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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

LSU Tigers 2012 Team Preview
Jokes About LSU Rivals

LSU Tigers Top 10 Players for 2012

The Top 10 LSU Tigers Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in LSU Football History

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
Path: /mlb/2012-major-league-baseball-power-rankings-june-4-2012

Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for June 4, 2012.

 1. Rangers—Roy Oswalt signing makes the best even better.

 2. Dodgers—Catcher A.J. Ellis quietly covering for the injured Matt Kemp.

 3. Rays—Weekend showdown with Orioles avg. att.: 20,200. Sad.

4. Marlins—23-9 since a tough 8-14 April has Marlins at top of division.

5. Braves—Five upcoming Interleague series take Braves through AL East.

 6. Nationals—Gio Gonzalez won all five starts in May.

 7. Orioles—Adam Jones second in the majors in total bases.

 8. Yankees—Fewest blown saves in the majors.

 9. Mets—Johan Santana makes Mets history with no-hitter.

10. Angels—Angels closer to first place than Cardinals #Pujolseffect.

11. Reds—Bolted into first place.

12. White Sox—White-hot Sox on blistering pace, leave Tigers, Indians in dust.

13. Blue Jays—Jays have won six of Drew Hutchison’s nine starts.

14. Giants—Streaky Barry Zito wins another two starts.

15. Phillies—Cole Hamels having huge season in contract year.

16. Indians—Lost seven of nine and grip on first place.

17. Cardinals—Best run differential in NL, but have dropped to .500.

18. Red Sox—Rookies Daniel Nava and Will Middlebrooks breath of fresh air.

19. Pirates—James McDonald had an 0.89 WHIP and 1.54 ERA in May.

20. Tigers—Revolving doors at second base and right field.

21. Diamondbacks—Last three-game winning streak ended May 1.

22. Brewers—Sweet four-game sweep at Dodger Stadium.

23. Royals—Only starter with wins in back-to-back starts is Bruce Chen.

24. Mariners—Suffered four losing streaks of four-plus games.

25. Rockies—Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez carrying the offense.

26. Astros—Won seven of nine, then lost eight in a row.

27. A’s—Scored 21 runs in last 11 games — nine came in one game.

28. Twins—Former Rule 5 pick Scott Diamond has 1.86 ERA in six starts.

29. Padres—Only franchise without no-hitter.

30. Cubs—Trade talks heating up in Chicago.

<p> A look at the best and worst baseball teams in the league.</p>
Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 14:25
All taxonomy terms: Jack Nicklaus, Rickie Fowler, Tiger Woods, Golf, News
Path: /golf/vintage-tiger-woods

For any other player, it would have been a career-defining moment. For Tiger Woods, it was just another Sunday — even if those Sunday moments have become a little more rare lately. 

Woods was in contention for his 73rd win to tie Jack Nicklaus for second on the all-time list, nine behind Sam Snead, and in just another example of Woods' incredible flair for the dramatic, he was at Jack's tournament, the Memorial, with the Golden Bear calling the action from the booth. He found himself a single shot out of the lead when he airmailed the green at Muirfield's par-3 16th hole, leaving himself an impossibly delicate chip shot from a fluffy, scraggly lie. Then, like so many times before, the magic happened. Woods' full-swing flop shot out Mickelson'd anything Lefty could summon, landing softly and perfectly and trickling into the hole for a birdie.

Tiger's host was suitably impressed.

"I just said out here a couple times, that under the circumstances, the circumstances being Tiger has been struggling, he found himself in a position in a tournament, and it was either fish or cut bait, he had one place to land the ball, he's playing a shot that if he leaves it short, he's going to leave himself again a very difficult shot, if he hits it long, he's going to probably lose the tournament," Nicklaus said afterwards. "He lands the ball exactly where it has to land. It doesn't make a difference whether it went in the hole or not. Going in the hole was a bonus. But what a shot. I don't think under the circumstances I've ever seen a better shot."

Playing partner Rickie Fowler, who was in the process of imploding with a final-round 84 — 17 shots worse than Woods' 67 — took time off from calculating his score to enjoy the moment. "He had obviously a shot that — I guess not lucky, but you hit a good shot to get it inside 10 feet, and it came out perfect, landed kind of right on the crown of that ridge there, and the rest is history," Fowler said. "I mean, he obviously loves being in the moment, and that's where he kind of gets down, focuses and hits those shots.  It was fun to see."

In case you missed it, here's the shot:

But there was more to his final-round 67 than one hero shot. Woods put a stamp on one of the best ball-striking weeks of his career, a week when he led the field in greens in regulation (73.6%).

He even impressed himself. "Boy, I hit it good today," Woods said. "That was some good stuff out there. I never really missed a shot today. It was just, as Sean (instructor Sean Foley) likes to say, go out there and put on a stripe show, and I did today. I hit it great, and I had the pace of the greens really nice today, where I struggled yesterday, and made a few putts."

What's next?

Obviously, there's a little tournament in a couple of weeks at San Francisco's Olympic Club that Woods would dearly love to win, as he chases his personal Holy Grail — Nicklaus' 18 major championships. Woods thinks the current state of his game bodes well for his U.S. Open chances. "I'm excited because of the way I hit the golf ball this week," he said. "I hit the ball really well. At Olympic we're all going to have to hit the ball great there. That golf course, you can look at the history of guys who were in contention or who ended up winning, all were wonderful drivers of the golf ball and good, solid iron players. That's what it's going to take there at Olympic, more so than most U.S. Open sites."

Obviously, Tiger still has what it takes. He's still four away from Jack, but 19 majors are in play again. 

Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 10:38
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/justin-lawrences-crazy-ko-kick-john-cofers-head

The UFC show "The Ultimate Fighter" had its live finale in Las Vegas last Friday and didn't disappoint in the lightweight contest. During the third and final round, Justin Lawrence landed a crazy kick to the head of John Cofer, knocking him out in spectacular fashion.

<br />
Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 08:52
Path: /college-football/lsu-or-usc-which-team-will-be-college-footballs-no-1-team-2012

Athlon's College Football Top 25 countdown for 2012 concludes on Tuesday with the release of No. 1 and No. 2. LSU and USC were picked by Athlon's staff to play in the national championship game - but which team should be ranked No. 1?

LSU or USC: Which Team Will Win the 2012 Title?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
At some point during 2012, I’ll get seduced into believe this is the year to end the SEC’s national dominance. Texas looked the part of a usurper before Colt McCoy got hurt against Alabama. Oregon teased me before we learned that the only offense Auburn could stop in 2010 was the one from Eugene. I even subscribed to the notion Oklahoma State deserved a shot at LSU a year ago. In the preseason, it’s just time to relent. I’m going to keep picking the best team in the SEC to win the title until the best team from the SEC stops winning titles. USC is as worthy a contender as there is, but the Trojans still have to contend with Oregon and the limited depth wrought by NCAA sanctions. That’s why my pick for No. 1 will be LSU -- a tough pick over Alabama in the SEC alone. The Tigers’ convincing loss to Alabama in the BCS title game is disconcerting. But LSU is too good to ignore. The Tigers’ biggest liability from one of the most impressive regular seasons of the BCS era was the quarterback, and that looks to improve, or at least not get any worse under Zach Mettenberger. If Tharold Simon can free up Tyrann Mathieu to be the star playmaker as Morris Claiborne did last season, LSU should suffer much of a drop off. Throw in another potentially dominant season for the defense, the stout offensive line, the interchangeable parts at running back, and of course Brad Wing, and LSU could be just as strong as the Tigers were a year ago. As for Alabama -- well, it’s another season. Alabama is going to cycle in another group of first-round draft picks to make up for the five players who were drafted in the first 35 in April, but they’re still going to be first-year starters in the country’s toughest division of the toughest conference. In 2010, that was enough to cost the Tide three games. This season, the drop off might only cost the Tide one or two games, which would be enough to give LSU a trip to the title game.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
In a year that could be wide open across the nation, it feels like four teams sit above the rest: Oregon, USC, LSU and Alabama. Most agree that the Oregon Ducks won't be able to beat USC twice — something it would have to do to land in the national title game with at least one coming on the road. The Ducks defense should be improved and possibly better than it has been over the last three years, and the ground game should certainly pressure that rebuilt Trojan defensive line, but quarterback play will be the difference on November 3 when Oregon flies South to The Coliseum. Lane Kiffin's team should emerge from the West Coast Game of the Century victorious and will likely allow them to host the Pac-12 title game.

