UPDATE (Nov. 29, 3:52 p.m.): The interactive tables above have been updated to include the results of Thursday’s match-ups, and those games has been removed (the text of the article has not been updated).Turkey and football is an annual tradition. Turkey and meaningful football is a treat. So be thankful this year: When ranked by total playoff “swing” — a measure of how much each game affects the playoff picture1As measured by the cumulative amount of playoff probability at stake — three of the top four Week 13 games will take place on Thanksgiving.When the Chicago Bears visit the Detroit Lions in the first Thanksgiving Day game, the stakes are straightforward. The Bears are largely out of playoff contention, so all affected teams do better with a Lions loss — excluding the Lions, of course.You don’t need a complicated statistical model to tell you that the next game, between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys, will have huge implications for the NFC East title race. Going into the game, the Eagles have a slight edge on the Cowboys, with a 55 percent chance to win the division. A win in Dallas would increase its division title chances to 82 percent; a loss would drop it to 36 percent. Outside of the NFC East, the Green Bay Packers would prefer an Eagles victory, and the 49ers would prefer a Cowboys victory.2The Packers own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Eagles, and the 49ers own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cowboys.Thursday night’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers will have significant playoff implications, but probably not in the way envisioned when the schedule was drawn up. The NFC West title isn’t at stake; the Arizona Cardinals have crashed the divisional party this year. Arizona holds a two-game lead over both Seattle and San Francisco. The Lions, Cowboys and Eagles will all be rooting for a San Francisco loss. And though Arizona’s playoff chances are better with a 49ers loss, its division title chances are better with a Seattle loss.We’ll let the charts do the talking for the rest of Week 13’s games. The most meaningful non-Turkey Day game is between the New Orleans Saints and the Pittsburgh Steelers, with more than 90 percentage points of playoff probability on the line. But, to close out this column, we thought we’d highlight some of the more interesting (or infuriating, depending upon your perspective) playoff scenarios that emerged from the 50,000 simulations that form the basis for this weekly feature. You can try your own hand at this with ESPN’s excellent Playoff Machine tool. But the scenarios below at least have a veneer of statistical plausibility.In last week’s column, we mentioned there were five simulations in which a five-win team won the NFC South. With losses from both the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans last week, there are now 107 simulations in which a five-win team wins the NFC South, amounting to an 0.2 percent probability.3Of those 107 simulations, 89 resulted in a Carolina Panthers division title, and 18 resulted in a title for Atlanta.There were 2,029 instances (4 percent probability) in which an 11-win team did not make the playoffs. The Cowboys and the Eagles are the two teams most likely to suffer that fate.There were seven simulations in which a five-win team made the playoffs and an 11-win team did not.There were two simulations in which all four AFC North teams finished with 11 wins.A five-win division winner hosting a 12-win wild card team? That happened nine times in our simulations.
There have been annual compilations of baseball statistics for nearly as long as there has been professional baseball. In 1922, the first “Baseball Cyclopedia” was published, collecting rudimentary career statistics for thousands of major league players. And almost 30 years later there was the first edition of “The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball,” which became the standard, and really only, resource for retired players’ career statistics and remained so well into the 1960s. But those books gave each player only the barest of statistical attention: games played, batting average (for hitters), wins and losses (pitchers).But in 1969, a better baseball encyclopedia arrived, one whose rigorous research and comprehensive scope would create a foundation for virtually every significant statistical compendiums that followed.To understand how it happened, let’s first go back to 1954 and visit the spot on the map where New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York come together. That’s where David Neft, who grew up just a few blocks from the old Yankee Stadium, had just taken a job. He was only 17, two years too young to work as a camp counselor. So instead he was assigned to watch the camp’s gate, where not a whole lot happened.“Look,” Neft’s boss told him, “you’re going to have a lot of dead time, so you should bring stuff to read.”Neft, who had been playing around with numbers for most of his young life, worked out the math. “I started figuring out how much I would need to bring to read,” he recalled in a recent interview. “Eight hours a day, six days a week, eight weeks. So I took a different tack.”Neft bought a copy of “The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball,” first published just three years earlier. With the encyclopedia as his guide, he immersed himself in major league baseball’s historical record: eight weeks in the summer of 1954, eight more a year later.Back in New York, Neft began haunting the public library’s main research branch, where he found a collection of books and other ephemera once owned by Hall of Famer Albert G. Spalding, one of the 19th century’s great baseball figures. Neft realized that other encyclopedias were leaving too much undone. “And that was it,” he said. “I thought, ‘Someday, it would be neat to do a better job of this.’”A decade or so later, Neft was working as a professional statistician when he visited