Articles By Athlon Sports

Path: /nascar/nascar-numbers-game-7-amazing-stats-sonoma
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With the first half of this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winding down, one of two annual visits to a road course — right-hand turns, everybody! — presents itself this weekend as the tour heads to Sonoma Raceway, a track that has seen eight different winners in the last eight years.

Could the parity continue? Perhaps. There is one driver that you will read about below that, while being one of the strongest drivers at Sonoma over the last four years, has yet to visit victory lane. What might stand in that particular driver’s way is the fact that several past winners are consistently terrific at the 1.99-mile course.


5.5  Road course stalwart Marcos Ambrose has averaged a 5.5-place finish in the last four Sonoma races.

Unlike his utter dominance at Watkins Glen, he is less adept of a driver at Sonoma (but he is still really, really good). He hasn’t ever won — his best finish is third in 2009 — but he does rank second in track-specific PEER (5.100), which makes him one of two non-winners to rank inside the top 5 in driver production. Ambrose and his No. 9 team are in need of a strong finish; ranking 23rd in the point standings, they only have two top-10 finishes to show for their 2013 season.
 

Teaser:
<p> David Smith crunches the numbers and finds the key NASCAR stats for the Toyta-Save Mart 250 at Sonoma Raceway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 13:04
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/best-and-worst-times-be-notre-dame-football-fan
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Graduates and subway alums alike may say anytime is a great time to be a Notre Dame fan. And that’s what is so infuriating for fans of other teams. Face it, the superiority complex for the Notre Dame faithful is justly earned.

Through the course of college football history, rooting for Notre Dame has been a worthwhile cause, from the underdog days when Knute Rockne took over through the revival under Brian Kelly.

Touchdown Jesus has overlooked seven Heisman winners, Hall of Fame coaches, 13 national championships, legendary games and a few dynasties.

Our series looking at the best and worst eras for college football fandom continues today with the Irish. From the Four Horsemen to Faust, from Leahy to Weis, these were the best times and worst times to be a Notre Dame fan.

Other best times/worst times:
Nebraska

BEST TIMES TO BE A NOTRE DAME FAN

1946-49
Record: 36-0-2
Coach: Frank Leahy
National championships: 3
Notable players: John Lujack, Leon Hart, Jim Martin, George Connor, Bill Fischer, Emil Sitko
The late Beano Cook routinely said Frank Leahy was the most underrated coach of all time and this is a good reason why: Leahy supervised the best stretch at one of the top programs in college football history, yet he doesn't get the fanfare perhaps of Knute Rockne, Ara Parseghian or Lou Holtz. Freshmen at Notre Dame in 1946 never saw their team lose when they graduated in 1949 as the Irish emerged from the postwar era with three national titles in four seasons, two Heisman winners (Lujack and Hart) and a 21-game win streak. Other highlights of the era: the 1946 team outscored opponents 247-24, and the 1947 team produced 42 professional players.

1988-1993
Record: 64-9-1
Coach: Lou Holtz
National championships: 1
Notable players: Raghib Ismail, Tony Rice, Jerome Bettis, Chris Zorich, Todd Lyght, Michael Stonebreaker, Aaron Taylor
Ending a decade-long title drought, Holtz brought Notre Dame back to national-championship status after the Irish stumbled under Gerry Faust. The ’88 season feature the famous Catholics vs. Convicts game against Miami and a win over undefeated West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl. Notre Dame finished in the top 10 three more times during this period and wouldn’t enjoy this level of success until 2012.

1964-74
Record: 95-17-4
Coach: Ara Parseghian
National championships: 2
Notable players: John Huarte, Dave Casper, Alan Page, Jim Lynch
Notre Dame endured five consecutive non-winning seasons before Parseghian arrived, including 2-7 in 1963. The following year, a heartbreaking loss to USC in the final two minutes prevented the Irish from winning the most unlikely national title in college football history, but Parseghian would have several more opportunities to redeem himself. The 1966 season featured the “Game of the Century” between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State, which ended in a 10-10 tie the Irish ran down the clock in their own territory. Parseghian was second-guessed ever since. Notre Dame won the AP title that year and finished in the top five for five consecutive seasons. From there, the Irish won the 1973 title in a classic showdown against an undefeated Bear Bryant-led Alabama team in the Sugar Bowl, which Notre Dame won on a gutsy deep pass on third and 8 to tight end Robin Weber to seal a first down and a 24-23 win.

1919-1930
Record: 102-11-3
Coach: Knute Rockne
National championships: 4
Notable players: George Gipp, the Four Horsemen (Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley, Elmer Layden), Hunk Anderson, Adam Walsh, Frank Carideo
This is the period that established Notre Dame as the premier college football team in the country, and thanks to Rockne’s “barnstorming” approach to scheduling, Notre Dame built a fanbase nationwide. In the pre-Heisman, pre-AP poll era, Notre Dame went undefeated five times and won four national titles by various wire services. Irish fans at the time watched one of the game’s greatest innovators at work as Rockne was one of the first to embrace the forward pass and liberal substitutions. Domers are still fans of this era thanks to the Gipper and Grantland Rice’s legendary Four Horsemen piece.

WORST TIMES TO BE A NOTRE DAME FAN

2007-09
Record: 16-21
Coach: Charlie Weis
Hopes were high after for Weis the failed tenures of Bob Davie and Ty Willingham, especially when the Super Bowl-champion offensive coordinator and Notre Dame alum raised the bar with BCS appearances in his first two seasons. Opposing fans used to call Notre Dame overrated, but now Notre Dame was just plain bad. The Irish went 3-9 in 2007 for their worst season since 1963. A sampling of the losses during these three seasons: Navy twice (ending a 43-game win streak), Georgia Tech, Air Force, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Connecticut. On the bright side, Notre Dame ended its nine-game bowl losing streak in 2007, but they had to beat Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl to do it.

1997-2001
Record: 61-41
Coaches: Bob Davie/Tyrone Willingham
Holtz’s defensive coordinator, Davie, oversaw a slide into mediocrity that didn’t end until last season. The lowlights for Davie included a 41-9 Fiesta Bowl loss to Oregon State after the 2000 season and losing years in 1999 and 2001. Willingham started 10-1 but went 13-15 thereafter.

1981-86
Record: 71-81-4
Coaches: Gerry Faust/Lou Holtz
Imagine Alabama hiring the Hoover High coach. Or LSU hiring the John Curtis coach. That’s essentially what Notre Dame did when it hired Gerry Faust. The Irish were near the height of their powers, four years removed from a national title under Dan Devine, when they hired Faust from Cincinnati Moeller. The experiment was, of course, a disaster as Faust went 30-26-1. Notre Dame started every season under Faust ranked (including three times in the top 10) and finished every year unranked. After Faust's five-year tenure, Holtz went 5-6 in his first season but rebuilt around Heisman winner Tim Brown in 1987.

IT WASN’T SO BAD WHEN...

2005-06
Record: 19-6
Coach: Charlie Weis
Weis gets a bad rap, but it wasn’t always that bad at Notre Dame. Led by Heisman finalist Brady Quinn, the Irish went 9-3 and 10-3 in his first two seasons with a pair of anticipated matchups against USC (both losses, one via the Bush Push). Notre Dame reached two BCS games, but it was clear the Irish weren’t ready for the primetime, losing 34-20 to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and 41-14 to LSU in the Sugar Bowl. We say it wasn’t so bad because it wasn’t about to get worse, so much worse.
 

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Teaser:
<p> The highs of the Leahy and Holtz to the lows of Faust and Weis</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 07:12
All taxonomy terms: crossword, Monthly
Path: /monthly/june-2013-crossword-solution
Body:

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, June 17, 2013 - 17:21
Path: /nascar/biffle-hendrick-danica-highlight-nascar-storylines-michigan
Body:

Greg Biffle’s 19th career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory Sunday brought him into a tie on the all-time list with Dale Earnhardt Jr., the man most pundits claimed was supposed to win in the Irish Hills. It was like “Opposite Day” come to life, considering the two couldn’t be more different. Earnhardt, revered through his personality and last name, is the sport’s most popular driver. The whole grandstand shakes the second they see him in position to lead a lap.

Biffle? He’s a forgotten man. Despite winning titles in both the Nationwide and Truck series — putting him in an elite category of drivers who have done both — most NASCAR fans wouldn’t recognize him if they passed on the street. Even within his own team, a cloak of invisibility exists. Carl Edwards, who never met a camera he didn’t love, is the more charismatic driver at Roush Fenway Racing; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is dating that GoDaddy girl. That leaves Biffle as the guy in your group who shows up at the bar every Friday night, watches the game at your table but you don’t remember a thing he said — just that he seems to know his stuff and he’s friends by association.

That’s not to say the man doesn’t try. The wry, sarcastic sense of humor is there, it’s just that good friend and longtime teammate Matt Kenseth does it better. The rare time Biffle utters a quote worth using it seems Tony Stewart or someone else goes off at the same time and his words get buried on page 3C.

But at age 43, maybe it’s time we appreciate some of what the Washington native has done in the Sprint Cup Series. He’s now won in nine of the last 11 years on the circuit, has made five of the last six Chases and finished top 5 in points three times in his career. There’s not many drivers who can say that.

Is it a Hall of Fame resume? No. But for a guy who’s a likely lifer with Ford after showcasing a decade of loyalty, there’s no better person to bring home the Blue Oval’s 1,000th NASCAR victory, of which Biffle is responsible for 55.

Good luck getting people to realize it, though. Here’s what else we learned Sunday as we go “Through the Gears” …


FIRST GEAR: Hendrick’s horror story
Turns out the oft-referenced horseshoe stuck up Jimmie Johnson’s … well, you know what … fell out sometime before the green flag at Michigan. Maybe it was replaced by kryptonite? The four-car Hendrick Motorsports fleet, hoping to be led by Johnson and Earnhardt Jr.’s Superman-themed No. 88, was the class of the field. But to finish first, you must first finish … and none of them were able to do that effectively.

Jeff Gordon was first to fall, a victim of a lap 7 crash where Bobby Labonte spun in front of him. Then, Kasey Kahne, running a spirited race to win for fallen friend Jason Leffler, blew a tire while running up front. His day ended in a ball of flames on Lap 104. That left Earnhardt seemingly in control, positioned to win his first race since this same event a year ago. But his engine erupted shortly before the 300-mile mark, leaving him sitting 37th in the garage.

Three down, one to go; Johnson was left with a car that might have been the fastest of the four. The problem, surprisingly, was the inability of crew chief Chad Knaus to call proper strategy. Taking four tires when others took two, then putting an extra can of fuel in while others did not found the No. 48 buried in 11th when the race went green for a final 27-lap run to checkers. It took all Johnson could muster to fight up to second, but the aggression took its toll; a flat tire and contact with the wall — not necessarily in that order — with three laps to go left him limping to the pits and a lap down in 28th.

That’s right, four Hendrick cars, zero drivers on the lead lap. It was the first time since Sonoma in 2005 that the entire fleet ran outside the top 25 at race’s end. Will it hamper HMS over the long-term? Yes and no. Johnson, who still has a 31-point advantage in the championship standings should have won each of the last three weeks. He’ll be fine. Kahne, now pushed back into “wild card” territory still has a Bristol victory and is a top-5 car on every intermediate the circuit runs. His Chase position, along with an additional win or two this summer, is a near certainty.

For Gordon and Earnhardt, the picture is less clear. The former is winless this year, sits 19 points outside the top 10 and has seemingly suffered through more bad luck in one season than Johnson has in an entire career. History says he’ll win one before Richmond, as always, to secure a spot — but you never know.

As for NASCAR’s Most Infamous Enigma, Michigan marked just the third time all year that the No. 88 has been out front, which is encouraging. But challenges in the form of Sonoma and Kentucky await. Add in a potential Daytona “Big One,” and suddenly this team, sitting 30 points inside the Chase cutoff, is scrapping with about 14 others for one of the final three playoff spots via points. That’s not a chance they want to take, because Junior hasn’t won a race away from Michigan since Richmond in April 2006.


