Articles By All

Path: /nba/injuries-are-bigger-factor-ever-2015-nba-playoffs

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


Post date: Thursday, May 14, 2015 - 12:09
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/golf-experts-poll-whats-your-golf-bucket-list-item
Athlon polled a number of golf insiders on a variety of topics, but we start with this question: Are Tiger's problems primarily physical or mental? - See more at:
Athlon polled a number of golf insiders on a variety of topics, but we start with this question: Are Tiger's problems primarily physical or mental? - See more at:

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.

Post date: Thursday, May 14, 2015 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-tens-running-backs-2015

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.


Related: Ohio State's Urban Meyer is the Big Ten's No. 1 Coach for 2015


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.


Related: Ranking the Big Ten's Football Coaching Jobs for 2015


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.


Related: Penn State's Christian Hackenberg Ranks as the Big Ten's No. 3 QB for 2015


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.


Related: Where is Jim Harbaugh in the Big Ten Coach Rankings for 2015?


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). 

Ranking the Big Ten's Running Backs for 2015
Post date: Thursday, May 14, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/top-25-quarterback-head-coach-combinations-2015

The two most important pieces of any college football program is the head coach and the quarterback.


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.


Related: 10 Biggest Wild Card Teams in College Football in 2015


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

Top 20 Quarterback Head Coach Combinations in 2015
Post date: Thursday, May 14, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots, NFL
Path: /nfl/jimmy-garoppolo-can-answer-bell-patriots

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.


— Written by Mike Dussault, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writer/editor of (@PatsPropaganda), a comprehensive blog covering the New England Patriots.

Jimmy Garoppolo Can Answer the Bell for Patriots
Post date: Wednesday, May 13, 2015 - 15:45
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/kyle-busch%E2%80%99s-return-brings-nascar-fans-back-table

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.


— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.


Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Kyle Busch’s Return Brings NASCAR Fans Back To The Table
Post date: Wednesday, May 13, 2015 - 13:45
Path: /nba/nba-should-eliminate-%E2%80%9Chack-a%E2%80%9D-which-damper-playoffs

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


Post date: Wednesday, May 13, 2015 - 13:11
All taxonomy terms: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans, NBA
Path: /nba/new-orleans-pelicans-fire-head-coach-monty-williams-after-five-years-service

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


Post date: Wednesday, May 13, 2015 - 12:25
All taxonomy terms: College Football, USC Trojans, Pac 12
Path: /college-football/year-together-brought-young-usc-trojans-closer

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.’"


— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

A Year Together Brought Young USC Trojans Closer
Post date: Wednesday, May 13, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NFL
Path: /bobby-bowden-jameis-winston-embarrassment-florida-state-fsu-quarterback-buccaneers

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."


Post date: Wednesday, May 13, 2015 - 11:31
Path: /college-football/ranking-pac-12s-running-backs-2015

The Pac-12 is a loaded league for running back talent in 2015. Utah’s Devontae Booker is coming off a huge season in his first year with the Utes and ranks as the conference’s top back. But UCLA’s Paul Perkins is a close second, and the junior will take on an even bigger role in the offense with quarterback Brett Hundley’s departure.


The depth of the league’s running backs extends to Oregon’s Royce Freeman. The sophomore might be the league’s most talented running back, but Thomas Tyner is expected to see plenty of carries in 2015. Arizona’s Nick Wilson and California’s Daniel Lasco round out the top five backs in the Pac-12 this 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 Pac-12 for 2015.


Ranking the Pac-12’s Running Backs for 2015


1. Devontae Booker, Utah

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior


In Booker’s first season in Salt Lake City, the California native emerged as the Pac-12’s top running back. In 13 games, Booker rushed for 1,512 yards and 10 scores and caught 43 passes for 306 yards. Booker led the Pac-12 by averaging 22.5 rushing attempts per game and recorded seven 100-yard efforts. His best performance came in a 29-23 overtime win over Oregon State with 229 yards on 32 carries. Defenses often stacked the box against Booker with an inconsistent passing game, yet the junior college product managed to average 116.3 rushing yards per game in 2014.


2. Paul Perkins, UCLA

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


It’s a close call between Booker and Perkins for the top spot in this article. A slight edge goes to Booker, but Perkins led the Pac-12 by averaging 121.2 rushing yards per game in 2014. He also recorded nine scores on the ground and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. Perkins posted six 100-yard efforts and had three games where he averaged at least nine yards per rush. With Brett Hundley off to the NFL, Perkins will be the focal point of UCLA’s offense in 2015. 


3. Royce Freeman, Oregon

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Just based on overall talent, a strong case could be made Freeman is the No. 1 back in the Pac-12. As a true freshman in 2014, Freeman recorded 1,365 yards and 18 scores and caught 16 passes for 158 yards. The California native also posted six 100-yard efforts, including a 114-yard game against Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship. With Thomas Tyner back at full strength, Freeman’s totals may not climb much in 2015.

Related: Oregon Turns the Page from "Emotional" Ending


4. Nick Wilson, Arizona

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Rich Rodriguez handed the Arizona backfield to a pair of freshmen last year, and Anu Solomon (QB) and Wilson (RB) delivered in a big way. Solomon passed for 3,793 yards, while Wilson led the team with 1,375 yards and 16 scores. Wilson missed the game against USC due to an ankle injury but still tied for the Pac-12 lead in runs of 30 yards or more (seven). And here’s the scary thought for the rest of the Pac-12: Wilson is only going to get better in 2015.

Related: Arizona's Rich Rodriguez is the Pac-12's No. 2 Coach for 2015


5. Daniel Lasco, California

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior


Lasco might be the Pac-12’s most underrated player. While California’s passing attack and quarterback Jared Goff grabs most of the headlines, Lasco quietly rushed for 1,115 yards and 12 scores last season. The Texas native also grabbed 33 receptions in 12 games and ended the year with three 100-yard efforts over his final four contests. At 210 pounds, Lasco is versatile, has the size to attack defenses between the tackles but also possesses the necessary quickness to hit the outside.

Related: California's Jared Goff Ranks as the Pac-12's No. 2 QB for 2015


6. Demario Richard, Arizona State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Richard is the first of two breakout candidates to rank inside of the top 10 for 2015. Just how confident is Arizona State’s coaching staff in Richard’s ability to carry the rushing attack this year? D.J. Foster was moved from running back to receiver after rushing for 1,081 yards in 2014. Richard recorded 478 yards and four scores on 84 attempts and also caught 13 passes for 156 yards and four touchdowns last year. Expect big things from Richard over the next few seasons in Tempe.

Related: Arizona State's Todd Graham Ranks as the Pac-12's No. 1 Coach


7. Thomas Tyner, Oregon

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Tyner made a splash as a freshman in 2013 serving as a backup to Byron Marshall, rushing for 711 yards and nine scores on 115 carries. Most expected Tyner to move into the top spot in the Oregon backfield, but Royce Freeman stole the spotlight as a true freshman and finished with the team lead in rushing yardage. Tyner finished 2014 with 573 yards and five scores but also missed four games due to injury. The junior could rank higher on this list based on talent. However, how will the carry situation play out in Eugene this year?


