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All taxonomy terms: Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees, MLB, News
Path: /mlb/end-mariano-rivera
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Getting carted off of the field before the game even starts. That’s not how anyone wants to end their career, but that could be the case for Mariano Rivera.

Rivera, the New York Yankees’ sure-fire future first-ballot Hall of Fame relief pitcher, saw his 2012 season, and quite possibly his career, end unexpectedly on Thursday afternoon before his teammates took on the Royals in Kansas City, Mo. Rivera was in the outfield of Kauffman Stadium shagging fly balls during batting practice, something he had routinely done throughout his 18-year career, when he slipped awkwardly on the warning track.

Stunned teammates and others present all looked on in disbelief as the 42-year-old closer clutched his right knee and grimaced in pain. Following the game, a 4-3 Yankees’ loss, everyone’s worst fears were confirmed – Rivera tore both the ACL and meniscus in his right knee.

With season-ending surgery almost a certainty, the biggest question is this – has baseball’s all-time saves leader thrown his last pitch?

Before the 2012 season even started, retirement was a hot topic surrounding Rivera during spring training. Rivera himself stopped any immediate speculation by saying he knew if this would be his last season or not, he just wasn’t ready to tell anyone.

That was back in February, but what about now? Will we see one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball back on the mound in 2013?

"At this point, I don't know. At this point, I don't know,” is what the understandably distraught Rivera told ESPNNewYork.com’s Wallace Matthews.

Surgery to repair the extensive damage is just the first step Rivera will need to undergo if he plans to pitch next season. The rehabilitation process involved with ACL injuries is grueling and painstaking in and of itself, and that’s before you consider that Rivera will turn 43 in November has pitched in 1,051 games (8th most in baseball history) in his career.

There’s no doubting Rivera’s competitive fire and determination. After all this is a guy who has thrived as a closer, arguably the most pressure-oriented role in all of baseball, for the Yankees, baseball’s highest-profile team, in New York, the media capital of the world.

But you know how the saying goes, the spirit’s willing, but the body is weak. And in Rivera’s case, his body may just not be able to do what he wants to in his mind.

Whether this is the end to Rivera’s Hall of Fame career or not, we won’t know for sure until several months down the road. For now, let’s focus on the present and what Rivera’s loss means to the Yankees.

For starters, as Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Thursday night even before the severity of Rivera’s injury was confirmed, “You lose a Hall of Famer… If that’s what it is, that’s as bad as it gets.”

In his career, Rivera is 76-58 with a 2.21 ERA, which is first among active pitchers and 13th all-time in baseball history. He is a 12-time All-Star whose 608 saves are the most in baseball history and is a total that is all but certain to stand forever.

For all his regular-season success, the postseason is where Rivera cemented his legacy, winning five World Series titles with the Yankees and dominating opposing hitters in October.

In 32 postseason series (16 AL Division Series, nine AL Championship Series and seven World Series), Rivera is 8-1 with a microscopic 0.70 ERA and 42 saves to go along with 110 strikeouts in 141 innings pitched. He also was named the World Series MVP in 1999 and the ALCS MVP in 2003.

This year, Rivera was 1-1 with a 2.16 ERA and five saves in six opportunities prior to his injury. After giving up two runs on three hits and two walks in a 1/3 of a inning against Tampa Bay in his season debut on April 6, Rivera had only surrendered three hits and nary a run with seven strikeouts and no walks in his last eight innings pitched.

So now that Girardi can’t hand the ball off to Rivera in the ninth inning with the game on the line, whom does he turn to? The Yankees have two viable candidates in right-handers David Robertson and Rafael Soriano.

Robertson has developed into a highly productive and reliable set-up man for Rivera as he has not allowed a run in his last 24 1/3 innings pitched, dating back to Sept. 1 of last season. Soriano, who the Yankees signed to a three-year, $35 million deal last year, has closing experience, saving a combined 72 games in 2009-10 with Atlanta and Tampa Bay. However, he was mostly ineffective (2-3, 4.12 ERA, 2 saves) in his first season in pinstripes in 2011 and has been relegated to seventh-inning duty for the most part this season.

Regardless of which direction Girardi decides to go, this much is clear – neither of these options are Rivera and his mere absence results in a shuffling of the bullpen that could find more than one pitcher in a role they are not accustomed to.

It’s just like Girardi said, losing a Hall of Famer like Rivera is bad as it gets, and this is a devastating, potentially season-altering loss for him and the Yankees. It’s also a loss for baseball as a whole, however, especially if Rivera is unable to return in 2013 or decides to call it a career.

And if that’s the case, then it’s truly a shame that Rivera will have ended his career in the back of a cart, rather than saying good-bye the way he wanted to, most likely walking off of the mound after closing out another Yankees’ win.

— by Mark Ross, published on May 4, 2012

Related Content:

Baseball's Best Players 35 and Over
Mariano Rivera to Retire?
Mariano Rivera is Saves Leader and One of the Greatest Pitchers Ever
New York Yankees Mt. Rushmore

Teaser:
<p> Freak accident before Thursday's game could mean the end of New York Yankees' closer Mariano Rivera' s Hall of Fame career</p>
Post date: Friday, May 4, 2012 - 01:00
Path: /nascar/whats-new-old-nascar%E2%80%99s-aging-population-problem
Body:

Quick, what do the names Kevin Conway and Andy Lally have in common? Are they:

A) Two prominent Wall Street investment bankers
B) Battling for the same role in One Life To Live
C) Americans running in the Tour de France
D) The 2010 and 2011 Sprint Cup Rookies of the Year

Did it take you a minute to come up with the answer? (It’s not completely a joke — there really is a “Kevin Conway” in One Life To Live). Well, you’re not alone, especially considering NASCAR’s last two “top freshmen” are currently outside the sport altogether nine races into the 2012 season. It’s a troubling trend, where for every Joey Logano there’s been about nine Conways who come into the sport with sponsor money, run mediocre at best and then disappear without even getting as much as a cursory glance from the Jack Roush’s and Rick Hendrick’s that hold the keys to NASCAR’s continued existence. Or, there’s the Lally’s of the world, successful drivers changing series without the benefit of money or equipment to support their transition. Patience isn’t a virtue in those scenarios, leaving them kicked to the curb faster than Donald Trump can say, “You’re fired!” on Celebrity Apprentice.

Sounds silly that a few “average Joes” with funding should make a difference. But more than ever, people like these could be influencing the top levels of stock car competition, at a time when side-by-side racing and future sponsorship are getting called into question. With long green-flag runs the norm, not the exception, in 2012 and drivers content to run single file, the blame has been passed around like a hot potato: the Chase, the Car of Tomorrow, tires with no give, too much dependence on aerodynamics. However, could the conservatism of today’s driving corps come from the simple fact there’s no one in position to replace them?

Just take a look at the current top 10 in NASCAR Sprint Cup points. In a sport that was once concerned with twenty-something “young guns” unseating the veterans, they’re nowhere to be found. Instead, what you find is a collection of people that could be confused for fathers attending their kids’ Little League games: there’s no one under age 30, three over age 40 and the average is a gaudy 35.8. Can you imagine an NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB team with that number? Chances are they’d be struggling to finish above last place in their division, let alone earn a .500 record or attempt to qualify for the playoffs.

Yes, stock car racing — a sport that has witnessed great success stories of drivers in their 40s — can be different. But those tales also happened at a time when it didn’t cost $20 million to build a competitive team. That number brings in the involvement of Fortune 500 companies, with marketing departments that care just as much about target demographics as top-5 finishes. Trust me, they’re on to the trend: just look at the hesitance to sponsor Daytona winner and former champ Matt Kenseth (age 40) despite his 2012 success. Even 37-year-old Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport’s Most Popular Driver and one of the sport’s best storylines of the season, no longer fits within the 18-34 male demographic that was once magnetically attracted to cars turning left. Jimmie Johnson, the sport’s most successful driver of the last decade is 36. Its ambassador, Jeff Gordon, is turning 41, outside the top 10 in points and closer to hosting Kelly Live! than contending for the fifth title his fans crave. The driver once thought “key to the sport’s future,” Logano, hasn’t won in nearly three years and at 22, finds his future employment in jeopardy. The youngster’s “Sliced Bread” moniker is turning stale, a cruel irony considering the recent complaints flooding the sport.

With age comes experience, and it’s no surprise those current top-10 drivers have settled into their current organizations. Everyone on the preceding list has been driving for the same car owner for at least three seasons; 60 percent have been doing it for seven or more. That type of longevity builds consistency in relationships, creating chemistry that makes it easy to rise to the top. But the downside for the fan base is that it’s the same old, same old. Silly Season leads to changes that keep people tuned in during this 24/7-news-cycle world we live in. Take the NFL as an example: Peyton Manning, after a whole career with the same organization, is moving to Denver because a young upstart named Andrew Luck was available. In his mid-30s, a superstar athlete was pushed out because of the natural evolution of his sport — there’s someone younger and potentially just as talented available.

That transition has stopped within a world where money, not developing drivers, now moves mountains. Instead, we have the Conway’s, capable of buying rides in desperate organizations for a chance to live their dream, to race at stock car’s top level. But their spotty resumes can’t make up for boardroom success. We’ve seen plenty of these “development projects” fail, making even a struggling driver like Jamie McMurray seem like a five-time champ by comparison. It’s telling that one of the few plum openings for 2012, the No. 55 of Michael Waltrip Racing, went to someone who’s 53 years old. Yes, Mark Martin has a lifetime worth of talent … but he also had limited competition for the spot. Experience leads to knowing how and when to push the right buttons on the racetrack. With so many veterans up front and their place in NASCAR history secure, it’s no wonder the caution flags are down. After all, the sport puts the rookie stripe on back bumpers for a reason.

So is young talent dead on the vine? That’s a topic for another day, as the age question doesn’t completely answer NASCAR’s sponsorship conundrum. (Last year’s Daytona 500 winner, Trevor Bayne, also remains without a full-time ride in the Nationwide Series, at age 21.) But it does explain why drivers are stuck in their rides, the only pressure coming from keeping sponsorship in a world where the NASCAR economy is stagnant at best. That usually comes by making the Chase, and here’s where the current point system steps in. With a limited number of drivers capable of making it, it’s easy to “coast” through the 26-race regular season only to collect your wins mid-summer and ensure yourself of a playoff spot. In the sports landscape of America that’s defined as dynamic, its most successful leagues defined by a consistent level of change, NASCAR’s best have put on the brakes and become content with the “status quo.”

That’s great when you’re looking to work in a corner cubicle for 20 years. But typically in entertainment (what sports are), the “status quo” means “the end of the line.” NASCAR is busy working on a new car for 2013, but while it’s at it, maybe it’s time to find the cast for “Young Guns: Part II” — beyond Danica Patrick, herself 30 — before it’s too late. The last time NASCAR had an entire top 10 in points with no one under age 30 was 1993 — but back then, the sport was poised to be flooded with the likes of Gordon, Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte.

Where will the next generation of drivers come from? How can NASCAR’s natural evolution restart again? These are questions that need to be answered, quickly, with millions in future revenue at stake.

Average Age of Sprint Cup Top 10: 35.8
Average Age of Sprint Cup Chase: 34.4

Point standing, driver, age, first year with current team
1. Greg Biffle (42), 2003
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (36), 2008
3. Denny Hamlin (31), 2006
4. Matt Kenseth (40), 2000
5. Martin Truex, Jr. (31), 2010
6. Jimmie Johnson (36), 2002
7. Kevin Harvick (36), 2001
8. Tony Stewart (40), 2009
9. Carl Edwards (32), 2004
10. Ryan Newman (34), 2009

(WC) Kyle Busch (27), 2005
(WC) Brad Keselowski (28), 2010


by Tom Bowles
Follow Tom on Twitter:
@AthlonBowles
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Tom Bowles explores a NASCAR Sprint Cup field that may have grown stagnant as its competitors have aged and become familiar with one another.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 20:21
Path: /college-football/athlon%E2%80%99s-essential-eleven-links-day-april-30
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for May 4.

• Peter Berg confirms a Friday Night Lights movie, and he is not a fan of Craig James.

• Baseball fans are hoping that Mariano Rivera’s knee injury doesn’t end his incredible career.

• The NFLPA has filed a grievance against Commissioner Roger Goodell, questioning his authority to suspend current and former New Orleans Saints after their bounty scandal.

• ESPN SEC blogger Chris Low details the league’s top prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft.

• SB Nation has your Kentucky Derby 138 preview.

• Greg Wallace of OrangeAndWhite.com has the latest on the arrest of Clemson star receiver Sammy Watkins.

• Utah State and San Jose State are moving from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West in 2013.

• Jon Gold if Inside UCLA says the Bruins spring game will be scaled back because of injury concerns.

• Can Miguel Cotto challenge 42-0 Floyd Mayweather Jr.?

• The Cubs and Reds game had an MLB first yesterday: a shared birthday for the starting pitchers.

• Ahh, the life a Browns fan. Somehow I don’t think the new draftees will change the feeling in Cleveland. Here’s a Video of the Day…

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


May 3

• San Diego reacts to the death of Chargers legend Junior Seau.

• Because if venue disagreements, Indiana and Kentucky will not play in basketball next season.

• The Orange County has an interesting look at Jered Weaver’s family after the Angels ace tossed a no-hitter against the Twins.

• SB Nation has a great recap of college conference realignment.

• Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune has the latest on the Notre Dame football arrests.

• ESPN Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett looks at the league’s “Top 6” requirement for a four-team college football playoff.

• Rick Bozich of the Louisville-Courier Journal has an interesting Kentucky Derby column on “Take Charge Indy” trainer Patrick Byrne.

• CBS’ Gary Parrish details how the Grizzlies bounced back from a crushing Game 1 loss to the Clippers.

• Did Colt McCoy’s father hurt his standing with the Browns?

• Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star has the details on Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby taking over as Big 12 commissioner.

• Umpire Tim Welke gives us one of the worst calls of all time in our Video of the Day…

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


May 2

• The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a classy move today by signing the inspirational Eric LeGrand.

• Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News brings us some funny Saturday Night Live promos from Eli Manning, who will host the this weekend.

• SB Nation looks at the harsh NFL penalties that were handed down to four Saints players for their part in the New Orleans bounty scandal.

• The high school coach of former Alabama backup quarterback Phillip Sims says that the Virginia native lost the QB derby because he was an out-of-state kid.

• ESPN Big 12 blogger David Ubben looks how Kansas and new coach Charlie Weis fared this spring.

• Complex has a flowchart of when your NBA team will win a title.

• ESPN Boston has the details on BC running back Montel Harris being dismissed from the team.

• Butler is leaving the Horizon League for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

• Rest easy, state of Iowa. The new Cy-Hawk trophy has been designed, and both Herky the Hawk and Cy the Cardinal are featured.

• The Bears wasted no time in signing their second-round pick, South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.

• What’s a teenager to do in the nation’s capital? Washington Nationals phenom Bryce Harper plays some pickup softball in our Video of the Day…

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


May 1

• Ravens coach John Harbuagh says the Patriots titles are "stained" because of cheating.

