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All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-weekend-rundown-june-7

Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2012 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire every Monday and a Weekend Rundown every Thursday.

Will they ever play?

It can seem like forever waiting on an injured star, especially when other players on your roster start filling up the disabled list. You may have stashed some big names that have not played in 2012 on your DL, but what can be expected upon their return?

Ryan Howard – Philadelphia Phillies
The Phils slugger is finally on the field in Clearwater, facing some minor leaguers in extended spring training games. Howard has yet to play in the field or run the bases. While the prospect of a late power edition to your club is enticing, it’s difficult to see the former MVP doing much damage this season. Lower-body injuries and 250+ athletes do not mix.

Chase Utley – Philadelphia Phillies
The former All-Star is also playing in Clearwater and seems further along than his partner on the right side of the Philadelphia infield. Utley is swinging well and running the bases, and he hopes to have no setbacks with his chronic knees. He could provide a boost in the second half but only batted .259 with a .769 OPS in 103 games last season.

Carl Crawford – Boston Red Sox
A disappointing 2011 season on the field in Beantown has turned into an exhaustive 2012 rehab campaign. Wrist surgery and an elbow injury have Crawford’s frustrations at an all-time high. He can swing the bat but has not been cleared to throw. Unless you’re an extreme optimist, there’s not much here for the ’12 season. Remember, Crawford only had a .289 OBP last year.

Stephen Drew – Arizona Diamondbacks
The shortstop is scheduled for a Triple-A rehab assignment this week, but he may be dealing with other issues from the club. Arizona managing partner Ken Kendrick recently said on radio that he thought Drew was more concerned with his 2013 team than playing for the franchise that is paying his salary. Ouch. The reality here seems to be that Drew’s stellar 2008 season looks much more of an outlier than a sign of consistent potential.

Drew Storen – Washington Nationals
The young closer burst on the scene last year with 43 saves, and he should give you the best chance for a second-half boost of the players on this list. Storen had been long-tossing every other day during his rehab from elbow surgery, but earlier this week he threw on consecutive days. The Nats stopper should be back after the All-Star break.

DL Watch and Other Injury News

• Texas placed left-hander Derek Holland on the 15-day DL today with shoulder fatigue. Holland (5-4, 5.10 ERA) has been battling a stomach ailment of some sort that’s caused him to lose 15 pounds over the last few weeks and resulted in diminishing stamina and velocity on the mound. On May 30, Seattle touched up Holland for eight runs on eight hits in just 1 2/3 innings. He pitched much better in his last outing on Tuesday in Oakland, getting the win as he gave up just three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings, but he was clearly not the same pitcher late in that start as the Mariners hit him pretty hard in the fifth and sixth innings. Alexi Ogando, who went 13-8 with a 3.51 ERA as a starter last season, will move from the bullpen to take Holland’s spot in the rotation.

• Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila was placed on the DL on Wednesday due to a right hamstring strain. The team called up Bryan Holaday from AAA to take Avila’s place on the roster. Holaday went 1-for-4 with a run scored in his major league debut last night against Cleveland.

• Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman left Wednesday’s game against the Marlins with a bruised left index finger. Freeman, who had a RBI single in the fourth inning, injured his finger trying to break up a double play as he was hit with the relay throw. His finger was put in a splint and he was scheduled for x-rays and additional tests today. At the very least, expect him to miss a few games this weekend. It could be worse for Atlanta, who’s still missing Chipper Jones, but the Braves upcoming interleague series are at home, so they don’t need to worry about a DH. Eric Hinske will more than likely take over for Freeman at first.

• Speaking of Jones, the Braves’ long-time third baseman should be back soon, possibly the end of next week. Jones, who went on the DL on May 24 with a calf injury, appears to be getting to the point where he will be ready to go on a brief rehab assignment before rejoining the team.

Jason Bay, who’s been on the DL since fracturing a rib in late April, should make his return to the Mets’ line up this weekend. Bay was in the starting lineup for today’s matinee against Washington, but was scratched before the game due to the flu. Bay is expected to see a lot of time at DH during the Mets’ upcoming interleague series against the Yankees and Tampa Bay. After those two series, manager Terry Collins has said he will probably employ some sort of outfield rotation with Bay, Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Andres Torres.

Weekend Interleague Notes

Interleague play resumes on Friday, which means some National League teams will be employing a DH. Besides not having to watch pitchers swing the bat, this extra hitter in the NL team’s line up also could present a short-term opportunity to give your fantasy line up a boost. Here are some names worth considering during interleague play:

Jason Bay – As was mentioned earlier, Bay should return to the Mets’ line up as early this weekend. With the Mets in New York for the Subway Series against the Yankees and then on to Tampa Bay, he will probably get the bulk of the DH at-bats when he’s in the lineup. Bay (.240-3-5) is off to a slow start at the plate, but he’s had pretty good success in his career against both the Yankees (.333-6-28 in 40 G) and Rays (.283-8-25 in 27 G).

Kirk Nieuwenhuis – The Mets’ rookie outfielder has made the most of his opportunities in Bay’s absence. Entering Thursday, he was hitting .295 with three home runs and 20 RBIs, along with three stolen bases. Not surprisingly, the left-handed hitting Nieuwenheis fares better (.326) against righties than southpaws, so you may want to be wary of using him against the Yankees’ Andy Pettitte or Rays’ David Price, should he be in the lineup for those games.

Jim Thome – The Phillies’ first baseman was activated from the DL on Wednesday, just in time for interleague play. Thome is no stranger to DH, having played 18 of his 22 seasons in the American League, or interleague play. For his career, Thome is a .270 career hitter with 59 home runs and 150 RBIs in interleague series. The Phillies open a series in Baltimore on Friday before going on to Minnesota to face the Twins starting next Tuesday. Thome’s teammate Ty Wigginton (.269-6-26) could be another option in deeper leagues.

National League teams aren’t the only ones who have to adjust their usual strategy during interleague play. American League teams don’t get to use the DH when they play in NL parks, which means some managers have to get creative to make sure their best hitters stay in the lineup.

For example, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has already said that Albert Pujols will move over to third base for their interleague series in Colorado against the Dodgers, with Kendrys Morales taking over at first base. In some leagues those six games may be enough for Pujols to gain third-base eligibility. Just something to watch.

Also, don’t be surprised to see Boston first baseman Adrian Gonzalez roaming in right field next week when the Red Sox play the Marlins in Miami. It’s something manager Bobby Valentine is said to be considering to get either rookie Will Middlebrooks or veteran David Ortiz in the lineup.

Kevin Youkilis can move over to first to make room for Middlebrooks at third or Ortiz can play first with the Youker or Middlebrooks staying at the hot corner. Middlebrooks also has been practicing at shortstop, although that situation was more the result of second baseman Dustin Pedroia’s thumb injury rather than the upcoming interleague play. The bottom line is this with Valentine calling the shots, there’s no telling how the Red Sox’ lineup and defensive alignment will look when their series against the Marlins opens up on Tuesday.

Another AL first baseman who could find himself in the outfield this weekend is Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer. It’s probably a long shot, but Royals manager Ned Yost has tossed out the idea of moving Hosmer to the outfield so normal DH Billy Butler can go to first.

Hosmer owners could care less about whether he gains outfield eligibility or not, they are just glad the young left-handed hitter has finally started to hit the ball more consistently. Sitting at a pitiful .172 through May 20, Hosmer has been raking as of late. Since May 21, he is batting .352 with two home runs and 10 RBIs. Even better, he’s hit .368 with as many stolen bases (two) as strikeouts (two) in his first six games in June.

--By Mark Ross and Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)

<p> Fantasy Baseball Weekend Rundown</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 7, 2012 - 16:49
Path: /nascar/kurt-buschs-downward-spiral-0

The last five days have become the most memorable of Kurt Busch’s 12-year tenure in NASCAR. The next five may ultimately determine the rest of his career.

Following a terse exchange with long-time NASCAR reporter Bob Pockrass following Saturday’s Nationwide race at Dover, Busch was suspended by NASCAR until June 13 for showing disrespect towards a media member. Since, Busch’s car owner, James Finch, has been less than supportive of his driver, making cryptic comments regarding his future with the No. 51 Phoenix Racing team. Absent is the fatherly concern and support that Joe Gibbs showed brother Kyle following his dust-up at Texas Motor Speedway last fall with Ron Hornaday Jr. in a Truck Series race. Instead, Tuesday’s comments on Sirius XM NASCAR were those of an old-school racer, legitimate tough guy, and an owner who finds himself at the same Busch-induced crossroads as Jack Roush and Roger Penske before him.

“It’s going to be race-by-race. It’s not going to be probation with us,” Finch said. “Here’s the deal: Quit wrecking the cars, get a good finish, be nice to people. That’s not real hard to do.”

Finch also says that if further tirades ensue, he will permit a member of the crew to, “go upside (Busch’s) head with a crescent wrench.”

So how have things gone so wrong so quick for Busch? Two weeks ago I wrote a column declaring that he was the right driver to take over the reins of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Home Depot machine. Following Saturday’s incident, JGR president J.D. Gibbs said that Busch is, “no longer on our radar.”

The stage for the Axl Rose of auto racing’s downward spiral into obscurity has been built over the course of a number of run-ins throughout the years.

Busch made his first career Cup start at Dover (coincidentally) in Sept. 2000, closing out the year by replacing Chad Little in the No. 97 Roush Ford. In just his fourth race at Rockingham, Busch raised the ire of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who harassed Busch for a few laps to where NASCAR issued a warning to Junior, instructing him to back off. The incident was Busch’s first interaction with the media, and even then in his young career, he gave a typically articulate, well-reasoned response about trading paint with a name of racing royalty.

It also set a long-standing precedent that Busch would not back down to anyone in the sport — be it another driver, opposing crew, or even his own team owner.

In 2001, Busch began his first full season in Cup, and in October at Phoenix his now-legendary tiff with Jimmy Spencer began. Feelings between the two escalated through the ’02 season —particularly after a bump ‘n’ run at Bristol — and at the Brickyard 400, Busch found himself in the wall early in the event – and then slapping his backside and pointing to the rear of the field as Spencer drove by. What followed was Busch’s now-epic line, referring to Spencer as a “decrepit old has-been”. The feud culminated in the Aug. 2003 Michigan race when Busch was popped in the nose by Mr. Excitement following a tirade that was picked up by Busch’s in-car audio and camera.

Spencer isn’t the only driver to have taken a swing at Busch. Tony Stewart allegedly punched him following a practice incident at Daytona in 2008. He would be docked 100 points later that year when, at Dover (naturally), he drove his car alongside Stewart’s on pit road in disgust, nearly hitting a crewman in the process.

In ’04, Busch won the inaugural Chase for the Sprint Cup, which until last year’s tie, was the narrowest championship margin in history (eight points). In late ’05, Busch jumped ship at Roush Racing to take over the iconic Blue Deuce for the retiring Rusty Wallace at Penske Racing. With just two races remaining in the season, Busch was pulled over during race weekend in Phoenix, and was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence. Busch was less than cordial with the officers, accusing one of being a Jeff Gordon fan while asking the one question anyone who is anyone should not: “Don’t you know who I am?”

Busch was suspended by Roush for the final two races of the season, the team issuing a release that stated they were, “done being Kurt Busch’s apologists.”

Since then it’s been a steady diet of water bottle chucking, press release ripping, going after reporters, and team radio rants that sounds more like excerpts from Full Metal Jacket than Days of Thunder. His radio tirades, in particular, have become the thing of legend, abusing his crew, crew chiefs, the sanctioning body, and team owner. From wishing he could drive his ill-handling car head-on into the wall to knock himself out, to addressing team owner Roger Penske as “dude,” Busch has been able to maintain rides based on his talent and ability, not through timely charm or faux sincerity.

Things reached a crescendo in 2011 when at New Hampshire (strangely, not Dover) his car failed pre-race inspection in the second Chase race. He had a bit of a meltdown during driver introductions, and snapped at ESPN’s Jamie Little en route to the grid. After falling out of the race at Homestead eight weeks later he was less-than-enthused about waiting for a TV interview with ESPN reporter and longtime NASCAR personality Dr. Jerry Punch. The ensuing tirade was caught on a fans’ smartphone, uploaded to YouTube, and led to his ouster from Penske Racing — making him a driver without a job just two months before the season was to begin.

That aside, the reason for Busch’s Pocono suspension is a bit muddy. Busch was asked by Pockrass, a reporter well-respected among his peers and a long-time member of the media corps that covers the sport weekly, if he was forced to race Justin Allgaier differently, since he was on probation. Allgaier was making aggressive moves toward Busch during the race after some incidental contact on the first lap. His reply was classic Kurt, but as things have turned out, not in a good way:

“It refrains me from not beating the s*** out of you right now, because you ask me stupid questions. But since I’m on probation that’s probably improper to say as well.”

Mind you, Busch essentially confirmed the same question when interviewed by Punch just a few moments earlier. Perhaps more telling was Busch’s follow-up comment of, “you’re in this just to start stuff, it’s all you’re out here for.”

In my mind, the comment to a member of the media did not warrant the suspension. Had there not been a camera present to record Busch’s comments, I doubt we’d even be having this discussion. The totality of his history the past two years of being less-than-polite with media members factored into the decision — particularly during a time when the sport is working hard to rebuild it popularity following a decline in viewership and attendance. This appears to be one guy having a lingering beef with another, which now stands to jeopardize his career.

Not to get all paternal and go the “this hurts me more than it hurts you” route, but perhaps this is what Busch requires to, as Finch says, “get his head right.” The cracks have begun to show the last few weeks, from a palatably tense exchange with reporters outside of his team hauler at Charlotte, to discussing a controversial pit road incident with Ryan Newman at Darlington which saw the 13th of 14 damaged Phoenix Racing machines in 2012. Busch is auditioning for a ride this year and has been working harder to get more out of the equipment than it’s capable of providing.

Busch was knocking on the door of a top-5 run at Darlington when he got into the wall causing a flat tire. He was in contention for a win at Talladega until he was inadvertently turned by former teammate Brad Keselowski late in the going. During qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 he lost it in qualifying and nosed the car into the backstretch wall. Combine those with his short fuse, a will to win and get back into a top-tier ride, and you’re mixing nitro and glycerin in a 9,000 rpm tumbler.

Also working against Busch in his dealings with Finch, in that he leads the Sprint Cup Series in wrecks this year with five – both uncharacteristic for the driver and unsustainable for a small, independent team. The tiny Phoenix Racing group of 18 is short on resources and sponsorship. Typically, when you paint your car like Ricky Bobby’s “ME” car from Talladega Nights, things can’t be on solid financial footing. No word yet if Clyde Torkle’s “Chicken Pit Special” will on the car for Atlanta in September.

