Articles By Athlon Sports
How long can it take to complete a journey from rags to riches? For Brad Keselowski, it took six years. The driver spent the 2006 offseason mourning the pending bankruptcy of his family operation, and was forced to drive for a minor-league, suspect organization that was running junkyard equipment simply to make ends meet. How bad was it? The driver who this season added hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers mid-Daytona 500 didn’t even make the field for the February 2007 then-Busch Series event at the same track.
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Daytona. For the casual fan, it’s the one time a year in which tuning in is a must, not an option. For the hardcore fans and industry veterans, it’s a spiritual revival. It suffices as the start of a new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season when teams have spotless records and sky-high optimism.
For some drivers, there’s red still left over from the previous season’s ledger that they’re eager to erase. For a few, there are trends they’d like to keep on keepin’ on. This week’s batch of numbers shows those trends. Some of the metrics used are from my home site, MotorsportsAnalytics.com, but you’re encouraged to read a quick glossary of the terms.
3 and 2.3 Matt Kenseth has scored three victories and earned a 2.3 average finish across his last six restrictor plate races.
Kenseth, long lauded as an intuitive racer, has transformed himself into something of a restrictor plate racing stalwart. The 2.3-place average finish in that timeframe — and that includes a fifth-place run in last Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited, his first outing for Joe Gibbs Racing — is easily the best among drivers in the Cup Series and his minuscule 1.6-position deviation for those six finishes indicates incredible consistency for races often dubbed “crapshoots.” His 7.853 PEER (Production in Equal Equipment Rating) on plate tracks is not only the highest among 50 drivers from the 2012 season, but also pure statistical absurdity. Kenseth is ridiculously good at this style of racing.
-1.050 Danica Patrick’s replacement-level PEER ranked last in the Cup Series in 2012. PEER measures the on-track production of a race car driver in an “all equipment even” scenario. For perspective, Ken Schrader, in a 13-race S&P effort, registered at 49th, with a -.250 PEER. That’s a large gap.
Danica Patrick became the first woman to win a pole in the history of the Cup Series last weekend and the fourth rookie to win the pole for the Daytona 500 (following Loy Allen, Mike Skinner and Jimmie Johnson). Cue pandemonium.
But let’s be real for a sec; we’re discussing a rookie driver who amassed a negative replacement-level PEER across 10 races last season (translation: beyond bad). At Daytona specifically, she competed in two races — her qualifying Duel race and the 500 — and crashed out of both. If you’re a Danica fan, enjoy the moment. Eat, drink and be merry, but also, be realistic. It’s feasible she’ll lead laps on Sunday, but pump the brakes on the delusion of Chase-making grandeur.
3 Jimmie Johnson has crashed out in each of the last three races at Daytona; last year’s Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 and this year’s Sprint Unlimited.
Johnson Tweeted about his frustration following Saturday night’s race. Come on, Five-Time. Every chance you’ve had to get some drafting practice in (i.e. January testing, practice last Friday), you didn’t even attempt to take advantage. You need it; that 47th-best -0.167 plate track PEER you earned last year won’t get better without putting in the work.
The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season kicks off Feb. 24 with the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The Great American Race also marks the beginning of the fantasy NASCAR season for fans who are again met with the tough decision of choosing the best drivers to fill their fantasy line-up. To help guide you through the 2013 season, Athlon Sports will be offering up our best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, we'll be breaking down our picks according to their NASCAR driver classes—A-List, B-List, C-List.
So, without further ado, we give you our fantasy predictions for the 2013 Daytona 500, ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag (or at least finishing toward the front):
1. Matt Kenseth — Kenseth finished in the top 3 in all four plate races last year and was strong in last weekend’s Sprint Unlimited.
2. Tony Stewart — Has second-highest driver rating (96.5) for points-paying races at Daytona in the last eight years.
3. Kevin Harvick — Started week strong, winning Sprint Unlimited but that race winner hasn’t won the Daytona 500 since 2000. With four top-10s in his last six Daytona starts, could Harvick end that drought for Sprint Unlimited winners?
4. Jeff Gordon — Has the most top-fives (12) among active drivers in the Daytona 500.
5. Denny Hamlin — Has never had a DNF in 14 career starts at Daytona but has had only 2 top-10s in those races.
6. Clint Bowyer — Does not have a top-10 finish in his last five Daytona starts, including two DNFs during that stretch.
7. Kasey Kahne — Has schizophrenic track record. Has not finished better than 25th in the last four Daytona 500s but in the July Daytona race he has three consecutive top-10s.
8. Brad Keselowski — Last July’s Daytona race was his first top-10 finish at the track in seven Cup starts.
9. Jimmie Johnson — Has one top-15 finish in his last nine Daytona starts and has failed to finish the last two races there.
1. Kyle Busch — He has the highest driver rating for points races in the last eight years at Daytona at 97.6, and has the highest percentage of laps run in the top 15 (72.4) during that time)
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Among active drivers, he has the best average finish in Cup races at Daytona at 14.5 and has placed second in two of the last three Daytona 500s.
3. Jeff Burton — Only driver, other than Matt Kenseth, to score top-five finishes in both Daytona races last season.
4. Kurt Busch — Ranks third in laps led in points-paying races in the last eight years at Daytona behind only Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch.
5. Carl Edwards — Has six top-10s in his last seven Daytona starts.
6. Greg Biffle — Led 79 laps in the two Daytona races last year, second only to Matt Kenseth, who led 139 laps in those races.
7. Joey Logano — In his last three Cup races at Daytona, he’s finished third, ninth and fourth.
8. Mark Martin — Has an average finish of 12.0 in last four Daytona 500s.
9. Paul Menard — In his last four Cup races at Daytona, he’s finished ninth, eighth, sixth and 14th.
10. Martin Truex Jr. — He’s the only driver to have led at least one lap in each of the last four Cup races at Daytona. His reply via Twitter: “time to lead the last one.’’
11. Bobby Labonte — Has three top-15 finishes in his last four Daytona starts, including a fourth in the 2011 Daytona 500.
12. Aric Almirola — Has scored four top-20 finishes in his last five starts in restrictor-plate races.
13. Ryan Newman — Since winning the 2008 Daytona 500, he has one top-15 finish at Daytona, a fifth-place finish last July.
14. Juan Pablo Montoya — Did not finish better than 28th in any of the four restrictor-plate races last season.
15. Marcos Ambrose — Has an average finish of 24.1 in eight career Cup races at Daytona and has yet to lead a lap.
16. Jamie McMurray — Since winning 2010 Daytona 500, he’s not had a top-10 finish at the track in a Cup race.
1. Michael Waltrip — Was challenging for the lead at Talladega in most recent restrictor-plate race last fall before the big last-lap crash. Has three top-20 finishes in last five Daytona starts.
2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 20th in last year’s Daytona 500, his first start in the race. Place second in July Nationwide race at Daytona last year.
3. Austin Dillon — Making his first Cup start at Daytona. Finished in the top five last year in both Nationwide races there.
4. Trevor Bayne — 2011 Daytona 500 winner has had one top-10 finish in seven restrictor-plate races since that momentous day.
5. Danica Patrick — Daytona 500 pole-sitter has an average finish of 16.4 in the previous five 500s. Last pole-sitter to win Daytona 500 was Dale Jarrett in 2000.
6. Terry Labonte — Has three top-20 finishes in last four Daytona starts.
7. David Ragan — Won the July Daytona race in 2011 but failed to finish either Daytona race last year, placing 26th and 43rd.
8. Joe Nemechek — Has finished inside the top 30 three times in his last 10 Daytona starts.
9. Casey Mears — Has finished in the top 25 in each of his past two Daytona starts.
10. Dave Blaney — Has never finished better than 14th in 24 races at Daytona.
11. Travis Kvapil — 16th-place finish at Daytona in July was his best finish at track in 12 career starts.
12. David Gilliland — Placed third in the 2011 Daytona 500. Has finished 16th, 23rd and 31st in the three Daytona races since.
13. Regan Smith — Since placing seventh in the 2011 Daytona 500, he’s finished 24th, 24th and 34th in his last three Daytona starts.
14. David Reutimann — Has not led a lap in 12 Daytona starts.
15. Mike Bliss — Last ran at Daytona in Cup in 2010. Did finish ninth that day in the July race.
16. Scott Speed — Last Daytona start was in 2010 in the July race where he finished 10th.
17. Michael McDowell — Has an average finish of 34.6 in five previous races at Daytona.
18. JJ Yeley — Has finished 40th and 43rd in his last two starts at Daytona.
19. Josh Wise — Did not run in last year’s Daytona 500 but in the other three restrictor-plate races last season, he finished 43rd, 38th and 42nd, completing a total of 57 laps.
—By Dustin Long
As the 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series revs up, we look at the preseason favorites.
1. Ty Dillon (above left)
Without back-to-back tire failures late last the year, Dillon might have become the first rookie to win the series title, driving grandfather Richard Childress’ No. 3. Expect to see more of the same, following in brother Austin’s footsteps to a title in his sophomore season before moving on to the Nationwide Series in 2014.
2. Timothy Peters (above right)
Last season was the best Peters had posted in his career in the Truck Series, with career highs in wins (two), top 5s (10) and points finish (second). He’s paired with powerhouse Red Horse Racing and an intact crew, so there’s no doubt he’ll stay competitive. The organization will experience change, though, as Todd Bodine was released in the offseason in favor of John Wes Townley and his family’s Zaxby’s money. This move may not be as bad as one would think, as the wrecked equipment will cancel out while the money is a boon.
3. James Buescher
Winning back-to-back championships has proven impossible in the Truck Series thus far. However, with the amount of resources and the marked improvement Turner Motorsports showed throughout 2012, it’s hard to believe Buescher won’t be a factor — unless he jumps to the Nationwide Series instead.