8. Storm Woods, Oregon State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior


New coach Gary Andersen plans on altering Oregon State’s offensive approach, and Woods should see more opportunities in 2015. The Texas native has led the Beavers in rushing yardage in two out of the last three years and nearly reached the 1,000-yard mark in 2012. Woods averaged 6.4 yards per carry in 2014 and is poised for his best season in an Oregon State uniform.

Related: Oregon State's Kalani Sitake is a Defensive Coach on the Rise


9. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


McCaffrey is poised for a breakout year in his sophomore campaign. The Colorado native rushed for only 300 yards as a freshman in 2014. However, 217 of those yards came in the final four games of the year, including a 77-yard effort on eight carries against Utah. McCaffrey also showed why he’s an all-purpose threat for coach David Shaw, catching 17 passes for 251 yards and averaging 17.1 yards on nine punt returns.


10. Dwayne Washington, Washington

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Washington was a bright spot on a Washington offense that ranked ninth in the Pac-12 in scoring last season. The California native was voted as the team’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player after rushing for 697 yards and nine scores in 2014. Washington battled injuries last season but closed out 2014 by rushing for at least 100 yards in three out of his last four games, including a 135-yard effort against Washington State.


Other Pac-12 Running Backs to Watch in 2015


Kalen Ballage, Arizona State

Demario Richard is Arizona State’s big-play back, while Ballage is 6-foot-3 power rusher from Colorado. Ballage recorded 126 yards on 42 attempts last season and is due for an uptick in carries with D.J. Foster moving to receiver. And how’s this for versatility: Ballage may play a few snaps on defense this year.


Justin Davis/Tre Madden/Ronald Jones, USC

Will the Trojans find a No. 1 back or use a committee approach? Coach Steve Sarkisian has some talented options to choose from, including Davis who rushed for 595 yards last year. Madden recorded 703 yards in 2013, while Jones was a four-star recruit in the 2015 signing class.


Christian Powell, Colorado

Colorado’s backfield depth is improving under coach Mike MacIntyre, and the Buffaloes are expected to use a committee approach once again in 2015. Powell has led the team for rushing in three consecutive seasons but has never recorded higher than 700 yards in a season.


Remound Wright, Stanford

Wright led Stanford with 601 yards and 11 rushing scores last season. The senior is expected to retain a major role in the Cardinal backfield for 2015, but Christian McCaffrey is expected to slide into the No. 1 job.


Gerard Wicks/Jamal Morrow, Washington State

It’s no secret the Cougars are a pass-first offense, and coach Mike Leach’s team had the fewest rushing attempts of any FBS program last year. Wicks and Morrow combined for just 585 yards and four scores in 2014 and return as the top options in 2015. Morrow also grabbed 61 receptions last season.

Ranking the Pac-12's Running Backs for 2015
Post date: Wednesday, May 13, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NFL, News
Path: /college-football/top-25-acc-2016-nfl-draft-prospects-watch

The 2015 NFL Draft is over and more than 400 players have begun the next chapter of their football careers.


So what better time than now to look ahead to next spring and the 2016 NFL Draft. Here are the top 25 ACC and Notre Dame prospects to watch in 2015:


1. Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech (5-11, 195)

The Hokies' star coverman might actually be as good as Florida's Vernon Hargreaves III. The five-star recruit has started every game of his two-year career and is going to be an All-American entering '15

2. Ronnie Stanley, OL, Notre Dame (6-5, 315)

He's got the size and talent to be an elite blocker on the next level and has held his own very well against elite defensive talent (Leonard Williams, Stanford, LSU).


3. Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State (6-1, 204)

How many five-star recruits start all 13 games as a true freshman for a team that goes 14-0 and wins a national title? Ramsey is now an upperclassman, the veteran star of the Noles' defense.


4. Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame (6-2, 235)

He can play inside linebacker, outside linebacker, defensive end in a 3-4 or just about anywhere else on the field. He's a freakish athlete who will vault himself into the first round.


5. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pitt (6-2, 190)

He regressed as a sophomore but his freshman season was no fluke. He has excellent athletic ability and can run all of the routes in the stem. Look for a huge bounce-back season from the Panthers wideout.


6. Nate Andrews, S, Florida State (5-11, 210)

The less-heralded of the two star FSU safeties isn't any less talented. He's got great size and could be just as highly regarded as Ramsey come draft time.


7. James Conner, RB, Pitt (6-2, 240)

He’s a beast of tailback who is impossible to tackle with one defender. He rolled up 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns a year ago, showing he’s a true workhorse back.


8. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson (5-10, 190)

He’s just a redshirt sophomore but he showed why he was so highly touted coming out of high school. The star cornerback started all 13 games in his first season, earning freshman All-American honors along the way.


9. Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson (6-3, 270)

He posted 34 tackles and 3.5 sacks as a backup last year. He will be asked to step into a massive role after the Tigers' D-Line lost so much this offseason. Look for Lawson to become a household name this fall.


10. Sheldon Day, DE, Notre Dame (6-2, 285)

One of the quickest of the Irish defensive linemen heading into ’15, Day posted 40 tackles, 7.5 for a loss and nine quarterback hurries last fall. He could be an undersized tackle or traditional defensive end depending on where he lands.


Related: 5 Things I'd Change about the College Football Playoff


11. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson (6-4, 210)

Williams blossomed a year ago into a star deep threat and is the next in a long line of elite pass catchers from Death Valley. He has great size and posted 1,030 yards as a sophomore.


12. Landon Turner, OG, North Carolina (6-4, 325)

The preseason first-team All-ACC lineman is one of the best interior blockers in the nation. According to UNC, Turner posted five games with at 10 knockdown blocks and is poised for a big senior season in Chapel Hill.


13. Devonte Fields, DE, Louisville (6-4, 240)

The former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year has dealt with major off-the-field issues but has gotten his second chance at Louisville. If he’s focused and committed to football, Fields could be a monster coming off of the edge for Bobby Petrino.


14. Nick Martin, C, Notre Dame (6-5, 301)

Martin moves back to center this fall and will be the pivot for the Irish O-Line. He could be the top center prospect in the country in next year’s draft class.


15. Dadi Nicolas, DE, Virginia Tech (6-4, 236)

Where he plays on the next level may impact his draft stock. He’s undersized for a true defensive end but would excel off of the edge as an outside backer in a 3-4.


Related: 10 Biggest Wildcard Teams in College Football in 2015


16. Deon Bush, S, Miami (6-1, 205)

He’s got great size and is the best defensive player in a Hurricanes uniform. He led the ACC with five forced fumbles and finished with 53 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions.


17. Terrance Smith, LB, Florida State (6-1, 231)

He battled injuries all season last fall and missed a bunch of time in the offseason nursing a turf toe issue. But Smith was a huge part of each of the last three ACC titles. He posted 86 tackles last fall.


18. James Burgess, LB, Louisville (6-0, 230)

When it comes to athletic ability, Burgess has rare talent. He flies around the field like a safety but is right at home attacking the running game. He’s not overly big but he plays bigger than his frame, collecting 71 tackles and 10.0 for a loss.