Before everybody goes piling on and kicking a man when he’s down (which is America’s second national pastime), not all of the wrecked cars have been Busch’s fault. As well, despite the owner’s frustration with the situation, Busch maintains the support and admiration of his current crew chief, Nick Harrison.

“The whole deal has been blown out of proportion,” Harrison said on Tuesday. “Kurt’s under the microscope right now and I just wish people would leave him alone and let him do his job. Yes, Kurt has a strong personality, but when he’s out of the car, he’s just one of the guys. He’s one of us. That’s hard to find in the garage these days.”

Even Finch relented that not all of Busch’s undoing has been of his own doing:

“I think the media needs to back off a little bit. They need to stop agitating him. I mean, what can I do? Put a muzzle on him when he gets out of the car? Hide him in a box? He’s got the most talent out there right now. But he’s been over-driving the car and he needs to settle down, win a race or two and let things settle down.”

What has resulted is the worst of both worlds: a championship-winning driver working hard to rebuild his reputation, driving a largely unsponsored car for a small team in an economy that cannot support a massive sponsorship campaign. Combine that with a hot-tempered driver who is frustrated with his current situation and a fickle audience who demands to see real, live, raw emotion (but then acts offended when a driver doesn’t rattle off the canned 30-second sponsor-laden drivel) and you have the crossroads that Kurt Busch finds himself at today.

If Busch does not say exactly what Finch is demanding to hear on Tuesday, then he is essentially out of Cup racing for 2012 — and potentially beyond. His only fall back at this time is the part-time Nationwide Series arrangement with brother Kyle’s No. 54 Monster Energy team. It would be a further set back professionally, but might be required for him to heal personally.

While the radio outbursts and snarky comments are entertaining and admittedly funny — calling Jimmie Johnson “five-time chump” in mid-spin is pretty witty — it has led to his demise and marketability in a sport that now demands drivers to be minivan-mom friendly. Busch would have landed at Richard Petty Motorsports last offseason, but sponsors refused to back him, despite comments from then-CEO Robbie Loomis that “I’d mortgage my own house if it meant hiring Kurt Busch.”

It is the same situation that Finch now finds himself in following the suspension of his driver.

“If I can't get a sponsor, I can't keep running without a sponsor,” Finch says. “That's a slow death. I don't want to do that.”

Personally, I sincerely hope that Busch manages to turn things around and can find a way to contain the inner green rage monster. In an era where one year drivers are told to, “have at it boys” and the next to “don’t says s***,” it’s both bad timing and bad form to shut down a championship-caliber driver for being short with a media member upon exiting a racecar.

While it does not excuse the pattern of behavior and decade of disrespect, the majority of those in the sport feel the same way. Typically, these type of situations are reserved for athletes in other sports that have substance abuse problems. In this case, it’s one driver who’s high on shooting his mouth off.

Sadly, simply expressing his frustration with a question may end up silencing his career.

by Vito Pugliese
Follow Vito on Twitter:

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese examines Kurt Busch's star-crossed NASCAR career — and how, if he cannot control his temper, it may be coming to a premature ending.</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 7, 2012 - 13:43
All taxonomy terms: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder, NBA, News
Path: /nba/kevin-durant-leads-okc-nba-finals

It has been an amazing playoff run so far for the Oklahoma City Thunder, with the dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the team to the NBA Finals. OKC has gone through a who’s who of Western Conference opponents, defeating the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs on the way to the Finals. Those franchises have won 10 of the last 13 NBA Championships, but Scott Brooks’ team has forced an out with the old, in with the new dynamic in the Western Conference. The Thunder are 12-3 in the postseason, and they are undefeated at the rockin’ Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The Boston Celtics have a chance to close out the Miami Heat tonight, as OKC awaits its next foe. It’s easy to see why the Thunder have become so successful — nailing their draft picks when selecting in the top 10. While the franchise was in turmoil during the last couple of years in Seattle, the players acquired during that time have been elite. OKC’s first picks in 2007 (Durant), 2008 (Westbrook) and 2009 (James Harden) have produced the team’s three leading scorers. The franchise also got center Serge Ibaka with the second of two first-round selections in 2008, and he has been a force in the middle defensively. With valuable contributions from role players like postseason veteran Derek Fisher, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, it’s easy to see why the Oklahoma City Thunder will be a tough out for either the Celtics or Heat.

<p> Kevin Durant leads OKC to the NBA Finals</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 7, 2012 - 12:23
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-pocono

This week has certainly been an interesting one in the world of NASCAR.

Jimmie Johnson scored his seventh career Dover win on Sunday, tying him with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for the most all-time wins at the Monster Mile. Kurt Busch was suspended for this weekend's race at Pocono after threatening Sporting News reporter Bob Pockrass following Saturday's Nationwide Series race, also at Dover. Testing got underway on the freshly repaved Pocono Raceway, with Mark Martin leading the way on Wednesday. Kyle Busch won Wednesday night's Prelude to the Dream charity race at Eldora Speedway.

While much of the focus this week has centered around off-track news, it is time to put that aside and look ahead to this weekend's race a the Tricky Triangle.

With testing taking place Wednesday and Thursday, fantasy NASCAR players get a rare early glimpse of what teams are getting a handle on the freshly re-paved track.

To no one’s surprise, speeds have been much higher with the new pavement and tire combination provided by Goodyear. Martin’s top speed on Wednesday was 175.380 mph, while AJ Allmendinger was quickest in Thursday morning's session. Allmendinger's speed of 177.190 mph was nearly five miles per hour faster than the track record of 172.533 set in 2004 by Kasey Kahne.

“You never know what to expect when a race track gets paved,” Richard Childress Racing's Jeff Burton said on Wednesday. “This pavement is unbelievably nice, smooth. The quality of racing is going to be improved a great deal. [But] it’s still Pocono. It still has the same characteristics and the personality of Pocono, but just has more grip.”

AJ Allmendinger, Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kahne, Greg Biffle, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top 10 speeds on Wednesday.

Keep an eye on the speed charts from Thursday's two test sessions, and even more so on Friday, when the Cup teams will enjoy nearly three hours worth of track time in both qualifying and race trim.

As Burton mentioned, the new pavement might have added more grip, but it is the same old Pocono. One of the trickiest tracks on the schedule, drivers and teams will have to setup their cars so they work through each of the track's three unique corners.

The same old Pocono also means Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon are three drivers to keep atop your list of fantasy favorites.

Coming off his second win of the season, Johnson and his No. 48 team are the hottest thing on the NASCAR circuit. While the championship battle is still many months ahead, the five-time champ seems to be preparing for a sixth title run.

Johnson also holds the best average finish at Pocono (9.0) with two wins, eight top 5s and 14 top 10s in 20 starts. The No. 48 car was third fastest in Wednesday's test session, so expect him to be among the front-runners come Sunday afternoon.

Whenever the series rolls into Pocono, Hamlin is also one of the drivers to beat. After sweeping the races in his rookie year, Hamlin has gone on to record a total of four wins on the 2.5-mile triangle. He has the second-best average finish (9.7) with seven top 5s and eight top 10s in 12 starts.

Like Johnson, Hamlin also has two wins this season, putting him fourth in the standings. With some security in his spot in the Chase, Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb are focused on scoring bonus points for wins and there is perhaps no better place for them to accomplish that than at Pocono.

If Hamlin wants to score his third win of the season, he'll have to best veteran Jeff Gordon, among others. Gordon has the third-best average finish (10.2) among active drivers at Pocono, with five wins, 17 top 5s and 27 top 10s in 38 starts.

Currently mired in a season plagued by bad luck, Gordon heads to Pocono on a mission to turn his season around and knock the monkey off his back. The No. 24 car was strong last Sunday in Dover, but a loose lug nut and a poorly-timed caution ruined any chance at a solid finish. If Gordon can avoid the poor luck that has been chasing him all season, expect the four-time champion to have a solid day on Sunday.

Also keep an eye on the ageless Martin and last August's Pocono winner Brad Keselowski.

As previously stated, Martin led the way in Wednesday's test session and has the fourth-best average finish (11.2) at Pocono, but the veteran has never been to Victory Lane.

Keselowski already has two wins this season, but is currently 11th in the standings. Look for him to try and work his way into the top 10 in points for the first time this season. Keselowski won here last August.

Five Favorites: Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's Pocono 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 7, 2012 - 11:59
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, New York Jets, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-york-jets-2012-schedule-analysis

Scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season. So the Athlon NFL editors will spend the next month dissecting each and every week of the 2012 slate for all 32 teams in the league.

New York Jets 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: Buffalo
Week 2: at Pittsburgh
Week 3: at Miami
Week 4: San Francisco
Week 5: Houston (Mon.)
Week 6: Indianapolis
Week 7: at New England
Week 8: Miami
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: at Seattle
Week 11: at St. Louis
Week 12: New England (Thurs.)
Week 13: Arizona
Week 14: at Jacksonville
Week 15: at Tennessee (Mon.)
Week 16: San Diego
Week 17: at Buffalo

Order your 2012 New York Jets Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- New York opens and finishes its 2012 schedule against AFC East rival Buffalo this year. The Bills come to the Big Apple in Week 1, while the Jets get to play at Ralph Wilson Stadium on the second-to-last day of December to end their regular season.

- New York's schedule is spilt exactly in half as the bye comes in Week 9. The first half of the slate has the Jets playing five at home and three on the road, while the last eight reverses that home-away split.

- The Jets play the AFC South and NFC West in 2012, but only have to make one extremely long road trip for this part of their schedule. San Francisco (Week 4) and Arizona (Week 13) are at home, meaning the Jets only have to go out west once to Seattle (Week 10) since St. Louis (Week 11) is located in the Midwest, geographically speaking

- Oustide of a Week 5 Monday night date with Houston, getting the AFC South should present the Jets with a possibility of three wins, provided they take care of business against the rebuilding Colts and Jaguars and an improving Titans team. Regardless of whether new Jet Tim Tebow is the starting quarterback by then, the Week 14 game in Jacksonville figures to present the Jaguars with one of their best shots at a sellout in 2012 as the local legend returns home.

- The Jets play four of their six AFC East games in the first half, with a Week 12 Thursday night date in New England and the season finale in Buffalo the only divisional games among their last eight.

- New York didn't get any breaks with its two floating games — at Pittsburgh in Week 2 and versus San Diego in Week 16 — other than being spared another cross-country trip. This looms even larger considering the Jets play the Chargers on the heels of their Week 15 Monday night game in Nashville, Tenn., against the Titans.

- Overall the Jets' schedule seems manageable as they only have to face four playoff teams from last year, and other than their second game against New England in Week 12, these four games occur in the first seven weeks of the season. Staying away from making any future Super Bowl guarantees is a wise move on the part of Jets head coach Rex Ryan, but a playoff berth appears to be a reasonable expectation for the 2012 season.

Fantasy Focus: New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano has said he fully intends to return the Jets to its "ground and pound" ways of being a run-oriented offense. While that may seem like good news for running back Shonn Greene, who rushed for a career high 1,054 yards last season, a closer look at the Jets' 2012 opponents should at the very least temper any excitement. Greene and the Jets will face four of the five stingiest defenses in terms of fantasy points allowed to running backs in 2011. San Francisco was No. 1 last season, followed by Houston and Pittsburgh with AFC East foe Miami coming in fifth. What's more, San Diego, Jacksonville and Arizona were ranked Nos. 9-11 in this same category.

— by Mark Ross, published on June 6, 2012

2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams

<p> New York Jets 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 7, 2012 - 06:05
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC North, Cleveland Browns, NFL
Path: /nfl/cleveland-browns-2012-schedule-analysis

Scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season. So the Athlon NFL editors will spend the next month dissecting each and every week of the 2012 slate for all 32 teams in the league.

Cleveland Browns 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: Philadelphia
Week 2: at Cincinnati
Week 3: Buffalo
Week 4: at Baltimore
Week 5: at New York Giants
Week 6: Cincinnati
Week 7: at Indianapolis
Week 8: San Diego
Week 9: Baltimore
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: at Dallas
Week 12: Pittsburgh
Week 13: at Oakland
Week 14: Kansas City
Week 15: Washington
Week 16: at Denver
Week 17: at Pittsburgh

Order your 2012 Cleveland Browns Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- The Cleveland Browns have easily the toughest divisional schedule in the AFC. This, of course, is due in large part to the division in which they reside. The AFC North has three potential playoff teams and two perennial Super Bowl contenders. And since the Browns don’t get to face the, uh, Browns twice every year, it makes their AFC North schedule harder than any other team’s in the division. To make matters worse, the North round-robin begins with two road games within the first four weeks of the season. The only comfort for the Dawg Pound is that, following trips to Baltimore and Cincy, three of the final four games within the North will be played on the banks of Lake Erie.

- Interestingly enough, by game nine, the Browns will have played the Bengals and the Ravens twice. And by game 11, only a road trip to the hated Steelers in the season finale will remain on the divisional slate.

- Two rookies will be lined up behind the center this fall as quarterback Brandon Weeden and tailback Trent Richardson will usher in a new era of Browns football. But Pat Shurmur shouldn’t expect too much from the first-round duo right out of the gate. The first six games are against potentially elite-level defenses. The Giants, Ravens and Bengals units speak for themselves but the Eagles' and Bills' front-sevens should be dramatically improved in 2012. Best of luck rooks.

- The Browns will have the unfortunate task of battling the NFC East in crossover play this season as there are no easy outs and three potential playoffs teams residing in the East. Washington at home is a potential win for a team that claimed victory only four times a year ago. But road trips to New Jersey to square-off against the defending champion Giants and a jaunt down to the biggest football stadium in the world to take on the Cowboys loom extremely large. Additionally, facing the Eagles at home on opening weekend is interesting because the two teams will have played two weeks earlier in the third, and most normal looking, preseason game. There will be plenty of familiarity between these coaching staffs when the season kicks off in Browns Stadium.

- The Browns will face the AFC West this fall in intra-conference action. Strangely enough, three of the four contests will take place in a four-week period of time from Week 13 to Week 16. Cross-country trips to Oakland and Denver sandwich a pair of home games against Kansas City and the Redskins. The Chargers come calling in Week 8.

- There isn’t anything special about the home-road splits for the Browns in 2012. Three of the first five are on the road while, more depressingly, the final two games of the year will be on the road against Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. This does mean, however, that the heart of the 2012 season will be filled with home games — six in nine games to be exact.

- For a team trying desperately to win more than five games for the first time since 2007, the two floating games offer some comfort. A home game against the Bills in Week 3 is a winnable game and a road trip to Indianapolis in Week 7 is even easier. Nothing is a sure thing with Cleveland, but these are two games Shurmur and company likely have circled as opportunities.

