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Path: /mlb/boston-red-sox-2016-preview-and-prediction
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As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our online store.

 

John Henry had seen enough. After three last-place finishes in four years, the Red Sox principal owner examined every level of the organization, every assumption he believed true, and challenged them. Out went analytics-minded general manager Ben Cherington, and in came the old-school Dave Dombrowski, Henry’s first GM with the Marlins back in 1999. He traded legit prospects for a closer, generally considered a no-no in the sabermetric community, landing four-time All-Star Craig Kimbrel. Once outspokenly averse to signing pitchers in their 30s to big contracts, Henry made lefty David Price the highest-paid starter in history when he signed him to a $217 million deal. The Red Sox look very different, even as the goal remains exactly the same: win a World Series.

 

 

Rotation

 

A year after attempting to win without an ace, the Red Sox were humbled by the complete and total failure of their plan. When Rick Porcello crumbled, Clay Buchholz got hurt, and Wade Miley struggled to be anything beyond average, the Red Sox found themselves plummeting to the basement. Now there’s no question who rules the roost. Price is widely considered one of the best teammates in the game, and the former Cy Young winner knows how to lead. That should help Porcello, in particular, find his place in the middle of the rotation, rather than feeling the need to front it. Behind Price, though, many questions remain. Will Buchholz stay healthy? Will lefty Eduardo Rodriguez build upon an encouraging debut at age 22? Can Porcello bounce back? Is Joe Kelly a starter or reliever? The Red Sox may need to address the rotation with an in-season trade, but they’re at least positioned to do so.

 

Bullpen

 

As bad as the rotation looked in 2015, the bullpen limped right alongside it. Dombrowski made it a priority to upgrade the arms manager John Farrell can turn to at the end of games, and he delivered. First with Kimbrel, one of the greatest strikeout pitchers in history; and then with Mariners righty Carson Smith, a hard thrower who strikes out more than 11 batters per nine innings. That allows Koji Uehara to slide into the eighth inning as a potentially dominant setup man, with Junichi Tazawa and Smith sharing the seventh. Add lefties Robbie Ross and Tommy Layne (the latter limited lefties to a .148 average last year), and Farrell suddenly has options. Knuckleballer Steven Wright provides a swingman/long man.

 

Middle Infield

 

Nothing strengthens a double-play partnership like familiarity, which is why shortstop Xander Bogaerts and second baseman Dustin Pedroia built on the chemistry they developed during the season by working out together over the winter at EXOS in Arizona. The two may be entering different stages of their careers — Bogaerts hasn’t even started his prime yet, while Pedroia is exiting his — but 2016 has the potential to hit the sweet spot where both perform like All-Stars. Pedroia spent the winter improving his first-step quickness, which is the best way to stave off the ravages of time. Bogaerts, meanwhile, was a Gold Glove finalist and is improving in every facet of his game. If Pedroia hits like he did last year before a freak hamstring injury sidelined him (.306-9-33-.819 through June 24), and Bogaerts adds power to his near batting title of a year ago, the Red Sox could boast the best double-play duo in the game.

 

Corners

 

Here’s where things get dicey. In first baseman Hanley Ramirez and third baseman Pablo Sandoval, the Red Sox field their two biggest X-factors. Signed for more than $180 million prior to last season, they disappointed in virtually every way imaginable. Ramirez bulked up beyond recognition, played a disastrous left field, and posted the second-lowest OPS (.717) of his career. He also showed little interest in improving his defense, which caused friction on the coaching staff. Sandoval, meanwhile, lost a step in the field, posted the lowest OPS (.658) of his career and faced questions over his ballooning weight. He also Instagrammed during a game to earn a benching. The Red Sox are stuck with them, though. If one or both plays to a level approaching their pedigrees, the Red Sox could be in business. Otherwise ... look out below.

 

Outfield

 

The Red Sox will entrust two-thirds of their outfield to unknowns, and the rest to a potential superstar. First, the good. Right fielder Mookie Betts just got better and better last year, overcoming some serious bad luck in the first half to finish at .291 with 18 homers and earning a couple of MVP votes in the process. Betts has all the tools to be a franchise cornerstone. Less certainty surrounds his coworkers, however. Jackie Bradley Jr. might already be the game’s best defensive outfielder, particularly when he makes throws that have been clocked at over 100 mph. However, outside of one month (last August), his bat remains a mystery. Speaking of which, no one knows what to expect out of Rusney Castillo, the Cuban free agent whose tenure with the team has mainly been defined by injuries.

 

Catching

 

Originally slated to spend most or all of the season at Triple-A, Blake Swihart was forced to the majors in May when injuries sidelined starter Christian Vazquez and backup Ryan Hanigan. Initially overmatched, he eventually found his stride, hitting .303 after July 20, the day he returned from a foot sprain. The switch-hitting Swihart has gap-to-gap power and impressive athleticism for a catcher, though Farrell would like to see him improve behind the plate, particularly on balls in the dirt. Hanigan will almost certainly open the season as his backup, because the rifle-armed Vazquez is attempting a comeback from Tommy John surgery, and the Red Sox won’t rush him.

 

DH/Bench

 

The bench appears set. Hanigan should back up Swihart while Vazquez gets back up to speed in the minors. Outfielder Chris Young is on board not only to mash lefties, but also as insurance in case Bradley or Castillo struggles. That leaves super-utilityman Brock Holt, who has played every position in his career except pitcher and catcher, and first baseman Travis Shaw, who holds some value as a defensive replacement/depth if the Hanley experiment at first base fails. DH David Ortiz is going out on his own terms, which is the only way he’d have it. Fresh off another 30-100 season, this one at age 39, Ortiz announced on his 40th birthday in November that he planned to retire after the season.

 

Management

 

Talk about a sea change. The widely respected Dombrowski represents the polar opposite of the Theo Epstein/Cherington tree that built a powerhouse organization. However, there’s no questioning Dombrowski’s ability to field consistent winners. He’ll just do it differently in Boston, where he inherited one of the biggest analytics departments in the game after employing one of the smallest in Detroit. On shakier footing is Farrell, who saw the team excel in his absence after he began cancer treatments last year. The team’s young players responded to interim manager Torey Lovullo, who received a two-year extension that makes him one of the highest-paid bench coaches in the game. If the club falters or Farrell is perceived not to be hitting the right buttons, Lovullo could earn a promotion.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Red Sox have finished last in three of the last four seasons, so naturally Las Vegas gives them the third-highest odds to win the World Series in 2016. That sounds optimistic, given a careful examination of the roster, but stranger things have happened. If Bogaerts and Betts develop into All-Stars and Ortiz digs deep to deliver one final monster season before walking into the sunset, the Red Sox could be ready to roll on offense. Starting pitching remains a concern, but count on this much — they’ll finish closer to first than last.

 

Prediction: 2nd AL East (Wild Card)

 

Lineup

 

RF Mookie Betts (R)

2B Dustin Pedroia (R)

SS Xander Bogaerts (R)

DH David Ortiz (L)

1B Hanley Ramirez (R)

3B Pablo Sandoval (S)

LF Rusney Castillo (R)

C Blake Swihart (S)

CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (L)

 

Bench

 

OF Chris Young (R)

1B Travis Shaw (L)

UTL Brock Holt (L)

C Ryan Hanigan (R)

 

Rotation

 

LHP David Price

RHP Clay Buchholz

RHP Rick Porcello

LHP Eduardo Rodriguez

RHP Joe Kelly

 

Bullpen

 

RHP Craig Kimbrel (Closer)

RHP Koji Uehara

RHP Junichi Tazawa

RHP Carson Smith

LHP Robbie Ross

LHP Tommy Layne

RHP Steven Wright

Teaser:
Boston Red Sox 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, February 18, 2016 - 06:15
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/baltimore-orioles-2016-preview-prediction
Body:

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our online store

 

The Orioles have followed 14 straight losing seasons with four in a row at .500 or above, but they failed to make the playoffs in 2015 because the rotation regressed and they didn’t adequately replace outfielders Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz. They’re showing more of a willingness to spend money, which is long overdue, and they figure to contend again with the chance to get back into the postseason if their starters bounce back and they do a better job in free agency or on the trade market. The core group of players and the bullpen are reasons for optimism, but that probably won’t be enough to win the AL East. This team is good — just not good enough when stacked up against the top dogs in the American League.

 

 

Rotation

 

The starters’ ERA rose from 3.61 in 2014 to 4.53 in 2015, the primary reason why the Orioles finished at .500 and failed to defend their division crown. Executive vice president Dan Duquette was searching for an arm to slot into the front end of the rotation. Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez were disappointments. Ubaldo Jimenez regressed in the second half. Kevin Gausman failed to take the next step. The most consistent starter, Wei-Yin Chen, was destined to leave via free agency. Tillman’s ERA jumped from 3.34 to 4.99, and Gonzalez’s jumped from 3.23 to 4.91 while he battled injuries. Jimenez, coming off a brutal debut season with the Orioles in 2014, went 7–4 with a 2.81 ERA in the first half and 5–6 with a 5.63 ERA in the second. Gausman, the former first-round pick, will finally break camp with the team as a starter and take the ball every fifth day. The Orioles claimed Vance Worley off waivers, and he’ll compete for a job in the rotation or bullpen. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson made their major league debuts last May and remain in the mix.

 

Bullpen

 

The bullpen remains the strength of the Orioles, with the back end particularly formidable. Orioles relievers ranked third in the AL with a 3.21 ERA last year, and the unit returns closer Zach Britton, setup man Darren O’Day, righthanders Brad Brach and Mychal Givens and left-handed specialist Brian Matusz. Britton has gone from failed starter to shutdown closer, making his first All-Star team and recording 36 saves last season and also leading qualified relievers in ground ball percentage (79.1) and ground ball/fly ball ratio (8.47). O’Day, the bullpen leader, received a four-year, $31 million deal to stay in Baltimore. He’s a dominant setup man. Brach posted a 1.92 ERA in his last 42 appearances. The Orioles could go in many directions to fill the other two spots. Lefthander T.J. McFarland is a valuable innings-eater backing up the right-handed starters, but he has an option and may start in Triple-A. Worley could be in the bullpen if he isn’t starting. Chaz Roe was outstanding in the first half last season and terrible in the second. Former first-round pick Dylan Bundy is out of options and may need to be stashed in the pen.

 

Middle Infield

 

The Orioles are strong defensively up the middle with shortstop J.J. Hardy and second baseman Jonathan Schoop, a budding superstar who came back from an early-season knee injury. Hardy’s a three-time Gold Glove winner who’s battled a variety of injuries over the past few seasons, including one to his left shoulder last March that hindered him throughout the 2015 season. He batted only .219/.253/.311 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs in 114 games. Schoop is 24, and he’s only going to get better. Ryan Flaherty can back up at all four infield positions and is trusted defensively anywhere he plays.

 

Corners

 

Third base is in great hands with Manny Machado, winner of two Gold Gloves. Machado replaced Markakis in the leadoff role, though the Orioles would like to move him down in the lineup and take better advantage of his run-producing skills. He posted career highs across the board while being the only player in the majors to appear in all 162 games. First baseman Chris Davis, who led the majors in home runs for the second time in three seasons, was re-signed in mid-January to a lucrative deal that will keep him in Baltimore for the next seven seasons.

 

Outfield

 

Few center fielders in baseball can brag that they’re better than Adam Jones, and none can say that they play harder. Jones was banged up for much of the season and still became the first outfielder in club history to smack at least 25 home runs in five straight seasons. Hyun-soo Kim, signed out of the Korean Baseball Organization, was the early favorite to start in left field after signing a two-year, $7 million contract. Kim, who turns 28 in January, is a career .318/.406/.488 hitter in 10 seasons. He brings the on-base capabilities that the Orioles desperately need, plus a batting eye that allowed him to draw 101 walks and strike out only 63 times in 630 plate appearances last season. Kim also can play right, but his arm is better suited for left. There’s no clear-cut choice for right, the candidates including Nolan Reimold and Dariel Alvarez. The Orioles selected Joey Rickard in the Rule 5 draft, and he plays all three outfield spots.

 

Catching

 

Matt Wieters became only the second player, and the first Scott Boras client, to accept a qualifying offer. Returning from ligament-reconstructive surgery on his right elbow, Wieters will make $15.8 million and test the market again next winter. He’s still one of the best offensive catchers in baseball, and he’s expected to take on a much heavier workload behind the plate. He used to be a plus-thrower, and the Orioles are hoping that hasn’t changed. Caleb Joseph is more than capable of backing up Wieters. The staff ERA actually is lower with him behind the plate, and he’s got some pop. Joseph also is capable of playing a few other positions.

 

DH/Bench

 

Mark Trumbo was acquired as insurance in case the Orioles failed to re-sign Davis. Now, he figures to see the bulk of his at bats while serving as the designated hitter, though he will also play first base and the corner outfield. Joseph doesn’t have any real competition for the backup catching job, and he also could play first base on occasion. Flaherty plays all four infield positions, and he can move to the outfield if needed. Jimmy Paredes was the story of spring training, and he hit .299/.332/.475 with 10 home runs in the first half. However, he slumped to .216/.252/.265 with no home runs in the second. He’s below average defensively at third base, and he tried to improve his standing in the organization by playing right field in winter ball. He’s more suited for the designated hitter role. Rickard may stick as an extra outfielder, and the Orioles also have Reimold, Alvarez and Henry Urrutia on the 40-man roster.

 

Management

 

The Orioles are fortunate to have Buck Showalter in their dugout. He’s one of the game’s best managers, and no one is better at handling a bullpen. He’s earned the respect and admiration of his players, who are fiercely loyal to him. Duquette could use his own bounce-back season after failing to properly address the losses of free agents Markakis and Cruz. The Orioles kept having to DFA players he acquired via trade and free agency. Majority owner Peter Angelos seems willing to spend more money, but the Orioles’ payroll never is going to move into the upper tier in baseball.

 

Final Analysis

 

Showalter has changed the losing culture in Baltimore, which explains the four straight seasons at .500 or above and two playoff berths. But it’s always challenging in the AL East, especially when everyone except the Rays is walking around with deep pockets. The Orioles expect to contend now, but getting back into the playoffs will be difficult without a dominant starting pitcher to anchor the staff.

 

Prediction: 4th in AL East

 

Lineup

 

3B Manny Machado (R)

LF Hyun-soo Kim (L)

CF Adam Jones (R)

1B Chris Davis (L)

C Matt Wieters (S)

DH Mark Trumbo (R)

RF Nolan Reimold (R)

2B Jonathan Schoop (R)

SS J.J. Hardy (R)

 

Bench

 

INF Ryan Flaherty (L)

C Caleb Joseph (R)

OF Joey Rickard (R)

UT Jimmy Paredes (S)

 

Rotation

 

RHP Chris Tillman

RHP Kevin Gausman

RHP Miguel Gonzalez

RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
RHP Vance Worley

 

Bullpen

 

LHP Zach Britton (Closer)

RHP Darren O’Day

RHP Brad Brach

LHP Brian Matusz

RHP Mychal Givens

RHP Dylan Bundy

RHP Chaz Roe

Teaser:
Baltimore Orioles 2016 Preview Prediction
Post date: Thursday, February 18, 2016 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/nike-drops-manny-pacquiao-after-anti-gay-comments
Body:

Manny Pacquiao won't just be doing it any longer.

 

Nike, longtime sponsor of the boxer, has dropped him after his recent anti-gay comments. The two had been partners since 2006. The leader in sports apparel was disturbed after Pacquiao claimed that gay people are "worse than animals". 

 

Pacquiao uploaded an apology to his Instagram account but it was too little, too late.

 

"I'm sorry for hurting people by comparing homosexuals to animals," Pacquiao tweeted. "Please forgive me for those I hurt. God bless!"

