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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

It wasn't that long ago that Alabama celebrated its national title victory over LSU in New Orleans. And now it's already time to turn the page to 2012. Spring practice is underway across the nation and will continue into late April for several college football teams.

Here's a look at some of the key storylines to watch over the next couple of months.

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

1. Change is in the air as 124 FBS teams get ready to open up spring practice. Conference realignment has shifted the landscape of several conferences and you might need a scorecard to keep up with the changes. The SEC expanded to 14 teams, bringing Texas A&M and Missouri in from the Big 12. West Virginia bolted the Big East and TCU left the Mountain West to get the Big 12 back to 10 teams. Thanks to the Mountaineers’ departure from the Big East, the conference is trying desperately to add Boise State for 2012. Without the Broncos, the Big East will play this upcoming season with just seven teams. The changes weren’t limited to BCS conferences, as Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii are joining the Mountain West. And finally, Texas State (WAC), UTSA (WAC), UMass (MAC) and South Alabama (Sun Belt) are making the jump from the FCS to the FBS ranks. However, conference realignment isn’t finished by any means and there could be more shock waves throughout college football during the 2012 season.

2. The SEC has claimed the last six national titles and there’s certainly no shortage of options to claim No. 7 in 2012. However, each of the four likely contenders – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU – has significant question marks. For LSU, how will new quarterback Zach Mettenberger perform? Alabama will have several new faces on defense and must replace running back Trent Richardson and center William Vlachos. Georgia got off to a slow start last year, but rallied to finish with 10 wins and the SEC East title. For the Bulldogs to contend in 2012, they have to rebuild an offensive line that loses three key players. Arkansas has inched closer to the top of the SEC West, but its defense must make strides in order to challenge for the national title.

3.  If the SEC West is going to be the most competitive division in college football, the Big Ten Legends can’t be too far behind. Deciding the pecking order between Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska isn’t going to be easy and there’s not a ton of separation between these three teams. The Wolverines need to utilize the spring to rebuild the defensive line and develop weapons in the receiving corps for quarterback Denard Robinson. The Spartans need to get quarterback Andrew Maxwell comfortable, while improving a rushing attack that ranked 11th in the Big Ten last year. The Cornhuskers enter spring workouts with more question marks than Michigan and Michigan State, but should be more acclimated to Big Ten play in 2012. With Ohio State ineligible for the Big Ten title, the winner of this division should be a heavy favorite to win the conference title game and play in a BCS game.

4. The Pac-12 is usually one of the most entertaining conferences to watch on a week-to-week basis, but this league gained even more intrigue with four coaching changes this offseason. Arizona State replaced Dennis Erickson with Todd Graham, while Arizona canned Mike Stoops and hired former West Virginia and Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez. UCLA made a run at Boise State’s Chris Petersen, but ended up with former NFL head coach Jim Mora, and Washington State hit a home run with the hire of former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. And the intrigue doesn’t stop there. How about Washington plucking defensive line coach and ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi away from California? And there’s also Oregon coach Chip Kelly’s brief flirtation with the NFL. Spring practice is only the start of what is shaping up to be a season full of intrigue in the Pac-12.

5. The college football coaching carousel was busy this offseason, as 27 teams changed head coaches. While that group of new coaches should have job security going into 2012, there are a handful of coaches entering a potentially program-defining season. Boston College’s Frank Spaziani, UCF’s George O’Leary, California’s Jeff Tedford, Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, Tennessee’s Derek Dooley and Rice’s David Bailiff top the early hot seat watch for 2012 and all need a big spring (and season) to stick around for 2013.

6. Once again, it’s time to dust off the seemingly annual question about Florida State: Are the Seminoles back and ready to contend for a national title? On paper, the Seminoles are poised to challenge for a finish among the top 10 teams. There's plenty of proven depth with 16 starters returning and coach Jimbo Fisher is bringing in another elite recruiting class. The defense is among the best in college football, especially up front where end Brandon Jenkins should be a preseason All-American. But whether or not the Seminoles are ready to win the ACC and play in a BCS bowl rests solely on an offensive line that will be very young in 2012. Center Bryan Stork and guard Jacob Fahrenkrug will provide the veteran leadership, but the Seminoles need sophomores Bobby Hart, Austin Barron, Josue Matias, Sterling Lovelady and junior Garrett Faircloth to step up. If this group holds up, the Seminoles should be able to get back into the BCS for the first time since 2006.

7. Difficult doesn’t even begin to describe how the last few months have gone at Penn State. From the Jerry Sandusky scandal to the passing of legendary coach Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions have had to deal with enough bad news to last several years. Spring football kicks off in Happy Valley on March 26, and new coach Bill O’Brien will have his hands full with this team in 2012. O’Brien wants Penn State to throw more, but quarterback play was not been the strength of this team in recent years. The Nittany Lions also lose leading receiver Derek Moye and four starters are gone on the offensive line. Following a legend like Paterno won’t be easy, but O’Brien also has to deal with significant question marks on offense and there will be an adjustment period to the new coaching staff for the players. Unless O’Brien can find the right answer at quarterback, the offense figures to keep Penn State from challenging for the Big Ten Leaders Division title in 2012.

8. Thanks to a 5-7 2010 campaign, Texas was off the national radar going into last season. However, the Longhorns rebounded with an 8-5 record and a victory over California in the Holiday Bowl. If Mack Brown’s team wants to challenge Oklahoma in the Big 12 title race, it has to start with getting better quarterback play. David Ash seemed to wrestle the No. 1 spot on the depth chart after finishing with 142 passing yards and one touchdown in the bowl game. Ash isn’t guaranteed to finish spring as the top passer, as Case McCoy and incoming freshman Connor Brewer will get every opportunity to knock him off the No. 1 position. If Texas can generate more offense in 2012, it’s not out of the question this team can compete for the Big 12 title.

9. There have been a lot of changes at Ohio State over the last year, and it may be a while before the Buckeyes go 6-7 once again. New coach Urban Meyer is off to a terrific start on the recruiting trail and should continue to reel in top talent to Columbus. Meyer is well-rested after a year away from coaching, and the health issues that bothered him at Florida seem to be under control. The future certainly looks bright for the Buckeyes, but there’s also a sense of disappointment before the 2012 season kicks off. Due to NCAA violations, Ohio State is ineligible to play for the Big Ten title and is also banned from postseason play. Although the Buckeyes can’t play for a championship, Meyer and his staff should keep this team motivated all year, and the schedule is favorable enough to expect 10 wins in 2012. There’s certainly a learning curve for the offense as it adapts to Meyer’s spread attack and some holes to fill on the offensive line, but Ohio State is poised to make a lot of noise once the bowl ban is lifted going into 2013.

10. And of course, we can’t close a spring practice preview article without mentioning the quarterback battles.

Athlon will have a more in-depth look at some of the battles over the next few weeks, but here’s a quick snapshot of some of the top quarterback competitions to watch:

Auburn: New coordinator Scot Loeffler will have his hands full this spring, as the Tigers finished 100th nationally in total offense last year and have no clear No. 1 quarterback. Barrett Trotter gave up his final year of eligibility, leaving sophomore Kiehl Frazier, true freshman Zeke Pike and junior Clint Moseley to battle for the starting spot under center. The Tigers don’t need to have an elite passing attack, but it has to be better than it was last year.

Boise State: Replacing Kellen Moore is no easy task for head coach Chris Petersen and new coordinator Robert Prince. Sophomore Grant Hedrick, redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea, junior Joe Southwick and true freshman Nick Patti will compete this spring.

Florida: The Gators are searching for a spark on offense this spring, along with adjusting to new coordinator Brent Pease. Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel combined to throw for 354 yards in relief of Jeff Brantley last year, but nether completed more than 48 percent of their throws.

Miami: Stephen Morris has started five games at Miami, but will be pushed by Memphis transfer Ryan Williams and incoming freshmen Preston Dewey and Gary Grow.

Stanford: It will be impossible to replace Andrew Luck’s production in 2012, but the Cardinal has plenty of candidates, and an offense that’s built around the rushing attack to take the pressure off a young quarterback. Brett Nottingham will open spring workouts as the No. 1 passer, but Robbie Picazo, Josh Nunes, Evan Crower and Kevin Hogan will all get a shot.

Oklahoma State: The Pokes will miss quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon, but don’t expect this offense to fall too far in 2012. Clint Chelf completed 20 of 30 throws for 307 yards and three scores last year and opens as the frontrunner to replace Weeden. However J.W. Walsh and true freshman Wes Lunt will get an opportunity to unseat him in spring practice.

Oregon: Bryan Bennett was impressive while filling in for Darron Thomas last year and opens spring workouts as the favorite to start the opener in 2012. However, redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota and incoming freshmen Jake Rodrigues will have an opportunity to push him this spring.

Texas A&M: As if joining the SEC wasn’t tough enough, the Aggies have to break in a new quarterback. Jameill Showers has the most experience (five passes), but Matt Joeckel, Johnny Manziel and incoming freshman Matt Davis will have every opportunity to earn playing time.

Teaser:
<p> Spring practice is underway and Athlon takes a look at the 10 biggest storylines to watch over the next couple of months.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-14-texas-am-aggies
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-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 14: Texas A&M Aggies (19 total signees)

SEC Rank: 6th
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 2
National Signees: 6

As should be the case with any good Texas A&M class, the state of Texas is the primary focus. While Big Brother down in Austin will almost always get its top choices, the Aggies have a tremendous brand to offer. Of the 19 total signees, 15 hail from the Lone Star State, including two of the top five players in the state. New head coach Kevin Sumlin should be very pleased with his in-state offensive skill talent as the Aggies signed the No. 1 quarterback, the No. 1 wide receiver and the No. 2 running back in the state of Texas.

Louisiana (2), California and Missouri supplied the remaining four prospects.

Areas of Focus:

Transition was easily the word of choice for the 2012 Texas A&M recruiting class. New coach, new conference, new identity. Sumlin steps onto campus with a distinct offensive scheme that has been as prolific as any in the history of the sport. But he is in the SEC now. Will he adjust his system for the elite level defensive lines? Does he utilize a more traditional offensive attack? Only time will answer these questions, but for now, Sumlin has some elite-level offensive skill talent joining the squad.

Related: 2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

And it all starts with the nation's No. 3 running back, Trey Williams. Small in stature only, Williams is one of the most productive prep running backs in history of Texas football. He carried 447 times for 3,890 yards and 48 touchdowns as a senior and earned Class 5A state Offensive Player of the Year Honors. He finished his career with 8,110 yards rushing and 86 touchdowns on 935 attempts. He can score from anywhere on the field and is a perfect fit for Sumlin's pass-happy scheme.

Wide receiver Thomas Johnson, a former Texas Longhorn verbal commitment, is the state's No. 1 wideout prospect and trails only Dorial Green-Beckham in the WR ranks nationally. Hailing from powerhouse program Dallas-Skyline, Johnson leads a talented three-man pass-catching class for Sumlin. Sabian Holmes, who also played at a power program in Southlake-Carroll, is joined by junior college prospect Derel Walker. Holmes led Carroll to the 5A State Championship with an 11-catch, 138-yard, one-TD performance in the title game. Despite the loss of Jeff Fuller, Sumlin has added three names to what appears to be a gluttonous receiving corp.

Should the 6-4, 170-pound athlete Edward Pope — who caught 76 passes for 1,233 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2011 — land at wide receiver, the sky would be the limit for mad passing scientist Sumlin.

Quarterback Matt Davis, an early enrollee, could compete for playing time very quickly as starter Ryan Tannehill has moved on. The dual-threat passer was a star as a sophomore before missing his junior year with a knee injury. He rebounded in 2011 with a stellar senior season: 1,483 yards, 13 TD, 931 yards rushing, 12 TD. Already on campus, expect Davis to push more likely starting options Johnny Manziel, Jameill Showers and Matt Joeckel in spring ball.

An already talented and solid offensive line got three new names in this class, and one of the names will be very familiar. Nationally ranked Mike Matthews is the top-rated blocker in this group and has the bloodlines to prove it. He is the son of legendary hog molly Bruce Matthews and the younger brother of former Aggie blocker Kevin and current Ag Jake. The 330-pound Kimo Tipoti and 305-pound Ifedi Germain literally and figuratively round out the OL class.

While the offensive skill is impressive, the defensive line is the strength of this haul. There are no nationally ranked prospects, but five new ends and one likely tackle make this six-man DL group one of the best in the SEC. This is a versatile and deep collection that is headlined by the massive (6-5, 255) Polo Manukainiu and District 11-5A Defensive MVP Michael Richardson. The small (6-3, 210) but very athletic Tyrone Taylor won his own District MVP award at Galena Park (19-4A), while Alonzo Williams posted 100 tackles out West in Long Beach, Calif. Signing Day pickup Edmond Ray might be the most intriguing of the group, however, as the projected tackler checks in at 6-5 and 290 pounds. This group may not have the five-star name, but it has loads of depth and tons of versatility.

