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Gonzaga has graduated from lovable underdog to national title contender. The Bulldogs have reached their 19th consecutive NCAA Tournament with their deepest and most talented team to date. Skeptics will argue that Gonzaga is too much of a postseason underachiever to actually reach the Final Four. Still, the idea that the Bulldogs are Final Four material is no fluke.
The Bulldogs (32-1) are a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the court. They are outscoring opponents by 23.4 points per game this season while averaging 51.8 percent shooting from the field. Defensively, they rank second nationally in points-per-possession allowed and limit opposing teams to 36.8 percent shooting. Once Gonzaga gets into a rhythm, games quickly turn into blowouts.
South Dakota State has drawn the near impossible task of slowing down the West Region's top seed. The Jackrabbits (18-16) locked in their second straight NCAA bid by winning six straight and nine of their last 11 games – culminating in a 79-77 victory over Nebraska-Omaha to clinch the Summit League Tournament title. Last season, South Dakota State gave Maryland a scare as a No. 12 seed before falling 79-74 to the Terrapins.
West Region: No. 16 South Dakota State Jackrabbits (18-16) vs. No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs (32-1)
When: 2 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena (Salt Lake City)
Line: Gonzaga -23
Keys for South Dakota State
The Jackrabbits need to be able to hit outside shots early to loosen things up around the paint. South Dakota State's has five players who are shooting 37 percent or better from the perimeter this season. Getting those long-distance baskets will be critical.
Getting a huge game from Mike Daum also will be critical. The sophomore forward ranks second in the nation in scoring. Daum averages 25.3 points per game while shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 41.6 percent from the perimeter. He also is South Dakota State's most reliable free throw shooter, averaging 87.1 percent from the line.
Daum can't do it alone if South Dakota State hopes to achieve a historic upset. Only one other player on the Jackrabbits' roster averages double figures in scoring. If one or two others can't step up, nothing will prevent Gonzaga from zeroing in on Daum and shutting him down for 40 minutes.
Keys for Gonzaga
Feeding the ball into the post needs to be an early priority for Gonzaga. The Bulldogs have a definite size advantage over South Dakota State. No player on the Jackrabbits roster is taller than 6-foot-9. It should create a mismatch which Gonzaga can easily exploit with centers Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins. Karnowski is 7-foot-1 while Collins is 7-foot tall.
Both players can do significant damage around the rim for Gonzaga. Karnowski is the team's No. 2 scorer (12.6 ppg) and rebounder (6.0 rpg). Collins leads the team in blocks (1.6 bpg) and also is a reliable scorer (10.2 ppg) and rebounder (5.7 rpg).
Their presence will open things up for leading scorer Nigel Williams-Goss to find an early rhythm. Williams-Goss has shined since transferring to Spokane from Washington. The junior guard averages 16.9 points and 4.8 assists per game for the Bulldogs.
A No. 16 seed has ever beaten a No. 1 seed since the NCAA Tournament expanded to a 64-team field in 1985. Such an upset could happen one day, but it isn't likely to be this game where history is made. Gonzaga presents too many interior mismatches for South Dakota State and the Jackrabbits’ tendency to rely on one player to propel their offense is a recipe for disaster against a tough Bulldogs defense.
Prediction: Gonzaga 89, South Dakota State 65
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
As soon as the bracket was released you heard a lot of pundits proclaim that UNC Wilmington is going to upset Virginia in one of those No. 12 vs. No. 5 matchups that you always see them in. The Seahawks are a very dangerous double-digit seed with their style, but I think they may have run into their kryptonite in the Cavaliers, who is very dangerous with their own style that you have to prepare for in a short amount of time. This is one of the first games on Thursday and it could be a really fun one.
East Region: No. 12 UNC Wilmington Seahawks (29-5) vs. No 5 Virginia Cavaliers (22-10)
When: 12:40 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Where: Amway Center (Orlando, Fla.)
Line: Virginia -9
Keys for UNC Wilmington
The Seahawks can't get frustrated if they can't dictate their pace. According to Ken Pomeroy's stats, UNC Wilmington averages about 70 possessions per game while Virginia checks in at just under 60. The Seahawks went 2-1 against CAA foe Charleston this season, a team that also likes to slow things down. They don't have a ton of size which means the Cavaliers will go small, something they prefer.
Keys for Virginia
The Cavaliers need to identify early who is going to be the complementary scorer to London Perrantes. At times this season we've seen Devon Hall, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and others fill that role. The inconsistency though has been an issue and Perrantes has had to shoulder the load. He went through a horrible slump towards the end of the year so he needs to have confidence, especially against this Seahawks defense.
The public wants to find their upset here, but I just don't think it'll happen. The Seahawks could have probably beaten almost any other No. 5 seed, but Virginia head coach Tony Bennett will have his team ready for this one. If Kyle Guy or Ty Jerome gets going, then the Cavaliers will run away. UNC Wilmington's best bet is to hope Virginia leading scorer London Perrantes is struggling and he turns it over against the press.
Prediction: Virginia 65, UNC Wilmington 57
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Top photo courtesy of www.virginiasports.com)
Millions of people will be filling out NCAA Tournament brackets and still many others will be looking to bet on some individual games. I'm here to give you some winners and some tips as well. First off, throw out your bracket when it comes to handicapping games. Seeds don't matter and just because you think a team is going to win their matchup, doesn't mean that they will cover that contest as well.
East Tennessee State +10.5 vs. Florida
East Region (Orlando, Fla.) – Thursday, 3:10 p.m. ET
Florida limped down the stretch losing three of its last four including two straight against Vanderbilt. The Gators’ defense let them down and that's a bad thing for an offense that is massively inconsistent. They aren't as deep without John Egbunu, who is out due to injury. KeVaughn Allen and Canyon Barry lead the way along with Devin Robinson. East Tennessee State comes in with a potent backcourt and Hanner Mosquera-Perea, a transfer from Indiana who has helped solidify the interior. The Buccaneers enter on an offensive roll and have played good defense, holding their last five opponents to just 67.2 points per game. ETSU has covered in five of its six neutral court games this season and three of its last four against the SEC. I think this is a lot of points.
Middle Tennessee Pick vs. Minnesota
South Region (Milwaukee) – Thursday, 4 p.m. ET
This one figures to be a popular amongst the public who saw the Blue Raiders beat Michigan State in last year's Tournament. The stars are back for the most part led by Giddy Potts, Reggie Upshaw and JaCorey Williams. They've lost just four games this season. The team runs an efficient offense and is holding opponents to 63.3 points per game. Minnesota is highly mis-seeded as the Golden Gophers really didn't deserve a No. 5 seed, especially with Wisconsin getting a No. 8. Akeem Springs’ injury means this team is even younger without their biggest and best senior. MTSU has covered in 14 of its 19 games against teams with a winning record. This one's another Blue Raider victory.
Florida Gulf Coast +12.5 vs. Florida State
West Region (Orlando, Fla.) – Thursday, 9:20 p.m. ET
There are several reasons to like Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles from the Atlantic Sun are pretty deep and have athletes to match up with the Seminoles. The problem is that the Eagles are not as big as FSU, but if they can get Demetris Morant going on the inside, they should be able to hang tough in this one. Both offenses are highly efficient as each are shooting around 50 percent from the field for the season. There's going to be a lot of motivation on the FGCU side to get a win over its in-state big brother. Plus, I’m not a big fan of Seminoles head coach Leonard Hamilton, who has not had too much success in the postseason.
Oklahoma State +2 vs. Michigan
Midwest Region (Indianapolis) – Friday, 12:15 p.m. ET
This one is playing a hunch. Michigan was the story of Champ Week winning four games in four days after a near-death experience on a plane. The Wolverines beat Purdue and Wisconsin along the way and are playing some great basketball. I feel like they are going to run out of gas and emotion just a bit on Friday against an Oklahoma State team with a really good backcourt led by Jawun Evans and Phil Forte. The Cowboys have solid shooters and drivers to go along with Jeffrey Carroll. OSU is 8-3 ATS as an underdog. I think the Pokes get the win as Michigan runs out of gas in the end.
Texas Southern/North Carolina Over 154.5
South Region (Greenville, S.C.) – Friday, 4 p.m. ET
Texas Southern started out the year on an extended road trip that ran through Jan. 7. Over that span, the Tigers got crushed by Baylor (89-63), TCU (96-59), Cincinnati (96-58), Louisville (102-71) and Arizona (85-63). They just don't have the athletes to keep up with the likes of North Carolina. The Tar Heels have pounded the lesser teams on their schedule, putting up 100 points or more five times this season. I think they name their score and whatever it is will go over the total.
Marquette +1 vs. South Carolina
East Region (Greenville, S.C.) – Friday, 9:50 p.m. ET
South Carolina enters this one having lost six of its last nine games. The offense is very inconsistent as evidenced by the three straight sub-40 percent shooting performances entering this one. Luckily for the Gamecocks, their defense is pretty good or that losing streak would be a lot worse. Marquette has won four of its last six games and has no problems scoring, as evidenced by the five performances of 90 points or more. The Golden Eagles are a deep team with seven guys scoring at least eight points per game. They can beat you in many ways and if they get any sort of defense in this one, they'll win easily.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Top photo courtesy of @OSUMBB)
In simple terms, a 5-7 showing by the California Golden Bears in 2016 wasn’t good enough for the powers that be. It didn’t matter that Sonny Dykes had inherited a mess and brought this program quite far in a relatively short amount of time.
Before Dykes took over, there hadn’t been much for Cal fans to get excited about. The Jeff Tedford mandate (2002-12) had run its course and the decision-makers wanted to bring in new blood to invigorate and stabilize the program. Dykes did that to some degree and could be considered a success for Cal, just looking at the caliber of athlete he’s brought in over the last couple of recruiting cycles.
But in the end, the on-field results just weren’t there, which is why the program is going in a new direction. After hiring a decidedly offensive-minded head coach in Dykes the last time, Cal has switched gears by turning to two defensive-oriented guys – new head coach Justin Wilcox and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. It will take time, but the hope is that these two can help the Bears change their identity on defense, while putting the program in position to not just qualify for bowl games, but also be more competitive in the Pac-12 and vie for championships. Considering Dykes made it just one bowl game in his four seasons, the task ahead of the new regime is no small one.
5 Storylines to Watch During Cal’s Spring Practice
1. Can Beau Baldwin replicate his offensive success at the FBS level?
This is one of the biggest keys to Cal’s success in 2017. Eastern Washington was a force in the FCS. Baldwin, the Eagles’ former head coach, was the primary reason for that. He runs a very fun and open offense, so Cal isn’t making a huge change from Sonny Dykes’ system to Baldwin’s. That’s important, but the question is how quickly it will take the talent already in place to adapt to what the new offensive coordinator wants to do.
The Bears have a talented crop of receivers from the previous classes and had a modest haul in the 2017 class, which is to be expected with the change in staff. Baldwin has the résumé to take the players on Cal’s roster and turn them into productive weapons. So Baldwin’s lack of experience at the FBS level is worth pointing out, but it also doesn’t mean he won’t be successful in his new role.
2. Replacing quarterback Davis Webb
One of the main tasks facing Baldwin this spring is finding a quarterback with Webb out of eligibility. Right now, Cal doesn’t have much on the roster by the way of game experience, but there are four guys ready to compete and make their case for getting the starting job. Whoever ends up with it won’t have the experience or leadership that Webb or his predecessor, Jared Goff, brought to the table.
Quarterback quagmires are never an easy thing to solve. There are ample occasions of schools bringing out one quarterback to start the year only to find out their backup was the guy who should’ve been starting all along. Cal fans can look to USC last year as an example. Should the Bears not identify the best guy right away, they have a roster full of guys who can put pressure on everyone else and that will breed and foster quality competition, which is never a bad thing in college football.
3. Was Justin Wilcox the right hire?
Wilcox’s tenure at USC was very much not what he or anyone else wanted. The fresh start with Wisconsin gave Wilcox the space to grow, mature, and eventually emerge as a leading candidate for the Cal vacancy. Some have questioned the hire, but it’s always important to remember that what a guy does with a defense isn’t necessarily what he will do with a whole team.
