Articles By All

All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/ask-athlon-sports-will-clark
Body:

Q: I loved to watch Will “The Thrill” Clark play baseball, from his first at-bat in the majors, a home run to straightaway center field in Houston against another great, Nolan Ryan. Do you think Clark will ever get into the Hall of Fame?

— Steven Lunn, Santa Maria, Calif.

A: Early in his career, Clark looked like the reincarnation of Ted Williams, making six All-Star teams in his first nine years in the league. Clark was a sweet-swinging prodigy who earned the nickname “The Natural” in addition to the catchier “Will The Thrill.” Injuries, though, derailed Clark’s bullet train to Cooperstown. After his fifth season in the league, he never reached 150 games played in a season, so his career numbers just aren’t Hall-worthy. He had plenty of great moments, though — none greater than the 1989 National League Championship Series, when he batted .650 and pounded 13 hits in five games.

Charlie Miller, Editorial Director

Have a question? Email us with any sports-related questions at editor@athlonsports.com
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.
 

Teaser:
<p> Should Will Clark be in the Baseball Hall of Fame?</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 15:33
All taxonomy terms: Brandt Snedeker, Golf
Path: /golf/brandt-snedeker-fact-sheet
Body:

Brandt Snedeker has just put together one of the best 36-hole performances in major championship history. Snedeker's 10-under 130 total ties Nick Faldo's 1992 record for lowest 36-hole score at the British Open Championship, and his bogey-free performance thus far is the first time since Tiger Woods at the 2000 Open that a player has put together two blemish-free scorecards in the first two rounds of a major. Think about that for a second — Snedeker has matched an achievement by Woods at the absolute height of his powers, when he was in the midst of his Tiger Slam.

Here's a quick introduction to the affable Snedeker, who will be battling Adam Scott this weekend for his first major title.

• A native Nashvillian, Snedeker was a two-time Tennessee state high school champion for Montgomery Bell Academy. He went on to a stellar career at Vanderbilt, where as a senior, he was ranked No. 1 in the nation and earned SEC Male Golfer of the Year honors.

• After a two-win 2006 season on the Nationwide Tour, Snedeker joined the big boys on the PGA Tour and grabbed Rookie of the Year honors in 2007, winning the Wyndham Championship for his first Tour win.

• Snedeker contended for the 2008 Masters title, entering the final round two shots behind eventual winner Trevor Immelman before a final-round 77 ended his chances.

• He earned the second and third wins of his career in playoffs, beating Luke Donald at the 2011 Heritage and Kyle Stanley at the 2012 Farmers Insurance, where he erased a seven-shot final-round deficit.

• One of the world's greatest putters, Snedeker ranks fifth on Tour in 2012 in Strokes Gained, Putting.

• Snedeker is looking to one of his idols, five-time Open champion Tom Watson, for inspiration this week. "Well, it helped a bunch playing with him," Snedeker said of a recent round with his fellow Huck Finn lookalike. "He told me the first time over here he wasn't a big fan of links golf. The second time he played he loved it. You've got to kind of embrace it, realise that you're going to get good bounces, bad bounces, expect the worst and hope for the best."

• In November 2011, Snedeker had hip surgery to fix a degenerative condition, and then he had to miss the 2012 U.S. Open after cracking a rib during a coughing fit. Yep, coughing.

• Snedeker knows a 36-hole lead means little at a tournament where a gust of wind can end your chances. "A great experience, but it gets you a lot of nothing,” he said. “As anyone can tell you, there’s been a lot of leads lost after 36 holes. I’m going to try and buck that trend this weekend."

Teaser:
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Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 13:42
All taxonomy terms: News, Olympics
Path: /olympics/2012-london-olympics-countries-could-steal-gold-usa
Body:

America loves a winner and Americans cherish every opportunity we have to prove we’re the best in the world. As a result, the USA has developed a Ricky Bobby complex when it comes to competition — “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” Nowhere will this be truer than at the 2012 London Olympics, where gold will certainly be the only medal worth its weight in TV time, Q Scores and endorsement dollars.

Our greatest Olympians have been dipped in gold. Mark Spitz is remembered for wearing his then-record seven gold medals from the 1972 Munich Olympics in an iconic photo that has since been paid homage to by Michael Phelps — who wore his record-setting eight golds from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Michael Johnson took it up a notch when he wore gold shoes while sprinting for gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Four years ago in Beijing, host country China trumped the USA, 51-to-36, in the gold medal count. But America took home the most gold in the previous three Olympics — in Athens, Sydney and Atlanta, respectively.

This time around in London, several of the USA’s traditional gold medal events are in jeopardy. Here’s a rundown of the countries the USA will need to beat out in order to stand atop the medal stand, play the “Star Spangled Banner” and, most important, win Olympic gold.

Jamaica Track (100m, 200m, 4x100m)
Who is the fastest in a foot race? It doesn’t get more basic than that in the Olympics. Lately, everyone has been chasing the winged-feet from the island of Jamaica.

Usain Bolt, 25
The 100-meter and 200-meter gold medal-winning, world record shattering Bolt is chasing “living legend” status. A long-striding 6’5” physical specimen, Bolt currently owns the world record times in the 100 meters (9.69) and 200 meters (19.30).

He is also the anchor leg of Jamaica’s 4x100-meter relay team — along with Yohan Blake, Michael Frater and Nesta Carter — which set a new world record (37.04) at the 2011 World Championships in South Korea. At that same event, Bolt was disqualified from the 100 meter final following a false start, but won gold in the 200 meters and 4x100 relay.

There are rumors of a lingering hamstring issue entering London, but Bolt is the man to beat until he proves otherwise on a global stage.

Yohan Blake, 22
“The Beast” is Bolt’s training partner and chief competition, having won gold in the 100 meters (9.92) at the 2011 World Championships. Blake also outran Bolt in Olympic qualifying heats in Jamaica. The young buck could make a splash by dethroning his countryman in London.

For the USA, Walter Dix, Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin remain the most likely medalists. Dix finished second to Blake and Bolt, respectively, at the 2011 Worlds. Gatlin won gold in the 100 at the 2004 Athens Olympics. In the relay, dropped baton passes — like the one at the 2011 World Championships — have become more of an issue than speed.

Veronica Campbell-Brown, 30
The Jamaican women will also be tough to keep up with. Campbell-Brown enters her fourth Olympic Games as the reigning World and Olympic champion in the 200 meters. Her top rivals from the USA are Carmelita Jeter and Allyson Felix. At the 2011 Worlds, Jeter won gold in the 100, while VCB took silver; VCB won gold in the 200, while Jeter and Fox settled for silver and bronze.

 

Spain Men’s Basketball
America’s game is on the hardwood and anything but gold would send shockwaves stateside. Clearly, Team USA is the overwhelming favorite. But with a rash of injuries to the USA and so many NBA stars playing for other countries, there is an outside chance of falling short.

Pau Gasol, 32 (7’0”, 250)
Marc Gasol, 27 (7’1”, 265)
Serge Ibaka, 22 (6’10”, 235)

There is no denying that Spain has more size up front than does the USA. The 7-foot Gasol brothers are NBA All-Stars and Ibaka led the NBA in blocked shots this season. The Spaniards also have talented guards and a total of eight players with NBA experience.

Recently, Team USA struggled to an ugly 80–69 scrimmage win over Brazil — a poor man’s Spain, with big men Nene, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter, but relatively little skilled guard play. That was not a good sign of things to come against Spain, the silver medal winners at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Still, with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant leading the way on the court and Coach K on the sideline, Team USA should be able to bring home another gold medal.

 

Russia Women’s Gymnastics
China won a controversial women’s all-around team gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but the Russian women are once again the stiffest (and most limber) competition for the USA, winners of the gold medal at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo — over both Russia (silver) and China (bronze) — and silver medalists at the Beijing Olympics.

Viktoria Komova, 17
Runner-up to American sensation Jordyn Wieber in the individual all-around competition at the 2011 World Championships, Komova also claimed gold on the uneven bars.

Aliya Mustafina, 17
Battling back from injury, Mustafina won gold in the individual all-around at 2010 World Championships in Rotterdam. At that same competition, Mustafina also claimed silver on the vault, uneven bars and floor exercise.

The past two individual all-around champions have been American women — Nastia Liukin (2008 Beijing) and Carly Patterson (2004 Athens). Shawn Johnson also earned a silver in Beijing. But the USA has only one team gold medal in history, at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics — with a squad that included Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes and Kerri Strug.

 

Brazil Women’s Soccer
In the brief history of Olympic women’s soccer, the USA has never finished outside of the top two — claiming three gold medals (2008, 2004, 1996) and one silver (2000). The last two gold medal matches have come against Brazil, with the USA taking a 2–1 win in Athens and a 1–0 victory in Beijing.

Marta, 26
Arguably the beautiful game’s top talent, Brazil’s top striker is a five-time World Player of the Year (2006-10) and two-time Olympic silver medalist. Should there be a rematch (three-match?) of the past two gold medal matches, Team USA goalkeeper Hope Solo will have her hands full attempting to keep Marta off the score sheet.

by Nathan Rush

Teaser:
<p> Competition at the 2012 London Olympics will be tough in several of the USA's most popular sports. The USA will have to outclass Jamaica track, Spain men's basketball, Russia women's gymnastics and Brazil women's soccer.</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 12:29
Path: /mlb/andrew-mccutchen%E2%80%99s-56-game-run-among-baseball%E2%80%99s-best-ever
Body:

While the wiry Pittsburgh centerfielder with dreadlocks continues his march toward his first MVP, does the season he has put together rank among one of the all-time best?

We’ll be able to judge the full season later but from May 9 to July 13, McCutchen had an impressive 56-game run rivaling that of the legendary Joe DiMaggio in 1941.

During that historic streak, Joe D hit .403 with a .459 OBP and .691 slugging for a 1.150 OPS. Not bad. (Not as impressive as rival Ted Williams’ stretch during the same time period, but that’s a column for another day.)

McCutchen’s numbers are right there with DiMaggio’s. He hit .396 with a .442 OBP and .733 slugging for a 1.174 OPS. Arguably better.

DiMaggio hit safely in all 56 games, which is what makes that streak so special, obviously, and McCutchen hit safely in only 45 and reached by hit or walk in 51.

The Yankee Clipper was surrounded with a much better lineup and scored 57 times and collected 36 extra-base hits. McCutchen scored 45 runs and rapped out 33 extra-base hits.

So, maybe it’s not quite DiMaggio-esque, but it is curious that DiMaggio wasn’t walked intentionally a single time during his streak. American League pitchers never shied away from DiMaggio, presumably one of the hottest of any major leaguer ever. McCutchen was passed intentionally six times during his 56-game stretch, a sign of respect, or possibly disrespect for the Pirates’ lineup.

No one will remember McCutchen’s 56-game streak from May 9 to July 13, 2012, but it’s worth mentioning when talking about hot hitting stretches since McCutchen came in the league in 2009.

Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)

Teaser:
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Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 11:54
All taxonomy terms: College Football, College Basketball, NFL, NBA, MLB
Path: /college-football/athlon%E2%80%99s-essential-eleven-links-day-8
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for July 20.

• NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah looks at the Ravens and their likelihood of getting a Joe Flacco deal done before camp.

• ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg reports that the league is not considering a plan to give the conference commissioner emergency powers to fire coaches or other athletic department officials.

• American Brandt Snedeker shot a 6-under 64 in the second round of the British Open. He now stands at 10-under, tying the record for the lowest 36-hole score in Open history.

• Stephen Colbert opines on Def Leppard covering Def Leppard tunes.

• Here’s a review of the preseason all-conference team from SEC Media Days, although I’m still not sure how you play three centers on the second-team offense.

• The Pac-12’s best position battle may be at Oregon, where quarterbacks Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota will compete to lead the Ducks potent offense.

• Team USA basketball easily cruised by Great Britain in an exhibition game in Manchester.

• The Wolfpacker’s Ryan Tice has the video of NC State coach Tom O’Brien going Bryce Harper with the ACC media.

• Check out this guy; he must be exhausted.

• The Royals and Rockies have swapped disappointing starting pitchers. Lefty Jonathan Sanchez heads back to the NL West while Jeremy Guthrie goes to Kansas City.

Steve Nash is now with the Lakers, and he is already feeling the whole Hollywood thing. Check out his impersonation of Vito Corleone from The Godfather.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


July 19

• Alabama’s Nick Saban thinks the SEC should increase the conference schedule to nine games.

• CBS’ Danny Knobler writes that the Texas Rangers have their sights on trading for Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels, but that a reunion with Cliff Lee could also be interesting.

• With “The Dark Knight Rises” debuting, Mandatory.com has put together some epic Batman Fails.

• Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee has Arkansas coach John L. Smith’s explanation of his motivational phrase, “Get your piss hot.”

• Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM.com says Dwight Howard would sign long-term with the Lakers if a three-team trade can be executed between Los Angeles, Orlando and Cleveland.

• Michael Vick believes the Eagles can develop a dynasty.

• FOX’s Jon Paul Morosi looks the AL Central’s need for starting pitching with the trade deadline approaching.

• “Mad Men” and “American Horror Story” had the most Emmy nominations with 17 each.

• In the Penn State aftermath, the Big Ten may look at a plan where the league commissioner could fire coaches.

• It looks like Under Armour is getting into the “Dark Knight” craze.

• After enjoying a pizza on the mound while throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley Field, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis introduce the Cubs lineup in their own unique way. Who knew Chicago’s second baseman walks on the beach naked?

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


July 18

• Steelers safety Troy Polamalu tells The Dan Patrick Show that he’s had eight or nine “recorded concussions” and that he’s definitely lied to doctors to get back on the field.

• Missouri wideout T.J. Moe was an entertaining quote machine at the SEC Media Days. However, Bleacher Report’s Michael Felder believes Moe was only half correct on his Big 12-SEC assessment.

• Most of us would be thrilled to just make it to a 90th birthday. One Maine man decided it was a good time to try skydiving.

• Were the Knicks wrong to let Jeremy Lin go?

• Russ Mitchell questions whether Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long “had to” or “chose to” fire Bobby Petrino.

• A reality show on TLC following around 71-year-old baseball legend Pete Rose and his much younger fiancée model Kiana Kim? This does not sound like Hall of Fame material.

• Tiger Woods is in a good position to win a fourth British Open championship this weekend at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

• University of Miami safety Ray-Ray Armstrong has been dismissed from the team.

• You probably heard that Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch got a DUI over the weekend. For a guy who signed a four-year, $31 million deal earlier this year, it was interesting to learn that he drives an Econoline van.

• CBS’ Jon Heyman sees Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (33 consecutive scoreless innings and five straight wins) as the first big-time player to go in this month’s trade market.

• Now that Jeremy Lin has officially signed with the Rockets, Knicks fans may be singing this Gotye tune.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


July 17

Ray Rice of the Ravens and Matt Forte of the Bears got paid yesterday, but others like Wes Welker, Cliff Avril and Dwayne Bowe did not receive new deals.

• The polarizing Bill Walton will return to ESPN/ABC as a Pac-12 analyst. We hope this does not affect the tweeting of @NotBillWalton.

• SB Nation’s Jon Bois and Spencer Hall compose the worst possible Super Bowl halftime shows.

• Team USA basketball struggled a little in its second exhibition game, only defeating Brazil 80-69.

• Matt Hayes warns Texas A&M and Missouri to not get too used to so much SEC love.

• So apparently Glenn Quagmire is hanging out in a Georgia Walmart. Giggity.

• Shaq Thompson may be the best freshman football player in America this fall when he hits the field as a Washington Husky, but his baseball summer has been brutal.

• How will Knicks fans react if Jeremy Lin goes to Houston?

• Brandel Chamblee compares the best links players in U.S. history, from Tom Watson to Jack Nicklaus to Tigers Woods.

• Former North Carolina and Miami coach Butch Davis says he wants to coach again.

• With the British Open approaching, the group Improv Everywhere did a wonderful faux production of the tournament on a mini-golf course. These little kids get the complete television experience with commentators, full graphics, audience, etc. Enjoy.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


July 16

• Yes, that was famous Knicks fan Spike Lee catching Mark Teixeira’s bat in the Yankee Stadium stands over the weekend.

• Bleacher Report’s Adam Kramer knows that Las Vegas sports books would never be used to decide the participants in a college football playoff, but they might be the most qualified.

• Approximately 30 riders in the Tour de France’s 14th stage suffered flat tires because of tacks on the course. Wile E. Coyote on the Champs-Élysées?

• ESPN blogger Edward Aschoff previews the always-entertaining and heavily-attended SEC Media Days.

• Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has already verbally torched ESPN’s Skip Bayless this offseason, and now he is in a Twitter slap-fight with ESPN’s Bill Simmons.

• “Breaking Bad” is back. Magnets!

• Bears quarterback Jay Cutler gives us a painful rendition of “Take Me Out to The Ball Game” at a Cubs game this weekend

• The Bobby Valentine-Kevin Youkilis war of words has heated up again with Youk’s return to Boston tonight.

• The SEC has released its television schedule for the first three weeks of the college football season.

• New Knicks point guard Jason Kidd is off to a great start in New York.

The play of the weekend had to be San Diego’s Everth Cabrera stealing home against the Dodgers. The Padres were losing 6-5 in the ninth inning and down to their last strike when Cabrera caught Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen off guard. He steals home, forces a bad throw by Jansen and Will Venable scores as well to give the Padres a surprising lead.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 

Teaser:
<p> The best sports links from the NFL, college football and basketball, MLB, the NBA, NASCAR and the world of entertainment.</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 11:39
Path: /nascar/keselowski-comments-stir-debate-nascar
Body:

With one week off before the Brickyard 400, the stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series are enjoying life away from the motorhome gauntlet that is their home away from home for the better part of the year.

Jeff Gordon is in Rwanda (which is beautiful this time of year) with former President Bill Clinton. No, he really is — that’s not just a cover for WJC. His teammate, Jimmie Johnson, went triatholoning with another teammate, Kasey Kahne, while A.J. Allmendinger is likely holed up somewhere resembling Riggs in the first 10 minutes of Lethal Weapon (YouTube it) while he awaits the results of his “B” sample.

Speaking of Allmendinger, his teammate Brad Keselowski had a few things to say about substance abuse and NASCAR’s policy, as well as his own feelings of what should and shouldn’t be allowed in the sport.