 

 

Nike swiftly responded with a statement on their relationship, or lack thereof, with Pacquiao after his comments. 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - 15:28
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Overtime
Path: /overtime/every-perfect-score-nba-slam-dunk-contest-jordan-wilkins-gordon-carter-lavine-robinson
Body:

You have to appreciate the hard-working people of the internet.

 

A Reddit user pieced together a video of all the dunks in Slam Dunk Contest history that have earned a perfect score. It's a fun trip down memory lane feature the young and older generations of dunkers. From legends like Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins to the future of Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon, just sit back and remain in awe.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - 11:18
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/tennessee-football-player-child-sex-mack-crowder-volunteers-pinella-sting
Body:

Former University of Tennessee lineman Mack Crowder was arrested in Florida and charged with multiple sex crimes.

 

According to WFLA and Pinella County Sheriff's Office, 23-year-old Crowder was involved in a sting operation, talking and sending pictures to a girl he believed was 14 years old. The person was actually an undercover officer. The former lineman sent a total of four graphic pictures before soliciting the receiver to have sex with him. Once he traveled to meet the girl, he was promptly arrested.

 

Crowder last played for the Vols this past fall as a redshirt senior. He was charged with four counts of transmission of material harmful to minors. He was released on bond, which was set at $50,000.

 

The arrest was a part of the Sheriff's Office's "Operation Wayfarer" which is set up to capture men who go after underage girls.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - 10:10
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Path: /college-football/grading-college-footballs-head-coach-hires-2016
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The 2015-16 college football coaching carousel was one of the busiest in recent memory. There were plenty of surprises along the way, including Steve Spurrier’s sudden retirement in October, the bizarre separation between USC and Steve Sarkisian, Todd Monken’s late departure to the NFL, Lovie Smith's late hire at Illinois and Bronco Mendenhall’s decision to leave BYU for Virginia. There were 28 programs that changed coaches in this carousel, which is the most since 31 teams changed coaches prior to the start of the 2013 season.

 

Virginia Tech, Miami, Tulane, Iowa State and Syracuse are just a few of the biggest winners in this carousel. On the other side, Power 5 programs like South Carolina, USC and Minnesota made curious hires.

 

Here’s a look at how Athlon Sports views, grades and ranks the 28 new coaches for 2016:  

 

Grading College Football's New Coaching Hires for 2016

 

1. Virginia Tech, Justin Fuente

Previous Job: Memphis Head Coach

Career Record: 26-23 (2012-15 Memphis)

 

Replacing a coaching legend like Frank Beamer isn’t going to be easy. However, Virginia Tech moved quickly in its search, targeting and landing Justin Fuente from Memphis. Fuente was the engineer behind one of the nation’s biggest turnarounds, as he inherited a program that was arguably one of the worst and transformed the Tigers into a team that won 19 games from 2014-15. Making Fuente’s work at Memphis even more impressive was the shift to a different (and tougher) conference in the American Athletic, as well as the development of Paxton Lynch at quarterback. Prior to Memphis, Fuente worked on Gary Patterson’s staff at TCU and also spent time at Illinois State from 2001-06. Virginia Tech’s biggest need of improvement is its offense – that’s Fuente’s specialty. Additionally, keeping Bud Foster on as the defensive coordinator was a huge victory for the first-year coach. Fuente is a proven winner, has a strong track record on offense and seems to fit in well with the Blacksburg/Virginia Tech culture. This is the best hire of the coaching carousel for 2015-16. 

 

Final Grade: A+

 

College Football Podcast: 2016 Coaching Carousel



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

Related: College Football's Top 50 Returning Players for 2016

 

2. Willie Fritz, Tulane

Previous Job: Georgia Southern Head Coach

Career Record: 154-69 (Central Missouri, SHSU, Georgia Southern)

 

Fritz doesn’t have the national recognition of a Mark Richt or Kirby Smart, but Tulane is one of the biggest winners in the coaching carousel by landing the former Georgia Southern coach. Fritz has been a proven winner throughout his career, with 193 victories over four different stops. He worked at Blinn College from 1993-96, Central Missouri from 1997-2009 and Sam Houston State (2010-13) before landing at Georgia Southern and helping the program make a successful transition to the FBS level. Under Fritz’s watch, the Eagles went 17-7 and lost only two conference games in two years. Fritz also guided Sam Houston State to two appearances in the FCS title game. The American Athletic Conference’s West Division is tough – Houston, Tulsa, SMU, Memphis and Navy – but Tulane has the right coach in place to compete with the rest of the division.

 

Final Grade: A+

 

3. Mark Richt, Miami

Previous Job: Georgia Head Coach

Career Record: 145-51 (2001-15 Georgia)

 

At most programs, 145 wins in 15 seasons for any coach is more than enough to keep your job. But that wasn’t the case for Mark Richt at Georgia. Yes, the Bulldogs won 145 games under Richt’s direction, but the program – one of the top-10 jobs in the nation – had only two appearances in the SEC title game over the last 10 years and the overall momentum seemed stagnant. A fresh start for both parties is in order, and Richt landed at his alma mater with a chance to get Miami back on track. The Hurricanes have yet to play in the ACC Championship Game since joining the league in 2004 and are just 43-33 over the last six seasons. After Georgia’s offense struggled mightily in 2015 under Brian Schottenheimer’s watch, Richt plans on taking over the play-calling duties at Miami. That’s a good thing. But can Richt beat Florida State and Florida for talent on the recruiting trail on a consistent basis? Is he energized for a new opportunity after appearing to be burned out at the end of his tenure at Georgia? Some question marks exist, but Richt should do well with the Hurricanes.

 

Final Grade: A+

 

Related: Pre-Spring 1-128 QB Rankings for 2016

 

4. Matt Campbell, Iowa State

Previous Job: Toledo Head Coach

Career Record: 35-15 (2011-15 Toledo)

 

Iowa State is one of the Big 12’s toughest jobs, so it was somewhat of a surprise when the program landed Campbell – one of the nation’s top up-and-coming coaches. While winning at a high level and beating Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor and TCU on a consistent basis is challenging, Campbell noted the fan support and facilities in place as reasons Iowa State can compete with the rest of the Big 12. The Ohio native played his college ball at the highly successful Mount Union (Division III) program from 1999-2002 and later worked as an assistant there from 2005-06. From there, Campbell made stops at Bowling Green (2007-08) and worked as an assistant at Toledo from 2009-11 when he was promoted to head coach after Tim Beckman left for Illinois. In four seasons with the Rockets, Campbell recorded a 35-15 record and guided Toledo to a share of the MAC West title twice. Campbell has already injected energy into the program and landed a solid recruiting class for 2016. Winning at a high level will be tough for Campbell. However, all signs point to Campbell as the right hire to help Iowa State take a step forward in the Big 12.

 

Final Grade: A+

 

5. Dino Babers, Syracuse

Previous Job: Bowling Green Head Coach

Career Record: 37-16 (2013-14 Bowling Green, 2012-13 Eastern Illinois)

 

Syracuse got a much-needed shot in the arm and a fresh start for the program with the hire of Babers to replace Scott Shafer. The Orange have made only three bowl appearances since 2005 and badly missed on the hire of Greg Robinson, which resulted in a major rebuilding project for Doug Marrone. Babers isn’t inheriting quite the mess, but he’s got a lot of work to do and a significant scheme change on offense. The Hawaii native has a wealth of experience as an assistant, including stops at UNLV, Northern Arizona, Purdue, San Diego State, Arizona, Texas A&M, Pittsburgh and UCLA. Babers also spent time at Baylor (2008-11) working under Art Briles and picked up on the high-powered offense that is utilized in Waco. Babers took over at Eastern Illinois in 2012 and guided the Panthers to a 19-7 record and back-to-back FCS playoff appearances in two seasons. At Bowling Green, Babers went 18-9 in two years and guided the Falcons to consecutive MAC East titles. Babers is regarded for his work on offense, especially with quarterbacks, including Jimmy Garoppolo (EIU) and Matt Johnson (BGSU). A high-powered offense in a dome should be an advantage for Syracuse and Babers should have no trouble recruiting talent to run his offense. This a home-run hire for Syracuse.   

 

Final Grade: A+

 

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

 

6. Mike Norvell, Memphis

Previous Job: Arizona State Offensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Hiring a successful offensive coordinator from a Power 5 program (Justin Fuente, TCU) worked out well for Memphis the last time it needed a head coach. The Tigers landed another rising star in Norvell, and the 34-year-old Arkansas native is one of the youngest head coaches at the FBS level. Norvell started his coaching career in 2006 at Central Arkansas and landed a job as a graduate assistant with Tulsa (under Todd Graham and Gus Malzahn) in 2007. Norvell remained with the Golden Hurricane until 2010 when he followed Graham to Pittsburgh in '11 and to Arizona State in '12. He has worked as the Sun Devils’ play-caller for the last four seasons, with the offense averaging at least 35 points a game each year. While Norvell has no head coaching experience, there’s no downside to this hire for Memphis.

 

Final Grade: A

 

7. D.J. Durkin, Maryland

Previous Job: Michigan Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 1-0 (Florida – 2014)

 

The top of the Big Ten’s East Division is one of the most competitive and toughest terrains to navigate in college football. Competing with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State will be challenging for Maryland, but this program has potential. Durkin is the right coach to help the Terrapins tap into that potential, as the Ohio native lands his first head coaching opportunity in a division that features two of his former bosses. Durkin worked under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan in 2015 and from '07-09 at Stanford. Last season, the Wolverines’ defense limited opponents to 16.4 points a game and 4.5 yards per play. Durkin worked at Florida from 2010-14 under Urban Meyer (2010) and Will Muschamp (2011-14), and also spent time with Meyer at Bowling Green. Durkin has been highly regarded for his work as an assistant and is considered a good recruiter. It may take some time, but this hire should work out well for the Terrapins.

 

Final Grade: A-

 

8. Barry Odom, Missouri

Previous Job: Missouri Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Odom’s stock has soared in recent years, and the Oklahoma native was regarded as one of the top defensive coordinators in the nation. Odom is entrenched with the Missouri program, as he played for the Tigers from 1996-99, worked under Gary Pinkel as an administrative assistant from 2003-08 and a safeties coach from '09-11. Odom was hired by Justin Fuente at Memphis in 2012 and engineered a dramatic turnaround on defense. The Tigers surrendered 35.1 points a game in 2011, and in Odom’s third season, Memphis finished third in the American Athletic Conference by limiting opponents to 19.5 points a game. Odom returned to Missouri last year and coordinated a defense that ranked second in the SEC in scoring (16.2 ppg). Odom has a tough task ahead in replacing Pinkel, but there’s also not a candidate more familiar with this job and what it takes to win in Columbia.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

9. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia

Previous Job: BYU Head Coach

Career Record: 99-43 (2005-15 BYU)

 

File this coaching hire away as one of the biggest surprises in recent years. Mendenhall has spent most of his coaching career out west, including stops as an assistant at Northern Arizona, Snow College, Oregon State, BYU, Louisiana Tech and New Mexico. He was hired in 2003 as the defensive coordinator for the Cougars under Gary Crowton and took over as the program’s head coach prior to the '05 season. Under Mendenhall’s watch, BYU never had a losing season, played in 11 consecutive bowl games and posted five seasons of 10 or more victories. Considering Mendenhall’s track record at BYU, career path out west, the decision to leave for Virginia is a curious one. Did Mendenhall feel he took BYU as far as it could go as an independent or was he just ready for a new challenge? Regardless of whether or not those factors played into Mendenhall’s decision to leave, this is an interesting fit (in a tough league) for the Utah native.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

Related: Pre-Spring Top 75 Running Backs Returning for 2016

 

10. Kirby Smart, Georgia

Previous Job: Alabama Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Smart is returning to his alma mater after working under Nick Saban for the last nine seasons at Alabama. The Crimson Tide have set the standard for the rest of college football in recent years, and Georgia hopes Smart brings the same level of success from Tuscaloosa to Athens. Prior to Alabama, Smart worked as an assistant at LSU (2004), Georgia ('05) and with the Dolphins ('06) in the NFL. While Saban plays a large role in shaping the Crimson Tide defense, Smart has helped this unit rank first in the SEC in scoring six times since 2008. There’s no denying Smart is a sharp defensive mind, has SEC experience and knows what it takes to win at Georgia. However, he’s a first-time head coach inheriting a job with high expectations. Winning nine games a year won’t be good enough for Smart – he needs to contend (and win) SEC titles.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

11. Lovie Smith, Illinois

Previous Job: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach

Career Record: 89-87 (Bears, 2004-12 and Buccaneers 2014-15)

 

Illinois entered the offseason in a unique position. Bill Cubit was promoted to interim coach after Tim Beckman was fired in August and guided the Fighting Illini to a 5-7 mark last season. Without a full-time athletic director in place, Cubit was retained as head coach on a two-year contract. However, new athletic director Josh Whitman – on his first day on the job – decided a change was needed. Whitman landed a big-time hire in terms of name value, as Smith brings instant credibility and a proven track record in the NFL. Smith went 81-63 with the Bears from 2004-12 and guided the team to an appearance in Super Bowl XLI. He was fired in Chicago after a 10-6 mark in 2012. After a year out of football, Smith landed in Tampa Bay in 2014 and went 8-24 with the Buccaneers before his dismissal at the end of the 2015 season. There’s little doubt Smith brings name recognition and a boost to a program that desperately needs stability. However, Smith has not coached in college since 1995 and will need some time to adjust to the collegiate level. Another key to Smith’s success at Illinois will be the staff. Can he hire a staff with a mix of college and pro experience, as well as coaches who are good on the recruiting trail? Illinois is a program with plenty of upside. Even if the Smith hire doesn’t work out, Whitman deserves credit for aiming high and landing a marquee name. Smith is a proven winner in the NFL, a sharp defensive mind and should be able to attract talent to Illinois. A successful coach from the NFL moving to the collegiate ranks isn’t guaranteed success. However, Smith's hire is a good sign for an Illinois' program that has the potential to be much better than it has been in recent years. 

 

Final Grade: B+

 

Related: Lovie Smith an Easy Choice for Illinois After Tough Decision

 

12. Scott Frost, UCF

Previous Job: Oregon Offensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Frost has experienced a fast rise through the coaching ranks. After two stints as a graduate assistant – Nebraska in 20002 and Kansas State in '06 – Frost was hired at Northern Iowa as a defensive assistant in '07. Chip Kelly brought Frost to Eugene to coach Oregon's wide receivers in 2009 and remained in that role until '12 when Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles. Frost was promoted to offensive coordinator under new coach Mark Helfrich and guided the Ducks to three consecutive scoring titles in the Pac-12 from 2013-15. Additionally, Frost helped to develop Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and played a role in easing Vernon Adams’ transition from the FCS level to the Pac-12. This is Frost’s first opportunity to be a head coach, but UCF is one of the better jobs in the American Athletic Conference. With an entertaining style of play appealing to prospects in a fertile recruiting area, Frost should have UCF back on track sooner rather than later.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

13. Jason Candle, Toledo

Previous Job: Toledo Offensive Coordinator

Career Record: 1-0 (Toledo – 2015 Boca Raton Bowl)

 

Toledo didn’t need to look far in its search for a replacement to Matt Campbell. Candle – the program’s offensive coordinator since 2012 – was ready for a promotion. Under Candle’s direction, the Rockets ranked inside of the top five in the MAC in scoring in each of the last four seasons and finished No. 1 in the league in 2014. Prior to his stint as offensive coordinator, Candle worked with the wide receivers from 2009-11 and also coached at Division III Mount Union from '03-08. Additionally, Candle is regarded as one of the top recruiters in the MAC and won his debut in impressive fashion, beating Temple 32-17 in the Boca Raton Bowl this past December. 

