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Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-20-tennessee-volunteers
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-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 20: Tennessee Volunteers (22 total signees)

SEC Rank: 8th
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 0
National Signees: 4

Where They Got 'Em:

The state-by-state breakdown of this Tennessee class is exactly what a quality Volunteer class should look like. Derek Dooley used a heavy Southeastern focus mixed with talent-rich states like Ohio (2), Texas and Michigan to round out his class. Tennessee (4), Florida (5), Georgia (4), Louisiana (2), South Carolina (2) and North Carolina (1) provided the bulk of this haul. Without an elite naturally talented in-state recruiting base, the Vols have to be competitive in the thoroughly combed SEC states.

With a loaded (relatively speaking) in-state year in 2013 looming, new defensive coordinator and ace recruiter Sal Sunseri should make his presence felt more in the next cycle than in 2012.

Areas of Focus:

2012 will be a make or break season for Dooley, and all of Vol Nation knows it. Landing a top 25 class was imperative to keep the barking dogs at bay, and Dooley was able to accomplish that. And he did so in the face of massive coaching turnover. Dooley used elite level junior college talent — which can be a double-edged sword — and excellent coaching hires to ink the No. 20 recruiting class in the nation.

The hiring of Sunseri and former Vol Jay Graham have brought some excellent rising clout to the Big Orange recruiting trail. While a few names defected from this class following the coaching departures, undoubtedly these two deserve a lot of credit for not only holding the class together but also landing some big names down the stretch.

The biggest, both literally and figuratively, names to commit to Tennessee come from the JUCO ranks with the 6-6, 380-pound defensive tackle Daniel McCullers and five-star wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. A two-time NJCAA All-American, Patterson excelled as a wideout (61 rec., 924 yards, 15 TD), a return man (48.2 yards per kick return on 10 attempts) and in the ground game (32 att., 379 yards, 6 TD). These two are joined by former Alabama Crimson Tider Darrington Sentimore — who played 11 games as a freshman for Nick Saban back in 2010. McCullers and Sentimore are high-quality prospects who can contribute immediately to a D-Line that needs help.

Patterson leads a wide receiving class that is one of the best in the nation, and combined with Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers, will form arguably the deepest receiving corps in the nation. Three of the four nationally ranked players in this class are headed to the WR position and each brings a different skillset to the offense. Alton "Pig" Howard is a smallish speedster who can be used in a variety of unique ways. He posted 2,630 yards receiving and a 1,000-yard season (2010) as a wideout with 2,147 yards rushing and a 1,000-yard season (2009) over his final three prep campaigns. He scored 48 times over that span. The 6-5, 220-pound Jason Croom brings a long frame and big-time deep threat ability. He also ran track and played basketball and should be a fantastic vertical threat. In-stater Drae Bowles is the highest-rated of the bunch and might be the most complete. He finished his high school career with 171 receptions, 2,569 yards and 23 touchdowns — all while playing linebacker and defensive back on the other side of the ball. Add in tight end Justin Meredith to the mix, a guy who averaged 25 yards per catch as a junior, and the Vols boast the top pass-catching unit in the SEC.

With Tauren Poole graduating, the Vols needed to replenish their backfield, and three new faces come to campus in this class. Louisiana tailback Davante Bourque is the highest-rated of the bunch after rushing for 3,368 yards (8.4 ypc) and 57 touchdowns over his final two seasons at Crowley. Bourque has the most upside as a true three-down back, but smaller back Qeunshaun Watson and bruiser Alden Hill offer excellent complimentary pieces. Hill, who is already enrolled in class, finished as his school's all-time leading rusher (4,745 yards, Marlington, Alliance, Ohio) while Watson posted his own school record with a 1,790-yard senior year (Clarke Central, Athens, Ga.).

The big JUCO talents along the defensive line are joined by two true freshmen — 310-pound Michigan product Danny O'Brien and Lakeland, Fla., talent Trent Taylor. But make no mistake — Sentimore and McCullers are the likeliest to contribute early on the D-line.

Three linebackers signed with the Vols in this class with an oustide chance of a few other converts. The lengthy tandem of Justin King and LaTroy Lewis add tremendous athletic ability to the middle level of the Tennessee defense. Lewis, at 6-4 and 235 pounds, has some serious upside as an edge rusher but missed most of his senior season with a broken bone in his foot. If he fully recovers, he could easily outperform his recruiting rankings. King, who played quarterback and running back on offense as well as LB, brings a serious speed-size combination. Additionally, the Vols signed Florida linebacker Kenneth Bynum two weeks after National Signing Day. The 6-3, 213-pounder was formerly committed to Cincinnati, and Dooley's patience with him further indicates the issues at linebacker for Tennessee. Where and how these three end up will be key to how Dooley and Sunseri attack the potentially loaded 2013 class to fill a major area of need.

The defensive backfield got an excellent boost as well from a four-man defensive back class. Future safety LaDarrell McNeil is the top-rated player in this class and was once an AC100 talent. He led his team in tackles with 124 stops in 2011 and will likely make an immediate impact in the secondary. Cornerback Deion Bonner is the top coverman of the bunch after back-to-back all-state selections at Georgia powerhouse Columbus-Carver. He was named 2011 Co-MVP of the Georgia All-Star game. Bonner is joined on the outside by Sunshine State speedster Daniel Gray.

Even though quarterback is the least of Dooley's concerns at the moment, the Vols still landed a good one in Florida product Nathan Peterman. Offense-Defense named the Florida 6A first-teamer as the National Scholar-Athlete of the Year. His 36 passing touchdowns in 2011 rank second all-time in St. Johns County to that guy who wore No. 15 for the Gators.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 1, RB: 3, WR: 4, TE: 1, OL: 0, ATH: 1
Defense: DL: 4, LB: 3, DB: 4, K/P/LS: 1

AC100 Recruits:

None

Other National Signees:

112. LaDarrell McNeil, DB (6-1, 195), Dallas (Texas) Wilmer-Hutchins
180. Drae Bowles, WR (6-1, 198), Jackon (Tenn.) Christian
219. Alton Howard, WR (5-9, 180), Orlando (Fla.) Edgewater
240. Jason Croom, WR (6-5, 200), Norcross (Ga.) High

Early Enrollees:

Cody Blanc, ATH (6-1, 200), Knoxville (Tenn.) Central
Alden Hill, RB (5-11, 180), Alliance (Ohio) Marlington
Justin Meredith, TE (6-5, 225), Anderson (S.C.) T.L. Hanna
Nathan Peterman, QB (6-3, 210), Fruit Cove (Fla.) Bartram Trail
Darrington Sentimore, DL (6-2, 273), Norco (La.) Destrehan (Gulf Coast C.C.)
Trent Taylor, DL (6-2, 271), Lakeland (Fla.) Lake Gibson
Tino Thomas, DB (5-11, 195), Memphis (Tenn.) Melrose

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

2. Texas Longhorns
3. Florida Gators
4. Ohio State Buckeyes

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. LSU Tigers
14. Texas A&M Aggies
15. UCLA Bruins
16. Clemson Tigers
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
18. Oregn Ducks
19. South Carolina Gamecocks
20. Tennessee Volunteers
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

Teaser:
<p> The Tennessee Volunteers landed the No. 20 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /columns/nascar-news-notes/long-and-short-it-dissecting-daytona
Body:

by Dustin Long

For a moment, well, actually about two hours on Monday night, it appeared as if the Daytona 500 would conclude one of the greatest weekends in racing upsets.

As crews doused a jet fuel fire and then washed Turn 3 with Tide, Dave Blaney was in the lead. Rain appeared on its way. The race was past the halfway mark. If it was called, Blaney, who had to race his way into the 500, would be the winner.

It seemed a fitting end to what had been a crazy few days at the track. Wild rides, wild finishes and unlikely winners made Daytona a place where dreams come true — instead of that Disney place about an hour down the road.

It began with the Camping World Truck race when John King, making only his eighth career series start, won and upon climbing out of his truck in Victory Lane, said: “Man, I’m a rookie, I’m not supposed to be here. Oh my gosh. This is unreal.’’

King, in his first race for Red Horse Racing, had never finished better than 15th in a Truck race before Daytona. He called Friday’s victory “feature win number three’’ for his career, noting he’d won one dirt late model racing and one late model race.

His victory didn’t come without controversy, though. Contact from King’s truck caused leader Johnny Sauter to crash during the second of the three attempts to finish the race under green.

“I’ve never pushed in my life,’’ King said of the drafting at Daytona. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart.’’

The next day, the Nationwide Series topped King’s dramatics when James Buescher, running 11th in the final corner of the final lap, won. Yes, he was 11th on the final corner and won the race when the 10 cars in front of him wrecked.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Buescher said of his victory.

It was hard to believe, considering those collected in the crash among the leaders included Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

So, it was with those finishes as a backdrop, the sport faced a trifecta of upsets with Blaney in first as the clock moved beyond 11 pm EST on Monday.

But the track was repaired, the rain didn’t stop the race and Blaney didn’t win (finishing 15th). Instead, Matt Kenseth held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle in a car that had overheating issues, fuel problems, a bad tachometer and radio woes throughout the race to score his second Daytona 500 victory. Kenseth’s victory brought a sense of order — the Roush Fenway Racing cars had been strong all week and Kenseth won his qualifying race — amid all the chaos of Speedweeks.

PRIMETIME  Sunday’s rainout and rain Monday afternoon gave the sport and its fans a chance to see what it would be like to have a prime-time weeknight Cup race.

It’s something some fans have called for in recent years. The theory being that it would draw a larger TV audience than a Sunday afternoon race or a Saturday afternoon race.

FOX reported that Monday night’s Daytona 500 drew an 8.0 rating, down eight percent from last year’s race, which was held on Sunday afternoon. Monday night’s rating was up four percent from the 2010 Daytona 500, which was twice delayed by a pothole.

FOX also reported that the total audience watching at least a portion of Monday night’s race was 36.5 million, up from last year’s 30 million.

So, let the debate continue if it’s worth it for the sport to run a prime-time weeknight race.

FUNNY BUSINESS?  Did Greg Biffle protect teammate Matt Kenseth, who was leading, from Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the green-white-checker finish that decided the Daytona 500?

Here’s what Earnhardt and Biffle had to say about the final lap:

Earnhardt: “I know that they're teammates, but his group of guys that specifically work on that car or travel down here to pit the car during the race, his crew chief, Greg himself, they work way too hard to decide to run second in a scenario like that. I'm pretty sure that … if (Biffle) had an opportunity to get around Matt and had a chance to win the Daytona 500, he would have took it immediately.

“He's trying to do what he could do. If I were him, I can't imagine what his game plan was in his head, but if I were him, I would have tried to let me push him by and then pull down in front of Matt, and force Matt to be my pusher and then leave the 88 for the dogs.’’

Said Biffle: “Once (Earnhardt) got against my bumper ... I was about three-quarters throttle, and then once we got straight I pushed the gas down. I thought that we would drive up on the back of (Kenseth’s car) without a problem. It must have just pushed enough air out in front of my car that it pushed (Kenseth’s) car out about five or six feet in front of me and I couldn’t get any closer.

“We were all going the same speed, so when I moved over, Matt moved over real easy and Junior is against my back bumper. So, I am trying not to wreck because he is shoving on me, and I am doing this down the back(stetch) thinking, ‘I am not going to be able to get a run at him.’

“The only thing I could have done was got real straight down the backstretch and pushed the brake pedal down and kept going straight and slow our cars down a fair enough and then let Junior make a run at Matt around (turns) three and four and we could have moved up beside him coming off the corner and then Junior and I would have had to dice it out to the line. That is probably what I should have done.’’

PIT STOPS  Matt Kenseth collected $1,589,387 for winning Sunday’s Daytona 500. David Ragan, who finished last, collected $267,637. Ragan ran one lap before he was eliminated by a crash. ... Last year, eight of the 12 drivers who made the Chase finished 20th or worse in the Daytona 500. That could be good news for Jimmie Johnson (42nd Monday), Jeff Gordon (40th), Brad Keselowski (32nd), Kasey Kahne (29th) and Ryan Newman (21st). ... The difference in limiting the tandem draft? Last year’s Daytona 500 featured 74 lead changes. Monday night’s race had 25 lead changes.

Follow Dustin on Twitter: @DustinLong
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long dissects the week that was at Daytona International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 23:11
Path: /college-basketball/pressure-west-virginia-northwestern
Body:

Which team is under the most pressure in this final week of the regular season?

Patrick Snow: I think the West Virginia Mountaineers are under a ton of pressure if they want to make a fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. Bob Huggins’ club is currently tied for ninth in the rough Big East, and WVU has not been playing quality ball down the stretch. After starting the season at 15–5 overall and 5–2 in league play, the Mountaineers have lost seven of their last nine games. Those seven defeats include four home games, and WVU suffered a very tough loss last Friday after blowing an 11-point halftime lead against Marquette. Seniors Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones have led the team all season but have been inconsistent lately. WVU travels to South Florida on Saturday to face a Bulls club that has been very tough this season. A quality road win in the last regular-season game could be the difference-maker in getting the Mountaineers off the bubble, instead of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Huggins’ return to Morgantown.

Mitch Light: There’s a bunch of options here, but I will go with Northwestern, which is scratching and clawing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. The Wildcats are currently 17–11 overall and 7–9 in the Big Ten with an RPI of 43. They close the regular season with a home date with Ohio State on Wednesday and a tricky road game at Iowa on Saturday. If they beat Ohio State, they will be a virtual lock for the Tournament. If not, however, Bill Carmody’s club will head to Iowa City in must-win mode against an Iowa team that beat Indiana and Wisconsin in its last two home games. There’s no denying that this will be a stressful week for everyone associated with Northwestern basketball.


What conference tournament are you most looking forward to?

Patrick Snow: I am very excited for the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament this weekend. We all know the success that the CAA has had in recent NCAA Tournaments, producing two Final Four teams over the last six years — George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011. Even though three league squads (Drexel, VCU and George Mason) have 23 wins or more, I’m not sure that multiple teams will be invited to this season’s March Madness. That fact will make for a very exciting and pressure-packed league tourney. Three other CAA teams — Old Dominion, Delaware and Georgia State — have double-digit win totals in league play, so it should be wide open in Richmond. Drexel is the top seed on the strength of 17 consecutive victories, while fifth-place Delaware has won eight straight CAA games. VCU and George Mason will also be tough outs, as the CAA tourney figures to produce an electric atmosphere with multiple teams trying to reach their NCAA Tournament goal.

Mitch Light: I think the Missouri Valley Tournament in St. Louis — or Arch Madness, as it’s called — will be fun to watch. The league has two very good teams at the top in Wichita State (16–2) and Creighton (14–4) and then incredible balance with five teams finishing in a tie for third place at 9–9 in the league. Wichita State is the obvious favorite, but Creighton boasts the Valley’s best player in sophomore forward Doug McDermott, the son of head coach Greg McDermott. Looking for a sleeper? Indiana State was a bit of a disappointment this season with an 8–10 league record, but Greg Lansing’s club returns most of the key players from last year’s team that won the MVC Tournament title.

Nathan Rush: The SEC Tournament is must-see TV. Kentucky is the prohibitive favorite to win the national championship. But can the Wildcats cruise to the SEC crown, as they have in each of John Calipari's first two seasons at UK? If they are tested in a do-or-die tournament setting, how will Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the young Cats react? Also, the SEC has two of the more intriguing NCAA Tournament wild cards. Both Florida and Vanderbilt have the firepower to make a run in March. But if the Gators and Commodores don't get hot at the right time, either (or both) could easily stagger early in the Dance. UF and VU are hit or miss. But which is it? Then there's Alabama, a well-coached club that can stifle just about any offense on the right night. There is plenty of NCAA Tournament insight to be gleaned from the SEC Tournament — which, coincidentally, is in New Orleans, the site of this year's Final Four.



