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NFL training camps are underway as teams have begun their preparations for the upcoming season in earnest. Here are a few storylines to keep an eye as players and teams return to the practice field.

Quarterback Battles
The most wide-open battles for starting quarterback spots are in Arizona, Jacksonville and Miami. Cleveland, Seattle and Tennessee are some other situations that bear watching for different reasons. For the Browns and Titans a decision has to be made on whether to go with the “young” quarterback over the veteran on the roster, whereas the Seahawks appear ready to hold a three-man competition for their starting job.

And then there are the Jets. While Rex Ryan’s team may not be starring on “Hard Knocks” this season, the Jets’ training camp will still attract its fair share of attention, as the media is sure to provide plenty of coverage on the daily Mark Sanchez vs. Tim Tebow “battle.”

Related: 2012 Training Camp: Quarterback Battles to Watch

New Eras Begin in Indianapolis and Washington
There appears to be no quarterback controversy in both Indianapolis and Washington as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are expected to be the starter for their respective teams come Week 1. Expectations are high for the first two picks of this year’s draft as Luck will attempt to the take the place of a future Hall of Famer, while Griffin will be tasked with leading a once-proud franchise back to the Super Bowl.

No one, however, is expecting either of these scenarios to occur in 2012, especially considering Luck is joining a team that was able to take him at No. 1 overall because it went 2-14 in 2011. The starting quarterback isn’t the only thing that’s new in Indy in 2012 either, as owner Jim Irsay brought in a new general manager (Ryan Grigson) and head coach (Chuck Pagano), in addition to overhauling the Colts’ roster during the offseason and through the draft. Now fellow rookies Grigson, Pagano and Luck hope to transform the Colts into a new version of the team that dominated the AFC South from 2002-10.

The situation in Washington is a little different as head coach Mike Shanahan and owner Daniel Snyder want to win now. That’s easier said than done considering the Redskins are in the NFC East, the same division as the defending Super Bowl Giants, not to mention the Cowboys and Eagles. So while no one is expecting the ‘Skins to win the division this season, an improvement on last season’s 5-11 showing must happen. Otherwise, Shanahan may not be around long enough to see if Griffin was worth trading up for in the first place.

Peyton’s New Place
Luck is the starter in Indianapolis because, after 14 seasons, Peyton Manning is no longer there. After cutting ties with the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 1998, the coveted free agent decided to sign a five-year contract with Denver, much to the delight of both Broncos’ fans and John Elway, the Hall of Fame quarterback and team’s executive vice president of football operations.

Elway and the rest of the Broncos’ front office is pinning their hopes of another Super Bowl title on Manning, who last played in an NFL game in January 2011. Manning appears to be healthy after missing all of last season because of multiple neck surgeries, but no one knows for sure until they get a close look at him in action, both in training camp and in preseason games.

Denver head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy are comfortable handing the offense over to Manning, and the team has made multiple moves during the offseason to provide No. 18 with more weapons. However, it will be for naught if the Broncos don’t make the postseason, or worse, if Manning succumbs to injury once again. After all, Manning’s current backup is former Chicago Bear Caleb Hanie, who could end up losing that job this season to second-round pick Brock Osweiler.

Bountygate Hangover?
Without question, no team had a worse offseason than New Orleans. Thankfully, with training camp opening on Tuesday, the team can finally turn its focus to this season. Or at least that’s what they would like to do.

The truth is that the questions about the bounty scandal and the NFL’s punishments stemming from it, won’t go away anytime soon, especially since Saints head coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma are both suspended for the entire season because of it.

General manager Mickey Loomis and interim head coach Joe Vitt, both of whom will be serving multi-game suspensions themselves once the regular season starts, will get the bulk of the questions, but the players will not be immune to the constant queries. One can’t help but wonder how much of a distraction this will be for the Saints during training camp.

At least the Saints do have some good news to talk about as franchise quarterback Drew Brees and the team finally came to agreement on a new five-year contract worth $100 million, including a record $60 million guaranteed. Then again, Brees has already filed an affidavit in support of teammate Vilma’s appeal of his season-long suspension by the NFL.

One way or another, Bountygate isn’t going away anytime soon. This just adds another obstacle for the Saints to overcome as they prepare to defend their NFC South crown against an Atlanta team that won 10 games in 2011 and a Carolina team that should be even better in Cam Newton’s second year.

Dynasty in Philadelphia?
Apparently Michael Vick didn’t learn anything from the mistake made by his former teammate Vince Young, who declared the Eagles a “Dream Team” prior to last season, only to watch them finish a disappointing 8-8 and miss the playoffs. In fact, you could argue Vick went a step further than Young’s bold prediction when he said in a recent interview that he thinks the Eagles could develop into a dynasty.

Before Vick and the rest of the Eagles can even start to mention their team in the same breath as the Steelers from the 1970s or the 49ers from the ‘80s or even the Patriots from the 2000s, they may want to win one Super Bowl, something the franchise has yet to do in its history.

For what it’s worth, the Eagles look to be a legitimate playoff contender in 2012, as the team took a different route to improving its roster this offseason. Unlike the free-agent spending spree that took place in 2011, this time around the Eagles used trades and the draft to further bolster their defense, while signing key offensive playmakers LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson to contract extensions.

So once again the Eagles look the part, at least on paper, to be a contender not only in 2012, but also beyond. But if last season showed the team and everyone else anything, it’s that the games aren’t played on paper. If the Vick and his teammates have any hopes of laying the groundwork for a possible dynasty, it needs to start this season; otherwise head coach Andy Reid may be looking for a new job.

— By Mark Ross, published on July 24, 2012

Related NFL Content

2012 NFL Training Camp: Quarterback Battles to Watch
2012 NFL Head Coaches: Who is on the Hot Seat?
Ranking the NFL's Top 10 Head Coaches in 2012
2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the NFC's Best Coach?
2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the AFC's Best Coach?

2012 NFL Quarterbacks: Ranking the Best and Worst Starters

Ranking the NFL’s Best Backup Quarterbacks

The 10 Worst NFL Teams Since Expansion

NFL Quarterbacks Rewrote Record Books in 2011

Miami Dolphins QBs Since Dan Marino: An NFL Horror Story

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

AFC East
Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Pittsburgh Steelers


AFC South
Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos

Kansas City Chiefs

Oakland Raiders

San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings


NFC South
Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

St. Louis Rams

Click here to order your Athlon Sports Pro Football 2012 Preview magazine

Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Training Camp Storylines to Watch</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 09:01
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-training-camp-quarterback-battles-watch
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Position battles are always one of the main focuses during training camp and no position garners more attention and scrutiny than quarterback. While the majority of NFL teams are set when it comes to their starter under center, there are several teams that are searching for an answer as training camps get underway.

As it stands right now, the starting jobs in Arizona, Jacksonville and Miami appear to be completely wide open. Cleveland, Seattle and Tennessee are unsettled to different degrees and when it comes to the Jets, let’s just say it’s a made-for-TV storyline that everyone will be watching.

Duel in the Desert
A year ago, Arizona thought that it had found their long-term answer when the team acquired Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia. Not only did the Cardinals send cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second-round pick to the Eagles for Kolb last July 29, they then signed him to a five-year contract worth more than $62 million.

So far, the returns have been nothing short of disastrous, as Kolb went 3-6 as the Cardinals’ starter last season, completing less than 58 percent of his passes for 1,955 yards and accounting for fewer touchdowns (nine, all passing) than turnovers (11 total). Kolb also had to deal with a foot injury and a concussion that cost him the final month of the season. To make matters worse, backup John Skelton had better numbers (1,913 yards passing, 14 TD, 11 INT) in fewer starts and led the Cardinals to a winning record (5-2) in those games.

The Cadinals’ training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz., got going on Tuesday, so now is the time for Kolb to show head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the rest of the coaching staff, the front office and his teammates that he’s the guy to lead them back to the playoffs, otherwise Skelton may get an extended look and a legitimate shot at the starting job. Sixth-round pick Ryan Lindley out of San Diego State also bears watching.
Prediction: The Cardinals have too much invested in Kolb to not give him another chance. However, I think he will under a short leash and they will turn to Shelton should he struggle once again.

Does Gabbert Get Another Chance in Jacksonville?
In Jacksonville, Blaine Gabbert did little, if anything at all, in his rookie season to show that he has what it takes to be a capable starting quarterback in the NFL. It also doesn’t help that the Jaguars have a new head coach, Mike Mularkey. On the other hand, the regime change presents Gabbert a chance to start over with a new coaching staff, one led by Mularkey, who helped develop Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan during his time as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator.

Whether Gabbert will get the chance to prove his worth come Week 1 remains to be seen, as he will more than likely have to hold off Chad Henne in training camp to remain the Jaguars’ starter. Nathan Enderle and Jordan Palmer are also expected to participate in training camp with the Jaguars.
Prediction: As bad as Gabbert was in 2011, it’s entirely too early to completely give up on him. Jacksonville isn’t expected to compete for a playoff spot, so I think Mularkey will give Gabbert another season to show if he’s the long-term answer or not.

Who Starts in Miami?
Just like Jacksonville, Miami also has a new head coach as former Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin takes over the Dolphins. The first-year head coach will experience plenty of new things running his first training camp in Davie, Fla., one of those being he won’t see Aaron Rodgers out on the field in a red jersey.

Instead Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman will have to decide if their starting quarterback for Week 1 will be Matt Moore, David Garrard or first-round pick Ryan Tannehill out of Texas A&M. Moore went 6-6 as the ‘Fins’ primary starter last season, putting up respectable numbers (2,497 yards passing, 16 TD, 9 INT) in the process. Garrard spent nine seasons (2002-09) in Jacksonville, five of those as the starter, before sitting out last season with a back injury. He appears to be fully healthy and some reports label him as the early front-runner for the starting job.

Tannehill appears to be the long shot at this point because the team wants to give the No. 8 overall pick as much time as they can to develop. After all, Tannehill is the first quarterback taken by the Dolphins in the first round of the draft since 1983. That year, Miami selected a certain University of Pittsburgh quarterback at No. 27 overall. That quarterback was named Dan Marino and he worked out pretty well. The Dolphins are hoping history will repeat itself with Tannehill, even if it may take some time to see the finished product on the field.
Prediction: Garrard may reportedly have the early lead, but I think Moore will overtake him in the end and be the Dolphins’ Week 1 starter. Moore, who turns 28 in August, showed last season what he’s capable of and he presents more upside than Garrard, who’s 34. I also don’t think Tannehill gets on the field for a single snap this season. He’s the future and they are going to take their time with him.

Browns Could Turn to “Old” Rookie
Cleveland also used a first-round draft pick on a quarterback, taking Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden at No. 22 overall. Unlike Tannehill, Weeden appears to have a very good shot at starting for the Browns in Week 1, provided he performs better than incumbent starter Colt McCoy in training camp.

Weeden is not your typical NFL rookie, just as he wasn’t a typical college quarterback for the Cowboys. At 28, Weeden became the oldest ever taken in the first round of the NFL Draft when the Browns took him. In fact, Weeden is four years older than McCoy, five years older than Cam Newton, last season’s AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, and nearly two months older than Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP.

Whether Weeden follows more the path of McCoy or Newton (minus the rushing numbers) in his first season remains to be seen, but it does look like the Browns are willing to put him out on the field early, perhaps starting in Week 1, to find out.
Prediction: You don’t draft a 28-year-old rookie quarterback and not find out if he can play in the NFL, right? I think Weeden gets the call in Week 1 and it will be up to him if he keeps the job or not.

Three-Way Battle in Seattle
Prior to the draft in April, it looked like Seattle settled its quarterback situation when it signed free agent Matt Flynn in March. The Seahawks signed Flynn, who served as Rodgers’ backup in Green Bay, to a three-year deal worth $26 million with $10 million guaranteed.

One thing Flynn’s new contract doesn’t seem to guarantee, however, is the Seahawks’ starting job as early indications are that head coach Pete Carroll will give Flynn, incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson and third-round pick Russell Wilson out of Wisconsin equal snaps with the first-team offense.

Jackson went 7-7 as the Seahawks’ starter in 2011 and has 34 career starts under his belt, compared to a grand total of two for Flynn. Then again Flynn threw for 518 yards and six touchdowns in his lone start last season, and you don’t sign someone to a contract like this to be the backup, do you?

And what about Wilson? Could the highly polished and accomplished college quarterback who slid down everyone’s draft board in April because of his size (5-11) prove everyone wrong by wresting the starting job from the two veterans? Whoever ends up under center come Week 1, it should make for an interesting couple of weeks at Seahawks’ camp in Renton, Wash.
Prediction: Jackson has had his chances as a starting quarterback for two different teams. And while his record (17-17) as a starter for both the Vikings and the Seahawks is respectable, I think there’s a reason the team committed three years and all that money to Flynn. Besides, Seattle’s already gone down this road with another Green Bay backup quarterback once before and that worked out pretty well for the team.

The Future is now in Tennessee?
Tennessee Titans training camp in Nashville also bears watching because it’s possible that Jake Locker, the team’s first-round pick (No. 8 overall) in 2010, could unseat veteran Matt Hasselbeck for the starting job. Hasselbeck put together his best season since 2007 as he nearly led the Titans to the playoffs in his first season not in a Seattle uniform.

However, Locker showed signs of what he’s capable of in the five games he played in last season. In fact, the rookie fared so well that Titans’ head coach Mike Munchak has already declared that there will be an open quarterback competition for the starting job in training camp, which starts up on Friday for the veterans.

Early indications are that Locker will have to clearly out-perform Hasselbeck in order to wrest the Week 1 starting job away from the 13-year veteran. Whether that happens or not, it does look like the 36-year-old Hasselbeck will be turning the reins over sooner rather than later to the 24-year-old Locker.
Prediction: Locker is the future in Tennessee, but I don’t see that starting in Week 1. I think Hasselbeck holds off the rookie to start the season, but wouldn’t be surprised to see Locker take over by the end of October or early November.

The “Battle” Everyone Will Be Watching
Age is certainly not the issue as far as the Jets’ starting quarterback situation goes. Mark Sanchez is a little more than a year older than Tim Tebow, but head coach Rex Ryan has already made it clear that Sanchez is the starter and Tebow is the backup.

Of course that means little to the media throng that will descend upon Jets’ training camp when the two report on Thursday. After all that’s what happens when you play in the media capital of the world and the team shows it faith in its incumbent starter by trading for a guy who attracts more attention than anyone and fared better as a starter last season.

For all the criticism regarding his abilities as a passer, Tebow had a better record (7-4) as a starter than Sanchez (8-8) last season, and that doesn’t include his win over Pittsburgh in the first round of the AFC Playoffs. Sanchez actually had his best season in terms of statistics in 2011, but all that production (3,474 yards passing, 26 TD) didn’t carry the Jets to the playoffs.

And in New York, which also is home to the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, winning and playing in the postseason is what truly matters. So while Sanchez may be the clear-cut starter, Tebow will see his share of snaps under center too.

The pressure is on Ryan and the Jets to get back to the playoffs this season. Sanchez may be the starter, but if Tebow and the team produce better results when he’s under center, Ryan may have no choice but to make the switch.

So while Sanchez’ status as the Jets’ starting quarterback is clear in July and August, come September his job security will come down to what he does with the football when it’s in his hands.
Prediction: Despite his best efforts, the quarterback situation is persistent distraction throughout the season for Ryan and the rest of the team. Sanchez’ poor play at the start of the season leads to a near 50-50 split on snaps come October. Sanchez requests a trade at season’s end, if not sooner, and the Jets end up drafting a quarterback in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, meaning we get to revisit this again next season.

— By Mark Ross, published on July 24, 2012

Related NFL Content

2012 NFL Training Camp: Storylines to Watch
2012 NFL Head Coaches: Who is on the Hot Seat?
Ranking the NFL's Top 10 Head Coaches in 2012
2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the NFC's Best Coach?
2012 NFL Coaches: Who is the AFC's Best Coach?

2012 NFL Quarterbacks: Ranking the Best and Worst Starters

Ranking the NFL’s Best Backup Quarterbacks

The 10 Worst NFL Teams Since Expansion

NFL Quarterbacks Rewrote Record Books in 2011

Miami Dolphins QBs Since Dan Marino: An NFL Horror Story

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

AFC East
Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New York Jets

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Pittsburgh Steelers


AFC South
Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Denver Broncos

Kansas City Chiefs

Oakland Raiders

San Diego Chargers

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings


NFC South
Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

St. Louis Rams

Click here to order your Athlon Sports Pro Football 2012 Preview magazine

Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Training Camp: Quarterback Battles to Watch</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC North, Cleveland Browns, NFL
Path: /nfl/cleveland-browns-2012-nfl-team-preview
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Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Cleveland Browns check in at No. 28.

Losing takes a toll — on everyone. Players, fans, the front office, everyone. In Cleveland, an angry and frustrated fan base wanted offseason action. It didn’t get it in free agency, where the Browns bypassed the quick — and expensive — fix. It might have gotten it on draft night, when the Browns cast their lot with a new running back and a new quarterback, both of whom are expected to start immediately.

One trade and two picks left the Browns with a new offense and a new approach. Running back Trent Richardson is expected to provide the steady, tough, dependable play the team lacked last season. At 28, quarterback Brandon Weeden became the oldest player ever selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Immediately the team talked about Weeden starting, and an offense that was miserable in 2011 was betting its chances for revival on two draft picks. The schedule and division are brutal, but the Browns believe a top runner and new passer will bring them closer to competitive than they’ve been in a long time.

Offense

The Browns were woeful in 2011, scoring only 13.6 points per game and finishing 29th in total yards per game (288.8). The league’s top two offenses — Green Bay and New Orleans — outscored them by three touchdowns per game. That’s bad.

Something had to be done, and the team identified four areas that needed fixing: running back, receiver, right tackle and quarterback. The quarterback situation was an endless offseason debate, with a good portion of the fan base believing a better supporting cast would help last year’s starter, Colt McCoy.

The organization did not agree. Despite professing fondness and appreciation for McCoy, the Browns first tried to trade up not with Washington but with Indianapolis for the pick that would be Andrew Luck. The Colts quickly rebuffed that effort. Then the Browns tried to acquire the draft pick that would be Robert Griffin III, but could not finish the trade. Then it took a 28-year-old rookie with the 22nd pick in the first round of the draft.

It’s a measure of the Browns’ struggles that the team looked on Weeden’s age not as a weakness — like most of the league — but as a strength. While most teams saw a guy who would be 29 in October and perhaps 31 by the time he “got it,” the Browns saw an experienced and mature player more capable of stepping in right away than a 21- or 22-year-old coming out of college. That’s how badly they wanted someone who could play right away.

The Browns believe that Weeden’s experience in minor league baseball taught him a lot about being a pro. They believe that will translate into on-field success sooner than the normal rookie learning curve would indicate.

Weeden’s every measurable is better than McCoy’s. He threw for 71 touchdowns the last two season while completing just under 70 percent of his throws at Oklahoma State. But he will face a difficult task, with six in-division games against the defenses of the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals. He’ll also travel to face the Giants and Broncos. 

One advantage Weeden will have that McCoy did not: Weeden will hand off to a talented and gifted running back in Richardson, who is also a rookie. The Browns liked the former Alabama star enough to give up three late-round picks to move up from fourth overall to third to ensure his selection. It was a smart move — especially after they didn’t get their guy from the Colts or Redskins.

Weeden’s biggest challenge: Learning a new offense while adjusting from a shotgun-spread to working under center. He will have a rookie right tackle in second-round draft pick Mitchell Schwartz of Cal and the same group of receivers that led the league in drops a year ago.

Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi and the rest will have to do better. The Browns believe experience and a better quarterback will help the receivers. They also believe a better running game will help the quarterback. Coach Pat Shurmur calls it synergy, something the Browns lacked almost completely last season.

The Browns are asking a lot of three rookies by expecting them to step right in and change the offense. But things were going nowhere fast with the folks from last season. Results may not be immediate, but this was an offense that needed a drastic overhaul, and it got one.

Related: Top Cleveland Browns Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Because the Browns were so focused on the offense in the offseason, their moves to improve the defense were more, shall we say, subtle. Basically the Browns added two players to a defense that gave up 147.4 rushing yards per game but still ranked 10th overall.
In free agency, the Browns added two journeymen defensive ends — Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker. Rucker is penciled in to start opposite Jabaal Sheard. Parker will fit in a rotation. Same with third-round pick John Hughes, a surprise choice out of Cincinnati. In the three linemen, the Browns wanted to add depth to a unit that has three legitimate starters — Sheard and tackles Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin. Whether that makes for great improvement is up for debate.

The Browns’ linebackers are solid, but not spectacular. Cornerback is a concern. Joe Haden’s play dropped off noticeably as 2011 progressed, and it’s very possible Dimitri Patterson could push aging veteran Sheldon Brown to safety.

The Browns’ defense felt pretty good about itself in 2011, primarily because of its overall ranking and because it only allowed 19.2 points per game. But the run defense numbers seem to undermine the overall rankings. It’s tough to be an effective defense without stopping the run. How this group improves at that facet of the game will determine how it fares in 2012.

Specialists

The Browns’ tradition of having outstanding specialists continues. The team has placed the franchise tag on placekicker Phil Dawson two years in a row for good reason. He is one of the finest, most dependable kickers in the league. While others work in domes or warm weather, Dawson succeeds in the cold, wind and elements on Lake Erie. The punting competition will be settled in preseason camp. Josh Cribbs is an outstanding returner, but he’s also 28. Rookie Travis Benjamin could challenge Cribbs in the return game.

Final Analysis: 4th in the AFC North

The Browns will go as far as a 28-year-old rookie quarterback can take them, but it won’t be far. The mountain Cleveland has to climb within the division is enormous — Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati were all playoff teams last season. The Browns have the third-toughest schedule in the league and an opening six games that would make a veteran worry. The Browns could be improved in 2012, but they still might not win seven games.