SECOND GEAR: And it’s Ford for the steal!
With Hendrick down for the count and Toyota down on power — its big guns failed to lead a lap for the second straight week — the Michigan race was there for the taking. And Ford was more than happy to step in. Aside from winner Biffle, Joey Logano led 21 laps and ran a solid ninth, his fourth straight top-10 result. Polesitter Carl Edwards was one position better, and would have been higher if not for an ill-timed yellow while pit stops were under way that trapped him deep in the field.

It was a big moment for the Fusions, still a step behind and needing to take advantage of situations like Sunday’s to stay in the game. Now with Biffle holding a victory, it’s almost certain he and Edwards will be in the postseason field.

Surprisingly enough, while you’d think Penske Racing would be in better position, the momentum within that camp is tilting towards Roush Fenway. There’s no guarantee Logano or even reigning champ Brad Keselowski, who ran out of gas and came home a frustrating 12th, will even make the postseason. Keselowski, who was in the news last week for comments made about why Penske and RFR are struggling to work together, has to cut the chitchat, which got Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing infuriated over claims they’ve stolen employees. Instead, he must use his newfound street cred to continue the push to share information — the teams met extensively last week — because they’re going to need it.
 

Teaser:
<p> Reaction from Greg Biffle's win in NASCAR's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan Interantional Speedway.</p>
Post date: Monday, June 17, 2013 - 13:02
Path: /nascar/nascar-heads-michigan-mourns-loss-jason-leffler
Body:

1. Reflecting on Jason Leffler, forever a hard charger
News of Jason Leffler’s death after a New Jersey sprint car crash ran fast, far and wide this week. His passing is, as it too often becomes, a startling reminder that race car drivers don’t compete in an arena like most other athletes.

Racing isn’t just entertainment. It’s a way of life — an often difficult one — for those who pursue it. For every NASCAR national series driver traveling by jet and racing in front of tens of thousands, there are hundreds of others hopefully scraping enough dollars together for new tires every few races or working through the night to make repairs from the last time out.

They do it for the thrill of a well-executed pass, or to feel the joy of victory lane one more time. They do it for the speed, for the rush and for the adventure that’s forever locked inside the walled confines of a racetrack only available to those who work hard enough to enter. It’s an event of open participation, but an experience only a select few ever try.

I didn’t know Jason Leffler, and I never interviewed him. I won’t pretend to know what motivated him to slide in a race car for the first time so long ago, or know what he was seeking from racing Wednesday night at Bridgeport Speedway in an event that paid $7,000 to win. I just know that Jason Leffler was a race car driver in the purest sense with a style both brash and unbounded.

He pushed limits and occasionally stepped over them. He was unflinchingly aggressive when a gap opened — often to a fault — and was more than willing to seek retribution against a driver who had done him wrong. If Jason Leffler was in a race, you more than likely knew it regardless if he was first or 25th.

It all combined to produce in Leffler the status and goal every racer wishes to achieve: Winner.

Leffler didn’t win as often as he liked — no driver ever does — but he was a four-time champion in the USAC ranks in midget and silver crown cars. He started the Indianapolis 500 and he did score trips to victory lane in both the Nationwide Series and NASCAR’s truck series.

It was after his second and final Nationwide Series race win in 2007 at the former Indianapolis Raceway Park that perhaps told us all we need to know about why Leffler spent the majority of his life scrambling across the country to jump behind a steering wheel. Leffler, who had just beat Greg Biffle and David Reutimann using his standard strong-nosed tactics, went through the usual gratuitous crew and sponsor acknowledgements in the post-race interview before he paused, looked directly to the ESPN interviewer and shouted.

“I’m happy!”

Jason Leffler loved his life of racing. And he especially loved the winning. It’s terribly unfortunate and greatly saddening that he lost his life in that continued pursuit. But it’s also comforting knowing that Leffler — at least occasionally — had found what he was chasing.


2. Anniversary brings talk of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
You may have read Dale Earnhardt Jr. won at Michigan International Speedway last June. You may have heard that Sunday’s race is the one-year anniversary of Earnhardt’s last win. You may have also heard that the confluence of that event with Earnhardt’s great run at Pocono Raceway last week have made him a good pick for Sunday’s race.

While picking a race winner is often a trivial pursuit (unless you’re picking Jimmie Johnson every week), there are a lot of signs that Earnhardt should have a good car Sunday in Michigan.

Consider that Earnhardt had a top-10 finish at Auto Club Speedway earlier this season. Consider that he’s typically been strong on the tracks similar to Michigan this year. And consider that Earnhardt feels his car is measuring closer to the performance of the No. 48.

“I looked through the notes from last year, and we didn’t unload perfect. We had to work to get it right,” Earnhardt said. “You don’t go in with confidence that you are going to go there and it will be perfect. You have the confidence to know that we will get it dialed in.”

A win last year is certainly no guarantee of success for Earnhardt. But to come back to a track as a defending race winner riding the wave of confidence from recent good runs is a great start to a solid weekend.


3. Ride swaps on tap for Allmendinger, Labonte
Bobby Labonte has become an afterthought in the Sprint Cup Series in recent seasons. After filling the seat vacated by Marcos Ambrose in the JTG-Daughtery No. 47 in 2011, Labonte has just four top 10s to his name. None of those have come in 2013 for the 2000 series champion, and the team apparently is losing some patience with the direction to this point.

As a result, AJ Allmendinger was hired to drive the No. 47 Sunday at Michigan in an attempt to perhaps find some solutions to speed and handling issues in the Gen-6 car. Sunday’s event is the first of five races Allmendinger will drive for the team over the course of the season.

Meanwhile, Labonte will preserve his 702-race consecutive starts streak by jumping in the ever-rotating seat of James Finch’s No. 51.

While it’s not certain that this driver switch for the No. 47 officially opens the NASCAR silly season of driver and team changes, it’s not often that one driver takes over another driver’s ride for performance reasons — even if temporarily — without some larger adjustment down the road.
 

Teaser:
<p> Geoffrey Miller pays tribute to Jason Leffler and highlights the five storylines to follow as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Michigan International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Friday, June 14, 2013 - 11:40
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/2013-college-football-fcs-top-25-and-predictions
Body:

College football isn't just about the major conferences and the BCS. The FCS  settles its national champion with a playoff, something most FBS fans have wanted for years. North Dakota State tops Athlon's Top 25 FCS teams for 2013, as the Bison look to win their third consecutive national championship. 

1. North Dakota State (14-1, 7-1 MVC)
A tremendous amount of returning talent powers the Bison as they seek a third straight national title. Cornerback Marcus Williams and linebacker Grant Olson fuel the nation’s stingiest defense, and quarterback Brock Jensen will feed 1,000-yard backs Sam Ojuri and John Crockett. A word of caution for Kansas State, which hosts the Bison on Aug. 30: coach Craig Bohl’s program is 6–3 against FBS opponents since joining the FCS ranks in 2006.

2. Montana State (11-2, 7-1 Big Sky) 
The three-time defending Big Sky champions welcome back linebacker Na’a Moeakiola and defensive end Brad Daly but have several holes to plug on defense. This season, the Bobcats offense has to lead the way, and it can, behind fourth-year starting quarterback DeNarius McGhee, running back Cody Kirk and receiver Tanner Bleskin.

3. Georgia Southern (10-4, 6-2 Southern) 
The FBS-bound Eagles are ineligible for the Southern Conference title and a playoff berth after three straight semifinal-round appearances. With a solid offensive line and the return of quarterback Jerick McKinnon (1,817 rushing yards, 20 rushing TDs) and fullback Dominique Swope (1,246, 17 total TDs), Georgia Southern’s triple option attack could lead the FCS in rushing once again.

4. Sam Houston State (11-4, 6-1 Southland) 
Two straight losses in the national final are motivating coach Willie Fritz’s squad. The offense will score in bunches with the return of quarterback Brian Bell, All-America running back Timothy Flanders and multi-dimensional running back/receiver Richard Sincere. Still, the defense is vulnerable after suffering key losses.

5. Villanova (8-4, 6-2 CAA) 
With the return of 18 starters, veteran coach Andy Talley seemingly has one of his better teams, although a competitive CAA race will test the Wildcats. Quarterback John Robertson, the 2012 Jerry Rice Award winner, has fellow playmakers in running backs Kevin Monangai and Jamal Abdur-Rahman. Plus, the Wildcats are as deep in the trenches as any FCS team.

6. Appalachian State (8-4, 6-2 Southern)
Scott Satterfield faces the difficult task of replacing legendary coach Jerry Moore as the Mountaineers head toward the FBS. Ineligible for the SoCon title and a playoff berth, they feature a terrific passing game led by quarterback Jamal Jackson and receivers Sean Price, Andrew Peacock and Tony Washington.

7. Eastern Washington (11-3, 7-1 Big Sky) 
The Eagles’ schedule is diabolical — road games at Oregon State, Toledo, Sam Houston State, Montana and Cal Poly, and a home date against Montana State. Can they overcome it? Last season’s national semifinalists expect to with the likes of quarterback Vernon Adams, linebacker Ronnie Hamlin and cornerback T.J. Lee III.

8. Towson (7-4, 6-2 CAA) 
Junior running back Terrance West has scored 44 touchdowns in his career and is beaming over the return of all five starting offensive linemen. Wisconsin transfer Joe Brennan may take over at quarterback, while the defense will be strong at linebacker and defensive back.

9. Montana (5-6, 3-5 Big Sky) 
The Grizzlies are still coming out of a tumultuous period, including last year’s first losing record since 1985. The reinstatement of 2011 starting quarterback Jordan Johnson could settle the position again. The defense is stacked in the front seven with end Zach Wagenmann and senior linebackers Jordan Tripp, Brock Coyle and John Kanongata’a.

10. South Dakota State (9-4, 6-2 MVC)
Zach Zenner led the FCS in rushing yards (2,044 yards) as a sophomore and is the focal point of the offense. But the Jackrabbits need quarterback Austin Sumner to provide his 2011 level of production instead of last year’s drop-off. Sophomore linebacker T.J. Lally is a big-game player already.

11. New Hampshire (8-4, 6-2 CAA) 
Opponents will be hard-pressed to slow the Wildcats’ bid for a 10th straight FCS playoff berth. Nico Steriti, who averaged 6.6 yards per carry as a sophomore, heads a deep running attack, and quarterbacks Sean Goldrich and Andy Vailas always get the ball to junior wide receiver R.J. Harris. New Hampshire must replace linebacker Matt Evans, the school’s all-time tackles leader.

12. Central Arkansas (9-3, 6-1 Southland) 
Dual-threat quarterback Wynrick Smothers (3,103 yards passing, 449 yards rushing in 2012) and defensive end Jonathan Woodard are poised for big seasons for the Bears, who have yet to lose in two seasons on their purple-and-gray turf. Linebacker Justin Heard and cornerback Jestin Love also star for the emerging defense.

13. Richmond (8-3, 6-2 CAA) 
The Spiders enjoyed a five-win improvement in coach Danny Rocco’s first season as the head coach, and they may be poised for another leap forward with the return of 18 starters. In a run-heavy CAA, senior wideout Ben Edwards (80 receptions) stands out for quarterback Michael Strauss. Defensive linemen Evan Kelly and Kerry Wynn track down the opposing quarterbacks.

14. Northern Iowa (5-6, 4-4 MVC) 
The Panthers have softened the schedule after overindulging last season — at Wisconsin and at Iowa in the first three weeks of the season — and they expect to get back on track behind junior running back David Johnson and sophomore quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen. Placekicker Tyler Sievertsen, who’s made 28-of-33 career field goal attempts, likes the comforts of the UNI Dome.

