ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 2/23

While there’s not a tremendous amount of movement in this week’s rankings, there is a change at the top.  It’s tough to rank the two when neither has lost, except to each other, since January 28, with current winning streaks of seven and six games, and its reached the point where, in Virginia’s case, just sneaking by with a win isn’t enough to keep them on top here.

1. Duke (24-3 overall, 11-3 ACC, Last Week: 2nd, AP Poll: 4th)
Last Week: North Carolina (W, 92-90, ot), Clemson (W, 78-56)
This Week: at Virginia Tech (Wednesday), Syracuse (Saturday)
Duke showed a tremendous amount of fight to come from double digits down to beat North Carolina in overtime in the game’s biggest rivalry, before beating Clemson even worse than the 22-point margin would indicate.  This team has played extremely well since their loss to Notre Dame on January 28, with a 30-point win over that same Notre Dame team as the signature win of the streak, in addition to the win over North Carolina.  This week, expect the streak to continue, as Duke travels to Virginia Tech and hosts Syracuse.

2.  Virginia (25-1, 13-1, 1st, AP: 2nd)
Last Week: Pittsburgh (W, 61-49), Florida State (W, 51-41)
This Week: at Wake Forest (Wednesday), Virginia Tech (Saturday)
Virginia has lost the top spot after both of their wins this past week, although by double digits, were really much closer than the score would indicate, and, dating back to games the week before against NC State and Wake Forest, they have struggled since losing guard Justin Anderson to injury.  While nothing is necessarily easy in the ACC, they do have a couple of games against lower-tier teams Wake Forest and Virginia Tech to work out some of their recent difficulties, although London Perrantes may or may not be out with a broken nose.

3. Notre Dame (24-4, 12-3, 3rd, AP: 9th)
Last Week: Wake Forest (W, 88-75), at Boston College (W, 87-70)
This Week: Syracuse (Tuesday)
The Irish took care of business in wins over Wake Forest and Boston College, enabling them to move back into the top 10 in the AP Poll.  After they host Syracuse, they will get a week to prepare for a game next week at Louisville.  Last year, with Jerian Grant out with academic issues, this team was 6-12 in the ACC, showing Grant’s invaluable meaning to this team as he has led them into the top 10 this year.

4. North Carolina (19-8, 9-5, 5th, AP: 15th)
Last Week: at Duke (L, 92-90, ot), Georgia Tech (W, 89-60)
This Week: NC State (Tuesday), at Miami (Saturday)
North Carolina didn’t look like they could hang with Duke early in their game against the Blue Devils, but would come back to take a double-digit lead late in the game before Duke’s incredible comeback gave the Heels an overtime loss.  Carolina then proceeded to blow out Georgia Tech in the first home game since former coach Dean Smith’s passing, even honoring Smith by running the “four corners” offense for a play.  This week they host rival NC State after a close game earlier in the season in Raleigh, before traveling to Miami, a place where they’ve had their share of past struggles.

5. Louisville (21-6, 9-5, 4th, AP: 17th)
Last Week: at Syracuse (L, 69-59), Miami (W, 55-53)
This Week: at Georgia Tech (Monday), at Florida State (Saturday)
The Cardinals struggled to a loss at Louisville, before finding a way to win a back-and-forth game with Miami.  In the game against Syracuse, part of the reason they didn’t play particularly well was the suspension of point guard Chris Jones.  Jones was reinstated for Saturday’s game, but then was dismissed from the program on Saturday, leaving the Cardinals without their third-leading scorer, who led the team in assists and steals.  It will be interesting to see how the team reacts, particularly with the next two games on the road, at Georgia Tech and Florida State.

6. Pittsburgh (18-10, 7-7, 6th)
Last Week: at Virginia (L, 61-49), at Syracuse (W, 65-61)
This Week: Boston College (Tuesday), at Wake Forest (Sunday)
The Panthers had to play Virginia just two days after their upset of North Carolina, and hung in the game for a while but were somewhat overmatched on the road against the Cavaliers, but they came back to win on the road at Syracuse.  The Panthers recent strong play has taken them from NCAA Tournament afterthought to a bubble team, currently being listed as the sixth team out in ESPN’s projected field, and first out of the CBS Sports projected field.  Pitt doesn’t have any ranked teams left on the schedule, so they can’t afford to lose many more, particularly this week when they host Boston College and travel to Wake Forest.

7. NC State (16-11, 7-7, 7th)
Last Week: Virginia Tech (W, 69-53)
This Week: at North Carolina (Tuesday), at Boston College (Saturday)
The Wolfpack took care of business in their only game of the week, beating Virginia Tech, and due to the struggles of some other teams on the bubble over the last week, moved from being the last team in the projected tournament field to the fourth-to-last team in, according to ESPN and CBS Sports.  Mark Gottfried’s team will have a shot to improve their resume this week in Chapel Hill, before a trip to Boston College, when they will try to avoid a “bad loss” against the Eagles.

8. Syracuse (17-10, 8-6, 9th)*
Last Week: Louisville (W, 69-59), Pittsburgh (L, 65-61)
This Week: at Notre Dame (Tuesday), at Duke (Saturday)
I recently said that, since Syracuse is banning themselves from the postseason this year, games against highly ranked opponents and rivalry games would be postseason-like for the Orange.  Sure enough, they stepped up to the plate for their game against Louisville, beating the Cardinals by 10, although they did lose to Pittsburgh.  This week, two more of those big games exist, but this time on the road, traveling to South Bend and Durham to face top 10 opponents.

9. Miami (17-10, 7-7. 10th)
Last Week: at Boston College (W, 89-86, 2ot), Virginia Tech (W, 76-52), at Louisville (L, 55-53)
This Week: Florida State (Wednesday), North Carolina (Saturday)
The Hurricanes are another bubble team, although the highest I’ve seen them projected is as the second team out, with other projections having them a little bit further out.  The Hurricanes did win the games they couldn’t afford to lose this week, beating Boston College and Virginia Tech, but lost a golden opportunity for a high quality road win when they couldn’t finish at Louisville.  They will have another opportunity for one at home when they host North Carolina, but first they have to take care of business at home against rival Florida State.

10. Florida State (15-13, 7-8, 11th)
Last Week: Boston College (W, 69-60), at Virginia (L, 51-41)
This Week: at Miami (Wednesday), Louisville (Saturday)
The Seminoles have consistently stayed near the .500 mark in the league and a game or two above it overall throughout the last few weeks, which is a nice way for their season to unfold after a horrendous start in November and early December.  The Noles beat Boston College as expected, and played Virginia very strong, staying within one to two possessions for most of the game, until very late in the second half, on the road against the nation’s second-ranked team.  Now they will go upset hunting once again, as they travel to Miami and host Louisville.

11. Clemson (15-12, 7-8, 8th)
Last Week: at Georgia Tech (L, 63-52), at Duke (L, 78-56)
This Week: Georgia Tech (Saturday)
A couple of weeks ago, Clemson had worked their way on to the NCAA bubble, but now they’ve dropped out of contention, and likely need to win the ACC Tournament to go dancing, after a stretch of four losses in five games.  That includes this past week’s losses to Georgia Tech, embarrassing because of the Yellow Jackets’ record, and Duke, embarrassing because of the score.  The Tigers now get a much-needed week off before a rematch with Georgia Tech, this time at home.

12. Wake Forest (12-15, 4-10, 12th)
Last Week: at Notre Dame (L, 88-75)
This Week: Virginia (Wednesday), Pittsburgh (Sunday)
A few days after nearly beating Virginia, Wake Forest was close with Notre Dame at half, before the Irish slowly pulled away in the second half.  The Deacons have often played better than the results indicate, but therefore don’t have the record to show it.  Now they get a rematch with Virginia, who will be without either one or two of their key players, before senior night against Pittsburgh, where Wake can potentially play NCAA spoiler.