 

Teaser:
<p> The regular season is winding down in the Big Six power conferences. Several teams are in desperate need of some quality wins.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 11:45
All taxonomy terms: Daytona, Juan Pablo Montoya, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/juan-pablo-montoya-wreck-makes-wild-daytona-500-video
Body:

Although Matt Kenseth took home the checkered flag at the Daytona 500 last night, most spectators will be talking about the bizarre crash involving driver Juan Pablo Montoya. The crash took place while under caution when Montoya crashed into a jet dryer filled with about 200 gallons of jet fuel. The collision sparked a massive fire that scorched the track and delayed the race for more than an hour. 

Teaser:
<p> Driver crashes into jet dryer, sparking massive fire</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 09:12
Path: /columns/nascar-monday-recap/primetime-thriller-kenseth-wins-wild-daytona-500
Body:

by Matt Taliaferro

The 1979 Daytona 500 is considered by many to be the most noteworthy in the event’s 54-year history. A snowstorm blanketed much of the East Coast, providing a captivated audience; a last-lap battle for the win, ending in a wreck and a surprise winner; and of course, an infamous post-race fight in the infield between Cale Yarborough and brothers Bobby and Donnie Allison.

The 2012 edition of The Great American Race did its best to top it. And just may have done so.

Rained out for the first time ever, the Daytona 500 took NASCAR’s premier turn on a weeknight, prime-time slot on network television, and it didn’t take long for the storylines to develop. A wreck on Lap 2 eliminated five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, along with Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick, Trevor Bayne and David Ragan.

A somewhat subdued period followed, as drivers filed in line, ran in formation and waited to make their moves as the possibility of rain kept crew chiefs chewing their pencils. A Ryan Newman single-car spin, a blown engine in Jeff Gordon’s Chevy and another blown powerplant, this in David Stremme’s ride, punctuated a largely two-by-two affair.

And then, it all went up in flames.

While under caution for Stremme’s blown engine, Juan Pablo Montoya’s rear wheels locked up as he was catching up to the field due to a faulty transmission. His No. 42 Chevy crashed violently into a jet dryer that was blowing debris off of the track, igniting the safety vehicle into a ball of jet-fueled fire. Two hundred gallons of jet fuel burned on the track as safety personnel attempted to put out the blaze and then remove the vehicle while questions circulated that the race may not be resumed.

A two hour and five minute red-flag period ensued while NASCAR and track personnel repaired the surface, cleaning the spilt fuel and patching damaged areas of the surface. Meanwhile, drivers exited their parked cars on the backstretch, taking to Twitter — Brad Keselowski is believed to have gained 55,000 followers during the break — huddling around unlikely leader Dave Blaney’s car and doing television interviews.

Once racing resumed — at midnight in the eastern time zone — and with 40 laps remaining, Matt Kenseth inherited the lead. And it was a lead he would hold for the duration, which included two additional wrecks, the first with 13 laps to go that involved seven cars and the second, an eight-car affair that took the race into a green-white-checker finish.

In the two-lap overtime conclusion, Kenseth held off teammate Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. when the pair failed to piece together a run that could dethrone Kenseth’s powerful Ford.

“It was like the 17 (Kenseth) had more motor at the end,” an incredulous Biffle said. “It was like he floored it and we couldn’t catch him.

“I thought Junior would push up to his back bumper and I’d side-draft him (Kenseth) and go by him and then it’d be me and Junior over here at the (finish) line. But it wasn’t meant to be.”

Earnhardt squeezed by Biffle for second. Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton rounded out the top 5.

The win was Kenseth's his second of Speedweeks 2012 after taking checkers in his Gatorade Duel race on Thursday, and his second Daytona 500 triumph in the last four years. It was also earned under difficult circumstances, as his Ford experienced water system issues early in the race (nearly falling a lap down) and radio problems late.

“Our car, for some reason, was a lot faster out front than it was in traffic,” Kenseth said. “It took a long time to get to the front, but like Thursday (in the Duel) once we were in the front, it was hard for anybody to get locked onto you.

“My car was one of the faster cars, so it was harder for some of the cars to push you and stay locked onto you. And I learned a little bit on Thursday about the last couple laps there, and kind of what to do and what not to do and what this car liked. And we had enough speed once we took the white (flag), I felt sort of OK about it, but I still thought they were going to get a run and pass me. By the time I got to (Turn) 3 and could see they couldn't get enough speed mustered up to try to make a move.”

So while the final lap may have lacked the fireworks seen in the ’79 edition, the rest of the event certainly had more twists, turns and downright surreal circumstances. Earnhardt, for one, was just happy to get out of a long Speedweeks with a clean car and a solid finish.

“You know, you bring such a nice car down here, and the chances of you tearing it up is pretty high. Odds are always kind of high you get caught up in something like what we saw at the end of the race. But I was really happy to be able to take the car home in one piece, and liked the way the motor ran, liked the way the car drove.”

And in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, following a race that was supposed to be completed on Sunday afternoon, Earnhardt summed up a marathon weekend well: “It was a little bit of a bizarre week with the rain and all that, but you know, we stuck around and got it all done.”

Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

Teaser:
<p> Matt Kenseth wins the first weeknight Daytona 500 run in prime time.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 08:57
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-19-south-carolina-gamecocks
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 19: South Carolina Gamecocks (25 total signees)

SEC Rank: 7th
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 2
National Signees: 5

Where They Got 'Em:

If South Carolina could use only three states to recruit talent, it would probably survive just fine. Florida, Georgia and the home Palmetto State have supplied the majority of the roster for most of the Steve Spurrier era in Columbia. While inking only five in-state prospects in 2012 — the fewest since the 2007 class — Spurrier absolutely dominated in the state of Georgia. With 12 signees from the Peach State this cycle, South Carolina has landed a total of 23 prospects from the neighboring state over the last two years — and has signed a total of 42 Georgians over the last five years. Florida supplied a solid trio of talents this year as well.

North Carolina added three prospects, including a pair of already enrolled blocking brothers, while New Jersey and Pennsylvania added one apiece to the Carolina class.

Areas of Focus:

Spurrier has to like this skill class. The best tailback in the nation, Marcus Lattimore, doesn't count, but his return to the lineup and the arrival of seven stellar offensive skill freshman should more than make up for the loss of Alshon Jeffery. Shaq Roland is the top prospect in this class and is the nation's No. 3 overall wide receiver. He led his squad to an unblemished regular season and claimed South Carolina Mr. Football honors with nearly 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2011. He also earned Offensive MVP of the Shrine Bowl.

Roland is joined in the receiving corps by nationally rated Kwinton Smith and Jody Fuller. Smith has a massive frame (6-4, 206) and was also a baseball star in high school while Fuller also earned a Shrine Bowl invitation after 68 receptions and 11 touchdowns as a senior. Two tight ends, early enrollee Kelvin Rainey and prep schooler Jerell Adams, completely restock the pass-catching depth chart for the Gamecocks.

In the backfield, AC100 prospect Mike Davis might turn out to be the gem of this class. The bowling ball of a tailback rushed for 1,923 yards on 213 carries — yes, that is over 9.0 yards per carry — and 21 touchdowns in 2011 for Stephenson. He was a rapid riser in the rankings as the season wound down and excelled at the U.S. Army All-American event in San Antonio. He is the No. 8-rated running back in the nation in what turned out to be a loaded year for RBs. In-stater Kendric Salley rushed for over 5,000 yards and 90 touchdowns in his prep career and gives South Carolina one of the deepest backfields in the SEC.

Brendan Nosovitch is the lone quarterback in this class. He comes to South Carolina from Pennsylvania as the state's all-time record holder for total yards with 12,877 and second all-time in passing yards with 9,249. The football in the Keystone State certainly isn't what it used to be 30 years ago, but I shouldn't have to remind South Carolina fans of who dots the PA prep quarterback record books. Try Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, George Blanda, Rich Gannon and Johnny Lujack. Nosovitch isn't a five-star talent, but he was incredibly productive and won a state title as a junior. He should easily outperform his middling recruiting ranking.

Five stellar offensive line prospects signed with South Carolina this cycle. A pair of brothers, Clayton and the nationally ranked Brock Stadnik, are already enrolled and will participate in spring ball. Clayton is slotted to play center, while Brock and the 6-foot-9 Mason Zandi bolster the tackle position. Joe Harris and Cody Waldrop both tip the scales at over 300 pounds and will both play guard.

The secondary got the most attention on the defense as Spurrier lost plenty of talent to graduation and early NFL entries. Nationally rated Chaz Elder leads half a dozen defensive back prospects headed to South Carolina. The versatile coverman could end up as one of the biggest cornerbacks in the league at 6-2 and 190 pounds, but also excelled as a safety. Jordan Diggs is slated to play the hybrid 'Spur' position for the Gamecocks, while T.J. Gurley and Kyle Fleetwood are expected to play safety. Chris Moody and Rico McWilliams add tremendous depth to the outside, as they should land at cornerback. This is a deep, versatile and complete defensive back class that should outperform its recruiting rankings as well.

The front seven, which should be dominant once again in 2012, didn't need too much attention. Spurrier added five names to this group with end Darius English heading the defensive line class and Kaiwan Lewis topping the linebackers. Lewis helped lead St. Joseph's to an unbeaten state championship season in the Garden State, while the 6-6, 215-pound English claimed Georgia's 5A Defensive Player of the Year honors after 21 sacks in 2011. End Jhaustin Thomas and tackle Carlos Hood will team with English to add depth to an already stacked front line for South Carolina.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 1, RB: 2, WR: 3, TE: 2, OL: 5, ATH: 2
Defense: DL: 3, LB: 2, Spur: 1, DB: 5, K/P/LS: 1

AC100 Recruits:

41. Shaq Roland, WR (6-1, 173), Lexington (S.C.) High
54. Mike Davis, RB (5-9, 216), Lithonia (Ga.) Stephenson

Other National Signees:

221. Brock Stadnik, OL (6-5, 287), Greensboro (N.C.) Western Guilford
222. Chaz Elder, CB (6-2, 187), Union City (Ga.) Banneker
235. Kwinton Smith, WR (6-4, 206), Hamer (S.C.) Dillon

Early Enrollees:

Kelvin Rainey, TE (6-3, 216), Yulee (Fla.) High
Brock Stadnik, OL (6-5, 287), Greensboro (N.C.) Western Guilford
Clayton Stadnik, OC (6-2, 265), Greensboro (N.C.) Western Guilford

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

2. Texas Longhorns
3. Florida Gators
4. Ohio State Buckeyes

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. LSU Tigers
14. Texas A&M Aggies
15. UCLA Bruins
16. Clemson Tigers
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
18. Oregn Ducks
19. South Carolina Gamecocks
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

Teaser:
<p> The South Carolina Gamecocks landed the No. 19 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 05:56
Path: /college-football/2012-acc-schedule-analysis
Body:

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

Related: Athlon's Early College Football Top 25 for 2012
Related: Athlon's Early ACC Predictions for 2012

Boston College

Sept. 1 Miami
Sept. 8 Maine
Sept. 15 at Northwestern
Sept. 22 Bye Week 
Sept. 29 Clemson
Oct. 6 at Army
Oct. 13 at Florida State
Oct. 20 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 27 Maryland
Nov. 3 at Wake Forest
Nov. 10 Notre Dame
Nov. 17 Virginia Tech
Nov. 24 at NC State

* The Tom O’Brien Bowl. The Eagles will close out the 2012 season with a road trip to Raleigh to take on former coach Tom O’Brien. Boston College has won four out of the last five games against the Wolfpack, including a 14-10 victory in Chestnut Hill last season.

* Coach on the hot seat? There’s no question coach Frank Spaziani needs to get into a bowl game to save his job. If the Eagles are to get back into the postseason, they will have to make up some ground in the early portion of the schedule. November is a brutal month with road trips to Wake Forest and NC State (likely bowl teams) and home games against Notre Dame and Virginia Tech.

* A tricky non-conference schedule. Boston College should be able to beat Maine on Sept. 8, but there’s no guarantee it beats Army, Northwestern or Notre Dame. The Black Knights are a difficult team to prepare for after a short week, while the Wildcats beat the Eagles 24-17 in Chestnut Hill last season.

* The Eagles finished 2011 with a 24-17 victory over Miami. The first opponent for 2012: the Hurricanes. These two should be quite familiar with each other by the end of the game on Sept. 1.

* Road trip. The Eagles didn’t get a break in terms of the schedule in October as they have to travel for back-to-back games against Florida State and Georgia Tech.

* Crossover opponents with the Coastal: Miami, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech

Clemson

Sept. 1 Auburn (Atlanta)
Sept. 8 Ball State
Sept. 15 Furman
Sept. 22 at Florida State
Sept. 29 at Boston College
Oct. 6 Georgia Tech
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 Virginia Tech
Oct. 25 at Wake Forest
Nov. 3 at Duke
Nov. 10 Maryland
Nov. 17 NC State
Nov. 24 South Carolina

* The Tigers will open the 2012 season in Atlanta as the second game in the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff. NC State and Tennessee will meet in the first matchup of the ACC-SEC/Chick-fil-A challenge on Friday night in Atlanta. Clemson hosted Auburn last season, posting a 38-24 victory on Sept. 17. Last year’s win snapped a 14-game losing streak to Auburn. 

* ACC Atlantic title game? Clemson and Florida State are the early favorites to claim the 2012 Atlantic Division and the Sept. 22 matchup will be huge for both teams. The Tigers’ revamped offensive line will face a huge challenge as it goes against Florida State’s defensive line. Clemson has not won in Tallahassee since 2006.

* The open date comes at a good time for Clemson. The Tigers are off on Oct. 13, one week before hosting Virginia Tech. Clemson easily handled the Hokies in two meetings last year, but this will be a key matchup as both teams try to stay alive in the national title picture.

* The back half of the schedule isn’t overwhelmingly easy, but getting Wake Forest, Duke, Maryland and NC State is a pretty favorable run for Clemson.

* Trap game? After hosting Virginia Tech on Oct. 20, the Tigers have a five-day turnaround to take on Wake Forest in Winston-Salem.

* As usual, Clemson will close out the year with South Carolina. The Tigers have lost the last three matchups to the Gamecocks. The season finale with South Carolina is the final matchup in a three-game home-stand to close out 2012.

Duke 

Sept. 1 Florida International
Sept. 8 at Stanford
Sept. 15 North Carolina Central
Sept. 22 Memphis
Sept. 29 at Wake Forest
Oct. 6 Virginia
Oct. 13 at Virginia Tech
Oct. 20 North Carolina
Oct. 27 at Florida State
Nov. 3 Clemson
Nov. 10 Bye Week
Nov. 17 at Georgia Tech
Nov. 24 Miami

* The schedule doesn’t start with any favors. Mario Cristobal has built FIU into a Sun Belt power and a 2,800-mile trip to Palo Alto — with or without Andrew Luck — will be downright impossible for Duke.

* An 0-2 start is likely before winnable non-conference tilts with North Carolina Central and Memphis.

* The road schedule, while impossibly brutal in conference, actually works out for a team of Duke’s stature. The Blue Devils have little chance of upsetting ACC powers Virginia Tech, Florida State or Georgia Tech, so why not play them on the road? That gives Duke a better chance of upsetting lesser teams like Virginia, North Carolina and Miami at home. It feels like fuzzy logic, but if Duke wants to make a bowl, it has to upset the “lower-tiered” teams in its division.

* Surprisingly, the Blue Devils don’t end the 2012 season with North Carolina. Duke has played the Tar Heels in the season finale six out of the last seven seasons.

* Duke caught a bad break in scheduling as its bye week is two weeks before the season finale.

* Crossover opponents with the Atlantic: at Wake Forest, at Florida State, Clemson

Florida State

Sept. 1 Murray State
Sept. 8 Savannah State
Sept. 15 Wake Forest
Sept. 22 Clemson
Sept. 29 at South Florida
Oct. 6 at NC State
Oct. 13 Boston College
Oct. 20 at Miami
Oct. 27 Duke
Nov. 3 Bye Week
Nov. 8 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 17 at Maryland
Nov. 24 Florida

* Two FCS opponents. With West Virginia backing out of a scheduled non-conference matchup, the Seminoles were forced to scramble and add Savannah State to fill the Sept. 8 date. Only one FCS win will count to bowl eligibility for Florida State in 2012.

