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Path: /college-basketball/miami-hurricanes-vs-villanova-wildcats-ncaa-tournament-sweet-16-preview-prediction-2016
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The No. 2-seeded Villanova Wildcats cruised to easy victories over UNC Asheville and the Iowa Hawkeyes in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. On Thursday, the Wildcats will face a much tougher opponent in No. 3 Miami.

 

Despite being underdogs in their second round matchup against the Wichita State Shockers, the Hurricanes led by as much as 21 points before holding on for a 65-57 win. This came after Miami defeated Buffalo 79-72 in the first round.

 

No. 3 Miami Hurricanes (27-7) vs. No. 2 Villanova Wildcats (31-5)

 

When: 7:10 p.m. ET (Thursday)

Where: KFC Yum! Center (Louisville)

TV: CBS

Line: Villanova -4

 

Keys for Miami

Guards Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan played a huge game against the Shockers last Saturday and they are tough to stop when they get it rolling. The duo combined for 46 points, five assists and five steals. If the Hurricanes are to advance, both Rodriguez and McClellan will likely need another massive performance against the Wildcats.

 

Rodriguez can score inside the paint and from long range. He will need to use his athletic ability to get Villanova defenders in foul trouble. Miami also will need to have the same pestering defense the team demonstrated against Wichita State.

 

Keys for Villanova

The Wildcats will need a solid outing from forward Daniel Ochefu. Villanova doesn't need Ochefu to score a lot of points, but it needs him to do the dirty work by getting rebounds and defending the paint against the Hurricanes. Guards Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono will be playing against equally athletic counterparts, so it will be important that the Wildcats slow the game down and attempt to play at their preferred tempo.

 

Final Analysis

 

Villanova has been one of the best teams in the country all season, but this matchup against Miami puts the Wildcats at an enormous disadvantage. The Hurricanes are quick, athletic and they have length and Miami defends very well. Expect Rodriguez to keep the Hurricanes at a fast tempo and for Miami to force turnovers much like it did against Wichita State. If Miami plays its style of basketball, the Hurricanes will be moving on to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.

 

Prediction: Miami 76, Villanova 66

 

— 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.

Teaser:
Miami Hurricanes vs. Villanova Wildcats: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/rutgers-scarlet-knights-2016-spring-football-preview
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Few programs were in need of a change in leadership the way Rutgers was. Kyle Flood landed himself a three-game suspension last season from the university in what was a rough season for the Scarlet Knights, their second as a Big Ten member. Now in year three of its new conference home, Rutgers has a new coach in Chris Ash, who comes to town after being a defensive coordinator for Ohio State.

 

If Ash sees just a fraction of the success Tom Herman had in his first year as a head coach after leaving Ohio State, then Rutgers will appear to be in very solid hands. With spring practices here, Rutgers hopes to establish a new path for the program as Ash leads the way in his first spring as a head coach.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Rutgers’ Spring Practice

 

1. New coach brings breath of fresh air

Any time a new coach comes into the program, spring gives everyone a first-hand look at just how his program may operate. Ash is an unknown in this category as this is his first head coaching job, but the anticipation to see how the former Ohio State assistant runs things is reason enough to watch Rutgers with great interest this spring.

 

2. Improving the defense and plugging some holes

Given Ash’s defensive background, it stands to reason Rutgers will soon see improvement in the defense moving forward. This spring the defensive line is at least stable going into the spring with what is returning, but there are holes to fill in the middle and back of the defensive playing field. Three starting linebacker positions are open for competition and the secondary has been in need of a drastic makeover for some time.  The secondary was full of youth last season, so another year to grow could benefit Rutgers in this area.

 

3. Is Chris Laviano still the best option at quarterback in new offense?

While Ash focuses his coaching efforts on improving the defensive side of things, there is some work to do on the offense as well. The first question that may need to be answered by Ash and offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer is whether or not Laviano will be the best option to run the new no-huddle system. Laviano led the offense last year but will have to earn the starting nod against Hayden Rettig and Giovanni Rescigno. Don’t count on a starter being named this spring, but pay attention to how each handles the new offense.

 

4. How will Janarion Grant be utilized?

Rutgers is lacking in playmakers outside of Grant. While his impact as a wide receiver was limited last season (35 rec., 352 yds., TD), Grant made the most of his contributions on special teams with three kickoff return touchdowns and a punt return touchdown in 2015. He could start to see more opportunities on offense this year as Rutgers looks to open things up offensively. Given his big-play ability, it will be intriguing to see if Rutgers can find ways to use Grant more in the passing game.

 

5. How well did offseason conditioning pay off?

Once Ash and his staff got into town, the work in the gym started. One very noticeable negative about Rutgers since joining the Big Ten is the condition of the players. The difference between Rutgers and some of the better teams in the Big Ten, especially when hitting the road, was clear as day. A transition from the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten was expected to come with some growing pains as Rutgers catches up in a number of ways, but the focus on weight training and conditioning this offseason has been a key storyline to follow. Now we will see if it has helped this spring.

 

Pre-Spring Rutgers Outlook in the Big Ten

 

Even a vastly improved Rutgers team would be expected to be nowhere higher than the middle of the pack in the Big Ten East. Lumped in the same division as mighty Ohio State, defending conference champion Michigan State, a surging Michigan program, not to mention a Penn State team that has recruited well and is crawling out of the sanction phase, Rutgers has a long way to go before contemplating a dream scenario that has the Scarlet Knights playing for a Big Ten title. Reaching bowl eligibility, however, may not be far off at all.

 

The schedule will throw some major hurdles on the road (Washington, Ohio State, Michigan State), but reaching six wins is not out of the question if the new offense takes flight and the defense improves at all. Six wins may be the ceiling for Rutgers though, but just getting through the season with a new mentality and a plan for success down the line should be the primary focus.

 

— 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.

Teaser:
Rutgers Scarlet Knights 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /overtime/ohio-state-ad-gene-smith-apologizes-michigan-jim-harbaugh-ezekiel-elliott-buckeyes-wolverines
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The Ohio State - Michigan rivalry isn't contained to the football field. 

 

Buckeyes AD Gene Smith is in hot water for commenting on Michigan's ploy to hold practices in Florida, claiming they are trying to "jump start" their program.

 

 

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, in true Harbaugh fashion, wasn't going to let that slide without so much as a comment about it. 

 

 

Ohio State running back, and soon to be NFL star, Ezekiel Elliott weighed in on Harbaugh's tweet. 

 

 

Smith later apologized for his comments, calming the situation before it got even more out of hand. It was little too late at that point.

 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 10:21
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Path: /college-football/college-footballs-coaches-hot-seat-2016-spring-practice-edition
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College football’s 2015-16 coaching carousel was one of the most active in recent memory. After 28 jobs changed hands, the 2016-17 version may not be as active at the end of the year. However, several big-time jobs could open, as Les Miles (LSU), Charlie Strong (Texas), Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M) and Gus Malzahn (Auburn) enter the 2016 season squarely on the hot seat.

 

Spring practice is underway across the nation, and the offseason workouts are the first step to starting the countdown for the 2016 season. Coaches are always on the hot seat and under pressure to win. However, here are 10 coaches who need a big 2016 season to hold onto their job in 2017.

 

College Football Podcast: Transfer Rules, TV Networks and Jim Harbaugh



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Coaches on the Hot Seat: 2016 Spring Practice Edition

 

Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State

Record at Fresno State: 29-23 (4 years)

 

Fresno State got off to a fast start under DeRuyter. The Bulldogs went 20-6 through DeRuyter’s first two seasons and won the 2013 Mountain West title. But after Derek Carr expired his eligibility, DeRuyter has struggled to keep the program at the top of the conference. The Bulldogs are just 9-17 over the last two years and finished 3-9 in 2015. Last season’s three wins were the fewest by the program since 1978 (3-8). Will staff changes help DeRuyter get Fresno State back on track in 2016?

 

Related: Grading College Football's New Coach Hires for 2016

 

Paul Haynes, Kent State

Record at Kent State: 9-26 (3 years)

 

Haynes has ties to the Kent State program as a former player and spent time as an assistant at Louisville, Michigan State, Ohio State and Arkansas before taking the top spot with the Golden Flashes. In three years at Kent State, Haynes is just 9-26 and has lost at least eight games in each season. The offense has been especially problematic for Haynes, as the Golden Flashes averaged only 13.1 points a game in 2015.

 

Darrell Hazell, Purdue

Record at Purdue: 6-30 (3 years)

 

Purdue is one of the Big Ten’s toughest jobs, and Hazell inherited a roster in need of repair. However, progress has been tough to find over the last three years. Under Hazell’s watch, the Boilermakers are just 6-30 and have only two wins in Big Ten play. In an effort to spark improvement, Hazell made significant changes to his staff, including new play-callers on both sides of the ball. Progress will be tough to find in 2016, but Purdue has two promising players to build around on offense in quarterback David Blough and running back Markell Jones. In two years at Kent State, Hazell went 16-10 and had the Golden Flashes on the cusp of a MAC title in 2012.

 

Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

Record at West Virginia: 36-28 (5 years)

 

Holgorsen enters 2016 in an odd position. Despite West Virginia earning its best record (8-5) since joining the Big 12, Holgorsen was not able to land an extension and only has two years left on his contract. Could a slow start by the Mountaineers have an effect on Holgorsen’s outlook with the program? After a 10-3 debut and a Big East title in 2011, West Virginia has not finished higher than 8-5 and has only one winning mark in conference play in the last four years.

 

Related: College Football's Top 30 Running Backs on the Rise for 2016

 

Mike MacIntyre, Colorado

Record at Colorado: 10-27 (3 years)

 

MacIntyre inherited a big-time mess from former coach Jon Embree. The Buffaloes went 4-21 under Embree’s watch, and the roster wasn’t exactly stocked with talent. There have been noticeable signs of progress under MacIntyre’s watch, as Colorado has two four-win seasons over the last three years. However, the Buffaloes have only two victories in Pac-12 action in the last three seasons. Is Colorado poised for a breakthrough in 2016? After losing five games by one score in 2015, the Buffaloes are close to pushing for a bowl game next fall.  

 

Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Record at Auburn: 27-13 (3 years)

 

Auburn is just two years removed from an appearance in the national championship game, but the overall trend for this program has not been favorable since 2013. Despite an 8-5 record in 2014, the Tigers entered 2015 with high expectations. However, Auburn slipped to 7-6 overall and won just two games in SEC play. After winning 12 games in 2013, Malzahn’s record has slipped in each of the last two seasons. Another problem for Malzahn is his specialty – offense. The Tigers managed only 22.1 points a game and averaged 5.1 yards per play in SEC contests last year.

 

Les Miles, LSU

Record at LSU: 112-32 (11 years)

 

Prior to LSU’s season finale against Texas A&M, all signs seemed to point to a coaching change in Baton Rouge. However, the Tigers defeated the Aggies, and athletic director Joe Alleva announced Miles would return as the program’s head coach in 2016. The ending to the season was certainly bizarre, but is that the last of this story? Miles has won 112 games in 11 years and continues to assemble an impressive roster of talent. However, despite recruiting at a high level, LSU has not finished higher than No. 13 in the final Associated Press poll over the last four years. Additionally, the Tigers are only 9-7 in SEC play over the last two seasons. Improving the offense – specifically the passing attack – is a top priority for Miles and the coaching staff this offseason.

 

Related: SEC's Top 15 Defensive Players on the Rise for 2016

 

Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Record at Kentucky: 12-24 (3 years)

 

Kentucky has made small strides under Stoops’ watch, but the program is still looking for a bowl bid and is only 4-20 over the last three years in SEC play. After a 2-10 record in 2013, the Wildcats took a step forward over the last two seasons. Kentucky has recorded back-to-back 5-7 marks and just missed a bowl in 2015 after losing three games by one score. The talent level is on the rise in Lexington, but this team enters 2016 with question marks on both sides of the ball. Can Stoops deliver a breakthrough year?  