- The bye week feels like it is perfectly situated to best aid the Browns' rebuilding project in 2012. Following two brutal home games against the Chargers and Ravens, Cleveland will get some time to recoup before traveling to Big D and then hosting rival Pittsburgh. With nine games before and seven after, the off-week should give this team a halftime break that many other teams won’t enjoy.

Fantasy Focus: Trent Richardson is creeping into the back-end of the first round, and while I love his raw talents and upside long term, there will be plenty of growing pains early in his rookie year. The same goes for Weeden too. See the first six games of the season about six paragraphs up from here.


2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams

<p> Cleveland Browns 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 7, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-preseason-2012-rankings-no-36-45

With the completion of Athlon's college football Top 25 for 2012, it's time to take a look at the rest of the rankings, continuing with No. 36-45. 

Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2012 season.

36. Virginia
Mike London was a deserving pick for ACC Coach of the Year last season, keeping the surprising Cavaliers in Coastal Division title contention until the final weekend. Building on that momentum will require another stellar coaching job, with several gaps to fill on both sides of the ball and a more difficult nonconference schedule. London has made all the right moves so far, recruiting well and reviving interest in the program. The general trend is up, but the Cavaliers could level off for a year before really surging.

Read the full Virginia Cavaliers 2012 Team Preview

37. Tennessee
Tennessee has a strong passing game, but establishing the run is paramount to keeping defenses honest and protecting quarterback Tyler Bray. The defense aims for more impact plays, but that often comes at the risk of surrendering big plays. A more forgiving schedule — Alabama and LSU are replaced by Missouri and Mississippi State — makes eight wins a realistic goal.

Read the full Tennessee Volunteers 2012 Team Preview

38. California
This is a big season for Cal. The Bears are moving back into their renovated stadium after playing last year’s home games at AT&T Park in San Francisco. There is excitement around the program because of the improved facilities. The question is whether the team itself is worthy of the same excitement. Cal will need at least one other receiver to produce alongside Keenan Allen and get continued improvement from quarterback Zach Maynard. Meanwhile, a handful of players on defense who are being called upon to take on greater roles will need to emerge. The Bears have been around the .500 mark in each of the past three seasons, and this team doesn’t look much different than those.

Read the full California Golden Bears 2012 Team Preview

39. BYU
The 2011 football season was very different for the Cougars, even though their record looked familiar. BYU’s first year of independence resulted in its fifth 10-win season in six years, even without the incentive of a conference championship. BYU hopes quarterback Riley Nelson’s presence will make the offense more efficient from the start, while an experienced defense tries to continue its high level of play. The schedule is more daunting, with road games against Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, so matching last season’s win total will be difficult. 

Read the full BYU Cougars 2012 Team Preview

40. Baylor
While coach Art Briles is “eager to sustain” and build on the momentum of back-to-back bowl berths, at least a small drop-off is expected after losing many of the most dynamic offensive players in school history. The schedule is also demanding with eight bowl teams and 2011 FCS runner-up Sam Houston State. Contending for a Big 12 championship might be the goal, but a berth in another bowl game seems much more realistic.

Read the full Baylor Bears 2012 Team Preview

41. Vanderbilt
There was nothing fluky about Vanderbilt’s improvement from two wins in 2010 to six wins in the first year of the James Franklin era. The Commodores ranked seventh in the SEC in total offense and sixth in total defense, and four of their six league losses came by six points or less. There was no smoke. There were no mirrors. But the big question: Can they do it again? Can the Commodores maintain this momentum and go to a bowl for the second straight season (for the first time in school history)? The talent is there, especially on offense, where the Commodores feature a veteran quarterback, an All-SEC running back and nice collection of wide receivers. The big key will be on defense, where some key players — and outstanding leaders — must be replaced. 

Read the full Vanderbilt Commodores 2012 Team Preview

42. UCLA
Ultimately, the talent level is not going to be the concern for the Bruins, who recruited well under Rick Neuheisel and had a top-10 class in 2012.  Rather, concentration, toughness and discipline will be the deciding factors. Can Jim Mora bring them? UCLA went a long way to find out.

Read the full UCLA Bruins 2012 Team Preview

43. Arizona
Although Arizona has little depth, its front-line players are skilled and experienced. If quarterback Matt Scott remains healthy, this is a team that projects to be productive offensively and play in a bowl game. Coach Rich Rodriguez said that the Wildcats were out of shape and not strong enough to compete in the Pac-12 when he evaluated the returning players. He changed that with a boot camp-type of offseason. The potential for trouble is in the linebacking crew and in the thin secondary. Eight home games will help.

Read the full Arizona Wildcats 2012 Team Preview

44. Penn State
When Penn State hired Bill O’Brien away from the New England Patriots’ staff, it gave him free rein to change what he felt needed to be changed in order to reinvigorate a program that had fallen into decline in the waning years of the Joe Paterno era. O’Brien has taken that mandate seriously, retaining only two members of the previous coaching staff, revamping the strength program and installing a new offensive system. Players have responded enthusiastically, but it’s probably unrealistic to expect those changes to bear immediate fruit. 

Read the full Penn State Nittany Lions 2012 Team Preview

45. Pittsburgh
One word: stability. That is what the Pittsburgh program covets. It has been a tumultuous year-and-a-half, with the firing of Dave Wannstedt, the hiring and firing of Michael Haywood after 16 days due to a domestic violence charge, the one-year tenure of Todd Graham, who bolted for Arizona State, and now the Paul Chryst era. Unlike the smooth-talking Graham, Chryst is more of a blue-collar Pittsburgh-style guy. He has done a solid job of restoring faith among the fan base, but his biggest challenge will be re-focusing a group of players who have witnessed a revolving door of coaches. Pittsburgh, in its final year in the Big East before moving to the ACC, could compete for a league title, but Panthers fans would probably take stability over winning in Chryst’s first year as a head coach. 

Read the full Pittsburgh Panthers 2012 Team Preview

Related College Football Content

Athlon's Top 25 for 2012
College Football Rankings: No. 26-35

<p> College football preseason rankings No. 36-45.</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 7, 2012 - 05:58
Path: /college-football/sec-commissioner-mike-slive-talks-realignment-playoffs-and-national-titles

There has never been a football dynasty like the SEC. While many fans tuned out the Alabama-LSU BCS Championship Game,  SEC Commissioner Mike Slive got to an enjoy an all-SEC affair. The SEC sits at six straight national titles (and perhaps still counting). But times are changing in college sports. Schools continue to shift conferences. BCS commissioners are talking about a playoff. The NCAA is trying to provide athletes with more benefits. In this exclusive interview, Slive discusses those topics and more, as he considers how to keep the SEC on top.

Note: This interview was conducted in April and appears in Athlon's 2012 SEC Regional magazine. 

Athlon Sports: Could you have ever envisioned this run by the SEC after not getting undefeated Auburn into the BCS Championship Game in ’04 and barely getting Florida into the 2006 game to start this period of dominance?

Slive: I don’t think anybody could have imagined it. In 2004, it was watershed. The discussion started about the SEC and having an undefeated team (Auburn) that was left out. Then LSU makes it to the game (in 2007 season), wins the game with two losses. I think the fact they could get there with two losses indicates the voters began to respect the fact it’s a very tough league to play your way through. It’s hard to imagine now, based on past history, that an undefeated SEC team would not make it to the championship game, unless there’s something unusual.

So what’s changed since 2004? Has the SEC pushed its message more? Is the league simply better in football?

Slive: It’s hard to pinpoint. I think it’s a combination of outstanding coaches, great athletes, and we’ve exposed them.

Back in 2005-06, the SEC’s average payout to its members was $10.2 million. By 2010-11, that reached $19.5 million. How much do you think additional money factors into the SEC’s success?

Slive: There was at least one other conference (the Big Ten) during the same timeframe that was in the same place financially. It’s not a controlled experiment. Certainly the ability to have significant recruiting budgets, the ability to have outstanding facilities, the ability to hire outstanding football coaches, that all helps. We have weather. We have tradition. We have passion.

There was some SEC fatigue around the country with the Alabama-LSU matchup. How cognizant are you of that, particularly when talking about the SEC’s success?

Slive: A lot of your colleagues ask me about that. What’s the question aimed at? If it’s aimed at the BCS, I think you saw the two best teams (Alabama and LSU). The voters said they’re the two best teams. It (SEC fatigue) may be a concept out there, but I don’t feel it. And the BCS didn’t feel it.

Can you understand how people around the country would say they’ve already seen Alabama and LSU play, so let’s see another conference take a shot at the SEC?

Slive: I can understand that. But when I listened to the radio or read stories, that isn’t what came across.

You proposed the plus-one model, a four-team playoff, in 2008. Do you still support it?

Slive: I certainly will have the plus-one foremost in my mind. I want to see compared to what. For the last six years in looking at it from our own prism, we were better off without it. It worked great for us. If I knew that for six more years it was going to work this way, then I wouldn’t be for the plus-one. But I think the law of averages catches up over time. Knowing that any team in our league with one or two losses is one of the top two teams in the country, then I’d have to think very hard about the plus-one in absence of other kinds of changes.

You’ve always called it a plus-one. Can you finally just call it a playoff?

Slive: I’ve never considered it a playoff — or the so-called ‘p’ word — because it fit within the structure of the BCS at the time that I raised it. It didn’t require any fundamental change. I thought about it as a modification of the postseason.

So as the BCS commissioners discuss a playoff, are we closer than ever to a modification of the postseason?

Slive: I said before (the BCS commissioners) met there was going to be change and there was going to be substantial change. I still believe that. This process is a marathon, not a sprint.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott has floated the idea of seeding only conference champions in a playoff. How would you feel about that considering Alabama won the national title last season without winning the SEC?

Slive: I’m willing to have a conversation about it, but if you were going to ask me today, that would not be the way I want to go. It really is early in the discussions, notwithstanding what some commissioners say publicly. There’s still a lot of information that needs to be generated.

The Big Ten has proposed campus sites for semifinal games instead of neutral sites. Could the SEC support that concept?

Slive: There are plusses and minuses to that concept. One is that you’re playing a couple games to determine the national champion and to make it a home game for somebody has always been perceived as a competitive advantage. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is not played at the homes of the higher seeds. So you have to look at that. The other side is there would be the question of fan travel and the ability to travel to one or more games. You guarantee good attendance (at a campus stadium) — for one team. It needs to be looked at carefully. It’s on the table and it should be on the table.

You’re welcoming Texas A&M and Missouri into the SEC this season. There is a lot of shifting lately in conference alignments. Do you think this is good for college sports?

Slive: Whether it’s good or not good I think will be something we’ll be able to judge in the future. Is it good for the SEC? I think it will be very good for the SEC. Is it good for college sports? I think it might. The question of rivalries is always underlying these questions. We would love Kansas to play Missouri and Missouri would like to play Kansas. It’s not the SEC or Missouri that’s not making that happen. We would like A&M to play Texas. It’s not the SEC or A&M. It’s Texas that says they don’t want to play A&M.

Do you think expansion is done nationally, and is the SEC finished at 14 members?

Slive: I still view 14 as an extension of 12. Going beyond 14 is no longer an extension of 12. Maybe the Pac-12 and Big Ten scheduling alliance may be their way of answering that question. I can only speak for us. I think it’s going to take us some time to absorb these two institutions. At this point, I don’t see us adding more. We’ve never been trying to get 14 so I don’t see us necessarily trying to get to 16.

You’ve been in favor of giving athletes an extra stipend to cover the true cost of attending college. Politically, it got delayed by the NCAA membership. Do you still support the idea?

Slive: I do. What concerned me is the process the NCAA used to get to this point and not providing sufficient time for us to analyze all of the issues related to it. Hopefully it will be reconsidered again by the board and we’ll be able to address how it relates to Olympic sports, Title IX, the actual amount — all of that should have been vetted out in a much more significant way than it was.

The option to provide multi-year scholarships, which you also support, passed but the majority of Division I schools opposed it. What do you like about the idea?

Slive: The point is the prospective student-athlete gets the opportunity to have a significant conversation with an institution and vice versa, and some of the bargaining power is on both sides of the table, which is appropriate. Part of the opposition was a protest against how it was done, being put on the table right before Signing Day. Hopefully, (NCAA President) Mark Emmert and the NCAA folks have gotten the message you can decide to do something and mandate it, but you have to give membership the chance to fully vet it.

One of your basketball coaches, John Calipari of Kentucky, says he doesn’t believe the NCAA will continue to control major college athletics by the time he retires. Do you envision such drastic changes in the governance of college sports?

Slive: I don’t anticipate those. I do see at the moment — and hopefully a passing moment — that some of the discussion you and I just had has raised questions about the NCAA and how it operates and maybe has shaken the confidence of some of its membership. But I think that can be, and should be, a temporary problem. Mark Emmert is a very talented, skillful person. That will be fixed.

What’s your biggest challenge moving forward?

Slive: One thing about being a commissioner is there’s no today. Today doesn’t really exist for me. When I wake up in the morning, everything that’s going to happen today has been done. So it’s the ability of trying to think ahead and what I can do with the conference that will make tomorrow successful.

Related SEC Content

College Football Preseason Rankings: No. 26-35
College Football Preseason Rankings: No. 36-45

Athlon's Top 25 for 2012: No. 2 LSU

Athlon's Top 25 for 2012: No. 3 Alabama

Athlon's Top 25 for 2012: No. 8 Georgia

Athlon's Top 25 for 2012: No. 10 South Carolina

Athlon's Top 25 for 2012: No. 13 Arkansas

<p> SEC Commissioner Mike Slive Talks Realignment, Playoffs and National Titles</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 7, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-11

Television, the Cup schedule and the quality of racing in the Sprint Cup Series. Those topics will get NASCAR fans talking. Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had much to ponder as they were asked about those topics this week.

They judged FOX’s broadcasts of Sprint Cup races with the network’s season ending at Dover. They were asked what four races they would cut from the Cup schedule in light of Rusty Wallace’s recent suggestion that such a move would be beneficial. And Fan Council members graded the Dover race.

There was much for Fan Council members to say this week and, as always, they did.

Last Sunday’s race at Dover marked the final Cup race of the season for FOX (TNT takes over beginning this weekend at Pocono for the next six races). Fan Council members were asked to grade Fox on its coverage of Cup races this season.

34.1 percent called it Good
28.0 percent called it Fair
19.0 percent called it Great
19.0 percent called it Poor

What Fan Council members said:
• One of these days they will realize there is a race going in the background of everything they think is important.

• Not crazy over the Michael Waltrip addition and will miss Dick Berggren. DW and Mike Joy are the best in the business.

• Bringing in Michael Waltrip was a step back. The ticker on the side of the screen during green flag pit stops is brilliant, especially with the trend right now of long green runs.

