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All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/baseball-numbers-humber-yaz-and-moyer
Body:

1
Career complete game by Phil Humber of the Chicago White Sox. The 29-year-old, who has been claimed off waivers twice in his career, had never pitched into the ninth inning before his perfect game against the Mariners on Saturday.

+52
Run differential for the Texas Rangers, who are 13-3 on the season. Texas has three one-run losses to the White Sox, Mariners and Tigers.

1,822
Hits by Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski at Fenway Park, the most of any player in the stadium’s 100-year history.

5,171
Games started at catcher by the trio of Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek and Ivan Rodriguez, who all retired since last season. They combined to play in 228 postseason games, including 48 World Series games, winning seven championships.

49
Age of Colorado’s Jamie Moyer, who became the oldest pitcher to win a major league game with a victory over San Diego on April 17. Moyer tossed seven innings and allowed no earned runs to lower his ERA to 2.55. It was win No. 268 for the veteran lefthander.

5
Players who participated in Moyer’s historic win who were not born at the time the veteran pitcher made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs in 1986. Cameron Maybin, the first batter Moyer faced in the game, Anthony Bass, the opposing pitcher, Wilin Rosario, Moyer’s catcher, Rex Brothers, who relieved him and Yonder Alonso, who later pinch-hit for the Padres, were all born after Moyer made it to the big leagues. Eric Young, Jr. pinch-hit for Moyer. Young’s father, Eric Young, Sr., a 15-year major league player himself, was just age 19 and still six years away from his major league debut with the Dodgers, when Moyer first pitched for the Cubs on June 16, 1986.

Teaser:
<p> Phil Humber's perfect game, the Rangers' offense, Fenway's 100 years and fascinating numbers from Jamie Moyer's historic win.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 11:44
Path: /mlb/baseballs-best-rotation-washington-nationals
Body:

After three times through the rotation (and four starts for ace Stephen Strasburg), the Washington Nationals’ rotation has been dominant. Extremely dominant. All five starters boast a WHIP below 1.00, allowing less than one base runner per inning. While the numbers are staggering (1.82 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, two home runs in 98.2 innings, .186 batting average against), the success of the group isn’t that shocking. All five starters have, at some point in their careers, been projected as top-of-the-rotation aces.

Certainly, they will come down to earth and cough up a few bad outings, but the Nationals’ plan to build around starting pitching is coming together nicely.


Ace Strasburg has been hyped as a Hall of Famer since the Nats made him very rich as the first overall draft pick in 2009. After missing about 12 months recovering from Tommy John surgery, the fireballer is dominating again. Over 25 innings, he's allowed just three runs. The Nats have won all four of his starts, but he has two no-decisions, one after pitching six scoreless innings against Miami. Imagine how good this guy can be once the Nats decide to turn him loose. Strasburg has been allowed to pitch into the seventh inning just once this season.

Ross Detwiler, who leads the staff with a 0.56 ERA, was the team’s first round pick out of Missouri State in 2007. The organization thought enough of Detwiler to promote him to the big leagues three months after he was drafted.

Jordan Zimmermann was taken in the second round in 2007, and in four seasons of minor league pitching, he allowed just 182 hits in 235 innings. He was named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2008, and blossomed last season with a 3.18 ERA in 26 starts for Washington.

Gio Gonzalez was a first-round pick by the White Sox in 2004 and was subsequently traded three times before Oakland dealt him to Washington this winter. In two full seasons with the A’s, Gonzalez was 31-21 with a 3.17 ERA and gave up 346 hits in 402.2 innings with 368 Ks.

Edwin Jackson was once considered by Baseball America (2004) as the No. 4 prospect in baseball. The 2001 sixth-round pick of the Dodgers never turned the corner in the minor leagues, but his major league numbers have been much better. This season, he tossed a two-hit complete game against Cincinnati, then had a horrendous first inning against the Astros, before settling down. He tied James Shields for the team lead in wins for the Rays in their historic pennant-winning season in 2008, and was a part of the world champion Cardinals’ staff down the stretch last season.

This weekend, the best rotation in baseball will take on the senior circuit’s best offensive player in Matt Kemp as the Nationals visit the Dodgers. Detwiler will get the ball for the opener on Friday night against the reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. Strasburg will be on the hill on Saturday against Chad Billingsley. Two lefties, Gonzalez and Chris Capuano, will take the stage for the finale on Sunday.

- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)

Teaser:
<p> The Nats' plan to build around pitching is coming together nicely.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 10:51
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/arkansas-makes-bizarre-coaching-choice-john-l-smith
Body:

If you were surprised at the announcement Weber State’s John L. Smith would be Arkansas’ head coach for 2012, you certainly weren’t alone. Many reports over the last two weeks linked a number of names, including UAB coach Garrick McGee, former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer or expected Arkansas to pick an assistant on staff. 

Although Smith was a bizarre hire, the Razorbacks could have done worse. Sure, this isn’t a home-run hire by any means, but what choices did Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long have?

Staying the interim route was a strong possibility, but Taver Johnson or Paul Petrino had no head coaching experience. Petrino has a good resume and would have made a lot of sense to be the next coach, but his last name may have prevented him from getting the job. Taking Johnson or Petrino out of their current roles would have had a ripple effect on the rest of the staff, as responsibilities may have been shuffled. Bringing in Smith helps keep the status quo in Arkansas for 2012.

Make no mistake – this is not a long-term solution for Arkansas. Smith is a safe pick for 2012 and will allow the school to conduct an extensive search for its next coach. Although Long could have hired McGee or made a run at Arkansas State head coach Gus Malzahn, there’s no need to rush an important search or make a rash decision that could hurt the school in the long run.

While this will be Smith’s first and likely only season as Arkansas’ head coach, he has the experience necessary to guide this program through the 2012 season. He served as Idaho’s head coach from 1989-94, recording a 53-20 record. After six years with the Vandals, Smith took over at Utah State and posted a 16-18 mark with one bowl appearance in three seasons. He left the Aggies for Louisville, leading the Cardinals to a 41-21 record with five bowl appearances. Smith didn’t have tremendous success at Michigan State from 2003-06, but his overall career record is 132-86.

Perhaps the most important factor in Smith landing the job was his experience from 2009-2011 as the special teams coach at Arkansas. Although he wasn’t the head coach, Smith knows the players and schemes, which should provide for a seamless transition. Hiring Smith as the head coach allows Taver Johnson to continue focus on his duties on the defensive side of the ball.

Although losing Petrino has certainly changed the outlook for the Razorbacks in 2012, Smith brings a sense of familiarity and some stability to the program. Arkansas still ranks behind Alabama and LSU, but no longer seems to be in a free fall. Considering what has transpired this spring, the Razorbacks are going to be a hungry team. The players certainly want to prove they are capable of winning a SEC title, while the coaches could be working for a job on Arkansas’ staff for 2013 or auditioning for another school.

Replacing a head coach in the middle of spring practice is no easy task – especially one that was as successful as Bobby Petrino was at Arkansas. Although McGee or Malzahn make more sense from a long-term perspective, it’s difficult to ask a head coach at a FBS school to leave just after spring practice.

After Smith’s rocky tenure at Michigan State, it’s surprising to see him back on the sidelines at a BCS school. And it’s a bizarre fit at Arkansas considering what has transpired this offseason.

However, considering the circumstances, the marriage of Smith and Arkansas is one that makes a lot of sense. The Razorbacks aren’t going to win the SEC West, but bringing Smith from Weber State allows for the assistants to stay in their roles and the players to have a coach who certainly has some familiarity with them and life in the SEC.

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related SEC Content:

Ranking the SEC Running Backs for 2012
Georgia or South Carolina: The SEC East's Best Team in 2012?

Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

Tennessee or Vanderbilt: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012

College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

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

Teaser:
<p> Arkansas Makes Bizarre Coaching Choice with John L. Smith.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 07:52
All taxonomy terms: history, NFL Draft, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-history-busts-sleepers-and-solid-picks-part-1
Body:

The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft will commence on Thursday night, marking the 77th installment of what is officially called the “NFL Player Selection Meeting.” From Thursday through Saturday 253 college players will hear their names called, adding their name to the NFL history books, regardless of whether they ever make it on the field.

Indeed, as history will tell, some past drafts have become more known for the players who were selected and did not enjoy success in a NFL uniform than those that did. There are also those players who did not hear their names called in the draft, but signed on with a team as an undrafted free agent and would eventually become solid players, if not All-Pros.

Here is a look back at the 1998-2007 drafts, as we reminisce and see which picks panned out for teams (Solid Picks), and those that failed miserably (Busts), as well as acknowledging those players that didn’t let disappointment on draft day get in the way of fulfilling their dreams of playing in the NFL (Sleepers).

Note: Part 1 will cover drafts from 1998-2002, Part 2 will cover the 2003-2007 drafts.

1998 NFL Draft
We start with 1998 because of the obvious synergy with this year’s draft involving No. 1 picks, quarterbacks and the Indianapolis Colts. In 1998, the Colts took Peyton Manning No. 1 overall over Ryan Leaf. While Manning is no longer with the Colts, no one can say the franchise didn’t make the right pick as Manning led them to 150 wins, eight divisional titles, two AFC championships and a win in Super Bowl XLVI in 2007. The Chargers didn’t have near the same success with Leaf, who lasted just three seasons in the league and won a total of four games in his short-lived career. To make matters worse, Leaf has had his share of personal and legal issues since his NFL playing days.

Just like what happened with Manning in 1998, the Colts are hoping history will repeat itself 14 years later as they have informed Andrew Luck they will take him with the No. 1 overall pick on Thursday night. The Colts have decided to go with Luck over Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, who will presumably go to the Washington Redskins at No. 2. Whether Luck becomes the second coming of Manning for the Colts remains to be seen, but the Redskins certainly hope that Griffin doesn’t follow in the forgettable footsteps of Leaf.

Solid Picks: The Colts weren’t the only team to draft a franchise player in 1998. The Raiders took Charles Woodson with the fourth overall pick and the Vikings took a chance on Randy Moss that turned out pretty well for them. Fred Taylor and Alan Faneca also were taken in the first round. Other players selected include Olin Kreutz (3rd – No. 64), Hines Ward (3rd – No. 92), Matt Birk (6th – No. 173), and Matt Hasselbeck (6th – No. 187).

Busts: While Leaf is certainly the headline in terms of busts from the 1998 draft, he was not alone as many recall the career of Andre Wadsworth, who went No. 3 overall to the Arizona Cardinals, and Bears’ fans are still trying to forget Curtis Enis, who was taken with the fifth pick.

Sleepers: Besides a franchise quarterback, the Colts also ended up with an All-Pro offensive lineman from the class of 1998. Jeff Saturday, Manning’s long-time center, originally signed as an undrafted free agent with Baltimore. He ended up in Indianapolis in 1999 and went to become a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro in his 13 years with the Colts. London Fletcher and David Akers also went undrafted, but ended up on an NFL roster and both made the Pro Bowl and earned All-Pro recognition in 2011.

1999 NFL Draft
Although this draft is probably remembered more for the New Orleans Saints trading all of their picks in 1999 plus two more in 2000 to the Redskins for Ricky Williams, it also represented the last draft in which the first two players taken were quarterbacks. In fact, quarterbacks were taken with the first three selections as the Cleveland Browns took Tim Couch, the Philadelphia Eagles took Donovan McNabb and the Cincinnati Bengals took Akili Smith.

Everyone knows what happened after that, Couch never panned out, lasting just five seasons and finishing his career with more interceptions (67) than touchdowns (64). Smith fared even worse, as he was in the league for four seasons, but only played in a total of 22 games. McNabb clearly had the best career of the three and now will wait to see if his overall body of work (37,276 passing yards and 234 passing touchdowns, 3,459 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns) is worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame.

Solid Picks: After the Saints took Williams fifth overall, the St. Louis Rams selected Torry Holt and the Redskins took Champ Bailey. Holt retired as a Ram earlier this month after a productive 11-year career, while Bailey, an 11-time Pro Bowler, is entering his 14th year in league, ninth with the Denver Broncos, this fall. The Steelers took both Joey Porter (3rd – No. 73) and Aaron Smith (4th – No. 109), while the Green Bay Packers drafted Donald Driver in the seventh round (No. 213), who has since become the Packers’ all-time leading receiver.

Busts: Couch and Smith weren’t the only quarterbacks taken in the first round who didn’t pan out. The Bears took Cade McNown with the twelfth overall pick. McNown’s career was even shorter than Smith’s, as he was done after the 2000 season after winning three games in 15 career starts under center.

Sleepers: I’m not so sure two punters (Chris Hanson and Brian Moorman) qualify, although both had careers that lasted more than 10 years and earned at least one Pro Bowl invitation.

2000 NFL Draft
Let’s face it, the first draft of the 21st century will forever be known as the Tom Brady draft. The Patriots took Brady, a relatively unknown quarterback from Michigan with 199th overall pick in the sixth round. Three Super Bowl rings, nearly 40,000 yards passing, 300 touchdowns, 124 regular-season wins and counting, this is arguably the greatest value pick in the history of the NFL Draft.

Solid Picks: That’s not to say Brady was the ONLY player taken in the 2000 draft, mind you. The Ravens took running back Jamal Lewis, who had just the fifth 2,000-yard season in NFL history in 2006, with the fifth overall pick, and the Arizona Cardinals selected fellow back Thomas Jones seventh. Jones has rushed for more than 10,000 yards in his career. The Pittsburgh Steelers took Plaxico Burress with the eighth overall pick, but unfortunately Burress’ career will always be overshadowed by what took place off the field, rather than on it.

Chicago got Brian Urlacher with the ninth pick and he quickly became the next great Bear linebacker, following the likes of Hall of Famers Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary. The New York Jets got more than lucky with John Abraham at No. 13, while the Seattle Seahawks took Shaun Alexander from Alabama with the 19th pick. All Alexander did was earn NFL MVP honors in 2005 as he led the league in both rushing (1,880 yards) and touchdowns (27) as the Seahawks rode his legs all the way to the Super Bowl.

Also let’s give some credit to the Oakland Raiders, who have earned more than fair share of criticism when it comes to draft decisions. In 2000, however, they got two picks right when they selected kicker Sebastian Janikowski with the 17th overall pick and punter Shane Lechler in the 5th round (No. 142). All these two have done is form the NFL’s most valuable kicking duo for 12 years running. Too bad their success and productivity hasn’t rubbed off on the team as a whole.

Busts: The Browns missed big on Courtney Brown, who they took No. 1 overall. Brown never adjusted to the pro game, lasting just six forgettable seasons. The Bengals didn’t fare much better with Peter Warrick, who they took with the fourth overall pick, and Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, who was selected by the Giants at No. 11, was never able to establish himself in the NFL.

Sleepers: As has already been mentioned, Brady is probably the biggest draft sleeper of all time, but he was drafted. That was not the case for offensive linemen Shaun O’Hara and Brian Waters. O’Hara won a Super Bowl with the Giants, while Waters is a two-time All-Pro and been named to six Pro Bowls in his career.

2001 NFL Draft
The Atlanta Falcons and the San Diego Chargers swapped first-round picks, a trade which gave the Falcons the No. 1 overall pick in exchange for a third-round pick in 2001, second-rounder in 2002 and a player (wide receiver Tim Dwight). All in all, it was a trade that worked out for both sides as the Falcons took Michael Vick with the first pick and the Chargers ended up with LaDainian Tomlinson at No. 5. Vick took what was a moribund franchise to new heights and helped usher in a new era of athletic, mobile quarterbacks, while Tomlinson, who is currently third on the all-time touchdowns list and fifth in rushing yards, will go into the Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible.

Solid Picks: Besides Tomlinson, Richard Seymour (No. 6 overall) and Steve Hutchinson (No. 17) could both end up in the Hall of Fame eventually. Other notable first-round selections include Justin Smith (No. 4), Santana Moss (No. 16), Deuce McAllister (No. 23), Reggie Wayne (No. 30) and Todd Heap (No. 31). Drew Brees (No. 32) was taken by the Chargers with the first pick in the second round and Chad Johnson was taken by the Bengals four picks later. The New England Patriots took Matt Light (No. 48) later in the second round. Light is expected to retire at some point this offseason after a 10-year career as the Patriots’ left tackle otherwise known as the blindside protector for the aforementioned Brady. In the third round, the Carolina Panthers selected Steve Smith (No. 74), who holds all of the franchise’s receiving records.