 

Final Grade: B+

 

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

 

14. Seth Littrell, North Texas

Previous Job: North Texas Offensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

North Texas earned four consecutive bowl appearances from 2001-04, but the program has fallen on hard times. The Mean Green have only one bowl appearance since 2005 and just two seasons of five or more wins in that span. The resources – good stadium and recruiting area – are in place for North Texas to win a lot of games in Conference USA. And after missing on the last two coaching hires, the Mean Green got it right this time around. Littrell is regarded for his work on offense, which includes stints as an assistant at Texas Tech, Arizona, Indiana and North Carolina. The Oklahoma native has also worked under good coaches at those stops, including Kevin Wilson, Larry Fedora and Mike Leach. Under Littrell’s watch in 2015, North Carolina’s offense averaged 40.7 points a game and 7.3 yards per play, both of which paced the ACC. He’s also pieced together an interesting staff, which includes former Texas Tech stars Graham Harrell and Joel Filani. The state of Texas produces plenty of standouts at quarterback and wide receiver for Littrell to recruit, and he should have no trouble selling the program. It may take a year or two to transition, but Littrell should reverse the recent fortunes of the Mean Green.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

15. Matt Viator, ULM

Previous Job: McNeese State Head Coach

Career Record: 78-33 (2006-15 McNeese State)

 

ULM is a tough job. Since 1994, the program has only one season with a winning record and three non-losing years. However, as a Louisiana native and a coach with plenty of experience within the state, Viator is certainly aware of the challenges facing this program. Viator worked at McNeese State from 1999-2015, including serving as head coach the past 10 seasons. Under his direction, the Cowboys went 77-33, never had a losing record and made five appearances in the FCS playoffs. Hiring a successful coach from the FCS level and expecting to replicate those results in FBS play isn’t guaranteed. However, Viator is a proven winner, has ties to the state and seems like the right coach to help ULM take a step forward as a program.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

16. Kalani Sitake, BYU

Previous Job: Oregon State Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Bronco Mendenhall’s decision to leave BYU for Virginia was one of the biggest surprises in the coaching carousel. While Mendenhall’s decision to leave may have blindsided some in Provo, the program landed a good replacement. Sitake has been regarded as a coach on the rise in recent seasons, and he’s also the first native of Tonga to land a head coaching job at the FBS level. The former BYU player has a wealth of coaching experience in the state of Utah, starting as a graduate assistant with the Cougars in 2002 and with Southern Utah from '03-04. Sitake was hired on Kyle Whittingham’s first staff in Salt Lake City in 2005 and remained with the Utes until '15 when he joined Gary Andersen at Oregon State. The only knock on Sitake? No head coaching experience. However, he’s entrenched in the culture and knows what it takes to win in Provo. And Sitake certainly didn’t hurt his cause by hiring a good staff, including former BYU quarterback and 1990 Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer to call the plays on offense.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

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

 

17. Jay Hopson, Southern Miss

Previous Job: Alcorn State Head Coach

Career Record: 32-17 (2012-15 Alcorn State)

 

Hopson was the last head coach hired in the 2015-16 carousel, replacing Todd Monken after he surprisingly left Southern Miss for the NFL. Late openings are often hard to fill, but the Golden Eagles landed a good coach in Jay Hopson just a few days before National Signing Day. Hopson is no stranger to the program either, as he worked as an assistant in Hattiesburg from 2001-03 and again from '05-07. He’s also a native of Mississippi and previously coached at Marshall, Ole Miss, Michigan and Memphis before taking the head coaching job at Alcorn State. The Braves went 4-7 in Hopson’s first year (2012) but rebounded with three consecutive seasons of at least nine wins from 2013-15. Hopson is inheriting a team capable of winning the Conference USA title next season. Expectations will be high for Hopson in 2016.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

18. Nick Rolovich, Hawaii

Previous Job: Nevada Offensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Hawaii is a challenging job, but Rolovich is the right coach to get this program back on track. The former quarterback for the Rainbow Warriors (2000-01) returns to Honolulu after a four-year stint at Nevada as the program’s offensive coordinator. And prior to Nevada, Rolovich worked at Hawaii from 2008-11, including the last two years as offensive coordinator. While Rolovich’s background on offense at Hawaii was developed under June Jones and the wide-open pass attack, he also worked for Chris Ault at Nevada for one season, which has provided a good blend of concepts for Rolovich to build his offense around in 2016. Recruiting to Hawaii isn’t easy, and the athletic department has budget concerns. Rolovich is no stranger to the culture and what it takes to win at Hawaii. It may take Rolovich a season or two to rebuild the roster, but the Rainbow Warriors upgraded from Norm Chow with this hire.  

 

Final Grade: B

 

19. Chris Ash, Rutgers

Previous Job: Ohio State Co-Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Ash has been an assistant over the last two years at Ohio State, so he’s aware of the rugged terrain in the Big Ten East Division and the challenges ahead at Rutgers. In addition to his stint in Columbus, the Iowa native cut his teeth as a defensive assistant at Arkansas and Wisconsin under Bret Bielema and also stops at Iowa State (2001-06, '09) and San Diego State ('07-08). Ash is regarded for his work with defensive backs, and his arrival sparked immediate improvement by the Buckeyes’ secondary in 2014 after this unit allowed 31 passing scores in '13. Considering the turmoil surrounding the Rutgers’ athletic department in recent seasons, this program had to get this hire right to avoid falling further behind in the Big Ten. Ash isn’t a flashy hire, but he has provided much-needed direction. Additionally, the first-time head coach is organized, meticulous and is doing all he can to build relationships with New Jersey’s high school coaches. This is a solid hire for Rutgers.

 

Final Grade: B-

 

20. Everett Withers, Texas State

Previous Job: James Madison Head Coach

Career Record: 25-13 (2014-15 Texas State, 2011 at North Carolina)

 

Withers paid his dues as a long-time assistant before his first opportunity to run his own program at James Madison in 2014. Under his watch – and helped by the arrival of transfer quarterback Vad Lee from Georgia Tech – the Dukes went 18-7 and made the FCS playoff in both seasons. Withers also spent 2011 as North Carolina’s interim coach after Butch Davis was fired in late July. The North Carolina native also has a wealth of experience on his resume, including stops as an assistant at Ohio State, Minnesota, Texas, Louisville and in the NFL with the Saints and Titans.

 

Final Grade: B-

 

Related: Pre-Spring 1-128 CFB Quarterback Rankings for 2016

 

21. Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina

Previous Job: Duke Offensive Coordinator

Career FBS Record: 0-0

 

Montgomery has been considered a rising star in the coaching ranks over the last few seasons, and the North Carolina native makes the short trip from Raleigh to Greenville to take over the East Carolina program. Montgomery spent the last three years as an assistant at Duke, including the last two as the offensive coordinator. It should be noted coach David Cutcliffe plays a big role in Duke’s offense, but under Montgomery’s direction, the Blue Devils ranked in the top five in the ACC in scoring from 2014-15 (conference-only games). Prior to the last three years at Duke, Montgomery worked under Mike Tomlin with the Steelers from 2010-12 and previously at Duke from '06-09. Parting with Ruffin McNeill after four bowl games in six seasons was a strange move for this program. However, Montgomery is young (37), has experience within the state and has a good background on offense. This looks like a solid hire for East Carolina.

 

Final Grade: B- 

 

22. Tyson Summers, Georgia Southern

Previous Job: Colorado State Defensive Coordinator

Career Record: 0-0

 

Georgia Southern made an easy transition from the FCS to FBS level in 2014 and recorded an 18-7 record over the last two seasons. Former coach Willie Fritz was instrumental in the Eagles’ success in that span, but he bolted to Tulane prior to the GoDaddy Bowl last December. The Eagles picked Summers to keep the momentum going, and the Georgia native inherits a team capable of winning the Sun Belt next fall. Summers worked as Colorado State’s defensive coordinator in 2015 and called the plays for UCF’s defense in '14. He also has stops on his resume as an assistant at UAB (2007-11) and Georgia Southern ('06). This is the first opportunity for Summers to be a head coach, but the formula for success this program – an option attack on offense – shouldn’t change in 2016. Immediate success wouldn’t be a surprise. However, can Summers maintain that level over the next five seasons?

 

Final Grade: B-

 

23. Clay Helton, USC

Previous Job: USC Interim Head Coach

Career FBS Record: 6-4


USC is considered one of college football’s best jobs. There’s access to talent in the fertile California recruiting area, history and tradition and plenty of recent success. However, the Trojans have missed on recent coaching hires. Lane Kiffin was fired in the 2013 season, and Steve Sarkisian was let go after USC’s fifth game this past season. Helton was promoted to interim coach after Sarkisian’s dismissal and led USC to a Pac-12 South title and a 5-4 overall record. Helton has worked at USC since 2010 but has never been a head coach on a full-time basis at the FBS level and was handed the keys to one of the top 10 jobs in the nation. After the recent turmoil for the program, a low-key coach like Helton is a step in the right direction for USC. However, it’s fair to wonder if Helton is the right coach to lead the Trojans back into contention for national championships.

 

Final Grade: C+

 

Related: Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2016

 

24. Will Muschamp, South Carolina

Previous Job: Auburn Defensive Coordinator

Career FBS Record: 28-21

 

After a pedestrian 28-21 record at Florida from 2011-14, Will Muschamp is getting a second chance in the SEC. Muschamp as a head coach once again isn’t that big of a surprise, but it’s a bit shocking to see him land at South Carolina. In between his two head coaching jobs, Muschamp worked as Auburn’s defensive coordinator in 2015 and the Tigers surrendered 5.4 yards per play and 28.6 points in SEC games. Under Muschamp’s watch in Gainesville, the Gators struggled mightily on offense and boasted one of the SEC’s top defenses. While Muschamp’s ability to develop defenses is critical for a program that has ranked near the bottom of the league in points allowed in back-to-back seasons, can he find the right mix on the offensive staff to prevent what transpired at Florida? Muschamp is known as a good recruiter and hired a good mix of assistants to help win battles against other SEC programs for talent. But the big question remains: Is Muschamp a different coach this time around and will his offenses perform differently than the ones at Florida?

 

Final Grade: C+

 

25. Tracy Claeys, Minnesota

Previous Job: Minnesota Interim Head Coach

Career FBS Record: 2-4

 

Claeys worked for 21 years as an assistant under Jerry Kill and was promoted to interim head coach after Kill retired due to health concerns in late October. Under Claeys’ direction, Minnesota finished 2-4 in the final six games, claimed a Quick Lane Bowl victory over Central Michigan and nearly defeated Michigan (29-26). The Kansas native inked a three-year deal in mid-November to be the full-time coach in 2016 and beyond. Claeys also wasted no time putting his stamp on the program, jettisoning two assistants shortly after the regular season ended. Continuing the success and overall momentum from Kill’s tenure is a big reason why Claeys is now the head coach. He’s got experience on the job from last year, knows the ins and outs of the program and can bring stability to a school that does not currently have a full-time athletic director. Minnesota played well under Claeys last season, but will that momentum carry into 2016? Claeys was a good coordinator under Kill. Now, he’s tasked with building a program and being more of a CEO. Is he up for the task?

 

Final Grade: C+

 

26. Frank Wilson, UTSA

Previous Job: LSU Running Backs Coach

Career FBS Record: 0-0

 

Wilson is regarded as one of the best recruiters in college football. The New Orleans native was hired at LSU in 2010 and helped the Tigers ink a signing class that averaged a 6.2 national finish over the last five seasons. And in his role as running backs coach, Wilson helped LSU produce a 1,000-yard rusher in four out of the last six seasons. Prior to joining Les Miles’ staff in Baton Rouge, Wilson worked as an assistant at Tennessee (2009), Southern Miss ('08) and Ole Miss ('05-07). His only experience as a head coach lasted from 2000-03 at O.P. Walker High School in Louisiana. It’s no secret Wilson is an excellent recruiter and should attract plenty of talent to San Antonio. However, hiring a position coach for his recruiting ability with no experience as a coordinator or head coach on the FBS level did not go well for Memphis when it hired Larry Porter (2010-11). Wilson hired a good staff at UTSA, and this hire should go better than Porter’s did at Memphis. Assembling talent at a program is just one step of the process. Can Porter develop and put that talent in position to win on a consistent basis?

 

Final Grade: C+

 

27. Mike Neu, Ball State

Previous Job: New Orleans Saints Quarterback Coach

Career FBS Record: 0-0

 

Pete Lembo’s departure as Ball State’s head coach to an assistant at Maryland was not expected. After guiding the Cardinals to 25 wins in his first three years, the Cardinals slipped to 8-16 over Lembo’s final two seasons. The balance of power in the MAC is clearly with the West Division, and Ball State has turned to a familiar face to get the program back on track. Neu is a former Cardinals quarterback and returns to Muncie after spending the last two years as a quarterbacks coach with the Saints. Prior to his stint tutoring Drew Brees, Neu worked for two seasons as Tulane’s quarterback coach (2012-13) and was the head coach for two Arena Football League teams (Carolina Cobras, New Orleans VooDoo). In four years as the VooDoo’s head coach, Neu recorded a 33-32 overall mark. An offensive-minded head coach in the MAC is never a bad thing. However, Neu has only two years of collegiate coaching experience since 1998 and has never been a head coach or coordinator on the FBS level.

 

Final Grade: C

 

28. Mike Jinks, Bowling Green

Previous Job: Texas Tech Running Backs Coach

Career FBS Record: 0-0

 

Jinks’ hire came as a surprise in Bowling Green’s search to replace Dino Babers. The Texas native heads north after spending the last three seasons as a running backs coach at Texas Tech. Prior to the last three seasons with the Red Raiders, Jinks was the head coach at Burbank (Texas) High School (2005) and recorded a 76-18 record at Lone Star State prep powerhouse Cibolo Steele High School from 2006-12. While Jinks’ background at Texas Tech and staff hires on offense suggest Bowling Green won’t stray too far from the high-powered attack Babers utilized, he has never coached outside of the state of Texas and lacks head coaching experience on the FBS level.

 

Final Grade: C

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With National Signing Day behind us and spring practice on the horizon, it's not too early to take a look at what lies ahead for the Big Ten in terms of intriguing non-conference matchups.

 

Related: Big Ten 2016 Team Recruiting Rankings

 

The addition of a ninth conference game puts added pressure on everyone during the early portion of the season. That's the time of the year where conferences find out how they measure up nationally. Less games means less chances for teams and conferences to make statements.

 

Spoiler Alert: Have your popcorn ready for Saturday, Sept. 17.

 

Way Too Early Ranking of the Most Intriguing Big Ten Non-Conference Game of 2016

 

 

10. Rutgers at Washington, Sept. 3

New Scarlet Knights head coach Chris Ash leads his team across the country to take on a Husky squad that could make some noise in the Pac-12 in 2016. It will be a measuring stick for how far Rutgers needs to go.

 

 

9. North Carolina at Illinois, Sept. 17

Bill Cubit will have all of the added pressure and expectations of coaching without the interim tag in 2016. The icing on the cake? A visit from one of the better teams in the country a season ago before conference play gets going.

 

 

8. Oregon State at Minnesota, Sept. 1 (Thursday)

The Tracy Claeys era gets underway with a visit from former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen and the Oregon State Beavers. Gophers fans will be anxious to see what, if anything, has changed post-Jerry Kill.

 

 

7. Duke at Northwestern, Sept. 17

The Blue Devils will be looking for revenge after Pat Fitzgerald's bunch pulled out a win in Durham last season. Both teams return plenty of key players and will be looking to make strong runs in their respective conferences.

 

 

6. Penn State at Pitt, Sept. 10

It's only slightly warm, but James Franklin's seat could get hot real quick if he can't establish dominance in the Keystone State with a win over Pat Narduzzi's Panthers on the road.

 

 

5. North Dakota State at Iowa, Sept. 17

The Hawkeyes went on a magical regular season run in 2015 and missed out on being crowned Big Ten champs by the length of a forearm. They'll return nearly every key player on the roster -- and they'll likely need every last one of them to bring their A-game against the 5-time defending FCS champion Bison.

