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All taxonomy terms: AC100, College Football, Recruiting
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-recruiting-rankings-qb

- by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

The next batch of in-coming college football All-Americans have inked their respective letters of intent. Recruiting is the life blood of the greatest sport on the planet, and, while coaching stills plays the biggest role in winning a championship, having better players can go a long way to earning a trip to the BCS.

Recruiting is an inexact science by definition. It is virtually impossible to accurately peg the mental make-up of any 17-year old child -- much less high-profile, over-coddled 17-year-old athletes. But team recruiting rankings offer the best indication of which team has the best ingredients each coach has to work with each season.

Related: Athlon's Top 25 Recruiting Classes of 2012

Offensive Positional Rankings: QB | RB | WR/TE | OL
Defensive Positional Rankings: DL | LB | DB | ATH

My biggest issue with quarterback recruiting rankings is the lack of quarterback depth near the top of the rankings. Normally, there are four to six AC100 signal callers in any given year. However, seeing as how the quarterback is the single most important position on the field, it seems like the position (somehow, someway) gets underranked.

The 2006 quarterback class comes to mind. The Tim Tebows and Matt Staffords landed in five-star territory, but Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Greg McElroy, Christian Ponder, Thad Lewis, Ricky Stanzi, Nate Davis and Todd Reesing were all three-star prospects. It makes no sense that every one of those names wasn't at least considered a "national recruit." For some reason, the most important piece to any football puzzle gets consistently underranked. 

In 2012, there are only five top-100 quarterback recruits — one of which is a longshot to stick at the position. I find it hard to believe that only five of the best 100 players in the nation play quarterback.

Additionally, where a player lands can also impact how he is rated. Devin Fuller and Anthony Alford, for example, might not be listed as quarterbacks had they gone to different schools. But at UCLA and Southern Miss, those two dual-threat athletes will get every chance to play quarterback.

The league to watch out for in this class is the Pac-12. Washington and Cal landed arguably the two most game-ready signal callers in the nation in Cyler Miles and Zach Kline respectively. UCLA and BYU each landed an elite passer as well, giving the West Coast four of the top six quarterback prospects.

Here are the best incoming quarterbacks in the nation:

  Name HT WT Hometown AC100 College
1. Jameis Winston 6'3" 195 Hueytown, AL No. 15 Florida State
2. Gunner Kiel 6'4" 220 Columbus, IN No. 24 Notre Dame
3. Devin Fuller 6' 195 Old Tappan, NJ No. 35 UCLA
4. Zach Kline 6'2" 210 Danville, CA No. 39 Cal
5. Cyler Miles 6'4" 218 Centennial, CO No. 91 Washington
6. Tanner Mangum 6'3" 195 Eagle, ID No. 113 BYU
7. Chad Kelly 6'3" 209 Buffalo, NY No. 115 Clemson
8. Anthony Alford 6' 200 Petal, MS No. 119 Southern Miss
9. Connor Brewer 6'2" 200 Scottsdale, AZ No. 134 Texas
10. Zeke Pike 6'6" 225 Edgewood, KY No. 153 Auburn
11. Matt Davis 6'2" 202 Houston, TX No. 162 Texas A&M
12. Jeremy Liggins 6'3" 270 Oxford, MS No. 171 LSU
13. Travis Wilson 6'6" 207 San Clemente, CA No. 183 Utah
14. T.J. Millweard 6'4" 225 Ft. Worth, TX No. 192 UCLA
15. Tyler Matthews 6'3" 205 McPherson, KS No. 193 TCU
16. Chad Voytik 6'1" 185 Cleveland, TN No. 200 Pittsburgh
17. Justin Thomas 5'11" 185 Prattville, AL No. 202 Georgia Tech
18. Ford Childress 6'4" 210 Houston, TX No. 250 West Virginia
19. Tommy Armstrong 6'2" 210 Cibolo, TX No. 252 Nebraska
20. Bart Houston 6'4" 215 Dublin, CA No. 259 Wisconsin

2012 Athlon Sports Positional Recruiting Rankings:

College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Running Backs

College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Linebackers

College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Defensive Linemen
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Defensive Backs
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Offensive Linemen
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Quarterbacks
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Athletes

<p> 2012 College Football Recruiting Rankings: QB</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-breakout-players


The brackets are out, and the NCAA Tournament begins in just days. The editors at Athlon Sports are debating some of the hot topics regarding the Field of 68.

