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Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, the added SAFER Barriers, Denny Hamlin’s 2014 plate-racing success, Jeff Gordon’s consistency and a needed tweak to the qualifying format highlight the storylines leading up to the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Daytona SAFER Barrier addition nice, but where’s the rest?
Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood said in February that he felt his facility was “on the right path” when it came to fan and driver safety a year after a violent crash injured scores of fans in the grandstands. That path has now included an additional 2,400 feet of SAFER Barrier on the competitive side of the fence.
The crash energy-reducing barrier already lined the corners of NASCAR’s most famous track, in addition to the outside of the front stretch tri-oval and several interior walls. Now, it runs continuous along the outside wall from the entrance of Turn 3 to the exit of Turn 1 — lessening the risk of routine impacts in each of the track’s short chutes.
It’s a great, smart move. But it’s also a change that leaves questions as to why the entirety of the track’s wall surface hasn’t been plastered with the stuff.
Consider this: A report from USA Today indicated that the SAFER Barrier system costs around $500 per foot these days. To finish the job — including Daytona’s backstretch outside wall (around 3,000 feet) and numerous interior walls (a rough guess of 5,000 feet) still uncovered — would presumably seem to cost around $4 million.
Meanwhile, right on the other side of the fence, the track is pouring $400 million in a grandstand renovation.
With 2014 success, Denny Hamlin a Daytona favorite
For reasons likely held very, very close to the vest of the No. 11 team, Denny Hamlin’s Toyota Camrys have been lightning quick on restrictor plate tracks in 2014. The results are telling: Hamlin has finished first in three races (the Sprint Unlimited, a Budweiser Duel and the spring race at Talladega) and second in the fourth (February’s Daytona 500).
It may have been a clean sweep had Hamlin’s car radio not failed during The Great American Race.
Why has Hamlin — easily a favorite this weekend — been so good? First, he credited the car. But a close second on his list is a smarter strategy.
“I think I have learned a lot about that style of racing over the years,” Hamlin says. “I was always the guy that tried to start a new line and make something happen, and it didn’t always work out for me. I think this year I have been a little more patient and let the race come to me a bit more.”
It’s a good thing that Hamlin has learned the new trick. Without the Talladega win, Hamlin is closer to 20th in points than 10th and facing a lot more heat over his Chase chances.
Restrictor plate group qualifying already in need of revision
I don’t even have to watch Friday’s sure-to-be-wild Sprint Cup group qualifying session to know that a system I was initially so excited for already needs a change. It was all laid bare at Talladega in the spring when Brian Scott won the pole from the back of a drafting pack.
Without a doubt, multiple cars on track at once for restrictor-plate track qualifying is the right move. It’s great, too, to force the drivers who want to be up front to essentially “qualify” three times. But the process of getting there — only turning a fastest lap within a time slot — just doesn’t past the sniff test of competition in pack racing. The driver eighth to the line after the clock hits zero just should never be the one taking the honors.
Instead, restrictor-plate track qualifying should be reorganized to a heat race format. I propose three races: two 25-lap dashes with half of the prospective field in each and a third with the top-8 finishers from each heat race. This process puts focus on drivers scrambling to make the race during the first two heats and then forces the drivers up front to jockey for position in the “pole race.” Plus, taking eight cars from each heat likely prevents drivers from settling for an easy finish in the heats.
Better solutions likely exist. Anything, save for solo qualifying of power-sapped race cars, would be better than where we’ve arrived.
Where is Jeff Gordon’s 2014 heading?
Seven years ago, Jeff Gordon put together a season that set a NASCAR modern-era record for top-10 finishes. Twenty-one of those 30 top 10s were top-5 showings, and six of them converted to wins. Yet when the Chase for the Sprint Cup came, Gordon was simply outmatched down the stretch by teammate and eventual champion Jimmie Johnson.
Is that the ultimate destiny of Gordon’s 2014 campaign?
As the season turns over to its second half following Saturday night’s race, Gordon is on a similar pace of consistency. He has 13 top-10 finishes in 17 starts, six top-5 finishes and nabbed a win at Kansas Speedway. He also leads the regular season point standings.
But Gordon has shown at several points this season that he often can’t match the speed of his competitors when it comes to winning time. His restarts have remained a liability and he has led 1,001 fewer laps than second-place Johnson.
The new Chase format means winning races — and by default, coming through on inevitable late restarts — will determine the sport’s champion. Gordon is a master of near-front consistency, but not so much a master of late-race heroics. Together, it all seems to make Gordon’s point lead look like a misnomer of what is to come.
Daytona winner likely to be leading at white flag
In five competitive races with Sprint Cup cars on restrictor-plate tracks this season, a trend has become clear: the driver leading at the white flag has a substantial advantage over those trying to overtake.
In the Sprint Unlimited, Hamlin jumped to the lead coming to the white flag and drove away from the scrambling pack behind him. Hamlin held the field at bay again in winning his Daytona qualifying race, and then teammate Matt Kenseth was able to hold off a late charge from Kevin Harvick to win the second one — a move largely made possibly by Kenseth running the high lane on the last lap. In the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. held a two car-length lead at the white flag and Hamlin was only able to get to his bumper at the checkered flag.
The outlier in the five events was the finish at Talladega. Hamlin, leading comfortably again, was halfway down the backstretch when a caution flag waved on the final lap to end the race. Regardless, that chance of an immediate end to a race still rewards the driver up front.
“In the Daytona 500, we were just a little too far back on the last lap and made it up to second,” Hamlin says. “I knew at Talladega that I wanted to be the one out front holding people off. I think that has been the preferred position in the last few plate races.”
With that chance of an unexpected end combined with a realized advantage of leading at the white flag, Saturday night’s race winner will likely be making the most aggressive moves before the flagman gets busy.
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
Former Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham has officially landed at Oklahoma. Green-Beckham was dismissed at Missouri after an off-the-field incident in April and will have to sit out the 2014 season as a result of NCAA transfer rules.
Green-Beckham was regarded as one of the top receivers in the nation in 2013, catching 59 passes for 883 yards and 12 scores. As a junior entering 2014, Green-Beckham was expected to be a first-team All-American and the top target for new Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk.
There’s no question Green-Beckham comes with baggage. His dismissal at Missouri stemmed from an incident where he allegedly pushed a woman down the stairs. He also had two marijuana arrests during his time with the Tigers, but charges from the first arrest were never filed.
Bringing Green-Beckham to Oklahoma is a big risk for coach Bob Stoops. But considering Green-Beckham’s talent level and upside, it’s a risk that could pay off.
The Sooners are a young team in 2014 and could have only five or six senior starters this year.
Barring a surprise win on his waiver for eligibility, Green-Beckham will have to sit out the 2014 season. Add Green-Beckham to an offense that features quarterback Trevor Knight and receiver Sterling Shepard and it’s easy to think Oklahoma could be picked near the top of most preseason polls in 2015.
Of course, this move could backfire for Oklahoma. If Green-Beckham lands in trouble again, this move will be a hit in public relations for Stoops. But there’s also a solid support system in place in Norman, including Stoops and receivers coach Jay Norvell.
If Green-Beckham manages to stay out of trouble in 2014 and has a huge season, it will go a long way to improving his draft stock that took a hit after the dismissal in April.
Oklahoma announces Dorial Green-Beckham has been added to the Sooners roster.— CollegeFootballTalk (@CFTalk) July 3, 2014
DGB in release: "The university has made the expectations clear and I want to live up to them and be a positive part of the campus and team"— Guerin Emig (@GuerinEmig) July 3, 2014
After last week's league-by-league look at quarterbacks, the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Team did the same examination of coaches through each of the five major conferences. We picked coaches on the hot seat for the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC and pinpointed the assistants you need to watch and the impact coordinators in each league.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 3:
• Robin Lopez took a selfie next to Sideshow Bob. Yes, Robin, we see the resemblance.
• Mark Mulder live-tweeted his initial viewing of the movie "Moneyball." Interesting stuff.
• Serena Williams blamed her bizarre Wimbledon exit on a virus. Martina Navratilova ain't buying it.
• An American hero died today at age 97. RIP, Louis Zamperini.
• A heroic beer vendor caught a foul ball in his bucket and thwarted a couple of obnoxious ladies' attempts to grab it from him, giving it instead to a little girl. Can we all agree that adults who go after foul balls are just the worst?
• An exception to that last rule: This woman who caught a foul ball and put it in her bra for safe keeping. Solid move.
• The perils of live television: Jerry Remy lost a tooth while on the air.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at email@example.com
There are some who believe the Bruins will be playing for the national championship come January.
Should UCLA earn a playoff berth in the debut edition of the College Football Playoff, there will have been no doubt about its merit. The Bruins are poised to play at least six preseason Top 25 teams with a shot at playing possibly three top 10 teams by season’s end.
The offense is still led by all-everything quarterback Brett Hundley and should some playmakers develop around him, the Bruins should once again be one of the top offensive units in the nation. The defense is incredibly talented and maturing every month.
With coaching stability and a talented returning corps, UCLA should be ready to face one of the toughest schedules in the nation this fall.
2014 UCLA Schedule Analysis
2014 UCLA Schedule
Leaving the West Coast
Virginia was bad last year. Like, really bad. But they also upset BYU in Week 1 at home in bad conditions. UCLA should roll through the Cavaliers (and Memphis in Week 2) but Mora is likely looking for crisp performances in both games before a Texas-sized showdown in the Lone Star State in Week 3. The Bruins should expect a heavy Burnt Orange crowd in Arlington when UCLA faces Texas. The Horns will have already faced BYU and will be battle-tested under new coach Charlie Strong. A win for either could vault that program into the national spotlight very quickly while a loss could end all playoff hopes for the other. No pressure.
Early Pac-12 tests
Before UCLA gets doormats Cal and Colorado at the end of October, the Bruins will have to face a three-game stretch against the defending South Division champs on the road and the preseason Pac-12 favorite at home. The road team has won the first two meetings between Mora and Arizona State and a visit to Tempe won’t be an easy way to break into conference play. Should the Bruins return victorious — and beat Utah at home — then a potential top-5 matchup with Oregon in the Rose Bowl could steal national headlines. Once again, UCLA could be facing a playoff elimination game.
Not an easy November
After facing Texas, Arizona State and Oregon in the first two months, UCLA gets no breaks in the month of November. Arizona at home is manageable but the other three tests will be especially difficult. A road trip to Washington has “letdown alert” or “looking ahead” written all over it, as crosstown rival and South Division contender USC comes to town the next game. To top it off, UCLA will have to face two-time defending Pac-12 champ Stanford at home in the season finale. The only comfort for Mora over the final month is that three of the four games come at home and that there is an off weekend before the brutal two-game stretch to end the season.
Related: 2014 UCLA Bruins Team Preview
The Bruins could be sitting at 10-0 with four or five marquee Top 25 wins entering the final two weeks of the season. And it all could be for naught. The margin for error in the Pac-12 this year is going to be razor thin and a two-loss team may not reach the playoffs. UCLA has the talent, the leadership and the coaching to be one of the best teams in the nation, but surviving this incredibly perilous slate unscathed seems rather impossible. However, an 11-win regular season and Pac-12 title is well within reach.
The 2013 Auburn Tigers storybook season was one for the ages.
Auburn hired Gus Malzahn, went from worst to first in the SEC, played in a thrilling and heartbreaking BCS National Championship Game and most believe the offense could be even better in 2014.
Just don’t use the word “lucky” around War Eagle fans. But that is what Auburn was last year en route to two rivalry wins and an SEC championship. In fact, almost every championship team in every sport needed some factor of luck to win its title.
So the offense could be just as good and the defense — which gave up over 420 yards per game last year and over 35 points per game in November — could show improvement. But will the bounces go the Tigers’ way again?
With a dramatically improved schedule, a repeat as SEC champs will be extremely difficult but isn’t out of the question.
2014 Auburn Schedule Analysis
2014 Auburn Schedule
The Auburn Tigers should be 2-0 heading into the first off weekend of the year on Sept. 13. The developing rivalry between Malzahn and Arkansas' Bret Bielema is fun to watch off of the field but likely won’t be very competitive on it. So Auburn figures to be 2-0 with extra time to prepare for a brutal road trip to Big 12 outpost Kansas State. The Xs and Os coaching chess match between Malzahn and Bill Snyder figures to be fascinating to watch on a Thursday night in primetime. This game will teach fans of both teams a lot about their team very early on.
In the heart of the schedule, Auburn will get three marquee SEC showdowns at home. LSU (Week 6), South Carolina (Week 9) and Texas A&M (Week 11) will all have to visit The Plains in a span of five games. The Tigers are looking for revenge of their own against LSU and will get an extra week to prepare for South Carolina with a bye weekend in Week 8. Both will be physical bouts where the last guy standing will win. And getting the Aggies late in the year isn’t an enviable position to be in for any SEC team, as Texas A&M should be one of the more improved teams over the course of the season.
Magnolia State Swing
There may not be a team in the nation that plays a tougher road schedule in the country than the Auburn Tigers. The tricky test in Manhattan is one of the tougher non-conference games the SEC will play all season. But package that with four tremendously difficult road games in the SEC and the Tigers will be lucky to stay in playoff contention. Two road trips to the Magnolia State to face both Mississippi State (Week 7) and Ole Miss (Week 10) come on the heels of physically taxing games against LSU and South Carolina. A 3-0 record in the first three road trips of the year would be a huge success for Malzahn.
After three already tough road games, Auburn will have to face Georgia and Alabama on the road over the final three weeks of the season. Malzahn will be very aware of the revenge that will be at stake in both games and both will come away from the friendly and fortunate confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. There is no telling what the standings will look like when these two games roll around, but fans can bet these rematches will carry significant weight in both the SEC and potential national championship races.
Related: 2014 Auburn Tigers Team Preview
Auburn could be better in 2014 and still not win the SEC title. The road slate is one of (if not the) toughest slate in the nation with five potential top 25 games taking place away from The Loveliest Village. The offense should be as good, if not better, and the defense should take small steps forward. But to repeat as SEC champs and earn a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Tigers will likely need a few more lucky bounces. It may not be reasonable to expect more fortuitous breaks like Auburn got last year, but they may need them to repeat as SEC champs this fall.
The Big Ten is well-stocked with talent at running back for 2014. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is a projected first-team All-American, while Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah isn’t far behind. Gordon and Abdullah each averaged over six yards per carry in Big Ten games last year.
The depth at running back extends beyond Gordon and Abdullah with Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford, Northwestern’s Venric Mark and a rising star in Indiana’s Tevin Coleman.
To help prepare for the 2014 season, Athlon Sports has ranked the top 20 running backs in the Big Ten.
How were the rankings compiled? Glad you asked.
Something important to remember: This is not a career ranking heading into the 2014 season. Instead, several factors were considered. How the player projects in 2014, value to the team, overall talent level and production so far in his career. Past performance is critical, but a large portion of the rankings was based on what we think these running backs will do in 2014. And a slight bump in ranking was handed to the projected starter of a team.