 

 

4. Oregon at Nebraska, Sept. 17

Mike Riley's first season at the helm in Nebraska may not have produced as much success as many had hoped, but those close to the program like the direction he has the Huskers headed in moving forward. He'll face his old intra-state nemesis in a statement game for both teams when the Ducks visit Lincoln.

 

 

3. Ohio State at Oklahoma, Sept. 17

Two storied programs led by two historically great coaches will clash in Norman in a game that will likely be referenced at the end of the year when the College Football Playoff committee needs to pick four teams to play for a title.

 

 

2. Michigan State at Notre Dame, Sept. 17

It'll be good to see the Irish playing a Big Ten foe from the state of Michigan again. Mark Dantonio's team will be trying to establish an identity in the wake of yet another mass exodus of NFL-caliber talent. Notre Dame, on the other hand, will be loaded and focused on getting to the College Football Playoff.

 

 

1. LSU vs. Wisconsin (at Lambeau Field), Sept. 3

The Tigers turned heads on National Signing Day and will head into the season with plenty of momentum as well as an early Heisman Trophy favorite in the backfield. Paul Chryst's Badgers will be looking to finally pull off one of these high-profile, neutral-site wins for the B1G. Don't let the backdrop fool you -- the Tiger faithful will travel well enough to make this one a true neutral-site contest.

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the editor-in-chief of KnowItAllFootball.com, a Big Ten site for Big Ten fans. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

 

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)

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As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our online store.

 

Madison Bumgarner carried a team on his back to a World Series parade in 2014, its third in five years. But no man can shoulder the full load of a 162-game season. And once again, the odds weren’t with the Giants in 2015. They simply sustained too many injuries, beginning with the club’s second spring exhibition game when a pitch fractured iron man Hunter Pence’s forearm.

Outside of Bumgarner, who was durable as ever, the Giants’ aging rotation sputtered, and all the short and ineffective starts caught up with a talented bullpen. Because the Giants’ minor league pitching factory has slowed down since graduating Bumgarner to the big leagues, the front office tried hard for Zack Greinke before ponying up $220 million to sign Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto — a rotation rebuild that they hope will better supplement a homegrown, contact-hitting lineup that led the NL in average last season. It’ll be an even year, after all.

 

 

Rotation

 

The bargain free agent pitcher might be the rarest of birds in baseball, and it’s hard to argue that the Giants bought low when they guaranteed $90 million over five years to Samardzija before agreeing to a six-year, $130 million contract with Cueto. But both pitchers likely would’ve commanded even bigger contracts if they hadn’t struggled at times last season. The Giants looked past the fact that Samardzija gave up the most hits and earned runs of any American League pitcher last season, instead betting that his stuff (he ranked 12th in average fastball velocity, at 94.1 mph) will translate to the NL West.

 

Cueto might have commanded a $200 million contract if he hadn’t struggled following a midseason trade from Cincinnati to Kansas City. Still, his last act was throwing a two-hit shutout against the Mets in Game 2 of the World Series. Since 2011, only Clayton Kershaw has posted a lower ERA among pitchers to throw 600 innings. Neither of the new additions will have the pressure to be an Opening Day ace. That’s still Bumgarner’s domain. Jake Peavy was an effective starter last year once he found a way to compete with his arthritic hip and back. Matt Cain is an uncertain commodity, but he’s another year removed from elbow surgery. And the Giants are asking him to be a No. 5, not a No. 2. If he falters again, Chris Heston looms as an option.

 

Bullpen

 

The Giants were third in the NL in bullpen ERA and only figure to be better. Santiago Casilla recorded a career-best 38 saves, and although he usually hits a rough patch around midseason, he is one of the more underappreciated relievers in the league. Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez remain one of the most effective specialist tandems in the NL, and with more innings from the rotation, manager Bruce Bochy should be able to utilize them better to get the matchups he wants. Lopez thrived in 77 games; his .145 opponents’ average was second-lowest among all relievers, behind only the Royals’ Wade Davis.

 

Lefty Josh Osich has the power stuff that plays against righthanders and lefties alike, and he should step into the role previously occupied by retired bullpen stalwart Jeremy Affeldt. Hunter Strickland got wiser about deploying his fastball, too. After setting a record by allowing six homers in the 2014 postseason, he didn’t allow a long ball in Triple-A or the majors until August of last season. George Kontos was among the best in baseball at stranding inherited runners. Cory Gearrin looms as an interesting option with his ground ball-inducing sinker, and Heston is slotted for the long man role.

 

Middle Infield

 

Shortstop Brandon Crawford and second baseman Joe Panik became the Giants’ first middle infield combo to go to the All-Star Game together since Rich Aurilia and Jeff Kent in 2001, and the accolades didn’t end there. Crawford won both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger at his position, becoming the first Giant to claim both honors in a season since Barry Bonds in 1997.

 

A week or two after those awards were announced in November, Crawford had even more reason to be thankful: He signed a six-year, $75 million extension. Panik was on his way to a 200-hit season before back inflammation sent him to the disabled list at the beginning of August, and a brief attempt at a return did not go well. He was cleared to swing a bat before Christmas and is expected to be 100 percent by the start of spring training, allowing him to bring his contact skills back to the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Although rookie Kelby Tomlinson did an admirable job filling in for Panik, the defensive dropoff was evident.

 

Corners

 

The Giants had their share of issues last season, but replacing Pablo Sandoval wasn’t among them. They found their answer in the form of skinny rookie Matt Duffy, who kept on achieving beyond anyone’s expectations. Duffy didn’t hit a single aluminum-pinging home run in 501 at-bats at Long Beach State, and batted .244 as a junior. But the Giants liked his defense and pegged him as a potential utility guy as a 16th-round pick in 2012. They could not have fathomed what he did as a rookie: .295, 77 runs, 28 doubles, 12 homers, 77 RBIs and 12 stolen bases while mostly hitting third in front of Buster Posey to finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting. First baseman Brandon Belt hit 18 homers and played Gold Glove-caliber defense but finished short of a breakout year because of a concussion.

 

Outfield

 

Pence’s fractured forearm developed a bone callus and necessitated a second trip to the DL after he returned in May. Then came the oblique strain in mid-August that ended his season. The Giants expect Pence to return to his iron-man form in right field, and they hope Angel Pagan, who was a defensive liability in center field, will be spry (after knee surgery) and motivated (he’s entering his walk year) in a likely shift to left field. The Giants prioritized pitching over the winter, but still found the money to sign Denard Span to a three-year deal to play center field.

 

Catching

 

Posey had another solid season, finishing fourth in the NL in average (.318), sixth in on-base percentage (.379) and ninth in RBIs (95) while also hitting .351 with runners in scoring position. Playing a bit more first base likely helped to keep his legs fresher and avoid another second-half downturn. Andrew Susac could be an everyday player in many lineups, but he could be trade bait. Trevor Brown drew rave reviews after debuting in September.

 

Bench

 

Because the rotation struggled to pitch effectively past the fifth inning, the Giants spent much of the year carrying eight relievers and just four backup position players. As a result, the bench contributed almost no offense.  Gregor Blanco will serve as the fourth outfielder after hitting .291 in 327 at bats in 2015. Kyle Blanks will try to make the club on a minor league contract. Kelby Tomlinson has speed and a flat swing that should work as a reserve; he’ll attempt to play a little outfield this spring to enhance his utility.

 

Management

 

Bochy enters his 10th year on the Giants’ bench with a chance to add to a Hall of Fame dossier. His 1,702 victories are the most among active managers, and he is one of just four managers in history to win 700 regular-season games with two different teams. The Giants prize continuity in their front office, which underwent a reorganization with Bobby Evans now running day-to-day duties as GM. Brian Sabean, who had served as GM since 1996, still heads up baseball operations as executive vice president.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Giants’ beefed-up rotation, combined with their hitting and defensive acumen, will make them a favorite to emerge from a competitive NL West and find a way back into the postseason. And if they get that far … well, Bochy’s squads have faced 10 postseason opponents since 2010 and beaten them all.

 

Prediction: 1st in NL West (NL champion)
 

Lineup

 

CF Denard Span (L)

2B Joe Panik (L)

3B Matt Duffy (R)

C Buster Posey (R)

RF Hunter Pence (R)

1B Brandon Belt (L)

LF Angel Pagan (S)

SS Brandon Crawford (L)

 

Bench

 

C Andrew Susac (R)

OF Gregor Blanco (L)

INF Ehire Adrianza (S)

INF Kelby Tomlinson (R)

OF Jarrett Parker (L)

 

Rotation

 

LHP Madison Bumgarner

RHP Johnny Cueto

RHP Jeff Samardzija

RHP Jake Peavy

RHP Matt Cain

 

Bullpen

 

RHP Santiago Casilla (Closer)

RHP Sergio Romo

LHP Javier Lopez

LHP Josh Osich

RHP Hunter Strickland

RHP George Kontos

RHP Chris Heston

 

 

Teaser:
San Francisco Giants 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - 08:20
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/arizona-diamondbacks-2016-preview-and-prediction
Body:

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our online store.

 

With two bold moves, the Diamondbacks turned themselves into a contender. The signing of free agent Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million deal seemed to mandate another step forward, and general manager Dave Stewart complied by trading for righthander Shelby Miller. With a strong offense already in place, the D-backs are a threat.

 

 

Rotation

 

Greinke was the best free agent starter on the market, and the D-backs’ five-hour contact-to-contract machinations on Dec. 4 were the coup of the winter. Greinke was “minutes,” he said, from signing with another team, believed to be the Los Angeles Dodgers, before the D-backs moved in after managing partner Ken Kendrick included some deferred money to make the numbers work. Greinke was 51–15 with a 2.30 ERA in his three seasons with the Dodgers, and he would have won the 2015 Cy Young Award if voters had made ERA, WHIP or WAR the determining stat. Greinke led the majors in each category, showing command of four pitches while going 19–3 with a 1.66 ERA.

 

Miller had an historic outlier of a season with Atlanta in 2015, going 6–17 despite a 3.02 ERA. He received an average of 2.55 runs per nine innings last season, the lowest figure since Tom Candiotti (now the D-backs’ radio analyst) received 2.53 per nine in 1993 and the second-lowest figure since the stat was first compiled in 1988. Miller, who broke a 24-game winless streak in his final start of the season, deserved much better. He found success with a new two-seam fastball, giving up only 13 homers and inducing 17 double-play grounders in a career-high 205.1 innings.

 

Lefthander Patrick Corbin, an All-Star in 2013 before missing 2014 because of Tommy John surgery, will slot in at No. 3. He showed signs of previous brilliance while blowing off the rust after returning July 4. On a strict pitch count, Corbin made five straight quality starts while using 85 pitches or fewer, the first pitcher since Bryn Smith in 1988 to do that. He was 5–2 with a 1.61 ERA in the nine starts in which he went at least six innings.

 

No. 4 starter Rubby De La Rosa threw a career-high 188.2 innings while leading the D-backs with 14 victories last season, a function of his receiving 5.79 runs per start. Both he and No. 5 starter Robbie Ray spent their first full season in a rotation last year, and the Diamondbacks believe both will be the better for it.

 

Righthander Archie Bradley not only beat Clayton Kershaw but also singled off him in his first major league start April 11, but he was not the same after being hit by a line drive in the face in his fourth career start. Chase Anderson, who was among the National League leaders in ERA through the first two months of the 2015 season before falling back, was dealt to Milwaukee in the offseason.

 

Bullpen

 

Submariner Brad Ziegler is not the prototype closer, unless you look at results. Ziegler had a career-high 30 saves in 31 chances last season after taking over the job in late May, and he will begin the season in the same role. He converted 28 straight save chances to end the season, tying a franchise record. His funky delivery was particularly tough on righties, who hit .179 against him.

 

Righthander Daniel Hudson, two years removed from a second Tommy John surgery, developed into the most reliable setup man late last season while hitting 97-99 mph with his fastball, and the D-backs like him in that role. Closing also seems an option.

 

Lefthander Andrew Chafin, a candidate for the starting rotation last spring, enters this season as the D-backs’ most effective lefty after settling nicely into a setup role. Matt Reynolds and Keith Hessler are candidates for a role as second lefty. (Remember, chief baseball officer Tony La Russa even kept three lefties when he managed in St. Louis.) Josh Collmenter, who started on Opening Day in 2015, struggled in the rotation but again found his niche in the bullpen with a 1.89 ERA in 52.1 relief innings. He is the designated long man.

 

Godley and Randall Delgado also could be used as swing men, in long or short relief or even an occasional start. Rookie righthander Silvino Bracho was particularly effective in his first look at the majors last September, and rookie righthander Enrique Burgos brings a 99 mph fastball to the party.

 

Middle Infield

 

Nick Ahmed was among the top defenders in the league at shortstop, “saving” 20 more runs than the average player at his position according to baseball-reference.com. He figures to be the everyday shortstop, assuming Jean Segura — acquired in a multi-team deal with Milwaukee — takes over at second base. Segura has spent the majority of his career at short but has the versatility to play multiple positions. Chris Owings was affected by a shoulder surgery following the 2014 season, and the D-backs see a return to form. He could see significant time at second base if Segura is needed at short.

 

Corners

 

First baseman Paul Goldschmidt is one of the best players in baseball, a virtuoso at all phases — hitting, fielding, baserunning, preparation, leadership. He is the foundation upon which the franchise is built, and he is under contract through 2019. Jake Lamb will start at third, although Phil Gosselin and prospect Brandon Drury are also options. Drury has done about all he can do at the minor league level.

 

Outfield

 

If you believe in WAR, consummate two-way player A.J. Pollock was the best center fielder in the NL in his 2015 breakout season, and it wasn’t even close. Baseball-reference.com calculated Pollock’s WAR at 7.4, fourth in the league and behind only MVP Bryce Harper among outfielders. David Peralta continued his remarkable transition from left-handed pitcher to left fielder with 17 homers and 78 RBIs in his first full season in the majors. The trade of Ender Inciarte opened the right field job for Yasmany Tomas, who at the D-backs’ behest lost weight over the winter. Rookie Socrates Brito has shown speed, gap power and athleticism in the system and is the top candidate as the fourth outfielder for a team that prizes defense. Peter O’Brien also has played outfield.

 

Catching

 

Welington Castillo was a revelation after being acquired from Seattle two months into the 2015 season. He had 17 homers and 50 RBIs while throwing out 28 percent of potential base stealers in 80 games with the D-backs. Tuffy Gosewisch suffered a season-ending knee injury in late May and is a candidate for backup catcher, as are O’Brien and Chris Herrmann. Both also can play the outfield.

 

Bench

 

The Diamondbacks plan to carry five reserves, making them deeper and more versatile than a year ago. Gosselin can play three infield positions and left field. Owings can play second and short, and Brito can defend all three outfield positions with a right fielder’s arm.

 

Management

 

Kendrick believes in putting any profit back into the team, and he showed that with the signing of Greinke. A new 20-year, $1.5 billion local TV contract with Fox helped. The TV deal is graduated and will support the $62.5 million in deferred money to Greinke after his deal expires in 2021. First-year manager Chip Hale received good reviews for the way he handled his team in 2015. Stewart and La Russa may be old school, but they have embraced defensive metrics as they seek out their kind of players. They know how to win.

 

Final Analysis

 

The D-backs are in it to win it. Their top three starters are among the best in the league, and their position players are agile and athletic on defense and productive on offense. This could be a big year.

 

Prediction: 2nd in NL West (Wild Card)

 

Lineup

 

CF A.J. Pollock (R)

3B Jake Lamb (L)

1B Paul Goldschmidt (R)

LF David Peralta (L) 

C Welington Castillo (R)

RF Yasmany Tomas (R)

2B Jean Segura (R)

SS Nick Ahmed (R)

 

Bench

 

2B Chris Owings (R)

C/OF Chris Herrmann (L)

OF Socrates Brito (L)

UT Phil Gosselin (R)

C Tuffy Gosewisch (R)

 

Rotation

 

RHP Zack Greinke

RHP Shelby Miller

LHP Patrick Corbin

RHP Rubby De La Rosa

LHP Robbie Ray

 

Bullpen

 

RHP Brad Ziegler (Closer)

RHP Daniel Hudson

LHP Andrew Chafin

RHP Randall Delgado

LHP Matt Reynolds

RHP Zack Godley

RHP Josh Collmenter

Teaser:
Arizona Diamondbacks 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/st-louis-cardinals-2016-preview-and-prediction
Body:

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our online store.

