In the highest scoring Red River Rivalry game, No. 5 Texas rallied to beat No. 1 Oklahoma 45-35 thanks to big days from roomates Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley. McCoy threw for 277 yards and Shipley returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and caught TD from McCoy as Texas erased a 21-10 second-quarter deficit. Texas finished the season 12-1 and ranked No. 3 in the final BCS poll.
Earl Campbell tore through Texas A&M for 222 yards and three touchdowns and caught a 60-yard touchdown pass as the Longhorns snapped a two-year losing streak to the Aggies with a 57-28 win. The win lifted No. 1 Texas to 11-0 and Campbell went on to win the Heisman Trophy, one of two the Longhorns have claimed. Texas was upset in the Cotton Bowl by Notre Dame, denying UT a national title.
On a sweltering 90-degree day at the Cotton Bowl, No. 2 Texas trounced No. 1 Oklahoma 28-7. Tommy Ford, Duke Carlisle and Phil Harris ran for touchdowns and Marv Kristynik's only completion of the day went for a touchdown as the Longhorns moved to No. 1 in the polls en route to an undefeated regular season. Texas went on to beat Roger Staubach and Navy in the Cotton Bowl to win the national championship.
No. 1 Texas rallied from a 14-0 fourth-quarter deficit to beat No. 2 Arkansas 15-14 en route to the national championship. President Richard Nixon was on hand in Fayetteville to see James Street complete a 44-yard pass to Randy Peschel on fourth down on the game-winning drive. Jim Bertelsen scored the game-tying touchdown and Happy Feller kicked the extra point to complete the dramatic comeback and give Texas its 19th straight win.
In a game considered the greatest ever played, Vince Young and Texas overcame No. 1 USC 41-38 to win the national championship. Young ran for the winning touchdown with 19 seconds left on fourth-and-five from the eight-yard line to cap a scintillating Rose Bowl that featured over 1,100 yards, 10 touchdowns and five lead changes. Young rushed for 200 yards, threw for 267 and propelled the Longhorns past unbeaten USC and its two Heisman winners -- Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush.
Geoffrey Miller predicts the best fantasy drivers in Darlington so you don't have to.
Dancing with The Lady. (ASP, Inc.)
The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit heads to venerable Darlington Raceway for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 on Saturday evening. To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List.
So, without further ado, Geoffrey’s fantasy predictions for Darlington ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag — or at least surviving an evening of dancing with the Lady in Black.
1. Jeff Gordon
The four-time champ survived two wrecks at Talladega to squeak out an 11th-place finish. In Darlington, he hits a track where he leads all active drivers with seven wins and 18 top 5s. In the last eight Darlington races, Gordon has a series-high average position of 8.3.
2. Jimmie Johnson
How will Jimmie screw up Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s race this week? He could do it by replicating 2012 at Darlington when he led 134 laps and took the checkered flag. His two other Darlington wins came back-to-back in 2004.
3. Kasey Kahne
Kahne has yet to score a Darlington win, but he's done something nearly as impressive: Kahne has finished all 10 of his Darlington starts. We'll see if Kyle Busch has anything to say about that statistic Saturday night.
4. Matt Kenseth
All 19 of Matt Kenseth's Darlington starts have netted him a mediocre average finish of 17th, but those were also in Roush Fenway Racing cars. How will the Joe Gibbs Racing setups treat one of the strongest drivers on the circuit?
5. Denny Hamlin
He's been better than Gordon in the last seven Darlington races, but it's still not clear if Hamlin will finish Saturday night's race. That makes you wonder if he can grab top 10 No. 7 at Darlington — a feat he's accomplished in 85 percent of his starts there.
6. Kevin Harvick
NASCAR's self-proclaimed lame duck has averaged 223 laps per race in the top 15 in his last eight Darlington starts, but has just two top-5 finishes and zero wins.
7. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski's never led a lap in his four Sprint Cup starts at Darlington. That's probably legitimate because he hasn't taken to Twitter to blame another competitor for the lack of performance.
8. Clint Bowyer
Bowyer's average Darlington finish is worse than drivers like Ambrose, Bliss, Montoya, Ragan and Sadler. His 11th-place finish last season was his first lead lap Darlington result since 2008.
9. Tony Stewart
Smoke has 20 starts at Darlington since 1999, completing 6,567 laps. He's never won, though, and has led a total of only 20 laps in that period. Combine that with his No. 14's performance in 2013 and … well, you get the point.
The King's three Darlington victories came in 1966-67. (ASP, Inc.)
1. Kyle Busch
Kyle's recent average race performance at Darlington is better than most A-Listers. The ’08 winner has three straight showings of 11th or better and has averaged over 302 laps in the top 15 in his last eight starts.