Ranking the Big Ten's Running Backs for 2014
|1||Melvin Gordon||Gordon will assume the No. 1 role in the Wisconsin backfield after sharing time with James White last year. In 125 carries during conference play, Gordon rushed for 903 yards and eight scores. He finished No. 2 in the Big Ten with a 7.8 yards per carry and recorded six runs of 40 yards or more.|
|2||Ameer Abdullah||If Melvin Gordon is No. 1, then Abdullah is No. 1A. In eight Big Ten games last season, Abdullah finished No. 2 in the conference with 1,103 yards. Abdullah scored only five times in conference play but showcased his versatility by finishing 2013 with 26 catches.|
|3||Jeremy Langford||The emergence of Langford and quarterback Connor Cook were a big reason why Michigan State claimed the Big Ten title. Langford rushed for 1,070 yards in nine Big Ten contests and led all backs within the conference with 292 carries in 14 games.|
|4||Venric Mark||Mark was expected to be one of the top running backs in the Big Ten last season, but his 2013 campaign never got on track due to injury. Mark finished with just 97 rushing yards and earned a medical hardship after missing nine games. When healthy, Mark is one of the Big Ten's most explosive runners and is a valuable asset on returns.|
|5||Tevin Coleman||Coleman was on his way to a 1,000-yard season when an ankle injury forced him to miss the final three games. In 131 carries, Coleman averaged a healthy 7.3 yards per carry and led the Big Ten with eight runs of 40 yards or more.|
|6||Ezekiel Elliott||Since we are all about projecting what will happen in 2014, it's safe to say Elliott is in for a breakout year. As a backup to Carlos Hyde last season, Elliott rushed for 262 yards and two scores. Elliott was a top-100 recruit in the 2013 signing class and has the skill-set to thrive in Urban Meyer's offense. Yes, Elliott needs to prove he can handle 220-250 carries in a season, but the potential is there for a huge year.|
|7||David Cobb||With Abdullah, Hyde, Gordon, Langford and James White stealing the headlines in the Big Ten last year, Cobb's numbers were overlooked. The Minnesota back rushed for 1,202 yards, seven scores and posted six 100-yard performances.|
|8||Mark Weisman||Weisman started 2013 with three consecutive 100-yard efforts and rushed for 147 yards on 24 attempts against Minnesota in late September. However, Weisman did not record a 100-yard performance the rest of the way and fell just short of a 1,000-yard season. Weisman leads a deep Iowa backfield that includes Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock.|
|9||Corey Clement||Clement impressed in limited action last season, averaging 8.2 yards per carry on 67 attempts. With James White departing, Clement is set to be the top backup to Melvin Gordon in 2014. Clement will likely see at least 150 carries in this role, and all signs point to this sophomore becoming a star in Madison over the next two years.|
|10||Zach Zwinak||It's a tossup for the No. 1 spot in the Penn State backfield. Zwinak, Belton and Akeel Lynch are all in the mix. Zwinak rushed for 692 yards and four scores in Big Ten play and finished the year by recording four consecutive 100-yard efforts. If new coach James Franklin settles on one running back, the leading rusher could finish higher on this list.|
|11||Bill Belton||Belton finished just 186 yards behind Zach Zwinak in last year's rushing totals and should push for a split in carries in 2014. Belton recorded only 20 carries through his first three games in 2013 but rushed for 201 yards against Illinois and 98 against Ohio State. The senior had a good spring and appears poised to build off his best statistical season.|
|12||Josh Ferguson||Considering Illinois won only six games over the last two years, Ferguson has been overlooked at times among the stable of Big Ten running backs. But after finishing with back-to-back 100-yard efforts in 2013, the junior is primed for a breakout year in 2014. In addition to his solid 5.5 yards per carry, Ferguson is one of the team's top receivers (50 catches in 2013).|
|13||Imani Cross||Cross is one of the top backup running backs in the Big Ten. The 230-pound I-back scored 10 touchdowns and rushed for 447 yards on 85 attempts last season. Cross will work as the backup to Ameer Abdullah once again but should see his share of carries (85-100) in 2014.|
|14||Derrick Green||If Michigan's offense wants to take a step forward in 2014, improving the rushing attack is a priority. The Wolverines averaged only 2.5 yards per carry in Big Ten play and had only one run of 40 yards or more the entire season. Green was a huge recruit for coach Brady Hoke and managed only 270 yards in his debut. Even though Green has the talent to be a 1,000-yard rusher, he needs more help from the offensive line to reach that potential in 2014.|
|15||Wes Brown||Upside is the keyword to remember here. Brown rushed for 382 yards on 90 attempts as a freshman in 2012 but was suspended for all of 2013. The Baltimore native was a four-star recruit in the 2012 signing class and showed plenty of promise by recording a 100-yard effort against NC State and a 74-yard effort against UConn as a freshman. Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Jacquille Vei will also factor in the mix with Brown.|
|16||Paul James||James has an interesting backstory, starting at Rutgers as a walk-on and eventually moving into the starting lineup last season. Despite missing three games, he rushed for 881 yards and nine scores on 156 attempts. If James can stay healthy, and regains the form that led him to three 100-yard efforts to start 2013, he will rank higher on this list in December.|
|17||Jordan Canzeri||Canzeri will team with Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock to form one of the Big Ten's top backfields in 2014. The New York native missed 2012 due to a torn ACL but quickly rebounded in 2013 by recording 481 yards and two touchdowns. Canzeri averaged 6.5 yards per carry and gashed Purdue for 165 yards.|
|18||Rod Smith||Smith was regarded as a four-star prospect coming out of high school, but he's yet to rush for more than 215 yards in a season. Could that change in 2014? With Carlos Hyde departing, the Buckeyes will turn to Ezekiel Elliott and another running back to carry the workload. At 6-foot-3 and 231 pounds, Smith has the talent and size to produce when called upon in 2014.|
|19||Damon Bullock||Bullock is the third Iowa back to make this list. He's rushed for at least 460 yards in each of the last two years and recorded 85 yards on 10 carries against Purdue in 2013. Bullock is also a solid receiver out of the backfield (39 catches in three years).|
|20||Akeem Hunt||Considering Purdue was often playing from behind last year, the Boilermakers never had a chance to establish the run. However, coach Darrell Hazell has two intriguing options in Hunt and Raheem Mostert. Hunt averaged at least eight yards per carry in 2011 and 2012 but managed only 3.8 yards per rush in 2013.|
|Others to Watch: Raheem Mostert, Purdue; Nick Hill, Michigan State; Bri'onte Dunn, Ohio State; Warren Ball, Ohio State; Akeel Lynch, Penn State; Brandon Ross, Maryland; Trevyon Green, Northwestern; De'Veon Smith, Michigan; Delton Williams, Michigan State|
Note: Dontre Wilson, Ohio State was considered a wide receiver for this article
The 2014 World Cup abruptly ended for the U.S. Men’s National Team on Tuesday in Brazil. With a 2-1 OT loss to Belgium in the knockout round, the Americans will return home with the knowledge that one or two more capitalized opportunities could have changed everything. Although many players are understandably disappointed with the outcome, there are many positives to take away from the United States’ unlikely run.
A short list of accomplishments from 2014: Defying expectations, escaping the “group of death”, and most importantly increasing the popularity of soccer in the U.S.
The 2018 World Cup will be held in Russia, far-removed from 2014’s Brazil. Sochi, the highly scrutinized host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, is a site for many games. In addition, Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg, and other large Russian cities will serve as temporary homes for teams of 32 nations from around the world. The 2018 tournament will start on June 8th and end July 8th, lasting exactly one month. Only two stadiums have been fully constructed thus far, but competing countries are more worried about the building of their own rosters than the building of the venues.
After qualifying for the last seven tournaments and drawing worldwide attention, it’s almost a sure thing that there will be a U.S. presence in Russia in 2018. The real question now becomes, how far can the United States advance, and can we win it all? We’ve analyzed the probable roster, the coach, and America’s new attitude in search for answers. Here’s your primer for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Scared you will have to educate yourself about U.S. soccer all over again in June of 2018? No worries, there should be plenty of members of the cast returning to chase another world championship.
In late 2013, coach Jurgen Klinsmann signed a contract extension with the United States through the 2018 World Cup. Somehow, this doesn’t bind him to coach the American team in the future. After a stunning loss to Belgium in the round of 16, Klinsmann was asked whether he would stay with the U.S. in Russia. The coach’s response was, “I think so. Yes, I think so.” Not the most confident of statements, but remember, this is the same guy who declared his own team “cannot win” the World Cup before the tournament even began. Klinsmann did a remarkable job of keeping the Americans in every game and has become a household name in the states. Unless he’s offered a deal that he can’t refuse, expect to see the coach back on America’s sidelines in 2018.
At 35 years old, star goalie Tim Howard is quickly approaching the conclusion of his illustrious career. In what was likely his last game at the World Cup, Howard recorded 16 saves breaking the record for saves in a match in the tournament’s history. Other long-time contributors, including DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey, and Landon Donovan will probably be excluded from the 2018 roster. The egos of these long-time veterans will obviously stir up controversy when the final cuts are made, but Klinsmann has proven that his way works. For the good of the nation, hopefully these aging stars will be able to sacrifice their pride.
It will be a sad day when these men are no longer able to represent their country at the highest level. However, there is no reason to fret. These players lit the torch to start the USMNT’s journey on the international stage, now it’s time for their heirs to finish the job. In 2018, Jozy Altidore will be right in the thick of his prime and hopefully won’t have to deal with any more injury problems. Other players like Michael Bradley, Omar Gonzalez, and Matt Besler will certainly return to the roster, hoping to make major improvements in their international play.
As you can see, the future of soccer in the United States is bright. Four years away is a long time to be making predictions for. However, if there’s one factor to consider when thinking about the U.S. chances in the 2018 World Cup, it’s the development of youngsters Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin.
Just a little while ago, it was still an uncertainty whether or not the 19-year-old teenager Julian Green would play for the United States in the 2014 World Cup. After a first-touch goal in extra time against a stacked Belgium team, Green has become the USMNT’s most interesting asset moving forward to 2018. With said goal, Green became the youngest player to score a World Cup goal since a pretty decent player named Lionel Messi in 2006. Great score, even better company.
At 20 years old, DeAndre Yedlin provides another bright spot for the United States. Replacing the German-American Fabian Johnson in the 32nd minute due to a hamstring injury, Yedlin showed his eye-popping athleticism and aggressive tendencies on the field. He didn’t do anything too special when he had the ball. But after strong relieving performances against Portugal, Germany, and Belgium, it’s safe to say that in four years, Yedlin will be a hard man to contain if he progresses at a reasonable rate.
Criticism was abundant after Jurgen Klinsmann denied Landon Donovan a spot on the roster this year, instead opting for a younger team featuring a handful of players who were not supposed to even see the field. But the same young men that so many fans were uncertain about proved their worth in the 2014 World Cup. The future stars of the USMNT have shown ability, and now they’re experienced too.
If not for the performance of Belgium’s incredible Kevin De Bruyne, America may still be in contention for the cup. But this just wasn’t our year; the stars and stripes didn’t align quite right. Nonetheless, in just four years another opportunity will present itself. Under coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s lead, this time the United States will have the skill-set, the confidence, and the experience to compete with the world’s best.
2014 and 2010 were the first consecutive tournaments in which the United States reached the knockout round. Before then, the team had only reached that point three times in 80 years. At the same time, the end result in 2014 was the same as 2010. On paper, it would seem that no progress has been made. In 2018, a second-round appearance will be expected, while fans will cross their fingers in hopes of a longer lasting run to further rounds.
In Russia, we won’t be underdogs anymore. While this speaks to the growth of the USMNT in recent years, the Americans must be cautious in their approach. No longer will countries overlook the USA in the World Cup. Instead, we will more than likely be ranked as one of the top 10 teams in the world by FIFA. This means that soccer experts across the globe will be picking America to advance past the group stage. But learning lessons from 2014’s Italy and Spain will prove valuable. Anything can happen in 90 minutes between two high-level squads. 2018 will present the United States with better odds of winning the tournament. But odds are not good enough. The Americans must sustain their underdog mind-set in the 2018 World Cup, which means fighting for positioning and every loose ball there is.
The State of American Soccer
The 2014 World Cup brought new life to what is becoming one of America’s trendiest sports. The United States showcased the world’s biggest foreign fan base in Brazil cheering on the USMNT. Soccer is now officially the second most popular sport for Americans under the age of 25. The national team’s performance this year will only amplify these sentiments amongst the citizenry.
There goes another American appearance in the World Cup without a trophy coming home. But there’s a difference between returning empty-handed and failing. The United States lost, but at the same time inspired millions. In 2018, America will field an improved team, this time not with a dream, but with a belief that we can win it all.
Even though the Denver Broncos lost Super Bowl XLVIII to the Seattle Seahawks, they still set the single-season record for points scored (606). This, of course, was fueled in large part by Peyton Manning’s record 5,477 yards passing and 55 touchdowns.
Manning and the Broncos weren’t the only player or team that made history last season. And even in the AFC champions’ case, when it comes to record-setting moments during the 2013 season, some “firsts” are better left forgotten. As in what happened just 12 seconds in to Super Bowl XLVIII.
In 2013, for the first time in NFL history a team…
Featured a 450-yard passing game (Aaron Rodgers) and 125-yard rushing performance (James Starks) in the same game (Packers).
Allowed 25 points and committed at least three turnovers in each of its first six games (Giants).
Was pick-6’d in five consecutive contests (Texans).
Was favored by as many as 27 points in the Vegas line (Denver — which failed to cover — against Jacksonville).
Scored 17 touchdowns in its first eight games of a season, but none of them was rushing (Rams).
Scored on three rushes from 30 or more yards out in the same quarter (Eagles).
That won at least 12 games the previous season endured a 12-game losing streak in the next (Texans).
Gained 400 or more yards in 14 games (Broncos).
Rallied from as many as 28 points down to win a non-overtime playoff off game (Colts over Chiefs)
Won a postseason affair despite allowing 40 points and turning the ball over four times (Colts).
Scored on six consecutive drives of a conference championship game (Broncos).
Scored as quickly as 12 seconds into a Super Bowl (Seahawks).
Whose offense ranked more than 20 places higher in rushing than passing won a Super Bowl (Seahawks).
Threw 20 TD passes in a season before being intercepted (Peyton Manning).
Had an INT returned for a TD in four straight games (Matt Schaub).
Completed at least 25 passes in more than 10 consecutive games (Drew Brees).
Fired 16 TD passes in the first month of a season (Manning).
Scored on a run of longer than 80 yards (Terrelle Pryor).
Had a streak of more than 600 aerial attempts without completing one for a TD of longer than 20 yards (Christian Ponder).
Threw for multiple TDs in 21 consecutive home games (Brees).
Fired 359 TD passes for the same coach (Tom Brady for Bill Belichick).
Had 20 games with both a passing and rushing TD in the first three seasons of his career (Cam Newton).
Had a string of 16 TD passes in a single season that all came only in road games (Nick Foles).
Ran his career total of 300-yard/four-TD games to 23 (Brees).
Reached 50,000 aerial yards in fewer than 190 games (Brees).
Threw four or more TD passes in nine different games of a single season (Manning).
Flung 30 or more scoring passes in six straight campaigns (Brees).
Accounted for 8,000 total yards in his first two seasons (Andrew Luck).
Amassed more than 1,700 passing yards in a calendar month (Manning in December).
Started a postseason game for the 26th time (Brady).
Caught 100 yards worth of his passes in his first game with a third different team (Anquan Boldin).
Caught four TD passes in one game on plays that started in the red zone (Marvin Jones).
With at least 50 career TD receptions nabbed as many as 84 balls in a row without scoring (Andre Johnson).
Caught 774 yards worth of passes in a four-game span (Josh Gordon).
Caught 861 yards worth of passes in a five-game span (Calvin Johnson).
Recorded back-to-back 200-yard performances (Gordon).
Averaged 5.5 yards on his first 1,000 NFL carries (Jamaal Charles).
Ran for at least 125 yards and four TDs in a playoff contest (LaGarrette Blount).
Needed fewer than three carries to lead both teams in rushing in a Super Bowl (Percy Harvin).
— Compiled by Bruce Herman for Athlon Sports. This article is featured in Athlon Sports' 2014 NFL Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands or can be purchased online.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 2:
• We lost to Belgium, but we're still 'Murica, and we still have the 4th of July and photos of Brittney Palmer and Arianny Celeste in American flag bikinis.
• A Belgium player puked on the field. I don't remember any Americans puking on the field.
• Hump Day buzzkill: Re-live Chris Wondolowski air-mailing his potential game-winner against Belgium.
• Jimmy Kimmel does the ambush comedy thing pretty well. Here, he gets idiots to share their favorite Landon Donovan World Cup moment.
