Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/nascar-media-roundtable-what-was-learned-nascars-visit-eldora
Body:

Each day from mid-February through late November, a small band of motorsports journalists work nearly around the clock — this being the digital age — to keep rabid NASCAR fans as up-to-the-second informed as possible. Many of these media members are ensconced in the sport’s “traveling circus,” working in garage areas, media centers and pressboxes nearly 40 weeks a year. So who better to go to for a “state of the sport” talk than them?

While drivers may toe the company line — keeping sponsors happy and staying in the sanctioning body’s good graces are important to their livelihood — it’s the job of these journos to provide news, insight and opinion in a sport that has no shortage of any.

In this nine-part feature, Athlon Sports sits down with seven media professionals from different outlets to get a healthy cross-section of ideas, opinions and feedback on the biggest issues alive and well in the sport of NASCAR, circa 2014.


The Camping World Truck Series’ visit to Eldora Speedway seemed to be a breath of fresh air for many fans. What, if any, lessons can be taken from this “experiment” that may be applicable to other series?


Pete Pistone (Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio and MRN Radio; @PPistone): Eldora reminded everyone that NASCAR racing used to be a lot more fun than it sometimes is these days. The sanctioning body should do whatever it can to capture the electricity, anticipation and good old-fashioned entertainment Eldora created and sprinkle it liberally across all three national divisions.


Nick Bromberg (Yahoo! Sports; @NickBromberg): Don’t be afraid to try something new with the on-track product. That race was a leap for NASCAR, but it paid off in a big way and instantly became the most popular event in Truck Series history. And it also proved that the best storylines are organic and happen via good racing. Just look at Norm Benning and the attention that he and his team received for the battle with Clay Greenfield in one of the heat races.

While I’m not ready to say that the Cup Series needs to jump on a dirt track as soon as possible, it’s more fuel for the thought that the Truck Series should be closer to how it started at local short tracks than where it is now at a majority of tracks where the Cup Series races.


Nate Ryan (USA Today@nateryan): If the show is compelling, it doesn’t matter who the stars are. That’s the major lesson from any event that turns Norm Benning into a social media folk hero. The other major takeaway is that nothing should be sacred in stock-car racing. Because the racing was so memorable, there were no complaints about heat races, a segmented competition and a surface that doesn’t seem conducive to such heavy vehicles. In weighing enhancements to Sprint Cup, Eldora’s anti-idolatry vibe should be the template.

Also, transfer ownership of any other troubled tracks with promise to Tony Stewart and his management team. His street-smart savvy and force of will to produce success is unmatched.


Mike Hembree (Athlon Sports; @mikehembree): Eldora proved that “old school” still has a place in stock car racing. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to consider dirt-track racing for the Sprint Cup or Nationwide series, but the automatic drama created by a different sort of event can’t be denied. Could be a hint that fans want shorter races with more levels of entertainment. Heat races, anyone?


Ryan McGee (ESPN.com/ESPN The Magazine@ESPNMcGee): I think it would work with the other series, but only once a year. Don’t get me wrong. It was awesome. And to me, that’s exactly what the Truck Series should be doing — going to different markets and trying out new ideas. But when the next two series follow it onto dirt, which will happen eventually, NASCAR needs to be careful not to kill the golden egg-laying goose like racetracks have with night racing. That novelty wore off a long time ago.


Bob Pockrass (The Sporting News@bobpockrass): Heat races. But NASCAR needs to pay dollars to those who compete in the heats.


Mike Mulhern (MikeMulhern.net; @mikemulhern): The Eldora race played to less than 20,000. Nice marketing gimmick, but nothing long-term. Nice made-for-TV show. And where were the softwalls, by the way?


Photo by Action Sports, Inc.

Athlon Sports’ 2014 “Racing” annual delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2014 NASCAR coverage. Click here to view more.

For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
 

Teaser:
As part of the 2014 NASCAR season preview, Athlon Sports sits down with seven of the sport's leading journalists to discuss what NASCAR learned when its Camping World Truck Series visited Eldora Speedway in 2013.
Post date: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - 23:56
All taxonomy terms: Kyle Busch, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-kyle-busch
Body:

Kyle Busch experienced a new side of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup last season. More accurately, he was able to find out what it’s like to finish fourth in series points, the best postseason performance of his nine-year career to date.

The reward for such improvement? For one thing, a bigger prize check and a later spot on the agenda of the annual postseason awards banquet in his hometown of Las Vegas.  Kyle Busch

“I actually made it past dinner,” Busch said, cracking a smile during his December acceptance speech. “I didn’t even know this event lasted this late.”

It was at once both a clever way of noting his improvement in the Chase — a format that had been decidedly unkind to Busch’s driving style (and frankly, maturity) in years past — plus a way to signal that those who want a championship in the sport will have to dispatch his No. 18 this season. There’s little doubt that Busch’s 2013 season, after several up-and-down years, will be a launching pad for the 28-year-old going forward.

Busch at once tied his best career mark for races finished on the lead lap (29) and scored his most top 10s in a single season (22). He also qualified better than ever before, posting a sizzling 9.1 average start that trailed only teammate Matt Kenseth. It’s a talent that serves him well in a track-position world, where it’s much easier to start up front these days than work through traffic.

Those gaudy statistics, while impressive, are also par for the course with Busch. After all, he’s averaging a top-5 finish for every three Sprint Cup starts in his career. But the real difference in Busch last year was an ability to contain his driving style and volatile emotions when the Chase kicked in.

Thanks to striking out in some pretty awful ways in recent appearances — remember that his last go in the title fight, in 2011, included a suspension by NASCAR for actions he took against Ron Hornaday Jr. during a Camping World Truck Series race at Texas — Busch had gained the dubious label of being unable to close when it came time for the chips to be counted. It wasn’t a mistake, either: Busch had finished eighth or worse in his three previous Chases.

But last season proved different. After leading off the Chase with consecutive second-place finishes to Kenseth, Busch only faltered in a big way during the Chase’s fourth race, at Kansas Speedway. Those issues, though, were less about Busch’s on-track attitude than they were about his team’s failure to have a setup that gave him the necessary comfort. Busch DNF’d that day — his second at Kansas last season — and was understandably frustrated.

For once, however, Busch was able to rise above, nailing down five top 5s and nine top 15s in the Chase. With the Kansas issue, the title was out of reach. But optimism for 2014 was fully in place.

Busch remains paired with crew chief Dave Rogers this season. It was once an unenviable role, but Rogers has found a groove with Busch where the tenacity and competitiveness of his driver meshes well with the setups he can dial in. Such synchronicity should guide Busch into the Chase again this season with ease.

Can he turn that fourth-place finish into something brighter? Thanks to the arrival of Kenseth as Busch’s teammate in the JGR camp, his struggle to win a first title has gotten harder. But at the same time, Kenseth’s stabilizing style has seemed to bring a consistent rudder to a team that just two years ago featured 30-ish Denny Hamlin as its senior driver.

Busch’s biggest concern last year was engine troubles. Those bit his JGR team as a whole early in the season, including one failure when Busch was running neck-and-neck with Kenseth for the lead of the Daytona 500. After substantial changes in both Toyota Racing Development leadership and technological practices, most of the problems seemed to disappear altogether in the season’s second half.

Despite the encouraging shift, that brush with failure in reliability has forced us to question what we can really expect from JGR and Toyota going forward. Hendrick Motorsports, historically, has never really had such issues.

It seems Busch has finally reached a point mentally where he can perform and contend for the sport’s highest award. Expect to see that this season — as long as everything else around him can hold up.



What the Competition is SayingAnonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media

“Busch has made strides toward winning a title after years of struggles. Between (Matt) Kenseth and Busch the JGR team is still one of the best in the business,” a rival crew chief says. “If (Denny) Hamlin gets physically better, the power of three drivers succeeding could be what it takes to push Busch over the top. He’s becoming more popular with fans, too. The adulation of fans can go a long way toward making a driver better. Plus, he’ll be running Nationwide again and that always makes him stronger in the Cup Series.”

Another warns: “He’s still Kyle Busch. He can blow up at some point in time and ruin all of the work of a season. Matt Kenseth’s success can put pressure on Busch to keep up within his own organization. Also, the tracks in the Chase are some of Busch’s weaker tracks on the schedule. And he still has to deal with the backlash of his continual abuse of the drivers in the Truck and Nationwide series from fans and media.”

“A crew chief once described Kyle Busch to me as being ‘the Fourth of July’ — just fireworks everywhere,” a media member says. “I don’t know if I can describe him any better.”


Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers:
Busch has won at more tracks (15) than not (eight) in the CoT/Gen-6 era, for a total of 25 victories. It can happen on any given weekend.
Pretty Solid Pick: His favorites? Bristol and Richmond, where he has scored four wins apiece since 2007.
Good Sleeper Pick: The Charlotte win is coming. He has nine top 5s in the last 13 points-paying races in the heart of NASCAR country.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Kansas, where he’s crashed out of the last three consecutive races. Too much time in the casino, Kyle?
Insider Tip: We refuse to insult your racing IQ. Busch is as dynamic a wheelman as there is and thus is capable of winning in droves. Last season’s strong Chase results (finally!) may be the last piece to his title puzzle.


No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Sponsors:
Mars/M&M’s/Interstate Batteries
Owner: Joe Gibbs
Crew Chief: Dave Rogers
Years with current team: 7
Under contract through: 2016+
Best points finish: 4th (2013)
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nev.
Born: May 2, 1985


Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Athlon Sports’ 2014 “Racing” annual delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2014 NASCAR coverage. Click here to view more.

For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

Teaser:
Kyle Busch and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team charge into the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Post date: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - 23:54
All taxonomy terms: Matt Kenseth, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-matt-kenseth
Body:

Matt Kenseth blew away most expectations in his first go-round with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013.  Matt Kenseth

His series-leading seven race wins and runner-up finish in the point standings were simply outstanding. They made Kenseth’s preseason nerves about the switch — he said in December 2012 that he actually got nervous about hopping in the new Toyotas after spending his entire Sprint Cup career at Roush Fenway Racing, later kicking himself for causing an engine problem during a test — seem almost laughable.

Kenseth was sensational from the start, looking like a good bet to win the Daytona 500 before his engine gave way just past halfway, and he held an edge on Jimmie Johnson through much of the Chase. Only a whiffed setup in the penultimate race kept him from going head-to-head with Johnson in the season finale. Otherwise, Kenseth very easily could have been walking away from NASCAR’s December awards banquet in Las Vegas with the sport’s largest haul of all. It was a career year in every sense of the word.

It leaves us with little doubt that Kenseth will vie for the title again this year.

However, his strength in 2013 should bring a new set of nerves for the 2003 Sprint Cup champion. The dynamite campaign has launched him from an interesting hire at JGR to presumed leader of both that team and the Toyota brigade in general. A run deep into the Chase for the Sprint Cup and the season title will be expected. Taking the championship wouldn’t be a surprise.

It’s an interesting place for the soon-to-be 42-year-old, who didn’t handle that role well when anointed RFR’s leader in 2007. But it’s a role that Kenseth is well-suited for now based both on his personal career progression and the unrelenting nature of JGR.

Kenseth’s seven wins in 2013 were a career peak, putting him at 13 total victories in the last three seasons. Last year also featured the best average starting position of the Wisconsin driver’s career — 8.7, a number that led the series. Not bad for a guy whose lifetime average is a mediocre 18.5. Not only was Kenseth starting closer to the front than ever before, but he also had, on average, a better pit road selection as a result of his strengthened early-weekend performances. That’s crucial for the track position he earned and must maintain in NASCAR’s hyper-competitive new world. Kenseth was both holding and picking up spots on pit road more than ever — a key difference in a race’s final throes.

JGR itself remains just a break or two from scoring its first title since Tony Stewart last won one for the organization in 2005. Kenseth’s teammate, Kyle Busch, put together the most splendid season he’s had in terms of consistency and Chase legitimacy. It produced Busch’s best-ever finish (fourth) in the Chase standings.

Kenseth’s other teammate, Denny Hamlin, likely would have been a Chase contender had he not suffered a back injury at Auto Club Speedway in the spring that forced him to the sidelines for five races.

Hamlin’s setback could be pivotal for the JGR group going forward, however. Once it was clear that Hamlin wasn’t going to be a Chase participant, he became little more than an experimental pilot for the team. There were days when it showed — Hamlin spent much of the back half of the season battling an out-to-lunch race car with little fanfare — but then there was also the terrific season finale for No. 11 that resulted in a win.

We’ll never know the full impact of Hamlin’s experimental work for JGR, at least not yet. However, engineers are the lifeblood of fast cars in today’s NASCAR, and engineers live on data. The more they have, the more accurate shock adjustment or front-end geometry can be. As long as NASCAR’s offseason changes to the Gen-6 car don’t throw all that completely data out the window, expect them to come out of the box full speed ahead.

However, even major changes from NASCAR should not impact Kenseth terribly this year. We know how good the organization is, and 2013 showed just how good a driver with a fresh perspective could be with great equipment.

Perhaps there’s a small mental hurdle for Kenseth to clear in that, as he turns 42 this year, last season’s run might have been his last, best chance for a title. His even-keeled personality makes that unlikely, though. A seven-win campaign will be tough to duplicate, but don’t be surprised if he and the No. 20 team are in the hunt in Homestead once again.


What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media

Matt Kenseth answered any questions about his new gig at Joe Gibbs Racing with a resounding debut season in the No. 20 Toyota.

“When the door shuts, he is always there,” one crew chief shrugged matter-of-factly. “He’s a closer. He’s sneaky. He’s sly, but he’s very clean. Kenseth is a very productive race car driver.”

“He needs to work on Phoenix, though!” another joked. “Look, except for that one race he was always there last year. He was ‘game on’ and even his qualifying efforts were good. I don’t know if there is anything else they need — put a fourth coat of wax on it and he’s good.”

A media member points out that Kenseth may have actually found a deeper level of maturity last year: “Remember when he and Vickers went at it in Martinsville in 2011 during the Chase? Kenseth still had a title shot that year, and he shot himself in the foot by stooping to (Brian) Vickers’ level. There was no self-inflicted wound last year. Yeah, the Phoenix race will haunt that team, but sans that one race, they went toe-to-toe with the 48. … There’s this myth about a championship runner-up hangover, but I don’t expect that out of Kenseth and Jason Ratcliff. They’re too solid.”

