Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/prime-time-players-week-11

Cam Newton, QB, Panthers
Controversial no-call ending aside, Newton shined bright under the lights on Monday night during a 24–20 win over the Patriots. The face of the Panthers franchise completed 19-of-28 passes for 209 yards, three TDs and zero INTs while scrambling seven times for a season-high 62 rushing yards. After a 1–3 start to the season, Carolina has reeled off six consecutive wins. During that stretch, Newton has accounted for 13 total TDs and three turnovers, compared to seven total TDs and six turnovers over the first four weeks of the season.

Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
The Big Blue Wrecking Crew defense carried the G-Men to their fourth straight victory — after a miserable 0–6 start to the season — with a 27–13 win over the Packers. JPP sealed the deal with an acrobatic, leaping interception of Green Bay backup Scott Tolzien early in the fourth quarter. Pierre-Paul’s 24-yard pick-six gave the Giants a 14-point lead they would not relinquish. New York’s defense has given up just two offensive TDs while scoring two return TDs of its own during the current four-game winning streak.

Bobby Rainey, RB, Buccaneers
Tampa Bay turned to a new workhorse during a 41–28 win over the Falcons. Rainey carried the load with 30 carries for 163 yards and two trips to the end zone on the ground to go along with a third TD through the air. The three-TD effort comes just one week after the 5'8", 212-pound running back out of Western Kentucky scored the first TD of his NFL career during a Monday night win over the Dolphins. The Bucs have now won two straight games after an ugly 0–8 start to the season.

Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals
Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald is usually the first in flight when it comes to the Cardinals’ passing game. But it was Floyd who dictated pecking order during a breakout performance in a 27–14 win at Jacksonville. The second-year pass-catcher out of Notre Dame hauled in six receptions for a career-high 193 yards — on a whopping 32.2 yards per catch — and one TD in victory. Through 10 games this season, Floyd has already exceeded his rookie-year yardage (657 to 562) and TD (3 to 2) totals.

The best performances in the NFL from Week 11.
Post date: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 - 19:38
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/2013-legends-poll-top-25-college-football-week-12
Alabama and Florida State appear to be on a crash course to meet in the BCS championship game, remaining as the top two teams in the Legends Poll this week.
Second-ranked FSU gained ground on No. 1 Alabama in the rankings after the Crimson Tide’s lackluster 20-7 performance against Mississippi State. The Seminoles picked up two first place votes after pounding Syracuse 59-3.
Unbeaten Ohio State and Baylor remained at No. 3 and No. 4. And Oregon rounded out the top 5.
No. 6 Auburn moved up a spot after its miraculous victory over rival Georgia. Auburn was followed by Clemson, Missouri, Stanford and South Carolina in the rankings.
No. 23 USC moved into the rankings this week after knocking off then-No. 5 Stanford at home Saturday night. And No. 24 Duke made its first ever appearance in the Legends Poll top 25 after beating Miami, which fell out of the rankings.
No. 25 Minnesota was the other newcomer this week.
Texas and Georgia also dropped out of the top 25.
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll
1AlabamaAlabama (14)10-03981
2Florida StateFlorida State (2)10-03862
3Ohio StateOhio State10-03663
10South CarolinaSouth Carolina8-225011
11Texas A&MTexas A&M8-224010
12Oklahoma StateOklahoma State9-123212
13Michigan StateMichigan State9-121313
18Fresno StateFresno State9-012519
21Arizona StateArizona State8-28822
22Northern IllinoisNorthern Illinois10-08421

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

2013 The Legends Poll Top 25: College Football Week 12
Post date: Monday, November 18, 2013 - 10:34
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Golden Arm award
Path: /college-football/golden-arm-performances-week-12

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

1. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Jordan Lynch once again came through in a big way to keep Northern Illinois in the hunt for a BCS bowl spot. Lynch completed 26 of 32 pass attempts for 345 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but he also rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns to help Northern Illinois on their way to a 48-27 win against Ball State. Lynch’s 36-yard pass midway through the fourth quarter broke a 27-27 tie and minutes later he took off for a 16-yard touchdown run. The win also pushed Northern Illinois in front of Ball State in the MAC West division championship hunt. No quarterback in the nation is putting up the kind of numbers Lynch is down the stretch.

2.  Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Keeping Clemson in the BCS at-large conversation, Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd did a little bit of everything in a Thursday night victory over Georgia Tech. Boyd completed 20 of 26 pass attempts for 340 yards and four touchdowns. In addition, Boyd was also second on the team in rushing with 43 yards and a touchdown. Boyd had touchdown passes of 41 yards and 76 yards in the second quarter as Clemson started to open things up and he had a hand in two more touchdowns in the third quarter to really put the game away early on.

3. Aaron Murray, Georgia
Although Georgia came up short against Auburn thanks to a lucky bounce off a deflected pass, Aaron Murray did everything he could to give his team a chance to pull out the win. Trailing 37-17 in the fourth quarter, Murray led three separate touchdown drives to give Georgia a surprising lead. Murray threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for two more, including a run up the middle on a fourth down to give the Bulldogs what would turn out to be a short-lived lead.

4. Connor Shaw, South Carolina
It was a rough game for Connor Shaw and South Carolina, but when his team needed him Shaw came through with the plays to overcome a stingy Florida defense. Shaw completed just 14 of 28 pass attempts for 213 yards and a touchdown, but his lone touchdown play came in the fourth quarter to give his team the only lead they would need on the night.

5. Keith Wenning, Ball State
Another quarterback who came up on the wrong end of the scoreboard, Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning still had one of the top performances of the week by a Golden Arm Award finalist. Going head-to-head against Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois, Wenning was impressive. Ball State’s top offensive player completed 35 of 49 pass attempts for 324 yards and a touchdown and he even rushed for one as well. One costly mistake may not have had much of an impact on the end result, but Wenning will keep Ball State in good bowl position in the MAC’s postseason line-up.

Sponsored by Transamerica.

The Golden Arm award is presented to the top senior quarterback by the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Foundation.
Post date: Sunday, November 17, 2013 - 15:26
Path: /college-football/auburn-beats-georgia-miraculous-hail-mary-td-catch

A play that will go down in SEC lore as one of the greatest in college football history. Down by one point and facing a fourth and 18, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall heaved a desperation pass that was deflected by two Georgia defenders into the arms of Tigers receiver Ricardo Lewis for a 73-yard touchdown pass to give Auburn a 43-38 win. The Tigers gave up 21 straight points in the fourth quarter, capped by an Aaron Murray touchdown run that was allowed to stand after video review.