15. Cal Poly (9-3, 7-1 Big Sky) 
After making a splash in their Big Sky debut, the Mustangs return a veteran squad, but their losses include quarterback Andre Broadous and 1,500-yard back Deonte Williams. Slotback Kristaan Ivory is the new offensive star, and defensive tackle Sullivan Grosz gets into opponents’ backfields.

16. Northern Arizona (8-3, 6-2 Big Sky) 
Two season-ending losses — at home vs. Southern Utah and Cal Poly — sabotaged the Lumberjacks, who return 18 starters. Running back Zach Bauman seeks a fourth straight 1,000-yard season, and fellow seniors Anders Battle and Lucky Dozier headline one of the better secondaries in the FCS.

17. James Madison (7-4, 5-3 CAA)
Sophomore quarterback Michael Birdsong is a star in the making, and running back Dae’Quan Scott does a little bit of everything for the Dukes. All-America middle linebacker Stephon Robertson works sideline to sideline, backed by emerging safety Dean Marlowe.

18. Chattanooga (6-5, 5-3 Southern)
The Mocs are primed for SoCon title contention with the conference’s best defense, featuring 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Davis Tull at end, linebacker Wes Dothard and cornerback Kadeem Wise. Jacob Huesman, son of coach Russ Huesman, has supplanted Terrell Robinson at quarterback.

19. Wofford (9-4, 6-2 Southern) 
With FBS-bound Appalachian State and Georgia Southern ineligible for the SoCon title, the Terriers are the league favorites. They lose standout Eric Breitenstein but now feature fullback Donovan Johnson, who has 1,793 career rushing yards. Linebacker Mike McCrimon and Alvin Scioneaux are rocks on defense.

20. Eastern Illinois (7-5, 6-1 OVC)
Behind his lethal passing attack, first-year coach Dino Babers took the Panthers from worst to first in the Ohio Valley Conference. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and wide receiver Erik Lora, whose 136 receptions set the FCS single-season record, lead the passing game.

21. Tennessee State (8-3, 4-3 OVC)
After beginning last season with seven straight wins, the Tigers need talented junior quarterback Michael German to be their closer. Much of the defense returns, including shutdown cornerback Steven Godbolt III and aptly named linebacker Nick Thrasher, their leading tackler.

22. Delaware (5-6, 2-6 CAA) 
New coach Dave Brock inherits a talented team that features senior tailback Andrew Pierce (3,637 career rushing yards) and, the Blue Hens hope, a healthier Trent Hurley at quarterback. Linebacker Jeff Williams broke in as a premier pass-rusher last season.

23. Youngstown State (7-4, 4-4 MVC) 
A tough schedule in November means the Penguins need a fast start as they chase their first playoff appearance since 2006. Quarterback Kurt Hess will air it out to make amends for last season’s disappointment.

24. Illinois State (9-4, 5-3 MVC) 
The Redbirds have filled major holes on offense with transfers — quarterback Jared Barnett, from Iowa State, and power running back Collin Keoshian, from Glendale (Calif.) Community College. Premier defensive end Colton Underwood has to lead a defense that also sustained heavy losses.

25. The Citadel (7-4, 5-3 Southern) 
A rare sweep of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern last season could be a prelude for an even better 2013. The Bulldogs’ triple option returns quarterbacks Ben Dupree and Aaron Miller, 1,000-yard fullback Darien Robinson and a veteran offensive line.

 

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Teaser:
<p> 2013 College Football FCS Top 25 and Predictions</p>
Post date: Friday, June 14, 2013 - 07:50
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-pocono-international-speedway
Body:

To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List. The main picks are designed to make optimal use of Yahoo!’s 9-start maximum rule over the course of the season. The “also consider” section ranks unmentioned drivers strictly by expected result without consideration of start limitations.


It’s round one of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Michigan International Speedway this weekend — and the one year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s most recent win. Oh, that’s the only thing everyone is talking about this week? Sorry about that. Jump in, make your picks and, hopefully, make us look like we know what we’re talking about.


A-List (Pick two, start one)
Jimmie Johnson  Johnson was so, so good at Pocono Raceway. Without a differing pit strategy from Ryan Newman, there’s a good chance Johnson could have led all but about 10 laps or so thanks to the green flag pit stops. Most worrisome for the field is that Johnson discussed after the race how the car’s demands are really sharpening in to focus for that team. In other words: Johnson and crew chief aren’t trying out new setup theories at this point, they’re improving on what’s already working. There’s a good chance Johnson erases his distinction of never winning at Michigan come Sunday.

Denny Hamlin  Hamlin didn’t quite come through at Pocono like expected, and he’s now starting to reach desperation mode if the summer comeback from the four races he missed is going to happen. It was just two years ago that Hamlin drove away from the field to win at Michigan, and remember he was injured in a crash while battling for the lead earlier this year at Auto Club Speedway — Michigan’s sister track in shape and design. Last year, his Michigan race ended in a fire on pit road — knocking his average finish at MIS to 13.6.

Also consider: Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne
 

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy NASCAR tips for the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 - 17:59
Path: /college-football/wisconsin-finds-perfect-fit-new-coach-gary-andersen
Body:

Gary Andersen’s final act as Utah State’s head football coach, heartfelt but atypical among college coaches, helped assuage the pain and frustration felt by his players, most of whom were stunned to learn their coach had taken a new job less than a week after capping arguably the most memorable season in the history of the program.

Andersen’s decision to call the Utah State players — one by one over a span of two days — so he could personally explain the reasons behind his decision to take over the Wisconsin program impressed the players at his new school.

“That did surprise me, because you don’t hear about things like that very often,” says Wisconsin senior linebacker Chris Borland, who learned of Andersen’s classy gesture online. “That speaks a lot to his character. Coaches fly by night these days. To stay connected to his guys like that, at all hours of the night, over 100 guys, that is really special.”

Kyle Whittingham, who has been the head coach at Utah for the last eight seasons, has known Andersen since the two first worked together at Idaho State in 1992. Whittingham wasn’t surprised to learn that Andersen had devoted hours on the phone to talk to his players before he left Logan, his home from 2009-12, for Madison.

“He cares tremendously about his players,” Whittingham says. “That is one of his strengths. He has a great rapport and has always been able to develop a strong bond with his players.”

And Wisconsin’s players needed a hug — probably even more than Utah State’s did.

Three days after crushing Nebraska in the Big Ten title game, the UW players learned they were losing their coach, Bret Bielema.

About 24 hours after Bielema told the players not to worry if they heard his name linked to any job openings, he was in New York City finalizing an agreement to take over the Arkansas program.

By the time he returned to Madison for a team meeting, the UW players knew Bielema was gone. Although most of them respected his right to make such a career move, many were taken aback when he said he was leaving in part to win a championship.

Hadn’t UW just won its third consecutive Big Ten title?

“I was a little surprised by that, and he said that to me,” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez says. “I thought we were very close to playing for a national championship a year ago (2011). We just won three (Big Ten) championships.”

Andersen, 49, has been working at a frenetic pace since being introduced as UW’s head coach on Dec. 21. He had the opportunity to meet the players and evaluate the team’s personnel shortly after he was hired and watched the 2013 Rose Bowl from the UW sideline.

However, he generally kept a low profile and let the UW staff focus on the bowl game.

“I respected that,” senior defensive end Tyler Dippel says. “I thought it was cool. He wasn’t some guy trying to come in and move everyone aside and say this is what we’re doing now.”

Instead, Andersen focused on building his staff, holding together the bulk of UW’s 2013 recruiting class and reaching out to the state’s high school coaches.

Andersen hired five coaches with whom he had worked, including three from Utah State; retained two from UW’s 2012 staff; and added two others to finalize the staff.

“It is an important part to this puzzle,” Andersen said when asked about hiring familiar faces. “It helps the transition. We need to hit the ground running. It is important to start fast.”

 Andersen’s final team at Utah State had 47 in-state players, or 44.8 percent of the roster. Shortly after UW lost to Stanford in the Rose Bowl, Andersen met with key members of the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association to assure them he would work diligently to keep the state’s best high school players home.

“He did a really good job explaining his philosophy and how they’re going to handle things,” says Tom Swittel, president of the WFCA. “He seems like a very down-to-earth guy. He’s not going to blow smoke up anyone’s rear end. He is going to say what is on his mind, and as a coach I appreciate that.

“He wants to continue to get the best kids in the state of Wisconsin. He made a point of saying that they don’t know how many that means every year. But they are committed to that.”

Andersen is also committed to keeping UW in contention for Big Ten titles.

When Bielema took over as UW’s head coach in 2006, he inherited a veteran-laden team coming off a 10–3 season under Alvarez. Bielema’s record in his first season: 12–1, with the lone loss at Michigan.

Andersen inherits a team that returns a total of 12 starters on offense and defense, as well as both specialists, from a group that finished 8–6.

“What’s my stamp going to be on it?” Andersen said when asked about the direction of the program. “I sure hope my stamp at the end of the day is to be a football team that’s physical, tough-minded, plays aggressive, plays the game the right way, is respected by their opponents, solid in all three phases (and) has one of the best graduation rates in the country. That’s what I expect. … Again, we’ll never be perfect. I’ll never say that. But we sure will try to be every single day and fight to get to that position.”

Andersen’s Utah State résumé suggests that he will not disappoint at UW.

From 1998-2008, the Aggies compiled a cumulative record of 35–90. They never finished above .500 in that 11-year span. Utah State finished 4–8, 4–8 and 7–6 in Andersen’s first three seasons. In 2012, Andersen guided the Aggies to the outright Western Athletic Conference title with a 6–0 league record. The 11–2 overall mark was the best in program history, and the Aggies finished 16th in the final Associated Press poll. The 41–15 victory over Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl was the second bowl victory in program history.

“It was a rebuild, a complete rebuild,” Whittingham says. “He built it from the ground up. But Gary is organized, pays attention to details and has a good vision of the big picture.”

Andersen, whose Utah State team suffered a 16–14 loss at Wisconsin last season, wasn’t planning to change jobs until UW entered the picture. He reportedly turned down offers from California, Kentucky and Colorado. But when Alvarez offered him a new challenge, Andersen jumped at the chance, because he had seen the campus and the fan support, and the players reminded him of those he recruited at Utah State.

“The second that Coach Alvarez had contacted me and gave me the opportunity,” Andersen says, “I knew that that was a job I was going to take.”


This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2013 Big Ten Preview Edition. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2013 SEC season.
 

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Teaser:
<p> Wisconsin Finds the Perfect Fit in New Coach Gary Andersen</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 - 07:40
Path: /nascar/nascar-numbers-game-6-amazing-stats-michigan
Body:

Watch the telecast of this weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway and you will hear it referred to as “the sister track” to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. While that’s true in some ways — both are two-mile D-shaped tracks and the latter was built by Roger Penske to resemble the former — the two surfaces have now created two completely different styles of racing.

The weather-beaten surface in Fontana created a manic multiple-groove free-for-all earlier this year. Michigan, which was repaved prior to its two race dates in 2012, is speedy, stretches out the field and welcomes savvy pit strategy. It won’t provide the action that Fontana had, but it will create an atmosphere that allows the smartest race teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to prevail.

In just two events last season, we caught a glimpse of what future races at MIS might entail. It favors some of the usual suspects.


195  Not a statistic, but the lap (out of a scheduled 200) on which Jimmie Johnson’s motor blew while leading the race at Michigan last summer.

Johnson’s detractors might have blacked this out, but the No. 48 was dangerously close to scoring the win in the most recent race at MIS (and the only race run on the current Goodyear tire compound). He led 23 laps in a heated battle with Brad Keselowski and Greg Biffle before his Hendrick motor popped, saddling him with a 27th-place result and forcing a green-white-checker finish. If not for the malfunction, Johnson would have likely joined Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in finishing inside the top 5 in both 2012 Michigan races.