13. Georgia Tech (12-15, 3-12, 13th)
Last Week: Clemson (W, 63-52), at North Carolina (L, 89-60)
This Week: Louisville (Monday), at Clemson (Saturday)
The Yellow Jackets were decently impressive in their win over Clemson, picking up their third league win, but then were destroyed in Chapel Hill in a game that wasn’t even as close as the 29-point margin.  To their defense, it was going to be difficult for anyone to win in the Smith Center in the first home game for the Tar Heels after Dean Smith’s death.  Now, on a quick turnaround, they host a ranked Louisville team on national TV, looking for the upset in Louisville’s first game without Chris Jones, before traveling to Clemson for a rematch.

14. Virginia Tech (10-17, 2-12, 14th)
Last Week: at Miami (L, 76-52), at NC State (L, 69-53)
This Week: Duke (Wednesday), at Virginia (Saturday)
The Hokies are young, and Buzz Williams is building a program.  But it can’t be easy to be a Virginia Tech fan this basketball season, and particularly this past week, as they were blown out by both Miami and NC State.  That being said, it doesn’t get any easier for the Gobblers, as this week they play the consensus top two teams in the conference.  They can look forward to next week, when they will play Boston College in the battle of the cellar.

15. Boston College (9-17, 1-13, 15th)
Last Week: at Florida State (L, 69-60), Notre Dame (L, 87-70)
This Week: NC State (Saturday)
The Eagles are also struggling mightily in ACC play, in a league where they haven’t been favored in a game all year and likely won’t be, not even against Virginia Tech (that game is in Blacksburg).  Jim Christian has some talented players, but doesn’t have much depth to compete at an ACC level, and it showed in losses to Florida State and Notre Dame.  The Eagles get a week to prepare for NC State, in their final game before that trip to Blacksburg, which is arguably their biggest game of the year, in the sense of battling for position in the league.

*ineligible for postseason, including ACC Tournament, due to self-imposed postseason ban to comply with NCAA investigation

Game of the Week: NC State at #15 North Carolina (Tuesday, 8:00 pm ET)
NC State could use a big win to give themselves some cushion on the NCAA bubble, and here they will play a ranked opponent on the road in a rivalry game, an obvious chance for such a win.  When these teams met in Raleigh, the Tar Heels won 81-79, but the Wolfpack nearly tipped in an intentionally missed free throw in an attempt to tie the game at the buzzer.  The Heels have won 11 straight meetings at the Smith Center, with the last Wolfpack win coming in 2003, but these games are often very hard-fought and very close.  Carolina had lost four of six before Saturday, but they are a better team than that would indicate, and remain ranked in the top 15.  Whoever wins this game will have played well and will have a lot to be proud of, but will also have some bragging rights.
North Carolina 83, NC State 78.

Advertisements

The Beauty of Daytona

The risk of speed.  The glory of victory.  The beauty of Daytona.

With speed, there is always an inherent risk.  Every driver knows the possibility he or she faces every time they turn a lap.  The level of danger going 200 miles per hour is clear, particularly on a circuit where cars run together in traffic tighter than at rush hour in Los Angeles.  The resulting accidents can be aesthetically spectacular.  Often, the drivers walk away, but occasionally they don’t.  So why accept the stakes?

Glory.  The opportunity for immortality.  The chance a driver can see his name, etched in silver, on a trophy of black stone.  A trophy where names like Cope and Bayne and Hamilton sit beside names like Petty and Earnhardt and Gordon, beneath a machine as iconic as the Firebird.  This prize is the greatest triumph a racer can chase.

This clash of peril and prestige takes place just five miles from the world’s most famous beach.  It was that beach where the search for speed began over one hundred years ago, and where a visionary had a dream in 1948 that became the spectacle we celebrate this day.  But head to that beach this morn, and it truly is the calm before the roar of this afternoon’s storm.

But in this beautiful backdrop, is the glory worth the risk?

The 42 men and one woman in pursuit of today’s prize will answer with a pronounced proclamation:

Yes.

Why?

For the risk of speed.  For the glory of victory.  For the beauty of Daytona.

 

 

Daytona 500 Champions
1959 Lee Petty
1960 Junior Johnson
1961 Marvin Panch
1962 Fireball Roberts
1963 Tiny Lund
1964 Richard Petty
1965 Fred Lorenzen
1966 Richard Petty (2)
1967 Mario Andretti
1968 Cale Yarborough
1969 Lee Roy Yarbrough
1970 Pete Hamilton
1971 Richard Petty (3)
1972 A.J. Foyt
1973 Richard Petty (4)
1974 Richard Petty (5)
1975 Benny Parsons
1976 David Pearson
1977 Cale Yarborough (2)
1978 Bobby Allison
1979 Richard Petty (6)
1980 Buddy Baker
1981 Richard Petty (7)
1982 Bobby Allison (2)
1983 Cale Yarborough (3)
1984 Cale Yarborough (4)
1985 Bill Elliott
1986 Geoffrey Bodine
1987 Bill Elliott (2)
1988 Bobby Allison (3)
1989 Darrell Waltrip
1990 Derrike Cope
1991 Ernie Irvan
1992 Davey Allison
1993 Dale Jarrett
1994 Sterling Marlin
1995 Sterling Marlin (2)
1996 Dale Jarrett (2)
1997 Jeff Gordon
1998 Dale Earnhardt
1999 Jeff Gordon (2)
2000 Dale Jarrett (3)
2001 Michael Waltrip
2002 Ward Burton
2003 Michael Waltrip (2)
2004 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2005 Jeff Gordon (3)
2006 Jimmie Johnson
2007 Kevin Harvick
2008 Ryan Newman
2009 Matt Kenseth
2010 Jamie McMurray
2011 Trevor Bayne
2012 Matt Kenseth (2)
2013 Jimmie Johnson (2)
2014 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2)

2015 Daytona 500 Starting Lineup
Row 1:  Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson
Row 2:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Crafton*
Row 3:  Joey Logano, Carl Edwards
Row 4:  Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle
Row 5:  Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr.
Row 6:  Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney
Row 7:  Kasey Kahne, Reed Sorenson
Row 8:  Jamie McMurray, Mike Wallace
Row 9:  Landon Cassill, Justin Allgaier
Row 10:  Cole Whitt, Danica Patrick
Row 11:  Paul Menard, Ryan Newman
Row 12:  Michael McDowell, Regan Smith^
Row 13:  J.J. Yeley, David Gilliland
Row 14:  Michael Annett, David Ragan
Row 15:  Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon
Row 16:  Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Row 17:  Aric Almirola, Michael Waltrip
Row 18:  Matt Kenseth, Johnny Sauter
Row 19:  Trevor Bayne, Sam Hornish Jr.
Row 20:  Brad Keselowski, A.J. Allmendinger
Row 21:  Casey Mears, Denny Hamlin
Row 22:  Bobby Labonte
Failed to qualify:  Alex Bowman, Brian Scott, Jeb Burton, Justin Marks, Josh Wise, Ron Hornaday Jr., Joe Nemechek
*substituting for Kyle Busch

^substituting for Kurt Busch

Top 10 Underrated Daytona 500s

The Daytona 500 is today, marking the sport’s biggest event as a new season gets underway from the World Center of Racing.  NASCAR is unique in that it starts its season with its Super Bowl, meaning that the driver holding the Harley J. Earl trophy Sunday night will be a winner all season long, no matter how well they run the rest of the 2015 Sprint Cup campaign.

Many people can recognize video of the great finishes at the 500, such as when Richard Petty and David Pearson crashed on the final lap and Pearson limped across the line in 1976, or when Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison’s crash led to a post-race fist fight, and Petty came from half a lap behind to win in 1979, or when Kevin Harvick beat Mark Martin by a fender while the “Big One” happened behind them in 2007, or the photo finish between Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp in the very first 500 in 1959.

