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Each week, Athlon Sports will highlight some of the best one-on-one matchups to watch in college football. Here are the most important games within the game to watch this weekend:

Marcus Mariota, QB vs. Shayne Skov, LB (Oregon at Stanford, Thurs.)
There is no doubt the best player in the nation will be on full display against Stanford. Mariota’s Heisman hopes and BCS national title hopes hang in the balance as he seeks revenge for the only loss in his career. His offense was held to regular-season lows in yards (405) and points (14) in the 2012 home loss while he was held to a career-low one total touchdown. He must be better than 21-of-37 passing (207 yards, TD, INT) to win on The Farm. Charged with stopping the Ducks' complex and diverse offense is the leader of the Cardinal defense. The team’s leading tackler (7.8 per game) posted 10 tackles and 1.0 TFL in the upset win in Eugene last year but Skov means so much more to this team than just stats. His recognition skills will be tested the most by the zone-read-pass-run option Mariota brings to the table. One bad read and Oregon will make you pay in a big way. The pressure is on the Cardinal linebackers and Skov in particular this week.

Avery Patterson, CB vs. Ty Montgomery, WR (Oregon at Stanford, Thurs.)
Offensively, David Shaw wants to run the football and keep Oregon’s offense off the field. Everyone including Mark Helfrich knows this. Fans can bet that Nick Aliotti will scheme to stop Tyler Gaffney and the Cardinal O-line, forcing Kevin Hogan to make plays down the field. It falls to star wideout and big-play specialist Montgomery to stretch the defense. He has posted at least one catch of 30 yards in six of eight games and has two kickoff return touchdowns of at least 99 yards.

Week 11 Previews and Predictions: ACC | Big 12 Big Ten Pac-12 SEC

LSU's "other" WR vs. Alabama’s “other” CB (LSU at Alabama)
Senior Deion Belue is an established veteran at one cornerback spot in the Alabama secondary. The other starter will be either sophomore Bradley Sylve or true freshman Eddie Jackson. These young corners will be facing an LSU offense that features two elite wide receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. There will be times when Sylve and/or Jackson will be matched up with an All-America-caliber receiver — no matter which wide receiver Belue is charged with checking. 

Anthony Johnson, DT vs. Ryan Kelly, C (LSU at Alabama)
LSU’s great players will have to play great on Saturday night. Johnson is the best player on a defense that has given up 400-plus yards in four of its last five SEC games. The Tigers need their big man to be disruptive on the interior of the defensive line. Kelly has missed time this season due to injury but is back in the lineup. He has never taken a snap against LSU in his career, so how he performs early against Johnson will be key for Alabama.

Frank Shannon, LB vs. Lache Seastrunk, RB (Oklahoma at Baylor, Thurs.)
Kansas State held Seastrunk to 59 rushing yards and 4.9 yards per carry, both season lows. Not coincidentally, Baylor was held to nearly 20 points off its scoring average for the year. Oklahoma’s run defense has been gouged at times this season, most notably against Texas. Seastrunk isn’t Baylor’s only weapon in the Bears’ prolific offense, but he does set the tone. Shannon has been banged up the last few weeks but the Sooners' leading tackler is back to full strength to face the explosive running back. This is a critical matchup for Oklahoma as only Kansas State has slowed the Bears' running game — and it nearly led to an upset.

Aaron Colvin, CB vs. Tevin Reese, WR (Oklahoma at Baylor, Thurs.)
Even if Oklahoma contains running back Lache Seastrunk, Baylor can still sneak its speedy receivers behind opposing defensive backs. Reese and Antwan Goodley both average better than 23 yards per catch with eight touchdowns apiece. Colvin is the savvy veteran while redshirt freshman Zack Sanchez has been a revelation this season as an intimidating hitter in the secondary.

Kyle Fuller, CB vs. Stephen Morris, QB (Virginia Tech at Miami)
With running back Duke Johnson sidelined for the rest of the year due to an ankle injury, the Hurricanes will probably ask Morris to shoulder more of the offensive workload. The senior completed 16 of 28 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State last week but also threw two interceptions. After struggling with an ankle injury earlier in the year, Morris looked closer to 100 percent in last week’s game. However, Morris has another tough assignment ahead this week, as Virginia Tech’s secondary ranks as one of the best in the nation. The Hokies are led by seniors Fuller and Antone Exum at cornerback, but freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller have combined for nine picks this year. With wide receiver Phillip Dorsett sidelined, Morris and Allen Hurns should be the go-to combination against Virginia Tech’s suffocating secondary.

Taysom Hill, QB vs. Chris Borland, LB (BYU at Wisconsin)
Marcus Trotter played very well in place of Borland last weekend in Iowa City, but there is no replacement for one of the best players in school history. And with an explosive, dual-threat quarterback coming to town, Badgers fans better hope Borland’s hamstring is fully healthy. BYU’s Taysom Hill is 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, has 953 yards of total offense in his last two games and is coming off a bye week. This will be a difficult challenge for the stingy Badgers defense.

 

Teaser:
Top College Football Player Matchups to Watch in Week 11
Post date: Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 10:22
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Video, videos, MAC, Overtime, News
Path: /college-football/worst-officiating-moments-sports-history
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Officiating in any sport is a difficult assignment. Mistakes are going to be made each week, but some errors are bigger than others.

There have been numerous bad calls in sports history, but we rounded up 16 of the worst in recent memory, including Tuesday night’s “safety” recorded by Buffalo against Ohio.

Worst Officiating Moments in Sports History

2013: Buffalo Awarded Safety on Intentional Grounding 

Midweek MAC games are one of the more entertaining parts of college football’s November schedule. However, the Buffalo-Ohio game from Tuesday night won’t be remembered for a quality game between two potential bowl teams. Instead, awful officiating will overshadow Buffalo’s 30-3 win.

Early in the second half, Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton was pressured out of the pocket and threw a pass to avoid a sack, which resulted in an intentional grounding call. However, the referees ruled Tettleton was in the endzone, and Buffalo was awarded a safety.

But there’s only one problem: Tettleton wasn’t in the endzone – he was on the four-yard line.

 

 

2012: Green Bay vs. Seattle: Golden Tate’s Hail Mary "Catch"
Replacement officials made plenty of glaring errors through the first three weeks of the 2012 NFL season but none bigger than the one that occurred between the Seattle-Green Bay matchup on Monday night. With the Seahawks trailing 12-7 with seconds remaining, quarterback Russell Wilson heaved a pass to the corner of the endzone, which appeared to be intercepted by Green Bay defensive back M.D. Jennings. However, the officials ruled Seattle receiver Golden Tate wrestled away control and award the catch to the Seahawks. Making matters worse for Green Bay, Tate clearly pushed off on a defensive back, which allowed him to get into position for the catch. 

 

Tuck Rule – Oakland vs. New England in 2001 AFC Divisional Playoffs
It’s not unusual for the rules to be changed, tweaked or adjusted from season to season, depending upon the circumstances. For the most part, the changes go largely unnoticed unless something happens to bring them into the spotlight. That was certainly the case in the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoffs as the entire world was introduced to what would become known simply as the “Tuck Rule.” Playing in a driving snowstorm at home, New England trailed Oakland 13-10 in the fourth quarter with less than two minutes remaining. Still out of field goal range, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady dropped back to pass and dropped the football after being hit. The Raiders recovered and seemingly put an end to the Patriots’ hopes. However, upon further review, referee Walt Coleman reversed the call on the field of a fumble, according to the “Tuck Rule,” which was introduced in 1999. Coleman explained on national TV that Brady had started to throw a forward pass and then lost possession of the ball as he was trying to bring it back, tuck it, into his body. The overturned call made it an incomplete pass and Brady was able to put Adam Vinatieri into position to make a game-tying 45-yard field goal with 27 seconds left on the clock. The Patriots would go on to win in overtime and eventually capture the first of their three Super Bowl titles during the 2000s.


1972 Russia vs. United States Olympic Basketball Gold Medal Game
The United States Olympic basketball team entered the 1972 Games in Munich having never suffered a loss in the history of the Games, and it looked as if their streak would continue with a 50-49 win over the Soviets in the gold medal game. The officials had other ideas. In perhaps the most controversial sports ending ever, the Soviets got three attempts to score. After two questionable clock resettings, a length-of the floor pass was thrown to Alexander Belov, who made a layup at the buzzer for what remains in the record books a 51-50 win — even if the members of the U.S. team refuse to acknowledge it.

1999 Pittsburgh vs. Detroit: Thanksgiving Day Coin Toss
Normally, the refs’ eyesight is called into question, but on Thanksgiving Day 1999, an official’s hearing was the issue. As the Steelers-Lions game headed into overtime, Luckett conducted the coin toss. Steelers captain Jerome Bettis called “tails,” but somehow Luckett heard “heads,” awarding possession to the Lions, who took advantage and won the game. The blunder caused the league to change its coin toss procedure — too little, too late for the Steelers.

Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga’s Near-Perfect Game
Detroit starter Armando Galarraga was one out away from a perfect game on June 2, 2010 in Comerica Park against Cleveland when the Indians Jason Donald stepped up to the plate. Donald hit an easy grounder to Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera who flipped the ball to Galaragga covering first, only to watch helplessly as first base umpire Jim Joyce incorrectly ruled Donald safe. Galaragga would retire the next batter for the one-hit shutout, but in the minds of the Tigers team and fans in attendance, the damage had already been done. After the game, Joyce willingly and profusely admitted his mistake and took it upon himself to personally apologize to Galaragga. Both men deserve credit for how each of them handled the situation, as they will be forever linked because of it.

Jerry Meals’ Bad Call at Home Ends 19-inning marathon between Braves and Pirates
No one wants to see any baseball game end on a bad call at home, let alone one that lasted 19 innings, but that’s what happened in Atlanta on July 26, 2011. Actually, the game didn’t officially end until July 27 as the Braves and Pirates started on Tuesday night and played into the early hours of Wednesday morning to settle this one. And in the end, the only reason it ended in the bottom of the 19th was because home plate umpire Jerry Meals egregiously called Julio Lugo safe at home although Pirates catcher Michael McKenry clearly applied the tag before Lugo’s foot crossed the plate. What exactly Meals saw only he can answer, but all you need to do is listen to the contrasting calls by the teams’ respective broadcasts and realize that there’s little doubt he missed this one.

The Fifth Down Game – 1990 – Colorado at Missouri
The Buffaloes claimed a share of the 1990 national championship with Georgia Tech, but the season was overshadowed by a controversial finish against Missouri. Colorado was awarded a fifth down late in the game, which allowed it to score the game-winning touchdown. Quarterback Charles Johnson spiked the ball on first down, while running back Eric Bieniemy was stopped at the one-yard line on second down. On third down, Bieniemy was stopped at the goal-line, which forced Johnson to spike the ball on “fourth down”. However, Johnson’s spike on first down apparently went unnoticed, as the Buffaloes scored on a touchdown run on "fifth down" to seal the victory. The Buffaloes went on to finish the year with an 11-1 record and a 10-9 victory over Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl.

Mike Renfro Ruled out of Bounds in 1979 AFC Championship Game
The Pittsburgh Steelers were the NFL’s team of the 1970s winning four Super Bowls in a span of six seasons (1974-79). The team they defeated to get to the last two during this run was the Houston Oilers. While the Oilers put up little resistance in the 1978 AFC Championship Game, losing 34-5, it’s the one that took place the following season that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Oilers fans. Leading 17-10 in the third quarter, Houston wide receiver Mike Renfro appeared to put the Oilers in a position to tie the game, when he made an incredible catch in the back corner of the end zone. Television replays confirmed the catch, but the officials, who did not have the benefit of instant replay back then, ruled it an incompletion. The Oilers had to settle for a field goal and the Steelers would go on to a 27-13 victory.

Kent Hrbek’s “Hard Tag” on Ron Gant in 1991 World Series
Who says baseball is not a contact sport? In Game 2 of the 1991 World Series Minnesota first baseman Kent Hrbek and Atlanta outfielder Ron Gant were involved in a play that not only would have made a wreslter proud, but turned out to a be a pivotal play when all was said and done. Trailing by one run in the top of the third, Gant singled to left off of Twins starter Kevin Tapani to seemingly put runners on first and third with two outs and David Justice on deck. The throw from the outfield rolled away from the fielder briefly, however, resulting in Gant taking a fairly wide turn around first. After retrieving the ball, Tapani threw to Hrbek at first in hopes of catching Gant off base. Even though Gant made it safely back to the bag before Hrbek could apply the tag; the burly first baseman lifted Gant off of the first all the while keeping his glove on Gant. Umpire Drew Coble called Gant out, ending the Braves’ threat, and the Twins would go on to win Game 2 by one run, 3-2, and the World Series in seven. Tapani made the out possible by throwing back to first, with Hrbek receiving two points for a textbook takedown.

1998 – Seahawks vs. Jets – Vinny Testaverde’s "touchdown"
Although the Seahawks benefitted from a blown call on Monday night, they were the victim of poor officiating in 1998. In an early December matchup in New York, Seattle lost 32-31 on a phantom touchdown run by Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde. With no instant reply, the Seahawks were unable to challenge the call, even though it was clear Testaverde never crossed the goal-line.

1986 World Cup: Argentina vs. England
The 1986 World Cup Finals between Argentina and England was one of the most incredible soccer matches in the history of the sport, due in no small part to Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal. Maradona punched the ball with his left hand past the English keeper and into the goal during Argentina’s 2-1 win, and referee Ali Bin Nasser failed to see the infraction. Afterward, Maradona famously commented that his goal came “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God,” and the phrase entered the sports lexicon. 