• Too many back-stories read from scripts. Too many isolation shots to promote a sponsor. Side-by-Side commercials are worthless as they don't show racing — who wants to watch the vacant straightaway from the leader’s roof cam? Too many times the producer switched camera views from what Mike Joy was talking about, or (was) too slow to switch to the trouble that Mike Joy was talking about.

• I came to know NASCAR through the FOX broadcast. All of the people who work those broadcasts know racing better than anyone else and they make it easy to learn about the sport. I sure do miss them when they leave, but I still turn to Speed Channel to keep informed.

• I thought the coverage over the last couple years has been OK. Not as good as it once was. Messed up camera shots. Missing some action. I liked the commentators’ reviews during the race of how they are seeing the race so far and their guesses for who might win the race, although the background music during that feature was lame. It was cool seeing the numbers of the cars on the right of the screen of those that were on pit road during the race, but even with that, I think the other networks have better technology they show during the races.

• Mike Joy is simply the best play-by-play man in auto racing today and a future Hall-of-Famer. He is professional, informative and entertaining. I also like DW’s commentary work. I do have a problem with Michael Waltrip being part of the broadcast as a current owner — I think it gives him undue opportunity to add value to his sponsorships with plugs that other owners do not get.

• They have the best and the worst on-air talent. I won't say which is which, but FOX definitely gets the bonehead move of the season by hiring the brother of the worst announcer that they have. I can't wait for the next coverage team.

• FOX had some good moments but never great. By and large their coverage missed the mark. Their commentators, especially DW, leave a lot to be desired. They need more professionalism and polish. I don't agree with having a team owner as an analyst, either. Too much conflict of interest.

• I think each season we fuss about the current broadcast partner and anticipate the next broadcast partner. They all must "pay the bills" by showing commercials. There is no way around it!

• Some good camera shots when not obsessed with the in-car camera. Far too many commercials. The broadcasters act like the fans know nothing and have to constantly explain the simplest concepts. Do football analysts constantly explain that you have four chances to go 10 yards? No, they never mention it.

• I expect a lot of the FOX broadcasts. In the past, the FOX broadcasts were my favorite of the season. I enjoy the quality at the desk and on the track. Typically, I am depressed when their stint is over. That is not the case this season. The production values were good, though not great. The camera crew seemed to miss a lot this season. The broadcast booth always suffers from Larry Mac and continued to do so this year. The racing has been boring and the booth has been tasked with livening up a comatose product. While that is a terribly difficult task, Mike Joy and DW should be up to the task — they weren't. And then there's the Hollywood Hotel. What a travesty!!!! Michael Waltrip and Chris Meyers are a nightmare. The constant race breaks in which Meyers and Waltrip blithely babble are distracting and aggravating. Michael Waltrip does not add to the broadcast.

• While I think Darrell Waltrip can be corny at times, I really like Michael Waltrip and Chris Meyers.

• I prefer the FOX crew. More knowledge & less arrogant.

• Atrocious camera work, ill-timed commercials, endless booth blather. I will miss Mike Joy for the rest of the year, but that's about it. Well, FOX did finally get rid of Digger, so that's another positive.

• I think FOX always does a great job. At times, some of the commentators can be annoying, but Mike Joy and Larry Mac are the best in the business. Their knowledge brings much to the race.

Hall of Fame inductee Rusty Wallace recently said that it would be good to cut the Cup schedule from 36 to 32 races, noting there’s “too much supply and not enough demand.” Fan Council members were asked what four races they would cut from the current Cup schedule:

The top four chosen (including ties):

47.8 percent selected the August Pocono race
38.6 percent selected Auto Club Speedway’s race
29.7 percent selected the June Pocono race
29.7 percent selected the August Michigan race
29.7 percent selected the April Kansas race

The rest of the order:

25.3 percent Kansas Chase race
17.3 percent
July New Hampshire race
16.1 percent
Chicagoland Speedway Chase race
15.7 percent
Kentucky race
14.5 percent
Sonoma race
14.5 percent
Dover Chase race
14.1 percent
June Michigan race
12.4 percent
New Hampshire Chase race
11.2 percent
March Phoenix race
10.8 percent
April Texas race
10.4 percent
Watkins Glen race
8.0 percent
June Dover race
7.6 percent
Phoenix Chase race
7.6 percent
Texas Chase race
6.4 percent
Indianapolis race
6.4 percent
Homestead race
6.0 percent
Talladega Chase race
5.6 percent
May Talladega race
4.8 percent
July Daytona race
4.0 percent
Charlotte Chase race
3.6 percent
Las Vegas race
3.6 percent
March Bristol race
2.8 percent
Atlanta race
2.4 percent —
April Richmond race
2.0 percent
Daytona 500
2.0 percent
April Martinsville race
2.0 percent —
September Richmond race
1.6 percent
Coca-Cola 600
1.2 percent
Martinsville Chase race
0.4 percent
Southern 500
0.4 percent — August Bristol race

What Fan Council members said:
• Pocono, New Hampshire, Kansas and Texas don't need two races per season. Removing New Hampshire, Kansas and Texas in the Chase moves Richmond, Atlanta and Bristol into the Chase. Sounds fantastic even though I think 36 races is good enough.

• Tough choice, no matter how pissed off I get over some of the racing, more is still better than less.

• I would not cut (the schedule) down. The problem isn’t a lack of demand, but most likely the cost of attendance. While the seat prices may not be that awful, the cost of staying in the area overnight is absurd! Hotel prices should not be affected by a race in town. While I never miss watching a race on TV, I personally just can't afford the cost to attend. If this were not a factor, I would attend several races a year. Honestly, I can't say that any of these should be removed from the schedule.

• I get Rusty's point but I can't find four races I would like to cut. Perhaps one of the Pocono and Michigan races, but that's about it.

• I disagree with Rusty. I would still eliminate California (Auto Club Speedway), a Pocono race, a Michigan race and a Kansas race. But I would replace them with a race at Road America, a race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, go to Darlington a second time and have a race at Iowa (after expanding the seating). December, January and February are the longest months of the year with no NASCAR! The more racing, the better!

• Unless a track is in the Southeast, it shouldn't get two dates. Especially Pocono and Michigan, which have awful races — they shouldn't get a second race within six weeks of the first race. That is perhaps the biggest problem with NASCAR's scheduling. Rusty is right about this. Did you notice that there were more empty seats at Dover than filled seats? Couldn't blame it on the weather, either...

• I had a hard time picking a fourth race. Easily, Pocono, Loudon and Kansas should lose a date. I finally picked Dover as my fourth because attendance there has been pretty bad the last few races.

• Not a fair question. Everyone is going to pick Pocono and California. And maybe Kansas or another mile-and-a-half track. Fans think they're boring, but reality is they just don't make for good TV. Besides, Rusty has always had opinions about everything and they're simply his opinion. His induction doesn't suddenly mean that he has become a wise sage. This is the same person who, a couple of days ago, said, “If he can keep those other cats behind him he can win.” There are too many factors that have led to lower attendance: gas prices, ticket prices, hotel prices, children's activities, vacation time... Cutting races also means cutting a large portion of the revenue for the tracks, local establishments and income for the workers (both track employees and temp workers) — this would cause more tracks to close. How is that good for the sport? Let's not forget that it’s also no longer acceptable to take children out of school to attend a race. Some people have less vacation time and days off, as well.

• I think any discussion of cutting races from the schedule is a waste of time because I think it's very, very unlikely to happen. Tracks, teams, sponsors, the sport and broadcast partners have contracts and commitments that revolve around a 36-race schedule with deals in place for years into the future.

• Cutting Auto Club Speedway's race is a no-brainer. Chicagoland won't be missed, either. Kansas and Pocono need to be cut back to one race only.

• I LOVE the length of the season, and actually (would) like to see it extended.


59.3 percent called it Good
21.8 percent called it Fair
15.3 percent called it Great
3.6 percent called it Poor

What Fan Council members said:
• I love Dover. It's like Bristol on steroids. I love that it always has action (even when one driver kinda stinks it up, thanks JJ:)). When there are long green-flag runs, there is still action everywhere.

• Finally a wreck! I don’t watch for the wrecks, but what causes most wrecks? Good hard racing, and that’s what caused the big one. If the 48 weren’t so good it would have been a great race. But overall it was pretty good for Dover standards.

• Is it me or are the races so darn boring this season? Yes, sadly, the 13-car crash was exciting but it took out so many drivers (including my fav) that I was ready to turn the TV off.

• Oddly enough, the cautions did make it more interesting. Wish I didn't think that, but it's true.

• This was probably one of the best races this season. It had a little bit of everything. Wasn't happy to see the big one at the beginning of the race that took out too many cars. I loved seeing some passing and lead changes.

• This race had a little bit of everything in it. Even though my driver was taken out early I still enjoyed the strategy calls and the side-by-side racing.

• As a 48 fan I was pleased by the outcome of the race, but found the racing boring. There were occasional challenges for the lead, but the 48 car was just too strong. While there were cautions, it felt as though there were long green-flag runs. The race was boring, but Dover races have often been boring to me. This race will not affect my desire to watch a race at Dover, because I don't expect much from the racing at this track.

• The race had a little bit of everything — wrecks, side-by-side racing, cautions and long green runs. The cautions at the end made it interesting. It wasn't edge-of-your-seat racing but it was good.

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

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

<p> The Backseat Drivers Fan Council weighs in on cutting the Sprint Cup schedule as well as grading the race at Dover and FOX's coverage of NASCAR.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - 12:27
All taxonomy terms: Harrison Barnes, Overtime
Path: /overtime/harrison-barnes-google-headshot-bio-awesome

If you haven't noticed it yet, Google has a new feature for celebs and athletes. When you type in a name, Google will pull in a short bio and photo on the right-hand side for you. Of course, it doesn't always work so well. 

Case in point is Harrison Barnes, the University of North Carolina standout who entered the NBA Draft this year. Check out Barnes' results below or try it yourself in Google.

Post date: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/college-football-preseason-rankings-no-26-35

With the completion of Athlon's college football Top 25 for 2012, it's time to take a look at the rest of the rankings, beginning with No. 26-35. 

Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2012 season.

26. Florida
At schools like Florida, baby steps draw winces. In the microwave world of college football, the slow cooker is unacceptable. But Will Muschamp knows that transforming the Florida football team from what it was to what it needs to be isn’t going to happen overnight. “It’s coming,” he says. “We’re getting there. I like the guys we have. I like the team we have a lot better than the one we had last year. We’re getting better.” Just getting better, however, won’t be good enough to get these Gators to Atlanta to play in the SEC title game. 

Read the full Florida Gators 2012 Team Preview

27. Kansas State
Improving on a 10-win season that ended with a trip to the Cotton Bowl won’t be easy — but don’t bet against Kansas State, which makes a habit of defying the odds. The Wildcats should be improved on offense, provided Collin Klein has improved as a passer and the offensive line comes together. The secondary is the big concern on defense. Nigel Malone is solid at one cornerback spot, but the Cats ranked 103rd in the nation in pass defense. That has to improve if K-State wants to be a serious threat in the Big 12.  

Read the full Kansas State Wildcats 2012 Team Preview

28. NC State
In 120 years of football, only one NC State team has posted a double-digit win total — Philip Rivers led the Pack to 11 wins in ’02 — but given the returning talent and the relatively soft schedule, winning 10 games is a realistic goal. Coach Tom O’Brien is not prone to hyperbole, high praise or predictions, but the NC State coach likes what he sees in his team, which has combined to win 17 games the past two seasons. “The whole key, once again, is staying healthy,” O’Brien says. “As long as we stay healthy, I think we have a chance to be a pretty good football team.”

Read the full NC State Wolfpack 2012 Team Preview

29. North Carolina
The Tar Heels aren’t going to a bowl game, regardless of how many games they win, thanks to NCAA sanctions stemming from Butch Davis’ tenure as head coach. But they want to make a positive impression in Larry Fedora’s first season at the helm. They have an offense with the potential to put up big point totals, but the question is whether their defense can keep opponents from scoring even more. The combination should make for an exciting season.

Read the full North Carolina Tar Heels 2012 Team Preview

30. Auburn
Armed with three consecutive top-10 recruiting classes, Auburn hopes to show that 2010 wasn’t an aberration but the start of a run of sustained excellence. The schedule is more favorable this season, but many of the questions that Auburn hoped to resolve during last year’s “rebuilding” remain unanswered. Frazier threw sparingly (and often to opponents) in 2011. Michael Dyer has moved on. The offensive line will be a bit deeper but just as young and inexperienced. Two new coordinators are trying to put their imprint on the team. The talent is there for the Tigers to push their way back into the nation’s top tier, but Auburn is probably a year away from becoming a legitimate threat in the SEC West. 

Read the full Auburn Tigers 2012 Team Preview

31. Missouri
While Missouri has made major strides during Gary Pinkel’s 11 years as coach, the Tigers never quite reached elite status in the Big 12. Coming off an 8–5 season and following a controversial move to the SEC, Missouri will now attempt to crack the top of the country’s most elite football conference — beginning with a Week 2 home meeting against reigning SEC East champion Georgia. The Tigers return 10 starters, plus two others who started in 2010, but the soundness of quarterback James Franklin’s surgically repaired right shoulder will figure prominently in Missouri’s hopes. 

Read the full Missouri Tigers 2012 Team Preview

32. Texas A&M
The Aggies simply do not appear to have enough depth to be a serious contender for the SEC West title in 2012, but there is enough talent in place for A&M to be highly competitive on a week-to-week basis. A&M’s up-tempo offensive pace — along with its tremendous offensive line — will give opponents plenty of headaches. But the defense may cause some self-inflicted wounds. Expect the Aggies to win anywhere from six to eight games. 

Read the full Texas A&M Aggies 2012 Team Preview

33. Utah
Utah came within a missed field goal of forcing overtime with a chance of advancing to the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game. As it was, they finished with a losing record (4–5) in conference play in their first season in the Pac-12  but remained in the South race only because USC was ineligible for postseason play. “We had a good start,” says coach Kyle Whittingham, “but we have to continue to do everything better.” Utah’s defense matched up well with most Pac-12 offenses and returns mostly intact. If the offense improves as much as expected, the Utes should rank among the conference’s top teams.   

Read the full Utah Utes 2012 Team Preview

34. South Florida
Heading into its eighth Big East football season, South Florida remains on the clock. The Bulls haven’t seriously contended for a conference championship. For a change, no one is picking South Florida to win the Big East. Maybe the prognosticators don’t want to get fooled again by the Bulls. They have constantly teased throughout non-conference success, such as last season’s win at Notre Dame and a 4–0 start, only to fall flat during the Big East slate. South Florida’s progress will be predicated on quarterback B.J. Daniels’ consistency, better third down production and defensive improvement, particularly in the fourth quarter. In other words, all the elements that generally help to win games (or lose them).