A three-man defensive back class is headlined by AC100 near-miss De'Vante Harris. The 5-10, 160-pound coverman makes up for his lack of size with tremendous competitive edge and natural instincts. This undoubtedly comes from his father Rod Harris, who starred at Texas A&M as a wide receiver it the late '80s. He will also be a dynamic return man — much like his father. Junior College transfer Tremaine Jacobs and early enrollee Kenneth Marshall round out a nice secondary haul for TAMU.

Nationally ranked linebacker Jordan Richmond is the only backer to join the Aggies in this class after back-to-back All-State seasons at Ryan High.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 1, RB: 1, WR: 3, TE: 0, OL: 3, ATH: 1
Defense: DE: 5, DT: 1, LB: 1, DB: 3, K/P/LS: 0

AC100 Recruits:

19. Trey Williams, RB (5-8, 175), Spring (Texas) Dekaney
29. Thomas Johnson, WR (5-11, 180), Dallas (Texas) Skyline

Other National Signees:

110. De'Vante Harris, DB (5-10, 160), Mesquite (Texas) Horn
162. Matt Davis, QB (6-2, 202), Houston (Texas) Klein Forest
206. Jordan Richmond, LB (6-3, 225), Denton (Texas) Ryan
238. Mike Matthews, OL (6-3, 260), Missouri City (Texas) Elkins

Early Enrollees:

Matt Davis, QB (6-2, 202), Houston (Texas) Klein Forest
Tremaine Jacobs, DB (6-1, 180), Covington (La.) Covington/Miss. Gulf Coast C.C.
Kenneth Marshall, DB (6, 191), South Houston (Texas) High
Derel Walker, WR (6-2, 185), Hillsboro (Texas) High/Trinity Valley C.C.

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

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

Teaser:
<p> The Texas A&amp;M Aggies landed the No. 14 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /columns/garage-talk/year-20-exclusive-qa-jeff-gordon
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by Dustin Long

Athlon Sports: You had gone three years without winning multiple races in a season before 2011. How did 2011 revitalize you?
Jeff Gordon:
That is definitely the proper phrase. It has. This team has revitalized me. I see it happening in other sports, and I’ve watched my career … and the experiences that I’ve had and you go back through your most successful years and races and you try to think, what was happening there, why did this success happen? What I see in (2011) is that this team, as I came in, they believed in their driver and they had confidence in me as a driver and they had confidence in what they were doing as a team to provide cars that can win. When you have that, and you start to put the good performances together, it just starts to build and build confidence and momentum and that’s what we did.

What I will take out of (last) year is just the ability this team has to have winning racecars, to have what it takes — pit crew, strategy, speed, track position — to get into Victory Lane, not just luck into it one time. What I love (about what we did last) year is we did it on a lot of different types of tracks. I wish we could have thrown the Brickyard in there, too, because that would have been incredible. You’ve got Pocono, Atlanta and Phoenix. I look at Richmond and Bristol. We’ve run good on a lot of different tracks.

There was a spell at one point where you were winning at only particular types of tracks, like the short tracks or the restrictor-plate tracks.
Exactly. That’s usually the sign that your career is getting ready to come to an end. I’ll never forget watching other guys: Yeah, they’re successful in the plate tracks, (but) can’t win anywhere else. Those plate tracks — that’s usually a bad sign. I didn’t want to be in that position. These guys have revitalized me in my belief in myself and in what we’re capable of doing.

Considering how long your racing career has been, when you say you were revitalized, do you feel you were, in a way, in a rut before?
I didn’t do anything different (last) year than I did any other year, other than just trying to work harder communicating with these guys. That’s a little bit of what happens when you come into something new like I did (in 2011 with a new team). You get put into what they do as a team, and it’s a little bit unique and different.

For instance, we have a meeting every Tuesday morning that lasts a couple of hours, and it’s our engineers and myself and we break down the race that we just ran and then look ahead at races or tests. I love that, even though it’s over my head a lot of times because I can’t keep up with the engineering side of it, it’s great to be involved in those and understand what’s going on to another level. Like what I love sometimes, (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) will say, ‘We’re in the trust tree.’ So what happens is you’ve got to man up in those meetings, you’ve got to be willing to lay it out there whether you made mistakes, didn’t make mistakes, calling other people out, calling yourself out, whatever it may be — that’s that area that we can be honest with one another, and I think it allows us to be better because of it.

But you’ve been through that before.
I’ve never done it like that before. I go in there in person most of the time. Now living in North Carolina helps me do that. I’ve been absent from being in North Carolina (in the past) … because I didn’t have the home. Now, I have the home and family and everything and now we’re there a lot more, so I can make it to these meetings in person.

It, just to me, makes a difference. Plus, just when we started the season out, the effort these guys were putting in to get me comfortable — the seats, the new dash design that we had, the whole driver compartment and then going and testing and the things we were going through — just made me feel really comfortable. I love to see the effort they put out. With that, as well as going to the race track and having competitive cars, it just helps build my confidence not only in myself, but in them. It has to go both ways. The team has to believe in their driver, and the driver has to believe in the team.

What’s happening, talking about those last three years, we just were gradually doing like this (his hand arcs downward). This year it was nice to turn that corner back up. I think it’s important to have the valleys because it makes you know how bad you want it, makes you think about it, how hard you’re going to work, how bad you want it, how much does it mean to you — and it’s good. It brings the passion back. Sometimes you can lose that a little bit and get a little complacent. It helped make me realize how bad I want it and how much I enjoy being competitive.

Isn’t it easy to say it’s good to have the valleys when you’re moving up?
When you’re in the valley it’s no fun, but I say it because when you come through it … it’s good to struggle, you need to struggle to appreciate the good times, to understand what it takes to climb the mountain.

I went to this event (in 2011), I was really inspired by it, it was amazing. It was a charity event in New York that was honoring Ralph Lauren. Even though it’s not sports and it’s not our industry, he mentioned about losing his company. He almost lost his company two or three times, and he said that those were some of the most valuable lessons that he had and what really got him to where he is. I believe that. I think you have to experience what it’s like to be successful to win, but then you have to lose some, as well, to grow and really make sure you keep that passion, that you keep that desire and that you keep that work ethic. And also sometimes it forces you to make some changes whether it be team changes or maybe even some things you’re doing yourself.

So when I say I’m not doing anything different, at the race track I don’t do anything different. Away from the race track, yeah, I would say that I’ve definitely communicated much closer and more than I ever have before, trying to stay in better shape. My commitment is to these guys, but I have to balance out family and business because that’s the life that I have, so I have to balance that out, but these guys are definitely a priority to me.

In your career you’ve driven different styles of cars, with different tires and under different rules. Is it easier or harder to drive these current cars than what you’ve done in NASCAR?
The competition is so much greater, so these days you’re dealing with much smaller increments of gains. Every detail matters and every hundredth of a second matters, so, to me, in that sense it’s harder. Track position is so important these days (that) once you get it, it’s almost easier (to run). To get out front and stay out front is so much easier today — if you get there. If you start in the back, it’s much harder. If you start up front, it’s much easier. That didn’t used to be the case.

The other thing is that from lap one to the final lap, you race as hard as you can. There’s no holding back. Very rarely do I ever have to say, ‘My brakes are a little hot and I’m going to ease back here (or) the fuel load I have right now, I need to take it easy and wait for it to come to me.’ You go. You go as hard as you can and you do it for every lap of every run.

In mentioning your first Cup start in 1992 …
I wrecked.

Did you keep anything from that first start?
Yeah. I’ve got the money clip that Richard Petty gave in the drivers meeting (since that was Petty’s final Cup race). That’s cool. The other day, I was thinking about that, I wanted to know where that is because I know I have it. I went into my archives and I found it. I actually was carrying it with me for a little while because I wanted to show some people. I’ve put it back in a safe place now. I’ll never forget getting that. All I have is that and some video.

You didn’t keep the uniform or anything?
Oh, good question. I’ve got a lot of stuff. I’ll have to go back and check to see if I have the helmet. I might have the helmet.

It’s one thing for past success to provide a form of motivation for some people, but how do you keep past success from being a burden?
It’s a burden at times. I think what’s more of a burden is just that I’m competitive, and I’m competitive because I know what it’s like to have won and had a lot of success. I’ve maintained that confidence in myself that I still have what it takes to have that success. When the car is not driving the way I want it to, if that continues to happen throughout the race or throughout weeks, you get very frustrated — and I don’t know if that’s a burden that is coming from my previous success or just my desire to be competitive.

But that does get frustrating if it happens for a length of time, because you’re sitting there going, ‘My teammate is running good over here and he’s winning races and I’ve got the same equipment, so is it me or is it him or what is it?’ That can be tough at times. I’ve gone through that, and that’s what I like so much about this year. I haven’t really changed anything. I switched over to Alan (Gustafson) and his group and I’ve fit into how they’re going about things, but as a driver what I’m doing on the race track is not any different and we’re running good and we’re having success. That’s comforting to me because it makes me realize that I don’t need to change what I’m doing, I just need to continue to work hard and give the best information that I can.

I’m more thankful and appreciative of what I’ve accomplished than anything else, so when I feel that burden and I get mad and I’m pissed because we’re not running as good or we’re not winning championships, I usually am pretty good at reminding myself shortly after that of how thankful I am to have had the success that I’ve had in the sport, and it doesn’t matter if I never win another race or another championship, it’s been amazing. I do have to fall back into that mode from time to time.

It’s been documented with your crashes that you have found places that didn’t have SAFER barriers. With your clout in the sport, why don’t you seem to play a more vocal role in safety, or do you do it more behind the scenes?
I would say I do more work behind the scenes. What I’ve learned over the years is that doing it in the public and in front of the media, while it has results, it also has consequences to the sport. I care a lot about the sport and the safety of it, yet I think sometimes it can be equally as damaging to do it publicly. Usually when drivers are doing it publicly, it’s out of frustration, and that’s usually not the best time to voice your opinion — when you’re frustrated.

When it was all said and done, was turning 40 in 2011 that big of a deal to you?
(The party) was awesome! I had a great time. It was great spending time with friends. To me, turning 40 has been fun. I like being 40.

I feel very settled in a good way. Two kids, amazing wife. Life is good, and racing (last) year was really good, I mean the Chase … eh. The three wins and the way we ran (in the regular season) — turning 40, friends, family, the charitable work we’ve done — it was a good year.

You went on a fact-finding mission to Congo last year with your work through the Clinton Global Initiative. What is going to come out of that? What will your role become now that you’ve been there and the seen the conditions?
We’ve got a plan in place. There’s a couple of different products we’re going to help fund and get them out there to that area. Those sticks that purify water (and) there’s some mosquito netting — those are like the small first steps that we can do immediately and then we’re working through the long-term plan.

It’s a slow process. You can just jump on something and say we’re going to fund this and do this, but I think it will get lost in the shuffle. We’re doing some of those things that will immediately help a lot of people, but if you want to truly save lives and really reinvigorate their economy and get involved with the government, it takes time.

We went to Rwanda with the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation — Ingrid, myself and Ella. We went in December after the (championship) banquet. That was for children’s pediatric cancer. What we’ve funded is a pathology lab. What’s happening is there’s a lot of misdiagnosis going on over there. They don’t really know what the children have because they don’t have the proper equipment. We’re actually helping to transport some equipment over there.

While you’ve been involved with children’s charities for years, how did that work change once you had children?
It’s made me realize how important the work is, and there’s certainly a portion of that in seeing what life would be like as a parent to go through that and how tough and devastating that must be.

What I see is the work that I’m doing and the effort being put into it — how it is affecting Ella, my daughter. She is just fascinated with people that have injuries, and she’s like, ‘What’s wrong with them? Can I help them? Why are they here? What are the doctors doing?’ She’s just really interested. Just like going to Rwanda, we said to her, ‘We’re going to help some children and we’re going to go over there and visit them.’ She’s like, ‘Can I go? I want to go.’ We said, ‘You have to get shots.’ At first, she was like, ‘Oh, I don’t want shots.’ We said if you really want to help these children, then you have to have shots. (She said) ‘OK, I’ll do it, I’ll do it for the kids.’

My parents, while they were really good people and taught me how to treat others, we didn’t go that far into philanthropy, and I think that what they did helped me get to where I am and now I can take that to the next level and help my children. Especially for my kids, because I didn’t grow up with the luxuries that my kids are going to grow up with.