Related: 2012 Cleveland Browns Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Brown and Out
Rarely has one team done so little for so many. Since the expansion Browns started play in 1999, they have won a total of 68 games. That’s an average of only 5.2 wins per season. Is it any wonder the fan base is beyond frustrated?

Next Man Up
If Brandon Weeden is the opening-game starter for the Browns, he will be the fifth different starter on opening day in the past five years. The list reads this way: Weeden, Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme, Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. Weeden also will be the 16th player to start at quarterback for the Browns since 1999. That list includes Ty Detmer, Tim Couch, Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Anderson, Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Delhomme, Seneca Wallace and McCoy.

The Rookie
Weeden is not just old; he’s the oldest player ever drafted in the first round. His age when selected: 28 years and 195 days. Nobody counted the hours.

Proud Legacy
Trent Richardson joins a team with a history of backs that includes Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly and Marion Motley. But no Browns back has ever been taken as high as Richardson was in the draft, when he went third overall. Jim Brown weighed in on the possible selection of Richardson before the draft with some words of serious caution. Said Brown of Richardson: “I think he’s ordinary.” OK, then.

No Luck
Team president Mike Holmgren admitted that he talked to the Colts twice to see if they might trade out of the first spot so the Browns could draft Andrew Luck. The Colts declined. Holmgren said talks were brief. “I believe I was in the swimming pool at the owners meetings and I had a drink in my hand,” he said. No word on whether the drink had an umbrella. For the record, Holmgren was joking.

Former Bosses
It’s unclear what it means, but the Browns may have more former head coaches on their staff than any other team. Pat Shurmur’s staff includes offensive coordinator Brad Childress (Minnesota), defensive coordinator Dick Jauron (Chicago, Buffalo) and senior defensive assistant Ray Rhodes (Philadelphia, Green Bay).

No Offense
Statistics sometimes tell the story. The past four years, the Browns offense has ranked 29, 29, 29 and 31 in a 32-team league. In scoring, the Browns the past four years have ranked 30, 31, 32 and 30.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Thur., July 26

Order your 2012 Cleveland Browns Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Cleveland Browns Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Cleveland Browns Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Cleveland Browns 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC North, Cleveland Browns, NFL
Path: /nfl/cleveland-browns-top-twitter-accounts-follow
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Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

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

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

@OfficialBrowns (Followers: 97,795)

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 25, 2012

Top Browns To Follow:

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Josh Cribbs WR @JoshCribbs16 116,330
2. Colt McCoy QB @ColtMcCoy 101,897
3. Joe Haden CB @JoeHaden23 91,514
4. Brandon Weeden QB @BWeeden3 54,516
5. T.J. Ward S @BossWard43 32,338
6. Mohamaed Massaquoi WR @MoMass11 26,422
7. Carlton Mitchell WR @C_Mitch18 23,091
8. Phil Taylor DT @PhilTaylor98 22,140
9. Usama Young S @Usama_Young28 20,761
10. D'Qwell Jackson LB @DQ52 19,180
11. Brad Smelley TE @BradSmelley 18,053
12. Dan Gronkowski TE @DGronko 17,126
13. Evan Moore TE @EvanMoore89 13,990
14. Travis Benjamin WR @TravisBenjamin3 13,556
15. Chris Ogbonnaya RB @ChrisOgbonnaya 11,035
16. Jordan Norwood WR @JordaNorwood 10,738
17. Brandon Jackson RB @BJackson32 9,631
18. Buster Skrine CB @BusterSkrine 8,969
19. Frostee Rucker DE @FrostRuck 7,191
20. Reggie Hodges P @Reggie_Hodges 6,882
21. Chris Gocong LB @ChrisGocong 5,699
22. Emmanuel Acho LB @TheManAcho 5,076
23. Mitchell Schwartz OL @M_Schwartz72 4,090
24. Brian Schaefering DE @BSchaefering 3,833
25. Trevin Wade CB @TwoStarWade 2,995
26. Eddie Williams FB @RealEWilliams 2,446
27. Billy Winn DL @Billy_Boi_90 1,798

The Browns Beat:

Mary Kay Cabot, Beat writer for Cleveland Plain Dealer: @MaryKayCabot (29,977)

Tony Grossi, Analyst for ESPNCleveland.com, ESPN 850 WKNR, 1540 KNR2: @TonyGrossi (21,996)

Daryl Ruiter, Beat reporter for 92.3 The Fan: @RuiterWrongFAN (4,585)

Nate Ulrich, Beat writer for the Akron Beacon Journal and Ohio.com: @NateUlrichABJ (4,527)

Tom Reed, Cleveland Plain Dealer sports writer: @treedPD (3,528)

Pat McManamon, Writer for FOXSportsOhio.com: @PatMcManamon (2,998)

Scott Petrak, Writer Elyria Chronicle-Telegram and the Medina Gazette: @ScottPetrak (1,634)

Browns Blog Roll:

Dawgs By Nature, SB Nation's Browns Blog: DawgsByNature.com

Fresh Brownies, blog by Steve Doerschuk, sports writer for The Canton Repository

A few others to check out: Orange and Brown Report, Dawg Pound Daily.com, BrownsBuzzTap and BrownsGab.com

The ESPN AFC North blog is run by Jamison Hensley and you can follow him @ESPN_AFCNorth

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Thur., July 26


Order your 2012 Cleveland Browns Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Cleveland Browns Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Cleveland Browns Schedule Analysis

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Cleveland Browns Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 08:30
Path: /college-football/big-east-player-rankings-top-50-players-2012
Body:

Ranking the best of the best in any conference is never an easy task. However, the Big East was perhaps the most difficult BCS league to rank. Rutgers' Khaseem Greene is an Athlon Sports' second-team All-American selection, but there's also a handful of young players ready to emerge in 2012. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is coming off an impresive freshman campaign and should only get better in 2012. Pittsburgh's Ray Graham was well on his way to rushing for 1,000 yards last year but suffered a torn ACL in the victory over Connecticut.

As mentioned above, compiling the top 50 players of any conference is never an easy task. However, Athlon established a criteria to help compile the rankings. 

Here are five factors that contributed to the criteria for the rankings:
1. Projection on 2012 Performance 
2. Importance to team
3. Positional importance
4. NFL Draft stock
5. Career performance 

Athlon's Top 50 Big East Players for 2012

1. Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers (SR)
Shifting Greene from safety to linebacker paid big dividends for Rutgers’ defense in 2011. He led the team with 141 tackles, recorded 14 tackles for a loss and forced two fumbles. Greene was named a first-team All-Big East selection and shared the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year honor with Cincinnati’s Derek Wolfe. Even with a new defensive coordinator, Greene is primed for another big season and is projected as an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2012.

2. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh (JR)
A local product out of Pittsburgh Penn Hills, Donald was second in the Big East with 11 sacks and tied for second with 16 tackles for a loss in his first season as a starter. He will have to adjust to a 4-3 defense after playing every lineman position in the 3-4 last season. He started the final five games at end last season, but he’ll be a tackle in 2012.

3. Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh
After Oct. 15, Graham was second in the nation in rushing at 134 yards per game. Alas, his season came to an end the following week with a torn ACL against Connecticut. When healthy, Graham, who is Khaseem Greene’s half brother, was a big-play back (5.8 yards per carry) despite subpar offensive line play. He could flourish in Paul Chryst’s offense.

4. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
As expected, Bridgewater experienced ups and downs as a freshman last season. He threw an interception in his only pass attempt in the opener against Murray State but finished the year with five touchdown tosses over the final two games. Bridgewater’s play was crucial to keeping Louisville in the Big East title hunt last season and will only get better as a sophomore. With plenty of weapons at his disposal and a talented offensive line, Bridgewater should finish 2012 ranked among the top five players in the Big East.

5. Justin Pugh, OL, Syracuse
One of the nation’s top offensive tackles, Pugh enters his junior season with high expectations. He has started all 25 games over the last two seasons, culminating in two all-conference awards (2nd team in 2010 and 1st team in 2011). He has paved the way for back-to-back 1,000-yard rushers and is charged with protecting star quarterback Ryan Nassib this fall. With a great year at Syracuse, Pugh could leave early for the NFL following the 2012 season.

6. Ryne Giddins, DE, South Florida
Giddins as a huge catch for South Florida on the recruiting trail and has steadily climbed the ranks to be one of the Big East’s top defenders. He started two games in 2010 and recorded 3.5 sacks in limited action. Giddins stepped up his play last season, recording 5.5 sacks and 44 tackles in 12 starts. He also earned second-team All-Big East honors in 2011. Giddins is South Florida’s best speed rusher and is poised to have his best all-around year in 2012.

7. Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers
As a Thorpe and Benarik Award watch lister, Ryan might be the top pure coverman in the Big East. The in-state product (New Berlin, N.J.) posted 67 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 14 pass break ups and three interceptions as only a sophomore on what was easily the league’s top defense. Ryan is getting plenty of NFL attention and could be tempted to leave for the next level with another stellar year of play in Piscataway.

8. Hakeem Smith, S, Louisville
After a Big East Rookie of the Year award back in 2010, Smith turned in a first-team All-Big East season as only a sophomore last fall. The Jonesboro, Ga., native has quickly supplanted himself as one of the most versatile safeties in the country. The junior has posted back-to-back 80-tackle seasons and has a chance to enter the NFL Draft in 2013 with another great campaign this year. Especially, if he can lead the Cardinals defense to a Big East Championship.

9. DeDe Lattimore, LB, South Florida
The speedy linebacking corps is the backbone of the USF defense, and Lattimore is the best of the bunch. A starter since his redshirt freshman season, Lattimore finished 2011 with 94 tackles, including 13 tackles for a loss and seven sacks.

10. Lyle McCombs, RB, Connecticut
The Huskies have had a recent tradition of churning out talented and productive tailbacks. McCombs proved a year ago that he is the next in line after rushing for 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns as only a freshman. The diminutive runner — listed at 5-foot-8 and 166 pounds — has a shot at Big East Offensive Player of the Year honors should a reworked offensive line gel quickly in front of him.

11. Mario Benavides, C, Louisville
Benavides was hobbled early last season due to a knee injury and his leadership and presence on the offensive line was clearly missed. In his absence, Louisville managed only one rushing score and managed 83 rushing yards against FIU. The Cardinals line improved once Benavides returned to the lineup, recording at least 100 rushing yards in eight of the last nine games. The senior should be the Big East’s top center and has been selected to the Rimington Award watch list.

12. Jarred Holley, S, Pittsburgh
Holley is entering his fourth season as a starter for his third head coach with the Panthers. Holley set a career high in tackles last season with 67, but he’s also proven to be a ball hawk with five interceptions as a sophomore and three as a redshirt freshman. 

13. Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers
It’s easy to overlook Beauharnais considering he plays next to All-American candidate Khaseem Greene. However, the senior is one of the Big East’s premier defenders, as evidenced by his 16 tackles for a loss and five sacks last year. Beauharnais will have to adjust to a new coordinator but he should close out his Rutgers’ career with a standout senior season.

14. Mark Popek, OL, South Florida
In his first full season as starter, the left tackle anchored an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks in the Big East and led the conference in rushing.

15. B.J. Daniels, QB, South Florida
Few players since Michael Vick have possessed the type of speed, explosiveness and running ability that Daniels showed early in his career. Developing into a great quarterback, however, takes more than athletic ability. Entering his fourth year as the starter, Daniels is poised for his best season. He has elevated his completion rate all three seasons and posted easily his best statistical season in 2011 (3,186 total yards, 19 total TD). With a stable coaching staff and his best supporting cast yet, USF fans can expect big things from the Tallahassee native in 2012.

16. Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse
After leading Syracuse to a bowl game in his first season as a starter in 2010, Nassib watched his numbers improve in 2011, but the Orange slipped to a 5-7 record. His 2,685 passing yards and 259 completions were a Syracuse single-season high, while tying the school-record for touchdown passes in a year (22). The Orange finished last in the Big East in scoring and total defense last season, so it’s up to Nassib and the offense to carry this team in 2012. With Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales back at receiver, Nassib should have a chance to surpass last season’s totals.

17. Montel Harris, RB, Temple
A knee injury sidelined Harris for nearly all of last season, but when healthy, he is one of the top backs in the Big East. The senior transferred to Temple from Boston College for his final year of eligibility and enters 2012 as the NCAA’s active leading rusher with 3,735 yards. Harris should team with Matt Brown to form a dangerous one-two punch against Big East defenses. The senior could finish 2012 higher on this list but also needs to prove his knee is 100 percent.

18. Trevardo Williams, DE, Connecticut
The undersized defensive end from Bridgeport, Conn. has yet to miss a game in his three-year Husky career. He set career highs with 43 total tackles, 15.0 tackles for a loss and led the Big East with 12.5 sacks last fall.

19. Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati
The Ashville, Ohio native has never missed a game in his Bearcat career and could be in for a breakout final season. He posted 44 total tackles, 11.0 tackles for a loss and 6.0 sacks, while helping Cincinnati's defense show big improvement last year.

20. Sio Moore, LB, Connecticut
From North Carolina originally, Moore is in for big things in 2012. He has 196 total tackles over the last two seasons and has played in opposing backfields the entire time. Need proof? How about 6.5 sacks in 2011 and 27.5 career tackles for a loss?

21. Scott Vallone, DL, Rutgers
The defensive line will lean heavily on Vallone again as the starting linebackers and defensive backs return almost entirely intact. He had 58 tackles and 8.5 tackles for a loss last season.

22. Ryan Griffin, TE, Connecticut
Griffin will never be the flashiest pass-catching tight end in any league, but his all around play as both an in-line blocker and experienced receiver make him the best tight end in the Big East. His leadership will be invaluable along the line this fall.

23. Adrian Bushell, CB, Louisville
Bushell joined Louisville just before the start of last season and finished as a first-team All-Big East selection. Despite not having much time to get acquainted with his new surroundings, he recorded 50 tackles, one interception and blocked two kicks. Bushell should be Louisville’s top corner and build upon a promising 2011 season.

24. Kayvon Webster, CB, South Florida
The former nickelback emerged in his first season as a full-time starter, recording a career-high 49 tackles and returning a fumble 96 yards for a touchdown in the win over Notre Dame.

25. Marquis Spruill, LB, Syracuse
As a sophomore, Spruill was thrust into a leadership role in an inexperienced group of linebackers. That won’t be the case in 2012.

26. Alec Lemon, WR, Syracuse
Lemon was quarterback Ryan Nassib’s top target last season, catching 68 passes for 834 yards and six touchdowns. He earned second-team All-Big East honors and enters 2012 as Syracuse’s No. 1 option in the passing game once again. Lemon ranks fifth on Syracuse’s career receptions list and should push for at least 70 in 2012.

27. Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh
Arguably the best deep threat and most talented wideout in the league, Street has a chance to post huge numbers in Paul Chryst’s new offensive scheme. He posted 471 yards on 33 catches over the final six games of the year last fall. Expect 1,000 yards from Street in 2012.

28. Duron Harmon, S, Rutgers
After spending his first two years as a backup, Harmon emerged as one of the leaders in the secondary in 2011. He made 49 tackles and picked off five passes, en route to earning first-team All-Big East honors. With another offseason to work as the starter, Harmon build upon last year's success with another All-Big East campaign in 2012.

29. Matt Brown, RB, Temple
At 5-foot-5 and 165 pounds, Brown doesn’t have the ideal size to be an every-down back. However, he was been a perfect complement to Bernard Pierce over the last three years, rushing for 2,275 yards and 18 scores. Brown will be expected to work in the same role in 2012, as Boston College transfer Montel Harris is likely to be the lead back. 

30. Sam Barrington, LB, South Florida
Another cog in USF’s impressive linebacker trio, Barrington had a career-high 72 tackles last season along with 6.5 tackles for a loss. He’s entering his third year as a starter.

31. Preston Brown, LB, Louisville
Replacing middle linebacker Dexter Heyman is the biggest concern for coordinator Vance Bedford this fall. However, Bedford and Charlie Strong hope shifting Brown from the outside to the interior will keep Louisville’s defense ranked among the top 10 nationally in rush defense. Brown recorded 84 stops last year.

32. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Connecticut
The Huskies’ pass defense fell apart when Wreh-Wilson was hurt last season. The senior had four interceptions and two touchdowns in his last full season in 2010.

33. Drew Frey, S, Cincinnati
Sixth-year senior set career high last season with 73 tackles and eight pass break ups. He’s one of three returning starters in the Cincinnati secondary.

34. Dan Giordano, DL, Cincinnati
Senior defensive end kept pressure on quarterbacks with five sacks and seven QB hurries.

35. Sterling Griffin, WR, South Florida
After catching 40 passes in the first seven games, Griffin’s momentum was slowed due to a broken foot suffered in the 37-34 loss to Cincinnati. The junior should be B.J. Daniels’ No. 1 target in 2012.

36. Kaleb Johnson, OT, Rutgers
Johnson turned in a solid freshman campaign, recording 11 starts at right tackle and was named a FWAA Freshman All-American. He is expected to start on the left side in 2012 and could push for All-Big East honors. 

37. Chris Jacobson, OL, Pittsburgh
Jacobson can be Pitt’s best lineman when healthy, but he’s suffered season-ending knee injuries in 2007 and 2011.

38. DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
With Teddy Bridgewater’s development comes opportunity for Parker. As only a sophomore, six of his 18 total catches last fall went for touchdowns.

39. K’Waun Williams, CB, Pittsburgh
The junior could be headed to a breakout season after recording 64 tackles and six pass break ups last season.

40. Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
Is 32.5 yards per catch good? That is what the freakishly talented (6-6, 220) Coleman did as a sophomore on only 17 receptions. He was second on the team with six TD catches.

41. Adam Masters, OL, Connecticut
With Moe Petrus and Mike Ryan gone, Masters will need to become the new senior anchor of the line.

42. Jawan Jamison, RB, Rutgers
Jamison overshadowed the much more touted Savon Huggins a year ago by leading the team in carries (231), yards (897) and touchdowns (9) as only a freshman.

43. Shamarko Thomas, S, Syracuse
Thomas will be the headliner in a Syracuse secondary that must improve after allowing 258.3 passing yards per game in 2011. He has posted back-to-back seasons of 67 tackles but has yet to record his first career interception.

44. Dwayne Gratz, CB, Connecticut
The second half of the Huskies senior cornerback tandem, Gratz had three interceptions and 4.5 sacks last season.

45. Jory Johnson, LB, Connecticut
Johnson broke through in his first year as a starter, recording 97 tackles and two interceptions. He should team with Sio Moore and Yawin Smallwood to form one of the Big East’s best linebacking trios.

46. Michael Smith, WR, Connecticut
Smith missed last season due to academic reasons, but he led the Huskies’ in receiving (46 catches, 615 yards) in 2010.

47. Jesse Joseph, DE, Connecticut
Injuries prevented Joseph from improving upon his 2010 numbers – 39 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. With a full offseason to recover, he will be expected to rank among the Big East’s top pass rushers.

48. R.J. Dill, OT, Rutgers
Dill transferred from Maryland to Rutgers for his final season of eligibility. He will be the Scarlet Knights’ most experienced lineman after recording 33 starts with the Terrapins.

49. Ryan Turnley, C, Pittsburgh
In his first year at the position, Turnley started at 13 games at center despite dealing with injuries all year. With a healthy line and Ray Graham around him, Pitt’s rushing attack should be improved under Chryst.

50. Roy Philon, DT, Louisville
Philon was a key cog in Louisville’s run defense last season and should only get better as a junior in 2012. He recorded 36 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2011.
 

Team Breakdown of the Top 50 Players  
Cincinnati - 3
Connecticut - 10
Louisville - 7
Pittsburgh - 7
Rutgers - 9
South Florida - 7
Syracuse - 5
Temple - 2

by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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Top 25 Big East Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Big East Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Big East Team

Which Big East Teams Are on the Rise Heading into 2012?

Teaser:
<p> Big East Player Rankings: The Top 50 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 06:52
All taxonomy terms: Notre Dame Fighting Irish, News
Path: /news/notre-dame-unveils-sharp-looking-gloves-2012
Body:

There's no question Notre Dame's helmet is one of the most recognizable in college football. While there has been few changes to the Irish's uniforms throughout the years, the team is doing its best to keep up with the recent trends in college football. Uniform changes and different colors/schemes are a current craze across the nation, but it's hard to go wrong with Notre Dame's traditional look. 

On Tuesday, the Irish's football equipment twitter account revealed some sharp-looking gloves for Notre Dame for the 2012 season. The gloves include the famous motto outside of the Irish locker room and should be a hit with the players.

The only complaint with Notre Dame's new gloves...where is the "M" in champion? 

Teaser:
<p> Notre Dame Unveils Sharp-Looking Gloves for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 06:35
Path: /college-basketball/ranking-atlantic-10s-basketball-coaches
Body:

The Atlantic 10 already had an intriguing group of coaches with Chris Mack carrying the tradition at Xavier, Fran Dunphy leading the consistent Temple program, Rick Majerus leading a comeback for both Saint Louis and his own career, and the well-established Phil Martelli at St. Joseph’s.

And all that was before conference expansion.

 

The Atlantic 10 added to its coaching might this by adding Brad Stevens of Butler and Shaka Smart of VCU, whom we’ve tabbed as the top two coaches in the conference.

 

That’s not a slight to the other coaches in the league -- which includes accomplished newcomers like Jim Ferry at Duquesne and Dan Hurley at Rhode Island. The Atlantic 10 has a coaching lineup to rival any major conference. In fact, A-10 coaches have as many Final Four appearances (four combined, from Stevens, Smart and Majerus) as the coaches in the Pac-12.

