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

Please raise your hand if you had the Los Angeles Dodgers as the best team in baseball after two weekends of play? It's not like they have the psuedo-reigning MVP and Cy Young Award winner, right?

While the rankings, both in the fantasy world and in the real standings, are still extremely volatile, there are some trends to keep an eye on. For example, if the Dodgers stay healthy — Andre Ethier, Ted Lilly, etc — there is no reason to believe that the boys in blue won't be in contention all season. Which means great things for fantasy owners of speedster Dee Gordon (leds the MLB in stolen bases with 7), Ethier (second to only Kemp in RBI) and Chad Billingsly (No. 1-rated pitcher with 15 K in 14.1 IP).

If the Washington Nationals can get pitching like they have early from Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman, they too should be in contention all season. 

On the flip side, however, don't buy into the Mariners (as if I should need to tell you) as five of their six wins have come at the expense of the offensively challenged Athletics.

Here are your current Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters:

  Name Pos. Team R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Matt Kemp OF LAD 13 6 16 1 .487 1.549
2. Chris Young OF ARI 6 4 11 2 .364 1.293
3. Yadier Molina C STL 9 3 10 1 .353 1.156
4. Josh Hamilton OF TEX 10 4 6 0 .390 1.137
5. Josh Willingham OF MIN 7 4 7 1 .419 1.385
6. Starlin Castro SS CHC 6 0 7 6 .359 .831
7. Ian Kinsler 2B TEX 11 4 7 1 .268 1.031
8. David Freese 3B STL 6 3 11 0 .406 1.111
9. Carlos Pena 1B TB 7 3 11 0 .353 1.185
10. Edwin Encarnacion 1B/3B TOR 7 3 9 2 .289 .957
11. Omar Infante* 2B MIA 9 4 6 0 .343 1.190
12. Carlos Beltran OF STL 9 3 4 2 .324 1.013
13. Adam Jones OF BAL 6 3 4 3 .343 1.052
14. Andre Ethier OF LAD 5 3 15 0 .289 1.030
15. Corey Hart OF MIL 7 4 8 0 .321 1.314
16. David Ortiz UTL BOS 6 1 10 0 .444 1.169
17. J.D. Martinez* OF HOU 5 3 10 0 .371 1.150
18. Austin Jackson OF DET 10 1 3 1 .412 1.159
19. Jason Heyward OF ATL 7 2 5 2 .345 1.079
20. Jordan Schafer* OF HOU 8 1 2 5 .242 .738
21. Pablo Sandoval 1B/3B SF 7 2 8 0 .333 1.026
22. Kelly Johnson* 2B TOR 9 3 6 0 .270 .927
23. Adam LaRoche* 1B WAS 3 2 12 0 .341 .963
24. Emilio Bonifacio 3B/2B/SS MIA 7 0 1 5 .316 .725
25. Miguel Cabrera 1B DET 7 3 9 0 .242 .895

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

On the flip side, owners of first-round strugglers shouldn't be panicking too much. Albert Pujols currently ranks 734th while Jose Bautista sits at No. 728. Needless to say, these trends won't continue. These are the names you attack on the trading block. Others who have scuffled out of the gate like Mark Teixeira, Ryan Zimmerman, Justin Upton and Jose Reyes could be at their lowest value. 

If you jumped early on names like Josh Willingham, Jordan Schafer, JD Martinez, Omar Infante and Adam LaRoche, now would be the time to start shopping their services to vulnerable GMs. Chris Young, the No. 2 player in the game right now, is a career .241 hitter. Put him on the block now. 

Replacing Jacoby

Red Sox star outfielers Jacoby Ellsbury has landed on the DL (again) and will miss at least a month. His partially dislocated shoulder not only puts a crick in the Red Sox' AL-leading offense (53 runs) but crushes fantasy owners. He is scheduled for an exam on Monday to determine the extent of the injury. However, GM Ben Cherington is already investigating the trade martket where names like Marlon Byrd and Coco Crisp have come into play. If Crisp lands atop the Sox order, there could be some sneaky value there. They have also put a claim in on Tigers' outfielder Clete Thomas. If they stay in house, it looks like Cody Ross moves to center with Darnell McDonald getting more time in left. Looks like that Josh Reddick-Andrew Bailey trade is working out as planned. This injury could sap this lineup — especially considering how Bobby Valentine feels about Kevin Youkilis.

Outfield Help

Looking for some outfield help in the early weeks? Here are two names that could fit the bill: Chicago's southsider Alejandro De Aza and Minnesota's Denard Span. The two lead-off hitters are off to solid starts for two offenses that don't figure to supply much fantasy help. However, Span is a career .287 hitter with the potential to score 75-80 runs and swipe 25-30 bases. He has 10 hits in is last 19 at-bats, including four doubles. With a healthy Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, Span could easily return to 2009 form should he stay healthy. De Aza crushed the ball down the stretch in 2011 and has picked-up where he left off. Is a 10-HR, 30-SB, 90-R season that far-fetched for a guy who knows to get on base?

Current Top 25 fantasy pitchers:

1. Chad Billingsly LAD 14.1 2 0 15 0 0.63 0.63
2. Aroldis Chapman* CIN 8.0 2 0 15 1 0.00 0.38
3. Javy Guerra LAD 6.0 1 5 5 0 0.00 0.67
4. Roy Halladay PHI 15.0 2 0 8 0 0.60 0.53
5. Lance Lynn* STL 12.0 2 0 13 0 1.50 0.75
6. Matt Garza CHC 14.2 1 0 14 0 1.23 0.75
7. Kyle Lohse* STL 13.1 2 0 5 0 1.35 0.53
8. Stephen Strasburg WAS 13.0 1 0 14 0 0.69 0.85
9. Fernando Rodney* TB 3.2 1 3 2 0 0.00 0.00
10. Edwin Jackson* WAS 14.0 1 0 15 0 2.57 0.64
11. Barry Zito* SF 16.0 1 0 8 0 1.12 0.69
12. Matt Cain SF 15.0 1 0 15 0 3.00 0.60
13. Brandon League SEA 6.0 0 4 4 0 0.64 0.83
14. Jake Westbrook* STL 14.0 2 0 4 0 0.64 0.86
15. Jonathon Niese* NYM 12.2 2 0 12 0 2.13 0.95
16. Bryan Shaw* ARI 6.0 0 2 8 2 0.00 0.50
17. Justin Verlander DET 16.1 0 0 14 0 2.20 0.55
18. Kyle Drabek* TOR 12.2 2 0 10 0 1.42 1.03
19. Matt Harrison* TEX 14.0 2 0 7 0 0.64 1.07
20. Frank Francisco NYM 4.0 0 3 7 0 0.00 0.75
21. Colby Lewis TEX 12.2 1 0 15 0 1.42 1.03
22. Craig Stammen* WAS 7.2 2 0 10 0 1.17 1.17
23. Grant Balfour OAK 7.0 0 2 5 0 0.00 0.57
24. Jim Johnson BAL 4.2 0 4 3 0 0.00 1.07
25. Jerad Weaver LAA 14.0 1 0 17 0 3.21 0.86

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Looking For Spot Starts

Some of this advice might seem obvious, but do you know where to look when snagging a spot start here or there? Look for those pitching against Pittsburgh (18 runs in nine games), Oakland (28 runs in 10 games), Minnesota (28 runs in nine games) and San Diego (34 runs in 10 games). But the Ryan Howard-less Phillies are actually 15th (second-worst) in the NL in runs scored thus far. The Mets just got three quality starts from RA Dickey, Jonathan Niese and Mike Pelfrey on the road in Philly. This offense might never return to its peak 2008 form and could (shockingly) provide some value to opposing pitchers.

Not Buying St. Louis' Starters

No Dave Duncan. No Tony LaRussa. No Albert Pujols. No Chris Carpenter. No problem. The Cards are still in first place thanks to hot starts from David Freese, Carlon Beltran and Rafael Furcal. However, the performance of starters Lance Lynn, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook has been the real reason for early success from the defending champs. They rank as the No. 5, No. 7 and No. 13 pitchers in all of fantasy baseball. While Lynn offers some intriguing K-rates (career 10.2 K/9) and the other two should win their share of games, it is hard to officially buy any of these names yet. Lohse and Westbrook have combined for nine strikeouts in 27.1 IP and each boast nearly identical career ratio's of 4.61/1.39 and 4.30/1.39. Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright have struggled out of the gate but are still the better longterm fantasy options.

Just Like Brian Wilson Did

Be it a Barenaked Ladies song, Beach Boy singer and Giants' closer, Brian Wilson has seen better days. Wilson looks to have structural damage to his pitching elbow and may require his second Tommy John surgery. This leaves Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Santiago Casilla left to clean up the ninth for Bruce Bochy. He claims he will go by committee in the short team, but Romo and Casilla are the two names to invest in. In 48.0 innings, Romo was filthy last year in the set-up role with a 1.50 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and a downright insane 70:5 K:BB ratio. Casilla wasn't too far behind as his 1.74 ERA and 1.12 WHIP were more than servicable last year. However, his walk totals (25 in 51.2 IP) may push Bochy towards Romo first. Lopez is the lefty of the group and has been the least productive. Keep an eye on how and when Bochy handles his end game situations. 

Keep this link handy as Athlon keeps its Closer Grid up to date all season long.

-by Braden Gall


<p> Subject:</p> <p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: Apr. 16</p>
Post date: Monday, April 16, 2012 - 12:20
Path: /college-football/acc-running-back-rankings-2012

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

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

1. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina (SO)
Rushing Stats:
239 att., 1,253 yards, 13 TD
Receiving Stats: 45 rec., 362 yards, TD

As a redshirt freshman, few players in the ACC had the type of impact Bernard had a year ago save for Mr. Watkins (a true freshman) at Clemson. It didn’t take long for fans to see the potential as Bernard scored two touchdowns in each of his first two games. He then rattled off five straight 100-yard games. He struggled down the stretch — likely hitting a rookie wall — with four games of 60 yards or less in his final six games. But he also posted a career-high 165 yards on a career-high 30 carries in the regular season finale against Duke. With a tremendous quarterback in Bryn Renner returning behind him and a solid offensive line up front, Bernard has a chance to build on his stellar first campaign in 2012. Additionally, his ability to excel as a receiver has to get new head coach and offensive guru Larry Fedora excited about using No. 26 this fall.

2. Andre Ellington, Clemson (SR)
Rushing Stats:
223 att., 1,178 yards, 11 TDs
Receiving Stats: 22 rec., 109 yards, 0 TD

Ellington’s first season as the starter in 2010 was cut short by a toe injury, but he rebounded with an excellent 2011 campaign. Ellington rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns last year and added 22 receptions for 109 yards. He also closed out the year with back-to-back 100-yard games and rushed for 212 yards in a 56-45 victory over Maryland. Ellington is averaging an impressive 5.8 yards per rush during his career and has recorded 27 overall scores. There’s not much separating Ellington and North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard for the top spot in the ACC running back rankings. However, with Mike Bellamy likely to see a few more carries this year, it’s hard to see Ellington passing Bernard in rushing yardage. 

3. Perry Jones, Virginia (SR)
Rushing Stats:
184 att., 915 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 48 rec., 506 yards, 3 TD

The 5-foot-8, 185-pound tailback started all 13 games for the Wahoos last fall. He isn’t the typical three-down feature back but can make big things happen in all phases of the offense. He had at least five games of at least five receptions and finished as the team’s No. 2 leading receiver with 48 catches. His three receiving touchdowns tied for the team lead and he even tossed a 37-yard touchdown pass in the upset road win over Miami. He only topped the 20-carry mark three times last fall but averaged nearly five yards a carry over the coarse of the season. As the Virginia brand name continues its resurrection, expect Jones to be a focal point of the offense in 2012.

4. Kevin Parks, Virginia (SO)
Rushing Stats:
152 att., 709 yards, 9 TD
Receiving Stats: 11 rec., 82 yards, TD

Parks came to Virginia with arguably the greatest prep resume for any tailback in history. His 10,895 yards are third all-time in American prep football history and no other player carried the football more than Parks’ 1,370 career attempts. Parks proved his high school resume was no fluke when he topped the 100-yard mark and scored three times in his UVa debut. He then scored twice more in Week 2. Despite missing the Idaho game and as only a freshman, Parks set the Virginia single-season rushing touchdown record with nine scores. And he did it as the back-up. Like his running mate Perry Jones, Parks is short in stature at 5-foot-8, but unlike Jones, he is thickly built and can be a goalline and short yardage player due to toughness and lower body strength. No matter who is technically named the starter, Mike London has to be pleased with his running back situation.

5. Montel Harris, Boston College (SR)
Rushing Stats:
31 att., 135 yards, 0 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 36 yards, 0 TD

Harris could rank higher on this list, but it’s hard to know what to expect out of him in 2012. He entered last season with a chance to break the ACC’s career rushing record, but managed only 135 yards and played in only two games after having knee surgery in the preseason. Harris was expected to be at full strength in spring practice, but aggravated his knee injury and it’s uncertain if he will return at 100 percent in time for the regular season. If the senior can’t return or is limited, Boston College will likely lean on junior Andre Williams to carry the load on the ground. Harris has had a terrific career, but it could end in disappointment if he can’t return in 2012.

6. Mike Bellamy, Clemson (SO)
Rushing Stats:
57 att., 343 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving Stats: 2 rec., 4 yards, 0 TD

Bellamy may not have the numbers to rank No. 6 on this list, but he certainly has the talent. As a true freshman last year, he rushed for 343 yards and three touchdowns. Bellamy ranked as the No. 7 overall running back in the 2011 Athlon Consensus 100, but playing time is limited with Andre Ellington ahead of him on the depth chart. Also, the sophomore has been in and out of coach Dabo Swinney’s doghouse, but it appears Bellamy is working his way back into his good graces heading into the summer. Bellamy may have only 300-500 rushing yards this year, but look for him to emerge as one of the ACC’s best backs going into 2013.

7. Orwin Smith, Georgia Tech (SR)
Rushing Stats:
61 att., 615 yards, 11 TD
Receiving Stats: 13 rec., 306 yards, TD

The “A-Back” in Paul Johnson’s patented triple-option attack averaged over 10 yards per clip a season ago, making Smith the clear big play threat in Tech’s offense. Over the last two seasons, he has touched the ball only 139 times and posted only one game with double-digit rushing attempts (12 against Miami in 2010). Yet, the 6-foot, 202 pounder mustered 1,632 yards from scrimmage over that span for an appalling per-touch average of 11.7 yards. And his 11 touchdowns last fall led all Yellow Jacket running backs. The offensive line at Tech returns largely intact, and the backfield is loaded, so expect Smith to only continue to rip off chunks of yards in 2012.

8. David Sims, Georgia Tech (JR)
Rushing Stats:
135 att., 698 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 29 yards, TD

The “B-Back” in the Yellow Jackets’ offense is asked to be a much more physical, more short yardage ball-carrier and Sims performed admirably a year ago. Filling in for famed Jonathan Dwyer, Sims led all running backs in carries and yards last year despite not playing in the bowl game. He checks in at around 220 pounds, so he fits the position perfectly. Sims is never going to be asked to pick-up big plays, but he will be a consistent force up the heart of the triple-option offensive attack in 2012 — especially running behind a veteran offensive line and quarterback.

9. Mike James, Miami (SR)
Rushing Stats:
72 att., 275 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 9 rec., 80 yards, TD

Serving as the backup for Lamar Miller, James appeared in 12 games with two starts a year ago. He finished second on the team in rushing, carries and total touchdowns. He showed flashed of upside in his best performance of the season against Duke, when he scored two touchdowns and recorded 101 yards from scrimmage on only nine touches against Duke. At 5-foot-11 and 222 pounds, James has the skillset to be the three-down feature back that Al Golden craves. However, James’ upside in 2012 may be limited by a youthful offense and inconsistent quarterback play.

10. Josh Harris, Wake Forest (JR)
Rushing Stats:
101 att., 432 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving Stats: 5 rec., 22 yards, 0 TD

A hamstring injury essentially ended Harris’ 2011 season after five games. Although he returned for two games later in the year, Harris wasn’t the same player and was relegated to only 10 carries after tallying 91 through the first five weeks. When healthy, Harris is capable of contending for All-ACC honors. As a sophomore in 2010, he rushed for 720 yards and seven touchdowns. Harris was averaging 82.4 yards per game before his injury and also chipped in five receptions. Assuming he returns at full strength for 2012, the junior will have a chance to rush for 1,000 yards. However, Harris will be running behind an offensive line that must replace four starters in 2012.

11. James Washington, NC State (SR)
Rushing Stats:
226 att., 897 yards, 7 TDs
Receiving Stats: 42 rec., 315 yards, 0 TD

Washington was a pleasant surprise for NC State last season. After rushing for just 291 yards in his first two seasons in Raleigh, he recorded 897 yards and seven scores last year. Washington was also a key factor in the passing attack, catching 42 passes for 315 yards. He posted three 100-yard efforts, rushing for a season-high 131 yards against Georgia Tech, 109 against Central Michigan and 110 in a 13-0 shutout win over rival North Carolina. NC State would probably like to see Washington improve slightly on his 3.9 yards per rush, but he will face competition from Tony Creecy and Mustafa Greene (provided a legal incident in the spring won’t prevent him from returning to the team).

12. Devonta Freeman, Florida State (SO)
Rushing Stats:
120 att., 579 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving Stats: 15 rec., 111 yards, 0 TD

Florida State’s ground attack was one of the worst in the ACC last year, but it’s hard to fault Freeman or any of the other running backs. The Seminoles struggled to establish consistency or open any rushing lanes on the offensive line, which prevented Freeman from getting on track last season. As a true freshman last year, he rushed for 579 yards and eight scores, while catching 15 passes for 111 yards. Freeman posted back-to-back 100-yard efforts in mid-October, rushing for 109 yards against Duke and 100 against Maryland. The sophomore certainly has some talent and should be Florida State’s leading rusher in 2012. However, he will face competition from incoming freshman Mario Pender and sophomore James Wilder Jr. If Freeman was the clear No. 1 back, he would likely rank higher on this list.

13. Andre Williams, Boston College (JR)
Rushing Stats:
124 att., 517 yards, 4 TDs
Receiving Stats: 2 rec., 11 yards, 0 TD

With Montel Harris battling a knee injury once again, Williams may end up shouldering much of Boston College’s rushing offense early in the year. The junior has shown flashes of ability, rushing for 185 yards on 42 attempts in the 2010 regular season finale. He also rushed for 114 yards and two scores in the opener against Northwestern in 2011 and posted 61 yards on 18 attempts in an upset win over NC State last year. If Harris is limited or unable to go, Williams could finish with over 200 carries and over 1,000 rushing yards. The junior needs a little help from the offensive line and passing attack to keep defenses from keying on the run, but this Boston College back could be higher on the list at the conclusion of the 2012 season. 

14. Michael Holmes, Virginia Tech (FR)
Rushing Stats:
Redshirted in 2011
Receiving Stats: Redshirted in 2011

Not much is known about the young tailback and that is just the way he likes it. The shy, soft-spoken prep star has yet to play a game in a Hokies uniform and has already become the center of attention in Blacksburg. The Harrisonburg High star rushed for a school record 2,877 yards in his career and scored 41 touchdowns as a senior. He now sits atop the Hokies depth chart and is preparing to carry the load for the Coastal Division favorites. The 5-foot-11, 208-pound tailback will compete with Tony Gregory, who is sitting out spring ball with a knee injury, and early enrollee J.C. Coleman.

15. Juwan Thompson, Duke (JR)
Rushing Stats:
110 att., 457 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 22 rec., 182 yards, TD

Thompson can be a bulldozer of a ball-carrier for the Blue Devils as he enters upperclass status. The 230-pounder finished last season as the team’s leading rusher and leading touchdown provider. When Desmond Scott missed three games early in the year, Thompson took over and never looked back. He posted his best two-game stretch at the end of September when he touched the ball 32 times for 131 yards and two scores in wins over Tulane and FIU. With Thompson, head coach David Cutcliffe has one of the ACC’s top triplets with quarterback Sean Renfree and wideout Conner Vernon.

Others to Watch

Rolandan Finch, Boston College (JR) – Finch led Boston College with 705 yards last season, including 243 in a 28-17 victory over Maryland. Andre Williams appears to be the Eagles No. 1 back, but don’t count out Finch from working his way into a split carry situation.

Mustafa Greene, NC State (SO) – Greene missed last season due to injury and had an off-the-field incident this spring that has put his status with the team in doubt. As a freshman in 2010, he rushed for 597 yards and four scores.

Charles Perkins, Georgia Tech (SO) – Rushed for only 95 yards last season, but could push for more playing time at the B-Back position.

Justus Pickett, Maryland (SO) - Pickett recorded 274 yards and one score as a freshman last season, but is not guaranteed a starting spot going into 2012.

Clifton Richardson, Virginia (SO) – With Perry Jones and Kevin Parks returning, there’s not a ton of carries available for Richardson. As a true freshman, he managed 366 yards and two rushing scores.

Desmond Scott, Duke (SR) – Scott finished second on the team with 367 rushing yards last season. He will compete with Juwan Thompson for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.

Josh Snead, Duke (SO) – Snead missed 2011 with an injury, but rushed for 221 yards and one score as a freshman in 2010. Although Juwan Thompson and Desmond Scott are likely the top two backs, Snead could work his way into playing time.

James Wilder Jr., Florida State (SO) – Big expectations surrounded Wilder going into 2011, but he managed only 160 yards and one rushing score on 35 attempts. The sophomore had an off-the-field issue early in the spring, but is back at practice and expected to contend with Devonta Freeman and Mario Pender for carries.

Top Freshmen To Watch:

Randy “Duke” Johnson, Miami
The Duke is an speedy, incredible playmaker with the ability to score from anywhere on the field. Could also contribute on special teams. Whether or not his smallish 5-foot-9, 183-pound frame handle the pounding of three-down play remains to be seen.

Mario Pender, Florida State
The Cape Coral, Fla., native is already enrolled and working with an offense that is in desperate need of a true playmaker at running back. Keep an eye on the 6-foot-0, 190-pounder in Tallahassee.

J.C. Coleman and Drew Harris, Virginia Tech
The smaller (5-7, 170) Coleman perfectly compliments the burly (6-1, 220) Harris. Coleman brings third-down ability and out-of-the-backfield skill while Harris should excel around the goalline and in short yardage. Coleman enrolled early and could compete for carries with Michael Holmes right away.

Wes Brown, Maryland
Randy Edsall has always had successful running backs and Brown has workhorse written all over him. The 210-pound local product could have a chance to contribute right away for a program in desperate need of positive energy.

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

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<p> Athlon ranks the running backs in the ACC for the 2012 season.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 16, 2012 - 08:11
Path: /college-football/big-east-running-back-rankings-2012

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

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

1. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh (SR)
Rushing Stats:
164 att., 958 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving Stats: 30 rec., 200 yards, 0 TD

Graham was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season, but a torn ACL in Pittsburgh’s eighth game ended his 2011 campaign. Through the first eight games, Graham posted 958 yards, including 201 in the opener against Buffalo and 226 in a 44-17 victory over South Florida. His production was even more impressive considering the struggles of the passing attack and an offensive line that never seemed to jell. Graham did not practice this spring, but is expected to return in time for the season opener. The Panthers won’t rush the senior back into action, but as long as he returns at full strength, Graham should be the Big East’s leading rusher at the end of 2012.

