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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.

Did Kentucky Speedway do enough to appease dissatisfied fans after its Cup debut disaster? And how will this affect its future on the circuit?
Kentucky Speedway fought for years to land a coveted Sprint Cup Series race, only to be blocked with every shot it took. So when Speedway Motorsports, Inc. bought the venue, then awarded it a date formerly housed at Atlanta Motor Speedway, it was a slam dunk, a Bluegrass bonanza for hardcore Southern supporters who waited over a decade. But for 100,000 ticketed fans, their dream come true turned into a hellish nightmare on July 9, 2011. Traffic flow and infrastructure shortcomings plagued the inaugural Cup date to the point that Kentucky Speedway may hold the title of having hosted the most disastrous major sporting debut in history. Traffic was so bad some estimates claimed as many as 20,000 people never made it to the speedway, while others sat idle for up to seven hours, then parked three miles away to get in.

SMI’s response? An apology two days later and a ticket-exchange offer to any of the remainder of its 2011 dates (including upcoming Truck Series and IndyCar events at Kentucky Speedway) or free admission to this season’s Kentucky date.

Did that heal the wound? Not even close. What SMI CEO Bruton Smith failed to understand was that for many, that weekend was it. That was the vacation, the time off from work, the hotel reservation, the gas money, the time, effort and planning … that weekend — not one seven weeks later at Bristol — that many hard-working fans saved for and invested in.

Perhaps it's hard for a billionaire to comprehend. Regardless, Smith offered no ticket refunds in a rambling, bizarre press conference the following weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Instead, he laid blame on everyone from the state and local police, the company hired to direct traffic in the parking areas, local and state officials who did not bend to his roadway demands, local residents who parked cars on their property to — get this — the fans themselves for not planning properly!

The scary part of this mess was that Smith had traffic and parking issues at his Las Vegas and Texas tracks on opening Cup weekends in the past, plus Kentucky track officials had concerns going into the July date. Did SMI know what was coming? Would it allow a debacle on this scale to unfold simply to force state officials to invest in roadway reconstruction around the track? It certainly felt that way.

As to how this will affect Kentucky’s future events, it’s impossible to foresee. SMI has made improvements to the facility with expanded parking areas, additional restroom facilities and plans to widen the interstate and ease incoming traffic to the track itself. Time heals all wounds and, obviously, NASCAR did not yank its 2012 date. However, 100,000 fans were treated not like paying customers, but more like pawns in a multi-million dollar game of chicken, pitting SMI against the Kentucky state legislature. Let’s hope no one — even those who did not suffer that day — forgets that.


What steps should NASCAR take to curb start-and-park efforts?
In 2009, NASCAR referred to start-and-park teams as a “passing phase.” But as we enter year four of the collect-a-check experiment dominating the back of the Sprint Cup pack, it’s clear these profiteering teams aren’t going anywhere. In fact, the practice is only getting worse. As many as eight cars pulled in early during races last fall — that’s nearly 20 percent of the grid showing up with no intention of competing.

And why should they? In the last three years, Joe Nemechek has only finished five of his 97 starts but collected a cool $7.8 million in purse money. While saving on engine, pit crew and chassis costs, the only penalty the driver/owner may get is an occasional teardown as being selected for post-race inspection. Even then, a rebuild three or four times a year isn’t enough to wreck the profit margin. It’s become a big enough business that those who were initially putting up an honest effort, like Robby Gordon’s No. 7 outfit, have decided to join in.

That disturbing trend is why NASCAR needs to act. Either come up with a system of paying on a per-lap basis — reducing the profiteering of these teams — or simply reduce grid size to represent the number of cars showing up to compete. Dropping from a field of 43 to 36 increases the purse for each participant, ramps up the qualifying competition (maybe drop from 35 to 25 locked-in spots?) while better reflecting the number of fully funded cars. You can always expand back over time, as the NASCAR economy improves, right?

The question, of course, then becomes whether the sport’s television deal allows it to do that — a question that’s been disputed for years and whose answer lies within a contract no one’s allowed to see.

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: Monday, February 13, 2012 - 18:59
Path: /college-basketball/kentuckys-davis-and-kansas-robinson-lead-national-poy-candidates
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Each college basketball weekend is taking on more meaning with less than a month to go until league tournaments begin. Saturday saw several big-time clashes, highlighted by Kentucky surviving in a great SEC game at Vanderbilt, Michigan State going into Columbus and beating Ohio State by 10 and Missouri easily handling Baylor in Columbia. Wichita State had an impressive win at Creighton, while UNLV topped San Diego State in a great matchup of top 20 teams from the Mountain West. As we look ahead...

1. Who is your choice, at this point of the season, for National Player of the Year?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman) : I would go with Kentucky’s Anthony Davis at this point in the year. While some may not vote for Davis because of his controversial recruitment, there is no doubt that the freshman from Chicago has impacted the college game as much as anyone this season. His defensive presence, including a national-best 4.9 blocks per game, has allowed UK to smother opponents on the perimeter and is a huge factor in the 25–1 Wildcats being ranked No. 1. Davis also leads the Cats in scoring and rebounding, averaging 14.0 points and 9.9 boards per game. Additionally, the nation’s top frosh has been very efficient on the offensive end — shooting 65.1 percent from the field and 70.6 percent from the free throw line. While Thomas Robinson of Kansas, Draymond Green of Michigan State and Kevin Jones of West Virginia have had stellar seasons, Anthony Davis has been the National Player of the Year.

Mark Ross: In one year, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson has gone from top sixth man to the best player in the Big 12 and, in my opinion, the nation. Last year, Robinson averaged 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds as the first man off of the bench for Bill Self. This year the junior has more than doubled his point production to 18.1, which is second in the Big 12, and is averaging 12.1 rebounds per game, which is second in the entire country. He already has posted 17 double-doubles to this point, and is the main reason why this Kansas team is a viable threat to not only win an eighth straight Big 12 title, but also make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Robinson’s dominance in the post has also allowed fellow junior and frontcourt mate Jeff Withey develop his game. In the past two games, Withey has put up a combined 43 points, 25 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in Kansas wins over then No. 6-ranked Baylor on the road and against Oklahoma State.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): I love what Thomas Robinson is doing for Kansas, but I’ve got to go with Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. The big man from Chicago is dominating games on the defensive end like a young Patrick Ewing did for Georgetown in the 1980s. And like with most great shot-blockers, you can’t just look at the number of shots Davis blocks — 4.9 per game, the most in the nation — but you also have to take into account the amount of shots he alters and the times his presence in the lane deters players from driving toward the basket. Davis is also making contributions on the offensive end of the floor with a 14.0-point average, and he leads the Wildcats in rebounding with 9.9 per game. He is, quite simply, a special player.

2. What is the biggest game on the schedule this upcoming weekend?

Mitch Light: I am very intrigued by Ohio State’s trip to face Michigan in Ann Arbor. This great rivalry isn’t quite as intense on the basketball court as it is on the football field, but it is always an important game for both schools. And the stakes will be very high Saturday night, with both Ohio State and Michigan very much in the hunt for a regular-season Big Ten title. The Buckeyes won in Columbus in late January despite a subpar performance from Jared Sullinger (13 points, five boards). Thad Matta’s team will need its All-America big man to play well at Crisler Arena, which figures to be at a fever pitch for the hated Buckeyes.

Mark Ross: Murray State hosts Saint Mary’s on Saturday in the only BracketBusters match-up of ranked teams. Both teams had long winning streaks snapped by second-place conference foes on Feb. 9 as Saint Mary’s was beaten by West Coast rival Gonzaga 73–59 on the road, while Murray State suffered its first loss of the season in a 72–68 home loss to Ohio Valley foe Tennessee State. Both bounced back with wins two days later and will play conference games on Wednesday prior to Saturday’s showdown. Even though Murray State has just the one loss on the season, the Racers appear to need this win more than the Gaels do when it comes to NCAA Tournament résumés. Saint Mary’s is ranked in the top 25 of the RPI and, for now, is more secure in terms of at-large consideration should the Gaels not win the WCC Tournament. The Racers also have a strong résumé, boosted by a December road win against then-No. 20 Memphis, but a home victory Saturday over the Gaels would probably move them into “lock” territory for an NCAA Tournament bid, regardless of what happens in the OVC Tournament.

Patrick Snow: I see Xavier hosting Dayton as a huge game on Saturday. The Musketeers were seen as a top-20 team and probable Atlantic-10 champions in the preseason. However Chris Mack’s club was involved in the infamous brawl with city-rival Cincinnati in December, and the subsequent suspensions led to Xavier losing five of its next six games (after an 8–0 start). The Musketeers seemed to right the ship in mid-January with four straight wins, but they have now lost four of the last seven contests. There is no reason that a team with veteran guards like Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, as well as experienced big men Kenny Frease and Andre Walker, should miss the NCAA Tournament, but that is now a possibility. The Musketeers still have tough road games at UMass and Saint Louis, so this weekend’s home game with Dayton — an 87-72 victor over XU in January — is paramount to Xavier finishing strong and not missing March Madness.
 

Teaser:
<p> Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson lead National POY Candidates</p>
Post date: Monday, February 13, 2012 - 14:48
Path: /columns/nascar-news-notes/2012-budweiser-shootout-eligibility-list
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2012 Budweiser Shootout
by Matt Taliaferro

Thirty three drivers are eligible for NASCAR's 2012 Budweiser Shootout. The Shootout, which unofficially kicks off Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, will be televised on Saturday, Feb. 18 on FOX at 8:00 pm EST. Those eligible for the event this year include all drivers within the top 25 in the final 2011 championship standings, past Bud Shootout winners and past Daytona point-race winners.

Eligible Drivers, via top 25 in 2011 standings (Car number):
AJ Allmendinger (22)
Marcos Ambrose (9)
Greg Biffle (16)
Clint Bowyer (15)
Jeff Burton (31)
Kurt Busch (51)
Kyle Busch (18)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88)
Carl Edwards (99)
Jeff Gordon (24)
Denny Hamlin (11)
Kevin Harvick (29)
Jimmie Johnson (48)
Kasey Kahne (5)
Matt Kenseth (17)
Brad Keselowski (2)
Joey Logano (20)
Mark Martin*
Paul Menard (27)
Juan Pablo Montoya (42)
Ryan Newman (39)
David Ragan (34)
Tony Stewart (14)
Martin Truex Jr. (56)
Brian Vickers*

Also eligible:
Trevor Bayne (2011 Daytona 500 winner)*
Geoff Bodine (past Daytona 500 and Shootout winner)*
Derrike Cope (past Daytona 500 winner)*
Bill Elliott (past Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400 and Shootout winner)*
Terry Labonte (past Shootout winner)*
Jamie McMurray (past Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 winner)
Ken Schrader (past Shootout winner)*
Michael Waltrip (past Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 winner)

The few notable drivers that do not meet eligibility requirements include Dave Blaney, David Gilliland, Robby Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Casey Mears, David Reutimann and Regan Smith.

* Not entered as of Feb. 13th.
 

Teaser:
<p> Eligibility list and entered drivers for the 2012 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 13, 2012 - 14:02
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-8-miami-hurricanes
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-by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on twitter)

No. 8: Miami Hurricanes (33 total signees)

ACC Rank: 2nd
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 3
National Signees: 9

Where They Got 'Em:

The Hurricanes have always been at their best when south Florida players stay near home. With all of the changes around the Miami program the last few years, other schools have been able to find more success in the fertile recruiting ground of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Al Golden and staff were able keep more local talent home this year with a monster signing class of 33 student-athletes, with 26 of those hailing from the Sunshine State.

Miami scored big by inking three members of the AC100. Miramar defensive back Tracy Howard was the top signee, choosing the “U” over Florida and Florida State. Ranked as our No. 3 DB in the country, Howard had over 50 tackles and 10 interceptions during his senior year. Randy “Duke” Johnson is a speedster at running back, and he led Miami’s Norland High School to the Florida Class 5A Championship with his 1,957 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns. The third member of the top 100 trio is Palm Beach Central athlete Angelo Jean-Louis, who had eight touchdown catches this season and should play wide receiver for the Hurricanes.

Areas of Focus:

Golden and staff were able to address many concerns in signing 33 new players, and one of those was getting more bodies on the roster for spring practice. Miami had nine early enrollees, including national signees Raphael Kirby at linebacker and Ereck Flowers on the offensive line. Flowers was a teammate of Duke Johnson at Norland, paving the way for the superstar back. Miami also brought in two of their three quarterback signees early, with Preston Dewey of Austin (Texas) and Clearwater’s Gary Crow already on campus.

The Hurricanes will look to add to their stellar wide receiver legacy after signing five wideouts along with the aforementioned Jean-Louis. Malcolm Lewis, a teammate of Tracy Howard at Miramar, highlights this group after a senior campaign with 716 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Robert Lockhart is another wideout to watch. He attended West Boca Raton High School before spending last season at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy.

Another huge area of focus for Miami was the defensive line. Seven new players were inked in this group, including national signees Tyriq McCord from Tampa’s Jefferson High School and Jelani Hamilton from Fort Lauderdale powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas. McCord was one of the top pass rushers in the Sunshine State, while Hamilton was a longtime Canes commit who lost much of his senior season to a knee injury.