 

Here’s our look at this mix of experienced coaches and young up-and-comers.

 

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

 

1. Brad Stevens, Butler

Overall record: 139-40 (11-4 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Butler: 139-40 (73-17 Horizon)

By reaching two national championship games, Stevens elevated Butler from plucky mid-major to a national brand. Beyond the NCAA Tournament, no coach has won more games in his first five seasons. The 35-year-old Stevens spurned an opportunity to coach Illinois to bring Butler from the Horizon the tougher Atlantic 10.

 

2. Shaka Smart, VCU

Overall record: 84-28 (6-2 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at VCU: 84-28 (38-16 Colonial)

Beyond moving into the A-10 at the same time, Stevens and Smart have a handful of parallels in their careers. Both took over at mid-majors accustomed to success and elevated their profiles in short order -- Stevens took Butler to the Final Four in his third season, Smart did the same for VCU in his second, losing to Stevens’ Bulldogs. Smart has only five fewer wins through his first three seasons (84) than Stevens did in his first three (89).

 

3. Rick Majerus, Saint Louis

Overall record: 517-216 (19-13 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Saint Louis: 96-69 (44-36 A-10)

The longtime Utah coach returned to the bench at Saint Louis in 2007-08 after three seasons out of coaching. Despite injuries and suspensions at Saint Louis, Majerus has proven he hasn’t lost his touch, leading the Billikens to their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2000. 


4. Fran Dunphy, Temple 

Overall record: 444-228 (2-14 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Temple: 134-65 (69-27 A-10)

Dunphy has been a fixture of Philadelphia basketball as head coach at Temple and Penn and as an assistant at La Salle. Look beyond his NCAA Tournament record -- nine of those losses came as a lower-seeded team at Penn. Dunphy has won at least 20 games in 14 of his last 19 seasons.

 

5. Chris Mack, Xavier

Overall record: 73-30 (4-3 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Xavier: 73-30 (39-9 A-10)

A Xavier graduate in 1992, Mack played for Pete Gillen and served as an assistant for Skip Prosser and Sean Miller before taking over in 2009-10. Mack has kept Xavier’s momentum going with two trips to the Sweet 16 in three seasons. 

 

6. Chris Mooney, Richmond

Overall record: 146-115 (2-2 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Richmond: 128-103 (61-51 A-10)

Mooney’s predecessors -- John Beilein and Jerry Wainwright -- took Richmond to the postseason five times in seven seasons, but Mooney arguably has had more success. After a rough start in his first two seasons, Mooney led Richmond to 75 wins from 2008-11, the most victories in a three-year span in school history. That includes the Sweet 16 and an A-10 Tournament title in 2011.

 

7. Phil Martelli, St. Joseph’s

Overall record: 320-223 (6-5 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at St. Joseph’s: 320-223 (152-107 A-10)

A campus institution after 17 seasons at St. Joe’s, Martelli might not again reach the heights of 2003, when the Jameer Nelson-led Hawks went 30-2 and reached the Elite Eight. St. Joe’s also went 68-12 in the A-10 from 2000-05. After back-to-back losing seasons, Martelli has the Hawks on the upswing after going 20-14 overall and 9-7 in the  A-10 last season.

 

8. Danny Hurley, Rhode Island

Overall record: 38-23 (no NCAA Tournament appearances)

Record at Rhode Island: first season

Athlon already rated Hurley as the top hire for 2012-13. In his second season at Wagner, Hurley led the Seahawks to a school-record 25 wins and a second-place finish in the Northeast conference -- only two seasons after Wagner went 5-26.

 

9. Mark Schmidt, St. Bonaventure

Overall record: 156-170 (0-1 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at St. Bonaventure: 74-80 (33-47 A-10)

Schmidt successfully led St. Bonaventure out of deep NCAA sanctions. The Bonnies crept up the A-10 standings progressively under Schmidt before going 10-6 in the league and winning the conference tournament last season. Now, he’ll try to do it without Andrew Nicholson.

 

10. Jim Ferry, Duquesne

Overall record: 150-149 (0-2 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Duquesne: first season

Ferry took over an LIU-Brooklyn program in the midst of nine consecutive losing seasons, but he slowly built up the Blackbirds in his decade-long tenure. LIU-Brooklyn ruled the NEC in his final two seasons, winning two regular season titles (32-4 combined), claiming two NEC Tournament titles and going 52-15 overall.

 

11. Derek Kellogg, Massachusetts

Overall record: 64-65 (no NCAA Tournament appearances)

Record at Massachusetts: 64-65 (28-36 A-10)

An alum who played for John Calipari at UMass in the 90s, Kellogg has needed four seasons to post his first winning season and postseason appearance for the Minutemen. With a roster returning mostly intact, Kellogg could be poised for more than an NIT in 2012-13.

 

12. Archie Miller, Dayton

Overall record: 20-13 (no NCAA Tournament appearances)

Record at Dayton: 20-13 (9-7 A-10)

Dayton exceeded expectations by finishing fifth in the A-10 in Miller’s first season despite a depleted roster. Miller was a key assistant for his brother, Sean, at Arizona before his debut with Dayton. He’s already been tabbed as a rising star in coaching.

 

13. Mike Lonergan, George Washington

Overall record: 136-89 (0-1 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at George Washington: 10-21 (5-11 A-10)

The first season at George Washington was a rough one for Lonergan, but he has an established track record. He won at least a share of three America East titles in six seasons at Vermont. Before that, he won a Division III title at Catholic University of America.

 

14. John Giannini, La Salle

Overall record: 244-239 (no NCAA Tournament appearances)

Record at La Salle: 119-128 (54-47 A-10)

It’s been a long climb for Giannini at La Salle. The Explorers have had a losing record in five of his eight seasons, but he’s coming off his best season in Philadelphia. La Salle’s 21 wins last season was the most for the program since 1989-90 and its NIT appearance was its first postseason trip since 1992.

 

15. Tom Pecora, Fordham

Overall record: 172-166 (no NCAA Tournament appearances)

Record at Fordham: 17-40 (4-28 A-10)

Fordham has not played in the postseason since 1992 and still has an awful long way to go. Pecora’s record at Fordham is ugly, but the Rams went a combined 5-51 the two seasons before he arrived. Prior to Fordham, Pecora led Hofstra to three consecutive NITs from 2005-07.

 

16. Alan Major, Charlotte

Overall record: 23-37 (no NCAA Tournament appearances)

Record at Charlotte: 23-37 (7-25 A-10)

The former Ohio State assistant is still working to rebuild his roster, but the 49ers at least improved by three games in the A-10 last season. Perhaps Conference USA will be kinder when Charlotte returns to the league in 2013-14.

-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Other coach rankings:
ACC

Big 12
Big East
Big Ten
Pac-12
SEC
Best of the rest

July 30: National 

Related Content
College Basketball's Top 10 Coaching Hires for 2012

Top College Coaches Under 40

 
Teaser:
<p> Ranking the Atlantic 10's basketball coaches</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 06:28
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/1972-usa-basketball-team-should-have-won-gold
Body:

Before the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, Doug Collins was invited to speak to the U.S. men’s basketball team at a Las Vegas training camp. Collins talked about his experience at the 1972 Games in Munich.

A tape was shown to the eventual 2008 gold medalists of the last part of the 1972 gold-medal game between the U.S. and Soviet Union. With three seconds left and his team down, 49-48, Collins was knocked hard to the floor on a drive.

Collins had hit his head on a basket support and was slow getting up. Finally, while still woozy, he drilled two free throws for a 50-49 lead.

“They didn’t show the rest of the finish," Collins said. “They wanted to end it on my two free throws to make it look like we’d won."

That’s the way the 12 players from that 1972 team believe it should have finished. Of course, it didn’t.

In perhaps the most controversial sports ending in history, the Soviets got three more attempts to score. After two questionable clock re-settings, a length-of the floor pass found its way to Alexander Belov, who made a layup at the buzzer for what remains in the record books a 51-50 Soviet win.

To this day, the American players don’t acknowledge the loss. They have refused to accept their silver medals, which sit in an International Olympic Committee vault in Switzerland. Team captain Kenny Davis has put in his will that no one in his family ever can accept his.

“If anybody looks at that game rationally, they believe we should have won," Davis said.

Davis has scheduled a team reunion for late August in his native Kentucky. It’s likely the first time all those Olympians have gotten together since 1972.

“It’s going to be a celebration of what a bunch of young guys went through as teammates in 1972, and how it forged our lives," said Collins, who will be an NBC basketball analyst this summer in London for a fourth straight Olympics and says “emotions still become a little raw’’ during medal ceremonies.

Collins, now the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, went on to become a notable NBA player, coach and broadcaster. Tom Henderson (1978 Washington) and Bobby Jones (1983 76ers) won NBA title rings. Tom McMillen went on to serve three terms in Congress.

“Really, it was a basketball highjacking," McMillen says now. “It’s one of those things that’s like groundhog day. It pops its head up generally on anniversaries."

McMillen said the Americans were “political pawns" during the Cold War. Entering the 1972 Olympics, Team USA had won seven straight Olympic basketball gold medals, and the Soviets badly wanted to end that streak.

The Munich Games are most notable for being interrupted by Palestinian terrorists, who captured and eventually killed 11 Israeli coaches and athletes. That does put matters in perspective for the basketball players.

“They came out of there in caskets and we were able to come back home and live full lives," Davis said.

The Games were stopped for 24 hours after the Sept. 5 tragedy. On Sept. 9, the gold-medal game was played.

The Americans fought back from a 10-point second-half deficit to take the lead on Collins' free throws, which McMillen calls “the two gustiest free throws in the history of basketball." The Soviets inbounded, but play was stopped with one second left when a Soviet coach ran out to protest that his team had called a timeout. Great Britain’s William Jones, the international basketball head who had no Olympics jurisdiction and had said before that America’s domination of the sport wasn’t good, then came out of the stands to rule the clock be reset to three seconds.

A long Soviet pass went awry. The Americans ran onto the court to celebrate wildly.

“I feel to this day that we actually won the gold medal twice," Bobby Jones said.

But the Soviets got a third try when it was ruled the clock had been reset improperly. Again given three seconds, the Soviets finally took advantage, as a long inbound pass went to Belov, who scored in between Jim Forbes and Kevin Joyce, who both went sprawling.

“Now, I just leave the room," Forbes said of the replays. “You get tired of seeing yourself look up and watching the guy score the winning basket."

Forbes, who said Belov bumped him, was very angry after it happened but said he’s “not bitter" anymore. Still, Forbes, a longtime high school basketball coach in El Paso, Texas, avoids talking to his players about the game.

“If I complain, I don’t want my players to think that they can have an excuse if we lose," Forbes said.

The Americans still don’t believe they lost, even though a protest was denied by a 3-2 vote, with the votes against them all from Communist bloc nations. McMillen 10 years ago unsuccessfully petitioned the IOC to award duplicate gold medals.

“It was a really good team," Collins said. “But we are bonded together through pain, through the feeling that the game was sort of taken away from us."

Years later, at least there is the option of turning off the game with three seconds left.

--- By Chris Tomasson
 

Teaser:
<p> 1972 USA Basketball Team was robbed in the gold medal game versus the Soviet Union.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 05:55
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-10-biggest-changes-2012-season
Body:

Simply put, college football fans may never again witness the pure volume and amplitude of changes which will take place as the 2012 season unravels itself. Below is a list of the top-ten changes, in ascending order of significance (defined by national impact and/or the precedent for the listed change):

10. New Coordinator Sets at Auburn and Iowa
Auburn followed up its 2010 National Championship season with a less-than-stellar 8-5 (4-4 SEC) record. Gus Malzahn dropped the reins of the Tigers’ offense to become head coach at Arkansas State. Meanwhile, Ted Roof left Auburn’s defense to take over at Penn State (following a one-month stay at UCF). Gene Chizik hired Temple’s Scott Loeffler to lead the offense. Taking what the defense offers, Loeffler expects to establish the run but that task will not be easy with a giant question mark at quarterback. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder came over from the Atlanta Falcons and was well received this spring. One of the nation’s top set of bookends (Nosa Eguae and Corey Lemonier) will help him develop pressure but anchoring against the run will be an important goal to cement this season.  Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz never lost a coordinator in his 13 years at Iowa – until this past offseason, when he lost both. This year, Greg Davis takes over the offense while Phil Parker will lead the Hawkeyes’ defense. Parker coached Iowa’s defensive backs during all of Ferentz’s tenure at Iowa so, to say the least, he is familiar with the old system which should reduce that unit’s learning curve. Davis spent the last 13 years leading the Texas offense, which begs a focus on whether Iowa can control the line of scrimmage in this season’s running game.           

9. Mike Stoops Joins His Brother – Brent Venables Leaves for Clemson 
The venerable Venables was a fixture on Bob Stoops’ defensive staff for the past 13 years during which time many fans wondered how he would fare with another school. It was not under ideal circumstances but Venables gets the chance to hold his own reins and start anew this season With Mike Stoops’ dismissal as head coach of Arizona, his brother, Bob, sought a staff reunion which brought Mike to Norman as a supposed co-defensive coordinator with Venables. The situation was not comfortable for any of the men involved and a disastrous Orange Bowl performance by Clemson against West Virginia opened the door for Venables to take over Tigers’ stop-unit. The changes injected new blood and enthusiasm into both programs. Mike set out to simplify the Sooners’ defensive scheme while Venables set out to instill toughness in his athletic Clemson personnel.

8. The State of Arizona Starts Over
As stated above, Mike Stoops was dismissed from Arizona last season, and the Wildcats find themselves under the leadership of Rich Rodriguez. Unlike Rich Rod’s last transition (where he pounded the square-peg of a read-option spread scheme into the round-hole of plodding pro-style personnel with no prior spread knowledge or experience), he now inherits a program that has a basic understanding of spread concepts and a quarterback in Matt Scott who has the tools to make the offense run. A focus on passing this spring paid surprising dividends for Scott and the offense, though things may change as he becomes a live target this fall. Meanwhile, in Tempe, Pitt’s former head coach sprinted his way into the Arizona State teamhouse this offseason. Graham’s tenure at Tulsa proved he can squeeze production out of his brand of the spread and that the system is capable of producing on the ground as well as the air. The Sun Devils came out of spring camp without a named starter under center though some insiders feel there is a “slight edge” to Mike Bercovici (Brock Osweiler’s backup last season).

7. Arkansas Picks Up Bobby Petrino’s Pieces
Arkansas fans may have wished the news out of campus was a mere April Fool’s joke but, alas, it was not. Bobby Petrino wrecked his motorcycle with 25-year old Jessica Dorrell on board. As word of his affair with the engaged Dorrell continued to leak, and the extent of Petrino’s attempt to cover-up the affair and incident became clear, Arkansas became the last school to require a new head coach for the 2012 season. Former Razorback assistant coach John L. Smith was brought in to assure continuity and stem the bleeding. Many eyes will be on Arkansas this fall to see whether the hire is simply a band-aid or if Smith can lead the talented ‘Hogs to success in the nation’s toughest division (the SEC West).

6. 28 New Head Coaches
There are 124 teams in the FBS, so nearly a quarter of them are subject to new skippers this season. No fewer than 14 of the programs with new head coaches are from BCS conference-affiliated schools and they include four of the more storied programs in the country (Ohio State, Penn State, UCLA and Texas A&M). Florida Atlantic turns to Carl Pelini to take over for Howard Schnellenberger, who hung up his sport coat after 52 years of coaching.

5. Rule Changes
Safety, safety, safety. Stopping shy of installing Velcro flags on waists, the NCAA has made several rule changes with a nod towards reducing the incidences of players placing themselves in the game’s most unsafe positions. Having resolved that more injuries occur during kickoff returns than any other play, the NCAA implemented three rules designed to reduce their frequency. First, teams will kick off from the 35-yard line (instead of the 30). Second, no player can line up further than five (5) yards behind the line of scrimmage prior to the kickoff so that running starts by coverage personnel will be shortened. Perhaps the most impactful rule-change, though, is a “carrot” rather than a “stick.” From now on, touchbacks from kickoffs will result in drives beginning at the 25-yard line instead of the traditional 20-yard line. We all know that concussions have become a ‘hot topic,’ so two new rules have been implemented to seek their reduction. Any player who loses his helmet during a play (except due to an opponent’s facemask violation) will be required to leave the field for one play. Moreover, a player who loses his helmet during a play must quit the play rather than continue without the helmet. The final change to be highlighted here is that, seeking to reduce the incidences of players flipping over onto their heads, players may no longer leap over blockers in an attempt to block a punt.

4. Playing Without Historic Players Under Center
At the end of last season, the NCAA lost the most prolific career passer in its history (Houston’s Case Keenum [19,217 yards, 155 TD’s]), its winningest quarterback (Boise State’s Kellen Moore [50-3]), its most efficient single-season passer (Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson) and last year’s Heisman Trophy winner (Baylor’s Robert Griffin III). Yet, none of those players were the first quarterback taken in the NFL Draft (Stanford’s Andrew Luck) and, potentially, next year’s most productive NFL rookie signal caller could be Oklahoma State’s former starter, 28-year old Brandon Weeden. These programs don’t simply have an opening to fill in their roster – they have gaping craters. So, too, do Michigan State (replacing Kirk Cousins), Arizona State (Brock Osweiler) and Texas A&M (Ryan Tannehill). The staffs at each of these schools have their work cut out for them in 2012.

3. West Virginia and TCU to the Big 12
With the loss of Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC (see below), last year’s ten-team Big 12 dropped to eight members. West Virginia committed to join the Big 12 and the Big East sued. Twenty million dollars later, the Mountaineers freed themselves from their former conference and joined the Big 12. TCU joined WVU as a new Big 12 member having never set foot in the Big East which they had formerly committed to join. The change was seamless as West Virginia took over Missouri’s conference schedule and the Horned Frogs took over A&M’s. TCU brings its historically elite defense to the land of the spread offense, while WVU quarterback Geno Smith has found the luster added by the increased schedule-difficulty in the Big 12 has enhanced his presence in preseason Heisman Trophy discussions.

2.  Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC
Winners of the last six national championships, the SEC’s expansion was a matter of ‘want-to’ rather than ‘need-to.’ Perhaps with an eye towards a national move towards ‘super-conferences,’ the SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M to bring the conference to 14 members. Missouri will compete in the Eastern Division and, given the volume of players returning to the Tigers from its 2011 edition (along with the nation’s top recruit at receiver [Dorial Green-Beckham]), it should compete from the start. A&M opens up Texas to the SEC market and brings 350,000 alumni to the fan base but many question marks exist given the brand-new staff (Houston’s Kevin Sumlin took over this spring) and loss of last year’s quarterback, Ryan Tannehill.

1. New Beginnings in Happy Valley
As he continued to stamp his own renewals, the nation wondered whether Joe Paterno’s tenure at Penn State might end poorly but nobody could have imagined the carnage of the few weeks which ultimately ended his 46th year at the helm of the Nittany Lions. Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on the strength of accusations from several men that Sandusky sexually abused them when they were young boys and the story suggested knowledge of at least one incident reached the Penn State football offices without meriting a substantial response. When the nightmarish smoke cleared, Joe Pa was fired and all but two of his coaches were let go while the fallout also claimed the jobs of the school’s President and Athletic Director. Rising from the wreckage was the refreshing leadership of former New England Patriot offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien, who assembled a competent and hungry staff. The nation’s eyes will be on Happy Valley this fall and it is wise to remember that: a) the players had nothing to do with the Sandusky debacle; and, b) the magnitude of change to be experienced by the Nittany Lion faithful is unprecedented. Well over two generations of fans witnessed the late-Joe Paterno lead Penn State from the sidelines. Today’s world demands immediate satisfaction with such intensity it is safe to say that no other school will ever lay claim to such a feat.

 

Brock Murphy is a freelance college football writer and analyst and can be reached at bgmurphy91@yahoo.com

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's 10 Biggest Changes For the 2012 Season</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 04:55
Path: /mlb/2012-mlb-pennant-races-z
Body:

A
A’s

A’s, as in the Oakland Athletics, are in a pennant race for the first time since 2006. We have the second wild card to thank for this, but the no-name A’s have been the hottest team since July 1. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when you assemble a competent pitching staff.

B
Bullpens

It’s no secret how critical bullpens are down the stretch, but one strong bullpen in particular could dictate a division race. The Cincinnati Reds’ pen has been terrific all season, but can they maintain their edge for another three months? The Atlanta Braves claimed the majors’ best pen at this time a year ago, but the high inning workloads began to wear on Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty over the last six weeks of the season. Reds manager Dusty Baker, never one to shy away from bullpen overuse, may see the same breakdown this season in Cincinnati. Closer Aroldis Chapman regularly hits triple digits on radar guns, but if he loses a few MPHs, his edge would be kaput.

C
Cabreras

Cabreras certainly have a way of leaving their marks on baseball pennant races and the playoffs. Ask any Braves fans — or Pittsburgh fan — from the early 1990s and they’ll recall the name Francisco Cabrera. At the center of three teams in pennant races in 2012 are Cabreras — Melky, Miggy and Asdrubal. Melky has been a huge lift for San Francisco’s offense this season. Miguel owns a permanent spot in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup and carries a huge burden for producing runs. He’s also playing a different position this season at third base. He is sure-handed and makes few errors, but his range is rather statuesque. Asdrubal, the Indians’ shortstop and No. 2 hitter, is anything but a statue in the field. If Cleveland makes a charge, Asdrubal will be a key reason for the team’s success. However, in case you’re asking, Edwar of the Rockies and San Diego’s Everth will have little impact on the races this season. Orlando played a huge role at shortstop for the Red Sox down the stretch in 2004. He followed that with an amazing run of making the playoffs with the Angels in 2005 and 2007, the White Sox in 2008, Minnesota in 2009 and the Reds in 2010. After breaking the string last season, Orlando is no longer in the bigs.