2. Greg Biffle
Biffle's a little sore from his early wreck at Talladega, but a bounce back at Darlington makes sense. He led 74 laps a year ago and claims more fastest in-race laps (283) than any active driver since 2005.
3. Ryan Newman
He's never been the first to the checkered flag at Darlington, but it's not a track where Newman has his head up his posterior when it comes to performance. Since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, Newman has three Darlington top 10s in four starts.
4. Carl Edwards
Expect a solid run for Edwards at Darlington, where he's only finished off the lead lap twice. The No. 99 has two straight Darlington top 10s, too.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Driver 88 has never won at Darlington, and it's probably Jimmie Johnson's fault. Otherwise, he's got three top 5s and seven top 10s in South Carolina.
6. Martin Truex Jr.
He was fifth a year ago after leading 25 laps for his second Darlington top 10 in as many starts. In eight total starts, Truex has never been worse than 20th. Makes for a nice sleeper.
7. Jamie McMurray
Three career top 5s at Darlington, five top 10s and Big Macs are two for $4.44 right now. At least something good will come of this weekend.
8. Joey Logano
Logano's been on a roller coaster since the Fontana wreck with Hamlin. He's finished 23rd, fifth, 39th, third and then 35th at Talladega. Now, he gets to race without his normal crew chief, car chief and top engineer. Getting a first career Darlington top 5 seems like a longshot.
9. Kurt Busch
It's been 10 years since Busch lost to Ricky Craven at Darlington by roughly two inches. It's been five years since he led a lap there. It's been one year since he had a pit road dust up there.
10. Jeff Burton
The two-time Darlington winner probably still smirks at losing his battle to prevent the Rainbow Warrior from winning the 1997 Winston Million. In consolation, Darlington does provide Burton his highest top 10 per start ratio (16 of 30) of any track he's raced.
11. Mark Martin
Rejuvenated from watching the Sprint Cup whipper snappers crash everywhere at Talladega from his couch, Martin's in the No. 55 in search of his 18th Darlington top 5. He's finished 43 of 46 Darlington starts.
12. Paul Menard
Darlington is one of eight tracks where Paul Menard doesn't have a top 10. Coincidentally, he's raced just 95 of 2,161 career Darlington laps placed inside the top 15.
13. Juan Pablo Montoya
Montoya leads the series in 23rd-place Darlington finishes with three. He once scored a top 5 (2010) but went back to where he felt comfortable in the next two seasons, recording 23rd- and 24th-place finishes. Lesser writers would also note he's buoyed by his lack of jet dryer collisions at Talladega despite an inordinate amount of opportunities.
14. Marcos Ambrose
He's improved his Darlington finish by some multiple of four in each of his four starts. Last year he was ninth. That pattern isn't looking good for a win.
15. Aric Almirola
His lone Sprint Cup start at Darlington came last year, and Almirola finished 19th. A top-10 run this weekend would be his fifth straight.
16. Bobby Labonte
The former Darlington winner (1997) ran 17th in his final Joe Gibbs Racing start in 2005 at the track. He hasn't topped it since.
C-List 1. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
First Darlington Cup start, but his Nationwide numbers are respectable, with two top 10s and a pole. He's got the best equipment of the C group.
2. David Ragan
500 miles at Darlington is a little bit different than 500 miles at Talladega for Front Row Motorsports, but I won't rain on Ragan's parade.
4. David Reutimann
Fared pretty well at Darlington with Michael Waltrip Racing in 2010 with a fourth-place start and 11th-place finish. A finish like that for BK Racing would be a real Whopper.
5. Casey Mears
Mears, never better than 15th at Darlington, will try to finish on the lead lap for the first time in his 11-start career there.
6. Travis Kvapil
With the right equipment, Kvapil can finish in the top 10 at Darlington. In his current equipment, he can hope to continue just finishing at Darlington.
7. David Gilliland
The good news is Gilliland finishes better than he starts at Darlington. The bad news is Gilliland averages a 31st-place finish.
8. Danica Patrick
Ricky’s girlfriend was 31st and six laps down at the finish at year ago in her first Darlington start. A lead lap finish would be a write-home-to-momma improvement.
9. Dave Blaney
Fun fact: Team owner Tommy Baldwin Jr. once won two of four Darlington races as a crew chief for Ward Burton in 2000 and ’01. Somebody get Jeb on the phone.
10. David Stremme
Stremme's seventh start has potential for many personal firsts at Darlington: a win, a top 5, a top 10, a top 15, a top 20, leading a lap and/or a lead-lap finish.
11. J.J. Yeley
Three-straight Darlington DNFs for Yeley don't exactly make for a good time. Or a good fantasy play.
12. Josh Wise
Start-and-parked Darlington last year, but has raced every event this year.