• Claude Giroux of the Flyers spent the night in jail after grabbing a cop's butt. The most shocking detail: Alcohol was believed to have been involved.
• Big Papi did his part to shorten a Red Sox game, taking off for first before ball four had hit the catcher's mitt.
• The Indians turned a nifty review-aided 7-4-2 triple play.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at firstname.lastname@example.org
Oklahoma’s uniforms and helmets haven’t changed much in recent years, but that’s about to change. Somewhat.
On Tuesday, the Sooners unveiled new alternate uniforms, which are a slightly different look at the usual appearance for the program.
The alternate uniforms feature two different helmets (red and white), along with small tweaks to the jersey and pants. Oklahoma’s usual uniforms read “Sooners” across the front of the jersey, but the alternate jersey will feature “Oklahoma” in that space.
The new red helmet for the alternate uniform also features a wood-grained pattern.
Below are a few photos of the new uniforms. Be sure to visit Oklahoma’s official site for more background on the new release for the Sooners.
New Oklahoma Sooner Alt Helmets pic.twitter.com/4lqzjnYtbq— Phil Hecken (@PhilHecken) July 1, 2014
The importance of scheduling in college football cannot be overstated. Sure, coaching, rosters and even a little bit of luck play bigger roles in determining championships in the NCAA ranks. But scheduling in college football plays as big a role as any of those other factors.
Non-conference play varies greatly from team to team. So, too, do home and road slates — especially for the championship-deciding, rivalry-bragging, marquee showdowns. And the important bye weekends also play a large role in ironing out win-loss records in any given season.
So taking all of the above into account, which team has the toughest schedule in the Big 12 in 2014 and how has that impacted our 2014 Big 12 Predictions.
* - indicates neutral site game
1. West Virginia Mountaineers
Non-Conference: Alabama*, Towson, at Maryland
Big 12 Road: Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State
Opponents ’13 Record: 97-59 (62.1%, 12th)
Things aren’t going to be easy in Morgantown for embattled coach Dana Holgorsen. The Mountaineers play one of the toughest non-conference slates with Alabama in Atlanta to start and a trip to Maryland in Week 3. Wrapping up September is a home date with Oklahoma, all but assuring a 1-3 start to the season. The slate alternates home and road dates over the final two months but features few winnable games with the exception of Kansas at home and Iowa State on the road. Even with five home Big 12 games, West Virginia boasts the toughest schedule in the league in 2014.
2. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Non-Conference: Florida State*, Missouri State, UTSA
Big 12 Road: Kansas, TCU, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma
Opponents ’13 Record: 86-65 (56.9%, 32nd)
Starting the season with the defending national champions is literally as hard as it gets, but the rest of the early schedule is manageable. The two other non-conference games are sure-fire wins and the month of October should provide at least three wins. Texas Tech at home (Week 5) and at TCU (Week 8) are two massive swing games in the first half of the season. The importance of an early run for the Pokes cannot be overstated because the second half of the schedule is as tough as it gets in the Big 12. Ok-State will face the top four teams in the league in succession to end the year, including road trips to Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma.
3. Kansas State Wildcats
Non-Conference: Stephen F. Austin, Auburn, UTEP
Big 12 Road: Iowa St, Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia, Baylor
Opponents ’13 Record: 79-72 (52.3%, 65th)
Facing the BCS runner-up at home is a brutal battle in the non-conference but both KSU and Auburn will have two weeks to prepare for the Thursday night showdown. An early road trip to the always pesky Cyclones in the previous game needs to be a win for Bill Snyder’s bunch. Following what should be an easy win over UTEP in Week 5, Kansas State gets no breaks until deep into November. The Wildcats will face Texas Tech, Oklahoma (away), Texas, Oklahoma State and TCU (away) over a six-week span before finally getting a “breather” in Morgantown. A home game with rival Kansas should be merely a tune-up for a road trip to Baylor. In all, Kansas State could face three top 10 teams, including the top two in the Big 12 on the road, and could face four more potential Top 25 teams as well.
4. Texas Longhorns
Non-Conference: North Texas, BYU, UCLA*
Big 12 Road: Kansas, Oklahoma*, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State
Opponents ’13 Record: 89-63 (58.6%, 26th)
The Longhorns and new coach Charlie Strong play the toughest non-conference slate of any team in the league but both will be in the state of Texas, as BYU comes to Austin and the UCLA game is in Arlington. Texas also has to face Big 12 bowl teams (and Achilles heels) Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech on the road. This, of course, doesn’t include the annual showdown with archrival and Big 12 front-runner Oklahoma. There is one solid home game with TCU and one huge home game with Baylor, otherwise, the majority of the Horns' Big 12 showdowns will come away from the 40 Acres. This schedule has plenty of chances for marquee wins and plenty of chances for major disappointments.
5. Iowa State Cyclones
Non-Conference: North Dakota State, at Iowa, Toledo
Big 12 Road: Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas, TCU
Opponents ’13 Record: 97-57 (62.9%, 7th)
According to last year’s records, Iowa State will play the toughest schedule in the league. However, everyone knows last year doesn’t count. The non-conference schedule has three very tricky games against North Dakota State (who beat Kansas State in Manhattan last year), archrival Iowa (on the road) and MAC West Division front-runner Toledo. Additionally, TCU and Texas both figure to be improved and both of those will come on the road. Lastly, season ticket holders in Ames should be either very excited or very worried about ’14 as Kansas State (Week 2), Baylor (Week 5), Oklahoma (Week 10), Texas Tech (Week 13) and West Virginia (Week 14) all visit Jack Trice Stadium this fall.
6. Kansas Jayhawks
Non-Conference: SE Missouri State, at Duke, Central Michigan
Big 12 Road: West Virginia, Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State
Opponents ’13 Record: 86-66 (56.6%, 38th)
First, not getting to face Kansas in Big 12 play makes it hard to find wins for the Jayhawks. Second, Kansas is very unlucky in that Duke is playing the best football of its entire existence, making a perfect 3-for-3 in non-conference play unlikely. Third, beleaguered coach Charlie Weis will face three of the best four teams in the league — Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State — on the road. This could be construed as a positive as the ‘Hawks aren’t likely to be competitive in those games and maybe getting more winnable games at home is the right recipe. TCU, Iowa State or Oklahoma State are spots for upsets at home. No matter where the games are being played, however, wins are going to be extremely tough to come by for a team picked to finish last in the Big 12.
7. TCU Horned Frogs
Non-Conference: Samford, Minnesota, at SMU
Big 12 Road: Baylor, West Virginia, Kansas, Texas
Opponents ’13 Record: 87-65 (57.2%, 30th)
The non-conference schedule is very manageable with a rivalry game against SMU looking easier by the day and a sneaky good bout with Minnesota coming at home. TCU should start 3-0 and then things heat up in a big way. TCU hosts both Oklahoma schools packaged around a road trip to Baylor to start October in brutal fashion. The second half of the schedule, however, provides plenty of chances for important wins in key swing games, like Texas Tech and Kansas State at home. The Horned Frogs will face four teams picked to finish in the bottom half of the league in the final six weeks. Minus a Thanksgiving road trip to Austin, TCU faces a very workable second half schedule in ’14.
8. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Non-Conference: Central Arkansas, at UTEP, Arkansas
Big 12 Road: Oklahoma State, Kansas State, TCU, Iowa State, Baylor*
Opponents ’13 Record: 74-75 (49.7%, 81st)
Two teams in the Big 12 will face a schedule whose opponents combined for a sub-.500 record last year and the Red Raiders are one of them (Oklahoma is the other). Arkansas could be a tricky clash of offensive tempos but Texas Tech should be perfect in non-conference play before Big 12 play begins with two tough road trips to Stillwater and Manhattan. Otherwise, Texas Tech won’t face any of the top three Big 12 teams on the road. Both Texas and Oklahoma come to Lubbock and the battle with Baylor is being played again in Arlington. The only problem is that all three of those games will take place in the final four weeks of the year, making another second half slump a concern for Kliff Kingsbury. This is a very manageable slate overall and Tech could be soaring into the final month with some marquee showdowns coming at home late in the year.
9. Baylor Bears
Non-Conference: SMU, Northwestern State, at Buffalo
Big 12 Road: Iowa State, Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech*
Opponents ’13 Record: 78-72 (52.0%, 67th)
Baylor really faces a two-game schedule in 2014 and both will come on the road. Texas and Oklahoma both host the Bears, but Baylor has handled both programs with ease of late (especially, last year). Revenge against Oklahoma State and a tough game with Kansas State will be served in the friendly confines of brand-new McLane Stadium and a tricky game with Texas Tech comes in Arlington. Outposts in Ames and Morgantown should have Art Briles worried as well, however, Baylor dropped 144 points on Iowa State and West Virginia combined last year. With an easy non-conference slate and just two Top 25 games in the league, Baylor is poised to roll through another schedule.
10. Oklahoma Sooners
Non-Conference: Louisiana Tech, at Tulsa, Tennessee
Big 12 Road: West Virginia, TCU, Texas*, Iowa State, Texas Tech
Opponents ’13 Record: 71-78 (47.6%, 93rd)
As the team predicted to win the league, Oklahoma has one distinct advantage over every other team: It doesn’t have to face Oklahoma. It also gets Texas on a neutral site — one Bob Stoops has dominated — hosts the Baylor Bears (who have never won in Norman) and plays a very simple non-conference schedule. There is a lot to like about the Sooners' slate as the toughest road test of the year will take place in either Fort Worth or Lubbock. Of the top four teams picked to finish in the top half of the league, Oklahoma will play three of them at home (Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State) and gets Texas in the Cotton Bowl. There is a reason Oklahoma was picked to win the league and land in the College Football Playoff.
The SEC is home to four of Athlon Sports’ national top-five offensive lines for 2014. The top spot belongs to Florida State, but Auburn, Texas A&M, LSU and South Carolina rank among the best offensive lines in the nation.
As cliché as it sounds, elite offensive line play is common in the SEC and critical to a national championship. Auburn’s featured one of the best groups in the nation last year and guided the Tigers to an appearance in the BCS Championship.
Six offensive linemen on Athlon Sports’ 2014 All-America team hail from the SEC, including guard A.J. Cann and tackle Cedric Ogbuehi.
Line play should be a strength in the SEC this year, especially if groups like Ole Miss, Missouri and Mississippi State replace some key losses from 2013. And the conference’s overall depth extends to teams like Arkansas and Vanderbilt, as both teams should be better in the trenches in 2014.
To help prepare for the 2014 season, we will take a look at the 14 teams in the SEC and rank the offensive lines for the upcoming year. An important note: This is not a preseason ranking of accomplishments so far. This is a projection of what will happen in 2014.
Ranking the SEC’s Offensive Lines for 2014
(Note: This is a projection of how these lines will perform in 2014 – not a preseason ranking of where they stand.)
First-round pick Greg Robinson is a huge loss at left tackle, but the Tigers return four starters from a unit that paved the way for rushers to average 5.9 yards per carry in SEC play last season. Center Reese Dismukes is an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2014, while sophomore guard Alex Kozan is one of the SEC’s rising stars. According to Football Study Hall’s Bill Connelly, Auburn’s line ranked No. 3 nationally in 2013 in stuff rate and No. 2 in adjusted line yards.
2. Texas A&M
Another year, another first-round tackle departs. But just like 2013, there’s little concern in College Station about the offensive line. With Jake Matthews taking snaps for the Atlanta Falcons, the Aggies will turn to senior Cedric Ogbuehi to anchor the left tackle position. Ogbuehi is expected to be one of the top linemen selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. Three other starters return, including senior Jarvis Harrison at guard and right tackle Germain Ifedi. Center Mike Matthews should be in the mix for All-SEC honors after starting all 13 games in 2013.
Considering the inexperience at quarterback, expect to see coach Les Miles and coordinator Cam Cameron lean on the ground game and offensive line in 2014. This group is plenty capable and should rank among the best in the nation. Four starters are back from a unit that helped LSU rushers average 4.5 yards per touch in SEC play last season. Left tackle La’el Collins is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American for 2014, guard Vadal Alexander is projected to earn third-team All-SEC honors, while right tackle Jerald Hawkins returns after starting all 13 games as a redshirt freshman. Hoko Fanaika is expected to replace Trai Turner at right guard. Improving the pass protection is a priority after allowing a sack every 11 pass attempts in SEC play last year.
This unit has made considerable progress for coach Steve Spurrier in recent years. The Gamecocks are expected to take another step forward up front in 2014, as four starters return from a unit that helped running back Mike Davis rush for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013. A.J. Cann is one of the top guards in the nation, and tackle Corey Robinson is projected to earn third-team All-SEC honors. The return of guard Mike Matulis should help to stabilize the right side of the line.
The Crimson Tide enter 2014 with just two returning starters in the trenches, but there’s no doubt this unit will emerge as a strength. Center Ryan Kelly is the anchor after starting nine games in 2013, while right tackle Austin Shepherd is expected to be in the mix for all-conference honors. The other three spots on the line are up for grabs, but there’s no shortage of talent. Freshman Cam Robinson – the No. 4 incoming freshman in the 247Sports Composite – could start at left tackle. Alabama’s line allowed the fewest sacks in SEC play last year (four), while paving the way for rushers to average 6.4 yards per carry.
6. Ole Miss
Health will be critical to Ole Miss’ offensive line this season, as there’s little in the way of proven depth. However, if the starting five stays healthy, the Rebels should have one of the top groups in the SEC. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil started nine games as a true freshman last year and earned second-team All-SEC honors. Expect Tunsil to only get better as a sophomore. Guard Aaron Morris was lost for the season due to a knee injury in the opener against Vanderbilt, but he should return at full strength for 2014. When healthy, Morris is an All-SEC performer. Junior Justin Bell is expected to start at right guard and could slide to center if Ben Still struggles. Coach Hugh Freeze needs incoming recruits Fahn Cooper (JC) and Rod Taylor (freshman) to provide depth.
What a difference a year makes. After injuries took its toll on Missouri’s offensive line in 2012, the Tigers had better luck in the health department and performed as one of the better groups in the SEC. Left tackle Justin Britt and guard Max Copeland are huge losses, but three starters are back for coach Gary Pinkel. Center Evan Boehm has started all 26 games in his career and is expected to be one of the top centers in the league this year. Mitch Morse and Conner McGovern are proven options at the tackle spots, with Anthony Gatti and Mitch L. Hall leading the way at guard. The Tigers averaged 5.5 yards per carry in SEC play and allowed a sack every 16.6 pass attempts in 2013.
The No. 7-9 spots in this ranking are very close, so we could easily switch Georgia, Missouri and Mississippi State around in a different order. The Bulldogs need more help from their line, especially with a new quarterback (Hutson Mason) taking over. Center David Andrews is one of the best in the SEC, and junior John Theus is ready for a breakout year at left tackle. The other three spots are up for grabs this fall, but there are experienced options (Mark Beard and Kolton Houston) vying for spots on the line. The Bulldogs ranked No. 4 in Football Study Hall’s power success rate last season.
Coach Dan Mullen has some work to do upfront this fall, but the Bulldogs should be solid in the trenches. Guard Gabe Jackson (first-team All-SEC in 2013) is a huge loss, and Justin Malone, Jamaal Clayborn and Ben Beckwith are likely vying for the right to replace Jackson, as well as start on the other side. Malone missed nearly all of last season due to injury, and his health is crucial to this unit performing at a high level post-Jackson. Seniors Blaine Clausell and Dillon Day are back as Mississippi State’s top linemen and both should push for all-conference honors.
Line coach Sam Pittman is one of the best in the nation, and the Razorbacks have some promising young talent on the way. There’s a good bit of potential with this group, especially if tackle Dan Skipper and guard Denver Kirkland build off promising freshman campaigns. Senior Brey Cook is expected to start at right tackle and could push for all-conference honors. UNLV transfer Cameron Jefferson joins the competition for time at left guard, while Mitch Smothers and Luke Charpentier will battle to replace Travis Swanson at center.