D
Droughts

Two notable droughts are perilously close to ending this season. There could be postseason baseball in Washington for the first time since the old Senators met the New York Giants in the 1933 World Series. A much shorter, but perhaps more meaningful, drought is that the Pirates haven’t played in the postseason since Sid Bream just beat Barry Bonds’ throw from left field at the plate to end Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. The Pirates are also busy trying to make fans forget they have a 19-year streak of losing seasons in Pittsburgh.

E
Ellis, Ellis and Ethier

While that’s not a law firm, it is the three top OBPs for the Dodgers behind superstar Matt Kemp. With Kemp out of the lineup and Ethier playing sporadically, the Dodgers hit just six home runs in June. For Los Angeles to muster enough offense to ward off the rival Giants in the NL West, A.J. Ellis, Mark Ellis and Andre Ethier must support Kemp. The pitching staff is strong enough to keep the Dodgers in the hunt, but the lineup must catch fire.

F
Freese

He was the hero for St. Louis last October and the Cardinals need him to be as clutch in August and September this year. The fairy that sprinkled the magic dust in St. Louis around mid-August last season may not show up this year. Everything fell into place last season for St. Louis— especially in the bullpen — but Freese may need to produce earlier and more often to get the Redbirds back in the postseason. Waiting until their final strike in 2012 will be too late.

G
Greinke

The Milwaukee Brewers are out of the race but that doesn’t mean that Greinke won’t be. The Milwaukee ace is being dangled as trade bait and could have a huge impact in a close race down the stretch. It would be unlikely for the Brewers to trade within their division, but adding a top starter to the Reds, Cardinals or Pirates would probably tip the scales in such a close battle. Another ace would give the Braves a real shot at the Nationals in the East, and probably lock up the second wild card. The White Sox, Tigers and especially the Indians would get an appreciable lift from Greinke as well.

H
Hamilton’s Health

Josh Hamilton is among the best players in baseball. He anchors arguably the best lineup in the game in Texas. There is little doubt that the Rangers will once again win the AL West and be favored in the American League playoffs. But they must be firing on all cylinders and Hamilton is an important cylinder. His track record for staying healthy for long stretches isn’t the greatest. If he spends too much time out of the lineup, the door will at least remain open for the Angels. And if he’s out for the postseason, all bets are off.

I
Innings Limit

Since Stephen Strasburg’s recovery from Tommy John surgery began more than two years ago, the Washington Nationals have been handling him with kid gloves. Since the outset of spring training, the front office has insisted that their ace has a strict innings limit this season. While the exact number remains a mystery, it’s reported to be around 165, maybe as high as 180. Currently Strasburg sits at 105 innings after 18 starts. Ten more starts at six innings per puts him at 165 with two weeks left in the season. I’d love to eavesdrop on the conversation between general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson as they discuss shutting down Strasburg for the final two weeks and the potential postseason. That won’t go over well with the manager, Strasburg or the Washington fans starved for postseason baseball.

J
Jeter

With the exception of 2008, Derek Jeter has played in the postseason every year since 1996. As he chases down Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer on the all-time hits list, Jeter is almost certain to add to his 152 postseason games and 191 postseason hits. The Yankee Captain doesn’t chase down ground balls as he once did, but he remains a spark at the top of a potent Yankees lineup that recently added Ichiro Suzuki.

K
Konerko

The Chicago White Sox, thought to be in rebuilding mode this past offseason, surprised the baseball world by maintaining a lead in the AL Central past the All-Star break. They’ve done it with a rookie manager and as many as 10 rookies on the roster at one time. But it won’t be the rooks keeping the Sox atop the division. If Chicago hangs with the Tigers and holds off charges by the Indians, Paul Konerko will be the leader.

L
Lynn and Lohse

The St. Louis Cardinals have a potent lineup, a beleaguered bullpen and a rotation without last postseason’s ace Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia. Former ace Adam Wainwright continues to make progress in his return from Tommy John surgery, but it will be Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn who must carry the Redbirds’ rotation. The two starters must consistently get through seven innings to give relievers Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte chances to close out games. Having to bridge a gap between the sixth and eighth innings has been a disaster for St. Louis this season. And Wainwright, Jake Westbrook and rookie Joe Kelly are not providing much help pitching deep into games.

M
McCutchen

The Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen is clearly the front runner for National League MVP so far this season. He’s leading the league with a .372 batting average, is tied for third in RBIs with 66, and even though he did not homer until May 8, is second in the NL with 22 bombs. The Pirates’ centerfielder must continue to perform at an elite level to keep the Bucs in the race. And I believe he will.

N
Natitude

Excitement abounds in our nation’s capital once again. Ranking 13th and 14th in attendance among the 16 National League franchises over the past five seasons, the Nats are ninth this year with a bullet. Averaging more than 5,400 fans per game better than last season, Natitude has swept through the District.

O
Ogando

During the past two seasons, Alexi Ogando has been a key weapon for the Texas Rangers. In 2010, he was a critical piece in one of the league’s best bullpens. Last season, he worked both as a starter and reliever. While effective early in the season, Ogando recently missed five weeks nursing a groin strain. Since his return, he’s been a bit shaky, but he will be asked by manager Ron Washington night in and night out to get crucial outs. The deeper the Rangers go into the postseason, the more important the bullpen — and especially Ogando — become.

P
Pujols

Oh yeah, him. King Albert has been relatively silent so far this season. I mean, he’s been very good, perhaps even outstanding, but he’s been subpar on the Pujols Scale. He didn’t make the All-Star team. He doesn’t lead his team in any major categories, unless you count games, at-bats, doubles and walks. But down the stretch, no pitcher will want to face The Machine with the game on the line.

Q
Quintana

Few fans are familiar with Jose Quintana, but the longer the White Sox stay in the pennant race, the more fans will get to know the 23-year-old native of Columbia. His record is 4-1 with an impressive 2.30 ERA. The White Sox have won seven of his 10 starts and twice he has pitched eight shutout innings, only to watch the Sox lose. He will have an opportunity to pitch some key games for Chicago in August and September.

R
Romo

San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy has resisted using Sergio Romo as his primary closer for much of the season since closer Brian Wilson was lost to season-ending surgery. But Romo will be the key to the Giants’ bullpen down the stretch. Whether it’s in a more traditional closer role, or more likely a hybrid setup-closer, Romo will be called upon to get key outs whether it’s the eighth or ninth inning.

S
Soriano

On May 3, when elite closer Mariano Rivera went down in a heap shagging flies during BP, the Yankees’ season and pennant hopes hung in the balance. Not since 1996 had the Yankees known anything other than Mo at the end of games. Suddenly Rafael Soriano was thrust into the spotlight of closing games in the Bronx. And the former Rays closer responded admirably with 24 saves in 26 opportunities. Now he must prove he can be the man down the stretch.

T
Trout and Trumbo

The two position players most responsible for the success of the Angels so far this season are Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo. When the Angels recalled Trout on April 28 and inserted him at the top of the lineup, he quickly sparked an offense that had been scuffling for the first month of the season. The Angels won 18 of his first 29 games as Trout chipped in with 35 hits, 12 walks and scored 20 runs. No player outside the hitter-friendly Coors Field in Colorado in 1996-97 has ever batted as high as .340 in a 30-30 season. After last Sunday, Trout was batting .357 with 31 steals and 15 home runs. Although power-hitting Trumbo led the team in home runs and RBIs in 2011, he was essentially cast aside once the team signed Albert Pujols over the winter. Given reps at third base and in the outfield, Trumbo — a natural first baseman — struggled in the field but not at the plate. His bat has forced manager Mike Scioscia to find a place in the lineup for the improving outfielder. Should the Angels chase down the rival Rangers this season, Trout and Trumbo will be in the middle of the mayhem.

U
Uggla

Recently the ultra streaky Braves second baseman Dan Uggla has been pretty ugly at the plate. But he hustled out an infield single and forced a wide throw that enabled the Braves to cap off an amazing 11-10 win at Washington after being down 9-0. Atlanta needs run production outside of catcher Brian McCann, who must be rested occasionally, and the aging Chipper Jones, who has played in just 58 of the team’s 95 games this season. The Braves could use an Uggla hot streak come August.

V
Ventura

Having never managed or coached at any level prior to this season, Robin Ventura managed the Chicago White Sox to the top of the AL Central at the All-Star break. In what was supposed to have been a rebuilding year in Chicago, Ventura’s White Sox have had a terrific season with as many as 10 rookies on the roster. How will the young manager with the young roster hold up during the pennant drive?

W
Wild Cards

With the addition of an extra wild-card team in each league, MLB is getting exactly what it envisioned — wild races for the playoffs. Eight of the 11 AL teams not in first place are within four games of the final wild card spot. Fans in Oakland and Toronto actually have reason to believe their teams can play in October. With the one-game, do-or-die playoff for the two wild card teams in each league, there is a heightened emphasis on winning the division. So expect many more meaningful games down the stretch with more teams in the hunt and fewer teams playing out the string as spoilers.

X
X-Factors

NL East: Experienced Braves players vs. the inexperience of a pennant race among the Nationals. But Washington manager Davey Johnson is a proven winner, while Fredi Gonzalez allowed a 10.5-game lead to evaporate last season.
NL Central: Acquisitions will play a key role in this division, as will the schedule in the final week. St. Louis GM John Mozeliak has shown the guts and acumen to acquire the pieces necessary at the trade deadline. Can Neal Huntington do that in Pittsburgh? The Cincinnati Reds end the regular season with a road trip to Pittsburgh and St. Louis. It’s always better to end the year at home.
NL West: Big bat acquisition. Will the Giants or Dodgers boost their offense the most at the trade deadline?
AL East: Don’t be surprised the see the Orioles promote super prospect Dylan Bundy in September, much like the Rays did David Price in 2008.
AL Central: White Sox GM Ken Williams will be aggressive on the trade market, even after the non-waiver trade deadline passes.
AL West: If the Rangers are blessed with good health, their lead will be safe. If not, expect some help down the stretch by Loenys Martin with his speed and defense.

Y
Yadier

One of the most underappreciated players in the game, Yadier Molina is the heart and soul of the Cardinals. Former manager Tony La Russa referred to Molina as the most indispensible player in St. Louis, even when Albert Pujols was in town. His leadership during games, his handling of pitchers, his throwing arm and now even his bat, are among the best in the National League. Should the Cardinals surge and win the NL Central, Molina should receive considerable consideration for NL MVP.

Z
Zimmerman and Zimmermann

Whether it’s with one "n" or two, the Zimmermen in Washington will be at the center of the NL East race down to the wire. Jordan with two n’s is a starting pitcher with a 7-6 mark for the Nats. His 2.35 ERA tells a more accurate story than does his W-L record. In Zimmermann’s six no-decisions, Washington is 4-2. And in his six losses, the Nats have yet to score more than three runs for him. The third baseman, Ryan, is a fixture in the No. 3 hole in the Nats’ lineup. As of Sunday, since June 24 Zimmerman is batting .392 with 11 home runs, 28 RBIs, nine doubles and 24 runs in 25 games.

Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)

Teaser:
<p> As the 2012 MLB pennant drives begin to heat up, it's good to know what will impact the races from the A's to Zimmerman.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 15:07
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/top-10-athletes-over-30-london-olympics
Body:

Olympians over 30 years old are often overshadowed by teen sensations and twenty-somethings. But the 2012 London Olympics will have plenty of older, wiser and more accomplished athletes to watch at the Games of the XXX Olympiad. Here are 10 such Olympians, listed from oldest to youngest.

Hiroshi Hoketsu, 71, Japan equestrian

The oldest athlete at the 2008 Beijing Olympics — where he finished ninth in the team Dressage and 35th in the individual Dressage events — Hoketsu retains his title as the 2012 London Olympics’ eldest statesman.

At 71, he is just months shy of becoming the oldest Olympian in history. That distinction belongs to 72-year-old Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn, who won a silver medal at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.

Hoketsu first competed as a 22-year-old in his hometown at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He was an alternate at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and was set to compete in the 1988 Seoul Olympics but was unable to due to his horse, which was quarantined due to illness.

A graduate of Keio University in Tokyo and Duke University — where he earned a graduate degree in economics — Hoketsu had a successful career at Johnson & Johnson as well as Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics before retiring in 2002.

In 2003, Hoketsu started training full-time in Germany with coach Ton de Ridder. The rest is history — or near-history, at least. Hoketsu, along with his horse Whisper, will be making plenty of noise in London this summer.

And with any luck, Hoketsu will break Swahn’s record to become the oldest Olympian in history four years from now at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Giovanni Pellielo, 42, Italy trap shooting

While gold has been elusive for the 42-year-old Italian sharpshooter, Pellielo has been on the medal stand in each of the past three Olympics — winning silver in 2008 and 2004, along with bronze in 2000. He will face familiar competition in London, battling 2008 gold medal-winning 37-year-old Czech shooter David Kostelecky.

Jessica Crisp, 42, Australia windsurfing

At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, a 14-year-old Crisp competed in what was then a demonstration event. The prodigy turned into a world champion and will be making her fourth Olympic appearance in London at the age of 42, having already took sail in Sydney, Athens and Beijing.

Meb Keflezighi, 37, USA marathon

A refugee from Eritrea, Keflezighi competed collegiately at UCLA, where he won four NCAA championships — cross-country, 10,000-meters (outdoors) and 5,000-meters (indoors and outdoors) — in 1997. Keflezighi is also a three-time winner of the USA Cross Counry Championships (2001, 2002, 2009).

At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Keflezighi won a silver medal in the men’s marathon (2:11:29) — becoming the first American man to medal in the marathon since 1976. Four years later, Keflezighi failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics after battling dehydration and a broken hip at the Olympic Trials.

In 2009, Keflezighi became the first American to win the New York City Marathon (2:09:13) since 1982. He topped that time earlier this year, becoming the oldest winner of the Olympic Trials (2:09:08).

In London, the 37-year-old will attempt to run 42.195 km (26.6 miles) faster than his much younger competition.

Fabiola Molina, 37, Brazil 100-meter backstroke

The beautiful Brazilian gets nearly as much attention out of the pool, modeling her own swimwear line, as she does in the water as a world-class swimmer. At 37 years old, Molina has definitely still got it.

After enduring a six-month ban for testing positive to methylhexaneamine in April 2011, Molina bounced back to qualify for the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 1:00.74. This will be the third Olympic appearance for Molina, who also competed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Ryan Bailey, 36, USA water polo

The oldest member of the USA men’s national water polo team is a 6’6”, 245-pound center forward. The 36-year-old Bailey will compete in his fourth Olympics. Bailey scored seven goals en route to a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, marking the first medal for Team USA since 1988. Overall, Bailey has scored 12 Olympic goals. He also owns team records for both the bench press (385 pounds) and fastest shot (54 mph).

Cadel Evans, 35, Australia cycling

“Cuddles” became the oldest post-war winner of the Tour de France, wearing the yellow jersey and drinking champagne down the Champs-Elysees in 2011. Despite a disappointing seventh-place finish at this year’s Tour de France, Evans enters his fourth Olympics in search of his first medal — looking to beat his fifth-place road race finish of 2008.

Misty May-Treanor, 35, USA beach volleyball

The 35-year-old May-Treanor and 33-year-old teammate Kerri Walsh are reigning two-time Olympic gold medalists on the beach. And the dynamic duo enters London with their sights set on a three-peat to cap their Olympic careers.

Being the best is nothing new to May-Treanor, who was USA Today’s high school girl’s volleyball player of the year in 1994 and the captain of the NCAA’s first undefeated team at Long Beach State in 1998. Since then, she has dominated professional beach volleyball with teammates Holly McPeak (1999-2000), Walsh (2001-09, 2011-12) and Nicole Branagh (2010).

But after suffering a torn Achilles tendon while training for ABC’s hit show “Dancing with the Stars” shortly after winning gold in 2008, May-Treanor has finally started to show her age. A third straight Olympic gold medal, however, would quiet her few critics and be a fitting end for the longtime face of the sport.

Kobe Bryant, 33, USA basketball

The graybeard on Team USA, Kobe is the veteran leader of a red, white and blue triumvirate that also includes 27-year-old LeBron James and 23-year-old Kevin Durant. After boasting that this year’s squad could beat the 1992 Dream Team, the 33-year-old Bryant — a five-time NBA champion and 2008 Olympic gold medalist — will have to back up his big talk on the court in London.

Abby Wambach, 32, USA soccer

The second leading scorer in USA Women’s National Team history — behind the legendary Mia Hamm — was forced to miss the 2008 Beijing Olympics due to a broken leg. As a result, the 32-year-old Wambach is champing at the bit to run onto the pitch at historic Wembley Stadium, where the Olympic Gold Medal Match will be played.
 

Teaser:
<p> The top 10 athletes over 30 years old at the 2012 London Olympics. These Olympians should not be overshadowed by their younger competition.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 12:38
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-17
Body:

The Backseat Drivers Fan Council turns its focus toward the NASCAR media with its second annual survey. Fan Council members grade the different aspects of the NASCAR media from the TV networks, shows and personalities to the reporters, both print and Internet, to the radio shows and personalities covering the sport.

What’s a little different is that the results are split into two days. Today’s results focus on the TV coverage and personalities. The results on the reporters and radio programs will be later this week. Here’s what members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had to say about the TV portion of the NASCAR media.


Rate how well the networks have broadcast NASCAR races this season with 10 the highest score possible and 1 the lowest. (Last year’s score in parenthesis.)

7.92 — SPEED Channel (8.15 last year)
6.94 — ESPN/ABC (6.16)
6.59 — FOX (6.80)
4.44 — TNT (6.47)

What Fan Council members said:
• I loved TNT last year, but this year ... not so much. I always enjoy FOX and anything the SPEED Channel is involved with.

• I think all networks could do a better job of making the actual race the entertainment. They all try too hard to keep the audience entertained instead of allowing the race to entertain us. The talking heads need to focus on supplementing the race with information, not on being “the show.”

• ESPN/ABC is the class of the field when it comes to broadcasting a NASCAR race — or any race.

• ESPN has become the cream of the crop for Cup, which isn't saying much. They seem to focus more on action throughout the field than any other network. FOX focuses only on one car at a time, usually the leader who has a 10-second lead. TNT doesn't really call the race, they just kinda chit chat the whole time. ARCA and Truck racing on SPEED are some of the best broadcasts, too. Rick (Allen), Phil (Parsons) and Michael (Waltrip) have it figured out.

• ESPN/ABC have really turned their act around. FOX is still good, but I think they could listen to fan comments and make some changes. SPEED and TNT have too many commercials to make races on their channels enjoyable.

• ESPN and FOX have an obsession with "circus-like" story lines and acts by the announcers. The presentation of races by both networks is lacking and has been for a long time. They focus too much on certain drivers (Danica, Dale Jr.) and have too many biases (mostly FOX). FOX is terrible in presenting any sport, and ESPN tries to copy the FOX product but fails in execution. Too many commercials, too much focus on mediocrity. TNT shouldn't have six races if they are going to commercial every 10 laps. SPEED is essentially the NASCAR channel and they do a relatively good job, based on the other networks given here.

• I am very disappointed in most broadcast coverage, Very rarely is anything discussed in any sort of depth.

• By far ESPN/ABC have done a superior job with SPEED not far behind. TNT was generally terrible with some improvement toward the end of their run. FOX was OK. Some camera/directing issues like with TNT.

• FOX and SPEED Channel have the best NASCAR coverage, hands down. ESPN has not taken over yet, but based on last year they have consistently had programming problems where previous programs (like women's softball) run into the pre-race coverage. It's extremely annoying to be all ready to watch a race to see another sporting event on. Sometimes they switch to ESPN Classic, which is not available on a lot of packages or you just have to wait.

• FOX continues to be the best — they have the on-air chemistry that ESPN is building and TNT does not have at all. Sure, people bash DW, but if you get past that he brings something that so few other commentators bring: it's his knowledge of the sport and experience as a driver. TNT really slipped this year — the announcers didn't announce, they just spoke like they were watching the race as fans. The crew in the booth bickered with Larry Mac every race, too. Such a disappointment.


Rate these NASCAR-themed shows with 10 being the highest score possible and 1 the lowest. (Last year’s score in parenthesis.)

7.60 — Race Hub on SPEED (7.45 last year)
7.46 — Victory Lane on SPEED (NR)
7.44 — NASCAR RaceDay on SPEED (7.60)
7.19 — NASCAR Now on ESPN (7.15)
5.79 — Trackside on SPEED (7.41)

What Fan Council members said:
• I use to really enjoy Trackside when they talked racing with the drivers. It has now turned into a circus with the stupid stunts they have the drivers do. I have eliminated it from my weekly DVR shows. It’s not worth the time it takes to record and not worth my time to watch it! Sad. :(

• Steve Byrnes and John Roberts are the only two top broadcasters on SPEED that conduct themselves with any maturity and intelligence. The other broadcasters on SPEED all think they are just hilarious and act so silly. I cringe sometimes when I watch the shows. I really like Kenny Wallace but does he have any voice other than screaming? And could Jeff Hammond please say goodbye to the ’70s?! Mike Massaro is my favorite on ESPN and I will watch anything he's on. Kenny and Hammond can say the same thing as Massaro but, when Mike speaks there's an intelligence behind his words that make a big difference. I think Elliot Sadler is great when he's on Race Hub, and I enjoy listening to what he has to say.

NASCAR Now used to be a great show — I really liked the Monday roundtable. Marty Smith adds a lot, and I like to hear his opinions. Unfortunately, ESPN has relegated it to a 3:00 pm Monday broadcast and only 30 minutes long, with no replays. I guess they need more time to talk about some pointless golf tournament or NFL draft/camp garbage that they do incessantly.