13. Timmy Hill
He's raced Las Vegas, Talladega, Charlotte, Kansas, Phoenix, Texas, Fontana and Richmond in his career. Someone put a Go Pro camera inside Hill's car for his first Darlington practice.
14. Joe Nemechek
Nemechek made $9,670 for finishing 19th at Darlington in 1994. In 2012, he finished 40th and won $72,050. Those are Joe's most interesting Darlington facts, aside from the sixth he had in 1999 for Felix Sabates.
Entered drivers on start-and-park watch:
HEAD COACH: Bo Pelini, 49-20 (5 years) |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Tim Beck |
DEF. COORDINATOR: John Papuchis
Optimism about the offense begins with quarterback Taylor Martinez, a fourth-year starter. He has been risk-reward throughout his career, however. Last season, for example, he set school records with 3,890 yards of total offense and 33 touchdowns passing and rushing. His passing yardage and TD passes were both the third-most in Husker history, and he was only the fourth Nebraska quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. On the negative side, he was turnover-prone, losing 8-of-16 fumbles and throwing 12 interceptions.
Ameer Abdullah was technically the No. 2 tailback but stepped up when the departed Rex Burkhead battled a knee injury, starting seven games and rushing for 1,137 yards and eight touchdowns. Imani Cross, the only other experienced I-back, is trying to prove that he’s more than a third down back.
The top three receivers return: Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner. But Jake Long is the only experienced tight end, a position at which the Huskers have traditionally been solid.
The line again is built around first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-America guard Spencer Long, an aggressive run-blocker, as well as three veteran tackles.
Coach Bo Pelini is spending more time with the defense, his area of expertise, a change that began a year ago. In addition, the defensive staff has a year’s worth experience working with second-year coordinator John Papuchis. Line coach Rick Kaczenski and secondary coach Terry Joseph were new last season; linebackers coach Ross Els was new the year before.
There’s experience and depth in the secondary. Cornerbacks Ciante Evans, Andrew Green, Josh Mitchell and Stanley Jean-Baptiste all have been starters.
In contrast, the defensive line has only two players with significant experience — end Jason Ankrah and tackle Thad Randle, who battled injuries last season. The plan is to utilize several players up front, some of whom could play both inside and outside.
The starting linebackers are new, with Zaire Anderson, a former junior college transfer who started one game in 2012 before undergoing knee surgery, and David Santos leading the way. True freshman Courtney Love might make an immediate impact.
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Taylor Martinez, QB – Has a Nebraska-record 39 starts at quarterback and ranks eighth all-time in rushing with 2,858 yards and 31 rushing TDs.
Ameer Abdullah, IB – Rushed for 1,137 yards and eight TDs, earning coaches’ second-team All-Big Ten honors.
Kenny Bell, WR – Second-team All-Big Ten pick caught 50 passes for 863 yards and eight touchdowns.
Nebraska hasn’t been concerned with kicking under Pelini, with Alex Henery for three seasons and then Brett Maher the last two seasons. Mauro Bondi backed up Maher two seasons ago then redshirted in 2012. Unlike Maher or Henery, Bondi was a scholarship recruit, with an impressive résumé out of high school. He has kicked only one extra point at Nebraska, however, so he’s an unknown quantity. Henery and Maher punted as well, and Bondi could follow them. But redshirt freshman walk-on Sam Foltz appears to have the edge there. The loss of long-snapper P.J. Mangieri also is significant.
Five seasons into his tenure, Pelini has gotten the program back on track, winning at least nine games in each of those seasons and playing for a conference title three times. But the Huskers have yet to win a championship, and they’ve lost their last three bowls.
The offense is championship caliber and is directed by a veteran quarterback. The main concern is the development of a line with two new starters. But the defense is inexperienced everywhere except at cornerback, and a question mark coming off a season in which it allowed a staggering 214 points and 2,380 yards in four losses.
The schedule sets up well, with eight home games and no Ohio State or Wisconsin in Big Ten interdivisional play. The Huskers could well be 8–0 going to Michigan in early November.
This elite defensive end is one of very few people to win a championship on every level of play. In fact, Wistrom landed three National Championships while in Lincoln – 1994, 1995, 1997. The Huskers went 49-2 in Wistrom’s tenure in college, and the talented end was one of very few freshman to contribute on the ’94 title team. The two-time consensus All-American was the fourth Lombardi Award winner in school history after his stellar ’97 season. He posted 51 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss that year. Wistrom earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in the Big 12 when he posted 75 tackles, 9.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss in 1996. Overall, Wistrom holds the school record for tackles for a loss with 58.5 and ranks second all-time with 26.5 sacks. He was selected with the sixth overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams and was inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame in 2009.