Wesley Johnson will be tough to replace, but the Commodores return four starters from a group that has made significant strides over the last few seasons. Sophomore Andrew Jelks is expected to replace Johnson at left tackle, while Spencer Pulley and Jake Bernstein anchor the guard spots. Senior Joe Townsend is back at center after starting all 13 games in the middle last season. Vanderbilt has room to improve on the stat sheet, allowing 3.6 sacks per game and averaging only 3.1 yards per carry in SEC play.
In addition to Jeff Driskel’s injury and inconsistency at wide receiver, the struggles of the offensive line factored prominently into Florida’s 4-8 record in 2013. The Gators ranked No. 102 in adjusted line yards and averaged only 3.4 yards per carry in SEC games. This unit also allowed 22 sacks in conference play. Even with just one returning starter, there’s hope for improvement in 2014. Left tackle D.J. Humphries was a key pickup on the recruiting trail in 2012 and missed most of last season due to a knee injury. With Humphries and right tackle Chaz Green back to full strength, Max Garcia is expected to slide to center. This unit is also under the direction of a new coach in former Kentucky and USC assistant Mike Summers.
Butch Jones has some work to do this fall. All five starters from Tennessee’s offensive line are gone, leaving little in the way of proven options. Guard Marcus Jackson redshirted last season after playing in 24 games from 2011-12, and the Florida native is expected to be one of the leaders for this unit in 2014. Junior college transfer Dontavius Blair was a key pickup on the recruiting trail and is penciled in at left tackle. With a tough schedule, this unit will have little time to jell.
The Wildcats rank last on this list, but there’s plenty of optimism. Four starters are back, and guard Zach West (21 career starts) is a candidate for all-conference honors. Senior Darrian Miller and junior Jordan Swindle should form a solid duo at tackle. Kentucky tied Vanderbilt for the most sacks allowed in SEC play last year (29), and its rushers averaged only 3.2 yards per carry.
Since 1996, college football teams have only been adding to national championship trophy cases.
If certain programs ever seem like they have a ceiling, that’s the fact to watch. Florida is the most recent team to win its first national title when the Gators won the 1996 title. Every other national champion since has only been adding to its trophy tally.
That’s not for lack of trying, though. Oregon, Oklahoma State, Missouri and more have been on the verge of picking up their first national titles during the final years of the BCS era.
No doubt, those programs hope the College Football Playoff era will bring them a long-awaited national championship.
These are the teams still seeking their national title, ranked by their likelihood of ending their drought in the coming years.
*For sake of consistency, we are counting only national championships selected by major services (AP, UPI, coaches' poll, etc.) since the first AP poll in 1936.
Record since 1936: 436-380-18 (.536)
Closest call: Lost to Auburn in the 2010 BCS Championship Game
Outlook: Oregon continues to be the top program in the country both without either a national title or a Heisman trophy. Could both change this season? The Ducks have finished each of the last four seasons in the top 10 and haven’t ranked lower than 11th since 2007. Oregon, the No. 6 team in our countdown, remains our favorite in the Pac-12, but last season the Ducks also failed to reach a BCS bowl for the first time since 2008. Second-year coach Mark Helfrich will look to show this team hasn’t missed its window.
2. South Carolina
Record since 1936: 417-401-26 (.509)
Closest call: Started 9-0 and ranked as high as No. 2 in 1984, finished 10-2
Outlook: The idea of South Carolina as a legitimate national title threat would have been foreign to anyone who watched the Gamecocks go 1-21 in 1998-99. Steve Spurrier has led South Carolina to four consecutive top-10 finishes. The Gamecocks have succeeded in recruiting major prospects (Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney) but not necessarily classes on par with the rest of the SEC. That could change in the class of 2015.
Record since 1936: 412-383-22 (.518)
Closest call: No. 4 in the final BCS standings in 2010 and 2011
Outlook: If only the Playoff came a few years earlier. Stanford finished the regular season ranked No. 4 in 2010 and 2011 with Andrew Luck at quarterback. That doesn’t necessarily mean those Stanford teams would be No. 4 under a theoretical selection committee, but it’s still an interesting note. With back-to-back Pac-12 titles and standout recruiting classes, Stanford shows little sign of slowing down as long as David Shaw is the coach.
Record since 1936: 396-419-17 (.486)
Closest call: No. 6 in the final BCS standings in 2013
Outlook: Baylor’s 9-0 start prompted thoughts of the Bears in the BCS championship game. Those hopes were dashed after Oklahoma State’s 49-17 win on Nov. 23. Baylor may never have been as good as that start suggested, losing 52-42 to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. But the Bears are built to contend in the Big 12 for years to come with the opening of McLane Stadium in 2015.
5. Oklahoma State
Record since 1936: 422-407-22 (.509)
Closest call: Reached No. 2 in the BCS standings in 2011 before a mid-November loss to Iowa State
Outlook: The Cowboys have more or less returned to the mean after flirting with the national championship game in 2011. The Cowboys have gone 12-6 in the Big 12 the last two seasons (they went 12-4 in 2009-10). Oklahoma State lost 28 seniors, so the Pokes may need a year or two to gear up for another conference title run.
Record since 1936: 439-363-14 (.544)
Closest call: A 12-1 season in 2006, the only loss by a field goal to Rutgers
Outlook: Louisville might not be a top-15 team early in its run in the ACC, especially in a division with Florida State and Clemson. Bobby Petrino has been here before, coaching Arkansas against Alabama and LSU. Granted, that didn’t yield Arkansas’ first national championship, either. But Petrino has finished in the top six three times at Louisville and Arkansas. He’ll have the backing at Louisville to push the Cardinals in contention.
Record since 1936: 428-379-27 (.529)
Closest call: Finished the 1962 season ranked No. 2 before a Rose Bowl loss
Outlook: Winning in the postseason hasn’t been a strong suit for Wisconsin since Barry Alvarez retired. The Badgers have lost six of their last seven bowl games. That doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. Gary Andersen, though, was a strong hire who can keep the Badgers in contention in the Big Ten. Wisconsin and Nebraska may be the only realistic national title contenders out of the Big Ten West.
8. Arizona State
Record since 1936: 514-304-15 (.626)
Closest call: Finished the 1996 regular season ranked No. 2 before losing to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl; Went 12-0 and finished No. 2 in 1975.
Outlook: Arizona State is coming off a 10-win season and a Pac-12 South title and is showing signs of shaking its sleeping giant status. The Sun Devils haven’t finished in the AP top 15 since 1996, but there’s little reason why Arizona State couldn’t become a perennial contender in the Pac-12.
9. Ole Miss
Record since 1936: 487-343-20 (.585)
Closest call: Ranked No. 2 in the AP poll and finished 10-0-1 in 1960
Outlook: Whether Ole Miss can stack the recruiting classes it would need to in order to compete with Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M remains to be seen. The Rebels had a top-10 class in 2012 and top-15 in 2013. That’s a long way from the top SEC contenders, especially for a program that hasn’t finished in the AP top 10 since 1969.
Record since 1936: 455-382-24 (.542)
Closest call: Missouri has twice lost while ranked No. 1 before the final game of the regular season (1960 and 2007).
Outlook: Missouri came within a game of playing for the national title last season before the Tigers lost to Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. Missouri has its formula down with consistently solid quarterback play and developing talent from their competition’s backyard, whether it’s in Texas or the Southeast. Missouri has been on the precipice several times, but let’s face it: This is not a charmed football program.
Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers and more.
Today, David attempts to isolate each rookie from his team and equipment and properly rank the driving chops of each member of this year’s rookie class.
Once the checkered flag falls on this weekend’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, the second half of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is officially in full swing. Based on one rookie’s first-half performance, we may already have the Rookie of the Year decided.
That outstanding newbie is our number one again in this week’s Rookie Report rankings:
1. Kyle Larson, No. 42 (previous ranking: 1)
My pick, if it were up to a vote, for Rookie of the Year at the season’s halfway point is an easy one: It’s Larson. He is the third-most efficient passer in the series — he trails only Jeff Gordon (56.55 percent) and Kevin Harvick (53.96) with his 53.23 percent adjusted pass efficiency — and his three top-5 finishes and seven top-10 finishes has a team that finished a lowly 22nd in the 2013 owner standings in legitimate Chase contention. His Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) is a healthy 2.044, which currently ranks ninth among all drivers.
Perhaps the ROTY award is too small of a reach for a driver aiming to become the best Cup rookie since Tony Stewart? The Chase — which now takes the winningest 16 drivers — is no longer a pipe dream for this rookie. The simple way for him to qualify in is to win a race. Between now and the Chase opener, he gets another whack at Pocono, where he finished fifth last month in the Cup race and won in ARCA Series competition, and Bristol, where he finished second in two of his last three Nationwide Series starts. If he wants to get into the playoffs the hard way, a reduction in crashing is in order. Counting his blown-tire wall slam at Kentucky, he crashed seven times in the first 17 races, for a per-race crash frequency of 0.41, one of the five worst frequencies in all of Cup.
Regardless of whether he makes it into this year’s free-for-all Chase, he has provided a spectacularly entertaining first season in NASCAR’s premier series.
2. Austin Dillon, No. 3 (previous: 2)
Following the Dover race, Dillon’s average running position was 19.6 and his car ranked 24th in NASCAR’s average green-flag speed rankings. In the four-race span since, his average speed rank remained the same but he chipped over one spot — to 18.3 — off of his average running position. That’s a positive sign.
Improvement in running whereabouts is just the first step, though. The steeper competition is wreaking havoc on Dillon; his adjusted pass efficiency in the last four races is 46.08 percent (an average of 5.2 percent worse than his running position’s expected efficiency), down from 49.07 percent (only 1.75 percent worse than expected) prior to Pocono. On 11 restarts from within the first seven rows in the last four races, he retained his restart position 63.5 percent of the time and attained a net loss of three positions.
3. Michael Annett, No. 7 (previous: 4)
Annett is one of two rookie drivers (Dillon is the other) to have finished inside the top half of the field in three of his last four races. In that span, he has been a mover in traffic, sporting a 50.99 percent adjusted pass efficiency (he passed more than he was passed) that sits 2.2 percent above what was expected from a car in his running position. That’s a big gain over the 47.25 percent efficiency and minus-1.88 percent surplus he acquired through Dover. He continues to be the most pleasant surprise of the 2014 rookie class.
4. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 (previous: 3)
Allgaier’s PEER is a hair above replacement level (0.029), but there is evident room for growth as he is leaving so much on the table at the end of races. His No. 51 is running in the top 15 just under 9 percent more often that he’s actually finishing in the top 15 and, to date, he and crew chief Steve Addington have lost a robust 50 positions in the red zone (final 10 percent) of races. The numbers suggest that better finishes are attainable, but he still has to go out and get them.
5. Cole Whitt, No. 26 (previous: 6)
Whitt has speed and results over his BK Racing stable mates, but he has yet to do much with them. He ranks higher than fellow rookie Michael Annett in average green-flag speed, but Annett has managed to finish in the top half of fields over 17 percent more often. What’s eating Whitt? It might be his blah closing numbers or inexperience navigating through heavy traffic. He has dropped 14 positions in the red zone and is seeing his raw speed become neutralized without clean air; his 34th-place speed in traffic ranking is lumped in with other BK drivers Alex Bowman (35th) and Ryan Truex (36th), despite holding a four-car separation between them in the average green-flag speed rankings.
6. Alex Bowman, No. 23 (previous: 5)
Recall when I mentioned that Bowman had the lowest crash frequency among rookies? Since I wrote that in early May, the youngest driver in the Cup Series has poured on the crashing, doing so five times in the last six races. He is now the most frequent crasher among active rookies (0.47 per-race frequency). On the bright side, Bowman and crew chief Dave Winston are still closing about as well as can be expected; they’ve gained 17 red zone positions thanks to a 100 percent retention rate in races in which they were running at the finish.
KENTUCKY | Techical issues mar TNT broadcast ... again
7. Ryan Truex, No. 83 (previous: 7)
A driver not ready for the Cup Series is driving for a team not fit for the Cup Series. We still haven’t seen much from Truex, who is largely finishing where he runs and is now on his third crew chief of the season in Joe Williams. Their goal for the second half of this season should be to do one thing well — Passing? Closing? Avoiding crashes? — as something to build on in the off chance this team remains intact for 2015.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
The NFL is like any other sport in that not everything goes according to plan. And while mix ups on play calls, botched handoffs, dropped passes and special teams breakdowns are just part of the game, there are often other things that occur, both on and off the field, that are a little harder to explain.
Here’s a rundown of the most bizarre things that took place during the 2013 NFL season, also known as Athlon Sports’ “Calendar of the Weird.”
Aug. 21 The league fines Bears linebacker Jon Bostic $21,000 for an “illegal” hit that, for the past several days, had been featured on the video module of the NFL.com website.
Sept. 8 The first scores of three different games on Kickoff Weekend are safeties.
Sept. 9 For the 19th straight season, the Eagles’ initial offensive play of a season is something other than a handoff to a running back.
Sept. 12 The Patriots win a game for the first time in the 14-year Bill Belichick era in which they have more punts (11) than first downs (nine).
Sept. 15 Packers receivers gain 283 yards after the catch in a rout of Washington.
Sept. 15 The Texans open their campaign with two victories on the final play of the game, making them the first team to do that since the merger. (They then fail to win again all season.)
Sept. 16 Fewer than 20 people — about the same number that actually enjoy watching the Jaguars — attend the Sign Tebow Rally in Jacksonville.
Sept. 22 The Jets beat the Bills despite 20 penalties — most by a victorious team in 62 years.
Sept. 22 Spencer Lanning of the Browns punts five times, lines up for a fake punt that results in a first down run, throws a TD pass as the holder on a fake field goal and kicks an extra point.
Sept. 22 Jordan Cameron and Cameron Jordan finish the week among the league’s top 10 in receptions and sacks, respectively.
Sept. 23 Peyton Manning puts 37 balls in the air against Oakland — 32 complete, four that hit his receivers’ hands but are not caught, and one that is batted away.
Sept. 24 Nate Burleson breaks his arm in a car wreck, losing control when he reaches to keep pizza boxes from sliding off the passenger seat.
Oct. 6 6:47 after the Seahawks score on a blocked punt, their opponents — the Colts — score on a blocked field goal.
Oct. 6 With 1:55 left to play, opposing second-year stars Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck each have completed 15 passes in 27 attempts for two TDs and no INTs. Wilson has thrown for 210 yards, Luck for 209.
Oct. 13 291 defensive plays into their season, the Steelers register their first takeaway.
Oct. 13 The Raiders commit 11 penalties, take 10 sacks and don’t snap the ball a single time in the red zone during a loss to the Chiefs.
Oct. 13 The Red Sox pull out an AL Championship Series contest in which their chances at one point (according to ESPN) were 3.8 percent. A few
hours later, their state-mate Patriots score with five seconds left to stun the Saints in a game in which their chances were once 5.3 percent.
Oct. 13 Oakland runs a play on a third-and-48.
Oct. 14 The week ends with 71 percent of games to date having been within seven points during the fourth quarter — an all-time high at this juncture.
Oct. 20 The first-ever implementation of Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 — which makes it a penalty to push a teammate into the formation — gives Jets kicker Nick Folk a second chance at a game-winning field goal, which he nails to beat the Patriots in overtime. Controversy over its interpretation ensues immediately and, within two hours after the game, the wording of the rule on NFL.com is changed.
Oct. 27 Fantasy enthusiasts revel in Calvin Johnson’s regulation-game-record 329 yards, but cringe as he gets tackled inside the Dallas 5-yard line four times.
Oct. 31 The league’s three Florida teams go 0-for-October. Technically. The Dolphins’ overtime victory occurs after midnight.