Looking at the staff Wilcox hired, it was apparent that he wanted to surround himself with guys that could handle their load. Tim DeRuyter is a known defensive commodity and Baldwin was responsible for developing Vernon Adams, who was Oregon’s quarterback in 2015. It really does seem like Wilcox understands that his role will be to delegate, not call defensive plays. If he does end up trusting his staff, which is something every first time coach must learn to do, then there is no reason Cal can’t become a contender.
4. Defensive struggles for Cal still a major concern
This was an area of concern headed into last season and nothing has changed. The Bears have been abysmal on defense and it’s part of the reason Dykes was dismissed. It also can’t be ignored that Cal hired a defensive-minded guy to be the next head coach, and he in turn immediately brought on DeRuyter. The Bears want to change their identity on defense, which isn’t a bad plan if you consider that most Pac-12 teams can score in bunches.
DeRuyter is known for relying on his linebackers, using guys on the outside as edge rushers. It’s a 3-4 alignment meant to isolate the cornerbacks on an island and get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Paramount to DeRuyter’s defense are turnovers, whether that be recovering a fumble, picking off a pass or putting teams in bad field position and forcing them to punt. DeRuyter coaches a fast, physical, and fanatic brand of defense. In fact, that’s literally the motto he used while he was head coach at Fresno State. This spring will be an early look to see how soon the players embrace this new approach and if DeRuyter has the personnel to make it work.
5. Finding a way to compete with the conference’s elite
During Dykes’ four seasons, Cal was 2-14 against Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC with both of those wins coming in 2016. The Bears beat Oregon in a double-overtime thriller at home and dominated UCLA 36-10 in the regular season finale. But it also should be pointed out that those two teams were each 4-8 last season. But even though the Ducks and Bruins were down, it’s still important that Cal becomes more competitive in Pac-12 play. The Bears were just 10-26 in Dykes’ tenure.
Wilcox doesn’t just want Cal beating Oregon or UCLA were either is down, he wants to make big conference wins a part of the program’s culture – become more the norm rather than the exception. Should he succeed, he would have done what few have been able to do. The last time Cal competed in a bowl of significance was 1959, unless either the Holiday Bowl or the Armed Forces Bowl is considered a major postseason game. Wilcox wants to improve upon the Bears’ standing in the Pac-12 and national landscape as a whole, and he’s brought in a staff capable of doing exactly that.
Pre-Spring Outlook for Cal in the Pac-12
All things considered, the Bears are sitting in a good spot. There won’t be too many expectations for them and that will allow them to get comfortable with the new coaching staff without too much scrutiny or attention paid to them. But there is always plenty of work to be done when going through a coaching transition.
Trusting the process is hard. In fact, it can be downright stupid sometimes. But it’s also easy to overlook things when a program like Cal has been down and out for so long. People almost expect the other shoe to drop and that’s the way it has been with the Bears. Those who have followed the Pac-12 closely have seen Stanford rise. They have witnessed Oregon play in two national championship games and watched Washington make the College Football Playoff last season. And now they’re seeing Washington State develop into a contender under Mike Leach. The only two teams in the North division with nothing to show for it in the past decade are the Bears and the Oregon State Beavers. This is why Cal hired Justin Wilcox and this is the challenge he faces not just in 2017, but also beyond. Fortunately for Cal, he’s been around and knows a thing or two.
— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Webb is the host of Turf Show Radio on @TurfShowTimes and a contributor and comic book reviewer for @TheMarvelReport. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.
(Justin Wilcox photo courtesey of @CalFootball)
Long before they yielded the division and saw their archrivals, for the first time in generations, take the crown, the Cardinals lost their way. An uncharacteristic Cardinals team had an uncharacteristic finish, out of the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and looking up at the champion Cubs for the first time in 108 years. A culprit in the Cardinals’ slip to second place was shoddy defense and a plodding lineup that proved a stark contrast to the fundamental dynamos that won 100 games in 2015. To correct the drift, general manager John Mozeliak sought a team that was more athletic, stingier defensively. He started by plucking the Cubs’ leadoff hitter, Dexter Fowler, to be his own. That allows Matt Carpenter to bat third and will give the Cardinals three on-base monsters atop the order, enough to compensate for a drain in sluggers.
By revisiting the club’s roots, Mozeliak desires a “more exciting” team. He wants it to look familiar because the view isn’t. Chased for years, the Cardinals are now chasing.
The rotation slipped from an MLB-best 2.99 ERA in 2015 to a 13th-best and resolutely average 4.33 ERA in 2016. The truth is somewhere in between, and a more reliable defense will help a groundball-greedy staff get there. So will the return of stalwart Lance Lynn from elbow surgery and the revival of Adam Wainwright after the most frustrating year of the ace’s career. Lynn, Wainwright and Carlos Martinez put three All-Stars atop the rotation, and Mike Leake will benefit most from improved gloves behind him. That seasoned foursome can become an assembly line of quality starts. That depth matches any contender in the league, but the big question now is who rounds out the rotation. Rookie Alex Reyes, the top pitching prospect in baseball, was supposed to be the guy, but the 22-year-old was diagnosed with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow while preparing to pitch for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Instead, he will need Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire season. Reyes’ loss means Michael Wacha could get another shot in the rotation or the Cardinals could turn to rookie Luke Weaver.
The pivot from the team the Cardinals were to the team they intend to be again is up the middle, where second baseman Kolten Wong can bloom as shortstop Aledmys Diaz did in 2016. Wong personifies the athletic, energetic, frenetic style the Cardinals want to employ. Wong’s turnaround would follow a trend. Less than 12 months removed from being designated for assignment, Diaz was an All-Star. His .369 on-base percentage led all rookies, and his 17 homers were the most ever by a Cardinals middle-infield rookie. Diaz can improve and stick as an impact shortstop, while Wong must emerge and star at second. Unsteadiness from either could undermine the desired defense and lineup’s pep, leaving the Cardinals not only to rethink their approach but also to recast it.
One of the first changes of the winter was more of a promise. Carpenter had been an All-Star at second and third and was selected as an All-Star in 2016 while playing everywhere. Repurposed as a super-utility infielder, he appeared in at least 40 games at three different positions. Manager Mike Matheny phoned Carpenter this winter to tell him he was the everyday first baseman. He’s a defensive upgrade and a fit for an offense-forward position. Carpenter’s move opens third for Jhonny Peralta. Hand surgery cost him his job at shortstop and sapped his production. The Cardinals are banking on a bounce-back year for the veteran who led the team in homers in 2014. Jedd Gyorko will challenge for playing time at third after leading the team with 30 homers in 2016.
Since 2014, the only regular center fielder to have a higher slugging percentage than Randal Grichuk was the player drafted immediately after him in 2009, Mike Trout. Grichuk’s .495 is well off Trout’s MVP-level .567, but it hints at what the Cards are trying to tap by moving Grichuk to left. Matt Holliday’s departure for the Yankees after seven-plus seasons as a pillar leaves left unmanned, and in their effort to improve the overall outfield defense, the Cardinals want to give Grichuk a run there. His OPS (.797) since 2014 would also rank fourth among MLB left fielders. Newcomer Fowler will be flanked by Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, two above-average fielders.
On his way to a career-high 1,218.1 innings behind the plate, Yadier Molina hit .365 with a .529 slugging percentage in the second half. He didn’t wear down; he powered up. That will help him, like his team, repeat past accomplishments. The Cardinals re-signed trusted vet Eric Fryer to be the backup, but they also could turn to Carson Kelly, a future starter at the position.
A strength of last year’s team also became a complication for St. Louis. The Cardinals sought a stouter bench to provide both power and positional versatility, traits they thought would help fend off fatigue. The return was a MLB-record 17 pinch-hit homers, but players for so many positions also meant stability at none. Gyorko remains from a model that allowed him to thrive, but around him complements will rule, from savvy pinch-hitter Greg Garcia to outfielder Tommy Pham.
Before making moves to retool the roster, the Cardinals gave Matheny job security. He received a three-year extension, one that reaches past many of his players. A clubhouse-first manager whom players see as a gifted motivator, Matheny must shepherd young players into larger, leading roles all while contending. Mozeliak, nearing his 10th anniversary as GM, has restocked the pipeline and given “the coaching staff new tools in their toolbox.” His next moves: a new core player to pair with Fowler, and possibly a snazzier title, above GM.
After a decade as a regular resident and sometimes king of October, the Cardinals are no longer the organization within their division that others aspire to be. This team still has stars like Carpenter and is banking on a style better suited for their ballpark to prove that 2016 was a brief eclipse. Overcoming the Reyes injury will be tough, but the Cardinals are still intent on showing the rest of the league, especially a certain team in the Windy City, that the sun hasn’t set on their empire.
2017 NL CENTRAL PREDICTION: 2nd
Redshirt freshmen make an impact for every college football team during the course of a season, and it’s no surprise a handful of talented players are ready to push for time after sitting out the 2016 campaign. A variety of reasons could be pinpointed for the redshirt year, but the extra time could be beneficial to learn a scheme, develop physically in the weight room or help provide some space on the depth chart with a stacked group of upperclassmen departing the following year.
Which redshirt freshmen could make an impact in the SEC in 2017? Here are 25 names to watch:
25 Redshirt Freshmen to Watch in the SEC in 2017
Andre Anthony/Ray Thornton, LB, LSU
Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley leave big shoes to fill in LSU’s linebacker unit this spring. Additionally, hybrid edge rusher/linebacker Arden Key is taking a leave of absence from the team. How quickly will coordinator Dave Aranda find the right answers? The Tigers aren’t hurting for talent but overall depth is a question mark for offseason workouts. Thornton should alleviate some of the concerns about the linebacker unit, as the Texas native should push for snaps and contribute to the pass rush on the outside. Anthony was forced to redshirt after arriving on campus late last season but was regarded as a four-star prospect from the 2016 class.
Related: 25 Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2017
Sean Auwae-McMoore, OL, Vanderbilt
The Commodores must replace two starters – left tackle Will Holden and center Barrett Gouger – from its 2016 unit. One of the replacements could come in the form of Auwae-McMoore, who could help fill the void at center.
Ben Cleveland/Solomon Kindley, OL, Georgia
Protecting Jacob Eason is a priority if Georgia wants to win the SEC East in 2017. And it’s no secret the Bulldogs have room to improve up front after giving up 24 sacks last season and leading the way for rushers to average just 4.7 yards per carry. Line coach Sam Pittman is one of the best in the nation but has his work cut out this spring after the departure of three starters. Pittman is expected to mix and match players at guard and tackle, so Cleveland and Kindley could fit in at either position depending on spring performance.
Nick Coe, DL, Auburn
Carl Lawson’s ability to get to the quarterback (nine sacks) and generate pressure off the edge will be missed in 2017. Auburn has recruited well in the trenches over the last few seasons, so there are options for coordinator Kevin Steele. Coe finished his high school career with 34 tackles for a loss and is expected to push Jeff Holland for the edge spot this offseason.
Ben Davis, LB, Alabama
Reuben Foster’s presence in the linebacker unit will be missed, but Alabama is overflowing with talent and potential options. Davis joins Mack Wilson and true freshman Dylan Moses as the likely top reserves to starters Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashaan Evans on the interior of the 3-4 scheme. Davis was regarded as a five-star prospect and the No. 10 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite.
Quartney Davis, WR, Texas A&M
Davis ranked as the No. 3 recruit in Texas A&M’s 2016 signing class by the 247Sports Composite and was pushing for snaps before a season-ending knee injury in the offseason.
Feleipe Franks, QB, Florida
With Luke Del Rio recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, Franks will have every opportunity to stake his claim for the No. 1 job in spring workouts. While there was some rumblings about playing time last year, coach Jim McElwain maintained Franks’ redshirt status and allowed him to learn behind Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby. Franks was a four-star recruit out of high school and threw for 2,766 yards and 35 scores during his senior year at Wakulla.
Jarrett Guarantano, QB, Tennessee
Guarantano was a huge win for coach Butch Jones on the recruiting trail, as he committed to Tennessee over Ohio State. The New Jersey native was regarded as a four-star prospect (No. 77 overall) and the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2016 signing class by the 247Sports Composite. Guarantano will battle Quinten Dormady for the starting job this spring.