College or pro, Shields is one of the greatest blockers in the history of the game. The list of awards and acclaim is long and distinguished. Shields helped the Huskers lead the nation in rushing in three of his four seasons as a starter. He is one of 16 Huskers to have their numbers retired. He was a three-time all-conference performer. But his best season was his final year in Lincoln, when Shields won the prestigious Outland Trophy as the best lineman in the nation. He was a consensus All-American that season and a Lombardi semifinalist as well. Shields fell to the third round, where the Kansas City Chiefs selected the 12-time Pro Bowler.
Crouch was yo-yoed in and out of the lineup during his first year and nearly left the team after his second season in Lincoln. But in week three of the 1999 season, Crouch took over for good and led the Huskers to a Big 12 championship and a 12-1 record. In 2000, he led the Huskers to a 10-2 mark, setting the stage for a massive 2001 campaign. In only the first game of the season, Crouch passed Tommie Frazier as the school’s all-time total offense leader. Records then began to fall weekly. He became the Big 12’s all-time leading rushing quarterback against Rice. The next week against Mizzou, his 95-yard TD run was the longest in school history. The following week against Iowa State, Crouch broke the record for TDs by a quarterback. After becoming only the fourth player in D-1 history with 3,000 yards rushing and passing, Crouch ran his most famous play, Black 41 Flash Reverse Pass. As both QB and WR, Crouch likely won the Heisman Trophy by catching a 63-yard TD pass against the Sooners. He set school records for wins by a QB (35–7), led the team to an 11–1 record and a berth in the national title game. He claimed the 2001 Heisman, Davey O’Brien and Walter Camp awards.
As one of the school’s most electric players, Rodgers has the honor of being the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner. “The Jet” was a stellar return specialist, receiver and running back totaling 5,586 all-purpose yards, a number that still stands as a career Nebraska record. His 1,983 yards in 1971 were a single-season record until he broke his own mark with 2,011 yards the following year (since broken). Rodgers has been described as the greatest returner in college football history, as his seven career punt return TDs stood as a record for decades. Rodgers also set Nebraska school records for receptions with 143 and yards with 2,479. He played on two National Championship teams (1970, 1971) as NU posted a 32-2-2 mark during his tenure. Despite being drafted in the first round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the Chargers, Rodgers instead signed a contract with the Montreal Alouettes. Rodgers was inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame in 2000. As a side note, Rodgers is the only player to be convicted of a felony prior to receiving the Heisman Trophy.
After playing alongside arguably the best center to ever play (Dave Rimington), Steinkuhler won the school's third consecutive Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman in 1983, after Rimington had claimed the award in 1981 and 1982. Steinkuhler also claimed the Lombardi Award for Nebraska for the second year in a row. Nebraska is the only team that has had consecutive winners of both the Outland and Lombardi awards. Steinkuhler is one of 16 players to have their Nebraska number retired and is the player who made the “Fumblerooski” famous when he picked up Turner Gill’s intentional fumble in the 1984 Orange Bowl and rumbled 19 yards for a touchdown. The Houston Oilers selected the big ugly with the second overall pick in the 1984 NFL Draft.
The list of accolades for Rimington is astounding. He was a two-time consensus All-American (1981, 1982). He won Big-8 Player of the Year in 1981 — the only time an offensive lineman earned such honors. He claimed back-to-back Outland Trophies as the nation’s top lineman — and is the award's only two-time winner. He claimed the Lombardi Award in 1982 as well and finished fifth in the Heisman voting. He is one of 16 Huskers to have his jersey retired and was inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame in 1997. Rimington was such a dominant force at center that now the award given to the nation’s top center each year carries his name. The stellar hog molly was drafted with the 25th pick in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
“The greatest defensive player I ever saw,” is how former NU coach Bob Devaney described Glover. In 1972, Glover won the program’s first Lombardi Award and the school’s second ever Outland Trophy. He was the first player in school history to win both awards. As a two-time consensus All-American, Glover led the Big Red defense to back-to-back National Championships in 1970 and 1971, leading the team in tackles in with 92 stops in '71. The following year Glover landed Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year honors and finished third in the Heisman voting (teammate Johnny Rodgers won the Heisman that year). He had his number retired by the Huskers and was inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame in 1995. He was drafted in the third round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.
Suh was arguably the most dominant defensive lineman of the last twenty seasons in all of college football; there are fewer awards that he didn't win than those he earned. He earned freshman all-league honors as a redshirt freshman. As a junior, Suh became the first defensive tackle to lead the team in tackles (76) since 1973. He also led the team in tackles for a loss (19.0), posted 7.5 sacks and returned two INTs for touchdowns. He also caught a TD while moonlighting as a fullback. In 2009, Suh made 85 stops, 12 sacks, 24 tackles for a loss, three blocked kicks and one very huge interception against Mizzou. Suh dominated awards night that season, earning the Nagurski Trophy for top defensive player in the nation, the Outland Trophy for best interior lineman, the Lombardi for the top lineman or linebacker and Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player. The unanimous All-American was a Heisman finalist in 2009, finishing fourth. Suh was taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions and took home NFL Rookie of the Year honors.