I think the only way you can balance that out where they don’t get spoiled or take that for granted and not appreciate it, is for them to volunteer, to go see what is happening in the rest of the world — especially when it comes to sick children, because I think that it will inspire them to want to help, but it also will balance out the lifestyle that they have and make them understand that that might not always be the case, that there are other people suffering and it could happen to them as well.

How can your relationship with Alan Gustafson grow in his second year as your crew chief?
I’m really excited about (2012). I feel like we’ve really jelled. The chemistry is there. I really like him as a crew chief, his personality, as well as how hard he works and the team he’s surrounded himself with. He’s already been making some adjustments and some changes in plans for (this) year to make us better. Those are things that would be happening whether we were leading the points or not leading the points (during the Chase). That’s how he works. So, I’m very excited about (2012).

This season will be your 20th full season at the Cup level. How much do you have to reinvent yourself or keep up with the young guys? How much is the sport changing, and what do you have to do to keep up?
I think the thing that I look at that I can do better for these guys is give more detailed and valuable information. We started doing a numbering system this year where you break down the levels of tight and loose in three or four different segments of each corner, and that’s kind of new to me. I want to progress with that a little more. They’re looking at sections of the race track that are in 100 feet, in shocks and springs and loads and all those things; so the more detail I can get with them on, the better they can tune the car.

What I’ve learned this year is if I give them the right information, they have the tools to fix it or at least make it better. I think what some of the top drivers are doing in this series are doing a good job of that. Let’s be honest, the cars are extremely important: They have to be pretty close when you unload. You can only do so much, but in those moments when you’re not right on, all they have is me to give them information. I want to be able to give them the proper information. I’m getting older. My body is definitely not what it was 15 years ago, so I have to stay sharp with that as well. I think that we’re very capable. I think we showed (last) year that we can be stronger this year. 

 

Follow Dustin on Twitter: @DustinLong

Teaser:
<p> Jeff Gordon sits down with Athlon Sports to talk racing, family and an offseason well-spent ... though not necessarily in that order.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 20, 2012 - 19:12
All taxonomy terms: Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees, MLB
Path: /mlb/mariano-rivera-retire
Body:

Yesterday everyone was asking, “When will Mariano Rivera arrive?” Today the question has become, “When will Mariano Rivera leave?”

Apparently, the iconic Panamanian closer whose entrance music is Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” has been working on his exit strategy.

After showing up to Spring Training in Tampa, Fla., one day after all other New York Yankees pitchers and catchers, Rivera hinted that the 2012 season could be his last. The seemingly ageless 42-year-old is aiming to avoid a rocking chair tour, however, and isn’t ready to let the rest of the world in on his retirement plans — at least no time soon.

“I know now,” said Rivera. “I just don’t want to tell you. I know now. I will let you guys know when I think I should tell you.”

Rivera broke into the big leagues as a 25-year-old starting pitcher in 1995 before transitioning to the bullpen as the setup man for All-Star closer John Wetteland on the 1996 World Series champions — a team that had current manager Joe Girardi at catcher and 22-year-old Rookie of the Year Derek Jeter at shortstop.

In 1997, Rivera became the Yankees’ closer, a job he has held onto with a cutter grip for 15 seasons, redefining what it means to be a ninth-inning man. In the process, Rivera set the all-time saves record — which stands at 603 and counting. But just how many more 27th final game-winning outs does MLB’s last remaining No. 42 have left in his right arm?

Fresh off another unbelievably productive season — Rivera had a 1.91 ERA, 0.897 WHIP, 44 saves and 60 strikeouts in 61.1 innings in 2011 — there are no signs of slippage. But Super Mariano is in the final season of a two-year, $30 million deal and, even if his staggeringly consistent results remain at the usual All-Star level in 2012, Rivera can’t pitch forever — nor does he want to.

“I have my church, my family,” said Rivera. “I’ve been blessed in amazing ways. I’ve had a great career, but at the same time, there’s other things to do.”

The regal Rivera has already established himself as a first ballot Hall of Famer — compiling a 75–57 record, 603 saves, a 2.21 ERA, 0.998 WHIP and 1,111 strikeouts in 1,211.1 innings over 1,042 regular season games. The Sandman is a 12-time All-Star who has received MVP votes nine years and Cy Young votes in six seasons.

But Rivera’s legacy in pinstripes will be defined by his seemingly effortless dominance when the lights were brightest, in clutch situations in the playoffs.

Arguably the most important member of the “Core Four” — along with Jeter, retired catcher Jorge Posada, and retired lefty starter and Game 2 specialist Andy Pettitte — Mo has an 8–1 record, 42 saves, 0.70 ERA, 0.759 WHIP and 110 strikeouts in 141.0 innings in 32 playoff series over 16 seasons. He’s played in seven World Series, winning five world championships (2009, 2000, 1999, 1998 and 1996) and the World Series MVP in 1999.

Nothing lasts forever. It’s closing time for Rivera, whose megawatt, million-dollar smile in the bullpen is contrasted by his intimidating, laser-focus death glare on the mound. The best closer there is or ever was wants to slam the door on his brilliant career before Father Time has a chance to catch up with his cut fastball and take it the other way.

“It is important for me to leave the game on top if God allows me to do that,” said Rivera. “I won’t be dragging my arm to pitch. I’m not going to start pitching with my left arm. I want to be able to compete.”

by Nathan Rush
 

Teaser:
<p> Will 2012 be the last season for 42-year-old New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera?</p>
Post date: Monday, February 20, 2012 - 18:55
Path: /columns/monday-recap/kyle-busch-wins-shootout-carl-edwards-500-pole
Body:

by Matt Taliaferro

Kyle Busch won a crash-filled Budweiser Shootout on Saturday evening, kicking off Daytona Speedweeks in spectacular fashion.

Busch’s .013-second win over Tony Stewart (right) was the closest finish in the Shootout’s 34-year history. In route to the win, Busch found himself completely sideways on two occasions, but was able to save his Toyota — itself a backup car rolled out after an accident in practice — each time.

“I was trying to push (Ryan) Newman and hook up with him, then he was hooked up with whoever was in front of him,” Busch said of his final charge to the front. “I’m like, ‘All right, fine.’ The hole opened up behind Stewart. I ducked in behind there knowing he had a fast car, (and) pushed him.

“We got up through there. He made the way to the outside and everything. Coming to the line — I’ve been in that situation in reverse before with Tony (and it) hadn’t ended up so well. This time it turned out all right. We made it past him and beat him to the line, so it was cool.”

Busch earned nearly $200,000 for the victory.

While the ending came down to Busch and Stewart teaming up in a tandem draft to separate from the field, the majority of the race witnessed “pack racing.”

Fan displeasure with the two-car tandem drafts that had become the norm at Daytona and Talladega prompted NASCAR to make changes to the cars’ plate, grille and spoiler sizes as well as the max radiator pressure. The result was cars bunched together in three-wide packs.

“It was definitely a lot more fun and you felt a lot more eager to be engaged in the race this way than in the two-car deal,” Stewart said. “I actually had fun racing at Daytona again which I haven’t had for a while, so I’m really, really appreciative to the work that NASCAR has done in the offseason and the test session and even after the test of the changes that they made to try to make it better for us out there.”

Marcos Ambrose, Brad Keselowski and Deny Hamlin rounded out the top 5.

An eight-car wreck with eight laps remaining resulted in Jeff Gordon on his roof. That incident, which also included Jimmie Johnson, AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards, sent the event into a green-white-checker finish. Busch and Ambrose were also involved, but continued after minimal repairs.

“It was just getting down to the end of the race and it was time to go,” Gordon said. “Me and Jimmie were looking good there. We knew those guys were coming, and once Kyle got in front of me, I was just trying to keep Jimmie on me and trying to stay with Kyle.

“Every time I got to Kyle’s bumper, he just started getting so sideways, like he was a lot tonight. And I thought he was going to wreck. I saw him start to spin, so I went wide, not knowing someone had gotten to my outside. That got me into those guys and into the wall and along for a ride.”

Edwards on Pole  Carl Edwards will lead the 43-car field to green in Sunday’s Daytona 500. Edwards topped Sunday’s qualifying session with a fast lap of 194.738 mph (46.216 seconds). Edwards nipped his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Greg Biffle, by .155 seconds. Both are locked into the front row.

It was Edwards’ first Daytona 500 pole.

Positions 3-39 will be determined in Thursday’s Gatorade Duel races. Four additional spots will be awarded to the fastest qualifiers on Sunday that did not qualify via the Duels. The 43rd spot will likely go to a past champion, although if all former champions qualify in the Duels or on speed, the final spot will be awarded to the fifth-fastest Sunday qualifier not already in.
 

Teaser:
<p> NASCAR's Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway kicked off over the weekend with a first-time Bud Shootout winner and a first-time Daytona 500 pole winner.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 20, 2012 - 18:14
Path: /college-basketball/uconn-illinois-memphis-and-nc-state-lead-bubble-talk
Body:

Which NCAA Tournament bubble team had the most damaging loss over the weekend?

Mark Ross: Could defending national champion UConn not make the NCAA Tournament? After Saturday’s 79–64 home loss to Marquette, the Huskies definitely have some work to do to feel more secure about their chances heading into the Big East Tournament. UConn has lost seven of its last nine games and has 10 losses overall and just a 6–8 record in the Big East. With three winnable games and a Feb. 25 home game against No. 2 Syracuse remaining, the Huskies should finish no worse than .500 in the Big East. However, should they slip up again and start the postseason with 12 or more losses, the Huskies may need to win the Big East Tournament to even get a shot at defending its title.

Mitch Light: I’ll go with Illinois, which barely put up a fight in a stunning 80–57 loss at Nebraska. The Illini have two great wins to brag about — vs. Michigan State and Ohio State — but they have now lost eight of their past nine games to drop to 16–11 overall and 5–9 in the Big Ten. With trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin still on the slate, the best-case scenario for this team is a 7–11 Big Ten record heading into the league tournament.

Nathan Rush: Memphis lost to UTEP, 60–58, despite leading 28–19 at the half and 51–44 with 6:25 remaining. The collapse further exposed Josh Pastner’s club as a pretender more than a contender. There is a significant gap between the Tigers’ perceived talent level and their ability to produce results. Memphis has three losses in Conference USA — UTEP, at Southern Miss and at UCF. Worse, the Tigers have no wins against NCAA Tournament-caliber competition, with home victories over Xavier and Southern Miss being the best wins on Memphis’ resume. Pastner is in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in his three seasons since taking over for John Calipari.

Which team had the best win of the past weekend?

Mitch Light: Creighton had played itself onto the bubble after losing three straight games in MVC play. The Bluejays once-solid résumé was in desperate need of a quality win, and Greg McDermott’s club responded by rallying to beat Long Beach State (No. 36 RPI) in Omaha on a jump shot by Antoine Young with 0.3 seconds to play. The Bluejays, with an RPI of 28, would likely have to lose their two remaining regular-season games — vs. Evansville and Indiana State — to be in any danger of missing the NCAA Tournament.

Mark Ross: Kansas State came into Saturday’s game at No. 10 Baylor having lost two in a row and four of its last six. Not only did the Wildcats’ 57–56 win over the Bears end their modest losing streak, it may have secured their invite to the Big Dance. With the victory, Kansas State is now 18–8 overall, but more importantly, 7–7 in the Big 12. The win also gives the Wildcats the signature road victory their résumé was missing.

Nathan Rush: Alabama rolled over Tennessee, 62–50, in a victory that showed the character and toughness of Anthony Grant’s team. The Crimson Tide were without their top two scorers and rebounders, senior JaMychal Green and junior Tony Mitchell, as well as freshman forward Nick Jacobs — who sat out due to a mouth infection. Bama made no excuses, however, snapping a two-game losing streak by locking down the Vols defensively, holding UT to just 15-of-44 from the field (34.1 percent) and 4-of-20 from 3-point range (20 percent).

Will NC State make the NCAA Tournament?

Nathan Rush: Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani won’t even have a chance to be thrown out of an NCAA Tournament game — as they were in Saturday’s 76–62 home loss to Florida State — because NC State won’t make the field of 68 this season. Unless the Wolfpack make an unbelievable run in the ACC Tournament, with wins over North Carolina and/or Duke, Mark Gottfried will fall short in his first season at the helm in Raleigh.

Mitch Light: This question would have been easy to answer had the Pack been able to hold onto a 20-point lead at Duke last week. But they didn’t, which leaves Mark Gottfried’s club squarely on the bubble. State has 7–5 record in the ACC with some winnable games remaining (at Clemson, vs. Miami and at Virginia Tech). This team is lacking in quality wins (at Miami is the only top-50 RPI win) but doesn’t have many bad losses either. My guess is that NC State will win three of its final four regular-season games and do just enough in the ACC Tournament to sneak into the Field of 68.