TV Guide’s new printing facility, which was controlled by IBM computers. A light bulb flipped on. The encyclopedia Neft wanted to make would necessarily be massive, far larger than any statistical encyclopedia published before. All the typesetting could be done manually … but only at enormous cost. But computers changed everything.He and his employer, Information Concepts Incorporated, found a publisher at Macmillan — hence the “Mac” in “Big Mac” — where editor Bob Markel saw an opportunity to issue the definitive baseball resource. “If The New York Times was the newspaper of record, we could be the publisher of records,” Markel told me.And so Neft got to work. He was already armed with the voluminous biographical research compiled by the Hall of Fame’s in-house historian, Lee Allen, and next ICI purchased amateur researcher John Tattersall’s tremendous collection of 19th-century data for $25,000. But much, much more was needed. So Neft placed a small ad — headlined “WANTED — A BASEBALL NUT” — in The Sporting News, not knowing if anyone would respond.“We practically needed a truck to deliver the résumés,” Neft said.Neft chose the best of them. Then, as Alan Schwarz writes in his book “The Numbers Game,” “The staff of 21 thus began its … Kerouackian odyssey all over the United States, from library microfilm rooms to long-lost graveyards, mortar and spades always in tow, to build the greatest book of statistics sports had ever seen.”After that yearlong slog, it came time to input the data — the computers were still using punch cards. When everything was done, the first edition of “The Baseball Encyclopedia: The Complete and Official Record of Major League Baseball” arrived in 1969, professional baseball’s centennial season. David Neft’s “The Baseball Encyclopedia” For diehard baseball fans, a world without Sean Forman’s Baseball-Reference.com is difficult to imagine. But the site is relatively new; it didn’t grace the Internet until 2000. Before that, for seamheads interested in baseball statistics there was only … print. Print? Yes, print. You remember print.One of those print compendiums of baseball information was a 6.5-pound behemoth nicknamed “Big Mac,” and it changed how people think about the sport. A world without the Big Mac might not just mean a world without Baseball-Reference.com, it might also mean a world without Bill James, which might mean a world without sabermetrics, a world without “Moneyball,” a world without the analytics that have transformed so many other sports. As John Thorn, Major League Baseball’s official historian, says today, “It was a revolution. This was the ‘Moby-Dick’ of baseball statistics, not only for its size, but also for its place in baseball history.” In his New York Times review, the late, great Jimmy Breslin wrote, “The book is so heavy that the mailman bringing it to the house stumbled and suffered a severe groin injury.” Its weight would result in an enduring nickname, “Big Mac.” But its enormous size and $25 price tag (equivalent to more than $150 today) still didn’t deter people from buying it: The first edition is said to have sold 100,000 copies.Several more editions were issued up until 1996 but, as Thorn said, “There is no question, that first edition was the best.” The second edition somehow contained less information and was less accurate. Still, according to Jeff Neuman, an editor who worked on the fifth and sixth editions, it made money for Macmillan, especially after ICI collapsed and the publisher came to own the book outright. As Neuman told me via email, “You knew you were going to sell 50,000 copies, at 25 or 30 or (later) 40 dollars apiece, and pay no royalties. Which made it a very profitable enterprise.”Today, the Big Mac’s legacy is everywhere we look.Thanks to Neft and his dedicated researchers, there would ultimately be numerous gargantuan print encyclopedias, including “The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia,”1ESPN owns FiveThirtyEight. Thorn and Pete Palmer’s “Total Baseball,” and Neft’s own “Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball.” Every important statistical compendium since 1969 owes a debt to ICI research, especially if you’re looking up just about anything that happened between 1876 and 1920. Without that research, we still wouldn’t know how many games Cy Young really won, how many runs Honus Wagner really drove in, how many hits Cap Anson really collected.And now, of course, it’s all on the web.“The whole genesis of Baseball-Reference,” site creator Sean Forman told me, “was taking what was in ‘The Baseball Encyclopedia’ and making the pages connectable. In the printed books, if you wanted to find Joe DiMaggio’s teammates, you would have to go to DiMaggio, then flip to the team roster somewhere else, then flip back to each of his teammates.”So the research, now connectable and sortable and indispensable, endures and will outlast us all.But the reach of Big Mac stretches far beyond one tremendously useful website. Beginning in 1969, people could finally answer, in just a few seconds, nearly every question about MLB history, which opened up all sorts of possibilities for folks of particularly curious bents.“I got out of the Army in October 1973,” Bill James told me, “and by then I was aware of the Macmillan and wanted a copy of it. When the second edition came out in the spring of 1974, I bought one as soon as I saw it and spent the next several months familiarizing myself with what was in it. The Macmillan certainly had an enormous impact on my career; absolutely it did. Ten years earlier, I would not have been possible.”Yes, the print encyclopedia is dead. The internet killed it. But for roughly 30 years, the Big Mac and its literary progeny revived and restored decades of diamond history that had previously eked out an existence as little more than rumors and hazy memories. All because a teenager watching a gate through a couple of idle summers didn’t feel like schlepping a pile of books to work every day.