The new playoff system won't be implemented until 2014, but 2012 will do its best to provide fans with a national semifinal. While Matt Barkley and John Boyett do battle out West, the SEC will supply the other half of the equation when Alabama visits the bayou on the same day in Baton Rouge. So if the Men of Troy win their way to Miami Gardens, the winner of the LSU-Alabama game will be the likely opponent.

LSU is the best "situation" in college football heading into 2012. It has the best backfield in the nation and likely only trails Bama nationally when it comes to offensive line prowess. The Tigers could also claim the country's best defensive line, one of the top secondaries in the land and the all-important "unfinished business" motivating moniker. And it gets Bama at home in Death Valley. However, the fact remains, if Nick Saban was the head coach at LSU, they would be my clearcut, no doubt, unquestioned No. 1 team in the land. But the winner of two of the last three Crystal Balls resides in Tuscaloosa, not Louisiana. The only thing more important to winning in college football than talent is coaching, and Saban is the best. So as I stated last week, Alabama is my pick to the win the 2012 National Championship.

That said, whether USC faces the Crimson Tide or the Bayou Bengals, Kiffin's bunch will find it very difficult to slow the opposition's power rushing attack. My only concern with the Trojans is the aforementioned defensive line, especially with the overall lack of depth on the roster. There couldn't be a worse area of weakness if you are trying to be the team that snaps the SEC's six-year run atop college football. Can Barkley score enough on LSU to off-set USC's inability to stop the lawfirm of Ware, Ford, Blue and Hilliard? So while I'm sticking with the Tide to repeat, if the match-up is USC-LSU, I am still taking the SEC to win its seventh straight crown.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
All good things must come to an end right? The SEC’s run at the top of college football has provided six national champions and there’s a good chance the conference can provide No. 7. However, I’m going to take USC as my national championship pick for 2012.

After a two-year ban from postseason play, the Trojans are hungry to return to national prominence. USC closed out 2010 by winning four consecutive games, including a 38-35 shootout against Oregon. The only loss over the last two months of 2011 came in a three-overtime duel against Stanford.

Much of the core returns intact for the Trojans in 2012, including Heisman frontrunner Matt Barkley at quarterback, along with the nation’s No. 1 receiving corps. The offensive line will miss Matt Kalil, but four starters return up front. The defense needs to be better, but the back seven should be among the best in college football. Restocking the line is the top priority for coordinator Monte Kiffin, especially after losing Nick Perry, DaJohn Harris and Christian Tupou.

Assuming USC and LSU make it to the national title game, the biggest concern for the Trojans has to be the depth in the trenches. LSU or Alabama presents a difficult test for the frontlines of USC, but the Trojans can counter with an offense that can score with anyone. Knocking off the SEC from the top perch won’t be easy, but with Barkley returning to Los Angeles for one more year, the Trojans are in good shape to win the national title. 

Mark Ross
My vote for No. 1 is USC over LSU. Both the Trojans and Tigers will be loaded with talent, but I give the edge for the top spot in our preseason poll to the team out west, if anything because of who's under center.

USC's Matt Barkley is one of the frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy entering the 2012 season, and arguably considered the favorite at this point. He is without question one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and should have a huge senior season as he has two of the country's top wide receivers - Robert Woods and Marqise Lee - to throw to. USC also returns four starters along the offensive line and a 1,000-yard running back in Curtis McNeal. Expect the Trojans to score early and often this fall.

On the other hand LSU's starting quarterback will be Zach Mettenberger, who was a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school in 2009, but has yet to start a game under center at the FBS level. Menttenberger originally signed with Georgia, but he ran into some off-field trouble and never suited up for the Bulldogs.

He transferred to Butler (Kan.) Community College where he played one season before enrolling at LSU in January 2011. He saw limited action in five games last season, but now with Jordan Jefferson gone, Les Miles has turned the reins over to Mettenberger. He will be helped by a strong running game and four returning starters on the offensive line, but that doesn't change the fact that Mettenberger is still relatively inexperienced. One thing is clear, however, we will find out quickly how good Mettenberger is since LSU opens the season at home against Washington and its first two SEC games are at Auburn and Florida.

Both USC and LSU feature two of the nation's best defenses, which will certainly help the Tigers survive any early-season struggles Metternberger may encounter. And by the end of the season, Mettenberger may emerge as one of the SEC's top quarterbacks. However, in the end, when it comes to No. 1 and winning it all in January, I will always lean towards experience, which is why Barkley and the men of Troy get my vote.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
This is obviously a very difficult call, with both teams returning loaded rosters that are capable of winning every game on the schedule. It seems illogical to bet against an SEC team that pummeled quality opponents not named Alabama last season, but I’ll go with a USC bunch that has the top quarterback in the land and an easier path to the championship game. Matt Barkley will be the Heisman frontrunner in 2012, and he has the best receivers unit in the country with Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, George Farmer and tight end Randall Telfer. The Trojans defense will be led by a nasty back seven and should be much improved from last year. Top opponents like Stanford, Oregon and Notre Dame all have questions at quarterback, and USC should be favored in every game.

An easy case can be made for LSU as the top team in the nation as well, with many of the stars from last year’s SEC Championship team returning. The running game and defense — led by All-America candidates Sam Montgomery, Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid — will be formidable, and Tigers fans are anxious to see how new quarterback Zach Mettenberger fares against a tough schedule. Trips to Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas loom large, and physical home battles with South Carolina, Mississippi State and Alabama will be challenging.

USC may have issues with depth at running back and defensive line, but the Trojans do not lack for talent anywhere on the roster. Getting past Oregon twice will not be easy, but Barkley looks ready to lead his team to a title and wrestle the national championship away from the SEC for the first time since 2005.

Related College Football Content

Athlon's Top 25 for 2012
2012 College Football Rankings: No. 3 Alabama
2012 College Football Rankings: No. 4 Oregon

2012 College Football Rankings: No. 7 Georgia

2012 College Football Rankings: No. 10 South Carolina

<p> Will LSU or USC finish No. 1 in 2012?</p>
Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 05:44
Path: /college-football/acc-expansion-no-buyers-remorse

Some might say it’s a darn good thing Pittsburgh and Syracuse cast their lots with the ACC last September, because if the conference had seen how the 2011 football season turned out for the schools, it might have had second thoughts by January. Big second thoughts.

As it turns out, given the events of mid-May, when Florida State started grumbling about the conference’s new TV deal, its “North Carolina-centric” outlook, and how life in the Big 12, SEC or English Premier League might be better, some of that recalculating is already happening.

