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Ranking the coaches in any college football conference is a difficult task. Many factors play into just how successful a coach is at any school. How well are the assistants paid? Are the facilities up to par with the rest of the conference? Can the coach recruit or is he more of an x's and o's manager? Are there off-the-field or age issues to take into consideration? Has a coach built a program or continued the success from a previous coach? How is the resume outside of their current position? These questions and more were posed to the editors at Athlon Sports, as they were asked to rank the coaches of each of the six BCS conferences. One thing to keep in mind - the record is not always indicative of where a coach should rank in a conference or nationally among the top 25. 

Ranking the Coaches: ACC
Ranking the Coaches: Big East
Ranking the Coaches: Pac-12
Ranking the Coaches: Big 12
Ranking the Coaches: Big Ten
Ranking the Coaches: SEC

1. Nick Saban, Alabama (5 years)
Alma Mater:
 Kent State (1970-72)
Overall: 146-54-1 (16 years)

There’s not much debate about this: College football’s top coach resides in Tuscaloosa. Saban has led the Crimson Tide to two national titles and four straight seasons of at least 10 victories. Saban’s track record is impressive, going 48-16 in five years at LSU, 34-24-1 in five seasons with Michigan State and a 9-2 mark in 1990 with Toledo. Saban is certainly one of the most demanding coaches in college football, but there’s no question he knows what it takes to succeed. Saban has returned Alabama to national prominence and has brought in some of college football’s best recruiting classes over the last five seasons. As long as Saban sticks around in Tuscaloosa, expect Alabama to be ranked among the top 10 teams every preseason. And after winning two titles in five seasons, expect the Crimson Tide to only add to that total in the near future.

2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State (First year)
Overall Record: 104-23

The resume is as complete as it gets: Two BCS National Championships, four conference titles, three conference Coach of the Year awards, one Heisman Trophy, one national Coach of the Year honor and the Sports Illustrated Coach of the Decade (2000-2009). Meyer’s success is unquestioned; he wins and he wins big. He built Bowling Green into a conference contender in only two seasons before taking Utah to a BCS bowl in two short years in Salt Lake City. In his second year at Florida, he earned his first BCS Crystal Ball. After a second title with the Chosen One under center, Meyer took a brief respite from the sideline in 2011. He returns to the coaching ranks renewed and reinvigorated — and back in his home state at the Big Ten program with the most natural and financial resources in the league. His ability to recruit was on full display at the close of the 2012 cycle and his offensive game plan is as proven a system as there is in the collegiate playbook. The only crack in his armor is the health concerns — aka his dedication. He coached only six years at what could be considered the second-best job in the nation, won championships, and simply walked away. Other than his long-term commitment, there are not too many better options in America.

3. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma (13 years)
Overall Record: 139-34 (1999-present)

The Sooners have had a few down years under Stoops, but since his arrival in Norman, Oklahoma has emerged once again as a national power. Stoops’ tenure has been a picture of success, leading the Sooners to 10 double-digit win seasons and eight BCS bowl appearances. The biggest knock on Stoops has been the lack of success in BCS bowl games, as Oklahoma is just 1-5 in its last six BCS bowl appearances. And that criticism of Stoops always stirs this debate: Would you take a coach that struggles to get to a BCS bowl and wins one every eight years or take a coach that consistently gets there, but has a disappointing BCS record after six years? Regardless of whether or not Stoops wins three BCS bowls in a row or loses the next three, it’s going to be hard to knock him off the top spot in the Big 12.

4. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech (25 years)
Overall Record: 251-121-4 (31 years)

Born in the Commonwealth, playing in the Commonwealth and coaching the Commonwealth, “Beamerball” has been a fixture of Virginian football for more than four decades. Prior to his arrival in Blacksburg, the Hokies had been to six bowls games. After six years and a 24-40-2 record, Beamer broke through with his first bowl appearance in 1993. He has been to 19 straight bowl games since, including a Michael Vick-led chance at the 1999 national championship against Florida State. Beamer has claimed three Big East Championships (1995, 1996, 1999), four ACC titles (2004, 2007, 2008, 2010) and five conference Coach of the Year honors. He is the longest tenured and winningest active FBS coach in the nation and has had at least 10 wins in eight straight seasons and 11 of the last 13. Beamer was there to usher in two new eras of Hokie football as he transitioned his team from Independent status to the Big East in 1991 and then into the ACC in 2004. Virginia Tech has won the Coastal Division five times in its seven-year history and will likely be the preseason favorite once again in 2012. There are few better in the nation than Beamer.

5. Chris Petersen, Boise State (6 years)
Overall Record: 73-6 (2006-present)

Few coaching careers have begun like Petersen’s has at Boise State. After learning under Mike Bellotti at Oregon, Petersen began his Bronco career as Dan Hawkins’ offensive coordinator. For five years, Petersen churned out one of the nation’s most powerful offenses under Hawkins. When Hawkins left for Colorado, Petersen was given the reins to the Smur-ffense and has taken the program to a new level. In his first year, Petersen led Boise State to its first undefeated season and the memorable Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma. It would be his first of two BCS bowl wins. He has never won fewer than 10 games in a season and just watched the 2011 graduating class finish 50-3 over their four-year career. Kellen Moore quarterbacked those four teams and is now the winningest quarterback in NCAA history. Most importantly, Petersen has elevated Boise State football to a BCS conference as he will usher the Broncos into a new era of football when they join the Big East in 2013. He has had multiple opportunities to take “better” jobs and has come within two missed field goals of playing for a national championship.

6. Chip Kelly, Oregon (3 years)
Overall Record: 34-6 (2009-present)

No coach in NCAA history has seen a rise from FCS coordinator to competing for National Championships in quicker fashion than Kelly. His meteoric rise from New Hampshire offensive coordinator to winning three straight Pac-12 titles is virtually unheard of in big time college football. In fact, Oregon had two outright conference championships between 1958 and 2008, giving Kelly more outright titles in three years as the program posted in the previous 50. He has two Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards on his mantle, the Ducks’ first Rose Bowl win in school history last year over Wisconsin and a trip to the 2010 BCS National Championship game. Kelly has created an offense that is the fastest in the nation and possibly the most difficult to stop. He’s had one tailback win the Doak Walker Award, finish as a two-time Heisman finalist and nation’s leading per game rusher in LaMichael James. He just had another claim Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year and reset the Oregon freshman scoring record with 18 touchdowns in De’Anthony Thomas. With the help of flashy uniforms and Nike dollars, Kelly has raised the brand image of his program more in the last three years than any coach in the nation. Two issues could remove Kelly from the Pac-12 coaching pedestal: Looming NCAA questions about potential recruiting violations involving Texas “handler” Willie Lyles and the lure of the NFL. Otherwise, there is one man who stands above all other Pac-12 coaches. 

7. Gary Patterson, TCU (12 years)
Overall Record: 109-30 (2000-present)

Patterson coached at 10 different programs over a 16-year period before given the chance to lead TCU in 2000 (one game). The hard-nosed defensive guru went to bowl games in three straight seasons to start his career and needed only two years to register his first 10-win season. It was only the second 10-win season for the Horned Frogs in the Post-World War II era. He has rattled off eight such seasons over the last 10 years in Fort Worth, including a current streak of four straight. He has won the program’s first BCS Bowl (Rose in 2010) and has elevated TCU to a BCS level as the Frogs will join the Big 12 in 2012. In 11 full seasons on the job, Patterson has five conference championships, three conference Coach of the Year awards and was the unanimous 2009 National Coach of the Year (AFCA, AP, Walter Camp, Boddy Dodd, Eddie Robinson, Liberty Mutual). TCU has experienced one losing season under Patterson (2004), but has been to a bowl every year since, winning seven of those eight post-season games. TCU has gone 36-3 over the last three years with 13 NFL Draft picks over that span and two BCS bowl appearances.

8. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (7 years)
Alma Mater:
 Florida (1963-66)
Overall: 197-75-2 (22 years)

It has taken some time, but Spurrier finally has South Carolina into contention for the SEC title. The Gamecocks won at least six games in each of Spurrier’s first five years, but have combined for 20 over the last two. Spurrier also led South Carolina to its first appearance in the SEC title game and a top 10 finish in most polls last year. Spurrier has had plenty of success outside of South Carolina, finishing with a 122-27-1 record at Florida and leading Duke to a 20-13-1 mark from 1987-89. Building a program into a consistent challenger for an SEC title is no easy task, but Spurrier seems to have South Carolina on the right path, and the Gamecocks are positioned for another run at the East Division title in 2012.  

9. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame (2 years)
Alma Mater: 
Assumption (1979-82)
Record: 16-10 (2010-present)
Record: 34-6 (Cincinnati, 2006-09)
Record: 19-16 (Central Michigan, 2004-06)
Record: 118-35-2 (Grand Valley State, 1991-2003)
Overall: 187-66-2 (22 years)

Kelly has built an impressive resume, making stops as a head coach at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and now at Notre Dame. He led Grand Valley State to two Division II titles and took Central Michigan to a bowl game in 2006. After coaching with the Chippewas for three seasons, Kelly made the jump to Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to back-to-back BCS bowls. Although Kelly provided quick turnarounds at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, the wins have been tougher to come by at Notre Dame. The Irish are a solid 16-10 under his watch, but were picked by many to push for a BCS bowl last year. Notre Dame has not won more than eight games since posting 10 victories in 2006. Kelly certainly has some work to do in order to turn the Irish back into a consistent top-10 team. However, there’s a solid foundation beginning to take shape, and Notre Dame is assembling solid recruiting classes under Kelly’s watch. Although more was expected out of Kelly two years into his tenure in South Bend, his track record is too successful to ignore. 

10. Lane Kiffin, USC (2 years)
Overall Record: 25-13 (3 years)

Considering he is just 36 years old, Kiffin has already had quite a career as a head coach. After spending two years with the Oakland Raiders (5-15), Kiffin landed on his feet as Tennessee’s head coach in 2009. The Volunteers went 5-7 in the season prior to his arrival, but posted a 7-6 record in Kiffin’s first year in Knoxville. However, Kiffin bolted Tennessee for a better job, choosing to succeed Pete Carroll at USC. The Trojans posted an 8-5 record in Kiffin’s first year (2010), but finished with a 10-2 mark last year. With the postseason ban lifted, USC is expected to be one of the frontrunners to win the national title in 2012. Kiffin drew headlines at Tennessee for his recruiting practices and comments about other SEC coaches, but has toned down his act since coming to Los Angeles. The Trojans are still dealing with scholarship reductions for the next three years, so Kiffin won’t have a full cupboard to work with during that span. However, Kiffin appears to have positioned the Trojans for a run at the national championship in 2012, while leaving the team in good shape to compete for the Pac-12 South crown in 2013 and 2014.

11. Brady Hoke, Michigan (1 year)
Alma Mater: 
Ball State (1977-80)
Overall Record: 58-52 (9 years)

Deciding between Hoke and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio as the top coach in the Big Ten Legends Division is no easy task. Hoke has done a good job of resurrecting two programs that did not have much success prior to his arrival. In six seasons with Ball State, Hoke recorded a 34-38 mark, including an appearance in the MAC title game in 2008. The Cardinals also made two bowl games under Hoke’s watch. After a solid stint at Ball State, Hoke left for the West Coast, choosing to coach at San Diego State. The Aztecs won just nine games in the three years prior to his arrival, but led San Diego State to a 9-4 record and an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2010. After Rich Rodriguez was fired at Michigan, Hoke was an easy choice to become the Wolverines’ next coach, especially considering he coached in Ann Arbor from 1995-2002. Considering he was born in Ohio, Hoke isn’t necessarily a “Michigan Man.” However, he is a great fit for the Wolverines, has done a good job of rebuilding two struggling programs (Ball State and San Diego State) and led the Wolverines to a BCS bowl in his first season.

12. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (6 years)
Alma Mater:
 South Carolina (1976-78)
Overall Record: 62-39 (9 years)

If Brady Hoke is the top coach in the Legends Division, Dantonio is really 1B. In six seasons in East Lansing, Dantonio has turned the Spartans from underachiever to Big Ten title contender. The Spartans won 22 games through his first three years, but has posted back-to-back seasons of 11 victories. And there’s one more feather in the cap for Dantonio and Michigan State to brag about – the Spartans own a four-game winning streak over rival Michigan. Dantonio has yet to lead Michigan State to a Rose Bowl appearance, but with the program on the right track, it’s only a matter of time before the Spartans make the trek to Pasadena. Dantonio’s success isn’t just limited to Michigan State, as he posted an 18-17 record in three years with Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to two bowl trips. Dantonio seems to be a perfect fit at Michigan State and should keep this program among the best in the Big Ten as long as he sticks around in East Lansing. 

13. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State (7 years)
Alma Mater: Oklahoma State (1986-89)
Record: 59-30 (2005-present)

Gundy has been slowly moving up the Big 12 coach rankings over the last few seasons. After posting 18 victories through his first three seasons in Stillwater, Gundy has led the Cowboys to four consecutive years of at least nine wins. Oklahoma State is coming off its first BCS bowl appearances and was one win away from playing for the national championship. The Big 12 isn’t getting any easier with the arrival of West Virginia and TCU, but Gundy has the Cowboys well-positioned to remain a conference title contender for the foreseeable future.

14. Mack Brown, Texas (14 years)
Alma Mater: 
Vanderbilt, Florida State
Overall Record: 227-113-1

Senator Brown has seen better days but still must be considered one of the league’s best options. After learning the coaching ropes at FCS power Appalachian State and Tulane, Brown rebuilt the North Carolina program. He posted three 10-win seasons in Chapel Hill and went to six straight bowls before taking the best job in college football. All Brown did in his first 13 seasons on the 40 Acres was win at least nine games and finish no worse than second in the South Division every year. After seven seasons, including three Big 12 South titles, Brown broke through with his first conference title in 2005. Behind the leadership of Vince Young, Texas won one of college football's greatest games ever played against USC in the Rose Bowl and the National Championship returned to Austin for the first time since 1970. Despite another trip to the national title game in 2009, Brown’s program eroded in 2010. He posted his first losing season since 1989 as a head coach and was forced to fire multiple assistants. The Horns returned to their winning ways last fall and 2012 will go a long way in proving whether or not Brown has gotten complacent or should be ranked No. 1 on this list. Texas is the single best coaching job in America with more natural and financial resources than any other program in the nation. Therefore, recruiting and on-the-field success should be measured with more scrutiny — especially for a man who has, for some reason, dealt with retirement rumors of late.

15. Bill Snyder, Kansas State (20 years)
Alma Mater: William Jewell (1959-1962)
Overall Record: 159-83-1 (1989-2005), (2009-present)

Prior to Snyder’s arrival in Manhattan, the Wildcats had struggled to find much success on the gridiron. From 1985-88, Kansas State posted an awful 3-40 record and had only one winning season from 1971-82. Snyder won only one game in his first season, but recorded at least five in every season from 1990-2003. Under his watch, the Wildcats have made two BCS bowl appearances and won or shared the Big 12 title four times. The one concern about Snyder is his age. Although he shows no signs of slowing down, he will be 73 at the end of the 2012 season. If you are an athletic director looking to make a hire and Snyder is one of three available candidates – you have to wonder how many years he will stick around. However, Snyder understands the culture and what it takes to win at Kansas State. It’s not an easy job, but Snyder has transformed the Wildcats from a laughingstock to a consistent contender in the Big 12.

16. Mark Richt, Georgia (11 years)
Alma Mater: Miami
Record: 106-38 (2001-present)

The longest tenured coach in the SEC (tied with Gary Pinkel) has had one losing season in his entire head-coaching career. The Bulldogs, under Jim Donnan and Ray Goff, failed to realize an opportunity to grow into the SEC power in the 1990s. While Alabama and LSU toiled, Florida and Tennessee took advantage and won titles. Goff and Donnan claimed seven seasons of six wins or fewer and the program posted only two 10-win seasons from 1984 to 2001. Richt entered the game in 2001 and proceeded to win the programs’ first conference title in 20 years in 2002. Richt posted two conference titles, six 10-wins seasons in his first eight years and won two SEC Coach of the Year Awards. However, Dawgs’ faithful watched its team get worse four straight years from 2007 to 2011 while Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Florida were winning national titles and returning to national prominence in a big way. Richt adapted, though, by finally making sweeping coaching changes that have saved his job. Todd Grantham reinvented the Georgia defense and Richt got to his fourth SEC Championship game in 2011. He has his team poised to be the favorite to win the East once again this fall.

17. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern (6 years)
Alma Mater: 
Northwestern (1993-96)
Overall Record: 40-36 (2006-present)

Fitzgerald is the perfect coach for Northwestern and barring something unexpected, will likely be here until he retires. As a Northwestern graduate, Fitzgerald is well-aware of the culture and what it takes to win in Evanston. The former Wildcat linebacker has led Northwestern to four consecutive bowl games and just one losing season. Fitzgerald’s overall record over the last six seasons is a solid 40-36, but is still searching for his first bowl victory. Northwestern is not an easy place to win, but Fitzgerald has found the right formula and will continue to make the Wildcats a yearly threat to reach a bowl and pull off an upset or two along the way. 

18. Mike Leach, Washington State (First Season)
Alma Mater:
 BYU
Record: 84-43 (Texas Tech, 2000-09)

From 2000 to 2009, there were few things as guaranteed as Texas Tech’s quarterback throwing for 3,000 yards. Leach was the architect behind Tim Couch’s huge numbers at Kentucky and carried his lightning-quick spread passing attack to Lubbock. Leach-led quarterbacks B.J. Symons and Graham Harrell own the top two single-season passing marks in NCAA history with 5,833 and 5,705 yards respectively. Graham Harrell (3rd: 15,793 yards) and Kliff Kingsbury (15th: 11,931) are both in the top 15 in NCAA history in passing yards. Until 2011, Harrell was the NCAA record-holder for career touchdown passes with 134. Needless to say, Leach’s passing attack had reached unprecedented levels of success before his questionable firing. There were six total 10-win seasons in Texas Tech history and Leach posted a school-record 11 wins in 2008. His winning percentage of 66.1% trails only Pete Cawthon (69.3%) in Tech history — who won all of his games between 1930 and 1940. The highly-publicized divorce with Texas Tech (and mentally unstable Craig James) likely cost Leach a couple of years on the sideline, but is not enough to keep any athletic director from hiring him. His teams produce big numbers, his athletic departments make bigger money, his stadiums grow and subsequently sell out and, most importantly, he wins games. Look for a similar program-wide impact from Leach in Pullman. 

19. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State (3 years)
Alma Mater:
 Ursinus
Record: 21-17 (2009-present)

In Athlon’s meeting to rank the SEC coaches, Mullen and LSU’s Les Miles were the most difficult ones to rank. Mullen is only 39 years old, so his best coaching years appear to be ahead of him. However, his overall record is just 21-17 and his only SEC West victories came against rival Ole Miss. While winning the in-state battle is crucial, the Bulldogs need to start beating some of the other teams in the division. Mullen has also led Mississippi State to back-to-back bowl victories and should be in position to reach the postseason once again in 2012. Considering the depth of the SEC, winning big in Starkville is no easy task. Give Mullen the resources of what Alabama or LSU has and he can take Mississippi State even higher. The Bulldogs have ranked higher than ninth in the SEC in recruiting only once in the last six years, yet have a better record over the last three seasons than Tennessee (18-20) — a team that consistently recruits better than Mississippi State. While the record suggests Mullen is only a .500 coach, expect him to continue pushing the Bulldogs to eight or nine win seasons, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he left for a better job in the next couple of years. An overall record isn't always a good judge of how effective some coaches are and Mullen is the perfect case, as he has helped to turn Mississippi State into a consistent bowl team in a very difficult SEC West.

20. Les Miles, LSU (7 years)
Alma Mater: 
Michigan
Overall: 103-39 (11 years)

Inexplicably, LSU, a program with as many built-in advantages as anyone in the nation, laid dormant for three decades. LSU won two conference championships from 1971 to 2000 and only three bowl games from 1971 to 1995. However, the name atop this list of SEC coaches entered the picture in 2000 and reestablished the Bayou Bengal brand. Nick Saban won more games in his first year (8) than LSU had won the two previous (7). He had LSU back in the SEC title game by 2001, giving the Tigers their first outright conference title since 1986. By his fourth season, Saban had returned the Tigers to the promised land by delivering their first national title since 1958. Enter Les Miles. The Hat has maintained an elite level of success with four 10-win seasons in six years, including the 2007 National Championship. He brings energy, intensity and an internal rallying cry to his locker room. The players love him, and he is certainly an entertaining character. He is a fantastic recruiter who has assembled arguably the best roster in America. However, he has also developed another reputation based on bizarre eating habits, poor end-game management, vocal gaffes, and now, the worst BCS performance in the series’ 14-year history. Questions about his teams’ mental focus, discipline and overall ability to adjust were beginning to subside after the 13-0 romp through the regular season last fall. However, those issues resurfaced after the most under-prepared, poorly game-managed title game of the BCS era. Miles and Saban will be eternally linked the annals of SEC football, and relatively speaking, Miles is one of the better coaches in the nation. But in the Southeast, the stakes — and standards — are higher (sometimes unfairly so), and after LSU became the first and only two-loss team to win a BCS title, Saban has been the far superior coach. Miles has lost 12 games to Saban’s six since 2007, and with what could be perceived as the best roster in the nation, three losses per season isn’t getting it done.

21. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech (5 years)
Alma Mater: Western Carolina (1979), Appalachian State (1982)
Overall Record: 140-58 (15 years)

After two I-AA National Championships at Georgia Southern, Johnson completely reinvented the Naval Academy before bringing his patented triple-option attack to the big leagues. Navy had been to nine bowl games in over 100 years of football when they hired Johnson. He led them to five bowl games in six seasons, including two wins. At Georgia Tech, there were doubts about whether or not the antiquated system would work in the ACC. After five seasons, two division championships and one ACC crown (2009), the answer is most definitively yes. The Jackets have led the ACC in rushing all four seasons under Johnson and finished no worse than fourth nationally on the ground. Georgia Tech enters 2012 as the top contender to Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division.

22. Art Briles, Baylor (4 years)
Alma Mater: 
Houston, Texas Tech, Abilene Christian
Overall Record: 59-53

After a very long and very distinguished Texas high school coaching career from 1979 to 1999, Briles got his break at his alma mater. At Houston, Briles designed one of the most prolific passing attacks in NCAA history. Under the two previous regimes, (Kim Helton and Dana Dimel) the Cougars won an average of 3.2 games per year from 1993 to 2002 for an overall record of 32-79. Briles won more games (34) in his five-year stint at Houston as well as one conference title in 2006. He landed at Baylor after two straight C-USA West division titles and was charged with leading a dormant program into the new Big 12 era. After back-to-back 4-8 seasons, Briles (with a little help from Robert Griffin III) led the Bears to its first bowl game since 1994. Over the last two seaons, Baylor won its first postseason contest since 1992 and more games (17) over a two-year span than it has since 1985-1986 (18). Griffin III claimed the first Heisman Trophy in school history and will likely be the second pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Can Briles maintain the Bears’ current level of success without the most valuable player in the nation and most popular player in school history? This is what Briles is charged with in 2012.

23. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin (6 years)
Alma Mater: 
Iowa
Record: 60-19 (2006-present)

Hand picked by Wisconsin legend Barry Alvarez, few imagined Bielema had the talent to maintain the Badgers’ level of success. After six years of Meyer-esque winning percentages, those concerns have definitively been squashed. His back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances were the first for Wisconsin since 1998 and 1999, and despite not winning either game, the Badgers can hang their hats on back-to-back conference titles. In fact, Bielema’s bowl record might be his only weakness. He is 2-4 in postseason play and is likely the only thing keeping him from being ranked higher on this list. That, and the fact he was handed the keys to a program that functions in a vastly different manner than it did in late '80s. Alvarez took UW from an also-ran, bye week program and turned it into a $100-million Midwest football powerhouse. Bielema hasn’t recruited at an elite level — aka Top 25 nationally — but has done an incredible job evaluating and developing talent. Without a single top-25 recruiting class to his name, the Badgers’ head man has sent 11 players into the first three rounds of the NFL Draft since 2006. He has never experienced a losing season as a head coach and earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors back in 2006 when he led Wisconsin to a 12-1 record in his first season. Iowa Hawkeye leg tattoo aside, fans in Madison are very happy to have transitioned so seamlessly from Alvarez to Bielema.

24. Gary Pinkel, Missouri (11 years)
Alma Mater: 
Kent State
Overall: 158-91-3 (21 years)

Not many people can say they started their football careers rooming with Jack Lambert and playing with Nick Saban while learning from Don James. But that is how Pinkel broke into this business when played tight end at Kent State under James. He spent nearly twenty years, most of it under James at Kent and Washington, before landing his first head coaching job in 1991 at Toledo. He earned one MAC championship, three MAC East Division titles and the 1995 MAC Coach of the Year honor before the Mizzou Tigers came calling. In his 11 years since, Pinkel has led Missouri to unprecedented heights of football success. His 85 wins are third all-time in school history. From 1983 to 2001, the Tigers went to two bowl games. Since Pinkel landed in Columbia, MU has eight bowls in 11 years, winning four of them. Prior to the former MAC guru tenure, Missouri posted two 10-win seasons in 111 years of football. He has won at least 10 games three times in the last five years. Eight of the Tigers nine top scoring teams have been ruled by Pinkel. He now has accomplished arguably his greatest achievement in Tigers football history by ushering his program into the nation’s best conference. There will be a major adjustment period, but for the SEC’s longest tenured head coach (tied with Richt), this has to feel like a juicy opportunity to continue the Tigers rise up the college football food chain.

25. Al Golden, Miami (1 year)
Alma Mater: Penn State (1987-91)
Overall Record: 33-40 (6 years)

After spending time on Tom O’Brien’s staff at Boston College and Al Groh’s Virginia staff, Golden was plenty familiar with ACC football when he got the call from Coral Gables. He landed at Miami after building Temple into a MAC contender (he claimed 2009 MAC Coach of the Year honors). Despite the scrutiny from the Nevin Shapiro scandal and potential NCAA sanctions, Golden appears to have Miami trending back towards conference contention. After only its third non-winning season since 1979, Miami decided to withdraw itself from bowl contention due to the ongoing NCAA investigation in Golden's first year. The strong-willed, brutally honest head man recruited incredibly well in 2012 in the face of possible sanctions. His tribute to Howard Schnellenberger — his dress shirt, tie, slacks and jacket gameday combo — has once again become an iconic symbol on the Hurricanes’ sideline. The sky is the limit for Golden and Miami should they avoid heavy-handed NCAA sanctions.

The Best of the Rest:

Mike London, Virginia (2 years)
Alma Mater: Richmond (1979-82)
Overall Record: 36-18 (4 years)

Virginia wanted to keep it in state in all senses of the word when it hired Mike London away from Richmond. He has completely reinvigorated the Cavalier brand name within the state as Wahoo recruiting has sky-rocketed since London took over in 2010. In only two seasons at the helm, London returned Virginia to posteason play for the first time since 2007 and has his program back near the top of the ACC recruiting hierarchy. The Cavaliers improved from 10th in the ACC in total and scoring defense in 2010 to third in total defense and fifth in scoring defense. London has constructed an excellent staff and has himself positioned for long-term success in Charlottesville.

Kyle Whittingham, Utah (7 years)
Alma Mater:
 BYU (1978-81)
Overall Record: 66-25 (7 years)

Even after leading the Utes to six consecutive seasons with at least eight wins, Whittingham probably hasn’t received the national respect he deserves. Utah went 33-6 from 2008-10, which included a win over Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Whittingham has done a good job of guiding the Utes through their transition into the Pac-12 and nearly won the South Division with a backup quarterback last season. Whittingham is a solid coach who should continue to win consistently at Utah. The Utes have stepped up their recruiting since coming to the Pac-12, which is another testament to Whittingham and his staff continuing to build the program. The biggest hurdle Whittingham could face over the next few seasons is keeping his staff intact. Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake is a highly-respected assistant and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is a rising star in the coaching ranks. With Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State all making coaching changes this offseason, keeping Whittingham happy and his assistant coaches in Salt Lake City will be crucial to Utah's success.

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (First Season)
Alma Mater: 
West Virginia (1981-84)
Overall Record: 120-84-2 (18 years)

After an unsuccessful stint with Michigan, Rodriguez is hungry to prove he is still among the top coaches in college football. Rodriguez posted a 60-26 record with West Virginia, but recorded a disappointing 15-22 mark in three seasons with the Wolverines. Although he deserves some of the blame for the failed tenure in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez was simply a bad fit and Michigan never embraced him as its coach. Don’t expect any of those issues to arise at Arizona, as Rodriguez seems to be a good fit and should have the Wildcats in contention for a bowl game in 2012. Arizona had three winning seasons under former coach Mike Stoops, but Rodriguez is capable of taking this program even higher. 

Charlie Strong, Louisville (2 years)
Alma Mater: 
Central Arkansas (1980-83)
Overall Record: 14-13 (2 years)

It has taken Strong only two years to emerge as one of the top coaches in the Big East. After spending over 20 years as an assistant with stops at Florida, Ole Miss, Notre Dame and South Carolina, Strong has led the Cardinals to a 14-12 record and two bowl appearances. Even with one of the youngest rosters in college football, Louisville claimed a share of the Big East crown in 2011. The future looks bright for the Cardinals with Strong at the helm, as they should be the early favorite to win the conference in 2012. The biggest question for Louisville is whether or not it can keep Strong if one of the top programs in the SEC open up, but for now, he should have the Cardinals knocking on the door of a finish in the top 25 this season.

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

How does your coach rank? Check out how Athlon Sports ranked the coaches in each of the BCS conferences:

Ranking the Coaches: ACC
Ranking the Coaches: Big East
Ranking the Coaches: Pac-12
Ranking the Coaches: Big 12
Ranking the Coaches: Big Ten
Ranking the Coaches: SEC

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/florida-state-seminoles-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The Florida State Seminoles check in at No. 9 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: EJ Manuel, QB
There’s no question Florida State has to be better in offense in 2012. Spring practice concluded with question marks remaining about the offensive line and rushing attack – two areas that plagued the Seminoles last year. Manuel didn’t have a bad first season as the starter (2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns), but more was expected out of him. A shoulder injury suffered against Oklahoma hindered the offense’s development, and Manuel never seemed to be comfortable behind a shaky offensive line. The senior has the talent, but it’s time to put everything together. If Manuel plays up to expectations, Florida State’s offense should show improvement on the stat sheet.

Upset Alert: at NC State (Oct. 6)
Florida State’s last trip to Raleigh didn’t go so well. The Seminoles lost 28-24 to the Wolfpack in 2010, which was their second defeat at NC State in the last three matchups. Florida State will be on upset alert once again this season, as the Wolfpack return quarterback Mike Glennon and most of the key players from a defense that forced 39 turnovers last season. NC State lost 34-0 in Tallahassee last season, but this matchup should be much closer in 2012.

Revenge/Biggest Game: Clemson (Sept. 22)
Not only is this a revenge game for Florida State, but this matchup will have a significant impact on the race to win the ACC Atlantic. The Seminoles were without quarterback EJ Manuel in last year’s contest and lost only 35-30 to the Tigers in Death Valley. Clemson’s biggest question mark is an offensive line that loses three starters, which figures to be an issue against Florida State’s loaded defensive line. The Seminoles are 2-5 against the Tigers in their last seven matchups. However, both of Florida State’s victories came in Tallahassee and it should be favored to get revenge on Sept. 22. 

Defensive MVP: Brandon Jenkins, DE
The Seminoles are loaded on defense, so there’s no shortage of candidates for this honor. Jenkins has been one of college football’s top pass rushers over the last two years, recording 21.5 sacks and 36.5 tackles for a loss. His numbers declined slightly from 2010 to 2011, which can be blamed on receiving more attention from opposing offenses. Jenkins should threaten 10 sacks, while leading one of the top defensive lines in the nation.

Trap Game: at USF (Sept. 29)
A week after the matchup with Clemson in Tallahassee, the Seminoles hit the road for a stop against in-state rival South Florida. These two teams have met only once, with the Bulls winning 17-7 in Tallahassee in 2009. Considering the magnitude of the game against Clemson, and a hungry South Florida squad looking to earn bragging rights with the state’s top programs, this is a dangerous trap game for Florida State.

Breakout Player: Rashad Greene, WR
Some could say Greene broke out last season after catching 38 passes for 596 yards and seven touchdowns. However, an ankle injury forced him to miss four games and he was never 100 percent when he returned to the lineup. Greene’s numbers were solid for a freshman, but can only get better with a full complement of snaps in 2012. Don’t be surprised if Greene approaches 60 receptions with 1,000 yards and 10 scores this year.

Bounce Back Candidate: Xavier Rhodes, CB
After a standout freshman season, big things were expected of Rhodes in 2011. He played in all 13 games, but picked off only one pass after recording four interceptions in 2010. Rhodes did not earn all-conference honors and his play left a lot of room for improvement. The junior needs to have a big season to work his way back into the mix for the first round of the NFL Draft, and his play in 2012 should closely resemble his freshman campaign.

