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Baltimore Orioles Logo

The Orioles are picked to finish in or near last place every offseason, and they continue to contend while confounding their critics. The upcoming season shouldn’t be any different. They can hit, they can field and no one puts out a better bullpen. They also have one of the game’s best managers in Buck Showalter and an executive vice president, Dan Duquette, who never stops crafting the roster and making depth moves that so often pay off down the road. The Orioles would benefit from a legitimate table-setter atop their order, which was a priority over the winter, and they desperately need the rotation to duplicate its September success. The starters will make or break the season, and the unit on paper pales in comparison to the rest of the division. That’s the primary concern.

 

ROTATION

The Orioles may not have the best starters, but they’re not hurting in the depth department. They went into the winter with six candidates for five spots, leaving open the possibility of a trade in spring training. Chris Tillman remains the ace. He appeared to be on his way to a 20-win season before suffering a shoulder injury. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are former first-round picks with ace stuff, but they’re still developing. Gausman needs to finally make the jump instead of inching along. Bundy just needs to stay healthy after moving into the rotation last summer. Showalter has indicated that the club won’t worry about Bundy’s innings total. Veterans Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley are vying for the last two spots, and they’re all pending free agents. Jimenez has been a bust since signing his four-year, $50 million contract, but he came on strong over the final month of the 2016 season. Gallardo showed up in camp with a weak shoulder and eventually landed on the disabled list, but he’s a nice bounce-back candidate. Miley disappointed after the Orioles traded for him, posting a 6.17 ERA in 11 starts, but he allowed only four runs over his last three outings.

 

BULLPEN

Baltimore Orioles Preseason MagazineAthlon Sports' 2017 baseball magazine delivers full MLB team previews, fantasy baseball insight, schedules, and predictions for every team. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!
There wasn’t a better reliever in baseball last year than lefthander Zach Britton, who went 47-for-47 in save opportunities, registered a 0.54 ERA and placed fourth in AL Cy Young voting. It was a historic season that will be hard to duplicate. The Orioles are flush with quality setup men, led by veteran Darren O’Day, who made two stops on the disabled list last season. In his absence, Brad Brach stepped up and pitched well enough to earn his first All-Star Game berth. Brach posted a 0.91 ERA in the first half and finally gained notice. Mychal Givens has made the conversion from minor-league shortstop to quality reliever, going 8–2 with a 3.13 ERA in 66 appearances as a rookie. Lefthander Donnie Hart also made the jump from Double-A to the majors and emerged as a quality specialist. The Orioles non-tendered Vance Worley, but they have plenty of long relief candidates.

 

MIDDLE INFIELD

J.J. Hardy and Jonathan Schoop form one of the best double-play combinations in baseball. Hardy remains one of the most reliable shortstops in the game, making every routine play and plenty of tough ones. He doesn’t have the best range or arm, but he’s always in the right place, and he’s the undisputed leader of the infield. Schoop possesses a rifle for an arm, and any runner sliding into him does so at his own risk. His range grades out poorly in the defensive metrics, but he passes the eye test. 

 

Baltimore Orioles 2017 Baseball Schedule

CORNERS

Third baseman Manny Machado makes the short list of best players in the majors. He’s already won a Platinum Glove. No one has a stronger arm or better range at the hot corner. Factor in his production at the plate, including the 40 doubles, 37 home runs and .876 OPS, and it’s no wonder he finished fifth in AL MVP voting. Across the diamond, Chris Davis was a finalist for a Gold Glove and finally shed the label of underappreciated defender. No one is better at scooping throws in the dirt. He played most of the season with a hand injury that hurt his production at the plate in his first season after signing a seven-year, $161 million contract. However, he’s still one of the most feared power hitters in the game.

 

OUTFIELD

The Orioles want to upgrade their outfield defense. Center fielder Adam Jones wasn’t a finalist for a Gold Glove, though he remains one of the better defenders. Critics say he plays too shallow. He needed to cover a lot of ground in the alleys with Hyun Soo Kim and Mark Trumbo flanking him. Trumbo, who just re-signed with the Orioles in January, projects as a designated hitter. Kim was better than advertised, but still not close to elite. Kim did, however, lead the club in average (.302) and on-base percentage (.382) in his first season outside the Korean Baseball Organization. He was a platoon player, receiving only 18 at-bats against lefthanders, and may share the position with former Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard. Rickard, who didn’t play after July 20 due to a hand injury, can handle all three outfield positions and is a candidate to start in right field if the Orioles can’t find anyone else. He brings speed to the lineup that’s sorely needed. 

 

CATCHING

Matt Wieters won’t be behind the plate for the first time since 2009, with the Orioles deciding to spend less on catching. They signed Welington Castillo to a one-year, $6 million contract that includes a $7 million player option for 2018. They wanted a short-term commitment while waiting for prospect Chance Sisco, who needs more experience at Triple-A. Castillo has some pop and a plus-arm, but he also was charged with 10 passed balls last season and grades poorly in pitch framing. Caleb Joseph is expected to be the backup, though Francisco Pena is on the 40-man roster and out of minor league options. 

 

DH/BENCH

The Orioles are prepared to make rookie Trey Mancini their primary designated hitter despite a résumé that includes only five major-league games. The three home runs he hit in those give games turned heads. They could platoon him with a left-handed hitter or send him to the bench if they add a hitter later in the winter. Either way, they seem committed to breaking camp with him. Ryan Flaherty was a non-tender candidate, but the Orioles offered him a contract. He doesn’t do much with the bat, but he plays every position except catcher. 

 

MANAGEMENT

Showalter took heat for not using Britton in the wild card game, an 11-inning loss in Toronto, and he’s willing to take it. He knows it comes with the gig and it shouldn’t erase all of his accomplishments. Showalter changed a losing culture; the Orioles have posted five straight non-losing seasons and made the playoffs in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Duquette is methodical, but there’s a method to his madness. He’s gotten some great bargains by letting the market play out, and the Trumbo-for-Steve Clevenger trade with the Mariners was a steal. 

 

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Orioles always appear at a disadvantage in a division filled with big spenders. They also don’t have the prospects to swing major deals. They know who they are, and they somehow make it work. There’s no reason to believe they won’t contend in 2017, but the rotation could stand in their way. It’s filled with question marks.

 

2017 AL EAST PREDICTION: 2nd

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 8, 2017 - 10:20
All taxonomy terms: Kurt Busch, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/kurt-busch-2017-nascar-season-driver-preview
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For a guy who has a reputation for being volatile and over the top, Kurt Busch is flying under the radar at Stewart-Haas Racing. He didn’t have the stellar 2016 season Kevin Harvick did. He didn’t have a retirement tour like Tony Stewart. And he doesn’t garner the attention that Danica Patrick does. Busch won only one race in 2016, and his two poles came by the third race. Still, he had a good season when all was said and done. His 21 top-10 runs tied a career high (2016 was his fourth time hitting that mark). He finished all but two races, and only Kasey Kahne completed more laps than Busch.


Kurt Busch Monster Energy NASCAR Cup driver statsIt was also a season without controversy, resulting in Busch’s best points finish since 2009. The biggest ripple was Busch’s offseason marriage to Ashley Van Metre, a far cry from ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll’s domestic violence allegations that got him suspended three races in 2015.


Looking ahead, his Stewart-Haas Racing organization has two major changes on the horizon. 


The first is a new teammate as Clint Bowyer replaces Tony Stewart in the No. 14 car. Stewart plans to be at the tracks in his ownership capacity many weeks, but having Bowyer behind the wheel represents a big change — he and his teammates will have to feel each other out and learn each other’s driving and communication styles in order to work together effectively. Bowyer brings elite-level talent and an outgoing personality to the table, but there will be an adjustment period for the organization.

 

2017 NASCAR Preview MagazineAthlon Sports’ 2017 Racing magazine delivers full NASCAR driver profiles, schedules, track information, fantasy insight, as well as complete 2017 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

The biggest change, though, comes as the team switches from Chevrolet to Ford. That means baseline chassis differences, to the point the team spent much of the fall and offseason hanging bodies and transitioning to the new cars. For four teams, that’s a daunting task. While the current car minimizes differences between manufacturers, there will be growing pains, especially since only one of the team’s drivers has driven a Ford — Busch, who won the 2004 title driving one for Roush Fenway Racing. 


With the switch comes a change from Hendrick power to Roush Yates engines. Roush Yates powers Fords, including those of title contender Team Penske. It would appear to be a lateral move in the engine department. Where the team will benefit is from added support from the manufacturer. They’ll have whatever they need, and Ford’s research and development facility in Concord, N.C., provides them with plenty to draw from, including a top-of-the-line simulator that other Ford drivers have used to their benefit. If Busch and his teammates don’t excel every step of the way, it won’t be due to lack of help from Ford.


One of the reasons for Busch’s renewed strength is crew chief Tony Gibson. Gibson joined Busch at the tail end of 2014. He wasn’t meshing with Patrick, and Busch and Daniel Knost weren’t clicking either. Busch and Gibson work well together; both are veterans who know how to make a car go fast, and Gibson deals with the volatile Busch well, and that’s important. When things aren’t going well for Busch, communication breaks down, and the resulting berating of his crew on the radio doesn’t help anyone. 


Sponsor Monster Energy stepped up its commitment in the sport in a big way, taking over NASCAR's Premier Series sponsorship rights from Sprint, but it remains committed to Busch for now. Team co-owner Gene Haas will round out the schedule with his Haas Automation brand. One key fact to watch is Busch’s contract, expiring after this season. Will Monster resign with a 39-year-old or look to go younger, forcing SHR’s hand on the veteran driver?