 

The Cardinals spent a year recruiting an outfielder they believed could be a part of the next core, the one who would in the coming years inherit the history and annual championship aspirations now driving Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. They gave him a summer to get comfortable in the clubhouse and, when he reached free agency, an offer potentially richer than any they had made before. Two weeks before Christmas, Jason Heyward made his decision. He left the Cardinals for the Chicago Cubs, offering a public referendum on a changing division.

 

The Cardinals enter 2016 facing their sternest challenge yet to their dynastic hold on the division and franchise record run of postseason appearances. And it’s not just the Cubs that should concern Cardinals fans — it’s also time. The three pillars from a decade of contending — Molina, Wainwright and 2009 addition Matt Holliday — are in their mid-30s, and each spent significant time on the disabled list in 2015. All three return for 2016, but it’s identifying who will join Matt Carpenter in the next core that will determine if they can not only fend off the Cubs now but also meet their own expectations for seasons to come.

 

 

Rotation

 

The backbone of the best record in baseball in 2015 and one of the best run-prevention teams of the era was pitching, or, as manager Mike Matheny called it, “historically good pitching.” The Cardinals’ starters had a 2.99 ERA — a half run better than all but two other teams in the majors. The Cardinals did that without ace Wainwright, who missed five months recovering from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. As Wainwright returns, Lance Lynn departs.

 

The workhorse will miss the entire season recovering from elbow surgery. To pick up those innings, the Cardinals signed free agent Mike Leake — a prototypical, contact-seeking, athletic Cardinals pitcher who can be a quality start monster in the middle of the rotation. The Cardinals don’t expect the rotation to match last year’s history, but they believe young arms Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez can improve, if only by adding more innings and more consistency deeper into the season. Lefty Jaime Garcia’s health was an unexpected bonus in 2015 and a necessity for 2016.

 

Bullpen

 

It wasn’t until the 67th of his 68 games last summer that Trevor Rosenthal blew his third save and first against a team other than Pittsburgh. Rosenthal asserted his place as a shutdown closer with a club-record 48 saves and would have challenged 50 if not for a last-weekend shutdown. Workload was, after all, the prevailing concern. Two of the relievers who led the majors in appearances were setup men Kevin Siegrist (81) and Seth Maness (76). They were a sturdy, well-trod bridge to Rosenthal, and the Cardinals must remain wary of creaks. With Jordan Walden an unknown due to a shoulder injury, burly Jonathan Broxton returns to fortify the route to Rosenthal. Korea’s all-time saves leader with 277, Seung Hwan Oh brings late-inning savvy to a setup role. Tyler Lyons is an intriguing addition as a lefty who won’t be limited to a specialist role.

 

Middle Infield

 

Injuries and slumps to other All-Stars left shortstop Jhonny Peralta to carry a greater offensive load, and it came at a cost. A year after leading the team in homers, Peralta faded to a .243/.306/.325 slash line in the second half with only three extra-base hits in his final 146 plate appearances. His legs left him, and his swing followed. To keep Peralta fresher in his third year with the team and help third-year second baseman Kolten Wong blossom, the Cardinals traded for Jedd Gyorko. The right-handed-hitting infielder will be an alternative to Peralta at short and a platoon complement for Wong at second, or a challenger. Gyorko has averaged 16 homers in three seasons — the kind of pop the Cardinals want from Peralta and expect Wong to grow into.

 

Corners

 

The corners were a study in contrasts. Carpenter, who frequently batted first — not a spot often reserved for power — led the team in homers (28) and RBIs (84). From first base, a position defined by power, the Cardinals got fizzle. The combined .392 slugging percentage from the position was the lowest in the NL, and the committee provided almost 10 strikeouts for every one homer. Incumbent Matt Adams and veteran Brandon Moss will get first crack, with Stephen Piscotty a right-handed-hitting option. At first, it’s simple: Who produces most, plays most.

 

Outfield

 

The departures of Heyward and Jon Jay, who went to San Diego in the Gyorko trade, clear the way for the next generation. The Cardinals want to unleash Randal Grichuk and Piscotty in 2016, and the lone question is where will they find at-bats. Barring a late-winter acquisition, the answer is every day. Grichuk had as many homers (17) as Peralta — and in 256 fewer at-bats. If Grichuk can stay healthy returning from elbow soreness and hernia surgery, he has rare power for a center fielder, power the Cardinals crave. Heady hitter Piscotty is set to replace Heyward in right, and he ultimately may be the superior offensive player. While the twentysomethings will get a chance to reveal who they are, most of all the Cardinals need Holliday to be who he always has been. The All-Star twice tore a quadriceps muscle and had career lows across the board.

 

Catching

 

For the second time in as many springs, Molina will be returning from hand surgery. Molina shredded a ligament in his left hand late in 2015 and required two offseason surgeries to repair damage. It took him time a year ago to regain strength in the right hand and force in his swing. To sub while Molina heals and alleviate some innings, the Cardinals added Brayan Pena, a seasoned backup.

 

Bench

 

What happens at other positions will define the bench bats (Adams or Moss? Gyorko or Wong?). For years, the Cardinals have struggled to find that right fit for pinch-hitting — cycling unsuccessfully through veterans — so they’ll attempt a blend this season. There should be more versatility and more damage to choose from, but also more part-time players to stay sharp with starts and not idly wait for that one swing at contributing.

 

Management

 

A gifted, players-first motivator capable of infusing his guys with confidence, Matheny embraced a “next man up” mantra and refused to let the clubhouse surrender to the absence of multiple stars, convincing youngsters and backups they could win 100. He admits to learning the clockwork of his job — particularly bullpen management — in the crucible of contending, and he’s eagerly sought suggestions, including tips he’s employed from the analytics department. John Mozeliak, entering his ninth year as general manager, works to shape a roster for his manager’s tendencies. What he did for the bullpen during 2015, he wants to do for the bench — add name players Matheny will trust and thus play. A series of playoff exits shy of a title has increased the pressure on leadership and gotten Mozeliak rethinking the trade deadline through a postseason lens. This July he’ll look for an addition that lifts them in October.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Cardinals entered the winter eager to pursue two of the most prominent free agents available, and they finished second each time. Pitcher David Price signed with the cash-splashier Red Sox, and Heyward picked the flashier Cubs. This didn’t sit well with the Cardinals, who have long used their history and atmosphere to woo players. While their place as a destination franchise may have changed, the Cardinals and their aging core have this year to show that their status hasn’t changed where it counts — the standings.

 

Prediction: 2nd NL Central

 

Lineup

 

3B Matt Carpenter (L)

RF Stephen Piscotty (R)

LF Matt Holliday (R)

CF Randal Grichuk (R)

1B Brandon Moss (L)

SS Jhonny Peralta (R)

C Yadier Molina (R)

2B Kolten Wong (L)

 

Bench

 

1B Matt Adams (L)

INF Jedd Gyorko (R)

C Brayan Pena (S)

OF Tommy Pham (R)

INF Greg Garcia (L)

 

Rotation

 

RHP Adam Wainwright

RHP Michael Wacha

RHP Mike Leake

LHP Jaime Garcia

RHP Carlos Martinez

 

Bullpen

 

RHP Trevor Rosenthal (Closer)

RHP Jordan Walden

RHP Seth Maness

RHP Jonathan Broxton

LHP Kevin Siegrist

LHP Seung Hwan Oh

LHP Tyler Lyons

Teaser:
St. Louis Cardinals 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - 07:40
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/philadelphia-phillies-2016-preview-and-prediction
Body:

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our online store.

 

It’s a whole new ballgame in Philadelphia. The Phillies have a new club president in Andy MacPhail, a new general manager in Matt Klentak, a bunch of new players and even a new way of thinking. (Yes, this quintessentially old-school franchise has joined the analytics movement.)

 

Unchanged is the team’s commitment to a full rebuild. Most of the cast that won the 2008 World Series has been shipped out, and the last few stragglers will soon follow. Year 1 of the rebuild resulted in the worst record in the majors in 2015, but through the rubble a brighter day could be seen. Several promising youngsters arrived in the majors, and more are soon to come. This team is still an active construction site with much work to do, but it does appear to be headed in the right direction.

 

 

Rotation

 

Phillies starters had the second-worst ERA (5.23) in the majors in 2015, so it’s understandable why the club’s new leadership overhauled the rotation. There will be competition for jobs in spring training, and when camp breaks there could be as many as four newcomers in the rotation. Creating a balance of veterans and youngsters was Klentak’s goal. He picked up veteran stabilizers Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton and Brett Oberholtzer in trades. They are expected to provide innings to a starting staff that ranked 28th (892.2) in that category last year, while taking pressure off a core of youngsters expected to contribute now and in the future.

 

Righthander Aaron Nola, the team’s top pick in 2014, heads the young core. The 22-year-old LSU product arrived in July and showed exceptional poise and fastball command in going 6–2 with a 3.59 ERA in 13 starts. Jerad Eickhoff, 25, acquired from Texas in the package for Cole Hamels, had a 2.65 ERA in eight starts. Power-armed righty Vincent Velasquez, 23, was the centerpiece of the December trade that sent closer Ken Giles to Houston. Nola, Eickhoff and Velasquez are the foundation on which the rotation will be built. The team hopes Mark Appel and Jake Thompson can contribute before the season is over, thus turning veterans such as Hellickson and Morton into July trade bait.

 

Bullpen

 

Giles handled the closer’s role brilliantly after bad boy Jonathan Papelbon departed in July. But a top closer was a luxury that the rebuilding Phillies did not need, so he was dealt for five starting pitchers. “It was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up,” Klentak says. Every role in the bullpen is open. Who fills the closer spot will be an intriguing spring training storyline with many candidates. Veteran David Hernandez, who had a couple of strong seasons with Arizona before Tommy John surgery cost him the 2014 season, signed a big league deal just as Giles was exiting and will get the first chance.

 

The team has also signed veterans Andrew Bailey, Ernesto Frieri and Edward Mujica to minor league deals. Hernandez, Bailey, Frieri and Mujica have 231 big league saves among them. Righthanders Jeanmar Gomez and Luis Garcia both return in setup roles. Righthanders Dalier Hinojosa and Hector Neris and lefty Elvis Araujo also return after gaining valuable experience in 2015.

 

Middle Infield

 

For the first time since 2001, the Phillies will have neither Chase Utley nor Jimmy Rollins in their Opening Day lineup. The other half of the best double-play combination in franchise history exited when Utley was traded to the Dodgers in August, following Rollins, who had been dealt to that club the previous offseason. Shortstop Freddy Galvis’ first season as the regular was rather unremarkable as he recorded just a .302 on-base percentage and was inconsistent in the field despite the occasional highlight-reel play. Even a significant across-the-board improvement might not help Galvis hold off top prospect J.P. Crawford later in the season. Though not a standout, switch-hitting second baseman Cesar Hernandez does a lot of things well on both sides of the ball and will look to establish himself as a regular in 2016.

 

Corners

 

Here’s where the past meets the future. First baseman Ryan Howard, 36 and a shadow of his MVP past, returns for his final season with the club as third baseman Maikel Franco gets set for his first full season in the majors. Franco, 23, has pillowy hands and a rocket arm. He could be a Gold Glover once he overcomes some youthful sloppiness. He could also blossom into an RBI champ and the type of middle-of-the-order threat that Howard was in his prime. The Phils, who averaged just 3.86 runs per game in 2015, really need that.

 

Franco played in 80 games last season, and 37 of his 85 hits were for extra bases, fueling an .840 OPS. Howard led the club with 23 homers and 77 RBIs, but he hit just .229, including .130 against lefties, and played poor defense. He was platooned over the final two months with Darin Ruf, who hit .371 with a 1.107 OPS in 97 at-bats against lefties. Howard’s contract is guaranteed just through this season — but the Phillies still owe him a whopping $35 million.

 

Outfield

 

There is youth and athleticism here, led by 24-year-old Odubel Herrera, the Rule 5 pick who became the center fielder and one of the team’s best players in 2015. A slashing hitter with good quickness, Herrera polished his skills as the season unfolded and hit .324 with an .832 OPS after June 1. He played standout defense in his first full season as an outfielder. The addition of Peter Bourjos could push Herrera to a corner spot, but he remains a key foundation piece. The speedy Bourjos is a brilliant defender but has not hit consistently since a breakout season with the Angels in 2011. He will get an early opportunity but will need to produce offensively to remain a regular. Aaron Altherr, rangy and strong-armed, plays all three positions well. His first seven big league hits were for extra bases last season. The Phils are again looking to hit big on a Rule 5 addition. Tyler Goeddel, plucked out of the Tampa Bay system, was the first pick in the Rule 5 draft. He was the 41st overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft and stands a good chance of sticking.

 

Catching

 

The end is near for another World Series hero. Carlos Ruiz lost his starting job to Cameron Rupp in 2015. Rupp threw out 38 percent (20 of 53) of would-be base thieves and showed pop — eight homers in his final 38 games — as he got more regular at-bats. Veteran J.P. Arencibia will be in camp on a minor league contract, and that sets up some intrigue. Can he unseat Ruiz as the backup? Or will the remaining one year and $9 million on Ruiz’ contract secure his spot?

 

Bench

 

Switch-hitting veteran Andres Blanco is an asset. He can pick it at any infield position. He can swing it — 32 of his 68 hits last year were for extra bases. In addition, he’s a valuable mentor to the team’s young Latin players. Cody Asche, who plays third base and left field, lines up to be a left-handed bat off the bench. Ruf will add right-handed pop on days he does not start. Ditto for Arencibia if he makes the club.

 

Management

 

Billionaire John Middleton, the most visible member of a deep-pocketed ownership group, said MacPhail’s mandate was to win, and he promised every resource needed to make that happen. The Phillies spent over a half-billion on salaries from 2012-14 and missed the playoffs all three years. Howard, Ruiz and Cliff Lee ($12.5 million buyout) come off the books after 2016, and the team could be primed for a big move in the free agent market — if it’s ready to win. Despite this, MacPhail and Klentak remain committed to building from within, with deep stocks of pitching leading the way.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Phillies still aren’t ready to contend, and they know that, but important young players have gained experience, and the pitching is deeper. They should climb a few steps out of the major league basement in 2016 and be quite interesting as more prospects begin to arrive later in the season.

 

Prediction: 4th in NL East

 

Lineup

 

CF Odubel Herrera (L)

2B Cesar Hernandez (S)

3B Maikel Franco (R)

1B Ryan Howard (L)

RF Aaron Altherr (R)

C Cameron Rupp (R)

SS Freddy Galvis (S)

LF Peter Bourjos (R)

 

Bench

 

1B Darin Ruf (R)

INF Andres Blanco (S)

3B/OF Cody Asche (L)

OF Tyler Goeddel (R)

C J.P. Arencibia (R)

 

Rotation

 

RHP Jeremy Hellickson

RHP Charlie Morton

RHP Aaron Nola

LHP Brett Oberholtzer

RHP Jerad Eickhoff

 

Bullpen

 

RHP David Hernandez (Closer)

RHP Jeanmar Gomez

RHP Luis Garcia

LHP Elvis Araujo

LHP James Russell

RHP Dalier Hinojosa

RHP Vincent Velasquez

Teaser:
Philadelphia Phillies 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - 07:20
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, Magazines
Path: /nascar/joey-logano-2016-nascar-scouting-report-and-fantasy-preview
Body:

The 2016 NASCAR season will be here soon, and Athlon Sports is helping you prep for the season with a scouting report and fantasy preview for each of the top 16 drivers. The Athlon Sports 2016 Racing Preview, available on newsstands now, includes previews and stats for every driver and every track.

