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The checks from the EA Sports/NCAA settlement are finally coming in to the players. However, there is still no word on the future of EA Sports' NCAA Football, which has been off the market since 2014. I have no choice but to take matters into my own hands...
Dear Cam Weber, GM of American Football, EA SPORTS:
One of the most enjoyable offseason experiences for college football fans was bringing home the latest edition of NCAA Football. It is heartbreaking that you pulled the plug on a franchise for reasons that you still may be able to work around.
In September 2013, you wrote: “We have been stuck in the middle of a dispute between the NCAA and student-athletes who seek compensation for playing college football. Just like companies that broadcast college games and those that provide equipment and apparel, we follow rules that are set by the NCAA – but those rules are being challenged by some student-athletes.”
Most college sports fans are aware of the lawsuit led by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon challenging the NCAA’s ability to enter into contracts using players’ likeness without compensating them. You paid $40 million in a settlement, which is now being dispensed to former players. But when the NCAA would not let you pay current players to use their likeness in the game, you cut your losses.
I am not here to say who’s right and who’s wrong. This letter is not about the NCAA, O’Bannon or Red Grange. It’s about trojanman7879, who retrograded Southern Cal’s pro-style offense and built a 10-year dynasty with his only two plays being student body right and left. It’s about bloodredhawk007, who took the likeness of Miami of Ohio’s Austin Boucher (the lowest-rated quarterback in FBS in 2013) and turned him into an All-American. It’s about the fans that have been investing every year in your franchise since the late 1990s.
I know the situation is not that simple, but you had been releasing this game since 1998 featuring players on the cover and using their likenesses in game. You had to expect an athlete or two would stand up at some point and say, “Hey, wait a damn minute here.” Now, that this has happened and the situation, you shouldn’t wash your hands of the matter. You should do something.
You also wrote in September 2013:
For our part, we are working to settle the lawsuits with the student-athletes. Meanwhile, the NCAA and a number of conferences have withdrawn their support of our game. The ongoing legal issues combined with increased questions surrounding schools and conferences have left us in a difficult position – one that challenges our ability to deliver an authentic sports experience, which is the very foundation of EA SPORTS games.
Authenticity has become the major draw of online sports games. Sadly, it has apparently given way to creativity. 10-Yard Fight, the first major football video game, was not authentic by any stretch of the imagination, but fans came to embrace it. The Tecmo Bowl games offered only a handful of plays, along with unrealistic situations, and those games are still beloved.
The truth is that you have authenticity. Oh sure, a kid in the Lowcountry will no longer be able to pop in NCAA Football and set amazing records with Deshaun Watson’s likeness, but the football video game experience is as authentic as it has ever been. If the lawsuit won’t allow you to build the game the way you did in the past, do something fun and new with it. Make all the schools that will still participate equally fab and let players build the programs from the ground up or do something like a “turn of the century” edition. I can’t imagine that I’m alone in saying that I would love to take the field with the Carlisle Indians and the single wing.
Of course, this still doesn’t solve the issue with the cover, which has featured one of college football’s star players since the beginning. That will probably be a thing of the past given the lawsuit. Tell you what I’ll do. If you’re lacking a cover, you can use my junior year football picture. I’ll be honest... it was not a season of individual greatness. I played sparingly on special teams and only started one game because the first-string left guard was hurt and the second-string guard showed up to school drunk on game day. However, you can have it free of charge. Then again, a generic photo might work as well and fans will still buy your game.
Make no mistake, you have options. The game may not be the same as it was, but you could still do some amazing things with it if you’re willing to take a risk.
With Warmest Regards,
— 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.
After a disappointing 6-10 showing in 2015 despite making several big moves, the Miami Dolphins could use a lot of help in a number of areas. That's one of the reasons new head coach Adam Gase decided to swap first-round draft picks with the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell in a trade.
Now the Dolphins’ first pick will come at No. 13 overall instead of No. 8. Here's a look at potential fits for not only Miami’s first-round pick but also for the second and third day of the upcoming NFL Draft.
1. Darron Lee, linebacker, Ohio State
Yes, Miami did acquire Alonso, but the Dolphins still have concerns at outside linebacker. The team could use an upgrade from Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins and Lee would make a lot of sense at No. 13.
Lee offers speed and range and he has a ton of upside. Miami's linebackers struggled to make the impact players in crucial moments throughout games last season. Lee has the athleticism and hitting ability that would make an instant impact on the Dolphins defense.
While UCLA's Myles Jack is considered to be the best linebacker prospect in this year's draft, Lee isn't that far behind him when it comes to the overall talent he possesses.
2. Artie Burns, cornerback, Miami
Burns is a speedster who won three Florida state titles in the 110-meter hurdles in high school, but he is a not the typical track star making the transition to football. In 2015, Burns led the ACC in interceptions with six and he would be an excellent selection for the Dolphins if he is available in the second round.
Burns has great size (6-0, 193) to go along with his outstanding body control skills. He also is a solid tackler in the open field.
Burns has a ton of potential, but he needs to improve on his technique as he relied too much on his athletic ability at Miami. With the right coaching, Burns could be a long-time starter in the NFL.
3. Jonathan Bullard, defensive end, Florida
Miami did sign Mario Williams to a two-year deal in March, but he and veteran defensive end Cameron Wake are both in their 30s. The Dolphins need to inject some youth on their defensive line since Olivier Vernon signed with the New York Giants as a free agent last month.
Bullard is a defensive end that would fit the Dolphins’ scheme. He does a great job exploding off the ball while getting into passing lanes to get to the quarterback.
Bullard also did a great job stopping the run while at Florida, something the Dolphins desperately needed a year ago. Miami ranked 28th in rushing defense in 2015, allowing an average of 126 yards per game.
4. Kenneth Dixon, running back, Louisiana Tech
Lamar Miller, Miami's leading rusher each of the past three seasons, signed with the Houston Texans as a free agent and his replacement doesn’t appear to be on the current roster. Jay Ajayi isn't proven and there are concerns about him being an every-down back. Don't be surprised if the Dolphins select Dixon in the second or third round.
As a senior at Louisiana Tech, Dixon rushed for 1,070 yards and 19 touchdowns. Dixon is a physical north-south runner who always keeps his feet moving until defenders bring him down. He also was reliable as a receiver out of the backfield, as his 467 yards receiving and seven touchdown passes indicate.
Dixon's skill set would appear to fit in well with Gase's offense.
5. Maurice Canady, cornerback, Miami
Even if Miami selects a cornerback early in the draft, the team still has a needs a player who can cover in the slot. The Dolphins elected to release Brice McCain, while Bobby McCain and Jamar Taylor aren't exactly players the team can depend on consistently.
Canady is a player Miami could select in the fourth round that has above-average size while having the athletic ability to cover receivers at any position, including in the nickel.
Miami also could use a returner on special teams and Canady could make an immediate impact in that department.
Canady lacks the ideal strength teams would like to see in a cornerback, but that is an area that he can improve on once he makes a roster.
— 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, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
Southern California has always had a flare for the dramatics.
The Trojans named former alum and Steelers legend Lynn Swann as their new Athletic Director, and people were a little confused to say the least. His lack of experience made him a surprise choice for USC, but sometimes it's not what you know, it's who you know.
Once news broke, it's safe to say there was a lot of head scratching.
The University of Self Congratulation does it again! https://t.co/oLgWWIT4bh— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) April 13, 2016
USC is the most predictable freaking athletic department on the planet. Who could’ve guessed they’d hire a famous alum with no experience?— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) April 13, 2016
Did you act? Did you play professional athletics? YOU could be the next AD at Southern Cal.— Eddie Radosevich (@Eddie_Rado) April 13, 2016
Pat Haden drops back, he sees Lynn Swann!— Ted Miller (@TedMillerRK) April 13, 2016
Guess who USC’s next athletic director is? USC does well w/ fame factor. Not so much w/ experience
If OJ hadn't murdered two people, then gotten caught stealing his own stuff, he would totally be #USC's AD today— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) April 13, 2016
There has been a ton of farewells for Kobe Bryant, but Nike just blew them all out of the water.
The Lakers legend gets the proper send-off in a love/hate-filled commercial featuring Phil Jackson, Paul Pierce, and others who haven't been on the best side of Bryant's game-winners.
Sometimes it feels like Charles Barkley is just paid to say outlandish things.
On Inside the NBA, Barkley made it known that he is not picking the Warriors to win the championship. The team could break a regular season record of 72 wins, but that doesn't phase Chuck in the least.
Below is a look at the non-conference games each Big Ten team will play this season, ranking each respective team's slate from toughest to easiest. Keep in mind this season the Big Ten moves to a nine-game conference schedule, which means teams only have three non-conference games to fill as opposed to the four they have had for years.
1. Ohio State
Sept. 10 vs. Tulsa
Sept. 17 at Oklahoma
Ohio State takes the top spot in this year’s non-conference scheduling ranking on the strength of having to go on the road to take on defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma. The Sooners, coincidentally enough, also have the top non-conference schedule among Big 12 programs. The Buckeyes also open at home against the defending MAC champions for a little in-state fun, and Tulsa was a bowl team a year ago too.
2. Michigan State
Sept. 17 at Notre Dame
Oct. 8 vs. BYU
Michigan State has a solid argument for the most difficult non-conference schedule with a road trip to rival Notre Dame in mid-September and an early October matchup at home against stingy BYU, but the Spartans open at home against a cupcake to lose some ground overall compared to the Buckeyes.
Sept. 10 vs. Akron
Sept. 17 vs. Georgia State
Wisconsin arguably has the toughest schedule overall among Big Ten teams, but the non-conference schedule is front-loaded with LSU at Lambeau Field as the season opener. Akron could give Wisconsin a scare, but the Badgers should get through their two home games in non-conference play without too much trouble.
Sept. 10 vs. North Carolina
Sept. 17 vs. Western Michigan
The Lovie Smith era will face a couple of good challenges against last year’s ACC Coastal Division champion North Carolina (who torched the Illini at Chapel Hill a year ago) and feisty Western Michigan out of the MAC. A split in those two alone might be promising for Illinois, but the season opener should be a good walkthrough opportunity.