Did the Cubs prove tanking works?In many ways, the 2016 Chicago Cubs were an inimitable team. They started with one of the most hyped rosters in MLB history, somehow surpassed even those lofty expectations for most of the regular season, then survived a treacherous postseason to win the World Series and finally set down a burden they’d carried for 108 years. For better and for worse, that’s not a path most franchises are in a position to take.But it won’t stop other clubs from trying to replicate elements of the Cubs’ success. And one major area where they might try to borrow from Chicago’s blueprint is in the reinvigorated notion of the “success cycle.” Longtime friend-of-FiveThirtyEight Jonah Keri introduced the concept in the early 2000s as a way to formalize the idea that teams undergo a cycle of rising and falling, building and tearing down rosters at regular intervals. Keri later disavowed the idea, but it might be on the way back after the Cubs’ rebuilding (or, as the less charitable among us might call it, “tanking”) effort under GM Theo Epstein bore such delicious fruit the past few seasons.At the same time that Epstein was executing his rebuild in Chicago, the Houston Astros were doing something similar (to good effect, with even more success potentially on the way), and the Brewers, Braves and Phillies are currently letting their fields lie fallow. League-wide, just two key characteristics — a team’s payroll and its average age1Weighted by batters’ plate appearances and pitchers’ total batters faced. — explained a whopping 58 percent of the variation in win-loss records during the 2016 season, the highest that mark has been since at least 1998.2When the 30-team era began. Both of those characteristics are strongly associated with how a team tries to manipulate where it is in the success cycleIt’s hard to blame Keri for writing off the success cycle; when he was re-evaluating it after the 2010 season, age and payroll had just gotten done explaining a mere 14 percent of the variation in records. In other words, as recently as a few years ago, the familiar patterns of team-building seemed to have been broken. But in an odd twist, maybe the relevance of the success cycle follows its own cyclical pattern. If that’s the case, the Cubs capitalized on it at exactly the right time. –Neil For a long while, MLB was slouching toward mediocrity — or at least uniformity. In 2014, 23 of the 30 MLB teams won between 70 and 90 ballgames, a relatively narrow range differentiated only by an extra win every 9 days or so. Things got even more compressed in 2015, when a third of the league squeezed itself between 76 and 84 wins, which is far more teams around .500 than usual and indicative of a broader trend in baseball: The spread between the best and worst teams had shrunk rapidly, hitting its lowest level in decades. We can illustrate this by tracking changes in the standard deviation of wins (and wins above replacement) over time — essentially measuring how compressed the range of talent across the game has been.This trend had a number of consequences, including making the sport less predictable and allowing luck to play a larger role in the outcome of the season.But 2016 was the year baseball may have begun to swing back in the opposite direction. Last year, far fewer teams were stuck in that middle range of wins compared to the previous two seasons. More clubs were either clearly good or clearly bad — as symbolized by the symmetry of a league-best 103 wins for the Chicago Cubs and league-worst 103 losses for the Minnesota Twins.Moreover, the correlation between payroll and wins (or WAR) in 2016 was easily the highest it had been for MLB since the late 1990s. Back then, the relationship between money and wins triggered a moral panic of sorts in the commissioner’s office,3With the obvious ulterior motive being to reel in payrolls across the entire sport. so it remains to be seen whether a similar crisis will emerge again 20 years later. But last season’s strong correlation — in conjunction with 2017’s unusually top-heavy projected standings — suggests that teams are getting more of what they’re paying for now than they have in a while, and we’re probably due for less parity as a result. –Neil Will the shift keep getting more popular?Baseball’s swift adoption of the defensive shift stands as one of sabermetrics’ shining achievements, turning what was a seldom-used tactic in the early 2000s into a strategy that was deployed on nearly a third of all balls in play in 2016: But that trend was not to last. The WAR-weighted age ticked upward in 2016, caused in part by the aging of that young cohort. It still remained the second-lowest figure in 30 years, but the abrupt increase suggests that rather than a general youth movement, baseball may have experienced a one-time spike in young talent, one that may lead to a golden generation.The next couple of seasons should provide some clarity. If another class of rookies starts accomplishing amazing things, then perhaps baseball has made a long-term shift toward younger players. In contrast, if Bryant, Lindor, et al. remain dominant, then maybe 2015 was a unique event, the arrival of a new wave of great players who will drag the production-weighted average age up as they get older. Either way, baseball fans are witnessing a major shift in the game’s talent. –RobIs the bullpen takeover here to stay?Postseason fads — which often replicate whatever novel development some team rides to the World Series — are usually quickly dropped in subsequent seasons. (Remember when we thought MLB would be overrun by a horde of speedy, contact-hitting Kansas City Royals clones two Octobers ago?) But last fall’s bullpen craze might be a rare playoff trend with staying power. That’s because the Cubs and Indians’ dominance in relief was just the most visible manifestation of a pattern that’s been building for years.Over the past couple decades, bullpens have become central to teams’ plans. Relievers pitched 33 percent of available innings in 1997; that number reached an all-time high of 37 percent in 2016. More importantly, relievers also generated 24 percent of all pitching wins above replacement (WAR) last season, the most they’ve ever contributed. The latter number has been growing fast in recent seasons, up from just 16 percent as recently as 2005: Are the kids still all right?Kris Bryant burst into baseball in 2015, performing like an All-Star right out of the gate and earning Rookie of the Year honors at age 24. He improved in 2016, elevating his on-base percentage and isolated power on the way to being crowned the National League’s Most Valuable Player (not to mention leading the Cubs to their first World Series title in 108 years).Bryant was emblematic of a larger trend in baseball: the rise of a new generation of