While last Sunday’s race was largely forgettable (save for those two passes for the lead under green – that’s right, literally two of them) Keselowski’s comments regarding the plight of Allmendinger and the state of the sport’s drug testing procedure was notable. Keselowski disagreed with Carl Edwards’ assertion that drivers should have their own testing firm representing them to validate the findings of Aegis Analytical Laboratories, NASCAR’s chosen testing group. I would side with BK on this one, as that smacks of a “driver’s union” which, as we’ve seen in the past, only ends badly, and never accomplishes much of an objective.

Where I disagree with Keselowski’s meandering rant is with his attitude towards taking any supplements – legal or otherwise.

“My personal belief that nothing should be allowed,” Keselowski stated. “Nothing. I don't feel like you should be able to take Flintstones (vitamins) pills. It's my personal belief. You're racecar drivers, you should have to overcome it. I think it's a bunch of bull___ people should be allowed to take supplements, any of those things. I don't think that's right. I don't think any athlete should be allowed to take that. But that's my own personal belief.”

Now, I’ll preface my reaction to this by saying I am a huge Brad K. guy. I think he’s great for the sport. I always appreciate his insight and honesty and believe he truly is one of the most talented drivers of our era and will one day deliver Roger Penske that elusive Sprint Cup championship.

That said, his comments are those made by someone who has no clue whatsoever about nutrition, training and taking care of one’s body.

First of all, let’s take a look at the term “supplement”: “Something that completes or enhances something else when added to it. Typically that would include things such as protein powders (i.e., powdered milk), thermogenics (herbal extracts which help burn fat, increase metabolism, and provide alertness – not unlike coffee), vitamins, (basic minerals and nutrients required for proper cell and organ function), and a host of other powders, shakes, creams, oils, and things both natural or made in a lab to help you recover and perform during the course of strenuous physical activity.”

This, as opposed to say, slamming beers in Victory Lane minutes after losing 10 pounds in water weight over the course of a three-hour race. Regardless of what sport you’re in or your feelings toward physical fitness, alcohol + dehydration is not a winning combination — and using Keselowski’s rigorous standards, would have almost guaranteed that he would have failed a random test prior to his press conference after his winning the Nationwide event Sunday in Loudon.

“I laugh out loud when I read that people say, ‘Well I have my supplements checked,’” Keselowski said in response to Danica Patrick’s statement that her trainer reviews her dietary supplements to ensure there’s no risk of her taking something she should not. “Like there's some special list of supplements that are OK, but these aren't! What kind of world is that? That's terrible. Nothing should be allowed. Because then it comes down to if you've got a doctor or a lawyer who says, ‘This is OK and this is not.’ And I think we all know you can get a doctor or a lawyer these days to say you're OK with anything you do.”

As my Dad would say: “He’s talking like a man with a paper a$$hole.” To this day I have no idea what that means, and is yet another reason why I regret not having served in the Air Force, where apparently he encountered many such individuals with pulpwood colons.

Checking supplements for items that, at certain levels, may a positive reading for something untoward is imperative. Whispers centering around Allmendinger testing positive for a stimulant in an energy drink or a substance that is performance-related have been the focus of some speculation. But speculation is just that. The point is, doctors and lawyers actually do decide what is OK, as that is part of their job; this level/substance/supplement is safe, this is not. This will probably kill you, this will make you not have to leave your shirt on at the pool.

While Keselowski’s comments make for good sound bites (and are the type of no-nonsense/tough-guy talk the sport has desperately missed) it is ignorant at best, and at worst, misinformed. They’re also insulting to those who train, sacrifice, and take a fanatical approach to physical health and nutrition. Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray have all taken conditioning and preparation to the next level in NASCAR which is at least part of the reason they are consistently able to perform at the level they do — and not look or sound like they’ve been through five rounds in the Octagon with Anderson Silva after climbing from a 500-mile summer Sunday afternoon.

Then again, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have never been known to cruise around with their shirts off – and those trips to Dairy Queen didn’t seem to slow Smoke down in last year’s Chase.

Keselowski’s closing remarks brought the argument full-circle:

“I'm sure I have different views than everyone else. I don't think there needs to be any committee that approves drugs or supplements because I think you shouldn't be allowed to take anything. You should just man up and drive the damn racecar.”

Nobody – certainly not I – would accuse Keselowski of not manning up and driving his racecar. From his grotesquely violent accident at Road Atlanta to getting walled (and roofed) by Edwards at Atlanta in 2010 to getting T-boned by half the field at Gateway later that same season, Brad’s “Bad” moniker should be recognized for his intestinal fortitude and tough-as-nails efforts for his team. He’s as close to a throwback driver as we have today, along with Stewart and Martin; Martin simply because, at 53, was part of another era.

There is, however, a distinct difference between supplements, performance-enhancing drugs and otherwise illegal-unless-prescribed drugs. Thus, there may be a completely logical explanation in the case of Allmendinger. Is this Jeremy Mayfield running speed? Lord, I hope not. Is it Aaron Fike going Layne Staley with a syringe and spoon in an amusement park parking lot? Doubtful.

Linking the three as Keselowski was doing was both unfortunate, distorted and a bit misleading – even if unintentionally so.

Insinuating that nutritional aids and supplements are of a similar caliber as anabolic-androgenic steroids, synthetic hormones, narcotics or amphetamines, and speaking to it publicly as if fact was inaccurate and only served to spread patently false information, painting basic nutrition and training tools as something underhanded and unethical.

If this was a matter of semantics and confusing the terminology, then I understand. Until then, I remain a bit confused and bristle at the suggestion that perfectly safe and legal substances that promote health and wellness are suddenly thrown under the bus, then backed over for good measure.


by Vito Pugliese
Follow Vito on Twitter: @VitoPugliese
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese dissects comments made by Brad Keselowski, and opines that misinformed thoughts shared about supplements in NASCAR do nothing but hurt the sport.</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 10:24
All taxonomy terms: Big Board, Fantasy, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-fantasy-football-rankings-tight-ends
Body:

The 2012 NFL Fantasy Season is officially here. Mock drafts abound. Rookie round-ups are complete. Bye week cheat sheets are everywhere. The creative juices are flowing with hysterical team names. Positional rankings are popping up everywhere. And the ever-important Athlon Sports 2012 Big Board, the most accurate consensus top 150 list of fantasy footballers on the web, continues to take shape.

New to our Big Board is NFL.com's initial NFL fantasy rankings as we have expanded from seven lists to eight. We also added a "Previous" column to indicate the previous ranking. Athlon, with special help from FantasyRundown.com, will continue to broaden and deepen its trademark consensus Big Board and positional rankings all summer long.

CBS: CBSSports.com (Updated: 7/13/12)
PFF: ProFootballFocus.com (Updated: 6/26/12)
ESPN: ESPN (Updated 6/20/12)
FFT: FFToolbox.com (Updated 7/15/12)
Y!: Yahoo! Sports (Updated 6/23/12)
NFL: NFL.com (2012 Debut)
FOX: FoxSports.com (Updated 5/31/12)
AS: Athlon Sports (Updated 7/1/12)

Updated: 9:30 a.m. CT, July 20, 2012

Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Positional Rankings: Tight Ends

Rank Previous Top 150 Rank Player: Team CBS PFF ESPN FFT Y! NFL FOX AS
1. 1 19 Rob Gronkowski NE 26 44 14 13 14 14 17 25
2. 2 23 Jimmy Graham NO 28 38 22 20 20 21 20 29
3. 3 55 Antonio Gates SD 42 54 56 68 49 53 62 63
4. 5 65 Jason Witten DAL 48 58 69 72 63 72 51 80
5. 4 66 Aaron Hernandez NE 39 66 93 61 55 70 68 70
6. 6 68 Vernon Davis SF 56 76 61 65 60 77 66 79
7. 7 71 Jermichael Finley GB 64 72 87 59 57 74 69 83
8. 8 87 Fred Davis WAS 83 106 108 71 66 102 78 106
9. 10 94 Tony Gonzalez ATL 85 84 105 83 103 103 92 112
10. 9 96 Brandon Pettigrew DET 98 98 115 81 98 116 74 92
11. 12 107 Jacob Tamme DEN 121 91 132 86 102 112 96 -
12. 11 115 Brent Celek PHI 74 114 140 89 114 - 123 126
13. 13 116 Jermaine Gresham CIN 71 124 - 87 110 - 108 138
14. 16 124 Owen Daniels HOU 124 139 134 103 118 - 129 125
15. 14 125 Jared Cook TEN 134 135 123 93 126 - 141 124
16. 15 126 Dustin Keller NYJ - 133 - 88 128 125 120 134
17. 17 139 Coby Fleener IND 123 131 - 124 132 136 - -
18. 18 Kellen Winslow SEA - - - 133 - - 125 -
19. 19 Greg Olsen CAR - 137 - 135 - - 150 142
20. 20 Martellus Bennett NYG - 143 - 142 - - - 150
21. 23 Kyle Rudolph MIN - 137 - - - - - -
22. 22 Ed Dickson BAL - 146 - 144 - - - -
23. 21 Scott Chandler BUF - - - 140 - - - -
24. 24 Anthony Fasano MIA - 150 - 146 - - - -
25. 25 Marcedes Lewis JAC - 148 - 149 - - - -
26. 26 Heath Miller PIT - 147 - - - - - -

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Fantasy Content:

Athlon Sports Big Board: Top 150
2012 NFL Fantasy Football Athlon's Top 250
2012 Fantasy Football Mock Draft I
2012 Bye Week Cheat Sheet
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: QBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: RBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: WRs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: TEs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DLs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: LBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DBs
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<p> 2012 NFL Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC West, St. Louis Rams, NFL
Path: /nfl/st-louis-rams-2012-nfl-team-preview
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Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The St. Louis Rams check in at No. 31.

Like a sequel to a bad movie, The Rebuilding III is now playing in St. Louis. The Rams are on their third head coach in the past six years and have had their roster gutted once again. The Rams can only hope things go better under Jeff Fisher than they did under predecessors Steve Spagnuolo (10–38) and Scott Linehan (11–25). Spagnuolo and Linehan were newbies — they had never been head coaches at any level prior to St. Louis. Not so, obviously, with Fisher. Prior to taking the 2011 season off, he had been head coach of the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise for 16 full seasons.

Because of his experience and past success — including a Super Bowl XXXIV loss 13 seasons ago against the team he now coaches — Fisher doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He exudes confidence and toughness. Those characteristics have been in short supply lately around Rams Park, where Fisher and GM Les Snead are working toward the franchise’s first winning record since 2003.

Offense

The road to respectability starts on offense, where the Rams were the league’s lowest-scoring team in two of the past three seasons. Quarterback Sam Bradford took a step back during an injury-plagued 2011 after earning Offensive Rookie of the Year laurels a year earlier. Bradford enters 2012 with his third scheme and his third offensive coordinator (Brian Schottenheimer) in as many NFL seasons. There are some similarities between the Schottenheimer playbook and the West Coast scheme Bradford ran as a rookie under Pat Shurmur, so the transition may not be too daunting this time around.

Any hopes for a more productive offense rest simply in better pass protection and more playmakers. The only major addition on the offensive line is at center, where former Green Bay Pro Bowler Scott Wells will add savvy and toughness. Otherwise, the Rams need third-year left tackle Rodger Saffold to revert to his rookie form, and right tackle Jason Smith to stay healthy and be sounder in his technique.

It’s largely up to the draft class of 2012 if the Rams are to show any improvement at the skill positions. Second-round wide receiver Brian Quick provides a large target and the ability to make big plays both with his size and his route-running. Fourth-rounder Chris Givens, with his 4.3 speed, provides an element the Rams haven’t had in a while — someone who can get over the top and stretch defenses. When healthy, Danny Amendola is an effective slot receiver who excels at the third down catch. If Steve Smith returns to anything resembling his Pro Bowl form of 2009 as a New York Giant, the Rams could have a credible pass-catching unit.

Fisher obviously likes to run the football, and the tandem of three-time Pro Bowler Steven Jackson and second-round draft pick Isaiah Pead will get plenty of work. Jackson, who rushed for 1,145 yards last season, remains an intriguing blend of speed and power at 236 pounds; Pead provides a shifty change of pace, weighing in at 193. 

Related: Top St. Louis Rams Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Mainstays Chris Long at end and James Laurinaitis at middle linebacker are the only returning starters in the front seven. After splitting time with James Hall a year ago at the other end position, 2011 first-round pick Robert Quinn gets his first crack at being an every-down player. Quinn has good pass-rush skills but must prove he can hold up against the run play-in and play-out. Fisher has a couple of brutes at D-tackle in Dolphins free agent pickup Kendall Langford and No. 14 overall draft pick Michael Brockers. The defensive line is loaded with potential, but Brockers and Quinn are raw and must develop quickly.

Laurinaitis remains an underrated force in the middle, active against the run and very good in coverage. Jo-Lonn Dunbar, a free agent pickup from New Orleans, brings physicality and good speed to one of the outside linebacker spots. And it looks like veteran Mario Haggan will man the other outside position. The team signed several promising rookie free agents who will have a chance to make the team. This position may not totally shake out until the end of the preseason.

The secondary, particularly at cornerback, could be one of the most improved units on the team. Former Titan Cortland Finnegan — an All-Pro in 2008 — brings the attitude and aggressiveness that Fisher looks for in his corners. Draft picks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson fit that mold as well but must show that their college off-the-field issues are behind them. With Bradley Fletcher, who has 22 starts in three NFL seasons, coming off knee surgery, and raw but talented Jerome Murphy in the mix, the Rams have the potential for solid depth.

Because of the indefinite suspension of Gregg Williams for his role in the New Orleans bounty scandal, the Rams won’t have a defensive coordinator this year. Assistant head coach Dave McGinnis is expected to handle the bulk of those duties, with help from Fisher.

Specialists

As if there weren’t enough question marks on the depth chart, the Rams plan to enter 2012 with a rookie punter and kicker. For several seasons, the Rams had one of the league’s better punter-kicker tandems in Donnie Jones and Josh Brown. Both veterans had sub-par 2011 seasons. In salary cap-related moves, Jones was allowed to leave in free agency and Brown was cut. Enter sixth-round draft pick Greg Zuerlein at kicker and undrafted rookie John Hekker at punter. Zuerlein had a phenomenal senior season at Missouri Western, making 21 consecutive field goals, including nine of 50 yards-plus. But it’s a big jump from Division II to the NFL. Handling the pressure will be a big part of the transition for Zuerlein and Hekker, who averaged 44 yards per kick last season at Oregon State. Two more rookies, Pead and Jenkins, may end up handling the return chores.

Final Analysis: 4th in the NFC West

In a division where San Francisco appears loaded for a Super Bowl run, and Seattle and Arizona are making steady improvements, the Rams won’t be overnight sensations. They have gone from one of the league’s oldest teams to one of its youngest since Fisher took over. Fisher, GM Snead, and executive vice president of football operations Kevin Demoff are building for the long haul. They know a quick fix is impossible, and there will be growing pains along the way with this young and largely unproven roster. 

Because of the talent gap, they took chances on several draft picks with top-tier talent but shaky pasts. So there’s a boom-or-bust quality to the draft class that makes it difficult to handicap. The absence of Williams on defense won’t help the progression on that side of the ball. 

Make no mistake — there will be a different culture under Fisher at Rams Park. His teams tend to play physical, inspired football. He accepts nothing less. Even so, Fisher’s track record of squeezing everything possible out of a roster will be put to the test this season.

Related: 2012 St. Louis Rams Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

No Mountain High Enough
It will be an uphill battle to reach respectability for coach Jeff Fisher and the Rams in his first season in St. Louis. Then again, he’s used to these sorts of challenges. During the spring of 2011, Fisher climbed Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro (elevation: 19,341 feet) as part of an NFL effort to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project.

Fathers and Sons
Coaching Rams football is truly a family affair. Fisher’s son Brandon is assistant secondary coach for the team. The son of offensive line coach Paul Boudreau Sr. — Paul Boudreau Jr. — is assistant special teams coach. Linebackers coach Blake Williams is the son of suspended defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer (father Marty) and special teams coach John Fassel (father Jim) are the sons of former NFL head coaches. 

My Offseason Adventure
A true renaissance man, running back Steven Jackson swam in shark cages off the coast of Africa and attended World Cup games in past offseasons. He once toured New Zealand just prior to a devastating earthquake. This offseason, he roamed South America and attended a Hollywood boot camp for aspiring filmmakers.

V-i-c-t-o-r-y
Members of the Rams’ draft class showed some talent way back in elementary school, though not on the field. Seventh-round linebacker Aaron Brown of Hawaii won a spelling bee in the third grade. Wide receiver Chris Givens of Wake Forest went one grade better: He won a spelling bee in the fourth grade.

London Calling
The Rams play their first game overseas — regular season or preseason — since the franchise relocated to St. Louis in 1995 when the team crosses the Atlantic to meet New England on Oct. 28 in London’s Wembley Stadium. Team owner Stan Kroenke already knows his way around Great Britain — he owns the Arsenal soccer club of the English Premier League.

Happy Birthday Rams
From Crazylegs Hirsch to the Fearsome Foursome to the Greatest Show on Turf, this marks the 75th football season for the Rams, a colorful and storied franchise that has called Cleveland, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and St. Louis home since that first kickoff in 1937. Among its many distinctions, the Rams were the first team in the NFL to have helmet logos. They were designed by one of the team’s players, halfback Fred Gehrke, in 1948.

How The Mighty Have Fallen
During their improbable run to the Super Bowl XXXIV championship during the 1999 season, the Rams’ quick-strike offense had 50 touchdown passes during the regular season and playoffs. In 2011, the Rams had nine TD passes for the entire season.