Which player are you most looking forward to watching on a national stage?

Mitch Light: Nate Wolters of South Dakota State is a scoring point guard who plays an exciting brand of basketball. The 6-4 junior from St. Cloud, Minn., is averaging 21.3 points per game but doesn’t do too much damage from 3-point range (one made three per game). He is a high-volume 2-point shooter who also gets to the foul line a bunch (7.1 shots per game). Earlier this season, he erupted for 34 points in the Jackrabbits’ 92–73 win at Washington. SDSU will need Wolters to be at his very best to have a chance of knocking off Baylor in the first round this Thursday in Albuquerque.

Mark Ross: Creighton's Doug McDermott has already received a lot of press this season as the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. That said, I am curious to see how he fares against Alabama in the Bluejays' opening game. McDermott is 6-7 and could be at a slight height disadvantage against the other Crimson Tide big men (depending on lineups). McDermott may need to alter his game somewhat to try and stretch Bama's defense and take advantage of his quickness, range and shot-making ability. If Creighton gets by Alabama then presumably a matchup with No. 1 seed North Carolina looms, which would pit McDermott against his former high school teammate, Harrison Barnes. North Carolina has seven players who are all athletic and 6-7 or taller which they can use to defend McDermott, including ACC Defensive Player of the Year John Henson. This should be a perfect opportunity for McDermott to show the nation, not to mention NBA scouts who are sure to be watching, what he can do on the big stage.

Nathan Rush: Now is the time for North Carolina's Harrison Barnes to show he can be a consistent leader, defender and late-game closer on basketball's biggest stage. The sophomore from Ames, Iowa, will be counted on to carry the Tar Heels to the Final Four in New Orleans, after falling one win short of the national semifinals last season. In the process, the 6'8", 215-pound small forward will answer several questions about his pro potential. Barnes has been compared to former Roy Williams product Paul Pierce and 2003 national champion Carmelo Anthony. With UNC's supporting cast, Barnes will be cutting down the nets on Monday night, April 2, if he has that type of All-Star killer instinct.
Patrick Snow: I think Doug McDermott of Creighton has a chance to have a Stephen Curry- or Jimmer Fredette-like effect on this year’s tournament. The 6-7 sophomore averaged 23.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game this year, and he shot an amazingly efficient 61 percent from the field. McDermott dropped 36 points on Long Beach State in the BracketBusters game and had 33 in the Bluejays’ victory over Illinois State in the Missouri Valley Tournament Championship. Creighton has a tough draw with a physical Alabama squad and then a potential North Carolina matchup in the next round, but McDermott is the type of dynamic scorer who fans will love to watch.

Braden Gall: From the little-guy-early-upset category, I will have to go with Long Beach State's Casper Ware and South Dakota State's Nate Wolters. I like both of these teams to pull the upset in the first round. But if you are asking me about the star player I can't wait to see push his team to New Orleans, none will be more fun to watch than Flip Pressey of Missouri. His vision and speed make him arguably the most difficult point guard in the nation to stop, and the Tigers looked poised to make a deep run — if they can get past their mirror image from Marquette in the Sweet 16.

<p> Nate Wolters, Casper Ware and Doug McDermott will be on a national stage this weekend in the NCAA Tournament.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 15:41
Path: /columns/nascar-news-notes/hendrick-penalty-upheld

by Matt Taliaferro

The National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel upheld NASCAR penalties against Hendrick Motorsports and crew chief Chad Knaus on Tuesday.