Other images are filed in the most memorable category, from veteran drivers finally winning the 500 after years of trying, like Darrell Waltrip in 1989 and Dale Earnhardt in 1998, to Ned Jarrett doing impromptu play-by-play while simultaneously cheering son Dale Jarrett across the line in 1993 and 1996, and Darrell Waltrip doing the same with brother Michael Waltrip in 2001, although the final lap of that 500 became more remembered for a legend lost in the final corner when Earnhardt was killed.

The 500 has also produced some major upsets, like Trevor Bayne winning his second Cup Series start in 2013, or Derrike Cope slipping past Earnhardt after The Intimidator cut a tire in the final turn in 1990, or little-known Pete Hamilton won his first race at the Speedway in 1970.

Others aren’t necessarily memorable for their winners, but other circumstances, like the jet dryer explosion in 2012 in the only Monday 500 due to rain, or Danica Patrick becoming the first female pole sitter in any NASCAR race in 2013, or the aforementioned 1979 race, also known as the first live flag-to-flag broadcast of a race.

But some 500s aren’t remembered as much as they might should be.  Whether it’s because the principles involved didn’t have names like Petty and Earnhardt, or because they have simply been slowly forgotten over time, some 500s had outstanding storylines or finishes, but are never mentioned among the greatest moments in the history of the Great American Race.

Here are the top 10 underrated Daytona 500s:

Honorable Mention:  1967: Mario Andretti
While there wasn’t anything particularly special about the racing in this 500, the mere fact that one of the Indianapolis 500’s greatest champions came to Daytona and won, albeit early in his storied career, may very well have added to the prestige of what was still at that time a very young event.  This was comparable to A.J. Foyt’s win five years later, but Mario’s came first.

10. 1986: Geoff Bodine
The race was dominated by the tandem of Dale Earnhardt and Geoff Bodine, and turned into a fuel mileage race late.  Earnhardt had to pit with three to go for a splash-and-go, but there should have still been some drama to see if Bodine could make it on fuel.  Instead, Earnhardt overshot his pit stall, then blew his engine leaving pit road.  With Earnhardt out of the picture, Bodine was able to cruise to an 11-second victory, which was owner Rick Hendrick’s first in the 500.  It was also the first of many near misses for Earnhardt before he finally won in his 20th try in 1998.  The clip of Earnhardt overshooting his pit is sometimes shown, particularly when talking about Daytona heartbreakers, by Earnhardt or overall, and is accompanied by pit reporter Chris Economaki’s line of “it looks like Mr. Bodine is gonna be the beneficiary.”

 

9. 2010: Jamie McMurray
The 2010 finish didn’t necessarily include too many big names, although Dale Earnhardt Jr. came from nowhere to take second on the final lap, but the late race battle between McMurray, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, and Kevin Harvick saw three lead changes in the last ten laps, a period which included two cautions.  McMurray’s win was in his first appearance for what was then known as Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (now Chip Ganassi Racing), and was a popular win in the garage as McMurray is well liked by everyone.  Earnhardt Jr. came from in the teens with a few laps to go to second on the final lap with a massive run up the middle, and caught McMurray, but couldn’t pass him, part of a stretch of three runner-up finishes in four years from 2010-13 before Junior won his second 500 last year.  This race is more remembered by some for the pothole which developed in turn one which red flagged the race twice than it is for the winner.

 

8. 2008: Ryan Newman
The 50th Daytona 500 had a special pre-race ceremony honoring all 31 former winners of the 500, but Ryan Newman joined that group later that evening by passing Tony Stewart on the final lap to win the race.  Newman had a push from teammate Kurt Busch, and Stewart blocked them at first, before jumping to the bottom with teammate Kyle Busch.  At the time the win was Newman’s first since 2005, although he has since had a career renaissance, including a second place points finish in 2014.  This race is the biggest near miss for Stewart in the 500, which he still has not won, going into his 17th career try on Sunday.  Kurt Busch has also not won the 500 in 14 tries, although he will not be in Sunday’s race due to his recent indefinite suspension for domestic violence.

 

7. 1980: Buddy Baker
Before Darrell Waltrip won his first 500 in his 17th try, and before Earnhardt won his first 500 in his 20th try, there was Buddy Baker.  He went into the 1980 race attempting to win it for the 18th time, after often having one of the fastest cars during Speedweeks, driving for Petty Enterprises, Ray Fox, Bud Moore, and Cotton Owens, among others.  He came to Speedweeks in 1979 with Ranier-Lundy, and had the fastest car, which won the pole, but blew its engine in the early going of (in my opinion) the greatest Sprint Cup race in history.  A year later he had an equally fast car, winning the pole again, but this time leading 143 of the 200 laps on his way to the victory.  The race was, and still is, the fastest 500 in history, averaging 177.602 mph.  Baker held the record for most attempts before winning the race until Earnhardt won his only 500 in 1998.

 

6. 1960: Junior Johnson
This race isn’t necessarily known as the most exciting race ever run, but it has much more historical significance than most other 500s that have been run.  This was just the second running of the race, and the Daytona track, as well as the concept of running on a 2.5-mile superspeedway, was still in its infancy.  Johnson ran the race in a car owned by John Masoni, and although he wasn’t one of the fastest cars, he discovered that if he got directly behind another car he would run faster in their air, an idea which became the concept of drafting, a staple of Daytona racing ever since.  Johnson used his new strategy to win the race, taking the lead with nine to go when Bobby Johns spun, while Masoni went on to win six races as an owner the next two years before leaving the sport.  Johnson, of course, would go on to become an icon, being inducted into the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame after winning 50 races, and is the winningest driver to have never won a championship, only because he never ran all of the races in an attempt to.  One other note about this race is the third place finisher was a very young Richard Petty, for the first of his 11 top fives in the 500, which he won seven times.

 

5. 1995: Sterling Marlin
In this 500, Sterling Marlin joined Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough as the only drivers to win back-to-back 500s, after winning it in 1994.  That win had been his first Cup Series win, as he became the first driver to win the first both of the first two races of his career in the 500.  But that’s not entirely why this race is on this list.  After Marlin passed Earnhardt for the lead with 20 to go and a caution five laps later, Earnhardt, who probably had the best car, pitted for tires, taking the gamble of fresh tires over track position.  Following the pit stop, Earnhardt was outside the top 10 with 11 to go, but stormed back to the front, looking for his first 500 win.  He reached second position with four laps to go, and tried as hard as he could to pass Marlin, but the Tennessean took the checkered flag, once again denying Earnhardt a 500 win.

 

4. 1963: Tiny Lund
This 500 is on the list because of its storyline.  Tiny Lund went to Daytona in 1963 to see if he could find a ride for the 500.  Marvin Panch went to Daytona to drive the Wood Brothers #21 Ford in the 500, but first ran a sports car race (what would eventually become today’s Rolex 24).  In that race, Panch was involved in a crash, and Lund, who was a friend of Panch and was watching as a spectator, ran to Panch’s burning car and pulled him out, saving his life.  Panch was injured though, and Panch asked the Woods if Lund could drive his car in the 500.  Lund did, and when Ned Jarrett ran out of gas with three laps to go, Lund took the lead, and went on to win the 500.  Lund would go on to win five career Cup Series races, before he was killed in a 1975 crash at Talladega.  The Wood Brothers would become one of NASCAR’s most legendary teams, but this was just the sixth win of their then-brief history.  They have gone on to win 98 races, including five wins in the 500, including David Pearson’s legendary win in 1976, and Trevor Bayne’s upset in 2011.

 

3. 2005: Jeff Gordon
Ten years ago a future Hall of Famer, Jeff Gordon, became just the fifth driver to win three or more Daytona 500s, by winning this thriller.  The drivers at the front included Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, defending race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., and defending series champion Kurt Busch.  Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, and Gordon changed the lead four times in the final nine laps.  This was at the height of the excellent period of restrictor plate racing in the mid-2000s, and many of the best at it were in the running for the win in this race.  One underdog at the front was Scott Riggs, who is winless in his Sprint Cup career, but finished fourth in this race.  This was the fifth of Hendrick Motorsports’ eight 500 wins, and is the most recent win for Gordon, who will today try to match Earnhardt Jr. for the longest time in between 500 wins with a win ten years later.

