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Path: /mlb/2012-major-league-baseball-power-rankings-june-4-2012
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Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for June 4, 2012.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 8. Yankees—Fewest blown saves in the majors.

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

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

11. Reds—Bolted into first place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29. Padres—Only franchise without no-hitter.

30. Cubs—Trade talks heating up in Chicago.

Teaser:
<p> A look at the best and worst baseball teams in the league.</p>
Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 14:25
All taxonomy terms: Jack Nicklaus, Rickie Fowler, Tiger Woods, Golf, News
Path: /golf/vintage-tiger-woods
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For any other player, it would have been a career-defining moment. For Tiger Woods, it was just another Sunday — even if those Sunday moments have become a little more rare lately. 

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

Tiger's host was suitably impressed.

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

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

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

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

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

What's next?

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

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

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

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

Teaser:
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Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 08:52
Path: /college-football/lsu-or-usc-which-team-will-be-college-footballs-no-1-team-2012
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Athlon's College Football Top 25 countdown for 2012 concludes on Tuesday with the release of No. 1 and No. 2. LSU and USC were picked by Athlon's staff to play in the national championship game - but which team should be ranked No. 1?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related College Football Content

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

2012 College Football Rankings: No. 7 Georgia

2012 College Football Rankings: No. 10 South Carolina

Teaser:
<p> Will LSU or USC finish No. 1 in 2012?</p>
Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 05:44
Path: /college-football/acc-expansion-no-buyers-remorse
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Some might say it’s a darn good thing Pittsburgh and Syracuse cast their lots with the ACC last September, because if the conference had seen how the 2011 football season turned out for the schools, it might have had second thoughts by January. Big second thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And maybe a problem.

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

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

New York Giants 2012 Schedule:

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

Order your 2012 New York Giants Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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

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

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

Miami Dolphins 2012 Schedule:

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

Order your 2012 Miami Dolphins Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— by Mark Ross, published on June 4, 2012

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

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

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

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

NFC East
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Order your preseason Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Preview magazine

2012 NFL Bye Week Schedule:

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

Week 4: Indianapolis, Pittsburgh

Week 5: Dallas, Detroit, Oakland, Tampa Bay

Week 6: Carolina, Chicago, Jacksonville, New Orleans

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

Week 8: Baltimore, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Houston

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

Week 10: Arizona, Cleveland, Green Bay, Washington

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

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

2012 NFL Fantasy Rankings:

2012 Athlon Sports Big Board: Top 100

2012 Positional Rankings: QBs

2012 Positional Rankings: RBs

2012 Positional Rankings: WRs

2012 Positional Rankings: TEs

2012 NFL Schedule Analysis:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Jacksonville Jaguars

New Orleans Saints

Seattle Seahawks

Philadelphia Eagles

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Oakland Raiders

Indianapolis Colts

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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

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

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

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

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Not Buying the Post-Hype

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

Colorado Avalanche

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

The Farm Update

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

DL Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Jemile Weeks is questionable with his own hip injury.

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

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

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

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

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

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

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

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 20 fantasy Relief Pitchers of last month:

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

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

@bradengall

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

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


Scoring system rankings based upon -

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

Updated: August 12

Related College Fantasy Football Content

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not this time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


by Tom Bowles
Follow Tom on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Tom Bowles examines the reasons why many believe the racing in NASCAR's top division has been mundane in 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, June 1, 2012 - 13:02
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-alabama-no-3-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

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

To celebrate the Alabama Crimson Tide being named No. 3, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide continue the countdown at No. 3 with two preseason All-Americans and nine players selected as All-SEC performers. Athlon Sports predicts Alabama will finish second in the SEC’s Western Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

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

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

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

Alabama Team Preview

Alabama's Top 10 Players of 2012

Alabama’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Alabama Content

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

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

The Greatest Moments in Alabama Football History

Alabama Crimson Tide Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Alabama Rivals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Alabama Content

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

Will Alabama Repeat or Revert Back to its 2010 Record?

The Greatest Players in Alabama Football History Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Alabama Football History

Alabama Crimson Tide Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Alabama Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Friday, June 1, 2012 - 05:59
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Indianapolis Colts, NFL
Path: /nfl/indianapolis-colts-2012-schedule-analysis
Body:

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

Indianapolis Colts 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: at Chicago
Week 2: Minnesota
Week 3: Jacksonville
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Green Bay
Week 6: at New York Jets
Week 7: Cleveland
Week 8: at Tennessee
Week 9: Miami
Week 10: at Jacksonville (Thur.)
Week 11: at New England
Week 12: Buffalo
Week 13: at Detroit
Week 14: Tennessee
Week 15: at Houston
Week 16: at Kansas City
Week 17: Houston

Order your 2012 Indianapolis Colts Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- The Chosen One will begin his NFL career by facing two of the great pass rushers of this generation in Julius Peppers and Jared Allen. The odds of Andrew Luck having ever faced anything close to those two in the Pac-12 is slim and none. Chicago is about as bad a match-up for an NFL debut as there is in the league this year. Best of Luck, rook.

- There is good news, however, as the Vikings have little else around Allen to scare Luck, Jacksonville sits in Week 3 and the bye week comes quick in Week 4. Facing the Jags and Vikes when he does, followed by an off week to catch his breath, should help ease Luck into his first NFL season — if he survives the law firm of Urlacher, Peppers, McClellin, Tillman and Briggs in Week 1. Additionally, Luck, and the rest of the young Colts, will need that bye to prepare for the Packers’ and Jets’ complicated 3-4 defenses in Week 5 and 6.

- Having to face the Houston Texans twice each season will be brutal for the new regime in Indy, especially, as both games fall within the final three weeks of the regular season. But the other four games within the division are winnable. Jacksonville poses no real threat and the Titans, as fans saw last year, can be beaten by the Colts even without Peyton Manning. If Indianapolis doesn’t want the worst record in football again, it will have to win a couple of games within the AFC South.

