Pearl has reached the Sweet 16 four times in his career, three times at Tennessee and once at Milwaukee.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? No, but making Auburn relevant in basketball may be a bigger challenge anyway.

6. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Closest call: Williams led Marquette to the Elite Eight in 2013, where the Golden Eagles lost 55-39 to Syracuse.
After missing the postseason for the first time in five seasons at Marquette, Williams decided to try his had at the ACC by taking one of the league’s toughest jobs at Virginia Tech. Williams has a style all his own, with a focus on on advanced statistics and finding players with chips on their shoulders. Given Williams’ own background, he’ll grab more players from the junior college ranks than the typical major-program coach.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? No. Virginia Tech went from a perennial bubble team to winning six ACC games in two seasons under James Johnson.

7. Tony Bennett, Virginia
Closest call: Bennett led Washington State to the Sweet 16 in 2008 where the Cougars lost to top-seeded North Carolina.
Bennett led Washington State to its first regional semifinal in 67 years and Virginia to its first regional semifinal in 19 years. He can coach, but running a slower offense doesn’t always translate to NCAA Tournament success, as Bo Ryan can attest.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? Yes, but his toughest game will be in the Sweet 16 against Michigan State.

8. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Closest call: Iowa State lost on a late basket by Ohio State’s Aaron Craft in the round of 32 in 2013.
The Mayor returned to Ames to revitalize Iowa State basketball, leading the Cyclones to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. This year’s team is Iowa State’s best since 2001 when the Cyclones lost to 15th-seeded Hampton in the first round.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? It will be tough. Iowa State looked like a Final Four contender at the end of the season, but that was before Georges Niang was lost for the remainder of the year.

9. Dana Altman, Oregon
Closest call: Oregon lost 77-69 to Louisville in the Sweet 16 in 2013.
Altman has taken three teams to the NCAA Tournament and failed to win 20 games only once since 1999. Though he wasn’t the first choice at Oregon, he’s breathed new life into the program in the last two seasons.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Maybe. Oregon is still a notch below Arizona and UCLA, but Oregon is the kind of program that could catch fire in a season or Tournament to reach the Final Four.

10. Scott Drew, Baylor
Closest call: Baylor lost in the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012
Drew is a divisive coach for some reason, despite taking over one of the toughest situations in college basketball and creating a viable Big 12 program. Drew has twice led Baylor to the Elite Eight where the Bears lost to the eventual champions (Duke in 2010 and Kentucky in 2012)
Can he reach the Final Four this season? Sure. Baylor has the talent to compete with Arizona and Wisconsin in its bracket and just blew out Creighton.

The next 10:

11. Fran McCaffery, Iowa
Iowa is the fourth program McCaffery has taken to the Tournament, which has yielded two wins, both at Siena.

12. Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt
One of the best offensive Xs and Os coaches in the league, Stallings may have missed a window for a deep Tournament when John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli left.

13. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Cronin needed four seasons to pull the Bearcats out of the cellar, but he’s reached four consecutive Tourneys since.

14. Matt Painter, Purdue
Like Stallings, Painter may have missed a window when his nucleus of Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore couldn’t stay healthy.

15. Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
Hamilton has seven NCAA appearances at Miami and Florida State, two programs not used to going to the Tournament.

16. Tad Boyle, Colorado
Have we mentioned how much luck is involved in going to the Final Four? This was Boyle’s best team until Spencer Dinwidde got hurt.

17. Tim Miles, Nebraska
Miles is a rising star who has built Colorado State and Nebraska into NCAA contenders.

18. Steve Alford, UCLA
Alford wrestled some demons by defeating lower-seeded teams from Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin. Beating Florida is another matter.

19. Mike Anderson, Arkansas
If only NCAA Tournament games were played in Fayetteville...

20. Bob McKillop, Davidson/Rick Byrd, Belmont
Two great coaches in one-bid leagues continue to pile up wins, but their ceilings are limited. Unless Stephen Curry happens to be on the roster.
 

Teaser:
College basketball's top coaches without a Final Four
Post date: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /nascar/nascar-rookie-report-larson-makes-statement-fontana
Body:

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

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


Auto racing is an unfair game. Organizations aren’t spread across the country in rich and poor markets like franchises in basketball or baseball, but there is an equivalent to big market teams. Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing aren’t located in Los Angeles or Manhattan, but they’d certainly be comparable to the Lakers and Dodgers and Knicks and Yankees.

Naturally, if there’s an equivalent to the big spenders in their given sport, then there’s an avatar for the small-budget operators as well. Where we see the major difference between the haves and have-nots is the results sheet.

When NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie Kyle Larson finished 19th at Phoenix driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, a team ubiquitous across various forms of four-wheel motorsports, his post-race response on Twitter was subdued, as if he expected more. When Josh Wise, a journeyman driver with upstart Phil Parsons Racing finished 23rd two weeks later at Bristol, he was over the moon.

Finishing 19th is better than finishing 23rd, so the reactions seem peculiar. They’re odd only because both drivers are realistic about their goals. Not every team has the personnel or equipment necessary to make a top-10 finish a barometric basement for a decent weekend. That’s why I attempt to extract a driver’s ability independent of personnel and equipment in my Production in Equal Equipment Rating, or PEER, an objective measuring of a driver’s results-getting ability.

PEER is key in this week’s ranking:


Kyle Larson1. Kyle Larson, No. 42 (previous ranking: 1) — Larson had a realistic chance at the end of the Fontana race to pull a Carl Edwards — that’d be winning both his first career NASCAR Nationwide Series race and first Cup race in the same weekend — before settling for a second-place run behind Kyle Busch. There will be more shots at a trophy, if PEER is any indication. Among all series regulars, Larson ranks 13th with a 1.850 rating. That rating is tops among rookies and is sort of a rarity nowadays; the only rookie since 2006 to finish a season with a PEER above 1.000 was Denny Hamlin. 49.8 percent of Larson’s laps are being run inside the top 15, which is probably why he’d view a finish of 16th or worse, like the one at Phoenix, as unacceptable.


Austin Dillon2. Austin Dillon, No. 3 (previous: 2) — Last I ranked Dillon, I harped about his poor pass efficiency, both through the first three races and in 2013 across Cup and Nationwide. Don’t look now, but Dillon — without the aid of a single green-flag pit cycle at Bristol or Fontana — has pushed two straight races of 50 percent efficiency or better to the middle of the table, demonstrating something we aren’t used to seeing from him. He’s not a serviceable producer, a la Larson, as he’s in a Cadillac compared to what most other drivers have and has just three finishes of 11th or better to show for it.


3. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 (previous: 5) — Two weeks ago, Allgaier took to a Bristol track on which he has a Nationwide Series win. His acumen at the half-mile facility translated from one car to its higher horsepower brother, as he finished 17th. The result wasn’t a fluke by any stretch. Allgaier averaged a 21st-place running position on the day and recorded an adjusted pass efficiency of 54.17 percent, almost five percentage points better than his average running position’s expected output. He ranks third behind Larson and Dillon in PEER among all rookies.

 

NASCAR Mailbox: I Never Did Like The Taste of Crow

 

Cole Whitt4. Cole Whitt, No. 26 (previous: 3) — Whitt isn’t running in the top 15 much — he’s done so in just under four percent of all laps this season — but proved himself capable of finishing just outside the top 15 last Sunday in Fontana, driving his Swan Racing entry to a season-best 18th-place finish. For those keeping score at home, that was the best result for the Swan Racing operation since the 18th-place at Texas last November by Parker Kligerman.