 

Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers: It took 10 Cup seasons to notch a win on a plate track, but he’s been as reliable as any driver at Daytona and Talladega ever since.
Pretty Solid Pick: Ten of his 15 CoT/Gen-6 era victories — and 22 of his 31 career Cup triumphs — have come on the intermediates. This isn’t just the product of the Roush years, either.
Good Sleeper Pick: With the Loudon win out of the way, we’re guessing that Martinsville is the next supposed Achilles' heel where Kenseth cashes in.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Kenseth has totaled five top 10s in 28 career road course starts. Bob Bondurant he is not. Heck, he’s not even a Paul Newman.
Insider Tip: Save for the road courses, Kenseth is able to post wins most anywhere. He’s smart enough not to overdrive in the pursuit, though.


No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Sponsors:
Dollar General/Home Depot-Husky Tools
Owner: Joe Gibbs
Crew Chief: Jason Ratcliff
Years with current team: 2
Under contract through: 2015+
Best points finish: 1st (2003)
Hometown: Cambridge, Wis.
Born: March 10, 1972


Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Athlon Sports’ 2014 “Racing” annual delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2014 NASCAR coverage. Click here to view more.

For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
 

 

Teaser:
After a stellar 2013 debut with Joe Gibbs Racing, Matt Kenseth and crew chief Jason Ratcliff set their sights on the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
Post date: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - 23:52
All taxonomy terms: Denny Hamlin, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-denny-hamlin
Body:

Denny Hamlin can’t wait for NASCAR’s 2014 season to officially begin. By the time it does, he’ll have been ready for a new beginning for just shy of 11 months.  Denny Hamlin

Such is life when an injury keeps a NASCAR driver out of the seat for four races, ruining all aspirations of scoring that gleaming Sprint Cup trophy.

“You’re kind of racing for nothing, really,” Hamlin conceded last November, finally done with his nightmare season. “It’s hard to find the motivation to perform at 100 percent when you’re trying to find yourself, trying to figure out what feel you need, really when you feel like you’re not racing for anything.”

Hamlin, of course, was ready to take on Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the NASCAR world in his eighth full-time Cup season. After a frustrating 2011 — the worst year of his career — he had leapt forward in 2012, snagging five wins. With veteran Matt Kenseth joining him and Kyle Busch as a teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, things seemed ready to fall into place.

Instead, disaster struck only five races in. Hard racing against new nemesis and old teammate Joey Logano wrecked both drivers in the final corner on the final lap at Auto Club Speedway late in March. Instead of holding on for his first win of 2013, Hamlin piled nose-first into an unprotected wall just before pit road. He had to be taken from the crash on a stretcher and was later diagnosed with multiple fractures in his lower back.

Hamlin missed four races, adjusting his window of making the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup to the status of “miracle needed.” Upon his return, it seemed like all systems go. He scored top-5 finishes in his first two full races back from the injury and top-10 finishes in three of the first four. Hamlin even won back-to-back poles at Charlotte and Dover, drawing comparisons to the speedy recovery from his torn ACL three years earlier.

But then, the dream fell apart. Hamlin finished 21st or worse in five straight races through July and ultimately crashed out of four of the 12 events after his return. He also blew engines three more times before the season ended — totaling eight DNFs for the year, the most he has piled together in one Cup season.

The miracle Chase bid obviously didn’t come. Instead, it forced Hamlin to pivot roles for JGR as the season headed to a close. Hamlin went from running for a championship to running for setup answers that could help his Chase-qualified teammates in their fight to secure the title.

The results — including the blown engines — were often nasty. But it left an interesting question for Hamlin to ponder in the offseason: What’s the advantage of testing for 2014 while others were at work for 2013?

The short answer is momentum, as a late-season surge kept crew chief Darian Grubb on board — after rumors of his firing — and stabilized confidence within the program. Hamlin’s back, seemingly destined for offseason surgery, also improved through a series of alternative treatments.

Hamlin might have given us a sneak peak of his true return to form in the Homestead season finale. He drove his black No. 11 to its first victory of the season during the coronation of Johnson’s sixth championship.

For Hamlin, it was no fluke. He knew right away that the team had hit on the setup. But perhaps the most telling part of Hamlin’s win was the parallel he drew afterward.

“As bad as the year is, we can take a little solace in this finish, spend these next two months regrouping, getting our team back in order,” Hamlin said. “I feel like there’s no reason why we can’t shoot out of the gates in 2014 like we did in 2010 after winning (Homestead) in 2009.”

That 2010 season, of course, was Hamlin’s eight-win campaign. He even led Johnson heading to the Chase finale before stumbling and finishing second in the championship.

While that presumption is likely a bit too much, it’s not a stretch to see Hamlin as a championship contender It’s just harder to see how he’ll overcome the strength of his teammates — a situation that could relegate him to a supporting role once again. His chronic back issues — and the problems they can cause Hamlin in setting up a car — just remain too much of a concern.

Regardless, 2014 figures to bring more success — and far less frustration — than the season Hamlin endured last year.


What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media

“Hamlin is a racer,” a championship-caliber crew chief says. “He has won every year since he came into the series and it didn’t take him years to learn it like some other drivers. His first full season he was in Victory Lane. He’s run for a championship and, like they say, before you can win one you have to lose one. He’s also feeling healthier thanks to some alternative treatments for his back.”

“There are two big questions for Hamlin,” another says. “Will his back hold up or will it let him down in the middle of the year and result in more subpar performances? And will Hamlin’s head allow him run for a title? He has the talent to win a title, but his head has gotten in his way more than once. He needs to be able to shake off a bad run and take advantage of his good ones. His back was supposed to need surgery and now he’s having ‘alternative’ treatments that he thinks are working. When he goes for the long stretch in the summer without a break his back might ignore those treatments.”

“He’s a talent, no doubt, but winning a title involves more than just natural ability,” one media member says. “He’s a driver that, on paper, should be in the mix every year, but for him to actually follow through on a championship? Well, that’s been a debacle thus far.”


Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers:
Martinsville is still Hamlin’s spot, with four wins and 11 top 10s in 13 CoT/Gen-6 era races.
Pretty Solid Pick: He’s no slouch at Darlington either, with a 4.7-place average showing since the CoT was rolled out in 2007.
Good Sleeper Pick: Why don’t Hamlin’s two wins in Michigan since 2008 get as much play as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s? Juuuust kidding.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Chicagoland has never been especially kind. Maybe it has something to do with it kicking off the Chase.
Insider Tip: When Denny is “right” — healthy back, positive outlook, etc. — he has very few weak spots. In fact, he has recorded top-10 finishes at every track over the last five years alone.


No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Sponsors
: FedEx/Sport Clips
Owner: Joe Gibbs
Crew Chief: Darian Grubb
Years with current team: 10
Under contract through: 2015
Best points finish: 2nd (2010)
Hometown: Chesterfield, Va.
Born: Nov. 11, 1980


Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Athlon Sports’ 2014 “Racing” annual delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2014 NASCAR coverage. Click here to view more.

For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

 

Teaser:
After an injury-ridden 2013, Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team looks regain its place among the elite in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Post date: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - 23:50
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/marlin-briscoe-blazed-trail-one-nfls-first-black-quarterbacks
Body:
When the 1972 Dolphins visited the White House in August 2013 to be feted for their undefeated season, President Obama didn’t need help identifying Don Shula, Larry Csonka and Bob Griese. 
 
Or Marlin Briscoe.
 
“I introduced myself to him, and he said, ‘I know who you are; you’re a trailblazer,’” Briscoe says. “I will take that to the grave.”
 
Briscoe wasn’t the first African-American to play quarterback in the NFL or AFL — that designation goes to Chicago’s Willie Thrower, who played one game at the position in 1953 — but his success with the Broncos in 1968 helped create opportunity for future generations of black QBs. Today’s players like Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton owe him a lot. For Briscoe, his play in 11 games with Denver was more than just groundbreaking on the gridiron. It reached to the White House.
 
“I told some reporters once that there had to be a black quarterback before there was a black president, because of what that position meant in sports,” Briscoe says.
 
He may well be right. When coach Lou Saban turned to Briscoe, the professional football world didn’t believe that African-Americans could lead a team. That’s hard for many to imagine now, given the preponderance of black QBs at all levels of the game, including the NFL. But in 1968, when race relations were at their most tumultuous, Briscoe was a pioneer. And if the idea then of a black QB was out of the question, the concept of an African-American as president was an impossible dream. 
 
“Somebody had to do it,” says Briscoe, now 68 and living in Long Beach, Calif. “Somebody had to be ordained to create an atmosphere for acceptance of black quarterbacks who could think, throw and lead at that level.”
 
With the exception of his senior season at Omaha South (Neb.) High School, when he played running back at the behest of his coach, Briscoe was always a quarterback, dating back to his Pop Warner days. At Nebraska-Omaha (then Omaha University), “The Magician” set a pile of school records and threw for 2,283 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior.
 
Denver drafted him in the 14th round as a defensive back, but Briscoe negotiated a three-day tryout at QB into his contract and demonstrated that he could handle the work. In late September, when starter Steve Tensi broke his collarbone and the backups were struggling, Briscoe — who had torn a hamstring during camp — arrived at practice to see a No. 15 jersey in his locker. 
 
“I thought I had been cut, and they had signed another quarterback,” Briscoe says. “But I turned around, and there was Saban. He said, ‘You see that number 15 in your locker?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘That’s your jersey.’ Talk about someone’s leg getting well quickly.”
 
Briscoe started five games for the Broncos and still holds team rookie records for total offense in a season (1,897 yards), TD passes (14) and touchdown passes in a game (four). His 1,589 yards passing stood as a Denver rookie mark until John Elway threw for 1,663 in 1983. 
 
But Briscoe’s tenure under center was short-lived. The Broncos brought in CFL vet Pete Liske to compete with Tensi for the starter’s job in 1969 and didn’t even include Briscoe in offseason quarterback meetings. He considered turning to the CFL and flirted with returning to Omaha to put his education degree to work, but he instead signed with Buffalo, where he became an All-Pro wide receiver. He played eight more years in the NFL, including three in Miami, earned a pair of Super Bowl rings and averaged a gaudy 15.8 yards per catch. Briscoe attempted only nine passes after leaving Denver.
 

“You look at high school games, college games and pro games today, and you see black quarterbacks everywhere,” Briscoe says. 

 

But there is only one that the president singled out.

—By Michael Bradley
Teaser:
Before Doug Williams, Warren Moon and Robert Griffin III, there was Marlin Briscoe.
Post date: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - 11:15
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-danica-patrick
Body:

Have the GoDaddy domains been taken for “disappointing.com,” “overrated.org” and “myboyfriendkickedmybuttforrookieof…” OK, you get the picture. Danica Patrick’s rookie year on the Sprint Cup circuit peaked early, with a pole at the Daytona 500 and her only top-10 finish (eighth). She led five laps that day, and believe it or not, that was the last time she was up front for a Cup race. Weeks of torturous performances followed, from ugly wrecks involving back-markers like David Gilliland and Travis Kvapil, to handling woes that were never corrected, to a two-laps-down 30th at Indianapolis — the track that transformed her career.  Danica Patrick

She did have a couple decent runs, particularly at Martinsville, where Patrick posted 12th- and 17th-place head-turners. But the learning curve proved to be a steep one for Patrick, who finished the season 27th in driver points — slotting behind two drivers (Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin) who missed a dozen races total between them.

That said, it’s still hard to overlook “Danica Patrick” off the track. She’s popular with fans, garners plenty of media attention, has a high-profile sponsor and drives a bright green and orange car that’s easily spotted in a crowded field on race day. Her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., could skyrocket into Chase contention this season. But part of the reason she stands out at Stewart-Haas Racing, a team that has suddenly built a stable of thoroughbreds, is how much worse she performs on-track by comparison.

Can things improve? Patrick will continue to work with crew chief Tony Gibson, a veteran leader with whom she communicates well. Beyond Gibson, SHR has infused some new blood into its other teams; Gibson was the only head wrench to keep his 2013 role. New additions mean new ideas that could benefit the No. 10 team while Patrick enjoys the steadying guidance of a familiar crew chief. She has been very willing to learn, and the team around her will be solid. Further, she’s received a hearty vote of confidence from team co-owner Stewart.

Patrick also has a sponsor eager to back her efforts in GoDaddy.com — along with a couple of races with Aspen Dental — meaning her team is financially set. SHR is also among the sport’s elite in terms of equipment. The cars are as fast as they are durable, with the organization experiencing just a single engine failure last year.

Behind the scenes, a cavalry of elite drivers has been assigned to help her. New teammate Kevin Harvick, in particular, took her under his wing privately last fall, while Martin looks to stay with the organization as a driver coach.

From an on-track perspective, there’s nowhere to go but up for Patrick, whose team and even NASCAR (although it publicly wouldn’t admit to it) are going to give her every opportunity to succeed. But the competition continues to improve around her.

Considering that last season was spent trying to beat those with a sliver of her cash and resources for 30th place, Danica needs to pick it up considerably if the results are to ever come close to matching the hype.


What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media

Despite her sub-par record in NASCAR, few garage insiders can argue that Danica Patrick doesn’t work hard at learning the stock-car trade.

“Very coachable and willing to try whatever it takes to become a better driver,” a rival crew chief says. “The expectations are honestly not that high if she can just improve over last season. GoDaddy is still pumping money into the coffers at SHR. She has two former Cup champions in her organization to learn from and with (Kurth) Busch, (Kevin) Harvick and (Tony) Stewart in the fold, she can actually fly under the radar. She hasn’t driven other stock cars, so her entire frame of reference is the COT/Gen-6 platform.”

And then there’s the “attractive woman” thing: “She’s always going to be viewed as getting her shot because of her looks,” says another. “But most forget that she’s still learning how to race a full-bodied stock car. She’s a small person and these are heavy cars. Even though there is power steering and other amenities in these cars, you still have to wrestle them around the track.”

“She’s not a proven winner,” another contends. “Her one Indy win was a fuel mileage deal. More tracks are going to get tires that wear out, and she’s never had to do deal with tire management.”


No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Sponsors:
No. 10 GoDaddy.com/Aspen Dental Chevrolet
Owner: Tony Stewart/Gene Haas/Joe Custer
Crew Chief: Tony Gibson
Years with current team: 3
Under contract through: 2014+
Best points finish: 27th (2013)
Hometown: Roscoe, Ill.
Born: March 25, 1982


Photos courtesy of Stewart-Haas Racing
For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

Teaser:
Danica Patrick joins teammates Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick at powerhouse Stewart-Haas Racing on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit in 2014.
Post date: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 23:53
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-tony-stewart
Body:

Tony Stewart has an impeccable résumé. He’s an IndyCar Series champion, coming within a whisker of an Indy 500 victory. He’s a three-time NASCAR Cup champion, the only driver who can lay claim to a “Winston Cup,” “Nextel Cup” and “Sprint Cup” title. He’s currently tied for 13th on NASCAR’s all-time wins list with 48 Cup trophies on his shelf. Stewart is, without a doubt, one of the best drivers ever to grace North American motorsports.  Tony Stewart

But as the 2014 season opens, he’s also damaged goods.