The Hurricanes also added seven new players to the secondary, highlighted by Howard and Deon Bush from Miami’s Columbus High School. Rated as one of the top safeties in the country, Bush had 40 tackles and seven interceptions during his senior season. Rayshawn Jenkins played quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive back at St. Petersburg’s Admiral Farragut Academy and looks to be another impressive athlete who should improve the Miami secondary.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 3, RB: 2, WR: 5, TE: 0, OL: 3, ATH: 1
Defense: DL: 7, LB: 5, DB: 7, K: 0

AC100 Recruits:

18. Tracy Howard, DB (5-11, 170), Miramar (Fla.) High
36. Randy "Duke" Johnson, RB (5-9, 183), Miami (Fla.) Norland
85. Angelo Jean-Louis, ATH (6, 182), Wellington (Fla.) Palm Beach Central

Other National Signees:

102. Deon Bush, DB (6-1, 179), Miami (Fla.) Columbus)
107. Tyriq McCord, DL (6-3, 212), Tampa (Fla.) Jefferson
133. Raphael Kirby, LB (6, 207), Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson
154. Jelani Hamilton, DL (6-5, 262), Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas
173. Malcolm Lewis, WR (6, 194), Miramar (Fla.) High
204. Ereck Flowers, OL (6-6, 312), Miami (Fla.) Norland

Early Enrollees:

Preston Dewey, QB (6-2, 203), Austin (Texas) St. Andrew's Episcopal
Gary Crow, QB (6-3, 233), Clearwater (Fla.) Countryside
Ereck Flowers, OL (6-6, 312), Miami (Fla.) Norland
Taylor Gadbois, OL (6-7, 292), Dallas (Ga.) East Paulding
Raphael Kirby, LB (6, 207), Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson
Ladarius Gunter, LB (6-2, 196), Montgomery (Ala.) Fort Scott C.C. (Kan.)
Josh Witt, LB (6-2, 206), Weston (Fla.) Cypress Bay)
Larry Hope, DB (5-11, 160), Miami (Fla.) American
Dwayne Hoilett, DL (6-3, 217), Vero Beach (Fla.) 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. Tues., Feb. 14
10. Wed., Feb. 15
11. Thur., Feb. 16
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 Miami Hurricanes landed the No. 8 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 13, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, SEC, News
Path: /news/kentucky-vanderbilt-highlights-big-weekend-college-basketball-action
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by Jordan Coleman

This Saturday, thousands of college basketball fans will flood arenas and sports bars in order to catch some of the greatest games of the season. While this week has been full of conference rivalries, this weekend’s competition is sure to liven up the social calendar of any college basketball fan. Though this may be a social gathering for fans,  For these teams, these games are not only an opportunity that can either make or break their chances of dancing in March, but also an opportunity to claim (or reclaim) bragging rights within their conference. Here is a preview of some of the most anticipated match-ups this weekend:

Kentucky at Vanderbilt - Vanderbilt has yet another opportunity this weekend to prove they are a force to be reckoned with in the SEC as they take on the nation’s top contender, the Kentucky Wildcats. Coming off a disappointing week of two losses to Arkansas and Florida, Kevin Stallings and the Commodores are itching for a win. However, the good ole’ shellacking the Wildcats put on the Gamecocks last weekend, followed by the thumping of No. 7 Florida on Tuesday night, have propelled Calipari’s Wildcats to a perfect 10-0 conference record. Therefore, slowing the momentum of the Kentucky’s high-powered offense, while maintaining offensive flow against their hellacious defense, won’t be an easy feat for the Dores. 

Connecticut at Syracuse- While the 2011 National Champion Huskies have experienced a few lulls in their season—losing games against UCF and Seton Hall— they must bring their ‘A’ game against the No. 2 ranked Orangemen this weekend. Regardless of the location, the contest between these two teams is always hotly contested; therefore, Orange and Huskie fans alike should be in for a treat Saturday.

Michigan State at Ohio State- All-American Jared Sullinger fueled his team passed the Badgers last Saturday with a double-double, adding 24 points and 10 rebounds to secure the 58-52 win in the Kohl Center. While the Buckeyes took on their conference rival last weekend, Draymond Green and the No. 12 Spartans salivate at their opportunity to stun Big Ten’s top dogs and tie-up their conference records. Sullinger and the rest of the Buckeyes will have to muster up some intestinal fortitude in order to top Michigan State.

Baylor at Missouri – Coming off an incredible win against their border rival, the Kansas Jayhawks, the Tigers must regain focus fast in order to take on yet another fierce conference competitor, the No. 6 Baylor Bears. While the Tigers escaped the Ferrell Center with a 1-point victory over Baylor in their last meeting earlier this season, they will have to use their experience and team coalesce to pull-off another win over Pierre Jackson and the Bears.

Miami at Florida State –Reggie Johnson’s career-high of 27 points lead the Hurricanes to their first victory over Duke at Cameron Arena. Despite this commendable feat, their in-state rival, No. 17 Florida State, who not only have a win against Duke, but impressive wins over North Carolina and Virginia to as well, will definitely have their number. It will be interesting to see whether Miami’s momentum on the road can carry them past the Seminoles, or will the co-conference leaders make a statement as to who really dominates the ACC.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the top action in college basketball this weekend.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 10, 2012 - 14:02
Path: /college-football/grading-college-footballs-new-coaches-2012
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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

When the 2012 season kicks off, 27 teams will have a new coach roaming the sidelines. Athlon examines each hire and grades the moves by each school. Grading new hires is never an exact science, but one can get a good snapshot of a coach by looking at his resume and previous experience. 

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

Best BCS Coaching Hires

Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh – Chryst lacks head coaching experience, but this is still one of the top hires of the offseason. He served as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator from 2005-11, and has made other stops at Oregon State and in the NFL with the Chargers. Under Chryst’s direction, the Badgers led the Big Ten in scoring offense in each of the last three seasons. For a team that needs stability – after having three head coaches over the last year – and a much-needed jolt on offense, Chryst seems to be a perfect hire for Pittsburgh.

Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss – For the first time since 1946, the Rebels are coming off a season with just two victories. And the SEC isn’t getting any easier, especially with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri. Freeze was an important hire for Ole Miss, and while the track record is limited, he has proven to be a winner at each stop. He led Lambuth to a 20-5 record from 2008-09 and recorded a 10-2 mark as Arkansas State’s head coach in 2011. Freeze has a lot of work ahead of him, but he’s young (42), energetic and a bright offensive mind. The only downside in Freeze’s short tenure was not assembling a top-notch coaching staff.

Mike Leach, Washington State – In 10 years at Texas Tech, Leach led the Red Raiders to an 84-43 record, 10 bowl appearances and some of the top passing attacks in the nation. Leach had a rocky end to his tenure in Lubbock – largely not his fault – but don’t expect that to have any impact on his time at Washington State. The Cougars showed small progress under previous coach Paul Wulff, and the pieces are in place for Leach to lead this team to a bowl game in 2012. Out of the 27 new coaching hires for 2012, Leach landing at Washington State has to be considered one of the best fits for any new coach.

Urban Meyer, Ohio State – Perfect fit. Terrific hire. That’s the easy way to sum up Meyer landing at Ohio State. Health issues prompted Meyer to leave Florida, but after a year away, he appears to be refreshed and ready to go once again. The Buckeyes won’t be eligible to compete for the Big Ten title in 2012, but Meyer is stockpiling talent for a run at the national title in 2013. Expect the Buckeyes to show improvement in the win column in 2012, and it won’t be long until Meyer has a chance to build upon the two national championships he earned while at Florida.

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona – The easy way to sum up Rodriguez’s tenure at Michigan: Good coach, bad fit. After compiling a 60-26 record in seven seasons at West Virginia, Rodriguez posted a 15-22 mark in three years with the Wolverines. While his teams improved their win total by two games each season, it wasn’t enough to keep Rodriguez around in Ann Arbor. Rodriguez needs time to implement his system, as well as recruiting the talent necessary to run his spread offense. Much of the struggles at Michigan were due to bad fits in the personnel, but Arizona has some pieces in place that should allow this team to compete for a bowl game in 2012. The only downside? Rodriguez has never coached west of Michigan, so it will be important to establish recruiting pipelines right away.

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M – Change is in the air in College Station. The Aggies are moving from the Big 12 to the SEC, and Sumlin takes over as head coach after Texas A&M compiled a 25-25 record in four seasons under Mike Sherman. Sumlin is no stranger to College Station, as he spent two years as an assistant (2001-02) with the Aggies and coached in the Big 12 at Oklahoma from 2003-07. Texas A&M will need some time to get acclimated to life in the SEC, but Sumlin’s 35-17 record at Houston suggests the Aggies will be in good shape for the future.

Above Average Marks

Tim Beckman, Illinois – As an Ohio native and someone that has worked at Ohio State, Beckman is certainly familiar with life in the Big Ten. He spent the last three years as the head coach at Toledo, registering a 21-16 record and a share of the MAC West title in 2011. Beckman has worked with top-notch head coaches, spending time with Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Jim Tressel at Ohio State and Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State. Beckman pieced together an interesting coaching staff, especially on the offensive side where Billy Gonzales and Chris Beatty will serve as co-coordinators and neither have much experience as a play-caller.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina – After a successful four-year stint as the head coach at Southern Miss, Fedora lands in a very good situation in Chapel Hill at North Carolina. The Tar Heels are still waiting to hear about possible penalties from an NCAA investigation, but the cupboard isn’t bare, especially on offense, which is Fedora’s specialty. In four years at Southern Miss, he compiled a 34-19 record and led the team to a 2-2 mark in bowl games. The Tar Heels have not won more than eight games since 1997, but this is a program that should consistently compete for the ACC title.

Todd Graham, Arizona State – The criticism of how Graham left Pittsburgh is certainly warranted. And a 6-6 regular season record last year wasn’t exactly a hit with Panther fans either. However, the personnel wasn’t in place to run Graham’s schemes and the offense struggled to find any consistency. Despite the rocky end to his short tenure at Pittsburgh Graham is actually a solid coach, as evidenced by his 49-29 record over the last six years, and should do well over time at Arizona State.

Jim Mora, UCLA – At the time of his hire, this seemed like a strange fit and a bad move by UCLA. However, Mora acquired a solid staff and brought in one of the Pac-12’s top recruiting classes. Considering Mora has spent most of his career in the NFL, it will be interesting to see how he transitions to the college game. This hire could backfire, but Mora is off to a good start and deserves a chance to prove he can turn the Bruins into a Pac-12 title contender.

Best non-BCS hires

Terry Bowden, Akron – After winning just two games over the last two years under Rob Ianello, the Zips made one of the top coaching moves of the offseason by getting Bowden from North Alabama. In 18 years as a head coach, Bowden has recorded a 139-63-2 mark, including two bowl appearances while at Auburn. Considering his success, it’s strange that Bowden has not landed back on the FBS radar until now. However, this a good fit and a solid hire by Akron – and one that should have this team moving back into MAC East contention in the next few seasons.

Matt Campbell, Toledo – At 32 years old, Campbell is college football’s youngest head coach. However, he’s spent the last eight years as an assistant at Mount Union, Bowling Green and Toledo. Campbell’s head coaching career is off to a good start, as he led the Rockets to a 42-41 victory in the Military Bowl over Air Force. Considering this is his first head coaching gig, there will be a few bumps in the road for Campbell. However, he fits the mold of a good up-and-coming coach, and his high-scoring offenses will continue to keep Toledo near the top of the MAC West.

Justin Fuente, Memphis – Larry Porter’s two-year stint was a disaster, but the Tigers picked a terrific replacement by plucking Fuente from TCU. This will be Fuente’s first head coaching position, but he has built a solid resume, serving as an assistant at Illinois State from 2001-06 and working as TCU’s offensive coordinator for the last three seasons. Fuente’s coaching experience in Texas should help with recruiting and his background on offense should help jumpstart a Memphis offense that averaged just 16.3 points a game last year.

Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State – Malzahn has been one of the top assistant coaches in the nation over the last five seasons, leading Tulsa and Auburn’s offenses among of the ranks of the best in college football. Considering Malzahn’s name popped up in BCS job searches, it was a little surprising he chose to land at Arkansas State. However, this is a good position for Malzahn to gain head coaching experience, as he coached at three Arkansas high schools (Shiloh Christian, Springdale and Hughes), and the Red Wolves are positioned to be one of the top teams in the Sun Belt in 2012.

Jim McElwain, Colorado State – After helping Alabama win two national titles over the last three years, McElwain is ready to lead his own program. This is his first head coaching gig, but McElwain has worked under one of the top coaches in college football (Nick Saban) and has experience out West, playing and coaching at Eastern Washington and coaching at Montana State and in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. Although Colorado State has been down recently, don’t be surprised if McElwain engineers a quick turnaround in 2012.

Garrick McGee, UAB – McGee has been a rising star in the assistant ranks over the last 10 years, making stops at Toledo, UNLV, Northwestern and Arkansas. With low fan support and a stadium in bad shape, UAB isn’t an easy place to win. However, McGee’s experience in the Southeast should pay dividends in recruiting, and at 38 years old, he should breathe some much-needed life into the program.

Wait and See

Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State – DeRuyter is a California native, so landing at Fresno State was a good spot for his first head coaching position. DeRuyter is known as a solid defensive coordinator, and led Texas A&M to a victory over Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in December. The Bulldogs seemed to hit a plateau under former coach Pat Hill. Is DeRuyter the guy to take them to the next level?

Kyle Flood, Rutgers – With Greg Schiano’s decision to depart Rutgers a week before Signing Day, filling this coaching void was especially difficult for athletic director Tim Pernetti. Flood does not have any head coaching experience, but has been a solid asset on the recruiting trail and helped to keep the 2012 class intact. Only time will tell whether Flood can keep the momentum going from Schiano’s tenure or if Rutgers will slip back to the bottom of the Big East.

Curtis Johnson, Tulane – The Green Wave has struggled to find success in recent years, with their last winning record coming in 2002 under Chris Scelfo. Johnson is a curious hire, as he has no head coaching or coordinator experience. However, he is from New Orleans and has coached with the Saints for the last six years. Johnson is regarded as a good recruiter, which should be a valuable asset for Tulane as it looks to get back into bowl contention.

Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss – Johnson has a wealth of experience as an assistant and served as The Citadel’s head coach for three years (2001-03) and one year at Gardner-Webb (1983). Although his resume is solid, Johnson isn’t the youngest hire (60) and posted a 12-22 record in his tenure at The Citadel.

Charley Molnar, UMass – This is Molnar’s first head coaching gig, but he’s compiled a wealth of experience from stops at Illinois State, Kent State, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. As a native of New Jersey, Molnar should be familiar with the Northeast and the recruiting grounds for the Minutemen. Considering 2012 will be the first year for UMass on the FBS level, the first two or three seasons could be a real challenge for Molnar.

Failing Marks

Norm Chow, Hawaii – As a native of Hawaii, this is the perfect spot for Chow to land after spending all of his career as an assistant coach. However, that’s exactly the problem. Why is Chow getting his first head coaching gig at age 65? Chow’s offenses at Utah and UCLA were underwhelming, but he has the potential to put together some prolific attacks in the Mountain West.

Bob Davie, New Mexico – After Mike Locksley’s disastrous tenure, this is a good hire in the sense it should bring some stability to the program. However, Davie’s last head coaching gig came in 2001 and he posted a 35-25 record in five seasons at Notre Dame. Davie’s ability to recruit Texas certainly helped his ability to land this position, but after sitting out the last 10 years, this is a strange hire.