Busts: While Wayne, Johnson and Smith were hits for their respective teams, there were several wide receivers drafted in 2001 that ended up being big misses. In the first round alone, the Bears whiffed on David Terrell (No. 8 overall), the Redskins with Rod Gardner (No. 15) and the Eagles with Freddie Mitchell (No. 25). Mitchell was known more for what he said (including his infamous “FredEx” nickname) than what he accomplished on the field. Not what you want in any draft pick, let alone a first-rounder.

Sleepers: The Redskins signed linebacker Antonio Pierce, who would go on to make the Pro Bowl as a Redskin in 2006, as an undrafted free agent, while the Tennessee Titans (Rob Bironas) and Buffalo Bills (Shayne Graham) signed reliable kickers. Bironas was named first-team All-Pro in 2007, while Graham would only be with the Bills for one season before eventually becoming a Pro Bowler with the Bengals. Several other solid players got their start as undrafted free agents in 2001, including offensive lineman Stephen Neal (Patriots) and Rich Seubert (New York Giants).

2002 NFL Draft
Another draft with quarterbacks taken early that didn’t pan out. This time it was David Carr, who the Houston Texans took with the franchise’s first-ever No. 1 overall pick. Carr spent most of his five years with the Texans running around for this life, as he was sacked a NFL-record 76 times in his first year. It didn’t get much better in the years that followed as in many ways Carr was a victim of a lack of support. Detroit took Joey Harrington third, who in four years with the Lions won just 26 games and finished with more interceptions (62) than touchdown passes (60).

Solid Picks: In between the two quarterbacks, the Carolina Panthers selected defensive end Julius Peppers with the second overall pick. The athletic freak of nature was named the 2002 NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year and racked up 81 sacks and 37 forced fumbles in his eight years with the Panthers. He signed with the Bears as a free agent in 2010 and is still one of the NFL’s most-feared defensive players. The Colts also selected a defensive end with their first-round selection, Dwight Freeney (No. 11), and like Peppers, Freeney is a three-time, first-team All-Pro and has 102.5 sacks in his career.

While Peppers and Freeney could end up enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Canton when their careers are over, one player who’s already secured his spot is Ed Reed. The Ravens drafted the dynamic ball-hawk from Miami with the 24th overall pick and he has not disappointed. Reed is an eight-time Pro Bowlers, been named first-team All-Pro five times and is ninth in career interceptions with 57. The 2004 AP Defensive Player of the Year, Reed is the record-holder for longest interception return in NFL history, 108 yards.

The 2002 NFL Draft also had Clinton Portis (No. 51) and Brian Westbrook (No. 91) taken in the second and third rounds, respectively.

Busts: Besides Carr and Harrington, other first-round picks that didn’t exactly work out included defensive tackle Ryan Sims (Chiefs – No. 6), running back William Green (Browns – No. 16), wide receiver Ashely Lelie (Broncos – No. 19), and quarterback Patrick Ramsey (Redskins – No. 32).

Sleepers: The Steelers and the Ravens both found hidden gems among the undrafted free agents as the Steelers signed James Harrison and the Ravens brought in Bart Scott. Harrison was the 2008 AP Defensive Player of the Year, while Scott was a key member of the Ravens’ defense, which consistently ranked among the NFL’s best, for seven seasons.

Part 2: 2003-07 NFL Drafts

— by Mark Ross, published on April 23, 2012

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades
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
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports takes a look back at some recent NFL drafts to see which picks worked out and which ones didn't</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 06:58
Path: /college-football/clemson-or-florida-state-which-team-wins-acc-atlantic-2012
Body:

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown 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.

Clemson or Florida State: Which Team Wins the ACC Atlantic in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Both programs are reliving the same story each season. Even in a year when it won the ACC, Clemson still had an inexplicable late season swoon and an even more shocking loss in the bowl game. In Tallahassee, another season went by without Florida State turning the corner back into a national contender. I’m inclined to believe Florida State is more likely to win the Atlantic and reclaim ACC dominance. The Seminoles not only had a rash of injuries early last season, including quarterback E.J. Manuel, they allowed the loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 17 turn into three losses. So much emphasis was put on the game against the Sooners, that the loss to Oklahoma, combined with all the injuries, seemed to throw Florida State into disarray early. Clemson’s lapses were more unforgivable. The offense fell apart in October and November, and the defense bottomed out in the bowl game. I’ll take Florida State to rebound from its bad luck. Both Clemson and Florida State will be good teams, but I’ll pick the Seminoles in this one.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The traditional belief that defense wins championships tends to hold true in college football. In that sense, the Florida State Seminoles have a clear advantage over the Clemson Tigers. The Noles defense returns nine starters from the ACC's top unit and claim a potpourri of star-studded recruits — both freshman, redshirt freshman and sophomores — stepping into bigger roles this fall. Most importantly, FSU boasts one of the best secondaries in the nation, something required to even attempt to stop the Tajh Boyd-Sammy Watkins-DeAndre Hopkins high-octane passing attack.

The Tigers can score point in bunches, but as fans saw in the second half of the season, it couldn't stop anyone. And it led to one of the worst collapses in the nation last fall. In four losses down the stretch, Clemson allowed 43 points per game. In seven conference games against non-Virginia Tech competition, Dabo Swinney's bunch allowed 31.9 points per game. If Boyd and company want to repeat as ACC champions, new coordinator Brent Venables must produce dramatic improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

From a scheduling standpoint, Florida State hosts the all important head-to-head battle that was decided by only five points last fall in Death Valley. With a fully healthy EJ Manuel, and improved skill talent on offense, I will take Florida State to win the Atlantic Division. Clemson and Florida State are clearly the most talented teams in this half of the ACC, but don't be surprised if NC State, who crushed Clemson 37-13 last fall, impacts this race in a big way.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The overriding question in the ACC over the last few years has been: Is this the year Florida State returns to national prominence? The Seminoles have won 19 games over the last two years, but still hasn’t emerged as a threat to win the national title. Clemson has had its own issues of underachieving, but finally broke through to win the ACC Atlantic last season. The Tigers have the necessary pieces to win the division once again in 2012, but a reworked offensive line and the defense are huge question marks.

There’s not much separating Clemson and Florida State in the Atlantic, but I give a slight edge to the Seminoles. Florida State’s defense is starting to build some impressive depth in the trenches, and the secondary has two solid corners in Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes. Virginia Tech’s defense is strong, but I think Florida State’s will be the best in the ACC. The biggest question mark for the Seminoles is on the other side of the ball and finding ways to rejuvenate an offense that ranked 77th nationally in yards per game last year. With EJ Manuel and a talented group of receivers returning, Florida State should have one of the top passing attacks in the ACC. However, the offensive line and rushing attack remains an issue.

Although I think Florida State will win the division, there’s a lot to like about Clemson. The offensive firepower is impressive, but how will the line respond with three new starters? The defense loses four key contributors from the line, but the back seven should be in good shape. The biggest obstacle for the Tigers to overcome could be the Sept. 22 date in Tallahassee. With a young offensive line still coming together, Florida State’s defensive front is not what Clemson needs to see early in the year.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think Florida State will surpass Clemson in the Atlantic this season because of the talent and depth of the Seminoles defense. From the middle of October to the bowl victory over Notre Dame, the FSU defense performed at an elite level and that momentum should carry into this year. Senior quarterback EJ Manuel found some weapons last year in freshmen Devonta Freeman and Rashad Greene, and that talented duo should put up more points as sophomores. Clemson will flourish on offense with quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, but the Tigers did lose three starters on the offensive line. The defense is a concern once again, so former Oklahoma coordinator Brent Venables faces a tough challenge in his first Clemson season. Most of the back seven returns, but linemen Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson will be missed. The Tigers will challenge ACC defenses, but I see Florida State as the more complete team and the one that will advance to Charlotte.

Where will Clemson and Florida State finish in the 2012 ACC standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

Related ACC Content

Who Will Challenge Virginia Tech in the ACC Coastal in 2012?
ACC Running Back Rankings for 2012

ACC Quarterback Rankings for 2012

ACC Head Coach Rankings for 2012

College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Clemson or Florida State: Which Team Wins ACC Atlantic in 2012?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 06:57
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-football-how-will-mountaineers-fare-big-12
Body:

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

How Will West Virginia Fare in the Big 12 in 2012?

Tony Dobies, BlueGoldNews.com (@DOBIEST on Twitter)
Many people look past some of the statistics when evaluating West Virginia’s high-powered offense. Sure, the Mountaineers put up 70 points vs. Clemson in the Orange Bowl, but realistically it was underwhelming throughout the 2011 regular season. While the talent is there, more talent is waiting on Big 12 defenses, and it will be key for the Mountaineers’ best playmakers to stand out. West Virginia’s new defensive scheme is better suited for many Big 12 offenses that it will face. The biggest question to me is how WVU’s defensive talent will stand up to Big 12. The Mountaineers have proven in the past in BCS games and regular season games vs. teams like Auburn and LSU that it can keep up in a one-game situation. But, will that change in an entirely new league? WVU could have some troubles there. I see West Virginia with a legitimate chance at winning the Big 12 title in its first year; it has a better chance than many of the other teams who switched conferences a year ago, because the Mountaineers have true Big 12 ties on its coaching staff. However, the overall depth and talent might not be there yet. A top-three finish in the conference is expected, and I’d say that’s what will happen. But, there isn’t a team in the Big 12 that would finish in the bottom half of the Big East. This up in competition will give WVU trouble.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
West Virginia is built for quick success in the Big 12, just how quick is the question. A former assistant at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen knows the territory. As does his new defensive coordinator from Oklahoma State, Joe DeForest. Behind quarterback Geno Smith and his stable of returning receivers, West Virginia is ready to move up and down the field like a Big 12 team. The Mountaineers could lead the league in a handful of offensive categories. However, while West Virginia has the personnel to finish in the top three in the Big 12, I’m a believer that a conference move can trip up any good team. Just consider Nebraska and its loss at home to Northwestern last season. As well as Holgorsen and his staff know the league, all those new venues and new matchups could catch up with the players. I wouldn’t be shocked if West Virginia looks like a Big 12 champion one week, but ends up on the wrong end of an upset in its first trip to Texas Tech or Iowa State.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
You have to have offense to succeed in the Big 12 and West Virginia has a coal mine full of explosives on that side of the ball. In Geno Smith and his wideouts, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, Dana Holgorsen has arguably the best QB-WR combination in the conference. And Holgorsen has experience in the Big 12 at both Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, so he should be able to ease his team into the new conference on a day-to-day operational standpoint. That said, winning the Big East and winning the Big 12 are totally different obstacles. The step-up in competition will require not only a high-flying offense but power and strength in the trenches and on defense. Both the offensive and defensive lines will be key question marks heading into conference play this fall.

The schedule is intriguing for the Mountaineers and their bid to return to a BCS bowl bid. The first four games are winnable and are at home in Morgantown, so the Mounties should be unblemished heading into their toughest road test of the season in Austin. Key swing games against Kansas State and TCU come at home and West Virginia should be favored in two important road trips to Texas Tech and Iowa State (strange things tend to happen in Ames and Lubbock). This leaves the state of Oklahoma as the deciding factor for WVU in back-to-back weekends in mid-November. Holgorsen will visit his former employer in Stillwater before hosting the conference favorite in the Sooners. The Mountaineers must win at least one of those games, without slipping up anywhere else, in order to get to 10 wins.

West Virginia will find it tough to defeat Texas and Oklahoma. But if it can beat the teams it is supposed to (Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas State, TCU) and pull-off an upset (at Oklahoma State), a 10-win season isn't out of the question. However, if the offensive line can't get movement and the defense doesn't show improvement, the Mounties will fall victim to at least one or two tough losses along the way. I will go with 9-3 for the Mountaineers first romp through the Big 12 — a record WVU fans should probably be proud and excited about as it heads into a much tougher conference.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Although Oklahoma is the preseason favorite to win the Big 12, I think the conference is more open than some may believe. The Sooners are vulnerable and Texas is still rebuilding, which gives West Virginia a chance to contend in its first season in the Big 12. The Mountaineers finished last season on a high note, scoring 70 points in the bowl rout over Clemson. The offense returns plenty of firepower, including quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. However, the offensive line and rushing attack is a concern. The Big 12 is an offensive-minded conference, so there’s little doubt West Virginia will be able to adapt to its new league without much of an issue. If the Mountaineers want to beat Oklahoma and Texas for the conference crown, the defense has to adapt to life in the Big 12. West Virginia returns six starters, but has to replace ends Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin, along with cornerback Keith Tandy and linebacker Najee Goode. The Mountaineers are also changing schemes, but new co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest comes from Oklahoma State and his experience in the Big 12 should help West Virginia transition from the Big East.

Although West Virginia might have the best offensive trio (Smith, Austin and Bailey), I have concerns about the offensive line and how the defense will hold up in the new league. The schedule features road trips to Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, while the Mountaineers host Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma. Any time a team transitions to a new league, there’s always a game that ends up as a surprise loss. I think West Virginia will be in the mix for the Big 12 title, but will fall short and likely finish third behind Texas and Oklahoma.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think the Mountaineers will hit the ground running — actually, passing — in their new league. Many times when a school moves into a tougher conference, the week-in, week-out grind can be quite the challenge. However West Virginia’s transition will not be as severe having played in a BCS conference and having a top passing offense with veteran leaders. Senior quarterback Geno Smith and elite receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will continue to put up big points in the pass-happy Big 12, and head coach Dana Holgorsen has a familiarity with the league from his time at Oklahoma State. The WVU defense has some questions with the loss of top players like defensive end Bruce Irvin, linebacker Najee Goode and cornerback Keith Tandy, so new coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson will have their work cut out. That being said, I see West Virginia finishing the regular season with nine or 10 wins and challenging Oklahoma and Texas for the Big 12 supremacy.

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

Related Big 12 Content

How Will TCU Fare in the Big 12 in 2012?
Big 12 Running Back Rankings for 2012

Big 12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012

Can Kansas State Repeat Last Season's Success?

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

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

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

Teaser:
<p> West Virginia Football: How Will Mountaineers Fare in the Big 12?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 06:54
Path: /college-basketball/7-coaching-replacements-seth-greenberg-virginia-tech
Body:

Virginia Tech has fired men's basketball coach Seth Greenberg after nine seasons with the Hokies. With that news, we compiled a list of possible replacements to take over in Blacksburg.

 

Blaine Taylor, head coach, Old Dominion

Taylor has a 378–192 record as a head coach, with stops at Montana (1991-98) and Old Dominion (2001-current). He has built ODU into a consistent winner in the competitive Colonial Athletic Association, with nine straight winning league seasons. He made the NCAA Tournament in 2005, ’10, ’11 with the Monarchs.

 

 

Jeff Capel, assistant coach, Duke

Capel enjoyed a successful four-year run as the head coach at VCU from 2002-06, guiding the Rams to a record of 50–22 in CAA games and a berth in the 2004 NCAA Tournament. He then served as the head coach at Oklahoma, recording an overall mark of 96–69 from 2006-11.

 

Dino Gaudio, analyst, ESPN

Gaudio was fired after three seasons at Wake Forest in 2010 despite an overall record of 61–31 and an ACC mark of 27–21. He also has experience as a head coach at Army (1993-97) and Loyola (Md.) (1998-00). Gaudio is an outstanding recruiter.

 

Ron Hunter, head coach, Georgia State

Hunter did a great job in his first season at Georgia State, improving the Panthers from 6–12 in the Colonial in 2011 to 11–7 in ’12. Previously, he served as the head coach at IUPUI for 17 seasons, overseeing the school’s move from the NAIA ranks to Division I Independent to member of the Summit League. IUPUI went 98–56 over 10 years in the Summit during Hunter’s tenure.

 

Scott Sutton, head coach, Oral Roberts

The son of former Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton has put up gaudy numbers in 13 years at Oral Roberts. His record in the Summit League is 163­–59, including a 17–1 mark this season. ORU has made three trips to the NCAA Tournament on Sutton’s watch.

 

Orlando Antigua, assistant coach, Kentucky

Antigua joined John Calipari’s staff in 2008-09 at Memphis and made the move to Kentucky, where is he is completing his third season. He has no experience as a head coach, but his status as one of Calipari’s top recruiters will make him a candidate for some head coaching positions in the near future.