• I think Victory Lane is a fantastic show, simply because it is taped right after the race. You get honest authentic reactions and answers during the show. Race Hub is pretty good. I like their guests. Trackside is the worst show — nearly unwatchable. NASCAR Now is OK, but honestly, its topics are usually already heavily covered in social media before it ever airs. They talk about Danica so much, and it is rarely ever "new" because she is so heavily covered. It’s sort of irrelevant, in my opinion. It is polished and well produced, though.

NASCAR Now and Race Hub are the best at current news each day. RaceDay and Victory Lane get all the drivers and crew chief opinions. Trackside is a travesty. I stopped watching it as soon as they changed the format. Silly, stupid and embarrassing.

Trackside is outstanding. A perfect 10. I watch it every week before the race and it’s an outstanding primer. Excellent! Victory Lane gets an “8” only because they no longer have the winning driver sit at their desk. WTH? It is really dumb how the driver is usually just behind them at some podium. Stupid. Also miss Jimmy Spencer on the show.

NASCAR Now Roundtable on Monday was the best show! Why did they cancel it? Big mistake.

• The
Trackside writers and producers have designed a show for pre-pubescent, brain-damaged individuals. Puppets and mindless games have reduced this once interesting and informative show to absolute rubbish. What about Raceline? Joe Moore, his wife, Steve Post and Alex Hayden.

Race Hub is a great blend of fun and information, I can even handle the little doses of Jimmy Spencer because he sometimes has pretty valid points. NASCAR Now would be higher but it moves around too much and doesn't have consistent people doing the show. I also miss the one-hour show Allen Bestwick did after the Cup races. I don't know what happened to Trackside, but it really is just too silly for me now and I don't even DVR it anymore. I enjoy Victory Lane, especially when the network showing the race is pretty weak on its post-race show. RaceDay is a little bit too long but is still fun to watch most of the time. Kenny needs to cut back on the coffee.


Rate these play-by-play announcers with 10 being the highest score and 1 the lowest. (Last year’s score in parenthesis.)

8.71 — Mike Joy, FOX (8.44 last year)
8.52 — Allen Bestwick, ESPN (8.43)
7.81 — Rick Allen, SPEED (7.69)
5.96 — Adam Alexander, TNT (6.11)

What Fan Council members said:
• Mike Joy is a legend in the booth. Allen Bestwick is getting there. Rick Allen is solid as a Truck announcer. Adam Alexander should just stick to his weekly Speed Center show on SPEED.

• To me, Allen Bestwick is the best there is. I so enjoy listening to him. He has a lot to say and he is quick on his feet.

• Mike Joy is the best. Passionate and focused on the race and doesn't waste a lot of time yapping about useless stuff.

• Allen Bestwick and Mike Joy are the cream of the crop. I wish they would announce together, then we'd have intelligence, experience and lots of information that is interesting for a change.

• Allen Bestwick is easily the best announcer. Adam Alexander needs more time to get comfortable and grow in the role. Mike Joy is too focused on having fun with DW and Larry and not enough on the race.

• Adam Alexander is improving but still has a way to go to be as solid as the rest. I feel so bad for Mike Joy because with all of his knowledge and abilities, he can't get DW to shut up enough for him to do his job. I assume that is partially his fault, but I also blame the director of the race broadcast.

• Rick Allen ROCKS!! Love his voice, his witty commentary and how he makes the race sounds exciting.

• I was so happy when Allen Bestwick was back in the booth. He keeps things moving and knows his NASCAR. Rick Allen does a great job, sometimes a little over-excited, but at least he shows his emotions. Mike Joy has so many stories to tell that I wish he would write a book. I enjoy his facts and figures most of the time. Adam Alexander was OK on Speed Center when he has copy to read, but as a live analyst, he lacks the ability to be spontaneous.

• Mike Joy and Allen Bestwick are pros and continue to do an excellent job. It is so refreshing to hear AB back calling races again. As for Adam Alexander, stick to Speed Center. Rick Allen screams too much and is too repetitive.


Rate these analysts with 10 being the highest score and 1 the lowest. (Last year’s score in parenthesis.)

7.99 — Dale Jarrett, ESPN (NR)
7.73
Larry McReynolds, FOX & TNT (7.35)
7.72
Andy Petree, ESPN (7.53)
6.98
Jeff Hammond, FOX (7.21)
6.87
Phil Parsons, SPEED (6.62)
6.51
Wally Dallenbach, TNT (7.00)
6.32
Kyle Petty, TNT (7.34)
5.50
Darrell Waltrip, FOX (5.89)
5.36
Brad Daugherty, ESPN (5.91)
5.10
Rusty Wallace, ESPN (4.49)
4.97
Michael Waltrip, FOX & SPEED (6.11)

What Fan Council members said:
• Dale Jarrett is the top guy. He has the knowledge and experience and he handles controversial stuff well. He, Allen (Bestwick) and Andy (Petree) are the best team, hands down. Kyle Petty is great when he is doing a race, but he goofs around a little too much during practice. Rusty tries really hard, but the booth isn't really his thing — he's better in the trailer on pre-race. Phil Parsons is terrible. If you compare the difference in his success on track to his brother Benny's, that is also a good comparison of their TV work. Michael Waltrip is the absolute worst. All he does is shill for Toyota, NAPA, Aaron’s and 5-Hour Energy. PATHETIC!

• While many do not like the Waltrips, I rated them a 10. Their passion, humor and knowledge is a MUST for this sport.

• Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett are the best driver/crew chief analysts in TV. Both are so informative pre-race and during race. I really like their commentary.

• This list in and of itself demonstrates the greatest problem with NASCAR TV. Look at how many of these guys are either current owners or financial stakeholders in something beyond the scope of their TV duties. There's too much of the “good old boys club.” How can we trust your analysis when it can be rooted in sponsor or personal interest? How are we supposed to learn anything new about what's happening NOW if you just tell stories about the way it used to be? Until the majority of NASCAR TV analysts quit endlessly reminiscing, opining, bloviating, self-promoting and grandstanding, they'll be doing a massive disservice to viewers and wasting our time.

• The only person I hate to hear more than Kyle Petty is Brad Daugherty. How in the hell did he score an on-air position with NASCAR??

• Love 'em all, especially love Brad's enthusiasm.

• I would choose Andy Petree as my crew chief and Michael Waltrip as my driver announcer. The rest contribute little and/or are two hyped-up for my liking.

• In my opinion, Jeff Hammond does the best job of explaining the details of the race/racecar better than the others.

• I'm sad FOX lessened Hammond's role this year. He has a great knowledge of the sport and these cars, and it's sad to see it go to waste. Larry Mac is another of my favorites, he too has great knowledge and does a good job breaking it down for the common folk, and he's not cut and dry (and) can be entertaining.

• Larry McReynolds is hard to judge. Over the past two or three seasons, it seems like he is hardly ever allowed to get a word in edgewise over DW. Then, he gets on TNT and really shines, bringing great information to the broadcast.

• Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree are the best analysts. Wally Dallenbach and Kyle Petty are the most enjoyable. DW has an occasional nugget of good info buried under an avalanche of DW-isms. And if Rusty Wallace left my TV forever I would be OK with that.

• Wally Dallenbach is the best in my book. Doesn’t yell, doesn't tell stories from 30 years ago, just gives it to you straight. DW and Mikey Waltrip suck the professionalism right out of FOX. They are embarrassing, goofy and never stop talking. They are the reason I listen to the radio broadcast during the FOX races. Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree quietly get it done for ESPN. They are very good, in my opinion.

• Michael Waltrip gets a higher score simply due to his wit. I very much appreciate his comical take on common sense.

• Wally Dallenbach, Brad Daugherty and Kyle Petty add nothing to the broadcasts — yack yack about nothing much. Mikey Waltrip and DW talk about themselves. They are very knowledgeable about racing but they make the broadcasts about them, not about the race. I also am opposed to having an ACTIVE owner in the booth — that applies to Waltrip and last year to Rusty Wallace. Jeff Hammond and Larry McReynolds are both smart and I like the way they present the information. Unfortunately, there isn't really enough time in a TV broadcast for long segments — it takes away from the racing, which is why I tune in. I think Phil Parsons and Andy Petree both do a great job.


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

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

Teaser:
<p> Dustin Long's Backseat Drivers Fan Council grade NASCAR's television partners, as well as its programs, personalities and analysts.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 12:32
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-july-24
Body:

Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2012 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire every Monday and a Weekend Rundown every Thursday. We took a week off due to All-Star festivities, but we are back and better than ever.

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (7/16-7/24):

  Name Team Pos. R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Jason Kubel ARI OF 8 6 11 0 .346 1.508
2. Ryan Zimmerman WAS 3B 8 4 10 0 .406 1.301
3. Mike Trout LAA OF 10 3 5 1 .448 1.397
4. Buster Posey SF C/1B 5 2 13 0 .517 1.378
5. David Wright NYM 3B 5 4 8 1 .379 1.303
6. Melky Cabrera SF OF 11 2 4 0 .448 1.322
7. Brandon Phillips CIN 2B 6 2 8 2 .357 1.010
8. Miguel Cabrera DET 1B/3B 7 3 5 1 .381 1.292
9. Albert Pujols LAA 1B 6 3 7 0 .370 1.211
10. Carlos Gonzalez COL OF 4 3 7 2 .292 1.081
11. Carlos Gomez* MIL OF 4 1 3 5 .286 .944
12. Cody Ross* BOS OF 5 3 9 0 .320 1.106
13. Michael Morse WAS 1B/OF 7 2 7 0 .324 .910
14. Ryan Doumit* MIN C/OF 5 3 7 0 .320 1.066
15. Yoenis Cespedes OAK OF 4 2 3 1 .455 1.293
16. Aaron Hill ARI 2B 7 1 4 1 .345 .923
17. Adrian Gonzalez BOS 1B/OF 4 2 8 0 .357 .928
18. Danny Espinosa* WAS 2B/SS 5 1 5 1 .375 .960
19. Jesus Montero* SEA C 4 1 9 0 .385 1.029
20. Matt Kemp LAD OF 5 2 6 0 .357 1.043
21. Carlos Beltran STL OF 5 2 6 1 .273 .897
22. Brandon Crawford* SF SS 4 2 9 0 .304 .969
23. Lorenzo Cain* KC OF 3 2 9 0 .348 .972
24. Ryan Howard PHI 1B 3 3 7 0 .333 1.357
25. Chris Young ARI OF 4 1 5 2 .333 1.151

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Strange But True

Watching Ichiro take at-bats in a Yankee uniform  — against his old team at that — was one of the more surreal sights I've seen on a baseball diamond in years. While he is a huge intangibles pick-up for the Yankees, one has to believe that he will turn his fantasy season around too now that he is within the Pinstripers line-up. He played right field and batted eighth in his Yankee debut Monday night. He wen 1-for-4 with a stolen base. He will shift to left when Nick Swisher returns. One can only expect his production to go up hitting in front of Russell Martin, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson. Without the pressure of having to carry an offense, Ichiro is all but certain to boost his career-low .261 batting average with plenty of runs and stolen bases. He might be worth trading for if you are in need of those two categories.

The Waiver Wire

The Reds' Todd Frazier has delivered a tasty .882 OPS all season and is getting playing time for Joey Votto at the moment. He has the versatile 1B/3B/OF eligbility and was my pick-up of the week on a team that needs help at 3B and in the power column. The Nats' Danny Espinosa added SS to his title as he fills in for Ian Desmond. His roto line is always enticing with the big hit always coming in the BA category. Yet, he is on fire over his last eight games getting 14 hits in 31 ABs. He is the top add in most leagues currently. Looking for some more pop? Cody Ross has 16 bombs in 238 at-bats and has eight homers since returning from the DL. The .892 OPS plays in any format. Looking for a sneaky call-up? Danny Hultzen has been solid for Triple-A Tacoma and could be in a Mariner uniform soon, while Travis Snider will get the call for Toronto now that Ben Francisco is in Houston. He is a career .308 minor league hitter with a career .910 OPS. The Angels should be calling-up prized prospect Jean Segura as well after his .294/.346/.404 season in Double-A Arkansas. He will provide speed in place of Erick Aybar.

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Doug Fister* DET 15.0 2 18 1.20 0.47
2. Jordan Zimmerman WAS 18.0 2 16 0.50 0.72
3. Felix Hernandez SEA 17.0 2 15 0.53 0.71
4. Justin Verlander DET 16.0 2 14 1.13 0.69
5. Hiroki Kuroda NYY 21.1 2 20 2.53 0.80
6. Ben Sheets* ATL 12.0 2 11 0.00 0.92
7. David Price TB 14.1 2 15 1.26 0.98
8. Madison Bumgarner SF 14.0 1 13 1.93 0.50
9. Tim Lincecum SF 15.1 1 17 1.20 0.87
10. Jeff Samardzji* CHC 13.0 1 14 0.69 0.85
11. Paul Maholm* CHC 15.0 2 9 1.20 0.87
12. Lance Lynn STL 13.0 1 15 0.69 1.00
13. Johnny Cueto CIN 13.0 2 12 0.69 1.31
14. Barry Zito* SF 14.0 1 11 1.93 0.71
15. Clayton Kershaw LAD 14.0 1 13 1.29 1.00
16. Carlos Villanueva* TOR 12.1 2 13 2.19 1.14
17. Wade Miley ARI 12.2 2 15 2.84 1.11
18. Matt Garza CHC 10.0 1 10 0.00 1.00
19. Ryan Vogelsong SF 13.0 1 13 1.38 1.00
20. Erik Bedard* PIT 13.2 1 15 1.32 1.17

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

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

1. Ivan Nova, NYY: Seattle (Wed.)
Posted eight quality starts in nine trips to the bump and has 36 K and 13 ER over his last six starts.

2. Michael Fiers, MIL: Washington (Sat.)
Has allowed 3 ER in last five starts with 34 Ks. Shut down the Reds and Cards in last two.

3. Jarrod Parker, OAK: at Baltimore (Fri.)
Just tossed 8.0 with one run against Yankees. Won four of last five starts.

4. Jonathon Niese, NYM: at Arizona (Fri.)
Posted 5 quality starts in last six with three wins and 11:0 K:BB rate over last two.

5. Ben Sheets, ATL: Philadelphia (Fri.)
Has yet to allow a run in two starts with only seven hits and 11 K in 12.0 innings.

Keep a close eye on the Mets-Diamondbacks Thursday affair as top pitching prospect Matt Harvey will make his major league debut. He has posted 268 Ks in 245.2 career minor league innings.

Top 20 fantasy Relief Pitchers of last month:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Huston Street SD 12.1 1 7 18 0 0.00 0.41
2. Aroldis Chapman CIN 11.1 0 9 27 0 1.59 0.62
3. Rafael Soriano NYY 12.2 0 11 17 0 1.42 0.95
4. Craig Kimbrel ATL 11.0 0 7 20 0 1.64 0.36
5. Ryan Cook* OAK 10.2 2 6 11 0 1.69 0.66
6. Kenley Jansen LAD 13.1 0 7 18 0 0.68 0.83
7. Fernando Rodney TB 11.0 0 7 12 0 0.00 0.64
8. Joel Hanrahan PIT 10.1 1 9 8 0 1.74 1.16
9. Jason Motte STL 8.1 1 7 10 0 1.08 0.96
10. Casey Janssen TOR 10.0 0 6 14 0 1.80 0.80
11. Tom Wilhelmsen SEA 12.2 0 5 12 0 0.71 1.03
12. Kyle Kendrick* PHI 19.2 2 0 16 0 2.29 0.97
13. Brad Lincoln* PIT 13.0 0 1 15 3 0.69 0.62
14. JJ Putz ARI 9.0 0 5 8 0 0.00 0.89
15. Dale Thayer* SD 12.1 2 0 10 3 0.73 0.89
16. Sergio Romo* SF 8.2 1 2 7 4 0.00 0.58
17. Sean Doolittle* OAK 12.1 0 1 15 2 0.00 0.73
18. Jerry Blevins* OAK 9.1 2 0 9 4 1.93 0.64
19. Octavio Dotel* DET 11.0 2 0 16 1 2.45 1.00
20. Steve Cishek* MIA 10.2 0 2 11 5 0.00 0.75

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Keep up to date all season long with Athlon Sports' Fantasy Baseball Closer Grid

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: July 24</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/penn-state-sanctions-did-ncaa-get-it-right
Body:

I don’t say this often, if ever, but the NCAA did a great job sanctioning Penn State University's massive cover-up of arguably the worst scandal in college football history.

Are there concerns that Mark Emmert overstepped his bounds with this display of unprecedented raw authority? Possibly. But I doubt this type of situation ever rears its ugly head again. At least, that is what I hope. Then again, maybe that is what the NCAA, and the rest of the country, needed. I applaud Penn State and the Big Ten for signing off on this type of swift and corrective measures.

The wound needs to be closed for good.

Eight months of slow-drip child abuse news is essentially over for the innocent Penn State faithful. Yes, civil suits will be served and appropriately settled in favor of the victims. And ideally, those involved in the cover-up will be sent to prison for a long time.

But Monday’s announcement of “unprecedented sanctions” against Penn State football signifies the end of a brutal process for Nittany Lions fans who did nothing wrong through all of this (besides the obvious over-zealous rioting). And hopefully, it means everyone involved, including the abused, can finally attempt to move forward.

We must make sure not to forget the victims in all of this. It will happen too quickly — especially, once football games start. And no, I'm not just talking about those vicitims associated with Jerry Sandusky. I am speaking of the on-going battle against child predators taking place in every American city. This was the exact reason I wrote last week vehemently opposing the Death Penalty.

Which is where my only real issue with the NCAA punishment lies. Here are the penalties facing Penn State and how I would have done it differently:

$60 Million Fine
This was easily my most satisfying arm of the penalties — and also where I would make the most changes. Combined with the $52 million the Big Ten will withhold and subsequently donate, Penn State will eventually contribute $112 million over five years to an endowment which will help fund programs that prevent child sexual abuse and also assist victims of such acts. It should have been $200 millon. Hell, why not $300 million? The Penn State endowment is $1.8 billion and what dollar figure can you place on peace of mind? Or a child’s safety? I would have sacrificed scholarships and bowl bans for as great a monetary contribution to the fight against child molestation as possible. I love the angle here and how it was implemented, but this could have and should have been a much bigger figure.

Four-Year Postseason Ban
I am on board with bowl and Big Ten title bans. I would have made it three years, however. This would allow the incoming freshman class the opportunity to play in a bowl game as a senior. The other sanctions have assured PSU won’t be competing for conference titles anytime soon, so why not give an innocent collection of students athletes one final shot at the postseason as seniors?

Four-Year Scholarship Limitations: 15 per year, 65 overall
This is easily the harshest and most influential of the penalties. Lower level football programs are allowed 63 scholarships and taking 20 away on any given year (down from 85 at any one time) will cripple the ability to build depth and compete at a high level. I would have kept the per year limit at 10 — meaning you can sign a max of 15 per year — but would have reduced the total limit from 20 to 15. This would give PSU a max of 70 scholarships at any given time. The ability to recruit at PSU will already be crushed due to public relations, negative recruiting, postseason bans and more. This team will be, at best, a 3-5 win team for the next four seasons and that will organically cost PSU millions in lost revenue — money that won’t go to the welfare of children. It simply is lost in the ether of potential earnings. I would have lightened this blow a bit if it meant donating more dollars to the fight against child abuse.

Vacating Wins From 1998-2011
Vacating wins, records and awards is by far the weakest action the NCAA can levy against a member institution. It means virtually nothing. You cannot go back and change what took place on the field. We all know who won the 2004 BCS National Championship. We all know who won the Ohio State-Arkansas Sugar Bowl. It doesn’t impact the athletic department’s bottom line and it doesn’t impact recruiting whatsoever. Do you think Hakeem Nicks cares more about his Super Bowl ring or how many catches the NCAA recognizes he posted at North Carolina? Having said this, if it helps just one victim sleep better one night a year because Joe Paterno’s name isn’t sitting atop the NCAA’s record book, then I am fully on board.

Related: Penn State Players: Where Should They Transfer?

Players Are Allowed To Transfer Without Restriction
This one is easily the trickiest and most difficult to pinpoint. Players didn’t sign up for this type of situation and should be allowed to change their career paths if they so choose. That said, I am not comfortable with coaches from 123 other schools having free reign to “recruit” Penn State football players for the next two years. I would have allowed any player to make a one-time decision over the next two months with a deadline of August 30. Until then, players can switch teams all they want free of penalty. But if you make a decision to stay committed to Penn State University by the first weekend of play, then you must adhere to your decision and fall back into line with regular NCAA transfer rules. The players won’t, and shouldn’t have to, protect themselves from the greedy clutches of rival coaches, so the NCAA should have.

Monday’s announcement marks the end of a brutal and terrifying saga that hopefully has changed the arrogant, self-serving, greedy culture that existed in State College. And I can only hope that Emmert’s forceful action gives every major institution — which most certainly includes fans — pause before automatically deifying coaches and players for winning lots of games.

We must demand that this warning shot transcends sports and echoes through every boardroom and hallway of this country.

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Related: 2012 Athlon Sports Penn State Team Preview

Teaser:
<p> Penn State Sanctions: Did the NCAA Get It Right?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 06:38
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Indianapolis Colts, NFL
Path: /nfl/indianapolis-colts-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Indianapolis Colts check in at No. 29.