- Playing the AFC East offers its own unique challenge, like visiting Tom Brady and the Patriots in November. But getting Buffalo and Miami at home is a blessing and the Jets have a tendency to play up (or down) to their competition. A 2-2 record in round-robin action with the East wouldn’t be all that crazy, a statement that if made a year ago would be asinine.

- Indianapolis got no favors by having to face the NFC North this fall. The defenses, other than Chicago, aren’t exactly stifling, but offensively this could be arguably the best division in football. With potentially three teams making the playoffs, the Colts are likely to finish 1-3 against the NFC. As stated, the season starts with two NFC North teams and Green Bay comes to the Oil Drum in Week 5. Not until Week 13 do the Colts finally visit Detroit to take on quarterback Matthew Stafford and a potent Lions' offense.

- The two floating games within the AFC are also an added bonus for the rebuilt Colts organization. Cleveland visits Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 7 and Indy will travel to Kansas City in Week 16. Both would certainly be considered winnable games at this stage of the summer.

- As an interesting side note, Luck and the Colts will face 10 straight quarterbacks who were drafted in the first round to start the season (assuming that Jake Locker is in the line-up by Week 8). Strangely enough, the best two teams in the AFC, the Patriots and Texans, will feature two signal callers not drafted in the first round.

Fantasy Focus: If you are drafting Andrew Luck, or any other rookie from the Colts for that matter, be patient, even more so than usual. The first month of the season is going to be brutal for Luck, but the schedule eases up as the year goes along. Expect Luck to be owned in most leagues by the halfway mark as he is slated to play Cleveland, Tennessee, Miami and Jacksonville in four straight during the heart of the off weeks. And, honestly, there is only one elite defense on the schedule after Week 7, Houston (twice).

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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

Teaser:
<p> Indianapolis Colts 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Friday, June 1, 2012 - 03:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, Oakland Raiders, NFL
Path: /nfl/oakland-raiders-2012-schedule-analysis
Body:

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

Oakland Raiders 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: San Diego (Mon.)
Week 2: at Miami
Week 3: Pittsburgh
Week 4: at Denver
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: at Atlanta
Week 7: Jacksonville
Week 8: at Kansas City
Week 9: Tampa Bay
Week 10: at Baltimore
Week 11: New Orleans
Week 12: at Cincinnati
Week 13: Cleveland
Week 14: Denver (Thur.)
Week 15: Kansas City
Week 16: at Carolina
Week 17: at San Diego

Order your 2012 Oakland Raiders Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- Fans have to go back to 2007 to find the last time that Week 1 on the NFL season didn’t end with an AFC West Monday night divisional showdown. The Raiders will begin the season on primetime TV as the second Monday night game by hosting the San Diego Chargers. As a fan without a dog in the hunt, I am a huge proponent of the late night West Coast divisional battles to wrap-up the season’s first weekend. The last three have been decided by one touchdown or less with a grand total of 14 points separating victory from defeat.

- Strangely, the Raiders won’t face the Chargers again until the season finale as San Diego bookends the Black and Silver this year. After the Chargers visit Denver in Week 4 and Kansas City in Week 8, the Raiders won’t face an AFC West foe until Week 14. Three of the final four games, however, will come against divisional opponents: Denver (home), Kansas City (home) and San Diego (road). Since there is no dominate team in the West this year, Oakland merely needs to hang around .500 until the final quarter-leg of the season — where it could win a division crown with a few upsets.

- Maintaining an even win-loss record will be impeded by the round robin with the AFC North. Having to visit Baltimore and Cincinnati in November is never an easy task and hosting Pittsburgh early in the year certainly poses a big challenge. Cleveland at home in Week 13 is the only “easy” game in the bunch. A 2-2 record against the North would likely be looked upon as a big success.

- In crossover play, the Raiders will face the NFC South. But this shouldn’t be nearly as difficult as facing the AFC North. New Orleans is reeling and could struggle on defense this year and has to face Oakland on the road. Tampa Bay makes one of the longest trips in the NFL when it comes to the Bay Area. And the road trip to Carolina is a flip of the coin. A trip to Atlanta looks like the only sure loss in the group.

- Oakland will play a road game every other week of the season until the final five weeks. In Week 13 the Raiders will begin a three-game homestand, something most teams will not have in 2012, when it hosts Cleveland, Denver and Kansas City. The Denver game comes on a short week on a Thursday and likely led to the schedule makers giving Oakland three straight at home. To compensate, the NFL has forced the Black and Silver to play back-to-back road games to end the year. A 3,000-mile trip to face Cam Newton in Carolina won’t be easy and a quick jaunt down to San Diego to finish the year could carry heavy implications.

- The bye week comes at an opportune time between two road games against excellent quarterbacks in Denver and Atlanta. With the Steelers’ game leading into the battle with Peyton Manning, the bye week should fall at just the right time for the new coaching staff following what should be two brutally physical contests.

- A road trip to Miami and a home game against Jacksonville are the two floating games on the slate this year. That has to have Raiders fans excited about their chances to compete for a wild-card berth.

Fantasy Focus: Here is some advice for owners targeting Darren McFadden, Denarius Moore or Carson Palmer: Don’t give up on your guys. The first month will be tough with games against four quality defenses before the off week. But with Jacksonville, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Carolina and Kansas City left after Week 7 (if Run DMC can survive), the Raiders' fantasy options should have solid second halves. 

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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

Teaser:
<p> Oakland Raiders 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Friday, June 1, 2012 - 03:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, jokes
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-alabama-rivals
Body:

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

• What's the difference between a litter of puppies and Auburn fans?
Eventually puppies grow up and stop whining.

• What do you get when you cross Ole Miss with a groundhog?
Six more weeks of bad football.