4. Nelson Piquet Jr.
It’s hard to bet against anyone from Turner Motorsports after the numbers the organization put up in 2012 — seven victories spread among three different drivers. Piquet earned two, then ended the season with four straight top-10 finishes, a clear sign he’s developing championship consistency. Expect the third full-time season to be the charm here, especially if the Brazilian becomes Turner’s No. 1.
5. Joey Coulter
After grabbing his first career victory with Richard Childress Racing last year, Coulter looks to continue that success with Kyle Busch Motorsports. He hasn’t been the king of consistency, but the 22-year-old posted back-to-back third-place results to close 2012 and will bring that momentum along with him.
6. Matt Crafton
Back with ThorSport Racing for a 12th year in the Truck Series, this veteran mainstay hopes to make a championship push after his No. 88 team struggled in the transition from Chevrolet to Toyota. After a rough start to 2012 (one top 10 in five races), he quietly recovered while setting a career high in laps led (125).
7. Miguel Paludo
The Brazilian is returning to Turner Motorsports behind the wheel of the No. 32 Duroline Chevrolet, but perhaps what’s more important is that Jeff Hensley remains atop the pit box. Late in 2012, the duo began taking detailed notes of every practice and qualifying session in an effort to make the most of their setups. Improvement was slow but steady, as they closed with a fifth at Homestead in the season finale, leaving them optimistic about 2013.
8. Jeb Burton
Though he made only five 2012 starts, Burton (right) impressed with three top-13 finishes, including an eighth at Charlotte. That was enough to open eyes at Turner Motorsports, which now gives him resources to contend. With father Ward lending a guiding hand, this 20-year-old is poised to become another one of NASCAR’s next-generation stars.
9. Johnny Sauter
Coming off of his worst season, when he posted only nine top-10 finishes, Sauter looks to shake off the bad luck that plagued his ThorSport Racing No. 13 Toyota throughout 2012. While he’s been a championship threat in the past, winning four races the past two seasons, it’ll take more consistency for him to get solidly back in the hunt.
10. Ron Hornaday Jr.
After struggling in his first season away from Kevin Harvick, Inc., the organization that helped him win 25 races and two championships, Hornaday looks to utilize a merger with Joe Denette and NTS Motorsports to find his way back to Victory Lane. After career lows in top-5 results (two) and a 13th-place points showing, there’s nowhere to go but up.
—By Beth Lunkenheimer
This summer, those words will be chanted from NASCAR Nation far and wide as the Camping World Truck Series becomes the guinea pig for one of the sport’s most noble modern experiments: a return to dirt racing. On July 24, Tony Stewart’s short track bullring in Rossburg, Ohio, will be the site of the first major sanctioned NASCAR event on dirt since 1970. With a starting field of just 30 trucks, an entry list expected to be double that, and the added bonus of a Wednesday night showdown, it’s not hard to find this division’s biggest storyline entering 2013.
It also shouldn’t come as a surprise. Always known for a perfect mix of veterans and young drivers, this series has become the “chemistry test” as the sport looks to mold its long-term future. Last fall, NASCAR VP Steve O’Donnell suggested heat races could be introduced, along with additional short tracks by 2014, as the series looks to recapture the fan base by getting creative with the series that offers arguably NASCAR’s closest competition. Between the “old school” connection to Rockingham, whose 2012 Truck Series event was its first on the NASCAR schedule since 2004, to the “new school” of Mosport, Ontario, bringing trucks past the Canadian border for the first time in history this September (and on a road course, no less), full-time competitors will be faced with the most diverse set of challenges in the sport.
No statement of parity describes the Truck Series better than this little-known fact: In 18 years, there’s never been a repeat champ. Current titleholder James Buescher may not even get the chance, as it’s believed he’ll move up to the Nationwide Series. Even without Buescher, there’s plenty of talent on hand in a diverse set of title challengers (from rookie Jeb Burton to sophomore Ty Dillon to 12-year veteran Matt Crafton) in what’s bound to be a wide-open title chase. Younger drivers could find themselves a part of the fray, too — at least part-time — as new rules, announced late last season, allow drivers as young as 16 to compete on shorter tracks (1.1 miles or less) along with road courses.
Even the most competitive series comes with its share of concerns, though. Most events on the schedule haven’t changed, with only five races in the first three months. That means teams and fans alike will once again struggle to find momentum. As with the Nationwide Series, purse money is so low at some tracks ($6,000-plus for a finish in the 30s) that sponsorship becomes a necessity to survive.
Still, with a healthy TV contract (FOX/SPEED has re-signed through 2022) and after another set of nailbiting finishes in 2012, this series should be thought of as healthier than its Nationwide counterpart. While the title race is undecided, one thing that can be counted on is that Trucks will once again put on the best show. Perhaps it’s race length; maybe it’s drivers looking to make an impression, trying to work their way up the ladder. It could be that truck chassis, less aerodynamic than their “car” counterparts, produce closer competition. Regardless of the cause, know that the Truck Series remains the sport’s hidden gem entering 2013.
Eldora’s about to find out.
—By Beth Lunkenheimer
2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Schedule
We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach? Today we focus on the Big East.
(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)
Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the Big East for 2013
Pros: Louisville has solid facilities and is in a good spot geographically to consistently attract top recruits. Kentucky is not a great talent producer, but Louisville can recruit Ohio and Illinois due to its proximity to those states and has always done a good job recruiting Florida. Also, the school “survived” the realignment wars, finding a home in the ACC beginning in 2014.
Cons: The school lacks football tradition and doesn’t have the fan base that most of the other schools have ranked in the top 50 of this list. When the Cards are good, they draw well. But in 2009, in the final season of the Steve Kragthrope era, they ranked 71st in the nation in attendance, averaging 32,540 per game.
Final Verdict: Like many of the schools in the Big East, Louisville is only as good as its coach. Bobby Petrino won big in his four years. Kragthorpe flopped in his three seasons. Charlie Strong has done well in his three seasons. With the right fit, Louisville competes for league titles.
Pros: Rutgers’ location affords the coaching staff the opportunity to stock its entire roster with local talent. The facilities have been upgraded in recent years, most notably the $102 million expansion to Rutgers Stadium. Also, being just over 30 miles from New York City — the media capital of the world — can’t hurt.
Cons: The school has almost no tradition; prior to the mid-2000s, the program was irrelevant. And while support for Rutgers football has grown in recent years, pro sports will always be No. 1 in the metropolitan area.
Final Verdict: Long considered the sleeping giant on the East Coast, Rutgers has emerged as a consistent winner in the Big East. Whether or not this is a true destination job is up for debate, but it’s clear that you can win a bunch of games and go to bowl games at Rutgers.
3. South Florida
Pros: South Florida has a tremendous local recruiting base and is a member of the conference with the least resistance to a BCS bowl (for now). The Bulls proved they can be a consistent winner in the FBS ranks, averaging 8.4 wins from 2006-10.
Cons: South Florida lacks tradition and does not have an on-campus stadium. The Bulls play their home games 15 miles from campus. And while the recruiting base is strong, South Florida will always have a tough time beating out the Big Three — Florida, Florida State and Miami — for top prospects.
Final Verdict: Many view South Florida as an emerging national power. The school does have a ton of potential, but it is difficult to get overly excited about a program that is the fourth-most relevant program in its own state — even if that state is Florida.
Pros: Cincinnati is in a fertile recruiting area. Ohio produces a ton of talent, and the school is also relatively close to Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina.
Cons: Support isn’t great. The school won a share of its fourth Big East title in five years yet averaged only 29,138 fans per game to Nippert Stadium. Being stuck in the Big East for the foreseeable future.
Final Verdict: Cincinnati isn't perceived to be a top-flight program, but the school has been consistently strong in the BCS era. Since 2000, four different coaches have won at least seven games twice. That’s impressive.
Pros: Location. Location. Location. Houston is an elite area for high school talent. And the school has decent tradition, having spent 20 years (1976-95) in the Southwest Conference. Starting in 2014, the Cougars will be playing in a new, on-campus stadium.
Cons: With Texas and Texas A&M relatively nearby — not to mention the NFL’s Houston Texans — University of Houston football will never be the No. 1 show in town.
Final Verdict: With a new stadium and great recruiting base, Houston has an opportunity to rise to the top of the reconfigured Big East. The school’s small fan base will always be an issue, but you can win a lot of games at this school.
Pros: UCF is located in the heart of talent-rich Florida. Bright House Networks Stadium (capacity 45,323) opened in 2007 and is one of the nicest on-campus facilities in the nation.
Cons: UCF is still relatively new to the FBS ranks (1996) and has little brand recognition in the college football word. Attendance hasn’t been great, either. Last year, UCF ranked 68th in the nation with 34,608 fans per game.
Final Verdict: UCF will always have access to a ton of players, but it’s tough to envision this program taking too big of a leap forward in the next decade, even with the move to the Big East.
Pros: The school has top-notch facilities and has proven that it can be relevant on the national landscape. The Huskies won eight games or more six times in an eight-year span, culminating with the trip to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010.
Cons: Recruiting at UConn has never been easy. Now, it’s become more difficult. The school’s chief rivals for prospects in the Northeast — Boston College, Syracuse and Rutgers — each found a home in a power conference. UConn did not.
Final Verdict: This can be a good job — there is solid support in state for the program — but the school is in a tough spot right now. The Big East is simply not where you want to be in college football heading into the mid 2010s.
Pros: SMU’s greatest strength is its location, in the fertile Metroplex in North Texas. Yes, there is a ton of competition for the players, but there is more than enough talent to keep the Mustangs’ roster well-stocked.
Cons: Interest in SMU football is not high. The school averaged only 21,292 per game last year, which ranked 92nd in the nation. It’s tough to attract top-flight recruits to play in front of so many empty seats.
Final Verdict: SMU is similar to several schools making the move from Conference USA to the Big East. It’s in a great location but lacks the tradition and fan base to make too much of a dent on the national landscape.
Pros: Temple plays its home games at an NFL stadium and its on-campus facilities are top-notch. Being competitive in football is important to the school.