It’s as if the Mayflower vans returned to Indianapolis. The Colts’ cornerstones, who once made this franchise a perennial Super Bowl contender, have relocated. There hasn’t been this much movement since that 1984 arrival from Baltimore. Almost overnight, after a 2–14 collapse, owner Jim Irsay’s intuition told him to part with Peyton Manning, the NFL’s only four-time MVP, who underwent four neck/spine surgeries in 21 months. Vice chairman Bill Polian, a six-time NFL Executive of the Year, was replaced by 40-year-old general manager Ryan Grigson, who had an eye for spotting talent in Philadelphia. Uninspiring head coach Jim Caldwell was supplanted by fiery Baltimore defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.

The Colts begin anew with No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck and so many roster spots to fill around the promising Stanford quarterback. Fans be advised — everything can’t be fixed overnight.

Offense

Coordinator Bruce Arians favors a two-tight end scheme, and the Colts added two of the best in the 2012 draft in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. Fleener was Luck’s go-to guy in college because he’s 6'6" and fast. Allen will be physical in shedding coverage. That’s key, because an offensive line no longer anchored by center Jeff Saturday has been patched together and will need time. Luck will want to take advantage of as many three-step drops as possible.

When looking at Luck, think Manning with mobility. He learned from Manning, who had a young Luck at his passing camp as a student and counselor. He prepares like Manning, too. Before the draft, the rookie spent three weeks studying NFL film with former Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore, an old-school guy who gushed about the young passer.

Pagano has insisted from Day 1 that he wants to run. Delone Carter is a second-year bruiser who emerged as a starter but lost the job because of fumbles. Donald Brown can bounce it outside with his speed but has never lived up to being a first-round pick. Rookie Vick Ballard could be a quicker Carter. In theory, sure, the idea is to take pressure off Luck so he ­doesn’t have to throw 40 times per game, which would expose him to aggressive pass rushes.

The Colts came up a few million dollars short of overpaying to re-sign wide receiver Pierre Garcon. They instead brought back Reggie Wayne, who offered to fly to California to work out with Luck while the quarterback completed his college degree. Slot receiver Austin Collie is effective, one year removed from a spate of concussions. After that, it’s iffy. Former St. Louis second-round pick Donnie Avery assures he can still burn, but he didn’t show it with Tennessee last year. Rookie receiver/returner T.Y. Hilton is so fast, the Colts moved up into the third round to draft him. But he’s also small, and it’s always uncertain how little guys will hold up.

Related: Top Indianapolis Colts Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Pagano repeatedly utters the term “hybrid” to describe this gradual transformation to a 3-4 scheme. So sometimes the Colts will show the familiar 4-3 with Pro Bowl pass-rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis as ends. Then they shift to a 3-4 with the bookends becoming outside linebackers. Mathis was re-signed because he was born to fly around like this. Freeney’s adjustment is wait-and-see. The Colts reportedly tried to trade him; he’ll count $19 million against the cap in the final year of his contract, and moving him would save $14 million. The Colts’ all-time leading sack man stayed because he still gets after the quarterback. If he doesn’t succeed as an outside linebacker, he will become a situational pass-rusher or they could shift him back to end, admittedly a different role in a 3-4. They need more than the 19 tackles he made last season.

Pagano added familiar faces from Baltimore in end Cory Redding, safety Tom Zbikowski and tackle Brandon McKinney. Redding gets decent pocket pressure and is responsible against the run. Zbikowski lost his job with the Ravens and is anxious for a second chance. The hunch is that rookie nose tackle Josh Chapman (316 pounds) will eventually beat out McKinney. Chapman is incredibly strong and is an ideal plugger.

This secondary is worrisome. Cornerback Jerraud Powers is excellent, when he’s not hurt. He’s missed 10 games in two seasons and is entering a contract year. The other corners are Kevin Thomas, Brandon King, Chris Rucker and Terrence Johnson — all relatively young and unproven. Thomas had the job in minicamp, but stay tuned. The fact that the Colts were frustrated by just missing on a couple of cornerbacks in the draft reinforces that they feel a need to upgrade the position. Perhaps steady safety Antoine Bethea can help the corners, while Zbikowski, who boxes to stay in shape, will thrive as a run-stopper.

Inside linebacker Pat Angerer is a tackling machine; his 148 ranked fourth in the league. But even an obvious plus is an indication of how this defense is in the evolutionary stages. At 235 pounds, he’s more ideal for the outside, but the Colts don’t have guys who fit the bigger, stronger inside linebacker profile.

Specialists

Adam Vinatieri showed he was worth the new contract he signed before the 2011 season as he hit on 23-of-27 field goals, including 52- and 53-yarders. Punter/kickoff specialist Pat McAfee has excellent hang time and boomed 41 touchbacks in 63 kickoffs. The Colts haven’t had a great returner in ages. They hope Hilton is that answer. Irsay made it clear to his new regime the need to fix “ridiculous” special teams, be that covering kicks or returning them, something that had become “a broken record.”

Final Analysis: 3rd in the AFC South

Opponents enjoyed a 103.9 passer rating last season, so a Colts optimist will suggest that it can’t get much worse. Don’t be so sure. While the Colts could show progress in this new hybrid defense, not getting to the quarterback enough will expose an already shaky secondary. If this defensive transition implodes, take heart, fans. The release of big contracts for the likes of tight end Dallas Clark, middle linebacker Gary Brackett and even a $10 million hit this season for Manning means roughly $40 million in dead cap money this year, but it sets up the Colts as big spenders in free agency in 2013. Compensatory picks will help provide another big draft class. The Colts can address their defensive needs.

A weak schedule with the likes of Cleveland, Miami and Buffalo at home suggests that outscoring some foes is doable. Luck has enough talented targets, and the play-calling should protect him while the line and run game shake out. The team’s 99.6 yards rushing per game ranked 26th, but the Colts trailed most of the time. They managed 4.2 yards per carry, which would be enough to help Luck. Manning went 3–13 as a rookie with proven stars like wide receiver Marvin Harrison and running back Marshall Faulk. Luck will find a way to win a few, then the Colts will tinker again and take the next step toward building a playoff contender in 2013.

Related: 2012 Indianapolis Colts Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Not Ready For Primetime
Once a night-game favorite, the Colts have 15 kickoffs at 1 p.m. The only deviation is an 8:20 p.m. Nov. 8 visit to Jacksonville on NFL Network. The Colts had four primetime games in 2011 — a fifth at rival New England was flexed to the afternoon. Talk about a dose of reality. By the way, Peyton Manning’s new team, Denver, has five primetime games.

Build The Monster
New head coach Chuck Pagano set the agenda for offseason conditioning by issuing blue T-shirts to players with the slogan, “Build The Monster.” Fans bought in, too, immediately asking when the shirts would be marketed for purchase.

First-round QBs
Andrew Luck is the seventh quarterback the Colts have selected in the first round of the draft. He joins George Shaw (1955), Bert Jones (1973), Art Schlichter (1982), John Elway (1983), Jeff George (1990) and Peyton Manning (1998).

Don’t Say the ‘R’ Word
Players made it clear in minicamp that they do not accept the term “rebuilding” to describe the team’s sweeping changes. “If you want to think we’re rebuilding, whatever, think it,” Angerer says. “We’ll fight your ass. Let’s go.”

Irsay Still Loves Twitter
Colts owner Jim Irsay isn’t shy with 164,000-plus Twitter followers. Amid speculation that pass-rusher Dwight Freeney was on the trading block, Irsay tweeted, “The only people hoping for trade with Free#93 are the ones that have to play against us…he’s MAYHEM with plenty of gas left in the tank!” When Peter King of Sports Illustrated criticized the Colts for using their first four picks on offensive players, Irsay tweeted, “Hey Peter King, we had NO defense, unlike now, in 1998, n B Polian took 4 Offensive picks n looking back at ur comments then, u said Great Draft!”

Not tackling Twitter
One of the few players who insists he won’t waste his time on Twitter is linebacker Pat Angerer. “I don’t care what I do,” he says. “I don’t think anybody else would care what I’m doing today.”

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Wed., July 25

Order your 2012 Indianapolis Colts Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Indianapolis Colts Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Indianapolis Colts Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Indianapolis Colts 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 05:41
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Indianapolis Colts, NFL
Path: /nfl/indianapolis-colts-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

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

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

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

@NFLColts (Followers: 87,223)

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 24, 2012

Top Colts To Follow:

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Pat McAfee P @PatMcAfeeShow 61,041
2. Dwight Freeney DE @DwightFreeney 50,286
3. Robert Mathis DE @RobertMathis98 42,501
4. Tom Zbikowski S @TommyZbikowski 33,770
5. Jerraud Powers CB @JPowers25 21,613
6. Antoine Bethea S @Tweez41 21,373
7. Donnie Avery WR @DonnieAvery 16,994
8. Drew Stanton QB @DrewStanton 15,164
9. Anthony Castonzo OL @AnthonyCastonzo 11,421
10. Coby Fleener TE @CobyFleener 11,013
11. A.Q. Shipley OL @aqshipley 7,149
12. Cory Redding DE @Redding93 7,142
13. Brandon McKinney DT @BMcKinney96 7,059
14. Dwayne Allen TE @DAllen83 5,953
15. Deji Karim RB @KingKarim35 4,239
16. Kevin Thomas CB @Datboiquito 4,231
17. Chandler Harnish QB @CHarnish8 3,496
18. Joe Lefeged S @JLefeged35 2,634
19. Jarred Fayson WR @JFayson 1,587
20. Jake Kirkpatrick OL @JKirk76 1,543
21. Mike Tepper OL @MikeTepper79 1,454
22. LaVon Brazill WR @BrazillLaVon 856

I find it amazing how well the kickers and punters do in the twitter-sphere. Especially, ones who get arrested for swiming drunkingly down the Broad Ripple canal with little to no attire. Boom Stick is right.

There is, without a doubt, one NFL owner who stands above all the rest when it comes to twitter. And that, of course, is the Colts' Jim Irsay. His random torts, rants and general goofiness is well worth the follow: @JimIrsay

The No. 1 overall pick and savior of the Colts franchise hasn't joined the twitter-lution just yet. However, you can follow his head (@AndrewLucksHead) and his MVP campaign (@Luck4MVP).

The Colts Beat:

Phillip B. Wilson, Indianapolis Star sportswriter: @pwilson24 (9,833 followers)

Mike Chappell, Colts beat writer for Indianapolis Star: @mchappell51 (4,745)

Tom James, Colts beat writer for Terre Haute Tribune-Star: @TribStarTJames (1,147)

Reggie Hayes, Columnist for The News-Sentinel who covers the Colts: @reggiehayes1 (691)

Nate Dunlevy, AFC South Correspondent for Bleacher Report: @natedunlevy (3,534) 

Colts Blog Roll:

While Phillip Wilson covers the team for the great Indy Star, the blog to bookmark is ColtsInsider.com

Every NFL team has a "buzztap" twitter following and the Colts version is, of course: @coltsbuzztap (20,731)

The SB Nation blog to visit each day is StampedeBlue.com and can be followed @StampedeBlue. Brad Wells is the head blogger for the site and twitter handle.

Others to be sure to follow are @ColtsFanClub (13,749), @ColtsGab, ColtsAuthority.com and @MyColts (4,119)

The ESPN AFC South blog is run by Paul Kuharsky and you can follow him @ESPN_AFCSouth

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Wed., July 25

Order your 2012 Indianapolis Colts Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Indianapolis Colts Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Indianapolis Colts Schedule Analysis

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Indianapolis Colts Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 05:40
Path: /college-basketball/ranking-secs-basketball-coaches
Body:

When SEC basketball coaches get together for media days or other offseason events, they may need name tags.

 

Three programs -- LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina -- have new coaches, more coaching changes than any other major conference. Throw in Texas A&M’s Billy Kennedy and Missouri’s Frank Haith, who arrive via expansion, and the SEC coaching rankings will have new faces at 14 jobs.

 

That said, the top spot in our SEC coach rankings needs little introduction. John Calipari has won more games than any other coach in the country the last five seasons, and now he has a national title to add to his resume.

 

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

 

1. John Calipari, Kentucky

Overall record: 547-154 (38-13 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Kentucky: 102-14 (40-8 SEC)

Kentucky and John Calipari was the perfect marriage even before the 2012 national championship. Before then, the question was if Calipari would win a title at Kentucky with cycling through a roster of one-and-done players. With a team featuring six NBA draft picks, including the top two selections, Calipari answered. Now, the question seems to be how many titles Calipari could win at Kentucky -- provided he doesn’t dip is toe into the NBA again. Senior Night may be a bygone tradition for Calipari teams, but he’s suffered minimal drop-off from year to year. His 173 wins over the last five seasons at Kentucky and Memphis are more than any other coach in the country. Kansas’ Bill Self is No. 2 at 154.

 

2. Billy Donovan, Florida

Overall record: 421-178 (28-10 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Florida: 386-158 (160-96 SEC)

Donovan may not lead back-to-back teams to the national championship again, but he’s built a power at Florida that will outlast Al Horford, Joakim Noah, et al. The Gators returned to the Elite Eight the last two seasons, but both times Florida was denied a trip to the Final Four due to late-game collapses. With Patric Young and Kenny Boynton returning, Florida appears to be back among the most consistent programs in the SEC. Once Billy the Kid, Donovan is now the dean of SEC coaches and the most logical consistent foil for Calipari and Kentucky.

 

3. Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt

Overall record: 384-222 (6-8 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Vanderbilt: 261-159 (103-105 SEC)

Stallings’ losing record in the SEC may come as something of a surprise, but most of the losing took place early in his tenure in Nashville. Since 2006-07, the Commodores are 59-37 in the conference. Wins in March have been lacking during that timespan -- the ‘Dores have three wins in the last five NCAA trips and have been upset by Richmond (2011), Murray State (2010) and Siena (2008). Still, Vanderbilt’s not an easy basketball job, especially when programs like Kentucky and Florida are performing at an elite level. But Stallings has been able to develop veterans like Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins, both of whom were major recruits, while unearthing difference-makers like Festus Ezeli.

 

4. Frank Martin, South Carolina

Overall record: 117-54 (6-4 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at South Carolina: first season

He has a fiery demeanor. He’s prone to shouting and staredowns on the sidelines. And cynics might say he got his first head coaching job only to hold together a Michael Beasley-led recruiting class at Kansas State. All may be true, but Martin can coach. Kansas State hadn’t had a five-year run in both the regular season and postseason since the late 1970s. Martin led Kansas State to at least 10 wins in the Big 12 in four out of five seasons and has never failed to advance in the NCAA Tournament. He inherits a dreadful team at South Carolina, so his record is going to suffer. Considering the results at Kansas State, Martin should have the Gamecocks competing for the postseason in a matter of years.

 

5. Mike Anderson, Arkansas

Overall record: 218-111 (7-6 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Arkansas: 18-14 (6-10 SEC)

Forty Minutes of Hell -- or the Fastest 40 Minutes of Basketball, as he calls it -- is back in Fayetteville, but it may take some time for Anderson to get his system running at full capacity. Anderson has experience in that department, taking over for Quin Snyder at Missouri. After two non-winning seasons with the Tigers, Anderson led the Tigers to a 31-7 season, the Big 12 Tournament and the Elite Eight in 2008-09. He also ended a streak of non-productive seasons at UAB by his second season with the Blazers.

 

6. Anthony Grant, Alabama 

Overall record: 139-64 (1-3 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Alabama: 63-39 (27-21 SEC)

Grant is working to do what his old boss, Billy Donovan, did at Florida -- build a consistently relevant basketball team in the shadow of an elite football program. So far, he’s had success. After narrowly missing out on the NCAA Tournament (but reaching the NIT title game) in 2011, Alabama played a tougher schedule in 2011-12 to reach the field. The next step is to win an NCAA game. There’s good reason to believe that is in the future for the Tide. Grant has recruited well, adding young talent like Trevor Releford and Trevor Lacey to the roster. Before Alabama, Grant led VCU to three consecutive Colonial Athletic Association regular season titles, two CAA Tournament titles and a first-round upset of Duke in 2007.

 

7. Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee

Overall record: 80-56 (no NCAA Tournament appearances)

Record at Tennessee: 19-15 (10-6 SEC)

A longtime Purdue assistant, Martin has not reached the NCAA Tournament in his four seasons as a head coach, but he may be right on the cusp. After going 11-20 in his debut season at Missouri State, the Bears improved to 24-12 in his second season. In his third, Missouri State won the Missouri Valley regular season but landed in the NIT after losing in the conference tournament. Tennessee was picked near the bottom of the SEC last season, but the Volunteers finished 10-6 in the league thanks to the midseason arrival of Jarnell Stokes. The damage was done in the non-conference schedule, and the Vols settled for the NIT. With most of his roster returning, Martin may be in line for that elusive first NCAA appearance.

 

8. Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M

Overall record: 225-197 (1-2 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Texas A&M: 14-18 (4-14 Big 12)

After a successful stints at Southeastern Louisiana and Murray State, Kennedy landed his big break at Texas A&M. The excitement was short-lived as Kennedy was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s Disease and Exhaustion weeks before the season. He coached the season, but the Aggies struggled mightily for their worst season since 2003-04, the year before Billy Gillispie took over. Kennedy’s health has improved since the start of 2011-12, but the departure of Khris Middleton means the program will continue to rebuild.

 

9. Frank Haith, Missouri

Overall record: 159-106 (1-2 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Missouri: 30-5 (14-4 Big 12)

Haith proved his doubters wrong in his first season with Missouri. After a mediocre tenure at Miami, his hire in Columbia was a head-scratcher. But Haith led the Tigers to a 30-win season and a Big 12 Tournament title to win National Coach of the Year honors. That’s the good news. The end of the season, however, reinforced the skepticism when Missouri lost to 15th seeded Norfolk State in the NCAA Tournament. A former assistant at Texas, Texas A&M and Wake Forest, Haith struggled in his first seven season as a head coach with Miami, never finishing with a winning conference record. The resources and commitment are strong at Missouri than Miami, so perhaps this is the start of a strong second act.

 

10. Mark Fox, Georgia

Overall record: 173-89 (2-4 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Georgia: 50-46 (19-29 SEC)

Fox didn’t have an opportunity to build on the momentum of Georgia’s 21-12 season and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011 when Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins left early for the NBA Draft, where they were both second-round picks. The Bulldogs slipped back to 5-11 in the SEC, same record as Fox’s debut season. Nevada won four WAC titles in five seasons under Fox, so he’s been a winner in his career. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s in new geographic territory after spending his entire career out West. 

 

11. Johnny Jones, LSU

Overall record: 205-162 (0-2 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at LSU: first season

Jones never had an attention-grabbing breakout season at North Texas. He was simply steady in his 11 seasons in Denton, especially over the final six. Jones’ predecessor at North Texas, Vic Trilli, won 20 total games in four seasons. On the other hand,, Jones won at least 20 games for five consecutive seasons before going 18-14 in 2011-12. At LSU, Jones will be familiar with his territory. He was a former player and assistant for Dale Brown in addition to serving as an assistant at Memphis (pre-Calipari) and Alabama.

 

12. Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss

Overall record: 146-91 (no NCAA Tournament appearances)

Record at Ole Miss: 125-78 (40-43 SEC)

Kennedy has never coached a bad team. He hasn’t coached many good ones, either. All of his teams have floated with in a game of .500. Six of his seven teams at Cincinnati and Ole Miss landed in the NIT. That’s about par for the course for Ole Miss basketball.

 

13. Tony Barbee, Auburn

Overall record: 108-88 (0-1 in the NCAA Tournament)

Record at Auburn: 26-36 (9-23 SEC)

Barbee inherited a mess of a roster in his first season at Auburn with only one returning player who played quality minutes. The Tigers were dreadful early in 2010-11 but improved as the season went a long. The record in 2011-12 wasn’t that much better -- from 4-12 in the SEC to 5-11 -- but Auburn jumped 99 spots in the RPI. Barbee, a John Calipari assistant at Memphis, came to Auburn with the reputation as a quality recruiter. He’ll need to up the talent level at Auburn if the Tigers are going to compete for the postseason.

 

14. Rick Ray, Mississippi State

Overall record: first season as a head coach

Ray is a rarity by landing his first head coaching job in a major conference. Besides that, Ray takes over at a Mississippi State program accustomed to competing for NCAA Tournament berths. An assistant for two seasons at Clemson and four at Purdue, Ray is an unknown commodity as a head coach.

 
-David Fox 

@DavidFox615

Other coach rankings:
ACC

Big 12

Big East

Big Ten

Pac-12

Atlantic 10

Best of the rest

July 30: National 

Related Content
College Basketball's Top 10 Coaching Hires for 2012

Top College Coaches Under 40

Teaser:
<p> Ranking the SEC's basketball coaches</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 05:24
Path: /college-football/unit-rankings-2012-sec-linebackers
Body:

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

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

Ranking the SEC's Linebackers for 2012

1. Georgia After sitting out the 2010 season following his transfer from USC, Jarvis Jones quickly emerged as one of the SEC’s top linebackers last year. He recorded 70 tackles and 13.5 sacks en route to earning first-team All-SEC honors. Jones will man the outside of Georgia’s 3-4 scheme along with sophomore Ramik Wilson or Chase Vasser. The interior spots are expected to go to junior Alec Ogletree and senior Michael Gilliard. Ogletree made 52 stops and three sacks last season and should contend for a spot among the All-SEC squad in 2012.

2. Alabama Not many teams can withstand the loss of multiple NFL Draft picks and All-SEC performers from one unit like the Crimson Tide. But after losing the law firm of Hightower, Upshaw and Harris, Nick Saban isn’t too concerned with the heart of his defense. Trey DePriest, Xzavier Dickson and Adrian Hubbard bring length, physicality, pedigree and versatility to the always stout Bama defense. The lone holdover, senior Nico Johnson, will be in charge of getting his compatriots lined-up correctly. C.J. Mosley will also feature prominently in the mix as well as Tana Patrick and Dillon Lee. Additionally, Saban landed a deep and extremely talented corps of freshman prospects.