 

2. 1984: Cale Yarborough
This 500 should be considered one of the all-time best.  Yarborough had become the first pole sitter for the 500 to break the 200 mph barrier, and he also won his qualifying race, so when he won the 500 he joined Fireball Roberts in 1962 as the second driver to win all three in one speedweeks (the only to do all three since is Bill Elliott in 1985).  There were 34 lead changes in this 500, with the best coming on the final lap.  Yarborough passed Darrell Waltrip, who was at the time still looking for his first 500 win, on the backstretch with his “slingshot” maneuver after Waltrip had led the previous 38 laps.  The move had won him multiple races at Daytona, including the previous year’s 500 with a pass of Buddy Baker.  Hall of Famers took the top three in this race, as Dale Earnhardt got around Waltrip for the second spot, and Waltrip finished third.  Yarborough became the second back-to-back winner of the 500, and gave Ranier-Lundy (which later became Robert Yates Racing and won two more 500s) their third win in five years at Daytona.

 

1. 2002: Ward Burton
Although this race isn’t talked about very much today, the entire final hour of this 500 was extremely dramatic, and had multiple key moments, making this the most underrated 500 ever.  After pre-race favorites Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had early problems, “the big one” on lap 149 took out 18 more cars.  Jeff Gordon took the lead from Kurt Busch with 24 to go, and led until a restart with six to go.  A chain reaction of cars not getting up to speed quickly caused a crash in the middle of the pack, and when the caution came out, Sterling Marlin went underneath Gordon to try to take the lead while racing back to the caution flag (they did this back then).  Gordon tried to block, and was spun across the front of Marlin’s car.  Marlin and Ward Burton raced back around, with Marlin beating Burton by a nose.  While driving around, Marlin clearly had a fender rub from the contact with Gordon, and after the race was red-flagged to ensure a green-flag finish.  Marlin got out of his car and pulled the fender off the tire, illegally working on his car under the red flag, later joking in his Tennessee drawl, “I saw Earnhardt do that one time, so I thought it was alright.” (The instance he is referring to happened under the yellow, not the red flag.)  What then played out on the broadcast during the red flag was a long discussion over the penalty for working on the car under the red flag, as well as the potential of a yellow line violation when Marlin went below Gordon (drivers can’t advance their position below the yellow line that separates the track and the apron).  Marlin was sent to the rear for the red flag violation, giving Burton the lead for the first time all day.  He led the final five laps, his only five laps led, to win the 500, one of five career Cup Series wins for Burton, whose son Jeb fell just short of qualifying for this year’s 500 this week.  It was also one of five race victories for owner Bill Davis, and the first 500 win for Dodge since 1974 (although they were out of the sport for many years).  Marlin finished eighth, and Gordon finished ninth, after both had lost an excellent shot to win the 500.  This race had it all, and Michael Waltrip, who was involved in the crash with six to go, said afterward “I’ll just tell people I spun out at Daytona with five to go, and ran fifth, and that’s all the description it needs,” and broadcaster Allen Bestwick said “We have seen our share of twists and turns over the years in the Daytona 500 but this one may top them all.”  While, other than Gordon, the drivers involved didn’t necessarily have the most success, and weren’t the most popular, the drama which unfolded in this 500 was, in some ways, unmatched, and the winner was a well liked driver like Burton, so I don’t know why this isn’t remembered among the greatest of all Daytona 500s.

 

 

Daytona 500 Champions
1959 Lee Petty
1960 Junior Johnson
1961 Marvin Panch
1962 Fireball Roberts
1963 Tiny Lund
1964 Richard Petty
1965 Fred Lorenzen
1966 Richard Petty (2)
1967 Mario Andretti
1968 Cale Yarborough
1969 Lee Roy Yarbrough
1970 Pete Hamilton
1971 Richard Petty (3)
1972 A.J. Foyt
1973 Richard Petty (4)
1974 Richard Petty (5)
1975 Benny Parsons
1976 David Pearson
1977 Cale Yarborough (2)
1978 Bobby Allison
1979 Richard Petty (6)
1980 Buddy Baker
1981 Richard Petty (7)
1982 Bobby Allison (2)
1983 Cale Yarborough (3)
1984 Cale Yarborough (4)
1985 Bill Elliott
1986 Geoffrey Bodine
1987 Bill Elliott (2)
1988 Bobby Allison (3)
1989 Darrell Waltrip
1990 Derrike Cope
1991 Ernie Irvan
1992 Davey Allison
1993 Dale Jarrett
1994 Sterling Marlin
1995 Sterling Marlin (2)
1996 Dale Jarrett (2)
1997 Jeff Gordon
1998 Dale Earnhardt
1999 Jeff Gordon (2)
2000 Dale Jarrett (3)
2001 Michael Waltrip
2002 Ward Burton
2003 Michael Waltrip (2)
2004 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2005 Jeff Gordon (3)
2006 Jimmie Johnson
2007 Kevin Harvick
2008 Ryan Newman
2009 Matt Kenseth
2010 Jamie McMurray
2011 Trevor Bayne
2012 Matt Kenseth (2)
2013 Jimmie Johnson (2)
2014 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2)

2015 Daytona 500 Starting Lineup
Row 1:  Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson
Row 2:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Crafton*
Row 3:  Joey Logano, Carl Edwards
Row 4:  Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle
Row 5:  Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr.
Row 6:  Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney
Row 7:  Kasey Kahne, Reed Sorenson
Row 8:  Jamie McMurray, Mike Wallace
Row 9:  Landon Cassill, Justin Allgaier
Row 10:  Cole Whitt, Danica Patrick
Row 11:  Paul Menard, Ryan Newman
Row 12:  Michael McDowell, Regan Smith^
Row 13:  J.J. Yeley, David Gilliland
Row 14:  Michael Annett, David Ragan
Row 15:  Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon
Row 16:  Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Row 17:  Aric Almirola, Michael Waltrip
Row 18:  Matt Kenseth, Johnny Sauter
Row 19:  Trevor Bayne, Sam Hornish Jr.
Row 20:  Brad Keselowski, A.J. Allmendinger
Row 21:  Casey Mears, Denny Hamlin
Row 22:  Bobby Labonte
Failed to qualify:  Alex Bowman, Brian Scott, Jeb Burton, Justin Marks, Josh Wise, Ron Hornaday Jr., Joe Nemechek
*substituting for Kyle Busch

^substituting for Kurt Busch

A Bad Weekend for the Buschs

Kyle and Kurt Busch will both miss the 57th Daytona 500 on Sunday, but due to two very different sets of circumstances.

Kurt, the older of the brothers, has been suspended indefinitely by NASCAR for conduct detrimental to the sport after a family court in Delaware found that he abused his then-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, in his motor home in a race last September at Dover.  A family court commissioner handed down that ruling of domestic abuse on Friday afternoon, before the driver of the number 41 Haas Chevrolet was punished by the sanctioning body early Friday evening.

Kurt Busch is the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion, and has won 25 Cup races in 14 full seasons for Roush Racing, Penske Racing, Phoenix Racing, Furniture Row Racing, and Stewart-Haas Racing.  In missing Sunday’s race, he misses another opportunity to win the 500, something he hasn’t done in 14 previous tries, although he has finished 2nd on three occasions, most recently in 2008.

After NASCAR suspended Kurt Busch on Friday, Chevrolet also “suspended their relationship” with the driver, in essence saying that even if he was allowed to drive in NASCAR, the manufacturer would not allow him to drive one of their cars.  Kurt’s current team, Stewart-Haas Racing, runs Chevrolets, meaning that even if he is allowed back on the track by NASCAR, he might not be able to return to his Stewart-Haas ride.