19. KeiVarae Russell, CB, Notre Dame (5-11, 190)

Academic issues sidelined Russell all of last season but he was getting preseason All-American love prior to the suspension.


20. Jayron Kearse, S, Clemson (6-3, 210)

The nephew of Jevon Kearse, Jayron’s athletic ability will be intriguing to the NFL. He made tons of plays last year, posting 60 tackles and two interceptions as a lanky sophomore.


Related: 10 Teams Guaranteed NOT to make the College Football Playoff


21. Jeremy Cash, S, Duke (6-2, 205)

He’s got great size and is incredibly well-coached. The All-American was the only defensive back in the nation to register at least 100 tackles (111), 10.0 tackles for a loss (10.5) and five sacks (5.5).


22. Jarron Jones, DT, Notre Dame (6-6, 315)

If he’s 100 percent healthy and focused, Jones has elite upside. He posted 40 tackles, including 7.5 for a loss, but is returning from a severe foot injury. He also needs to be more consistent.


23. Max Redfield, S, Notre Dame (6-1, 198)

The prized recruit blossomed last season as a leader in the Irish secondary. He finished second on the team with 68 tackles and has the speed-size combination the NFL is looking for.


24. Brandon Facyson, CB, Virginia Tech (6-2, 190)

He missed nine games last year with a shin injury and broke his leg in December. If he returns to form, the redshirt sophomore could be poised to return to his freshman All-American status.


25. Reggie Northrup, LB, Florida State (6-1, 226)

This is all projection, as Northrup is returning from a torn ACL in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon. However, he was the leading tackler with 122 stops last year and has the talent to play on Sundays.


Best of the Rest:

26. Quinshad Davis, WR, North Carolina

27. Corey Robinson, WR, Notre Dame

28. Jabari Hunt-Days, DT, Georgia Tech

29. Tracy Howard, CB, Miami

30. Adam Gotsis, DT, Georgia Tech

31. Stacy Coley, WR, Miami

32. Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pitt

33. Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame

34. Taquan Mizzell, RB, Virginia

35. Jamal Golden, S, Georgia Tech

36. Jon Heck, OT, North Carolina

37. Roberto Aguayo, K, Florida State

Top 25 ACC 2016 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch
Post date: Wednesday, May 13, 2015 - 09:00
Path: /nba/ranking-nba-playoffs%E2%80%99-biggest-surprises

6. Kevin Love’s season-ending injury

The Cleveland Cavaliers could still win the championship. They do, after all, have LeBron James on their roster. The best athlete in the game can win you games in ways you didn’t know existed before, as he demonstrated with his clock-beating shot to tie Cleveland’s series with the Chicago Bulls, 2-2, this past Sunday. But the Cavs are now in a dogfight they didn’t see coming, battling against their own health and depth issues without Kevin Love, whose suddenly separated shoulder could be the turning point for a franchise. Whether the perennial All-Star uses the injury as a source of emotional solidarity with his team, or takes it as an omen that things were never meant to be, remains to be seen.


5. A vulnerable version of the Golden State Warriors

A 67-win season was one of the best campaigns within recent NBA memory. MVP Steph Curry led an offense that had too much shooting, creativity and cohesion for anyone to handle all year, and Draymond Green was the anchor to a hyper-intelligent defense that was just as good. But the Warriors, despite their most recent 101-84 blowout at the Grindhouse, are in a tooth-and-nail 2-2 battle with the Memphis Grizzlies. Mike Conley, Courtney Lee and — of course — Tony Allen have taken away the space and timing Curry and Klay Thompson are used to. Marc Gasol has made Andrew Bogut look out of his depth. The NBA’s juggernaut squad of the season has been tested, and perhaps sooner than we thought they would be.


4. Blake Griffin, point guard edition

Without Chris Paul for the first two contests of their second-round series with the Houston Rockets, many suspected the Los Angeles Clippers were quite screwed. What most of us failed to recognize is that even without Paul, the Clippers have one of the game’s most skilled playmakers: Blake Griffin. Collecting 13 assists as part of a stunning triple-double in Game 1, Griffin led the Chris-less Clippers to a 1-0 series lead. They haven’t looked back, now leading the series 3-1 after an impressive 128-95 smashing in Game 4.


3. Randy Wittman having tricks up his sleeve

Maligned by the media all season long for his unimaginative sets, Washington Wizards coach Randy Wittman has made full use of his roster this postseason. Implementing a small ball lineup with Paul Pierce at power forward and a surging Otto Porter Jr. at the three spot, he’s given point guard John Wall his best position to thrive in. And even without Wall, who recently fell and suffered a very untimely wrist injury, Wittman has dug deep into his bench to find what he needs — forgotten man Will Bynum played crucial minutes down the stretch of Saturday’s thrilling 103-101 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. Now we’ll see if Wittman has enough left in his toolbox to get the Wizards through this 2-2 struggle.


2. Austin Rivers’ sensational play

Son to coach Doc Rivers, Austin has been the subject of mockery for months. Nobody likes nepotism, and the young Rivers looked like he was out of the league before Los Angeles signed him, and like the only way he still had a job was through family favors. Skeptics are eating feasts of their words these days, though, as the reserve guard has proved to be an invaluable piece of depth for his team. Shooting 49 percent from the field, including a red-hot 48 from beyond the arc, he’s made it possible for the Clips to preserve Chris Paul for future rounds.


1. Rajon Rondo’s epic fail

There just isn’t any precedent for what happened with Rajon Rondo and the Dallas Mavericks. Once lauded as one of the game’s most ferocious competitors, Rondo dialed in his time in Texas, looking demonstrably bored and upset as his difficult side rose beyond boiling point. Coach Rick Carlisle and team management were so beguiled and disappointed by his performance through two playoff games that they benched him for the rest of the year, citing a bogus back injury as the reason. Rondo’s heading into free agency this summer, and Dallas wants no part of a future with him. Whoever does sign him will be hoping for a time machine; Rondo in 2015 hasn’t shown us anything worth the money.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Tuesday, May 12, 2015 - 14:35
Path: /college-football/ranking-secs-running-backs-2015

The SEC could be the nation’s best conference for running backs in 2015. Georgia’s Nick Chubb should be a first-team All-American, while LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Alabama’s Derrick Henry should be in the mix for second or third-team honors.


And the depth in the conference extends past the top three names with the nation’s top running back duo in Arkansas’ Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, while Missouri’s Russell Hansbrough is an underrated player after topping 1,000 yards in 2014.


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 SEC for 2015.


Ranking the SEC’s Running Backs for 2015


1. Nick Chubb, Georgia

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Georgia’s rushing attack never missed a beat despite losing Todd Gurley to a suspension and torn ACL in 2014. Chubb emerged as one of the nation’s top running backs over the second half of last season, finishing the 2014 campaign with 1,547 yards and 14 scores. The five-star recruit in the 2014 signing class averaged 165.4 rushing yards over the final eight games.


Related: Ranking the SEC's College Towns for 2015


2. Leonard Fournette, LSU

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Fournette ranked as the No. 1 player in the 2014 247Sports Composite and showcased his talent by finishing the year with 1,034 yards and 10 scores. Both of those totals led all LSU rushers, while his 5.5 yards per carry average ranked fifth among SEC backs with at least 180 carries. Fournette recorded only 187 carries last year, so there’s an opportunity to increase his workload by at least 50 attempts in 2015.