Cons: Temple lacks tradition and fan support. Philadelphia loves the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Flyers and college basketball. College football? Not so much.
Final Verdict: Al Golden did a tremendous job transforming Temple from arguably the worst program in the nation into a reputable team that won a total of 26 games from 2009-11. The school should be able to compete in the new-look Big East, but this is not a destination job.
Pros: The school has made a significant financial commitment to the football program in recent years — something that previously was not the case. (Just ask Tommy West). The city of Memphis is known more for basketball, but does a solid job producing FBS-level prospects.
Cons: Basketball is the No. 1 sport at Memphis — by a wide margin. The school has struggled to compete for years, with only four winning seasons since 1994.
Final Verdict: Memphis has an SEC recruiting base with Conference-USA support. Will that change as the school makes the move to the Big East? Not likely. You can win games at Memphis, but the football program will never reach the stature of Tiger basketball.
Related College Football Content
Big East Consensus Team Recruiting Rankings for 2013
Ranking the Big East's Coaching Tandems for 2013
College Football's Top 5 QBs on the Rise for 2013
College Football's Top 15 Impact JUCO Transfers for 2013
As the 2013 NASCAR season prepares to get underway, Athlon Sports ranks the top teams to hit the track.
Newly crowned Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski admits that he’s caught himself admiring NASCAR’s next generation of racers.
“They’re almost as good as I am, if not better right now,” he says.
It’s not just one or two drivers catching his eye but several, ranging from teenagers to those in their early 20s. They’re winning races, capturing championships and setting records — taking advantage of opportunities previous classes did not receive.
When the economy tanked a few years ago, many teams ditched driver development programs or altered them drastically. It left young racers with few avenues to reach the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The result was a string of forgettable Sprint Cup Rookies of the Year — Stephen Leicht, Andy Lally and Kevin Conway — who combined for two top-20 finishes the past three years.
Today’s young drivers race toward the front in their divisions and show they deserve good rides. As Cup drivers age — one-third of this year’s 12-man Chase featured drivers 40 and older — these younger drivers are positioning themselves to be the sport’s future.
“I’ve been in this sport long enough to see Lee Petty, Junior Johnson, that whole group of guys, Joe Weatherly, hand the torch over to Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson,” car owner Richard Childress says. “Now you’ve got Jeff Gordon, (Kevin) Harvick, Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. This group is getting up (in age and) some day they’ll hand it over to the Stenhouses and hopefully the Dillons and Blaneys. We’ve got a great group of young talent coming up.”
This could be the dawn of a new era. With so many to choose from, here are seven young drivers to watch in the coming years along with evaluations from David Smith, editor-in-chief of Motorsports Analytics, a site that offers analysis and commentary on drivers in numerous series.
KYLE LARSON, 20, ELK GROVE, CALIF.
Jeff Gordon is among many watching the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion — who won the title in his first full year racing stock cars.
“He’s very talented,” says Gordon, who has texted Larson after races. “To be able to win the K&N East Series against the talent that is out there with as limited amount of experience as he has in a full-bodied stock car says a lot about his talents and skill.”
The 20-year-old Larson, whose background is in sprints and midget cars, scored a 10th-place finish at Kentucky in late June in his Camping World Truck Series debut. He followed it with two more top-10 finishes and was running in the top 5 at Homestead when an aggressive move late in the race led to a crash.
Larson, a development driver for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, has run more than 200 races in various series the past two years. That experience helped him transition to stock cars.
“I’ve been racing open-wheelers, so many different types of open-wheel cars, I think it really helped me become versatile because I jump in different cars each and every night it seems like, so I can adapt pretty quickly,” Larson says.
He notes that Earnhardt Ganassi Racing is working on plans for his 2013 schedule. Expect to see him in more Truck races and also Nationwide events.
David Smith says: “Kyle has talent in spades. This year in K&N East he ranked second in Pro Series East PEER (4.500). Usually it’s a really big hurdle going from open wheel to stock car, but he made it look easy. He’s going to start a legacy of crossover kids (from open wheel) that are going to try what he did but just won’t be able to make that transition as quick. He’s got to learn to pace himself and be patient. He has what, theoretically, you can’t teach. He’s got the aggression, natural sense of any kind of race car. He just needs to learn the strategic part of how to go about winning these races in NASCAR.”
RYAN BLANEY, 19, HIGH POINT, N.C.
The son of Cup driver Dave Blaney grabbed attention by finishing seventh in his Nationwide debut at Richmond in April. The focus continued throughout the summer as he scored top-10 finishes in limited series appearances. His performance earned him a ride with Brad Keselowski’s Truck Series team beginning in August.
Blaney rewarded Keselowski by winning at Iowa in September in his third career series start. Blaney also became the youngest driver to win a Truck Series race at age 18 years, eight months and 15 days — eclipsing Kyle Busch’s record (20 years, 18 days) set in 2005 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Dave Blaney admits he wasn’t surprised his son won so quickly.
“I haven’t been surprised at anything that kid has done since he was about 14,” Dave Blaney says. “It seems like, naturally, he can pick things up and just make good decisions. And that eventually helps him be in the hunt for race wins in every series he’s been in.”
Ryan Blaney will run select Nationwide races for Penske Racing in 2013 while also running in the Truck Series for Keselowski’s team.
David Smith says: “Blaney and (Kyle) Larson are the top two prospects. They haven’t fulfilled their destiny in the Nationwide and Truck levels yet, but they could. I would place Blaney ahead of Larson just for the fact that Larson is trying to learn what Blaney already knows. Blaney has the intuition to check out the landscape of the race, understand what his equipment offers him and makes the conscious decision to say, ‘OK, maybe I don’t have the car tonight, but here’s how I’m going to win this race.’ His affinity for patience has translated to the Nationwide Series — he had a Top 15 Efficiency of plus-6.9 percent which allowed him to average finishes better than his average running positions. Based on his PEER he was a fringe contender in both Nationwide (2.038, ranked 16th and higher than Penske Racing counterpart Sam Hornish) and Trucks (2.611, ranked ninth).”
JAMES BUESCHER, 22, PLANO, TEXAS
Few could say they had a better year in 2012 than this 22-year-old. He married in January, won the Daytona Nationwide race in February and won four Camping World Truck Series races en route to winning the championship for Turner Motorsports.
He is the second-youngest series champion in the series’ 18-year history, behind only Austin Dillon.
“This year has been incredible for me,” Buescher said in the offseason. “Being the champion of the Truck Series definitely trumps winning a race at Daytona, but the race at Daytona is still pretty high up there. But it’s been a phenomenal year for my racing career and for my personal life. I just feel really blessed.”
All four of his Truck wins came at 1.5-mile speedways (Kansas, Kentucky, Chicago and Kentucky), and nearly three-quarters of the laps he led (505) were on 1.5-mile speedways.
Buescher also ran 20 Nationwide races, with one win and eight top-10 finishes. He’ll return to Turner Motorsports in 2013.
David Smith says: “The reigning Truck Series titlist was a bit of a one-trick pony in 2012, scoring all four of his wins on 1.5-mile soft intermediate tracks. While worse drivers have made careers out of being adept at one specific track, Buescher, who ranked sixth in the series in PEER (2.886), still has time to improve on short tracks and the 1.5-mile quad-oval facilities that are visited more frequently in the Cup Series.”
DYLAN KWASNIEWSKI, 17, LAS VEGAS, NEV.
He was the youngest winner in the K&N Pro Series West in 2011 and became its youngest champion last season at age 17.
This high school senior is articulate and engaging, traits that entice sponsors along with his success on the track.
He earned the West title by winning three races and scoring 12 top-5 finishes in 15 races, never finishing outside the top 10 in a series race. In fact, he’s registered only four finishes outside of the top 10 in the West Series in 28 starts.
His success goes back to the time he was introduced to racing before he was five years old.
“I just had a true passion for the sport,” Kwasniewski says. “I think my parents saw that there was something. We just furthered my career and then it grew into this.”
His next step is to compete in the K&N Pro Series East division in 2013 for Turner Motorsports.
David Smith says: “Kwasniewski’s rise to the top of NASCAR’s Pro Series West division was meteoric. In 2011, his rookie campaign, he earned a serviceable 1.667 PEER through the first half of the season. In the second half he registered a 3.929 PEER, foreshadowing even more improvement in 2012. Against fields littered with veteran drivers and owners, he won last year’s title with three wins, a 3.8 average finish and a series-best 5.233 PEER. The question you ask is whether he can he come East and do the same thing against a series that is a high competitive jump. I think he can do well, but I think that question does exist. It’s time to see what he can do in a series against kids that are just as good as he is. Can he outthink them? Can he outdrive them?”
AUSTIN DILLON, 22, LEWISVILLE, N.C.
The 22-year-old grandson of car owner Richard Childress will attempt to make this year’s Daytona 500. He has climbed NASCAR’s ranks quickly. Dillon was Rookie of the Year in the Truck Series in 2010 and won the series title the following year. He finished third in the points last season in the Nationwide Series, earning Rookie of the Year honors.
At Phoenix in November, he led the rookie meeting for Truck Series drivers.
“It’s pretty cool to go run a rookie meeting and only be 22 years old,” he says. “It’s kind of hard thinking you’re gaining respect from them because they’re the same age. It’s cool that they listened.”
He’ll run a full season of Nationwide again this year along with as many as seven Cup races, including the Daytona 500, for Childress. Dillon is expected to move full-time to Cup in 2014 and very well could bring the No. 3 with him, marking that number’s first return to Cup since Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.
David Smith says: “I was not a fan of him in the Truck Series just because that No. 3 team was very strong, very consistent, didn’t have many miscues or incorrect setups. This year in the Nationwide Series, now we’re starting to see what Austin has the potential to do. He’s a driver that doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes. He earned a 2.879 PEER and two wins (both at Kentucky) in a season of staggering consistency that saw no accident-related exits from races. A second go-round of a full Nationwide slate should conjure visible improvement.”