5. Parker Kligerman, No. 30 (previous: 4) — Kligerman has had a forgettable first five races of the 2014 season, so bad that he’s already let me know he intends to make history out of his poor start. The latest was an incident sparked by Casey Mears in Fontana. His 0.000 PEER represents exactly what he’s been able to produce (nothing), which, if his accolades in Nationwide or Trucks translate, could easily be corrected with one clean race weekend. That rough-and-tumble Martinsville, a track that saw over a fifth of its race run under caution last fall, is next on the schedule and might not appear appetizing for a driver with 0.60 crash frequency.

 

Couch Potato Tuesday: If You Make TMZ, It's Never A Good Sign

 

6. Michael Annett, No. 7 (previous: 6) — With each passing race, Annett finished better than he did the race prior. His most recent handiwork was a 19th-place run at Fontana, a fairly large overachievement noticed by someone who can sympathize with having to overachieve. Amazingly, it could have been better. Running 17th with less than 30 laps to go, Annett’s team was penalized for a tire rolling outside of his pit box. He then proceeded to drive from 29th to 19th in the remaining laps.


7. Alex Bowman, No. 23 (previous: 7) — A PEER of 0.000 reflects a 31st-place average finish, but doesn’t yet reflect “the little things” Bowman has been doing. He finished 10 laps down at Bristol, due primarily to the battery falling out of his car in the first quarter of the race, but he still managed to score the race’s highest passing value (a plus-23.43 percent, along with a 67.74 percent adjusted efficiency). He and crew chief Dave Winston have also been dutiful closers, retaining their position with 10 percent of a race to go 100 percent of the time and advancing an average of two positions per race during that final window.


Ryan Truex8. Ryan Truex, No. 83 (previous: 8) — Among Cup Series regulars with at least four starts, not one driver has a worse top 15 running percentage than Truex’s 0.1 percent. It’s still incredibly early in the season and there’s plenty of time to remedy some of the freshman foibles Truex has, but at this juncture, he’s struggling. His 40.46 percent adjusted pass efficiency for this initial stretch of races is one of the three worst efficiencies in the series, his closing (a position retention difference of minus-0.7 percent) is a negative against cars deep in the field and his average finish (35.8) stands out as one of Cup’s three poorest.


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

Photos by Actions Sports, Inc.


 

Teaser:
A weekly ranking of the rookies in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 18:44
Path: /college-football/dfa-test
Body:

It took just two seasons, but Todd Graham led Arizona State to the best conference record in the Pac-12, despite Stanford and Oregon ranking as preseason top-10 teams, and UCLA (according to some) the overwhelming favorite in the South.

Taylor Kelly and Will Sutton were clear leaders for the Sun Devils — one loaded with senior producers — and State went on a wild 2013 ride that ended with an 8-1 league record and a Pac-12 championship game in Sun Devil Stadium.

Returning for the defending South Division champions is a host of elite playmakers, including star three-year starter Taylor Kelly at quarterback. Sure, replacing Marion Grice and Chris Coyle will be key in the playmaker department and filling a couple of holes on the O-Line is important, but Graham’s tallest order is replacing nine of 11 starters on his defense.

There will be a noticeable theme with ASU’s “three things to watch” this spring.

2014 Schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 28Weber State
Sept. 6at
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 20Bye Week
Sept. 25
Oct. 4at
Oct. 11Bye Week
Oct. 18
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22
Nov. 28at 

Arizona State Sun Devils 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 10-4 (8-1 Pac-12)

Spring Practice Opens: March 18

Spring Game: April 19

Returning Starters

Offense: 7

Defense: 2

Three Things to Watch in Arizona State's 2014 Spring Practice

Find playmakers along the D-Line
Will Sutton was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac-12, and he cannot simply be replaced. But more than that, the Arizona State defensive line is also missing All-Pac-12 picks Davon Coleman (15.0 TFL), Gannon Conway (7 TFL) and hybrid end/linebacker Carl Bradford (19.5 TFL). Replacing all four starters up front is virtually impossible for any team, but this group combined for over 200 tackles and 24.5 sacks in 2013. Finding guys who can pressure the quarterback and play behind the line of scrimmage is imperative for Graham and new co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. Jaxon Hood returns and has plenty of upside at nose tackle, and Marcus Hardison might be the best returning pass rusher on the roster. This duo will try to fill the void on the inside, while Sean O’Grady, junior college transfers Edmond Boateng, Kweishi Brown and Demetrius Cherry will attempt to stake their claim for playing time as well this spring.

Find playmakers at linebacker
Bradford's departure also impacts the linebacking corps, as this unit has to replace Chris Young (112 tackles), as well as contributors Anthony Jones and Steffon Martin (combined 72 tackles). Salamo Fiso returns as one of the few with starting experience but other names like Antonio Longino and Carlos Mendoza need to step into bigger roles. The same can be said for early enrollee D.J. Calhoun, redshirt freshmen Chans Cox and Alani Latu as well as JUCO transfer Darrius Caldwell. This group wasn’t as talented or productive as the defensive line departures but there is still a glaring lack of experience among the returning players. Graham and Patterson will spend plenty of time this spring rebuilding the linebacking corps.

Find playmakers in the secondary
The theme for ASU spring practice should be fairly apparent by now. Much like the defensive line and linebacking corps, the secondary is in rough shape after three All-Pac-12 picks moved on to the NFL. Robert Nelson was a first-team All-Pac-12 coverman and Osahon Irabor was one of the biggest playmakers in the league from his cornerback position. Finally, Alden Darby must be replaced at safety, and he was also a first-team all-conference selection in 2013. Free safety Damarious Randall returns with the most experience (71 tackles), and Lloyd Carrington got plenty of snaps last year as well at cornerback. Otherwise, Graham is looking for guys who were contributors last year to develop into stars in 2014. Hybrid safety-backer Viliami Moeakiola, Ezekiel Bishop and Rashad Wadood all saw the field from a year ago and must step into bigger roles this year. Redshirt freshmen Marcus Ball and Jayme Otomewo could help out as well. Either way, this unit is lacking in star power, playmaking ability and leadership and that will need to be addressed in a big way this spring.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10
Kelly leads an offense with big-time talent from a playmaker standpoint (DJ Foster, Jaelen Strong), and the offensive line should be able to rebuild quickly. But this defense has just two starters back and lost eight All-Pac-12 selections from that side of the ball. This is why Todd Graham brought in five junior college front seven signees. Needless to say, Graham has his work cut out for him on defense, but his offense will be in great shape. The issue with a repeat as South Division champs may be the schedule this season - not the overhauled defensive depth chart. Crossover games with Stanford, at Washington and at Oregon State are challenging, and the round robin with USC, UCLA and Arizona will be even more difficult this season. Could this team challenge for a division championship? Certainly. But Graham will have to do serious work on his defense this spring for that to come to fruition this fall.

Teaser:
Arizona State Sun Devils 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 14:14
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /16-biggest-disappointments-ncaa-tournament-so-far
Body:

The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is in the books. And as usual, March Madness tipped off with a bang. Cinderellas were busy Big Dancing to the Sweet 16, while traditional powerhouses were belly-flopping and Bracket-busting all the way to Warren Buffett's nearly $60-billion bank account. Since, shockingly, no one has a flawless Billion-Dollar Bracket, here's a look at the other most disappointing moments of the NCAA Tournament thus far.

1. Lord have Mercer! The Dookies went one-and-done
Coach K and the mighty Duke Blue Devils lost in the Round of 64 for the second time in three seasons — falling to Mercer this year after being upset by Lehigh in the 2012 Tourney. Unfortunately for internet trolls and Duke haters alike, Coach K was classy in defeat, visiting the Bears locker room after the tough loss. "You have a hell of a basketball team," the four-time NCAA champ and two-time Olympic gold medal-winning head coach said. "I love the game and you guys play the game really, really well and your coach coaches it well. If we had to be beaten, I'm glad that we got beaten by a hell of a basketball team. So, good luck to you." That's disappointing.