In just three seasons, the two-time All-American became Nebraska’s all-time leading rusher with 4,780 yards. As a junior, he set the Big Red single-season rushing record with 1,689 yards while leading the Huskers to a second straight outright Big 8 championship. As a senior, Rozier posted mind-boggling numbers with 2,486 all-purpose yards, 2,148 rushing yards, 29 total TDs and 174 total points — all of which are still Nebraska single-season records. He became the school’s second Heisman Trophy winner that season leading the Huskers into the 1984 Orange Bowl against Miami for the national title. The 31-30 loss was marked by a Rozier ankle injury that kept the Heisman winner out of the fourth quarter after 138 yards at halftime. Rozier also won the Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Player of the Year award in 1983. He was selected in the first round of both the NFL and USFL Drafts in 1984 and was inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame in 2006.
Despite not joining Eric Crouch in winning the prestigious Heisman Trophy, Frazier is easily the greatest quarterback to ever play for Nebraska — a program with a long list of elite quarterbacks. Frazier posted a 33-3 record as a starter and won back-to-back National Championships in 1994 and 1995. It would have been three straight championships had NU managed to convert a last-second field goal in the 1994 Orange Bowl. Despite blood clots in his leg in 1994, Frazier brought the Huskers back to the title game and claimed his second straight bowl MVP award and, this time, claimed his first national title game. These first two years under center merely set the stage for the 1995 campaign, in which Frazier led what many consider the best football team in NCAA history back to its third straight title game. The greatest run in college football history — Frazier’s seven broken tackle, 75-yard TD run against Florida — capped a 62–24 romp over the vaunted Gators and gave Big Red its second straight title. Frazier was once again took home the MVP, making him the only player in history to win three MVPs in national championship games. He finished second in the Heisman balloting that season but won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and was a consensus All-American.
Down seven points with 1:02 left and with its national title hopes waning, Nebraska drove to the Missouri 12-yard line. On the last play of regulation, Scott Frost tossed a pass into the end zone that glanced first off the hands and then off the feet of Shelvin Wiggins. As the ball floated toward the turf, Matt Davison caught it, forcing overtime. The Cornhuskers prevailed, 45-38, and went on to claim a share of the national crown.
Tom Osborne had lost his first five games in a row to Oklahoma, and many in Lincoln were wondering whether he had been the right choice to succeed Bob Devaney when the top-ranked Sooners came to Lincoln to face the fourth-rated Cornhuskers. But Nebraska forced nine fumbles and recovered six en route to a stirring, 17-14 win fueled by the nasty Black Shirts defense and 113 yards rushing and a touchdown from Rick Berns.
After having lost the last seven bowl games they played against teams from Florida, number-one Nebraska took on third-rated Miami in the Orange Bowl and secured coach Tom Osborne’s first national title with a 24-17 win. The Cornhuskers spotted Miami a 17-7 lead but stormed back and clinched the win when fullback Cory Schlessinger rumbled 14 yards for a touchdown.
Number two Oklahoma invaded Lincoln for “The Game of theCentury” with the top-ranked Cornhuskers, and the contest lived up to its name. Johnny Rodgers’ 72-yard punt return opened the scoring, but Jeff Kinney’s two-yard run with 1:38 left was the decisive play in a 35-31 Nebraska triumph.
David Smith crunches the numbers for the Southern 500
Denny Hamlin at Darlington in 2012. (ASP, Inc.)
Denny Hamlin’s much-discussed return to the seat of his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry became an afterthought at Talladega once Brian Vickers climbed into the seat and provided Hamlin with a paltry 10 points thanks to a crash-caused 34th-place result. Ouch.
Hamlin’s actual return comes at a racetrack which he’s enjoyed a fair share of success. His go-to tracks are commonly considered Martinsville and Richmond — rightfully, so — but Darlington Raceway has been a fixture in Hamlin’s career, rooted in significance. The driver made his first NASCAR Nationwide Series start there in 2004 when, as an unknown aspiring NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racer, he finished eighth. He’s had the attention of the stock car industry ever since.
This weekend, it will provide another key moment in the career of a potential champion. Just the return from serious injury in any sport is a monumental occurrence, but in Hamlin’s case, the track that he has chosen to make his full-race return might have bigger aspirations in store, so says this week’s numbers.
5.100 Welcome back, Denny Hamlin. The driver of the No. 11 is returning from injury at a track where he ranks first in driver production with a 5.100 PEER (Production in Equal Equipment Rating).