Stewart’s racing career was derailed on Aug. 5, at a racetrack far from the spotlight of NASCAR, when he broke both bones in his right lower leg in a sprint car crash at Southern Iowa Speedway. He had to undergo three different surgeries on the leg, missing the remainder of the 2013 Sprint Cup season. Stewart is slated to return to the seat for Speedweeks, but there will inevitably be questions about his ability to race going forward.

“I have a huge appreciation for just daily things that I can’t do now,” he said in November, while still struggling to walk. “It’s like I have to plan, I have to think about stuff. When I go to leave, I don’t want to have to go back up those steps.”

Those are troubling words for a driver slated to go 200 miles per hour come Daytona. Even though “Smoke” has been cleared to race in the 500, he admits he’ll only be about 65 percent. For a driver who hasn’t raced in six months  — even one of Stewart’s caliber — question marks remain. Will he be less aggressive, subconsciously backing down when it counts due to worry or anticipation of pain? It’s happened before to injured drivers, and until Stewart has a few races under his belt, there’s no way to know what the aftereffects of the injury, physical or psychological, might be. Even this generation’s A.J. Foyt has his limits.

It’s important to note that Stewart’s 2013 season wasn’t exactly championship-caliber before the injury. He was in the top 10 in points only twice before the accident, for a total of two weeks. He did have a win, but his season started out so poorly that he didn’t look like the same driver he was in 2011-12. After Mark Martin posted similar results in a substitute role, crew chief Steve Addington was canned as part of an organization-wide reshuffling.

So in comes Chad Johnston from the No. 56 of Michael Waltrip Racing to lead the No. 14 team’s program. In two-and-a-half seasons together, Johnston and Martin Truex Jr. had one win and a lone Chase appearance (2012). Johnston is a risk-taker, armed with a youthful mindset, which is a good match for an aggressive veteran in Stewart. He’ll be one of three new head wrenches in all as the organization grows to four teams.

How that expansion happened will also have an effect on Stewart’s season. Co-owner Gene Haas made the decision to hire Kurt Busch himself, without consultation, while his partner was struggling through leg surgery. Stewart has downplayed any potential rift, taking the standpoint that you don’t cry over spilled milk. But it’s clear that Haas, enamored with Busch, will be more involved in SHR’s day-to-day operations, an abrupt change for a dogged independent like Stewart. As for the drivers themselves, Stewart, Busch and Kevin Harvick are championship-caliber, but all three are also volatile personalities. In addition, Danica Patrick struggled mightily in her rookie season and needs to improve. If things go south on any front, it could prove to be a distraction.

On the upside, Stewart-Haas Racing gets both chassis and engines from reigning champion Hendrick Motorsports, which should remain ahead of the curve on NASCAR’s Gen-6. Stewart’s 2011 title laid to rest questions of whether Hendrick was giving SHR lesser stuff, and with two new teammates to draw information from, playing “catch-up” could come more easily. Sponsorship from Bass Pro Shops, Mobil 1 and several smaller deals keeps this team top-tier.

The problem is, there are so many question marks: Stewart’s health, a third new crew chief in four years and a team dynamic with the potential to be explosive. It’s a little like a minefield — one wrong move, and this team goes from potential title contender to struggling. Stewart’s had a little of both the past few years, taking the racing legend full circle. As he turns 43 in May, it’s like he’s a rookie with something to prove all over again.


What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media

Despite age and injury, Tony Stewart is still viewed as the gold standard by his competitors.

“Stewart is probably the most well-rounded driver in the series,” one crew chief says. “Not only has he won races in everything he’s run, but he’s won championships in most of them. He’s a badass. He doesn’t care about anything but winning — even at this stage in his career. … He’s proven that he can win in the Chase format, and if he and Chad Johnston can learn how to make the car work on intermediate racetracks, he’ll give the field a run for the title.”

Despite the almost universal respect, there are questions surrounding the three-time Cup champ. “He’s recovering from the broken leg, and that could affect his stamina and may create discomfort while he’s driving,” another crew chief notes. “He’s also had consistency issues with crew chiefs. He is a team owner, and the requirements of running a race team can be a distraction. With the organization increasing to four teams next season — and Kurt Busch coming over against Stewart's wishes — the tension in the shop could be detrimental to his success. Stewart’s temper can get the best of him at times, and that can cause him, and his team, to melt down.”


Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers
: Truly one of the most versatile drivers in NASCAR, Stewart can win — and has won — on every type of track.
Pretty Solid Pick: He’s still a pied piper on the plate tracks — most notably Daytona, where he had the car to beat in last year’s 500 before it was totaled in someone else’s mess.
Good Sleeper Pick: His track record says a lot. But it does not say “sleeper.”
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Darlington, where Stewart is winless in his Cup Series career.
Insider Tip: Stewart has won a race in each of his 15 years in the Cup Series. Only twice in that time has he been limited to one victory in a season (and that includes 2013, when he sat out 15 races).


No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1
Owner: Tony Stewart
Crew Chief: Chad Johnston
Years with current team: 6
Under contract through: N/A
Best points finish: 1st (2002, ’05, ’11)
Hometown: Columbus, Ind.
Born: May 20, 1971


Photos courtesy of Stewart-Haas Racing
For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

 

Teaser:
Tony Stewart will return to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing for the first time since August 2013 at Daytona International Speedway.
Post date: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 23:52
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-kevin-harvick
Body:

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than a dozen years since Kevin Harvick, at age 25, was thrust into the NASCAR spotlight, handed the impossible task of mending broken hearts just days after the death of Dale Earnhardt. Harvick rose to the challenge, winning two races in 2001 and propelling himself into the top 10 in points as a rookie, despite a temper that would plague him in the early part of his career. A roller-coaster relationship with team owner Richard Childress, built in the midst of tragedy, was often tempestuous in public. But it also produced terrific success — to the point that as of their divorce in November 2013, only Jeff Gordon had been with his current team for longer among the current crop of full-time Sprint Cup competitors.  Kevin Harvick

Now, at age 38, Harvick hopes to be this year’s Matt Kenseth, ending a long-term marriage with the hopes that his NASCAR mid-life crisis reinvigorates his prospects for a championship. His move to Stewart-Haas Racing should be a positive one — in fact, in what organization other than RCR would you expect him to seamlessly fit right in? He and team co-owner Tony Stewart are longtime friends with similar racing styles, and SHR’s equipment is a baby step above RCR’s. The team runs chassis and engines from 2013 champs Hendrick Motorsports, meaning that the cars will be both fast and reliable. While RCR is a championship team, it is also nearly 20 years removed from a Cup title; SHR has the 2011 Sprint Cup trophy in the case.

This full-scale reboot, one that has seen SHR also revamp itself, means Harvick will work with veteran crew chief Rodney Childers. Childers has won races with Michael Waltrip Racing, most recently the 2013 summer race at Loudon, in which he took a surprising win with part-time driver Brian Vickers. Childers is a bold head wrench, not afraid to push the envelope, which has gotten him in hot water in the past. During a period from 2007 through 2011, he was the most penalized crew chief in the series. However, with Vice President of Engineering Matt Borland and VP of Competition Greg Zipadelli still on board, there’s a mix of proven methods and new ideas that could prove beneficial.

Another point in Harvick’s corner is sponsorship. His major backers, Budweiser and Jimmy John’s, both move to SHR with the driver, joining with existing SHR partners for 33 races. The stats give good reason for these companies to stay attached; third in points in three of the last four seasons with RCR, Harvick posted four wins in 2013 while averaging a finish of 11.2 (second only to series champion Jimmie Johnson).

Harvick has matured — the temper is still there, but he no longer races every lap like it’s the last (33 lead-lap finishes last year attest to that). His nickname — “The Closer” — sticks better than ever these days for a driver who’s at his best in a race’s final segment. The question for Harvick, just a few months removed from having a sledgehammer thrown at him on national television, is whether he can keep things from getting personal in-house. In 2013, his team remarkably turned a “lame duck” year into a shot at the championship at Homestead despite internal strife. That alone should give him the benefit of the doubt. In fact, considering the volatile personalities of Stewart and Kurt Busch within SHR, it might be Harvick’s ability to stay calm that keeps this fragile house of cards intact.

So can a Kenseth-like run be in the offing? SHR was a little behind the game in 2013, although Stewart was heating up before an injury ended his season. During down times, Harvick will have to keep communicating, not just to Childers when handling gets rough but also in the shop on Monday. Hotheads typically produce horrific outcomes; there’s a reason why Hendrick Motorsports stays on top year in, year out. But Harvick has already put himself in position to deliver, privately working with Danica Patrick the last few months while downplaying his former dislike of Busch. Successful on intermediates, Harvick also brings Gen-6 knowledge to the table to shore up this organization’s largest weakness.

It’s all part of a brave new world for Harvick, who is finally stepping out of Earnhardt’s shadow to create a legacy of his own. The road ahead is paved with growing pains, but Harvick has managed to defy odds in the past, and things should be no different this season. Expect him to make the most of a chance to write his own chapter.


What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media

“Harvick was in the hunt until the end last season when he was a lame-duck driver,” a rival notes. “It takes a special person to stay competitive when tensions are so high and everyone expects you to fail. Harvick has won races in RCR equipment when the rest of the organization has been less than competitive. He hates to lose and can win on most any type of racetrack.”

“Harvick’s emotions need to be kept in check,” another says. “He can fly off of the handle on his team, his organization and his fellow drivers. He needs to learn that not everyone performs their best if they are being berated whenever they make the smallest misstep. He’s also going to a new team, and any time you go to a new team the chemistry takes a while to be established. He’s going to have to get along with Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart — and that could be a tall order when he gets together with one of them on the track, especially if he thinks one of them is getting better equipment.”

“I whiffed on Harvick big time last year,” one media member says. “He really is a different guy than he was just three years ago. And now that he’s in good buddy Tony Stewart’s house, I think big things are in store.”


Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers:
What makes Harvick so dangerous is that he — unlike many drivers — is capable of winning on any type of track. Plates and shorts seem to be his bread ’n’ butter.
Pretty Solid Pick: Teammates Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch (OK, and Danica) make for some mighty powerful drafting partners.
Good Sleeper Pick: Eleven top 10s in 13 Homestead races? How has he not won there yet?
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Very few. In the CoT/Gen-6 era, Harvick has recorded a top-5 finish at every track except Kentucky and Watkins Glen.
Insider Tip: Chemistry with Rodney Childers bears watching, but we don’t expect Harvick to miss a beat at “Uncles Smoke’s” operation.


No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Sponsors:
No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s/Outback Steakhouse
Owners: Tony Stewart/Joe Custer/Gene Haas
Crew Chief: Rodney Childers
Years with current team: 1
Under contract through: 2016
Best points finish: 3rd (2010, ’11, ‘13)
Hometown: Bakersfield, Calif.
Born: Dec. 8, 1975


Photos courtesy of Stewart-Haas Racing
For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

 

Teaser:
After a 13-year tenure at Richard Childress Racing, Kevin Harvick transitions to Stewart-Haas Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Post date: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 23:51
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-kurt-busch
Body:

At first glance, Kurt Busch’s move to Stewart-Haas Racing after a season at single-car Furniture Row Racing would seem like the driver won the lottery. Busch, a former series champion, took FRR all the way to the Chase in 2013, and despite not winning a race, finished inside the top 10 in points with a season-long 14.7-place average finish. It was the first time a single-car team made the postseason under NASCAR’s Chase format, with Busch earning more top 5s in one season (11) than the team accrued during its last eight years of existence. With equipment like SHR can offer, Busch is a no-brainer for a 16-team Chase spot this season and, in time, his second Sprint Cup title.  Kurt Busch

In reality, though, the move is a bit more lateral. It’s still a step up, but it’s a step up from Richard Childress Racing equipment, not that of an underfunded, single-car organization. FRR upped its technical alliance with RCR last year to the point where certain employees worked for both programs; despite its Colorado location, FRR was Childress’ de facto “fourth team.” And it was certainly no turn-key operation.

Even in that scenario, Busch remained impressive, earning this opportunity. As an RCR driver, he’d have ranked second only to Kevin Harvick in 2013 after handily outperforming Paul Menard and Jeff Burton. On the PR front, where Busch has posted failing grades for several years, he now rarely missteps under the guidance of girlfriend Patricia Driscoll, who has almost single-handedly remade his image. Even on the track, Busch seemed more controlled last season. Perhaps that was a result of a lack of pressure in a second-tier ride. Or perhaps, after hard lessons learned, Busch has finally grown up.

If so, what he gives SHR, at age 35, is a third title contender in the stable. Busch is a proven champion, along with new boss Tony Stewart, and if RCR cars are a step behind those in Stewart’s house, Harvick should be a favorite as well. What that all means is that if the three teams can share information effectively, it will only make the group stronger. But that’s not a given. All three are elite driving talents, but they are also incredibly volatile — with both Stewart and Harvick having had run-ins with Busch in the past.

In addition, when Busch was announced as the driver of a new, fourth SHR team with sponsorship from in-house Haas Automation, a company owned by team co-owner Gene Haas, Stewart made no secret of his initial dislike of the deal. After all, he had told the media months before that he was cutting Ryan Newman loose because there was no funding for a fourth program. Stewart has mellowed a bit by now, but there is the potential for internal strife. After all, just last April he wanted to punch Busch at Richmond, unhappy with the way he was being raced. But to be fair, Stewart typically wants to do that to someone on a weekly basis.

One team member who will play a key role for Busch’s newly numbered 41 this season is crew chief Daniel Knost. Knost was formerly an engineer for Newman at SHR, and 2014 will be his first season calling the shots for a team. How Knost communicates will be key to success. Even an older, wiser Busch still has a tendency to “lose it” on the radio rather than provide the useful information needed. Knost will need to be able to steer Busch back to fixing the problem rather than compounding it if the team is to be a consistent success.

SHR’s race chassis and engines come from Hendrick Motorsports, so that puts SHR a half-step ahead of RCR. Team owner Haas will make sure the team is well-funded, so there is no reason for Busch not to perform well right out of the box if he can work effectively with Knost. 

The key for Busch, more than any other piece of the puzzle, is to be patient and handle the pressure. It’s obvious that Stewart-Haas Racing is making a move to become even more of a powerhouse than it already is by adding Busch and Harvick to the lineup. But meshing could take time, adding frustration for a driver who has waited two years for that “one last chance” at a title-contending ride. If all goes well, this team makes the Chase, but where it goes from there is still up in the air; 2014 could be a bit of a building year for the future more than one of instant success. Can Busch handle that? In November 2011, no one would have expected he’d get this chance, and he’s done a great job of proving doubters wrong. But 2014 will undoubtedly be yet another big test.