The 2011 Panthers staggered home 6–7, lost the BBVA Compass Bowl classic to SMU and saw their coach bolt for Arizona State after just one season at the helm. Syracuse, meanwhile, failed to build on its 2010 success and finished 5–7, a record that assured the Orange would be home for the holidays for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons. Clearly, the ACC wasn’t getting the Pitt of Johnny Majors or the Syracuse of Ben Schwartzwalder — or even Paul Pasqualoni, for that matter. Since conference expansion doesn’t often come with a money-back guarantee, it might appear as if the ACC had been stuck with a couple of schools that it might not want after all — especially in a climate in which football dictates policy. Call it expander’s remorse.

When FSU expressed its dissatisfaction, a significant part of it was due to the conference’s new TV deal with ESPN, which should bring members about $17.1 million/year from 2020-27 and reflects the league’s gridiron status behind the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 — all of which deliver more to their schools in television revenue.

The decision to add the Panthers and Orange, which have had much more basketball success than gridiron fortune over the past couple decades, didn’t provide a huge boost in contract negotiations — something that did not please Florida State. But along Tobacco Road and the other conference destinations the thought process is different. The Panthers and Orange aren’t charging into the league with gridiron fortunes high and the promise of fat BCS paydays in the near future, but the expansion game doesn’t work that way these days — at least not in leagues that can afford to be choosy.

It’s one thing for the Big East to enter into a marriage of convenience with Boise State and quite another to make a salient argument that BSU fits with the conference’s other members. Even if Pitt and Syracuse take five or 10 years to return to football prominence, the ACC feels it has made a good move bringing them aboard. FSU may be upset that the league’s inability to expand its football fortunes cost it some television dough, but the rest of the conference is pleased. To them, fit and geography matter most.

“(Pitt and Syracuse) may not have had good seasons last year, but over time, you have teams that are good and bad,” North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham says. “You want to associate with schools you can work with.”

That’s the key to the Pitt-Syracuse entrance into the ACC. This is not about making the conference stronger in football, although it is reasonable to think the schools won’t struggle long term. This is about fit. It’s about increasing recruiting opportunities. It’s about adding markets to become more attractive to television networks. About bringing aboard schools with similar academic missions and profiles. If the ACC wanted simply to make itself better on the gridiron (and some maintain that should be the goal of every expansion), it could have looked elsewhere, perhaps to West Virginia. But when it comes to the bigger picture, the league made a good move and has solidified itself for the future. Even if the Seminoles skate to “greener” pastures, trading expanded travel (hello, Lubbock!) for a bigger TV payday, the ACC will still be strong.

“(Being successful on the field) isn’t the main philosophical reason why we expand,” Virginia Tech AD Jim Weaver says. “Once we decided to expand, we wanted to get institutions of like backgrounds and philosophical approaches.”

Weaver’s fellow ADs share his sentiments. They point to the schools’ successes in other sports; for instance, both have been extremely successful in men’s basketball, although Pitt’s 2011-12 season wasn’t up to its recent standards. Syracuse’s men’s lacrosse team is a perennial powerhouse, something that fits in well in a conference with national contenders Virginia, North Carolina, Duke and Maryland. Most important is the fact that both schools are committing the resources necessary to be competitive. Last spring, Pitt opened the $29 million Petersen Sports Complex, which features top-shelf baseball, softball and soccer fields.

“Pitt and Syracuse have great histories associated with their (football) programs,” Georgia Tech AD Dan Radakovich says. “One thing intercollegiate athletics teaches us is that all things are cyclical. Are they making the right investments to get back to becoming power schools? Yes, they are.

“But you have to do more than just look at one particular sport. You have to look at the entire athletic program and how it fits into the whole institution.”

Even if the Panthers and Orange aren’t ready to bring BCS bowl checks into the conference coffers, they provide a big help thanks to their locations. Right now, Boston College is the ACC’s northern outpost and lacks a rival within eight hours of its campus. The Eagles can now tell recruits that they will be playing in the Northeast, while other ACC schools can start looking at players to the north and sell them on having the opportunities to play closer to their homes than they would have been able to before. “If you look across the rosters of our teams, we don’t have a lot of kids from that area,” Florida State AD Randy Spetman says. “This lets us look into that area. It will help (football coach Jimbo) Fisher reach out into that region.”

Pitt isn’t particularly close to Boston, but it isn’t far from Central Pennsylvania or even Philadelphia, and that means BC can enter the fertile Keystone State recruiting fields, as can member schools from North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Boston College’s joining the conference extended the ACC footprint to New England, but the Eagles were sort of like an extra toe on that foot. With Pitt and Syracuse aboard next year, the northern end of the conference is much stronger.

“Schools in the south want to go into the north to recruit,” says NC State coach Tom O’Brien, who was at BC when the Eagles joined the ACC. “We can tell players they’ll get a chance to play in the northeast and New England, in New York and Pennsylvania. If you come to our school, you’ll get the chance to come home, and your family and friends can see you.”

Even if they can’t see you in person, there is always TV, and the arrivals of Pitt and Syracuse allowed the ACC to renegotiate its contract. FSU may not look at the new deal as perfect, but it is better than what the league had. What the Seminoles have to weigh is whether the estimated $3 million more they would get from Big 12 membership would offset the perks of being closer to home. Of course, if FSU somehow convinced the SEC to admit it (and perhaps Clemson), it would be a completely different story, since SEC schools are reportedly receiving $25 million/year from the conference’s new TV agreement.

“Television was not the overriding decision,” Spetman said about the decision to expand. “But Commissioner (John) Swofford’s decision to look this way allowed us to (renegotiate). Every day it seems like a conference is getting a new deal. We don’t want to be left on the back porch wondering what happened.”

Although Pitt and Syracuse aren’t yet members of the ACC — the Big East has a 27-month waiting period before a school can leave; that may be shortened — there are already those who are wondering if a 14-team league will be unwieldy and whether adding two more schools might create more symmetry. Spetman, who was at Utah State before FSU, remembers life in the 16-team WAC as having “some problems,” although the league’s geography (from Dallas to Honolulu) was likely the biggest hurdle. Radakovich is taking a wait-and-see approach, while Cunningham thinks “18 might be the ideal number.” Whatever the case, the carousel continues to spin, and the ACC has proven it is eager to take a ride. And getting stronger by adding the two schools could well lead to interest from the expansion Holy Grail: Notre Dame, which might be looking for a convenient home (read: one that will allow it to keep its NBC deal) once the new college football playoff system is finalized.

If Florida State leaves the fold, the ACC will likely move ahead, perhaps looking at Louisville and Cincinnati. Or Connecticut and Rutgers. Or Notre Dame. As always, fit will be a big factor.

And maybe a problem.

<p> ACC Expansion: No Buyer's Remorse</p>
Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 05:41
All taxonomy terms: New York Giants, NFC, NFC East, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-york-giants-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 Giants 2012 Schedule:

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

Order your 2012 New York Giants Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- In the NFL, heavy is the head that wears the crown normally. Starting the year with two mid-week games in three weeks will likely keep the Giants from getting into any sort of normal rythmn until Week 4. Having said that, the defending Super Bowl champions start with a pretty easy slate. The first playoff team the G-Men will face will be an NFC title game rematch with the 49ers in Week 6. Even though the Cowboys and Eagles will be brutal NFC East tests, the Giants won’t face a team with a winning record from last year until that Week 6 game with San Francisco. A 4-1 start is almost all but certain.

- One of those primetime games early on is a road game against Cam Newton and the Panthers. The Giants will have a round robin with NFC South this year, giving the Giants a two back-to-back tough late season games against the Saints (home) and Falcons (road). Tampa Bay in the New Meadowlands should pose little problem to the nasty Giants front seven.