The storybook ending is entirely possible, and no, NASCAR doesn’t have to “rig the playing field” to make it happen. Hamlin is staggeringly adept at the 1.366-mile track. He is the only driver to score top-15 finishes in each Darlington race of the CoT era. This also gives him the highest average finish (5.8) in the series during that time frame.
27.58% Think Denny Hamlin can’t make the Chase? Think again. He currently has a 27.58 percent probability of qualifying into the Chase via an automatic top-10 spot, which is the 16th-best percentage among 33 eligible drivers.
Yes, he’s six spots out of a desired top-10 position, but it’s unlikely, based on relevant past averages, that he’ll qualify for the Chase in this manner (he is currently 31st in the point standings). His entry into NASCAR’s playoff would be by way of a wild card spot. In order to land one of these two golden tickets, a driver must first be in the top 20 in points (which the probability suggests he will be by the conclusion of Race 26 at Richmond). Then, the driver has to have the most or second-most wins out of drivers that meet the prerequisite. Hamlin will have to compile wins and that realistically could start as soon as this weekend.
322 Kyle Busch has led 322 laps, the most in the series, in the last five Darlington races.
Leading just over 17.5 percent of the laps through a five-race span usually results in winning. It did for Busch, who put on a spectacular display of car control in the 2008 race. It’s normal for Busch, who ranks second in Darlington-specific PEER (4.800), to lead a large quantity of laps, but he is strong in the finish column as well. He is one of two winning drivers to have earned three top-10 finishes during the CoT era.
Could Martin Truex Jr. break the winless skid at Darlington? (ASP, Inc.)
4.200 With a 4.200 PEER, Martin Truex Jr. is the most productive Darlington racer to have not captured a win at the track.
“The Lady in Black” has been a tease for Truex’s win column, but boy, is he a pretty spectacular driver at Darlington. He hasn’t finished lower than 19th there in the last five races and in four of the five, he led at least one lap. In last year’s race, he led 25 laps and had the fifth-highest average running position of the race (10.46) before finishing fifth, bringing his CoT-era Darlington finishing average to 10.8 in entries owned by Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Michael Waltrip Racing.
Truex has finished second six times since his last (and only) Cup Series win, which came in 2007. Suggesting that Darlington is a place that could break that spell isn’t an exaggeration.
-21.1% Truex’s top 15 efficiency through 10 races this season is -21.1 percent, or in other words, a largely aggressive approach to races.
Top 15 efficiency depicts the difference between laps run in the top 15 (in Truex’s case, 71.1 percent) and races finished in the top 15 (50 percent). The negative number isn’t necessarily bad — for instance, Kyle Busch is historically at his most productive when he is the holder of a large negative number — but Truex and the No. 56 team probably view this as a major concern. The 71.1 percent of laps run in the top 15 is the sixth-highest mark in the series, but it hasn’t translated into finishes. Truex and the No. 56 rank 11th in average finish this year among teams that have competed in each race. It’s a large discrepancy that the driver should focus on closing.
5.11% Following his win at Talladega, David Ragan now has a 5.11 percent chance to make the Chase.
That’s a long-shot probability to qualify into the Chase with a top-10 spot, but can the bonus win aid his quest? Probably not. Based on his and his team’s past relevant averages, he is slated to finish 25th following the final regular season race at Richmond. A driver must be 20th or higher in points to be wild card eligible. If he wishes to close the gap, it will take some significant work; between now and the Chase, he will need to raise his points-per-race average (19.2) to around 24 just to sneak into the top 20. A less than five-position improvement seems easy enough, but for an under-armed team like Front Row Motorsports, it’s a precipitous climb.
Athlon pinpoints the best young drivers in the NASCAR ranks.
To suggest that any player, athlete, coach or driver in any sport after just a few seasons is a lock to make the Hall of Fame is ridiculous. But it is always fun to look at guys who have had instant success and try to extrapolate long-term potential. Limiting the scope to the last three rookie classes, here are the most likely future NASCAR Hall of Famers.
HEAD COACH: Mike Riley, 81-67 (12 years) |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Danny Langsdorf |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark Banker
Coach Mike Riley plans to pick a starting quarterback — either Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz — the week before the first game. It’s going to be a difficult decision, but Riley believes he can’t make a bad choice because both possess the know-how and ability to run the offense and win games.
Mannion took over as the starter two games into his redshirt freshman season in 2011. He showed a ton of upside and was named a Freshman All-American after passing for 3,328 yards and 16 touchdowns. Mannion’s sophomore season began even better as the Beavers jumped out to a 4–0 record, but a minor knee injury that required surgery forced him out of two games and began the quarterback competition when Vaz won both of his starts.
The quarterback, whether it’s Mannion or Vaz, will have many targets in the receiving corps. Brandin Cooks is the big-play threat. He had 1,151 receiving yards and is elusive after the catch. Kevin Cummings and tight end Connor Hamlett started to emerge as reliable options at the end of last season.