2. Lyle McCombs, Connecticut (SO)
Rushing Stats:
275 att., 1,151 yards, 7 TDs
Receiving Stats: 19 rec., 172 yards, 1 TD

The Huskies have pieced together a string of productive rushers, as three running backs have reached 1,000 yards since 2008. Donald Brown posted 2,083 yards in 2008 and Jordan Todman posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2009-10. McCombs was an unknown going into last year, but quickly emerged as the Huskies’ go-to back. He rushed for 141 yards and four touchdowns in the 35-3 rout of Fordham in the season opener and recorded 118 yards against Vanderbilt in Week 2. McCombs posted a season-high 152 yards against Syracuse and rushed for 130 yards on 32 attempts against South Florida. His rushing total is even more impressive when you consider Connecticut struggled to establish a passing attack last year, allowing defenses to key on stopping the run. McCombs is expected to be the Huskies’ No. 1 back once again in 2012 and should have a chance to equal last season’s numbers.

3. Matt Brown, Temple (SR)
Rushing Stats:
155 att., 916 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 7 yards, 0 TD

At 5-foot-5 and 170 pounds, Brown was the perfect complement to Bernard Pierce over the last three years. However, Pierce left early for the NFL and Brown will assume the No. 1 role in Temple’s backfield for 2012. In three years with the Owls, Brown has rushed for 2,275 yards and 18 scores and caught 24 passes for 95 yards. Although the senior is averaging 5.6 yards per carry throughout his career, will he hold up with over 200 carries in 2012? There’s no question Brown can be effective, but at his size, Temple needs to be sure to find another back that can handle 5-10 carries a game.

4. Jawan Jamison, Rutgers (SO)
Rushing Stats:
231 att., 897 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving Stats: 8 rec., 62 yards, 0 TD

The Scarlet Knights expected a freshman back to handle most of the workload in the rushing attack last year, but Jamison wasn’t the pick in the preseason. Most expected Savon Huggins to become Rutgers’ No. 1 back, but Jamison emerged as the workhorse. He recorded his first 100-yard effort against Navy and posted 200 yards in a 20-3 victory over Cincinnati. Jamison capped off the season on a high note, rushing for 131 yards and two scores in the 27-13 Pinstripe Bowl win over Iowa State. Although Huggins is back from injury, Jamison will begin the year as the No. 1 back and should threaten the 1,000-yard mark once again in 2012.

5. Demetris Murray, South Florida (SR)
Rushing Stats:
121 att., 503 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving Stats: 18 rec., 205 yards, 0 TD

With Darrell Scott departing early for the NFL, Murray is expected to take on the No. 1 role in the South Florida backfield. He has rushed for at least 500 yards in each of the last two seasons and has 12 scores on the ground during that span. Murray did not record 100 yards in a game last year, but posted 86 yards on a 37-17 win over Syracuse. Although Murray will likely lead the team in carries and rushing yards, offensive coordinator Todd Fitch will work in speedy Lindsey Lamar and another back to keep the senior fresh.

6. Jeremy Wright, Louisville (JR)
Rushing Stats:
73 att., 334 yards, 1 TD
Receiving Stats: 7 rec., 27 yards, 0 TD

There were high expectations for Wright going into 2011, but he finished with just 334 yards and one touchdown. After rushing for 327 yards and four scores as a freshman, Wright was supposed to push Victor Anderson for the No. 1 spot in the backfield. However, Wright posted only one 100-yard effort (108, Rutgers) and registered only seven rushing attempts in the final three games. Anderson finished as the team leader in rushing yards, but Dominique Brown surpassed Wright in the pecking order. Assuming Louisville’s offensive line performs better in 2012, Wright should easily surpass last season’s totals and emerge as the leading rusher.

7. Dominique Brown, Louisville (JR)
Rushing Stats:
140 att., 533 yards, 4 TDs
Receiving Stats: 16 rec., 98 yards, 1 TD

Brown was not expected to play a significant role at running back last season, but he finished second on the team in yards. The converted quarterback recorded 533 yards and four rushing scores, while catching 16 receptions for 98 yards and one touchdown. Brown did not record 100 yards in any game, but he rushed for 91 yards on 14 attempts in the 24-17 victory over Kentucky and 69 yards and one touchdown in the 34-24 win over South Florida. The junior will team with Jeremy Wright to anchor Louisville’s rushing attack in 2012, but the guess here is Wright will edge Brown for the lead in yards.

8. George Winn, Cincinnati (SR)
Rushing Stats:
40 att., 219 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving Stats: 2 rec., 6 yards, 0 TD

As if losing quarterback Zach Collaros wasn’t enough, Cincinnati has to replace running back Isaiah Pead. The Bearcats probably won’t replace Pead’s production from one rusher, but Winn has the inside track on the No. 1 role going into the fall. The senior has been used sparingly throughout his career, but rushed for 81 yards on 19 attempts against Miami (Ohio) in 2010 and recorded 78 yards and a score in the bowl victory over Vanderbilt. Winn will likely lead Cincinnati in carries, but sophomores Ralph David Abernathy IV and Jameel Poteat will also figure into the mix.

9. Lindsey Lamar, South Florida (SR)
Rushing Stats:
17 att., 150 yards, 0 TD
Receiving Stats: 11 rec., 157 yards, 3 TDs

A case could be made that Lamar has been under utilized in his career at South Florida. The 5-foot-9 speedster is averaging 23.1 yards per kickoff return, but has only 354 receiving yards and 361 yards on the ground in his career. The senior started his career at running back, but was moved to receiver in 2010. However, Lamar has been shifted back to running back for his senior year and is expected to be a change of pace option to Demetris Murray.

10. Isaac Bennett, Pittsburgh (SO)
Rushing Stats:
58 att., 237 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving Stats: 14 rec., 88 yards, 1 TD

With Ray Graham coming off a torn ACL, it’s a good thing Pittsburgh has some depth at running back. Bennett became the Panthers’ go-to option in the backfield after Graham’s injury last year, rushing for 237 yards and two scores over the final five games. He posted back-to-back efforts of 69 yards against Louisville and West Virginia and rushed for 51 yards in the 33-20 win over Syracuse. Bennett will face competition for the No. 2 role in the backfield when highly-touted freshman Rushel Shell arrives in the fall.

Others to Watch

Ralph David Abernathy IV, Cincinnati (SO) – The Bearcats will struggle to replace Isaiah Pead’s production, but the team isn’t hurting for options. George Winn will likely start, but the speedy Abernathy will also serve as a change of pace option.

Kenneth Harper, Temple (SO) – Expected to win the battle to be Temple’s No. 2 back in 2012. Considering starter Matt Brown is only 5-foot-5, Harper will see plenty of carries this year.

Savon Huggins, Rutgers (SO) – Huggins was the top recruit in the Big East last season, but never got on track. He rushed for 146 yards and five touchdowns before a knee injury ended his season. If Huggins stays healthy, he will compete with Jawan Jamison for snaps.

Jameel Poteat, Cincinnati (SO) – Expected to team with Ralph David Abernathy IV to spell George Winn in 2012. Rushed for 108 yards and one score in 2011.

Rushel Shell, Pittsburgh (FR) – Shell ranked as the No. 33 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and is expected to figure into the mix for carries as soon as he arrives on campus. Isaac Bennett holds the lead on the No. 2 spot on the backfield…for now.

Jerome Smith, Syracuse (JR) – Antwon Bailey has finished his eligibility in Syracuse, leaving Smith as the likely No. 1 back for 2012. However, the Orange expect to use Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore in the rotation. Smith rushed for 134 yards and one touchdown in limited work last year.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on twitter) 

Related Big East Content

Ranking the Big East's Quarterbacks for 2012
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Ranking the Big East Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

<p> Big East Running Back Rankings for 2012</p>
Post date: Monday, April 16, 2012 - 08:10
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/18-holes-play-2012

Many recreational golfers have simple reasons for why they have a favorite golf hole. Golf course architects often use something different than looks or location to select their favorites. We asked noted designers Damian Pascuzzo, Robert Trent Jones Jr., Tom Doak, Arthur Hills and Rees Jones to share some of their favorite holes. If you can get to all of them, let us know how you did it at


No. 1
Ranch Golf Club, Par 5, 510 Yards
Southwick, Massachusetts

This Damian Pascuzzo design is rated one of the best in the state, and the first hole was created with all levels of golfer in mind. “There is a comforting feel to it, looking down from the tee over a grand expanse of fairway — 75 yards wide — with a solitary hickory tree left of center, a glimpse of the lake on the left and the native grasses,” Pascuzzo says. “There’s no pressure, but, if you are confident right out of the box, you can play left of the hickory and take a risky shot at the green in two, across the lake.” Pascuzzo also put in a cluster of fairway bunkers in the second landing area to penalize golfers.
Contact: (866) 790-9333,

No. 2
French Lick Resort (Ross Course), Par 4, 419 yards
French Lick, Indiana

While the Pete Dye Course at French Lick gets more attention, many like this classic Donald Ross design much better, and a recent redesign brought back many of the original 1917 features. There is an undulating fairway with two bunkers in the middle that are reachable off the tee. A third bunker on the right near the green provides the optical illusion that it is closer to the putting surface than it actually is. There is a bunker on the left, protecting that side of the green. The green has a ridge running down the middle.
Contact: (888) 936-9360,

No. 3
Half Moon Bay (Ocean), Par 3, 143 yards
Half Moon Bay, California

This is not only a beautifully designed hole, but also a very challenging short par 3. Arthur Hills' objective for the hole was to utilize the ocean view and keep the natural vegetation. “It is a simple short hole framed by native grassed mounds,” Hills says. “The beauty has to be seen.” Don’t get distracted by the splendor, or a bogey is a very real possibility. The ocean breeze will be in the golfer’s face, and three bunkers on the left will catch any tee shot that goes there. A tee shot that's too long will run off the humpback green and leave a challenging chip shot.
Contact: (650) 726-1800,

No. 4
Bandon Trails, Par 4, 408 yards
Bandon, Oregon

Although Tom Doak designed another course in Bandon (Pacific Dunes), he was impressed by the work of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, especially on this challenging par 4. “The fairway features a sharp ridge running diagonally across it from left to right,” Doak says. “If you play too safely to the left and clear it, your drive will kick away to the left leaving a longer approach shot to a narrow green entrance; but if you play too boldly to the right, you won't get over the top of the ridge, and then you'll have a blind second shot at the same narrow target.”
Contact: (888) 345-6008,

No. 5
Saratoga National, Par 3, 238 yards
Saratoga Springs, New York

This is the longest par 3 on the course and plays every yard of it. Most of the holes here have forced carries from the tee, and on this hole golfers must go over a small wetlands area that shouldn’t be a problem for most low- to mid-handicappers. There is a cluster of trees to the right framing the hole and creating an instant out of bounds for any slice. Going long is definitely better than short. The large bunker in the front right protects much of the putting surface. The green is oval-shaped and has subtle undulations.
Contact: (518) 583-4653,

No. 6
Pacific Dunes, Par 4, 316 yards
Bandon, Oregon

Doak designed this hole with both the scenery and the challenge in mind and succeeded on both quests. “Most people think first about the dramatic holes along the cliff tops, but this hole is the most confounding to better players,” Doak says. “It features a very narrow green set atop a ridge, with a 20-foot-deep bunker at the base of the ridge at the left front of the green, and a steep fall-off on the right side of the green, all in fairway-height grass. For most players, it's a straightforward drive followed by an accurate pitch. But good players who think they might try to drive the green run the risk of getting themselves to one side of the green, at which point it's all too easy to play back and forth across the green trying to get a shot to hold.”
Contact: (888) 345-6008,

No. 7
Bay Harbor (Links), Par 5, 500 yards
Bay Harbor, Michigan

This hole has been described as one of the most picturesque in the country, and Hills, who designed the course, says that many golfers put it on their list of must plays. “Like all memorable holes it has to be seen to be appreciated,” Hills says. “The hole sticks in my memory because of the green site on a promontory, looking out over Lake Michigan. It has to be played.” From the tee box to the green, Lake Michigan runs along the right of the hole, presenting a spectacular water hazard. Anything right is gone, either in the water or in the natural vegetation of the rugged cliff. Golfers are also fighting the prevailing wind, which is in their face.
Contact: (231) 439-4028,

No. 8
CordeValle, Par 4, 325 yards
San Martin, California

When Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed this hole he wanted it to provide drama. Instead of making the drivable green unreceptive to tee shots, he created a green that held on for who wanted to be daring. “An exciting, drivable par 4, this straightaway downhill hole across a lake was showcased in the dramatic playoff at the 2011 Fry's.Com Open on the PGA Tour,” Trent Jones Jr. says. “From the elevated tee, if you are strong enough, you can play across the lake into a ‘catcher’s mitt’ green that will hold onto a blistering drive. If you miss, you just may be sunk.”
Contact: (408) 695-4590,

No. 9
Blackwolf Run (River), Par 4, 361 yards
Kohler, Wisconsin

Intimidation is the theme on this hole, which features water on both the left and right of the tee box. Hit a fairway wood to the left, avoiding the trees and the two fairway bunkers that designer Pete Dye has placed to grab a tee shot that looks like it is safe. Those bunkers, along with two on the two greenside bunkers, are meant to discourage long hitters from trying to reach the green from the tee. If that doesn’t, the water that guards the right side and the nearly 300 yards of carry required will make most golfers think twice and play the percentages.
Contact: (800) 344-2838,

Mirimichi, Par 4, 427 yards
Millington, Tennessee

This hole adds a little star power to our list; Justin Timberlake co-owns this eco-friendly course in West Tennessee with his parents, and it was the first course he ever played as a kid. This is a worthy hole to start the back nine and has everything a well-designed hole should have. It is picturesque, challenging and has both water and well-placed bunkers. The tee box looks out onto the fairway that doglegs to the left and protects that side with three fairway bunkers. There is another bunker on the right to capture any wayward long hitters. The green is 80 yards long and slopes severely from left to right where it is protected by a creek. The left side of the green is guarded by a bunker and native grass mounds.
Contact: (901) 259-3800,

No. 11
Lake of Isles (North), Par 3, 196 yards
North Stonington, Connecticut

Sometimes great golf holes just fall in your lap, and that is what designer Rees Jones thought when he saw the spot for this devilish short hole. “We found a small peninsula jutting out into the Lake of Isles that proved to be an idea natural greensite for the hole,” Jones says. “The green is on a left to right diagonal, requiring both proper line and distance to reach the green surface. Greenside bunkers collect shots hit long or right; the front approach allows for a bail out short of the green.”
Contact: (888) 475-3746,

No. 12
Monarch Dunes, Par 5, 567 yards
Nipomo, California

The longest hole on the course is also the favorite of the man who designed it, Damian Pascuzzo. “The fairway is uphill, and while you can see how the landing area is framed by big trees, there is a mystery to the tee shot,” Pascuzzo says. “At the crest of the hill, there always is an anticipation of the reveal of what lies ahead on the other side. Few modern courses feature this design element. Here, you play to the middle of the hill, and then stay left, away from the bunkering with the second shot, to leave an easier approach to an elevated green.”
Contact: (805) 343-9459,

No. 13
Waldorf Astoria, Par 4, 324 yards
Orlando, Florida

Rees Jones is partial to this hole he created because of the challenges from any of the five sets of tees. “The hole presents a unique set of options off the tee,” Jones says. “The hole is a very short par 4, playing less than 300 yards from the white tees. Water protects the entire left side and rear of the hole. For the long hitter, the green is reachable from the tee, particularly since a ramp of fairway surrounds the lone frontal bunker. Playing out to the right is a safe tee shot producing a wedge into a green with distinct sections.”
Contact: (407) 597-3783,

No. 14
Coyote Springs, Par 4, 450 yards
Coyote Springs, Nevada

This hole utilizes one of the 11 lakes on the Jack Nicklaus signature course, but the water is more cosmetic, located mainly to the left of the four tee boxes. The real hazard is the waste bunkers on both sides of the narrow fairway. Golfers can try and cut off some of the distance with a long, well-placed tee shot down the left side that will get a little more roll as it filters down to a collection area. The green is severely undulating and has a bit of a false front. The middle of the green is in a small valley and features the easiest pin placements. Reaching a back pin can be a challenge.
Contact: (877) 742-8455,

No. 15
Princeville (Prince), Par 5, 576 Yards
Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii

Original designer Robert Trent Jones Jr. oversaw a recently completed $5 million renovation, and he is excited at the changes to the course, especially this hole. “This is part of a tropical dream landscape for a golf course,” Trent Jones Jr. says. “This is a classic risk/reward hole. A slight dogleg right, it presents choices along the cliffs on the right. If you risk setting your line near the edge, you can reap the reward of prime position. However, if you veer too far off line, you can be lost.” The fairway slopes from left to right and balls in the middle to right funnel to the out of bounds.
Contact: 808-826-5001,

No. 16
Osprey Meadows at Tamarack, Par 4, 383 yards
Tamarack, Idaho

This is the shortest par 4 on the golf course, but it is certainly no pushover. There are 10 fairway bunkers that protect the right side so long hitters will think twice trying to get to the green off the tee. There is a collection area beyond the bunkers so balls that clear have the possibility of rolling onto the putting surface. The elevation of this course provides for longer drives, but don’t be tempted to go for the green in one. The wiser play is to take an iron off the tee and aim for the generous landing area that provides a good angle in for the second shot. There is a bunker that guards the left of the green that comes into play.
Contact: (208) 325-1000,

No. 17
Palmetto Dunes (Arthur Hills Course), Par 4, 380 yards
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

This is a visually intimidating hole from the tee box and due to the natural water hazard that was waiting for Hills when he began to build the hole. “It is a dogleg left and a canal running through the property set the routing,” Hills says. “One must play the course or see a plan of the hole to appreciate the challenge. The tee shot plays into a bowl. The player wants to keep the shot within the bowl. It is generous. The shot to the green plays over the canal to the green, which is small and lies along the water. The green is sloped to the water. Over the green puts the player in a hollow. Then the next shot is up and over the back of the green to a surface sloping away toward the water. The hole has angles, water and a pitched green.”
Contact: (866) 380-1778,

No. 18
Chambers Bay, Par 5, 604 Yards
Tacoma, Washington

This finishing hole is quickly building up a history and tradition. Robert Trent Jones Jr. desired a course that could hold a national championship, and his work has been validated. “On this fescue highway to the home green, successfully navigating the sandy wastelands and bunkers means the work here has only just begun,” Trent Jones Jr. says. “Named 'Tahoma' in honor of a local landmark, this too, is a landmark hole, where the U.S. Open will crown a champion in 2015, and where the legendary 2010 U.S. Amateur semifinal match between David Chung and Byeong-Hun An was decided.”
Contact: (877) 295-4657,

—by John Reger

<p> Athlon unveils its ultimate golf course, circa 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, April 13, 2012 - 14:08
Path: /college-football/sec-football-quarterback-rankings-2012

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

Here's how Athlon ranks the 14 quarterbacks in the SEC for 2012:

1. Aaron Murray, Georgia (JR)
Passing Stats:
3,149 yards, 35 TD, 14 INT, 59.1%
Rushing Stats: 87 att., 103 yards, 2 TD

Only USC quarterback Matt Barkley returns to college football with more touchdown passes than Murray’s 35. In fact, he nearly lapped the entire SEC field as only Tyler Wilson topped 20 scoring strikes a year ago. He has now posted back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons and has accounted for 65 total touchdowns over the last two years. He also led his team to its first SEC Championship game since 2005. As an upperclassman now, he will face his tallest order as the heavy SEC East favorite without his three best offensive linemen protecting him. The junior quarterback from Tampa, Fla., needs to cut down on his mistakes, but like most gunslingers, he is willing to make the tough play and, at times, it costs him. Murray is a gamey, tough, poised leader who has competed for championships at every level of play. He will only get better in 2012.

2. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (SR)
Passing Stats:
3,638 yards, 24 TDs, 6 INTs, 63.2%
Rushing Stats: 60 att., -3 yards, 4 TDs

Wilson patiently waited his turn behind Ryan Mallett and emerged as one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks last season. In his first year as the starter, Wilson led the SEC with an average of 261.2 passing yards per game in conference play and posted a 141.4 passer efficiency rating. He finished second to Georgia’s Aaron Murray in passing touchdowns in conference play, but led the SEC in total offense per game. Although Wilson was voted first-team All-SEC last season, the senior could struggle to repeat his 2011 passing totals, especially without Bobby Petrino calling the plays in Fayetteville. Wilson also loses receivers Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, so new weapons will be forced to emerge. Don’t expect the Arkansas’ offense to fall completely off the map, but Petrino’s playcalling and gameplans will be missed. 

3. AJ McCarron, Alabama (JR)
Passing Stats:
2,634 yards, 16 TDs, 5 INTs, 66.8%
Rushing Stats:  30 att., -22 yards, 2 TDs

McCarron went into last season as an unknown, but finished as one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC. He wrestled control of the No. 1 spot away from Phillip Sims early in the year, throwing for 226 yards against Kent State and leading Alabama to a 27-11 victory over Penn State in Week 2. McCarron threw for 200 yards and two scores in a 38-14 blowout win over Arkansas and posted three touchdown passes in games against Auburn and Georgia Southern. In the first matchup against LSU, McCarron threw for only 199 yards and tossed one interception. However, his play in the national title game was a huge factor in Alabama’s win, as McCarron finished with 234 yards on 23 completions. Although offensive coordinator Jim McElwain has departed, McCarron should easily surpass last season’s totals. The junior also has an improving group of receivers and will be playing behind one of the top offensive lines in college football. 

4. Tyler Bray, Tennessee (JR)
Passing Stats:
1,983 yards, 17 TD, 6 INT, 59.5%
Rushing Stats: 26 att., -70 yards, 1 TD

The Vols passer finished third in the SEC in touchdown passes — and he only played seven games. Bray was off to a scorching start with 14 touchdowns in his first four games. But the loss of star wideout Justin Hunter, and then a broken thumb against Georgia, cost Bray most of his potential in 2011. He returned to play the final two games of the season but was clearly aggravated by the injury — he completed only 43.6% of his passes in the final two contests. In order to be considered a great player nationally, Bray needed to mature as a leader and get stronger. It appears that he is finally taking conscious steps to accomplish both of these goals. With Hunter back leading a loaded receiving corps in Knoxville this fall, the sky is the limit for the 6-foot-6, 213 pound California native.

5. James Franklin, Missouri (JR)
Passing Stats:
2,865 yards, 21 TD, 11 INT, 63.3%
Rushing Stats: 217 att., 981 yards, 15 TD

Franklin made some early mistakes in his first year as the starter, but at season’s end, had eclipsed all expectations. He scored a rushing touchdown in all but three games last fall and threw an interception in only six of his 13 starts. The electric athlete finished his first year by pounding an SEC-esque front seven from North Carolina to the tune of 142 yards rushing, 132 yards passing and three total touchdowns in the Independence Bowl. However, Gary Pinkel and Mizzou nation got some horrible news this spring when Franklin injured his throwing shoulder (a sprained GH joint) and had to have surgery. The expected timetable for his return to the field is August — putting his availability for Mizzou’s first SEC season in jeopardy. It is unknown what type of player he will be in 2012, since the injury has been known to sap arm strength. The Tigers will host East Division favorite Georgia in their first SEC game in Week 2.

6. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (JR)
Passing Stats:
1,448 yards, 14 TD, 6 INT, 65.4%
Rushing Stats: 135 att., 525 yards, 8 TD

Shaw got 16 touches in the season opener against East Carolina and totaled 47 yards. So Steve Spurrier’s apparent love of Stephen Garcia essentially kept Shaw off the field for the first month of the season. Eventually, the troubled signal caller was officially kicked off the team and the huddle was given to Shaw full-time. He flourished in his role as the starter, throwing for 311 yards and four touchdowns in his first start as the new executive of the Gamecocks offense. He was also the team's leading rusher once running back Marcus Lattimore was sidelined for the year with a torn ACL. Shaw continued to develop over the course of the season, culminating in his best career game against rival Clemson. In the 34-13 win over the Tigers, Shaw completed 14-of-20 passes for 210 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while adding 107 yards rushing and another score on 19 carries. He scored a rushing touchdown in each of his last six games and posted a nasty 8:1 TD:INT ratio in the final three contests. Most importantly, Shaw was 7-1 after Garcia was given the boot. With Lattimore returning to the field, Shaw could be in for big things in 2012.

7. Zach Mettenberger, LSU (JR)
Passing Stats:
92 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 72.7%
Rushing Stats: 2 att., 28 yards

After watching Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson struggle over the last few years to consistently produce a passing attack, LSU fans are anxious to get an extended look at Mettenberger. Although the junior passer has zero career starts, he figures to be an upgrade and should help the Tigers easily exceed last season’s average passing yards per game (152.5). Mettenberger began his career at Georgia, but was dismissed after an off-the-field incident. After one season at Butler Community College, he landed back in the SEC with LSU and is the clear-cut starter in Baton Rouge this year. Mettenberger is unproven, but has plenty of talent and should give the Tigers a much-needed boost in the passing attack.

8. Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt (JR)
Passing Stats:
1,524 yards, 9 TD, 10 INT, 50.0%
Rushing Stats: 117 att., 420 yards, 4 TD

While the younger brother of Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers is nowhere near as physically gifted as his older sibling, Jordan Rodgers proved to be a gritty, hard-nosed, poised leader of his team. He struggled in his first two starts against Alabama and Georgia — he totaled 151 yards passing, 0 TDs and three INTs — but most players were stymied by those two defensive units. Beginning with the Army game, Rodgers began to find his legs – both literally and figuratively. He led the Dores to a 3-3 record to finish the season while rushing for nearly 50 yards per game and scoring all four of his ground touchdowns. This roster is more talented at the skill positions than it has been in decades, so Rodgers will have plenty of toys to work with in 2012 — if he can hold off Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels.

9. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State (JR)
Passing Stats:
1,034 yards, 8 TDs, 4 INTs, 53.5%
Rushing Stats: 33 att., 45 yards, 1 TD

Chris Relf has expired his eligibility in Starkville, leaving the starting job to Russell this spring. The junior has thrown for 1,669 yards and 13 touchdowns over the last two seasons, but this will be his first year as the full-time No. 1 passer. Russell ranked as one of the top 15 quarterbacks coming out of high school and has shown flashes of promise in limited duty. The junior has a lot to prove in his first year as the starter, but Mississippi State has improved the depth and talent in the receiving corps, which should help Russell’s transition into the No. 1 role.

10. Jameill Showers, Texas A&M (SO)
Passing Stats:
40 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 80%
Rushing Stats: 33 yards, 1 TD

Not only is Texas A&M making a difficult transition from the Big 12 to the SEC, the Aggies have to break in a new quarterback. Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury and head coach Kevin Sumlin hope to establish an offense in College Station similar to the one they had at Houston, but it won’t be easy in the SEC. Showers has the most experience of the four quarterbacks competing for time, but it’s no slam dunk that he wins the job. He finished with 40 passing yards and added 33 on the ground last year in limited action. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel and true freshman Matt Davis are the two candidates pushing Showers the most for playing time, but this battle is expected to go deep into fall practice. Despite the uncertainty entering the season, Sumlin and Kingsbury’s track record at Houston suggests the passing attack will be fine by midseason. 

11. Jacoby Brissett, Florida (SO)
Passing Stats:
206 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs
Rushing Stats: 13 att., 7 yards, 2 TDs 

New offensive coordinator Brent Pease has a difficult decision facing him this summer. He has two talented sophomores who were clearly not ready for the bright lights of SEC football last fall. And there is little separating Brissett from Jeff Driskel. Both have strong arms and both have above average athletic ability. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Brissett is the better passer and likely has a better grasp of working through progressions. The 6-foot-4, 232-pound Driskel has more raw athletic ability and is the better runner of the two. Brissett would have to be considered the favorite to win the job, but both players will get plenty of reps leading up to fall camp. The fact both players were prematurely forced into game action as freshman works as a positive, as neither will be overwhelmed when SEC play arrives in September. 

12. Kiehl Frazier, Auburn (SO)
Passing Stats:
34 yards, 0 TD, 2 INTs, 41.7%
Rushing Stats: 76 att., 327 yards, 3 TDs

A year after owning one of the top offenses in college football, Auburn finished seventh in the SEC in scoring and ranked 10th in passing. Youth and roster turnover contributed to the offensive struggles, but the Tigers failed to show much progress last year. If Auburn wants to contend for the SEC West crown once again, new coordinator Scot Loeffler will have to find some improvement from the passing attack. Frazier played in all 13 games last season, but completed only 41.7 percent of his throws. He was used mostly as a runner, recording 327 yards and three scores on the ground. Frazier ranked as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2011 recruiting class, but is far from a finished product. With a talented offensive line and receiver Emory Blake returning, Frazier has some pieces to work with, but has to prove he can be a consistent passer to move higher on this list.

13. Maxwell Smith, Kentucky (SO)
Passing Stats:
819 yards, 4 TD, 4 INT, 54.9%
Rushing Stats: 20 att., -109 yards, 0 TD

Smith heads into his sophomore year as the default starter for Joker Phillips. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder got his baptism into SEC football in November last year. Smith went 1-3 in four games against Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Georgia. He attempted between 31 and 36 passes in each game and posted easily his best performance in the win over the Rebels. He threw for a career high 283 yards and two scores in the 30-13 drubbing. With Morgan Newton recovering from injury, Smith is the leader in the clubhouse to start. However, anything could go with Phillips’ offense in 2012 as the head coach tries to save his job.

14. Barry Brunetti, Ole Miss (JR)
Passing Stats:
144 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 54.3%
Rushing Stats: 33 att., 110 yards, 0 TD

It was a miserable all-around season last year in Oxford. The Rebels finished 2-10, which included a winless season in SEC play. The offense was largely to blame, as three quarterbacks received extended snaps, but none was able to emerge as the No. 1 starter. Brunetti completed 19 of 35 throws for 144 yards last year and added 110 yards on the ground. New coach Hugh Freeze had a high-scoring offense at Arkansas State but has a lot of work to do to replicate that at Ole Miss. Junior college transfer Bo Wallace is neck-and-neck with Brunetti for the No. 1 spot and both passers could see significant snaps. Until proven otherwise, the Rebels have one of the worst quarterback situations in the SEC.

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


Other SEC Spring Preview Content:

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

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

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012

College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> SEC Football: Quarterback Rankings for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, April 13, 2012 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/kansas-state-football-can-wildcats-repeat-last-years-success

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

Can Kansas State Repeat Last Season's 10-3 Record?

Tim Fitzgerald, Publisher of
In some ways, Kansas State lived a charmed football life in 2011, but there was more to the Wildcats winning nearly every close game than simply luck. If K-State wants to repeat or build upon its 10-win season from a year ago, the Wildcats will need to stay true to their ability to control time of possession, limit turnovers and penalties, and make big plays in special teams. Two obstacles for Bill Snyder's team are a daunting schedule in the rebuilt Big 12 and their return to being one of the hunted teams in the conference.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
From 1995-2003, Kansas State won at least 10 games seven times. We’ll find out in a hurry if the second Bill Snyder renaissance project in Manhattan will enjoy the same staying power. There’s a lot to like about Kansas State with the best players on both sides of the ball returning – quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown. Klein has proven he’ll keep them in every game, but I have reservations about a team that ranked 101st nationally in total offense to continue to stay at the top of the Big 12. Kansas State won’t catch anyone off guard this season and the Wildcats may not be as lucky as they were a year ago. Ten wins will be awfully difficult to reach, but the Wildcats aren’t going to slip back into Ron Prince-era mediocrity. Kansas State will win more than they lose, but I could see Snyder’s team slipping to eight or nine wins.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Bill Snyder is a special coach and Collin Klein is a special quarterback. There is no questioning either of their abilities to lead a program. But I just can’t see Kansas State repeating its 10-2 regular season from 2011. Klein is as fun to watch play this game as any player in the nation, but he will no longer sneak up on defensive coordinators. And he has much less to work with this fall as the offensive line needs to be rebuilt. Additionally, the Wildcats beat Miami, Baylor, Missouri, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Iowa State by one score or less last year and were outgained by its opponents within conference play by 106.8 yards per game. With holes that need plugging on defense, and the addition of two quality football teams in TCU and West Virginia to the already tough road schedule that includes Oklahoma and Baylor, it seems far-fetched to expect another 10-win season. Kansas State is clearly a bowl team that will be a tough out each and every weekend, but seven or eight wins seems like the high-water mark for Snyder’s bunch this fall.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I would be really surprised if Kansas State matches its win total from last season. The Wildcats were the biggest surprise in the Big 12, but they were outgained by 106.8 yards per game in conference play and nine of their contests were decided by a touchdown or less. Although the Wildcats won 10 games, they could have easily finished 8-4. There’s enough talent to make a run at a similar record, but Kansas State suffered some key losses in the trenches, including right tackle Clyde Aufner and defensive tackle Ray Kibble. Quarterback Collin Klein carried this team last year, but can he stay healthy for a full year if he has to record 317 rushing attempts again? One factor that could help the Wildcats reach 10 wins is the uncertainty surrounding some teams in the Big 12. Oklahoma State and Baylor will probably take a step back, while it’s hard to gauge just how TCU will transition to the Big 12. You can never count out Kansas State with Bill Snyder on the sidelines, but I think this team takes a step back in the win column and finishes with an 8-4 or 9-3 record.  

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Wildcats will be a quality team once again, but I don’t see another 10-win campaign for Bill Snyder’s club. KSU had a magical run last season, winning eight games by a touchdown or less. It’s hard to see that happening again, especially with the departures of three offensive line starters and several contributors on defense. You can’t help but be a Collin Klein fan when watching K-State play, but the passing game is fairly limited and running for 27 scores will be difficult to repeat. Additionally, there will be an adjustment period for the defense as Tom Hayes takes over for former defensive coordinator Chris Cosh. I think the Wildcats will win seven or eight games, but fall short of double-digit victories.

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

Related Big 12 Content

Kansas State 2012 Spring Preview
Ranking the Big 12 Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking the Big 12 Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

<p> Kansas State Football: Can the Wildcats Repeat Last Year's Success?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 13, 2012 - 08:22
Path: /college-football/wisconsin-football-who-challenges-badgers-2012

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

With Ohio State ineligible to win the Leaders Division, which team will be the biggest threat to Wisconsin?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Can I say none of the above? I’m not even assuming Wisconsin will be the best team in the Leaders Division. That belongs to Ohio State, who may end up being this year’s version of USC as a potential top-10 team banned from the postseason. Ohio State’s plight leaves the Badgers as the favorite in the Leaders, especially with their quarterback situation settled with Danny O’Brien on board. If had to pick a team to be a threat I’d have to say Purdue. Defensive tackle Kawann Short is one of the Big Ten’s most underrated players. On offense, injuries have ended seasons for running back Ralph Bolden and quarterback Robert Marve. That seems unlikely to happen again. Still, I don’t have much faith in Purdue. Although the Boilermakers are good for an upset each year (Ohio State in 2011 and 2009), they also lost to Rice last year and nearly lost at home to Middle Tennessee. The Big Ten schedule also sets up well for Purdue, which has winnable road games at Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois and misses Michigan State and Nebraska from the Leaders division. All that might be enough to cobble together a nice Big Ten record which could make Wisconsin sweat for a second consecutive division title.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Penn State was one win away from winning this division last season. Illinois started the year 6-0. And Purdue got back to a bowl game for the first time since 2007. All three will push Wisconsin for Leaders Division supremacy since Ohio State — the team that will own the best record — is not eligible to play in the Big Ten title game. The Nittany Lions have major quarterback and offensive line issues but the most talent of all the contenders. Illinois might have the most stability at the most important positions but it is impossible to get the second-half collapse out of my mind. I will surprise some and take the Boilermakers to be the top challenger to Wisconsin. First, they get the Badgers at home and the round robin between these four teams will likely play a big role in determining the champ. Second, they are as healthy as they have been in years (for now) and are trending upwards. And finally, they possess a defensive line that could be one of the league’s better units in a conference that places a premium on stopping the run. That said, the Badgers beat these three teams by a combined 94 points last year, so it is tough to see anyone else other than the Big Red playing in Indianapolis in December. 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
If Ohio State was eligible for the conference title, I think it would be the favorite to play in the Big Ten Championship at Indianapolis. But with a NCAA ban on postseason play, Wisconsin is the clear favorite to win the Leaders Division. Sure, the Badgers have question marks, but when you start examining the rest of the teams in the division, there isn’t much to like. There’s no question Penn State has some talent in the program, but the offensive line must replace four starters and quarterback play is an issue. I’m not sold on Bill O’Brien as a head coach either, which has me thinking Illinois might be Wisconsin’s biggest threat. The Fighting Illini collapsed after a 6-0 start, but Ron Zook didn’t leave the cupboard bare for new coach Tim Beckman. Illinois returns quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and a defense that could be among the best in the conference. The schedule also sets up favorably, as the Fighting Illini does not play Michigan State or Nebraska in crossover games with the Legends Division. Illinois certainly has some question marks and needs to adapt to a new coaching staff. However, if Beckman can get this team to play up to its potential, the Fighting Illini has a chance to push Wisconsin for the division crown.

Kevin McGuire, and No. 2-Minute Warning (@KevinonCFB)
Few will argue that Wisconsin is the prohibitive favorite in the Big Ten's Leaders Division. Already with one of the top offensive players in the nation with running back Montee Ball, a Heisman frontrunner in my book, the Badgers filled the one glaring hole on their roster this spring by signing quarterback transfer Danny O'Brien. The blueprint that was used for the 2011 season seems as though it is being recycled in 2012, and for Wisconsin that should be a good sign. With the Buckeyes ruled out of the picture for us it becomes a little more obvious that Wisconsin is the team to beat in the fall.

If there is one team that has the potential to give Wisconsin a run this year though, it may just be the team the Badgers blasted in the regular season finale last fall to advance to the Big Ten championship game, Penn State. Bill O'Brien brings a new offensive flair to the program and if he can find the right players to get things moving, most notably at quarterback, then this could be a pretty good season for Penn State. Penn State's defense hopes to get some good production out of two key defensive players returning form ACL injuries with defensive end Pete Massaro and linebacker Michael Mauti, and defensive tackle Jordan Hill is ready to pick up where Devon Still left on the inside of the defensive line. The secondary is also a huge question after losing three starters but Penn State has the schedule in their favor. Ohio State and Wisconsin, perhaps the two toughest games on the schedule other than a road trip to Nebraska, make trips to Penn State this season. After the way things went down in Madison last November for the Nittany Lions, revenge will be on the mind of many in the 2012 regular season finale in State College.

Will it once again be a game to determine which school heads to Indianapolis the following week for the Big Ten championship game? 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
It looks pretty bleak in the Leaders Division after Wisconsin and the postseason-ineligible Ohio State Buckeyes, but I’ll go with Penn State because of its overall tradition of winning. Illinois and Purdue return more starters, but the Nittany Lions can focus on football this season after last year’s turmoil that led to the ouster of Joe Paterno. There are obvious problems for new coach Bill O’Brien — finding some/any quarterback play, as well as revamping the offensive line and secondary. However, I think the O-line will be fine and Silas Redd will continue to lead a successful running game. The front seven on defense should be solid, led by tackle Jordan Hill and linebacker Gerald Hodges. If O’Brien can find a decent signal caller between fifth-year senior Matt McGloin, junior Rob Bolden or redshirt sophomore Paul Jones, Penn State will be the closest challenger to Wisconsin to play in the Big Ten Championship Game.

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

Related Big Ten Content

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

Ranking the Big Ten's Head Coaches for 2012

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

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Wisconsin Football: Who Challenges the Badgers in 2012?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 13, 2012 - 08:18
Path: /nascar/sizing-nascars-2013-hall-fame-class

by Vito Pugliese

The 25 nominees for the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame class were announced Thursday in Charlotte, NC. A mix of pioneers, drivers, owners and promoters pepper the list, and going through the names, virtually all of them are qualified to make it into the Hall on the first ballot. However, only five are eligible to get in each year, so there are 20 who will be going home — kind of like the largest go-or-go-home field made up of all-stars and who's who of NASCAR history.

So who of this elite group will be selected in NASCAR’s fourth Hall of Fame class? While I’m not going to reveal my ballot quite yet, the following is who I believe will end up being voted in as the 2013 class.

Tim Flock
One part of the legendary flock of Flocks, Tim (his first name was actually Julius) along with brothers Fonty and Bob and sister Ethel Mobley — the second woman to compete in NASCAR — were pioneers of the sport, and part of the original guard that brought NASCAR from its infancy on dirt tracks and beaches to pavement and speedways during the mid- to late-1950s.

Upon learning of the organized racing series in stock cars by way of a comic strip, Flock finished fifth in the very first NASCAR race, a Strictly Stock event at the Charlotte Speedway dirt track in 1949. He finished eighth in NASCAR’s first official full season, and would end up a two-time series champion in just eight season of competition to go along with 39 wins in 187 starts.

Before there was a Ryan Newman, there was Flock — a wheelman feared in qualifying sessions He set the record for poles in a season in 1955 with 19 and held the record for most wins that same year with 18 until Richard Petty disposed of that 12 years later. Flock won the Daytona Beach race that season, and is generally regarded as the best Daytona Beach Course driver of all time.

Flock also has the distinction of being the only driver to compete with a primate on board — a monkey by the name of Jocko Flocko — as well as being the winner of the only sportscar race in NASCAR history, also in ’55. And for all of you Moneyball stat geeks, Flock’s percent winning percentage of 20.8 percent ranks second to Herb Thomas’ 21.0 percent.

Glenn “Fireball” Roberts
Edward Glenn “Fireball” Roberts is another legend of the sport that many new fans may have heard of, yet know little about. The most popular driver of the 1957 season, Roberts was one of the first speedway aces in the series, becoming the first driver to win two 500-mile races in the same season (Trenton, N.J., and the Southern 500 at Darlington in ’58).

In a career that lasted 15 seasons but witnessed only 206 starts (pretty standard in an era where a bowling shirt and a leather helmet constituted safety equipment), Roberts won the Southern 500 twice (’58, ’63), and the 1962 Daytona 500.

Roberts actually resented the nickname “Fireball,” preferring to go by Glen. Curtis Turner shortened the nickname to something more fitting given his tenacity on the new, larger speedways of the early 1960s: “Balls.” In 64 races at tracks larger than one mile, Roberts tallied 14 wins, 27 top 5s and 37 top 10s. More telling, he led more than 50 percent of the laps run at these tracks.

Driving for owner and mechanic Smokey Yunick — himself an International Motorsports Hall of Famer —in the Super Duty Pontiacs fielded from “The Best Damn Garage in Town,” Roberts won the pole, qualifying race and Daytona 500 in ’62. Entering just 19 of 53 races that season, they would win or finish second six times.

In a tragic twist of fate, Roberts was involved in horrific fiery crash during the 1964 World 600 at Charlotte. His fuel tank ruptured, pouring gasoline into the car as it burned with Roberts trapped inside. Suffering first and second degree burns over 80 percent of his body, he clung to life for weeks in a hospital only to succumb to pneumonia and blood poisoning.

Benny Parsons
You’d be hard pressed to find someone that had a negative word about Benny Parsons, because such a thing has never been muttered. The 1973 Winston Cup champion who denied King Richard what would have been an eighth title would go on to even more success as a broadcaster for ESPN and NBC Sports.

As an on-air personality, Parsons provided his perspective as a driver, genuine warmth and humor, and memorable features such as “Buffet Benny,” his catchphrase of “Man oh man oh man” and the patented, “... WOOOWWW!!!!”

Born in Ellerbe, N.C., just north of the site of this weekend's Truck Series race in Rockingham, it was a move to Detroit in 1960 to work at his father’s taxi service that would be Parsons’ first professional drive. Benny made his first Cup (then Grand National) start in 1964, driving for one of the most legendary names in Ford racing history: Holman-Moody. It was an inauspicious debut — an overheating engine resulting in a less-than-impressive 21st — at the half-mile oval in Weaverville, N.C., right behind another Holman-Moody entry, that of 2012 Hall of Fame inductee Cale Yarborough.

He may be best known for his title season of 1973. Involved in an early accident in the season finale at Rockingham, crews from up and down pit road pitched in to get his damaged Chevy back on track. Despite being 184 laps down, he earned enough points to best Petty in the championship standings.

A Daytona 500 win followed in 1975. Petty, who dominated the event but was laps down following repairs for a water leak, towed Parsons back to the front of the field with just a few laps left. And the “you can't pit right now, we’re eating ice cream” scene from Days of Thunder? That was Benny Parsons, subbing for an ailing Tim Richmond in 1987.

Parsons passed away in January 2007 after battling cancer. He took off the summer of ’06 to ensure he would be well enough to call the final races of the Chase for the Championship later that season. And that, friends, more than any winning percentage, is what being a racer is all about.

Curtis Turner
The numbers may not exactly scream “Hall of Fame,” but the legend of Curtis Turner speaks volumes. A lumber baron by day, liquor runner by night and a general hellraiser regardless of what time it was, Turner has a lot in common with 2011 inductee Junior Johnson — except for one important point: The law never caught Turner.

The story goes that Turner once lined up eight glass jars of moonshine on an empty road and proceeded to slide a Cadillac in between them — in reverse — executing a 180-degree “Bootlegger Turn.” He explained that he had to so he wouldn’t “waste all that good liquor.”

A self-made millionaire (in 1950s dollars, mind you) he made his fortune buying and selling timberlands, once trying to broker a deal that would have allowed the Ford Motor Company to advertise on U.S. currency. In 1959, with barely enough money to buy the property, Turner would start construction on the Charlotte Motor Speedway — and with the help of a .38 Special Smith & Wesson, helped see it to completion.

The Blond Blizzard of Virginia was a legend bore of the lifestyle he lived: hard living, hard driving and hard partying. Turner never won what today is known as a Cup Series title, but he never lost a party. Fittingly, it was Turner that was the first NASCAR driver to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, heralded as “The Babe Ruth of Stock Car Racing.”

Turner would earn a lifetime ban from NASCAR founder Bill France for attempting to organize a drivers union in 1961, though he was allowed to return in ’65. He retired from competition in 1968 and was killed in an airplane crash near Punxsutawney, Penn., on October 14, 1970, along with golfer Clarence King.

Benny Parsons once said, “Ask any fan under the age of 50 who the best driver is and they’ll tell you Dale Earnhardt. Ask any fan over the age of 50 and they’ll say Curtis Turner.”

Anne Bledsoe France
Forget any talk of Danica Patrick for a moment. Anne B. France was truly the First Lady of NASCAR.

While we can prattle on about championships, win ratios and the like, NASCAR was also a business, and businesses don’t just run themselves — particularly start-up companies in their infancy. While Big Bill France was promoting races, buying land and building high-banked superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega, it was Anne who managed the finances and day-to-day operations of the burgeoning empires.