Mark Ross: I’m going to say yes, but NC State’s margin of error is razor-thin. The Wolfpack let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers on Feb. 16 when they let Duke come back from a 20-point deficit in the second half of the Blue Devils’ 78–73 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Not surprisingly, the disappointment carried over to Saturday’s 76–62 home loss to Florida State. I still think NC State has a great shot at making the NCAA Tournament, as long as the Wolfpack take care of their remaining business. They should still finish the season with at least 20 wins and have played a solid overall schedule, with only one bad loss (82-71 at home to Georgia Tech) on their resume. This should be enough to get an invite from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, but there’s still some work left to be done.
 

Teaser:
<p> UConn, Illinois, Memphis and NC State Lead Bubble Talk</p>
Post date: Monday, February 20, 2012 - 17:56
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /columns/monday-musings/reality-check-lefty
Body:

In this knee-jerk era of sports analysis, when we attach eternal significance to what a guy did yesterday, many observers are anointing Phil Mickelson the 2012 PGA Tour Player of the Year and odds-on favorite to win multiple majors solely on the basis of the last two weekends. Mickelson Mania — or Phil Phanaticism, or whatever pun you can pop out of the oven (see what I did there?) — is rivaling Linsanity as sports' mental affliction of the moment. 
I love the guy as much as anybody, but let's tap the breaks.
I'll stipulate that Phil has had a phenomenal fortnight — his win at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am came on the strength of a blazing final-round 64 in which he curb-stomped playing partner Tiger Woods, and in his playoff loss at the Northern Trust Open, he supplied the best drama, carding the weekend's most spectacular birdie at golf's greatest natural amphitheater just to get into Sudden Death. 
But let me play buzzkill with a few inconvenient truths. 
Mickelson has tantalized his followers for years by treating the West Coast as his personal playground. He rules the West like a latter-day Wyatt Earp; the desert is his sheikhdom. Of Phil's 40 career wins, 23 have come west of the Mississippi, and 18 have occurred in the months of January and February. When the temperatures are at their coldest in the Northeast, Lefty's usually at his hottest out in SoCal and Scottsdale. 
Unfortunately for Phil, the players are headed east, and the calendar's about to turn to March, a month in which he's one only once in his career. His best finish in this week's Accenture Match Play is a quarterfinal appearance in 2004.
It's also worth pointing out that, as great as he is, Mickelson's never had that truly monster year. His personal record for single-season wins is four; Tiger Woods has matched or exceeded that total in a season 11 times. Vijay Singh won nine times in 2004. Those happen to be two of the most recent players to be ranked No. 1 in the world, a ranking that Mickelson's never attained. Mickelson hasn't posted multiple wins in a season since 2009.
Bottom line: Mickelson flashes greatness almost as often as he flashes that famous smirk, but he's never sustained it for a full season, long enough to win a money title or multiple majors. Throw in an ongoing battle with arthritis, and thoughts of a run at the No. 1 ranking seem a little unrealistic.
Of course, Lefty's Masters record takes a back seat to Jack's, Tiger's, Arnie's — and no one else's. It won't surprise me if he wins at Augusta. But let's cool any premature Grand Slam talk. Phil's already a Hall of Famer. No need to ask things of him that he can't deliver. 

— by Rob Doster

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 20, 2012 - 15:15
All taxonomy terms: AC100, College Football, LSU Tigers, Recruiting
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-13-lsu-tigers
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 13: LSU Tigers (22 total signees)

SEC Rank: 5th
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 1
National Signees: 10*

* - Tight End John Thomas will sign with LSU if he can raise his grades in the spring. He does not count toward LSU's 22 current signees.

Where They Got 'Em:

The Pelican State is one of the most talent-rich states in the nation and should always be at the heart of any good LSU recruiting class. Of Les Miles' 22 official signees, 14 of them hail from in-state. Miles spoke very highly of the linebacking class from within his borders as four members of this very talented five-man LB class played their prep ball in Louisiana — two of whom were nationally rated.

Georgia (2) and Texas (3) sent five total and two nationally rated prospects to the Bayou while Florida and Mississippi added one each. The top-rated, and only AC100, signee in the class comes to Baton Rouge from Alabama. This is a typical geographical layout for a solid LSU class — dominant in-state with some Lone State flavor topped off with some elite talents from around the Southeast.


Areas of Focus:

The biggest story with LSU recruiting wasn't with who Miles signed but with who failed to sign. The nation's No. 2 quarterback, Gunner Kiel, is sitting in freshman English class in South Bend after an 11th-hour change of heart (which wasn't his first such change, by the way). And while Miles immaturely failed to hide his feelings for the teenaged Kiel, he did, however, bolster his quarterback depth by signing a player with plenty of chest cavity. Dual-threat quarterback Jeremy Liggins, who checks in at 6-3 and 270 pounds, comes to Baton Rouge after 32 straight wins and back-to-back Class 4A state titles at Oxford (Miss.) High. He threw for 1,678 yards, rushed for 953 yards and totaled 34 touchdowns.

A five-man offensive skill group could grow to seven should tight end John Thomas get himself eligible and early enrollee "athlete" Lamar Louis land on the offensive side of the ball. For now, Avery Johnson — Patrick Peterson's younger brother — leads the offensive skill collection. Johnson is a tremendous competitor who had a 113-catch, 1,752-yard, 20-TD three-year career at Ely. A trio of Breaux Bridge (La.) High products join this group as Louis and wide receivers Travin Dural and Kavahra Holmes will play at least four more years together in college.

Tailback Jeremy Hill finished his senior season with 302 carries, 2,260 yards and 36 touchdowns. He broke storied local program Redemptorist's career rushing record and will join what is already one of the deepest running back groups in the nation.

A three-man offensive line unit is led by nationally rated guard Vadal Alexander. The two-time all-state selection is already enrolled in class and will be joined by the massive Derek Edinburgh Jr. (6-7, 325) and Jerald Hawkins along the offensive front.

Despite the loss of Michael Brockers to the NFL, the '12 version of Miles' defensive line should be downright nasty. Loaded with underclassemen, LSU didn't need to attack the line on the recruiting trail as nationally rated Danielle Hunter is the only player headed to the defensive trenches.

The linebacking corps did take a hit and Miles has completely restocked the cupboard as this is the strength of the class. Kwon Alexander is the best prospect in this class and is the lone AC100 signee, but has to recover from a knee injury during his senior year. He is joined by two other stellar players in Louisiana products Ronnie Feist and Lorenzo Phillips. Feist showed some versatility on the attack as his 35 sacks in 2010-2011 will indicate. Deion Jones and Trey Granier, both from in-state, round out one of the top linebacker classes in the nation.

The secondary lost some star power as Morris Claiborne left early. But Honey Badger should have plenty of help as a deep and versatile five-man DB class signed with the Tigers. It is not a star-studded group, as only Corey Thompson and Dwayne Thomas are nationally rated, but Tyrann Mathieu is proof that three-star, under-recruited prospects can turn into All-Americans.

This is not the same level of class that LSU fans are accustomed to in Baton Rouge as they have been completely spoiled by top-five hauls of late. And certainly this class was hurt by losing out on Kiel to Notre Dame and star in-state safety Landon Collins to Alabama. But Miles isn't hurting for talent, and this group is almost guaranteed to outperform the recruiting rankings.

Positional Breakdown:

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

AC100 Recruits:

82. Kwon Alexander, LB (6-2, 200), Oxford (Ala.) High

Other National Signees:

166. Avery Johnson, WR (6-2, 180), Pompano Beach (Fla.) Ely
171. Jeremy Liggins, QB (6-3, 270), Oxford (Miss.) Lafayette
176. Vadal Alexander, OL (6-6, 315), Buford (Ga.) High
209. Danielle Hunter, DL (6-5, 235), Katy (Texas) Morton Ranch
220. John Thomas, TE (6-5, 245), Bossier City (La.) Airline*
227. Ronnie Feist, LB (6-2, 225), Edgard (La.) West St. John
242. Lorenzo Phillips, LB (6-2, 200), Patterson (La.) High
246. Corey Thompson, S (6-2, 205), Missouri City (Texas) Elkins
258. Dwayne Thomas, CB (6-1, 170), New Orleans (La.) O.P. Walker

Early Enrollees:

Vadal Alexander, OL (6-6, 315), Buford (Ga.) High
Ronnie Feist, LB (6-2, 225), Edgard (La.) West St. John
Reid Ferguson, LS (6-2, 235), Buford (Ga.) High
Lamar Louis, ATH (6, 220), Beaux Bridge (La.) High
Jeremy Hill, RB (6-2, 225), Baton Rouge (La.) Redemptorist

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

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

Teaser:
<p> The LSU Tigers landed the No. 13 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 20, 2012 - 08:37
Path: /overtime/google-maps-not-fan-ohio-state-football
Body:

We're not sure who the Michigan fan is at Google, but we noticed something rather interesting while looking up "Ohio Stadium" on Google Maps. If you search for the Buckeyes home stadium and scroll over it, a notation (albeit for "Columbus Crew Stadium") pops up that offers a not so flattering description. 

Teaser:
<p> Apparently there's a Michigan Fan at Google</p>
Post date: Sunday, February 19, 2012 - 11:56
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/2012-nascar-schedule
Body:

As the 2012 NASCAR season revs up, we've put together a quick look at this year's Sprint Cup schedule. To get links to tracks, driver bios, and race times, be sure to check out our comprehensive NASCAR 2012 Schedule and our NASCAR Hub, which celebrates 10 years of NASCAR annuals at Athlon Sports. 

2012 NASCAR SPRINT CUP SCHEDULE

Feb. 18 — *BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT AT DAYTONADaytona International Speedway

Feb. 23 — *GATORADE DUEL AT DAYTONADaytona International Speedway

Feb. 26 — 54TH ANNUAL DAYTONA 500, Daytona International Speedway

March 4 — SUBWAY FRESH FIT 500, Phoenix International Raceway

March 11 — KOBALT TOOLS 400, Las Vegas Motor Speedway

March 18 — FOOD CITY 500, Bristol Motor Speedway

March 25 — AUTO CLUB 400, Auto Club Speedway

April 1 — GOODY'S FAST RELIEF 500, Martinsville Speedway

April 14 — SAMSUNG MOBILE 500, Texas Motor Speedway

April 22 — STP 400, Kansas Speedway

April 28 — RICHMOND 400, Richmond International Raceway

May 6 — AARON'S 499, Talladega Superspeedway

May 12 — SOUTHERN 500, Darlington Raceway

May 19 — *SPRINT ALL-STAR RACECharlotte Motor Speedway

May 27 — COCA-COLA 600, Charlotte Motor Speedway

June 3 — DOVER 400Dover International Speedway

June 10 — POCONO 400Pocono Raceway

June 17 — MICHIGAN 400, Michigan International Speedway

June 24 — TOYOTA/SAVE MART 350, Infineon Raceway

June 30 — QUAKER STATE 400, Kentucky Speedway

July 7 — COKE ZERO 400 Powered by Coca-Cola, Daytona International Speedway

July 15 — LENOX INDUSTRIAL TOOLS 301, New Hampshire Motor Speedway

July 29 — BRICKYARD 400, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Aug. 5 — PENNSYLVANIA 400, Pocono Raceway

Aug. 12 — CUP SERIES AT THE GLEN, Watkins Glen International

Aug. 19 — PURE MICHIGAN 400, Michigan International Speedway

Aug. 25 — IRWIN TOOLS NIGHT RACE, Bristol Motor Speedway

Sept. 2 — ADVOCARE 500, Atlanta Motor Speedway

Sept. 8 — WONDERFUL PISTACHIOS 400, Richmond International Raceway

Sept. 16 — GEICO 400, Chicagoland Speedway

Sept. 23 — SYLVANIA 300, New Hamsphire Motor Speedway

Sept. 30 — AAA 400, Dover International Speedway

Oct. 7 — GOOD SAM CLUB 500, Talladega Superspeedway

Oct. 13 — BANK OF AMERICA 500, Charlotte Motor Speedway

Oct. 21 — HOLLYWOOD CASINO 400, Kansas Motor Speedway

Oct. 28 — TUMS FAST RELIEF 500, Martinsville Speedway

Nov. 4 — AAA TEXAS 500, Texas Motor Speedway

Nov. 11 — PHOENIX 500, Phoenix International Raceway

Nov. 18 — FORD 400, Homestead-Miami Speedway

*non-points race
Teaser:
<p> A quick look at this year's Sprint Cup schedule</p>
Post date: Friday, February 17, 2012 - 14:46
All taxonomy terms: Gary Carter, Montreal Expos, MLB
Path: /news/remembering-hall-fame-catcher-gary-carter
Body:

by Charlie Miller

In the summer of 1974, I attended my first minor league baseball game. Although I had been to a handful of major league games with larger crowds and familiar players, this was my first experience seeing players in a more intimate setting — and watching players I had never heard about.

