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The entire Buckeye nation is about to take a collective sigh of relief.
According to Eleven Warriors, Braxton Miller told Ohio State athletic director he's not going anywhere. Gene Smith is sure the quarterback is staying.
"If you pay attention to him, he's not going anywhere," Smith said. "He loves it here first and foremost. He has a child. He's from here. He's in a good position.
Smith says the school is going to take care of him in regards to his injuries and things of that nature, and Miller's ties to the school are too strong to break. The rumors are just rumors.
"My conversation with him was well before spring ball," Smith said. "He's working out in the weight room and we got into a conversation and I just asked him, I said, 'You good? All these rumors out there, you good? You need some help if you want to transfer?' He said, 'Mr. Smith, I'm not going anywhere. I love it here.'"
There you have it. Another rumor hopefully put to rest and Meyer will have his pick of quarterbacks this fall.
Proven offensive talent is plentiful in the SEC this year. Quarterback Dak Prescott should be among the frontrunners to earn first-team All-America honors, while running back Nick Chubb is one of the leading candidates to win the Heisman. Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell should be back at 100 percent after a leg injury ended his 2014 season.
Ranking the best quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers by conference is a key part of any offseason preview. But what happens when you combine those three positions to form a trio? Of course, this is a fictional argument since there’s no game that compares the trios of any team. But it’s an interesting offseason question to debate.
To help pick the top offensive triplets in each of the Power 5 leagues, we devised a simple formula. We ranked the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers and assigned a 14 to the No. 1 player, with the point total decreasing to just one point to the No. 14 ranked player at each position. Only one player from each team was ranked per position.
Ranking the SEC’s Offensive Triplets for 2015
Total Points: 31
QB: Jeremy Johnson (2)
RB: Jovon Robinson (9)
WR: Duke Williams (3)
Gus Malzahn’s offense has averaged over 30 points per game in back-to-back seasons in SEC contests. The 2015 version of Auburn’s offense will be just as explosive, as quarterback Jeremy Johnson is a rising star, and there’s no shortage of skill talent, including All-America candidate at receiver Duke Williams.
Total Points: 29
QB: Joshua Dobbs (3)
RB: Jalen Hurd (6)
WR: Marquez North (7)
Tennessee is on its way back into SEC East title contention under third-year coach Butch Jones. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs shined in the second half of 2014, and the junior will be surrounded by a young and talented group of skill players. Hurd leads the way in the Volunteers’ backfield, but junior college recruit (and former Alabama running back) Alvin Kamara is a player to watch in 2015. Receiver Marquez North was limited by injuries last season.
Total Points: 27
QB: Dak Prescott (1)
RB: Ashton Shumpert (13)
WR: De’Runnya Wilson (4)
Mississippi State and Arkansas tied for the third spot on this list, but let’s give the edge to the Bulldogs with the SEC’s No. 1 quarterback in senior Dak Prescott. While running back Josh Robinson will be missed, there’s talent in place with Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams battling for carries. Wilson averaged 15.3 yards per catch in SEC games last year.
Total Points: 27
QB: Brandon Allen (6)
RB: Alex Collins/Jonathan Williams (4)
WR: Keon Hatcher (8)
The Razorbacks improved their scoring average by 11.2 points per game from 2013 to 2014. Expect this unit to take another step forward under new coordinator Dan Enos, as Arkansas returns an experienced quarterback in Brandon Allen and the nation’s top running back duo in Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.
Total Points: 25
QB: Brice Ramsey (9)
RB: Nick Chubb (1)
WR: Malcolm Mitchell (10)
New coordinator Brian Schottenheimer doesn’t plan to alter the strength of Georgia’s offense, but the passing attack needs some work with a new quarterback and uncertainty at receiver. Running back Nick Chubb is one of the nation’s best, while the Bulldogs need a healthy year from receiver Malcolm Mitchell.
6. Texas A&M
Total Points: 24
QB: Kyle Allen (4)
RB: Tra Carson (11)
WR: Josh Reynolds (6)
The Aggies will have an explosive offense once again. Coach Kevin Sumlin’s team is loaded with talent at running back and receiver, while quarterback Kyle Allen should thrive in his first full season as the starter.
Total Points: 23
QB: Jacob Coker (8)
RB: Derrick Henry (3)
WR: Robert Foster (11)
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Alabama finishes higher on this list in 2015. But ranking higher than No. 7 in the postseason largely depends on how far the Crimson Tide’s passing attack develops. Jacob Coker is the projected starter here, but David Cornwell is still in the mix. There’s talent at receiver. But who steps up to replace Amari Cooper?
Total Points: 22
QB: Brandon Harris (12)
RB: Leonard Fournette (2)
WR: Travin Dural (6)
Quarterback remains a question mark for coach Les Miles, but LSU has one of the nation’s top running backs in sophomore Leonard Fournette, along with a cast of talented receivers. Travin Dural ranked third among SEC receivers with eight catches for 30 yards or more in 2015.
Total Points: 22
QB: Maty Mauk (5)
RB: Russell Hansbrough (5)
WR: Nate Brown (13)
Ranking Missouri ninth in the SEC in offensive triplets seems low considering the success this team has had in finding new receivers under coach Gary Pinkel. Nate Brown appears to be the next standout receiver for the Tigers, but the offense also needs better play from quarterback Maty Mauk in SEC games (48.9 percent in league games last year). Russell Hansbrough might be the league’s most underrated running back.
10. Ole Miss
Total Points: 20
QB: Chad Kelly (10)
RB: Jaylen Walton (14)
WR: Laquon Treadwell (1)
The Rebels have the SEC’s No. 1 receiver in Laquon Treadwell, but question marks remain at quarterback and at running back. Junior college (and former Clemson) quarterback Chad Kelly is the frontrunner to replace Bo Wallace, while Jaylen Walton, Akeem Judd and Eugene Brazley all could share carries at running back.
Total Points: 19
QB: Patrick Towles (7)
RB: Boom Williams (7)
WR: Ryan Timmons (12)
Kentucky has work to do on defense, but the offense returns nearly intact after averaging 29.2 points per game in 2014. Quarterback Patrick Towles ranked fifth in the SEC with 226.5 passing yards per contest, and receiver Ryan Timmons led the team with 45 catches last year. Boom Williams is one of the SEC’s top breakout candidates in 2015.
Total Points: 19
QB: Will Grier (11)
RB: Kelvin Taylor (10)
WR: Demarcus Robinson (5)
The pieces are in place for Florida’s offense to improve under first-year coach Jim McElwain. Will Grier edged Treon Harris for the starting quarterback job in the spring, and Kelvin Taylor and Demarcus Robinson should push for All-SEC honors. Offensive line isn’t a factor here, but the Gators have major concerns about their starting five.
13. South Carolina
Total Points: 18
QB: Connor Mitch (13)
RB: David Williams (12)
WR: Pharoh Cooper (2)
Pharoh Cooper was all-purpose threat for the Gamecocks last year, and the North Carolina native is also one of the SEC’s top receivers. David Williams and Brandon Wilds are expected to share carries in replacing Mike Davis. Both players averaged over five yards per carry in limited action last year. Connor Mitch is the frontrunner to replace Dylan Thompson and has only six career pass attempts.