TY DILLON, 20, LEWISVILLE, N.C.
Austin’s younger brother, Ty has shown he is as good as his big bro. Ty, 20, won Rookie of the Year honors in the Camping World Truck Series, finishing fourth in the points with one win and 17 top-10 finishes in 22 starts in 2012. He also ran in three Nationwide races, finishing in the top 10 in each of them, including a third-place result at Indianapolis.
“I couldn’t really ask for much more besides a championship in our rookie year,” he said after the season finale at Homestead.
Just like his brother, he’s followed a path set by grandfather Richard Childress that has put him in a position to succeed. He’ll run again in the Truck Series in 2013 with plans to participate in select Nationwide races and one Cup race before a planned move full-time to the Nationwide Series in 2014.
David Smith says: “I like Ty. He didn’t come away the champion, but Dillon had an impressive rookie season in the Truck Series. A strong showing in his maiden voyage at Martinsville and beating Kyle Busch to the finish line in a spectacular mano-a-mano battle at Atlanta were two of his more brilliant flashes. There’s room for improvement in 2013 — he ranked just 15th in Trucks PEER (2.023) and was an above-average crasher (seven times in 22 races).”
COREY LaJOIE, 21, CONCORD, N.C.
The son of two-time Nationwide Series champion Randy LaJoie finished second in the 2012 K&N Pro Series East Series despite not having the budget of some other teams. LaJoie won a series-high five races and had 10 top-five finishes in 14 events with his smooth driving style. His results improved greatly compared to 2011 — when he went winless and collected only four top-5 finishes — as he steered clear of trouble.
The question with LaJoie is whether the 21-year-old can find the funding for a full-time ride in a division above the East Series. If so, keep an eye on him.
David Smith says: “There’s nothing to dislike about LaJoie. Outside of the car, he’s an endearingly outspoken, Chuck Taylor-wearing blue-collar kid. In the car, he demonstrates a savant-like ability to conserve tires, methodically stage passing opportunities and close races. He scored five Pro Series East victories in 2012 and his 4.607 PEER mark bettered Joey Logano’s vaunted East division production rating of 4.462 from 2007. He’s the only full-time guy that did it on a microscopic budget (in 2012), compared to what (Joe Gibbs Racing) had and like what Darrell Wallace Jr. had and what Hendrick (Motorsports) had with Chase Elliott. So what he did was incredible. All that he’s taught himself to do is going to translate to another level.”
—By Dustin Long and David Smith
David Smith is the founder and editor-in-chief of Motorsports Analytics. Smith looks past racing stats like “Wins,” “Tops 5s,” and “Top 10s” to evaluate drivers by taking advanced statistical concepts that he created. His PEER stats (Production in Equal Equipment Rating) are weighted statistics that measure the on-track production of a driver in an “all-equipment-even” scenario (i.e., the best equipment receives the highest handicap). It is constructed using data from past performances.
4.000 and Above = Historic Performance — This driver is attempting to re-write the record books in this particular series. The higher the level of racing, the more rare a 4.000 PEER becomes.
3.999 to 3.000 = Serious Title Contender — This driver is exhibiting the ability to compete for a series championship while producing higher finishes than those with a Fringe Title Contender-level PEER.
2.999 to 2.000 = Fringe Title Contender — This driver is exhibiting the ability to compete for a series championship.
1.999 to 1.000 = Serviceable — This driver can be counted on for an occasional race win in this series.
0.999 and Below = Replacement Level — This driver’s production level in this series can be easily found elsewhere.
Brian Cashman called it a “perfect storm.” CC Sabathia said it was “embarrassing.” The New York tabloids weren’t as kind: "Dear Yankees, We don’t date losers! Signed New Yorkers" read the back of the New York Post.
Detroit’s sweep of the Yankees in the 2012 ALCS was a complete domination. The Tigers never trailed during the series, and their combined 19–6 run differential was an indication of New York’s incompetence. The Yankees batted a mere .157 in the series, and they struck out a whopping 36 times, or on one-third of their outs. At times, it appeared as if the New York hitters had never faced big-league pitching before.
“When you get into a short series, you say, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’” says Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones. “If you execute it, you win. If you don’t, and you make poor pitches, you won’t win.”
While many love to deliver swift boots to the collective posterior of the Yankees when they are laid low, their fan-tastic performance against the Tigers wasn’t so unusual in the context of the 2012 season. First off, Detroit pitchers ranked fifth among all MLB clubs in strikeouts. But more importantly, the ’12 season was historic throughout baseball for whiffing.
Six major league clubs fanned at least 1,300 times last season. That’s three more clubs than the previous high for aggregate plate futility and one more than the total number from baseball’s beginning through the 2006 season. Another 12 teams struck out at least 1,200 times, four more than the previous record. In other words, a full 60 percent of teams whiffed 1,200 or more times last year, establishing a new high (or, if you prefer, low) for swing-and-miss futility. The Yankees’ fruitless pursuit of Tiger pitching was merely a high-profile example of the culture that has taken over major league baseball.
“There are definitely more ‘guess’ hitters in the game than there used to be,” Jones says. “You have guys looking for a certain pitch. If they don’t get it, they can look bad swinging.”
To give an idea of how profound this increase in useless at bats has become, consider that before 2001, no team had ever struck out 1,300 times in a single season. Before 1996, only one squad ever fanned 1,200 times. That distinction belongs to the 1968 Mets, who struck out 1,203 times. But they played 163 games that year, and after the season, Major League Baseball decided to lower the mound six inches. Back in 1978, the leader in strikeouts, Cincinnati, had only 899. Many of today’s teams have that many well before August is over. Contrast that with 1928, when the Yankees whiffed only 553 times in 154 games.
There are plenty of reasons why K is becoming baseball’s favorite letter. Jones’ theory on hitters’ guessing makes perfect sense. So does the fact that pitchers’ velocities are increasing, as is the menagerie of “out” pitches they are learning at earlier levels of baseball. The growing specialization of staffs allows managers to create matchups that are to their teams’ advantages. And the amount of information available to teams about hitters’ tendencies allows them to create scouting reports and battle plans that are more effective. Just ask the Yankees about that.
There’s one other, more philosophical cause at work, at least according to Padres’ hitting coach Phil Plantier. He cites what he refers to as “the live ball era” as having an impact on hitters as they grow into big-league players. That’s his euphemism for the steroid era, when homers rained down upon bleacher bums all over the game. As youngsters watched their pumped-up heroes cranking out 50 homers — and more — each season, they developed habits that might produce long balls but could also lead to high strikeout totals. For instance, in 1996, just two years after the MLB strike and the first season during which Mark McGwire hit more than 50 home runs (52), eight teams whiffed 1,100 times or more — an all-time high. From there, the strikeout totals have climbed steadily to 2012’s peak.
“The past generation of players just went through an unrealistic baseline expectation of hitters,” Plantier says. “If you look at trends of hitters prior to the ‘live ball’ era, it’s probably more indicative of where the game will go back. But it’s taking some time.”
Back in 1987, when Plantier reported to Elmira, N.Y., for his first minor league stint, he didn’t find an army of coaches ready to mold him on his first step to the majors. The club didn’t even have a weight room.
“We had a manager, and he did everything,” Plantier says.
Today, teams have too much money invested in players to leave it all to one person. There are hitting coaches, strength coaches and pitching coaches at every stop along the developmental chain. Not everyone is going to make it to the big time, but teams aren’t taking any chances on missing a potential major leaguer.
They also aren’t going about accumulating prospects the same way, especially on the mound. The process by which teams scout and ultimately select young pitchers has been altered since the days when Plantier was making his baseball journey.
“It all starts at the beginning,” he says. “Scouts are identifying athletes now as pitchers and have been for the last generation. Before, the majority of pitchers were non-athletes with good arms. Now, they’re getting better quality athletes on the mound.”
According to Plantier, the more athletic a pitcher is, the higher his ceiling might be. Now, no one can be certain whether Walter Johnson or Sandy Koufax would have fared well in the decathlon, but many of today’s pitchers are more accomplished athletically. They are also bigger and stronger. It’s become rare when a team spends a high draft choice — or in some cases any draft choices — on pitchers who aren’t at least 6'0". It’s hard to imagine someone like 5'11" Ron Guidry or 5'6" Bobby Shantz, who was once blown off the mound during a game, getting a second look today. When exposed to the intense training and instruction teams provide from rookie ball on up, they can develop into better pitchers — even if they don’t have the liveliest arms.
“At the lower levels, organizations are developing pitchers better, and they are teaching them how to become strikeout pitchers,” Plantier says.
A lot of those strikeout pitchers are succeeding with fastballs that get into the 90s consistently. Brewers’ hitting coach Jerry Narron was once a special assignment scout for Texas, and he was with Josh Hamilton in 2009 when Hamilton did a rehab stint in the minors after surgery to repair an abdominal tear. He noticed right away the vast differences between the caliber of pitching at the Triple-A level and the majors, a big reason why many younger players struggle to make contact.
“It’s not only the starters but the relievers who throw hard,” Narron says. “Everybody out of the pen seems to throw in the mid-90s, and at the back end of the pen, they’re throwing in the upper 90s. The velocity across the board jumps off the page.”
Jones agrees. “It seems like every guy is throwing 95 now,” he says.
Narron says teams’ obsessions with pitch counts have contributed to rising strikeout totals as well — and not just because those hard-throwing relievers are ready to throw smoke and overpower pitchers in favorable lefty-lefty or righty-righty matchups.
“Starters can afford to be more assertive,” Narron says. “They’re only going to pitch five, six or seven innings.”
The amount of information available gives pitchers advantages, too. Most MLB clubs, including the Tigers, look at what hitters’ tendencies are in every possible count. They feed pitchers information that allows them to know who is looking for fastballs early, who is less likely to be more careful with two strikes, and of course, who struggles with breaking balls.
“When guys are aggressive early in the count, they are people you can exploit by going out of the strike zone,” Jones says. “We know how aggressive guys are late in the count and how aggressive they are with men on base.”