• How many Auburn freshmen does it take to change a light bulb?
None. That’s a sophomore course.

• Where was O.J. headed in the white Bronco?
Tennessee. He knew that the police would never look there for a Heisman Trophy winner.

• Why don’t LSU fans eat barbecue beans?
Because they keep falling through the holes in the grill.

• The Foo Fighters are playing at Vaught-Hemingway this fall.
They're 10-point favorites.

• What do you call 20 Auburn fans skydiving from an airplane?
Skeet.

• Why is Mississippi State replacing the grass at Davis Wade Stadium with cardboard?
The Bulldogs always look better on paper.

• Things you will never hear an Auburn fan say:
I just couldn’t find a thing at Walmart today. 

Teaser:
<p> JOKES ABOUT ALABAMA RIVALS</p>
Post date: Friday, June 1, 2012 - 02:02
All taxonomy terms: College Football, College Basketball, NFL, NBA, MLB
Path: /college-football/athlon%E2%80%99s-essential-eleven-links-day-2
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for June 1.

• It looks like the Red Sox will attempt to trade third baseman Kevin Youkilis.

• We all know that Boise State has the “smurf turf”, but will Maryland really play on a black field this season?

• CBS’ Brett McMurphy details the different college football playoff models that will be hotly debated this summer.

Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla thinks the Rockies should move All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to third base.

• SI.com’s Lee Jenkins breaks down last night’s Oklahoma City Thunder victory, the Spurs first loss since April 11.

• There is sad news in the basketball world today, as former Notre Dame and Bulls star Orlando Woolridge has passed away at the age of 52.

• We have no idea why some California taxpayers are upset that Justin Combs, son of millionaire hip-hop legend Sean “Diddy” Combs, is getting a football scholarship to UCLA.

• Fansided.com examines how long the surprising Baltimore Orioles can stay in the AL East race.

• Former Steelers receiver Hines Ward will join the NBC this fall and be a part of the Sunday night NFL studio show.

• Some good college basketball matchups were announced today, with the SEC/Big East Challenge taking place from Nov. 29-Dec. 1.

• As you all know, the first Friday in June is always National Donut Day. So to celebrate, we give you everyone’s favorite donut connoisseur in our Video of the Day…

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


May 31

• With the league-owned New Orleans Hornets winning the No. 1 overall draft pick, Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski addresses another chapter in a long-debated topic — is the NBA Draft Lottery rigged?

• Kentucky's John Calipari kills the Indiana basketball rivalry for a second time this spring.

• ESPN SEC blogger Chris Low has a witty response to Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg’s piece on the league he covers and a college football playoff. Battle at the Mothership?

• Mandatory.com has a slideshow of the worst infomercial products ever. I mean really, the Potty Putter?!

• The Colts were the NFL’s most consistent winner over the past decade until Peyton Manning’s injury in 2011. Now with No. 18 in Denver, the franchise is hiring a marketing firm to sell tickets and avoid blackouts.

• The Dodgers have had a great 2012 so far, but star Matt Kemp going back on the disabled list could be crushing.

• Deadspin says that sports fans are calling ESPN’s iPhone radio app a “money grab.”

• Is the window closing for the current stars of the Dallas Cowboys? Jerry Jones says he decides when and where the windows are for his team.

• Does the Big 12 want to stay with its current 10-team model?

• Life is just never normal in Allen Iverson’s world.

• We hate to see anyone get hurt, but some aspiring chefs and Hell's Kitchen viewers might enjoy this. During a charity soccer game, chef Gordon Ramsay is taken out by former Man U star Teddy Sheringham in our Video of the Day…

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


May 30

• HBO announced that the new season of the popular series “Hard Knocks” would feature the Miami Dolphins. We see the star of the show being Lauren Tannehill, the wife of first-round draft pick Ryan Tannehill.

• SEC coaches want the best four teams to play in the proposed college football playoff, not just conference champions.

• Steven Tyler has purchased the first-ever 2012 Hennessey Venom GT Spyder, not your average toy in the attic.

• Michigan verbal commit Logan Tuley-Tillman posted a picture on Twitter recently burning Ohio State recruiting material, causing some Buckeyes fans to taunt him on the internet. For any OSU fans that may want to go to Peoria, Illinois and meet him, Tuley-Tillman stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 314 pounds. Tread lightly.

• How well will Roy Oswalt fit with the Texas Rangers?

• Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report recaps Day 1 of the SEC meetings in Florida.

• The Phillies season keeps getting worse with the news that ace Roy Halladay’s will miss six-to-eight weeks with a shoulder injury.

• So how’s your Facebook stock doing? You can hear the Winklevii laughing from here.

• How does Mark Richt try to keep the state’s No. 1 recruit, Robert Nkemdiche, from leaving the state? Hire his former coach as Georgia’s “Director of On-Campus Recruiting”, of course. However Nkemdiche’s current coach played at Alabama, so the Dawgs may be done in by the Crimson Tide system.

• We end on a sad note. CBSSports.com Deputy Managing Editor Craig Stanke passed away yesterday at the age of 56. Senior baseball columnist Scott Miller pens a moving tribute.

• The next time your little leaguer makes an error, have him watch Pirates shortstop Josh Harrison’s throw to third base against the Reds. Wow. Here is our Video of the Day…

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


May 29

• Barry Bonds back in MLB?

• I got so excited when beer, bacon, cheese, and chicken wings were in the first sentence of a story. However, it quickly turned to disappointment with this crazed shoplifter. Also, who poses for a mug shot like it’s one of those “glamour” deals in the mall?

• The L.A. Kings public relations staff “out-tweets” Conan O’Brien.

• This was obviously before the Heat-Celtics series, but a Miami TV host has a rather interesting name for Philadelphia’s basketball team. Hate to think what their logo would look like in her world.