Total Points: 9
QB: Johnny McCrary (14)
RB: Ralph Webb (8)
WR: C.J. Duncan (14)
New play-caller Andy Ludwig has a lot of work to do this offseason. The Commodores averaged only 12.8 points per game in SEC contests last season. Quarterback play remains a concern, but Ludwig has a promising running back to build around in sophomore Ralph Webb.
Tom Brady has a knack for never letting people see him sweat. He's made a career out of it.
The Patriots quarterback isn't letting the stress of Deflategate bother him. He was seen golfing with his buddy Michael Jordan in the Bahamas. That's one way to take the four-game suspension off his mind. Brady is making the most of his time away from the field.
Brady doesn't appear to be too upset about Deflategate. Playing golf with MJ. pic.twitter.com/WBtilFblFJ— Sean Wagner-McGough (@seanjwagner) May 17, 2015
Many people couldn't even imagine living a life as stress free as Brady's.
Penn State’s Anthony Zettel is one of the top defensive tackles in the nation. The Michigan native recorded 17 tackles for a loss and eight sacks in 13 games last season.
Despite his huge 2014 campaign, Zettel isn’t sitting idle this offseason. Instead, Zettel is keeping in shape by tackling a tree.
Showing proper tackling form, here’s a short video from Zettel just destroying a tree:
Penn State DT Anthony Zettel tackled a tree and uprooted it. WATCH: http://t.co/fMC3JGMTRA— ESPN (@espn) May 17, 2015
Forget Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, this is the fight no one expected to happen.
Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney is stepping in the ring with Evander Holyfield. Friday night we'll get to see another side of Romney. The fight is for charity, but if he's not careful he could get hurt. Holyfield has a definite size advantage.
Romney says he plans to fight the former heavyweight champ fair and square.
"I'm staying far away from his ears," Romney told The New York Times. "I don't for a moment want for him to confuse me with anyone from his past."
Officially, there are three coaching vacancies in the NBA. The New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets are all on the lookout for new leaders after hitting the reset button.
Less officially, we’re headed for four. The Chicago Bulls are expected to part ways with head man Tom Thibodeau this offseason, and his availability is likely to beget a chain reaction in what’s been largely a holding pattern. With both Orlando and New Orleans waiting for Thibodeau to officially hit the market before they make a move, Denver is stuck with a field of wait-and-see candidates.
Mike D’Antoni, Scott Brooks, Scott Skiles, Vinny Del Negro and Alvin Gentry are all potential winners for any of these four slots. Thibodeau, the lead horse in the race for seemingly all coaching jobs, has also long been connected to the Los Angeles Lakers, where head coach Byron Scott is considered by many to be an honorary lame duck.
Many believe Thibodeau will end up in New Orleans, where he can build a new, elite defense around Anthony Davis (the most appealing young player the game has seen in some time) who he coached with Team USA last summer.
If this speculation becomes fact, the Magic would likely turn to Skiles or Brooks, both coaches who have had success with younger rosters. While Orlando is interested in Thibodeau, it seems more probable that he’d join a team looking to take the next step in their playoff contention, as opposed to an upstart roster.
Wresting Thibodeau from Chicago may take some sacrifice. His acrimonious relationship with the Bulls’ front office comes while he’s still under contract, and Chicago is a notoriously frugal franchise that wouldn’t want to pay multiple more years of his deal and not get anything back. We could see the rare—but perhaps increasingly frequent—instance of a coach trade this summer.
— John Wilmes
Perhaps the most drawn-out debate is LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan. Who would win one-on-one?
On ESPN's "First Take," Skip Bayless states his case for a 52-year-old Jordan defeating a 30-year-old James. The age difference is a factor, but the colorful ESPN personality says that given a little time and a change in diet, the six-time NBA champion can't lose to the Cavaliers star.
It would behoove the two to just get together and settle the debate once and for all.
Nick Chubb is expected to power the Bulldogs to the top of the SEC this year, but his cousin may not be far behind.
Nine-year-old Harlem Diamond of Cedartown, Georgia is the cousin of the Dawgs running back and resembles him in more ways than one. Speed and cutting ability must be in the family genes.
Georgia is definitely keeping its eye on this youngster.
It's never too early to go after a recruit in SEC country.
The Chicago Bulls had their best chance of the century, this year, to get through the Eastern Conference and fight for a title in the NBA Finals. But after an incredibly dispiriting 94-73 loss to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, it would appear this iteration of the Bulls is all but done, and facing a ton of change this summer. The Bulls lost their series to Cleveland 4-2.
A year of rumors backed up by every major league insider says that head coach Tom Thibodeau came into the postseason with the likely impossible task of doing well enough to save his job. Not even making to the conference finals surely marks his death knell, as he and his front office have far too much bad blood to proceed with anything less than a championship as their olive branch.
Center Joakim Noah, long considered a cornerstone, never looked like the same player in 2014-15 after arthroscopic knee surgery last summer. It’s healthy to wonder whether he ever will. Noah is now 30, and having spent five seasons gutting out every hurt he could under Thibodeau, his body could be facing an early breakdown.
Jimmy Butler, the Bulls’ breakout star of the year, is heading into restricted free agency. Keeping him around will cost a pretty penny, with many teams believed to be in the running to woo Butler with a maximum offer. If Chicago wants the breathing room to keep him and stay under the cap limit, they may need to trade someone off. All eyes point to veteran forward Taj Gibson, whose future was murky from the second the team brought rookie Nikola Mirotic over from Spain.
The one piece of good, solid news? Derrick Rose finally started to look like an elite impact player again in the playoffs. Building around him, Butler and an improving Mirotic going forward is a path that inspires some optimism.
— John Wilmes
Leave it to Jimmy Kimmel to ask the suave David Beckham a bunch of weird questions.
The soccer star was a good sport when the late night host asked him three ridiculous questions, and even took a hilarious selfie.
That was quick thinking by Beckham on the spice question.
The Big 12 had just three players rush for 1,000 yards in 2014, which was the fewest amount by a Power 5 conference. However, all three players – Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, Baylor’s Shock Linwood and Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington – are back in 2015.
Perine is one of the nation’s top running backs after recording 1,713 yards and 21 scores in his freshman campaign in 2014. Baylor’s Shock Linwood ranked second on the conference in yards with 1,252, while Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington was third with 1,103 yards. There’s some emerging names to watch in this conference, including West Virginia’s Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood, along with Texas senior Johnathan Gray.
To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2015. This was not a ranking of running backs only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, 2015 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the running backs in the Big 12 for 2015.
Order the 2015 Athlon Sports Big 12 Preview, featuring previews, predictions and rankings, as well as everything you need to prepare for the upcoming season.
Ranking the Big 12’s Running Backs for 2015
1. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore
Even though the Sooners have a new offensive scheme and coordinator, Perine is still a major part of the gameplan. He led all Oklahoma rushers with 1,713 yards and 21 scores last season and recorded five 100-yard efforts over his last six games. Perine also set the FBS single-game rushing record with 427 yards in a 44-7 rout over Kansas. Joe Mixon and Alex Ross will be involved, but Perine should push for All-America honors in 2015.
2. Shock Linwood, Baylor
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Baylor’s explosive passing offense gets all of the attention in Waco, but Linwood has quietly emerged as one of the Big 12’s top running backs over the last two seasons. Linwood rushed for 881 yards and eight scores as a freshman in 2013 and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. He also recorded four 100-yard efforts in Big 12 games in 2014.