Running back Storm Woods should improve in his second season as a starter. He nearly topped 1,000 yards despite a lingering bruised knee. He’s healthy now and showed improved speed during spring practice. He will have the luxury of running behind a veteran offensive line that returns four starters.
The Beavers typically move the ball with ease; it’s just a matter of scoring.
The Beavers rebuilt the defensive line with junior college transfers. Siale Hautau and Edwin Delva transferred midyear to learn the tackle position in spring practice. They’ll take up blockers, which will allow aggressive defensive ends Scott Crichton, who had nine sacks, and Dylan Wynn to get after the quarterback. More junior college defensive linemen arrive in the fall. The Beavers plan to rotate up to eight players on the line.
Both starting outside linebackers return. Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander are hard-hitting and quick. They made plays in space and covered backs out of the backfield. A middle linebacker needs to emerge, and sophomore Joel Skotte will be given a shot. If he doesn’t stick, Josh Williams is an option.
The secondary returns two safeties and a cornerback. Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman are back as safeties. Both like to support the run but also are effective in coverage. Rashaad Reynolds is the cornerback opponents avoid. He intercepted three passes and broke up 13 last season. Sean Martin and junior college transfer Steven Nelson are in competition for the other corner position. Both will play significantly now that the Beavers use nickel and dime packages on a regular basis.
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Brandin Cooks, WR - Gained 1,151 yards as the second receiver by being elusive and gaining yards after the catch.
Rashaad Reynolds, CB - Teams went after him, and he responded with three interceptions and 13 pass breakups.
Michael Doctor, LB - The athletic, hard-hitter led the team in tackles last year with 83. He intercepted a pass and broke up four others.
Kicker Trevor Romaine addressed the inconsistencies that plagued him as a freshman in 2011. He returned to hit 16-of-18 field goals. Punter Keith Kostol secured his position with an average of 41.9 yards on 59 attempts. Oregon State’s return game needs a boost. Jordan Poyer, the punt returner, is gone, and the Beavers’ kickoff return unit was the worst in the Pac-12 at 18.3 yards per return.
The Beavers started strong and reached the Alamo Bowl last season. One year removed from a 3–9 season, Oregon State finished in the top 25 for the first time since 2008. Riley went young two years ago, and most of those players are now upperclassmen.
Oregon and Stanford are the class the Pac-12, but Oregon State is near the top of the next tier. Contending for a league title will be tough — especially since the Beavers play in the North — but Oregon State has the talent and experience to flirt with the 10-win mark.
HEAD COACH: Pat Fitzgerald, 50-39 (7 years) |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Mick McCall |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Hankwitz
After transitioning to a run-based attack in 2012, Northwestern could feature one of the Big Ten’s best offenses if its line comes together. The Wildcats return almost all of their top skill players, including senior running back Venric Mark, an All-Big Ten selection who racked up 1,366 rushing yards in 2012. Mark and quarterback Kain Colter spark a zone-read run game that at times is unstoppable, particularly in the red zone.
The Wildcats will continue using a two-quarterback system of Colter and junior Trevor Siemian that proved effective for much of 2012. Although Colter is a true dual-threat while Siemian boasts a big-time arm, both must show greater consistency with the high-percentage passes that fuel the spread offense. Northwestern once again looks extremely deep at receiver and tight end but needs more production from a group that had no player eclipse 35 receptions last fall.
The offense will hinge on a line that must replace three starters and had several key players out in spring practice. Center Brandon Vitabile is an excellent cornerstone, but Northwestern needs to fill out the other four spots and maintain the physical mentality that emerged in 2012.
The defense took a step forward last season and could take another as a new emphasis on speed in recruiting is paying off. Northwestern features playmakers at all three levels and saw its takeaways (29) and sacks (28) soar in 2012.
Senior end Tyler Scott anchors the defensive line after leading the team in sacks (nine), tackles for a loss (12.5) and forced fumbles (three) in 2012. He’ll provide the power, while Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo bring tremendous speed as edge-rushers. The Wildcats are thin at defensive tackle and need young players to emerge.
Northwestern returns two starters at linebacker in veteran Damien Proby in the middle and Chi Chi Ariguzo, who had a role in six turnovers last season and brings a ball-hawking mentality to either outside spot. Collin Ellis and Drew Smith both will see field time.
No unit has benefited from the speed-based recruiting efforts more than the secondary, which finally boasts enough Big Ten-caliber players. Productive safety Ibraheim Campbell enters his third season as a starter, and dynamic cornerback Nick VanHoose also returns. Coach Pat Fitzgerald is excited about the depth at cornerback. Hard-hitting sophomore Traveon Henry could fill the starting safety spot opposite Campbell.
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Venric Mark, RB - Became Northwestern’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006 and earned All-America honors as a punt returner.