National Title Defining Moment: at Virginia Tech (Nov. 8)
It’s not going to be easy for the ACC to get a team into the national championship this year, but this game will have major top 25 implications. While neither team’s schedule is clear of potential land mines, it’s not unreasonable to think Florida State and Virginia Tech could enter the Nov. 8 matchup unbeaten. The Seminoles have lost two out of the last three matchups to the Hokies and have not won in Blacksburg since 1989. Virginia Tech also has a huge advantage with this game scheduled on Nov. 8, as this will give the Hokies plenty of time to sort out their offensive line and running back concerns. With both teams expected to win their division, this should be an ACC Championship Game preview.

Freshman to Watch: Mario Pender, RB
A freshman led Florida State in rushing last year and it wouldn’t be a surprise if that happened again in 2012. Devonta Freeman and Chris Thompson hold the early edge in the battle to start at running back, but Pender will get another opportunity to earn playing time in the fall. He ranked as the No. 37 overall player in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and will be expected to contribute significant snaps this season.

Comeback Player: Chris Thompson, RB
The rushing attack was almost non-existent for Florida State last year, as it ranked 104th nationally by averaging just 112.2 yards per game. Finding a spark on the ground does rely on an improved offensive line, but the Seminoles are hoping the return of Thompson can help. He rushed for 83 yards and one touchdown through the first five weeks of last year, but suffered a broken back in the loss to Wake Forest. He missed most of spring practice with a broken hand, so rust could be an issue early in the year. Even if Thompson doesn’t lead the team in yards, having a veteran presence and his pass-protection out of the backfield will be a boost to an offense that struggled to establish anything on the ground last year.

Newcomer to Watch: Karlos Williams, S
Safety hasn’t been a position of strength for Florida State’s defense in recent years, but Lamarcus Joyner stepped up and solidified one spot last season. Is it Williams’ turn in 2012? Junior Terrence Brooks left spring practice with a slight edge, but it will be difficult for the coaching staff to keep Williams off the field. He was ranked among the top 25 players in the 2011 signing class by most scouting services and recorded eight stops in 12 games last year. Even if Brooks starts, Williams should play a key role in Florida State’s secondary this season.

Position Battle: Offensive Line
This unit was a mixture of inexperience and overall bad play last season. The Seminoles started 10 different players up front, including a handful of freshmen. This group played well in the second half of the Champs Sports Bowl against Notre Dame, but can they find that same rhythm for the entire 2012 campaign? Line coach Rick Trickett and head coach Jimbo Fisher may have found a solution to some of the line’s problems, as Cameron Erving switched from defensive tackle to left tackle and solidified that position in the spring. The front five is going to be young and could decide whether or not Florida State wins the ACC Championship in 2012. 

Related Florida State Content

Florida State Seminoles 2012 Team Preview
Florida State Seminoles Top 10 Players for 2012

Is Florida State Back as an Annual National Title Contender?
The Top 10 Greatest Florida State Seminoles Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Florida State Football History

Florida State Seminoles Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Florida State Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Florida State Seminoles 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 05:44
Path: /college-football/florida-state-football-are-seminoles-back-annual-national-title-contender
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 9 Florida State. The Seminoles were expected to challenge for the ACC title last season, but came up short. Florida State is loaded on defense, but the offense has question marks.

Is Florida State Back as an Annual National Title Contender?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I always contend teams like Florida State aren’t truly “back” until they’re competing for national championships. That’s the bar the Seminoles have set, and claiming FSU is back for merely finishing in the top 25 in each of the last two seasons doesn’t do the program’s history justice. Certainly, Florida State is back on the right track. Arguably, the Seminoles have the most upside of any program in the state, with Florida being the only real competition here – and FSU defeated the Gators 21-7 last season in Gainesville. FSU’s 19 wins in two seasons under Jimbo Fisher are the most in a two-year span since 2003-04. The Seminoles are in better shape than they’ve been in several years, but the goal here isn’t to play in Champs Sports and Chick-fil-A bowls. FSU hasn’t even won the ACC since 2005. The Seminoles have a chance to end that streak this year. They had a ton of bad luck last year, starting with EJ Manuel’s injury against Oklahoma, which made the following game against Clemson that much more difficult. Florida State’s defense should be tremendous and the offense a little more steady, but enough questions remain – is Manuel the elite quarterback he’s hinted he’d become? Is the young offensive line ready for the prime time? Can Florida State overcome missteps against teams like Virginia and Wake Forest? Florida State may be good enough to win the ACC, but that’s not good enough to be the elite team FSU should be before we declare the Noles “back.”

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Define back? Is Florida State about to go on a decade-long run of dominance that sees the Noles win 9 conference titles in 10 years, finish in the top five nationally every season and visit the BCS National Championship game three times? Absolutely not. But that run of ACC terror will likely never be replicated by any team in any league ever again. However, can the Seminoles win their first conference championship in seven years? Absolutely.

I will argue that the 2012 defensive unit is the closest thing Tomahawk Nation has seen on that side of the ball since the Mickey Andrews glory days of the mid-to-late 90s. Along with an efficient year from EJ Manuel in his final attempt to validate his lofty recruiting status, the Noles have as good a chance since 2005 to claim an ACC crown. They get top divisional challenger at home and Miami could potentially have one of its youngest — and worst — teams in decades. Two road trips to NC State and Virginia Tech will be key. That said, FSU can lose on the road in Blacksburg on November 8 and still win the Atlantic if it can slow the Tajh Boyd-led Tigers' attack in Doak Campbell on September 22.

Either way, Jimbo Fisher has reestablished the Seminole name brand on the recruiting trail. And despite what the Board of Trustees in Tallahassee wants you to believe, the Garnett and Gold is still the most powerful football program in the league. Fisher just needs to go out and prove it on the field.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This question seems to come up every preseason when discussing Florida State. In fairness to the Seminoles, their run from 1987-2000 is going to be very difficult to repeat. However, everything in college football seems to come in cycles, and while the program slipped at the end of the Bobby Bowden era, Florida State is trending back in the right direction.

Jimbo Fisher has won 19 games in his first two years, while landing some of the nation’s top recruiting classes. Although the Seminoles will always have some of college football’s best talent, the depth is finally starting to get back to a level where this team can compete for national championships.

Is Florida State ready to win the national title this year? I don’t think this team is ready to beat any of the teams in the top five this season, but the Seminoles should be favored to win the ACC. There’s some talented youth on this team and as long as Fisher continues to reel in top-five recruiting classes, the Seminoles will be back in the national title mix in the next couple of years. The first step for Florida State is to win the ACC – something they haven’t done since 2005. Once the Seminoles win the conference title and a BCS bowl game, then it will be easier to see where they stack up nationally. Florida State is on its way back, but it may take another year or two to become an annual top 10 once again.

Mark Ross
Did Florida State ever leave? Look, I know that it was the '90s when the Seminoles dominated the ACC and won their two national championships, the last one coming in 1999. And I know that this is 2012, which means it's been more than a decade since the mighty 'Noles were on top of the college football mountain and six seasons since they made their last BCS bowl appearance (2006 Orange Bowl), but it's not like they've plummeted to the bottom of the rankings either. Overall, Florida State has won its last four bowl games and in Jimbo Fisher's first two years as head coach, the 'Noles have won 19 games combined and were ACC Atlantic Division champions in 2009.

In the end, I think it comes down to expectations, and it's clear that the bar is set pretty high when it comes to Florida State, and that's from both the fans' and outsiders' perspectives. That said, Fisher's team this year should have a pretty decent shot at getting "back" to that expected level of success, but to do so the 'Noles will have to finish ahead of Clemson and North Carolina State and the rest of the Atlantic Division. The easiest route back to a BCS bowl, and a potential shot at a national title, is to get the automatic bid by winning the ACC Championship game, something Florida State has done just once (2005) in the game's seven-year history.

Florida State brings back 16 starters, seven on offense and nine on defense, and its defense should be among the best in entire nation. As long as the offense, led by senior quarterback EJ Manuel, can put enough points on the board and the defense can hold up, the Seminoles are as big a threat in the ACC, if not the country, of any other team. The non-conference schedule is certainly manageable with a trip to South Florida (Sept. 29) and the season-finale vs. in-state rival Florida the only potential trouble spots, and in the ACC, the 'Noles two key games are when they host Clemson (Sept. 22) and go to Blacksburg, Va., to face Virginia Tech on Nov. 8.

If Florida State can defeat Clemson when the Tigers come calling in September, the Seminoles should be in excellent position to win the Atlantic Division and go to Charlotte, N.C., to play for the ACC title. If they win that game then it's back to a BCS bowl and maybe even a spot in the national championship game, which no doubt would be a welcome sight for Florida State fans. Otherwise, they will just have to be happy with another nine- or 10-win season, which is apparently the new "normal" for the Seminoles, which also happens to be a measure of annual success the fans of the vast majority of college football programs around the country would happily accept. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think it’s fair to say FSU is back, at least to the point where the Seminoles look like the favorite in the ACC. Since Jimbo Fisher took over in Tallahassee, the recruiting has been at an elite level so the roster is loaded on both sides of the ball. Florida State should be led by a stingy defense that really came together at the end of last season. From the middle of October to the bowl victory over Notre Dame, no opponent scored over 20 points on the athletic FSU unit.

The key to the Seminoles title chances rests with senior quarterback EJ Manuel and the development of sophomores Devonta Freeman and Rashad Greene. The talented duo led FSU in rushing and receiving as freshmen, and both players could be set for a breakout 2012. I don’t think even the most optimistic Noles fan can expect the program to repeat the accomplishments of the ‘90s — when Florida State claimed two national championships and won the league crown every season from 1992-2000 — but Fisher has FSU primed to compete for the ACC title each season in the near future.

Related Florida State Content

Florida State Seminoles 2012 Team Preview
Florida State Seminoles Top 10 Players for 2012

Florida State Seminoles 2012 Team Predictions

The Top 10 Greatest Florida State Seminoles Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Florida State Football History

Florida State Seminoles Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Florida State Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Is Florida State back as an annual national title contender?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 05:40
All taxonomy terms: College Football, jokes
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-florida-state-rivals
Body:

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

• What happens when Will Muschamp takes Viagra?
He gets taller.

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

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

• Did you hear about the new honor system at Florida?
Yes, your Honor. No, your Honor.

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

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

• Did you hear what happened to the Florida fan when he found out that 90% of all car accidents occur within 5 miles of home?
He moved.

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

• You know you’re from Gainesville if:
You’ve ever climbed a water tower with a bucket of paint to defend your sister’s honor.

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

Related Florida State Content

Florida State Seminoles 2012 Team Preview
Florida State Seminoles Top 10 Players for 2012

Florida State Seminoles 2012 Team Predictions

The Top 10 Greatest Florida State Seminoles Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Florida State Football History

Florida State Seminoles Cheerleader Gallery

Is Florida State Back as an Annual National Title Contender?

Teaser:
<p> Jokes About Florida State Rivals</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 02:58
Path: /nascar/keselowski-rolling-kahne-gaining-hall-fame-voters-voting
Body:

Brad Keselowski was smiling but you could sense the resolve in the 28-year-old after he finished second to Jimmie Johnson in last weekend’s Sprint All-Star Race.

“I think we’re a really young team that’s growing and getting better every week, every day and every hour,” Keselowski said moments after climbing from this car. “We got beat by a five-time champ. I think we’re doing pretty good, but I want that one more spot.”

Considering where Keselowski was a year ago, he and his team have made tremendous gains.

A year ago, Keselowski was 24th in the NASCAR championship point standings heading into the Coca-Cola 600 with zero wins, one top-five and one top-10 finish — and that came in the Southern 500 when he didn’t pit late, using the same strategy as race winner Regan Smith, and finished third.

This season, Keselowski is 12th in points with two victories, three top-five and five top-10 finishes.

Go back to last year’s Coca-Cola 600 and only one driver has more wins than Keselowski in that time. Tony Stewart has seven victories to Keselowski’s five. Just as impressive is that Keselowski and his team have won two races since the abrupt departure of Kurt Busch after last season. The team brought in AJ Allmendinger to replace him, making Keselowski the de facto No. 1 driver at Penske Racing. He has accepted and handled those responsibilities well.

Certainly, the team’s performance could have been better this season had both Keselowski and Allmendinger not been saddled with problems with the fuel pickup system. Both teams seemed to have solved those issues and the All-Star Race showed how strong both can be with Allmendinger going from last to second in the preliminary race to make the All-Star event and Keselowski winning the third segment before finishing second in the final 10-lap shootout.

Both teams seem to be headed in the right direction as summer approaches with Keselowski virtually locked into the Chase courtesy of his wins at Bristol and Talladega. Both Keselowski and Allmendinger will be worth watching the coming months.
 

Teaser:
<p> Following Jimmie Johnson's victory in the NASCAR All-Star Race, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 17:51
Path: /nascar/jimmie-johnson-dominates-nascar-all-star-race
Body:

Prior to Jimmie Johnson’s win in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 on May 12, it seemed Hendrick Motorsports would never get that elusive 200th Cup win. Its 16-race slide in between wins was relative in NASCAR terms, but for an organization lugging around tractor trailer loads of “200 Wins” caps and assorted other merchandise, it was time to hit the milestone and move on.

It turns out, moving on is just what Hendrick Motorsports has done.

Johnson once again led the HMS charge on Saturday, becoming only the third driver to have earned three All-Star Race victories with a dazzling performance at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The No. 48 team’s strategy, flawless execution and pure speed harkened back to a time when it was all but unbeatable at the track then known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

Over a scintillating four-year period from 2003-06, the group led by crew chief Chad Knaus won five points-paying races, finished second twice and third once. It also recorded two All-Star wins (2003, ’06), to boot.

In Saturday’s exhibition race, Johnson and Knaus were not only the fastest, but the smartest, in a 23-car field. Having won Friday’s Pit Crew Challenge, the 48 team was awarded the final stall on pit road — the preferred choice. They easily won the first of the five-segment event, then dropped to the rear of the field for the proceeding three 20-lap runs, guaranteed of the first-place spot when the field stopped for a mandatory visit prior to a final 10-lap dash.

Johnson’s stop-and-go pit appearance allowed him to retain the lead, and from there it was only a matter of mashing the gas on the restart — which he did when second-place Matt Kenseth spun his tires. From there, he cruised to a .841-second victory.

“If you won the first segment, it was very easy what you could do,” Johnson said of the strategy. “There was just as much importance — not as much, but very close — amount of importance to win the second (segment). We felt like the winner would come out of the front row (on the 10-lap shootout), unless these guys got crazy and crashed or something.

“To make your odds work in your favor, being on that front row is key. First or second segment was the goal to win.”

Knaus echoed the thought.

“The biggest thing you have to do in any event is you have to limit your risk,” the crew chief noted. “That’s what we needed to do. We were fortunate that (Jimmie) was able to get out there that first segment and attack and get the win. From that point on, all you want to do is maintain and make sure you’re there at the end.”

Another Hendrick team, the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr., also enjoyed a successful night. Earnhardt won the Sprint Showdown, a transfer race for those not already qualified for the All-Star Race. He then won the fourth 20-lap segment before settling for fifth in the feature.

“I think we showed what we are capable of doing here next weekend,” Earnhardt said of the Coca-Cola 600, also held in Charlotte. “We are probably going to bring the same car. We have a couple of ideas on how to make the car even faster, especially for qualifying, that I hope will work out. I am real pleased with our effort.”

Hendrick will look for his 10th win in that race, a contest of endurance that is considered one of NASCAR’s crown jewel events.

“I think track position at the end of the 600 is going to be key,” Johnson said. “Two or three pit stops from the end, being in the right position, having the right strategy — if it’s fuel, two tires, four, none, whatever it might be — that’s going to be key.”

If Saturday’s race proved anything, it was that strategy was key. If that indeed is what it comes down to once again, figure Johnson, Knaus and the 48 team as the overwhelming favorite.


by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro 

Teaser:
<p> Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus put together winning strategy to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race in Charlotte.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 17:18
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-south-carolina-no-10-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

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

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

Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks continue the countdown at No. 10 with two preseason All-Americans and four players selected as All-SEC performers. Athlon Sports predicts South Carolina will finish second in the SEC’s Eastern Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Heisman candidate Marcus Lattimore and a stingy defense will lead the Gamecocks this season,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “If Connor Shaw continues his solid play from late last season, South Carolina will be in the hunt for an SEC East title.”

Two South Carolina standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with running back Marcus Lattimore and defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney both being voted to the first team. In addition, the USC running backs unit was ranked No. 4 nationally and the defensive line was rated No. 5 in the country.

Four Gamecocks earned preseason All-SEC honors, including Lattimore and Clowney on the first team. Offensive lineman T.J. Johnson and defensive lineman Devin Taylor garnered second-team honors.

South Carolina Team Preview

South Carolina's Top 10 Players of 2012

South Carolina’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports Names South Carolina No. 10 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/south-carolina-football-what-record-will-gamecocks-have-sec-play-2012
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 10 South Carolina. The Gamecocks should be in the hunt for the SEC East, but need a healthy year from running back Marcus Lattimore.