2. Clock operator in North Carolina loss to Iowa State
Tar Heels joined Blue Devils to cry in their beers on Tobacco Road following a surreal finish to UNC's 85–83 defeat to Iowa State. Cyclones clutch guard DeAndre Kane hit a sweet go-ahead bucket with 1.6 seconds to play. Then all Heel broke loose. The clock operator failed to push the all-important "button that starts the clock" following a panicked inbounds pass. When time-out was finally granted Roy Williams, as the ball reached halfcourt, it was too late. Officials huddled. Coach Roy grabbed his knees and hung his head. Game over. 

3. Dougie McDermott's lack of Tourney McBuckets
Sadly, Mr. 3000 didn't teach anyone how to Dougie in this year's Big Dance. The nation's leading scorer and favorite to win every national player of the year award saw his brilliant college career end not with a bang but a whimper. Dougie McBuckets scored 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting, going 0-of-3 from downtown and just 1-of-2 from the charity stripe, during Creighton's 85–55 blowout loss to Baylor.

4. Marcus Smart's sophomoric season finally ends
Oklahoma State's go-to guy famously (infamously?) shunned the weak 2013 NBA Draft in favor of returning to play for the Pokes and roll the dice with the historically strong 2014 NBA Draft. After a disappointing 8–10 Big 12 season that included a three-game suspension following a not-so-Smart physical altercation with a fan in the stands at Texas Tech, Smart's amateur hour is over. The combo guard didn't show the shooting touch NBA scouts are concerned with, going 5-of-14 from the field, 1-of-5 from 3-point range and 12-of-19 from the free-throw line in a 89–77 Round of 64 loss to Gonzaga.

5. Mayor Hoiberg apologizing for Sweet 16 dance moves
After Iowa State took down North Carolina, Cyclones coach Fred "The Mayor" Hoiberg broke it down in the Iowa State locker room with a few dance moves that would make Michael Jackson proud. So why did he apologize to his daughter and son via Twitter? There should be no shame in your game, Mayor. No reason to apologize, even as a formality. Own it, baby. You deserve to dance after advancing to Iowa State's first Sweet 16 since 2000.

6. Nebraska' Big Ten Coach of the Year Tim Miles ejected
There is a coach that should be embarrassed by his moves, these coming on the court. After being picked last in the Big Ten preseason, Miles led the Huskers to their first NCAA berth in 16 years. But the coach appeared to be out of his element, picking up an early technical foul before being tossed in the second half after running out onto the floor to (correctly) point out that the shot clock was not running. "The official came over and T'd me up. I said, 'It's the shot clock. It never ran,'" said Miles. "I'm like, 'I'm just trying to get the game in line, that's a correctable error.' He's like, 'It's too late. You're gone.'"

7. Kansas State walk-on assessed pregame technical foul
Sure, Brian Rohleder only saw 31 minutes on the court for K-State this season. But that didn't stop the sophomore walk-on from costing the Wildcats in a tough 8-9 matchup with preseason No. 1 Kentucky. Unlike LeBron James' NBA pregame dunk contest routine, it is against the rules to dunk during pregame layup lines at the college level. Rohleder, however, threw down a two-handed hammer prior to KSU-UK tipoff. He was spotted and T'd up. Kentucky's Andrew Harrison sunk the free throw and K-State started the game trailing 1–0. 

8. Other Gumbel brother fails to identify other Miller brother
You would think Greg Gumbel would sympathize with famous brothers being misidentified as their more famous sibling. How many times do you think Greg has been confused for Bryant? But that personal experience didn't stop Greg from confusing Dayton coach Archie Miller with his more accomplished older brother, Arizona coach Sean Miller. CBS pulled the plug on the interview after it got weird — because it didn't take a "Gumbel 2 Gumbel" detective duo to figure out the obvious error. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

9. Grant Hill's "white on white hate" analysis of Duke
In an interview with Bleacher Report, the two-time Duke national champion and NCAA Tourney analyst introduced a new theory on why there is so much nationwide schadenfreud when his alma mater loses. "The funny thing is — and I played with Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner and they were despised when we went on the road," said Hill. "But you look into the crowd and it was nothing but white students at the games, so it was white on white hate. It’s sad."

10. Aaron Craft unable to hustle his way to Sweet 16
Does that explain why Craft gets treated like he goes to Duke? Because he's white? Well, it's all over for the hustle-haulic from Ohio State. No more rabid defense or GPA updates. Nope. The Buckeyes' Goliath fell to Dayton's David in a classic in-state Round of 64 showdown that produced an incredible local headline, which went viral immediately. There's plenty of reasons to have loved the college career of Craft. Even in crushing, disappointing defeat, he left us all an enduring Meme of his postgame reaction after missing the potential game-winner.

Teaser:
The opening weekend of March Madness was a letdown for many, including Coach K
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 13:25
All taxonomy terms: Jordan Spieth, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-15-jordan-spieth
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 15: Jordan Spieth

Born: July 27, 1993, Dallas, Texas | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,879,820 (10th) World Ranking: 13

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods are the only two players to have ever won the U.S. Junior Amateur multiple times, and last year Jordan did something Tiger never did, winning a Tour event while still a teenager. The win propelled the former No. 1 amateur in the world all the way to 10th on the money list after starting out the year with no status. Star status will follow the young Texan everywhere he goes in 2014 as we all watch him continue to do unprecedented things, thanks largely to a razor-sharp putter and a maturity that cannot be explained.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 4
Wins: 0

2013 Performance:
Masters - DNP
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - T44
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - n/a
U.S. Open - T21 (2012)
British Open - T44 (2013)
PGA Championship - Cut (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 0
Top-25 Finishes: 1
Missed Cuts: 2

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2014 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 11:04
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-25-2014
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 25.

• Our kind of bracket: The cheerleaders of the Sweet 16 face off. I think Florida might be the favorite.

Mets marketing dept. in midseason form.

Vincent Lecavalier's chip shot goal missed by hitting all three posts. A hat trick of fail.

The Twins punk'd pitcher Mike Pelfrey. Cruel but funny, like all good pranks.

Drew Brees and his wife dressed in costume to go see "Noah." Nothing like some Biblical cosplay.

Jadaveon Clowney tries his hand at photobombing. Needs some work.

A tremendous gallery of NBA flopping GIFs. Haven't seen overacting like that since Nick Cage in "Wicker Man."

Bob Knight goes to the rape analogy well yet again.

George Takei brings the funny to Twitter. Oh, my.

• My favorite part of spring training: the premature slides that start about 15 feet short of the base. Still working out the kinks.

• Nerd alert: The Durham Bulls will wear R2D2-themed jerseys for an upcoming promotion.

• Some insane daredevils base-jumped off New York's Freedom Tower. You'll have to watch it for me; I'm scared of heights.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 10:36
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/46-things-never-happened-baseball-until-2013
Body:

Major League Baseball has been around in some form or fashion for nearly 150 years. From the days of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams to the time when Hank Aaron became the home run king or the more recent exploits of the likes of Mariano Rivera and Miguel Cabrera, one of the things that have always been synonymous with America's pastime are the statistics and the history associated with them.

Along those lines, one of the unique things about baseball is that history can be made on any given day or night at the ballpark, especially if you are paying close enough attention. The 2013 season was no exception, as players and teams alike added their names to the record books. Here is a rundown of some of those baseball "firsts" that may have initially gone unnoticed.

IN 2013, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN BASEBALL HISTORY A BATTER…

Struck out more than 10 times in the first four games of his team’s season (Brett Wallace).