• College baseball’s NCAA Tournament starts this week. Here’s the bracket, and make sure to check out some compelling competition and some future MLB stars before next week’s draft. 

• ESPN blogger Edward Aschoff has the latest from the SEC meetings in Destin.

• We often wonder exactly what world Metta World Peace lives in — or what calendar he uses.

• Is another Nick Fairley arrest a signal that the Lions have become the Bengals 2.0?

• The current Angels momentum could be derailed with a Jered Weaver injury.

• TCU’s depth has taken a hit as the Frogs prepare for Big 12 play.

• The Twins had a special moment over the Memorial Day weekend, reuniting Master Sgt. Robert Buresh — returning home from Afghanistan — with his daughters prior to the game. Here's our Video of the Day...

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 

Teaser:
<p> The best sports links from the NFL, college football and basketball, MLB, the NBA, NASCAR and the world of entertainment.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 20:41
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-dover
Body:

The two-week homestretch in Charlotte is now in the books and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the Monster Mile in Dover, Del., for Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks.

Not only is Dover one of the most demanding tracks on the NASCAR schedule, it also kicks off the seven-week summer stretch that takes the series to the newly-repaved tracks of Pocono and Michigan, the road course in Sonoma, night races at Kentucky and Daytona, then to New Hampshire before another break in the action.

Teams will be looking to build momentum towards the Chase for the Sprint Cup during this time. Some will try to maintain their spot in the top 10 in points, while those just on the outside will be looking to claw their way in.

At the same time, for those well outside the top 10, the name of the game is “Win, Win, Win.” The Wild Card aspect of the Chase will play a major role in the coming weeks as drivers and teams look to win their way into a spot in the championship battle.

First, those teams will have to conquer the Monster and survive Sunday's 400 miles around the high-banked concrete oval — which is no simple task … unless you drive with the Roush Fenway brigade.

The Roush cars have been stellar at Dover over the past 10 years, scoring six wins in that time. Current drivers Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth have all been to Victory Lane at Dover and enter the weekend as the organization to beat.

Kenseth, who sits second in points to Biffle, he is the defending race winner, and this week's fantasy favorite. All told, Kenseth has two wins, 12 top 5s and 17 top 10s in 26 Dover starts, giving him the second-best driver rating at the one-mile oval.

Not only does Kenseth have a stellar record at Dover, he describes the demanding track as his favorite on the schedule.

“The track is so fast and challenging, and it’s unique because of the way you drive up out of the turns,” Kenseth says. “The turns sit a bit lower than the straightaways and you can feel it when you’re driving out there.”

Dover is the type of track that suits Kenseth’s driving style, so look for him to surpass Biffle in the points while scoring his second win of the season.

While Biffle has maintained his points lead since the third race of the year, Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are steadily cutting into that lead.

One of the most consistent drivers this season, Biffle has bounced between finishes inside the top 5 and outside the top 10 week-to-week, of late. Following a fifth-place finish at Kansas, Biffle was 18th at Richmond. Then came a fifth at Talladega, followed by a 12th at Darlington, then a fourth in last Sunday's Coca-Cola 600.

While this trend might pass at such a strong track for Biffle, it is definitely worth keeping in the back of your head when setting your lineup.

Edwards has struggled to back up his near-championship run of 2011 through the first 12 races of the 2012 season. The Missouri native has one win at Dover and is coming off a ninth-place finish in Charlotte and is on a run of seven finishes of 11th or better in the last eight races.

What is striking about Edwards’ season, however, is he has led in only two races — one lap at Kansas and 206 at Richmond. In last year's races at Dover, Edwards led a combined 233 circuits, so look for him to produce when it comes time on Sunday.

Given the success of the Roush organization this season (and at Dover), it is very likely we could se a reply of the Sept. 2008 event in which Biffle, Kenseth and Edwards battled lap after lap for the win and swept the top-3 spots.

While the Roush cars may consistently be among the best, they will have to contend with six-time Dover winner Jimmie Johnson. The five-time series champion has the second-best average finish (9.3) at the Monster Mile, the series-best average running position (7.9), as well as the series-best driver rating, fastest laps run, average green flag speed and laps in the top 15. Not too shabby.

To boot, Johnson has been on quite the roll of late. His win at Darlington gave team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th career Cup win, his pit crew won the Sprint Pit Crew Challenge during All-Star week, he scored his third All-Star Race victory in Charlotte, and was in contention in the Coca-Cola 600 until a botched pit stop late in the race.

Heading to one of his best tracks on the circuit, Johnson will be looking to tie Bobby Allison and Richard Petty for the all-time winningest drivers at Dover. If his Chad Knaus-led pit crew can keep its composure and execute without mistakes, Johnson will factor.

Five Favorites: Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's FedEx 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 11:32
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-oregon-no-4-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

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

To celebrate the Oregon Ducks being named No. 4, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Chip Kelly’s Oregon Ducks continue the countdown at No. 4 with three preseason All-Americans and 11 players selected as All-Pac-12 performers. Athlon Sports predicts Oregon will finish first in the Pac-12’s Northern Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Heisman candidates Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, plus an improved defense have Oregon looking like the clear favorite in the North Division,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “The Ducks lost some big-time offensive stars, but Chip Kelly has built this program into a perennial title contender.”

Three Oregon standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with De'Anthony Thomas being voted to the first team at the all-purpose position. Defensive back John Boyett was named to the second team, and running back Kenjon Barner made the third team. In addition, the Ducks running backs unit was ranked No. 3 nationally and best in the Pac-12. The defensive line was rated No. 9 in the country and tops in the conference, while the offensive line was tabbed No. 8 and the linebackers’ group No. 10 in the nation.