 

Charlie Strong, Texas

Record at Texas: 11-14 (2 years)

 

Strong didn’t inherit a roster overflowing with talent, but the expectations are high in Austin. Simply, finishing with a .500 record in back-to-back years with the Big 12’s top roster (according to recruiting rankings) isn’t sitting well. The Longhorns are just 11-14 in Strong’s two seasons and finished 4-5 in Big 12 play last year. Texas was up-and-down in conference action in 2015, pulling off surprise wins over Oklahoma and Baylor (when the Bears were hit with injuries at quarterback) and suffered a blowout loss (24-0) at the hands of Iowa State. Strong has promising young talent in place on defense, but the offense is probably a year away under new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert. 

 

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Record at Texas A&M: 36-16 (4 years)

 

Texas A&M made quite a splash in Sumlin’s first year. Behind quarterback Johnny Manziel, the Aggies finished 11-2 in 2012 and claimed a No. 5 finish in the Associated Press poll. However, the Aggies have been unable to capitalize off that momentum. Sumlin has guided Texas A&M to a 25-14 record over the last three seasons but does not have a winning mark in conference play in that span. Additionally, the Aggies have not recorded a top 25 finish in each of the last two years. Sumlin has recruited well, and the addition of John Chavis helped the defense take a significant step forward in 2015. Will the addition of Noel Mazzone as the play-caller help Texas A&M’s  offense take a step forward in 2016?

Teaser:
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat: 2016 Spring Practice Edition
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/march-madness-outrageous-predictions-sweet-16-and-elite-eight-2016
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Well, that was fun. Buzzer beaters, blown leads, upsets and blowouts dominated the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. As always, very little of it went according to plan.

 

Now that all of our brackets — just like I told you they would be last week — are trash, we can just sit back and enjoy March Madness stress-free (unless your favorite team is still alive). We still have double-digit seeds to root for. We still have blue bloods to root against. And we still have plenty more outrageousness to come this weekend, as the final 16 teams try to punch their tickets for the Final Four in Houston.

 

Outrageous Predictions for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight

 

Buzzer beaters will be absent during the Sweet 16

We had overtime games, last-second tip-ins and half-court heaves during the first four days of action. They'll all take this next round off. The Sweet 16 games are all about matchups that are going to yield sound victories. If you're the type who just tunes in for the last couple of minutes because that's when the games are decided, you'll be out of luck and subjected to nothing but an exchange of pointless free throws.

 

Only one ACC team advances to the Elite Eight

The ACC is getting a ton of love right now on the back of sending six teams to the Sweet 16. The lovefest ends Thursday and Friday, as only one ACC squad will make it to the Elite 8. Take a look:

 

Indiana vs. North Carolina — Indiana is having a great Tournament. The Hoosiers are more physical than the Tar Heels, and this game will get physical. Then there are the intangibles. Yogi Ferrell can will the Hoosiers to the Final Four if he needs to. Hoosiers win.

 

Villanova vs. Miami — The Hurricanes had the luxury of playing two teams with inferior athletes during the first two rounds. Now come the Wildcats, who are more than capable of matching up with Miami athletically. On top of that, from a basketball IQ standpoint, there aren't many squads smarter than Jay Wright's Villanova team. Look for the Wildcats to roll.

 

Oregon vs. Duke — The Ducks were tested against St. Joseph's and showed their resiliency. Now they bring their talent and depth into a matchup with Duke. Oregon is as complete as any team Duke has faced all season. The Ducks will run. They'll slow it down and play half court. And thanks to their head coach Dana Altman, they'll play every bit as smart as the Blue Devils. Depth will be the difference here as Oregon gets the win.

 

Iowa State vs. Virginia — The Cyclones are going to give Virginia trouble with their size and athleticism. Virginia struggled at times with Butler, a team much less athletic than Iowa State. Iowa State has shown no signs so far of not being ready for the moment, dispatching two inferior opponents with ease thus far. The Cyclones welcome a stiffer test from Virginia and are ready to send the Cavaliers back to Charlottesville empty-handed.

 

Gonzaga vs. Syracuse — Syracuse caught a Dayton team that probably did not have the skill set to break the 2-3 defense. The Orange followed that game up with a snoozer against Middle Tennessee thanks to the Blue Raiders' upset of Michigan State. Gonzaga is a different animal. The Bulldogs are smarter and more athletic than either of Syracuse's opponents thus far in the Tournament. On top of that, they have solid big men — something that helps when you face a tough 2-3 zone. Discipline wins this game, and Gonzaga is infinitely more disciplined than the Orange.

 

Notre Dame will be the only ACC team to move on to the Elite Eight, as the Fighting Irish are the only team with a distinct advantage in both style of play and actual matchups. They should pull away from Wisconsin permanently before the 10-minute mark of the second half.

 

The No. 1 seeds will all be eliminated prior to the Final Four

I said it last week and I'm sticking by it. Two of the No. 1 seeds are from the ACC and I just told you how North Carolina and Virginia will lose in the Sweet 16. Oklahoma will end Oregon's run in the Elite Eight, while Kansas may not even make it past Maryland to play Villanova. If the Jayhawks do, you could argue that Villanova would be the best team outside of Oklahoma that Bill Self's group has faced all year. The Wildcats have playmakers all over the court that Kansas will struggle to match up with for 40 minutes.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the owner of KnowItAllFootball.com and host of "Raising the Bar" on RadiOmaha.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

Teaser:
March Madness: Outrageous Predictions for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/5-mlb-teams-rise-2016
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Opening Day of the 2016 MLB season is just around the corner, and on spring training fields across Arizona and Florida teams are hard at work trying to improve themselves. Optimism is high across baseball – and for good reason. After all, just last season, the small-market Kansas City Royals beat the surprising New York Mets in the World Series and the Houston Astros completed a complete teardown and rebuilding effort by winning a wild card spot in the American League.

 

Which teams are poised to break out in 2016? We take a look at five on the rise.

 

Boston Red Sox

(78-84, 5th in AL East in 2015)

 

Most fans and analysts expected the Red Sox to bounce back last season following a very disappointing last-place finish in 2014. Instead, Boston stumbled again and finished last in the division for the second consecutive year – the first time the Red Sox have spent back-to-back seasons in the basement since 1929-30 – and the third time in the last four.

 

The biggest reason for the team’s struggles was the starting rotation. Boston ranked second to last (14th out of 15 teams) in the American League in ERA (4.31) and lacked an ace at the top of the rotation. Clay Buchholz didn’t pitch after July 10 and only one pitcher that started more than 20 games posted an ERA below 4.46 (Eduardo Rodriguez).

 

In an effort to fix the pitching staff and reverse the losing trend, the Red Sox were aggressive in the offseason and signed 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner (and 2015 runner-up) David Price. The 30-year-old lefty was 18-5 with a 2.45 ERA and 225 strikeouts in 220 1/3 innings across 32 starts split between the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays last season. Price was a major factor for the Jays down the stretch and made four postseason appearances for Toronto after helping the club win the AL East.

 

In addition to Price, the Red Sox made a splash by trading for closer Craig Kimbrel, who posted a 2.58 ERA with 39 saves in 61 appearances for the San Diego Padres in 2015 after coming over from the Atlanta Braves. Kimbrel, the hard-throwing 27-year-old, led the National League in saves in each of his first four full big league seasons and has a career ERA of 1.63 with 225 saves and 563 career strikeouts in 348 1/3 innings.

 

The Red Sox are also hoping new first baseman Hanley Ramirez and third baseman Pablo Sandoval will return to form after disappointing seasons a year ago, and the club expects one last great offensive performance from designated hitter David Ortiz, who will retire following the season.

 

As always, expectations are high in Boston. And, they also are high across the industry. FanGraphs predicts the Red Sox to finish in first place in the AL East with a record of 88-74 - a four-game cushion over the Blue Jays. Online sports book Bovada has Boston listed as the favorite to win the AL pennant.

 

Related: MLB Scouts Talk Anonymously about AL East Teams for 2016

 

Detroit Tigers

(74-87, 5th in AL Central in 2015)

 

Like the Red Sox, the Tigers expect to compete for championships on an annual basis (and had won four straight AL Central division titles), but also suffered through an unexpected losing campaign in 2015.

 

Detroit started well, but missed Justin Verlander in the starting rotation early in the season and fell out of first place on May 15. Once Verlander returned in early June, things only got worse as the Tigers lost each of his first eight starts, during which the 2011 AL Cy Young winner posted a 5.57 ERA with just 25 strikeouts in 42 innings. Injuries also took their toll in the middle of the summer. After the club lost Victor Martinez for a month, then Miguel Cabrera to injury in early July, the Tigers fell out of the playoff chase by the trading deadline, which played a big role in the decision to trade David Price to the Blue Jays and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets.

 

The loss of Price still stings, but a healthy Verlander – who posted a 2.36 ERA and held opponents to .204/249/.304 with 88 Ks in 91 1/3 innings over his final 13 starts last year – will go a long way towards replacing the AL Cy Young runner-up, as will newcomer Jordan Zimmermann. Similarly, a healthy Cabrera-Martinez combo should make the Tigers competitive again, as will the addition of Justin Upton, the free agent who signed a six-year deal in January to replace the departed Cespedes.

 

Related: MLB Scouts Talk Anonymously about AL Central Teams for 2016

 

San Francisco Giants

(84-78, 2nd in NL West in 2015)

 

You probably already know this, but 2016 is an even-numbered year. And, you probably remember that the Giants have won the World Series in each of the last two even-numbered seasons. Of course, the calendar itself has little to do with the Giants’ chances in 2016. Instead, hope lies on the shoulders of free-agent signees Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, who should give a jolt to an aging starting rotation and provide ace Madison Bumgarner with some support.

 

Last season, only Bumgarner and Chris Heston started more than 30 games for the Giants, and the pair joined Jake Peavy as the only starters to post an ERA under 4.13. Cueto may have struggled in the regular season after a trade to Kansas City (4-7, 4.76 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 81 1/3 innings), but he finished strong with a complete game, two-hitter in Game 2 of the Fall Classic and also has a history of terrific success that includes two top-four finishes in NL Cy Young voting.

 

Samardzija struggled with the Chicago White Sox last season (no one in MLB surrendered more hits or earned runs, and he led the AL with 29 home runs allowed), but in 2014 he posted a 2.99 ERA across 33 starts split between the Cubs and the Oakland A’s. Perhaps a stable contract situation will help get Samardzija on track. He signed a five-year deal worth $90 million.

 

Like most of the teams on our list, the Giants are banking on a comeback season from an injured regular. For San Francisco, it’s Hunter Pence, who was limited to 52 games a year ago, and Joe Panik, who played just three games after Aug. 3. The Giants are also hoping for big things from new center fielder Denard Span, who hit .301/.365/.431 with five home runs and 11 stolen bases in just 61 games with the Nationals last year because of a variety of injuries, including a hip issue that required surgery.


Related: MLB Scouts Talk Anonymously about NL West Teams for 2016

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

(79-83, 3rd in NL West in 2015)

 

Unlike Boston, Detroit and San Francisco, Arizona made a big step forward in 2015 – a whopping 15-game improvement, in

fact. Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart have been aggressive in their rebuild of the Diamondbacks – so aggressive that the pair sprung for top free agent pitcher Zack Greinke and traded away 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick Dansby Swanson, pitching prospect Aaron Blair and rising star Ender Inciarte for Atlanta All-Star pitcher Shelby Miller. The addition of Greinke – the former AL Cy Young Award winner who was the runner-up in the NL last season after going 19-3 with a MLB-leading 1.66 ERA, 225 ERA+ and 0.844 WHIP – is doubly important because he came over from the division rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

 

The Diamondbacks also signed reliever Tyler Clippard to further bolster a pitching staff that ranked ninth in the NL with a 4.04 ERA last season and allowed 182 home runs – more than all but two other teams in the league. Arizona, which led the NL in hits (1,494) and ranked second in runs (720) also acquired shortstop Jean Segura in a trade with Milwaukee.

 

Washington Nationals

(83-79, 2nd in NL East in 2015)

 

The Chicago Cubs are the odds-on favorite to win the 2016 World Series, which is a position the 2015 Washington Nationals know well.

 

Last season, the Nats built an incredibly strong starting rotation, headlined by new ace Max Scherzer and featuring Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Doug Fister. Scherzer did his part by posting a 2.79 ERA with 276 strikeouts in 228 2/3 innings, which included a no-hitter that was one out shy of a perfect game. So did 22-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper, who hit .330/.460/.649 with 42 home runs, 99 RBIs and 118 runs and won NL MVP honors.