talent. Driven by Bryant, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and a host of other exciting rookies, 2015 featured the lowest average age (weighted by production, as measured by FanGraphs’ wins above replacement) in more than three decades. Will rule changes really speed up the game?MLB unveiled some controversial rules changes this offseason, primarily targeted at speeding up the pace of the game. A couple of new wrinkles concern replays: managers will have only 30 seconds to decide whether to call for a replay, and reviews will be capped at two minutes. The most significant alteration eliminates the ritual of the intentional walk, requiring only a hand signal to send the batter off to first base.The impact of this rule change will be minor because intentional walks are already uncommon and becoming more so. The same goes for the new replay rules, which might shorten a handful of interminable delays per season, but won’t affect most umpire reviews, which don’t last long enough to run into the new restrictions.The real objective in these changes is Rob Manfred’s crusade since becoming commissioner: to speed up the pace of game. But if that’s the goal, Manfred is focused on the wrong things. Since 2008, most of the slowdown has come from players taking their sweet time between pitches, not uncommon events like replays and intentional walks. To truly pick up the pace of play, the commissioner will likely need to deploy an even more radical solution, like adding a pitch clock. But doing so would require the cooperation of the players’ union, which doesn’t want to disrupt the current pace. As a result, Manfred will likely have to chew on the edges without ever solving the underlying problem. –Rob The shift’s popularity has exploded since 2011, with each subsequent season setting new records for how frequently it was used. But given all of this shifting, it’s fair to wonder when the tactic will reach its peak — when hitters will have adjusted enough to keep the defense honest by, say, going to the opposite field, or hitting more fly balls, or even dropping down bunts.We probably aren’t there yet. Even though the league’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) has stayed relatively constant despite the ridiculous uptick in shifting, there’s also evidence that the shift has hampered the production of the players who face it the most. Then again, Cubs manager — and former shift-master — Joe Maddon used the tactic less than anybody else last season, instead employing a pitching staff who induced unusually soft contact to allow the league’s lowest BABIP. If the rest of baseball ends up copying the champs, maybe the shift will reach a high-water mark after all. –Neil Just when it seemed like Tommy John surgery was becoming a generation-defining problem, it has almost disappeared. Many of the ace pitchers who lost a year to the ailment have returned in force, including Darvish, who has regained most of his efficacy. Even when pitchers suffer ligament damage, doctors are increasingly prescribing less disruptive treatments than the operating table.In prior eras, when one pitching injury died down, another one appeared. Before Tommy John, there were more severe shoulder injuries, which claimed many a young pitcher’s career. With one problem solved, we could be waiting for another crisis to begin. But let’s take a rare opportunity to be optimistic: we could be entering a new golden era of pitcher health! Back to the pessimism: That notion should frighten MLB’s hitters. If pitchers don’t need to worry about their shoulders or their elbows, they could dominate hitters like never before. –Rob Will the offensive renaissance continue?The long ball is back. In the last two years, offense has spiked from a three-decade low, a surge powered almost entirely by home run rates reminiscent of the Steroid Era. And no one is sure why.There are theories. Some have proposed that players are attempting to hit more fly balls, which are more likely to get over the fence. Others have suggested that players are using more granular data to improve their swings. But most explanations don’t survive scrutiny.In a series of articles, Ben Lindbergh and I developed the theory that a different ball is the source of the offensive spike. If a juiced ball is to blame, then MLB’s offensive explosion ought to continue. And since MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has made it a priority to increase offense in the league, runs per game may soar even higher. Still, without knowing definitively why offense has spiked, it’s impossible to say whether the trend will continue. –Rob It’s long been known that a pitcher is more effective out of the bullpen than as a starter, so it’s not too surprising that by shifting a greater share of the workload to relievers, managers have gotten more value out of their ’pens. But the gap in effectiveness between the two types of pitchers is also growing at an incredible rate. In 1995, the first season of the post-strike era, relievers and starters posted basically identical fielding independent pitching (FIP) rates. Since 2012, however, the average FIP for relievers (3.79) has been 0.25 points lower than the average for starters (4.04).That quarter of a run quickly begins to add up to wins, especially as relievers are called upon to pitch more and more — and, increasingly, in more important situations. Toss in the fact that there are more hard-throwing relievers than before, as well as more managers like Cleveland’s Terry Francona — who experimented with the kinds of revolutionary bullpen tweaks SABR-heads have been advocating for decades — and we might find ourselves looking back at 2016 not as the year relief pitching peaked, but rather as just another waystation on the road to total bullpen dominance. –NeilCan we finally measure defense?Since the inception of sabermetrics, defense has always stumped the statheads. Without the detailed data — like pitch location and exit velocity — that’s available to measure pitching and hitting, defensive metrics have been unreliable and inaccurate. Adam Eaton was one of the best fielders in baseball in 2016 … and, according to those same metrics, a below-average defender in 2015.But the future of defensive stats looks brighter: MLB’s new Statcast system can measure everything about a defensive play, from the running speed of the fielder to the exact landing point of the ball. Armed with that new data, MLB’s statisticians have crafted impressive new metrics to quantify the difficulty of every outfield catch over the last two seasons, a huge upgrade on the information we had available before. (Kevin Kiermaier, your Gold Gloves appear to be well deserved.)Still, the stats aren’t perfect. They don’t account for the direction the fielder has to run in, which means that they treat running