Nov. 3 Of the 38 teams since 1968 to rush fewer than 10 times in a game, the Cowboys (who beat the Vikings) are just the second to win. Meanwhile, the Raiders endure the largest margin of defeat (49–20 to the Eagles) in 35 years by a team that rushes for 200 yards.
Nov. 3 For the second time this season, three of one team’s receivers catch at least 120 yards worth of passes and score a TD, doubling the number of previous times it had happened in NFL history.
Nov. 7 By hanging a goose egg on Washington in the fourth quarter, the Vikings end their streak of having allowed points in 24 consecutive quarters.
Nov. 10 A trio of former 1,000-yard rushers (Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene and Maurice Jones-Drew) combine to gain 93 yards on 42 carries.
Nov. 11 Miami, which had rushed for its season highs (120, 156 and 157 yards) in three straight weeks, is held to a franchise record-low two yards on the ground in a loss to the previously winless Bucs.
Nov. 17 Matthew Stafford eclipses Bobby Layne — quarterbacks who both attended Highland Park High School in Dallas — for most passing yards in Lions history.Nov. 17 Ten games into the season, Jacksonville scores its first TD in the state of Florida.
Nov. 17 The Jets, who have been outscored by 85 points to date, move to 5–5.
Nov. 17 Jacksonville’s Jason Babin proudly brandishes a handful of Andre Ellington’s five-year-old dreadlocks that he yanked out while tackling the Cardinals rookie.
Nov. 24 The Packers and Vikings battle to the seventh NFL tie since 1989 — all in the month of November, but the first to end in a score of 26–26. They also become the only opponents since overtime was adopted to play each other to a draw twice.
Nov. 25 For the first time in either college or the pros, a Robert Griffin III-led offense fails to score a touchdown.
Nov. 28 The Ravens and Steelers play a ninth game in their last 10 regular-season meetings that is decided by three or fewer points.
Nov. 28 Detroit wins by 30 points despite four turnovers, and Baltimore prevails despite allowing two more TDs than it scores.
Dec. 1 Toronto mayor Rob Ford — he of the crack-smoking in a “drunken stupor” — arrives at the Rogers Centre with six minutes left in the Falcons-Bills game wearing a Fred Jackson jersey just as the Buffalo back scores, then steals the seat of Canadian rocker Matt Mays, who appeals to security to get him relocated.
Dec. 1 The Giants’ Justin Tuck begins the game with 2.5 sacks, then plants Robert Griffin III four times in the span of seven Washington snaps.
Dec. 1 Geno Smith becomes the first QB since 1977 to neither complete 10 passes nor throw for a TD in four consecutive starts.
Dec. 8 The Patriots are the first team since 1993 to win three straight games in which they trail by double digits in the second half.
Dec. 8 As per the Elias Sports Bureau, Eli Manning suffers his NFL-high 41st tipped interception of the decade.
Dec. 8 Tavon Austin carries the ball just once in a Rams-Cardinals game that includes 50 other totes, yet he leads both teams with 56 rushing yards.
Dec. 9 The Cowboys become the first team in 73 years that fails to force its opponent to punt in two games of a season.
Dec. 12 Philip Rivers beats the Manning brothers in back-to-back weeks — something only Vince Young had ever done.
Dec. 15 The Chiefs, who score 56 points despite just 51 snaps from scrimmage, are the second team ever to notch at least 35 points in the first half of back-to-back games. (The first was the 2002 Chiefs.)
Dec. 15 Buoyed by five losing teams that tallied at least 30 points, the league scores a one-day-record 763 points.
Dec. 22 For the fifth time in six games, the Lions are vanquished despite holding a fourth-quarter lead.
Dec. 29 Michael Floyd’s string of 25 straight receptions that moved the chains ends on the first snap of the game.
Jan. 19 Colin Kaepernick is intercepted twice by Seattle in the NFC title game, giving the Seahawks seven of the 16 picks he has thrown in his career (including the postseason).
Feb. 2 Elias reports that, in the more than 10,000 regular-season and playoff games since the merger, the Super Bowl-winning Seahawks are just the third team to score in the first minute of each half.
— Compiled by Bruce Herman for Athlon Sports. This article is featured in Athlon Sports' 2014 NFL Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands or can be purchased online.
You want to know why the United States never has a shot at winning the World Cup?
It has nothing to do with our love of capitalism or that many believe the sport is boring. It has nothing to do with our country lacking athletic ability or other nations simply being superior humans.
The answer is simple. With no disrespect to Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan or Claudio Reyna, the best athletes in the country grow up dunking basketballs, hitting fastballs and tackling running backs.
So imagine what our Men’s National World Cup team would look like if this country’s greatest athletes had grown up kicking a soccer ball for hours everyday instead?
Assuming that no current men’s soccer players are eligible — because Howard would probably still make the starting line-up — Athlon Sports took a shot at projecting our starting line-up if everybody in the US played soccer and only soccer.
Men's National Team Starting Line-Up:
Full 23-man roster:
Starting Forward: LeBron James, F, Miami Heat
Starting Forward: Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
Back-up: A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Back-up: Justin Gatlin, Track & Field
Offensive Midfielder: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Offensive Midfielder: Mike Trout, OF, LA Angels
Offensive Midfielder: Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder
Back-up: Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Back-up: Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
Back-up: Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
Defensive Midfielder: John Wall, G, Washington Wizards
Defensive Midfielder: Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks
Back-up: Patrick Peterson, DB, Arizona Cardinals
Back-up: Jon Jones, MMA
Back-up: Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs
Defender: Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers
Defender: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston Texans
Defender: Kawhi Leonard, F, San Antonio Spurs
Back-up: Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers
Back-up: Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Bucs
Back-up: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
Goalkeeper: Jonathan Quick, G, LA Kings
Back-up: Dwight Howard, C, Houston Rockets
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for July 1:
• It was a solid month in sports-related ladies, thanks largely to the World Cup.
• While you pretend to work prior to today's knockout match with Belgium, read a primer on today's opponent.
• Another time-waster: Gaze on this photo of what one commenter calls "Mount Douchemore."
• Here's the story of that "I believe" chant, which came from the Naval Academy.
• Aaron Hernandez is Mr. July in this Florida Gators calendar. Available at Target.
• If it's July 1, that means that Bobby Bonilla just got another $1,193,248.20 from the Mets.
• One last piece of World Cup prep: this tasty hype video.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at email@example.com
NFL training camps don't open until later this month, but it's never too early to look ahead to the upcoming season of fantasy football. Twelve Athlon editors and fantasy contributors did just that in early May.
Keep in mind that since this was done more than a month ago, that the picks reflect rosters and teams as they stood then. For example, even though he was not drafted, Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (ruptured Achilles) was healthy when this mock draft took place.
Below is a complete breakdown of the 12-team, 20-round IDP mock draft we conducted, along with some analysis of my own. This mock draft also can be found in this year's Fantasy Football Magazine, which also features 419 in-depth player reports including projected stats, a 280-player big board and team-by-team analysis from NFL beat writers. Other content in this year's edition includes a "Who's No. 1?" and Johnny Manziel-centric debate, along with the introduction of a new advanced statistic, Opportunity-adjusted Touchdowns (OTD), courtesy of Pro Football Focus' Mike Clay, who also participated in this mock draft. And if that's not enough, there's also a rundown of potential breakout candidates, injury concerns and fantasy busts from 2013 who may or may not bounce back in '14.
12-team, 20-round serpentine-style mock draft based on Athlon Sports standard scoring (see below):
Starting lineup: 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 Flex (RB/WR), 1 K, 1 DEF/ST, 1 DL, 1 LB, 1 DB, 1 Flex IDP (DL/LB/DB), 6 bench spots
|1||1||Jamaal Charles||RB||KC||David Gonos||SI.com/FantasySports.about.com|
|2||2||Adrian Peterson||RB||MIN||Brandon Funston||Yahoo! Sports|
|3||3||LeSean McCoy||RB||PHI||Jamey Eisenberg||CBSSports.com|
|4||4||Matt Forte||RB||CHI||Matt Schauf||DraftSharks.com|
|5||5||Marshawn Lynch||RB||SEA||Nathan Rush||Athlon Sports|
|6||6||Eddie Lacy||RB||GB||Mark Ross||Athlon Sports|
|7||7||Calvin Johnson||WR||DET||Corby Yarbrough||Athlon Sports|
|8||8||Doug Martin||RB||TB||Steven Lassan||Athlon Sports|
|9||9||DeMarco Murray||RB||DAL||Eric Mack||Bleacher Report|
|10||10||Peyton Manning||QB||DEN||Braden Gall||Athlon Sports|
|11||11||Demaryius Thomas||WR||DEN||John Hansen||FantasyGuru.com|
|12||12||Jimmy Graham||TE||NO||Mike Clay||Pro Football Focus|
Round 1 Analysis: No real surprises here. If I was picking second, I would have gone LeSean McCoy over Adrian Peterson, but that’s just a matter of preference (think McCoy’s upside as a pass-catcher puts him ahead of Peterson). I thought about taking Megatron with the sixth pick, but figured Lacy would be the safer choice as I consider him a true workhorse RB, provided he stays healthy. I also have no issue with Braden being the only one to take a QB, although I certainly didn’t think at the time we wouldn’t see another come off of the board until Round 5.
|1||13||Dez Bryant||WR||DAL||Mike Clay|
|2||14||Le'Veon Bell||RB||PIT||John Hansen|
|3||15||Zac Stacy||RB||STL||Braden Gall|
|4||16||Alfred Morris||RB||WAS||Eric Mack|
|5||17||Giovani Bernard||RB||CIN||Steven Lassan|
|6||18||A.J. Green||WR||CIN||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||19||Julio Jones||WR||ATL||Mark Ross|
|8||20||Brandon Marshall||WR||CHI||Nathan Rush|
|9||21||Jordy Nelson||WR||GB||Matt Schauf|
|10||22||Montee Ball||RB||DEN||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||23||Alshon Jeffery||WR||CHI||Brandon Funston|
|12||24||Arian Foster||RB||HOU||David Gonos|
Round 2 Analysis: I prefer Giovani Bernard and Montee Ball over Zac Stacy and Alfred Morris, but the real wild card at RB in this round is Arian Foster. Everyone knows what Foster is capable of, when healthy, but he’s coming off of back surgery and will now operate in a different offense under new Texans head coach Bill O’Brien. Combine those factors with the uncertainty at quarterback and it wouldn’t surprise me if Foster continued to slip in the rankings in the coming months.
|1||25||Antonio Brown||WR||PIT||David Gonos|
|2||26||Randall Cobb||WR||GB||Brandon Funston|
|3||27||Larry Fitzgerald||WR||ARI||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||28||C.J. Spiller||RB||BUF||Matt Schauf|
|5||29||Chris Johnson||RB||NYJ||Nathan Rush|
|6||30||Keenan Allen||WR||SD||Mark Ross|
|7||31||Rob Gronkowski||TE||NE||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||32||Andre Johnson||WR||HOU||Steven Lassan|
|9||33||Pierre Garcon||WR||WAS||Eric Mack|
|10||34||Reggie Bush||RB||DET||Braden Gall|
|11||35||Shane Vereen||RB||NE||John Hansen|
|12||36||Andre Ellington||RB||ARI||Mike Clay|
Round 3 Analysis: The RBs and WRs continue to fly off the board with Rob Gronkowski the only outlier. As tantalizing and tempting a fantasy asset Gronk may be, I most likely won’t end up with him on any of my teams this season. Fourteen missed games over the last two seasons and the severity of his injuries are hard for me to overlook, especially when it comes to using a high draft pick on a TE not named Jimmy Graham. I’m also not expecting big things from Chris Johnson in a Jets uniform. For starters, he’s no lock for an RB1-worthy workload.
|1||37||Vincent Jackson||WR||TB||Mike Clay|
|2||38||Julius Thomas||TE||DEN||John Hansen|
|3||39||Vernon Davis||TE||SF||Braden Gall|
|4||40||Victor Cruz||WR||NYG||Eric Mack|
|5||41||Roddy White||WR||ATL||Steven Lassan|
|6||42||Ryan Mathews||RB||SD||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||43||Percy Harvin||WR||SEA||Mark Ross|
|8||44||Wes Welker||WR||DEN||Nathan Rush|
|9||45||Joique Bell||RB||DET||Matt Schauf|
|10||46||Bishop Sankey||RB||TEN||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||47||Cordarrelle Patterson||WR||MIN||Brandon Funston|
|12||48||Michael Crabtree||WR||SF||David Gonos|
Round 4 Analysis: Four rounds in and Corby finally takes a RB. He could certainly do worse than Ryan Mathews as his RB1, but I would encourage other fantasy GMs to think twice before employing a similar strategy. The top five RBs last season averaged 293.6 fantasy points (Athlon scoring). For nos. 5-10 that average plummets to 221.3. Mathews finished as the No. 12 fantasy RB in 2013 with 197.4 fantasy points. That said, Mathews is certainly safer than Bishop Sankey, who was the first rookie at any position to be taken. Sankey appears to have a great opportunity in Tennessee, but it’s not like highly touted rookies haven’t panned out before, right? Remember Tavon Austin or even Montee Ball last season?
|1||49||Aaron Rodgers||QB||GB||David Gonos|
|2||50||Rashad Jennings||RB||NYG||Brandon Funston|
|3||51||Julian Edelman||WR||NE||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||52||Michael Floyd||WR||ARI||Matt Schauf|
|5||53||Frank Gore||RB||SF||Nathan Rush|
|6||54||Drew Brees||QB||NO||Mark Ross|
|7||55||Ray Rice||RB||BAL||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||56||Ben Tate||RB||CLE||Steven Lassan|
|9||57||Andrew Luck||QB||IND||Eric Mack|
|10||58||T.Y. Hilton||WR||IND||Braden Gall|
|11||59||Jeremy Maclin||WR||PHI||John Hansen|
|12||60||DeSean Jackson||WR||WAS||Mike Clay|
Round 5 Analysis: Forty-nine picks in and we finally have a second quarterback taken! Credit to David for pouncing on Aaron Rodgers with the first pick here. I jumped next with Drew Brees, but Eric was the only other to follow suit (Andrew Luck). Has the general perception on QB value changed? Perhaps, but I still think there’s a clear distinction between the elite and next tier. Although Peyton Manning lapped the field with his record-breaking season, Brees still posted 435.7 fantasy points, which was 81.6 points more than the No. 3 scorer (Andy Dalton). And while 14 QBs averaged 20 or more fantasy points per game, only 10 of those played more than 13 games. Not saying you can’t wait on a QB, just don’t wait too long especially if Rodgers or Brees is still out there.
|1||61||Steven Jackson||RB||ATL||Mike Clay|
|2||62||Trent Richardson||RB||IND||John Hansen|
|3||63||Torrey Smith||WR||BAL||Braden Gall|
|4||64||Josh Gordon||WR||CLE||Eric Mack|
|5||65||Kendall Wright||WR||TEN||Steven Lassan|
|6||66||Matthew Stafford||QB||DET||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||67||Knowshon Moreno||RB||MIA||Mark Ross|
|8||68||Cam Newton||QB||CAR||Nathan Rush|
|9||69||Terrance Williams||WR||DAL||Matt Schauf|
|10||70||Golden Tate||WR||DET||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||71||Toby Gerhart||RB||JAC||Brandon Funston|
|12||72||Maurice Jones-Drew||RB||OAK||David Gonos|
Round 6 Analysis: A couple of more QBs go, but the proceedings continue to be dominated by RBs and WRs. RBs in particular have really thinned out by this point. I know Knowshon Moreno isn’t in Denver any more, but it’s not like he’s joining a crowded backfield in Miami and the Dolphins invested heavily in overhauling their offensive line. I’m also curious to see what Toby Gerhart does in Jacksonville with his first opportunity to be the top ball-carrier. Probably goes without saying, but Josh Gordon’s draft value will be tied directly to how many games he gets suspended. I for one will be very surprised if it’s no fewer than eight. After that it’s simply a matter of risk tolerance. Depending on how you used your previous picks, I have no issue with someone taking a chance on half a season of Gordon in Round 6.