- Speaking of a tough way to end a season, the Giants have one of the nastiest finishes to 2012. After the bye in Week 12, the G-Men will face four playoff teams in six weeks to end the year. Toss in a road division game with the improved Redskins and home season finale against the Eagles, and the Giants will have their work cut out for them come December.

- Having to face the AFC North in crossover play offers few breaks as well. A home game against Cleveland is an easy win, but a November trip to Cincinnati and a December trip to Baltimore won’t be too kind to the Giants, on the field or on the Doppler radar. Mixed in is a home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers to make matters worse. Unfortunately for New York, the North appears to be the deepest and toughest division in the AFC.

- On the whole, the Giants will face seven teams that made the playoffs a year ago, including three of the four teams who earned byes a year ago. Additionally, the Giants will face 11 weekends in which the opposition posted at least a .500 record a year ago. Meaning, New York will face only four teams, the Redskins twice, with a losing record from 2011. And three of those five games will come in the first five weeks of the year.

- The Giants’ two floating games are tough tests as they are forced to play the top two seeds from the NFC a year ago. The Packers (home) and 49ers (road) were the best two teams in the regular season a year ago and could both be on bye in the first week of the playoffs again this fall. New York landed arguably the toughest floating schedule in the NFL. The Colts, for example, will face Cleveland and Kansas City in their extra two games while Oakland gets Miami and Jacksonville. As Super Bowl champs, fans should expect this type of challenge in 2012.

-by Braden Gall


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 Giants 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 03:05
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, Miami Dolphins, NFL
Path: /nfl/miami-dolphins-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.

Miami Dolphins 2012 Schedule:

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

Order your 2012 Miami Dolphins Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- New Miami head coach Joe Philbin gets the misfortune of making his NFL head coaching debut in Houston as the Dolphins open the season against the defending AFC South champion Texans. After that it's home for two straight games against the Raiders and division rival Jets. If the 'Fins can find a way to win at least one of these two, it would not only mean Philbin's first career win as a head coach, it could prove huge in building confidence for the team moving forward.

- The AFC East gets the AFC South as its intra-conference division cross-over this season. With the Texans as the only bonafide contender from the South, the Dolphins should have a chance to get a win or two against the Colts (road), Jaguars and Titans (both home).

- Miami also gets the NFC West as its non-conference opponents. The West, just like the AFC South, features just one top-tier team, San Francisco. The Dolphins travel to Arizona early and get St. Louis at home in Week 7 before hosting Seattle in Week 12 and making the cross-country trip to San Francisco two weeks later.

- The Dolphins' other two floating games are against Oakland (home) and Cincinnati (road) and happen in the first five weeks of the season. Outside of the opener at Houston, the Dolphins' first six games feature several winnable games. If things break right, a 4-2 record is possible and would be a great opening statement for both the new coaching staff and the team.

- Miami's bye comes in Week 7 and the 'Fins will need that week to prepare them for their 10 games in a row. The week after the bye, the Dolphins go to New York to take on the Jets, followed by a trip to Indianapolis. That game will mark the halfway point in Colts' quarterback Andrew Luck's rookie season, so the Dolphins' defense may not be able to take advantage of his inexperience by then.

- After hosting Tennessee in Week 10, the Dolphins enter the tough part of their schedule. In the final seven weeks of the season, Miami has to play AFC East rivals Buffalo and New England twice each and gets the defending NFC West champion 49ers in San Francisco.

- Miami finally plays division foe New England in Week 13 before making the long trip out west to face the 49ers. It's back cross-country the next week to host Buffalo and then Jacksonville before taking on the Patriots against up in Foxboro to close out the season.

- If the Dolphins have any hopes of making the playoffs in 2012, they will need to capitalize on a manageable early schedule and then as the sesason progresses win all the games they are expected to win. An upset or two along the way, especially in their division, certainly wouldn't hurt either.

Fantasy Focus: Reggie Bush produced the first 1,000-yard rushing season of his career in 2011, but could be looking at less opportunities this season. The head coaching staff that showed so much faith and trust in Bush last year is gone and the Dolphins also have 2011 second-round pick Daniel Thomas and 2012 fourth-rounder Lamar Miller on the roster. The good news is should Bush or one of the other backs establish themselves as the main ball-carrier, there are several games on the Fins' schedule that offer appealing match ups. Half of Miami's 2012 opponents ranked in the top 16 in terms of fantasy points allowed to running backs last season — Indianapolis (3rd-most), Buffalo (4th), St. Louis (5th), Tennessee (6th), Oakland (11th), and New England (13th). Remember, the Dolphins play the Bills and Patriots twice.

— by Mark Ross, published on June 4, 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> Miami Dolphins 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 03:00
All taxonomy terms: Bye Week, Fantasy, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/fantasy-football-2012-nfl-bye-week-cheat-sheet

The all-important bye week can make or break a fantasy football season.

Finding quality spot starters doesn't have to be just a last-minute, Sunday morning race to the waiver wire, either. A quality fantasy general manager plans well ahead of time for off weeks. And while I, personally, am willing to sacrifice one week loaded with byes in order to draft the best team for the other 16 weeks, most GMs will address the off week in the draft room.

In a move that I applaud, the NFL has decided to condense its off-week scheduling into a tighter eight-week window.

Order your preseason Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Preview magazine

2012 NFL Bye Week Schedule:

Week 1: None
Week 2: None
Week 3: None

Week 4: Indianapolis, Pittsburgh

Week 5: Dallas, Detroit, Oakland, Tampa Bay

Week 6: Carolina, Chicago, Jacksonville, New Orleans

Week 7: Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Philadelphia, San Diego

Week 8: Baltimore, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Houston

Week 9: New England, New York Jets, San Francisco, St. Louis

Week 10: Arizona, Cleveland, Green Bay, Washington

Week 11: Minnesota, New York Giants, Seattle, Tennessee

Week 12: None
Week 13: None
Week 14: None
Week 15: None
Week 16: None
Week 17: None

2012 NFL Fantasy Rankings:

2012 Athlon Sports Big Board: Top 100

2012 Positional Rankings: QBs

2012 Positional Rankings: RBs

2012 Positional Rankings: WRs

2012 Positional Rankings: TEs

2012 NFL Schedule Analysis:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Jacksonville Jaguars

New Orleans Saints

Seattle Seahawks

Philadelphia Eagles

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Oakland Raiders

Indianapolis Colts

-by Braden Gall


<p> Fantasy Football 2012 NFL Bye Week Cheat Sheet</p>
Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 02:58
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, waiver wire, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-june-4

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

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (05/28-6/4):