• Roto Professor lucks at the fantasy baseball ramifications of the Rays losing third baseman Evan Longoria for 6-8 weeks.

• Lisa Horne of Fox Sports has an exclusive with Arizona State coach Todd Graham, who says ASU is a destination job and that he never should have gone to Pittsburgh.

• CBS' Brett McMurphy has the details on Conference USA adding six schools in 2013.

• Sharp Football Analysis has an interesting study on Overs/Unders in the high-scoring NFL.

• ESPN Big East blogger Andrea Adelson shows us some much different uniforms for Rutgers football this season.

• Will the recently-retired Hines Ward coach at Georgia one day?

• The Big Ten Network unveils an All-Big Ten Spring offensive team.

• Could Vince Young be the new backup in Buffalo?

• SB Nation breaks down “Amar'e Stoudemire versus the Fire Extinguisher.”

• Nebraska and Cal State Bakersfield have one of the most entertaining dance-offs/improv acts/rodeo impersonations/Greco-Roman wrestling matches/method acting/etc. that you have ever seen during a rain delay. Here’s our Video of the Day…

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


April 30

• Will Brinson of CBS has NFL Draft winners and losers.

• Arkansas wide receivers Jarius Wright and Greg Childs played high school and college ball together, and both were drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.

• New idea for the bathroom in your man cave

• Despite having two of the top four overall selections, ESPN Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller says the league had a rough NFL Draft.

• SB Nation in Virginia has the latest on (former) Alabama quarterback Phillip Sims transferring back to his home state to play for the Cavaliers.

• SEC blogger Barrett Sallee looks at how the league’s championship pedigree plays well during the NFL Draft.

• SI’s Stewart Mandel details the favored plan for a college football playoff.

• Miami had the most ACC players selected in the NFL Draft, but no Hurricanes or Florida State Seminoles were selected in the first two rounds.

• Bleacher Report has a slideshow on the NFL’s Draft’s most head-scratching picks.

• Halos Heaven says the Angels are “unclutch” so far this season.

• Rich Eisen of the NFL Network struggled during the first round broadcast on Thursday, and then he went nuts for a punter on Friday night in our Video of the Day…

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

Teaser:
<p> Rounding up the web's best sports links from the NFL, college football, MLB, NBA so you don't have to.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 20:11
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-talladega-2
Body:

Nine races in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season and each team in approaching Sunday's Aaron's 499 with varying goals in mind. Often viewed as a “wild card” race, teams will be working on different agendas as the field jockeys for position inches away from each other — and the “Big One” — lap after lap.

The entire course of a race, not to mention fantasy weekend, can change in one instant, so choose carefully and look for those drivers that are good at avoiding trouble.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle continues to lead the series standings, with teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards sitting fourth and ninth, respectively.

Many expect Sunday’s race to play out similarly to February’s Daytona 500, given the rules package NASCAR has in place. Don't expect to hear a lot of complaining out of the Roush camp there. Kenseth scored the win in the 500, while Biffle finished third and Edwards came home eighth.

The Roush organization has been on its game in the early stages of the 2012 season, but none of its three drivers have ever been to Victory Lane at Talladega. In fact, between Biffle, Edwards and Kenseth, the Roush Fenway camp has 13 DNFs on the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

With all three cars in the top 10 in points, the Roush Fenway teams have a lot on the line at a critical part of the season. A solid finish for all three would mean an early-season bullet was dodged.

However, for the man second in points, there is really only one thing on his mind: winning.

There are really only two words that are synonymous in NASCAR: Earnhardt and Talladega. And this weekend, the NASCAR fantasy season rolls into Earnhardt Country — otherwise known as Talladega, Ala.

Despite a 138-race winless streak hanging over his head, Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads to his so-called home away from home second in the Cup standings, just five points behind Biffle.

Throughout the season, the No. 88 team has proven to be the lead Hendrick car, scoring four top 5s and seven top 10s in nine races. Yet last time the series was in Talladega, Earnhardt and his Hendrick teammates took the calculated and cautious approach, finishing 25th, 26th and 27th.

Following the race, Earnhardt admitted the tandem racing did not fit his style of driving.

This season, NASCAR made changes to the superspeedway package in advance of the Daytona 500, and as a result, created more traditional pack racing — you know, the style of driving that led to five Talladega victories for Earnhardt and a second-place finish in this year’s Daytona 500.

The other Hendrick cars have all been snake-bit thus far in 2012, despite a promising preseason. Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon have had strong cars, but poor luck throughout the year, while Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt continue to search for Victory Lane and that historic 200th Sprint Cup Series win for team owner Rick Hendrick.

While that milestone is a big deal for the Hendrick orginization, it would certainly take a backseat if Earnhardt could end his winless streak dating back to 2008 in front of his most loyal crowd on the schedule.

Carrying momentum and confidence, which builds more and more each week, Earnhardt Jr. is this week's fantasy favorite.

While Earnhardt may be the overwhelming fantasy favorite, Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer is also a solid pick. Entering the weekend 12th in points, Bowyer has won two of the last three Talladega races, while finishing second in the third.

This weekend, Bowyer is not only rolling for his third win in four starts, he's rolling for the Crimson Tide of Alabama with a special paint scheme honoring the 2011 National Championship football team. His car will carry the colors of the Crimson Tide and display each of its 14 titles, and he will also have an image of legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant riding along on the back of his helmet.

Winning is a tradition in Alabama and they will expect Bowyer to deliver as such. Look for him to be a contender throughout the day.

Five Favorites: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin

The Earnhardt name may be synonymous with Talladega, but the driver with the best average finish is none other than Joey Logano. In just six starts, the soon-to-be 22-year-old has two top 5s, four top 10s and only one DNF, leading to an average finish of 14.5.

This season, however, Logano has struggled to find consistency. After back-to-back top 10s to open the season in Daytona and Phoenix, Logano and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team have yet to score another top-10 finish. Logano had a solid Speedweeks in Daytona, and I expect him to have a strong fantasy day on Sunday.

Also consider Phoenix Racing’s Kurt Busch as an undervalued pick. Busch and Phoenix Racing started the season with high hopes and realistic expectations, but after four finishes of 28th or worse, the organization sits 26th in points and in search of wins.

Heading into the year, the team knew the superspeedway races were among its best opportunities to compete with the larger teams for wins. Phoenix Racing has one win at Talladega, when Brad Keselowski took it to Victory Lane in the dramatic 2009 finish with Edwards.

Busch currently holds the second-best average finish (14.9) amongst active drivers at Talladega, but has never been to Victory Lane. In fact, Busch only has two top-10 finishes in his last eight starts here.

The self-proclaimed “old-school” team could be an undervalued pick this weekend, just be cautious when making that final lineup decision.

Back in the car this weekend will be team owner and former Talladega winner Michael Waltrip. Mikey makes no secret of his love for plate racing, and MWR has been putting out fast racecars week-in and week-out. Waltrip could get up there and shock the world — as pack racing is more his forte than tandam drafting — so consider the No. 55 as an undervalued pick, as well.

Five Undervalued Picks: Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Michael Waltrip, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman

Talladega has been known to produce darkhorse winners in the past, and Sunday's race could do the same. This week's darkhorse pick comes in the form of Landon Cassill. Driving for BK Racing this season, Cassill has demonstrated his talent behind the wheel, working with veteran crew chief Doug Richert.

Although the team's best finish came last week with a 20th in Richmond, the potential for a solid fantasy day at Talladega is certainly there. Keep in mind, Cassill finished 16th at Talladega last October driving for Phoenix Racing.

Tommy Baldwin Racing's Dave Blaney is another darkhorse driver to consider for this weekend's race. Blaney has two top 5s at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, including a third-place finish last October.

Five Darkhorse Picks: Landon Cassill, Dave Blaney, Paul Menard, Regan Smith, Jamie McMurray

Keep in mind while you are setting your fantasy lineup that anything can happen at Talladega. The “Big One” is always lurking, and some of the biggest contenders could be eliminated in a single incident. With drivers and teams approaching this race with varying agendas, make sure to pick wisely and hope to make it through the day unscathed.

Best Average Finish at Talladega (Wins)
1. Joey Logano — 14.5 (0)
2. Kurt Busch — 14.9 (0)
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 15.0 (5)
4. Brad Keselowski — 15.0 (1)
5. Kevin Harvick — 15.1 (1)
6. Tony Stewart — 15.2 (1)
7. Jeff Gordon — 16.3 (6)
8. Clint Bowyer — 16.4 (2)
9. Jimmie Johnson — 16.8 (2)
10. Juan Pablo Montoya — 17.1 (0)

by Jay Pennell
Follow Jay on Twitter: @JayWPennell

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's Aaron's 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 13:16
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-talladega-1
Body:

Nine races in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season and each team in approaching Sunday's Aaron's 499 with varying goals in mind. Often viewed as a “wild card” race, teams will be working on different agendas as the field jockeys for position inches away from each other — and the “Big One” — lap after lap.

The entire course of a race, not to mention fantasy weekend, can change in one instant, so choose carefully and look for those drivers that are good at avoiding trouble.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle continues to lead the series standings, with teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards sitting fourth and ninth, respectively.

Many expect Sunday’s race to play out similarly to February’s Daytona 500, given the rules package NASCAR has in place. Don't expect to hear a lot of complaining out of the Roush camp there. Kenseth scored the win in the 500, while Biffle finished third and Edwards came home eighth.

The Roush organization has been on its game in the early stages of the 2012 season, but none of its three drivers have ever been to Victory Lane at Talladega. In fact, between Biffle, Edwards and Kenseth, the Roush Fenway camp has 13 DNFs on the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

With all three cars in the top 10 in points, the Roush Fenway teams have a lot on the line at a critical part of the season. A solid finish for all three would mean an early-season bullet was dodged.

However, for the man second in points, there is really only one thing on his mind: winning.

There are really only two words that are synonymous in NASCAR: Earnhardt and Talladega. And this weekend, the NASCAR fantasy season rolls into Earnhardt Country — otherwise known as Talladega, Ala.

Despite a 138-race winless streak hanging over his head, Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads to his so-called home away from home second in the Cup standings, just five points behind Biffle.

Throughout the season, the No. 88 team has proven to be the lead Hendrick car, scoring four top 5s and seven top 10s in nine races. Yet last time the series was in Talladega, Earnhardt and his Hendrick teammates took the calculated and cautious approach, finishing 25th, 26th and 27th.

Following the race, Earnhardt admitted the tandem racing did not fit his style of driving.

This season, NASCAR made changes to the superspeedway package in advance of the Daytona 500, and as a result, created more traditional pack racing — you know, the style of driving that led to five Talladega victories for Earnhardt and a second-place finish in this year’s Daytona 500.

The other Hendrick cars have all been snake-bit thus far in 2012, despite a promising preseason. Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon have had strong cars, but poor luck throughout the year, while Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt continue to search for Victory Lane and that historic 200th Sprint Cup Series win for team owner Rick Hendrick.

While that milestone is a big deal for the Hendrick orginization, it would certainly take a backseat if Earnhardt could end his winless streak dating back to 2008 in front of his most loyal crowd on the schedule.

Carrying momentum and confidence, which builds more and more each week, Earnhardt Jr. is this week's fantasy favorite.

While Earnhardt may be the overwhelming fantasy favorite, Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer is also a solid pick. Entering the weekend 12th in points, Bowyer has won two of the last three Talladega races, while finishing second in the third.

This weekend, Bowyer is not only rolling for his third win in four starts, he's rolling for the Crimson Tide of Alabama with a special paint scheme honoring the 2011 National Championship football team. His car will carry the colors of the Crimson Tide and display each of its 14 titles, and he will also have an image of legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant riding along on the back of his helmet.

Winning is a tradition in Alabama and they will expect Bowyer to deliver as such. Look for him to be a contender throughout the day.

Five Favorites: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin

The Earnhardt name may be synonymous with Talladega, but the driver with the best average finish is none other than Joey Logano. In just six starts, the soon-to-be 22-year-old has two top 5s, four top 10s and only one DNF, leading to an average finish of 14.5.

This season, however, Logano has struggled to find consistency. After back-to-back top 10s to open the season in Daytona and Phoenix, Logano and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team have yet to score another top-10 finish. Logano had a solid Speedweeks in Daytona, and I expect him to have a strong fantasy day on Sunday.

Also consider Phoenix Racing’s Kurt Busch as an undervalued pick. Busch and Phoenix Racing started the season with high hopes and realistic expectations, but after four finishes of 28th or worse, the organization sits 26th in points and in search of wins.

Heading into the year, the team knew the superspeedway races were among its best opportunities to compete with the larger teams for wins. Phoenix Racing has one win at Talladega, when Brad Keselowski took it to Victory Lane in the dramatic 2009 finish with Edwards.

Busch currently holds the second-best average finish (14.9) amongst active drivers at Talladega, but has never been to Victory Lane. In fact, Busch only has two top-10 finishes in his last eight starts here.

The self-proclaimed “old-school” team could be an undervalued pick this weekend, just be cautious when making that final lineup decision.

Back in the car this weekend will be team owner and former Talladega winner Michael Waltrip. Mikey makes no secret of his love for plate racing, and MWR has been putting out fast racecars week-in and week-out. Waltrip could get up there and shock the world — as pack racing is more his forte than tandam drafting — so consider the No. 55 as an undervalued pick, as well.

Five Undervalued Picks: Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Michael Waltrip, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman

Talladega has been known to produce darkhorse winners in the past, and Sunday's race could do the same. This week's darkhorse pick comes in the form of Landon Cassill. Driving for BK Racing this season, Cassill has demonstrated his talent behind the wheel, working with veteran crew chief Doug Richert.

Although the team's best finish came last week with a 20th in Richmond, the potential for a solid fantasy day at Talladega is certainly there. Keep in mind, Cassill finished 16th at Talladega last October driving for Phoenix Racing.

Tommy Baldwin Racing's Dave Blaney is another darkhorse driver to consider for this weekend's race. Blaney has two top 5s at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, including a third-place finish last October.

Five Darkhorse Picks: Landon Cassill, Dave Blaney, Paul Menard, Regan Smith, Jamie McMurray

Keep in mind while you are setting your fantasy lineup that anything can happen at Talladega. The “Big One” is always lurking, and some of the biggest contenders could be eliminated in a single incident. With drivers and teams approaching this race with varying agendas, make sure to pick wisely and hope to make it through the day unscathed.

Best Average Finish at Talladega (Wins)
1. Joey Logano — 14.5 (0)
2. Kurt Busch — 14.9 (0)
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 15.0 (5)
4. Brad Keselowski — 15.0 (1)
5. Kevin Harvick — 15.1 (1)
6. Tony Stewart — 15.2 (1)
7. Jeff Gordon — 16.3 (6)
8. Clint Bowyer — 16.4 (2)
9. Jimmie Johnson — 16.8 (2)
10. Juan Pablo Montoya — 17.1 (0)

by Jay Pennell
Follow Jay on Twitter: @JayWPennell

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's Aaron's 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 13:15
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-talladega-0
Body:

Nine races in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season and each team in approaching Sunday's Aaron's 499 with varying goals in mind. Often viewed as a “wild card” race, teams will be working on different agendas as the field jockeys for position inches away from each other — and the “Big One” — lap after lap.