Drove in 16 runs in his team’s first four contests (Chris Davis).

Had both a hit and a strikeout in 15 straight games (Joe Mauer).

Owned a Triple Crown line of at least .340-15-60 at the end of May (Miguel Cabrera).

Hit 12 home runs in a month, yet did not draw a walk (Domonic Brown in May).

Collected 10 total bases and five RBIs in a game in one of the first two contests of his career (Yasiel Puig).

Hit two extra-inning home runs, one of which was a walk-off grand slam, in the same game (John Mayberry Jr.).

Tied an extra-inning contest with a grand slam (Kyle Seager).

Hit a home run in consecutive at-bats against Mariano Rivera (Miguel Cabrera).

Amassed 13 hits and 18 RBIs over a four-game span (Alfonso Soriano).

Homered twice in a game after the 13th inning (Matt Adams).

Knocked home a run in each of his first six postseason contests (Pedro Alvarez).

Supplied an outfield assist and a walk-off hit — both in extra innings — in a playoff game (Carlos Beltran).

Reached base in 31 consecutive postseason games (Miguel Cabrera).

Hit a second career go-ahead grand slam in the playoffs (Shane Victorino).

Charted multiple hits and multiple RBIs in all three World Series openers in which he’s played (David Ortiz).

Drove in 13 runs in his first eight World Series games (Mike Napoli).

A PITCHER…

Beat both reigning Cy Young Award winners in back-to-back starts (Justin Masterson).

Struck out 35 batters in a season before he issued a walk (Adam Wainwright).

Fanned more than 10 batters in a start of less than five innings (Alex Cobb, 13).

Pitched nine scoreless innings, walked none, struck out at least 12 and allowed only hit, yet failed to win the game (Matt Harvey).

Struck out at least 14 men, walked fewer than two and did not allow an earned run, yet took the loss (Chris Sale).

Began a season 10–0 despite not throwing a complete game (Max Scherzer).

Defeated former Cy Young Award winners in each of his first two major- league starts (Gerrit Cole).

Won five consecutive starts for one team, then made his next appearance for another (Matt Garza).

Threw a second career game in which he whiffed at least 14 batters, allowed no more than one hit and walked fewer than two (Yu Darvish).

Struck out more than 40 batters in a calendar month while issuing no more than one walk (Cliff Lee, 54).

Struck out 100 batters, but allowed fewer than 10 walks in a season (Koji Uehara).

Punched out 12 batters without allowing a hit in a playoff game (Anibal Sanchez).

Walked one batter over a span of five postseason starts (Wainwright).

Lost a postseason start in which he allowed no earned runs and two or fewer hits (Clayton Kershaw).

Started, won a World Series-clinching game for a second team (John Lackey).

A TEAM...

Allowed no runs and struck out at least 15 foes in back-to-back games (Texas Rangers).

Hit a walk-off home run in four consecutive home games against the same opponent (Rangers vs. Los Angeles Angels).

Went 407 contests without a complete game (Milwaukee Brewers).

Boasted nine players with 200 career home runs on its roster at some point during the season (New York Yankees).

Hit 100 fewer home runs in a non-strike season than they did the year before (Yankees).

Fanned at least 13 times in each of the first four games of a season (Houston Astros).

Finished its season with 15 straight defeats (Astros).

Won four elimination games in four different cities in six days (Tampa Bay Rays).

Trotted out nine pitchers in a nine-inning playoff game (Rays).

Carried no-hitters into the sixth inning of three postseason games in a row (Detroit Tigers).

Failed to get an RBI from its cleanup hitter in 17 consecutive postseason games (Tigers).

Won the first two games of a postseason series despite batting below .150 (St. Louis Cardinals).

Won a World Series game in which all three of its pitchers used were under the age of 24 (Cardinals).

Won two straight World Series games with the winning run scoring on an error in the seventh inning or later (Cardinals).

—Compiled by Bruce Herman for Athlon Sports. This is just one of the features that can be found in Athlon Sports' 2014 MLB Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands and online now. Starting with 21 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy now!

Teaser:
46 Things That Never Happened in Baseball Until 2013
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 07:45
Path: /college-football/arizona-state-sun-devils-2014-spring-football-preview
Body:

It took just two seasons, but Todd Graham led Arizona State to the best conference record in the Pac-12, despite Stanford and Oregon ranking as preseason top-10 teams, and UCLA (according to some) the overwhelming favorite in the South.

Taylor Kelly and Will Sutton were clear leaders for the Sun Devils — one loaded with senior producers — and State went on a wild 2013 ride that ended with an 8-1 league record and a Pac-12 championship game in Sun Devil Stadium.

Returning for the defending South Division champions is a host of elite playmakers, including star three-year starter Taylor Kelly at quarterback. Sure, replacing Marion Grice and Chris Coyle will be key in the playmaker department and filling a couple of holes on the O-Line is important, but Graham’s tallest order is replacing nine of 11 starters on his defense.

There will be a noticeable theme with ASU’s “three things to watch” this spring.

2014 Schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 28Weber State
Sept. 6at
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 20Bye Week
Sept. 25
Oct. 4at
Oct. 11Bye Week
Oct. 18
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22
Nov. 28at 

Arizona State Sun Devils 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 10-4 (8-1 Pac-12)

Spring Practice Opens: March 18

Spring Game: April 19

Returning Starters

Offense: 7

Defense: 2

Three Things to Watch in Arizona State's 2014 Spring Practice

Find playmakers along the D-Line
Will Sutton was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac-12, and he cannot simply be replaced. But more than that, the Arizona State defensive line is also missing All-Pac-12 picks Davon Coleman (15.0 TFL), Gannon Conway (7 TFL) and hybrid end/linebacker Carl Bradford (19.5 TFL). Replacing all four starters up front is virtually impossible for any team, but this group combined for over 200 tackles and 24.5 sacks in 2013. Finding guys who can pressure the quarterback and play behind the line of scrimmage is imperative for Graham and new co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. Jaxon Hood returns and has plenty of upside at nose tackle, and Marcus Hardison might be the best returning pass rusher on the roster. This duo will try to fill the void on the inside, while Sean O’Grady, junior college transfers Edmond Boateng, Kweishi Brown and Demetrius Cherry will attempt to stake their claim for playing time as well this spring.

Find playmakers at linebacker
Bradford's departure also impacts the linebacking corps, as this unit has to replace Chris Young (112 tackles), as well as contributors Anthony Jones and Steffon Martin (combined 72 tackles). Salamo Fiso returns as one of the few with starting experience but other names like Antonio Longino and Carlos Mendoza need to step into bigger roles. The same can be said for early enrollee D.J. Calhoun, redshirt freshmen Chans Cox and Alani Latu as well as JUCO transfer Darrius Caldwell. This group wasn’t as talented or productive as the defensive line departures but there is still a glaring lack of experience among the returning players. Graham and Patterson will spend plenty of time this spring rebuilding the linebacking corps.