  Name Team Pos. R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Dexter Folwer* COL OF 13 2 8 3 .556 1.599
2. Carlos Gonzalez COL OF 8 4 9 1 .500 1.531
3. Hanley Ramirez MIA SS/3B 6 4 6 1 .500 1.625
4. Jason Kipnis CLE 2B 7 1 6 5 .320 .810
5. Michael Cuddyer COL 1/2/OF 8 2 9 1 .364 1.208
6. Curtis Granderson NYY OF 7 3 8 2 .286 .989
7. Mark Trumbo LAA 1/3/OF 6 3 7 1 .375 1.302
8. Justin Smoak* SEA 1B 7 3 8 0 .348 1.266
9. Carlos Quentin SD OF 5 3 7 0 .474 1.650
10. Willin Rosario* COL C 7 2 7 2 .318 .984
11. David Ortiz BOS UTL 5 3 7 0 .385 1.294
12. Darwin Barney* CHC 2B 6 2 5 1 .400 1.278
13. Mike Trout LAA OF 5 1 8 1 .385 1.138
14. Gordon Beckham* CHW 2B 5 3 8 0 .310 .954
15. Alejandro De Aza CHW OF 3 0 3 5 .421 .963
16. Josh Willingham MIN OF 5 2 8 0 .348 1.162
17. Marco Scutaro* COL 2B/SS 5 1 7 2 .320 .873
18. Miguel Cabrera DET 1B/3B 6 2 4 1 .355 1.117
19. Ty Wiggington* PHI 1/3/OF 4 2 8 0 .389 1.333
20. Joey Votto CIN 1B 6 1 4 0 .526 1.302
21. Hunter Pence PHI OF 7 2 4 1 .318 1.021
22. Paul Goldschmidt* ARI 1B 3 3 4 0 .455 1.475
23. Lucas Duda* NYM 1B/OF 4 3 8 0 .286 1.074
24. Justin Maxwell* HOU OF 5 2 5 0 .500 1.745
25. Kirk Nieuwenhuis* NYM OF 8 1 4 0 .400 .979

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Not Buying the Post-Hype

Justin Smoak and Gordon Beckham have been on fantasy sleeper lists for the last four or five seasons. And not once has it paid off for either of them. Both had excellenet weeks but I am not going anywhere near them. With options at both 1B and 2B a-plenty on the wavier wire, I would much rather take a risk with a player like Lucas Duda or Paul Goldschmidt. And while Darwin Barney and Marco Scutaro don't inspire greatness, I might lean that direction over Beckham too. I would watch list both and monitor the situation closely. Beckham, in the 2-hole for the White Sox, has a much better chance of performing than Smoak.

Colorado Avalanche

Dexter Fowler has avoided his dreaded yearly demotion and went directly to fantasy production. He can contribute in all five categories - especially with his ability to get extra base hits in that big park. And the Rockies offense has really taken off of late. Todd Helton has a nine-game hitting streak, CarGo is raking, Michael Cuddyer has delivered all season and names like Scutaro and Willin Rosario have started to produce. This team always has solid fantasy options, and when scouring the waiver wire, there are much worse places to look for help than Denver, Colo. If you are in backstop trouble, Rosario might be a must add. Fowler should already be rostered and Helton is a solid option if you are desperate at 1B.

The Farm Update

Names to keep an eye on who have either been called-up already or will be joining the big league ranks soon: San Diego switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal, Seattle flame-throwing reliever Stephen Pryor (2.1 IP, 4 K, ER thus far), Arizona's future ace Trevor Bauer, Dodgers outfielder Alex Castellanos (2/5, 2 RBI in debut) and Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo should all be fantasy contributors in the second half of the season.

DL Watch

- Brian McCann took a pitch off the knee and is questionable for Tuesday's game against Miami.

- Adam Jones is still battling with his wrist issue but it doesn't seem to have affected him much while Nick Markakis landed on the 15-day DL on Friday with a hand injury.

- Dustin Pedroia still hasn't played since May 28 but has yet to land on the DL. At first, his thumb injury didn't seem too serious, yet a trip to the DL might still be in the cards.

- Alejandro De Aza didn't play Sunday due to an illness and is questionable for Tuesday's game against Toronto.

- Carlos Santana is on the 7-day DL and should begin a Class A rehab stint on Monday — which could get him back onto the field by Tuesday.

- Aramis Ramirez is questionable for Tuesday's game against his former club the Cubs with a quad issue. Ryan Braun is also dealing with both a hip and Achilles issue and is also listed as questionable for Tuesday.

- Desmond Jennings is set to return to the field on Tuesday for the Rays against the Yankees.

- Joe Mauer is questionable for Monday's game against Kansas City with a thumb problem.

- It is doubtful he will miss the start but King Felix Hernandez is questionable for his Wednesday start against the Angels.

- Edwin Encarnacion is questionable for Tuesday's game against the White Sox with a wrist issue.

- Jemile Weeks is questionable with his own hip injury.

- Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Kemp both landed on the 15-day DL last Thursday.

- According to the official Tigers website, Alex Avila, Joaquin Benoit and Gerald Laird are all questionable for Tuesday's game against the Indians.

- Santiago Casilla is dealing with a knee injury as Sergio Romo has picked-up a pair of vulture saves. It doesn't seem to be too serious.

- Huston Street has begun his Class A rehab assignment and could return to the closer's role in San Diego sometime this weekend.

- JJ Putz is questionable this week with an illness...and a sore neck...and control issues.

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. R.A. Dickey NYM 23.1 3 30 0.39 0.69
2. Chris Sale CHW 23.1 3 29 1.16 0.69
3. Johan Santana NYM 24.1 2 22 1.48 0.78
4. James McDonald PIT 21.0 2 21 0.86 0.81
5. C.J. Wilson LAA 20.0 2 17 0.45 0.75
6. Dan Haren LAA 21.0 2 23 1.29 1.00
7. Brian Matusz* BAL 19.2 2 21 2.29 0.92
8. Homer Bailey* CIN 15.0 2 11 1.80 0.67
9. Gio Gonzalez WAS 17.2 2 24 2.55 1.13
10. A.J. Burnett* PIT 12.1 2 9 0.00 0.97
11. Matt Cain SF 21.2 3 19 2.49 1.20
12. Jonathon Niese* NYM 18.2 2 22 2.41 1.12
13. Felix Doubront* BOS 18.1 2 22 2.95 1.04
14. Matt Harrison* TEX 21.2 3 14 2.49 1.11
15. Madison Bumgarner SF 21.2 1 28 2.91 1.06
16. Shaun Marcum MIL 20.0 2 22 3.60 1.00
17. Felipe Paulino* KC 18.1 2 18 1.47 1.31
18. Mike Leake* CIN 18.2 2 17 2.41 1.12
19. Cole Hamels PHI 22.2 2 22 3.57 1.06
20. Adam Wainwright STL 21.1 2 17 3.38 0.98

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Top 5 Spot Starts for the Week (Tues. - Sun.):

1. James McDonald, PIT: Kansas City (Sat.)
Was the No. 4 starter in the game over the last two weeks and will get a start against the Royals.

2. Homer Bailey, CIN: Pittsburgh (Tues.)
When he gets hot, he is very useful. He's won three straight with 18 Ks and only 3 BBs.

3. Edwin Jackson, WAS: NY Mets (Wed.)
Has allowed three or fewer earned runs in five straight starts.

4. Bud Norris, HOU: St. Louis (Wed.)
Was scortching hot until last start (9 ER) with four total ER in five previous starts. Lots of Ks.