3. Derrick Henry, Alabama

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


With T.J. Yeldon off to the NFL, Henry is ready for his chance to be the No. 1 back in Tuscaloosa. The Florida native led Alabama with 990 rushing yards on 172 attempts last season and tied with Yeldon with 11 rushing scores. Expect Henry to eclipse 200 carries and reach 1,000 yards in his junior campaign. At 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, Henry is one of the most physically gifted runners in the nation.


Related: Alabama's Nick Saban is the SEC's No. 1 Coach for 2015


4. Jonathan Williams, Arkansas

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior


Williams and teammate Alex Collins are essentially 4a and 4b here. Williams led the Razorbacks with 1,190 yards last season and edged Collins in yards per carry (5.6 to 5.4). The senior also rushed for more yards in SEC games than Collins (575 to 520) and finished the 2014 season by recording 105 yards on 23 attempts against Texas in the Texas Bowl.

Related: Arkansas Razorbacks 2015 Schedule Analysis


5. Alex Collins, Arkansas

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


As we mentioned above, it’s essentially a coin flip between Williams and Collins for the No. 4 spot. Collins led Arkansas with 1,026 yards in 2013 but finished 90 yards behind Williams (1,190 to 1,100) in 2014. The Florida native recorded only one 100-yard effort in SEC games last season and scored in eight out of Arkansas’ 13 contests in 2014.


6. Russell Hansbrough, Missouri

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior


Hansbrough was one of only seven running backs in the SEC to reach 1,000 yards last year and might be the conference’s most underrated rusher. In 14 games, Hansbrough rushed for 1,084 yards and 10 scores last season and recorded four 100-yard efforts. He also finished the year on a high note, rushing for 114 yards on 15 attempts against Minnesota in the Citrus Bowl.


7. Jalen Hurd, Tennessee

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Hurd ranked as the No. 40 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite and led the Tennessee rushing attack with 899 yards in his true freshman season. The Tennessee native was also a valuable pass catcher out of the backfield by grabbing 35 receptions for 221 yards and two scores. Hurd is expected to remain the No. 1 back for the Volunteers, but after the offense generated only 11 rushing plays of 20 yards or more last season, expect to see junior college recruit (and former Alabama running back) Alvin Kamara heavily involved in 2015.


8. Boom Williams, Kentucky

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Looking for the SEC’s next breakout star at running back? Take a look at Kentucky’s Boom Williams. The Georgia native is due for a bigger role in the backfield after leading the Wildcats with 486 rushing yards and five scores on just 74 carries in 2014. Williams had only two games of more than 10 carries, including the season finale against Louisville (18 carries for 126 yards). He also averaged 10.5 yards per play last year and emerged as an all-purpose threat with game-changing ability on kickoffs and as a receiver.


9. Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Vanderbilt’s offense struggled mightily last season, averaging only 12.8 points per game in SEC contests. But Webb was a bright spot for coach Derek Mason, leading the Commodores with 907 rushing yards. Webb also led the team with four rushing scores and added 10 receptions. Vanderbilt’s offense still has a lot of question marks entering 2015, but Mason and new coordinator Andy Ludwig can rely on Webb for a 1,000-yard season.


10. Jovon Robinson, Auburn

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Robinson isn’t guaranteed to be the starter with Peyton Barber and Roc Thomas also pushing for snaps, but the junior college transfer was a huge pickup for coach Gus Malzahn on the recruiting trail. Robinson ranked as the No. 1 junior college product by 247Sports and was the 2013 NJCAA national player in the year after rushing for 2,387 yards and 34 touchdowns. He was also a four-star recruit coming out of high school, so talent certainly isn’t an issue for Robinson. And with a standout offensive line in place, Robinson could have a huge season – if he’s able to approach 200 carries.


Related: Auburn's Jeremy Johnson Ranks as the SEC's No. 2 QB for 2015


Other SEC Running Backs to Watch in 2015


Peyton Barber/Roc Thomas, Auburn

Jovon Robinson is expected to start, but Barber and Thomas will see their share of opportunities.


Tra Carson, Texas A&M

The Aggies ranked 13th in the SEC in rushing attempts last season, so opportunities are limited for the backs. Carson led the team with 581 rushing yards in 2014, and the 235-pound senior will headline the Texas A&M rushing attack once again.


Kenyan Drake, Alabama

Drake was off to a fast start in 2014 (271 total yards in five games) but suffered a season-ending leg injury against Florida. If he’s at full strength in 2015, Drake could be a top 10 running back in the SEC this year.


Alvin Kamara, Tennessee

Former Alabama running back is back in the SEC after a stint at Hutchinson Community College. Jalen Hurd is still Tennessee’s starter, but Kamara is going to see plenty of opportunities.


Keith Marshall/Sony Michel, Georgia

Injuries have limited Marshall to just eight games over the last two seasons. But if he’s healthy, he should team with Sony Michel to provide depth to spell starter Nick Chubb.


Ashton Shumpert/Aeris Williams, Mississippi State

Josh Robinson departs after rushing for 1,203 yards in 2014, but Mississippi State is still in good shape at running back. Shumpert rushed for 232 yards over the final five games last season, while Williams ranked as the No. 254 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite.


Kelvin Taylor, Florida

With Matt Jones leaving for the NFL, Taylor is set to assume the top spot in Florida’s backfield. As a sophomore in 2014, Taylor rushed for 565 yards and six scores. How high Taylor climbs on this list will largely depend on an offensive line that is a major question mark in 2015.


Jaylen Walton, Ole Miss

The Rebels need more production from their rushing attack after averaging only 143.4 rushing yards in SEC contests last year. Walton led the team with 586 yards in 2014 but will be pushed for snaps by Akeem Judd.


David Williams, South Carolina

Brandon Wilds is expected to begin the starter, but Williams is a name to remember after averaging 5.7 yards per carry on 45 attempts last year.

Ranking the SEC's Running Backs for 2015
Post date: Tuesday, May 12, 2015 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/10-biggest-wild-card-college-football-teams-2015

The Athlon Sports college football preseason Top 25 countdown starts on Wednesday.


Predicting college football is an inexact science that’s more difficult to pinpoint than any other sport due to roster turnover, as well as the volatility when it comes to developing personnel and new coaches.


We use depth charts, recruiting rankings, stats, schedules, history, coaching and gut instincts to predict each conference to the best of our abilities. Getting it right is our top priority.


But that doesn’t mean that certain teams are darn near impossible to figure out. Here are the 10 biggest wildcard teams in college football entering our Top 25 countdown.



The Tigers are going to be one of the best teams in the ACC but how good could they be nationally? There is a lot to like about this team with star quarterback Deshaun Watson and overall depth that’s as talented as any team in the league. But this team only returns two starters on defense and four on offense. Lastly, offensive mastermind Chad Morris is now coaching at SMU. This team could be an ACC champion and Playoff contender — or 8-4.