Sept. 10 vs. Wyoming
Sept. 17 vs. Oregon
The home game against Oregon should be a ton of fun, and it comes at a good time for the Huskers with the Ducks having stepped back a little from their national title contending status in recent years. Two home games against Mountain West opponents will be against teams that combined for five wins last year.
6. Penn State
Sept. 10 at Pittsburgh
Sept. 17 vs. Temple
Penn State renews its rivalry with Pittsburgh on the road in week 2, and the Panthers should be a good test for a new-look Nittany Lions offense. Temple also abused Penn State last year, but the Owls come to State College with a less experienced defense this time around.
Sept. 3 at Washington
Sept. 10 vs. Howard
Sept. 17 vs. New Mexico
Rutgers opens the year on the west coast against a potentially rising and trendy Washington team, but follow that up with favorable home matchups against Howard and New Mexico. Getting to Big Ten play at 2-1 should be expected.
Sept. 10 vs. Illinois State
Sept. 17 vs. Duke
Northwestern may end up being too low on this list if Western Michigan and Duke remain competitive this fall, but for now the Wildcats can sit right here thanks to having Illinois State bog them down. Northwestern also gets all three of these games at home, which should diminish some of the difficulty.
Sept. 10 vs. Cincinnati
Sept. 24 vs. Nevada
Purdue faces some good tests from Cincinnati, a potential American Athletic Conference (AAC) contender, and Nevada, coming off a bowl season. The Boilermakers get each at home, which is a benefit after getting an FCS opponent in the opener. If Darrell Hazell is going to change the narrative, going 2-1 is not an impossible feat for a struggling Purdue program.
Sept. 10 vs. Indiana State
Sept. 24 vs. Colorado State
The Gophers get three home games in non-conference play, and they very well should be thinking of going 3-0 in them. Opening at home against a Pac-12 team is nice, but the Beavers went 2-10 last fall. Colorado State may have hit its peak a couple years ago, but the Rams should still be a threat in late September.
Sept. 10 vs. Iowa State
Sept. 17 vs. North Dakota State
Yes, Iowa does get an FCS opponent on the schedule in mid-September, but it’s North Dakota State. The Bison have won each of the past five FCS national titles and have taken down a handful of FBS opponents in recent years, so this is not one to blink at. The defending Big Ten West champs should manage to pick up two wins against their other non-conference opponents though, and then we’ll see what happens against North Dakota State.
Sept. 10 vs. UCF
Sept. 17 vs. Colorado
Michigan’s schedule helps make it a legitimate Big Ten contender this season, and it begins with a very favorable non-conference slate in Ann Arbor. It begins at home against Hawaii (3-10 in 2015), continues against UCF (0-12) and concludes against Colorado (4-9). This is hardly 1994 Colorado, and the Wolverines could put together a string of early-season blowouts to make a quick rise in the polls, wherever they start. Will they be hollow victories, or confidence boosters for Big Ten play?
Sept. 10 vs. Ball State
Sept. 24 vs. Wake Forest
The Hoosiers open the season on the road against FIU (which actually hosts two Big Ten teams to start the year; see Maryland below), and the non-conference slate follows with two home games against woeful Ball State and Wake Forest. Sure, Indiana plays an ACC team, but the Demon Deacons are the ACC’s Purdue. Indiana should be flying high with a 3-0 record between non-conference contests.
Sept. 9 at FIU
Sept. 17 at UCF
Nobody in the Big Ten has an easier non-conference schedule than the Maryland Terrapins, even with two road games. They begin at home against Howard and then make back-to-back road trips to Florida for games against FIU one week and UCF the next. You can argue those back-to-back trips make this a more difficult non-conference schedule than Indiana’s but playing an FCS opponent at home holds Maryland below Indiana. The Hoosiers also get a bye week to work with, while Maryland gets a short week for its game at FIU and plays three straight before its bye.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com, TheComeback.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
The MLB season is underway, and managers across the game are busy devouring scouting reports and stat sheets, watching pitch counts, calling for sacrifice bunts, and orchestrating double switches in an effort to win games – or, in some cases, to simply keep their jobs.
While the role of a big league manager can be overstated, as in-game strategy isn’t nearly as important to the outcome of a particular game or a full season compared to the level of talent he has at his disposal, one decision can directly impact whether a game is won or lost.
With that in mind, here is a ranking of all 30 MLB managers for 2016.
Note: Career records referenced are through 2015 season
30. Scott Servais, Seattle Mariners
Career Record: 1st season in Seattle
It’s far too early to tell whether or not Servais will be a good or bad manager, but the first-year skipper ranks No. 30 on our list because he has the least amount of experience – and is therefore the most unknown – among this year’s new crop. Servais hasn’t managed at any level, but was chosen by longtime friend and current Seattle general manager Jerry DiPoto to replace Lloyd McClendon to lead the Mariners in 2016. Servais will have the benefit of a talented roster, as well as veteran big league manager Manny Acta on his staff, which should help his transition to the bench.
29. Andy Green, San Diego Padres
Career Record: 1st season in San Diego
Green has never managed in the big leagues, but he has a strong track record for success at the minor league level that includes a Pioneer League title in 2012 with the rookie league Missoula Osprey and two Southern League Manager of the Year awards when he skippered the Double-A Mobile BayBears in 2013 and ‘14, which helped him earn a promotion to third base coach in Arizona. Green, 39, has the toughest hill to climb among first-year managers, but he has a very bright future and could very well shoot up this list in the coming years.
28. Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers
Career Record: 1st season in Los Angeles
There are no easy jobs for a first-time major league manager, but taking over the Los Angeles Dodgers may be one of the toughest. With one of the largest payrolls in baseball, not to mention being located in one of the biggest markets in the country, the pressure is on to win and win now. Of course, that also means that Roberts will have an advantage compared to other first-year managers because the roster is already talented, and the farm system is well stocked.
27. Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers
Career Record: 61-76 (.445), 2nd season in Milwaukee
Called on to replace Ron Roenicke early in the 2015 season, Counsell enters his first full season as the manager of the Brewers. He had never managed, and instead took over after a stint in the club’s front office. Don’t expect Counsell to work miracles in 2016, but he has a strong analytics background that should come in handy as the small-market Brewers rebuild.
26. Bryan Price, Cincinnati Reds
Career Record: 140-184 (.432), 3rd season in Cincinnati
It’s not a good sign when a manager is best known for an expletive-laden blowup at the media, but that’s the case for Price, who enters 2016 following two largely disappointing seasons at the helm of the Reds. Injuries and trades hurt last season, but a 64-98 record (second worst in baseball) was a major disappointment. Entering the last year of his contract and having been handed a roster projected to finish at the bottom of the NL Central, it would be a minor victory if Price lasts the entire season in Cincinnati. It would be a miracle if he hangs on to his job through to the end of the rebuilding cycle.
25. Pete Mackanin, Philadelphia Phillies
Career Record: 90-104 (.464), 2nd season in Philadelphia (37-51)
This is Mackanin’s third stint as a manager in the majors, though he’s never skippered a team through an entire season. In 2005, he spent 26 games on the bench for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and then was the Reds manager for 80 games in ‘07. A member of the Phillies staff since 2008, Mackanin took over for Ryne Sandberg in Philadelphia with 88 games to go last season and was able to make the team more competitive even as the front office traded away veterans and brought up rookies. As a result, Mackanin was offered the opportunity to stay with the rebuilding Phillies and should complete his first full season at the helm.
24. Walt Weiss, Colorado Rockies
Career Record: 208-278 (.428), 4th season in Colorado
One of a manager’s most important responsibilities is handling his pitching staff, and there is no tougher task than doing so in Colorado. Last season, the Rockies posted a 5.04 ERA, which ranked last in the National League. And, despite the presence of one of the best fielders in the game in third baseman Nolan Arenado, Colorado ranked among the worst defensive teams in baseball. The pitching and fielding woes are more of a front office issue than any major shortcomings on the part of Weiss (and the altitude certainly doesn’t help), but the Rockies haven’t had a winning season since 2009. Weiss may need to post a .500 or better record to keep his job.
23. Robin Ventura, Chicago White Sox
Career Record: 297-351 (.459), 5th season in Chicago
While the White Sox have posted disappointing losing records in three straight seasons, Ventura has helped Chicago improve its win total in each of the last two years. However, the club has underachieved and Ventura has been criticized for his in-game strategy – specifically how he has overextended his starting pitchers as a whole, and rookie Carlos Rodon in particular – as well as his team’s inefficiencies in almost every other area. If the White Sox don’t challenge for a playoff spot, the front office may run out of patience with the former star player-turned-manager.
22. Brad Ausmus, Detroit Tigers
Career Record: 164-159 (.508), 3rd season in Detroit
Ausmus looked like a good manager in 2014 when he guided the Tigers to 90 victories in his first season at the helm. Having some of the game’s brightest stars – Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander specifically – certainly helped. However, when Cabrera and Verlander both missed time due to injury in 2015, Ausmus’ reputation took a hit as Detroit limped to a 74-87 finish. A former catcher, Ausmus also has received criticism for the way he handles his pitching staff, especially by leaving starters in too long. Rumored to be on the chopping block late last year, Ausmus survived, but 2016 is a make-or-break campaign.
21. Chip Hale, Arizona Diamondbacks
Career Record: 79-83 (.488), 2nd season in Arizona
Two years ago the Diamondbacks won just 64 games – the fewest in baseball - and entered the 2015 season with largely the same roster and understandably modest expectations. However, Hale helped to give the club a jolt in his first year as manager, as the team improved to 79-83. He has a quick trigger with pitchers (particularly with relievers) and bunts more than some would prefer, but Hale pushed many of the right buttons last year, and with an improved roster, Arizona could contend in the NL West this season.
20. Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays
Career Record: 80-82 (.494), 2nd season in Tampa Bay
Anyone would have had a difficult task replacing Joe Maddon in Tampa, but Cash did as well as could be expected in his first season as the manager of the Rays. In fact, Cash won more games in his first season (80) than Maddon (61), and even improved Tampa Bay’s record by three wins compared to Maddon’s final year (77) with the Rays. The youngest manager (38) in the majors, Cash showed great instincts for the job while dealing with injuries to a thin pitching staff and a couple of puzzling late summer trades. He has a bright future ahead of him.
19. Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves
Career Record: 701-664 (.513), 6th season in Atlanta (425-385)
Many things have changed over the past two years as the Braves entered a full teardown and rebuild. However, Gonzalez returns for his sixth season on the bench after succeeding the legendary Bobby Cox. It’s never easy to replace a Hall of Famer, and Gonzalez has taken a lot of heat from fans during his tenure, specifically for the way Atlanta has struggled down the stretch – dating back to an historic collapse in his first season in 2011.
But, Atlanta’s 2015 breakdown wasn’t Gonzalez’ fault as injuries and trades took their toll. The Braves got off to a surprisingly strong start last year, and were 42-42 after 84 games, which earned Gonzalez a contract extension, but working with a depleted roster, Gonzalez and the Braves went 25-53 the rest of the way. With the franchise still in transition, expectations are modest for 2016, but Cox and the rest of the front office appear content to keep Gonzalez in the fold over the full rebuilding effort.
18. Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins
Career Record: 83-79 (.512), 2nd season in Minnesota
Molitor’s first season as a big league manager was a surprising success. Though the Twins struggled down the stretch, Molitor guided a young club to a strong start – a 50-40 record through 90 games – and secured the first winning season for the franchise since 2010 after four straight campaigns of 92 losses or more. Players respect Molitor’s Hall of Fame playing career, and he’s done a good job of relating to a young clubhouse while also embracing much of the analytics popular with small-market front offices.
17. A.J. Hinch, Houston Astros
Career Record: 175-199 (.468), 2nd season in Houston (86-76)
Hinch’s second opportunity to manage at the big league level went much better than his first, when he left the Arizona front office to lead the Diamondbacks, only to be fired after 212 games without the benefit of a full season. Last year, Hinch was tabbed to succeed Bo Porter in Houston. Hinch utilized his assets – including a Cy Young winner, a strong bullpen and talented, young lineup – well and immediately helped the Astros climb out of the AL West cellar to claim a Wild Card spot earlier than almost anyone anticipated.
16. Don Mattingly, Miami Marlins
Career Record: 446-363 (.551), 1st season in Miami
Believe it or not, the Los Angeles Dodgers never won three straight NL West titles until Mattingly came along, yet he never appeared fully comfortable in Dodger blue and decided to walk away at the end of last season. He wound up in Miami, and can hopefully give some stability to a franchise that has gone through eight skippers in five seasons, including last year’s somewhat embarrassing experiment with general manager Dan Jennings swapping his executive role for a uniform. Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez give Mattingly two remarkable building blocks, but time will tell whether or not he can turn the Marlins into a consistent winner without the huge payroll he benefitted from in Los Angeles.
15. Jeff Banister, Texas Rangers
Career Record: 88-74 (.543), 2nd season in Texas
2015 AL Manager of the Year
Banister inherited a Rangers team that lost 94 games in 2014. The first-year manager didn’t get off to a sparkling start with the club, which went just 9-16 start in its first 25 games and sat nine games out of first place in the AL West on July 22, but Banister helped turn the club around and win the division with a red-hot 45-25 finish. As a result, Banister was named AL Manager of the Year. It was just the fifth time in history that a first-year manager received the honor.
14. John Farrell, Boston Red Sox
Career Record: 400-410 (.494), 4th season in Boston (246-240)
2013 World Series champion (Red Sox)
It’s difficult to get a read on Farrell. One of just six active managers to win a World Series ring as a skipper, Farrell has posted three losing records in his other three years in Boston, and also failed to finish above .500 in his two seasons with the Blue Jays. Last year, Farrell missed time as he underwent cancer treatment and the team played its best under bench coach Torey Lovullo, posting a 20-15 record after Farrell took leave on Aug. 25. Lovullo, who signed a two-year contract extension over the winter, is the obvious heir apparent should Farrell’s health continue to be an issue, or if the team underachieves again under his watch.
13. John Gibbons, Toronto Blue Jays
Career Record: 557-542 (.507), 9th season in Toronto
Gibbons led the Blue Jays to the AL East title in 2015, which was the first division title and playoff appearance for the franchise since back-to-back World Series wins in 1992-93. In his ninth season on the bench in Toronto (and in his second stint as skipper), Gibbons benefitted greatly from the acquisitions of Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowititzki and David Price (as well as the development of sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in earlier years). However, he also helped groom a young crop of talented contributors such as Kevin Pillar, Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez to get Toronto over the hump.
12. Bob Melvin, Oakland Athletics
Career Record: 886-862 (.507), 6th season in Oakland (393-354)
2007 NL Manager of the Year (Diamondbacks)
2012 AL Manager of the Year (A’s)
Despite last season’s disappointing 68-94 season, Melvin was given a two-year contract extension through the 2018 season and remains one of the most respected managers in the game. Last season’s team struggled more from a lack of talent from trades gone wrong – specifically the one that shipped eventual AL MVP Josh Donaldson to Toronto – than Melvin forgetting how to manage. A true extension of the front office, Melvin works well with GM Billy Beane and is quite capable of guiding Oakland back to the right side of .500 – so long as Beane and the rest of the decision-makers give him enough to work with.
11. Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals
Career Record: 1,671-1,504 (.526), 1st season in Washington
1993, ’97, 2000 NL Manager of the Year (Giants)
Baker has had some success as a first-year manager. In 1993, Baker’s first season as a major league skipper, he guided the Giants to 103 wins. He also led the Cubs to 88 victories in his first season in Chicago, and though he got off to a much slower start in Cincinnati (74 wins in 2008), Baker eventually turned the Reds into contenders in the NL Central and claimed two division titles while managing the club to 90 or more wins three times in six seasons.
Though Baker wasn’t the Nationals’ first choice (Bud Black was offered the job, but reportedly turned down a low ball, one-year contract), he could turn out to be the right choice. Baker has a history of overseeing superstars in tough clubhouses, which might come in handy in Washington. And, though Baker has faced his fair share of criticism over the years, he has a winning history and is expected to be an improvement over Matt Williams when it comes to managing within the game. The hope is that Baker can help the talented Nationals reach their full potential.
10. Terry Collins, New York Mets
Career Record: 838-850 (.496), 6th season in New York (394-416)
Collins has long been seen as a good, but not great manager. But, after overseeing four consecutive losing seasons with the Mets, Collins turned the corner by guiding New York to the World Series in 2015. As a result, Collins earned a contract extension. Great players have a big impact in making a manager look good, and as long as Collins has the benefit of the most talented starting rotation in baseball at his disposal, he’ll continue to be one of the top 10 skippers in the game.
9. Ned Yost, Kansas City Royals
Career Record: 925-971 (.488), 7th season in Kansas City (468-469)
2015 World Series champion (Royals)
It’s very rare for any manager to survive a complete rebuilding process and come through on the other side with a world championship. However, Yost did exactly that with the Royals. Yost, who oversaw three losing seasons from 2010-12 before helping the club post a winning record in each of the last three years, also did it while being often criticized by Royals fans and baseball analysts for riding his starting position players too hard, and pulling his starting pitchers too quickly. Of course, things have worked out very well as Kansas City has won two consecutive AL pennants and won it all in 2015.
8. Joe Girardi, New York Yankees
Career Record: 813-636 (.557), 9th season in New York (735-561)
2006 NL Manager of the Year (Marlins)
2009 World Series champion (Yankees)
The Yankees haven’t been to the postseason since 2012, yet Girardi seemingly has more job security than his predecessor, Joe Torre, ever did. Part of the reason is that Girardi has been able to lead New York to a winning record in each of his eight seasons on the bench in the Bronx despite being handed some of the weakest rosters in recent franchise history. In 2015, the skipper received great praise for handling the club’s pitching staff – much as he did as a longtime catcher. Of course, the longer the Yankees go without a World Series title, the more heat Girardi will likely face from fans.
7. Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels
Career Record: 1,416-1,176 (.546), 17th season in Los Angeles
2002, ’09 AL Manager of the Year
2002 World Series champion
Few managers are able to survive clashes with the club general manager, but Scioscia – who has been at the helm for the Angels for 17 consecutive seasons, which gives him the longest-running tenure among his peers – outlasted Jerry DiPoto last summer. DiPoto was actually the third general manager of the Scioscia era, which includes a World Series title and seven trips to the postseason (though only one over the past six years).
An old-school manager whose resistance to advanced analytics was a factor in the tug-of-war with DiPoto, Scioscia has always helped himself by putting together a strong staff, and he’s also long been one of the best at helping groom his coaching staff for managing opportunities. Two more potential candidates return this year in Bud Black and Ron Roenicke.
6. Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals
Career Record: 375-273 (.577), 5th season in St. Louis
The Cardinals are arguably the most consistent franchise in MLB, and Matheny has been a big part of that consistency over the past five seasons. Matheny has guided the Cardinals to the postseason in each of his first four seasons on the bench – a first in big league history. He helped the club win the National League pennant in 2013 and won 100 games last season, giving St. Louis the best record in baseball, as well as a third straight NL Central title. During that span, the 46-year-old Matheny has utilized a young and ever-evolving roster. He’s not perfect, and has drawn criticism from the analytics community for sub-optimal bullpen management, but it’s hard to knock the overall results.
5. Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates
Career Record: 965-1,004 (.490), 6th season in Pittsburgh (431-379)
2013 NL Manager of the Year (Pirates)
An old-school manager at heart, Hurdle may have changed more over the last four seasons than any other manager in baseball. Hurdle has embraced the front office’s desires to capitalize on its meager payroll capabilities by relying heavily on analytics – particularly on defense – to snap a 20-year string of losing. Now, the Pirates are on a different kind of streak: the club has made three consecutive trips to the playoffs.
Combined with his strong presence in the clubhouse, and his history of success in Pittsburgh and previously Colorado (where he led the Rockies to the World Series), Hurdle is one of the top five managers in the big leagues.
4. Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles
Career Record: 1,340-1,242 (.519), 7th season in Baltimore (461-409)
1994 (Yankees), 2004 (Rangers), ‘14 (Orioles) AL Manager of the Year
Showalter has had success in each of his four stops as a skipper, having earned Manager of the Year honors with three separate clubs and winning 100 games with the Diamondbacks in 1999. In Baltimore, Showalter helped the O’s snap a streak of 14 straight losing seasons with a 93-win campaign in 2012 and a trip to the postseason. Baltimore hasn’t had a losing season since, but was dangerously close at 81-81 last year. Showalter is one of the best in baseball when it comes to handling a bullpen, and he has a reputation for extreme attention to detail that helps his teams overachieve on the field.
3. Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians
Career Record: 1,287-1,142 (.530), 4th season in Cleveland (258-227)
2013 AL Manager of the Year (Indians)
2004, ’07 World Series champion (Red Sox)
Francona suffered through four losing seasons as the manager of the Phillies from 1997-2000, but earned a reputation as one of the best skippers in baseball with the Red Sox – and rightly so. In his first season in Boston, Francona and the Red Sox broke through for the franchise’s first World Series title since 1918, and added another three seasons later.
Francona fell out of favor in 2011 despite never winning fewer than 89 games with the club and after a year off landed in Cleveland where he promptly guided the Indians to their first winning season and playoff appearance in six years. Though the Tribe have posted dwindling win totals over the past two years, Francona has the Indians in position to make it back to the postseason in 2016.
2. Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants
Career Record: 1,702-1,682 (.503), 10th season in San Francisco (751-707)
1996 NL Manager of the Year (Padres)
2010, ’12, ’14 World Series champion (Giants)
A surefire future Hall of Famer, Bochy has more World Series titles than any other active manager in baseball and he’s only now capping his first decade on the bench in San Francisco. Prior to joining the Giants, Bochy led the Padres to the 1998 NL pennant and won three NL West titles in 12 years. While he has had plenty of talent at his disposal, including Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, Bochy also has a tendency to do less with more by getting the most out of his young players and is a master when it comes to managing a bullpen.
1. Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs
Career Record: 878-794 (.526), 2nd season in Chicago
2008, ’11 AL Manager of the Year (Rays)
2015 NL Manager of the Year (Cubs)
With an out-of-the-box approach to the job by utilizing the talent at his disposal creatively in the lineup and in the field, Maddon helped turn the Tampa Bay Rays from a stumbling expansion franchise into a formidable contender in the American League. In his first year in Chicago, Maddon quickly helped the Cubs win 20 more games in 2015 than they did the previous season, winning NL Manager of the Year honors in the process.
Maddon has more talent at his disposal thanks a Cubs front office that is forward thinking like the Rays but with much, much deeper pockets. With a young, star-studded roster guided by Maddon, the sky is the limit for the Cubs in 2016 and beyond.
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
(Joe Maddon photo courtesy of Getty Images)
It's always tough when you're a great NBA player who didn't win a championship.
While Tracy McGrady and Robert Horry were on ESPN, something awkward happened. Horry, who won 7 rings, was asked if he could loan T-Mac one of them since he never won one.
Horry's response, "Nah, dog you gotta earn it."
T-Mac's face after that was perhaps the saddest thing you'll see on television this year.
It was harsh but it's not that much worse than when McGrady went on television wearing a suit looking like he stole it from Shaq's closet.
Arian Foster may be a big star to us, but on this day he was just a guy trying to do something nice for his mom.
On the set of HBO's "Ballers", Foster got to chat with The Rock and even got him to send a video to his mom who's a big fan of his. The best shout out she could ever receive.
A video posted by feeno (@arianfoster) on
Upon seeing the video, her reaction was priceless. She did her best to play it cool but couldn't hold back any longer. No one blames you, Mama Foster.
A video posted by feeno (@arianfoster) on
She's set for the next 3 Mother's Days.
In light of Saints legend Will Smith's death, more people are speaking out about the plight of New Orleans.
Tyrann Mathieu now plays for the Cardinals, but has strong ties to the city. Having grown up there, Mathieu went to LSU and now says he can't even go back there for days at a time because of how dangerous it is. The Cardinals star went on a mini-twitter rant after hearing news of Smith's death, calling the suspect a "coward," and is now receiving death threats because of it.
Changing an already good-looking uniform can be a recipe for disaster.
Clemson's uniforms have always been a fan favorite so you might be thinking, what could they do to improve it? The answer is tipping their hats to the old-school look while keeping it modern at the same time. Genius.
Bigger numbers and subtle changes to the Tiger paw are the highlights of the change.
Recreating history is what the Tigers are going for, and with this new look they might do just that.
Age is just a number according to Nick Saban.
The Alabama coach is just as young as he feels. On paper, he's 64, going 65 in October, and says that other coaches are using his age against him when it comes to recruiting.
"I'm not looking to get out," Saban told ESPN. "I'm really not, even though I know that's going to start being talked about more now. What I have noticed is that it's the first time people are starting to say to recruits, 'He won't be there the whole time you're there,' because of my age. Does that really impact your ability to stay good? I don't know. But if it did, it would make you say, 'Well, what's up with this?' My philosophy is that I'm going to be here for as long as I feel I can be effective, impact the players, help them be more successful in life and continue to have a successful program."
Saban and Alabama have been one in the same for a long time now, and that's the way he sees it in the near future.
"I think you get to station in your life, whether it's family or relationships, a combination of all the above, that you just feel like you're entrenched," Saban continued. "You can't even visualize being somewhere else, and that's where I am right now."
As long as Saban can be effective with the Tide, he'll be sticking around. Judging by the last championship, that could be a while.
The true measure of a college football team's strength of schedule cannot be determined until the regular season approaches its end. That said, some schedules stand out as obviously better than others before a game is ever played.
The 2016 college football season opens with one of the best single days in the sport's history, which sets a fitting tone for the fall to follow. Some of the most likely College Football Playoff contenders face the sport's most difficult schedules.
The most difficult schedule in the 2016 college football season, if not one of the single most treacherous slates in recent memory, welcomes Clay Helton to his first campaign as USC's full-time head coach.
The Trojans open with defending national champion Alabama, end with rival Notre Dame and draw the most challenging of all Pac-12 Conference slates. USC sees North division opponents Stanford and Washington both on the road.
Bob Stoops has ample opportunity to reinforce his "Big Game" nickname in 2016. The docket opens with a bang in H-Town, where the Sooners face reigning Peach Bowl champion and likely preseason top 20 opponent Houston in an in-name-only neutral-field contest at NRG Stadium in Houston.
The Houston game may not get the buzz it deserves by virtue of the Sooners hosting Ohio State a couple weeks later, but the Cougars are dangerous. Just ask Florida State.
One of the two best non-conference slates in all of college football is simply a prelude to the Big 12's nine-game round-robin.
The Badgers could call it a season at the midway point, and would have already played a more taxing schedule than most of the nation. Wisconsin opens with LSU at Lambeau Field, gets 2015 bowl participants Akron and Georgia State to round out non-conference play, then jumps into the Big Ten season with Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa all in succession.
Three of those games are on the road.
It eases up ever-so-slightly on the back-half of the Badgers' schedule, but not before dates with Nebraska and Northwestern in Big Ten West competition.
4. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish open 2016 on the national stage with a rare Sunday game at Texas.
Notre Dame will rarely exit that stage, playing high-profile dates against historic rivals Michigan State, Stanford, Navy and USC, and drawing Duke and Miami as part of its ACC affiliation.
Stanford's played some of the more ambitious schedules in college football of late, and 2016 is no exception. After opening with the Big 12's Kansas State, the Cardinal jump into Pac-12 Conference action immediately.
Customary California crossovers against USC and UCLA highlight Stanford's matchups with the South, while trips to both Oregon and Washington should be for North supremacy. Tucked amid the drive to repeat in the Pac-12 is the annual contest against Notre Dame.
6. Ohio State
A trip to Oklahoma in the non-conference schedule looms large, but Ohio State draws quality teams from the Group of Five in Tulsa and Bowling Green. The latter beat two Big Ten opponents a season ago.
The Big Ten East looks to be loaded, and the Buckeyes must travel to both Michigan State and Penn State. Divisional crossovers with Nebraska and at Wisconsin only add to a meaty schedule.
7. Florida State
Juxtapose Florida State's recent run of success out of the ACC against the oh-so-prevalent chest-thumping emanating from SEC country. It's only right these two, proud sides would meet in a collision course.
Florida State opens with the SEC's Ole Miss, then concludes the regular season against the conference's defending East division champion, Florida. Upstart South Florida also looms on the non-conference slate.
In the ACC, Florida State draws Miami and Louisville on the road, and hosts Clemson in a late-season showdown that could have College Football Playoff implications -- again.
A cross-country trek to face a rising Washington team opens Rutgers' challenging 2016 season appropriately enough.
The Scarlet Knights have just five road games, but they are doozies. In addition to the visit to Husky Stadium, Rutgers goes to Ohio State and Michigan State. The Buckeyes and Spartans headline an all-around deep and challenging Big Ten East, wherein Rutgers looks to be the low team heading into 2016.
9. Kansas State
Opening at defending Rose Bowl champion Stanford kicks off K-State's grueling road itinerary. In Big 12 Conference play, the Wildcats travel to Oklahoma, Baylor, West Virginia and TCU.
That's one of the most brutal road schedules in college football, and demonstrates the true challenge of the Big 12's round-robin schedule.
Oregon's visit to Lincoln highlights the Nebraska non-conference season, but the real fun of the Cornhuskers' 2016 slate begins in the back half.
Nebraska draws one of the nation's most brutal stretches, going to Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa in three of its final five contests.
The Crimson Tide's season opener against USC headlines a loaded Week 1, and sends Alabama into a schedule dotted with several tough tests away from Tuscaloosa.
While the rest of the non-conference schedule is truly meh -- Nick Saban's alma mater, Kent State, and customary late-season FCS opponent Chattanooga join Western Kentucky -- the SEC schedule more than makes up for it.