5. Philip Humber, CHW: Houston (Sun.)
Gets two starts this week, including a home games against lowly Astros.

Top 20 fantasy Relief Pitchers of last month:

1. Aroldis Chapman CIN 14.2 2 5 27 3 0.00 0.48
2. Fernando Rodney TB 14.0 1 8 13 0 1.29 0.79
3. Ernesto Frieri LAA 14.1 0 4 30 3 0.00 0.84
4. Craig Kimbrel ATL 9.0 0 7 14 0 0.00 0.33
5. Santiago Casilla SF 13.2 1 10 11 1 1.32 1.17
6. Jim Johnson BAL 12.1 0 9 6 0 1.46 0.57
7. Joel Hanrahan PIT 12.0 1 10 12 0 2.25 1.08
8. Kenley Jansen LAD 10.0 2 4 14 1 0.90 0.80
9. Nate Jones* CHW 18.0 3 0 20 2 1.50 0.94
10. Joe Nathan TEX 12.0 0 5 16 0 0.75 0.75
11. Alfredo Aceves BOS 17.0 0 9 15 0 3.18 1.00
12. Heath Bell MIA 13.0 2 9 10 2 3.46 1.31
13. Tyler Clippard* WAS 10.2 0 4 15 4 0.84 0.56
14. Chris Perez CLE 9.2 0 7 12 0 1.86 0.83
15. Sergio Romo* SF 8.2 1 2 15 6 1.04 0.46
16. Jonathan Broxton KC 12.0 0 8 7 0 1.50 1.17
17. Jake McGee* TB 10.2 2 0 12 3 0.84 0.75
18. Scott Atchison* BOS 16.1 0 0 13 2 0.00 0.80
19. Rafael Soriano NYY 10.0 0 7 10 2 1.80 1.10
20. Jason Motte STL 13.1 2 4 9 0 3.38 0.98

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues


<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: June 4</p>
Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 02:30
Path: /college-football/college-fantasy-football-2012-kicker-rankings

Fall college fantasy football drafts are right around the corner and Athlon is here to help win your league in 2012. Rankings will be updated right up until kickoff and expect plenty of tweaks to over the next couple of months.

Scoring system rankings based upon -

39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50 yards and beyond = 5 points
Extra point = 1 point

Updated: August 12

Related College Fantasy Football Content

College Fantasy Football: 2012 Top 200
College Fantasy Football: 2012 Quarterback Rankings
College Fantasy Football: 2012 Running Back Rankings

College Fantasy Football: 2012 Wide Receiver Rankings
College Fantasy Football: 2012 Tight End Rankings
College Fantasy Football: 2012 Kicker Rankings
College Fantasy Football: 2012 Team Defense Rankings

Rank Player Team
1 Quinn Sharp Oklahoma State
2 Matt Weller Ohio
3 Dustin Hopkins Florida State
4 Caleb Sturgis Florida
5 Brett Maher Nebraska
6 Drew Alleman LSU
7 Michael Hunnicutt Oklahoma
8 Zach Hocker Arkansas
9 Matthew Sims Northern Illinois
10 Chandler Catanzaro Clemson
11 Dan Conroy Michigan State
12 Matt Hogan Houston
13 Tyler Bitancourt West Virginia
14 Jeremy Shelley Alabama
15 Andre Heidari USC

<p> College fantasy football: 2012 kicker rankings</p>
Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 02:07
Path: /nascar/nascar-drivers-find-their-comfort-zone

Comfortable (adj.)Providing physical ease and relaxation; comfy; cozy; free from stress or fear

When people speak that word, it’s most likely in reference to the summer vacations we’ll take within the next few of months. Comfortable is what we hope to achieve at our jobs, financial security that affords us to do the other things we want in life. In a cruel twist of irony, we watch sports to get comfortable, relaxation afforded after a long day on the job.

But when it comes to entertainment, “comfortable” is the antonym of competition for athletes who make a living through sports. Who wants to watch someone “relaxing” for two hours? Brett Favre may have had that feeling on the football field, but once the ball was hiked his display of talent could hardly be described as “relaxing” by defenders. The NBA Finals aren’t a bunch of players sitting on the couch; I’d hardly say Rajon Rondo was walking down the court, sipping a mojito during a 44-point performance against the Miami Heat. For a sporting event, the worst adjective you could have applied to describe yourselves is “comfortable.” That’s the equivalent to not trying hard enough, the type of “stroking” fans can pick out even from Row 100, half-a-mile up the stands at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Welcome to NASCAR 2012, where drivers feel content to stay within reason. Check out Denny Hamlin’s post-race press conference at Charlotte, after a second-place finish following an event criticized for not enough passing and too much, well … “hanging out” on-track. Wrecks do not define stock car racing, but you’d think through 600 miles you’d have at least one. After all, pushing it to the limit typically results in the occasional mistake.

Not this time.

“Bottom line, I think everyone is so concerned with points nowadays, you know if you wreck and you finish in the 30s, you're going to take 10 races to get that back,” he said when asked about a 600-mile event that had one minor wall scrape and one pit road spin. “I think everyone's just a little bit more patient on restarts, as crazy as that sounds. It's just not as wild on restarts as it used to be a couple years ago Everyone is minding their Ps and Qs, trying to get the best finish out of their day, knowing the one thing you can't overcome in a race is a crash.”

And so it goes. Drivers stay off each other, resulting in an event where, for long stretches, the top 15 would race in place with limited (if any) passing for position. I experimented at the track Sunday night, writing down the top 15 at the beginning of a 30-lap stretch to compare the beginning and end. Only one driver —Brad Keselowski — made passes during the stretch, jumping up three spots while everyone else stayed in place. It seemed everyone was comfortable to stay in their own little spot on the racetrack without taking risks.

“You could put a lot of cars up front and they'll run there for quite a long time,” continued Hamlin. “Track position means so much in our sport now, you run around the pace of the guys around you.”

The driver we’re referring to represents the top tier of competitors in the sport — second in the standings with multiple wins under his belt. Unless an asteroid hits his No. 11 car or Kim Kardashian finds Hamlin within the next few months, making the sport’s “postseason Chase” is virtually a guarantee. Hamlin, along with a half-dozen others in the same spot then become the Colts a few years ago once they clinched the NFL’s top seed: how do you handle the second half of the regular season? Do you show all your cards, or hang back and “test” for when the racing really counts in September, October and November? And when you’re running fifth, what incentive is there for you to go the extra mile and earn one extra, meaningless point?

Certainly, a little extra cash for fourth won’t help. With no rookie “sticking” in the Cup Series since 2009, the bulk of the Cup field is made up of longtime veterans who have already made their millions and tasted Victory Lane. The “young guns” who once pushed the veterans have disappeared, because they’ve turned into the thirty-somethings getting married, starting families and getting comfortable with their careers (there’s that word again). With mission virtually accomplished for many by May, certain races over the summer will consist of riding around, gathering information and focusing on the playoffs.

There’s a second tier of drivers, from Carl Edwards to Sunday winner Kasey Kahne, who don’t have that luxury. “On the bubble,” their next 14 events will supposedly consist of running hard for victories that will ensure them a postseason spot, either as a “wild card” or one of those sneaking in on points. But even Kahne — arguably the hottest driver out there with six straight top-10 finishes — knows the limits of taking risks. The point system rewards consistency, not bravery; sticking your neck out for an extra position, only to wind up in the wall or gambling on pit strategy that falls short hurts you more in the end with the postseason as an ultimate goal.

“I guess, you know, you have to be consistent in this sport,” Kahne shrugged. “It’s how the points are. You have to finish races. If you’re crashing, you’re not finishing, you’re losing points. So I don’t know. The Chase is what it’s all about.”

Of course, not everyone can make the Chase. There’s only 12 spots for 43 full-time drivers on the grid. But even the back of the field is getting comfortable with their situations. In the sport today, economics (or contraction — take your side in that debate) mean only about 35 cars are running the distance each week. The battle for a “locked in” position, making qualification meaningless for the first 35 cars in owner points is no longer a competition, as the gap between 35th and 36th is already all but insurmountable. So with no one challenging their spot on the grid, these back-marker teams, already strained for resources can stay comfortable and race within their means. Twenty fifth may not be pretty, but it’ll get ‘em to the next race and keep everyone in their on-track cubicle, grabbing a paycheck and putting food on the table.

