The Athlon Sports 2014 Top 25 Countdown is underway and preseason football magazines are just weeks from arriving at a newsstand near you.
For many, including myself, this signifies the start of a new college football season.
It doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t plenty of time to debate, discuss, argue and prognosticate about conference championships and playoff berths for the next few months before actual games start up on Aug. 28.
College football is king in my world. It’s my favorite sport and counting down the days until the kickoff of a new season is both exhilarating and excruciating all at the same time. But I am a fan of all great sporting events and there are plenty of things to keep us busy until LSU and Wisconsin meet in Houston or Texas A&M and South Carolina clash in Columbia or Boise State and Ole Miss hook up in Atlanta.
Aside from some vacation time, plenty of grilling and a few cold beverages, here is what my sports calendar will look like this summer:
May 24: UEFA Champions League Final
For the first time in series history, two teams from the same city will battle for Europe’s top soccer honor. After 124 matches over nearly a full calendar year of action, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid will square off in Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, Portugal, for the right to be called the 59th Champions League winner.
May 25: Memorial Day Race Weekend
This one is near and dear to my heart as I have been to more than half-a-dozen Indianapolis 500s over the last decade. But the Greatest Spectacle in Racing is just the tip of the asphalt iceberg on Memorial Day Weekend. The day gets started with Formula 1’s Monaco Grand Prix at 7:30 a.m. ET before the Indy 500 starts at 12:15 p.m. ET. The day wraps up with the Coca-Cola 600 from Charlotte Motor Speedway at 6 p.m. ET. This year Kurt Busch will be the first driver in a decade to attempt the Indy-Charlotte Double.
June: Stanley Cup Final
The best postseason in major American professional sports ends up with two teams dueling in a best-of-seven series. Sudden death overtime in Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final might be the truest form of reality TV ever created by sports. Especially, if the Montreal Canadiens, who have won the most championships of any team in the league (24), can get past the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals to make their first cup appearance in over 20 years.
June: NBA Finals
For those who prefer the hard court to the ice, the NBA Finals heat up (pun intended) in June. The Spurs and Thunder will battle in the Western Conference Finals while the Heat and Pacers will duel in the Eastern Conference Finals. Will the NBA crown a new king in Kevin Durant? Will fans get a rematch of last year’s Spurs-Heat seven-game thriller? Can LeBron three-peat?
June 5-7: MLB Draft
The Pirates drafted UCLA stud right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole No. 1 overall in 2011. Less than two years later, Cole helped Pittsburgh reach the postseason for the first time in two decades in just his first professional season. The gap between the traditional first-year player draft and debuting in the majors has shrunk every year and the MLB Draft is the first chance to glimpse the future of MLB.
June 7: The Belmont Stakes
Kentucky Derby favorite California Chrome won the first leg of the esteemed Triple Crown and then went on to claim the second leg of the Triple Crown at The Preakness. The third and final leg of the usually unobtainable Triple Crown will take place June 7 in Elmont, N.Y. The 146th running of The Belmont Stakes will reportedly carry a purse worth upwards of $1.5 million in prize money. Should California Chrome win the third race, it would become the first horse to win the trio of esteemed races since 1978 (Affirmed).
June 12-15: U.S. Open Championship
Long roughs, narrow fairways and beautiful rolling hills. That is the signature of the United State Open Championship and this year it will be played at famed Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, N.C. As an Open Championship, the tournament is technically open to any and all comers who qualify. It’s a true American sports tradition.
June 12-July 13: The World Cup
Every four years the world turns its attention in the same direction as 32 different nations vie for the most prestigious world championship in sports. Brazil will host the 64-match, 32-team, 8-group tournament this year for the first time in South America since 1978. The winner of the 20th World Cup will earn $35 million in prize money. The USA will play Ghana (Mon., June 16), Portugal (Sun., Jun 22) and Germany (Thurs., June 26) in group play before the elimination tournament begins Sat., June 28.
June 14-25: College World Series
One of the coolest national events in NCAA sports takes place over two weeks in Omaha, Neb., every year. TD Ameritrade Park will host eight teams from all over the country in a double-elimination round robin tournament in an effort to crown the best the nation has to offer. The city is great and welcoming and the event is as unique as any in American sports. UCLA topped Mississippi State a year ago to win the championship and both instant replay and lower seems (on the baseball) will be experimented with in 2014.