Tony Levine, Houston – Levine is well-liked by the players and is certainly familiar with the team after spending the last four years as an assistant with the Cougars. However, Levine has zero head coaching experience outside of the TicketCity Bowl win over Penn State. Also, Levine has never been a coordinator on the college level. Former coach Kevin Sumlin has laid the groundwork for the Cougars to be successful in the next few seasons and now it's up to Levine to continue that momentum. While neither experience guarantees success, Levine is a curious hire for a program moving up to the Big East in 2013.

Bill O’Brien, Penn State – Considering the circumstances at Penn State, there wasn’t many top coaches willing to jump to Happy Valley. However, O’Brien is largely unproven and other New England assistants (Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels and Charlie Weis) haven’t exactly done well away from Bill Belichick. O’Brien has a difficult job ahead of him and following a legend like Joe Paterno won’t be easy.

Carl Pelini, FAU – Considering FAU has won just five games in the last two years, Pelini is going to get a chance to rebuild and put his stamp on the program. However, he has no head coaching experience and has not coached in Florida before. The Owls have the ability to pluck some solid talent from the area, but it may take Pelini time to build the recruiting pipelines, especially after getting off to a rough start with one area coach. Also, Pelini was listed as the defensive coordinator at Nebraska, but how much control did he have over the gameplan with his brother (Bo) one of the top defensive minds in college football? Good coaches can come from anywhere and with a variety of backgrounds, but this is a strange fit for a program that could have used a higher-profile assistant, especially one with ties in Florida.

Charlie Weis, Kansas – After a disastrous two-year stint under Turner Gill, the Jayhawks desperately needed a new face of the program and someone who could get this team back on the map. Mission Accomplished. Weis has raised the profile of Kansas football, but now has to prove he can win in a stacked Big 12. Weis compiled a 35-27 record in five seasons at Notre Dame, but slumped to a 16-21 mark in the final three years. Landing transfers Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps have immediately boosted the Jayhawks’ quarterback play for the next couple of years. However, can Weis recruit well enough on defense to turn Kansas into a consistent bowl team? The results from South Bend suggest that won’t be the case.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon grades college football's best and worst new coaching hires for 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 10, 2012 - 07:12
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-7-stanford-cardinal
Body:

-by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on twitter)

No. 7: Stanford Cardinal (22 total signees)

Pac-12 Rank: 1st
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 7
National Signees: 8

Where They Got 'Em:

David Shaw and staff signed an excellent class of 22 student-athletes from all over the nation. The future Cardinal hail from 14 different states, including three each from California, Texas and Arizona. Stanford also inked a pair of signees from Florida and Washington, as well as one player each from the states of Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia and Utah.

Perhaps no team in the nation closed better on Signing Day than the Cardinal, who signed seven players rated in the top 79 in the country. Another interesting note is that seven players in this star-studded class have fathers who played in the NFL. The most famous surname in that group belongs to Barry Sanders Jr., son of NFL Hall of Famer Barry Sanders. The young running back amassed 5,037 yards and 70 touchdowns during his career at Heritage Hall in Oklahoma City.

Areas of Focus:

Stanford signed one of the top offensive line groups ever seen in one recruiting class. With All-Americans David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin headed to the NFL, the seven new Cardinal blockers could compete for early playing time. The o-line crew includes three players who ranked in the top 30 of the AC100. Andrus Peat was thought to be a Nebraska lean with his brother playing for the Cornhuskers, but the son of former NFL lineman Todd Peat chose to matriculate in Palo Alto. Kyle Murphy was ranked as the top offensive lineman in the state of California, while Josh Garnett was the best blocker from the state of Washington. Brandon Fanaika (Pleasant Grove, Utah) was ranked as a top 10 offensive guard in the country, but he is expected to take a two-year church mission before enrolling at Stanford in 2014.

The defensive line was also a priority for the Cardinal, and the new crew is led by AC100 defensive end Aziz Shittu. The Atwater native decided to play his college ball close to home, and Shittu registered 101 tackles and eight sacks as a senior at Buhach Colony HS. Luke Kaumatule (Honolulu, Hawaii) and Jordan Watkins (Decatur, Ga.) were also highly-rated pass rushers.

Stanford also focused on the wide receiver position, signing four new pass catchers. Conner Crane (Lantana, Texas), Dontonio Jordan (Hickory Creek, Texas) and Michael Rector (Gig Harbor, Wash.) will be joined by Cardinal legacy Kodi Whitfield (Los Angeles) at wideout. Whitfield is the son of former Stanford offensive tackle and 15-year NFL veteran Bob Whitfield.

Along with Peat, Murphy, Garnett, Shittu and Sanders Jr., the two other AC100 signees are linebacker Noor Davis (Leesburg, Fla.) and cornerback Alex Carter (Ashburn, Va.). Davis was the recipient of this year’s High School Butkus Award as the nation’s top prep linebacker, and he is the nephew of NFL Hall of Famer Andre Tippett. Carter was named Virginia’s Gatorade State Player of the Year.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 0, RB: 1, WR: 4, TE: 0, OL: 7, ATH: 1
Defense: DE: 3, DT: 1, LB: 2, DB: 3, K: 0

AC100 Recruits:

21. Andrus Peat, OL (6-7, 305), Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol
25. Kyle Murphy, OL (6-7, 278), San Clemente (Calif.) High
30. Josh Garnett, OL (6-3, 305), Puyallup (Wash.) High
49. Noor Davis, LB (6-4, 235), Leesburg (Fla.) High
63. Aziz Shittu, DE (6-3, 275), Atwater (Calif.) Buhach
76. Alex Carter, CB (6, 195), Ashburn (Va.) Briar Woods
79. Barry Sanders Jr., RB (5-10, 185), Oklahoma City (Okla.) Heritage Hall

Other National Signees:

Brandon Fanalka, OL (6-3, 320), Pleasant Grove (Utah) 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. Mon., Feb. 13
9. Tues., Feb. 14
10. Wed., Feb. 15
11. Thur., Feb. 16
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 Stanford landed the No. 7 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 10, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Eli Manning, New York Giants, NFL
Path: /nfl/eli-manning-hall-famer
Body:

Yes

Like it or not, Eli’s “Manning face” will be immortalized in bronze when his bust is unveiled at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. And it will only take five years after he retires — Manning is not only a Hall of Famer, he’s a first-ballot lock.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft — a class that also included Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers — Manning has quickly established himself as one of the most durable signal-callers and one of the most dependable passers under fourth-quarter and playoff pressure. That combination has made Manning one of the most productive quarterbacks the game has ever seen.

Manning has played 119 consecutive regular season games, the longest active streak in the post-Peyton and really-retired-Favre era. Manning has thrown for 27,579 yards, which is good for 51st all-time — with 14 of the names ahead of him already in the Hall and a few more (Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Tom Brady) waiting their turn. Manning’s 185 career TD passes rank 42nd all-time — with 17 ahead in the Hall and the aforementioned usual suspects already writing their speeches for Canton.

But Manning doesn’t need to compile stats; he’s already punched his ticket with his fourth-quarter and playoff heroics. Manning has an 8–3 record in the playoffs, with two Super Bowl MVP awards and a pair of Vince Lombardi Trophies. In Super Bowl XLII, Manning led a 12-play, 83-yard game-winning drive; in Super Bowl XLVI, Manning led a nine-play, 88-yard game-winning drive.

And Manning doesn’t just produce in crunch time on Super Sunday; Eli threw an NFL record 15 fourth-quarter TDs in 2011. When it matters most, Manning is at his best. And his best ranks among the best of all time.

Manning may not be the smoothest New Yorker living in Manhattan, but it doesn’t take Joe Namath to guarantee Eli’s place among history’s elite.

– Nathan Rush

No

God bless you, Pro-Football-Reference.com. You make the case against Eli Manning’s Hall of Fame candidacy better than I ever could. On each individual player’s page, the good folks at PFR provide similarity scores, listing those players whose careers are most similar to the player in question. Here are the players to whom Eli Manning is most analogous: David Garrard, Jake Delhomme, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, Chad Pennington, Stan Humphries, Tony Romo, Aaron Brooks, Daryle Lamonica and Doug Williams. Not exactly Unitas, Montana and Marino, is it?

Statistically, Manning doesn’t even compare very favorably to his peers, much less the all-time greats. His career passer rating of 82.1 ranks 21st among active quarterbacks. His career completion percentage is 58.4 in an era when anything below 60 is unacceptable. His record as a starting quarterback is a rather pedestrian 69–50 in the regular season, a winning percentage of .579 that ranks below Delhomme’s .583.

I can anticipate the protests: Eli’s won two Super Bowls. Well, so has Jim Plunkett, and no one’s clamoring for a Plunkett bust in Canton.

Manning’s eight career postseason wins have been compressed into two bursts. In six of Eli's eight seasons in the league, his teams either failed to make the playoffs (2004, 2009, 2010) or were one and done when they did (2005, 2006, 2008). And let’s not forget the considerable contributions of his teammates to his success; in his two Super Bowl campaigns, his receivers saw to it that his frequent prayers were answered.

As with all New York athletes, Manning’s highs are inflated, and his lows are magnified. Coming off a Super Bowl win, it’s natural for fans and media to blow his career accomplishments far out of proportion. Once the dust settles, the perception of Eli will nestle in where it should: as a very good quarterback. But there is no Hall of Very Good.

– Rob Doster
 

Teaser:
<p> Does winning a second Super Bowl in five seasons make Giants quarterback Eli Manning a Hall of Famer?</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 16:28
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-6-michigan-wolverines
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 6: Michigan Wolverines (25 total signees)

Big Ten Rank: 2nd
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 3
National Signees: 10

Where They Got 'Em:

This class was equal parts Buckeye and Wolverine. In his first full class as the head coach at Michigan, Brady Hoke utilized the Buckeye State for a huge chunk of this top-10 class. Nine players apiece from in-state and from that state down south set the foundation what turned out to be the Big Ten's No. 2 signing class.

Missouri supplied two, including the No. 2 player in the class, and Tennessee, Kentucky, Iowa, Utah and California provided one prospect each. The No. 3-rated player in this class, Erik Magnuson, comes to Ann Arbor from Carlsbad, Calif., so two of the three AC100 prospects hail from outside of Michigan's Midwestern recruiting base.

Areas of Focus:

The two biggest ares of concern for the Maize and Blue heading into the 2012 season is the defensive line. And while most recruiting classes don't solve team issues until a couple of years down the road, Hoke did his best to ensure quality depth along the D-Line in 2012.

An extraordinarily talented six-man defensive line class is spearheaded by massive, field-ready AC100 tackle Ondre Pipkins. The 320-pounder proved late in the process that he was physically capable of contributing early and could be the biggest impact recruit in this class. His six forced fumbles as a senior are only a glimpse of what this stud tackle will do once he is a Wolverine.

Two very large, nationally recruited Buckeye State ends, Chris Wormley (6-5, 250) and Tom Strobel (6-6, 265), help with depth as well. Wormley posted 23 sacks and 126 tackles over his final two prep seasons, while Strobel posted 139 tackles and 20.5 sacks over his final three years. This group is complimented nicely by the much smaller Mario Ojemudia. At 6-2 and 220 pounds, the in-state product registered 28 sacks and 207 tackles as a junior and senior. Throw in tackles Matthew Godin and Willie Henry, and Hoke has solved his D-Line issues in one fell swoop.

Linebacker is also a deep area of this class. Early enrollees Joe Bolden and Kaleb Ringer head north to Ann Arbor from Ohio. Bolden was a force at the Under Armour event in Tampa and could make an immediate impact in spring practice. He was coached by his uncle at famed Colerain High, and his fundamentally developed game sets him up for early success. Nationally rated James Ross and Royce Jenkins-Stone, who combined for 298 tackles in 2011, make this one of the most intriguing linebacking groups in the Big Ten.

Jenkins-Stone's teammate at Cass Tech, defensive back Terry Richardson, heads a secondary class that features four quality names. Richardson did everything as a senior (49 tackles, 24 rec., 425 yards) after intercepting an absurd 12 passes as a junior. Ohio safety Jarrod Wilson is already enrolled and will help in spring ball. Tall safety prospects Jeremy Clark (6-4, 195) and Allan Gant (6-2, 205) make this one of the biggest (in stature) defensive back classes in the league. Gant's father, Allen Trail Gant, played safety at Michigan from 1982-1986.

Two AC100 blockers, Kyle Kalis and Magnuson, join Nashville product Blake Bars and in-stater Ben Braden to form a solid foursome up front along the offensive line. Kalis is the No. 2-rated player in the state of Ohio, had previously been committed to the Buckeyes and led his team to a state title as a junior. He is the highest-rated player in this Michigan class for a reason.

The offensive skill players, other than quarterback, are well represented as three running backs, two wide receivers and two tight ends signed with Michigan in this class. None were nationally rated. Michigan fans should already know all about Ann Arbor star Drake Johnson, who rushed for 2,805 yards and 37 touchdowns on 343 carries. He is joined in the backfield by scatback Dennis Norfleet and fullback Sione Houma.

With Kevin Koger, Junior Hemingway and Darryl Stonum no longer with the team, it will fall to wideouts Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh as well as tight ends Devin Funchess and A.J. Williams to step up and create viable depth behind Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 0, RB: 3, WR: 2, TE: 2, OL: 4, ATH: 0
Defense: DE: 3, DT: 3, LB: 4, DB: 4, K: 0

AC100 Recruits:

45. Kyle Kalis, OL (6-5, 305), Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward
60. Ondre Pipkins, DT (6-3, 320), Kansas City (Mo.) Park Hill
73. Erik Magnuson, OL (6-6, 275), Carlsbad (Calif.) La Costa Canyon

Other National Signees:

108. Joe Bolden, LB (6-3, 230), Cincinnati (Ohio) Colerain
128. Terry Richardson, DB (5-9, 165), Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech
152. Royce Jenkins-Stone, LB (6-2, 215), Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech
157. Chris Wormley, DE (6-5, 250), Toledo (Ohio) Whitmer
161. James Ross, LB (6-1, 215), Orchard Lake (Mich.) St. Mary's Prep
196. Tom Strobel, DE (6-6, 265), Mentor (Ohio) High
254. Mario Ojemudia, DE (6-2, 220), Farmington Hills (Mich.) Harrison

Early Enrollees:

Joe Bolden, LB (6-3, 230), Cincinnati (Ohio) Colerain
Kaleb Ringer, LB (6-1, 225), Clayton (Ohio) Northmont
Jarrod Wilson, DB (6-2, 190), Akron (Ohio) Buchtel

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. Fri., Feb. 10
8. Mon., Feb. 13
9. Tues., Feb. 14
10. Wed., Feb. 15
11. Thur., Feb. 16
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 Michigan Wolverines landed the No. 6 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 05:00
Path: /columns/garage-talk/10-tough-nascar-questions-part-3
Body:

Was the nail-biting finish to the 2011 Chase a result of the new points system, a one-year anomaly … or a sign of things to come?