3. FloridaFew players have as much raw explosiveness and talent as Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic. And with the loaded defensive line up front, these two upperclassmen have no excuses in 2012. Jenkins is lighting quick and can get to the football but needs to show greater toughness. Bostic is a rock inside. While Will Muschamp needs these two to take the next step into stardom, he will need support from some new faces. Darrin Kitchens and Lerentee McCray have the physical tools to be the breakout stars this defense needs. A trio of freshman backers will help provide depth, while early enrollee Antonio Morrison has already impressed the staff.

4. Texas A&MWith some losses on the interior of the line, the Aggies will rely on their linebacking corps to repeat last season’s No. 12 national ranking in rush defense. Senior Sean Porter will be the leader of this group but must adjust to the new 4-3 scheme after playing a rush/outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment last year. He recorded 79 tackles and 9.5 sacks last season. Senior Jonathan Stewart will anchor the middle after leading the team with 98 stops last season. The third starting spot is expected to go to senior Steven Jenkins, who finished 2011 with 61 tackles. Depth is an issue, which could lead freshman Jordan Richmond (Athlon Sports No. 27 overall linebacker in 2011 recruiting class) to receive playing time right away.

5. MissouriThe return of Will Ebner was a must for a team entering the extremely physical SEC East. His veteran presence in the middle will be key if Mizzou expects to compete in its new league. He will be surrounded by two talented tacklers in third-year starters Zaviar Gooden and junior Andrew Wilson. These three are stable, dependable and have plenty of experience. However, should an injury befall this group — like Ebner’s last season — Gary Pinkel could be scrambling to find replacements. The depth chart is thin and inexperienced behind the three starters. 

6. Mississippi State The Bulldogs may not have a star like Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, but this group should be solid in 2012. Senior Cam Lawrence was steady in his first year as a starter last season, recording 123 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles. He is an Athlon Sports third-team All-SEC selection for 2012. Junior Deontae Skinner will join Lawrence as a starter on the outside, and he finished 2011 with 69 tackles and two forced fumbles. The Bulldogs lost Brandon Wilson and Brandon Maye in the middle, so it will be up to a pair of youngsters – freshman Benardrick McKinney or Ferlando Bohanna – to step into the starting lineup.

7. South CarolinaTwo starters are gone from last year’s group, including leading tackler Antonio Allen. Rodney Paulk also expired his eligibility after making 57 stops last season. Although the Gamecocks have some holes, there’s a lot to like about this unit. Senior DeVonte Holloman will slide from safety to linebacker and should have a standout season. The other two spots in this group should go to seniors – Shaq Wilson and Damario Jeffery. Wilson ranked fourth on the team with 52 tackles last year, while Jeffery recorded 14 stops. Depth is solid, especially with Reginald Bowens back after picking up 44 tackles last year.

8. ArkansasThe Razorbacks must replace Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson, but the cupboard isn’t bare for new coordinator Paul Haynes and linebackers coach Taver Johnson. Alonzo Highsmith made an instant impact after transferring in from the junior college ranks, recording 80 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He is expected to be one of the top linebackers in the SEC this year but missed spring practice due to a pectoral injury. Tenarius Wright was limited due to injuries last season and moved from defensive end to linebacker this spring. He is expected to see snaps on the interior, while helping the Razorbacks bolster the pass rush. Senior Matt Marshall is expected to start at the other spot. This is a solid overall group, but there’s also a wait and see feeling with Highsmith’s injury and Wright’s transition to linebacker.

9. Tennessee There are a lot of talented bodies for new coordinator Sal Sunseri to work with in Knoxville. No mater which scheme he will run this year —  4-3, 3-4, 5-2, 4-4 — slotting the right pieces into the right places will be a difficult task. A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt proved to be plenty capable last year as freshmen and both can hit as hard as any player in the league. Getting Herman Lathers back healthy is a huge boost inside if he fits in the new scheme. Willie Bohannon and Channing Fugate provide plenty of beef on the depth chart. How Sunseri, who was a linebacker guru at Alabama, organizes his players and calls games will be one of the most intriguing developments of the entire SEC East season.

10. LSU This was clearly Les Miles biggest area of concern heading into the recruiting cycle of 2012. He signed more linebackers (6) than any other position on the field and is hoping for a few of them to contribute right away. The good news is the defensive line should keep lanes plenty clear for the backers. Kevin Minter returns to the middle and is the only backer on the roster with significant experience of any kind. Lamar Louis and Ronnie Feist are two of those freshmen who could earn starting spots right away, should names like Main Barrow, Tajh Jones or DJ Welter falter. For a team poised for another national title run, linebacker could be considered a glaring weakness.

11. Vanderbilt No team can simply replace a stalwart like Chris Marve. He has been the heartbeat of the Dores huddle since 2008 and will be greatly missed. The good news is Chase Garnham and Archibald Barnes return with upperclass experience. Garnham was a huge surprise last fall but will need to adjust to life inside. Tristan Strong also returns but will need to prove to be fully recovered from his torn ACL a year ago (Week 4). Depth could be a major concern for this unit in 2012.

12. Auburn With the entire defensive line returning intact, the linebackers will be counted on to plug gaps. Daren Bates returns as the senior leader of the group but is severely undersized. Jake Holland is a stable force inside but must become more of a vocal presence in the huddle. And Kris Frost and Jonathan Evans will both see plenty of snaps outside opposite of Bates. Frost has loads of upside and could eventually steal Evans’ starting spot. That said, behind these four is little to no depth after the loss of Jawara White. A key injury could be crippling.

13. Ole Miss This unit has some promise, but it’s hard to rank the Rebels’ linebacking corps any higher after finishing last in the SEC in rush defense. You can’t blame the entire struggles against the run on the linebacking corps, but this unit needs to play better in 2012. Junior Mike Marry is the headliner for this group, leading the team with 81 stops last season. Serderius Bryant finished fourth on the team with 61 tackles as a freshman in 2011. Look for Bryant to nail down an outside starting spot. Seniors Aaron Garbutt and Joel Kight will provide depth, but the biggest question mark surrounding this unit is the health of D.T. Shackelford. He missed 2011 with a torn ACL and his status for 2012 is up in the air.

14. Kentucky This unit suffered some huge losses from last season, as All-SEC performer Danny Trevathan and Ronnie Sneed depart. Although the Wildcats have some holes to fill, sophomore Alvin Dupree and junior Avery Williamson are two players to build around. Dupree will play the rush end in Kentucky’s 3-4 alignment, while Williamson recorded 49 stops in 12 games last year. Sophomores Miles Simpson and Malcolm McDuffen could earn the other two starting spots, but incoming freshman Khalid Henderson will have a chance to crack the rotation.

 

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

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Teaser:
<p> Unit Rankings: 2012 SEC Linebackers</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 05:15
Path: /olympics/michael-phelps-ryan-lochte-rivalry-comes-london
Body:

Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are two of the most decorated, dominant swimmers in U.S. history. Rivals in the pool and friends out of it, they’re poised to take their personal rivalry to London for the 2012 Olympic Games, where they’ll showcase it with the world watching.

Phelps will arrive in London looking to add to his record haul of 14 gold medals and cap off a career that has already established him as arguably the greatest Olympian in history. Four years ago, he took Beijing by storm, winning eight gold medals and providing some of the Games’ indelible images. Phelps’ gold medal total surpassed fellow swimmer Mark Spitz’s seven at the 1972 Games as the American standard, leaving even Spitz in awe of this pool prodigy.

“Epic,” said Spitz of Phelps’ performance. “It goes to show you that not only is this guy the greatest swimmer of all time and the greatest Olympian of all time, he’s maybe the greatest athlete of all time. He’s the greatest racer who ever walked the planet.”

Phelps remains a threat for gold even in the twilight of his career, says rival and fellow gold medalist Ian Thorpe.

“I believe Michael is the very strong favorite to win three gold medals in London, and is a 50-50 contender to win another three,” Thorpe told the UK website Sportsvibe. “In my mind winning multiple golds in London would be just as impressive as winning eight in Beijing. Of course what he achieved in China was phenomenal. There’s no way I’ll ever see that again in my lifetime.”

If anyone can threaten Phelps for current swimming supremacy, it’s Lochte, who won five titles at last year’s world championships to Phelps’ four before out-swimming his rival at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June. “If we look at the results, just the numbers, Lochte looks better,” Thorpe said.

Lochte is also outpacing his countryman on the hype meter heading to London after Phelps mania reached its peak four years ago. But together, they comprise a TV ad exec’s dream pairing.

And even if Lochte dethrones Phelps as king of the pool in the minds of Americans, Thorpe says that Phelps’ place in history is secure.

“To keep on doing it, Games after Games, is what makes Michael so special,” Thorpe said. “The man has dominated world swimming for a decade now. How can he still have such desire when he’s accomplished everything there is to in sport?

“He’s the greatest swimmer in history.”

Teaser:
<p> USA swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte highlight the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 04:51
Path: /college-football/penn-state-football-players-where-they-should-transfer
Body:

With the NCAA's decision to hammer Penn State with significant penalties regarding the recent scandal surrounding the program, returning players and any incoming freshmen will be allowed to transfer without penalty. The Nittany Lions cannot play in a bowl or the Big Ten Championship until 2017, which means a lot of players could be looking to leave Happy Valley. In addition to a four-year bowl ban, Penn State was hit with scholarship reductions, 112 wins from 1998-2011 were vacated and the school has been fined $60 million. The Nittany Lions will be allowed to have only 65 scholarship players for future seasons.

Penn State may not see a huge number of players leave this year, especially with fall camps right around the corner. However, the roster could look drastically different by this time next year.

All signs point to the Big Ten relaxing its transfer rules, which would allow any player to transfer within the conference. Additionally, with fall camps opening in the next two weeks, there won't be much time for the players to make a decision. It's likely more Penn State players will choose to leave after 2012 but some could decide to leave before this season begins.

Here's a look at the top Penn State players and some possible fits if they choose to leave. 

1. Jordan Hill, DT – Penn State’s interior line was one of the best in the nation last year. Devon Still led the way with 17 tackles for a loss, while Hill recorded 59 stops and 3.5 sacks. With Still expiring his eligibility, Hill is expected to become a leader for Penn State’s defense and emerge as one of the top linemen in the Big Ten. Not having Still around will force defenses to focus more on Hill, but he is capable of handling the double teams in 2012.

Possible Fits: Clemson, USC, Virginia, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma State, Iowa

2. Silas Redd, RB – In his first season as a starter in 2011, Redd rushed for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns, while catching nine passes for 40 yards. He had a stretch of five 100-yard performances, including 164 against Northwestern. Penn State's offensive line has been inconsistent in Redd's career and had only one returning starter in 2012. Redd is an Athlon Sports second-team All-Big Ten selection for 2012.

Possible Fits: Iowa, Oklahoma, USC, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Illinois, Florida, Tennessee

3. Gerald Hodges, LB – After becoming a major contributor to the defense late in the 2010 season, Hodges emerged as one of the unit's top players in 2011. He led Penn State with 106 tackles last year, while also recording 10 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Hodges earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last season and was nominated to the Butkus Award watchlist for 2012. He is expected to be one of the first linebackers off the board in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Possible Fits: TCU, Pittsburgh, Michigan, Baylor, Texas, West Virginia, Nebraska, Auburn, Arkansas, LSU

4. Michael Mauti, LB – Injuries have limited Mauti in his career but if healthy, is capable of ranking among the Big Ten’s top linebackers. He recorded 21 tackles in four games last year but suffered a torn ACL in the 34-6 win over Eastern Michigan. Mauti played in 11 games in 2010 and recorded 67 tackles and two sacks. All signs point to a return to full strength by Mauti, but he may need a few games to knock off the rust. Considering Mauti's father played at Penn State, it could be difficult for him to leave Happy Valley.

Possible Fits: Michigan, NC State, Baylor, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Nebraska, Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, TCU

5. Khairi Fortt, LB – With Mauti, Hodges, Glenn Carson and Fortt, the Nittany Lions have one of the Big Ten’s top linebacking corps for 2012. Fortt finished spring practice just behind Glenn Carson on the depth chart and is expected to make another push for a starting spot this fall. He logged significant snaps last season, recording 33 tackles and six tackles for a loss. As a junior, Fortt is only scratching the surface on his potential and could have a breakout 2012 season.

Possible Fits: Pittsburgh, Nebraska, Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Connecticut

6. Glenn Carson, LB – Carson was steady in his first year as a starter in 2011, recording 74 stops and forcing two fumbles in 13 games. Although he's not flashy, Carson is a steady performer and will figure into the rotation even if he loses his starting job to Khairi Fortt.

Possible Fits: Michigan, Boston College, NC State, Baylor, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn

7. Justin Brown, WR – Brown is Penn State’s top returning receiver after catching 35 passes for 517 yards and two scores. He caught six receptions for 62 yards in the 14-10 win over Temple, while posting one catch for 69 yards and a score in the bowl loss against Houston. At 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds, Brown has intriguing size and talent and is coming off his best statistical season.

Possible Fits: Maryland, Illinois, Temple

8. Anthony Fera, K/P – Fera had a solid 2011 season, nailing 14 of 17 field goals and averaging 42 yards per punt. Considering his value on both aspects of special teams, a lot of teams could have an interest in Fera.

Possible Fits: Florida State (punter), Virginia Tech (kicker and punter), Tennessee

9. Sean Stanley, DE – Stanley is a steady performer and is poised to finish his career on a high note. He made 30 tackles and recorded 4.5 sacks last season and is the team’s top returner at defensive end for 2012. Stanley isn’t likely to be a standout but can be a solid part of a rotation.

Possible Fits: Temple, Rutgers, Iowa

10. Matt Stankiewitch, C – With Stankiewitch back as the only returning starter, Penn State’s offensive line is in full rebuild mode in 2012. He started all 13 contests last season and helped Penn State’s rushing attack average 4.2 yards per carry and 1.1 sacks per game.

Possible Fits: Rutgers, Maryland, Temple

11. Malcolm Willis, S – The Nittany Lions lost all four starters in the secondary from last season, but the cupboard wasn’t bare for new coach Bill O’Brien. Willis played in 12 contests last year and recorded 33 stops and one interception. He doesn’t have a full season of starts under his belt, but is primed to be a solid contributor at safety.

12. Bill Belton, RB – Belton didn’t see much playing time last year but made an impact when he got on the field. He rushed for 15 yards on four attempts in the 20-14 win over Ohio State, while recording 38 yards in the bowl loss to Houston. Belton is expected to backup Silas Redd, along with contribute out of the backfield on passing downs and on special teams. This sophomore is an intriguing talent and one who should get better with more playing time.

 

Top Incoming Freshmen to Watch

Brian Gala, OL
Eugene Lewis, WR
Jordan Lucas, DB
Jamil Pollard, DL
Nyeem Wartman, LB

Related College Football Content

Athlon's 2012 College Football Rankings
Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

 

Teaser:
<p> Penn State Football Players: Where They Should Transfer</p>
Post date: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 13:27
Path: /nba/ranking-every-usa-men%E2%80%99s-basketball-team-0
Body:

Could the 2012 Team USA beat the 1992 Dream Team? Kobe Bryant thinks so, but Michael Jordan laughs at the idea. First things first, this year’s squad must win the gold medal — and do so in historic style — in order to challenge the throne.

Here’s a rankings rundown of the 16 USA men’s basketball teams in Olympic history:

Gold Standards 

The USA has claimed the gold medal in 13 of the 16 Olympics in which Americans have competed.

1. 1992 Barcelona

With 11 future Hall of Famers and one college legend, the original “Dream Team” changed the global landscape of basketball.

“It was like Elvis and the Beatles put together,” coach Chuck Daly said. “Traveling with the Dream Team was like traveling with 12 rock stars.”

Until further notice, the first team of NBA players remains the best.

Record: 8–0
USA ppg: 117.3
OPP. ppg: 73.5
Avg. Margin: 43.8 ppg
Gold Medal Game: Croatia (117–85)

Coach: Chuck Daly, Detroit Pistons
Player, Pos. (Stats):
Michael Jordan, G (14.9 ppg, 4.5 apg, 4.6 spg)
Charles Barkley, F (18.0 ppg, 71.1 FG%)
Karl Malone, F (13.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
Scottie Pippen, F (9.0 ppg, 5.9 apg, 2.9 spg)
Patrick Ewing, C (9.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.9 bpg)
Magic Johnson, G (8.0 ppg, 4.1 apg)
Larry Bird, F
David Robinson, C
Chris Mullin, F
Clyde Drexler, G
John Stockton, G
Christian Laettner, F


2. 2008 Beijing

The “Redeem Team” had arguably the most athletic roster in Olympic history — with a young LeBron, D-Wade, Dwight and Melo, and a young-er Kobe.

Record: 8–0
USA ppg: 106.2
OPP. ppg: 78.4
Avg. Margin: 27.8 ppg
Gold Medal Game: Spain (118–107)

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University
Player, Pos. (Stats):
LeBron James, F (15.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.8 apg)
Dwyane Wade, G (16.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.25 spg)
Kobe Bryant, G (15.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg)
Dwight Howard, C (10.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
Carmelo Anthony, F (11.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
Chris Bosh, F (9.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
Chris Paul, G (8.0 ppg, 4.1 apg, 3.6 rpg)
Jason Kidd, G
Deron Williams, G
Tayshaun Prince, F
Carlos Boozer, F
Michael Redd


3. 1996 Atlanta

It would be hard for any Team USA to deal with the size of this host nation roster — which included David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone.

Record: 8–0
USA ppg: 102.0
OPP. ppg: 70.3
Avg. Margin: 31.7 ppg
Gold Medal Game: Yugoslavia (95–69)

Coach: Lenny Wilkens, Atlanta Hawks
Player, Pos. (Stats):
Charles Barkley, F (12.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 81.6 FG%)
David Robinson, C (12.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Scottie Pippen, F (11.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.3 apg)
Reggie Miller, G (11.4 ppg, 17-of-41 from 3)
Shaquille O’Neal, C (9.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
Penny Hardaway, G (9.0 ppg, 4.4 apg)
Karl Malone, F (8.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
Grant Hill, F (9.7 ppg)
Gary Payton, G
John Stockton, G
Hakeem Olajuwon, C
Mitch Richmond, G


4. 1984 Los Angeles

Three future Dream Teamers (M.J., Ewing, Mullin), plenty of NBA-ready size (Tisdale, Perkins) and solid guard play (Roberton, Alford, Flemming) makes Robert Montgomery Knight’s squad the top Olympic college roster of all-time.

Record: 8–0
USA ppg: 95.4
OPP. ppg: 63.3
Avg. Margin: 32.1 ppg
Gold Medal Game: Spain (96–65)

Coach: Bob Knight, Indiana University
Player, Pos. (Stats):
Michael Jordan, G (17.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg)
Patrick Ewing, C (11.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.3 bpg)
Chris Mullin, F (11.6 ppg, 3.0 apg, 2.5 rpg)
Wayman Tisdale, F (8.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
Sam Perkins, F (8.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
Alvin Robertson, G (7.8 ppg, 2.1 spg)
Steve Alford, G (10.3 ppg)
Vern Flemming, G
Leon Wood, G
Joe Kleine, F
Jon Koncak, C
Jeff Turner, F


5. 1960 Rome

With three of the NBA’s top 50 players — the Big O running the show, the Logo shooting from the outside and Lucas down low — it’s hard to deny that Rome witnessed one of the most talented, balanced, albeit top-heavy, USA rosters ever.

Record: 8–0
USA ppg: 101.9
OPP. ppg: 59.5
Avg. Margin: 42.4 ppg
Gold Medal Game: Soviet Union

Coach: Pete Newell, University of California
Player, Pos. (Stats):
Oscar Robertson, G (17.0 ppg)
Jerry Lucas, C (17.0 ppg)
Jerry West, G (13.8 ppg)
Terry Dischinger, F (11.8 ppg)
Adrian Smith, G (10.9 ppg)
Walt Bellamy, C (7.9 ppg)
Robert Boozer, F
Lester Lane, G
Darrall Imoff, C
Jay Arnette, F
Burdette Haldorson, F
Allen Kelley, G


6. 2000 Sydney

Vince-anity jumping of French 7-footer Frederic Weis was the highlight of this roster — which was the first Team USA that elite NBA players (looking at you, Shaq and Kobe) thought they were too cool to play on.

Record: 8–0
USA ppg: 95.0
OPP. ppg: 73.4
Avg. Margin: 21.6 ppg
Gold Medal Game: France (85–75)

Coach: Rudy Tomjanovich, Houston Rockets
Player, Pos. (Stats):
Kevin Garnett, F (10.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg)
Vince Carter, F (14.8 ppg)
Alonzo Mourning, C (10.2 ppg)
Ray Allen, G (9.8 ppg, 10-of-19 from 3)
Jason Kidd, G (6.0 ppg, 4.4 apg)
Allan Houston, G
Antonio McDyess, F
Shareef Abdur-Rahim, F
Vin Baker, F
Steve Smith, G
Gary Payton, G
Penny Hardaway, G


7. 1976 Montreal

The electric Dantley was flanked by undefeated 1976 Hoosiers (May and Buckner) and coach Dean Smith’s Tar Heels (Kupchak and Ford), giving this team even more built-in chemistry than most.