Thanks to Marshall’s Miracle, Auburn will go into the Iron Bowl against Alabama in two weeks with the SEC West on the line. Here’s the play...

And here’s the reaction of the Georgia sideline, courtesy of @BrianMFloyd...

Auburn Beats Georgia on Miraculous Hail Mary TD Catch
Post date: Saturday, November 16, 2013 - 20:53
Path: /nfl/should-jaguars-re-sign-maurice-jones-drew

The Jacksonville Jaguars are 1-8 this season, tied with Tampa Bay for the worst record in the NFL. The only thing Jaguars fans really have to look forward to at this point is next season, and whatever the future holds for this struggling franchise, one important decision will have to be made.

Running back Maurice Jones-Drew will be a free agent after this season. A second-round pick (60th overall) in the 2006 NFL Draft, Jones-Drew has 7,700 rushing yards in eight seasons. The league's leading rusher in 2011 with 1,606 yards, injuries limited MJD to just six games last season and he has struggled with his production so far (432 yards in nine games) this season. That said, he will won't turn 29 until next March and figures to draw plenty of interest from other teams looking to add a three-time Pro Bowler to their roster. Should Jacksonville make Jones-Drew an offer he can't refuse to keep him in a Jaguars uniform long term or should the team bid the franchise's all-time No. 2 rusher a fond farewell? Athlon editors Mark Ross and Nathan Rush offer their thoughts on the future of the diminutive running back.

Lest we forget, it wasn't too long ago that Maurice Jones-Drew was one of the NFL's most productive running backs. In 2011, the bowling ball known as MJD led the entire league in rushing with 1,606 yards. A serious foot injury derailed him the following season, and it's not out of the question to say it's still bothering him. However, the real issue for Jacksonville's running game is its offensive line. According to the Jaguars' O-line is the worst in the NFL when it comes to run blocking. Certainly losing left tackle Luke Joeckel, the second overall pick of April's draft, to a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5 doesn't help, but it also sheds some light on what the Jags' main problem is — an overall lack of talent throughout the roster. Jones-Drew is a proven All-Pro-caliber running back who is still less than 30 years old and, in my opinion, has plenty of tread (career average of 214 carries per season) left on his tires. He certainly won't be cheap to re-sign, but money shouldn't be an issue in this instance, especially for billionaire owner Shahid Khan. Besides, who else can you expect the fans to come out and watch. Blaine Gabbert?
— Mark Ross

Re-sign Maurice Jones-Drew? The Jags should've traded him last year or two years ago when he still had some gas in the tank. Mojo's only wasting away in J-Ville. His value to the Jaguars is maximized as a trade asset and minimized as a player for such a pitiful team. Unfortunately, the running back trade market is nonexistent for anyone not named Trent Richardson. MJD has a lengthy injury history and plenty of wear on his tires. His best days were as Fred Taylor's tag team duo partner back when Jack Del Rio was coaching and Jacksonville was a playoff contender. Those days are long gone and Jones-Drew should be too. There's absolutely no reason for the Jags to re-sign their highest profile player.
— Nathan Rush

Should the Jaguars Re-Sign Maurice Jones-Drew?
Post date: Friday, November 15, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/dolphins-should-fire-coach-philbin-and-gm-ireland
It took far too long for Miami Dolphins own Steven Ross to publicly address the bullying scandal that has engulfed his team and surely ruined whatever is left of its season. And when he finally did, he was predictably “appalled” because “We couldn’t be going through a worse nightmare.”
He also was spurred to action and said, “We want to get this resolved.”
But as usual in these situations, the man in charge is not only too late with his appearance, but his initial actions fell far too short of what needed to be done. Because if he really wanted to get the situation resolved he should’ve entered with a broom and swept out everyone in a leadership position. No matter what else comes out of this situation, and no matter what GM Jeff Ireland and coach Joe Philbin (pictured above) actually knew about what was happening, this much is perfectly clear to everyone: 
In a locker room and an organization that apparently desperately needed leadership, Ireland and Philbin showed none.

Richie Incognito

It’s not that either is necessarily to blame for what occurred — the now-famous incidents between disgraced lineman Richie Incognito and his linemate, Jonathan Martin, who quit the team. This isn’t about whether actual bullying occurred – as it seems clear that it did – and whether it was ordered by the coaching staff or not.
Because the truth is this story hasn’t fully played out yet. It has changed many times already, and as soon as the lawyers and spokesman got involved, the accusations started flying from all directions. When scandals break, there’s usually a lot of truth that emerges early in the chaos, but there’s also a lot more that comes out later on.
But if I’m Ross, the one question I’m asking is this: How in the world did the people in charge let this get this far? And if they really didn’t know it was going on, how is it possible they didn’t? Both Ireland and Philbin are responsible either by their actions or their inactions, their knowledge or their ignorance. They weren’t just hired to win. They were hired to run an organization professionally, to bring in the right people and to deal with things when they go wrong.
It seems on just about every one of those points, both men seriously failed.
Ross – a pragmatic businessman – preferred the cautious approach. He said he waited to speak so he could learn more facts. And he’s going to wait to act, too. He took a first step by forming a Mt. Rushmore-like committee to establish a Dolphins code of conduct – Tony Dungy, Dan Marino, Don Shula, Jason Taylor and ex-Jet Curtis Martin all signed on.
Then he promised more unspecified “changes” would come.
“We want to put this behind us,” Ross said. “We want to do what’s right. We’re waiting for all the facts to arrive. Changes need to be made. We need to look at ourselves internally. I know I'm capable of overreacting.”
Maybe his lawyers or advisors or friends talked him out of overreacting, but he could have made a strong statement by doing just that. Clearly, he’s put Ireland on the firing line – especially since he’s been in the line of fire before – but Ross went out of his way to praise Philbin, saying, “I have total, utmost confidence in Joe Philbin as our coach.”
Philbin, by all accounts, is a good man. Some in the NFL believe he is a rising star as a head coach, too – or at least he was before this scandal, from which he’s unlikely to emerge unscathed. The reality is, whether he knew about it or not – whether it was ordered by his staff or not - it happened under his watch. And at some point everyone involved knows he’s going to pay for it with his job.
So Ross should’ve done that long before the disgraced Dolphins took the field for another game. He should’ve admitted the men he hired somehow allowed his franchise to become a circus to the point where he had to reach outside to find five men to tell his players how to behave. A coach and GM may not be able to know everything that happens underneath them, but they’re responsible for the behaviors that occur underneath them.
They’re also responsible for forming a chain of command. And in this case the command started down low with Incognito, a notorious bad guy who was once voted the dirtiest player in the NFL, in a hard-to-fathom leadership position. If his relationship with Martin had soured to the point where Martin was about to quit the team, Philbin’s assistants had to know about it and get that message up the chain. If Martin’s personal or psychological issues had grown so extreme, the same thing had to happen.
Instead, whatever was happening between them was allowed to fester. Maybe the coaches encouraged it. Maybe Ireland did too. Maybe the real truth hasn’t come out yet.
But the inescapable truth is that the men in charge couldn’t control a brushfire that eventually turned into a gigantic swatch of scorched Earth. They’re responsible for what happens beneath them. They’re responsible for the mess. They’re responsible, ultimately, for two ruined careers and a franchise that’s become a laughingstock. They’re responsible for the fact that there’s as much talk about the franchise these days on CNN as there is on ESPN.
So while Ross fights his impulses and chooses to be patient, he should’ve given in and just cleaned house and started over. Because at some point, it’s pretty clear to everyone that he’ll have a new GM and a new coach before his franchise ever has a chance to return to respectability.
It would be a stronger statement and a better decision if he’d start the rebuilding and healing process right now.
—By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN
The Dolphins Should Fire Coach Philbin and GM Ireland
Post date: Thursday, November 14, 2013 - 16:00
Path: /college-football/top-college-football-player-matchups-watch-week-12