forward the same as backpedaling. They don’t incorporate any information about an outfielders’ throws, so a strong and accurate arm counts for nothing. And they are only available for the outfield. Statcast still has major issues tracking grounders (losing as much as 20 percent of all balls in the dirt), so for now, the much more complex mystery of infield defense remains unsolved.Perhaps the biggest problem with these defensive statistics is that they are not being released in full to the public. While MLB is providing snippets of the data in leaderboards and tweets, the complete data set is being kept under wraps. Front office insiders I’ve spoken to have pointed to issues with the data’s quality and the influence of teams eager to keep their analytics edge as two barriers to the data set’s full release. At a crucial point in Statcast’s development, it’s reasonable to wonder whether the data stream will eventually become fully public (like PITCHf/x) or whether it will remain a tool primarily for the front office (like the NBA’s SportVU camera system). –RobIs the Tommy John era over?Two years ago, we were in the midst of a Tommy John epidemic. Elbow ailments felled major stars like Yu Darvish and laid waste to pitching staffs. But last year, Ben Lindbergh and I noted that Tommy John surgeries had suddenly dropped. And so far this spring — usually the most active time for players to be diagnosed with elbow issues — the scourge of Tommy John has become almost a nonissue. Is pitch framing still worth anything?Pitch framing was once a darling of sabermetrics, a stat and a method by which catchers could prove that they provided more value to their teams than the guys competing for their roster spots. For many of those catchers, all those frames add up to several wins over the course of a season. At least, they used to. Pitch framing might be be losing its value.In recent articles, Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan has argued that as more teams have exploited pitch framing, the gap between the best and worst catchers has shrunk. With no absolutely terrible receivers in baseball any more, the average framing skill jumped and the value of being a great framer has declined. Paradoxically, all the attention paid to the significance of pitch framing has made it less significant.In hindsight, the demise of framing seems inevitable. Modern front offices eagerly target undervalued skills until they aren’t undervalued anymore. Once they discovered framing and learned to target or develop the skill, it was only a matter of time before most catchers in baseball became good at it. Rather than being a bonus, pitch framing is now a prerequisite. –Rob Is MLB’s era of parity over?We tend to think parity in sports is a good thing. A more level playing field means a higher chance that any team could win, after all. But there’s a fine line between a league with a healthy competitive balance and one where every team is just plain mediocre. The first days of spring are the perfect time to kick back, relax and get ready for a new MLB season and all the possibilities it might bring. We’ve previewed all six divisions already at FiveThirtyEight, but we still had some deep thoughts about baseball’s Big Questions. That’s why we’ve prepared a guidebook of sorts for what to watch for in 2017, with an eye on where the game is headed. Here are 10 topics we’ll be thinking — and writing — about throughout the season:
Many of the outliers aren’t much of a surprise — Peterson has seen some of the finest rushing seasons in league history over that period, and Bell may be the best back in the league today. But others require a bit more strain on the memory, such as Penn State’s Larry Johnson, who had two outstanding seasons after he emerged from behind Priest Holmes on the Kansas City Chiefs’ depth chart.More relevant, though, are the players who not only didn’t come up playing against SEC speed, but were outside the Power Five altogether. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chris Johnson, Michael Turner, Alfred Morris, Doug Martin, LeSean McCoy and a cavalcade of high-performing backs have combined for 187 player seasons with at least 100 carries since 2001. (This includes players such as Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee, who played for Miami before it joined the ACC in 2004.)1Likewise, McCoy played for Pitt before it joined the ACC and Tomlinson played for TCU before it joined the Big 12. And today’s top backs also include Jay Ajayi out of Boise State and David Johnson out of Northern Iowa.Not that any of this falls on the head of Fournette, whom everyone is taking a little too seriously. The SEC does put a lot of players in the league, and in positions to contribute for their teams. But if Fournette runs over the NFL the same way he did those SEC run defenses, he’ll be the first to do so in quite a while. When Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette said the jump to the NFL was “really easy” after his time playing in the much-hyped SEC for LSU, a lot of observers raised an eyebrow. Things certainly haven’t always looked easy for SEC backs drafted in the first round.Todd Gurley, who was taken 10th overall out of Georgia in 2015, had an outstanding rookie season but struggled badly as a sophomore. Alabama’s Trent Richardson was out of the league in just four seasons after the Browns used the third overall pick on him in 2012. Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno had one 1,000-yard season among the six he lasted in the NFL after going 12th in 2009.The most productive highly drafted SEC backs around these days are likely Mark Ingram and Darren McFadden — neither of whom has ever looked like the star he was in college.Still, while the SEC hasn’t had the standouts of the Big 12 (Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma) or even the Big Ten (Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State), it has put a lot of backs in the league. Since 2001, there have been 97 player seasons in which a player from the SEC has had at least 100 rush attempts in a season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, compared to only 58 for the Big Ten, 43 for the Big 12, 68 for the Pac 10/12 and 38 for the ACC. This complicates the SEC’s reputation for turning out relative busts at the running back position a bit, since its players have at least shown the capacity to earn carries in the league.Here’s a chart showing each individual player season for SEC backs drafted since 2001:
OSU senior midfielder Zach Mason (7) prepares to kick the ball during a game against Penn State on Sept. 20 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. OSU tied 1-1. Credit: Ed MomotOhio State junior forward Danny Jensen scored a goal in the 56th minute to lead the Ohio State men’s soccer team to a 1-0 shutout victory over No. 15 Kentucky.The Buckeyes extended their winning streak to six games and improved their overall record to 7-4-2, while the Wildcats fell to 7-2-2 on the season.With the win, the Buckeyes tied their team-record winning streak, set during the 1987 and 1999 campaigns.The Scarlet and Gray came out of the gates strong to battle a team that came in with a matching five-game winning streak.The Buckeyes had the first shot of the game in the fourth minute when sophomore forward Marcus McCrary sent in a shot to the near post, but his shot was stopped by Kentucky senior goalkeeper Callum Irving.Senior midfielder Kyle Culbertson had the next good look for the Buckeyes in the 19th minute, but Irving also saved his shot.While the offense was stymied by the Wildcats’ defense, the Scarlet and Gray defense matched the effort throughout the first half, preventing the Wildcats from scoring.In the second half of the game, a few Buckeyes created highlight plays that proved vital to the victory.OSU redshirt senior goalkeeper Chris Froschauer made the biggest save of the game in the 50th minute when he stopped a shot from Kentucky junior midfielder Napo Matsoso. Matsoso gathered a rebound to send in a shot from the near post, but Froschauer came across with the save.Froschauer had three saves of the game, earning his fifth shutout of the year and second in a row.Jensen’s goal came in the second half when headed in a shot toward the back post with assists from Christian Soldat and Culbertson. Jenson’s goal gave him the OSU lead in scoring with nine points (four goals, one assist).Once again, the Scarlet and Gray defense held strong in the final 20 minutes to prevent the Wildcats from putting a point on the board.In addition to ending Kentucky’s five-game winning streak, the Buckeyes handed the Wildcats their first home loss of the season.Overall, shots were 13-4 in favor of Kentucky, while corner shots were 5-3 in favor of OSU.The Buckeyes are next scheduled to return home to resume Big Ten play against Wisconsin at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
OSU women’s soccer players celebrate during a game against Indiana on Sept. 26, 2014. Credit: Lantern File PhotoThe Ohio State women’s soccer team earned a solid victory over the visiting team, Wright State, on Tuesday with a final score of 4-2.With the season just kicking off this month, the Buckeyes are off to a strong start as they enjoy their second victory in the first two games.The game got off to a strong start for OSU, giving the team plenty of momentum. Within the first ten minutes of play, both senior defender Morgan Wolcott and senior defender Bridget Skinner got past Wright State’s goal keeper, giving Skinner her first goal of the season.Throughout the match, OSU was able to consistently maintain possession, as Wright State did everything they could to match the Buckeyes pace.More attempts were made at the goal by Wolcott and OSU senior defender Nicole Miyashiro, but none were successful before the second half began.The game ended up tied 2-2 in the second half, causing the Buckeyes to focus their efforts on taking back the lead.OSU soon took back control of the game when junior midfielder Nikki Walts netted her first goal of the season putting OSU back on top.OSU relentlessly held possession for the rest of the game, adding a goal from junior forward Nya Cason to harness the lead on route to a victory.Coach Lori Walker said after the game that she is excited for the season ahead, having high expectations for the Buckeyes.“The National Championship is something we can shoot for,” she said. “We work on all of our goals each game, game by game. We’ve been doing well against Ohio teams.”Walker also said she was impressed with the performance of the team’s new players.“The [new] players getting more minutes will definitely help later on,” she said.The next home game for the team is on Friday, Sept. 9, when they will face off against Texas State.
Ohio State’s track and field team will compete this weekend in the Big Ten Conference Championships in Bloomington, Ind. Events begin today and continue through Saturday and Sunday.The men’s track and field team is coming off of an impressive performance in the Billy Hayes Invitational, which was also held at Indiana University.Senior Elon Simms won the 400-meter hurdles event with the seventh-best time in the Big Ten season, 52.13 seconds. OSU had seven additional top-four placements in various events.Senior Jeff See, OSU’s top distance runner, said the team has a good shot at winning and he is looking forward to his races.See will be running the 1500-meter, which he has placed second and third in before, and the 5K, which he has not yet placed in.“I’m much fitter heading into championship season than I’ve been in the past, so hopefully that will be the difference maker,” he said. “I’m going into both races with the expectation of winning them. Top three is fine, but I don’t see any reason to count myself out of winning.”The women’s track and field team is also returning on a good note after 10 top-four placements in the 25th Jesse Owens Track Classic.Among these placements are two first-place finishes. Sophomore All-American Christina Manning clenched the 100-meter hurdles title, and Shaniqua McGinnis and Latoya Sanderson had a season-best performance in the 4×100-meter relay, also the third-best performance this season in the Big Ten.Junior sprinter and hurdler Letecia Wright said her team is prepared.“Everyone’s been keeping their focus on championships throughout the season,” Wright said. “Every week, people strive to improve their marks because they know championships are a battle and everyone is bringing their A-game.”While optimistic, Wright knows the competition will be no a walk in the park for herself and her teammates.“I think the biggest challenge we face is not getting lazy or too comfortable after doing so well in indoor season,” she said. “As a team, we have to keep the intensity in training and I think we’ve done a good job with that.”Wright will compete in the 100-meter hurdles, 100-meter dash, and 4×100-meter relay in Bloomington. Though she said she has done “alright” so far in her events, she hopes to push herself harder than ever.“I want to run fast and give 100 percent in all the events so I can get set up for regionals and nationals,” she said. “As a team, I think we can get in the top five if everyone competes the way we know they can compete.”With high hopes from all parts of the team, OSU will stay focused this week on its weekend championship goals.“We’ve really done all we can to make sure we’re ready and a lot of our guys are running great,” See said. “We need to use each other’s performances as momentum in our own events. If we can build off of each other, it’ll be hard to stop us.”