At some point, NASCAR’s tinkering, toying and manipulation of the point system had to produce the desired effect, right?

Thus, the culmination of eight years worth of “creative engineering” — point resets, format changes, wild cards, point allocation changes — gave NASCAR CEO Brian France his Austerlitz: a title fight that not only came down to the last race and last lap, but that ended in a tie, forcing a “most race wins” tiebreaker, validating his claims that wins, indeed, are more important than ever.

While some of these claims can be argued, the point is that NASCAR, after years of striving for France’s “Game 7 Moment,” finally got what it wanted. And the reality is, we may never see a better finish to a season. After all, how could it get any closer?

The short answer here is it’s probably all three. The point system undoubtedly tightened things up; it took Chase winner Tony Stewart to win half of the playoff races to stay anywhere close to runner-up Carl Edwards; and yes, this incarnation of NASCAR’s Chase lends itself to providing tight title tussles, which we should expect going forward.

The only fear many now have is that since NASCAR got its all-important “last-lap championship duel,” more changes will follow in years to come that ensure we’ve not seen the absolute best its Chase can provide.
 

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 8, 2012 - 17:46
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-5-florida-state-seminoles
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 5: Florida State Seminoles (19 total signees)

ACC Rank: 1st
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 7
National Signees: 10

Where They Got 'Em:

Jimbo Fisher and company went all over the world to get players this cycle. Yes, that is right, Florida State signed 17 players from the United States and two stationed in European countries. Massive offensive tackle prospect Menelik Watson, who played at Saddleback Community College (Calif.), is orginally from Manchester, England. Fellow offensive lineman Daniel Glauser excelled the last two seasons at New Mexico Military Institute but comes to the state from Rheinfelden, Switzerland.

Obviously the state of Florida will supply the bulk of any FSU class, and this group features a small but talented six-man collection of Sunshine State prospects. The states of Texas and Alabama treated Fisher well in 2012 as Florida State landed five total players from those two states including the top player in each state. The D.C./Maryland area provided two elite prospects as well, including the top player in the greater D.C. area. 

The national (and worldly) approach to this class further illustrates the ongoing return to national prominece for Florida State under Fisher. Of the seven AC100 signees, only one hails from in-state. North Carolina, New Jersey, California and Georgia provided the Seminoles with one signee each.

Areas of Focus:

No one area in particularly dominated this class as no position got more than three new faces and seven of the 11 "official" positions got at least two signees. However, if there is a major strength to this class it comes clearly along the defensive line. Mario Edwards, the Lone Star State's top player and the nation's No. 1 defensive tackle, is headed to Tallahassee. The Noles list him as a defensive end, but he has added 30-40 pounds over the last year and is listed at 290 pounds. At that size and strength, it is hard not to see him sliding inside. He finished his final two prep seasons with 199 tackles, an astonishing 82 tackles for a loss and 29 sacks while leading Ryan to a state runner-up finish in 2010.

Along with Edwads, a talented foursome of hog mollies make this one of the top defensive line classes in the nation. Eddie Goldman (No. 9 in the AC100) is one of two top-10 players to sign with FSU, giving the Noles the top two defensive tackle prospects in the nation. He is a disruptive force up the middle as his 23 tackles for a loss and 15 sacks in 2011 will attest. Toss in pass-rushing specialist Chris Casher — who sat out his senior season after transfering from Faith Academy to Davidson — and Fisher should have plenty to work with in the front seven. Casher was talented enough to play some receiver (22 rec., 408 yards in 2010) while still being a dominant edge-rusher (50 tackles, 19 TFL, 10 sacks). Nationally rated Justin Shanks and tackle Dalvon Stuckey round out a phenomenal five-man D-Line class.

After landing Goldman and Darby on National Signing Day, the biggest unknown with this class concerned the nation's No. 1 quarterback Jameis Winston. The talented signal-caller made Noles faithful wait a few extra days, but on Friday sent in his signed LOI to Florida State. Now, fans might still be nervous until the June MLB Draft where Winston is considered the No. 64-rated prospect in the nation by Baseball America. Should he stay at Florida State, he is expected to be a two-sport star — unless he gets selected in the first round and has a lucrative signing bonus staring him in the face.

Until then, Florida State fans can brag about the nation's top quarterback being a Nole. Winston is the heir apparent to E.J. Manuel's throne should he stick around campus following the MLB Draft. Just in case Winston takes the paycheck, Fisher also landed the pocket-passing Sean Maquire from New Jersey. The 6-3, 200-pounder managed to throw 46 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions in a wing-T offense over his last three seasons at Seton Hall prep. He is a quality consolation prize if Winston should decide to play hardball instead.

Darby, also a two-sport track star, brings explosiveness and big-play ability to a small but talented secondary class. The do-everything star for Potomac High played six different positions as a senior after rushing for 1,329 yards and 23 TDs as a junior. Nationally rated P.J. Williams joins him with a versatile skillset that could land him at safety or corner. This isn't a deep secondary class at all, but the dynamic abilities and elite talents of these two make for an intriguing future in the defensive backfield.

The offensive line got a veteran boost with a pair of international JUCO recruits, and AC100 linebacker Murkuss Eligwe leads a two-man class of backers into Tallahassee. Eligwe is a special, versatile player who could play inside or out on defense.

Nationally rated athlete Marvin Bracy and top-100 running back Mario Pender should add some much-needed play-making ability to the offense. A track star, Bracy is considered by many as the fastest high school athlete in the nation and will likely end up playing wide receiver this fall. Pender is one of the more complete backs in the nation. The nation's No. 7 tailback averaged 11.9 yards per carry (1,543 yards) on only only 130 attempts and scored 17 times in 2011. He posted an absurd 13.9 per carry average as a junior when he rushed for 2,261 yards and 32 touchdowns back in 2010.

Positional Breakdown:

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

AC100 Recruits:

2. Mario Edwards Jr., DE (6-4, 290), Denton (Texas) Ryan
9. Eddie Goldman, DT (6-4, 310), Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate
15. Jameis Winston, QB (6-3, 195), Hueytown (Ala.) High
24. Chris Casher, DE (6-4, 240), Mobile (Ala.) Davidson
34. Ronald Darby, DB (5-11, 176), Oxon Hill (Md.) Potomac
37. Mario Pender, RB (6, 190), Cape Coral (Fla.) Island Coast
71. Markuss Eligwe, LB (6-3, 225), Stone Mountain (Ga.) High

Other National Signees:

124. P.J. Williams, DB (6-2, 190), Ocala (Fla.) Vanguard
126. Marvin Bracy, ATH (5-9, 170), Orlando (Fla.) Boone
137. Justin Shanks, DT (6-3, 310), Prattville (Ala.) High

Early Enrollees:

Mario Pender, RB (6, 190), Cape Coral (Fla.) Island Coast
David Glauser, OL (6-6, 317), Rheinfelden, Switzerland
Cason Beatty, P (6-2, 225), Charlotte (N.C) Olympic

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. Thur., Feb. 9
7. Fri., Feb. 10
8. Mon., Feb. 13
9. Tues., Feb. 14
10. Wed., Feb. 15
11. Thur., Feb. 16
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 Florida State Seminoles landed the No. 5 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: Florida Gators, Kentucky Wildcats, News
Path: /news/college-basketball-kentucky-dominates-florida-keep-home-winning-streak-intact
Body:

By David Schuman

It’s getting a little repetitive to say at this point, but John Calipari has one hell of a team on his hands. That fact was proved yet again Tuesday night, when the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (24-1, 10-0 SEC) ran No. 7 Florida (19-5, 7-2 SEC) out of Rupp Arena. The ‘Cats will only be shedding crocodile tears for these Gators though.

 This was supposed to be the first test of a difficult week for Kentucky. Florida’s four-guard lineup spreads the floor and has been too quick for many opponents this season. Plus, they came in leading the nation in 3 pointers. It was a bad night to go cold.

 They shot 6 of 27 from deep, a pitiful 22.2%. It was the worst first half Billy Donovan’s squad has played all year, with season lows in points and three balls made. It’s no surprise they were down by 12 at the break.

 What more can you say about Kentucky? Anthony Davis is making a strong case for National Player of the Year honors; he is a true difference-maker on defense. There was a distinct feeling Florida was reluctant to drive the lane, especially after Davis recorded two monster blocks in the same possession early in the second half. He scored 16 points as well, but that’s not so hard when seemingly all you’re doing is finishing alley-oops from point guard Marquis Teague.

 Yes, the freshman has come a long way from the early season and you get the feeling that this team will go as far as he takes them. That’s a scary thought when you see how much Teague is improving. Tuesday night he had his first career double-double: 12 points and 10 assists.

 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had another strong performance, with 13 points and 13 rebounds. He’s got crazy athleticism and it’s easy to see why NBA scouts love him.

 With all these freshmen, Terrence Jones somehow gets a little overlooked. Need I remind you he was voted the Preseason Player of the Year in the SEC. With Jones, Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist, it’s hard to find a better frontcourt, outside of maybe Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

 Also of note, Coach Cal has still never lost at home as head coach of the Wildcats. It’s a 48 game winning streak. In other words, if Kentucky’s got a home game, you might as well not even tune in.

I would suggest turning on ESPN this Saturday night though when UK travels to Memorial Gym to take on Vanderbilt. Vandy’s not a team to overlook when they’re playing in Nashville. That place gets raucous. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance when John Wall and Demarcus Cousins came to town in 2010, and it was the most electric sports atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of. All I’m saying is there is potential for an upset.

Florida, on the other hand, should not be so disheartened by this loss. There’s a reason Kentucky’s ranked #1. Coach Donovan would be wise to have his guys move on quickly, as they take on the Tennessee Volunteers at home on Saturday. It should be a good bounce-back kind of game for them.

Overall, Tuesday night’s game wasn’t the most entertaining to watch, but if you appreciate hard-working, team basketball, then this Kentucky team is a must-see. For that, I’ll keep tuning in. Even if they are playing in Rupp Arena.
 

Teaser:
<p> The Wildcats win an important SEC match-up</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 01:52
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-4-ohio-state-buckeyes
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 4: Ohio State Buckeyes (25 total signees)

Big Ten Rank: 1st
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 6
National Signees: 11

Where They Got 'Em:

The Ohio State University has been a national brand for decades, and with Urban Meyer now at the helm, its recruiting stature will only continue to grow into the Southeast. Expect Meyer to hit the Sun Belt hard in 2013 for talent. In his short three-month tenure as the Buckeyes' coach, however, Meyer concentrated on dominating the more traditionally recruited areas for tOSU.

Like Florida, Alabama and Texas ahead of them in the rankings, Ohio State used a heavy in-state crop to land an elite class. Meyer signed 16 players from the Buckeye State, including three of the top five and the state's top target in defensive end Adolphus Washington.

The Scarlet and Gray also landed the top players in the states of Pennsylvania, Illinois and Massachusetts en route to the top class in the Big Ten. Meyer also dipped into California, Florida, Indiana, Colorado and North Carolina for one signee each.

Areas of Focus:

The story most Buckeyes fans are waiting on is obviously Stefon Diggs, the No. 1 athlete in the nation who will announce this Friday primarily between Florida, Ohio State and Maryland. The Gators are the team to beat but should he sign with OSU, this class becomes the No. 3 class in the nation, jumping Florida in the process.

Even without Diggs, this is a special group of future Bucknuts — especially along the defensive line. Meyer is clearly establishing his SEC style along the defensive front by landing the nation's No. 1 pass rusher in end Noah Spence. The 2011 Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year finished with 204 tackles, 50 tackles for a loss and 35.5 sacks over his final two prep seasons. He will lead the Ohio State pass rush into the Meyer era with force.

Joining Spence is fellow AC100 ends Washington and Se'Von Pittman as well as top-100 defensive tackle Tommy Schutt. That gives Ohio State four AC100 defensive linemen — which equates to signing four of the top 25 trench players in the nation. This was a clear area of focus for Meyer's staff, and he delivered in brilliant fashion.

The back-end of the defense was improved with plenty of depth as nine players are slotted into either the linebacker or defensive back positions. Nationally rated linebackers Joshua Perry and Camren Williams replenish the middle of the defense. Williams, who finished his final season with 119 tackles, is the son of 11-year NFL vet Brent Williams. At 6-3 and 230 pounds, Perry, who is already enrolled in class, is a tremendous athlete who play inside, outside or even along the D-Line. He is a track and field long-jumper and brings tremendous athletic ability to the linebacking corps.

Armani Reeves and De'Van Bogard head up the secondary class. Reeves was the Catholic Conference MVP after 445 yards rushing on offense, 57 tackles on defense and nine total touchdowns. His ability to score on offense, defense and special teams makes him one of the more versatile prospects in this class. Bogard, who hails from OSU pipeline and prep powerhouse Cleveland-Glenville is one of the hardest-hitting safety prospects in the entire nation.

On offense, the offensive line got the most focus as five total — two nationally ranked — new faces join the offensive front. Joey O'Connor, Taylor Decker and Kyle Dodson add tremendous size, talent and depth to an area that Meyer is sure to solidify early on in his career. The lines of scrimmage are where national championships are won, and Meyer landed elite talent on both sides of the ball as six of his 11 nationally ranked prospects will play in the trenches. And lone tight end signee Blake Thomas is considered an overpowering blocker who will make his earliest impact in the running game.

Tailback Bri'onte Dunn is the most touted offensive player in this class, however. The early enrollee checks in at 220 pounds and rolled up 5,479 yards in his prep career at GlenOak High. He posted 1,657 yards as a senior and 2,030 yards back in 2009 while scoring 51 touchdowns over his final three years. Dunn and local product Warran Ball add depth to an already deep but undistinguished tailback depth chart.

Three wide receivers and one tight end also add much-needed depth to the pass-catching pool. Michael Thomas led the state of California (no easy task) with 1,656 yards receiving this fall, while Ricquan Southward brings that Florida speed north to Columbus. He is the lone Sunshine State signee in this class.

After one year at Fork Union Military Academy, quarterback Cardale Jones, who claimed MVP honors of the 2010 Offense-Defense bowl, finally gets to campus — and at 6-5 and 220 pounds, he has the exact skill set Urban Meyer looks for from his quarterback.