What Will South Carolina's SEC Record Be in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The more I look back at South Carolina’s 2011 season, the more impressive the Gamecocks’ year looks. Despite only seven games from Marcus Lattimore, a subpar year from Alshon Jeffery and inconsistent quarterback play until the second half of the season, South Carolina still managed to win 11 games, including routs over Clemson and Nebraska to finish up the season. Once he became the full-time starter, quarterback Connor Shaw stabilized the offense in the second half of the season. I’m looking forward to what the Gamecocks look like with him and Lattimore running the show full-time next season. Shaw and Lattimore only started two games in the same backfield last season, both wins, over Kentucky and Mississippi State. The defense should be top-notch again, though in the SEC, it’s probably a notch behind LSU, Alabama and Georgia. Even if South Carolina has a shot to win 10 or more games this season, the schedule is going to be difficult – especially compared to fellow SEC East contender Georgia, which again catches a break by missing LSU, Alabama and Arkansas while the Gamecocks visit Baton Rouge and host the Razorbacks. The Gamecocks are probably looking at a loss at LSU plus another game, at home against Georgia or Arkansas on the road against Florida, with potential to trip up the Gamecocks. I’d pick South Carolina to finish 6-2 again in the East.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Before Bobby Petrino got run out of town at Arkansas, I had South Carolina going 5-3 in the league. Not even the most diehard South Carolina fans honestly expect to go into Baton Rouge and beat LSU. An upset win certainly isn't impossible, it just can't be expected. A home loss to Arkansas was penciled in as well. The Hogs have crushed the Gamecocks three straight times by a total of 118 to 64 with no game decided by less than 16 points. And the Gamecocks are always good for at least one unexpected loss — let's call it the Clemson effect. The 2012 candidates for this year's Auburn would be road games at Vanderbilt and Florida as well as home games against improved Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri teams. It's this brutal schedule that has forced Athlon Sports to pick the Dawgs to win the East the last two years.

Having said all of that, I think Carolina is the better team than Georgia this fall. And now that John L. Smith is leading the Hogs into Williams-Brice, I feel comfortable picking the Cocks to end their losing ways against cross-over rival Arkansas. The East is improved around the Cocks at almost every turn and will provide loads of speed bumps, so I still have to call for the lone unexpected disappointing performance. This leaves Steve Spurrier's bunch at 6-2 for the season in SEC play — which easily could be enough to win the East, especially should they beat the Bulldogs at home on October 6.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Gamecocks are coming off their best two-year stretch in school history, so the expectations are high going into 2012. The pieces are in place to contend for the SEC East title once again, but South Carolina does have a few key question marks to answer.

Quarterback Connor Shaw played well at the end of last season, but can he carry that momentum into a full year? The receiving corps also needs to replace Alshon Jeffery, while running back Marcus Lattimore is recovering from a torn ACL. The defense brings back six starters, but must replace lineman Melvin Ingram (first-team All-SEC in 2011), while cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Antonio Allen are departing from the secondary.

Despite the question marks, South Carolina has a chance to win 10 games. The opener against Vanderbilt won’t be easy, but the Gamecocks should escape Nashville with a close victory. After taking on the Commodores in Week 1, South Carolina should improve to 5-0 before taking on Georgia on Oct. 6, LSU on Oct. 13 and Florida on Oct. 27. Those three games should define the Gamecocks’ position in the SEC East. Win all three and South Carolina should cruise to the East title. However, losses in two of those games and the battle with Georgia likely won’t be decided until the SEC finale against Arkansas. The Gamecocks also take on rival Clemson in Death Valley on Nov. 24, which is not a guaranteed win.

I think the Gamecocks go 6-2 in SEC play and finish with a 9-3 or 10-2 overall record. Considering Georgia does not play LSU, Alabama or Arkansas, South Carolina desperately needs to beat the Bulldogs on Oct. 6 to take an early lead in the battle to win the SEC East. I give a slight edge to Georgia in the division, but wouldn't be surprised if South Carolina represents the East in Atlanta.

Mark Ross
I think South Carolina will go 5-3 in the SEC this season. Georgia is the best in the East in my opinion and I expect the Bulldogs to beat the Gamecocks in Columbia on Oct. 6. The other tough games on SC's conference schedule in 2012 are at LSU (Oct. 13), at Florida (Oct. 20) and home to Arkansas (Nov. 10). Having to play in Baton Rouge and Gainesville in the same season is bad enough, but back-to-back just adds to the degree of difficulty. And then there's Arkansas, who the Gamecocks get in Columbia, but it's not like this Hogs team is UAB or Wofford, who South Carolina also hosts this season. Arkansas will be one of the more potent offenses in the entire SEC and should the Hogs be able to put points on the board against South Carolina's defense, I'm not so sure the Gamecocks' offense has the firepower to go point-for-point with them.

Bottom line is I see Steve Spurrier's crew dropping at least two of the three games against LSU, Florida and Arkansas, which coupled with the loss to Georgia, puts them at 5-3 in the SEC. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me that much if they lost all four of these. And that's before the Gamecocks end the season at in-state rival Clemson, who could have one of the most potent offenses in all of college football. Considering all five of these games occur in about a stretch of 50 days, it could be a long seven weeks for South Carolina's defense by the time October rolls around.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I predict Steve Spurrier’s squad to go 6-2 in league play. The Gamecocks may have the best team in the East division, but the schedule is very difficult. September games against Vanderbilt and conference-newcomer Missouri will not be easy, but then a brutal October slate will decide SC’s chances for winning a division crown. The Gamecocks take on Georgia, have back-to back trips to LSU and Florida and then host an improved Tennessee bunch. After a bye week to begin November, South Carolina hosts an Arkansas squad that has beaten the Gamecocks three years in a row by a combined score of 118-64.

The return of All-America running back Marcus Lattimore will be a huge boost to the SC offense, and quarterback Connor Shaw was playing great football at the end of last season. The main question mark on offense will be at wideout, where only Ace Sanders has significant experience. The defense should be excellent once again, led by stellar rush ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. If Lattimore returns to his previous form and some answers emerge at receiver, South Carolina will be in the hunt for a December trip to Atlanta.

Related South Carolina Content

South Carolina Gamecocks 2012 Team Preview
South Carolina Gamecocks Top 10 Players for 2012

South Carolina Gamecocks 2012 Team Predictions

South Carolina Gamecocks Top 10 Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in South Carolina Football History

South Carolina Gamecocks Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About South Carolina Rivals

Teaser:
<p> What will South Carolina's SEC Record be in 2012?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/south-carolina-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The South Carolina Gamecocks check in at No. 10 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Marcus Lattimore, RB
The Heisman candidate may be the best running back in the nation. Lattimore has run for over 2,000 yards and has scored 30 total touchdowns in just 20 career games. Of course, he must return to form after a knee injury cut his season to seven games last year. Lattimore should be healthy in the fall and right back to being an All-America-level superstar for the Gamecocks offense.

Upset Alert: Florida (Oct. 20)
The Gamecocks have handled the Gators over the last two seasons, but Will Muschamp’s bunch has a ton of talent — especially on defense. Besides this game taking place in the tough environment of The Swamp, it comes at a tough point in the schedule. USC will take on Georgia two weeks prior, and then travel to LSU on October 13. Back-to-back trips to Baton Rouge and Gainesville are just plain cruel.

Trap Game: Tennessee (Oct. 27)
Once again, here’s a tradition-laden program that the Gamecocks have handled the last two years. Derek Dooley’s squad has some serious offensive weapons in Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers, so South Carolina cannot let down after the brutal three-week stretch of taking on Georgia, LSU and Florida. If USC can make it through October, look out.

Defensive MVP: Jadeveon Clowney, DE
The uber-talented Rock Hill native came to campus as the nation’s No. 1 recruit before last season, and he did not disappoint during a solid freshman campaign. Clowney had 36 stops, including 12 tackles for loss, and an eye-opening five forced fumbles. With a year of experience and an offseason to hit the weight room, Clowney could be an All-America pass rusher in just his sophomore year of 2012.

Breakout Player: Ace Sanders, WR
With the departure of leading receiver Alshon Jeffery, Sanders is the most likely candidate to become a force on the outside. The Sunshine State speedster was the team's second-leading receiver last season with 29 catches for 383 yards and two touchdowns. Sanders was also a weapon at punt returner, averaging 9.3 yards per return and scoring once. His development will be a key to the growth of the South Carolina offense this season.

Unsung Hero: T.J. Johnson, C
The SEC had outstanding centers last season like William Vlachos of Alabama and Ben Jones of Georgia, so Johnson’s name may not be known as well as it should. The three-year starter has had to deal with many changes in offensive personnel but still has been a force inside. He will be counted on this season to lead a talented but young offensive line through a challenging group of SEC defenses.

Biggest Game: Georgia (Oct. 6)
The Gamecocks had to be thinking about a return trip to Atlanta after beating UGA, 45-42, in Athens. Of course, South Carolina ran the table in the East while the Dawgs benefited from an easier West-opponent slate. That happens again this season, with Georgia facing Auburn and Ole Miss while the Cocks travel to LSU and host Arkansas. Consequently, USC will need to take care of business at home versus Georgia.

Revenge Game: Arkansas (Nov. 10)
This one is simple. The Razorbacks have had the Gamecocks’ number over the last three seasons, winning all three games by a combined score of 118-64. Arkansas will travel to Williams-Brice Stadium this year, and South Carolina will have an extra week to prepare for the Petrino-less Hogs. Steve Spurrier’s crew should be primed to stop the current three-game skid.

Freshman to Watch: Shaq Roland, WR
The Lexington native could become the next stud receiver from the Palmetto State.  Roland was rated the No. 41 overall player in the nation in the AC100, and won Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina. He will follow in the footsteps of fellow highly-rated instate products like Stephon Gilmore, Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney, and Roland should compete for early playing time.

Comeback player: Devin Taylor, DE
After a stellar sophomore season in 2010 (13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks), many projected Taylor as All-SEC and even All-America last year. He fell short of those expectations in 2011 but still had a solid season with 42 tackles and six sacks. He and Clowney will form a scary pass rush combination, and look for Taylor to have a very productive senior campaign.

Position Battle: Wide Receiver
The aforementioned departure of Bears second-round selection Alshon Jeffery creates a huge void at this position. Ace Sanders has shown that he can produce at the SEC level, but there are questions marks after him. The candidates to step up for the Gamecocks include senior D. L. Moore and sophomores Nick Jones and Damiere Byrd.  Jeffery's brother, redshirt freshman Shamier, and true freshman Shaq Roland could also join the receiving rotation.

Related South Carolina Content

South Carolina Gamecocks 2012 Team Preview
South Carolina Gamecocks Top 10 Players for 2012

How Many SEC Games Will South Carolina Win in 2012?
South Carolina Gamecocks Top 10 Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in South Carolina Football History

South Carolina Gamecocks Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About South Carolina Rivals

Teaser:
<p> South Carolina Gamecocks 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 05:37
All taxonomy terms: College Football, jokes
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-south-carolina-rivals
Body:

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

• What do medical marijuana and Clemson football have in common?
They both get smoked in bowls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

• You know you’re from Clemson if:
Someone asks to see your ID and you show them your belt buckle.

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

Teaser:
<p> Jokes About South Carolina Rivals</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 03:30
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-texas-no-11-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

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

To celebrate the Texas Longhorns being named No. 11, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Mack Brown’s Texas Longhorns continue the countdown at No. 11 with two preseason All-Americans and 11 players selected as All-Big 12 performers. Athlon Sports predicts Texas will finish second in the Big 12 Conference. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Texas will be led by its outstanding defense and running game this season,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “If the Longhorns can find some consistency at quarterback, Mack Brown's program will be back to an elite level nationally.”

Two Texas standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with defensive end Alex Okafor and defensive back Quandre Diggs both being voted to the third team. In addition, the Longhorns secondary was ranked No. 1 nationally. The defensive line was rated No. 3 in the country and best in the Big 12, while the running backs unit was tabbed No. 10 in the nation.

Eleven Longhorns earned preseason All-Big 12 honors, including Okafor, Diggs, running back Malcolm Brown, defensive lineman Jackson Jeffcoat, linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive back Kenny Vaccaro on the first team. Offensive lineman Mason Walters and punt returner Quandre Diggs were named to the second team, while wide receiver Jaxon Shipley, defensive lineman Ashton Dorsey, linebacker Steve Edmond and defensive back Carrington Byndom garnered third-team honors.

Texas Team Preview

Texas' Top 10 Players of 2012

Texas’ 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<h1 class="ha"> <span class="hP" id=":56">Athlon Sports Names Texas No. 11 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></h1>
Post date: Monday, May 21, 2012 - 10:35
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/texas-longhorns-football-has-mack-brown-lost-his-edge
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 11 Texas. The Longhorns missed out on a bowl in 2010, but rebounded with an eight-win campaign last year. Texas has quarterback question marks, but should contend for the Big 12 title.

Has Mack Brown Lost His Edge?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The extreme reaction to the last two seasons at Texas is more of a testament to what Mack Brown rebuilt in Austin than the actual results. I’m not excusing how Texas has performed in 2010-11. The Longhorns should have no excuse to go 5-7 as they did in 2010. Ever. But after nine season with at least 10 wins, Brown deserves at least the benefit of the doubt. He delivered on that in 2011 by going 8-5. Now it’s time to finish this brief and unexpected rebuilding job. I don’t know if Brown ever lost his touch; he just pushed the wrong buttons for a couple of years. Garrett Gilbert wasn’t the answer at quarterback. Will Muschamp wasn’t the guy to be coach in waiting. Brown’s best skill has been more as a great program manager – recruiting, hiring the right assistants and so on. And it looks like that is returning to normal. Texas is still pulling in top-10 recruiting classes. Although quarterback play is still a question, Brown has two ace coordinators in place in Bryan Harsin on offense and Manny Diaz on defense. After improving by three wins last season, Texas should contend for the Big 12 title in 2012. Brown, 60, may not be with Texas for another nine-year run like the one that ended in the BCS championship game against Alabama, but the foundation looks like it has been rebuilt to finish in the top 10 more often than not.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
It is virtually impossible to operate with the same fervor, passion and drive in your 39th year in the labor force as it is in the first 15 or 20. This rings true for essentially any walk of life and any professional field. To quote a well-listened to radio show, it is nearly impossible to keep the "passion bucket full." Life is full of peaks and valleys. Mack Brown reached his ultimate summit in 2005 and nearly repeated that feat in 2009. Yet, the Longhorns haven't been the same ever since the anti-climactic loss to Alabama in the BCS title game.

Do I think that Brown burns the midnight oil designing game plans, working 20 hour days, seven days a week? Not a chance. But you don't just forget how to coach, so the word complacent feels much more appropriate. At the level with which Texas recruits, a seven-loss season should be completely unacceptable. Even in a rebuilding year. And I believe that when he hired Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz to run his team, that he realized he had settled into a groove — and got extremely fortunate to go from the most unstoppable force in modern college football history (Vince Young) to the one-time winningest quarterback in NCAA history (Colt McCoy).

The result was an increase in wins from five to eight and a bowl win over Cal. It meant the No. 1 rushing, passing and total defense in the Big 12. It meant heightened expectations heading into 2012. It also means that fans everywhere will find out exactly where Brown's heart is this season. If he is still as dedicated as he was for the first decade of time in Austin, this offensive line will show marked improvement, David Ash will play relatively efficient football and Texas will challenge for the Big 12 crown. If they lose five games once again with a defense that could be the best in the nation and one of the top three or four rosters in the nation, the word complacent won't be going anywhere.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think 2012 is going to be a very telling year for Texas and Mack Brown. Everything in college football seems to come and go in cycles. Right now, Texas is on the way back up – or so it seems. If the Longhorns fail to improve off their 2011 win total, then I think we can say Brown has lost his edge.

After winning five games in 2010, there was a sense that complacency had set into the program. Remember the Mack Brown retirement rumors that persisted late last year? While Brown may retire in the next couple of years, it seems to have ignited some energy back into the program. And it certainly helps to have some fresh blood on the coaching staff, as Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz are two of the top rising stars in the assistant ranks and both could be head coaches by this time next year.

Even with uncertainty at quarterback, the pieces are in place for Texas to threaten for at least 10 victories in 2012. The running back corps is deep, while Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis are emerging threats at receiver. The linebacking corps needs to be revamped, but the defensive line and secondary are among the best in college football. The schedule isn’t overwhelming, as the Longhorns should start 3-0 with an easy non-conference slate, while catching Oklahoma State (with a true freshman quarterback) in the Big 12 opener.

With its location and ability to recruit, Texas should be one of the top 10-15 programs in college football every year. Mack Brown may have slipped, but I don’t think he’s lost his edge yet. If the Longhorns stumble again in 2012, then it’s fair to wonder if this program if really back on track.