3. DeAndre Washington, Texas Tech
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Washington ranked as the Big 12’s third-leading rusher last season, recording 1,103 yards and two scores on 188 attempts. The Texas native had just one game of more than 25 carries, but he made the most of his opportunities by averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Washington was also a key target in the passing game and showcased his versatility by catching 30 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns.
Related: Texas Tech Needs David Gibbs to Reverse Defensive Woes
4. Aaron Green, TCU
2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior
Green quickly emerged as TCU’s go-to back after B.J. Catalon missed the final five games of 2014 due to injury. The Texas native recorded 922 rushing yards and nine scores on just 129 attempts. He was also a weapon for quarterback Trevone Boykin out of the backfield, catching 19 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Of running backs with at least 100 carries in the Big 12 last season, Green recorded the highest yards per carry average (7.2).
5. Johnathan Gray, Texas
2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior
It’s a close call between Gray and West Virginia’s Rushel Shell for the No. 5 spot on this list. Gray suffered a torn Achilles in 2013 and missed the final four games of the season. However, he showed little rust in his return, rushing for 636 yards and seven scores in a backup role to starter Malcolm Brown. Gray recorded one 100-yard effort (West Virginia) and averaged 4.4 yards per carry. With Gray a full year removed from Achilles surgery, he should push for his best career season at Texas.
6. Rushel Shell, West Virginia
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Shell made an immediate impact in his first season as West Virginia’s go-to back. In 12 games, the Pittsburgh transfer recorded 788 yards and seven touchdowns, while averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Shell posted three 100-yard efforts, including 146 in the regular season finale against Iowa State. Expect the Mountaineers to use Shell as the No. 1 back once again, but Wendell Smallwood and Donte Thomas-Williams will see their share of opportunities.
7. Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Smallwood might be one of the Big 12’s most underrated players. In 13 games last season, the Delaware native ranked second on the team with 722 rushing yards and caught 31 passes for 326 yards. Smallwood should see a similar role in West Virginia’s offense this season and is one of the top all-purpose threats in the Big 12.
8. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
2015 Year of Eligibility: Redshirt Freshman
Mixon was suspended for all of 2014 due to an off-field incident, but he’s primed for a breakout year for the Sooners. The California native was a five-star recruit in the 2014 signing class and ranked as the No. 21 overall prospect.
9. Alex Ross, Oklahoma
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Oklahoma’s backfield is overflowing with talent, as Samaje Perine is already one of the best in the nation, and Joe Mixon is ready for a breakout year in his redshirt freshman campaign. But Ross shouldn’t be overlooked, as the Oklahoma native rushed for 614 yards and four scores in his first two seasons in Norman. Ross averages 6.7 yards per carry and was one of the nation’s top kickoff returners last year.
10. Corey Avery, Kansas
2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore
Avery is one of the few proven playmakers for new coach David Beaty. However, Avery’s status for 2015 is uncertain after he was suspended indefinitely at the end of spring. As a freshman last season, Avery rushed for 631 yards and five touchdowns and caught 18 passes for 189 yards and two scores.
Other Big 12 Running Backs to Watch in 2015
Tyler Brown/Mike Warren, Iowa State
Iowa State’s backfield is filled with uncertainty, but the coaching staff has promising options in Brown and Warren. Brown recorded 109 yards in limited action last season, while Warren spent 2014 as a redshirt.
Duke Catalon/D’Onta Foreman, Texas
Foreman rushed for 74 yards as a freshman last year, while Catalon spent 2014 as a redshirt. Both players will battle for carries and spell starter Johnathan Gray.
Rennie Childs/Chris Carson, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State must replace its top two leading rushers from last season, and there’s a lot of uncertainty about this backfield going into fall practice. Childs rushed for 294 yards and three scores in a reserve role in 2014, while Carson was a key pickup on the recruiting trail from Butler Community College.
Johnny Jefferson/Devin Chafin, Baylor
Jefferson and Chafin combined for 907 yards and 14 rushing scores last season. Both players will work as backups to Shock Linwood in 2015.
Charles Jones/Dalvin Warmack/Alex Barnes, Kansas State
Jones rushed for 13 touchdowns last year, but Kansas State needs more from its rushing attack after averaging only 3.7 yards per carry in 2014. Warmack (redshirt) and Barnes are two potential breakout candidates - if they get enough opportunities in 2015.
De’Andre Mann, Kansas
If Corey Avery does not return to the team, Mann and junior college transfer Ke’aun Kinner will headline the Kansas rushing attack.
Shaun Nixon/Trevorris Johnson/Kyle Hicks, TCU
Aaron Green will handle the bulk of the carries for TCU. However, there’s a talented trio of backs capable of spelling Green when he needs a rest. Johnson averaged 5.7 yards per carry on 53 attempts last year.
Justin Stockton, Texas Tech
Stockton is one of the Big 12’s fastest players and averaged 8.3 yards per rush in 2014. Expect the sophomore to be one of the conference’s top big-play threats in 2015.
Donte Thomas-Williams, West Virginia
Four-star recruit in the 2014 signing class is ready to contribute after a redshirt year.
Auburn is usually known as the little brother to Alabama.
The team's offseason locker room renovations brought them a little closer in the sibling rivalry. The walls of the Tigers' locker room now features former quarterback Cam Newton, along with Nick Fairley, and the 2010 championship squad.
According to AL.com, the goal was to "extend (Auburn's) branding and story" and to "inspire their athletes" with "high-impact inspiration graphics."
The hype surrounding Bryce Harper has been snowballing since 2009 when the words “Chosen One” were plastered next to his wiry, 16-year-old frame on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
After three seasons of injuries, awkward interviews (“That’s a clown question, bro”), massive bat flips, arguments with managers, face-planting into outfield walls, and staring down opposing pitchers —Harper is finally getting it. And boy, is he really getting it.
The baby-faced teenager from Las Vegas has grown up. Harper, now 22, is a stout 6-foot-3, 225-pound, bearded hunk of baseball-crushing mass for the Washington Nationals — and still the second-youngest player in the National League. The first overall pick in the 2010 draft really began to turn heads during last October’s NLDS, when he hit three home runs and amassed 15 total bases in four games against Madison Bumgarner and the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Harper finished 2014 hot and began 2015 on fire.
So far this season, Harper has turned in an MVP performance. Entering Wednesday’s action, he is leading the NL in several major offensive categories including: HRs (12), walks (30), runs scored (29), and OPS (1.119). Harper is second in the NL in RBIs (31), total bases (81), WAR (2.2 according to FanGraphs, 2.6 to Baseball Almanac) and slugging percentage (.675), and finds himself in the top 10 in extra base hits (20, 3rd), on-base percentage (.444, 5th), and doubles (8, 7th).
The month of May is just two weeks old, but Harper is dominating it. In just 12 games, the Nationals’ right fielder is hitting .349/.451/.907 with seven homers, 16 RBIs, and 39 total bases. Within the past week Harper has been posting video-game-like numbers, with a slash line of .500/.577/.1.182 with four home runs, 11 RBIs, 26 total bases, and scoring eight times in just 26 plate appearances.
While the numbers are eye-popping, nothing grabbed the sporting world’s attention like Harper did last week in which he launched six home runs in three games. Harper started his onslaught on Wednesday, May 6 when he blasted three long balls against the Marlins’ Tom Koehler, sending two into the upper deck of Nationals Park, and knocking in five runs (Our sympathies to poor, poor Koehler). Harper hit two more blasts in his next game against the Braves two days later, and capped off the barrage with a walk-off, two-run shot against the Braves’ Cody Martin in the bottom of the 9th last Saturday.