Cardinals-Royals: 1985 World Series
The Cardinals were three outs away from winning the 1985 World Series, when umpire Don Denkinger infamously intervened. The Cardinals led the Royals three games to two and took a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning of Game 6. The inning's leadoff batter, Jorge Orta, sent a chopper to first baseman Jack Clark, who tossed the ball to pitcher Todd Worrell at first base, clearly beating Orta by a half-step. Clearly, that is, to everyone but Denkinger, who called Orta safe, leading to a two-run rally. The Royals went on to win Game 7 over the deflated Cards 11-0.

2006 Oregon vs. Oklahoma: Onside Kick Error
The Sooners suffered a huge blow to their national title hopes in 2006, as bad officiating cost Oklahoma a win in Eugene. The Sooners led 33-20 with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter, but Oregon scored on a 16-yard touchdown run by Dennis Dixon with just over a minute to go. The Ducks recovered the onside kick, but replay clearly showed the kick hit one of their players before going 10 yards. Although instant replay was used, Oregon kept the ball, and Dennis Dixon hit Brian Paysinger for a 23-yard touchdown pass to win the game. The officials from the Oklahoma-Oregon matchup were suspended one game due to the missed calls late in the fourth quarter.

 

1979 Rose Bowl – USC vs. Michigan: Charles White’s "touchdown"
The 1979 Rose Bowl matchup was a much-anticipated game between two top-five teams. USC entered the 1979 Rose Bowl at 11-1, while Michigan was 10-1. In the second quarter, Charles White appeared to score, which would give USC a 14-3 lead. However, a closer look revealed White fumbled before he reached the endzone and was incorrectly ruled a touchdown by the officiating crew. Considering the final score was 17-10, the “touchdown” proved to be the difference and propelled USC to a finish of No. 1 in the UPI poll.

Dallas vs. Buffalo Stanley Cup: Goal or No Goal?
Brett Hull of the Dallas Stars scored the Stanley Cup series-clinching goal in triple overtime of game six against the Buffalo Sabres. Too bad it was apparently illegal, even if the officials allowed it to stand. When Hull scored, his foot was in the crease, but the puck was not — a no-no, even though the NHL tried a semantics tap-dance around the issue by claiming they had issued a memo allowing goals when the scorer had control of the puck prior to his skate entering the crease. The Sabres' reply? "No goal," which became the franchise rallying cry. 

 

Honorable Mention

2005 – Florida vs. Vanderbilt – Earl Bennett’s “celebration penalty”
Winning at Florida is never easy for any team in the SEC, but Vanderbilt’s last win in Gainesville occurred in 1945. The Commodores were on the verge of an upset victory in 2005, as Jay Cutler hit receiver Earl Bennett on a six-yard touchdown pass with less than one minute to go to bring Vanderbilt within one point. The Commodores were prepared to go for two, however, the officials flagged Bennett for excessive celebration, which forced the Commodores to kick the extra point and play for overtime. Bennett’s penalty is one of the most egregious celebration flags in recent memory and prevented Vanderbilt from a two-point conversion that could have won and allowed the Commodores to get bowl eligible. 

Chuck Knoblauch’s Phantom Tag in 1999 ALCS
The Red Sox were trailing the Yankees by one when they batted in the bottom of the eighth in Game 4 of the 1999 ALCS. With one out, Jose Offerman singled off of Andy Pettitte to seemingly start a rally. It was quickly snuffed out, however, when John Valentin grounded into an inning-ending double play, one that was made possible by Knoblauch’s now-infamous “Phantom Tag” of Offerman at second, with an assist from second base umpire Tim Tschida. The Yankees would go on to score six more runs in the top of the ninth to put the game away and then put the Red Sox away in with a series-clinching win the next night in Fenway Park. The hated Yankees would break the hearts or Red Sox nation yet again in the 2003 ALCS, this time in seven games, before exacting some revenge the next year in a season that would finally put an end to the “Curse of the Bambino” after 86 years.

Teaser:
Worst Officiating Moments in Sports History
Post date: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - 10:30
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This Q&A and more on Louisville and the American Athletic Conference are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Louisville’s Russ Smith was one of the most improved players in the country last season, leading the Cardinals in scoring on the way to the national title. His style of play on both ends of the court — sometimes brilliant and sometimes out of control — earned him the nickname “Russdiculous” from U of L coach Rick Pitino.

Smith was second in the Big East at 18.7 points per game and fourth with 2.1 steals per game. The shooting guard improved dramatically offensively, shooting 41.4 percent from the field, up from 35.6 percent a year earlier. Meanwhile, he drew the most difficult defensive assignments. He struggled in the national title game against Michigan and elected to return to Louisville after feedback from the NBA projected him as a second-round draft pick.

In a one-on-one interview with Athlon Sports, Smith reflects on the end of last season, his relationship with Pitino and what’s in store for the Cardinals in 2013-14.

Smith’s Louisville team checked in at No. 2 in our countdown.

You spent part of your offseason in Estonia as a member of the East Coast All-Stars in a tournament called the Four Nations Cup. What was that experience like?

It was an experience I felt like I needed, get some chances to play on an international level with more space on the court. I don’t want to say it was easy, but it was very comfortable. The lane was bigger but they also play three seconds, so it was really different.

A lot of times these international all-star team trips have a big-name coach and All-America-type players. You guys had a Division III coach in Guy Rancourt from Lycoming College and Williamsport, Pa., and you were the only real household name on your team. How was this experience than the typical all-star trip for someone in your position?

Unfortunately I didn’t get invited to any of those other world games stuff, but what’s important is that I had an opportunity to play against international competition and get better. I got put in contact with the person running it, and I wanted to participate. It had nothing to do with the players on the team or who the coach was going to be. Any experience I could get with international professional basketball, I knew it was going to help me. I think I performed pretty good out there.

While you were gone, your teammates took the trip to the White House and got their championship rings. Did you know that was going to happen, that you wouldn’t be able to go?

Yeah. It’s obviously nothing against any of the people who participated in the White House event, but I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to get better and compete playing basketball. I think I got a lot better from it.

Last season your efficiency numbers really improved even though you were taking more shots. To what do you credit that improvement?

I feel like it was Coach (Pitino). He had a lot of confidence in me to perform at the highest level I can. He gives me, I don’t want to say the green light, but he puts confidence in me that I’m able to make mistakes and make some shots. I hit the gym a lot with my best friend, my boy, Michael Baffour (a walk-on for Louisville’s 2012-13 team). We got a lot of work in through the whole season, just staying with it, and during the season staying in, not going out much during the year and keeping low profile socially.

You mentioned the confidence Coach Pitino had in you. Sometimes a coach will back off a player who makes mistakes or plays out of control sometimes. How much has his confidence in you helped your development?

I remember a point of the season where there was a three-game stretch where I was 9 for 40 or something like that. Coach kept sticking with me, saying it’s going to go down and to keep shooting. He saw my confidence was low. It means a lot for a guy like him to tell me to keep playing. There was a time in the season where I was hitting 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from the 3-point line, but I hit a slump and it shot everything back down. Coach was there when I needed him to be.

You and Coach Pitino have a unique player-coach relationship. There’s a lot of banter back and forth. He named one of his horses after you, Russdiculous. How would you describe your relationship with him?

I would describe it as a friend-to-friend relationship. We’re great friends. As friends, you’re honest with each other, you tell each other what you feel like you need. You don’t leave anything out, any variables. Coach does that with me as a friend who needs some coaching and guidance. He does a great job coaching me. As a player, he teaches me to do everything I can do with my abilities. I feel like every time we step out on the court together, I feel like we have the same goal and the goal is to win the game.

What is your biggest goal for personal improvement for this upcoming season?

The biggest goal for me is to not try to do too much. Sometimes I feel like I have to make a play every time I have the ball, and that’s when I force stuff. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s like a magic trick. The important thing to realize is that I don’t have to make a play every play and sometimes I can take it easy and take the foot off the gas and let it all come to me now. I forced a lot of action last year, and now I can let it come to me. I think that’s going to be a big step for me. That’s going to be the hardest part because I don’t like taking the foot off the gas.

Chris Jones looks like he’ll play a lot of point guard for you this season. How well do you know him and how is that chemistry coming together?

I got a chance to get to know him for the month I was here (after the end of last season), and I feel like the chemistry is what’s going to keep the team moving. If you have bad chemistry in your backcourt, your team isn’t going to go very far. Regardless of anything that happens, we’re going to always put it together. We may go through some adversity, but we’re going to have to come together as one and put things behind us. But I think me and him are doing a real good job of coming together and wanting to play competitive basketball.

You struggled a bit in the Final Four (9-of-33 from the field), but you guys won the title. How much does your personal performance gnaw at you or does the championship erase any bad feelings?

The championship always helps, but you always want to perform at the best of your ability. I had a great first five game stretch. The sixth game I couldn’t get it done (3-of-16). As a scorer, you always hear of folktales of another guy stepping up when things are going bad. That’s why I was so happy for Luke (Hancock, the Final Four Most Outstanding Player) and Chane (Behanan). They filled the scoring column when it counted, and they stepped up when we needed them to. That’s why I’m grateful to have these guys. When things are going bad, somebody’s going to step up. When Wayne (Blackshear)’s not having his night, Kevin (Ware)’s going to step up. When I’m not having my night, Montrezl (Harrell) will step up. That’s the glorious part of playing with guys like this.

At one point, it looked like you were going to go to the NBA Draft after last season. You and your father had said so to the media. Was your mind 100 percent made up?

It was never really made up. I didn’t know. Normally you watch the NCAA Tournament or watch the season, and most of the outside guys or guys on the street would or people would say he’d go first round — he had a great year, team won the championship, leading scorer, in the NCAA Tournament scored over 20 five or six times. You would think he’d probably leave, but that wasn’t the case. I had to sit down and look at all the variables. It was almost frustrating to me because I didn’t understand why, Coach didn’t understand why. As a friend, Coach helped me with an executive decision and that was the decision to come back. It didn’t make sense to leave early if they were going to take me early second round. I can come back next year and get better and get an education and hopefully play my way into a first-round pick or go in the same second round where I was going to go last year. Or if not, at least I’ll have my education and I’ll make my way as a man.

Does it help or does it bother you that part of this upcoming season is that everyone is going to be watching Kentucky, too? Even in your own state, the spotlight is going to be spread pretty evenly.

I have nothing toward that school. I like that school and what they do up the road and their players and stuff. That’s the way it is. I’m from New York and my second home is Louisville, Kentucky. The last two years, the championship was in the state. Hopefully we can keep it in the state. The last thing I’m worrying about is what’s going on up the road. We have things to worry about here.

What’s your favorite place to play other than your gym?

Since the numbers don’t lie, I’d say Rupp Arena. But for the Big East, the places I actually liked were Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and West Virginia. Those were like zoos in there.

Other than Coach Pitino, who would be a coach you’d want to play for?

If I could play for Coach Curran one more time, I’d do that. (Smith’s high school coach, Jack Curran of Archbishop Molloy in Queens, N.Y., died in March 2013. Curran won 972 basketball games and 1,708 baseball games since beginning his career in 1958.)

Who is the toughest player you’ve guarded?

It might have been the guy from Providence, Bryce Cotton. Chasing him on screens was very frustrating. Providence has about 30 sets and they came down in a different set each time. I had to chase him through a maze of screens as well as press and play offense. Those may have been the most frustrating games of my life.

Who is the toughest player who has guarded you?

I’d probably give it to the St. John’s boys. The guy (Sir’Dominic) Pointer, he’s a really good defender. And the guys from Memphis, they play hard out there — (Geron) Johnson, (Chris) Crawford and (Joe) Jackson.

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College Basketball: Q&A with Louisville's Russ Smith
Post date: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Kentucky Wildcats, SEC, College Basketball, News
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This preview and more on Kentucky and the SEC are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

No. 1 Kentucky Facts & Figures
Last season: 21-12 (12-6 SEC)
Postseason: NIT first round
Coach: John Calipari (123-26 at Kentucky)
SEC projection: First
Postseason projection: NCAA runner up
It’s not often — likely never before, in fact — that a team coming off a first-round NIT exit is dreaming, talking even, about the possibility of going 40–0 and winning an NCAA championship the next season. Only at Kentucky. Only under John Calipari, the pied piper of college basketball.

“When we won the national title, we did that tour” around the state with the trophy two years ago, Calipari said, “and after that it was over. Rear-view mirror was taken out. Moving forward. I would tell you the same with this season. There were things that I wish had been different, (but) part of last season was the beginning of success for the coming year.”

The veterans, sophomore forward Alex Poythress and center Willie Cauley-Stein, who passed up first-round NBA money to return to UK, learned some valuable lessons about leaning on hype over hard work. Calipari hopes they’ll be a steadying influence on his latest bumper crop of incoming freshmen.

It was a particularly healthy harvest, eight scholarship newcomers, an unprecedented six of them McDonald’s All-Americans. On paper, it is the best of Calipari’s five straight national-best recruiting classes. In theory, it is the greatest haul of all-time.
 
Frontcourt

This is as impressive a collection of talent as you’ll see: seven players who were rated 4-star recruits or higher, five McDonald’s All-Americans. Just in the frontcourt.
Poythress is a freak athlete, an inside-outside threat who Calipari said learned last season “where he’s going to have to take everything to be the player that he wants to be.” Cauley-Stein is a legit 7-footer with skills, an effective shot-blocker and eager rebounder.

They’re joined by four incoming burger boys — James Young, a 6-7 sharpshooter; Julius Randle, a 6-9 power forward (emphasis on power); Marcus Lee, a 6-9 shot-blocking prodigy; and 6-11 Dakari Johnson, who will be one of the few true centers in the SEC.

Randle has already drawn rave reviews this summer from Calipari and several former Cats who are now in the NBA who played against the 5-star freshman in pickup games. Some think he’ll challenge Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins for the top spot in next summer’s draft.

“He’s a beast,” Calipari says. “He’s an alpha beast who will drive the team. Has a little bit of Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) in him."