Eleven Ducks earned preseason All-Pac-12 honors, including Boyett, Barner, defensive lineman Dion Jordan, linebacker Michael Clay and Thomas at both all-purpose and kick returner on the first team. Offensive lineman Nick Cody, defensive lineman Taylor Hart and punter Jackson Rice were named to the second team, while offensive lineman Carson York, linebacker Kiko Alonso and defensive back Terrance Mitchell garnered third-team honors.

Oregon Team Preview

Oregon's Top 10 Players of 2012

Oregon’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> <strong><span>Athlon Sports Names Oregon No. 4 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></strong></p>
Post date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 09:05
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/oregon-ducks-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The Oregon Ducks check in at No. 4 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: De’Anthony Thomas, RB (SO)
There may not be a more versatile, more explosive player in the nation than The Black Mamba. He proved his big-time play-making ability as only a freshman. He finished with 2,235 all-purpose yards and 18 total touchdowns. He averaged nearly 11 yards per carry on 55 attempts and caught 46 passes for 605 yards. His highlight reel talents were on full display in the 45-38 Rose Bowl win over the Badgers in which he touched the ball six times on offense for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas is listed as a wideout and running back and fans can bet Chip Kelly is much more confident in his open-field dynamo. Expect a heavy increase in touches in 2012.

Trap Game: at Cal (Nov. 10)
Berkeley hasn’t been a kind place for the Oregon Ducks. The closest regular season game Oregon played en route to it BCS national championship game appearance in 2010 was the 15-13 defensive struggle — which was the last time Oregon visited Cal. Before that, the Ducks had lost three games on the road against the Golden Bears. With Jeff Tedford’s back (and rear end) firmly placed against the wall in 2012, and a host of talented offensive weapons to utilize, Cal will be a dangerous out. Especially, considering when this game will be played. Oregon will have to get-up to compete after emptying the tank the previous week against USC in L.A. without looking ahead to a potentially huge battle with Stanford the following week. November 10 could be a dangerous day for Ducks faithful.

Upset Alert: at Washington State (Sept. 29)
Mike Leach won’t be messing around as he brings his air raid offense to Pullman, Wash. It should take very little time getting his team into a position to compete every week as Wazzu has a quality signal caller (when healthy) and a superstar wide receiver. Getting the Ducks early in the season helps the Cougars chance at pulling an upset because Carson York may not be fully healthy and the Ducks’ quarterback situation may still be unsettled. Oregon will need to be on full upset alert when they head to the semi-neutral field in Seattle, Wash. The Cougars have been able to score on Oregon of late, 52 points in last two losses, and were closer to the Ducks (43-28) last year than they have been since 2006.

Unsung Hero: Taylor Hart, DT (JR)
The junior nose guard started all 14 games along the defensive line a year ago and is one of the most dependable players in the conference. The 6-foot-6, 289-pounder registered 44 total tackles and 2.5 sacks en route to an honorable mention All-Pac-12 a year ago. He is fundamentally sound and never takes a snap off. His toughness and leadership makes him one of the most underrated players in the conference.

Biggest/Revenge Game: at USC (Nov. 3)
The first clash of West Coast titans will take place on the same day Alabama and LSU battle in Baton Rouge, La. The trip down to Los Angeles to face what could be the nation’s No. 1 team is the biggest game on the 2012 schedule for multiple reasons. First, the Trojans defeated the Ducks in Autzen Stadium a year ago — something no Duck has forgotten. The revenge factor will be in full effect. Second, home field advantage in the Pac-12 title game should be on the line. The Pac-12 is the only BCS league that plays its title game at a home site and earning its fourth straight conference crown will be much easier for Chip Kelly and company in the not-so-friendly confines of Autzen. Finally, not only could a Pac-12 title be on the line but a trip to the national title game could be at stake as well. There are two Games of the Century in college football this fall and they both take place on November 3.

Freshman To Watch: Arik Armstead, DL (FR)
The 6-foot-8, 297-pound monstrosity from Elk Grove, Calif., was a huge recruiting coup for Chip Kelly when he picked the Ducks over other Pac-12 powers. He is the No. 8 prospect in the nation and took very little time this spring proving his mettle. He is a basketball star and has the agility and raw athletic ability to match. Expect him to earn plenty of playing time in only his first year, considering the tendency of Nick Aliotti to rotate so many bodies.

Comeback Player: Carson York, OL (SR)
The senior offensive guard’s status heading into the fall might be the biggest story other than the quarterback battle the entire summer up in Eugene. The Ducks need the stud blocker to recover from his shredded knee, which he suffered in the Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. The injury was so vicious, however, that he may not be ready to roll until mid-season. York, when he returns to full strength, gives Oregon a tremendous baseball-style mid-season addition.

Defensive MVP: Michael Clay, LB (SR)
John Boyett certainly deserves plenty of praise for his ability to lead this defense and protect the back end, but Clay is the heart and soul of the front seven. The “cat-quick, cerebral player” lines-up at the most important position on the field. The San Jose, Calif., native is a bit undersized at 5-foot-11 and 219 pounds but is also incredibly productive. He finished 2011 with 102 total tackles, including 13 against Wisconsin, 8.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. Look for another steady, dependable, leadership-laden season from the senior linebacker.

Newcomer To Watch: Marcus Mariota, QB
The 6-foot-4, 196-pound signal caller from Honolulu, Hawaii, has a chance to be THE guy in Eugene this fall. He will be in a heated position battle with Bryan Bennett, but dramatically outplayed Bennett in the spring, completing 18-of-26 passes and scoring on a 82-yard romp. He has less experience (try none on the college level), but will undoubtedly elicit Dennis Dixon comparisons the second he takes a snap.