Busch looks to be a Chase factor on consistency again in 2017. He’s not likely to reel off several wins or run in the top 5 every week, but he’s a safe bet to make the playoffs, and he’s capable of going deep if he does. He’ll have to reinvent himself a bit to be a title contender, but he will make his competition work for it as well.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 8, 2017 - 10:10
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12s-football-rosters-2017
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Since the University of Oklahoma hired Bob Stoops as head football coach in 1999, the Sooners have ruled the Big 12 on the field. However, their rivals south of the Red River have dominated February. Year in and year out, Texas fielded the most talented roster in the Big 12, thanks to the Longhorns’ annual recruiting bonanzas.

 

That changed in 2017. OU’s class finished eighth nationally, according to the 247Sports Team Composite rankings. Combined with Texas’ slide from 11th overall in 2016 to No. 26 this year, the Sooners vaulted to the top of the conference.

 

Below are the national recruiting ranking averages for Big 12 schools over the last five classes according to 247Sports Team Composite rankings and each team's record over the last five seasons. Obviously, this doesn't take into account attrition but, over time, this should be considered relatively even across the conference.

 

Ranking the Big 12's College Football's Rosters in 2017:

 

Rk Team '17 '16 '15 '14 '13 Avg W/L Conf.
1. 8 20 14 14 16 14.4 51-14 37-8
2. 26 11 10 16 17 16.0 33-30 24-21
3. 39 17 36 26 27 29.0 47-18 29-16
4. 31 23 42 43 36 35.0 40-24 25-20
5. 38 44 39 28 30 35.8 45-20 30-15
6. 57 39 35 38 31 40.0 36-28 22-23
7. 51 45 33 42 46 43.4 32-31 17-28
8. 53 52 66 58 60 57.8 17-44 9-36
9. 60 73 55 49 61 59.6 43-22 29-16
10. 68 89 74 51 48 66.0 9-51 3-42

 

Not-So-Big Talent in the Big 12

A constellation of factors have contributed to the ongoing talent drain in the Big 12, and it showed little evidence of abating in 2017. The top of the conference continues to lag behind the other Power Five leagues. Once you get past the upper crust, though, the middle and bottom tiers actually compare favorably with the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12. (The SEC remains in its own stratosphere, of course.)

 

Herman’s Bridge

The reviews weren’t pretty for new Texas head coach Tom Herman’s first class in Austin. Circumstances suggest, however, that we’re talking about a bridge year for the ‘Horns. It’s not as though Charlie Strong left the new regime with a bare cupboard, either.

 

New Rhule at Baylor

In light of everything that has come to light at Baylor in the last 18 months, Matt Rhule did a solid job by just assembling a functional recruiting class on the shortest of notices. Even so, the direction of the Bears’ signing classes did a clear U-turn this year. Baylor finished 39th nationally in the 247 Composite in ‘17, down precipitously from 17th a year ago. Putting an end to this decline will require a gargantuan effort from Rhule and his staff out on the trail.

 

Trouble Brewing in Morgantown and Lubbock?

Lackluster classes for West Virginia and Texas Tech will do little to quell talk of hot seats beneath Kliff Kingsbury and Dana Holgorsen. WVU’s recruiting, in particular, seemed to nosedive this year. The Mountaineers fell from No. 39 in ‘16 to 57th overall.

 

Realignment Winner: TCU

As shown by TCU’s No. 31 ranking, the Horned Frogs might be the biggest winners from the conference realignment shake-ups of the last decade. Gary Patterson and his assistants now have a Power Five program to sell that is smack dab in the middle of a legitimate hotbed of high school stars.

 

— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.

Teaser:
Ranking the Big 12's Football Rosters for 2017
Post date: Wednesday, February 8, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/8-bold-fantasy-football-predictions-2017
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It seems just like yesterday we were in the middle of the 2016 fantasy football season and we were making trades, crushing the waiver wire and making fun of friends on our way to our destiny – a fantasy football championship!

 

Time sure flies doesn’t it? If you’re like me and are now left with a gigantic void in your life (and a lot of extra spare time), there is good news!

 

It’s never too early to start prepping for the upcoming fantasy football season and what better way to do so than with some crazy and outlandish bold fantasy football predictions for 2017. Here we go!

 

Both Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson will go over 2,500 all-purpose yards

In the history of the NFL, only Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk has ever had 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. He did that back in 1999 with the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams. Faulk rushed for 1,381 yards and caught 87 balls for 1,048 yards. Now fast-forward to 2017 and we have two running backs who will each go over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. Bell might have done it this year if not for his three-game suspension to start the season. Bell finished 2016 with 1,268 rushing yards and 616 receiving yards. He is the focal point of the Steelers’ high-powered that will no doubt look to get him the ball as much as possible in 2017. As for Johnson, he almost achieved this feat last season with 1,239 rushing yards and 879 receiving yards. With Larry Fitzgerald turning 34 and the uncertainty surrounding Carson Palmer, you can bet Johnson is going to get plenty of touches in 2017.

 

Derek Carr will be the biggest fantasy bust of 2017

The MVP candidate – it’s crazy in the first place he’s even considered one of the contenders considering his statistical mediocrity – is an overpriced “luxury” vehicle that’s a true lemon. Yes, his hand injury limited him late in the season and he broke his leg in Week 16, but his unexciting yards per attempt (YPA) and completion percentage in consecutive seasons rubber stamp his overrated status. People will reach for him due to mainstream media takes, but analyze the metrics and he’s nothing more than a middling QB2. His aforementioned devastating fibula injury only complicates matters.

 

Deshaun Watson will have a better rookie season than Robert Griffin III did in 2012

Remember back in 2012 when RGIII was the second coming of Michael Vick? RGIII threw for 3,200 yards with 20 TDs and ran for an outstanding 815 yards and seven more scores. Watson’s name no longer sits atop many draft boards, but, for me, that kid has checked all the important boxes. He’s been a relentless winner over multiple seasons, and we’ve already seen him in action against the best defenses in college football. Watson has completed more than 67 percent of his passes, gaining 8.5 yards per attempt, while delivering a career TD-to-INT ratio of nearly 3-to-1. He’s a terrific dual-threat QB as well, having run for more than 1,600 yards in the past two seasons. If he lands in the right spot, with a creative coaching staff and competent receivers, he’ll have a path to fantasy stardom.

 

Rookie WR Corey Davis will be this year’s Michael Thomas

Davis is a beast and we would be getting far more attention if he played in the SEC or ACC for example instead of in the MAC for Western Michigan. He’s the complete package who is an absolute menace after the catch. Most impressively, he generates ample cushion from defenders with nifty footwork and clean routes. It’s no wonder why he totaled at least 78 receptions, 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns three straight seasons for the Broncos.

 

Related: Which Fantasy Football Rookie Wide Receiver Came Out on Top in 2016?

 

Marquise Lee will finish with more than 1,000 receiving yards

Jacksonville, thanks to Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson, left a bitter taste in many fantasy owners’ mouths this past season, but Lee certainly tickled the buds down the stretch. His routes sharpened and confidence soared as he not only gashed underneath coverage but also won several contested balls along the sidelines. In PPR settings, he scored at least 13 fantasy points in four of his final six games. It could be argued he’s the Jags’ most reliable receiver. Hopefully the new coaching regime will fully utilize his versatile assets.

 

Dalvin Cook will be this year’s Ezekiel Elliott

While you might think the answer should be Leonard Fournette, it will actually be Cook putting together the best rookie season, especially in PPR leagues. Cook topped 100 rushing yards in eight of his season’s final nine games for Florida State, averaged 6.0 yards per carry, and had some big games against key competition (4 TDs vs. Clemson, 3 TDs vs. North Carolina). He’s a capable receiver, too. Landing spot is everything at this position (though maybe not in Fournette’s case), but Cook has the profile of an every-down, workhorse-type of back.

 

Brandin Cooks will be this year’s DeAndre Hopkins (a huge disappointment)

“Strange” best summarizes Cooks’ 2016 campaign. Though he landed inside the position’s top 10 in total fantasy points, his up-and-down pattern of production left much to be desired. He surpassed 75 yards in a game just five times and found the end zone in six contests. People will invest solely on the superficial data, but I expect more consistency from a top receiver. Also, consider the advancements Michael Thomas is sure to make and Cooks is a middling WR2 masquerading as an overpriced WR1.

 

DeMarco Murray will be this year’s Todd Gurley (a huge disappointment)

Murray was one of the best steals of last year’s fantasy football season. He produced elite RB1 numbers and was drafted in the fourth, fifth or even sixth round. Everyone thought he was done, but he found new life in Tennessee. That’s not going to be the case in 2017. There’s just no way Murray gets the volume he got last year (293 carries for 1,297 yards). The reason for that is Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner. Henry isn’t going to be an understudy again in 2017 and the Tennessee backfield should be more of a 50/50 split in 2017.

 

— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.

Teaser:
8 Very Early Bold Fantasy Football Predictions For 2017
Post date: Wednesday, February 8, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/15-junior-college-transfers-watch-big-ten-2017
Body:

The 14 teams in the Big Ten rarely recruit a hefty number of junior college prospects each season, but there are a handful of names joining the conference expected to make an impact in 2017. Ohio State lost three key members from its 2016 secondary, and former Alabama cornerback Kendall Sheffield should compete for a starting job after a year in the junior college ranks. Andrew Van Ginkel is expected to push for significant snaps as a hybrid edge rusher in Wisconsin’s 3-4 scheme, while Purdue inked five junior college prospects in coach Jeff Brohm’s first class in West Lafayette.

 

Which junior college recruits could have the biggest impact on the Big Ten in 2017? Here are 15 players to watch this offseason:

 

15 JUCO Transfers to Watch in the Big Ten for 2017

 

Ryan Brand, QB, Maryland

North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson, sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome and freshman Kasim Hill are considered the favorites to start at quarterback for the Terrapins in 2017. However, Brand is also a name to watch this offseason, as the former Air Force quarterback landed in College Park after a season at the College of San Mateo. The Detroit native threw for 918 yards and nine scores in his only year at San Mateo.