Find playmakers in the secondary
The theme for ASU spring practice should be fairly apparent by now. Much like the defensive line and linebacking corps, the secondary is in rough shape after three All-Pac-12 picks moved on to the NFL. Robert Nelson was a first-team All-Pac-12 coverman and Osahon Irabor was one of the biggest playmakers in the league from his cornerback position. Finally, Alden Darby must be replaced at safety, and he was also a first-team all-conference selection in 2013. Free safety Damarious Randall returns with the most experience (71 tackles), and Lloyd Carrington got plenty of snaps last year as well at cornerback. Otherwise, Graham is looking for guys who were contributors last year to develop into stars in 2014. Hybrid safety-backer Viliami Moeakiola, Ezekiel Bishop and Rashad Wadood all saw the field from a year ago and must step into bigger roles this year. Redshirt freshmen Marcus Ball and Jayme Otomewo could help out as well. Either way, this unit is lacking in star power, playmaking ability and leadership and that will need to be addressed in a big way this spring.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10
Kelly leads an offense with big-time talent from a playmaker standpoint (DJ Foster, Jaelen Strong), and the offensive line should be able to rebuild quickly. But this defense has just two starters back and lost eight All-Pac-12 selections from that side of the ball. This is why Todd Graham brought in five junior college front seven signees. Needless to say, Graham has his work cut out for him on defense, but his offense will be in great shape. The issue with a repeat as South Division champs may be the schedule this season - not the overhauled defensive depth chart. Crossover games with Stanford, at Washington and at Oregon State are challenging, and the round robin with USC, UCLA and Arizona will be even more difficult this season. Could this team challenge for a division championship? Certainly. But Graham will have to do serious work on his defense this spring for that to come to fruition this fall.

Teaser:
Arizona State Sun Devils 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-coaches-hot-seat-2014-spring-practice-edition
Body:

The start of spring practice for all 128 college football teams is a chance to start fresh and forget the bad results that came along with 2013.

For a handful of coaches, spring practice is also the first opportunity to turn around a program and save their job for 2015.

Florida’s Will Muschamp sports a 22-16 record after three years with the Gators, but last season’s 4-8 record isn’t sitting well in Gainesville. Fixing the offense was the top priority for Muschamp this spring, and former Duke assistant Kurt Roper is tasked with finding the right answers. Considering Florida recruits at an elite level, there’s too much talent on the roster to be finishing 4-8. Another losing season would certainly spell the end of Muschamp's tenure with the Gators. 

Virginia’s Mike London and Illinois’ Tim Beckman rank behind Muschamp as the other top coaches on the hot seat. London has one winning record in four years at Virginia, while Beckman has one Big Ten victory in two seasons.

The 2014 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about which jobs might come open in December. Here’s a look at the top 10 coaches on the hot seat for 2014, as well as some reasoning on why or why not they should be feeling the heat this year.

College Football’s Coach on the Hot Seat Rankings: Spring Practice Edition

1. Will Muschamp
Record at Florida: 22-16 (3 years)
Career Record: 22-16 (3 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: At a program like Florida, losing seasons simply shouldn’t happen. The Gators have averaged a 5.6 finish nationally over the last five recruiting classes, yet have only 30 wins during that span. Florida’s SEC record is also a disappointing 17-15 from 2010-14. Muschamp may have inherited some roster problems from Urban Meyer, but he has four classes of his players heading into the 2014 season. Although Muschamp guided Florida to 11 wins in 2012, his other two seasons resulted in just 11 total victories. Also, the offense has been an ongoing concern. The Gators averaged an underwhelming 4.7 yards per play in SEC games last year.

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Although Florida underachieved last year, this program is just one year removed from a Sugar Bowl appearance. Muschamp seemed to have things trending in the right direction, but injuries and a woeful offense were just too much to overcome. With the addition of Kurt Roper and Mike Summers to the offensive staff, the Gators should show improvement in 2014. As mentioned above, recruiting certainly isn’t an issue for Muschamp. And with a full offseason for all of the injuries to heal, Florida could be the most improved team in the SEC in 2014.

2. Mike London
Record at Virginia: 18-31 (4 years)
Career Record: 42-36 (6 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: London was a promising hire for Virginia after recording 24 wins in two seasons at Richmond. He also guided the Spiders to a FCS Championship in 2008. However, he has yet to fulfill that promise with the Cavaliers. London has just 18 wins on his resume in Charlottesville and eight of those victories came in 2011. After a 2-10 record last year, London needs to show significant progress to return in 2015.

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Recruiting. If any number suggests Virginia could turn things around in 2014, the recruiting rankings are the one to look at. The Cavaliers have four straight classes ranked inside of the top 35, which places this roster as the No. 6 group in the ACC. Also, success at Virginia hasn’t been easy to come by since George Welsh left in 2000. The Cavaliers have only six winning seasons in the last 13 years. Perhaps this job is tougher than some believe?

3. Tim Beckman
Record at Illinois: 6-18 (2 years)
Career Record: 27-34 (5 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: After a solid 21-16 stint at Toledo, Beckman has just one Big Ten victory in two seasons at Illinois. And that one conference win was over a Purdue team that was 1-11 and among the worst BCS teams in the nation last season. Prior to Beckman's arrival, the Fighting Illini won seven games in back-to-back years. Although progress was notable on offense last year, Illinois’ defense regressed from 2012 and allowed a whopping 506.3 yards per game in Big Ten action. Illinois isn’t one of the Big Ten’s elite jobs, but this program should be going to bowl games on a consistent basis.

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: The Fighting Illini made a two-game improvement in the win column last year, and there’s hope the offense can pickup where it left off with Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt at quarterback. And with eight starters back on defense, it's reasonable to expect improvement on that side of the ball. 

4. Charlie Weis, Kansas
Record at Kansas: 4-20 (2 years)
Career Record: 39-47 (7 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: Weis was a surprising hire by Kansas. In five years at Notre Dame, he guided the Fighting Irish to a disappointing 35-27 record and went 16-21 in his final three years in South Bend. Weis’ tenure at Kansas hasn’t fared much better. The Jayhawks are 4-20 overall and six losses last year were by at least 20 points. Although Weis seems to have upgraded the overall talent level, it’s not showing on the field.

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Kansas snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak last year and improved its win total by two games in Weis’ second year. Yes, it’s small, but at least there was some progress. Also, Kansas isn’t the easiest place to coach. The Jayhawks have only five bowl appearances since 1995, and prior to Weis’ arrival, only one of the last 11 coaches finished their tenure with a winning record.

5. Norm Chow
Record at Hawaii: 4-20 (2 years)
Career Record: 4-20 (2 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: Hawaii is coming off its first back-to-back losing seasons since 1997-98. Even though this is not an easy job, the Warriors have played in seven bowl games since 2000. With the recent success in mind, winning four games in two years is underachieving at a place like Hawaii.  

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: As mentioned above, despite the success of June Jones, this is not an easy job. Chow is also making a significant switch in schemes, changing Hawaii from a wide-open passing offense to more of a pro-style approach. Clearly, a big change in schemes does take time to recruit to. If there’s any coach who understands what it takes to win at Hawaii, Chow would be the perfect pick. He’s a Hawaii native and began his coaching career in the state’s high school ranks. The Warriors won only game last season but lost five games by seven points or less.

6. Ron Turner, FIU
Record at FIU: 1-11 (1 year)
Career Record: 1-11 (1 year)

Why he should be on the hot seat: Turner was an unpopular pick to replace Mario Cristobal at FIU. And after one season, there’s not much to suggest he can lead the Panthers into Conference USA title contention. FIU went 1-11 last year, which was its worst record since 2007. The Panthers were largely uncompetitive in 2013, losing to FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman and scoring only 10 touchdowns in eight Conference USA games.

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Turner deserves a little time to rebuild FIU’s roster. Only five starters returned last year, and the experience gained by the young players in 2013 could pay off in 2014.

7. Dana Holgorsen
Record at West Virginia: 21-17 (3 years)
Career Record: 21-17 (3 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: Since a 10-3 debut in 2011, Holgorsen is just 11-14 in his last two years. West Virginia’s Big 12 record regressed from 2012 to 2013, and the Mountaineers missed out on a bowl for the first time since 2001. Also, West Virginia had an inexcusable loss to a bad Kansas team last year. Although Holgorsen is regarded for his background on offense, West Virginia’s defense has allowed at least six yards per play over the last two years. Can he find the right answers in 2014?