Battle To Watch: Bryan Bennett vs. Marcus Mariota, QB
Mariota is a tremendous athlete who played the best football in spring, but has only played one football season in the last four years (his senior year in high school). Bennett certainly didn’t play as well during the competition in spring but has much more experience after leading the Ducks back from a deficit against Arizona State and starting the Colorado game last fall. Mariota has the slight edge heading into summer camp, but you can bet all eyes in the Pac-12, particularly the defensive coordinators, will be watching this position battle closely. With an easy non-conference slate, expect Chip Kelly to attempt to settle on one name by Week 4 when Arizona comes to town.

Season Defining Moment: Pac-12 Championship Game
If the Ducks are going to win their fourth straight conference crown, they are going to have to top the USC Trojans — twice. While there are plenty of speed bumps in the Pac-12 North — Washington, at Washington State, at Cal, at Oregon State, Stanford — the Ducks still feel like the heavy favorite to make it to the league’s title game. So even if Oregon goes down to Los Angeles on November 3 and gets pummeled by the USC Trojans, Oregon can maintain its strangle hold of the conference, and earn its fourth straight BCS Bowl, by defeating the Men of Troy on Friday, November 30, in the Pac-12 Championship Game. And who knows, if they can beat USC twice, they could be playing for a trip to Miami Gardens.

Related Oregon Content

Oregon Ducks 2012 Team Preview
Oregon Ducks Top 10 Players for 2012

Bigger Loss for Oregon: LaMichael James or Darron Thomas

Oregon Ducks Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Oregon Football History

Oregon Ducks Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Oregon Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Oregon Ducks 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 05:59
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, News
Path: /college-football/lamichael-james-or-darron-thomas-which-oregon-footballs-bigger-loss
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 4 Oregon. The Ducks have to replace quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, but remain one of college football's top-five teams for 2012.

LaMichael James or Darron Thomas: Which is Oregon Football's Bigger Loss?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Considering the way Chip Kelly has been able to plug any combination into his backfield  with success over the years, the biggest loss for Oregon this season may be the receiving duo of Lavasier Tuinei and tight end David Paulson or linebacker Josh Kaddu and safety Eddie Pleasant on defense. Going back to Kelly’s days as offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, his quarterbacks consistently have been among the conference leaders in pass efficiency and total offense. Darron Thomas finishing ninth in the Pac-12 in total offense last season was an aberration and likely more a result of having James, Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas in the offense. Replacing running backs has been just as seamless for Kelly’s offense from Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson to LeGarrette Blount to James and part-time work for Barner. Statistically, the Barner and Thomas combo still gives Oregon the big-play ability vacated by James -- James broke off a 20-yard run every 13 carries (Barner/Thomas did it every 16 carries); James ran for at least 10 yards every 5.5 carries (Barner/Thomas did it every 5.8 carries). Of course, most of those runs of at least 20 yards came from DeAnthony Thomas, not to mention Thomas’ contributions to the passing game. I’d argue the sophomore Thomas is the key to the offense more than Darron Thomas or James. I would say James is the bigger loss to the Oregon offense only because it cuts into the big-play ability that has taken Oregon to the top of the Pac-12. The conventional wisdom would be the departure of a veteran quarterback would be the bigger loss, but if Thomas was going to need to fight off competition from Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota this offseason anyway, it shows the quarterbacks were even more interchangeable than we thought.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This one is easy, quarterback Darron Thomas will be much harder to replace than running back LaMichael James. First, running backs are much easier to replace, find and develop than a quarterback. James was a remarkable player, a Heisman Finalist, a Doak Walker Award winner and led the nation in rushing twice in his three-year career. But Pac-12 defensive coordinators aren't taking any deep breaths now that James is gone. No, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas are the West Coast's version of Trent Richardson. The transition from James to Barner/Thomas should be just as seamless as Mark Ingram to T-Rich. Barner has played 36 games but only started three times. Yet, when he did start, he was nearly as productive as James. Try 58 carries, three receptions, 433 yards rushing, 102 yards receiving and eight total touchdowns in three starts. And while Barner will play the more conventional role, fans can expect Thomas to the be the brightest star, and, like Richardson, might be as good if not better than James. As a true freshman, Thomas rolled-up 2,235 all-purpose yards and scored 18 total touchdowns. There will be little to no drop-off with the Black Mamba.

While the quarterback position hasn't been difficult to fill for Chip Kelly either, replacing Thomas will most assuredly be more complicated. First, Barner and Thomas have loads of experience and talent while Thomas replacements Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota have a combined one career start and 46 career pass attempts (all from Bennett). Both are talented options, likely are more athletic than Thomas and both should execute the Kelly offense well enough to compete for a Pac-12 title. But can the match his production while battling each other for playing time?

Thomas' production still feels wildly underrated. His 66 career touchdown passes top the school record book while his 5,910 yards passing are seventh all-time. He accounted for 71 total touchdowns in two seasons and is one of only three players in Pac-12 history to throw at least 30 touchdown passes in two seasons (Matt Leinart, Andrew Luck). He led the Ducks to back-to-back conference crowns, its first-ever BCS National Championship appearance and capped his career with Oregon's second Rose Bowl title (1917). No pressure for a redshirt freshman and a sophomore.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though LaMichael James was a special player, I think Darron Thomas is a bigger loss for the Ducks. Good skill players are never easy to replace, but finding a new starting quarterback always provides for more headaches for coaching staffs.

Even though Bryan Bennett started one game last year, Colorado didn’t represent the toughest competition in the Pac-12. Bennett also played well in relief of Thomas against Arizona State and Washington State, but has yet to start for a full season. Marcus Mariota made a push for playing time in the spring and seems likely to begin fall practice as the No. 1 quarterback. Whether it’s Mariota or Bennett, I think Oregon will be in good hands at the quarterback position. However, anytime you have to break in a new starter under center, there is a transition period.

James was one of college football’s top players during his career, but the ground attack won’t miss a beat with Thomas and Barner leading the way. Oregon has produced a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the last five seasons and return two capable running backs in De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner.