Briston Guidry/Jonathan Marshall, DL, Arkansas
With Arkansas moving to a 3-4 scheme, it’s tough to get a read on some of the positions entering spring ball. However, the Razorbacks have playing time available in the trenches after Deatrich Wise, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Taiwan Johnson and JaMichael Winston all expired their eligibility. Guidry was regarded as a four-star prospect out of high school, while Marshall ranked as a three-star recruit and the No. 634 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite. Regardless of which linemen start for coordinator Paul Rhoads in 2017, both Guidry and Marshall should push for snaps in the new 3-4 alignment. Redshirt freshman linebacker Alexy Jean-Baptiste is another name to remember.
Sadarius Hutcherson, OL, South Carolina
Receiver Randrecous Davis is another name to remember in the redshirt watch for South Carolina, but Hutcherson could earn a starting job at left tackle this offseason. The redshirt year was beneficial for Hutcherson, as he bulked up from 273 pounds at the start of 2016 to 311 for the start of 2017 spring ball.
Drake Jackson, OL, Kentucky
Kentucky loses only one starter from its 2016 unit, but center Jon Toth was the group’s best player and won’t be easy to replace. The Wildcats will shuffle a few players around this spring to find the right mix up front, but Jackson is a name to remember. The redshirt freshman could slide into Toth’s spot at center or could move to guard in search of playing time.
Jordan Jones, WR, Arkansas
With the departure of receivers Drew Morgan, Keon Hatcher and Dominique Reed, along with tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, quarterback Austin Allen will be throwing to a revamped group of receivers in 2017. The Razorbacks are bringing in three junior college prospects to add to the competition, while Jones is a name to watch after a redshirt year. The Arkansas native ranked as the No. 537 overall prospect by the 247Sports Composite and caught 11 touchdown passes as a high school senior.
Kobe Jones, DL, Mississippi State
Improving the defense is a priority for new coordinator Todd Grantham after the Bulldogs ranked 110th nationally in total defense and 93rd in scoring. Help is on the way through the junior college ranks, but last year’s freshman class has a couple of players to watch. Jones is one of those players, as he’s poised to push for snaps in the trenches after a redshirt season in 2016.
Zaire Jones, S, Vanderbilt
Jones and cornerback Joejuan Williams were two of the top recruits from Derek Mason’s 2016 haul. Williams played in all 13 games last season and is due for a bigger role in 2017, while Jones took a redshirt in his first year on campus. The Mississippi native should join the rotation at safety and add to a group that already includes Ryan White (75 tackles), LaDarius Wiley (76) and Arnold Tarpley (40).
Nigel Knott, CB, Alabama
Alabama’s defense didn’t have many concerns last year, but depth in the secondary was one of the few issues for coach Nick Saban. Anthony Averett and Tony Brown are back to anchor the cornerback spots, and Minkah Fitzpatrick could also slide back from safety. Adding to the depth and overall talent is Knott, who took a redshirt year after ranking as a four-star prospect from the 2016 signing class. Knott was a standout defender in Mississippi’s high school ranks and registered 112 tackles (with three picks) as a junior in 2014.
Eric Monroe, DB, LSU
LSU’s secondary suffered significant personnel losses, as cornerback Tre’Davious White and safeties Dwayne Thomas and Rickey Jefferson expired their eligibility, while safety Jamal Adams left for the NFL. Monroe ranked as a four-star prospect and the No. 55 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite in the 2016 class and is slated to push for a significant role safety this spring.
A.J. Rose, RB, Kentucky
With Boom Williams departing for the NFL, the Wildcats open spring practice looking for a second option to pair with Benny Snell in the backfield. Rose earned praise for his work on the scout team last season, and the Ohio native should carve out a role in the backfield for 2017.
Nick Starkel, QB, Texas A&M
With Trevor Knight out of eligibility, Texas A&M is slated to have a three-man battle for the starting job this spring. Senior Jake Hubenak has the edge in experience, but true freshman Kellen Mond and Starkel will push for the top spot on the depth chart. Starkel was the lone quarterback commit for coach Kevin Sumlin in last year’s class and redshirted after throwing for 3,091 yards and 29 touchdowns as a high school senior at Liberty Christian.
Stephon Taylor, DL, South Carolina
The Gamecocks have room to improve on defense after finishing 90th nationally against the run last year. Coach Will Muschamp already has some promising young pieces in place, and junior college recruit Javon Kinlaw is expected to make an impact in 2017. More help is on the way from last year’s signing class, as three redshirts are expected to push for snaps. Taylor was the highest-ranked member of that trio from last season’s haul, ranking as the No. 297 overall prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Related: 25 Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2017
Reggie Todd, WR, Mississippi State
Despite losing standout receiver Fred Ross, the cupboard at receiver is hardly bare for coach Dan Mullen. Donald Gray, Keith Mixon and Malik Dear headline the key pass catchers for quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, but Todd is a name to watch in spring practice. The Alabama native was a four-star recruit in Mississippi State’s 2016 class and ranked as the team’s top signee on offense.
Charles Wiley, DE, Ole Miss
The Rebels are losing two key contributors at end with the departure of Fadol Brown and John Youngblood but return Marquis Haynes (seven sacks in 2016) to anchor the line in 2017. Wiley – a four-star recruit in the 2016 signing class – should push for snaps in the trenches this offseason.
Tre Williams, DE, Missouri
Missouri has a strong track record of producing standout defensive linemen, but coach Barry Odom heads into spring looking to restock this unit after the departures of Charles Harris, Josh Augusta and Rickey Hatley. Williams was regarded as the top defensive recruit in Missouri’s 2016 signing class by the 247Sports Composite and enters spring as the backup to senior Marcell Frazier.
Need a printable 2017 NCAA Tournament bracket (March 14-April 3) to embrace the full March Madness? We've got you covered. Just click the image below to get your blank, downloadable bracket.
Printable NCAA Tournament Bracket (with teams)
Printable NCAA Tournament Bracket (Blank)
March Madness has finally arrived and each weekend of the NCAA Tournament brings new questions. The big ones for the opening rounds are: 1) Will Cinderella emerge? and 2) Which team will fill that role this year?
Cinderella teams emerge in each Tournament and grab our attention the farther they make it. However, the term is thrown out too freely these days. If you are a true Cinderella, your carriage turns into a pumpkin at some point, i.e., you are not in a major conference nor do you have much of a college basketball pedigree. For example, Villanova has won two national titles and has been to five Final Fours since 1939 so while its championship run as a No. 8 seed in 1985 was special, I would not call the Wildcats a Cinderella team.
With those parameters in mind, here are the 10 greatest Cinderella teams of all time.
10. 2012-13 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles
Finish: Lost to No. 3 Florida 62-50 in Sweet 16
The only No. 15 seed to make the Sweet 16 did so in electrifying fashion, overwhelming Georgetown and San Diego State with a barrage of dunks.
9. 2001-02 Kent State Golden Flashes
Finish: Lost to No. 5 Indiana 81-69 in Elite Eight
The Golden Flashes became the first MAC team to advance to the Elite Eight since 1964. Little did they know their junior forward Antonio Gates would soon become an All-Pro tight end. After his senior year, Gates managed to make the move to the NFL despite having never played football in college.
8. 2013-14 Dayton Flyers
Finish: Lost to No. 1 seed Florida 62-52 in Elite Eight
After barely making it into the Tournament, Dayton saved its best for last, beating Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford before falling to Florida.
7. 1989-90 Loyola Marymount Lions
Finish: Lost to No. 1 seed UNLV 131-101 in Elite Eight
Playing for teammate Hank Gathers, who died of heart failure earlier in the season, the Lions overwhelmed its first three opponents with Paul Westhead’s up-tempo offense. After beating Michigan and Alabama in dramatic fashion, Loyola Marymount was stopped by eventual national champion UNLV.
6. 1998-99 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Finish: Lost 67-62 to No. 1 seed Connecticut in Elite Eight
So one could argue that Gonzaga is no longer a Cinderella team given the program’s success over the last 20 years, but things were a bit different in 1999. The program was only making its second NCAA Tournament appearance and shocked the college basketball world by upsetting Stanford and Florida before falling to eventual national champion Connecticut. The Bulldogs then went from Cinderella to regular invitee to the Big Dance.
5. 2007-08 Davidson Wildcats
Finish: Lost to Kansas 59-57 in Elite Eight
Led by All-American Stephen Curry, the Wildcats upset Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before falling to No. 1 seed and eventual national champion Kansas in the Elite Eight.
4. 1978-79 Penn Quakers
Finish: Lost 101-67 to No. 2 seed Michigan State in the Final Four
The last Ivy League team to make the Final Four did so with close wins over North Carolina and Syracuse. There, the Quakers were blown out by Magic Johnson and Michigan State, who went on to win the national title by beating Larry Bird’s Indiana State team.
3. 2010-11 VCU Rams
Finish: Lost to No. 8 seed Butler 70-62 in Final Four
At just 33 years old, Shaka Smart became a household name as he coached the Rams through this epic run. VCU was bracketed in the inaugural First Four round, where it beat USC. The Rams then knocked off Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas to earn a spot in the Final Four. VCU lost to Butler but Smart quickly became one of the most sought-after coaches in the country and Texas snatched him up in 2015.
2. 2012-13 Wichita State Shockers
Finish: Lost to No. 1 seed Louisville 72-68 in the Final Four
Of all the teams on this list, the Shockers came the closest to playing for the national championship. A second half rally by eventual champion Louisville kept them out of the title game.
1. 2005-06 George Mason Patriots
Finish: Lost to No. 10 seed Florida 73-58 in Final Four
The Patriots have the most impressive resume of any team on this list. Entering the tournament as a No. 11 seed, George Mason beat No. 6 Michigan State, No. 3 (and defending national champion) North Carolina, No. 7 Wichita State and No. 1 Connecticut to make the Final Four. The Patriots lost to Florida, who won the national title, but their run tops this list.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)
The 2016-17 college basketball season has been a fun ride as usual. One of the reasons it has been so enjoyable is that there has not been one, clear-cut team to beat at any point in the season. Villanova — the defending nation champion — stayed at or near the top of the rankings but never really separated itself from the pack. Kansas did this as well. Duke started slow and ended strong. UCLA showed flashes of greatness. But all in all, the season was quite unpredictable, which sets us up for what looks to be an exciting and outrageous NCAA Tournament.
Plan on things starting historically crazy and finishing even crazier.
Outrageous Predictions for 2017 NCAA Tournament
5 double-digit seeds make it to the Sweet 16
Thanks to what some might call a bit of questionable seeding by the selection committee, there are some very talented Cinderellas lurking around the bracket with some pretty realistic paths to the second weekend of the tournament. There are — in my estimation — nine double-digit seeds who can make it to the Sweet 16: UNC Wilmington, East Tennessee State, Marquette, Xavier, Nevada, Rhode Island, Oklahoma State, Middle Tennessee and Wichita State. Five of them will make it.
Duke and North Carolina will not make it past the first weekend
I know, I know. Those two teams ARE college basketball — mostly because one particular network tells us so. Wrong. I see the Tar Heels getting into a physical battle that they are not equipped to win against Seton Hall in the second round. As for Duke, I like Marquette's high-scoring offensive attack to overwhelm the Blue Devils, as Steve Wojciechowski outs his former head coach and mentor.
Only one No. 1 seed makes it to the Final Four
Villanova drew a stacked bracket with Duke, SMU, Wisconsin and one-time No. 1 in the rankings, Baylor. I'll be stunned if the Wildcats get out alive. Gonzaga might not be the third-best team in its region. I already told you about North Carolina. Even if the Tar Heels survive Seton Hall, chances are UCLA or Kentucky await them in the Elite Eight. That leaves Kansas. The Jayhawks have had their troubles this season — both on and off the court. Be that as it may, they are far and away the most talented team in the Midwest Region and match up well with every possible opponent they'll face. Frank Mason is the type of guard that carries teams to titles this time of year, and I have little doubt he'll carry the Jayhawks all the way to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
For the first time ever, a No. 16 beats a No. 1
Normally, I'm on the "Gonzaga doesn't get enough respect" train. Not this year. The Bulldogs dominated in what was a down year for their conference, as half of their WCC peers finished .500 or worse. They are a tough matchup for most mid-major squads, largely to due to their monster in the middle, Przemek Karnowski. But the Zags drew South Dakota State in the first round, and the Jackrabbits are no strangers to dancing. Aside from Tournament experience, South Dakota State has won six games in a row. They also feature perhaps the best player to ever suit up for a No. 16 seed: Mike Daum. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound sophomore forward is a matchup nightmare for just about any team in the country. He can post up and attack the rim or step out and hit the three-pointer with ease — shooting more than 41 percent from beyond the arc. He is surrounded by a roster of seasoned upperclassmen who will not be intimidated by Gonzaga. Look for Daum and teammate Reed Tellinghuisen to catch fire and make history.