A new coach alone makes a team tough to pinpoint in the preseason. But one without a starting quarterback and a lopsided depth chart makes it even tougher. There are loads of talent on defense but few proven players along the offensive line or under center. Most believe in this coaching staff and the SEC East is fairly wide open, but it’s tough to gauge how good the Gators will be in 2015.


Florida State

This is the most-talented team in the ACC and one of the top two or three rosters in the nation. But the offensive line is totally reworked, Sean Maguire is taking over at quarterback and only three starters are back on offense. The defense will be salty with seven starters back and a schedule that sets up for another ACC title run. But is this a Playoff team again or just a really good ACC team?


Related: The Top Running Backs in the ACC in 2015



There are 13 starters back for LSU as Les Miles once again boasts one of the top 10 collections of players in the nation. However, none of that is under center (for now) and he has to replace John Chavis as his defensive leader. The offense should run through uber-talented running back Leonard Fournette and the defense should be fine, but this team is trending in the wrong direction, faces one of the toughest schedules in the nation and has major QB concerns. This team could finish in any of the seven slots in the SEC West and it wouldn’t surprise anyone.



The Big Ten's West Division appears to be wide open and Nebraska has as good a shot of winning it as anyone else in the league. Six starters are back on both sides of the ball, including star power up front in the all-important trenches. Does new head coach Mike Riley have a quarterback that fits his system on the roster and can the Huskers overcome scheduling imbalance to win the West? Definitely. Could the Big Red lose to BYU, Miami, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan State? Also yes.


Related: 10 Teams Guaranteed NOT to make the College Football Playoff



Bob Stoops is coming off one of his worst seasons in Norman and, traditionally, his teams perform better when entering a season without expectations. This team won’t be picked by anyone ahead of Baylor or TCU but is the top challenger to the top two squads in the Big 12. If Baker Mayfield flourishes in Lincoln Riley’s system and six returning defensive starters improve, watch out for the Sooners.



Much of the Ducks' success in ’15 hinges on graduate transfer quarterback Vernon Adams and his ability to pick up the offense quickly in summer camp. The offense is downright sick, loaded with elite playmakers at nearly every position. The defense, in particular the secondary, has some major holes to plug. And Stanford is gaining significant ground in the Pac-12 North race this summer. Oregon’s ceiling is high, but are the Ducks a Playoff team or a Holiday Bowl team?



The talent is undeniably better and so is the team. But the defensive line is still very thin and the Vols play some of the best running teams in the nation. Dual-threat quaterback Joshua Dobbs should have better support up front along the line and at the skill spots but he has just a handful of starts under his belt. Can this team overcome a brutal schedule, exorcise some demons against Florida, Alabama or Missouri and contend in the SEC East? Or is this a five-loss team? The Big Orange’s youth makes this an interesting team to keep an eye on heading into the summer.



What do we know about Texas? Charlie Strong is an excellent coach who has a proven track record. His defense will be salty, physical and disciplined. And that the Longhorns have little to no offense. This team plays differently than anyone else in the league, making them interesting. But Tyrone Swoopes is still more liability than playmaker. With 11 starters back, this team is a total wildcard in the Big 12 this fall.


Related: 9 Quarterbacks Who Need to Transfer and the 9 Teams that Need Them



There are seven starters back on defense and seven back on offense, including the best quarterback in the Pac-12 in Cody Kessler. The roster has more recruiting star power on it than any other team in the league, and by a wide margin. But the schedule is nasty — especially, within the division, the Pac-12 South — and questions about the overall depth still remain. Can the coaching staff get the most out of the Trojans? If so, this team could make the Playoff. If not, USC could finish fourth in the division.

10 Biggest Wildcard College Football Teams in 2015
Post date: Tuesday, May 12, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/5-things-wed-change-about-college-football-playoff

The first year of the College Football Playoff was a resounding success.


Television pulled huge ratings. Athletic departments are richer and conference coffers are overflowing. The bowl games were showcased. The regular season was amplified.


And the fans got the postseason tournament they’ve wanted for decades.


But that doesn’t mean it can’t get better. Here are five ways to improve the College Football Playoff.


Expand to 6 (not 8)

The Playoff’s television contract is in effect for 12 years but no one in any position of power thinks the structure will stick for the full length of the deal. Expansion is coming whether we like it or not, it should just be six teams and not eight. Eight teams allow for three-loss teams to join the conversation and exclusivity is a good thing. Six teams fixes the “conference championship” argument and then some. The top two seeds get byes just like half of the NFL Playoff bracket. It's perfect and the Big 12 can't complain.


Use home sites

Get rid of the stupid bowl games. They mean absolutely nothing and have been grandfathered into a position of extreme power and wealth. The best part of college football isn’t a three-quarters full Superdome, it’s the pageantry of being on campus in the largest venues in American sports. It’s the Horseshoe. It’s the Big House. It’s Between the Hedges and in The Swamp. It’s Death Valley, the Capstone and the 40 Acres. Let’s showcase this part of the sport and award home-field advantage to the better teams while we're at it. Don’t listen to Bill Hancock, there are still 36 other bowl games that keep the sanctity of the bowl system intact. And can you really expect to ask fans to travel to three consecutive neutral site games?


Related: 10 Biggest Wildcard Teams in College Football in 2015


Make the title game truly national

Home sites shouldn't be used for the final tilt, however. This is a national championship game not a regional championship or a Southern championship. The Super Bowl is rotated throughout the country and is played in every region for a reason. This national championship belongs to everyone and should be played all over the place. Indianapolis, Detroit, New York, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area (Santa Clara to be exact) have all proven they can host massive sporting events. Every region of the country deserves to host this great spectacle.


Limit rankings release to three weeks

One of the only major complaints in the first year of the Playoff was the rankings release. It’s completely fabricated by ESPN to drive ratings and create discussion on Tuesdays. It was genius business but isn’t in the best interest of the sport. The rankings need three releases. One at the end of November, one the week before Championship Saturday and a final release on Sunday following.


Related: 10 Teams Guaranteed NOT to make the College Football Playoff


Semifinals on New Year’s Day

It’s not an issue yet because both semifinals in Year One fell on New Year’s Day. But the ’15 playoff will feature two games on New Year’s Eve. The Rose Bowl’s exclusive spot on New Year’s Day has forced other games to be moved to a far less viewable slot the night before. College football should own New Year’s Day every year like it did last season. Here is yet another reason to remove the bowls from the equation.

5 Things We'd Change About the College Football Playoff
Post date: Tuesday, May 12, 2015 - 09:00
Path: /nba/grizzlies-and-warriors-are-fighting-future-nba

The best basketball going on right now is between the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies. A seeming culmination of a year of excellent play in the Western Conference, the teams’ opposing styles have sparked a lot of debate about the state of the game.


The Warriors’ 67-win campaign has pointed the way for the frontier of the league, taking a “pace-and-space” philosophy to its natural endpoint. It’s not so hard to do that when you’ve got Steph Curry and Klay Thompson; the Splash Brothers are, perhaps, the best shooting backcourt in the history of the sport. Both players’ ability to shoot their team to victory from beyond the arc has taken the Warriors offense to staggering heights. Curry’s creativity with the ball, to boot, has made them downright historical.