It’s not guaranteed that a pitcher armed with that information is going to be successful, but if he makes pitches according to the plan, it’s more likely he will have an advantage. Detroit pitcher Doug Fister is known for throwing strikes early and often — he walked only 37 batters in 161.2 innings last year. So, hitters will often go up in the first few innings of a game hoping to get something to hit right away. If they are aggressive and making outs, Fister stays with his original program. But if they are hitting him, he has to change.
“They’ve made their adjustments, so we have to adjust,” Jones says.
It’s just not fair, really. Those mean pitchers are bigger and throw faster than ever. They have all sorts of fancy information and knowledge about tendencies and hitters’ weaknesses. Lower the mound! Make it four strikes per out.
The pitchers are better, but the hitters have a huge responsibility for the rising numbers. One All-Star starter who requested anonymity explains why it’s sometimes easy to pile up the strikeouts. “A lot of guys go up there looking for a certain pitch, and if they don’t get it, they pretty much give up the at-bat,” he says.
According to Narron, some hitters consider a strikeout “just another out.” Of course, nobody scores from third with fewer than two outs on a K — barring a wild pitch, of course. You can’t move the runner from first to second when you fan. And hitting the ball, even if it’s right at a defender, forces him to make a play and could lead to an error. Narron sure doesn’t think that all outs are the same.
“I don’t believe that,” he says. “There’s a lot you can accomplish with two strikes on you. You want to get something out of an at-bat that’s more than just a zero. The only thing you might get out of a strikeout is pushing the pitcher to eight pitches. That’s okay.”
Hitting coaches speak constantly of having a “plan” or “approach” at the plate. That can apply to a team’s macro philosophy of being aggressive against certain pitchers and careful versus others, and it has micro applications based on various hitters’ strengths and weaknesses. It’s okay to swing at strikes early in the count, provided that’s the way to get after a pitcher. Hitters who just rip away at anything may get on base, but their ultimate success depends on being more opportunistic, especially when the count isn’t in their favor.
“The one thing I stress to hitters is that every at-bat is important,” Narron says. “You just can’t give anything away.”
That philosophy doesn’t appeal to all hitters, especially power hitters. They believe the home run is the preferred outcome, even if dinger numbers are dropping all over baseball. Slapping a ball to the opposite field with two strikes isn’t as appealing as jacking one into the fourth deck, even if the risk associated with that approach is high.
Plantier’s Padres were members of the 1,200-strikeout club last year, but he was much happier with his players’ performance at the plate during the season’s second half, once they approached at-bats differently and tried to be more productive each time up.
“We were as big a culprit as there was in the league,” he says of the Padres’ propensity to strike out. “But we started to have better at-bats and improved our contact rate. We made mechanical adjustments and also had better plans at the plate, according to what we needed at that moment in time.”
As 2013 dawns, pitchers have the advantage. They are throwing high-octane fuel at hitters who don’t necessarily care whether they strike out or not, so long as the possibility exists of the magic long ball that made their baseball ancestors stars.
“You’ve got a lot of power guys who aren’t going to change their swings with two strikes,” Jones says. “They’re still trying to drive the ball to the gaps and over the fence.”
If they strike out, they strike out. For many, it’s not a problem.
Until the League Championship Series. Then, it’s a problem.
—By Michael Bradley
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We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach? Today we focus on the ACC.
(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)
Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the ACC for 2013
1. Florida State
Pros: You can make the argument that Florida State offers all of the positives of Florida without the brutal competition of the SEC East. Would you rather battle Clemson, NC State and Boston College or Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina every year?
Cons: Florida State has a nice following, but its fans can be on the fickle side. Last season, when the Seminoles had legitimate national title ambitions, Doak Campbell was “only” filled to 92 percent capacity. Not bad, but not quite up to standards of most programs of similar stature. Also, the ACC has been relatively weak in recent seasons; an undefeated ACC champ might not automatically play for a national title.
Final Verdict: Florida State enjoyed an unbelievable run of success from the late 1980s through the early 2000s. But the Noles lost five games or more three times from 2006-10. Winning is no longer automatic.
Pros: Clemson is an SEC-like school that has the luxury of playing an ACC schedule. The fans are rabid, the stadium is huge (capacity 81,500), and unlike many its ACC brethren, Clemson is a football school.
Cons: Clemson seemingly has so much going for it, yet the program has only won two ACC titles in the past 24 seasons. If you are a coach interested in the job, you’d have ask yourself the following question: Why is this program a chronic underachiever?
Final Analysis: Clemson presents a great opportunity. The program is a major player in the recruiting game, and it has so many built-in advantages compared to almost every school in the league. The Tigers have the ability to compete for the ACC title on an annual basis.
3. Virginia Tech
Pros: Virginia Tech has a very strong (and underrated) recruiting base, most notably the Hampton Roads-Tidewater area — better known as the ‘757’ by recruiting gurus. The Hokies also have a passionate fan base that creates a tremendous environment at Lane Stadium.
Cons: The school has only been relevant on the national scene under Frank Beamer’s watch. Can another coach recreate the magic?
Final Verdict: Virginia Tech isn’t quite college football royalty, but it’s not far off. Before last season’s 7–6 hiccup, the Hokies had won at least 10 games in at least eight straight seasons. You can win a national title in Blacksburg.
Pros: With the possible exception of USC and UCLA, no school in the country has a better local recruiting base. And while the Canes have struggled in recent years, the program won a national championship as recently as 2001 and played for a title in ’02.
Cons: Miami has the smallest fan base of the top 25 teams on this list. Last season, the Canes ranked 44th in the nation in attendance, averaging 47,719 per game at Sun Life Stadium. The facility is 20 miles from campus and lacks the big-time college football atmosphere.
Final Verdict: Miami is an intriguing job. The recruiting base is outstanding — which gives you a great opportunity to win — but the position lacks many of the other qualities that make coaching at a big-time school so attractive.
5. North Carolina
Pros: The school is an easy sell for a recruiter: It’s is one of the premier public institutions in the nation, and its location, in picturesque Chapel Hill, is ideal. UNC has also made a huge financial commitment to football in the past decade.
Cons: North Carolina is — and always will be — a basketball school. That is something that every football coach must accept. And while the school has enjoyed pockets of success, it’s been difficult to win consistently at UNC. Since Mack Brown bolted for Texas after the 1997 season, the Tar Heels have averaged 3.5 ACC wins.
Final Verdict: North Carolina’s lack of success over the years might surprise even a knowledgeable college football fan. The Tar Heels have not won an ACC Championship since 1980 and have not strung together back-to-back winning ACC seasons since the mid-1990s. Still, this is a desirable position for a coach. It’s a great school that has made a strong commitment to the football program.
Pros: Pittsburgh is located in the heart of Western Pennsylvania, which gives the Panthers a solid recruiting base. The school also shares its football facility with the Pittsburgh Steelers — which can be a positive (NFL influence) or negative (no on-campus stadium).
Cons: It’s been tough to win consistently at Pitt over the past three decades. The Panthers have only had a winning record in 14 of the 29 seasons since Jackie Sherrill bolted.
Final Verdict: Former coach Dave Wannstedt proved that you can attract talent to play at Pittsburgh. But it’s a school with a ceiling. The Panthers should consistently win seven or eight games per season, but can you win a national title? Not likely.
7. North Carolina State
Pros: The facilities at NC State are among the finest in the ACC. The spectacular Murphy Center, a football-only building, houses coaches’ offices, the weight room and dining area for the players, among other things. The school’s recruiting base, the Carolinas and Virginia, is strong.
Cons: The school doesn’t have a strong record of success. NC State hasn’t won an ACC title since 1979 and has had only seven winning league seasons since 1990.
Final Verdict: This program has underachieved over the past decade. Everything is in place — facilities, fan support, recruiting base — to be a consistent winner in the ACC.
Pros: Virginia is great school in a great college town, and the state consistently produces a high number of BCS level recruits.
Cons: The school has a surprisingly bad track record in football. George Welsh had a nice run in the 1980s and 90s, but other than that, the Cavaliers have had a tough time fielding a consistently competitive program. UVa has won a total of two championships (both shared) in its 56 years in the ACC. Recruiting can also be tough at Virginia, based on the school’s relatively tough academic standards.
Final Verdict: This school should be able to be consistently competitive in the ACC. Other than its lack of tradition, everything is seemingly in place to elevate the profile of this program.
9. Georgia Tech
Pros: Georgia is annually one of the top talent-producing states in the nation, giving the Yellow Jackets’ staff an opportunity to land quality recruiting classes despite the fact that the University of Georgia is the top Dawg in the state. Tech has also proven over time that it can win consistently in the ACC; the Jackets have been .500 or better in league play in 19 straight seasons.
Cons: Georgia Tech will always be the second most popular program in its own city, which is probably more of a problem for the school’s fans than its players and coaches. The male-to-female ratio (about 2-to-1) at the school can’t help recruiting, either.
Final Verdict: Georgia Tech might not come to mind when you think about some of the top programs in the nation, but this is a solid football school with underrated tradition. It’s been proven that you can win titles — both ACC (2009, 1998, 1990) and national (1990).
Pros: Maryland has enjoyed pockets of success over the last three decades. Bobby Ross won three straight ACC titles from 1983-85 and Ralph Friedgen went a combined 31–8 from 2001-03, and won eight-plus games in 2008 and 2010. And while it isn’t to the Oregon/Nike level, the school’s close ties with UnderArmour is a positive.
Cons: The impending move to the Big Ten will help the school in many ways, but it might have a negative impact on the football program’s recruiting. Maryland isn’t going to beat out many Big Ten schools for prospects from the Midwest, and the school won’t have the same appeal for many players in the Mid-Atlantic Region and Southeast now that the Terps won’t be playing an ACC schedule.
Final Verdict: Maryland is a lower-tier job in the ACC. And it will be a lower-tier job in the Big Ten. You can win games, but it will be very difficult for any coach to compete for championships in the current landscape.