 

However, the club struggled as a whole – and like the Tigers and Giants was bit badly by the injury bug – and fell well shy of expectations. Instead of a third NL East title in four seasons, the Nationals finished seven games behind the Mets, whose starting rotation quickly became the talk of baseball.

 

Looking ahead to 2016, the Nationals will rely heavily on Scherzer and Harper, but must replace Zimmermann and Fister, as well as outfielder Denard Span and shortstop Ian Desmond. The Nats added speedy outfielder Ben Revere and postseason hero Daniel Murphy, and moved Tanner Roark back into the rotation where he thrived in 2014. If Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth bounce back from injury-plagued seasons, and Washington takes advantage of the opportunity for easy wins in the division against the rebuilding Braves and Phillies, the Nationals should give the Mets a stiff challenge for the division title.

 

5 Others to Watch

Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays

 

Related: MLB Scouts Talk Anonymously about NL East Teams for 2016

 

Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work can also be found on SaturdayDownSouth.com, SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.

 

(David Price photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Teaser:
5 MLB Teams on the Rise in 2016
Post date: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/craig-sager-given-3-6-months-live-nba-analyst-personality-hbo-real-sports
Body:

Sad news for the world of sports.

 

Popular NBA personality Craig Sager revealed in an interview with Real Sports HBO that his leukemia is no longer in remission.

 

 

Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver revealed that Sager is a fighter and will fight to the end. The NBA world is with him and his family during such a difficult time.

 

 

Sager's son, Craig Jr., commented that HBO captured a different side of the family. 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 18:24
Path: /college-basketball/sweet-16-west-region-preview-top-players-and-tv-schedule-2016
Body:

The West Region of this year’s Sweet 16 definitely isn’t hurting for storylines. Duke is college basketball royalty with a king for a coach looking another Final Four appearance. Oregon, the No. 1 seed, is still fighting for respect outside of the paper tiger that is the Pac-12. Texas A&M defied logic, mathematics, hopelessness, history, and maybe even quantum physics just to make this Sweet 16, thanks to the most improbable (Really, the most improbable) double overtime victory ever against Northern Iowa. And Oklahoma is led by the nation’s best player and second-leading scorer, a player who is as easy to root for as he is to watch stroke a 25-foot jumper with a hand in his face.

 

Thursday’s Schedule

No. 3 Texas A&M (28-8) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (27-7)
7:37 p.m. ET, TBS

 

No. 4 Duke (25-10) vs. No. 1 Oregon (30-6)
10:07 p.m. ET, TBS

 

Top Five Players

1. Buddy Hield, G, Oklahoma

2. Brandon Ingram G/F, Duke

3. Grayson Allen, G, Duke

4. Dillon Brooks, F, Oregon

5. Danuel House, G,Texas A&M

 

Top Dog — Oklahoma 

The Sooners have the best chance of continuing this dance to Houston, because they have the best player in the country on their team — Buddy Hield. Hield exploded in the first two rounds of the Tournament, dropping 27 points on CSU Bakersfield, and 29 points against VCU — Sorry, that would be 29 points in the second half against VCU. Hield finished with 36, his third-best scoring outing this season. Hield has stolen the show all season as the second-leading scorer in the nation (25.0 ppg), but he has a balanced supporting cast featuring fellow sharpshooters Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard on the perimeter and Ryan Spangler in the post. 

 

Underdog — Oregon

It’s like I said — Oregon may be one of the four No. 1 seeds in this Tournament, but few folks outside of Eugene claimed that this team was Final Four-worthy. The Ducks’ case for appreciation wasn’t helped by a lackluster performance by their fellow Pac-12 residents. But, I’m here to tell you: beware of Dana Altman’s Ducks.

 

The Ducks may not have any future NBA lottery picks like other squads in their region, but they have length, athleticism, and tenacity that other teams will envy. The Ducks haven’t lost in more than a month, and feature an extremely balanced offensive attack that is highlighted by sophomore forward Dillon Brooks.

 

Duke: Been There Done That

When it comes to NCAA Tournament experience, no other team in the nation quite compares to Duke. This trip to the Sweet 16 is the program's sixth in the last eight seasons. And if Duke just so happens to win on Thursday night against Oregon, the Blue Devils will be making their 21st Elite Eight appearance. Duke may not have the horses that it did in last season’s national championship run, but the presence of Coach K alone gives the Blue Devils another fantastic shot at another Final Four.

 

The Quote

“One of the guys from VCU, I can’t remember…No. 5 was it? He was telling me, 'You the player of the year, you’re supposed to be going to work.' And I said, 'I’m about to go to work.'”

— Buddy Hield’s postgame comments to the reporters on as to what sparked his spectacular 29 point-second half performance vs. VCU on Saturday.

Teaser:
Sweet 16 West Region: Preview, Top Players and TV Schedule
Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 16:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/sweet-16-midwest-region-preview-top-players-and-tv-schedule-2016
Body:

The Elite Eight for the Midwest Region is already assured of having a double-digit seed, as No. 11 Gonzaga and No. 10 Syracuse are set to square off in the Sweet 16 on Friday. This feat has only been accomplished nine times, with two No. 11 seeds eventually making it to the Final Four. No team has ever made it into the national championship game from this position, but don’t think for a second that the Orange or Bulldogs are worried by that.

 

In the other regional semifinal there is a showdown of teams that were expected to be there, with No. 1 Virginia facing No. 4 Iowa State. The style of play exhibited by these two teams could not be more opposite, but the dearth of talent and senior leadership that makes up their respective identities is very much alike.

 

Here’s a look at the Midwest Regional at the United Center in Chicago.

 

Friday’s Schedule

No. 4 Iowa State (23-11) vs. No. 1 Virginia (28-7)
7:10 p.m. ET, CBS

 

No. 11 Gonzaga (28-7) vs. No. 10 Syracuse (21-13)
9:40 p.m. ET, CBS

 

Top Five Players

1. Malcolm Brogdon, G, Virginia

2. Georges Niang, F, Iowa State

3. Domantas Sabonis, F, Gonzaga

4. Michael Gbinije, F, Syracuse

5. Kyle Wiltjer, F, Gonzaga

 

Team to Beat — Virginia

A collective sigh of relief could be heard in Charlottesville following Middle Tennessee’s shocking upset of Michigan State in the first round. The Cavaliers have been knocked out of the Big Dance by the Spartans each of the past two years by a combined eight points, so Virginia fans were not looking forward to a potential third matchup. The Selection Committee knew exactly what it was doing by putting No. 2 Michigan State in the same region as No. 1 Virginia for the third straight year. Nevertheless, the desired showdown of bitter rivals was not meant to be. Virginia must lean on its smothering defense and efficient offense that runs through Wooden Award hopeful Malcolm Brogdon if the Cavaliers wish to finally make the deep March run they are capable of.

 

Team with Nothing to Lose — Syracuse

Syracuse players were not allowed to contact head coach Jim Boeheim in any way, shape or form through the first half of the regular season. After a tidal wave of NCAA violations came crashing down at the conclusion of 2015, and with an embarrassing loss to St. Johns (finished 8-24) early in the year, 2016 seemed like a season Syracuse would quickly want to forget. After dropping five of their last six contests, the Orange failed to reach the 20-win plateau for only the fourth time in Boeheim’s 39 seasons at Syracuse. None of that matters now. Michael Gbinije and company have come into this Tournament fired up and already have two blowout victories. Syracuse is one of six ACC teams in the Sweet 16, which ties the NCAA Tournament record for one conference. The other teams in this region all have the pressure of high expectations resting on their shoulders. The Orange are just crashing the party. 

 

All-ACC Final Four

As I mentioned above, the ACC set a new record by sending six teams to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Plenty of history can still be made going forward, including the possibility of an all-ACC Final Four. The No. 1 seeds and favorites to win in both the Midwest and the East region are Virginia and North Carolina, respectively. Even if the Cavaliers and Tar Heels fail to advance, Syracuse and Notre Dame have a chance to represent the conference in their place. No. 4 Duke in the West and No. 3 Miami in the South have tough roads ahead of them on their way to the Final Four, but anything is possible this time of year.

 

Quotes

"I think I was crouched down and was a little dehydrated and blacked out a little bit, but I'm OK."

– Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, who briefly collapsed on the sideline during Virginia’s 81-45 convincing victory over No. 16 Hampton. The head coach is completely fine and was able to coach the remainder of the game.

 

– Legendary singer and performer Tony Bennett, whose Twitter account was flooded with well wishes after the incident.

Teaser:
Sweet 16 Midwest Region: Preview, Top Players and TV Schedule
Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 15:55
Path: /college-basketball/sweet-16-south-region-preview-top-players-and-tv-schedule-2016
Body:

No. 1 overall seed Kansas’ bid for a fourth national championship will begin again on Thursday when the Jayhawks take on No. 5 Maryland at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.

 

In the other South Region Sweet 16 matchup No. 3 Miami Hurricanes will play No. 2 Villanova. Here's a quick view of how the South Region stacks up.

 

Thursday's schedule

No. 3 Miami Hurricanes (27-7) vs. No. 2 Villanova Wildcats (31-5)
7:10 p.m. ET, CBS

 

No. 5 Maryland Terrapins (27-8) vs. No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks (32-4)
9:40 p.m. ET, CBS

 

Top Five Players

1. Josh Hart, G, Villanova

2. Angel Rodriguez, PG, Miami

3. Wayne Selden Jr., G, Kansas

4. Melo Trimble, PG, Maryland

5. Frank Mason III, G, Kansas

 

Top Dog — Kansas

Kansas has done nothing to change the perspective that it is the favorites to cut down the nets on April 4 in Houston. The Jayhawks destroyed Connecticut 73-61 and the final score wasn't even that close. The tandem of Wayne Selden Jr. (22 points, 7 rebounds) and Perry Ellis (21, 8) was very effective, while Devonte Graham chipped in 13 points in the win.

 

Underdog — Maryland

It's weird to call a team that was ranked in the top five in the preseason an underdog, but that's exactly the case. Kansas is a 6.5-point favorite, but Maryland has the talent to pull off the upset. The Terrapins will need to find a way to penetrate against the Jayhawks’ top guards, Selden, Graham and Frank Mason III.

 

Miami vs. Villanova

Villanova is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009. The Wildcats’ reward is playing the Hurricanes, which have one of the quickest backcourts in all of college basketball. Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan will be a tough assignment for a Wildcats team that likes to slow the basketball down.

 

Interesting Tidbit

In eight games against ranked teams, Miami is 5-3 with wins over No. 3 Virginia, No. 11 Louisville, No. 16 Utah, No. 20/22 Butler and No. 24/20 Duke. In those games, McClellan has averaged 14.8 points, while shooting 48.7 percent from the field. For the season, Rodriguez is averaging 12.6 points and 4.4 assists per game, with Tonye Jekiri chipping in 7.8 points and leading the way at 8.7 rebounds per contest.

 

— 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.

Teaser:
Sweet 16 South Region: Preview, Top Players and TV Schedule
Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 15:50
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/sweet-16-east-region-preview-top-players-and-tv-schedule-2016
Body:

There won't be a lot of brotherly love in Philadelphia this weekend as we hit the Sweet 16. North Carolina arguably has the most talent in the country, but Indiana has been mighty impressive in its two NCAA Tournament games.

 

The other regional semifinal features Wisconsin and Notre Dame who will try to move past emotional, last-second victories to punch a ticket to the Elite Eight.

 

Here’s a look at how the East Regional at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia stacks up.

 

Friday’s Schedule

No. 7 Wisconsin (22-12) vs. No. 6 Notre Dame (23-11)
7:27 p.m. ET, TBS

 

No. 1 North Carolina (30-6) vs. No. 4 Indiana (27-7)
10:40 p.m. ET, TBS

 

Top Five Players

1. Yogi Ferrell, PG, Indiana

2. Brice Johnson, F, North Carolina

3. Zach Auguste, F, Notre Dame

4. Marcus Paige, PG, North Carolina

5. Bronson Koenig, PG, Wisconsin

 

Top Dog — North Carolina

The Tar Heels needed a half to wake up against Florida Gulf Coast before pulling away. They then showed their depth and talent in a double-digit win over Providence. The key for their resurgence has been the play of Marcus Paige, who has found his shooting stroke which makes him all the more dangerous. If North Carolina can get past Indiana, a trip to the Final Four shouldn't be an issue for Roy Williams' talented team.