* Home cooking. The Seminoles won’t have to leave Florida until their Oct. 6 date against NC State. The first four games are at home, with a trip to South Florida on tap for the fifth week of the season.

* Trap game? One week after traveling to take on South Florida, the Seminoles have to hit the road to play NC State on Oct. 6. The Wolfpack has defeated Florida State two out of the last three times in Raleigh.

* Rematch? It’s interesting the ACC scheduled the Florida State-Virginia Tech showdown so late in the season (Nov. 8). These two teams are the early favorites to meet for the ACC title on Dec. 1, so there could be two meetings within three weeks between the Seminoles and Hokies.

* A trip to Blacksburg. Florida State’s trip to Blacksburg on Nov. 8 will be only the third meeting with Virginia Tech as an ACC member during the regular season (not counting ACC Championship Game appearances). The Seminoles lost their last appearance at Virginia Tech, falling 40-21 in 2007. However, the schedule makers gave Florida State a break, as the Seminoles have a bye before playing the Hokies this season.

* ACC Atlantic Championship Game? With Clemson and Florida State expected to be the frontrunners to win the ACC Atlantic, the Sept. 22 meeting could have a significant impact on the division race. Considering the Tigers have some heavy losses on the offensive line, Florida State catches a break by getting Clemson early in the season.

* Instate rivals. Can the Seminoles continue their string of recent success against their rivals in the Sunshine State? Florida State has won three out of the last four against Miami and two in a row against Florida.

* Crossover opponents with the Coastal: at Miami, Duke, at Virginia Tech

Georgia Tech

Sept. 3 at Virginia Tech (Labor Day)
Sept. 8 Presbyterian
Sept. 15 Virginia
Sept. 22 Miami
Sept. 29 Middle Tennessee
Oct. 6 at Clemson
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 Boston College
Oct. 27 BYU
Nov. 3 at Maryland
Nov. 10 at North Carolina
Nov. 17 Duke
Nov. 24 at Georgia

* Either Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech has represented the Coastal Division in all seven ACC Championship games with the winner of the Techie Bowl earning the division crown all seven years. The game holds even more importance in 2012 as these two budding rivals will play on Labor Day night to wrap-up the first weekend of the 2012 season. Fans won’t have to wait long for what could be the most important Coastal Division contest of the year.

* Georgia Tech didn’t want to be victim of a FCS upset after a Labor Day matchup. Remember Virginia Tech in 2010? The Yellow Jackets will have to play on a short week after matching up against the Hokies, but Presbyterian should pose little threat to Georgia Tech.

* The top three teams in the Atlantic Division will be Florida State, Clemson and NC State. While the Jackets have to play at Clemson to start October, Paul Johnson’s bunch misses Florida State and NC State this fall.

* The Yellow Jackets will need to have a great summer camp because the first month of the season will determine just how good they will be in 2012. After the brutal opening weekend trip to Blacksburg, Georgia Tech plays key division foes Virginia and Miami before the calendar flips to October. And with a road trip to Clemson looming on October 6, Tech plays its toughest four ACC games in the first six weeks of the season.

* The non-conference slate for Georgia Tech is always highlighted by some clean, old-fashioned hate and 2012 is no different. The season culminates with a trip to Athens — which isn’t a bad thing for Tech, where three of the last four wins in the series have come Between the Hedges. An intriguing visit from BYU at the end of October will offer an interesting change of pace in the heart of the ACC schedule.

* Crossover opponents with the Atlantic: at Clemson, Boston College, at Maryland.

Maryland

Sept. 1 William & Mary
Sept. 8 at Temple
Sept. 15 Connecticut
Sept. 22 at West Virginia
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 6 Wake Forest
Oct. 13 at Virginia
Oct. 20 NC State
Oct. 27 at Boston College
Nov. 3 Georgia Tech
Nov. 10 at Clemson
Nov. 17 Florida State
Nov. 24 at North Carolina

* The Terrapins finished 2011 riding an eight-game losing streak. Maryland should be able to start the year 1-0 with William & Mary visiting College Park on Sept. 1. The Tribe finished 5-6 last year and was decked 40-3 by Virginia in the season opener.

* The Randy Edsall Bowl. Edsall’s tenure at Maryland is off to a horrible start, but how much more scrutiny will he face if Connecticut beats the Terrapins on Sept. 15? Edsall coached the Huskies for 12 seasons, leading them to a 74-70 record and one BCS bowl appearance. Remember when Edsall took over he proclaimed Maryland to be his dream job? You can bet the Huskies haven’t forgotten that or how Edsall left them for Maryland after the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma.

* Maryland and West Virginia is a solid rivalry, but it’s a series that has been dominated by the Mountaineers recently. West Virginia has won six in a row over the Terrapins and this year’s game will be the final non-conference game for both in 2012. With conference play starting up after this matchup, it’s the final tune-up opportunity for both teams.

* Maryland has met Virginia every year since 1957. The Terrapins have lost four out of the last five games in this series.

* The Terrapins have a brutal stretch to close out the 2012 season – Georgia Tech, at Clemson, Florida State and at North Carolina. A lot can change before November, but it’s not out of the question the Terrapins will be at least a touchdown underdog in each of those matchups.

* Insignificant note: Maryland’s schedule alternates home and road games all year.

* Crossover opponents with the Coastal: at Virginia, Georgia Tech, at North Carolina

Miami

Sept. 1 at Boston College
Sept. 8 at Kansas State
Sept. 15 Bethune-Cookman
Sept. 22 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 29 NC State
Oct. 6 at Notre Dame (Solider Field, Chicago, Ill.)
Oct. 13 North Carolina
Oct. 20 Florida State
Oct. 27 Bye Week
Nov. 1 Virginia Tech
Nov. 10 at Virginia
Nov. 17 South Florida
Nov. 24 at Duke

* For a young team that has to replace most of its leaders, Miami gets no favors in non-conference play. A nasty trip to the Little Apple in Week 2 is a likely loss. A long road trip to Solider Field in Chicago to face Notre Dame has loads of national appeal, but the Irish should be a heavy favorite. And a home test against in-state rival South Florida is never easy — in fact, the only time these two have played in Miami Gardens, USF won 23-20 back in 2010. Bethune-Cookman is the only clear-cut non-conference win for Al Golden.

* The last regular season matchup between Miami and Notre Dame occurred in 1990.

* The Hurricanes are set-up for a strong second half push, but it might come at the expense of early season losses. Four of its first six games are on the road, including a key division game against Georgia Tech. Those types of road games — at Kansas State, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame — can be great learning tools for a young team. Yet, most learning experiences are losses and that could be the case with this first month of play. Toss in a home game against a quality NC State team and 3-3 becomes a very likely first half record for Miami.

* With those road tests out of the way early on, the Canes have a chance to make some big statements over a four-week period of time. Right in the heart of the conference slate, Miami plays three straight home games and gets its bye week. Now, those games are North Carolina, Florida State and Virginia Tech, but should Miami learn from its tough first month, it could easily pull off a key upset during its four-week home-stand.

* Crossover opponents with the Atlantic: at Boston College, NC State, Florida State

NC State

Aug. 31 Tennessee (Atlanta)
Sept. 8 at Connecticut
Sept. 15 South Alabama
Sept. 22 The Citadel
Sept. 29 at Miami
Oct. 6 Florida State
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 at Maryland
Oct. 27 at North Carolina
Nov. 3 Virginia
Nov. 10 Wake Forest
Nov. 17 at Clemson
Nov. 24 Boston College

* The Wolfpack will open the 2012 season in Atlanta as part of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Challenge. NC State and Tennessee will play on Friday night, while Clemson and Auburn will meet on Saturday. NC State and Tennessee have met only twice, with each team winning once. The last meeting came in 1939.

* NC State will be the first of two ACC teams to take on Connecticut in 2012. The Wolfpack take on the Huskies on Sept. 8 and Maryland hosts Connecticut on Sept. 15.

* South Alabama (NC State’s Week 3 opponent) is transitioning to FBS status and will play a full Sun Belt schedule in 2012.

* NC State is riding a five-game winning streak over rival North Carolina.

* The Wolfpack have not played Miami since 2008. NC State has won the last two matchups against Miami.

* Three of NC State’s last four games are at home.

* The Wolfpack’s matchup against Florida State on Oct. 6 could be a sneaky game in the Atlantic Division title race. NC State was shutout by the Seminoles in 2011, but knocked off Florida State in 2010. 

North Carolina

Sept. 1 Elon
Sept. 8 at Wake Forest
Sept. 15 at Louisville
Sept. 22 East Carolina
Sept. 29 Idaho
Oct. 6 Virginia Tech
Oct. 13 at Miami
Oct. 20 at Duke
Oct. 27 NC State
Nov. 3 Bye Week
Nov. 10 Georgia Tech
Nov. 15 at Virginia (Thur.)
Nov. 24 Maryland

* The road schedule isn’t all that daunting in conference for the new Tar Heels staff. Trips to Miami, Virginia, Wake Forest and Duke should all be manageable for a team that expects to compete for eight or nine wins.

* Another huge schedule break for the Tar Heels: Three of the top five teams in the ACC will visit Chapel Hill: Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and NC State.

* The crossover schedule is very manageable as well. The aforementioned trip to Wake Forest is no gimmie and NC State is a quality opponent, but there is no Florida State or Clemson on the slate. This should make adjusting to life in the ACC just that much easier for new head coach Larry Fedora — who has plenty of offensive talent to work with in 2012.

* The Tar Heels have a tricky non-conference date against Louisville in Week 3. The Cardinals should be the favorite to win the Big East title in 2012. North Carolina defeated Louisville 14-7 in Chapel Hill last year.

* By playing Georgia Tech on Nov. 10, North Carolina won’t have much time to prepare for Virginia on Nov. 15. The Tar Heels will only have five days of rest. 

* Crossover opponents from the Atlantic: at Wake Forest, NC State, Maryland

Virginia Cavaliers

Sept. 1 Richmond
Sept. 8 Penn State
Sept. 15 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 22 at TCU
Sept. 29 Louisiana Tech
Oct. 6 at Duke
Oct. 13 Maryland
Oct. 20 Wake Forest
Oct. 27 Bye Week
Nov. 3 at NC State
Nov. 10 Miami
Nov. 15 North Carolina
Nov. 24 at Virginia Tech

* The Cavaliers feature maybe the toughest non-conference schedule in the ACC this fall. Penn State at home will be a tough challenge, despite all that the Nittany Lions have gone through over the last year. A trip to Fort Worth to battle TCU is a tall order. And don’t forget about a visit from WAC champion Louisiana Tech. Those are winnable games for a team that wants to compete for an ACC title. With a road test against Georgia Tech slipped between games with Penn State and TCU, fans in Charlottesville should know all about their 2012 team by September 22.

*  The good news for Virginia in conference play is what isn’t on the schedule. Like North Carolina, the Cavs miss both Florida State and Clemson. The only way Mike London’s squad will face the Noles or Tigers will be in the ACC Championship game — a test that London would be happy to see.

* After a brutal start to the season, Virginia gets a stretch where four of five ACC games will be played at home. Divisional swing games against Miami and North Carolina, as well as must-wins against Maryland and Wake Forest, will come in the comforts of Scott Stadium. This all, of course, leads up to a nasty season-ending road trip to Blacksburg for the Commonwealth Cup.

* The Cavaliers’ final three opponents are all from the Coastal Division.

* Crossover opponents from the Atlantic: Maryland, Wake Forest, at NC State

Virginia Tech

Sept. 3 Georgia Tech (Labor Day)
Sept. 8 Austin Peay
Sept. 15 at Pittsburgh
Sept. 22 Bowling Green
Sept. 29 Cincinnati (Landover)
Oct. 6 at North Carolina
Oct. 13 Duke
Oct. 20 at Clemson
Oct. 27 Bye Week
Nov. 1 at Miami
Nov. 8 Florida State
Nov. 17 at Boston College
Nov. 24 Virginia

* In each of the seven ACC Championship game seasons, the winner of the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech game has gone on to win the Coastal Division. This fall should be no different as these two enter 2012 as the favorites once again. However, this year they will square off in Week 1 and I can think of no better way to end kickoff weekend with the most important game in the Coastal Division in primetime on Labor Day night. The good news? Frank Beamer will have all summer long to prepare for the Jackets’ triple option attack — which has worked well for bowl teams of late.

* There will be a three-game stretch as the calendar flips to November that will determine if Virginia Tech is a national power or merely another quality Frank Beamer squad. A road trip to Clemson to face the only team that beat the Hokies in the regular season in 2011 will resonate across both ACC divisions. Then back-to-back primetime Thursday night games following the bye week will give voters plenty of chances to see the Hokies against quality competition. First, a trip to Miami could carry division implications and finally Florida State comes to Blacksburg on November 8 in what could be an ACC title game preview. This game could carry National Championship repercussions as well should both teams develop as expected along the offensive line.

* Virginia Tech is playing its second game in Landover in the last three seasons. The last meeting in Landover was a 33-30 loss to Boise State.

* Florida State and Miami take on Virginia Tech after a having a bye week.

* Overall, this is a tough schedule that features two intriguing non-conference tests, a huge Coastal swing game right out of the gate, two potential ACC championship game previews, the Commonwealth Cup and two road trips to North Carolina and Miami. Should Hokies continue their run of ACC dominance, it will have most assuredly earned it in 2012.

* Future ACC opponents. Pittsburgh will likely join the ACC in time for the 2013 season and is slated to be in the Coastal Division. The Panthers and Hokies have not met since 2003.

* Crossover opponents with the Atlantic: at Clemson, Florida State, at Boston College

Wake Forest

Sept. 1 Liberty
Sept. 8 North Carolina
Sept. 15 at Florida State
Sept. 22 Army
Sept. 29 Duke
Oct. 6 at Maryland
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 at Virginia
Oct. 25 Clemson
Nov. 3 Boston College
Nov. 10 at NC State
Nov. 17 at Notre Dame
Nov. 24 Vanderbilt

* Wake Forest opens the year with a solid FCS opponent in Liberty. Interestingly enough, the Flames are led by former Buffalo and Kansas coach Turner Gill. Former North Carolina quarterback Joe Dailey is also on Gill’s staff.

* The Sept. 8 matchup with North Carolina is the only ACC conference game that weekend. The rest of the ACC will be playing non-conference games.

* The Demon Deacons have had solid success against Florida State recently, knocking off the Seminoles 35-30 last season and claiming two out of the last three matchups in Tallahassee.

* If the Demon Deacons want to get back to a bowl game, there’s an important three-game stretch in the early part of the season. Wake Forest will be favored to beat Army and Duke, and will have to travel to College Park to take on Maryland. If the Demon Deacons can pick up three wins in that stretch, combined with a win in the opener against Liberty, this team should be in good shape to reach the postseason in 2012.

* Short week. Wake Forest has to play at Virginia on Oct. 20 and then hosts Clemson just five days later.

* The Nov. 17 meeting with Notre Dame will only be the second time the Demon Deacons and Fighting Irish have played. The first matchup took place last season with Notre Dame winning 24-17.

* Wake Forest will close out the regular season against Vanderbilt for the fifth time in six seasons. The Demon Deacons have won three out of the last four against the Commodores, but lost 41-7 in Winston-Salem last season. 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon takes a look at some of the key matchups, notes and observations for the 2012 ACC schedule.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 05:54
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-sleepers-and-busts-infield
Body:

— by Mark Ross, published on Feb. 28, 2012

Using Athlon Sports’ consensus Top 150 as the barometer, here are some potential sleepers to keep an eye on and some possible busts to be wary of when it comes to drafting your fantasy teams this season.

Note: Infield includes all players who have C, 1B, 2B, SS and/or 3B eligibility. Ranking in the Top 150 is listed, if applicable. UR means player was not ranked in the Top 150.