Harper has come a long way since making his big-league debut back in April 2012. No longer does he blow kisses and stare down opposing pitchers after taking them deep, or argue with his own manager — but he still has a flare for the excess. Whether it’s stopping to admire every long ball he smashes until it lands in the upper deck, berating an umpire on a bad check-swing call, or the over-the-top hair flip after removing his batting helmet — Harper has baseball’s attention. And when you’re that good, and that young, you can pretty much flip your hair whenever you want.
Harper already has two All-Star Game appearances and a Rookie of the Year award on his short, but distinguished resume, and based on how Harper’s 2015 campaign has started, it appears he’s aiming for an MVP trophy to add to the mantle.
Here’s to hoping that Harper’s hot bat and fiery attitude don’t cool down anytime this summer.
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. He can be reached on Twitter @JakeRose24.
Everybody’s got bad vibes with a former loved one. We’ve all come to blows with an old friend over how nostalgically, or not, we choose to reimagine the past. We’ve all lost a buddy or two as life takes us down different pathways.
Rarely, though, has the splitting of a bond been as public as that between Jalen Rose and Chris Webber. During a recent appearance on Dan Patrick’s radio show, Webber went on to make some disparaging remarks regarding the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary about the Fab Five squad Rose and Webber played on together, at the University of Michigan. Webber kept saying he wasn’t referring to anyone specifically, but he was clearly referring to Rose, who works for ESPN and Grantland and played a large hand in the film’s production.
“I was disheartened by … whatever someone is trying to create our legacy,” Webber said on Patrick’s show. “Because that’s not the legacy. Don’t try to go back and act like you were smart and a martyr and all this. Don’t do that. Just tell the story and let people have fun and be like us.”
Rose fired back, shortly after, by way of Larry Brown Sports:
“One dude traveled then called timeout. One dude lied to grand jury and hasn’t apologized. One dude tried to circumvent the documentary to HBO. One dude ignored multiple requests from everyone involved after agreeing to participate. One dude played like (President) Obama and sat in a suite during Michigan’s recent title game. One dude slandered Ed Martin after all he did for him and his family. One dude is not in contact with the other four (which is all good). One dude has been doing a rebuttal doc for four years. One dude clearly is delusional and still in denial.”
Harsh, harsh, harsh. Here’s to hoping these two can find a more private way to rebuild the bridge between them… if that’s even possible anymore.
One unlikely person on Tom Brady's side is Brett Farve.
The former Packers quarterback says that he doesn't consider Brady a cheater. In an interview with Fox News, Favre stated his opinion on what is considered cheating versus a competitive advantage.
"I don't think by any stretch, in my opinion, that Tom was cheating. It sounds crazy. Historically there's been stealing of signs — and that goes to baseball and football. Just whatever advantage you could get. Lester Hayes putting Stickum on his arms for the Raiders. Pine tar. It's just endless, the advantagees that players would try to get."
Favre continues to stand by Brady, claiming he's unsure if the deflated balls gave the Patriots quarterback much of an advantage.
"I don't know if Tom can honestly say he has completed more passes because of it. I think more than anything, it helped with the grip based on conditions. Not every game. And would other players do it? Sure, I have no reason to think otherwise."
It's hard to determine whether Favre is being naive or just sticking up for a fellow quarterback. Whatever the reason, fans may not be buying it.
John Wall, Kevin Love, Tony Allen, Pau Gasol, Kyire Irving, LeBron James, Joakim Noah, Mike Conley, Chris Paul, Patrick Beverley, Paul Millsap — this is but a partial list of injury-afflicted players on the eight remaining teams in the NBA Playoffs. Some are gone for the year, while some are missing games and returning, and others yet are just playing on compromised bodies.
In total, though, this big snowball of hurt has made for a strange postseason product, often made up more by victories of attrition and off-court health than by the kinds of basketball conquest we like to romance over. The long-awaited series between the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers, especially, seems like a dogfight defined by which side can better deal with their own maladies.
The situation begs a lot of questions, and a lot of analysis regarding current NBA trends in bodily maintenance. Many squads have gotten more strategic with the health of their superstars, opting to rest their best men for stretches throughout the regular season. In the case of someone like the Houston Rockets’ Dwight Howard, the benefits of that method are clear. Howard has been a revelation this spring, flying around to complete improbable alley-oops and impact shots like he did years ago with the Orlando Magic.
In most other cases, though, no amount of rest can stave off lightning bolts of bad luck from above. And, to boot, the parade of injuries leads to questions about whether long bouts of relaxation throughout the year are making players less accustomed to the intense play of the postseason. Queries like these are often posed by ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy.
What it all amounts to is a gut check on progressive methodology. As close as we often seem to figuring out the optimal balance of healthy players who are also ready play as hard as they can, we seem as far as ever from that ideal today.
— John Wilmes
We all have items we'd love to check off our personal to-do lists before we check out, and golf scribes are no different. Naturally, their bucket lists sound pretty similar to ours in a lot of cases.
Jay Coffin, Editorial Director, Golf Channel, @JayCoffinGC
Jason Deegan, Senior Staff Writer and Golf Advisor with The Golf Channel online, @WorldGolfer
Steve DiMeglio, USA Today, @Steve_DiMeglio
Bob Harig, ESPN, @BobHarig
Dan Jenkins, Author, Golf Digest Contributor, @danjenkinsgd
Garrett Johnston, Golf journalist, @JohnstonGarrett
Dave Kindred, Golf Digest, Sports on Earth Contributor, @DaveKindred
Alex Miceli, Senior Writer, Golfweek, @alexmiceli
Dan O’Neill, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Dave Shedloski, Golf World, @DaveShedloski
Art Spander, Global Golf Post, @artspander
What is your golf bucket list item?
• Jay Coffin: I’ve played Augusta National and Cypress Point and I’ve been lucky enough to play many of the best courses all over the world but Pine Valley is the only one left unchecked on my ultimate list. Somehow, some way, I’d love to find a way to make it happen.
• Jason Deegan: Become a near-scratch player.
• Steve DiMeglio: Augusta National membership.
• Bob Harig: Play Cypress Point.
• Dan Jenkins: I've already outlived my bucket list. What more could I ask?
• Garrett Johnston: Play Augusta National.
• Dave Kindred: A two-putt par at Augusta National's 12th.
• Alex Miceli: Play golf with Jack Nicklaus.
• Dan O’Neill: Cypress Point.
• Dave Shedloski: I'm already living it as a golf writer.
• Art Spander: Nothing really (covered 47 Masters, 155 majors, played virtually everywhere), but at my age I'd like to able to drive 200 as I did once upon a time — with a wooden-headed driver.
The Big Ten boasted the nation’s only two running backs that eclipsed 2,000 yards last season, and both players – Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman – have moved onto the NFL. But the running back position isn’t devoid of talent in the conference in 2015, as Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott is one of the nation’s best and is back to help the Buckeyes’ make another run at the national title.
Elliott is the clear No. 1 back in the Big Ten, but Wisconsin’s Corey Clement should be a capable replacement for Gordon, and Northwestern’s Justin Jackson is a rising star entering his sophomore year.
To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2015. This was not a ranking of running backs only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, 2015 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the running backs in the Big Ten for 2015.
