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Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-texas-0

Typically known for dealing with the thunderous roar of tornadoes, this weekend the Sprint Cup Series storms into Kansas for the STP 400.

Sunday’s race will be the 12th for the Sprint Cup Series at the Kansas Speedway, and the last on the current surface. Following the 400-miler, the track will be repaved prior to the series returning for its mid-October Chase date.

The aged surface causes tires to wear dramatically over the course of a run, meaning drivers and crew chiefs will be working all weekend to find the perfect balance over the long run as the tires begin to fall off.

Be sure to keep an eye on the two practice sessions Friday afternoon — especially those teams that concentrate on longer runs. A key factor nearly every week — especially on a track with excessive tire wear — is the best 10-lap average. Look for that statistic and make your picks accordingly.

Five Favorites: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards

Veteran Jeff Gordon took the first two checkered flags at Kansas Speedway in 2001 and ’02, and is looking to take the last before the surface is replaced.

Aside from the four-time series champion’s two Kansas wins, Gordon has an additional six top-5 finishes on the Plains. Although he succumbed to an engine failure in Kansas last October, Gordon is always a favorite.

The No. 24 team has been a consistent threat throughout the early portion of the 2012 season, as well. However, the finishes don’t show it. The team's fourth-place run Saturday night in Texas was its first top 5 and only second top 10. Gordon currently has three finishes of 26th or worse.

Those statistics aside, the team has been producing consistently fast racecars. That fact has allowed Gordon, who is 17th in the series standings, to remain confident they can win races.

The team heads to Kansas this weekend with that goal in mind.

Gordon has the fourth-best average finish (10.2) among active drivers at Kansas. Not to mention, team owner Rick Hendrick is on the verge of earning his 200th career Sprint Cup Series win. This weekend, Gordon will be looking to give his long-time car owner that milestone victory.

In order to do so, he will have to beat teammate Jimmie Johnson.

The five-time series champion has the second-best average finish (8.4) among active drivers at Kansas, and was the driver celebrating in Victory Lane when the series last visited the facility in October.

All told, Johnson has two wins, three poles, four top 5s and nine top 10s in 11 starts on the 1.5-mile track. His two worst finishes at Kansas are 14th (2006) and 32nd (’04), his only DNF.

These two champions have duked it out on the track before for the win, and expect them to both be in contention Sunday afternoon. Also keep in mind Hendrick leads all team owners with four wins at Kansas.

“Whenever it happens is going to be very special for the company," Johnson said of the 200th win. “Again, I just want to win. I don’t care where it is, whatever reason. There are 36, 38 of these things a year, and I want to take home a bunch of trophies. Second is nice, but winning is everything.”

While the Hendrick teammates are focused on giving Hendrick Motorsports its 200th win, the rest of the field will be doing their best to keep it from happening — especially points leader Greg Biffle.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver is fresh off his first victory of the season last weekend in Texas, and is now heading to one of his best tracks. With two Kansas wins, six top 5s and eight top-10 finishes, Biffle leads all active drivers in average finish (8.3). Despite his dismal 2011 season, Biffle still recorded top 10s (10th, eighth) in both Kansas races last year.

This is a new year for the Biff, and his sixth-place average finish through the first seven races have given him the points lead. Carrying that momentum into one of his best tracks, Biffle will also be one of the drivers to beat in the final laps of Sunday’s race.

“I’m ready for Kansas,” he said. “Kansas is a great track and I have two wins there. We are coming off the win at Texas and I’m ready to go. Kansas and Texas might be the same distance, but they are extremely different tracks. Kansas is much flatter and the track is more uniform from one end to another. Hopefully we can follow up our Texas win with another victory in Kansas with our 3M Novec 1230 Ford.”

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 12:18
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-weekend-rundown-april-19

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

Ailing Outfielders
It’s been a tough week for outfielders around MLB, with Arizona’s Chris Young, Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner of the Yankees going on the disabled list. Young was off to a superb start, hitting .410 with five home runs and 13 RBIs in his first 11 games, but he injured his shoulder making a catch against the Pirates. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks and fantasy owners, his teammate Justin Upton is battling a thumb injury and could miss time as well.

There are several other highly-drafted outfielders who have not hit up to expectations yet. Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton is still waiting for his first home run, Matt Holliday of the Cardinals has struggled to a .182 average, .538 OPS start, and Kansas City’s Alex Gordon is hitting a meager .149 after recording a .303 average for the 2011 season. Additionally, Boston’s Carl Crawford, Washington’s Michael Morse and Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton have yet to see the field this season, so there’s a good chance you are looking for some short-term help.

Nolan Remold of the Orioles, Jon Jay of the Cardinals, Jordan Schafer of the Astros, Shelly Duncan of the Indians and Alejandro De Aza of the White Sox are owned in less than half of Yahoo! leagues, and they are worth a look if you have any of the aforementioned injured or struggling batters. Reimold has been especially hot lately, hitting a home run in four straight games earlier this week. He’s batting .341 in 10 games this season.

Jay is hitting .350 in a loaded St. Louis attack, including going 8-for-20 in his last eight games. Schafer has six stolen bases and 10 runs scored while batting .279 this season, and Duncan could provide some temporary pop with his 6 RBIs and a .980 OPS in 31 at-bats. De Aza has three bombs and an .864 OPS in 11 games, and he did hit over .300 in limited duty over the last two seasons.

Anyone got Ricky Vaughn’s number?
Injuries and ineffectiveness have been the story for closers so far this year. Cincinnati’s Ryan Madson, Kansas City’s Joakim Soria and San Francisco’s Brian Wilson are out for the season, while Tampa Bay’s Kyle Farnsworth, Washington’s Drew Storen and Boston’s Andrew Bailey are on the DL. Other stoppers like Heath Bell of the Marlins and Sergio Santos of the Blue Jays have already blown multiple saves. Keep an eye on the closing situations of the White Sox, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Indians and Nationals. High ERAs by the incumbents could lead to more opportunities for other relievers like Arizona’s Bryan Shaw, Addison Reed or Matt Thornton of the White Sox and Cleveland’s Vinnie Pestano. The Athlon closer grid is a valuable tool to help you keep up with bullpen changes around baseball.

He may not be a closer (yet), but Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman (0.00 ERA with 15 Ks in 8.0 innings pitched) already has two wins and a hold. The dominating fireballer can help your ratios greatly and could move into a closer role if Sean Marshall struggles in the 9th inning. Pick him up if available. Also, Henry Rodriguez of the Nationals has yet to allow a run while picking up three saves in a time share with Brad Lidge. It would not be surprising to see the hard-throwing Venezuelan take over the 9th-inning gig on a more regular basis.

Weekend Series To Watch

St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates have the worst offense (just 26 runs in 12 games) in baseball, and they will face Lance Lynn on Friday, Jake Westbrook on Saturday and Kyle Lohse on Sunday. That St. Louis trio is off to a scorching start, with each having two wins and an ERA of 1.50 or lower. Some fantasy owners have been hesitant to pick up the veteran duo of Lohse and Westbrook, who have traditionally been .500 pitchers with low strikeout rates. However the Cards' hurlers will help you in every category except Ks, and look for their current success to continue in the Steel City.

New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox
It always interesting when these two rivals get together, as long as you have five or six hours to watch the game. Boston is currently mired in last place in the AL East, and there isn’t much to believe in fantasy-wise other than David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez. The BoSox are already off to a terrible start with an MLB-worst ERA of 6.20, and Bobby Valentine will send the trio of Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard to the mound this weekend. Even if any of the starters fare well, the Boston bullpen (24 ER in 34.2 IP with a 1.47 WHIP) has been awful. Expect the Bronx Bombers to light up some fireworks in Fenway. Time to bring beer back to the clubhouse?

Texas Rangers at Detroit Tigers
This ALCS rematch should make for a very entertaining series in Motown. The Tigers offense has been very solid with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder leading the way, but the Rangers have the best staff ERA in the American League by a wide margin. Texas also has a formidable offense, but Comerica Park can be a tough place to hit. Texas’ Matt Harrison will face Rick Porcello on Friday night, Neftali Feliz will take on AL Cy Young winner and MVP Justin Verlander in a Saturday matinee, while Colby Lewis will battle Tigers rookie southpaw Drew Smyly (0.90 ERA in two starts) on Sunday afternoon. Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz belted six home runs against Detroit in the ALCS last October, while Cabrera hit .400 with three dingers in the six-game series.

--Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)


<p> Fantasy Baseball Weekend Rundown: April 19</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 12:14
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, winless streaks, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/nascar-sprint-cup-series%E2%80%99-longest-winless-skids-0

Last year, one of the biggest stories surrounding the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was the prevalence of first-time winners. From the start of the season, when Trevor Bayne surprised everyone in the Daytona 500 to David Ragan’s July triumph five months later, new faces in unfamiliar places were popping up virtually everywhere. By the end of the season, the series witnessed five first-time winners — Bayne, Ragan, Marcos Ambrose, Paul Menard and Regan Smith — and the parity within the sport was on in full force.

But for every new wheelman to make a breakthrough, someone else is watching his time away from Victory Lane increase significantly. Now, in 2012, with a dearth of new drivers entering the sport the story has shifted from “who hasn’t won?” to “when is Driver X going to win again?” In some cases, veterans who once dominated have gone several seasons without adding to their win total while watching others rise to the top, claiming a slice of the fame and fortune that was once theirs.

Some are obvious, like the sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., yet others have quietly built with little fanfare. Let’s take a closer look at the longest droughts, brought into tighter focus after point leader Greg Biffle snapped his own 49-race winless streak Saturday night. Of course, that’s nothing compared to the agony these triple-digit winless sufferers have been through. Note: Only the top 25 drivers in Sprint Cup points were considered (i.e., teams that actually have a chance of finishing first every Sunday).

Bobby Labonte
Winless Streak:
295 races
Last Victory: November 2003, Ford 400 (Homestead-Miami Speedway)
Synopsis: At 25th in the standings and driving for a single-car team, it’s easy to forget Labonte still exists in the series, let alone that he’s nursing a drought week-to-week that’s lasted well over eight years. No one would have predicted this sorry ending to a promising career that includes the 2000 Cup Series title — certainly not the last time Labonte used luck to speed by Bill Elliott’s flat tire on the final lap at Homestead to claim victory in ’03. But two years later, after a serious slump at Joe Gibbs Racing, he left to join a floundering Petty Enterprises to be “the savior” of a legendary franchise … that just kept floundering. It was a career-killer of a decision, one that led to disastrous finishes, a release after financial problems gripped the team and the sorry decision to start-and-park before JTG Daugherty Racing picked him up.

Now in his second year driving the No. 47, Labonte remains stuck in mediocrity with this single-car team, unable to recreate the magic that once had him contending for victories each week, while the team “rebuilds” after splitting off from being the satellite team for Michael Waltrip Racing (how about the bad timing on that). In fact, since the start of the 2004 season, Labonte’s led just 218 laps and has yet to lead one — or collect a top-10 finish, for that matter — this season.

Best Chance: If there’s ever to be one last miracle for Labonte, Daytona or Talladega would be the place. In February 2011, his push of Trevor Bayne was responsible for the No. 21 heading to Victory Lane, and a fourth-place finish for Labonte, his only top 5 of the season. I guess a guy can dream…

Martin Truex, Jr.
Winless Streak:
174 races
Last Victory: June 2007, Autism Speaks 400 (Dover International Speedway)
Synopsis: Truex’s last Sprint Cup victory is also his only one, taken during a time when he was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s right-hand man at the company once founded by Dale Sr. Months later, that popular son was off to Hendrick Motorsports, leaving Truex in the awkward position of assuming a leadership role never meant for him. After a merger and subsequent pairing with Chip Ganassi, the once-cozy confines of his friend’s former organization had been shattered; faced with executives that favored Juan Pablo Montoya, Truex chose to pick another opportunity and spearhead the driver effort at the growing Michael Waltrip Racing.

The first two seasons were filled with underachievement: zero Chase appearances, just four top-5 finishes and the firing of championship-level crew chief Pat Tryson. But just when it looked as though Truex, a two-time Busch Series champ, would be listed a permanent flop, new head wrench Chad Johnston found some innovative setups that appear to have salvaged a career. Fourth in points, Truex is on pace to lead more laps (525) than any season since 2007, the year that also produced his only Chase appearance. At this point, anything less than breaking the streak this season would be considered a huge disappointment.

Best Chance: Dover. It’s where Truex broke into the win column the first time, and in four starts with the No. 56 team, he’s already captured two poles there. One of a group of drivers who attended a Goodyear tire test at Dover this week, all the pieces are in place for him to break through in that track’s June event. 

<p> Athlon Sports contrtibutor Tom Bowles highlights the current longest winless skids in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/oregons-deanthony-thomas-ranks-pac-12s-top-running-back

The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the running backs in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel. 

Here's how Athlon ranks the running backs in the Pac-12 for 2012:

1. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon (SO)
Rushing Stats:
55 att., 595 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 46 rec., 605 yards, 9 TD

Few players in the nation bring more explosion or elusiveness to an offense than the Black Mamba of football. Toss in other adjectives like versatile, speedy and big play and it might begin to explain what Thomas can do on a football field. After 2,235 all-purpose yards, Thomas claimed Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year. Lining up as both a running back and a receiver, Thomas posted nearly 12 yards per touch last fall on offense, including a 31.5-yard clip in the first Rose Bowl victory in school history. In the third phase of the game, he can flip a game’s momentum instantly. He scored twice on special teams and averaged 27.3 yards per kick return (and a sneaky 17.3 yards per punt return on three returns). Expect much of the same from Thomas in 2012 — except fans can bet that Chip Kelly will get him the ball more than his 10.0 total touches per game last year.

2. Kenjon Barner, Oregon (SR)
Rushing Stats:
152 att., 551 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 17 rec., 184 yards, 3 TD

The career backup enters his final season in Eugene with a shot at being the primary ball carrier in one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. Doak Walker winner LaMichael James missed three games over the last two years and Barner proved he could be more than capable. Try 58 carries, three receptions, 433 yards rushing, 102 yards receiving and eight total touchdowns in those three starts. In 36 career games, 33 as a backup, he averaged over 60 yards from scrimmage. The only thing that will keep Barner from a massive 2012 campaign will be, that’s right, De’Anthony Thomas. Because it certainly won’t be Pac-12 defenses.

3. John White, Utah (SR)
Rushing Stats:
316 att., 1,519 yards, 15 TDs
Receiving Stats: 13 rec., 44 yards, 2 TDs

White ranked as one of the top 25 junior college recruits in the signing class of 2011 and didn’t disappoint last year. He ranked third among all running backs in FBS play with 316 carries and finished with 1,519 yards and 15 scores. He also caught 13 passes for 44 yards and two touchdowns. White’s best performance came in a 27-8 victory over Oregon State, recording 205 yards on 35 attempts, but he also posted 115 yards and a touchdown in the bowl victory over Georgia Tech. White’s numbers are even more impressive when you consider Utah lost starting quarterback Jordan Wynn to a shoulder injury early in the year and was never really able to establish a consistent passing attack after that. With the arrival of junior college transfer Kelvin York and the emergence of sophomore Harvey Langi this spring, White probably won’t see over 300 touches again. However, he should easily surpass 1,000 yards and earn All-Pac-12 honors.

4. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (SR)
Rushing Stats:
242 att., 1,330 yards, 10 TD
Receiving Stats: 25 rec., 182 yards, 2 TD

The senior-to-be has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons as the starter in the Stanford backfield. He has 13 100-yard games over the last two seasons and has scored a total of 28 touchdowns. He has had no fewer than 13 carries in 23 straight games and finished last fall with a career high 35 attempts and 177 yards in the bowl loss to Oklahoma State. Few players are as consistent as Taylor has been, as he hasn’t missed a game in his 39 career contests. There is one giant ‘however’ for Stanford this fall and it involves four potential first-round NFL Draft picks. Gone is superstar quarterback Andrew Luck and a pair of all-everything hog mollies in Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro. Most running backs in the Pac-12 would be successful behind that trio, so Taylor could find sledding much tougher in 2012.

5. Isi Sofele, California (SR)
Rushing Stats:
252 att., 1,322 yards, 10 TD
Receiving Stats: 6 rec., 33 yards

Cal and Jeff Tedford have been churning out stellar tailbacks for the better part of a decade and, after a slow start, Sofele is emerging as the next in line. The diminutive ball carrier stands 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds but has yet to miss a game in his career (38 games). When Tedford refocused midseason a year ago on running the football, Sofele answered the bell to the tune of three 100-yard games in the final four contests. Cal went 3-1 over that span and made it to the postseason because of Sofele’s solid play. In fact, he posted his three best career rushing totals (190 yards, 145 and 138) and scored in six of the final seven games of the year. With Zach Maynard and Keenan Allen keeping defenses honest this fall, Sofele is a great bet to post his second straight 1,000-yard season.

6. Cameron Marshall, Arizona State (SR)
Rushing Stats:
230 att., 1,050 yards, 18 TDs
Receiving Stats: 24 rec., 188 yards, 0 TD

Although new Arizona State coach Todd Graham wants to increase the offensive tempo and keep a spread offense in place, Marshall’s role isn’t likely to be diminished in 2012. Marshall was Arizona State’s No. 1 back last season, rushing for 1,050 yards and tying a school record with 18 rushing scores. With 11 rushing scores in 2012, the senior would own an Arizona State career touchdown record. Deantre Lewis is back after missing 2011 with an injury, but Marshall should still see 200-240 carries. Arizona State has some pieces to replace on the offensive line, but the senior should earn all-conference honors in 2012.

7. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA (SR)
Rushing Stats:
166 att., 976 yards, 5 TDs
Receiving Stats: 9 rec., 74 yards, 1 TD

Franklin isn’t going to garner national attention like Utah’s John White or Oregon’s Kenjon Barner could this year, but he is quietly one of the Pac-12’s most productive running backs. He rushed for 976 yards and five touchdowns last year, including 162 yards and one touchdown in the 45-6 blowout win over Colorado. Franklin’s 976 last season yards were a slight drop from his 1,127 yards as a sophomore in 2010, largely due to Derrick Coleman’s expanded role in the backfield. With Coleman out of eligibility, Franklin should see over 200 carries in 2012 and top the 1,000-yard mark.

8. Curtis McNeal, USC (SR)
Rushing Stats:
145 att., 1,005 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 19 yards, 0 TD

McNeal has experienced an up and down career at USC. He recorded six carries as a freshman in 2009, but was academically ineligible in 2010. After sitting out a year, McNeal emerged as USC’s No. 1 running back, finishing with 1,005 yards and six touchdowns. He was used sparingly through the first five weeks of the year (24 carries), but recorded four 100-yard games in USC’s final six contests. McNeal is only 5-foot-7, so the Trojans may not be able to rely on him for 250 carries. However, the senior gave the rushing attack a spark last year and should lead the team in yards in 2012.

9. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona (SO)
Rushing Stats:
91 att., 425 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving Stats: 15 rec., 203 yards, 2 TDs

Carey ranked second among Pac-12 freshmen running backs with 425 yards, while posting an impressive 4.7 yards per rush attempt. He did not record a 100-yard game, but finished with 92 yards on 13 attempts in the 31-27 win over rival Arizona State. With Keola Antolin departing, Carey should be the workhorse for new coach Rich Rodriguez. The Wildcats are shifting from a pass-first offense to more of a run-spread, which figures to be a huge benefit to Carey. Expect this sophomore to be one of the Pac-12’s top breakout players in 2012.

10. Jesse Callier, Washington (JR)
Rushing Stats:
47 att., 260 yards, TD
Receiving Stats: 7 rec., 65 yards

Callier has the unenviable task of replacing one of the program’s greatest running backs in the departed Chris Polk. Polk touched the ball 878 times over his career in Seattle, producing 4,732 yards from scrimmage and scoring 30 times. While Steve Sarkisian will use more than just one back in 2012, Callier figures to get the bulk of the carries. The SoCal product posted a historic prep season as senior by rushing for 3,010 yards and 43 touchdowns at Warren High School. The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder is lighter than Polk but loves the contact like the former Husky tailback. He has proven himself on special teams — he ranks No. 2 all-time in UW history with 1,309 return yards — and will have his chance to prove it in the backfield this fall.

11. Malcolm Agnew, Oregon State (SO)
Rushing Stats:
89 att., 423 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 8 yards

Under Mike Riley, Oregon State has seen some ridiculous rushing numbers posted by the likes of Steven Jackson, Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers. A fact that makes Agnew’s startling team leading totals (carries, yards and touchdowns) that much more shocking. Even more shocking is 223 of his team-best 423 yards came in the first week of the season. In his first career game, Agnew rushed 33 times and scored three touchdowns against Sacramento State. However, like most of the 2011 Beaver campaign, the loss overshadowed a fine statistical performance. In only six games, the 5-foot-8, 204-pound runner conjured up images of Rodgers with his tiny frame and tough-nosed attitude. The key for the sophomore, who nursed a tender hamstring this spring, will be staying healthy. Expect Riley to steal a page out of cross-state rival Oregon’s book and use Agnew (and a host of other backs) in a variety of ways this fall.

12. Rickey Galvin, Washington State (SO)
Rushing Stats:
114 att., 602 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 28 rec., 242 yards, TD

No Mike Leach tailback has ever been considered a workhorse, but Galvin has a chance to give the new head coach exactly what he looks for in a tailback. Speed, quickness and the ability to catch the football. Galvin was strong down the stretch last fall, receiving double-digit carries in four of the last five games. Most importantly, the smallish runner caught 17 of his 28 passes over that stretch as well. In only six career starts, Galvin has proven he has the skillset to excel in Leach’s spread attack. You PPR fantasy players might want to give this sophomore a look in 2012.

13. Tony Jones, Colorado (SO)
Rushing Stats:
78 att., 297 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving Stats: 27 rec., 168 yards, 2 TDs

With quarterback Tyler Hansen and running back Rodney Stewart out of eligibility, there are few proven offensive weapons returning for Colorado in 2012. Making matters even worse was the loss of receiver Paul Richardson to an ACL tear in spring practice. Jones was a spring standout for the Buffaloes and will get the first opportunity to replace Stewart at running back. He rushed for 297 yards and two scores last year, but also caught 27 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Jones is only 5-foot-7, but might see 200 carries for Colorado this season.

14. Bishop Sankey, Washington (SO)
Coach Sark isn’t committed to any type of set rotation at tailback so Sankey should see the field plenty this fall.

15. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford (SR)
Not many teams feature a 215-pound senior backup who scored eight times and averaged over six yards per carry last year.

16. C.J. Anderson, California (SR)
Anderson will serve as the top backup for Isi Sofele. As a junior college transfer last year, he rushed for 345 yards and eight touchdowns. 

17. Nelson Agholor, USC (FR)
With NCAA sanctions still limiting the amount of players USC can have on scholarship this year, depth is going to be an issue at almost every position. Agholor was signed as a receiver, but could play a hybrid running back/wide receiver role, especially after Tre Madden was lost for the year with a knee injury in spring practice. Agholor is too talented to keep on the sidelines and he could see around 50 touches at running back this year.

18. Deantre Lewis, Arizona State (SO)
Arizona State already has one of the Pac-12’s top running backs (Cameron Marshall), and now the depth gets a boost in 2012 with Lewis’ return from injury. As a freshman in 2010, he rushed for 539 yards and four scores, while catching 23 passes for 370 yards. However, a gunshot wound prevented him from suiting up in 2011, but all signs point to a full recovery and significant playing time in 2012. Lewis may not record 500 rushing yards this year, but he should be an excellent change of pace option to Marshall. 

19. Carl Winston, Washington State (SR)
Winston actually carried the ball (123 times) more than Galvin a year ago, so expect him to see plenty of playing time.

20. D.J. Morgan, USC (SO)
With Tre Madden suffering a torn ACL in spring practice, Morgan will once again serve as Curtis McNeal’s backup this season. The sophomore recorded two games of at least 50 or more yards, posting 56 against Colorado and 70 against Minnesota. Morgan was a top 100 recruit coming out of high school, but he needs to stay healthy to make an impact in 2012.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on twitter) and Braden Gall (@BradenGall)

Related Pac-12 Content

Washington or Stanford: Better 2012 Record?
Pac-12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012

Can California Beat Stanford and Washington in the 2012 North Standings?

College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Head Coaches for 2012

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Athlon ranks the running backs in the Pac-12 for the 2012 season.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 06:55
Path: /college-football/tcu-football-how-will-horned-frogs-fare-big-12-2012

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

How Will TCU Fare in its First Season of Big 12 play?

Sir Wesley Willis,
Well, we're apparently losing Gary Patterson to the Curse of the Cell Phone Arkansas gig, so I suppose wins and losses are the least of our worries, no?  In all seriousness though, I'm not sure anyone truly knows what to expect.  Even before the overblown drug-related events of the spring, Patterson was tight lipped about his team's performances in practice, closing them to the public and media alike; after that, the man was practically a sealed vault, offering only the most cryptic of insights.  Offensively, at the skill positions the Frogs should be set to go toe-to-toe with any other offense in the Big 12.  The three headed rushing attack of Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James returns fully intact and QB Casey Pachall has old favorite Josh Boyce still in tow plus new toys like Brandon Carter, Cam White, David Porter and the elusive Ladarius Brown to pick apart the always questionable Big 12 defenses. The O line is a little thin where depth is concerned due to injuries so for my money OL Coach Eddie Williamson is the most important assistant on the coaching staff, at least for this year.  Stay tuned...

Speaking of questionable defenses, TCU should be right at home in year one because if you call yourself a TCU fan and aren't a little concerned then you haven't been paying attention.  Linebacker, typically a strong point for the Frogs, is particularly thin due to graduation and the extracurricular activities of Tanner Brock and it sounds like the spot opposite Kenny Cain is absolutely ripe for the taking.  Same goes in the secondary where CB Jason Verrett seems to be the only guy with his position locked down.  The defensive line isn't as thin as it seems, but you can't discount losing bonehead DJ Yendrey to suspension and rising star David Johnson to a spring injury.  D Line is our deepest position on defense, but it may take contributions from true freshmen to fill in the holes, a rarity for a GP defense.  After all these years it's hard not to trust Patterson as a defensive mastermind, and the defense last year steadily improved after a slow start,  but those guys are going to have to grow up quickly before Big 12 play.  Fortunately opening week opponent Grambling State doesn't have a Heisman candidate dark horse under center that I'm aware of.

Again, it's hard for me to make an actual prediction based on the lack of solid information leaking out of the spring, but I'd say TCU should conservatively go 9-3 in Year 1, and maybe even 10-2.  Not that the Frogs aren't as talented or more so than their Big 12 opponents, but it's going to take a season or two to build the depth needed to compete at the highest level on a week-to-week basis.  Talent wise, I'd put TCU up against anyone in the Conference, but if on-paper talent won games, UT and OU would win the Big 12 every single year so clearly it takes a little something else.  It's going to be a bit of a learning curve this year as far as gauging how to keep your team energized and healthy when you're playing top quality opponents each week, but I have full faith in this coaching staff and maybe they'll shock the college football world and win the thing, who knows?  One thing I'm certain of, though - it's going to be a hell of a lot of fun.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
TCU is in a similar spot to a handful of other Big 12 teams between Oklahoma (the favorite) and Kansas (the cellar dweller): The Frogs will be difficult to figure out in the preseason. TCU’s in a mix with teams like Texas, West Virginia, Kansas State and Oklahoma State who all could finish in any spot in the top half of the league. That said, I’m not totally optimistic about TCU finishing in the top three or four. The defense may lag behind the Casey Pachall-led offense next season. A defense that’s already losing linebacker Tank Carder also must absorb losses from the drug bust scandal earlier this year. The learning curve of moving from the Mountain West to the Big 12 is bound to catch up with the Horned Frogs, especially late in the season when the Frogs play every Big 12 contender – and only Big 12 contenders – after Oct. 27.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
First, all Big 12 fans need to understand how Gary Patterson has constructed his teams at TCU. He builds them from the inside out with a heavy focus on defense. This is how the most powerful BCS conference teams are constructed and thus gives the Horned Frogs a unique set-up for a mid-major program jumping to BCS play. On the offensive side of the ball, TCU already looks exactly like a Big 12 program — great passing quarterback, deep running back stable and electric wide receivers. And there is nothing on the schedule that indicates that Patterson won’t have success in his first romp through the Big 12. Until November. The purple amphibians could very easily be 7-0 entering Halloween weekend (Oct. 27), but the rest of their schedule is filled with freaks and ghouls that don't reside in the Mountain West. The Horned Frogs finish: At Oklahoma State, at West Virginia, Kansas State at home, at Texas and Oklahoma in Ft. Worth. Should the Frogs win three of their last five, 2012 will be considered a major success and fans should be amped about their future in the league. But a 2-3, 1-4 or, gasp, 0-5 run would push TCU down the Big 12 pecking order significantly. It would indicate that the jump in competition was much steeper than anticipated and that conference contention is still a couple of seasons away.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
After dominating the Mountain West, TCU is ready for its next challenge of contending in the Big 12. The move to a BCS conference isn’t going to be easy, but there’s also a lot to like about TCU in 2012. The offense returns only five starters, but the backfield is loaded with options and the receiving corps is one of the best in the Big 12. Quarterback Casey Pachall should contend for all-conference honors after throwing for 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns last year. However, there are question marks about an offensive line that loses three starters.

Considering the Big 12 is an offensive-minded league, TCU should fit in just fine in 2012. However, a usual strongpoint – the defense – is a concern. Although the Horned Frogs return five starters, gone are linebacker Tank Carder, safety Tekerrein Cuba and defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey. The secondary ranked 60th nationally last season and a handful of key contributors have finished their eligibility. With the talent returning at quarterback and receiver in the Big 12, the personnel turnover and last season’s so-so play has to worry coach Gary Patterson. The schedule isn’t too overwhelming, but road trips at Baylor, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas could all easily be losses.

It’s certainly possible TCU finishes with 10 wins, but the Big 12 is a much tougher conference than the Mountain West. The week-to-week grind of playing in a BCS conference could cost the Horned Frogs a game or two, which leads me to my projection of an 8-4 or 9-3 season. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I see the Horned Frogs finishing fourth or fifth in league play, with a Big 12 record in the 6-3/5-4 range. Most quality non-BCS teams can beat the big boys on a given Saturday, but the challenge is when you have to play four quality opponents in a six-week span. There will definitely be an adjustment for Gary Patterson’s club, but the veteran coach has built a solid program that expects to win.  The TCU offense loses three starters on the offensive line but returns top-notch skill players in quarterback Casey Pachall, receiver Josh Boyce and a trio of quality backs. The Frogs did lose offensive coordinator Justin Fuente to Memphis, but they should still put up points in their new league. The toughest obstacle for TCU competing in a BCS conference will be improving a defense that lost several contributors and gave up too many passing yards last season. The offenses in the Big 12 can air it out, so Patterson and veteran coordinator Dick Bumpas will have their work cut out. Even with the step up in competition, I think TCU has the type of program that can handle the week-in, week-out rigors of the Big 12 and finish with a winning record in conference play.