99.5%  Keselowski spent a race-high 99.5 percent of all laps in the top 15 during last summer’s race at Michigan.

He led 17 laps and averaged a running position of 6.95 before finishing second to Biffle. The Michigan native has been knocking on the door to Cup Series victory lane at MIS ever since he collected back-to-back wins in the Nationwide Series races in 2009 and 2010. Really, a win this weekend would be the official break in a rare Keselowski slump. In six races dating back to Kansas, he and the No. 2 Penske Racing team have averaged a finish of 22.8 and seen their Chase-making probability drop by 22.67 percent.


54.8%  Johnson (55.9 percent) and Keselowski (53.3 percent) combined for a 54.8 percent passing efficiency on 336 total encounters in the most recent race at MIS.

Despite two different pit strategies, the two eventual title contenders had no trouble moving through traffic before sizing up one another. The race was an early sign that the two drivers were destined to duel for a championship, even though neither was the day’s victor.
 

Teaser:
<p> David Smith crunches the numbers and finds the key NASCAR stats for the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 - 18:54
Path: /nascar/motivated-johnson-no-match-nascar-field-pocono
Body:

A five-time champion in their respective sport is rarely in need of motivation. So when you hand it to them on a silver platter, whatever the reason, you better hide yourself inside a bunker and hope for the best. After Dover’s fluky finish a week ago, where a restart penalty all but took a win away from Jimmie Johnson, something inside the 37-year-old snapped. Struggling to hold his tongue on several occasions, it was clear “Mr. Politically Correct” felt NASCAR made the wrong call, robbing him of what would be a record-setting Dover performance.

For a regular season race — sometimes used as test sessions for the No. 48 team — it’s been a long time since I’ve seen them enter the following Sunday so focused. Johnson, typically unflappable, was angry, even borderline insulted over it all. And we see what happens when star athletes get mad. Just ask LeBron James, Michael Jordan or even Joe Namath.

The Dover penalty, no matter what side you’re on, made Johnson “want it” more than anyone else at Pocono. And when a driver of that talent level gets prodded to the point they feel a statement must be made, what you get is the type of dominating snoozer Pocono turned out to be. It may not have been pretty — and at times, borderline unwatchable — but that kind of “whip the field” mentality is what’s made this guy the best NASCAR driver of the last decade … maybe more. Superstars are called that for a reason, and it’s not because they push their sport towards record ratings. That’s unfortunate for stock car racing, which has suffered under the Johnson era but you can’t suspend raw talent. You can only hope to contain it.

After seeing Sunday’s race, I doubt it will be contained anytime soon, especially after chief rivals seemed to stumble all over themselves. Their rough road ahead is what brings us “Through the Gears” after Pocono …


FIRST GEAR: Toyota’s loss is Jimmie Johnson’s gain
It’s easy to wax poetic about Johnson’s dominating performance, his first victory at Pocono since 2004. But to a point, that was expected considering the team’s level of anger, track position at a repaved facility (he started on the pole) and the momentum his No. 48 team has built over the past few months. Consistency-wise, they’re the best in the sport right now — no one else is remotely close.

Perhaps the bigger piece of news for Chevy’s top dog is how the top finishers shook out behind him. For the first time all season, not a single Toyota driver found his way inside the top 5 at race’s end. Mid-week changes at Toyota Racing Development to dial the engines back after a series of reliability problems turned the cars from Superman to Clark Kent. Denny Hamlin, the prototypical favorite at this track, failed to lead a lap, finished a quiet eighth and explained how suddenly, his Camry’s engine appeared to be hindered by kryptonite.

“By no means did we have a winning car this weekend,” he said. “I think all of us had to play defense on the straightaway, which is really tough.”

Add in Matt Kenseth’s rough day, slumping to 25th from fourth after contact with Juan Pablo Montoya, and a so-so sixth for Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole had an average finish of 13.0 with “Toyota engine, Version II.” That’s crucial for Johnson, whose lone obstacle, it seemed, entering the postseason was whether the durability of these rival motors would hold up. If the Toyotas have to dial it back that much, just to make each race the distance, they’re threatening to gift wrap the 2013 trophy for Johnson and hand it to him at Phoenix, the penultimate race — because he’ll still be able to skip Homestead and still win No. 6.


SECOND GEAR: Tough times for the Gen-6
Clearly, Pocono Raceway is not at fault for Johnson stomping the field. When a driver has a car that good, there’s only so much you can do to make the races exciting. To the Tricky Triangle’s credit, the crowd looked fairly full as track president Brandon Igdalsky continues to come up with great ways to maximize fan experience both inside and outside the track.

But no amount of free concerts, celebrity poker tournaments or cheap tickets can hide how awful NASCAR’s product was on Sunday. Behind Johnson, most of the field kept running in place while even a series of late restarts struggled to live up to their typical excitement. Several drivers appeared on cruise control, running in place, while side-by-side competition was nowhere to be found. It’s a puzzling development, especially at a triangular-shaped facility whose shortened distance last June provided one of the season’s best races and finishes.

When you end up with that type of flat, across-the-board product so soon after, it’s hard to point guilt anywhere other than NASCAR’s Gen-6. Fontana, at this point, seems a distant memory as the same type of aerodynamic issues are plaguing this new generation of car. High speeds, while good for the record books, have posed a problem when it comes to aggressive competition; drivers are chasing the racetrack, so much it makes running two-abreast too big of a risk to take. Add in the conservatism of making the Chase, with such a close battle for those positions (see point four below) and the final equation leaves what you’re watching seem like a conservative, single-file parade.

Is there a fix? One thought would be to slow the cars down; that, in turn, cuts down on the aero push and gives drivers more freedom to maneuver around the track. What made Fontana so great was its multiple grooves, giving drivers control over where to plant the car. Since then, I’ve heard the term “one-groove” track too many times to my liking. If drivers don’t feel they can control a car in a second groove (and under this point system) they’re not going to go there unless forced to — on those crazy restarts.

How you get those multiple grooves back in play? I’m not certain of the answer. But the right people should be racking their brains, because the optimism — and hype — this new car generated is threatening to fade.
 

Teaser:
<p> Reaction from Jimmie Johnson's dominant win in NASCAR's Party in the Poconos 400 at Pocono Raceway.</p>
Post date: Monday, June 10, 2013 - 16:33
Path: /college-football/best-and-worst-times-be-nebraska-football-fan
Body:

Even for the best college football programs, certain eras are better than others. And even the most successful programs have their lean years.

In a semi-regular series, Athlon Sports will look at the best times to be a fan for college football’s major powers -- when the stadium was a little louder, when the tailgates were a little livelier, and when it was just a little more fun to hang out on campus.

For Nebraska, was it more fun to be in Lincoln when Tommie Frazier was king? Or when Johnny Rodgers won the school its first Heisman? What about when the storied program was in its infancy?

Of course, there’s a flip side. Forgettable and even painful seasons when fans found better things to do on Saturdays, or worse, nothing to do during bowl season.

Here's when it was fun to be a Nebraska fan and the times best forgotten.

BEST TIMES TO BE A NEBRASKA FAN

1993-97
Record: 60-3
National titles: 3
Coach: Tom Osborne
Notable players: Tommie Frazier, Aaron Taylor, Grant Wistrom, Zach Wiegert, Trev Alberts, Brendan Stai, Ed Stewart, Jason Peter
Why this was a great time to be a fan: Osborne’s long wait for a national title ended in ’94 with a 13-0 record and a 24-17 win over Miami in the Orange Bowl. That was only the start. With Tommie Frazier at quarterback, Nebraska’s offense was one of the best in college football history, and the ’95 team was one of the sport’s legendary teams. The 62-24 demolition of Florida in the Fiesta Bowl for a second national title in two years was par for the course -- Nebraska defeated opponents by 38.7 points per game that year. In the final season before the BCS, Nebraska split a national title with Michigan in 1997, going 13-0 and finishing first in the coaches’ poll. Frazier was gone by then, but Nebraska produced an Outland winner (Aaron Taylor) and Lombardi winner (Grant Wistrom) that season.

1970-72
Record: 33-2-2
National titles: 2
Coach: Bob Devaney
Notable players: Johnny Rodgers, Rich Glover, Bob Newton, Larry Jacobson
Why this was a great time to be a fan: The era brought Nebraska’s first AP national champion in 1970 and the Cornhuskers’ first Heisman winner, Johnny Rodgers, in 1972. Nebraska went 24-0-1 in 1971 and ’72, earning back-to-back national titles. The 1971 squad may have been Devaney’s best team. That year, the biggest matchup became the Game of the Century against rival Oklahoma on Thanksgiving. Led by Rodgers, the Cornhuskers defeated the Sooners 35-31 in a wild matchup between the top two teams. Devaney avenged earlier bowl losses to Alabama and Bear Bryant to defeat the Tide 38-6 in the 1972 Orange Bowl to seal the title. Bryant called the ’71 Nebraska team one of the best he had faced with good reason -- Nebraska defeated teams that finished No. 2 (Oklahoma), No. 3 (Colorado) and No. 4 (Alabama).

1978-84
Record: 72-14
National titles: 0
Coach: Tom Osborne
Notable players: Mike Rozier, Turner Gill, Irving Fryar, Dave Rimington, Dean Steinkuhler, Roger Craig (right)
Why this was a great time to be a fan: Osborne set the tone for the remainder of his tenure during the late ’70s and early ’80s when the Huskers won five Big Eight titles and three outright. Rozier won the Heisman in 1983, but the undefeated Huskers missed out on a national title with a 31-30 loss to national champion Miami in a classic Orange Bowl upset. This may have been the most heartbreaking time to be a Nebraska fan: Of the 14 losses during this span, 12 were by a touchdown or less.

1962-66
Record: 38-6
National titles: 0
Coach: Bob Devaney
Notable players: Wayne Meylan, Bob Brown, Larry Kramer, Freeman White, Walt Barnes, LaVerne Allers
Why this was a great time to be a fan: The mid-'60s would be upstaged, but Nebraska entered new territory when Devaney was hired in 1962. The previous coach, Bill Jennings, went 15-34-1 in four seasons. In his first season, Devaney led Nebraska to its third bowl game in school history in 1962 and the following year led Nebraska to four consecutive Big Eight titles. Nebraska fans of this era were the first to get a taste of success.

WORST TIMES TO BE A NEBRASKA FAN

1941-61
Record: 72-125-4
Why this was a bad time to be a fan: Think fans of the Bill Callahan (right) era had it bad? It’s tough to remember a time when Nebraska wasn’t relevant, but the Huskers cycled through eight different coaches before 1962, each experiencing various degrees of futility. During this time, Nebraska won two or fewer games six times. The rivalry with Oklahoma wasn’t even a blip on the radar at the time as Nebraska lost 16 in a row from 1943-58.

2004-08
Record: 27-22
Coach: Bill Callahan
Why this was a bad time to be a fan: The previous four decades set the standards that Callahan failed to meet. He was supposed to bring Nebraska into the modern era on offense, but he ended up in the record books for the wrong reasons. Callahan’s first season (5-6) ended a streak of 35 seasons without a bowl and was Nebraska’s first losing season since 1961.

IT WASN'T AS BAD AS YOU THINK FROM...

1998-2003
Record: 59-29
Coach: Frank Solich
Why this wasn't so bad: Solich was Osborne’s preferred successor, but he struggled to live up to his former boss. Still, Solich led Nebraska to a 33-5 record from 1999-2001, producing a national title game appearance and a Heisman winner. Solich remains the last Nebraska coach to win a conference title (in 1999).
 

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Teaser:
<p> Tommie Frazier or Johnny Rodgers? Bob Devaney or Tom Osborne? The best times to root for the Huskers</p>
Post date: Monday, June 10, 2013 - 07:55
Path: /college-football/campus-quarterbacks-best-friend
Body:

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The tight end position has evolved into a highly sought-after commodity at the NFL level.