Knaus was fined $100,000 and, along with car chief Ron Malec, suspended six races for unapproved C-posts on the No. 48 Chevy driven by Jimmie Johnson prior to inspection for the Daytona 500. The No. 48 team was also levied 25-point fines in the championship and owner standings.

“Upon hearing the testimony, carefully reviewing the facts and historically comparative penalties, the unanimous decision of the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel was to uphold the original penalties assessed by NASCAR,” the appeals committee stated.

Hendrick Motorsports stated in a press release that it would request a hearing before the National Stock Car Racing chief appellate officer, John Middlebrook, to continue its appeal of NASCAR sanctions related to the No. 48 Sprint Cup Series team.

“The panel was generous with its time today, and we appreciated the opportunity to talk through our concerns,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “We feel strongly about this issue and will continue to pursue it at the next level.”

Middlebrook’s decision will be final. In the meantime, Knaus and Malec are free to continue at-track duties.

<p> The National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel upheld NASCAR penalties against Hendrick Motorsports and crew chief Chad Knaus on Tuesday.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 15:08
Path: /mlb/toronto-blue-jays-2012-preview

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have gone nearly 20 years since their last trip to the postseason, but that drought seems likely to end soon, perhaps as soon as this year. Toronto will contend if its starting pitchers continue to improve, and young position players like Yunel Escobar, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind complement the American League’s top slugger last year, Jose Bautista, in the lineup. With two wild cards now in play, Toronto can be a team squarely in the hunt late in the season.

Only five teams had a higher earned run average from their starters last season than the Blue Jays, who checked in at 4.55, ahead of only the Twins, Rockies, Cubs, Royals and Orioles. To escape such inglorious company and become serious contenders, the Blue Jays need more of the same from ace Ricky Romero, a 27-year-old lefthander who improves every year. They also need to find out if Brandon Morrow can harness his exceptional stuff and produce consistent, top-level results. If he can, the Jays have a 1-2 punch to contend with the tough lineups of the AL East. The Jays hope that Henderson Alvarez can build off an impressive 10-start audition late last season, when he was the second-youngest starting pitcher in the major leagues, and they need Kyle Drabek to show why the Phillies were initially so reluctant to give him up for Roy Halladay. Alvarez and Drabek have more upside than Brett Cecil, the lefty who earned 15 victories in 2010 but was shipped back to Class AAA in April. He pitched well for a while, but finished 0–7 with a 5.16 ERA in his last 10 starts in the big leagues. The Blue Jays put him on a conditioning program to lose weight over the offseason. He lost about 30 pounds and has looked good in early spring outings. Dustin McGowan, who missed all of 2009 and 2012, is a long shot to return to the rotation, but is being tested this spring.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos was overjoyed to trade for closer Sergio Santos in early December, even though it meant sacrificing a top pitching prospect, Nestor Molina, to the White Sox in return. Anthopoulos raved about Santos’ strikeout stuff — he averaged more than 13 strikeouts per nine innings last year — and his contract, which includes six years of club control: three guaranteed, and three option years. Santos, a first-round draft pick by the Diamondbacks as a shortstop in 2002, played in the Jays’ farm system from 2006 to 2008, actually hitting 20 homers one year. But he found his calling as a pitcher with the White Sox and now leads the Toronto bullpen. Another acquisition late in the offseason was Francisco Cordero, the Reds’ closer for the past four seasons, and Milwaukee prior to that. He has 194 saves over five seasons, but he will be asked to fill the setup role in front of Santos. The Jays’ bullpen is now pretty deep and should be a strength, putting less pressure on the starters to get deeper into games. It is stocked with former starters like Jesse Litsch and Carlos Villanueva, and the Jays reacquired righty setup man Jason Frasor, who spent the final two months of the 2011 season with the White Sox. Frasor spent the first seven-plus years of his career in the Jays’ bullpen. Veteran Darren Oliver was signed in January as a situational lefty.