 

Underdog — Wisconsin

My how things have changed since Bo Ryan departed. The Badgers look like the team that is capable of springing another upset or two. Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes are veterans who have been through the battles before. Wisconsin's matchup with Notre Dame is real intriguing considering neither team was supposed to be here.

 

​Indiana's Walking Wounded

The Hoosiers are glad for the time off as some of their players are a bit banged up. Robert Johnson and Juwan Morgan both left the second round win over Kentucky with minor injuries. Both should be good for Friday night and they will be needed against an equally deep North Carolina team. The pair average more than 10 points per game combined.

 

The Quote

"This year I'm going to take it upon myself to use you guys and profess my celebrity crush: Lea from 'Glee.' So if she's watching this, if she hears this, hello. I'm available. You know. Call, text, call the Kohl Center, Coach Gard's number. If you could get this out to her, tweet this out maybe, send her a poke on Facebook — I don't know how this works, you know kids and the social media these days. I don't know if they do that. Also, if Ms. Lea has a friend, I have a friend, and you know, like Biggie said, 'your friend can be my friends and we can be friends.'" 

— Wisconsin star Nigel Hayes who used his time on the podium last week to profess his love for one of TVs stars.

 

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.

Teaser:
Sweet 16 East Region: Preview, Top Players and TV Schedule
Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 15:45
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Magazines
Path: /college-basketball/everything-athlon-sports-got-right-and-wrong-2015-16-college-basketball-season
Body:

In many ways, this has been an unpredictable first weekend — Middle Tennessee’s historic upset of Michigan State, Northern Iowa’s one-of-a-kind collapse, rare NCAA tournament wins for Yale and Hawaii.

 

At the same time, the Sweet 16 field is totally predictable. All four No. 1 seeds advanced to the second weekend. Blue bloods like Kansas, Duke, North Carolina and Indiana are in every bracket. The lowest-seeded teams to make it this far are familiar names — Wisconsin, Syracuse and Gonzaga.

 

As the NCAA Tournament moves into its second weekend, this is a perfect time look back at Athlon’s picks for the 2015-16 season. Like many college basketball coaches looking back on their own seasons, we saw some things we liked and some things we didn’t.

 

Our preseason No. 1 team (Kentucky) is already out of the field. Our preseason No. 2 team (Duke) played with fire against UNC Wilmington and Yale, but still advanced to the second round.

 

Yet, Kentucky is the only team in our top preseason seven that didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

 

We’ll take that.

 

Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of how Athlon’s preseason college basketball preview stacked up with the Sweet 16 and the overall field.

 

• Athlon had 13 teams from the Sweet 16 in our preseason top 25. Miami, Notre Dame and Syracuse are the only Sweet 16 teams we did not have in our preseason top 25, though we projected all three in the field. 

 

Here’s how our top 25 compared with the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament:

 

Athlon's Top 25 in the Sweet 16 Other Athlon Top 25 Teams  
No. 2 Duke No. 1 Kentucky Lost to Indiana in the second round
No. 3 North Carolina No. 8 Arizona Lost to Wichita State in the first round
No. 4 Maryland No. 12 Michigan State Lost to Middle Tennessee in the first round
No. 5 Virginia No. 13 Cal Lost to Hawaii in the first round
No. 6 Kansas No. 14 Wichita State Lost to Miami in the second round
No. 7 Iowa State No. 15 Vanderbilt Lost to Wichita State in the First Four
No. 9 Oklahoma No. 16 Purdue Lost to Little Rock in the first round
No. 10 Villanova No. 18 UConn Lost to Kansas in the second round
No. 11 Gonzaga No. 20 Butler Lost to Virginia in the second round
No. 17 Indiana No. 22 Michigan Lost to Notre Dame in the first round
No. 19 Wisconsin No. 23 Louisville Ineligible
No. 21 Oregon No. 24 SMU Ineligible
No. 25 Texas A&M    

• Athlon's preseason bracket predicted 43 of the 68 teams in the field. Among the 25 teams Athlon predicted to be in the field that didn’t make it were the two ineligible teams that would have made the field under normal circumstances (Louisville and SMU). The Mustangs were banned form the postseason Sept. 30, and the Cardinals announced their self-imposed ban in February.

 

Our preseason picks included eight regular season champions in one-bid leagues that were upset in conference tournaments: North Florida (Atlantic Sun), Hofstra (Colonial), UAB (Conference USA), Valparaiso (Horizon), San Diego State (Mountain West), Belmont (Ohio Valley), Texas Southern (SWAC) and New Mexico State (WAC).

 

A generous reading, then, would say Athlon pinpointed 53 NCAA Tournament-caliber teams: The 43 teams that actually made the field, the two teams that were banned from the post season and eight one-bid conference champions.

 

• Athlon missed on nine teams from major conferences that made the field as at-large bids. Seeding-wise, Seton Hall was our biggest miss. The Pirates won the Big East tournament and earned No. 6 seed, but lost to Gonzaga in the first round. We projected Seton Hall as the No. 8 team in the Big East and going to the NIT. USC probably was the biggest overall miss, as Athlon picked the Trojans to finish 11th in the Pac-12. Andy Enfield's team ended up making the tournament safely as a No. 8 seed.

 

These are the major teams that we projected for the NIT or worse that made the NCAA Tournament:

 

  We predicted... What actually happened...
Colorado Eighth in Pac-12, NIT No. 8 seed, lost to No. 9 UConn
Pittsburgh 10th in ACC, NIT No. 10 seed, lost to No. 7 Wisconsin
Seton Hall Eighth in Big East, NIT No. 6 seed, lost to No. 11 Gonzaga
St. Joseph's Seventh in A-10 No. 8 seed, beat No. 9 Cincinnati, lost to No. 1 Oregon
Temple Seventh in AAC No. 10 seed, lost to No. 7 Iowa
Texas Tech Eighth in Big 12 No. 8 seed, lost to No. 9 Butler
Tulsa Fourth in AAC, NIT No. 11 seed, lost to No. 11 Michigan
USC 11th in Pac-12 No. 8 seed, lost to No. 9 Providence
VCU Fourth in A-10, NIT No. 10 seed, lost to No. 2 Oklahoma

• Athlon predicted seven major teams to make the field, but they ended up in the NIT or worse (not counting Louisville and SMU)

 

  We predicted... What actually happened...
Florida Fifth in SEC, NCAA First Four Tied for eighth in SEC, NIT
Florida State Sixth in ACC, NCAA second round 11th in ACC, NIT
Georgetown Fourth in Big East, NCAA second round Eighth in Big East
LSU Fourth in SEC, NCAA second round Tied for third in SEC
NC State Ninth in ACC, NCAA First Four 13th in ACC
Rhode Island Second in A-10, NCAA first round Seventh in A-10
UCLA Fourth in Pac-12, NCAA second round 10th in Pac-12

 

Teaser:
Everything Athlon Sports Got Right and Wrong in the 2015-16 College Basketball Season
Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 11:49
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Overtime
Path: /college-basketball/college-coach-handshake-whitman-college-stephen-garnett
Body:

If you think you have the coolest coach, think again.

 

An assistant coach for Whitman College, Stephen Garnett, is able to have an awesome handshake with every member of the basketball team. There are 15 guys. That's a lot of memorization.

 

 

Pre game with Coach Garnett continues..

Posted by Rusty Cooper on Sunday, March 13, 2016
Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 11:40
All taxonomy terms: Patrick Reed, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2016-majors-no-13-patrick-reed
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2016 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Gary Williams.

 

No. 13: Patrick Reed

Born: Aug. 5, 1990, San Antonio, Texas | Career PGA Tour Wins: 4 | 2015 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2015 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,590,566 (18th) | World Ranking: 10

 

Gary Williams' Take: After winning the first event of the 2015 calendar year, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Reed appeared destined for a monster season, but that season stalled. He went from March until September without a top 10 on Tour, and his first good chance to contend at a major at the U.S. Open was met with a retreat on the weekend to finish tied for 14th. The great hope for this year is rooted in his final six events of 2015 on the other side of the world: Reed posted five top 10s, including four in the Race to Dubai events on the European Tour. He also finished second at the Hero World Challenge to finish the year ranked 10th in the world and has posted three more top 10s since the calendar turned. Reed does not wow you with stats, and he has more lulls than other top-10 players, but he loves to play and plays as many events as any top-50 player in the world. He will represent the U.S. again on the Ryder Cup team, and he could fulfill his own belief that he’s a top-5 player by the end of the year.
Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 8
Wins: 0
2015 Performance:
    Masters – T22
    U.S. Open – T14
    British Open – T20
    PGA Championship – T30
Best Career Finishes
    Masters - T22 (2015)
    U.S. Open - T14 (2015)
    British Open - T20 (2015)
    PGA Championship - T30 (2015)
Top-10 Finishes: 0
Top-25 Finishes: 3
Missed Cuts: 2

 

Athlon's 2016 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Zach Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 11:24
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Overtime
Path: /overtime/lebron-james-twitter-cleveland-cavaliers-follow-unfollow-next-question
Body:

LeBron James probably gets asked dumb questions all the time, but this takes the cake.

 

A lot of fuss has been make recently about the Cavaliers star unfollowing the Cavaliers on Twitter and Instagram. People are making a big deal about it, claiming he doesn't want to stay in Cleveland, he doesn't like the team anymore, and every other speculation under the sun.

 

When James was asked about it after a game (which is probably not the best time), he didn't even entertain such an idiotic question. 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 10:24
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Air Force Falcons, Akron Zips, Alabama Crimson Tide, Appalachian State Mountaineers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Army West Point Black Knights, Army Black Knights, Army West Point Black Knights, Auburn Tigers, Ball State Cardinals, Baylor Bears, Boise State Broncos, Boston College Eagles, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, BYU Cougars, California Golden Bears, Central Michigan Chippewas, Charlotte 49ers, Cincinnati Bearcats, Clemson Tigers, College Football, Colorado Buffaloes, Colorado State Rams, Connecticut Huskies, Duke Blue Devils, East Carolina Pirates, Eastern Michigan Eagles, FAU Owls, FIU Panthers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia Southern Eagles, Georgia State Panthers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, Hawaii Warriors, Houston Cougars, Idaho Vandals, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Kent State Golden Flashes, Kentucky Wildcats, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Maryland Terrapins, Memphis Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, Miami Ohio RedHawks, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Missouri Tigers, MTSU Blue Raiders, Navy Midshipmen, Navy Midshipmen, NC State Wolfpack, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Nevada Wolf Pack, New Mexico Lobos, New Mexico State Aggies, North Carolina Tar Heels, North Texas Mean Green, Northern Illinois Huskies, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Old Dominion Monarchs, Ole Miss Rebels, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Pittsburgh Panthers, Purdue Boilermakers, Rice Owls, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, San Diego State Aztecs, San Jose State Spartans, SMU Mustangs, South Alabama Jaguars, South Carolina Gamecocks, South Florida Bulls, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Stanford Cardinal, Syracuse Orange, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Tennessee Volunteers, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Toledo Rockets, Troy Trojans, Tulane Green Wave, Tulsa Golden Hurricane, UAB Blazers, UCF Knights, UCLA Bruins, UConn Huskies, UL Lafayette Ragin Cajuns, UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, UL Monroe Warhawks, UMass Minutemen, UNLV Rebels, USC Trojans, Utah State Aggies, Utah Utes, UTEP Miners, UTSA Roadrunners, Vanderbilt Commodores, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, West Virginia Mountaineers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Western Michigan Broncos, Wisconsin Badgers, Wyoming Cowboys, American Athletic, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA, Independents, MAC, Mountain West, Pac 12, SEC, Sun Belt, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-30-running-backs-rise-2016
Body:

Running back is one of the easiest positions to find a new standout each year, and there always seems to be a wave of stars ready to emerge in offseason workouts. Last season, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey finished second in the Heisman voting in his first year as the starter, while Alabama’s Derrick Henry went from sharing time with T.J. Yeldon to finishing as the nation’s leading rusher and the Heisman Trophy winner. Regardless of whether teams use a committee approach or rely on one back, spring practice is the first opportunity to find the next star at the position. Players like Penn State's Saquon Barkley, USC's Ronald Jones, Washington's Myles Gaskin, Alabama's Bo Scarbrough and Michigan State's LJ Scott are just a few of the next wave of players ready to emerge as stars at the running back position. 