 

Dan Muller, assistant coach, Vanderbilt

Muller, a 1998 graduate of Illinois State, recently completed his 12th season on Kevin Stallings’ staff at Vanderbilt. He was reportedly in the mix for head coaching vacancies at Mississippi State, Miami (Ohio), Southern Illinois and Stanford following the ’11-12 season. Muller serves as the Commodores’ recruiting coordinator.  

--Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)

Teaser:
<p> A look at possible coaching fits for the Hokies basketball program.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 17:50
Path: /nascar/denny-hamlin-wins-stp-400-kansas
Body:

It seemed a formality that once Martin Truex Jr. had fended off a vicious challenge from Jimmie Johnson that Michael Waltrip Racing would score its first Sprint Cup Series win since 2010.

Truex had led 173 laps and seemed on virtual cruise control as the laps ticked away in the STP 400 from Kansas Speedway. He pulled away for chunks of laps at a time after green flag pit stops — 45, 81 and 43 consecutive laps led on successive occasions — separating himself from the runner-up competitor by whole seconds.

Then, with about 35 laps to go, something happened to Truex’s Toyota.

According to team co-owner Michael Waltrip, the sun came out and changed the track, loosening up the car. Truex, however, was unhappy with the last set of tires that he reckoned did not agree with his machine.

Whatever the reason, a charging Denny Hamlin caught Truex and got by shortly after the final round of green flag pit stops to score his second win of the season.

Hamlin’s race-winning pass came on lap 237 of 267, and despite a last-ditch banzai effort with three laps remaining by Truex to reclaim the lead, the aero advantage Hamlin enjoyed carried him to the win.

“I knew that the only advantage that I had is when his (Truex’s) car got so loose that last run, I was able to make up a lot of time on entry and a lot of time on exit (in and out of the corners) because he was really fighting his car,” Hamlin said. “So really, as the driver behind, you can manipulate his car and make it worse for him by getting up close to him — and that’s what I kind of did a few laps leading up to when we passed him, is that I tried to run as close up to him on entry as I could and as close on exit. It takes away rear grip, and to a car that was as loose as what his was, they have no choice really but to back off and not wreck their car.”

The win at the 1.5-mile intermediate oval was somewhat of a surprise, in that Hamlin’s best finish on a comparable track this season was 11th.

“We just need to make 10 race cars just like this one and we’ll be fine,” Hamlin said. “There’s always things, areas that you need to work in. We feel like we’ve identified those areas and we’ve gone to work on them.

“So right now I feel like we’re bringing better race cars to the racetrack than what we have, and it’s still going to take time.

As for Truex, he and crew chief Chad Johnston continue to knock on Victory Lane’s door. Six of his finishes have been eighth or better this season and he has yet to finish outside of the top 20. That performance — he has averaged a 4.8-place finish in the last five races — places him second in the Sprint Cup point standings.

“The NAPA team was phenomenal today,” Truex said. “Just not really sure what to think about that last set of tires. (The) car had been really good all day, (then we) put the last set on and I was wrecking loose for the first 20 laps of that last run and Denny was able to get by me and once he did the race was over.

“(The) car got better longer in the run and I was able to get back to him, but I’d get three, four car lengths from him and pick up the aero push.”

Johnson held on for third after pit strategy forced him to climb out of a late-race hole. Matt Kenseth and points-leader Greg Biffle rounded out the top 5.


by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter:
@MattTaliaferro
 

Teaser:
<p> Denny Hamlin passed Martin Truex Jr. with 30 laps remaining to win the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 17:30
Path: /mlb/baseballs-players-week-hamilton-freeman
Body:

 

Each week Athlon Sports looks back at the previous week's best baseball players in the American and National leagues, and recaps the most outstanding pitching performances. Here are last week's—April 16-22—standouts.

AL Player of the Week

Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers

The Rangers’ bats have been lively this season, to say the least, and Hamilton is leading the charge. Last week he hit .462 with a 1.324 OPS. He had three home runs, 11 RBIs and scored five times.

 

AL Pitcher of the Week

Phil Humber, Chicago White Sox

As if a perfect game weren’t enough, Humber put together two good starts last week, with an 0.63 ERA and WHIP. He pitched the 21st perfect game in major league history, and now has one complete game in his career. In fact, that was the first time he had ever pitched into the ninth inning.

 

NL Player of the Week

Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves are hot. With Michael Bourn getting on base and running, Freeman is enjoying hitting with runners in scoring position. Last week, Freeman drove home 14 runs with his .478 average. He hit three homers and five doubles.

 

NL Pitcher of the Week

Cory Luebke, San Diego Padres

Luebke has been one bright spot for the Padres this season. He won both starts last week, tossing 15 innings and allowing just eight hits and three walks. He struck out nine and posted an ERA of 0.60.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports looks back at the previous week's best baseball players.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 16:23
Path: /mlb/2012-major-league-baseball-power-rankings-april-23
Body:

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

 1. Rangers—Josh Hamilton early MVP candidate.

 2. Dodgers—Mark Ellis is proving to be a nice offseason acquisition.

 3. Yankees—Yanks rained homers on Boston’s weekend parade.

 4. Tigers—Justin Verlander was only answer for powerful Texas offense.

 5. Cardinals—Won first five three-game series of the year.

 6. Nationals—Rotation is best in baseball right now.

 7. Blue Jays—Part of logjam in AL East.

 8. Braves—Michael Bourn and Freddie Freeman getting it done.

 9. Diamondbacks—Won’t face Dodgers until mid-May.

10. Rays—Pitchers prepping for vaunted Rangers offense this weekend.

11. Indians—Hafner and Hannahan hitting above .340; teammates, .221.

12. Phillies—Only the Pirates have scored fewer runs.

13. Reds—Team batting average mired at .223.

14. Brewers—Only team to take a series from the Dodgers.

15. Angels—Better batting average than opponents, but fewer runs.

16. Rockies—Won three series in a row.

17. Giants—Buster Posey hitting his way into MVP talk.

18. White Sox—Perseverance pays off for humble Humber.

19. Marlins—Last four losses by one or two runs.

20. Orioles—Toronto, Chicago, Los Angeles trip yielded a 6-4 record.

21. Red Sox—On the outside looking in at four-team division race.

22. Mets—Of the four NLers hitting above .370, two play for the Mets.

23. A’s—Scored fewest runs in American League.

24. Mariners—Can M’s get Felix Hernandez any runs?

25. Pirates—A.J. Burnett gave Bucs huge lift on Saturday.

26. Astros—Closer Brett Myers becoming valuable trade bait.

27. Cubs—Cubs have just five homers through 16 games.

28. Padres—Opponents are slugging just .316 at Petco Park.

29. Twins—Only Boston has allowed more runs.

30. Royals—Lost first nine games at home.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's weekly look at baseball's best and worst teams</p>
Post date: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 12:03
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-apr-23
Body:

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

After roughly three weeks of a fantasy baseball action, I will take this time this morning to provide my annual piece of early season fantasy roto advice:

Don't panic.

It is still very, very early on and a GM can easily get jittery about highly drafted, punchless players. Albert Pujols is still going to hit plenty of dingers and eat plenty of ribeye steaks. Jose Reyes is going to hit better than .230/.671 and still swipe plenty of bags. Giancarlo Stanton is still going to hit plenty of bombs. Robinson Cano is going to go on a tear and raise his average from .242 to something near .300 very soon.

So don't panic.

As we saw this weekend, it is only a matter time for the proven commodities to turn it on. Evan Longoria raised his average from .289 to .339, doubled his RBI total (7 to 14) and tripled his HR numbers in only four games. In his last six games, Mark Teixeira went from .188 with zero long balls and only one RBI to .288 with 11 ribbies and three home runs in six games. Mike Napoli, in his last seven games, went from batting .100 to .286 — and hit six home runs with 11 RBIs.

So don't panic.

Here are your current Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters:

  Name Pos. Team R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Matt Kemp OF LAD 17 9 22 1 .450 1.467
2. Josh Hamilton OF TEX 15 7 17 1 .418 1.214
3. Chris Young OF ARI 8 5 13 2 .410 1.397
4. Derek Jeter SS NYY 12 4 12 0 .382 1.029
5. Adam Jones OF BAL 12 5 8 4 .303 .954
6. Chase Headley* 3B SD 14 4 13 2 .293 1.035
7. Ian Kinsler 2B TEX 16 4 11 2 .284 .982
8. Carlos Beltran OF STL 13 5 8 3 .298 .964
9. Edwin Encarnacion 1B/3B TOR 9 4 13 3 .323 .981
10. Josh Willingham OF MIN 10 5 12 1 .328 1.090
11. Curtis Granderson OF NYY 14 6 10 0 .279 1.003
12. Evan Longoria 3B TB 11 3 14 1 .339 1.036
13. Starlin Castro SS CHC 9 0 8 7 .365 .889
14. Nolan Reimold* OF BAL 9 5 10 1 .370 1.166
15. Michael Young 1B/2B/3B CHC 9 2 12 1 .403 .963
16. Mike Napoli C/1B TEX 10 6 13 0 .286 1.041
17. Andre Ethier OF LAD 8 4 21 0 .279 .923
18. Yoenis Cespedes OF OAK 7 4 15 4 .255 .873
19. Jordan Schafer* OF ATL 13 2 7 6 .263 .741
20. David Ortiz UTL BOS 9 2 12 0 .436 1.166
21. Michael Bourn OF ATL 12 0 4 7 .338 .834
22. Hanley Ramirez 3B/SS MIA 10 4 12 3 .263 .873
23. Nick Swisher 1B/OF NYY 7 4 20 0 .283 .954
24. Miguel Cabrera 1B/3B DET 12 4 12 0 .290 .857
25. Freddie Freeman 1B ATL 12 3 15 0 .283 .851

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Post-Hype Sleepers

Kansas City's Alex Gordon defined the term "post-hype" last fall with a career year. Each year there are a number of names who were once untouchable top-tier prospects turned near-bust who actually realize their potential. Through three weeks of action, there are plenty of names to snap off the waiver wire. Baltimore's Nolan Reimold was drafted in the second round of the 2005 draft and in three MLB seasons (roughly 77 games per year), has averaged 10 homers and five stolen bases per year with a career .256 average. He has found a new home atop the batting order — he has a career-best .324 BA as a lead-off man — and has delivered a juciy .370/1.166 line thus far. There is no reason for him to be on your waiver wire. If he could just stay healthy...

Houston's Jordan Schafer could provide serious help to a team in need of stolen bases — he has six swipes in eight attempts — and runs scored. San Diego's Chase Headley is the top-rated third-sacker in the game at the moment and could provide production in all five categories. Even Toronto's Colby Rasmus is off to a solid start — his three homers in 15 games matched his total in 35 games with the Jays last fall. Always keep an eye on once highly-touted prospects who have been traded to new teams.

DL Watch

-Adrian Beltre left Game 1 of the Rangers' double-header against Detroit on Saturday with a strained left hamstring. He is scheduled to undergo an MRI later today.

-B.J. Upton returned to the Rays line-up and wen 0-for-3. He should quickly move up the line-up card once he gets back into the swing of things. 

-Justin Upton escaped a trip to the DL with his thumb injury, and got back on the field this weekend. He went 1-for-6 with one walk and a double. It should only be a matter of time for J-Up.

-Chris Young is out until at least early May but Gerrado Parra isn't. He smacked a grand salami and went 2-for-4 with a stolen base on Sunday.

-Brandon Phillips is questionable for his Tuesday game against the Giants with a hamstring issue.

-Omar Infante is questionable for his Tuesday start against the Mets with a shoulder issue.

-Ryan Zimmerman is questionable for his Tuesday start against the Padres with a shoulder issue.

Bean-Town Bashers

Looking for spot-start hitters this week? This may sound crazy but the Twins and White Sox might be the best place to look. Yes, the Sox played two of the best offenses in the league in Texas and the Yankees, but Boston is in complete disarray. Nevermind the second-worst record in the AL (4-10), the Red Sox own the worst team ERA in the majors at 6.68 through 124.0 innings. The team BAA of .297 and the 26 home runs allowed also "pace" the majors. The bullpen has been especially atrocious as Alfredo Aceves' ERA sits at 24.00, Mark Melancon has been optioned to the minors and Justin Thomas (7.71), Vicente Padilla (9.82) and Franklin Morales (6.35) have been wildly ineffective.

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are obvious starts, but so is Denard Span, Josh Willingham and possibly even Danny Valencia. Later in the week, however, is where the real money can be made. The White Sox have provided some sneaky waiver wire adds this year in the form of lead-off man Alejandro De Aza, rejuvinated on-baser Adam Dunn and catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Toss in Alex Rios (.333/.907) and the Southsiders could produce some big numbers against against Felix Doubront, Daniel Bard, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett in a four-game home series. 

Keep a very big eye on Bard's role on this team. With the bullpen issues, Bard could very easily slip back into the ninth inning and close out games in Boston.

Current Top 25 fantasy pitchers:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Kyle Lohse STL 27.1 3 0 16 0 0.99 0.66
2. Justin Verlander DET 31.1 2 0 31 0 1.72 0.80
3. Jered Weaver LAA 29.2 3 0 28 0 2.43 0.78
4. Roy Halladay PHI 30.0 3 0 19 0 1.50 0.90
5. Stephen Strasburg WAS 25.0 2 0 25 0 1.08 0.92
6. Lance Lynn* STL 19.0 3 0 17 0 1.42 0.74
7. Matt Cain SF 24.0 1 0 19 0 1.87 0.50
8. Aroldis Chapman* CIN 10.0 2 0 18 0 0.00 0.48
9. Bartolo Colon* OAK 27.1 3 0 19 0 2.63 0.80
10. Javy Guerra LAD 8.1 1 7 10 0 2.16 0.84
11. Brandon Beachy ATL 19.1 2 0 14 0 0.47 0.88
12. Fernando Rodney TB 7.1 1 5 7 0 2.16 0.84
13. Phillip Humber* CHW 14.1 1 0 16 0 0.63 0.63
14. Ross Detwiler* WAS 16.0 2 0 15 0 0.56 0.94
15. Matt Harrison* TEX 21.2 3 0 13 0 1.66 0.97
16. Luis Perez* TOR 10.0 2 0 12 0 0.00 0.70
17. Jake Peavy* CHW 19.2 2 0 21 0 2.75 0.81
18. Colby Lewis TEX 26.2 2 0 24 0 2.02 1.05
19. Grant Balfour OAK 10.0 0 4 6 0 0.90 0.50
20. Jim Johnson BAL 7.2 0 7 6 0 0.00 1.30
21. Duane Below* DET 10.0 2 0 7 0 0.00 0.70
22. Clayton Kershaw LAD 22.1 1 0 22 0 1.61 1.03
23. Johnny Cueto CIN 25.1 2 0 19 0 1.78 1.11
24. Cliff Lee PHI 23.0 0 0 18 0 1.96 0.70
25. Felix Hernandez SEA 29.1 1 0 31 0 2.76 1.02

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

The Disabled List

The veritable who's who in this top 25 is fairly predictable. Verlander, Weaver, Halladay, Strasburg and Cain are pretty good. But the hottest name on the mound these days is the Disabled List. The Phillies' Cliff Lee was placed on the 15-day DL on Saturday after straining his left oblique in the 10th inning of his memorable scoreless duel with Matt Cain. Philadelphia will play it very safe with Lee so expect him to miss 3-4 starts. Arizona might be in worse shape with Daniel Hudson. The young right-hander was dropped onto the 15-day DL on Sunday with right shoulder impingement. Shoulders are much scarier than obliques so monitor this situation very closely. The Yankees' Michael Pineda lasted only 15 pitches in an extended spring training game before being totally shut down. His shoulder pain, which has kept him out since March 30, should be very concerning to fantasy and real GMs alike. 

Additionally, Josh Johnson of the Marlins and Tim Lincecum of the Giants are worthy of heavy scrutiny in the DL department. Johnson and The Freak have not gotten off to the starts they want. Johnson has eight strikeouts in 16.2 innings with no wins and a 5.94/2.04 line. Lincecum has a solid K-rate with 16 whiffs in 13.2 innings. However, he has allowed no fewer than five runs in each of this three starts. Both got rained out on Sunday and Lincecum is scheduled to pitch in Game 1 of today's Giants-Mets double-header. Johnson is scheduled to pitch against the Mets in New York on Tuesday. Keep an eye on both of these delicate arms this week.