She first served as secretary and treasurer of NASCAR in its earliest years, and when Daytona International Speedway opened in 1959, served in the same roles for what would become International Speedway Corporation. She also managed Daytona's ticket office, remaining active in the business life until her passing in 1992.

Bill France Sr. and son Bill Jr. were honored in the first Hall of Fame class of 2010. It would only be fitting that the one missing member of NASCAR’s First Family be enshrined in 2013.

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts on the Hall of Fame with Vito below. And follow Vito on Twitter: @VitoPugliese


<p> Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese examines the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame field and who he believes will earn induction.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 18:58
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-weekend-rundown-apr-12

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

David Wright’s Latest Tough Break
Poor David Wright, he just can’t seem to catch a break. Well, actually he did and that’s the problem for both him and his fantasy owners. Wright, the Mets’ third baseman who was plagued by injuries last season and dealt with a abdominal issue in spring training, was off to a sizzling start to the season. In the first four games, Wright had gone 7-12 (.583 average) with one home run and four RBIs.

Unfortunately, Wright injured his right pinkie finger sliding back into first base on a pickoff throw in Monday’s game against Washington. Further examination revealed he fractured the finger and while he has yet to be placed on the disabled list, he missed the Mets’ next two games, which coincidentally were the first two the team lost after starting 4-0.

Wright may be back in the lineup on Friday against Philadelphia as for now he’s wearing a splint and hoping to avoid surgery. If he does try and play with the broken pinkie, you have to figure at the least he will be limited at the plate. If he does go on the DL, the Mets will probably move Daniel Murphy to third and put Justin Turner at second base.

Murphy is off to a solid start at the plate, hitting .320 with three doubles and three RBIs, and his versatility adds to his fantasy value. However, the left-handed hitter doesn’t have near the power (20 career home runs in three MLB seasons) that Wright has.

Turner is more of an unknown, but could be worth a look in deeper leagues if he gets the starting job at second because of Murphy moving to third. In his first full major league season last year, Turner hit .260 with four home runs, 51 RBIs, 49 runs scored and 30 doubles in a little more than 400 at bats.

If Wright does go on the DL one replacement option, depending on the size and position eligibility requirements of your league, could be David Freese, who’s picked up where he left off during last year’s World Series, hitting .429 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in his first seven games. If he stays healthy, Freese could be in for a big season.

Other names to consider include Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion, who’s off to a decent start (.269-1-6, 2 SB), San Diego’s Chase Headley, who hit a grand slam Sunday against the Dodgers, and Arizona’s Ryan Roberts, who could provide a little pop and speed as he posted a near 20-20 campaign (19 HR/18 SB) last season with the Diamondbacks.

There’s also Chipper Jones, who had knee surgery during spring training, but came out swinging when he made his season debut on Tuesday with a home run. Health and regular playing time are things to take into consideration with Jones, who is playing in his final season, but the veteran switch-hitter’s resume speaks for itself - .304 career batting average, 455 home runs, 1,563 RBIs, more walks than strike outs in 19 seasons.

Struggling Aces
It’s still early, but several frontline pitchers who were undoubtedly drafted rather high by the vast majority of fantasy owners are aiming for a much better showing on the mound as they make their second starts on Thursday.

Dan Haren got knocked around by the Royals in his first start, giving up 11 hits, including two home runs, and five earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. The good news is that he struck out five, while just walking one and this time around he will take the mound against Minnesota in Target Field. The Twins are currently second-to-last in the majors with just 12 runs scored through their first five games and as a team they are hitting .190 entering Thursday’s game against Haren and the Angels.

San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner was a popular Cy Young pick headed into the season, but the 22-year-old lefty certainly didn’t get off to the start he was hoping for. Bumgarner lasted just four innings in his first start against Arizona, yielding four earned runs on seven hits, two of those leaving Chase Stadium, in just four innings. Unfortunately for Bumgarner, his second start comes today against a Colorado Rockies team that pounded out 22 hits and scored 17 runs against the Giants on Wednesday night.

The Cincinnati Reds gave up a lot to get Mat Latos in the offseason to be their ace, but he didn’t pitch like one in his first outing. Latos didn’t get out of the fifth inning against the Marlins in Great American Ballpark, giving up seven hits and four earned runs in the process. His second start will be on the road, taking on a Nationals team that’s gotten off to a 4-2 start.

These three are not the only top-flight starting pitchers struggling, however, as aces Josh Johnson, Tim Lincecum and CC Sabathia are among those who have not had much success in their first two starts of the season.

Johnson, who was limited to just nine starts in 2011 due to shoulder issues, has been knocked around hard in his first two starts. Johnson, who held opposing hitters to a .185 average in 2010, has given up 21 hits in 9 2/3 innings (.447 average) to start the season.

Lincecum has looked nothing like his Cy Young self in his first two starts as his ERA currently stands at 12.91. He gave up five earned runs on six hits, two of those home runs, to the Diamondbacks on April 6, but still struck out seven with just one walk. On Wednesday night against the Rockies in Colorado, however, Lincecum didn’t make it out the third inning, as the Rockies collected eight hits and scored six runs in the shortest start (2 1/3 IP) of his career. There have already been questions raised regarding Lincecum’s diminished velocity, but command also has been an issue for the 27-year-old right-hander to start the season.

Sabathia won his second start, a 6-4 decision over Baltimore on Wednesday night, but the big lefty has surrendered 16 hits and nine earned runs in 12 innings so far. His ERA stands at 6.75 and although he has a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (5:15) right now, his owners no doubt would like him to not give up so many hits in the process.

It’s entirely too early to give up on any of these pitchers, but their next starts bear careful monitoring as the last thing any owner wants to do, especially to start the season, is have to worry about their ace hurler.

Weekend Series to Watch

Los Angeles Angels at New York Yankees
The Yankees make their 2012 home debut on Friday, hosting Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels. Pujols will look to get on track at the plate, as the slugger is hitting just .222 with two RBIs and one run scored in his first five games. This is Pujols’ first game in new Yankee Stadium. He went 3-10 with one HR in 2003 inter-league series with the Cardinals in old Yankee Stadium. As a team, the Angels have hit just two home runs in their first five games.

For the Yankees, Derek Jeter has gotten off to a sensational start, batting .370 with one home run, which is the same number that Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira have hit combined. Granderson is the only one of this quartet to go deep so far, while Cano and Rodriguez are looking for their first RBI of the season. A-Rod has been struggling the most, as the third baseman is currently batting just .174 with a total of four hits in his first six games.

Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox
Tampa Bay travels to Boston for a four-game set starting Friday, which could go a long ways to determining how the AL East race plays out. The Rays are off to a 4-1 start entering Thursday’s series finale in Detroit thanks in large part to hot start of Carlos Pena. The first baseman has thrived in his second tour of duty with Tampa, as he’s batting .389 with two home runs and seven RBIs in his first five games. Last season with the Chicago Cubs, Pena didn’t hit his second home run until May 4.

Boston has struggled mightily out of the gate with just one win in its first six games. The bullpen has been a disaster as closer Alfredo Aceves (27.00 ERA) and setup man Mark Melancon (36.00 ERA) have each already blown a save and have combined surrendered more home runs (two) than strikeouts (one) so far. The offense hasn’t exactly done its part either with just two home runs and 22 runs scored to this point. Jacoby Ellsbury (.130, 2 RBI, 0 SB) and Kevin Youkilis (.100, 0 R, 0 RBI) both hope to find their hitting groove at home. Last season, Ellsbury batted .326 with 15 home runs and 19 stolen bases in home games, while Youkilis is a career .305 hitter at Fenway.

— by Mark Ross, published on April 12, 2012

<p> Athlon has some things to watch to get you ready for this weekend's fantasy baseball action</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 12:46
Path: /nfl/andrew-luck-vs-robert-griffin-iii

Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III are poised to become just the fifth pair of quarterbacks to be selected No. 1 and 2 overall in the draft since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Luck and RG3 are set to join Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb (1999), Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf (1998), Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer (1993), and Jim Plunkett and Archie Manning (1971) in history.

Indianapolis Colts fans have been preparing for Luck’s arrival since the once proud franchise staggered to an 0–13 start with Peyton Manning sidelined due to multiple neck surgeries. Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins’ faithful have only recently locked in on RG3 — following a bold trade that sent the Skins’ first- and second-round picks in 2012 (Nos. 6 and 39 overall), as well as their first-rounders in 2013 and 2014 to the St. Louis Rams in exchange for the No. 2 overall pick.

Athlon Sports takes a look at the tale of the tape, pitting Luck vs. RG3 in every measurable and intangible attribute necessary to be a franchise quarterback at the next level.


LUCK: Born Sept. 12, 1989 in Washington, D.C., to Oliver and Kathy Luck. Father played quarterback at West Virginia and in the NFL for five years with the Houston Oilers, and is currently the athletic director at WVU.

RG3: Born Feb. 12, 1990 in Japan, where Robert Jr. and Jacqueline Griffin were stationed. Both parents are retired sergeants in the U.S. Army. Griffin is also recently engaged to Baylor’s Rebecca Liddicoat.

EDGE: Both have stable, two-parent homes and are essentially the same age. But LUCK comes from NFL bloodlines, which is always an advantage.


LUCK: 6’4”, 234 pounds, 32 5/8” arms

RG3: 6’2”, 223 pounds, 32 1/4” arms

EDGE: Both have the frame necessary to play quarterback in the NFL, where quarterbacks range from defensive end-sized Cam Newton (6’5”, 248 pounds, 33 3/4” arms) to barely big enough Drew Brees (6’0”, 209 pounds, 31 1/4” arms). LUCK has prototypical size.


LUCK: Raised by a former quarterback father and coached by 15-year NFL veteran signal-caller Jim Harbaugh. The NFL Coach of the Year and current San Francisco 49ers boss, “Captain Comeback” was instrumental in Luck’s development at Stanford, where Harbaugh coached from 2007-10.

In his final season at Stanford, Luck did his best Peyton Manning impression at the line of scrimmage. “We put the formation out there and let Andrew call the play. It’s 100 percent up to him to get us in the right play,” explained Cardinal coach David Shaw, who was Luck’s offensive coordinator prior to taking over the top spot.

RG3: Orchestrated Art Briles’ spread offense to perfection. Not to imply RG3 is a “system quarterback,” but Kevin Kolb (2003-06) and Case Keenum (2007) also put up video game gaudy numbers in Briles’ quick-strike attack when he coached at Houston.

EDGE: LUCK ran a pro-style offense in which he was the centerpiece play-caller and playmaker, a la Manning.


LUCK: Showed the heart of a champion in 2011 during a triple-overtime win over USC (56–48). Luck threw a costly pick-six to give the Trojans the lead with 3:08 remaining in regulation before marching the Cardinal downfield to tie the game with 38 ticks on the clock — before leading three TD drives in the overtime win. In 2010, Luck led a nine-play, 62-yard drive in the final 1:08 to set up a game-winning FG to beat USC (37–35) as time expired, and had a fourth-quarter comeback to take down Arizona State (17–14).

RG3: Proved to be a winner of the highest order in 2011, pulling off four come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter or overtime — against TCU (50–48) in the season’s Friday night opener; at Kansas (31–30) after a three-TD fourth-quarter rally to force overtime; against No. 5 Oklahoma (45–38) on a thrilling 34-yard TD pass with eight seconds to play, resulting in Baylor’s highest-ranked upset win since 1985; and in his final collegiate contest in the Alamo Bowl against Washington (67–56). In 2010, Griffin came from behind at Texas (30–22) for Baylor’s first win in Austin since 1991.

EDGE: Both have had late-game heroics. Luck had fewer shining moments in the fourth quarter — due in large part to the talented BCS bowl (Orange in 2010, Fiesta in 2011) teams he played on. At times, RG3 seemingly was a one-man show, willing the Bears to victory.


LUCK: Owns the Pac-12 records for both single-season (71.3 percent) and career (67.0 percent) completion percentage.

RG3: Ranks third all-time in single-season (72.4 percent) and sixth all-time in career completion percentage (67.1 percent) in Big 12 history.

EDGE: Both LUCK and RG3 have shown touch on short and intermediate routes; the difference is negligible.


LUCK: Was famously criticized by Super Bowl-winning quarterback and CBS analyst Phil Simms. “The one thing I don’t see, I just don’t see big-time NFL throws. I don’t care what anybody says. I’ve watched a lot of him. He never takes it and rips it in there. And you can say what you want but, man, you’ve got to be able to crease that ball every once in a while,” said Simms. “There’s not a lot of rotation on the ball and there’s not a tremendous amount of power.”

RG3: Was able to utilize vertical deep threat — and likely NFL first-round pick — receiver Kendall Wright, who had at least one catch of 40 or more yards in six games and nine scoring grabs covering 30 or more yards last year.

EDGE: RG3 showed the ability and willingness to grip-it and rip-it downfield on a consistent basis. In fairness, Luck might have done the same if he had been fortunate enough to play with an NFL-caliber wideout with high-end speed.


LUCK: 10”

RG3: 9 1/2”

EDGE: Protecting the football in the NFL can never be undervalued. It only helps to have big mits when trying to hold on to the ball in sloppy conditions or when being blindsided by a 300-pounder. LUCK has hands in the Drew Brees (10 1/4”) or Brett Favre (10 3/8”) range, while RG3 is in fringy Daunte Culpepper (9 1/2”) or Alex Smith (9 3/8”) territory.


LUCK: Missed a Sun Bowl loss to Oklahoma (31–27) as a redshirt freshman following the 2009 season due to surgery on his broken right index finger.

RG3: Granted medical redshirt after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the third game of his true sophomore season in 2009.

EDGE: LUCK only missed one game during his Stanford career; RG3 missed most of the 2009 season.


LUCK: Ran a 4.67 in the 40-yard dash, had a 36” vertical leap and a 10’4” broad jump at the Scouting Combine.

RG3: Ran a quarterback-record 4.41 in the 40, had a 39” vertical and 10’ broad jump at the Scouting Combine.

EDGE: Although Luck’s numbers were eerily similar to Cam Newton’s (4.59 in the 40, 35” vertical, 10’6” broad), RG3 dazzled the crowd in Indianapolis. Both are elite athletes compared to the majority of their quarterback peers.


LUCK: Passed for 9,430 yards, 82 TDs and 22 INTs. Rushed for 957 yards and seven TDs. Posted a 31–7 career record (1–1 in bowls). Won Walter Camp Foundation Player of the Year, Maxwell Trophy, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.

RG3: Passed for 10,366 yards, 78 TDs and 17 INTs. Rushed for 2,254 yards and 33 TDs. Posted a 23–18 career record (1–1 in bowls). Won Heisman Trophy, Davey O’Brien Award, Manning Award and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. Graduated with degree in political science.

EDGE: RG3 barely edges Luck in terms of complete body of work; the Heisman Trophy poses as a powerful tiebreaker.


LUCK: Signed with Nike; first ad explains that Andrew’s hard work “Makes His Luck.” Since shaving his 2011 offseason neck beard, Luck has been as clean cut as any college kid in the country.

RG3: Signed with adidas; wore gold adizero 5-Star shoes at the Combine and a “No Pressure, No Diamonds” adidas t-shirt while working out at his Pro Day and as a spectacled fan at the Baylor-Kentucky NCAA Tournament matchup in Atlanta. Also famously wore Superman socks to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York.

EDGE: LUCK probably has a higher Q Score due to his extended time in the spotlight, but RG3 has quickly established himself as a stylish brand to be reckoned with.

Both are extremely polished dealing with media and fans, understand exactly what is expected of them on and off the field, and appear to be mature enough to handle the responsibility of being the face of a nine-figure franchise.


Although the race to No. 1 is closer than anyone would have predicted at this time last year, LUCK remains the top quarterback in the 2012 NFL Draft. In the areas where RG3 has a clear edge, the gap is not significant enough to surpass Luck as the top passer available. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts where Luck is concerned; he is a worthy heir to Manning and deserves to be the No. 1 pick of the Indianapolis Colts on April 26.

by Nathan Rush

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2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer
2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Positions
2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals
2012 NFL Draft Busts: Ryan Tannehill and Dontari Poe
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

<p> A look at the tale of the tape, pitting Stanford's Andrew Luck vs. Baylor's Robert Griffin III in every measurable and intangible attribute necessary for NFL success.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-early-top-25-2012-2013

Kentucky has cut down the nets and added another championship banner to Rupp Arena. The question now is how deep the NBA draft will cut into the Wildcats roster, and what kind of influx of talent will arrive in Lexington.

Ten days since the national championship game, the outlook for the 2012-13 is a little clearer. The NCAA deadline for college underclassmen to remove their names from NBA draft consideration passed April 10, but the NBA’s deadline for underclassmen to enter the draft is April 29. In short, any underclassman who declares between now and April 29 cannot return to school.

Most players around the country have declared their draft intentions, but some major notable exceptions apply, including five key players from Kentucky, Florida guard Bradley Beal and N.C. State forward C.J. Leslie.

As for the new roster additions for 2012-13, Kentucky added one more Wednesday to perhaps the nation’s top recruiting class with an announcement from center Nerlens Noel. A number of other top prospects could sign during spring signing period, but here’s our first look at the potential top teams for 2012-13.

1. INDIANA (27-9, 11-7 Big Ten)

Key departure: G Verdell Jones III

Key returnees: F Cody Zeller, F Christian Watford, G Jordan Hulls, G Victor Oladipo, G Maurice Creek, F Will Sheehey

Top newcomers: G Yogi Ferrell, F Jeremy Hollowell, F Hanner Perea

Outlook: After four seasons in the depths of the Big Ten, Indiana has turned the corner. The Hoosiers’ 27 wins last season was one fewer than the first three seasons of Tom Crean’s tenure combined. Look for Indiana to make another leap in 2012-13. Cody Zeller and Christian Watford announced they would remain in Bloomington, meaning Indiana will return its top five scorers. The Hoosiers also hope guard Maurice Creek, who missed all of last season with injury, will be able to contribute. If Indiana is going to be a Final Four-caliber team, though, the Hoosiers will need to improve their 3-6 mark in Big Ten road games. Verdell Jones is gone, but incoming freshman point guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell will be a major addition.


2. KENTUCKY (38-2, 16-0 SEC)

Key departures: G Darius Miller

Still undecided: F Anthony Davis, F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, F Terrence Jones, G Marquis Teague, G Doron Lamb

Key returnee: F Kyle Wiltjer

Top newcomers: C Willie Cauley, G Archie Goodwin, G Ryan Harrow, F Alex Poythress, C Nerlens Noel

Outlook: Kentucky’s top five underclassmen are waiting until the NBA’s April 29 deadline, but it’s safe to say the bulk of them, if not all, will head to the draft. As usual, that’s no cause for concern in Lexington. Cycle one recruiting class out, and bring in the next. On Wednesday, Kentucky added the replacement for Davis with an announcement – via a UK shaved into the back of his head – from center Nerlens Noel (the No. 1 prospect according to and ESPN). On the same day, the Wildcats lost out on Shabazz Muhammad (the No. 1 prospect according to, who landed at UCLA. Still, Kentucky adds one of the nation’s elite freshman classes with Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley plus N.C. State transfer Ryan Harrow. If forward Kyle Wiltjer is the only holdover from the 2011 class, he’s no throw in. He’ll be a star as a sophomore. And without Muhammad in the class, Kentucky is still pursuing another elite recruit during the spring signing period, forward Anthony Bennett.


3. KANSAS (32-7, 16-2 Big 12)

Key departures: F Thomas Robinson, G Tyshawn Taylor, G Conner Teahan

Key returnees: C Jeff Withey, G Elijah Johnson, G Travis Releford

Top newcomers: F Perry Ellis, G Ben McLemore, F Andrew White

Outlook: One way or another, Kansas always seems to have a player deep on the bench who will eventually become a star. Think of Thomas Robinson in 2010-11 or Cole Aldrich in 2007-08. Guard Ben McLemore may be the next revelation after sitting last season while he was ineligible for his first season. Robinson is gone, but the Jayhawks should have a formidable backcourt with Johnson taking over the point and all-around guard Travis Releford entering his senior year. The Jayhawks have failed to win 30 games only once in the last six seasons, when they won 27 in 2008-09.


4. LOUISVILLE (30-10, 10-8 Big East)

Key departures: G/F Kyle Kuric, G Chris Smith

Key returnees: G Russ Smith, F Chane Behanan, G Peyton Siva, C Gorgui Dieng, G Mike Marra, G/F Wayne Blackshear

Top newcomers: G Luke Hancock, G Terry Rozier

Outlook: Louisville finished the season winning eight of its last nine games with a Big East tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. The Cardinals will look to use that as a springboard, but the key to Louisville playing consistently from beginning to end without the mass injury problems that plagued the Cardinals the last two seasons. Peyton Siva, who averaged 11.3 points and six assists in Big East and NCAA tournament play, returns as does rising sophomore forward Chane Behanan. Two of the top three scorers are gone in Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith, but the Cardinals will look to have Wayne Blackshear, who averaged only seven minutes in 15 games, healthy for the whole season, plus George Mason transfer Luke Hancock is now eligible. Russ Smith must improve his shot selection, and Gorgui Dieng can improve in the weight room.


5. NORTH CAROLINA (32-6, 14-2 ACC)

Key departures: F Harrison Barnes, F John Henson, G Kendall Marshall, C Tyler Zeller

Key returnees: G/F Reggie Bullock, G Dexter Strickland,G P.J. Hairston, F James Michael McAdoo

Top newcomers: G Marcus Paige, F Brice Johnson, C Joel James, F J.P. Tokoto

Outlook: Losing Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Kendall Marshall early to the NBA draft was no great surprise. North Carolina loses four players who started at least 30 games and return no double-digit scorers. The Tar Heels won’t lack for talent. Forward James Michael McAdoo probably made the wise decision to return to school and could become a breakout player now that takes a larger role. Like McAdoo, guard P.J. Hairston is another McDonald’s All-American who was a role player as a freshman but could break out as a sophomore.  Veterans Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland (who played only 19 games because of injury), the top two returning scorers, also look to take expanded roles. North Carolina expects to have guard Leslie McDonald back from a torn ACL and, as usual, a top-notch signing class.


6. OHIO STATE (31-8, 13-5 Big Ten)

Key departures: C Jared Sullinger, G William Buford

Key returnees: F Deshaun Thomas, G Aaron Craft, G Lenzelle Smith, F Evan Ravenel

Outlook: The lingering question after Ohio State’s Final Four run was if forward Deshaun Thomas would return to the Buckeyes or follow Jared Sullinger to the draft. As a full-time player in 2011-12, Thomas took major strides, improving his shooting percentage from 47.9 percent as a freshman to 52 percent as a sophomore. With Sullinger and William Buford gone, Thomas is the go-to player for the first time in his career. Point guard Aaron Craft is the floor general and top defender, but he may need to expand his offensive role. Amir Williams, Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross were decorated recruits in 2011, but they played sparingly as freshmen.


7. MICHIGAN (24-10, 13-5 Big Ten)

Key departures: G/F Zack Novak, G Stu Douglass, F Evan Smotrycz

Key returnees: G Trey Burke, G Tim Hardaway Jr., F Jordan Morgan

Top newcomers: F Mitch McGary, F Glenn Robinson III, G Nik Stauskas

Outlook: Point guard Trey Burke’s late decision to return to school gives Michigan the look of a Final Four contender. Incoming freshman forward Glenn Robinson III will give the roster another player with NBA bloodlines, joining guard Tim Hardaway Jr. However, Robinson won’t be the top incoming freshman. That distinction belongs to Mitch McGary, who will give coach John Beilein his first legitimate big man since he arrived in Ann Arbor. Top rebounder Jordan Morgan also returns, but the Wolverines lose two veterans, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, who started on three NCAA tournament teams.