 

Quarterback battles will receive most of the attention in spring practice, but there are a handful of key playoff contenders losing a starter at running back or have a player poised for a breakthrough season. While pinpointing breakout players is easier after spring practice, it’s never too early to examine some of the top rising stars at running backs.

 

Let’s take a look at 30 running backs on the rise for 2016, followed by a few other names to watch:

 

College Football's Top 30 Running Backs on the Rise for 2016

 

Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Despite running behind an inconsistent offensive line, Barkley became the first Penn State rusher to reach 1,000 yards since 2012. Barkley recorded 1,076 yards and seven scores on 182 attempts and posted five 100-yard efforts. His best performance of the season came against Rutgers (195), but Barkley also found running room against tough defenses in Ohio State (194) and Michigan State (103). After a standout debut as a true freshman last year, Barkley is due for more opportunities in 2016.

 

Related: College Football's Pre-Spring 1-128 Team Rankings for 2016

 

Shannon Brooks, Minnesota

Minnesota has churned out plenty of standouts at running back in recent memory, and Brooks looks like the next star for new coach Tracy Claeys. Brooks made 12 appearances as a true freshman last year and finished the season with 709 yards and seven scores. He eclipsed the 100-yard mark two times, including 176 yards against Purdue in a 41-13 victory for the Golden Gophers. Brooks will share carries with Rodney Smith, but the Georgia native should threaten the 1,000-yard mark in his sophomore campaign.

 

James Butler, Nevada

The Mountain West has a solid stable of running backs returning in 2016, and with names like Donnel Pumphrey (SDSU), Brian Hill (Wyoming) and Jeremy McNichols (Boise State) grabbing national attention, Butler’s name gets lost in the mix. The Illinois native recorded 1,345 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and averaged a healthy 6.5 yards per carry. Additionally, Butler posted 100-yard efforts in eight games, including 189 against Colorado State in the Arizona Bowl and 107 against Texas A&M.

 

Duke Catalon, Houston

Houston is losing a sizeable chunk of its ground attack with the departure of Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson. The duo combined for 1,365 yards last season, and Kaliq Kokuma is the only returning running back on the roster that recorded a carry (18) in 2015. Catalon is expected to make an immediate impact for coach Tom Herman and should assume the top spot in the backfield. After a redshirt year at Texas in 2014, Catalon – a four-star recruit coming out of high school – chose to transfer to Houston and is poised to be a difference maker for the Cougars in 2016.

 

Related: Grading College Football's First-Year Hires from 2015

 

Matthew Dayes, NC State

Dayes was off to a fast start last season but a foot injury limited him to just eight games. Prior to the season-ending ailment, Dayes rushed for 865 yards and 12 touchdowns and recorded at least 100 yards in five contests. His best effort of the year came against Wake Forest (205 yards). Dayes should open the season as NC State's No. 1 back, but he will face competition from talented redshirt freshman Johnny Frasier. A committee approach would not be a surprise for the Wolfpack.

 

Keith Ford, Texas A&M

The Aggies won’t drastically alter their scheme for 2016, but this team might play more to its defense and the ground game than it has since joining the SEC. New coordinator Noel Mazzone’s offense generated a 1,000-yard rusher in three out of his four seasons at UCLA. Mazzone won’t have Tra Carson at his disposal, but the Texas A&M ground attack should be in good shape with Ford leading the way. Ford was a five-star recruit in the high school ranks and spent two years at Oklahoma, recording 503 yards and six rushing scores.

 

D’Onta Foreman/Chris Warren, Texas

Transitioning to a new offense and sorting out the quarterback situation is a tough challenge for new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert in his first season in Austin. But the cupboard isn’t completely bare for Gilbert. Foreman and Warren were a bright spot last year, as the duo combined for 1,237 yards and eight scores. Foreman brought more of a big-play element to the offense, as he gashed opponents for 7.2 yards per rush. Will this duo share carries once again? Or will Foreman emerge as the clear No. 1 back?

 

Related: Big 12's Pre-Spring Top 15 Players for 2016

 

Myles Gaskin, Washington

Washington is poised to challenge Stanford for Pac-12 North supremacy this season, as the Huskies are a team on the rise behind talented sophomore quarterback Jake Browning and one of the nation’s top defenses. Additionally, the offense found a spark on the ground last year with the emergence of Gaskin. As a true freshman in 2015, Gaskin rushed for 1,302 yards and 14 scores. Additionally, he eclipsed at least 100 yards in each of Washington’s last four games.

 

Soso Jamabo, UCLA

Paul Perkins’ decision to leave for the NFL opens the door for Jamabo to take over as UCLA’s No. 1 back. The five-star recruit from Texas impressed in limited action last season, recording 403 yards and four touchdowns on 66 carries. Jamabo’s best performance came against Oregon State (90 yards), and he also posted two outings of 79 yards (Virginia and California). Expect the sophomore to lead the way for UCLA’s ground attack and push for at least 1,000 yards in 2016.

 

Related: Pac-12's Pre-Spring Top 25 Players for 2016

 

Jordan Johnson, Buffalo

Second-year coach Lance Leipold faces a rebuilding project on offense, as just two starters are back for 2016. However, the offense has a good place to start the rebuilding effort at running back with the return of Johnson. As a backup to starter Anthone Taylor last season, Johnson rushed for 811 yards and 12 scores on 172 attempts. Despite the limited action, the New York native showcased the necessary talent to handle the every-down role for the Bulls. He recorded 147 yards on 28 attempts against Ohio and posted 123 yards against Miami (Ohio) in late October.

 

Xavier Johnson, South Alabama

Getting the ball to Johnson more often in 2016 should be a priority for coordinator Bryant Vincent. Johnson showed big-play ability and explosiveness in 12 games for the Jaguars last year, rushing for 956 yards and seven touchdowns on 145 attempts. Johnson posted five 100-yard games but only attempted at least 20 carries two times in 2015. With a few more opportunities next season, Johnson should eclipse the 1,000-yard mark and push for All-Sun Belt honors.

 

Markell Jones, Purdue

Coach Darrell Hazell is looking for a spark on offense after Purdue averaged 22.5 points a game in Big Ten action last season. Even though the Boilermakers have room to improve on offense, the emergence of two freshmen last season – quarterback David Blough and running back Markell Jones – provide hope for 2016. Jones led the Boilermakers with 875 rushing yards and 10 scores. His best performance came against the rugged Michigan State defense, recording 157 yards on 22 attempts. With more help up front and opportunities, Jones could become Purdue’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2008.

 

Related: College Football's Top 20 Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2016

 

Ronald Jones, USC

With quarterback Cody Kessler expiring his eligibility, it’s safe to assume the Trojans will utilize their ground attack more in 2016. New coach Clay Helton and coordinator Tee Martin aren’t hurting for options at running back, with Jones returning as the lead back after a strong freshman campaign. In 14 games last year, Jones recorded 987 yards and eight scores. He posted just one effort of more than 100 yards, but the Texas native also never attempted more than 19 carries in a contest. With more opportunities and a solid offensive line leading the way, Jones should easily eclipse 1,000 yards next season.

 

Devante Mays, Utah State

Mays was a key pickup from the junior college ranks last season and provided some punch to Utah State’s ground game late in the 2015 campaign. After recording less than 12 carries in each of the first six contests, Mays recorded at least 15 attempts in five out of the last seven games. Additionally, Mays posted three 100-yard efforts in the second half of the season, including 176 against Wyoming and 124 against Akron in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

 

Travon McMillian, Virginia Tech

New coach Justin Fuente inherits a talented group of running backs in Blacksburg, and this unit will help the first-year coach alleviate some of the pressure on the quarterback. McMillian had a breakout year as a redshirt freshman last season, and all signs point to an even better 2016 campaign. McMillian rushed for 1,042 yards and seven scores on 200 attempts and recorded three straight 100-yard efforts in the second half of the year. The return of Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie adds depth to this backfield, but McMillian should remain the go-to back for Fuente.

 

Related: Grading College Football's New Coach Hires for 2016

 

Joe Mixon, Oklahoma

Opportunities could be limited for Mixon with Samaje Perine clearly entrenched as Oklahoma’s No. 1 back. However, as Mixon showcased in his first year of playing time with the Sooners, he’s got plenty of big-play ability and is a valuable receiver out of the backfield. In 13 games last season, Mixon ran for 753 yards and seven scores and grabbed 28 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns. Exceeding those totals by a lot in 2016 won’t be easy, but coordinator Lincoln Riley should find a few additional ways to get Mixon more involved.  

 

Ryan Nall, Oregon State

“The Wrecking Nall” is still a bit of a mystery after recording only 73 carries last season. Despite the small sample size, there’s a lot to like about the converted tight end. Nall rushed for 455 yards and three scores on 73 attempts and caught seven passes for 109 yards in 2015. Nall was more involved in the offense late in the year, including a 174-yard effort against Oregon and 122 yards against Colorado. Coach Gary Andersen inherited a major rebuilding project, but Nall is a player that could help spark an Oregon State offense that managed only 19 points a game last year.

 

Devine Redding, Indiana

Jordan Howard’s one-year stint at Indiana was a successful one, but the drop-off at running back for coach Kevin Wilson should be minimal. Redding was a solid No. 2 option last season, rushing for 1,012 yards and nine scores on 226 attempts. He also filled in as Indiana’s No. 1 back when Howard was injured late in the year and recorded three consecutive performances of at least 130 yards in each of the final three games. Redding gashed Duke for 227 yards and one touchdown in the Pinstripe Bowl and is poised to build on those totals in 2016.

 

Related: Big Ten's Pre-Spring Top 25 Players for 2016

 

Jovon Robinson, Auburn

This is the second year in a row Robinson makes an appearance in this list. The junior college product rushed for 639 yards and three touchdowns last season and finished the year on a high note with 126 yards against Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl. With Peyton Barber departing to the NFL, combined with Robinson’s strong close to the 2015 season, all signs point to a breakout year in his second year at Auburn.

 

Bo Scarbrough, Alabama

Derrick Henry will be missed, but as usual in Tuscaloosa, Alabama isn’t hurting for talent at running back. Scarbrough looks like the next star for coach Nick Saban after rushing for 104 yards and one score on 18 attempts last season. The Alabama native was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, and at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Scarbrough has a physical build similar to Henry. Scarbrough needs to prove he can stay healthy for a full season, but the sophomore will be one of the SEC’s top breakout stars at running back. 

 

Related: SEC's Pre-Spring Top 25 Players for 2016

 

LJ Scott, Michigan State

With quarterback Connor Cook off to the NFL, the Spartans are expected to lean more on their ground attack in 2016. Coach Mark Dantonio has assembled a deep backfield for the offense to utilize, as three players return that recorded at least 500 rushing yards in 2015. Scott led the way with 699 yards and 11 scores, including 73 yards and the all-important game-winning score to beat Iowa in the Big Ten Championship. Gerald Holmes, Madre London and Delton Williams will see carries, but the guess here is Scott emerges as the team’s go-to back in 2016.

 

Ito Smith, Southern Miss

New coach Jay Hopson inherits six returning starters from an offense that averaged 39.9 points a game in 2015. Quarterback Nick Mullens is the headliner, but the ground attack shouldn’t be overlooked. Smith quietly rushed for 1,128 yards and 10 scores last season and was a key target in the passing game with 49 catches for 515 yards. He also led all Conference USA running backs with nine rushes of 30 yards or more in 2015.

 

Justin Stockton, Texas Tech

DeAndre Washington capped a solid career in Lubbock with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. While the Red Raiders lean on the passing attack and quarterback Patrick Mahomes to generate points and yards, the ground game is far from an afterthought. Stockton is slated to get the first opportunity to replace Washington at running back, and the junior has already showcased big-play potential in limited snaps. Stockton rushed for 367 yards (6.02 ypc) last season and added 22 receptions for 341 yards and six scores in 2015. Corey Dauphine and Quinton White are also expected to push for carries this offseason.