Mark Ross
Texas has certainly slipped in the last two seasons, going from 13 wins and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game in 2009 to just five wins in '10. But the Longhorns rebounded somewhat last season, increasing their win total by three and finishing the season with a victory in the Holiday Bowl over California. However, the Holiday Bowl in December is a far cry from the national title game or even the Fiesta Bowl, which Texas won to cap off its 12-1 '08 campaign, but I still think it's premature to say Mack Brown has lost his "edge."

Prior to the 2010-11 seasons, Brown had done no worse than nine wins since he became Texas head coach in 1998. What's more, from 2001-09, the Longhorns rattled off nine straight seasons of double-digit wins, including 13-0 in 2005 when they won their fourth national championship in program history. When you have that much sustained success, I think you have earned the benefit of the doubt.

To me, Texas' "decline" can largely be attributed to one position — quarterback. In the Longhorns' heydays of 2000s, Brown had the likes of Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Vince Young and Colt McCoy under center. The cream of this crop was clearly Young, who carried Texas to the national title in 2005 and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting that season, and McCoy, who led the Longhorns back to the national title game in '09, in which he got injured and had to leave early, and left Texas as not only the school's most prolific quarterback in history, but at the time, he was the winningest quarterback in NCAA history (45 wins).

Since McCoy graduated, Brown has had to rely on Garrett Gilbert, David Ash and Case McCoy, Colt's younger brother. Gilbert, who was the full-time starter in 2010, is no longer with Texas as he transferred to SMU after he lost his starting job in early September of last season and later underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. Still, he finished his UT career with more interceptions (23) than touchdowns (13). Ash and McCoy didn't fare much better, however, as they combined for more interceptions (12) compared to touchdown passes (11) the rest of the way in 2011.

As far as 2012 goes, Texas' defense should be pretty stout, which will take some of the pressure off either Ash or McCoy and the rest of the offense. If Brown has "lost" anything, perhaps it's his eye when it comes to recruiting quarterbacks, as none of them have seemed to work out since McCoy left Austin.

That said, McCoy was a sophomore and Ash was a freshman in 2011, so like Brown, perhaps we should give them the benefit of the doubt and see what strides they make this season. Besides, earlier this year Texas extended Brown's contract through the 2020 season, so if anything, it certainly looks like Brown will get the opportunity to prove to the doubters that he, the coach who has already won 227 games in his career, 141 of those at UT, hasn't lost his edge.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think Mack Brown may have lost some of his edge a few years ago, but he also seems to have fixed those issues. The return to elite status is not complete, but the signs in Austin point towards regaining the consistency that the Longhorns enjoyed for so many years. After winning nine games in each of his first three seasons, Brown led Texas to double-digit victories from 2001-09 including a national title. That type of performance is so difficult to maintain, although the 5-7 debacle in 2010 was still a shocker.

One of the keys for Texas’ resurgence was the fact that Brown knew he had to adapt, and he hired quality coordinators in Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz. The program has continued to recruit at a top five level, and the Horns should be back to national prominence as the offense develops consistency. The weapons are there, especially in the running game. The defense should be nasty this year, led by ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat and the best secondary in the country. After eight wins last year, Brown has the program primed to compete for the Big 12 title and a 10-win season.

Related Texas Content

Texas Longhorns 2012 Team Preview
Texas Longhorns Top 10 Players for 2012

Texas Longhorns 2012 Team Predictions
The Top 10 Texas Longhorns Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Texas Football History

Texas Longhorns Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Texas Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Has Mack Brown lost his edge?</p>
Post date: Monday, May 21, 2012 - 06:08
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/texas-longhorns-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The Texas Longhorns check in at No. 11 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Malcolm Brown, RB
The Cibolo native had an outstanding freshman campaign, compiling 742 yards and five touchdowns in just 10 games. Brown was named the AP’s Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last season, and he had 100-yard efforts against UCLA, Oklahoma State and Kansas. If the Horns passing game improves and defenses don’t key on the running game, Brown could have a monster sophomore year.

Trap Game: West Virginia (Oct. 6)
The Mountaineers were a BCS team a year ago, but how seriously will the Longhorns take the former Big East champions? WVU has an electric offense with senior quarterback Geno Smith and two 1,000-yard receivers, and coach Dana Holgorsen is a familiar Big 12 name from his days as the Oklahoma State offensive coordinator. This game is in Austin but is sandwiched in between the Oklahoma State and Oklahoma contests. Texas cannot afford an uninspired performance against the new league member.

Upset Alert: at Texas Tech (Nov. 3)
The Red Raiders do not play much defense, but quarterback Seth Doege leads a Tech aerial attack that can score in bunches. Many Big 12 foes have been upset in Lubbock over the years, and the Longhorns must make sure they play a solid game when meeting their longtime rival. Texas ran all over the Tech defense last season, and Mack Brown’s crew will need more of the same to not get surprised like Oklahoma a year ago.

Defensive MVP: Alex Okafor, DE
The All-Big 12 pass rusher will be a top All-America candidate in 2012. Okafor had 58 tackles last season with seven sacks. He also totaled 17 quarterback pressures, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Along with Jackson Jeffcoat, Okafor is part of one of the top defensive end duos in the country. The defensive line will be excellent once again, and Okafor is major reason the Longhorns will have one of the nation’s top defenses this season.

Breakout Player: Jaxon Shipley, WR
The younger brother of former UT star and current Bengals receiver Jordan will be a favorite target as a sophomore. In 2011 as a freshman, Shipley had 44 catches for 607 yards and three touchdowns in just 10 games. He showed his potential with over 120 receiving yards against Iowa State and Baylor, plus an 89-yard, one-score effort against Oklahoma. Shipley should have a very productive sophomore season.

Unsung Hero: Carrington Byndom, DB
Much of the talk — and deservedly so — when it comes to the stellar Texas secondary revolves around All-Big 12 safety Kenny Vaccaro and the Defensive Freshman of the Year in the league, cornerback Quandre Diggs. However, Byndom is a talent at the other corner and many thought he deserved more recognition than the honorable mention honor from the Big 12’s coaches. He had 58 tackles, 15 pass breakups and two interceptions last year and is a player to watch in 2012.

Biggest Game: Oklahoma (Oct. 13)
You may have noticed this one on the schedule. Besides the usual intensity that goes with the Red River Rivalry, the fact is that the hated Sooners have dominated the Big 12 for a good part of the last decade. There is no denying that the Longhorns have not played on an elite level the last two seasons, but a win over Oklahoma could be a springboard for a 10-win season and a symbol that Texas is back.

Revenge Game: Baylor (Oct. 20)
The Horns won 12 in a row over the Bears from 1998-2009, but the boys from Waco have won this game the last two seasons. Obviously NFL first-round selections Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright had a lot to do with those victories, but Art Briles has raised the level of the BU program. Texas should be ready to go against Baylor, as the Horns do not want to become the first team in school-history to lose three straight versus the Bears.

Freshman To Watch: Johnathan Gray, RB
The electric back from Aledo was ranked the No. 7 player in the country in this year’s AC100. Moore set the all-time national record for total touchdowns with an astounding 205. He rushed for 10,889 yards during his illustrious high school career, while also compiling 1,244 receiving yards. Gray is obviously a scoring threat from anywhere on the field and will form a dynamic duo with Malcolm Brown in the backfield.

Newcomer To Watch: Brandon Moore, DT
The 6-foot-5, 335-pound transfer from East Mississippi Community College could be a supreme run stuffer for the Longhorns. Moore spent two seasons at the University of Alabama where he played under current UT tackles coach Bo Davis. Last year, he helped lead his JUCO team to a 12-0 record and national title. With Kheeston Randall gone, Moore could be a massive solution in the middle of the defense.

Position Battle: Linebackers
Junior Jordan Hicks is the only linebacker on the roster with significant experience after the departure of leading tacklers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson. The senior duo combined for a whopping 237 tackles a year ago, with 29 of those for loss. Sophomore Steve Edmond had 16 tackles last season, and he has the size and ability to be a playmaker in the middle for Manny Diaz. Speedy Demarco Cobbs should fill the other outside role, but depth and inexperience could be major issues.

Related Texas Content

Texas Longhorns 2012 Team Preview
Texas Longhorns Top 10 Players for 2012

Has Mack Brown Lost His Edge?

The Top 10 Texas Longhorns Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Texas Football History

Texas Longhorns Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Texas Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Texas Longhorns 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Monday, May 21, 2012 - 05:56
Path: /mlb/2012-major-league-baseball-power-rankings-may-21
Body:

Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for May 21, 2012.

 1. Dodgers—Won 9 of 11, five of them without Matt Kemp.

 2. Orioles—Closing in on June with best record in American League.

 3. Rangers—Lost four of seven vs. sub-.500 teams.

 4. Braves—In the midst of what could be 41 straight vs. winning teams.

 5. Rays—Scored 13 runs in last five games, but managed to win two.

 6. Nationals—Stephen Strasburg beats Orioles with arm and bat.

 7. Blue Jays—Casey Janssen has three perfect saves.

 8. Yankees—Only 8-11 since Mo Rivera’s last save.

 9. Marlins—Best team in baseball this month.

10. Cardinals—Costly injuries have caused evaporation of division lead.

11. Reds—Ended the weekend within a half-game of St. Louis.

12. Indians—Batting .264 vs. righthanders, just .210 vs. lefties.

13. Phillies—Finally jumped over Mets to get out of cellar.

14. Tigers—Austin Jackson (not Fielder or Cabrera) has Tigers’ best OPS.

15. Mets—Tough luck for Johan Santana: 1-2, 2.89 ERA.

16. Giants—13 players have outhomered the Giants this month.

17. A’s—Josh Reddick is only bright spot offensively now.

18. White Sox—Showed the Cubs who their daddy is.

19. Red Sox—Starting pitching has made an about-face.

20. Diamondbacks—Welcome sight getting Chris Young back in lineup.

21. Mariners—Swept Rockies in Denver without throwing ace King Felix.

22. Angels—Fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher; improved 0.2 runs/game.

23. Pirates—Paltry .254 OBP in May leaves offense in trouble.

24. Astros—Winning record at home, getting killed on the road.

25. Brewers—Ryan Braun swinging hot bat in May (.381).

26. Royals—Irving Falu has 12 hits in seven major league games.

27. Padres—Have two fewer home runs than Josh Hamilton.

28. Twins—Breaking even (3-3) against their own division this season.

29. Rockies—Rockies are crashing and burning.

30. Cubs—Bryan LaHair is fifth in majors with a 1.044 OPS.

Teaser:
<p> Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our&nbsp;MLB&nbsp;Power Rankings for May 21, 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, May 21, 2012 - 05:14
All taxonomy terms: College Football, jokes
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-texas-rivals
Body:

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

• What's the difference between a Texas A&M football player and a dollar?
You can get four quarters out of a dollar.

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

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

• Why do Oklahoma football players like smart women?
Opposites attract.

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

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

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

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

• What do you call 20 Texas A&M fans skydiving from an airplane?
Skeet.

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

Related Texas Content

Texas Longhorns 2012 Team Preview
Texas Longhorns Top 10 Players for 2012

Texas Longhorns 2012 Team Predictions
The Top 10 Texas Longhorns Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Texas Football History

Texas Longhorns Cheerleader Gallery

Has Mack Brown Lost His Edge?

Teaser:
<p> Jokes About Texas Rivals</p>
Post date: Monday, May 21, 2012 - 02:23
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy, News
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-may-21
Body:

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

Interleague play kicked off on Friday, and while series that pit Arizona against Kansas City or Miami in Cleveland may not do it for baseball purists or even the casual fan, there were still some more appealing match ups on display.

The Cubs and White Sox got reacquainted this past weekend at Wrigley, with the Sox playing the role of rude house guests and sweeping the offensively deficient North Siders, along with the rivalry by the Bay - Oakland vs. San Francisco, and the battle for the Lone Star State between Texas and Houston. Heck, the Beltway Series for once was deemed important because it featured two first-place teams in Baltimore (AL East) and Washington (NL East).

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (05/14-05/20):

  Name Team Pos. R HR RBI SB AVG OPS
1. Mike Trout LAA OF 7 2 4 4 0.444 1.257
2. J.P. Arencibia TOR C 7 4 10 0 0.360 1.305
3. Dayan Viciedo* CWS OF 5 4 10 0 0.444 1.333
4. Jonathan Lucroy* MIL C 5 2 11 2 0.400 1.244
5. Adam Jones BAL OF 5 4 8 1 0.387 1.230
6. Ryan Braun MIL OF 5 1 7 3 0.444 1.113
7. Andrew McCutchen PIT OF 6 4 7 1 0.320 1.157
8. Carlos Ruiz PHI C 6 1 7 2 0.476 1.227
9. Prince Fielder DET 1B 6 2 8 0 0.464 1.326
10. Jose Bautista TOR 3B/OF 7 3 7 1 0.308 1.033
11. Hunter Pence HOU OF 6 3 5 0 0.393 1.219
12. Justin Upton ARI OF 6 1 5 3 0.304 0.887
13. Ian Desmond* WAS SS 4 2 6 2 0.344 0.969
14. Paul Konerko CWS 1B 5 2 4 0 0.625 1.700
15. Matt Holliday STL OF 6 3 6 0 0.308 0.999
16. A.J. Pierzynski* CWS C 5 1 6 0 0.481 1.148
17. Rod Barajas* PIT C 4 3 5 0 0.471 1.533
18. Martin Prado ATL 3B/OF 5 1 4 0 0.519 1.400
19. Alfonso Soriano* CHC OF 4 3 6 0 0.360 1.207
20. Angel Pagan* SF OF 6 0 3 2 0.440 1.108
21. Mike Aviles BOS 2B/3B/SS 4 3 6 0 0.345 1.138
22. Carlos Lee* HOU 1B/OF 4 2 6 0 0.407 1.115
23. Cody Ross* BOS OF 5 2 5 0 0.438 1.488
24. B.J. Upton TB OF 4 0 1 5 0.360 0.848
25. Corey Hart MIL OF 7 2 4 0 0.323 0.957

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Youth Being Served

Interleague play aside, there were plenty of offensive fireworks this past week and over the past seven days, the best hitter on the diamond has been one of its youngest. And no, I'm not talking about Bryce Harper. Anaheim's Mike Trout has settled in nicely into the leadoff spot for the Angels, as the 20-year-old outfielder topped all at the plate last week, thanks to a .444 average, seven runs scored, two home rusn and four RBIs. To put it another way, Trout hit as many home runs last week, in 27 at-bats, then his teammate, Albert Pujols, hit in his first 146 at-bats of the 2012 season.

That's not to say that Harper was horrible last week, as the Nationals' 19-year-old outfielder posted a .269-2-4 line of his own, matching Trout with seven runs scored.  Harper also has out-paced, if you will, his fellow uber-prospect Trout in terms of media coverage and national attention. But to this point, however, there's no question that Trout (.355-4-11, 15 R, 6 SB for the season) has out-performed Harper (.244-2-7, 14 R, 1 SB) where it really counts, at the plate.

And not to be outdone, Adam Jones and Andrew McCutchen, who aren't exactly exactly "old" at 26 and 25 respetively, enjoyed pretty strong showings last week. Jones (.308-14-29) extendced his hitting streak to 12 games on Saturday and has hit four home runs over his last six.

McCutchen on the other hand, has slugged seven in May, including two two-homer games in the last week alone. For the month, McCutchen is hitting .389 with seven home runs and 13 RBIs. McCutchen has been raking against left-handers, as he has collected 10 hits in his last 15 at-bats versus southpaws, after getting off to a 8-for-25 start.

Catchers Showing They Can Also Handle the Bat

Besides Trout, those who enjoyed the most success at the plate these past seven days, are those who take up residence behind it when on the field. Among the past week's top 25 hitters (below), 20 percent of them (five) are catchers. That's right, catchers, and not one of them is named Mauer, McCann, Molina (pick one), Montero (Jesus or Miguel) or even Posey.

Toronto's J.P. Arencibia and Jonathan Lucroy each used one monster game to get them in last week's top five. Arencibia socked two home runs and drive in six against the Mets on Friday, as all of his home runs and RBIs from last week came in a span of three games versus both New York teams. Lucroy, meanwhile, did just about all of his week's damage (3-5, 3 R, 2 HR, 7 RBI) on Sunday against the Twins.

At this point, seeing Carlos Ruiz' and A.J. Pierzynski's names on this list probably shouldn't be that surprising. Ruiz is currently top fantasy catcher according to Yahoo! as he leads the position in average (.355) and RBIs (29), and is tied for the lead in runs scored with 21 and tied for second with seven home runs. Pierzynski is fourth as he has maintained a .301 average through the middle of May, along with six home runs and 27 RBIs. Lucroy, but the way is fourth and Arencibia is currently fifth among all catchers, thanks to their production these past seven days.