West Virginia cuts down the nets
Because why not? The way this season has gone, the Mountaineers have as much of a shot at winning at all as anyone else. Only Eddie Sutton has been to more NCAA Tournaments than Bob Huggins and not won a title. That all changes this season, as "Press Virginia" turns into the story of the year — much like Syracuse's 2-3 zone back in 2003 when the Orange's suffocating defense carried Jim Boeheim's club to a title. In 2017, the bracket sets up nicely for West Virginia to navigate a series of opponents that haven't seen a style like what the Mountaineers play. In the finals, look for the Mountaineers to take down Kansas — avenging the loss back on Feb. 13, when they blew a 14-point lead with three minutes to go in Lawrence.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is almost here. Only one person will win your office bracket pick ‘em pool. But everyone can have a funny, silly, or crazy March Madness bracket team or group name. Here are 68 names that should get a laugh, from the First Four to the Final Four. Now, good luck finding that perfect bracket.
Full Metal Bracket
When I Think About You I Touch Bill Self
Not In Kansas Anymore
Be My Denzel Valentine
Breaking Cardinal Rules
The Louisville Escorts
Shock It To Me
Shock and Awe
This Whole Things a Bracket
Bill Walton Smells Colors
I Smell Dwayne Bacon
Dwayne Bacon & Eggs
March Mad Men
Use the Force, Luke Kornet
Fast Breaking Bad
Ball So Hard University
Definitely In My Izzone
Bruce Pearl’s BBQ
Bruce Pearl Necklace
Hoops, There it Is
Brack On Track
F--- ‘Em Bucky
Headbands Make Her Dance
Stallings Will F’n Kill You
Big Dancin’ For Money
One Shining Moment
And1 Shining Moment
Church of Bracketology
Stretch Final Fours
One Man Wolf Pack
Pitino’s 15-Second Drill
One Time at Band Camp
Duke’s No-Look Policy
Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game
Calipari’s Recruiting Budget
Big Bluegrass Nation
One and Won
Selection Sunday 2017 is over. Now the real March Madness begins. It's time to fill out your bracket for the NCAA Tournament and destroy your co-workers in this year's pick-'em game. But who do you pick? We're here to help with our predictions. We put together these handy cheat sheets of bracket picks from our college basketball experts. Each editor has their own bracket picks, so you can choose one or use the cumulative wisdom of each to create your own unique picks. Either way, it will likely save you the humiliation of picking South Dakota State to win it all.
(Click images to enlarge)
Mitch Light's Tournament Picks
Championship Pick: North Carolina
Braden Gall's Tournament Picks
Championship Pick: Kansas
Mark Ross' Tournament Picks
Championship Pick: North Carolina
John Gworek's Tournament Picks
Championship Pick: UCLA
Jasmine Watkins' Tournament Picks
Championship Pick: UCLA
Keep the momentum going.
That will be the goal for Boston College as it opens spring practice on March 15. The Eagles won their final three games of the 2016 season to finish 7-6 after head coach Steve Addazio appeared to be on the hottest of seats following blowout losses to Louisville and Florida State. But things have cooled in that regard since then, and now the Eagles look primed to have at least another bowl-worthy squad, which would be Addazio's fourth in five seasons.
But not all is entirely stable in Chestnut Hill. Athletic director Brad Bates resigned last month and the new man in charge will keep a close eye on the progress of the Eagles and how they're trending in the ACC. So even though Addazio's job is safe for now, the hot seat is never that far away. However, compared to last season where the Eagles were coming off an 0-8 ACC record, they have a little bit of success to build off this time around.
Top 5 Storylines to Watch in Boston College's Spring Practice
1. Anthony Brown's Development
If there's any common thread among Addazio's offenses at The Heights, it is an inability to find consistent production out of the passing game. However, Brown was recruited by current offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler to eventually take the reins and it appears the redshirt freshman will do so this fall.
At 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, Brown is an athletic, dual-threat option that Addazio tends to covet, and reports out of practices last season indicated that he had potential to solve the team's woes at the position. As the fourth new starting quarterback to begin the season in the last four years, Brown must show the Eagles are ready to take the next step at the position.
2. A United Front
For a program that likes to tout itself as O-Line U, Boston College's offensive line play has been rather tepid the past two seasons. However, there should be no excuse this fall. Senior center Jon Baker, guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Aaron Monteiro, both juniors, all have a wealth of experience and need to provide a solid anchor for Brown and a running game that returns backs Jonathan Hilliman and Davon Jones.
The Eagles allowed 2.15 sacks per game and only rushed for 3.42 yards per carry. Those numbers need to improve if BC wants to pull itself up and out of mediocrity. The experience is there. Now the Eagles need to start playing well enough to handle the top defensive lines in the ACC.
3. Money Man
As NFL teams move names around their board for April's draft, one player that they'll have to wait a little bit longer for is defensive end Harold Landry. Expected to declare after a sensational junior season where he led the nation in sacks with 16.5, Landry surprised many by coming back for his senior year.
Now it will be interesting to see how much the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder has improved over the offseason. Is there any way he can top what he did in 2016? If he even comes close, look for him to be projected to go in the first round of the 2018 draft.
4. Running Forward
Part of the problem was the lack of holes created by the offensive line, but Hilliman and Jones did not put up the type of numbers they're capable of last year. Even though they saw sporadic success, the Eagles lacked a consistent running game for most of last season.
Early enrollee Travis Levy joins the fray for spring ball, and in the fall prized recruit A.J. Dillon, who flipped from Michigan to the Eagles late in the process, will get some long looks. Either way, Addazio's best teams have a strong running game, and the Eagles need to find that again.
5. Secondary Concerns
If you wanted to score on the Eagles last year, you generally had more success doing so through the air, as the defense allowed 28 touchdown passes. Although most of the secondary returns, Boston College does lose free safety John Johnson, who had a decent showing at the NFL Scouting Combine and will be difficult to replace.
But the defensive backs need to improve for the defense to truly live up to its billing. Cornerbacks Isaac Yiadom and Kamrin Moore and strong safety William Harris all return as starters, so if the Eagles want to make strides defending the pass, those players will need to lead the way.
Pre-Spring Outlook for Boston College in the ACC
There is enough experience on both sides of the ball for the Eagles to show improvement. For the first time in head coach Steve Addazio's tenure, the Eagles will be starting a quarterback who was recruited out of high school to run the current offensive coordinator's system. If that pays off in the intended results, offensive improvement is possible.
That said, with the likes of Clemson, Florida State and Louisville ahead of them in the ACC Atlantic Division, upward mobility for the Eagles has a ceiling. Getting past teams like Wake Forest, Syracuse and, to a lesser extent, NC State, are more realistic goals at this stage.
— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.
Arnold Palmer will always be missed in the world of golf.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational has rolled around for the first time without its legendary host. The iconic golfer passed away September 2016 and it was a tough blow for everyone in sports. Mastercard has released a tribute ahead of the event to honor Palmer with an #ArnieWould campaign and it may bring a tear to your eye.
The King's presence is still felt throughout the sports world.
Trying to find your optimal DraftKings lineup for this week's (March 16-19) golf tournament: the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Fla.? Our fantasy golf experts are ready to help.
Here's what our optimal lineup looks like.
Jason Day ($10,600)
The defending champ needs a jumpstart, and Bay Hill could provide the jumper cables. Day hasn't won since the 2016 Players, which for him constitutes a major drought. He's overdue.
Tyrell Hatton ($9,100)
His streak of top-25 finishes worldwide has reached 10 straight starts, with seven top 10s during that span. Ride this young thoroughbred until he drops.
Paul Casey ($8,800)
Casey hasn't exactly been mighty, but he's quietly stepped up his play in his last two starts (T16, T11) and had a top 10 at Bay Hill last year.
Martin Kaymer ($7,400)
He's flying well under the radar, but the former World No. 1 hasn't missed a cut in more than a year and has five top 25s in his last six starts.
Tommy Fleetwood ($7,200)
Aside from a couple of MC's in the Middle East, Fleetwood's been the mac daddy among Euros, with a win and two other top 5s in his last 11 starts. He was second in Mexico the week before last.
Charles Howell III ($6,900)
Our token American at the API, this local native has made eight straight cuts at Arnie's tournament. He has two top 10s in six starts this season, including a T2 at the Farmers. Nice value play here.
Much like a superhero movie franchise, March Madness is producing a sequel to one of the better NCAA Tournament games from last season. When Providence and USC met in the Round of 64 a year ago, it came down to the final possession. The Friars edged the Trojans 70-69 on Rodney Bullock's backdoor layup off an inbounds pass with 1.5 seconds remaining.
Can the encore deliver an equally dramatic finish in 2017? A dramatic finish may not be in the script this time around.
Providence and USC enter the First Four traveling in different directions. The Friars overcame a ragged 4-8 start in Big East play and ripped off six wins over their final seven games to lock down an at-large bid. The Trojans backed into the field. USC opened the season with 14 straight wins, but haven't beaten a team with a winning record since January.
First Four: No. 11 USC Trojans (24-9) vs. No. 11 Providence Friars (20-12)
When: 9:10 p.m. ET (Wednesday, approximate tip time)
Where: University of Dayton Arena (Dayton, Ohio)
Line: USC -2.5
Keys for Providence
Rodney Bullock came up with a big performance when Providence and USC met a year ago. Including his game-winning layup, Bullock totaled 16 points and 10 rebounds. The Friars will need more of the same from the junior forward to make it out of Dayton.
Bullock can deliver. He is the team leader in both scoring (15.7 ppg) and rebounding (6.4 rpg). The junior forward posted three consecutive double-doubles against Xavier, Creighton and Marquette during Providence's six game winning streak to close out the regular season.
Keeping USC's offense in check also is critical for the Friars. Providence has won just twice when teams have scored 70 or more points this season.
Keys for USC
Turning the game into a track meet may be the best course of action for the Trojans. USC functions best when its offense can run and gun. The Trojans score 78.7 points per game, ranking fourth among Pac-12 teams. Four players average double figures in scoring, led by Bennie Boatwright (14.6 ppg). Chimezie Metu also is a force in scoring (14.5 ppg) and on the boards (7.8 rpg).
The most effective way for USC to get things free flowing is to force Providence into playing sloppy. The Trojans average a Pac-12-best 7.2 steals per game, so pressuring the Friars is well within their capabilities. If USC can get its transition offense going early off turnovers, keeping pace will be tough for Providence.
USC struggled to beat any team outside of the Pac-12 cellar as the season wore down. Providence, on the other hand, rediscovered its winning ways in a deep and rugged Big East down the stretch. The Friars are capable of holding their own on offense and are a much better team defensively than the Trojans. It likely won't come down to a last-second layup this time for Providence, but the Friars won't need one against a USC team staggering to the finish line.
Prediction: Providence 74, USC 68
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
A magical three-season run of postseason appearances ended with a thud last year. The Pirates went 78–83, finishing 25 games behind the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs in the National League Central. In 2015, the Pirates won 98 games, one more than the Cubs.
Righthander Gerrit Cole is the ace of a young rotation, and questions surround the 26-year-old after he went 7–10 with a 3.88 ERA in 21 starts last year while bothered by elbow problems. He is one of the most talented young pitchers in the game, as evidenced by his 19-win season in 2015, and the Pirates desperately need him to return to form. Righthander Ivan Nova was re-signed to a three-year, $26-million contract. He had a fine 11-start run after being acquired from the Yankees in a trade on Aug. 1. Righthanders Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl and Tyler Glasnow and lefthander Steven Brault figure to round out the rotation. They are talented but young and inexperienced (none will be older than 25 on Opening Day), and they have pitched a combined 233.1 innings in the major leagues. Taillon impressed as a rookie last year, going 5–4 with a 3.38 ERA in 18 starts after missing the previous two seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery and a sports hernia operation.