Regan Smith, a 31-year old XFinity series regular, will replace Kurt Busch in the 41 car for the 500 on Sunday.  Smith has one career Cup Series win, in the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington, but has proven himself to be a competent superspeedway racer.  It is the fourth time since 2012 that Smith has filled in for a Cup Series driver, filling in for Tony Stewart the day after the Kevin Ward fatal accident last year, and filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in two races in 2012 after Junior got a concussion.

Kurt appealed his suspension, and due to the circumstances and timing, NASCAR expedited the appeal process so that if it was overturned, Kurt could still run the Daytona 500, which he had been scheduled to start 24th in.  Both his initial appeal to the National Motorsports Appeals Panel was denied, as was his final appeal to NASCAR Chief Appellate Officer Bryan Moss.

Considering that both the sanctioning body and his car manufacturer have indefinitely suspended Kurt Busch, and considering what has happened elsewhere in professional sports in the past year regarding domestic violence, particularly in the very high-profile cases of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, there is a real possibility Kurt’s career in NASCAR may be over.  Only time will tell.

This is not the first time Kurt has been in trouble with NASCAR, either.  Kurt, known by some as an aggressive and temperamental driver, was fined $50,000 by NASCAR and later fired by Penske Racing for insulting team officials on the radio and twice having incidents with reporters.  He was suspended one race in 2012, also for an incident with a reporter.  And now he’s in more trouble than he’s ever been.

On Saturday, in the NASCAR XFinity Series race at Daytona, Kyle Busch, the younger of the brothers, crashed head-on into a concrete wall on the extreme inside of the track between the tri-oval and turn one.  The crash resulted in a broken left leg and a broken left foot for Kyle, who naturally will miss the Daytona 500 due to the injuries.

Kyle initially got most of the way out of his car under his own power after the crash, but couldn’t get his left leg out of the car without the help of emergency personnel, who then laid him on the ground and stabilized his leg.  He was placed on a stretcher and taken directly to Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, bypassing the on-site hospital, and within a couple of hours was in surgery, according to media reports.

The crash resulted in the worst injuries suffered at Daytona since Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500.  Kyle Busch will miss the 500, and a few subsequent events, as he is currently described by his Joe Gibbs Racing team as “out indefinitely”.

Matt Crafton, the 38-year old two-time defending champion in the Camping World Truck Series and has plenty of NASCAR experience, will drive Kyle’s number 18 M&Ms Toyota in the 500 on Sunday.  Crafton has filled in for drivers before, but only in qualifying, so he will make his Sprint Cup Series debut in his first 500 start on Sunday.

As for both Smith and Crafton, no word has been given as to whether or not they will continue driving for Stewart-Haas or Gibbs on an interim basis next week at Atlanta.

After the crash, which was into a concrete wall and not a SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier, which was a point of contention among many after the crash.  SAFER barriers were first used at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002, as part of the safety movement across all forms of motorsports after, among other events, Earnhardt’s death, but are expensive, so many tracks began by placing them in the places where hard impacts occurred most frequently.

A majority of the walls at Daytona are SAFER barriers but, as mentioned, Kyle Busch hit a concrete wall, making the impact much more violent.  Within two hours of the accident, Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III announced that tires would be used as an impromptu softer wall for Sunday’s race, before the installing SAFER barriers on “every inch of this property”, saying the planning process for that would start on Monday.  Chitwood’s message was, in essence, that this will not happen again at Daytona on his watch.

Due to the Busch brothers both being out of the Daytona 500, making this the first running of the 500 since 2000 without one of the Buschs in the field.  Additionally, at least one Busch has been in the field for every Sprint Cup Series race since Kurt failed to qualify for a race at Atlanta on November 18, 2001 (before Kyle’s Cup career began).

For two very different reasons, it has been a bad weekend for both racing members of the Busch family.

 

 

 

2015 Daytona 500 Starting Lineup
Row 1:  Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson
Row 2:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Crafton*
Row 3:  Joey Logano, Carl Edwards
Row 4:  Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle
Row 5:  Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr.
Row 6:  Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney
Row 7:  Kasey Kahne, Reed Sorenson
Row 8:  Jamie McMurray, Mike Wallace
Row 9:  Landon Cassill, Justin Allgaier
Row 10:  Cole Whitt, Danica Patrick
Row 11:  Paul Menard, Ryan Newman
Row 12:  Michael McDowell, Regan Smith^
Row 13:  J.J. Yeley, David Gilliland
Row 14:  Michael Annett, David Ragan
Row 15:  Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon
Row 16:  Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Row 17:  Aric Almirola, Michael Waltrip
Row 18:  Matt Kenseth, Johnny Sauter
Row 19:  Trevor Bayne, Sam Hornish Jr.
Row 20:  Brad Keselowski, A.J. Allmendinger
Row 21:  Casey Mears, Denny Hamlin
Row 22:  Bobby Labonte
Failed to qualify:  Alex Bowman, Brian Scott, Jeb Burton, Justin Marks, Josh Wise, Ron Hornaday Jr., Joe Nemechek
*substituting for Kyle Busch

^substituting for Kurt Busch

ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 2/16

After some upsets, and a few other near misses, the rankings look different once again this week, particularly in the middle tier of teams, which has seemingly become a theme each week this season.  At the top, there’s a small shakeup as well, ahead of a game which is always a definitive moment in the season, North Carolina and Duke on Wednesday.  Nine teams are still in the running for an NCAA bid (and it would be 10 without Syracuse’s postseason ban), with the league expected to get six or seven teams in (although, let me clarify the bids are not based on conferences).

1. Virginia (23-1 overall, 11-1 ACC, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 2nd)
Last Week: at NC State (W, 51-47), Wake Forest (W, 61-60)
This Week: Pittsburgh (Monday), Florida State (Sunday)
Virginia without Justin Anderson is a different team, and the Cavaliers can’t wait to have him back after nearly being upset by NC State and Wake Forest.  That being said, the Cavaliers didn’t lose, so they remain at the top of these rankings for at least another week.  Pittsburgh, who is coming off an upset, comes to Charlottesville tonight, before the Wahoos host Florida State.

2. Duke (22-3. 9-3, 2nd, AP: 4th)
Last Week: at Florida State (W, 73-70), at Syracuse (W, 80-72)
This Week: North Carolina (Wednesday), Clemson (Saturday)
Duke also had a near miss at Florida State, before coming from behind to beat Syracuse on the road in a tournament-like atmosphere.  That comes ahead of another game in a great atmosphere, when North Carolina comes to Cameron Indoor Stadium, before a game against bubble team Clemson.  Many would put Duke at the top of these rankings, but the Blue Devils have two more losses in conference play than Virginia, which more than offsets Duke’s head-to-head win.

3. Notre Dame (22-4, 10-3, 5th, AP: 10th)
Last Week: at Clemson (W, 60-58)
This Week: Wake Forest (Tuesday), at Boston College (Saturday)
The Irish weren’t overwhelming in their win against Clemson, but they survived the week without a loss, and move ahead of a pair of teams who can’t say the same.  This week, Notre Dame plays two teams from the bottom tier of the conference, hosting Wake Forest and going to Boston College, although the Deacons nearly beat Virginia on the road over the weekend.

4. Louisville (20-5, 8-4, 3rd, AP: 12th)
Last Week: Pittsburgh (W, 69-56), NC State (L, 74-65)
This Week: at Syracuse (Wednesday), Miami (Saturday)
Louisville beat Pittsburgh (something another top-tier team couldn’t do), but couldn’t beat NC State at home, falling victim to an upset for the first time all year, as all of their losses were in games against even teams or in games where Louisville was the underdog.  The Cardinals will try to regroup on a trip to Syracuse, before hosting a team they previously beat on the road in Miami.