A lot of that has to do with the type of athletes who are suiting up and honing their craft in college. The really talented ones are an integral part of any offensive scheme and bolster a quarterback's confidence when dropping back in the pocket.

Here is a list of the top tight ends at the FBS level in 2013:

AUSTIN SEFERIAN-JENKINS (Washington): While position rankings can be subjective, that isn't the case at tight end. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Seferian-Jenkins is a nightmare for opposing defenses to handle and is without a doubt the top player at his position in the country. He was named to the All-Pac-12 second team and was a finalist for the Mackey Award in 2012, hauling in 69 balls for 850 yards and seven touchdowns. He doesn't have the straight-line speed to blow by defenders, but he uses his size to his advantage and adjusts for the ball in flight. The only thing that could derail an All-America campaign this season outside of injury is Seferian-Jenkins himself. An off-season arrest for DUI has left the talented playmaker suspended from team activities, and until the case plays itself out in the court system, Seferian-Jenkins is in football limbo.

COLT LYERLA (Oregon): He may not have put up eye-popping numbers in Oregon's prolific offensive attack, but there is no mistaking Lyerla's enormous talent. This 6-5, 246-pounder can do it all on the field. Chip Kelly made sure to showcase that last year, as Lyerla finished with 25 catches for 392 yards and six touchdowns. He also added a seventh score on 13 carries. A prep standout at running back and linebacker, Lyerla is perhaps the most athletic tight end in the country, something the NFL is looking for at the position. Kelly is no longer calling the plays in Eugene, but the script won't change that much for Oregon going forward. The playmakers on offense will continue to shine, and Lyerla has as bright a future as any Duck on the roster.

ERIC EBRON (North Carolina): Another supreme athlete at the position, the 6-4, 245-pound Ebron is evolving into a complete player in Chapel Hill. The junior is extremely fast, explosive after the catch and doesn't mind blocking. A second-team All-ACC selection as a sophomore in 2012, Ebron finished with 40 receptions for 625 yards and four touchdowns. UNC's workhorse tailback Giovani Bernard has moved on to the NFL and North Carolina could get more vertical in its offensive play-calling as a result. That could mean big numbers for Ebron, who will undoubtedly be one of Bryn Renner's top targets in 2013.

C.J. FIEDOROWICZ (Iowa): This Iowa Hawkeye isn't the greatest athlete at the position, but he is as reliable as they come. A huge target at 6-7, 265 pounds, Fiedorowicz knows how to take advantage of smaller defenders. He earned All-Big Ten honorable mention a year ago, finishing with 45 receptions, for 433 yards and one touchdown. He also may be the best blocking tight end on this list, a skill set that will help bolster his NFL stock when draft time comes around.

XAVIER GRIMBLE (USC): On a team that featured two All-Americans in Marqise Lee and Robert Woods on the outside, it wasn't easy for this Trojan to earn recognition as a viable receiving threat. However, that was a common mistake for USC's opponents, as the 6-5, 250-pound Grimble made plays when on the field (nine starts last year), finishing 2012 with 29 catches for 316 yards and five touchdowns. The Trojans are stock-piling at the position with Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick fighting to earn playing time, but it is Grimble who has been the most productive. Another big target with above- average athleticism for the position, Grimble will continue to produce in USC's offensive attack.

JACOB PEDERSEN (Wisconsin): The 6-4, 240-pound Pedersen gets better with each year in Madison. After earning second-team All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore in 2011, he was an All-Big Ten first-team member as a junior in 2012. He finished last season with 27 receptions for 355 yards and four touchdowns, but his modest numbers were more a product of a heavy emphasis on the run (Montee Ball) and subpar quarterback play than anything else. While new head coach Gary Anderson has a defensive pedigree, he will maximize his offensive talent in his debut season with the Badgers and that is likely to include Pedersen.

NICK O'LEARY (Florida State): The 6-3, 238-pound Seminole is a bit undersized at this time, but he has shown flashes of brilliant play over the last two seasons and has some real potential. A receiving threat who can line up outside and make plays down the field, O'Leary finished last season with 21 receptions for 242 yards and three touchdowns. It marked the most TD catches by a tight end at FSU since 1994. With some added bulk and dedication to blocking, O'Leary has the chance to really make a name for himself in 2013.

ARTHUR LYNCH (Georgia): Relegated to backup duty until last year, the 6-5, 260-pound Lynch showed enough in 14 games (13 starts) to land on this list, finishing with 26 catches for 448 yards and three touchdowns. He has great size and is probably a better blocker than most on this list. The Bulldogs have supreme talent at the skill positions this year and Lynch certainly could take advantage with a seasoned quarterback, Aaron Murray, who wants to go out with a bang.

CHRIS COYLE (Arizona State): A special teams ace his first two seasons in Tempe, Coyle burst on the scene as a legitimate vertical threat in Arizona State's passing game last year, finishing with a team-high 57 receptions (a school record for a tight end) for 696 yards and five touchdowns. He falls into the "tweener" category, with marginal size (6-3, 238) for the tight end position, but that didn't stop Coyle from becoming a key target in 2012.

KANEAKUA FRIEL (BYU): The 6-5, 250-pound Friel took time off from football to do mission work in Africa, but got right back into the swing of things in 2012, finishing with 30 receptions for 308 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. He provided glimpses of strong play last year and is a competent blocker, but will need to be a more consistent offensive threat in 2013 to bolster his draft stock.

HONORABLE MENTION: Asa Watson (North Carolina State), Jordan Najvar (Baylor), Jace Amaro (Texas Tech), Ted Bosler (Indiana) and Ben Koyack (Notre Dame).

Teaser:
<p> The tight end position has evolved into a highly sought-after commodity at the NFL level.</p>
Post date: Friday, June 7, 2013 - 12:00
Path: /nascar/pocono-key-denny-hamlins-nascar-chase-hopes
Body:

1. Denny Hamlin needs Pocono more than ever
A crash last Sunday at Dover International Speedway after a flat tire dented Denny Hamlin's hope of a strong run and probably didn't feel the best for a guy just weeks removed from a pretty serious back injury. Hamlin, however, seems to be worried about one thing: Making the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

One of — make that two of — the best things Hamlin his in his uphill climb to the redemption of entry into NASCAR's playoff system is a pair of visits to Pocono Raceway. You may remember that Hamlin won his first Cup race at Pocono in 2006 even after he cut a tire and crashed one-fourth of the way in. Since, he has four wins and sits just two behind Pocono active wins leader Jeff Gordon.

"We were certainly disappointed with the way Dover ended for us, and now it’s up to our FedEx team to dig down and capitalize on some of our better tracks coming up," Hamlin said.

Hamlin's continuing climb starts this week from 26th in Sprint Cup points, some 224 points behind the leader Jimmie Johnson. To get to 20th and become eligible for one of two at-large bids, Hamlin needs to make up 74 points on Ryan Newman (currently 20th) between Sunday and Richmond in September. And he’ll need, at the very least, one win.

A victory this weekend — and season sweep of Pocono, if he's really feeling greedy — would be immensely helpful.


2. Drivers appreciate Pocono's shift work
Plenty of scenes in Days of Thunder feature an oddity that Sprint Cup drivers never use: shifting mid-corner or mid-straightaway as a device to find more speed while already racing at normal pace. It won't be exactly how Cole Trickle does it in the movie this weekend at Pocono, but drivers will get to at least act like they are during each green flag lap.

Pocono's odd three-corner layout demands slow speeds in two corners that lay ahead of two extremely fast straightaways. The contrast bogs a car's engine in a low RPM range if just one gear for an entire lap is being used, which in turn depletes peak acceleration. Since the track opened in 1971, most drivers shifted between third and fourth gears to maximize performance until a new gear rule unexpectedly made that impossible in 2005. The gear rule changed again in 2011 and brought shifting back.

"It’s a fun race track and with the shifting it’s a really tough racetrack. It’s almost like a road course, it’s really tough on the cars and it’s a mentally challenging racetrack," said Carl Edwards.

"It's like a three-cornered, left handed road course, making it a lot of fun to drive," said Paul Menard.
 

Teaser:
<p> Geoffrey Miller highlights the five storylines to follow as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Pocono Raceway.</p>
Post date: Friday, June 7, 2013 - 10:09
All taxonomy terms: Austin Meadows, MLB, Monthly
Path: /monthly/classmates-austin-meadows-and-robert-nkemdiche-are-top-prospects
Body:

When Austin Meadows tries to balance what’s left of his high school experience with the demands of being one of Major League Baseball’s next great center fielders, he’s got a sympathetic ear just down the hall at Grayson High School in Loganville, Ga.

Meadows is classmates with Robert Nkemdiche, the nation’s top overall college football prospect for the class of 2013. Meadows is a 6'3", 200-pound left-handed outfield prospect whom some analysts have projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the MLB Draft (June 6-8). 

“We’re both really blessed to be going through these situations right now. We’re each doing our own thing, but we’ve talked about how special it is,” Meadows says.

Meadows is currently wrapping up his senior season at Grayson amidst the constant presence of MLB scouts and baseball media from across the country. But it’s nothing new around Grayson, as Nkemdiche’s talent made the campus a preferred destination for a who’s who in college football coaching over the last two years.

“I think it made me a little bit more prepared for what was coming with Austin,” Grayson baseball coach Jed Hixson says. “Every day on campus you’d pass Kirby Smart or see Nick Saban. When it came time, I met with Austin’s parents and talked about the scouts and attention, and what to expect. He’s responded to it great. Austin’s one of the most humble kids I know.”

Grayson High School and the greater community of Gwinnett County are a fertile crescent for athletes in 2013. Nkemdiche’s recruitment became a national storyline for well over the standard year-long recruiting cycle. Originally a verbal commit to Clemson, Nkemdiche was courted by every major program in the country for his rare combination of size (6'5", and a “raw” 260 pounds before college conditioning) and speed. Unlike game-changing South Carolina defensive end and likely 2014 NFL Draft No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, Nkemdiche was also a proficient running back for the Rams.

During a nationally televised press conference at Grayson on the morning of National Signing Day (Feb. 6), Nkemdiche chose to join his older brother Denzel at Ole Miss.

“It’s a relief that it’s over now, but I had fun in the process,” Robert Nkemdiche says. “Now it’s all about focusing on what’s ahead and proving myself.”

While both players are considered among the absolute best in their age group in their respective sports, their wooing has differed greatly. Nkemdiche and his family were largely in control of the recruiting process, selecting which schools the game-changing strong-side end would visit and consider.

Meadows, who is committed to play at Clemson, is at the mercy of MLB team needs and his landing spot is still unknown.

“I don’t really like getting caught up in all the evaluations. I just stick to playing baseball and keeping a level head. Different people might criticize me but that just makes me work harder,” Meadows says.

That has included working on his bat speed and his throwing. Meadows says that he’s worked extensively with coaches and his father, a former punter at Morehead State, on creating “comfort” throwing from the outfield.

“I’ve said to him, ‘Stay positive. Keep your nose clean and stay humble, and put God first.’ That’s what I go by,” Nkemdiche says.

Hixson credits the land-rush style settlement of the greater Loganville area in the last decade as well as a strong relationship between the area’s public schools and parks programs as the reasons why so many top-tier athletes are coming through the Rams’ various athletic programs. 

“The prospects we’ve had here create a chain for kids to come. They’ve brought more and more exposure and that helps the players following them,” Hixson says. “It’s been kind of cool to have the attention Austin has brought for other kids in the program. Certainly some burdens are expected, but they’ve been outweighed by the exposure he’s brought to his teammates.” 

One thing is for certain: Meadows and Nkemdiche are considered pinnacle prospects at their respective games, but there won’t be any Bo Jackson cross-sport action from either student. If there’s a downside of too many top-tier athletes in the same high school, it revealed itself when Meadows, once a running back at Grayson, had to attempt to block Nkemdiche in practice. “It was just one time in practice, I had to block down on him, thankfully, but he went right by.”