Where will TCU finish in the 2012 Big 12 standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

Related Big 12 Content

Big 12 Running Back Rankings for 2012
Big 12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012

Can Kansas State Repeat Last Season's Success?

Ranking the Big 12 Head Coaches for 2012
College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> How will TCU fare in its first year of the Big 12?&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 06:53
Path: /college-football/virginia-tech-football

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Which Team Will Be Virginia Tech's Biggest Challenger in the ACC Coastal?

Jim Young, (@ACCSports)
Virginia Tech has its flaws, but so does everyone else in the Coastal Division - BIG flaws in some cases - which makes it hard to find a truly credible challenger to the Hokies. After hemming and hawing for a while, I've settled on Georgia Tech. The O-line returns much of its experience and should have better depth. Tevin Washington is in year two of running the offense. B-back David Sims has looked good in spring practice and Johnson has added a shotgun option wrinkle to his potent rushing attack. Meanwhile the defense, which returns six starters, will be in the third year of its transition to a  3-4 unit and should finally be getting the hang of Al Groh's scheme. A key for the D - mammoth nose guard T.J. Barnes has been impressive this spring. 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
By process of elimination, this pretty much has to be Virginia, right? The Cavaliers were a different team after Mike London ditched the quarterback rotation and stuck with Michael Rocco as his starter. I like the depth at the running back and receiver, as well. The Cavs’ defense is going to be a major question after losing some key players up front and a shutdown corner, Chase Minnifield. And beyond that, this is a team that lost 38-0 at home to Virginia Tech last season (and followed that with a 43-23 loss to Auburn in the bowl game). If not Virginia, then North Carolina may be a sneaky team in the division. New coach Larry Fedora – whose Southern Miss team beat Virginia in Charlottesville last year, mind you – has a good foundation on offense with quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard. North Carolina also has a beneficial schedule (no Clemson, no Florida State, Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill). Those are two awfully shaky contenders, including one that is barred from playing for the ACC title. If Virginia Tech has another 1,000-yard running back up its sleeve and finds stability on the offensive line, the Hokies could win this division without much drama.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Miami is too young and Duke just doesn’t have the horses to compete. That leaves North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia as the top competitors to Hokie dominance in the Coastal Division. I really want to pick North Carolina, which looks like the most talented team on paper and won’t have to face Clemson or Florida State in crossover play. They have the most offensive skill talent of the three teams and possesses arguably the top offensive line in the league. Yet, winning a division (aka claiming the best record) with a whole new coaching staff while on sanctions seems a tall order. The Wahoos took major steps forward into prominence last fall by beating North Carolina and Georgia Tech. Virginia also misses the Tigers and the Seminoles in Atlantic Division play. But they are limited offensively and got hammered by 57 combined points at the hands of Virginia Tech (with the ACC title game trip on the line) and Auburn to end the 2011 season.

With 16 starters back, one of the league’s best coaches, a deep and talented running back corps that features a returning starter under center and stellar offensive line comparable to that in Chapel Hill, I will take the Yellow Jackets to be the top challenge for the Hokies. Paul Johnson’s bunch will face a brutal first month to its season that features road trips to Virginia Tech (Labor Day night) and Clemson to go with home divisional tests against Miami and Virginia — all within the first six games of the year. If the Jackets can escape that stretch with only one conference loss, they will be in a great position to compete for another ACC title. That loss better be to Clemson, however, as the first weekend match-up with Virginia Tech will likely decide the entire season. The winner of the Tech-mo Bowl has gone on to win the Coastal Division every year of its existence — and Beamer’s bunch will have all summer to prepare for the triple option.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Barring a huge surprise, Virginia Tech is going to be the only ranked team out of the Coastal Division. The Hokies are clearly the top team in the division, and there’s really not much separating Virginia, Georgia Tech and North Carolina for second place. Considering how close all three are, it wouldn’t be a shock to see all three potentially tie at 5-3 or 4-4 in ACC play.

Even though North Carolina is ineligible for a bowl and is going through a coaching transition, I like the Tar Heels to finish second in the Coastal. Out of the three teams most likely to finish second, North Carolina has the best quarterback-running back combination and perhaps the best offensive line in the ACC. The Tar Heels also have a favorable schedule, missing Florida State and Clemson from the Atlantic, while hosting Virginia Tech, NC State and Georgia Tech. North Carolina suffered some key losses on defense, but coordinator Vic Koenning did a good job at Illinois and his arrival should help this unit from struggling too much in 2012. I like the direction Virginia is headed and think Georgia Tech will be solid once again, but the Tar Heels will find a way to edge out second in the Coastal.  

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think the choice is North Carolina. Georgia Tech and Virginia will be contenders as well, but a new direction in Chapel Hill will be beneficial for a talented UNC roster. There will be an adjustment period with new coach Larry Fedora and staff, but the Tar Heels return a solid offense led by All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard and quarterback Bryn Renner. With four offensive linemen back, Fedora should be able to engineer plenty of points. UNC’s main challenge will be replacing several quality defenders, but Vic Koenning and Dan Disch should get the most of out of that unit. North Carolina catches a break in not having to face Florida State or Clemson from the Atlantic, and the Tar Heels get Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and NC State at home. Virginia also misses the Seminoles and Tigers, but I see UNC playing well in Fedora’s first ACC season and finishing second to the Hokies.

Related ACC Content

ACC Running Back Rankings for 2012
ACC Quarterback Rankings for 2012

ACC Head Coach Rankings for 2012

College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
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<p> <strong>Which Team Will Be Virginia Tech's Biggest Challenger in the ACC Coastal?</strong></p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 06:50
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-3

Hall of Fame Nominees, Grading Texas and a Return to "The Rock"

With NASCAR’s recent announcement of the 25 nominees for its next Hall of Fame class, members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council selected the five people they think should be inducted next and why. They didn’t stop there, though, adding suggestions on who deserves to be nominated but hasn’t yet so far.

Fan Council members also discussed Rockingham’s return to the NASCAR schedule and what’s next there and dissected the racing at Texas. There’s much to debate this week, so here’s what the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had to say:

Fan Council members were asked to select five of the 25 nominees for their ballot. Here’s the five people they would vote into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the percentage of votes each received:

Fireball Roberts ... 52.4 percent
Leonard Wood ... 50.0 percent 
Benny Parsons ... 44.3 percent
Wendell Scott ... 41.9 percent
Red Byron ... 39.9 percent


Buck Baker ... 37.5 percent
Raymond Parks ... 31.8 percent 
Rick Hendrick ... 18.2 percent
H. Clay Earles … 17.9 percent
Rusty Wallace ... 17.2 percent
Curtis Turner ... 16.2 percent 
Richard Childress ... 15.9 percent
Tim Flock ... 14.5 percent
Fred Lorenzen ... 13.2 percent
T. Wayne Robertson ... 13.2 percent
Anne B. France ... 12.6 percent
Ray Fox ... 12.5 percent
Cotton Owens ... 10.1 percent
Herb Thomas ... 9.8 percent
Jack Ingram ... 9.1 percent
Joe Weatherly ... 6.1 percent
Ralph Seagraves ... 5.4 percent
Jerry Cook ... 4.7 percent
Les Richter ... 1.7 percent
Bobby Isaac ... 1.0 percent

What Fan Council members said:

• I think this is the year to recognize the very early days of NASCAR. The one thing really lacking at the Hall of Fame is an appreciation of the stars of the 50s and early 60s. Curtis Turner was really the first superstar of stock car racing, and should be recognized. His accomplishments in stock car racing were great, plus you need to consider the great record he had in NASCAR's convertible series, as well as in road racing. He was also the man who had the vision to build the Charlotte Motor Speedway, an icon in this sport. 

• Wow that's tough to only pick 5 from that list ... so many are deserving. I think Childress and Hendrick are no-brainers as far as the current. Turner and Fireball should be the two recognized from the past because of what they accomplished in their time, and having the pleasure to work with him, I think Benny is just as deserving as a driver as he is for his broadcasting work.

• Without Ralph Seagraves and Winston, we may not even be talking about a Hall of Fame. Flock, Baker and Fireball's records speak for themselves and Cotton Owens is my pick for his success with Pearson and Buddy Baker. 

• My choices were Leonard Wood, Raymond Parks, H. Clay Earles, Red Byron, and Buck Baker. Reasons being Wood deserves to be in the HOF for all they have done for this sport everything from fielding winning cars for anyone and everyone that has ever been a factor in this sport, they also changed the way pit stops were completed. Byron was the very first series champion and that stands for itself; Earles because he founded a wonderful facility that helped BUILD this sport; Parks for being the first championship car owner. Baker was one of the best drivers in his era and like everyone else on my list he helped BUILD this sport. If you take anything from my votes these people helped BUILD this sport.

• Wendell Scott ABSOLUTELY must make it to the Hall this year. First and ONLY African American to win a Cup series-level race at the time when he was running? This really needs to happen — now rather than later.

• I'm not buying Wendell Scott deserves a spot over people who helped build the sport to what it is today. H. Clay Earles founded a track that is still here today. Raymond Parks, first champion car owner and helped behind the scenes. Both deserve a spot first. I understand the need to show that he broke a barrier but would he have broke that barrier without others in this nominee class stepping up?

• Wendell Scott should be inducted since it must have been an incredibly difficult thing to compete the stock car racing as an African American in the time period that he did it. He did it on a shoestring and won. IMO, that achievement should be recognized.

• The shoe-ins were covered by the first 3 classes. Now it's time to catch up on the founding fathers

• You cannot tell the meteoric rise of NASCAR without T. Wayne. Shame they skipped over Leonard Wood last year.

• In my mind the early members of the Hall of Fame should have changed the sport. Anne B. France — Big Bill couldn't have, wouldn't have, done it without her. All of the previous members have stressed how much their families sacrificed for the sport. Anne B. France is the first representative of that group.

• Why is Anne B France on this list? I guess anyone that worked in the office in the beginning of NASCAR deserves to be in the Hall of Fame?! How about the first ticket collector?

• I believe Raymond Parks should have been in the Hall of Fame in the first or second class due to his contributions to keeping the sport alive in its infancy. Fred Lorenzen is one of the greats of the sport and health has deteriorated, which means this might be his last chance to enjoy the spoils of making the Hall. Since Glen Wood made the Hall of Fame last year, his brother Leonard coming in the following year makes perfect sense. Just like the Petty family over the first three years, the Wood brothers have a chance to take their place in the Hall. Buck Baker is the first repeat champion in Cup racing and having Buddy Baker up there would be a great representation for the building and for NASCAR. I chose Jack Ingram because they should incorporate the other series greats as well and The Ironman was a legend in Nationwide.

I provided a list — not a complete list certainly — of people to be considered for the NASCAR Hall and Fame. Here’s how the Backseat Drivers Fan Council voted:


Ken Squier .. 46.6 percent
Barney Hall ... 45.6 percent
Smokey Yunick ... 43.9 percent
Alan Kulwicki ... 37.8 percent
Davey Allison ... 35.4 percent


Humpy Wheeler ... 34.0 percent
Chris Economaki ... 32.0 percent
Sam Ard ... 29.6 percent
Bruton Smith ... 28.2 percent
Tim Richmond ... 21.1 percent
Janet Guthrie ... 19.7 percent
Ray Evernham ... 18.7 percent
Hershel McGriff ... 17.0 percent
Jake Elder ... 16.7 percent
Ralph Moody ... 11.9 percent
Rex White ... 11.2 percent
Harold Brasington ... 5.4 percent
Paul Sawyer ... 3.7 percent

What Fan Council members said:

• Maurice Petty seems to always be forgotten, yet, accomplished more than most listed above

• Moody & Yunick because of their work on car development. Hall, Squier & Economaki because without their voices, the sport would not be the same ...

• Humpy Wheeler was one of the first promoters in this sport to truly understand the concept of what fans wanted from a racetrack besides just the race.

• To me, Barney Hall is the voice of NASCAR. I am 59 years old and went to my first NASCAR race when I was 12. Barney Hall was there and has been there ever since. Along with Chris Economaki and Ken Squier. These three men helped build the fan following of NASCAR and without the fans we wouldn't have NASCAR!!!!!!!!!

• Barney Hall has always been the voice of NASCAR for me. There will never be a better NASCAR announcer period. You can't have that Hall without him being in it. Squier, too. Davey, Ard and Richmond had their careers cut by tragedy. Who knows what kind of numbers they would have put up.

• Harold Brasington is also not given the credit he deserves. People don't stop and think how risky and pioneering it was to build a superspeedway for stock cars at the time; and out in the middle of nowhere to boot.

• Many of the early stories I can recall reading about in regards to NASCAR involved stories of “Suitcase” Jake Elder. He was a man who had influence in many drivers’ careers, and is usually mentioned in connection with those drivers as opposed to getting his own mention. It’s time to tell his story. It is amazing what Janet Guthrie was able to accomplish in what was considered a man's sport. Her story is an inspiration and deserves recognition.

• I want to add Harry Hyde to this list also! 

• Red Vogt, one of the founding fathers of NASCAR, the man who coined the term NASCAR, and championship winning crew chief deserves to be in the HOF.


41.0 percent called it Fair
33.2 percent called it Good
20.0 percent called it Poor
5.8 percent called it Great

What Fan Council members said:

• It was boring. Too many green flag laps — we needed some phantom yellow flags to bring the field back together. Nice race for Biff but not much excitement for the rest of us.

• I'm glad there was no phony caution at the end just to add excitement.

• I like what Dave Despain said about viewers expecting blow-ups and excitement every lap: long green flag runs “IS RACING!” If there had been caution after caution, fans would have bitched about THAT, too. I enjoyed the race. Was I enthralled every single moment? Well, I had my heart in my throat praying Kasey Kahne would not have another night of bad luck, so I was watching intently, but no, I simply enjoyed it. That's all I ask of a race!

• Very little passing. I'm OK with long green flag runs if lots of guys are passing. This was not the case on Saturday. I felt like it was an Indy follow-the-leader type of race.

• You're going to get a lot of “OMG that was so BORING” comments, but I thought it was fine. Sometimes in sports there are blowouts, but only NASCAR can essentially wipe out a three-touchdown lead with a wave of the flag. It is to NASCAR's credit (and credibility) that they didn't throw a sketchy caution to bunch up the field, because the two cars that deserved to battle for the win did so.

• 224 green flag laps at Texas is just not what I wanted to see...

• YAWN. I had to force myself to stay awake just in case anything happened in the last 10 laps. Racing thus far in 2012 has been boring. I think Goodyear needs to change the tires so they will wear more.

• I hate to say this, but it was the most boring race I have seen in the last three years. At the same time, it’s good to have a clean race, unencumbered by wrecks and long delays. Basically, it just lacked good fender banging competitiveness.

• I guarantee a lot of folks will say poor, but I didn't mind the long, green-flag runs. The race was not boring, as many will say. I can remember watching races back in the day that went caution free for long periods of time. The best drivers with the best teams usually do well in these races. That's what we saw on Saturday night

• It was decent. It was nice to watch Jeff Gordon's drive from deep in the field to fourth. It would have been nice to have a caution with under 10 to go to see if he had anything for the 16 or 48.

<p> The Backseat Drivers Fan Council elects their members for the NASCAR Hall of Fame and weigh in on racing from Rockingham and Texas.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 18:10
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/pujols-ramirez-and-others-still-homerless-2012

After last night, 59 players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title are homerless so far this season. Some like infielders Daniel Descalso and Ruben Tejada may not hit one all season. And, yes, we know it’s less than a month into the season, but we like to have fun anyway.