2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC


Backcourt

The Ryan Harrow experiment failed miserably last season, and Calipari failed to have a one-and-done, first-round NBA Draft pick at point guard for the first time in six years. Harrow, who transferred to Georgia State after the season, couldn’t handle the pressure at UK.

“With what I just went through, I wanted a tough point guard,” Calipari says.

Enter freshman Andrew Harrison, who is (you guessed it) another McDonald’s All-American, rated the top point guard prospect in the Class of 2013. He’s joined by twin Aaron, the nation’s top-rated shooting guard.

The latter is an adept scorer, but at 6-5, 210 pounds, also “should be and will be and is expected to be and will be demanded to be a lock-down defender,” Calipari says. As for Andrew: “My hope is by the end of the year, he’s just like some of the other point guards we’ve had. You look at him and say, ‘Hey, he can do things that other point guards can’t do at his size.’”

The Harrisons will get help from senior Jarrod Polson, a former walk-on who earned a significant role last season, and fellow freshman Dominique Hawkins, a bulldog who willed his team to the state championship en route to winning Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball.

Newcomers

Nine newcomers join the roster, including a record six McDonald’s All-Americans — guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison, forwards James Young, Marcus Lee and Julius Randle, and center Dakari Johnson. Guard Dominique Hawkins and forward Derek Willis were finalists for Mr. Basketball in Kentucky. Preferred walk-on E.J. Floreal is the son of UK’s track coach and a freaky leaper who had Division I offers.
 
Final Analysis
Factoid: 15. John Calipari has lost a total of 15 conference games in his last eight seasons as a head coach. Six of those losses came last season.


Last season’s roster had elite talent, but not enough of it. The roster was so thin, practices suffered and Calipari couldn’t afford to bench slackers.

“Two years ago, we did not have one bad practice. Not one. Last year, we had about five good practices,” he says. This year: “The bench will be my friend.”

If competition fuels a team that is, on paper, among the most talented the sport has ever seen, who knows what might happen? Calipari isn’t shying away from 40–0 talk.

“We’re chasing perfection. We’re chasing greatness. We’re chasing things that have never been done in the history of our game,” he says.
 

2013-14 Preseason Top 25
1. Kentucky
2. Louisville
3. Duke
4. Michigan State
5. Kansas
6. Arizona
7. Florida
8. Oklahoma State

9. Syracuse
10. North Carolina
11. Ohio State
12. Michigan

13. Marquette
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
16. Creighton
17. Tennessee
18. VCU
19. UNLV
20. Memphis
21. Connecticut
22. Wisconsin
23. UCLA
24. Baylor
25. Wichita State

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This preview and more on Louisville and the AAC are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

No. 2 Louisville Facts & Figures
Last season: 35-5 (14-4 Big East)
Postseason: NCAA champion
Coach: Rick Pitino (310-111 at Louisville)
American projection: First
Postseason projection: NCAA runner up
The leading scorer, Russ Smith, is back. The Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four, Luke Hancock, is back. The breakout player of the postseason, Montrezl Harrell, is back. The Hall of Fame coach, Rick Pitino, is back.

No wonder then that the expectations are back at the University of Louisville. Most teams that win the national championship start leaking players to the NBA before they schedule their victory parade — the way Kentucky did in 2012. Not so at Louisville.

“It’s kind of unusual to see back-to-back championships won in any state; it doesn’t happen throughout history very often,” Pitino says. “We’re looking for one of us to try and make it three in a row. We’ll be more excited if it’s Louisville rather than Kentucky, but we’ll see how it plays out.”

Related: Q&A with Louisville's Russ Smith

Frontcourt

The biggest question for Louisville is the status of Chane Behanan. The starting power forward played his best basketball in the Final Four, scoring 15 points with 12 rebounds in the title game against Michigan. Behanan was suspended indefinitely in mid-October, and Pitino all but closed the door on his season. However, last week, Pitino said he was pleased with Behanan’s progress.

Can a team contend for a national title with a 6-8 center? Pitino believes that it’s possible. That’s one reason why Montrezl Harrell is expected to move from forward to center after having a solid summer leading the USA Basketball U19 team to a gold medal in Prague. The other reason is that center Gorgui Dieng was a first-round pick in the NBA Draft.

If Harrell can’t handle the move, Pitino has two other options. Stephan Van Treese has added 15 pounds of upper-body weight and has four years of experience in the Pitino system. Mangok Mathiang was not eligible last season but is a lean, dynamic shot-blocker who needs offensive polish.

In December, Louisville fans groaned every time Hancock missed a shot. He did not listen. He kept shooting. People stopped groaning and started wondering if there was a better shooter in college basketball. There wasn’t, at least down the stretch. Hancock made 15-of-26 3-pointers during the Cardinals’ last eight games.

Now that he’s proven he can stay healthy, Wayne Blackshear is the veteran Louisville player most likely to show the most improvement because he can shoot.

2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC


Backcourt
 
Pitino loved Peyton Siva as much as any player he has coached at Louisville. Loved his leadership, grit and lack of ego. Siva is gone, but Pitino believes that the Cardinals’ guard play could be even better this season.

Smith is the primary reason. At least one statistical analytics formula ranked Smith as the best college player last winter, because he reduced his turnovers while increasing his assists and shooting percentage. Smith averaged 18.7 points per game and is the perfect option to create something out of nothing at the end of the shot clock. Smith strongly considered skipping his senior season for the NBA but decided to return and work on becoming a more complete player.

Not that Smith has to play point guard. Pitino signed Chris Jones, a junior college All-America from Northwest Florida State College. Jones committed to Tennessee in high school.

“This is a very, very strong backcourt,” Pitino says. “Our practices are going to be outstanding. They both bring their own brand of toughness — New York toughness for Russ and Memphis toughness for Chris.”

The scramble for playing time will be intense. Newcomers Terry Rozier and Anton Gill arrive with the advantage that they played together last season at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy. The unknown is Kevin Ware, who suffered the horrific compound fracture to his right leg in Louisville’s Midwest Regional win over Duke. All the medical reports on Ware have been good, and he should be cleared to play by October.

Newcomers
 
Chris Jones is an unrelenting defender whom Rick Pitino asked to dial it down during summer workouts. Anton Gill arrives with a solid 3-point shooting stroke. Terry Rozier is considered a more fearsome scorer because he is relentless attacking the rim. Akoy Agau needs to reshape his body and is probably a year way. Mangok Mathiang is raw offensively but demonstrated superb shot-blocking skills in practice while sitting out last season.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 27. Louisville forced a turnover on 27 percent of its opponents’ possessions last year. Only VCU (28.5 percent) was better.


The repeat thing is not easy. Ask Kentucky. Or Connecticut. Or North Carolina. Florida and Duke are the only teams that have succeeded since 1973. But like those Gators and Blue Devils teams, Louisville has many of its most important players back. Smith is a prime National Player of the Year candidate. Hancock is a mature fifth-year guy who understands winning. Behanan and Blackshear were McDonald’s All-Americans who must convince skeptics they belong in the NBA. Chemistry will be critical. Siva and Dieng made certain the 2013 champs were ego-free. The newcomers will have to embrace that philosophy.
 

2013-14 Preseason Top 25
1. Kentucky
2. Louisville
3. Duke
4. Michigan State
5. Kansas
6. Arizona
7. Florida
8. Oklahoma State

9. Syracuse
10. North Carolina
11. Ohio State
12. Michigan

13. Marquette
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
16. Creighton
17. Tennessee
18. VCU
19. UNLV
20. Memphis
21. Connecticut
22. Wisconsin
23. UCLA
24. Baylor
25. Wichita State

 

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This preview and more on Duke and the ACC are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

No. 3 Duke Facts & Figures
Last season: 30-6 (14-4 ACC)
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (884-238 at Duke)
ACC projection: First
Postseason projection: NCAA Final Four
Saying goodbye to a trio of accomplished seniors — each a double-figure scorer and all-conference performer — would tend to cause panic at most programs. That, however, is not the case at Duke, where coach Mike Krzyzewski will use a more athletic lineup to keep the Blue Devils among the elite in college basketball.

“Our team is going to be built around versatility — guys in multiple positions, probably more pressing and up and down,” Krzyzewski says. “Not that we haven’t gone up and down, but we haven’t created action with our defense. Although we were a very good defensive team (last season), we will try to create action defensively (this season).”

Don’t expect Krzyzewski to talk about small forwards, power forwards and centers — or their accompanying numbers (3, 4, 5).

“It’s just going to be the next player,” Krzyzewski said. “Versatility will be the key phrase.”

Frontcourt

Last year, Duke’s front line featured a true center (Mason Plumlee) and a stretch-4 (Ryan Kelly). This year, the key pieces will be a pair of 6-8 small forwards — Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker — who will be asked to do a little bit of everything.  

Hood, a transfer from Mississippi State, averaged 10.3 points two years ago for the Bulldogs. The former 5-star recruit was one of 16 finalists for Team USA over the summer, but an Achilles injury prevented him from making the trip to Russia for the World University Games.  

Parker arrives in Durham as one of the most celebrated recruits in the nation. The Chicago native is a matchup nightmare due to his versatility, and he is known for his unselfish play and high basketball IQ. At 235 pounds, Parker is about 20 pounds heavier than Hood, but that doesn’t mean he will be playing the role of a traditional power forward. Parker and Hood will be used as interchangeable parts.

“It’s going to be exciting,” Hood says. “We are going to have mismatch problems all over the court. We are going to pressure the ball more. We have a lot more weapons.”

Sophomore Amile Jefferson spent the offseason adding bulk to his 6-9 frame. His 7-1 wingspan is a weapon he uses to get in the passing lanes and rebound outside of his area.

Josh Hairston, a rugged 6-8 forward, is a savvy senior who averaged a career-high 12.7 minutes per game last season. A pair of redshirt sophomores — athletic 6-9 Alex Murphy and 7-foot center Marshall Plumlee – will be counted on for quality minutes off the bench.

Freshman small forward Semi Ojeleye is a solid rebounder who can shoot the ball from 3-point range.

2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC


Backcourt

Duke is blessed with a group of experienced ball-handlers to run its up-tempo attack.

Quinn Cook thrived in his first season as the starting point guard, averaging 11.7 points and 5.3 assists per game. Cook improved his 3-point shooting from 25.0 percent as a freshman to 39.3 as a sophomore. He scored 15 points or more 12 times last season but struggled offensively down the stretch, averaging 6.4 points and shooting 26.2 percent from the field over the final five games.

Rasheed Sulaimon was an instant contributor as a freshman, thanks to his ability to get to the basket and shoot from long range. He averaged 11.6 points, a number that could increase significantly as a sophomore.

Tyler Thornton, a hard-nose defender, is considered the team’s vocal leader. He’s shown the ability to hit an open jumper and can be trusted to run the point as well. Andre Dawkins, a key reserve on Duke’s 2010 national championship team, sat out last season as a redshirt. He is a career 40.1 percent 3-point shooter. Freshman Matt Jones might have a tough time finding significant playing time.

Newcomers

The focus will be on 6-8 forward Jabari Parker, whose athleticism and scoring ability already have him projected as a top-five pick in next summer’s NBA Draft. The other freshmen, 6-7 forward Semi Ojeleye and 6-4 guard Matt Jones, also bring athleticism but will have to prove they can score at this level. Forward Rodney Hood, who sat out last year after transferring from Mississippi State, will start  from Day 1 and be a significant contributor. Senior guard Andre Dawkins, known for his perimeter scoring, is back after sitting out last season.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 30. Duke has won at least 30 games in 10 of the last 16 seasons. The Blue Devils won 30 or more “only” three times in Mike Krzyzewski’s first 17 seasons.


On paper, Duke has only one weakness — a lack of a true post presence. Krzyzewski plans to mask that deficiency by playing a more up-tempo game that will start with pressure defense. The roster, deep and athletic, is built to run.

The Blue Devils are the class of a new-look ACC that now includes Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. If Sulaimon, as expected, takes the next step and Parker and Hood play up to their potential in the frontcourt, Duke will be in the mix for the fifth national title of the Krzyzewski era.

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This preview and more on Michigan State and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

No. 4 Michigan State Facts & Figures
Last season: 27-9 (13-5 Big Ten)
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Coach: Tom Izzo (439-178 at Michigan State)
Big Ten projection: First
Postseason projection: NCAA Final Four
There have been years when Tom Izzo went into a season believing his team was not as good as its preseason hype. This is not one of those years.

“Some years you are maybe not quite as good as the top-10, 12 or 15 that we have been, but the program gets rated that high on perception,” Izzo says. “This year I think the team gets rated on its own merit, and it deserves to be up there. I expect us to be good most years, and this year we have a chance to be real good.”

The Spartans are nicely outfitted to add to Izzo’s collection of banners in the Breslin Center rafters, which includes seven Big Ten titles and six Final Fours.

“We have some depth. We have some shooters. We have some athletes. We have some size, and we have guys who have been there, done that, and played in big games, and that’s critical,” Izzo says. “We have a good team, and whether it will be a great team will depend on injuries and leadership. But with Adreian Payne and Gary Harris coming back, we have put ourselves in a chance to do big things.”

Izzo seems a little more confident than usual. The Big Ten and nation would be wise to take notice.

Frontcourt

Payne turned down possible first-round NBA Draft status to return for his senior year and chase championships. He has blossomed into a fine long-range shooter as a pick-and-pop power forward (38 percent from deep) and an explosive finisher. He is the Big Ten’s leading returning rebounder.

Sophomore Matt Costello is ready to prove he can hang as a role-playing Big Ten center. He waited his turn behind Payne and Derrick Nix and will now bring his solid low-post package, good athleticism and a functional frame to the lane. Big junior Alex Gauna offers size and a nice, confident shot release. Freshman Gavin Schilling impressed teammates with his rebounding during the summer.

2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC


Backcourt

Harris was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2013 but will be a bigger, better all-around player this season. Widely regarded as a probable NBA Lottery pick whenever he opts to turn pro, Harris will be stronger to the hole as a sophomore, having added a noticeable layer of muscle to what was already a mature physique.