Hitting Nats

When a pitcher is on, he can "hit gnats" with his pitches. Conversely, no one can hit the Nats' starting rotation at the moment. Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman have been stellar. Edwin Jackson has also been solid in the early going and will get the coveted Petco Park draw on Wednesday. Lefty post-hyper Ross Detwiler is worth an add this week as well. He has been stellar in three starts and will head to the pitcher-friendly mound in Dodger Stadium. With six games on the west coast, the Nats should provide plenty of pitching value this week.

Waiver Wire Starts This Week

1. Chris Sale, White Sox: At Oakland (Wed.) Stats: 18.0 IP, 2 W, 21 K, 3.50/1.22
2. Ubaldo Jimanez, Indians: Kansas City (Thur.) Stats: 18.0 IP, 2 W, 11 K, 4.00/1.50
3. Ted Lilly, Dodgers: Atlanta (Wed.) Stats: 13.0 IP, 2 W, 9 K, 0.69/1.00
4. Henderson Alvarez, Toronto: Seattle (Sun.) Stats: 19.1 IP, 8 K, 4.66/1.03
5. Edwin Jackson, Washington: San Diego (Thur.) Stats: 19.0 IP, W, 20 K, 4.26/0.84

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

-by Braden Gall

 @bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: Apr. 23</p>
Post date: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 11:13
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-draft-busts-ryan-tannehill-and-dontari-poe
Body:

The NFL Draft is a potpourri of optimism, dreams come true, paydays and new beginnings for fans, players, agents, coaches and General Managers.

It can also be a horrific nightmare.

Like any other act in life, there are some who are better than others at evaluating, scouting and drafting NFL talent. For those who can’t hack it in the big leagues, failed first-round draft picks can cost you a seven-figure paycheck in short order. And can set playoff-starved franchises back years, both competitively and financially.

Yes, the new rookie wage scale has lessened the pressure to hit a home run with every early draft pick in the war room. And constructing a championship-caliber team in the NFL is much more than simply drafting well in the first round. But to keep one of those 32 general manager jobs under The Shield, one has to avoid the word “bust” at all costs.

Just ask the Cleveland Browns, who at one point selected Craig Powell, Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren, William Green and Jeff Faine in six consecutive first rounds (1995, 1999-2003). Those six picks, four of which were top 16 picks, played an average of 3.6 seasons in a Browns uniform and none played more than five years in Cleveland.

The Browns have played in one playoff game since 1995.

While it is impossible to conduct a perfect draft every year, it seems virtually impossible to perform as ineptly as the Browns did over that six-draft span. Yet, each and every year some ridiculously highly paid decision maker sends a card to the commissioner with a name like Tony Mandarich or JaMarcus Russell stamped on it. There is no doubt that technology and the media have honed this inexact science into a much more predictable pastime, but that doesn’t mean that Darrius Heyward-Bey isn’t sometimes selected (well) before Jeremy Maclin, Hakeem Nicks, Mike Wallace, Kenny Britt, Percy Harvin, Michael Crabtree or Austin Collie.

So who is this year’s Vernon Gholston?

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M (6-4, 221)
Rumored Upside: No. 3, Miami Dolphins

Right now, the worst-case scenario for late-riser Ryan Tannehill appears to be the No. 8 overall pick, which belongs to the Miami Dolphins. And if Miami feels that someone might snake the Texas A&M quarterback prior to the eighth pick, it could easily move up to No. 3 and make it three straight quarterbacks to start.

This would, of course, forever link Andrew Luck, the best quarterback prospect since John Elway, Robert Griffin III, Baylor’s first-ever Heisman Trophy winner, and, wait for it, Ryan Tannehill.

Which one doesn’t belong?

Tannehill is a tremendous athlete. He has a rare combination of size and speed for a quarterback that allowed him to provide solid production as a wide receiver for the Aggies. He left College Station with 112 receptions, 1,596 yards and 10 scores as a pass catcher. Midway through his junior season, however, the now-fired Mike Sherman turned to Tannehill to quarterback his team. His ability to quickly adapt to a new and very difficult position is a credit to his work ethic and athletic ability.

It doesn’t mean he can lead a winning NFL franchise. Or complete key fourth-quarter, third-down passes against the Patriots.

Needless to say, with only 19 starts under his belt, a 12-7 record as a starter and 21 career interceptions, Tannehill is a total project. Luck and Griffin III are as sure-fire as quarterback prospects get and the drop-off to the converted wide receiver is severe.

Scouts and GMs can’t argue the production. He threw for 283 yards per game in those 19 starts and chucked 42 touchdowns strikes. But who did he do it against? The Big 12 had one defense, Texas, ranked in the Top 50 nationally. By comparison, the SEC claimed five of the top eight defenses in the country. The Big 12 didn’t have a single defense rank in the top 30 in scoring defense. By comparison, the SEC had seven in the top 30. All but three Big 12 teams allowed more than 25 points per game last fall.

Certainly, there is some chicken-and-egg factor with those stats. Is it poor defense or great offense in the Big 12? And the SEC traditionally struggles at the quarterback position while the Big 12 is loaded with talent under center. But Seth Doege of Texas Tech had more yards, a better completion percentage, was more efficient and threw fewer interceptions than Tannehill for a much worse team against essentially the exact same schedule.

One of the biggest concerns surrounding the Aggies' signal caller should be his inability to win games in the second half. Certainly, the defense and coaching staff deserves plenty of blame for Texas A&M's horrific second-half performances in 2011, but so does the leader and most important player on the field. Texas A&M led at halftime in 11 of their 13 games last fall and trailed only once all year at the break (Oklahoma). The Aggies had a 17-point halftime lead over Oklahoma State and Arkansas before being outscored 52 to 12 in the second frame. TAMU lost both games. They led by 11 over Missouri and nine over Texas at the half before being outscored by a combined 41 to 12 in the second half in those two losses. And three of those four losses came at home.

Iowa State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma all outscored the Aggies in the second half as well. The defense gets its share of the guilt, but a truly great quarterback simply doesn’t allow his team to choke this often in the second half. Not with that much talent around you and not against those lowly defenses.

Miami fans have endured 16 starting quarterbacks since No. 13 stepped aside. Damon Huard, Ray Lucas, Sage Rosenfels, Cleo Lemon, Tyler Thigpen and John Beck are just the tip of the depressing iceberg. Hitching the future of the franchise to Tannehill will only continue the need for Zoloft in South Florida.

This was a 6-10 team a year ago that played much better football in the second half of the season. They could use a safety (Mark Barron), linebacker (Luke Kuechly) or wide receiver (Michael Floyd) as well as more support along the offensive line (Riley Reiff). With the depth of this year’s quarterback class, the Dolphins should pass on Tannehill in the first round. Barron is the safest bet and will make the biggest immediate impact. Or target a wide receiver with the first pick and pull a Cincinnati Bengals and take the quarterback in the second round.

Kirk Cousins, who is eerily similar to Andy Dalton in nearly every way, or Brandon Weeden have just as good a chance to be a starting NFL quarterback as Tannehill. Cousins is a natural leader who wins games and has an NFL frame and strong arm. Weeden’s only negative is his age (28) — which makes him more mature and prepared (and married) than any other NFL rookie passer.

Todd McShay, shockingly, wasn’t crazy at all when he stated that Tannehill is a far superior athlete to USC’s Matt Barkley. He is taller, bigger, faster and more athletic in almost every way.

The trouble is, Barkley is a much better quarterback.

Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis (6-3, 346)
Rumored Upside: No. 9 overall, Carolina Panthers

It never fails. Some ripped-up, middle of the road prospect will head to the combine with five career sacks and will leave a projected top 10 pick for all the wrong reasons. This year’s Chris Henry — think Arizona not West Virginia — is Dontari Poe.

What’s not to like? The massive defensive tackle from Memphis looks really, really good in spandex and an E39 T. He tossed up 44 reps on the bench (225 pounds), clocked a sub-5.00 40-time at 346 pounds and showed tremendous agility and foot speed.

Let’s face it, Poe is a stud. When not wearing pads running in a straight line against air.

It doesn’t take a genius to notice his raw athletic ability. But aside from this unrefined talent, Poe brings very little to an NFL roster. At least, not at a first-round price tag.

Just pop in a tape of any Memphis Tigers football game and it won’t take long NOT to notice Poe. Nevermind the fact that the Tigers have produced one of the NCAA’s worst defenses over the last few season — they finished 117th in 2011, 115th in 2010 and 116th in total defense the last three years — Poe hasn’t been productive individually either.

Going up against C-USA linemen, who hardly conjure up images of Matt Kalil, Poe wasn’t even considered one of the top four defensive lineman in his own league last fall. He was voted onto the second-team All-C-USA squad as a junior. He finished tied for 11th in tackles (33), fifth in sacks (1.0) and third in tackles for a loss (8.0) on his own team — a team that went 2-10. He has never had more than 2.0 sacks in a season, which is unacceptable against C-USA competition. He finished his career with 101 total tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss and 5.0 sacks in 35 career games.

Poe gives inconsistent effort, his technique and fundamentals need a lot of polish and his instincts appear to be average. As a part of a team that went 5-31 during his time on campus, there is little about Poe that indicates he should be taken in the first round other than his 40 time, bench reps, height and weight. Despite popular opinion, however, what takes place between August and December on the field matters more than one weekend in February.

Comparisons to Outland Finalist, consensus All-American and Pac-10 Defensive Player of Year Haloti Ngata are laughable.

Every player in the draft has a break-even point of risk and reward. The big fella from Memphis does have plenty of raw physical upside, and if he was available late in the second round, he would probably be worth the risk.

But not at nine overall.

by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades
2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer
2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Positions
2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Draft Busts: Ryan Tannehill and Dontari Poe</p>
Post date: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-draft-sleepers-and-steals
Body:

One could argue that drafting well in the middle rounds is how to win a Super Bowl.

The Packers, Patriots, Steelers and Ravens have made a living by dominating rounds two through four of the NFL Draft and it has paid off with championships. While high-risk, high-reward positions like quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive end and cornerback tend to gravitate to the first round, leadership positions like linebacker, center, running back and safety can be found in abundance in the middle rounds.

The 2012 NFL Draft is no different as there will be plenty of Greg Jennings (Round 2, 2006), Curtis Loftons (Round 2, 2008) and Ryan Kalils (Round 2, 2007) drafted this spring.

Here are the sleepers to keep an eye on come draft day:

David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech (5-9, 206)

While Wilson appears small in stature, his lower body is anything but weak. The former Hokie back has incredible lower body strength that will allow him to survive a heavy workload on the next level. But what makes this compact runner special is his big-play ability. He can rip-off huge chunks of yards in all three phases of the game — rushing, receiving, returning — and will be a three-down back despite his lack of raw size. His running style and burst will remind fans of Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles, yet, Wilson is much stronger and thicker than Charles has ever been.

Wilson led the ACC in rushing and averaged almost six yards per carry on 462 career attempts. Running backs must be special to be first-round picks and Wilson should not be taken that high. But teams are finding great ball-carriers every year in the middle rounds of the draft — try Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner, LeSean McCoy — and Wilson has a chance to be that type of player on the next level.

Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska (6-0, 233)

There is little not to like about this tackling machine. He graduated from powerhouse South Florida high school Miami-Northwestern. Eight of his teammates signed with Miami and he ended up with no offers and landed in junior college. In only two seasons at Nebraska, David posted 285 total tackles, good for fourth all-time in school history. His 152-tackle Big Red debut in 2010 set a single-season Huskers’ record for stops. He has excellent range and will be that coveted sideline-to-sideline stopper that defensive coaches crave. Additionally, David won’t have to come off the field on third downs due to his advanced experience in pass coverage. He is a bit undersized, but makes up for it with toughness and strength.

He has been overlooked his entire career and has done nothing but produce at an elite level. He is a perfect weakside backer in the more traditional 4-3 scheme. If he sneaks into the first round, his value will be realized. If he falls into the second round, he could be a steal for one lucky franchise.

Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State (6-2, 214)

While the measurables — 40 time, bench reps, shuttle time — don’t favor Cousins much, the intangibles and leadership skills are off the charts. He is the winningest, most efficient passer in Michigan State history. He is poised, polish, mature and played in an pro-style attack in college. The arm strength is more than adequate and his ability to command a huddle is only matched by his ability to command a press conference.

The affable leader reminds me a lot of Andy Dalton of TCU. Cousins is the same size, has the same arm strength and a virtually identical mental make-up and collegiate resume. Incredibly productive, efficient, wins games, holds others accountable and makes his teammates better. What more can you ask from a quarterback? The smart signal caller will have a chance to win a starting job if he lands in the right location.

Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State (6-3, 221)

When trying to compare Cousins to Weeden, there are a few small differences. Most notably, the Oklahoma State passer will turn 29 on October. This makes him more mature, more prepared, more grounded and especially more married than most NFL rookie passers. This also means his window for success is shorter. He is a touch bigger than Cousins and possesses a slightly stronger arm. He didn’t play in a pro-style system in college, but the Pokes utilized a power rushing attack within their spread — much like many of the new NFL schemes.

Few have produced at a level that Weeden has as well. He owns essentially every Cowboys’ passing record in the book and led them to their first-ever Big 12 championship. He is a hard-worker and will be focused off the field, but developing his vocal leadership skills would help his case. He is absolutely worth a look late in the second round.

TY Hilton, WR, FIU (5-9, 183)

The smallish slot receiver will always have to overcome his overall lack of strength and size, which has, at times, led to nagging injuries. But get the ball in his hands and he produces. He touched the ball 452 times on offense and special teams over the course of his career and he produced 7,498 all-purpose yards — 498 rushing, 3,531 receiving, 614 punt return, 2,855 kick return. He scored seven times on the ground, 24 times through the air, six times on special teams and even tossed a touchdown back in 2008. In the high-flying modern NFL offensive attack, Hilton is the perfect weapon. He can line up in the slot, contribute in the return game and even carry the ball out of the backfield. There is just too much offense in the NFL right now for this versatile, open-field play-maker to not find a home on a roster and get on the field.

Mychal Kendricks, LB, Cal (5-11, 239)

Not too many resumes come as nice as Kendricks. He is short for his position, but he makes up for it with great speed, fluidity and open-space skill. He can play all over the defense — aka inside, outside, 3-4 and 4-3 — and will be able to cover sideline-to-sideline in both the passing and running games. And when he gets to the ball, he is a quality tackler who rarely misses a takedown. He posted 107 total tackles and 14.5 tackles for a loss en route to his Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors last fall. This, in a league that puts most defenses to shame — see Andrew Luck, Darron Thomas, Brock Osweiler and Nick Foles — Kendricks could be a late second-, early third-round steal this weekend.

Other Names To Watch:

Suspended Ohio State Buckeyes
Wide receiver DeVier Posey (think Hakeem Nicks), running back Daniel Herron (think LaDainian Tomlinson) and Mike Adams (think Jake Long) all have a chance to dramatically outperform their draft status. And it all stems from being suspended the majority of their senior seasons. Each would have likely been all-conference players had they played full seasons in 2011.

Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech (5-10, 180)
Stud ballhawk — 12 interceptions in final two seasons — from DB-U is an elite coverman when healthy. Also a return specialist.

David Molk, OC, Michigan (6-1, 298)
A bit undersized, but was named the top center in the nation last fall. Think Alex Mack.

Bradie Ewing, FB/H-back, Wisconsin (5-11, 239)
Won’t get drafted high but will produce for a long time. Tremendous intangibles as blocker, receiver, runner and leader.

Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma (5-11, 192)
No player has caught more passes in NCAA history (349). Vocal, intelligent, motivated leader fits perfectly into modern slot position.

Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas (5-11, 180)
Nearly identical player to TY Hilton – great return man and slot receiver with speed and elusiveness.

DeQuan Menzie, CB, Alabama (5-10, 195)
Tough-nosed, physical defensive back can cover in both man and zone schemes. A leader and a winner.

Janzen Jackson, S, McNeese State (5-11, 188)
Former troubled Tennessee Vol has elite-level talent but focus remains a question. Loads of upside.

 by Braden Gall

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades
2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer
2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Positions
2012 NFL Draft Busts: Ryan Tannehill and Dontari Poe
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals</p>
Post date: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/georgia-or-south-carolina-sec-easts-best-team-2012
Body:

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown 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.