LieStrong. That’s how you summarize the disappointment of something being too good to be true. That’s what you call a “cocktail, so to speak, [of] EPO … transfusions and testosterone” that allows you to win the hardest race in the world. That’s what you call “one big lie, that [was] repeated a lot of times.” And for now it seems, that’s what a once-special message of empowerment and inspiration has been reduced to amid the surging news of Lance Armstrong’s confession to using performance-enhancing drugs. On Monday, it was revealed that Armstrong finally admitted, in some capacity, to doping during an interview with Oprah Winfrey — it aired for the first time Thursday at 9 p.m. on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The confession was not the first stick in the spokes for Armstrong – he has been the subject of various doping allegations for more than a decade. In October, his seven consecutive Tour de France titles were vacated due to the allegations and he was banned from competition for life. In recent sports history, the prevalence of steroid-use has become basic sports knowledge. We’ve seen it many times – from the forfeiture of Marion Jones’ five Olympic medals to the discussion of whether to add an asterisk on Barry Bonds’ home run record. We’ve heard the “I was just trying to keep up” or “Everyone was doing it” excuses repeatedly, and many times we’ve sympathized and forgiven these transgressors. But for some reason, this time is different. This time I’m offended. We’re talking about an incredible story. This was a guy who, only 25 years old, was diagnosed with aggressive cancer that had spread extensively – including to his lungs and brain. Against all odds, he beat it. After starting an immensely popular foundation that supports cancer survivors, he did the impossible again by winning the Tour de France so many consecutive times that he needed two hands to show us. He was the good guy. The one you wanted to root for. You didn’t have to know a thing about cycling to love Armstrong and everything he stood for. The wristbands were cool too. So it stings to know with certainty that he cheated. But it doesn’t end there. As details continued to surface, we learned that Armstrong channeled the same intense desire to survive cancer into keeping his cheating hidden at all costs. We learned that he’s not the good guy we thought he was. It was all just a shameless case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The indications of various investigations and reports are disturbing. They assert that for years he viciously attacked and destroyed the reputations of friends and former-teammates who spoke out against him. He sued those with the courage to accuse him for libel and took their money when he won – knowing they had told the truth. He made suspicious monetary contributions to cycling regulation organizations, presumably to conceal his doping. As a captain, he led his team in a ruse that has been described by he U.S. Anti-Doping Agency as “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” It’s playing out like a “Law and Order” episode, and it’s pretty clear that he’s the bad guy at the end. It was expected that his admission of guilt Thursday night would be limited, so as to minimize the legal repercussions of aggressively lying for over a decade. When asked by Oprah, “Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performances?” His answer was simple. “Yes.” So he did confess, but there were conflicting cues throughout; as if he had more disdain for getting caught than actually doing it. As the interview rolled on, it was the words Armstrong wouldn’t say – a truly sincere “I’m sorry” with the details to support it – that spoke louder than anything else. The tangential mentions of feeling justified and unfairly accused were other indications that he still hasn’t come to terms. We needed him to show true remorse, maybe not to the extent that guilty children do when they rub one leg behind the other and avoid eye contact, but close. Something meaningful. Anything. Instead, we watched Armstrong, with pursed lips, talk about a “flawed man” and a “bully” as if he were speaking about a bad-egg son. The personal ownership and responsibility were lacking – just as it has been for years. The interview was a pedal in the right direction, but there needed to be more. Maybe we’ll see that in the second part of the interview that airs Friday on the Oprah Winfrey Network. There’s no doubt in my mind that Armstrong is a phenomenal athlete. Perhaps he was the greatest cyclist of all time and the most dominant we’ve ever seen an athlete be in their sport. But we’ll never know because he cheated. It’s that simple. But it doesn’t seem that even Armstrong, a self-described “fierce competitor,” believes that he was the best. “Do you think it’s humanly possible to win the Tour de France, without doping, seven times in a row?” asked Oprah. “Not in my opinion,” he responded. So maybe we shouldn’t believe it either. Armstrong has a long race to redemption, and whether he finishes is something that remains to be seen. Until then, in my mind, there’s an important modification that needs to be made because it wasn’t a miracle – much less one that happened seven times: LiveStrong*.