DL Watch

- Lance Berkman had just finally got back on the field and in the line up a week ago Sunday after a calf injury sidelined him for nearly a month. Then on Saturday, he lef the game against the Dodgers early with an apparent right knee injury. The early diagnosis is that it's a torn ACL, which will be confirmed with an MRI he is scheduled to undergo later today. If it is a torn ACL, then not only is Berkman's 2012 season over, but the 36-year-old's career could be in jeopardy. He is not signed beyond this season.

- Stephen Strasburg left his start against Baltimore on Sunday with what the Nationals are calling a "tired arm." He went five innings against the Orioles, giving up three runs (one earned) on four hits while striking out eight in five innings and also hit his first career home run in the Nats' 9-3 win. Strasburg was already reportedly under an innnings limit in his his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, so this latest development could result in the team finidng ways to get him more rest between starts, meaning he could be skipped in the rotation here and there. Definitely a situation that bears watching.

- Emilio Bonifacio, who was comfortably leading the majors with 20 stolen bases, was placed on the DL on Saturday after injuring his right thumb in the Marlins' game in Cleveland on Friday. That was just one of several moves the Marlins made this weekend as the team optioned struggling first baseman Gaby Sanchez (.197-1-11) to AAA and recalled outfielder Chris Coghlan from New Orleans.

- Paul Konerko got hit in the face by a Jeff Samardzija during Friday's interleague game, causing him to miss the next two games versus the Cubs with a swollen left eye. He could be back in the lineup on Tuesday, when the White Sox open up a set against Minnesota.

- Austin Jackson hasn't been in Detroit's line up since last Wednesday as he's been sidelined by an abdominal injury. He hopes to be able to return on Tuesday, the Tigers' next game. Jackson is off to a great start at the plate, hitting .331 with five home runs, 17 RBIs, six stolen bases and 29 runs scored.

- Tim Linecum left his start on Sunday against Oakland after four innings because of an apparent thumb injury he suffered in a collision at home plate. He was able to finish the innning, but did not return. The Giants have not said whether Lincecum sustained an injury or not, but it's possible he could miss his next scheduled start on Friday in Miami.

- Chipper Jones injured his calf on Friday against Tampa Bay and missed the next two games. He is questionable for todya's game in Cincinnati. Jones, who's in his last season, has already missed quite a bit of time this season, so this shouldn't come as any surprise. Juan Francisco has received most of the starts at third in Jones' absence.

- Allen Craig, who began the season on the DL, returned there on Friday due to an ongoing hamstring injury. The versatile Craig was hitting .373 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in just 51 at-bats prior to the injury. His health and production will be even more critical to the Cardinals' success this season due to the presumed loss of the aforementioned Berkman.

On the mound, we had Justin Verlander's near no-no on Friday against the Pirates, which was broken up with one out in the ninth. Even though Verlander had to "settle" for the one-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts and just two walks, he wasn't even the most dominant starting pitcher over the past two weeks.

That distinction goes to Zack Greinke, who gave up just one run in 21 2/3 innings over his last three starts. Verlander's 12 punchouts weren't even the best performance on his own team. Max Scherzer whiffed 15 Pirates in seven innings on Sunday, a welcome performance considering he was 2-3 with a 6.26 ERA entering yesterday's start.

And speaking of the Pirates, who would have thought that their starting rotation would produce solid fantasy contributors this season? Over the last two weeks, both James McDonald and Brad Lincoln have been among the best in fantasy baseball, while Erik Bedard (3.07 ERA, 44 K in 41 IP) has been sport-start worthy several weeks.

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Zack Grenke MIL 21.2 2 24 0.42 0.65
2. Justin Verlander DET 22.0 3 26 1.64 0.68
3. Clayton Kershaw LAD 24.0 2 0 0.75 0.79
4. Carlos Zambrano* MIA 23.0 2 18 1.17 0.91
5. Bud Norris* HOU 13.0 2 17 0.69 0.69
6. Brandon Beachy ATL 15.0 2 12 0.60 0.73
7. Scott Diamond* MIN 19.1 3 13 1.40 0.98
8. Aaron Harang* SD 15.0 2 8 0.60 0.67
9. Ryan Vogelsong* SF 21.1 2 9 0.84 0.98
10. Josh Johnson MIA 21.0 2 16 2.14 0.95
11. Brandon Morrow TOR 20.0 2 25 3.15 1.05
12. Ervin Santana* LAA 21.0 2 16 1.71 1.14
13. Tim Hudson ATL 21.2 2 7 1.25 1.02
14. Brad Lincoln* PIT 10.2 2 11 1.69 0.84
15. James McDonald* PIT 13.2 1 19 2.63 0.80
16. Neftali Feliz TEX 16.2 2 19 2.16 1.20
17. Ted Lilly LAD 19.1 2 13 2.33 0.98
18. Jeff Samardzija* CHC 19.1 1 21 2.33 1.03
19. Yu Darvish TEX 13.0 2 14 2.77 0.92
20. Bruce Chen* KC 19.2 3 16 2.75 1.22

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

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

1. R.A. Dickey, NYM: at Pittsburgh (Tues.), San Diego (Sun.)
The knuckle-baller (5-1, 3.75 ERA) shoots to the top of this list thanks to not one, but two, appetizing match ups this week. On Tuesday he will take the mound in Pittsburgh and also is scheduled to go on Sunday at home versus San Diego. The Pirates and Padres have two of the worst offenses in all of baseball as they rank dead last and next-to-last, respectively, in the majors in runs scored and also are at the bottom in batting average. Dickey also has produced a quality start in four of his last five outings.

2. James McDonald, PIT: New York Mets (Tues.)
Snapped his streak of four straight quality starts on Thursday against Washington (5 2/3 IP, 4 H 3 ER, 1 BB, 11 K), but still got the win. He’s won three of his last four starts with a 2.60 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings pitched during that span.

3. Wei Yin-Chen, BAL: Kansas City (Sat.)
The Taiwanese left-hander is 3-0 with a 1.98 ERA in his home starts this season, having beaten the Rangers and Yankees (twice) at Camden Yards.

4. Gavin Floyd, CWS: Minnesota (Tues.)
Prior to getting lit up by the Angels on Wednesday (10 H, 7 ER in 6 IP), Floyd was 3-3 with a 2.53 ERA in his first seven starts. Minnesota one of the AL’s worst offenses, 12th in runs, 11th in batting average and last in home runs entering Monday.

5. Scott Diamond, MIN: at Chicago White Sox (Wed.)
Diamond has won all three of his starts since being called up on May 8. He gave up three runs on eight hits in Friday’s start in Milwaukee, but they were the first runs he had surrendered this season and his ERA currently sits at 1.40. The White Sox have scored the fewest runs and have the lowest batting average (.210) against left-handers of any AL team.

Top 20 fantasy Relief Pitchers of last month:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Fernando Rodney TB 14.1 1 9 16 0 0.00 0.84
2. Jim Johnson BAL 13.0 0 9 9 0 1.38 0.54
3. Craig Kimbrel ATL 11.0 0 9 19 0 2.45 0.91
4. Pedro Strop* BAL 15.2 2 3 12 5 0.57 0.89
5. Santiago Casilla SF 12.0 0 9 11 0 1.50 0.92
6. Kenley Jansen LAD 11.2 1 5 17 4 1.54 0.86
7. Jose Arredondo* CIN 12.2 2 1 18 0 1.42 0.63
8. Aroldis Chapman CIN 13.1 1 1 22 5 0.00 0.83
9. Robbie Ross* TEX 16.2 3 0 9 1 1.62 0.72
10. Ryan Cook* OAK 14.1 1 0 18 6 0.00 0.70
11. Darren O\'Day* BAL 14.1 2 0 14 1 1.26 0.63
12. Joe Nathan TEX 10.2 0 6 12 0 0.84 0.84
13. Chris Perez CLE 9.2 0 8 10 0 2.79 0.83
14. Wilton Lopez* HOU 15.0 2 0 15 4 1.80 0.67
15. Jonathan Papelbon PHI 9.1 0 7 13 0 2.89 0.75
16. Dale Thayer* SD 10.0 0 5 10 0 0.00 0.80
17. Joel Hanrahan PIT 10.2 0 8 12 0 2.53 1.13
18. Alexi Ogando* TEX 16.0 1 0 17 1 1.13 0.75
19. Kevin Gregg* BAL 8.1 2 0 8 0 0.00 0.36
20. Brett Myers HOU 11.0 0 8 5 0 2.45 0.91

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

— by Mark Ross, published on May 21, 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports takes a look at what took place this past weekend on the fantasy baseball diamond</p>
Post date: Monday, May 21, 2012 - 01:00
All taxonomy terms: Miami Marlins, Ozzie Guillen, MLB, Monthly
Path: /mlb/exclusive-qa-ozzie-guillen
Body:

With a few poorly chosen words, Ozzie Guillen nearly lost his dream job.

Quoted in Time Magazine saying he “loved” Fidel Castro, Guillen set off a firestorm in Miami’s Cuban-American community. Angry protestors and grandstanding local politicians alike called for the Miami Marlins to fire Guillen just a few games into his tenure.

His heartfelt apology broke new ground in a speak-first, think-later career. The resulting five-game team suspension also left him chastened, but not fundamentally changed, bloodied but not defeated.

It also left Guillen $150,000 lighter in the wallet.

Baseball’s first-ever “shock” manager spoke with Mike Berardino, sports columnist at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, about a variety of topics, including the Castro controversy for Athlon Sports Monthly:

Athlon Sports: Do you feel like this is a fresh start for you after the Fidel Castro comments or are you on probation with your Marlins bosses?
Ozzie Guillen: I put myself on probation. Me. Nobody else. It’s about growing up and being better and being careful. Don’t trust too many people. That was my problem. I put myself in that situation. To be honest with you, I don’t think I want to put myself in that same situation again with the Latino people. Man, I’m Latino. That’s the worst feeling ever. I felt like, ‘Wow.’ That’s not a good feeling. I don’t want to go through that feeling again. That’s why I put myself on that probation.

Wasn’t part of the problem your sense of humor and your willingness to make light of most subjects? Is that something you’ll have to rein in now that this has happened?
I don’t think I’m going to change. It’s just, ‘Be careful when you use your humor and who you talk to around you.’ That’s all it is. I made a mistake. I’m paying for it, and I’m here to make it better and to win some games and hopefully that happens.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria spent $191 million on three players this offseason, an unprecedented spending spree on his part. How good can this team be?
The product is out there. There’s no doubt, if I was a baseball fan I would pay to watch these guys play. Look at the lineup we have, the pitching staff we have, how we’re going to play the game. Now the fans don’t have an excuse: ‘The ballpark is too far away. It’s raining. It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s the Dolphins’ ballpark.’ Now we are here and hopefully we play good to make sure those people come back and watch the Marlins play.

How has it been managing Hanley Ramirez so far?
Awesome. For some reason, people couldn’t wait for Hanley to be what Hanley was last year. Even his teammates, media, fans, front office. Everyone was watching Hanley like a hawk. This kid has been great. A lot of people credit me. I’m not going to take any credit because I didn’t do anything to him. I just said, ‘Hey, you’ve got two choices: You’re going to play happy or you’re going to play very upset because you’re playing third base. You pick.’ And I thought he was going to test me a little bit this spring about, ‘I only want two at-bats,’ or ‘I don’t want to make this trip,’ or ‘I don’t want to do this new routine.’ He did everything we asked him to do, and a little bit more, too. I pushed him to see how far he’d go. Now he’s Hanley Ramirez the way we want him to be. Very excited. Happy. Got a smile on his face, playing a great third base. I couldn’t be more pleased.

One of those free-agent acquisitions was Mark Buehrle, who helped you win a World Series with the White Sox. What do you hope these other pitchers will learn from watching Buehrle and how smart he is on the mound?
I don’t think Buehrle’s that smart. That’s why he’s so good. I’m serious. Sometimes people think too much: ‘Who’s at the plate?’ They’re thinking, ‘Oh, my God.’ (Forget) it. I’m going to feed you my best stuff. I don’t care who’s at the plate. That’s all I have. That’s how I’m going to pitch. That’s it. I don’t know why pitchers change.

I got that attitude from (Greg) Maddux and (Tom) Glavine. I played behind those guys in Atlanta. I don’t care who’s at the plate. I’m not going to change because of who’s at the plate. If the best pitch I have is a changeup, I’m going to throw a changeup. If he hits a home run, good. You beat me with my best pitch. That’s why pitchers get in trouble a lot because they try to figure it out. They can’t figure it out.

How about the hidden competitive advantages you now have at brand-new Marlins Park? Your players are raving about the huge upgrades in the video room and the HydroWorx underwater treadmill.
I’m an old-school man, bro. I’m very old school. All those things they have there, good for them. Are they going to help? I hope. That’s why they have them there. But I’m an old-school man. That kind of stuff helps the baseball because everybody has it, but I don’t put that much attention on that.

And the home run sculpture out in left-center?
Mr. Loria made it. It’s beautiful. I hope those (mechanical) Marlins, we overuse them. I hope to see those guys moving a lot and diving and a lot of splashing because if that’s moving, that means we’re doing something good. We expect that. We all hope we’re going to use that statue a lot. It’s pretty nice. It’s different. Everything in this ballpark is different. I went to a lot of ballparks in my career. The colors are different. The seats are different. The Jumbotron is different. The suites are a lot different. And it’s all great. This is maybe the best ballpark in baseball right now.

So you’re feeling pretty good about this year.
We got everything to win, but there’s one thing missing: A good manager. That’s the one thing we’re missing.
 

Teaser:
<p> Ozzie Guillen of the Miami Marlins speaks on a variety of topics.</p>
Post date: Saturday, May 19, 2012 - 21:27
All taxonomy terms: Hakeem Olajuwon, NBA, Monthly
Path: /nba/dream-shake-master
Body:

For almost two decades, Hakeem Olajuwon’s “Dream Shake” move made him one of the NBA’s top go-to superstars.

That signature move — a combination of quick upper-body twitches, show-the-ball feints and pump fakes combined with nimble, soccer-influenced footwork — was as fluid as water, and as difficult to stop as a raging flood. Olajuwon used that move and a feathery shooting touch to score almost 27,000 points, lead the Houston Rockets to back-to-back championships in 1994 and ’95, land a spot among the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players and open the doors to the Hall of Fame.

And almost a decade after his retirement, Olajuwon remains a go-to superstar, and the Dream Shake is still the reason.

Players from around the league — from a classic low-post guy like Dwight Howard to perimeter-oriented threats like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James — have made the pilgrimage to Houston, seeking Olajuwon’s insights on how to build or refine a back-to-the-basket game.

“When I watch games on TV, I see so many opportunities where guys are not aware and (not) recognizing the chances their opponents are giving them,” says Olajuwon, who splits his time between Houston and his family home in Amman, Jordan. “I see them try to make a move and it is cut off because there was not an opening. The first thing you always have to do is take what the opponent is giving you. If he keeps giving it, you keep taking it.”

The beauty of Olajuwon’s mastery of footwork is that his move can instantly morph to deliver whatever is needed for any given situation.

“You are trying to get to the most commanding position,” Olajuwon says. “So when I have made the first move, what I am really trying to do is get to the second move. That’s where the real advantage is. That’s how I am trying to get them to think. One move off the previous move is automatic.”

While it may be unpredictable to the defense, the results are very predictable. Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of its effectiveness came in Game 2 the 1995 Western Conference Finals, where the Rockets were facing the Spurs and David Robinson, the newly minted league MVP.
In a play that is probably his most celebrated, Olajuwon crossed over Robinson on the baseline, stopped in the paint, showed the ball, reverse pivoted, showed it again, and when the Admiral finally took the bait and went airborne, reversed once more, ducked under Robinson and gently dropped the ball in off the glass.

“The great shotblockers, guys like David Robinson, they can recover,” Olajuwon explains. “That is when you have to go to three or four moves…Always stay one step ahead.”

Yes, it’s one thing to get posterized by a freight-train dunk, but it’s quite another to get absolutely undressed by such a beautiful combination of skill and finesse.

Plays like that are the fruit not only of instruction, but of intuition and instinct, too. That is why Olajuwon teaches a balance between a physical approach — moves, counter-moves, fakes and spins — and a mental one — sense, intuition and anticipation.

“How do you maneuver? How to you change direction? How do you change speed? Do all the things that give you advantages. They have never even thought about these things before,” Olajuwon says. “Things that to me are all the weapons that you need to execute the offense. You break it down to basics.”

Olajuwon carefully tailors each tutorial to match each pupil’s skill set.

“I am not trying to teach everybody one move,” he says. “I am trying to give you the basics and the understanding. Then it is up to the individual to make it work best for him. With different players I want to examine their weaknesses, but mostly expand their strengths.”