 

Joey Logano checks in at No. 1 in our countdown. Here’s what his season could look like on the track and on your fantasy team:

 

Scouting Report

 

“Joey’s really a nice kid when you get down to it,” an industry insider says. “But he got over to Team Penske and his ‘role model’ was Brad Keselowski, a talented but younger driver himself who doesn’t always think before he makes a move on the track — or opens his mouth, for that matter. I think it’s rubbed off on Joey in a way that maybe has helped him be more aggressive, sometimes, obviously too aggressive, on the track, and in a way that’s sometimes hurt him with what he says off the track. What he’s said and done recently has made a lot of veteran drivers dislike him.”

 

“Listen, this is what young kids do. They run their mouths and make mistakes and usually pay a price for it. It’s totally normal for young people,” a former driver says. “I didn’t see it coming with Joey. But Joey learned, ‘Look, it’s an eye for an eye, man.’ He thought what he did at Kansas was cool. But we all said he’s going to get wrecked back. I think he will become a better driver in the long run because of what he’s now gone through. Joey Logano, for me, is right up there with the talent to become one of the next champions. We all learn lessons along the way. He’s very young. He’s only 25, you know?”

 

 

Fantasy Stall

 

Victory Lane or bust: Logano has more wins (11) than any driver on the Sprint Cup circuit since the start of the 2014 season. They’ve come on each of NASCAR’s four major types: short tracks, intermediates, superspeedways and road courses — variety that makes him a “must have” for your roster.

 

Restrictor plate roller coaster: Logano’s recent plate track record shows the difficulty in trying to pick drivers for Daytona and Talladega. In four starts last year, he had two victories, including the sport’s Super Bowl (Daytona 500), but was 22nd and 33rd, respectively, in the other two events. Select at your own risk.

 

No senior citizen here: Logano, just age 25 was the lone twenty-something to make the 16-driver Chase. Tops among NASCAR’s next generation, he possesses upside potential in drafting that is far greater than many of the 40-ish drivers who’ve already reached their peak.

 

Teaser:
Joey Logano: 2016 NASCAR Scouting Report and Fantasy Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, Magazines
Path: /nascar/kevin-harvick-2016-nascar-scouting-report-and-fantasy-preview
Body:

The 2016 NASCAR season will be here soon, and Athlon Sports is helping you prep for the season with a scouting report and fantasy preview for each of the top 16 drivers. The Athlon Sports 2016 Racing Preview, available on newsstands now, includes previews and stats for every driver and every track.

 

Kevin Harvick checks in at No. 2 in our countdown. Here’s what his season could look like on the track and on your fantasy team:

 

Scouting Report

 

“Harvick is the hottest driver in NASCAR right now, even though he didn’t win the championship (last year),” says one former driver. “He’s the champion of 2014 and there’s no doubt he was the fastest car, leading in every category in 2015. He had a record amount of second-place finishes and still is, in my opinion, the man to beat. Harvick performs more consistently up front than any driver in the sport right now. He’s the fastest driver. He just missed the championship by one spot last year, and there is no doubt he’ll be right up there contending for it again in 2016.”

 

“Rodney Childers is the perfect crew chief for Harvick. I think a lot of people see Childers as the next Chad Knaus in the Sprint Cup garage,” one rival driver says. “(Childers) always has had a lot of respect from his peers, because they always realized his potential and his talent. Once he got with the No. 4 team and Stewart-Haas Racing, the chemistry with Harvick was solid right off the bat, and he’s had the opportunity to showcase how good he really is.

 

“If they keep them together for a long time — and there’s no reason to think they won’t — they’ll probably just keep getting better and better and start finishing off more of the races where they fell just a little short with more wins. That’s a little scary for everybody else in the garage.”

 

 

Fantasy Stall

 

Up front early and often: Harvick has led 4,431 laps over the last two seasons, tops on the circuit by a wide margin. His 48 bonus points last season also paced the Sprint Cup field, and he posted a whopping 20 finishes inside the top 3. That means 56 percent of the time last year Harvick was guaranteed to earn your roster a top-3 result.

 

Phoenix flame: Harvick has four victories in his last five starts at the one-mile oval and hasn’t finished worse than second since taking over the No. 4 car in 2014. If not for a bizarre, rain-shortened ending that allowed Dale Earnhardt Jr. to squeak by last November, he’d have five in a row.

 

Short circuit: If there’s one small kink in the armor for Harvick, it’s at the three tracks on the schedule shorter than a mile: Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond. He has just one victory on those three the last four seasons (Richmond, 2013) and has three runs of 31st or worse in his last 12 starts.

 

Teaser:
Kevin Harvick: 2016 NASCAR Scouting Report and Fantasy Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News, Magazines
Path: /mlb/cleveland-indians-2016-preview-and-prediction
Body:

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our online store.

 

If the Indians are a contender in 2016, it will be for a Wild Card spot and not the AL Central Division championship. They have the starting rotation to win their first division title since 2007, but not the offense. In the offseason, the front office chose to keep that rotation intact instead of trading an arm for a big hitter to put in the middle of the lineup.

 

As for acquiring a flashy bat through free agency? That’s been a non-starter since the organization’s painful misses on Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn before the 2013 season. Hey, but at least the Indians were able to dump the bodies, trading Swisher, Bourn and an estimated $15 million to Atlanta last August for Chris Johnson and his $17.5 million contract. Then Johnson was designated for assignment and released in December. Still, that doesn’t help an offense that finished 11th in runs and 13th in homers last season in the American League.

 

To add urgency to the situation, Michael Brantley, the Indians’ most consistent hitter over the last three years, had surgery on his right shoulder in November and could miss the first month of the regular season. It’s been speculated that he could be out longer, but the Indians say Brantley’s recovery is on schedule.

 

The Indians, in the wake of Brantley’s injury, signed Rajai Davis, traded for Collin Cowgill and will bring a host of other outfielders to spring training on minor league deals to try and strengthen the weakest part of the team. Young outfielders Tyler Naquin, James Ramsey, Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier were expected to get a long look in spring training as well.

 

The Indians did sign Mike Napoli to a one-year deal to add some thump to the middle of the lineup. A full season from AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Francisco Lindor and a healthy season from catcher Yan Gomes should help as well.

 

 

Rotation

 

Corey Kluber returns as the No. 1 starter despite going from AL Cy Young winner in 2014 to leading the league with 16 losses in 2015. A lot of those losses could be tied to a lack of offense and a foot injury that the Indians kept quiet. Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, 14-game winners last year, fill the middle of rotation after drawing intense interest on the trade market over the winter. Trevor Bauer completes the top four spots. Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin, who combined to go 14–5 in 25 starts last year, will compete for the fifth spot. T.J. House, Mike Clevinger, Ryan Merritt and Adam Plutko could help during the season.

 

Bullpen

 

The bullpen, despite producing the second-lowest ERA in the AL last season, heads into 2016 with questions. Can closer Cody Allen and setup man Bryan Shaw continue to produce at a high level after three seasons of heavy work? Allen made 223 appearances and Shaw 224 from 2013 through ’15. Following the trade of Marc Rzepczynski at midseason last year, there has been a need for a dependable lefty. Veteran lefties Joe Thatcher, Tom Gorzelanny and Ross Detwiler were signed to minor league deals to compete with Kyle Crockett and Giovanni Soto in spring training. Righties Zach McAllister, Jeff Manship, Austin Adams, Shawn Armstrong, Dan Otero, Joba Chamberlain and Kirby Yates offer plenty of depth behind Allen and Shaw.

 

Middle Infield

 

Lindor and two-time All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis are key to the Indians’ success. A full season from Lindor will definitely boost the offense. In 99 games as a rookie last year, he hit .313 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs. How he handles a full season will be critical for the offense. Defensively, Lindor helped transform MLB’s most error-prone team in 2014 to a team that tied for second in fielding percentage in 2015. Kipnis plays gritty but effective defense. He sparked the offense last year when he was moved into the leadoff spot, but a right shoulder injury caused him to slump in the second half. Kipnis and Lindor, hitting first and second, form a dangerous combination. It will be interesting to see if Brantley’s injury causes a change in their lineup spots.

 

Corners

 

The Indians tried to upgrade first and third base over the winter. They bid on Korean first baseman Byung-ho Park but lost out to the Twins. Then they signed Napoli to a one-year, $7 million deal. Napoli is expected to get most of the playing time at first, with Carlos Santana moving to DH. After failing to trade for Todd Frazier, Giovanny Urshela is expected to start at third. Urshela made his big league debut last year and played good defense but didn’t hit much. He dealt with a sore right shoulder in the second half after missing much of spring training with back and knee injuries. The Indians believe Urshela can be a better hitter if he can stay healthy. Switch-hitter Jose Ramirez could see time at third base.

 

Outfield

 

Davis is expected to start the season in left field in place of the injured Brantley. Davis will move to center against some lefties, while Cowgill should get a chance in left and right field. Lonnie Chisenhall made the move from third base to right field after the All-Star break and hit .288 with 25 RBIs in 54 games while shining defensively. Joey Butler or Cowgill are potential platoon partners for Chisenhall. The Indians aren’t certain if Abraham Almonte is an everyday center fielder, but he played like one over the final two months of last season. They also invited outfielders Shane Robinson, Michael Choice and Robbie Grossman to camp on minor league deals.

 

Catching

 

Gomes and Roberto Perez form a solid catching combination. Gomes has power, frames pitches well and calls a good game. The 2014 Silver Slugger winner was limited to 95 games last year after missing six weeks early in the season because of a right knee injury suffered on April 12. Gomes, who threw out 33 percent (19-of-58) of potential basestealers last season, played catch-up the rest of the year. Perez stepped in when Gomes was injured and threw out 42 percent (18-for-43). Perez hit seven homers in 184 at-bats, and Tribe pitchers posted a 3.71 ERA when he was behind the plate.

 

DH/Bench

 

In the last three years, Santana has been the Indians’ Opening Day catcher (2013), third baseman (2014) and first baseman (2015). In 2016, he’s likely to be their Opening Day designated hitter with the arrival of Napoli to play first base. Santana led the team in homers, RBIs and walks last year but batted .231 for the second straight season and seemed miscast as a cleanup hitter because of his fondness for walks. Napoli, a top vote getter for the Gold Glove last year, played just 111 games at first base so Santana shouldn’t put his glove in cold storage. Ramirez is expected to replace departed Mike Aviles as manager Terry Francona’s jack-of-all trades. Ramirez can play second, short, third and left field.

 

Management

 

Chris Antonetti, president of baseball operations, and Francona went into the offseason with the idea of keeping their starting pitching intact unless they were overwhelmed. Regarding offense, well, they’d worry about that later. The rotation is full of good arms signed to club-friendly contracts, but you have to score runs to win. If Brantley returns on schedule, perhaps the Indians can still deal a pitcher at the trading deadline to fuel a second-half push.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Indians have put together three straight winning seasons for the first time since 1999-2001, but the paying public has greeted them with a yawn. In that three-year span, the Indians have finished 28th and 29th (twice) in attendance.  It’s clear something dramatic needs to be done, but that’s unlikely to happen. The Indians operate on a restricted payroll and play in a division featuring a Kansas City team that has been to the World Series the last two years. The Indians definitely have a playoff-worthy rotation, but scoring enough runs to reach the postseason will be the problem.

 

Prediction: 5th AL Central

 

Lineup

 

2B Jason Kipnis (L)

SS Francisco Lindor (S)

LF Michael Brantley (L)

1B Mike Napoli (R)

DH Carlos Santana (S)

C Yan Gomes (R)

RF Lonnie Chisenhall (L)

3B Giovanny Urshela (R)

CF Abraham Almonte (S)

 

Bench

 

UTL Jose Ramirez (S)

C Roberto Perez (R)

OF Collin Cowgill (R)

OF Rajai Davis (R)

 

Rotation

 

RHP Corey Kluber

RHP Carlos Carrasco

RHP Danny Salazar

RHP Trevor Bauer

RHP Josh Tomlin

 

Bullpen

 

RHP Cody Allen (Closer)

RHP Bryan Shaw

RHP Zack McAllister

RHP Jeff Manship

LHP Joe Thatcher

RHP Joba Chamberlain

LHP Kyle Crockett
 

Teaser:
Cleveland Indians 2016 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/soccer-referee-shot-red-card-killed-after-sending-player-field-argentina
Body:

Tragedy struck during a soccer game in Argentina recently. 

 

The police are searching for a soccer player who is said to have shot and killed a referee after being shown the red card and sent out of the game. The player went over to his bag, retrieved a gun, and shot referee Cesar Flores. 

 

"It all happened during the football match," a police source told The Guardian. "We don't know [exactly what took place], but it appears the player was angry, fetched a gun and killed him."

 

Flores was 48 years old and was shot three times, going to his head, neck, and chest. The reports are foggy regarding how the player was allowed to walk out of there without being arrested. Although another player was injured, his injuries were not life-threatening.

 

The manhunt is ongoing. 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 16:54
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /overtime/lsu-leonard-fournette-squat-405-pounds-running-back-tigers
Body:

Leonard Fournette is a beast.

 

Everyone who has ever seen an LSU football game already knows that. Now we get a look at just how strong the Tigers running back truly is. Fournette uploaded a video to Instagram demonstrating how he squats 405 pounds like it's nothing. 

 

 

405 slightwork with my coach @roy014

A video posted by Leonard Fournette (@_fournette7) on

 

Slight work, indeed. 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 13:59
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /overtime/jeopardy-ohio-state-buckeye-jesse-owens-big-ten-question
Body:

This guy won't be able to live this down.

 

A Jeopardy! contestant was given the hints "Buckeye" and "Big Ten", but still couldn't piece together that Olympic legend Jesse Owens attended Ohio State. It could've been an innocent mix-up and perhaps Chris does know the answer, but he won't be able to escape this question the near future.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 13:24
Path: /college-football/nebraska-cornhuskers-2016-spring-practice-positional-preview-linebackers
Body:

Nebraska linebackers coach Trent Bray probably sleeps much more soundly than he did a year ago. His corps has swelled to something that could help take defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s scheme to the next level this fall and help erase some key mistakes from the past.

 

2015 Summary

Heading into the 2015 season, depth was razor-thin and as young as the Mike Riley era itself. To make matters worse, two of the Cornhuskers’ best went down in fall camp as Michael Rose-Ivey and Josh Banderas suffered groin injuries.

 

The good news was that Nebraska fans were introduced to some names that they’ve become familiar with and for good reason.

 

One surprise that showed he belonged on a college football field from day one was Dedrick Young, who started as a true freshman in the season opener versus BYU. The swift, physical Young never gave up his spot as a Blackshirt and made his presence felt all year long.

 

Nebraska fans frequently got looks at walk-on Chris Weber, who looked every part of a Big Ten linebacker, and Luke Gifford, who performed admirably, but took his lumps. Weber has since earned a scholarship for his merits.

 

The linebackers struggled to put together complete games due to injuries and the aforementioned lack of experience in taking on college-level players which proved to be frustrating for the team and fans alike.

 

Key Departures: None

 

Key Returners for 2016: Josh Banderas (Sr.), Marcus Newby (Jr.), Michael Rose-Ivey (Sr.), Chris Weber (Jr.), Dedrick Young (So.)

 

2016 Outlook

Many of those inexperienced linebackers became used to the speed of the college game on an intrasquad level while being kept under the protection of redshirts. Those young men will be introduced to live competition this fall and several should be fun to watch.

 

Redshirt freshman Mohamed Barry out of Grayson, Ga., has been talked about by fans at length since his arrival. Several Big Red Backers were wondering if he and New Orleans native Tyrin Ferguson might see time as true freshmen in 2015 due to so many unknown variables at their position last season.