The rematch with Ole Miss comes on the road early in the season, the road game at Tennessee is back on the third Saturday in October, and the always difficult trip to LSU kicks off November.
Auburn doesn't leave the Plains until Oct. 8. In that time, however, the Tigers host Clemson, LSU and Texas A&M.
After that challenging, early-season stretch, Auburn gets to spend much of its second half of the campaign on the road. The Tigers go to Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama all in the final weeks of the regular season.
Return dates against Notre Dame and at Cal make for one of the nation's better non-conference dockets. If the Longhorns open with two losses, as they did against the same two opponents a year ago, the nine-game Big 12 schedule gets especially vexing.
Texas benefits from drawing some of the more daunting conference foes at home -- Baylor and TCU, for example -- but opening with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could send the Longhorns into a tumultuous final half of the campaign.
A trek to Australia to play Hawaii kicks off Cal's 2016 football odyssey.
The Golden Bears host Texas later in the non-conference season, but a trip to defending Mountain West Conference champion San Diego State offers plenty of intrigue.
Cal's Pac-12 slate starts with an unknown in Arizona State, but ramps up on the back end over a stretch that includes Oregon, USC, Washington, Stanford and Washington State.
Credit BYU athletic department brass for cultivating a schedule not only worthy of a power-conference program, but one more daunting than that which most power teams will face.
BYU opens with Arizona, the first of three Pac-12 South opponents on the slate in September. The Cougars mix it up with foes from the SEC (Mississippi State), Big Ten (Michigan State) and Big 12 (West Virginia) -- not to mention quality Group of Five matchups with Boise State, Toledo and Cincinnati.
Even Southern Utah, the lone FCS opponent on the docket, made the playoffs a season ago.
UCLA hits the road twice for major, out-of-conference tests, first at Texas A&M, and later at BYU. Jim Mora's Bruins will certainly be battle-tested entering a wide-open Pac-12 South race -- and they'll need it.
Though UCLA misses out on tough crossovers like Oregon and Washington, the Bruins must travel to Washington State. They get Stanford, Utah and USC at home, but don't sleep on a road trip to Colorado late in the season.
17. Texas A&M
Texas A&M played some thoroughly unimpressive non-conference schedules its first few years after joining the SEC, but ramped it up last year with a neutral-field date against Arizona State. This year, UCLA visits the Lone Star State from Pac-12 country.
These Pac-12 crossovers add an element of intrigue to an Aggie schedule already posing challenges inherent in the SEC West. Texas A&M goes to Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State this year, and draws SEC East favorite Tennessee in a cross-divisional showdown at Kyle Field.
18. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech's non-conference schedule ranks among the nation's very best. The Hokies travel to Notre Dame in November for the marquee matchup in this year's ACC affiliation for the Fighting Irish, but a September date with Tennessee promises to command even more attention -- record-setting attention, even.
Virginia Tech's matchup with Tennessee at Bristol Motor Speedway is expected to draw an American attendance record. The Hokies' performance against a Volunteer bunch expected to contend for the SEC crown will set the tone for Justin Fuente's first season succeeding legendary Frank Beamer.
In the ACC, Virginia Tech avoids both Florida State and Clemson, but draws North Carolina, Duke and Pitt on the road.
19. Ole Miss
Opening in Orlando against Florida State, Ole Miss dives headlong into arguably the most difficult September in all of college football.
The Rebels see Florida State and Alabama in the span of just three weeks. That's a College Football Playoff-caliber docket before the summer officially ends.
The meat of Ole Miss' road itinerary comes midway through the campaign, with trips to LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M all tucked into the SEC slate from October to mid-November.
20. Michigan State
The renewal of Michigan State's historic rivalry with Notre Dame highlights the reigning Big Ten champion's non-conference schedule, but don't overlook an intriguing date with BYU.
Around two dates against independent opponents (Notre Dame, BYU), Michigan State also plays a tough league docket. Michigan State benefits from drawing many of its more challenging dates at home; Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan all visit East Lansing.
Clemson's Week 1 visit to SEC country for a tiger-tastic showdown with Auburn kicks off last year's national runner-up's new campaign in style.
Clemson's performance on the Plains will set the tone for its pursuit of another College Football Playoff berth. With Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson back in the mix, the Tigers will be preseason favorites to do just that. However, they have to navigate a map that includes road trips to Georgia Tech and Florida State.
Like many of its SEC West brethren, LSU plays three non-conference games that are less than awe-inspiring. The one that is, however, is truly so. The Tigers' journey to Green Bay to face Wisconsin in Big Ten country is landmark.
LSU bookends its season opener, which is effectively a road game, by visiting Texas A&M in Week. The road contest to close out vs. the Aggies comes just a few weeks removed from a double-dip of Alabama at home and Arkansas on the road.
Several decades ago, Syracuse had an intense rivalry against Week 1 opponent and 2015 FCS Playoffs participant Colgate. The Raiders and Orange are in much different places now, and the reigning Patriot League champions are likely the least challenging team on Syracuse's tough schedule.
The rest of the non-conference slate includes a neutral site game against Notre Dame (in East Rutherford, N.J.) and a home date with South Florida, which should contend for the American Athletic East division crown in 2016.
Syracuse travels to Clemson in conference play, the start of a daunting, four-game stretch to close out the campaign. NC State, Florida State and Pitt also are tap for the Orange in November.
24. Iowa State
Matt Campbell gets to see plenty of the Big 12 in his first half-season as Iowa State head coach. The Cyclones play away from Jack Trice Stadium against TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas before their bye week in mid-October.
In that same, first-half stretch, Iowa State travels to Iowa and gets Baylor at home. Even Week 1 opponent, FCS counterpart Northern Iowa, has been a problem for the Cyclones in recent years. It could be a rocky first two months for the new regime.
Houston has a prime opportunity to make the Group of Five's first case for the College Football Playoff, opening the season in an ostensible home game against reigning Big 12 champion Oklahoma.
Of course, the Cougars have zero margin for error if they're to crash the Playoff party. That means winning a late-season showdown with what should be an improved Louisville team, and drawing American Athletic Conference contenders Cincinnati and Navy on the road.
Even as Villanova is still basking in the glow of its first national championship since 1985 and fans are catching their breath after a wild NCAA Tournament, it’s still a good time to start looking ahead.
This upcoming college basketball season is a little bit different for those of us in prediction land, as we have even less of a picture than we’ve had in recent years.
The NCAA returned to its old stance regarding the NBA Draft, allowing underclassmen to start the evaluation process and return to school, as long as they do not hire an agent.
Many freshmen, sophomores and juniors have already ended their eligibility by hiring agents, but many others are leaving us playing the waiting game as they work through the possibilities.
That said, the most important news for the top 25 came from a player staying in school. Grayson Allen didn’t even test his prospects in the NBA Draft, meaning a National Player of the Year favorite will return to school. He’ll join a star-studded recruiting class that makes Duke the easy call as preseason No. 1 at this point.
Here’s a snapshot of the landscape for 2016-17 — at least until the deadline for underclassmen to return to school on May 25.
1. Duke (25-11, 11-7 ACC)
Departures: F Brandon Ingram, F Marshall Plumlee, G Derryck Thornton
Wild Card: F Amile Jefferson
New Arrivals: F Harry Giles, G Frank Jackson, F Jayson Tatum
Buzz: The return of National Player of the Year contender Allen solidifies Duke as the preseason No. 1. The arrival of the No. 2 recruiting class gives Duke six five-star prospects on its roster, not including Allen.
2. Kentucky (27-9, 13-5 SEC)
Departures: G Jamal Murray, F Skal Labissiere, F Alex Poythress, G Tyler Ulis
New Arrivals: F/C Bam Adebayo, G De’Aaron Fox, F Wenyan Gabriel, G Malik Monk
Buzz: Expect more the same at Kentucky. Ulis, Murray and Labissiere are headed to the draft. They’ll be replaced by the top recruiting class in the country. Fox and Monk are top-five talents in an elite 2016 class.
3. Villanova (35-5, 16-2 Big East)
Key Returners: G Phil Booth, F Mikal Bridges, G Jalen Brunson, F Kris Jenkins
Departures: G Ryan Arcidiacono, C Daniel Ochefu
Wild Card: G Josh Hart
New Arrivals: C Omari Spellman
Buzz: The Wildcats lose the inside-out duo of Arcidiacono and Ochefu. Brunson, a five-star guard in 2015, will see more time at the point, and Bridges flashed his potential in the run to the title. If Hart returns, Jay Wright's team will be in the mix again.
4. Kansas (33-5, 15-3 Big 12)
Departures: F Perry Ellis, G/F Brannen Greene, G Wayne Selden, F Jamari Traylor
Wild Cards: F Carlton Bragg, F Cheick Diallo
New Arrivals: C Ukoka Azubuike, F Josh Jackson, F Mitch Lightfoot
Buzz: Losing veterans like Ellis, Selden and Traylor is a concern, but Kansas is able to reload as well as any program in the country. The backcourt will lead the way, but KU will need its young frontcourt to contribute immediately. Adding five-star freshman Josh Jackson a week after the title game was a major get.
5. Oregon (31-7, 14-4 Pac-12)
Departures: F Dwayne Benjamin, F Chris Boucher, F Elgin Cook
Wild Cards: G/F Dillon Brooks, G Tyler Dorsey
New Arrivals: F Kavel Bigby-Williams
Buzz: Brooks will be a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate after averaging 16.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists last season. Dorsey was an unsung hero as a freshman. If both pull out of the draft as expected, Oregon is the Pac-12 favorite and a Final Four contender.
6. Virginia (29-8, 13-5 ACC)
Departures: G Malcolm Brogdon, F Anthony Gill, C Mike Tobey
New Arrivals: G Kyle Guy, G Ty Jerome, F Austin Nichols
Buzz: Losing Brogdon is a major blow on both ends of the court. Gill’s departure shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Virginia under Tony Bennett has replaced major players before, so the system should be trusted. This is Perrantes’ team now, but Nichols, a former Memphis Tiger, could be the most important transfer in the country.