5. North Carolina (18-7, 8-4, 4th, AP: 15th)
Last Week: at Pittsburgh (L, 89-76)
This Week: at Duke (Wednesday), Georgia Tech (Saturday)
The Tar Heels had a tough week.  After the loss of former coach Dean Smith last weekend, and the aftermath of his passing over the past week, in addition to a triple murder in a possible hate crime on campus, the team lost their first game since on the road at Pittsburgh, when the Panthers couldn’t miss hardly anything from the floor.  The Heels know they will need to play better, as they will travel to Duke on Wednesday for the league’s biggest rivalry, before hosting what is sure to be an emotional game in their first home game since Smith’s passing, against Georgia Tech.

6. Pittsburgh (17-9, 6-6, 6th)
Last Week: at Louisville (L, 69-56), North Carolina (W, 89-76)
This Week: at Virginia (Monday), at Syracuse (Saturday)
Pittsburgh played a good game against Louisville, but fell away at the end, but made up for it in an upset over North Carolina, where they shot 65% from the floor, including a 72% clip in the second half.  On a quick turnaround, the Panthers will travel to Virginia, where they will try to pull off their third upset of the season (they also beat Notre Dame), before traveling to Syracuse.  After beating the Heels, the Panthers are now in the NCAA bubble discussion.

7. NC State (15-11, 6-7, 11th)
Last Week: Virginia (L, 51-47), at Louisville (W, 74-65)
This Week: Virginia Tech (Saturday)
Another team in the bubble discussion is the Wolfpack, who had potentially fallen off the projected bubble until a road win at Louisville on Saturday, coming just days after a near miss at home against Virginia.  The Wolfpack get a week off to enjoy the win, and prepare for the stretch run, which starts with Virginia Tech on Saturday.  The weakness on the Pack’s resume is their overall record of only four games over .500, but with a relatively easy stretch of games (by ACC standards), they have an opportunity to improve on that mark heading into March and a potential spot in the dance.

8. Clemson (15-10, 7-6, 8th)
Last Week: Notre Dame (L, 60-58), Virginia Tech (W, 75-54)
This Week: at Georgia Tech (Monday), at Duke (Saturday)
The Tigers, despite a 1-1 record for the week, played two very strong games, coming very close to upsetting Notre Dame at home, before dominating Virginia Tech.  Clemson is another ACC team who is on the projected NCAA bubble, currently seeming to be on the outside looking in, but that can change for the better this week, if they can find a way to beat Duke on the road, or for the worse, if they don’t beat Georgia Tech.

9. Syracuse (16-9, 7-5, 9th)*
Last Week: at Boston College (W, 70-56), Duke (L, 80-72)
This Week: Louisville (Wednesday), Pittsburgh (Saturday)
Syracuse will have no postseason, so rivalry games are the closest thing the will have to a postseason atmosphere this season, and they played well in a pair of them, beating Boston College before falling to Duke.  Now the Orange play a pair of home games in which they may be underdogs.  They will definitely be one against Louisville, and they may be one against a hot Pittsburgh team.  Saturday’s game against Duke began a brutal stretch of five out of six games against top 10 teams.

10. Miami (15-9, 5-6, 7th)
Last Week: at Wake Forest (L, 72-70)
This Week: at Boston College (Monday), Virginia Tech (Wednesday), at Louisville (Saturday)
Miami lost their only game of the week, at Wake Forest, when Angel Rodriguez missed a potential game-tying layup at the buzzer, before Sunday’s game in Chestnut Hill against Boston College was postponed to Monday due to the winter’s latest nor’easter.  That postponement causes a stretch of three games in six days for the Hurricanes, as they fight to make the NCAA Tournament, hosting Virginia Tech on Wednesday, before traveling to Louisville on Saturday.  The silver lining of the crowded schedule is that their next two games are against two of the bottom three in these rankings.

11. Florida State (14-12, 6-7, 10th)
Last Week: Duke (L, 73-70), at Georgia Tech (W, 57-53)
This Week: Boston College (Wednesday), at Virginia (Sunday)
The Seminoles just wouldn’t go away against Duke on Monday, and got as close as a 1-point deficit in the closing seconds, before their upset bid fell short (one of the week’s themes).  They followed that near miss up with a road win at Georgia Tech, for their third road win in conference play (several other middle-tier teams cannot match that road record).  This week Florida State will host Boston College, before traveling to Virginia hoping to upset the Cavaliers.

12. Wake Forest (12-14, 4-9, 13th)
Last Week: Miami (W, 72-70), at Virginia (L, 61-60)
This Week: at Notre Dame (Tuesday)
Wake Forest is improving in their first year under Danny Manning, with a win over Miami, arguably the best team they’ve defeated all season.  They also nearly came back to beat Virginia, coming from 13 behind to have the ball in the closing seconds with a chance to win (they didn’t get a shot off).

13. Virginia Tech (10-15, 2-10, 14th)
Last Week: Georgia Tech (W, 65-63), at Clemson (L, 75-54)
This Week: at Miami (Wednesday), at NC State (Saturday)
The young Hokies have good games and bad games, as evidenced by their pair of games in the past week.  They defeated Georgia Tech at home, before traveling to Clemson to get dominated even more than the 21-point margin would indicate.  All of the Hokies remaining games except one are against potential NCAA Tournament teams, with three of their next four on the road, with the lone home game coming against Duke.  They can go upset hunting, starting this week on a road trip to Coral Gables and Raleigh.

14. Georgia Tech (11-14, 2-11, 12th)
Last Week: at Virginia Tech (L, 65-63), Florida State (L, 57-53)
This Week: Clemson (Monday), at North Carolina (Saturday)
The Yellow Jackets have experienced a bevy of close losses all season, and that continued with near misses against Virginia Tech and Florida State.  10 of the Jackets’ 11 league losses have come by seven points or less, with the exception being Virginia, but are very likely to play on the opening day of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro.  It won’t get any easier this week, as Tech hosts Clemson and travels to North Carolina, where they will be the unlucky team playing the Heels in their first home game since the death of Dean Smith.

15. Boston College (9-14, 1-10, 15th)
Last Week: Syracuse (L, 70-56)
This Week: Miami (Monday), at Florida State (Wednesday), Notre Dame (Saturday)
The Eagles lost at home to Syracuse, before Sunday’s game against Miami was postponed, leading to (like Miami) a stretch this week of three games in six days.  After the Canes head back South, so will the Eagles, as they travel to Florida State, before hosting Notre Dame.  Boston College’s only league win was one of those close losses for Georgia Tech, with the result being the same in the rest of the Eagles’ ACC contests.  In my mind, they are well below the level of even the teams directly in front of them in these rankings.

*ineligible for postseason, including ACC Tournament, due to self-imposed ban to comply with NCAA investigation

Game of the Week:  #15 North Carolina at #4 Duke (Wednesday, 9:00 pm ET)
As mentioned above, North Carolina is coming off a tough week as they go into this game against their biggest rival, on the road at Cameron Indoor Stadium.  The Heels have now lost three out of four, although the first two were against top ten opponents, but the only win was against Boston College.  Duke has won five straight, and eight out of nine, avenging the lone loss of the stretch to Notre Dame with a 30-point beatdown of the Irish 10 days later.  These teams do seem to be trending in different directions, although you can throw records and recent results out the window when these two teams meet.  That being said, Duke still has more talent on the floor, and will have a home court advantage.  Carolina will play a strong game, but the Devils will be stronger.
Duke 74, North Carolina 69.

ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 2/9

After a pair of top 10 matchups among ACC teams Saturday, there’s plenty to talk about this week.  In addition to that, among the middle group of teams, the only one to have a perfect week was Pittsburgh, but they barely beat Bryant, and the only team to not have a win was NC State, but they only played one game.  That being said, here are updated power rankings.

1. Virginia (21-1 overall, 9-1 ACC, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 2nd)
Last Week:  at North Carolina (W, 75-64), Louisville (W, 52-47)
This Week:  at NC State (Wednesday), Wake Forest (Saturday)
I left Virginia on top after their loss to Duke on January 31, and they showed why with wins over top 15 opponents against North Carolina and Louisville.  Now the schedule gets a little easier, traveling to NC State before hosting Wake Forest, but they will have to do so without their leading scorer, guard Justin Anderson, who is out 4-6 weeks with a finger injury.