Athlon Sports Fantasy Rankings: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

2012 Fantasy Baseball Infield Sleepers:

Michael Cuddyer, COL, 1B/2B/OF (No. 120 overall)
His versatility alone increases his value, especially if you play him at second. Cuddyer’s numbers (.284, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 11 SB) weren’t horrible last year and should be even better this year, his first with Colorado. Besides the home park advantage (switching from Target Field to Coors Field), the Rockies line up packs more offensive punch than the Twins. Colorado finished tied for seventh in the majors in runs last season, while Minnesota was 25th.

Ike Davis, NYM, 1B (No. 137 overall)
For Davis, it’s all about health and if he’s fully recovered from the ankle injury that limited him to just 36 games last year. He was off to a great start in 2011, hitting .302 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs, which translates into a .302-31-112 line when prorated to a full (162 games) season. The Mets moving the fences in at Citi Field certainly won’t hurt either.

Danny Espinosa, WAS, 2B (UR)
The batting average (.236) is a bit of a problem; but Espinosa still posted a near 20-20 campaign (21 HR, 17 SB) in his first full season in the majors. If he’s able to improve his contact rate (166 strikeouts), he could be in for a big 2012.

J.J. Hardy, BAL, SS (No. 141 overall)
Only two shortstops hit 30 home runs last season – Troy Tulowitzki and Hardy. When healthy, Hardy has hit for power, hitting a combined 50 home runs from 2007-08, and his overall numbers from 2011 (.269, 76 R, 27 2B, 80 RBI) are pretty solid. Shortstops that hit for power are few and far between, especially ones that figure to be available in the later rounds.

Adam LaRoche, WAS, 1B (UR)
His first season in Washington was a disaster (.172, 3 HR, 15 RBI in 43 games) that can be largely attributed to an injured shoulder. From 2006-2010, LaRoche’s seasonal average looked like this: .272, 26 HR, 89 RBI. You could do worse on a late-round filer, no?

Kendrys Morales, LAA 1B/OF (UR)
If healthy, and that’s a rather large “if,” Morales could put up huge numbers in an Angels lineup that now includes Albert Pujols. In 2009, Morales broke out in a big way with a .306-34-108 season and was on pace for similar numbers in 2010 (.290-11-39 in 51 games) before breaking his ankle celebrating a walk-off home run. He hasn’t played in a game since May 29, 2010, but if he’s able to prove he’s ready during spring training, he could pick up where he left off almost two years ago.

2012 Fantasy Baseball Infield Busts:

Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE, SS (No. 66 overall)
Before last season Cabrera had hit a grand total of 18 home runs in four major league seasons. In 2011, he had nearly that many (14) before the All-Star break and finished the season with 25. He also struck out 119 times and cooled off quite a bit (.244, 10 2B, 11 HR, 41 RBI, 5 SB) after an incredible first half (.293, 22 2B, 14 HR, 51 RBI, 12 SB). Cabrera still offers production at shortstop, which is somewhat shallow, but I would be wary of drafting him based on a repeat of last season.

Alex Rodriguez, NYY, 3B (No. 61 overall)
Even though injuries plagued Rodriguez throughout last season, you can’t ignore his numbers either. A-Rod hit .276 with just 16 home runs and 62 RBIs in 99 games, his lowest run-producing totals since 1995. He was 19 that season and will turn 37 this July. It’s been an incredible run, but I think his days as a consummate fantasy producer are past him. His current consensus ranking puts him around the 6th round, but I won’t be the one taking him there.

Michael Morse, WAS, 1B/OF (No. 79 overall)
First, let’s give credit where credit is due: Morse clubbed 31 home runs, drove in 95 and hit .303 in his first full season. So by calling him a “bust,” I’m not saying he’s going to pull an Adam Dunn this season and bottom out, but I am concerned that he won’t put up similar across-the-board numbers. You can’t ignore his low OBP (.360) and ugly walk-to-strikeout ratio (36:126). The power, which is something you want from your first baseman, will probably still be there, but don’t be surprised if the average dips and he profiles more along the lines of a Mark Reynolds (No. 113) when looking at the complete package.

Mike Napoli, TEX, C/1B (No. 38 overall)
Napoli hit four more home runs and drove in seven more last season compared to 2010, and he accomplished this in 27 less games and 84 fewer at bats. He also increased his batting average by 82 points (.238 to .320) and his OPS went from .784 to 1.046. Even with 2011’s incredible season included, Napoli is just a .264 career hitter, so don’t be surprised to see the average dip this season. He’s also not a full-time player (113 GP in 2011) and is still recovering from an ankle injury he suffered during last year’s World Series. So despite his catcher-eligibility and appealing power potential, I think there are too many question marks to draft him in Round 4, which is where his current consensus ranking places him.

Chase Utley, PHI, 2B (No. 83 overall)
Injuries have had a lot to do with it, but you can’t help but notice the decline over the past three seasons in Utley’s numbers. Home runs have dropped from 31 in 2009 to 16 in 2010 to just 11 last season. His batting average has gone from .282 in ’09 to .259 last year and both runs and RBIs have decreased by more than 50 percent over the past three seasons. There are guys like Dustin Ackley, Jason Kipnis and Neil Walker, to name a few, that offer more upside than a 33-year-old Utley does at this point in his career.

Kevin Youkilis, BOS, 1B/3B (No. 72)
The last time Youkilis played in at least 145 games was 2008, which also was the last season he drove in more than 100 runs (115). In 2008-09 Youkilis averaged 28 home runs per season. He hit a total of 36 the past two seasons combined. A career .289 hitter, Youkilis should still hit for average, but probably shouldn’t be drafted as the run producer he was just three seasons ago.

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: The Big Board
2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012
2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers

Teaser:
<p> Who are the biggest sleepers and busts to watch out for on the fantasy diamond?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /nfl/robert-griffin-iii-stephen-hill-dominate-combine
Body:

Andrew Luck is still the No. 1 prospect in the draft, but Robert Griffin III and Matt Kalil made their case at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 25-26.

Last year's No. 1 pick, the Carolina Panthers' record-breaking Pro Bowl "icon and entertainer" Cam Newton dominated commercial breaks while Luck, Griffin, Kalil and Co. torched the turf running the 40-yard dash, lifting 225 pounds on the bench press, jumping (vertical and broad), and doing various position drills in what some have dubbed the “Underwear Olympics.”

RGIII is so fast, "He would get pulled over in a school zone," according to the NFL Network crew led by Rich Eisen and Mike Mayock. A decorated track star at Baylor, Griffin topped out at 25 MPH — running a 4.41 in the 40. RGIII also reassured teams by measuring in at a solid 6’2 3/8”. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner posted an explosive 39-inch vertical leap and 10-foot broad jump.

Griffin was also caught on tape politicking, talking with Cleveland Browns quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple. With pick Nos. 4 and 22, Cleveland is the team with the best chances of landing RGIII.

Luck’s workout was not as impressive as Griffin’s off-the-charts effort — which included quarterback-best numbers in the 40 and vertical leap. But Luck did stack up well compared to Newton’s performance at last year’s combine. Luck weighed in at 6’4” and 234 pounds, ran a 4.67 in the 40-yard dash, posted a 36-inch vertical leap and a better-than-Griffin 10’4” broad jump; Newton was 6’5” and 248, running a 4.59 in the 40, with a 35-inch vertical leap and 10’6” broad jump in 2011. Unlike Newton, however, neither Luck nor Griffin chose to throw at the Combine.

Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill was unable to work out, due to a broken right foot suffered in January. In his absence, Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins showed off his complete arsenal, with solid footwork, excellent accuracy and enough athleticism (4.93 in the 40). Meanwhile, LSU’s Jordan Jefferson proved he can “rip it,” as Mayock says, with a cannon for a right arm and impressive numbers in the drills — running a 4.65 in the 40, posting a 36.5-inch vertical leap and lifting 225 pounds 14 times on the bench press.

As good as Griffin and Luck were on Sunday, however, it was Georgia Tech receiver Stephen Hill who made the most money. The 6’4”, 215-pounder tied for the fastest 40 time of the weekend with a 4.36 — a time also recorded by Miami’s Travis Benjamin and Stanford’s Chris Owusu. Hill also had a 39.5-inch vertical leap and had sure hands — including one highlight reel diving catch during position drills.

The consensus top-rated wideout, Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon, did not run the 40-yard dash but did display strong, sure hands and the elite body control expected of a top-10 prospect. Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd ran a 4.47 in the 40 but had trouble catching the ball across in the middle (with no defense on the field); Floyd also has lingering injury and character concerns. In a head-scratching move, South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery chose not to run — after already measuring in shorter (6’2 7/8”) and nearly 20 pounds lighter than advertised.

Among running backs, Alabama’s Trent Richardson has established himself as clearly the top ball-carrier. Unfortunately, minor left knee surgery prevented the Bama bowling ball from working out at the Combine.

As a result, Miami’s Lamar Miller (4.40 in the 40) and Virginia Tech’s David Wilson (4.49 in the 40, RB-best 41-inch vertical, RB-best 11-foot broad jump) maintained their status as the next-best backs, while San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman (4.45 in the 40, 37-inch vertical), Oregon’s LaMichael James (4.45 in the 40, 10’3” broad jump), Texas A&M’s Cyrus Gray (4.47 in the 40, 21 reps on bench press) and Ohio State’s Dan “Boom” Herron (35-inch vertical, 22 reps on bench press) improved their stock with impressive workouts.

On Saturday, two of the top tight ends did not run the 40-yard dash. Stanford’s Coby Fleener sat out with an ankle injury after posting 27 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Georgia’s Orson Charles was a controversial healthy scratch in the 40 and both the vertical and broad jumps, but did rip off a position-best 35 reps on the bench press, looked great running routes and had a strong showing running the gauntlet. Clemson’s Dwayne Allen ran a 4.89 in the 40 and had 27 reps on the bench press.

This year’s offensive line class is one of the more impressive in recent memory, with USC’s Matt Kalil — the younger brother of Pro Bowl Panthers center Ryan Kalil — looking like the West Coast version of Joe Thomas or Jake Long. The younger Kalil weighed in at 6’6 1/2” and 306 pounds before running a smooth-as-silk 4.99 in the 40 and slamming out 30 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press despite having 34 1/2” long arms. The franchise left tackle has cemented himself as the best non-QB prospect in 2012.

After Kalil, tackle prospects such as Iowa’s Riley Reiff, Stanford’s Jonathan Martin and Ohio State’s Mike Adams did nothing to hurt their stock, although they did not have Kalil-like standout performances in shorts.

Stanford guard David DeCastro showed his phonebooth strength with 34 reps on the bench press, as did Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler (32 reps) and Georgia guard-tackle Cordy Glenn (31 reps). But no one could touch Michigan man David Molk, whose 41 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press were the most among all offensive players. The Rimington Trophy winning center was disappointed, however, that he was unable to reach his goal of 50 reps.

Iowa guard Adam Gettis had the best overall day among O-linemen, with a 5.00 in the 40, a 31.5-inch vertical and 9’4” broad jump. And Midwestern State fast riser Amini Silatolu continued to help himself in the draft process, with 28 reps on the bench press, a 31.5-inch vertical and an 8’11” broad jump.

Pre-Combine 2012 NFL Mock Draft
NFL Combine – Offensive Players (Feb. 25-26)
NFL Combine – Defensive Players (Feb. 27-28)

 

by Nathan Rush

Teaser:
<p> Baylor's Robert Griffin III, Stanford's Andrew Luck, Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill and USC's Matt Kalil lead offensive prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 27, 2012 - 14:16
Path: /columns/nascar-news-notes/why-rain-daytona-could-mean-sunshine-nascar
Body:

by Matt Taliaferro

For the first time in its 54-year history, the Daytona 500 has been postponed. A soggy scheduled Sunday start time of 1:00 pm EST drug into Sunday afternoon and, when the rain just kept coming, to Monday at noon.

Now, NASCAR president Mike Helton has announced that the sanctioning body plans to drop the green flag at 7:02 pm EST on Monday evening. And with a nation at work on Monday, moving the start time to prime time may be a blessing in disguise. Whether more credit should go to NASCAR, Daytona International Speedway or Mother Nature is debatable, of course. What is without debate is that this unique circumstance could be a turning point for the sport.

I’ve said for the last few years that a weeknight, prime-time slot would be a boon for NASCAR — particularly during its 10-week Chase for the Championship, when the title is being decided and all eyes should be on the sport. Instead, NASCAR’s Chase has gone head-to-head with the mighty NFL on Sunday afternoon and, in many cases, ignored.

As NASCAR Hall of Famer and current FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip so eloquently put it last year, “If there’s an 800-pound gorilla in the room, run away from it!”

Truer words were never spoken. NASCAR will never beat the 800-pound gorilla that is the NFL in ratings — that’s a simple fact. So this unintended prime-time race — which just so happens to be the most prestigious of the season — may be the ultimate trial balloon. If the ratings soar, the sanctioning body will have no choice but to explore whether the option of regular weeknight prime-time slots should be explored.

My bet is this will be a ratings bonanza unlike any NASCR has ever seen. And that’s sunny news.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
 

Teaser:
<p> Monday evening's running of a rain-delayed Daytona 500 could be a ratings boon for NASCAR. And a road map for the future.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 27, 2012 - 11:04
Path: /mlb/fifty-funny-fantasy-baseball-team-names
Body:

--By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman

Baseball is almost here, which means that warmer weather is finally approaching and it’s time to name your fantasy baseball team. Former MLB hurler and pitching coach Dick Pole has inspired my squad for years, and you should be able to find your winning team name here as well. Some of your competition may go with standard names such as the Springfield Isotopes, Chico’s Bail Bonds, the Bronx Bombers (or the just as popular Yankees Suck) or Kenny Powers’ inspired names (Charros, Shelby Sensation, the Reverse Apache Master, You’re F&*&in’ Out, Myrtle Beach Mermen), but this list sticks mainly to current players. Here they are, in no particular order of awesomeness. 