Read the full South Florida Bulls 2012 Team Preview

35. Georgia Tech
A year ago, most predicted six or seven wins from a young team. The Yellow Jackets responded with eight, and it could have easily been 10. This season, nine wins and a strong shot at the ACC title are not unreasonable goals. The Jackets have experience and the sour taste of losses to rivals Virginia Tech and Georgia, as well as a seventh consecutive bowl loss, to drive them. If quarterback Tevin Washington and running back David Sims, in particular, can raise their level of play, and the defensive line delivers, there’s no reason they won’t be in the mix in the ACC.

Read the full Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 2012 Team Preview

Related College Football Content

Athlon's College Football Top 25 for 2012

<p> Athlon continues its release of 2012 preseason rankings with No. 26-35.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - 06:24
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-assistant-coach-hires-2012

The college football coaching carousel wasn't just busy among head coaches, as the assistant ranks saw plenty of changes as well. Changing coordinators or hiring a key positional coach can have a big impact on any team.

Athlon takes a look at the top coordinator hires for 2012:

Chuck Amato 
Defensive Coordinator, Akron

It’s not often that a school like Akron has an opportunity to bring in a coach with as much experience as Amato. The long-time Florida State defensive coordinator and one-time head coach at NC State has been out of coaching the past two seasons.

Matt Canada 
Offensive Coordinator, Wisconsin

Highly respected offensive coach returns to the Big Ten after spending the 2011 season as the coordinator at Northern Illinois. Prior to that, he was at Indiana, his alma mater, for seven seasons.

Jeff Casteel
Defensive Coordinator, Arizona

Casteel heads out West after 11 years at West Virginia, the last 10 as the Mountaineers’ defensive coordinator. He worked for new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez at WVU from 2001-07.

Billy Gonzales 
Co-Offensive Coordinator, Illinois

Regarded as a great recruiter, Gonzales spent the previous seven seasons in the SEC, two at LSU and five at Florida. He has nine years of experience working for Urban Meyer.

Tom Herman 
Offensive Coordinator, Ohio State

Rising star in the coaching world comes to Ohio State after a three-year stop as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Iowa State. Urban Meyer likely will call the plays, but Herman will be a key part of the Buckeyes’ staff.

Kliff Kingsbury 
Offensive Coordinator, Texas A&M

The first of Mike Leach’s record-setting quarterbacks at Texas Tech is one of the top young assistants in the game. He comes to College Station after a three-year stop at Houston.

Vic Koenning 
Defensive Coordinator, North Carolina

Well-traveled coordinator (and one-time head coach at Wyoming) lands at North Carolina after a two-year stop at Illinois. Has also been the defensive coordinator at Kansas State, Clemson, Troy and Wyoming.

Doug Martin 
Offensive Coordinator, Boston College

Martin, the former head coach at Kent State, did a tremendous job in his only season as the offensive coordinator at New Mexico State. The Aggies’ production improved from 15.7 points and 296.5 yards in 2010 to 24.5 and 398.1 in ’11.

Tyrone Nix
Defensive Coordinator, Middle Tennessee

Nix, a former defensive coordinator at Southern Miss, South Carolina and Ole Miss, is charged with turning around a defense that gave up 441.1 yards and 36.8 points per game in 2011.

Mike Nesbitt
Offensive Coordinator, Houston

A former punter at New Mexico, Nesbitt spent the 2011 season as the offensive coordinator at Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks ranked ninth in the FCS in total offense and 10th in scoring offense.

Paul Petrino 
Offensive Coordinator, Arkansas

Petrino returns to Fayetteville after a two-year stop as the offensive coordinator at Illinois. And now that his brother is no longer the boss at Arkansas, Petrino will have an opportunity to call the plays.

Nick Rolovich
Offensive Coordinator, Nevada

Rolovich, a former quarterback at Hawaii (2000-01), had been on the staff at his alma mater since 2008, the last three years as the offensive coordinator. He is now in the charge of the Wolf Pack’s Pistol offense.

Mark Snyder 
Defensive Coordinator, Texas A&M

Snyder’s run as the head coach at Marshall didn’t go too well (22–37, 2005-09), but he is a quality defensive coordinator who was on Jim Tressel’s staff at Ohio State from 2001-04.

Mike Stoops 
Defensive Coordinator, Oklahoma

Stoops returns to Oklahoma to serve on his brother’s staff after an eight-year run as the head coach at Arizona. The Sooners were 33–7 in the Big 12 during his first go-round in Norman, when he shared coordinator duties with Brent Venables. 

Chris Tormey 
Defensive Coordinator, Wyoming

Most recently the linebackers coach at Washington State, Tormey has nine years of experience as a head coach — Idaho (1995-99) and Nevada (2000-03). He is a perfect fit in Laramie.

Brian VanGorder
Defensive Coordinator, Auburn

VanGorder returns to the SEC after a seven-year absence. The former Georgia defensive coordinator spent the past five years with the Atlanta Falcons. He has plenty of talent to work with at Auburn.

Brent Venables 
Defensive Coordinator, Clemson

The Sooners’ defense wasn’t quite as formidable in recent seasons, but Venables has a great track record after more than a decade on Bob Stoops’ staff.

Justin Wilcox 
Defensive Coordinator, Washington

Rising star in the coaching ranks returns to the Pacific Northwest after a two-year stint as the defensive coordinator at Tennessee. Oregon grad previously served on Chris Petersen’s staff at Boise State. He has a big job: The Huskies were brutal on defense in 2011.

Related College Football Content

LSU or USC: Which Team Will Finish No. 1 as College Football's No. 1 Team?
ACC Expansion: No Buyer's Remorse

Athlon's Top 25 for 2012

<p> College football's top assistant coach hires for 2012.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - 06:21
All taxonomy terms: Dallas Cowboys, NFC, NFC East, NFL
Path: /nfl/dallas-cowboys-2012-schedule-analysis

Scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season. So the Athlon NFL editors will spend the next month dissecting each and every week of the 2012 slate for all 32 teams in the league.

Dallas Cowboys 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: at New York Giants (Wed.)
Week 2: at Seattle
Week 3: Tampa Bay
Week 4: Chicago (Mon.)
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: at Baltimore
Week 7: at Carolina
Week 8: New York Giants
Week 9: at Atlanta
Week 10: at Philadelphia
Week 11: Cleveland
Week 12: Washington (Thur.)
Week 13: Philadelphia
Week 14: at Cincinnati
Week 15: Pittsburgh
Week 16: New Orleans
Week 17: at Washington

Order your 2012 Dallas Cowboys Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- The season will get started with a bang as Dallas visits the defending champs on Wednesday night in the New Meadowlands. It’s a return to the scene of the 2011 season finale where the Giants crushed the Cowboys' postseason hopes in a 31-14 dismantling that eventually propelled the G-Men to a Super Bowl championship.

- The home and road splits for the Cowboys might be the most intriguing of any team in the league for 2012. First, Dallas will start with back-to-back road games over 3,000 miles apart. Of course, having the 11 days between games helps. Second, from Week 6 to Week 10, the Cowboys will play four road games in five weeks, including road trips to Baltimore, Atlanta and Phily. In fact, of Dallas’ first nine games, six will be played away from Cowboys Stadium.

- The script will be flipped in the second half, however, as Dallas gets plenty of home cooking after Week 9. The Cowboys will play five of their final seven games in Jerry’s Palace in Arlington. This slate includes brutal playoff-type games against Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Philadelphia as well as two rivalry games with Washington. This lopsided home-road slate seems unique to the Cowboys. Can we start the Roger Goodell is trying to get Dallas into the playoffs conspiracy talk?

- Within the NFC, the East will square-off with the South. Road trips to Carolina and Atlanta will be intriguing tests as both feature stellar quarterback play. Getting the Saints at home in Week 16 could easily decide a Wild Card spot as both should be fighting for a playoff berth. Tampa at home in Week 3 will be a welcome sight as it will be the home opener in 2012.

- In crossover play with the AFC, the Cowboys — and the rest of the East — catch no breaks by facing the AFC North. Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are all playoff teams from a year ago and Cleveland should be improved. The road trip to Baltimore in early October follows the bye and could be a classic bout while heading north to Cincinnati in December is always tricky. After surviving the elements in Cincy, the Cowboys welcome perennial Super Bowl contender Pittsburgh to town.

- The bye week, while possibly earlier than most coaches would prefer in Week 5, offers a perfect two-week prep time for one of the nastiest five-week stretches in all of the NFL. Dallas will play four road games in five weeks immediately following the off week. Oh, and the lone home game in that stretch? A visit from the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.

- The two floating games will be the road trip to Seattle and a primetime Monday night affair with Chicago. The Bears game could have long-reaching Wild Card implications while the road trip to Seattle will be a rematch of that infamous Tony Romo botched field goal.

Fantasy Focus: The home-road schedule is easily the biggest thing that stands out about the Cowboys' 2012 slate. If the 'Boys struggle in the first half, don't be scared to buy low as five of the final six games of the fantasy season (not counting Week 17) will be played on the fast track of Cowboys Stadium.


2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams

<br />
Post date: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Arizona Cardinals, NFC, NFC West, NFL
Path: /nfl/arizona-cardinals-2012-schedule-analysis

Scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season. So the Athlon NFL editors will spend the next month dissecting each and every week of the 2012 slate for all 32 teams in the league.

Arizona Cardinals 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: Seattle
Week 2: at New England
Week 3: Philadelphia
Week 4: Miami
Week 5: at St. Louis (Thurs.)
Week 6: Buffalo
Week 7: at Minnesota
Week 8: San Francisco (Mon.)
Week 9: at Green Bay
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: at Atlanta
Week 12: St. Louis
Week 13: at New York Jets
Week 14: at Seattle
Week 15: Detroit
Week 16: Chicago
Week 17: at San Francisco

Order your 2012 Arizona Cardinals Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- Arizona must survive its early schedule because six of the Cardinals' toughest games will come after Week 7. After opening with NFC West foe Seattle at home, the Cardinals have to make the long trip east to face New England on its home turf and then turn back around and host Philadelphia at home. 

- The Cardinals' next four games are manageable as they will take on two other AFC East teams — Miami and Buffalo —  at home along with trips to St. Louis and Minnesota. If Arizona can find a way to win three out of these four, that would go a long ways towards possibly making something out of the 2012 season.

- After the Week 7 date in Minnesota, Arizona's schedule really begins to toughen up. The first of two extremely difficult three-game stretches opens with a Monday nighter against defending NFC West champions San Francisco, followed by a trip to Green Bay. The Cardinals will get to lick their wounds come Week 10 during their bye week, but it's back on the road that next week in Atlanta. 

- The fact that Arizona gets both the AFC East and NFC North as its round-robin opposition this season does them no favors, but when you add floating games against the Eagles and Falcons, it could be argued that the Cardinals have one of the toughest non-divisional slates this season of any team in the NFL.

- Starting in Week 12, Arizona reacquaints itself with division rivals Seattle and St. Louis, sandwiched around its final AFC East match up, a road game in New York against the Jets. After that it's a brutal three-game stretch to conclude the regular season. The Cardinals get NFC North members Detroit and Chicago back-to-back at home before finishing on the road against the 49ers in San Francisco.

- With a schedule like this, .500 would be a reasonable goal for the season. Anything above that, especially a playoff berth, would be considered quite the accomplishment for head coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff.

Fantasy Focus: Larry Fitzgerald is already one of the top wide recievers in the NFL, as he's posted five straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Arizona drafted Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd in the first round in this year's draft, hoping to pair the rookie with the All-Pro and form one of the league's deadliest pass-catching duos. The good news for both Fitzgerald and Floyd is that there should be plenty of opportunities to do some damage this season. Nine of Arizona's 2012 opponents ranked among the top half of teams in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers in 2011. New England gave up the most, followed by Minnesota and Green Bay. Detroit, Chicago, Miami, St. Louis, Atlanta and San Francisco also finished among the top 16 teams in this category. And remember, the Cardinals play the Rams and 49ers twice.

— by Mark Ross, published on June 6, 2012

2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams

<p> Arizona Cardinals 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - 05:00
Path: /nascar/repaves-suspensions-preludes-and-nascar-tnt

It’s rare that most NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers will agree on something, but many share similar opinions of what it will be like this weekend to race on Pocono’s newly repaved surface.

“I am nervous as can be ... because I have no idea what to expect,” points leader Greg Biffle said, a comment echoed by others.

NASCAR is giving teams two extra days at the track with testing Wednesday and Thursday. Thus, Cup teams will be there five days.

“I’m not real excited about being up there that long,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “I don’t think anybody is to be honest with you. That’s the schedule and we’ll go up there and just run around in circles.

“We’ve got two race cars in the trailer, and we’ll try to not tear either one of them up before the race starts. I’m looking forward to the new surface and seeing what the track is like. I know NASCAR is wanting to get enough rubber down so we have a good race. That’s really the reason why we are going for so long, to really avoid any kind of debacle with rubbering the track down. There’s really no other excuse for being there the entire week.”

Denny Hamlin, who has four wins in 12 starts at Pocono, admits his advantage is gone with the repave.

"I'm going to approach Pocono like it’s an entirely different race track that I've never been on because basically it will be,” Hamlin said. “We've gone through a lot of rule changes and surface changes at that track every time that we've gone back and so it's going to be another element that's changed.

“Kind of talking to the guys that have ran there, it's going to be interesting to see what tire that they brought back. Any advantage I thought I might have had at Pocono has obviously disappeared at this point. I go there with a lot of optimism that it's just a brand new track for everyone and it's going to be the first one to figure it out wins."

This is the first of back-to-back weekends at tracks that have been repaved. The series heads to Michigan next week where speeds were up dramatically during a Goodyear tire test last month.

The next two weeks could shuffle the standings as some teams figure out how to run well on the repaved tracks and some don’t.

CHANGING SEATS  With NASCAR suspending Kurt Busch for a week, it’s created a driver shuffle. David Reutimann will drive in place of Busch for car owner James Finch’s team this weekend at Pocono.

Dave Blaney will move over and drive the No. 10 car for Tommy Baldwin Racing with Tony Raines driving the No. 36 car for Baldwin’s team.

PRESSURE? WHAT PRESSURE?  Joey Logano was asked Tuesday during a teleconference with media if he felt more pressure this year than other years since his contract ends after this season.

“There’s pressure all the time, so whether it’s a contract year or not, you’re always out there to do the same thing,” Logano said. “For me, I’m out there to win every race. That doesn’t change from what it was this year to three years ago. There’s no added pressure to that. Is there something extra on your mind? Yeah, there’s something extra on your mind that you’ve got to figure out before the season’s over.

“At the same time, you go out there and focus on your job. My job is to win races. As long as I do that, all of that will come together pretty easily.”