Ranking the Big Ten’s Running Backs for 2015
1. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Elliott is in the mix to be the nation’s top running back after a strong finish to the 2014 season. The Missouri native rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the final five games, including 220 or more in each of the last three. Elliott gashed Oregon for 246 yards and four scores in Ohio State’s national championship win.
2. Corey Clement, Wisconsin
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Melvin Gordon leaves big shoes to fill in Madison, but the Badgers are in great shape at running back. Clement is slated to move into the No. 1 role after working as Gordon’s top backup in 2014. In 14 games last season, Clement rushed for 949 yards and nine scores and averaged 6.5 yards per carry on 147 attempts.
3. Justin Jackson, Northwestern
2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore
Venric Mark’s August departure created a void in Northwestern’s rushing attack, but Jackson quickly emerged as the go-to option for coach Pat Fitzgerald. In 12 games, Jackson recorded 1,187 yards and 10 scores and caught 22 passes for 201 yards and one touchdown. The Illinois native rushed for at least 100 yards in each of his last three games, including a 149-yard effort against Notre Dame.
4. Jordan Howard, Indiana
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Make no mistake: Tevin Coleman will be missed this year. However, Indiana found an excellent replacement in Howard, who was eligible to play immediately after transferring in from UAB. In 12 games with the Blazers last season, Howard recorded 1,587 yards and 13 scores. Howard posted solid outings against SEC competition (89 yards against Mississippi State and 90 yards against Arkansas) and gashed Southern Mississippi in the 2014 season finale for 262 yards.
5. Akeel Lynch, Penn State
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Largely due to a struggling offensive line, Penn State’s rushing attack managed only 74.8 yards per game last season. The outlook on the Nittany Lions’ line is better in 2015, and the rushing game should show improvement on the stat sheet. Lynch led the team with 678 yards and also scored four of the team’s 13 rushing touchdowns. The second half of the year is where Lynch asserted himself as the team’s top back, rushing for 130 yards against Temple and 137 against Illinois. Lynch is a name that could climb this list by a couple of spots if Penn State’s offensive line takes a major step forward.
6. Josh Ferguson, Illinois
2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior
With standout receiver Mike Dudek out indefinitely with a torn ACL, the Fighting Illini need quarterback Wes Lunt and running back Josh Ferguson to take on an even bigger role in the offense this year. Ferguson has led the team in rushing yardage in back-to-back seasons and has 131 receptions in four years of playing time. Ferguson’s workload will likely increase this season after never surpassing 15 carries in any game in 2014.
7. Terrell Newby, Nebraska
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Replacing Ameer Abdullah isn’t going to be easy for new coach Mike Riley. The Cornhuskers have three potential replacements for Abdullah, with Newby exiting spring as the favorite. The California native has played in a reserve role over the last two seasons and posted nearly identical statistical outputs. Newby rushed for 297 yards on 67 attempts in 2014 and 298 yards on 54 carries in 2013. Imani Cross and Adam Taylor will also see time in the backfield this year.
8. Ty Isaac, Michigan
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
This spot could go to Derrick Green, but let’s project Isaac to have an impact in his first year in Ann Arbor. Isaac was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and managed 236 yards on 40 carries as a freshman at USC in 2013. After sitting out last season due to transfer rules, Isaac was limited in the spring with an ankle injury. However, at 240 pounds, he’s a power runner and a good fit for coach Jim Harbaugh’s offense.
9. Paul James, Rutgers
2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior
A running back from Rutgers should be on this list. But which one? Paul James led the Scarlet Knights with 881 yards and nine scores in 2013 and rushed for 363 yards through the first four games of 2014. However, James has battled injuries throughout his career, and sophomores Josh Hicks and Robert Martin emerged as breakout players at the end of last year. Will James return at full strength from a torn ACL? Or will Martin or Hicks claim the top spots in the Rutgers’ backfield?
10. Jordan Canzeri, Iowa
2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior
Mark Weisman has expired his eligibility, leaving Iowa with Canzeri, LeShun Daniels, Jonathan Parker and Akrum Wadley battling for carries this offseason. Canzeri is the leading candidate to replace Weisman after finishing second on the team with 494 yards last year. However, a committee approach is likely for coach Kirk Ferentz in 2015.
Other Big Ten Running Backs to Watch in 2015
Imani Cross, Nebraska
Cross has rushed for 1,184 yards and 22 rushing scores over the last three years in Lincoln. Terrell Newby is expected to start, but Cross will remain involved in Nebraska’s new offense.
Derrick Green, Michigan
Green was off to a promising start last year, rushing for 471 yards and three scores on 82 attempts before a season-ending clavicle injury. He will compete with Ty Isaac and De’Veon Smith for the No. 1 spot in Michigan’s backfield.
Keyante Green/Markell Jones, Purdue
The Boilermakers must replace their top two running backs from last season, with Green and Jones slated to battle for the top spot in the fall. Green rushed for 199 yards on 27 attempts in a reserve role in 2014, while Markell Jones is expected to push for time after winning Indiana’s Mr. Football award as a high school senior.
Josh Hicks/Robert Martin, Rutgers
Promising sophomore duo will push Paul James for snaps this season.
Madre London/Gerald Holmes/LJ Scott/Delton Williams, Michigan State
All signs point to Michigan State using a committee approach as it looks to replace Jeremy Langford. London, Holmes, Scott and Williams are talented, but will one runner clearly emerge as the No. 1 option?
Brandon Ross, Maryland
Quarterback C.J. Brown led the team with 539 rushing yards last season, while Ross finished second with 419 yards. The senior is slated to take the top spot in the backfield, but the Terrapins will utilize Wes Brown plenty in 2015.
Curtis Samuel, Ohio State
Samuel should have a bigger role in Ohio State’s offense after averaging 6.6 yards per carry on 58 attempts in 2014.
Rodrick Williams, Minnesota
If Williams is going to get the full workload in Minnesota’s offense, then the senior should be among the top 10 names on this list. However, redshirt freshman Rodney Smith is in the mix for carries, as well as talented redshirt freshman Jeff Jones (if he doesn’t stay at receiver).
Elite leadership on the field and elite leadership on the sideline can carry a team to a division or conference championship. Not too many teams have won national championships without high-level talent at both positions.
Here are the best 25 quarterback-head coach combinations in college football in 2015:
1. Ohio State: Urban Meyer-Cardale Jones
Meyer might be the top coach in the land right now and no quarterback is hotter than Jones — be it on social media, in the playoffs or in the 2016 NFL Draft prospect rankings. The defending national champs are a default No. 1 until someone knocks them off. This is the best coach and quarterback in the Big Ten entering the season.
2. Mississippi State: Dan Mullen-Dak Prescott
Mullen has worked minor miracles in Starkville, reaching unprecedented heights at Mississippi State. Prescott is a second-team All-American and the best quarterback in the SEC. He may also be a first-round pick like only a few others on this list.
3. Michigan State: Mark Dantonio-Connor Cook
Few players and coaches mesh better from a personality and schematic fit. Cook embodies all that is Spartans football, is a natural leader and one of the top NFL prospects at his position. Big numbers and an upset of the Buckeyes could cement his legacy in Michigan State lore. This is the No. 3-ranked coach and No. 2-ranked quarterback in the Big Ten this fall.