 

Related: Early Big Ten Predictions for 2017

 

Kai Higgins, DE, Purdue

Purdue inked a Big Ten-high five junior college recruits in the 2017 signing class. The additions from the junior college ranks are key for new coach Jeff Brohm and the program’s hopes of generating quick improvement this fall. Higgins played one season at Chaffey College and recorded 25 stops with three sacks in nine appearances. He will have three years of eligibility with the Boilermakers.

 

T.J. Jallow, CB, Purdue

Jallow is the highest-rated of the five junior college prospects inked by Purdue on National Signing Day. The Mississippi native ranked as the No. 56 junior college prospect by the 247Sports Composite and was a four-star recruit by ESPN. Jallow had a standout 2016 campaign at East Mississippi Community College, recording 43 stops and seven pass breakups.

 

Mike McGinnis, LB, Indiana

Indiana returns one of the Big Ten’s top linebackers in Tegray Scales, but this unit was hit with a surprise departure after Marcus Oliver left early for the NFL. McGinnis should have a chance to crack the two-deep this offseason, as the New Jersey native joins the team after a standout career at ASA College. McGinnis recorded 91 tackles (18 for a loss), three forced fumbles, one interception and 2.5 sacks in 2016. He’s rated as a three-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite.

 

Related: Early Top 50 College Football Players Returning in 2017

 

Neil McLaurin, QB, Minnesota

Replacing Mitch Leidner at quarterback is one of Minnesota’s biggest offseason question marks for new coach P.J. Fleck. Former walk-on Conor Rhoda (8 of 16) is the most-experienced option, but redshirt freshman Seth Green and junior Demry Croft return for 2017. McLaurin committed to Minnesota under former coach Tracy Claeys and enrolled in time to compete during spring practice. The Mississippi native threw for 964 yards (52.8%) and eight scores and added 440 yards and six touchdowns in 2016 at Southwest Mississippi Community College. McLaurin ranked as a three-star prospect and the No. 172 junior college recruit in the 247Sports Composite.

 

Del’Shawn Phillips, LB, Illinois

Lovie Smith’s defense has several voids to fill in the front seven after the departures of standout linemen Dawuane Smoot, Carroll Phillips and Chunky Clements, along with linebacker Hardy Nickerson. Phillips should be an impact addition for Smith, as the Michigan native should push for a starting job at linebacker this offseason. Phillips originally started his career at Western Michigan and ended up at Garden City Community College for two years. In 2016, Phillips recorded 95 stops (12.5 for a loss), two sacks, two forced fumbles and three interceptions.

 

Kendall Sheffield, CB, Ohio State

Sheffield ranked as the No. 2 defensive player from the junior college ranks in the 247Sports Composite. The Texas native started his career at Alabama in 2015 and is back at the FBS level after one season at Blinn College. During his only year at the junior college level, Sheffield recorded 31 stops, two interceptions and 11 pass breakups. Sheffield fills an immediate need for Ohio State after the departures of cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley early to the NFL.

 

Related: A Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2017

 

Royal Silver, DT, Minnesota

Minnesota’s line needs a few reinforcements for 2017 with the departure of Hendrick Ekpe (28 tackles) and Scott Ekpe (17 tackles). Tackle Steven Richardson should push for All-Big Ten honors next year, but this unit needs more depth and help off the edges and on the interior. Silver should help plug some of the gaps in the middle, as the 285-pound lineman heads to Minneapolis after two years at Iowa Western Community College. In 2016, Silver recorded 63 tackles (11 for a loss) and 4.5 sacks. He’s rated as a three-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite.

 

Ethan Smart, OL, Purdue

Center Kirk Barron and tackle Matt McCann headline the options for new coach Jeff Brohm in the trenches, but there are significant voids to fill after guards Jason King and Jordan Roos and tackle Cameron Cermin expired their eligibility. Smart should provide depth or compete for a starting role after transferring in from Northeast Mississippi Community College. He ranked as a three-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite.

 

Nick Underwood, LB, Maryland

Maryland’s linebacker corps already has one of the Big Ten’s top defenders in Jermaine Carter (110 stops in 2016), and this group should have some additional help from Underwood in 2017. The Oregon native started his collegiate career at Air Force before spending 2016 at Riverside Community College. Underwood collected 71 stops (11.5 for a loss), two interceptions and recovered four fumbles in 11 game at Riverside last year.

 

Related: 25 Key Big Ten Players Returning From Injury in 2017

 

Andrew Van Ginkel, LB, Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s defense has to retool its linebacker unit under new coordinator Jim Leonhard after the departures of T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel. This unit will have help in the form of Chris Orr and Jack Cichy returning from injury, along with Van Ginkel’s arrival from the junior college ranks. The Iowa native starred at South Dakota in 2015, recording 18.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. He transferred to Iowa Western Community College in 2016 and recorded 50 tackles (13.5 for a loss) and 3.5 sacks. Van Ginkel ranked as the No. 25 junior college prospect in the 247Sports Composite and should be a good fit as a hybrid edge rusher for the Badgers.

 

Haydon Whitehead, P, Indiana

Whitehead isn’t transferring in from a junior college, but he’s a noteworthy addition for Indiana. The Australia native joins the team after participating at Prokick Australia and is a former Australian Rules Football player. Whitehead should compete to be Indiana’s starting punter in 2017.

 

Alex Woods, DB, Maryland

Maryland’s secondary will have a couple of new faces after the departures of cornerbacks William Likely and Alvin Hill, along with safety Jarrett Ross. Additionally, the status of safety Denzel Conyers is uncertain after he applied for an extra year of eligibility after a season-ending injury in 2016. Even if Conyers returns, Woods should compete for snaps right away this fall. The North Carolina native spent two years at Lackawanna Community College and played in seven games as a freshman in 2015. Woods did not play at the junior college level in 2016. He’s rated as a three-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite.

 

Terry Wright/Isaac Zico, WR, Purdue

New Purdue coach Jeff Brohm produced some of the nation’s best offenses during his three-year stint at WKU. Assuming the Boilermakers can find a few capable targets for quarterback David Blough, this offense should take a step forward in 2017. Purdue must replace its top four statistical wide receivers from 2016, as tight end Cole Herdman (35 grabs) is the top returning target. Wright and Zico should have an opportunity to make an immediate impact or compete for a starting job this fall. Wright averaged 16.1 yards per catch at Coffeyville Community College in 2016, while Zico grabbed 46 passes for 938 yards at Georgia Military College last fall. Zico ranked as the No. 113 junior college recruit in the 247Sports Composite, while Wright checks in at No. 298.

Teaser:
15 Junior College Transfers to Watch in the Big Ten for 2017
Post date: Wednesday, February 8, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /college-football/danny-kanell-espn-russillo-alabama-working-nick-saban-steve-sarkisian-atlanta-falcons
Body:

We may never know what drove Steve Sarkisian to the Falcons offensive coordinator job, but Danny Kanell has a theory.

 

The ESPN host shared his thoughts on the fact that Nick Saban, and his Alabama work ethic, may not have quite aligned with Sark. Before the seat gets too hot, or the Saban pressure gets to him, Sark is making his way to Atlanta.

 

"I don't think any coach wants to coach for Nick Saban," Kanell said. "I don't think any coach wants to go there and is like, 'hey I want to be a lifetime assistant for Nick Saban.'"

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 16:13
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/100-funny-fantasy-soccer-team-names-2017
Body:

Soccer (or football, as it's known to anyone outside of the U.S.), is the most popular sport on the planet. Fortunately, it's catching on in America as fans have more access than ever to watch matches being played around the world. And like all sports in America, we feel the need to turn it into a fantasty sport. So, if you’re going to join a fantasy soccer league, you’re going to need a cool name for your team. We have scoured the interweb to generate what we think are some of the funniest, silliest, craziest, and best fantasy soccer team names for 2017 to help get you started in your quest for fantasy soccer glory. Here they are in alphabetical order…

 

2 Girls 1 Schlupp

 

2 Goals 1 Cup

 

99 Problems, but a Pitch ain’t 1

 

ABCDE FC

 

About to Get Messi

 

Absolutely Fábregas!

 

Arse ‘n’ All

 

Ayew Messi?

 

Bacuna Mata-ta

 

Bad Kompany

 

Baines on Toast

 

Bale Me Out!

 

Balotelli-tubbies

 

Barce-loners

 

Beat Around  Debuchy

 

Benteke Fried Chicken

 

Best Team Evra!

 

Busquets and Gravy

 

Chicken Fried Reus

 

Chubby Alonsos

 

Crystal Phallus

 

Ctrl Alt De Laet

 

Deeney in a Bottle

 

De Roon is on Fire

 

Dirty Sánchez Messi Pepe

 

Don’t Call Me Schürrle

 

Dukes of Hazard

 

Dyslexia Untied

 

Every Day I’m Schneiderlin

 

Eye of the Schweinsteiger

 

Farcelona

 

Fiorentina Turner

 

For Fuchs Sake

 

Game of Throw-Ins

 

Green Eggs and Lahm

 

Hakuna Juan Mata

 

Hangover 96

 

Hit Me Bebe’ One More Time

 

How I Met Your Mata

 

I Bent My Set Piece

 

I Smell Pu Nani

 

Inter Me-Van

 

Kane You Kick it?

 

Kings of Lyon

 

Klopp Goes the Weasel

 

Klopps and Robbens

 

Klose, but no cigar!

 

Kroos Control

 

Kroos-ing for a Bruising

 

Krul Intentions

 

Leave My Arse-elona!