The Ducks shouldn’t suffer much (if any) of a drop off in the transition from Thomas and James to Mariota/Bennett and Thomas/Barner. However, the new quarterback has yet to make a start in a road environment like USC, California or Washington State. Having Thomas’ experience could have been enough for Oregon to topple the Trojans in the Pac-12 pecking order this year. Chip Kelly’s high-powered attack might suffer a few hiccups with a new quarterback early in the year, but should rank near the top of the nation in scoring by the end of the season.

Mark Ross
Darron Thomas, hands down. Yes Chip Kelly lost a 5,000-yard rusher in James, but the Ducks' backfield cupboard is anything but bare. First there's Kenjon Barner, a senior who nearly rushed for 1,000 yards himself last season and for his career is averaging better than six yards per carry.

While Barner may be the starter, he may not finish the season as Oregon's top rusher. Barner will share the load with De'Anthony Thomas, the ridiculously talented sophomore who rushed for 155 yards on just two carries in the Ducks' Rose Bowl win, and averaged nearly 16 yards every time he touched the ball (rushing attempts, receptions, punt and kickoff returns) in 2011. He also scored 18 touchdowns (seven rushing, nine receiving, two on kickoff returns) as a freshman. There's not a coach in the country who wouldn't love to have Kelly's "problem" at running back.

As far as quarterback goes, Kelly has, well Kelly's not really sure what he has just yet as the battle for the starting job remains wide open. Thomas shocked everyone when he declared he was foregoing his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. Unfortunately, it's a decision Thomas would probably like to take back considering he was bypassed by all 32 NFL teams in the draft. Instead of lighting up the scoreboard and aiming to lead Oregon to its first national title this fall, Thomas is faced with the tough task of trying to make a lasting impression in some NFL team's minicamp this summer in hopes of earning an invite to training camp.

Meanwhile, the early favorite to take over as the Ducks' starting quarterback was sophomore Bryan Bennett. Bennett made one start last season and put up respectable stats (25-46, 369 yards, six TDs, no INTs) overall. However, it's no small task replacing Thomas, who threw for more than 2,700 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2011 and left as Oregon's all-time leader in passing touchdowns with 66.

That's where redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota comes in. The athletic Mariota, who hails from Honolulu, Hawaii, apparently made enough of an impression during spring practice that at worst he has forced the coaching staff to hold off on naming the starting quarterback until fall practice begins. And depending on who you ask, it may now be Mariota's job to lose.

Either way, the combination of Barner and Thomas in the backfield means Oregon fans will happily root for James as he starts his NFL career with San Francisco, while Duck supporters will be go through the fall wishing Thomas, and not Issac Dixon, was wearing No. 5 and still under center.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
James has the bigger name and was drafted by into the NFL, but I think Oregon will miss Thomas more in 2012. It simply comes down to the fact that the Ducks have multiple weapons who can make big plays running the ball, but the quarterback position remains a question. Thomas was awesome over the last two seasons, throwing for 5,642 yards and 63 touchdowns against 16 interceptions. Bryan Bennett may be the next UO star signal caller, but most of his limited experience has been in mop-up duty. He did throw for 156 yards and two scores against Colorado last year, but we will have to see how Bennett plays on a consistent basis.

Obviously James stats were off the charts, running for over 5,000 yards and 53 scores during the last three seasons. However the Ducks have other stars waiting to become household names. Kenjon Barner had 939 yards and 11 scores in a backup role last season, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. When James missed two starts last year, Barner starred against Arizona State (171 yards and 1 TD) and Colorado (115 yards and 2 TDs). Additionally, all-purpose machine De’Anthony Thomas totaled 155 yards rushing and two touchdowns – on just two carries – in the Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. Both former stars will be missed in Eugene, but Thomas’ departure looms larger for this season.

Related Oregon Content

Oregon Ducks 2012 Team Preview
Oregon Ducks Top 10 Players for 2012

Oregon Ducks 2012 Team Predictions
Oregon Ducks Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Oregon Football History

Oregon Ducks Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Oregon Rivals

Teaser:
<p> LaMichael James or Darron Thomas: Which is Oregon Football's Bigger Loss?</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 05:26
All taxonomy terms: College Football, jokes
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-oregon-rivals
Body:

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

• What's the difference between an Oregon State football player and a dollar?
You can get four quarters out of a dollar.

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

• What do you get when you cross Oregon State with a groundhog?
Six more weeks of bad football.

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

• How does an Oregon State fan count to 10?
0-1, 0-2, 0-3, 0-4…..

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

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

• What do you call a beautiful woman on the arm of a Cal fan?
A tattoo.

• The Foo Fighters are playing at Reser Stadium this fall.
They're 10-point favorites.

• Things you will never hear an Oregon State fan say:
I’ll take Shakespeare for 1000, Alex. 

 

 

Teaser:
<p> JOKES ABOUT OREGON RIVALS</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 03:51
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC East, Philadelphia Eagles, NFL
Path: /nfl/philadelphia-eagles-2012-schedule-analysis
Body:

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

Philadelphia Eagles 2012 Schedule:

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

Order your 2012 Philadelphia Eagles Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- It is a good thing the bye week comes when it does for the Eagles. Philadelphia will face a six-game run that will rival any in the NFL in 2012: NY Giants, at Pittsburgh, Detroit, Atlanta, at New Orleans and Dallas. If you are counting at home, that stretch features five playoff teams from a year ago not to mention three of the last four Super Bowl champions. And the Cowboys were one game away from winning the NFC East a year ago. Thankfully, the bye falls directly in the middle of that brutal run for the Eagles. They are going to need it.