7. North Carolina (33-7, 14-4 ACC)
Departures: F Brice Johnson, G Marcus Paige
New Arrivals: C Tony Bradley, G Seventh Woods
The national runners-up have enough veterans returning to contend, but the Tar Heels will need to find a new guy who can take over a game late with Johnson and Paige gone. Jackson is the next man up.
8. Xavier (28-6, 14-4 Big East)
Departures: G Remy Abell, F James Farr
Wild Cards: G Trevon Bluiett, F Jalen Reynolds
New Arrivals: F RaShid Gaston
Buzz: Bluiett’s decision on whether or not to enter the draft will determine if Xavier is a Big East title contender again or merely a solid NCAA Tournament team.
9. Indiana (27-8, 15-3 Big Ten)
Departures: F Max Bielfeldt, G Yogi Ferrell, G Nick Zeisloft
Wild Cards: F OG Anunoby, F Troy Williams
New Arrivals: G Curtis Jones, F De’Ron Davis, G Josh Newkirk
Bryant’s decision to stay for his sophomore year is huge. If Anunoby and Williams make the same call, Indiana could be the Big Ten favorite. Newkirk, a Pittsburgh transfer, takes over Ferrell’s point guard spot.
10. Michigan State (29-6, 13-5 Big Ten)
Departures: F Matt Costello, G Bryn Forbes, F Denzel Valentine
Wild Cards: F Deyonta Davis
New Arrivals: F Miles Bridges, G Josh Langford, G Cassius Winston, F Nick Ward
Buzz: Few teams lose more than Michigan State’s Valentine, Costello and Forbes. The Spartans’ backcourt of Nairn and Harris should emerge next season, and Tom Izzo brings in four top-50 freshmen.
11. Arizona (25-9, 12-6 Pac-12)
Departures: F Ryan Anderson, C Kaleb Tarczewski, F Mark Tollefsen, G Gabe York
Wild Card: G/F Terrance Ferguson
New Arrivals: G Rawle Alkins, F Lauri Marrkanen, G Kobi Simmons
Buzz: Trier’s return is key as Arizona replaces veterans Anderson, York and Tarczewski. Three top-50 recruits join a team that should contend in the Pac-12 again.
12. Louisville (23-8, 12-6 ACC)
Departures: F Damion Lee, G Trey Lewis
Wild Card: F/C Chinanu Onuaku
New Arrivals: G Tony Hicks, G/F V.J. King
The draft decision of Onuaku will loom large. If he returns, he could average a double-double. Former Penn guard Hicks will fill the void left by Lewis alongside Snider and Mitchell.
13. Wisconsin (22-13, 12-6 Big Ten)
Key Returners: F Vitto Brown, F Ethan Happ, F Nigel Hayes, G Bronson Koenig, G Zak Showalter
Buzz: The Badgers went 13-4 after Jan. 12, upsetting Xavier in the second round. Everyone returns from a team that will have all of 2016-17 under head coach Greg Gard.
14. Texas (20-13, 11-7 Big 12)
Departures: G Javan Felix, C Prince Ibeh, F Connor Lammert, C Calvin Ridley
Wild Card: G Isaiah Taylor
New Arrivals: G Andrew Jones
Buzz: If Taylor returns to school, he’ll be the senior leader on a team with up-and-coming talent in sophomores Davis, Mack and Roach. Despite the loss to Northern Iowa in the NCAA Tournament, Texas finished the season in fine form, beating Oklahoma and West Virginia down the stretch.
15. Syracuse (23-14, 9-9 ACC)
Departures: G Trevor Cooney, F Michael Gbinije
New Arrivals: G Tyus Battle
Buzz: Syracuse will try to ride the wave of its surprising Final Four run. Lydon and Richardson need to carry their star status through the entirety of the season.
16. SMU (25-5, 13-5 American)
Key Returners: G Sterling Brown, G Shake Milton, G Ben Moore
Departures: F Markus Kennedy, G Nic Moore, F Jordan Tolbert
New Arrivals: F Semi Ojeleye
Buzz: The postseason ban is over, and SMU should contend in the American again. Losing Moore leaves a major void at point guard. The arrival of Ojeleye, an import from Duke, keeps Larry Brown’s transfer pipeline moving.
17. USC (21-13, 9-9 Pac-12)
Departures: F Katin Reinhardt
Buzz: USC will return four players who averaged double figures from a team that improved from 3-15 in the Pac-12 to 9-9. The goal in Andy Enfield’s fourth season will be to keep a consistent level of play into February and March.
18. Seton Hall (25-9, 12-6 Big East)
Departures: G Derrick Gordon
Wild Card: G Isaiah Whitehead
New Arrivals: G Myles Powell, G Jevon Thomas
If Whitehead returns, the Big East Tournament champs would bring back all five starters. Powell, a standout shooter, and Thomas, a former starter at Kansas State, will look to fill the void left by Gordon.
19. Oklahoma (29-8, 12-6 Big 12)
Departures: G Isaiah Cousins, G Buddy Hield, F Ryan Spangler
New Arrivals: F Kristian Doolittle, G Kameron McGusty, G Austin Grandstaff
Buzz: Hield’s supporting cast showed its limitations at times last season, so Woodard and Lattin will need to take a step forward. Grandstaff, a transfer from Ohio State, will try to fill the biggest perimeter shooting void in the country.
20. Purdue (26-9, 12-6 Big Ten)
Departures: G Rapheal Davis, C A.J. Hammons
Wild Card: F/C Caleb Swanigan
New Arrivals: G Carsen Edwards
Buzz: Keeping Swanigan is the key piece. His return would mean Purdue returns three of its top four scorers. The freshman Edwards could take over point guard duties.
21. Iowa State (23-12, 10-8 Big 12)
Departures: F Jamel McKay, F Abdel Nader, F Georges Niang
New Arrivals: G Donovan Jackson, F Emmanuel Malou
Buzz: The return of Morris at point guard will give Iowa State a fighting chance in the Big 12. No more Niang lowers the bar. Transfers, this time JUCOs, will continue to play a role.
22. Notre Dame (24-12, 11-7 ACC)
Departures: F Zach Auguste, G Demetrius Jackson
New Arrivals: G Temple Gibbs
Beachem, Colson and Vasturia were all double-digit scorers last season, but losing a point guard and a double-double machine is significant.
23. Gonzaga (28-8, 15-3 West Coast)
Key Returners: G Josh Perkins
Departures: G Kyle Dranginis, G Eric McClellan F Domantas Sabonis, F Kyle Wiltjer
Wild Cards: C Przemek Karnowski
New Arrivals: C Zach Collins, F Johnathan Williams, G Nigel Williams-Goss
Buzz: Gonzaga will be a new-look team from the Wiltjer-Sabonis-Pangos squads of the last two years. Transfers Williams (from Missouri) and Williams-Goss (from Washington) will be a standout inside-out duo.
24. Saint Mary’s (29-6, 15-3 West Coast)
Key Returners: C Evan Fitzner, F Calvin Hermanson, C Jock Landale, G Emmett Naar, F Dane Pineau, G Joe Rahon
Buzz: The Gaels swept Gonzaga during the regular season but didn’t have enough on the non-conference schedule to earn an at-large bid after losing to the Bulldogs in the WCC tourney. With everyone back, Saint Mary’s should make another run.
25. UCLA (15-17, 6-12 Pac-12)
Departures: F/C Tony Parker
New Arrivals: G Lonzo Ball, F T.J. Leaf
Buzz: UCLA’s first losing season since 2010 has Steve Alford feeling the heat. This season will be key to his long-term future in Westwood. With only one notable loss (Parker) and two top-20 recruits arriving, UCLA will have to turn things around immediately.
David Ortiz doesn't show a lot of emotion, but sometimes he just can't help himself.
During the Red Sox home-opener on Monday, the 15-year-old daughter of Big Papi sang the National Anthem and he was the proudest guy on the field.
Face buried in his cap, David Ortiz overwhelmed with emotions as his 15-year old daughter Alex sings the Nat'l Anthem here at Fenway. WOW.— Courtney Fallon (@CourtneyFallon_) April 11, 2016
Cardale Jones is one of probably many student-athletes to be done with the NCAA.
The Ohio State quarterback is ecstatic to be heading into the NFL Draft and far away from the NCAA and its rules that he says, "controlled lives" with its rules.
I'm so happy to be done with the @NCAA and their rules & regulation. They do any & everything to exploited collegiate athletes.— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) April 11, 2016
It's deeper than athletes thinking we should get paid. The @NCAA control our lives with insane and unfair rules.— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) April 11, 2016
Why shouldn't a collegiate athlete be able to use their OWN likeness/brand to benefit themselves but yet the @NCAA can sell there jerseys?— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) April 11, 2016
That's my 2cent on the @NCAA .It's not like that's going to change how the athletes are exploited, even tho 98% of people feel the same way— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) April 11, 2016
Josh Rosen makes his stance on the upcoming election known.
While at the Trump National Golf Club, the UCLA quarterback sported a "F— Trump" cap. Well, that's one vote Donald won't be getting.
A photo posted by Josh Rosen (@josh3rosen) on
The Cubs and Wrigley Field just remind you of old school baseball, but they're putting a new spin on it.
After renovating the outfield bleachers last season, it's the team's locker room that's getting a facelift. It's just the right mix of new and old.
It's a change from the old-school atmosphere of the Cubs, but the guys seem to love it.
My new home!! Amazing new rocker room!! pic.twitter.com/dPoiEaoYhr— David Ross (@D_Ross3) April 11, 2016
It isn't often that an NFL team that finishes 7-9 and doesn't make the playoffs is the talk of the offseason, but the Oakland Raiders have been in the news a lot lately. Oakland has been one of the most active teams in free agency, having already signed linebacker Bruce Irvin, guard Kelechi Osemele, safety Reggie Nelson and cornerback Sean Smith, just to name a few.
While the Raiders have done a lot to address the needs of their team, there are still positions that the team will look to upgrade during the 2016 NFL Draft. Oakland will select No. 14 overall in this year's draft and here are five potential players that would fit perfectly for their team.