Harris was slowed by shoulder issues for the last half of his freshman year but still shot a sparkling 41 percent from long range. The shoulder problems limited him on the glass and on the break. Now, Izzo is expecting Harris to become one of the best rebounding guards he has ever coached, and one of his better defenders.

Senior point guard Keith Appling led Michigan State in scoring a year ago and now needs to be the leader in the locker room. His decision-making improved as a junior. If he can dial in his sporadic perimeter shooting, he might provide the final element needed to make the Spartans a threat to win Izzo’s second national title..

Izzo wants Branden Dawson at the 3 this year. The thick, athletic junior is back to full horsepower for the first time in 18 months, following recovery from a freshman knee injury. Dawson is not much of a shooter, but he can play small forward with physicality.

Valuable sophomore Denzel Valentine is a good rebounder and tremendous passer with nice size at the wing. Fully healthy for the first time as a collegian, quick Travis Trice offers quality shooting range and true combo guard skills off the bench. Junior Russell Byrd hasn’t lived up to his promise as a wing sniper.

Newcomers

After losing to Duke in the Jabari Parker chase, the Spartans signed rugged 6-9 power forward Gavin Schilling and 6-4 wing Alvin Ellis. Ellis, a former Minnesota verbal, may need a redshirt year to gain strength. Skill-wise, he is comparable to outgoing Spartan transfer Brandan Kearney. Schilling is young for his class, improving steadily and could earn a role off the bench.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 0. No player who has signed with Tom Izzo as a four-year recruit and finished his senior season at Michigan State has missed out on the Final Four.


With NBA talent inside and out, a senior point guard, excellent shooting at the 2 and the 4, and solid skill and size off the bench, Michigan State heads into the season nicely equipped. The Spartans should be better and much healthier than last year’s team, which finished a game out of first place in the Big Ten and advanced to its second straight Sweet 16. Meanwhile, you know the Spartans will defend and rebound.

“We had our best summer ever, by far, in terms of getting guys healthy and staying healthy,” Izzo says. “Guys are driven to make amends.”
 

2013-14 Preseason Top 25
1. Kentucky
2. Louisville
3. Duke
4. Michigan State
5. Kansas
6. Arizona
7. Florida
8. Oklahoma State

9. Syracuse
10. North Carolina
11. Ohio State
12. Michigan

13. Marquette
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
16. Creighton
17. Tennessee
18. VCU
19. UNLV
20. Memphis
21. Connecticut
22. Wisconsin
23. UCLA
24. Baylor
25. Wichita State

 

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Tiger Woods was positioned on a platform on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul on Tuesday and hit a drive from Europe to Asia. Why? We're guessing it was to promote the Turkish Airlines Open this week. The publicity stunt required shutting down three lanes of traffic on the bridge. We're sure motorists were thrilled. According to reports, Woods' appearance fee for the upcoming tournament is $3 million. 

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A quick look at every game on the NFL schedule for Week 10, along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports' editors.

Redskins (3-5) at Vikings (1-7)
Washington is 1–3 on the road this season. But the losses have come at Green Bay (38–20), at Dallas (31–16) and at Denver (45–21). Redskins by 1

Eagles (4-5) at Packers (5-3)
Philly’s Nick Foles just threw seven TDs; Green Bay’s Seneca Wallace has six career wins. Packers by 3

Jaguars (0-8) at Titans (4-4)
Third-year Tennessee coach Mike Munchak has two black-eye losses — to then-winless Indy in Week 15 of 2011 and to then-one-win J-Ville in Week 12 last season. Titans by 12

Bills (3-6) at Steelers (2-6)
Blitz-burgh’s defense has allowed 34-plus points in three games for the first time since 1989. Steelers by 3

Raiders (3-5) at Giants (2-6)
Terrelle Pryor (knee), Darren McFadden (hamstring) limp from Black Hole to play Big Blue. Giants by 5

Rams (3-6) at Colts (6-2)
Andrew Luck carries a 10–2 record at home in Lucas Oil Stadium against a Rams team that is 4–7–1 on the road under coach Jeff Fisher. Colts by 8

Seahawks (8-1) at Falcons (2-6)
This is a rematch of a 30–28 Atlanta win over Seattle in last year’s NFC Divisional Playoffs. Seahawks by 8

Bengals (6-3) at Ravens (3-5)
Andy Dalton is 1–3 against Baltimore, with his only win coming in a meaningless Week 17 game last season, after the Ravens had already clinched the AFC North division crown. Bengals by 2

Lions (5-3) at Bears (5-3)
Detroit knocked off Chicago, 40–32, in Week 4. The Lions scored 27 second-quarter points — including three TDs in under four minutes — in their first win over the Bears since Oct. 2011. Lions by 4

Panthers (5-3) at 49ers (6-2)
This dual-threat showdown of Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick just might be the most athletic QB matchup in NFL history. There should be a dunk contest as a tiebreaker, not overtime. 49ers by 4

Texans (2-6) at Cardinals (4-4)
After two tough losses at K.C. and to Indy, the legend of Case Keenum continues to grow. Cardinals by 2

Broncos (7-1) at Chargers (4-4)
Peyton Manning had no trouble with the Bolts last season, tossing six TDs and two INTs over the course of two victories. Historically, Manning has had his issues with San Diego — throwing a career-worst six INTs in a 2007 loss and going 0–2 against the Chargers in the playoffs. Broncos by 7

Cowboys (5-4) at Saints (6-2)
Sean Payton was Tony Romo’s QB coach from 2003-05. Will student become teacher in NOLA? Saints by 6

Dolphins (4-4) at Buccaneers (0-8)
There is a dark cloud over the Sunshine State’s NFL franchises. The trio — Fins, Bucs and Jags — are a combined 4–20, with two winless squads and an ongoing bullying investigation. Dolphins by 4
 

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A preview and prediction of every game on the NFL schedule in Week 10.
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Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
Just when it seemed as if Tom Terrific had hit rock bottom — with Halloween photos of him dressed as the Wizard of Oz’s Cowardly Lion circulating the internet — Brady rediscovered the heart he’s had all along. The three-time Super Bowl champion completed 23-of-33 passes (69.7 percent) for 432 yards, four TDs and zero INTs for a 151.8 passer rating during a 55–31 statement victory over the Steelers. New England’s 55 points were the most scored by a team this season as well as the most ever scored against Pittsburgh’s defense.

Nick Foles, QB, Eagles
Philadelphia’s second-year phenom joined gridiron immortals Sid Luckman, Adrian Burk, George Blanda, Y.A. Tittle, Joe Kapp and Peyton Manning, as only the seventh player in league history to throw seven TD passes in a single game. Foles completed 22-of-28 passes (78.6 percent) for 406 yards, seven scoring strikes and zero picks for a 158.3 passer rating during a 49–20 win at Oakland. Wide receivers Riley Cooper (three TDs) and DeSean Jackson, tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz, and running back LeSean McCoy all found paydirt in the record-tying blowout victory. Foles, who was a third-round pick out of Arizona, has now thrown for 1,028 yards, 13 TDs and zero INTs for a 127.4 passer rating in limited action.

Dustin Colquitt, P, Chiefs
With Kansas City’s offense struggling to gain just 210 total yards, the Chiefs’ defense and special teams stepped up to help K.C. improve to an unbeaten 9–0 following a 23–13 win on the road at Buffalo. Colquitt kept field position in Kansas City’s favor, with six punts for 317 yards, including a 59-yard boot and four punts downed inside the 20-yard-line. Colquitt’s contribution was less obvious than the Chiefs D, which scored on a 100-yard pick-six by corner Sean Smith and an 11-yard fumble recovery by linebacker Tamba Hali.

Cameron Wake, DE, Dolphins
Days before Miami was rocked with verbal abuse allegations made by Jonathan Martin against fellow O-lineman Richie Incognito, the Dolphins’ D-lineman was physically abusing the Bengals during a 22–20 thrilling Thursday night overtime victory. Wake notched a season-high three sacks for 23 lost yards, along with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Wake’s final sack of Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton sealed the Miami win with a safety with just 6:38 remaining in overtime. The walk-off sack was just the third overtime-ending safety in NFL history.
 

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The best performances in the NFL from Week 9.
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This preview and more on Kansas and the Big 12 are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

No. 5 Kansas Facts & Figures
Last season: 31-6 (14-4 Big 12)
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Coach: Bill Self (300-59 at Kansas)
Big 12 projection: First
Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight
Kansas is the favorite to win the Big 12 title for the 10th consecutive year — but back in March and April, that wasn’t the case.

Four senior starters from last season’s Sweet 16 squad were gone, and leading scorer Ben McLemore had bolted early for the NBA. When analysts predicted Oklahoma State would knock the Jayhawks from their perch atop the conference standings in 2013-14, no one argued.

At least not until Andrew Wiggins picked up a pen.

On May 14 — in the few shorts seconds it took him to scribble his name on a National Letter of Intent — Wiggins turned a fringe-top 25 team into a Big 12 and NCAA title contender. Kansas has always been able to lure high-profile recruits to its storied program, but never have the Jayhawks inked a player with as much hype as Wiggins, the nation’s No. 1-ranked prospect.

“We were going to have a good team no matter what,” coach Bill Self says. “But Andrew gives us a chance to be special.”

Frontcourt

Wiggins wasn’t the only late addition that caused a buzz among Jayhawks fans last spring. After playing his first three seasons at Memphis, power forward Tarik Black decided to spend his final year of eligibility elsewhere. The 6-9, 262-pound Black averaged 8.1 points last season and 10.7 points as a sophomore, but Self doesn’t believe he’s come anywhere close to reaching his potential. Black is the physical, rugged type of player that Self loves, and his age and experience will be huge for a Kansas team that will be among the youngest in the country.

While Black will provide the muscle in the paint, look for sophomore Perry Ellis to account for a bulk of the scoring. Ellis was a role player for most of his freshman year before making huge strides near the end of the season. Ellis’ confidence has grown even more during the offseason. And it certainly helps that he’s been able to compete in practice with newcomers such as Black, Joel Embiid and Landen Lucas and returning backup Jamari Traylor.

Embiid may have the highest upside of any player on Kansas’ roster. The 7-0 Cameroonian has been playing the game for only a few years, but his eagerness to learn and his natural athletic ability lead many to believe he could be a top NBA prospect after just one college season. Self is also extremely high on Lucas, who has been one of Kansas’ top players in offseason workouts after redshirting last season.

2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC


Backcourt

No player will be under as big a spotlight this season as Wiggins, a swingman who may be the best player the college game has seen since Kevin Durant. There simply isn’t much the 6-8 Wiggins can’t do. He’s skilled enough, big enough and long enough to play the 2, 3 and 4 positions. And athletically, he’s as elite as they come. One minute he’s swishing a heavily guarded 3-pointer or pull-up jumper, and the next he’s exploding past a defender and dunking while absorbing contact.

Joining Wiggins in the backcourt will be freshman Wayne Selden, a McDonald’s All-American who has been referred to as a “power guard.” Self loves the 6-5 Selden for his toughness, his knack for getting to the basket and ability to make shots.

Perhaps the only question mark for the Jayhawks comes at the most important position on the court: point guard. Naadir Tharpe averaged 19 minutes per game as a backup last season and has been praised for his leadership. Tharpe, though, is far from an all-conference-caliber guard, and Self is high on incoming freshman Frank Mason, who spent last season at a prep school after failing to qualify out of high school.

Newcomers

Andrew Wiggins, the likely No. 1 pick in next summer’s NBA Draft, is arguably the highest-profile recruit in school history. Wayne Selden will be virtually impossible to keep off the court because of his toughness and ability to play multiple positions. Brannen Greene and Conner Frankamp are deadly from beyond the arc. Joel Embiid is a tremendous shot-blocker and rebounder who could blossom into one of the country’s top big men. Tarik Black is a bruiser who adds a manly presence to an otherwise youthful squad.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 1. Kansas has been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament five out of the last seven years. The Jayhawks have also finished No. 1 in the Big 12 nine straight seasons.


As is the case every season, expect the Jayhawks to be in the hunt for the NCAA title. Granted, things may be a bit rocky at times for a squad that will likely have five freshmen in its eight-man rotation. With games against Duke, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Georgetown, Kansas’ non-conference slate is as difficult as its ever been under Self, who is cautioning folks to be patient. That’s a lot to ask of Kansas fans, who know good and well that with Wiggins, anything is possible.
 

2013-14 Preseason Top 25
5. Kansas
6. Arizona
7. Florida
8. Oklahoma State

9. Syracuse
10. North Carolina
11. Ohio State
12. Michigan

13. Marquette
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
16. Creighton
17. Tennessee
18. VCU
19. UNLV
20. Memphis
21. Connecticut
22. Wisconsin
23. UCLA
24. Baylor
25. Wichita State

 

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This preview and more on Florida and the SEC are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

No. 7 Florida Facts & Figures
Last season: 29-8 (14-4 SEC)
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Coach: Billy Donovan (415-166)
SEC projection: Second
Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight
Florida coach Billy Donovan has had to reinvent his team during the middle of the past two seasons because of injuries. Because of a lack of depth, guys played out of position, rotations changed, and minutes increased significantly. Despite that, the Gators still managed to come within one game of reaching the Final Four in 2013.

Donovan hopes he won’t have to improvise as much in 2013-14, but the season is off to an inauspicious start. Will Yeguete, whose injuries necessitated Donovan changing lineups on the fly, missed the start of practice while recovering from knee surgery. Eli Carter, a heralded Rutgers transfer, was declared eligible to play this season, but he’s still rehabbing from a broken leg. And point guard Scottie Wilbekin only recently returned from a suspension.