Mr. Consistent
Even with the team’s struggles in the win-loss column, Jackson has been as steady as it gets in the backfield. The ninth-year running back will be seeking his eighth straight 1,000-yard rushing season. Only five players in NFL history have had more than seven 1,000-yard seasons in a row.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Mon., July 23

Order your 2012 St. Louis Rams Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top St. Louis Rams Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 St. Louis Rams Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> St. Louis Rams 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC West, St. Louis Rams, NFL
Path: /nfl/st-louis-rams-top-twitter-accounts-follow
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Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the St. Louis Rams official twitter account:

@STLouisRams (Followers: 67,763)

There is a fine art to commanding a powerful twitter audience and some players can do it better than others. You don’t have to be a star player to be a twi-xpert. But here are some of the most followed Ram players for 2012 (PS, apparently much like Sam Bradford, you have a lot of receiving options to choose from...):

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 20, 2012

Top Rams To Follow:

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Steven Jackson RB @SJ39 155,086
2. Steve Smith WR @SteveSmithWR 82,229
3. James Laurinaitis LB @JrLaurinaitis 39,135
4. Cortland Finnegan CB @CortFinnegan 19,309
5. Danario Alexander WR @D_Alexander84 18,128
6. Jerome Murphy CB @Aagent23 13,787
7. Kendall Langford DT @KendallLangford 12,375
8. Trevor Laws DT @TrevorLaws 11,943
9. Isaiah Pead RB @IPead 10,141
10. Austin Pettis WR @Austin_Pettis 8,695
11. Jo-Lonn Dunbar LB @JoLonnDunbar 8,074
12. Brandon Gibson WR @BGibson04 5,127
13. Quintin Mikell S @QMikell27 5,020
14. Greg Salas WR @GregSalas1 4,433
15. Robert Quinn DT @RQuinn94 4,244
16. Chris Givens WR @CG1three 4,000
17. Trumaine Johnson CB @TruJohnson2 3,823
18. Bradley Fletcher CB @BFletch32 3,654
19. Craig Dahl S @CraigDahl43 3,286
20. Brian Quick WR @Workaholic_BQ 3,193
21. Rodger Saffold OL @Rodger_Saffold 3,040
22. Quinn Okinnaka OL @MooseNation69 2,391

Moose Nation is a particular favorite as he is a self-proclaimed "THUG." Or Totally Humble Under God. An interesting and positive twist. Additionally, Pro-Football-Reference.com lists star defensive end Chris Long as owning @CL9One, but a quick visit to the page indicates that it is no longer active.

The Rams Beat:

Jim Thomas, Rams beat writer for St. Louis Post-Dispatch: @jthom1 (7,966)

Bernie Miklasz, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist: @miklasz (39,058)

Ron Clements, CBS Sports Rams Reporter: @ron_clements (1,527)

Howard Balzer, Sirius XM NFL Radio: @hbalzer721 (7,601)

Tony Softli, Rams Sideline Reporter for Rams Flagship Station 101 ESPN: @softlistl (6,811)

Brian Stull, Co-Host of The Stully and Rammer Show on 101 ESPN: @stullystl (5,527)

STLToday is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and this is their official Rams landing page.

Rams Blog Roll: 

The SB Nation Rams' affiliate is TurfShowTimes.com and you can follow them @TurfShowTimes.

Every team has a "buzztap" account that keeps fans up to date with content from all web sources. Follow the Rams edition @RamsBuzzTap.

ESPN's NFC West blog is run by Mark Sando. You can follow him @ESPN_NFCWest.

Other Rams blogs to follow include RamsGab.com (@RamsGab), the Rams' edition of ProFootballZap (@STLRamsZap) and RamsHerd.com (@RamsHerd).

Related: 2012 St. Louis Rams Season Preview
Related: 2012 St. Louis Rams Schedule Analysis

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> St. Louis Rams Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/aj-mccarron-emerging-star-sec
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How impressive was AJ McCarron’s performance against LSU in the BCS title game? He had surgery on his shoulder three days later.

In fact, McCarron’s whole season was pretty remarkable, and not just because he led Alabama to the national championship as a first-year starter. On Sept. 24, on the seventh play against Arkansas, he dislocated the shoulder on his throwing arm and sprained the AC joint and the labrum. He was often in so much pain that he couldn’t practice. Yet, when then-Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Jim McElwain told him that the gameplan for the rematch with the Tigers would involve a heavy dose of passing, McCarron just bit down on a chunk of leather and let it fly.

Okay, so he didn’t exactly hit LSU with a flurry of bombs. It was more like a tactical approach, with plenty of short throws. But McCarron finished 23-of-34 for 234 yards and no interceptions in the Tide’s 21–0 victory. Anybody surprised by his showing would have been positively stunned to know how much pain he had been in throughout the season. Until early January, that is.

“That night, in the championship game, it didn’t hurt a bit,” McCarron says.

When the 2011 season dawned, Alabama’s biggest question mark was under center. Gone were Greg McElroy and his 24–3 record as a starter. Neither McCarron nor Phillip Sims had distinguished himself particularly during spring drills, so McElwain and head coach Nick Saban didn’t designate a starter. But once the summer drills started, McCarron emerged and became a steady hand. As he approaches the start of his junior season, there is no doubt about his primacy, just as there are no questions about his health.

In new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s wide-open, spread system, McCarron should be even better. His arm strength has improved, thanks to an aggressive rehab program after surgery — “It feels like a million dollars,” he says — and his approach to defending the Tide’s title is aggressive and unwavering

“Do you want to be basic?” McCarron asks. “Do you want the (freshman) class of ’09 to walk off campus with two national championships, or do you want to be a dynasty and legendary and win three championships in four years?”

Now, some might say that being part of two title squads is anything but basic. (McCarron redshirted during the 2009 season.) But McCarron has a reason to be angry, and it’s not just to push himself to do better things. He grew up under extremely difficult financial circumstances, raised on “grilled cheese and French fries,” as he puts it. If the people in his neighborhood in Mobile hadn’t looked out for him and his brother, Corey, the sandwiches and fries might not have even made it to the table.

“It affected me tremendously, coming up from nothing at all,” McCarron says.

McCarron talks about how well his parents hid the family’s financial struggles from their children. If they hadn’t paid the cable bill, or the phone was turned off, it was simply a matter of workers tending to the lines. “My dad played it off so well,” McCarron says.

Because money was never plentiful, when the quarterback gets some now, he tends to hold onto it. His teammates tease him, because he checks the price before buying something. Anything.

“I’m super cheap,” he admits. “When you come from nothing, when you do have some money, you don’t want to blow it and go back to the way it was.”

The hard times have taught McCarron about what’s important. For instance, during the spring, Corey stayed with him after transferring to Tuscaloosa from South Alabama, where he played tight end. Corey got the bedroom. AJ took the couch. “He rules the place,” AJ says.

On the field, big brother is in charge. While Corey rehabs an injured ankle and prepares to make a bid for playing time at tight end, AJ gets ready to build on a fine debut season, during which he completed 66.8 percent of his throws for 2,634 yards, 16 scores and only five interceptions. Although the Tide relied heavily on running back Trent Richardson, who has moved on to the NFL, McCarron showed his ability by making few mistakes, even after getting hurt.

The shoulder injury came on a third down scramble on Bama’s first possession against the Razorbacks. On fourth down, Saban called for a fake field goal, with the holder (McCarron) supposed to throw the ball to tight end Michael Williams.

“I thought I broke my collarbone, because my bone was poking into my shoulder pads,” ­McCarron says. “I told (Williams), ‘I have no idea where this throw is going to go.’”

Of course, the ball was a perfect strike to Williams in the flat, and he took it 37 yards for a touchdown. It was just another highlight in a near-perfect season that ended with the big triumph in New Orleans against LSU, which had stumped the Bama offense in their early-November meeting, a 9–6 yawner.

As Alabama prepared for the Tigers, and McElwain informed McCarron of the plan, the quarterback was completely confident he could handle the added responsibility.

“They brought me along gradually last year and taught me how to play the game,” McCarron says. “In the national championship game, we knew they would be keying on Trent, so they gave me a chance to make plays.”

McCarron’s 34 attempts were his highest total all year. He didn’t take too many chances downfield, but he was accurate, kept the ball moving and allowed the Tide to build a lead slowly with five field goals. It wasn’t exactly the Run ‘n’ Shoot, but it was effective and kept LSU’s vaunted defense from controlling the game.

“He’s a very competitive guy,” LSU coach Les Miles says. “He really makes quality decisions and is very heady. He improved significantly during the back end of the season.”

That kind of talk makes McCarron happy, but he views complacency as an enemy and can’t wait to be the focal point of the Tide offense.

During conversation, he seems a bit arrogant. After a while, you just realize that he’s driven to excel and not interested in struggling in anything ever again. He’ll graduate next December (in only three-and-a-half years) with a degree in Health and Environmental Science, and he relishes the chance to lead the way this season.

“I think it’s huge,” he says of the opportunity. “If you are a competitor, you want the football. If you want to be considered the top dog, you’ve got to make big plays in big games.

“That’s where the greats come from.”

Even if they’re hurt.

— by Michael Bradley

This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 SEC Preview Annual.

Related SEC Content

Ranking the SEC Offensive Lines for 2012
Ranking the SEC Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the SEC Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

Athlon's 2012 College Football Bowl Projections

Athlon’s 2012 SEC Predictions

Athlon’s 2012 All-SEC Team

Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 Team Preview

SEC 2012 Heisman Contenders

Alabama’s Top 10 Players for 2012

An Inside Look at Signing Day With Vanderbilt’s James Franklin

Teaser:
<p> Alabama Football: AJ McCarron is an Emerging Star in the SEC</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 06:35
Path: /college-football/unit-rankings-2012-acc-defensive-lines
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.

Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.

Ranking the ACC's Defensive Lines for 2012

1. Florida StateWith a rotation that could feature 10 players, the Seminoles have one of the deepest defensive lines in college football. Ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner are back after combining for 15 sacks last year. The tackle spot is loaded with talent and depth, with sophomore Timmy Jernigan expected to be the anchor. Everett Dawkins, Anthony McCloud, Demonte McAllister and Jacobbi McDaniel will join Jernigan as key contributors in the middle. There’s plenty of promising youth waiting in the wings, as Florida State brings in Mario Edwards (No. 2 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100), Eddie Goldman (No. 9) and Chris Casher (No. 24)

2. Virginia TechFlorida State ranks as the ACC’s No. 1 group, but the Hokies aren’t too far behind. This unit allowed 104.1 rushing yards per game and recorded 41 sacks last season. Ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins combined for 13 sacks in 2011 and will be one of the nation’s top pass-rush combinations. The interior is stacked with depth and will be led by junior Derrick Hopkins. He registered 51 stops and three sacks last year. Senior Antoine Hopkins missed most of last year due to injury but if he returns to full strength, will be expected to slide back into the starting lineup. Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall will provide depth at tackle.

3. NC StateThere’s a drop off in ACC defensive line rankings after the top two. The Wolfpack struggled up front early last season but allowed only one opponent to manage more than 120 rushing yards over the final five weeks of the year. Tackles Markus Kuhn and J.R. Sweezy must be replaced but there’s plenty of talent at end. Junior Darryl Cato-Bishop and sophomore Art Norman tied for the team lead last season with 5.5 sacks. Both players should have a big 2012 season, while depth is solid with seniors McKay Frandsen and Brian Slay. Colorado transfer Forrest West will also figure into the rotation. NC State needs sophomores Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill to step up on the interior, but this group has a chance to build off its improvement last year and have a solid 2012 season.

4. Maryland 2011 was a disastrous year for Maryland’s defense. The Terrapins ranked last in the ACC in rushing, scoring and total defense. The dismal showing prompted changes on the defensive staff, as Brian Stewart was hired to implement a new 3-4 scheme. The Terrapins aren’t short on talent here, as Joe Vellano is back after earning first-team All-ACC honors in 2011. He recorded 94 tackles and 2.5 sacks and is an Athlon first-team All-American for 2012. Senior A.J. Francis will anchor the nose tackle spot, while sophomores Keith Bowers and Andre Monroe are expected to share snaps at the other starting spot on the line. This unit struggled last year but should show big improvement in 2012.

5. Clemson Line coach Marion Hobby will have his hands full this fall. The Tigers lost four contributors from last season’s rotation, including first-team All-ACC end Andre Branch and second-team selection tackle Brandon Thompson. Also departing are end Kourtnei Brown and tackle Rennie Moore. Although this unit suffered some big losses, the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Malliciah Goodman should have a standout senior year, while Corey Crawford returns after recording 29 tackles as a freshman in 2011. The interior will be young, as DeShawn Williams and Tavaris Barnes are expected to anchor the middle. This group has something to prove, especially after losing some key players and ranking 10th in the conference against the run last year.

6. North Carolina Despite the departures of ends Donte Paige-Moss and Quinton Coples and tackle Tydreke Powell, this unit has a chance to rank in the top half of the ACC this year. End Kareem Martin flashed potential last season, recording 40 tackles and four sacks in his first year as a starter. Senior Dion Guy will likely man the other end spot, which is a hybrid rush/linebacker position under co-coordinators Vic Koenning and Dan Disch. Sylvester Williams was solid in his first year at North Carolina last year, making 54 stops and 2.5 sacks. He could be one of the best defensive tackles in the ACC by the end of 2012. The other tackle spot will likely go to sophomore Shawn Underwood.

7. Virginia This unit experienced quite a turnaround last season. The Cavaliers ranked 106th against the run in 2010 but improved to 48th nationally in 2011. Although Virginia has momentum after showing improvement last year, this unit loses end Cam Johnson and tackles Matt Conrath and Nick Jenkins. Conrath’s departure is a huge loss, while Johnson contributed four sacks last season. Junior Jake Snyder is the lone returning starter and he recorded 36 stops in 2011. Joining Snyder at end will likely be senior Billy Schautz or junior Brent Urban. Senior Ausar Walcott has moved around the defense throughout his career but has settled at end for 2012 and will have to help bolster the pass rush. Senior Will Hill should be a steady performer on the interior, but the other spot is up for grabs.

8. MiamiMuch like the other units on this team, the defensive line must be rebuilt. End Anthony Chickillo had a standout freshman season, recording 38 tackles and five sacks. He is a future star in the ACC and could contend for all-conference honors in 2012. Junior Shayon Green finished spring practice with the edge to start at the other end spot but keep an eye on converted linebacker Kelvin Cain. Depth and talent is an issue on the interior, but senior Darius Smith and junior Curtis Porter have experience. Sophomore Jalen Grimble could push for time at tackle this season. 2012 figures to be a transition year for this group.

9. Wake ForestThis unit ranked near the bottom of the ACC last season and may not fare much better in 2012. The headliner will be tackle Nikita Whitlock, who earned second-team All-ACC accolades last year. He is an undersized tackle (5-foot-11 and 260 pounds), but fits well into Wake Forest’s 3-4 scheme. Senior Joey Ehrmann will man the hybrid end/linebacker position, while juniors Zach Thompson and Kris Redding are poised to handle the defensive end spots. Thompson recorded 40 tackles last season, while Redding made only three stops.

10. Georgia TechThe Yellow Jackets run a 3-4 scheme, so it’s not easy for this group to get much recognition. Two starters (end Jason Peters and tackle Logan Walls) must be replaced from last season. Izaan Cross is the lone returning starter and recorded 32 tackles last season. Euclid Cummings will likely start at the other end spot after making 22 stops in 2011. For Georgia Tech’s 3-4 scheme to work effectively, senior T.J. Barnes needs to have a big season at nose tackle. He has enormous size (6-foot-7, 347 pounds) and potential, but has yet to make a splash in his career.

11. Boston CollegeThis unit wasn’t awful against the run last year (151.1 yards per game) but registered a lackluster 11 sacks. Only two starters return for 2012, and the Eagles must replace this unit’s best player – Max Holloway. Junior Kasim Edebali and sophomore Brian Mihalik are slated to start at end, while the interior could be a strength if senior Kaleb Ramsey returns 100 percent. He played in only two games last season but recorded 39 tackles in 2010. Senior Dillon Quinn and sophomore Dominic Appiah will also have a significant role on the interior.

12. Duke Just like the rushing attack, the defensive line has been a sore spot in recent years for the Blue Devils. Duke ranked 11th in the ACC in rush defense last year and struggled to get a consistent pass rush on opposing quarterbacks. The Blue Devils must replace nose guard Charlie Hatcher but return three other starters. Ends Justin Foxx and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo combined for three sacks last season, but this unit hopes to get a boost with the return of Kenny Anunike, who missed nearly all of last year with an injury. Sophomore Jamal Bruce and junior Sydney Sarmiento need to have a big season on the interior if Duke wants to escape the cellar in postseason defensive line rankings.

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Related ACC Content

Ranking the ACC Offensive Lines for 2012
Ranking the ACC Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

College Football's 2012 Bowl Projections

Will Randy Edsall Turn Around Maryland?

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

ACC's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 ACC Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-ACC Team

Teaser:
<p> Unit Rankings: 2012 ACC Defensive Lines</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/sec-football-which-teams-are-rise-or-decline
Body:

With kickoff to the 2012 college football season still weeks away, it's time to evaluate where each team is headed. This is essentially a checkup or a state of the program overview for each team in the conference. Are they on the rise or decline? What factors in the future could have an impact on success? 

SEC State of the Program: On the Rise or On the Decline?

Alabama

Record over the last 5 years: 55–12 (32–8 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 90–38 (51–29 SEC)

Alabama has re-emerged as a national power since Nick Saban took over the program in 2007. The Crimson Tide struggled a bit in Saban’s first season (7–6, 4–4 SEC in ’07) but are 48–6 overall and 28–4 in the SEC since, highlighted by national titles in 2009 and ‘11. Saban inherited a program that had struggled for most of the previous decade. In the seven seasons prior to his arrival, Alabama had a losing SEC record four times, went .500 in the league one time and had a winning record twice. Some of the struggles were due to NCAA sanctions. Others were due to poor coaching and a mediocre roster.

State of the Program: Holding Steady

Alabama can make the claim that it is currently the top program in college football. There are no weaknesses. The facilities are top notch. The fans are passionate — and there are a ton of them. The school is oozing with tradition. And the coach is as good as it gets in the collegiate game. Barring any unforeseen issues over the next decade — Saban’s departure and/or issues with the NCAA — it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Alabama is not contending for a national title on an annual basis.

 

Arkansas

Record over the last 5 years: 42–21 (21–19 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 79–47 (42–38 SEC)

Arkansas has proven it can compete with the elite in the SEC, but just hasn’t been able to do so on a consistent basis. Until 2010 and ’11, the final two years of the Bobby Petrino era, the Hogs had never had a winning record in the SEC in back-to-back seasons. Houston Nutt broke through with a 7–1 record in 2006 — thanks to a backfield that included three future NFL running backs — but followed up with a 4–4 record in 2007. Petrino went 5–7 overall in his first season, with Casey Dick at quarterback, but went 29–10 over the next three years, including a 10-win season in ’10 and an 11-win season in ’11.

State of the program: Incomplete

It’s tough to give Arkansas a grade going forward due to the uncertainty of the coaching situation. John L. Smith is the man in charge in 2012 but few believe he will be on the job beyond this season. Petrino had the program at its high point since it joined the SEC in 1991. The Razorbacks weren’t quite on par with Alabama and LSU, the league’s two superpowers, but weren’t far behind, either. Moving forward, it will be difficult for the next coach to keep this program at such a high level. Arkansas can be a consistent winner in the SEC and contend in the West every four or five years, but the school lacks some of the built-in advantages — specifically a fertile recruiting base — to be an elite program.
 