Record: 6–0
USA ppg: 97.3
OPP. ppg: 83.3
Avg. Margin: 14.0 ppg
Gold Medal Game: Yugoslavia (95–74)

Coach: Dean Smith, University of North Carolina
Player, Pos. (Stats):
Adrian Dantley, G (19.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Scott May, F (16.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
Mitch Kupchak, C (12.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Phil Ford, G (11.3 ppg)
Quinn Buckner, G
Kenny Carr, F
Tom LaGarde, C
Phil Hubbard, F
Walter Davis, F
Ernie Grunfeld, F
Tates Armstrong, G
Steven Sheppard, G


8. 1956 Melbourne

As always, Russell — an 11-time NBA champion, two-time NCAA champion and gold medalist — turned defense into offense, en route to the greatest average margin of victory in USA men’s basketball history (53.5 ppg).

Record: 8–0
USA ppg: 99.1
OPP. ppg: 45.6
Avg. Margin: 53.5 ppg
Gold Medal Game: Soviet Union (89–55)

Coach: Gerald Tucker, Phillips 66ers
Player, Pos. (Stats):
Bill Russell, C (14.1 ppg)
Robert Jeangerard, F (12.5 ppg)
Ron Tomsic, G (11.1 ppg)
K.C. Jones, G (10.9 ppg)
Charles Darling, C (9.3 ppg)
James Walsh, G (9.1 ppg)
Burdette Haldorson, F (8.6 ppg)
Dick Boushka, F (8.0 ppg)
William Evans, G
William Hougland, F
Gilbert Ford, G
Carl Cain, F

 

9. 1964 Tokyo

Iba’s first of two golds (and one silver medal) leading Team USA. Bradley and future bronze-winning coach Brown headline a relatively boring roster.

Record: 9–0
USA ppg: 78.2
OPP. ppg: 48.2
Avg. Margin: 30.0 ppg
Gold Medal Game: Soviet Union (73–59)

Coach: Henry Iba, Oklahoma State University
Player, Pos. (Stats):
Jerry Shipp, G (12.4 ppg)
Bill Bradley, F (10.1 ppg)
Luious Jackson, F (10.0 ppg)
Joe Caldwell, G (9.0 ppg)
Larry Brown, G
Walt Hazzard, G
Jim Barnes, C
Melvin Counts, C
George Wilson, F
Pete McCaffery, F
Richard Davies, G
Jeff Mullins, F

10. 1968 Mexico City

The inside-outside duo of Haywood and Jones might have trouble against some of the USA’s deeper rosters.

Record: 9–0
USA ppg: 82.1
OPP. ppg: 56.1
Avg. Margin: 26.0 ppg
Gold Medal Game: Yugoslavia (65–50)

Coach: Henry Iba, Oklahoma State University
Player, Pos. (Stats):
Spencer Haywood, C (16.1 ppg)
Jo Jo White, G (11.7 ppg)
Michael Silliman, F
Charles Scott, F
Bill Hosket, F
Calvin Fowler, G
Michael Barrett, G
Glynn Saulters, G
Donald Dee, F
Ken Spain, C
John Clawson, G
James King, F


11. 1948 London

Adolph Rupp served as an assistant coach on a team that preferred to squeeze the air out of the basketball and feed the post with Groza, Kurland and Barksdale.

Record: 8–0
USA ppg: 65.5
OPP. ppg: 32.0
Avg. Margin: 33.5 ppg
Gold Medal Game: France (65–21)

Coach: Omar Browning, Phillips 66ers
Player, Pos. (Stats):
Alex Groza, C (11.1 ppg)
Robert Kurland, C (9.3 ppg)
Don Barksdale, F (9.0 ppg)
R.C. Pitts, F
Raymond Lumpp, G
Wallace Jones, F
Gordon Carpenter, F
Vincent Boryla, G
Jesse Renick, G
Lewis Beck, G
Kenneth Rollins, G
Clifford Barker, F
Ralph Beard, G
Jack Robinson, G


12. 1952 Helsinki

NIBL coach Warren Womble had a team that revolved around Lovellette — the first player in history to win championships at the NCAA, NBA and Olympic levels.

Record: 8–0
USA ppg: 70.3
OPP. ppg: 50.8
Avg. Margin: 19.5 ppg
Gold Medal Game: Soviet Union (36–25)

Coach: Warren Womble, Peoria Caterpillars
Player, Pos. (Stats):
Clyde Lovellette, F (14.1 ppg)
Robert Kenney, G (10.9 ppg)
Robert Kurland, C (9.6 ppg)
Ronald Bontemps, G
Dan Pippin, G
Marcus Freiberger, C
William Hougland, G
Wayne Glasgow, G
William Lienhard, F
Frank McCabe, F
Howard Williams, G
Charles Hoag, G
John Keller, F
Melvin Kelley, G


13. 1936 Berlin

The first Team USA is the worst gold medal squad in history. In fairness, the game has evolved quite a bit since the Olympics’ top team averaged less than 40 points per game.

Record: 5–0
USA ppg: 38.0
OPP. ppg: 17.3
Avg. Margin: 17.0 ppg
Gold Medal Game: Canada (19–8)

Coach: James Needles, Universal Pictures
Player, Pos. (Stats):
Joe Fortenberry, C (14.5 ppg)
Frank Lubin, F (11.0 ppg)
Francis Johnson, G (10.0 ppg)
Sam Balter, G
Willard Schmidt, C
John Gibbons, G
Carl Shy, G
William Wheatley, F
Jack Ragland, G
Carl Knowles, F
Art Mollner, G
Ralph Bishop, G
Don Piper, G
Duane Swanson, F


Silver Screwed

The only Team USA to lose a Gold Medal Game refused to accept their silver medals.

14. 1972 Munich

Controversy reigned supreme, as biased officiating led to the fist loss in USA Olympic men’s basketball history.

Record: 8–1
USA ppg: 77.3
OPP. ppg: 44.6
Avg. Margin: 32.7 ppg
Loss: Soviet Union (51–50)

Coach: Henry Iba, Oklahoma State University
Player, Pos. (Stats):
Thomas Henderson, G (9.2 ppg)
Bobby Jones, C (9.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Mike Bantom, F (7.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
Jim Brewer, F (7.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
Doug Collins, G (7.3 ppg)
Tom McMillen, F
Ed Ratleff, F
Kevin Joyce, G
James Forbes, F
Dwight Jones, C
Tommy Burleson, C
Kenny Davis, G


Bronze Busts

Unlike the 1972 squad, these two disappointments have no excuse for failing to even advance to the Gold Medal Game.

15. 1988 Seoul

Team USA was no match for a Soviet Union roster of grown men — including 7-footer Arvydas Sabonis and wingman Sarunas Marciulionis.

Record: 7–1
USA ppg: 91.6
OPP. ppg: 61.3
Avg. Margin: 30.3 ppg
Loss: Soviet Union (82–76)

Coach: John Thompson, Georgetown University
Player, Pos. (Stats):
David Robinson, C (12.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.4 bpg)
Dan Majerle, G (14.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
Danny Manning, F (11.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
Mitch Richmond, G (8.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
Hersey Hawkins, G (8.8 ppg)
Charles E. Smith, G
Charles D. Smith, F
Vernell Coles, G
Jeff Grayer, G
J.R. Reid, F
Willie Anderson, G
Stacey Augmon, F


16. 2004 Athens

Larry Brown used the same starting lineup for all eight games — riding Iverson, Marbury, Odom, Jefferson and Duncan to an embarrassing 5–3 record while the 22-and-under crew of LeBron, D-Wade, Carmelo and Amare spent most of their time on the bench. After all, Brown is notorious for not playing young guys. He showed them. He showed us all.

The 2004 Athens Olympics was easily the worst showing in Team USA history.

Record: 5–3
USA ppg: 88.1
OPP. ppg: 83.5
Avg. Margin: 4.6 ppg
Losses: Puerto Rico (92–73), Lithuania (94–90), Argentina (89–81)

Coach: Larry Brown, Detroit Pistons
Player, Pos. (Stats):
Allen Iverson, G (13.8 ppg, 37.8 FG%)
Tim Duncan, C (12.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg)
Stephon Marbury, G (10.5 ppg, 3.4 apg)
Shawn Marion, F (9.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
Lamar Odom, F (9.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
Richard Jefferson, F
Dwyane Wade, G
Carlos Boozer, F
LeBron James, F
Amare Stoudemire, C
Carmelo Anthony, F
Emeka Okafor, C

by Nathan Rush
 

Teaser:
<p> Ranking the 16 USA Men’s Basketball Teams in Olympic History. Could the 2012 Team USA beat the 1992 Dream Team?</p>
Post date: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 12:50
Path: /mlb/2012-major-league-baseball-power-rankings-july-23-0
Body:

Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for July 23, 2012.

  1. Rangers—Still the scariest team in the American League.

 2. Reds—Back-to-back weekend sweeps, one without Votto.

 3. Yankees—Vaunted offense couldn’t solve Oakland pitching.

 4. Nationals—Recovered from coughing up a 9-0 lead on Friday.

 5. Pirates—Sweep Marlins, but gain no ground on Reds.

 6. Dodgers—Four games at St. Louis before critical series at San Fran.

 7. Braves—Needed to gain ground vs. Nats, but lost last two for split.

 8. Tigers—Turned 3.5-game deficit to 1.5-game lead in five days.

 9. Angels—Took two of three from Texas, 10 games remain with Rangers.

10. Giants—Still 12 games remaining with the Dodgers.

11. Orioles—Most road wins in the American League.

12. Cardinals—Beat up on Cubs, but still five games back of Cincinnati.

13. White Sox—Outscored 30-9 during recent five-game losing streak.

14. A’s—Currently tied for second wild card spot. Amazing.

15. Rays—Offense? Lost two 2-1 games to Seattle over weekend.

16. Blue Jays—Swept by Yankees, then swept the Red Sox.

17. Red Sox—Big Papi now injured, Lester awful. What next for Sox?

18. Diamondbacks—Devoured Houston pitching for 33 runs in three weekend games.

19. Indians—4.5 games back is largest deficit for Tribe in 2012.

20. Mets—Lost eight of nine since break, now Nats coming to town.

21. Brewers—Trade talks will intensify this week.

22. Mariners—12-10 vs. three first place teams in AL.

23. Marlins—Seems like a long time since Fish were tied for first on June 3.

24. Phillies—One of three NL teams with a losing home record.

25. Royals—Most doubles in the majors (40) in July.

26. Twins—No. 6 in AL attendance; fans performing better than players.

27. Padres—Signed Carlos Quentin to long-term deal rather than trade him.

28. Cubs—Were playing much better until trip to St. Louis.

29. Rockies—Jamie Moyer’s 5.70 ERA second among pitchers with 10 starts.

30. Astros—10-player deal with Toronto, for what?

Teaser:
<p> A look at the best and worst baseball teams in the league.</p>
Post date: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 12:50
All taxonomy terms: Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /golf/ernie-els-vs-phil-mickelson
Body:

Ernie Els' win in the British Open marked the fourth major championship of his remarkable career, and the third decade in which he's won a major. He's now tied with Phil Mickelson in career majors, which begs the question: Who's the second-best player of the Tiger Woods era in golf? A side-by-side comparison doesn't exactly clear things up, but let's try it anyway. 

The Case for Mickelson
• 40 career PGA Tour wins, tied for ninth all time 
• Three Masters wins, tied for fourth-most all time
• 33 top-10 finishes in major championships
• A record five second-place finishes at the U.S. Open
• Five runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour money list
• Multiple PGA Tour wins in 13 seasons

The Case for Els
• 19 PGA Tour wins, 27 European Tour wins
• Multiple Open wins on both sides of the Atlantic, joining Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Walter Hagen, Lee Trevino and Bobby Jones
• 33 top-10 finishes in major championships
• Two Orders of Merit for top money-winner on the European Tour
• The all-time money leader on the European Tour
• Unlike Mickelson, Els briefly ascended to the top spot in the World Golf Ranking on three separate occasions

The Intangibles
Mickelson's go-for-broke style, one that has produced heroic shots like the pine straw 5-iron at The Masters, has earned him many fans, but it has also given rise to some truly tragic moments, like his 72nd hole meltdown at Winged Foot when that elusive first U.S. Open win was in his grasp. Even throughout the Woods era, Lefty has been the people's choice, a latter-day Arnold Palmer who has thrilled and disappointed his throngs of followers in equal measure. His legendary short game is pure magic, but his persistent wildness off the tee is identifiable for duffers everywhere. Mickelson's battle with arthritis and wife Amy's battle with breast cancer have added to his everyman appeal.
Els' effortless game gives off a totally different vibe. His smooth, syrupy swing is the game's gold standard, in a class all time with Sam Snead's. His relatable struggles with the putter also endear him to his legion of fans, and his son's battle with autism has linked him to a worthy cause.
Both guys exude class, although there are persistent whispers among Tour insiders that Lefty isn't all that popular with his fellow players (FIGJAM, anyone?).

The Verdict
It's close, but we'll go with Mickelson. His three wins in the world's most prestigious tournament — one of which denied Els a lone Masters win — nudge him slightly ahead of Els' multiple Open wins. Lefty hasn't distinguished himself in Ryder Cup play, but he has outshined Els at the Presidents Cup, giving him an edge in international team competition. Lefty has come close more often in majors, with 18 top-3 finishes to Els' 14. 
Els has probably had a greater worldwide impact, but Mickelson has been the slightly better player.
What do you think?

By Rob Doster
Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 11:23
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Overtime
Path: /mlb/joe-mauer-fan-shaves-name-number-back-hair
Body:

 

A Twins fan in Kansas City proudly displays his back hair, which is shaved with Joe Mauer's name and number. Awesome? Stupid? Awesomely stupid? We'll let you decide.

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 08:57
All taxonomy terms: Minnesota Vikings, NFC, NFC North, NFL
Path: /nfl/minnesota-vikings-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Minnesota Vikings check in at No. 30.

Immersed in one of the darkest times in franchise history, the Vikings are looking for even the slightest optimism to energize the fan base. This reclamation project could take awhile. Save a few moving parts, this is still the same team that has one divisional win since 2010. But the Vikings have done enough through free agency and the draft to improve from last season’s 3–13 collapse. After more than a dozen free agent signings and 10 draft picks, depth should bolster positions of need such as cornerback, wide receiver and offensive line.

It’s not every player’s fault the Vikings fell apart last season. Some of the game’s brightest wear purple on Sundays. But let’s be honest: The Vikings entered the offseason with far more questions than answers.

That’s just fine with the three monsters in the NFC North that have made a recent habit of devouring the Vikings. 

Offense

Whether Adrian Peterson recovers from his torn anterior cruciate ligament in time for Week 1 or Week 8, the Vikings can’t wait for the game’s best rusher to play savior. The league’s 28th-ranked passing offense must catch up with the rest of the league — and it has a fighting chance to do just that.

Hopes hinge on quarterback Christian Ponder, who throws well on the move and converts key third downs but has struggled with decision-making late in games. It’s all about timing with Ponder — when to have confidence in his strong arm and when to be conservative.

Ponder should have more to work with this year. As should do-it-all receiver Percy Harvin, who is best suited for the slot but will be used all over the field once again.

Receiver Jerome Simpson’s elite athleticism makes him worth the risk of a one-year deal despite his three-game suspension to start the 2012 season. Simpson’s arrival allows veteran Michael Jenkins, a reliable possession receiver who sometimes struggles to beat man coverage, to slide into the third receiver spot.

The Vikings have invested in tight end help, hoping the John Carlson-Kyle Rudolph combination channels the Gronk-Hernandez show in New England. Carlson is good against zone coverage and is more quick than fast, but he won’t blow by anybody. Rudolph’s ridiculous hands and pass-catching radius offset his lack of speed. Don’t be surprised if he becomes the team’s best red zone option.

When it comes to instant improvement, look no further than the offensive line. First-round left tackle Matt Kalil has the agility and technique to be an elite pass-protector and allows Charlie Johnson, who’s tough but limited at tackle because of short arms, to slide to left guard. Couple the new left side with center John Sullivan (who improved his strength to handle nose tackles) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (a solid run-blocker who struggles with speed-rushers but is motivated entering a contract year), and the offensive line should keep Ponder upright more often than it was able to last season.

The Vikings are counting on Toby Gerhart, who thrives off carries in bulk and can wear teams down with a bowling-ball mentality. But if Peterson misses extended time, the Vikings will miss terribly his ability to take over games. Expect Peterson’s pass-catching role to increase upon his return. 

Related: Top Minnesota Vikings Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Not even four Jared Allens up front could have masked Minnesota’s historically bad secondary a year ago, when opposing quarterbacks enjoyed a 107.6 passer rating.

Defensive coordinator Alan Williams should have more help, but the Vikings are choosing to count on third-year cornerback Chris Cook, who twice found legal trouble in 2011. Corners who are 6'2" with natural ability to cover on an island are hard not to play. Reliability is Cook’s issue. Veteran Antoine Winfield turned 35 in June but is still one of the team’s better tacklers and, when healthy, wreaks havoc in the slot. 

The Vikings are counting on two rookies — safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Josh Robinson — to help revamp the secondary. The speedy Robinson has adequate coverage ability but must prove he’s polished. Smith is polished but must prove he has adequate coverage ability. Second-year safety Mistral Raymond wasn’t ready last season but should compete for a spot this year. 

The strength of the defense remains up front, where Allen, tackle Kevin Williams and end Brian Robison return to a unit that tied for the league lead with 50 sacks. Despite getting overpowered at times, Robison is an emerging end with above-average quickness. Williams has played through injury the last two seasons and can still dominate games at times. He’ll need help from Letroy Guion, who’s expected to start at nose tackle despite four uneven seasons. Coaches believe his move from three-technique tackle to nose will best utilize his 6'4", 303-pound frame to gobble up rushing lanes. 

Questions persist at linebacker, where Jasper Brinkley, the replacement for E.J. Henderson, has limited experience and is coming off hip surgery. Brinkley is an aggressive hitter and solid against the run, but can he consistently cover tight ends? 
Chad Greenway is solid in coverage, but despite being a sure tackler and team leader, he was quiet in the big-play department a year ago. Maybe a better secondary can help clean up the backfield mess that left linebackers vulnerable. 

Erin Henderson can play in nickel or base packages and has major upside. In the past, he’s been prone to leave his gap in search of a home run play. 

Specialists

Kicker Ryan Longwell was released, opening the door for sixth-round pick Blair Walsh, who has a tremendous leg but was inconsistent in his final season at Georgia.

Harvin is the Vikings’ best kick return option, but he’s too valuable on offense. Third-string running back Jordan Todman or fourth-round receiver Jarius Wright could help matters. Robinson returned punts in college and might compete with last year’s return man, Marcus Sherels. 

Final Analysis: 4th in the NFC North

The Vikings are rebuilding at the worst possible time, with all three NFC North rivals capable of double-digit-win seasons. But things can’t get much worse than in 2011, when an 0–4 start despite dominating teams in first halves deflated the entire season, and injuries plagued several positions. After losing nine games by seven points or less, this team seems due for a few breaks. If the Vikings stay healthy and produce a top-15 offense, six wins are a starting point. The running game is still stout, the defensive line is still among the league’s top 10, and a veteran-laden locker room is tired of losing. But two of the biggest concerns from a year ago — sub-par play at receiver and in the secondary — are still relatively uncertain. It’s hard to win that way, unless a few young players surprise.

Related: 2012 Minnesota Vikings Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Family Affair
First-round left tackle Matt Kalil has been groomed for success. His dad, Frank, played one season with the Buffalo Bills and four years in the now-defunct USFL. His mother, Cheryl, was Miss California in 1981. Brother Ryan is a Pro Bowl center for the Panthers. The spotlight should be no problem for the Vikings’ new tackle.

Call of Duty
Coach Leslie Frazier got a call from well-respected Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome around the time the Vikings were wrapping up a 3–13 season. Newsome’s message? Trust the process, keep working and things will turn. Frazier, entering his second full year, believes the Vikings have great potential.

Just Short
The Vikings were one of eight NFL teams without a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver in 2011. Injuries limited Adrian Peterson to 970 yards, well short of his 1,446-yard yearly average through his first four seasons. Percy Harvin led all Vikings receivers with 967 yards. 

Building Chemistry
Quarterback Christian Ponder has wasted little time getting to know his veteran teammates since joining the team in 2011. He’s been hunting with linebacker Chad Greenway and center John Sullivan in Greenway’s hometown of Mount Vernon, S.D. He’s cooked barbecue with tight end John Carlson. And he’s golfed with several teammates. 
Top this Speaking of Allen, don’t expect last year’s sack leader with 22 — a half-sack shy of Michael Strahan’s single-season NFL record — to predict a sack total for 2012. Allen believes if he’s trying to get sacks, he won’t get sacks. Beating left tackles with technique and relentless play is Allen’s primary concern on the field. The rest takes care of itself.

Window Closed
After four straight years ranking in the top two in rushing defense (2006-09), the Vikings fell to ninth in 2010 and 11th last year. Minnesota’s going on its third nose tackle in as many years and will have difficulty cracking the top five again. 

Teammates for Life
The Vikings’ pair of fourth-round receivers, Arkansas’ Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, have known each other since the third grade growing up in Warren, Ark. “They are reminding me, ‘Coach, we’ve always been winners. Everywhere we went,’” Frazier says. “I said, ‘Hallelujah!’ We’ll take that.” 

Aisle-Seat RB
While recovering from his torn ACL this offseason, running back Adrian Peterson spent lots of time in airplanes because of his choice to rehab in two places: at Minnesota’s practice facility and his offseason home in Houston. “I stick to the plan wherever I am,” said Peterson during the offseason. “In both places, I’m being pushed hard and I’m pushing myself hard. So, I think it’s working out well.”

Rock Bottom
Want to improve in 2011? Try improving this stat line: NFC North quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler combined to complete 72.3 percent of their passes for 1,457 yards, 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Vikings last season. 

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Tues., July 24

Order your 2012 Minnesota Vikings Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Minnesota Vikings Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Minnesota Vikings Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Minnesota Vikings 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 08:30

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