 

Lord of the Ings

 

Lovren an Elevator

 

Man Chest Hair United

 

Men Behaving Chadli

 

Moleicester City

 

Motor Boateng Man Titty

 

Moves Like Agger

 

Mr. Bojan-Goals

 

My Little Kone

 

Neymar Mr. Nice Guy

 

No Fuchs Given

 

No Weimann No Cry

 

Nolito’s Way

 

Not a Karius in the World

 

Not Kalou, bro

 

One Flew Over Lukaku’s Nest

 

Pathetico Madrid

 

Payet Forward

 

Petr Cech Yourself

 

Phantom of the Chopra

 

Pjanic at the Disco

 

Pleased to Michu

 

Queens Park Strangers

 

Real Sociopath

 

Right in the Feghoulis

 

Robben You Blind

 

Ronaldo-nuts

 

Rooney Tunes

 

Show Me the Mane’

 

Silence of the Lahms

 

Slum Dog Mignolet

 

Sons of Pitches!

 

Sporting Lesbian

 

Sterling-Silva

 

Sturridge Wars

 

Tea and Busquets

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Skrtels

 

The Big Lewandowski

 

The Kouyaté Kid

 

The Wizard of Özil

 

Unprotected Cesc

 

We’re Going Toulouse

 

Whateverton

 

Where’s Wondo?

 

Who Ate All DePays?

 

Willian Dollar Baby

 

YOLO Touré

 

You Kante’ be Serious

 

You Musa be Joaquin

 

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 15:07
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/podcast-team-recruiting-rankings-death-penalty-and-steve-sarkisian
Body:

Mitch Light and Braden Gall to breakdown the latest in college football. Don't forget to subscribe here and rate us if you like (or don't like) what you hear!

 

- Alabama is looking for another offensive coordinator... again. What does it mean for the Tide that Coach Sark left?

 

- What did National Signing Day teach us about the future of college football? We break down the national team recruiting rankings and what it all means for coaches as well as the 2017 season. We go conference by conference to cover the important teams and rankings for each of the Power 5 leagues.

 

- The guys also explore the Death Penalty and how involved the NCAA should be criminal investigations. Should any of this apply to Baylor?

 

 

Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall or @AthlonMitch or email [email protected]. The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com/podcastiTunesStitcher and our podcast RSS feed.

Teaser:
Podcast: Team Recruiting Rankings, the Death Penalty and Steve Sarkisian
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 14:27
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/draftkings-golf-lineup-picks-pgas-att-pebble-beach-pro-am-2017-dfs-daily-fantasy
Body:

Trying to find your optimal DraftKings lineup for this week's (Feb. 9-12) golf tournament: the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in California? Our fantasy golf experts are ready to help.
 
Here's what our optimal lineup looks like.

 

Brandt Snedeker ($10,000)

The two-time AT&T Pebble Beach champion is vying with Dustin Johnson for the status of reigning horse for this course, and Sneds is a cheaper option than DJ. He's finished in the top 15 in three of his last four starts on Tour. 

 

Phil Mickelson ($9,300)

Lefty's another Pebble Beach ringer (four-time champion and runner-up last year). He's showing signs of a turn-back-the-clock season with top-25 finishes in his last three starts. 

 

Patrick Reed ($8,300)

In four career starts at Pebble, Reed has finishes of T6, T7 and T13 and no missed cuts. His ability to string together flurries of birdies always makes him an intriguing fantasy option. 

 

Jim Furyk ($7,500)

The newly minted 2018 Ryder Cup captain is making his first start of the season and should arrive refreshed and — we hope — fully healthy after dealing with wrist issues last year. Mr. 58 can get hot at any time and has a solid record at Pebble. 

 

Sean O'Hair ($7,300)

O'Hair is quietly having a very good season with three top-11 finishes in five starts. He's made eight straight cuts at Pebble, making him a virtual lock to cash a check this week.

 

Vaughn Taylor ($6,900)

The defending champion looks like a sneaky value pick. He's seven-for-seven in cuts made this season. 

 

DraftKings DFS Golf Lineup for Pebble Beach

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 14:01
Path: /nfl/grading-nfls-new-head-coaching-hires-2017
Body:

It took until after the Super Bowl, but all six NFL head coaching vacancies have been filled. Of the six, Jacksonville’s Doug Marrone is the only “new” hire with any previous head coaching experience, meaning Buffalo, Denver, San Francisco and both Los Angeles teams (Chargers, Rams) are entrusting their teams to rookies.

 

While these six men will ultimately be measured by what happens on the field, how did each team do? Let’s hand out some grades.

 

Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams

At 31 years old, Sean McVay is not only the youngest head coach in NFL history; he’s also the biggest question mark out of the six new hires. And speaking of history, it’s not necessarily on McVay’s side as each of the previous four youngest coaches (Lane Kiffin, Raheem Morris, Dave Shula and Josh McDaniels) was fired within five seasons or fewer.

 

What is on McVay’s side is he was able to develop Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins into a Pro Bowler. McVay also oversaw an offense that finished third in yards (403.4) and 12th in points (24.8) per game last season.

 

Hiring veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is an excellent start for McVay. His next priority is to help 2016 No.1 overall pick Jared Goff develop into the franchise quarterback the Rams need. In seven games in 2016, Goff passed for 1,089 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions.

 

Grade: C-

 

Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars

After Gus Bradley was fired following the Jaguars’ Week 15 loss to Houston, Marrone was named interim head coach and kept the team competitive in the last two games of the season. The Jags beat a Titans team that was fighting for a playoff spot in Week 16 and lost to the Colts by just four points in the finale. Apparently, that was enough for Jacksonville owner Shad Khan and general manager David Caldwell to remove the “interim” tag and name Marrone the fifth head coach in franchise history.

 

Marrone went 15-17 as Buffalo’s head coach from 2013-14, a tenure that ended in a rather strange way. After leading the Bills to a 9-7 record, their only winning season since 2004, Marrone chose to exercise a three-day out clause in his contract that was put into effect with the team’s recent ownership change. Marrone quit on Dec. 31, but still collected his 2015 salary. The move did not sit well with Buffalo fans or several of his former players, as Marrone wound up in Jacksonville as the Jaguars’ assistant head coach/offensive line coach.

 

Jacksonville was thought to be one of the up and coming teams in 2016, but instead struggled mightily, finished 3-13, and would up with fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft. Marrone has plenty of talent to work with, but both sides of the ball need to improve, with much of the attention focused on quarterback Blake Bortles.

 

Grade: C

 

Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills

Sean McDermott was a defensive coordinator for eight seasons for Philadelphia (2009-10) and then Carolina (2011-16). After 18 seasons as an NFL assistant, McDermott gets the task of taking on one of the toughest head coaching jobs in the league.

 

The Bills have many questions on their roster and it starts at quarterback. Buffalo will need to decide soon on Tyrod Taylor as the team can choose to opt out of his contract by March.

 

During McDermott’s tenure in Carolina, the Panthers finished in the top 10 in total defense four out of the last five seasons (2012-15). In 2016 under head coach Rex Ryan, the Bills’ defense was 19th in that category, as teams ran all over them to the tune of 133.1 rushing yards per game (29th).  McDermott’s defensive background was no doubt one of the reasons why Buffalo hired him.

 

Grade: B-

 

Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers

Even though Shanahan is young (37) in some respects, he has paid his dues around the league. An offensive coordinator from 2008-16 for four different teams (Houston, Washington, Cleveland, Atlanta), his units have finished in the top 10 in total offense six times. San Francisco is hoping he can maintain this track record, as the 49ers finished second to last in total offense and 27th in scoring offense in 2016.


San Francisco will have a new quarterback to run Shanahan’s offense, but his work with the Falcons’ Matt Ryan should have 49er fans optimistic. This past season was a career year for Ryan, a first-team All-Pro who set career highs for passing yards (4,944), touchdown passes (38), completion percentage (69.9), and passer rating (117.1, best in NFL), while throwing a career-low seven interceptions.
 

Shanahan along with first-time general manager John Lynch will attempt to return the 49ers to contention in the NFC West. If anything, San Francisco is hoping for stability, as Shanahan is the franchise’s fourth head coach in as many seasons.

 

Grade: B

 

Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers

Until last season, Lynn had never been a coordinator, and now he finds himself as head coach of the recently located Los Angeles Chargers. Lynn’s meteoric rise in the coaching rankings started with his promotion from Buffalo running back coach in the middle of September following the dismissal of Greg Roman. Lynn was then named interim head coach for the Bills when Rex Ryan was fired prior to the regular season finale against the Jets.

 

Despite his lack of experience, Lynn is in a good situation even if the Chargers have to become familiar with new surroundings. Unlike in Buffalo, Lynn has no question mark at quarterback with Philip Rivers maintaining his status as one of the NFL’s best, along with other young players like running back Melvin Gordon.

 

Lynn also has surrounded himself with a veteran staff led by coordinators that have been head coaches. He retained offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and hired former Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley to oversee the defense.

The Chargers lost nine games by eight points or fewer last season, and were ravaged by injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. With better health and some improvement on defense, the Chargers could be a surprise team in their new home in 2017. Lynn has certainly put himself in a good position to succeed by constructing a solid staff.

 

Grade: A-

 

Vance Joseph, Denver Broncos

If someone looks at Miami’s defensive statistics from 2016, Joseph’s only season as a coordinator, Denver’s decision to hire him may seem curious. But the Broncos have been high on Joseph for some time, thinking highly of his leadership skills, and thought enough of the job he did with the Dolphins, considering the situation.

 

Miami’s defense was impacted heavily by injuries last season, including those to safeties Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus, linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi, as well as cornerback Xavien Howard. Even with all of these injuries, the Dolphins won 10 games and made the playoffs. Miami’s defense was particularly stout on third down, holding opponents to a 36.2 conversion rate, considerably better than 2015’s 43.7 percent.
 

Now in Denver, Joseph takes over one of the best jobs in the NFL and a team that is one season removed from winning the Super Bowl. The Broncos went 9-7 last season and still have an abundance of talent on their roster, especially on defense. Bringing former San Diego head coach Mike McCoy back to Denver to serve as offensive coordinator (was with Broncos from 2009-12) was a brilliant move, as was promoting secondary coach Joe Woods to defensive coordinator.