Here are some notable players yet to go yard:

Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs
Forget the $79 million the Cubs have already sunk into this guy. But they still owe him $54 million to cover this season through 2014. I think there’s been a heist on the North Side.

Jayson Werth, Washington
We’re giving Werth a break because he’s hitting .347. But the Nats are paying him handsomely to produce runs. He has just six RBIs and four runs scored.

Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
The poster boy for this list. How can King Albert not have any home runs two weeks into the season? Although this is the longest drought to start a season in his career, we’re betting on Pujols to finish north of 35.

Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
We know. We know. He’s a notorious slow starter, so leave him alone, right? Why? He’s a .238 career hitter prior to May 1 and .289 after. He’s driven in just 10 percent of his runs in April. Maybe the Yankees should pay him only half his salary in April.

Ryan Zimmerman, Washington
Over the winter, the Nats gave Zim what is essentially a lifetime contract, which is guaranteed through 2019 with a team option for 2020. We’re not giving up on Zimmerman being a terrific player, just merely pointing out that hs hasn’t homered since inking a huge deal.

Mark Reynolds, Baltimore
The Orioles might be able to stomach the 15 whiffs in only 36 at-bats if they were just one home run to show for the big swings.

Justin Upton, Arizona
He now has a jammed thumb, which could land him on the DL. Prior to that, the D’backs’ No. 3 hitter had just two extra-base hits and no RBIs.

Giancarlo Stanton, Miami
We’re reverting to Mike until he hits at least one bomb.

<br />
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 16:58
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-must-see-match-ups

The NFL released its 2012 regular-season schedule on Tuesday night, laying out the slate of 256 games that will start in September and carry through December. Here are some of the games that caught our attention.

2012’s Must-See NFL Regular-Season Match Ups
(listed in chronological order)

Sept. 9, San Francisco at Green Bay
The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants get the spotlight on Wednesday, opening up the 2012 NFL regular season by hosting Dallas at home, but the game to watch in Week 1 may just be this one. The top seeds from last season’s NFC playoffs meet in Green Bay as the Packers (No. 1) welcome San Francisco (No. 2) to Lambeau Field.

This figures to be a contrast of strengths as reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense (No. 1 in the NFL in scoring in 2011) will face off against All-Pros Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman and the rest of the 49ers’ stout defense (No. 4 in total defense). The game also features a battle of coaching acumen between Mike McCarthy, who was the 49ers offensive coordinator before becoming the Packers’ head coach, and Jim Harbaugh, the NFL’s Coach of the Year in 2011.

Sept. 9, Pittsburgh at Denver
Peyton Manning will make his Denver Broncos debut at home on Sunday night, which is a must-see event in and of itself, but the NFL didn’t do him or the Broncos any favors with their opponent. Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers come back to Sports Authority Field at Mile High, where their 2011 season came to a stunning end, thanks to a 80-yard Tim Tebow-to-Demaryius Thomas connection just 11 seconds into overtime.

Tebow is now with the New York Jets, but the Broncos replaced him with Manning, the four-time NFL MVP. With Manning under center, the Broncos’ offense figures to be more dynamic and dangerous in the passing game, but may not be clicking on all cylinders come Week 1. The Steelers’ defense, which was No. 1 in the NFL in both total and scoring defense last season, will not only offer a good barometer of what Broncos’ fans can expect in 2012 from the revamped offense, it also will apply all the pressure it can on Manning to see if he’s fully recovered from his neck injuries and lengthy absence from the field.

Sept. 30, Buffalo at New England
On the surface this Week 4 encounter may not seem like a must-see match up, considering New England is the defending AFC Champion and Buffalo finished 6-10. However, remember that the AFC East foes split their two meetings in 2011. The Bills won the first game in Week 3 of last season, overcoming a 21-0 second-quarter deficit and kicking a game-winning field goal with no time left on the clock to secure the 34-31 thrilling victory at home. The win also snapped the Bills; 15-game losing streak to the Patriots.

The Patriots got even in the regular-season finale, but it wasn’t easy. This time it was Buffalo who jumped out to a 21-0 lead in Foxboro in the first quarter before Tom Brady and the Patriots answered back. And they answered back in a big way, out-scoring the Bills 49-0 in the final three quarters to become the first NFL team in history to win a game by 20 or more points in which they trailed by 20 or more points.

The Bills finished the season ranked No. 26 in the league in total defense, but signed former Houston Texan Mario Williams as a free agent to help fix that. The former No. 1 overall pick signed a six-year contract that could be worth up to $100 million, the first-ever such pact for a defensive player. The Bills added Williams to show their serious about defense and getting back to postseason and this first match up against Brady and Patriots’ offense, which finished No. 2 in the NFL in total offense in 2011, in Foxboro will be as good a test as any.

Sept. 30, New Orleans at Green Bay
The winners of the previous two Super Bowls heading into last season served as the opening act for the 2011 regular season last September, a game won by the Packers 42-34. The Saints return to Lambeau again this September and fans can expect plenty of offensive fireworks.

The Saints finished 2011 No. 1 in total offense, with the Packers coming in at No. 3 and both teams averaged more than 34 points per game. This Week 4 meeting also means the Saints will have already played three games, so hopefully by the time they play the Packers they will have completely shifted their focus from their tumultuous offseason to on-the-field business.

Oct. 7 Denver at New England
Yes, it’s Manning vs. Brady, although No. 18 will be a different uniform this time around, but this game offers much more than that. First there’s the matter of the 45-10 beat down the Patriots gave the Broncos in last year’s playoffs. Denver gets to return to the scene of the crime, if you will, and try and exact a little payback.

There’s also the Josh McDaniels factor. McDaniels left the Patriots in 2009 to become the Broncos’ head coach. Among the things McDaniels did while he was leading the Broncos was trade then-quarterback Jay Cutler to the Bears, ship Brandon Marshall off to the Dolphins and then trade up back into the first round to draft Tim Tebow in the 2010 NFL Draft.

McDaniels never found success on the field as Denver went 11-17 in his two seasons before being fired following the end of the 2010 season. McDaniels resurfaced last season as the St. Louis Rams’ offensive coordinator, but was let go after the season following the dismissal of head coach Steve Spagnuolo.

The Patriots brought him back into the fold during last season’s playoff run, during he served as an offensive assistant coach. When Bill O’Brien left to become the head coach at Penn State, Bill Belichick tabbed McDaniels once again as his offensive coordinator. You have to think McDaniels has definitely circled this game on his calendar.

Oct. 7, San Diego at New Orleans
Three seasons ago, the Chargers finished 13-3, which tied for the second-best record in all of the NFL. Seemingly a team on the brink of putting it all together, Norv Turner’s squad has missed the playoffs the past two seasons. Both times they were done in by slow starts, struggling to a 2-5 start in 2010 and suffering a crushing six-game losing streak following their bye week last season.

Turner is still calling the shots and the Chargers, led by quarterback Phillip Rivers, appear to have the pieces in place to contend in the AFC West, although they did lose wide receiver Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay in free agency. If the Chargers are to be taken seriously, they must get off to a better start. This match up against Drew Brees and the Saints in the Big Easy, along with a Sept. 23 visit from the Falcons will serve as early indicators of whether they are contenders, or once again, pretenders, in 2012.

Oct. 14, Green Bay at Houston
The Giants and the Patriots played each other in Week 9 of last season, and at the time few people, if any, thought we would see them face off again in Super Bowl XLVI. Could this Week 6 Sunday night contest between Green Bay and Houston serve as the precursor for Super Bowl XLVII?

It’s entirely possible, but even if they don’t see one another again the rest of the way, this figures to be a highly entertaining game as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will travel to Houston to face the Texans, a team that appears to be on the cusp of taking that next step as a contender. The match up of the Packers’ offense versus the Texans’ defense (No. 2 in total defense in 2011) will be a fun one to watch, as will Clay Mathews, Charles Woodson and company trying to slow down Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson on their home turf.

Nov. 4, Carolina at Washington
This Week 9 offering is all about the quarterbacks. If everything goes according to plan in next week’s NFL Draft, the last two Heisman Trophy winners should be under center. The Panthers’ Cam Newton, who won the Heisman in 2010 and followed that up by being named Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, will have the experience edge over the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III, the reigning Heisman Trophy recipient, who is expected to be the starter by this point.

Both quarterbacks are similar in style, as they can beat you with their arm and their legs, and the Redskins and coach Mike Shanahan would like nothing more than for Griffin to follow in Newton’s footsteps in his first NFL season. Last season, Newton set numerous records, including most passing yards by a rookie (4,051) and the single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (14).

Nov. 22, Houston at Detroit
The first-game in a stuffed Thanksgiving triple-header (Washington at Dallas, New England at New York Jets are the other games), Detroit’s successful 2011 season, which ended the Lions’ 11-year playoff drought, adds even more significance to this game against Houston. Besides being a match up of two teams who will more than likely be in the thick of the playoff hunt in their respective conferences, this game features several of the NFL’s rising stars.

Both teams have potent offenses and while Houston’s defense (No. 2 in total defense in 2011) may have been more productive, the Lions’ defense is already pretty nasty in one sense, and has the pieces and potential to be fairly stingy in the other.

The Texans’ offense includes quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Arian Foster, while the Lions counter with quarterback Matthew Stafford, but all eyes will be on the wide receivers. It’s a Johnson vs. Johnson face off as the Lions’ Calvin and the Texans’ Andre will get the chance to steal the spotlight from the other on Thanksgiving Day.

Nov. 25, Green Bay at New York Giants
The last two Super Bowl winners face off in this Week 12 Sunday night affair as the Giants welcome the Packers. The reigning champs ended the Packers’ 2011 season with a convincing 37-20 victory in Lambeau in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs, and Green Bay would like nothing more than to return the favor this time around in MetLife Stadium in the Big Apple.

Besides the payback factor, the outcome of this game could go a long ways to deciding playoff seeding in the NFC, if not much more. Remember last year the Giants defeated the Cowboys in Week 17 to win the NFC East and get into the playoffs. Had they not won that game, they wouldn’t be hosting the Packers in this game as the defending Super Bowl champions.

Nov. 26, Carolina at Philadelphia
It remains to be seen if this Week 12 contest will have any playoff-related implications or not. But one thing this Monday night game does offer is a great quarterback pairing. It could be the passing of the guard as Michael Vick and his Eagles welcome Cam Newton and the Panthers to Lincoln Field.

Besides representing Newton’s inaugural appearance in the coveted Monday night time slot, this could serve as a passing of the guard between the two signal callers whose style of play appear to mirror one another. Vick burst on the scene after the Falcons drafted him No. 1 overall in 2001 and immediately dazzled and thrilled with his athleticism, dual-threat abilities and numerous highlight-reel plays.

Vick will be 32 once the 2012 NFL season starts, while Newton, who the Panthers took No. 1 overall in the 2011 draft, is nine years younger. Despite the critics and skeptics, Newton put together arguably the best statistics of any rookie quarterback in NFL history, shattering numerous records along the way with both his arm and his legs. There’s no more fitting backdrop than this Monday night to witness the passing of the torch between these two dynamic quarterbacks.

Dec. 10, Houston at New England
AFC supremacy, including possibly the top seed in the playoffs, could be on the line in Week 14 when Houston travels to New England for this Monday night contest. New England captured the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs last season thanks to a 13-3 mark and rode home-field advantage to the Super Bowl.

The Texans, meanwhile, won the AFC South with a 10-6 mark, earning the first playoff berth in the franchise’s 10-year history. The Texans defeated the Bengals in the Wildcard Round only to fall to the Ravens 20-13 in the Divisional Round. If Houston wants to take that next step toward becoming a legitimate championship contender, a victory over the Patriots in New England would go a long ways, for both 2012 and beyond.

Dec. 16, Pittsburgh at Dallas
Winners of a combined 11 Super Bowls will meet up in the regular season in Week 15 when Dallas hosts Pittsburgh. The two have actually faced each other in the Super Bowl three times with the Steelers claiming victory in Super Bowls X and XIII, while the Cowboys won the most recent title game match up, a 27-17 victory in Super Bowl XXX in 1996.

The Cowboys hold a 14-13 head-to-head advantage over the Steelers in regular-season meetings, but Pittsburgh has won the last two (2004 and ’08). Given the history and winning tradition associated with these two proud, long-standing franchises, this is a game that’s sure to attract plenty of attention.

— by Mark Ross, published on April 18, 2012

<p> Athlon Sports presents its list of NFL regular-season games you don't want to miss in 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 12:44
Path: /mlb/new-york-yankees-boston-red-sox-still-avoiding-cellar-0

Regardless what the standings look like now, with the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox teetering near the bottom of the AL East, they are not likely to end the season there. The Baltimore Orioles are bad enough that they won’t let it happen this season, but just in case you’re wondering, the last time the Yankees and Red Sox finished last and next-to-last in their division/league was in 1966. The only other time was way back in 1925.

Now in 1966, the Red Sox were a year away from winning the pennant in 1967, and the Yankees were just two years removed from winning five straight from 1960-64. Boston had stars like Carl Yastrzemski, George Scott, Jim Lonborg and a young Tony Conigliaro. The Yankees had Elston Howard behind the plate, Bobby Richardson at second and an outfield of Roy White, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Howard, Mantle and Maris were all former MVPs. Mel Stottlemyre and Al Downing led the pitching staff that included an aging Whitey Ford.

But with all that star power, somehow the Red Sox managed to finish ninth, 26 games back of the Orioles (who swept the Dodgers in the World Series) and the Yankees a half game behind the Sox. I wonder how Mickey, Maris and Whitey felt about finishing last.

Back in 1925, the Red Sox were a collection of no-name players, so it’s understandable that they would finish last, 49.5 games out of first. The BoSox had the worst offense, pitching and defense — last in batting average, last in runs, last in ERA, last in fielding percentage and made the most errors. It takes a microscope to find anything positive about that team.

But there was no excuse in New York. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Earle Combs led the Yankees’ lineup. You know, guys most fans have heard of. You would think that would be enough firepower to support a pitching staff of Herb Pennock, Urban Shocker, Waite Hoyt and Sad Sam Jones. And the Yankees were 21 games better than the Red Sox, but still finished seventh in the eight-team league. Must have been why Sam was so sad.

- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)

<p> Both teams having sub-par seasons at the same time is rare indeed.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 12:24
All taxonomy terms: Dallas Cowboys, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2012-dallas-cowboys-schedule

The 2012 NFL schedule for the Dallas Cowboys has been released. Here's a weekly look that includes dates, times and television information.

Week 1—Sept. 5: @ New York Giants, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Week 2—Sept. 16: @ Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 3—Sept. 23: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 4—Oct. 1: Chicago Bears, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Week 5—Oct. 7: BYE WEEK

Week 6—Oct. 14: @ Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 7—Oct. 21: @ Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 8—Oct. 28: New York Giants, 4:15 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 9—Nov. 4: @ Atlanta Falcons, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

Week 10—Nov. 11: @ Philadelphia Eagles, 4:15 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 11—Nov. 18: Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Week 12—Nov. 22: Washington Redskins, 4:15 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 13—Dec. 2: Philadelphia Eagles, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

Week 14—Dec. 9: @ Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 15—Dec. 16: Pittsburgh Steelers, 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS

Week 16—Dec. 23: New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 17—Dec. 30: @ Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

<p> The 2012 NFL schedule for the Dallas Cowboys.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 10:05
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-schedule-highlights

The 2012 NFL season is still more than four months away from kicking off, but the path to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans is set. The NFL released its 2012 regular-season schedule on Tuesday. Here are some highlights of the upcoming slate.