Athlon Sports Fantasy Rankings: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

Dick Pole’s Staff
Inglourious Bastardos
G’s Up, Scott Downs
Big Wang Theory
Triple-Hawpe Brewed
The Scioscial Network (Does Mike even have Facebook?)
Hannibal Lester
Ethier Said Than Dunn
Marcum Eight (Shaun has to like the Big Lebowski.)
Cuckoo for Coco Crisp
Big league Choo
The Price Is Wrong (Sorry David, but we all love Gilmore vs. Barker)
Citizen Cain
Better Safe Than Soria
Breaking Badenhop (Not sure that Walter White has new Marlins gear.)
Smoak a Swisher
Scratch My Ichiro
I’m Rich, Litsch! (We’re sure Jesse loves the Chappelle Show.)
Bats in the Pelfrey
Horse walks into Aybar
Harang 'em High
High Plains Fister
Sam Above the Fuld
A Mighty Lind
Next of Kinsler
Grand Theft Votto
Take Maholm Tonight (Eddie Money will now pull for the Cubs.)
Chen Music
The Bourn Supremacy (Michael did lead MLB in steals.)
Honey Nut Ichiro's
Thome Don’t Play That
Out of Saito
The Yankee Clippard
Kimbrels 'n Bits
Fister-Furbush (This trade actually happened last season.)
Come Sale Away
Man walks into a Bard
Cust Out
Rusty Trumbo
Lay down the Lawrie
Yellow Brick Gload
Harper Valley OBP (baseball stat-ish, but looking forward to Bryce’s debut)
Depends on Asdrubal
Not at the Table Carlos
Cannot, Cantu
Jeters Never Prosper (but they do get undeserved Gold Gloves)
Jon Jay Jack Jim Joe
Latos Intolerant (too easy, but some Cincy fans may enjoy this one now)
The Melky Way
Less is Morrow

And a trio of retired favorites…
Julio Lugo’s Amigos
Nomar Mr. Nice Guy
The Big Hurt Locker

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2013: 75 Funny Fantasy Baseball Team Names

2012 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: The Big Board
2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid

Teaser:
<p> Here are the 50 Funniest Fantasy Baseball Team Names</p>
Post date: Monday, February 27, 2012 - 10:50
Path: /college-football/2012-acc-football-schedules
Body:

Click here to read more ACC coverage by AthlonSports.com

Boston College

Sept. 1 Miami
Sept. 8 Maine
Sept. 15 at Northwestern
Sept. 22 Bye Week 
Sept. 29 Clemson
Oct. 6 at Army
Oct. 13 at Florida State
Oct. 20 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 27 Maryland
Nov. 3 at Wake Forest
Nov. 10 Notre Dame
Nov. 17 Virginia Tech
Nov. 24 at NC State

Clemson

Sept. 1 Auburn (Atlanta)
Sept. 8 Ball State
Sept. 15 Furman
Sept. 22 at Florida State
Sept. 29 at Boston College
Oct. 6 Georgia Tech
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 Virginia Tech
Oct. 25 at Wake Forest
Nov. 3 at Duke
Nov. 10 Maryland
Nov. 17 NC State
Nov. 24 South Carolina

Duke 

Sept. 1 Florida International
Sept. 8 at Stanford
Sept. 15 North Carolina Central
Sept. 22 Memphis
Sept. 29 at Wake Forest
Oct. 6 Virginia
Oct. 13 at Virginia Tech
Oct. 20 North Carolina
Oct. 27 at Florida State
Nov. 3 Clemson
Nov. 10 Bye Week
Nov. 17 at Georgia Tech
Nov. 24 Miami

Florida State

Sept. 1 Murray State
Sept. 8 Savannah State
Sept. 15 Wake Forest
Sept. 22 Clemson
Sept. 29 at South Florida
Oct. 6 at NC State
Oct. 13 Boston College
Oct. 20 at Miami
Oct. 27 Duke
Nov. 3 Bye Week
Nov. 8 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 17 at Maryland
Nov. 24 Florida

Georgia Tech

Sept. 3 at Virginia Tech (Labor Day)
Sept. 8 Presbyterian
Sept. 15 Virginia
Sept. 22 Miami
Sept. 29 Middle Tennessee
Oct. 6 at Clemson
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 Boston College
Oct. 27 BYU
Nov. 3 at Maryland
Nov. 10 at North Carolina
Nov. 17 Duke
Nov. 24 at Georgia

Maryland

Sept. 1 William & Mary
Sept. 8 at Temple
Sept. 15 Connecticut
Sept. 22 at West Virginia
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 6 Wake Forest
Oct. 13 at Virginia
Oct. 20 NC State
Oct. 27 at Boston College
Nov. 3 Georgia Tech
Nov. 10 at Clemson
Nov. 17 Florida State
Nov. 24 at North Carolina

Miami

Sept. 1 at Boston College
Sept. 8 at Kansas State
Sept. 15 Bethune-Cookman
Sept. 22 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 29 NC State
Oct. 6 at Notre Dame (Solider Field, Chicago, Ill.)
Oct. 13 North Carolina
Oct. 20 Florida State
Oct. 27 Bye Week
Nov. 1 Virginia Tech
Nov. 10 at Virginia
Nov. 17 South Florida
Nov. 24 at Duke

NC State

Aug. 31 Tennessee (Atlanta)
Sept. 8 at Connecticut
Sept. 15 South Alabama
Sept. 22 The Citadel
Sept. 29 at Miami
Oct. 6 Florida State
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 at Maryland
Oct. 27 at North Carolina
Nov. 3 Virginia
Nov. 10 Wake Forest
Nov. 17 at Clemson
Nov. 24 Boston College

North Carolina

Sept. 1 Elon
Sept. 8 at Wake Forest
Sept. 15 at Louisville
Sept. 22 East Carolina
Sept. 29 Idaho
Oct. 6 Virginia Tech
Oct. 13 at Miami
Oct. 20 at Duke
Oct. 27 NC State
Nov. 3 Bye Week
Nov. 10 Georgia Tech
Nov. 15 at Virginia (Thur.)
Nov. 24 Maryland

Virginia Cavaliers

Sept. 1 Richmond
Sept. 8 Penn State
Sept. 15 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 22 at TCU
Sept. 29 Louisiana Tech
Oct. 6 at Duke
Oct. 13 Maryland
Oct. 20 Wake Forest
Oct. 27 Bye Week
Nov. 3 at NC State
Nov. 10 Miami
Nov. 15 North Carolina
Nov. 24 at Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech

Sept. 3 Georgia Tech (Labor Day)
Sept. 8 Austin Peay
Sept. 15 at Pittsburgh
Sept. 22 Bowling Green
Sept. 29 Cincinnati (Landover)
Oct. 6 at North Carolina
Oct. 13 Duke
Oct. 20 at Clemson
Oct. 27 Bye Week
Nov. 1 at Miami
Nov. 8 Florida State
Nov. 17 at Boston College
Nov. 24 Virginia

Wake Forest

Sept. 1 Liberty
Sept. 8 North Carolina
Sept. 15 at Florida State
Sept. 22 Army
Sept. 29 Duke
Oct. 6 at Maryland
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 at Virginia
Oct. 25 Clemson
Nov. 3 Boston College
Nov. 10 at NC State
Nov. 17 at Notre Dame
Nov. 24 Vanderbilt

Teaser:
<p> 2012 ACC football schedules.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 27, 2012 - 10:03
All taxonomy terms: Daytona, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/daytona-500-start-time-re-set-still-unlikely
Body:

UPDATE, MONDAY, 10:20 am: NASCAR President Mike Helton has just announced that the race has again been rescheduled. The green flag is set to drop at 7 pm ET.

 

The Daytona 500 was scheduled to run Sunday, but scattered Florida showers kept drivers off the track and the guys in the Fox commentary booth scrambling to fill several hours of live TV.

NASCAR has since rescheduled the start time for noon (Eastern) Monday. However, a look at the Daytona forecast makes the likelihood of a noon start time seem unlikely. 

Although rain has disrupted the Great American Race in the past, this marks the first time in the 54-year history of the race that is has been postponed to another day.

For historical reference, here's a quick look at previous rain disruptions at the Daytona 500.

1963—First 10 laps run under yellow due to rain.

1965—Rain-shortened -- 133 laps (332.5 miles).

1966—Rain-shortened -- 198 laps (495 miles).

1979—First 16 laps run under yellow due to rain.

1992—Laps 84-89 run under yellow due to rain on backstretch.

1995—Red flag on lap 71 due to rain. Red flag lasted 1:44.

2003—Two red flags for rain. 1st: lap 63; 1:08. Rain-shortened -- 109 laps (272.5 miles).

2009—Rain-shortened -- 152 laps (380 miles).

Teaser:
<p> The Great American Race is Still Dealing with Rainy Conditions.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 27, 2012 - 09:59
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-18-oregon-ducks
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 18: Oregon Ducks (21 total signees)

Pac-12 Rank: 4th
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 1
National Signees: 7

Where They Got 'Em:

There might not be another team in the nation that has elevated it's national recruiting stock in the last decade more than the Oregon Ducks. The Nike money certainly helps, but winning three straight Pac-12 titles does too. Chip Kelly has been able to sell his brand nationally and his 2012 class was no different.

He used 10 different states covering six time zones to land his newest collection of athletes. The bulk of the class, however, comes from talent-rich states California (6) and Texas (4). Ohio sent two prospects while Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Virginia, Colorado and Hawaii delivered one each. The home state of Oregon also sent three talented athletes to Eugene.

The biggest story to watch, however, is the developing NCAA situation with Willie Lyles. The Texas-based scout has delivered more than a few stellar Lone Star prospects to Eugene and it could cost the Ducks in some fashion. Oregon officially recognized the investigation late last week and could be facing sanctions or probation — and frankly, who knows what the wildly inconsistent and completely opaque NCAA will do these days.

Areas of Focus:

This class starts up front on the defensive side of the ball with the No. 2 player in the state of California Arik Armstead. The 6-8 280-pound athlete is also a basketball star and could easily end up back on the offensive side of the ball. For now, he will have his hand in the dirt rushing the passer and leading the Ducks defensive line. He is joined on the D-line by four more stellar prospects who would make most college basketball teams feel small. Stetzon Bair stands 6-9, nationally-ranked lineman DeForest Buckner goes 6-7 and Cody Carriger is listed at 6-6. Last but not least, nationally-ranked Alex Balducci is merely 6-4 and 262 pounds. This group has three natioanl prospects and is easily the tallest defensive line class in the nation.

The secondary also got a nice boost with four talented prospects signing with the Ducks. None of the quartet is ranked nationally, but safety Reggie Daniels has loads of experience at a high level of success. He posted 90 tackles at Arizona powerhouse Hamilton High and led his squad to two state championships in three years. He is joined by a pair of brothers from Texas, Eric and Stephen Amoako, and in-state do-everything athlete Oshay Dunmore.

In-state talent Brett Bafaro, who was the top linebacker in the state of Oregon this cycle, is the lone backer in this class.

Kelly lost Darron Thomas prematurely, in this writer's opinion, and was looking to rebuild the depth under center. With California products Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues, the Ducks should be fine at quarterback. Lockie is more of a pure passer as he threw for 3,278 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior while Rodrigues exhibits more traits essential to Kelly's offense. The 6-3, 210-pound dual-threat rushed for 684 yards and 15 scores on the ground to go with his 2,036 yards and 26 passing touchdowns, earning CAL MVP honors. If 'athlete,' and No. 2-rated player in this class, Bralon Addison lands at quarterback, Kelly is all of the sudden looking at a glutton of riches at the position. Addision was a first-team all-state quarterback as a senior in Texas after rushing for 1,625 yards to go with this 2,158 yards through the air.

Four pass-catchers should help whoever ends up taking snaps — and should Addison end up catching passes this group gets even deeper. Chance Allen excelled at the highest level in the Lone Star State, finishing with 126 receptions, 1,920 yards and 22 scores in his prep career. His 6-3, 190-pound frame will play well in Eugene. The nationally rated Dwayne Stanford checks in at 6-5 and 185 pounds after averaging 22.5 yards per catch at Ohio powerhouse Taft High. He earned CMAC Offensive Player of the Year honors as a junior. Toss in one of the nation's top tight end prospect in 6-6, 220-pound Pharaoh Brown as well as Evan Baylis, and Kelly should have a completely restocked cupboard of receivers.

Top 150 running back Byron Marshall only adds quality depth to the already supremely talented Ducks backfield.

Offensive skill and defensive line appeared to be the top priorities for Kelly and he accomplished his goals with flying colors. His brief flirtation with the NFL had little to no effect on the Ducks recruiting efforts as Oregon remains one of the most powerful national brands in the sport today.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 2, RB: 1, WR: 2, TE: 2, OL: 1, ATH: 2
Defense: DL: 5, LB: 1, DB: 4, K/P/LS: 1

AC100 Recruits:

8. Arik Armstead, DL (6-8, 280), Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove

Other National Signees:

111. Bralon Addison, ATH (5-10, 185), Missouri City (Texas) Hightower
148. Byron Marshall, RB (5-10, 195), San Jose (Calif.) Valley Christian
164. Alex Balducci, DL (6-4, 262), Portland (Ore.) Central Catholic
168. Pharaoh Brown, TE (6-6, 220), Lyndhurst (Ohio) Brush
213. Dwayne Stanford, WR (6-5, 185) Cincinnati (Ohio) Taft
224. DeForest Buckner, DL (6-7, 230), Honolulu (Hawaii) Punahou

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

2. Texas Longhorns
3. Florida Gators
4. Ohio State Buckeyes

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. LSU Tigers
14. Texas A&M Aggies
15. UCLA Bruins
16. Clemson Tigers
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
18. Oregn Ducks
19. Tues., Feb. 28
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

Teaser:
<p> The Oregon Ducks landed the No. 18 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 27, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/stanford-cardinal-2012-spring-preview
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer. 

Stanford Cardinal 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 11-2, 8-1 Pac-12

Spring practice: Feb. 27-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Brett Nottingham, 5 of 8, 78 yds., 1 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Stepfan Taylor, 242 car., 1,330 yds., 10 TDs
Receiving: Ryan Hewitt, 34 rec., 282 yds., 5 TDs
Tackles: Jarek Lancaster, 70
Sacks: Chase Thomas, 8.5
Interceptions: Three players tied with 1

Redshirts to watch: QB Evan Crower, QB Kevin Hogan, DE Charlie Hopkins, S Wayne Lyons, OT Brendon Austin

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 San Jose State
Sept. 8 Duke
Sept. 15 USC
Sept. 27 at Washington
Oct. 6 Arizona
Oct. 13 at Notre Dame
Oct. 20 at California
Oct. 27 Washington State
Nov. 3 at Colorado
Nov. 10 Oregon State
Nov. 17 at Oregon
Nov. 24 at UCLA

Offensive Strength: Stanford will certainly miss Andrew Luck, but there’s plenty of reasons for optimism that this team can stay in the Pac-12 North race. The Cardinal should have one of the top running back corps in the nation, led by Stepfan Taylor, Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney. Losing tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro was a huge blow, but three starters are back up front.

Offensive Weakness: Obviously, it will be nearly impossible for Stanford to replace Andrew Luck’s production and leadership at quarterback. Brett Nottingham is the expected successor, but he will be pushed in spring practice by a handful of candidates. In addition to breaking in a new quarterback, the Cardinal desperately need to find some playmakers at receiver.

Defensive Strength: While the offense gained all of the accolades last year, the defense was quietly solid. Stanford finished fourth nationally in run defense and ranked second in the Pac-12 in points allowed. The linebacking corps will be among the best in college football, while the line can build around All-Pac-12 end Ben Gardner.

Defensive Weakness: The biggest question mark on the defense last season was the secondary. The Cardinal ranked 95th nationally against the pass and three starters must be replaced going into 2012, including first-team All-Pac-12 safety Delano Howell.

Spring Storylines Facing the Cardinal:

1. With 13 starters returning, don’t expect Stanford to fall completely off the national radar. Sure, replacing Andrew Luck is going to be a difficult task, but coach David Shaw has done a good job of recruiting and there’s enough talent in place to expect at least eight wins in 2012. Repeating a berth in a BCS bowl is unlikely, but Stanford isn’t about to slip back into Pac-12 mediocrity. The bigger question for Shaw and this coaching staff will be 2013 and beyond. Stanford football is riding a wave of momentum - can they keep that going?

2. There’s no question all eyes will be on the quarterbacks this spring. Brett Nottingham is the early leader to replace Andrew Luck after completing 5 of 8 throws for 78 yards and one score last year. The sophomore has the size (6-foot-4) and skill set to be a solid player for Stanford over the next couple of years. He ranked as one of the top quarterbacks coming out of high school and showed solid poise in limited action last season. Nottingham will be pushed by redshirt freshmen Evan Crower and Kevin Hogan, along with upperclassmen Robbie Picazo and Josh Nunes. The coaching staff wants this to be an open competition, but the odds are heavily in favor of Nottingham ending the spring as the No. 1 quarterback.

3. Whichever quarterback takes the first snap in 2012, they will have the benefit of working with a solid supporting cast. Running back Stepfan Taylor should challenge for All-American honors this year, while David Yankey, Sam Schwartztein and Cameron Fleming is a good trio to build around on the offensive line. Tight ends Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz are both capable of leading the team in receptions this year. The bad news? Stanford lacks playmakers at receiver and will miss Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro on the offensive line. Although there are some significant losses, the cupboard is far from bare for the new quarterback (likely Nottingham) this year.

4. Last season’s co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver left to go to the NFL, but fellow co-coordinator Derek Mason is back, which means the defense won’t see too many changes in 2012. Mason will have seven starters to work with, including the return of linebacker Shayne Skov from an injury that forced him to miss nine games. Skov is facing a suspension from an off-the-field incident, but his return will only strengthen a solid linebacking corps. Mason’s biggest focus this spring will be finding some answers in the secondary. Safeties Michael Thomas and Delano Howell and cornerback Johnson Bademosi have finished their eligibility. Cornerback Terrence Brown collected 43 stops last year and will be the new leader in the secondary. Jordan Richards had a solid freshman year as he picked up 31 tackles, but overall, this group needs more speed and athleticism.