They mostly didn’t rack up their wowing efficiency marks against defenses as good as that of the Grizzlies, though. Memphis’ relentless, hyper-smart defense on Golden State has taken away both the pace and the space from the Warriors. Tony Allen, Mike Conley and Courtney Lee have hassled Curry and Thompson all series long, frazzling the duo to an uncharacteristic 14-of-46 mark from deep, or just 30 percent.


Golden State trails 2-1 in the series, and in the eyes of many analysts, they’re fighting for more than just a berth in the Western Conference Finals. Their offense, while amazing all season long, looks challenged as it faces the task of winning playoff games without a go-to option in the post. Reviving David Lee off the end of the bench might be an option for variety inside, and a less predictable perimeter attack. Or, Steph and Klay might just snap out of their slump, and start draining shots under greater duress than what they’re used to.


Either way it turns out, the winner of this series will carry the flag for their style, and potentially point the way toward lasting strategic trends. It’s pace and space versus grit and grind.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Monday, May 11, 2015 - 15:47
Path: /college-football/ranking-accs-running-backs-2015

Five players in the ACC topped the 1,000-yard mark in 2014, with three of those players slated to return in 2015. Pittsburgh’s James Conner and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook are the top options returning at running back, and both players should be Heisman contenders this year. Quarterback Justin Thomas is the other ACC player that eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards last season. Will another name join Conner and Cook in the 1,000-yard department? Keep an eye on Boston College’s Jon Hilliman and Miami’s Joseph Yearby.  


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 ACC for 2015.


Ranking the ACC's Running Backs for 2015


1. James Conner, Pittsburgh

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Conner is the reigning ACC Player of the Year and ranked third nationally in 2014 with 26 rushing scores. In two seasons with the Panthers, Conner has rushed for 2,564 yards and 34 scores. He will remain the focal point of Pittsburgh’s offense in 2015 and should push for All-America honors once again.


2. Dalvin Cook, Florida State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Cook ranked as the No. 13 prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite and emerged as Florida State’s go-to back in the second half of 2014. Cook rushed for at least 100 yards in each of his final three games, including a 177-yard effort against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship. With Jameis Winston off to the NFL, Cook will be the Seminoles’ best offensive weapon in 2015.


Related: Florida State's Jimbo Fisher is the ACC's No. 1 Coach for 2015


3. Jon Hilliman, Boston College

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


As a true freshman last season, Hilliman ranked second on Boston College’s offense with 860 rushing yards and led the team with 13 rushing scores. The New Jersey native recorded three 100-yard efforts, including 148 yards against Penn State in the Pinstripe Bowl. Hilliman should be an even bigger part of the Eagles offense in 2015.


4. Joseph Yearby, Miami

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Yearby’s spot on this list is a projection, and the sophomore could be one of the ACC’s top breakout stars for 2015. Duke Johnson won’t be easy to replace, but Yearby flashed potential in a limited role last year by rushing for 509 yards and one score on 86 attempts. The Miami native ranked as the No. 44 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite and is expected to start, but junior Gus Edwards will also see plenty of opportunities.


Related: Miami Hurricanes 2015 Schedule Analysis


5. Shadrach Thornton, NC State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior


Thornton leads an underrated backfield for third-year coach Dave Doeren. In 13 games last season, Thornton rushed for 907 yards and nine scores and recorded his best rushing performances in the final three games. Just based on proven stats and talent, Thornton could be higher on this list. However, with Matt Dayes and freshmen Johnny Frasier, Reggie Gallaspy and Nyheim Hines returning, Thornton may not see much of an uptick in carries this year.


6. Wayne Gallman, Clemson

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Gallman provided a spark for Clemson’s offense in the second half of 2014, and the sophomore heads into 2015 at the top of a talented backfield. In 13 games, Gallman rushed for 769 yards and four scores and caught 24 passes for 108 yards. He rushed for 191 yards in the 35-17 win over rival South Carolina and added two other 100-yard efforts in 2014. Clemson has depth at running back, but Gallman could push for 1,000 yards.


Related: Clemson's Deshaun Watson Ranks as the ACC's No. 1 QB for 2015


7. Taquan Mizzell, Virginia

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Mizzell could easily finish much higher on this list in 2015. The Virginia native was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and has worked in a reserve role in his first two years with the Cavaliers. During his Virginia career, Mizzell has rushed for 464 yards and three scores and caught 68 passes for 435 yards. There’s no denying Mizzell is one of the ACC’s most talented running backs. Is he ready to take the next step and become Virginia’s go-to back in 2015?


8. Brandon Radcliff, Louisville

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Radcliff didn’t see much playing time in 2013, but the Miami native emerged as Louisville’s top running back in 2014. He led the team with 737 rushing yards and recorded 12 scores on the ground. Radcliff posted at least 17 carries in each of his last three games and posted a season high of 136 yards against Notre Dame. Louisville’s offensive line is a concern, and there’s good depth in the backfield, but Radcliff could approach 1,000 yards this season.


9. J.C. Coleman, Virginia Tech

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior


With Marshawn Williams (injury) and Shai McKenzie (off-field incident) uncertain for 2015, Coleman is slated to be the top running back for Frank Beamer. Despite recording only 65 rushing yards through the first nine games, Coleman led the Hokies with 533 yards last season and recorded three rushing scores. The Virginia native came on strong at the end of 2014 and finished the year with at least 95 yards in each of the final four games. Coleman’s best effort came against Cincinnati in the Military Bowl by recording 157 yards on 25 attempts.


10. T.J. Logan, North Carolina

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Logan emerged from a crowded backfield to lead North Carolina running backs with 119 carries last season. The North Carolina native ranked second on the team with 582 yards but finished the year with two 100-yard efforts over the final three games. Logan will likely share carries with Elijah Hood in 2015.


Related: Can Gene Chizik Save North Carolina's Defense?


Other Running Backs to Watch


Dennis Andrews, Georgia Tech

Andrews showed some promise late in 2014 by recording 81 yards on nine attempts over the final four games of 2014.


Matt Dayes, NC State

Dayes recorded 573 yards and eight scores on 104 attempts last year. Five of his eight rushing touchdowns came over the final four games. He also caught 32 passes for 321 yards. A solid No. 2 to Shadrach Thornton.


Gus Edwards, Miami

Edwards will push Joseph Yearby for the No. 1 job. As a sophomore last year, Edwards rushed for 349 yards and six scores.


Elijah Hood, North Carolina

Touted recruit in the 2014 signing class should improve after only rushing for 259 yards last season.


Devante McFarlane, Syracuse

McFarlane has showed potential in limited action, averaging 6.1 yards per carry over the last two years. He’s slated to take on a bigger role in the backfield in 2015.


Mario Pender, Florida State

Pender flashed his talent and potential in a limited role last season, rushing for 206 yards and four scores on 41 attempts.


Shaquille Powell, Duke

Powell led all Duke players with 618 rushing yards last season. He’s slated to start in 2015, but the Blue Devils have options here, including Jela Duncan (back from academic suspension) and Shaun Wilson (7.7 ypc in 2014).