4. TCU: Gary Patterson-Trevone Boykin
Ranked behind only Art Briles and Bill Snyder in the Big 12, Patterson reinvented himself last year by shaking up the offense and the result was a near Playoff berth and the creation of an All-American quarterback. Boykin accounted for 4,608 yards of total offense, good for fourth nationally last year and the top returning number in college football.
5. Penn State: James Franklin-Christian Hackenberg
The numbers and production won’t match this lofty ranking. However, Hackenberg could easily be the top pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and Franklin achieved things at Vanderbilt that no coach in school history had ever accomplished. If the O-line and running game come around, these two could soar through the Big Ten this year.
6. USC: Steve Sarkisian-Cody Kessler
Coach Sark is ranked as just the ninth-best coach in the Pac-12 but that is mostly due to the tremendous depth of talent this league has on its sidelines. Kessler is the most underrated player in the nation and the best signal-caller in a league stacked with great QBs. Should this duo win the Pac-12 or land in the Playoff, Sarkisian will move up the Pac-12 rankings.
7. Auburn: Gus Malzahn-Jeremy Johnson
Malzahn is a genius and is ranked ahead of multiple coaches with national championships in the SEC right now. Johnson, meanwhile, is poised for a huge season in an offense that churns out points and yards. In fact, Johnson is ranked behind only Prescott in the SEC entering the fall.
8. Arizona State: Todd Graham-Mike Bercovici
Graham was voted as the best coach in the Pac-12 by a narrow margin. Bercovici proved last season in mop-up duty that he is more than capable running the Sun Devils' offense and is a big-time playmaker of his own. His NFL stock should soar this year because of his cannon right arm and potential run at a Pac-12 title.
9. Clemson: Dabo Swinney-Deshaun Watson
If this was a Chad Morris-Deshaun Watson combination, it might be the best in the nation. Watson is that good when healthy and is clearly the best in the ACC. Swinney was voted as the sixth-best coach in the ACC and needs to prove he can do it again without Morris. Swinney is a great motivator and recruiter but how much game-planning and play-calling is he doing on Saturdays?
10. Arizona: Rich Rodriguez-Anu Solomon
RichRod has proven to be one of the game’s best minds and is a perfect fit in Arizona. He and his quarterbacks — be it Pat White or Denard Robinson or Solomon — have produced some special seasons and Solomon’s first in Tucson last year was no exception. Look for a slight regression this fall while the offense rebuilds, but huge things from this duo in two years.
11. Cal: Sonny Dykes-Jared Goff
This one is sneaky good since Dykes ranked just 11th in the Pac-12 coaches rankings (again, mostly due to the incredible depth of talent out West). But Goff is getting NFL looks and will post monster numbers in his third year under center.
12. BYU: Bronco Mendenhall-Taysom Hill
If healthy, few players in the nation are as talented and productive as Hill. And Mendenhall has proven his worth over the long haul in Provo. He’s never had a losing season.
13. Baylor: Art Briles-Seth Russell
The best coach in the Big 12 churns out great QBs and Russell is just the next great one in a long line of elite Bears quarterbacks. Russell is already considered the third-best signal-caller in the league.
14. Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson-Justin Thomas
Johnson has won a ton of games and handful of division titles in Atlanta with his triple option offense. Thomas proved quickly last year that this team had just been missing a QB and that he might be the best one Johnson's had at Tech.
15. Navy: Ken Niumatalolo-Keenan Reynolds
Niumatalolo has posted just one losing season at Navy and has never lost to Army. Reynolds is already holds the NCAA record for career rushing touchdowns (64) by a quarterback and is just 13 behind Montee Ball for the all-time record.
16. Tennessee: Butch Jones-Joshua Dobbs
Jones has yet to win big but all signs are pointing to legit title contention in the very near future. His recruiting and CEO-manship alone make him a rising star. Dobbs, who has very little starting experience, is poised to become one of the SEC’s best in 2015.
17. Missouri: Gary Pinkel-Maty Mauk
Pinkel has the edge over Jones, his SEC East peer, winning both meetings and holding a 3-0 overall record against Tennessee. Pinkel also is one of the most respected minds in the game. Mauk, despite 3,021 yards of total offense and 27 total touchdowns, is still only scratching the surface of his ability.
18. Texas A&M: Kevin Sumlin-Kyle Allen
Allen is a future pro and has elite-level upside and a bunch of talented wideouts to throw to this fall. His growth could be extraordinary this fall. Sumlin has made the Big 12 to SEC transition with ease, but isn't the hot commodity he was a few years ago (but still really good).
19. Miami: Al Golden-Brad Kaaya
Many are down on Golden but he got no favors when he took over the scandal-ridden Hurricanes program. Now, he has one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Kaaya “The Messiah” and the pressure is on to win.
20. Cincinnati: Tommy Tuberville-Gunner Kiel
This QB-coach combo is the frontrunner to win the American Athletic Conference. Kiel threw for 3,254 yards and 31 touchdowns in his first full season and is starting to deliver on his massive recruiting hype.
21. Notre Dame: Brian Kelly-Malik Zaire
22. Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy-Mason Rudolph
23. Utah State: Matt Wells-Chuckie Keeton
24. Stanford: David Shaw-Kevin Hogan
25. NC State: Dave Doeren-Jacoby Brissett
When the New England Patriots selected quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft many wondered if that signalled the approaching end of Tom Brady's career. Brady instead showed little sign of slowing down last season, winning his fourth Super Bowl last season, while Garoppolo got a valuable year learning the ropes behind one of the greatest to play the game.
Now, with Brady's pending suspension for Deflategate, Garoppolo could be called to action earlier than many predicted, once again proving that you can never have too many good quarterbacks on your roster. New England has developed a number of backups behind Brady, and while most have yet to achieve significant success, all have gotten a fair shot at starting in the NFL.
Like Matt Cassel, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett before him, Garoppolo had the luxury of not being thrust into the fire, but unlike his predecessors, Garoppolo is the best and most promising fit to replace Brady, whether it's just filling in during the suspension or as the heir apparent.
New England's offensive evolution over the course of Brady's career has led them to a key philosophy that some might call the "dink-and-dunk", while I call it "The Scalpel." It's a precision short passing game that maximizes Brady's biggest strengths — to read defenses and get the ball out quickly. Many pundits might dismiss this offense as a gimmick, it's nearly indefensible when clicking on all cylinders, especially if defenses aren't making every pre-snap effort to disguise their coverages.
While Cassel and Hoyer were raw but given enough time to develop, and Mallett was a big arm and a better fit for more of a downfield passing game, Garoppolo's strengths closely resemble Brady's. In fact, his release is so quick and mechanically perfect, he might even be a better fit for "The Scalpel" than Brady.
Add in Garoppolo's smarts, athleticism and work ethic, and there's little doubt he'll be ready to step in and allow New England to maintain the core philosophy on offense. The fact that he was a Patriots practice player of the week seven times only reinforces the fact that Garoppolo was "getting it" in his rookie season behind the scenes.
In the 2014 season, Garoppolo saw action in six games but showed promise, completing 70.4 percent of his passes with a 101.4 passer rating. Perhaps most impressive was his decision making, specifically not being afraid to take a sack or throw the ball away instead of forcing something that wasn't there.
Garoppolo's lack of experience and size are still question marks and if he's called on to replace Brady for any length of time the challenges will be huge. The rebuilding, but always respectable, Steeler defense and Rex Ryan's new Buffalo Bills monster defense will be looking to attack Garoppolo, and with questions still surrounding the guard spots on New England's offensive line, it's far from a lock that the Patriots' offense doesn't miss a beat.