For his part Nkemdiche said he wouldn’t want to run against Meadow’s arm in the outfield. “I’d probably be out,” he admits.

by Steven Godfrey

Teaser:
<p> Classmates Austin Meadows and Robert Nkemdiche are Top Prospects</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 6, 2013 - 12:00
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-pocono-raceway
Body:

To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List. The main picks are designed to make optimal use of Yahoo!’s 9-start maximum rule over the course of the season. The “also consider” section ranks unmentioned driver strictly by expected result without consideration of start limitations.

NASCAR makes its first of two visits to Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania Sunday for the Party in the Poconos 400. With a race name like that, Clint Bowyer would appear to be the early favorite, right? Not so fast, says the following stringent analysis. Jump in, make your picks and, hopefully, make us look like we know what we’re talking about.


A-List (Choose two, start one)
Denny Hamlin
After blowing a tire at Dover and smacking the wall, Hamlin’s summer scramble to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup felt the pressure intensify just a bit more. Good thing he’s coming to Pocono, where in 14 starts he’s moved to second in Pocono wins among active drivers. Expect Hamlin to both start (average 5.6) and finish (average 10.7) up front Sunday — especially after the blemish on his Pocono resume handed down in July last year when he was caught in Jimmie Johnson’s late-race crash. In total, Hamlin has led right at one of every four laps that he’s run at Pocono. That’s stout.

Jeff Gordon
Gordon has plenty of glowing career statistics that aren’t so reflective of how well his No. 24 has performed in recent seasons. Such is the break of his astounding period from roughly 1995 to 2002. But stats enhanced long ago muddying the current waters isn’t the case for Gordon at Pocono. Three of Gordon’s last nine wins on the Sprint Cup tour have come at Pocono, and four of his last five starts have resulted in top-10 finishes. The five-race rate bests a career top-10 average at the 2.5-mile triangle of 70 percent.

Also consider: Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth
 

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy NASCAR tips for the Party in the Poconos 400 at Pocono Raceway.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - 17:56
Path: /nascar/nascar-numbers-game-6-amazing-stats-pocono
Body:

Dover International Speedway, a high-banked one-mile concrete oval, and Pocono Raceway, a 2.5-mile asphalt triangle with three wildly different corners, are two tracks that shouldn’t warrant much comparison.

Tony Stewart, who slumped through the first third of this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and broke out with a victory last week at Dover, hopes that the contrary is true. The manner in how he won last Sunday emulates a lot of his past success at Pocono, including his two most recent outings on the “Tricky Triangle.” If Stewart can translate what worked at one place into working at another, all of a sudden his flash-in-the-pan win last weekend (it wasn’t undeserved, but he’d be hard-pressed to duplicate the feat) becomes the ignition of a summer hot streak.

How big of a shock was last week’s win? How did he do it? And do his numbers suggest a second consecutive victory?

For PEER and other metrics with which you may be unfamiliar, I refer you to my glossary of terms on MotorsportsAnalytics.com.


41st  Prior to his win at Dover, Stewart ranked 41st out of 47 drivers in Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) at the mile track.

In the five races leading up to the weekend, Stewart didn’t earn a finish at Dover better than 20th. Suffice to say, his win was a bit of a shock. Considering he averaged a 15th-place running position for the afternoon, the victory wasn’t one that seemed a foregone conclusion for those at home watching the race. One of the reasons that he pulled off the victory was because he dialed back the clock and found an element of his repertoire that made a younger Tony a Stock Car superstar.


54.05%  Stewart’s single-race pass efficiency at Dover was 54.05 percent, above his season-long efficiency of 48.44 percent.

The three-time champ’s minus-passing for the year (“minus” is anything below 50 percent) has hindered his plodding approach at success in most races this season. Passing is a large part of what makes Stewart a future Hall of Famer, and what allowed him to surge from 12th to first in the final 40 laps to secure his first win at Dover since 2000.

Stewart fans might take comfort in the fact that one of his best racetracks is next on the schedule.


5.500  Stewart ranks third in Cup Series PEER at Pocono with a 5.500 rating. He is the only driver that secured top-5 finishes in both races there last year.

2012 was the first season that saw Pocono’s new pavement put to use. Historically, Stewart doesn’t fare well on new surfaces or new tire combinations. Pocono was different. Similar to his run last week at Dover, Stewart improved on his average running position by 10 spots in the spring race (from 13th to third) and eight spots in the summer race (from 14th to fifth). Can he capitalize on superb passing and a plodding approach once again? If last year was any indication, it is possible. He earned a 59.38 percent pass efficiency on 256 encounters across both races there last season.


44.9%  Jimmie Johnson led 44.9 percent of last summer’s race at Pocono, but ultimately finished 14th.

If it wasn’t for a hurried rain-imminent finish that prompted Johnson and Greg Biffle to collide and take them out of the running for the win, it’s likely that the No. 48 team would have kept cruising.

In spite of that result, Johnson ranks fourth in Pocono-specific PEER with a 5.000 rating. A driver that probably should have two top-5 finishes on the new surface could right his perceived wrong from Dover — he was penalized for jumping the final restart — this weekend.
 

Teaser:
<p> David Smith crunches the numbers and finds the key NASCAR stats for the Party in the Poconos 400 at Pocono Raceway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - 22:39
Path: /nascar/will-nascar-dover-win-save-tony-stewarts-season
Body:

A quick look at the leaderboard, 140 laps through Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover gave you a clear indication of who would be winning this race … or so it seemed. Kyle Busch was first, Matt Kenseth was second and the rest of the field was on another planet. For a good hour that duo swapped the point while only a handful of drivers, between cautions, remained within 10 seconds of contact. Meanwhile, the trio of Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya remained far back, dealing with various handling and track position issues that made a push for victory seem like a virtual impossibility.

Fast forward to the final 20 laps, perhaps the time you woke up from a mid-race nap once Busch and Kenseth’s pairs ice skating routine lulled you to sleep. The top 3, heading down the stretch, were none other than Montoya, Johnson and Stewart, until the No. 48 got a black flag for jumping the final restart. Suddenly, a heavyweight battle was at hand between the remaining duo, there was an on-track pass for the lead in the final five laps and one of the deepest slumps in the garage — Stewart’s 30-race winless streak — was torn to shreds at a track where he typically runs like a tow truck driver. For those who missed those hours in between thinking Busch and Kenseth were going to run away with it, three letters came to mind when looking at the final results sheet: W, T and F. (You can figure this one out.)

That’s a good thing for the sport, even though the quality of racing from NASCAR’s Gen-6 chassis left something to be desired at Dover. For if the drivers can’t battle side-by-side for position to captivate an audience, at least you want to create an aura of unpredictability — that the guys you see running up front on lap 200 aren’t going to be the ones there at the finish. So far this season, NASCAR’s last five winners (Harvick twice, David Ragan, Matt Kenseth and Stewart) have led an average of 11 laps during their respective trips to Victory Lane; to me, that means mission accomplished.

Now, if only we could get this Gen-6 running right everywhere, a problem Mr. Stewart still faces as we go up through the gears after the Monster Mile.


FIRST GEAR: What does this win do for Stewart?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it’s clear even Stewart knows this surprise victory, stolen with what was probably a 10th-place car, won’t suddenly make his self-owned team a pack of title contenders. Indeed, on the same day he was sitting there celebrating, teammate Ryan Newman was in hiding, leaving without comment after blatantly dumping David Gilliland on-track, wrecking both drivers out of the event. Danica Patrick, by comparison, nearly took out the field twice within the first 25 laps before a series of unscheduled pit stops to fix handling problems that left her well off the pace and on a “test session” the rest of the day.

“Just making the Chase, that’s not good enough,” said the three-time champ, who put himself in “wild card” position with the victory. “I would rather miss the Chase and be in the process of building our program. I want to get this whole program turned around to where all three drivers are feeling like they have an opportunity to go out and have a good result.”

Smoke’s got the right attitude for his team, and — aside from a brief rebuke at a media member surrounding rumors about possible crew chief changes — left Sunday in a picture perfect frame of mind. Sunday’s race, in which crew chief Steve Addington used pit strategy to work Stewart up through the pack, could be a turning point for a duo who’s had their share of hard luck. The summertime is typically when Smoke catches fire anyways, with the lion’s share of his 48 career victories occurring after June 1. They’ve got Hendrick chassis and horsepower, (and know-how, as HMS has proved to have mastered the Gen-6 with Johnson atop the points) and the resources and quality of personnel are there to at least turn the No. 14 into a success story.

“I think, as an organization, we have a lot to be proud of,” Stewart continued. “It gives Ryan and Danica and I confidence as a driver (that a Stewart-Haas car won). It gives the three crew chiefs confidence that we are making forward progress.”

Keep in mind we’re also in early June. The last time Stewart won a title, in 2011, he stumbled through July and August, barely made the Chase field and looked like he was going to embarrass himself in the postseason. Instead, he left holding the hardware. It’s the mark of being one of the sport’s great drivers: you can never count him out.


SECOND GEAR: Johnson’s botched restart … and Knaus’ cryptic code.
The debate from Dover is whether Johnson jumped the final restart of the race. Check out the footage for yourself. It’s clear the No. 48, against NASCAR rules, made it to the finish line first, despite restarting second and then never gave the position back to Montoya. Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton claims it’s an open-and-shut case, a Grand Canyon-like divide from where the No. 48 team was on the issue.

“I was half-throttle for the whole frontstretch,” Johnson claimed. “And at some point, I gotta go. NASCAR has the judgment to decide if you jumped it or not. But I’m like, he’s (Montoya) is not even going. So I’m not sure if his car broke or if it was off power or he spun the tires … I don’t know. So I’m running half-throttle down the frontstretch waiting for him and he never comes. And then, we were called on it. So, a bummer way to lose a race.”

Johnson had some support from fellow drivers, coming up to him after the checker flag and expressing their displeasure. Chad Knaus also chimed in, via radio to make their position clear: “They (NASCAR) don’t want you to win this race. You know that.”

But the winner, Stewart (who in a sense is a de facto teammate of Johnson) had no issues with how Montoya brought the field down.

“I feel bad for Jimmie,” Stewart said. “He didn't deserve to be in a situation at the end, but at the same time, he knows what the rules are, and he knows that the leader has to cross the start/finish line first. Juan is smart enough to not let the second place guy take advantage of the restart, and that's what he did.”

Stewart said a possible solution to the controversy would be to widen the restart zone, allowing the leader more leeway in when they accelerate and lessening the advantage for second place so they don’t get out in front. But in this case, I think it’s a combination of Montoya’s savvy and a little cheerleading from Knaus that went to Johnson’s head. Check out this transmission I caught just before the final restart:

“You're a lot faster than Montoya, we’ve seen that ... he's just a pain in the ass to pass. Get out there and check the f**k out.”

Johnson, back to second after Montoya beat him off pit road, might have been a little overeager. And the Colombian, not used to being up front, might have spun the tires or even intentionally stayed slow once Johnson jumped knowing if the No. 48 never gave the position back, he’d be black-flagged and the race would play out in his favor. Either way, it’s no harm, no foul for the points leader; he’s got a 30-point edge, is solidly in the Chase and showed he had the car to beat for the return visit to Dover in the fall. I’d forgive, forget and chalk it up as a lesson learned.


THIRD GEAR: Toyota’s engine woes … How will the affect things going forward?
For the second time this season, Matt Kenseth was in position to win until the motor in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota went kaboom. Out before the race’s midpoint, after having dominated up front with Kyle Busch, he was soon joined in the garage by fellow top-5 runner Martin Truex Jr. of Michael Waltrip Racing. It was a rough day for the Camry powerplants, which have blown up at a rate nearly six times that of rivals Ford or Chevrolet.