The entire course of a race, not to mention fantasy weekend, can change in one instant, so choose carefully and look for those drivers that are good at avoiding trouble.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle continues to lead the series standings, with teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards sitting fourth and ninth, respectively.

Many expect Sunday’s race to play out similarly to February’s Daytona 500, given the rules package NASCAR has in place. Don't expect to hear a lot of complaining out of the Roush camp there. Kenseth scored the win in the 500, while Biffle finished third and Edwards came home eighth.

The Roush organization has been on its game in the early stages of the 2012 season, but none of its three drivers have ever been to Victory Lane at Talladega. In fact, between Biffle, Edwards and Kenseth, the Roush Fenway camp has 13 DNFs on the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

With all three cars in the top 10 in points, the Roush Fenway teams have a lot on the line at a critical part of the season. A solid finish for all three would mean an early-season bullet was dodged.

However, for the man second in points, there is really only one thing on his mind: winning.

There are really only two words that are synonymous in NASCAR: Earnhardt and Talladega. And this weekend, the NASCAR fantasy season rolls into Earnhardt Country — otherwise known as Talladega, Ala.

Despite a 138-race winless streak hanging over his head, Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads to his so-called home away from home second in the Cup standings, just five points behind Biffle.

Throughout the season, the No. 88 team has proven to be the lead Hendrick car, scoring four top 5s and seven top 10s in nine races. Yet last time the series was in Talladega, Earnhardt and his Hendrick teammates took the calculated and cautious approach, finishing 25th, 26th and 27th.

Following the race, Earnhardt admitted the tandem racing did not fit his style of driving.

This season, NASCAR made changes to the superspeedway package in advance of the Daytona 500, and as a result, created more traditional pack racing — you know, the style of driving that led to five Talladega victories for Earnhardt and a second-place finish in this year’s Daytona 500.

The other Hendrick cars have all been snake-bit thus far in 2012, despite a promising preseason. Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon have had strong cars, but poor luck throughout the year, while Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt continue to search for Victory Lane and that historic 200th Sprint Cup Series win for team owner Rick Hendrick.

While that milestone is a big deal for the Hendrick orginization, it would certainly take a backseat if Earnhardt could end his winless streak dating back to 2008 in front of his most loyal crowd on the schedule.

Carrying momentum and confidence, which builds more and more each week, Earnhardt Jr. is this week's fantasy favorite.

While Earnhardt may be the overwhelming fantasy favorite, Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer is also a solid pick. Entering the weekend 12th in points, Bowyer has won two of the last three Talladega races, while finishing second in the third.

This weekend, Bowyer is not only rolling for his third win in four starts, he's rolling for the Crimson Tide of Alabama with a special paint scheme honoring the 2011 National Championship football team. His car will carry the colors of the Crimson Tide and display each of its 14 titles, and he will also have an image of legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant riding along on the back of his helmet.

Winning is a tradition in Alabama and they will expect Bowyer to deliver as such. Look for him to be a contender throughout the day.

Five Favorites: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin

The Earnhardt name may be synonymous with Talladega, but the driver with the best average finish is none other than Joey Logano. In just six starts, the soon-to-be 22-year-old has two top 5s, four top 10s and only one DNF, leading to an average finish of 14.5.

This season, however, Logano has struggled to find consistency. After back-to-back top 10s to open the season in Daytona and Phoenix, Logano and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team have yet to score another top-10 finish. Logano had a solid Speedweeks in Daytona, and I expect him to have a strong fantasy day on Sunday.

Also consider Phoenix Racing’s Kurt Busch as an undervalued pick. Busch and Phoenix Racing started the season with high hopes and realistic expectations, but after four finishes of 28th or worse, the organization sits 26th in points and in search of wins.

Heading into the year, the team knew the superspeedway races were among its best opportunities to compete with the larger teams for wins. Phoenix Racing has one win at Talladega, when Brad Keselowski took it to Victory Lane in the dramatic 2009 finish with Edwards.

Busch currently holds the second-best average finish (14.9) amongst active drivers at Talladega, but has never been to Victory Lane. In fact, Busch only has two top-10 finishes in his last eight starts here.

The self-proclaimed “old-school” team could be an undervalued pick this weekend, just be cautious when making that final lineup decision.

Back in the car this weekend will be team owner and former Talladega winner Michael Waltrip. Mikey makes no secret of his love for plate racing, and MWR has been putting out fast racecars week-in and week-out. Waltrip could get up there and shock the world — as pack racing is more his forte than tandam drafting — so consider the No. 55 as an undervalued pick, as well.

Five Undervalued Picks: Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Michael Waltrip, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman

Talladega has been known to produce darkhorse winners in the past, and Sunday's race could do the same. This week's darkhorse pick comes in the form of Landon Cassill. Driving for BK Racing this season, Cassill has demonstrated his talent behind the wheel, working with veteran crew chief Doug Richert.

Although the team's best finish came last week with a 20th in Richmond, the potential for a solid fantasy day at Talladega is certainly there. Keep in mind, Cassill finished 16th at Talladega last October driving for Phoenix Racing.

Tommy Baldwin Racing's Dave Blaney is another darkhorse driver to consider for this weekend's race. Blaney has two top 5s at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, including a third-place finish last October.

Five Darkhorse Picks: Landon Cassill, Dave Blaney, Paul Menard, Regan Smith, Jamie McMurray

Keep in mind while you are setting your fantasy lineup that anything can happen at Talladega. The “Big One” is always lurking, and some of the biggest contenders could be eliminated in a single incident. With drivers and teams approaching this race with varying agendas, make sure to pick wisely and hope to make it through the day unscathed.

Best Average Finish at Talladega (Wins)
1. Joey Logano — 14.5 (0)
2. Kurt Busch — 14.9 (0)
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 15.0 (5)
4. Brad Keselowski — 15.0 (1)
5. Kevin Harvick — 15.1 (1)
6. Tony Stewart — 15.2 (1)
7. Jeff Gordon — 16.3 (6)
8. Clint Bowyer — 16.4 (2)
9. Jimmie Johnson — 16.8 (2)
10. Juan Pablo Montoya — 17.1 (0)

by Jay Pennell
Follow Jay on Twitter: @JayWPennell

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's Aaron's 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 13:11
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-talladega
Body:

Nine races in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season and each team in approaching Sunday's Aaron's 499 with varying goals in mind. Often viewed as a “wild card” race, teams will be working on different agendas as the field jockeys for position inches away from each other — and the “Big One” — lap after lap.

The entire course of a race, not to mention fantasy weekend, can change in one instant, so choose carefully and look for those drivers that are good at avoiding trouble.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle continues to lead the series standings, with teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards sitting fourth and ninth, respectively.

Many expect Sunday’s race to play out similarly to February’s Daytona 500, given the rules package NASCAR has in place. Don't expect to hear a lot of complaining out of the Roush camp there. Kenseth scored the win in the 500, while Biffle finished third and Edwards came home eighth.

The Roush organization has been on its game in the early stages of the 2012 season, but none of its three drivers have ever been to Victory Lane at Talladega. In fact, between Biffle, Edwards and Kenseth, the Roush Fenway camp has 13 DNFs on the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

With all three cars in the top 10 in points, the Roush Fenway teams have a lot on the line at a critical part of the season. A solid finish for all three would mean an early-season bullet was dodged.

However, for the man second in points, there is really only one thing on his mind: winning.

There are really only two words that are synonymous in NASCAR: Earnhardt and Talladega. And this weekend, the NASCAR fantasy season rolls into Earnhardt Country — otherwise known as Talladega, Ala.

Despite a 138-race winless streak hanging over his head, Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads to his so-called home away from home second in the Cup standings, just five points behind Biffle.

Throughout the season, the No. 88 team has proven to be the lead Hendrick car, scoring four top 5s and seven top 10s in nine races. Yet last time the series was in Talladega, Earnhardt and his Hendrick teammates took the calculated and cautious approach, finishing 25th, 26th and 27th.

Following the race, Earnhardt admitted the tandem racing did not fit his style of driving.

This season, NASCAR made changes to the superspeedway package in advance of the Daytona 500, and as a result, created more traditional pack racing — you know, the style of driving that led to five Talladega victories for Earnhardt and a second-place finish in this year’s Daytona 500.

The other Hendrick cars have all been snake-bit thus far in 2012, despite a promising preseason. Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon have had strong cars, but poor luck throughout the year, while Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt continue to search for Victory Lane and that historic 200th Sprint Cup Series win for team owner Rick Hendrick.

While that milestone is a big deal for the Hendrick orginization, it would certainly take a backseat if Earnhardt could end his winless streak dating back to 2008 in front of his most loyal crowd on the schedule.

Carrying momentum and confidence, which builds more and more each week, Earnhardt Jr. is this week's fantasy favorite.

While Earnhardt may be the overwhelming fantasy favorite, Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer is also a solid pick. Entering the weekend 12th in points, Bowyer has won two of the last three Talladega races, while finishing second in the third.

This weekend, Bowyer is not only rolling for his third win in four starts, he's rolling for the Crimson Tide of Alabama with a special paint scheme honoring the 2011 National Championship football team. His car will carry the colors of the Crimson Tide and display each of its 14 titles, and he will also have an image of legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant riding along on the back of his helmet.

Winning is a tradition in Alabama and they will expect Bowyer to deliver as such. Look for him to be a contender throughout the day.

Five Favorites: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin

The Earnhardt name may be synonymous with Talladega, but the driver with the best average finish is none other than Joey Logano. In just six starts, the soon-to-be 22-year-old has two top 5s, four top 10s and only one DNF, leading to an average finish of 14.5.

This season, however, Logano has struggled to find consistency. After back-to-back top 10s to open the season in Daytona and Phoenix, Logano and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team have yet to score another top-10 finish. Logano had a solid Speedweeks in Daytona, and I expect him to have a strong fantasy day on Sunday.

Also consider Phoenix Racing’s Kurt Busch as an undervalued pick. Busch and Phoenix Racing started the season with high hopes and realistic expectations, but after four finishes of 28th or worse, the organization sits 26th in points and in search of wins.

Heading into the year, the team knew the superspeedway races were among its best opportunities to compete with the larger teams for wins. Phoenix Racing has one win at Talladega, when Brad Keselowski took it to Victory Lane in the dramatic 2009 finish with Edwards.

Busch currently holds the second-best average finish (14.9) amongst active drivers at Talladega, but has never been to Victory Lane. In fact, Busch only has two top-10 finishes in his last eight starts here.

The self-proclaimed “old-school” team could be an undervalued pick this weekend, just be cautious when making that final lineup decision.

Back in the car this weekend will be team owner and former Talladega winner Michael Waltrip. Mikey makes no secret of his love for plate racing, and MWR has been putting out fast racecars week-in and week-out. Waltrip could get up there and shock the world — as pack racing is more his forte than tandam drafting — so consider the No. 55 as an undervalued pick, as well.

Five Undervalued Picks: Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Michael Waltrip, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman

Talladega has been known to produce darkhorse winners in the past, and Sunday's race could do the same. This week's darkhorse pick comes in the form of Landon Cassill. Driving for BK Racing this season, Cassill has demonstrated his talent behind the wheel, working with veteran crew chief Doug Richert.

Although the team's best finish came last week with a 20th in Richmond, the potential for a solid fantasy day at Talladega is certainly there. Keep in mind, Cassill finished 16th at Talladega last October driving for Phoenix Racing.

Tommy Baldwin Racing's Dave Blaney is another darkhorse driver to consider for this weekend's race. Blaney has two top 5s at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, including a third-place finish last October.

Five Darkhorse Picks: Landon Cassill, Dave Blaney, Paul Menard, Regan Smith, Jamie McMurray

Keep in mind while you are setting your fantasy lineup that anything can happen at Talladega. The “Big One” is always lurking, and some of the biggest contenders could be eliminated in a single incident. With drivers and teams approaching this race with varying agendas, make sure to pick wisely and hope to make it through the day unscathed.

Best Average Finish at Talladega (Wins)
1. Joey Logano — 14.5 (0)
2. Kurt Busch — 14.9 (0)
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 15.0 (5)
4. Brad Keselowski — 15.0 (1)
5. Kevin Harvick — 15.1 (1)
6. Tony Stewart — 15.2 (1)
7. Jeff Gordon — 16.3 (6)
8. Clint Bowyer — 16.4 (2)
9. Jimmie Johnson — 16.8 (2)
10. Juan Pablo Montoya — 17.1 (0)

by Jay Pennell
Follow Jay on Twitter: @JayWPennell

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's Aaron's 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 13:10
Path: /college-football/louisville-cardinals-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The Louisville Cardinals check in at No. 23 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: Teddy Bridgewater, QB
Bridgewater was one of the top recruits in Louisville’s 2011 recruiting class and he certainly didn’t disappoint last season, taking home Big East Rookie of the Year honors. An injury to Will Stein allowed Bridgewater to take over the No. 1 spot on the depth chart and he finished with a Louisville freshman record of 2,129 passing yards. Although the Cardinals started 0-3 in his first three starts, they rebounded to finish with a share of the Big East title. Bridgewater tossed 14 touchdown passes, including three in the regular season finale against South Florida. As expected in his first year in college, Bridgewater made a few mistakes (12 interceptions), but completed an impressive 64.5 percent of his throws. With an offseason to work as the starter, Bridgewater should improve his numbers and finish with first-team All-Big East honors in 2012.

Trap Game: Connecticut (Nov. 24)
Louisville’s schedule sets up favorably for a run at 10 victories in 2012. But there’s a date against Connecticut on Nov. 24 that could be an unexpected stumbling block. The Cardinals have won two in a row over the Huskies, including a 34-20 game last year. However, the matchup with Connecticut comes just before the season finale at Rutgers (a Thursday night meeting on Nov. 29). The Louisville-Rutgers matchup could decide the Big East title, so there’s got to be some concern the date with the Huskies could be overlooked.

Upset Alert: at FIU (Sept. 22)
Louisville fans certainly don’t need any reminder about how dangerous FIU can be. The Golden Panthers upset the Cardinals 24-17 last season and return most of their core from that team. FIU will miss receiver T.Y. Hilton, but the defense returns 10 starters from a unit that allowed 19.5 points per game last year. With Louisville breaking in a new quarterback last year, the Golden Panthers caught the Cardinals at a good time in Week 2. Louisville certainly won’t overlook FIU in 2012, but this is still a dangerous team capable of pulling another upset.