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

Max Bullough, LB vs. Ameer Abdullah, RB (Michigan State at Nebraska)
Sparty gets after the quarterback and will shut down the running game, so it falls to the Nebraska front line to protect an inexperienced quarterback and generate running lanes for Ameer Abdullah. The Big Ten’s leading rusher has come up big in huge spots over the last two weeks for the Huskers and this will be his toughest test to date in 2013. Bullough leads a Michigan State defense that gives up 43.4 yards rushing, 210.2 yards of total offense and 11.6 points per game.

Trent Murphy, LB vs. Chad Wheeler, OT (Stanford at USC)
The Trojans haven’t been able to protect the quarterback this year, ranking 83rd nationally in sacks allowed per game (2.3 spg). Wheeler is a 6-foot-7, 280-pound redshirt freshman who will be charged with protecting Cody Kessler’s blindside against the Stanford rush. Murphy leads a loaded Cardinal front seven that is surging right now, ranking fourth nationally in sacks per game (3.3 spg). Stanford has allowed just 153 combined rushing yards to UCLA, Oregon State and Oregon the last three weeks, so the Trojans' offensive line will have to play its best game of the season to 1) protect the quarterback and 2) run the football effectively.

Todd Gurley, RB vs. Cassanova McKinzy, LB (Georgia at Auburn)
We’re not breaking news here, but Gurley — when healthy — is one of the elite offensive players in college football. He missed three games with a ankle injury; Georgia lost two and won the other in overtime. He returned two weeks ago against Florida and keyed the Bulldogs’ win, rushing for 100 yards on 17 carries and catching three passes for 87 yards and a score. It’s pretty simple: Georgia is much more explosive when Gurley is in the lineup. McKinzy is the Tigers' leading tackler and has 17 total stops in his last two games. He and the rest of his young front seven will have their hands full with Gurley.

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

Desmond Roland, RB vs. Steve Edmond, LB (Oklahoma St at Texas)
The Pokes' tailback has started to take over in the running game for Oklahoma State. He has carried 73 times for 359 yards and eight touchdowns over his last three. Edmond is the physical leader and top tackler for the Longhorns' defense. He posted 12 tackles last week in the overtime win over West Virginia as well as the game-clinching interception. Both play with a hard-nosed attitude and they should meet head-to-head in the hole many times this weekend. With injuries along the front for Texas, Edmond becomes even more important this weekend with a shot at the Big 12 title on the line.

Shaq Thompson, LB vs. Brett Hundley, QB (Washington at UCLA)
Thompson, Princeton Fuimaono and John Timu are the top three tacklers for the Huskies this season. They have faced Marcus Mariota, Taylor Kelly, Nathan Scheelhaase, B.J. Denker and Kevin Hogan and UCLA’s Brett Hundley is as good as any of them. Hundley has scored seven total touchdowns over the last two games and reading run-pass quickly and effectively will be huge for U of W this weekend against a team lacking in skill position talent.

Stephen Morris, QB vs. Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
With running back Duke Johnson sidelined, Miami struggled to run the ball in last week’s loss to Virginia Tech. Without their top rusher for the rest of the year, the Hurricanes could ask more of Morris. The senior averaged 20.3 yards per completion against the Hokies last week and threw for 324 yards and two scores. Cockrell is one of the ACC’s top cornerbacks, recording 33 stops and two interceptions in 2013. Expect Cockrell to be matched up against wide receiver Allen Hurns or Stacy Coley most of the game, and it’s up to the Blue Devils' senior leader to keep those two receivers in check, as well as force Morris into a few bad throws.

Georgia Linebackers vs. Nick Marshall, QB (Georgia at Auburn)
It’s not often that a player has the opportunity to play against his former school. It’s even more rare — if it’s ever happened at all —when that player is a quarterback after playing a different position at his previous school. Well, that’s Marshall’s story. The former defensive back at Georgia is now running the show for Auburn, the most improved team in the nation. He is coming off of a brilliant performance at Tennessee, when he rushed for 214 yards and two scores on only 14 carries. Marshall hasn’t been asked to throw the ball a ton, but he did throw for 339 yards against Mississippi State and 200-plus against LSU and Texas A&M. Georgia coach Mark Richt compared Auburn’s rushing attack to Georgia Tech’s triple-option. The alignment isn’t the same, but the plan of attack is similar — the offense is “accounting for just about every single guy on your team,” Richt said, because the quarterback has the ability to run the ball. When Marshall initiates the action, a defender has to account for him and another defender has to account for the running back. What does this have to do with Georgia’s linebackers? A lot. This group will have to play with discipline and be able to tackle in space.

Top College Football Player Matchups to Watch in Week 12
Post date: Thursday, November 14, 2013 - 10:07
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-november-13-2013

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 13.

• Instagram is ripe with celebrities. Really, really hot celebrities. Guyism has rounded up the 101 sexiest for us. Thank you.