 

Related: College Football's Pre-Spring 1-128 QB Rankings for 2016

 

Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Illinois

New coach Lovie Smith is just getting acclimated to his new team, but Smith has to like the start the Fighting Illini has on offense. Quarterback Wes Lunt and receiver Mike Dudek return, and the ground attack should be in good shape with Vaughn leading the way. As a freshman last year, Vaughn led the offense with 723 rushing yards and six scores and caught 16 balls for 119 yards. The Tennessee native is poised for a breakthrough campaign in 2016.

 

Mike Warren, Iowa State

Warren is the centerpiece of new coach Matt Campbell’s rebuilding effort at Iowa State. In 12 games last year, Warren rushed for 1,339 yards and five scores and posted one 200-yard effort (245 against Texas Tech). Campbell nearly landed Warren as a recruit at Toledo, so there is plenty of familiarity between Warren and the new coaching staff. Additionally, Campbell’s offenses (as a head coach) at Toledo generated a 1,000-yard rusher in three out of the four seasons. If a rebuilt offensive line meshes early in the year, Warren could challenge for the Big 12’s rushing title.

 

Mike Weber, Ohio State

This spot could go to a couple of Buckeyes, but the guess here is Weber ends up leading the team in rushing yards by the end of 2016. Weber was slated to play as a true freshman last season, but a knee injury kept the Detroit native on the sidelines. The potential and upside is there for Weber to step in and soften the blow from Ezekiel Elliott’s early departure to the NFL. Weber was a four-star recruit and ranked as the No. 78 overall prospect in the 2015 signing class. Antonio Williams and Bri’onte Dunn are also in the mix for carries.

 

Boom Williams, Kentucky

Williams has been a solid player for coach Mark Stoops in each of the last two seasons, but the Georgia native is capable of elevating his game to another level. Despite missing two games last year, Williams rushed for 855 yards and six scores last season. Additionally, Williams recorded 7.1 yards per rush – the most by any SEC running back with at least 100 carries. With four starters back on the offensive line, can Williams hit the 1,000-yard mark in 2016?

 

Related: SEC's Top 15 Defensive Players on the Rise for 2016

 

David Williams, South Carolina

One of the biggest concerns for new coach Will Muschamp has to be the skill players on offense. The Gamecocks lose running back (Brandon Wilds) and three of the top four receivers from 2015. Williams was rated as a four-star recruit out of high school but has only worked in a reserve role in each of the last two years. The Philadelphia native has never recorded more than 14 carries in a game, but 2016 should be his time to step forward as South Carolina’s go-to running back.

 

Jarveon Williams, UTSA

New coach Frank Wilson certainly knows all about finding and developing good running backs. After all, Wilson comes to UTSA after tutoring standouts Leonard Fournette, Stevan Ridley and Jeremy Hill at LSU. Wilson should find plenty to like in Williams, as the Texas native is UTSA’s top weapon on offense. In 11 games last year, Williams recorded 1,042 yards and eight scores on 173 attempts. Expect Wilson to utilize Williams even more in 2016.

 

Joe Williams, Utah

Utah got an early glimpse of its 2016 backfield after Devontae Booker was lost for the year in mid-November with a knee injury. Williams filled in admirably late in the year, recording 399 yards and three touchdowns over the final three games and finished the season with 477 yards on 104 attempts. After a strong showing in his first year on campus, Williams is poised for even bigger things in 2016 as Utah’s No. 1 running back.

 

Others to Watch

 

Josh Adams/Dexter Williams, Notre Dame

Tarean Folston is back from a season-ending knee injury, but the Fighting Irish could spread the wealth in carries in 2016. Adams finished second on the team in 2015 with 838 yards, while Williams chipped in 81 yards on 21 carries. Both players should see plenty of opportunities next fall.

 

Related: College Football's Top 25 Spring QB Battles for 2016

 

Warren Ball, Akron

Ball was a four-star recruit but never found consistent playing time with the Buckeyes. The Columbus native could realize his potential as a graduate transfer with the Zips.

 

Jamauri Bogan, Western Michigan

Bogan supplanted Jarvion Franklin (1,551 yards in 2014) as Western Michigan’s No. 1 back in 2015 and finished the year with 1,051 yards and 16 scores. Will Bogan remain in the lead role or will Franklin reclaim the starting job?

 

Mike Boone, Cincinnati

Three Cincinnati backs rushed for 700 yards last season, but only two – Boone and Tion Green – return for 2016. Boone rushed for 749 yards and nine scores in 11 games last season and showed the most big-play ability (7.2 ypc) in the Cincinnati backfield.

 

Fred Coppet, Bowling Green

New coach Mike Jinks won’t have quarterback Matt Johnson or dynamic receivers Roger Lewis or Gehrig Dieter at his disposal, but Coppet returns after working as the No. 2 option to Travis Greene last year. Coppet rushed for 825 yards and five touchdowns on 145 carries last fall.

 

Related: Grading College Football's New Coach Hires for 2016

 

Justin Crawford, West Virginia

Crawford should play a key role in West Virginia’s ground attack after Wendell Smallwood left early for the NFL. Crawford ranked as the No. 34 overall junior college recruit in the 247Sports Composite.

 

LeShun Daniels/Akrum Wadley, Iowa

With Jordan Canzeri out of eligibility, the focus in the Iowa backfield shifts to Daniels and Wadley. Derrick Mitchell is also in the mix, but Daniels and Wadley worked in the backup role to Canzeri in 2015. Will the Hawkeyes find a clear No. 1 back or is a committee approach coming in 2016?

 

Dontrell Hilliard, Tulane

It’s no secret new coach Willie Fritz likes to run the ball. Hilliard only rushed for 646 yards last year, but his 5.6 per carry average provides promise for 2016.

 

Xavier Jones, SMU

Coach Chad Morris is starting to put the pieces into place for improvement on SMU’s offense. Jones was a three-star recruit in the 2015 signing class and finished second to quarterback Matt Davis in rushing yardage (632) and tied for the team lead in rushing scores (10).

 

C.J. Leggett, Georgia Tech

Leggett was poised for a huge role in Georgia Tech’s backfield last season but an ACL tear in April ended his 2015 season. Leggett is expected to return at full strength to help anchor the ground attack for coach Paul Johnson in 2016.

 

Robert Martin/Josh Hicks, Rutgers

Martin and Hicks earn a mention in this column for the second year in a row. This duo combined for 1,437 yards and 10 scores last season and will be the focal point for the offense under new coach Chris Ash.

 

I’Tavius Mathers, MTSU

Ole Miss transfer is eligible after sitting out 2015 due to NCAA transfer rules. Mathers recorded 290 yards with the Rebels in 2014 and should provide some punch to a MTSU ground attack that ranked 12th in Conference USA last year.

 

Related: College Football's Top 20 QBs on the Rise for 2016

 

Izzy Matthews, Colorado State

Dalyn Dawkins is still the lead back in Fort Collins, but Matthews will get more opportunities after rushing for 590 yards as a true freshman last season.

 

Timothy McVey, Air Force

McVey doesn’t have a huge sample size of stats, but the Ohio native showcased a knack for creating big plays last year. He caught 10 passes for 307 yards (30.7 ypc) and four touchdowns and gashed opposing defenses for 435 yards and nine touchdowns on just 51 carries. Will the Falcons get McVey more involved in 2016?

 

Jalin Moore, Appalachian State

The Mountaineers are loaded at running back – led by standout Marcus Cox – but Moore could find a few additional opportunities after rushing for 731 yards on just 99 carries (as a freshman) last fall.

 

Khalfani Muhammad, California

With Jared Goff departing, the focus of California’s offense could shift more to the ground attack in 2016. Muhammad leads a solid trio of backs for coach Sonny Dykes and finished with 586 yards and one score on 87 rushes last year.

 

Arkeel Newsome, UConn

The ground attack is the strength of UConn’s offense, and Newsome is the headliner for coach Bob Diaco after recording 792 yards and six touchdowns on 183 carries in 2015.

 

A.J. Ouellette, Ohio

Ouellette has been a steady performer for the Bobcats over the last two seasons and rushed for 785 yards on 160 carries in 2015. Will the junior get more opportunities in 2016?

 

Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska

The Cornhuskers are hoping to generate more from their ground attack in 2016, but will a clear go-to option at running back emerge for coach Mike Riley? Ozigbo is one to watch after he rushed for 87 yards on 21 attempts in the Foster Farms Bowl win against UCLA.

 

Related: Big Ten's Pre-Spring Top 25 Players for 2016

 

Jordan Scarlett/Mark Thompson, Florida

The Gators are searching for a new No. 1 back after Kelvin Taylor left Gainesville to head to the NFL. Scarlett was a four-star recruit in the 2015 signing class and rushed for 181 yards and one score on 34 attempts. He will be pushed for snaps by incoming junior college product Mark Thompson.

 

Alonzo Smith, Miami, Ohio

The RedHawks struggled to establish their ground attack last season, but Smith showed promise late in the year by recording 93 yards against Eastern Michigan and 109 against UMass.

 

Shaq Vann, Eastern Michigan

Vann should be a key cog in the Eastern Michigan offense this season. As a backup to starter Darius Jackson last year, Vann recorded 586 yards (5.8 ypc) and five touchdowns. He also posted one 100-yard effort (Wyoming) and is the go-to back with Jackson out of eligibility.

 

Kareem Walker, Michigan

The top three running backs from 2015 are back for coach Jim Harbaugh, but the Wolverines could have trouble keeping Walker on the sidelines. The New Jersey native was a four-star recruit and ranked No. 100 in the 247Sports Composite. Early playing time is certainly possible in 2016.

 

Warren Wand/Johnston White, Arkansas State

Michael Gordon (1,063 yards in 2015) will be missed, but Arkansas State’s ground attack shouldn’t miss a beat with Wand (707 yards last year) and White (14 TDs, 616 yards) back in Jonesboro. 

 

Devwah Whaley, Arkansas

Who will be the next star running back for Bret Bielema at Arkansas? Whaley – a top 100 recruit in the 247Sports Composite – is a name to watch when he hits campus this summer.

 

Jeffrey Wilson, North Texas

Wilson should be one of the top playmakers for new coach Seth Littrell in 2016. Wilson showed flashes of promise last year by recording for 830 rushing yards and one score (5.4 ypc) on 155 attempts.

 

Marquis Young, UMass

Young quietly finished the 2015 season on a high note by recording 472 yards over the final three games for the Minutemen. He should be more involved with the ground attack as a sophomore next fall.

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Everything finally fell into place for Washington State last season. The Cougars finished with nine wins for the first time since 2003. With Luke Falk at quarterback, few defenses could effectively contain Washington State's explosive passing attack. Now building a consistent winner is the task ahead for Mike Leach as 2016 approaches.

 

Staying competitive in the Pac-12 North may come down to what improvements Washington State can make on the defensive side of the ball. The Cougar offense, as long as Falk stays healthy, should be in good hands.

 

4 Storylines to Watch in Washington State’s Spring Practice

 

1. What can Falk do for an encore?

Many coaches have to be kicking themselves for not giving Falk a closer look when he played at Utah’s Logan High School. Falk joined Washington State program as a walk-on after receiving virtually no recruiting attention. Now he is one the Pac-12's best quarterbacks.

 

Related: College Football's Pre-Spring 1-128 Starting Quarterback Rankings for 2016

 

Falk enjoyed a breakout sophomore season last fall. He threw for 4,566 yards and 38 touchdowns while completing 69.4 percent of his passes. Falk ranked fifth nationally in total passing yards and fourth in passing touchdowns. With him at the controls, the Cougars had the nation's top passing offense (389.5 yards per game) in 2015.

 

There are concerns about Falk's health after he got knocked out of three different games with injuries last season and missed the Apple Cup because of a concussion. The offense's production dropped off noticeably under Peyton Bender, Falk's backup, so keeping its starting quarterback healthy is critical for Washington State's continued success.