What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media

“Putting the Furniture Row car in the Chase was an enormous compliment to just how good of a driver Busch is,” one competitor says. “He’s able to get the most out of anything that he can drive. His team knows that he gives 100 percent every single time he climbs in the car. And he seems to be a more relaxed individual now that he has his current girlfriend in his life.”

Looking forward, another says: “Busch is going to have to deal with the circumstances around his hiring at Stewart-Haas for some time until his teammates accept him. Whether it’s true or not, the thought that Busch was Haas’s guy and not Tony’s guy is going to weigh heavily on the whole organization. Busch has some lingering bitterness with his new teammates, and if something brings those feelings to the surface, it could get ugly.”

“Kurt has all the talent in the world, but can he co-exist with Stewart and Harvick?” one media member asks. “I can see a Stewart-Harvick clique that excludes Kurt. Despite Stewart saying all the right things, I don’t think he’s a ‘Kurt guy.’ And Haas making this deal basically without Tony’s and Zippy’s knowledge or approval provides an interesting glimpse into the power structure at SHR.”


Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers:
For all the talk about Busch being back in a competitive ride, it’s rarely noted that he’s won only seven races in a CoT or Gen-6 car — and those came bundled in four years while in Penske equipment.
Pretty Solid Pick: That said, he should parlay his new Hendrick/Stewart-Haas ride into strong showings at any number of places. Much like his new teammate, Kevin Harvick, Busch is versatile.
Good Sleeper Pick: Surprisingly, he’s never won a points-paying plate race. He’s got the dancing partners to do so now — if they can all get along.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Martinsville just continues to confound him.
Insider Tip: Will he be “one of the gang” or on an island at Stewart-Haas Racing? If nothing else, this will be fun to watch.


No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Sponsors:
Haas Automation/State Water Heaters
Owner: Tony Stewart/Gene Haas/Joe Custer
Crew Chief: Daniel Knost
Years with current team: 1
Under contract through: 2015+
Best points finish: 1st (2004)
Hometown: La Vegas, Nev.
Born: Aug. 4, 1978

 

 

Photos courtesy of Stewart-Haas Racing

For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
 

 

Teaser:
Can Kurt Busch co-exist with new teammates Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick at Stewart-Haas Racing? The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season will answer that question.
Post date: Monday, February 10, 2014 - 23:50
All taxonomy terms: Brad Keselowski, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-brad-keselowski
Body:

Ask Brad Keselowski how quickly one can go from “champ” to “chump.”  Brad Keselowski

One year after winning the 2012 Cup title, he found himself out of the hunt to defend his position atop the points after missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Unlike drivers Denny Hamlin or Tony Stewart, though, Keselowski didn’t get physically hurt. Instead, it was a year when the team mentally hurt itself. There was off-track controversy, including a February article that NASCAR saw as so scathingly critical that it earned Keselowski a one-on-one with CEO Brian France. There was a failed inspection in April, leading to a 25-point penalty, a lengthy appeal and crew suspensions that cost driver and team its rhythm. Then, there were the strategy shortcomings — losing races for everything from running out of gas to poor tire calls — that left both Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe at wit’s end.

“It’s been one of those years, where you say, ‘How much more can they throw at you?’” Keselowski said after Charlotte in October, the site of his lone 2013 win.

But Keselowski isn’t the type of driver to get down. Instead, after a strong Chase recovery that left him 14th in the standings, the best of drivers not to compete for a title is using the failed title defense as motivation. And a driver who excels when playing the role of underdog is good news for his Penske team as it moves forward.

In truth, driver and team aren’t really that far off. As an example, Keselowski's average finish in 2013 was 14.9. In 2011, with an average of 14.8, the same driver finished fifth in points. He hasn’t completely slipped, just slipped up at the wrong times. A wreck at Bristol in August that left him 30th was followed by a blown engine at Atlanta (35th). The two-week stretch cost him 60-plus points just before the Chase.

A manufacturer switch prior to the 2013 season also led to growing pains. But after moving from Dodge to Ford, Team Penske has quietly become a top Blue Oval team, outpacing current engine supplier Roush Fenway Racing down the stretch last season. Now in Year 2, they’re working more closely together, shrinking the information gap while gaining a level of mutual respect. Roush-Yates engines are durable (Keselowski suffered one engine failure last year) and produce good power. Penske’s two-car outfit may be a hair off of the top teams’ speed, but they’re plenty capable of winning races.

The most interesting move by Penske in 2013 was locking down Keselowski through the 2017 season with a contract extension. This move served a two-pronged need: granting the driver the raise he’d earned and, more important, keeping him in the fold.

When Keselowski jumped the Hendrick ship in 2009, team owner Rick Hendrick fired a warning shot, saying, “Wherever he goes, he’ll always be close enough for me to get him and bring him back. I’ve said all along I want him to have the best opportunity, and we have several options, but the one thing I told him is, ‘Look, if you decide to do something different, I want you to have the best opportunity, and whoever you go to drive for just tell them don’t get pissed off when I come after you.’”

With sponsorship on Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 team expiring in 2014 (AARP) and 2016 (Axalta) — and the veteran presumably exiting the seat sooner rather than later — Penske’s extension dodges a couple of Hendrick bullets.

Longtime sponsor Miller Lite will be back, but for only two dozen races — which tells us the driver got a well-deserved bonus for delivering “The Captain” his first Cup title. MillerCoors isn’t paying less; the asking price for sponsoring a title-winning driver and team went through the roof. Since, longtime Penske associate Alliance Truck Parts (eight races), as well as the Wurth Group (four), have come on board to fill out the season.

Wolfe will also be back at the helm, along with most of the crew, as both driver and chief believe 2013 was a mere anomaly. Wolfe and Keselowski are a formidable duo, calculating and aggressive. They communicate well and are able to adapt to a changing racetrack as well as overcome a bad situation during a race. They don’t often lose their cool, and that’s a big part of why they’re champions in a series that demands concentration and the ability to adapt. Wolfe is an excellent team leader, and his style yields results.

Given talent, equipment and the organization around him, it’s unlikely that Keselowski will stumble two years in a row. The team does need to improve on the intermediate tracks, where its average finish was a mediocre 17th. However, that late-season win at Charlotte, combined with four straight top-11 finishes to close out 2013, makes one think that most of the speed bumps are now behind them. Overall, the No. 2 team may still be a notch below Jimmie Johnson in terms of money, manpower and RPMs, but that gap didn’t stop Keselowski in 2012.

“A champion is forever,” he said at Homestead, not skipping a beat. “It might not be reigning, but you’re still a champion forever.  I’m proud of that.  I’m looking forward to the opportunities in the future to become a two-time champion.”

For Keselowski, those chances start right now. A Chase berth in a 16-team field is a lock in 2014 and a run at a second title wouldn't be a surprise.


What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, owners and media

“He’s the 2012 champion and he and Paul Wolfe continue to mature as a team,” a rival crew chief says. “Penske Racing will give him anything that he thinks he needs to succeed. Keselowski is still early on in his career development and can adapt to any variables thrown at him. He’s proven he can get more out of a car than most anyone, just look at what he did in JR Motorsports equipment and what everyone else has done in it since.”

“Keselowski is in a Ford, and they struggled for most of 2013,” another crew chief says. “Keselowski’s opinions can get him in trouble with the sanctioning body and that can add to the stress of the team. Another year of mediocrity could cause the talk of Kes being a one-hit wonder to surface.”

One media member asks: “The driver-crew chief duo is too good to not rebound, right? Last season was full of change for them: new manufacturer, new teammate, new alliance with RFR, new stature as the champ. I bet Kes & Wolfe learned a lot from it and it’ll probably make them better. Plus, I can’t help but think this team was penalized by NASCAR because of Keselowski’s pre-Daytona interview with USA Today. I really believe that.”


Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers:
It takes a special breed to excel at Talladega on a consistent basis — and the thinking here is that Keselowski is one of those types.
Pretty Solid Pick: Keselowski’s last four Martinsville results show finishes of ninth, sixth, sixth and fourth. He’s trending in the right direction.
Good Sleeper Pick: Though not often mentioned as contenders in Loudon, N.H., this bunch has runs of sixth or better in four of the last five races.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Nothing jumps out, but this is worth mentioning: In only four full seasons, Auto Club Speedway is the lone top-10 outlier on his résumé. That’s pretty impressive.
Insider Tip: Keselowski and Paul Wolfe are too smart and talented to suffer a second straight sub-contender season. Use as an A-lister on most any weekend.


No. 2 Team Penske Ford
Sponsors:
Miller Lite/Alliance Truck Parts/Wurth Group
Owner: Roger Penske
Crew Chief: Paul Wolfe
Years with current team: 5
Under contract through: 2017
Best points finish: 1st (2012)
Hometown: Rochester Hills, Mich.
Born: Feb. 12, 1984


Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

 

Teaser:
Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Team Penske group shoot for a second NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in 2014.
Post date: Sunday, February 9, 2014 - 21:54
All taxonomy terms: Joey Logano, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-joey-logano
Body:

In the year in which he turned 23, the driver whom Mark Martin once called the “best of his generation” finally started living up to those lofty expectations. In his fifth Cup Series season, Joey Logano had a career year in 2013 after moving to Team Penske from Joe Gibbs’ operation, stabilizing the No. 22 car after becoming its fourth different driver in less than two years.  Joey Logano

Logano ran up front consistently, won from the pole at Michigan in August, and then made the Chase for the first time in his career. An eighth-place points finish was eight spots better than his previous best of 16th (2010). Logano also showed that he wouldn’t back down from conflict, either in or out of the race car. In one turn — on the last lap at Fontana — contact with Denny Hamlin altered a season, while older drivers learned to think twice about messing with a youngster coming into his own.

Now, the trick for Logano in 2014 is to remain among NASCAR’s elite. Can he? Yes, and with an expanded Chase field, he shouldn’t have an issue with a postseason bid — even if teammate Brad Keselowski, along with 2013 injury victims Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin, return to form.

At least Logano comes to battle armed with a solid support system. No major changes are expected on the No. 22 team this year, allowing Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon to build on the foundation they established in 2013. While he’s relatively new to the Cup scene, Gordon has been around the block in the sport, and he understands how to handle the young Logano well. Their pairing shows how chemistry can be fickle: With Gordon, Logano has already equaled the wins scored with Tony Stewart’s right-hand man, Greg Zipadelli, with whom he was paired at JGR from 2009-11.

Perhaps most important, the youngster has a true mentor in Keselowski. The former Cup champ has taken the driver under his wing, building a relationship that inspires a level of confidence that Logano never had at JGR. The 2013 season showed, through the off-track comments of Kyle Busch and the on-track rivalry with Hamlin, that JGR wasn’t exactly “Three’s Company.” Everyone at Penske has invested in Logano’s growth over the long term.

That sense of security extends to the boardroom. Team Penske announced in late 2013 that sponsor Shell-Pennzoil had signed a multi-year deal to remain the primary sponsor of the No. 22 for the foreseeable future. It’s a major vote of confidence; previous funding deals for Logano had been in place prior to his taking the wheel of a ride, but Pennzoil’s re-upping was all about him — and Roger Penske’s empire didn’t hurt, either.

So why is he still on the Chase bubble? One easy answer is equipment. The team made the switch from Dodge to Ford prior to last season and rivaled Roush Fenway Racing as the top Ford operation. That said, the Blue Oval crowd spent the season’s first half chasing its tail while Chevy and Toyota ran circles around them. It’s a small gap, one that superstars like Keselowski and Carl Edwards still overcome through skill and veteran experience. Can Logano be placed in that category? Roush-Yates engines, while stout, also failed in the opening Chase race, killing momentum. Two failed motors will be two too many in 2014.

The road also gets a bit rocky when it comes to consistency. Logano didn’t really have a pattern to his performances in 2013 — he had strong runs in initial track visits and not-so-strong runs the second time around, or vice versa. There wasn’t one type of track that the team could look at as an area of overall strength. That’s good in the sense that there are no glaring weaknesses, but it makes it harder to focus on specifics. The team also needed recovery time from a September distraction in which it was accused of conspiring with Front Row Motorsports to earn Logano more points at Richmond. Nothing was ever proved, and while Logano would have made the Chase regardless, questions dogged him far into the postseason.

That makes 2014 a critical year. On paper, it’s easy to count the youngster out due to the history of “sophomore slumps” with new teams and the experience of drivers around him. But at some point, Martin’s prediction needs to come true. A superstar is no one-year wonder; can Logano finally shed the critics for good?


Fantasy Stall
Looking at Checkers:
Logano has become quite the intermediate tracker. The bigger the better — think Atlanta, Auto Club, Texas, et al.
Pretty Solid Pick: His win-from-the-pole performance at Michigan last year was pretty impressive, no?
Good Sleeper Pick: Think past his Dover tumble in 2009 and realize that he has four consecutive top 10s on the concrete high banks.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Since scoring a pair of top 10s at Martinsville in 2010, he’s limped to a 17.8-place average (zero top 10s) in the six races since.
Insider Tip: Logano found himself in some scrapes early in the 2013 season but rebounded to post personal bests for points finish, top 5s, top 10s, laps led and average finish. The thinking here is the kid’s finally for real.


What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, competitors and media
“He’s doing well with his teammate at Penske,” a rival crew chiefs says. “Logano was one of the few drivers to win in a Ford last season. And honestly, he was rushed into the Cup Series before he was ready — he’s just now getting to the point where he should have been beginning to figure out how it works at this level. That said, he’s going to be second fiddle to Brad Keselowski until he’s able to match him by winning a title in the Cup Series.”

While last season’s improvements were obvious to any observer, another crew chief says that there are still questions about the 23-year-old: “Some drivers feel like he’s been given his ride and hasn’t earned it. Plus, he just got engaged, and there are a lot of times that a commitment to a woman can derail a driver’s career. Also, his dad can be a bad influence. Logano is at a point in his career that he needs to get out from his daddy’s shadow.”

“Logano’s success last season was two-pronged,” says a media member. “One, he needed to get out at JGR; that place was doing him no favors. Two, he landed at possibly the best spot he could with a big-money sponsor and a defending-champion teammate welcoming him with open arms.”