• Lakers guard Xavier Henry threw down a monstrous dunk over Pelicans rookie center Jeff Withey at the Staples Center yesterday. It was a thing of beauty.
• It's both sad and inspirational. But, according to TMZ, Tim Tebow is still training to be a QB in the NFL.
Beer pong with Michael Jordan? Yes, it happened.
• Want to see goofy yearbook photos of athletes? Hot Clicks has got you covered. Sadly, Tom Brady does not look goofy. 
• Magic forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis destroyed a hotel keyboard in anger. Check out the video.
• The new Braves stadium is a "really crappy deal" for Cobb County.
• When Michigan State beat Kentucky last night, Spartan basketball fans celebrated. Especially the dancing fan behind the ESPN set. Check out the video below.
• Speaking of Kentucky's loss, check out this poor fan's website and marketing plan. It's now worthless.
• It's not just players that are excited over Vandy's win against Florida in Gainesville—its first since Harry Truman was president. 

Post date: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 - 10:57
Path: /nfl/should-steelers-trade-ben-roethlisberger

Let’s face it, very little has gone right for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013. After going 8-8 last season, Mike Tomlin’s team is 3-6 and in last place in the AFC North. The Steelers dropped their first four games to start the season, and two weeks ago set franchise records for most points (55) and yards (610) allowed in a single game.

Injuries have certainly played a role in this season’s struggles, but overall the Steelers are a veteran team whose roster is really starting to show its age, especially on defense, and is in dire need of an infusion of young talent. But should this youth movement also include a change at quarterback?

A report surfaced Sunday that Ben Roethlisberger is “incredibly frustrated” with the current state of the Steelers and would request to be traded during the offseason. While Roethlisberger and everyone else associated with the team has denied the report, it still begs the question — should Pittsburgh trade Big Ben? Athlon editors Braden Gall and Mark Ross play armchair GM for the Steelers.

The list of reasons why it might be time for the Pittsburgh Steelers to part ways with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is getting longer every weekend. The Steelers won on Sunday for the just the third time all season, but Steeler Nation's jubilation was muted by swirling reports that Big Ben wants out of Pittsburgh. And the Steelers should give him what he wants.

Big Ben is due $12.2 million in 2014, however, his salary cap hit is much bigger at $17.9 million. In fact, the Steelers will lose over $35 million on the salary cap over the next two seasons if they keep Roethlisberger. So a restructuring would almost be mandatory unless the Steelers wanted to trade or cut him. Either way, are the Steelers willing to sign Big Ben to a long-term deal at this stage of his career? He will be a very old 32 years of age at the start of next season, considering how many hits he has taken over the years, and restructuring his deal would almost certainly cripple any chance Pittsburgh has of rebuilding quickly. Frankly, there are a dozen teams that would be interested in trading for a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback. In particular, his former best buddy and coach Bruce Arians in Arizona comes to mind as an attractive trade partner. What would Big Ben be worth? A first-round pick? Two seconds? He still holds plenty of value — but not for much longer.

Lastly, the 2014 NFL Draft class of quarterbacks might be the best in history. Upwards of a dozen signal-callers could grade out as a first-rounder. Meaning, Pittsburgh could get one or two quality, young quarterbacks in the second and third rounds of the May draft because the depth of the position is so impressive. Especially, with some extra picks.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)

Pittsburgh isn’t very good this year and the team isn’t getting any younger either, especially on defense. No one can blame Ben Roethlisberger for being frustrated with the direction the franchise is headed, but he also vehemently denied the report that he will seek a trade when this season is over. And if I were the Steelers, I wouldn’t look to trade my franchise quarterback, unless there’s some team out there that is willing to pay a very hefty price.

Speaking of price, Roethlisbeger has two years left on his contract, which admittedly isn’t very cap-friendly. However, a restructuring or some sort of extension would more than likely help soften the blow and allow the team the ability to restock the roster in the process. Roethlisberger may seem “old,” but he’s just 31 and has proven that he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He has 90 career regular-season victories in 10 seasons, another 10 in the playoffs and, most importantly, has helped the Steelers win two Super Bowl titles.

Big Ben is as tough as they come and should be commended for being able to succeed despite the absolute beating he has taken. Since coming into the league in 2004, Roethlisberger has been sacked 379 times in 136 career games. That’s nearly three sacks per game! In the last five seasons alone, he has gone down 187 times, the most of any quarterback, despite tying for ninth in starts (64) in that span.

Yes, the Steelers’ offense has been stuck in neutral the last few seasons, but that’s due more to injuries that have devastated an offensive line that wasn’t very deep to begin with and a ground game that has been ineffective at best. And while the upcoming class of quarterbacks for the 2014 NFL Draft is reportedly one of the deepest in the history of the game, there’s no guarantee one of these so-called first-round talents will pan out. Go back through the drafts since 2004 and I am pretty sure you will find many more busts than Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, which is what the Steelers already have.

So while it looks like Pittsburgh’s reign in the AFC North has come to an end for the time being, that doesn’t mean it’s time to blow it all up and start over from scratch. The defense certainly needs an infusion of young talent, but don’t forget about improving the offensive line and finding a way to run the ball successfully again either. Those last two areas certainly aren’t the quarterback’s fault. So instead of trading Big Ben, how about getting rid of offensive coordinator Todd Haley instead? I’m pretty sure I know which one Steeler Nation wants to keep.
Mark Ross

Should the Steelers Trade Ben Roethlisberger?
Post date: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-power-rankings-week-10

Ranking all 32 NFL teams, from the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs to the scandalous Miami Dolphins.

1. Chiefs (9-0) Dwayne Bowe arrested during team’s bye week.

2. Broncos (8-1) Peyton Manning (right ankle) “definitely will play.”

3. Seahawks (9-1) Win rematch of NFC Divisional Round at Falcons.

4. Saints (7-2) Drew Brees backs fellow 6-footer Johnny Football.

5. Patriots (7-2) Rob Gronkowski Football 101 turns to dance party.

6. Colts (6-3) Lose four turnovers in blowout loss against Rams.

7. Lions (6-3) Leading black-and-blue NFC North division.

8. Panthers (6-3) Win defensive battle on the road at San Francisco.

9. 49ers (6-3) Colin Kaepernick struggles with 95 total yards.