 

2. Backfield blossoming

Don't look now, but Washington State is starting to get a semblance of a ground game going. Leach is notorious for having quarterbacks dial up 50 or 60 passes in a game, but he may be able to give Falk's arm a little bit of rest this fall.

 

The Cougars return their top three running backs — Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington — from a season ago. Wicks led the trio with 610 rushing yards on 5.7 yards per carry. Harrington was the top receiving threat with 312 yards on 43 catches. That group only gets deeper this spring with the addition of promising freshman James Williams.

 

3. Retooling the defensive line

The Cougars must find replacements for Destiny Vaeao and Darryl Paulo who can offer similar defensive playmaking skills. Vaeao was a consistent disruptor at the line of scrimmage. Paulo was a leader in tackles for a loss and sacks on the line.

 

Hercules Mata'afa will get a chance to move into a starting role. He did well as a pass rusher while backing up Vaeao a year ago. Robert Barber returns at nose tackle and Daniel Ekuale will slide over from tackle to play end. The trio will be counted on to boost Washington State's run defense after the team gave up nearly five yards per carry. It kept the defense on the field for long stretches and proved to be a major liability for the Cougars at times.

 

4. Marks headlines receivers again

Getting back Gabe Marks for one more season is an unexpected surprise. Marks seemed to be on the NFL radar at the end of last season after totaling 1,192 receiving yards and leading the Pac-12 with 15 touchdown catches.

 

Getting back Marks will add teeth to a receiver corps already flush with depth, talent and experience. Only Dom Williams, the No. 2 receiver behind Marks last season, is gone from Falk's top targets in 2015. It should make the unit a defensive headache again in 2016.

 

Washington State's Pre-Spring Outlook in the Pac-12

 

Leach has brought hope back to Pullman after snapping a streak of 11 consecutive losing seasons last fall. Now the task is to build on that nine-game winning season and Sun Bowl victory. The Cougars should be able to keep moving forward in the Pac-12 North. With Falk and nearly of the team's top receivers back, it's safe to say Washington State is poised to be an offensive powerhouse again in 2016.

 

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.

Teaser:
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The first week of the NCAA Tournament has come and gone, and we have cut down the field to the Sweet 16. Northern Iowa, Stephen F. Austin and Middle Tennessee tried their best to  play the role of Cinderella, but the clock has struck midnight on the mid-majors, as the Sweet 16 has turned into a battle of the college basketball big boys — including a record six ACC teams.

 

Related: 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Sweet 16 Schedule

 

The second week of the Big Dance has become a who’s who in college hoops, highlighted by all four No. 1 seeds, historic programs and Hall of Fame coaches. Although the long shots and dark horses weren’t sent packing, doesn't mean that the madness has to stop. In fact, this Sweet 16 has a chance to be one of the best in recent memory with teams all being within arm’s reach of one another.

 

So how the remaining teams stack up? Let’s rank them, from No. 1 all the way through to No. 16.

 

1. Kansas Jayhawks (32-4)

The Jayhawks have to be the popular pick to cut down the nets in Houston after Michigan State’s early and unexpected exit at the hands of Middle Tennessee. Kansas blew out feel-good No. 16 Austin Peay in the first round, and handled the red-hot No. 9 Connecticut Huskies on Saturday. This isn’t the most talented group Bill Self has had in his Lawrence tenure, but it is his most cohesive and arguably his toughest team. Kanas presents a series of conundrums for opposing coaches. Lead by Wayne Selden Jr. and Perry Ellis, the Jayhawks have depth that other teams could only dream about. Focus on shutting down Selden? Then good luck stopping Frank Mason III or Devonte Graham at the same time. Per 40 minutes, the Jayhawks have 11 players that average a minimum of 12 points, and rank in the top 10 in offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency.

 

2. North Carolina Tar Heels (30-6)

If Kansas is No.1, then the Tar Heels are 1B. Roy Williams’ squad has saved its best and most versatile brand of basketball for March. The Tar Heels disposed of No. 16 Florida Golf Coast in the opening round and then went small against No. 9 Providence to beat the Friars 85-66 on Saturday night. Carolina has so many ways to beat you, but it starts with the interior presence of senior Brice Johnson (16.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg) and works its way outside with guards Joel Berry II and Marcus Paige. Carolina plays Indiana on Friday night in a matchup between two of the sport’s most historic programs, with a total of 10 combined national titles. Roy’s boys match up very well with the Hoosiers, and everyone else left in the tourney.

 

3. Villanova Wildcats (31-5)

Forget about all the early and disappointing Villanova Tournament exits in past years. This Wildcat team is the same as any Jay Wright-coached squad over the past decade: guard-oriented, efficient in transition, and hard-nosed defensively. So what is the difference between those disappointing ‘Nova teams of yesteryear and this season’s? In short — tenacity. These Wildcats are superb on the defensive end, ranking seventh in defensive efficiency, and forcing more than 20 turnovers per game. Villanova also has arguably the most well-balanced and aggressive offensive attack in college basketball, with six players qualifying as “significant contributors” on KenPom.com, keeping opposing defenses guessing. 

 

4. Virginia Cavaliers (28-7)

Virginia opened up the first round by discarding No. 16 Hampton by 36, and holding the Pirates to just 45 points. For an encore performance, the Cavaliers shot a blistering 73 percent from the floor and poured in 54 points in the second half against No. 9 Butler. Tony Bennett’s team is the most well-oiled and methodical team in college basketball. The Cavaliers are led national player of the year candidate and KenPom golden boy Malcolm Brogdon — you know about him. The player who somehow gets lost in the shuffle is senior forward Anthony Gill, another KenPom top 10 player. Brogdon and Gill aside, the Cavaliers are an extremely productive offensive team, ranking sixth in offensive efficiency, and rank within the top 20 nationally in turnover percentage, effective field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free-throw percentage. Oh yeah, they also have the best defense left in the Tournament. Good luck, everyone else.

 

5. Indiana Hoosiers (27-7)

The Hoosiers proved that their No. 5 seed was a misrepresentation after dismantling Chattanooga in the first round and then topping archrival Kentucky on Saturday to advance to their third Sweet 16 in five seasons. The Yogi Ferrell-led Hoosiers are the most visually appealing team remaining in the dance. Indiana likes to get out and run, and all five guys on the floor can move, especially wing-post hybrids Troy Williams and freshman OG Anunoby. Williams has Jekyll and Hyde moments, but he has at least one instance per game that simply makes you question what if you just witnessed was reality – “Did he really just hit that shot!?” The best part about this Hoosiers squad is their chemistry. Every player knows and executes their specific roles perfectly.

 

6. Oklahoma Sooners (27-7)

Senior guard Buddy Hield is the best thing going in college basketball and must-see TV. He backed up a 27-point performance in the opening round against CSU Bakersfield with his closing argument for national player of the year honors — a 29-point, second-half explosion against VCU on Saturday night. Hield finished with 36 points, six three-pointers, and seven rebounds in OU’s hard-fought 85-81 win over the Rams. The Sooners face a feisty Texas A&M team in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night. While Hield drives the offense, the Sooners are great on defense, giving them a well-rounded attack and a great shot at the Final Four.

 

7. Oregon Ducks (30-6)

The Ducks are still fighting for national respect — even after earning a No. 1 seed, Oregon still isn’t the favorite to make it to the Final Four from the West region. Oregon whooped No. 16 Holy Cross by 39, and survived against St. Joseph’s on Sunday night, 69-64, to advance to the Sweet 16. Dana Altman’s team is so effective on offense thanks to its length and athleticism, starting with the versatile, 6-foot-7 Dillon Brooks. But the Ducks may only go as far as their freshman guard Tyler Dorsey can take them — especially in a Sweet 16 matchup against Duke’s backcourt.

 

8. Miami Hurricanes (27-7)

The Hurricanes are the streakiest team left in the Tournament. They will string together minutes of brilliant play followed by what seems like endless possessions of cluelessness. The ceiling for Miami is the Final Four; it’s just a matter of Jim Larranaga’s team pulling it all together for 40 minutes on the sport’s biggest stage. Miami looked okay against an under-whelming Buffalo team, and then followed that up with a hard-fought victory over No. 11 Wichita State. Putting together that complete game against a premium Villanova squad in the Sweet 16 will be the difference between Miami reaching its potential or going home to South Florida by week’s end.

 

9. Iowa State (23-11)

Iowa State has made the most of a good situation thus far. After Purdue’s shocking loss in the opening round, the Cyclones’ first two Tournament opponents were double-digit seeds – No. 13 Iona and No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock. But don’t be fooled by the high seeds, both the Gaels and Trojans were solid teams, and the Cyclones handled both of them by an average margin of 15 points. Iowa State’s outstanding offense is well known, but defense has been the driving force so far this Tournament. A Sweet 16 matchup with Virginia is a college hoops fan’s dream. Georges Niang vs. Malcolm Brogdon is going to be worth tuning in to.

 

10. Maryland Terrapins (27-8)

Maryland slightly underperformed to lofty expectations throughout the regular season. The Terrapins survived the dreaded 12-5 upset in the first round against South Dakota State and lived to tell the tale against a tough No. 13 Hawaii team. The Terps will have more NBA talent (Diamond Stone, Melo Trimble) on Thursday night when they take on No. 1 Kansas — it’s just a matter of bringing that collective talent together and outplaying an all-around better team. One thing is for sure, if the Terps shoot as poorly as they did against Hawaii (1-for-18 from 3-point range), they can forget about upsetting the Jayhawks.

 

11. Duke Blue Devils (25-10)

The Blue Devils are similar to their former ACC counterpart, Maryland, in the fact that they’ve underachieved with a roster highlighted by NBA potential in Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen. Just when you thought that Duke was hitting its stride — leading Yale by 27 points on Saturday — the Blue Devils reminded you just how frustrating of a season it’s been when they allowed the Bulldogs to cut that near 30-point deficit to three with less than a minute remaining.

 

Duke held on, 71-64, but Coach K’s team looked spent after the final buzzer sounded against Yale. Duke now plays No. 1 Oregon late Thursday night. The Ducks are looking for national respect, and what better way than beating March royalty on their way to a Final Four? Dukies beware.

 

12. Texas A&M Aggies (28-8)

Call it divine basketball intervention. Call it a hardwood miracle. Or just call it March Madness. But whatever it was, on Sunday the Aggies found a way to erase a 12-point deficit with 40 seconds left in regulation against No. 11 Northern Iowa, to force OT. The Aggies were able to finally knock off the Panthers, 92-88, in double overtime to reserve a spot in the Sweet 16, the only SEC team to do so. Defense has been the Aggies’ greatest strength all season, as Danuel House has been carrying the offense. Texas A&M is going to need both against Buddy Hield and No. 2 Oklahoma on Thursday night. 

 

13. Gonzaga Bulldogs (28-7)

The Zags had to win the WCC Tournament in order to make their 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament. And so far, Mark Few’s team hasn’t disappointed, as the Bulldogs are getting it done on both ends of the floor. Domantas Sabonis is increasing his NBA Draft stock with his performances against No. 6 Seton Hall and No. 3 Utah, averaging 20 points and 13 rebounds in the first two rounds. Defensively, Gonzaga has been outstanding, keeping both the Pirates and Utes to fewer than 60 points last weekend.

 

14. Syracuse Orange (21-13)

The Orange are proving they belonged in the Tournament all along. After a 19-point win over No. 6 Dayton, and second half throttling of No. 15 Middle Tennessee, Jim Boeheim’s squad is now primed for an Elite Eight appearance if they can top No. 11 Gonzaga on Friday night. If ‘Cuse wants to move on, slowing down Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer on the perimeter and potential lottery pick Domantas Sabonis in the paint will be critical. The Orange have been strong defensively during the Tournament, something that will have to continue if wish to keep dancing.

 

15. Wisconsin Badgers (22-12)

The Badgers’ season has been a wild ride. Head coach Bo Ryan abruptly retired on Dec. 15 after a win over Texas A&M Corpus-Christi. The Badgers responded by losing four of their first six games under interim coach Greg Gard. After the brief skid, Wisconsin went on to win 10 of its next 11 Big Ten games. After an ugly 47-43 win over Pitt that set the game of basketball back four generations in the first round, the Badgers and Xavier Musketeers gave us a beautiful opening week parting gift on Sunday night. Bronson Koenig’s game-tying three-pointer, and then buzzer-beating, game-winning step-back three have given the Badgers a seemingly magic touch they can work with against No. 6 Notre Dame on Friday night.