Middle Infield
The Blue Jays pulled off a steal when they snagged Escobar from the Braves in a five-player deal in 2010. Escobar is 29 and a good fielder who gets on base and has some power. Critics have said he has an attitude, but with that kind of on-field profile, Escobar helps a team win. Judging by Wins Above Replacement, only the Blue Jays’ two All-Stars, Bautista and Romero, contributed more wins to the team than Escobar last season. Escobar’s keystone mate is Kelly Johnson, acquired from Arizona in August for Aaron Hill, who never came close to repeating his 2009 All-Star form. Johnson struggled for the Diamondbacks last season, but in 33 games with Toronto, he batted .270 with a .364 on-base percentage and three homers. He accepted the Blue Jays’ arbitration offer in December, and with another shot at free agency after this season, he should be motivated to put up big numbers.

If only Lind, the first baseman, could be the basher he was in 2009, when he hit .305 with 35 homers and 114 runs batted in. If he could, pitchers might be less inclined to walk Bautista in front of him. But with Lind a relatively easy out in the cleanup spot last year, Bautista led the majors in walks (132), including a league-leading 24 intentional walks. Lind should be healthier this season after dealing with injuries to his lower back and his wrist, and at 28, he should be in his prime. Across the diamond at third is Lawrie, who played like a veteran when he arrived from the minors last season. Lawrie, from Langley, British Columbia, showed why he was Milwaukee’s top prospect before he was traded to Toronto for Shaun Marcum. From his debut on Aug. 5 until he fractured a finger on Sept. 21, Lawrie led all major league rookies in OPS (.953) and was tied for first in homers (nine) and extra-base hits (21). He plays with swagger and is quick and athletic in the field.

There can be no doubting Bautista anymore. After his sudden explosion for 54 home runs in 2010, he led the majors for the second straight year, this time with 43. Bautista also led the majors in OPS (1.056) and walks (132), and at $14 million per year through 2015, his contract makes a lot of sense for the Blue Jays. Bautista has started at six different positions in his career but has settled in nicely in right field. New centerfielder Colby Rasmus never clicked with Tony La Russa in St. Louis, but at 25 years old, the former first-round draft pick is a strong candidate for a breakout season in his first full year in Toronto. Left field will be manned by Eric Thames or Travis Snider, with Snider still trying to unlock the power he has shown in the minor leagues.

The Blue Jays thought so highly of J.P. Arencibia that they traded Mike Napoli to the Texas Rangers before last season. Napoli became a second-half and postseason sensation for Texas, but Toronto is happy with Arencibia, who hit 23 homers, fourth-best among major league catchers and a record for a Blue Jays backstop. There’s room for improvement, though, considering his .282 on-base percentage. On defense, Arencibia threw out 24.3 percent of potential base-stealers while committing 12 passed balls, ranking second in the American League. The Blue Jays acquired a defensive specialist, Jeff Mathis, in the offseason, but Arencibia should not have to worry about his starting spot. Mathis was a career .194 hitter in seven seasons with the Angels.

Edwin Encarnacion is the incumbent at DH for the Blue Jays, but as designated hitters go, he’s not one of the best. He peaked early in his career with the Reds and has made little impact, positive or negative, in two-plus seasons with Toronto. His OPS was identical in 2010 and 2011: an uninspiring .787. With a bench that includes Ben Francisco, Rajai Davis and possibly the loser of the Snider/Thames left field battle, there should be plenty of names spinning in and out of the DH spot, unless Encarnacion’s career suddenly takes off. He’s 29 this season, so he probably is what he is. But when you play on the same team as the ultimate late bloomer — Bautista — perhaps there’s always hope of becoming a top slugger with little advance warning. Veteran Omar Vizquel, who turns 45 in April, made starts at third, short and second last season for the White Sox. He is with the team in spring training and likely to make the team as a utility infielder and mentor to the Jays’ youngster.