Georgia or South Carolina: Which Team Will Win the SEC East in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Steve Spurrier must be confident in this year’s team, since he’s bringing some of his old, familiar swagger to interviews. I’d be inclined to agree with him. If Marcus Lattimore is healthy and Connor Shaw is the answer at quarterback, South Carolina is the top team in the SEC East. Shaw accounted for 22 touchdowns (14 passing, eight rushing) in the final eight games with wins over Florida, Clemson and Nebraska. Lattimore was near the top of the Heisman mix before he blew out his knee against Mississippi State. I’m excited to see what the offense can do when both are healthy and on their games. Meanwhile, the defense ranked third in the nation in yards allowed per game. This wasn’t the Alabama or LSU defense, but the Gamecocks were in the discussion for the national No. 3. Spurrier has good reason to be confident -- until he looks at the schedules for Georgia and South Carolina. He’ll have to take his team to LSU and face Arkansas at home. The Razorbacks may be reeling from the Petrino departure, but Tyler Wilson carved up the stout South Carolina defense for a 44-28 win in Fayetteville. Georgia may be just as good a team as South Carolina, but the Bulldogs again have a fortunate schedule that skips Alabama, Arkansas and LSU. In 11 seasons under Mark Richt, Georgia has played the West winner only four times during the regular season. Two of those West champs were Auburn, whom Georgia plays every year. Avoiding the West champ probably happens again this year for Georgia, but the Bulldogs have to visit South Carolina. The division may come down to that game, so I’m going to favor South Carolina in the East.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
For the second straight year the SEC East crown will come down to Georgia and South Carolina. And despite Steve Spurriers' best efforts, overall SEC record will still determine the East champion. Just like 2011, the schedule will likely be the deciding factor. Carolina luckily won the head-to-head last fall and finished 5-0 within the division, but managed to inexplicably stumble to an inferior opponent in Auburn — at home, nonetheless. A trip to Arkansas also ended in ugly fashion for the Cocks, giving them a 1-2 crossover record. Georgia, meanwhile, didn't have to face LSU, Alabama or Arkansas and rolled through its crossover schedule at 3-0, including a 38-point dismantling of the same Auburn team that defeated the Gamecocks.

The schedules are even more lopsided in 2012. Carolina will once against face Arkansas, although the home game against the Hogs got dramatically easier without Bobby Petrino on the sidelines, but adds a road trip to LSU. Georgia will again miss all three western powers and instead faces Ole Miss at home and Auburn on the road. The saving grace for Carolina could be hosting this year's contest with the Dawgs on October 6.

On paper, I like South Carolina. They have a better offensive line, better running game and are just as stout on the defensive side of the ball, especially considering Georgia's pending suspensions. Neither team gets the clear advantage in the coaching department but the Bulldogs gets an edge at the ever-important quarterback position. However, it's hard to see South Carolina — who defeated average Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi State teams by a combined 18 points last year — not losing at least two games in league play this fall. They have to beat Georgia and Arkansas at home without slipping up against any other Eastern Division team to top Georgia (because they won't defeat LSU in Death Valley). And Florida, Tennessee, Missouri and Vanderbilt should all be improved in 2012 from last fall. So I will stick with the defending SEC East champs (for the time being) as the pick to get to Atlanta.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Both Georgia and South Carolina should be among the top 10-15 teams in college football this year, but I have to give a slight edge to Georgia. The Bulldogs are loaded with talent at the skill positions, and quarterback Aaron Murray is back for his junior year. Running back Isaiah Crowell seems more focused than he was last season, which should give him a chance to rush for 1,000 yards. The biggest question on Georgia’s offense is the line. Three key starters are gone, leaving Kenarious Gates, Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee as the most experienced returnees. Sorting out the left tackle and center positions will be the top preseason priority for coach Mark Richt. The defense figures to be one of the SEC’s best with 10 starters returning.

There’s no question Steve Spurrier has South Carolina on the right track to becoming a consistent contender in the SEC East. The Gamecocks have won 20 games over the last two years and now want to take the next step and make a BCS bowl appearance. If quarterback Connor Shaw picks up where he left off last year, South Carolina should easily improve off last season’s ranking of 95th in passing offense. Running back Marcus Lattimore is recovering from a torn ACL, but all indications point to a full return by the fall. The defense has some holes to fill, especially with the departures of linemen Melvin Ingram and Travian Robertson, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Antonio Allen.

Last year’s East title was decided by just a game and another tight race can be expected once again. Georgia has a huge advantage in schedule, especially since they don’t play Alabama, LSU or Arkansas from the West. South Carolina’s crossover schedule features a home date against the Razorbacks and a tough road date against LSU. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Gamecocks beat the Bulldogs in their head-to-head matchup once again, but Georgia wins the division and represents the East in the SEC title game. 

Barrett Sallee, Lead SEC Blogger for Bleacher Report (@BarrettSallee)
This is a tough one because South Carolina is the more talented team, but games at LSU and at home vs. Arkansas make me inclined to pick the Bulldogs. Georgia misses Arkansas, LSU and Alabama from the West, so I think that by virtue of the schedule, Georgia is more likely to wind up playing in the SEC Championship Game. Georgia's defense wasn't on the same level as LSU and Alabama last season, but it was pretty darn close—and they will ride that defense to another solid season.

However, Georgia is facing a trip to Missouri in Week 2 with several starters on defense suspended. If the Tigers top the Bulldogs in Columbia, it will throw the entire division up in the air—and South Carolina will probably find its way to the Georgia Dome.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
This question is a tough one because I’m not sure that the answer lies with the better team. Both teams are very close, but Georgia has to be the favorite based on a better schedule draw on teams from the SEC West. The Bulldogs will face Auburn and Ole Miss, while the Gamecocks have a tougher slate in traveling to LSU and hosting Arkansas. South Carolina may be favored to win the head-to-head matchup against Georgia at Williams-Brice Stadium, but LSU will be a difficult trip and the Razorbacks have beaten Steve Spurrier’s club by double-digits three years in a row. Georgia does have offensive line issues and early suspensions to some top defenders, but Mark Richt’s bunch has an easier path to get back to Atlanta for a second-straight season. South Carolina could be the better team if Connor Shaw picks up where he left off at the end of last year, but I’ll give Georgia and its top defense the slight edge to win the SEC East.

Other SEC Spring Preview Content:

Ranking the SEC's Running Backs for 2012
Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Georgia or South Carolina: Which is the SEC East's Team to Beat in 2012?</p>
Post date: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 08:40
Path: /nfl/biggest-busts-nfl-draft-history
Body:

The biggest busts in recent NFL Draft history — from Tony Mandarich to JaMarcus Russell, and the infamous Mike Mamula, Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith and Charles Rogers swings-and-misses in between.

1989 – 2. Green Bay Packers
Tony Mandarich, LT, Michigan State

Sports Illustrated cursed the roided-up man-child by featuring a shirtless Mandarich on the magazine’s draft issue cover and declaring “The Incredible Bulk” as “the best offensive line prospect ever.”

The larger-than-life 6’6”, 315-pound Mandarich idolized Arnold Schwarzenegger, rocked out with Axl Rose and told David Letterman that he wanted to fight Mike Tyson. And after inking a four-year, $4.4 million rookie deal, Mandarich did become the first $1 million-per-year O-lineman.

But the Mandarich tall tale quickly came crashing down. He has since admitted to a career built on anabolic steroids — Dianabol, Winstrol and Anavar — and demolished by painkillers — Vicodin, Valium, Percocet and Percodan.

It doesn’t help that Mandarich was surrounded by future Hall of Famers — UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman (1. Dallas Cowboys), Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders (3. Detroit Lions), Alabama edge rusher Derrick Thomas (4. Kansas City Chiefs) and Florida State cornerback Deion Sanders (5. Atlanta Falcons) — in the 1989 NFL Draft. The Packers belly-flopped with a “can’t miss” left tackle.

1994 – 5. Indianapolis Colts
Trev Alberts, LB, Nebraska

“Who the hell is Mel Kiper?” Colts GM Bill Tobin infamously asked, after being called out by ESPN’s helmet-hair-gelled draft expert as a result of his selection of Alberts.

Kiper thought Indianapolis should have drafted Fresno State quarterback Trent Dilfer rather than Alberts, going so far as to say moves like this were why the Colts were “the laughingstock of the league year-in and year-out.”

“I think it’s a typical Colts move. I mean, here’s a team that needs a franchise quarterback. There are two (Tennessee’s Heath Shuler and Dilfer) out there. They have a chance at two; they don’t take them,” said Kiper, on the draft day telecast in 1994.

“They take an outside linebacker. And not even a true outside linebacker, somebody that has to learn coverage in Trev Alberts. … To pass up a Trent Dilfer, when all you have is Jim Harbaugh. Give me a break. That’s why the Colts are picking second every year in the draft and not battling for the Super Bowl like other clubs in the National Football League.”

Alberts was indeed a bust during his short three-year career in Indy. Meanwhile, Dilfer went on to lead the Baltimore Ravens to a win in Super Bowl XXXV — although some have given him the oxymoronic label as “worst quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl.” In fairness, the Colts did draft San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk, a Hall of Famer, with the No. 2 overall pick in 1994.

1995 – 7. Philadelphia Eagles
Mike Mamula, DE, Boston College

The original workout warrior weighed in at 6’4”, 250 pounds, ran a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash, skied 38.5 inches in the vertical leap, ripped off 26 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and reportedly aced the Wonderlic test with a score of 49 out of a possible 50 at the annual Scouting Combine. As a result, the screaming Eagle soared up draft boards, while future stars like Miami defensive tackle Warren Sapp fell farther than expected once Commissioner Paul Tagliabue began mispronouncing names on draft day.

Mamula was mediocre for five seasons, but never lived up to the massive expectations that his massive biceps and calves caused at the Combine. To this day, self-loathing Philly fans claim Sapp was the guy they wanted over Mamula, while the beefed-up BC ‘tweener has become the poster boy for the potential dangers of relying too much on numbers at the Combine, a.k.a. the underwear Olympics.

1996 – 6. St. Louis Rams
Lawrence Phillips, RB, Nebraska

The Rams front office — led by Georgia Frontiere, the only female owner in the NFL —fell in love with Phillips, who was reportedly the No. 1 player on the team’s draft board despite a high-profile domestic assault case for which he was still serving probation.

To make matters worse, Phillips’ predecessor in St. Louis, Jerome Bettis, was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers to make room for the Cornhusker star. “The Bus” went on to win Super Bowl XL in his hometown of Detroit; Phillips went on to play four seasons in the NFL, before bouncing around the Arena Football League, Canadian Football League and ultimately landing in the Los Angeles prison system — receiving a 31-year sentence for several felonies, notably multiple assault charges against his girlfriend and for running down three teens with his car following a sandlot football game gone wrong.

1998 – 2. San Diego Chargers
Ryan Leaf, QB, Washington State

People forget how heated the “Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf” debate was back in 1998. Many so-called experts thought Leaf had a superior arm to Manning and an intangible swagger Archie’s boy did not have. The Chargers traded up from No. 3 overall to acquire the Cardinals’ No. 2 overall pick in order to ensure a shot at either Manning or Leaf. That year, ESPN: The Magazine concluded that Leaf “possesses an ‘I don’t give a crap’ attitude that has proven essential to Super Bowl quarterbacks from Stabler to McMahon to Favre. Come 2018, Ryan Leaf, not Manning, will be strutting up to a podium in Canton.”

Manning’s bust will certainly be on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, five years after his retirement. Leaf is just a bust — having posted a 4–17 record with 3,666 yards, 14 TDs and 36 INTs over 25 games with the Chargers and Cowboys. Leaf was a team cancer on and off the field, alienating San Diego veterans such as Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison, and getting caught on tape threatening local reporters.

The story has only gotten worse since Leaf left the NFL. He is currently accused of breaking into homes and stealing prescription painkillers; he faces four felony counts in Montana, including burglary and criminal possession of a dangerous drug. In 2010, Leaf faced similar accusations as a golf coach at West Texas A&M; he was given 10 years probation as part of a plea bargain, a deal which is now in jeopardy pending the outcome of his new case in Montana.

1999 – 3. Cincinnati Bengals
Akili Smith, QB, Oregon

After only 11 college starts at Oregon, the athletic Smith — who was also a minor league baseball prospect — was selected behind Kentucky’s Tim Couch (No. 1 Cleveland Browns) and Syracuse’s Donovan McNabb (No. 2 Philadelphia Eagles), as the third quarterback taken in a class that was set to rival the 1983 crew that included John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino. The Class of 1999 had five quarterbacks taken in the first dozen picks — Couch, McNabb, Smith, UCF’s Daunte Culpepper (11. Minnesota Vikings) and UCLA’s Cade McNown (12. Chicago Bears).

The Bungles missed the mark yet again, as Smith reportedly struggled to learn the playbook and partied his way out of the league — posting a 3–14 record with 2,212 yards, five TDs and 13 INTs over 22 games in Cincinnati.

2000 – 1. Cleveland Browns
Courtney Brown, DE, Penn State

The original Jim Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens in 1996. The expansion Courtney Browns were dropped in Cleveland by Paul Tagliabue in 1999. Mistakes by the lake have followed ever since.

With back-to-back No. 1 overall picks to start the franchise over from scratch, the Browns selected Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch in 1999 and Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown in 2000. Injuries kept Brown off the field and a sputtering motor kept him from making plays when he was on the field. Brown’s surname grade and Combine measurables were off-the-charts, but it was obvious to every brown-paper-bag wearing fan in the Dawg Pound that Brown was a classic case of “look like Tarzan, play like Jane.”

2003 – 2. Detroit Lions
Charles Rogers, WR, Michigan State

The local product was the first of four first-round receivers selected over a five-year span by Matt Millen — who picked Rogers at No. 2 overall (one spot ahead of Miami receiver Andre Johnson) in 2003, Texas’ Roy Williams at No. 7 in 2004, USC’s Mike Williams at No. 10 in 2005 and Georgia Tech’s Calvin Johnson at No. 2 in 2007.

Rogers suffered back-to-back broken collarbones to miss the majority of his first two seasons. Then, a failed drug test and coaching regime change in Detroit effectively ended the lanky wideout’s career after only 15 games, 36 catches for 440 yards and four TDs. Rogers was also forced to return much of his salary, since a failed drug test violated the terms of his rookie contract.

Recent run-ins with the law have included a DUI arrest, possession charge, driving with an open container, conspiring to commit a crime and making malicious phone calls.

2007 – 1. Oakland Raiders
JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU

After the longest holdout since Bo Jackson chose baseball over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1986, Russell broke the bank with a six-year, $61 million contract with $29 million guaranteed. It was all down hill after that. The theory that money makes a person more of whatever they already were was never more true that with Russell — who lived up to his reputation as lazy and out of shape, but failed to live up to his undeniably enormous potential.

Al Davis’ dreams of revitalizing the Raiders’ vertical passing attack were based on a mountain of a man (6’6”, 260) who could throw a football over 60 yards from his knees. The problem was, Russell couldn’t throw the ball from the pocket while on his feet. He also couldn’t stay awake in meetings or keep his weight in check. After going 25–4 as a starter at LSU, Russell struggled to a 7–18 record in the NFL with 4,083 yards, 18 TDs and 23 INTs in three seasons.

Sleep-walking through his highly paid NFL career, Russell was implicated in a codeine syrup drug bust in his native Mobile, Ala., but was not indicted by a grand jury for possession of the main ingredient in “purple drank” — a club concoction Russell unintentionally took from the Southern rap scene and introduced into mainstream sports talk. Russell has also faced six-figure tax debt and the foreclosure of his six-bedroom, $3 million Oakland mansion.

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades
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
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

Teaser:
<p> The biggest busts in recent NFL Draft history — from Tony Mandarich to JaMarcus Russell,&nbsp;and the infamous Mike Mamula, Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith and Charles Rogers swings-and-misses in between.</p>
Post date: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 19:30
Path: /college-football/nfl-mock-draft-our-first-round-projection
Body:

The 2012 NFL Draft takes place April 26-28 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Fans from all 32 teams are eagerly awaiting the annual event to see their squad add some new and exciting talent. Here’s our prediction for the first round from the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly.

1. Indianapolis Colts — Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Heir to Peyton Manning is safest quarterback prospect since John Elway.