|1||73||Jason Witten||TE||DAL||David Gonos|
|2||74||Jordan Cameron||TE||CLE||Brandon Funston|
|3||75||Stevan Ridley||RB||NE||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||76||Robert Griffin III||QB||WAS||Matt Schauf|
|5||77||Sammy Watkins||WR||BUF||Nathan Rush|
|6||78||Darren Sproles||RB||PHI||Mark Ross|
|7||79||Emmanuel Sanders||WR||DEN||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||80||DeAngelo Williams||RB||CAR||Steven Lassan|
|9||81||Eric Decker||WR||NYJ||Eric Mack|
|10||82||Carlos Hyde||RB||SF||Braden Gall|
|11||83||Pierre Thomas||RB||NO||John Hansen|
|12||84||Marques Colston||WR||NO||Mike Clay|
Round 7 Analysis: Two more rookies get their names called in this round. Sammy Watkins looks a lot like this year’s Tavon Austin – a dynamic, all-purpose threat who is expected to become a focal point of the offense right away. However, as has already been mentioned, that didn’t happen with Austin in 2013. Whether history will repeat itself with Watkins remains to be seen, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see his draft value fluctuate dramatically as we get closer to the start of the season. I am more bullish on Watkins as a rookie than Carlos Hyde. Frank Gore’s age and wear and tear notwithstanding, San Francisco doesn’t lack for options in its backfield. Don’t completely ignore Hyde, but don’t forget about Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James or even Marcus Lattimore either.
|1||85||Darren McFadden||RB||OAK||Mike Clay|
|2||86||Colin Kaepernick||QB||SF||John Hansen|
|3||87||Brandin Cooks||WR||NO||Braden Gall|
|4||88||Mike Wallace||WR||MIA||Eric Mack|
|5||89||Reggie Wayne||WR||IND||Steven Lassan|
|6||90||Mike Evans||WR||TB||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||91||Tavon Austin||WR||STL||Mark Ross|
|8||92||Anquan Boldin||WR||SF||Nathan Rush|
|9||93||J.J. Watt||DL||HOU||Matt Schauf|
|10||94||Matt Ryan||QB||ATL||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||95||Robert Quinn||DL||STL||Brandon Funston|
|12||96||Danny Woodhead||RB||SD||David Gonos|
Round 8 Analysis: The QBs continue to trickle out, but we also see the first IDPs taken. Not surprised that J.J. Watt and Robert Quinn are first two to go, but it’s usually pretty difficult for any IDP, but especially a DL, to perform well enough to justify such a lofty draft status. Just be willing to accept potentially less ROI should you consider being one of the first to pull the trigger. Also, count me in the camp that thinks Brandin Cooks could end up with the best fantasy numbers of any rookie wide receiver this season. The Biletnikoff winner appears to be an ideal fit for Drew Brees and the Saints’ passing attack.
|1||97||Luke Kuechly||LB||CAR||David Gonos|
|2||98||Cecil Shorts||WR||JAC||Brandon Funston|
|3||99||Dennis Pitta||TE||BAL||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||100||Greg Olsen||TE||CAR||Matt Schauf|
|5||101||Antonio Gates||TE||SD||Nathan Rush|
|6||102||Jordan Reed||TE||WAS||Mark Ross|
|7||103||Chandler Jones||DL||NE||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||104||Kyle Rudolph||TE||MIN||Steven Lassan|
|9||105||Lavonte David||LB||TB||Eric Mack|
|10||106||Khiry Robinson||RB||NO||Braden Gall|
|11||107||Kenny Stills||WR||NO||John Hansen|
|12||108||Dwayne Bowe||WR||KC||Mike Clay|
Round 9 Analysis: Luke Kuechly is the first LB to be drafted, which makes sense considering the Panthers’ tackling machine is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. However, similar to Patrick Willis, reputation and accolades don’t necessarily translate to fantasy success. Kuechly’s production is driven primarily by his tackle totals, but that I mean he’s not a lock to generate other plays (sacks, forced fumbles, INTs, etc.). This is just another factor to keep in mind when you put together your draft board. I also really like Saints RB Khiry Robinson as a sleeper this year, as the opportunity is certainly there with Darren Sproles now in Philadelphia.
|1||109||Nick Foles||QB||PHI||Mike Clay|
|2||110||Marvin Jones||WR||CIN||John Hansen|
|4||112||Tre Mason||RB||STL||Eric Mack|
|5||113||Vontaze Burfict||LB||CIN||Steven Lassan|
|6||114||Jeremy Hill||RB||CIN||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||115||Kiko Alonso||LB||BUF||Mark Ross|
|8||116||Tom Brady||QB||NE||Nathan Rush|
|9||117||Fred Jackson||RB||BUF||Matt Schauf|
|10||118||Greg Hardy||DL||CAR||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||119||Russell Wilson||QB||SEA||Brandon Funston|
|12||120||DeAndre Hopkins||WR||HOU||David Gonos|
Round 10 Analysis: Raise your hand if you pegged Tom Brady for a 10th-round pick. Yeah me neither. Tom Terrific’s numbers have certainly gone in the wrong direction, but track record has to count for something right? Well it’s just a matter of if you think the Patriots’ offense can get back to its past levels of success. Considering the only help Brady got in free agency was the addition of former Carolina WR Brandon LaFell and the uncertainty surrounding Rob Gronkowski, the concerns of this occurring are well warranted. At the least, I would definitely lean Russell Wilson over Brady if both were still on the board. And while hindsight is certainly 20/20, I have some drafter’s remorse over making Kiko Alonso my first IDP taken. While I like Alonso just fine, I think I became smitten too much with his numbers and probably would have been better off taking someone more established like a Paul Poslusnzy or Karlos Dansby instead.
|1||121||Jason Pierre-Paul||DL||NYG||David Gonos|
|2||122||Bobby Wagner||LB||SEA||Brandon Funston|
|3||123||Devonta Freeman||RB||ATL||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||124||Paul Posluszny||LB||JAC||Matt Schauf|
|5||125||Patrick Peterson||DB||ARI||Nathan Rush|
|6||126||Alec Ogletree||LB||STL||Mark Ross|
|7||127||Hakeem Nicks||WR||IND||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||128||Tony Romo||QB||DAL||Steven Lassan|
|9||129||Terrance West||RB||CLE||Eric Mack|
|10||130||Jordan Matthews||WR||PHI||Braden Gall|
|11||131||Karlos Dansby||LB||CLE||John Hansen|
|12||132||Derrick Johnson||LB||KC||Mike Clay|
Round 11 Analysis: IDPs really coming into focus by this point, including the first DB off the board in Patrick Peterson. While I would not have made the same decision as Nathan, there’s no disputing Peterson’s talent, ability and upside. However, Peterson is a little too reliant on the big plays (turnovers in particular) for my tastes. I prefer a little more consistency when it comes to tackle numbers and across the board production. Also credit to Steven Lassan who was the last one to take a QB and still ended up with Tony Romo. Questions about his back aside, there’s nothing wrong with landing a potential top-10 QB in the 11th round.
|1||133||Riley Cooper||WR||PHI||Mike Clay|
|2||134||Justin Hunter||WR||TEN||John Hansen|
|3||135||Cameron Jordan||DL||NO||Braden Gall|
|4||136||Earl Thomas||DB||SEA||Eric Mack|
|5||137||Jay Cutler||QB||CHI||Steven Lassan|
|6||138||DeMeco Ryans||LB||PHI||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||139||Philip Rivers||QB||SD||Mark Ross|
|8||140||Patrick Willis||LB||SF||Nathan Rush|
|9||141||Kelvin Benjamin||WR||CAR||Matt Schauf|
|10||142||Brian Cushing||LB||HOU||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||143||Eric Berry||DB||KC||Brandon Funston|
|12||144||Markus Wheaton||WR||PIT||David Gonos|
Round 12 Analysis: Steven backs up his Tony Romo selection with Jay Cutler, another solid move, and I follow suit by taking Philip Rivers as my Drew Brees insurance. As important as RB and WR depth can be, if something happens to your No. 1 QB and you don’t have an adequate Plan B, your fantasy season could be ruined right then and there. Aaron Rodgers owners last season can certainly relate to this strategy.
|1||145||San Francisco||DST||SF||David Gonos|
|2||146||Ladarius Green||TE||SD||Brandon Funston|
|3||147||Odell Beckham Jr.||WR||NYG||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||148||Danny Amendola||WR||NE||Matt Schauf|
|5||149||Martellus Bennett||TE||CHI||Nathan Rush|
|6||150||Eric Ebron||TE||DET||Mark Ross|
|7||151||Lamar Miller||RB||MIA||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||152||Muhammad Wilkerson||DL||NYJ||Steven Lassan|
|9||153||Coby Fleener||TE||IND||Eric Mack|
|10||154||Mark Ingram||RB||NO||Braden Gall|
|11||155||Harrison Smith||DB||MIN||John Hansen|
|12||156||James Laurinaitis||LB||STL||Mike Clay|
|1||157||Cameron Wake||DL||MIA||Mike Clay|
|2||158||Rob Ninkovich||DL||NE||John Hansen|
|3||159||Eric Reid||DB||SF||Braden Gall|
|4||160||Mario Williams||DL||BUF||Eric Mack|
|5||161||T.J. Ward||DB||DEN||Steven Lassan|
|6||162||Christine Michael||RB||SEA||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||163||Eric Weddle||DB||SD||Mark Ross|
|8||164||Bernard Pierce||RB||BAL||Nathan Rush|
|9||165||Dexter McCluster||WR||TEN||Matt Schauf|
|10||166||DeMarcus Ware||DL||DEN||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||167||Andre Brown||RB||HOU||Brandon Funston|
|12||168||David Wilson||RB||NYG||David Gonos|
Rounds 13 and 14 Analysis: Nearly half of the picks in these two rounds are used on IDPs, as the GMs work towards filling out their starting lineups. I particularly liked the Rob Ninkovich pick by John, as the Patriot is an underappreciated fantasy stud. Capable of playing both LB and DL, Ninkovich was one of five DL-eligible players to finish with more than 100 fantasy points last season. Once again, name recognition carries little, if any, value when it comes to putting together a championship-caliber fantasy team. I also particularly liked the selections of Harrison Smith (13th) and T.J. Ward (14th) from the DB ranks.
|1||169||Mark Barron||DB||TB||David Gonos|
|3||171||Bernard Pollard||DB||TEN||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||172||Jerod Mayo||LB||NE||Matt Schauf|
|6||174||Chris Ivory||RB||NYJ||Mark Ross|
|7||175||Zach Ertz||TE||PHI||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||176||Lawrence Timmons||LB||PIT||Steven Lassan|
|9||177||NaVorro Bowman||LB||SF||Eric Mack|
|10||178||Johnny Manziel||QB||CLE||Braden Gall|
|11||179||Tyler Eifert||TE||CIN||John Hansen|
|12||180||Morgan Burnett||DB||GB||Mike Clay|
|2||182||LeGarrette Blount||RB||PIT||John Hansen|
|3||183||Davante Adams||WR||GB||Braden Gall|
|4||184||Andy Dalton||QB||CIN||Eric Mack|
|6||186||St. Louis||DST||STL||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||187||Marqise Lee||WR||JAC||Mark Ross|
|8||188||Jadeveon Clowney||LB||HOU||Nathan Rush|
|9||189||Carson Palmer||QB||ARI||Matt Schauf|
|10||190||Ben Roethlisberger||QB||PIT||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||191||Eli Manning||QB||NYG||Brandon Funston|
|12||192||Stevie Johnson||WR||SF||David Gonos|
Rounds 15 and 16 Analysis: If he’s able to come back 100 percent from his torn pectoral, Matt has an absolute steal in getting Jerod Mayo in the 15th round. When he’s played 16 games, Mayo has been a fantasy stud. Plenty of risk associated with the NaVorro Bowman selection, as he’s a fairly safe bet to start the season on the PUP list, meaning he will miss the first six games at minimum. And even though he was drafted as a QB2, I wouldn’t have been the one to take Johnny Manziel. Not with Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Andy Dalton or Carson Palmer still on the board. For every Andrew Luck and Robert Griffn III that has come along there’s been just as many EJ Manuels and Geno Smiths when it comes to rookie quarterbacks.
|1||193||Knile Davis||RB||KC||David Gonos|
|2||194||Jarrett Boykin||WR||GB||Brandon Funston|
|3||195||Daryl Smith||LB||BAL||Jamey Eisenberg|
|4||196||Rueben Randle||WR||NYG||Matt Schauf|
|5||197||Steve Smith||WR||BAL||Nathan Rush|
|6||198||Calais Campbell||DL||ARI||Mark Ross|
|7||199||Aaron Dobson||WR||NE||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||200||Roy Helu||RB||WAS||Steven Lassan|
|9||201||Isaiah Crowell||RB||CLE||Eric Mack|
|10||202||Mychal Kendricks||LB||PHI||Braden Gall|
|11||203||Ryan Tannehill||QB||MIA||John Hansen|
|12||204||Alex Smith||QB||KC||Mike Clay|
|1||205||Donald Brown||RB||SD||Mike Clay|
|2||206||Tampa Bay||DST||TB||John Hansen|
|3||207||Danny Trevathan||LB||DEN||Braden Gall|
|4||208||Kansas City||DST||KC||Eric Mack|
|5||209||Robert Woods||WR||BUF||Steven Lassan|
|6||210||Chad Greenway||LB||MIN||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||212||Shonn Greene||RB||TEN||Nathan Rush|
|9||213||New England||DST||NE||Matt Schauf|
|10||214||Rod Streater||WR||OAK||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||215||Jerrell Freeman||LB||IND||Brandon Funston|
|12||216||Charles Johnson||DL||CAR||David Gonos|
Rounds 17 and 18 Analysis: At this point in the draft, you are either filling out your starting lineup (except for kicker) or mining for diamonds in the rough. David wisely secured Kansas City’s backfield by grabbing Knile Davis after taking Jamaal Charles No. 1 overall. Jarrett Boykin fared well after Randall Cobb went down with an injury last season and now the No. 3 WR job in Green Bay is his for the taking with James Jones in Oakland. Roy Helu is more of pass-catching threat than Alfred Morris so he could carve out a nice role for himself in Jay Gruden’s offense in Washington. Isaiah Crowell, the undrafted rookie who started his college career at Georgia, seems to be a rather significant reach, but new lead back Ben Tate hasn’t exactly been durable in his career and the only other competition for carries in Cleveland seems to be fellow rookie Terrance West. Stranger things have happened. Among the IDP selections, I really like Danny Trevathan’s chances of breaking out this season with Wesley Woodyard and Shaun Phillips no longer on the Broncos.
|1||217||Josh McCown||QB||TB||David Gonos|
|2||218||Matt Prater||K||DEN||Brandon Funston|
|4||220||Johnathan Cyprien||DB||JAC||Matt Schauf|
|5||221||Stephen Gostkowski||K||NE||Nathan Rush|
|6||222||Justin Tucker||K||BAL||Mark Ross|
|7||223||Antrel Rolle||DB||NYG||Corby Yarbrough|
|8||224||Andre Williams||RB||NYG||Steven Lassan|
|9||225||Jonathan Stewart||RB||CAR||Eric Mack|
|10||226||Steven Hauschka||K||SEA||Braden Gall|
|11||227||Phil Dawson||K||SF||John Hansen|
|12||228||Delanie Walker||TE||TEN||Mike Clay|
|1||229||Mason Crosby||K||GB||Mike Clay|
|2||230||Nick Roach||LB||OAK||John Hansen|
|3||231||Green Bay||DST||GB||Braden Gall|
|4||232||Blair Walsh||K||MIN||Eric Mack|
|5||233||Dan Bailey||K||DAL||Steven Lassan|
|6||234||Robbie Gould||K||CHI||Corby Yarbrough|
|7||235||Ka'Deem Carey||RB||CHI||Mark Ross|
|8||236||Jurrell Casey||DL||TEN||Nathan Rush|
|9||237||Shayne Graham||K||NO||Matt Schauf|
|10||238||Adam Vinatieri||K||IND||Jamey Eisenberg|
|11||239||Doug Baldwin||WR||SEA||Brandon Funston|
|12||240||Matt Bryant||K||ATL||David Gonos|
Rounds 19 and 20 Analysis: Finally the kickers come off the board, but we know no one cares about them. The last two rookies taken in this mock draft – Andre Williams (19th) and Ka’Deem Carey (20th) – are certainly worth keeping an eye on once training camps open. Williams could see significant carries sooner rather than later because of David Wilson’s uncertainty regarding his neck injury while Carey has a pretty clear path to serving as Matt Forté’s backup, especially considering he has a similar skill set. Believe it or not, but Delanie Walker was a borderline top-10 fantasy TE last season, while Doug Baldwin probably enters the season as the Seahawks’ No. 2 WR with Golden Tate now in Detroit. Both are very solid picks in the final two rounds of this mock draft.