“I mean I feel like JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) has three of the strongest teams in the garage,” Kenseth said. “It seems like we got the best cars out there — or equal to the best. But, you know you have to finish these things. Obviously, there’s been some issues in that department.”

The veteran’s done a great job at keeping his composure, the perfect role model for teammate Kyle Busch as they hurtle towards the Chase as top contenders. But the 11 percent failure rate for JGR this season has to be alarming. That’s roughly one out of every nine races, meaning in the postseason they’re guaranteed to give up 40 points to a blown engine. It’s a mulligan they can’t afford, especially against a Hendrick opponent known for ironclad equipment.

The problem Sunday was a valve-train issue, but at this point it’s irrelevant. What Toyota needs are solutions for these things, and they need them now.
 

Teaser:
<p> Reaction from Tony Stewart's unlikely win in NASCAR's FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Monday, June 3, 2013 - 13:36
Path: /monthly/lance-armstrong-lost-his-tour-de-france-titles-does-second-place-person-now-get-titles
Body:

Ever since Lance Armstrong lost his Tour de France titles, I have been wondering if the people who came in second in those races were awarded the titles. 

— Irene Paul, Northfield, N.H.

That would be the simple solution, but the ubiquity of doping in cycling renders such a simple solution impossible. The sport’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), stripped Armstrong of his titles in late 2012 following the report from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that implicated Armstrong (among many others) and chose not to award those titles to other riders. 

Teaser:
<p> <strong style="font-size: 18.18181800842285px;">Ever since Lance Armstrong lost his Tour de France titles, I have been wondering if the people who came in second in those races were awarded the titles.&nbsp;</strong></p>
Post date: Friday, May 31, 2013 - 12:14
All taxonomy terms: Ask Athlon, Monthly
Path: /monthly/how-would-jim-thorpe-compare-today%E2%80%99s-top-performers
Body:

How would legendary athlete Jim Thorpe compare to today’s top performers?

— James A. Clark, Ardmore, Okla.

It’s an age-old debate: How would athletes from past eras compare to today’s outsized, highly trained, mega-talented superstars? Could Babe Ruth hit a homer off Clayton Kershaw? Could Jim Brown crack 100 yards against the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens? Without a time machine, it’s impossible to know for sure, but in Thorpe’s case, his unparalleled versatility would indicate an ability to thrive in any era. Thorpe was a world-class track and field athlete who won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Summer Olympics; he played football, basketball and baseball at the professional level; and he’s a member of both the Pro and College Football Halls of Fame. Give the 6'1", 202-pound Oklahoma native a few months in a modern weight room and at a 21st century training table, and he’d take his place alongside today’s greats. The best part of this is, you can never prove us wrong.

Teaser:
<p> <strong style="font-size: 18.18181800842285px;">How would legendary athlete Jim Thorpe compare to today’s top performers?</strong></p>
Post date: Friday, May 31, 2013 - 11:57
All taxonomy terms: LSU Tigers, SEC, Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/greatest-les-miles-gif-all-time
Body:

LSU Tigers and SEC fans alike have grown to know and love "LSU Freek." The message board legend has been building hiliarious and creative GIFs for years. 

However, he might have topped himself. The picture of Les Miles to the right surfaced on Thursday and it might be the greatest photo ever taken of the The Hat. Twitter fell out of its chair laughing when the LSU head football coach geared up to rappell off of a 24-story building in downtown Baton Rouge for charity (Over the Edge for Adoption).

Miles, to his credit, doesn't care what you think. And we should all be able to laugh at ourselves if it means helping someone else in need. So Miles certainly doesn't care what LSU Freek has to say either. But we do... and this is likely Mr. Freek's finest work to date: "Miles Impossible: Geauxst Protocal."

Miles appears to be channeling his inner Tom Cruise, and, with special assistance from Mike the Tiger, has saved the day once again as only Leslie Miles can: 


Related: Athlon Sports 2013 LSU Tigers Team Preview

Teaser:
<p> Greatest Les Miles GIF of All-Time</p>
Post date: Friday, May 31, 2013 - 11:35
All taxonomy terms: Monthly, News
Path: /monthly/what-does-nascar-do-money-fines-against-owners-and-drivers
Body:

What does NASCAR do with the money from the fines they levy against the owners and drivers?

— B. Linely, Morristown, Tenn.

Thankfully, it goes to a good cause and not back into the sport’s already deep pockets. Beginning in 2008, NASCAR mandated that all fines from competitors go to the NASCAR Foundation, which raises funds and increases volunteerism to support nonprofit charities and charitable causes with an emphasis placed on initiatives that affect children.

Of course, since owners and drivers are essentially making a charitable donation, it begs the question whether the money is tax-deductible. Or worse, if penalty checks — typically somewhere between $50,000 and $200,000 per major offense — are written directly to NASCAR, can the sanctioning body itself write off that money? It certainly makes one wonder.

Teaser:
<p> <span style="font-size: 18px;">What does NASCAR do with the money from the fines they levy against the owners and drivers?</span></p>
Post date: Friday, May 31, 2013 - 11:18
Path: /nascar/keselowski-stewart-look-rebound-dover
Body:

1. Crew chief returns to No. 2 as Brad Keselowski rides streak of poor finishes
Just a few hours before Brad Keselowski was slated to start the seventh race of the year at Texas Motor Speedway in his blue No. 2, all seemed to be fine. After a disappointing 23rd-place finish at Auto Club Speedway two races prior, Keselowski had rallied at Martinsville Speedway to score his fifth top 10 in the series first six races.

Then, as both he teammate Joey Logano's car rolled through pre-race inspection in Fort Worth, things started to fall apart. Both cars were required to make substantial changes in pre-race after NASCAR ruled a new rear suspension to be illegal. Keselowski rallied again to a Texas top 10 and a top 10 the next week at Kansas, but then bad luck started to bite.

Ultimately crew chief Paul Wolfe, his car chief and lead engineer were expelled from being at the track three total races (two points events) after an appeal for the Texas incident. Keselowski's finishes following the sixth-place Kansas run dropped considerably as he recorded results of 33rd, 15th, 32nd and 36th.

Wolfe and the rest of Penske's suspended crew make their triumphant — and sorely needed — return this weekend at Dover. Keselowski said after wrecking in last week's race at Charlotte that he hopes it's a good luck charm.

"I’m very proud of everyone that stepped up during the last three weeks," Keselowski said. "We’ve really improved our depth at Penske Racing, but now everyone can go back to their normal jobs. Hopefully that means we can get some of our mojo back.”

Keselowski, of course, is Dover's most recent winner thanks to Wolfe's fuel mileage gamble last fall. Otherwise, last year's champion has a best Dover finish of 12th in six Cup starts.


2. Kyle Busch thinking sweep of NASCAR triple-header weekend
All three of the top NASCAR national series — Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck — will be in action this weekend at Dover. That marks the first time all three series will compete in a three-day period at the same track since the season-openers for all at Daytona International Speedway in February.

It also marks the second opportunity of the season for Kyle Busch to aim for three race wins in one race weekend, as he'll pilot his self-owned No. 51 in Friday's truck series event, Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 54 on Saturday in the Nationwide 300-miler and JGR's No. 18 on Sunday in the Sprint Cup 400-miler.

Winning the triple certainly is not out of reach of Busch as he showed in 2010 at Dover. Then, a mechanical issue dropped him out late in the truck race after leading 174 of the scheduled 200 laps. He went on to win the next two races of the weekend. A few months later he finally became the first driver to pull off a three-race weekend sweep at NASCAR's other concrete track — Bristol Motor Speedway.

Busch's odds to finally get the clean sweep of Dover stand to be pretty good. In the Nationwide Series, Busch has won six of the 10 events this season. And in Sprint Cup, Busch returns to the track where he led more than 300 laps in last fall's race before getting beat in a fuel mileage finish.
 

Teaser:
<p> Geoffrey Miller highlights the five NASCAR storylines to watch in this weekend's FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Friday, May 31, 2013 - 10:06
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-fedex-400-dover-international-speedway
Body:

To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its first visit to the other DIS — Dover International Speedway — this weekend for 400 miles around, as one driver calls it, “a one-mile roller coaster.” Delaware’s standard oval features corners lower than the banked straightaways, giving drivers the sensation that they “drop” into the turn and “climb” back up to the straights.

Choosing a fantasy lineup for Dover can sometimes be just as random as a card shuffle at the track’s backstretch casino thanks to the tight confines of the track occasionally producing massive multi-car accidents that wipe out a slew of contenders in one stroke. Still, we’ll take a stab.

Note: This fantasy preview is a bit different this week as we try a new format. Instead of ranking every driver at Dover, we’ll make it easier on you by telling you which drivers to call up and be ready to start for Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks.


A-List Drivers (choose two, start one)

Jimmie Johnson
With consideration for many players conserving starts for Johnson until later in the season when he inevitably gets hot, Dover is almost a no-brainer time to have Johnson in your lineup for race day. Consider this: in the last 16 Dover races going back eight seasons, Johnson is averaging 121 laps led per race.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver has averaged a finish of sixth in that period (his average career finish in all races is 11th) and has turned the fastest lap 878 times, which is good for nearly 400 more than the second-most fastest laps in that period by Carl Edwards. Oh, one other thing: Johnson’s seven career wins at Dover are three more than any active driver. Beyond the wins, he has four more top-5 finishes and nine more top-10 finishes.

Sure, you could bet he’ll have an off weekend at a track he dominates in the name of conserving the No. 48’s start until the fall. But is that really wise a week after Johnson wrecked by himself at Charlotte? If anyone is coming back with a vengeance, it’s Mr. Five Time.


Clint Bowyer
So you’ve used Johnson a few too many times to your liking this early in the year and you’re looking for a suitable replacement? If you haven’t overused Matt Kenseth to this point (I hope you’ve used Matt Kenseth plenty at this point), he’s your guy. But one driver who likely has plenty of starts remaining on your fantasy roster is Clint Bowyer.

Bowyer is riding a Dover streak of four straight races where he’s finished in the top 10 — moderately impressive considering the span included races with both Michael Waltrip Racing and Richard Childress Racing. Bowyer has led just 30 laps in those four starts, but those finishes and overall performances contributed to make him the third-best Dover driver among A-Listers during the last eight seasons.


Other picks:
Matt Kenseth (Average running position of eighth; 18 top 10s, 2 wins)
Jeff Gordon (Four career wins; 73 percent of laps in top 15 during last eight races)


B-List Drivers (choose four, start two)

Carl Edwards
Would you believe Carl Edwards was one spot away from making it four straight top-10 finishes last week? Quietly and steadily, Edwards and Roush-Fenway Racing seem to be making inroads on catching the dominance of Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Dover should continue the recent positive trend.

Edwards crashed in the spring Dover race a year ago and wound up 26th, marking his first finish of worse than 11th at the concrete oval since 2006. He was one win in that period and his fifth-place run last fall marked his eighth career top 5 at Dover. Only Johnson and Kenseth have a better Dover driver rating than Edwards in the last 16 Dover races.


Mark Martin
Thanks to his limited schedule, you’ll probably not run through all nine available starts for Mark Martin this season. That makes him an easy choice at Dover.

Last year, Martin had two top-15 finishes at the Monster Mile — including a third-place run in the fall that tied for his second-best finish of the 2012 season. Beyond that, Martin has been good at Dover both recently and throughout his career. In the last eight seasons, he has an average finish of 11th and has spent more than three-fourths of his laps in the top 15. He’s tied with Jeff Gordon for the second-most Dover wins among active drivers (4) and he hasn’t finished worse than 23rd there since 2002.