2. Duke (20-3, 7-3, 2nd, AP: 4th)
Last Week:  Georgia Tech (W, 72-66), Notre Dame (W, 90-60)
This Week:  at Florida State (Monday), at Syracuse (Saturday)
Duke remains second here, and in the top five nationally, after surviving a Georgia Tech upset bid before completely obliterating Notre Dame to avenge a loss to the Irish just 10 days before.  This week, the Blue Devils hit the road, playing a pair of the league’s middle-tiered teams, including the renewal of a recently born rivalry on Saturday at Syracuse.

3. Louisville (19-4, 7-3, 4th, AP: 9th)
Last Week:  at Miami (W, 63-55), at Virginia (L, 52-47)
This Week:  Pittsburgh (Wednesday), NC State (Saturday)
Louisville moves up a spot, despite a loss to Virginia, by passing Notre Dame.  That being said, the loss to Virginia did feature a stretch of over 10 minutes when Louisville did not score, but other than that the Cardinals played the Cavaliers pretty evenly.  This week, the Cardinals will be favored in  a pair of home games, playing Pittsburgh, who is somewhat hot but also mid-pack, and a struggling NC State team.

4. North Carolina (18-6, 8-3, 5th, AP: 12th)
Last Week:  Virginia (L, 75-64), at Boston College (W, 79-68)
This Week:  at Pittsburgh (Saturday)
The Tar Heels also pass Notre Dame and move up a spot, which is appropriate considering they did score 64 points against the Virginia defense (the most points scored in regulation against them in ACC play), and took care of Boston College on the road.  The Heels get a few days off before a trip to Pittsburgh on Saturday, giving the program time to grieve the death of longtime former coach Dean Smith, who led the Tar Heels to 13 ACC titles and two national championships.

5. Notre Dame (21-4, 9-3, 3rd, AP: 10th)
Last Week:  Boston College (W, 71-63), at Duke (L, 90-60)
This Week:  at Clemson (Tuesday)
After beating Boston College, the Irish went to Duke, where they were embarrassed by the Blue Devils, in a game where they couldn’t make a shot and Duke couldn’t miss.  They will try to regroup Tuesday with a trip to bubble team Clemson, who will be hungry for a win over a ranked team, so the Irish need to be careful to not let one loss turn into multiple ones.

6. Pittsburgh (16-8, 5-5, 9th)
Last Week:  Bryant (W, 72-67), Syracuse (W, 83-77)
This Week:  at Louisville (Wednesday), North Carolina (Saturday)
After barely beating Northeast Conference team Bryant on Monday, the Panthers recovered to beat Syracuse for their second biggest win of the year (behind Notre Dame).  This week, a team that has a decent win-loss record but not enough big wins to get them into the NCAA Tournament conversation will have two chances for one, playing Louisville and North Carolina, in a week that could make or break their season.

7. Miami (15-8, 5-5, 11th)
Last Week:  Louisville (L, 63-55), Clemson (W, 56-45)
This Week:  at Wake Forest (Wednesday), at Boston College (Sunday)
The U was in the midst of a three game losing streak following their loss to Louisville, and had played their way backwards from an NCAA probability to the bubble, before beating fellow bubble team Clemson on Sunday with a very strong defensive effort.  While wins over Wake Forest and Boston College in the coming weeks wouldn’t necessarily be resume builders come March, they are certainly games the Hurricanes can’t afford to lose.

8. Clemson (14-9, 6-5, 6th)
Last Week:  at Florida State (W, 62-56), at Miami (L, 56-45)
This Week:  Notre Dame (Tuesday), Virginia Tech (Saturday)
After finding revenge against Florida State, the Tigers fell on the road at Miami.  Before the Miami game, the team was listed among the “Next Four Out” (the fifth through eighth teams out of the projected NCAA field) according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, but now are not listed among the eight teams closest to the bubble.  That can change positively with a win against Notre Dame, although it could also change negatively with a loss to Virginia Tech.

9. Syracuse* (15-8, 6-4, 8th)
Last Week:  Virginia Tech (W, 72-70), at Pittsburgh (L, 83-77)
This Week:  at Boston College (Wednesday), Duke (Saturday)
In between their win over Virginia Tech and their loss to Pittsburgh, Syracuse announced a self-imposed, one-year postseason ban as a show of cooperation with the NCAA investigation against them.  The ban includes not only the NCAA/NIT (the Orange had likely been headed for the NIT this year), but the ACC Tournament, meaning this year’s field in Greensboro will only be 14 teams.  In some ways, that makes rivalry games, like the two they play this week, even bigger, as any win in a big game would be some consolation for the lack of a postseason.

10. Florida State (13-11, 5-6, 10th)
Last Week:  Clemson (L, 62-56), at Virginia Tech (W, 73-65)
This Week:  Duke (Monday), at Georgia Tech (Saturday)
The Seminoles couldn’t complete the season sweep of Clemson, but did complete it against Virginia Tech.  Tonight they come home to play Duke, and while they are not likely to go to the NCAA Tournament, barring an incredible run of games in the regular season or Greensboro, they can add a memorable win to their season if they can find a way to beat the Devils (easier said than done), before traveling to Georgia Tech.

11. NC State (14-10, 5-6, 7th)
Last Week:  at Wake Forest (L, 88-84)
This Week:  Virginia (Wednesday), at Louisville (Saturday)
The Wolfpack trailed Wake Forest 74-51 with 9:47 left in the game, only to make an incredible rally to make the game close late.  Even given the final score, the game was somewhat embarrassing for the Pack, who have now lost four out of five, with the lone win in overtime against Georgia Tech.  For now, they’ve fallen off of the bubble and have some work to do if they want to go dancing.

12. Georgia Tech (11-12, 2-9, 13th)
Last Week:  at Duke (L, 72-66), Wake Forest (W, 73-59)
This Week:  at Virginia Tech (Monday), Florida State (Saturday)
After hanging around with Duke at Cameron Indoor, Georgia Tech proceeded to demolish Wake Forest, leading much of the game by more than the final score indicates.  All of Tech’s losses except one have been close, and they are playing as well now as they have all season, so with games this week against Virginia Tech and Florida State, I’d be surprised if they didn’t win at least one.

13. Wake Forest (11-13, 3-8, 12th)
Last Week:  NC State (W, 88-84), at Georgia Tech (L, 59-73)
This Week:  Miami (Wednesday), at Virginia (Saturday)
The Deacons dominated much of the game against rival NC State, but still struggled to close, which has been a theme all year, before proceeding to be rattled on the road at Georgia Tech, falling to an 0-5 road record in the ACC.  That road record doesn’t suit well this week considering their Saturday game at Virginia, although up first is a home contest against Miami.

14. Virginia Tech (9-14, 1-9, 14th)
Last Week:  at Syracuse (L, 72-70), Florida State (L, 73-65)
This Week:  Georgia Tech (Monday), at Clemson (Saturday)
Despite their record, the Hokies are getting more and more competitive, which you often see later in the season out of young teams, as they are getting more and more comfortable playing at the college level.  After close losses to Syracuse and Florida State, the Hokies should continue to be competitive this week against Georgia Tech and Clemson.

15. Boston College (9-13, 1-9, 15th)
Last Week:  at Notre Dame (L, 71-63), North Carolina (L 79-68)
This Week:  Syracuse (Wednesday), Miami (Sunday)
While they aren’t winning, in a couple of games this week against ranked opponents, the Eagles weren’t necessarily blown out either, particularly Saturday against North Carolina, when they were tied at halftime and stayed within single digits for most of the game.  They will be a home underdog this week against Syracuse and Miami, but are playing well enough to, if the cards fall right, maybe pull a surprise.