What about the drivers? Don’t they innately have a desire to win, frustration occasionally causing failure as hard competition takes its toll? Not exactly. “Boys, have at it” had its boundary created in a Texas tangle last November that nearly cost Kyle Busch his job. The parking? Warranted. But the overreaction seems to be everyone else, with Busch’s sponsor Mars/M&M’s nearly pulling out of the sport feels crossing the line may cost them their job. Busch the Younger has been Busch the Boring so far in 2012, politically correct to a fault, while the rest of the competition just hasn’t been angered enough to play into TNT’s upcoming “We Know Drama” coverage. You know what it seems like? Everyone is comfortable with the cars and competition around them.

Surely, you say, the crew chiefs, the masters of innovation, can find a loophole to give us at least a little extra differentiation of speed out of these Cup vehicles. But they know better, as years of penalties and point deductions that could keep their car out of the Chase as a likely consequence. Why risk it when the postseason is the ultimate goal? NASCAR’s strict rules keep everyone inside a box, and the mechanics have grown comfortable with the way in which these cars are put together. Wind tunnel time and computer simulation results in parity; innovation puts them smack in the penalty box. With millions at their disposal and dozens of engineers, which path would you choose even though the latter, if you play with a gray area, earns you an extra half-a-second?

Turns out there’s a whole lot of people comfortable with Sprint Cup racing these days. Heck, even the fans got comfortable during the Coca-Cola 600, describing to me in vivid detail what they’ve done for many of the races so far in 2012.

They took a nap. Those TVs still tuned to the program may help NASCAR in the Nielsens, but in terms of growing the sport? I wouldn’t be too comfortable with that.

by Tom Bowles
Follow Tom on Twitter: @NASCARBowles

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Tom Bowles examines the reasons why many believe the racing in NASCAR's top division has been mundane in 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, June 1, 2012 - 13:02
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-alabama-no-3-2012-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 Alabama Crimson Tide being named No. 3, 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.)

Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide continue the countdown at No. 3 with two preseason All-Americans and nine players selected as All-SEC performers. Athlon Sports predicts Alabama will finish second 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.*

“Nick Saban's coaching and recruiting has Alabama sitting on top of the college football world,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “The Crimson Tide did lose some major talent to the NFL, but they will be right back in the hunt for another national title.”

Two Alabama standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with offensive lineman Barrett Jones being voted to the first team and offensive lineman Chance Warmack making the third team. In addition, the Crimson Tide offensive line was ranked No. 1 nationally. The running backs unit was rated No. 5 in the country, while the linebackers’ group was tabbed No. 6 and the defensive line No. 10 in the nation.

Nine Crimson Tide players earned preseason All-SEC honors, including Jones and linebacker Nico Johnson on the first team. Warmack, running back Eddie Lacy and defensive back Robert Lester made the second team, while offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, defensive lineman Jesse Williams, linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive back Dee Milliner garnered third-team honors.

Alabama Team Preview

Alabama's Top 10 Players of 2012

Alabama’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 * analysis of college football preseason publications.

<p> Athlon Sports Names Alabama No. 3 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</p>
Post date: Friday, June 1, 2012 - 10:10
Path: /college-football/alabama-football-can-crimson-tide-repeat-or-look-2010-team

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 3 Alabama. The Crimson Tide are the defending national champions, but suffered some key losses. Nick Saban has recruited well, so Alabama shouldn't suffer too much in the win column.

Can Alabama Repeat or Will it Revert Back to its 2010 Record?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The answer in the end may be neither, though Alabama will be in the national title race all season. Alabama looks much closer to playing for a second consecutive title than “slipping” to 10-3 as the Tide did in 2010 after the 2009 national title. That defense was stocked with talent (Marcel Dareus, Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick) but not experience (one starter). Alabama is restocking its defense again this season, but the Tide at least have four starters back. It’s going to be unreasonable to expect Alabama to approach the defensive dominance of 2011, but there’s no way it’s going to drop off much. Even the 2010 defense finished in the top five. As for the offense, what we saw out of A.J. McCarron against LSU in the national title game gives me reason to believe it will be fine. The Tide won’t have the centerpiece of Trent Richardson, but I could see the offense being more balanced between run and pass and even within the run game with Eddie Lacy and Dee Hart splitting carries. On top of that, the Tide will be running its offense behind perhaps the best line in the SEC.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
My current personal pick to win the 2012 BCS National Championship is the Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama has the best head coach in the nation, and after two national titles in three years, has taken over as the top program in the nation.  Will this defense be as historically dominate as last year's group? Of course not. But Bama isn't hurting for athletes and Saban will insert a plethora of prep All-Americans into starring roles with relative ease. Even with Michigan and Arkansas on the schedule in the first month, the Tide should have little trouble breaking in new starters on that side of the ball. Expect former four- and five-star recruits like Trey DePriest, Adrian Hubbard, C.J. Mosley, Dee Milliner and Xzavier Dickson to be plenty capable of getting stops.

What will make this team dangerous, however, is the offense. Even without Trent Richardson and William Vlachos, the Crimson Tide should feature what could be the top running game in the nation. Saban has the best offensive line in the country and a deep and talented backfield to lean on once again. Saban also has a second-year quarterback in A.J McCarron who earned BCS national title game MVP honors after finishing the year as the SEC's most accurate passer (66.8%) as a sophomore. With the addition of speed and explosiveness to the receiving corps, Alabama's offense has a chance to be dramatically more dynamic in 2012. A truly scary thought considering how strong the defense should be once again.

The solid offenses Bama will face — Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and the Wolverines — simply do not match-up with the Crimson Tide on the defensive side of the ball. Saban's team will dominate the line of scrimmage against those teams. Auburn and Mississippi State, who should be strong at the point of attach, must visit The Capstone and don't have enough offensive firepower to scare too many Crimson Tiders. That leaves the trip to Baton Rouge on November 3 as this year's Game of the Century. But until proven otherwise, I will take the defending national champions to repeat — and make it a cool seven straight titles for the SEC.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
As long as Nick Saban is roaming the sidelines in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide will be one of the top contenders for the national title every year. Despite the loss of 12 starters, I expect Alabama will end the year as one of the top four teams in the nation and not see a repeat of the 10-3 record in 2010.

With linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Mark Barron departing, it’s going to be very difficult for the Alabama defense to repeat last season’s No. 1 ranking in total defense. However, the cupboard is far from bare. The line needs to find a replacement for nose guard Josh Chapman, but Jesse Williams and Damion Square form a solid combination up front. The linebacking corps needs to be revamped, but Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley are solid, while Xzavier Dickson, Adrian Hubbard and Trey DePriest are future stars. Replacing Kirkpatrick won’t be easy, but Dee Milliner is a solid corner, with John Fulton and junior college recruits Deion Belue and Travell Dixon filling out depth in the secondary. It’s unfair to expect a similar statistical year, but this defense will still rank among the top 10 nationally.

While the defense could take a step back, the offense is ready to breakout. Quarterback AJ McCarron is coming off a standout performance in the National Championship and while his receivers are young, there’s a lot of talent waiting to step up in 2012. Trent Richardson will be missed, but Eddie Lacy, Dee Hart and T.J. Yeldon are more than capable of carrying the load on the ground. Even with the departure of center William Vlachos, the offensive line remains one of the best in the nation.

Although this Alabama team has a handful of question marks to address, I think the Crimson Tide will only lose one game in 2012.  

Mark Ross
Alabama should at the very least be in a position to have a chance at two national titles in a row considering the fact that the winner of the BCS National Championship Game has come from the SEC in each of the past six years. The bigger question is this: is this season's Crimson Tide team capable of doing what last year's team didn't - win the SEC Championship?