2. Washington Redskins — Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Heisman Trophy-winning RG3 a perfect fit for Mike Shanahan’s offense.

3. Minnesota Vikings — Matt Kalil, T, USC
Latest blindside bodyguard from Troy is most talented since Tony Boselli.

4. Cleveland Browns — Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
T-Town’s finest opens floodgates for Crimson Tidal wave in first round.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Bayou Bengal corner/returner follows in Patrick Peterson’s top-5 footsteps.

6. St. Louis Rams — Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Jeff Fisher trades down from No. 2, still gets new toy for Sam Bradford.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars — Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
Schematically versatile hybrid end/backer is disruptive wherever he plays.

8. Miami Dolphins — Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Former receiver reunites with old A&M coach, Miami OC Mike Sherman.

9. Carolina Panthers — Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Poor man’s Julius Peppers comes at cheaper price than fellow Tar Heel.

10. Buffalo Bills — Riley Reiff, T, Iowa
After shoring up D-line in free agency, Buffalo turns to O-line in draft.

11. Kansas City Chiefs — Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Ex-Patriots Scott Pioli, Romeo Crennel hope Poe is next Vince Wilfork.

12. Seattle Seahawks — Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Sideline-to-sideline tackling machine flies from coast-to-coast after draft.

13. Arizona Cardinals — David DeCastro, G, Stanford
Traditionally too early for a guard, but DeCastro is a once-a-decade talent.

14. Dallas Cowboys — Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Draft’s top safety unable to work out due to hernia; game tape says it all.

15. Philadelphia Eagles — Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Draft-eligible sophomore has raw tools to play inside or outside at next level.

16. New York Jets — Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
Edge-rushing sledgehammer perfect for Rex Ryan’s attacking 3-4 defense.

17. Cincinnati Bengals — Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Lanky cover man excels in zone coverage, may eventually move to safety.

18. San Diego Chargers — Nick Perry, DE, USC
Showed flashes for Trojans, but Bolts hope best is yet to come.

19. Chicago Bears — Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Golden Dome’d red zone threat a nice complement to Brandon Marshall.

20. Tennessee Titans — Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Nation’s leader in sacks (16), forced fumbles (9) brings hits to Music City.

21. Cincinnati Bengals — Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia
A.J. Green’s former teammate is a mauler inside, with feet to kick outside.

22. Cleveland Browns — Jonathan Martin, T, Stanford
Andrew Luck’s left tackle on The Farm will play on right side by the lake.

23. Detroit Lions — Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Any young corner will benefit from having Suh, Avril and Co. up front.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers — Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Happy Valley’s lone bright spot has Steel Curtain-caliber 3-4 end skills.

25. Denver Broncos — Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Peyton Manning may disagree, but Denver needs best player available on D-line.

26. Houston Texans — Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
RG3’s go-to guy takes electric playmaking ability from Waco to Houston.

27. New England Patriots — Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Talented problem child transfer from Florida has most volatile draft stock.

28. Green Bay Packers — Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
Rangy end has athleticism, frame to play outside linebacker for Packers.

29. Baltimore Ravens — Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
Ray Lewis will be 37 years old this season. Lieutenant Hightower is 22.

30. San Francisco 49ers — Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
Jim Harbaugh’s former Cardinal playmaker stays in Bay Area with 49ers.

31. New England Patriots — Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Tom Brady’s “Boston TE Party” needs a speedy, deep threat like Hill.

32. New York Giants — Mike Adams, T, Ohio State
With few glaring needs, champs replace Kareem McKenzie on right side.
 

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades
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
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First Round Projection</p>
Post date: Saturday, April 21, 2012 - 09:16
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/ask-athlon-sports-baseball-hall-fame-0
Body:

Q: Brett Butler was one of the best leadoff batters and bunters in baseball history. Shouldn’t he be in the Hall of Fame? What is he doing now?

— Sarah Newland, Catlettsburg, Ky.

A: Butler — who, incidentally, was the first batter Roger Clemens faced in his big league career — was a great player and one of the better leadoff hitters of his era, although his career numbers don’t quite put him in Hall of Fame territory. Six times he scored more than 100 runs in a season; he led the National League in triples four times; and he stole 558 bases in his career, ranking 24th all-time in that category. A bout with cancer, which he blamed on his use of smokeless tobacco, shortened his career, leaving him with 2,375 career hits for five different teams and a career .290 batting average. Since his retirement, he has coached for the Diamondbacks and managed at the minor league level, while also dedicating time to Christian and pro-life causes. He enters the 2012 season as the manager for Reno Aces, the D-backs’ Triple-A affiliate, a position he has held since the team’s inception in 2009. Butler led the Aces to a Pacific Coast League Northern Division title in 2011.

— Charlie Miller, Editorial Director

Have a question? Email us with any sports-related questions at editor@athlonsports.com
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.
 

Teaser:
<p> Baseball Hall of Fame</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 16:19
All taxonomy terms: Arizona Cardinals, Oakland Raiders, NFL
Path: /nfl/ask-athlon-sports-nfl-records
Body:

Q: What player holds the NFL record for the longest fumble return for a touchdown?
— D. Francis, Round Rock, Texas

A: Actually, two players share the record: The Raiders’ Jack Tatum returned a fumble 104 yards for a touchdown on Sept. 24, 1972, against the Packers, and the Cardinals’ Aeneas Williams duplicated the feat against the Redskins on Nov. 5, 2000. The hard-hitting Tatum, who died in 2010, had 37 career interceptions, but that fumble return was his only career touchdown. Of course, there have been longer returns in NFL annals. Antonio Cromartie of the Chargers recorded the longest return of any kind when he took a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown against the Vikings in 2007. The Packers’ Randall Cobb (2011) and the Patriots’ Ellis Hobbs (2007) both had 108-yard kickoff returns. And the Ravens’ Ed Reed took an interception back 108 yards for a score against the Eagles in 2008. Reed, the master of touchdown returns, was the first player in NFL history to score touchdowns via interception, punt, blocked punt and fumble return.

— Rob Doster, Senior Editor

Have a question? Email us with any sports-related questions at editor@athlonsports.com
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.
 

Teaser:
<p> NFL Records</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 16:16
All taxonomy terms: Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /golf/ask-athlon-sports-tiger-woods
Body:

Q: What was the reason Tiger Woods fired his longtime caddie, Steve Williams? Was it over money when Tiger was in his slump?

— Bill Dombo, Yuba City, Calif.

A: During his tenure as Tiger Woods’ caddie, Steve Williams was no ordinary looper. Part enforcer, part bodyguard, part motivator, Williams ran interference for Tiger for a decade-plus of stunning success, becoming that rarest of sport rarities: the superstar caddie. Williams was on Tiger’s bag for 13 major championship wins and was always there with an awkward high-five or fist bump after every hero shot or clutch putt; he was also more than happy to protect his man from over-eager fans, once confiscating a camera from an amateur photographer and depositing it in a nearby pond. Their relationship extended off the course; they were in each other’s weddings, and their wives became friends. Williams also stood by his man in the wake of Tiger’s personal scandal, but as Woods sought to rebuild his life, Williams was a constant reminder of his fall from grace. The firing really shouldn’t have come as a surprise given Tiger’s inclination to reboot his inner circle from time to time, especially when members of that inner circle start grabbing too big a share of the spotlight. After all, Woods fired instructor Butch Harmon, who guided him on his ascent to superstardom, and he also fired Hank Haney, who helped Tiger maintain his status as the greatest player in the world. Williams’ behavior since the sacking — he essentially has had an ongoing public tantrum — would seem to validate Woods’ decision. Tiger made him rich and famous. It may sound cold, but he doesn’t owe him anything else.

— Rob Doster, Senior Editor

Have a question? Email us with any sports-related questions at editor@athlonsports.com
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.
 

Teaser:
<p> Ask Athlon Sports: Tiger Woods</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 16:06
All taxonomy terms: Boston Red Sox, MLB
Path: /college-football/athlons-essential-eleven
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 20.

• Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe has the Beantown perspective on Fenway Park turning 100 years old.

• Cedric Golden breaks down the Oklahoma State quarterback derby. Will Clint Chelf or J.W. Walsh replace Brandon Weeden?

• 1,050 slices of bacon on one sandwich?! This picture is amazing.

• Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel reacts to the soap opera of Magic star Dwight Howard, who will miss the postseason because of back surgery.

• Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution previews the Georgia Tech spring game, which will take place on Friday night.

•  Mechelle Voepel has a wonderful column on Pat Summitt’s rainmaker effect on women’s basketball.

• ESPN SEC blogger Edward Aschoff looks at the challenges facing Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze in his first year in Oxford.

• BC Interruption is embarrassed by the lack of attendance at the Eagles spring game.

• Andy Glockner of SI.com looks at the effect of SMU hiring 71-year-old Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown.

• Scott Miller of CBS has a great piece on Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary. Love the line “…Fenway Park is as beautifully sturdy as Ted Williams' timeless legend.”

•  College Gridiron 365 shows us how Arkansas is following Mississippi State and Michigan in displaying a “hashtag” on its field.

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


This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 19.

• The Knoxville News Sentinel looks back at the amazing career of legendary Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt, who will step aside as head coach after eight national titles and 1,098 wins over 38 seasons.

• IndyStar.com reports that the Colts have made up their mind and will draft quarterback Andrew Luck of Stanford with the No. 1 overall pick.

• Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report breaks down the SEC championship odds for the 14 teams in America’s toughest conference.

• Jeff Potrykus of the Journal Sentinel looks at the national criticism that Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan is receiving for restricting the transfer of Jarrod Uthoff.

• SportsBuisnessDaily.com details the latest issue for a new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis. Let the Los Angeles rumors continue…

• PhilliesNation.con looks back at the stellar pitching duel between Matt Cain and Cliff Lee, which ended with the Giants defeating the Phils, 1-0, in 11 innings.

• Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post has a moving column on her good friend, Pat Summitt.

• Jon Gold of Inside UCLA summarizes the Bruins spring practice at the halfway point. When will the UCLA staff decide on a starter at quarterback?

• Jim Young of ACCSports.com looks at C.J. Leslie’s decision to shun the NBA and return to NC State.

• ESPN Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell chronicles at the football rollercoaster ride for Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn.

• The 700 Level in Philadelphia has the video of Sixers star Andre Iguodala pranking teammate Lou Williams.

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


This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 18.

•  Campus Rivalry details how an outfitter for Texas A&M gear makes a huge geographical mistake, with North Carolina added to the SEC states.

•  The Blitzburgh Blog shows the new (and awful) throwback Steelers uniforms – a replica of the 1934 version - and predicts sickness around the Steel City.

• Mark Ennis of Big East Coast Bias has an in-depth look at the Louisville spring game. Coach Charlie Strong has the Cardinals looking like the overwhelming favorite to win the conference title in 2012.

• Tom Verducci of SI.com has a very interesting column questioning the modern bullpen. Do baseball franchises need to rethink the way they structure pitching staffs?

•  Dave Miller of National Football Post takes a good look at what new LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger could mean to the Tigers offense.

•  Pro Football Talk has some compelling notes on all 32 teams with the release of the NFL schedule.

• Troy Renck of the Denver Post has the details on Rockies starter Jamie Moyer, who last night became the oldest pitcher (49 years, 150 days) to ever win an MLB game.

•  ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg reports that Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell has a sprained right knee and could miss the Spartans spring game on April 28.

•  Chris Bahn of ArkansasSport360.com has the details on Jessica Dorrell, the Razorbacks staff member involved in an affair with former coach Bobby Petrino, resigning her position.

•  Jason King of ESPN Dallas reports that 71-year-old Larry Brown has agreed to become the next SMU basketball coach, even though the longtime bench boss denies it.

•  ESPN AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky says the Colts are now a “1 pm EST kickoff” team, and that Indy has season tickets available for the first time since 2003.

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


This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 17.

• Jon Solomon has quotes from a roundtable of conference commissioners discussing the BCS, new Playoff proposals and athletes being paid.

•  Deadspin has the details on Delonte West of the Mavericks earning a technical foul for giving Utah’s Gordon Hayward a “wet willie”.

•  Jake Martin of Bleacher Report has an interesting comparison between former LSU Tiger cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Mo Claiborne on the eve of the NFL Draft.

• ESPN Big 12 Blogger David Ubben sits down with West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who says "We didn’t really leave the Big East. It left us."

• On the heels of Alabama’s BCS title trophy being destroyed, Bleacher Report SEC Blogger Barrett Sallee is surprised that crystal trophies do not break more often. We’ll be surprised if the Tide does not try to claim another national title when the new trophy arrives.

•  Lisa Horne of Fox Sports ranks the strongest college football schedules for this season. Poor Ole Miss.

•  Lost Letterman shows Oregon quarterback Bryan Bennett taking us on a tour of the lavish, two-story Ducks’ locker room. Apparently, Nike is doing all right.

•  Matthew Osborne of SouthernPigskin.com has a recruiting roundup from spring games around the South, including multiple commitments for Missouri, Alabama, Auburn and South Carolina.

•  Garry Paskwietz of WeAreSC.com details a new deal where ESPN radio will broadcast USC home football games nationally.

•  Freddie Vickers of ChuckOliver.net takes an in-depth look at Clemson’s spring practice. Can the Tigers repeat in the ACC?

•  Former NFL and college coach Steve Mariucci tells CBSSports.com that he has had no contact with Arkansas about its head coaching position.

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


This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 16.

Here is the final column for longtime Clarion Legder writer Rick Cleveland, who is leaving after 40-plus years in the business to lead the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

   Utah Jazz announcer David Locke goes bonkers, and basically starts speaking in tongues, after Derrick Favors misses a layup. SportsGrid has the audio.

• Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston covers the ongoing soap opera with the Red Sox, with new manager Bobby Valentine questioning fan favorite Kevin Youkilis’ commitment to the game.

 Here are some interesting thoughts from Travis Reier of BamaOnline.com after Alabama’s A-Day Game. Will receivers Christion Jones and Kenny Bell lead to more explosive plays in the passing game for the Tide in 2012?

• Pedro Moura of ESPNLosAngeles recaps the USC spring game, where the Trojans chose not to tackle. (You can just hear the Pac-12 jokes from Big Ten and SEC country)

• Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com details Giants owner John Mara saying that the NFL Competition Committee has talked about eliminating kickoffs. Really? Where would the game start?

• Richard Langford of Bleacher Report features the Wolverines who stood out during Michigan’s spring game, and his early prediction for UM’s record is 10-3.

• Timothy Rapp of Bleacher Report looks at how Jackie Robinson Day was celebrated around baseball.

• Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has the Browns taking Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon in her latest mock draft. Should Cleveland go with Alabama runner Trent Richardson instead?

• Brent Zwernaman of the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle details the planned renovation of Kyle Field as Texas A&M prepares for SEC play.

• Jeff Svoboda of BuckeyeSports.com recaps Ohio State’s practice where students were allowed on the field.

Teaser:
<p> Rounding up the web's best sports links from the NFL, college football, MLB, the NBA and college basketball so you don't have to.</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 12:00
Path: /nascar/michael-waltrip-racing-hitting-nascar-stride
Body:

In its sixth full season of Sprint Cup competition, Michael Waltrip Racing is making a push at becoming a powerhouse on NASCAR’s premier circuit.

MWR’s three-team operation has combined for five top 5s and 12 top 10s thus far in 2012. Spearheaded by Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 56 NAPA team, MWR finds its two full-time drivers — Truex and Clint Bowyer — in the top 10 in the point standings.

Third-year MWR driver Truex and crew chief Chad Johnston concluded the 2011 season on an uptick, recording four top 10s in the final five races. That momentum carried through the offseason as the duo have yet to finish worse than 17th this year. Included are finishes of third (Bristol), fifth (Martinsville) and sixth (Bristol) and a fourth-place spot in the championship standings.

“It’s been a good start to the season for us,” Truex says. “Everybody at MWR has done a nice job. For us, it’s just about coming here and trying to keep it rolling.

“We’ve had about 10 or 11 good races in a row going back to last year. That feels good. We just need to continue to build on that.”

Bowyer, a high-profile free-agent hire from Richard Childress Racing, has found immediate chemistry with new MWR crew chief Brian Pattie. Leading the No. 15 team, they have managed runs of sixth (Bristol) and fourth (Las Vegas) and sit 10th in the point standings. Their consistent start is the difference between an organization that once contended for wins three or four times a year, but now, each weekend.