But there were a couple of players on the Memphis Blues that were familiar to me. One was leftfielder and leadoff hitter, Pepe Mangual, the other, Gary Carter. I didn’t understand the ramifications of a 20-year-old catcher playing at the Triple-A level. My dad made sure that I knew to watch Carter and Mangual because they would be major league players one day.

So when Carter made his first All-Star team as a rookie in 1975, I felt somehow closer to him than the other stars on TV. He played left field in that game and seeing him in that All-Star Game made me eager to attend more minor league games and the game’s rising stars.

But more than the memory of watching Carter play in my first minor league game, I’ll remember his energy and smile. He always played the game with effort and with a broad smile. He made baseball look like so much fun when he was on the field.

I know his family, as well as his baseball family, will dearly miss The Kid, who died Thursday at age 57. His daughter, Kimmy Bloemers, softball coach at Palm Beach Atlantic, reported Carter’s death on the family website.

“I am deeply saddened to tell you all that my precious dad went to be with Jesus today at 4:10 p.m. This is the most difficult thing I have ever had to write in my entire life but I wanted you all to know. He is in heaven and has reunited with his mom and dad. I believe with all my heart that dad had a STANDING OVATION as he walked through the gates of heaven to be with Jesus,” Bloemers wrote.

His friends around baseball were saddened with news, although it was not unexpected. Carter had been battling malignant tumors for some time.

“Gary Carter was everything you wanted in a sports hero: a great talent, a great competitor, a great family man, and a great friend,” former Mets pitcher and teammate Ron Darling said.

“I am so sad! The Kid has left us,” fellow Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench tweeted. “I started calling him Kid the first time I met him. He was admired and loved. Thank you for our past.”

Teaser:
<p> Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter died Thursday at age 57. He was catching for the Memphis Blues at my first minor league game.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 17, 2012 - 14:31
Path: /college-football/2012-big-12-football-schedules
Body:

Click here to read more Big 12 coverage from AthlonSports.com.

2012 Big 12 Schedules

Baylor

Sept. 1 SMU
Sept. 15 Sam Houston State
Sept. 22 at UL Monroe
Sept. 29 at West Virginia
Oct. 13 TCU
Oct. 20 at Texas
Oct. 27 at Iowa State
Nov. 3 Kansas
Nov. 10 at Oklahoma
Nov. 17 Kansas State
Nov. 24 Texas Tech (Arlington)
Dec. 1 Oklahoma State

Iowa State

Sept. 1 Tulsa
Sept. 8 at Iowa
Sept. 15 Western Illinois
Sept. 29 Texas Tech
Oct. 6 at TCU
Oct. 13 Kansas State
Oct. 20 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 27 Baylor
Nov. 3 Oklahoma
Nov. 10 at Texas
Nov 17 at Kansas
Nov. 24 West Virginia

Kansas

Sept. 1 South Dakota State
Sept. 8 Rice
Sept. 15 TCU
Sept. 22 at Northern Illinois
Oct. 6 at Kansas State
Oct. 13 Oklahoma State
Oct. 20 at Oklahoma
Oct. 27 Texas
Nov. 3 at Baylor
Nov. 10 at Texas Tech
Nov. 17 Iowa State
Dec. 1 at West Virginia

Kansas State

Sept. 1 Missouri State
Sept. 8 Miami (Fla.)
Sept. 15 North Texas
Sept. 22 at Oklahoma
Oct. 6 Kansas
Oct. 13 at Iowa State
Oct. 20 at West Virginia
Oct. 27 Texas Tech
Nov. 3 Oklahoma State
Nov. 10 at TCU
Nov. 17 at Baylor
Dec. 1 Texas

Oklahoma

Sept. 1 at UTEP
Sept. 8 Florida A&M
Sept. 22 Kansas State
Oct. 6 at Texas Tech
Oct. 13 Texas (Dallas)
Oct. 20 Kansas
Oct. 27 Notre Dame
Nov. 3 at Iowa State
Nov. 10 Baylor
Nov. 17 at West Virginia
Nov. 24 Oklahoma State
Dec. 1 at TCU

Oklahoma State

Sept. 1 Savannah State
Sept. 8 at Arizona
Sept. 15 UL Lafayette
Sept. 29 Texas
Oct. 13 at Kansas
Oct. 20 Iowa State
Oct. 27 TCU
Nov. 3 at Kansas State
Nov. 10 West Virginia
Nov. 17 Texas Tech
Nov. 24 at Oklahoma
Dec. 1 at Baylor

TCU

Sept. 8 Grambling State
Sept. 15 at Kansas
Sept. 22 Virginia
Sept. 29 at SMU
Oct. 6 Iowa State
Oct. 13 at Baylor
Oct. 20 Texas Tech
Oct. 27 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 3 at West Virginia
Nov. 10 Kansas State
Nov. 24 at Texas
Dec. 1 Oklahoma

Texas

Sept. 1 Wyoming
Sept. 8 New Mexico
Sept. 15 at Ole Miss
Sept. 29 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 6 West Virginia
Oct. 13 Oklahoma (Dallas)
Oct. 20 Baylor
Oct. 27 at Kansas
Nov. 3 at Texas Tech
Nov. 10 Iowa State
Nov. 24 TCU
Dec. 1 at Kansas State

Texas Tech

Sept. 1 Northwestern State
Sept. 8 at Texas State
Sept. 15 New Mexico
Sept. 29 at Iowa State
Oct. 6 Oklahoma
Oct. 13 West Virginia
Oct. 20 at TCU
Oct. 27 at Kansas State
Nov. 3 Texas
Nov. 10 Kansas
Nov. 17 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 24 Baylor (Arlington)

West Virginia

Sept. 1 Marshall
Sept. 15 James Madison (Landover)
Sept. 22 Maryland
Sept. 29 Baylor
Oct. 6 at Texas
Oct. 13 at Texas Tech
Oct. 20 Kansas State
Nov. 3 TCU
Nov. 10 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 17 Oklahoma
Nov. 24 at Iowa State
Dec. 1 Kansas

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, February 17, 2012 - 11:08
All taxonomy terms: Gary Carter, New York Mets, MLB
Path: /mlb/gary-carter-dies-57
Body:

Gary Carter, the Hall of Fame catcher best know for his years with the New York Mets, died on Thursday at the age of 57. 

Carter, who was nicknamed The Kid, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last May, two weeks after finishing his second season as coach at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

"I am deeply saddened to tell you all that my precious dad went to be with Jesus today at 4:10 p.m. This is the most difficult thing I have ever had to write in my entire life but I wanted you all to know," Carter's daughter, Kimmy Bloemers, wrote on the family website.

"He is in heaven and has reunited with his mom and dad. I believe with all my heart that dad had a STANDING OVATION as he walked through the gates of heaven to be with Jesus," Bloemers wrote.

CHECK OUT: Athlon's Charlie Miller shares his memories of Gary Carter.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Teaser:
<p> Remembering The Kid</p>
Post date: Friday, February 17, 2012 - 09:11
Path: /college-football/texas-tech-red-raiders-2012-spring-preview
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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

Texas Tech Red Raiders 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 5-7, 2-7 Big 12

Spring practice dates: Feb. 17-March 24

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 6

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Seth Doege, 398 of 581, 4,004 yds., 28 TDs, 10 INTs
Rushing: Eric Stephens, 108 car., 565 yds., 8 TDs
Receiving: Eric Ward, 84 rec., 800 yds., 11 TDs
Tackles: Cody Davis, 93
Sacks: Dartwan Smith, 2
Interceptions: D.J. Johnson, 2

Redshirts to watch: WR Javares McRoy, WR Jakeem Grant, DE Branden Jackson, OL Tony Morales

Transfer to watch: WR Tyson Williams (West Texas A&M)

Early Enrollees: DE Lee Adams (JC), WR Javon Bell (JC), OL Rashad Fortenberry (JC), ATH SaDale Foster (JC), OL Jared Kaster, DB Thierry Nguema, LB Christofer Payne (JC), LB Will Smith (JC), S Austin Stewart (JC)

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Northwestern State
Sept. 8 at Texas State
Sept. 15 New Mexico
Sept. 29 at Iowa State
Oct. 6 Oklahoma
Oct. 13 West Virginia
Oct. 20 at TCU
Oct. 27 at Kansas State
Nov. 3 Texas
Nov. 10 Kansas
Nov. 17 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 24 Baylor (Arlington)

Offensive Strength: Quarterback Seth Doege was solid in his debut season, throwing for 4,004 yards and 28 scores. Doege finished seventh nationally in total offense with 337.5 yards per game. Alex Torres suffered a torn ACL late in the 2011 season, but the receiving corps is still in good shape with the return of Darrin Moore and Eric Ward.

Offensive Weakness: With Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington nursing significant knee injuries this spring, the Red Raiders are short on depth in the backfield. The offensive line also loses two starters, including guard Lonnie Edwards and is shuffling some players around this spring.

Defensive Strength: It’s hard to call any unit on the defense a strength after ranking 117th nationally in points allowed last year. However, the Red Raiders have some young talent returning in 2012, and Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson could both contend for all-conference honors this season.

Defensive Weakness: Six starters are back, but the coaching staff still has a lot of work to do with this group in 2012. The Red Raiders were one of the worst defenses in the country and six junior college players were brought in to help immediately this spring.  

Spring Storylines Facing the Red Raiders:

1. For the first time since 1992, Texas Tech is coming off a season in which it did not win at least six games. The Red Raiders got off to a solid 5-2 start, including a surprise 41-38 upset over Oklahoma in mid-October. However, the upset over the Sooners was the highlight of the season, as Texas Tech dropped its final five games to finish with a losing record and no bowl appearance for the first time since 1999. It’s important for the Red Raiders to build some confidence this spring and get back on the winning track in 2012.

2. Generating yards and points hasn’t been an issue for several years in Lubbock and 2011 was no different. The Red Raiders finished 13th nationally in total offense and averaged 33.8 points a game. However, this unit suffered some key injuries last year and will be a focal point through preseason workouts. Running back Eric Stephens was off to a fantastic start – averaging 113 yards through the first five games of last season – but suffered a significant knee injury against Texas A&M and was forced to sit out the remainder of the 2011 season. Stephens will sit out spring practice and could redshirt this season. Making matters even worse is the status of sophomore DeAndre Washington. He suffered a torn ACL late in the year against Missouri and may also sit out 2012. With Stephens and Washington sidelined, sophomores Kenny Williams and Ronnie Daniels will be expected to take on a bigger role in the rushing attack. With concerns about depth, receiver Bradley Marquez may see some time in the backfield this spring. At 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, Marquez has the size and speed to fit perfectly as a running back in Texas Tech’s spread attack. The Red Raiders finished last in the Big 12 in rushing offense last year and the injuries may make it difficult for this group to see much statistical improvement in 2012.

3. The Red Raiders have the firepower on offense to get back to a bowl, but whether or not they can climb into the top five of the Big 12 depends on the defense. Texas Tech will have its fourth defensive coordinator in four years, as Art Kaufman was appointed from North Carolina to fix a defense that ranked 120th nationally against the run and 117th in points allowed. Kaufman has a lot of work to do this spring, but will have six returning starters. The Red Raiders’ pass rush was almost non-existent last year, as they averaged only 1.3 sacks a game. The front four was inexperienced last season, but the return of sophomore tackle Delvon Simmons, junior tackle Kerry Hyder and senior Leon Mackey is a good building block. After using the 4-2-5 defensive scheme last year, Texas Tech plans to switch back to a 4-3 look in 2012. Making improvement on this side of the ball will be the difference between finishing 5-7 again or jumping to 7-5 or 8-4.

4. The secondary wasn’t much better than the run defense, as the Red Raiders ranked 113th nationally in pass efficiency defense and intercepted only five passes. Cornerback is a concern, especially with Tre Porter moving back to safety and converted receiver Cornelius Douglas likely entrenched as one starter. Douglas should benefit from a full spring to work on the defensive side, but he will be tested early and often in 2012. Safety is in good shape with D.J. Johnson and Cody Davis returning. Terrance Bullitt started nine games at safety last season, but is expected to move to linebacker. Although the secondary needs help from the defensive line, this group has to play better and force more turnovers next season.