8. DUKE (27-7, 13-3 ACC)

Key departures: G Austin Rivers, F Miles Plumlee

Key returnees: G Seth Curry, F Mason Plumlee, G Tyler Thornton, G Andre Dawkins, F Ryan Kelly, G Quinn Cook

Top newcomer: G Rasheed Sulaimon, F Marshall Plumlee

Outlook: After losing to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the NCAA tournament (a major shock) and losing Austin Rivers to the NBA draft (not a shock), Duke received some good news with the return of forward Mason Plumlee, who averaged 11.1 points and 9.2 rebounds last season. Apart from Rivers and Miles Plumlee, Duke returns every other key player. With Rivers gone, the class of second-year players is now led by sophomore guard Quinn Cook and redshirt freshman center Marshall Plumlee. Duke will add freshman shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon and remains in contention for other recruits, but will that be enough to help a Duke team that couldn’t advance through the NCAA tournament even with Rivers?


9. N.C. STATE (24-13, 9-7 ACC)

Key departures: G/F C.J. Williams

Still undecided: F C.J. Leslie

Key returnees: F Richard Howell, G Lorenzo Brown, F Scott Wood

Top newcomers: G Rodney Purvis, F T.J. Warren

Outlook: After defeating San Diego State and Georgetown to advance to the Sweet 16, N.C. State may be a popular preseason pick to win the ACC. If C.J. Leslie (14.7 points, 7.3 rebounds) returns, N.C. State will return its top four scorers. All four averaged at least 10.8 points per game. The Wolfpack also adds an elite guard recruit in Rodney Purvis. Given the personnel, N.C. State may be poised for a long-awaited banner year in Mark Gottfried’s second season. If there’s any reason for pause, N.C. State defeated only four NCAA tournament teams during the regular season – UNC Asheville, Texas, St. Bonaventure, Virginia. None of which were seeded higher than 11th and none won a tournament game.


10. MICHIGAN STATE (29-8, 13-5 Big Ten)

Key departures: F Draymond Green, G Brandon Wood, G Austin Johnson

Key returnees: G Keith Appling, C Derrick Nix, F Branden Dawson, C Adreian Payne, G Travis Trice

Top newcomers: G Gary Harris, F Matt Costello, F Kenny Kaminski

Outlook: Draymond Green may be the most difficult to replace player in the nation next season, but there’s good reason to have faith Michigan State and Tom Izzo can recover and continue to challenge for a Big Ten title. Keith Appling adapted well to a full-time role. Centers Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne managed the most of their split time, averaging a combined 15.1 points per game. The biggest reason for optimism will be the development of rising sophomore Branden Dawson, who averaged 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds before he sat the final six games with a torn ACL.


11. FLORIDA (26-11, 10-6 SEC)

Key departures: G Erving Walker

Still undecided: G Bradley Beal

Key returnees: G Kenny Boynton, F/C Erik Murphy, F/C Patric Young, G Mike Rosario

Top newcomers: G Braxton Ogbueze, G Michael Frazier

Outlook: If Bradley Beal decides to return, Florida is a top-five team. That said, Beal has been projected as a top-five pick, so the Gators shouldn’t hold their breath. Leading scorer Kenny Boynton and standout forward Patric Young both said they will return to a team that was a second-half collapse against Louisville away from the Final Four. The Gators have three guards committed and are continuing to recruit forward Anthony Bennett. Even without Beal and Bennett, Florida appears to be the clear No. 2 in the SEC after Kentucky.


12. BAYLOR (30-8, 12-6 Big 12)

Key departures: F Perry Jones, F Quincy Acy, F Anthony Jones

Key returnees: G Pierre Jackson, F Quincy Miller, G Brady Heslip, G A.J. Walton

Top newcomers: C Isaiah Austin, F Ricardo Gathers

Outlook: Losing Perry Jones to the draft was all but a given and Quincy Acy was a senior. The Bears still have talent left on the roster, especially after Quincy Miller (10.2 points, 4.9 rebounds) elected to return to school. The guard duo of Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip returns, giving Baylor a strong perimeter presence. Miller’s return will be huge for a frontcourt in transition, though the bears add seven-foot center Isaiah Austin and forward Ricardo Gathers.


13. SYRACUSE (34-3, 17-1 Big East)

Key departures: F Kris Joseph, G Dion Waiters, G Scoop Jardine, C Fab Melo

Key returnees: G Brandon Triche, F C.J. Fair, F Rakeem Christmas, F James Southerland

Top newcomers: C DaJuan Coleman, F Jerami Grant

Outlook: Syracuse loses Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine and Fab Melo from a team that battled distractions from the start of the season to the end and still managed to win 34 games. Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair will need to become the team’s veteran leadership for a group that will have plenty of unproven pieces. Forward James Southerland played well late in the season when he played additional minutes with Melo out, and Rakeem Christmas had 11 rebounds and eight points against Kansas State in the NCAA tournament. Syracuse won’t have trouble finding talent on the roster with sophomore Michael Carter-Williams in the backcourt and incoming freshmen DaJuan Coleman and Jerami Grant in the frontcourt.


14. SAN DIEGO STATE (26-8, 10-4 Mountain West)

Key departures: F Garrett Green, F Tim Shelton

Key returnees: G Jamaal Franklin, G Chase Tapley, G Xavier Thomas, G James Rahon

Top newcomers: F J.J. O’Brien, F Dwayne Polee  F James Johnson, F Winston Shepard

Outlook: With the Pac-12 continuing to struggle, San Diego State should be in contention for the top team in the West. The top four scorers all return, though all are guards – Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley, Xavier Thomas and James Rahon. For a team that hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game until 2011, the Aztecs have pulled some key recruiting victories in recent years, first with Kawhi Leonard (who was two and done) and then forward Winston Shepard, who committed in February. Beyond Shepard, San Diego State will try to boost its front court with transfers Dwayne Pollee (a starter at St. John’s in 2010-11), J.J. O’Brien (6.4 points, 5.5 rebounds as a freshman at Utah), and James Johnson (who redshirted his only season at Virginia).


15. ARIZONA (23-12, 12-6 Pac-12)

Key departures: G Kyle Fogg, F Jesse Perry

Key returnees: F Solomon Hill, G Nick Johnson, G Josiah Turner, G Brendon Lavender, G/F Kevin Parrom, G Jordin Mayes

Top newcomers: F Brandon Ashley, C Kaleb Tarczewski, C Grant Jerrett, G Gabe York

Outlook: The Pac-12 must have a top-25 caliber team in 2012-13, right? Arizona may be the team that reclaims a little respect for the conference. Kyle Fogg (13.5 ppg) and Jesse Perry (10.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg) are gone, but Solomon Hill, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, is back. Kevin Parrom, who averaged 7.5 points per game on the Elite Eight team a year ago, will be healthy. Guards Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson, highly prized recruits from a year ago, will be sophomores. Oh, and Arizona adds one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.


16. KANSAS STATE (22-11, 10-8 Big 12)

Key departure: F Jamar Samuels

Key returnees: G Rodney McGruder, G Will Spradling, G Angel Rodriguez, F Jordan Henriquez, F Thomas Gipson, G Montavious Irving

Outlook: Kansas State was one of the Big 12’s pleasant surprises once again, but now the Wildcats have some uncertainty in their future as former Illinois coach Bruce Weber takes over for Frank Martin. Weber inherits a roster that is mostly intact other than the departure of forward Jamar Samuels. Rodney McGruder, who averaged 15.8 points last season, will be a senior while Angel Rodriguez and Thomas Gipson started a combined 39 games as freshmen last season.


17. WISCONSIN (26-10, 12-6 Big Ten)

Key departure: G Jordan Taylor

Key returnees: F Ryan Evans, F/C Jared Beggren, G Josh Gasser, G Ben Brust, F Mike Bruesewitz

Outlook: Jordan Taylor is gone. That’s a major hit, but the Badgers return five other players who averaged at least 20 minutes per game last season. Wisconsin still won 26 games and reached the Sweet 16 even though Taylor was not as productive as he was as a junior and the Badgers were uncharacteristically vulnerable at home. The Badgers tend to stick around the top of the Big Ten despite personnel changes, but Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren, Josh Gasser, Ben Brust and Mike Bruesewitz must adjust to not having a star player on the court.


18. CREIGHTON (29-6, 14-4 Missouri Valley)

Key departure: G Antoine Young

Key returnees: F Doug McDermott, C Gregory Echenique, G Grant Gibbs, F Ethan Wragge, G Jahenns Manigat, G Josh Jones

Outlook: Doug McDermott again will be a national player of the year candidate after earning first-team All-America honors. Between McDermott and Gregory Echenique again will have a formidable frontcourt duo, but the Bluejays must replace Antoine Young, who averaged 12.6 points and 4.8 assists combined the last two seasons. Every other key player returns.


19. GONZAGA (26-7, 13-3 West Coast)

Key departure: C Robert Sacre

Key returnees: F Elias Harris, G Kevin Pangos, G Gary Bell Jr., F/C Sam Dower, F Guy Landry Edi

Outlook: The guard duo of Kevin Pangos (13.6 ppg) and Gary Bell Jr. (10.4 ppg) are only sophomores while the frontcourt duo of Elias Harris (13.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Sam Dower (8.3 ppg) will be seasoned veterans. Robert Sacre, who first stepped on campus in 2007-08, is gone. The Bulldogs should be poised for another 25 wins with a chance to make a run in the NCAA tournament.


20. MEMPHIS (26-9, 13-3 Conference USA)

Key departures: G Will Barton, G/F Wesley Witherspoon

Key returnees: G Joe Jackson, F Tarik Black, G Chris Crawford, G/F Adonis Thomas, G Antonio Barton

Top newcomer: F William Goodwin

Outlook: A handful of Memphis players are still looking to reach their full potential. The Tigers will need it after losing Will Barton, who led the team in scoring and rebounding. After a loss to UTEP on Feb. 18, Memphis beat its final seven opponents before the NCAA tournament by an average of 21 points per game before losing to Saint Louis in the round of 64. Memphis has the ability to win Conference USA again, but will the Tigers have the consistency to be a player on the national stage?


21. NOTRE DAME (22-12, 13-5 Big East)

Key departures: F Tim Abromaitis, G Scott Martin

Key returnees: F Jack Cooley, G Jerian Grant, G Eric Atkins, G/F Pat Connaughton, G Alex Dragicevich

Top newcomers: F Cameron Biedscheid, F Zach Auguste

Outlook: Notre Dame was one of the nation’s biggest overachievers last season, finishing third in the Big East despite playing on two games with top player Tim Abromaitis. The Irish are awaiting word on a sixth year of eligibility for Abromaitis and guard Scott Martin. Even if the NCAA grants neither player an extra year, Notre Dame still return three veterans who averaged at least 12 points per game last season – Jack Cooley, Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins.


22. VCU (29-7, 15-3 Colonial)

Key departures: G/F Bradford Burgess

Key returnees: F Juvonte Reddic, G Troy Daniels, G Rob Brandenberg, G Darius Theus, G Traveon Graham, G D.J. Haley

Outlook: With Bradford Burgess gone, none of the top five scorers from VCU’s 2011 Final Four team will be back for 2012-13. That shouldn’t be a huge deal for VCU. Coach Shaka Smart resisted overtures from Illinois and will return to a veteran team. Burgess in the only major loss from a team that lost two games (George Mason on the road and Indiana in the NCAA tournament) after Jan. 8 by a total of three points.


23. TENNESSEE (19-15, 10-6 SEC)

Key departure: G Cameron Tatum

Key returnees: G Trae Golden, F Jeronne Maymon, F Jarnell Stokes, G Jordan McRae, G Skylar McBee, F Kenny Hall

Notes: Stokes played only 17 games last season

Outlook: After starting 10-12, Tennessee finished the season 9-3 in February and March. On the good side, the Volunteers defeated Florida on the road and Vanderbilt in Knoxville, but two of the last three games were losses to Ole Miss in the SEC tournament and Middle Tennessee at home in the NIT. Cam Tatum is the only major departure, but the Volunteers will have a full season of Jarnell Stokes. The freshman was a major reason for the Vols’ turnaround late in the season when he arrived in January.


24. MURRAY STATE (31-2, 15-1 Ohio Valley)

Key departures: G Donte Poole, G Ivan Aska, G Jewuan Long

Key returnees: G Isaiah Canaan, F Edward Daniel

Top newcomers: G Dexter Fields

Outlook: The return of Isaiah Canaan will make Murray State a favorite in the Ohio Valley Conference (which will now include Belmont), but the Racers will have difficulty in reaching the 30-win mark again. Donte Poole, Ivan Aka and Jewuan Long were the next three scorers on the team behind Canaan.


25. SAINT LOUIS (26-8, 12-4 Atlantic 10)

Key departure: F Brian Conklin, G Kyle Cassity

Key returnees: G Kwamain Mitchell, F Cody Ellis, F Dwayne Evans, G Mike McCall Jr., G Jordair Jett, F Rob Loe

Outlook: Saint Louis improved from 12 wins to 26 in one season before picking up the program’s first NCAA tournament win 1998. Leading scorer Brian Conklin is gone as is starter Kyle Cassity, but the balanced Billikins return two other double-digit scorers and four who averaged at least seven points per game. 

<p> Athlon looks far ahead at next season's top programs</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 11:47
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-texas

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series shrugs off the much-needed weekend off and heads to Texas Motor Speedway for this Saturday night's Samsung Mobile 500.

Anytime the series makes its way to the high-speed, mile-and-a-half track in Fort Worth, the Roush Fenway brigade is the team to watch. Since the inaugural event in 1997, the Roush cars have been among the fastest and the “Cat in the Hat” is usually holding a trophy at the end of the day.

All told, Jack Roush has eight Sprint Cup Series victories in Texas, along with seven Nationwide Series wins and one Camping World Truck Series victory.

However, when Matt Kenseth won last April’s night race by a whopping eight seconds, it snapped a two-year winless streak at TMS for the Roush teams.

After Carl Edwards swept the 2008 races, that dominance was called into question by non-Roush drivers Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart. Although they were kept from victory lane, Kenseth, Edwards and Greg Biffle were constant threats.

During that time, Hamlin was among the strongest, sweeping the Texas races in 2010. Yet, last season Hamlin struggled in both races, finishing 15th (one lap down) in the April's race, and 20th (again, a lap off the pace) during November’s Chase race.

Hamlin has November’s race-winning crew chief Darian Grubb on his side this weekend, as the pair looks to score their second victory of the 2012 season. Grubb led defending champion Stewart to Victory Lane ahead of Edwards then, and will look to do the same with Hamlin this weekend.

However, while Hamlin will be a threat again this Saturday, the driver that will be celebrating with the pistols and cowboy hat is Edwards.

Although he has yet to set the world on fire with his performances in 2012 (the Missouri native has yet to lead a single lap), Edwards was third to Kenseth last April and finished second to Stewart during the Chase. Pleased to come away from Martinsville with an 11th-place finish — and fresh off a vacation — the No. 99 team is poised to earn its first win of the 2012 season.

In order to do so, Edwards will have to hold off not only his teammates, Kenseth and Biffle, but Hamlin and Stewart, as well. This is a crucial part of the schedule where momentum can lead to wins and confidence leading into May’s All-Star weekend. Look for Edwards to be among the strongest cars on Saturday night, regrouping and beginning his trek to the Chase.

Five Favorites: Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart 

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 10:06
Path: /college-football/pac-12-quarterback-rankings-2012

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

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

1. Matt Barkley, USC (SR)
Passing Stats:
3,528 yards, 39 TDs, 7 INTs, 69.1%
Rushing Stats: 28 att., 14 yards, 2 TDs

It was a bit of a surprise when Barkley announced his intentions to return to USC for his senior year, but coach Lane Kiffin certainly isn’t complaining. With Barkley back on campus for one more season, the Trojans will be one of the top contenders for the 2012 national title and will be a heavy favorite to win the Pac-12. Barkley posted the best statistical season of his career last year, throwing for 3,528 yards and 39 scores, while tossing only seven picks. He will also have the benefit of throwing to the nation’s top receiving corps and playing behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Barkley should be a unanimous preseason first-team All-American quarterback for 2012 and will likely be one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy. 

2. Keith Price, Washington (JR)
Passing Stats:
3,063 yards, 33 TD, 11 INT, 66.9%
Rushing Stats: 56 att., 10 yards, 3 TD

Through his first six starts of his first season under center, all Price did was throw at least three touchdowns in every game. Washington was 5-1 and poised to challenge the North Division powers for a Pac-12 title. Once the schedule got tougher, the sophomore went through some growing pains against 10-win teams Stanford, Oregon and USC. However, Price vastly out-produced the legend he replaced when Jake Locker graduated. Locker never had a winning season in Seattle, never topped 3,000 yards passing and never came close to completing 66% of his passes. And Price’s 33 touchdowns were 12 more than Locker’s single-season high of 21. Chris Polk and Jermaine Kearse depart the offense, but there is loads of talent left on the roster in both the backfield (Jesse Callier) and on the outside (Austin Seferian-Jenkin, Kasen Williams). With Stanford stepping back and Oregon filling massive voids on offense, this is the year Price could elevate the Huskies to its highest level since 2000.

3. Jeff Tuel, Washington State (SR)
Passing Stats:
276 yards, TD, 0 INT, 64.4%
Rushing Stats: 17 att., -9 yards, TD

No player in the nation may be more excited about his coaching change than Tuel. With Mike Leach’s system coming to Pullman, Tuel is in for his best statistical season — and it shouldn’t even be close. Back in 2010, Tuel threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns before missing most of 2011 with multiple injuries. Tuel managed to play only three games last fall and will face competition from sophomore Connor Halliday. But with star wideout and Biletnikoff candidate Marquess Wilson on the receiving end of most of his passes, Tuel should flourish in Leach’s pass-happy spread system. It could result in the Cougars first bowl appearance since 2003.

4. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (SO)
Passing Stats: 3,328 yards, 16 TD, 18 INT, 64.5%
Rushing Stats: 32 att., -190 yards, 1 TD

As only a freshman, Mannion finished fifth in the QB-heavy Pac-12 in total offense at 261.5 yards per game. There is still much to learn for Mannion, as his 18 interceptions and -190 yards rushing indicate, but he showed flashes of all-conference potential. In the Beavers’ three conference wins, Mannion was proved he belonged with the league’s best. He threw for 267 yards and two scores against Nick Foles and Arizona. He threw for a career high 376 yards and four touchdowns against Jeff Tuel and the Cougars. And he completed 26-of-37 passes for 339 yards and a pair of scores in the upset win over Washington. If he can learn to protect the football and not take sacks (Oregon State was 81st nationally in sacks allowed), Mannion could find himself pushing for All-Pac-12 honors by season’s end.

5. Bryan Bennett, Oregon (SO)
Passing Stats:
369 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT, 54.3%
Rushing Stats: 23 att., 200 yards, 0 TD

Darron Thomas’ early defection to the NFL might have surprised people across the country, but likely didn’t shock many diehard Ducks fans. Bryan Bennett was pushing for playing time as a freshman last year, and, in limited duty, showed why Ducks’ writers are so bullish on Bennett’s 2012 potential. Certainly, Marcus Mariota is pushing for playing time, but all signs point to Bennett getting the keys to one of the nation’s most prolific offensive attacks. He averaged nearly 10 yards per carry and posted a tidy 6:0 TD:INT ratio in garbage time and one start last year. But starting for a team that’s hoisted three straight Pac-12 championship trophies — and featured a departed QB who scored 71 total touchdowns the last two seasons — is much tougher than mop-up duty. If Bennett can handle the bright lights and pressure of being the starter, Chip Kelly should see little drop off at the quarterback position in 2012.

6. Zach Maynard, Cal (SR)
Passing Stats:
2,990 yards, 17 TD, 12 INT, 57.0%
Rushing Stats: 84 att., 108 yards, 4 TD

Much of the Golden Bears’ success will hinge on how Maynard plays this fall. Will Jeff Tedford get the inefficient risk-taker from the first eight games of last year or the careful signal caller who played within the offense in the final five? Through the first eight games last fall, Maynard threw 10 interceptions against only 12 touchdowns. He took better care of the football over the final five games, throwing only two interceptions to go with five touchdowns. And Cal went 3-1 to finish the regular season because of it. The rapport Maynard has with superstar wideout, and half-brother, Keenan Allen is obvious and the connection should be one of the nation's best combos. But Jeff Tedford needs his quarterback to play poised, calm football if he expects to compete for a bowl game — and keep his job.

7. Brett Nottingham, Stanford (JR)
Passing Stats:
78 yards, TD, 0 INT, 67.5%
Rushing Stats: 1 att., 10 yards, 0 TD

Over the last two years, Andrew Luck has attempted 783 passes en route to 23 wins. The rest of the Stanford roster attempted a total of 20 passes over that span. Nottingham got eight of those last season. Needless to say, very little is known about the Stanford quarterback situation now that Luck has moved on to the Colts, er, the NFL. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Alama, Calif., native was an elite recruit coming out of Monte Visa High School where he threw for 7,467 yards and 91 touchdowns. David Shaw has been alternating reps with the starters between the Sheriff and senior Josh Nunes — who saw action in two games without attempting a pass last fall, so Nottingham will have to win the job this summer.

8. Kevin Prince, UCLA (SR)
Passing Stats:
1,828 yards, 12 TDs, 8 INTs, 56.2%
Rushing Stats: 120 att., 424 yards, 1 TD

Injuries have prevented Prince from playing a full season during his career at UCLA and he will have to hold off Richard Brehaut and redshirt freshman Brett Hundley to start the 2012 season opener. Prince has shown flashes of promise, but if he can’t stay healthy, it’s going to be hard for the Bruins to make any improvement from last season’s win total. In three seasons with UCLA, he has thrown for 4,262 yards and 23 touchdowns, while rushing for 713 yards and five scores. Prince has led UCLA to some key wins, including a 34-12 upset over Texas in 2010 and a 19-15 victory over Tennessee as a freshman. As long as Prince can stay healthy, UCLA’s offense has a chance to improve off last season’s numbers.

9. Jordan Wynn, Utah (JR)
Passing Stats:
727 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs, 56.9%
Rushing Stats: 9 att., -54 yards

Wynn is one of the most difficult quarterbacks to rank going into the 2012 season. As a freshman in 2009, he threw for 1,329 yards and eight touchdowns, while leading the Utes to a bowl victory over California. Wynn followed that up with a solid sophomore campaign in 2010, throwing for 2,334 yards and 17 scores, but suffered a shoulder injury at the end of the season. He returned in time for the 2011 season opener, but suffered another shoulder injury against Washington and was forced to miss the rest of the year. All signs point to Wynn returning at full strength in 2012, but there will certainly be some rust after missing nine games last year. New coordinator Brian Johnson may allow Wynn to throw more in 2012, which isn’t a bad idea considering the Utes return a solid group of receivers. If the junior stays healthy, don’t be surprised if Wynn ranks higher on this list at the end of the year.