That said, with the addition of two transfers and the return of senior Patric Young, the Gators’ frontcourt is stocked more than it has been in years. That’s a big reason why Florida is among a handful of contenders for the national championship.

Dorian Finney-Smith, a 6-8 redshirt sophomore forward, and Damontre Harris, a 6-10 redshirt junior forward/center, sat out last season after transferring from Virginia Tech and South Carolina, respectively. Along with Young, senior forward Casey Prather and Yeguete, the Gators now have a frontcourt full of big, athletic and physical players.

Finney-Smith, who some inside the program say would have been the Gators’ best overall player last season, started 30 games for Virginia Tech in 2011-12 and earned ACC All-Freshman honors after averaging 6.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He’s a slasher in the mold of former UF standout Corey Brewer, but with better size.

Harris spent two years at South Carolina and was named to the league’s All-Defensive Team after the 2011-12 season. He also averaged 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game and had 71 blocks.

Though those two are big additions, Donovan hopes people temper their expectations about how dominant UF’s frontcourt could be.

“When guys transfer and people are sitting out, the legend of those guys grows to an enormity and size that is probably not really reality,” Donovan says. “(But) those guys are good players. There’s no question they can help us.”

Frontcourt

Harris and Finney-Smith join a solid group that is a little offensively challenged. The 6-9, 240-pound Young has averaged 10.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in his two seasons as a starter. He has been inconsistent around the basket and hasn’t developed a jump shot to complement his post moves.

The 6-8 Yeguete is UF’s best interior defender and the key man at the top of the full-court press, but has averaged just 3.7 points per game in his career. He has missed a combined 17 games the last two seasons because of knee and foot injuries. The 6-6 Prather is coming off a career year (6.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg) despite having to play in the post because of Yeguete’s knee injury, but he’s a slasher without a jump shot.

2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC


Backcourt

There’s a big question mark at point guard as Wilbekin is just leaving Donovan’s dog house. Aside from Wilbekin, freshman Kasey Hill is the only point guard on the roster. Hill is a smooth playmaker who changes speed well and gives the Gators more offense at the position than Wilbekin. However, Wilbekin was the Gators’ top perimeter defender.

Not having Wilbekin leaves sophomore Michael Frazier as the only guard with significant SEC experience. The 6-4 Frazier, who helped the United States win the gold medal in the under-19 age group at the FIBA World Championships this summer, played in 36 games last season and was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team after shooting 46.8 percent from 3-point range.

Sophomores Dillon Graham and DeVon Walker averaged 3.5 and 4.0 minutes per game, respectively, last season and will continue to be role players in 2013-14.

Newcomers

Kasey Hill is going to play a lot even if he doesn’t have to start because of Scottie Wilbekin’s suspension. Dorian Finney-Smith should start and has the ability to average a double-double. Damontre Harris is a defensive whiz who will eat into Patric Young’s minutes, which will help with Young’s fatigue issues.

Final analysis
Factoid: 3. Florida is the only school in the country that has made the Elite Eight the last three seasons. UF has made six trips to the Elite Eight since 2000.


This is one of Donovan’s deepest and most athletic teams. The Gators will be able to run with anyone in the country and can create havoc with their press because of their length. The wild card is when, or if, Wilbekin returns. If he does, UF is even better defensively and the offense is in the hands of a player with three years of experience in the SEC. If not, the Gators’ offense will depend on how quickly Hill adjusts to the college game.
 

2013-14 Preseason Top 25
5. Kansas
6. Arizona
7. Florida
8. Oklahoma State

9. Syracuse
10. North Carolina
11. Ohio State
12. Michigan

13. Marquette
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
16. Creighton
17. Tennessee
18. VCU
19. UNLV
20. Memphis
21. Connecticut
22. Wisconsin
23. UCLA
24. Baylor
25. Wichita State

 

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This preview and more on Arizona and the Pac-12 are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

No. 6 Arizona Facts & Figures
Last season: 27-8 (12-6 Pac-12)
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Coach: Sean Miller (96-43 at Arizona)
Pac-12 projection: First
Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight
A month after Sean Miller paid a $25,000 fine for confronting officials during the Pac-12 Tournament, league commissioner Larry Scott offered to repay the money if Miller apologized and displayed proper contrition.

Miller told them to keep the money.

“We’re moving on,” says Arizona’s coach. “We’ve got better things ahead of us.”

That’s the working description of Arizona basketball. Somehow, after losing All-Pac-12 seniors Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons, after watching in dismay as coveted prospects Grant Jerrett and Angelo Chol left school, Miller believes the Wildcats can improve on a 27-win, Sweet 16 finish.

Even though Arizona has gone to 26 NCAA Tournaments over the last 28 years, the Wildcats have rarely had more talent, top to bottom, on their roster. “Losing what we did would cripple a lot of programs,” Miller says. “But I believe we’ve established ourselves now to the point that we can handle it and move forward.”

The most identifiable player on Miller’s fifth Arizona team is apt to be freshman forward Aaron Gordon, MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game and, two months later, MVP of USA Basketball’s U19 gold medal championship club.

“One of the reasons I chose Arizona was because I believe we can win the national championship,” says Gordon, a slashing, up-tempo transition player. “It’s all set up to be a great year.”

Frontcourt

Center Kaleb Tarczewski started all 35 games as a freshman, shooting .538 from the field and becoming a physical force near the basket. He is likely to become more of a scoring threat as a sophomore; he averaged 6.6 in his rookie year.

He’ll be joined by sophomore Brandon Ashley, an athletic and versatile 6-8 combo forward with shooting range to 20 feet. Ashley shot .525 as a freshman, starting 22 games, and no longer will have to share time with Jerrett, who opted for the NBA Draft after one season.

Gordon will start at small forward, although he has the size and inside scoring instincts to play closer to the basket. Miller will have another strong option at small forward: Freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a McDonald’s All-American, projects as a defensive stopper with the versatility to guard opposing players at shooting guard, wing forward and power forward. His shooting touch will need some work, however.

Miller made the frontcourt more formidable when he added junior college big man Matt Korcheck, a spirited rebounder and defensive specialist who sat out the 2012-13 season. He replaces Chol, who transferred to San Diego State in an attempt to get more playing time.

2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC


Backcourt

Miller’s new point guard is Duquesne transfer T. J. McConnell, who was the 2011 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year and a year later finished third in the NCAA in steals. He also shot .417 from 3-point range and enters the year as the acknowledged team leader.

“He’ll be their heart and soul,” says Hill, who was the UA’s leading player a year ago. “He’ll establish a toughness we haven’t always had.”

Nick Johnson, a two-year starter at shooting guard who averaged 11.5 points as a sophomore, must improve his perimeter shooting to help open the inside for Tarczewski and Ashley. Johnson was tied for third on the club in 3-point baskets last year, with 42. He has been more proficient as a penetrating, drive-to-the-basket player. They need him to do less of that with Gordon around.

The Wildcats have exceptional depth in the backcourt. Senior Jordin Mayes, who can play both positions, has played 102 college games, starting 16 times. Sophomore Gabe York will get an audition as the team’s off-the-bench distance shooting specialist.

Newcomers

As a package, Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Elliott Pitts were often ranked at or near the top of the nation’s recruiting classes. Some view Gordon as the leading freshman ever to arrive at Arizona. Hollis-Jefferson has the size, length and defensive mindset that Miller covets.  In a normal recruiting class, Pitts would be a headliner. This year at Arizona he’s No. 3.

Final analysis
Factoid: 96. Arizona has won 96 games in Sean Miller’s four seasons, the most of any Pac-12 team in that period. Miller’s 48–24 Pac-12 record is also the best in the conference.


Arizona is unusually young, expecting to start a freshman, two sophomores and two juniors. Only one senior, Mayes, figures to make the eight- or nine-man rotation.

Nevertheless, Miller and UA fans see this as Arizona’s best chance to get to the Final Four since 2001 — it was agonizingly close in 2003, 2005 and 2011 — because Tarczewski and Gordon are viewed as likely entrees to the NBA Draft in June 2014.

Miller has established himself as a recruiter of impact. This shouldn’t be a now-or-never season for the Wildcats, but anything short of a league title and deep run into the NCAA Tournament would be disappointing.
 

2013-14 Preseason Top 25
5. Kansas
6. Arizona
7. Florida
8. Oklahoma State

9. Syracuse
10. North Carolina
11. Ohio State
12. Michigan

13. Marquette
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
16. Creighton
17. Tennessee
18. VCU
19. UNLV
20. Memphis
21. Connecticut
22. Wisconsin
23. UCLA
24. Baylor
25. Wichita State

 

 

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This preview and more on Oklahoma State and the Big 12 are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

No. 8 Oklahoma State Facts & Figures
Last season: 24-9 (13-5 Big 12)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 64
Coach: Travis Ford (104-64 at Oklahoma State)
Big 12 projection: Second
Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight
Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash stood together before a packed and energized Oklahoma State Student Union in April, pledging another year to the program.

And in turn, propping up the Cowboys for a run at a potential special season.

In Smart, Brown and Nash, the Cowboys boast the top three returning scorers in the Big 12 and a trio of likely NBA Draft picks.

And there’s more — much more — with Mike Cobbins, Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy all owning significant starting experience and Phil Forte back as the team’s top 3-point shooter and a sniper off the bench.

At this level, OSU projects as one of the Big 12 favorites and a squad capable of a long NCAA Tournament run.

“I think the ceiling on this team is really high,” Smart said. “We’ve got a lot of talent. A lot of experience. And we’re hungry.”

Related: Q&A with Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart

Frontcourt

The Cowboys lack bulk inside, yet can create problems with an athletic array of forwards, led by Cobbins and Murphy, and also Nash, who splits his time playing inside and out depending on the matchup. Since they want to push the pace and run — and so few teams boast legitimate true big men anyway — the Pokes’ collection of forwards is a better fit.

Cobbins led OSU in rebounding and blocked shots a year ago, taking over as the starter down the stretch in the Big 12. A high-percentage shooter who has worked at adding a reliable baby hook to his arsenal, Cobbins’ continued development has elevated his status as a scoring threat.

Murphy was forced into duty as a true freshman early last season due to injuries, and he responded well. Following a mid-season slump, he bounced back to provide quality depth, and he gives OSU its most physical inside presence.

Nash is most effective in the frontcourt on the offensive end, where his ability to slash and score at the rim gives defenders fits. After envisioning himself as a perimeter player early in his career, Nash now embraces his work in the post.

There’s hope that junior college transfer Gary Gaskins, another athletic big man at 6-10, can provide help off the bench. Marek Soucek, a 7-footer who is the Cowboys’ thickest post player, is finally adapting to the American game in his junior year, after arriving from the Czech Republic.

2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC


Backcourt

Smart’s return, after he was projected near the top of the NBA Draft, stunned those outside and inside the program alike. The Big 12 Player of the Year as a freshman, he changed the culture of the program with his unselfishness and competitiveness. He ranked among the conference’s top five in scoring and assists and led the league in steals, leading OSU’s charge back to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence.

And he’s back to do it all, and more, again.

“You only get to be a college player for so long,” Smart says. “I love these guys, and I love this program and I’m excited about what we can do together.”

Brown took a major step in his third year, becoming a consistent and versatile scorer after previously being known strictly as a dunker.

Forte surpassed expectations, getting major minutes and giving the Cowboys a fourth double-digit scorer, as well as an outside threat capable of extending defenses. Williams, a lockdown defender, missed the first half of the season after shattering his wrist, then returned to play a limited role. Healthy again, he should be a major addition on the defensive end, but also as an explosive scorer.

Stevie Clark, a 4-star recruit, will spell Smart at the point and give the Cowboys another major offensive threat. Jeffrey Carroll, another freshman scorer, is trying to fight through the logjam at guard and find a role.

Newcomers

Stevie Clark ranks fifth in Oklahoma career high school scoring with 3,312 career points. Offsetting a slight build, 6-10 junior college addition Gary Gaskins is an explosive leaper who could help on the defensive end. Jeffrey Carroll and Leyton Hammonds are Texas prep stars who could find minutes hard to come by, with redshirt seasons possible.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 94. The Cowboys return 94 percent of their point production from a year ago, including their top six scorers and four players who averaged double figures.

Smart sparked an OSU resurgence last season, putting the program back on the map. His return to lead a veteran and talented squad warrants national attention.

The Cowboys will have to manage rising expectations, deal with a challenging schedule and find minutes for a potentially deep rotation. But there’s motivation, too, after underrated Oregon sent OSU packing with a quick exit from last year’s postseason.

“We have unfinished business,” Brown says.
 

2013-14 Preseason Top 25
5. Kansas
6. Arizona
7. Florida
8. Oklahoma State

9. Syracuse
10. North Carolina
11. Ohio State
12. Michigan

13. Marquette
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
16. Creighton
17. Tennessee
18. VCU
19. UNLV
20. Memphis
21. Connecticut
22. Wisconsin
23. UCLA
24. Baylor
25. Wichita State

 

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This Q&A and more on Oklahoma State and the Big 12 are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Marcus Smart stunned the basketball world when he announced he would return for another season with Oklahoma State, delaying a jump to the NBA even as he was projected as a top-five pick. For the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, there was unfinished business on the court, after last season ended in disappointment. And there was unfinished business off the court, where following a tumultuous first 17 years of his life, he enjoyed just being a college kid. Now Smart is focused on one more year as a Cowboy — and all that it could bring.

His Oklahoma State team checked in at No. 8 in our countdown.

You decided to forego the NBA Draft. Did you ever expect so many people to weigh in with opinions on your decision?

The society we live in, people are always worried about what other people are doing. Why they did it. What made them do it. That’s just the world we live in, especially with social media and everything. I wasn’t really surprised. But at the same time, it is my business, my decision — not their’s — so it doesn’t matter what they think. Not trying to disrespect anyone, everyone has a right to their opinion. At the same time, it’s my life.

Any regrets?

None at all.