No. 22 Team Penske Ford
Sponsors:
Shell-Pennzoil/AAA
Owner: Roger Penske
Crew Chief: Todd Gordon
Years with current team: 2
Under contract through: 2015
Best points finish: 8th (2013)
Hometown: Middletown, Conn.
Born: May 24, 1990


Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

Teaser:
Joey Logano crew chief Todd Gordon lead the No. 22 Team Penske group into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Post date: Sunday, February 9, 2014 - 21:31
All taxonomy terms: Marcos Ambrose, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2014-nascar-driver-profile-marcos-ambrose
Body:

After improving steadily for three seasons — on the track and in the points standings — Marcos Ambrose still wasn’t much of a week-to-week contender for NASCAR’s Chase in 2013. But a distinct ability to win on road courses, combined with the occasional oval-track success, always kept the Chase door slightly open for him to make it in as a wild card entrant when the payoffs were a 12-driver affair.  Marcos Ambrose

Alas, the streak of improvement unraveled with a nightmare year in 2013. Ambrose failed to win a third straight Cup race at Watkins Glen, the site of his lone premier series triumphs. Even worse, he failed to notch a top-5 finish anywhere (road course or oval) for the first time in his Cup career. That meant Ambrose wasn’t in the hunt for an outside Chase berth down the stretch. In fact, he wasn’t even close.

Amid a deep pool of impressive young drivers working their way up the ranks, improved results for Ambrose might be necessary for the former Australian V8 Supercars champion to stay with Richard Petty Motorsports for a fifth season in 2015. That’s if he even wants to stay; the last two years, rumors have run rampant that Ambrose has given serious thought to returning to Australia, where Ford would put him in a top-tier ride, before choosing to remain in the States.

Either way, the No. 9 seat is a year-to-year deal. That leaves Ambrose vulnerable if the youth movement now beginning in the sport’s top level continues to take shape. It’s a demographic the 37-year-old Ambrose is no longer a part of. Instead, his seat happens to be a perfect landing spot should Ford or RPM — now with three development drivers under its umbrella after Dakoda Armstrong joined Corey Lajoie and Ryan Truex late in the 2013 season — decide a new driver in its portfolio is more deserving of a Sprint Cup opportunity.

But those are all “what-ifs” for now. What can we legitimately expect from Ambrose in 2014?

Well, 18th-26th-place ranking over the last five years doesn’t exactly exude confidence. Nor does his alliance with the manufacturer that struggled the most in 2013.

Overall race speed for RPM was a problem last season. Between Ambrose and teammate Aric Almirola, the organization led a total of just 82 laps. Ambrose’s average running position also dropped 2.6 spots, to 19.5, illustrating a sustained drop of pace. Even hiring crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, a former Roush wrench who led Matt Kenseth to the 2009 Daytona 500, hasn’t put RPM equipment in sync.

The introduction of the Gen-6 chassis may be partly to blame, but the distinct struggles of most Ford teams last year played a big role, too. RPM operates in conjunction with Roush Fenway Racing, the kingpin of a Blue Oval hierarchy. However, there are many drivers — like Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano — who simply get the fruits of improvement from a manufacturer before RPM. Such is life on the NASCAR totem pole, where this organization’s two-car tandem is sixth and seventh in line, respectively.

Will info trickle down to Ambrose and make an impact beyond the road courses? Eh. A future trip back Down Under seems more likely.


What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, competitors and media
Marcos Ambrose has developed the reputation of being a one-hit wonder — as in, only hitting it out of the park on one type of track.

“His strength is obviously road courses,” one competitor notes. “Most of those guys with that background, whether it is Juan Pablo Montoya or Marcos, shine at those tracks, but there are typically only two of them a year. His positives are definitely the road courses.”

We’re not breaking any news with that assessment. But one area of his performance that seems to have taken a dip is on the intermediate tracks.

“I think the program at RPM isn’t doing him any favors in that respect,” a media member says. “There is a hierarchy in any program, and Ford Racing’s priorities are with Roush and Penske. Plus, Ambrose is all RPM can afford. He seemed most successful on the ovals with Todd Parrott atop his box, and that’s gone now.”

“He needs to work on the ovals,” says another crew chief. “He seems to either be in contention or completely out to lunch. He needs to find a balance where they’re able to score decent points every race on ovals instead of being so inconsistent.”


No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
Sponsors:
DeWalt/Stanley Tools/Twisted Tea
Owners: Andy Murstein/Doug Bergeron/Richard Petty
Crew Chief: Drew Blickensderfer
Years with current team: 4
Under contract through: 2014
Best points finish: 18th (2009, ’12)
Hometown: Launceston, Australia
Born: Sept. 1, 1976


Top photo courtesy of NASCAR; Ambrose courtesy by Action Sports, Inc.

For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
 

Teaser:
Marcos Ambrose and his no. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports team face a make-or-break year on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit in 2014.
Post date: Sunday, February 9, 2014 - 21:15
All taxonomy terms: Aric Almirola, NASCAR, News
Path: /2014-nascar-driver-profiles-aric-almirola
Body:

Plenty of the elements around Aric Almirola’s ride in Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 remain the same from last year to this year. The team is sticking with Ford, Marcos Ambrose returns as his teammate, and primary sponsorship from Smithfield Foods, among others, remains solid amid a swarm of investor cash.  Aric Almirola

Yet one big shift — one that Almirola dealt with in the final races of the 2013 season — could have some negative effects on the team’s performance going forward. It’s big enough that Almirola, considered a long-shot threat at best to make the Chase last year, could see a sizable drop in on-track production come 2014. That shift is the loss of crew chief Todd Parrott.

Parrott, known mostly in NASCAR circles for commanding Dale Jarrett to the 1999 Cup Series title and a pair of Daytona 500 wins, was suspended by the sanctioning body late last year for violating the sport’s substance abuse policy. He was fired from RPM a week later.

One of the sport’s most experienced and respected head wrenches, Parrott seemed to have instilled some confidence in Almirola. That came with solid car setups capable of contending, especially at the 1.5-mile tracks that dot so much of the schedule. Early in 2013, Parrott led Almirola to consecutive top-10 finishes at Texas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Richmond International Raceway.

That stretch was the highlight of Almirola’s campaign before he unexpectedly faded some down the stretch, scoring just one top-10 run in the final 17 races. That finish also came at Kansas, one of his best tracks in recent seasons.

After interim crew chief Greg Ebert did little, Parrott has been replaced for 2014 by Trent Owens, a former Nationwide Series crew chief for both Braun Racing and Turner Scott. Between the two teams, Owens has five career wins from atop the pit box, but the vaunted No. 43 will be Owens’ first Sprint Cup gig.

When RPM announced Owens, Almirola was quick to dispel a notion that the new crew chief would cause a seismic shift.

“Our team is the same,” he says. “We’re getting better, but we need more top 10s, top 5s and wins. I believe Trent can help us do that.”

But this duo faces the challenge of going to battle with a manufacturer that fell behind on-track in 2013. The typical lack of speed from the Ford camp last season could set a low ceiling that no crew chief can fully overcome.

No matter the result, 2014 may be a pivotal campaign for the Floridian’s future. RPM isn’t where Almirola can reach the top rungs of the sport, but it’s also not a place where he’s been able to dazzle routinely in mid-level equipment. In short, it’s been a marriage of convenience. RPM investors still seek “big-name” drivers, making runs at Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch in recent years, leaving Almirola vulnerable should he endure a year of bad performances.

Should he keep progressing — Almirola bumped his lead-lap finishes from 15 to 24 in one season — he’ll likely be OK. But RPM hasn’t made it easy on him.


What the Competition is Saying:
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, competitors and media
Aric Almirola is a qualified driver working with the most revered icon in the sport.

“Almirola has the wisdom of Richard Petty to lean on to help develop his career,” a rival crew chief says. “He has a very solid relationship with his sponsors — of which the Air Force is one — so he will not have to worry about making it to the racetrack on a given race weekend.”

Regardless of talent, the organization for which he drives is only capable of so much, though: “Richard Petty Motorsports is a complete customer race shop,” says another crew chief. “They purchase everything. They only have a finish operation — they don’t fabricate anything on their own. Ford was behind with the Gen-6 car (last) season, and if they don’t make progress this year, he’ll be fighting an uphill battle against the other manufacturers.”

There are also questions about his life away from the track — and how changes in one’s personal life can affect focus. Says another crew chief: “Almirola is a new dad. Several drivers have struggled after welcoming their first child into the world.”


No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
Sponsors:
Smithfield Foods/US Air Force/STP/GoBowling.com/Fresh From Florida
Owner: Andy Murstein/Doug Bergeron/Richard Petty
Crew Chief: Trent Owens
Years with current team: 3
Under contract through: 2014
Best points finish: 18th (2013)
Hometown: Tampa, Fla.
Born: March 14, 1984


Top photo courtesy of NASCAR; Almirola courtesy of Action Sports, Inc.

For complete Speedweeks coverage, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

Teaser:
Aric Almirola and new chief Trent Owens lead the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 team into the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Post date: Sunday, February 9, 2014 - 21:00
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-weekly-tipoff-who-are-mvps-surprises-so-far
Body:

For most teams, January is the first normal month of the college basketball season.

No breaks for finals. No trips to far-flung locations for tournaments in front of sparse crowds. And no wild fluctuations between the caliber of competition in non-conference schedules.

Now that those teams and players have hit that stride, our college basketball staff takes a look at the most impressive players of the month and the biggest surprises.

Who was the Player of the Month in January?

Mitch Light: I didn’t overthink this one; it’s Doug McDermott from Creighton. The frontrunner for National Player of the Year honors, McDermott was sensational during January, averaging 26.1 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting over 50 percent from the field. He started the New Year with a 30-point, 10-rebound performance in a win at Seton Hall and capped it off with a season-high 39 points — including the game-winning three with 2.5 seconds remaining — in a 63–60 victory over St. John’s.

David Fox: Even though McDermott is a virtual certainty for National Player of the Year, my top player of January is one of the few players in the Big East who can match McDermott’s scoring prowess. Bryce Cotton of Providence has been one of the most underrated players in the country, but the Friars are on the precipice of their first NCAA bid in a decade thanks to Cotton’s play of late. Cotton averaged 21.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in a month that saw Providence beat Georgetown, Creighton and Butler. Even more, Cotton has been a workhorse, averaging 41.1 minutes per game thanks to a double-overtime game against St. John’s in which he played all 50 minutes.

Braden Gall: Few players had as good of a start to the 2014 calendar year as Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick. First of all, the Bearcats went 9–0 in conference play during January, highlighted by wins at Memphis and Louisville. Kilpatrick scored 18 in the road win over the Tigers and 28 in the road win over the Cardinals. On the month, the Cincy sharpshooter averaged 20.1 points and 4.8 rebounds and shot 86 percent from the foul line. In addition, he had just nine turnovers in the final seven games of the month.

What team surprised you the most in January?

Mitch Light: Anyone who watched Virginia in the month of December has to be stunned that the Cavs are off to such a fast start in the ACC. In a four-day stretch in early December, Virginia scored 38 points in a loss at home to Wisconsin and lost at Green Bay. Then after closer-than-expected wins over Northern Iowa and Norfolk State, Virginia was blasted by 35 points at Tennessee. Since that debacle in Knoxville, the Cavs are 8–1, with the only loss coming by three points at Duke. The emergence of sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon as a consistent scorer has been a huge key. Since failing to score in 21 minutes in the loss at Tennessee, Brogdon has averaged 15.2 points, with a low of 11 against Florida State and a high of 18 against Virginia Tech. Virginia is done with Duke and North Carolina, and only has to play Syracuse once — at home. Don’t be shocked if this team stays in the ACC title hunt until early March.

David Fox: Texas is perhaps the biggest surprise of any team since conference play began. With a new athletic director and diminishing results in recent years, Rick Barnes appeared to be on his last legs with the Longhorns. Entering the season, the Horns did not have the look of a team ready to compete in a deep Big 12. The roster had been shed of most of its high-profile recruits — and it’s worth mentioning those prospects didn’t really pan out, anyway. In reality, though, Texas shed itself of malcontents and egos. The Longhorns have become a legit team in the Big 12 and a threat to advance in the NCAA Tournament thanks to the out-of-nowhere emergence of Jonathan Holmes, the arrival of freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor and development of Cameron Ridley.

Braden Gall: Have to go with Texas in this case. Rick Barnes entered this year squarely on the hot seat needing a big season to save the day. And with one upperclassmen on the entire roster, the odds were stacked against the Texas head coach. But he has rallied his troops behind the development of a freshman point guard and two monsters in the paint. The very young and very inexperienced Horns now sit alone in second place in what many consider the best league in the nation. They have crushed Kansas at home, handled Baylor and West Virginia with ease on the road, beat Kansas State and Iowa State at home to top four ranked teams in a row for the first time in school history.

Teaser:
College Basketball Weekly Tipoff: Who are the MVPs, surprises so far?
Post date: Thursday, February 6, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/olympic-skier-julia-mancuso-talks-tiaras-training-and-going-gold
Body:

While the fun-loving Julia Mancuso, 29, may not have the name recognition of fellow skier Lindsey Vonn, she does have something better — more Olympic medals. In fact, Mancuso has amassed more than any other American female alpine skier ever — one gold from Turin, Italy, in 2006; and two silver from Vancouver in 2010. 

The Squaw Valley, Calif., resident heads into the Sochi Olympics looking to add more hardware to her haul, as she hopes to take on four events: the downhill, super-G, super-combined and giant slalom. 

At this stage in Mancuso’s 15-year career, skiing comes as naturally to her as walking. She first slid around on skis as a two-year-old, and shortly thereafter entered the sport to emulate her sister April, who’s four years her senior. “That helped me to get to the next level,” says Mancuso. “I wasn’t looking at girls around me who were my age. I was looking up at her. She was the target.” Mancuso finally beat her sister at 13 years old, turned pro at 15 and was off to world-class races. 

In an age when many professional athletes conceal their personalities off the field, Mancuso refreshingly shows hers, whether she’s posting a Facebook photo of herself skiing off of a sand dune in a bikini, or stating on her Twitter page that she “skis better than you.” 

Heading into Sochi, she leads a high-profile U.S. women’s ski team that won’t include Vonn, who’s out nursing a knee injury. The void, however, leaves the unpredictable Mancuso, who’s been known to wear a toy tiara on the medal stand, with the opportunity to take center stage in the world’s biggest winter sporting event.

Where do you keep your Olympic medals? 

My mom keeps my medals and has them on display in her living room. She is more responsible than me, so I know I’ll never lose them if she has them in her possession. 

Besides skis, what is the one thing you always travel with?   

My ukulele. I’ve been playing for about a year. Some of my teammates play the guitar, so if I wanted to join the band, I had to bring an instrument to have a jam session. 

What does a normal day of practice look like for you during the season?

I ski three to four hours and then spend two to three hours in the gym. 

During the offseason, you live in Maui and spend a lot of time cross-training in the ocean. What’s your workout go-to?   

Stand up paddling has a direct correlation to skiing because you are in a similar position to skiing and trying to keep your lower body stable while moving your upper body. 

Describe what it feels like to fly down a mountain at  50 mph on what are essentially toothpicks. 