June 26: NBA Draft
The 2013 NBA Draft left much to be desired, both by NBA teams and fans. But the 2014 version of the NBA Draft will feature a boatload of future hoops stars. Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and dozens more will find out for the first time where they will be playing professional basketball. This year’s event will take place at 7 p.m. ET at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
July 4: Hot Dog Eating Contest
Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest is the world's most famous eating contest held every year on Coney Island. Joey Chestnut has won seven consecutive titles after eating a record 69 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes last year. If you are into competitive eating, the Takeru Kobayashi-Chestnut rivalry is as delicious as it gets.
July 5: Daytona Night Race
Since 1988, the second race at Daytona each year — one held under the lights — has been held on the first Saturday in July. Packaged with Independence Day and originally titled the Firecracker 250 back when it debuted in 1959, the 400 miles around the 2.5-mile oval is one of most anticipated races of the season on the Sprint Cup circuit. Cars boasting 900 horsepower racing just inches from each other with the throttles stuck wide open sounds like fun to me.
July 6: Wimbledon Final
Whatever you want to call it, Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world. Despite lagging popularity nationally, the fortnight of matches across the pond features the best the world has to offer. Hosted by the All England Club since 1877, The Championships are considered the the highest honor in men's, women's and double's tennis worldwide. In 2013, Andy Murray became the first British man to win the prestigious tournament since Fred Perry 77 years prior.
July 13: World Cup Final
The month-long futbol tournament in Brazil will culminate with a winner take all golden goal championship bout in Estadio do Maracana. The Rio de Janeiro stadium opened during the 1950 World Cup when Uruguay upset the host Brazilian squad 2-1 in the final match. Over 200 nations compete for four calendar years to get to one final decision on July 13, 2014.
July 15: MLB All-Star Game
I had my first opportunity to attend an All-Star game with a future ace on the mound at my favorite team's home stadium. Matt Harvey's rehab aside, the experience was unforgettable. The 83rd annual Midsummer Classic pits the best the National and American League have to offer in an exhibition game that will decide which league will host the World Series. The game is hosted by the Minnesota Twins at Target Field in 2014 and there is nothing like seeing 15 different uniforms on the same field at the same time. For what it's worth, the National League owns a 43-39-2 all-time mark against the American League.
July 17-20: The Open Championship
The most unique major golf championship and the only one played outside of the United States also is the oldest major tournament. The British Open, Open Championship or even just The Open is held on one of nine links courses throughout Scotland or England every third weekend in July. The first tournament was held in 1860 and first place wins about $1.4 million. Phil Mickelson won last year's event at Muirfield Golf Links in Scotland and the '14 edition will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club. It will be the 12th time the Merseyside course will host the The Open.
July 23: Mudsummer Classic
Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, is home to the most unique events in major American motorsports. Last year, the NASCAR Truck Series began running one race per season on the half-mile dirt track owned by Tony Stewart. The race lasts 75 miles, 150 laps and takes place on Wednesday evening. Austin Dillon won the inaugural event in 2013 after a green-white-checker finish pushed the race to 153 laps.
July 5-27: Tour De France
If you are a fan of National Geographic, HD TV, colorful commentary and elite-level competition, then the world's most important bike race is for you. The French countryside is loaded with rich history and beautiful vistas all covered from road, boat and air in gorgeous high-definition. Toss in some of the most comical broadcasting lingo in major pro sports and the grueling ride through France becomes very interesting. International competition only adds to the pride attached the century-old, 23-day, 3,500-mile race.
July 27: The Brickyard
It will never be the Indianapolis 500 of the open-wheel variety, but NASCAR's edition of kissing the bricks is also must-see TV. The track has been designed to push motor vehicles to their pinnacle around the most prestigious oval in the world. The race has only taken place since 1994, but the Sprint Cup community — both the fans and drivers — understand the significance of winning anything at the most famous track in motor sports.
Aug. 7-10: PGA Championship
The fourth and final major golf championship of the season is the PGA Championship. And the 96th edition will be held at famed Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. Despite being considered the least prestigious of the four majors, the PGA Championship is actually the most lucrative of the bunch with a purse of $10 million. The U.S.' Jason Dufner is the defending PGA champion.
Aug. 23: Bristol Night Race
Thunder Valley is an appropriate name for one of NASCAR's premiere events. The half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway offers 160,000 fans a bird's-eye view of 43 cars racing nose-to-tail for 500 laps (266.5 miles). The first race took place in 1961 and Matt Kenseth is the defending champion. Since 1978, the race has been held on the final Saturday evening in August and is one of the most difficult tickets to acquire in all of sports due in large part because there isn't a bad seat in the house.