Related Content Links

2012 Very Early Pac-12 Predictions
Athlon's Very Early Top 25 for 2012

2012 Recruiting Rankings: No. 7 Stanford

College Football's Top 10 Spring Storylines for 2012

Teaser:
<p> Even though Andrew Luck is gone, Stanford should still be in good shape to contend for at least eight wins in 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 27, 2012 - 06:59
Path: /columns/nascar-news-notes/race-day-thoughts-daytona-500
Body:

by Matt Taliaferro

The forecast isn’t great for today’s Daytona 500, with rain expected in the Daytona Beach, Fla., area, but hopefully at 1:29 pm EST the green flag will fly over NASCAR’s Great American Race as scheduled — and the race will be run the scheduled distance.

In the meantime, some thoughts, notes and predictions on race day morn.

Update: Due to rain, the Daytona 500 has been postponed to Monday. NASCAR president Mike Helton says the sanctioning body is planning for a 7:00 pm EST start time. The race will air live on FOX. 

 

A Bunch of Big Ones
Friday’s Camping World Trucks Series and Saturday’s Nationwide Series races were marred by late-race accidents. An odd hybrid of tandem and pack drafting — particularly at the end of the events — has given way to a scrap metal salesman’s dream. In each race, virtual unknowns (or at least outgunned underdogs) in John King and James Buescher have come out of nowhere for unlikely wins.

Thus, the question is whether the closing laps of the Cup Series’ 500 will resemble either of the previous two events. My feeling is that it will not be anywhere near as messy. The Truck Series field has a much more diverse mix of youth and experience, lending some to take actions that are over their heads. The Nationwide pack, by race’s end, was comprised mostly of Cup Series cherry-pickers who had nothing to lose by laying it all on the line. Bring me the steering wheel or the trophy, as the saying goes.

Expect an elevated level of skill and decision-making out of the Cup drivers — even when the pressure gets racheted up with 10 laps to go. And keep in mind that if the 500 is cut short due to rain, the drivers and teams may not even know that they’re in the final 10 laps.

It’ll get crazy, no doubt, but we’ve seen the most destructive finishes Speedweeks has to offer already.

Speaking of Unlikely Winners …
… Can Danica Patrick actually pull the upset and win in her first Daytona 500 start? The honest answer is yes, she could (see: Trevor Bayne, 2011), but she will not.

Bayne’s monumental upset last season came in a different form of Daytona drafting. Tandem drafting and pack racing are two very different animals. Patrick has yet to show she is 100 percent comfortable in the giant pack (or in yesterday’s tandem/pack hybrid). There remains a level of timidity she has shown that will make her odds long to even finish the 500, much less be in the right place at the right time as the laps wind down to be in a position to win.

There’s no doubt she’ll have plenty of help on Daytona’s 2.5-mile track throughout the day, but when it’s “go time,” the experienced drivers she’ll be looking to for help (Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr.) will be looking out for No. 1. That may leave Patrick sinking, not surging, through the field.

Engine Concerns
Water and oil temperatures have kept engine builders tossing and turning late into the night at Daytona since January’s test sessions. The Fords, with their FR-9 powerplants, have run cooler than any other make, and that has to play to their favor. However, staying up front and in clean air will alleviate this problem regardless of manufacturer. That, of course, is easier said than done.

NASCAR has allowed teams to change the PSI on the radiator pressure release valve from 25 psi to 28 psi. That will help with cooling, but water was seen spewing from overflow valves in the Duels — and those were only 150-mile affairs. A 500-mile race will eventually take its toll. Expect some big names to battle this all afternoon, and some to fall victim to overheating.

The Favorites
Unquestionably, Tony Stewart. Smoke lost the Bud Shootout by inches last weekend, won his Duel race on Thursday and most likely would have won the Nationwide race had Kurt Busch not thrown an ill-advised block that decimated the lead pack.

Stewart has a swagger this season, carried over from last year’s Chase performance and a handful of non-NASCAR wins over the offseason. He earned his 17th career Daytona win on Thursday, though none have come in the 500. It’s his 14th start in NASCAR’s Super Bowl and he’s driving the No. 14 Chevy. Hey, it worked for Darrell Waltrip in 1989.

Roush teammates Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards have all shown plenty of speed over the last week. Kenseth won a Thursday Duel, Biffle has consistently been near the top of the pylon in practice sessions and Edwards is the pole-sitter.

At least one of these Roushkateers should find himself in contention by race’s end. And the smart money here goes on Kenseth — although Edwards has been as quietly fast and under-the-radar as any pole-sitter I can remember. Edwards also has the advantage of occupying pit stall No. 1, meaning he has clear track ahead when exiting pit road.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is looking to snap a 129-race winless skid in the Cup Series. He’s made no secret that he prefers pack racing to tandem drafts, and the feeling (whether real or imagined) that he controls his own destiny may be the edge he needs.

Like Edwards, Kevin Harvick has been quietly fast throughout Speedweeks. Harvick would just as soon lay low until it’s time to show his cards, and that’s exactly what he’s done thus far. Harvick is a pied-piper of sorts on the plate tracks, and that should be the case once again today.

The Darhorses
Joey Logano, himself mired in an ugly winless skid, has shown speed and savvy all week and his Joe Gibbs Racing mount will be good enough to win on Sunday (or Monday, or Tuesday). He’ll have to stay out of trouble, though. But that can be said for 42 other drivers, as well.

Marcos Ambrose has third-place showings in the Shootout and his Duel race in 2012. Not known as a plate master, Ambrose’s two Speedweek runs have come in lighter fields than the 500’s 43-car lineup. So while the career numbers may not back up the claim, Ambrose remains a darkhorse — and the fact he’s manning a Ford, and the Fords have not shown the tendency to overheat as other makes have — place him as a sneaky fantasy roster play.

Since the “unlikely youngster coming out of nowhere” theme has persisted through the weekend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. gets a shout-out here. The defending Nationwide Series champion will drive a powerful Roush Fenway Ford, so the equipment is there. He’ll also have plenty of on-track assistance, as he claims Biffle, Edwards, Kenseth and Trevor Bayne (among others) as blue-oval buddies in the draft.

And in the End…
My pick is Tony Stewart. That’s hardly going out on a limb, but as stated previously, he has a potent mix of swagger, speed and savvy. And make no mistake, the rest of the field knows it. Anyone, regardless of manufacturer loyalty, will be more than willing to align themselves with the three-time champion throughout the day — and especially when it’s money time.

Stewart has learned where he needs to be on the race’s final lap — the hunter, not the hunted — and will parlay that into his first Daytona 500 crown.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
 

Teaser:
<p> Matt Taliaferro contemplates what's to come in Sunday's Daytona 500.</p>
Post date: Sunday, February 26, 2012 - 11:02
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/missouri-kansas-highlights-big-weekend-college-basketball
Body:

by Jordan Coleman

With March Madness right around the corner, everyone can’t help but speculate about the 2012 NCAA tournament. Everyone wants to know who’s in, who’s slipped off the bubble, and who held onto the reigns tight enough to earn a #1 seed. For some teams playing this weekend, these last few games serve as a way to handle unfinished business just before the big dance. Here are just a few match-ups you won’t want to miss this weekend:

Vanderbilt at Kentucky – After a disappointing 69-63 loss on Feb. 11, Vanderbilt will have another shot at the nation’s leading contender, the Kentucky Wildcats, this Saturday. When these teams matched up earlier this year, Calipari told reporters that Stallings’ Commodores were the first team in conference play to challenge his squad. “They went nutty,” he said when asked to describe Vanderbilt’s hellacious comeback in the second half.  While the Dores’ ‘nutty’ performance wasn’t enough to top the Cats at Memorial, the Commodores will seek to avenge their loss. The Cats have not lost at home all year, but the Dores have the veterans and experience to give them a run for their money.

Missouri at Kansas – Kansas will have one last crack at the Missouri Tigers on their domain before the conference shift. As this conference rivalry comes to a close, it seems that these teams are not only playing for final bragging rights. Because both teams make up the upper echelon of the Big 12 standings, the rivals will also battle for pivotal positioning for post-season play. For Kansas, the win against Mizzou would mean ideal positioning for the conference tourney, and very possibly, NCAA play as well. As for Missouri, after a substandard loss to Kansas State earlier this week, another blemish on their resume could more than likely cost the Tigers a  No. 1 seed in the tournament.  Needless to say, with much at stake for both teams; as well as, the mutual disgust between these programs infers that fans are in for a 40-minute brawl this Saturday.  

Syracuse at Connecticut – As Syracuse barrels through conference play, it seems like no team in the Big East (besides Notre Dame, apparently) has the ability to derail their success. And at first glance at their match-up versus Connecticut, a majority of people wouldn’t associate the competiveness of this game with the two mentioned above. And with good reason because Connecticut has lost 9 of its last 14 games. And while the Huskies seems to be well on their way to achieving a .500 conference record similar to that of their 2010-2011 season, analysts are still hesitant to deem the Huskies as “out for the count.” Given that Kemba Walker led Connecticut’s 2010-2011 team to a national championship after finishing conference play 9-9, basketball experts argue that the Huskies’ talented squad (without Kemba) still has the ability to turn their game on any day now in order to resemble the national contenders they were 11 months ago. With the game being played on the Huskies’ hardwood, I’d say this would be a perfect opportunity for Connecticut to finally turn it on.

Teaser:
<p> Missouri at Kansas Highlights A Big Weekend of College Basketball</p>
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2012 - 16:28
Path: /columns/garage-talk/garage-talk-nascar-tweet-your-own-risk
Body:

by Tom Bowles

Athletes in America have always been held to a higher standard. Role models for children and idolized by adults, their unflinching popularity comes partnered with unrelenting pressure. Fans become emotionally attached to the point that on-field accomplishments are only part of a “friendship” connection they feel. A full understanding of someone’s true personality is needed; an opportunity to relate as in many cases the investment in an athlete fans follow, representing their own dream they hope — or hoped — to achieve.

Of course, when perfection is expected, all you can do is fail. When the ugly truth comes out that athletes are real people and not the drummed up fantasies so many fans desire … that’s when reality provides a cruel reminder.

NASCAR gave us a taste of that this offseason, a classic case of a sport and its fans getting what they wish for — then working hard to give it up. It came through Twitter, which in the last few years has opened the door as a haven for fans and athletes to connect in a way never before seen. For the next generation, a 140-character “Happy Birthday” message has now replaced the autograph as a fan’s preferred trophy. A response to a child’s Twitter handle makes him or her an automatic fan for life. When done right, it leaves each side with a feel-good ending — no two-hour wait in line for the fan and no forced meeting when the athlete had a bad day.

NASCAR has taken full advantage of the craze, pushing its drivers to social media as a way to keep the lines of communication open. More than any other sport, it’s a “must have” to see who says what after a wreck or to follow one of your 43 favorites consistently when the TV broadcast remains focused on the battle up front. Just yesterday, I learned Juan Pablo Montoya had the flu and Kevin Harvick is antsy. Heck, at times we’ve even seen drivers post their feelings from the cockpit. An opportunity to see their true thoughts, away from the watchful (and reformist) eyes of PR representatives can be refreshing.

But for NASCAR vets, using the medium to speak their minds has also forced them to open their wallets. Criticism about anything from debris cautions to electronic fuel injection led to now-public “secret” fines — a practice NASCAR has since reversed. Suddenly, fans accustomed to hearing their driver’s opinion wind up with politically correct, canned responses where a wall gets built between the guilty party and his true personality. And for a sport looking to connect with a new audience, generic just won’t cut it.

But in the midst of NASCAR giving the smackdown, doling out at least $25,000 fines to Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski within the last two years, the fans themselves are not blameless. Take this series of controversial “maternity” tweets from Kasey Kahne as an example, posted over the offseason when he was walking through a grocery store:

“See a mom breastfeeding little kid. Took second look because obviously I was seeing things. I wasn’t!”

“One boob put away one boob hanging!! #nasty

“I don’t feel like shopping anymore or eating.”

As always, controversial comments breed anger from those who disagree. Within hours, Kahne found himself on the defensive, and later, tweeted an apology. Now under the Hendrick banner, he’ll be taught better than to “step into the shadow of negative publicity,” but the reaction it spawned sealed the deal. Expect a lot of “at the track,” “this race was great,” and “at my [insert sponsor here] special reception. It’s a lot of fun and I can’t thank them enough!”

Already, we’ve seen once-outspoken drivers like Hamlin tone down the rhetoric following their incidents, but the fan furor here ignites an additional debate. Certainly, for many, Kahne’s comments weren’t in good taste but they were also an opinion; nothing more, nothing less. Isn’t that what you want from your athletes? The chance to express who they really are? They have beliefs and opinions and crack jokes just like everyone else, and often times, they’re not going to be like yours.

But when fans hold athletes to the fire, reviling them for expressing an opinion, what type of message does that send? “We’re happy to hear from you… but only if we like what you have to say.” That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for a driver to speak his or her mind in the future. Because where do you draw the line? Will someone who hunts, then tweets about it, be forced to apologize by a barrage of PETA protesters? Sounds ridiculous, but in a world where a single 140-character statement can become a national furor, well, in the hands of the wrong, crazed fan, anything is possible.

But that’s the danger with fans getting too close to their idols: They can’t dream up who they are anymore. So the second they say something off base, it hurts 10 times more than a random person on the street saying it. An ugly pattern evolves, one seen with famous people several times over the last few years. One Twitter comment is made, people disagree, and a witch hunt ensues; they have to apologize. The fan has to be reminded their athlete can be whom they envision. They’ll settle for nothing less.

Ultimately, fans have to decide what they want. Politically correct, boring tweets are becoming the norm and not the exception these days in NASCAR Nation. But if race fans can’t handle another driver’s opinion, maybe that’s all they need to see.

In the meantime, we’ll always have @KylePetty.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @NASCARBowles

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Tom Bowles examines how the social networking site Twitter can be a double-edged sword to high-profile athletes.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2012 - 12:00
Path: /mlb/baseball-drug-testing-ryan-braun-wins-fans-lose
Body:

by Charlie Miller

Baseball fans finally made it to third base, on the cusp of believing that MLB and its players are clean — standing on third base, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to celebrate a PED-free game with Ryan Braun and MLB itself coming up to bat. But both Braun and MLB struck out, leaving fans stranded at third.

I’m sure Braun feels like he just hit a home run, getting a 50-game ban overturned. But fans feel stranded. MLB probably feels like it just got called out on strikes on a pitch in the dirt. (Hey, it happens.) But fans feel stranded.

After the cloud of the Steroid Era, which began in the 1980s and lasted well into the 2000s, fans have been apprehensive in accepting the credibility of MLB’s drug testing program.

Since an agreement with the players instituted the testing program 2006, players have been busted 27 times. That isn’t close to the number of players most fans suspected of cheating in the early 2000s, so it’s easy to see why many fans didn’t immediately jump on board. And suspending Guillermo Mota or J.C. Romero for 50 games, or even Dan Serafini, didn’t exactly convince fans that the game was clean.

But once Manny Ramirez got popped in the midst of terrific run with the Los Angeles Dodgers, fans began to take note. After hitting .396 for the Dodgers during the second half of 2008 after his trade from Boston, Manny was off to a torrid start for L.A. in 2009 when he was suspended for 50 games.

If MLB is willing to suspend a star like Ramirez, then the program must be working, right? If the suspension of lesser known players managed to get fans back on base, the Ramirez decision moved the fans to second. As time passed and gaudy offensive numbers became a thing of the past, fans were more comfortable moving on to third, finally prepared to proclaim the game clean.

Then, while standing on third base, believing that favorite stars like Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera have been tested and tested again for PEDs, and that all were drug-free, the hammer fell, crushing fans’ hopes.

And I’m not sure what’s worse, quite frankly, having the NL MVP taking PEDs, or having a system that we can no longer trust. I think I would take the tainted MVP.