Auburn

Record over the last 5 years: 44–21 (22–18 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 94–35 (53–27 SEC)

Auburn was the league’s most consistent program in the early 2000s, with eight straight winning SEC seasons from 2000-07. The Tigers have gone undefeated twice in the past eight seasons, 13–0 in 2004 and 14–0 in 2010. Gene Chizik is 17–15 in the SEC in three seasons, and that includes a perfect 8–0 mark in ’10. Even with the recent national title on its resume, it’s fair to say that Auburn has slid down the SEC food chain a bit in the past five years.

State of the Program: Holding Steady

The only thing keeping Auburn from “slight decline” is a series of outstanding recruiting classes. The future appears to be bright, but the current product on the field is quite average. Last year, the Tigers were outgained in SEC games by an average of 92.9 yards per game and lost their four league games by an average of 31.3 points. Over the past four seasons, Auburn’s league record is 9–15 when Cam Newton, one of the top college football players of all time, is not under center. The challenge for Chizik is to prove he can win at a high level in the post-Newton era. The roster is loaded with talent. Will the wins follow?
 

Florida

Record over the last 5 years: 50–17 (27–13 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 95–36 (55–25 SEC)

Florida has hit a rough patch in recent years — 13–11 overall and 7–9 in the SEC the past two seasons — but this has clearly been one of the elite programs in the SEC over the past decade. The Gators won a national title in 2006 and 2008 and were one win shy from playing for another BCS crown in 2009. One stat is a bit surprising: Florida has only played in three BCS bowls in the past 10 years.

State of the Program: Slightly Declining

Even the best programs — no matter how nice the facilities or how fertile the recruiting area — need a good coach to compete at a championship level. Florida struggled under Ron Zook, losing an unthinkable 15 games in a three-year period. And the Gators struggled last year under Will Muschamp, limping to a 3–5 mark in the SEC — the program’s worst since 1986. So to evaluate the “state of program” you have to determine whether or not Muschamp is the right coach for Florida. And that’s difficult to do after one season. The sample size was small, but the results weren’t good. We will know a lot more about the future of Florida football after the 2012 season.

 

Georgia

Record over the last 5 years: 45–21 (26–­14 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 98–34 (55–25 SEC)

Georgia has failed to seriously challenge for a national title in the past decade, but the Bulldogs’ record dating back to the 2002 season is quite impressive. They have won at least six SEC games in seven of the 10 years and captured two league titles, in 2002 and ’05. They took a step back with a 7–9 SEC record in 2009-10 but bounced back to win the East with a 7–1 mark in ’11. To summarize: Georgia has been very, very good. Just not good enough for many Bulldog fans.

State of the Program: On the Rise

Georgia is well-positioned to remain one of the top programs in the SEC. It helps that the Bulldogs compete in the SEC East and do not have to contend with Alabama and LSU for the right to reach the league title game. Mark Richt continues to recruit at a high level, and he appears to have righted the ship after a few rocky years in the late 2000s. Don’t be surprised if Georgia wins a national title in the next 3-4 years.

 

Kentucky

Record over the last 5 years: 33–31 (12–28 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 57–66 (23–57 SEC)

Kentucky set a school record from ’06-10 by playing in a bowl game in five straight seasons. Previously, the Cats had appeared in a total of 10 bowl games, four of which came under Bear Bryant in the late ’40s and early ’50s. During this recent stretch, however, UK failed to produce a winning record in league play in any single season. Its high-water mark was 4–4 in ’06. Kentucky has feasted on soft nonconference schedules to pad its overall win total. The school’s “best” non-SEC regular-season win in the past decade is vs. a Louisville team in 2002 that went 7–6 under John L. Smith. 

State of the Program: Slight Decline

The Cats closed out the 2011 season with a huge victory, knocking off rival Tennessee for the first time since 1984. Still, the Wildcats enter ’12 with a lack of momentum. The talent level, especially on offense, is down significantly from the “glory years” of the Rich Brooks era, and attendance has been declining over the past few seasons. Third-year head coach Joker Phillips is a UK alum and is generally well-liked, but most believe that he needs to show significant improvement in ’12 to keep his job. And that might be hard to do with a team that is picked by most to finish last in the SEC East.

 

LSU

Record over the last 5 years: 53–14 (28–12 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 105–27 (59–21 SEC)

After several decades of surprising mediocrity, LSU has lived up to its vast potential over the past 10 years. The Tigers boast the league’s best record (in SEC games) during that span and have won two national championships. They’ve won at least eight games overall every year and have had only one losing SEC season (3–5 in 2008).

State of the Program: Holding Steady

Les Miles might be eccentric, and we might not always agree with some of his decisions. But the guy knows how to win games. LSU has enjoyed pockets of success over the years, but the program has never been healthier — at a time when the SEC has never been stronger. Alabama has to be considered the strongest program in the league, but LSU is a very close second. The Tigers will continue to thrive on the national scene.

 

Mississippi State

Record over the last 5 years: 33–30 (15–25 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 47–74 (20–60 SEC)

Mississippi State is one of three SEC programs (Kentucky and Vanderbilt are the others) that has not had a winning SEC record in any single season over the past decade. The Bulldogs went 4–4 in 2007 under Sylvester Croom and 4–4 in ’10 in the first year of the Dan Mullen era. The Dogs really struggled from ’02-06, with an overall mark of 14–44 and an SEC record of 5–35 (worst in the league during that stretch). The past five years have been much better, however, with three overall winning seasons (8–5 in ’07, 9–4 in ’10 and 7–6 in ’11) and a semi-respectable 15–25 record in the SEC.

State of the Program: Holding Steady

Mississippi State has improved under Mullen over the last three years, but the program is still in the bottom tier of the SEC. Consider the following: The Bulldogs are 9–15 in the league in that span, and 10 of the 15 losses have come by 10 points or more. Their SEC record under Mullen represents a two-game improvement from the final three years of the Sly Croom era (7–17 from ’06-08), but it’s hardly a sign of huge progress. The Bulldogs will continue to be solid with Mullen running the show, but it will be difficult for this program to elbow its way into the elite of the SEC West.

 

Missouri

Record over the last 5 years: 48–19 (27–14 Big 12)
Record over the last 10 years: 81–47 (44–37 Big 12)

Missouri made the leap from a solid Big 12 team to a very good Big 12 team over the past decade. The Tigers went 17–23 in the league from 2002-06 but have gone 27–14 since, and they have had seven straight non-losing Big 12 seasons. They failed to win a conference championship in this stretch but did tie for the Big 12 North title in 2007, ’08 and ’10. Gary Pinkel has done a tremendous job in Columbia, especially over the past five seasons.

State of the Program: Slight Decline

It’s reasonable to expect Missouri to take a slight dip as it makes the move from the Big 12 to the SEC. The Tigers should be able to compete on a week-in and week-out basis in their new league, but it’s a bit of a stretch to believe they will continue to win at the same clip; remember, this program has won 65.9 percent of its league games over the past five seasons. Pinkel has done a nice job recruiting, and he always seems to have a quality quarterback running his attack, so it would be a surprise if Mizzou is anything less than a middle-of-the-pack SEC team over the next 5-10 years.

 

Ole Miss

Record over the last 5 years: 27–35 (10–30 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 55–67 (26­-54 SEC)

Ole Miss has been one of the most volatile programs in the league over the last decade: Three times the Rebels have won nine games or more in a season, and three times they have won three games or less. They went 7–1 in the league and shared the SEC West title in ’03 with Eli Manning running the show, but then won a total of six conference games over the next four seasons. Ole Miss has won 10 league games over the past four years, but nine of the 10 came in a two-year stretch (5–3 in ’08 and 4–4 in ’09). The school is the midst of a 14-game SEC losing streak that dates back to October 2010.

State of the Program: Slightly on the Rise

There is a new head coach (Hugh Freeze) and new energy in Oxford. Coming off what very well might be the worst two-year stretch in program history (six wins overall, one in the SEC), Freeze needs to show the Ole Miss faithful that there is some hope for the future. With a roster that lacks playmakers, the 2012 season figures to be a struggle, but the new staff is off to a solid start on the recruiting front and the talent level will increase in the next few years. The sample size is small and the level of competition is clearly not on par with the SEC, but Freeze won immediately in his two previous stops as a head coach — Arkansas State and Lambuth (NAIA).

 

South Carolina

Record over the last 5 years: 40–25 (21–19 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 71–54 (38–42 SEC)

It took a little longer than most South Carolina fans had hoped, but the Gamecocks have emerged as a significant player in the SEC. The folks in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge might not be overly impressed, but Carolina’s 11–5 league record over the last two seasons is clearly an indication that the program has turned the corner. Granted, the Gamecocks have taken advantage of an SEC East that is arguably at its weakest point since the league split to two divisions, but the Gamecocks aren’t simply feasting on the underbelly of the league. They are 6–0 in the past two seasons against their top three rivals in the division — Florida, Georgia and Tennessee — and beat Alabama at home in 2010.

State of the Program: Holding Steady

As mentioned above, South Carolina has improved its profile in the SEC and is showing no signs of surrendering its position on the food chain. There is always speculation that Steve Spurrier is on the verge of retiring, but the guess here is that he will be in Columbia for at least three or four more years. Recruiting is going well and he now believes he can win a national title at South Carolina.  

 

Tennessee

Record over the last 5 years: 33–31 (17–23 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 75–52 (43–37 SEC)

One the truly elite programs in the nation in the 1990s and early part of the 2000s, Tennessee has slipped into mediocrity over the past decade. The Volunteers went 18–6 in the SEC from 2002-04 but are 25–31 since. They’ve had a losing record in league play four times in the past seven years after having only two such seasons from 1965-2004. The coaching turnover — three coaches in the past five years — hasn’t helped, but these are not good times for Tennessee football.

State of the Program: Slightly on the Rise

The Vols are “slightly on the rise” simply because the program bottomed out in 2011 with a 1–7 SEC mark “highlighted” by an overtime win over Vanderbilt. Many are forecasting a big jump for Tennessee in ’12, but the Vols will have to show significant improvement in several areas — most notably in the running game — to approach the .500 mark in league play. Derek Dooley continues to recruit well, but he has yet to prove himself to be a quality head coach. He is 28–34 as a head coach (three years at Louisiana Tech, three at Tennessee) with only one winning season. Tennessee is still a program with great potential, but it doesn’t look like the Vols are on the verge of greatness anytime soon.

 

Texas A&M

Record over the last 5 years: 33–31 (19–22 Big 12)
Record over the last 10 years: 64–60 (37–44 Big 12)

Texas A&M has been consistent over the past decade — consistently average (or slightly below). The Aggies went 18–22 in the Big 12 from 2002-06 and 19–22 from ’07-11. Only twice in the past decade has A&M won more than seven games overall — the Aggies went 9–4 in both ’06 and ’10. The school has not won an outright league title since capturing the Big 12 title in 1998. That’s a very long drought for a program with so much history and so many resources.

State of the Program: Holding Steady

After underachieving for the past decade in the Big 12, are we to expect that Texas A&M will suddenly start living up to its potential as it moves to the mighty SEC West? New coach Kevin Sumlin should improve the product on the field, but it will be difficult for the Aggies to show significant improvement in the win column while competing with the likes of Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Arkansas on an annual basis. A&M will be a solid program in the SEC, but there is nothing in its recent history that suggests it will compete for championships.

 

Vanderbilt

Record over the last 5 years: 22–40 (9–31 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 37–83 (15–65 SEC)

Vanderbilt’s struggles competing in the SEC have been well-documented over the years. Dating back to 1992, the first season after league expansion, Vanderbilt has only won more than two SEC games in a season twice — the Commodores went 3–5 in ’05 with Jay Cutler under center and 4–4 in ’08. Last year, Vanderbilt went 2–6 in James Franklin’s debut, but four of the six losses came by six points or less. The low point of the last decade came in 2010, when Vanderbilt was outgained by a staggering 245.4 yards per game in SEC play under interim head coach Robbie Caldwell.

State of the Program: On the Rise

Franklin has done a tremendous job energizing the Vanderbilt program in a short period of time. The Commodores were one of the most improved teams in the nation last season, winning six games overall and advancing to a bowl game for only the second time since the early 1980s. The team did only win two games in league play, but as noted above, Vanderbilt was consistently competitive throughout the entire season. And when they did win, they usually did so in convincing fashion; five of their six victories came by 23 points or more, highlighted by a 38–8 win over Kentucky and a 41–7 bowl-clinching win at Wake Forest. The future also appears bright for Vanderbilt football. Franklin and his staff continue to recruit at a high level, and the school is finally making the necessary financial commitment to the football program.

by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)

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Teaser:
<p> SEC Football: Which Teams Are On The Rise or Decline?</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 05:11
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Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2012 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire every Monday and a Weekend Rundown every Thursday.

Injured All-Stars
The start of the second half has not been kind to several players who took part in the All-Star Game in Kansas City. Joey Votto, Jose Bautista, David Ortiz, Matt Holliday and Ryan Braun have all either been placed on the disabled list or left a game early due to injury this week. And that’s just the all-stars (see "Other DL and Injury News" below).

Votto actually initially injured his left knee sliding into third back on June 29, but he didn’t officially go on the DL until Tuesday. The 2010 NL MVP, who was having another stellar season (.342-14-49) at the plate, is expected to miss three to four weeks after undergoing surgery to repair torn cartilage in the knee.

Bautista was the next to go down as the Toronto slugger left Monday’s game against the Yankees after feeling pain in his left wrist after hitting a long foul ball. X-rays were negative, but an MRI revealed inflammation and the Blue Jays put him on the DL on Tuesday. Bautista got off to a slow start at the plate, and even though the average (.244) may not be as high as last year’s .302 mark, he was second in the American League in both home runs (27) and RBIs (65) before he went on the shelf. The team is hopeful this will not turn into a lingering issue that will either keep him sidelined an extended period of time or affect his swing when he does try and return.

Ortiz also left his game on Monday early as he injured his Achilles circling the bases after teammate Adrian Gonzalez had hit a home run. Ortiz limped noticeably as he rounded third and crossed home plate. Aftterwards he and the team sought two different opinions before the decision was made to place him on the DL on Wednesday. The team is hoping this right Achilles strain will keep him out only the required 15 days.

Even though both left the same game early and were held out of the starting lineup the next day, for now it appears that neither Holliday nor Braun will be out for an extended period of time. Holliday left Tuesday’s game in Milwaukee after being hit in the leg with a pitch in the first inning. Braun left six innings later with an apparent groin strain while playing left field. Both were held out of the lineup on Wednesday, although Holliday did strike out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth. Both are off on Thursday and hope to be back in there on Friday.

The injury news hasn't been all bad for all-star-caliber players, however. The Red Sox and Dodgers each got a pair of big bats back in the returns of Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury and Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, respectively, while Yankees ace CC Sabathia and Phillies ace Roy Halladay each made their first starts off of the DL on Tuesday night. The Cardinals’ Lance Berkman, the Mets’ Jason Bay, the Marlins’ Emilio Bonifacio, the Red Sox’ Clay Buchholz and the Rangers’ Alexi Ogando are some of the other players who have recently returned from extensive DL stints.

However, this doesn’t change the fact that there is a lot of talented, not to mention high-priced and more than likely highly drafted, hitters languishing on the DL. Chances are just about every owner out there has seen one or more of their big bats get bitten by the injury bug at some point this season. Consider this all-star lineup of players currently on the DL:

1B – Joey Votto
2B – Dustin Pedroia
SS – Troy Tulowitzki
3B – Evan Longoria
OF – Jose Bautista
OF – Jayson Werth
OF – Giancarlo Stanton
C – Victor Martinez
DH – David Ortiz

A Little Help?
If you are one of those unfortunate owners who are going to have to make do without the services of a Votto, Bautista or Ortiz for the next few weeks or longer, I don’t need to tell you that you won’t find a suitable replacement on your waiver wire. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some intriguing 1B, 3B and/or OF options out there. All of these are currently owned in less than 70 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

Tyler Colvin, 1B/OF, Colorado – Colvin has shown what he can do with regular playing time as he’s sporting a handy .291-13-40 line in a little more than 200 at-bats. With Todd Helton on the DL, Colvin should continue to get plenty of opportunities from here out. And while Colvin undoubtedly benefits somewhat from calling Coor Fields home, his home/road splits are very similar. He’s managed a .299-7-23 line at home and a .283-6-17 on the road.

Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego – The subject of many a trade rumor, Headley does a lot of things well enough to merit roster consideration. He maintains a respectable batting average (.268), while offering both some pop (10 HR) and speed (10 SB). If he does get a new address via a trade, it will be interesting to see what the 28-year-old switch-hitter can do away from Petco Park, where he’s just a .259 hitter with two home runs so far this season.

Torii Hunter, OF, Los Angeles Angels – Nothing about Hunter’s current numbers (.272-10-39) necessarily stand out, but keep in mind two things. One, Hunter missed more than two weeks in May due to personal reasons, and he’s currently hitting second in the Angels’ lineup, behind Mike Trout and in front of Albert Pujols. In the No. 2 spot this season, Hunter has produced a .311-4-23 line, to go along with 23 runs scored.

Adam LaRoche, 1B, Washington – LaRoche has had a nice rebound season after injuries devastated him in 2011 (.172, 3 HR, 15 RBI in just 43 G). LaRoche leads the Nationals with 55 RBIs and is second in home runs with 16, while batting .257.

Cody Ross, OF, Boston – Ross may not be on the wire much longer after the damage (3-for-5, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 3 R) he did last night against the White Sox. On the season, Ross has put together a .269-15-47 line and even with Ellsbury and Crawford back, you have to figure Bobby Valentine will find a way to keep his bat in the lineup, especially with Ortiz on the DL. Ross is especially dangerous against left-handers as he is hitting .328 with nine home runs and 24 RBIs in 67 at-bats against southpaws this season.

Kyle Seager, 2B/3B/SS, Seattle – Believe it or not, but Seager has more RBIs than Votto (58 to 49) to go along with 11 home runs and eight stolen bases as he been a bright spot in what has otherwise been another dismal season for the Mariners.

Alfonso Soriano, OF, Chicago Cubs – After hitting no home runs in April, Soriano has cranked 17 since, two of those coming after the All-Star break. Soriano is currently hitting .272, which is nearly 30 points higher than last year’s .244 average. A notorious free-swinger, Soriano has already walked 21 times this season, compared to 27 for all of 2011.