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Transitioning from the Big East to the Big 12 was supposed to be easy. However, as some of the other programs that changed conferences (TCU and Utah) have showed, it’s not as easy as it seems. West Virginia needs a little time to get acclimated to its new surroundings, and Holgorsen must improve the talent level to compete consistently with Texas, Oklahoma and now Baylor. Last year’s 4-8 record was a disappointment, but the Mountaineers lost two games in overtime and had to replace three of the top offensive performers in school history. Also, a rash of injuries prevented the defense from taking a step forward.

8. Kyle Flood
Record at Rutgers: 15-11 (2 years)
Career Record: 15-11 (2 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: Rutgers is moving from the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten in 2014. The Scarlet Knights are in a division that features Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State, so there’s little margin for error each season. Although Flood has 15 victories through his first two years, Rutgers went just 6-7 in the American Athletic Conference in 2013. In a tougher conference, Flood has to prove he is capable of elevating the program. Recruiting has regressed under Flood, as the Scarlet Knights have ranked outside of the top 40 in back-to-back years.

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Flood took steps in the right direction this offseason, hiring former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen to coordinate the offense, while making other staff changes after a 6-7 record. As with any program changing conferences, the move to the Big Ten will take some time to adjust. Would changing head coaches really improve a team that is predicted by most to finish sixth or seventh in the East in 2014?

9. Bo Pelini
Record at Nebraska: 58-24 (6 full years)
Career Record: 58-24 (6 full years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: At programs like Nebraska, coaches are expected to win big. Pelini has won at least nine games in each of his six seasons, but he does not have a BCS bowl appearance and has yet to win a conference title. Is Nebraska a tougher job than it was in the 1990s? Perhaps. Pelini also had an up-and-down year off-the-field in 2013. Comments made about the fanbase from 2011 surfaced, and he was reprimanded for his comments about officials after losing to Iowa last season.

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Although Pelini has yet to win a conference title, winning 58 games in six years is a solid tenure. And Nebraska has finished in the final Associated Press poll for five consecutive years. Although the move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten wasn’t a drastic switch, an adjustment period was expected. With three full seasons under their belt, the Cornhuskers should be acclimated to their new surroundings, allowing Pelini a chance to take this program to the next level.

10. Brady Hoke
Record at Michigan: 26-13 (3 years)
Career Record: 73-63 (11 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: After winning 11 games in 2011, Hoke’s win total has regressed in each of the last two years. Michigan was barely over .500 in 2013, and the offense finished 10th in the Big Ten in total yards per game. According to the recruiting rankings, the Wolverines have the No. 2 roster in the Big Ten. So why is this team just 9-7 in conference play over the last two years?

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Remember 2011? Michigan went 11-2 and claimed a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. That isn’t the only highlight on Hoke’s resume, as he guided Ball State to a 12-1 mark in 2008 and San Diego State to a 9-4 record in 2010. It’s not easy to win at programs like Ball State and San Diego State, so Hoke was clearly doing something right. There’s no question last year’s 7-6 mark was a huge disappointment. However, the Wolverines lost four regular season games by four points or less. With a stockpile of young talent, Michigan could turn those close losses into wins in 2014.

Getting Warm?

Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Johnson set the bar high by winning 19 games through his first two seasons (2008-09). But over the last four years, the Yellow Jackets are 28-25 overall. Johnson is considered a sharp X’s and O’s coach and has never finished under .500 in ACC play. Georgia Tech ranks as the No. 9 job in the ACC, yet only two teams (Florida State and Virginia Tech) have played for the ACC Championship more times since 2005. Despite the success, there is plenty of unrest about the program among the fanbase. 2014 will be an important year for Johnson’s long-term future at Georgia Tech.

Bill Blankenship, Tulsa
Blankenship picked up where Todd Graham left off and guided Tulsa to 19 wins in his first two years. However, the Golden Hurricane dramatically regressed last season, winning three games and was outgained by 70.5 yards per game in Conference USA play. Blankenship lost several key performers going into last season, so some regression from the 11-win campaign in 2012 was expected. But with Tulsa moving to the American Athletic Conference, the competition is only going to increase. Blankenship needs to prove the Golden Hurricane is headed back in the right direction in 2014.

Dan Enos, Central Michigan
After back-to-back 3-9 records to start his tenure, Enos is 13-12 over the last two years. However, soft late-season schedules helped to pad the win total, and Central Michigan has largely been uncompetitive against Ball State, Northern Illinois and Toledo – arguably the top three teams in the MAC West heading into 2014.

Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Whittingham isn’t in any danger of being fired, and it’s hard to place him on any hot seat list as the Utes are making a difficult transition from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. Quarterback injuries have impacted the offense in each of the last three years, which has hindered this program’s ability to compete in the Pac-12. However, after winning four conference games in 2011, the Utes are just 5-13 over the last two years. Again, it’s too early to place Whittingham on the hot seat. However, the gap between Arizona State, Arizona, USC and UCLA seems to be growing over Utah. Showing progress in 2014 will be important for Whittingham’s long-term outlook in Salt Lake City.

Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Indiana is one of the toughest jobs in the Big Ten. Wilson has made considerable progress over the last three years, and the Hoosiers just missed out on a bowl in 2013. Although Indiana has one of the conference’s top offenses, the defense has ranked last in yards allowed (conference-only games) for three consecutive years. Fixing the defense has to be a priority for Wilson, especially in a tough division that features Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State.

Teaser:
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat: 2014 Spring Practice Edition
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/roundtable-was-sec-basketball-undervalued
Body:

For as much success as the SEC has on the football field, the league was one of the most maligned major conferences in college basketball this season.

The league received only three NCAA Tournament bids with teams like Arkansas, LSU and Missouri falling out of NCAA Tournament contention in the final weeks of the regular season.

The league, though, will place three teams in the Sweet 16, one team (Tennessee) needing to win three times to get there.

Was the SEC overlooked during the season or is this a case of teams getting hot at the right time?

Was SEC basketball undervalued this season?

David Fox: Certainly, the SEC going 3-for-3 on Sweet 16 teams is a mild surprise, but all this tells me is that Kentucky and Tennessee should have done more of what Florida did that what they actually did during the regular season. The Wildcats and Volunteers have finally found a formula that works, and kudos to them, they did it in the first week of the NCAA Tournament. But this could have been done months ago. The SEC was not a great league. Three bids out of a 14-team league, especially one in which two programs that actually focus on basketball (Missouri and Arkansas) didn’t make the field. Georgia and Missouri were knocked out of the NIT by Conference USA teams, shouldn’t that count for conference bragging rights as well? Tennessee and Kentucky finally started playing how they should have been performing all year. To me, that has little to do with the other teams in the league.

Braden Gall: SEC basketball was not undervalued at all. The league wasn't very good and that has nothing to do with how we now view Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee after all three made it to the Sweet 16. Florida is the best team in the nation, the world's greatest recruiting class is finally starting to play like it at Kentucky and the Vols were a popular pick to make the Big Dance in the preseason with one of the SEC's best rebounding tandem's in history. All three teams have talent, coaching and appear to be peaking at the right time. Florida being great has nothing to do with how good (or bad) the SEC was this year. Just ask Jimbo Fisher and the Florida State Seminoles football team.

Mitch Light: I don’t believe so. Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee deserve credit for playing well in the NCAA Tournament and reaching the Sweet 16, but one weekend of strong play — most notably by Kentucky and Tennessee — should not change opinions formed during the course of the entire season. The biggest issue with the SEC this season was that too many of its better teams simply did not play up to their potential. LSU and Missouri (and possibly Arkansas) had rosters good enough to reach the NCAA Tournament, but those teams simply did not play well enough to make the field. So we were left with a league that only sent three of its 14 teams to the NCAA Tournament. And that, despite the strong performance of those three teams this past weekend, doesn’t not mean the SEC was undervalued in 2014.  