Defensive MVP: Hakeem Smith, S
Smith has been a consistent enforcer in the secondary over the last two seasons. He started 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2010 and finished with 88 stops and six tackles for a loss. Smith started all 13 games last year and recorded 84 tackles and forced three fumbles. Charlie Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford would like to see Smith increase his interceptions, but he remains one of the top defensive backs in the Big East and a key leader for a secondary that looks to improve after allowing 227.4 yards a game last year.

Breakout Player: DeVante Parker, WR
Parker was one of three freshmen to see significant playing time in the receiving corps last year. Although he caught only 18 passes, Parker was the top big-play threat for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He took six of his 18 receptions for scores and averaged 16.2 yards per catch. Parker’s best performance came against FIU, recording four receptions for 52 yards and one touchdown. The sophomore may not lead the team in catches, but he should be the team’s top big-play threat and one of the Big East’s breakout receivers.

Unsung Hero: Mario Benavides, C
Benavides was supposed to be one of the Big East’s top offensive linemen last year, but injuries derailed his season before it got started. He missed the first three games of the season, but started the final 10 contests. Benavides’ return was crucial for Louisville’s offense, especially with a young quarterback under center. Assuming the senior can stay healthy in 2012, he should be the Big East’s top center and his presence in the lineup will be an overall boost to Louisville’s offensive line.

Biggest Game: at Rutgers (Nov. 29)
The Big East tends to schedule its best matchups for the end of the year and 2012 is no different. The Cardinals and Scarlet Knights will be picked by many to be the top two teams in the conference and this matchup could decide the Big East champion. Louisville has won the last two games against Rutgers, including a 40-13 rout in New Jersey in 2010. With South Florida visiting Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium this year, a road date against Rutgers should be Louisville’s most important contest of 2012.

Revenge Game: Cincinnati (Oct. 26)
Considering Louisville lost six games last season, there’s plenty of opportunities for revenge. However, circle Oct. 26 against Cincinnati. After dominating the series from 1998-2007, the Cardinals have lost their last four games against the Bearcats. Louisville led 16-7 at halftime last year, but watched Cincinnati score 18 unanswered to win 25-16. With the Bearcats losing quarterback Zach Collaros and running back Isaiah Pead, the momentum in this series should shift to Louisville this year.

Freshman to Watch: Nick Dawson, LB
The Cardinals must replace standout middle linebacker Dexter Heyman, but Preston and Daniel Brown are two building blocks for coach Charlie Strong. Despite the return of those two players, Louisville is still in need of linebackers to play in 2012. Dawson ranked as the No. 21 linebacker in the 2012 recruiting class and the No. 156 overall prospect. At 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds, he already has the physical frame to make an instant impact. Dawson may not start but expect him to see plenty of snaps in 2012.

Newcomer to Watch: John Wallace, K
Chris Philpott has finished his eligibility at Louisville, which leaves the team without a proven kicker in 2012. Wallace ranked as a two-star prospect in the 2011 recruiting class and connected on 11 of 14 attempts in his final year in high school. He connected on a 52-yard attempt in the spring game, but missed from 47. The Cardinals had eight games decided by seven points or less last year, so Wallace’s play will be important for Louisville’s Big East title hopes.

Position Battle: Running Back
One of the top priorities for offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is to improve a rushing attack that ranked 93rd nationally last season. Louisville averaged only 121.5 yards a game on the ground, which was a decrease from 175 yards a game in 2010. Victor Anderson has finished his eligibility, leaving Dominique Brown and Jeremy Wright as the top two backs in 2012. Brown is a converted quarterback, but finished second on the team with 533 yards last year. Wright recorded 334 yards on 73 attempts last season, but should be in for a bigger role in 2012. If Wright and Brown are unable to jumpstart the rushing attack, Senorise Perry and Corvin Lamb could get a shot to figure more into the mix.

Related Louisville Content

Louisville Cardinals 2012 Team Preview

Louisville Cardinals Top 10 Players for 2012

Can Louisville Finish Big East Play Unbeaten in 2012?

The Greatest Moments in Louisville Football History

Louisville Cardinals Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

Louisville Cardinals Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Louisville Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Louisville Cardinals 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 05:34
Path: /college-football/louisville-football-will-cardinals-go-unbeaten-big-east
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 23 Louisville. The Cardinals are a team on the rise under coach Charlie Strong and are Athlon's pick to win the Big East in 2012. Louisville has a promising core of young talent on defense and a rising star at quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater.

Can Louisville Finish Unbeaten in Big East Play in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
For as much of a punching bag the Big East is – and will continue to be – the conference is tough to win outright. In seven seasons since the league reformed, only two teams have gone undefeated in Big East play (2005 West Virginia and 2009 Cincinnati). In 2012, Louisville probably will be most people’s pick to win the Big East, but that doesn’t mean the Cardinals have the look of an unbeaten team. All season last year, Charlie Strong was disappointed in his team’s ability to handle success. After defeating Kentucky, the Cardinals lost three in a row, including a home loss to Marshall. After defeating West Virginia, the Cardinals lost at home to Pittsburgh. After back-to-back road wins to end the regular season, Louisville lost in the bowl game. Now, this same group will enter the season as Big East favorites. There’s a lot to like about Louisville. The offensive line and Teddy Bridgewater improved once the conference season began, and the defense should remain solid. Still, there are enough question marks – the run game, Bridgewater’s three interceptions in the bowl game – to make a 7-0 Big East season a tall order.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Can I answer this after the Week 3 contest against non-conference opponent North Carolina? Should they toppled Kentucky in Week 1 (which should be easy) and the Tar Heels (which won't be easy at all), all signs will point to an unbeaten Big East championship season for Louisville. Or possibly even more than that. But this is the Big East and strange things tend to happen in this conference. Since 2002, only two teams have gone undefeated in Big East play — West Virginia in 2005 and Cincinnati in 2009. In fact, the league champ has had at least two losses in three of the last five seasons.

While the Cardinals appear to be the best Big East team since that '09 Bearcats team, there are too many quality opponents — South Florida, Pitt, Rutgers, Cincinnati — for me to pick the Cardinals to finish unblemished. Louisville has lost four straight to both Cincy and Pitt and has lost two out of three to USF. With tough road trips to Rutgers, Pitt and Syracuse in league play, I will go with at least one slip-up along the way. It is just too balanced of a league, but a trip to a BCS bowl is still very much in the, well, Cards.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Louisville has a good shot to finish Big East play unbeaten, but I think they will lose at least one game. However, there are a couple of factors working in Louisville’s favor to finish Big East play unbeaten. All six of the Cardinals’ losses (two in conference play) were by eight points or less last year. Considering the youth on the roster last season, the experienced should help pay off in the form of another win or two in 2012. Improving the turnover margin is another area that could help Louisville pick up more victories, especially after forcing only 21 takeaways last year.  

Although Louisville is clearly the No. 1 team in the Big East, there is not a ton of separation between teams ranked 2-4. Rutgers, South Florida and Pittsburgh are the teams likely to be picked in that range, but each has question marks. The two dates to circle in Big East play will be games against Pittsburgh (Oct. 13) and Rutgers (Nov. 29). It’s possible the Cardinals could lose to Syracuse or South Florida, but those two road tests stand out as the biggest obstacles to an unbeaten season.

Charlie Strong has Louisville positioned to become a Big East title contender and consistent top 25 team for the next couple of years. The roster is stocked with youth and talent and more help is on the way with another solid recruiting class. I won’t be shocked if Louisville finishes Big East play at 7-0, but considering how difficult it is to sweep conference foes, I think it’s more likely they end up at 6-1 or 5-2. 

Mark Ross
CAN Louisville go undefeated in Big East play? Yes. WILL the Cardinals go 7-0 in the Big East? Probably not, but they have the best shot of any team in the conference of accomplishing the feat in 2012. Charlie Strong's squad should certainly be near the top of the Big East standings by the end of the year, as 12 starters (six on each side of the ball) return from last year's 7-6 team that played in the Belk Bowl.

On offense, Teddy Bridgewater is back under center as the sophomore looks to build on his Big East Rookie of the Year campaign in 2011, along with four starters on the offensive line. The defense, which finished second in the conference in both total and scoring defense last season, welcomes back the entire secondary and as a whole should continue its strong play. In the first two years with Strong as head coach, Louisville's defense has finished 14th and 23rd in the nation in total defense.

Louisville seemingly has the necessary pieces in place to contend for the Big East title this season, a task made easier by not only West Virginia's departure to the Big 12, but also head coaching changes at both Pittsburgh and Rutgers, which appear to be the Cardinals' toughest competition at this point. Louisville opens its Big East slate at Pittsburgh on Oct. 13 and finishes the season at Rutgers on Nov. 29. Outside of these two games, Louisville should be able to navigate the rest of their conference games with little trouble.

That said, I think it's too much to ask any team to go undefeated in conference play, let alone a Louisville team that is not without its weaknesses or question marks. In the end, I think Louisville will come up short once in Big East play, and knowing the unpredictability that is college football, this one loss will most likely come in upset fashion. Still, 6-1 in the Big East is nothing to be ashamed of,  especially if it results in an invitation to a BCS bowl come January.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Cardinals look like the clear-cut favorite in the Big East, but I do not see Charlie Strong’s club sweeping league play only because that is so difficult to accomplish. The offense should be much-improved in Teddy Bridgewater’s second season, and four starters return on the offensive line. However, this is a team that ranked 103rd in the nation in total offense a year ago. The maturation of Bridgewater, a rising star, and a young receivers group should change that ranking significantly, but there may be some hiccups along the way that would prevent winning every conference game. The defense should be solid once again, led by Adrian Bushell and Hakeem Smith in the secondary. Louisville has tough trips to Pittsburgh and Rutgers, and USF has the athletes to play with anybody if the Bulls are focused. It would not surprise me to see the Cardinals run the league because of the talent on the roster, but I’ll predict a 6-1 Big East record and a conference crown for Louisville.

Related Louisville Content

Louisville Cardinals 2012 Team Preview

Louisville Cardinals Top 10 Players for 2012

Louisville Cardinals 2012 Team Predictions

The Greatest Moments in Louisville Football History

Louisville Cardinals Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

Louisville Cardinals Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Louisville Rivals

 

Teaser:
<p> Louisville Football: Will the Cardinals Finish Unbeaten in the Big East?</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 05:28
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-louisville-rivals
Body:

Here are some of our favorite jokes about the Louisville Cardinals' biggest rivals.

 

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

 

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

 

• What does the average Kentucky football player get on his SAT? Drool.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

• How do you get a Kentucky graduate off your front porch? You pay for the pizza.

 

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

Related Louisville Content

Louisville Cardinals 2012 Team Preview

Louisville Cardinals Top 10 Players for 2012

Can Louisville Finish Big East Play Unbeaten in 2012?

The Greatest Moments in Louisville Football History

Louisville Cardinals Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

Louisville Cardinals Cheerleader Gallery

Louisville Cardinals 2012 Team Predictions

Teaser:
<p> Because sometimes it's good to make fun of the other team</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 01:57
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy, News
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-weekend-rundown-may-3
Body:

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

Tampa Bay’s Third Baseman is Going, Going, Lon-gonia For a While
Stop me if you’ve heard this before – more third basemen have been bitten by the injury bug. This week’s victim is none other than Evan Longoria. Tampa Bay’s two-time Gold Glove-winner and the AL Rookie of the Year in 2008 left Monday’s game after attempting to steal second base. On Tuesday, an MRI revealed that his left hamstring was partially torn, putting him on the shelf for anywhere between 4-8 weeks.

The Rays, who are currently in first place in the AL East, will certainly miss both his glove and bat. Longoria was hitting .329 with four home runs and 19 RBIs in his first 23 games.

Longoria wasn’t the only AL East third-sacker who went on the disabled list this week as Boston placed Kevin Youkilis on the 15-day DL on Wednesday with a lower back strain. The Youker was off to a slow start (.219-2-9), but had been hitting better as of late prior to suffering this injury.

The Red Sox called up top prospect Will Middlebrooks from AAA Pawtucket to take Youkilis’ place on the roster. At this point, Middlebrooks probably won’t have much value in anything but keeper leagues, but the Red Sox’ future third baseman is worth keeping an eye on.

As for third-base alternatives likely to see more playing time, Baltimore’s Chris Davis is off to a solid start, hitting .316 with five home runs and 13 RBIs. Pedro Alvarez also has been crushing the ball recently with four home runs and eight RBIs in his last nine games. Davis and Alvarez are both free-swingers, each of them having struck out at least 20 times so far, so if you add either to your line up you will have to live with the strikeouts and prolonged dry spells.

Astro-nomical Offense
Headed into this season, expectations in terms of both on-the-field and fantasy success, for the Houston Astros was understandably low. After all this was a team that lost a league-worst 106 games in 2011 while trading away two of its best players in Hunter Pence (Philadelphia) and Michael Bourn (Atlanta).

So far this season, the Astros are 11-14, and probably more surprisingly, are fourth in the National League in runs scored. As a team the Astros aren’t hitting lots of home runs, but they have a lot of guys who are getting on base, as they are second in the NL in both walks and on-base percentage entering Thursday.

They also are getting all of this done with a bunch of no-names, at least as far as your draft probably went, but are more than deserving of your full attention now. Their best hitter is second baseman Jose Altuve, who is third in the NL in hitting with a .358 average, to go along with 16 runs scored, seven doubles, 10 RBIs and four stolen bases.

Not too far behind him is Jed Lowrie. The former Red Sox, who was part of the trade for Mark Melancon in the offseason, is batting .329 with three home runs. Lowrie currently has a six-game hitting streak where he’s 11-21 with six runs scored, two home runs, six RBIs, four walks and just two strikeouts. Lowrie is the Astros’ starting shortstop, but in some leagues he may also have third-base eligibility, meaning he could be a possible replacement if you have the aforementioned Longoria or Youkilis on your roster.

The Astros’ starting third baseman is Chris Johnson, who went 4-4 with two home runs and six RBIs in their 8-1 win over the Mets on Wednesday. Johnson, who hit just .251 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs in 107 games in 2011, is hitting .311 right now, although consistent contact (24 strikeouts, three walks) still appears to be an issue.

Houston’s main source of power this year hasn’t been veteran slugger Carlos Lee (.267-2-13), instead it’s 24-year-old J.D. Martinez. The outfielder, who made his major-league debut last July and posted a .274-6-35 line in a little more than 200 at-bats. He’s picked up where he left off this season as he leads the team with 20 RBIs and is tied for Lowrie for first in home runs with three. Martinez also has shown good plate discipline with a near 1:1 ratio in walks (18) to strikeouts (19).

Jordan Schafer, who came over in the Bourn trade with Atlanta last July, also has done his fair share of damage in the runs scored (17) and stolen bases (nine) departments, while offering a little power (two home runs) from the leadoff spot.

This Week’s Other Significant Injuries
*Justin Morneau left Monday’s game in Anaheim early due to a sore left wrist, which immediately raised the alarm since that’s his surgically repaired wrist. Morneau returned to Minnesota for more tests, including a MRI, which didn’t reveal anything that doctors were too worried about. He most likely won’t play until Friday, but when he does return to the Twins’ line up, this is a situation that bears watching. The two-time AL MVP is still trying to find his old form at the plate. So far, he is batting .230 with four home runs and nine RBIs. Half of his home runs and a third of his RBIs came in one game, April 18 against the Yankees in New York.