1. Vernon Hargreaves III, cornerback, Florida
Yes, the Raiders signed Smith line up on the opposite side of David Amerson, but the team could use another corner to man the slot. Hargreaves would be an excellent fit for the Raiders if he happens to slide to No. 14, especially since former first-round pick D.J. Hayden is entering the final year of his rookie deal.
What Hargreaves lacks in size (5-10, 204) he makes up for with quickness and route recognition. He is also great in man-to-man coverage, as Hargreaves knows how to jam a receiver and change his route at the line of scrimmage.
If Hargreaves is there when the Raiders make their pick in the first round, the team has to jump at the opportunity to add this intriguing talent to their roster.
2. Mackensie Alexander, cornerback, Clemson
There's a good chance Hargreaves won't be there when the Raiders pick, so the team may have to go in a different direction at corner. While many experts have Oakland selecting Eli Apple from Ohio State, Alexander from Clemson would be a better pick.
Like Hargreaves, Alexander isn't tall (5-10), but possesses the quickness and technique required to become a great cornerback. Alexander also is great at anticipating opposing routes. Playing in the slot for Oakland would give him the opportunity to learn how to play in more zone coverages, something he didn't do a lot of at Clemson.
3. Kentrell Brothers, inside linebacker, Missouri
After seeing Curtis Lofton struggle at the inside linebacker position, the Raiders definitely could use an upgrade. While Reggie Ragland will likely be available at No.14, the Raiders could wait until the second round to select a linebacker. If they do wait until the second day of the draft, Kentrell Brothers from Missouri could be a possible target.
Brothers has good size and he is an excellent tackler in the open field. Last season for the Tigers, Brothers recorded 152 tackles, which led the nation. He also averaged 12.7 tackles per game, which also was No. 1 in the country.
While Brothers doesn't have great speed, his tackling ability would fit in well in the Raiders’ defensive scheme.
4. Alex Collins, running back, Arkansas
While Latavius Murray rushed for 1,066 yards and six touchdowns in 2015, the Raiders still finished 28th in the league in rushing (91.1 ypg) and 24th in rushing touchdowns (7).
There are some quality running backs in this year's draft, which include Collins. In 2015, Collins rushed for 1,577 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior for the Razorbacks.
Collins is a strong, north-south runner that won't avoid contact with defenders. He also has the patience to wait for a hole and then explode through it.
Collins appears to be a solid pass-catcher out of the backfield and a decent pass blocker as well. He does need to work on his ball security, as he had 16 career fumbles at Arkansas. Collins would be a great option for the Silver and Black in the third round.
5. Chris Jones, defensive tackle, Mississippi State
Oakland ranked 13th against the run last season, While that's not terrible, it could improve. Jones is a guy that would fit in well with the Raiders’ 3-4 scheme.
In 13 games for the Bulldogs in 2015, Jones recorded 44 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. Because of the season he had, Jones was named a second-team All-American by Pro Football Focus.
Jones has a big (6-6. 310) body and a quick initial first step. He uses his active hands to attack offensive lineman to get through the line.
Jones is still raw in a number of areas, but he can give the Raiders solid snaps in run-stopping situations immediately. He would be a quality pick in the third round for Oakland.
— 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, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
The NCAA: Protector of Student-Athletes Everywhere. At least that’s the tagline they want you to swallow hook, line and sinker while passing a ban on college football satellite camps.
For those of you just tuning in, Big Ten schools such as Michigan and Nebraska were setting up shop in SEC and ACC country. This didn’t sit well with either conference and it didn’t help that Jim Harbaugh used every streamer and firework to make sure the Maize and Blue’s camps were an opportunity athletes couldn’t afford to pass up.
The Pac-12, Big 12, Sun Belt and Mountain West conferences added their votes to the aforementioned duo, hammering the final nail in the coffin by a 10-5 vote.
ESPN’s Brett McMurphy reported that the NCAA’s support of the ban was because of “the colleges’ inability to control their coaches on the recruiting trails. Basically, it would turn summer recruiting into the wild, wild West by allowing all of these staffs to basically go all over the country, specifically into the south to set up these camps.”
Let’s face it, when the SEC shakes its head in disapproval, the people at the head of the table take notice and when it can get a Power Five conference like the ACC to back it up, two heavyweights can’t be ignored.
Alabama’s Nick Saban is against the camps, suggesting that they could start springing up all over in densely populated areas. "It sounds like a pretty ridiculous circumstance for me for something that nobody can really determine [if] it have any value anyway,” he told AL.com
Unfortunately for Saban, the merit of satellite camps has already been determined.
Nebraska signed a young man out of Miami by the name of DiCaprio Bootle. He’ll be joining a plethora of new secondary members this fall and the only reason he’s a member of the Huskers’ roster is because he attended one of the Big Red’s satellite camps.
Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops also expressed disappointment with the decision because without the camps, junior offensive guard Jonathan Alvarez out of Mesquite, Texas, who made 10 starts last season would’ve never been discovered. Interestingly, the Sooners’ own Big 12 conference gave a thumb down to the satellite camps.
Western Kentucky’s Jeff Brohm put what the camps offered best when he said, “We always enjoyed the reach that our satellite camps provided us across the region. They allowed more players to interact not only with our coaches and staff, but to interact with coaches from other programs in our area.”
Of course, the NCAA couldn’t help but show amazing hypocrisy by deregulating text messages in the same meeting. This means any head coach, assistant coach, graduate assistant or intern can bother a recruit literally 24 hours per day.
Yes, you read that correctly. Heaven forbid the Bootles and Alvarezes of the world be discovered when they otherwise wouldn’t, but let already-knowns be bombarded with texts to the point where every recruit will carry a burner phone.
Supposedly this is all going to help coaches not have to work so hard, too. Here’s the cold, hard truth: If a coach wants to win big at the FBS level, they are going to have to work harder than the next man. The NCAA isn’t doing a service to anyone because the next man is already working 18 hours and slamming Red Bulls like he gets paid by the can.
With Twitter, recruits have a firewall. They can choose to talk to whomever they like whether it’s a fan or a coach, but now their cell phone number can be blitzed at 3 a.m., the caller faces no repercussions and the prospect just has to deal with it.
How does this benefit the actual student-athletes at all? It doesn’t.
This was at best a bumbling effort by the NCAA to look like it was leveling the playing field and at worst blatant kowtowing to the SEC and ACC.
At this point one step forward, two steps back would be a refreshing change. This time, the NCAA drunkenly stumbled backwards into a dumpster.
Jordan Spieth had a pretty bad collapse during the 2016 Masters and everyone noticed, but it was what happened after the loss that some people seemed to want to talk about.
ESPN's Mark Schlereth wasn't going to let a chance go by without bringing up Cam Newton and the infamous Super Bowl press conference... from February. Yes, it was a while ago but evidently it's all Schlereth thinks about.
I hope Cam Newton is watching Jordan Spieth's interview right now. To be a true professional you have to be able to face the music— mark schlereth (@markschlereth) April 10, 2016
Seems I struck a nerve with the Cam apologists...Good!— mark schlereth (@markschlereth) April 10, 2016
Schlereth then went on a mini-rant to defend himself, which is never a good idea because he's been accused of not liking Newton in the past.
Dear excuse makers I didn't realize April was exempt month when it comes to learning valuable life lessons.— mark schlereth (@markschlereth) April 11, 2016
You're correct but he should respect men like me who help pave the way, that sacrificed to make the league better https://t.co/Zt1dTHZQEd— mark schlereth (@markschlereth) April 11, 2016
No one can deny Schlereth was a good player in his day, but the arrogance of saying "he should respect men like me" is the kind of thing that makes people not like him. Well, that and the "know-it-all" attitude he displays on ESPN daily.
More than 50,000 showed up at Memorial Stadium on Saturday to watch the Orange take on the White in the annual Clemson Spring Game. With expectations running sky high coming off of last year’s ACC title and coming up short against Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, those in attendance got a look at what head coach Dabo Swinney will have at his disposal in 2016.
Most of the signs were positive coming out of Saturday’s tilt. Here are five thoughts on Clemson five months out from the Sept. 3 season opener against Auburn.
1. Deshaun Watson Looked Good...
And so did backup Nick Schuessler. Everyone knows what Watson can do, so seeing how the reserves performed was more important. Schuessler went 14-of-21 for 133 yards and a touchdown while looking more comfortable than Kelly Bryant, his closest challenger for the No. 2 spot. While Schuessler will never be confused with Watson or Bryant running the ball, he did show some ability in the zone read game. But it was his accuracy and timing in the passing game that set him apart from Bryant.
2. Receivers Not Named Artavis Scott Making Plays
First off, Scott did make things happen. But like Watson, Scott's a given. What was more encouraging were the plays made downfield by his position mates. Hunter Renfrow had a great day with five receptions for 85 yards and the game’s first touchdown. Trevion Thompson’s six catches led both teams. And Ray-Ray McCloud, after averaging just 8.7 yards per catch last season, showed his big-play ability by getting deep and hauling in a 61-yard touchdown pass from Watson.
3. Kendall Joseph
The Clemson defense loses several major contributors and while middle linebacker B.J. Goodson’s departure may fly under the radar nationally, the people wearing orange know how vital he was to the unit’s 2015 success. Joseph is next in line at the Mike position and if Saturday is any indication, he is ready to go. Joseph finished with seven tackles and he not only made plays; he made impactful plays.
4. Cordrea Tankersley Assuming the Top Corner Position
Clemson needs young players to become disruptive members of the secondary. But this team also needs Tankersley to embrace the role as the leader of the defensive backfield and become a shutdown corner. Tankersley had a very good 2015 season, but he also had Mackensie Alexander covering the other side of the field. This year it will be on the senior from Beach Island, S.C., to match up with the opposition’s top target. On Saturday, he showed why the Clemson coaching staff is optimistic that he can do the job. From getting physical on a swing pass early in the game to blanketing Scott on another, Tankersley lived up to expectations.