L.J. Scott/Jeremy Smith, Louisville

Scott and Smith should see plenty of opportunities in coach Bobby Petrino’s offense as backups to Brandon Radcliff.


Broderick Snoddy, Georgia Tech

Snoddy averaged a robust 10.1 yards per carry on 28 rushing attempts last year. If he’s healthy from a season-ending leg injury, Snoddy will be one of Georgia Tech’s top options at running back.


Dezmond Wortham, Wake Forest

Wake Forest’s offense is searching for some punch in the rushing attack after averaging only 1.3 yards per carry in 2014. The offensive line must improve to help the running backs, but the Demon Deacons need Wortham or Isaiah Robinson to provide more big plays in 2015.

Ranking the ACC's Running Backs for 2015
Post date: Monday, May 11, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Paul Pierce, NBA
Path: /nba/buzzer-beaters-lebron-rose-pierce-highlight-crazy-nba-playoffs-weekend-video


The Chicago Bulls, tied 1-1 with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, looked to jump ahead in their second-round series. The tug-of-war match saw its ending come with the most memorable Windy City shot this side of Michael Jordan, as Derrick Rose hoisted up a three-pointer over Tristan Thompson that felt like the culmination of all of his struggles. Through three seasons thwarted by health issues, Rose and his fans always hoped for a silver living as shiny as this game-winner, which put the Bulls up 2-1 in the series after a 99-96 victory, and set the United Center on fire:



Paul Pierce’s career continues to find new acts. Once the face of the Boston Celtics’ franchise, he’s now made himself even more of a legend as a nomadic warrior of clutch moments, for various Eastern Conference contenders. Last year it was the Brooklyn Nets, and now it’s the Washington Wizards. Washington faced a steep challenge without their best player in John Wall, but The Truth set them free. Like Rose’s shot, Pierce’s went bank. ESPN’s Chris Broussard asked him if he called bank moments after this game-winner, and Pierce replied: “I called game!



This bananas weekend wouldn’t be complete without a counter-attack. Rose’s iconic moment felt almost too good to be true, and all the more so after LeBron followed it up with one of his own. A strange Sunday afternoon game, in which both teams went through huge droughts, was defined by fatigue and unpredictable bursts of offensive adrenaline. Ultimately, it was the game’s reigning king who came out on top in this dogfight, which is quickly becoming one of the most emotionally draining series we’ve ever seen. Here’s James’ game-winner, the third buzzer-beating shot of his storied playoff career:


— John Wilmes


Post date: Monday, May 11, 2015 - 10:18
Path: /college-football/10-teams-guaranteed-not-make-college-football-playoff-2015

The Athlon Sports 2015 preseason college football top 25 countdown begins this Wednesday and hearts are already breaking across the nation.


Every season, the Athlon Sports Top 25 starts the national conversation about where teams’ expectations lay heading into camp.


Preseason Top 25 polls miss on teams — both good and bad. But one thing is true, your favorite team needs to be in the preseason top 25 to win a national championship.


No team since Georgia Tech in 1990 has won a national championship after beginning the season unranked. In fact, only two teams since 1990 have even played in a national championship game entering the season unranked: Notre Dame in 2012 and Auburn in 2013 — which needed more than one miraculous finish to get there.


The beauty of the College Football Playoff is that it has cast a wider national title net, but only four teams get in. Below are 10 power conference teams that are guaranteed NOT to be in the College Football Playoff and where they rank in the preseason:


Kansas (No. 103)

The Jayhawks lost 16 of their 22 starters from a year ago and are under new leadership. David Beatty was hired for his ability to recruit and the trail might be the only place Kansas will win in 2015. A winless Big 12 campaign is likely for the lowest-ranked Power 5 team.


Syracuse (No. 85)

Only seven total starters return for the Orange this summer. Scott Shafer’s squad is the lowest-ranked ACC team in the preseason polls and a repeat of last year’s 1-7 ACC record is likely. With LSU and USF in the non-conference, anything more than three wins might be considered a small victory.


Purdue (No. 84)

The Boilermakers showed slight signs of improvement last year in Darrell Hazell’s second season. But his record is 4-20 for a reason and this team lost six straight games to end the season. There are 16 starters back but only a few winnable games on the schedule.


Wake Forest (No. 82)

With 13 starters back and a second-year coach in Dave Clawson, there should be more optimism in Winston-Salem than other towns on this list. That said, Wake Forest wasn’t very competitive a year ago and anything over four wins in ’15 would be a success.


Vanderbilt (No. 79)

The Dores are the most talented team on this list but a nasty schedule and terrible offense make it nearly impossible for Vandy to compete in the SEC. There are 17 starters back so this team should be improved even if it doesn’t translate to wins. Keep in mind, Derek Mason was crushed by Temple and nearly lost to UMass and Old Dominion last year.


Related: Ranking College Football's Rosters in 2015


Iowa State (No. 74)

Paul Rhoads may never get a fair shake because Iowa State is really tough place to win. With just four starters back on defense, stopping Big 12 offenses will be hard to do this fall. A win over Kansas might be the high-water mark for ISU in league play this fall.


Oregon State (No. 73)

The Beavers have a new coach (who is well respected) and just two starters back on defense and lost the Pac-12’s all-time leading passer. The schedule is downright ridiculous, both in the league and out, and more than one Pac-12 win could be considered a positive.


Colorado (No. 67)

This team is getting better under Mike McIntyre ever so slightly but not enough to take big strides in 2015. Playing 13 games may give this team an outside shot a bowl game but that is still extremely unexpected.


Washington State (No. 66)

Mike Leach’s team took a step back last year and now replaces Connor Halliday under center. The Cougars return 13 starters and their only saving grace is getting to face two other teams (Oregon State, Rutgers) on this list.


Rutgers (No. 65)

Only Virginia (No. 61) is a higher-ranked, “last-place” team in the preseason projections. After a bounce back to a bowl game last season, Kyle Flood’s squad returns just eight starters and faces the toughest schedule in the B1G.

10 Teams Guaranteed NOT to Make the College Football Playoff
Post date: Monday, May 11, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /lebron-james-david-blatt-timeout-cavaliers-game-4-bulls-jr-smith

David Blatt is doing the best he can in his position, but it's clear this is LeBron James' team.


Blatt almost called a timeout the team didn't have late in the fourth. Luckily his assistants stopped him and the rest was history.



Ironically the Cavaliers did end up getting a free timeout based on official review. Blatt used that time to draw up a play, but it's clear the Cavaliers weren't having it.



James keeps it simple with his interpretation of what happened.


"The play that was drawn up, I scratched it," James said. "I told coach there's no way I'm taking the ball out."



The king has spoken. 

Post date: Monday, May 11, 2015 - 09:54
All taxonomy terms: New England Patriots, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-england-patriots-path-destruction-unequaled-sports-history

It's hard to believe it was just 14 years ago when the upstart, underdog New England Patriots knocked off the "Greatest Show on Turf" to capture their first Super Bowl title. The Patriots were America's first feel-good story after the tragic events of 9/11, even choosing to be announced as a team as they ran out of the tunnel in New Orleans.