For James, Olajuwon broke down the Dream Shake footwork so it would benefit his unique combination of size, skill, strength and quickness.

“(James) told me that he has been playing outside and he really wanted to establish his post moves,” Olajuwon says. “Almost every night he has an advantage over the guy who is guarding him. So it was about how to turn the outside game into an inside game using all of the same skills and strength. So when I see how he is separating from his guy now, I see easier shots. I see a game all over the floor that is very, very difficult to stop.”

In addition to Howard, Bryant and James, guys like Rashard Lewis, Emeka Okafor, Josh Smith and Hasheem Thabeet have sweated through workouts with Olajuwon.

“The recognition of players reaching out and realizing the importance of the post moves, that’s a huge compliment for me,” Olajuwon says. “And I know also that I can add value to players’ careers. There is no question about that.”

--By Michael Murphy for Athlon Sports Monthly
 

Teaser:
<p> Hakeem Olajuwon passes on wisdom to younger NBA players.</p>
Post date: Saturday, May 19, 2012 - 00:19
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-taking-stock-all-star-break
Body:

The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has hit the all-star break this week, with no fantasy racing on the schedule. With the brief break in action, now is a great time to assess your year up to this point in the season, examine a few trends through the first 11 races and look ahead to next week's Coca-Cola 600.

While this year has seen a number of surprises, it’s also been somewhat predictable.

Defending series champion Tony Stewart picked up right where he left off in 2011, winning two races with new crew chief Steve Addington, and currently holding the seventh spot in the championship points. The No. 14 team has been up-and-down from week-to-week, however, with three finishes outside the top 20 to counter his two wins and four top 5s. Stewart is typically a slow starter, coming to life during the summer months and in the Chase, but it appears the defending champion is poised to continue his strong season throughout the entire year.

The Roush Fenway organization has been on its game thus far, with Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth sitting atop the standings, each with a win to their credit and separated by only two points. Last year's championship runner-up, Carl Edwards, has yet to show his full strength, but sits 10th in the standings. Biffle has been the most consistent driver up to this point in the season, with an average finish of 7.5, and is looking to become the first driver in NASCAR history to win a championship in all three touring series.

Fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. has led the charge for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, scoring four top 5s and eight top 10s. While he is still looking to break that ever-daunting winless streak, Earnhardt is third in points and has been one consistently strong throughout the early part of the season.

Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson was able to overcome a potentially season-long setback early in the year, when the National Car Racing Appeals Board, led by John Middlebrook, overturned a NASCAR penalty handed down to the No. 48 team after Daytona. Never missing a beat, Johnson is fifth in the standings and scored Hendrick Motorsports' 200th career win last Saturday in Darlington.

After a disappointing performance in 2011, Denny Hamlin has come back strong with new crew chief and defending champion Darian Grubb now calling the shots atop the pit box. Hamlin already has two wins to his credit, along with five top 5s and six top 10s, leading the way for the Joe Gibbs Racing organization.

Michael Waltrip Racing's Martin Truex Jr. has also been one of the more consistent drivers this season, earning four top 5s and seven top 10s in the first 11 races. Still battling a winless streak that dates back to 2007, Truex is sixth in points, in the midst of a contract year, and running stronger than he has in years. This promising start has led to a more confident driver, and thus, big fantasy points.

On the other side of the spectrum, a few teams and drivers have not lived up to expectations throughout the early part of the season.

Jeff Gordon's 20th season in the Sprint Cup Series has been disappointing, to say the least. Despite having strong cars nearly every week, Gordon's season has unraveled, leaving him 24th in points with only one top 5 and two top 10s and seven finishes outside the top 20.

Perhaps most notably, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing's two-car organization with Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray has floundered. Team owner Chip Ganassi made some major changes during the off-season to help turn the team around. After a strong 2010, the EGR cars struggled for much of the 2011 season, leaving Ganassi to demand a shake-up behind the scenes. To date, however, those changes have produced few results. Montoya and McMurray are 19th and 20th in the standings, with zero top 5 finishes between them.

Keep an eye on this team through the summer months, though, as tracks such as Sonoma, Indianapolis and Watkins Glen are right around the corner. If the performance does not improve at these venues, perhaps more significant changes are in order.

So, now that we've reflected a bit on the early season performances, what does it mean for our fantasy outlook? Each week, we've listed a number of weekly favorites, undervalued picks and darkhorse drivers. In all, we have eight winners already in the season from those groups.

However, our picks have not always panned out. Our fantasy favorites have also struggled this season at times. Kasey Kahne finished 34th in Phoenix, Kyle Busch was 32nd in Bristol, Jeff Gordon was 21st in Kansas and Brad Keselowski was 15th in Darlington.

This goes to show, anything can happen once the cars take the green flag each weekend. As I try to mention each week, pay careful attention to each practice session and the best 10-lap average statistic before setting your lineup.

Also, at this point of the season, be sure to keep tabs on how many times you are starting a driver. In some leagues, drivers can only be used a certain number of times throughout the season. It can be very tempting to start someone like Earnhardt Jr. (who we have listed as our fantasy favorite three times this season) multiple times early in the year, but remember you might need him in the bank later in the season.

Now looking ahead to this weekend's action at Charlotte Motor Speedway: There are few opportunities in the Sprint Cup Series to get a preview of the action a week before your next race. The Sprint All-Star Race and Sprint Showdown are two events that can show you a lot in terms of what to expect for the annual Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend.

With nothing to lose and $1 million on the line, teams will be pulling out all the stops in preparation for the All-Star Race. This exhibition event allows crew chiefs and engineers the ability to try more aggressive and experimental setups, gaining knowledge and insight into how to make their car fast for 600 miles the following week.

Keep tabs on which teams and drivers are running strong in the Sprint Showdown, as well. Even if they are unable to transfer into the night's main event, fantasy players could learn a great deal for next week. This is where a lot of your darkhorse picks will come from.

So, enjoy this weekend's All-Star festivities. Take the time to examine your fantasy season thus far, take the early-season trends into consideration and keep a careful eye on this weekend's action to stay ahead of the curve heading into the Coca-Cola 600.


by Jay Pennell
Follow Jay on Twitter: @JayWPennell
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports Fantasy NASCAR expert Jay Pennell reviews the Sprint Cup campaign as the circuit hits the All-Star weekend in Charlotte.</p>
Post date: Friday, May 18, 2012 - 14:58
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-west-virginia-no-12-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

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

To celebrate the West Virginia Mountaineers being named No. 12, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Dana Holgorsen’s West Virginia Mountaineers continue the countdown at No. 12 with two preseason All-Americans and seven players selected as All-Big 12 performers. Athlon Sports predicts West Virginia will finish third in the Big 12 Conference. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Heisman candidate Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will lead a prolific passing attack once again,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “Dana Holgorsen's familiarity with the Big 12 will be beneficial in adjusting to a new league, and the Mountaineers should be in the hunt for the Big 12 title.”

Two West Virginia standouts were named preseason All-Americans. Geno Smith was voted second-team quarterback, and Tavon Austin was named to the second team at the all-purpose position. In addition, the WVU quarterbacks unit was ranked No. 2 nationally and best in the Big 12. The wide receivers group was rated No. 3 in the country and tops in the conference.

Seven Mountaineers earned preseason All-Big 12 honors, including Smith, wide receiver Stedman Bailey and Austin at both wide receiver and punt returner on the first team. Offensive lineman Joe Madsen, defensive back Terence Garvin and kick returner Tavon Austin were named to the second team, while offensive lineman Jeff Braun and defensive lineman Will Clarke garnered third-team honors.

West Virginia Team Preview

West Virginia's Top 10 Players of 2012

West Virginia’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> <strong><span>Athlon Sports Names West Virginia No. 12 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></strong></p>
Post date: Friday, May 18, 2012 - 10:39
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-mountaineers-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The West Virginia Mountaineers check in at No. 12 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Geno Smith, QB
After watching film of Big 12 defenses this summer, Smith should be one of the players most excited about West Virginia’s switch in conference affiliation. He threw for 4,385 yards and 31 scores last season, including 407 yards and six touchdowns in the Orange Bowl rout over Clemson. Defense hasn’t exactly been a strong suit in the Big 12, which should allow Smith a chance to shatter last season’s numbers. He also has plenty of help in the receiving corps, as Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will be two of the Big 12’s top wideouts in 2012.

Trap Game: at Texas Tech (Oct. 13)
West Virginia’s inaugural Big 12 schedule is manageable, but it has a huge test on Oct. 6 at Texas. The Mountaineers open conference play with a home date against Baylor, but the matchup against the Longhorns is almost a “welcome to the Big 12” type of game. Winning in Austin won’t be easy, but neither will be making another trip to Texas the following Saturday at Texas Tech. West Virginia should be favored in that game, but the Red Raiders won’t be an easy out at home.

Upset Alert: at Iowa State (Nov. 24)
The Mountaineers should be well aware of Iowa State’s upset potential, as the Cyclones ended Oklahoma State’s national title run on Friday night in November last season. The matchup in Ames occurs after a tough stretch of games for West Virginia, as the Mountaineers play Kansas State, TCU, at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma before closing the year against Iowa State and Kansas. Although West Virginia should be favored, history suggests this may not be as easy of a matchup as most expect.

Defensive MVP: Terence Garvin, S
The Mountaineers have to replace a handful of key contributors on defense, including All-Big East selections in defensive end Bruce Irvin, linebacker Najee Goode and cornerback Keith Tandy. The defense is undergoing some scheme changes, as coordinator Jeff Casteel departed for Arizona, and Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson were hired to serve as co-coordinators. West Virginia will be switching from a 3-3-5 to a 3-4 scheme, which puts Garvin under the spotlight. The senior will play a hybrid safety/linebacker role in 2012, which should help the Mountaineers cover the Big 12’s spread offenses. Garvin recorded 72 tackles and 3.5 sacks last year and needs to be one of the leaders for West Virginia on defense in 2012.

Injury Watch: Dustin Garrison, RB
West Virginia never managed to find a consistent rushing attack last year, but freshman running back Dustin Garrison was a bright spot. He rushed for 742 yards and six scores, while catching 24 passes for 201 yards. However, a good chunk of Garrison’s yards came against Bowling Green (291) and he did not have another 100-yard effort the rest of the year. Garrison suffered a torn ACL in Orange Bowl practices and his status for the season opener is uncertain. If he is sidelined early in the year, senior Shawne Alston and sophomore Andrew Buie will have to pickup the slack on the ground.

Breakout Player: Will Clarke, DE
Clarke isn’t a secret to West Virginia fans, as he recorded 34 stops and two sacks in 13 games last season. With Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin finishing their eligibility, Clarke needs to be more involved with the pass rush and become a disruptor up front. At 6-foot-6 and 269 pounds, he certainly has the physical tools to make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

Unsung Hero: Joe Madsen, C
The offensive line wasn’t a strength for West Virginia last season, but Madsen played well enough to earn second-team All-Big East honors. He has made 38 starts since coming to Morgantown and will be one of the Big 12’s top centers. Madsen isn’t a household name, but his steady play is a huge asset for an offense that works primarily out of the shotgun.

Biggest Game: Oklahoma (Nov. 17)
With nine new conference mates, it’s certainly going to be a learning curve for West Virginia in its first year of Big 12 play. The schedule has its obstacles, including an Oct. 6 date at Texas and a Nov. 10 matchup at Oklahoma State. However, the Nov. 17 showdown against Oklahoma could decide the Big 12 title. West Virginia can push for a finish among the top three in the conference, but if it can knock off Oklahoma in Morgantown, the Mountaineers have to be thinking Big 12 title and a BCS bowl. 

Freshman to Watch: Jordan Thompson, WR
Is Thompson the next Tavon Austin? At 5-foot-7 and 159 pounds, Thompson certainly resembles Austin, but he is unproven. The true freshman caught 66 passes for 1,117 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior in high school and was rated as a top 100 recruit by the Houston Chronicle. Thompson is expected to contend for playing time at one of the inside receiver spots in 2012 and even if he doesn’t win a starting spot, he will see playing time this season.

Comeback Player: Josh Jenkins, OG
Jenkins hasn’t quite lived up to his recruiting hype, but his return will help bring stability to an offensive line that struggled throughout the 2011 season. Jenkins missed all of last season with a knee injury, but returned for spring practice and participated in the spring game. The senior is expected to start at left guard and could contend for All-Big 12 honors in 2012.

Newcomer to Watch: Isaiah Bruce, LB
The linebacking corps will be a point of focus for new defensive co-coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson. The Mountaineers are switching to a 3-4 scheme and have to replace first-team All-Big East performer Najee Goode. There’s experience returning, led by Jewone Snow, Doug Rigg and Jared Barber, but this unit lacks a playmaker. Terence Garvin is expected to play a hybrid safety/linebacker role, but Bruce’s emergence is critical to the play of West Virginia’s linebacking corps. The redshirt freshman had a strong spring and will be expected to start this year.

Position Battle: Linebackers
West Virginia’s depth chart doesn’t have many glaring position battles, but the linebacking corps is largely in flux going into fall camp. The coaching staff was pleased with the progress of Josh Francis and redshirt freshman Isaiah Bruce. Sophomore Jared Barber collected 23 tackles last season and is expected to start in 2012. West Virginia has talent, but is also breaking in a new 3-4 scheme. Do the Mountaineers have the depth to make things work at linebacker? Finding the right pieces to fill out the linebacking corps is going to be one of the top priorities for DeForest and Patterson this fall.

Related West Virginia Content

West Virginia Mountaineers 2012 Team Preview
West Virginia Mountaineers Top 10 Players for 2012

Is Geno Smith the Big 12's Best Quarterback?

West Virginia Mountaineers Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in West Virginia Football History

West Virginia Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About West Virginia Rivals

Teaser:
<p> West Virginia Mountaineers 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Friday, May 18, 2012 - 05:46
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-football-geno-smith-big-12s-best-quarterback
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 12 West Virginia. The Mountaineers are on the move from the Big East to the Big 12, and should own one of the league's top offenses this season. The defense is a work in progress, especially with a new scheme and the loss of a couple of key performers.

Is West Virginia's Geno Smith the Big 12's Best Quarterback?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Smith looks like he’ll be the Big 12’s top quarterback, but the answer to that question probably depends on two factors: How will Smith adjust to a new set of defenses in his third year as a starter, and how will Landry Jones perform now that he has an entire offseason to prepare for life without receiver Ryan Broyles. In many statistical areas, Smith would have ranked third in the Big 12 last season – His 337.3 yards per game would have trailed only Brandon Weeden and Landry Jones, his 152.6 pass efficiency rating, 8.3 yards per pass attempt and 31 touchdown passes would have trailed only Weeden and Griffin. Of course, one argument would be Smith did that against the Big East and not the Big 12, though Smith also passed for 463 yards against LSU. But what’s most remarkable is Smith’s low interception rate. He threw only seven picks on 526 attempts. That’s 75.1 passes per interception. Robert Griffin was an extraordinarily efficient passer. He started his career with the record for most pass attempts without an interception. Through the first three games, he had more touchdown passes than incomplete passes. Griffin finished his Heisman-winning season with 67 passes per interception, Weeden finished at 43.4 and Jones at 37.5.  That kind of decision-making is tough to find. I’ll take Smith as the top Big 12 quarterback.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
It can be tough to compare the values of the signal callers in the Big 12 due to the differences in scheme. The Texas quarterback is asked to do something dramatically different than the starter at Kansas State, which is different from West Virginia. If Landry Jones and Collin Klein swapped places, I do not think either would be as effective as they are in their current systems. Casey Pachall is efficient and is a perfect fit for what Gary Patterson wants to do on offense at TCU. Wes Lunt clearly has the skillset Mike Gundy is looking for in Stillwater. And lost in the shuffle is a guy who threw for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns in Lubbock last year, Seth Doege.

This is a tremendous league for quarterbacks. Pachall is an intriguing talent with size, efficiency and two more years to play and develop. Jones plays with the best supporting cast and has career numbers that would normally be Hall of Fame-esque if not for turnovers and a 7-8 road record. Klein is the least talented passer of the bunch but is easily the best leader in the conference and likely has the most athletic ability. He is a gritty, tough-nosed performer who wills his team to victory — what else do you want from a quarterback?

But when it comes to raw overall talent, production and winning, it's hard to argue with Smith. He has the strongest arm in the league and one of the best in the nation. He can make every throw in the playbook and has a conference and BCS bowl championship under his belt already. He is efficient (65.8%), doesn't turn the ball over (seven interceptions in 526 attempts) and produces big numbers in the passing game (4,385 yards, 31 TDs). Certainly, his system under Dana Holgorsen is pass-happy and quarterback friendly and can inflate the numbers, but so can every other system in the Big 12. If Smith can eliminate his one weird game per year — looking at you Syracuse — not only will he be the top quarterback in the Big 12, but could push for a conference championship and find himself drafted in the first round next April.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Big 12 has an interesting group of quarterbacks returning for the 2012 season. Proven options like Landry Jones at Oklahoma, TCU’s Casey Pachall and Kansas State’s Collin Klein are back, while the conference has up-and-comers like Texas’ David Ash and Oklahoma State’s Wes Lunt ready to take control of their teams.