5. With the injury concerns at running back, quarterback Seth Doege is going to have much of the offensive workload on his shoulders. The senior’s numbers figure to only get better in his second year as the starter, but he has some injury concerns in the receiving corps as spring practice begins. Alex Torres suffered a torn ACL against Missouri and will be sidelined for spring workouts. However, Eric Ward is back after catching 84 passes and earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last season. Darrin Moore caught 21 passes in the first two games last year, but suffered an injury against Nevada and finally got back to full strength late in the year. Ward and Moore will form a solid duo of options for Doege, but the team hopes redshirt freshmen Javares McRoy and West Texas A&M transfer Tyson Williams can help add playmaking ability to the inside receiver spots. 

Related Content Links

2012 Big 12 Schedule Analysis
Athlon's Early College Football Top 25 for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Early Big 12 Predictions

Teaser:
<p> After a disappointing 5-7 record, Texas Tech hopes to bounce back with a winning record in 2012. However, the team has significant issues on defense and injury concerns on offense.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 17, 2012 - 07:29
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-12-auburn-tigers
Body:

-by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on twitter)

No. 12: Auburn Tigers (21 total signees)

SEC Rank: 4th
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 4
National Signees: 12

Where They Got 'Em:

Auburn concentrated on three key states to bring in this year’s No. 12 recruiting class. Gene Chizik and staff signed 16 of their 21 student-athletes from the talent-filled states of Alabama, Georgia and Florida. That total includes the transfer back home of former Illinois fullback Jay Prosch, who played his high school ball at UMS-Wright in Mobile. The Tigers top-rated player was offensive lineman Avery Young (No. 53 in the AC100) from Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High School. He was the second-highest ranked offensive lineman in the Sunshine State. Auburn also went south for receiver Ricardo Louis of Miami Beach (Fla.) High School. He had 23 receptions for 412 yards and four touchdowns as a senior, while also rushing for 765 yards and 13 scores.

The Tigers usually have recruiting success in Georgia, and this year was no exception. Ricky Parks from Callaway High School was one of the top tight ends in the nation, and he was athletic enough to rush for 555 yards and 4 touchdowns this season. Receiver JaQuay Williams from Sandy Creek High School caught 47 passes for 972 yards and nine scores as a senior, while also adding three touchdowns on returns.

Areas of Focus:

Auburn definitely focused on the offensive line, adding six news blockers in this class. Along with Young, the Tigers reached into Illinois to ink Jordan Diamond (No. 88 in the AC100) from
Chicago’s Simeon High School. They also got a nationally-ranked lineman in Patrick Miller from Palm Beach power Dwyer High School in Florida. Miller will be one of two O-linemen to participate in spring practice, along with Shane Callahan from Parker (Colo.) Chaparral High School.

New Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, who has a solid reputation for developing quarterbacks, will have two new pupils in this class. Zeke Pike from Edgewood (Ky.) Dixie Heights High School passed for 1,964 yards and 13 touchdowns, while rushing for 728 yards and 16 scores as a senior. Instate commitment from Jonathan Wallace of Phenix City Central High School ran for 891 yards and an eye-popping 28 touchdowns this season. He also had 1,761 passing yards and 12 TD tosses.

The Tigers added three new members to the secondary, including national signees Joshua Holsey from Fairburn (Ga.) Creekside High School and T.J. Davis of Tallahassee (Fla.) Godby High School. Holsey had 73 tackles and five interceptions as a senior. He also scored 10 touchdowns on offense. Davis compiled 40 tackles and intercepted three passes during his 2011 campaign.

Auburn returns running backs Onterrio McCalebb and Tre Mason this season, but there will an opportunity for carries with Michael Dyer leaving the program. The Tigers inked a big back from Memphis (Tenn.) Wooddale High School in Jovon Robinson, who rushed for 1,069 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior. The Tigers’ backfield will also be bolstered by the transfer of Prosch, a solid lead blocker with collegiate experience.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 2, RB: 2, WR: 2, TE: 2, OL: 6, ATH: 0
Defense: DE: 1, DT: 1, LB: 2, DB: 3, K/P: 0

AC100 Recruits:

53. Avery Young, OL (6-6, 292), Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High
88. Jordan Diamond, OL (6-6, 290), Chicago (Ill.) Simeon
90. Ricky Parks, TE (6-4, 235), Hogansville (Ga.) Callaway
99. JaQuay Williams, WR (6-4, 204), Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek

Other National Signees:

121. Ricardo Louis, WR (6-2, 210), Miami Beach (Fla.) High
144. Joshua Hosley, DB (5-11, 175), Fairburn (Ga.) Creekside
153. Zeke Pike, QB (6-6, 225), Edgewood (Ky.) Dixie Heights
201. Tyler Nero, DT (6-2, 290), Atmore (Ala.) Escambia County
226. Gimel President, DE (6-4, 250), Mt. Pleasant (S.C.) Wando
237. T.J. Davis, DB (6-1, 180), Tallahassee (Fla.) Godby
239. Patrick Miller, OL (6-7, 275), West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer
244. Jovon Robinson, RB (6-1, 220), Memphis (Tenn.) Wooddale

Early Enrollees:

Zeke Pike, QB (6-6, 225), Edgewood (Ky.) Dixie Heights
Patrick Miller, OL (6-7, 275), West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer
Shane Callahan, OL (6-6, 285), Parker (Colo.) Chaparral
Javiere Mitchell, LB (6-2, 209), Leeds (Ala.) High
Jay Prosch, FB (6, 250), Mobile (Ala.) UMS-Wright

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

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

Teaser:
<p> The Auburn Tigers landed the No. 12 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 17, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-predicting-field
Body:

By Mitch Light

Selection Sunday is just over three weeks away. Here's a conference-by-conference projection at the NCAA Tournament's Field of 68.

ACC (6)
In:
Duke Florida State, Miami, North Carolina NC State, Virginia
Worth a mention: None
Notes: Six of NC State’s eight losses have come against teams ranked in the top 40 of the RPI and top 30 of KenPom’s ratings. The Pack also have two wins away from home against teams in this week’s projected field, vs. Texas and at Miami. They could have all but wrapped up a bid last night but could not hold a 20-point lead in the second half at Duke. The Hurricanes have only one good win — but it was very good, at Duke. They also have no bad losses.

American East (1)
In:
Vermont

A-10 (3)
In:
Saint Louis, Temple, Xavier
Worth a mention: Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, UMass
Notes: Xavier continues to be one of the most difficult teams to evaluate. The Musketeers’ best win was at Vanderbilt, but that was in November when the Commodores were playing without Festus Ezeli. They have lost their last four games vs. top-100 RPI teams. Ultimately, this team likely will do just enough to get in. Dayton has three top-35 RPI wins, but also had two losses to teams ranked in the 200s. The Flyers have seven top-100 RPI wins — a solid number for a bubble team.

A-Sun (1)
In:
Belmont

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

Big East (9)
In:
Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Syracuse, West Virginia
Worth a mention: Pittsburgh, South Florida
Notes: Cincinnati is a tough case. Most doubters will point to an RPI of 93, which is admittedly very high, but that is a product of a very soft non-conference schedule that included nine games vs. teams ranked 200 or worse in the RPI. Keep in mind that the Bearcats are ranked No. 43 by KenPom and have three top 100 wins away from home. Seton Hall is back in the field after winning three straight games. The Pirates will be in great shape if they win at Cincinnati this weekend. Pittsburgh is on life support. South Florida has a nice Big East record (9–4) but only one top-75 win (vs. Seton Hall, at home).

Big Sky (1)
In:
Weber State

Big South (1)
In:
UNC-Asheville

Big Ten (9)
In:
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Worth a mention: None
Notes: It was very difficult to put Illinois, which has lost four straight and seven of eight, into the field, but the Illini have two wins vs. top-10 teams and three vs. top-20 teams. No bubble team can come close to that. So, for the time being, Illinois is still alive. Northwestern’s ongoing quest for its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance took a hit with a loss at Indiana on Wednesday night, but there is really no shame in losing in Bloomington. It was more of missed opportunity than a bad loss. Minnesota’s profile is shaky, but the Gophers have done just enough to sneak in — for now. Their win at Indiana on Jan. 12 is by far their top accomplishment.

Colonial (1)
In:
Drexel
Worth a mention: George Mason, VCU
Notes: George Mason boasts a gaudy 14–2 mark in the CAA but has no wins vs. top 60 RPI teams. Its best wins are at home against Bucknell and VCU. The Rams have played a good schedule but failed to beat any of the good teams on their slate.

C-USA (2)
In:
Memphis, Southern Miss
Worth a mention: UCF
Notes: The Knights are close, thanks to wins vs. Memphis and UConn (on a neutral court). Plus, four of their seven losses have come against teams ranked in the top 35. The RPI (55) likes this team more than KenPom (89).

Horizon (1)
In:
Valparaiso

Ivy (1)
In:
Harvard

MAAC (1)
In:
Iona

MAC (1)
In:
Akron

MEAC (1)
In:
Norfolk State

MVC (2)
In:
Creighton, Wichita State

MWC (3)
In:
New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a mention: Colorado State
Notes: New Mexico picked up a huge win on Wednesday night, knocking off San Diego State on the road. Colorado State has a solid RPI (33) but is No. 109 in KenPom and doesn’t have a win away from home vs. a team ranked in the top 175 of the RPI.

Northeast (1)
In:
Long Island

OVC (1)
In:
Murray State

Pac 12 (1)
In:
California
Worth a mention: Arizona, Washington
Notes: I tried to find a reason to include either Arizona or Washington. Couldn’t find one — for either team. Washington’s best win is at Arizona. Arizona’s only top-70 win is at Cal. Both teams have the talent to play in the NCAA Tournament, but for now they both lack the résumé.

Patriot (1)
In:
Bucknell

SEC (5)
In:
Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt
Worth a mention: Ole Miss, Tennessee
Notes: Alabama is an interesting case. The Crimson Tide are trending in the wrong direction, but they haven’t been playing with a complete roster. Now, how will the Selection Committee treat self-inflicted wounds (suspensions)? Not quite sure. If the Tide get all of their parts back, they are more than good enough to secure a spot in the next few weeks. Tennessee has a ton of work to do — the Vols RPI is 107 and they are 66 in Ken Pom — but gets on this list after winning four straight. Ole Miss missed an opportunity Thursday night against Vanderbilt, losing badly at home to the Commodores.

Southern (1)
In:
Davidson

Southland (1)
In:
UT-Arlington

Summit (1)
In:
Oral Roberts

Sun Belt (1)
In:
Middle Tennessee

SWAC (1)
In:
Mississippi Valley State

WAC (1)
In:
Nevada

WCC (3)
In:
BYU, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s
Notes: BYU has solid numbers (31 KenPom/45 RPI) and two wins vs. teams projected to make the field, Gonzaga and Nevada. Three of the Cougars’ four remaining games are against teams ranked 150 or worse. They need to win them all.
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports predicts the Field of 68 with just over three weeks remaining until Selection Sunday.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 22:13
All taxonomy terms: SEC, News
Path: /news/sec-coaches-meeting-creates-awkward-photos
Body:

Who doesn’t love a good awkward photo? Some of the best photos are the ones where it’s supposed to be a serious shot. And that’s where we can thank the SEC for creating a bit of offseason humor.

The 14 coaches of the SEC met in Birmingham this week and took two rather awkward photos. What’s worse than trying to smile your way through a photo with some of your top rivals and fellow coaches around?

Some observations:

While most of the coaches are wearing a suit jacket or button-up shirt, the two coaches from Mississippi (Dan Mullen and Hugh Freeze) decided to wear a school-affiliated shirt. Hey, nothing wrong with always keeping the logo and team in the spotlight.

And it looks like Freeze missed the memo on where to place his hands. Dooley, Petrino, Spurrier, Miles, Pinkel and Phillips all chose the legs, while Freeze decided to fold and place in his lap.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik recently had shoulder surgery, which would help to explain his odd pose in this photo. If you didn’t know Chizik had surgery, it looks like he is ready to give Les Miles a slap to the back of the head.

Speaking of Chizik, we are normally used to seeing him rock the leather jacket. However, Florida’s Will Muschamp upstaged him this time, wearing the black jacket over a blue polo. Certainly an interesting look.

Vanderbilt’s James Franklin looks quite ecstatic to be there. And wouldn’t that be the case for any coach coming off a bowl season and a top recruiting class with the Commodores?

And here’s the SEC’s newest coaches: Missouri’s Gary Pinkel and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin.

This photo is awkward thanks to the beam in the middle. Why not have the coaches stand with the helmets and instead of cutting them in half?