Pros: As recently as the early 2000s, Syracuse was a top-25 program. The Orangemen, as they were called then, won nine games or more eight times in a 15-year span from 1987-2001. Doug Marrone had the program headed in the right direction before bolting to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
Cons: The program has been an afterthought in the past decade, with only two winning seasons since 2001. Support has not been good, either. Last year, when the Orange shared the Big East title, the school ranked 61st nationally in attendance (37,853 per game).
Final Verdict: Syracuse is a tough job. It’s tough to lure recruits from the South, specifically Florida, to upstate New York, and there simply aren’t a lot of top-flight prospects in the Northeast.
12. Boston College
Pros: Boston College was one of the most consistent programs in the nation from the late 1990s through the late 2000s. The Eagles averaged 8.7 wins from ’99-09 and won one Big East title (2004) and two ACC Atlantic Division titles (2007, ’08). The school’s strong academic reputation will allow it to recruit top students from the Northeast who want to remain close to home.
Cons: As the Northernmost outpost in the ACC, Boston College will always have a difficult time recruiting players from outside its region.
Final Verdict: Once the model of consistency, Boston College has slipped to the bottom of the food chain in the ACC. The Eagles went 15–11 in Frank Spaziani’s first two seasons but won four games in 2011 and two in ’12. First-year coach Steve Addazio will have a tough time returning this program to the top half of the league.
13. Wake Forest
Pros: Jim Grobe proved it can be done at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons won 11 games and captured the school’s second-ever ACC title in 2006.
Cons: No one has been able to sustain success at Wake Forest. The program has enjoyed three-straight winning seasons only once (from 2006-08) since the early 1950s.
Final Verdict: The overall strength of the ACC academically doesn’t allow Wake Forest, a small private school, to differentiate itself like programs such as Vanderbilt in the SEC, Northwestern in the Big Ten and Stanford in the Pac-12. If a strong student wants to play football in the ACC, there are several attractive options — North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia Tech — that have better overall football programs.
Pros: Duke has struggled to compete in football for the majority of the past 40 years, but the schools, consistently ranked among the top-10 in the country academically, still has a strong national brand.
Cons: The interest in the football program at Duke is not high — and that is being kind. This past season, the Blue Devils went to a bowl game for the first time since 1994 yet only averaged 28,170 fans per game, ranking 79th in the nation. Temple was the only AQ conference school lower on the list.
Final Verdict: David Cutcliffe has made Duke respectable, but it’s hard to envision this program making much of move in the ACC. The lack of tradition and lack of support make Duke football a tough sell to top recruits.
Related College Football Content
ACC Team Consensus Recruiting Rankings for 2013
College Football's Top 15 Impact JUCO Transfers for 2013
10 True Freshmen Likely to Make an Impact in 2013
Grading College Football's Coaching Hires for 2013
Every fan knows that the annual MLB Draft can be an absolute crapshoot. It can be surprising when a first round produces a surfeit of big-league talent. Of the top 30 picks in the 2003 MLB Draft, 21 reached the majors, and 17 are still active big leaguers. Add four supplemental first-round picks still receiving checks for playing ball, along with late-round gems like Ian Kinsler and Jonny Venters, and you have one pretty productive draft.
Want more baseball? Check out Athlon Sports' 2013 Baseball Annual for the most complete preview available. Order your copy now!
The NASCAR Sprint Cup season is getting closer by the day, which means it’s time to plan your spring and summer road trips and to name your 2014 Fantasy NASCAR team. While it may be tough to win your league each season, it’s not as difficult to have the best team name. Here’s our list for 2014, in no particular order of awesomeness:
Cloyd Rivers would be proud. Might not want to use the “Team America” distress signal during the race if something goes awry, though, I think Danica does when the car gets out of shape.
FREE JEREMY MAYFIELD
Clearly he was being railroaded and was innocent of all charges, right? After all, most people usually have a tenth of a million dollars in stolen guns, gear and tools at their crib, and have been seen sneaking around semi-truck garages in the wee hours of the morning. Kind of sad when you think about it. If he had just went AJ and said, “I dunno what it was … I thought it was a vitamin,” he’d probably have been back in the sport and sponsored by Octane 93. Oh yeah.
Sounds like somebody was having a $hitty day. Pretty sure that’s what they could have called most of the drivers’ shorts at Michigan last summer when they were barreling into Turn 1 at 220 mph.
LOSING MAKES MY DICK TRICKLE
And there it is. The requisite homage to the late legend of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisc. What’s cooler than a 48-year-old Rookie of the Year who burned heaters under caution and is recognized as the all-time leader in short track wins in North America? Keep in mind that while it may have been Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt who helped bring NASCAR into the national consciousness, it was Dan Patrick on Sportscenter updating the casual fan as to where Dick Trickle finished each week. RIP, DT.
BALLS TO THE WALL ALL THE TIME
I’m going to be honest here: I don’t think this one is funny. I think it’s awesome. Reminds me of the classic, “I’m droppin’ the hammer, Harry!” line from everyone’s favorite racing movie.
THE SUM OF ALL MEARS
That would be a pretty easy one. One. As in, the number of races he’s won (Charlotte, 2007). Kyle Petty finished third in that race. No, it was not 1987. 2007.
THE BIG KESELOWSKI
The Brad Abides – that Sprint Cup really ties the room together. It would be funny if he starts addressing Joey Logano as “Donny.”
Not sure how Trevor would take being tied to a Mormon, which in itself probably conjures up unwholesome imagery. Mitt Romney and Trevor both have something in common: genuinely decent guys who have achieved, yet still haven’t quite got that dream day job.
GREEN EGGS AND HAMLIN
I will not win one with Mike Ford, I will not drive a Honda Accord;
A black Camry will bring me luck, a bottle of Dasani you’ll see me chuck;
Sometimes my back hurts me bad, if only I had a crew chief named Chad!
Okay, some of the content is dated and the rhymn is annoying. The name, however, is clever.
WISE JOHNSONS FEAR BURNING BUSCH
Unless they have a topical ointment. Or penicillin. And by the way, I don’t think this head game is going to work, either.
I may have to join the “Gas Holes” league on principle, as it is both irrelevant and ironic. Or coincidental. Either way, these guys most certainly know their heads from their gas … and know well enough to never trust a road course ringer at Watkins Glen or Sonoma. And no, Marcos is not a road course ringer just because he excels there. He’s a full-time driver in the series and Richard Petty Motorsports’ most prolific wheelman since Kasey Kahne bailed after his brakes failed in Charlotte. Speaking of which …
AMBROSE BEFORE HO
If only all guys followed this advice. Though we’d understand if Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rejected this notion, as he has done quite nicely for himself of late. Not that DP is of questionable morals. Ugh, we’re already getting sidetracked here and in a topsy-turvy world — which would make sense since Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere. Or is it Tasmania that Marcos is from? Hold on, can hemispheres go north and south, too, or just east and west? Because road courses go left and right … right? I smell waffles.
A COUNTRY GAL KAHNE SURVIVE
The shear number of Fantasy NASCAR team names devoted to the boyish good looks of one Kasey Kenneth Kahne only reaffirms the volume of anonymous cougars lurking on the ‘net.
UPS = UGLY PAINT SCHEME
This had to have been created in the Dale Jarrett days. Why on earth did UPS wait until the very end of its run to paint the cars totally brown — particularly during its “Big Brown Truck” marketing campaign? UPS may run the tightest ship in the shipping business, but its car’s paint job was so uninspired that they should have just colored it beige. When it finally did go brown, UPS saw fit to throw yellow on it, too … and that didn’t help matters. So sad that the once-iconic No. 6 car — which had some of the best paint schemes ever during the Valvoline/Mark Martin era — went into mothballs clad in doo doo brown.
A LITTLE ON THE HIGH SIDE
Another classic double entendre that, at its core, was created by a couple guys sitting on the couch saying, “Dude, don’t bogart those Dale Jr. Carolina Barbeque chips.”
THE NEED FOR SCOTT SPEED
Combining “Top Gun” and NASCAR?! Why didn’t anyone think of this before? Oh wait …
BLANEY’S GOT A GUN
So long as Steven Tyler isn’t asked to perform the National Anthem prior to a race, we're OK with the Aerosmith/NASCAR cross-reference — although it couldn’t get any worse than Scott Stapp or Brett Michaels. That said, Joe ’Effin’ Perry going Hendrix on the Anthem? There’s potential there.
2 LBS IN THE REAR GOT HER LOOSE
Hey ohh!!! Now it’s a party! What, “Slipping In a Rubber” didn’t want any of that? We should probably just quit while we’re ahead on this one.
“Mikey, you may have been the worst driver in NASCAR, but you were the best brake pad salesman in Sandusky!”
“Are they built for speed or comfort? What'd you do with them? Motorboat? You play the motorboat? Blrlrlrlbbb … You motorboatin' son of a bitch. You old sailor, you!” I’d bet $20 this guy isn’t really into Unlimited Hydroplane, and would be disappointed to find out who Miss Budweiser really is.
DOG THE LABONTE HUNTER
This might be my favorite name on the list from the Big Island … or anywhere else, Brah. The name is appropriate on many levels. I think Dog, Leland and Bobby Brown stopped being relevant about the same time Bobby Labonte exited the No. 18 car. At least we don’t have to worry about Texas Terry or BLab sprouting an Aqua-Net saturated pompadour of feathered magnificence. Or exposing taco meat from his firesuit following a race. Labonte’s coming stint in the No. 52 car will be about as dangerous to Victory Lane as Dog and Beth are to armed felons with their array of paintball guns, pepper spray and Beth’s fingerless Lady Classics. That said, they are some of the last ties to NASCAR’s past. Best of luck this season, guys. Go with Christ, Brah.