Second baseman Josh Harrison received a four-year, $27.3 million contract after hitting .315 with 13 home runs in 2014. While he has batted a combined .285 in the two seasons since, he also has just eight homers. Jordy Mercer is a steady if unspectacular shortstop. He is a decent hitter with some power and makes all the routine plays in the field along with the occasional highlight-reel one.
Switch-hitting rookie Josh Bell will take over at first base after hitting .273 with three homers in 45 games last season. While he has struggled to make the conversion from right field, he has an advanced approach to the plate and the chance to add more power to his game. Third baseman Jung Ho Kang’s status is cloudy as he could be facing a suspension after being arrested for drunk driving in his native South Korea during the offseason and being accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a Chicago hotel room last June. He has hit .273 with 36 home runs in his first two major-league seasons after starring in the Korea Baseball Organization.
The Pirates have one of the best trios in the game, but the question is what is to become of center fielder Andrew McCutchen. The 2013 National League MVP is coming off a season in which he hit a career-low .256 with 24 home runs while playing awful defense. McCutchen will make $14 million this season, which would be the highest salary in franchise history, in the final guaranteed year of his six-year, $51.5 million contract that includes a $14.5 million club option for 2018 that can be bought out for $1 million. History shows that the Pirates almost always trade their star players before they reach free agency, so it seems likely he will be dealt by the July 31 non-waiver deadline. Starling Marte has won Gold Gloves in left field in each of the last two seasons but will be moving to center this season wtih McCutchen shifting over to right. Marte is also a dynamic offensive player with power and speed who stole 47 bases last season but hit a disappointing nine homers. Right fielder Gregory Polanco is a five-tool talent who has the chance to be a star. The 25-year-old hit a career-high 22 home runs last year in his third season and is still tapping into his potential. Austin Meadows will be waiting for an opportunity at Triple-A Indianapolis. The 21-year-old, who was the first of the Pirates’ two first-round draft picks in 2013, would likely be ready to slide into the lineup in place of McCutchen by July.
Francisco Cervelli has proven to be a quality starter behind the plate during his two seasons with the Pirates after spending seven years as a backup with the Yankees. While he has an outstanding .373 on-base percentage since coming to Pittsburgh, the Pirates place an even greater value on his rapport with the pitching staff and pitch-framing ability.
Chris Stewart is a solid backup catcher, pretty much a Cervelli Lite with his strong defense and leadership ability. John Jaso began last season as the starting first baseman after being signed to a two-year, $8 million contract in free agency. The Pirates are counting on him to be a solid backup at both corner infield and outfield spots this season while providing left-handed production on a roster filled with right-handed hitters. Veteran third baseman David Freese was signed midway through spring training last year to serve as protection while Kang recovered from knee surgery. Freese played so well in a part-time role that the Pirates gave him a two-year, $11 million contract extension during the season. He could be a pivotal figure if Kang’s legal troubles threaten his availability this season. A couple of homegrown products, Adam Frazier and Alen Hanson, will serve as super utility players as they can play all over the infield and outfield. Hanson’s outstanding speed could make him a factor as a pinch-runner.
General manager Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle have done an outstanding job of turning around a moribund franchise. However, both have begun showing subtle signs of frustration about working under the payroll constraints of owner Bob Nutting, perhaps a sign that they could show wanderlust when their contracts expire at the end of this season.
The Pirates seemingly have little chance of overtaking the Cubs in the NL Central this season, though they plan to give it a shot. However, if they fall too far behind in the standings, they are likely to shift into rebuilding mode and sort out which young players — especially starting pitchers — fit into their long-term plans and try to add more prospects by trading McCutchen.
2017 NL CENTRAL PREDICTION: 3rd
The North Carolina Central Eagles and UC Davis Aggies will start Wednesday’s First Four games at UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio. Both the Eagles and Aggies will be going for their first NCAA Tournament victory.
The winner of this game will meet the No.1 seed in the Midwest, the Kansas Jayhawks on Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That team also will have a shot at making history by becoming the first No. 16 seed to take down a top seed in the Tournament.
NC Central was last in the Big Dance in 2014 when the No. 14 Eagles lost to 93-75 to No. 3 Iowa State. This is UC Davis’ first NCAA Tournament games since joining Division I in 2004.
First Four: No. 16 North Carolina Central Eagles (25-8) vs. No. 16 UC Davis Aggies (22-12)
Time: 6:40 p.m. ET (Wednesday)
Where: University of Dayton Arena (Dayton, Ohio)
Line: North Carolina Central -4
Keys for North Carolina Central
North Carolina Central’s offense pretty much runs through senior Patrick Cole. The 6-foot-5 guard leads the team in scoring (19.5 ppg) and assists (5.7 apg), to along with 7.0 rebounds per game. If the Eagles are going to win on Wednesday, they also will need a big game from fellow guard Dajuan Graf, who is shooting 39.2 percent on three-pointers and is the team’s second-leading scorer (14.3 ppg).
One area the Eagles have been great at this season is limiting the damage opponents do from beyond the arc. NC Central is holding teams to just 29 percent shooting on three-point attempts, the second-best mark in the nation. The Eagles will need to continue their tough perimeter defense against a UC Davis team that shoots 34.5 percent from that range.
Keys for UC Davis
Some of the most successful teams in the NCAA Tournament are usually the ones that have excellent guard play. UC Davis typically has three guards on the floor in Brynton Lemar, Siler Schneider and Lawrence White.
Lemar leads the Aggies with 16.1 points per game and is shooting 38.1 percent on threes. Forward Chima Moneke also plays a significant role on both ends of the floor, averaging 14.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. UC Davis only averages 70.5 points per game, but the Aggies’ small lineup could pose matchup problems for North Carolina Central.
Neither team has a lot of NCAA Tournament experience, so that won’t play a role in deciding Wednesday’s game. It will likely come down to if UC Davis can score against North Carolina Central’s defense.
The Eagles are ranked 22nd in scoring defense in the country, limiting teams to just 63.4 points per game. They don’t put up a ton of points themselves (75.1 ppg) and could be in trouble if they can’t dial it up from long distance (34 percent shooting on three-pointers) against the Aggies.
For UC Davis to have any chance to defeat North Carolina Central, the Aggies must contain Patrick Cole, the Eagles’ top offensive threat. UC Davis will certainly need to score more than the 50 points it put up in its Big West Tournament championship win to beat North Carolina Central and advance to play No. 1 seed Kansas on Friday.
Prediction: North Carolina Central 70, UC Davis 59
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
The departures of Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson led many to believe that North Carolina would take a step backwards in 2016-17. Fortunately, that has not been the case. The Tar Heels won their second consecutive outright ACC regular season championship, and once again find themselves well positioned as a No. 1 seed in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
The stage is set for the Tar Heels to begin their quest through the gauntlet that is March Madness, in search of redemption following last year’s heart-wrenching loss to Villanova in the championship game. In the immortal words of the greatest Tar Heel of them all, “The ceiling is the roof” for a North Carolina team that appears to have everything in place to make another run at a national championship in 2017. Here are five reasons why the Tar Heels will be cutting down the nets in Glendale, Arizona.
5 Reasons Why North Carolina Will Win the 2017 NCAA Tournament
1. Talent and Balance
The 2016-17 North Carolina roster may not be chock-full of future NBA lottery picks. But the Tar Heels do feature six former McDonald’s High School All-Americans. And collectively, boast one of the most dangerous and balanced lineups in the NCAA Tournament. A roster full of highly skilled athletes that can run the floor as well as anyone in the nation and score points at a breakneck pace, which is evident by the 85 points per game they are averaging entering Friday’s first round game against Texas Southern.
A ineup that features four players averaging 12 points or more per game is led by ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson (18 ppg). Jackson can put up points in bunches when fully engaged and may be the most dynamic player in the country in transition. He has developed into a true weapon from three-point range as well, improving to 38 percent this season from beyond the arc.
Jackson may have the most impressive resume, but combo guard Joel Berry II is the engine that makes this team run. Berry is rock-solid in every facet of the game and provides UNC with its best option on the perimeter (42 percent from 3-point range). Junior Theo Pinson and senior Nate Britt round out a star-studded backcourt. Both Pinson and Britt struggle shooting the basketball at times, but typically make up for it with stellar play on the defensive end.
North Carolina may actually shine brightest down low. In fact, there may not be a better corps of collective post players in the entire Tournament than Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye. Meeks and Hicks are seasoned big men that can compete with anyone down on the block. Freshman Tony Bradley has shown flashes of greatness coming off of the bench. And sophomore Luke Maye also provides solid re-enforcement in a reserve role with the ability to make shots from anywhere on the floor.
Experience wins championships, and North Carolina has plenty of it. The Tar Heels are one of just a small group of contenders in this year’s tournament to feature five (two seniors, three juniors) in their starting five. And there is not another team competing in March that can match the wealth of actual game and Tournament experience accumulated by this group. In total, the North Carolina starting five has 576 career games under its collective belt – 334 of those games have come in a starting capacity.
Meeks, a senior, and Jackson, a junior, have both been fixtures in the starting lineup since their freshman year. Junior Joel Berry II is in his second season as a full-time starter. Senior big man Isaiah Hicks, senior Nate Britt and junior Theo Pinson all have starting experience and have been significant contributors since first setting foot in Chapel Hill. Experience helped the Tar Heels to the national title game last year, and they have even more this time around. It should pay big dividends, as Carolina will be well prepared for anything that comes its way.
3. Rebounds, Rebounds, Rebounds
Rebounding is one of the most critical components to a team’s success. And no other team in this year’s Tournament attacks the glass better than North Carolina. The Tar Heels led the nation in total rebounds (1,479) and rebounding margin (12.7 per game). Perhaps more importantly, UNC led the nation in offensive rebounding (15.8 per game), consistently making the most of second-chance scoring opportunities as a result.
While Meeks leads the way with 9.1 rebounds per game, this is not a team that relies solely on one or two players to clean up on the glass. It is truly a collective effort that allows the Tar Heels to dominate on the boards. Rebounding should provide North Carolina with a significant advantage over its opposition throughout March Madness.
4. Roy Williams
It never hurts to have a Hall of Fame coach roaming the sidelines in March, and the Tar Heels have exactly that. This will be Williams’ 27th NCAA Tournament appearance, a time of year when he has enjoyed considerable success. The 66-year-old head coach certainly knows exactly what it takes to lead a team to a national title.
Between his time at Kansas and now North Carolina, Williams has led his teams to 70 Tournament wins, eight Final Fours, five championship game appearances and two national championships (both with the Tar Heels). He also won a national title in 1982 as an assistant at UNC under the legendary Dean Smith. Mike Krzyzewski aside, there isn’t another coach in the 2017 Tournament better equipped to lead his team through the rigors of March Madness than Williams.
One of the biggest reasons North Carolina was able to successfully navigate its way through a rigorous schedule, in the most competitive conference in the nation, is its versatility. While the Tar Heels tend to thrive in an up-tempo format, they have proven that they are well equipped to adapt to any style of basketball. Fast or slow, zone or man-to-man, it really doesn’t matter. The Tar Heels can beat you inside with their outstanding front court, they can beat you outside on the perimeter. And slashers Jackson, Berry and Pinson can beat you from anywhere on the floor.
Most teams will struggle with matchup issues at some point during this Tournament. That should not be the case for a North Carolina team that can excel in a variety of ways against any style of basketball. There are certainly teams with enough talent to beat them, particularly if the Tar Heels have one of their rare meltdown games like we saw against Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinals. However, as long as the shots are falling, North Carolina has the flexibility and firepower to beat any team in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.
(Justin Jackson photo courtesy of Getty Images)
The countdown to the 2017 college football season is already underway, as spring practices and position battles for spots on the depth chart for all 130 teams across the nation are already in progress in offseason workouts. And one of the biggest storylines of any offseason rests with the quarterback position. Last season, Louisville's Lamar Jackson emerged as a breakout candidate in the spring to one of the nation's top quarterbacks and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Quarterback play is always under the microscope and could be the difference between winning a conference title or national championship or finishing with a disappointing record. Recruiting establishes the foundation for any program, but finding and developing quarterbacks is a challenging and essential task for any coach. While the 2017 season is still five months away, it’s never too early to take a look at the returning talent and project some of the players due for a breakout season.