 

If the Broncos and Joseph can figure out the quarterback situation and shore up their offensive line, Denver could be back in the playoffs as early as next season.

 

Grade: A

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

 

(Vance Joseph photo courtesy of www.denverbroncos.com; Sean McVay photo by Jeff Lewis, courtesy of www.therams.com)

Teaser:
Grading the NFL’s New Head Coaching Hires
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: Martin Truex Jr., NASCAR
Path: /nascar/martin-truex-jr-2017-nascar-season-driver-preview
Body:

Martin Truex Jr. is in new territory, fresh off a 2016 season that was easily his best yet. He reached career highs in wins (four), poles (five) and top-5 finishes (eight). There were a series-best 1,809 laps led. And he was a legitimate championship favorite right until his Toyota engine expired unexpectedly at Talladega Superspeedway in the postseason’s second round.


Martin Truex Monster Energy NASCAR Cup driver statsSo what’s next?


“We’re going to win it all next year,” said Truex, smiling and jovial at the end of last season. “Eight wins, 10 poles and a championship. So that’s your story for (this) year.”


Truex is happy, if you couldn’t tell. No, he’s not actually calling his shot for this season. But those numbers and that result? It no longer seems far-fetched. The once-questioned business model of his Denver-based Furniture Row Racing team has solidified thanks to its lockstep partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing. Truex, for all intents and purposes, drives a fifth car for NASCAR’s top Toyota team but has the benefits of working in the environment of an independent organization.

2017 NASCAR Preview MagazineAthlon Sports’ 2017 Racing magazine delivers full NASCAR driver profiles, schedules, track information, fantasy insight, as well as complete 2017 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!


“I’m having so much fun with this team right now. What we’re doing, it’s been a dream come true,” Truex says. “The situation we’re in, the people we have. I’ve just enjoyed the heck out of it. I think, even as good as it was, we could have done better, and what we’re looking at doing is improving.”


Improvement for Truex will come in converting more opportunities to strong finishes and wins. Truex’s average finish last season was more than four spots lower than his average running position, a count that was the worst among all competitors. Attribute some of that to bad luck — it’s easy to remember Truex’s top-5 run at the Homestead-Miami Speedway season finale ending with his Toyota ablaze in Turn 2 after getting caught in an unavoidable crash — and some to team mistakes. Truex also suffered in-race penalties more often than he would like, and he was particularly vocal about what he felt was uneven enforcement after races at Kentucky Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.


After the Kentucky incident — Truex felt he had a winning opportunity stolen when NASCAR cited a rarely enforced rule and judged that he passed a competitor on pit road — he vowed to discuss the enforcement with series officials. The conversation, Truex says, didn’t bring any notable policy shift. “If you’re going to call rules, that’s fine, but don’t just pick a time, choose your times to call them,” Truex says.


The FRR stable will grow next season with the addition of JGR developmental driver Erik Jones. Jones’ arrival and the accompanying ramp-up of the FRR shop promises to be the most significant hurdle of the offseason. Everything about the expansion is a little tougher compared to most North Carolina-based NASCAR teams, with the chief concern finding the right new employees who often must relocate to Colorado.


Truex isn’t worried that Jones’ addition will be a distraction to his performance. The information sharing with JGR and the incredible success that it brought last year in only the first season of that relationship is enough to lay those worries aside. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal, at least that’s what I’m telling myself,” Truex says. “Toyota’s got a lot of experience (with expansion).”


Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, and the No. 78 team’s engineers have also played a role in selecting the team that will work on Jones’ No. 77, a process that Truex says will keep the move from “upsetting the applecart” of team dynamics.


After his most successful Cup season to date, Truex is guaranteed to see countless replays of the 2016 Daytona 500 finish before the season opens. Truex lost last year to Denny Hamlin by inches. But he’s not that bothered by it. “I’ll tell you one thing,” Truex says. “It was better than finishing third.”

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 11:05
Path: /nfl/nfl-scouting-combine-watch-louisiana-lafayette-running-back-elijah-mcguire-2017
Body:

There will be no shortage of high-quality running backs available in the 2017 NFL Draft. That said, only a handful of them excel as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield. An even smaller number were the focal point of their team's respective offenses.

 

UL Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire is one such player – and has been for the duration of his collegiate career.

 

The 5-foot-9, 210-pound offensive dynamo was a four-year starter for the Ragin' Cajuns, piling up 4,312 yards and 42 touchdowns on the ground along with 1,383 receiving yards 10 more scores.

 

 

He has the patience of Le'Veon Bell, the fluidity of Matt Forte and the build and agility of Doug Martin. Quite simply – he's the total package for any team looking for a three-down back they can depend on for the next 6-8 years.

 

At the NFL Scouting Combine, keep an eye on how he fares in comparison to some similar backs – guys like Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara and Corey Clement – that had the luxury of playing at higher-profile programs and subsequently becoming higher-profile prospects. Because of the depth at the position, McGuire holding his own in workouts with those players won't necessarily boost his draft stock. It will, however, make him a target of value in the later rounds for teams that decide to address other needs with their earlier picks.

 

Those types of scenarios often lead to quality players landing with quality teams – even contenders – and having their careers flourish due to better situations than their peers.

 

If your team needs help at the running back spot, you'll want to keep a close eye on McGuire's Combine performance as well as any subsequent movement in the mock drafts that follow. He's currently projected to go late – likely in the fifth or sixth round. I expect that to change after the Combine.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
NFL Scouting Combine Watch: Elijah McGuire
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/very-early-2017-fantasy-football-top-150-rankings
Body:

Super Bowl LI is now in the record books, which means football season is finally over, and even then you probably weren’t thinking too much about fantasy football during Sunday's big game. But even though the start of the 2017 season is seven months away, it’s never too early to starting thinking about it, right?

 

In fact, here are just two reasons why rankings, even ones that come out while the Super Bowl hangover is in full effect, can be useful:
 

1. It can actually help those in keeper/dynasty formats. These seasons are never truly over.

 

2. It is fun and a nice way to reminisce on the fantastic 2016 season gone by.

 

These reasons, however, don’t change how early it is in relation to the 2017 season. For one, the draft is still more than two months away. Free agency and all the offseason player movement hasn’t even started. Guys like Tyrod Taylor, Tony Romo, Adrian Peterson, Alshon Jeffrey and Jimmy Garrapalo, to name a few, could be playing for a different team by the time Week 1 rolls around.
 

Martavis Bryant could be reinstated after being suspended all of last season, a development that not only would impact the Steelers and how their wide receivers (with the exception of Antonio Brown) are valued, but also the rankings for the position overall. Plus there are several teams with quarterback questions, plenty of guys coming back from different types of injuries, and the usual offseason speculation of “is x player ready to take that next step?”

 

So needless to say, these rankings will change quite a bit between now and the end of April, and will certainly look different by the fall. But it’s never too early to start, right?

 

As always, if you feel like bantering or disputing my rankings, reach out to me on Twitter (@FantsyChillpony). Remember these are early, and if anything will keep you interested, or at least entertained. After all, football is a year-round sport!

 

 

 

 

— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.

Teaser:
Very Early 2017 Fantasy Football Top 150 Rankings
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/patriots-fan-matt-damon-crashes-jimmy-kimmel-live-dressed-tom-brady-new-england-super-bowl
Body:

Tom Brady is pretty busy these days after leading the Patriots to yet another Super Bowl victory.

 

Luckily Matt Damon is around to help out and make appearances for Brady as needed. The longtime New England fan crashed "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" as Brady and talked a little bit about what he's been up to since winning his fifth Super Bowl ring.

 

 

 

If Brady ever needs a stand-in, Damon could do a decent job.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-secs-football-rosters-2017
Body:

College football's National Signing Day is in the books and the focus for all 130 programs can officially turn to offseason workouts and practices and the pursuit of a championship. While a chunk of the focus every year is what happens on the field, the National Signing Day and recruiting efforts for every team is just as important. Talent development is essential for every program but landing four and five-star prospects at a higher level clearly matters in reaching the CFB Playoff. The top three teams - Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State - in last year's national roster rankings have claimed national championships in recent years, while Clemson at No. 12 wasn't too far behind. 

 

Certainly, winning big in college football takes great coaching, enormous support staffs, state-of-the-art training facilities and plenty of luck. But whoever has the most talented roster, has a head start in the race for conference and national championships. 

 

National Signing Day 2017 gave us more than 4,000 new players to root for and track over the next four or five seasons. So which teams are in the best shape for 2017?

 

Below are the national recruiting ranking averages for SEC schools over the last five classes according to 247Sports Team Composite rankings and each team's record over the last five seasons. Obviously, this doesn't take into account attrition but, over time, this should be considered relatively even across the conference.

 

Ranking the SEC's College Football's Rosters in 2017

 

Rk Team '17 '16 '15 '14 '13 Avg W/L Conf.
1. 1 1 1 1 1 1.0 64-7 36-4
2. 7 3 6 2 6 4.8 45-18 25-15
3. 3 7 5 8 12 7.0 48-18 27-13
4. 9 9 8 6 10 8.4 38-27 18-22
5. 12 18 11 5 9 11.0 44-21 21-19
6. 10 13 21 9 3 11.2 41-23 27-13
7. 17 14 4 7 24 13.2 35-28 15-25
8. 30 6 17 15 8 15.2 39-25 19-21
9. 21 26 19 19 20 21.0 38-26 19-21
10. 28 25 23 29 23 25.6 29-34 12-28
11. 24 31 18 35 25 26.6 40-25 20-20
12. 29 34 38 22 34 31.4 21-40 8-32
13. 50 53 25 39 43 42.0 37-27 19-21
14. 64 54 46 46 26 47.2 31-32 14-26

 

Alabama No. 1 for the Seventh Year in a Row

For the seventh consecutive season, Alabama claimed the No. 1 spot in the national recruiting rankings. Under Nick Saban’s direction, the Crimson Tide continue to raise the bar and set the standard for the rest of college football to aim for on and off the gridiron. And even with significant personnel losses for the 2017 season, elite recruiting will compete Alabama at the top of most preseason polls for next fall. According to the 247Sports Composite, 24 of Alabama’s 29 signees rated as a four or five-star prospect. Additionally, the 322.5 total points by the Composite team rankings for Alabama in 2017 was the most for a class since Florida’s 323.66 in 2010.