“When I started at RCR, there was nothing to prove there,” Bowyer says. “As a driver, the only thing you can do is not screw up the opportunity. Here, I’m going to have to be part of moving on with a championship-caliber organization. That’s exciting. That’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.”

Key to the turnaround, though, was the hiring of former Richard Childress Racing crew chief and competition director Scott Miller as the organization’s Vice President of Competition.

Miller is a NASCAR veteran, having sat atop the pit box for both Bowyer and Jeff Burton while at RCR. He brought a level of expertise and confidence to his new role at MWR when he signed with the company late in the 2011 season.

“I was very, very pleasantly surprised with what I found when I came in the door,” Miller told the Associated Press. “Obviously, there are still things we are working on, but MWR was not in bad shape at all when I got here. They had started working on new cars and new chassis in the summer. We just needed to clean up and get a little more efficient at what we do.”

Mark Martin, one of the most respected drivers in the sport, also brought a level of professionalism not seen at MWR when, shortly before the season began, he agreed to pilot the No. 55 car for 25 races in 2012.

“What strikes me the most about Mark is, he’s like a kid in a candy store — he’s ready for a new challenge,” Miller says of the driver who finished third in Texas last weekend. “He thrived in that part-time schedule he was in (2007 and ‘08) and I think he really enjoyed himself doing that — not necessarily getting caught up in the Chase race or the championship thing — but just enjoying his craft of driving a racecar.”

Martin’s absence in two races so far has given way to one of the feel-good stories of the 2012 season: Brian Vickers.

A casualty of Red Bull Racing’s departure from NASCAR, Vickers will drive the car in eight Cup races while team co-owner Waltrip picks up four others.

Using his first appearance in the No. 55 as an audition (and a statement), Vickers led 125 laps at Bristol en route to a fifth-place run. Between Vickers and Martin, the No. 55 team has yet to finish worse than 18th, with four top 10s to its credit. Those performances find the team — along with the Nos. 15 and 56 — ranked in the top 10 in the all-important owners standings, guaranteeing their place in the starting lineup each weekend.

That’s a far cry from MWR’s first full season on the circuit in 2007, when its three teams stumbled through a miserable debut effort that found it going home after qualifying a total of 39 times.

“You see all the championship organizations — they don’t just have one bullet, they have two, three or four,” executive vice president Ty Norris says. “We have three bullets every week.

“I still pinch myself because it’s so hard to believe that we’ve got these great people working on the cars, a great attitude and great drivers to get it done. It’s a very exciting time for us.”

And of course, there’s Waltrip, whose two Daytona 500 wins make up for an otherwise unimpressive Cup Series record.

It was Waltrip who founded the organization, placing its first car in what was then the Busch Series in 1994 — finishing third at Bristol with fellow Owensboro, Ky., native Jeff Green at the wheel.

Waltrip’s passion for racing, marketing savvy and business sense — he brought in car enthusiast and Fortress Investment Group founder Rob Kauffman as an investor and co-owner in 2007 — have taken the program from a backyard operation to the thriving, multi-million dollar entity it is today.

“Michael has a lot of passion to give,” Norris explains. “Whether it’s a charitable event or NASCAR racing, the things he cares the most about he just pours his heart into it. He just becomes obsessed with it and the energy he brings when he talks about this (MWR) that gets everybody excited.”

At the rate Waltrip’s teams are going, there will plenty more to be excited about in the very near future.


by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter:
@MattTaliaferro

 

Teaser:
<p> Michael Waltrip Racing's three-car team is putting up impressive numbers early in the 2012 NASCAR season.</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 11:28
Path: /college-football/michigan-or-ohio-state-which-team-will-have-more-wins-2012
Body:

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown 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.

Michigan or Ohio State: Which Team Will Have More Regular Season Wins in 2012?
 
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Urban Meyer has never won fewer than eight games in his debut season at any school in his career – he went 8-3 at Bowling Green, 10-2 at Utah and 9-3 at Florida. He should hit that mark again at Ohio State, even without the benefit of a bowl or a potential Big Ten title game appearance. I look at Ohio State’s schedule and I don’t see any game that’s a definite loss. The Buckeyes aren’t going to go undefeated – road trips to Michigan State and Wisconsin, plus home dates with Nebraska and Michigan are swing games. I could see Ohio State splitting those four games. That gives the Buckeyes a nine-win season heading into the Michigan game. On the other hand, the Wolverines have the tougher schedule. Michigan opens with Alabama in Arlington and must visit Notre Dame and Nebraska before heading to Columbus for the finale. I know others are buying into Ohio State – with Meyer on the sideline and a full season of quarterback Braxton Miller – being a Big Ten contender in all but name. I still like Michigan as the better team with the defense continuing to improve and Denard Robinson and the offensive coaching staff spending another season together. Even though Michigan will have a tougher road than Ohio State, the Wolverines seem headed to a higher win total.
 
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
If we are strictly debating the regular season win totals of Michigan and Ohio State, I will have to go with the Scarlet and Gray in a tie-breaker. There are five total "losable" games on the Buckeyes' schedule. That said, road trips to Michigan State and Penn State are not all that scary for an Urban Meyer-coached, Braxton Miller-quarterbacked squad. The Bucks likely would have beaten Nebraska on the road last fall had Miller not gotten hurt, so a visit from the Huskers to start October shouldn't be too menacing either. That leaves the final two weeks of the regular season in which Ohio State visits Wisconsin and hosts that team from up north. While the road trip to Madison seems daunting, there is nothing special about this Badger team that forces me to pencil in a loss for Ohio State — especially coming off a bye the week before. Finally, it feels like an awfully tall order for Michigan to walk into the Horseshoe and beat a team that knows it will be playing its final game of the season with a chance to ruin the lofty goals of its rival — be it a Big Ten title, BCS bowl bid or more. Keep in mind, the worst Ohio State team in more than a decade nearly beat the best Michigan team in five years on the road last fall. On the conservative side, I will go with a 10-2 record for Ohio State and a win over Brady Hoke.

I will also give Michigan a 10-2 record for the 2012 regular season. The Wolverines will exercise some in-state demons by beating Michigan State for the first time in five seasons and will exact some revenge on an underwhelming Iowa team. And while I would love to pick Denard Robinson to upset the defending champions and their totally reworked defense on a lighting fast tract in Dallas in Week 1, I just can't see the Maize and Blue line of scrimmage holding up against Alabama. That leaves the trip south to Columbus in the season finale as the tie-breaker. An Ohio State win gives both teams a 10-2 record (in my scenario) and thus the Bucks get the nod via tie-breaker.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s tough to gauge where Ohio State stands as a team going into 2012. The Buckeyes underachieved last season, largely due to the coaching situation and overall uncertainty surrounding the program. However, Ohio State still has one of the Big Ten’s best rosters, and new coach Urban Meyer has been a winner at every stop. Meyer has also produced immediate results, which bodes well for Ohio State's record in 2012. The Buckeyes have a few question marks on offense - offensive line and receiving corps - but return quarterback Braxton Miller, a perfect fit for Meyer's spread attack.

Michigan had a tremendous first season under coach Brady Hoke, but suffered two key losses on the lines (center David Molk and tackle Mike Martin) and play in the tougher division. The Wolverines should score plenty of points, thanks to the return of quarterback Denard Robinson and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Michigan’s defense made huge strides under coordinator Greg Mattison last year, and should continue to show improvement in 2012.

There’s a good chance both teams finish with a 10-2 record, but I will give Ohio State a slight edge over Michigan for the most wins in 2012. The Wolverines have a tougher non-conference slate, facing a neutral site game against Alabama and a road test against Notre Dame. The Buckeyes have an easier road in non-conference play, taking on Miami (Ohio), UCF, California and UAB. Ohio State does have a tough Big Ten slate, as it will take on Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska in crossover games with the Legends. Considering how weak the Leaders Division is this year, the Wolverines should be able to sweep their crossover games, with the exception of the matchup against Ohio State. Expect the battle between rivals for the best record in the regular season to come down to the final weekend, with the Buckeyes edging the Wolverines in Columbus. 

Kevin Noon, BuckeyeGrove.com
I am not sure if this is a totally fair question based upon the fact that Ohio State could play in as many as two fewer games with a bowl ban and a B1G Championship Game ban. It is safe to say that Michigan will make a bowl game and I do think it is one of the favorites in the Legends Division to go to Indy. So if you are counting the potential "postseason" games for Michigan, I will say the Maize and Blue wins more games. Yet, I believe that Ohio State's schedule sets up well for a 10-2 season with tricky games at Madison (Wis.) and East Lansing (Mich.) and a tough home game with Nebraska. I see Michigan going 9-3 during the same timeframe with losses to Alabama, Ohio State and either Michigan State or Nebraska. The Wolverines struggled to the end last season with one of the poorest performing Ohio State teams in recent memory, Buckeyes get the edge this year at home. Ohio State posts more regular season wins, but Michigan finishes with more due to NCAA sanctions in Columbus.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think the Buckeyes will win more than the Wolverines during the regular season, mainly because of an easier out-of-conference schedule. Michigan might be able to catch up in wins during the postseason, since Ohio State will not be eligible for the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game. Urban Meyer might have inherited a sanctioned program, but he also is walking into a talented roster in Columbus. The defense should be excellent, led by John Simon, Johnathan Hankins and Christian Bryant. On offense, quarterback Braxton Miller looks like the perfect fit for Meyer’s dual-threat system. With linemen Andrew Norwell and Jack Mewhort clearing the way, the Buckeyes could put up enough points to win double-digit games this season. Michigan will also score big this year, with the electric Denard Robinson leading the way. The Wolverines did lose a couple of key linemen on each side of the ball, and that will hurt in trying to repeat last year’s 10-win regular season. OSU should go 4-0 outside of the Big Ten, while UM has games against Alabama and at Notre Dame. I think the Buckeyes will be greatly improved and have a good shot at 10 wins, while the Wolverines will battle a tougher slate and finish with eight or nine victories.
Teaser:
<p> Michigan or Ohio State: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/sec-football-running-back-rankings-2012
Body:

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 SEC for 2012:

1. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (JR)
Rushing Stats:
163 att., 818 yards, 10 TD
Receiving Stats: 19 rec., 182 yards, TD

If healthy, there is no running back in the nation with more physical talent than Marcus Lattimore. In 20 career games, he has averaged over 100 yards rushing and has scored 30 total touchdowns. Not counting the Florida State bowl game in which he got hurt early on, he has failed to reach paydirt in only four career games. Lattimore can move the pile with power, can get to the edge with speed and will make defenders look silly trying to cover him in the passing game. He has averaged an absurd 130.5 yards from scrimmage for his career and has topped 170 yards rushing five times in 20 games. He has missed time in both seasons due to injury, mostly due to his incredibly physical running style, and he was held back in spring ball this year. However, Lattimore appears ready to lead the Gamecocks in 2012 and, needless to say, he is the complete package in the backfield.

2. Knile Davis, Arkansas (JR)
Rushing Stats:
None
Receiving Stats: None

Arkansas was dealt a tough blow in preseason workouts last year when Davis suffered a season-ending ankle injury. As a sophomore in 2010, he rushed for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns, while catching 19 passes for 136 yards and one score. Davis earned all-conference honors for his breakout sophomore campaign, but was unable to build off of that due to the ankle injury. Davis is expected to return at full strength for the 2012 season and should emerge as Arkansas’ go-to back once again. The junior will have to knock off a little rust after missing an entire season, but he should finish among the SEC leaders in yards.

3. Eddie Lacy, Alabama (JR)
Rushing Stats:
95 att., 674 yards, 7 TDs
Receiving Stats: 11 rec., 131 yards, 0 TD

Trent Richardson will be missed, but Alabama should have no trouble replacing his production in 2012. Lacy served as Richardson’s backup last year, rushing for 674 yards and seven touchdowns. He recorded 161 yards and two touchdowns in the 41-0 win over North Texas and posted 96 yards and two scores on 11 attempts against Mississippi State. Lacy doesn’t quite match Richardson in terms of talent, but he’s still one of the best running backs returning in the SEC for 2012. The junior is averaging 7.2 yards per carry, which could go down with more touches this season, but he should easily approach 1,000 yards and 10 scores in 2012. 

4. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt (SR)
Rushing Stats:
201 att., 1,193 yards, 14 TD
Receiving Stats: 20 rec., 106 yards

Over the first five games of the 2011 seasons, Stacy averaged eight carries per game. Over the final eight games of the season, he posted 20.1 attempts per game — and he flourished behind a developing offensive line. He topped the century mark in rushing yards in four of the Commodores final seven games. Stacy also put plenty of points on the scoreboard by scoring 13 of his 14 touchdowns over that span as well. At the end of the year, one could argue Stacy produced the best single-season by a running back in Vanderbilt history as his yardage and touchdown totals set single-season school benchmarks. After dealing with some injury issues early in his career, Stacy proved to be more than capable if healthy. Look for another stellar year from the Vandy tailback.

5. Spencer Ware, LSU (JR)
Rushing Stats:
177 att., 707 yards, 8 TD
Receiving Stats: 11 rec., 73 yards, TD

Sorting through and ranking the LSU running backs is virtually impossible. They are all extremely talented, extremely physical and very productive. Ware got the most carries in 2011, posted 10 starts on the year and was the star of the running game early in the season. He topped the 20-carry mark in five of the team’s first seven games, including two of the entire team’s four 100-yard efforts for the season. The 233-pound back is a bulldozer on third downs and rarely goes down on first contact. The fact that Ware got only 33 carries in the final five games is more of a testament to the talent on the depth chart rather than any struggles by No. 11. However, three rushing attempts against Alabama in the national title game does seem inexplicable.

6. Isaiah Crowell, Georgia (SO)
Rushing Stats:
185 att., 850 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 8 rec., 59 yards, TD

The amount of recruiting hype surrounding Crowell was almost unfair when the freshman stepped onto campus. Yet, the in-state product posted one of the best true freshman rushing season in school history. He topped the 100-yard mark four times and earned AP SEC Freshman of the Year awards. His raw physical talent is clearly SEC-ready, but Crowell could finish this season much higher on this list if he matures and commits to being a leader on his team. The youngster’s report card likely includes “does not work well with others” and “distracts class often.” These are easily correctable issues that could vault Crowell in stardom — if the UGA offensive line can come together and create space for the sophomore in 2012.

7. Christine Michael, Texas A&M (SR)
Rushing Stats:
149 att., 899 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving Stats: 8 rec., 35 yards, 1 TD

If he can stay healthy, Michael has a chance to be one of the top five running backs in the SEC. Unfortunately for Texas A&M, Michael’s last two years have been cut short by injury. He suffered a broken leg in late October during the 2010 season, and tore his ACL in the 41-25 defeat to Oklahoma last year. Michael had four efforts of over 100 yards last season, including a 230-yard effort against Arkansas. All signs point to the senior returning at full strength for the 2012 opener, but coach Kevin Sumlin may take it slow with Michael’s recovery. The senior has the talent to rush for 1,000 yards, but his health will largely determine how much playing time he can receive.

8. Onterio McCalebb, Auburn (SR)
Rushing Stats:
112 att., 641 yards, 5 TDs
Receiving Stats: 32 rec., 344 yards, 2 TDs

McCalebb has been a solid change of pace option in his career, but is expected to be the No. 1 running back in 2012. With Michael Dyer transferring to Arkansas State, the senior should top 200 carries for the first time in his career. McCalebb rushed for 641 yards and five scores last year, but also added 32 receptions for 344 yards and two touchdowns. In his Auburn career, McCalebb has 2,016 career rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, while catching 45 passes and scoring once on special teams. The senior weighs only 174 pounds, so Auburn will have to be careful not to overload him in 2012. Tre Mason and Mike Blakely will spell McCalebb as backups, but the senior could approach 200 carries and over 1,000 yards this year. 

9. Michael Ford, LSU (JR)
Rushing Stats:
127 att., 756 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 4 rec., 10 yards

Over the course of the entire season, Ford might have been the most consistent player in the backfield. He never topped 20 carries but received at least 10 attempts in eight games. He finished second on the team in attempts but first in rushing yards and tied for second in touchdowns. He made the biggest play of the season on an option pitch in overtime against Alabama. His six yards per carry were third in the SEC for any back with at least 100 carries. The 215-pound senior is a physical player who is looking to build on his two starts from last year in 2012.