After some people weighed in, criticizing your decision and saying you’d be picked lower in a better draft class, you took offense to it. Talk about your response to those doubts of you and your game.

The morning I announced I was coming back, we actually watched ESPN and Skip (Bayless) and Stephen A. (Smith) were going at it. Skip made some comments that pretty much said he didn’t think I could play with this year’s draft class. My whole life I’ve been told I couldn’t do this or I couldn’t do that. It’s a motivator. For him to say that, I felt a little disrespected. All respect to him, but I didn’t agree with what he said. I know coming in here, nobody thought I’d accomplish all that I did my first year. Like I said, it all comes down to how bad you want it and how hard you work. I bet on myself. I know what I can do. I believe in my ability. And I’m a competitor. I’ll do whatever I can to help this team win.

Talking about this team, what do you like about this team’s collection of players?

The chemistry of this team. We were a tight team last year, but this year, more than ever, we’re tighter. And that’s going to go a long way. We’re just as experienced. We have depth, a lot of veteran guys on this team who knows what it takes. That’s always good. I just like the way we connect with each other.

What is the ceiling on this team?

There is none, none at all. It all comes down to us. No excuses. We have everyone back. It all comes down to how the dice rolls and how we make the dice roll. It’s up to us. We control our own destiny.

What is your favorite enemy arena in the Big 12?

Kansas, Allen Fieldhouse. Being good friends with Phil (Forte) and his dad being an alum who played football at KU, that’s all we used to hear –— stories about KU. Basketball. Football. We grew up watching Kansas and hearing the stories about how historic it is and about the major tradition there and how intense it is, and how hard it is to win there. And everybody knows that, it’s one of the hardest places in the country to go win. And it’s one of the great atmospheres.

What’s your least favorite arena?

Texas Tech, just because of the atmosphere. It’s a nice coliseum to play in. It’s huge. It looks beautiful, but the atmosphere just isn’t there.

Who is the toughest guy in the Big 12 to defend?

I’d probably say Andrew Wiggins at Kansas. I’m sure I’ll end up on him some. That’s going to be a tough matchup for anybody to guard him. He’s a great player. He’s a big-time player.

Who’s the toughest guy in the Big 12 to score on?

Isaiah Austin. His length. He’s a great shot blocker. I know he blocked like six or seven shots a game. And that’s a big. He changes shots for his team. And it’s tough to score on him.

What other coach in the Big 12 could you see yourself playing for?

Bill Self. He’s a great coach. Everybody knows his track record, all that he’s instilled into that program. He knows what he’s doing and he does it well.

Your rise from a dangerous upbringing has become a national story, with details of how you survived in a rugged south Dallas neighborhood, eventually moving across town to blossom and become a big-time recruit. What kind of stuff did you see?

I saw my friends doing all kinds of drugs. Snorting. Smoking. I didn’t even know what it was. Psycho-type stuff. I’ve seen people get jumped and beaten … shot. I’ve seen police chases every day. I’ve seen gang members drive through apartments, while little kids are in the street, don’t give a care; little kids getting hit by cars. I saw my brother sell (drugs) to one of my friends.

How influential was your mother, Camellia, who moved the family out of those surroundings, in not only allowing you to have a basketball future, but in possibly saving your life?

I thank God every day for giving my mom the strength and the confidence to move us. To just drop everything — that’s where all my family was – to go to this place where we had no idea who anybody was or what to expect …  she took a chance. That was a great chance she took.

And still, you believe that those early life lessons were good for you?

God does everything for a reason. He doesn’t bring us this far to leave us. For me to go through that, it was what he planned, in order to get me somewhere better and to do something better with my life. That’s exactly the way he planned it. And it worked out the way he wanted it. I definitely think that was a blessing.

Clearly, it’s working out the way you wanted it, too?

Now, I’m a D-I college basketball player at Oklahoma State. I’m living the life that most kids would chop off their right arm for, a paid scholarship to go to college for free. Kids’ parents are out here struggling to get them to college, my mom doesn’t pay anything. It’s a blessing. I thank God every day. I’m doing something productive with my life. My mom, she’s great. She’s really one of my heroes.

What did you learn from your latest international experience, playing on the gold medal Team USA U19 squad in the Czech Republic?

I learned how to be a little more elusive and tricky coming off ball screens and getting in the paint; making better decisions.

What was your reaction when you learned you were one of two college players invited to the Team USA Mini-Camp in Las Vegas, alongside a bunch of NBA pros?

I was ecstatic. It’s a prestigious event to be a part of. And to be one of two college players to go, and not any of the college players drafted this year, it’s an honor indeed to have on my track record as an individual, and for Oklahoma State. I got to go out there and represent my school and my family. I’m blessed. I thank God for giving me the opportunity for being there.

Having experienced a year of college basketball, how much better can you be as a sophomore?

There are no limitations. I’ve just got to work at it and want it. That’s with anybody though; anybody in college basketball. It’s all about how hard you work. I think I can become a pretty good player if I just stay focused, keep my eyes on the right things work hard. I don’t have to wonder what I’m in for any more, like a lot of incoming freshmen. I’ve been through it a year. I’ve been put in the fire in tough games. So I’m used to it and I know what to expect. So nothing will come as a surprise for me.

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During this weekend's Georgia-Florida matchup, the cameras caught this poor fan getting a head full of peanut shells. We approve. 

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During this weekend's Georgia-Florida matchup, the cameras caught this poor fan getting a head full of peanut shells. We approve.
Post date: Monday, November 4, 2013 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Legends Poll
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It seems every team is gunning for top-ranked Alabama, and Florida State once again proved it belongs among the top contenders after another dominating performance against a top 10 opponent. 
 
No. 3 Florida State dismantled Miami (FL) in Tallahassee Saturday night in front of a record crowd, 41-14, sending the Hurricanes tumbling eight spots to No. 15 in the Legends Poll.
 
Alabama and No. 2 Oregon were idle over the weekend. But Oregon has its chance to make a statement in front of the nation next Thursday night when it takes on No. 6 Stanford.
 
Besides Miami, there were no other changes in the top 14 positions in the Legends poll.
 
No. 4 Ohio State continued its dominant play against inferior opponents behind the sterling play of Braxton Miller in their 56-0 win over Purdue, and No. 17 Michigan State stepped forward as the toughest possible opponent for the Buckeyes. Michigan State took care of in-state rival Michigan on Saturday, knocking the Wolverines out of the Legends Poll.
 
Georgia and Arizona State moved back into the top 25 at No. 24 and No. 25 respectively.
 
Oregon State was the other team to drop out of the rankings.
 
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll
 
THE LEGENDS POLL TOP 25
RKTEAMRECORDPOINTSPV RK
1AlabamaAlabama (15)8-03991
2OregonOregon (1)8-03822
3Florida StateFlorida State8-03713
4Ohio StateOhio State9-03524
5BaylorBaylor7-03325
6StanfordStanford7-13246
7ClemsonClemson8-12888
8AuburnAuburn8-12829
9MissouriMissouri8-128111
10OklahomaOklahoma7-124210
11LSULSU7-223812
12Texas A&MTexas A&M7-222613
13South CarolinaSouth Carolina7-221015
14Oklahoma StateOklahoma State7-118817
15Miami (FL)Miami (FL)7-11767
16LouisvilleLouisville7-114816
17Michigan StateMichigan State8-112222
18UCLAUCLA6-210820
19WisconsinWisconsin6-210719
20Fresno StateFresno State8-010518
21Texas TechTexas Tech7-28914
22Northern IllinoisNorthern Illinois9-07521
23UCFUCF6-16724
24GeorgiaGeorgia5-331-
25Arizona StateArizona State6-225-
 

* The Legends Poll voting process is exactly what the BCS is trying to create and Athlon will bring it to you as the de facto Selection Committee for fans to follow over the next two seasons, allowing you to see how the Selection Committee will operate from 2014 onward. You can see the entire Poll at www.legendschannel.com.

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Transamerica is a proud sponsor of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. The award is presented each year by the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Education Foundation to the nation’s top college quarterback based on character, citizenship, scholastic achievement, leadership qualities, and athletic accomplishments. Candidates must be a graduating senior or fourth-year junior on schedule to graduate with their class. As a leading financial services company, Transamerica takes pride in being there for those moments when our customers say, “It’s real now.” Moments like the birth of a new baby, the opening of a new business, college acceptance, retirement, and other key milestones. By showing our support for the young men on the Top 30 watch list, we look forward to seeing them thrill fans around the country and experience moments during the season and beyond when they say, “It’s real now.”

Taylor Kelly1. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State

Taylor Kelly got an early start among the Golden Arm Award candidates this week with a big Thursday night performance against Washington State. On Halloween night Kelly had a whole bag of tricks for the Cougars, running for two touchdowns in the first quarter, then throwing four more before halftime to build a 42-14 lead. One more touchdown pass in the third quarter gave Kelly seven total touchdowns as the Sun Devils picked up a 55-21 victory and held on to their top spot in the Pac 12 South Division. Kelly passed for 275 yards and rushed for 66 yards on the night and this was the third straight game Kelly passed and rushed for a touchdown in the same game.
 
2. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Clemson wasted little time in getting on the scoreboard on the road at Virginia. Tajh Boyd tossed the first of three touchdowns when he completed a 33-yard pass to Sammy Watkins just 87 seconds into the game. The two would connect on a 96-yard touchdown play early in the third quarter as well as Boyd put together a 300-yard day with 377 passing yards while completing 24 of 20 attempts. This marked Boyd’s second straight 300-yard game in a row and fifth this season. Boyd also notched a rushing touchdown from one yard out late in the first half to give Clemson a 35-7 halftime lead.
 
3. Derek Carr, Fresno State
Fresno State kept their BCS dreams alive late Saturday night with a home win over Nevada. The formula for a win was similar to what it has been all year, with Derek Carr throwing for 487 yards and three touchdowns, including a 32-yard pass to Josh Harper early in the fourth quarter to help the Bulldogs start to pull away from their Mountain West Conference foe. This was the fifth time Carr has thrown for at least 400 yards in a game this season and was his third straight without an interception.
 
4. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Northern Illinois had no problems taking care of Massachusetts on the road. As usual, Jordan Lynch carried the offense to a big game. Lynch completed 10 of 13 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown but once again did most of his damage on the ground. The Huskies quarterback led the team with 119 yards and a new career high four touchdowns before getting an extended rest in the second half. This marked the fourth time Lynch has rushed for 100 yards in a game and the fourth straight game Lynch rushed for a touchdown.
 
5. Connor Shaw, South Carolina
A week after stepping in to lead South Carolina to a rally for a win on the road, Connor Shaw was back at leading the Gamecocks to a win. Though Shaw only completed 10 out of his 20 attempts, four of those went for a touchdown. Shaw returned to the starting line-up after having to come in off the bench last week and he battled admirably against a Mississippi State team that caused some frustration early on. Shaw did toss two of his four touchdowns in the first quarter and his two third quarter touchdown passes put the Gamecocks up 31-10, which was more than enough.
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By virtue of the process of elimination, Clint Chelf entered the season as one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Big 12.

After the opener, he also had the least firm grip on his starting job when he was replaced by J.W. Walsh. But in the first week of November, Chelf has Oklahoma State in control of its fate in the Big 12 race.

In his second start since returning to the starting lineup, Chelf accounted for 299 yards of total offense and three total touchdowns in a 52-34 win over Texas Tech to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.

In road wins over Iowa State and Texas Tech, Chelf has supervised the first Oklahoma State offense to score 50 points in back-to-back road games. He’s also helped lead the Cowboys to a 7-1 start and a 3-1 start in the Big 12 with games against Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma State his his future.

Athlon Sports Week 10 National Awards

National Offensive Player of the Week: Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State
Chelf may have had the rug pulled out from under him when J.W. Walsh replaced him as the starter in the second game of the season, but the senior is making the most of his return to the lineup. Chelf completed 18 of 34 passes for 211 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the road win over Texas Tech. For the second consecutive game, Chelf produced in the run game with 88 yards and two touchdowns on six carries.

Defensive Player of the Week: Garrison Smith, Georgia
Smith, a senior defensive end, had the most productive day of his career in a very important game for the Georgia program. The Atlanta native had nine tackles and was credited with 2.5 sacks (for 12 lost yards) in the Bulldogs’ 23-20 win over Florida — their third straight over their rivals from Gainesville. Georgia held the Gators 319 total yards and allowed only one drive that went for more than 50 yards.

National Freshman of the Week: Tarean Folston, Notre Dame
Folston gave a major lift to a Notre Dame run game that has struggled all season by rushing for 140 yards and the game-winning touchdown on 18 carries against Navy. Folston is only the second Notre Dame tailback to top the 100-yard mark this season. The rookie from Cocoa, Fla., is also the first Notre Dame freshman to rush for 100 yards since 2007.

National Coordinator of Week: Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State
Who else could it be? The No. 1 defense in the nation showed the nation why it might be the only unit in the Big Ten that can stop Ohio State. The Wolverines posted a school-record low of minus-48 yards rushing as Narduzzi dialed up pressure all night long. Michigan State finished with seven sacks, 12 first downs allowed 168 total yards of offense. The 23-point win was the most lopsided victory since 1967 between the two in-state rivals. 