Quarterbacks are the highest-profile and most-important position on the field. With that in mind, let’s take a look at 25 quarterbacks on the rise for next season, as well as a handful of names to watch. With spring practice coming up and some of the battles set to be decided, this list will look a tad different by the fall. If possible, we tried to avoid quarterbacks that already earned all-conference honors during their career. Defining what is a "quarterback on the rise" isn't easy, but we tried to pick quarterbacks that had an under-the-radar 2016 season or ones we believe are in for a huge 2017 campaign.
College Football's Top 25 QBs on the Rise for 2017
Kyle Allen, Houston
Dynamic quarterback Greg Ward expired his eligibility after the Las Vegas Bowl, but new coach Major Applewhite has some promising options battling to take over in 2017. Allen is eligible after sitting out the 2016 season as a transfer from Texas A&M and is slated to take on Kyle Postma for the starting job this offseason. Regardless of which quarterback wins the job, Houston should have one of the American Athletic Conference’s top receiving duos, as Linell Bonner (98 catches) and Steven Dunbar (53) return. Allen ranked as a five-star prospect in the 2014 signing class and threw for 3,532 yards and 33 scores during his two years with the Aggies.
Jake Bentley, South Carolina
After a unique path to the starting job last season, Bentley is firmly entrenched as South Carolina’s No. 1 quarterback entering spring workouts and is a big reason for optimism under second-year coach Will Muschamp. Bentley graduated high school following his junior year and enrolled over the summer to compete for the starting job with the Gamecocks. After not playing through the first six games, Bentley appeared to be in line for a redshirt year. However, Bentley was inserted as South Carolina’s No. 1 quarterback in late October and led the Gamecocks to a 4-3 record over the final seven games. During that span, Bentley threw for 1,420 yards and nine scores and completed 65.8 percent of his throws. With a full offseason to work under play-caller Kurt Roper, Bentley should take a significant step forward in his development for 2017.
David Blough, Purdue
With J.T. Barrett (Ohio State), Trace McSorley (Penn State), Tommy Armstrong (Nebraska) and Wilton Speight (Michigan) garnering most of the attention among Big Ten quarterbacks, Blough’s 2016 season was largely overlooked. However, Blough led all Big Ten quarterbacks by averaging 279.3 yards per game and finished last year with 3,352 yards and 25 scores. The junior certainly has room to improve after tossing 21 picks and posting a completion percentage of 57.1. However, new coach Jeff Brohm developed some of the nation’s best offenses over the last three seasons at WKU, which included huge seasons by Mike White (4,363 yards and 37 scores) and Brandon Doughty (5,055 yards and 48 scores). Purdue’s receiving corps needs some work with the top four statistical receivers from 2016 departing West Lafayette. But with Brohm (and Blough) at the controls, the Boilermakers are going to put up their share of points and yards in 2017.
Dru Brown, Hawaii
The Rainbow Warriors improved their win total by four games in coach Nick Rolovich’s first season and capped the year with a victory over MTSU in the Hawaii Bowl. A big reason for the seven-win season and late-season surge? Brown’s development as the team’s starting quarterback. The junior college product finished with 2,488 passing yards and 19 touchdown passes, with nine of those coming over Hawaii’s last two contests. Brown also showed he was more than a pocket passer by adding 306 yards and one score on the ground. He should be one of the Mountain West’s top quarterbacks in 2017.
Kelly Bryant/Zerrick Cooper/Hunter Johnson, Clemson
Make no mistake: Deshaun Watson leaves big shoes to fill at Clemson. Simply replacing Watson with another Heisman Trophy contender and quarterback capable of keeping the Tigers in the hunt to win it all isn’t going to be easy. However, coach Dabo Swinney has recruited well at this position, with three talented options slated to battle for the starting job this spring. Bryant has completed 13 of 18 passes for 75 yards and one score in reserve work over the last two years, while Cooper (a four-star recruit in the 2016 signing used a redshirt season last fall. Johnson – the No. 30 overall prospect by the 247Sports Composite in the 2017 class – enrolled in time to compete in spring practice. Regardless of which quarterback wins the job, Clemson should be in good shape under center.
Eric Dungey, Syracuse
As expected under new coach Dino Babers, Dungey was poised for a huge statistical season in 2016. Dungey was a good fit for Babers’ spread, no-huddle attack and threw for 2,679 yards and 15 scores through Syracuse’s first nine games. However, Dungey’s season ended due to an injury suffered against Clemson on Nov. 5. Top receiver Amba Etta-Tawo (94 grabs) has expired his eligibility, but Dungey’s return to full strength and the lineup should keep Syracuse in the mix for a bowl.
Jacob Eason, Georgia
Eason was mentioned in this space last season and even bigger things are expected from him in 2017. The Washington native is a key cog in coach Kirby Smart’s plan to elevate Georgia into the national title mix and showcased his skills in an impressive stint as a true freshman last fall. Eason played in all 13 games and finished 2016 with 2,430 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. He should benefit from a full offseason of work with the No. 1 offense but also needs more help from his receiving corps and offensive line to challenge for All-SEC honors in 2017.
Jesse Ertz, Kansas State
After a 2015 season filled with bad luck, Ertz returned to the starting lineup in 2016 and emerged as the catalyst for coach Bill Snyder’s offense. Ertz opened 2015 as the No. 1 quarterback but suffered a season-ending leg injury in the first game of the year. However, Ertz showed no ill-effects from the injury last season, as he guided Kansas State to a 9-4 record and led the team with 1,012 rushing yards and 12 scores. Ertz also added 1,755 yards and nine touchdowns through the air, which included 195 in the Texas Bowl victory over Texas A&M. The senior isn’t going to post huge totals through the air, but his ability to churn out 80-90 rushing yards a game and keep the offense performing at a high level is more than enough to push for a spot on the All-Big 12 team this December.
Riley Ferguson, Memphis
Paxton Lynch’s early departure to the NFL left a significant void under center for coach Mike Norvell last season, but the Tigers quickly rallied around Ferguson. The former Tennessee quarterback threw for 3,698 yards and 32 scores and finished the year ranked third among American Athletic Conference passers with a 63.2 completion percentage. Ferguson’s return should have Memphis in contention for the AAC’s West Division title this fall, and he also has one of the nation’s top returning receivers at his disposal in Anthony Miller (95 catches for 1,434 yards and 14 scores in 2016).
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
Replacing arguably the best player in school history (Dak Prescott) left big shoes for Fitzgerald to fill last offseason. One year later, Fitzgerald is poised to earn a spot among the SEC’s top quarterbacks in 2017. The Georgia native started all 13 games for coach Dan Mullen and guided Mississippi State to wins in four out of its final six contests, including a 55-20 victory over rival Ole Miss. While Fitzgerald’s passing totals (2,423 yards and 21 touchdowns) are solid, his rushing ability is a difference maker for this offense. Fitzgerald accumulated 1,375 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns last year, averaging a healthy 7.1 yards per rush. With a full offseason to work under Mullen, look for Fitzgerald to improve as a passer and maintain his dynamic playmaking ability on the ground.
Deondre Francois, Florida State
The development of Francois is a big reason why Florida State should be in the mix to win the national title in 2017. As a redshirt freshman last season, Francois started all 13 games for the Seminoles and guided coach Jimbo Fisher’s team to a 10-3 record, including a 33-32 victory over Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Francois connected on 58.8 percent of his throws for 3,350 yards and 20 scores and added five rushing touchdowns and 196 yards. While Francois showcased his toughness and willingness to hang in the pocket last year, coach Jimbo Fisher wants him to get rid of the ball quicker in order to avoid the big hits suffered in 2016 and work on his completion percentage this offseason. Francois is one of the ACC's top returning quarterbacks for 2017.
Related: Early Top 25 for 2017
Will Grier, West Virginia
Grier showed flashes of promise in a short stint at Florida during the 2015 campaign and is one of the nation’s top impact transfers for the 2017 season. In his six-game run as the starter in Gainesville, Grier threw for 1,204 yards and 10 scores and completed 65.8 percent of his throws. A suspension ended his 2015 season prematurely, and the absence of Grier under center was certainly noticeable on Florida’s offense. The Gators averaged only 16.5 points over their final eight games and scored just 24 points in the last three contests. The North Carolina native ranked as the No. 48 overall prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite and should be one of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks in 2017.
Justin Herbert, Oregon
New coach Willie Taggart ran an offense similar to the up-tempo, spread attack Oregon has utilized in recent seasons, so the overall transition between schemes should be minimal. That’s good news for Herbert, as the sophomore is poised to rank among the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks after an impressive stint as a true freshman in 2016. After not registering a pass attempt through the first four games, Herbert eventually took over the starting job in October and finished the year with 1,936 passing yards and 19 scores. Herbert tossed only four picks, completed 63.5 percent of his throws and chipped in 161 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Herbert will also have more help in his supporting cast this year, as running back Royce Freeman is back at full strength, and tackle Tyrell Crosby returns after missing nearly all of 2016 due to injury.
Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin
With a talented group of running backs slated to replace Corey Clement and a standout defense in place, Wisconsin doesn’t need Hornibrook to throw for 300 yards every week to win the Big Ten West. However, as he showed in 2016, the sophomore is a promising option for coach Paul Chryst to develop over the next couple of seasons. Hornibrook played in 12 games last fall and started nine of those contests, throwing for 1,262 yards and nine touchdowns. Hornibrook set a career high with 214 passing yards against Ohio State and also threw for 195 yards and a score in Wisconsin’s road win over Michigan State.
Daniel Jones, Duke
Duke coach David Cutcliffe is one of the nation’s best quarterback coaches, so it was no surprise Jones turned in a solid all-around freshman season after an injury sidelined starting quarterback Thomas Sirk in 2016. Jones was originally a grayshirt commit to Duke’s 2015 class and used his first year on campus as a redshirt season. The Charlotte native started all 12 games for the Blue Devils last season and threw for 2,836 yards and 16 scores, while adding 486 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Additionally, his 62.8 completion percentage ranks second among returning starting quarterbacks in the ACC.
Steven Montez, Colorado
Replacing a four-year starter (Sefo Liufau) under center is never easy, but Colorado’s offense shouldn’t miss a beat with Montez. Liufau suffered an ankle injury against Michigan in mid-September and missed the next two games before returning versus USC on Oct. 8. In his first opportunity for snaps, Montez guided Colorado to a 2-1 record over three starts and finished the 2016 campaign with 1,078 passing yards and nine scores on 83 completions. He also added 231 yards and one touchdown on the ground. The Texas native inherits a receiving corps that returns its top three options and is poised to build off last year’s experience to a successful season in his first as Colorado’s starter. Montez is a good fit for the up-tempo attack coordinators Brian Lindgren and Darrin Chiaverini want to utilize.
Shea Patterson, Ole Miss
After a season-ending injury to starter Chad Kelly, coach Hugh Freeze decided to remove the redshirt from Patterson and allow the true freshman an opportunity for extended action over the last three games. The five-star freshman impressed in the limited stint, throwing for 880 yards and six touchdowns and adding 169 yards on the ground. The Rebels must replace tight end Evan Engram but still return one of the SEC’s top receiving corps in 2017 for new coordinator Phil Longo. Patterson should have a huge season in his first full year as the starter.
Gus Ragland, Miami (Ohio)
Ragland’s return from an offseason knee injury was a big reason why Miami won its last six regular season games after an 0-6 start and lost by just one point to Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg Bowl. The Cincinnati native passed for 196 yards and three scores in a limited role in 2015 and was slated to push Billy Bahl for the starting job in the spring before a knee injury. After returning to the lineup in mid-October, Ragland threw for 1,537 yards and 17 scores and tossed only one pick on 179 attempts. He also rushed for 202 yards and three touchdowns – numbers that can only increase with more playing time and a healthy knee in 2017.