A case could be made that Klein, Jones or Pachall is the Big 12’s top quarterback, but my vote goes to Geno Smith. Transitioning to a new offense is never easy, but Smith was outstanding last season, throwing for 4,385 yards and 31 scores. He also torched Clemson for 407 yards and six touchdowns in the 70-33 Orange Bowl victory. Even more impressive was Smith throwing just seven interceptions on 526 attempts, while completing 65.8 percent of his passes.

With another offseason to master Holgorsen’s scheme and the move to the offensive-minded Big 12, Smith should easily surpass last season’s totals. Helping Smith’s cause is a solid group of receivers, which includes likely All-Big 12 selections in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. The offensive line struggled last season, but should be better with three starters returning and guard Josh Jenkins back in the lineup after missing all of 2011 with an injury.

The Big 12 is usually home to solid quarterback play and this season will be no different. Smith may have a few ups and downs as he adjusts to life in the Big 12, but he should be the Big 12’s best quarterback in 2012. 

Mark Ross
Don't get me wrong, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith had an outstanding 2011 campaign, finishing 17th in the nation in passing efficiency with 4,385 yards, 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions. With wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey and other weapons at his disposal, there is no reason to think he won't put up similar, if not better, numbers in the Mountaineers' first season in the Big 12. However, I am still going to go with Oklahoma's Landry Jones as the conference's top quarterback.

For one, it's not like Jones was downright awful last season. He finished 33rd overall in passing efficiency with 4,463 yards, 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, numbers that he put up despite the fact that All-American wide receiver Ryan Broyles missed four games. And while Jones' 2011 season would be considered a career year for just about any other quarterback, it wasn't even Landry's best. He threw for more yards (4,718), touchdowns (38) and had fewer interceptions (12) in 2010. It's this experience factor that puts Jones on top for me. He's produced at a high level consistently for three years, while Smith had his first breakout campaign last season.

Jones also is well familiar with the Big 12, while Smith will be facing all of these defenses, the likes of an Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, to name a few, for the first time. Jones will be going up against Big 12 newcomers TCU and West Virginia for the first time in his career, and he will do so on their respective home turfs, but Smith has the steeper learning curve as far as this season goes. In the end, Smith may very well end up with better numbers, but for now, I will go with the Big 12 veteran Jones as the conference's top signal caller.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think Geno Smith should get the nod as the top quarterback in West Virginia’s new league. The senior signal caller threw for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns against only seven interceptions last season, and elite receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will thrive in the pass-happy Big 12. Head coach and offensive guru Dana Holgorsen has a familiarity with the league from his time at Oklahoma State, and the WVU offense should continue prowess in its new conference.

Oklahoma’s Landry Jones is also a top candidate, but he did throw 15 picks last year and has struggled on the road in his career. Jones struggled late last year after the Sooners lost top wideout Ryan Broyles, and Blake Bell took many of the red zone snaps last year. Jones still has the experience and weapons around him to have a solid season, but I’ll go with West Virginia’s Smith to lead the Big 12’s signal callers in 2012.

Related West Virginia Content

West Virginia Mountaineers 2012 Team Preview
West Virginia Mountaineers Top 10 Players for 2012

West Virginia Mountaineers 2012 Team Predictions
West Virginia Mountaineers Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in West Virginia Football History

West Virginia Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About West Virginia Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Is West Virginia's Geno Smith the Big 12's Best Quarterback?</p>
Post date: Friday, May 18, 2012 - 05:38
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-west-virginia-rivals
Body:

 

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

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

• What do medical marijuana and Pittsburgh football have in common?
They both get smoked in bowls.

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

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

• Why is Pittsburgh replacing the turf in its stadium with cardboard?
The Panthers always look better on paper.

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

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

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

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

• You know you’re from Pittsburgh if:
You’ve ever climbed a water tower with a bucket of paint to defend your sister’s honor. 

Related West Virginia Content

West Virginia Mountaineers 2012 Team Preview
West Virginia Mountaineers Top 10 Players for 2012

West Virginia Mountaineers 2012 Team Predictions
West Virginia Mountaineers Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in West Virginia Football History

West Virginia Cheerleader Gallery

Is Geno Smith the Big 12's Best Quarterback?

Teaser:
<p> Because sometimes it's good to make fun of the other team.</p>
Post date: Friday, May 18, 2012 - 02:38
All taxonomy terms: College Football, College Basketball, NFL, NBA, MLB
Path: /college-football/athlon%E2%80%99s-essential-eleven-links-day-0
Body:

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

• Sorry for running late today. I was out day trading my new Facebook shares.

• If the Pacers beat the Heat, would Pat Riley blow up the Big Three?

• There is a new agreement where the champions of the SEC and Big 12 would play in the postseason if neither is in the proposed four-team model to determine the national champion. The SEC champ not in the title game?!

• I’m not one for planning an interesting death, but many around the office think this is a good way to go. Personally, I just can’t see the last three people I talk to being Cinnamon, Jade and Destiny.

• It’s so nice to have Mike Leach — relationship advice, bear hunting, pirate gear, etc. —back in college football.

• The Cardinals lost 7-5 in San Francisco yesterday and made three errors. I think the issue for the World Champions may have been “Bad Tuxedo Day.” Check out these pics.

• Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee says that Steve Spurrier’s plan to award SEC division titles based only on division record will not happen.

• The Cubs' Kerry Wood will retire today. It seems like ages (actually, 1998) since his 20-strikeout performance against the Astros.

• The NFL Combine has well over 300 players looking to be drafted somewhere in the 250+ selections. However here are 37 players who were not invited to the Combine but were drafted, including four in the top 100 picks.

• CBS has the latest on the suspension of MLB umpire Bob Davidson.

• With the Champions League final this weekend, we thought it was time to throw soccer fans a rare bone. And when you combine Hank Williams Jr. and European soccer, it means things are getting pretty silly here on a Friday. Here’s our Video of the Day…

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


May 17

• The Saints offseason has been tumultuous enough. The last thing New Orleans needs is an issue with re-signing quarterback Drew Brees.

• Want your own Super Bowl ring? You can join the auction for New York Giants’ legend Lawrence Taylor’s XXV ring right here.

• Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com details the Top 10 players in the league under the age of 25.

• In Chicago, apparently Metta World Peace is known as “Lakers Idiot.”

• ESPN Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller looks at the league’s breakout players during spring ball.

• Delvon Roe’s promising Michigan State basketball career was cut short with knee issues, but now the former Spartan has a new passion — making a romantic drama feature film.

• The Texas Rangers are looking brilliant so far with their high-dollar acquisition of pitcher Yu Darvish, who just keeps winning.

• The Missouri legislature made an SEC-level move by only allowing Show-Me-State schools to be featured on state license plates. For all of the University of Kansas fans in the K.C. area, the rivalry continues.

• Bleacher Report has a slideshow of NFL veterans who could be cut before the season.

• ACC Commissioner John Swofford believes in his league’s stability and says he’s not been affected by the Florida State defection rumors.

Boston fans are a passionate lot, and it’s nice to see a little daughter watching the Celtics game with her father. The salty language is a tad scary, but she’s precious enough to get away with it. Here’s our Video of the Day…

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)


May 16

• Did a former NBA assistant plagiarize his ESPN Insider analysis of the Spurs-Clippers series from a message board? Deadspin has the latest.

• The Angels fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher with the offense — especially Albert Pujols — struggling. Hatcher had been on Mike Scioscia’s staff since 2000.

• FARK.com led us to this “Drunken Saylor” in Florida. There’s not much more fun around the neighborhood than a 43-year-old, exposed woman with a .194 BAL.

• With the current Florida State rumors not going away, ESPN Big 12 blogger David Ubben details how the Seminoles have fared against current league schools.

• Will the Jets offense have more discipline under new coordinator Tony Sparano?

• With the Knicks out of the playoffs, Amar’e Stoudemire is now attending college — at the University of Miami.

• Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times looks at the possibility of the Bulls not having Derrick Rose next season.

• Fellas, you may have eyeballed those Skechers commercials with Brooke Burke and Kim Kardashian but hopefully you didn’t buy your significant other any “Shape-Ups.”

• New Penn State coach Bill O’Brien does not want a constant quarterback battle during August.

• Can Colt McCoy still win the Browns starting quarterback job after the team drafted Brandon Weeden?

• In case you missed it, Brett Lawrie of the Blue Jays had an unfortunate reaction to some bad umpiring last night. Here’s our Video of the Day…

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


May 15

• Congratulations to this year’s inductees into the College Football Hall of Fame.

• Bears quarterback Jay Cutler may have some new weapons in Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery, but he’s still concerned about the Chicago offensive line.

• Is Ohio State’s only focus on Michigan this season, especially with no postseason for the Buckeyes?

• If you’re heading out on a Bachelor party weekend soon, Mandatory.com has some no-no’s for your trip. Don’t be that guy.

• Can Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy rekindle the UConn-Boston College rivalry after all of the conference realignment politics? Big East Coast Bias has the latest.

• ESPN’s Ryan McGee has sits down with NASCAR owner Rick Hendrick after his organization’s 200th victory. I want to go to “Redneck Disney World."

• Nationals phenom Bryce Harper hit his first career home run Monday night, and he wasted no time getting around the bases.

• SB Nation breaks down the Thunder’s blowout of the Lakers in Game 1 of their playoff series.

• Bleacher Report’s Michael Walsh believes the Orioles can stay atop the AL East standings.

• Gizmodo cannot believe these phones are still for sale in 2012.

• With record-breaking BYU quarterback Ty Detmer going into the Hall of Fame, we look back at the day he probably won the Heisman — the Cougars’ 28-21 win over No. 1 Miami in 1990. Here’s our Video of the Day…

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


May 14

• Florida State to the Big 12 is the rumor that will just not go away. Tulsa World columnist John Hoover looks at the league's future, while Ingram Smith of ChuckOliver.net and Bud Elliott of TomahawkNation.com discuss the Seminoles’ future.

• Adam Kramer has a humorous look at the Big 12 footprint if Florida State joined the Texas-controlled league.

• Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee speculates on further SEC expansion — Virginia Tech and NC State — if the ACC loses current members.

• Do people really still have MySpace accounts? We offer help.

• Would the Phillies trade Cole Hamels?

• Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz calls out the Pacers for blaming referees after a 95-86, Game 1 loss to the Heat.

• So Jersey Shore tool “Pauly D” is coming out with a new alcoholic beverage. Does anyone over the age of 21 care?

• Texas A&M’s move to the SEC is already producing wins (as long as Erin Andrews shows up). The Aggies edged out Nebraska to have ESPN’s “College GameDay" shoot a commercial on the A&M campus.

• CBS’ Jon Heyman thinks the Astros roster will be the focus of MLB buyers over the summer.

• Can the Ravens play elite defense without edge rusher Terrell Suggs?

• Matt Kuchar’s two-stroke victory at The Players Championship is impressive on its own. But the fact that he did it playing with the insufferable pre-shot routine of Kevin Na on the final day is remarkable. Here’s our Video of the Day…

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 

Teaser:
<p> The web's best stories from the NFL, college football, MLB, NBA, college basketball and entertainment.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 17, 2012 - 20:33
Path: /nascar/kurt-busch-nascar-career-controversy
Body:

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone, they paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.” – Joni Mitchell

Fame and fortune can be a cruel beast: the second it’s taken away, you want it 10-times worse than those who have never had the chance. Kurt Busch, on the precipice of getting himself fired once again, knows that line better than any other on the Sprint Cup circuit. Well, I guess perhaps the only difference is that in his “parking lot” he just rams everyone with a car who tries to find a space.

People will disagree on what happened Saturday night at Darlington, why Busch pulled a burnout through Ryan Newman’s pit and then slammed into the No. 39 car on pit road like a bumper car on steroids. But when it comes to the 2004 Cup Series champ, we can all agree on one thing: he’s frustrated. The 33-year-old is currently driving an unsponsored car with limited speed where even 110 percent guarantees no more than a ninth- or 10th-place finish. His forced aggression on each lap is what the fans want to see but that comes with consequences: he’s now wrecked in five of 11 races, more than any other driver in this year of green-flag, single-file parades.

It’s not easy for a guy used to winning to run the 1995 Honda Accord when everyone else is slim-fitted into a Lexus with 10 engineers by their side plotting out every simulation and aerodynamic advantage. But Busch is not to be pitied — if anything, he’s a role model for children as to what not to do when you’re handed the world on a silver platter. After being nailed with a $50,000 fine for Saturday’s incident (paired with probation), the downhill slide is rolling once again for a man who’s simply a victim of his own choices.

Remember, it was Busch who chose to leave his team less than nine months after winning the first Chase title while in mid-contract and despite no major dip in performance. Know that every Cup champion since 1990, at the time, had stayed with their former team from that point on, as trophies typically breed loyalty. But Busch felt hidden at Roush Fenway Racing, behind the “superstar” presence of Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin and up-and-coming Carl Edwards. Even though he had as many titles as all of them combined, Penske offered greater exposure in his mind, a chance to be the star of a smaller team while getting more credit – and control – over the organization. Roush Fenway? The “villain” was privately relieved, freed of a man who in private drove public relations people to the edge. Busch gave them the ability to cut a cord they never could otherwise because of on-track success. The driver could have been at Roush for a decade, but instead, after an awkward confrontation with police at Phoenix, he was sent packing for his next gig two races early.

That brought him to Penske, where Busch was paired with an iconic sponsor – Miller Lite – and the best equipment a multi-millionaire could find. In six years, Busch made the Chase four times, winning nine races while scoring a dozen poles. Combined, those numbers blow rival superstars out of the water during that stretch — even current points leader Greg Biffle would kill for those numbers. Sure, a second Cup title remained elusive, but the current playoff system has proven itself to be defined by luck — two bad breaks, and you’re out no matter how well you do the rest of the way. Busch should know that, considering his championship run in ’04 helped redefine the way teams approach a title.

But for Busch, having the world on a silver platter and enjoying consistent success at Penske wasn’t enough. The team always needed fixing, whether it was faulty engineering, poor pit strategy or the paint guy that left a smudge on the side of the front bumper. Fits of swearing were weekly occurrences, in public and private, while a number of pink slips were forced during a six-year Reign Of Terror.

Yet even after Busch’s Anger Management melted away, expanding from inner turmoil to picking public fights with the media, both Penske and his sponsor stood by him. Following a Richmond confrontation with two national reporters last season, he could have rallied to win the Chase and been guaranteed millions for the rest of his career. Instead, the postseason netted a disappointing 11th-place finish in the final standings, but all the pieces were there for 2012 success. Just look at Penske’s current stud: Brad Keselowski has won twice, sits just outside the top 10 in points and has flashed speed at virtually every track.

Busch could have been his teammate. Instead, he lost his cool at Homestead, in public, with one of the sport’s iconic media figures. Dr. Jerry Punch was appalled, over a half-million saw it all unfold on YouTube, and within two weeks Busch was toast.

His current team, which start-and-parked at times last season due to lack of funding, was a last resort, a forced marriage after Penske was pushed to show him the door when no other options existed. Busch may be beside himself, dealing with “C-level” equipment that doesn’t match his capability, but in this Choose Your Own Adventure game, he’s also responsible for the choices that led him here.

Some have speculated Busch is not fully to blame for Saturday night’s scuffle, where members of Newman’s crew barreled after him to the point a NASCAR official got knocked on a car hood. The driver himself claims hitting Newman’s car on pit road was because “he couldn’t see while taking his helmet off” — an excuse so comical it wouldn’t fool a five-year-old. But even if by some odd series of circumstances Newman is at fault here (I’m just hypothesizing) none of it matters. Busch, in a position where he has no sponsor, knew heading into 2012 that every move, every minute, would be scrutinized by all those inside and outside the garage area. Perfection when it came to behavior was a necessity; anything less and the chance to return to NASCAR’s top tier would disappear in an age where talent needs to be paired with money. Busch, even when provoked, needs to be the better man, similar to what brother Kyle has done during an uneventful but sponsor-pleasing 2012.

Instead, Kurt Busch made a choice again, resulting in a fine so large, any company that might have dared sneak a peek has thrown him in the trash. So don’t pity the man who put himself in this position, just shake your head and wonder why one of the sport’s greatest talents has chosen to become his own worst enemy.


by Tom Bowles
Follow Tom on Twitter:
@NASCARBowles
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Tom Bowles examines how Kurt Busch's poor decisions may derail a successful NASCAR career.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 17, 2012 - 17:58

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