The biggest storyline surrounding Meyer's instant recruiting fame has been his ability to yank prospects from other powerful Big Ten programs. Penn State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame all lost highly touted prospects to Ohio State down the stretch — and opposing coaches have been outspoken about Meyer's recruiting practices. That said, all is fair in love and recruiting, and Meyer deserves all the praise he has gotten for pulling together the Big Ten's top class in a short three-month period of time.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 1, RB: 2, WR: 3, TE: 1, OL: 5, ATH: 0
Defense: DE: 3, DT: 1, LB: 5, DB: 4, K: 0

AC100 Recruits:

4. Noah Spence, DE (6-4, 245), Harriburg (Pa.) Bishop McDevitt
27. Adolphus Washington, DE (6-5, 245), Cincinnati (Ohio) Taft
67. Tommy Schutt, DT (6-3, 300), Glen Ellyn (Ill.) Glenbard
86. Se'Von Pittman, DE (6-5, 245), Canton (Ohio) McKinley
98. Bri'onte Dunn, RB (6-2, 220), Canton (Ohio) GlenOak

Other National Signees:

120. Joey O'Connor, OL (6-4, 295), Windsor (Colo.) High
142. Armani Reeves, DB (5-10, 185), West Roxbury (Mass.) Catholic Mem.
175. Joshua Perry, LB (6-3, 230), Lewis Center (Ohio) Olentangy
179. Taylor Decker, OL (6-8, 315), Vandalia (Ohio) Butler
215. De'Van Bogard, DB (6, 175), Cleveland (Ohio) Glenville
256. Camren Williams, LB (6-2, 215), West Roxbury (Mass.) Catholic Mem.

Early Enrollees:

Bri'onte Dunn
, RB (6-2, 220), Canton (Ohio) GlenOak
Jacoby Boren, OL (6-2, 275), Pickerington (Ohio) Central
Cardale Jones, QB (6-5, 220), Cleveland (Ohio) Glendale/Fork Union
Joshua Perry, LB (6-3, 230), Lewis Center (Ohio) Olentangy
Tyvis Powell, DB (6-3, 180), Bedford (Ohio) High
Michael Thomas, WR (6-4, 205), Los Angeles (Calif.) Taft

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

2. Texas Longhorns
3. Florida Gators
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
5. Wed., Feb. 8
6. Thur., Feb. 9
7. Fri., Feb. 10
8. Mon., Feb. 13
9. Tues., Feb. 14
10. Wed., Feb. 15
11. Thur., Feb. 16
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 Ohio State Buckeyes landed the No. 4 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 - 05:40
Path: /college-basketball/duke-louisville-west-virginia-and-kentucky-lead-roundtable
Body:

The calendar has turned to February, so college basketball teams are currently fighting for seeding or just to get in the NCAA Tournament. Missouri had a huge comeback win over Kansas in this weekend’s best game, while Duke suffered its second home loss in 15 days. Our editors answer three questions covering the best and worst from the college hoops week.

1. Who had the most damaging loss last weekend?

Nathan Rush: Duke's 78–74 overtime loss to Miami won't hurt the Blue Devils' NCAA Tournament seeding but it did further expose Coach K's team as both physically and mentally fragile. The Blue Devils were outscored 38–26 in the paint and missed all six of their free throws in overtime against the Hurricanes, who earned their first ever win at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Obviously frustrated after the game, Krzyzewski questioned his team's desire, saying that Duke's four national championships “were not won without energy, without hunger, with no complacency, with people really wanting it. … Those should be givens.” With this year's Dukies, however, those are not givens.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): Xavier let a great opportunity to pick up a quality win on the road slip away, losing a 10-point lead in the final eight minutes en route to a 72–68 loss to Memphis at FedExForum. The Musketeers climbed into the top 10 in early December after opening the season with eight straight wins but have been rather mediocre over the past two months. They are 7–8 since the infamous fight vs. Cincinnati, with only one of those wins (vs. Saint Joseph’s) coming against a top-80 RPI team. Xavier is currently ranked No. 53 in the RPI and will be included in most mock NCAA Tournament brackets this week, but Chris Mack’s club is flirting with disaster.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): I thought Stanford's 56-43 home loss to Arizona was very damaging for its NCAA Tournament resume. The Cardinal have now lost four of their last five games after starting the season 15–3. Johnny Dawkins’ club had played well at Maples Pavilion until Saturday, when it shot 25.4 percent from the field on the way to a season-low 43 points. As it currently stands, the Pac-12 looks to have only two teams in Cal and Washington (and this is debatable) that will make the tourney field. Stanford is battling with the likes of Oregon, Arizona and Colorado to try and get a third league team into March Madness. The Cardinal severely hurt their chances with the home loss to the Wildcats, and they will need a strong run down the stretch to make the NCAA field.

2. Pick a team that was not in last week's top 25 that you think could possibly make a run to the Final Four.

Patrick Snow: Obviously the odds are long that a currently unranked team would advance to the Final Four, but I could see the West Virginia Mountaineers making a UConn-like run from the middle of the Big East pack to New Orleans. WVU has not played well lately, but coach Bob Huggins has a ton of NCAA Tournament experience. Additionally, he has two senior go-to guys in guard Truck Bryant and imposing post Kevin Jones. If that veteran duo can get some help from players like junior forward Deniz Kilicli (scored a career-high 22 points in Sunday’s win over Providence) or freshman guard Jabarie Hinds (has scored in double-digits in 10 of 24 games), then West Virginia is the type of grind-it-out club that could make a surprising run in March.

Nathan Rush: The Louisville Cardinals are a talented, battle-tested squad led by one of the best coaches in NCAA Tournament history. Rick Pitino has been to the Final Four five times with a record three different schools (Providence, Kentucky and Louisville), cutting down the nets after winning it all with Kentucky in 1996. This year's Cardinals club is capable of getting hot at the right time and making a run to the Final Four. The U of L has a streaky-hot point guard in Peyton Siva, an imposing 6'11" force down low in Gorgui Dieng and plenty of firepower on the wings with Kyle Kuric, Russ Smith and Chris Smith. As always, the team Pitino brings to the Big Dance will be dangerous.

Mitch Light: Temple is undervalued nationally. The Owls improved to 17–5 overall and 6–2 in the A-10 with a 73–56 win at Rhode Island on Saturday. They have wins over Wichita State, Villanova, Maryland and Duke in non-conference action and have emerged as the team to beat in what has become a deep A-10. Fran Dunphy’s club is led by a trio of veteran guards in Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and Juan Fernandez who played a key role in last year’s NCAA Tournament team. Temple doesn’t get a lot of scoring from its front line but has some big bodies who play well defensively and get after it on the glass. With the right matchups, Temple is capable of winning several games — maybe even four — in the NCAAs.

3. Who is your National Coach of the Year at this point?

Mitch Light: Mike Brey has to be in the discussion. The veteran Notre Dame coach lost his best player, forward Tim Abromaitis, to a season-ending knee injury in mid-November. It took a while for the Irish to learn how to play with a re-tooled lineup, but Brey has been pushing all of the right buttons of late. Notre Dame has won four straight Big East games, highlighted by wins over Syracuse (undefeated at the time), at UConn and at home vs. Marquette, and is remarkably looking like a solid NCAA Tournament team.

Patrick Snow: I would have to go with Larry Eustachy at Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles are 20–3 and sitting on top of the Conference USA standings. USM lost its top three scorers off last year’s team in Gary Flowers (18.8 ppg), R.L. Horton (12.4 ppg) and D.J. Newbill (9.2 ppg), but Eustachy’s bunch has been surprisingly effective. The Golden Eagles have only lost at Denver in November, against undefeated Murray State in double-overtime and at Memphis. There are no stars on this USM team, but five players average between 13.3 and 9.7 points per game. The Golden Eagles were not picked to compete for the C-USA crown, but they are now the favorite to win the league with their balanced attack and solid rebounding.

Nathan Rush: Kentucky's John Calipari is ranked No. 1 in the nation, has a 23–1 record and is one defensive stop away — on a last-second shot at Indiana — from being undefeated. Coach Cal has assembled the finest collection of talent in the nation, with five-star freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teaque joining sophomore studs Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb to form a nearly unstoppable talent base. Calipari hand-picked the country's best team on the recruiting trail and is coaching them up to their potential on the court. He's the best in the business right now, and deserves to be acknowledged as such.
 

Teaser:
<p> Duke, Louisville, West Virginia and Kentucky Lead This Weekend's Roundtable</p>
Post date: Monday, February 6, 2012 - 15:35
Path: /mlb/new-york-yankees-mt-rushmore
Body:

MLB Mt. Rushmores

by Charlie Miller

We believe that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. Even two guys sitting in a bar can figure that out, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.

 

New York Yankees Mt. Rushmore

The team that started the entire Mt. Rushmore discussion. Now that I’ve waded through the likes of Brandon Webb, Aaron Cook, Jeff Conine and Randy Jones as faces on teams’ Mt. Rushmores, it’s time to attempt to cull the illustrious history of the New York Yankees down to four men. Four. From Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to Reggie Jackson to Derek Jeter. Perhaps we should allow an organization with 27 World Series titles eight faces on its Mt. Rushmore — or at least six. But we’re sticking to the rule of only four faces on Mt. Rushmore, even with the Yankees. And for a team that boasts 15 retired numbers (with Jeter’s No. 2, Mariano Rivera’s No. 42 and possibly Joe Torre’s No. 6 to follow), there are numerous candidates. But we’ll have to identify the four guys who have risen above all others. I’m sure the arguments will be aplenty. Here goes:

 

Babe Ruth
The Sultan of Swat was larger than life. He transformed his career from one of the game’s best pitchers to, perhaps, the game’s greatest hitter of all-time, not just his era. The Babe was a household name for generations nationwide. Ruth ushered in the Live Ball Era making the home run something to behold. As a pitcher, Ruth won an ERA title and led the AL in shutouts with nine in 1916. That season he became one of five pitchers to toss more than 320 innings without giving up a long ball. He was 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA in three World Series starts. But for, oh about 714 reasons, Babe gave up pitching for right field. He then proceeded to win 12 home run titles, a batting title and six RBI crowns on his way to establishing the standard for home runs hit during a season and career. From 1918-29 Ruth hit more than 10 percent of the home runs in the American League. He outhomered half (or more) of the teams in the league during eight of those 12 seasons, outswatting all seven rivals in both 1920 and 1927.

 

Lou Gehrig
Ruth’s partner in offensive assaults was the Iron Horse. Gehrig spent most of his career batting cleanup behind Ruth and set the all-time mark with 23 grand slams. But much like Ruth, Gehrig was much bigger than stats, or the game itself. After Wally Pipp’s famous injury in June of 1925, Gehrig quickly became the Iron Horse, establishing a mark once thought to be unbreakable of 2,130 consecutive games. Without a doubt, Gehrig’s proclamation upon his retirement precipitated by ALS — now known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease — that he considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” rings loudly still in the hearts of baseball fans. As it turns out, the two MVPs, the Triple Crown, the 2,721 hits, 493 home runs and 1,995 RBIs were just icing on the cake.

 

Mickey Mantle
Few players can ever replace a legend. But in 1952, a 20-year-old from Oklahoma was handed the keys to center field in Yankee Stadium, patrolled by Joe DiMaggio just the year before. Mantle never disappointed. On his way to 536 home runs, three MVPs and three runner-up finishes, the Commerce Comet was third in MVP voting in ’52, finishing behind two pitchers. Mantle hit 18 home runs in World Series play covering 65 games and 12 Series. From the 1950s until his death in 1995, Mantle was the most beloved Yankee.

 

Mariano Rivera

Okay. Here’s where it gets a little tricky. Well, maybe more than a little. Why not DiMaggio, Jeter, or even Yogi? As beloved as those three icons are, none dominated his position like Rivera. The premier closer of all-time conquered enemy hitters for 19 seasons. Pitching in an offensive era, Rivera’s WHIP is an even 1.000 and his ERA is 2.21. He owns the all-time record with 652 saves and converted saves at an 89 percent rate. In the postseason, Rivera has been even better. In 141 innings, Rivera has 42 saves, a 0.70 ERA and 0.759 WHIP.

 

Close Calls

The fact that he played in New York, had a 56-game hitting steak and was married to Marilyn Monroe for almost a year — not to mention a little shout-out from Simon and Garfunkel — has put Joe DiMaggio on a higher pedestal than he deserves. And he deserves a pretty high pedestal.

 

The only player to get 3,000 hits in pinstripes is Derek Jeter, the most celebrated shortstop in team history.

Few fans talk about Yogi Berra anymore, probably because he’s so talked about.

 

George Steinbrenner bought a struggling franchise in 1973 and turned it into the Evil Empire — and made no apologies for his efforts or success.


Best Current Player
Beyond Jeter, there are no current Yankees with status of a Close Call for the most historic and decorated franchise in baseball.

 

American LeagueNational League
Baltimore OriolesArizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red SoxAtlanta Braves
Chicago White SoxChicago Cubs
Cleveland IndiansCincinnati Reds
Detroit TigersColorado Rockies
Houston AstrosMiami Marlins
Kansas City RoyalsLos Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles AngelsMilwaukee Brewers
Minnesota TwinsNew York Mets
New York YankeesPhiladelphia Phillies
Oakland A'sPittsburgh Pirates
Seattle MarinersSan Diego Padres
Tampa Bay RaysSan Francisco Giants
Texas RangersSt. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue JaysWashington Nationals

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com

Teaser:
<p> The team that started the entire Mt. Rushmore discussion. From Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to Reggie Jackson to Derek Jeter. Perhaps we should allow an organization with 27 World Series titles eight faces on its Mt. Rushmore — or at least six.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 6, 2012 - 11:41
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-3-florida-gators
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 3: Florida Gators (23 total signees)

SEC Rank: 2nd
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 6
National Signees: 13

Where They Got 'Em:

The primary reason that Florida is the best job in the SEC is because of the talent in the Sunshine State. If any head coach is going to be successful in Gainesville, they will have to milk high schools from Dade County to the Panhandle for prospects. And those prep programs are some of, if not the, most talent-rich teams in the entire nation. Will Muschamp knew this going in and signed the bulk of his 23-man class from in-state. With 12 Florida prospects, the Gators didn't have to travel far to build the foundation of this class. Nor should they.