10. Bengals (6-4) A.J. Green tip-drill Hail Mary TD not enough to win.

11. Bears (5-4) Charles Tillman placed on IR with triceps injury.

12. Packers (5-4) Seneca Wallace replaced by Scott Tolzien in defeat.

13. Jets (5-4) Santonio Holmes expected to return after bye week.

14. Cowboys (5-5) Allow 40 first downs, 625 total yards in ugly loss.

15. Eagles (5-5) Legend of Nick Foles grows with 16 TDs, zero INTs.

16. Cardinals (5-4) Score defensive TD on first play, never look back.

17. Rams (4-6) Tavon Austin breaks out with three-TD effort in win.

18. Chargers (4-5) King Dunlap suffers third concussion of year in loss.

19. Browns (4-5) Use bye to prepare for Buckeye Bowl vs. Cincinnati.

20. Ravens (4-5) End three-game losing streak with overtime win.

21. Titans (4-5) Jake Locker lost for season with Lisfranc foot injury.

22. Redskins (3-6) Man convicted of murder in 2007 Sean Taylor killing.

23. Giants (3-6) Big Blue Wrecking Crew 3–0 after ugly 0–6 start.

24. Steelers (3-6) Ben Roethlisberger insists he is long-term Steeler.

25. Raiders (3-6) Terrelle Pryor’s left knee injury a growing concern.

26. Bills (3-7) EJ Manuel struggles in return against Pittsburgh.

27. Falcons (2-7) Two defeats away from first losing year since 2007.

28. Vikings (2-7) Christian Ponder dislocates non-throwing shoulder.

29. Texans (2-7) Ed Reed released after saying team “outcoached.”

30. Jaguars (1-8) Snap 12-game losing streak against rival Titans.

31. Buccaneers (1-8) Darrelle Revis INT seals first win of year vs. Fins.

32. Dolphins (4-5) Losers in five of last six games following 3–0 start.

Ranking all 32 NFL teams from first to worst.
Post date: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - 20:06
Path: /nfl/dolphins-hit-rock-bottom-buccaneers

The Miami Dolphins off-the-field problems — or more accurately, their inside-the-locker-room issues — spilled onto the field during a miserable 22–19 loss to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football. The pinnacle of the Bucs’ season thus far coincided with what the Fins hope is rock bottom for the once-proud franchise.

Miami struggled to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill or scrape together any semblance of a running game after right tackle Jonathan Martin left the team due to alleged “bullying” by right guard Richie Incognito, who was suspended in the wake of the accusations as well as the revelation of a profanity-laced, racially charged voicemail from Incognito to Martin. The Dolphins managed just two yards on 14 rushes for a comical 5.14 inches per carry against Tampa Bay.

What isn’t a laughing matter is the ongoing investigation regarding the so-called “hazing” of Martin by the Dolphins’ O-line and Incognito, in particular. Martin left the team last month due to “harassment that went far beyond the traditional locker room hazing,” Martin’s lawyer said.

“What’s gone on, it’s really something that couldn’t have been a worse nightmare,” said Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, whose scheduled Wednesday meeting with Martin was postponed at the request of the NFL league office. “The most important thing is that we care about Jonathan Martin.”

Incognito, who has a longstanding reputation as a dirty player, did an interview with Jay Glazer on NFL FOX Sunday, discussing the now infamous vulgar voicemail as well as his relationship with Martin, a second-year lineman out of Stanford.

“When I see that voicemail, when I see those words come up across the screen, I’m embarrassed by it. I’m embarrassed by my actions. But what I want people to know is, the way Jonathan and the rest of the offensive line and how our teammates, how we communicate, it’s vulgar. It’s, it’s not right,” said Incognito.

“When the words are put in the context, I understand why a lot of eyebrows get raised. But people don’t know how Jon and I communicate to one another.”

Meanwhile, Martin has remained out of the spotlight after spending time in a South Florida hospital for emotional distress. The Dolphins and NFL continue to investigate what transpired in Miami.

“We want to get to the bottom of it,” Ross told reporters Monday. “We want to hear what the real facts are. There’s been so much said and done to date that I don’t think anybody really knows what has happened.”

What is known is that Miami has lost five of its last six games, including an ugly loss to Tampa Bay.

Miami struggles during Richie Incognito, Jonathan Martin scandal.
Post date: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - 19:58
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/prime-time-players-week-10

Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks
“Beast Mode” was in full effect during a 33–10 victory at Atlanta. Lynch bulldozed the Falcons with 24 carries for 145 yards and one TD, three catches for 16 yards and a crucial pass back to quarterback Russell Wilson on a flea-flicker gadget play that resulted in a 43-yard TD pass from Wilson to Jermaine Kearse. After the game, Hawks coach Pete Carroll joked that Lynch’s wounded duck pass back to Wilson was “about a C-minus” grade and that the “style points were poor.” Luckily, Lynch is an “A-plus” as a runner, as the league’s second-leading rusher behind Philly’s LeSean McCoy.

Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
The former Heisman Trophy and BCS national title-winning running back out of Alabama broke out with his first 100-yard rushing effort during a 49–17 blowout win over the Cowboys. The son and namesake of the Super Bowl champion New York Giant, Ingram was a first-round pick in 2011 but had failed to break the century mark on the ground until his 30th NFL game. Ingram had 14 carries for 145 yards (10.4 ypc) and his first TD of the season. The breakout accounts for 11.4 percent of Ingram’s 1,271 career rushing yards, while the score was Ingram’s 11th career TD.

Tavon Austin, WR, Rams
St. Louis’ “Greatest Show on Turf” may be making a revival in the form of the dynamic Austin, the Rams’ triple-threat receiver-runner-returner. The 5'8", 176-pound rookie out of West Virginia was a highlight-reel play waiting to happen during a 38–8 win at Indianapolis. Austin had two catches for 138 yards (69 ypc) and two trips to the end zone, along with an electric 98-yard punt return for a score. On the return TD, Austin scooped the ball off the bounce in the dreaded “coffin corner,” made a few joystick video game moves and showed off his 4.34 speed in the 40-yard dash to tightrope down the sideline for a coast-to-coast TD.

Will Blackmon, CB, Jaguars
Other defenders had bigger complete games, but Blackmon had arguably the biggest single play of Week 10. The winless Jaguars pulled off a 29–27 upset victory over the AFC South rival Titans to snap a 12-game losing streak. Coincidentally, Jacksonville’s last win came against Tennessee in Week 12 last season. Blackmon sealed the desperation win with a perfectly executed blitz from his slot nickleback position, forcing a fumble of Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, gaining possession of the loose ball and strutting 20 yards to the house.

The best performances in the NFL from Week 10.
Post date: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - 19:50
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-worst-coaches-great-programs

Anyone can have bad results at a lackluster college football program. Even Bear Bryant or Nick Saban might have trouble staying above water at a program in a bad recruiting era, little tradition and scant resources.

However, it takes a unique situation for someone to struggle at a place sitting in good recruiting territory, with a championship tradition and ample backing from fans and administration.

Granted, the pressures of coaching at top programs aren’t for everyone. The pressure to win every game — and answering to media and fans when it doesn’t happen — isn’t realistic.