When I’m having a fast run, it feels both like I’m out of control and have enough time between gates to think about being in the right body position. I’m never behind the gates, always in front of them, and there is a bit of that false reality where the next gate looks so far away.

What does it feel like to crash? 

Time slows down a little. The first thing I think about is guessing what the consequences will be and hope that once I stop everything will be okay. 

Tell us something about your life off the slopes that people would be surprised to know about you.  

I recently took a free diving course and found out that I can hold my breath for three-and-a-half minutes. And that was without training. It taught me that we have so much potential we have yet to discover. 

If and when you stand atop the podium in Sochi, will you don your tiara?

Always. I think it’s a really fun thing. Wearing a tiara is a big part of my Olympic podium and I hope to get the chance to wear it again. 

What motivated you to start your lingerie line, Kiss My Tiara?

Back when I was 18, I would always get the same question from reporters: ‘Wow, you really surprised us today. How did you do so well?’ I work really hard and was skiing really well, so I didn’t really see why it was a surprise that I won. I started answering with silly replies. I decided I was going to wear these underwear — they said Super Julius on them and I changed them to Super Jules — and I wore them in a race so I could say that I had won because I was wearing my Super Jules underwear. That’s how it started. 

Where does the name come from? 

A few years later, I got some flak from (former skier) Picabo Street for wearing the tiara, so I combined the two things and came up with Kiss My Tiara. I don’t get asked any ‘surprise’ questions anymore. 

What are your goals for Sochi? 

My goal for these Olympics is to get another medal and win gold. I feel like I have a good chance in every event that I enter, and if I can actually win a medal, that will be success, but my ultimate goal is to win gold. 

—By Matt McCue

Teaser:
Olympic Skier Julia Mancuso Talks Tiaras, Training and Going for Gold
Post date: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/10-surprising-facts-about-winter-olympics
Body:

All eyes will be on the Russian town of Sochi as the Winter Olympics is set to kick off on Feb. 7 with the games Opening Ceremony. In anticipation of this worldwide sporting event, it's always interesting to look at some of the surprising facts that relate to this historic event. Fortunately for us, someone put together this handy infographic. 

2014 Sochi Winter Games: What Athlete Has The Most Medals Ever and 10 Other Amazing Facts
Created by financesonline.com | Author: Robin Renford | Follow our Tumblr
Teaser:
All eyes will be on the Russian town of Sochi as the Winter Olympics is set to kick off on Feb. 7 with the games Opening Ceremony. In anticipation of this worldwide sporting event, it's always interesting to look at some of the surprising facts that relate to this historic event.
Post date: Monday, February 3, 2014 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/curling-101-what-exactly-are-these-people-doing
Body:

Let's face it, the average sports fan has no clue what's going on with curling. What's up with the sweeping? Why is it called "curling"? Who started this crazy game? With the Winter Olympics kicking off soon, it's time you learned. This video will tell you all. 

The Science of Curling from ProjectExplorer.org in Canada from ProjectExplorer.org on Vimeo.

Teaser:
Let's face it, the average sports fan has no clue what's going on with curling. What's up with the sweeping? Why is it called "curling"? Who started this crazy game? With the Winter Olympics kicking off soon, it's time you learned. This video will tell you all.
Post date: Monday, February 3, 2014 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/sochi-dirty-truth-behind-olympic-host-city
Body:

Maybe you’re wondering why the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2014 Winter Olympics to a Russian resort town with an average winter temperature in the 40s and a dearth of snow. You aren’t alone. $ince nobody know$ why the Committee doe$ anything, the $election will remain a mystery.

But potentially balmy temperatures are just one of the potential problems facing Sochi, which sits on the Black Sea and features lush vegetation and a “humid subtropical” climate. Political issues abound, corruption has been a constant and the threat of violence from neighboring parties is very real.

Let the games begin!

Snowball’s chance in…Sochi?

So, the IOC picked one of the few places in Russia that doesn’t get cold. Brilliant! In fact, events have been cancelled there over the past couple years because of high temperatures, rain and insufficient flake totals. What do you expect from a place that has palm trees? Does this mean the alpine and Nordic events will be contested via video games? Nope. Those clever Russians have been stockpiling snow for a year, hiding it under special blankets, and have 400 snow cannons at the ready to dust the mountains. They’re saving water to freeze, too. And there’s plenty of it. Heavy rains in September led to mudslides and the declaration of a state of emergency. It may be the winter sports equivalent of plastic surgery, but at least the show will go on. Probably.

Graft, Corruption, Business as Usual

According to a report issued by the country’s opposition leaders last May, nearly $30 billion of the $51 billion Olympic budget has gone to businessmen and government officials in the form of bribes and kickbacks. There were few, if any, competitive bids for work, and friends of President Vladimir Putin have profited greatly. “The Sochi Olympics are an unprecedented thieves’ caper, in which representatives of Putin’s government are mixed up, along with the oligarchs close to the government,” wrote former deputy prime minister and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. 

Law and Order (Hopefully)

You may remember that the Russians had a little dust-up with the breakaway republic of Chechnya at the end of the last century. Despite a victory by the favorites, there has been some continued violence there and in the neighboring areas of Dagestan and Ingushetia, which just happen to be close to Sochi. 

In October, a suicide bomber with ties to Chechen Islamic militants blew up a bus in southern Russia, killing six. Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov has called for attacks on civilians and urged his charges to target the Olympics. Surveillance will be high, both by old-style spies and via newfangled electronic methods. 

Expect plenty of undesirables to be collected and relocated to areas where they can do no harm. The Russians will deploy between 40-50,000 police and soldiers. They’ll use drone helicopters. There will be a naval presence in the Black Sea. Cossacks will maraud through the streets. Okay, so maybe that last one is a little over the top. But these have been nicknamed the “Gulag Olympics” by some human-rights activists.

Discrimination R Us

In a move that would have made Joe Stalin proud, Putin in June signed a law prohibiting the promotion of “nontraditional” sexual relationships to minors. Gay athletes and spectators fear arrest and harassment. Advocates are howling that the IOC refuses to confront Russia on this law and declare it in violation of the Olympic anti-discrimination principles. When IOC liaison Jean-Claude Killy announced that “The spirit of the Games is awakening here,” he was ridiculed for accommodating a government that traffics in hate, prejudice and violence. Some athletes vow to defy the law, which allows Russian leaders to express homophobic attitudes on TV. New Zealand has promised to protect its gay athletes, most notably speed skater Blake Skjellerup, who plans to compete with a rainbow pin on his uniform, in direct violation of the law. It will be interesting to see how the Russians deal with him and if they are capable of taking the world stage without behaving offensively. 

—By Michael Bradley

Teaser:
Maybe you’re wondering why the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2014 Winter Olympics to a Russian resort town with an average winter temperature in the 40s and a dearth of snow. You aren’t alone. $ince nobody know$ why the Committee doe$ anything, the $election will remain a mystery.
Post date: Thursday, January 30, 2014 - 10:40
All taxonomy terms: super-bowl, NFL
Path: /nfl/10-odd-things-happened-super-bowl-media-day
Body:
If you enjoy the circus, are not too fond of your dignity and don’t embarrass easily, then someday you should consider a trip to Super Bowl Media Day. What started as a place where actual journalists could interview NFL players has turned into a mass demonstration of … well, it’s really hard to describe what the demonstration is.
 
There are actual journalists trying to actually interview NFL players … in the midst of cartoon characters, scantily-clad women, comedians, gymnasts, dancers, entertainers, and kids.
 
And actually, as the size of Media Day has grown – over 5,000 media members were credentialed for Super Bowl XLVIII – the chaos has diminished. No reporter has shouted a wedding proposal at a quarterback in at least half a decade. And Gilbert Gottfried hasn’t been seen near a podium in years.
 
Still, Media Day XLVIII at the Prudential Center in Newark didn’t disappoint. Here were 10 of the highlights – or lowlights, depending on your perspective – from the craziest NFL day of the year:
 
1. Where’s Waldo? This actually was the most entertaining part of Media Day. A man, dressed up as Waldo – complete with the red and white striped shirt and hat – walking around Media Day turning the whole scene into one big Where’s Waldo picture. And the best part was when he’d duck into the crowd and send one of his assistants to a podium and they’d ask a player “Where’s Waldo?” Really, he wasn’t too hard to pick out in the crowd.
 
2. The Rutgers Marching Band. This Media Day had everything, including entertainment – which wasn’t exactly a welcomed addition by the media throng. Thankfully, the band played only before Media Day and during halftime. There was also entertainment down on the floor provided by the Jets and Eagles cheerleaders. Why the Eagles? Because the Giants don’t have cheerleaders so the NFC wasn’t represented.
 
3. Minuteman, Minute waltz … whatever. Another distinguished member of the media was walking around in costume interviewing other costumed media members, only this one wasn’t easy to figure out. He was dressed sort of Colonial-ly, leading one reporter (OK, it was me) to argue with another whether he was supposed to be George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. Only then did a third reporter come over yelling “He’s Mozart! He’s Austrian!” … Oh. Of course.
 
4. Marshawn Lynch’s silent protest. The cranky Seahawks’ running back made noise earlier in the playoffs when he drew a conditional $50,000 fine from the NFL for not speaking to reporters all year. It was conditional in that it would be wiped out if he adhered to the league’s Media Policy and doubled if he didn’t. Then he threatened to stand up to the league by skipping Media Day anyway. But he didn’t. He showed up and talked for six minutes and 21 seconds, then took a few steps back and sat there with a hood and shades on as reporters shouted questions and photographers clicked away. It was a pathetic show of defiance, really, but he got away with it as the league decided not to slap him with the doubled fine. Asked about Lynch’s performance, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, “I heard he did a great six minutes. Some comedians make a career off of that.”
 
5. Deion Sanders interviewing Richard Sherman. When Prime Time does an interview, it’s really a love fest, but this one had a special feeling given the attention Sherman got for his 18-second post-game rant to Fox’s Erin Andrews. That was an all-time attention grab, and few were ever better at grabbing attention than Deion. And Deion’s second best moment came when he approached the silent Lynch in a failed attempt to get him to talk on camera. The interlude ended with a hug.
 
6. Randy Moss doing interviews at Media Day. The fact that Moss is now a member of the media (for Fox) is hysterical for anyone who had to deal with him during his playing days. He rarely talked and was rarely pleasant, even when turning down interviews. One of the least liked players in the NFL (at least by the media) is now a charming media personality. He’s turned to the dark side, all to earn a few (OK, a lot of) bucks.
 
7. Gabby Douglas doing cartwheels. Things you can only see up close on Media Day: An Olympic gold medal gymnast working for Inside Edition, doing cartwheels on the sidelines by request. Just stay out of her way. She may be small, but that cartwheel turns fast.
 
8. No Gilbert Gottfried. But there were cameos from Hank Azaria and Joe Piscopo, which is always good for a laugh or two. Same for a TV reporter who was sporting a blue-white-and-orange striped quote that made him look like a Shea Stadium usher from the ‘70s.
 
9. New Jersey’s inferiority complex. This wasn’t from Media Day, but it’s worth a special mention because it spawned several dozen similar questions to players on Media Day. It happened Sunday, when Seahawks coach Pete Carroll first stepped to a podium and said how happy he was to bring his team to New York. About 10 minutes into his press conference, a Jersey City councilman hijacked the microphone and scolded Carroll, saying, “You said you’re glad to be back in New York. I just want to remind you, you’re in New Jersey.” Carroll apologized and even began his press conference the next day by saying, “First, I’d like to say it’s great to be here in New Jersey.” It seemed every player was asked about Jersey getting overlooked in the Super Bowl hype. But Richard Sherman was sure to tell everyone that New Jersey “is a great city”. At least he got the name right.
 
10. Pick Boy Trivia. Yes, Pick Boy. He’s a Nickelodeon Superhero – or so I’m told – and he’s become a staple at Super Bowl Media Day. His best moment at this one was when he approached Richard Sherman and yelled, “Pick Boy Trivia question: Who is louder? Me or you?” Right on cue, Sherman leaned in, lowered his voice and quietly said, “You.”
 
By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN
Teaser:
If you enjoy the circus, are not too fond of your dignity and don’t embarrass easily, then someday you should consider a trip to Super Bowl Media Day. What started as a place where actual journalists could interview NFL players has turned into a mass demonstration of … well, it’s really hard to describe what the demonstration is.
Post date: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - 09:10
Path: /college-basketball/weekly-tipoff-which-team-could-make-surprise-sweet-16-run
Body:

Of all the first-round upsets in last season’s tournament people picked, almost no one took Harvard over New Mexico. La Salle was just as much of a surprising moving from the First Four to the Sweet 16.

And then there’s Florida Gulf Coast.

Surprises are tough enough to figure with the bracket in your hand. In our weekly roundtable, we’ll try anyway as January comes to a close.

Name a team outside the top 25 that could make a run to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight.

David Fox: I’m going to pick a team that’s done little to deserve anyone’s vote of confidence in an office pool: Gonzaga. True, the Bulldogs have disappointed when it comes to March, no more than last season when the No. 1 seed Zags didn’t even reach the Sweet 16. That said, I like the way Gonzaga has flown under the radar this season. The schedule hasn’t been as tough as it’s been in recent years, but the Bulldogs still look like a team ready for a late run this season. Gary Bell Jr. and Sam Dower are getting healthy, and Mark Few has a standout inside-outside duo in point guard Kevin Pangos and Przemek Karnowski. The end of the season will prove much about the Bulldogs: They face Memphis on the road and finish the West Coast Conference schedule with four consecutive road games. In short, though, Gonzaga is due.

Braden Gall: Give me the Colonials of George Washington. This team has some decent non-conference wins — Creighton, Miami, Maryland — and has three "no-shame" losses to Marquette, at Kansas State and at La Salle. GW has won four straight in the Atlantic 10, including one over VCU. In a league that would test any team in the nation, George Washington has all of the pieces to make a run in March. The Colonials have plenty of scoring with four players averaging in double figure. They are one of the better rebounding teams in the A-10 at No. 2 in margin. G-Dub leads the league in blocked shots per game (5.3) and has a point guard in Joe McDonald that is in his second full season and is showing marked improvement (2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio).

Mitch Light: The switch has flipped at Virginia. The Cavaliers were 9–4 overall after a shocking 35-point loss at Tennessee in late December. They proceeded to win six of their first seven games in the ACC, with the only loss by four points at Duke. Not surprisingly, this team is getting it done on the defensive end of the floor. The Cavs lead the ACC in defensive efficiency, allowing only 0.87 points per possession in league play, and they have been very good defending the 3-point shot. Offensively, Virginia’s numbers aren’t gaudy because it plays at a slow pace, but Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson are solid weapons who are capable of scoring 15 to 20 points in any given game.