That being said, Muschamp was incredibly productive in the state of North Carolina this season as well. The state is no stranger to Gator staffers, but the job Muschamp's guys did in the Tar Heel state was incredible. Florida signed four total players from North Carolina, including the best two recruits in the state. Offensive lineman D.J. Humphries is the No. 1 offensive lineman in the nation, and it marks the second time in four years that Florida pulled the top blocker in the nation from the Tar Heel State (Xavier Nixon). Defensive end Jonathan Bullard is the No. 2 end prospect in the nation, and he, too, headed south to Gainesville. Humphries is already in class and ready to compete this spring.

Georgia and Pennyslvania provided a pair of talented athletes each while Muschamp signed one player from both Illinois and Mississippi. Urban Meyer had built plenty of inroads to the northeast, and it appears Muschamp wants to the do the same with Keystoners Colin Thompson (TE) and Skyler Mornhinweg (QB).

Areas of Focus:

The most woriesome and startling issue with this Gators' roster is the lack of explosive play-makers on the outside of the offense. For a team built around speedy, ball-in-hand guys for the better part of two decades, it's shocking that Muschamp has this issue on his hands. Carl Moore, Deonte Thompson, Frankie Hammond and Andre Debose are just few of the elite-level receiver prospects to flop in Gainesville.

So February 10 can't get here fast enough for Muschamp. He and new coordinator Brent Pease are holding out hope that Olney (Md.) Good Counsel athlete Stefon Diggs picks the Gators this Friday. The No. 1 athlete in the nation and the No. 5 overall prospect in America is considered a Gator lean, but he would drop this class to No. 4 in the rankings if he signed with Ohio State. More importantly, Pease would still be without an elite playmaker on his new offense.

Otherwise, this collection of talent is worthy of the Gator Chomp. And the best cure for a team that lacks proven outside options is to build from the inside out. Florida did just that with Humphries and fellow top-100 blocker Jessamen Dunker already enrolled. Pease added a pair of complementary tight ends in pass-catcher Kent Taylor and in-line blocker Colin Thompson. They are two of the top three tight end prospects in the nation, and Taylor is the country's highest-rated player at his position. With the developing youth already along the line, these four new faces could make this an area of strength for the first time since 2008.

However, the only nationally rated skill talents in this class are tailback Matt Jones and wideout Latroy Pittman. For most programs, these two could be considered marquee recruits so they are clearly very talented athletes, but can they develop into game-changers? Jones is a big, powerful back, which Gators fans aren't used to seeing in the backfield. He missed four games due to a knee injury but still helped Armwood to a 15-0 season and Class 6A state title. Pittman, an early enrollee, excelled on both sides of the ball in high school as a wideout (481 yards, 8 TD) and defensive back (37 tackles, 5 INT). There is a lot of pressure on these two — and fellow wideout Raphael Andrades — if Diggs signs with the Buckeyes, as they're the only three offensive skill players signed in this class.

The defense, which should be a major area of strength in 2012 already, added some seriously talented athletes to the two-deep. Bullard, who posted 16 sacks in 2011, has a chance to be special off the edge and could make the biggest immediate impact of anyone in this class. He is joined by five other stellar defensive line prospects, most notably Dante Phillips and Quinteze Williams. The nationally rated tackle duo will add quality depth to an already loaded position. They are tall (6-6 and 6-5 respectively), athletic and used to winning — Williams led Sandy Creek to the GHSA 3A State title two years ago, and Phillips helped Venice to the regional semifinals this fall.

The heart of the Gators defense got some help as well as four new faces will slide in at linebacker. Long-time Florida State Seminole commitment Dante Fowler Jr., at 6-3, 261, has a good chance of playing with his hand in the dirt. He is currently listed by Florida as an outside linebacker but would be perfect rushing the passer — something the Gators could use. Either way, he has a chance to be a star. Early enrollee Antonio Morrison and Jeremi Powell are much more traditional outside backers and will be joined by another potential hybrid in 6-6, 223-pound Alex McCalister. On the surface, it looks like the defensive line class could end up being eight-deep instead of six, but either way, the front seven for Florida should be well taken care of for years to come.

Muschamp, a former safety, didn't forget about his area of the field. Three of the four defensive back signees were nationally touted, and 202-pound cornerback Brian Poole leads the way. Poole is fiercely strong for a cornerback and is rated as the No. 9 overall defensive back in the nation. Marcus Maye and Rhaheim Ledbetter, who both weigh in at around 200 pounds as well, give the Gators a new pair of safeties.

Atlanta's Austin Hardin is ranked by some as the nation's top kicker.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 1, RB: 1, WR: 2, TE: 2, OL: 2, ATH: 0
Defense: DL: 6, LB: 4, DB: 4, K: 1

AC100 Recruits:

3. D.J. Humphries, OL (6-6, 271), Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek
11. Jonathan Bullard, DE (6-3, 263), Shelby (N.C.) Crest
28. Dante Fowler Jr., LB (6-3, 261), St. Petersburg (Fla.) Lakewood
64. Jessamen Dunker, OL (6-4, 320), Boynton Beach (Fla.) High
65. Kent Taylor, TE (6-5, 225), Land O'Lakes (Fla.) High
71. Brian Poole, CB (5-10, 202), Bradenton (Fla.) Southeast

Other National Signees:

118. Marcus Maye, DB (5-11, 200), Melbourne (Fla.) Holy Trinity
129. Dante Phillips, DL (6-6, 270), Venice (Fla.) High
136. Colin Thompson, TE (6-4, 252), Warminster (Pa.) Archbishop Wood
165. Matt Jones, RB (6-2, 213), Seffner (Fla.) Armwood
203. Latroy Pittman, WR (6, 195), Citra (Fla.) North Marion
247. Quinteze Williams, DL (6-5, 255), Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek
268. Rhaheim Ledbetter, DB (5-11, 195), Shelby (N.C.) Crest

Early Enrollees:

Willie Bailey, DB (6-1, 167), Hallandale (Fla.) High
Jessamen Dunker, OL (6-4, 320), Boynton Beach (Fla.) High
D.J. Humphries, OL (6-6, 271), Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek
Damien Jacobs, DL (6-3, 310), Scooba (Miss.) East Miss. C.C.
Antonio Morrison, LB (6-1, 209), Bollingbrook (Ill.) High

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

2. Texas Longhorns
3. Florida Gators
4. Tues., Feb. 7
5. Wed., Feb. 8
6. Thur., Feb. 9
7. Fri., Feb. 10
8. Mon., Feb. 13
9. Tues., Feb. 14
10. Wed., Feb. 15
11. Thur., Feb. 16
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 Florida Gators landed the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 6, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /columns/garage-talk/10-tough-questions-part-2
Body:

Why has NASCAR taken one of the fans’ favorite venues on the circuit at Lucas Oil Raceway, and replaced it with a track that typically does not host the most exciting brand of stock car racing?

Money, of course. The .686-mile short track was one of only seven tracks (Bristol, Charlotte, Darlington, Daytona, Dover and Richmond) that has hosted a Nationwide/Busch Series event each year since the series debuted in 1982. But with Cup races at the Brickyard bleeding out attendance on a yearly basis, IMS and the France family decided to bring NASCAR’s junior circuit, as well as the Rolex Grand Am Sports Car Series, to the hallowed grounds beginning this year.

Of course, many fans were in an uproar when the announcement was made. LOR (aka, IRP, ORP) has played host to some of the best short track action in NASCAR’s three touring series over the years. And the Brickyard, while a prestigious facility steeped in tradition, has simply not proven able to stage entertaining stock car races. Add in the 2008 tire debacle, and attendance struggles to reach 50 percent capacity.

To be fair, there was talk of NASCAR’s increased sanctioning fees being a reason LOR could no longer sustain an NNS race, money problems that were scoffed at by officials. In the end, though, that may have been a moot point. Waning fan interest at IMS equates to less dollars, and if NASCAR has been consistent on one point throughout its history, it’s that decisions are made solely with the bottom line in mind. If more suits can be wined and dined, more sponsorship programs sold and activated, and more concessions sold, it’s a no-brainer for the sanctioning body — competition level be damned.

So once again, a short track is sacrificed as the sport kneels at the altar of aero-dependent monstrosities. LOR holds 40,000; IMS is said to hold 270,000. When a Cup date can’t fill up half of those seats on Sunday, can you imagine the ghost town that the Brickyard will be on Saturday? Speaking of ghost towns, one of the most exciting venues on the circuit will turn into one, the victim of a speedway’s and a sanctioning body’s greed.
 

Teaser:
<p> <span>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.</span></p>
Post date: Sunday, February 5, 2012 - 16:57
Path: /nfl/which-super-bowl-team-was-better-1986-or-2011-ny-giants
Body:

By RALPH VACCHIANO

There was magic back in 2007 when the Giants made the run to Super Bowl XLII, just like there was something special happening when the 1990 Giants won Super Bowl XXV. Those are moments that Giants fans will cherish forever.

But there’s still nothing that can compare to the first time for the franchise – when the 1986 Giants won Super Bowl XXI.

No matter what any of the other Giants teams has done, the ’86 squad is still the measuring stick. Every team, every player, gets measured against that significant part of the Giants’ past.

So as the 2011 Giants make their run at a championship – possibly the second one for the franchise in the last five seasons – it’s only fair that they’re held up in comparison to the greats from 25 years ago. If the 1986 Giants and 2011 Giants were matched head to head, who would come out on top and how would they compare?

There may be no way to compare teams from different eras in the NFL, but for fun, it’s worth a try:

DEFENSE
The 2011 Giants are trying to find out if it’s really true that “Defense wins championships,” because the revival of their defense – particularly their pass rush – is what has fueled this Super Bowl run. But if they really want to know what a defense can do, they should look back at their own history, because defense won three Super Bowls for this franchise.

And none was more dominant than the one in 1986.

This current Giants team can’t compare to that one, even with a dominant pass rush led by Jason Pierre-Paul. He’s dangerous, but not the scary figure that Lawrence Taylor once was. And Taylor was rushing from behind Leonard Marshall, George Martin and Jim Burt.

Add in linebackers like Carl Banks, Gary Reasons and Hall of Famer Harry Carson, and it’s not even clear that many of the Giants’ current front seven would have a starting spot on the ’86 team. And when you add in the fact that the genius, Bill Belichick, was the ’86 defensive coordinator, it easily puts the Super Bowl XXI champions over the top.

EDGE: ‘86

OFFENSE
This is where the comparison gets a little more even, because Eli Manning is beginning to look like the best quarterback the Giants have ever had. He’s obliterated any numbers that Phil Simms ever put up, and he’s the first Giants quarterback to lead two teams to Super Bowls, too.

And Simms never had receivers as explosive as Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz. He did a wonderful job of getting the most out of Lionel Manuel, Stacey Robinson, Bobby Johnson and Phil McConkey, but none of them were as dangerous as what the Giants have now.

What Simms had was a much better tight end – Jake Ballard can’t compare to the greatness of Mark Bavaro – and probably a better running game, too. Joe Morris was a true, No. 1, workhorse back and he was backed up by Ottis Anderson. Brandon Jacobs, in his current form, is a shell of his former self and Ahmad Bradshaw is running on a fractured foot. It’s no wonder this Giants’ rushing attack was the worst in the league.

But it didn’t matter. The 2011 teams can put up points in a hurry. It’s one of the most dangerous offenses the Giants franchise has ever seen.

EDGE: 2011

QUARTERBACK

Just a few years ago Giants fans would’ve gagged at the thought of Manning being mentioned in the same sentence as Simms, who is one of the most beloved figures out of the Giants’ past. He was tough, blue-collar, fun to watch and a winner, and he threw better than people sometimes remember, too.

This season, though, has separated Manning from the pack. He rebounded from an ugly, 25-interception season, started talking tough when he declared himself “elite”, won over New York by backing up his words, and captured the heart of the city by leading fourth-quarter comebacks six times. He’s proven to be gritty, tough (see the pounding he took in the NFC championship game), and the franchise has never seen a better quarterback when the game is on the line.

He’s already passed Simms as the greatest quarterback in franchise history, and a second Super Bowl championship could be his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

EDGE: 2011

COACHING

It’s a little eerie how similar these two coaches are. Their regular season records are nearly identical. Both were former Giants assistants (Coughlin worked under Bill Parcells). Both had sometimes prickly personalities (though Parcells was always a bit more jovial than Coughlin). Both were tough and set in their ways.

History will likely remember Parcells as the greater coach, especially if he ends up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He resurrected four different franchises in his career and had success everywhere he went. He won his two rings with the Giants, just like Coughlin, but he got his by pulling the Giants out of one of the darkest eras they ever had.

Still, when it comes to coaching these teams, it’s hard to separate the jobs they’ve done. Parcells slowly built a powerhouse, then tweaked it at the right moments to turn it into a mini-dynasty. Coughlin, in the free-agent era, was forced to rebuild on the fly and for the second time pulled his team back from rock bottom in December to make an unlikely title run.

Both are great coaches. Both are great leaders. This matchup would be a wash.

EDGE: Even

OVERALL

History has shown that the two most important ingredients in building a contender are quarterbacks and defenses. Both teams had good enough ones to win a title. But if these teams were ever somehow matched up against each other in a theoretical battle in the middle of their primes, the ’86 defense would prove to be the far superior unit and the most dominant factor on the field.

Manning could out-play Simms in a numbers game, but there was always something about Simms and his ability to find a way to win. Couple that with a smothering defense and the most dominant player in the matchup – Lawrence Taylor – and his job wouldn’t be all that hard.

The ’11 team is more explosive. It can score quicker, too. But its pass rush would have trouble getting to Simms, and he certainly wouldn’t be rattled. Simms and the ’86 offense wouldn’t have any trouble operating a smooth, efficient, ground-controlled game. Meanwhile, the ’86 defense wouldn’t give ground to anyone. It wouldn’t be missing tackles all over the field.

So yes, defense really does win championships, and the ’86 team had the far superior defense. This 2011 Giants team may win a championship, too, but there’s still no doubt the 1986 Giants were by far the better team.

EDGE: 1986

Teaser:
<p> We break down which Big Apple team was better</p>
Post date: Sunday, February 5, 2012 - 10:28
All taxonomy terms: Florida Gators, Vanderbilt Commodores, News
Path: /news/college-basketball-vanderbilt-commodores-florida-gators-preview
Body:

While Vanderbilt seemed to be approaching conference play with an undeniably improved focus compared to that of their preseason play, a mental lapse and lackadaisical efforts combined cost the ‘Dores a clutch SEC victory Tuesday night against Arkansas. However, the Commodores look to bounce back against the (No. 11 ESPN/USA Today, No. 12 AP) Florida Gators this Saturday.