Now I have no business declaring Braun innocent or guilty. Only he truly knows the answer to that. And sadly, that’s not the most important issue right now. The fact that we can’t trust testing, or that there is a loophole large enough to convince a judge to doubt the process, can only mean that MLB and its players do not have a reliable testing system.

And that leaves fans stranded.

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie

Teaser:
<p> Just when fans thought it was safe to believe baseball was PED-free, the Ryan Braun testing debacle happened.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2012 - 11:29
Path: /columns/garage-talk/long-and-short-it-smoke-and-kenseth-win-danica-bruised-ok
Body:

by Dustin Long

For whatever reason, Daytona International Speedway enjoys playing with some of NASCAR’s most successful drivers, making them endure years of anguish before winning the 500. Darrell Waltrip waited 17 years, Dale Earnhardt 20. Tony Stewart is at 13 and counting.

Waltrip and Earnhardt showed how much their Daytona victories meant when they finally achieved them. Waltrip danced. Earnhardt exclaimed. “Yes!’’ Earnhardt said as he climbed from the roof of his car after winning the 500.

 “The Daytona 500 is ours,’’ Earnhardt said in Victory Lane that day in 1998. “We’ve won it. We’ve won it. We’ve won it.’’

Those are experiences Stewart can’t share. Maybe some day. Maybe even Sunday.

Stewart again will be a favorite to win the 500 after another sterling Speedweeks where he finished second in the Bud Shootout before winning his qualifying race Thursday.

Of course, Stewart’s success during Speedweeks is not new. It’s the 500 that he has problems with. Just like Kyle Busch finds ways to falter in the Chase, Stewart has misfortune in the 500.

He is the only driver in NASCAR history with three or more championships who does not have a Daytona 500 victory.

Consider that he was winless in five attempts at the Indianapolis 500, and, for as talented as he is, Stewart is without a victory in the crown jewels of two racing series that he has won championships.

Stewart likely will never get another chance to win the Indy 500 but for how long will the Daytona 500 frustrate him?

Recently asked where winning the Daytona 500 ranked among his personal bucket list, Stewart said: “Very high on it.’’

Stewart can win any other race at Daytona — his 17 overall victories put him second on the all-time wins list there behind Earnhardt’s 34.

While not as dramatic as some of Earnhardt’s Daytona defeats, Stewart’s disappointments have been nearly as great.

Last year, he was beside Trevor Bayne on the final restart but got detached from Mark Martin, who was pushing him, and fell back in the field.

In 2007, Stewart won the Shootout and his qualifying race only to finish last in the 500 after he was wrecked by Kurt Busch. In 2008, Stewart’s worst finish in all of Speedweeks was a third-place showing — in the 500.

It continues.

In 2005, Stewart led a race-high 107 laps, falling out of the lead in the final laps and engaging in a spirited duel with Jimmie Johnson that continued after the race and sent both to the NASCAR hauler to meet with series officials.

In ‘04, he led a race-high 97 laps only to watch Dale Earnhardt Jr. take the lead with 20 laps to go and beat him by a few yards. In ‘02, Stewart won the Shootout, placed second in his qualifying race and then finished last when his engine blew on the third lap.

It is this past that keeps Stewart from boasting even after the week he’s had.

“Even though we had success today, it’s no guarantee that can happen Sunday,’’ Stewart said of the 500, moments after his Duel win. “I think we showed the rest of the field that we have a car that has good speed. That’s a really strong point, just like Trevor Bayne showed last year he had a strong car, so people wanted to go with him. Hopefully, that will work for us on Sunday, too.’’

Maybe this will be Stewart’s year. Then again ...

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor talks all things NASCAR as Speedweeks in Daytona reach a fever pitch.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2012 - 09:50
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/bracket-breakdown-field-68
Body:

ACC (5)
In:
Duke, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia
Worth a mention: NC State
Notes: NC State had three opportunities in the past eight days to pick up a much-needed marquee win, but the Pack went 0-for-3 with the meltdown at Duke the most painful. If they sweep their remaining regular-season games (at Clemson, vs. Miami, at Virginia Tech), they should be in good shape heading into the ACC Tournament. Miami has only one good win — but it was very good, at Duke. The Canes also have no bad losses. A win on Saturday vs. Florida State would be a nice boost.

American East (1)
In:
Vermont

A-10 (3)
In:
Saint Louis, Temple, Xavier
Worth a mention: Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, UMass
Notes: Xavier was among the final teams in the field this week.
The Musketeers’ best win was at Vanderbilt, but that was in November when the Commodores were playing without Festus Ezeli. They have a huge game next Tuesday at Saint Louis. Win, and the X-Men will likely make the field. Dayton has three top-35 RPI wins, but also had two losses to teams ranked in the 200s. The Flyers have eight top-100 RPI wins — a solid number for a bubble team. Saint Joe’s loss at home to Richmond on Wednesday was very damaging.

A-Sun (1)
In:
Belmont

Big 12 (6)
In:
Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas
Worth a mention: None
Notes: Six of Texas’ 11 losses have come against North Carolina, Kansas, Baylor (twice) and Missouri (twice). The only thing close to a bad loss for the Horns was a neutral-court two-OT setback vs. Oregon State. They have a win over Temple on their résumé, too. Iowa State doesn’t have a top-100 win away from home, but the Clones have dates at Kansas State and Missouri looming, plus a home game vs. Baylor.

Big East (9)
In:
Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Syracuse, West Virginia
Worth a mention: South Florida
Notes: South Florida played very well on Wednesday night at Syracuse, but lost 56–48. The Bulls are 10–5 in the Big East but are lacking quality wins. They have won at Pitt and Villanova, but those two teams are a combined 8–22 in the Big East. With a season-ending schedule that has home games vs. Cincinnati and West Virginia sandwiched around a trip to Louisville, USF will have several opportunities to pick up some decent wins. Cincinnati picked up a huge win Thursday night at home vs. Louisville. Some UC doubters will point to an RPI of 74, which is admittedly very high, but that is a product of a very soft non-conference schedule that included nine games vs. teams ranked 200 or worse in the RPI. Keep in mind that the Bearcats are ranked No. 39 by KenPom and have seven wins away from home. Seton Hall solidified its résumé with a convincing win over Georgetown. West Virginia is trending in the wrong direction (2–6 in last eight), but there is still enough meat on the bone (wins vs. Georgetown and K-State) to keep the Mountaineers in the field.

Big Sky (1)
In:
Weber State

Big South (1)
In:
UNC-Asheville

Big Ten (7)
In:
Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Worth a mention: Illinois, Minnesota.
Notes: Illinois has lost six straight and nine of the past 10 games. Minnesota’s loss Wednesday night at home to Michigan was gut-wrenching. Both the Illini and Gophers probably need to win out in the regular season to even be in the discussion for an at-large bid. Northwestern is still in, even after Tuesday night’s crushing overtime loss to Michigan at home. The Wildcats have a top-5 win (vs. Michigan State) and no bad losses. They probably need to be 8–10 in the Big Ten heading into the league tournament. That means winning two of three vs. Penn State (road), Ohio State (home) and Iowa (road).

Big West (1)
In:
Long Beach State.

Colonial (1)
In:
Drexel
Worth a mention: George Mason, VCU
Notes: George Mason boasts a gaudy 14–3 mark in the CAA but has no wins vs. top 70 RPI teams. Its best wins are at home against Bucknell and VCU. The Rams have played a good schedule but failed to beat any of the good teams on their slate.

C-USA (2)
In:
Memphis, Southern Miss
Worth a mention: UCF
Notes: The Knights are close, thanks to wins vs. Memphis and UConn (on a neutral court). Plus, four of their eight losses have come against teams ranked in the top 35. The RPI (64) likes this team more than KenPom (96).

Horizon (1)
In:
Valparaiso

Ivy (1)
In:
Harvard

MAAC (1)
In:
Iona

MAC (1)
In:
Akron

MEAC (1)
In:
Norfolk State

MVC (2)
In:
Creighton, Wichita State

MWC (3)
In: New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a mention: Colorado State
Notes: New Mexico solidified its position with wins over San Diego State and UNLV but then took a small step back with a loss at Colorado State. The Rams have played their way into the discussion. The RPI likes this team (No. 5); KenPom doesn’t (86). CSU’s next two games are at San Diego State and at home vs. UNLV. We’ll know more in a week.

Northeast (1)
In:
Long Island

OVC (1)
In
: Murray State

Pac 12 (3)
In:
Arizona, California, Washington
Worth a mention: Colorado
Notes: Arizona and Washington are new entrants into the field this week. Washington lacks quality wins, but doesn’t really have many bad losses, either. The Huskies’ final three regular-season games are on the road, at Washington State, USC and UCLA. Arizona’s win at Cal in early February is by far its best achievement. The Cats should be glad the field was expanded to 68 teams last year.

Patriot (1)
In:
Bucknell

SEC (5)
In:
Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt
Worth a mention: LSU, Tennessee
Notes: Mississippi State has lost four in a row and has dipped under .500 in the SEC for the first time this season. The Bulldogs’ RPI is 60, and they are ranked 78th in KenPom. Those are dangerous waters. LSU, on the other hand, has won four straight. The Tigers, however, only have two top-50 wins (and one was vs. an Alabama team that played without four starters), and 12 of their 17 wins have come against teams ranked 120 or lower in the RPI. Tennessee is a nice story, but the Vols likely will have to win the SEC Tournament to make the field. Alabama's win at Arkansas Thursday night boosted the Tide's profile. 

Southern (1)
In:
Davidson

Southland (1)
In:
UT-Arlington

Summit (1)
In:
Oral Roberts

Sun Belt (1)
In:
Middle Tennessee

SWAC (1)
In:
Mississippi Valley State

WAC (1)
In:
Nevada

WCC (3)
In: BYU, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s
Notes: BYU has solid numbers (RPI 45, KenPom 36) and two wins vs. teams projected to make the field, Gonzaga and Nevada. Saint Mary’s still has decent numbers (RPI 49, KenPom 42) despite losing three of their last five. The Gael’s trip to San Francisco on Saturday could be tricky.
 

Teaser:
<p> Selection Sunday is just over two weeks away. Here is our look at the Field of 68 heading into this weekend's action.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2012 - 09:19
Path: /mlb/ryan-braun-albert-pujols-prince-fielder-and-more
Body:

--By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

Since the St. Louis Cardinals won their 11th World Series in late October, the baseball world has witnessed many major moves and risky contracts — and that was with the big-money Yankees and Red Sox staying fairly quiet. From power sluggers leaving the NL Central to power arms moving east, there were many winter changes that will have a long-lasting effect on the 2012 campaign and beyond. Here are nine of the most important hot stove happenings:

1. King’s Ransom
The offseason’s biggest news involved something rarely seen — arguably baseball’s best player changing uniforms. Albert Pujols had as good a start to a career in his 11 years in St. Louis as the game has ever seen. His average season with the Cardinals consisted of a .328 average, 40 home runs, 121 RBIs and a 1.037 OPS. Those numbers are amazing, and you have a legend in the making when adding in World Series titles in 2006 and 2011. However, Pujols decided to turn his back on Cardinals fans and take the gargantuan money offered by the Los Angles Angels of Anaheim. The Halos will pay Pujols $240 million over the next decade, but that number is heavily backloaded. King Albert will seem like a bargain while making $28 million over next two seasons, which allowed the Angels to also add former Rangers starter C.J. Wilson to the rotation. However, Pujols will make a staggering $140 million over last five years of the deal, when he will be 37-41 years old. If the Angels get back to the postseason and win a championship in the next two or three seasons, this deal will be worth the cost. However if Pujols misses time with injuries or the team does not claim a title, the massive contract will be heavily criticized.

2. No Ban for Braun
For most of the offseason, it looked like National League MVP Ryan Braun would serve a 50-game suspension for accelerated testosterone levels during a drug test. However in a surprising decision by an independent arbitrator, the Brewers’ slugger was exonerated on a procedural technicality. It was the first case in which an MLB player has won an appeal on a drug-related penalty. No matter how it occurred, Milwaukee gets a much-needed boost with Braun (.332, 33 HR, 111 RBI and 109 runs in ’11) returning to the lineup. He will need to be as productive as ever because…

3. Fresh Start for Prince
Another shocker happened in the Motor City, where former Brewers slugger Prince Fielder inked a nine-year, $214 million deal with the Detroit Tigers. Many around baseball did not think that Fielder would even get close to Pujols-type money, but Tigers management was willing to pay the freight after losing DH Victor Martinez for the year to a knee injury. Over the last six seasons in Milwaukee, Fielder’s average year was .282 with 38 home runs, 108 RBIs and 95 runs scored. And even though some teams worried about his physique over the long-term, Prince has been very durable in averaging 160 games played over those six seasons. While Detroit’s defense may suffer with Miguel Cabrera moving to third base, the Tigers one-two punch in the middle of the lineup looks like the best in baseball.

4. Makeover in Miami
Things have changed in a big way with the Marlins — from the name to a new stadium, new manager, new uniforms and an much-increased payroll. Former White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen takes over a team that added a trio with 11 All-Stars appearances in shortstop Jose Reyes, starting pitcher Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell. Will all of the changes make the Miami Marlins a contender? It’s difficult to see them breaking the stranglehold the Phillies have on the NL East, but the new-look Marlins, Braves and improving Nationals should stage a compelling race in the NL East.

5. Yu Da Man
The Texas Rangers have lost two straight World Series, and ace C.J. Wilson departed in the offseason to the division-rival Angels. However Ron Washington’s club still has a loaded lineup, and the rotation will be bolstered by the signing of Japanese superstar Yu Darvish. The 25-year-old righthander just completed five straight seasons in Japan with an ERA under 2.00, and he may take the majors by storm in 2012. If the 6-foot-5 Darvish can form a solid rotation with Derek Holland and former closer Neftali Feliz, it would be no surprise to see the Rangers in another Fall Classic.

6. Changes for the Champs
There is still an aftershock in St. Louis from the departure of Pujols, but the reigning champions also lost future Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa and intrepid pitching coach Dave Duncan. Most organizations could not handle such high-level attrition, but the tradition-laden Cardinals may still prosper. Former Cards catcher Mike Matheny takes over for La Russa, while Derek Lilliquist will tutor the pitching staff. Despite having no managerial experience, Matheny is known as a consummate leader and should transition well. There is no replacing Pujols, but slugger Carlos Beltran (.300, 22 HR, .910 OPS in ‘11) will join Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman in the middle of the lineup. St. Louis can also look forward to the return of former 20-game winner Adam Wainwright to the rotation. If Beltran, shortstop Rafael Furcal and World Series MVP David Freese can stay healthy, the Cardinals have a very solid shot to return to the postseason.

7. Pitching goes east; Hitting goes west
Many of teams on the west coast play in pitcher’s park and struggle to attract free agent hitters. We may have seen the start of a new trend where those clubs — like Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego — are willing to trade young (and financially-controlled) hurlers in order to get some thunder in the lineup. The Mariners sent top rookie pitcher Michael Pineda (173 Ks in 171 IP) to the Yankees for heralded young slugger Jesus Montero. The Padres dealt Mat Latos (23 wins, 3.21 ERA, 374 Ks over last two seasons) to Cincinnati for top prospects Yonder Alonso (1B), Yasmani Grandal (C) and pitcher Edinson Volquez. The Giants traded Jonathan Sanchez to the Royals for outfielder Melky Cabrera, who batted .305 with 44 doubles and 102 runs scored in Kansas City last year. Additionally, the A’s traded a pair of solid young hurlers — Trevor Cahill to Arizona and Gio Gonzalez to Washington — to once again add top prospects.

8. Valentine’s Day in Boston
Red Sox fans are still reeling from last September’s collapse, when Boston blew a nine-game lead in the AL wild-card race while going 7-20 over the final month. The offseason saw GM Theo Epstein leave for Chicago, while manager Terry Francona was replaced by the no-nonsense Bobby Valentine. We all are waiting to see how the new skipper’s personality meshes with this talented roster. One major change on the field was the departure of closer Jonathan Papelbon, who left in free agency for the Phillies. The BoSox traded for former A’s closer Andrew Bailey and former Houston stopper Mark Melancon to fix the bullpen. Will Carl Crawford rebound? Will Kevin Youkilis stay healthy? Can Jacoby Ellsbury repeat his stellar 2011 season? The answers to these questions will decide if Boston can return to the postseason after a two-year absence.