Heavy is the Schedule For the Team That Wears the Crown
Seven teams have won consecutive Super Bowls in NFL history, the last being the New England Patriots in 2004-05. The New York Giants will aim to accomplish this feat this season, but the road back to the Super Bowl will be anything but easy. The Giants open the 2012 season by hosting the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 5. Besides their NFC East division games against the ‘Boys, Eagles and Redskins, the G-Men’s schedule includes games against seven teams that made the playoffs last year.

The Giants’ other games against NFC opponents include trips to both Atlanta and San Francisco, and a home game against Green Bay, the three teams they defeated to get to the Super Bowl last year. The Giants also host New Orleans, who won its division last season, and all four AFC North teams – Baltimore (road), Cincinnati (road), Cleveland (home) and Pittsburgh (home).

Rough Ride Ahead for Manning, Broncos
Welcome to Denver Peyton. I hope you are taking full advantage of the uninterrupted offseason to get acclimated with your new surroundings and team because the league sure didn’t do you or the Broncos any favors schedule-wise. Year 1 for Manning in Denver opens in Pittsburgh. The Steelers would like nothing more than to exact a little revenge for last season’s stunning overtime playoff loss in Denver. That’s followed by a trip to Atlanta and a visit from Houston, Manning’s former AFC South divisional foe who are coached by former Bronco assistant Gary Kubiak.

It just wouldn’t be right if Manning and Tom Brady didn’t face one another at some point during the season, and this year’s match up comes Oct. 7 in New England, where the Broncos’ 2011 campaign ended unceremoniously in a 45-10 playoff beat down provided by the Patriots. The Broncos then fly back west to meet Phillip Rivers and the Chargers in San Diego on Monday Night Football in their last game before their Week 7 bye.

After the bye, the Broncos host the Saints on Sunday night, and go to Cincinnati and Carolina the next two Sundays. The final seven games include four divisional contests, including trips to Kansas City and Oakland, along with a Week 15 visit to Baltimore to play the Ravens.

Welcome to the League Rookies
Barring something unforeseen happening, quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are fully expected to be the first two picks in next week’s NFL Draft, where they will be taken by the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins, respectively. It's also possible that both will be under center starting in Week 1. So what lies ahead for the two first-year signal callers?

The Colts took Peyton Manning No. 1 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft and inserted him as the starter in Week 1. If history repeats itself in 2012 the former Stanford star will need every bit of Luck he can muster as he will make his NFL debut in Chicago against Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and the rest of the Bears defense. Luck also will have the opportunity to observe some of the league’s premier quarterbacks in action as the Colts’ schedule includes a home game against reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and his Packers on Oct. 7 and a Nov. 18 visit to Gillette Stadium, home to Tom Brady and the defending AFC champion Patriots.

Luck’s other inaugural NFL road tests include games against the Jets in the Big Apple, the Lions in Detroit and the Chiefs in Kansas City. The Colts and Steelers also have the earliest bye week, coming in Week 4, meaning Luck’s first season will have him dealing with a stretch of 13 straight games. Luck and Stanford played 13 games in 2011, but not in a row, and nearly 40 days separated the Cardinal’s regular-season finale from their appearance in the Fiesta Bowl.

If Redskins coach Mike Shanahan inserts RGIII as his starting quarterback right away, the Heisman Trophy winner will start his NFL career on the road in New Orleans against the defending NFC South champion Saints. His home debut would come in Week 3 against Cincinnati and the Skins’ three games leading up to their bye in Week 10 have them on the road in back-to-back weeks facing the Giants and Steelers followed by a home date with the Carolina Panthers in a match up featuring the last two Heisman winners – Griffin and Cam Newton.

Following the bye, Griffin will familiarize himself with his NFC East rivals as the Redskins will play five of their six divisional games in the final seven weeks of the season. Their post-bye slate opens up with the Eagles on Nov. 18 with a trip to Dallas just four days later. The Giants come calling the first Monday in December followed by the Ravens that next Sunday. Washington concludes the regular season with a trip to Philadelphia and a Dec. 30 home date versus the Cowboys.

Turkey Day Trifecta
Thanksgiving and football go hand in hand. This season the NFL has done its part, serving up three mouth-watering match ups for fans to feast on. The appetizer will be Houston at Detroit. Not only will this game feature two of the league’s up-and-coming teams, but it also will have two All-Pro wide receivers named Johnson – Calvin and Andre – in action.

The main course, if you will, is a NFC East showdown between Washington and Dallas in the house that Jerry Jones built. This is always a tasty match up, regardless of the records, but the presumed presence of the aforementioned Griffin in a Redskin uniform only adds to the intrigue. Griffin won the Heisman last year playing for Baylor and went to high school in Copperas Cove, which is about three hours away from Cowboys Stadium in Arlington making this somewhat of a homecoming for him.

And to finish things off, the NFL Network will serve up New England at the Jets on Thursday night to round out this football feast. This won’t be the first time these AFC East divisional rivals will have met during the regular season, but still it’s the Patriots vs. Jets, Bill Belichick vs. Rex Ryan, Tom Brady vs. Tim Tebow, oops, I mean Mark Sanchez. What better way to end a day that’s all about family, friendship and food than to watch two teams that absolutely, positively can’t stand one another leave it all on the football field?

Monsters of Monday Night
The Chicago Bears have already reunited wide receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler through an offseason trade and the duo will get plenty of chances to showcase their chemistry in a coveted time slot. The Bears are the only team scheduled to make three appearances on Monday night. Contrast that to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants and the New England Patriots, who the Giants defeated in Super Bowl XLVI, who each have just one Monday night game on tap.

Chicago will travel to Dallas on Oct. 1 to play the Cowboys, host Detroit in a key NFC North match up on Oct. 22, and face off against former Bear and current San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh and his 49ers on their home turf on Nov. 19.

Coach, I Don’t Think You’re in Piscataway Anymore
Tampa Bay reached into the collegiate ranks to fill its head coaching vacancy, luring Greg Schiano away from Rutgers. The Bucs then presented free agent acquisitions Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright as housewarming gifts to their new coach.

Once the season starts, however, the Bucs’ early season opponents will be more than willing to pull the welcome mat out from under Schiano’s feet. He will make his NFL head coaching debut at home against NFC South foe Carolina and then instead of the Big East, he will get a full helping of the NFC East, as Tampa Bay’s next three games are on the road against the Giants and Cowboys, followed by a home date with the Redskins.

Schiano and the Bucs will get to catch their breaths in Week 5 with a bye, which also will allow them the chance to prepare for the rest of their slate which includes home games against the Chargers and Eagles, along with a trip to Denver and two games against both Atlanta and New Orleans. There isn’t a Tulane or Howard, Rutgers’ first two opponents this season, anywhere to be found on this slate.

What We Won’t See
Those who were hoping for a New York Giants vs. New England Patriots rematch this year are out of luck. Next January? We’ll have to wait and see. Speaking of Luck, while Andrew and RGIII will most likely go Nos. 1 and 2 in the upcoming NFL Draft, they won’t get the chance to size each other up on the field as the Colts do not play the Panthers in 2012.

The Jets and Broncos don’t meet up in the regular season either, meaning any Tebow reunion with his former teammates will have to wait until the playoffs, if it even happens at all. We also won’t see Sean Payton on the sidelines this entire season as he serves his one-year suspension handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his role in the Saints’ defense’s bounty system.

What you will see is a full 17 weeks of NFL action that will carry you from September to the end of the year and set the stage for another exciting postseason starting in January. Now we just have to wait a mere 140 days for the games to begin. Sept. 5 can’t come soon enough.

— by Mark Ross, published on April 18, 2012

<p> Athlon Sports offers its observations and impressions of the 2012 NFL regular-season schedule</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 09:38
Path: /college-football/tennessee-or-vanderbilt-more-sec-wins-2012

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Tennessee or Vanderbilt: More SEC Wins in 2012

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The reaction to the 2011 season for Tennessee and Vanderbilt says everything about the two programs. In Nashville, coach James Franklin is a rock star after going to a bowl in his first season at Vanderbilt. In Knoxville, coach Derek Dooley is sweating even though his team finished only one game behind Vanderbilt in the standings. That’s with good reason. It’s probably tougher to take Vanderbilt to a bowl game than to go 1-7 in the SEC at Tennessee. I think the Volunteers will overtake Vanderbilt again, despite all the momentum and mojo at Vandy. If Tennessee gets full seasons from a healthy quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receiver Justin Hunter, the Volunteers are probably a bowl team. Bray started the season with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions in the first four games, three of those with Hunter. Vanderbilt should continue to improve under Franklin, but I wonder if this might be a year when the Commodores take a dip. They’ll be better with Jordan Rodgers as the primary quarterback teaming with running back Zac Stacy all year, but they won’t catch anyone off guard either. My biggest concern about Vanderbilt is the loss of some key defensive players – Tim Fugger, Chris Marve and Casey Hayward. Tennessee and Vanderbilt are going to compete for a lower-tier SEC bowl, so there’s not much separation here. I’m still picking Tennessee to be marginally better.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The Dores get the big leg up in the crossover scheduling department. Vanderbilt will not face Alabama, LSU or Arkansas in 2012 and instead visits Ole Miss and hosts Auburn. Tennessee, on back-to-back weekends, must visit Mississippi State before hosting the defending champions on the Third Saturday in October.

Unfortunately for the Commodores, however, they have a brutal early conference slate. South Carolina comes to town to open the season on Thursday night before the Dores have to visit Missouri and Georgia all in the first five games of the season. It doesn’t get any easier with Florida and Auburn then visiting West End by October 20. How good — and healthy — will Vanderbilt be in the final four weeks of the season could be crucial to returning to the postseason. They have winnable games against Ole Miss, Kentucky and Tennessee to start November.

Tennessee does have to travel to Nashville to face the Commodores and fans on both sides can bet James Franklin hasn’t let his team forget how the Vols celebrated the overtime win in Knoxville last season. Tennessee’s schedule is tougher in the middle but has winnable games at the backend as well. The two swings games in this debate are the head-to-head at Vanderbilt Stadium and each’s contest with SEC newbie Missouri. Tennessee gets the Tigers late in the year at home, while Vandy has to visit Mizzou.

I will pick the Vols to beat Mizzou at home and Vandy on the road. This will give Tennessee a one-game edge in the standings over the Dores.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
No matter which way you want to rank the teams, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina seem to be the clear top three in the SEC East for 2012. Missouri, Tennessee and Vanderbilt can each make a case to be ranked fourth and there’s not really much separation between the three teams.

This is really going to be an interesting season for Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Coach Derek Dooley has his back against the wall with the Volunteers, especially after losing to Kentucky and missing out on a postseason berth last year. The Commodores are on the rise under second-year coach James Franklin, but they were hit hard by key losses on defense.

If quarterback Tyler Bray can stay healthy and become a better leader for Tennessee, I like the Volunteers to barely edge Vanderbilt for the better record in SEC play. The crossover schedule with the West slightly favors the Commodores, playing Ole Miss on the road and hosting Auburn. And Vanderbilt hosts South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee, so there is the potential for a few upsets. Tennessee hosts Florida and Missouri, which is a good opportunity to pickup two key conference wins. I wouldn’t be shocked to see both teams tie in SEC wins at the end of the season, but a desperate Tennessee team will edge Vanderbilt in the final East standings. 

Chris Lee, (@ChrisLee70)
Tennessee is primed for improvement, returning 20 starters, and perhaps most importantly, gets quarterback Tyler Bray and receiver Justin Hunter back healthy. Combine that with receivers Da’Rick Rogers, and newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson, and UT’s passing attack is lethal. The defense isn’t dominant, but it did finish 27th a year ago, and has one of America’s more experienced secondaries.

While Vandy quarterback Jordan Rodgers and receivers Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews can’t match UT in talent, but the trio makes tons of big plays. The ‘Dores are loaded at running back with Zac Stacy and Warren Norman, and perhaps the fastest freshman in America in Brian Kimbrow. Defensively, VU returns most players from America’s 18th-best defense, coached defensive genius Bob Shoop.

Vandy finished a game ahead of UT last year, but lost to the Vols head-to-head. The Commodores have two small scheduling advantages, too: they play Auburn and Ole Miss where Tennessee plays Alabama and Mississippi State, and they get the Vols in Nashville. Still, I think UT’s explosive offensive talent puts the Vols just a notch ahead – but given the off-field problems with players and the revolving door of assistants under coach Derek Dooley, I wouldn’t bet money on it.

Barrett Sallee, Lead SEC Blogger for Bleacher Report (@BarrettSallee)
Tennessee will have a better record than Vanderbilt, but it'll be close. The pressure is on in Knoxville, and head coach Derek Dooley knows that. Injuries really hampered the Vols last season, but with quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receiver Justin Hunter back, that offense is set to be explosive yet again. New defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri is finally getting a break and getting his shot at being a coordinator at the FBS level, and the addition of junior college transfer Darrington Sentimore on the defensive line should help the Vols as they transition to the 3-4.

Color me skeptical on Vanderbilt. I know James Franklin is a rock star in Nashville, and the Commodores were a couple of bad breaks away from being an eight-win team, but I think that six or seven wins may be the ceiling there.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Both teams will probably be in the 4-4/3-5 range in league play, so this answer comes down to the head-to-head matchup I think Tennessee wins at Vanderbilt Stadium (or Neyland West to Vols fans), so Derek Dooley’s club gets the nod. Everything went wrong for Tennessee in 2011, but a healthy Tyler Bray at quarterback and Justin Hunter at receiver could mean big offensive numbers in 2012. Receiver Da’Rick Rogers can be a star, and the running game will be better with an improved offensive line under Sam Pittman’s leadership. There is talent on the Vols defense, but the adjustment to new coordinator Sal Sunseri’s 3-4 scheme may take time. Vanderbilt should have a solid offense led by running back Zac Stacy and quarterback Jordan Rodgers, but the defense lost some high-end talent and experience with the departures of Tim Fugger, Chris Marve Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson. The Commodores have a schedule advantage by drawing Auburn and Ole Miss from the West, but I’ll still take the Vols to be much-improved and finish better than the Dores.

Other SEC Spring Preview Content:

Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2012
Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

Missouri or Texas A&M: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012

College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Will Vanderbilt or Tennessee have more wins in SEC play in 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 08:08
Path: /college-football/big-ten-football-running-back-rankings-2012

The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the quarterbacks in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel. 

Here's how Athlon ranks the Big Ten running backs for 2012:

1. Montee Ball, Wisconsin (SR)
Rushing Stats: 307 att., 1,923 yards, 33 TD
Receiving Stats: 24 rec., 306 yards, 6 TD

There is little room left on Ball’s resume for another stellar season but that is exactly what Big Ten fans should expect in 2012. No player in the nation rushed for more yards that the Heisman Trophy finalist last fall and no player in history has scored more touchdowns than his Barry Sanders-tying 39 total touchdowns (well, officially). Big Red fans would be fooling themselves, however, if they think Ball will come close to repeating his unprecedented performance. Three first-team All-Big Ten lineman are gone. The greatest quarterback in program history is gone. And the greatest playcaller in school history in Paul Chryst is gone. New coordinator Matt Canada has been playing with two-back sets, so James White expects to get plenty of touches as well. Certainly, the offense will still run directly through No. 28, but something closer to 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns should be expected — which would be excellent numbers normally but are dwarfed by his 2011 Hall of Fame-type production.

2. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska (SR)
Rushing Stats: 284 att., 1,357 yards, 15 TD
Receiving Stats: 21 rec., 177 yards, 2 TD

There may not be a more complete football player in the nation than Rex Burkhead. He is a tremendous leader who delivers toughness and effort on every play. He can hit the edge, move the pile, pick up the blitz and catch passes with ease. In the win over new divisional rival Iowa, he set a school record for rushing attempts in a single game with 38. He is a true workhorse who can be counted on all three downs in all four quarters all season long. In his first full season as the starter, he delivered over 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns — numbers which pale in comparison to Montee Ball’s a year ago but are elite nationally. Three starters are gone from the offensive line, but the receiving corps is possibly the best in the league and Taylor Martinez should be in for his best season. All of which is built upon a foundation laid by Burkhead.

3. Silas Redd, Penn State (JR)
Rushing Stats: 244 att., 1,241 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 9 rec., 40 yards

In his first full season as the starter, Redd got started quickly with 104 yards and two scores in the 2011 debut. He then got Big Ten play started by topping the 100-yard mark in five straight conference games to help the Nittany Lions start 5-0. Yet, without any semblance of production from the quarterback position and the breaking Jerry Sandusky scandal, Redd and the Lions limped down the stretch. Redd returns to an offense that still lacks a proven signal caller and has major rebuilding issues along the offensive line. The 5-foot-10, 205-pound junior has NFL ability and could find sledding tough under new head coach Bill O’Brien in what could be his final season in Happy Valley. Make no mistake, however, there is one name that needs to be healthy and productive over all others on this offense and it’s Redd.

4. Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan (JR)
Rushing Stats: 187 att., 1,041 yards, 9 TD
Receiving Stats: 6 rec., 28 yards, TD1

Toussaint entered his junior year having played in only six career games. He began the season in nice fashion with a pair of touchdowns in the season opener, but it wasn’t until late October that Brady Hoke finally realized what he had in No. 28. He had never topped the 14-carry mark until October 29 against Purdue when got 20 carries and produced in a big way. He rushed for 170 yards and two scores in the 36-14 win. He went on to top the century mark in four of the final five games of the regular season. Toussaint finished as Michigan’s first 1,000-yard running back since Mike Hart in 2007, and he did it by averaging 5.5 yards per carry. There is no doubt that Hoke wants a secondary rushing option to Denard Robinson and Toussaint gives him just that.

5. Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State (JR)
Rushing Stats: 182 att., 948 yards, 13 TD
Receiving Stats: 35 rec., 267 yards

Bell has the potential to be a first-team All-Big Ten player if he can provide consistent production week in and week out. He has scored 21 touchdowns in two seasons as an underclassman and has the frame — 6-foot-2, 238 pounds — to be a future star on the next level. However, Bell has only one game of at least 20 carries in his career and failed to score in 14 of his 27 career games — meaning he scored 21 times in 13 games. This is likely why Mark Dantonio has felt the need to motivate the rising junior this spring. The head coach knows that much of the team’s offensive success in 2012 will run through Bell. The Ohio native has a chance at a special season behind a solid offensive line if he can play with consistency and dedication.

6. James White, Wisconsin (JR)
Rushing Stats: 141 att., 713 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 15 rec., 150 yards

White has totaled nearly 2,000 yards rushing and exactly 20 touchdowns in two seasons as a backup in the run-heavy Wisconsin offense. New coordinator Matt Canada appears to be more dedicated to getting White the ball in 2012. The Badgers will line-up in more two-backs sets with both he and Montee Ball on the field at the same time. Using the talented junior-to-be more in the slot as a receiver, and as the ball carrier, will allow Canada to get his best players on the field while also resting his star tailback a bit more. White is as good a complimentary piece as there is in the nation.

7. Stephen Houston, Indiana (JR)
Rushing Stats: 151 att., 802 yards, 8 TD
Receiving Stats: 17 rec., 164 yards

There wasn’t much to like about the Hoosiers offensive attack in 2011, but over the course of the second half of the season, Indiana fans could take pride in the rushing attack. This was due in part to the emergence of talented dual-threat quarterback Tre Roberson, but Kevin Wilson also decided to give Houston the football more. The junior college transfer got only 22 carries in the first four games of his Indiana career last fall. Over the last eight games of the year, however, Houston averaged nearly 18 touches per game and over 100 yards from scrimmage. He topped the century mark in rushing three times in the final seven games and scored seven of his eight touchdowns over that span. The 6-foot, 220-pounder earned IU Offensive Player of the Week four times last fall and returns to Bloomington as the focal point of the offense.

8. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State (JR)
Rushing Stats: 106 att., 588 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 10 rec., 73 yards

Not much is really known about the Ohio State rushing attack other than there are loads of talented options vying for touches. Quarterback Braxton Miller could lead the team in rushing once again, but in Urban Meyer’s spread, Hyde has the skills to be the power back the new head coach craves. Hyde, at 235 pounds could fill the Tim Tebow role in the legendary spread attack. He has the best chance to be the workhorse if there is such a thing in this scheme and will likely have the most rushing attempts at season’s end. Settling the offensive line, something that isn’t making Meyer happy at the moment, will be key this summer for anyone running the football in Columbus.

9. Akeem Shavers, Purdue (SR)
Rushing Stats: 111 att., 519 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 5 rec., 58 yards, TD

Shavers played well in a supporting role of starter Ralph Bolden a year ago and provided solid production. In his first season in West Lafayette after attending junior college, Shavers never saw more than 13 carries in any one game. That is, until the Boilermakers first bowl since 2007 when Bolden went down with another knee injury in the regular season finale. In the Little Caesars Bowl win over Western Michigan, Shavers posted a career high in carries (22) and yards (149) and earned bowl MVP honors. While Bolden recovers from his third torn ACL injury, Shavers appears poised for a breakout season for Danny Hope.

10. Donovonn Young, Illinois (SO)
Rushing Stats: 87 att., 451 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 8 rec., 15 yards

On an offense that struggled mightily last fall, Young appears to be the feature back. He will certainly have some competition from fellow sophomore Josh Ferguson (150 yards in the spring game), but Young is the leading returning running back in yards, attempts and touchdowns. He missed most of spring football with a foot injury but displayed plenty of big play ability in his first season on the team. He posted his first and only 100-yard game against Western Michigan and posted a career-high in attempts in the bowl win over UCLA. If this offense is going to improve under Tim Beckman in year one, it will have to feature an improved running game.

11. Larry Caper, Michigan State (SR)
Rushing Stats: 30 att., 116 yards, TD
Receiving Stats: 10 rec., 86 yards, TD

After a promising freshman season, and very high profile game-winner against Notre Dame, Caper has seen his production drop two years in a row. He has also missed some time over the last two seasons for a variety of injuries. Yet, Caper enters his final season at Michigan State with lofty expectations. Mark Dantonio is counting on Caper to help lead what will be a very inexperienced offense, and productive or not, the senior tailback has played in 34 career games. Fans should see plenty of Caper.

12. Treyvon Green, Northwestern (SO)
Rushing Stats: 97 att., 362 yards, 4 TD
Receiving Stats: 10 rec., 39 yards

Quarterback/wide receiver/running back Kain Colter led the Wildcats in rushing a year ago, but Green is technically the leading returning running back. After a solid freshman season, the 215-pound tailback from Mesquite, Texas has a chance to explode onto the scene. He got loads of experience against some of the Big Ten’s best defensive units with 46 of his carries came against Illinois, Penn State, Michigan State and Nebraska. His 362 yards are the most by a Northwestern true freshman since Tyrell Sutton in 2005.

Others Names to Watch:

13. Josh Ferguson, Illinois (SO)
Ferguson was low on the touches totem pole last season but won’t have that issue in 2012. After 150 yards in the spring game filling in for injured Donovonn Young, Ferguson appears poised to be the clear No. 2 for the Illini. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound in-state native has a chance to be a great change of pace to the the 215-pound Donovonn Young.

14. Greg Garmon, Iowa (FR)
There aren’t too many true freshman as battle tested as Greg Garmon. His home burnt down when he was in the sixth grade and he has already overcome a rare form of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (roughly 10 in one million before age of 15) at age 13. Maneuvering Big Ten defenses should be a breeze for the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Erie, Pa., native.

15. Bri’onte Dunn, Ohio State (FR)
Competing with Garmon for Freshman of the Year honors in the Big Ten could be Top-100 recruit Brio’onte Dunn. All signs are that the early enrollee has earned some touches in the backfield rotation after a productive spring practice. The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder could finish as high as No. 2 on the Ohio State depth chart if he continues his solid play.

16. Jordan Hall, Ohio State (SR)
The smaller, more nimble Hall will be used plenty this fall by Urban Meyer — it just may not be in the traditional backfield sets.

17. Mike Trumpy, Northwestern (JR)
Tore his ACL last fall against Illinois. What Trumpy lacks in pure, physical talent he makes up for with toughness, heart and effort when healthy.

18. Donnell Kirkwood, Minnesota (JR)
With Duane Bennett gone from campus, Kirkwood is the leading returning tailback for an offense that could be better than it has been in years.

19. James Gillum, Minnesota (JR)
After two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College, the 5-foot-11, 204-pound tailback will compete for carries with Kirkwood right away.

20. Akeem Hunt, Purdue (SO)
Clearly the No. 2 Akeem Boilermaker runner, Hunt offers speedy change of pace to Shavers.  

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

Related Content Links:

Big Ten Football: Ranking the Big Ten Quarterbacks

Big Ten 2012 Schedule Analysis

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

2012 Very Early Big Ten Predictions


<p> Big Ten Football: Running Back Rankings for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 08:02
Path: /college-football/pittsburgh-football-are-panthers-contender-big-east

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Is Pittsburgh a Surprise Contender in the Big East for the 2012 season?

Mark Ennis, Manager of Big East Coast Bias (@Mengus22)
While I think it is certainly possible that Pittsburgh could be a surprise contender for the Big East title in its final year in the league, I think it is very unlikely. Still, Louisville was picked to finish at or near the bottom of the Big East last year and finished the season in a three-way tie for the conference title. With the distance from the top to the bottom being so small, I would be surprised but not shocked to see Pittsburgh in contention come November. With Paul Chryst bringing his run-heavy, play-action passing offense to Pittsburgh, the Panthers should benefit from an offense more suited to the personnel on hand instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole like Todd Graham did for virtually all of 2011.

Pittsburgh has several experienced offensive linemen back (injuries forced them to play several young linemen last year) that will block for what ought to be one of the better running back trios in the conference in Ray Graham, Isaac Bennett, and blue-chip freshman running back Rushel Shell. They also return virtually all of their receiving targets in tight end Hubie Graham and wide receivers Devin Street, Mike Shanahan, and Cameron Saddler.

Much like South Florida, Pittsburgh's fortunes depend on quarterback play and defense. Tino Sunseri was abysmal last year, throwing 11 interceptions and 10 touchdowns, while being sacked a nation-leading 6 times per game. In a system that runs the ball first and puts him back under center, he should be more comfortable and any improvement from him will make Pitt a formidable opponent. Defensively, the Panthers lose two their leading tacklers (Max Gruder, Tristan Roberts) and their best pass rushers (Brandon Lindsey, Chas Alecxih). For the first time in several years, there are no feared defensive ends on the Pitt defense and that means teams will try to run it on them just as much as they try to run the ball themselves. If no replacements develop, it could be a long year for the defense.

The schedule isn't too terrible, as they get Rutgers and Louisville at home and the toughest road conference game is at South Florida. 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The Big East seems impossible to pick each season. West Virginia was the runaway favorite last year, and although the Mountaineers eventually ended in the BCS, they sure made the season interesting after a shocking loss to Syracuse. Louisville probably will be the prohibitive favorite again, but the Cardinals couldn’t handle success at all last season. Pittsburgh is in that next group of teams that could challenge Louisville if the Cardinals stumble. USF may be the only other team in the Big East’s second tier. Ray Graham, the Big East’s best offensive player at the time of his injury, should be healthy. Tino Sunseri has to be better than he was last season when he never took to the spread offense. As long as he doesn’t get sacked upwards of 60 times again, Pitt’s offense should give the Panthers a chance. And we know Paul Chryst knows what to do with an elite running back and capable starting quarterback. The biggest question will be on the offensive and defensive lines. Part of Sunseri’s problem taking sacks was the offensive line, some was on him. The offensive line, with Chris Jacobson healthy, needs to be better. On defense, the tandem of Chas Alecxih and Myles Caragein at defensive tackle was underrated. They’ll be tough to replace. For Pitt, the good news is the Big East is winnable for just about any team. The Panthers should be in the mix even into November.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
There is one clear-cut team that will be picked by nearly everyone to win the Big East in 2012. Since the Pitt Panthers are one of the top challengers to the afore-not-mentioned predicted winner, it is hard to call them a sleeper. So my answer to the question is yes and no. Pitt will be a contender for the Big East title in 2012 but it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if they do. Pitt gets two of the other top three teams in the league, Louisville and Rutgers, at home this fall. An early road trip to Cincinnati and season finale visit to South Florida will be the toughest road trips of the conference slate this fall. Offensive genius Paul Chryst takes over as head coach after producing the most prolific offenses in Wisconsin history. He has a returning quarterback in Tino Suneri, and running game that should be dramatically better with the return of injured Ray Graham and Chris Jacobson, as well as the addition of talented freshman Rushel Shell.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think it’s safe to say Louisville is the preseason favorite in the Big East, but I’m definitely on board with the idea that Pittsburgh is going to be a surprise contender this year. Sure, the Panthers were 6-7 and were smacked 28-6 by SMU in the BBVA Compass Bowl. However, one of the biggest reasons for Pittsburgh’s lackluster record in 2011 was a bad job by the coaching staff of adapting to the personnel in place. Although Todd Graham wanted to run an up-tempo attack on offense, the Panthers didn’t have the roster to make it work. Graham left for Arizona State, and Pittsburgh made one of the top coaching hires of the offseason by luring Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst to the Steel City. Chryst does not have any head coaching experience, but was one of college football’s top offensive coordinators during his stint in Madison. Quarterback Tino Sunseri and the offensive line weren’t without blame from last season’s struggles, but the coaching change is a much-needed fresh start and the change in systems should bring immediate improvement. The defense does have some key personnel losses, but returns likely All-Big East selections in defensive lineman Aaron Donald and safety Jarred Holley.

If Sunseri can play better, and running back Ray Graham returns 100 percent from an ACL tear, Pittsburgh can contend for the Big East title. The Panthers went 4-3 in conference play last year and two of those losses came by three points or less. With Louisville and South Florida visiting Heinz Field, I wouldn’t be shocked if Pittsburgh finishes in the top three of the Big East in 2012.  

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I see Pittsburgh finishing third or fourth in the conference, but it would not be a total surprise to see the Panthers win the crown in Paul Chryst’s first season.  Pitt hit a home run with the hire of the former Wisconsin offensive coordinator, and Chryst will have plenty of talent on that side of the ball. Star running back Ray Graham should be healthy, and we’ll have to wait and see how the new staff develops an inconsistent offensive line and quarterback Tino Sunseri. My concern with the Panthers is on defense, especially in the front seven. I see that inexperienced group taking a year to develop, and keeping Pitt from winning the league this season. USF and Rutgers should be the main challengers to Louisville for the Big East title, but the unexpected does happen in this conference quite often. Pitt will make it interesting with Graham and the new offense in 2012, and the best news for Panthers fans is that they have a great coach who will do very well in the Steel City in the near future.

How will Athlon predict the Big East standings for 2012? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day. 

Related Big East Content

Ranking the Big East Running Backs for 2012
Ranking the Big East's Quarterbacks for 2012
Who Is Louisville's Biggest Challenger in the Big East for 2012?