These are the coaches who struggled to great proportions despite the advantages that come at top programs. These are the coaches who missed bowl games where it should be really, really tough to miss bowl games. We are considering great programs to be among the leaders in win percentage during since the Associated Press poll began in 1936.

One thing to note: We are only listing coaches who were hired after a program reached national prominence. Thus, pre-Nick Saban coaches at LSU or pre-Howard Schnellenberger coaches at Miami, for example, were not considered.

College Football’s 20 Worst Coaches at Great Programs

1. Derek Dooley, Tennessee

Record: 15-21 (.417) from 2010-12
A Nick Saban disciple and the son of one of the SEC’s greatest coaches, what could go wrong? Pretty much everything. Dooley inherited a program damaged by Lane Kiffin’s lone season, but Dooley set the Volunteers further back by going winless against ranked teams, winless against SEC teams in October and 2-14 in the SEC his last two seasons. Quotable, yes. Great hair, yes. Good coach, not really.

2. Joe Kuharich, Notre Dame
Record: 17-23 (.425) from 1959-62
Gerry Faust, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis are remembered with more vitriol than Kuharich, but that’s a product of recent memory. Kuharich took over six seasons after Frank Leahy’s tenure and never had a winning season in four years at Notre Dame despite having talented teams at the height of Notre Dame’s popularity.

3. Gerry Faust, Notre Dame
Record: 30-26-1 (.535) from 1981-85
Imagine any major program hiring a high school coach these days. That’s what Notre Dame did when it replaced Dan Devine with Faust, coach at powerhouse Cincinnati Moeller. The gamble was predictably a failure, but at least Notre Dame could keep the high ground by giving Faust a full five seasons. Subsequent coaches wouldn’t be able to say the same.

4. John Blake, Oklahoma
Record: 12-22 (.353) from 1996-98
An assistant for Barry Switzer and former Sooners player, Blake knew better than to repeat the mistakes of his predecessor Howard Schnellenberger, but that didn’t help him win games. Blake had never been even a coordinator, and it showed as the Sooners went 8-16 in the Big 12. At least his recruits were the centerpieces for OU’s 2000 national championship team.

5. Howard Schnellenberger, Oklahoma
Record: 5-5-1 (.500) in 1995
Schnellenberger had one of the most puzzling tenures in college sports in his lone season at Oklahoma. He built Miami into a national power in the 1980s and brought Louisville to relevance, but Oklahoma fans were turned off by Schnellenberger’s dismissiveness of Sooners history. Especially after Oklahoma finished 1995 with three straight blowout losses.

6. John Mackovic, Texas
Record: 41-28-2 (.592) from 1992-97
Mackovic started to rebuild Texas after the McWilliams era with three consecutive bowl games and a Big 12 title game appearance between 1994-96. But his fate was sealed on Sept. 12, 1997 with a 66-3 loss to UCLA at home that became known as “Rout 66.” Mackovic went 4-7 his final season despite having Ricky Williams in his backfield.

7. Mike DuBose, Alabama
Record: 24-23 (.511) from 1997-2000
DuBose followed national championship coach Gene Stallings to go 4-7 in his first season thanks in part to NCAA sanctions. Though DuBose led the Tide to a 10-3 season and top 10 finish in 1999, he went 3-8 the following year and was the coach during major NCAA recruiting violations.

8. Mike Shula, Alabama
Record: 26-23 (.531) from 2003-06
Perhaps Shula was doomed from the beginning. Alabama fans were wounded by the sudden departure of Dennis Franchione to Texas A&M just as NCAA sanctions were levied. Shula wasn’t even on the radar until Washington State coach Mike Price was fired amid scandal before his first game. Shula went to the Cotton Bowl in 2005 but otherwise became the first Alabama coach since the pre-Bear Bryant days to have three non-winning seasons.

9. David McWilliams, Texas
Record: 31-26 (.544) from 1987-91
Aside from a 10-2 season and Southwest Conference championship in 1990, McWilliams had a lackluster tenure at Texas on the heels of the Darrell Royal and Fred Akers days. McWilliams’ time at Texas was doomed when the Longhorns went 5-6 after reaching the Cotton Bowl a year earlier.

10. Ray Goff, Georgia
Record: 46-34-1 (.574) from 1989-95
Goff had the unenviable task of taking over for the best coach in Georgia history. He had two losing seasons and two 6-6 seasons in six years, but his greatest sin was ushering in an era of futility against Florida. Goff lost his final six meetings against the Gators, the start of a 1-13 stretch in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

11. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan
Record: 15-22 (.405) from 2008-10
Michigan swung for the fences when it tried to shake up its square-jawed image by hiring spread-offense acolyte Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia. The experiment was a failure as the offense was dismal in a 3-9 season in Rodriguez’s first year, the worst for Michigan in 46 years. Michigan improved in his final two years, but Rodriguez became the first coach to leave Michigan with a losing record.

12. Tyrone Willingham, Notre Dame
Record: 21-15 (.583) from 2002-04
Willingham was Notre Dame’s second choice after George O’Leary resigned after it was discovered his resume contained false information. It seemed for a time to be a good break for Notre Dame when Willingham’s first team started 8-0. The Irish went 13-15 thereafter. Willingham became the first Notre Dame coach fired after only three seasons.

13. Charlie Weis, Notre Dame
Record: 35-27 (.565) from 2005-09
Notre Dame was outclassed in two BCS games in Weis’ first two seasons, but at least the Irish were back in the national consciousness. Weis looked like an offensive genius by leading Brady Quinn to several Notre Dame passing records and the Heisman presentation, but the bottom fell out in 2007 with a 3-9 record and the Irish’s first loss to Navy since 1963.

14. Paul Hackett, USC
Record: 19-18 (.514) from 1998-2000
The journeyman coach put up journeyman results in his three seasons at USC, going 5-11 in the Pac-10 in his final two years. In his three-year tenure, Hackett became the first USC coach in 41 years to never go to the Rose Bowl.

15. Bill Callahan, Nebraska
Record: 27-22 (.551) from 2004-07
Frank Solich’s 58 wins in six season was not enough to keep him employed at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers tried to move away from their traditional option by bringing in Callahan from the NFL ranks, but a 5-6 season in 2004 ended Nebraska’s streak of 35 consecutive bowl games. The pro-style offense eventually caught on, but big wins never did as Nebraska bookended his tenure with a 5-7 season in 2007.

16. Randy Shannon, Miami
Record: 28-22 (.560) from 2007-10
The decorated defensive coordinator never could match Miami’s level of success the Hurricanes had while Shannon was an assistant or a player. The Hurricanes’ decline that began under Larry Coker was hastened under Shannon. The Canes went 5-7 in his first season, including a 48-0 loss to Virginia in the final game at the storied Orange Bowl.