Still, even if Garoppolo has a rough go of it for a few games to start the season, the starting experience he'll get in his second year will be invaluable down the road. Or, it will be even more interesting if Garoppolo lights it up in those games, giving the Pats the same question they faced when Brady replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001 and performed well.
That has to be Tom Brady's worst nightmare, as he knows that when Bill Belichick finds a cheaper and at least near-equal option, even the Hall of Fame quarterback will be discarded.
Either way, the Patriots should benefit in the long term from getting Garoppolo some game action, no matter how long Brady's suspension ends up being after appeal. The biggest challenges facing Garoppolo will be reading the defensive fronts that are thrown at him, as all four potential opponents will look to confuse the inexperienced signal-caller.
With a full summer to prepare, Garoppolo should be ready for however long he's asked to step in, but it would take a near-perfect performance to keep Brady on the sidelines once he returns.
The biggest NASCAR news brief following record-low ratings at the Kansas race was Kyle Busch announcing his return to the sport. The Joe Gibbs Racing veteran, out with leg injuries suffered a day before February’s Daytona 500 will get back behind the wheel of his No. 18 M&M’s Toyota beginning with the All-Star Race Saturday night. Busch, who has missed a total of 11 Cup events, hopes to be granted a Chase “waiver” that will still allow him to make the playoff should he win and get inside the top 30 in series points.
Chances are, despite NASCAR’s rule a driver should attempt every race to be playoff eligible they’ll be willing to grant Busch an exemption. Even though the driver has missed 42 percent of the regular season – equivalent to 69 games in Major League Baseball – officials already set a precedent to work around their own roadblock. Take Kyle’s brother Kurt, for example, who missed three races earlier this season over domestic violence charges. He got a waiver! Brian Vickers, who missed two races for blood clots? Sure, take one too. Add in the publicity gained by Busch's quest to charge to 30th in points and it's easy to see officials who make decisions based on public opinion will grant a exception here. Playing by the rules, knocking Kyle Busch out of the Chase means the entire rest of the season for one of NASCAR’s biggest drivers is anti-climactic.
But perhaps the biggest plus in Kyle returning to the cockpit is the emotion he stirs up in everybody else. Busch’s leg injuries, caused during an XFINITY Series race led to fan sympathy, especially considering there wasn’t a SAFER Barrier at the spot where his car slammed into the inside wall. Even self-proclaimed “haters” turned supportive as the driver fought hard through rehabilitation to come back in record time.
That being said, Busch also is one of the sport’s “villains,” one of the most polarizing drivers Sprint Cup has had on its roster since the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. He speaks his mind, uses the bumper and always makes a race more interesting – even if he ticks off half the field in the process. Stirring up emotion is a hallmark of his career, a much-needed addition to a sport where 2015 has been the season of indifference. Fans will have an opinion surrounding Kyle’s return: whether he should be playoff eligible and if he’s going to knock their favorite driver out of the way. People will care about who’s driving the No. 18 much more passionately than when David Ragan or even young Erik Jones took over the seat.
Every sport needs a “good guy” and a “bad guy.” No matter what side you’re on with Busch, the fact you care enough to pick one means Busch’s return couldn’t have happened a moment quicker.
Through The Gears we go, revisiting “hot button” stories from Kansas heading into the All-Star Race.
FIRST GEAR: Kevin, Jimmie. Jimmie, Kevin. Rinse, Repeat
Jimmie Johnson won his third race of the season Saturday night by gambling over the last caution at Kansas. Staying out on old tires earned him track position, enabling him to lead the last 10 laps while rival Kevin Harvick fought through traffic. The No. 4 car was left to settle for second while Johnson hit Victory Lane, raising his season average finish to 10.1. That’s on pace to be the second best of his career, trailing only his 2006 season – the year he won the first of six Sprint Cup championships.
“On the big tracks, aero, balance, the engine performance, the small details that separate our team from others, that's where you find that tenth of a second that puts you in the winner's circle,” Johnson said when asked to explain his recent success. “I'd just say it's the equipment I'm sitting in.”
It’s also the type of track. All of the No. 48 team’s victories have occurred on 1.5-mile ovals this season. Harvick won the other, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway while finishing no lower than second on these intermediates. Considering there are five such tracks in the Chase, including the Homestead season finale it’s an important place to be successful week in, week out.
With both drivers running Hendrick equipment, along with a surging Kurt Busch it’s easy to call them the class of the field right now. Johnson is third in series points; Harvick is first. They’ve combined to win five of eleven races. Others, like Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing have time to work on their programs but it’s clear what the standard is they have to catch.
SECOND GEAR: For Truex, It’s Just a Matter of Time
Martin Truex, Jr. led a race-high 95 laps at Kansas, his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet arguably the fastest car. Unfortunately, a simple mistake by crew chief Cole Pearn cost him too much track position late in the race. The team, leading heading into the pits had a slow stop because Pearn forgot to tell his driver “Go!” once the jack dropped. Losing several spots, Truex used up his car trying to catch Harvick before both were snookered by Johnson’s pit strategy down the stretch.
“That is the first call he has gotten wrong all year long,” the driver said after fading to ninth. “I told him to just keep his confidence up because he has done a good job with that all year long. We are going to get one. We just have to keep digging.”
Truex is right on point. The FRR team, which has just one total victory in its decade-long existence, is running better than it ever has – even when it employed former champion Kurt Busch. Truex is second in the standings, virtually assured of making the postseason already and has racked up 10 top-10 finishes. That’s double what he had during a full season last year with the team. The consistency shown has put Truex in position to win, excelling at every type of NASCAR facility. With Dover, his hometown track, coming up I expect a breakthrough in a couple of weeks.
THIRD GEAR: Young Drivers Flex Some Muscle
The much-anticipated debut of Erik Jones, subbing for Kyle Busch lived up to the hype. Leading Happy Hour practice, the rookie qualified 12th and was on track for a top-5 finish until simply losing it off turn 4. While the 18-year-old wound up 40th, a clear statement was made that he’ll be Cup-ready in the near future – if not now. While the Truck Series will benefit from Jones running for a championship there you got the sense he’s already graduated after Saturday night.
Kansas was also huge for Kyle Larson, whose sophomore season got untracked by a fainting incident at Martinsville. Invisible ever since, the promising young talent finally showed flashes of his potential. Leading three laps, he was second for large portions of the night and outgunned his competition on several restarts. The end result (15th) was still a bit disappointing but you have to walk before you can run. Larson, who will likely need a victory to make the Chase, now has some much-needed confidence heading to tracks like Michigan where he has the potential to surprise.
FOURTH GEAR: TV Woes Continue
Kansas was, in my view, the best intermediate race of the year. Multiple grooves left cars all over the track; the lead changed multiple times under green amongst several drivers. At one point, it looked like fuel mileage would come into play before a late caution led to a different type of pit strategy. There was an underdog (Truex) in play for the victory battling amongst the favorites. Aside from a photo finish, what more do you want?
Unfortunately for NASCAR fans, the answer is a lot. The race, covered on FOX Sports 1, achieved just a 1.5 overnight rating, the lowest for the Cup Series since their TV contract went national in 2001. A two-hour rain delay certainly hurt, ending the race well past midnight ET, but fans clearly found other things to do with their Saturday night.