Other DL and Injury News
*Jason Bay returned to the Mets’ lineup on Tuesday, a month after sustaining a concussion when he slammed into the outfield wall trying to make a catch. Bay, who has struggled mightily at the plate this season, went 2-for-4 with a home run in Wednesday’s loss to the Nationals, his second game back.

*Dodgers’ right-hander Chad Billingsley went on the DL on Tuesday with elbow inflammation. Billingsley, who is 4-9 with a 4.30 ERA in 18 starts this season, is expected to return to the mound on July 23, the first day he is eligible to be reinstated from the DL.

*Minnesota closer Matt Capps went back on the DL on Tuesday with right rotator cuff irritation. Capps was sidelined briefly in June with shoulder issues, which led to his first DL stint, and the problem only got worse upon his return. Capps is expected to be out several weeks at the very least.

*Gavin Floyd went on the 15-day DL on Tuesday with right elbow tendinitis. An MRI revealed no structural damage and the White Sox right-hander is hopeful of returning to the mound on July 23. The team activated Philip Humber (right elbow flexor strain) from the DL to take Floyd’s place in the rotation. Humber, who tossed a perfect game against Seattle earlier this season, pitched six innings and gave up two runs in a 7-5 victory over Boston on Tuesday.

*Baltimore right-hander Jason Hammel underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Monday. Hammel injured his knee in Monday’s start against the Tigers, one he left after three innings. The team is not expecting Hammel, who leads the teams in wins (8), ERA (3.54) and strikeouts (106), back until September.

*Arizona outfielder Jason Kubel, who missed the team’s previous three games due to hamstring soreness, promptly returned to the lineup on Wednesday and hit two home runs off of Cincinnati’s Mat Latos. It was reported that Kubel may be headed to the DL because of the hamstring issue, but given his successful return last night, that’s probably a non-issue for now. Kubel has handled his adjustment to the NL quite nicely as the lefty swinger has managed a .295-17-63 line in his first season in a Diamondbacks’ uniform.

*Toronto third baseman Brett Lawrie suffered a bruised right calf when he fell into the photographer’s well chasing a pop foul in Wednesday’s matinee against the Yankees. At first glance, the injury appeared to be much more serious, but X-rays were negative and Lawrie is day-to-day. The Blue Jays are off on Thursday and Lawrie said he hopes to be back in there on Friday against Boston.

*Houston infielder Jed Lowrie is expected to be out four to six weeks after spraining his right ankle and suffering nerve damage in his leg on a play at second base in Saturday’s game against the Giants. Lowrie was tied for third among shortstop-eligible players with 14 home runs at the time of his injury.

— By Mark Ross, published on July 19, 2012

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Weekend Rundown: July 19</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 10:30
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Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Jacksonville Jaguars check in at No. 32.

Change came swiftly and decisively to Jacksonville in the past six months with a new owner (Shad Khan), a new head coach (Mike Mularkey) and what the Jaguars are hoping is a re-energized team that will look to improve last year’s 5–11 record and emerge as a playoff contender. The energy around the facility is different this year. Players can feel it on and off the field. Khan is improving the team’s facilities, from the practice field to the locker room to the weight room.

Above all, though, there’s a very clear understanding that winning is the only thing that will change the organization.

Offense

When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the Jaguars’ selection of Justin Blackmon with the fifth pick in the draft, fans erupted into a thunderous cheer at the team-sponsored draft party in Jacksonville. For the first time in years, the team’s first-round pick was met with virtually unanimous approval. In selecting Blackmon, a gifted 6'1", 215-pound wide receiver who caught 232 passes in his final two seasons at Oklahoma State, the Jaguars have given second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert some much-needed help.

The new offensive staff spent much of the offseason analyzing Gabbert, who struggled as a rookie. He completed barely over 50 percent of his passes and threw 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Coaches noticed errors in his footwork and saw a pocket presence that needed improvement. They believe that he will take a major step forward after having the benefit of a full offseason to work with his teammates and coaches.

If he doesn’t progress, the Jaguars are better prepared this year than they were in 2011. This year’s backup, Chad Henne, has extensive starting experience with the Miami Dolphins. Henne, a former second-round pick who spent four seasons with the Dolphins, missed most of the 2011 season after undergoing shoulder surgery. His ailment was first called a separated shoulder, but the injury was more severe than originally thought. He’s healthy now and refreshed by his relocation from Miami to Jacksonville.

But last season’s passing offense, which produced 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, was as much about the Jaguars receivers as it was about their quarterback. Jacksonville took a very public stance about needing to upgrade that group, and their 2012 receiving corps will look completely different. Last year’s No. 1 receiver, Mike Thomas, likely will serve as the slot receiver this season. Free agent acquisition Laurent Robinson, who caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in his only season with the Cowboys, will be the team’s top target, at least at the start. Blackmon will in time be the Jaguars’ No. 1 receiver, but the team will allow him to adjust to the NFL.

Maurice Jones-Drew, coming off his third straight season with at least 1,300 yards, will once again receive the majority of the carries. Jones-Drew’s 1,606 yards last season were the best single-season total in franchise history, and his average of 4.7 yards per carry was his best since his rookie season.

The changes in the coaching staff are expected to energize the offense as much as the new personnel. The Jaguars hired the formerly retired Jerry Sullivan, a widely respected receivers coach whom Larry Fitzgerald tried to lure to Arizona. Greg Olson will be the quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach. Bob Bratkowski is the offensive coordinator. They’ll all work under the direction of the offensive-minded Mularkey. The only holdover from last year’s offensive staff is line coach Andy Heck.

Related: Top Jacksonville Jaguars Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

The Jaguars’ defense underwent a dramatic change from 2010 to ’11. Its task in 2012 is to sustain the excellence it showed last season.

Mularkey retained defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and gave him the title of assistant head coach. Most of Tucker’s staff returned as well, with the exception of defensive backs coaches Thom Kaumeyer and Cory Undlin.

The linebacking group returns intact, with starters Paul Posluszny, Daryl Smith and Clint Session back for their second season together. Session, however, missed seven games last season with a concussion that landed him on IR. He has been cleared to return after seeing a specialist at the University of Pittsburgh. Backup Russell Allen signed a three-year deal, and the Jaguars added linebacker Brandon Marshall out of Nevada in the fifth round of the draft.

The defensive backs are a bit of a question mark. Both starting safeties, Dawan Landry and Dwight Lowery, return, as does right corner Derek Cox. The Jaguars released nickel back Drew Coleman after only one season with the team. Coleman had a strong 2011 season but became the odd man out when the Jaguars signed Aaron Ross, a starter on the Super Bowl champion Giants. Ross will compete with Rashean Mathis, who is coming off a torn ACL, for the start at left corner. The loser of the competition will be the nickel back.

The Jaguars entered the draft looking to bolster their defensive line, with a specific need of adding a pass-rusher to help out starting end Jeremy Mincey. They added end Andre Branch in the second round and tackle Jeris Pendleton in the seventh. Another question mark is defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. He had eye surgery in early April and is expected to miss all of the offseason.

Specialists

A third-round pick became the subject of ridicule league-wide when the Jaguars took punter Bryan Anger. The jokes don’t bother Anger; he and his brother even shared a laugh over a story in The Onion that mocked the pick. Anger’s leg looked strong during the team’s rookie minicamp, but it’s still a stretch to use a pick that early on a punter.

The Jaguars franchised kicker Josh Scobee after he made 23-of-25 field goals last season, but Scobee did not sign the franchise tender and wants a long-term deal.

The return game wasn’t overly productive in 2011. Thomas will handle punts again after averaging 4.6 yards with a long of 28 yards. DuJuan Harris is the primary kickoff return specialist. He averaged 22.0 yards last season.

#f00">Final Analysis: 4th in the AFC South

The Jaguars season hinges on Gabbert’s development. He has more weapons this season, and he has 14 games of experience as a starter. It’s not quite make-or-break, but there will be pressure on the second-year pro to produce.

Even if Gabbert does take a step forward, the Jags will have a tough time returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. The defense is solid and the offense figures to be better, but the Jags look like a team with a ceiling of about eight wins.

Related: 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Jags Navy
New owner Shad Khan’s 223-foot yacht docked on the St. John’s river in downtown Jacksonville for several weeks after he bought the Jaguars. Khan and his family stayed on the yacht, rather than in a hotel. According to its website — yes the yacht has its own site — it has a crew of 17, including three stewardesses, a chef, a sous chef and a masseuse/beauty therapist. The yacht is for sale at an asking price of 85 million euro, or available for rent at $600,000 per week plus expenses.

Going for the Gold
Cornerback Aaron Ross, acquired in the offseason from the Giants, has been given permission by the Jags to miss some of training camp to attend the London Olympics, where his wife, Sanya Richards-Ross, is the favorite to win the 400 meters. Ross was not able to watch her run in the Beijing games in 2008.

Brain Trust
The Jaguars’ staff includes five current or former offensive coordinators: Running backs coach Sylvester Croom, receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach Greg Olson, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and head coach Mike Mularkey, who came to Jacksonville after a stint as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator.

Turning a Corner
The Jaguars made a dramatic improvement in forcing turnovers last season, improving from 31st in the league to seventh in fumble recoveries and 23rd to 13th in interceptions.

MoJo Rising
Maurice Jones-Drew was the Jags’ first ever NFL rushing champion. Before he earned the distinction with 1,606 yards last season, the team hadn’t had a player finish in the top three in rushing.

MASH Unit
The Jaguars had an NFL-leading 25 players on injured reserve at the end of the season. They placed 31 players on the list, but six were released or given injury settlements.

Handy Comparison
Blaine Gabbert’s passer rating of 65.4 was the lowest among the four first-round rookie quarterbacks who played last season — Carolina’s Cam Newton, Minnesota’s Christian Ponder and Tennessee’s Jake Locker, who only played in five games. Both rookie first-round quarterbacks to play in 2010 — Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford — had higher passer ratings than Gabbert in his rookie year. In 2009, all three rookie first-round quarterbacks — Mark Sanchez, Matt Stafford and Josh Freeman — had lower quarterback ratings than Gabbert did last season.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: Fri., July 20

Order your 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here
Related: Top Jacksonville Jaguars Twitter Accounts to Follow
Related: 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Jacksonville Jaguars 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/jacksonville-jaguars-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the Jacksonville Jaguars official twitter account:

@JaguarsInsider (Followers: 48,350)

There is a fine art to commanding a powerful twitter audience and some players can do it better than others. You don’t have to be a star player to be a twi-xpert. But here are some of the most followed Jaguar players for 2012:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 19, 2012

Top Jaguars To Follow:

1. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB: @Jones_Drew32 (273,927)
2. Laurent Robinson, WR: @LaurentRobinson (102,962)
3. Justin Blackmon, WR: @JustBlack81 (48,000)
4. Blaine Gabbert, QB: @BlaineGabbert (42,984)
5. Marcedes Lewis, TE: @MarcedesLewis89 (23,469)
6. Josh Scobee, K: @JoshScobee10 (16,170)
7. Rashad Jennings, RB: @RashadJennings (10,737)
8. Cecil Shorts III, WR: @CecilShortsIII (6,878)
9. Courtney Greene, S: @MrGreene36 (6,419)
10. Zach Miller, TE: @Zmiller86 (6,341)
11. Andre Branch, DE: @BranchNout90 (5,506)
12. Uche Nwaneri, OG: @Chukwu77 (4,921)
13. Terrance Knighton, DT: @YouGotRoasted96 (4,407)
14. Eugene Monroe, OT: @TheSeventyFifth (4,221)
15. Jeremy Mincey, DE: @MrMince94 (4,206)
16. Will Rackley, OC: @WillRackley (3,940)
17. Dawan Landry, S: @DLan504 (3,758)
18. DuJuan Harris, RB: @Ol_Sly_Foxx (2,297)


And rookie punter Bryan Anger doesn’t have a twitter account but he does have an official fan page, @AngerNation. It’s the “first official fan page of the next jaguars great.”

Jaguars Writers:

Tania Ganguli covers the Jaguars beat for the Florida Times-Union and should be your top follow: @taniaganguli (10,381)

Vito Stellino, Florida Times-Union sportswriter: @vitostellino (4,537)

Gene Frenette, Florida Times-Union sportswriter: @GeneFrenette (2,638)

Jaguars Blog Roll: 

BigCatCountry.com: SB Nation has an excellent collection of fan-run and fan-generated websites. The Jags edition can followed @BigCatCountry (2,395).

Blogger @Bloguin_Shane runs the twitter account for TheJaggernaut.com.

FanSided's Jacksonville site, BlakcandTeal.com, can be followed @BlackAndTeal (238)

Be sure to check out Jaguars360.comJaguarsGab.com, which can be followed @JaguarsGab (451), and Jaguars101.com.

ESPN's AFC South blog is run by Paul Khuharsky. You can follow him @ESPN_AFCSouth.

Other Jaguars twitter accounts:

Jags owners Shahid Khan has toyed with the idea of joining twitter but has yet to take the plunge. His son, Tony Khan, has had no such problems adapting to social media. Follow him @TonyKhan (3,720).

Every team in the NFL has a 'buzztap' twitter account that updates fans on web content and more. Follow the Jags editions @JaguarsBuzzTap (9,099).

Also follow @JaguarsCom (2,550), @Jaguars_NFL_ (2,584), @JaguarsMovement (2,235) and @JaguarsFanSvcs (1,179).

Just don’t add @JaguarUSA, unless you love car porn – aka gloriously high-resoltion photos of some of the most beautiful motor vehicles made today.

Related: 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars Season Preview
Related: 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars Schedule Analysis

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Jacksonville Jaguars Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Big Board, Fantasy, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-fantasy-football-rankings-wide-receivers
Body:

The 2012 NFL Fantasy Season is officially here. Mock drafts abound. Rookie round-ups are complete. Bye week cheat sheets are everywhere. The creative juices are flowing with hysterical team names. Positional rankings are popping up everywhere. And the ever-important Athlon Sports 2012 Big Board, the most accurate consensus top 150 list of fantasy footballers on the web, continues to take shape.

New to our Big Board is NFL.com's initial NFL fantasy rankings as we have expanded from seven lists to eight. We also added a "Previous" column to indicate the previous ranking. Athlon, with special help from FantasyRundown.com, will continue to broaden and deepen its trademark consensus Big Board and positional rankings all summer long.

CBS: CBSSports.com (Updated: 7/13/12)
PFF: ProFootballFocus.com (Updated: 6/26/12)
ESPN: ESPN (Updated 6/20/12)
FFT: FFToolbox.com (Updated 7/15/12)
Y!: Yahoo! Sports (Updated 6/23/12)
NFL: NFL.com (2012 Debut)
FOX: FoxSports.com (Updated 5/31/12)
AS: Athlon Sports (Updated 7/1/12)

Updated: 8:30 a.m. CT, July 19, 2012

Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Positional Rankings: Wide Receivers

Rank Previous Top 150 Player: Team CBS PFF ESPN FFT Y! NFL FOX AS
1. 1 5 Calvin Johnson DET 7 6 7 4 4 8 6 5
2. 2 11 Larry Fitzgerald ARI 16 9 10 19 10 12 16 10
3. 3 13 Andre Johnson HOU 13 15 11 26 28 15 12 18
4. 4 16 Roddy White ATL 19 8 15 32 17 18 23 16
5. 5 21 Greg Jennings GB 23 14 16 36 23 20 22 24
6. 6 22 Wes Welker NE 24 28 20 25 30 17 24 23
7. 7 28 AJ Green CIN 32 31 26 27 24 26 33 26
8. 9 29 Hakeem Nicks NYG 35 12 25 28 39 33 30 27
9. 8 30 Mike Wallace PIT 31 39 19 30 29 28 29 28
10. 11 31 Julio Jones ATL 34 22 33 22 31 23 42 30
11. 10 32 Victor Cruz NYG 38 26 29 29 26 36 46 32
12. 12 35 Jordy Nelson GB 30 57 39 37 33 35 44 31
13. 13 36 Steve Smith CAR 46 43 40 41 34 24 39 40
14. 14 38 Brandon Marshall CHI 51 49 35 45 27 34 38 35
15. 16 40 Dez Bryant DAL 59 32 41 40 47 38 45 37
16. 15 41 Marques Colston NO 55 24 46 42 44 39 52 39
17. 18 44 Demaryius Thomas DEN 37 20 63 51 41 32 49 60
18. 17 48 Miles Austin DAL 53 36 48 55 36 48 55 52
19. 19 49 Percy Harvin MIN 50 46 55 48 48 37 48 56
20. 20 50 Dwayne Bowe KC 61 34 57 63 51 46 50 57
21. 21 51 Jeremy Maclin PHI 60 45 59 57 46 49 58 50
22. 22 53 Vincent Jackson TB 65 40 53 52 67 57 56 53
23. 23 56 Kenny Britt TEN 73 18 74 49 54 52 65 74
24. 24 58 Brandon Lloyd NE 68 59 47 62 56 51 59 62
25. 27 62 Antonio Brown PIT 75 6 66 77 68 84 53 67
26. 26 69 DeSean Jackson PHI 63 74 71 69 71 78 71 61
27. 28 70 Stevie Johnson BUF 72 50 60 64 64 67 127 59
28. 30 74 Torrey Smith BAL 76 65 82 76 80 76 91 72
29. 25 76 Robert Meachem SD 81 62 77 70 81 73 98 85
30. 29 77 Eric Decker DEN 80 55 68 104 74 66 85 99
31. 31 80 Pierre Garcon WAS 109 71 80 82 84 83 89 82
32. 32 84 Reggie Wayne IND 78 51 103 94 83 79 106 98
33. 33 88 Anquan Boldin BAL 90 85 94 99 99 91 84 86
34. 35 89 Denarius Moore OAK 91 78 84 106 93 86 111 84
35. 34 92 Sidney Rice SEA 87 69 98 101 86 134 83 97
36. 37 97 Lance Moore NO 93 90 91 118 109 96 94 87
37. 36 98 Santonio Holmes NYJ 102 122 89 102 87 90 81 108
38. 40 102 Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK 117 82 106 113 95 99 119 105
39. 38 103 Justin Blackmon JAC 106 134 113 92 108 110 95 96
40. 42 106 Michael Crabtree SF 111 119 96 120 115 100 114 109
41. 39 108 Malcolm Floyd SD 112 103 85 112 104 114 116 146
42. 41 109 Titus Young DET 92 95 112 100 137 119 122 121
43. 44 110 Greg Little CLE 114 80 - 109 91 104 137 118
44. 43 114 Mike Williams TB 119 105 120 97 100 142 121 123
45. 46 120 Laurent Robinson JAC 135 111 118 108 131 130 93 -
46. 48 121 Nate Washington TEN 126 100 125 - 124 107 131 119
47. 47 129 Michael Floyd ARI 141 93 131 129 120 - 130 -
48. 49 130 Santana Moss WAR 104 - - - 121 115 144 111
49. 45 132 Mario Manningham SF 136 - 128 107 144 117 118 -
50. 52 135 Doug Baldwin SEA - 116 - 121 134 126 - 122
51. 51 141 Vincent Brown SD 144 - - 111 138   134 120
52. 53 145 Davone Bess MIA - 88 - - 140 - - -
53. 50 147 Reuben Randle NYG - 113 117 - - - - -
54. 57 148 Randy Moss SF 118 145 135 - - - 136 -
55. 58 149 Austin Collie IND 148 97 - 147 143 - - -
56. 62 Brian Quick STL 142 108 - - 147 150 - -
57. 54 Brandon LaFell CAR 137 132 - 127 - - - -
58. 55 Jacoby Ford OAK 139 136 - 125 - - - -
59. 56 Nate Burleson DET 133 - 133 - 139 - - -
60. 65 Jonathan Baldwin KC 149 - 144 141 - 146 - -
61. 61 Alshon Jeffery CHI - - - - 145 - 140 -
62. 63 James Jones GB - - - 139 - - - 147
63. 66 Kendall Wright TEN - 142 - 145 - - - -
64. 60 Leonard Hankerson WAS - 149 139 - - - - -
65. 64 Danny Amendola STL 145 - - - - - - 145
66. UR Chad Ochocinco MIA - 140 - - - - - -
67. UR Golden Tate SEA - 141 - - - - - -
68. UR Jason Avant PHI - 144 - - - - - -
69. 67 Jabar Gaffney NE - - - - - - 145 -
70. 71 Emmanuel Sanders PIT 147 - - - - - - -
71. 69 Deion Branch NE - - - - - - - 148

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Fantasy Content:

Athlon Sports Big Board: Top 150
2012 NFL Fantasy Football Athlon's Top 250
2012 Fantasy Football Mock Draft I
2012 Bye Week Cheat Sheet
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: QBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: RBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: WRs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: TEs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DLs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: LBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: IDP Top 75

Related: Order your Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Preview Magazine Here

You can preorder your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.
Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 08:30
Path: /college-football/unit-rankings-2012-big-ten-defensive-lines
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.

Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.

Ranking the Big Ten's Defensive Lines for 2012

1. Ohio State — With at least two potential 2013 first round NFL Draft picks, it is hard to argue that the Buckeyes don’t have the best D-Line in the league. Johnathan Hankins could be the top tackle taken in the draft next spring and has dropped weight in order to be more disruptive up the middle. John Simon is a dependable force off the edge and is one of the strongest players in the country. Michael Bennett and Nathan Williams, who missed most of last year with an injury return opposite of Simon. Garrett Goebel and Chase Farris will compete for the tackle spot next to Hankins. The key to this group will be depth, as Urban Meyer brings in the top defensive line class in the nation. Ohio State signed four of the top 20 D-Liners in the nation.

2. Michigan State — Without Jerel Worthy looking out for him, the time is now for potential superstar William Gholston. He is as physically gifted as any lineman in the nation and could be an All-American if he can stay focused and on the field. He needs to develop into a leader,  especially considering five of the top eight linemen could be underclassmen (three freshmen, two sophomores). Gholston will team with all-league type sophomore Marcus Rush to form one of the top end duos in the nation. Tackles James Kittredge, who transferred from Vanderbilt, and senior Anthony Rashad White will step into much bigger roles this fall in place of Worthy inside. Mark Dantonio’s likes to build teams from the inside out and this squad is no different.

3. Illinois — Both Michael Buchanan and Akeem Spence could have left Champaign early for the NFL last fall. New head coach Tim Beckman couldn’t have been more excited to get his two studs up front back in 2012. Spence and Buchanan have a chance to be one of the top inside-outside combos in the nation. Senior Glenn Foster will provide help to Spence inside, while senior Justin Staples taking over for the departed Whitney Mercilus. On a team that lost its final six games of the regular season, the Illini overachieved along the defensive line a year ago and could be just as strong, if not better. This team finished second in the Big Ten in rushing defense, first in passing and seventh nationally in total defense. Three of the four starters will be seniors.

4. Nebraska — This defense has fallen off since its star-studded 2009 performance with that Boy Named Suh leading the way. Last year’s struggles led to a new coordinator and defensive line coach in Lincoln. The good news is there is plenty to work with for new line coach Rick Kaczenski. Cameron Meredith and Jason Ankrah form a tremendous pass-rushing duo on the outside, while special teamer Eric Martin continues to develop. Husker legacy Baker Steinkuhler is in for his best year as a nose tackle. Look for big time recruit Chase Rome, as well as Jay Guy, Thad Randle and Kevin Williams, to provide plenty of talented depth up the middle. This group has loads of potential but needs to be developed and motivated. Big Red fans are hoping Kaczenski is the guy for the job.

5. Penn State — There is plenty of bad news in Happy Valley these days and replacing Devon Still doesn’t make it any easier for the Nittany Lions. But a veteran defensive line will go a long way to easing new coach Bill O’Brien into the new job. Two-time ACL tear survivor Pete Massaro is back and is expected to be solid along with returning starter Sean Stanley at end. Jordan Hill will take over for Still up the middle alongside DaQuan Jones, Anthony Zettel and James Terry. If the names around Hill can develop and stay healthy, this has the makings of a typically strong, physical and dependable Penn State defensive line.

6. Michigan — The only real question mark on the Michigan roster is its defensive line. Losing trenchman Mike Martin has thrown this unit into disarray, and Brady Hoke might need to turn to freshman to solve the issue. Craig Roh is consistent and will do anything the coaches ask and returns to one end position. William Campbell needs to deliver on his lofty recruiting hype and develop into the player Martin was. Jibreel Black, Richard Ash and stud newcomer Ondre Pipkins will battle for reps alongside Campbell. Brennen Beyer will look to hold off Frank Clark and Keith Heitzman at end opposite of Roh. This team was a pleasant surprise last year but to continue to grow into a Big Ten power, Hoke needs Campbell and company to realize their potential.

7. Wisconsin — There is no star on this roster like J.J. Watt was two years ago. While there may not be an All-American-caliber player on this unit, the Badgers are deep and dependable. David Gilbert’s return to the field should go a long way in disrupting opposing quarterbacks as the junior will be the top pass rusher on the team. Ethan Hemer, Beau Allen and Bryce Gilbert all have experience and big bodies to clog the middle. Expect all four to play regularly this fall. Opposite of Gilbert will be senior Brandan Kelly, who, at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, needs to develop into a poor man’s Watt. Look for Tyler Dippel and Pat Muldoon to get plenty of reps at end as well. The Badgers should go eight-deep along the defensive line this fall and it could be a sneaky area of strength should it create pressure in the opposition’s backfield.

8. Purdue — This unit has a chance at being one of the sleeper defensive lines in the country. Kawann Short is no secret and has a chance at being the best tackle in the Big Ten — in a league stacked with awesome nose guards. He has first round NFL talent and will be looked to for leadership this fall. Fellow returning starters Bruce Gaston at tackle and Ryan Russell at end will provide stability alongside Short. If healthy, Russell could be a game-changer as only a sophomore. Expect a lot of competition for the other end spot between veteran Robert Maci and young rising stars true freshmen Ryan Watson and Kingsley Ike and sophomore Jalani Phillips. Should things fall right, this group could be one of the better in the Big Ten.

9. Iowa — Kirk Ferentz rarely has a soft defensive line but 2012 might have to be one of his best coaching jobs. Only one starter returns to a unit that ranked seventh in the Big Ten in rushing defense last year. Dominic Alvis is the lone returning starter on a line loaded with question marks. In fact, he and Steve Bigach are the only two linemen on the team who have earned a letter. As expected, Iowa will run a number of younger players out there in an effort to find the right rotation. Darian Cooper, Riley McMinn and Dean Tsopanides are all freshmen who figure to see plenty of reps. Contributions at end from senior Joe Gaglione and sophomore Mike Hardy would go a long way to help develop the youth on this roster.

10. Northwestern — This line finished last in the Big Ten in sacks a year ago and Pat Fitzgerald is certainly looking for more in 2012. Senior tackles Brian Arnfelt and Quentin Williams will lead the interior but coaches expect big things from junior end Tyler Scott. Behind a veteran group will be eager young Cats ready to prove themselves: Chance Carter, Sean McEvilly and Deonte Gibson. Coach Fitz will have to get better play up front if he wants to keep his record-setting bowl run alive.

11. Minnesota — D.L. Wilhite and Ben Perry return with experience but will have to hold off plenty of hard-chargers to keep their jobs at defensive end. Michael Amaefula will be on the field plenty and freshman Thieren Cockran has the coaching staff excited about an improvement in its pass rush. A host of tackles, led by converted tight end/defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman, will compete for playing time on the interior. This unit finished 11th in rushing defense in the Big Ten last year and 2012 might not be much better. Expect growth, however, with this young group.

12. Indiana — This unit will have to improve if Kevin Wilson expects to get into the FBS win column in 2012. Indiana allowed a Big Ten worst — 118th nationally — 243.7 yards per game rushing. Four players return with starting experience in ends Bobby Richardson and Ryan Phillis and tackles Larry Black Jr. and Adam Replogle. Black Jr. and Replogle are seniors and should be improved up the middle, but Wilson has to get pressure from the outside. If he does not, it could be another long year on defense for IU.
 
-by Braden Gall@bradengall

Related Big Ten Content

Michigan State is an Emerging Big Ten Power
Ranking the Big Ten's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big Ten's Top 25 Heisman Contenders

Athlon's 2012 All-Big Ten Team

Athlon's 2012 Big Ten Predictions

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Urban Meyer's Arrival Has Ohio State Back on Track

Teaser:
<p> Unit Rankings: 2012 Big Ten Defensive Lines</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/new-coaches-add-spice-and-intrigue-pac-12
Body:

Don’t expect Monte Kiffin to sleep very much from about Oct. 21-Nov. 10. The USC defensive coordinator doesn’t get a lot of rest during the season to begin with, but the opponents the Trojans will face during that specific three-game stretch could lead to some particularly long nights.

USC begins with a visit to Arizona on Oct. 27, where new coach Rich Rodriguez has installed his spread attack that features option principles, screen passes from every direction and a red-alert pace designed to leave defenders gasping. Seven days later, the Trojans return home to face Oregon’s high-speed attack that put up 522.8 yards and 46.1 points per game in 2011, and then they welcome Arizona State and Todd Graham, who prefers an entirely different version of the spread-’em-out scheme that can pound teams on the ground or strafe them through the air.

Two games — against bitter rivals UCLA and Notre Dame — remain after that, but the tripleheader of offensive firepower will test every bit of the experience Kiffin has collected during 46 seasons in college and the NFL.

“I think this conference has really got some good offensive coaches in it,” Kiffin says. “And it’s not getting any easier with the new coaches who have made their names with offense.”

The additions of Rodriguez and Graham, along with pass-happy Mike Leach at Washington State, and to a lesser extent Jim Mora in Westwood, have turned the Pac-12 Conference into a weekly nightmare for Kiffin and his brethren. The league was always somewhat wide open, but it is now even faster and looser. The new guys make it almost easy to forget how dangerous the Ducks are or what Stanford and USC can do with their pro-style attacks or what Cal’s Jeff Tedford is capable of with his West Coast scheme.

“You’ve got a bunch of new faces that will change the complexion of things a little,” Leach says. “It’s going to be exciting. There’s a lot of diversity in the conference geographically and in the nature of the offenses.”

The three schools that hired offensive-minded bosses (UCLA’s Mora has coached on the other side of the ball throughout his career) are all looking for improvement on the field but also must generate fan interest. As much as nasty defense can create success — Alabama’s two national titles in the past three seasons attest to that — points produce excitement.

Washington State may not reach a bowl game this year, but a new energy has come to Pullman, thanks to Leach and his offense. They’re trying to get $300 million in funding for a stadium overhaul in Tempe, and that’s a lot easier to find when a new coach and his exciting attack energize the faithful. And at Arizona, the only Pac-12 team other than newbies Colorado and Utah not to reach the Rose Bowl, Rodriguez brings a reason to believe.

“I think this is what people want,” Graham says. “I was a high school coach for a decade, and we ran an offense that was always no-huddle and a fast-paced system. I realized people want you to score points, rather than play 7–3 games. People are fickle. They want explosive plays.”

They should see that from the Sun Devils with Graham in charge. Two of his Tulsa teams (2007, ’08) led the nation in total offense, and his 2010 edition was fifth. Graham’s departure from Pittsburgh after just one season at the helm infuriated the Panthers fan base, but he has received nothing but love from the ASU community, which is hoping for the type of consistency it didn’t see under former coach Dennis Erickson.

Rodriguez is certainly known for his ability to build productive offenses. His three Michigan teams may not have stopped many people, but the 2010 Wolverines were eighth nationally in total yards. He wants to occupy rival defenses from sideline-to-sideline and force them to tackle in space. If his quarterback is better at running, Rodriguez will keep it on the ground. If the quarterback throws well, Rodriguez will open things up. That diversity makes life particularly hard for rival defensive coaches.

“We can feature things one way or another, and that gives us more options,” Rodriguez says. “When you go into a game, you only have three or four days to prepare, so having different things to deal with in a week’s time makes it harder to get it done in three or four days against a scout team at game speed.”

Imagine what it will be like for Oregon’s staff this September when it must transition from Arizona to Washington State on back-to-back Saturdays. While at Texas Tech, Leach was able to build a national powerhouse with a passing attack that routinely produced quarterbacks who threw for 5,000 yards a year. It may take a couple years for Leach to get things going like that at Wazzu, but even the early incarnations are likely to cause problems for opponents.

“We want to attack the whole field and be decisive,” Leach says. “That comes from hours of repetition and the ability to put the ball in everybody’s hands.”

So, what is a defensive coach to do in a potent conference that has become even more incendiary through the hiring of these offensive savants? Will we see defenders “cramping” in record numbers and falling to the turf in attempts to stop the clock? Or, will coordinators like Kiffin simply surrender and tell their offensive counterparts to outscore rivals? Neither is likely. Instead, expect the league to undergo a subtle philosophical change in terms of personnel.

“We need speed,” Kiffin says. “There is so much speed on the outside that you need linebackers that were former safeties in high school. And they have to tackle. We have always talked about tackling, but now we have to do it in the open field.

“A team may line up in trips to one side and throw it to the other, where it’s one-on-one.”

Even with faster players along the back seven, it’s still tough for defenses to get the preparation they need. At places like USC and Stanford, the defenders spend spring and summer working against pro sets. When games begin, they get a few days of work against scout teams that can’t possibly replicate the pace or talent of the high-powered opposition. That’s what coaches like Rodriguez are counting on. Meanwhile, Kiffin and his brethren have to be careful not to change too many things week-to-week, or their players will have no chance to keep up.

“Sometimes, you try to stop everything, and you can’t do it,” Kiffin says.

Sleep tight, coach. 


This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Preview Annual.

Related Pac-12 Content

2012 College Football Bowl Projections
Pac-12 2012 Defensive Line Rankings

Pac-12 2012 Offensive Line Rankings

Pac-12 2012 Wide Receiving Corps Rankings

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Grading the Best and Worst CFB Hires for 2012

Pac-12's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Pac-12 Team

Teaser:
<p> Pac-12 Football: Leach, Rodriguez and Graham Add Spice and Intrigue</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 05:58
Path: /college-basketball/ranking-big-tens-basketball-coaches-0
Body:

The seventh-ranked coach in the Big Ten has a national title ring. That’s what kind of challenge ranking the Big Ten coaches presents.

Indeed, the Big Ten may have the deepest group of accomplished coaches in the country. Tom Izzo and Thad Matta have Final Four trips on their resumes. Bo Ryan has won Big Ten games at a greater rate than Bob Knight. Three other coaches have taken three or more teams to the NCAA Tournament.

 

The league has a mix of coaches with impressive regular-season resumes, NCAA Tournament wins, recruiting acumen and long track records at mid-majors. We took all into consideration in our rankings for the Big Ten cast of coaches for 2012-13.

 

Note: Coaches are ranked on a mix of past accomplishments with consideration for career trajectory over the next five seasons or so. Rankings take Xs and Os acumen and recruiting prowess into account along with success in the regular season and postseason.

 

1. Tom Izzo, Michigan State

Overall record: 412-169 (37-14 in the NCAA Tournament) 

Record at Michigan State: 412-169 (196-90 Big Ten)

Although the NBA has been interested in Izzo, it’s tough to imagine him coaching anywhere else. Izzo has his system at Michigan State down to a science. While we can’t say Michigan State overachieves -- the Spartans get their share of McDonald’s All-Americans and sends players to the NBA -- Izzo has a way of getting the most from his players. Only two Spartans have declared early for the NBA draft in the last decade and none since 2006. Michigan State has continued a run of 15 consecutive NCAA Tournaments despite producing only one lottery pick since 2001 and no first round picks since 2006. Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams are the only active coaches with more trips to the Final Four than Izzo’s six.

 

2. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin

Overall record: 298-128 (16-11 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Wisconsin: 268-101 (132-54 Big Ten)

First, we should note the above record does not include Ryan’s 353 wins and four national championships at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville. Before Ryan arrived in Madison, Wisconsin already started to build itself into a respectable program under Dick Bennett. With his swing offense, Ryan took the next step. Under Ryan, the Badgers have never missed the NCAA Tournament and never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten in 11 seasons. Ryan (71.0) and Bob Knight (70.0) are the only coaches to spend 10 seasons in the Big Ten and win 70 percent of their conference games.

 

3. Thad Matta, Ohio State

Overall record: 323-96 (20-10 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Ohio State: 221-65 (98-40 Big Ten)

A national title is the only achievement missing from Matta’s resume. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time. Under Matta, Ohio State has won at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title in five of the last seven seasons. He’s won 76.5 percent of his games in the Big Ten Tournament (16-5, three titles), the highest in conference history. And while the Big Ten has been lackluster compared to the other major conference in the NBA Draft in recent years, that hasn’t been the case at Ohio State. The Buckeyes are responsible for seven of the Big Ten’s 12 first-round picks since 2007. Unfortunately for Matta, this has led to a handful of one-and-dones (Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Kosta Koufos,B.J. Mullens) and a two-and-done (Jared Sullinger).