- The Eagles will play three non-Sunday games this season with a pair of showcase games. A Monday nighter at New Orleans could carry wild card implications. A Week 15 Thursday nighter against Cincinnati should also feature two teams fighting for a playoff bid. But the one to circle is the Week 12 Monday night contest against Carolina. Anytime Michael Vick and Cam Newton are on the field together, it’s must-see TV.

- Two of those non-Sunday contests are against the NFC South — the division the NFC East has to face in round-robin competition this fall. Carolina provides a primetime QB showcase while Phily could be fighting with the Saints and/or Falcons for a wild card playoff berth. The Bucs should also be improved this fall as well.

- In AFC play, the East will have the unenviable task of facing the AFC North this fall. It might be the deepest and toughest division in the AFC, so having to face three playoff teams from a year ago won’t be easy for Vick and company. The season gets started with a road trip to Cleveland. Getting Baltimore and Cincinnati at home is a nice break, but traveling to Pittsburgh isn’t. Some small comfort can be taken from facing the Browns and Steelers within the first five weeks — when the weather in Ohio and Pennsylvania shouldn't be too terrible.

- Within the NFC East, a division that could be completely wide open in 2012, Philadelphia will face only the NY Giants before Week 10. This means the Eagles will face five divisional opponents in the last eight games of the season. It starts with three divisional games in four weeks, including both games against the rival Cowboys. If Andy Reid wants to challenge for a division title, he likely needs to go 2-1 in that span. Additionally, the season will end with back-to-back NFC East games, including a season finale road test in the Meadowlands to battle the Super Bowl champs. This is a cannibalistic division that tends to beat on itself. This season should be no different.

- Home-road splits are negligible in 2012 for the Eagles. They will play consecutive road games only once (Week 13-14) and will play consecutive home games twice (Week 15-16 and Week 6-8).

- The two floating games on the Eagles' schedule this fall will be Arizona (road) and Detroit (home). Former Eagle Kevin Kolb could still be the Cardinals' starting quarterback in Week 3 when Phily visits the desert. Both are winnable contests. 

Fantasy Focus: The fantasy playoffs looks pretty comfortable for any owners with Eagles players. The postseason opponents will be some combination of Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Washington. This adds some value to the LeSean McCoys and Jeremy Maclins of the world. If your league uses Week 17, knock them down a peg since Phily visits the Giants in the season finale.

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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

Teaser:
<p> Philadelphia Eagles 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 03:00
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC South, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFL
Path: /nfl/tampa-bay-buccaneers-2012-schedule-analysis
Body:

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

Tampa Bay Bucs 2012 Schedule:

Week 1: Carolina
Week 2: at New York Giants
Week 3: at Dallas
Week 4: Washington
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Kansas City
Week 7: New Orleans
Week 8: at Minnesota (Thur.)
Week 9: at Oakland
Week 10: San Diego
Week 11: at Carolina
Week 12: Atlanta
Week 13: at Denver
Week 14: Philadelphia
Week 15: at New Orleans
Week 16: St. Louis
Week 17: at Atlanta

Order your 2012 Tampa Bay Bucs Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine

- The toughest part of the Bucs' 2012 schedule has to be the round robin with the NFC East. While there are some question marks about Dallas’ and Phily’s ability to push for a postseason bid, there is no doubting their ability to compete. The East has three quality teams and an improving Redskins squad that now features Robert Griffin III. In fact, the season begins with a home game against Carolina before three straight NFC East games. The brutal back-to-back NFC East road games — at NY Giants, at Dallas — in Weeks 2 and 3 will be virtually impossible for Josh Freeman and company.

- The NFL has condensed the bye week schedules into a smaller window than normal in 2012. The Buccaneers’ off-week comes at the second-earliest possible date in Week 5. This could have multiple effects on a new coaching staff and young roster. The early bye will give the new coaching staff and first-time NFL head coach a chance to regroup after the first month of the season — especially, considering the tough first four weeks of the season. This could be great news for Greg Schiano. This also means his youthful team must play 12 straight contests to end the year. It won’t allow for any injury recovery time after September and all major adjustments or position battles will have to be played out on the field.

- The overall difficulty of the Bucs' slate, at least at this point of the summer, seems to pale in comparison to most NFL schedules in 2012. Within the NFC, there is no Green Bay, San Francisco, Detroit or Chicago on the docket. The Buccaneers will also miss New England, Houston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Buffalo, Tennessee, Cincinnati and the Jets in the AFC. If only one team from the NFC East and AFC West make the playoffs, the Bucs could face as few as three playoff teams in 2012.

- The crossover AFC schedule includes road trips to Oakland and Denver with home dates against Kansas City and San Diego. Those cross-country trips are magnified when played at altitude and for a team based in Florida. A 2-2 record would likely be considered a big success in interconference play.

- The Bucs will start with two of their first three games on the road and will finish with three of their last five (and two of three) on the road. So while the beginning and end of 2012 might be extremely tricky, the middle should provide some opportunities for success. Over a seven-week span (Weeks 4-10) Tampa will play only two road games, gets the bye week and plays four home games. Finishing its away slate against Peyton Manning (Week 13),  Drew Brees (Week 15) and Matt Ryan (Week 17), however, will be tough.

- The two floating games for the Bucs will feature two very winnable games. Tampa Bay gets St. Louis at home in Week 16 and visits Minnesota on a Thursday evening thriller in Week 8. For a team that won a total of four games a year ago, these two contests should be circled for Greg Schiano.

Fantasy Focus: Following the bye week, the Bucs have a tasty run of average to below average defenses which could provide some sneaky value. If you need a bye week spot starter, the Bucs might be a solid place to look as they will face Kansas City, New Orleans, Minnesota, Oakland, San Diego and Carolina in successive weeks. Only the Chargers, and to a lesser extent possibly the Raiders, offers any semblance of defensive prowess.

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

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

Teaser:
<p> Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2012 Schedule Analysis</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 02:59

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