 

Related: A Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2017

 

No Shortage of Talent in Baton Rouge

Just one glance at the recruiting data from recent years was enough to justify LSU’s decision to part with Les Miles. The Tigers average a 4.8 finish nationally in recruiting rankings, yet are just 25-15 in SEC play since 2013. Additionally, LSU has lost at least three games in every year and has not finished higher than No. 13 in the final Associated Press poll since 2012. For a program that reels in elite talent and recruited eight five-star prospects from 2014-16, the expectation is SEC Championships, playoff berths and trips to New Year’s Six bowls. Can Ed Orgeron elevate this program a step higher? The hire of Matt Canada as the team’s new play-caller was one of the top offseason additions and should help this offense take a step forward in 2017.

 

Make-or-Break Year for Gus Malzahn and Kevin Sumlin

The success on the recruiting trail hasn’t quite matched the results for Auburn under coach Gus Malzahn. The Tigers have reeled in a top-10 class in each of Malzahn’s five seasons, but Auburn is just 18-22 in conference play since 2013. The only teams with fewer than 18 wins in SEC action in that span? Vanderbilt (14-26), Kentucky (8-32), Arkansas (12-28) and Tennessee (15-25). Texas A&M isn’t far behind Auburn in the national total (11.0), and coach Kevin Sumlin’s team is just two games over .500 (21-19) in SEC action.

 

Related: Early SEC Predictions for 2017

 

Kirby Smart Delivers on the Recruiting Trail

The top of the SEC East is tough to sort out in the early 2017 projections, but Athlon’s first power rankings placed Georgia as the team to beat. The Bulldogs finished 8-5 in coach Kirby Smart’s first season, with three losses coming by three points or less. Even though Smart’s debut wasn’t among the best for new coaches, he delivered the No. 2 signing class in the SEC. Georgia inked 26 prospects in its 2017 class, with 20 of those as a four or five-star recruit. The Bulldogs 300.98 total in the 247Sports Composite was the team's highest mark since 2000. Combine the talent addition from the recruiting trail, the return of sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason and running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and it’s easy to see why Georgia appears to be trending up entering coach Kirby Smart’s second year.

 

Florida’s Recruiting Under Jim McElwain

Recruiting has been a source of concern for some in the Florida fanbase since Jim McElwain took over the program prior to the 2015 season. Despite claiming back-to-back SEC East titles, Jim McElwain has yet to reel in a class higher than No. 10. After finishing 21st in McElwain’s first haul, the Gators finished 13th last season and improved to 10th in 2017. A late surge of commitments helped Florida improve from a top 20-25 class into a No. 10 haul on National Signing Day this year. After reeling in five five-star prospects from 2012-14, Florida has landed just two from 2015-17. Additionally, when Athlon Sports compiled this data back in 2014, Florida ranked No. 2 in the SEC with a 5.6 national average. A couple of years later, Florida’s average finish nationally is 11.2. That ranks just ahead of Tennessee (13.2) but a bit behind Georgia (7.0). In an effort to improve recruiting, McElwain hired standout Florida recruiter JaJuan Seider away from West Virginia. Let’s see if this moves helps the Gators reach the top five once again in national recruiting rankings in 2017.

 

Related: Early Top 50 Players Returning for 2017

 

Uncertainty Taking a Toll on Ole Miss

For the first time since 2012, Ole Miss did not land a top-20 signing class. After finishing No. 6 last year, the Rebels tumbled to No. 30 nationally in 2017. The ongoing NCAA investigation took a toll on the program’s recruiting efforts, which also allowed in-state rival Mississippi State to land a better class (No. 24).

 

Kentucky’s Recruiting Under Mark Stoops

Kentucky has momentum on its side after its best season under coach Mark Stoops, and the Wildcats also inked the No. 29 class on National Signing Day. The No. 29 class helped raised Kentucky’s five-year total to 31.4, which is up from 37.6 just two years ago. The Wildcats have some work to do in closing the gap to Arkansas and Mississippi State. However, Stoops has widened the gap from Kentucky to Missouri and Vanderbilt in the overall roster rankings.

Teaser:
Ranking the SEC's Football Rosters for 2017
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Virginia Tech Hokies
Path: /college-football/5-newcomers-virginia-tech-hokies-watch-2017
Body:

The first year of the Justin Fuente era at Virginia Tech was a rousing success. But now the Hokies have to replace several of the stars that carried much of the weight this past fall.

 

It starts at quarterback where Jerod Evans unexpectedly decided to forgo his final season in Blacksburg in pursuit of NFL riches. There are also some receiver slots open with Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges off to the next level as well. And up front on defense, Woddy Baron was a force that will be missed.

 

But with a strong recruiting class signed this past week along with a few promising redshirt freshmen chomping at the bit, Virginia Tech has some quality new options.

 

Here are five players that have never played at Lane Stadium that could make a mark for the Hokies in 2017.

 

(In alphabetical order)

 

Jerrod Hewitt, DT, Redshirt Freshman

Hewiit was a relatively unheralded recruit coming out of Venice, Fla., who had just a few other FBS offers. But ever since enrolling in January of 2016, the 6-foot-1, 299-pounder has impressed. He could be a valuable third tackle behind Tim Settle and Ricky Walker.

 

Devon Hunter, S, Freshman

With Chuck Clark out of eligibility, there is a huge opening at safety. Hunter was ranked as the nation’s third best safety in the 247Sports Composite Rankings and has all the tools to be an impact player right from the start.

 

Josh Jackson, QB, Redshirt Freshman

Jackson will have competition as true freshman Hendon Hooker and junior college recruit A.J. Bush are already on campus and ready to battle this spring. But Jackson gave Evans a run for his money before last season and has to be considered the odds-on favorite to be the starting quarterback when the Hokies play West Virginia to open the 2017 season.

 

Related: 6 Junior College Transfers to Watch in the ACC for 2017

 

Dalton Keene, TE, Freshman

There will be opportunities for pass catchers and the Littleton, Colo., product has enrolled and will participate in spring drills. He is a talented athlete that projects as a hybrid tight end/wide receiver prospect despite playing mostly running back and linebacker in high school.

 

Khalil Ladler, CB, Redshirt Freshman

The cornerback depth chart is pretty loaded, but Ladler is too skilled to keep on the bench. Virginia Tech’s highest-rated high school prospect in the Class of 2016 has added needed weight and now is physically ready to match up against ACC receivers.

 

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.

 

(Top photo courtesy of www.HokieSports.com)

Teaser:
5 Newcomers for the Virginia Tech Hokies to Watch in 2017
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /nfl/peyton-manning-vs-tom-brady-records-stats-history
Body:

While each of these future Hall of Fame quarterbacks has downplayed the rival aspect of their star-crossed careers over the years, Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady is one of the greatest individual rivalries in the history of sport. A rivalry that took on a life of its own, even to the point of taking center stage over the actual football games themselves at times. It could even be argued that this epic feud transcended the gridiron into the annals of popular culture. From the water cooler to every sports-related television and radio program, Manning vs. Brady evolved into a significant topic of conversation and debate among the masses that will likely stand the test of time.


Related: Ranking All 16 Manning-Brady Bowls

 

Manning and Brady faced off 17 times in this great rivalry that dates back to 2001. The last meeting occurred on January 24, 2016 in the AFC Championship Game which resulted in a 20-18 win for Manning and the Broncos en route to a Super Bowl 50 victory. Let’s take a closer look at the all-time tale-of-the-tape from the 17 career matchups between these two legendary signal-callers, as well 15 amazing statistics associated with arguably the greatest QB rivalry in NFL history.

 

Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady
Tale of the Tape

Manning   Brady
6 Wins Head-to-Head 11
24.2 Team PPG 29.2
4,985 Passing Yards 4,323
293.2 Passing YPG 254.2
35 TD Passes 32
22 INTs 15
61.3 Completion % 64.7
87.7 Passer Rating 92.8
3 Rushing TDs 3

 

Manning vs. Brady: 15 Amazing Statistics

 

198

The number of draft positions separating Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in their respective draft classes. Manning was selected first overall by the Colts in the 1998 NFL Draft out of the University of Tennessee. Brady was selected by the Patriots with the 199th overall pick (6th round) in the 2000 draft out of the University of Michigan.

 

6

Brady won each of the first six games in which he faced a Manning-led team from 2001-05. It also stands as the longest win streak for either quarterback in their head-to-head series. Manning would go on to win the next three games from 2005-07.

 

9

The number of games in the rivalry in which Manning threw for 300 or more yards. Brady threw in excess of 300 yards in just five of the 17 meetings.

 

2

The number of times Manning threw for more than 400 yards in the series. He threw for 400 yards in the 2013 AFC Championship Game victory and then for 438 yards in a Week 9 loss at New England during the 2014 season. Brady never threw for 400 or more yards in his matchups vs. Manning. Brady's highest passing yardage total in the rivalry came in a 2009 loss when Manning was with the Colts. Brady threw for 375 yards in that game.

 

8

The number of games in which Brady did not throw an interception against a Manning-led team. Brady did not throw a single pick in any of his first five contests matched up against Manning. Brady had a 6-2 record against Manning in games without an interception. Manning had just four games in the 17-game series without an interception. Manning had a 3-1 record in those contests.