5. Special Teams Adventures
The third phase of the game was not one of Clemson’s strong suits last fall and Saturday was full of special teams inconsistencies. Greg Huegel made a 31-yard field goal, Alex Spence made one from 21 yards away, and Scott had a couple nice returns. But the opening kickoff flew out of bounds, McCloud had a punt miscue that led to him getting tackled inside the five-yard line, and Spence missed an extra point and a short field goal. The Sept. 3 season opener is a ways away, but Clemson needs to clean up this aspect of its game.
— 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.
The name on the back of the jersey for the Arkansas Razorbacks’ starting quarterback is the same but the guy in the pocket is different going into the 2016 season. Brandon Allen completed his eligibility at the end of the 2015 season after having an All-SEC season but younger brother Austin has stepped up in his new role looking the part so far in spring practices.
The focus of Saturday’s practice was the passing game and Allen shined, completing 15-of-18 attempts for 213 yards with three touchdowns. Allen did a good job of spreading the ball around, hitting tight end Jeremy Sprinkle and wide receivers Keon Hatcher and Dominique Reed. Hatcher caught an 18-yard touchdown from Allen, connected with Reed for a 12-yard strike, while freshman tight end Will Gragg pulled down a 15-yard red zone toss for the third score.
In a post-scrimmage chat with the media, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema gave praise to Allen stating he is “playing well” and “(we) are excited about what he is doing.”
Behind Allen, Rafe Peavey and Ty Storey are battling it out for second-string quarterback. Peavey finished the day 5-of-12 for 112 yards with one touchdown and one interception working with the second-team offense. Storey took reps with both the first- and second-team offenses, going 6-for-10 for 95 yards and a score, which came on a 16- yard fade route with Reed on the receiving end.
The defense struggled much of the game against the first- and second-team offense. To the defense’s credit, linebacker Brooks Ellis and defensive end Deatrich Wise were limited in the scrimmage to keep healthy. Dre Greenlaw, now playing middle linebacker, and Kendrick Jackson were both lauded by Bielema for their strong play in Saturday’s scrimmage and throughout this spring. One positive was the front seven coming up with seven credited sacks through the 100-snap scrimmage.
One of the players picking up a sack was freshman early enrollee 5-star defensive end McTelvin Agim. Agim also was the focus of some negative attention, getting into a couple of scraps with the offense throwing a couple of punches during practice.
Defensive tackle Taiwan Johnson was limited in the scrimmage and defensive end Tevin Beanum did not play after being excused for personal reasons.
The offensive line has been a big concern during the spring, having to replace three starters in the trenches. Dan Skipper has continued to play at right tackle with Frank Ragnow moving from guard to starting center. True sophomore Zach Rogers has been impressive at right guard with Brian Wallace, who missed Saturday’s practice due to concussion symptoms, as his backup. Colton Jackson has taken over at left tackle replacing early NFL Draft entry Denver Kirkland.
The aforementioned Gragg had a great scrimmage, as the redshirt freshman tight recorded four receptions for 44 yards and a touchdown. Lead tight end Sprinkle finished with three catches for 57 yards.
One of the bigger changes on offense is seeing Damon Mitchell move from wide receiver to running back. Mitchell has added about five pounds to his frame, now checking in at 6-foot-2, 216 pounds. He was the second-leading rusher in the scrimmage, behind Kody Walker’s 14 carries for 79 yards with a score, as the converted back had 44 yards on 13 totes. Denzel Evans had 10 carries for 29 yards with a score and Juan Day carried four times for eight yards.
Another big addition to the 2016 Razorbacks has been in the secondary, but it’s on the coaching staff, not the roster. Former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads, per Bielema, is making an instant impact. Bielema called Rhoads a “huge asset” and “a good teacher.” Arkansas’ secondary had trouble stopping the opposition’s passing game in 2015. The Hogs’ focus under Rhoads has been more attention to detail with emphasis on attacking the ball in the air.
The Hogs will wrap up spring practices on April 23 with the Red-White Game. Instead of another 100-snap scrimmage, Bielema is preparing to do a half practice and half scrimmage of about 50 plays depending on the health of his roster.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.
(Austin Allen photo courtesy of www.arkansasrazorbacks.com)
LeBron James is probably the most recognizable guy in the NBA. Off the court, it seems to be a different case.
The Cavaliers star went undercover for Blaze Pizza, a chain he partly owns, to wait on customers and learn the ropes. What he got was something unexpected. One customer even claimed he looked like Heat star Dwyane Wade. Close enough.
NASCAR moves from its shortest, slowest track to one of its fastest this weekend while holding the sport’s first night race of the year. Texas Motor Speedway will play host to both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series, an intermediate oval that should continue the trend of high-quality racing under the new 2016 rules.
A sport that has suffered under continued ratings declines this season saw a slight bump at Martinsville for the first time all year. Can momentum continue during a difficult time slot switch to Saturday night?
2016 Duck Commander 500
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Track: Texas Motor Speedway (Fort Worth, Texas)
Radio: PRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
Who’s at the Front: Kyle Busch
Busch swept both NASCAR events last weekend at a track, Martinsville Speedway, where he had never won. Leading the most laps in both the Cup and Truck races there the 30-year-old reasserted himself atop a grid that’s seen Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson slip ahead during the early part of the 2016 season. Busch also is climbing toward a record no driver has ever accomplished: victories at every NASCAR track on the active schedule. Pocono, Charlotte and Kansas are the three places remaining where Busch hasn’t tasted Victory Lane.
“It's certainly neat to be able to show your diversity and be able to go out there and win at any single style of racetrack that there is,” Busch said. “Whether it comes all this year or whether it takes a few more years to get it all, hopefully I can be here for a little while longer and we can accomplish that.”
Third in the standings, Busch is just five points behind Harvick for the top spot with Johnson sandwiched in between. The trio has won four of the six races thus far in 2016.
Who’s at the Back: Matt Kenseth
The bad luck surrounding Kenseth is almost comical at this point. Part of Toyota’s Joe Gibbs Racing quartet, he’s led 144 laps this season and been in position to win at least two of six races down the stretch, including the sport’s crown jewel: the Daytona 500. But entering the final two turns of that event teammate Denny Hamlin made his move, Kenseth lost control – albeit for just one second - and that minor slip tanked him to 14th at the finish. A similar failure, albeit less dramatic, happened on Martinsville’s final restart where he got muscled from second place on the outside to 15th by the checkered flag. One of the fastest drivers in the sport, as a result has yet to finish higher than seventh all season.
The aforementioned Kenseth, despite his slump still hasn’t lost his giving spirit. As the widow of former FOX announcer Steve Byrnes approaches the one-year anniversary of his death from cancer Kenseth surprised both she (Karen) and her son, Bryson with a replica sword given to winners from Bristol Motor Speedway. Kenseth also presented the Byrnes’ with a framed photo of his No. 20 team in Victory Lane last year holding up signs they created which supported Steve. The gift exchange was part of an event held Tuesday at NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in Charlotte.
Danica Patrick remained vocal about a $20,000 fine she received at Auto Club Speedway for walking onto the racetrack following a crash. The rule was put in place following the death and subsequent lawsuit caused when Kevin Ward Jr. was struck and killed by Tony Stewart following a local Sprint Car race. “I understand that NASCAR has to do whatever they can to protect drivers,” she told ESPN this week. “[But] did I feel like I was in danger? Absolutely not. It’s my body. Some of the most exciting throwback videos you see of NASCAR are of drivers getting all rowdy and all mad...”
Kevin Harvick continues to deny persistent rumors he’ll leave Stewart-Haas Racing after the season and stick with a Chevrolet team (Hendrick Motorsports in place of Kasey Kahne? Chip Ganassi Racing?) while SHR’s four-car operation switches to Ford. Ford leader Dave Pericak, for his part issued a statement this week saying, “there is no doubt in my mind” Harvick will make the switch; however, the buzz continues.
NASCAR by the Numbers
Top-10 finish for Kasey Kahne this season through six races. By comparison, his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates have combined for 10 along with two victories and 224 laps led (Kahne has zero).
Number of cautions so far through six races, a 39 percent decline over 2015. Just eight of those 34 yellow flags have been for debris, fluid on the track or a NASCAR-based competition caution.
Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)
Brad Keselowski came oh, so close to a win last fall and a bid in the Chase final four. Leading 312 laps, he was snookered on the final restart by a resurgent Jimmie Johnson and had to settle for second. Both are good options to use here. However, Keselowski, who has six top-10 finishes in the last seven races here, came into Texas motivated for revenge. With one victory already this season at a 1.5-mile oval (Las Vegas) the No. 2 car appears the safest bet for your roster.
Quietly consistent to start the 2016 season Carl Edwards heads to Texas with momentum from a short track recovery at Martinsville. He lost a lap early, fought for nearly the entire race to get it back and then sliced through the pack in the closing stages for a top-10 finish. That bodes well heading to a place Edwards has won three times; the last of those came in 2008 but he was 10th and fifth, respectively with his No. 19 team at the track last season.
You don’t think of Jamie McMurray as a Texas expert but he’s riding a run of three straight top-10 finishes down in Fort Worth. Both he and teammate Kyle Larson have shown speed this season at Chip Ganassi Racing; they’re just not always getting the finishes those cars have deserved. That should change this weekend.
I’m always hesitant to say “Take Danica!” a second straight week because Ms. Patrick has struggled with inconsistency throughout her Cup career. However, Martinsville gave her momentum as 16th was a season best; she was also 16th in both Texas races last year. Maybe that weird numbers voodoo can translate into a solid pick-me-up for your team?
What Vegas Thinks
Oddsshark has Jimmie Johnson the odds-on favorite to win the Duck Commander 500. He’s got 4/1 odds eking ahead of Kevin Harvick (5/1) and Kyle Busch (7/1). As mentioned above, it’s no surprise the trio atop the Sprint Cup standings continues to get a little extra love from Vegas.
What I Think
I feel like Saturday night is Carl Edwards’ time. As someone who’s known for success on intermediates it’s shocking the drought at Texas has reached eight years. Capitalizing on early-season strength, watch the No. 19 team, currently fourth in the standings, head toward the front late and become the third Joe Gibbs Racing entry to lock down a spot in NASCAR’s playoff.
(Photos by ASP Inc.)