 

Banderas and Rose-Ivey, the veterans of the group, remain salty. The former’s play has improved by leaps and bounds under Bray.

 

While not a position of extreme strength, Nebraska can now say it has talent and depth at all levels of the corps. Surely there’s someone who will break out in 2016 as well, just as Young did last season.

 

Position Grade for 2016: B

 

— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow Brandon on Twitter (@eightlaces), Periscope (eightlaces) and like his Facebook page.

Teaser:
Nebraska Cornhuskers 2016 Spring Practice Positional Preview: Linebackers
Post date: Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/ronda-rousey-ellen-degeneres-show-contemplated-suicide-after-holly-holm-loss
Body:

Ronda Rousey took a lot of flack after her loss to Holly Holm. 

 

In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, the UFC fighter talked about what she went through after the devastating event. Although social media was relentless, Rousey was her worst critic. 

 

"I was sitting in the corner like what am I anymore if not this?" Rousey said. "And I was literally sitting there and thinking about killing myself at that exact second I'm like I'm nothing, what do I do anymore and no one gives a s–t about me anymore without this."

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 10:08
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-20-quarterbacks-rise-2016
Body:

The countdown to the 2016 college football season is already underway, and even with the season nearly 200 days away, it’s never too early to take a look at the returning talent and project some of the players due for a breakout season. Recruiting establishes the foundation for any program, but finding and developing quarterbacks is a challenging and essential task for any coach. Quarterback play is always under the microscope and could be the difference between winning a conference title or national championship or finishing with a disappointing record.

 

Quarterbacks are the highest-profile and most-important position on the field. With that in mind, let’s take a look at 20 quarterbacks on the rise for next season, as well as a handful of names to watch. With spring practice coming up and some of the battles set to be decided, this list will look a tad different by the fall. 

 

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

 

Blake Barnett, Alabama

Uncertainty at quarterback has been a storyline for Alabama entering each of the last three spring practice sessions. Four quarterbacks – David Cornwell, Blake Barnett, Cooper Bateman and true freshman Jalen Hurts – are set to compete for the No. 1 spot this spring, with Barnett considered a slight favorite over Bateman. Barnett redshirted his first season at Alabama and was regarded as a five-star recruit coming out of high school. The California native brings a dual-threat element to the Crimson Tide’s offense and is the most-talented quarterback Nick Saban has recruited during his tenure in Tuscaloosa.   

 

Related: College Football's Top 50 Players for 2016

 

Max Browne, USC

Browne isn’t guaranteed the starting job yet, as he will have to hold off Sam Darnold for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart this offseason. However, Browne was a five-star recruit and the No. 11 overall player in the 2013 247Sports Composite and all signs suggest he is the frontrunner. After spending the last two years as Cody Kessler’s backup, it’s Browne’s time to claim the starting job. He completed 3 of 7 passes for 30 yards in 2014 and completed 8 of 12 throws for 113 yards last season. Developing Browne into a successful replacement for Kessler is a huge opportunity for new coach Clay Helton to get his tenure started in the right direction. 

 

Jake Browning, Washington

Washington is a team on the rise for 2016 and should be among the frontrunners to win the Pac-12 next fall. A big reason for the Huskies’ expected jump in the standings next fall is the development of Browning. In 12 starts as a true freshman last season, Browning threw for 2,955 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also finished the year on a high note, completing 23 of 34 throws for 284 yards in the 44-31 victory over Southern Miss in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

 

Keller Chryst, Stanford

Chryst was a big-time pickup for coach David Shaw on the recruiting trail, and after two years as an understudy to Kevin Hogan, the Palo Alto native is considered the favorite to take the first snap for Stanford in 2016. Chryst ranked as the No. 51 overall recruit and the No. 3 pro-style quarterback 2014 247Sports Composite. He played in four games as a redshirt freshman last fall, completing 5 of 9 passes for 59 yards and one touchdown. The most extended action of Chryst’s season took place against Arizona, as he completed all four pass attempts for 39 yards. Shaw has plenty of work ahead this offseason on offense with a revamped line and two key departures in the receiving corps. However, it seems the Cardinal has its quarterback of the future already in place.

 

Related: CFB's Pre-Spring Top 75 Running Backs for 2016

 

Jacob Eason, Georgia

Eason has yet to take an official snap in a Georgia uniform, but high expectations are already in place for the true freshman. The Washington native ranked as the No. 5 overall recruit in the 2016 247Sports Composite and enrolled early to compete for the starting job this spring. Eason should benefit from the hire of veteran coordinator Jim Chaney, as well as standout line coach Sam Pittman for a Georgia offense needing a spark after averaging only 22.9 points in SEC games last season. Starting as a true freshman in the SEC isn’t easy, but Eason has all of the physical tools and talent needed to succeed right away. 

 

Quinton Flowers, USF

A big reason for USF’s improvement in the win column in 2015 was the rise of the “Gulf Coast Offense” under coach Willie Taggart. The Bulls averaged 33.6 points a game last season, a significant increase from the 17.2 average in 2014. Flowers’ emergence in 2015 was a key cog in the development of the offense, as the Miami native tossed a school-record 22 touchdowns and added 991 yards and 12 scores on the ground. Flowers finished fifth in the American Athletic Conference by averaging 252.4 total yards per game and did not throw an interception in four out of the last seven contests. Continuing to make strides as a passer is the top offseason priority for Flowers.

 

Deondre Francois/Malik Henry, Florida State

Sean Maguire finished 2015 as Florida State’s starter, but there’s a good chance a freshman takes the first snap of the year under center for the Seminoles. Francois – the No. 64 player in the 2015 247Sports Composite – is expected to push Maguire or win the starting job this spring. Henry – the No. 48 prospect in the 2016 247Sports Composite – will also factor into the mix.

 

Related: CFB's Pre-Spring Top 75 Running Backs for 2016

 

Kenny Hill, TCU

Hill threw for 2,649 yards and 23 touchdowns in eight games with the Aggies in 2014 but was benched in favor of Kyle Allen. Hill decided to transfer to TCU after the 2014 season and is expected to replace Trevone Boykin as the team’s starting quarterback. The Horned Frogs have to revamp their offensive line, but Hill has a solid group of skill players in place and should be a good fit in coordinator Doug Meacham’s spread offense. Can Hill return to the form that garnered him the nickname "Kenny Trill" at Texas A&M? If he can, TCU's offense should remain near the top of the Big 12.

 

Lamar Jackson, Louisville

Since Bobby Petrino’s return to Louisville in 2014, the quarterback position has been somewhat of a revolving door for the Cardinals. Three players earned a start in 2014 and the same held true in 2015. But the carousel ended late in 2015, as Jackson emerged as the team’s clear No. 1 against Kentucky and in the Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M. Jackson completed 12 of 26 throws for 227 yards and two scores and added 226 yards (second most by a quarterback in FBS bowl history) and two touchdowns on the ground in Louisville’s 27-21 victory over the Aggies. The dynamic freshman fell just 40 yards short of 1,000 on the ground and posted one 300-yard passing performance (307 – Florida State). Jackson is still developing as a passer, but his rushing ability and overall talent will be tough for ACC defenses to contain in 2016.

 

Taylor Lamb, Appalachian State

After a strong sophomore campaign, the arrow on Lamb’s potential for Appalachian State is trending up. The Mountaineers are the early favorite to win the Sun Belt next season, and Lamb is poised to push for first-team all-conference honors after only earning an honorable mention in 2015. In 13 games last year, Lamb threw for 31 touchdowns and 2,387 yards and rushed for 436 yards and five scores. The Mountaineers lost three out of their top four receivers from last year, but Lamb’s return and a deep stable of running backs will keep this offense performing at a high level. 

 

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

 

Chase Litton, Marshall

Replacing a four-year starter at quarterback with fingerprints all over the Marshall record book was no easy assignment for coach Doc Holliday last season. But the Thundering Herd eventually found the right quarterback, as Litton started the final 11 games and finished the year with 2,605 passing yards and 23 scores. The Florida native also completed 60.1 percent of his throws and threw for 486 yards in a 34-10 victory over Charlotte. Marshall entered last season’s spring practices looking for a quarterback. One year later, the Thundering Herd can now focus on building around Litton and competing for Conference USA’s East Division title once again. 

 

Tanner Mangum, BYU

Mangum was thrown into the fire last season after Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending foot injury in the opener against Nebraska. While Mangum was a four-star recruit in the 2012 signing class, the 2015 season was his first opportunity for extended action after a two-year mission to Chile. However, Mangum showed no rust in his first snaps with the Cougars, which included a Hail Mary touchdown pass to beat Nebraska, a game-winning score against Boise State with less than a minute to go and wins in seven out of BYU’s final nine games. Mangum finished 2015 with 3,377 passing yards and 23 scores and will be one of the building blocks (if he can hold off Hill for the starting job) for new coach Kalani Sitake in 2016. 

 

Kent Myers, Utah State

Injuries hit Utah State’s quarterback position hard over the last three seasons, and coach Matt Wells seems due for better luck under center in 2016. Myers has showed plenty of ability over the last two years and finished 2015 with 1,950 total yards. Additionally, Myers has tossed only six interceptions on 318 career pass attempts. With Chuckie Keeton expiring his eligibility, it's Myers job to lose this spring. 

 

Dakota Prukop, Oregon

Oregon’s FCS-to-FBS graduate transfer route worked well last season with the addition of Vernon Adams. Can the Ducks strike gold two years in a row? Prukop certainly seems like a great fit in Eugene. The Texas native accumulated 3,525 yards of total offense with Montana State in 2014 and was even more prolific in 2015. In 11 contests, Prukop threw for 3,025 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for 797 yards and 11 scores. Transitioning from the FCS level to the speed and talent of the Pac-12 will present a few challenges. However, Prukop seems ready for a new challenge at the Pac-12 level.

 

Related: College Football's Top 50 Players for 2016

 

Josh Rosen, UCLA

Rosen was the nation’s top freshman quarterback in 2015, and high expectations surround the California native entering offseason workouts and spring practice for the 2016 campaign. Rosen started all 13 games for coach Jim Mora and threw for 3,669 yards and 23 scores. Additionally, Rosen completed 60 percent of his passes and finished with six performances of 300 yards or more. There are some question marks surrounding Rosen’s supporting cast next fall, but all of the skills and talent are in place for the former five-star recruit to take another step forward in his development.

 

Brett Rypien, Boise State

Rypien and Ryan Finley are slated to compete for the starting job this spring, but it’s hard to pick against Rypien winning the job after a solid true freshman campaign. Finley was lost for the season after he suffered an ankle injury against Idaho State on Sept. 18, and Rypien saw his first snaps for the Broncos, completing 8 of 9 passes for 126 yards against the Bengals. Rypien started the final 10 games for coach Bryan Harsin and finished with 3,350 yards and 20 touchdown passes. He also completed 63.6 percent of his throws and earned first-team All-Mountain West honors last season. Boise State’s offense has produced its share of prolific quarterbacks in recent years, and Rypien has the talent to be one of the nation’s top Group of 5 passers this season.

 

Brent Stockstill, MTSU

Stockstill was one of the nation’s top freshmen quarterbacks last season and is poised to take another step forward in his development this fall under new coordinator Tony Franklin. In 13 games last year, Stockstill threw for 4,005 yards and 30 scores and set a FBS freshman record with 327 completions. Additionally, Stockstill’s 66.7 completion percentage ranked second in Conference USA to WKU’s Brandon Doughty, while his 4,005 passing yards were the most by a freshman in 2015. He also finished the season by throwing for 300 or more yards in five out of MTSU’s final six games. 

 

Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina

Marquise Williams earned second-team All-ACC honors last season and finished his career in Chapel Hill with 96 career touchdowns. However, North Carolina’s offense won’t miss a beat in 2016 with a new quarterback under center. Trubisky has waited his turn behind Williams but has played in 19 games over the last two seasons and completed 82 of 125 passes for 1,014 yards in that span. The Ohio native was a four-star recruit out of high school and should emerge as one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks next fall. 

 

Related: Early ACC Predictions for 2016

 

Favian Upshaw, Georgia Southern

Georgia Southern’s offense is in good hands at the quarterback spot with the talented duo of Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw back for 2016. After rushing for 199 yards and four scores in the GoDaddy Bowl win over Bowling Green, can Upshaw push for more playing time under new coach Tyson Summers?

 

Davis Webb, Colorado

Webb was considered a rising star at Texas Tech after throwing 44 touchdowns in his first two years in Lubbock. However, late in the 2014 season, Webb suffered an ankle injury and did not play in the final four games. Patrick Mahomes replaced Webb in the starting lineup and never surrendered the job in 2015. Prior to his injury, Webb threw for 2,539 yards and 24 touchdowns and completed 61.2 percent of his throws in 2014. With Mahomes entrenched as the starter, Webb is heading to Colorado for 2016 via the graduate transfer route. There’s no guarantee Webb takes the first snap for the Buffaloes, but returning starter Sefo Liufau is recovering from a Lisfranc injury and may not play in 2016. While the starting job isn’t guaranteed, it’s hard to believe Webb would transfer to Colorado and sit on the bench. He should be an impact transfer for coach Mike MacIntyre.  

 

Other Quarterbacks to Watch

 

Austin Allen, Arkansas

Austin’s brother – Brandon Allen – expired his eligibility after the bowl win against Kansas State. Austin has played sparingly the last two seasons and has to hold off talented transfer Ricky Town.

 

Drew Barker, Kentucky

With Patrick Towles transferring, there’s no question about Barker’s playing time. It’s his time to shine in Lexington. 

 

Christian Chapman, San Diego State

Aztecs still lean heavily on their ground attack and defense, but Chapman showed promise after taking over for an injured Maxwell Smith last season.

 

Eric Dungey, Syracuse

Dungey showed promise as a true freshman last season (1,298 yards and 11 scores) and should handle the controls of Dino Babers’ high-powered offense at Syracuse this season.

 

Nelson Fishback, WKU

Brandon Doughty will be tough to replace, but the Hilltoppers should still have one of the top offenses in Conference USA next season. Fishback worked as Doughty’s backup last year and faces competition from transfers Mike White (USF) and Tyler Ferguson (Louisville) for the starting job.

 

Nick Fitzgerald/Elijah Staley, Mississippi State

Replacing Dak Prescott won’t be easy, but coach Dan Mullen has some intriguing options returning under center. Damian Williams returns from a redshirt year, while Fitzgerald and Staley have showed promise in limited snaps.

 

Justice Hansen, Arkansas State

Former Oklahoma quarterback is back on the FBS level after a stint at Butler Community College.

 

Ben Hicks, SMU

Talented redshirt freshman could push Matt Davis for the starting job this offseason.

 

James Knapke, Bowling Green

Matt Johnson leaves big shoes to fill in Bowling Green. However, new coach Mike Jinks can turn to Knapke (3,173 yards, 15 TDs in 2014) as a capable replacement in 2016.

 

Jalan McClendon, NC State

McClendon was a four-star recruit out of high school and redshirted in his first season with the Wolfpack. He saw limited snaps (8 of 14 for 69 yards) last year and is the favorite to replace Jacoby Brissett.

 

Riley Neal, Ball State

Neal is a promising signal-caller for coach Mike Neu to build around in his debut in Muncie. Neal threw for 2,276 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 399 yards and two scores after replacing Jack Milas as the team’s starter.

 

John O’Korn, Michigan

O’Korn threw for 3,117 yards and 28 touchdowns for Houston in 2013 but lost the starting job to Greg Ward in 2014 and transferred to Michigan. He’s the frontrunner to replace Jake Rudock.

 

Kenny Potter, San Jose State

Potter shined in his first year with San Jose State and guided the program to a bowl win over Georgia State. The junior college recruit threw for 1,984 yards and 15 scores and rushed for 415 yards and seven touchdowns.

 

Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt

Coach Derek Mason removed Shurmur’s redshirt midway through 2015, and the Pennsylvania native finished the year with 503 passing yards and five touchdowns in five games. He should take a step forward with a full offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback.