 

16. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (23-11)

It’s not necessarily a knock that the Irish are the lowest-ranked team in this list, they’re just the least impressive of the bunch at the moment. It took a mediocre-at-best No. 11 Michigan team pushing the Irish around in the first half of the opening round for Notre Dame to realize it was a win-or-go-home sort of thing. The Irish stayed alive with a last-second tip-in against No. 14 Stephen F. Austin to keep dancing to the Sweet 16. Notre Dame is one the most efficient teams in the nation on offense, a testament to head coach Mike Brey, but the Irish can really struggle on defense, ranking 187th in the nation in defensive efficiency.

Teaser:
2016 NCAA Tournament: Ranking the Sweet 16 Teams
Post date: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/sportscenter-fidel-castro-tweet-delete-espn-savior-twitter
Body:

SportsCenter and ESPN often get blasted for their tone-deaf approach to things.

 

There are times the "world-wide leader in sports" is old-fashioned and just doesn't understand how social media works. They recently tweeted out a feature on Fidel Castro. Yes, that one. In the tweet, and the video from the website, they called Castro a "savior." Considering ESPN doesn't like its talent to share their political views, it's odd that the tweet was sent out.

 

Screen Shot 2016 03 20 at 6 04 50 PM

Obviously the SportsCenter account took a verbal beating of sorts, from fans to respected journalists, urging them to take the tweet down. In a matter of about 3 hours, they decided enough was enough and deleted the tweet without immediate explanation.

 

Hours after the tweet was gone, they sent out this one to clear up any confusion.

 

 

Saying "our bad" isn't going to rectify the situation that didn't sit well with the 25 million of SportsCenter's followers.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 15:56
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Overtime
Path: /overtime/trutv-gives-finger-those-making-fun-its-viewership-pick-six-ncaa-tournament-march-madness
Body:

TruTV is a channel many sports fans may not know until March Madness comes around, but don't tell them that.

 

When Pick Six tried to come after the channel for being "popular" for one month of the year, they weren't having it.

 

 

TruTV didn't let that slide and answered with this colorful tweet, complete with an obsene gesture. 

 

 

middle finger trutv 1024x768
Although Pick Six tried to clear up the confusion, TruTV called them out on the sideways comment.

 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 14:29
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-2016-sweet-16-bracket-cheat-sheets
Body:

Let’s face it, chances are pretty good that your NCAA Tournament bracket is busted. Take heart, you’re not alone in this after all the chaos, fantastic finishes and unexpected outcomes that took place in the first and second rounds. But the good news is it’s not too late to redeem yourself. The Sweet 16 is set, and with it comes a shot at redemption.

 

So what if you didn’t have Syracuse or Gonzaga or Wisconsin making it to the Sweet 16. Now’s your chance to go all in on the Orange or Bulldogs or Badgers or you can hitch your wagon to another horse. No Michigan State or Kentucky to choose for your Final Four? No problem, as other blue bloods like Kansas, North Carolina, Duke and Indiana are still in the hunt.

 

The point is this. Consider the slate clean. If you could start over from this point, who would you have making it to the Final Four? Here’s how some Athlon editors see things playing out as the field narrows down to four teams come Sunday night. Besides, you know that they say: hindsight is always 20/20.

 

Mitch Light      
South           East
     
Final Four
         
 
     
             
West           Midwest
     
     
         
 
     

 

Braden Gall      
South           East
     
Final Four
         
 
     
             
West           Midwest
     
     
         
 
     

 

David Fox      
South           East
     
Final Four
         
 
     
             
West           Midwest
     
     
         
 
     

 

Jasmine Watkins      
South           East
     
Final Four
         
 
     
             
West           Midwest
     
     
         
 
     

 

Mark Ross      
South           East
     
Final Four
         
 
     
             
West           Midwest
     
     
         
 
     
Teaser:
NCAA Tournament 2016: Sweet 16 Bracket Cheat Sheets
Post date: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Overtime
Path: /college-basketball/top-moments-first-weekend-ncaa-tournament-march-madness-uni-texas-am-mtsu-wisconsin-xavier
Body:

They don't call it March Madness for nothing.

 

The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament lived up to the hype. Upsets, buzzer-beaters, and more all left us crying and cheering like never before. Here are some of the more memorable moments as you try to make sense of everything that happened. Sure there were a lot of epic moment, but these have to rank among the top in everyone's memory.

 

Middle Tennessee upsets Michigan State

 

Wisconsin heads to the Sweet 16 

 

 

Notre Dame steals a win from S.F. Austin... hearbreakers

 

Texas A&M's epic comeback against UNI

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 11:20
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2016-majors-no-14-zach-johnson
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2016 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Gary Williams.

 

No. 14: Zach Johnson

Born: Feb. 24, 1976, Cedar Rapids, Iowa | Career PGA Tour Wins: 12 | 2015 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2015 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,801,487 (8th) | World Ranking: 15

 

Gary Williams' Take: By adding a second major championship to his résumé with his Open Championship win, Johnson has put himself in a position for a Hall of Fame run as he enters his 40s. To achieve a dozen wins on Tour and two majors in an era of bomb and gouge is a great testament to his grit, but also to his commitment to playing to his strengths. Consider that he won The Masters at Augusta and the Open Championship at St. Andrews, both of which favor bombers, by sticking to a plan and executing it expertly. Like others with similar strengths, he should be expected to continue his production well into his 40s. He accumulated 10 top 10s in 2015, and while other shorter hitters have to focus on places like Colonial and Harbour Town, Johnson has shown that he can contend on courses with four par 5s and courses in excess of 7,200 yards.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 47
Wins: 2
2015 Performance:
    Masters – T9
    U.S. Open – T72
    British Open – 1
    PGA Championship – Cut
Best Career Finishes
    Masters - 1 (2007)
    U.S. Open - T30 (2011)
    British Open - 1 (2015)
    PGA Championship - T3 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 8
Top-25 Finishes: 12
Missed Cuts: 16

 

Athlon's 2016 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Zach Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 11:01
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Utah Utes, Pac 12
Path: /college-football/utah-utes-2016-spring-football-preview
Body:

Utah is transforming into a team other Pac-12 teams don't want to face.

 

The Utes are coming off their best season since joining the league – finishing 10-3 overall and earning a bowl victory and final Top 25 ranking for the second consecutive season. Can Utah keep all of this momentum going forward in 2016?

 

The Utes have the ingredients in place to carve out another memorable season. Utah is strong once again on defense. The biggest mystery – like in past seasons – is how the offense will perform once fall arrives.

 

Five Storylines to Watch in Utah’s Spring Practice

 

1. Replacing Devontae Booker

Booker functioned as the engine that drove Utah's offense for the past two seasons. Filling his shoes won't be an easy task. Utah does have a stable of capable running backs, though, who can step up into a bigger role this season.

 

Joe Williams has the early edge for the top spot. The speedy senior made three starts after Booker went down with a season-ending injury a year ago. He totaled 477 yards and three touchdowns on 104 carries. Williams had issues with fumbling during his three starts, so the door is definitely wide open for Troy McCormick or incoming freshman Zach Moss to push for playing time.

 

Related: College Football's Top 10 Impact JUCO Transfer Quarterbacks for 2016

 

2. Who will start at quarterback?

For the first time since 2012, Utah opens a season without Travis Wilson at quarterback. Wilson set the school record for quarterback starts (39) and games played (46). He finished with 7,403 career passing yards, 54 touchdown passes, 21 rushing touchdowns and 8,627 yards of total offense.

 

Junior college transfer Troy Williams, redshirt sophomore Brandon Cox and true freshman Tyler Huntley will be battling to be the new Utah quarterback. Williams is likely the front-runner after throwing for 2,750 yards, 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions during his sophomore season at Santa Monica (Calif.) College.

 

3. Breaking in new linebackers

Linebacker is the only defensive position group with major question marks coming into spring camp. Utah must endure the difficult task of replacing standouts Gionni Paul and Jared Norris. Paul and Norris set the pace for the defense, combining for 204 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, eight pass breakups and four forced fumbles.

 

Utah has some promising junior college talent to fill those open spots at linebacker. David Laufatasaga, a transfer from Arizona Western College, can step in and make an immediate impact. Laufatasaga has great size for a linebacker and is a relentless hitter. Kurtis Taufa, a transfer from Snow (Utah) College, also could earn an immediate starting role with his ability to read offenses and quickly get to the ball.

 

4. Restocking special teams

Replacing a punter may not seem like a big deal. But when it is two-time Ray Guy Award winner Tom Hackett, it's a different story. Hackett played a critical role in winning field position battles last season. He led the Pac-12 and ranked second in the FBS in net punting, averaging 48 yards per punt. Hackett totaled a school record 10,933 career punt yards at Utah. The Utes have brought in another Australian punter, Mitch Wishnowsky, to try and fill his shoes.

 

Things are more settled at placekicker where Andy Phillips returns for his senior season. Phillips went 23-of-27 (.852) on field goals as a junior – highlighted by a career-long 53 yard kick against USC. He also went 47-of-47 on PATs, making 100 percent for the second time in three seasons.

 

5. Will the receivers take a step forward?

Utah hired Guy Holliday away from BYU during the offseason as the team's new receivers coach. Holliday will inherit the task of finding a way to elevate a position group that underachieved at times last season while replacing the Utes' top two receivers from 2015.

 

Kenneth Scott graduated and Britain Covey departed for a two-year Mormon mission. Utah's top returning receivers are tight end Harrison Handley (21 catches, 286 yards, four touchdowns) and wide receiver Tyrone Smith (18 catches, 193 yards). Tim Patrick, a key contributor in 2014, also is expected to return after sitting out 2015 with a leg injury.

 

The door is wide open for returning contributors like Patrick, Handley, Smith, Caleb Repp and Kenric Young to step up and put together breakout seasons. Newcomers like Alec Dana and Demari Simpkins will have a chance to also carve out a role.

 

Utah's Pre-Spring Outlook in the Pac-12

 

There are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the Utes this season. Utah's offensive and defensive lines are loaded with skill, experience and depth. The Utes also remain strong in the secondary and on special teams.

 

Utah has brought in several promising new playmakers at the offensive skill positions. The Utes lack experience in some areas of the offense, but if the talent at quarterback receiver, and running back lives up to its potential, there should not be any significant drop-off for Utah in the Pac-12 South.

 

If Utah can duplicate or build on what it has done the past two seasons, the Utes may once again challenge for a Pac-12 South title.

 

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.

Teaser:
Utah Utes 2016 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-basketball/2016-ncaa-mens-basketball-tournament-sweet-16-schedule
Body:

The 2016 NCAA Tournament field has been narrowed from 68 teams down to 16. By Sunday evening, there will be just four teams left standing that have earned the right to advance to Houston and play for the national championship. If the first week of this Tournament is any indication, the March Madness has just begun.

 

Here are the matchups, times and broadcast information for Thursday and Friday’s Sweet 16 action.

 

Note: Some start times may be approximate.

 

Thursday, March 24


No. 3 Miami vs. No. 2 Villanova (South Region)

7:10 p.m. ET, CBS

KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, KY)

 

No. 3 Texas A&M vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (West Region)

7:37 p.m. ET, TBS

Honda Center (Anaheim, CA)

 

No. 5 Maryland vs. No. 1 Kansas (South Region)

9:40 p.m. ET, CBS

KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, KY)

 

No. 4 Duke vs. No. 1 Oregon (West Region)

10:07 p.m. ET, TBS

Honda Center (Anaheim, CA)

 

Friday, March 25

 

No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 1 Virginia (Midwest Region)

7:10 p.m. ET, CBS

United Center (Chicago)

 

No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Notre Dame (East Region)

7:27 p.m. ET, TBS

Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)

 

No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 10 Syracuse (Midwest Region)

9:40 p.m. ET, CBS

United Center (Chicago)

 

No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 1 North Carolina (East Region)

9:57 p.m. ET, TBS

Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)

Teaser:
2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament: Sweet 16 Schedule
Post date: Monday, March 21, 2016 - 10:00

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