Rival executives see the Blue Jays as an imminent threat to contend for the playoffs, largely because of the smart leadership of Anthopoulos. The team is in a healthy place financially, with no regrettable contracts, several young, impact position players and a pitching staff guided by an astute ex-pitcher, manager John Farrell. Anthopoulos is confident that Rogers Communications, with its vast resources, will allow the team to spend big when he sees fit. With the Canadian market all to themselves, and an extra wild card spot on the horizon, all signs point to a renaissance north of the border very soon.

Final Analysis
Eleven times in the last 14 years, Toronto has won at least 80 games but no more than 88. It’s a frustrating place to live, especially in the American League East, where 90 wins are generally the benchmark for relevance. The Blue Jays are building carefully, trying to build something sustainable to finally escape the good-but-not-great treadmill. They’re probably a year away from doing it, but if they’re close enough to contention this summer — a distinct possibility, given the upside of players like Lawrie and Morrow — expect the creative Anthopoulos to make a move that gives the Jays a chance to go for it.



Batting Order
SS Yunel Escobar (R)
Punished lefties for a .330 average (sixth in the AL) last season.
CF Colby Rasmus (L)
Should have plenty of motivation after Cardinals traded him and went on to win World Series. Will also see some time in the No. 6 slot.
RF Jose Bautista (R)
Jays’ highest-paid player is a certified bargain at $14 million a year through 2015.
1B Adam Lind (L)
Must provide better protection for Bautista, who drew 132 walks to lead MLB.
DH Edwin Encarnacion (R)
Had a .382 on-base percentage in the second half, 99 points better than he did in the first half.
3B Brett Lawrie (R)
Future franchise cornerstone, acquired from Milwaukee for Shaun Marcum; looks like a star in the making.
C J.P. Arencibia (R)
Rookie season produced 23 homers, a single-season record for a Blue Jays catcher.
2B Kelly Johnson (L)
Middle infielder with pop on a one-year contract makes perfect sense for Toronto. Will not be a surprise to see him batting second.
LF Eric Thames (L)
Will try to hold off Travis Snider for the starting job after slumping in September.

OF Rajai Davis (R)
Speedster’s spot is shaky after a career-worst season hampered by hamstring injury.
OF Travis Snider (L)
Posted a .394 OBP at Triple-A last year and .269 with Jays. Needs to prove he’s not a 4A player.
INF Mike McCoy (R)
Appeared at every spot on the field except catcher, left field and first base (yes, he even pitched).
OF Ben Francisco (R)
His pinch-hit, three-run homer won Game 3 of NLDS for the Phillies.
C Jeff Mathis (R)
After flipping an Angels catcher last winter (Mike Napoli), Jays will hold onto this defensive specialist.
INF Omar Vizquel (S)
The ageless future Hall of Famer will likely make the team as a mentor for Escobar and Lawrie.

LH Ricky Romero
Since 2009 debut, he’s lowered ERA and WHIP while raising wins and innings each season.
RH Brandon Morrow
Improving steadily, the strikeout specialist could break into stardom at age 27.
LH Brett Cecil
Very lucky to be 15–7 in 2010, very unlucky to be 4–11 last year.
RH Henderson Alvarez
Finished season strong, with quality starts in five of six appearances starting Aug. 31.
RH Kyle Drabek
Must continue to work on commanding his fastball to win back a starting job after rough 2011.
RH Dustin McGowan
Is competing with Drabek for final fifth spot in rotation. Returned last season after missing all of 2009 and 2010 to start four games with modest results. May be better suited for bullpen now.

RH Sergio Santos (Closer)
Despite free agent options, Jays traded for Santos and believe he can be elite.
RH Francisco Cordero
The former Rangers/Brewers/Reds closer has six 37-plus save seasons.
RH Carlos Villanueva
After five years with Brewers, he made 13 starts, 20 relief appearances in first year with Jays.
RH Jesse Litsch
Won four of eight starts last year before shoulder injury; a serviceable long man, but has been shut down until mid-April.
RH Jason Frasor
After brief interlude with White Sox, he’s back in familiar setup role.
LH Darren Oliver
Veteran specialist gave up four extra-base hits (in 94 PAs) vs. lefties with the Rangers in 2011.
RH Casey Janssen
Coming off his lowest WHIP and highest strikeout percentage of five-year career.