Teaser:
Weekly Tipoff: Which team could make a surprise Sweet 16 run?
Post date: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Media day, NFL, Overtime, super bowl, super-bowl, NFL, Overtime
Path: /nfl/10-best-media-day-moments-super-bowl-history-2014
Body:

This year's Super Bowl Media Day kicks off on Tuesday, Jan. 28, and will see throngs of news outlets from around the world descending on the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, for a blitz of Seahawks-Broncos coverage. Rarely are stories broken. In fact, the day is typically filled with pat answers and tired cliches. But every once in awhile, someone breaks the monotony and actually says or does something interesting. Here are ten of the best (or at least most notable) Media Day moments in Super Bowl history.

1967
This one barely squeaks in, because there was no Media Day back then, and the game wasn't even called the Super Bowl yet. But Fred "The Hammer" Williamson set the bar for subsequent game-week trash talk, vowing to inflict harm on Packer receivers Boyd Dowler and Carroll Dale. "Two hammers to Dowler, one to Dale should be enough," he said. Sadly, Fred was on the business end of a hammer himself: He got knocked cold by the knee of Packers guard Gale Gillingham.

1973
Cowboys running back Duane Thomas was a man of so few words that he was known as the Sphinx. Prior to Super Bowl VI, he sat silently through Media Day, never uttering a single word, part of a year-long media boycott. The previous year, though, Thomas had made a pertinent observation about the Super Bowl: "If it's the ultimate game, why are they playing it again next year?"

Terry Bradshaw1979
Dallas linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson offered up a memorable assessment of Terry Bradshaw's mental acuity, or lack thereof: "He couldn't spell cat if you spotted him the c and the a." Bradshaw proved he could spell TD, or at least toss them - four of them, in fact, in Pittsburgh's 35-31 win. "I didn't say he couldn't play," Henderson said afterwards. "Just that he couldn't spell."

1980
Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett grew up in a household with blind parents, one of whom died when Plunkett was at Stanford. On Media Day, one intrepid reporter wanted to make sure he had his facts straight. He shouted: "Jimmy, Jimmy, I want to make sure I have this right. Was it dead mother, blind father or blind mother, dead father?"

1988
The Super Bowl Media Day that produced an urban legend — the Doug Williams "How long have you been a black quarterback" myth — did have an entertaining moment when notoriously under-educated Redskins defensive lineman Dexter Manley vowed to "catch the quarterback and hit him from behind, in between his two numbers, and cut his lights out." Reporters took the opportunity to remind him that John Elway wore No. 7.

1989
The international nature of the Super Bowl, and the lack of football savvy among some of its international followers, was driven home at Media Day prior to the Niners-Bengals matchup when a Japanese reporter asked Joe Montana, "Why do they call you Boomer?"

1999
Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan was so intent on proving that his Falcons didn't mind being underdogs to the Broncos that he wore a dog collar to Media Day, where he ripped Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe for being "an ugly dude" who looked like Mr. Ed.

All this led to a hilarious back-and-forth between the two.

"Is he my friend? No," Sharpe said. "Did I ever view him as a friend? No. Did I ever view him as an acquaintance? No. Do I like him? No. If I see him in a snowstorm, his truck is broke down, mine is going perfectly, do I pick him up? No."

Buchanan's reply: "Shannon just runs his mouth saying anything, so we don't need to pay attention to him. He'd better watch out for himself, because he might get knocked out like he did that last game. We're not a team that's going to go out on the field and pull up our skirts and show our panties. I'm not saying we wear panties, but I'm saying we can't go out there and play like females and win the game."

Over to you, Shannon: "Tell Ray to put the eyeliner, the lipstick and the high heels away. I'm not saying he's a cross-dresser, but that's just what I heard."

 Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Broncos vs. Seahawks and the history of the big game. 
2001
A year after being involved in an incident at a Super Bowl party that resulted in two stabbing deaths, Ray Lewis showed up for Super Bowl XXXV and addressed the inevitable questions about the incident. "Yes I got money. Yes, I'm black and yes, I'm blessed," Lewis told the crowd. "But at the same time, let's find out the real truth. The real truth is [this] was never about those two kids that's dead in the street. This is about Ray Lewis." Okay then. 

2006
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu took the opportunity of Media Day to thank "Entertainment Tonight" for giving him a "Best Hair" award, adding, "I'd like to thank Pantene Pro V, or anyone else who wants to send me free shampoo and conditioner."

2008
TV Azteca's Ines Gomez Mont showed up at Media Day in a wedding gown and asked several players to marry her, including Tom Brady. During Brady's press conference, she shouted out, "I'm the real Miss Brady." Brady, who was busy juggling Gisele Bundchen and Bridget Moynihan, replied, "I've got a few Miss Bradys in my life."

Teaser:
<p> Sometimes someone says something that's not a cliche.</p>
Post date: Sunday, January 26, 2014 - 17:42
All taxonomy terms: super-bowl, NFL, News
Path: /10-best-nfl-teams-didnt-play-super-bowl-2014
Body:

Although a wild card team, many believed that Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers had a legitimate shot of getting back to the Super Bowl this season. After two playoff wins on the road, the 49ers were positioned to do just that before coming up short in Seattle in the NFC Championship Game. So with their season now over, the question becomes where does this 49ers team rank among the rest of the field in terms of great teams that didn't play on Super Sunday?

With that in mind, Athlon Sports has examined win-loss records, overall talent, statistics, playoff performances and more and come up with our list of the best NFL teams that never reached the Super Bowl. As you can see below, this 49ers team barely makes it into the discussion.

* - eventual Super Bowl Champion

1. San Francisco 49ers, 1992 (14-2)
Lost: 30-20 to Dallas* in NFC Championship
Pro Bowlers: 7

Steve Young won the MVP and led a 49ers offense that topped the NFL in scoring (26.9 ppg) and total offense. The defense was third in the NFL in points allowed and 15th in total defense. The only losses came to the defending and would-be AFC champion Bills in Week 2 and on the road against the Cardinals in Week 9. Ricky Waters led the team in rushing while Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Brent Jones torched secondaries. This defense also was loaded with names like Dave Whitemore, Bill Romanowski, Merton Hanks, Eric Davis and sack leader Tim Harris (17.0).

2. Dallas Cowboys, 1994 (12-4)
Lost: 38-28 to San Francisco* in NFC Championship
Pro Bowlers: 7

Dallas and San Francisco went back and forth in the early '90s and this was the best Cowboys team to not finish the deal. This was essentially the same team that won three of four Super Bowls, as the triplets came up just one game short of four straight Super Sundays. The offense was second in the league in scoring (25.9 ppg) while the defense was third in points allowed (15.5 ppg). Charles Haley led the team in sacks, Robert Jones in tackles and Darren Woodson in interceptions.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers, 2004 (15-1)
Lost: 41-27 to New England* in AFC Championship
Pro Bowlers: 9

Tommy Maddox started three games in 2004 and was 2-1. Ben Roethlisberger started 13 games and won every start behind the best defense in the NFL. This Steelers team led the league in scoring (15.7 ppg) and total defense en route to a near-perfect record. Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis formed a one-two punch in the backfield while a loaded receiving corps gave Big Ben plenty to work with. What made this team great, however, was the nasty, Pro Bowl-laden defense. The lone regular season loss came in Week 2 against Baltimore.

4. Minnesota Vikings, 1998 (15-1)
Lost: 30-27 (OT) to Atlanta in NFC Championship
Pro Bowlers: 10

This team scored at an alarming rate. Led by Randall Cunningham at quarterback and a trio of playmakers in Robert Smith, Cris Carter and Randy Moss, the Vikings paced the NFL at 34.8 points per game. As well as owning the top offense in the league, Minnesota boasted the No. 6-rated scoring defense and No. 13-rated total defense. One loss to Tampa Bay in the middle of the year was the only regular season blemish and these Vikings came one missed Gary Anderson field goal away from playing in the Super Bowl.

5. San Francisco 49ers, 1990 (14-2)
Lost: 15-13 to NY Giants* in NFC Championship
Pro Bowlers: 5

The defending Super Bowl champs rolled through the regular season led by NFL MVP Joe Montana. This team was No. 2 in total offense and No. 3 in total defense while ranking No. 2 in scoring defense and No. 8 in total offense. Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley and Bill Romanowski led one of the best 49ers defenses of all-time.

6. Chicago Bears, 1986 (14-2)
Lost: 27-13 to Washington in NFC Divisional
Pro Bowlers: 7

Walter Payton and Jim McMahon were electric on offense, but the defending Super Bowl champs won 14 games in 1986 because of the defense. The Bears allowed an absurd 11.7 points and 258.1 yards per game on that side of the ball to lead the NFL in both categories. Wilber Marshall, Steve McMichael, Dave Duerson and Mike Singletary were Pro Bowlers while Richard Dent, William Perry and Dan Hampton did not receive invites to Hawaii. Few defenses were as talented as this version of the Monsters of the Midway.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars, 1999 (14-2)
Lost: 33-14 to Tennessee in AFC Championship
Pro Bowlers: 7

The Jaguars beat Dan Marino and the Dolphins 62-7 in the Hall of Famer's final game to reach the AFC Championship Game. But Jacksonville and Mark Brunell lost for a third time to the Titans after going 14-0 against every other team in the NFL. The Brunell, Jimmy Smith, Fred Taylor, James Stewart, Keenan McCardell, Tony Boselli and Leon Searcy offense was sixth in scoring and seventh in yards, while the defense led the league in points allowed (13.6 ppg) and finished fourth in yards allowed.

8. Green Bay Packers, 2007 (13-3)
Lost: 23-20 (OT) to NY Giants* in NFC Championship
Pro Bowlers: 5

Three teams finished 13-3 in 2007 (Dallas, Indianapolis) but none came as close to unseating the eventual champs than the Packers. On a frigid night at Lambeau Field, the Giants outlasted this stacked Packers team in overtime. This team was second in total offense and 11th in total defense while finishing fourth in scoring offense and sixth in scoring defense. It was the last time that Brett Favre would ever suit up for Green Bay.

9. Tennessee Titans, 2000 (13-3)
Lost: 24-10 to Baltimore* in AFC Divisional
Pro Bowlers: 9

Despite six Pro Bowlers on offense, it was the defense that made this team special. The defense led the NFL in yards allowed and was No. 2 in points allowed. After splitting with the Ravens in the regular season, a bizarre Eddie George-Ray Lewis turnover sealed the Titans' fate. An offense that featured franchise bests at quarterback (Steve McNair), running back (George), tight end (Frank Wycheck), wide receiver (Derrick Mason) and offensive tackle (Bruce Matthews) came up just short of defending their AFC crown.

10. Indianapolis Colts, 2005 (14-2)
Lost: 21-18 to Pittsburgh* in AFC Divisional
Pro Bowlers: 8

Peyton Manning’s best all-around team (that never played in a Super Bowl) wasn’t necessarily his best statistical year. But this team was No. 2 in the NFL in scoring defense (15.4 ppg) and No. 2 in scoring offense (27.4 ppg) to lead the league in scoring differential. His offense featured a 1,500-yard rusher in Edgerrin James and four elite pass-catchers in Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney formed an elite pass-rush tandem that combined for 22.5 sacks while Bob Sanders and Cato June led the back seven.

 Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Broncos vs. Seahawks and the history of the big game.

 

Best of the Rest:

11. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1972 (11-3)
Lost: 21-17 to Miami* in AFC Championship

12. Oakland Raiders, 1974 (12-2)
Lost: 24-13 to Pittsburgh* in AFC Championship

13. Minnesota Vikings, 2009 (12-4)
Lost: 31-28 (OT) to New Orleans* in NFC Championship

14. Green Bay Packers, 2011 (15-1)
Lost: 37-20 to NY Giants* in NFC Championship

15. Indianapolis Colts, 2007 (13-3)
Lost: 28-24 to San Diego in AFC Divisional

16. Miami Dolphins, 1985 (12-4)
Lost: 31-14 to New England in AFC Championship

17. Dallas Cowboys, 1980 (12-4)
Lost: 20-7 to Philadelphia in NFC Championship

18. Pittsburgh Steelers, 2001 (13-3)
Lost: 24-17 to New England* in AFC Championship

19. LA Rams, 1976 (10-3-1)
Lost: 24-13 to Minnesota in NFC Championship

20. Cleveland Browns, 1986 (12-4) CG
Lost: 23-20 to Denver in AFC Championship

21. Dallas, 1981 (12-4)
22. Baltimore, 1967 (11-1-2)
23. San Francisco, 2013 (12-4)
24. Philadelphia, 2002 (12-4)
25. NY Giants, 1989 (12-4)
26. San Francisco, 1987 (13-2)
27. San Diego, 1979 (12-4)
28. New England, 2010 (14-2)
29. New England, 1976 (11-3)
30. LA Rams, 1975 (12-2)

Teaser:
10 Best NFL Teams That Didn't Play in a Super Bowl
Post date: Thursday, January 23, 2014 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/weekly-tipoff-nations-most-underrated-player
Body:

The college basketball season has reached its midpoint as teams are well into conference play.

We’ve named All-Americans. We’ve picked breakout players. And we’ve picked our disappointments of the year so far.

So what does that leave? The players who haven’t been mentioned enough by us or other outlets through the course of the season.

The list of underrated players could go on and one, and our editors had a tough time picking only one for this exercise. Feel free to chime in either in the comments or on Twitter (@AthlonSports) if there are players we’ve missed.

Weekly Tipoff: Who is the most underrated player in the nation?

Braden Gall: Kyle Anderson, UCLA
The 6-foot-9 point forward is likely overlooked because he plays on the West Coast in a nondescript Pac-12 for a solid-but-not-special Bruins team. But Anderson is averaging 15.5 points per game and leading UCLA in both rebounding (8.9 rpg) and assists (6.6 apg). This is an NCAA Tournament team and appears headed toward a top-three finish in the Pac-12 despite falling to Utah last weekend for the first time since 1983 — a game in which Anderson scored 28 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out seven assists. Normally, UCLA would be a high-profile location for a player of Anderson’s caliber, but it feels like the sophomore is flying under the national radar this season.

Related: Creighton, Kansas produced key stats this week

Mitch Light: Billy Baron, Canisius
This one is bit off the national radar — Billy Baron from Canisius. Baron, on his third school in four years, is averaging 23.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting .453 from 3-point range and .913 from the line. Baron began his career at Virginia but transferred to Rhode Island after one semester to play for his father, Jim Baron. The elder Baron was fired at URI after the 2011-12 season, but he landed on his feet and was named head coach at Canisius. Billy followed his dad to upstate New York and has been one of the nation’s premier scorers over the last two seasons.