*(ineligible for postseason, including ACC Tournament, due to self-imposed ban to comply with NCAA investigation)

Game of the Week:  #4 Duke at Syracuse (Saturday, 6:00 pm ET)
This game is on Valentine’s Day, but there is no love lost between these two programs in what is undoubtedly the best rivalry to come out of the ACC’s recent additions, particularly after two terrific games last year.  This year, the teams are somewhat mismatched, with Duke coming in fourth in the nation, and Syracuse with a handful of tough losses and no big wins, having an NIT resume if they were not forfeiting their postseason opportunity with a self-imposed ban.  That being said, the Duke-Syracuse series generally provides about as close to a postseason atmosphere as a regular season game can have, and perhaps the Orange will treat this game and one on February 28 in Durham as their postseason games for 2015 as consolation for not going anywhere after their regular season finale on March 7.  I expect Syracuse to play hard and play well, with the Carrier Dome crowd giving them a home court advantage, but in the end Duke will win a close game, continuing to solidify their place in the top tier of the ACC.
Duke 67, Syracuse 65.

The Nasty Side of Recruiting

Matt Colburn is a senior in high school, and would fit most people’s definitions of a young adult.

But apparently not Bobby Petrino’s.  Actually, Petrino might have forgotten Colburn was a human being.

Petrino, the head coach at the University of Louisville, pulled Colburn’s scholarship offer on Monday, just 48 hours before national signing day for fall athletes, eight months after Colburn had verbally committed to the Cardinals in June of 2014.

Colburn, who attends Dutch Fork High School in Irmo, SC, is a three-star running back recruit, who has run for 5,637 career yards and 91 touchdowns.  He was named South Carolina’s Mr. Football for the 2014 season after 27 rushing touchdowns, although his best season in both yards and touchdowns came as a junior, when he ran for 2,289 yards and 36 touchdowns.

It was after that junior season that Colburn verbally committed to Louisville, essentially closing his recruitment eight months early, saying he did so so he “didn’t have to worry about it anymore”, according to reports.

He was considered a strong commitment to the university until Monday, when the Cardinals pulled his scholarship offer, instead requesting that Colburn grayshirt.

Grayshirting is a relatively new practice in the game of college football where the university and the student-athlete come to the agreement that the athlete will not enroll on the campus until the following January, so their eligibility clock of four years, or five in the event of a redshirt, doesn’t start until the following fall.  So, in this case, Louisville wanted Colburn to delay his enrollment until the spring semester of 2016, allowing them to use their allotted scholarships on other players.

In this case, according to a Louisville Courier-Journal report, due to the loss of their starting secondary, with two players graduating, and two more, Gerod Holliman and Charles Gaines, leaving early to turn pro, Louisville felt that their allotted scholarships would be better spent on defensive backs, so they asked Colburn to grayshirt.

Unfortunately, however, the decision was not made by the Louisville coaching staff until the last minute, just two days before National Signing Day.

The possibility of grayshirting had never been mentioned to Colburn at any time, not even when he made an official visit to Louisville’s campus two weeks ago, when he says he was well received by the coaching staff.  He says he had been told consistently that he would be in the rotation for playing time in the fall.

With Louisville wanting to delay his career a year, even after his long-standing commitment, Colburn had no interest in grayshirting, and suddenly had to re-open his recruiting process.

The timing was made even worse by the fact Monday was the first day of the 48-hour recruiting dead period just before signing day, meaning schools could not reach out to recruits.  Since recruits are allowed to initiate dialogue, however, Colburn was able to call coaches at schools which had shown interest in him earlier in his high school career to see if they were still interested.

Among these schools are Wake Forest, Marshall, and Georgia Southern.  According to a The State report, Colburn will not consider any offers that have come in this week just because of the situation, instead considering the schools he had talked to before last June.

In addition to that, Colburn’s high school coach, Tom Knotts, says he will not allow Petrino or his coaching staff to recruit any more players from Dutch Fork, and he expects the possibility of other high school coaches following his lead, according to multiple reports.

Many are stunned by Petrino’s betrayal of a young man who had committed to play for him so long ago.  Then again, this is a coach who once lost a job at Arkansas after crashing his motorcycle on which his mistress was riding with him, then lying to cover it up.  And that really wasn’t that long ago, in 2012.

As for Colburn, he did not sign anywhere on National Signing Day on Wednesday, opting to take some time to process what has happened and make his next decision.  As a current college student, my college decision wasn’t at all easy, and did not involve playing a sport at all.

That being said, Colburn says he hopes to sign a national letter of intent next Wednesday, listing Wake Forest, Marshall, and Georgia Southern as the finalists.

He told WLTX he plans to visit Wake Forest and Georgia Southern this week, having already visited Marshall very early in the recruiting process, as the Thundering Herd gave Colburn his first offer.

Each of the three schools would have its advantages if Colburn decided to attend.  Marshall and Georgia Southern are both coming off of conference championships in 2014, in Conference-USA and the Sun Belt, respectively, with Marshall nearly qualifying for the “New Year’s Six” bowl games.  Two of Colburn’s high school teammates signed letters of intent to play for Georgia Southern on Wednesday, so he could continue playing with them at the next level if he becomes an Eagle.

While Wake Forest hasn’t had the recent success of the other two schools, the Demon Deacons are in the ACC, one of the Power Five conferences, which as of last August have autonomy and are allowed to give certain perks to student-athletes that others outside the Power Five can’t give.  Also, the competition in the ACC includes the likes of Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Clemson, a team in Colburn’s home state.

That competition would also include Louisville.  Wake Forest and Louisville, in fact, are in the same division, so they play in football every year.  When asked by WLTX about the possibility of playing Louisville, Colburn added that Marshall also plays the Cardinals next year, but playing them every year and potentially competing against them for conference championships could be too good to pass up, particularly if Colburn is one for revenge.

In the recruiting class that signed on Wednesday, Wake Forest is ranked highest out of these three, at 53rd, according to 247sports.com, which is also the highest class ranking in school history.  Marshall’s class ranks 74th, while Georgia Southern is 95th.

The Crystal Ball feature on 247sports.com predicts the landing spot for recruits, as various contributors to the site vote on where they believe the player will commit.  Both writers who voted on Colburn predicted him to pick Wake Forest.

This story has fascinated me over the last few days, although not in a good way.  Louisville treating a student-athlete like this regarding the biggest decision of his life so far is absolutely mind-boggling, and is a hard story to watch.  Colburn was quoted by The State as saying “I felt lost and hopeless” after Louisville notified him of their decision, and rightfully so.

The entry of Wake Forest (a team I happen to pull for) into Colburn’s recruitment also piqued my interest, although getting a recruit to come play for my team, should he commit to Wake, would only be the personal silver lining for a horrible situation I will still wish had never happened.  I also have some level of interest in stories involving Dutch Fork, as I have a couple of friends who graduated from the school, including one who vaguely knows Colburn, and called him a “nice guy”.

Recruiting in college football is an extremely competitive business, as coaches understand a good recruiting job makes winning much easier, as getting better players to attend your school generally makes your team better.

That being said, there are sometimes crooked things that happen in recruiting, as schools violate NCAA rules, hoping not to get caught, or even do everything within the rules but bend the truth to make their school or program sound better than it really is.

Here, the case of a horribly timed recruiting decision by a perennially competitive program, which unexpectedly changed the course of a young man’s life, both on and off the football field, was more than crooked.

This case shows recruiting can be much worse than crooked.  Here, it was just nasty.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, February 11, Colburn signed with Wake Forest.

Editor’s Note: Keith Olbermann is one of the more polarizing figures at ESPN, and the SportsCenter anchor turned MSNBC political analyst turned ESPN2 talk show host has a segment on his show known as “World’s Worst Person in Sports” where he names someone who has, in his mind, acted negatively in the sports world.  For Thursday’s segment, he chose Bobby Petrino, based on his treatment of Colburn.  Here is the video, with the part about Petrino starting at about 1:50 (although the first part of the video is somewhat humorous regarding other topics).