NEW CHANNEL  Dover marked the final Cup broadcast of the season for FOX. TNT will take over beginning this weekend at Pocono and will broadcast the next six Cup races. ESPN/ABC take over at Indianapolis in late July and will broadcast the rest of the Cup season.

Adam Alexander returns as TNT’s lead announcer with Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach again joining him in the booth as analysts. Alexander also will take over pre-race show duties.

Larry McReynolds will join Alexander and Petty on the pre-race show. TNT’s pit road reporters will be Ralph Sheheen, Marty Snider, Matt Youcum and Chris Neville.

Also back is TNT’s RaceBuddy on It will provide eight different camera views and two mosaic screens. also will offer a post-race show with the TNT announcers.

Once again, TNT’s Wide Open coverage of the July Daytona race returns. It will provide race coverage without national commercial breaks.

A new element this season is a segment titled “NASCAR Generations’’ that will be a part of the pre-race show. Alexander will host the segment and be joined by Jimmie Johnson, Ned Jarrett, Bill Elliott, Petty and McReynolds. They’ll discuss the different eras of the sport.

“I think when you look at NASCAR coverage, it’s difficult to find something new because of the length of the season,” Alexander said. “I think we’ve hit on something this year that hasn’t been done that will be very enlightening for fans who have latched on to the sport in recent years, dating back to fans who have followed it for 50 years.”

PRELUDE TO THE DREAM  Tony Stewart’s annual dirt late model charity race at Eldora Speedway is Wednesday night. Among the Cup drivers scheduled to race with Stewart are Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, defending event winner Clint Bowyer, Bobby Labonte and Kurt Busch. The field also includes Austin and Ty Dillon, Danica Patrick, IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan along with World of Outlaw drivers Steve Kinser and Donny Schatz and NHRA drivers Ron Capps and Cruz Pedregon.

The event will be shown on HBO Pay-Per-View and cost of $24.95. The commercial-free broadcast begins at 8 p.m. EST. Instructions on how to order the event can be found here. Net proceeds from the charity event will benefit Feed The Children.

by Dustin Long
Follow Dustin on Twitter: @DustinLong

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long talks Prelude to the Dream, the Pocono repave, Kurt Busch's suspension and Joey Logano's contract.</p> <p> <br /> <br />  </p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 21:39
All taxonomy terms: kate upton, Overtime
Path: /overtime/kate-uptons-new-bikini-clad-beach-bunny-photoshoot-video

Kate Upton has a new behind-the-scenes bikini video for her latest photoshoot for Beach Bunny swimwear. And yes, it is spectacular. Check out the video below and enjoy some shots of Upton on the beach. 

Post date: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 16:24
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-usc-no-1-2012-preseason-top-25-poll

Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, continues the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at The countdown commences every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To celebrate the USC Trojans being named No. 1, will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Lane Kiffin’s USC Trojans conclude the countdown at No. 1 with seven preseason All-Americans and 13 players selected as All-Pac-12 performers. Athlon Sports predicts USC will finish first in the Pac-12’s Southern Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Heisman candidate Matt Barkley and the nation's best set of receivers have USC looking like the top team in the country,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “The Trojans have talent throughout the roster, and they are the favorite to win the Pac-12 and compete for a national title.”

Seven USC standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with quarterback Matt Barkley, wide receiver Robert Woods and defensive back T.J. McDonald being voted to the first team. Offensive lineman Khaled Holmes and defensive back Nickell Robey were named to the second team, and wide receiver Marqise Lee and linebacker Dion Bailey made the third team. In addition, the Trojans quarterbacks and wide receivers units were ranked No. 1 nationally. The offensive line was rated No. 4 in the country and best in the Pac-12, while the defensive backs group was tabbed No. 6 in the nation and tops in the conference.

Thirteen Trojans earned preseason All-Pac-12 honors, including Barkley, Woods, McDonald, Holmes, Robey, Bailey, offensive lineman Kevin Graf, defensive lineman Wes Horton and kicker Andre Heidari on the first team. Lee and linebacker Hayes Pullard were named to the second team, while offensive lineman Marcus Martin and defensive lineman Devon Kennard garnered third-team honors.

USC Team Preview

USC's Top 10 Players of 2012

USC’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 * analysis of college football preseason publications.

<p> <strong style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; text-align: -webkit-left; background-color: rgb(249, 249, 249); "><span style="font-family: verdana, geneva; font-size: 11pt; ">Athlon Sports Names USC No. 1 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></strong></p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 09:24
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-lsu-no-2-2012-preseason-top-25-poll

Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, continues the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at The countdown commences every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To celebrate the LSU Tigers being named No. 2, will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Les Miles’ LSU Tigers continue the countdown at No. 2 with seven preseason All-Americans and 11 players selected as All-SEC performers. Athlon Sports predicts LSU will finish first in the SEC’s Western Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“The power running game and a nasty defense will lead the Tigers once again this season,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “As long as the passing game is sound, LSU will be the team to beat in the SEC.”

Seven LSU standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with offensive lineman Alex Hurst, defensive lineman Sam Montgomery, defensive back Eric Reid, punter Brad Wing and punt returner Tyrann Mathieu being voted to the first team. Mathieu was also named to the second team at defensive back along with offensive lineman Chris Faulk, and defensive lineman Bennie Logan made the third team.  In addition, the Tigers running backs unit and defensive line were ranked No. 1 nationally. The defensive backs unit was rated No. 2 in the country and best in the SEC, while the offensive line was tabbed No. 2 in the nation.

Eleven Tigers earned preseason All-SEC honors, including Hurst, Montgomery, Reid, Wing, defensive lineman Barkevious Mingo and Mathieu at both defensive back and punt returner on the first team. Faulk, Logan, defensive back Tharold Simon and kicker Drew Alleman made the second team, while wide receiver Odell Beckham garnered third-team honors.

LSU Team Preview

LSU's Top 10 Players of 2012

LSU’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 * analysis of college football preseason publications.

<p> <strong><span>Athlon Sports Names LSU No. 2 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></strong></p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 09:21
All taxonomy terms: College Football, USC Trojans, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/usc-football-depth-trojans-biggest-hurdle-national-title-2012

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 1 USC. The Trojans are off probation and hungry to return to national prominence. 

Is Depth USC's Biggest Hurdle to a National Title in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The biggest obstacle for USC’s title run is probably the presumptive SEC team waiting for the Trojans in the national championship game. Or at least Oregon on Nov. 3. USC’s frontline talent is second to none, but after that, USC may have some trouble. Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee probably will be everyone’s favorite passing trio, but after that the Trojans are awfully young. The same is true at running back. Curtis McNeal was fantastic over the second half of the season, but there’s not much behind him. Lane Kiffin has excelled in making the most of his limited signing classes. Just about everyone here was a four- or five-star recruit, but it’s all quality and not much quantity. Somewhere, the lack of depth is going to catch up to USC this season. There’s no telling if it’s going to hit an area where USC could take a hit or if at a spot where it would be a crippling blow to the season.

The area where USC could have the most trouble is on the defensive line. The Trojans are young, inexperienced and thin here, especially at defensive tackle. If we’ve learned one thing over the past few years, the key to winning a title -- and beating Oregon under Chip Kelly -- is strong play at defensive tackle. USC is counting on sophomores and freshmen to fill out this position. That may be the Trojans’ downfall. Perhaps they’ll find an answer by the time they face the Ducks in November. That’s the storyline I’m watching as USC tries to end the SEC’s dominance in the title game.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Large hurdles are a part of any historic national championship run in college football. Having to defeat Oregon — a team that has lost four regular season games in three years — twice in one year will be a tall order. But both of those could come at home. Tricky road trips to Stanford, Washington and Utah, combined with Notre Dame at home, also could provide some interesting moments this fall. But USC's biggest obstacle to winning a BCS National Championship will be its defensive line and overall lack of depth.

In the Pac-12, the loaded back-seven of the Trojans' defense should be plenty capable of winning games. With the firepower on offense, limiting the opposition to 21-24 points per game will be more than enough to win the West Coast crown. Stopping the run won't be imperative to winning a conference title. However, the defensive line is rebuilt with three new starters and will feature five underclassmen in the seven-man rotation. Stopping the ground game, oh say, against an SEC team with a power rushing attack that would make Lombardi giggle with joy, will be the deciding factor in the 2012 BCS National Championship game.

USC is loaded for bear on offense, has an awesome coaching staff and a manageable schedule, but any sort of key injuries could completely derail a deep title run. And in a one-game situation, I have major concerns about the young and inexperienced defensive line getting stops against the likes of Barrett Jones, D.J. Fluker, Chris Faulk or Alex Hurst. 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Trojans are finally off of probation and are hungry to return to national prominence. There’s no question USC has one of the best starting lineups in the nation, but depth is an issue thanks to NCAA sanctions. It’s nearly impossible to make it through a full season without a significant injury, which is why depth has to be giving Lane Kiffin a few offseason nightmares.

As long as quarterback Matt Barkley and receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee stay healthy, the Trojans will be one of college football’s top scoring teams. However, there are reasons to be concerned on offense. Depth at running back is perilously thin, especially with the loss of Tre Madden in spring workouts with a knee injury. If Curtis McNeal is forced to miss any significant time, there is very little experience behind him. The offensive line has one of the best returning groups in the nation, but will miss left tackle Matt Kalil. Aundrey Walker appears capable of filling in on the left side, but true freshmen will be in the two-deep this fall.

The biggest concern for USC has to be the depth on the defensive line. Nick Perry and Christian Tupou are gone, but the Trojans return Wes Horton, Devon Kennard and George Uko. After those three, coordinator Monte Kiffin will have to rely on talented freshmen Leonard Williams and Greg Townsend, along with inexperienced sophomore Antwaun Woods for depth.

USC could certainly dodge a major injury throughout all of 2012, but this is a team that can’t afford to get into a 60-minute battle in the trenches. If the Trojans play for the national championship, facing off against LSU or Alabama would be a difficult matchup. Both teams are strong on the lines, which can exploit USC’s biggest weakness.

Expect the Trojans to try to jump on teams early, while relying on Barkley and the passing attack to light up the scoreboard. USC could be involved in several shootouts this year, but that formula is more than enough to make a trip to play for the national title.

Mark Ross
Barring injuries at a few key positions, most notably quarterback, I think USC has more than enough depth to do what it needs to do to get to the national title game. Let's face it, if Matt Barkley goes down to injury, the Trojans' title hopes probably go with him.

That said, I think USC's biggest obstacle to the national title game is whichever team it ends up playing in the Pac-12 Championship game. The contenders out of the Pac-12 North figure to be Oregon, Stanford and Washington (not necessarily in that order), and USC will have to play each of them in the regular season before facing the division winner again in the conference title game.

It's not easy to beat the same team twice in one season, just ask last year's LSU team, and obviously in the conference title game, the stakes are even higher. It's entirely possible for USC to lose one game in the regular season and make it to the national title game (see Alabama, 2011).

If the Trojans go undefeated in the regular season only to lose in the Pac-12 Championship Game, however, I think the chances of them following the same path that Alabama took to the BCS title last season are very slim. For the Trojans to lose in the final week of the BCS standings and still finish ahead of not only its own conference winner, but also the conference winners from the other Big Six conferences, not to mention the other top teams, and still finish in the top two of the BCS standings seems highly improbable, at least to me. What happened last year with Alabama and LSU is the exception, not the norm, in my opinion.

USC needs to do what every other team with national title aspirations needs to do - win. If the Trojans take care of business in the regular season AND Pac-12 Championship Game, then I fully expect to see them play on Jan. 7 in Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., for the BCS National Championship.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Yes, depth is definitely the top concern that would prevent USC from playing for a national title. The talent on the Trojans roster is elite, and the schedule is not easy but it’s very manageable. The SC offense is loaded, led by Heisman frontrunner Matt Barkley at quarterback and the best receivers unit in the country. Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, George Farmer and tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble should all be solid targets for Barkley, who will be protected by the Pac-12’s best offensive line. Tailback Curtis McNeal returns after a 1,000-yard campaign, but the depth at running back is a major concern. Tre Madden (season-ending knee injury) and Amir Carlisle (transfer) are out, and D.J. Morgan played sparingly last season.

The Trojans defense has a stellar back seven, including All-America candidates like T.J. McDonald, Nickell Robey and Dion Bailey. However, the top question mark for Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron will be the line. Ends Wes Horton and Devon Kennard will be solid, but there is a ton of inexperience with young defensive tackles George Uko, J.R. Tavai and Antwaun Woods. Those players have talent, but depth could be a huge issue with the line rotation.

USC opponents Oregon, Stanford and Notre Dame have questions at quarterback, and the Trojans should be the favorite in every game on their schedule. If the Men of Troy stay healthy while the young prospects develop, they should win the Pac-12 crown and compete for a national title.

Related USC Content

USC Trojans 2012 Team Preview
USC Trojans Top 10 Players for 2012

Jokes About USC Rivals
Top 10 Greatest USC Trojans Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in USC Football History

USC Cheerleader Gallery

<p> Is Depth USC's Biggest Obstacle to a National Title in 2012?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 05:28
All taxonomy terms: College Football, LSU Tigers, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/lsu-football-les-miles-one-college-footballs-best-coaches

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 2 LSU. The Tigers are coming off a disappointing performance in the national title game, but the roster returns nearly intact.

Is Les Miles One of College Football's Best Coaches?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
For a few months in 2011, it was not fashionable to dump on Les Miles. For the first time since Miles arrived at LSU, even the skeptics had to watch Miles as the Tigers beat Oregon, West Virginia, Arkansas and Alabama (the first time around) and relent that maybe Miles is more than just a lucky eccentric with heaps of talent. Then came the drubbing in the national championship game, and Miles’ star fell from elite coach to simply very good. The 21-0 loss in the title game and how woefully underprepared LSU was in that game remains a mark against Miles. But shouldn’t we at least consider that Nick Saban is just in a league of his own, especially in these revenge situations? After all, no one seemed to hold it against Urban Meyer when the Tide answered Florida’s 31-20 SEC championship victory in 2009 with a 32-13 drubbing in the rematch a year later.