9. Reds Go All-In
With Pujols and Fielder leaving the NL Central, Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty decided to go for it all in 2012. Along the aforementioned Latos trade, the Reds also added former Philles closer Ryan Madson (32 saves, 2.37 ERA in ’11) and setup man Sean Marshall to the bullpen. With contract decisions looming for top position players Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto over the next two years, the time to strike is now in the Queen City. If young sluggers Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs can play up to their potential, the Reds will challenge the Cardinals and Brewers for NL Central supremacy.
 

Teaser:
<p> Ryan Braun, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and More</p>
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2012 - 08:43
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-17-notre-dame-fighting-irish
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 17: Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17 total signees)

Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 3
National Signees: 9

Where They Got 'Em:

The Fighting Irish have offered a national brand on the recruiting trail for the entirety of their football playing existence, and that is no more apparent than in the 2012 signing class. It took 14 different states to fill out a modest 17-man class as Brian Kelly pulled exactly one prospect from 12 different states. Only two states — Indiana (3) and North Carolina (2), which had talented senior classes — sent more than one player to South Bend.

Uncharacteristically, Indiana served up the nation's No. 2 quarterback as well as a near top-100 defensive lineman. Otherwise, Kelly attacked every region of the country. California, Washington, Arizona and Nevada sent players to South Bend from the West, while Illinois and Ohio delivered one Midwest prospect each. He went into South Carolina, Florida and Virginia in the Southeast as well as New York and New Jersey in the Northeast to get talent. Texas also sent one recruit to Notre Dame as well.

Areas of Focus:

This class, just like the 2012 Notre Dame football season, all begins with the quarterback position. Brian Kelly pulled quite an upset when former Indiana and LSU commitment Gunner Kiel enrolled in classes at Notre Dame. The nation's No. 2 quarterback in the nation has all the physical tools to compete for playing time right away but will have to overcome the stigma that comes along with committing to three different teams. Analysts across the country will be tougher on Kiel due to his lack of decisiveness throughout the recruitment process. Irish fans certainly know what Les Miles thinks of the young signal- caller from Indiana. He finished with 7,175 yards in his Columbus East career.

A pair apiece of running backs, wide receivers and offensive linemen round out a smallish offensive class. Kei'Varae Russell leads the the running game after three straight 1,000-yard seasons at Mariner High. He scored 48 times on the ground over that span. Justin Ferguson is the top-rated pass-catcher and brings the Florida speed to South Bend. The interesting development will be where AC100 talent Davonte Neal lands. The uber-talented but much-maligned athlete could play a variety of positions on the next level and would boost either the running or passing game should he land on offense.

Nationally ranked Ronnie Stanley is the top blocker in this class and comes to South Bend from power program Bishop Gorman.

If Neal lands on defense, as a cornerback, this would be one of the deepest and most talented secondary classes in the nation. Without Neal, this is a five-man group that features AC100 talent Tee Shepard and nationally rated star safety Elijah Shumate. Shepard has enrolled early and needs to get up to speed quickly as he sat out his senior season after transferring, but he was on the roster for Washington Union's third straight state title. Shumate played at prep powerhouse Don Bosco Prep in the Garden State and excelled at both running back (14 touchdowns on 60 carries) and safety.

Kelly recruited one of the best defensive lines in the nation last season and it showed in the bowl game. Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day, both of whom were at one point in the AC100, only add depth to an already stellar defensive front. Jones checks in at 6-6 and 298 pounds but has some work to develop after playing in the not-so-difficult New York prep ranks. Day is a 6-2, 275-pound tweener who was the runner-up for Indiana's Mr. Football award in 2011.

This is not a deep class, but with the amount of talent returning to South Bend, Kelly didn't need one. The secondary and quarterback positions were totally stabilized, while the defensive line got even deeper. Look for offensive line and linebacker to be a big area of focus next cycle.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 1, RB: 2, WR: 2, TE: 0, OL: 2, ATH: 1
Defense: DL: 2, LB: 1, DB: 5, K/P/LS: 1

AC100 Recruits:

24. Gunner Kiel, QB (6-4, 220), Columbus (Ohio) East
43. Tee Shepard, DB (6-1, 175), Fresno (Calif.) Washington Union
56. Davonte Neal, ATH (5-9, 175), Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral

Other National Signees:

101. Jarron Jones, DL (6-6, 298), Rochester (N.Y.) Aquinas Institute
116. Sheldon Day, DL (6-2, 275), Indianapolis (Ind.) Warren Central
117. Elijah Shumate, DB (6-1, 205), East Orange (N.J.) Don Bosco
167. Kei'Varae Russell, RB (6, 177), Everett (Wash.) Mariner
172. Ronnie Stanley, OL (6-6, 285), Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman
186. Justin Ferguson, WR (6-2, 205), Pembroke Pines (Fla.) Flanagan

Early Enrollees:

Gunner Kiel, QB (6-4, 220), Columbus (Ohio) East
Sheldon Day, DL (6-2, 275), Indianapolis (Ind.) Warren Central
Tee Shepard, DB (6-1, 175), Fresno (Calif.) Washington Union

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

2. Texas Longhorns
3. Florida Gators
4. Ohio State Buckeyes

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. LSU Tigers
14. Texas A&M Aggies
15. UCLA Bruins
16. Clemson Tigers
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
18. Mon., Feb. 27
19. Tues., Feb. 28
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

Teaser:
<p> The Notre Dame Fighting Irish landed the No. 17 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2012 - 07:14
Path: /college-basketball/exclusive-qa-coach-k
Body:

With a 74–69 win over Michigan State at Madison Square Garden earlier this season, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski passed his mentor and former coach at Army, Bob Knight, for most NCAA career victories (903). Krzyzewski says he is most proud of the fact that coach and player — Knight and himself — together have more than 1,800 victories.

Krzyzewski has been called “the modern-day John Wooden” by Louisville coach Rick Pitino and “a coach’s coach … a guy I think every coach in America looks to and respects,” by Kansas coach Bill Self. He has led the Blue Devils to 11 Final Four appearances and four national titles.

In an interview with Jerry Kavanagh for Athlon Sports, Krzyzewski showed an appreciation for literature in speaking about his coaching style and leadership.

Athlon Sports: The Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney wrote, “The excitement of something coming out right is its own reward.” Is there something of that satisfaction in coaching?
Krzyzewski: Oh, yeah. There’s a lot of that. To see how youngsters develop under your tutelage and how they continue to develop as men. And obviously how a team develops and how a game develops. All that stuff. That’s what makes it interesting.

After the U.S. team you coached in the 2008 Olympics won the gold medal, you wrote “The Gold Standard: Building a World-Class Team.” In that you said, “It’s beautiful to watch the transformation of a player happening before your eyes.
Absolutely, and it’s not just you helping transform that; it’s the environment. You’re privileged enough … it’s an honor for you to try to develop that environment. It’s not just you as a coach, but the people who are in that environment can help each individual. And that’s what being a successful leader is about: It’s creating that type of an environment.

You quoted the philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What did you learn from past U.S. Olympic participation that has been most influential?
The very first thing was the familiarity of working with players who are considered some of the best players in the world. So you have a comfort level; you’ve done it before, even if it’s been at an assistant level. And you’ve been on that stage, even though it’s a different stage 16 years later because the world is a lot better. And watching Chuck Daly and how he worked with those players. I tried to bring all those things forward in 2006, ’07, and ’08. It’s different, but still we have some of the best players in the world, and really the most talented team, potentially, in the world, but against teams that are much better right now, who also have some of the best players in the world.

In the book Absinthe and Flamethrowers, the author, William Gurstelle, writes that managers who take the greatest risks are the most successful. Do you agree with that?
I think you have to be careful when you say that. Somebody might think that to be a leader or a manager, “I need to take a lot of risks, or else I’m not good.” I think you can’t be afraid to do what’s necessary. Some people would equate that to taking a risk because it goes against the grain or it’s not something that is normally done. But my feeling is that a leader has to take the course of action that’s necessary to produce a positive result after doing an analysis and preparing himself to take a look at that situation. The world might call that a risk; a leader would call that the appropriate action that needed to be taken. I think when you just take that one statement (by Gurstelle), you can make a mistake by saying, “I didn’t take a risk today. I better take one.” I think you go boldly in the direction that’s necessary and in the direction that you’re prepared to go in.

You often talk about leadership. Napoleon defined a leader as “a dealer in hope.” I read where you said, “Leadership can be lonely.” Can you explain that?
Well, leadership is lonely because you don’t discuss everything. Part of it is that in your moments of doubt or in your moments of being nervous or wondering if this is the right thing that you’re doing, you never want to show weakness to your group. And you don’t share that because it’s not the main feeling you have, but because you’re a human being these feelings hit you. Leadership can be very lonely, but there’s a certain amount of time that you have to be by yourself, it has to be yours as you’re looking into it, before you present something to your group. I think that’s a price that you pay.

Some of the statements you have made have an application beyond basketball. For example, “Fear can change you.” What do you mean by that?
Some people are afraid of fear, so they avoid it. They don’t try to do anything. They’re very cautious. And when you get into new situations, there’s an element of fear that can excite you. It can freeze you or stop you from doing something, because it’s new. It can be exciting, but there’s still some fear involved. And I don’t think that you have to face fear. You know, part of being courageous is facing fear and doing what you’re supposed to do. People have different fears — fear of speaking, fear of heights, a bunch of fears — and when you face those fears, you can turn them into your strengths. That’s how you evolve as a person and how a group evolves as a team.

Have you ever given any thoughts to politics?
No.

COACH K’s...
Vacation spot: The North Carolina beach.
Books: I love to read books about leadership.
Movies: “Legends of the Fall” and “Braveheart.”
Pet peeves: Lying, and people who show a lack of consideration.
Rituals: Taking a nap on game days and saying a prayer before every game.
Collections: Photographs of family, friends and memorable moments; wine.
Earliest sports memory: Organizing games in the Chicago school yards; taking the bus to Wrigley Field with my best friend, Moe.
Greatest extravagance: Wine collection.
Regrets: Luckily, none.
 

Teaser:
<p> An Exclusive Q&amp;A with Coach K of Duke</p>
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2012 - 07:10
Path: /college-football/tcu-horned-frogs-2012-spring-preview
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer. 

TCU Horned Frogs 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 11-2, 7-0 MW

Spring practice: Feb. 25-April 5

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 5

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Casey Pachall, 228 of 343, 2,921 yds., 25 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: Waymon James, 121 car., 875 yds., 6 TDs
Receiving: Josh Boyce, 61 rec., 998 yds., 9 TDs
Tackles: Kenny Cain, 72 tackles
Sacks: Stansly Maponga, 9
Interceptions: Two players tied with 1

Redshirts to watch: WR LaDarius Brown, OG Jamelle Naff, WR David Bush, OT Carter Wall, LB Laderice Sanders, OG Brady Foltz, S Jamie Byrd

JUCO Transfer to watch: CB Keivon Gamble

Early Enrollees: QB Tyler Matthews, CB Keivon Gamble, ATH Kolby Listenbee, RB B.J. Catalon

2012 Schedule

Sept. 8 Grambling
Sept. 15 at Kansas
Sept. 22 Virginia
Sept. 29 at SMU
Oct. 6 Iowa State
Oct. 13 at Baylor
Oct. 20 Texas Tech
Oct. 27 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 3 at West Virginia
Nov. 10 Kansas State
Nov. 17 at Texas
Dec. 1 Oklahoma

Offensive Strength: Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for the Horned Frogs in 2012. Quarterback Casey Pachall is back after a terrific sophomore year, throwing for 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns. Pachall has plenty of support around him, as TCU returns three running backs with at least 700 yards last year and dynamic playmakers at receiver in Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson.

Offensive Weakness: While the Horned Frogs have plenty of skill players and quarterback Casey Pachall returning, only two starters are back on the offensive line. Guard Blaize Foltz and center James Fry are back to anchor the line, but both tackles and All-Mountain West guard Kyle Dooley must be replaced.

Defensive Strength: Despite the dismissal of tackle D.J. Yendrey, TCU should be solid on the defensive line. End Stansly Maponga is back after recording nine sacks and five forced fumbles last year. Ross Forrest registered 32 stops last year and should start at the other end spot. Jon Lewis and David Johnson turned in solid freshman campaigns last season and will be in charge of anchoring the middle of the line.

Defensive Weakness: Only two starters return in the back seven, and this group was hit hard in the spring when linebacker Tanner Brock and defensive back Devin Johnson were dismissed from the team. With the pass-first tendencies of most teams in the Big 12, the secondary will be under fire early and often in 2012.

Spring Storylines Facing the Horned Frogs:

1. There’s a lot of enthusiasm in Fort Worth this spring, as the Horned Frogs are on the move from the Mountain West to the Big 12. And TCU has the pieces in place to contend for the conference title in its first season in the league. The offense finished ninth nationally in scoring last year and returns five key starters. Quarterback Casey Pachall should contend for all-conference honors in 2012, while the Horned Frogs return All-Mountain West receiver Josh Boyce and three running backs with over 700 rushing yards last year. TCU has fought its way from being left out of the Big 12 in 1994 to emerging as one of the top non-BCS programs in college football. With coach Gary Patterson at the helm, the Horned Frogs are poised to make some noise in the Big 12 in 2012 and beyond.

2. Some of the energy and excitement with the move to the Big 12 was quieted with the recent drug scandal on campus, which resulted in four players being dismissed from the team. Linebacker Tanner Brock, defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey, defensive back Devin Johnson and offensive lineman Ty Horn were booted from the team after their arrest, leaving the Horned Frogs with some voids to fill. Brock was expected to be the leader in the linebacking corps, while Yendrey was TCU’s top returning defensive tackle. While this incident has been a black eye for the Horned Frogs, this shouldn’t affect the program in any long-term capacity. However, the defense will miss Brock, Yendrey and Johnson's contributions in 2012.

3. For the first time since 2007, TCU finished outside of the top 12 nationally in pass defense. The Horned Frogs’ secondary allowed 223.6 yards per game and surrendered 23 passing scores last season. TCU also picked off only 10 passes, and allowed quarterbacks to average 12.4 yards per completion. Considering quarterback play is stronger in the Big 12 than it was in the Mountain West, this group will be under fire to perform right away in 2012. Cornerback Jason Verrett earned honorable mention All-Mountain West honors last season and will be counted on for leadership in the secondary. Junior college transfer Keivon Gamble is expected to contribute right away and could earn a starting spot this spring. Tekerrein Cuba and Johnny Fobbs are both gone at safety, leaving the Horned Frogs with some work to do this spring in revamping this group.   

4. There are few question marks about the offense, but the offensive line figures to get the most attention in the preseason. Guard Blaize Foltz and center James Fry is a solid duo to build around, but three other starters must be replaced. With all of the talent TCU returns at the skill positions and under center with Casey Pachall, it’s important for this group to jell. If the line struggles, it’s fair to wonder if this offense will match last season’s average of 40.8 points a game.

5. One of the most intriguing elements of conference realignment is the adjustment period teams on the move will have with their new conference foes. TCU has recently played some of the teams in the Big 12, but the every week grind is going to be much tougher in this conference than it was in the Mountain West. The Horned Frogs have a lot of time to study their new nine conference foes and are built to contend right away. However, developing depth to handle the tougher week-to-week schedule is going to be crucial for TCU’s chances at winning the Big 12 in 2012.

Related Big 12 Content Links

Texas Spring Preview
Very Early 2012 Big 12 Predictions
2012 Big 12 Schedule Analysis

Athlon’s Early Top 25 for 2012

2012 Texas Tech Spring Preview
2012 Recruiting Rankings No. 2: Texas Longhorns

Teaser:
<p> What should be expected of the Horned Frogs as they play their first season in the Big 12?</p>
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2012 - 06:51

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