10. Kenny Hilliard, LSU (SO)
Rushing Stats:
62 att., 336 yards, 8 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 13 yards

It took a couple of months for Hilliard to earn his spot in the backfield rotation, but he might have been the best running back on the team down the stretch last fall. While Ware and Ford were racking up stats against lowly competition, Hilliard saved his best performances for the likes of Auburn, Arkansas and the SEC championship game against Georgia. The nephew of former LSU and New Orleans Saints great Dalton Hilliard, the 240-pound back posted five carries in the first seven games of his career. Yet, he exploded for 65 yards and two scores against Auburn, 102 yards and a score against the Hogs and 72 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulldogs. His eight touchdowns paced the Bayou Bengals — and he scored all of them in the final seven games of the year. In one short season, the massive tailback proved he belongs on the field with the Wares and Fords of the world.

11. Mike Gillislee, Florida (SR)
Rushing Stats:
56 att., 328 yards, 2 TD
Receiving Stats: None

Will Muschamp is looking for a three-down feature back and it appears that the 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior will get the call. Gillislee has played in 36 career games making him the most experienced back on the roster. The good news is he showed flashes of ability last fall by posting his two best career games with 79 yards and a score against UAB and 84 yards and a score against Kentucky. The bad news is he showed flashes against UAB and Kentucky. With an offensive line that struggled mightily a year ago, Gillislee will need to prove he can produce against front sevens from Athens, Columbia, and Baton Rouge to be considered a success in 2012.

12. LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State (JR)
Rushing Stats:
87 att., 422 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving Stats: 13 rec., 59 yards, 2 TDs

With Vick Ballard out of eligibility at Mississippi State, all signs point to Perkins emerging as the new No. 1 back for coach Dan Mullen. The junior has shown flashes of ability in limited action, rushing for 422 yards and two touchdowns on 87 attempts and recording 566 as a redshirt freshman in 2010. Nick Griffin should be Perkins’ biggest competition for carries and may split time in the backfield. However, Perkins has waited his turn and is in for a breakout year in 2012. 

13. Alfred Blue, LSU (JR)
Rushing Stats:
78 att., 539 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., -3 yards

Possibly the toughest player to peg of the four elite LSU backs, Blue showed the ability to make big plays in the ground game. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry and was the lead back in the SEC title game with 96 yards and two scores. His 119-yard effort against Western Kentucky was just one of four total 100-yard games by any Tiger a year ago. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder can appear to be the forgotten man in the Bayou backfield, but fans can be sure that Les Miles knows exactly what he has in No. 4. Blue, who is at best third on the LSU depth chart, would likely start for Tennessee, Mississippi State, Auburn, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Florida, Missouri and possibly Georgia.

14. Jeff Scott, Ole Miss (JR)
Rushing Stats:
116 att., 529 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving Stats: 15 rec., 99 yards, 0 TD

If Ole Miss wants to improve upon last season’s 2-10 record, improving the offense is at the top of the priority list for coach Hugh Freeze. Scott is one of the Rebels’ few proven offensive weapons, rushing for 529 yards and six touchdowns last season. He rushed for 118 yards and three scores against Southern Illinois and posted 138 yards and two touchdowns against Vanderbilt. Scott doesn’t have the size to be an every down back, but should be the Rebels’ leading rusher in 2012.

15. Kendial Lawrence, Missouri (SR)
Rushing Stats:
119 att., 566 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 14 rec., 77 yards

Lawrence earned the starting tailback job heading into last season but saw his year come to a screeching halt in the form of a cracked fibula after Week 1. He missed three games and returned to find Henry Josey torching defenses to the tune of 116 yards per game. Against Texas, however, Josey also suffered a severe injury and Lawrence was called upon once again. He got 75 touches in the season’s final four games and he produced more than 100 yards from scrimmage in three of those games — including games against the defensively stout Longhorns and Tar Heels. He also scored three times over that span, indicating that he is capable of toting the rock should Josey not be able to return in 2012. Sledding will undoubtedly be tougher in the SEC, but senior-to-be has the talent to be successful.

16. Ben Malena, Texas A&M (JR)
Rushing Stats:
67 att., 259 yards, 4 TDs
Receiving Stats: 10 rec., 52 yards, 1 TD

Christine Michael’s ACL injury opened the door for Malena to earn playing time late last season. In the final two games of 2011, he recorded 83 yards against Texas and rushed for 77 yards and two touchdowns in the bowl win over Northwestern. Malena has only 67 career attempts, but he has shown that he has the talent to be Texas A&M’s No. 1 running back if Michael is slow to return from his injury.

17. Marlin Lane, Tennessee (SO)
Rushing Stats:
75 att., 280 yards, 2 TD
Receiving Stats: 17 rec., 161 yards, 2 TD

If you wore Orange and White a year ago and wanted to pick up yards on the ground, you likely found life extremely difficult. A still-young offensive line struggled to block, the offense lost its top playmaker in Justin Hunter and had to play the heart of the schedule without its starting quarterback. But the running backs didn’t help the case much either. Lane has a chance to change all of that this fall. The highly-touted tailback has plenty of talent and versatility in the passing game to be successful. Additionally, he should be running behind a better collection of blockers this fall. Lane is first in line to snag the Vols starting job but will have to constantly battle to keep Raijon Neal at bay. With Hunter and Tyler Bray healthy for a full season, fans can expect an improvement in the ground game in Knoxville. Because, let’s face it, there is only one way to go after ranking 116th in the nation in rushing.

18. Dennis Johnson, Arkansas (SR)
Rushing Stats:
106 att., 670 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving Stats: 24 rec., 255 yards, 2 TDs

After missing most of 2010 with an abdominal injury, Johnson bounced back to lead Arkansas with 670 rushing yards last season. He scored only three rushing touchdowns, but caught two passes for scores and took a kickoff return for a touchdown. With Knile Davis back in the mix, Johnson likely won’t lead the team in rushing yards in 2012. However, he should be one of the SEC’s best all-around backs, contributing on the ground, in the passing game and on returns.

19. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (FR)
With Eddie Lacy, Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler returning, Alabama is loaded with options at running back. However, this group got even deeper with Yeldon’s arrival this spring. He ranked as the No. 32 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and recorded 179 overall yards in the spring game. Yeldon may not see a ton of carries this year, but he’s a name to keep an eye on if an injury occurs to Lacy in 2012. 

20. CoShik Williams, Kentucky (SR)
Rushing Stats: 118 att., 486 yards, 3 TD
Receiving Stats: 19 rec., 70 yards

The diminutive tailback (5-foot-9, 178 pounds) missed three of the team’s first six games last fall but injuries forced Williams into the lineup. The former walk-on — he earned his scholarship after his sophomore season — took over for the injured Raymond Sanders and Josh Clemons in Week 7 of the season. In his first start of the year, he rushed for 148 yards on 22 carries in a rare win for the Cats. He went on to average 16.8 carries and 67.7 yards rushing per game while scoring all three of his touchdowns. Williams, arguably the toughest player on the Big Blue roster, has dealt with shoulder issues this spring but is considered the clear starter heading into his final season.

21. Kenny Miles, South Carolina (SR)
Produced in the final two games of the 2011 season and is listed as the No. 2 back on the depth chart.

22. Raijon Neal, Tennessee (JR)
Possibly better suited for the traditional feature back role than Lane, but possesses less physical ability.

23. Warren Norman, Vanderbilt (JR)
Dores active all-purpose yardage leader redshirted last fall due to leg injury. Gives Vandy tremendous depth behind Stacy.

24. Tre Mason, Auburn (SO)
With Michael Dyer choosing to transfer to Arkansas State, Mason will be the top backup to Onterio McCalebb this season. With Dyer and McCalebb entrenched as the go-to backs last year, he only registered 28 attempts for 161 yards and one touchdown. However, Mason showcased his upside with 64 yards and one score on nine attempts in the Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Virginia. 

25. Brandon Wilds, South Carolina (SO)
Topped 20 carries three times in Lattimore’s absence and posted three 100-yard games over that span.

Others to Watch

Mike Blakely, Auburn
Jalston Fowler, Alabama
Dee Hart, Alabama
Jeremy Hill, LSU
Ken Malcome, Georgia
Keith Marshall, Georgia
Raymond Sanders, Kentucky
Brandon Wilds, South Carolina

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

@AthlonSports

Other SEC Spring Preview Content:

Georgia or South Carolina: The SEC East's Best Team in 2012?
Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

Tennessee or Vanderbilt: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012

College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

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

Teaser:
<p> SEC Football: Running Back Rankings for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 08:01
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /college-football/college-football-fields-gets-social
Body:

The newest trend on college football fields is the use of Twitter hashtags. Three teams have added hashtags to their field in recent times. The newest is the University of Arkansas, who joins Michigan and Mississippi State. Check them out below. (It's hard to believe universities would be so self-serving. By the way, follow us @AthlonSports.)

The University of Arkansas just added #GOHOGS to Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in time for their spring game.

 

Mississippi State painted #HAILSTATE in an end zone during a game against Mississippi last fall.

 

Michigan painted the hashtag #GOBLUE in two places on the field for its annual spring football scrimmage.

Teaser:
<p> Arkansas, Michigan and Mississippi State add field hashtags</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 07:02
All taxonomy terms: Alex Rodriguez, Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning, NBA
Path: /nba/it%E2%80%99s-european-medical-vacation
Body:

Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez and Peyton Manning are among a growing number of athletes who have gone abroad to seek treatments that are not yet approved for use in the United States. From the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly, Michael Bradley has the details.

When Kobe Bryant’s cranky knee was bothering him too much to ignore during last offseason, he did what any top-shelf professional athlete would do: Turn to Hollywood.

Actually, Bryant turned to Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, the one with all the movie industry friends. Vitti had heard from “several” people he knew in the biz that arthritis pain — the kind Bryant was suffering from in his right knee — could be relieved with a process invented by an orthopaedic surgeon from Dusseldorf, Dr. Peter Wehling. After speaking with Vitti and recommending that another Laker head abroad to undergo the procedure, Vitti encouraged Bryant to do it as soon as Dallas dispatched L.A. in last year’s playoffs. So, Bryant flew to Germany and received an Orthokine injection in his knee.

“When our season ended early last year, I pushed Kobe to do it right away,” Vitti said in an e-mail. “In case we didn’t get a favorable result, we would have enough time to do something else.”

Given the length of the NBA lockout, Bryant would have had sufficient time to undergo a knee replacement had the Germany junket not gone well. But, according to Vitti, it did, and by heading to Europe, Bryant became one of a growing list of athletes who have gone abroad to seek treatments that are not yet approved for use in the U.S. In the past six months, Bryant, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and former NFL receiver Terrell Owens — among others — have sought to relieve pain and facilitate healing by undergoing Orthokine and stem cell therapies — with mixed results. In the process, they have agitated some members of the American medical community, who fear that decisions made by high-profile athletes will lead ordinary folks to pursue similar avenues that could be burdensome financially, provide false hope for recovery and, worse, lead to some unhealthy side effects.

“Inadvertently, athletes who claim to have gotten better doing these things, while I’m sure their intentions are good, will fuel this sort of behavior in others,” says Dr. Larry Goldstein, a neuroscientist and director of the Stem Cell Program at the University of California San Diego. “I wish they would be more cautious and think about what they say.”

In reality, Bryant and others are not crowing about the magically restorative powers of the treatments they have received, although they are not hiding the fact that they have sought them, either. The fear for many in the medical community is that as more and more players seek relief overseas, especially big names like Bryant, Manning and A-Rod, people will think the treatments are indeed panaceas, when they remain largely in the experimental stage and have limited evidence of success — not to mention their lack of the necessary governmental imprimaturs in this country.

If you read or hear anything said by Wehling, the molecular scientist who created the Orthokine treatment, it’s hard not to be sold. Wehling announced in late 2011 that he had “found a way to cure arthritis,” a fairly brazen claim, given the years and countless dollars that have been devoted to eliminating the joint scourge. A steady stream of athletes and celebrities has flowed toward Wehling — including Bryant and A-Rod — giving him tremendous cachet and more than a little notoriety.

Wehling’s procedure is based on his belief that arthritis is not a degenerative condition, but rather a disease caused by Interleukin-1, a protein in the body that promotes joint inflammation and a breakdown of cartilage. Wehling reports that he has discovered that another protein, Interleukin-1RA (Interleukin-1 receptor antagonist), can offset arthritis’ effects and bring about healing. So, he isolates the Interleukin-1RA from a patient’s blood and injects it into the afflicted area.

To do that, Wehling removes blood from a patient and incubates it (at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit) for a day, “spinning” it in a centrifuge to isolate the Interleukin-1RA. He then injects it into the affected area. “He has a tight handle on the technology,” says Dr. Steve Yoon, an orthopaedic surgeon who is part of the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Southern California. When Bryant was searching for relief of his aching knee, Vitti listened to his celebrity friends, did some research and referred Bryant to Wehling.

“(It’s) always better to go to the source,” Vitti said in a second e-mail. “He invented the procedure and has done more than anyone in the world. … He’s simply the best!”

Bryant was so pleased with the results that he gave Rodriguez Wehling’s number. Before heading to Germany, Rodriguez checked with the Yankees, who contacted Major League Baseball for a ruling to make sure Rodriguez would not return to a storm of accusations that he was blood doping or using another unapproved treatment. Dr. Gary Green, MLB’s medical director, expressed no trepidation, provided the treatment did not violate local or state laws.

It doesn’t, although there is concern from some corners regarding the process that separates the receptor antagonist from the blood. In late 2011, the Food and Drug Administration issued some extremely direct advisories that warned orthopaedists not to engage in any procedures that incubate blood for more than a couple hours. Despite those directives, Wehling has started an Orthokine clinic in Los Angeles, with among others, Dr. Chris Renna, who provided the “cream” to notorious BALCO founder Victor Conte. That doesn’t mean Orthokine has any relation to performance-enhancing drugs, but it does bring into question Wehling’s choice of associates. Further, since the FDA has not approved daylong incubation of blood to enhance its ability to heal, any Orthokine treatments done in SoCal could be considered unlawful.

People also sometimes confuse Orthokine with platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections, which are done fairly regularly throughout the U.S. and are usually more successful on the tendon and ligament problems in the elbow and shoulder, although they have also been used in athletes’ ankles and knees. The process involves removing about 30 cc of a patient’s blood and spinning it in a centrifuge for about 15 minutes to separate approximately 3 cc of plasma with a high platelet concentration. This hazy “buffy coat” is then injected into the affected area. The goal is to let the platelets’ powerful growth and restorative properties trigger healing in a far less invasive way than surgery would provide. But it is not a generic cure-all.

“The bottom line is that it will work for certain indications, but it won’t work for others,” says Dr. Allan Mishra, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at Stanford University, and a pioneering researcher in the field.

When Manning went abroad, he wasn’t looking for Orthokine or PRP. Desperate for relief from the disk problems he was experiencing in his neck and impatient with the progress he was making after his latest surgical procedure and subsequent physical therapy, he underwent late last summer an experimental stem-cell injection that had no substantive track record of providing relief for patients with his problem. The results were not favorable.

“There is some evidence that transplantation of some stem cells into joints could improve conditions, but in humans, it’s all experimental at this point,” Dr. Goldstein says.

“By and large (Manning) was participating in unknown medical experimentation.”

The optimism about stem cells is that they can be manipulated to take the form of many different cells in the bodies and “programmed” to direct cells to behave in a certain way. Manning had stem cells taken from one part of his body and injected into his neck, in the hopes a healing chain reaction would occur. It didn’t, and Goldstein isn’t surprised. He has been working with stem cells in mice since 1993 and in humans since ’98. He says the field is still in its nascent days and that despite some successes related to stem-cell treatments, it’s still unknown whether injections like the one Manning had were directly responsible for good outcomes or merely a small part of a larger picture that included surgery, rehab and the body’s own natural healing process.

“When there is a new medical area that has a lot of potential, fraudulent claims can spring up all around,” Goldstein says. “The real danger is that if (an athlete) does something and claims that he got better but doesn’t really know, kids in high school and college will say, ‘It worked for (the athlete), so I’m going to do it.’”

Even if they don’t have big-time Hollywood contacts.
 

Teaser:
<p> Prominent athletes like Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning and A-Rod seek treatment abroad.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 19:20

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