Related: 10 Things You Need to Know in College Basketball This Week

David Fox: Delon Wright, Utah
Delon Wright probably won’t be underrated for much longer as Utah defeated UCLA on Saturday, but the Utes’ point guard is my pick. Academic issues landed him in junior college out of high school, but the brother of Trail Blazers forward Dorell Wright earned his way onto a Pac-12 roster. Wright is as composed of a point guard as there is, and his numbers are staggering: 15.7 points, 5.2 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game while shooting 63.5 percent from the floor. That statline are in the same category of what All-America contender DeAndre Kane is doing or what Ohio State’s Evan Turner did when he won national player of the year. He’s done all for Utah’s best team since 2008-09.
 

Teaser:
Weekly Tipoff: The Nation's Most Underrated Player
Post date: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: super-bowl, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/20-most-amazing-stats-super-bowl-history-2014
Body:

The NFL provides the greatest reality TV programming of all time. Each NFL season is a completely new and original experience for every player, fan and coach alike. New stories, new personalities, new winners and new losers, as well as a plethora of new statistics. And every season culminates with the Super Bowl, one of the most-watched sporting events across the globe.

Here are the most important, most intriguing and most bizarre statistics to keep in mind about the 47-year history of the Super Bowl:

164,100,000: People who watched Super Bowl XLVII
CBS' broadcast of Super Bowl XLVII between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers last Feb. 3 was watched at some point by 164.1 million viewers, setting a new record for total audience, according to the network. The Nielsen Co. reported an estimated 108.4 million people witnessed the Ravens' 34-31 victory in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, making Super Bowl XLVII the third most-watched program in U.S. television history. Super Bowl XLVI in 2012 (111.3 million viewers) and the 2010 game (111 million) are the only two programs that have drawn more eyes, according to the NFL.

4:14: Record running time of Super Bowl XLVII
A 22-minute partial power outage early in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII not only thrust the Mercedes-Benz Superdome into semi-darkness, it delayed the game on the field for 34 minutes and led to some entertaining analysis from CBS' broadcast team. Prior to the blackout, San Francisco had the ball and was trailing Baltimore 28-6 following Jacoby Jones' 108-yard kickoff return to open the second half. When play was finally resumed, the 49ers scored 17 unanswered points, making it a five-point game entering the fourth quarter. The Ravens held off the 49ers' late charge in the end, winning the longest Super Bowl ever played.

23-24: Coin toss winners' record in the Super Bowl
Baltimore won the coin toss last February, but deferred, electing instead to receive the ball to open the second half. The Ravens became the fourth team in Super Bowl history to defer, and all four instances have taken place in the last five years. While not winning the coin toss has still produced more Super Bowl winners over the history of the game, Baltimore joined Green Bay (Super Bowl XLV in 2011) as the only teams to defer on the toss and go on to victory.

35-3: Record of the team with fewer turnovers in the Super Bowl
Baltimore had just one turnover (Ray Rice fumble) compared to two by San Francisco (Colin Kaepernick INT, LaMichael James fumble) in last year's Super Bowl. By winning the turnover battle, the Ravens improved the all-time record of the team with fewer giveaways to 35-3. The formula appears to be fairly straightforward: Protect the football and become a champion. 

 Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Broncos vs. Seahawks and the history of the big game. 
$4 million: Average cost of a 30-second commercial for Super Bowl XLVIII
The going rate for a 30-second spot during FOX's upcoming Super Bowl XLVIII broadcast went for about $4 million. That's up from about $3.8 million on CBS last year and a far cry from the $42,000 it cost for 30 seconds of air time during Super Bowl I. However, with a guaranteed audience of more than 100 million in place, it should surprise no one that the available ad space has been sold out since early December.

338: Media credentials issued for Super Bowl I
By 2012, the number swelled to 5,156 accredited media members covering Super Bowl XLVI, a record for the event. With this year's game in the New York metropolitan area, also known as the media capital of the world, it's possible that Super Bowl XLVIII will set a new milestone for media participation.

3,652,409: Combined attendance for all 47 Super Bowls
Following last year's sellout crowd of 71,024 at the Mercedes Benz-Superdome in New Orleans, all-time Super Bowl attendance climbed past the 3.6 million mark. This year's venue, MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., can hold 82,500 people. While there's little doubt this game won't be a sellout, the mere possibilty of wintry precipitation adds an additional element to the first outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl.

103,985: Largest crowd to attend a Super Bowl
The 1979 season featured the largest crowd to ever attend a Super Bowl when the Steelers defeated the Rams 31-19 in Pasadena, Calif. The Rose Bowl hosted the Los Angeles Rams that year in what remains the closest thing to a home-field advantage in a Super Bowl.

6-10: Worst record by a Super Bowl winner the following year
Baltimore went a disappointing 8-8 this season, missing out on a chance at defending its Super Bowl title. However, the Ravens still fared better than Denver in the aftermath of the Broncos' back-to-back championships ( Super Bowl XXXII, XXXIII) in the late 1990s. Following the retirement of quarterback John Elway, the Broncos went 6-10 in 1999, finishing last in the AFC West. This also represented the worst showing by a defending Super Bowl champion.

414: Kurt Warner's record for passing yards
The former grocery bagger threw for a Super Bowl-record 414 yards in the win over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. This included his 73-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce with just over two minutes remaining. Warner also owns the No. 2 passing performance (377 yards for Arizona in a loss to Pittsburgh) and the No. 3 performance (365 yards in a St. Louis loss to New England).

204: Timmy Smith's Super Bowl rushing record
The Denver Broncos began Super Bowl XXII by taking a 10-0 lead into the second quarter over the Washington Redskins. But then Doug Williams and Timmy Smith happened. The record 35-point second quarter put the game all but out of reach by halftime. The game was special for a variety of reasons. First, Williams was the first black quarterback to win the Super Bowl, while Smith became the only player to top 200 yards rushing. He finished with 204 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries as the Redskins set the Super Bowl record for total offense (602 yards). Ironically, Smith ended his NFL career with exactly 602 yards rushing (21 games).

22.6: Lowest QB rating for a Super Bowl winner
Ben Roethlisberger completed 9-of-21 passes for 123 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl XL win over Seattle. It is the worst performance by a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. At 23 years and 340 days old, Big Ben also was the youngest quarterback to ever win the big game.

11: Players that have won the MVP and the Super Bowl in the same year
Bart Starr (1966), Earl Morrall (1968), Terry Bradshaw (1978), Mark Moseley (1982), Lawrence Taylor (1986), Joe Montana (1989), Emmitt Smith (1993), Steve Young (1994), Brett Favre (1996), Terrell Davis (1998) and Kurt Warner (1999) are the 11 double-dippers. Peyton Manning most likely will have a chance to join this exclusive club, as he's all but assured of receiving his record fifth NFL MVP award on Feb. 1, the day before leading his Broncos against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.

10: Largest comeback in Super Bowl history
The aforementioned Redskins established this record as well after trailing 10-0 to Denver before finishing off the Broncos 42-10. The deficit was tied in the 2009 season when Drew Brees and the Saints fell behind 10-0 before coming back to defeat the Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV.

9: Bills’ Super Bowl record for turnovers
The Dallas Cowboys crushed the Bills 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII. This lopsided affair was headlined by a Super Bowl-record nine turnovers by Buffalo. Strangely enough, Dallas also claims the No. 2-most forced turnovers with eight against Denver in its Super Bowl XII win and had seven takeaways against Baltimore in its Super Bowl V loss. How did the Cowboys lose to the Colts after forcing seven turnovers?

7: Fewest rushing yards by a team in a Super Bowl
The Monsters of the Midway were one of the most dominant defensive units in NFL history, and it led to the Chicago Bears' lone Super Bowl win back in 1985. In the Louisiana Superdome, William Perry and Mike Singletary posted the best defensive performance in Super Bowl history by holding New England to just seven yards rushing. The Patriots' 123 total yards of offense is the second-lowest total in Super Bowl history.

5: Most Super Bowl starts by any one quarterback
John Elway started his fifth Super Bowl and won his second Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XXXIII following Denver's 34-19 victory over Atlanta. Two years ago, Tom Brady matched Elway with his fifth Super Bowl start. However, neither can claim the most Super Bowl victories as Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw and San Francisco’s Joe Montana won all four of their Super Bowl starts.

3: Fewest points scored in a Super Bowl
The 1971 Miami Dolphins are the only team to ever play in a Super Bowl and not reach the end zone. Miami's 24-3 loss to Dallas in Super Bowl VI still stands as the fewest points scored by a team in the history of the game. The 1974 Minnesota Vikings are the only other team to score at least seven points on Super Sunday. In the Vikings' defense, they did reach the end zone — albeit via a defensive touchdown when Terry Brown recovered a Steelers’ fumble in the end zone. Fred Cox missed the extra point, as the Vikings also set the Super Bowl record for fewest yards of total offense with 119.

1: People to win the Super Bowl as a head coach and player
Tom Flores won two Super Bowls as the head coach of the Raiders and was technically on the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs roster. However, he did not see any time on the field in Kansas City's win against Minnesota in Super Bowl IV. Mike Ditka, a Hall of Fame tight end for the Bears, Eagles and Cowboys, caught two passes for 28 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl VI. He then led the Bears to a win in Super Bowl XX in 1986 to become the only Super Bowl-winning coach who also earned a world title as a player.

0: Super Bowls without at least one field goal attempt
Four times has a Super Bowl featured one combined field goal attempt, but never has a Super Bowl lacked for at least one field goal try. Super Bowl VII, XXIV, XXXIX and XLII each featured just one field goal effort.

Teaser:
20 Most Amazing Stats in Super Bowl History
Post date: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 - 17:00
Path: /nfl/grading-nfls-new-coaching-hires
Body:
It’s always hard to tell which is the best way for a franchise to go when looking toward the future. And it’s not always the smart decision to just throw lots of money at the best-known coach they can find. Sometimes the smart hire is an unknown assistant. Sometimes it’s a retread who was a failure someplace else.
 
After all, Bill Belichick was a disaster in Cleveland before he went to New England and became one of the greatest coaches of all time.
 
So now that six of the seven head coaching vacancies have been filled — only the Cleveland Browns, obviously the worst of the seven jobs remains unfilled — it’s probably too early to really know who did the best and worst with their hires. But it’s never too early to give a preliminary grade and at least make a guess.
 
Here’s how they rank:
 
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New coach: Lovie Smith
Talk about a home-run hire. The Bucs got the most well-respected former coach out there (at least the most well-respected one still young enough to be a serious candidate), a man who is loved by his players and known for running a professional and winning organization. No, he never won a championship in Chicago, but he was 83-63 in nine seasons, got to a Super Bowl and another NFC Championship Game, had only three losing seasons and was fired after a year in which his team went 10-6. The Bucs were supposed to get professionalism under Greg Schiano, but the last year was more like total chaos, with an MRSA scandal and problems with their franchise quarterback who was traded away. Smith brings instant credibility, respectability, and will likely stabilize what sure looked like a sinking ship.
GRADE: A-plus
 
2. Detroit Lions
New coach: Jim Caldwell
Caldwell is known for two things: His unflappable, stoic, unchanging sideline demeanor and his offensive mind. Most recently he was the offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens – and his appointment to that role is a big reason why they’re the defending Super Bowl champs. But he also made it to the Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts, whom he coached from 2009-11. Sure, the Colts went 2-14 in his final season, but that was the year between Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. He had no shot. What the Lions needed is what they got – a well-respected coach with an offensive mind who can help turn quarterback Matthew Stafford from an erratic starter into a champion. He will calm down what is often an undisciplined team and refine the offense. It’s a good bet they will end up being contenders for years to come.
GRADE: A-minus
 
3. Minnesota Vikings
New coach: Mike Zimmer
The real reason the Cincinnati Bengals have been so good in recent years is because of their defense, and it’s about time someone recognized that it wasn’t just about head coach Marvin Lewis, but that their defensive coordinator was pretty good, too. Zimmer is well-respected, loved by his players and bubbling with energy, and many around the NFL think he’s long overdue for his chance to lead a franchise. The only odd part of this hire is that he’s a defensive mind, when the problem in Minnesota is on the offensive side. They have been unable to develop a quarterback and unable to truly take advantage of having Adrian Peterson, the best running back in football. His choice of an offensive coordinator will absolutely be key to his success.
GRADE: B
 
4. Houston Texans
New coach: Bill O’Brien
After his quick, but well-received work at Penn State, O’Brien was near the top of a lot of lists. And it made sense. He took over a Penn State program riddled by scandal and torn apart by a loss of scholarships and some key transfers and was successful in keeping the program afloat. There are few people who could’ve bridged the gap from the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the death of Joe Paterno to where the Nittany Lions are now, and O’Brien deserves credit for that. Here’s the only worry, though: As wonderful as Bill Belichick has been, he hasn’t exactly spawned a successful head coaching tree. From Romeo Crennel to Charlie Weis to Eric Mangini to Josh McDaniels, it’s not like plucking one of Belichick’s minions has been a ticket to the playoffs. Maybe O’Brien will be the guy to buck the trend, but the odds aren’t stacked in his favor.
GRADE: B
 
5. Tennessee Titans
New coach: Ken Whisenhunt
There was a time when Whisenhunt was considered an offensive “whiz,” and in some quarters he still is. There is, however, a segment of the NFL that believes he’s one of those guys who’s better suited to be a coordinator than the man in charge. The center of that debate is this: Do you believe his trip to the Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals in 2008 was deserved or a fluke? Because he took over one of the NFL’s worst franchises in 2007 and the next year had them sneak into the playoffs at 9-7 and come within a whisker of a championship. Does he deserve the credit for that, or was it all because of his Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback, Kurt Warner? It’s a good and fair question. Whisenhunt was 45-51 in his six seasons in Arizona and missed the playoffs in each of his final three years.
GRADE: B-minus
 
6. Washington Redskins
New coach: Jay Gruden
Well, he certainly is a big name, but his brother Jon — who remains in the ESPN booth — is the one with the coaching credentials. Gruden was a successful coach in the Arena League, and that’s something. He also had three relatively successful years as the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, where he did a nice job with quarterback Andy Dalton. And he got a lot of attention and several interviews for head coaching vacancies. He may end up injecting some life into the Redskins, too, and with his offensive mind he could be huge for Robert Griffin III. But it’s hard to argue that there weren’t more qualified candidates available, and it’s hard not to wonder if some of the attention lavished on him isn’t about his famous last name.
GRADE: C-plus
 
— By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN
Teaser:
It’s always hard to tell which is the best way for a franchise to go when looking toward the future. And it’s not always the smart decision to just throw lots of money at the best-known coach they can find. Sometimes the smart hire is an unknown assistant. Sometimes it’s a re-tread who was a failure someplace else.
Post date: Friday, January 17, 2014 - 10:25

Pages