 

Brandon Silvers, Troy

Silvers took a step forward under new coach Neal Brown last year (2,378 yards and 20 TDs) and should emerge as one of the Sun Belt’s top quarterbacks in 2016.

 

Garrett Smith, ULM

Solid freshman season (2,033 yards and 17 TDs) ended early due to injury. A key cog returning for new coach Matt Viator.

 

Brady White, Arizona State

White ranked as the No. 67 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite and is slated to compete with Manny Wilkins and Bryce Perkins for the starting job this offseason.

 

Logan Woodside, Toledo

Woodside used 2015 as a redshirt year after starting 11 games in relief of an injured Phillip Ely in 2014. Woodside threw for 2,263 yards and 19 scores in 2014 and completed 62.5 percent of his passes.

 

Thomas Woodson, Akron

Woodson is developing as a passer, but he accumulated 2,793 total yards and 20 overall scores last season. 

Teaser:
College Football's Top 20 Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2016
Post date: Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/nfl-teams-watch-2016
Body:

Every season in the NFL, there are a few teams that didn't make the playoffs the prior season that make a surprise run to the postseason. Last season, the Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins and the Minnesota Vikings crashed the playoff party after not qualifying in 2014.

 

The 2016 offseason will be full of questions, starting with the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. Will Peyton Manning return and if he doesn't, what impact does that have on not only the AFC but the AFC West?

 

Related: Very Early 2016 NFL Predictions

 

Among the 20 teams that didn't make the playoffs, there are a few that could potentially breakthrough in 2016:

 

Oakland Raiders

(7-9, third in AFC West)

 

Not much was expected from the Raiders in 2015, but the team improved their win total from three in 2014 to seven. If the Raiders continue on the same trajectory, they will have a chance to make the playoffs or even win the AFC West in 2016.

 

After years of not having a franchise quarterback, it seems like the Raiders have finally found one in Derek Carr. In only his second season in the league, the 24-year-old threw for 3,987 yards, 32 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions. Carr also became the first Raiders quarterback to play in a Pro Bowl since Rich Gannon in 2002.

 

While Carr's play will likely determine how well the Raiders will perform in 2016, the team has finally surrounded him with some talent on both sides of the ball.

 

Wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree along with running back Latavius Murray and center Rodney Hudson all played well in 2015. Add in All-Pro (at two different positions), pass-rushing terror Khalil Mack on defense and the most projected salary cap space in the league to work with and the Raiders could be on the verge of a landmark 2016 season.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

6-10, fourth in NFC South)

 

After finishing 3-13 in 2014, the Buccaneers did finish in last place once again in their division just as many expected. What wasn't expected, however, was how proficient Tampa Bay’s offense was.

 

The young Bucs finished fifth in the league in total offense with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston and running back Doug Martin leading the way. After struggling in his first start against the Tennessee Titans, Winston played like a player that wasn't afraid of the pressures that come with being a No.1 overall pick. In his debut season, Winston threw for 4,042 yards with 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions and also made an appearance in the Pro Bowl.

 

After finishing with less than 500 yards rushing in 2013 and ‘14, Martin was second in the league with 1,402 last season. Martin is a pending free agent, but there’s a good chance Tampa Bay will work out an extension with the 27-year-old who was the team’s first-round draft pick in 2012.

 

With Tampa Bay firing Lovie Smith and promoting offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to head coach, the offense should only continue to improve. If the Buccaneers can add a playmaker or two on defense, they could potentially make a run at the playoffs in 2016.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

(5-11, third in AFC South)

 

A lot of owners make coaching changes if their team hasn't made the playoffs in three years or less in some cases. Unlike most of his peers, Jaguars owner Shahid Khan has shown patience with head coach Gus Bradley after finishing 12-36 in his first three seasons. Next year, that patience could be tested if the Jaguars don't make the playoffs coming out of a mediocre AFC South division.

 

Jacksonville certainly has the signal-caller that can help the team take the next step in Blake Bortles. In 2015, Bortles more than tripled his touchdown total from the 2014 season, going from 11 to 35, which tied him for second in the league with Carson Palmer, Eli Manning and league MVP Cam Newton. Bortles finished the season with 4,428 yards passing, while picking up 310 yards (with two TDs) on the ground.

 

The Jaguars also have a good young receiving corps in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee and an exciting running back in T.J. Yeldon. The weapons are there, but Jacksonville probably needs to beef up its offensive line through either free agency or the draft after Bortles was sacked a league-high 51 times last season.

 

The defensive picture is a little different, as the Jags finished 24 in yards allowed in 2015. Help could be on the way in the return of Dante Fowler Jr., the third overall pick last year who tore his ACL the first day or rookie minicamp.

The defense has other holes to address, but with the young talent in place and the likelihood the team will be aggressive once again in free agency, the Jaguars could be one of the more intriguing teams to watch next season.

 

Los Angeles Rams

(7-9, third in NFC West)

 

The Rams already have a lot people’s attention as the team is returning to Los Angeles. But a closer look shows this team also has just about everything you want in a football team. The Rams have a young, bell-cow running back in Todd Gurley, one of the league’s top defensive lines, and an assortment of playmakers elsewhere. The only thing Jeff Fisher’s team is missing, but it’s a rather large hole right now, is a quality quarterback.

 

Last season, the Rams traded former 2010 No.1 overall pick Sam Bradford to the Philadelphia Eagles for quarterback Nick Foles. After having a subpar season (2,052 yards, seven TDs, 11 INTs), Foles proved he was not the long-term solution under center. In fact, the team ended up employing three different quarterbacks in 2015, who combined for as many touchdown passes as interceptions (11), as the offense ranked last in the NFL in passing.

 

Los Angeles will have the No. 15 pick in this year's draft, which it could use to address the quarterback situation if it chooses. Whether it’s through the draft, free agency or via trade, if the team can find a consistent quarterback, the Rams could potentially challenge the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West in 2016.

 

— 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:
NFL Teams to Watch in 2016
Post date: Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, Magazines
Path: /nascar/kyle-busch-2016-nascar-scouting-report-and-fantasy-preview
Body:

The 2016 NASCAR season will be here soon, and Athlon Sports is helping you prep for the season with a scouting report and fantasy preview for each of the top 16 drivers. The Athlon Sports 2016 Racing Preview, available on newsstands now, includes previews and stats for every driver and every track.

 

Kyle Busch checks in at No. 4 in our countdown. Here’s what his season could look like on the track and on your fantasy team:

 

Scouting Report

 

“Listen, we already know that Kyle Busch is one of the greatest drivers of all time,” says one former driver. “We all have a tendency to throw the word ‘great’ around a little too much these days. But what makes Kyle truly great is all the wins. My gosh, he just wins in everything all the time. We all have just been shocked that he hadn’t won a (Cup) championship before last year.”

 

“Some people have it together right away and with some people it takes time,” a former crew chief says. “The only thing he was missing was patience. There is no doubt in my mind that breaking his leg (and foot), getting married and having a kid were all keys to his success. That’s it in a nutshell. We already know he’s great; he’s won all the races there are to win. The key to him winning that championship was something that God did that was unexpected. We don’t see these things coming until they come. But he’s a completely different person after getting married, having a baby and breaking his leg.

 

“Sometimes when you’re sitting down on the outside looking in, it gives you a different perspective and it changes you. And what I noticed about Kyle this year, is that when his car wouldn’t handle good, he would drive it. In the past, when his car didn’t handle good, he would drive it hard and then wreck it. That’s the deal with him.”

 

 

Fantasy Stall

 

Boom or bust: The reigning champ can be tricky from a fantasy perspective because of his aggressive driving style. His 18 DNFs since 2011 pale in comparison to top-level rivals Harvick (eight), Johnson (14), Joey Logano (13) and Brad Keselowski (six).

 

Starting up front: Leagues with qualifying points should take heed of Busch’s average start in 2015 (8.2), a number that came with one pole position. Only Joey Logano’s was better as Busch posted the best average of his career.

 

The seven-year itch: Busch is the defending champ at Sonoma and was second at Watkins Glen last year, proving his prowess on road courses. But hold on a second: Busch’s last Sonoma top 10 before that victory was in 2008, and he was 40th at Watkins Glen in 2014.

 

Kentucky king: Use Busch for all intermediates but especially in the Bluegrass State. He dominated the Kentucky event last year, leading 163 laps en route to victory, and hasn’t run outside the top 10 in any of the five Cup races held there.

 

Teaser:
Kyle Busch: 2016 NASCAR Scouting Report and Fantasy Preview
Post date: Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, Magazines
Path: /nascar/jimmie-johnson-2016-nascar-scouting-report-and-fantasy-preview
Body:

The 2016 NASCAR season will be here soon, and Athlon Sports is helping you prep for the season with a scouting report and fantasy preview for each of the top 16 drivers. The Athlon Sports 2016 Racing Preview, available on newsstands now, includes previews and stats for every driver and every track.

 

Jimmie Johnson checks in at No. 3 in our countdown. Here’s what his season could look like on the track and on your fantasy team:

 

Scouting Report

 

“With his six championships, he’s the greatest driver of the last 10 years,” one former driver says. “I think Jimmie comes out stronger than ever next year because of the new rules package. I think he can drive a car very neutral to loose, and I think Jimmie Johnson is going to be strong in 2016 not only because he’s a good driver and a great champion, but because we’re going to see a big change in the rules in 2016.

 

“The rules changes are huge. A three-inch spoiler is like having nothing on the rear of the car. There will be less downforce on the front and less downforce overall. It’s going to be a game-changer, and I think it’s going to fit right in Jimmie’s wheelhouse. Bottom line: Jimmie Johnson is the best and fastest driver of the last decade in this modern era — and the new rules package is going to be right in his wheelhouse for next year. I say Jimmie in the next two or three years ties the all-time record with his seventh championship.”

 

“You can’t ever underestimate the fact that Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have won six titles together already,” one industry insider says. “Nor should you underestimate the fact that they desperately want to not only tie the record for most of all time (currently held by Hall of Famers Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt), but surpass it. I won’t say the best is yet to come from them because they’ve been too damn good already in their time together, but there are more great times ahead.”

 

 

Fantasy Stall

 

Trophy collector: Johnson has earned at least two victories for 14 straight seasons. He’s won four times or more in 11 of those years.

 

Mr. Consistency: NASCAR’s six-time champion is also “20-time,” posting at least 20 top-10 finishes every year of his Sprint Cup career (since 2002). No one else offers that type of consistency.

 

Lowe’s Low: Charlotte used to be “Jimmie’s house,” but Johnson was 40th and 39th last year, has just one win in his last 12 starts and an average finish of 19.9 during that stretch.

 

Closing the deal: Johnson has 26 career postseason victories, the most in NASCAR history, and he has won at least once every year inside the Chase since it began in 2004. Your best bets are the Martinsville and Texas fall races; Johnson has won them both five times for a startling Chase success rate of 45 percent.

 

Teaser:
Jimmie Johnson: 2016 NASCAR Scouting Report and Fantasy Preview
Post date: Tuesday, February 16, 2016 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Monthly, Overtime
Path: /overtime/10-best-team-twitter-accounts-panthers-clemson-hawks-cubs-cardinals-trail-blazers-warriors-falcons-kings-grizzlies
Body:

Some teams just know what it takes to get the most out of their followers on Twitter. 

 

A good social team will make you follow them on Twitter even if you aren't a fan of that sports team. It takes talent. It's not easy being great on Twitter. You've go to be quick-witted, funny, and think twice before sending each tweet out. Finding the voice of the team is difficult. These are the top 10 teams who just get Twitter. They can each add a special something to any timeline.

 

10. Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) - The Cardinals are a team worth following without being a fan. They like to keep things pretty light-hearted on the timeline. Although some teams fill you with stat after stat, the Cardinals want you to have fun when following them. After the team suffered a 49-15 playoff loss to the Cardinals, they joined in on the internet fun by giving the peoople what they wanted... the crying Jordan meme.

 

 

9. Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) - In some circles, the Memphis Grizzlies team is overlooked. From personal experience, it's hard to overlook their #BlessYourHeart tweets. The Grizzlies are like the funny, down to earth friend you tell your other friends to follow because it's just that great. They reference "The Sandlot" from time to time and there's really no beating that.

 

 

8. LA Kings - (@LAKings) - The Kings are a gem in the world of social media. They have people following them who aren't even hockey fans, but simply love the witty repartee of the account. They've clapped back at Conan O'Brien, random fans, and whoever else dares to tweet them something snarky. Definitely the kings of the social hockey world.

 

View post on imgur.com

 

7. Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) - Sure, the Trail Blazers are on the west coast but that doesn't give you a reason to sleep on them. They are definitely among of the best of the west. They've got the Portland hipster attitude down pact and won't hesitate to aim it at those Eastern Conference teams who step out of line. In the words of their social team, "Dame Over". 

 

Screen Shot 2016 02 19 at 3 20 56 PM
 

6. Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) - The Falcons have never been a team to slack off on social media. They keep things moving with funny tweets and even have some witty comebacks if you mention them with something negative. But for the most part, they're just trying to have fun. That's the Atlanta in them. When Jeanna Thomas (a Falcons beat writer) made a little joke on Twitter, it quickly blew up thanks to a snappy reply by the Falcons' account.

 

 

5. Golden State Warriors (@warriors) - It's hard not to be good when you have Steph Curry in your corner. The social media gems sometimes just write themselves. The team got a big boost from winning the championship, and now it seems as if all eyes are on the Warriors these days. Not too far off from the team on the court, entertaining and fun to watch. Players are an intricate part of social working and thanks to Curry & Co., the Warriors Twitter is always a sight to see. It's the simple things the team does that makes them stand out. 

 

 

4. Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) - The Cubs social team must have a sense of humor and a thick skin because of the World Series title drought. Luckily, they are well-equipped to handle anything you throw at them and they're pretty funny too. It's hard for a baseball team to be snarky since the game is so traditional but the Cubs find a nice balance. Once they get that World Series win, you won't be able to tell them anything.

 

 

 

3. Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) - Say what you will about Clemson, no team in college football has made a bigger impact than the Tigers this past season. They were No. 1 on our Best College Football Twitter Accounts, and had a great year on the field while their social media team killed it off the field. Dancing Dabo Swinney sometimes just does the job for them. Adding the graphics, music, etc. is just the icing on the cake. The Tigers are engaging, make great vines, and simply put, they are the best college football team you could follow. 

 

 

2. Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) - The Falcons aren't the only Atlanta squad with an awesome social team. The Hawks stay true to Atlanta in every sense of the word. When they were on a crazy winning streak, they added W's to their Twitter name and even received special permission to get some extra characters. Happy birthdays with fun photos, Swipe Right on Tinder night, the Korver Kounter, and many other social interactions push the Hawks to the top of the list. 

 

 

1. Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) - The 2015 NFL season was socially owned by the Panthers. The team did an amazing job year-round. So many times I've seen people on Twitter saying "whoever does the Panthers' social media deserves a raise". That's true. The Panthers social team earned every bit of their salary from their engagement with fans to the hilarious gifs. The Panthers have the ultimate "don't care" attitude. If you ask any person working in social media, that is the best approach you could take to Twitter. 

 

 

Also, an underlying concept of this Twitter list is also that Darren Rovell makes himself and his #brand easy targets for sports teams to go after. 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 15, 2016 - 17:45
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Overtime
Path: /overtime/nba-mashup-1988-2016-slam-dunk-contests-michael-jordan-dominique-wilkins-zach-lavine-aaron-gordon
Body:

If you missed this year's Slam Dunk Contest, you missed a lot.

 

Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine put on one of the greatest shows we've seen, and certainly the greatest in recent years. The NBA took it upon themselves to create a mashup of the 1988 contest, featuring Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins, with the 2016 contest. The result is a lot of high-flying dunks and nights basketball fans will never forget.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 15, 2016 - 12:55

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