Other teams' 2012 Previews:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Arizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians Cincinnati Reds
Detroit Tigers Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins Miami Marlins
New York Yankees Milwaukee Brewers
Oakland A's New York Mets
Seattle Mariners Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa Bay Rays Pittsburgh Pirates
Texas Rangers San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays San Francisco Giants
  St. Louis Cardinals
  Washington Nationals

<p> The Blue Jays have gone nearly 20 years since their last trip to the postseason, but that drought seems likely to end soon, perhaps as soon as this year. With two wild cards now in play, Toronto can be a team squarely in the hunt late in the season.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 13:48
Path: /columns/garage-talk/long-and-short-it-nationwide-renaissance-gordons-flip-baby-otis

by Dustin Long

Have you noticed the oddity already taking place in NASCAR this season?

Don’t see it?

Look at the Nationwide Series where all three races have been won by drivers not competing full time in Cup this year.

James Buescher won at Daytona, points leader Elliott Sadler at Phoenix and defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Las Vegas last weekend.

Consider that only six of 34 Nationwide races last year were won by drivers not competing in Cup full time. In 2010, only one race was won by a Nationwide regular not competing in Cup.

The odds are likely that the current streak will end this weekend at Bristol. Kyle Busch has won the last three Nationwide races there and is entered, along with Cup drivers Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano.

Still, a tide is turning.

Sadler, who did not win a race but finished second in the points in 2011, is excited about his chances of winning multiple races this year.

“I feel like when we show up every week, we’re going to be very, very fast,” he said. “We’re going to haul butt at Bristol. They’re taking my favorite car. It’s neat to have this confidence in this race and it’s neat this race team has this confidence in me.”

Others can relate.

The first three races show what the Nationwide Series can become a way to showcase its drivers, particularly the younger ones. Buescher is 21, Stenhouse is 24.

It’s not just them having success.

Look at what 20-year-old Cole Whitt and 21-year-old Austin Dillon have done so far.

Whitt was fourth at Daytona, 13th at Phoenix and sixth at Las Vegas. Dillon was fifth at Daytona, fourth at Phoenix and seventh at Las Vegas. They’re the favorites for the rookie of the year title and, based on how they started the season, could make that an interesting race.

It’s already been quite a start to the season for Whitt, who might be better known as the driver who bumped teammate Danica Patrick at Daytona, causing her to wreck. He hit the wall during qualifying at Las Vegas, but the team repaired it instead of going to a backup.

“I didn’t want to start that way with Danica,” Whitt said. “I messed up. Hopefully, over time I can earn that respect back from them. That, obviously, put a lot of limelight on us, a lot more than I wanted. Obviously, I felt a little bit of the pressure. Hopefully, with a clean race (at Las Vegas) and run as good as we did, we keep pulling those off and earn the respect of the veterans.”

The challenge for the series, though, remains, finding a way to make it affordable for teams to provide younger drivers quality rides. That’s not easy in this economic climate, but that’s what it will take for the series to gain more attention and interest from fans.

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 13:02
Path: /college-basketball/candidates-replace-darrin-horn-south-carolina

Darrin Horn was fired as the head coach at South Carolina after four seasons. He went 10–6 in the SEC in Year 1 but is 13–35 since. Overall, he went 60–63 at South Carolina after a five-year run at Western Kentucky, his alma mater.

Here are some of the names South Carolina might target:


Gregg Marshall, head coach, Wichita State
Marshall is a South Carolina native who did a tremendous job in nine seasons as the coach at Winthrop. He took the Eagles to seven NCAA Tournaments and compiled an astounding 104–24 record in the Big South. He is finishing up his fifth season at Wichita State and has the Shockers as a No. 5 seed in the South Region. He will likely be South Carolina’s top choice.