While there may be better coaches than Miles in the SEC -- if Bobby Petrino were still at Arkansas, there were at least two better in the West alone -- Miles is a top-10 coach nationally. We can chuckle as Miles sometimes struggles to put together coherent sentences in front of the cameras. We can deride him as lucky on fourth-down attempts or fake kicks. We can say it would be tough to lose with that much talent on defense. All of which may be true, but we’re talking about a coach who hasn’t had a losing season since his first at Oklahoma State and has led LSU to a top-10 finish in five of the last seven seasons. (Funny, though, how Saban seems to get a ton credit for setting the table for Miles at LSU while Miles gets none of the credit for setting the table at Oklahoma State for Mike Gundy). Miles will always be in the shadow of Saban, but so are 123 FBS coaches right now. Take Miles on his own merits and he’s clearly a top-10 coach.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Define 'best?' Is Les Miles one of the top 10 coaches in the nation? Absolutely not. Is he one of college football's better coaches who is capable of winning a whole lot of games? Yes. Miles took the foundation that Nick Saban laid and maintained an elite level of success with four 10-win seasons in six years. With a national title, multiple SEC titles and various national awards, the resume is about as complete as it gets nationally. He certainly is a character whose personality wins over players and leads to massive success on the recruiting trail. Having built arguably the best roster in America, The Hat has a reputation based on energy, flamboyance, swagger and an uncanny ability to entertain.

However, he has also developed another reputation based on bizarre eating habits, poor end-game management, vocal gaffes, and now, the worst BCS performance in the series' 14-year history. Questions about his teams’ mental focus, discipline and overall ability to adjust were beginning to subside after the 13-0 romp through the regular season last fall. However, those issues resurfaced after the most under-prepared, poorly managed title game of the BCS era. Relatively speaking, Miles is one of the better coaches in the nation. But in the Southeast, the stakes — and standards — are higher (sometimes unfairly so), and after LSU became the first and only two-loss team to win a BCS title, that team from Tuscaloosa has clearly been the best program in the SEC. Miles has lost 12 games in four years, and with what could be perceived as the best roster in the nation, three losses per season cannot be perceived as the "best in the nation."

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
When it comes to ranking college football coaches, Les Miles is perhaps one of the most polarizing points of discussion. He has amassed a 75-18 record in seven seasons in Baton Rouge and led LSU to three BCS bowl appearances. In addition to his success with the Tigers, Miles does not get enough credit for his tenure at Oklahoma State. He inherited a team that won 13 games from 1998-2000, but led the Cowboys to at least seven victories in three out of his four years in Stillwater.

Despite his success with Oklahoma State and LSU, Miles still has plenty of detractors. His 17-9 record from 2008-09 was surprising for the recruiting classes he has amassed in Baton Rouge, while there have been some questionable game management situations throughout his tenure. Miles’ team was also embarrassed mightily in the national championship game against Alabama.

Is Les Miles the best coach when it comes to developing gameplans? Probably not. But he can certainly recruit and his players love playing for him. Nick Saban sets the bar high for the rest of the coaches in the SEC, so it’s impossible for Miles or any other coach to challenge him for the No. 1 coach spot in college football.

Miles can be a little wacky at times, but let’s give him some credit for going 75-18 in seven seasons. I wouldn’t place him among my top five coaches in the nation, but Miles probably gets too much criticism and not enough credit for his success at LSU.

Mark Ross
I will admit I am not a Les Miles fan and generally would be the last to defend him. However, in this case, I think we need to give the "Mad Hatter" his due. Love him or loathe him, the man has won 103 games in 12 seasons as a head coach. He went 28-21 in four seasons at Oklahoma State, which may not seem like much, but remember this was before the Mike Gundy era, which has produced the most successful football seasons in Cowboys' history.

He took over at LSU in 2005 and all he did was win 34 games in his first three seasons including a the BCS National Championship in 2007. He took the Tigers back to the national title game last season, and yes they laid an absolute egg in losing ugly to Alabama, but that was still the only game they lost all season. Bottom line is he's 75-18 in seven seasons in the Bayou with two SEC titles and one national title on his resume.

Miles may not be one of top tacticians in college football and he has certainly made his share of game management errors. He also may not be the smartest guy in the room, although you can bet he's usually one of the more quotable ones.

However, he's also never had a losing season, won more than 72 percent of the games he has coached in his career and has done so in two BCS conferences, including the SEC, the nation's toughest. Most importantly, he's one of six current head coaches who have won a national championship. Put it all together and I think we should all give a tip of the hat to Miles, one of college football's top head coaches.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Absolutely. Many critics around the college football world will focus on Miles’ funny quotes, grass-eating or the bad game plan against Alabama in the national championship, but his accomplishments in Baton Rouge are on an elite level. The Mad Hatter has gone 75-18 in seven seasons at LSU, winning 11 games or more five times and going 5-2 in bowl games. Miles has one national title and two SEC Championships in Baton Rouge, and he owns 13 victories over coaches who have won a national title.

Obviously LSU has a ton of tradition and a fertile recruiting base, but Miles’ track record in seven seasons stacks up with any of the past Tigers coaches. One underrated aspect of his teams is their physical nature with the running game and defense. That attitude to punish opponents into submission does not just happen — it starts with the head coach. Even though the Tigers lost in the BCS title game last season, they did win at Alabama, smacked around the Pac-12 and Big East champions and blew out 10-win teams in Georgia and Arkansas. Those feats require more than just talent on the roster. While his entertaining personality on and off the field gets a lot of attention, Les Miles has proven to be one of the best coaches in college football.

Related LSU Content

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LSU Cheerleader Gallery

<p> Is Les Miles one of college football's best coaches?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 05:23
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC North, Baltimore Ravens, NFL
Path: /nfl/baltimore-ravens-2012-schedule-analysis

Scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season. So the Athlon NFL editors will spend the next month dissecting each and every week of the 2012 slate for all 32 teams in the league.

Baltimore Ravens 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: Cincinnati (Mon.)
Week 2: at Philadelphia
Week 3: New England
Week 4: Cleveland (Thur.)
Week 5: at Kansas City
Week 6: Dallas
Week 7: at Houston
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: at Cleveland
Week 10: Oakland
Week 11: at Pittsburgh
Week 12: at San Diego
Week 13: Pittsburgh
Week 14: at Washington
Week 15: Denver
Week 16: New York Giants
Week 17: at Cincinnati

Order your 2012 Baltimore Ravens Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- The first three weeks of the 2012 season will be difficult for the Ravens to say the least. The year gets cranked up with a primetime Monday night affair with playoff team and division rival Cincinnati before a road trip to Phily and a home game against the New England Patriots. All three passing games should challenge the young corners and aging safeties of the Ravens. The good news? Three of the first four games of the year will come at home.

- Within the division, the Ravens' slate is somewhat unorthodox. Two of the first four games of the year will be home division games to be played on days other than Sunday. The Bengals' opener is on Monday night while the Week 4 contest against Cleveland is on Thursday night. That creates a very quick turn around after having to battle Tom Brady. It also means that four of the final six divisional games will be on the road, including the season finale against the Bengals. The season series with arch-rival Pittsburgh will also be intriguing. These two play some of the best games each and every year and Baltimore will face the Steelers twice in three weeks as the calendar flips to December. Making matters worse is a long road trip to San Diego slapped in between the two AFC North bouts.

- In NFC play, the Ravens will face the NFC East, creating more than one interesting match-up. The road game against the Eagles will be tough sandwiched between two key AFC contests. The Cowboys will come to town in mid-October. Baltimore also gets to welcome the defending Super Bowl champs to town in Week 16. And lastly, an inter-regional battle along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway should be fun for both fan bases. There are more than plenty juicy storylines in this round robin.

- In the AFC, Baltimore will play the AFC West this year. A raod trip to Kansas City and a home test against Oakland look like wins for the Ravens. The Broncos game at M&T Bank could be a Wildcard showdown in Week 15. And the extremely taxing cross-country trip to visit the always tricky Chargers is amplified by the fact that the Ravens must face the Steelers the week prior to and following the trip to San Diego. Both divisional rotations should provide some fireworks for the Ravens.

- The two floating games in 2012 are about as brutal as possible. New England and Houston could be considered the two favorites in the AFC this season and both are eyeing first-round byes. And Baltimore will have to face both — one at home (NE, Week 3) and one on the road (HOU, Week 7). Luckily, the Ravens get a much-needed off week following the trip down to Houston. In fact, the Week 8 bye falls nearly perfectly in the middle of the season and comes on the heels of one of the tougher seven-game stretches to open the season.

- Three of the last five games, all against major playoff contenders, will come at home.

Fantasy Focus: The Ravens DEF/ST used to be utterly unstoppable. While the unit has aged in recent years, it still will be one of the higher drafted DSTs of this year. But don’t bank on big numbers until after the bye week. Michael Vick, Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub and Andy Dalton will all take aim at the Ravens' secondary in the first seven weeks. But after the break, the Ravens will have six straight quality match-ups to finish the fantasy regular season. Look to buy low with this unit at midseason.


2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams

<p> Baltimore Ravens 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 03:05
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, Buffalo Bills, NFL
Path: /nfl/buffalo-bills-2012-schedule-analysis

Scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season. So the Athlon NFL editors will spend the next month dissecting each and every week of the 2012 slate for all 32 teams in the league.

Buffalo Bills 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: at New York Jets
Week 2: Kansas City
Week 3: at Cleveland
Week 4: New England
Week 5: at San Francisco
Week 6: at Arizona
Week 7: Tennessee
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: at Houston
Week 10: at New England
Week 11: Miami (Thurs.)
Week 12: at Indianapolis
Week 13: Jacksonville
Week 14: St. Louis
Week 15: Seattle (in Toronto)
Week 16: at Miami
Week 17: New York Jets

Order your 2012 Buffalo Bills Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- Buffalo's offseason priority was to beef up its defense, which finished last season ranked 26th in total defense. The Bills addressed that side of the ball through both free agency (Mario Williams, James Anderson) and the draft (first-round CB Stephon Gillmore), and the first four games of the 2012 season — at New York Jets, vs. Kansas City, at Cleveland, vs. New England — should be a good barometer as to how far this defense has come.

- Buffalo was 28th out of 32 teams in rush defense last season and the Bills' first three games of the 2012 season are against three teams that figure to run the ball a lot. First, it's the season opener on the road against the Jets, a team that has said it will return to its "ground and pound" ways of running the ball, followed by hosting Kansas City and then a trip to Cleveland. The Chiefs' backfield will feature both Jamaal Charles, who finished second in the NFL with 1,467 yards rushing in 2010 before tearing his ACL in Week 1 of last year, and former Cleveland Brown Peyton Hillis, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards in 2010. Then there's this season's version of the Browns, whose backfield now includes 2012 No. 3 overall pick Trent Richardson.

- After those three rush-oriented teams, the Bills will see how their new pass rush, highlighted by the additions of Williams and Anderson, and remade secondary fares against Tom Brady and the Patriots' aerial attack. Then it's a trip out west to face San Francisco, the first of Buffalo's four games against the NFC West.

- The Bills also will play all four teams from the AFC South as its AFC round-robin opponents this season. They begin that quarter of games by hosting Tennessee at home in Week 7, their last game before their bye week.

- The bye falls at a good time for Buffalo in a couple of respects. First, coming in Week 8, that means that the Bills only have to play nine straight games to close out the season. More importantly, the Bills get a week to prepare for their first two games after the bye — at Houston and home to New England. Besides representing Williams' first game at Reliant Stadium not in a Texans' uniform, the match up with the defending AFC South champs will be another good test for the Bills' revamped defense. This time the task will be to try to slow down Houston's Arian Foster, who has rushed for more than 2,800 yards in the last two seasons combined. Further, if the Bills have any hopes of battling for a playoff spot in 2012, they will more than likely need to beat the Patriots at least once. This game will be at home, which is where Buffalo defeated New England last season in Week 3.

- Following their Week 10 date with New England, the Bills' schedule eases up quite a bit. Buffalo ends the season with five home games, including the Week 15 match up with Seattle in Toronto, and just two on the road— at Indianapolis in Week 12 and at Miami in Week 16. Besides the Seahawks, the Bills will host the Dolpins on Thursday night in Week 11, as well as the Jaguars and Rams in Weeks 13-14 before ending the regular season against the Jets. If the Bills are able to manage the first nine games of their schedule and capitalize on the latter part, they could be in the thick of the playoff hunt in late December, meaning those final two division games against the Dolphins and Jets could be huge.

Fantasy Focus: The Bills' defense will feature a lot of new faces this season and if the new personnel is able to adapt to coordinator Dave Wannstedt's scheme, it could be a surprise fantasy contributor in 2012. For one, the Bills finished near the bottom of the league in terms of sacks, a number that should improve with the addition of Mario Williams and James Anderson. Also, the Bills' schedule features 10 games against teams whose offensive skill positions (QB, RB, WR, TE) ranked in the lower half of the league in 2011 in fantasy points scored. Jacksonville finished last, followed by St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Kansas City. San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, and Arizona also finished in the bottom half. In fact, the only one of Buffalo's 2012 opponents to not rank lower than 12th in terms of fantasy points scored by offensive skill position players last season is New England, who fninshed third overall.

— by Mark Ross, published on June 5, 2012

2012 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis:

AFC East
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams

<p> Buffalo Bills 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 03:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, jokes
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-usc-rivals

Here are some of our favorite jokes about USC's biggest rivals.

• What does a UCLA fan do when the Bruins win the BCS championship?
He turns off the PlayStation.

• A man in a bar leans over to the guy next to him and asks, "Wanna hear an Arizona State joke?" The guy next to him replies, "Look, fella, I'm six feet tall, 200 pounds, and I'm an Arizona State grad. The guy next to me is 6-2, 225, and he's an Arizona State grad. The big dude next to him is 6-5, weighs 250, and he's an Arizona State grad. You still wanna tell that joke?" The first man replies: "Not if I'm gonna have to explain it three times."

• What do you call a Bruin in a BCS bowl game?
A referee.

• Did you hear that UCLA's football team doesn't have a website?
The Bruins can't string three "Ws" together.

• How does a UCLA fan count to 10?
0-1, 0-2, 0-3, 0-4….

• Why is Notre Dame replacing the turf in its stadium with cardboard?
The Irish always look better on paper.

• What do you call a beautiful woman on the arm of a Notre Dame fan?
A Tattoo.

• The Foo Fighters are playing at the Rose Bowl this fall.
They're 10-point favorites.

• You know you’re from Oregon if:
You’ve ever climbed a water tower with a bucket of paint to defend your sister’s honor.

• Things you will never hear an Arizona State fan say:
I have reviewed your application.

Related USC Content

USC Trojans 2012 Team Preview
USC Trojans Top 10 Players for 2012

Is Depth USC's Biggest Obstacle to a National Title?

Top 10 Greatest USC Trojans Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in USC Football History

USC Cheerleader Gallery

Post date: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 02:41
All taxonomy terms: College Football, jokes
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-lsu-rivals

Here are some of our favorite jokes about LSU's biggest rivals.

• What happens when Nick Saban takes Viagra?
He gets taller.

• How many Alabama football players does it take to change a light bulb?
Just one, but he gets four academic credits for it.

• What does the average Alabama football player get on his SAT?

• Did you hear about the new honor system at Alabama?
Yes, your Honor. No, your Honor.