And needless to say, Pinkel doesn’t look too excited to be here. 

Teaser:
<p> The SEC coaches meeting in Birmingham provided a few awkward photos.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 20:12
All taxonomy terms: Cleveland Cavaliers, mascots, Overtime
Path: /overtime/cleveland-cavaliers-mascot-fail
Body:

Nobody said it was easy putting on a dog costume and entertaining thousands of fans. Just ask the Cavs mascot Moondog, who, while trying to work the crowd into a frenzy of drum-beating excitement, took a nasty fall. Of course, his pain is our entertainment. Kids, don't try this at home. Well, unless you have a dog costume.

Teaser:
<p> Nobody said it would be easy.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 15:00
Path: /columns/nascar-news-notes/2012-daytona-500-entry-list
Body:

2012 Daytona 500 Entry List
by Matt Taliaferro

Forty-nine teams are entered for the 54th annual Daytona 500 on Feb. 26. Forty-three cars will qualify for The Great American Race. The front row for the event will be determined in qualifying on Sunday, Feb. 19. Positions 3-39 will be set in the Gatorade Duels on Thursday, Feb. 16. The final four spots will be based on Pole Day qualifying speeds of cars that have not already earned a starting position. If there is an eligible Sprint Cup Series past champion entered who has not already qualified, that past champion will receive the 43rd and final position. If there is more than one past champion eligible for this berth, it goes to the most recent champion.

Driver, Number, Manufacturer, Team
Kenny Wallace, No. 09 Toyota, RAB Racing
Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
Robby Gordon, No. 7 Dodge, Robby Gordon Motorsports
Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports
Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
Casey Mears, No. 13 Ford, Germain Racing
Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing
Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
Joey Logano, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
Trevor Bayne, No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers
AJ Allmendinger, No. 22 Dodge, Penske Racing
Robert Richardson III, No. 23 Chevrolet, R3 Motorsports
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
Tony Raines, No. 26 Ford, Front Row Motorsports
Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
David Stremme, No. 30 Toyota, Inception Motorsports
Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
Terry Labonte, No. 32 Ford, FAS Lane Racing
Elliott Sadler, No. 33 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
David Ragan, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports
Dave Blaney, No. 36 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing
Mike Wallace, No. 37 Ford, Rick Ware Racing
David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports
Ryan Newman, No. 39 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing
Michael Waltrip, No. 40 Toyota, Hillman Racing
Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports
Bobby Labonte, No. 47 Toyota, JTG Daugherty Racing
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
J.J. Yeley, No. 49 Toyota, Robinson-Blakeney Racing)
Kurt Busch, No. 51 Chevrolet, Phoenix Racing
Mark Martin, No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
Martin Truex Jr., No. 56 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
Regan Smith, No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing
Landon Cassill, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing
Joe Nemechek, No. 87 Toyota, NEMCO Motorsports
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
David Reutimann, No. 93 Toyota, BK Racing
Bill Elliott, No. 97 Toyota, NEMCO Motorsports
Michael McDowell, No. 98 Ford, Phil Parsons Racing
Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing

 

Teaser:
<p> The Entry List for the 2012 Daytona 500.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 14:42
All taxonomy terms: crossword, Monthly
Path: /monthly/2011-december-crossword-puzzle-solutions
Body:

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 12:16
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-11-oklahoma-sooners
Body:

-by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on twitter)

No. 11: Oklahoma Sooners (26 total signees)

Big 12 Rank: 2nd
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 3
National Signees: 7

Where They Got 'Em:

Oklahoma went to three recruiting hotbeds for 15 of its 26 new student-athletes. It’s no surprise that the Sooners inked seven players from Texas, but Bob Stoops and staff also signed four prospects each from the power states of Florida and California. One member of the Lone State State crew is receiver Trey Metoyer, who signed with OU a year ago before spending last season at Hargrave Military Academy. He was ranked No. 21 in the 2011 AC100 after catching 108 passes for 1,540 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior at Whitehouse High School in 2010. OU also inked San Antonio Ronald Reagan High School quarterback Trevor Knight, who threw for 2,092 yards and 27 touchdowns while running for 943 yards and 15 scores as a senior.

While the Sooners found success all over the nation, they also signed two of the top three instate players. Running back Alex Ross from Jenks High School ran for 676 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior. He was also the 2011 Oklahoma 6A state champion in the 200 meter dash with a time of 21.97. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard from Heritage Hall had 73 receptions for 1,243 yards and 17 touchdowns during his senior campaign, while also adding 303 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.

Areas of Focus:

Oklahoma definitely focused on adding weapons for its spread passing game, inking five wide receivers in this class. The Sooners top-rated signee was Durron Neal (No. 74 in the AC100) of St. Louis (Mo.) De Smet Jesuit. He totaled 35 receptions for 825 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior. Neal also rushed for 716 yards and 11 scores. Another national signee was receiver Derrick Woods from Inglewood (Calif.) High School.

The Sooners also added depth at the tight end position, led by nationally-ranked Taylor McNamara of San Diego (Calif.) Westview High School. He had 526 receiving yards and seven touchdowns during the 2011 season. OU also showed its national recruiting prowess by signing tight ends Sam Grant from Saint Edward (Ohio) High School and Laith Harlow (although his football future is now in question with medical issues) from Tallahassee (Fla.) Godby High School.

The offensive line was another area of emphasis, with four new blockers signed in this class. The O-line group is led by national signees John Michael McGee of Texarkana (Texas) High School and Ty Darlington, the class Valedictorian of Apopka (Fla.) High School. The Sooners added two other 315-pounders in 6-foot-5 tackle Will Latu from the College of the Canyons in California and 6-foot-6 Kyle Marrs from San Antonio (Texas) Brandeis High School.

Only eight players in this 26-man class were signed on the defensive side of the ball, but three of those are early enrollees. That trio consists of cornerback Kass Everett from Pierce College, defensive end Chaz Nelson of Garden City Community College and defensive tackle Jordan Wade of Stony Point (Texas) High School. Nelson was a JUCO All-American after compiling 96 tackles, with 15.5 tackles for loss, last season.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 1, RB: 3, WR: 5, TE: 4, OL: 4, ATH: 1
Defense: DE: 3, DT: 1, LB: 1, DB: 3, K/P: 0

AC100 Recruits:

74. Durron Neal, WR (6-1, 195), St. Louis (Mo.) De Smet Jesuit
78. Alex Ross, RB (6-1, 205), Jenks (Okla.) High
100. Sterling Shepard, WR (5-11, 185), Oklahoma City (Okla.) Heritage Hall

Other National Signees:

178. John Michael McGee, OL (6-4, 275), Texarkana (Texas) Texas
184. Ty Darlington, OL (6-3, 275), Apopka (Fla.) High
210. Derrick Woods, WR (6-1, 185), Inglewood (Calif.) High
234. Taylor McNamara, TE (6-5, 235), San Diego (Calif.) Westview

Early Enrollees:

Trey Meteyor, WR (6-2, 198), Whitehouse (Texas) Hargrave Military
Taylor McNamara, TE (6-5, 235), San Diego (Calif.) Westview
Kass Everett, CB (5-11, 195), Philadelphia (Pa.) Pierce College
Brannon Green, TE (6-4, 260), Altamont (Kan.) Fort Scott C.C.
Chaz Nelson, DE (6-3, 240), Columbus (Ohio) Garden City C.C.
Jordan Wade, DT (6-4, 290), Stony Point (Texas) High

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Fri., Feb. 17
13. Mon., Feb. 20
14. Tues., Feb. 21
15. Wed., Feb. 22
16. Thur., Feb. 23
17. Fri., Feb. 24
18. Mon., Feb. 27
19. Tues., Feb. 28
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

Teaser:
<p> The Oklahoma Sooners landed the No. 11 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 06:10
Path: /columns/garage-talk/10-tough-nascar-questions-part-5
Body:

As the 2012 NASCAR season approaches, Athlon Sports examines 10 controversial issues alive within the sport in the annual five-part, 10 Tough Questions feature, running throughout the week.

Kyle Busch: Will fallout from “The Texas Incident” tame the rowdy youngster?

For someone to learn from a mistake, the consequences must always be strong enough to make them think. Is that what really happened in the case of Kyle Busch after he intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday in the fall Texas Truck event last season?

Sure, there was a one-race parking on the Sprint Cup level, but Busch’s title hopes were slim to none by then and Joe Gibbs Racing was already in the midst of a Chase implosion. And when sponsor M&M’s made a statement by pulling its funding for the final two races of the year, Interstate Batteries stepped right in as the sponsor superhero. “Don’t worry, Kyle! We’ll save you … and take all the publicity that comes with it!”

Now, M&M’s full-time return to the fold in 2012 looks cheap, like it just jumped on a Christmas discount. And in the midst of it all, unlike brother Kurt, there is no sports psychologist or stripping of a top-tier ride for Kyle to think about. Instead, it’s only the prospect of starting the slate clean at Daytona, going after another championship and a “wink, wink” from the powers that be who, while scolding of such aggressive behavior, seemingly reminded Busch he adds an extra zero to their paychecks, so it’s all good.

The educated guess is that under the tutelage of Joe Gibbs, we’re likely to see a slightly milder version of Busch going forward — if not for the near-loss of a major sponsor. But did Tony Stewart, put in similar hot water at JGR in 2002, transform overnight? Absolutely not, and in some ways, because of these similar circumstances, never did.

If Busch avoids any 2012 probation over 50-some odd races in the Cup and Nationwide series this year, it should be considered a surprise.


Has NASCAR’s “wave-around” rule made earning a solid, lead-lap finish too easy?

Think nothing in life is free anymore? You haven’t seen a NASCAR race, where “gift laps” are given out more cheaply than product samples at an at-track display.

It used to be that losing a lap, at anytime, constituted a crisis. Under the old double-file restart rule, some of the best competition surrounded those cars trying to desperately muscle their way back into contention. But now? You can lose a lap in the first three-quarters of the race, choose not to pit with everyone else during a late caution and take a wave-around to get back on the lead lap. A few moments later, another yellow flag comes out and you’re suddenly in contention for a top-5 finish after spending all day running 25th.

That loophole, parlayed into top finishes by everyone from Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Carl Edwards in 2011, eliminates any advantage a dominant leader has early in the race. Why try to pull out to a 10-second lead, lapping as many cars as possible, when they’ll all be back in contention at the end, anyway? It contributes to a growing NASCAR problem: no sense of urgency for much of the race’s first two hours, which leads to single-file “stroking.”

So how about keeping the sport’s real “free pass,” giving the first car off the lead lap one back every caution but limit it to one per opponent, per race. And if a car doesn’t pit under a caution flag? Let ’em start in front of the leader like the old days. If a fan can’t figure out who the leader is after watching the whole race they should probably give back that elementary school completion certificate.

Visit AthlonSports.com each day throughout the month of February for exclusive preseason coverage of the 2012 NASCAR season. 

Teaser:
<p> As the 2012 NASCAR season approaches, Athlon Sports examines 10 controversial issues alive within the sport in the annual five-part, 10 Tough Questions feature, running each day throughout the week.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 18:30
Path: /nba/nba-rising-stars-challenge-mock-draft
Body:

NBA All-Star Weekend is taking it back to the playground this year, with Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley picking sides for the Rising Stars Challenge — formerly the Rookies vs. Sophomores Game (2000-11) and the Rookie Game (1994-98) — on Thursday, Feb. 16, on NBA TV. The actual game will be played on Friday, Feb. 24, in Orlando.

The Big Aristotle and Sir Charles will have their choice of 18 rookies and sophomores (nine apiece). Unfortunately, barring injury, there will be no Linsanity in the Rising Stars Challenge. New York Knicks star Jeremy Lin had not taken over Google and Twitter prior to the Feb. 8 deadline for all 30 teams to submit their ballot.

Rookies

MarShon Brooks, G-F, Nets
Kyrie Irving, PG, Cavaliers
Brandon Knight, PG, Pistons
Kawhi Leonard, G-F, Spurs
Markieff Morris, PF, Suns
Ricky Rubio, PG, Timberwolves
Tristan Thompson, F, Cavaliers
Kemba Walker, PG, Bobcats
Derrick Williams, F, Timberwolves

Sophomores

DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kings
Landry Fields, G, Knicks
Paul George, G-F, Pacers
Blake Griffin, PF, Clippers
Gordon Hayward, G-F, Jazz
Greg Monroe, C, Pistons
Tiago Splitter, C, Spurs
Evan Turner, G-F, 76ers
John Wall, PG, Wizards

NBA Rising Stars Challenge Rookie-Sophomore Mock Draft

Rather than Team Shaq and Team Chuck, Athlon Sports’ editors Mitch Light and Nathan Rush decided to do a mock draft. Here are the results of our draft along with a breakdown of Team Light and Team Rush:

1. Blake Griffin, PF, Clippers
Mitch Light: This was like winning the Lottery in 1985, when the Knicks grabbed Patrick Ewing. Griffin was the clear-cut No. 1 pick.