Athlon Sports Week 10 Conference Awards


Three things we learned from Florida State’s rout of Miami, plus all the hits and misses of the Week 10 in Athlon Sports’ Three and Out Recap.
ACC
Offense: Devonta Freeman, Florida State
Defense: Kasim Edebali, Boston College
Freshman: Jeremy Pruitt, Florida State
Coordinator: Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh

Big 12
Offense: Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State
Defense: Will Clarke, West Virginia
Freshman: Daikiel Shorts, West Virginia
Coordinator: Mike Yurcich, Oklahoma State

Big Ten
Offense: Philip Nelson, Minnesota
Defense: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
Freshman: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
Coordinator: Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State

Pac-12
Offense: Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
Defense: Devon Kennard, USC
Freshman: Scooby Wright, Arizona
Coordinator: Clancy Pedergast, USC

SEC
Offense: Tre Mason, Auburn
Defense: Garrison Smith, Georgia
Freshman: Kelvin Taylor, Florida
Coordinator: Mike Bobo, Georgia

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This preview and more on Syracuse and the ACC are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

No. 9 Syracuse Facts & Figures
Last season: 30-10 (11-7 Big East)
Postseason: NCAA Final Four
Coach: Jim Boeheim (920-314 at Syracuse)
ACC projection: Second
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The Syracuse Orange are coming off a most unlikely trip to the Final Four. It’s still difficult to believe that a team that lost four of its last five regular-season games, including a 61–39 embarrassment at Georgetown in the  finale, somehow found itself playing in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta a month later.

But Syracuse did just that. First, the Orange advanced to the Big East Tournament championship game, a run that included an overtime revenge-flavored win over Georgetown. Then Syracuse made it to the Final Four for the fifth time in school history.

Now, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim faces a new challenge as he enters his 38th season at the helm at alma mater. Syracuse, a charter member of the Big East Conference, joins the ACC this season.

“It’s a tough league, but we were in a tough league before,’’ Boeheim says. “It’s doesn’t get any tougher, but it’ll be different.’’

Frontcourt

To get right to the point, Syracuse will have one of the best frontcourts in the entire country. While the losses of Carter-Williams, Triche and Southerland are significant, Syracuse fans exhaled a sigh of relief last June when C.J. Fair announced that he would return for his senior season. Fair, a versatile 6-8 forward, led the Orange in both scoring and rebounding last season. He also made 46.9 percent of his 3-point attempts. He will be a candidate for All-America honors and the ACC’s Player of the Year award.

At the other forward spot, expect sophomore Jerami Grant to enjoy a breakout season. Grant, another in Syracuse’s line of long, lean and athletic forwards, averaged just 3.9 points as a freshman. But when offered more playing time due to injuries plus James Southerland’s midseason suspension, Grant responded. In eight games between Jan. 12 and Feb. 13, Grant averaged 8.6 points and 5.4 rebounds.

In the middle, Boeheim has the pleasure and the challenge of sorting through three solid centers. Rakeem Christmas, a 6-9 junior, started all 40 games last season, but Baye Moussa Keita at times was the more reliable player, especially on defense. Meanwhile, Dajuan Coleman was always considered the best offensive player of the three centers, though he struggled as a freshman. Coleman missed several games after mid-season knee surgery and saw only sparse playing time after his return.

Freshmen Tyler Roberson and B.J. Johnson will most likely serve as backups at the forward spots, while fellow first-year player Chinonso Obokoh is a probable redshirt candidate due to the log-jam at center.

2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC


Backcourt

Syracuse must totally rebuild its backcourt. Michael Carter-Williams entered the NBA Draft after a sterling sophomore season. He went from being the fourth guard in a three-guard rotation as a freshman to one of the top point guards in the country. But Syracuse also lost Brandon Triche, who started every game of his four-year Syracuse career and was a part of more wins than any player in SU history.

Boeheim will turn to freshman Tyler Ennis to be his starting point guard. Ennis, a native of Ontario, Canada, led St. Benedict’s (N.J.) Prep to the championship game in the National High School Invitational last April. He was the leading scorer at the FIBA Under-19 World Championships in July. Ennis’ backup could be another freshman in Ron Patterson, a former Indiana commit who spent last year at prep school.

There will be a battle between sophomores Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney to see who starts at the 2-guard spot. Gbinije sat out last year after transferring from Duke. Cooney endured a rough freshman year, making just 26.7 percent of his 3-point shots.  

Newcomers

Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis and Duke transfer Michael Gbinije could form the Orange’s starting backcourt. Tyler Roberson and B.J. Johnson figure prominently in back-up roles at the forward spots. Ron Patterson, a natural off-guard, might see time as the back-up to Ennis at the point. Chinonso Obokoh, a 6-10 center, enters a crowded position and could redshirt.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 4. Jim Boeheim has taken Syracuse to the Final Four in four consecutive decades, reaching the NCAA’s final weekend in 1987, 1996, 2003 and last season. Only three other coaches can match that feat — Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith and Rick Pitino.


Syracuse’s move from the Big East to the ACC doesn’t figure to alter the Orange’s winning ways. Boeheim remains in charge. The forwards are still long and athletic. The guards are big and tall. The zone remains the defense of choice.

Fair is a top-notch talent who gives Syracuse leadership and reliable scoring. The three-player combination at center provides Boeheim will plenty of choices. Grant could be the next big thing. And the early returns on Ennis and Gbinije sound promising. If Boeheim finds answers in the backcourt, the Orange will challenge for the ACC crown in their first year in the league.
 

2013-14 Preseason Top 25
9. Syracuse
10. North Carolina
11. Ohio State
12. Michigan

13. Marquette
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
16. Creighton
17. Tennessee
18. VCU
19. UNLV
20. Memphis
21. Connecticut
22. Wisconsin
23. UCLA
24. Baylor
25. Wichita State

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This preview and more on Michigan and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

No. 12 Michigan Facts & Figures
Last season: 31-8 (12-6 Big Ten)
Postseason: NCAA runner-up
Coach: John Beilein (122-85 at Michigan)
Big Ten projection: Third
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
John Beilein sat in the front row of the Barclays Center in late June with a smile on his face. About to begin his seventh season at Michigan, Beilein watched as the two best players he’s ever coached had their names called during the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft.

But now, for Beilein, life without superstar point guard Trey Burke and veteran sharpshooter Tim Hardaway Jr. officially begins. And one season after taking the Wolverines to the national title game for the first time since 1993, the expectations have now been raised.

“That’s part of the business you have to go through right now,” says Beilein. “If you don’t recruit good enough players (you won’t win). If you recruit really good players, they could go pro and you’re back to where you started.”

Michigan lost its two best players to the NBA, but it didn’t lose everything. Expected first-round picks Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III shocked many by announcing they’d be back for a sophomore season.

Frontcourt

At 6-10, 255-pounds, McGary was expected to be the Wolverines’ best big man prospect since Chris Webber. And though it took him about five months to figure everything out, he lived up to that billing during a wild NCAA Tournament run that turned him into a legit star. The Indiana native averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in the Wolverines’ six NCAA games, highlighted by his 25-point, 14-rebound effort against Kansas.

McGary will anchor Michigan’s front line this season, and he’ll likely do so at multiple positions. Beilein wants McGary to play both power forward and center, and wants to continue expanding his game — as a shooter, as a transition player and a finisher.

Who plays next to him, though, remains a mystery.

If Michigan opts to go big, something Beilein rarely does, McGary will be joined up front by either senior Jordan Morgan or junior Jon Horford — two role players who should see extended time either way next season. Morgan averaged a solid 4.3 rebounds in only 15.9 minutes as a junior.

If the Wolverines go small, Robinson (6-6, 220) will be back at the stretch-4 position, giving Michigan incredible versatility. Robinson has stated he’d like to spend more time at his natural position, small forward, and Beilein says the smooth wing will likely play with the ball in his hands more often this season.

“I don’t know how close I was to leaving, I always wanted to come back here and stay,” Robinson says. “I’m going to have a chance to come in and hopefully be a leader for this team.”

2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC


Backcourt

Burke and Hardaway are gone, but Michigan’s cupboard isn’t bare.

Incoming freshman point guard Derrick Walton was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Michigan as a high school senior, and 5-star shooting guard Zak Irvin was Indiana’s Mr. Basketball.

Walton will be joined at the point by tournament sensation Spike Albrecht, but even both players combined will have a tough time replicating what Burke was able to bring to the table.

Walton has been committed to the program since 2011, and he watched Burke’s entire development from afar.

“The coaches always told me to watch Trey, watch the point guard position, because that’s where I’d be playing,” he says. “He said it was a point guard’s dream. He’s right. They let you play. They let you create. But it’s important for me to be my own person, I can’t be somebody else.”

At shooting guard, Michigan has a logjam. Sophomore Nik Stauskas, who shot 44.0 percent from 3-point range, will likely slide down and spend more time at the 2, while improving sophomore Caris LeVert will also compete for minutes.

Newcomers

Michigan’s highly touted class is highlighted by 5-star shooting guard Zak Irvin, who claimed Indiana’s Mr. Basketball last season. The club’s most important newcomer is 4-star point guard Derrick Walton, who is looking to fill Trey Burke’s shoes as the team’s floor leader alongside Spike Albrecht. Power forward Mark Donnal, a 4-star big man with an outside touch, rounds out the class.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 23. Guard Spike Albrecht scored a total of 23 points in Michigan’s two Final Four games. He scored a total of 22 during the 18-game Big Ten season.


Michigan has plenty of work to do without Burke running the show. However, the Wolverines avoided the doomsday scenario when both Robinson and McGary opted to return.

Beilein, who has established himself as one of the elite coaches in the game, has enough talent on his roster to remain in the top tier in the rugged Big Ten. By the time March rolls around, don’t be surprised if Michigan has emerged as a favorite to reach the Final Four for the second straight season.

2013-14 Preseason Top 25
9. Syracuse
10. North Carolina
11. Ohio State
12. Michigan

13. Marquette
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
16. Creighton
17. Tennessee
18. VCU
19. UNLV
20. Memphis
21. Connecticut
22. Wisconsin
23. UCLA
24. Baylor
25. Wichita State

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This preview and more on North Carolina and the ACC are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

No. 10 North Carolina Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-11 (12-6 ACC)
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Coach: Roy Williams (282-79 at North Carolina)
ACC projection: Third
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Roy Williams warned North Carolina fans that they shouldn’t get used to the small lineups that sparked UNC’s surge in the second half of last season. He wasn’t kidding.

The Tar Heels enter 2013-14 with plenty of size up front and paper-thin depth on the perimeter as they try to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2009. As emphasis on dribble penetration, floor spacing, and 3-point shooting increases nationwide, UNC could be the rare team whose success will depend upon post play.

The Tar Heels have six players who stand 6-8 or taller, and each one has played significant minutes in the past or figures to be in the rotation this season. The backcourt is a different story. With sharpshooter P.J. Hairston (team-high 14.6 points per game last season) suspended during the summer, UNC could begin the season with only two true wings.

The unbalanced personnel figures to create a style of play much different from the one the Tar Heels used a year ago, when they attempted more 3-pointers than any other UNC team under Williams.

Frontcourt

UNC has plenty of big men who could start at schools all over the country. Forward James Michael McAdoo, whose size and athleticism have earned him NBA buzz since high school, is the most accomplished of the group. After a lackluster sophomore season in which he shot just 44.5 percent from the floor, McAdoo increased his offseason work in an effort to improve his free throw shooting (57.8 percent) and overall offensive efficiency.

Also in the mix at forward are Brice Johnson, who showed a knack for scoring as a freshman, and hustle-minded Jackson Simmons. Freshman Isaiah Hicks figures to push for playing time because of his athleticism and ability to run the floor.

UNC has plenty of bulk at center in sophomore Joel James and highly skilled freshman Kennedy Meeks, who is working to improve his conditioning. James never got going as a freshman, but he has the potential to be a major contributor on both ends of the floor. Desmond Hubert, who started 18 games a year ago, will resume his limited role as a defensive specialist.

No UNC frontcourt player is especially suited to playing small forward, but McAdoo, Johnson, and Hicks are athletic enough to masquerade there if the Tar Heels go with a big lineup.

2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC


Backcourt

UNC almost had too many wing players a year ago. But with Hairston finding off-court trouble during the summer and Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland departing, now the Tar Heels might not have enough. Sophomore J.P. Tokoto, who could move into a starting role, will be counted on to provide more than his trademark awe-inspiring dunks. He is not a proficient outside shooter, but he has the athleticism to become a force on defense.

At the other wing, fifth-year senior Leslie McDonald will have the biggest role of his career. McDonald is somewhat of a designated shooter, having made 37 percent of his 3-point tries over his last two seasons.

Marcus Paige made strides as a freshman starter at the point, becoming a threat from 3-point range as last season progressed. Paige likely will end up playing significant minutes at shooting guard because of UNC’s wing shortage and the arrival of freshman point guard Nate Britt. Britt was an adept passer in high school and will have a chance to earn major minutes if he makes a quick transition to the college game. Luke Davis returns as the third point guard.

Newcomers

Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks bring different abilities to UNC’s crowded frontcourt. Hicks is athletic and adept at running the floor, although he needs to add strength and back-to-the basket moves. Meeks, meanwhile, is not an elite athlete. He is a good low-post scorer and skilled passer, especially on outlets, with good hands. Nate Britt is a quick floor general with savvy who will get immediate playing time at the point.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 1.6. UNC averaged 1.6 rebounds per game more than its opponents last season, the lowest rebound margin for a Roy Williams-coached team since Williams’ first season at Kansas (1988-89).


Williams is used to juggling players in his up-tempo scheme, but he hasn’t seen a puzzle quite like this one before. The Tar Heels have an imperfect roster in two ways: They are out of balance with their post/perimeter mix, and they lack the proven stud or two that the best Tar Heel teams usually feature.

That said, UNC has enough talent to finish near the top of a new-look ACC that will feature Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame for the first time. The Tar Heels can reach that potential as long as they maintain good health on the perimeter and consistently find ways to impose their will in the big-vs.-small contrast of styles that they will encounter on a nightly basis.

2013-14 Preseason Top 25
9. Syracuse
10. North Carolina
11. Ohio State
12. Michigan

13. Marquette
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
16. Creighton
17. Tennessee
18. VCU
19. UNLV
20. Memphis
21. Connecticut
22. Wisconsin
23. UCLA
24. Baylor
25. Wichita State

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This preview and more on Ohio State and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

No. 11 Ohio State Facts & Figures
Last season: 29-8 (13-5 Big Ten)
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Coach: Thad Matta (250-73 at Ohio State)
Big Ten projection: Second
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Unfortunately for Thad Matta, Ohio State’s outlook begins with who is no longer around. That’s because forward Deshaun Thomas and his Big Ten-leading 19.8 points per game are gone, along with the reliable services of post man Evan Ravenel.