 

4. Tom Crean, Indiana

Overall record: 245-171 (7-6 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Indiana: 55-74 (19-53 Big Ten)

The former Tom Izzo assistant assumed one of the toughest rebuilding projects at a top-10 program perhaps since Rick Pitino landed at Kentucky. Crean took over an IU program reeling from sanctions and a roster reconstruction left over from the Kelvin Sampson era. The results came to fruition in 2011-12. In Crean’s first three seasons in Bloomington, Indiana won 28 overall games and eight Big Ten games. Last season alone, the Hoosiers won 27 games and 11 in conference. Crean already led Marquette to a Final Four, which might be the next step for an Indiana program likely to open the season near the top of the polls.

 

5. John Beilein, Michigan

Overall record: 384-252 (8-7 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Michigan: 91-77 (43-47 Big Ten)

Beilein factoid No. 1: He’s the only active coach with a 20-win season in junior college, NAIA, Division II and Division I. Beilein factoid No. 2: He’s never been an assistant coach. Beilein factoid No. 3: He’s one of eight coaches and four active coaches to take four teams to the NCAA Tournament (Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia, Michigan). At each of those stops, Beilein pulled the program out of an extended rough patch. While he doesn’t have a national championship like Izzo, an extended track Big Ten track record like Ryan, and Final Fours like Matta and Crean, an argument could be made he deserves to be at or near the top of this list.

 

6. Matt Painter, Purdue

Overall record: 185-82 (8-7 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Purdue: 160-77 (76-46 Big Ten)

Purdue fans will play the game of hypotheticals over the health of Robbie Hummel, who missed the 2010 postseason and all of 2010-11. Painter may be forgiven to wonder what may could have been if the trio of Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore would have remained intact for a full four seasons. Despite a dose of bad luck, Purdue managed to win at least 25 games each season from 2007-11, went 78-26 in the Big Ten the last five seasons and reached the Sweet 16 in 2009 and 2010. Remember, Purdue won nine games overall in his first season and seven the season before he arrived.

 

7. Tubby Smith, Minnesota

Overall record: 490-213 (29-15 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Minnesota: 103-68 (38-49 Big Ten)

Smith had trouble keeping the fans in Lexington happy near the end of his tenure, but he has an enviable track record nonetheless, including the 1998 national title and 16 NCAA Tournament appearances. Along with Beilein, he’s one of eight coaches to take four teams to the Tournament (Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota). Despite going 12-24 in the Big Ten the last two seasons, Minnesota may be poised for a bounce-back season in 2012-13.

 

8. Fran McCaffery, Iowa

Overall record: 280-214 (2-5 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Iowa: 29-37 (12-24 Big Ten)

McCaffery landed a major conference job after successful runs at Lehigh, UNC-Greensboro and Siena, the latter reaching the NCAA Tournament three times and advancing to the second round twice. The professorial McCaffery may be on his way to doing the same at Iowa. The Hawkeyes improved from 11-20 to 18-17 from his first season to second, including Iowa’s first postseason appearance (the NIT) since 2006. With a strong returning cast, Iowa is a sleeper team for 2012-13.

 

9. Tim Miles, Nebraska

Overall record: 107-100 (0-1 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Nebraska: first season

Doc Sadler was respected enough at Nebraska, but he couldn’t get the Cornhuskers out of the NIT and into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Now, Nebraska turns to Miles. Sadler built his reputation as an assistant (though he spent two seasons as head coach at UTEP) while Miles has been a head coach at lower levels since 1995. Colorado State had made one NCAA Tournament appearance in the 17 years before Miles arrived in 2007-08, including none under Stew Morrill, who won 20 games with the Rams before leaving for Utah State. At North Dakota State, Miles guided the Bison from Division II to Division I, setting the table for a 26-7 season and a Summit League title in 2008-09. 

 

10. John Groce, Illinois

Overall record: 85-56 (3-2 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Illinois: first season

Groce was a standout recruiter for Ohio State under Thad Matta and made the most out of two NCAA Tournament appearances with a first-round upset of Georgetown in 2010 and a Sweet 16 trip in 2012. Still, Ohio never finished higher than third in the MAC East in his four-season tenure in Athens.

 

11. Bill Carmody, Northwestern

Overall record: 271-216 (1-2 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Northwestern: 179-191 (66-136 Big Ten)

If there’s a case to be made for small victories, Northwestern can make it. The program has yet to make the NCAA Tournament (the only major conference program never to do so), but the Wildcats have reached the NIT four seasons in a row. Before Carmody, Northwestern had reached the postseason only twice. Carmody was wildly successful in his four seasons at Princeton, including a 27-2 mark and a win over UNLV in the first round in 1997-98. However, the core group of John Shurna, Drew Crawford and Michael Thompson has been as talented as any in Northwestern history, and the Wildcats have yet to crack the .500 in mark in the Big Ten.

 

12. Patrick Chambers, Penn State

Overall record: 54-48 (0-1 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Penn State: 12-20 (4-14 Big Ten)

When a coach ends a decade-long NCAA Tournament drought and immediately leaves for Navy, that’s a sign of what kind of basketball job Penn State is. Ed DeChellis got out when times were good for him at Penn State, bolting for Navy after squeaking into the Tournament in 2011. A former Villanova assistant and Philadelphia native, Chambers has some of the credentials that might make him a success at Penn State, but it’s too early to tell for a head coach with three years of experience at a tough job.

 

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Other coach rankings:
ACC
Big 12

Big East
Pac-12

SEC

Atlantic 10

Best of the rest

July 30: National 

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Teaser:
<p> Ranking the Big Ten's Basketball Coaches</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 04:09
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/pittsburghs-kevin-harper-impresses-trick-shot-video
Body:

The Pittsburgh Panthers' Kevin Harper was one of the Big East's top kickers last year, connecting on 21 of 31 attempts and hitting a season-high 52-yard field goal against Cincinnati. 

But the highlight of his career might be this trick shot video. 

Harper hits a few long field goals with targets, hits a 50-yard field goal with no shoes on and kicks one through a moving tire target. Pretty impressive. 

Move over Johnny McEntee...there's a new trick shot artist in the Big East.

Teaser:
<p> Pittsburgh's Kevin Harper Impresses With Trick Shot Video</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 00:53
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-15
Body:

Few things fire up NASCAR fans more than TV coverage of the races. With the end of TNT’s six-race Sprint Cup stretch last weekend at New Hampshire, members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had a chance to judge TNT’s performance and offer critiques.

It wasn’t only TV that fired up the Council. Members opined on the Army leaving NASCAR and the New Hampshire race. Here’s what they had to say:


GRADING TNT’S COVERAGE FOR ITS 6 RACES

36.9 percent called it Fair
36.9 percent called it Poor
22.4 percent called it Good
3.7 percent called it Great

What Fan Council members said:
• The last few years, TNT's broadcasts have been the class of the field. I always looked forward to their "Summer Series.” This year I was left disappointed and, quite frankly, pissed. I understand that commercials are a necessary evil, but it just felt like there were WAY more than normal. Other than the commercial debacle, the coverage itself was very sub-par. The guys in the booth didn't really "call" the race. It was more like they were having a friendly conversation. The last few laps of the races didn't sound any different than the first few. I want the booth to CALL THE RACE ... make it sound exciting, even if it isn't. And the camera work ... no better than FOX. Way too much time spent zoomed in on a single car on the track.

• I went fair because the Wide Open coverage at Daytona makes up for a lot. I like their pre-race and post-race shows, and I really found myself enjoying the bits with Bill Elliott, Ned Jarrett and Jimmie Johnson. Larry Mac and Wally Dallenbach, despite their quirks, are strong points, however Adam Alexander is not a play-by-play guy and Kyle Petty doesn't shut up. Their graphics are decent but the delay of the "off pit road" feature bugged me. And as always, I like the "through the field" portions.

• Is there something below poor? Horrendous? They should change their slogan to “TNT Loves NASCommercials.”

• I understand that advertising pays the bills but TNT’s commercial-to-actual-race coverage ratio was horrible! Glad that was their final broadcast and it wouldn't hurt my feelings if they didn't come back.

• In my humble opinion, TNT's broadcast team is more knowledgeable and impartial than FOX's team. Adam Alexander brings a fresh voice and face to the sport. Yeah, granted their commercial coverage is ridiculous, but that seems to be the norm these days.

• Overall “Good.” I love the on-air personalities and they do a fantastic job of explaining the development of a race without overly injecting themselves into the call. I also am a huge fan of the Wide Open concept. The only reason I didn't give TNT an "A+" was the fact that the Kentucky broadcast, as well as the New Hampshire race, were just overrun with commercials. The first three races didn't seem to have that issue. Overall, I would rate the networks in this order: TNT = A-, Fox = D, ESPN (based on Nationwide coverage, as well as last year) = B.

• TNT is never my favorite stretch of the season, but this year was HORRIBLE. They didn't talk about action out on the track, they didn't update things after one of the 300 commercial breaks in the broadcast, and the camera coverage was awful. Sundays race had them focusing on Kyle Busch, who wasn't a factor after the 1st set of green-flag pit stops. It couldn't get any worse!

• They got it right a few times. The commercial issue is a given. I still like the commentators, the cut-away cars and how things work (but not in place of a live race screen). The track shots are great (when not at commercial).

• I thought TNT did a good job given the races they had. With the exception of Daytona, which they did a superb job with, they had nothing to work with. I still love the TNT booth much, much better that the FOX booth.

• Seriously, their race time vs. commercial time was a joke. Glad we are moving on to ESPN!

• I love Kyle and Wally, but TNT has no clue how to cover a race. Thank goodness for Twitter and MRN.

• Kyle (Petty) has definitely stepped it up, Wally is always great, and Adam is good at directing them and keeping them both in line. The entire sport had been hit hard and double-dumbed-down by the Waltrip boys over at FOX, so these three actually could do no harm. The TNT crew was more professional and most importantly, more knowledgeable. Mindless TWEETS on the other hand need to get the @#%@ off my screen! People have phones and tablets for tweets. Somebody needs to shoot that damned blue bird out of the sky so “Tweet” can join "Digger" in the roadkill department.

• Glad they are GONE! The verbiage did not match the video and the announcers are poor.

• Way too many commercials for anyone's tastes, as proven by a majority of folks on Twitter. I love the TNT "Inside Trax" feature, but other than that TNT wasn't good.


WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE ARMY LEAVING NASCAR AFTER THIS SEASON WITH THE ARMY CLAIMING IT DIDN’T GET AS GOOD A RETURN ON INVESTMENT?

66.4 percent said it was a bad move
17.3 percent said it was a good move
16.3 percent said they didn’t care

What Fan Council members said:
• I think it’s sad to see things that bring the soldiers joy get cut to save a buck,

• (The Army) has to do what's best for them. I just don't understand why all the NASCAR media can't help with the sponsorship situation. Sponsors aren't getting enough attention, yet we usually have three hours of pre-race coverage. Rather than hashing and rehashing everything that's already been hashed and rehashed all week, why can't they run through ALL the cars, show the paint schemes, and let the drivers give their sponsor pitches. Just stop being selfish and stuck in the old ways of insisting on sponsor revenue for every mention. And print/internet media can mention sponsors more when referring to the drivers and cars. People whine about Mikey (Waltrip) always promoting his sponsors, but he's a sponsor's dream. We should have more like him — fans need to just shut up and accept it as a necessity for the sport to prosper. There have been so many times when someone announces a new sponsor and paint scheme but you never get a good look at it on TV. Everyone needs to give a little so the drivers can give their sponsors some airtime, and in turn the sponsors will be more willing to support the teams.

• If ROI is not there Army should pull its sponsorship.

• The Army can paint the picture with whatever brush strokes they so desire. But, the fact is a pig is a pig, and this was a move prompted by political persuasion.

• I hate to see the Army leave. My biggest question is how can they tell exactly what their ROI is per advertiser?

• With all the horrible waste of money by our government, it’s hard to believe that they can't determine that NASCAR and its fans are among the most loyal in supporting all our troops. Wait a minute, on second thought it is our government that can't pass or balance a budget!!

• Not gonna save me any tax money either way.

• My gut tells me it was politically motivated. I've always wondered what kind of person sees a display at the race track and thinks "that's it, I'll join." Almost like, "Hey hold my beer, I'm going to sign up!" That's a little frightening to me. My gut also tells me that those funds would be better suited to spend on our active soldiers. Maybe to help them out when they come home after having put there lives on hold for years. Unfortunately, the third thing my gut tells me is that money will just be squandered in a different way. The bad news is our government sucks. The good news: it's still better than anyone else's. Pretty sad.

• Very shortsighted indeed. It’s a bit of a slap in the face to a sport that does so much for the military families...

• I'm a Veteran and I think the military sponsoring racecars is a huge waste of the taxpayer's dollars.

• It's disappointing because no other sport honors the military like NASCAR, but I have quit caring about sponsor coming and goings. The politics of sponsors and owners gets on my nerves as much as actual politics.

• I think the military sponsorship is just a difficult ROI to gauge. Without giving each signed recruit a survey to ascertain if NASCAR influenced their decision to enlist, there is no other way to make the determination. While I loved seeing the military involved in our sport, I believe they should give enlistment bonuses with that sponsorship money.

• I am from Minnesota and ashamed of our Congresswoman who disapproves of military sponsorship in NASCAR. The monies will be spent somewhere (else) so it will not save government anything. I believe the Army is making a mistake.


GRADING SUNDAY’S CUP RACE AT NEW HAMPSHIRE MOTOR SPEEDWAY

48.5 percent called it Good
34.7 percent called it Fair
8.6 percent called it Great
8.2 percent called it Poor

What Fan Council members said:
• Threats of rain coming, the wild card race/Race to the Chase, Hamlin's mistake, and the last 50 laps kept me on the edge of my seat.

• I was so bored watching this race that I stopped watching 40 laps from the end and I almost never miss the end of a race unless I have to be somewhere.

• No passing my @$$. Did you see Denny's drive back to the front? Wish he would've caught Kasey! Would've been a heck of a race for it.

• Only thing keeping me from grading this as “poor” were the storylines throughout the day, such as: Could Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch battle back from their respective slip ups on pit road and how would Sam Hornish do in his first full week behind the wheel of the 22? Outside of that, the race was pretty much a snooze-fest to me.

• I just hate that the drivers don't really race until the end. Anymore, I watch the start and then head to whatever project I've got going and then watch the last 20 laps.

• Wasn't the most exciting of races, as passing was tough, but I enjoy these races more than the cookie cutter intermediate tracks.

• It’s never a good race when one car checks out and there aren't many cautions so that the rest of the field can adjust their cars. Now I see why phantom cautions get called.

• If not for the charge by (Hamlin) at the end, this would not have been rated as high as “good.” People are trying to blame TNT for presenting a boring race. Well, it WAS a boring race. If it were presented on FOX, DW would try to convince us it was exciting. It wasn't — it was boring and TNT gave it to us!

• The best part was watching Denny Hamlin mow through the field. Other than that, (it was an) average race.

• There were comers and goers, passes being made, pit lane and strategy problems which all made for a really good race. This was another example that a race doesn't have to be a caution- and wreck-fest to be a good.


The Backseat Drivers Fan Council was founded and is administered by Dustin Long. Fans can join by sending Dustin an email at dustinlong002@gmail.com.

Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.

Teaser:
<p> The Backseat Drivers Fan Council grades TNT's coverage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the race at New Hampshire and the US Army's decision to pull its funding from the sport.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - 19:15
Path: /mlb/mlb-trades-gms-would-love-retract
Body:

Trading baseball players between teams has been part of the charm of the game since the 1800s. Ornery players traded after disputes with managers, struggling players traded for one another in hopes that a change of scenery will bring life back to their game, aging stars traded for young prospects, pitching traded for hitting, difficult contract negotiations avoided by trades, financially embarrassed teams trading players for cash — the game has seen all kinds of reasons for swapping players.

As we enter the annual trading season that is July, I am reminded of three trades over the winter that teams would love to have back.

Giants receive Melky Cabrera from Royals for Ryan Verdugo and Jonathan Sanchez
Back in November, this deal seemed to make sense for both clubs. Sanchez was a young pitcher with enormous talent yet to completely harness it. Cabrera, very much the same, just hadn’t quite figured everything out. Or had he? Perhaps careful observers in Kansas City would have thought Cabrera had indeed turned the corner in his career, not merely put together a career year, never to be matched again.

This trade clearly made sense from San Francisco’s perspective. The pitching-rich Giants have starters Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner leading their rotation and all three are still very much affordable. The Giants were starved for some kind of offense, and Cabrera looked the part.

Cabrera, a .270 hitter who averaged nine homers and 57 RBIs in four full seasons with the Yankees, never quite seemed to unlock his potential. A year of the same with the Braves landed him in Kansas City for 2011. Rededicating himself to the game, Cabrera figured a few things out and hit a career-best .305 with 18 home runs and 44 doubles. What to Kansas City may have appeared to be a career year, was Cabrera, at age 26, just hitting his prime.

Sanchez had shown vast potential alongside Lincecum and Cain in San Francisco for a few seasons. In 2010, the lefthander held hitters to an NL-best 6.6 hits per nine innings. The downside was that he led the league in walks with 96 even though he pitched just 193.1 innings, 30th in the NL. While the Royals thought a change of scenery might be just what the pitching doctor ordered for Sanchez, he has struggled mightily this season, looking lost on the mound at times.

And last Tuesday night Cabrera sprinkled a little salt in the Royals wound as he accepted the MVP award for the All-Star Game in the Royals stadium.

Astros receive Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland from Red Sox for Mark Melancon
In December the Red Sox saw a need for help in the starting rotation and saw former setup man Daniel Bard as the solution. In order for that experiment to work, the Sox needed a suitable substitute for Bard in the bullpen. Enter Mark Melancon from Houston. And somehow Boston brass felt like Marco Scutaro and Mike Aviles were sufficient for shortstop. Then in January, Boston decided that there wasn’t enough pitching and that perhaps Jose Iglesias was ready at short, so the Sox traded Scutaro for pitcher Clayton Mortensen. The net effect was that Boston created a hole at short that Aviles has filled.

Melancon was a disaster to begin the season. In his first four appearances in April, he recorded just six outs and allowed 10 earned runs earning a quick demotion to the minors for almost eight weeks. But since his return, the righthander once traded from the Yankees with Jimmy Paredes for Lance Berkman, has pitched 13.2 innings with a 0.66 ERA and 0.73 WHIP. And the much-traveled Mortensen has been sufficient in a long-relief role, averaging more than two innings per appearance with a sub-2.00 ERA.