Nathan Rush: The SEC wasn't a deep league this season. So the 14 teams judged as a group were appropriately rated. But the best of the best — Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee — are matchups no team in the country wanted to see on Selection Sunday. Three Sweet 16 teams and possibly one (or more) Final Four team(s) is NCAA Tournament success any conference would be jealous of. The SEC was a top-heavy conference this season but it should be respected and never underrated. The SEC has a long track record of championship success in nearly every sport, including a combined five NCAA titles in men's basketball since 1996. Anyone who doubts Florida, Kentucky or Tennessee should think twice and will likely pay the price.

Teaser:
Roundtable: Was SEC basketball undervalued?
Post date: Monday, March 24, 2014 - 12:36
Path: /mlb/san-francisco-giants-2014-preview
Body:

After winning World Series titles in 2010 and 2012, the Giants weren’t quick to embrace the notion that they had become an even-year franchise. But now they’re happily clinging to it. Anything to move beyond their tremendous disappointment last season, when they needed a strong finish in September just to avoid joining the 1998 Marlins as the only defending champs to finish in last place. The Giants decided to view it as a “flat tire” season, in the words of GM Brian Sabean, eschewing an overhaul and instead spending most of their budgeted funds to retain Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum and Javier Lopez. Their two additions — pitcher Tim Hudson and left fielder Michael Morse — were discounted on the free-agent market because they are coming off injuries. The Giants need more than Hudson and Morse to have bounce-back seasons if they hope to keep up with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks.

Rotation
The Giants didn’t come close to winning it all last season, but they took some inspiration from the team that did. The Boston Red Sox made their run because of a resurgent pitching staff, and the Giants see the potential to emulate them. They’ll certainly have to do better after their starters ranked 13th out of 15 NL clubs in ERA. Four of five starters return, with Madison Bumgarner (among the league leaders in ERA, WHIP and BAA) the only one coming off an excellent season. Matt Cain, still viewed as the rotation’s leader, pitched like his old self in the second half and should return to frontline status. Lincecum, who threw a no-hitter July 14, still strikes out a batter an inning even if he’s no longer elite at run prevention. The Giants bet $35 million that he’ll improve. They’re hoping Ryan Vogelsong’s awful season was a result of the World Baseball Classic, too. Hudson, who fractured his ankle in a season-ending collision last July, should add some smarts and fire to what already is a competitive group.

Bullpen
No area of last year’s club stayed healthy, and that included the late-inning relievers. Santiago Casilla (bone cyst surgery) and Jeremy Affeldt (groin surgery) both missed time after signing three-year extensions. They’ll need to get back in line behind closer Sergio Romo, who had some durability issues in the past but held up remarkably well while knocking down 38 of 43 save chances. Romo’s rate stats went up across the board, though. Regardless, the ninth inning belongs to him if he’s healthy. Heath Hembree is seen by many as the Giants’ closer of the future, even if his fastball is a few ticks slower than the 98 mph he threw in the low minors. If he doesn’t win a job in the spring, he’ll be a force soon enough. Lopez, one of the best left-handed specialists in the game, signed a three-year extension. A healthy Affeldt will allow manager Bruce Bochy to deploy Lopez more efficiently. Yusmeiro Petit, who finished an out away from a perfect game last season, is out of options and expected to make the club as a long man.

Middle Infield
Brandon Crawford was on his way to a breakout offensive season when he jammed his hand while sliding into second base. There are many in the organization who still believe the gifted defensive shortstop will be able to hit higher than eighth in the lineup. But for now, the Giants’ pitchers are happy enough to have his glove back there. With the Braves’ Andrelton Simmons in the league, though, it’ll be tough for Crawford to win a Gold Glove anytime soon. Marco Scutaro will turn 40 in 2015, when he’ll play the final year of his contract. But his body already is beginning to betray him. Hip and back issues limited his range and defensive ability all season, and then he sustained a torn tendon in his pinky finger on a hit-by-pitch. He had surgery after the season, and the Giants are banking that his contact skills will be an asset again in the No. 2 spot in the order.

Corners
Pablo Sandoval went from World Series MVP to mega-bust while letting his weight become an issue again. The third baseman missed two weeks while on the DL, this time because of a foot injury, and he had just three home runs over a span of 303 at-bats from late May to Sept. 4. That’s when he broke out for a three-homer game in San Diego that nobody saw coming. (Well, nobody except Justin Verlander, maybe.) Sandoval is entering his walk year, and he lost significant weight over the winter. The Giants certainly need more heft from him in the lineup. First baseman Brandon Belt quietly was the Giants’ best offensive player, leading the team with an .841 OPS that ranked 14th in the NL. The hope is that Buster Posey can catch a few more games and limit his starts at first base so that Belt’s bat can stay in the lineup.

Outfield
The Giants entered their final homestand with just one starting outfielder under contract, and Angel Pagan was coming off major surgery to reattach two hamstring tendons. They got a jump on the market and signed Pence to a five-year, $90 million extension that looked like a bargain given what the free-agent stars received in open bidding. It was easy to commit to Pence. He brings energy every day — he became the first Giant since Alvin Dark in 1954 to start every regular-season game — and although nothing he does is pretty, his hot streaks can carry a club. Pagan’s incredible walk-off, inside-the-park home run May 25, the first in the big leagues in nine years, marked the high point of the Giants’ season. The team’s glaring lack of depth was exposed when Pagan missed significant time after surgery on his hamstring. They’ll need him to be healthy, as well as Morse, who offers big-time power that should translate even to AT&T Park if he can stay in the lineup.

Catching
It’s hard to follow up a batting crown and an NL MVP Award. But for Posey, it might have been a bigger challenge to play out the string for the first time in his career. It went unnoticed because the Giants were out of contention, but Posey had a miserable second half. He hit .325 with 13 home runs before the break and .244 with just two homers after it, and it was evident he was swinging on tired legs. Posey acknowledged he wanted to do more lower body strengthening work over the offseason. While other offensively gifted catchers like Joe Mauer are moving out of harm’s way, Posey wants to catch as long as possible. At least there’s some peace of mind now that there’s a new rule that will protect catchers from being targeted in home-plate collisions.

Bench
Gregor Blanco’s premium defense and on-base ability make him a valuable asset, but he was overexposed in an everyday role following Pagan’s injury last season. He’s back to being a fourth outfielder and should be a regular late-inning replacement for Morse in left field. If Blanco’s playmaking ability is solid, Juan Perez’s is breathtaking. He played just 218 of the team’s 4,342 defensive innings in the outfield but led the club with eight assists. Backup catcher Hector Sanchez is a young switch-hitter who can compete against quality fastballs. Joaquin Arias returns in a reserve infield role.

Management
With the retirement of Jim Leyland and firing of Dusty Baker, Bochy suddenly found himself the active leader in managerial victories. He’s exactly 1,530–1,530 in his career, with many years in payroll-poor San Diego holding down his winning percentage. He already has Hall of Fame credentials with his two World Series rings. Sabean might lack the trade creativity of Billy Beane, his counterpart across the bay, but he’s the longest-tenured GM in the game, and his staff continuity is extraordinary.

Final Analysis
Surprisingly, the Giants won the season series against each of their NL West rivals last year, and their 44–32 division record was the best of the group. So they see no reason why they can’t challenge for the NL West title again, especially after spending $173 million to keep their roster together. After a couple tweaks, the parts appear to fit — if all goes to plan. But the number of what-ifs and the lack of organizational depth loom as twin concerns. The pitching talent in the minor leagues is a bit closer, but the Giants hope they won’t have to rely on it too soon. If the rotation can’t pull a Bostonian about-face, it’s hard to imagine the Giants being an even-year team again in 2014.