Considering that center Amir Williams is far from a finished product and struggles to maintain intensity, the exhausted eligibility of Ravenel is noteworthy.

Thomas, meanwhile, leaves a rather gaping hole. The free-wheeling lefty led the Buckeyes in 29 of their 37 games as a junior last season, and his offensive creativity will be sorely missed.

Now the good news: Matta has the program at an elite level despite having to overcome early NBA defections from the likes of Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Kosta Koufos, Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger over the years, and there is plenty of athleticism and tenacity left on the roster.

Senior Aaron Craft is the catalyst on both ends of the floor and should receive help once again from Shannon Scott, who made major strides last season. Lenzelle Smith Jr. is yet another proven performer at guard.

On the wing, the Buckeyes have three face-up forwards in the 6-7 range in LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson and freshman Marc Loving, who all bring an array of gifts to the table.

Frontcourt

Williams represents OSU’s very limited post game, and while he’s the team’s lone shot-eraser, he also isn’t nearly as adept at help defense and shutting down pick-and-roll plays as Ravenel. A big growth year from the 6-11 Williams would be a boon for the Buckeyes, but may not be crucial. Matta is more than willing to play a small lineup this season. Plus, Ohio State is blessed with a lengthy shutdown defender in Thompson and will be able to create mismatches on offense with Ross, who stands a legit 6-8.

Ross shot forward in the 2013 postseason with huge threes and athletic finishes at the basket, causing Arizona coach Sean Miller to label him a “future star.” He could pick up a lot of the scoring load left behind by Thomas. Ross averaged 8.3 points in only 16.9 minutes as a sophomore.

Loving provides even more shooting and versatility and could be an ideal fit as a 4-man in Matta’s system. However, he and Thompson are not polished rebounders. Meanwhile, Trey McDonald, athletic and decently skilled, is still trying to find a spot in Matta’s rotation. He played in only 19 games last season.

2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC


Backcourt

Craft has carved out a well-deserved reputation as an elite defender and intense competitor. Now the challenge for Craft is to add onto last season’s averages of 10.0 points and 4.6 assists per game. When asked what new full-time assistant coach and former Duke point guard Greg Paulus might do for the senior, Matta jokes, “Hopefully he can get him to shoot 47 percent from the 3-point line for starters. That would be good.”

The coaches actually would accept Craft simply taking and making a few more important jumpers — like the trey he splashed against Iowa State that put the Buckeyes in the Sweet 16.

Scott is a minimal threat from the perimeter — he hit only 11 3-pointers in ’12-13 — but gives OSU a second ball-handler and another menacing on-ball defender. He’s especially skilled at creating opportunities for others with the shot clock winding down.

The off-guard position is interesting with Smith in the role of steady senior, lanky Amedeo Della Valle capable of providing a spark, and freshman Kameron Williams a potential microwave off the bench.

Newcomers

One of the top forward prospects in the Midwest, Marc Loving earned Ohio’s “Mr. Basketball” and averaged 21.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game as a prep senior. Still, Loving is a finesse player who will have to adapt to Big Ten physicality. Kameron Williams is a deluxe scorer who can stroke it from deep and already has an effective floater.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 7. Ohio State has had at least one player drafted in each of the last seven years, the longest such streak in the nation.


Matta demands constant effort and smarts on defense, and the results have been borderline spectacular over the years. Ohio State, in fact, has been one of the best teams in the country at defending without fouling, and that needs to be — and should be — a calling card once again.

The offense will jell eventually with Ross poised for a breakout season, and the ball movement leading to shared wealth. Newcomers Loving and Williams should augment nicely.

Rebounding, however, could be at a premium. The Buckeyes will need a collected effort on the backboards if they are to again compete for a Big Ten title.

2013-14 Preseason Top 25
9. Syracuse
10. North Carolina
11. Ohio State
12. Michigan

13. Marquette
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
16. Creighton
17. Tennessee
18. VCU
19. UNLV
20. Memphis
21. Connecticut
22. Wisconsin
23. UCLA
24. Baylor
25. Wichita State

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From classic live game broadcasts to sports talk radio, from Vin Scully to Paul Finebaum, the audio presentation is part of the the routine of being a sports fan.

At Athlon Sports, podcasts are among our favorite ways to consume sports media, so much so that we decided to start the Athlon Sports Cover 2 College Football Podcast.

Name a niche and chances are there’s a podcast about it. The barriers of traditional broadcast don’t apply. Want to spend an hour on one team in college football? No problem. Want to veer off from the games of the week into strange detours into food or pop culture? Who’s going to stop you?

The DIY aspect lends itself to spotty audio quality or less-polished hosts, but that’s the beauty of it. All fans with enough passion and basic technical know-how can share their voice and viewpoint with the world.

We asked around the Athlon office and picked some of our favorites in the sports we cover. One caveat: We tried to stick to podcast-first programs. It’s safe to say if you like ESPN Radio or TV programming, you can find it in a podcast format, too.

Athlon Sports’ Top Sports Podcasts

The B.S. Report
One of the longest-standing podcasts in the sports realm, the B.S. Report features all you’d expect from Bill Simmons: Red Sox/Yankees talk, a six-part NBA preview, guessing NFL betting lines with Cousin Sal plus interviews with Chuck Klosterman, Saturday Night Live writer Robert Smigel and other visiting luminaries. Real World/Road Rules Challenge talk has more or less migrated to Grantland Pop Culture. So there’s that.

The Rich Eisen Podcast
Few are more enthusiastic about the podcast format than Eisen. Sure, he gives listeners plenty of football talk — upwards of two and a half hours sometimes. Eisen goes back and forth with co-hosts in addition to interviewing coaches and players around the league. Eisen has also interviewed Kevin Costner, Carrie Underwood, Larry David, Matt Damon and more.

The Solid Verbal
The Solid Verbal is the granddaddy of college football podcasts. Hosts Dan Rubenstein and Ty Hildenbrandt break down each Saturday’s games, preview the week ahead and help college football memes bubble up to the surface. If the phrases “Clemsoning,” “Dr. Bo Wallace” and “Nick Foles in a Losing Effort (plus sound effect)” mean something to you, odds are you’re a Verballer.

The Will Leitch Experience
A new podcast on the block, Deadspin founder and Sports on Earth columnist Will Leitch strives to interview “a different smart person every day.” Cardinals baseball, Illinois basketball and his move deep into the heart of SEC country have shaped the podcasts of late, but no podcast has more interesting media guests than this one.

Eye On College Football
Chip Patterson hosts the three-times-a-week podcast featuring CBSSports.com college football staff, including Dennis Dodd (on the aptly named Doddcast), Jerry Palm, Tom Fornelli and more as they recap each Saturday, talk news and BCS and break down picks of the week.

Eye On College Basketball
The CBSSports.com college basketball podcast returned earlier this week with columnist Gary Parrish moving into the host role. The CBS crew brings knowledge, opinions, banter and tales from the road long before March Madness.


Listen to Athlon Sports writers Braden Gall and David Fox talk Bo Pelini, Oklahoma State-Texas Tech, Miami-Florida State and more Week 10 action in this week's Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast.
ESPNU: College Football and ESPNU: College Basketball
Podcasts are generally a DIY format, but ESPN is able to throw its weight around on its podcast. The ESPN name allows football host Ivan Maisel and basketball host Andy Katz to regularly book coach interviews on top of being informative.

Outkick the Podcast
Seven episodes in and Clay Travis has interviewed Joe Namath, Ricky Williams and Phillip Fulmer. The love-him or hate-him host also knows his audience and knows it will go bonkers for an interview with former South Carolina quarterback and off-the-field legend Stephen Garcia.

ESPN Fantasy Focus Baseball
The daily grind of fantasy baseball is tough to navigate sometimes, that’s why Matthew Berry’s and Nate Ravitz’s podcast is the people’s choice.

Effectively Wild
Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller with Baseball Prospectus know the baseball grind as much as anyone in the podcast or media biz. Like the athletes they cover and analyze (and analyze and analyze), they post a new podcast every day.

The MMQB Podcast and The Stewart Mandel Podcast
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The Chrome Horn Podcast and The David Smith Podcast
Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller covers the weekly goings on all over NASCAR in the Chrome Horn podcast with Nick Bromberg from Yahoo! Sports' From the Marbles blog. David Smith, another Athlon contributor, looks at big-picture racing issues with guests from all over the sport.

The SEC Report and SEC Sports Roundtable
From the folks at Saturday Down South, the SEC Report is — you guessed it — an all-SEC, all the time podcast. With 14 teams and plenty of news from the season to recruiting season, they stay busy. And if you want a podcast that sounds like you dishing with your SEC friends, check out the SEC Sports Roundtable, mainly because it’s a group of friends dishing about the SEC.

Pac-12 Networks Football Podcast
Ex-football coach Rick Neuheisel is broadcasting natural, and he knows his way around the Pac-12 after coaching at UCLA, Washington and Colorado. He’s also a good fit on the podcast with Mike Yam when the program veers into non-football topics.

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Athlon Sports Picks the Best Sports Podcasts
Post date: Friday, November 1, 2013 - 07:00
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This preview and more on Marquette and the Big East are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.

No. 13 Marquette Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-9 (14-4 Big East)
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Coach: Buzz Williams (122-54 at Marquette)
Big East projection: First
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
With double-digit conference victories in seven of the last eight seasons, the Marquette Golden Eagles were one of the most successful teams in the Big East. Now with the new private-school iteration of the league set to debut for the 2013-14 season, Marquette remains well-positioned to continue its run of success.

This Marquette team, however, could have a very different look. For the first time in well over a decade, the Golden Eagles’ focus figures to shift to the frontcourt. That’s not to suggest they won’t have talent in the backcourt; the key to coach Buzz Williams’ success has always been the steady stream of “switchables” he churns out.

But big men Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson, Chris Otule and Jameel McKay are going to be leaned upon up front like never before as a revamped group of guards gets up to speed.

If everything comes together as Williams hopes, a Big East title should be well within the Golden Eagles’ grasp.

Frontcourt

It would have seemed far-fetched to have suggested only a couple years ago that MU’s hopes would ever be pinned to the broad shoulders of Gardner. After all, he arrived at MU in 2010 as a 6-8, 300-pound-plus project who didn’t figure to mesh well with Williams’ frenetic style of play — especially on the defensive end. But Gardner showed from early on that his ample backside and craftiness around the basket couldn’t be ignored, and he heads into this season as the league’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year, not to mention MU’s leading returning scorer. Gardner shot a Big East-leading 58.5 percent while coming off the bench in 2012-13, and he attempted 5.0 free throws per game, knocking them down at an 83.5 percent clip.

When Williams needs a defensive presence in the lane, he will turn to the 6-11 Otule, who will be in his sixth season thanks to a medical hardship. He started last season and blocked more than a shot per game while altering quite a few more. He’s also a decent rebounder.

Wilson, who will see most of his minutes at power forward, is actually the Golden Eagles’ leading returning 3-point shooter (.360) and rebounder (4.9 rpg). He also is a great passer for his size and blocked nearly a shot per game.

McKay was a two-time first team NJCAA All-American at Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa. He is a high-energy athlete who should get plenty of minutes right away.

2013-14 Conference Previews
ACC | American | Big 12 | Big East
Big Ten | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC


Backcourt

Youth will be served at both guard spots, where it’s likely a true freshman will start at point guard and two others will see big minutes alongside. Duane Wilson will give the Golden Eagles an offensive threat they haven’t had handling the ball in years with an ability to get to the basket, draw fouls and also knock down 3-pointers.

Williams is a big fan of junior Derrick Wilson’s reliability — he committed only 19 turnovers in 457 minutes — but Duane Wilson will be tough to keep off the floor in crunch time because he can create as well as keep defenses honest.

The 6-5 JaJuan Johnson and the 6-4, 230-pound Deonte Burton will give Williams the ability to use different looks at shooting guard and on the wing. Johnson is more of shooter and finisher. Burton’s body should allow him to make the transition to the physical style Williams prefers.

Junior Todd Mayo can be an explosive scorer, but he’s butted heads with Williams at times and his role has diminished.

Newcomers

Jameel McKay, Duane Wilson and Deonte Burton are all Milwaukee natives. While it will undoubtedly be fun for them to play in their hometown, it would also behoove them to try and avoid some of the inherent distractions that comes along with that. All three have the ability to be special players, along with Memphis native Jajuan Johnson. John Dawson will have his work cut out for him to get into the rotation in his first year at MU. The five combine to form Williams’ third top-25 recruiting class in six seasons.

Final Analysis
Factoid: 16-0. Marquette went 16–0 when it made more free throws than its opponent attempted last season. The Golden Eagles averaged 15.7 made free throws per game.


Nine letterwinners return, but there will still be plenty of playing time available for the newcomers. All told, this will be Williams’ biggest, deepest and most athletic group from front to back.

The key will be how quickly Division I neophytes like McKay and Duane Wilson, specifically, can adapt considering how much will be put on them from the outset.

Williams and his players have made a habit of exceeding expectations, using their underdog mentality to reach new heights each season. Now that they will be one of the favorites in the new-look Big East, will the Golden Eagles have what it takes to live up to the hype? History suggest it would be wise not to bet against them.

2013-14 Preseason Top 25
13. Marquette
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
16. Creighton
17. Tennessee
18. VCU
19. UNLV
20. Memphis
21. Connecticut
22. Wisconsin
23. UCLA
24. Baylor
25. Wichita State

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College Basketball: 2013-14 Marquette Preview
Post date: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 07:00

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