 

50+

Manning and Brady each threw 50 or more passes in their games against each other. Manning had 52 pass attempts in his last game against Brady as a Colt in 2010 and topped that with 57 throws in a 2014 meeting. Brady had 53 attempts of his own in that game, a 43-21 Patriots win at home in Week 9. Brady also had 56 pass attempts in a loss to the Broncos in the 2015 AFC Championship game. In addition, Brady threw 50 passes in the 2013 regular-season matchup against the Broncos, a 34-31 overtime victory in Week 12.

 

9,308

The total combined number of passing yards for Brady and Manning in their 17 meetings. Manning wass responsible for 4,985 of those yards with Brady accounting for the other 4,323.

 

73

The combined total number of touchdowns from the duo in 17 games. Manning had 35 touchdown passes and three rushing touchdowns, while Brady has 32 scores through the air and an identical three on the ground.

 

12

The total number of games in which Brady and Manning threw at least three touchdown passes in a game in this rivalry. Brady had seven such performances, while Manning accomplished this feat five times.

 

10.0

The average margin of victory in the 17 combined games between Manning and Brady. While there were some notable nail-biters in the series, the rivalry also saw its fair share of blowouts.

 

6-5

While Brady held an 11-6 edge overall against Manning in the rivalry, Manning went 6-5 against Brady over the last 11 matchups.

 

3-2

The 2015 AFC Championship Game marked the fifth time that Manning and Brady opposed each other in the playoffs. That is most of any two quarterbacks in NFL history. The postseason tally was 3-2 in favor of Manning. Brady won the first two playoff matchups in the 2003 and '04 seasons, with Manning taking home victories in the last three (2006, '13, '15 seasons).

 

4

The number of times Brady and Manning faced one another in the AFC Championship Game. Manning held a 3-1 edge over Brady in games with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

 

2007

Brady led the Patriots to a 24-20 win against Manning’s Colts in Indianapolis in 2007. It marked the last time that either quarterback won a road game in the series. Subsequently, they met seven times with the home team winning each matchup.

 

10

The number of times Brady and the Patriots hosted Manning at home in the 17 game series. Nine of those ten home matchups were played in Gillette Stadium. The other was played in the now demolished Foxboro Stadium in 2001. Foxboro Satdium would serve as the very first venue for the Manning vs. Brady rivalry. Manning faced Brady at home a combined 7 times as a Colt and Bronco (4 times in the now demolished RCA Dome as a Colt, 1 time in Lucas Oil Stadium as a Colt and 2 times at Sports Authority Field at Mile High as a Bronco)

 

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.

Teaser:
Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady: Records, Stats and History
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/5-greatest-comebacks-nfl-history
Body:

Sunday’s epic comeback by the Patriots is certainly the best in Super Bowl history, but where does it rank all time? In looking at comebacks, you have to factor in the deficit overcome, the time it took and most importantly, what was at stake. With those factors in mind, it is no surprise the five greatest comebacks in NFL history were all postseason games. Here they are.

 

5 Greatest Comebacks in NFL History

 

5. San Francisco 39, New York 38 – San Francisco, Calif., January 5, 2003 (Down 24 points)

In this wild card matchup, the Giants led the 49ers 38-14 in the third quarter. Then Jeremy Shockey dropped a touchdown pass that would have extended the lead to 31 points and New York’s lead crumbled from there. San Francisco kicked a field goal and Jeff Garcia completed two touchdown passes and ran for another to take a 39-38 lead with one minute left in the game. Giants quarterback Kerry Collins led his team to the 49ers 23-yard line, where they lined up to attempt a field goal with six seconds left. The snap went low and holder Matt Allen attempted a pass to guard Rich Seubert, who was pulled down by San Francisco linebacker Chike Okeafor. Instead of being called for pass interference, the Giants were flagged for having an ineligible receiver downfield. The next day, the officials admitted they blew the call, which is one of the reasons this game is not higher.

 

4. Indianapolis 45, Kansas City 44 – Indianapolis, Ind., January 4, 2014 (Down 28 points)

Kansas City led 38-10 early in the third quarter and it looked like the Chiefs would easily advance to the divisional round.  However, Andrew Luck and the Colts quickly scored 21 points to close the lead to 41-31 going into the fourth quarter. Indianapolis then put together a 90-yard drive that culminated with a bizarre but fortuitous play. Running back Donald Brown fumbled the ball but it bounced into Luck’s hand and he took it into the end zone, making the score 41-38. The Colts ultimately went ahead 45-44 with 4:21 left in the game thanks to a 64-yard pass from Luck to T.Y. Hilton. They stopped the Chiefs on the next drive and were able to run out the clock.

 

3. Detroit 31, San Francisco 27 – San Francisco, Calif., December 22, 1957 (Down 20 points)

Both the 49ers and Lions finished 8-4 in the NFL’s old Western Conference and had to meet in a one-game playoff to determine who would play in the NFL Championship game. When the 49ers went in leading 24-7 at the half, they were so confident that the Lions players could hear them laughing at halftime in San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium. Early in the third period, the 49ers kicked a field goal to extend its led to 27-7, but would not score again. Lions backup quarterback Tobin Rote led an angered and reenergized Detroit team as they scored 24 unanswered points to shock the 49ers and pull off an amazing comeback. In the NFL Championship game, the Lions beat the Brown 59-14 to win the last title in the franchise’s history.

 

2. Buffalo 41, Houston 38 – Buffalo, N.Y., January 3, 1993 (Down 32 points)

From a pure points perspective, this is the biggest comeback in NFL history. Houston jumped out to a 35-3 third quarter lead and it looked like the Bills run of consecutive Super Bowl appearances would end at two. Then backup quarterback Frank Reich and the Buffalo defense gelled as the Bills scored 35 unanswered points to take 38-35 lead with 3:08 left in the fourth quarter. Houston was able to tie the game with a field goal and send it into overtime. The Oilers got the ball first but their drive was cut short when Nate Odomes intercepted Warren Moon’s pass. Odomes’ return and a facemask penalty put the Bills on the Houston 20-yard line and Steve Christie booted a 32-yard game-winning field goal two plays later. The win propelled Buffalo through the playoffs as it went to the Super Bowl for the third straight year in a row.

 

1. New England 34, Atlanta 28 – Houston, Texas, February 5, 2017 (Down 25 points)

In the previous 50 Super Bowls, the largest deficit any team had ever overcome was 10 points. The fact that the Patriots were down 25 points in the middle of the third quarter and came back to send the first Super Bowl into overtime puts this one at the top of the list.

Teaser:
5 Greatest Comebacks in NFL History
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/5-newcomers-nebraska-cornhuskers-watch-2017
Body:

National Signing Day is over, Tommy Armstrong graduates in May and – thanks to the hiring of a new defensive coordinator – the Cornhuskers are switching up their defensive approach.

 

It's a new day in Nebraska.

 

With that new day come new faces. Some of those faces have a chance to become very familiar to fans in Lincoln's Memorial Stadium come September.

 

Here are five Nebraska newcomers to watch in 2017.

 

Avery Roberts, LB

The 4-star prospect out of Delaware is going to remind a lot of Husker faithful of Lavonte David, thanks to his speed and athleticism at the position. With the departure of Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey, there are some jobs open and some big spots to fill in the Blackshirt linebacker corps. Roberts is talented and mature enough to compete for serious playing time immediately.

 

Tyjon Lindsey, WR

The losses of Jordan Westerkamp and Brandon Reilly to graduation opens the door for the talented Lindsey to claim a starting role as a true freshman. He's an explosive playmaker similar in style to a wide receiver Mike Riley coached at Oregon State – Brandin Cooks. The possibility of him joining Stanley Morgan and DeMornay Pierson-El as starters for the season opener is something that probably warms the hearts of both Riley and the Husker faithful. You could argue that the Huskers have never had a collection of big-play threats at the position like they'll have in 2017.

 

Elijah Blades, CB

Blades is a tall (6-2) corner who plays wise beyond his years. He'll add some needed weight over the summer. Once he does, look for him to get plenty of early reps during non-conference play and be ready to contribute regularly after the Big Ten slate gets underway. His size and length could end up being a huge asset against some of the conference’s bigger receivers.

 

Damion Daniels, DL

The shift to Bob Diaco's 3-4 defensive alignment requires the need for playmaking space-eaters in the interior of the line. Thomas, a 6-foot-1, 315-pound Dallas native, arrives ready to play a part in filling that role. He may not start immediately, but he'll get plenty of snaps and provide invaluable depth to a unit that will be leaned on heavily in 2017.

 

Patrick O'Brien, QB

O'Brien is a redshirt freshman, but he’s still a newcomer since he’s yet to take a single snap in a game. The former Elite 11 recruit has had a year to learn Riley's system and get comfortable in his surroundings. He'll take part in the first true preseason quarterback battle in Lincoln in four years. If he loses that battle, it will be to Tulane transfer Tanner Lee. Any way it shakes out, the talent gap between Nebraska's starting quarterback and backup will be closer than it has been in a couple of years.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
5 Newcomers for the Nebraska Cornhuskers to Watch in 2017
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/early-edition-boston-globe-claimed-patriots-lost-falcons-super-bowl-li
Body:

Deadlines are the worst.

 

The Boston Globe had no choice but to run what they figured would be the final outcome of Super Bowl LI, claiming that the Falcons won. Obviously that wasn't the case. The Patriots came back in historical fashion and the rest was history. Unfortunately, some early edition subscribers got the wrong outcome on their doorstep the next morning.

 

 

It makes you wonder why papers don't push the deadline back for the Super Bowl.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 6, 2017 - 14:57
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/tom-brady-jersey-stolen-after-super-bowl-li-new-england-patriots-locker-room-ebay-kraft-goodell-online
Body:

One of the most coveted items from Super Bowl LI would be Tom Brady's jersey... and everyone knew it.

 

The Patriots star put his jersey in his locker after that spectacular comeback against the Falcons and next thing he knew it was gone. The jersey that Brady wore while leading his team to another championship, and catapulting himself into a stratosphere of the all-time greats, is missing.