After kicking off conference play with a disappointing loss to Tennessee Jan. 7, the Gators have regained their swagger and dashed through conference play on a 6-0 winning streak.

Needless to say, Vanderbilt definitely has their hands full as they take on the extremely versatile guard play of Florida’s Kenny Boynton and Bradley Beal, while also withstanding the jeers of 90,000 roaring fans in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Regardless of the challenge facing the ‘Dores, Forward Lance Goulbourne believes there is an internal solution to securing the win Saturday afternoon:

“We need to make a focused effort to improve our second half difference. Last game and in previous games, our defense let us down in the second half. If we maintain our focus for 40 minutes, we have a great chance to win the game.”

This attitude may get the Commodores in the right gear to avenge their loss to the Razorbacks and to pull off an upset in the swamp.

Don’t miss this SEC Showdown Saturday, Feb 4, 2012 at 1p.m. ET.

By Jordan Coleman

Teaser:
<p> Will Vandy be able to take down a tough SEC foe on the road?</p>
Post date: Saturday, February 4, 2012 - 11:10
Path: /nfl/super-bowl-xlvi-hall-famers
Body:

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee will meet in Indianapolis on Feb. 4, the day before Super Bowl XLVI, to debate and vote on the 2012 Hall of Fame class — which will be the 50th class honored in Canton, Ohio. This year’s field has been narrowed down to 15 modern-era finalists and two senior nominees.

In order to be elected, a finalist must receive 80 percent of the vote from the 44-member panel. According to Hall of Fame rules, “no more than five modern-era nominees may be elected in a given year and a class of six or seven can only be achieved if one or both senior nominees are elected.”

This year’s 15 modern-era finalists are:

- Jerome Bettis, RB, Rams (1993-95), Steelers (1996-2005)
- Tim Brown, WR, Raiders (1988-2003), Buccaneers (2004)
- Cris Carter, WR, Eagles (1987-89), Vikings (1990-2001), Dolphins (2002)
- Dermontti Dawson, C, Steelers (1988-2000)
- Edward DeBartolo Jr., Owner, 49ers (1977-2000)
- Chris Doleman, DE, Vikings (1985-93, ’99); Falcons (1994-95), 49ers (1996-98)
- Kevin Greene, OLB, Rams (1985-92), Steelers (1993-95), Panthers (1996, ’98-99), 49ers (1997)
- Charles Haley, DE, 49ers (1986-91, ’99), Cowboys (1992-96)
- Cortez Kennedy, DT, Seahawks (1990-2000)
- Curtis Martin, RB, Patriots (1995-97), Jets (1998-2005)
- Bill Parcells, Coach, Giants (1983-90), Patriots (1993-96), Jets (1997-99), Cowboys (2003-06)
- Andre Reed, WR, Bills (1985-99), Redskins (2000)
- Willie Roaf, T, Saints (1993-2001), Chiefs (2002-05)
- Will Shields, G, Chiefs (1993-2006)
- Aeneas Williams, CB, Cardinals (1991-2000), Rams (2001-04)

Of the 15 modern-era finalists, only Parcells and Shields are new additions to the ballot, on which a player may not appear until he is five years removed from his playing career.

The two senior nominees are Jack Butler, CB, Steelers (1951-59) and Dick Stanfel, G, Lions (1952-55), Redskins (1956-58).

But the question is, how many future Hall of Famers are the New England Patriots and New York Giants bringing to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis?

The following is a tiered rundown of where the best of the best teams in football stand in proximity to Canton:

Tier 1 – Tickets to Canton punched

Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
A win in Super Bowl XLVI would tie Brady with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for most titles ever, with four; he’s already tied with John Elway for most big game appearances, with five. Brady has thrown for 39,979 yards and 300 TDs in essentially 10 seasons — technically 12, but he played just one game apiece in 2000 and ’08. The three-time Super Bowl champ, two-time Super Bowl MVP and two-time league MVP also posted the greatest single season in ’07, tossing 50 TDs en route to the only 16–0 regular season in history. The only debate with Brady is how long will the locks be on his bronze bust in Canton?

Bill Belichick, Coach, Patriots
Since winning two Super Bowls as Bill Parcells’ defensive coordinator with the Giants, Belichick has gone on to win three more rings (in four years, from 2001-04) as coach of the Patriots. The hoodied genius has nine AFC East titles in 12 years, five Super Bowl appearances, a 175–97 regular season record and 17–6 mark in the postseason. At this point, no one even remembers Belichick’s 36–44 run with the Browns from 1991-95 or his surreal one-day stint as the “coach” of the Jets in 2000. At this point, Belichick has surpassed even Parcells on the list of all-time great coaches.

Tier 2 – Win again and you’re in

Eli Manning, QB, Giants
A second Super Bowl win in five years would make Manning the 11th quarterback in history with multiple rings. Of the previous 10, only Jim Plunkett and Ben Roethlisberger are not in the Hall of Fame — and Big Ben, a 2004 draft classmate of Eli’s, isn’t eligible yet. Manning has thrown for 27,579 yards and 185 TDs in eight years, playing in all 16 games in each of the last seven seasons.

Tom Coughlin, Coach, Giants
Once a grumpy old man on the verge of being run out of town, Coughlin has aged like a fine wine in New York and is on the verge of joining Parcells as a two-time Super Bowl champ. Prior to his days with the Giants, Coughlin was the first coach in Jaguars history. Overall, Coughlin has nine playoff trips in 16 seasons, a 142–114 regular season record and 11–7 mark in the playoffs.

Tier 3 – On the bubble for a bust

Vince Wilfork, DT, Patriots
The 325-plus-pounder is the anchor of the Patriots defense, with the versatility to dominate as a zero-technique nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme, a three-technique tackle in a 4-3 or anywhere in between. Numbers don’t tell the whole story of the impact Wilfork has on a game, collapsing the pocket and drawing double- and triple-teams. With one Super Bowl win (as a rookie) and one loss on Super Sunday, Wilfork is hoping the third time’s a charm.

Tier 4 – Fast start, but miles to go

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
The Gronk had the greatest single season a tight end has ever produced — with 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 TDs (and one rush TD) in 2011. Through two seasons, the 6’6”, 265-pound superfreak has 27 receiving scores; Tony Gonzalez has a tight end record 95 TDs over 15 seasons.

Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
Another physical marvel, JPP has Gronk-like size (6’6”, 278), speed and agility. But his upside may be even greater. Pierre-Paul is just scratching the surface, becoming a legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate in just his second season (16.5 sacks, 86 tackles).

Tier 5 – Hall of very good

Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants
Michael Strahan’s former partner in crime has notched 69 sacks and 30 forced fumbles in eight years.

Chad Ochocinco, WR, Patriots
A six-time Pro Bowler, the wideout formerly known as Chad Johnson has 11,059 yards and 67 TDs.

Wes Welker, WR, Patriots
Brady’s go-to slot receiver on underneath routes has 7,226 yards and 32 TDs but no Super Bowl rings.

Justin Tuck, DE, Giants
A beast when healthy, Tuck has 45.5 sacks, 18 forced fumbles and a 41-yard pick six in seven seasons.

Teaser:
<p> Will another Super Bowl win punch Eli Manning's ticket to the Hall of Fame in Canton? A rundown of this year's 15 Hall of Fame finalists as well as the potential future Hall of Famers competing in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 19:13
Path: /columns/garage-talk/10-tough-questions-part-1
Body:

What was the reason for the rash of 2011 postseason crew chief changes on championship-caliber teams?

A perfect storm of circumstances and a desire to stay ahead of the competition at all costs.

Steve Addington had been berated enough, thank you, and saw greener pastures with one of the few more talented drivers in the sport. Darian Grubb’s fate was sealed prior to the Chase and no one — including his shopmates — saw a championship coming. Once on the market, Grubb, along with Nationwide Series mainstay Jason Ratcliff, were Joe Gibbs’ solution to the puzzling dilemmas that are the Nos. 11 and 20 teams. Of course, there were more, but these elite-level talent-swaps illustrate what happens when the competition is so tight. What was once thought of as radical — changing pit bosses on championship-caliber teams in December — is now a necessary step for success.

Why? As NASCAR forces teams into a smaller box in which they can operate from a mechanical perspective, they’re left with few alternatives to gain an edge on the competition. One, though, is dabbling with team chemistry. And with most sponsor contracts tied into the driver’s long-term deal, he’s not going to get the heave-ho — after all, the driver is the face of the corporate entity. Therefore, it’s hard for team owners (or drivers) to not fall in love with the successful head wrench across the way.

Will 2011 stand as a watershed moment in today’s NASCAR? Will true December offseason, headline-grabbing moves become the norm? A definitive and hard-lined “yes,” may be presumptuous, but it seems headed that way. 

Teaser:
<p> <span>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.</span></p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 16:19
Path: /nfl/giants-or-patriots-our-super-bowl-selections
Body:

It’s almost here. The New England Patriots and New York Giants will meet in another Super Bowl on Sunday, and the two stalwart franchises seem very evenly-matched. Both squads have old-school coaches in Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin, and each will have his team well-prepared for a game that will probably be decided by a couple of key plays. The G-men won a very memorable Super Bowl XLII over the Pats in February 2008, and Eli Manning’s crew also won a dramatic 24-20 decision in New England earlier this season. Not many Patriots are left from that 2007 team, but core guys like Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, Matt Light and Logan Mankins would love to get revenge for ruining their perfect season four years ago. America’s most-watched event will kick off Sunday evening, and hopefully it will be as dramatic as the fourth quarters of the previous Patriots-Giants matchups.

Which team wins Super Bowl XLVI?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I have to go with the Patriots for one reason: Bill Belichick. While many around football put an asterisk by New England’s three Super Bowl wins because of videotaping opponent’s practices, Belichick is still a master schemer and personnel man. He has set up a system of “team” with the Patriots, and they are always prepared to play in all three phases of the game. Heck, Belichick’s system is so good that he took a quarterback who never started a game in college — Matt Cassel — and won 11 games with no time to prep the inexperienced signal caller. I just see the Hoodie coming up with a game plan to slow down the momentum of Eli Manning and the Giants’ wideouts. The 49ers hit Manning several times two weeks ago, and the Patriots defense (which finished 10 spots ahead of the Giants in scoring defense this season) has been playing well lately. The Giants’ defense is also playing well but could barely cover tight end Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship. I see Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski having huge games in New England’s short passing attack, which will keep Tom Brady from having much pressure. There is also the intangible factor of the Patriots always seeming to benefit from a blown call or opponent’s mistake, so I’ll take them to get revenge on the Giants. Patriots 24 Giants 20

Rob Doster
Given the lingering sting of Super Bowl XLII, when the Giants denied the Patriots a shot at unbeaten immortality on the strength of a miracle catch, it seems unthinkable that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will squander this opportunity. Throw in the fact that the Giants have been doing a surprising amount of unseemly woofing while the Patriots have quietly gone about their business, and conditions are favorable for a reckoning for the G-men and a revival of the Patriots dynasty starting at 6:30 pm ET on Sunday. “I’m going to work as hard as I can these next two weeks to be prepared and to hopefully go out there and play my best game, hopefully the best game I’ve ever played,” Brady said after the AFC Championship Game. “That’s what I expect to do. I know that’s what my teammates expect of me.” And it’s what I expect, too. Patriots 27 Giants 21

Mark Ross
Call me a purist, or perhaps somewhat out of touch with the present game, but I tend to side with the team that can play defense. Granted, neither the Giants nor Patriots were all that strong this season, at least statistically speaking, as the G-Men finished the regular season 27th in total defense and the Pats ranked next-to-last. In fact, I believe this Super Bowl matchup features the two worst defenses (again, statistically speaking) in the game's 46-year history. However, while I am expecting a fair amount of points to be scored, I still believe that defense will have a say in who wins. To that end, I believe more in the G-Men than the Patriots when it comes to their respective defensive units.

Although I am not convinced that the Giants' pass rushers are in Tom Brady's head, I do think they will spend a fair amount of time in the Patriots' backfield and, just like they did in Super Bowl XLII four years ago, will bring enough pressure and either sack/hit No. 12 enough to disrupt the Pats' offense. I'm also concerned about how effective Rob Gronkowski will be dealing with his ankle injury. Playing hurt is noble, but if Gronk is not his usual self, then that's one huge weapon (Gronk has caught 20 of Brady's 45 touchdown passes this season) missing from the Patriots' arsenal. On the other side, I think Eli Manning and his receivers will be able to take advantage of the Pats' porous pass defense, especially downfield, but I'm also looking for Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs to get a fair amount of touches with the goal of trying to wear down New England's defensive line. If the Giants can get to Brady and take care of the ball on offense, I think they will pull away in the fourth quarter and earn their second Super Bowl victory over the Patriots in four years. Giants 34, Patriots 24

Nathan Rush
The Giants will beat the Patriots, a top-heavy team whose flaws will be exposed on Sunday. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are the best in the business today — and maybe all time. But the Giants have the deeper, more talented team peeking at the right time. This year's Patriots squad is overly dependent on Brady and the offense. And heading into Super Bowl XLVI, Brady's blindside bodyguard (left tackle Matt Light) and top target (tight end Rob Gronkowski) have missed practice and likely will be substantially less than 100 percent at kickoff. Defensively, there's only so much scheming Belichick can do with his patchwork secondary; at the end of the day, the Pats don't have the talent to run with the G-Men. It was a fortuitous season for the Patriots — who have only defeated one team with a winning record (Ravens in AFC title game) this year — but it will end in defeat in Indianapolis. The Big Blue Wrecking Crew defense will harass Brady all night, while Eli Manning stretches the New England secondary until it snaps to give up big plays to Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and/or Mario Manningham. Eli will win his second Super Bowl in Peyton's (old) house against his brother's (and now his own) biggest rival. Couldn't script a better ending to the 2011 season. Giants 24, Patriots 20
 

Teaser:
<p> Giants or Patriots: Our Super Bowl Selections</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 13:08
Path: /nfl/super-bowl-xlvi-numbers
Body:

The New England Patriots and the New York Giants will face one another in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday in Indianapolis. As football fans across the country, not to mention the world, get ready for the “Big Game,” here are some numbers to whet your appetite.

1 – Times Indianapolis has hosted the Super Bowl. The game will be played in Lucas Oli Stadium, which is home to the Indianapolis Colts, and it will have a Manning playing in it. Only it’s Eli, and not Peyton.