*San Diego Padres left-hander Cory Luebke was placed on the 15-day DL on Tuesday because of a strained left elbow. Luebke was 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA in his first five starts. The Padres replaced Luebke in the starting rotation with veteran Jeff Suppan, who pitched five scoreless innings against the Brewers on Wednesday. Suppan has pitched in parts of 17 major-league seasons and was making his first appearance since Oct. 3, 2010 with St. Louis. For his career, he’s 138-143 with a 4.69 ERA, so I would proceed with utmost caution before even using him as a spot-starter, even in pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

*Milwaukee first baseman Mat Gamel is more than likely done for the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee while chasing a pop-up in foul territory in Tuesday’s night game in San Diego. Gamel is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair the damage in the near future. The Brewers' former hot prospect was off to a slow start at the plate (.246-1-6), but the team will miss his bat in the line up. For now, it appears that left-handed hitting Travis Ishikawa will receive the bulk of the playing time at first base, and outfielder Corey Hart can play there as well if necessary.

*Boston Red Sox starter Josh Beckett will miss his next scheduled start this Saturday against Baltimore with what the team is calling a lower-back strain. Aaron Cook will be summoned from AAA to take his spot. Cook who signed a minor-league deal with Boston in the offseason, made 17 starts for Colorado in 2011, going 3-10 with a 5.81 ERA in those games.

Weekend Series to Watch

Baltimore at Boston
Don’t look now, but Baltimore, not Boston is in second place in the AL East, thanks to great pitching (2.83 team ERA, tops in the AL) and surprising offense (fifth in AL in average, third in both doubles and home runs entering Thursday). The Red Sox, on the other hand, got off to a 4-10 start, but then won six straight on the road against Minnesota and Chicago to get back to .500. They come back home for this three-game set against the Orioles, however, having lost three of their last four games.

Baltimore will go with Wei-Yin Chen, Tommy Hunter and Jason Hammel on the mound against the Red Sox. While these three are anything but household names when it comes to fantasy rosters, they have combined to go 7-2 in 14 starts with a collective 2.86 ERA. Hammel (3-1, 1.97 ERA) has been the Orioles’ ace so far, as he has given up just 23 hits in 32 innings with 30 strikeouts.

Offensively, Adam Jones (.316-6-12) and Matt Wieters (.303-7-17) have been doing their part, but Baltimore also has gotten unexpected contributions from Chris Davis (.316-5-13) and Robert Andino (.342, 10 R). They need J.J. Hardy (.196-4-8) to get on base a little more, especially with leadoff man Nolan Reimold (.313-5-10) shelved for the time being with a bulging disk in his back. Reimold may be back in the line up this weekend.

Boston knows all about injuries as Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Youkilis are all out of the line up and on the DL. David Ortiz (.391-6-21, 17 R) and Dustin Pedroia (.294-3-8, 16 R) have done their part, as have Ryan Sweeney (.361, 12 2B), Mike Aviles (.281-5-19, 19 R) and even Cody Ross (5 HR, 18 RBI). It’s really the Red Sox’ pitching that needs to get it going.

No Boston starter has an ERA under 4.32 right now and the bullpen (5.35 collective ERA) has been even worse. Jon Lester (1-2, 4.65 ERA) and Clay Buchholz (3-1, 8.69 ERA) will go Friday and Sunday, with Aaron Cook making his 2012 season debut on Saturday in place of an injured Beckett (see above).

Milwaukee at San Francisco
Both teams are third in their respective divisions entering Thursday’s action, but this is a series highlighted by some intriguing pitching match ups. Zack Greinke (3-1, 3.94 ERA) and Tim Lincecum (2-2, 5.74 ERA) start things off on Friday night by the bay. Greinke has been solid to start the season, with the exception of his second start against the Cubs at Wrigley Field when he was tagged for eight runs on nine hits in 3 2/3 innings. Lincecum got off to a horrible start, but has pitched better of late, going 2-0 and surrendering just one earned run in his last two starts.

Saturday afternoon will pit Brewers’ lefty Randy Wolf (2-2, 6.84 ERA) against the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner (4-1, 2.53 ERA). While Wolf may not seem like the ideal spot-start option, keep in mind the Giants are batting just .239 against left-handed pitching, which ranks them 11th in the National League.

Wolf also may get the added benefit of not having to face the Giants’ best hitter, Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval, who is off to a .316-5-15 start and had a 20-game hitting streak to begin his ’12 campaign, left Wednesday’s night game early with an apparent hand/wrist injury. His status for the weekend was unclear as of Thursday morning.

The series concludes on Sunday with Shaun Marcum (1-1, 3.19 ERA) facing off against Matt Cain (1-2, 2.35 ERA). Marcum is coming off of his best start of the season, tossing seven scoreless innings in which he yielded just three hits in Tuesday’s win in San Diego, while Cain has allowed just five earned runs in his last four starts, which covers 32 1/3 innings.

Cain will need to be at the top of his game to slow down Ryan Braun. Braun hit three home runs and a triple in the Brewers’ 8-3 win on Monday against the Padres and is batting .400 (6-15, 2B, 3B) in his career against the right-hander.

— by Mark Ross, published on May 3, 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports has all the information and news you need to get your fantasy baseball line up ready for this weekend</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 01:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/football-great-junior-seau-dead-43
Body:


There’s a good chance that Junior Seau will one day be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, possibly as early as 2014. Sadly, should the former linebacker receive this illustrious honor, he won’t be there to accept it in person.

Seau, who played 20 seasons in the NFL, was found dead earlier today at his Oceanside home in southern California. He was 43.

While the cause of his death has not been confirmed, reports say that police responded to a shooting at Seau’s southern California home this morning. When they arrived, they found Seau with a gunshot wound to his chest and a handgun lying nearby. His death is being investigated as a suicide.

Seau, who was born in San Diego, played for USC in college where he was an unanimous All-American his junior year. He was drafted by his hometown Chargers with the fifth overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft and went on to play 13 seasons for them before moving on to Miami for three seasons.

While in San Diego, Seau was invited to 12 consecutive Pro Bowls from 1991-2002 and also was named a first-team All-Pro six times during that same span. He helped the Chargers get to the Super Bowl in 1995, where they lost to the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX. It was during that 1994 season that Seau was also named the recipient of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

The Chargers traded Seau to the Dolphins in April 2003 and he spent three injury-plagued seasons in Miami. The Dolphins released Seau in March 2006, and he announced his retirement in August after signing a one-day contract with the Chargers.

He had a change of heart, however, signing with New England just four days later. Seau stayed with the Patriots for four seasons, including the 2007 season that saw the team came up one game short of a history-making undefeated season as the Patriots fell to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

The only thing really missing from Seau’s resume is that elusive Super Bowl ring, which he had two chances to get. Otherwise, anyone who watched the charismatic, hard-hitting linebacker play, especially during his prime, knows that he was happiest when he was on the field.

Tragically, that did not appear to be the case off the field. In 2010, Seau was involved in a single-car accident where he survived a 30-foot plunge in his SUV off of a cliff in Carlsbad. Adding to the mystery and intrigue of that incident was the fact that he had been arrested just hours earlier on suspicion of assaulting his 25-year-old girlfriend at his home. He was not charged in the incident.

Seau is just the latest in an increasing number of former NFL players to die at a young age. While more information and revelations related to his tragic passing will certainly come to light in the near future, this day and the circumstances surrounding it will almost certainly come up again should Seau get an invitation to join the other greats in Canton. It’s truly a shame that he won’t be around to enjoy it.

Teaser:
<p> Remembering one of the greats</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - 16:46
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-boise-state-no-24-2012-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 begins every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To commemorate the Boise State Broncos being named No. 24, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to celebrating 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.)

Chris Petersen’s Boise State Broncos continue the countdown at No. 24 with 10 players selected as All-Mountain West performers. Athlon Sports predicts Boise State will finish first in the Mountain West. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Boise State looks to be the clear-cut leader in the Mountain West this season,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “The Broncos lost some star power, but Chris Petersen has built them into a perennial Top 25 program.”

Ten Broncos earned preseason All-MW honors, including wide receiver Matt Miller, offensive lineman Charles Leno, defensive lineman Mike Atkinson, linebacker J.C. Percy, defensive back Jamar Taylor and punt returner Mitch Burroughs on the first team. Running back D.J. Harper, offensive lineman Joe Kellogg, defensive lineman Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe and defensive back Jerrell Gavins were named to the second team. In addition, Boise State’s wide receivers, offensive line and defensive backs units were deemed best in the Mountain West.

Boise State Team Preview

Boise State's Top 10 Players of 2012

Boise State’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports Names Boise State No. 24 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - 11:47
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-5
Body:

Confusion in Richmond, Changes at Bristol and Pastrana’s Impact


NASCAR officiating, Bristol’s changes and the debut of Travis Pastrana. It was quite a week for the sport and created a lot of topics for members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council to debate.

With so much to discuss, no need to delay things. Here’s a look at how NASCAR fans saw these issues:


WAS THE DEBRIS CAUTION LEGITIMATE LATE IN THE RICHMOND RACE?
NASCAR called a debris caution with 13 laps left in Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond with Tony Stewart leading. Stewart said the debris was a water bottle. MRN announcer Dave Moody tweeted that he saw a “big hunka metal” on the track. TV did not show the debris. Fan Council members were asked if they thought the caution was legitimate.

65.7 percent said Yes
34.3 percent said No

What Fan Council members said:
• Well I can’t say it was legitimate, but I did see them pick something up. It was right in front of where my seats were.

• I have listened to the NASCAR Officials Channel on SiriusXM enough to know that they do not throw phantom cautions and they are legit. If there is something out there, and especially if they cannot identify it, they will throw a caution.

• Absolutely not! Evidently NASCAR has brought in Vince McMahon as a consultant, and decided to add artificial drama to race(s) that needed none. It turned a great race, that Tony Stewart had earned the win of, into a tire-changing contest. Let the racers race!

• I have to trust NASCAR, but this is easily avoidable — SHOW THE DEBRIS. We don't have to trust officials in other sports because foul balls are shown to be foul, touchdowns are shown to be touchdowns. Just show the debris, and all is solved.

• Since the fans have been complaining and the press has picked it up about no drama we had plenty of it at RIR. Jeff Burton tweeted “it looked like a can to me. It was on the exit of 2 it was about 1/3 up the track.” And Matt (Yocum of FOX) tweeted “robin p told me on the plane last pm that it was a can not water bottle. Mid turn 2 like u said MkJ” And from what others said it had been there for a bit and Carl was the one screaming about it the loudest.

• NASCAR has been VERY good about not tossing out phantom cautions this season — I think that there is no reason to not believe them.

• Phantom cautions are a problem in NASCAR. There is no reason why the reason for the caution can’t be shown to us. It should be mandatory.

• This is unbelievable. One week fans are complaining about lack of cautions and NASCAR needs to do something. This week they are calling the caution bogus. 

• With all of the HDTV cameras, why can't the race producer show us the debris for every caution? They could show us the GEICO roof camera during the GEICO side-by-side commercial and the 5-Hour roof camera during that side-by-side commercial. They show us the replays for a wreck from these roof cameras, why can’t they try to help NASCAR be legitimate and show the debris?

• If David Hoots says "Put it out,” it's legitimate enough for me.


DID NASCAR MAKE THE RIGHT CALL IN PENALIZING EDWARDS FOR HIS RESTART?
With less than 100 laps left in Saturday’s race, NASCAR penalized Carl Edwards for jumping the restart and passing leader Tony Stewart too soon. It happened as there was some confusion with Edwards’ team if he was the leader or not. Fan Council members were asked if NASCAR made the right call to penalize Edwards for jumping the restart.

75.0 percent said Yes
25.0 percent said No

What Fan Council members said:
• I really don’t see the debate here. From the replay it showed that Carl jumped the restart before the restart box. Even IF he was the leader, he still jumped the restart. NASCAR made the right call. I don't see why everybody is so up in arms about it, because that's always been the rule, regardless. End of story.

• If he jumped the restart, and there is a penalty for the infraction, then YES. Having said that, I think a black flag is a stupid penalty for that infraction. Just wave it off and make them do it again. That is WAY too harsh.

• Absolutely not!!!! I was at the race and listening to his channel, his spotter came over the radio and told Carl NASCAR said 99 is the leader, and the scoring tower called him the leader. There was obviously confusion so why didn't NASCAR call off the (re)start and get it fixed like they have done a million times before? Tony spun the tires bad, and Carl simply got a great restart like he had done all night. I think NASCAR just made themselves look terrible Saturday with two bad calls, and the only explanation was basically “sorry bout your luck.”

• Once again, I believe in NASCAR and its integrity … though I will say that in that particular situation it would have made sense to go one more lap under yellow to make sure there was no confusion.

• Clear as day. He jumped the start.

• Tony clearly spun his tires on the restart. That was a bad call.

• It was blatant. Props to NASCAR for having restart lines visible on the wall, this was a black and white call to me, no gray area.


GRADING SATURDAY NIGHT’S CUP RACE AT RICHMOND

55.6 percent called it Good
23.0 percent called it Great
16.7 percent called it Fair
4.8 percent called it Poor

What Fan Council members said:
• Loved it. I’m so glad I blew off my Saturday night plans to stay home and watch TV.

• NASCAR has a HUGE problem on their hands. I’ve been critical all year of the boring (nature) of the racing, and after seeing this race in person I gotta say it’s not the drivers being too cautious, it’s the fact that they don't get a chance to be aggressive. There is not much passing, there is nobody charging up through the field, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all in the car. The dictatorship of NASCAR has to loosen up the rules a bit. Every car is the same, therefore they just get strung out and basically run a fast-paced parade. If NASCAR doesn’t make some changes real quick, they are going to dig a hole that will take years to recover from.

• The Jimmie Johnson pit crew penalty, Carl Edwards jumping the restart and Tony Stewart’s debris caution added needed drama to this race. Without these three events, it would have been a rather dull race overall. Short track racing is always better than the 1.5- and 2-miles tracks. This Richmond race did have some long green-flag runs, but short tracks always have active racing because 43 cards don’t get spread out well at a 3/4 mile track. The restarts were some of the best moments of the race, including the last restart with about 10 laps to go.

• I saw more passing this week; some interesting pit road incidents (!) and penalties that spiced up the situation.

• For all the people that say it is boring, these past few weeks have been for the most part about how well the teams can make the best changes and compete in mostly green-flag racing. THAT is what racing is all about to me.

• Boring. I was there and it was boring. Restarts were the only exciting parts and I'm only giving a “good” rating for them.

• Another solid good race, not spectacular but kept my attention throughout.