10. Matt Scott, Arizona (SR)
Passing Stats:
Redshirted in 2011
Rushing Stats: Redshirted in 2011

With Nick Foles firmly entrenched as Arizona’s starter last season, Scott decided to redshirt and preserve a year of eligibility for 2012. With Rich Rodriguez taking over at Arizona, Scott should flourish in his senior year in the spread offense. Scott has five career starts and has thrown for 1,301 yards and six touchdowns. He has also added 632 yards and two scores on the ground during his three years in Tucson. As long as Scott quickly picks up Rodriguez’s offense, Arizona will have no trouble scoring points in 2012. Scott is arguably the biggest wildcard in the Pac-12 quarterback rankings, with the potential to climb into the top five by the end of the season. However, since this is his first season as the full-time starter, it’s hard to rank him any higher on this list.

11. Mike Bercovici, Arizona State (SO)
Passing Stats:
15 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 66.7%
Rushing Stats: No rushing stats

It’s a wide-open battle in Tempe to replace Brock Osweiler this spring. Bercovici is competing with redshirt freshman Michael Eubank and sophomore Taylor Kelly for the starting job. Eubank is a physically impressive quarterback, checking in at 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds. Kelly has the most experience of the three quarterbacks, throwing for 31 yards on four attempts last year. Bercovici completed two passes for 15 yards last season and did not tally a rushing attempt. It’s a tossup who coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell will pick as the No. 1 quarterback, but most believe it will come down to Bercovici or Eubank. No matter who starts under center, Arizona State will have a hard time equaling Osweiler’s production from last year. 

12. Connor Wood, Colorado (SO)
Passing Stats:
Sat out as a transfer
Rushing Stats: Sat out as a transfer

With Nick Hirschman sitting out spring practice with a foot injury, all signs point to Wood opening the year as Colorado’s No. 1 quarterback. Although the Buffaloes won only three games last year, quarterback Tyler Hansen quietly had a productive season, throwing for 2,883 yards and 20 scores. Replacing Hansen won’t be easy, but Wood committed to Texas as a four-star prospect and ranked as one of the top 150 high school seniors according to one recruiting service. If the sophomore lives up to the hype, the concerns about losing Hansen and running back Rodney Stewart will be eased. However, Wood’s job didn’t get any easier after receiver Paul Richardson was lost for the year with a torn ACL. Without Richardson, the Buffaloes have one of the worst receiving corps in the Pac-12, which will be difficult for Wood to overcome, especially as he takes the first snaps of his collegiate career in 2012.  

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

Related Pac-12 Content

Can California Beat Stanford and Washington in the 2012 North Standings?
College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Head Coaches for 2012

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Athlon ranks the quarterbacks in the Pac-12 for 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 07:02
Path: /college-football/louisville-football-who-challenges-cardinals-big-east-title

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

Mark Ennis, Manager of Big East Coast Bias (@Mengus22)
I'm tempted to say that this is finally the year that South Florida puts it together on both sides of the ball and contends for a Big East title. After all, the Bulls return virtually everyone on both offense and defense. Nevertheless, until B.J. Daniels plays consistently and can make plays throwing the football, the Bulls will never be able to compete with the upper echelon teams in the Big East or outside the conference. The team most likely to challenge Louisville for the Big East title in 2012 is Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights return most of the offensive line, a solid stable of running backs led by Savon Huggins who should have a much better sophomore season, a talented receiver in Mark Harrison, and the new coaching staff seems determined to pick a quarterback and stick with him.

Add to it that the defense returns almost entirely intact from a unit that finished first in the Big East in total defense and scoring defense and Rutgers can play with just about anyone. When new head coach Kyle Flood sprinkles in some of his highly rated freshmen like defensive end Darius Hamilton or wide receiver Leonte Carroo, he should have more than enough pieces to compete for the Big East title. Obviously there will be an adjustment period for the players to get used to the new coaching staff, but, Flood is not a totally new voice and he knows the team he's inheriting. Even if the Scarlet Knights struggle in the early non-conference schedule, they'll have their footing in time for Big East play and will be a tough out for the rest of the league.

It also helps that Rutgers gets Louisville at home in the final week of the season on Thursday night on national TV. Will it give Rutgers fans a repeat of 2006?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Louisville is probably the prohibitive favorite in the Big East after tying for the league title with a young team last year and riding that momentum into 2012. The Cardinals biggest challenger will be either USF of Pittsburgh. The Bulls have loads of talent on defense, especially at linebacker with Sam Barrington and DeDe Lattimore. Quarterback B.J. Daniels keeps improving incrementally. I wonder if this will be a breakout season. Then again, we say this about USF it seems every year, and each season the Bulls disappoint in October and November. USF bottomed out last year by finishing on a 1-7 slide, losing six of those games by a touchdown or less. The Bulls can’t be that unlucky again. I also think Pitt will be a sneaky good team in the Big East with a chance to play for the title. The Panthers should have two key players on offense healthy this season in offensive lineman Chris Jacobson and running back Ray Graham, who was the league’s best player in the first eight games. The offensive line was a mess, and Tino Sunseri took more sacks than any quarterback in the nation. With Paul Chryst installing an offense more suited to the personnel than Todd Graham’s, Pittsburgh should be more consistent on that side of the ball.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
If conventional wisdom holds true — which is usually never the case with the Big East — then Louisville will be the unanimous pick to win the conference in 2012. South Florida, Pitt and Rutgers appear to be the top challengers to the Cards. The Bulls have the most continuity at quarterback and on the sidelines. Pitt has a bright young star now leading the ship in Paul Chryst and should be much healthier in 2012. But I will go with the clear-cut best defense in the league a year ago and pick the Scarlet Knights. The schedule sets up very nice for Rutgers with only one sure loss on the slate in the first nine games. If Rutgers can go into USF (where they are 2-1 all-time), then there is no reason to think the Knights won’t start 8-1 (at Arkansas is the only loss). The final three weeks will be tough (at Cincinnati, at Pitt, Louisville) but they get the Cardinals at home in the season finale and potential defacto Big East title game. The loss of Greg Schiano will hurt the program long term, but the hard-nosed residue he left behind, packaged with the best recruiting class in school history, will allow this team to compete for a conference title in 2012. Beyond this year, I have major concerns.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think Louisville is clearly the top team in the Big East for 2012, but the debate gets interesting at No. 2. Before Greg Schiano left Rutgers, I thought the Scarlet Knights had a chance to push the Cardinals for the No. 1 spot. However, the coaching transition may cost the Scarlet Knights a game or two, and the quarterback position is still a question mark. I'm intrigued by Pittsburgh, but the offensive line and quarterback issues make me hesitant to pick them behind Louisville. Even though South Florida went 1-7 in its final eight games last year, the Bulls are my pick to be Louisville’s top challenger in the Big East next season. South Florida returns 13 starters and most importantly, six of its seven defeats came by a touchdown or less. Quarterback B.J. Daniels has a chance to put together his best season at South Florida, especially with a deep group of receivers and a solid offensive line returning. New coordinator Chris Cosh did a good job of improving Kansas State’s defense and there’s plenty of talent for him to work with in 2012. I thought Skip Holtz would have the Bulls in contention by now, but this should be the year the pieces fall into place for South Florida as it will be the biggest threat to Louisville in 2012. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I’ll go with South Florida, even though the Bulls’ recent league play has been lackluster. As far as the rosters and returning talent goes, USF is the clear choice here. However, coach Skip Holtz must get his team over the mental hurdle of playing well against non-conference opponents but flopping versus the Big East. The Bulls have not had a winning record in league play since 2007, but I believe that will change during the 2012 campaign for several reasons. Quarterback B.J. Daniels is solid dual threat who threw for over 2,600 yards last season, and his receiver group is deep and talented. USF probably has the top offensive and defensive lines in the Big East, and the Bulls return a great linebacking trio in DeDe Lattimore, Mike Lanaris and Sam Barrington. I also think that veteran coordinator Chris Cosh, who recently led Kansas State’s defense and coached with Holtz for five years at South Carolina, will make a positive difference with a loaded unit in Tampa. With a little more consistency and better special teams play, the Bulls will challenge Louisville in the Big East.

Where will Athlon predict Louisville, South Florida, Rutgers and Pittsburgh to finish in the 2012 Big East final standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day. 

Related Big East Content

Ranking the Big East Coaches for 2012
Ranking the Big East Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012

Big East 2012 Schedule Analysis

College Football's Top Quarterback Battles to Watch

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Louisville Football: Who Challenges Cardinals for a Big East Title?</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 07:01
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-1

2012 surprises, tips for the track and listening to NASCAR on SiriusXM Radio

by Dustin Long

A weekend without racing didn’t mean that the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had a break. While offering opinions throughout the season, the Backseat Drivers Fan Council also is here to help fans with tips this week on how to make your experience at the track better.

And oh yes, the Fan Council also is weighing in on a few subjects, including the biggest surprise this season.

With many of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council veterans of numerous races, I asked them what they would tell someone going to the track that they should do to make that event more enjoyable. 

Here’s what Fan Council members said:

• Camp... pretty much any track. Camp at least once and walk around; meet and get to know other campers/NASCAR fans. Will meet some of the best people and greatest fans around camping at a NASCAR track. Have met folks over the years that will be lifelong friends and my first time was on a whim at the invite of another friend.

• I would tell any fan going to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to go to the infield and visit the museum along with sitting in turn one during practice or qualifying. The speed is amazing and the sound reverberates off the stands. It's like sitting at the old Yankee Stadium or other places similar.

• 1. The museum at Darlington. 2. Go to a Tweetup! 3. Hit a local short track on Friday night and see where these guys got their starts!

• Pit passes at least once in your life.

• Experience a night race, day races are great but night races have a whole different vibe to them.

• Going to the Driver introductions. It costs extra at most tracks but it is well worth it! Being on the track so close to the drivers, the national anthem and the flyover is incredible from right on the track. 

• Go to Jeff Gluck Tweetup. Jeff enjoys meeting the fans & he usually has a surprise.

• When at RIR take an extra day to visit the places of historical interest around the central VA region, the museum of the Confederacy, The Wilderness battlefield, Seven Pines, Tredegar, the state Capitol, St. John's Church, Monticello.

• Eating at Ridgewood BBQ about a mile from Bristol Motor Speedway is a must, if you don’t mind the wait obviously. 

• Get a scanner to listen to the drivers. Very entertaining.

• Be prepared to have a long wait after the race to leave the parking area. Just pull out the grill, cook some food and enjoy some cool drinks. After an hour or so you will be able to leave and so you will be behind the cars that left as soon as the race was over. A lot less stress this way & saves gas.

• You have to do the No Limits celebration at Texas. Eddie Gossage knows how to throw a party and entertain people. He always has drivers there and the music and food is awesome. 

• Stand with your face on the fence in Turn Four at Daytona when the cars are coming by. Absolutely amazing. 

• At Dover, be sure to go a little south and east to see the Delaware Bay and some of the beach communities like Rehoboth and Lewes which are less than hour away. Also some of the best birding in the country is within 15 minutes of the track at Bombay Wildlife and other Wildlife Preserves nearby.

• Since I'm a “people watcher,” I think the hidden gem is studying the fans. Big, small, skinny, fat, half-dressed, over-dressed, beer-swilling, pretzel-stuffing, you name it. It's a study in Americana at the best _ and sometimes the worst. Yet, when standing for the invocation, they take off their hats, they sing along (thankfully at times) with the musical artist struggling with the national anthem, and they erupt in joyous shouts as the jets roar overhead.

<p> The Backseat Drivers Fan Council weighs in on the biggest surprises of the NASCAR season, making attending races more enjoyable and being able to listen to NASCAR online via SiruisXM Radio.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - 11:54
Path: /college-football/missouri-or-texas-am-which-team-will-have-more-wins-2012

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

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

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Both teams have questions beyond how they adapt to the SEC. Missouri will spend its summer concerned about the health of quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey while Texas A&M is breaking in a new coach. Kevin Sumlin has a lot to like about his offense with a veteran offensive line, Christine Michael and Ryan Swope, but he’ll need a new quarterback. In general, I’d give the edge to Missouri with a returning quarterback and returning coach, plus playing in the East division, which should be the weaker of the two. However, Missouri still has to face Alabama and will visit Texas A&M. Neither Missouri nor Texas A&M will threaten for the division title, but we’ll have a pretty good idea about how the season will go on Sept. 8 when Texas A&M plays host to Florida and Missouri plays host to a Georgia team depleted by defensive suspensions. I’d still give Mizzou the leg up.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
After all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding two high-profile defections to the SEC, the battle for newbie supremacy will likely come down to two former Big 12 teams playing in a former Big 12 stadium. The Texas A&M-Missouri game in College Station on the final weekend of the regular season will likely be a battle for 3-5 in SEC play and will likely give the winner a trip to a bowl game while the loser is left to sit at home and stare at the Big 12 standings. Missouri won this overtime fight in front of the 12th Man last year and is in overall better shape heading into the more physical SEC. They have much-needed stability at two key positions — head coach and quarterback — where the only certainty for A&M is uncertainty.

That said, the Aggies are built more like an SEC team than is Missouri — meaning they are strong along the offensive and defensive lines. Both teams have to face the defending national champs in Alabama. And both will struggle to beat divisional opponents picked ahead of them. With Ole Miss, Auburn and Mississippi State on the schedule for TAMU, along with home games against Florida and Mizzou, the Aggies upside looks like four wins. Missouri’s best chance at a home upset is against a short-handed Georgia Bulldogs team in Week 2. Missouri’s final three SEC games this fall will feature daunting trips to Knoxville, Gainesville and the aforementioned College Station. Vanderbilt and Kentucky look like the only sure wins on the Tigers’ schedule — meaning an upset at Tennessee AND Texas A&M would get Mizzou to four wins. My guess is that both teams enter the season finale at 2-5 in SEC play with the winner heading to a bowl game. No pressure. for either.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Moving to the SEC is certainly going to be a challenge for Texas A&M and Missouri, but both programs aren’t going to be easy outs for the rest of the conference in 2012.

The Aggies return 11 starters, but will be breaking in a new quarterback and will be playing in the tougher division. Kevin Sumlin was a terrific hire as Texas A&M’s new head coach and he hired an impressive staff. Sumlin needs to find a way to cure Texas A&M’s late-game issues that appeared last year, as the Aggies were a better team than their 7-6 record indicated. Although the quarterback position is a question mark, there are some nice pieces surrounding the new starter, particularly on the offensive line and in the running back corps.

The Tigers bring back 10 starters, but the health of quarterback James Franklin is uncertain, as he underwent shoulder surgery during the spring. Running back Henry Josey is also dealing with an injury (knee), but is not expected to return in time for the 2012 season. If Franklin misses any conference games, Missouri could slip to sixth in the division. The Tigers should be solid on defense, but stopping the run could be an issue with three key linemen departing.

If Franklin returns at full strength, I like Missouri’s chances to win more SEC games in 2012. With an easier division, the Tigers should be able to pull off an upset or two and finish with four wins in SEC play. I see the Aggies beating Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Missouri in conference play, but a home date against Florida on Sept. 8 could be the deciding factor between three or four conference wins.  

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Tough call. If I had to place an over/under on both of these teams’ win total in league play, it would be 4.5. They are both solid teams that will have to tackle difficult schedules in their new league. Texas A&M has a slightly more difficult schedule because the SEC West is the better division, but Missouri has to be play Alabama, easily one of the top two teams in the West.

There is a lot to like about the A&M roster, but there is one big issue — a new starting quarterback. The offensive line is solid, and the Aggies are well-stocked at the running back position. And take a look at last year’s results: This team lost two games in overtime and three other games by four points or less. Add the energy provided by a new coaching staff and some better late-game execution and some of those close losses could easily turn into wins.

I’d feel better about Missouri if we had a better read on some of the Tigers’ ongoing injury concerns. James Franklin, one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the nation, is dealing with a shoulder injury that could linger into the fall. And Henry Josey, who was one of the most productive running backs in college football before his injury in 2011, likely will not be able to play in the fall. 

Barrett Sallee, Lead SEC Blogger for Bleacher Report (@BarrettSallee)
Texas A&M and Missouri are both in for an interesting ride in 2012, and I think that Missouri will enjoy more immediate success than the Aggies. You win in the SEC by taking care of the ball, running the ball and playing defense. Texas A&M's defense routinely ran out of gas in second halves last season, and it's losing quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Cyrus Gray. Plus, A&M now lives in rough neighborhood in the SEC West.

Missouri may not be better-suited for long-term success, but it will have success in the short term. The East still is far behind the West; and assuming James Franklin and Henry Josey are available to start the season, the Tigers will enter the SEC and immediately contend for the division title. Georgia is the East favorite based on its schedule, but several key contributors on defense will miss the SEC opener at Missouri in Week 2. If the Tigers top the Bulldogs, it will blow the SEC East wide open—and could open the door for Missouri to make a run at the Georgia Dome.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think both teams will be in the 4-4, 3-5 range in league play, but Missouri looks like the better bet in this one. The Tigers have played solid defense over the last few years, and that will suit them well in the nation’s toughest conference. There are major concerns in Columbia over the health of quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey, but Gary Pinkel has built up a tough program that can withstand some adversity. Texas A&M has a ton of talent on the roster, but everything seems new in College Station from the coaches to the schemes to the conference. It may take Kevin Sumlin and staff some time to find an effective replacement for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, improve the defense and cut down on the football-related discipline issues (100th nationally in penalties per game, T-106th in turnover margin) that plagued the Aggies last season. Both new league members will have an adjustment period, but I believe Missouri’s coaching stability gives the Tigers an early advantage over the Aggies in trying to play above .500 ball in the rough-and-tumble SEC.

Related SEC Content

College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012
10 Coaching Candidates to Replace Bobby Petrino at Arkansas
Ranking the SEC Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch
Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Missouri or Texas A&amp;M: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - 08:43
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/bobby-petrinos-firing-impacts-2012-sec-title-race

After recording 21 wins over the last two seasons, Bobby Petrino had Arkansas on the brink of contending for the SEC West title in 2012. On Tuesday evening, all of that progress came to a halt, as Petrino was fired, ending his four-year stint in Fayetteville.

The end of the Petrino era is no surprise, especially after he lied to athletic director Jeff Long about the details of his motorcycle crash. Petrino did not disclose to Long that Arkansas athletic department employee Jessica Dorrell was also involved, which forced his indefinite suspension last week. Although Petrino had a chance to return, it seemed the odds were stacked against him from the beginning.

While Petrino was not one of the most liked people in college football, he certainly knew how to coach. In four seasons with Arkansas, he recorded a 34-17 record with an appearance in the Sugar Bowl.

Related: 10 Coaching Candidates to Replace Bobby Petrino at Arkansas

With Alabama, LSU and Auburn all winning national championships over the last five years, competing in the SEC West was no easy task. However, Petrino brought Arkansas to the doorstep of becoming a consistent SEC contender and had plenty of pieces to push Alabama and LSU in 2012.

The Razorbacks have 12 starters returning for 2012, including first-team All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson, and running back Knile Davis is back after missing all of last season with an ankle injury. Even though the receiving corps was losing three key members, Arkansas returned plenty of options for Wilson to throw to in 2012. With most of the core returning, the Razorbacks expected to have one of the best offenses in college football.

However, all of that is out the window for Arkansas, as Petrino was fired on Tuesday night, leaving a potential top-10 team scrambling to find answers just as spring practice was almost finished.

Taver Johnson has been selected as the interim coach, but Long indicated he could look to hire a full-time coach outside of the program after spring practice. Although Long is optimistic, it’s going to be very difficult to pry a coach away from another program at this time of the year. Is it possible? Absolutely. However, it’s very unlikely a current head coach leaves after spring practice to take over at Arkansas.

If Johnson is selected to lead the program in 2012, he certainly has some pieces to work with. The Razorbacks have plenty of firepower on offense, but the defense is the biggest hurdle to competing for a SEC title. New coordinator Paul Haynes brought some fresh ideas and new energy, but three key performers from last season’s group are gone. The lack of improvement on defense has been the biggest reason why Arkansas couldn’t overtake Alabama and LSU in the West.

The Razorbacks should still have a dynamic offense, but Petrino’s playcalling and gameplans will be missed. With Bobby Petrino gone, his brother – Paul Petrino – will be expected to call the plays in 2012.

What does this mean for Arkansas’ position in the SEC West race?

Considering what the Razorbacks are bringing back on offense and with Alabama and LSU visiting Fayetteville, it wasn’t crazy to think Arkansas could have won the division. But after Petrino’s firing, the Razorbacks are no longer a threat to win the West. Although Johnson is capable of leading the team for a season, look no further than North Carolina and Ohio State for case studies. Both programs had interim coaches in 2011 and underachieved.

With the uncertainty surrounding the program, it seems clear Arkansas will be picked by most to finish third in the SEC West this season. Auburn, Texas A&M or Mississippi State could threaten the Razorbacks for third place, but each have question marks at the quarterback position.

Not only is Arkansas in danger of falling from third place in the division, but a ranking among the top 10 teams in the preseason is unlikely.

Firing Petrino wasn’t an easy one for Long, and this decision will have a significant impact on Arkansas in 2012 and beyond. The Razorbacks had a chance to make a BCS bowl appearance or contend for the national title. Instead, Arkansas will likely finish with eight or nine wins and be fighting for a spot among the top 15-25 teams. The Razorbacks could also take a hit in recruiting, especially if no permanent coach is named before the 2012 season.

You never want to write off a team of Arkansas’ caliber before the season starts, but Petrino’s departure has raised some serious doubts about this team’s ability to stay in the SEC and national title picture.

<p> Bobby Petrino's Firing Impacts the 2012 SEC Title Race</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - 07:08
Path: /college-football/big-ten-quarterback-rankings-2012-0

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

Here's how Athlon ranks the 12 quarterbacks in the Big Ten for 2012:

1. Denard Robinson, Michigan (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,173 yards, 20 TD, 15 INT, 14, 55.0%
Rushing Stats: 221 att., 1,176 yards, 16 TD

The list of accomplishments is in a constant state of expansion for the quarterback nicknamed Shoelace. He currently holds the NCAA single-season rushing record for a quarterback (1,702), is the only player in history to join the 2,500-1,500 club, owns the top six single-game offensive output in Michigan history and, oh by the way, snapped the seven-game losing streak to that school from down South. He is eighth in Wolverines rushing history (3,229), fifth in career touchdowns (35) and third in total offense (8,160). Most importantly, D-Rob led the Maize and Blue to a 10-win season for the first time since 2006 last fall and has the team poised for its first Big Ten title since 2004. The most explosive quarterback in the nation saw his efficiency dip slightly in 2011, but he was asked to do less with the emergence of talent around him on the offense. Michigan is smelling Roses heading into the summer, and their Week 1 match-up with Alabama could be a Heisman Trophy showcase for Shoelace.

2. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (SO)
Passing Stats: 1,159 yards, 13 TD, 4 INT, 54.1%
Rushing Stats: 159 att., 715 yards, 7 TD

It only took one short season for Ohio State fans to realize the rare physical gifts Miller brings to an offense. He showed poise and maturity on the field well beyond his freshman classification — just ask the Wisconsin secondary. And his acceleration in the first 10 yards may trail only Robinson nationally, this in a league with explosive names like Martinez, Gray and Colter. Over the second half of the season, Miller rushed for 486 yards, including three 100-yard efforts, and scored all seven of his rushing touchdowns. He threw nine of his 13 touchdown passes over the final seven games of the season, including his top three passing games of his young career. The rebuilt offensive line might slow his development, but the pass-catchers and backfield will only get better over the summer. With Urban Meyer now in town designing a spread attack that fits his skills perfectly, Miller has a chance to be a transcendent talent under center.

3. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,089 yards, 13 TD, 8 INT, 56.3%
Rushing Stats: 188 att., 874 yards, 9 TD

Martinez burst into the hearts and minds of Big Red faithful after 323 yards and five touchdowns in a thrilling 51-41 win over Oklahoma State as a freshman. After a public disagreement with his head coach — and miserable performance on the field against Texas A&M, questioned swirled around T-Magic’s second season. However, as a sophomore, he answered one of the biggest question marks by maturing as a leader and developing mental toughness. The final stage of his growth will come in the form of consistent and accurate passing. His completion rate dipped in year two under center, but his interception rate did too as his yardage totals increased. With his electric ability to pickup yards with his legs, and possibly the top receiving corps in the Big Ten, Martinez should have his eyes set on a monster 2012 campaign. He has won 18 games in his first two years as a starter and a trip to the Big Ten title game will fall to his ability to complete key third-down passes late in close games.

4. James Vanderberg, Iowa (SR)
Passing Stats: 3,022 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT, 58.7%
Rushing Stats: 78 att., 61 yards, 3 TD

The record-setting prep quarterback waited his turn behind Ricky Stanzi and did not disappoint in his first year under center. Arguably the best pure passer left in the Big Ten (after Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins departed), Vandenberg will have to find a replacement for Marvin McNutt — also known as the most productive receiver in Iowa history. That said, Keenan Davis and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz should keep the vertical passing attack near the top of the Big Ten once again. However, Iowa and the 6-foot-3, 212-pound pro-style passer will only challenge for a division title if it can get some help from what was the worst rushing attack in the Big Ten a year ago — now, without Marcus Coker. How far can Vandenberg carry the Hawkeyes?

5. Danny O’Brien, Wisconsin (JR)
Passing Stats: 1,648 yards, 7 TD, 10 INT, 56.4%
Rushing Stats: 33 att., 57 yards, 2 TD

O’Brien is a long way from his ACC Rookie of the Year season at Maryland back in 2010. A broken arm, an underwhelming on-the-field performance, a bizarre divorce with head coach Randy Edsall and torrid (second) recruitment landed the redshirt junior in Madison. For the second straight season, the Badgers will hang Big Ten title hopes on an ACC transfer. O’Brien will graduate in mid-May and will begin working with new coordinator Matt Canada shortly thereafter. He is undoubtedly the top option on the UW roster and will be playing in the best situation of his career — aka with Montee Ball and the UW O-line. His experience — 4,086 career yards, 32 total touchdowns — gives the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder a shot at returning the Badgers to the title game. If DOB returns to his freshman All-American status, Wisconsin should be back in Indianapolis. However, if Badger fans are expecting a Wilson-like performance from O'Brien, they will be sorely mistaken.

6. MarQueis Gray, Minnesota (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,495 yards, 8 TD, 8 INT, 50.7%
Rushing Stats: 199 att., 966 yards, 6 TD

This triple-threat athlete has finally settled into his role as starting quarterback. After 645 career receiving yards and 1,341 yards rushing, Gray enters the 2012 season as the unquestioned veteran presence under center that the recruiting rankings projected back in 2009. After missing the 58-0 drubbing at the hands of Michigan last fall, Gray strung together his best sequence of starts in his career. He scored 11 of his 14 total touchdowns, rushed for 615 yards and posted a career-high 295 passing yards against Michigan State. He led an upset victory over Iowa with 255 yards of offense and two scores and finished the season with 327 yards rushing over the final two weeks of the season — a road loss to Northwestern and home victory over Illinois. Gray’s size and speed combination is a rarity – even in the most athletically gifted quarterback league in the nation.

7. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,110 yards, 13 TD, 8 INT, 63.2%
Rushing Stats: 191 att., 624 yards, 6 TD

Most fans and analysts alike had big plans for Scheelhaase heading into his second full season under center in 2011. Yet, after a stellar freshman campaign, the heavily voweled quarterback sludged through a second-half collapse that rivaled that of Texas Tech, Clemson or Texas A&M. His interception rate went up, his touchdown rate went down, his yards per carry dropped to a paltry 3.2-yard clip and Illinois lost its final six games of the regular season. The collapse prompted a coaching switch from Ron Zook to Tim Beckman — a move that will undoubtedly help Mr. Scheelhaase get back on his developmental track. Replacing A.J. Jenkins won’t be easy, but as an upperclassmen now, the offensive onus must fall completely on Scheelhaase’s talented but inconsistent shoulders.

8. Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State (JR)
Passing Stats: 171 yards, TD, 0 INT, 69.2%
Rushing Stats: 5 att., -2 yards, 0 TD

Little is known about the big-armed junior-to-be from Midland, Mich. He has been patient and learned the position behind arguably the program’s most historic quarterback Kirk Cousins. He has the support of the coaching staff as the unquestioned starter for the Spartans in 2012. Head coach Mark Dantonio had this to say about his future starter this spring, “He has a very live arm and he’s an outstanding leader. He’s very calm and poised and I think great things are around the corner for him.” The poise, leadership, mental approach to the game, stature (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and arm strength have led most observers to Cousins comparisons for Maxwell. If he is half of the quarterback Kirk Cousins was in East Lansing, Spartan fans will be very happy — and he will be much higher on this list come next summer.

9. Kain Colter, Northwestern (JR)
Passing Stats: 673 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT, 67.1%
Rushing Stats: 135 att., 654 yards, 9 TD
Receiving Stats: 43 rec., 466 yards, 3 TD

Not many starting quarterbacks in any league have the 2011 resume of Colter’s. He was stellar in all three phases of the offense as his athletic ability was on full display in the signature win of the Wildcats season. Colter rushed 17 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns while throwing for 115 yards and another score in the upset win over Nebraska on the road. He caught three passes for 57 yards and was unstoppable in the second half after Dan Persa got hurt. He threw only four passes after that game, but was dynamic in both the rushing and receiving game. He totaled 55 touches for 268 yards from scrimmage and scored in three of the last four games. The 6-foot, 190-pound do-everything talent should be the next in a long line of tremendously productive Northwestern signal callers.

10. Caleb TerBush, Purdue (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,905 yards, 13 TD, 6 INT, 61.7%
Rushing Stats: 83 att., 219 yards, TD

For the first time in years, the quarterback position (barring injury — fingers firmly crossed as I type this) appears to be a position of strength for the Boilermakers. TerBush will be pushed by quality depth behind him (Robert Marve or Rob Henry), but has the inside track on starting for Danny Hope. He threw an interception in only four games last year and none in the final four games — which covered 78 pass attempts. More importantly, Purdue won three of those final four games, including the thriller over Ohio State and the Boilers first bowl win since 2007. Marve has a chance to push for time, but the competition should be a positive for TerBush as he enters his final season in West Lafayette.

11. Tre Roberson, Indiana (SO)
Passing Stats: 937 yards, 3 TD, 6 INT, 57.0%
Rushing Stats: 109 att., 426 yards, 2 TD

As only a freshman, Roberson was handed the keys to Kevin Wilson’s attack midway through the 2011 season. The offense was sparked by the dynamic athlete, as the Hoosiers rushing attack flourished in the second half of the season. Roberson’s production did not include any wins but he posted four games of at least 70 yards rushing in his final five contests. If Wilson expects to improve in 2012, he will have to lean heavily on the legs of the young sophomore.

12. Matt McGloin, Penn State (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,571 yards, 8 TD, 5 INT, 54.1%
Rushing Stats: 24 att., -12 yards, 0 TD

McGloin gets the nod as the Penn State placeholder at this point. The quarterback position is in ugly shape for new head coach Bill O’Brien, who is used to dealing with Tom Brady in New England. McGloin was given the chance to sling it around full-time against Nebraska (the first game JoePa didn’t coach) and he completed only 16 of his 34 attempts in the loss. Rob Bolden and Paul Jones will also get plenty of early looks this summer, but McGloin is the most “pro-style” of the bunch and likely has the slight lead in the clubhouse. His skillset fits the scheme O’Brien wants to employ best, but no one on this roster has been productive under center since Michael Robinson.

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

Related Content Links:

Big Ten 2012 Schedule Analysis

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

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

2012 Very Early Big Ten Predictions


<p> Big Ten Quarterback Rankings for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /nascar/waiting-brutons-bristol-and-return-rock


by Dustin Long

Everybody is waiting.

It’s been nearly two weeks since Bruton Smith said that he would order changes to Bristol Motor Speedway’s track surface after a sharp decline in attendance for the spring race and an increase in fan complaints about the racing. Yet Smith has yet to announce what those changes will be made before NASCAR returns to the half-mile track in a little more than four months.

“I think it would be incredible if they paved the track asphalt,’‘ Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “I am not sure if that would work out but it would be awesome to try it.’’

Any changes to Bristol’s surface before the August race will mean the Cup Series will race at four tracks that have been changed since last season. Kansas Speedway is set to be repaved after its race later this month. Michigan has been repaved and drivers nearly topped 215 mph at a recent Goodyear tire test there. Pocono Raceway also has been repaved and has Goodyear tire test scheduled for April 24-25.

While some drivers are thrilled that Smith will change Bristol — count Kevin Harvick among that group who says, “It’s about time,’’ — Denny Hamlin wonders if the tires should be changed for Bristol instead of the track.

“If you look at Bristol, it had the least amount of fall off of any tire that we had during this year,’’ Hamlin said. “I think you start off around 16.40 fast time (seconds per lap) and you ended 100 laps later running 16.90s. That's just not enough fall off.

“You have to have overtaking and to have overtaking, you have to have cars that are running faster than others. If you look at any point during a Bristol race, everyone's running the same exact speed and you're not going to have any overtaking. You're not going to have any wrecks because no one's running close to each other to wreck.

“Back in the day when people used to lap the whole field and no one complained about the racing, it's because overtaking was happening. Cars were getting passed. You could watch your guy move from 15th to wherever up to the front. Now, it's like he's got to make all the room, all the space up in the first five laps of a restart and then he sits there for the rest of the run. That's because we don't have enough fall-off. 

“It's a tough job to make a tire that does that and will live and ultimately not put our safety at risk of blowing tires. Really, Goodyear has made tires that are idiot proof now. We can't abuse them enough to blow them out. That's why you don't see the passing that we used to have."

Even with Smith’s declaration of change, as Carl Edwards notes, it doesn’t guarantee that things will be better.

“The thing that makes me nervous for Bruton and those guys is to spend all this money to change something and then it may not yield the result that you want,’’ Edwards said. “I think that’s the risk they take, but Bruton Smith seems like he doesn’t mind taking risks and going for it. If it works out like most things he does, it’ll probably work, but I give him a ton of credit for saying he’s gonna change this and make an adjustment.’’

It’s just a matter of what Smith will do.

BACK AT ROCKINGHAM   It’s not often that you see NASCAR return to a venue it left, but the Camping World Truck Series will compete Sunday at Rockingham Speedway. It marks the return of NASCAR since the Cup series last raced there in Feb. 2004.

NASCAR is back because of the work of track owner Andy Hillenburg, a former racer. He’s spent the money to update the facilities and add SAFER barriers to the track.

Now it’s up to the fans to determine if NASCAR returns to Rockingham after this race. If attendance is strong and shows potential, then maybe a Nationwide race can be added at some point. Just don’t expect the Cup Series to return there. With Cup races in Darlington, Charlotte, Martinsville and Bristol, the region has enough Cup events. 

If that’s not good enough, then fans have to ask themselves if they would rather see some NASCAR racing at the track or see as much NASCAR racing as there is at North Wilkesboro?

NASCAR is giving the track and fans a second chance. Will fans take NASCAR up on it and show that the track deserves more races?

<p> Following a rare off week, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 16:33
All taxonomy terms: Contests, Jamie McMurray, sweepstakes, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/best-nascar-contests-sweepstakes-facebook

It's never easy trying to win free things, especially when the contests and sweepstakes are scattered across the Internet. So to make it easier, we rounded up our favorite Facebook contests and sweepstakes with NASCAR prizes to save you the trouble. 


The Ultimate LiftMaster Racing Experience

For fans of NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray, this one is a must-enter. And even if you don't root for the driver of the No. 1 car, it's well worth checking out just to win a trip to fabulous Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

GRAND PRIZE: A trip for two to Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., and VIP attendance at the Coca Cola 600 NASCAR Race (5/26/12 – 5/28/12). Prize includes round-trip coach airfare, rental car, hotel accommodations, behind-the-scenes tour of the garage, LiftMaster racing cap and T-shirt, a signed Jamie McMurray Hero Card, LiftMaster Garage Door Opener 8550 installation, and an Apple iPod Touch.

Contest ends May 11.

For more details and to enter, visit


Hunt Brothers Pizza's "Flat Kevin" Photo Contest

This contest requires a little effort and creativity. You must print and clip out a photo of Kevin Harvick off Hunt Brothers Pizza's Facebook page and then photograph it at NASCAR events or with NASCAR-themed scenes. Not a bad deal if it helps you meet the real Harvick at a race in Kentucky. 

GRAND PRIZE: Two tickets and two garage passes to the 2012 NASCAR race in Kentucky on June 29, plus souvenir racing gear and a meet and greet with Kevin Harvick (schedule permitting).

Contest ends May 15.

For more details and to enter, visit


Ace 2012 Champion's Week Getaway Sweepstakes 

If you're hoping to meet NASCAR drivers and take part in numerous NASCAR events, this may be the sweepstakes for you. 

GRAND PRIZE: A VIP trip for two to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week, which may include access to view the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony and the NASCAR Victory Lap event and NASCAR After the Lap event. Also includes airfare, three nights hotel lodging, ground transportation and $250 spending money.

Contest ends April 30.

For more details and to enter, visit


Banana Boat Cool Zone Pit Crew Sweepstakes

If you miss out on the LiftMater Racing Experience mentioned earlier, and you're still hoping to meet Jamie McMurray, here's another opportunity. Not only do you get to meet McMurray, but you'll also get to hang with his pit crew. You can enter this sweepstakes daily. 

GRAND PRIZE: A winner and guest(s) get to experience a NASCAR race at Talledega (Ala.), which includes hotel accommodations, gift bags, and some face time with McMurray and his pit crew prior to the Oct. 7 race.

Contest ends July 9.

For more details and to enter, visit

<p> Rounding up the best NASCAR prizes on social media</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 15:48
Path: /college-football/miami-football-will-hurricanes-make-bowl-2012

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

Will Miami Make A Bowl in 2012?

Gary Ferman,
The Miami Hurricanes will become bowl eligible in 2012, but it won't be an easy road as the team looks to replace two classes worth of top players. A mass exodus of top underclassmen, such as running back Lamar Miller, receiver Tommy Streeter and defensive end Olivier Vernon, sent the Canes into rebuilding mode earlier than Al Golden possibly expected. But the ACC doesn't have a dominant team and Miami should have enough coming back to match or exceed last year's 6-6 record and go bowling. The major key will be the play of quarterback Stephen Morris and his offensive line, which must carry the load while the young kids develop around him. 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Normally when all of team’s losses are decided by less than a touchdown, I’d say that team as a good chance to bounce back. A team like Miami, which started its season mired in controversy and suspensions and lost to hapless Maryland in the opener, would seem to be a prime candidate to turn a 3-5 ACC season into a 5-3 season. I just don’t see it for Miami, though. The Hurricanes are rebuilding at the offensive skill positions without Jacory Harris and Lamar Miller. Meanwhile the defense is hoping for breakout seasons for Denzel Perryman and Ray-Ray Armstrong. That’s a lot to ask for a team that plays four of its first six games away from home, including Kansas State on the road and Notre Dame in Chicago. By the time Miami faces Florida State, Virginia Tech, Virginia and USF late in the season, what will the Hurricanes have left in the tank, especially if the bowl carrot is gone by then?

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Al Golden worked a minor miracle in the face of a sensational scandal to land a top 10 recruiting class this cycle. The problem with 2012 Miami, however, is that Golden may be counting on many of his 33-man class to contribute right away. This will give The U one of the youngest rosters in the ACC to surround a relatively unknown commodity at quarterback. On the heels of only the third non-winning season since 1979, Miami will have a tough time returning to the postseason this fall.

Road non-conference games against Kansas State and Notre Dame (in Chicago), to go with a visit from USF, offers no breathers to Golden’s bunch outside of ACC play. Within the conference, Miami faces Florida State and NC State — two of the top three teams in the Atlantic Division — in crossover play. It also has to visit Georgia Tech and Virginia within the division as well as hosting Virginia Tech and North Carolina. There are two clearcut wins on the Canes schedule in conference play (at Boston College, at Duke) and one easy win in the non-conference (Bethune-Cookman), so if Miami expects to return to the postseason, it will have to pull off more than a few upsets. And since I believe the NCAA will make this entire argument a moot point by banning the Hurricanes from a bowl in 2012 (after the self-imposed bowl ban from 2011), it's easy for me to say no va a suceder to Miami postseason aspirations.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The biggest unknown facing Miami in 2012 is still the possibility of NCAA sanctions. Although the Hurricanes served a bowl ban last year, there’s a chance the program is banned from postseason play in 2012. Regardless of a NCAA ban or not, Miami will have a tough time getting to six victories.

Considering the Hurricanes return only 10 starters off of a 6-6 team, can they really be any better in 2012? Gone are All-ACC performers in running back Lamar Miller, center Tyler Horn and linebacker Sean Spence. The losses don’t end there, as Miami’s depth on the defensive line and receiving corps was depleted.

Miami doesn’t get any breaks on the schedule, as it has to play NC State and Florida State from the Atlantic, and plays swing games against Virginia and Georgia Tech on the road. Non-conference matchups against Kansas State, Notre Dame and South Florida could all easily be losses.

Coach Al Golden is doing a good job on the recruiting trail, but the youth and inexperience will hurt the win column in 2012. Although the schedule is tough and the personnel losses are heavy, I’m going to guess Miami finds a way to win six games and qualifies for a bowl. I wouldn’t be shocked if this team gets better as the year goes on, especially as some of the young talent gets more experienced. Considering there are no standout teams in the ACC outside of Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes can pull off an upset or two and somehow finish the year with six or seven wins.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Miami likely will play in a bowl game in 2012, but I don’t envision the Hurricanes winning more than six games during the regular season. There are issues all over the field for Al Golden’s club: Can Stephen Morris emerge as a consistent quarterback? Is Mike James ready to step in as the every-down back? Will the offensive line, which lost three starters, be serviceable, especially early in the season? And can the defensive front get pressure on the quarterback?

Golden appears to be the right man for the job at Miami. He has recruited very well — especially considering the recent NCAA troubles — and the talent level will increase in the coming years. But for now, the 2012 Hurricanes look to be, at least on paper, very average. My guess is this team wins between five and seven games. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I’m not sure the Hurricanes make the postseason. Obviously the NCAA could make this debate moot by ruling Miami ineligible for a bowl, and I think the cloud of potential sanctions could affect this season negatively. Al Golden’s bunch looks like a 6-6 team, but a below-average offense has me concerned about UM’s ability to win enough tossup games (Kansas State, Georgia Tech, NC State, North Carolina, Virginia, USF) to make a bowl. Finding an answer at quarterback is a huge issue, and the Canes lost three starters from the offensive line. The running trio of Mike James, Eduardo Clements and highly-touted freshman Duke Johnson could possibly replace Lamar Miller, but this offense does not have many athletes to fear in 2012. There are some positives on defense like linebacker Denzel Perryman and end Anthony Chickillo, and a full season from safety Ray-Ray Armstrong will be a boost. The linebackers look solid, but they will be challenged by significant losses on the defensive line. Overall, Golden is doing a quality job but the Canes are a year away from climbing up the ACC standings.

Where will Athlon predict Miami to finish in the 2012 ACC final standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day. 

Related Miami Content

ACC Quarterback Rankings for 2012
ACC Head Coach Rankings for 2012
2012 Miami Hurricanes Spring Preview
2012 Athlon Recruiting Rankings: No. 8 Miami Hurricanes

College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Will the Miami Hurricanes make a bowl in 2012?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 15:31
Path: /college-football/big-12-quarterback-rankings-2012

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

Here's how Athlon ranks the 10 quarterbacks in the Big 12 for 2012

1. Geno Smith, West Virginia (SR)
Passing Stats:
4,385 yards, 31 TDs, 7 INTs, 65.8%
Rushing Stats: 56 att., -33 yds., 2 TDs

Dana Holgorsen’s new pass-first attack didn’t disappoint the fans in Morgantown last season. The offense had a few ups and downs and struggled to run the ball at times, but Smith finished with 4,385 yards and 31 scores and tossed only seven picks. Smith capped off a solid regular season with a huge performance in the bowl rout over Clemson, gashing the Tigers’ secondary for 407 yards and six touchdowns. With another offseason to pickup Holgorsen’s offense, look for Smith to be even better in 2012. The Mountaineers are also loaded with options at receiver, and the offensive line should show some improvement. With plenty of suspect defensive backfields awaiting in Big 12 play, Smith could easily improve upon last season’s totals. 

2. Collin Klein, Kansas State (SR)
Passing Stats:
1,918 yards, 13 TD, 6 INT, 57.3%
Rushing Stats: 317 att., 1,141 yards, 27 TD

Fans likely didn’t know how special CK-7 was all until Week 3. On the road against Miami, Klein rushed 22 times for 93 yards and a touchdown to go with an efficient 12-of-18 passing effort (133 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT) in the upset win over the Canes. He went on to account for 40 touchdowns, including tying an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single-season, and led the Wildcats to the Cotton Bowl. Only Northern Illinois’ Chandler Harnish (1,379 yards) and Michigan’s Denard Robinson (1,379) had more rushing yards by a quarterback last season and Klein finished fifth in the Big 12 in rushing and led the league in scoring (12.5 ppg). The workhorse quarterback carried 317 times, third nationally behind only Bobby Rainey (369) amd Robbie Rouse (329). With a rebuilt offensive line in front of him, the sledding will undoubtedly be tougher in 2012, but Klein is still the unquestioned heart and soul of Wildcat football.

3. Landy Jones, Oklahoma (SR)
Passing Stats:
4,463 yards, 29 TD, 15 INT, 63.1%
Rushing Stats: 32 att., -24 yards, 2 TD

Not many players enter their senior season with over 12,000 yards passing, nearly 100 touchdowns and as many question marks as Jones.  The Sooner showed major development from 2009 to 2010, increasing his completion percentage (58.1% to 65.6%) and significantly dropped his interception rate (every 32.1 attempts versus one every 51.4 attempts). Yet, 2011 saw Jones regress in both categories (63.1% and 37.5 attempts/INT). Additionally, his road record has been a major issue. He is 7-8 on the road as a starter and is 19-1 in Norman. Finally, he limped to the finish in 2011, going without a single touchdown pass in the final three games of the regular season — with five interceptions nonetheless. With a full spring and summer to break in the semi-new receiving corps, there is no reason to think Jones won't bounce back as a senior and become the unquestioned leader of Crimson and Cream nation.

4. Casey Pachall, TCU (JR)
Passing Stats:
2,911 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT, 66.5%
Rushing Stats: 68 att., 51 yards, 2 TD

Pachall had the unenviable task of following arguably the greatest quarterback in TCU history, Andy Dalton, last fall and performed brilliantly. His 157.98 passer efficiency trailed only the legendary Kellen Moore in the Mountain West ranks — and Moore certainly doesn’t need to be reminded of what happened in their head-to-head meeting. Pachall passed for a career-high 473 yards and five touchdowns in the road win over the Broncos. TCU’s signal caller has all of the physical tools of an elite Big 12 quarterback, but making the week-in, week-out adjustment to “big-time” college football will be a test for the junior. With stellar wide receivers and an extremely deep running back group behind him, though, the Horned Frogs should have little trouble adapting to life in the Big 12.