Nic Shimonek, Texas Tech
Patrick Mahomes won’t be easy to replace, but Texas Tech has a strong track record of developing productive Big 12 quarterbacks. Don’t expect that to change with Shimonek at the controls, as the Iowa transfer gained valuable experience in a reserve role last year. In four appearances, Shimonek threw for 464 yards and six scores and completed 38 of 58 passes. The senior doesn’t have Mahomes’ running ability, but he’s a classic pocket passer built to thrive in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.
Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
Shurmur’s performance in November was a big reason why Vanderbilt finished with six regular season wins and the first bowl bid under coach Derek Mason. In a 38-17 victory against Ole Miss on Nov. 19, Shurmur threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns. A week later, Shurmur threw for a career-best 416 yards and added two scores in a 45-34 victory over Tennessee. After finishing 2016 with 2,409 yards and nine touchdown passes, hopes are high on West End for Shurmur to take a step forward in his development and build off a solid close to the 2016 season.
J’Mar Smith, Louisiana Tech
Louisiana Tech has ranked among Conference USA’s top three in scoring offense in each season since 2014. The Bulldogs lose quarterback Ryan Higgins and receivers Carlos Henderson and Trent Taylor, but there are reasons to be optimistic for coach Skip Holtz. Smith is slated to replace Higgins under center and already has one career start under his belt. Smith threw for 212 yards and rushed for 10 yards and a score in Louisiana Tech’s 21-20 loss to Arkansas in the 2016 opener. The Mississippi native only has 43 career pass attempts, but Holtz’s track record on offense in Ruston and Smith’s talent (three-star recruit in 2015 signing class) should equal another explosive season for the Bulldogs’ offense.
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Stidham returns to the Power 5 level after sitting out the 2016 season at a junior college. The Texas native was regarded as one of the top quarterback recruits in the 2015 signing class and signed to Baylor to play for former coach Art Briles. Stidham was pressed into action after Seth Russell suffered a season-ending neck injury and appeared in 10 games (with three starts), throwing for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns. Following the dismissal of Briles, Stidham left Baylor and spent last year at McLennan Community College. Stidham did not take a snap for any team last season but rust shouldn’t be an issue in 2017. With new coordinator Chip Lindsey calling the plays and a talented group of young receivers at his disposal, Stidham is going to provide a needed spark for Auburn’s passing game this fall.
Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
Thorson was arguably one of the Big Ten’s most-improved quarterbacks last season. After throwing for 1,522 yards and seven scores as a redshirt freshman in 2015, Thorson passed for 3,182 yards and 22 touchdowns last year. Additionally, Thorson improved his completion percentage to 58.6 in 2016 – up from 50.8 in 2015. The departure of top receiver Austin Carr (90 receptions) is a big concern for the Wildcats, but the addition of Oregon graduate transfer Jalen Brown helps fill the void on the outside. Thorson should be one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks in 2017.
Brandon Wimbush, Notre Dame
DeShone Kizer departed for the NFL after two standout seasons in South Bend. While Kizer could be one of the first quarterbacks off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Fighting Irish are in good shape under center. Wimbush – the No. 45 overall prospect in the 2015 signing class – is set to take over after a redshirt year. The New Jersey native doesn't have a start under his belt but does have some limited experience. In 2015, Wimbush played in two games and completed three of five passes for 17 yards and added 96 rushing yards and a score on seven attempts. The development of Wimbush under new coordinator Chip Long and coach Brian Kelly is essential for the Fighting Irish to return to a top 25 ranking in 2017.
Arion Worthman, Air Force
Worthman was pressed into duty after an injury to starter Nate Romine in Air Force’s win over Fresno State in late October. The Illinois native proceeded to rush for 102 yards and two scores over the Bulldogs and handled the starting duties for the final five games. Worthman recorded at least 63 rushing yards in every contest during that span, including 215 against San Jose State. In addition to Worthman’s totals on the ground (674 yards and six scores), he also completed 23 of 39 passes for 546 yards and four touchdowns. Air Force has a few voids to fill on offense, but coach Troy Calhoun’s group should perform at a high level once again with Worthman at the controls.
Others to Watch
Zach Abey, Navy
Injuries took a toll on Navy’s quarterback situation last season, as three different players made a start in 2016. Abey finished the year as the No. 1 quarterback and rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 159 yards and a score in the 48-45 bowl loss to Louisiana Tech. He’s slated to guide the Midshipmen attack in 2017.
Blake Barnett, Arizona State
Arizona State’s quarterback depth chart was hit hard by injuries last season, but help is on the way in the form of Barnett. The California native played in three games with Alabama in 2016, including a start against USC in the opener. Barnett finished the season with 219 yards and two touchdowns on 11 completions and transferred to Arizona State in search of more playing time after Jalen Hurts emerged as the clear No. 1 quarterback for the Crimson Tide in 2016. Barnett should be an upgrade at quarterback for coach Todd Graham.
Mason Fine, North Texas
Second-year coach Seth Littrell has engineered standout offenses from previous stops as a coordinator at North Carolina, Arizona and Indiana. Fine was thrown into the mix as a true freshman last season and threw for 1,572 yards and six scores. How much of a step forward will he take in 2017?
Andrew Ford, UMass
Ford – a former Virginia Tech signal-caller – quietly posted 2,665 yards and 26 scores for the Minutemen last fall. He also finished 2016 by tossing at least three touchdown passes in five out of the last six games.
Kwadra Griggs/Keon Howard, USM
Griggs and Howard are talented options for coordinator Shannon Dawson, but former starter Nick Mullens leaves big shoes to fill this offseason.
Ben Hicks, SMU
Pencil in the winner of SMU’s quarterback battle in this spot. Hicks is the frontrunner after throwing for 2,930 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, but Arkansas transfer Rafe Peavey is a name to watch in spring ball. With a loaded group of receivers in place, SMU’s quarterback is going to post huge totals under coach Chad Morris this fall.
Josh Jackson, Virginia Tech
Justin Fuente developed Andy Dalton at TCU, Paxton Lynch at Memphis and transformed Jerod Evans into one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks just a year removed from the junior college ranks. Is Jackson his next star pupil? The redshirt freshman opens spring ball at the top of the depth chart in Blacksburg.
De’Andre Johnson, FAU
Former Florida State quarterback lands at FAU after a stint at East Mississippi Community College. Will Johnson emerge as the starter over Jason Driskel and Daniel Parr for new coach Lane Kiffin?
James Morgan, Bowling Green
The Falcons had an up-and-down debut under coach Mike Jinks last season but closed 2016 with three consecutive victories. A resurgent ground game propelled Bowling Green late in the year, and the offense benefitted from the emergence of Morgan as the team’s starting quarterback. The freshman threw for 2,082 yards and 16 scores and gained valuable experience within the offense for 2017. Can Morgan cut down on the interceptions (15) in 2017?
Jacob Park, Iowa State
Joel Lanning could move to an all-purpose role in 2017, leaving Park as Iowa State’s clear No. 1 quarterback. Park threw for 1,791 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 appearances last season, which was his first game action since his senior year in high school (2013).
Chad President, Tulsa
Dane Evans (32 TDs and 3,348 yards in 2016) expired his eligibility after the Miami Beach Bowl. President – the No. 358 recruit in the 2015 signing class – is the early frontrunner to start for the Golden Hurricane and coach Philip Montgomery's high-powered offense. The Texas native threw for 2,391 yards as a high school senior but also brings more mobility than Evans to the position.
Brogan Roback, Eastern Michigan
A strong case could be made for Roback to rank as one of the top 25 options on this list. He didn’t play in the first three games of 2016 but later reclaimed the starting job and threw for 2,694 yards and 18 scores to help Eastern Michigan earn the program’s first bowl trip since 1987.
Zach Smith, Baylor
Smith took over the starting job after a season-ending leg injury to Seth Russell in early November and showed flashes of promise. While Smith is the frontrunner to start under new coach Matt Rhule, Arizona graduate transfer Anu Solomon is expected to push for snaps.
Johnny Stanton/Armani Rogers, UNLV
Stanton – a former Nebraska signal-caller – was a popular breakout pick at quarterback last year, but his 2016 campaign never got on track after a season-ending injury in September. Rogers – a promising redshirt freshman from Los Angeles – is slated to push for the No. 1 job this spring.
The Wisconsin Badgers exceeded the expectations of most college football fans and media members in 2016. Despite beginning the season as an afterthought, the Badgers became a mainstay at the top of the polls, riding their always dependable running game and a surprisingly dominant defense to a Big Ten West title.
As the 2017 spring football season gets rolling in Madison, there are a lot of questions to be answered and holes to be filled – mostly on defense. Can Paul Chryst and his staff overcome key changes and losses in personnel to win another division crown? The spring session may give us a sneak peek at the answer to that question.
5 Storylines to Watch During Wisconsin's Spring Practice
1. How will the defense respond to its third coordinator in as many years?
Yes, for the third spring in a row, Wisconsin will be working in a new defensive coordinator. Softening the blow of this change is the fact that new coordinator Jim Leonard spent 2016 as the team's defensive backs coach. He excelled in the role – his first real coaching stint of any kind. He understands the scheme that helped the Badgers field an elite defensive unit last season. He's also an alumnus, so he understands both the culture and expectations. On paper, it appears to be a seamless transition. There shouldn't be any visible effects of a transition schematically during the spring.
2. Can the Badgers replace lost star power at outside linebacker?
You'd be hard-pressed to find another defense in the nation that lost two linebackers as good as T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel from a season ago. Those two played instrumental roles in Wisconsin's defensive domination a season ago and leave behind some large shoes to fill. The Badgers have depth to replace the two, but it's star power that is the question. Zach Baun, Tyler Johnson and Garret Dooley all bring valuable experience, but it could be junior college transfer Andrew Van Ginkel who emerges as the dominant star at the position.
3. Can the secondary grow up quickly?
Leonard's success in 2016 was aided by the fact that he had a veteran defensive backfield to work with. The group was led by hard-hitting safety Leo Musso and corner Sojourn Shelton. Patrick Johnson appears to be the lead candidate to replace Musso, while the task of replacing Shelton appears slightly more muddied. Caesar Williams, Natrell Jamerson and Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson should all compete for the job. Regardless of who starts, the raw talent should be there. It's just a matter of replacing the intangibles from a leadership perspective that Musso and Shelton brought to the table.
4. Look for the offensive line to continue to dominate
Wisconsin has become the gold standard in the Big Ten in terms of offensive line play. Despite losing Ryan Ramczyk – the top rated tackle in the 2017 NFL Draft by most accounts – the Badger line should still be one of the better units in the conference. Wisconsin returns four starters, all of whom have all-conference potential. Redshirt freshmen Cole Van Lanen – a highly recruited tackle out of Green Bay two years ago – looks to have all of the tools to become Wisconsin's next great offensive tackle. He's a strong candidate to win the left tackle job, subsequently holding on to it until he leaves Madison. Bottom line: if this unit shows any signs of being anything other than a well-oiled machine in the spring, that could spell trouble.
5. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook's transition into the full-time starter
The sophomore signal-caller had shown promise since arriving in Madison. Last season, the Badgers had the luxury of a savvy vet like Bart Houston to fall back on. That allowed Hornibrook to share time and grow into the role slowly. Now, Houston is gone and Hornibrook is the "big man on campus." Badger fans will want to see him take better care of the football through the air compared to 2016. If he can focus on short, high-percentage throws, Wisconsin's offense should be as efficient as it has been in recent years. They'll never be a program that lights up the scoreboard every weekend as long as head coach Paul Chryst is calling the shots, but ball security is the key to winning on the back of a strong running game and a stout defense. It's Hornibrook's job to manage that task.
Pre-Spring Outlook for Wisconsin in the Big Ten
When it comes to Wisconsin football, success is all in the system. The Badgers lost plenty of talent from 2016, but return an experienced depth chart full of players who know how to execute and win games. The 2017 schedule is not as daunting as the ‘16 slate was at first glance. But there are still plenty of challenges that await this fall. The month of November in particular could make or break Wisconsin's season. Home games against Michigan and Iowa are sandwiched between road trips to Indiana and Minnesota to close out the year. If the Badgers can come out of that stretch with three wins, they'll likely have a good shot at a second consecutive trip to the Big Ten Championship Game.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
The NCAA Tournament always features some teams that have a great story and go farther than they are projected to. The key is to find out which double-digit seeds are going to be the ones that either bust your bracket or make things a whole lot better for you because you read this article and picked it right.