Junior midfielder Turner Evans (5) cradles the ball during a game against Marquette Feb. 22 at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. OSU won, 11-7.Credit: Brett Amadon / Lantern reporterNo leading scorer. No starting goalie. No problem.Playing without junior midfielder Jesse King and senior goaltender Greg Dutton, the Ohio State men’s lacrosse team snapped a three-game losing streak Friday, defeating the Bellarmine Knights, 10-7.Getting off to a quick start, junior midfielder David Planning opened the scoring for the Buckeyes, ripping a shot to the off-stick side of senior goaltender Will Haas, who finished the game with eight saves for the Knights.After freshman attackman/midfielder Matt Taulane scored his first career goal for Bellarmine to tie the game, the Buckeyes went on a three-goal run to take a 4-1 lead late in the second quarter.However, two Bellarmine goals, the second coming with 22 seconds left in the half, gave the Knights the momentum until OSU freshman midfielder Jake Withers won the ensuing faceoff and capped off the possession with a goal with only two seconds left before the break.Withers won 15 of 21 faceoffs in the game including picking up a team high 10 ground balls.OSU coach Nick Myers said Withers has been improving every week, and he did a good job helping OSU control the faceoffs, an area that’s been a question mark at times during the season.“Jake’s one of those freshmen that has been a work in progress,” Myers said. “To start the season, we knew we had something there. Give a lot of credit to (assistant) coach (Jamison) Koesterer, our faceoff coach, for really bringing him along and the wings as well. We knew it was going to be a key to the game and I thought Jake did a nice job there tonight.”Sophomore attackman Carter Brown, who led the Buckeyes with five points, recorded his second and third goals of the night in the third quarter to give the Buckeyes a 7-4 lead going into the final frame.Bellarmine (4-3, 0-3), , which is located in Louisville, Ky., started the fourth quarter with two unanswered goals by sophomore midfielder Taylor Stuart and senior midfielder Chad Mitchell, respectively, bringing the score within one.However, that was as close as the Knights got as OSU used its second three-goal run of the night to put away Bellarmine for good.Freshman attackman J.T. Blubaugh and junior attackman Reegan Comeault scored a pair of goals spanning a minute apart before junior midfielder Turner Evans scored a man-up goal for the Buckeyes to give them a 10-6 lead.OSU was 2-3 on its man-up chances in the game.Evans said the team had to change up its game plan because of the absence of King, but a lot of young players rose to the challenge to help get the win.“Jesse (King) is obviously a huge part of our offense, so we had to make some adjustments during the week to try and work around having him not play today,” Evans said. “I feel like a lot guys stepped up and contributed today and not having him in the lineup obviously hurt us, but we managed to get the win.”Bellarmine tacked on a goal in the final minute, but it proved to be too little too late as the Buckeyes held on for the victory.Brown, who is second for the Buckeyes with nine goals on the season, said it was good to start off conference play with a win, but there are still plenty of games left to be played.“It feels really good,” Brown said. “It’s kind of a new season right now in the conference. We just got to take it one game at a time and focus on ourselves.”Freshman goaltender Nick Doyle, who started in place of the injured Dutton, made nine saves in his collegiate debut, a performance that didn’t surprise his coach.“Doyle, I thought, did what we expect from our goalies,” Myers said. “He made some big saves, hung in there, did a nice job on the clear and helped us get a big win.”The Buckeyes are scheduled to be back in action Tuesday as they take on No. 9 Notre Dame at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. Game time is set for 4 p.m.
The Buckeyes are scheduled to play the Terrapins on Saturday at noon. OSU redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) carries the ball during a game against Kent State Sept. 13. OSU won 66-0.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorBefore Ohio State coach Urban Meyer spoke at his weekly Monday press conference, the Big Ten announced that redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett had been named the conference’s co-Freshman of the Week.Barrett’s award came after he threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns and gained 409 yards of total offense — the second best output in school history — in the win against Cincinnati on Saturday. Just four games into his career, he has already been named either Big Ten Freshman of the Week or co-Freshman of the Week three times, in addition to one Offensive Player of the Week award.While Meyer addressed Barrett’s development this season, he also took time to talk about the Buckeyes across the board as they come off the 50-28 win against the Bearcats.Meyer said he was “very pleased” with OSU’s offensive performance against Cincinnati.He said Barrett has been a strong “distributor” and the coaching staff is working to give him more responsibilities going forward.The champions on offense were: Senior wide receivers Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Michael Thomas, redshirt-senior running back Rod Smith, Barrett, redshirt-junior tight end Nick Vannett and senior tight end Jeff Heuerman.Offensive players of the game were the entire offensive line and sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott.The champions on defense were: sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa, senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett, junior linebacker Joshua Perry and junior cornerback Armani Reeves.Bosa was the defensive player of the game.Meyer said “the obvious concern is pass game” for his defense. The pass defense gave up 221 yards and three touchdowns to one Cincinnati player on Saturday.Meyer said there is a new “Thursday race” award, given to redshirt-sophomore running back Bri’onte Dunn this week for his work on kick coverage.Meyer said kick coverage will be a challenge against Maryland on Saturday. He called the Terrapin’s kick and punt returners some of the best in the Big Ten.He said he expects a “big time atmosphere” in College Park, Md., for the game.Meyer said the lapses in pass defense against Cincinnati were on the coaching staff as well as player execution.“We had four really bad plays that we have to get corrected,” Meyer said of the Buckeyes’ pass defense.He said the defense still “absolutely” has the potential to be a championship-caliber unit.Meyer said he was “really excited” to see the production OSU got from skill-position players against Cincinnati. The Buckeyes’ offense totaled 710 yards, with more than 300 yards both passing and rushing.The coach said the offensive line is picking up depth and improving four games into the season.He said he considers the OSU offense a “very good one, potentially a great one.”Meyer addressed a potential quarterback controversy next season between Barrett and senior Braxton Miller by saying: “Braxton is our quarterback.”Meyer said OSU had some fun with assistant strength and conditioning coach Anthony Schlegel after his takedown of a fan who rushed the field, but also had a serious conversation with him about potential consequences if something were to have happened to the fan.Meyer said the matchup with Maryland is another “big one” for his pass defense.