3 – Times Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin have coached in the same Super Bowl. This will be the second time they have faced each other as head coaches, but the two also were part of Bill Parcells' staff when the Giants played the Bills in Super Bowl XXV in 1991. Belichick was the defensive coordinator, while Coughlin served as the wide receivers coach for that Giants team, which beat the Bills 20-19. Ironically enough, both would leave the Giants for head coaching jobs — Belichick with the Cleveland Browns and Coughlin with Boston College — following that Super Bowl victory, only to meet up once again on the same stage 17 years later.

4 – Years since these two teams faced off against each other in Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3, 2008 in Glendale, Ariz. The Giants upset the heavily favored and previously undefeated Patriots 17-14 in one of the most exciting Super Bowls in recent history. It also represents the number of consecutive decades each team has played in a Super Bowl. The Giants and the Patriots have each played in at least one Super Bowl during the 1980s, ‘90s, 2000s and now 2010s. They are the only two teams in the NFL to boast such a streak.

5 – Super Bowl rematches in the game’s 46-year history. Besides the Giants and the Patriots, the most frequent Super Bowl match ups have been Pittsburgh vs. Dallas (Super Bowls X, XIII and XXX), Miami vs. Washington (VII and XVII), San Francisco vs. Cincinnati (XVI and XXIII) and Dallas vs. Buffalo (XXVII and XXVIII).

9 – States that have hosted the Super Bowl with Indiana becoming the ninth this year. Florida has hosted the most Super Bowls with 15, followed by California (11), Louisiana (9), Texas (3), Arizona (2), Georgia (2), Michigan (2). Minnesota and Indiana have each hosted one.

17 – Combined sacks by the two teams in their five playoff games. The Giants have tallied nine sacks in wins over the Falcons, Packers and 49ers, while the Patriots have eight in their victories over the Broncos and Ravens. Which team is able to consistently pressure the opposing quarterback will be something to watch for on Sunday. The teams combined for eight sacks (Giants 5, Patriots 3) in Super Bowl XLII.

19 – Players (12 from the Giants, seven from the Patriots) who will be on the field Sunday and also played in Super Bowl XLII in 2008.

24 – Combined turnover differential of the two teams in the regular season. The Patriots were second in the NFL with 23 interceptions and forced a total of 34 turnovers, while giving the ball away only 17 times for an AFC-best +17 differential. The Giants forced 31 turnovers (20 interceptions, 11 fumbles) and committed 24 for a differential of +7. In the playoffs, the Giants have forced six turnovers and only committed one, while the Patriots have committed more (four) than they have forced (three).

44.4 – Percentage of Tom Brady’s touchdown passes caught by tight end Rob Gronkowski this season. “Gronk” has caught 20 (17 in the regular season, three in the playoffs) of Brady’s 45 total touchdown passes to this point. He also is dealing with an ankle injury he suffered in the AFC Championship Game that put him in a walking boot and limited his practice time. While he’s fully expected to play on Sunday, questions surrounding his mobility and effectiveness have been one of the key storylines.

83.3 – Combined percentage of made field goals by Giants’ kicker Lawrence Tynes (6 of 8) and Patriots’ kicker Stephen Gostkowski (4 of 4) this postseason. Both have picked up their games from the regular season, during which Tynes made 19 of 24 (79.2) and Gostkowski 28 of 33 (84.9) field goal tries. Most importantly, the two were on target when it counted the most – Tynes hitting from 31 yards away in overtime in the Giants’ win over the 49ers and Gostkowski nailing all three of his attempts against the Ravens – in their respective conference championship games.

156 – Passing yards Tom Brady needs to break Kurt Warner’s record for most career passing yards in Super Bowl history. Warner had 1,156 passing yards in his three Super Bowls. Brady, who already holds the Super Bowl record for career completions (100), will tie John Elway with his fifth Super Bowl start on Sunday. With a win, he will tie Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only starting quarterbacks with four Super Bowl victories, further cementing his legacy as one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks.

8,785 – Combined passing yards allowed by the Giants’ and Patriots’ defenses in the regular season. That averages out to 274.5 yards per game. The two teams also surrendered a total of 54 touchdown passes and combined allowed opponents to complete nearly 62 percent of their passes. The Giants finished the regular season as the 29th-ranked passing defense in the NFL, while the Patriots came in second-to-last in that category.

10,258 – Combined passing yards of Tom Brady (5,235) and Eli Manning (4,933) in the regular season, to go along with 68 touchdowns. When the two met back in Week 9, a game the Giants won 24-20, the duo combined for 592 yards through the air.

$3.5-$4 million – Average cost of a 30-second commercial spot during NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl XLVI, according to TIME magazine. While that’s no small chunk of change, consider this: last year’s Super Bowl drew an average audience of 111 million viewers, making it the most watched American television program ever.

— by Mark Ross

Teaser:
<p> A look at some numbers and statistics related to Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 12:09
Path: /nfl/game-set-rematch
Body:

The greatest battles in sports often produce the greatest rematches. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. All are classic rivalries with multiple spellbinding chapters.

And now, the New England Patriots and New York Giants — the last two teams left standing, as champions of the AFC and NFC, respectively — look to join those historic ranks.

The Patriots defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 23–20, in a game that ended with Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff missing a 32-yard chip shot field goal that would have sent the contest into overtime.

“It’s a kick I’ve kicked a thousand times in my career,” Cundiff said, in disbelief with watery eyes following the game. “You know that Ray Lewis has poured his heart out, and you don’t know how many years he has left. To let him down is pretty tough.”

On the other side, the Giants eaked out a 20–17 overtime win on the road and in the rain against the San Francisco 49ers, following a fumbled punt by Kyle Williams, who was subbing for an injured Ted Ginn Jr. Williams’ second turnover of the game put the Giants in field goal range, allowing Lawrence Tynes the opportunity to hit the second sudden-death, game-winning, NFC title-clinching field goal of his career.

“You hate to be the last guy that had the ball, to give it away in that fashion and to lose a game of this magnitude,” said Williams, who sat dazed with cameras and microphones surrounding his usually vacant locker space after the game.

As a result of the costly mistakes made by Cundiff and Williams, Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will be a rematch of Super Bowl XLII at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, where the Giants upset the previously unbeaten Patriots, 17–14, in one of the most exciting Super Bowls of all time.

Although there are many new faces, both head coaches (New England’s Bill Belichick and New York’s Tom Coughlin) and high-profile quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Eli Manning) are back for another showdown on Super Sunday.

Brady and Manning are only the third pair of quarterbacks to play each other in multiple Super Bowls. Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw beat Dallas’ Roger Staubach in Super Bowls X and XIII, while Dallas’ Troy Aikman bested Buffalo’s Jim Kelly in Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII.

Obviously, Brady will look to buck that trend by becoming the first losing QB to win his Super Bowl rematch. Manning, however, will aim to recreate the magic he had on the Giants’ epic 12-play, 83-yard game-winning drive that featured three clutch third-down conversions — including the miraculous 32-yard “helmet catch” by David Tyree on 3rd-and-5 — and was capped by a 13-yard scoring strike to a wide open Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds remaining.

“You can’t write a better script,” said Manning, after winning his first Super Bowl in dramatic fashion. “There were so many big plays on that drive.”

This will also be a rematch of the Week 9 matchup between the Pats and G-Men. The Giants also won that meeting, 24–20, with Manning hitting tight end Jake Ballard for a one-yard touchdown with 15 seconds remaining — in a play reminiscent of Manning’s Super Bowl-winning touchdown pass to Burress as well as the incredible Tyree grab four plays earlier on the final drive.

“I’d rather be down by three with a minute-thirty than up by four with a minute-thirty with Tom Brady, with their offense on the field,” Manning echoed, with an eerily similar reaction after the Week 9 victory. “You like those situations where you have an opportunity to go win the game.”

New England has won 10 straight games since losing to New York, a team riding a five-game win streak of its own.

“We’ve had five straight single-elimination games,” said Coughlin. “Somehow, some way, we’ve found a way to scratch our way to a win.”

During that five-game winning streak, Manning has been arguably the best quarterback in football — passing for 1,494 yards, 12 TDs and two INTs in wins over the Jets, Cowboys, Falcons, Packers and 49ers. Meanwhile, the Big Blue Wrecking Crew defense has been running on all cylinders, allowing an average of 13.4 points per game, notching 20 sacks and forcing 11 turnovers along the way.

In Super Bowl XLII, Brady was dogged by the Giants’ defensive line, taking five sacks and losing a fumble. In this year’s postseason, Brady has posted day and night performances, with 363 yards and a record six TDs in a blowout of the Broncos before tossing two INTs and failing to throw a TD for the first time in 36 games in a nailbiter against the Ravens.

“I sucked pretty bad,” Brady said after the AFC Championship Game. “I’m gonna go out and try to do a better job in (the Super Bowl).”

The three-time Super Bowl champ and two-time Super Bowl MVP even went so far as to make a promise to Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

“He said to me, ‘I promise you I’m going to play a lot better,’” said Kraft, whose wife Myra passed away this season and whose team has worn tribute patches with her initials, “MHK,” since her death.

“He’s still pretty good in my book. I’ll take him over any quarterback. I’ve been watching the NFL for a long time, and there’s no quarterback I’d rather have.”

History backs up Kraft’s opinion. Brady tied Joe Montana’s all-time playoff wins record, with 16. Just by going to the big game again Brady has tied John Elway for most Super Bowl appearances by a starting quarterback, with five. A victory over the Giants would give Brady the all-time playoff wins mark outright and tie him with Montana and Terry Bradshaw for most Super Bowl wins all-time by a starting quarterback, with four.

“It’s incredible,” said Brady. “You pinch yourself to get this opportunity. It’s really a privilege.”

by Nathan Rush
 

Teaser:
<p> Super Bowl XLVI is a Patriots-Giants rematch of Super Bowl XLII and Week 9 this season.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 12:09
Path: /nfl/super-bowl-xlvi-breakdown
Body:

Super Bowl XLVI
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
Sunday, Feb. 5, 6:30 p.m. EST on NBC

New England Patriots

Offense:
Tom Brady opened this postseason with his finest playoff performance ever — throwing for 363 yards and a record six TDs in a 45–10 blowout of the Broncos. But the three-time Super Bowl champ followed that up with one of his worst outings ever — with 239 yards, zero TDs and two INTs for a 57.5 rating in a 23–20 nailbiter over the Ravens in the AFC title game. Brady was mediocre in the Patriots’ loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, passing for 266 yards, one TD and zero INTs. He did, however, take five costly sacks.

Record-breaking touchdown machine tight end Rob Gronkowski is coming off an ugly ankle injury and will need to be full strength come Super Sunday. Tight end Aaron Hernandez has been used more as a change-of-pace running back during the playoffs and slot receiver Wes Welker is Brady’s security blanket across the middle.

Defense:
The man in the middle is 325-plus-pound nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who has easily been the most disruptive player in this year’s playoffs. Wilfork commands constant double-teams, which he has been able to fight through for 2.5 sacks and several key tackles for a loss in wins over the Broncos and Ravens.

With Wilfork pushing the pocket and attracting attention, young linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes are free to make plays. Spikes has proven to be a difference-maker during the playoffs — with 15 tackles, one sack and one INT returned 19 yards.

The New England secondary is a patchwork unit pieced together with smoke, mirrors and position changes — such as cornerback Devin McCourty moving to safety and wide receiver Julian Edelman playing nickel corner. Pass coverage is the elephant in the room.

Special Teams:
Although Adam Vinatieri no longer kicks for the Pats, Stephen Gostkowski has proven to be a reliable weapon. But he doesn’t have the Super Bowl-winning kicks on his resume that Vinatieri does. Punter Zoltan Mesko is a booming left-footer who can change a game by flipping the field.

Coaching:
Bill Belichick is viewed by most as the best coach in the game and arguably the greatest of all time. Belichick has won five Super Bowls — three as a head coach and two under Bill Parcells.

New York Giants

Offense:
Eli Manning has been the best quarterback in football over the past five weeks — all of which have been elimination games for the Giants. The Super Bowl XLII MVP has passed for 1,494 yards, 12 TDs and two INTs in victories over the Jets, Cowboys, Falcons, Packers and 49ers. Manning’s top targets have been Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, two wideouts with the size to win a jump ball battle — as Nicks famously did at the end of the first half at Green Bay — and the speed to win a footrace down the sideline.

A sturdy O-line is anchored by center David Baas, left tackle David Diehl and coach Tom Coughlin’s son-in-law, guard Chris Snee. That group paves the way for a running game featuring a one-two punch of 264-pound power back Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, who have combined to rush for 327 yards in three playoff wins.

Defense:
The Big Blue stop-unit starts up front with arguably the deepest and most talented defensive line in the game. Veteran Osi Umenyiora, freak athlete Jason Pierre-Paul, versatile Justin Tuck and hybrid end-linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka headline a pass rush that specializes in collapsing pockets and sacking quarterbacks.

The secondary is led by outspoken safety Antrel Rolle, who played in Super Bowl XLIII three years ago as a member of the Cardinals. Rolle, safety Kenny Phillips and cornerbacks Aaron Ross and Corey Webster will have their hands full with the Patriots’ pass-catchers.

During the playoffs, coordinator Perry Fewell’s crew has allowed just 13 points per game — with nine sacks, four turnovers forced and a safety. Big Blue will be looking for a repeat of Super Bowl XLII, when they held the Patriots to just 14 points.

Special Teams:
The third side of the ball was the difference against the 49ers. Jacquian Williams’ forced fumble put the Giants in position for Lawrence Tynes to kick the second NFC title-winning FG of his career. Tynes has proven to be a cool customer with the game on the line. Ross and Cruz are capable return men.

Coaching:
Coughlin is a proven, Super Bowl-winning coach. The 65-year-old has mellowed with age, relying more on a solid staff led by playcaller Kevin Gilbride and rising star Fewell.

Prediction:
Giants by 1

Fifth Quarter:
Brady and Manning won’t be the only stars in Indy. Kelly Clarkson will sing the “Star Spangled Banner,” Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton will perform a duet of “America the Beautiful,” and Lenny Kravitz and The Fray will rock out the pregame festivities.

At halftime, Madonna will be joined by special guests Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. in a highly anticipated mini-concert. And, as always, the commercials — which reportedly cost $3.5 million for a 30-second spot — will be just as talked about as the game itself.
 

Teaser:
<p> A breakdown of the New England Patriots' and New York Giants' offense, defense, special teams and coaching.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 11:54

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