Ranking the Big East Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Pittsburgh Football: Are the Panthers a Contender in the Big East?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 08:01
All taxonomy terms: Philadelphia Eagles, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/philadelphia-eagles-2012-schedule

The 2012 NFL schedule for the Philadelphia Eagles has been released. Here's a weekly look that includes dates, times and television information for football fans.

Week 1—9/9: @Cleveland Browns 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 2—9/16: Baltimore Ravens 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Week 3—9/23: @ Arizona Cardinals 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 4—9/30: New York Giants 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

Week 5—10/7: @ Pittsburgh Steelers 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 6—10/14: Detroit Lions 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 7—BYE

Week 8—10/28: Atlanta Falcons 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 9—11/5: @ New Orleans Saints 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Week 10—11/11: Dallas Cowboys 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 11—11/18: @ Washington Redskins 1  p.m. ET, FOX

Week 12—11/26: Carolina Panthers. 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Week 13—12/2: @ Dallas Cowboys 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

Week 14—12/9: @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 15—12/13: Cincinnati Bengals 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network

Week 16—12/23: Washington Redskins 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 17—12/30: @ New York Giants 1 p.m. ET, FOX

<p> The 2012 NFL schedule for the Philadelphia Eagles has been released.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 07:48
Path: /nascar/mark-martin-back-advice-danica-and-purse-payouts

This is what retirement is supposed to be like.

“This is so much fun,’’ Mark Martin said after his third-place finish last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Well, the 53-year-old Martin never said he was retiring, just that he wouldn’t race a full schedule years ago when he first cut back.

Car owner Rick Hendrick talked him into returning full-time the past three seasons, but Martin is back to a part-time schedule and enjoying his new ride with Michael Waltrip Racing. It comes as changes in the past year there have made the organization more competitive and likely headed for Victory Lane with either Martin, Martin Truex Jr. or Clint Bowyer soon.

Martin enters this weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway 20th in points although he skipped Bristol and Martinsville. Still, he ranks ahead of 14 drivers who have competed in all seven races this season.

To get a better measure of Martin’s success, though, consider this: His average finish is 10.4 — better than every driver but points leader Greg Biffle (6.0 average finish), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (8.1), Martin Truex Jr. (8.2), Kevin Harvick (9.0) and Matt Kenseth (9.0).

Three top-10 finishes in five starts has helped Martin’s average finish. He’s also completed every lap in all five races he’s run.

“I am just so proud of MWR and all the people there and the teamwork that they have shown there starting with Martin Truex, Jr., who has put so much work into getting the program where it was when we started the season,’’ Martin said. “They really have a lot of great people there with great attitude, great teamwork.’’

It just makes him anxious for the next race.

“There's nothing else that I find quite as much fun as going to work with a great race team with a great attitude,’’ said Martin, a former Kansas Speedway winner. “So it's fun for me to go to every race that I get to go to.’’

Isn’t that what work — or retirement — is supposed to be? Fun.

SHOW ME THE MONEY  With the series moving beyond Texas, it ends a significant period for teams. The richest part of the schedule is complete.

While sponsorship money is what drives teams, what they earn in races still matters.

The Daytona 500 is the sport’s richest paying race. Its purse this year was $19,142,601, which will be about $10 million more than any other race pays. The Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway typically is second, at around $9 million.

Other high-paying races early in the season include Texas ($7,132,592 payout this year) and Las Vegas ($6,382,683). The other races thus far with their payouts were: Phoenix ($5,040,864), Bristol, ($5,551,155), Fontana, Calif. ($5,847,881) and Martinsville ($5,009,303).

Last year, Daytona, along with the spring Texas and Las Vegas races, ranked among the top six races in money paid.

Thus, this is a period for teams — especially for small teams who rely more on winnings — to have some money to pay previous or upcoming bills. Since some small teams have little or no sponsorship, what they earn at the track is critical to their survival. It’s a reason why some teams start and park.

If a team made the least amount of money in each of the first seven races, it would have still collected $715,159. Understand that money is used to pay the driver, crew and other expenses from engines to tires to travel costs, so it can go fast, especially if a team is relying on winnings instead of sponsorship to defray costs.

The next race expected to pay out more than $6 million will be the Coca-Cola 600 at the end of May. There wasn’t a race last June that paid as much. With Indy and Daytona ($6,101,344 purse last year) in July, it makes that month a bountiful period for teams.

Last year’s 10-race Chase featured only one race that paid more than $6 million. That was Texas at $6,857,822. Two 2011 Chase races had purses of less than $5 million — Martinsville at $4,851,202 and Phoenix at $4,957,233.

<p> Following Greg Biffle's win at Texas Motor Speedway, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - 21:32
All taxonomy terms: Washington Redskins, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/washington-redskins-2012-schedule

The 2012 NFL schedule for the Washington Redskins has been released. Here's a weekly look that includes dates, times and television information.

Week 1—9/9: @ New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 29/16: @ St. Louis Rams, 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 39/23: Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Week 49/30: @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 510/7: Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 610/14: Minnesota Vikings, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 710/21: @ New York Giants, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 810/28: @ Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 911/4: Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 10: BYE WEEK

Week 1111/18: Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 1211/22: @ Dallas Cowboys, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 1312/3: New York Giants, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Week 1412/9: Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Week 1512/16: @ Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 1612/23: @ Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 1712/30: Dallas Cowboys, 1 ET, FOX

<p> The 2012 NFL schedule for the <strong>Washington Redskins</strong></p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - 21:03
All taxonomy terms: New York Giants, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/new-york-giants-2012-schedule

The 2012 NFL schedule for the New York Giants has been released. Here's a weekly look that includes dates, times and television information.

Week 1—9/5: Dallas Cowboys 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Week 2—9/16: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 3—9/20: @ Carolina Panthers, 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network

Week 4—9/30: @ Philadelphia Eagles, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

Week 5—10/7: Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Week 6—10/14: @ San Francisco 49ers, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 7—10/21: Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 8—10/28: @ Dallas Cowboys, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 9—11/4: Pittsburgh Steelers, 4:15 p.m. ET CBS

Week 10—11/11: @ Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 11Bye Week

Week 12—11/25: Green Bay Packers, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

Week 13—12/3: @Washington Redskins, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Week 14—12/9: New Orleans Saints, 4:15 p.m. ET FOX

Week 15—12/16: @Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 16—12/23: @ Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

Week 17—12/30: Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. EST, FOX

<p> The 2012 NFL schedule for the&nbsp;<strong>New York Giants</strong>&nbsp;has been released.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - 20:34
Path: /mlb/baseball-numbers-pujols-bautista-and-tough-pitchers

Active pitchers who have held opponents to a sub-.200 batting average over a full season: Justin Verlander 2011 (.192); Johan Santana 2004 (.192); Kerry Wood 1998 (.196) [min. 162 innings].

Times players have hit 40-plus home runs in a season over the past three years. Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols are the only players to accomplish it twice.

Teams that ended last weekend with a team batting average below .200. The Padres ended Sunday with a .191 average and the Pirates finished up at .188.

Pitching staffs that ended last weekend holding opponents to a sub-.200 batting average. Toronto’s pitchers are holding opponents to a .199 average, and the Nationals’ pitchers are even stingier at .186.

Players with enough plate appearances to qualify hitting below the Mendoza Line (.200).

Players with enough plate appearances to qualify not even on the interstate yet, hitting below .100. Marlon Byrd of the Cubs ranks at the bottom of the 193 players with a .065 average and .212 OPS.

<br />
Post date: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - 12:13
Path: /nascar/nascar-horsepower-rankings-0

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Greg Biffle  Cemented his status as the points leader with an impressive win in Texas. Biffle has yet to finish worse than 13th this season, and is looking forward to Kansas — one of his best tracks — this weekend.

2. Jimmie Johnson  Joins Biffle and the two Juniors — Dale Earnhardt and Martin Truex — as the only drivers on the circuit with five top 10s in seven races. Kansas will most likely make six.

3. Tony Stewart  How does Stewart — who won at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway — tank to the tune of 24th at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway?

4. Matt Kenseth  As steady as they come, Kenseth moves into a tie for second with a certain Most Popular Driver after a fifth at TMS. Of course, Kenseth’s Daytona 500 win trumps Junior’s, uh, zero wins … in 136 races.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  OK, so he hasn’t won in a long, long time. But Junior is averaging an 8.1-place finish, which is second best in the series. Still, it really is time to break that winless streak and move on.

6. Martin Truex Jr.  Truex has averaged a 26.3-place finish at Kansas with zero top 10s. If he brings it home eighth or better like he has in five of seven races so far this year, we’re all on board.

7. Kevin Harvick  Harvick’s only finish outside of the top 11 in any single race was a 19th at Martinsville. He’s been awfully quiet for running so well. Maybe Baby Otis has thrown him off his typically vocal ways.

<p> Greg Biffle scored his first win of the 2012 and retained the points lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. That's enough to place him atop Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - 10:22
Path: /college-football/big-12-football-running-back-rankings-2012

The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the running backs in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel. 

Here's how Athlon ranks the running backs in the Big 12 for 2012:

1. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State (JR)
Rushing Stats:
208 att., 1,216 yards, 24 TDs
Receiving Stats: 43 rec., 266 yards, 2 TDs

While quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon gathered most of the headlines, Randle was quietly one of the most productive running backs in college football. In his first season as the starter, he rushed for 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns, while catching 43 passes for 266 yards and two scores. Randle posted three 100-yard efforts to begin the season and posted 138 yards in the win over Missouri and gashed rival Oklahoma for 151 yards and two touchdowns. With Weeden and Blackmon playing on Sundays in 2012, it’s up to Randle to become the offensive workhorse. Jeremy Smith will see some time in the backfield, but Randle figures to approach 250 carries and will contend for All-American honors in 2012.  

2. Malcolm Brown, Texas (SO)
Rushing Stats:
172 att., 742 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 17 yards

The No. 1 recruit in the nation at running back posted a solid debut season in Austin in 2011. He led the team in rushing by a wide margin and did so despite missing three games due to injury — including two of the team’s five losses. The Big 12 Newcomer of the Year was the first true freshman to lead Texas in rushing since Cedric Benson did in 2001. He should return for his sophomore season stronger and more prepared to handle the workload. Brown posted back-to-back 100-yard games and had scored two touchdowns in each game prior to getting hurt and missing the Texas Tech and Missouri games. While he won’t be asked to carry the load due to tremendous depth in Austin, Brown has the talent to lead the league in rushing.

3. Ed Wesley, TCU (SR)
Rushing Stats:
120 att., 726 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 6 rec., 82 yards

Wesley was clearly the top rusher in 2010 on a team that possesses one of the deepest and most used running back corps in the nation. He led TCU in attempts (166), yards (1,078) and touchdowns (11) as a sophomore. The carries were more evenly spread in 2011 but Wesley got the majority of the starts last fall (9) and finished second on the TCU team in rushing. His 2011 got off to slow start after he missed three of the first four games with an injury, but he bounced back and registered three of the team’s six 100-yard games. He capped his junior season by scoring in the final three games of the season and powered the TCU rushing attack in the bowl win over Louisiana Tech (16 att., 77 yds). Gary Patterson is unlikely to change his overall “by committee” approach to his running game, but odds are Wesley gets the first touches each weekend.

4. Trey Millard, Oklahoma (JR)
Rushing Stats:
24 att., 169 yards, 2 TD
Receiving Stats: 13 rec., 127 yards, TD

The stats will never indicate that Millard might be one of the most valuable backs in the Big 12. He is successful and dependable in all phases of the game and is counted on by Bob Stoops as a lead blocker, runner, pass catcher, quarterback protector and special teams dynamo. He led the team in special teams tackles with 14 stops and scored three times on 37 total offensive touches. And his value was not lost on Big 12 coaches as he earned first-team All-Big 12 honors last fall. In fact, Millard has never played a season at Oklahoma in which he was not at least a second-team All-Big 12 selection. The fullback/H-back/tight end/running back/special teamer might actually be the best player on the Oklahoma roster. It’s a shame the numbers will never prove that out. In fact, Tim Kish and Mike Stoops have echoed that exact sentiment since arriving from Arizona. Maybe the Sooners should get No. 33 the ball more often.

5. Joe Bergeron, Texas (SO)
Rushing Stats:
72 att., 463 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: None

The less-heralded of the 2011 Texas’ running back class, Bergeron proved in limited duty that he belongs in the Big 12. During Malcolm Brown’s two-game absence in the heart of the schedule, Bergeron posted the best game of his young career against Texas Tech. He carried 29 times for 191 yards and three touchdowns in the lopsided win. At 6.4 yards per carry for the season, the sophomore showed the ability to rip-off large chunks of yardage. Yet at 230 pounds, he also has the size to move the pile when needed. He only topped the 10-carry mark twice last fall, but Mack Brown knows he has a phenomenal second option to his starter. In fact, expect both players to get plenty of touches.

6. Eric Stephens, Texas Tech (SR)
Rushing Stats:
108 att., 565 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving Stats: 16 rec., 133 yards, 0 TD

Stephens was easily one of the Big 12’s best running backs through the first five weeks of the season in 2011. He rushed for 100 yards in four out of Texas Tech’s first five games, including 134 yards and two rushing scores against Nevada. However, Stephens suffered a major knee injury in the 45-40 loss to Texas A&M and was sidelined for the remainder of the season. All signs are positive on Stephens’ recovery, but Texas Tech could bring him along slowly to start the 2012 season. If healthy, Stephens should finish the year much higher on this list. However, with a redshirt year available, Stephens could choose to sit out 2012 and return at full strength in 2013.

7. Dominique Whaley, Oklahoma (SR)
Rushing Stats:
113 att., 627 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving Stats: 15 rec., 153 yards, 0 TD

Whaley was one of college football’s best stories through the first six games of 2011. A former walk-on and transfer from Langston, Whaley got off to a hot start by rushing for 627 yards and nine touchdowns in the first six contests. He rushed for 83 yards and one score in the win over Texas and 165 yards and one touchdown in a 47-17 rout over Kansas. However, Whaley’s season was cut short by an ankle injury and he has yet to return to full strength. The senior is expected to return by fall practice, but it is uncertain if Oklahoma can depend on him as a 20-25 carry option early in 2012. If we knew Whaley would be able to start in the opener, he would rank higher on this list. However, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding his availability, which knocks him down a few spots going into 2012. 

8. Waymon James, TCU (JR)
Rushing Stats:
121 att., 875 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 10 rec., 113 yards

Trying to decipher the TCU running backs is nearly impossible and James, the youngest of the bunch as a junior, is just as talented as starter Ed Wesley. James was the least used player in 2010 (87 att., 513 yards), but took his turn atop the yardage standings by leading the Frogs in rushing last fall. He had three of the team’s 100-yard rushing efforts, including huge performances against Wyoming (12 att., 181 yards), Colorado State (15 att., 108 yards) and UNLV (nine att., two touchdowns) in the final five games of the season. The 5-foot-8, 203 pounder may be the smallest of the group, but has all-conference potential as well.

9. Matthew Tucker, TCU (SR)
Rushing Stats:
123 att., 702 yards, 12 TD
Receiving Stats: 8 rec., 77 yards

Tucker, the biggest of the trio of TCU backs at 227 pounds, was a touchdown machine for Gary Patterson last fall. He led the team with 12 rushing scores and actually led the team in rushing attempts at 123. He reached paydirt as many times as his running mates Wesley and James did combined, scoring in nine of 13 possible games. He started three games last fall and was honorable mention All-Mountain West just like his other two backfield mates. He was the No. 2 option in 2010 after finishing just short of Wesley in attempts (148), yards (709) and touchdowns (7). His 27 career rushing scores paces one of the deepest backfields in the nation.