YOU GOING TO BUY BRISTOL TICKETS AFTER THE CHANGES TO THE TRACK?
Last week Bruton Smith announced plans to grind Bristol’s top groove to take away the advantage of that line. He said it also will narrow the groove, forcing the cars to run closer together, which could lead to the beating and banging often associated with racing there. The move was made after a decline in attendance for the spring race. Fan council members were asked if this was enough to make them want to buy tickets to the August night race there.

81.6 percent said No
18.4 percent said Yes

What Fan Council member said:
• I am going regardless.

• Hoping it makes a difference … Will wait to get tickets again though until next season though.

• Actually, I’m skipping the Bristol race this year. I really didn’t find anything wrong with the racing as it was but with the economy as it is right now I’m just going to see what happens with this one.

• I like the progressive-banked Bristol because I’d rather see guys run side-by-side for 75 laps without hitting each other instead of just plowing in the back of someone to pass. Not a fan of Keselowski or Kenseth but their battle in March was epic.

• Hey Mr. Smith, instead of grinding the top groove to “help” bring fans to Bristol. How about giving $50 gas cards to those that purchase a ticket from the BMS ticket office. In addition, the hotels that increase their rates race weekend, how about pay the difference so the race fans pay the normal rates? Because the bottom line, Mr. Smith, (is) “we the race fans DO NOT HAVE THE MONEY” with the increased cost of living.

• BMS was on my bucket list, so I am going no matter what — I am very anxious to see what happens under the lights in August!

• This is going to help bring back the racing we all love so much there! Can't wait to see Bristol back to being the special place that it's always known to be! Go Bruton!

• The racing at Bristol was fine as it was. I’m not going to get more interested in any particular race because of a gimmick.

Teaser:
<p> The Backseat Drivers Fan Council weighs in on the confusiong finish at Richmond, debris cautions, changes at Bristol and Travis Pastrana's impact on NASCAR.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - 10:58
All taxonomy terms: Clint Bowyer, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/clint-bowyer-wear-paul-bear-bryant-helmet-talladega
Body:

NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer will be playing to the crowd this weekend as he rolls into Talladega. Bowyer tweeted a picture of his custom helmet, which pays homage to the Alabama Crimson Tide and their legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. The helmet will match his No. 15 Toyota, which will also be decked out in the crimson colors. According to Bowyer, the helmet is "Pretty Bitchin!" We have to agree.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - 10:36
Path: /college-football/boise-state-football-will-broncos-play-bcs-bowl
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 24 Boise State. The Broncos are coming off a 12-1 record with a victory over Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Boise State suffered a lot of personnel losses, but expect this program to remain a top 25 team.

Considering the heavy personnel losses from last season, will Boise State play in a BCS bowl this year?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The chances seem awfully slim to me. However, if Boise State is going to look for any consolation, the Broncos can look at 2008. In Kellen Moore’s freshman season, the Broncos still finished 12-1. With the amount of young talent on that team four years ago, it was apparent Boise State was in for an incredible four-year run. Back then, we had no clue who Moore was, much less Doug Martin, Billy Winn, George Iloka and Nate Potter, who were also freshmen on that team. In all likelihood, Boise State has those kinds of freshmen and sophomores on the roster this time around. I have little doubt Boise State is going to continue to be a high-level team, threatening double-digit wins each year, but 2012 will be the most uncertain since 2008. This time around, the new quarterback is only the most visible personnel change. The core group of seniors who went 50-3 and finished in the top 10 three times is gone. Boise State is going to compete for top-five finishes again, just not this year.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The fact that Boise State is in the preseason Top 25 is a huge testament to where Chris Peterson has taken this program over the last half decade. This team returns one starter on defense and only five on offense. And Peterson doesn't have to replace also rans and walk-ons — he has to replace some of the best players in the history of the program. Names like Doug Martin, George Iloka, Shea McClellin, Nate Potter and Billy Winn rank amongst the program's best of all-time at their respective positions. Most difficult to replace will be record-breaking quarterback Kellen Moore. For 53 straight games, Broncos fans watched No. 11 trot onto the field, and 50 of those 53 times, Boise State won. Now, the onus of offensive leadership falls to Joe Southwick or true freshman Moore clone Nick Patti.

So to land in our Top 25 with only seven total returning starters is a huge statement about the current status of the Boise State program. They no longer rebuild, they reload. Having said that, there is no chance the Broncos return to a BCS bowl in 2012. The schedule is easier than it has been in years, so a conference title and 10-win season is within reach. But a road trip to Michigan State to start the year will be impossible, while additional journeys to Southern Miss and Nevada provide interesting tests later in the year. A home game against an offensively-minded BYU team could also be tricky for the reworked blue defense. If Boise State goes 2-2 in those four games, 10 wins is a virtual lock. Yet, in order to get back to the BCS, the Broncos will have to win in East Lansing, Hattiesburg and Reno, while playing perfect football against nine other opponents. Odds are Boise State will miss at least one kick along the way, right? (Too soon?)

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s certainly possible, but I can’t see Boise State making a BCS bowl in 2012. The Broncos are still the No. 1 team in the Mountain West, but there are a ton of personnel losses to overcome. Seven players that earned first-team all-conference honors last season are gone, and Boise State has only seven returning starters going into 2012. Although the offense has to replace quarterback Kellen Moore and running back Doug Martin, the Broncos lost most of their key contributors on the defensive line and standout safety George Iloka.

With TCU leaving for the Big 12, Boise State is the clear favorite to win the Mountain West title. However, the schedule features enough tough matchups that the Broncos could lose two games. Boise State will be an underdog in the opener against Michigan State, while the Sept. 22 matchup against BYU won’t be easy. Wyoming and Nevada could be the Broncos’ toughest competition in conference play and both games are on the road.

Even though Chris Petersen has a strong track record of developing talent, there are a lot of personnel losses to overcome. The Broncos should get better as the season progresses, but will likely lose in the opener to Michigan State and stumble in one of the conference road games, likely against Nevada. I wouldn’t be shocked if Boise State runs through the Mountain West unbeaten, but I think 10-2 and a finish somewhere in the 15-20 range in the 2012 final polls is the most likely outcome.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I don’t think Boise State will be in the hunt for a BCS bowl. The Broncos simply lost too much talent to expect this team to flirt with a top-10 ranking at any point this season. Kellen Moore and Doug Martin will be tough to replace on offense, but the big concern, in my opinion, is on defense. Boise State was able to play with — and beat — so many BCS conference teams in recent years because the Broncos were so good on the defensive line. Now, the entire starting front seven must be replaced. It’s just not realistic to think Boise can just plug in new starters at virtually ever spot on defense and not take a step back.

Chris Petersen’s team will win a bunch of games and score a lot of points, but Boise State in 2012 won’t be nearly as talented as recent Bronco teams. On a neutral field, I’d make the ’11 Broncos a 13.5-point favorite over the ’12 Broncos.

Mark Ross
I am a big believer in what Chris Petersen has built in Boise, so I think the Broncos CAN return a BCS bowl. I'm just not so sure they WILL. My hesitation stems from two reasons - no more Kellen Moore and two difficult non-conference games. Moore ended his Broncos career with the most wins by a quarterback in FBS history.

Let's not forget that the defense will basically be brand new as well with just one starter returning from last year's unit. You just can't lose all that experience under center and continuity on the other side of the ball and not expect the Broncos to take a step back.

It's not that Joe Southwich or Nick Patti, the projected frontrunners to be Moore's replacement, don't have the talent or capability to handle the job, it's just that they've never done it before. In addition, whoever gets the nod under center to start the season will make their debut against Michigan State in Lansing. Not the ideal location or opponent to work the kinks out in my opinion. A couple of weeks later BYU comes calling on the Smurf Turf, so two of Boise State's first three games are against anything but so-called cupcakes.

The Broncos should have little trouble navigating their Mountain West Conference schedule, especially now that TCU calls the Big 12 home. But there are several teams in their conference, like Nevada, Wyoming and perhaps even Fresno State, that can't be discounted or not taken seriously. So when you combine the new faces in key places on both sides of the ball and add that to the degree of difficulty related to their schedule, it shouldn't surprise anyone to see the Broncos finish with a few less wins than they did last year. And if any school knows the difference a win can mean when it comes to the BCS, it's Boise State.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Chris Petersen’s team can reach double-digit wins (like always), but I do not think the Broncos get back to the BCS. Even with the loss of some top personnel, Boise will still be the class of the Mountain West. However, it’s difficult to see the Broncos having the same national cache with the roster attrition that includes NFL first-round picks Shea McClellin and Doug Martin plus record-setting quarterback Kellen Moore. Stud offensive tackle Nate Potter and defenders George Iloka, Tyrone Crawford and Billy Winn will also be missed. Boise has shown a penchant for winning season-openers over big-time opponents, and another opportunity presents itself at Michigan State on August 31. If the Broncos can win that one, then maybe the BCS is a possibility. Petersen has built a perennial Top 25 program, and I see the 2012 squad as a 10-2 team that wins the MWC crown but not a BCS Bowl.

Related Boise State Content

Boise State Broncos 2012 Team Preview
Boise State's Top 10 Players Since 1967

Boise State Broncos Cheerleader Gallery

Boise State Broncos Top 10 Players for 2012
Boise State 2012 Team Predictions

Greatest Moments in Boise State Football History

Jokes About Boise State Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Boise State Football: Will the Broncos Play in a BCS Bowl?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - 06:01
Path: /college-football/boise-state-broncos-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The Boise State Broncos check in at No. 24 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: D.J. Harper, RB
With Doug Martin off to the NFL, the Boise State running back tradition falls to sixth-year senior D.J. Harper. However, the senior has struggled to stay healthy, and depth is a concern with walk-on Drew Wright listed as the backup. These two players are the only two ball carriers on the roster with game experience and Harper has shown a penchant for making the big play. Wright earned his first scholarship this spring and has established himself as the clear No. 2 option. The best way for Chris Peterson to break in a new quarterback for the first time in four years will be with a great running game.

Trap Game: BYU (Sept. 22)
Early in the schedule will be the best time to get this Boise State team as it breaks in a new quarterback, new running game and entirely new defense. The Cougars return with a big chunk of the offense and should be a bowl team in 2012. However, it should visit Boise with a 1-2 record after facing an improving Washington State team in Week 1 and visiting rival Utah in Week 3. They will be better than their record indicates at that time, and with two road trips looming for Boise State, the Cougars could easily sneak up on the Broncos.

Upset Alert: At Southern Miss (Oct. 6)
Any road trip against a team that won 12 games a season ago is going to be tough. However, the early October trip to Hattiesburg for Boise State won’t feature former star Eagles quarterback Austin Davis or offensive guru Larry Fedora. Despite replacing most of its starting line-up, Boise State should still be favored, but Southern Miss is one of the most successful mid-major programs and new head coach Ellis Johnson will have his squad ready to compete. 

Unsung Hero: Michael Atkinson, DT
With five defensive linemen departing, Chris Peterson needs to find players he can count on in the most important area of his defense. Winning games starts with a solid defensive line and Atkinson is poised for his best season as a senior. He is lighter and quicker than ever before and appears to be the vocal leader of the totally reworked D-Line. He posted a career-best 31 tackles

Biggest Game: At Nevada (Nov. 24)
No one has to remind fans of what playing at Nevada means to this Boise State program. The last time this team visited Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev., a missed field goal cost the Broncos a trip to the national championship game. While that type of pressure likely won’t be on the line in this fall, a conference title and potential BCS bowl bid could hang in the balance for the Broncos in the 2012 season finale.

Freshman To Watch: Nick Patti, QB
The former Orlando star graduated high school early and went through his first collegiate spring practice this April. He has Kellen Moore size and skills and played at an elite level in the prep ranks — Dr. Phillips High School. He posted a 34-4 record as a starter and set school records for completions (374), yards (5,701), touchdown passes (66) and completion rate (67%) while earning Florida 8A Player of the Year honors. Class 8A is the highest level of competition in the talent-rich Sunshine State.

Comeback Player: Jerrell Gavins, CB
The redshirt senior started the first three games of the season last fall before suffering a season-ending injury. His picked-off three passes in his short three-game season and actually finished with the team lead in interceptions. Gavins played in every game in 2010 and should return to the starting line-up this fall. On a defense with only one starter returning, any experience is a welcome sight for Broncos fans.

Defensive MVP: Jamar Taylor, CB
Taylor is a complete student athlete and is the top returning defensive player on the field. He possesses tremendous work ethic and leads by example. On a defense that returns only one starter (him), the onus of leadership falls to Taylor. He elevated his game throughout spring practice and has many people comparing him to former standout defensive dynamo and first round NFL pick Kyle Wilson.

Season Defining Moment: Week 1 at Michigan State
This game might not be a season defining moment but possibly a program-defining moment. While neither team should challenge for national supremacy this season, Boise State enters a brutal environment against a team that has entered “reloading-not-rebuilding” status. The Spartans also replace their program’s greatest quarterback and will be a bowl team. But if the Broncos, with only six returning starters, can walk into East Lansing and win the first game of the year, they can no longer be considered a mid-major program — at least, until they enter the Big East.

Position Battle: Quarterback
The right to replace legend Kellen Moore won’t be easy for anyone on the roster, but junior Joe Southwick and true freshman Nick Patti both appear ready for the challenge. Southwick (6-foot-1, 191 pounds) enters the summer with the lead for the starting job and is easily the most experienced option on the roster. The Kellen Moore-esque Nick Patti graduated high school early and participated in spring camp. The 5-foot-11, 195 pound Orlando, Fla., product was a finalist for National Gatorade Player of the Year and could swipe the starting job come fall camp. 

Newcomer To Watch: Jeremy Ioane, SO
So this is stretching the definition of “newcomer” but Ioane has been on campus for two years and has made four solo tackles in nine career games. He hasn’t played much, but his recruiting hype may finally be realized this fall as he enters the starting line-up. The 5-foot-10, 192-pound redshirt sophomore could be the most significant new starter in the Boise State two-deep.

Related Boise State Content

Boise State Broncos 2012 Team Preview
Boise State's Top 10 Players Since 1967

Boise State Broncos Cheerleader Gallery

Boise State Broncos Top 10 Players for 2012
Will Boise State Play in a BCS Bowl in 2012?

Greatest Moments in Boise State Football History

Jokes About Boise State Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Boise State Broncos 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - 06:01
All taxonomy terms: Boise State Broncos, College Football
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-boise-state-rivals
Body:

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

• What does the average Vandals football player get on his SAT? Drool.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

• Why is Idaho replacing the turf at the Kibbie Dome with cardboard? The Vandals always look better on paper.