Kain Colter, QB - Racked up 1,935 yards of total offense (894 rush, 872 pass, 169 receiving) and 20 touchdowns last season.
Tyler Scott, DE - Had breakout junior season, leading the Wildcats in sacks (nine), tackles for a loss (12.5) and forced fumbles (three).
A liability for years, Northwestern’s kicking game is suddenly a strength. The Wildcats return the Big Ten’s top kicker in Jeff Budzien, who made 19-of-20 field-goal attempts in 2012, and the league’s top return threat in Mark, who earned All-America honors as a punt returner after recording two touchdowns and averaging 18.7 yards per runback. Veteran punter Brandon Williams enters his fourth year as the starter.
Northwestern finally put its bowl bugaboo in the rear-view mirror, and with most of its core pieces back from a 10-win team, the next step is to compete for a Big Ten championship. Although Fitzgerald has elevated the program in seven years, he’s still looking for his first league title as a coach. The offense should be explosive if the line comes together in the preseason, as Mark provides the run threat Northwestern lacked for years. The defense boasts more speed, athleticism and playmakers like Scott, Ariguzo, VanHoose and Campbell. Special teams once again should be very strong.
“Now that we’ve set a benchmark for ourselves,” Siemian says, “we know that it’s unacceptable not to make it to the Big Ten championship or the Rose Bowl.”
HEAD COACH: Todd Graham, 8-5 (1 year) |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Norvell |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Paul Randolph, Chris Ball
If Arizona State can find some wide receivers who can get open and catch the ball, its offense could be as explosive as any in the Pac-12. Quarterback Taylor Kelly doesn’t have the strongest arm in the conference, but he’s a superb leader, and he has a knack for being able to make big plays at the biggest moments. His ability to throw on the run and make plays with his feet has reminded some of former ASU great Jake Plummer.
The Sun Devils also return two terrific running backs in senior Marion Grice and sophomore D.J. Foster. Both players have breakaway speed, can run between the tackles and are terrific pass-catchers out of the backfield. As much as coach Todd Graham likes to run the ball, both Grice and Foster could surpass 1,000 yards rushing. Grice is the leading returning rusher with 679 yards and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. “I ask (Grice) every day after practice ‘Did you practice today like the Heisman Trophy winner?’ and he tells me yes or no,” Graham says. “He’s had quite a few practices (this spring) where he’s said yes, so I feel good about that.”
The offensive line should be solid, despite the loss of two starters, and tight end Chris Coyle is an effective weapon both down the field and on third downs. If just one of the five receivers Graham signed can contribute immediately — junior college transfer Jaelen Strong is the most likely candidate — the offense will be extremely difficult to stop.
The secondary is the concern here — it’s not overly talented or especially deep — but that may not matter given how good the front seven should be.
Tackle Will Sutton (13 sacks, 23.5 tackles for a loss) is arguably the best defensive lineman in the country, and he’s surrounded by a deep and particularly athletic front that benefits from the attacking style Graham employs. Linebacker Carl Bradford had 11.5 sacks last year, and it’s conceivable that he and Sutton could combine for 30 sacks this year.
Throw in nose tackle Jaxon Hood, a Freshman All-American in 2012, and ends Junior Onyeali and Davon Coleman, and it’s no wonder that Graham believes this could be one of the best defenses he’s ever had.
ASU must replace two starters in the secondary, but the pass coverage doesn’t have to be great given how little time opposing quarterbacks should have to throw the ball.
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Taylor Kelly, QB – Set a school record by completing 67.1 percent of his passes and accounted for more than 3,500 yards of total offense.
Will Sutton, DT – Consensus All-American in 2012 after racking up 23.5 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks, the fourth-highest total in school history.
Marion Grice, RB – Led the team with 679 rushing yards, had three TDs against Arizona and was named Offensive MVP of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
Special teams often get overlooked by fans, but this is huge concern for Graham. The Sun Devils have to replace standout punter Josh Hubner, who averaged 47.1 yards per kick, but more important, they have to find a reliable placekicker. Neither Alex Garoutte nor Jon Mora was the final answer last year, and Graham was so concerned he added Zane Gonzalez as a late signee to his 2013 recruiting class.
The Sun Devils have all the ingredients to make a run at the Pac-12 South title and an appearance in the Rose Bowl. Their defense — led by the reigning Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year in Sutton — should be dominant. They return their quarterback, top two running backs and three starters on the O-line.
Do they have concerns? Sure. They need to find a couple of quality receivers, and they don’t have much depth in the secondary, particularly at cornerback. But there’s not a dominant team in the South, and the schedule is favorable: The Sun Devils don’t play Oregon, they get USC at home and two of their final three games are at Sun Devil Stadium. A nine-win season and date in the Pac-12 Championship Game are not beyond their reach.