• How does an Ole Miss fan count to 10?
0-1, 0-2, 0-3, 0-4…

• How many Crimson Tide fans does it take to change a flat tire?
Just one . . . unless it’s a blowout, then they all show up!

• What do Alabama fans use for birth control?
Their personalities.

• Did you hear what happened to the Arkansas fan when he found out that 90% of all car accidents occur within five miles of home?
He moved.

• How do you get an Mississippi State graduate off your front porch?
You pay for the pizza.

• You know you’re from Alabama if:
Someone asks to see your ID and you show them your belt buckle. 

Post date: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 02:36
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/mlb-draft-all-time-best-picks-each-round

With the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft underway this evening, we decided to take a look back through history at the top picks at each slot, from 1 to 50. There are some Hall of Famers on the list, but some had to be left out. And there are a few slots that will probably make you scratch your head and ask, “Who’s that guy?”

50—Dennis Eckersley, Cleveland, 1972

Became a Hall of Fame closer with Oakland after a 150-win career as a starter. The Indians received Bo Diaz and Rick Wise from Boston among others for Eck in a 1978 trade.


49—Carlos Beltran, Kansas City, 1995

Rookie of the Year for the Royals; too bad they couldn’t afford to keep him.


48—Cal Ripken, Baltimore, 1978

Seven shortstops were drafted ahead of Cal in 1978, including Buddy Biancalana, Lenny Faedo and Rex Hudler. Evidently, the Orioles thought more of Robert Boyce, Larry Sheets and Edwin Hook, who were drafted ahead of the Iron Man.


47—Tom Glavine, Atlanta, 1984

Five high school hurlers were selected ahead of Glavine, including Greg Maddux. Glavine wore his draft slot number on his back for 305 major league wins with the Braves and Mets. An Atlanta legend.


46—Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia, 1995

Two years before taking Rollins at No. 46, the Phillies grabbed Scott Rolen with the same number. Give Rollins the edge here due to loyalty to the franchise. He has meant more to the Phillies than Rolen. The Brewers nabbed Yovani Gallardo here in 2004. He may replace Rollins on this list someday.


45—Tom Gorzelanny, Pittsburgh, 2003

So, what did you expect? Gerald Laird? Jed Lowrie? You find a better guy.


44—Joey Votto, Cincinnati, 2002

There were no good options at No. 44 until Votto showed up in 2002. He rewarded the Reds with an MVP in 2010 and likely will win another.


43—Bob Knepper, San Francisco, 1972

Knepper won 47 games for the Giants before being traded to Houston for Enos Cabell. I guess the Giants wish they had taken Eckersley with this pick, you think?


42—Dennis Leonard, Kansas City, 1972

As tempting as it was to put Mookie Wilson here, we just couldn’t ignore Leonard’s 144 wins for the Royals during their glory years in 1970s. The three-time 20-game winner played his entire career in Kansas City.


41—Fred Lynn, Boston, 1973

Two years later, the former USC star would be named Rookie of the Year and MVP for the AL champion Red Sox. Oddly enough, every season from 1980 until his retirement after 1990, Lynn hit below his career average.


40—Huston Street, Oakland, 2004

Street earned the 2005 Rookie of the Year award. He was traded with Carlos Gonzalez for Matt Holliday after the 2008 season. How’d that work out for ya, Oakland?.


39—Don Baylor, Baltimore, 1967

Baylor played 511 games over six seasons with Baltimore, getting some MVP votes in 1975. He was then a part of six-player deal just prior to the start of the 1976 season that brought Reggie Jackson to Baltimore. Baylor was named MVP in 1979 with the Angels.


38—David Wright, New York Mets, 2001

Of the 37 players drafted ahead of Wright, 14 have yet to see time in the big leagues. His 175 home runs and 682 RBIs are second to Mark Teixeira’s 293-947 among players drafted in ’01.


37—Frank Viola, Minnesota, 1981

Sweet music won a Cy Young in 1987, helping the Twins to the World Series championship. Mike Scott won a Cy Young in 1986 helping the Astros to the playoffs. Adam Jones of Baltimore may trump both in a few years.


36—Johnny Bench, Cincinnati, 1965

In the first draft ever, the Reds called Bench’s name in the second round. Bench holds the distinction of being the first Hall of Famer drafted. Among the seven catchers selected ahead of Bench were Ray Fosse, Gene Lamont and Ken Rudolph. Twenty years later the Montreal Expos would call Randy Johnson’s name at No. 36.


35—Johnny Damon, Kansas City, 1992

Economics lesson: In six seasons with the Royals, Damon played in 803 games, scored 504 runs and racked up 894 hits and made a total of $7,089,000. In one season with Oakland he played in 155 games, scored 108 runs, with 165 hits, and made $7,100,000.


34—Mark Gubicza, Kansas City, 1981

Gubicza won 14 games for the 1985 champion Royals and won 20 in 1988. After making 327 starts for Kansas City he ended his career with two forgettable starts for the Anaheim Angels in 1997.


33—Dave Burba, Seattle, 1987

Somehow Burba managed to win 115 and lose only 87. That seems better than Milt Wilcox’s 119-113 career record. Those were the best choices.


32—Dave Magadan, New York Mets, 1983

Magadan made history with eight consecutive hits to begin the College World Series. Actually received some MVP votes in 1990 after hitting .328 for the Mets.


31—Greg Maddux, Chicago Cubs, 1984

Perhaps the best pitcher of his generation, the Professor won 355 games and logged more than 5,000 innings. He won four consecutive Cy Young awards from 1992-95, and finished in the top five another five times.


30—Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia, 1971

The Hall of Famer hit 548 home runs for the Phillies with three MVP awards over an 18-year career. He anchored a lineup that won five division titles, two pennants and the 1980 World Series.


29—George Brett, Kansas City, 1971

Two Hall of Fame third basemen were drafted back-to-back in 1971. Brett is Mr. Royal — with three batting titles, 3,154 hits and a .305 lifetime average. He was the heart and soul of the best teams in franchise history.


28—Lee Smith, Chicago Cubs, 1975

Smith made closing look excruciating and painful, but he mastered it to the tune of 478 career saves. He had just 180 saves for the Cubs before a trade to the Red Sox for Al Nipper and Calvin Schiraldi.


27—Vida Blue, Kansas City Athletics, 1967

Of his 209 career wins, 124 of them came with the A’s. He was named MVP and Cy Young winner in 1971 and was a mainstay in the rotation that won three straight World Series titles from 1972-74.


26—Alan Trammell, Detroit, 1976

Two shortstops were selected ahead of Trammell in 1976. Neither reached the major leagues. Trammell played 2,293 games, all for the Tigers. He hit .419 in the 1984 postseason with three home runs, nine RBIs and seven runs in eight games.


25—Bill Buckner, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1968

Forget about the error and remember the 2,715 hits over a stellar 22-year career. Buckner had 837 hits in 773 games for the Dodgers prior to being traded to the Cubs in a deal that brought the Dodgers Rick Monday, the first player ever drafted in 1965. Buckner was then dealt to the Red Sox in a trade for Dennis Eckersley.


24—Terry Mulholland, San Francisco, 1984

Mulholland played for 11 different teams in a 20-year career that lasted until he was 43. He went from front-line starter to lefty specialist. I suspect Chad Billingsley will make this list here by 2015.


23—Mo Vaughn, Boston, 1989

Mo was one of the most feared hitters in the American League for a short period of time. Owns an MVP and was a member of three All-Star teams. Jacoby Ellsbury is right on his heels.


22—Craig Biggio, Houston, 1987

Two years earlier the Cubs drafted Rafael Palmeiro in this slot, and although Palmeiro has huge numbers, he wasn’t half the gamer that Biggio was. Biggio made the All-Star team as a catcher and second baseman, and owns 3,060 hits, 668 of them doubles.


21—Rick Sutcliffe, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1974

After winning Rookie of the Year with a 17-10 mark for the Dodgers in 1979, two years later Sutcliffe was dealt to the Indians for Jack Fimple, Jorge Orta and Larry White. Oops. He later won a Cy Young with the 1984 Cubs.


20—Mike Mussina, Baltimore, 1990

Mussina narrowly missed winning 20 games five times before accomplishing that feat in his 18th and final season. He rewarded the Orioles with a 147-81 mark over 10 seasons, then dissed them by signing a huge deal with the Yankees. He made 21 postseason starts, but never won a ring.


19—Roger Clemens, Boston, 1983

However tainted you may believe Clemens’ record is, he won seven Cy Young awards, an MVP, finished third in Cy Young voting another three times. He retired with 354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts, 46 shutouts and a 3.12 ERA. In 34 postseason starts, he was 12-8, including 3-0 in eight World Series starts.


18—Willie Wilson, Kansas City, 1974

The New York Mets are certainly rooting for Ike Davis to take over this slot one day, but for now it’s Wilson. The speedy center fielder stole 521 bases from 1978-87. He owns a batting title and finished fourth in MVP voting in 1980. At age 36, he stole seven bags in a six-game ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays.


17—Roy Halladay, Toronto, 1995

Drafted in the same slot as Phillies teammate Cole Hamels, Halladay is among the career leaders for active pitchers in several categories. He owns two Cy Young awards and has finished in the top 5 another four times. His average season since 2002 is 16-7 with a 3.02 ERA.


16—Lance Berkman, Houston, 1997

A Texan through and through, Houston made the former Rice star the No. 16 pick in 1997 and promoted him to the big leagues in July 1999. Enjoying a resurgence with St. Louis this season, the five-time All-Star has a lifetime .410 on-base percentage.


15—Jim Rice, Boston, 1971

Between 1975-86, the consistent Rice averaged .307-31-110 with 95 runs (excluding the strike-shortened 1981 season). He won just one MVP, but was in the top 5 six times. In 1978 he had 406 total bases.


14—Don Gullet, Cincinnati, 1969

For whatever reason, the No. 14 slot isn’t very strong. Lots of above average candidates, but no Hall of Famers. Tino Martinez, Tom Brunansky, Derrek Lee, Jason Varitek, Jeff Weaver and Jason Heyward made the short list. But Gullet enjoyed the most success with his original team. He was the ace of the Big Red Machine in 1975-76 before signing with the Yankees as part of the first-ever free agent class in 1977. He appeared in four World Series with the Reds, the first at age 19 in 1970.


13—Manny Ramirez, Cleveland, 1991

Before “Manny Being Manny” became popular, Ramirez played eight seasons with the Cleveland Indians, hitting 236 home runs with 804 RBIs. He never won an MVP, but finished in the top 10 for eight consecutive seasons.


12—Kirk Gibson, Detroit, 1978

The former Michigan State star receiver was drafted into baseball by his home-state team. In 12 seasons with the Tigers, he hit 195 home runs and batted .273. But stats don’t show the impact that Gibson had on his teams. He won the 1988 NL MVP with modest numbers (.290-25-76). Billy Wagner, Nomar Garciaparra and Jay Bruce received consideration here as well.


11—Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh, 2005

Until McCutchen was drafted, Greg Luzinski (aka The Bull) was the best here. McCutchen is the centerpiece around which the Pirates are rebuilding.


10—Mark McGwire, Oakland, 1984

Although it’s unfortunate that Big Mac has become synonymous with the Steroid Era, it’s difficult to ignore his 583 homers, 363 of which came in an Oakland uniform.


9—Kevin Appier, Kansas City, 1987

The righthander spent 13 of his 16 seasons with the Royals, with whom he earned 115 of his 169 wins. He logged more than 200 innings eight times, and had 10 seasons of double-digit wins.


8—Todd Helton, Colorado, 1995

The former backup to Peyton Manning and closer at the University of Tennessee, Helton has become the face of the Colorado franchise. He is Mr. Rocky.


7—Frank Thomas, Chicago White Sox, 1989

The Big Hurt terrorized American League pitchers for 16 seasons in a White Sox uniform. He made his major league debut 14 months after being drafted, then played eight seasons before posting his first sub-.300 batting average. He had back-to-back MVPs in 1993 and ’94, and finished his career with 521 home runs, 1,704 RBIs and 1,494 runs.


6—Barry Bonds, Pittsburgh, 1985

Two of the greatest stars of this generation (Bonds and Derek Jeter) share this slot. Bonds’ numbers are absolutely off the charts (as is his hat size). Seven MVPs — four consecutive — 2,558 walks, 762 home runs and 2,227 runs. He was walked intentionally 120 times in one season. And in his pre-bulked-up days, he won eight Gold Gloves and stole more than 500 bases.


5—Ryan Braun, Milwaukee, 2005

Mark Teixeira, Dale Murphy and Dwight Gooden all have strong cases, but Braun has become the face of a franchise and is committed to Milwaukee through 2020. 


4—Dave Winfield, San Diego, 1973

Winfield made his major league debut a few weeks after the draft and 3,110 hits, 465 home runs and 1,833 RBIs later he’s in the Hall of Fame. In seven full seasons in San Diego prior to bolting for New York via free agency (when have we heard that before), he averaged .284-22-88 with 19 stolen bases.


3—Robin Yount, Milwaukee, 1973

Four years later the Brewers drafted another shortstop in the third slot, and fellow Hall of Famer Paul Molitor became a teammate of Yount’s for 15 years in Milwaukee. During their time together, the two combined for 4,736 hits. Yount gets the nod with two MVPs and spending his entire career with the team that drafted him.


2—Reggie Jackson, Kansas City Athletics, 1966

Jackson owns four home run titles and five strikeout titles, but Mr. October electrified crowds in Oakland, New York and L.A. He was at his best when the lights were the brightest. In 27 World Series games, he batted .357 with 10 home runs. Just what were the Mets thinking with Steve Chilcott at No. 1?


1—Alex Rodriguez, Seattle, 1993

As tempting as it was to go with Ken Griffey Jr., who energized baseball fans in Seattle; or Chipper Jones, who has spent his entire career with the Atlanta Braves, and most of those seasons in the postseason; the best overall player is Rodriguez. And there is no argument here. A-Rod is among the best to ever play the game.


Well, there you have the best players drafted at each lot, 1-50.  In case you’re wondering which team seemed to be the best at spotting talent over the last 47 years, the Kansas City Royals placed seven players on this list. But of course, that is far from a reliable evaluation given that the Giants get credit for drafting Bob Knepper and the Brewers get no credit for Paul Molitor when counting from this list.

For what it’s worth, the Yankees, Cardinals, Angels and Rangers — franchises that participated in all 47 drafts — did not show up at all. Thurman Munson at No. 4 (Yankees), Ted Simmons at No. 10 (Cardinals), Frank Tanana at No. 13 (Angels) and Mark Teixeira at No. 5 (Rangers) were close calls.

<p> We look at the best from slots 1-50.</p>
Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 17:14