 

• Things you will never hear a Vandals fan say: I have reviewed your application.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Teaser:
<p> Because sometimes it's good to make fun of the other team</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - 03:48
Path: /college-football/auburn-football-will-tigers-show-improvement-2012
Body:

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

Can Auburn Increase its Win Total in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Auburn waved goodbye to Cam Newton and Nick Fairley two years ago and dropped from 14 wins to eight. Now what will the departures of Michael Dyer and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn? Auburn may be in for another dropoff in 2012. I’ll try not to read too much into the way Auburn lost its five games last season, all by two touchdowns or more. The losses were to three top-10 teams (Alabama, LSU, Arkansas), the ACC champion (Clemson) and the SEC East winner (Georgia). Not much shame there. That said, Auburn’s lucky it won even eight games last season. The passing game was dreadful and the defense was nearly as bad. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will have nine returning starters to work with, but Auburn’s defense still has to make up a ton a ground to move into nine- and 10-win territory, especially in the unforgiving SEC West. Meanwhile, the offense is a mystery with Malzahn off to Arkansas State. Who is going to move the ball for the Tigers? Clint Moseley? Kiehl Frazier? Onterio McCalebb? A year after combining for one offensive touchdown against Alabama and LSU last season, Auburn will be in danger of being shut out by the better defenses in the league. If that’s the case, Auburn is probably closer to missing a bowl game than it is to winning more than eight.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The Tigers are the single most intriguing team in the SEC this summer. They are the biggest wildcard in the conference and will most assuredly play a huge role in the conference title race one way or the other. This team has recruited at an elite level nationally and has the talent to compete in the SEC West. Yet, inexplicably the Tigers have dramatically underachieved on the defensive side of the ball for two full seasons. Finding a quarterback who can push the football down the field will be also be imperative to 2012 success. I am almost more interested in seeing how this Auburn team comes together than anything else in the SEC this fall.

Two fantastic hires, Scott Loeffler on offense and Brian VanGorder on defense, have stabilized the coaching staff uncertainty under Gene Chizik. But these two coordinators have loads of work to do on the Plains. The talent is dripping off of this roster, particularly in the defensive front seven and along the offensive line — two areas that normally would indicate on the field success. Only time will tell if all those five-star blockers will be able to move the pile in the running game or protect the quarterback in the passing game.

Due to the upgrades on the coaching staff and the development of elite recruiting classes, this team should be improved in 2012. It just may not show up in the win column. Auburn was lucky get wins over South Carolina and Florida and failed to even compete with the better teams in the league — losing by a total of 125 points to Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and Georgia. Those four games will once again be brutal tests but at least the Bayou Bengals, Hogs and Dawgs have to visit Auburn this year. Clemson is again on the schedule as well, so another 8-5 (4-4) season is likely. But I believe the War Eagle ship is headed in the right direction and will be much more competitive this time around.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s certainly possible Auburn will be better than it was last year, but it may not show up in the win column. The Tigers are a team with a lot of question marks. The offense struggled last year and it may not be much better in 2012. Kiehl Frazier has potential at quarterback, but how will he fit in with new coordinator Scot Loeffler’s scheme? Onterio McCalebb is a solid running back, but may not be able to handle the full workload.

In addition to the concerns on offense, the Tigers have to figure out some answers on defense. The good news for new coordinator Brian VanGorder is nine starters are back and the defensive line could be among the best in the SEC. After the front four is where VanGorder has his work cut out. The linebacking corps and secondary have some talented players returning, but neither unit performed up to expectations last year.

In order to improve on last year’s eight wins, Auburn needs to pull a few upsets along the way. The Tigers will likely be underdogs in the season opener against Clemson and heads to Mississippi State in Week 2. It’s not out of the question to think Auburn could start 0-2. Games against LSU, Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama would appear to be loses and a trip to Vanderbilt isn’t a guaranteed win.

Auburn is recruiting well, but there are too many question marks to expect a run at the SEC West title. I could see the Tigers finishing the regular season with an 8-4 mark, but would be surprised if they won more than eight games.  

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Tigers will be a better team than last year’s inexperienced group, but I still see them at the seven-win mark in the regular season. The 2012 campaign begins with a tough game versus the high-octane offense of Clemson in Atlanta. Additionally, Gene Chizik’s crew will likely be the underdog in SEC contests against LSU, Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama. Auburn lost to the five aforementioned opponents last season by an average of 27.8 points. The talented Tigers roster should close the gap this year or maybe even win one or two of those games this year, but they also have challenging games against  Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M. New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler has done great work with quarterbacks at places like Michigan, Florida and Temple a year ago, and he will need to find some production out of the position for Auburn to have success. There are veteran weapons in running back Onterio McCalebb, receiver Emory Blake and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, so the Tigers will have a shot at some upsets if Loeffler finds a signal caller. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has plenty of starters returning, led by All-SEC end Corey Lemonier and linebacker Daren Bates. Auburn will be an interesting team with a talented roster, but a tough schedule put the forecast at 7-5 for the regular season.

Where will Auburn finish in the 2012 SEC standings? Check back throughout May as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

Related SEC Content

10 Teams That Could End the SEC's National Title Streak
LSU or Alabama: Which Team is No. 1 in the SEC West?

Georgia or South Carolina: Which Team Will Win the SEC East in 2012?
Ranking the SEC's Running Backs for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

Teaser:
<p> Auburn Football: Can Tigers Increase Their Wins in 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - 01:20
Path: /mlb/baseball-numbers-al-west-bullpens-kemp-and-ethier-and-pujols
Body:

0
Runs scored by the St. Louis Cardinals while Adam Wainwright was in the game during his first four starts this season, spanning 20 innings.

2.05
ERA of the first-place Texas Rangers’ bullpen in April.

5.26
ERA of the last-place Los Angeles Angels’ bullpen in April.

.249
Cumulative batting average in the major leagues this season, the lowest for a season in the DH Era. In 1972, the season prior to the DH rule, the majors’ average was .244. The league batting average has declined each year since 2006.

16
Home runs by the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in 163 at-bats. Their teammates have combined for just three homers in 545 at-bats.

20
Consecutive games with a hit by the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval to start this season. Before being held hitless by the Padres on Saturday, Sandoval established a new San Francisco mark for a hitting streak to start the season, beating the old mark of 16 set by Willie Mays in 1961.

0
Home runs for Albert Pujols in the month of April. The future Hall of Fame slugger also had just four RBIs for the month, easily the lowest totals of his illustrious career. For the first 11 seasons of his career, he averaged seven homers and 21 RBIs in April with lows of five and 15.

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 - 19:52
Path: /mlb/baseballs-best-players-35-and-over
Body:

Last week we presented the best of the young guys — 25 and under. Now the old dudes. Needless to say this roster is one huge injury risk. As was the case with the 25-and-under list, I’m using Opening Day (April 4, 2012) as the cut-off. Players had to be at least age 35 on that day to qualify. I can’t tell how tempting it was to fudge on the age eligibility and include Carlos Beltran, who is 20 days too young, and Roy Halladay, who missed by 40 days. Doc immediately becomes this team’s ace next season.

Catcher
A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox

Last season was the first time A.J. spent any time on the DL in his career. Remarkable. So far this season, he’s batting better than .330. Easy to run on though.

First Base
Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox

He has played close to 2,000 games for the White Sox after both the Dodgers and Reds traded him. This is likely to be his third straight .300-30-100 season.

Second Base
Michael Young, Texas

Okay, crucify me now for taking some liberty here. But Placido Polanco? Jamey Carroll? Marco Scutaro? Jerry Hairston? Not much to choose from here. At least Young has played 433 games in his career at second base, and he can still hit like a 30-year-old. He made 14 starts there last season and three already in 2012.

Third Base
Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees

Clearly A-Rod is in decline, but he's still a feared hitter in the middle of one of the best lineups in baseball. And he's one of the guys on this team who isn't a liability on defense.

Shortstop
Derek Jeter, New York Yankees

There can be no argument here. Just when you think Jeter might be slowing down, he carries a .400 batting average into late April.

Left Field
Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs

He’s turned himself into an horrific outfielder and has some horrific holes in his swing. Other than that, the Cubs should be excited about the $54 million they owe him for 2012-14. Just nudges Carlos Lee off the team.

Center Field
Torii Hunter, Los Angeles Angels

Yes, I know he plays right field now, but I’m sure he can still handle himself quite well in center. No doubt he’s in decline though. He has yet to homer and has as many strikeouts as hits (19).

Right Field
Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle

Ichiro is not the same player that arrived in the States in 2001, but he’s borderline All-Star quality still. Having Ichiro and Jeter hit 1-2 (in some order) makes for good table setting.

Starting Pitchers
Tim Hudson, Atlanta

I know he’s been injured, but he appears to be healthy and ready to join the Braves’ rotation without a hitch. He can lead this staff.

Ted Lilly, Los Angeles Dodgers
He’s 2-0 with a sub-1.00 ERA and WHIP this season. While those trends won’t continue, he’s still a reliable No. 3 starter for the Dodgers.

Jamie Moyer, Colorado
Anyone who is older than me can have a spot on this roster. Sporting a 2.55 ERA can earn you a spot in the rotation.

Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati
Last season looked like the end for Arroyo as he struggled mightily. But 2012 has brought new life with just two walks in 26.2 innings with a 2.70 ERA in a hitter’s park.

Bartolo Colon, Oakland
We have no idea what to make of Colon’s unbelievable comeback. He won a Cy Young and 21 games in 2005, but has won just 25 games since. But he’s allowed less than one base runner per inning this season over 34 frames. We’ll ride him until his arm falls off, then turn to Hiroki Kuroda.

Relief Pitchers
Scott Downs, Los Angeles Angels

Every bullpen needs two lefthanders. Downs limited left-handed hitters to a .179 average last season. I think that’s more indicative than his slow start this season.

Matt Thornton, Chicago White Sox
Opponents are batting .216 so far this season as the White Sox are asking him to get tough outs every night it seems.

Setup Men
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay

Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey doesn’t get enough credit. From Soriano to Farnsworth and now Rodney, the Rays’ bullpen doesn’t seem to miss a beat. Not to mention Peralta and Benoit. So, we’re relying on Rodney in late innings in front of Mo.

Rafael Betancourt, Colorado
It was tempting to take Joe Nathan for this role, but Betancourt has proven to be consistent even in Colorado.

Closer
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees

This may be the only position on the roster where the old guys have an advantage. We would rely on Rivera to save big games for us, no matter the age restrictions.

Bench
Chipper Jones, Atlanta

Chipper's knees just aren't responding well enough to keep him on the field. But he's a tremendous asset in selected spots off the bench. 

Jose Molina, Tampa Bay
As tempting as it was to turn to the recently retired Ivan Rodriguez, we decided to include only active players. Molina would be familiar with the backup role and capable of making starts for an extended period. And since his name is Molina, he is tough to steal against.

David Ortiz, Boston
Since this writer still refuses to recognize the designated hitter in my lineups, Ortiz would be a serious weapon coming off the bench.

Todd Helton, Colorado
Helton loses out to Konerko due to durability issues, but Helton gives the team some punch off the bench and is a solid defensive replacement for Konerko.

Lance Berkman, St. Louis
Rife with nagging injuries (but who on this team isn’t?), Berkman is a switch-hitter who still believes he can play the outfield. Truth is, he probably can as well, or better, than Soriano. Great guy in the clubhouse, just trouble keeping him healthy.

John McDonald, Arizona
Edging out Alex Gonzalez and Marco Scutaro, McDonald provides some defensive help off the bench.

Jerry Hariston, Jr., Los Angeles Dodgers
No matter who he plays for or what position he plays, Hairston contributes with his bat, glove and on the bases.


Will be Eligible Next Season
Jose Valverde, Detroit
Rafael Furcal, St. Louis
Carlos Beltran, St. Louis
Roy Halladay, Philadelphia

- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)

Teaser:
<p> The best 25-man roster of players age 35 and older. Bad defense and lots of injury risks on this team.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 - 18:22
Path: /nascar/hendrick-motorsports-still-searching-elusive-200th-cup-win
Body:

The Long and Short of It

What was supposed to be a celebration has become a burden for Hendrick Motorsports. Mired in a 15-race winless drought, its longest since 2002-03, the organization remains at 199 Cup victories as the series heads to Talladega.

Whenever the team scores its 200th victory — a significant number in a sport that reveres Richard Petty’s 200 career victories as a driver — it will be more relief than triumph.

Yet, even as some focus on what Hendrick hasn’t done, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is second in the point standings and Jimmie Johnson is sixth. It’s surprising they haven’t won. Earnhardt has finished second or third four times and Johnson has done so three times. Hendrick has placed at least one car in the top 5 in each of the last five races. Twice it has had two cars among the top 5 in that stretch, including last weekend at Richmond when Earnhardt was second to Kyle Busch and Kahne placed a season-best fifth.

What makes this winless drought less dire for this organization is how much speed many of these cars have. It’s not like they’re struggling to stay on the lead lap in many races. Still, there are issues.

Gordon has struggled in qualifying. His three top-10 starts came at the short tracks. While he’s led 339 laps, second only to Johnson’s 362, nearly all of the laps Gordon came at Martinsville. He, Johnson and Earnhardt appeared as if they would all finish in the top three and give Hendrick his noteworthy victory at a track where he won his first Cup race. A late caution bunched the field and Gordon and Johnson got knocked out of the lead on the restart, symbolizing how agonizing close they’ve been to victory at times this season.

Gordon understands how important it is to score a victory soon.

“Well, it’s always important to win,” he says. “And we’re always trying to win as hard as we possibly can. It’s just like getting ready for the All-Star race. No points involved; we’re going to really go all-out to win. Well, we do it every weekend.

“But we do recognize that at this point, and it’s not completely out of the question that we could make up those points and get in the top 10 legitimately. If you look at our season last year, the amount of points that we made up from this point until the Chase, we did it. And we can do it again. But we’ve got to get a lot more things going our way than what’s happening right now. And we’ve definitely put ourselves at a huge deficit.”

Kahne has had all sorts of misfortune. He had only two finishes in the top 20 in the first six races. He fell out of one race because of an accident and another with engine problems. Gordon also had an engine problem, coming in the Daytona 500.

Even with such issues, it’s not hard to think that it won’t be long before a Hendrick car arrives in Victory Lane. Maybe this weekend. Gordon’s six victories at Talladega are most among active drivers and Earnhardt is next with five.

Johnson, the last Hendrick driver to win a Cup race, remains confident.

“My mindset from when I started and through the championships and still now, is if you run in the top 5, especially the top three week after week, you’re going to win your fair share of races,” says Johnson, who has seven top-10 finishes, tying Earnhardt for most this season. “And I fully believe in that statement. And although there are times I’ve left the track disappointed with a second or a third or whatever it may be — or 12th at Martinsville because I felt like we had a good shot at it — I still really believe in that philosophy and I’m very happy with how we’re running and the speed we have in our cars.”

LOOK AT THIS KID   The talk beforehand was about Travis Pastrana making his Nationwide Series debut last weekend at Richmond, but 18-year-old Ryan Blaney had people talking afterward when he finished seventh in his series debut.

“It exceeded my expectations a little bit,’’ said Blaney, the son of Cup driver Dave Blaney. “We thought coming out ... with the racecar all still intact and a good top-15 finish would be real nice.”

He’ll return to the series in a couple of weeks at Darlington — a track he’s never visited.