A rocky period in college football has recently passed. Conference realignment seemingly dominated the headlines since 2011, forcing changes in membership for every league.
The Big East and WAC are no more in football, and the SEC, ACC and Big Ten have all expanded to 14 teams.
BYU decided to go Independent in football, while Notre Dame joined the ACC as a partial member.
Those are just a few of the changes that have taken place over the last few years.
What has the last few seasons in college football brought in realignment and what is the impact for the future? Let’s take a look at the changes, impact and grades for each of the Power 5 leagues in realignment over the last few years.
Grading College Football’s Conferences in Realignment
The Changes: The ACC added Louisville (2014), Syracuse and Pittsburgh (2013). Maryland left for the Big Ten (2014). Notre Dame joined as a member in all sports but football and hockey.
The Impact: Maryland was a founding member of the ACC, and the decision to leave for the Big Ten caught some off guard. However, Louisville is a solid all-around addition to the conference and ranks higher on Athlon’s program ranking (No. 29 for Cardinals, No. 40 for Terrapins). Syracuse and Pittsburgh help the ACC increase its footprint in the Northeast.
As a 14-team league, along with the Notre Dame affiliation, the ACC has stabilized after a period of uncertainty. The conference also has a solid bowl setup, including an agreement with the Orange Bowl. Having a period of 10-15 years without any changes would help the conference continue to develop its identity. The divisional alignment has been a source of debate in recent years, and there could be changes to the Atlantic-Coastal setup.
What’s Next: Will the ACC stay as a 14-team league? Unless there is a major shift again in conferences, the ACC seems unlikely to expand. Of course, if the ACC wanted to expand, Notre Dame would be its first call to become a full-time member. UConn was mentioned with Louisville as a possible replacement for Maryland, and if the ACC wanted to expand to 16, the Huskies would likely be in the mix again.
Grade: B. Losing a founding member was a surprise, but the ACC added three solid programs in Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh. Most importantly, the rumors about Florida State and Clemson possibly leaving the conference never came to fruition.
Related Content: History of ACC Realignment
The Changes: The Big Ten hasn’t seen many changes in its conference history. Penn State officially joined the league for football in 1993, but prior to that, the last addition to the conference was Michigan State in 1950. However, there have been three changes to the league's membership in the last four years. Nebraska joined in 2011, and Maryland and Rutgers will debut in the Big Ten in 2014.
The Impact: The reaction to the Big Ten’s additions were mixed. Nebraska – a top 25 program – was a huge positive for the conference on the gridiron. Maryland and Rutgers? Not so much excitement among college football fans. Since 2000, the Terrapins are 93-80, and the Scarlet Knights are 86-86. While both programs have upside, neither is expected to make a huge impact in terms of winning a national championship on a consistent basis. Instead, the additions of Rutgers and Maryland are a key component for the Big Ten’s Northeast/East Coast expansion. Even though success on the field matters, realignment isn’t necessarily about wins and losses. Media markets and expanding the footprint can be just as valuable for a conference.
What’s Next: Much like the ACC, the next question for the Big Ten is to stay at 14 or expand to 16? If a 16-team set up is in the Big Ten’s future, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia have been mentioned as possible candidates.
Grade: B. Again, not everything in conference realignment makes sense in terms of wins and losses. Adding Rutgers and Maryland adds two valuable media markets, along with a key recruiting area. Nebraska had one of the top dynasties of the Associated Press poll era and can be a consistent contender for the Big Ten title. Also, the additions of Rutgers and Maryland helped to align the Big Ten into an easier-to-remember East/West format.
Related Content: History of Big Ten Realignment
The Changes: The Big 12 has been reduced from 12 teams to 10. In 2011, Nebraska left for the Big Ten and Colorado departed for the Pac-12. Missouri and Texas A&M departed for the SEC in 2012. TCU and West Virginia joined the Big 12 to bolster the league’s lineup to 10 teams.
The Impact: With Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri departing, the Big 12 has lost three top-30 programs. West Virginia and TCU are solid additions, but the conference no longer has some outstanding rivalry games between Texas A&M-Texas, Baylor-Texas A&M, Nebraska-Oklahoma and Missouri-Kansas. Not having a conference title game could hurt the Big 12 in the future, especially if that factors into the playoff committee’s criteria.
What’s Next: Expect the debate about the Big 12 and a 10- or 12-team set up to continue. The conference continues to insist it's content with a 10-team setup, but realignment rumors will never go away – at least from the fans. If the Big 12 does decide to expand in the future, it’s all about adding value. So which programs could do that? BYU and UCF? South Florida? Cincinnati? Perhaps the Big 12 would make a run at teams like Florida State and Clemson (igniting old message board rumors again). Adding East Coast teams to bridge the gap from West Virginia to the rest of the conference would seem to be a top priority – if the Big 12 expands.
Grade: C. The Big 12 has two things going for it. The conference seems to be stable – for now – and Oklahoma and Texas are still in the conference. Losing Texas A&M, Missouri and Nebraska was a setback, but West Virginia and TCU are good additions, especially after both programs have time to adjust to their new conference. The Big 12 probably isn’t as powerful as it once was. However, as long as Oklahoma and Texas are top-20 teams on a consistent basis, the conference should be in good shape.
Related Content: West Virginia Searches for Answers After Rocky Start in Big 12
The Changes: The Pac-12 didn’t lose a member and added Colorado and Utah to become a 12-team league in 2011.
The Impact: The Pac-12 is one of the biggest winners in college football over the last five years. Colorado and Utah haven’t experienced a ton of success so far, but the rest of the conference is on the rise. Thanks to an improved television deal, improved revenue and better facilities, the Pac-12 is now the No. 2 conference in college football. Expect Colorado and Utah to improve over the next few years, adding to what is one of the deepest conferences in the nation.
What’s Next: Further realignment seems unlikely, largely because there are few candidates that could join the conference. Remember the Pac-16 proposal that included Texas and Oklahoma? Maybe that’s a possibility in the future. However, the Pac-12 is stable and clearly entrenched as one of the premier conferences.
Grade: B+. We could easily upgrade this to an A. The Pac-12 has moved up the ladder in conference hierarchy, and Utah and Colorado will improve over time. Not much has gone wrong for the conference over the last few seasons.
The Changes: The SEC made its first changes in membership since 1991 by adding Missouri and Texas A&M in 2012. The league did not lose any members.
The Impact: The addition of the Aggies and Tigers gave the SEC two valuable media markets in Missouri (St. Louis/Kansas City) and Texas (Houston). And both programs also have experienced plenty of success over the last two years. Texas A&M is 20-6 since joining the SEC and had a Heisman winner in Johnny Manziel, while Missouri claimed the East Division title in 2013.
What’s Next: Just like the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12, the only question surrounding the SEC in the future is whether or not the conference will expand to 16 teams. If the SEC does expand to 16 teams, there has been plenty of discussion that teams in Virginia and North Carolina are the next targets.
Grade: A+. The SEC was the No. 1 conference in the nation prior to realignment and solidified its place at the top with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri. The conference is deeper and has expanded its footprint into Texas – one of the nation’s most fertile recruiting areas.
Conference realignment reached a fever pitch a few years ago and it caused great headaches for fans and coaches across the nation.
The dollars and “sense” of conference realignment blazed a path through college football for a few years following the turn of the century, however, teams shifting leagues for greener pastures isn’t a new phenomenon.
Did you know that South Carolina was a founding member of the ACC or that the league was created as an offshoot of the Southern Conference? The ACC was created in 1953 and has gone through more changes in the last 10 years than any of the other major leagues. Since 2004, the ACC has added six new football programs to its ranks, including 2014 with the addition of Louisville and the subtraction of Maryland. And that doesn't include the partnership with Notre Dame, whose annual schedule includes five ACC opponents starting this season.
The point is conference realignment has been happening for over 100 years of college football, and, while the process escalated to dizzying speeds recently, it’s not even close to ending. Here is a complete look at the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference and how realignment has shaped the league over time.
James Weaver, 1954-70
Robert James 1971-87
Eugene Corrigan, 1987-97
John Swofford, 1997-present
1953: After losing a multitude of members to the SEC in 1932, the once massive (23-member) Southern Conference loses eight key members to the formation of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The SoCon had a league-wide ban on postseason play and this is why many believe the ACC got started to begin with. Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, South Carolina and, a few months later, Virginia became the charter members.
1971: South Carolina decides to leave for independence, but would later join the SEC in 1991.
1978: After only containing seven teams for most of the '70s, Georgia Tech leaves the Metro Conference for the greener pastures of the ACC.
1991: Also from the Metro Conference, Florida State’s decision to join the ACC might have been the most important maneuver in ACC history. The Noles went on to dominate the league for the first decade and it played in the first three BCS National Championship Games (1998-2000). The league’s two national titles during the BCS Era (1999, 2013) and all four appearances in the game were produced by the Seminoles.
2004: Miami and Virginia Tech both officially join in the summer of 2004. Adding the two football powers gives the ACC two more viable national championship football programs to package with FSU.
2005: Boston College comes aboard, giving the ACC 12 teams and the opportunity to split the conference into two divisions and host a title game.
2011: In an effort to get out in front of the curve, John Swofford continues to stabilize his league by adding two more Big East powers, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, to the group. The ACC technically expanded to 14 before any other major power conference.
2012: Founding member Maryland becomes the first such ACC program to jump ship in the modern rounds of realignment. The Terrapins desired more league stability and a much bigger payday and got both with the decision to move to the Big Ten. To counter the loss of Maryland, Swofford moves quickly to find a replacement and settles on Louisville. To top it off, the ACC also adds the highly coveted Notre Dame brand to the conference in all sports except football.
2013: In a shrewd legal move by the conference, the ACC signs a "Grant of Rights" deal locking in ownership of media rights for all member institutions. This is a simple but effective way to keep teams from leaving the ACC in the short term. From now until the end of the GOR contract (2027), if a school leaves the league, the ACC will retain the media rights, effectively rendering the move to another league fairly pointless. Additionally, Syracuse and Pittsburgh make their debuts in the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports while Notre Dame begins ACC play in every sport except football.
2014: The Maryland Terrapins officially begin play in the B1G while Louisville officially begins play in the ACC. Notre Dame will begin playing five games a year against ACC foes on the gridiron.
ACC’s BCS Bowl Record: 5-13
ACC’s BCS National Championships: 2-2
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After Portugal’s 2-1 victory over Ghana, the USMNT sneaks into the knockout round with a 1-1-1 record in the group stage. Belgium, America’s newest foe, is a dark horse to win it all this year. Can the USA earn a decisive trip to the round of 8?
When and Where to Watch
Tuesday, July 1st, 4:00 pm (eastern time) Live on ESPN. This match is being played at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil. You can also find the game online at ESPN.com by supplying your cable provider’s information. If that won’t work, you can find it online here.
Why You Should Watch
Here’s where things get really interesting. The previous three matches were breathtaking battles that proved the USA's worth amongst the big names in the soccer world. Now we start the actual tournament. No more point-differentials and tiebreaker scenarios. From here on out, it’s a single elimination bracket. One minor slip-up and your championship dreams are dashed in the blink of an eye. The remaining 16 teams have just four games to win in order to be crowned world champions.
Even if you’re just a patriotic denizen of the United States who’s interested in the World Cup, you should really be watching all of the World Cup games from here on out. Heavy favorite and host-nation Brazil narrowly escaped Chile during penalties on Sunday, one sample from a gluttony of premium-quality soccer matches. The teams weren't wearing red, white, and blue, but that doesn't mean their 90 minutes were any less entertaining than ours. Though you might not feel any emotional connection to other teams, you had better start educating yourself on the rest of the field in case the U.S. drops out of the tournament Tuesday.
Who to Watch for the United States
There is a wide variety of players to focus on, depending on the final roster that Klinsmann selects. If Jozy Altidore returns, Clint Dempsey will move back into a more supplementary striking role. Current reports signal that Altidore will not be available in his full form, so it’s almost a guarantee that Dempsey will be expected to carry the load once again this match. Jermaine Jones was one of the lone bright spots in a pathetic offensive performance against Germany. Stay alert when Jones touches the ball against Belgium.
On defense, Omar Gonzalez will likely start again after a stellar performance last week; the Belgians will test him early and often. The first step in the Americans' winning gameplan is for Gonzalez and counterpart Matt Besler to hold up. Elsewhere, Alejandro Bedoya will attempt to shake off his concussion scare from last week after a rough collision with Jermaine Jones. The USA will continue to play through Michael Bradley, whose game will hopefully return to normal at some point this tournament. In an elimination game, every player will be doing all he can to walk away with a victory. Jones, Dempsey, and Bradley are the most obvious calls to deliver against Belgium.
Why the U.S. Will Walk Away Victorious
Belgium won Group H by recording victories in each of its three games. Though the European country finished on top of its grouping, it certainly didn’t look unconquerable through 270+ minutes of observation. The team may have been looking past its early, unevenly balanced matches with its eyes on a greater goal – a championship. In its first World Cup appearance since 2002, Belgium entered the tournament as the fifth favorite to win the finals. The Red Devils set a record against South Korea, remaining unbeaten for 13 games for the first time in Belgium's football history – good reason for its players to be oozing confidence as they take the field to face the United States. So confident, in fact, that midfielder Marouane Fellaini has vowed to part ways with his iconic afro if Belgium wins the 2014 World Cup. But before Fellaini reaches for his clippers, Belgium will need to go through this scrappy U.S. squad first.
It’s a mighty challenge, but the Americans gain a slight advantage with an extra day of rest. That’s a huge gift in this situation, with Jozy Altidore recuperating from injury and multiple players needing acclimation time to the hot and humid Brazilian weather. In addition, stadium at Salvador will be the shortest trip that the USMNT has made to play a match during 2014 World Cup play. Still, because of its easy opening draw, Belgium was able to cruise through the group stage, being afforded the luxury of resting some of its featured players in the third game against South Korea.
The match should play out with a narrative that’s similar to the Germany game. Intensity, defense, and physicality are some buzzwords you’ll be hearing a lot on Tuesday. In a recent friendly, Belgium defeated the USA 4-2. But Ghana had America’s number before the tournament started, and now they watch from the sidelines. Health is once again going to be a major factor in this match's outcome. Belgian captain Vincent Kompany is dealing with a groin strain while Thomas Vermaelen’s hamstring problems make him doubtful to participate in the match. The Red Devils clearly have some injury issues, but that shouldn’t be too big of a problem considering the team’s seemingly endless depth. It won’t be all sunshine and rainbows for the United States, but with a bit of luck and determination, Belgium’s championship ambitions could be cut short.