One short-term solution to boost NASCAR viewership is simple: shy away from Saturday night races! They constantly bring the fewest fans to the table; the biggest social night of the week leads to too many distractions for that crucial 18-34 demographic. There’s also something to the sense of urgency teams feel whenever rain is in the area. Suddenly, it’s like each driver is giving an extra 10 percent with fear the race could end at any second. I don’t know how you capture that feeling – timed races with random endings sound completely contrived – but NASCAR has to bottle that sense of urgency and get drivers up on the wheel every week.
AJ Allmendinger signed a five-year contract extension with JTG Daugherty Racing that takes him through the 2020 season. Really? It’s a nice gesture, clearly a vote of confidence for Allmendinger but not even the biggest name driver is signed with their team for that long. It’s just strange for a middle-tier team to publicly offer up the equivalent of a lifetime contract… Poor Matt DiBenedetto. He didn’t officially declare for Rookie of the Year until Talladega earlier this month. Since then, he’s been Rookie of the Race two straight weeks with his BK Racing No. 83 Toyota. The problem? With so many “races missed,” it makes it difficult for him to be a true challenger to win ROTY over the long run… Roush Fenway Racing has yet to score a top-5 finish at any track over a mile in length. Ditto for Richard Petty Motorsports, who added “Bono” Manion to struggling Sam Hornish, Jr.’s team this week. Those two teams are in need of a big hometown boost at Charlotte.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
Who wants to watch DeAndre Jordan — or anyone, for that matter — shoot 34 free throws in one game?
That’s what happened Sunday night, in Game 4 of Jordan’s Los Angeles Clippers’ series against the Houston Rockets. DeAndre made 14 of his tries, giving him a measly 41 percent mark from the line for the night. The Rockets’ best defense in this game (a 128-95 Clippers blowout) was fouling Jordan away from the ball before possessions got underway, forcing Los Angeles into their worst possible scoring option.
Surely, you’ve heard this one before. Since the days of Shaquille O’Neal, teams have been using the “hack-a” strategy against offenses they otherwise can’t stop — especially in playoff games. The technique seems to be gaining more steam than ever lately, though, and discussion about the prospect of banning the method altogether has also picked up considerably.
Currently, the league penalizes teams who deploy the tactic with less than two minutes remaining on the clock, by way of technical foul. The question, now, is why that tax shouldn’t exist for the rest of the game.
Not only is the hack-a lifestyle an unsportsmanlike one, but it’s also hard and boring to watch. Nobody tunes into basketball for intentional off-ball fouls, or for a slowed-down version of the game that involves more standing around than pick-and-roll.
It’s easy to say that the fix for this issue lies in a few select players, like Jordan and Houston’s Dwight Howard, simply getting better at free throws, and thus taking the strategy away from the opposition. But some things, no matter how much work is put in, are bound for that kind of change. The game will always have more big men who can’t shoot than those who can, just like it will always have point guards who don’t lead the league in blocked shots.
Hack-a is a strange glitch in the rulebook, and closing the loophole that allows its exploitation would be a service to the game.
— John Wilmes
One of the most appealing NBA head coaching jobs is now open. The New Orleans Pelicans have parted ways with head man Monty Williams after five years, leaving the chair on Anthony Davis’ bench unoccupied.
Pelicans ownership had created a mandate within the organization: If the team didn’t make the playoffs this past season, it was known that Williams and general manager Dell Demps would both be out of a job. Apparently, meeting that requirement was still not enough to save Monty.
The Pelicans didn’t win any games in their first-round series with the Golden State Warriors, but getting there alone turned some heads after they won a season-long battle with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the final spot in Western Conference bracket. The Pelicans finished the year with a 45-37 record, an 11-game improvement from the previous season.
"My focus today is to appreciate the great journey over the last few years," Williams said, in a written statement given to the AP. "I need to thank my coaches and players because we take pride in our accomplishments as a group in progressing in the right direction and making the playoffs through the challenges of a long season.”
As for who’s up next for the Pelicans, one name stands out among the crowd of possible candidates: Tom Thibodeau. The Chicago Bulls coach is still dealing with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs, but rumors about his inevitable dismissal have only grown in recent days.
The prospect of Thibodeau, one of the top defensive minds of the game, going to work with Davis is a tantalizing one. But since he’s still under contract with Chicago, who would be wise not to simply fire him and let him go for nothing, it may take a trade for New Orleans to land him.
We’re still weeks from any of this speculation taking life, but this storyline deserves monitoring as the coaching carousel gains steam.
— John Wilmes
Freshman year of college is all about acclimating: learning to navigate campus, establishing a routine, forming bonds with peers. By sophomore year, all facets of being a college student feel just a little more comfortable.
Apply that feeling to the USC football team. Last season, Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian relied heavily on first-year players in a variety of roles across all three phases. The offense featured such freshmen as wide receiver JuJu Smith, and at one point, three started on the line: Damien Mama, Viane Talamaivao and Toa Lobendahn. Defensively, the secondary was rife with first-year players like Adoree' Jackson. On special teams, newbies Uchenna Nwosu and Olajuwon Tucker handled kickoff coverage.
In total, 11 products of USC's 2014 signing class saw the field last season.
Learning on the job, side-by-side with other freshmen, helped the young Trojans build a bond that will play a central role in USC's 2015 aspirations. Smith explained following last month's spring game.
"I can truly say we’re closer as a team," he said. "We’re more together than last season and last summer [in preseason camp, when the freshmen first arrived]."
The Trojans hope to parlay their newly gained familiarty into more fluidity on the field. USC suffered from bouts of confusion that cost it games, such as the poorly covered Hail Mary attempt on which the Trojans lost to Arizona State.
A more cohesive unit means a more communicative unit, and one that recognizes each players' strengths and weaknesses, thus adjusts accordingly.
The first signs that the youngsters were really jelling came late in the campaign. After the regular-season finale rout of rival Notre Dame, Mama credited the freshmen's collective desire to "contribute to the team in any way we could" for USC's strong finish. The Trojans were 4-1 in their final five games.
Last year wasn't just a debut campaign for many of the players: much of the USC coaching staff endured its own version of freshman initiation. Though Sarkisian retained assistants Clay Helton and Tee Martin, holdovers from Lane Kiffin's tenure as head coach, most of the 2014 staff was new.
That wasn't lost on the players, one of whom said the growing bond between players and coaches is evident.
"I see it a lot, coming in as new guys and coaches, makes us a lot closer in the second year," Jackson said.
Building those relationships starts on a micro level. The first phase in bringing a team together is each invidual unit finding its rapport first.
That's the mindset Sarkisian espoused in his first season as USC head coach.
"It’s a real credit to the assistant coaches and the job they’ve done with the position groups," he said.
Once the assistants' work is started, Sarkisian's job is bringing each group together—a process that extends with activities beyond the field.
"We were at the beach a week ago," he cited as one example. "Just doing different things with these guys that I think, at the end of the day, make [players say] ‘that’s something I want to be a part of.’"
There are some people who don't like Jameis Winston. Surprisingly, some of those people are affliated with Florida State.
Former coach Bobby Bowden called into the "Paul Finebaum Show" to say a few words about the former FSU quarterback. Bowden claims that off-the-field issues may have tainted the public's perception of Winston.
"I think it's a consensus among Florida State fans and boosters that he was an embarrassment in a lot of ways to the university," Bowden said. "He won a lot of ball games, probably one of the best football players that ever attended Florida State, but he hurt himself off the field."