17. Ron Zook, Florida
Record: 23-14 (.621) from 2002-04
Zook inherited the Heisman runner-up (Rex Grossman) when Steve Spurrier left and never more than eight games as the Gators coach. The tenure included two losses to Ole Miss (albeit led by Eli Manning), a loss to Mississippi State and three unranked finishes. The Zooker could recruit, though.

18. Will Muschamp, Florida
Record: 22-13 (.629) from 2011-present
An 11-2 season in 2012 and an injury-riddled 2013 may keep Muschamp at Florida for a fourth season despite a similar record to Zook. But the Gators are facing their first losing season since 1979 after the first loss to Vanderbilt in Gainesville since 1945.

19. Lane Kiffin, USC
Record: 28-15 (.651) from 2010-13
USC went 10-2 with a win over Oregon despite a bowl ban in 2011, raising the stakes for 2012. The Trojans, though, went from preseason No. 1 to 7-6 with a loss in the Sun Bowl to Georgia Tech. A listless performance on offense in 2013 prompted his abrupt ouster less than 12 hours after a loss to Arizona State. A hot start under interim coach Ed Orgeron has become a further indictment on Kiffin’s tenure.

20. Gary Crowton (26-23 at BYU), Dan Hawkins (19-39 at Colorado) and Keith Gilberston (7-16 at Washington)
We can debate if BYU, Colorado and Washington are “great” programs, but all had won national championships and were viable winners when the three coaches above took over. BYU and Washington have recovered to a degree, but both programs are long ways off from winning national championships again.

College Football’s Worst Coaches at Great Programs
Post date: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: GIF, NFL
Path: /nfl/bengals-hail-mary-against-ravens-was-spectacular

With the clock winding down in the Bengals-Ravens game on Sunday, Andy Dalton threw up a prayer of a pass to the end zone. After the ball was batted around a bit, it fell into the hands of A.J. Green, sending the game into overtime. It was a thing of beauty. Unfortunately for Cincy, they still lost in OT 17-20. 

With the clock winding down in the Bengals-Ravens game on Sunday Andy Dalton threw up a prayer of a pass to the end zone.
Post date: Monday, November 11, 2013 - 08:03
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Legends Poll
Path: /college-football/2013-legends-poll-top-25-college-football-week-11
For the first time this season, there’s a a new look in Legends Poll top 2. Oregon took it on the chin against Stanford Thursday night, suffering its first loss of the year, 26-20.
The loss opened the door for Florida State to move into the No. 2 spot of the Legends Poll rankings. The Seminoles are second only to top-ranked Alabama, which received its first unanimous No. 1 ranking of the season.
The Crimson Tide made a statement with a 38-17 victory over LSU Saturday night. The loss sent No. 15 LSU tumbling four spots.
No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Baylor and No. 5 Stanford all moved up a spot in the rankings this week. No. 6 Oregon fell four spots.
No. 7 Auburn continued its quiet climb up the rankings and faces another tough test when No. 25 Georgia visits next weekend.
Clemson, Missouri and Texas A&M rounded out the top 10.
No. 17 Oklahoma dropped seven spots after No. 4 Baylor undressed the Sooners in Waco on Thursday — the biggest drop in the rankings this week.
No. 24 Texas was the lone newcomer in the top 25 this week. Texas Tech dropped out.
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll
1AlabamaAlabama (16)9-04001
2Florida StateFlorida State9-03843
3Ohio StateOhio State9-03664
10Texas A&MTexas A&M8-224012
11South CarolinaSouth Carolina7-221413
12Oklahoma StateOklahoma State8-121214
13Michigan StateMichigan State8-119417
19Fresno StateFresno State9-012020
21Northern IllinoisNorthern Illinois9-08322
22Arizona StateArizona State7-25925
23Miami (FL)Miami (FL)7-25315
* The Legends Poll voting process is exactly what the BCS is trying to create and Athlon will bring it to you as the de facto Selection Committee for fans to follow over the next two seasons, allowing you to see how the Selection Committee will operate from 2014 onward. You can see the entire Poll at
2013 The Legends Poll Top 25: College Football Week 11
Post date: Sunday, November 10, 2013 - 21:27
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/infographic-moustache-and-baseball

To celebrate Movember Topps has put out a great Moustache infographic, combining some cool stache history and a few of their finest baseball cards. The card company is even selling moustache posters


Source: Topps

To celebrate Movember Topps has put out a great Moustache infographic, combining some cool stache history and baseball cards.
Post date: Sunday, November 10, 2013 - 20:58
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/david-ortiz-definitely-juice
David Ortiz Is Definitely On The Juice
Post date: Sunday, November 10, 2013 - 20:17
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Funny
Path: /college-football/college-fan-week-lsu-guy

Let this be a lesson to you, kids. Never drop acid and go to a football game. Things can get weird really fast.

Let's be a lesson to you, kids. Never drop acid and go to a football game.
Post date: Sunday, November 10, 2013 - 19:42
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Golden Arm award
Path: /college-football/golden-arm-performances-week-11

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

1. AJ McCarron, Alabama
No candidate for the Golden Arm Award may have won a bigger game this week than Alabama’s AJ McCarron. The two-time BCS champion quarterback was once again calm and steady in the biggest game to date this season and helped Alabama power their way past LSU in Tuscaloosa to stay on top of the SEC West and the polls. McCarron completed 14 of 20 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns and did not throw an interception against the Tigers in a 38-17 victory.

Derek Carr2. Derek Carr, Fresno State
Fresno State was met with a challenge early on at Wyoming, but Derek Carr and the Bulldogs rose to the challenge. Carr completed 33 of 46 pass attempts for 360 yards and four touchdowns, including two in the second half as Fresno State scored 48 unanswered points after a 10-0 deficit in the second quarter. Carr helped keep the BCS dream alive for Fresno State, improving the season record to 9-0 with just two games to play before a Mountain West Conference championship game, which Fresno State is on pace to host.

3. Keith Price, Washington
Washington’s Keith Price had a big day in the stat sheet as the Huskies blew by Colorado in the Pac-12. Price completed 22 of 29 pass attempts for 312 yards and two touchdowns and he also rushed for two more touchdowns in the most productive day among the Golden Arm Award candidates.

4. Keith Wenning, Ball State
Keith Wenning got an early jump on the action with a weeknight game. No matter the day of the week, Wenning comes to play. Against Central Michigan, Wenning once again went to work by completing 20 of 29 passes for 299 yards and four touchdowns as Ball State picked up a 44-24 victory. Next up for Wenning and Ball State is a huge division match-up with fellow Golden Arm Award candidate Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois.