Lineup
CF     Angel Pagan (S)    
Talented switch-hitter has topped 125 games just twice in his career, and is coming off hamstring surgery.
2B     Marco Scutaro (R)     
Despite a down year, 38-year-old was the second-hardest to fan in MLB (16.09 plate appearances per K).
1B     Brandon Belt (L)     
His .841 OPS was better than Carlos Beltran, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton … and yes, Buster Posey.
C     Buster Posey (R)     
Pledged to improve his leg strength after he struggled for just two home runs after the All-Star break.
RF     Hunter Pence (R)    
Bruce Bochy plans to give him a day off in 2014? Expect Pence to fight that decision with all he’s got.
3B     Pablo Sandoval (S)    
If the Giants don’t extend him this spring, he’ll be a sought-after 27-year-old on the free-agent market.
LF    Michael Morse (R)    
Lacks range, and a bum wrist led to a downturn last season, but Bochy envisions a modern-day Pat Burrell.
SS    Brandon Crawford (L)    
Hit just .199 against LHP, so expect Joaquin Arias to soak up a few starts against lefties.

Bench
OF     Gregor Blanco (L)    
If he starts 113 games in the outfield again, you know it didn’t go according to plan for the Giants.
OF     Juan Perez (R)    
Speed? Range? Arm strength? Accuracy? Daring when the wall is near? Check. Now if he can develop the bat…
C     Hector Sanchez (S)    
Inflamed shoulder held back the young switch-hitter for most of the season, but Giants like his potential.
INF     Joaquin Arias (R)    
Made career-high 47 starts and hit .368 on the road, but just .167 at home.
INF    Tony Abreu (S)    
He’s out of options and so is Ehire Adrianza, so the Giants will have a decision to make this spring.

Rotation
RH     Matt Cain     
Became the first Giant since Carl Hubbell in 1929-37 to make 30 starts in eight consecutive seasons.
LH     Madison Bumgarner     
Finished with 199 Ks and became Giants’ first left-handed starter to make All-Star team since 1997.
RH     Tim Lincecum     
Averaged 16.3 wins during first three full seasons; 11 wins (and 14.3 losses) since.  
RH     Tim Hudson     
Leads all active pitchers with 205 victories; he’ll take old Oakland pal Barry Zito’s place in the rotation.
RH     Ryan Vogelsong     
Had a 7.19 ERA in first nine starts, then it got more painful when a pitch crushed his right hand in May.

Bullpen
RH    Sergio Romo (Closer)    
His workload was well managed; he exceeded 20 pitches only 11 times and never threw more than 28.
RH    Jean Machi     
Splitter specialist is a slight favorite over George Kontos and Jake Dunning for final spot in the bullpen.
RH    Heath Hembree     
Saved a franchise-record 31 games for Triple-A Fresno; development of power slider earned him a call-up.
LH    Javier Lopez     
Lefties hit .156, and he allowed just 10.5 percent of inherited runners to score — lowest rate in the league.
RH     Santiago Casilla     
Despite missing 47 games after bone cyst surgery, his seven wins matched his career high.
LH     Jeremy Affeldt     
39 appearances his fewest since 2004, and his alarming 1.24 K/BB ratio was cut in half from a year earlier.
RH    Yusmeiro Petit    
Giants went 6–1 in his seven starts after Aug. 26 — including one memorable one-hit shutout.



2013 Top Draft Pick
Christian Arroyo, SS
The Giants went off the draft board of most prognosticators when they selected Arroyo with the 25th overall pick. Although his pure hitting ability was well known to anyone who saw him win MVP honors for the Team USA under-18 squad that won the World Championships in South Korea, it was thought that Arroyo didn’t have the physical tools or quick feet to stay in the middle of the diamond. But Arroyo made the Giants look smart after a dazzling pro debut in which he hit .326 while leading the short-season Arizona League in doubles, RBIs, slugging and OPS to add another MVP trophy to his collection. He’s smart, too; Arroyo was salutatorian of his high school class in Brooksville, Fla., where he graduated with a 4.4 GPA.

Top Prospects
RHP Chris Stratton (23)
The Cardinals snagged NLCS MVP Michael Wacha one pick ahead of Stratton, who was set back by a vicious concussion after getting hit in the head by a line drive in 2012.
2B/SS Joe Panik (23)
Scrappy competitor saw his average dip to .257 in Double-A after hitting .247 in Single-A in 2012.
LHP Edwin Escobar (20)
Big, durable starter thrived after promotion to Double-A, and should be ready to provide big-league rotation depth.
LHP Adalberto Mejia (19)
Youngest pitcher in the Single-A California League more than held his own with two-seamer, slider, cutter and changeup mix.
OF Mac Williamson (23)
Former Wake Forest standout has legitimate right-handed power reminiscent of a younger Paul Goldschmidt.
RHP Derek Law (23)
His hard, sinking curveball is a  weapon that he used to post a perfect ERA in 11 appearances against Arizona Fall League prospects.
LHP Ty Blach (23)
Command lefty was the ace of a prospect-heavy staff at Single-A San Jose, winning Cal League ERA title and also pacing the circuit with just 1.2 walks per nine innings.
RH Kyle Crick (21)
His mid-90s fastball and swing-and-miss slider should have him in the Giants’ rotation by 2016.

Beyond the Box Score
No-Nos The Giants were involved in two of three no-hitters thrown in the majors in 2013. The Reds’ Homer Bailey mowed them down July 2 at Cincinnati, the 16th time in Giants franchise history that they were no-hit. Just 11 days later, Tim Lincecum threw 148 pitches while completing a most unexpected no-hitter in San Diego. Lincecum hadn’t thrown a complete game in over two years.
Almost perfect Yusmeiro Petit nearly topped Lincecum’s feat and probably surpassed him in terms of sheer drama. The career journeyman came within one strike of throwing the 24th perfect game in major-league history Sept. 6 vs. Arizona. Eric Chavez somehow laid off a two-strike curveball before rapping a pinch single with two outs in the ninth that landed maybe 12 inches in front of Hunter Pence’s diving attempt. Petit kept his poise and retired the next hitter, then pointed to the sky with no hint of disappointment after throwing his first MLB shutout.
Error free The Giants were a subpar defensive team in 2013, committing 107 errors — tied for the third-most in the NL. Yet somehow they set a modern franchise record by playing 13 consecutive errorless games from Aug. 30-Sept. 11. “I didn’t see that one coming,” Bruce Bochy said.
Division champs It’s fascinating when you chop up the Giants’ 2013 campaign. Not only did they post a winning season series against every NL West opponent, but they haven’t dropped one to a division foe since they went 6–12 against the Padres in 2010. What killed the Giants was the NL Central (11–23) and interleague play (6–14), including a 2–8 record in AL parks in which they averaged 2.4 runs per game. They’re hoping a true DH like Michael Morse will help them do better this season.
Iron Man Not only did Hunter Pence become the first Giant since Alvin Dark in 1954 to start every regular-season game, but he also sat for a grand total of only 16 innings. Pence accounted for 98.89 percent of the Giants’ defensive innings in right field. He enters 2014 with a streak of 171 consecutive starts, the longest in the NL and second-longest in the majors behind Prince Fielder (505, 17 of them at DH). Bochy does intend to give Pence an occasional day off, though.

Teaser:
Surprisingly, the Giants won the season series against each of their NL West rivals last year, and their 44–32 division record was the best of the group. So they see no reason why they can’t challenge for the NL West title again, especially after spending $173 million to keep their roster together.
Post date: Monday, March 24, 2014 - 12:24

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