Kyle Busch
Last year Dover — land of local seafood restaurants featuring fresh catches from the nearby Atlantic Ocean — proved to be the Sea of Heartbreak (hat tip, Don Gibson!) for Kyle Busch. The No. 18 blew an engine in the spring race just past halfway as Joe Gibbs Racing cars are wont to do. Busch stormed back in the fall in his missed-Chase rage to lead 302 laps before a fuel mileage finish dropped him to 14th. It was a leave-the-track-without-comment kind of day for Kyle.

Even with those issues — and two other blown engines at Dover in his career — Busch’s numbers there make him a good bet Sunday. In his last 16 Dover starts, Busch has led the third-most laps of any active driver.


Greg Biffle
Biffle is another driver you’ve likely used sparingly this year, waiting for RFR to finally find fourth gear amid a mostly middling start. Remember, at his point one year ago Biffle held a 10-point lead in the series standings. Now, he’s 13th and 121 points back.

Dover has long been good to the Biff with a recent average finish of 9.6 and an average running position of 10th. His percentage of fastest in-race laps in that 16-race period is the highest among B-Listers. Though he has struggled some recently at the track where he’s won twice, Biffle is due to jumpstart his season after three finishes of 31st or worse in his last four races. That team is too good to continue a poor streak like that.


Other picks:
Ryan Newman (Three career Dover wins; second-best track for career average finish)
Kurt Busch (Surging team returns to site of Kurt’s last win)
Martin Truex Jr. (Site of lone career race win in 2007; two top 10s in 2012)


C-List (Choose two, start one)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Undoubtedly, you’ve used Stenhouse plenty this season thanks to the lack of other consistent, quality talent in the C-List. He’s still the best pick for Dover among the group — and he’s likely better than almost half of the B-Listers. Stenhouse finished 12th in his lone Sprint Cup start at Dover, five spots ahead of his 17th-place start.

Regan Smith
At a place like Dover, Smith seems to be as good a bet as any in the C-List. He drives for James Finch’s team for the seventh time this year Sunday following his 17th-place run last weekend at Charlotte. No, that car hasn’t had noteworthy speed and, no, a top 20 isn’t guaranteed. But Smith has yet to come home worse than 25th in that car this season. Better yet, he’s finished nine of his 10 career Dover races.

Other picks:
David Reutimann (Average Dover finish is 20th)
David Ragan (Average Dover finish is 24th)


by Geoffrey Miller
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter
@GeoffreyMiller
 

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Picks for the FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 - 19:32
Path: /nascar/nascar-numbers-game-6-key-stats-dover
Body:

“The Monster Mile” isn’t just a title for the purposes of ticket sales. It is a fine summation of a truly unique racetrack that causes fits for the majority of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver roster twice a year.

Dover International Speedway is a one-mile, high-banked attention grabber of a facility with fast closing speeds and diminished reaction time. It also offers some of the greatest lore in modern day NASCAR.

Jimmie Johnson is supremely dominant; so dominant, in fact, that it’s said he can’t be beaten, unless fuel mileage becomes a factor. Denny Hamlin is admittedly awful, so bad that he had to consult a sports psychologist prior to last fall’s race just so that he wouldn’t be mentally defeated before ever making the trip to Delaware.

The numbers from recent seasons seemingly back the mythology. For Hamlin, it is a troublesome track. For Johnson and others, it’s a tremendous coliseum.

For PEER and other metrics with which you may be unfamiliar, I refer you to my glossary of terms on MotorsportsAnalytics.com.


5.958  Jimmie Johnson’s 5.958 PEER at Dover is the best in the Cup Series.

With four wins in the last eight races, Johnson is arguably better at Dover than any driver at any other track — Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen offers a valid opposition — and easily ranks as the series’ most productive racer. This stems not only from winning, but winning with gusto. His affinity for pacing the field on the Monster Mile is of legendary proportions.


65.6%  In his four victories at Dover during the CoT era, Johnson had an average laps led percentage of 65.6.

This means Johnson doesn’t just win. He dominates. That’s sort of his general modus operandi when it comes to Dover, considering he has led 52.5 percent of the total laps there dating back to the 2009 spring race. In that time frame he averaged a running position of third place or better. Dover delivers a hectic day to most drivers, so it figures that Johnson has dwindled his competition down to about one or two other drivers in races there the last few years. This is also evident in his passing numbers.


78  Johnson converted 39 pass encounters out of a comparatively low two-race total of 78 into green-flag passes during the 2012 races at Dover.

That 50 percent passing efficiency on a low number of encounters is a byproduct of running in the front of the field all day. That he was able to avoid “for-position” traffic for the majority of the races at Dover is fairly advantageous for a team looking to take care of its car and come away with a victory. Aside from lapped traffic, Johnson didn’t often find himself in harm’s way that much last season.


75.5%  Kyle Busch did his best Johnson impression at Dover in last fall’s race, leading 75.5 percent of the race’s total laps. He did not win.

Instead, a rare fuel mileage-predicated ending awarded the win to Brad Keselowski, but Busch demonstrated that he was perfectly able to do “Kyle Busch things” on the dicey one-mile oval. Taking into account how dominant he has been in 2013, Busch is a win threat this weekend despite his sixth-best Dover-specific production rating (3.042).


4.833  Tied for second in Dover PEER with a 4.833 rating is Matt Kenseth, who might serve as a potential spoiler for this weekend’s event.

It takes me aback that there are those that are surprised by Kenseth’s success behind the wheel of a Joe Gibbs Racing car early this season. Kenseth has always been a savvy driver from track to track, but now he is piloting equipment that offers a bigger “home run” threat, so to speak, compared to his former Roush Fenway Racing digs. It appears that JGR is benefiting from the Gen-6 more than a lot of the other heavyweight teams in the sport, so the always-reliable Kenseth is in a plum position to score wins at tracks on which he has always been a skilled producer. Dover is one such track.
 

Teaser:
<p> David Smith crunches the numbers and finds the key NASCAR stats for the FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - 20:02
Path: /nascar/nascar-or-indycar-which-series-ruled-memorial-day-weekend
Body:

Fourteen leaders. 68 lead changes. A three-wide battle coming off a restart that decides the race. Read those two lines and you’re probably thinking, “typical NASCAR race at Talladega.”

Nope. Instead, those stats defined what could be the best Indianapolis 500 in a generation. As we look back at the Coca-Cola 600, it’s important to stop and recognize open-wheel’s glory day because the event was everything NASCAR was not. There was a sentimental winner, Tony Kanaan, whose post-race celebration from teams and crews became reminiscent of Dale Earnhardt’s Daytona 500 “monkey off his back” victory of 1998. There was passing paired with a sense of urgency — and not just on Lap 190 of 200 — but throughout the entire event. Cautions were scarce, resulting in the fastest average speed in history, yet they weren’t needed to define and/or add excitement to the race. Oh, and should I mention a car even crashed on pit road and IndyCar kept the race under green?

Let’s compare that with Sunday night’s Charlotte event, one that will forever be defined by a piece of nylon rope. That snapped camera cable, from a FOX setup overhead, injured 10 fans, stopped the race and damaged three cars, including top contender Kyle Busch. Of the race’s 11 cautions, six were debris related and a few were positioned well by hot dog wrappers to bunch up the field in order to heighten the race’s entertainment. In a race 100 miles longer than Indy’s 500, there were just 11 leaders, 24 lead changes and three drivers (Busch, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth) led 338 of 400 laps.

Does that mean Indy was perfect? Far from it; the race ended under yellow, drafting made it impossible for a strong car to pull away and there’s still too much homogeneity between teams. NASCAR had strong moments, including a surprise winner of its own in Kevin Harvick. But while the ratings likely won’t show it, in terms of pure competition, Sunday was the first time I can remember where IndyCar, head-to-head with the racing rival that unseated it from “top dog” inside the U.S., turned around, wound up and punched stock cars back, smack in the face in a bid to regain supremacy.

That won’t do much … yet. But at some point, that’s going to resonate with viewers and NASCAR would do well to pay attention. Turnarounds start with little victories like these.

Back to Charlotte…


FIRST GEAR: Kevin Harvick stole himself a Chase bid
He’s led 33 laps all season, good enough for just 17th on the Sprint Cup charts. Among those drivers listed ahead of him: Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Martin and Greg Biffle. But what none of those drivers have is a Cup win, let alone two. Harvick pulled another rabbit out of his hat on Sunday, the “Closer” playing it perfectly by taking two tires on the final caution while the leader, Kahne, stayed on track.

“It came down to a restart,” Harvick said bluntly, slotting in second after the stop and knowing clean air was all that was needed. “In the end, it was good enough to win the race.”

It’s also likely good enough to make the Chase. Now seventh in points, the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing team likely doesn’t have the speed to stay inside the top 10 long-term — not with Busch, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski among those sitting behind them. Over the course of the 26-race regular season, though, those two victories will be more than enough to snag a “wild card” position and put the pressure on Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and those who we know need the victories. It’s possible that those on the outside of the top 10 will have to come up with three wins to sneak into the postseason, which is not an easy feat with 14 races left.

As for Harvick’s unexpected victory? He survived; the epitome of what this race is all about. While problems befell the favorites, from the Busch brothers to Matt Kenseth to even a weakened Jimmie Johnson, the No. 29 car was put in position to win. As veteran Jeff Burton has slyly pointed out, that’s all you need. Sometimes, circumstances dictate the rest.


SECOND GEAR: The rope snap heard around the world
Until Sunday night, most people thought CamCAT was some sort of military DefCon mission or secret weapon you’d acquire in Call of Duty. Instead, it will forever stand for the camera whose ropes came toppling onto the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway, snapping into pieces on Lap 121 in an incident that sent three fans to the hospital, injured 10 and turned Kyle Busch’s front end, among others, into a mangled mess.

The technology, around since 2000, was being utilized by FOX for just the second time in NASCAR, following a successful Daytona 500 debut. One reason for its scarceness is the setup. It takes five days, including two cranes mounted on different sides of the track in Turns 1 and 4.

Three ropes make the camera tick, allowing it to slide above the track and deliver the type of breathtaking views fans love. But when one of those ropes broke, chaos broke loose and the snapping of the cable could have easily killed someone as debris kicked up everywhere. For the second time, NASCAR got lucky through a freak accident (see: February’s Nationwide race in Daytona) and was able to throw a red flag, clean up the mess and get fans treated (all have been released). It’s also to NASCAR’s credit that teams were allowed to fix cars torn apart by the cable. It’s one thing when a random event happens, like a hot dog wrapper or an overcooked engine that changes the course of a driver’s race. But when a TV crew broadcasting the event is involved in affecting the outcome through an equipment failure I think trying to reconstruct the race the way it was is perfectly reasonable.

Certainly, there’s some inconsistency within that, as Robby Gordon has lost a race in the past (Watkins Glen, early 2000s) through a TV malfunction. However, in this case NASCAR made the right call. And FOX is doing the right thing by suspending the camera going forward. The best thing to do here is chalk it up to “one of those freak things” and move on.


THIRD GEAR: Mark Martin’s rocky road
It’s been a long time since we’ve worried about the competitiveness of Mark Martin. But since late April, the now 54-year-old has done some things that make you scratch your head. At Richmond, he was involved in a heated incident with Kahne in which it looked like the veteran initiated contact. At Charlotte, it was another surprising mistake, as one of the sport’s cleanest drivers stuck his nose in the wrong place at wrong time, sparking a wreck that took out Chase contenders Jeff Gordon and Aric Almirola while hampering the nights of several others.

Suddenly, Martin’s year doesn’t look so rosy, with just one top-5 finish (third, Daytona) and zero laps led since February at Phoenix. A “lame duck” at Michael Waltrip Racing, you wonder if the impending departure will now begin to take its toll. After all, since leaving Roush, his sophomore campaigns at other teams, from DEI to Hendrick Motorsports, have always resulted in a downturn in performance. The big difference? None of them involved these types of uncharacteristic mistakes on the racetrack. Could this year finally be the one where Martin decides to call it quits?
 

Teaser:
<p> Reaction from NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - 10:20

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