 

 

 

Brady mentioned this morning that he still hadn't found his jersey. 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 6, 2017 - 12:34
All taxonomy terms: Denny Hamlin, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/denny-hamlin-2017-nascar-season-driver-preview
Body:

Denny Hamlin didn’t walk away from last season with a title or even a berth in the Championship 4. By those measurements, the season wasn’t a story of unbridled success. But Hamlin and his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team are hardly in need of a full reboot as the 2017 season opens. In many ways, he believes that things will only get better.


Denny Hamlin Monster Energy Drink NASCAR Driver Profile“It was overall a great year for our FedEx team, and although we came up short of the title, we won three races and ran up front throughout the year,” Hamlin says. “There is nothing to be discouraged about. This drives us to come back better next season and make another run at it.”


Much of that confidence comes from how Hamlin’s 2016 campaign started and then continued. Hamlin put together a season that was both full of checking off new items on his driving bucket list and mostly lacking in pressure. By the end of it all, Hamlin had scored 22 top-10 finishes and an average finish of 11.8 — both career bests.


Last season brought Hamlin, who begins his 12th full-time Cup season, his first career Daytona 500 victory. It came in thrilling fashion as Hamlin edged quasi-Toyota teammate Martin Truex Jr. at the checkered flag by just a few inches. 


For Hamlin, the win quickly changed the trajectory of a season that began with the question mark of how Hamlin’s new hand-picked crew chief Mike Wheeler would lead the team. The No. 11 team suddenly had 25 races and nearly seven months to come together for a playoff push, thanks to NASCAR’s rules offering drivers who win a regular-season race a spot in the postseason if they manage to finish 30th or better in the point standings.

2017 NASCAR Preview MagazineAthlon Sports’ 2017 Racing magazine delivers full NASCAR driver profiles, schedules, track information, fantasy insight, as well as complete 2017 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today or visit your local newsstand!


The team put the free time to good use. Hamlin earned his first career road course win in August at Watkins Glen — after losing on the final lap on the road course at Sonoma Raceway in June — and finished the regular season with a win at his hometown Richmond International Raceway. 


Hamlin’s good fortune and quality performances continued in the 10-race postseason. He made it to the third round before just missing out on advancement to the championship round.


“We performed good in the Chase. We really did,” Hamlin says. “It was one of the few years we weren’t taken out by something crazy happening. We just didn’t have the performance. A sixth-place average finish (in the Chase) usually gets you to the Final Four, but we had three guys win, and that’s something that’s never happened in that round before.”


Hamlin, now 36, appears to be reaching his prime as a driver. With the improving average finish, a jaw-dropping average start last season of 6.3 and his highest win total in a single season since 2012, he has much to look forward to this season.


What stands in Hamlin’s way? He'll have to overcome his talented teammates to win a title. He’ll also need to finish off extension talks, a potential distraction as he and Matt Kenseth both have expiring contracts. Erik Jones and Matt Tifft will wait patiently for Hamlin to have a bad year.


Don’t expect one. Hamlin, whose success or failure is more tied to his emotional state than most athletes, enters 2017 beaming with confidence. “I had three wins, first road course win, the best average start and the best average finish of my whole career,” Hamlin says. “We just didn’t win a championship. I think that’s pretty good for the first time for (Wheeler) as a crew chief.”

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 6, 2017 - 12:11
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/5-best-teams-never-win-super-bowl
Body:

As we go down memory lane like we do with each Super Bowl, it is worth looking back on another elite club: the best teams to never win a Super Bowl. Many fans have differing opinions of who should be on this list, but here are my top five NFL teams that didn't finish their seasons off with the Lombardi Trophy in tow.

 

5. 1968 Baltimore Colts

The 1968 Colts were 13-1 and had the second-best offense and top-ranked defense in the NFL. Many sportswriters considered them to be one of the best teams in NFL history. That’s what made Joe Namath’s guarantee and subsequent upset in Super Bowl III all the more shocking.

 

4. 1990 San Francisco 49ers

This team came the closest to three-peating as world champions in the Super Bowl era, going 14-2 and losing to the New York Giants in the final seconds of the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park. If Joe Montana had not gone down with an injury and Roger Craig had not fumbled in the final minutes, the 49ers may have actually pulled it off.

 

3. 1998 Minnesota Vikings

These Vikings steamrolled opponents with an offense powered by Randall Cunningham, Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Robert Smith. They went 15-1 but a shocking loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game cut their season short. The Vikings became the first 15-1 team to not win a Super Bowl.

 

2. 2015 Carolina Panthers

As fans look back on this team that went 15-1 and cruised through the playoffs en route to Super Bowl 50, they likely will likely think only one other runner-up team was better.

 

1. 2007 New England Patriots

The only team to ever go 16-0 in the regular season would be considered the greatest team of all time if not for a gutsy, game-winning drive by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. The Patriots entered that Super Bowl as 12-point favorites after beating opponents by an average of 18.6 points per game to get to 18-0. 

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

 

(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)

Teaser:
5 Best Teams to Never Win a Super Bowl
Post date: Monday, February 6, 2017 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/ranking-accs-football-rosters-2017
Body:

The ACC has won two national titles in the past four years, something no other conference can say.

 

That’s due in large part to better coaching hires, improved facilities and just an overall larger commitment to football. But more than anything, these titles come down to having the best players.

 

Graduations and early departures have created some roster turnover, with most of the replenishments having come last Wednesday during National Signing Day. Who has made out the best?

 

Below are the national recruiting ranking averages for ACC schools over the last five classes according to 247Sports Team Composite rankings and each team's record over the last five seasons. Obviously, this doesn't take into account attrition but, over time, this should be considered relatively even across the conference.

 

Ranking the ACC's College Football's Rosters in 2017:

 

Rk Team '17 '16 '15 '14 '13 Avg W/L Conf.
1. 6 2 3 4 11 5.2 59-9 34-6
2. 16 10 9 17 15 13.4 60-9 35-5
3. 13 21 26 12 14 17.2 39-25 23-17
4. 25 41 29 27 21 28.6 39-27 22-18
5. 27 35 28 31 28 29.8 40-25 26-14
6. 32 37 32 45 37 36.6 49-16 29-10
7. 34 30 47 44 32 37.4 35-30 21-18
8. 52 49 31 34 59 45.0 32-32 13-27
9. 56 60 50 32 29 45.4 17-43 9-31
10. 47 33 51 60 70 52.2 37-28 19-21
11. 46 59 44 56 76 56.2 37-29 21-19
12. 55 66 58 50 73 60.4 26-36 14-25
13. 65 58 53 65 67 61.6 22-39 10-30
14. 66 75 62 52 87 68.4 26-37 11-29

 

Florida State and Clemson dominate, again

Florida State and Clemson have combined to win the last six ACC titles. Between them, they’ve won two national titles, appeared in one national title game and had one College Football Playoff semifinal exit in the past four years alone. Looking at the above chart, it is no secret why: The Seminoles and Tigers have far and away the most talent to work with each season. FSU ranks fourth nationally in average national ranking, trailing only Alabama, Ohio State and LSU.

 

Is Miami closing the gap?

Mark Richt won nine games in Year 1 in Coral Gables, including the Hurricanes’ first bowl victory since 2006. His staff has also done well on the recruiting trail, with the Canes’ 13th-ranked 2017 class ranking eight spots better than last year’s No. 21 class, and even three spots ahead of Clemson’s haul this year. While there is still a talent gap between FSU/Clemson and everyone else, Miami looks like the class of the Coastal Division.

 

The ACC move is paying off for Louisville

As if returning the Heisman Trophy winner was not enough, the Cardinals bring in the nation’s No. 32 class in 2017. Their average ranking from last year to this year has risen from 39.2 to 36.6. The biggest reason for that is likely the move from the Big East/American Athletic Conference to the ACC, as the Cards started play in the league in 2014. It is no coincidence that they saw an uptick on the trail immediately after their first year in the ACC, as they landed the nation’s No. 32 (2015), No. 37 (2016) and No. 32 (2017) classes after pulling in the No. 45 haul in 2014.

 

Hokies rising under Justin Fuente

Virginia Tech won the Coastal in Fuente’s first year, and with the smoothest transition in college football now fully in the rearview mirror, it is full speed ahead for the new regime. The Hokies jumped from the No. 41 class in 2016 to No. 25 this year, and while they lost several key pieces to the draft, there is no question that the program is stocking up nicely and should be built to succeed for the long haul.

 

More wins = better recruits

In addition to Virginia Tech — which won three more games in 2017 than it did in ‘16 — Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Boston College experienced sizable recruiting bumps this year. The Yellow Jackets went from No. 59 to No. 46 after a six-win turnaround in 2016, while the Eagles went from No. 75 to No. 66 after a four-win improvement from 2016. The Orange had the same record as they did in 2015, but given the learning curve under new head coach Dino Babers — not to mention the promise they showed in wins such as the stunner over Virginia Tech — the program’s energy has translated nicely on the trail: Syracuse went from the No. 66 class in 2016 to No. 55 this year.

 

— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.

Teaser:
Ranking the ACC's Football Rosters for 2017
Post date: Monday, February 6, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/tom-brady-roger-that-goodell-rings-fifth-super-bowl-commercial-new-england-patriots-li
Body:

Tom Brady has the utmost confidence in himself.

 

The Patriots quarterback pre-filmed a commercial for Shields MRI showing him with five Super Bowl rings. Pretty bold move when you think about the fact that the Falcons were up for most of Super Bowl LI. Obviously the Patriots came back to win it and allowed Brady to obtain his fifth ring. There's also a subtle shot at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell with a "Roger that!" at the end.

 

 

This commercial never would've seen the light of day had the Patriots not made that spectacular comeback. Well done.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 6, 2017 - 09:37

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