Blaney said he’ll prepare for Darlington by watching tapes of the racing as he did before the Richmond race, along with talking with other drivers.
 

Teaser:
<p> Following Kyle Busch's win at Richmond International Raceway, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 - 15:08
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-washington-no-25-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
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Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, begins 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 commemorate the Washington Huskies being named No. 25, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to celebrating 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.)

Steve Sarkisian’s Washington Huskies start the countdown at No. 25 with one preseason All-American and nine players selected as All-Pac-12 performers. Athlon Sports predicts Washington will finish third in the Pac-12’s North Division.  In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Washington is clearly headed in the right direction under Steve Sarkisian,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “The offense, led by dynamic quarterback Keith Price, should score a ton of points. If the defense, which was obviously an issue last season, shows marked improvement, the Huskies will be a factor in the tough Pac-12 North.”

One Washington standout was named a preseason All-American, with tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins being named to the second team.

Nine Huskies earned preseason All-Pac-12 honors, with Seferian-Jenkins on the first team. Quarterback Keith Price, offensive lineman Drew Schaefer, defensive lineman Hau'oli Jamora and defensive backs Desmond Trufant and Sean Parker were named to the second team, while wide receiver Kasen Williams, defensive lineman Josh Shirley and kick returner Kevin Smith garnered third-team honors.

Washington Team Preview

Washington's Top 10 Players of 2012

Washington’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, begins the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at www.athlonsports.com.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/washington-huskies-2012-team-predictions-0
Body:

The Washington Huskies check in at No. 25 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: Keith Price, QB
Price was terrific in his first season as Washington’s starting quarterback and should be even better in 2012. He finished with 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns, while adding three rushing scores on the ground. Price has more mobility than the stats showed last season, but was limited due to knee injuries. The junior recorded eight games of at least three or more touchdown tosses and threw only 11 picks in 362 attempts. Price needs to play better against the top competition, as he threw for just 247 yards against Stanford, 143 against Oregon and 125 against USC. Despite losing a couple of his top targets from last season, Price should have an opportunity to improve upon his 2011 numbers.

Defensive MVP: Sean Parker, S
Despite having a talented secondary, Washington finished 116th nationally against the pass last season. With a much-needed change at defensive coordinator, the Huskies have an opportunity to be one of the most-improved defenses in the Pac-12 this year. In his first season as a starter last season, Parker collected 91 tackles and picked off four passes. With another offseason under his belt, Parker should elevate his game to All-American status and will be Washington’s top defensive player in 2012.

Trap Game: at Arizona (Oct. 20)
No matter what Washington’s record is after the two-game stretch at Oregon (Oct. 6) and home against USC (Oct. 13), the date at Arizona won’t be an easy one. The Wildcats have won three out of the last five matchups against the Huskies, including the two in a row in Tucson. After playing tough back-to-back games against Oregon and USC, the Huskies could fall victim to Arizona in the desert on Oct. 20.

Upset Alert: at Washington State (Nov. 23)
Coach Steve Sarkisian has yet to lose to Washington State in his short tenure with the Huskies (3-0), but the stakes have been raised for this season’s game. Washington State made a splash with its hiring of Mike Leach as head coach, and should own one of the top offenses in college football this year. The Cougars nearly beat Washington in 2010 in Pullman, but lost 35-28. Washington State’s last victory in this series came in 2008 and there’s a lot of positive momentum going for the Cougars heading into this year. Washington is the better overall team, but the Cougars are hungry to break a three-game losing streak in this series.

Coordinator on the Hot Seat: Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator
No, Wilcox isn’t in any danger of losing his job, but Washington’s chances at finishing in the top 25 will rest on a much-improved defense. During his two seasons as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator, the Volunteers showed progress, moving from 69th nationally in total defense in 2010 to finishing 28th last year. The Huskies have some talent to work with, but struggled to find consistency or improve in coach Steve Sarkisian’s first three years in Seattle. Wilcox is being counted upon to make a huge difference and all signs point to some much-needed improvement on defense in 2012. 

Breakout Player: Kasen Williams, WR
Washington has a couple of players who could fill this spot, including true freshman safety Shaq Thompson, but Williams enters his sophomore year with a chance to emerge as one of the top receivers in the Pac-12. As a true freshman last season, he caught 36 passes for 427 yards and six scores. Williams did not have a 100-yard performance, but caught six passes for 79 yards and one touchdown against Oregon. With Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar departing, Williams is clearly Washington’s No. 1 wide receiver for 2012.

Unsung Hero: Drew Schaefer, C
Despite having three starters back, Washington’s offensive line is going to be a question mark early in the season. Right tackle Erik Kohler and guard Colin Tanigawa were both dealing with injuries, leaving Schaefer as the group’s lone returning starter at 100 percent. The senior has started 30 games in a row, including all 13 at center last year. Considering the concerns on the rest of the unit, Schaefer needs to stay healthy for Washington’s offense to exceed last season’s production.

Biggest Game: Stanford (Sept. 27)
If the Huskies want to have any shot at finishing second in the Pac-12 North, they have to beat Stanford on Sept. 27. The Cardinal has won four in a row over Washington, including a 65-21 rout last season. With Andrew Luck and two All-Pac-12 offensive linemen departing Stanford, second place is there for Washington to take. The Huskies have tough games against Oregon and USC in the next two weeks following the matchup against Stanford. However, considering the matchup against the Cardinal is the Pac-12 opener, it’s a chance for Washington to stake its place in the North pecking order.

Revenge Game: Oregon State (Oct. 27)
Considering Washington had six losses last year, you could pick a few different games to fit this category. However, one game stands out on last season’s results as a puzzling loss. Washington lost back-to-back games against Oregon and USC in early November and followed that up with a 38-21 defeat at Oregon State. The Beavers won only three contests last year, but has beat the Huskies in the last three matchups in Corvallis. If Washington wants to improve upon its seven wins from 2011, beating Oregon State is a must in 2012.

Freshman to Watch: Shaq Thompson, S
The Huskies won a high-profile recruiting battle with UCLA, Oregon and California for Thompson and he certainly won’t be on the sidelines in 2012. Thompson ranked as the No. 6 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100, and at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds already has the physical ability to play from day one. His impact may extend to more than just defense, as Washington’s coaching staff may look to get him involved in a handful of plays on offense. Even if Thompson doesn’t secure a starting spot in the fall, he will be a significant contributor to the Huskies defense in 2012.

Comeback player: Hau’oli Jamora, DE
After a strong performance in the 2010 Holiday Bowl, Jamora was poised to become one of the top defensive linemen in the Pac-12 last season. However, a torn ACL in the fourth game ended his season, leaving Jamora with just 15 tackles and one sack on the season. Although the injury was a setback for Jamora, it occurred early in the year and Jamora should be at full strength when the season begins. The sophomore will anchor one of the end spots in Washington’s new 3-4 approach and will be counted upon to be one of the unit’s top disruptors up front in 2012.

Newcomer to Watch: Travis Coons, K
Erik Folk has finished his eligibility in Seattle, leaving the Huskies with no proven kicker on the roster. Coach Steve Sarkisian dipped into the junior college ranks to fill this void, bringing in Travis Coons from Mt. San Antonio College. There’s a lot of pressure on Coons to perform right away, but having experience at the junior college ranks should help his transition to FBS play.

Position Battle: Running Back
Chris Polk’s decision to leave for the NFL leaves a huge void at running back. The depth chart is completely bare, as Washington returns two players with experience and a couple of intriguing options waiting for an opportunity. Jesse Callier is the leading candidate to replace Polk after rushing for 260 yards and one touchdown last year. However, he will be pushed by Bishop Sankey, who rushed for 187 yards and one score in 2011. If neither Callier or Sankey claim the top spot, coach Steve Sarkisian could choose to get an extended look at sophomore Deontae Cooper or athlete Antavius Sims. Cooper has missed the last two seasons due to knee injuries, so his ability to hold up to a full season of carries is a concern. It’s possible the Huskies could use a committee, but it seems more likely Callier or Sankey emerges as the No. 1 rusher.

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Teaser:
<p> Washington Huskies 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 21:05
Path: /college-football/washington-football-will-huskies-challenge-oregon-2012-north-title
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 begins with No. 25 Washington. The Huskies are coming off back-to-back seven-win seasons, but the program appears to be on the right track. Washington's defense is still a question mark, but the offense will be explosive. 

Can Washington Surpass Stanford and Challenge Oregon for the Pac-12 North title in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Around mid-October last year, I bought into Washington. Keith Price’s play early swayed me enough were I overlooked a porous defense that gave up 27 to Eastern Washington, 32 to Hawaii and 51 to Nebraska. The mirage was over by November. Washington’s defense should improve under Justin Wilcox, and the offense is bound to be explosive again. Still, I think there’s a tendency to forget how much ground Washington still has to make up on the way to the top of the Pca-12. Sure, Stanford’s going to take a step back without Andrew Luck, but the Cardinal still beat Washington by 34 points on the field and by three games in the standings. After the 5-1 start, Washington’s only wins thereafter came against Arizona and Washington State at home, and the Huskies still found a way to squeeze in a loss to lowly Oregon State. Washington may pass Stanford eventually, but Washington still has more holes on defense and Stanford has too strong a foundation for it to happen this year.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
There really are two parts to this debate: A) Has Washington closed the rather large gap with interdivisional rival Stanford who has dominated the Huskies by a combined 105 to 21 over the last two seasons? B) If so, can they challenge the reigning three-time Pac-12 champion Oregon Ducks? The answer to the first question is most definitely yes. Stanford is losing four of the top 42 selections in the NFL Draft on offense, including all-world signal caller Andrew Luck, and is two years removed from cult of personality head coach Jim Harbaugh. The heart and soul has been effectually removed from the Cardinal football program, so some sort of step back must be expected in 2012. Washington, meanwhile, is trending in a much different direction as a reworked star-studded coaching staff has elevated the overall talent level in Seattle. Quarterback Keith Price set school records in his first season under center and led his team to its first winning season since 2002. Both teams will finish around the 8-4 mark, so the deciding factor should be the head-to-head match-up that takes place in Seattle. A win in Week 5 over the Cardinal vaults Washington into contender status. For one week, at least. While the Huskies are clearly rededicated to becoming a top ten program once again under Steve Sarkisian, they are not ready to topple the Ducks' dominance just yet. Seven days after hosting Stanford, Washington must travel to Eugene to battle with Oregon. Coach Sark has made large strides in restoring Husky Pride, but this program is still another year away from defeating the three-time conference champions in Autzen Stadium.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The gap between Oregon and the rest of the North is very wide. However, the gap between Washington and Stanford is closing fast. The Huskies aren’t ready to beat Oregon, but they are ready to beat the Cardinal for second place in the division.

Even though Steve Sarkisian has a 19-19 record through three seasons, it’s clear the program is on the right track. Washington has brought in three consecutive top 25 recruiting classes, and the program is coming off back-to-back bowl appearances. Sarkisian made some much-needed coaching changes, bringing in Justin Wilcox to coordinate the defense and hiring one of college football’s top recruiters (Tosh Lupoi) to coach the defensive line. The Huskies ranked as one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12 last season, but there’s enough returning talent to expect immediate improvement in 2012.

Even though running back Chris Polk will be missed, the Huskies will have one of the Pac-12’s top offenses. Quarterback Keith Price should build upon a successful sophomore campaign, especially with Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins returning as the top receiving weapons. The Huskies need to stabilize their offensive line and find a capable replacement for Callier at running back.

An obstacle that could prevent Washington from challenging for second in the North is a difficult schedule. The Huskies have a tough non-conference road game at LSU, while playing at Oregon and catching USC and Utah in crossover games with the South. The one break in Washington’s favor? They host Stanford on Sept. 27 in a key game for North positioning.

Considering Stanford lost quarterback Andrew Luck and two of college football’s top offensive linemen, the Cardinal are due for a step back this year. Washington has its flaws, but I think the Huskies will surpass Stanford and finish second in the Pac-12 North this year. 

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Washington is getting better, but the Huskies aren’t quite ready to make a big jump in the standings in the Pac-12 North. Oregon is clearly the team to beat, and I still like Stanford to finish in second, ahead of Washington.

There’s a lot to like about UW, most notably quarterback Keith Price and a young crop of pass-catchers like tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver Kasen Williams. But there are also some serious issues with this team. I think the loss of Chris Polk will be huge. He was one of the more underrated skill-position players in the nation, and UW has no proven replacements. And what about the defense? I like the hire of Justin Wilcox, but you can’t ignore the facts: The Huskies were awful last year on defense. The secondary should be okay, but it doesn’t look like the defensive line or the linebacking corps has the type of athletes needed to make a significant improvement.

Again, I think UW is on the right path — the Huskies are in the preseason top 25, after all — but this is still a flawed team that isn’t ready to join the elite in the Pac-12. 

Mark Ross
Yes and no. I think Washington can surpass Stanford, but I don't think either will offer much of a challenge to Oregon this season. The Huskies appear to have all the pieces in place offensively, led by quarterback Keith Price. The problem, just like last year, is will they be able to stop anyone. Steve Sarkisian made plenty of changes to his defensive staff, but I still expect plenty of bumps in the road as they acclimate to a new system. Depth could be an issue as well, although Washington does have help on the way starting with this recruiting class.

With Stanford, my concerns center around one thing - and this is who is under center. There's a reason Andrew Luck was the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft and David Shaw and the rest of the offense don't have him to lean on any more. The quarterback situation for 2012 probably won't be decided until the fall and although the Cardinal should be able to run the ball effectively with Stepfan Taylor behind another solid offensive line, this year's version should not be confused with last year's. Stanford will need the running game and the defense to carry them this year, and I think that's too much to ask for in order to succeed in the Pac-12.

Who finishes second to Oregon in the Pac-12 North may very well come down to who wins the head-to-head match up between these two. Interestingly, that game happens early as Washington hosts Stanford on Thursday, Sept. 27. These two teams also have pretty much the same conference schedules, as UCLA (Stanford) and Utah (Washington) are the only Pac-12 foes they don't have in common this year. So in the end, the Bruins or Utes also could have a say in who claims second behind the Ducks.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Washington could have a special season with quarterback Keith Price leading the way, but I still project Stanford to be the top challenger to Oregon in the Pac-12 North. The Huskies offense has some quality skill players with Price throwing to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver Kasen Williams, plus four starters return on the line. All-conference running back Chris Polk will be missed, but Steve Sarkisian’s bunch should score plenty of points. The concern for UW is on defense, where last season’s 106th national ranking must obviously improve. There is talent on that side of the ball for new coordinator Justin Wilcox, with linemen Hau'oli Jamora and Josh Shirley and backs Desmond Trufant and Sean Parker leading the way. Stanford loses some key personnel and has a tough schedule, but the Cardinal program still looks slightly better than Washington. The Huskies are on the way back to national prominence, but it may take another season before they challenge for the North crown.

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Teaser:
<p> Washington Football: Will Huskies Challenge Oregon for 2012 North Title?</p>
Post date: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 21:01

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