It's entirely possible that we could have another national title match up that features two teams from the same conference, but for the sake of argument, I am going to call that the exception rather than the rule. To that end, the clearest path for Alabama to take to have a chance at consecutive national titles is to win the SEC crown, which is what the 2009 team did.

Of course winning college football's toughest conference is easier said than done. Four different teams have been crowned SEC champion the past six years - Alabama, Auburn, Florida and LSU. The Gators and Tigers are the only ones to have won it twice during this span. Although it should be pointed out that last year's LSU team is the only team to not take home both the SEC and national titles during this stretch, right 'Bama fans?

That said, I think it's a rather tall order to expect the 2012 Crimson Tide to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor, if you will. For one, NIck Saban lost quite a bit of talent on both sides of the ball as evidenced by the five players who were taken in the first 35 picks of April's NFL Draft. Don't get me wrong, the cupboard's certainly not bare by any stretch, but there will be a lot of new faces in starting roles this fall and I think it's a stretch to not expect some sort of drop off for both the offensive and defensive units.

That's not to say that Alabama won't be a top 10 or even top 5 team by season's end, but in a stacked SEC that includes other national title contenders like LSU and Georgia, and perhaps even Arkansas, not to mention newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M, a dip in offensive production and defensive strength, even if it's just a slight one, may end up being enough to keep Alabama out of the SEC title game and more than likely, the national championship hunt. Besides, the difference between 'Bama's 2011 and '10 seasons in terms of wins is just two. Is a 10-win season and a January bowl win really all that bad?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think the 2010 team is a good comparison. The Crimson Tide should be right back in the hunt for another national title because of a scary talent base, but they did lose some major talent to the pros. When you have five of the first 35 picks in the NFL Draft (Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw), plus three other players selected, there has to be some effect. The defense still has a ton of ability, but there is no way it will be as dominant as the 2011 group that finished No. 1 nationally in pass defense, run defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense and of course, total defense.

Alabama’s recruiting and coaching will still produce a top defensive unit, and the offense has a chance to be solid as well. A quality stable of running backs and an efficient quarterback will be led by the best offensive line in the country. If AJ McCarron finds some weapons on the outside, the Tide will have a shot to win every game. While it’s difficult to see Bama claiming a third national title in four years, a double-digit win season looks like a certainty as Nick Saban reloads in Tuscaloosa.

Related Alabama Content

Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 Team Preview
Alabama Crimson Tide Top 10 Players for 2012

Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 Team Predictions
The Greatest Players in Alabama Football History Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Alabama Football History

Alabama Crimson Tide Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Alabama Rivals

<p> Can the Crimson Tide Repeat or Look Like the 2010 Team?</p>
Post date: Friday, June 1, 2012 - 05:59
Path: /college-football/alabama-crimson-tide-2012-team-predictions

The Alabama Crimson Tide check in at No. 3 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: AJ McCarron, QB
A case could be made that center Barrett Jones deserves this honor, but McCarron’s development is the key to Alabama’s chances at a repeat. The junior didn’t throw for a touchdown pass in the national championship game against LSU, but his play was the difference in the game. New coordinator Doug Nussmeier should provide a seamless transition from Jim McElwain, and Alabama is expected to allow McCarron to throw more in 2012. Although the Crimson Tide is replacing some key players from last year’s team, a more experienced and poised McCarron will allow Alabama to remain in the mix for the national title.

Upset Alert: at Arkansas (Sept. 15)
It wouldn’t be a shock to see Arkansas knock off Alabama this season, but the Crimson Tide should be favored to win. Alabama won five in a row over the Razorbacks, including a 38-14 victory in Tuscaloosa last season. Arkansas is still reeling from the sudden departure of coach Bobby Petrino, but the offense is loaded with playmakers, including quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis. With several new faces stepping into playing time on the Crimson Tide’s defense, it will be put to the test early against Arkansas’ high-powered offense.

Biggest Game: at LSU (Nov. 3)
These two teams split the two meetings last season, but Alabama won the most important matchup in the national title game in New Orleans. A berth in the SEC title could be on the line in this one, as the Crimson Tide and Tigers are expected to be the teams to beat in the West Division. Alabama has not won in Baton Rouge since 2008 and is 1-2 in its last three matchups against LSU. The loser of this game could still sneak into the national title game again, but the winner will take a significant step toward finishing the regular season as the No. 1 team.

Defensive MVP: Nico Johnson, LB
There’s really not a clear candidate to take this honor, but Johnson’s performance will be critical to the success of Alabama’s defense. Matching last season’s statistics are probably out of the question, but there’s enough talent to remain among the top 10 nationally. Rolando McClain and Dont’a Hightower were both first-round picks and the torch has been passed to Johnson to anchor the linebacking corps in 2012. With seven new starters on defense, the senior’s experience in the scheme will be valuable to getting everyone lined up properly and ready to attack opposing offenses this season.

Breakout Players: Adrian Hubbard, Trey DePriest and Xzavier Dickson
Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley are the veteran leaders in the linebacking corps, but Hubbard, DePriest and Dickson will be three potential breakout candidates. DePriest played in all 13 contests last season and recorded 14 stops. Hubbard and Dickson played sparingly last year, but were ranked among the top 100 players in their recruiting class. DePriest will anchor one of the inside spots, while Hubbard and Dickson will play off the edge and help to replace the pass rush void vacated by Courtney Upshaw.

Unsung Hero: Chance Warmack, OG
Those familiar with the SEC certainly know about center Barrett Jones, but Warmack has quietly emerged as one of the conference’s top linemen. He has 26 consecutive starts, and the SEC coaches selected him as a second-team all-conference lineman last year. Right tackle D.J. Fluker should be in for a breakout year, but Warmack’s steady play on the interior should not be overlooked.

Freshman to Watch: T.J. Yeldon, RB
Trent Richardson will be missed, but Alabama’s rushing attack will remain one of the best in college football. Eddie Lacy will start and should rush for over 1,000 yards. However, there’s no shortage of depth, as redshirt freshman Dee Hart is poised to become a change-of-pace threat, and Yeldon is ready to contribute after a strong performance in the spring game. Although he may not see 100-200 carries, Yeldon should be a factor in Alabama’s rushing attack.

Comeback Player: Dee Hart, RB
Eddie Lacy will be the team’s No. 1 back, but expect Hart to play a large role in the offense this year. He was supposed to play in a change-of-pace role last season, but suffered a torn ACL in summer workouts and was sidelined for the entire 2011 campaign. Hart probably won’t accumulate 150 carries, but will be a weapon on third downs and could see some time on special teams.

Newcomer to Watch: Deion Belue/Travell Dixon, CB
Alabama doesn’t recruit many junior college prospects, and when it does, those players are brought in to play right away. Dee Milliner and John Fulton appear to be locked into the two starting cornerback spots, but Belue and Dixon will help to fill out the depth and contribute significant snaps in the nickel position. Both players ranked among the top 10 junior college prospects by one service, so talent isn’t an issue; however, adapting to playing in the SEC might be.

Position Battle: Wide Receivers
Alabama still has a few positions up for grabs in the fall and some incoming freshmen could figure into the mix. The receiving corps is in flux, as the Crimson Tide must replace Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks. Although both players will be missed, the new receivers could be more athletic than the previous group. Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White hold an edge to be the top four receivers, but will face a battle for playing time with freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper, Marvin Shinn and Eddie Williams. This group lacks senior leadership, but plenty of promising talent for quarterback AJ McCarron to target.

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<p> Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Friday, June 1, 2012 - 05:59