10. Jeremy Smith, Oklahoma State (JR)
Rushing Stats:
91 att., 646 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving Stats: 11 rec., 81 yards, 0 TD

Smith didn’t see a ton of playing time in 2011, but he certainly made the most of his opportunities. Joseph Randle was clearly the No. 1 rusher, but Smith was a perfect complement, adding 646 yards and nine touchdowns on 91 attempts. He posted two 100-yard efforts, rushing for 140 yards against Texas and 119 yards in the win over Oklahoma. With the Cowboys losing quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon, the rushing attack could be a bigger focus for the offense in 2012. Smith won’t outgain Randle, but his 7.1 yards per carry average suggests more big plays could be in store this year.

11. James Sims, Kansas (JR)
Rushing Stats:
182 att., 727 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving Stats: 14 rec., 119 yards, 0 TD

Sims was one of the few bright spots for Kansas last season, rushing for 727 yards and nine touchdowns. He ranked ninth among running backs in the Big 12 with an average of 60.6 yards per game, but failed to record a 100-yard effort in conference play. Although Sims’ numbers aren’t particularly overwhelming, the lack of a consistent passing attack didn’t allow the Jayhawks to find much running room. Kansas is expected to be more competitive in 2012, but Sims is suspended for the first three games of 2012 due to an off-the-field incident. Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon are expected to carry the backfield in Sims’ absence, but anytime a new coaching staff takes over, it’s uncertain what long-term effect the incident could have on the junior’s playing time after he returns to the lineup. 

12. Jarred Salubi, Baylor (SR)
Rushing Stats:
58 att., 331 yards, 3 TD
Receiving Stats: 4 rec., 46 yards

Art Briles didn’t go to his backup running back much in 2011, but when he did, Salubi was productive. He posted a 100-yard game in his first career game with a rushing attempt (131 yards in 2009) and hadn’t topped the century mark since. That is, until the 67-56 win over Washington last fall. In his best career game, the senior to posted 114 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns on only six total touches. Salubi looks like the front-runner to be the starter and has shown the big play ability (in practice at least) but will have to work hard all summer long to hold off Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin.

13. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (SO)
Rushing Stats:
Transfer Year
Receiving Stats: Transfer Year

Seastrunk orginially signed with the Oregon Ducks as one of the most heralded running back recruits in the nation back in 2010. The speed demon redshirted during his season at Oregon, and then amidst a recruiting scandal that involved himself and Texas handler Willie Lyles, decided to transfer closer to home. After sitting out last fall at Baylor, Seastrunk enters 2011 with a chance to make a huge impact. Seastrunk was the star of the Baylor spring game with 138 yards on only seven carries, including a 75-yard touchdown run. However, spring stats mean very little and Seastrunk has a long way to go to prove he deserved his lofty 2010 recruiting ranking. He may still be behind a few names on Art Briles’ depth chart, but his home-run ability is something his counterparts simply do not possess

14. John Hubert, Kansas State (JR)
Rushing Stats:
200 att., 970 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving Stats: 24 rec., 188 yards, 1 TD

With quarterback Collin Klein shouldering much of the rushing attack, Hubert was relegated to only 200 carries in 2011. The highlight of last year was a 166-yard effort against Miami, but he also rushed for 126 yards against Missouri. Hubert wasn’t much of a big-play threat and scored only three touchdowns last season. In order for Kansas State to repeat last season’s win total, it needs to find more help for Klein, while leaning on Hubert to grind out a few more yards. Hubert isn’t flashy, but could have a chance to top 1,000 yards in 2012. 

15. Jonathan Gray, Texas (FR)
For the second straight season Mack Brown will add the nation’s No. 1 running back prospect in the nation to his roster. Malcolm Brown was solid in his rookie year last fall and many think Gray could be even better. The durable, workhorse has every tool a running back needs to succeed at the next level. He comes to the 40 Acres with a remarkable prep resume that includes over 10,000 yards rushing and the national high school record with 205 touchdowns. Gray might be the best running back in the conference the second he steps onto a field, but don’t expect him to get more than 100 touches as a freshman.

16. James White, Iowa State (JR)
Rushing Stats:
159 att., 743 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving Stats: 21 rec., 165 yards, 1 TD

Despite losing starter Shontrelle Jackson to a neck injury early in the year, the Iowa State rushing attack never missed a beat. White finished with 743 yards and eight touchdowns, while catching 21 passes for 165 yards and one score. He recorded two 100-yard games, posting 148 yards against Baylor and 138 against Texas Tech. White was a key factor in the win over Oklahoma State, recording 97 total yards and two scores. The Cyclones should be in good shape at running back with White, Johnson and Jeff Woody returning in 2012. White should lead the team in yards, but with good depth at this position, seems unlikely to top 1,000 yards.

17. Dustin Garrison, West Virginia (SO)
Rushing Stats:
136 att., 742 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving Stats: 24 rec., 201 yards, 0 TD

Garrison had a solid debut season, leading the Mountaineers with 742 rushing yards, while chipping in 24 receptions for 201 yards. He recorded only one effort over 100 yards (291, Bowling Green), but notched 87 in a key win over South Florida and 80 in a 43-16 blowout victory over Connecticut. Although Garrison had a successful freshman campaign, he suffered a significant knee injury in a practice before the Orange Bowl and likely won’t return to full strength until early 2012. If healthy, Garrison should rank higher on this list. However, with his status uncertain, the sophomore may struggle to match last season’s rushing totals.

18. Roy Finch, Oklahoma (JR)
Rushing Stats:
111 att., 605 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving Stats: 34 rec., 296 yards, 0 TD

With Dominique Whaley’s status for the season opener uncertain, Finch could be Oklahoma’s No. 1 back. The junior has been a solid performer through his first two seasons, recording 1,003 career yards and five rushing scores. Finch also has 44 receptions for 345 yards over the last two years. Finch does not have a 100-yard effort in his career and really isn’t built to handle 200-250 carries. However, he could carry Oklahoma’s backfield early, while forming a nice one-two combination with Whaley whenever the senior returns to full strength.

19. Shawne Alston, West Virginia (SR)
Rushing Stats:
97 att., 416 yards, 12 TDs
Receiving Stats: 2 rec., 6 yards, 0 TD

Alston hasn’t been a major contributor in his West Virginia career, but he could be poised to shoulder a majority of the carries early in 2012. With Dustin Garrison nursing a knee injury, Alston will likely be the Mountaineers’ starting running back. The senior has 682 career yards and 12 rushing scores and closed out the 2011 season on a high note, rushing for 77 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson.

20. Kenny Williams, Texas Tech (SO)
Rushing Stats:
43 att., 135 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving Stats: 6 rec., 52 yards, 0 TD

With Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington battling significant knee injuries, Williams could see a significant role in the backfield this season. He rushed for 135 yards in limited time last year and caught 6 passes for 52 yards. Williams posted only one game of double-digit carries (Texas, 10), but scored two touchdowns in the regular season finale against Baylor. Until Stephens proves he is 100 percent, the Texas Tech coaches will have to lean on Williams and SaDale Foster at running back.

Others to Watch

Andrew Buie, West Virginia
Shontrelle Johnson, Iowa State
Glasco Martin, Baylor
Tony Pierson, Kansas
Alex Ross, Oklahoma
Herschel Sims, Oklahoma State
DeAndre Williams, Texas Tech

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on twitter) and Braden Gall (@BradenGall)

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Big 12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012
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Ranking the Big 12 Head Coaches for 2012
College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Athlon ranks the running backs in the Big 12 for the 2012 season.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - 07:02
Path: /college-football/washington-or-stanford

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Assuming Oregon is the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 North, who would you pick second - Washington or Stanford?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I am sticking with Stanford here, though the gap is closing. My quick reaction at first was to pick Washington ahead of the Cardinal, but I’m not so sure anymore. Stanford is going to fall a bit without Andrew Luck and two elite offensive linemen, and Washington is not going to be a mess on defense like it was a year ago. That said, Washington still has to make up a three-game difference in the Pac-12 standings just to catch up to Stanford. It could happen. That said, for all its talent on offense with Keith Price, Chris Polk and Jermaine Kearse, Washington was still seventh in the Pac-12 in total offense in league games. Not to mention the Huskies defense, which couldn’t stop anyone. On the other hand, Stanford’s going to have a solid defense, especially if Shayne Skov is on the field in his 2010 form. The Cardinal is not going to move the ball like it did under Luck, but I think David Shaw is going to be able to re-tool his offense around Stepfan Taylor in the running game. Stanford’s spot among the national elite may end this season, but Washington’s journey to the top of the Pac-12 is still a long one.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Give me the Huskies or give me death. Steve Sarkisian has the Huskies poised for their best season in over a decade this fall. He took a first-year starter and underclassman at quarterback and delivered the first winning season for Washington since 2002. Keith Price now enters his junior season having already dramatically outperformed the legend he replaced in Jake Locker. The roster as a whole has been dramatically upgraded, as is evident by how easily Coach Sark can replace star skill players like Chris Polk and Jermaine Kearse with Jesse Callier, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams. And the program has clearly decided to dedicate more resources to producing a winner as the Huskies spent big money to lure talented coaches from all across the country this off-season.

Stanford, meanwhile, is heading in a much different direction. Two years removed from coaching savant Jim Harbaugh, David Shaw now faces his biggest challenge: Replacing all-everything quarterback Andrew Luck. The best amateur football player in the world left Palo Alto with every major school record a quarterback can hold, including winning 23 of 26 games over the last two seasons. Brett Nottingham might be a solid player, but fans will find out very quickly just how good Luck was under center. Additionally, gone are two two-time first-team All-Pac-12 offensive lineman and stud tight end Coby Fleener. Defensively, this team should be better than Washington, and I realize that the Cardinal recruited at a record level in 2012, but many of those player won't make a significant impact this fall. The in-conference schedules are similar, so this argument could be decided on the field in Week 5 when Stanford comes to Seattle to face Washington.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This is one of the toughest calls to make in the Pac-12 predictions for 2012. Stanford has won 23 games over the last two years and has brought in top 25 recruiting classes in each of the last four seasons. However, former coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck were a key reason for much of that success. David Shaw did a good job in his first season as Stanford’s head coach last year, but the Cardinal now have to replace Luck and two first-team All-Pac-12 linemen in 2012. There’s no question Stanford is due for a fall, but just how far is the debate.

Washington has just 14 wins over the last two years and its defense was a disaster last season. The Huskies also suffered some key personnel losses going into 2012, including running back Chris Polk, defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu and linebacker Cort Dennison. However, Washington is a program headed in the right direction. Coach Steve Sarkisian is bringing in solid recruiting classes and hired an excellent defensive staff, pulling in coordinator Justin Wilcox from Tennessee and defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi from California. The acquisition of Wilcox should bring immediate improvement to Washington’s defense, which will help an offense that should be one of the best in the conference.

The schedules are essentially even, but Washington hosts Stanford this year. Although the Cardinal has been the better team over the last few years, I think the Huskies will surprise and claim second in the North standings and finish among the top 25 teams in the nation.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I’ll go with Stanford to finish second in the Pac-12’s North Division. Most pundits around college football will probably take Washington because of the Cardinal personnel losses and a tough schedule, but I think Stanford has built a strong program that will not fall very far this season. Obviously Andrew Luck leaves a huge void at quarterback, and the Cardinal will also miss top performers like left tackle Jonathan Martin, guard David DeCastro, and safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas. While the offense may not be as potent in 2012, the defense could be better than last year’s quality group. Stanford has one of the top linebacking units in the country, led by All-America candidate Chase Thomas and leading tackler Jarek Lancaster. Shayne Skov should return to the group in late September, and AJ Tarpley was solid as well last season.

David Shaw will have a talented quarterback whether it’s Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes, and offensive linemen Cameron Fleming and David Yankey should lead a physical crew that will pave the way for outstanding running back Stepfan Taylor. Stanford plays hit-you-in-the-mouth football, like when the Cardinal steamrolled Washington for 446 rushing yards a year ago. While the Huskies do have an exciting signal caller in Keith Price, the defense is still a year away in Seattle. Both teams should be in the 6-3 range in league play, and I’ll go with Stanford to win the head-to-head matchup and finish as the runner-up to Oregon in the North.

How will Athlon predict the Pac-12 North standings for 2012? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day. 

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College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Head Coaches for 2012

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

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<p> Washington or Stanford: Which is the second best team in the 2012 Pac-12 North?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - 07:01
Path: /mlb/weve-got-next-baseballs-2012-rookie-class

Remember those cool little trophies that Topps has put on baseball cards of the previous year’s best rookies? The card company began the practice in 1960 honoring the best rookies from 1959 — a group that included the likes of Pumpsie Green and Hall of Famer Willie McCovey.

Since that time, Topps has forsaken the trophies in a few years, but has continued to select an All-Rookie Team. Topps usually honors eight position players and two pitchers, one right-handed, one lefty. We prefer four starters and a closer.

Here’s our lineup of the top 2012 rookies we believe will be honored by Topps at the end of the season. Some are still in the minors, but you will know their names by the end of the summer.

Hector Sanchez, San Francisco
Sanchez won’t get as many plate appearances as other catchers because of some guy named Buster Posey. But as the Giants get Posey more time at first base, Sanchez will continue to impress with his bat and arm.
Others: Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati; Wilin Rosario, Colorado

First Base
Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
Rizzo is likely to make the scene by the end of May, and will immediately take his place in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup. The Cubbies need his bat, for sure.
Other: Chris Parmelee, Minnesota

Second Base
Freddy Galvis, Philadelphia
Given the full-time gig in Philadelphia until Chase Utley returns, Galvis’ bat has been slow starting this season, but he knows how to play the position — and there is little competition at the position.
Other: Kolten Wong, St. Louis

Third Base
Nolan Arenado, Colorado
The third baseman has hit well at every stop, including spring training this season. The hot corner in Denver will be his later this summer. He is among the best long-term prospects on this list as well.

Tyler Pastornicky, Atlanta
Clearly, the deepest position for rookies this season, there are shortstops galore. Pastornicky isn’t the best defender of this group, but he is expected to hit close to .300 and steal 20-plus bases.
Others: Zack Cozart, Cincinnati; Nick Franklin, Seattle; Marwin Gonzalez, Houston; Jose Iglesias, Boston

<p> Athlon Sports projects the best rookies for 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 16, 2012 - 17:11
Path: /mlb/baseballs-players-week-kemp-westbrook

Each week Athlon Sports looks back at the previous week's best baseball players in the American and National leagues, and recaps the most outstanding pitching performances. Here are last week's—April 9-15—standouts.

National League Player of the Week 

Matt Kemp, Los Angeles

For the second week in a row, the most feared hitter in the NL is honored here. Kemp hit .455 for the week with an NL-leading four home runs and nine RBIs. He scored seven times.


National League Pitcher of the Week

Jake Westbrook, St. Louis

The Cardinals are getting strong starting pitching from unexpected sources, and Westbrook tossed two gems this week. He won at Cincinnati, then defeated the Cubs at home. In 14 innings he was 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA and 0.86 WHIP.


American League Player of the Week

Josh Willingham, Minnesota

The Twins are struggling to score runs, but Willingham showed why Minnesota signed the free agent over the winter. He hit an even .500 and slugged north of 1.000 with three home runs.


American League Pitcher of the Week

C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles

It hasn’t been the kind of start to the 2012 season that the Angels expected, but Wilson was a lone bright spot last week. He won both his starts with a 1.38 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.

<p> A look at the NL's and AL's standouts&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Monday, April 16, 2012 - 14:41