What do these double-digit seeded teams have in common? They have a player capable of taking over games, a path conducive to a run and a head coach that is under the radar.
13 East Tennessee State Buccaneers (East Region)
Record: 27-7, Southern regular season (tied) and tournament champions
Notable Regular Season Games: L at UNC Wilmington (68-59), W vs. South Dakota State (71-59), L at Dayton (75-61)
First Round Opponent: No. 4 Florida (Thursday, March 16)
Guard play is the name of the game for the Bucs who are led by T.J. Cromer and AJ Meriweather. Hanner Mosquera-Perea, an transfer by way of Indiana, is one of four guys in the regular rotation who shoots better than 50 percent from the field. Yes, they did struggle in their early non-conference tests, but Steve Forbes is a solid head coach and this team has a winning pedigree. Eight times this season, ETSU has scored 90 points or more.
14 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (West Region)
Record: 26-7, Atlantic Sun regular season and tournament champions
Notable Regular Season Games: L vs. Florida (80-59), L at Baylor (81-72), L at Michigan State (78-77)
First Round Opponent: No. 3 Florida State (Thursday, March 16)
As if Dunk City needed any more motivation, they get an in-state opponent in Florida State. The Eagles have five players who shoot better than 50 percent from the field including Demetris Morant (75.7 percent). They are as athletic as the Seminoles and probably just as deep. FGCU didn't have Marc-Eddy Norelia for two stretches of the season including all three of the losses mentioned above. He makes a big difference and you'll see it when the Eagles take the court. It should be noted that they would definitely match up well with Maryland or Xavier should they beat FSU.
11 Rhode Island Rams (Midwest Region)
Record: 24-9, Atlantic 10 Tournament champions
Notable Regular Season Games: W vs. Cincinnati (76-71), L vs. Duke (75-65), L at Providence (63-60), L at Dayton (67-64), L vs. Dayton (75-74), W vs VCU (69-59), W vs. VCU (70-63, A-10 Tournament final)
First Round Opponent: No. 6 Creighton (Friday, March 17)
There's something to coming into this thing with momentum and Rhode Island has won eight straight after being on the outside of the bubble looking in. The Rams lost two straight at home including a 53-43 defeat at the hands of Fordham back on Feb. 15. They haven’t lost since, capped off by Sunday’s Atlantic 10 Tournament championship victory over VCU. Much was expected from URI before the season, but injuries hurt this team early on. Now that everyone's healthy, the Rams are a deep team led by EC Matthews, Hassan Martin and Jared Terrell. My one issue is that they are a little loose with the ball at times so they are vulnerable to teams that can pressure and create turnovers.
10 Oklahoma State Cowboys (Midwest Region)
Notable Regular Season Games: L vs. North Carolina (101-75), L at Maryland (71-70), W at Wichita State (93-76), W vs. Arkansas (99-71), L at Kansas (87-80), W at West Virginia (82-75)
First Round Opponent: No. 7 Michigan (Friday, March 17)
Usually this is a space just for mid-majors, but I think the Cowboys from the Big 12 are an intriguing team. Obviously coming out of a Power Five conference means you are tournament-tested and that’s especially the case when you consider the strength of the Big 12 this year. Oklahoma State is getting a Michigan team that played four games in four days to win the Big Ten Tournament, so the Wolverines could be tired. I really like OSU’s backcourt of Jawun Evans and Phil Forte III as well as Jeffrey Carroll. Sometimes you just need a few scorers and a good matchup to move on in this thing. Head coach Brad Underwood also did good things with Stephen F. Austin in the Tournament.
12 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (South Region)
Record: 30-4, Conference USA regular season and tournament champions
Notable Regular Season Games: W vs. UNC Wilmington (68-63), W vs. Vanderbilt (71-48), L at VCU (80-77)
First Round Opponent: No. 5 Minnesota (Thursday, March 16)
I wish I could take credit for listing MTSU in this same space last year, but I l overlooked the Blue Raiders. I won’t make the same mistake again with the majority of last year’s team back as well as the addition of Conference USA Player of the Year JaCorey Williams. Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw are dynamic players in their own right, so this team should be able to compete with Minnesota, a younger and less experienced team. Kermit Davis should be able to out-coach Richard Pitino as well. Middle Tennessee is one of the few teams listed here with a winning record against other Tournament teams.
10 Wichita State Shockers (South Region)
Record: 30-4, Missouri Valley Conference regular season (tied) and tournament champions
Notable Regular Season Games: L vs. Louisville (62-52), L vs. Michigan State (77-72), L vs. Oklahoma State (93-76), W vs. South Dakota State (89-67)
First Round Opponent: No. 7 Dayton (Friday, March 17)
This is going to be one of the most fascinating cases in the Tournament. The Shockers have great numbers in terms of the RPI, but not a lot of believers. Clearly the committee doesn't think they are that good considering they are a No. 10 seed that will face Kentucky should both teams win in the first round. The Missouri Valley Conference was down this year outside of Illinois State so the lack of competition was probably a factor in Wichita Strate’s seeding. The players aren't bad as Shaq Morris is a good big man while Landry Shamet and Conner Frankamp are pretty good guards. These Shockers are young in spots, but with this disrespect from the committee, they will be playing with a chip on their shoulder. We shall see how far that takes them.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
March Madness is here and as much as the next few weeks is about crowning a new men’s basketball champion, NCAA Tournament upsets are what we live for this time of year. This year’s Tournament may be ripe for a ton of bracket turnover considering there are plenty of good teams and only a handful — if that — of great ones.
With so much parity involved, that can make filling out your bracket a tricky task. One type of team to avoid however is an easy one to single out: those entering March in a slump. Whether it’s because of injuries or just downright sub-par play, here are eight teams you should avoid picking to go too far in the tournament.
No. 3 Florida State (West Region)
The Seminoles enter the Tournament with one of their best teams ever when you consider the amount of talent on the roster but have seen a potential ACC title-winning season turn into a late slump. FSU is just 7-6 since mid-January and have not played super well on the road either. While the depth of the ACC played a role, recent losses to Pitt, Syracuse and Georgia Tech show this is a squad that could be ripe for an upset if it’s not focused.
No. 6 Maryland (West Region)
Talent? Yes, the Terrapins have enough of that to make a run in the tourney but recent history of underachieving says be cautious. As star guard Melo Trimble goes, typically so does this team. Lately however, he hasn’t been as hot as he was at the beginning of Big Ten play so Maryland enters on a bit of uneven ground, beating just three Tournament teams since the calendar turned to 2017. Losses down the stretch to Penn State and NIT-bound Iowa make it tough to trust Mark Turgeon’s squad.
No. 6 Creighton (Midwest Region)
There was a point early in the year where the Bluejays looked like a potential top-three seed and a strong challenger to Villanova for the Big East crown. That all seemed to change when point guard Maurice Watson Jr. went down with a torn ACL in mid-January and then saw him back in the news a month later as a result of an alleged sexual assault. After an 18-1 start to the season (only loss to the overall No. 1 Wildcats), Creighton is just 7-8 since. While they did impress with a nice run during the conference tourney, their only win of note down the stretch came at Butler but this is otherwise a team that beat up on the bottom of the Big East to sneak in.
No. 7 South Carolina (East Region)
The Gamecocks being seeded at the seven line (and No. 26 on the overall seed list) was one of the more interesting surprises on Selection Sunday considering just how mediocre the team has been the past two months in an average-at-best league. Frank Martin’s squad has just three wins over Tournament teams all season long and is just 4-6 in the past 10 games. Because it is playing down the road in Greenville, this is a South Carolina team that could be a trendy pick to advance in a lot of brackets. The Gamecocks’ play recently suggests otherwise though.
No. 8 Wisconsin (East Region)
The Badgers looked like they did early in the year when they went on an impressive streak to make it to the Big Ten title game. Unfortunately, that’s one of the few signs of life the team has shown since the calendar turned over. For a while, it looked like they were the class of a middling league but slowly and surely they were reeled back to the pack. Prior to their three wins in at the conference tourney in Washington D.C., Wisconsin was just 2-5 and one of those wins came in overtime. The senior-laden group could still thrive in the Tournament setting but it’s still hard to say this team is peaking at the right time.
No. 8 Miami (Midwest Region)
The Hurricanes have some big time wins on their resume coming in and sport plenty of good guard play and a top-notch head coach. Despite that, they fell to a No. 8 seed as a result of a late slump that included three losses in four games since topping Duke and Virginia back-to-back last month. If you’ve got a good defense, chances are you can clamp down on Miami and keep its slide going with an early exit.
No. 9 Michigan State (Midwest Region)
On paper, there’s a lot going for the Spartans. They have one of the best head coaches in the country when it comes to the tourney in Tom Izzo and they sport a great mix of veterans with a talented freshman class. Shockingly, things just haven’t come together in East Lansing with the team on a bit of a roller coaster coming into the opening weekend. MSU is just 6-5 since February began and doesn’t have a single road win over a team in the field since December. Could Miles Bridges take over a game and lead an improbable run? Sure, but it seems more likely that a quick trip like last season is in store based on how Sparty has trended lately.
No. 11 Xavier (West Region)
Early in the season it appeared as though Xavier could have been a sleeper to make things interesting in the Big East but that line of thinking was quickly thrown out the door when Edmond Sumner went out for the season with a knee injury. The Musketeers lost six straight games in February and haven’t really recovered since. All told, the group is just 3-7 in its last 10 games and two of those wins came over lowly DePaul. While Xavier did upset Butler last week, the Musketeers haven’t particularly been all that competitive lately.
— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.
League bowling has long been one of America’s favorite leisure sports. It brings together a sense of community, nostalgia and competitiveness that goes unmatched by most other American pastimes. The one thing that separates league bowling from other competitive leisure sports is its unique sense of humor, as well as its broad range of personalities. Something that is often reflected in many of the team names. So, with that in mind, we decided to scour the internet for the top 100 funny, clever, crazy, outrageous, and unique bowling league team names. If you are in search of a name for your bowling team, there is a good chance that you will find it on this list. Enjoy!
2 Blonde 2 Bowl
4 Guys 12 Balls
3 Balls and a Split
7-10 Crack Kills
All 3 Holes
All Balls No Glory
Balls of Fury
Balls to the Wall
Body by Bowling
Bowl You Over
Dolls with Balls
Here 4 Da Beer
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gutter!
Irritable Bowl Syndrome
Knocking Down Pin(t)s
Livin’ on a Spare
Mark it Zero!
Minds in the Gutter
My Drinking Team has a Bowling Problem
No “F” in Strikes
Pins Up Balls Down
Roll Drink Repeat
Rollin’ Wit Da Homies
Shock ‘n’ Awe
Shut Up and Roll
Snakes on a Lane
Splits for Brains
Strikes R Us
That’s How We Roll
The Bowl Jobs
The Glory Bowls
The Lane Changers
The Pin Pricks
The Three-Holed Wonders
These Ain’t My Shoes
Time to Spare
Triple X Club
Two Left Thumbs
We Don’t Give a Split
We’ve Got Balls
Who Gives a Split?
Will Bowl for Alcohol
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS
Some must-see March Madness moments are off the court.
Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, and Charles Barkley are back with another round of their famous Capital One "Road to the Final Four" commercials and they do not disappoint. Here's hoping these commercials dominate the airways as March Madness action tips off.
In fantasy baseball, relief pitching is one of the most difficult positions to rank each and every season. There are always your elite options, those closers who rack up the saves (and usually the strikeouts) that have no worries about losing the job aside from an injury.
However more and more teams either have closers with shorter leashes or will be using more than one pitcher to finish games. These factors make getting one of the elite options helpful, but that doesn’t mean you are out of luck in terms of finding another pitcher that is line to get saves later in the draft.
Another possible strategy when it comes to your relievers is to draft those with high K/9 numbers, a low WHIP and ERA whether they are getting save opportunities or not. I have employed this approach before and the main benefit is that while you may not get many saves, your other pitching numbers should benefit.
Needless to say this will be the one position that can literally change each and every week. Be ready.
ADP - Average Draft Position
— Rankings by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.
(Zach Birtton photo courtesy of @EddieInTheYard)