2. John Wall, PG, Wizards
Nathan Rush: The No. 1 overall pick in 2010, Wall was the MVP of the rookie-sophomore game last year, with a record 22 assists in victory.

3. Ricky Rubio, PG, Timberwolves
Light: Who better to throw alley-oops to Blake Griffin than Rubio, who is the best young passing point guard in the NBA.

4. DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kings
Rush: Wall’s college teammate at Kentucky had 33 points and 14 rebounds in this game last season, and the volatile big man is primed for a repeat.

5. Greg Monroe, C, Pistons
Light: The second-year product from Georgetown will be a nice complement to Blake Griffin on my front line.

6. Paul George, G-F, Pacers
Rush: An electric open floor dunker who can run with Wall and a 3-point bomber to balance out DMC in the post.

7. MarShon Brooks, G-F, Nets
Light: I needed a scorer on the perimeter, and the Nets’ first-round pick out of Providence has proven that he can put the ball in the basket — when healthy.

8. Kemba Walker, PG, Bobcats
Rush: A slight reach, maybe. But Walker will bring a spark off the bench and can score or create from either guard spot.

9. Evan Turner, G-F, 76ers
Light: I needed a jack-of-all-trades to round out my starting five. Hopefully, Turner can be that guy.

10. Gordon Hayward, G-F, Jazz
Rush: Versatile and unselfish, Jimmy Chitwood has the high basketball IQ and passing skills to thrive in this All-Star environment.

11. Kyrie Irving, PG, Cavaliers
Light: The No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft is scoring at a higher clip than expected (18.0 ppg) and will provide this club with some offensive punch off the bench.

12. Tristan Thompson, PF, Cavaliers
Rush: Someone has to guard Blake Griffin and the Canadian rookie thrives on defense and dirty work — even on All-Star Weekend.

13. Derrick Williams, F, Timberwolves
Light: This hard-working rookie could get the starting assignment for this team if I wanted to go big up front and pair him with Griffin and Monroe.

14. Kawhi Leonard, G-F, Spurs
Rush: Another above the rim athlete to run with Wall and catch alley-oops on fast breaks.

15. Landry Fields, SG, Knicks
Light: Jeremy Lin wasn’t available, so I went with the next smartest New York Knick.

16. Tiago Splitter, C, Spurs
Rush: Brazilian big man is an underrated passer and a solid backup for foul-prone Cousins.

17. Brandon Knight, PG, Pistons
Light: Not bad for a third-string point guard.

18. Markieff Morris, PF, Suns
Rush: Last man standing adds depth in the post.

Team Light

C – Greg Monroe, Pistons
PF – Blake Griffin, Clippers
SF – Evan Turner, 76ers
SG – MarShon Brooks, Nets
PG – Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves

SF – Derrick Williams, Timberwolves
SG – Landry Fields, Knicks
PG – Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers
PG – Brandon Knight, Pistons

Team Rush

C – DeMarcus Cousins, Kings
PF – Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers
SF – Paul George, Pacers
SG – Gordon Hayward, Jazz
PG – John Wall, Wizards

C – Tiago Splitter, Spurs
PF – Markieff Morris, Suns
SF – Kawhi Leonard, Spurs
PG – Kemba Walker, Bobcats
 

Teaser:
<p> With Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley set to pick sides for NBA All-Star Weekend's Rising Stars Challenge, Athlon Sports' editors Mitch Light and Nathan Rush do their own mock draft of the rookies and sophomores.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 18:08
All taxonomy terms: TCU Horned Frogs, Big 12, News
Path: /news/tcus-drug-scandal-hampers-2012-big-12-title-hopes
Body:

What a difference a day makes. Just one day after TCU’s basketball team scored a huge victory over UNLV and the schedule for its inaugural season in the Big 12 was released, the athletic department is dealing with a significant drug scandal.

On Wednesday, 17 TCU students were arrested in a drug bust at the school, which included four football players: Linebacker Tanner Brock, defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey, cornerback Devin Johnson and Ty Horn. The four players were later dismissed by head coach Gary Patterson.

But the trouble may not end with the four players arrested and dismissed.

According to the arrest affidavit, the TCU coaching staff required all players to take a drug test on Feb. 1, 2012, and Brock told the informant “about 60 people would be screwed.” Johnson allegedly told an informant that 82 players from the team failed the drug test administered on Feb. 1. There's nothing that's been confirmed true about those two numbers thrown out, but it is something that will hang over the program until any further suspensions or dismissals have been announced or TCU clears the rest of the football team.

Needless to say, this is a black eye for a program on the rise. The Horned Frogs were poised to make a lot of noise in their first season in the Big 12 and was widely-regarded as one of the top 25 teams for 2012. However, the four player dismissals were a huge loss for this team and if those statements by Brock and Johnson are true, Patterson and his coaching staff may have to suspend some players for the start of 2012.

Brock missed nearly all of 2011 due to an injury, but was expected to return as one of the leaders for the defense. He led the team with 106 tackles in 2010 and gathered first-team All-Mountain West honors. With Tank Carder finishing his eligibility, Brock was expected to be the anchor and a likely All-Big 12 performer in 2012.

Yendrey was coming off back-to-back seasons of earning honorable mention All-Mountain West honors and was expected to anchor the interior of the defensive line. He recorded 39 tackles and three sacks last season, while starting 12 games. Without Yendrey, Jon Lewis, Ray Burns, David Johnson and Chuck Hunter will have to take on a bigger role on the interior of the line.

The secondary was a weakness for the defense in 2011 and Johnson’s dismissal was a big loss for a team already losing cornerback Greg McCoy and safeties Tekerrein Cuba and Johnny Fobbs. Johnson recorded 47 stops last year and collected 2.5 sacks.

Horn was the least decorated of the players dismissed, starting only one game in 2011. However, he was expected to contend for a starting spot in 2012.

What does this mean for TCU going forward? There’s still a lot to sort out, but this is a down moment for a program that waited and fought hard to get into a BCS conference. The Horned Frogs will be fine in the long run under Patterson, but there will be an impact on the field. The defense has ranked near the top of college football in the Mountain West, but will take a step back facing the high-powered offenses in the Big 12. And this group only has five returning starters, so there’s a lot of pressure on the new faces in the linebacking corps and secondary to step up.

Until all of the allegations are sorted out, it’s too difficult to say whether or not TCU will remain in the preseason top 25. However, there is still a talented core returning to Fort Worth in 2012 and the schedule isn’t too overwhelming to expect a season with eight or nine wins.

TCU’s 2012 Schedule

Sept. 8 Grambling State
Sept. 15 at Kansas
Sept. 22 Virginia
Sept. 29 at SMU
Oct. 6 Iowa State
Oct. 13 at Baylor
Oct. 20 Texas Tech
Oct. 27 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 3 at West Virginia
Nov. 10 Kansas State
Nov. 24 at Texas
Dec. 1 Oklahoma

Related: Athlon's Early College Football Top 25 for 2012
Related: Athlon's 2012 Early Big 12 Predictions
Related: Big 12 2012 Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> TCU's Drug Scandal Hampers 2012 Big 12 Title Hopes.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 16:41
Path: /mlb/hanley-ramirez-will-bounce-back-2012
Body:

The Marlins appear to be starting from scratch in 2012. But the reality is that the 15-year-old team with two World Series titles has a flashy new, eye-catching paintjob but will be powered by the same engine once again this year.

Owner Jeffrey Loria’s club has a new name (officially changing from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins), new state-of-the-art $515 million ballpark, new South Beach style colors, new art deco logo, new eccentric manager in Ozzie Guillen and a wave of new All-Star players led by shortstop Jose Reyes and closer Heath Bell.

But, more than anything, Miami hopes what was old is new again, that Hanley Ramirez will return to his status as an MVP candidate and fantasy baseball statistical stud.

Granted, Han-Ram is central to the new age Miami movement. The 6’3”, 230-pound 28-year-old is pulling a Cal Ripken and Alex Rodriguez, taking his talents to third base after playing his entire career at shortstop. Ramirez was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2006, a three-time All-Star from 2008-10, and the NL batting champ (.342) and MVP runner-up in 2009 while manning short.

In a year of transition, Miami needs the face of the Fish franchise to seamlessly slide over to a new position, while also bouncing back from an injury-plagued 2011 season that resulted in career-low production at the plate.

Last season, Ramirez struggled to hit .243 with a .712 OPS, 10 HRs, 45 RBIs, 20 stolen bases and 55 runs in 92 games, battling through a nagging left shoulder injury that sent him to the disabled list after Aug. 2 and required season-ending surgery on Sept. 15.

Prior to 2011, Han-Ram was one of the most dynamic players in the game during the five-season stretch from 2006-10:

Single-season highs (2006-10)
Games: 158
AVG: .342
HR: 33
RBI: 106
Runs: 125
SB: 51

Single-season lows (2006-10)
Games: 142
AVG: .292
HR: 17
RBI: 59
Runs: 92
SB: 27

Five-season averages (2006-10)
Games: 152
AVG: .313
HR: 25
RBI: 78
Runs: 112
SB: 39

The Marlins have added a table setter in Ramirez’s speedy shortstop replacement Reyes; and emerging 22-year-old right fielder Mike Stanton — a 6’5” action hero with off the charts power on the 20-80 scouting scale — provides more than enough protection in the cleanup spot behind Ramirez, who bats third. The pieces are in place for Han-Ram to reestablish himself as one of the premier players in the big leagues.

“Hanley Ramirez can be one of the best players in the National League,” said Guillen, who arrives in the NL after managing the AL’s Chicago White Sox from 2004-11. “That’s a lot to say, because there are a lot of good players here.

“But he has to want to be.”

Obviously, Ramirez’s attitude is key. Ramirez is no longer the only good player on a bad team, he is now surrounded by a talented roster on a franchise willing to put its money where its mouth is in order to contend. Fair or not, Ramirez has earned a reputation as an uber-talented prima donna who isn’t above sulking when things don’t go his way — or jogging to a booted ball if he feels the outcome of a game has already been decided.

“You can be the best player in the game, but when you’re losing, it’s not fun coming to the ballpark. That happened to Hanley a lot,” explained Guillen. “I hope this year, when he is driving to the new park, with his new teammates and a new attitude, he just gets out of the car and has a big smile on his face.”

The obvious cause for concern is Ramirez’s bruised ego following a forced position change from shortstop — arguably the most glamorous position in sports other than quarterback — to the hot corner of third base, a position he has never played. But Ramirez isn’t the first All-Star who has changed positions during his prime.

“A lot of good players move,” said Guillen. “Bad players, they get released or traded, or they play in Mexico. Good players, they move to another position.

“Look at the players being moved. Good players. Michael Young. Miguel Cabrera. A-Rod. Robin Yount. Cal Ripken. You’re not talking about Pedro Perez. You’re talking about good ones. That is for a reason.”

All eyes will be on Ramirez when the Marlins’ position players report for spring training on Feb. 26. Guillen cautioned, nearly pleading, that media and fans alike should “let him be” while Ramirez adjusts to his new position and continues to work his way back to 100 percent physically.

And although Ramirez has not made any public comments during the offseason, he has gone on the offensive with a new Powerade commercial that has been running (en Espanol) in Latin America.

“To all those who sent messages criticizing me, I want to apologize for not having replied yet. I was busy with this bat and this marker, writing your names. The response is on its way. Sincerely, Hanley Ramirez,” he says via voiceover, while writing names on the wood bat he uses while training.

Ramirez’s talent has always been there — since he was signed by the Boston Red Sox out of the Dominican Republic in 2000 and traded to the Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell in 2005. And by all accounts, health is no longer an issue. The supporting cast is clearly in place. If Ramirez is as motivated as a player on the diamond as he is as a pitchman over the airwaves, look out.

“Powerade, they may know something that we don’t know,” said Guillen. “You invest money in people you think are going to be good.”

When it comes time for your fantasy baseball draft, follow Powerade’s lead — invest money in Hanley Ramirez, who will bounce back in a big way in 2012.

by Nathan Rush
 

Teaser:
<p> Ozzie Guillen and Powerade expect Miami Marlins third baseman Hanley Ramirez to return to fantasy baseball superstar, National League MVP candidate status. So should baseball fans.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 13:38

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