Meanwhile, Lowrie has been one of the top offensive shortstops in the National League, leading the Astros with 14 home runs. A recent ankle injury has shelved Lowrie for what could be six weeks, but he has proven he can be a productive player.

This trade is not exactly a debacle in Boston history, but once Iglesias didn’t prove himself at short, and with Bard’s shuttling in and out of the rotation, the dominoes have not fallen Boston’s way.

Yankees receive Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from Mariners for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi
Maybe the Mariners fleeced the Yankees by trading damaged goods in Pineda, but New York has gotten zilch to this point for their once-prized prospect Montero. Many observers felt that Montero alone should have been enough to pry Pineda from Seattle.

The 19-year-old Jose Campos is pitching in Single-A for the Yankees while Pineda is recovering from shoulder surgery and won’t be available until May 2013 at the earliest. Montero and Noesi haven’t been as good as advertised for the Mariners, but the M’s are willing to allow the two to learn the game at the big league level, something the Yankees really couldn’t afford to do.

A strong recovery by Pineda in 2013 will take the sting out of this trade, but for now, the Yankees might like to have this one back.

Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - 09:03
Path: /olympics/how-fast-usain-bolt
Body:

Usain Bolt is chasing “living legend” status, as the Jamaican sprinter arrives in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics as the undisputed fastest man alive. But how does he measure up against history’s best ever? Or maybe this year’s fastest thoroughbred sprinter? Or a street-legal sports car going from parked to peak speed? Here’s the fictional tale of the tape over 100 meters.

Teaser:
<p> Usain Bolt looks to dominate the Olympics in London.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - 06:52
Path: /college-basketball/ranking-big-easts-basketball-coaches
Body:

Even for a league with campus institutions like Jim Boeheim at Syracuse and Jim Calhoun at Connecticut, this offseason was relatively quiet for the Big East coaching ranks.

 

For only the second time since 1995-96, the Big East did not have any coaching changes. That leaves more than a third of the league with coaches who with at least 300 games with their current employer -- Boeheim, Calhoun, Notre Dame’s Mike Brey, Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Villanova’s Jay Wright.

 

All of those coaches have have been marked, more or less, by consistency through the years. For the bottom portion of the league, the programs are at least finding some consistency on the bench. At DePaul, Rutgers, Seton Hall and St. John’s, a wave of hires from 2010 are entering their third seasons this year.

 

We’ll try to bring all 15 of the Big East’s coaches into perspective here.

 

Note: Coaches are ranked on a mix of past accomplishments with consideration for career trajectory over the next five seasons or so. Rankings take Xs and Os acumen and recruiting prowess into account along with success in the regular season and postseason.

 

1. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse

Overall record: 890-304 (48-28 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Syracuse: 890-304 (355-185 Big East)

At the start of the 2011-12 season, Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski were the only coaches with 900 Division I wins. Boeheim should join them early in 2012-13. Like Krzyzewski, Boeheim is winning at as good a rate as he did earlier in his career. Syracuse’s 34 wins last season was a record for Boeheim, topping 31 wins in 1986-87. The Orange’s 17-1 mark in the Big East was also his career best. Meanwhile, Syracuse has reached the Sweet 16 or better in three of the last four NCAA Tournaments. Still, Boeheim is seven seasons removed from his last Big East Tournament title and a decade removed since his last Final Four (and national championship). Even with Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters, Fab Melo and Scoop Jardine gone, Boeheim has plenty of talent on the roster in his final season the Big East, the only conference in which he’s coached.

 

2. Rick Pitino, Louisville

Overall record: 627-230 (42-16 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Louisville: 275-106 (81-41 Big East)

Similar to the other active Hall of Fame coaches, Pitino keeps winning and keeps adding to his list of accomplishments. He and rival John Calipari remain the only coaches to take three teams to the Final Four. Last season, he joined Roy Williams as the only coaches to take two teams to multiple Final Fours. He’s accomplished this at Louisville without a consensus All-American in his tenure (he had three at Kentucky). Of course, there’s plenty of talent at Louisville. The 2012-13 season won’t be an exception as the Cardinals are likely to start the season in the top five.

 

3. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh

Overall record: 238-77 (11-8 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Pittsburgh: 238-77 (103-51 Big East)

Dixon’s teams often have been lauded as overachievers, but he finally had a season where nothing seemed to go right in 2012-13. The Panthers went 5-13 in the Big East as Dixon missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his nine-year head coaching career. Still, one bad season in nine (or 11, going back to the end of the Ben Howland tenure) is something Pitt will take after long stretches of irrelevance.

 

4. Buzz Williams, Marquette

Overall record: 110-62 (5-4 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Marquette: 96-45 (46-26 Big East)

How could Williams be ranked ahead of more accomplished coaches Jim Calhoun, Jay Wright, John Thompson III and Steve Lavin? We expect the 39-year-old Williams to be headed for a standout career. There’s good reason Oklahoma and Arkansas pursued him for recent vacancies. Williams is a little quirky -- his skill for producing numbers, statistics and minute details on demand is well-established. Also consider this: Marquette is the only Big East team to reach the NCAA Tournament every year since the league reorganized in 2005-06 -- Williams is responsible for four of those trips, predecessor Tom Crean for three. Williams has done this without some of the inherent advantages of other Big East programs.

 

5. Mike Brey, Notre Dame

Overall record: 359-184 (6-10 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Notre Dame: 260-132 (124-75 Big East)

Another overachiever in a powerhouse basketball league, Brey has won three of the last six Big East Coach of the Year awards (2007, 2008 and 2011). He had a compelling case to pick up a fourth last season when the Irish, picked ninth in the league, finished 13-5 and in third place without top player Tim Abromaitis. Brey has led Notre Dame to the NCAA Tournament in five of the last six seasons and to 20 wins every year since 2006-07.

 

6. Jim Calhoun, Connecticut

Overall record: 873-380 (51-20 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Connecticut: 625-243 (276-163 BIg East)

Calhoun’s achievements are enviable -- the three national titles, four Final Fours, the sixth-most all-time wins, six Big East tournament titles -- but questions are creeping into his program. Due to Academic Progress Rate sanctions, UConn is the only major program ineligible for the NCAA Tournament in 2012-13. The Huskies also are three seasons removed from their last winning record in the Big East, albeit UConn won the national championship and Big East tournament in 2010-11. Last season, Calhoun missed 11 games due to NCAA and health issues. Questions about his retirement, perhaps as early as this season, abound, though he says he will be back for 2012-13.

 

7. John Thompson III, Georgetown

Overall record: 252-124 (8-8 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Georgetown: 184-82 (85-53 Big East)

Georgetown is back to being a regular NCAA Tournament team but not back to the where John Thompson the elder had the Hoyas in the 1980s. Under JT3, Georgetown is a difficult matchup when the Hoyas are executing the Princeton-style offense effectively. The Hoyas have tantalized in recent season, by reaching the AP top 10 in each of the last six seasons, but they have only two NCAA Tournament wins since the 2007 Final Four.

 

8. Jay Wright, Villanova

Overall record: 359-215 (12-9 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Villanova: 237-130 (99-69 BIg East)

Wright has restored Villanova to the season-by-season consistency from the Rollie Massimino years and continued the Wildcats’ tradition of standout point guards. His seven consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 2005-11, including the 2009 Final Four, matched the longest streak in program history. However, the Wildcats collapsed at the end of the 2010 and 2011 seasons before bottoming out at 13-19 overall and 5-13 in the Big East, Wright’s worst campaign in 11 years at Villanova.

 

9. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati

Overall record: 182-112 (3-4 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Cincinnati: 113-88 (43-54 Big East)

Hired after a successful three-season run at Murray State, Cronin walked into a bear of a rebuilding project at Cincinnati. Bob Huggins left under pressure two years prior to Cronin’s arrival, Cincinnati was dealing with academic issues and an exodus of players. On top of that, Cincinnati moved into the Big East. It was no quick fix. After four consecutive losing seasons in the Big East, including 2-14 in his first season, the no-nonsense Cronin led Cincinnati to a 52-20 overall record and 23-13 in the Big East the last two seasons, both of which ended in the NCAA Tourney. Cincinnati still has hurdles to overcome, but the Bearcats are on the right track.

 

10. Steve Lavin, St. John’s

Overall record: 168-92 (11-7 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at St. John’s: 23-14 (12-6 Big East)

Optimism is running high at St. John’s with Lavin’s return to coaching. He made the most of a senior-heavy team in 2010-11 by dominating at home and reaching the Tournament for the first time in nine years. The biggest challenges for the former UCLA coach began in his second season with the Red Storm, but they turned out to be more than Lavin could have imagined. Lavin missed the start of the season after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. He recovered, but returned too soon, missing more nearly the entire season. Lavin’s team was young, the product of a highly regarded signing class replacing all those seniors. With Lavin healthy and a year of experience for its roster, St. John’s hopes to pick up where it left off.

 

11. Kevin Willard, Seton Hall

Overall record: 79-80 (no NCAA Tournament appearances)

Record at Seton Hall: 34-31 (15-21 Big East)

Willard may be the coach to turn Seton Hall around after the Pirates’ decade and a half in the doldrums. He arguably had a bigger rebuilding job before landing with the Pirates. Iona won two games the season before Willard left Rick Pitino’s side to take the job in 2007-08. The Gaels won 50 total games the two seasons after Willard left for Seton Hall, including last season’s MAAC regular season title and an NCAA at-large bid. From Willard’s first to his second season at Seton Hall, the Pirates improved from 13-17 to 21-13 (they improved by only one game in the Big East standings, however). The next two seasons will be key: Willard’s re-tooled roster has only one senior, a transfer from Iona.

 

12. Mike Rice, Rutgers

Overall record: 102-66 (0-2 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Rutgers: 29-35 (11-25 Big East)

Rutgers hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 1991 and hasn’t had a winning season since 2006. With one of the youngest rosters in college basketball, Rutgers extended that streak in the last two seasons, but Rice’s Scarlet Knights were still able to score top-10 wins over Florida and Connecticut last season. Rice won three Northeast Conference regular-season titles, won two conference tournament titles and nearly knocked off second-seeded Villanova in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. The youth movement and Rice’s track record suggests he could turn Rutgers around, but other Rutgers coaches have had the same track record before arriving in Piscataway.

 

13. Ed Cooley, Providence

Overall record: 107-86 (no NCAA Tournament appearances)

Record at Providence: 15-17 (4-14 Big East)

Cooley can recruit. There’s no doubt about that. He was the top recruiter at Boston College for a decade before things went sour for Al Skinner. After that he turned Fairfield into a 20-win team. Now at Providence, he will add McDonald’s All-American point guard Kris Dunn and fellow five-star guard Ricardo Ledo in 2012-13. Providence isn’t an easy job, but the Rhode Islander Cooley appears committed to returning pride to his home state. His energy will be a major plus for this rebuilding job.

 

14. Stan Heath, USF

Overall record: 185-168 (5-4 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at USF: 73-91 (29-57 Big East)

An unlikely 12-6 season in the Big East, a trip to the NCAA Tournament and wins over Cal in the First Four and fifth-seeded Temple in the round of 64 may have saved Heath’s job. In three of Heath’s five seasons at USF, the Bulls won 12 or fewer games and four or fewer Big East games. Of course, USF is ill-equipped to compete in the Big East, but Heath’s results were still meager. He’ll be under pressure to keep the momentum going.

 

15. Oliver Purnell, DePaul

Overall record: 413-322 (0-6 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at DePaul: 19-43 (4-32 Big East)

Purnell’s sudden departure to DePaul was a surprise after he had settled into a groove after seven seasons at Clemson, including four consecutive 20-win seasons and three trips to the NCAA Tournament. DePaul remains the worst job in the Big East, so improvement is incremental. DePaul went 3-15 in the BIg East last season -- a dreadful record, but the Blue Demons won two total Big East games in the three seasons prior. DePaul has a bona fide Big East difference-maker in Cleveland Melvin, so now’s a good time to start turning the program around.

 

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

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Mike Gundy still remembers his dizzy response to the news that T. Boone Pickens was presenting a record $165 million gift to Oklahoma State athletics in 2005.

But then, how could he forget, with Pickens’ mega-donation stamped so permanently on Gundy’s program?

“I didn’t actually fathom the numbers that were involved, and that somebody would actually give that kind of money,” Gundy says. “But I had been in on or around the discussions enough to know that our only chance was to be able to at least somewhat re-do the facilities here.

“Everybody knew that Boone had made tons of money. And that he had the money. Still, you don’t give away $165 million. So I was stunned.”

These days, it’s Gundy and the Cowboys who are doing the stunning.

While Pickens provided the leaping-off point for a Cowboys program that has moved into the neighborhood of college football’s elite — and with a chance to stay, not to rent — it was only Step 1 in OSU’s rise to national prominence.

Gundy had to have a multifaceted plan, and then he and his assistants and the players had to pull it off. In January 2012, the project was all but complete, when the Cowboys capped their first Big 12 championship with their first BCS bowl appearance, rallying past Stanford for a 41–38 overtime win in the Fiesta Bowl.

In a season of firsts, the Pokes posted the only 12-win season in program history, the final step in a stunning progression. Oklahoma State had incrementally built toward the 12-win mark, winning nine, nine and 11 games in the three seasons before 2011.

But it all started with the plan and Gundy’s stated No. 1 step: Be unique.

“We started with how to separate ourselves and how to make ourselves different than we had been the past 60 years here,” says Gundy, who, as a former player and assistant coach, was all too aware of the program’s lackluster history. “We knew if we just kept going forward with the same program, it wasn’t going to work.”

First, Gundy hired Larry Fedora to install an up-tempo spread offense in 2005, moving away from Les Miles’ power-oriented attack and shifting the recruiting emphasis away from elite offensive linemen to a more plentiful supply of difference-making wide receivers.

“I brought Fedora in here, wanting to be no-huddle and play fast,” Gundy says. “We were kind of the innovators of that in this league, other than Mike Leach (at Texas Tech).

“Then we said we had to be different in recruiting, in order to recruit equal to or better than Texas and Oklahoma.”

Again, Gundy’s plan was to be unique.

The Cowboys held satellite camps in Texas in an effort to enhance their visibility in a key target state and to make it easier for prospects to check out what they had to offer. They sold high-scoring offense. They sold the promise of playing in a football palace, the renovated Boone Pickens Stadium. And they sold comforts — everything from bigger, better beds to training table chefs willing to cook mom’s favorite recipes.

“We had to have our niche,” Gundy says. “What could we do to be different? We knew we had to have an everyday lifestyle for our players that was equal to or better than anybody we recruited against. And one that they were comfortable with, so that our players could recruit other players. Or we didn’t feel like we had any chance at all at Oklahoma State. We didn’t think we could have players on our team that were sour and still recruit against teams that were tradition-rich, who could recruit no matter what.

“We had a number of discussions as a staff on what’s really important. Ultimately players win games. You’ve got to get the best players here. And we’ve got to keep them happy so that they’ll want to perform.”

Step by step, the pieces of the plan came together. And as the Cowboys built their model, the players came. Gundy and his staff hit on premium players like Dez Bryant, Zac Robinson, Russell Okung, Kendall Hunter and Perrish Cox.

“From there, we got to seven and nine wins, we were playing head-to-head with Texas and Oklahoma when they were No. 1 in the country,” Gundy says. “So people began to believe in us. And we started to get a few more good players each year.”

Then came the next wave, featuring Justin Blackmon, Markelle Martin, Joseph Randle, Justin Gilbert and others. And the program’s enhanced status appealed to Brandon Weeden, a 2001 OSU baseball signee who finally made it to Stillwater once his try at a professional baseball career had fizzled.

Eventually, the roster revealed landmark depth, featuring arguably the strongest top-to-bottom talent base in school history.

Along the way, the Cowboys broke down barriers. They took down Texas A&M four straight times. They beat the Longhorns back-to-back — in Austin. And finally, they popped Oklahoma 44–10, giving Gundy his first head coaching win over the Sooners and completing the meteoric rise.

“A helluva lot more satisfying,” says Weeden, who returned to Oklahoma State for his senior season, putting the NFL Draft on hold for another year. “I came back to beat Oklahoma. I came to Oklahoma State to beat Oklahoma. To win 12 games, be able to go to a BCS game — all the things we accomplished — and to beat them like we did, that’s pretty special. You always want to win the big ones.”

OSU’s task now: to keep on winning, especially the big ones.
Weeden and Blackmon are gone, along with several other key members of a senior class that will go down as the most successful group in school history.

“Preseason magazines aren’t going to be that fired up about us,” Gundy says about predictions for 2012. “We’re not going to be ranked very high. But I expect our players to play very well…

“I expect to win a lot of football games.”

OSU’s profile has never been brighter. Along with the wins and the recent championships, Gundy carted off two national Coach of the Year awards and was rewarded with an eight-year, $30.3 million contract extension. The Cowboys play fast, score a lot and in 2011 became a Nike preferred team, further enhancing their image with recruits who admit to digging the creative uniform combinations.

“Now, we’re in a position where people do know who we are,” Gundy says. “And people do believe in us. Our recruiting is different. Players believe and they’re different. We don’t have a player on our team who hasn’t won a minimum of nine games a year.

“Winning’s become a habit here. And people expect it.”

And the Cowboys expect it, too, no matter the outside perception.

Two years ago, OSU was in a similar spot. A successful group that included Robinson, Okung, Bryant and Cox departed. But rather than fall back, as many predicted, the Cowboys made a statement about the strength of the program, surging to 11 wins and setting up their sensational 2012.

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who left with Miles for LSU because he didn’t think the Cowboys had “as many bullets as the top programs,” returned last year to join Gundy and the new landscape in Stillwater.

“When I left, I didn’t think we had a chance to win every game,” Monken says. “From a coaching perspective, I’ve said this a number of times, I want to be somewhere where you have a chance to win every game. And when that isn’t reality, then I don’t want to be a part of it.

“I really feel with the facilities and with Mike and the other coaches, I think we have a chance to win every game.”

Monken had left just as Pickens was just opening his wallet. Eventually, Pickens’ gift opened doors to a positive future that once seemed off limits for OSU.

“Boone is so big in the big picture,” Gundy says. “We couldn’t have gotten started without him. He’s like the money guy you get to invest in a company. He invested in the company, got the company started. Then the company hired people, had workers, the coaches and players, who made the company run.

“And the company now could pay the investor back.”

— by John Helsley

This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Preview Annual.

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