Back then it would've almost been impossible to find someone with negative feelings toward Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the other founders of the "Patriot Way." Belichick, a castoff coach, and Brady, an unheralded sixth-round pick, were the toast of the football world, but as the wins kept coming and the controversies started to add up, the tide slowly started to turn against the Pats.


If you're looking for the exact moment perception of the Pats began to change, the "Spygate" episode of 2007 is a pretty good place to start. After falling short in the 2006 AFC Championship Game, the Pats loaded up in the offseason, adding big-name signings like Randy Moss and Adalius Thomas to emerging stars like Wes Welker and Asante Samuel and established stars like Brady and an aging defense gearing up for a final hurrah.


Suddenly, the Pats were no longer a band of castoff free agents that just seemed to beat everyone with superior team effort. Now they were as close to an all-star team as the NFL had ever seen, so stacked it was almost unfair.


When the Jets reported the Pats for videotaping their signals in Week 1, the anti-Patriots blowback was immediate and severe, and a team that had spent much of the decade as darlings of the football world was now being called cheats, with their Super Bowl wins being called into question.


Despite many within the NFL dismissing signal stealing as a common practice, the Patriots had been too good for too long. The penalty was severe by most standards, though certainly not enough for many self-righteous analysts. Some believed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had covered something up by destroying the tapes, that he was doing his friend, Patriots owner Robert Kraft a favor. Still, the penalty was stiff enough to stoke the fires of those who believed "Spygate" was a much bigger deal than those within the football community did.


If Spygate turned many in the football world against the Patriots, it also turned the Patriots against the football world, acting as impetus for the only 16-0 NFL regular season ever achieved in the modern era. The Patriots set out not only to prove those critics wrong, but to embarrass their opponents in the process. They came within two minutes of the perfect season, but a miracle catch ended the 2007 Patriots' rampage and now they are a footnote instead of the greatest team of all time.


After 2007 came seven years of almosts for the Pats. Brady missed nearly all of 2008 after tearing his ACL in the opening quarter of the season, and then returned only to be bounced from the playoffs in the first round in both 2009 and '10.


They made it back to the Super Bowl in 2011 and to the AFC Championship Game in both 2012 and '13, but the disappointing endings did nothing to silence the "They haven't won anything since Spygate" crowd, despite having won more games and division titles than any other team in the NFL. Those wins only stoked the fires of jealousy even if the Pats avoided controversy.


Now comes "Deflategate," not only empowering the anti-Patriots sentiment once again, but putting Tom Brady at the forefront of the criticism. While Spygate fell almost entirely at the feet of Belichick, this time around it's Brady whose legacy is being called into question.


Related: Brady, Patriots Cheated: Punishment Should Fit Crime


The NFL world has never been more polarized toward the Patriots than they are now and that will be how Belichick's team goes into the annals of football history. Whether you're a blind supporter of the team or their most ardent critic, what's undeniable is that there's never been another run in sports quite like this one.


The scorched earth, both on the field and off of it, is unprecedented. Add in Belichick's jaw-dropping personnel moves over the years and it's hard to recall another experience quite like what we've seen with the Pats over the last 15 years.


Some of it is self-inflicted. Neither Spygate nor Deflategate seemed to have much, if any, impact on the field of play. That's why these controversies are such head-scratchers when it comes down to it, they were really unnecessary. No one questions how well-coached the Patriots are, nor how hard they play. That is why they've won so many games, but right or wrong, their legacy will never escape the controversies in many fans' and pundits' eyes.


What's undeniable is that the Patriots have gone from the plucky underdog composed of unknowns and castoffs, to the evil overlord everyone wants to take down. Their dominance on the field cannot be denied, but the controversial moments will always be lurking in the background.


The only question left is just how high Brady and Belichick will set the bar on the field. They already have won four Super Bowls and established numerous records together. A fifth Lombardi Trophy would put the quarterback and head coach in a class all by themselves. But can they secure it before all the off-field problems catch up with them?


Regardless, these New England Patriots will go down as one of, if not the most, infamous teams in sports history.



— Written by Mike Dussault, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writer/editor of (@PatsPropaganda), a comprehensive blog covering the New England Patriots.

Wins, controversies and jaw-dropping personnel moves have Bill Belichick's team in a class by themselves.
Post date: Monday, May 11, 2015 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/former-illinois-football-player-simon-cvijanovic-blasts-coach-tim-beckman-twitter

It’s no secret Illinois’ coach Tim Beckman is on the hot seat entering 2015. Beckman’s win total has improved by two games in back-to-back years after winning only two games in his debut. However, after a 6-7 record in 2014, it’s critical for Beckman to post a winning mark in 2015.


And Beckman is only going to be under more scrutiny in 2015 after a series of tweets from former player Simon Cvijanovic (@IlliniSi on Twitter).


The tweets from Cvijanovic are only one side of the story, and there are others who came to the Beckman’s defense on Sunday night. 


Which side is more believable? We've collected some of Cvijanovic's tweets, as well as some from other players (current and former) and other sources. 



Former Illinois Football Player Simon Cvijanovic Blasts Coach Tim Beckman on Twitter
Post date: Monday, May 11, 2015 - 08:30
Path: /nba/matt-barnes-talked-trash-james-harden%E2%80%99s-mom

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. You should think of the woman who brought you into this world fondly: Give her a call, send her some flowers, perhaps even have a meal with her if she’s not too far from your area code. Be a nice son or daughter.


Whatever you do, though, don’t bring her near Matt Barnes. The Los Angeles Clippers forward crossed the trash-talk line this past Wednesday, when he had some crass words for the mother of MVP runner-up James Harden of the Houston Rockets.


What exactly was said? Who knows. It did spark some nostalgic moralizing from Rockets head coach Kevin McHale, though. "I heard about some of that stuff. You don't say anything to [mothers],” he said following the contest. “If you got something to say, say it to the guy you're playing against. I never thought of talking bad to Magic [Johnson's] mother. It's hard enough talking trash to Magic. 


“We all talk smack. But my goodness, that thought never even crossed your mind… from what I heard, that's just not right. I came from an era where everybody talked smack and there was a lot of stuff going on. Not like that. It was much more: 'I'm going to kick your ass, what are you going to say about that?' Go from there.”


The last time a second-round rumor circulated about somebody’s mother at this level, it involved LeBron James, Delonte West, an affair, and a Cleveland Cavaliers season that ended on a strange, sour note just months before James infamously took his talents to South Beach.


While the tension between Barnes and Harden certainly hasn’t gotten to that intense of a place, this subplot does make the Clippers-Rockets showdown all the more heated and interesting. How the two players relate in Game 3 of their 1-1 series in Los Angeles, tonight, will be worth observing.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Friday, May 8, 2015 - 15:20
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /wizards-coach-randy-wittman-michael-lee-article-john-wall-washington

It's safe to say Randy Wittman won't be reading a Michael Lee article anytime soon.


The Wizards coach called the Washington Post journalist out for his article about John Wall and the team. In the article, Lee wrote that Wall was clashing with team doctors. Those accusations didn't please Wittman.


"What was reported today by Micahael Lee was a flat-out lie," Wittman said.




Post date: Friday, May 8, 2015 - 14:57