This one is definitely an old school NASCAR fan well-versed in the Gospel according to Gant and his Skoal Bandit. Harry Gant’s No. 33 was as iconic of a machine during the mid- ’80s as the Coors Thunderbird or that yellow and blue Wrangler Monte. Mr. September rewrote the record books when he reeled off a record-tying four in a row at the tender age of 51. It’s doubtful that Handsome Harry would ever suffer such a condition, though. After all, what other driver do you know that keeps in shape by running bundles up a ladder all day in the Carolina summer heat?
2 GIRLS 1 SPRINT CUP
Wow. Way to keep it classy, although expertly executed at staying timely and relevant. I’m 99 percent sure that isn’t a girls’ team, despite the obvious attempt at subterfuge. Hopefully they’ll be going up against “Stew(art) Let The Dogs Out” during the Chase later this year.
Oh hi, Ingrid.
ME SO HORNISH
This one is fantastic. It was created nearly five years ago, but stands the test of time — a true testament to its subtle genius and nod to Kubrick’s Vietnam War classic. Or 2 Live Crew. Either way, by the time you have finished reading this, “Oh me so Hoooornish, Oh-oh me so Hornish …” will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome.
RELATED: 50 Funny Fantasy Football Team Names
The 2013 college baseball season will soon be underway. To prep readers, Athlon Sports looks at college baseball's preseason Top 25.
Fax machines aren’t the only thing dusted off and put to use on national signing day.
After the letters had been signed and the faxes sent, 125 FBS coaches headed to their press conferences and all were in agreement: This year’s class is great, it fills needs, and it will be best judged later, and not by star rankings.
"Every coach around the country says they like their class, but I really do like our class,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeil said.
Or was it Nick Saban? Or Lane Kiffin? Or Charlie Weis? Or Chris Petersen?
“This is always like Christmas to me,” new Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said.
Yep, a Christmas with no coal, neckties or socks. We’re all getting that video game system or drum kit or bicycle we wanted.
Here, we've compiled a sampling of the signing day coaching cliches from yesterday’s press conferences. A few caveats, though: We didn’t count coaches thanking assistants and support staff (really, you’d have to kinda be a jerk not to). We also didn’t count coaches who talked about “filling needs.”
Also, many coaches used multiple signing day cliches, sometime within the same sentence. We applaud their efficiency, but we’re only taking one cliche per coach.
BEST CLASS EVER
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: “I think today has the possibility of being a program changer.”
James Franklin, Vanderbilt: “This is our best class.”
Doc Holliday, Marshall: “There’s no doubt we’re better personnel-wise than we’ve been since I’ve been here.”
June Jones, SMU: "We think as coaches this is our best-looking class physically, along with our best athletically at all positions, since coming to SMU.”
Curtis Johnson, Tulane: "This is a special class, a dream class for us."
Bob Davie, New Mexico: “I think the word is out. You go around and it's kind of amazing ... that New Mexico and Albuquerque are kind of hidden gems.”
Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette: “It will grade out as the most-talented class in school history, but the true test of their quality will be determined on the field in two or three years.”
Dennis Franchionie, Texas State: “This is the best class that we have been able to sign here.”
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
Lane Kiffin, USC: “This is certainly a class of quality over quantity.”
Larry Fedora, North Carolina: “Quality over quantity is the way I like to talk about it.”
JUDGE THIS CLASS LATER
Nick Saban, Alabama: “We had a good recruiting year, but again I think it's hard to make predictions about the guys you recruited today, and where they are going to be two or three years from now.”
Will Muschamp, Florida: You can pull out your tape recorders from the previous two years and we will know about this class in two or three years.”
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State: “It's not really where you come in at, it's where you finish.”
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech: “I think this will go down as an outstanding recruiting class. Time will tell, but I really like the athletic ability in this class and the size in our linemen.”
Tony Levine, Houston: “We redshirted about 20 freshmen last season and when you speculate a recruiting class, you can't fairly answer who I going to stand out until a few years down the road. You need to let the class play out.”
Bill Snyder, Kansas State: “As we've always maintained, it takes several years to accurately assess the quality of a recruiting class and the young men who represent it.”
Mack Brown, Texas: “We need to evaluate this class four or five years from now and see who is playing. A lot of times perception is not reality with these guys.”
Norm Chow, Hawaii: “We need to temper our enthusiasm and reserve judgment on this class until 2-3 years from now.”
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona: “You definitely need to wait a few years before you can evaluate a recruiting class.”
REFERENCES TO THE STAR RANKINGS
Brian Polian, Nevada: “These guys are what we are looking for here. The star system and the rankings mean nothing to us.”
Todd Graham, Arizona State: “A team is not just about talent. It's not just about how many stars a person has and what you see out there.”
Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky: “We don’t go out placing an emphasis on rankings or stars, but we go out trying to find the right guys that will fit our system, and I believe that we were able to do that.”
P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan: “I think all of these kids are football players, period. You take all of the rankings and the ‘stars’ out of it and you look at the tape and we needed to find football players. That is what we found.”
PLAYERS WHO FIT OUR PROGRAM
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa: “I think for the most part we fit most of the needs that we felt were important. And most importantly I think we found players that we feel are going to fit our program.”
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern: "We as a staff are confident we've signed a group of young men who are tremendous fits for our program athletically, academically and socially.”
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest: “Lots of guys who love to play football and are really good football players who fit at Wake Forest.”
Justin Fuente, Memphis: “I think it's another step in the right direction to building our football program.”
Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut: “What we're trying to do in building the program, and it's hard to do it overnight, we're trying to recruit pro-type size guys.”
Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky: “These coaches wanted to be here and these players wanted to be here. That's what it's going to take to build this program - a bunch of guys that want to chase greatness."
Paul Haynes, Kent State: “We wanted to get our kind of guys. And that's what we got."
Sonny Dykes, Cal: "We made a concerted and successful effort to sign both the best players we could and also the student-athletes that we thought would be the best fits at Cal.”
KIDS WITH CHARACTER
Les Miles, LSU: "I think it has quality and players with good character and integrity.”
Tim Beckman, Illinois: “We were able to add quality depth at several positions and upgraded the total athleticism of the team across the board.”
Bo Pelini, Nebraska: “I’m excited about this class, I think it adds a lot to our football team, not only with talented football players but tremendous young men, a lot of character type of kids that I want to coach, and kids we want to represent our university, the state and our fans.”
Bill O’Brien, Penn State: “This is a group of high character kids who are tough, go to class and do things the right way.”
Sean Kugler, UTEP: “We feel like we not only added some outstanding football players, but some outstanding student-athletes with strong character.”
Charlie Strong, Louisville: “It is key that we recruit character – young men that want to be a part of something special – height, speed, football awareness, toughness – that’s what’s critical when we go out to recruit.”
Scott Shafer, Syracuse: "I'm really excited about this class because it represents high character men who really love that game of football and treat it with respect.”
Pete Lembo, Ball State: ”We have added a lot of talent to our roster with this class, but perhaps more importantly, we are surrounding ourselves with some terrific leaders and charismatic personalities.”
Jeff Quinn, Buffalo: “What stood out most to me with the entire signing class of 2013, was the fact that these are tremendous leaders and winners.”
Dan Enos, Central Michigan: “It is a group of gifted, high character, and hard-working individuals that will contribute to our program on the football field.”
Matt Campbell, Toledo: “From top to bottom, this is a class of high-caliber players who have high-caliber character.”
GETTING MORE ATHLETIC, FASTER, BIGGER, STRONGER
David Shaw, Stanford: “When you look at our 2013 class, you will see size. You will see athleticism. You will see toughness.”
Kyle Whittingham, Utah: “We definitely feel we became a bigger, faster football team with this recruiting class.”
Bill Blankenship, Tulsa: “With this class, we are excited about getting more athletic and just recruiting really good football players. Overall, we felt like we needed to continue to get bigger and faster, and when I say bigger, I really mean taller and longer. Those athletes with length have an opportunity to grow into being much bigger players."
George O’Leary, UCF: “The three key elements that we looked for was obviously range, speed and versatility”
Rod Carey, Northern Illinois: "Overall, when you look at this class, it's dominated by skill, which it should be. The skill has power and speed and that's what I love about it. Every guy that's fast is powerful and every guy that's powerful has good speed."
Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State: “Without everyone pulling together and without the use of airplanes it would be difficult to put a class like this together.”
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma: “We really addressed some of the major needs that we needed.”
Garrick McGee, UAB: “They were recruiting guys that were very highly recruited. There were teams in our area that were after these players and our coaching staff had to stay firm on the things that we believe in. There was a lot of negative recruiting going on, and I want to give our coaching staff credit for sticking to our principles.”
MOMENTS OF CANDOR
Urban Meyer, Ohio State: “Our first year together as a coaching staff last year did not count because that was not a coaching staff. That was a bunch of guys coming together like a bunch of gypsies trying to find players anywhere we could find them. We did pretty good.”
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: “The only thing I know, back in 2008, I think Florida had the No. 1 class, and two years later that No. 1 class drove Urban Meyer to retirement. Of course, he came back a year later and he's an excellent coach, but I know later there were comments that that No. 1 class just didn't pan out. Of course, it usually pans out at Alabama every year. But, again, recruiting is extremely important, but after they get there is really what's most important.
Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati: “I’m going to start teaching a class on how to sign a recruiting class in 30 days. I think I’ve done it three or four times now, but it doesn’t get any easier.”
Players who make it to the Super Bowl in 2013 can expect a super-sized bonus. The winning players—from either the San Francisco 49ers or Baltimore Ravens—in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on Feb. 3, 2013, will each receive a massive paycheck to the tune of $88,000, while each member of the losing team will earn $44,000. How does that compare to Super Bowls of the past? Here's a look at the winners' and losers' share from every Super Bowl in the past 46 years.