5. Seth Doege, Texas Tech (SR)
Passing Stats:
4,004 yards, 28 TD, 10 INT, 68.5%
Rushing Stats: 54 att., 46 yards, 4 TD

This Texas Tech quarterback very quietly accounted for 32 touchdowns, topped 4,000 yards of total offense and completed nearly 70% of his passes. So it wasn’t really Doege’s fault that Texas Tech lost seven of its last eight games in 2011. That distinguished honor belongs to the defense. That said, six of his 10 interceptions came over the five-game losing streak that ended the season while only six of his 28 touchdown passes came during that span. If Doege can play like he did in the first seven games — where he posted a 5-2 record with six 300-yard games and 22 touchdowns — Tech has a chance to return to the postseason.

6. Nick Florence, Baylor (SR)
Passing Stats:
151 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 75%
Rushing Stats: 7 att., 14 yards, 1 TD

Florence might have one of the toughest jobs in college football next season. Replacing Robert Griffin’s production is difficult enough, but Florence has to find a way to keep Baylor in the Big 12 title mix, while replicating last season’s 10 wins. Although the senior may not be able to match Griffin’s physical ability or his production, he should be able to keep Baylor in the mix for eight or nine wins. After Griffin went down with an ACL tear in 2009, Florence started seven games and finished with 1,786 yards and six touchdowns. He also made one appearance last year, completing 9 of 12 passes for 151 yards and two scores. Florence has plenty of weapons at his disposal and all signs point to a standout senior year. 

7. Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State (JR)
Passing Stats:
307 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 66.7%
Rushing Stats: 3 att., -14 yards

As of early April, it was anyone’s guess which quarterback will start for Oklahoma State in the season opener. Chelf has the most experience on the roster, completing 34 of 49 career passes for 520 yards and five touchdowns. However, the junior has yet to play any meaningful snaps and is locked in a tight battle with freshman Wes Lunt and redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh this spring. It’s a lot to ask for a true freshman to come in and win the starting quarterback job in a semester, so the battle to replace Brandon Weeden will likely come down to Walsh and Chelf. Walsh brings a little more mobility to the table, but doesn’t have the experience. Although Weeden was one of the top quarterbacks in college football last season, expect whichever player wins the job to have a successful season.

8. David Ash, Texas (SO)
Passing Stats:
1,068 yards, 4 TDs, 8 INTs, 56.6%
Rushing Stats: 73 car., 103 yards, 1 TD

If Texas wants to win the Big 12 title in 2012, it’s all about the quarterback play. The Longhorns improved their win total by three games from 2010 to 2011, but need better play from under center to take the next step. Ash seems to have wrestled control of the starting position from Case McCoy, especially after he threw for 142 yards and a score in the Holiday Bowl. The sophomore also has good mobility, but had only one game over 25 rushing yards last season. Ash is only a sophomore, so he should improve with more playing time. The offense also figures to be in better shape in 2012, especially with another offseason to pickup coordinator Bryan Harsin’s scheme. 

9. Dayne Crist, Kansas (SR)
Passing Stats:
164 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 62.5%
Rushing Stats: 5 att., -16 yards

Only Terrelle Pryor was ranked higher than Crist when he signed with Notre Dame out of high school in 2008. And with Brian Kelly coming to town, he appeared to be only one letter away from savior status. After a strong start to the 2010 season — 2,033 yards, 15 TD in eight games — a torn knee ended his season for the second straight year. He returned in 2011 with eyes on the Irish starting job, but after a poor showing, Crist was benched for Tommy Rees in Week 1. Originally recruited by Charlie Weis to South Bend, Crist decided to transfer to Kansas for his final season. Reunited with his former coach, and eligible to play right away having already graduated, Crist enters his final collegiate season with one more short at redemption.

10. Jared Barnett, Iowa State (SO)
Passing Stats:
1,201 yards, 6 TDs, 6 INTs, 50%
Rushing Stats: 104 att., 437 yards, 1 TD

Steele Jantz began last season as Iowa State’s No. 1 quarterback, but an injury and turnover issues opened the door for Barnett to emerge as the starter. Barnett finished the year with 1,201 yards and six passing touchdowns, but also added 437 yards and one score on the ground. The sophomore also led Iowa State to its biggest win of the season, a 37-31 overtime upset over Oklahoma State in Ames. Although Barnett had a terrific performance against the Cowboys (376 yards, three touchdowns), he did not top 200 passing yards in any other game. The Cyclones have a new offensive coordinator and will miss All-Big 12 left tackle Kelechi Osemele. Although both of those are negatives for Barnett, he should be better with more snaps under his belt. 

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

Related Big 12 Content

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

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

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Ranking the Big 12 quarterbacks for 2012.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 06:59
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-football-are-irish-top-25-team-2012

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

Will Notre Dame Be a Top 25 Team in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Notre Dame should flirt with the top 25 for most of the season, but the Irish may have trouble stringing together signature wins to have true staying power. This may be a team that wins eight games during the regular season and then has a chance to finish in the top 25 with a bowl victory. The easiest stretch of Notre Dame’s season will come in November with Pittsburgh, Boston College on the road and then Wake Forest, but those three games are sandwiched between road trips to Oklahoma (Oct. 27) and USC (Nov. 24), both of which should start the season in the top five. With eight starters returning on offense and playmakers likes Manti Te’o and Aaron Lynch on defense, Notre Dame has the ability to be a top 25, but if the Irish go on turnover binges like they did a year ago, all bets are off.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Notre Dame is an interesting beast. They never play an easy schedule — you won't find any Sam Houston States or Montanas on this year's slate — but the Irish are consistently overrated by the pollsters. So an eight-win Notre Dame is most likely a Top 25 team over an eight-win Iowa or North Carolina or Cal. But getting to eight wins with this schedule won't be easy for a team that still needs to find a quarterback. Boston College and Navy are the two easiest games on the schedule. Home tests against Purdue, Wake Forest, Miami (in Chicago), BYU and Pitt all have to be wins if Brian Kelly wants to go bowling. Road games against USC and Oklahoma appear to be the only two guaranteed losses while Michigan State, Michigan and Stanford look like true swing games.

The amount of talent Kelly has stockpiled in the front seven should allow the Irish to match-up with more physical teams like Michigan State and Stanford. And the offense has plenty of depth along the line, and, despite losing Michael Floyd, loads of talent at the skill positions too. Should Kelly find a stabilizing force to run his offense, a 10-win season is well within reach. Otherwise, the NFL-esque front-seven and ground game should carry this team to eight wins...and a Top 25 ranking.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think Notre Dame is definitely one of the top 25 teams in college football. I was a little surprised the Irish did not win more than eight games last season, but turnovers and inconsistent quarterback play prevented this team from making a BCS bowl appearance. Brian Kelly is definitely the right coach to lead Notre Dame, but I think this team might be a year away from making a push to get 10 wins and a BCS bowl.

The biggest question mark facing the Irish in 2012 will be quarterback play. Tommy Rees is the team’s returning starter, but Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel will all get a chance to unseat him this spring. Rees can be productive, but he’s not a difference maker. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Golson or Hendrix take the first snap of the season. Outside of the quarterback position, the offense is in good shape. Cierre Wood is back after rushing for 1,000 yards last season, and tight end Tyler Eifert is likely a first-team All-American selection. The line also returns three starters.

While the offense has its question marks, the defense is starting to assemble some nice pieces. The line should be one of the best in college football, while linebacker Manti Te’o is back after recording 128 tackles last season. The secondary needs some work, especially at cornerback where Gary Gray and Robert Blanton depart.

The schedule is a key obstacle when examining Notre Dame’s chances of finishing in the top 25. The Irish play nine bowl teams, including USC, Michigan, Michigan State and Oklahoma. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Notre Dame pull off an upset or two, but 8-4 or 9-3 seems to be the most likely record, which places them anywhere in the 15-25 range of most preseason polls. 

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
It’s fashionable at this time of year to talk about how overrated Notre Dame will be in the upcoming season, but I strongly believe the Fighting Irish will be a top-25 team in 2012. There are some issues to be resolved — who will be the starting quarterback is chief among them — but Brian Kelly has assembled a talented roster that is capable of winning nine games against a very difficult schedule.

The Irish will no doubt miss receiving Michael Floyd, but I believe the offense will be better this fall thanks to the return of 1,000-yard rusher Cierre Wood, outstanding tight end Tyler Eifert and a solid nucleus on the offensive line. The defense, led by All-America candidate Manti Te’o, should be strong once again.

A big key for Notre Dame will be cutting down on its turnovers. Last year, the Irish committed a total of 10 turnovers in their first two games, a three-point loss to South Florida and a four-point loss to Michigan. Some turnovers are bad luck and some are the result of poor play by the offense. Luck, even at Notre Dame, can’t be controlled, but you’d have to think Kelly, one of the game’s top offensive guys, will have his team taking better care of the ball in 2012. And if that’s the case, you can expect to find the Fighting Irish in the top 25 all season long.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
My answer would be barely. Notre Dame looks like an 8-4 team, but I see the Irish potential as closer to 9-3 than 7-5. Obviously the biggest ND question for the 2012 season involves another quarterback battle between Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, and Everett Golson, and it could possibly include heralded freshman Gunner Kiel. There are plenty of solid skill players back (Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, TJ Jones, Tyler Eifert), but Brian Kelly must get more out of his signal callers. The defense should be a strength, especially in the front seven. Senior linebacker Manti Te’o and sophomore end Aaron Lynch will lead a unit that should keep the Irish in most games, especially if an inexperienced but talented secondary develops. Notre Dame got off to a rough start last season, losing two games that it controlled and should have won. If Kelly's bunch can avoid the costly turnovers from a year ago and settle on a quarterback, the Irish will be a dangerous team. Despite road trips to Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC, I still think ND finishes in the lower half of the Top 25.

Where will Athlon predict Notre Dame to finish in the 2012 final standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day. 

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2012 Notre Dame Spring Preview
2012 Athlon Recruiting Rankings: No. 17 Notre Dame

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College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Will Notre Dame be a top 25 team in 2012?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 06:58
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/10-coaches-replace-bobby-petrino-if-hes-fired

The future of Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is uncertain. Although Petrino sports an impressive 34-17 record in four seasons with the Razorbacks, he could be in danger of losing his job, after lying to athletic director Jeff Long about the details of his motorcycle wreck last week. Petrino did not inform Long that Jessica Dorrell – an Arkansas athletic department employee – was riding with him, despite indicating so in the police report.

Taver Johnson has been selected as Arkansas’ interim coach, but what if Bobby Petrino is fired? The Razorbacks likely won’t hire a full-time head coach until the end of the 2012 season, but it’s always interesting to ponder the possibilities.

If Bobby Petrino is fired, here are 10 coaching candidates Arkansas could target at the end of the 2012 season –

Mario Cristobal, head coach, FIU – Even though BCS programs have attempted to lure Cristobal away from FIU, he has yet to leave Miami. Cristobal inherited an awful situation and the Golden Panthers went 1-11 in his first season (2007). However, FIU has made steady progress since then, winning 15 games over the last two years and making back-to-back bowl appearances. As a Miami native, it will take a great opportunity for Cristobal to leave the state of Florida. However, there’s no question Cristobal is ready for the opportunity to lead a BCS program.


Dave Doeren, head coach, Northern Illinois – Doeren did a nice job with Northern Illinois in his first season, leading the Huskies to the 2011 MAC Championship with an impressive 11-3 record. Doeren has made stops as an assistant at Montana, Kansas and Wisconsin and so far, has been a good hire for Northern Illinois. With just one year of head coaching experience, Doeren may be too green for the Arkansas position if it comes available at the end of the 2012 season.


Sonny Dykes, head coach, Louisiana Tech Dykes enters his third season at Louisiana Tech with a 13-12 record, with an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl last season. The Bulldogs return much of the core that won the WAC title last season and are expected to begin the year as the favorites to claim the conference title. Dykes has built a solid resume, making stops as an assistant at Kentucky, Texas Tech and Arizona. Inexperience is really the only concern about Dykes, as he hasn’t been a head coach at a BCS program and has only two years of head coaching experience. Dykes has Louisiana Tech on the rise and it’s only a matter of time before he jumps to a BCS program.


Skip Holtz, head coach, South Florida – The last name Holtz is certainly one that Arkansas’ fans are familiar with. Lou Holtz coached at Arkansas from 1977-83, leading the Razorbacks to a 60-21-2 record. Skip Holtz has made stops as a head coach at Connecticut, East Carolina and South Florida and has an overall record of 85-62. The Bulls are just 13-12 under Holtz, but the team could be ready to turn the corner in 2012 with a handful of key players returning. Holtz has the reputation of running a clean program, which has to appeal to Arkansas after dealing with Petrino’s incident.


Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette – Hudspeth is a rising star in the coaching ranks and likely won’t be with the Ragin’ Cajuns for much longer. After compiling an 86-21 record in seven years with North Alabama, Hudspeth worked as an assistant with Dan Mullen at Mississippi State from 2009-10. He inherited a Louisiana-Lafayette team that went 3-9 prior to his arrival and led the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 9-4 record and a victory over San Diego State in the New Orleans Bowl. There’s very little downside to Hudspeth. He’s a proven winner at two different stops, has some experience in the SEC and is only 43 years old.


Gus Malzahn, head coach, Arkansas State – Arkansas fans are certainly familiar with Malzahn, but would he want to return to Fayetteville? Malzahn was a successful high school coach at three stops – Hughes, Shiloh Christian and Springdale. Houston Nutt picked Malzahn as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator for the 2006 season, but the pairing never worked. Malzahn left after one season with the Razorbacks and joined Todd Graham’s staff at Tulsa. After two years with the Golden Hurricane, Malzahn became the offensive coordinator at Auburn and helped to lead the Tigers to a national title in 2010. Malzahn is making his first stop as a head coach in 2012 with Arkansas State. After the way his first stop in Fayetteville transpired, it would not be a shock if Malzahn does not want to coach at Arkansas. However, if the job is open, the Razorbacks should do everything possible to lure Malzahn to Fayetteville.


Paul Rhoads, head coach, Iowa State – Prying Rhoads away from Iowa State won’t be easy. The Iowa native has led the Cyclones to an 18-20 record and two bowl appearances through three seasons. Winning at Iowa State is not easy, but Rhoads has made the Cyclones a tough out each and every week in Big 12 play. In addition to his experience at Iowa State, Rhoads has worked as a defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh and Auburn.


Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama – Smart’s name has been circulated on many coaching lists over the last two years, but he has decided to remain in Tuscaloosa. Smart has no head coaching experience, but has worked as an assistant at LSU, Georgia and with the Miami Dolphins. He has also served under college football’s top coach (Nick Saban) for the last five years. Although Smart will get his chance to run a BCS program, the lack of success by Saban assistants Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley could work against him.


Charlie Strong, head coach, Louisville – Strong may not be a perfect fit at Arkansas, but he’s pretty close. He was born in Batesville, Ark., and played at Central Arkansas. Strong also has SEC coaching experience, making stops as an assistant at Ole Miss, Florida and South Carolina. Although Strong’s record is just 14-12 in two years with Louisville, the program was in bad shape when he arrived, and Louisville is expected to be the frontrunner for the Big East title in 2012. If the Arkansas job opens up, Strong will probably be near the top of the wish list.

Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Just like fellow Sun Belt coaches Mark Hudspeth and Mario Cristobal, Taggart did not inherit a good situation. However, in just two years, he has turned the Hilltoppers into a Sun Belt title contender. After going 2-10 in Taggart’s first year, Western Kentucky rebounded with a 7-5 record and finished second in the Sun Belt standings. Taggart worked for three seasons (2007-09) under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and is one of college football’s youngest head coaches.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on twitter)

Related Arkansas Content

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

<p> 10 Coaches to Replace Bobby Petrino If He's Fired at Arkansas.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 06:50
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-49

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

The first weekend is in the books.

No, the New York Mets are not going to finish 162-0 and David Wright will not lead the majors in hitting (.667). No, the Red Sox and Yankees are not going to go winless and finish tied for last in the AL East. No, the Rangers will not finish 12th in the American League in runs scored. No, Miguel Cabrera and Matt Kemp won’t finish as the No. 1 and 2 fantasy players in baseball – okay, well, that one could be 100% true.

So the first weekend of action is more about kicking back and enjoying the fact that America’s pastime is back in action. So be sure to take the current fantasy baseball rankings with a grain of salt. Yet, it doesn’t mean that we can learn a few things to tweak our rosters.

Each weekend, Athlon will analyze the hottest names from around the fantasy diamond and break down who needs to be added to your roster or who needs to be ignored. Here is how the rankings shake out after one weekend of action:

Week 1's Top 25 Hitters:

  Name Pos. Team R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Matt Kemp OF LAD 6 2 8 1 .412 1.213
2. Miguel Cabrera 1B DET 5 3 8 0 .455 1.806
3. Carlos Pena 1B TB 3 2 7 0 .500 1.654
4. Yoenis Cespedes OF OAK 3 3 7 0 .308 1.477
5. Eric Hosmer 1B KC 5 2 4 1 .286 1.000
6. Carlos Beltran OF STL 4 2 3 1 .389 1.143
7. Rafael Furcal* SS STL 3 0 3 2 .526 1.234
8. Alex Avila C DET 4 2 5 0 .417 1.500
9. Corey Hart OF MIL 3 3 4 0 .444 2.101
10. Jay Bruce OF CIN 3 3 5 0 .273 1.341
11. Nick Markakis OF BAL 3 2 4 0 .556 2.111
12. Starlin Castro SS CHC 2 0 1 4 .385 .847
13. Prince Fielder 1B DET 4 2 3 0 .417 1.346
14. Cameron Maybin OF SD 4 1 2 2 .294 .839
15. Adam LaRoche* 1B WAS 3 2 4 0 .417 1.379
16. David Freese 3B STL 2 1 6 0 .421 1.000
17. Dustin Ackley 2B SEA 4 1 3 1 .316 .790
18. Austin Jackson OF DET 5 0 2 0 .571 1.482
19. Emilio Bonifacio OF FLA 3 0 1 3 .333 .777
20. Zack Cozart SS CIN 4 1 2 0 .545 1.765
21. Evan Longoria 3B TB 4 1 1 0 .600 1.792
22. Kelly Johnson 2B TOR 5 1 2 0 .357 1.097
23. Shane Robinson* OF STL 2 1 4 0 .667 1.834
24. Chone Figgins* 3B SEA 2 0 4 1 .412 1.000
25. Dee Gordon SS LAD 3 0 1 3 .222 .578

* - unowned in the Athlon Sports Fantasy League

Find Your Middle Infield Help Now

Cincinnati’s Zach Cozart is had a top 25 weekend after hitting in the two-hole all three games of Opening Weekend. That puts the rookie directly in front of Joey Votto, Scott Rolen and Jay Bruce. Don’t buy Top-10 shortstop value just yet, but he certainly has the bat to be an adequate producer at a shallow position all season long.

Washington’s Ian Desmond also had a key weekend, hitting with a .385/.429/.462 line for the weekend. He led off all three games and has a chance to provide big return on investment when it comes to stolen bases and runs scored in a much-improving line-up. But he could also easily get to double-digit dingers and a sound slash-line.

St. Louis’ Rafael Furcal might have been the biggest surprise of the weekend, however, don’t go wasting a top waiver priority on the aging shortstop. He has topped the 400 at-bat mark only one time since 2007 and has failed to top the 200 AB plateau in three of the last five years. He should be helpful when in the line-up, but like much of the Cardinals' batting order, he needs to stay fully healthy to be valuable.

Kelly Johnson, Aaron Hill, Chris Getz and Rueben Tejada all had solid first weekends that require more observation time.

Yoenis Cespedes is For Real

Normally, it takes time for imports to get acclimated with the speed, control and raw talent of big league pitching. Well, Cespedes is putting that myth to bed as he stroked three home runs in his first four games. He has seven RBIs and has the raw athletic ability to swipe some bases too. I cannot imagine the Cuban defector didn’t get drafted in your league, but if he happens to be sitting on your wire, do not hesistate to snap him up.

Week 1's Top 25 Pitchers:

  Name Team IP W SV K ERA WHIP
1. Chad Billingsly LAD 8.1 1 0 11 0.00 0.48
2. Jared Weaver LAA 8.0 1 0 10 0.00 0.50
3. Roy Halladay PHI 8.0 1 0 5 0.00 0.25
4. Frank Francisco NYM 3.0 0 3 4 0.00 0.67
5. Jeff Samardzija* CHC 8.2 1 0 8 1.04 0.46
6. Fernando Rodney TB 1.2 0 2 1 0.00 0.00
7. Zack Greinke MIL 7.0 1 0 7 0.00 0.57
8. Lance Lynn* STL 6.2 1 0 8 1.35 0.45
9. Clayton Richard* SD 7.0 1 0 3 0.00 0.29
10. Lucas Harrell HOU 7.0 1 0 4 0.00 0.43
11. Justin Masterson CLE 8.0 0 0 10 1.12 0.38
12. Justin Verlander DET 8.0 0 0 7 0.00 0.38
13. Duane Below* DET 2.2 2 0 3 0.00 0.38
14. Jake Arrieta* BAL 7.0 1 0 4 0.00 0.57
15. Kyle Lohse* STL 7.1 1 0 3 1.23 0.27
16. Johnny Cueto CIN 7.0 1 0 4 0.00 0.71
17. Aroldis Chapman CIN 3.0 1 0 5 0.00 0.33
18. Brandon League SEA 3.0 0 2 2 0.00 0.67
19. Jeremy Hellickson TB 8.2 1 0 4 0.00 0.81
20. Jason Hammel* BAL 8.0 1 0 5 1.12 0.63
21. Javy Guerra LAD 2.0 0 2 2 0.00 0.50
22. Ryan Dempster* CHC 7.2 0 0 10 1.17 0.65
23. Josh Lindblom* LAD 4.0 1 0 3 0.00 0.50
24. Jim Johnson BAL 1.2 0 2 2 0.00 1.20
25. Luis Perez* TOR 4.0 1 0 3 0.00 0.75

* - unowned in the Athlon Sports Fantasy League

Bullpen Happenings

It wasn’t a good weekend for bullpens. Boston’s group is in complete disarray and I would not be rostering any of the names (Alfredo Aceves, Mark Melancon, Franklin Morales, Vincente Padilla) who could get the potential save chances. Look for the Red Sox to go after a rental in early summer — aka Jonathan Broxton, Huston Street, Frank Francisco, Matt Thornton, etc. Speaking of...

Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain and Addison Reed were all preseason picks to land in the closing role on the Southside of Chicago. Yet, it appears that Hector Santiago, who pitched a perfect ninth on Saturday to earn his first career save, might be the guy to close games for the White Sox. Robin Ventura still might play the match-ups, but Santiago is worth an add this week. 

With Drew Storen still a few weeks away from returning to action — should his elbow injury not be (gasp) anything worse — it appears that Davey Johnson’s decision to platoon Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez was no empty threat. Both Lidge and Rodriguez were effective this weekend, combining for 2.0 scoreless innings with five total strikeouts and one save for each.

-by Braden Gall


<p> Athlon looks back at another weekend of fantasy baseball action.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 10:44