Belgium: 2, USA: 1
I’d love to pick the USMNT to take home the W and advance through the tournament, but even Klinsmann acknowledged that this isn’t our year. Belgium will win its fourth consecutive game by a one-goal margin, barely staying afloat in the 2014 World Cup. A small glimmer of hope will be provided by Graham Zusi with an accurate and deft cross over the middle, finished by Dempsey for the 74th minute goal. Sadly, Eden Hazard and Marouane Fellaini will score before the Americans do.
If not for a horrific draw in the 2014 World Cup, things could have been different for the USA. Now, the Americans look ahead to 2018, a year that should elevate soccer’s place in the hierarchy of American sports.
Conference realignment reached a fever pitch a few years ago and it caused great headaches for fans and coaches across the nation.
The dollars and “sense” of conference realignment blazed a path through college football for a few years following the turn of the century, however, teams shifting leagues for greener pastures isn’t a new phenomenon.
The Big Ten was created in 1896, is the oldest Division I collegiate conference in the NCAA and is adding two new teams this July in Maryland and Rutgers. Did you know the University of Chicago was a founding member? Or that Michigan was kicked out of the league for a decade?
The point is conference realignment has been happening for over 100 years of college football, and, while the process escalated to dizzying speeds recently, it’s not even close to ending. Want some proof? Here is a complete look at the history of the Big Ten conference and how realignment has shaped the league over time.
John Griffith, 1922-44 (died in office)
Kenneth “Tug” Wilson, 1945-61
William Reed, 1961-71 (died in office)
Wayne Duke, 1971-89
Jim Delany, 1989-present
1896: The Big Ten is formed as the first major collegiate conference of universities. Purdue president James Smart is credited with spearheading the decision to regulate and control intercollegiate athletics. The seven founding members were the University of Chicago, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. Lake Forest College attended the 1895 meeting that eventually spawned what was then referred to as the Western Conference, but it did not join the league.
1899: Iowa and Indiana both join the Big Ten Conference three years after its inception. It was then commonly called the Big Nine. Both Iowa and Indiana would begin athletic competition the following year. Interestingly enough, Nebraska petitioned to join the league the same year (and would again request an invitation in 1911 to no avail).
1908: Michigan was voted out of the conference due to rules issues. The Wolverines failed to adhere to league-wide regulations and were subsequently ruled inactive.
1912: Ohio State joins the league.
1917: After Michigan was finally allowed back into the conference after its decade-long hiatus, the term Big Ten became an instantly popular way to refer to the conference.
1946: Due to the on-going World War in Europe, the University of Chicago had de-emphasized athletics in 1939 by discontinuing its football program. By 1946, Chicago withdrew from the league. The Big Ten went back to being referred to as the Big Nine.
1950: Michigan State is invited to join the Big Nine and does so to return the total number of league institutions to ten. The term Big Ten was re-adopted at this point. It would begin athletic competition in 1953.
1987: Technically, the league had been named the “Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives.” But since ICFR doesn’t roll off the tongue, the league officially changed its name to The Big Ten when it was incorporated as a non-profit business entity.
1990: After remaining unchanged for four decades of success, the Big Ten voted to expand to 11 schools and asked Penn State to join. The Nittany Lions, who were denied entrance into the Big East in 1982, were happy to oblige. It would begin Big Ten athletic competition in 1993.
2010-11: Nebraska applies for Big Ten membership and is unanimously approved as the league’s 12th institution. Nebraska played its first Big Ten conference schedule the following year and the league splits into two divisions to accommodate the Cornhuskers. Additionally, the Big Ten plays its first league championship game in Indianapolis.
2014: As the College Football Playoff Era begins, so too, does a new edition of the Big Ten. Maryland and Rutgers join the conference in all sports, pushing the league to a record 14 members. The divisions have been renamed the West and the East and will feature seven teams each. Both the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights will play in the East Division and both extend the B1G footprint into the coveted, population-rich Northeast. Lastly, Johns Hopkins University is actually joining the Big Ten as a men’s lacrosse member only. Officially, JHU has won 44 lacrosse national championships since being founded in 1883.
Big Ten's BCS Bowl Record: 13-15*
Big Ten's BCS National Championships: 1-2
* - including any vacated appearances
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Nothing encapsulates the big-money posturing of conference expansion more than two middling East Coast football programs joining a historically celebrated conference thanks to branding and TV viewership.
Commissioner Jim Delany sent ripples through college football when plucking the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights out of the ACC and Big East, respectively, in November 2012, creating instability for those two conferences while strengthening the Big Ten’s strategic ground.
Never mind that Maryland and Rutgers are a combined 61–65 in football since 2009, or that the campuses are 11-plus-hour drives from the Big Ten’s home office in Chicago, or that more long-standing rivalries will likely be severed as a result.
Conference realignment was never about all that. It’s about the projected $270 million for the Big Ten Network in 2013. It’s about commercial markets, where Maryland and Rutgers happen to be well positioned. Yes, it’s about tradition — Maryland and Rutgers were playing football in the 1800s.
But it’s also about something happening four hours north of Maryland’s campus — the Big Ten office that Delany is building in Manhattan.
Not only did the moves partner Penn State with two East Coast schools, but they also accentuate the notion that the conference can get away with this because of its deep alumni base coast-to-coast.
SEC fans are unmatched, particularly in the South, but the Big Ten’s list of donors from California to New York is impressive.
So when cash-strapped Maryland needed a financial boost and Rutgers saw a bleak future in the depleted Big East, they showcased their meticulous resource/facility investments to offset any lagging football results.
Maryland and Rutgers were willing to jump when others — such as North Carolina and Georgia Tech — apparently were not.
Their reward: Entering a conference that’s expected to distribute $25.7 million to each of its schools next year, mostly from a contract with ESPN/ABC and the joint BTN venture with FOX, which also has the East Coast-based YES Network.
With both sides consummating the marriage in July, what will this long-distance relationship look like? And what do the football programs of Maryland and Rutgers really offer?
Maryland and Rutgers On the Field
While the Big Ten gets Maryland at a relatively good time in the Terps’ transitional arc, Rutgers has work to do to avoid the bottom of the seven-team East division.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall survived a shaky two-year start and produced seven wins last year despite several key injuries offensively. When healthy, receiver Stefon Diggs is one of the country’s best playmakers. Diggs will return as a top target for C.J. Brown, a quarterback who won’t overwhelm but has impressed many ACC coaches with his football acumen.
Having two solid coordinators — Mike Locksley on offense and Brian Stewart on defense — eases the transition. Maryland has been stout at linebacker and defensive back under Stewart, who loses top corners Dexter McDougle and Isaac Goins.
Inexperience is an issue on the offensive line, but that’s why Maryland brought in former LSU offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, one of three new Terrapins coaches.
Maryland won’t dominate in Year 1 but comes in as a respectable ACC team with program improvements looming.
Rutgers seems to have the steeper climb of the two. That can change if the Knights prove they have a reasonable quarterback option. Gary Nova flashed brilliance but hampered the offense with 14 interceptions. Nova is one of several quarterbacks competing for the starting spot.
The firing of defensive coordinator Dave Cohen amid bullying accusations from a former player cost Rutgers several highly ranked recruits. Rutgers’ 2014 class dipped to a No. 60 ranking on Signing Day. With the problems of basketball coach Mike Rice, the school couldn’t tolerate similar allegations. Recruits noticed.
Rutgers enters Big Ten play with two new coordinators, most notably Ralph Friedgen, a well-respected play-caller who enters the Big Ten at the same time as a Terps team he used to coach. Rutgers is counting on Friedgen to stabilize a rhythm-less offense. He’ll start by finding someone to get the ball to talented receiver Leonte Carroo.
One American Athletic Conference coach believes Rutgers will have a tough time competing in the Big Ten. “I think they will struggle to be .500 in that league, especially in the East,” he says.
How Much of an Upgrade is the Big Ten for These Two Teams?
The Big Ten is probably the country’s third- to fifth-best league, depending whom you ask.
The SEC still has the strongest profile. The Pac-12 and Big 12 have serious depth, and FSU’s national title lifts the ACC’s profile.
You could argue that Maryland is downgrading in football competition, though both leagues are probably equal top to bottom. Rutgers is upgrading, but this isn’t Division II to FBS. It’s a manageable move.
The Big Ten East should be a beast, though. It features Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers and Indiana. The first four on that list range from national title contenders to potential conference winners. Maryland and Rutgers must play all six divisional opponents plus two crossovers.
But the bottom third of the league still plays uninspired football. Purdue, Indiana and Illinois have been bad for a while, and Northwestern is coming off a 1–7 conference season.
“The Big Ten is getting better,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer says. “Michigan State, Penn State coming off the sanctions, Wisconsin is a helluva football team. We were right there on the 35-yard line to beat Clemson. Traditionally there’s an Iowa, that’s a helluva team. I think it’s coming.”
A fully loaded Big East/American was known in coaching circles for its physical teams. Syracuse, Pitt and Boston College — current ACC schools with roots in the Big East — each won seven games last season with power-run principles.
The best move for Rutgers might be to mirror those programs.
For Maryland, improving in College Park will help its league debut. The Terps are 3–9 in conference home games since 2011. The games won’t get easier with Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State visiting Byrd Stadium this year.
The Big Ten East
Coaches and athletic directors use the word all the time — branding.
In the big picture, the branding presence of Maryland and Rutgers will be less about the schools and more about Big Ten sprawl. Not many New Yorkers will watch Rutgers sports over the Yankees, nor will D.C. fans watch Maryland over the Redskins. But these schools are in huge markets where the Big Ten will capitalize.
If the Big Ten ever goes to 16 teams, it will undoubtedly add East Coast schools to create a five-team division for travel purposes and commonality.
The question is, will Rutgers and Maryland lose their identities in the process? Maryland was a founding member of the ACC. When people talked about the ACC, Maryland was probably among the first seven teams the common fan would list.
Rutgers was in a league it was capable of winning. Greg Schiano had resurrected the program.
Of course, Rutgers would make about 10 times less in the American, which makes a few more potential losses on the field easier to bear.
Joining the Big Ten was never a 12-month decision for either school. It was a move made for the long term, with financial stability the primary motivation. And as strange as it feels — and it feels awfully strange — it just might work out for everyone involved.
Written by Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerCBS) of CBSSports.com for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 Big Ten Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.
Thinking big isn’t always the best tactic.
Joe Novak learned that much from afar. He was an assistant at Indiana during the 1986 when he watched Northern Illinois, where he had worked for three years, leave the MAC with aspirations of joining big-time college football.
“I don’t know what they were thinking or where they were going to go,” Novak told Athlon Sports in a recent interview.
What the Huskies were trying to do was parlay a move to the Big West into a bid for the Big Eight or Big 12. What Northern Illinois got was six losing seasons in 10 years as an independent and Big West member only to return to where it started.
Northern Illinois’ returned to the league in 1997 with Novak as coach, trumpeting his return with the slogan, “Back in the MAC with Novak.” That’s just about all Northern Illinois had to sell at the time. The Huskies’ hopes of major conference membership were ill-advised, and in the aftermath of the experiment, NIU went 3-30 during Novak’s first three seasons.
The best MACtion, Novak learned, may be inaction at least in terms of changing leagues. Once the program recovered under Novak, Northern Illinois, instead, settled on being one of the flagship programs in the MAC.
July 1 marks another year of conference realignment moves. Maryland and Rutgers become official in the Big Ten, and the ACC adds Louisville. Conference USA adds two teams to take the place of the three that will join the year-old American Athletic Conference.
Once again, though, the MAC is sitting out the game of musical chairs.
That’s not to say the MAC is a total outlier. Temple left before last season after five years as a football-only member, and UMass will follow suit next season.
But the core of the MAC — 10 teams in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana — has remained more or less stable since the ‘70s. Marshall and UCF dabbled here, but neither seemed to be a geographical or philosophical fit.
As conference affiliations change, the MAC has thrived in its stability.
In the last two seasons, the league has produced a BCS participant (Northern Illinois), a No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick (Central Michigan) and another top-five pick (Buffalo). Ratings for the MAC’s featured games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays late in the season aren’t out-performing the Big Ten, but they can top second- or third-tier Saturday games in major conferences.
"The best thing for that league is to stay status quo."
-former Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak
“I’m thankful we’ve been able to stay together, and because of it our conference has moved up in stature,” said Jim Schaus, Ohio’s athletics director since 2008. “By staying where we were and because other conferences have seen other members moving up, those conferences may have stepped back a little bit.”
Tuesday and Wednesday night games have been a staple of the MAC for several years. Wild offensive showcases between MAC teams have become the league’s signature. The #MACtion meme shows there’s national interest in the conference, even if it’s a niche.
At the same time, the American, Conference USA and perhaps even the Mountain West can’t say the same.
“We talk about branding here a lot,” Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien said. “It’s led to the culture of the MAC brand. At the same time, despite the fact that the MAC is considered quote-unquote regional, it is a national conference.”
The Big Ten and Big 12 may be unrealistic goals — as Northern Illinois learned — but MAC teams have rarely been in the conversation for movement in the next tier of conferences. The shared recruiting base and similar budgets can keep MAC teams competitive, but it likely makes them less of a target in realignment.
The top program in the MAC lineup in terms of revenue is Miami (Ohio) at $28.7 million, ranking 79th, according to USA Today (outgoing affiliate member UMass actually bring sin more at $30 million). On the other end is Ball State at $21.3 million, ranking 112nd.
In other words, $7.4 million in revenue separate the top and bottom teams in the MAC. More than $100 million separates Texas and Iowa State in the Big 12, and $74 million separates Oregon and Washington State in the Pac-12.
“Part of the reason we’ve stayed together is the commonality of the members in this conference,” MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said.
MAC administrators also believe the new College Football Playoff may improve postseason opportunities for the league, specifically the one bowl guaranteed to the highest-ranked team in the “Group of Five” (the MAC, American, C-USA, Mountain West and Sun Belt).
Talk of autonomy among the five major conferences is sure to be a concern for the MAC and leagues of its ilk, but at least not outwardly for now.
“We are joined at the hip for the next decade,” Shaus said of the Group of Five and the power conferences.
The key for the MAC is to maintain its midweek presence.
The MAC’s contract with ESPN runs through 2016-17, but the two parties were expected to reopen talks a year ago. The $1 million deal is on the low end of broadcast contracts.
Even as more and more major programs and even the NFL have embraced the Thursday night primetime spot, the MAC is not concerned it will lose its foothold on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
"Despite the fact that the MAC is considered quote-unquote regional, it is a national conference.”
-Toledo athletic director Mike O'Brien
“We’ve become their midweek franchise in November,” MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “We’ve embraced it, they’ve embraced it and I anticipate that continuing.”
Simply put, the tradeoff in terms of juggling player class schedules and the attendance hit of playing on a weeknight is not one leagues may be willing to embrace on a regular basis.
Central Michigan, for example, didn’t play a game between Oct. 19 and Nov. 6 to accommodate a Wednesday night game against Ball State. Ohio and Buffalo both played on three consecutive Tuesday nights in November.
“I absolutely would make that trade,” Tom Amstutz, Toledo’s coach from 2001-08, told Athlon. “Yes, you have to make adjustments and yes, you have to do things academically, but it was worth it. ... Whenever we were asked if we wanted to have a Tuesday night game, I always quickly said yes because I always though it would benefit our league, benefit our program and I knew our players wanted that opportunity.”
Between the familiarity of the lineup and the reliability of four or five MAC teams to be compelling in a single season, viewers on Tuesday or Wednesday nights know what to expect from a featured MAC matchup.
“The stability has allowed people to follow the MAC and know what they’re following,” said Ohio coach Frank Solich, the longest-tenured coach in the league.
As the college football landscape changes on a yearly basis, the MAC has found a way to turn stability into an asset.
Standing still in conference realignment, while the American, C-USA and Sun Belt have struggled to plant their flags, has been a gain for the MAC.
“The best thing for that league,” Novak said. “is to stay status quo.”