Super Bowl Date Winner (Share) Loser (Share)
XLVI 2-5-12 New York Giants ($88,000) New England ($44,000)
XLV 2-6-11 Green Bay ($83,000) Pittsburgh ($42,000)
XLIV 2-7-10 New Orleans ($83,000) Indianapolis ($42,000)
XLIII 2-1-09 Pittsburgh ($78,000) Arizona ($40,000)
XLII 2-3-08 N.Y. Giants ($78,000) New England ($40,000)
XLI 2-4-07 Indianapolis ($73,000) Chicago ($38,000)
XL 2-5-06 Pittsburgh ($73,000) Seattle ($38,000)
XXXIX 2-6-05 New England ($68,000) Philadelphia ($36,500)
XXXVIII 2-1-04 New England ($68,000) Carolina (36,500)
XXXVII 1-26-03 Tampa Bay ($63,000) Oakland ($35,000)
XXXVI 2-3-02 New England ($63,000) St. Louis ($34,500)
XXXV 1-28-01 Baltimore ($58,000) N.Y. Giants ($34,500)
XXXIV 1-30-00 St. Louis ($58,000) Tennessee ($33,000)
XXXIII 1-31-99 Denver ($53,000) Atlanta ($32,500)
XXXII 1-25-98 Denver ($48,000) Green Bay ($29,000)
XXXI 1-26-97 Green Bay ($48,000) New England ($29,000)
XXX 1-28-96 Dallas ($42,000) Pittsburgh ($27,000)
XXIX 1-29-95 San Francisco ($42,000) San Diego ($26,000)
XXVIII 1-30-94 Dallas ($38,000) Buffalo ($23,500)
XXVII 1-31-93 Dallas ($36,000) Buffalo ($18,000)
XXVI 1-26-92 Washington ($36,000) Buffalo ($18,000)
XXV 1-27-91 N.Y. Giants ($36,000) Buffalo ($18,000)
XXIV 1-28-90 San Francisco ($36,000) Denver ($18,000)
XXIII 1-22-89 San Francisco ($36,000) Cincinnati ($18,000)
XXII 1-31-88 Washington ($36,000) Denver ($18,000)
XXI 1-25-87 N.Y. Giants ($36,000) Denver ($18,000)
XX 1-26-86 Chicago ($36,000) New England ($18,000)
XIX 1-20-85 San Francisco ($36,000) Miami ($18,000)
XVIII 1-22-84 L.A. Raiders ($36,000) Washington ($18,000)
XVII 1-30-83 Washington ($36,000) Miami ($18,000)
XVI 1-24-82 San Francisco ($18,000) Cincinnati ($9,000)
XV 1-25-81 Oakland ($18,000) Philadelphia ($9,000)
XIV 1-20-80 Pittsburgh ($18,000) Los Angeles ($9,000)
XIII 1-21-79 Pittsburgh ($18,000) Dallas ($9,000)
XII 1-15-78 Dallas ($18,000) Denver ($9,000)
XI 1-9-77 Oakland ($15,000) Minnesota ($7,500)
X 1-18-76 Pittsburgh ($15,000) Dallas ($7,500)
IX 1-12-75 Pittsburgh ($15,000) Minnesota ($7,500)
VIII 1-13-74 Miami ($15,000) Minnesota ($7,500)
VII 1-14-73 Miami ($15,000) Washington ($7,500)
VI 1-16-72 Dallas ($15,000) Miami ($7,500)
V 1-17-71 Baltimore ($15,000) Dallas ($7,500)
IV 1-11-70 Kansas City ($15,000) Minnesota ($7,500)
III 1-12-69 N.Y. Jets ($15,000) Baltimore ($7,500)
II 1-14-68 Green Bay ($15,000) Oakland ($7,500)
I 1-15-67 Green Bay ($15,000) Kansas City ($7,500)
Beyonce will take the stage at halftime for a reunion with Destiny's Child and possibly even a duet with her husband, Jay-Z. This isn't Beyonce's first Super Bowl, however; she sang the national anthem prior to kickoff of Super Bowl XXXVIII in her hometown of Houston.
Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Ravens vs. 49ers and the history of the big game.
It's nearly time for Super Bowl XLVII—aka Super Bowl 2013, Super Bowl 47, and the big game—between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. So what time does the Super Bowl start? Well, we have that and more for you:
NEW ORLEANS—I am at the Super Bowl — No. XV for me — and I’m pretty sure I have seen it all. Well, maybe not “all” but over the years I’ve seen Gilbert Gottfried shouting at Bill Belichick, a Brazilian woman in a wedding dress proposing to Tom Brady, Michael Strahan singing, and this guy (pictured right) who defies description.
Unless a nagging ankle injury sidelines him, Baltimore linebacker Dannell Ellerbe should line up next to Ray Lewis when the Ravens’ defense takes the field in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday. An undrafted free agent out of Georgia who signed with the Ravens following the 2009 NFL Draft, Ellerbe has asserted and established himself in his fourth pro season.
Besides working his way into the starting lineup, Ellerbe posted a career-high 92 tackles during the regular season, finishing second on the team in that category, to go along with 4.5 sacks (tied for third). Even though Ellerbe’s been dealing with an ankle injury and a back issue, he hasn’t let either malady take him off of the field during the playoffs. He collected nine tackles in Baltimore’s wins over Indianapolis and Denver, and picked up his first interception of the season against New England quarterback Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game.
With the biggest game of his NFL career set to kick off on Sunday, Ellerbe sat down with Athlon Sports earlier this week to talk about the Ravens’ remarkable postseason run, playing alongside a Hall of Fame linebacker, his impressions of his own quarterback, the Super Bowl matchup with San Francisco and more.
What has the past week been like for you and your teammates?
“It’s crazy man, at the beginning of the week you have to put in for rooms and get tickets in line for everyone. It’s a headache getting all of that in line, but this is my first Super Bowl so I want my family to come, and I want them to come and want to get them down there. As far as practice goes, I haven’t been practicing this week because of injuries, but you want to get most of your work done here, before you get down there and give away what you are practicing, and getting most of our work in now so when we get down there we can polish up what we have don. Going forward, this week I’m gonna be in my playbook studying up, but now I’ve just been getting my family straight and all the tickets and rooms in line and rehabbing a lot. It’s busy.”
Is the preparation for this game any different?
“It hasn’t been really different, I wanna treat this like a regular game, I don’t want to be like ‘Oh man, it’s the Super Bowl’ and freak out. I’m just staying lighthearted about it and going about it like a regular season game, and don’t wanna get caught up in the superstitions, and just go out there and have fun like I have been doing all year.”
What has the atmosphere been like in Baltimore this past month on the path to the Super Bowl?
“Oh man, I saw a picture after we beat Denver and there were so many people downtown, it was crazy. At the radio show the fans come out and fans are calling in and the fans are outstanding. It’s just a great time to be in Baltimore right now.”
How much of a challenge will it be facing a guy like Colin Kaepernick, and his unique skill set on Sunday?
“It’s always difficult when you face a dual-threat quarterback. Not only do you have to worry about him throwing the ball, you have to worry about him taking off and running it, or vice versa. I would rather face a pocket passer, because that’s a headache in itself. When you have everyone covered a pocket passer will throw it out of bounds, but a guy that is fast and can take off and run makes it hard. You can’t run too much man defense and you have to spy. It’s tough, but we faced some guys this year like RGIII and Andrew Luck, and Mike Vick, so we know about them.”
Your quarterback isn't mentioned with the Peyton Mannings and Tom Bradys of the world, but Joe Flacco has an impressive resume in his time in the league. What makes him so good under pressure?
“The more experience he has been getting the better he has been doing, and the offensive line is doing a hell of a job blocking for him. You can tell he is comfortable in the pocket right now and he’s not looking to scramble. You can tell when the timer goes off in his head. I mean its just ‘Joe Cool.’ That’s his nickname around here, because you can never tell if he is flustered or not, he just has that nonchalant attitude, but is cool under pressure.”
You've played with Ray Lewis now for four years. Has his approach changed since coming back from injury and announcing his retirement?
“His approach has been a little more intense, if that’s possible, but I mean he has pretty much stayed the same. I feel like he is upping it a little bit more, because this is his last ride, so you know this is it for him. But he is staying true to his self and bringing the same work ethic. He always puts his all into it, but he is definitely putting everything he has into it now.”
What has he taught you about being an NFL linebacker? And how is it playing alongside a Hall of Famer like Ray?
“I just want to start off saying that it’s a blessing to play beside a guy like Ray Lewis, arguably the best inside linebacker to ever play the game. A guy that’s gonna be a Hall of Famer no doubt about it, great character, Christian guy. As far as what I have learned from him, I have just learned how to watch film a certain way and look for certain things when watching film. The first thing he told me when I got here was treat football like a business, come to work do your job, go home and just do your job, because it is a business, and keep my body fresh and how to take care of my body. There’s just so much I have learned from him, always take notes and learn all the little tools, so you can be a step ahead of everyone else.”
Has it sunk in that you are a part of the defense that beat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the road to get to the Super Bowl?
“I’m not sure, because of everything I’m going through with these tickets and rehab. I am definitely aware that these two quarterbacks are going to be Hall of Famers, and with how our defense played earlier in the year and with all the scrutiny our defense we went through a lot. So for us to come back at the end when it really mattered and play great, and to hold them [Patriots] to 13 points is just crazy. It’s awesome.”
Is there one specific play or moment that you will forever remember from this run through the playoffs?
“Definitely my interception against the Broncos, it basically sealed the game. You know what I’m saying, they were driving to get some points, and I will always remember because I had the cast on my hand and the ball got tipped at the line and it looked like a punt and I felt like I was in a movie. The ball was coming down so slow man, it was crazy, it was a play I will never forget, plus I will never forget any of my picks. I remember all of them like it was yesterday. I’m gonna try and get me one in this Super Bowl hopefully.”
—by Blake Southerland
Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Ravens vs. 49ers and the history of the big game.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the greatest hitter and pitcher of the “Steroid Era,” headlined a group of 37 players eligible for the Class of 2013 in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But for the first time since 1996, zero players were immortalized by baseball writers in the museum at Cooperstown, N.Y.