5. Aaron Murray, Georgia
Georgia’s Aaron Murray once again rewrote the record books with his performance against Appalachian State. Murray tied and then moved past former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel’s SEC career record with his 114th and 115th career touchdown passes. In addition to setting the new SEC career record, Murray also passed for 281 yards as Georgia pulled away from Appalachian State.

Sponsored by Transamerica.


The Golden Arm award is presented to the top senior quarterback by the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Foundation.
Post date: Sunday, November 10, 2013 - 18:28
Path: /nfl/10-biggest-midseason-disappointments-nfl
Halfway through the NFL season and some things are exactly as they’re supposed to be. The Broncos and Patriots are in first place. The 49ers and Seahawks are locked in a battle in the NFC West. Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson are still among the best at their positions.
Yes, there are some surprises – like the still undefeated Kansas City Chiefs – but there are also some major disappointments. There are plenty of players and teams that were supposed to be at the top of their positions and divisions, but instead suffered an unexpected fall.
At just about the halfway point of the NFL season, here’s a look at 10 of the biggest disappointments. And none of these would’ve been easy for anyone to project back before the season began:
Atlanta Falcons – A year ago they came within inches of reaching the Super Bowl and they had just about everybody coming back. They even lured Hall of Fame-bound tight end Tony Gonzalez out of his very brief retirement for one last Super Bowl run. But that all collapsed in an injury-plagued first half that saw them lose receiver Julio Jones and deal with health issues with receiver Roddy White and running back Steven Jackson. Their playoff chase just about over and the only thing keeping them out of last is the 0-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Matt SchaubMatt Schaub – The Houston Texans have been a disappointment for years, never quite fulfilling their potential. But despite his detractors, their quarterback had been a relatively consistent performer when healthy. But this year, coming off a 4,000-yard season in which he had a 22-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's struggled with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. The poor performance led him to lose his job after he suffered a leg injury. And with the Texans season over and his replacement, Case Keenum, showing promise, he might not get it back.
Mike Wallace – The Dolphins raised a few eyebrows in the offseason when they signed Wallace to a five-year, $60 million contract, even though he was coming off a 64-catch, 836-yard season in Pittsburgh. But his speed and potential and the way he was expected to transform the Miami offense seemed to justify it. Now? He’s got 36 catches for 480 yards and one lousy touchdown for an offense that ranks 28th in the NFL. That does not seem at all like money well spent.
New York Giants – The season began with GM Jerry Reese putting everyone “on notice” and putting up a Super Bowl clock in the locker room. The clock, though, would’ve worked better as a countdown to their first win. It took until Week 7 and an 0-6 start stunned the Giants and would’ve doomed them completely if they didn’t play in the worst division in football. But even now, just 2.5 games back in the NFC East, they’ll need a miracle to still have a chance in December.
Joe Philbin – Aside from the fact that he was supposed to be an offensive whiz that would turn Ryan Tannehill into a star (and figure out how to use Wallace), the recent bullying scandal shows him to be a man not in control of his own locker room. Even if you dismiss allegations that he – or his staff – ordered Richie Incognito to “toughen up” the since departed Jonathan Martin, how can something get as far and as ugly as it did under his watch? He’ll likely soon pay for this with his own job.
Chip Kelly’s offense – Remember when Kelly’s offense was going to shock the NFL and transform the way teams play in the future. Well, that lasted until the second half of Week 1. They do put up a lot of yards (they rank fourth in the NFL) and they did just rip through the Oakland Raiders in a 49-20 victory. But turnovers and inconsistent quarterback play has Kelly’s offense looking slow and weak at times. Eventually his offense might be scary, especially when he finds a quarterback. But it’s not there yet.
Julius Peppers – In four of the last five seasons, Peppers had double-digit sacks and the one year he didn’t he still had eight. He may not have been one of the most feared defenders in football anymore, but he was still a premiere pass rusher. Now? Not so much. He’s got just two sacks and after restructuring his contract a year ago he’s looking like a cap casualty next year when he’ll be an old 34.
RG3Washington Redskins – The NFC East stinks and is there for the taking, which should really bother the defending division champs. As Robert Griffin III struggled to find his early form, and the once-strong defense completely collapsed, the Redskins are off to a 3-6 start. With the Cowboys ahead of them at 5-4 their season is hardly over. But this is a division they probably should’ve been running away with by now.
Leslie Frazier/Vikings – The Vikings were a playoff team a year ago and still have Adrian Peterson, the best running back in football, and that alone should be good enough for them to be better than 2-7. Yeah, they have a mess at quarterback where Christian Ponder has never been the answer, but Frazier can take the blame for some of that lack of development. It’s his switch to Josh Freeman and handling of that situation that has raised the most eyebrows, though, especially his decision to let Freeman throw 53 times in a loss to the Giants just days after he was signed, rather than put the game in the capable Peterson’s hands.
Greg Schiano – He was going to be the man who saved the Bucs and after a 7-9 season last year it looked like the program was headed in the right direction. But the collapse to 0-8 has been overshadowed by the controversies that have gone on under his watch, from the way his team handled their MRSA health scare to the way he handled Freeman before he was released. Somehow Schiano managed to enable, alienate and eventually lose his starting quarterback. It seems only a matter of time before he loses the entire team.
By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN
At just about the halfway point of the NFL season, here’s a look at 10 of the biggest disappointments.
Post date: Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 18:01
Path: /college-football/top-college-football-player-matchups-watch-week-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Top College Football Player Matchups to Watch in Week 11
Post date: Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 10:22
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Video, videos, MAC, Overtime, News
Path: /college-football/worst-officiating-moments-sports-history

Officiating in any sport is a difficult assignment. Mistakes are going to be made each week, but some errors are bigger than others.

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

Worst Officiating Moments in Sports History

2013: Buffalo Awarded Safety on Intentional Grounding 

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Honorable Mention

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

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

Worst Officiating Moments in Sports History
Post date: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - 10:30
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-qa-louisvilles-russ-smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is the toughest player you’ve guarded?

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

Who is the toughest player who has guarded you?

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

College Basketball: Q&A with Louisville's Russ Smith
Post date: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Kentucky Wildcats, SEC, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-2013-14-kentucky-preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Basketball: 2013-14 Kentucky Preview
Post date: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-2013-14-louisville-preview

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

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

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

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

Related: Q&A with Louisville's Russ Smith


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


College Basketball: 2013-14 Louisville Preview
Post date: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - 07:00