John Cooper, head coach, Tennessee State
Cooper recently completed his third season as a head coach at Tennessee State. The Tigers finished the year with an 18–12 record and lost to Murray State in the finals of the OVC Tournament. He spent six seasons as an assistant at South Carolina on Eddie Fogler’s staff from 1995-2001.


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


John Groce, head coach, Ohio
The former aide to Thad Matta at Butler, Xavier and Ohio State is in his fourth season at Ohio. He has the Bobcats in the NCAA Tournament for the second time and has an overall record of 83–55. Groce is an Ohio native who has spent most of his time in the Midwest, but he was on the staff at NC State from 1996-2000.


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


Tubby Smith, head coach, Minnesota
This is a long shot, but Smith’s name seems to get mentioned every time there is an opening at a school in the Southeast. He has been at Minnesota for five years, but has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game and has a record of 38–49 in Big Ten games.

—By Mitch Light

<p> Gregg Marshall tops the list of candidates to replace Darrin Horn as the head coach at South Carolina.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 12:58
Path: /mlb/tampa-bay-rays-2012-preview

Tampa Bay Rays

You can count the 30 million dollars conserved in 2011 by lopping off the seven-highest paid players from their payroll. You can count all the franchise-record stats that departed with Carl Crawford, the homers and RBIs Carlos Pena left behind, the runs Jason Bartlett saved at shortstop and the 86 percent attrition of bullpen appearances the club overcame in its improbable 91-win season. But the one thing you can’t ever do is count out the Tampa Bay Rays. So while they will again be generally regarded as the cheap cuts in the AL East meat-grinder, there is still a feast of pitching, defense and speed on the menu. While those are ingredients for continued success, a look at the only moderately amended batting order begs the same question as last year: Where’s the beef?

“Starting pitching depth to us is everything,” says GM Andrew Friedman. “That’s the one area that we can’t make great decisions under the radar. If we ever have to go to market for that, we’re in a lot of trouble.” Fortunately, the only trouble the 2012 Rays have is finding enough baseballs to go around, with two go-to aces in David Price and James Shields. Price’s 12–13 record was indicative of little more than the team’s spotty run production; he was only the ninth pitcher in history to endure a losing ledger despite punching out 200 batters with an ERA below 3.50 and a sub-1.15 WHIP. Shields, the first 200-inning man in 22 years to shave two runs off his ERA, may not duplicate the 2.82, but he’s a warhorse who led the league with 11 complete games and four shutouts. Third in the array is Jeremy Hellickson, who could be a No. 1 for many teams. The Rookie of the Year makes up for a too-high walk rate and ordinary velocity with an impressive repertoire, good life and steely poise. Streaky skyscraper Jeff Niemann, seemingly reinventing himself as a junk-baller, just wins. Wade Davis admits to being “my own worst enemy.” He has No. 2-starter stuff and he’s competitive, but his fastball command and some adjustment-phobia relegate him at the bottom edge of the rotation. That’s five — so someone will have to move to the bullpen (or another city) to clear room for phenom Matt Moore, who, in the other league, goes by the name “Strasburg.” The 22-year-old with effortless high-90s cheddar and myriad other weapons is driven to be great — which, by all indications, he will be. Young Alex Cobb is also ready for a rotation — just not this one.

For the second straight year, an “Under Construction” sign hangs on the bullpen gate. Thanks especially to Kyle Farnsworth’s dual redefinition as a closer and a strike-thrower, last year’s came together fairly well. At 35, he saved 25 games — two shy of his previous 12-year total. There is concern that his elbow is a time bomb, but the Rays were secure enough to pick up his option. Joel Peralta doesn’t profile as one, but he would be a solid ninth-inning option if needed. Skipper Joe Maddon calls him Campeòn (The Champion) and compares his competitive moxie to that of an undersized boxer. One-time 37-save man Fernando Rodney, who while a Tiger was suspended for heaving a ball into The Trop press box, heads a list of three righties brought in to compete with holdover Brandon Gomes. Rodney still throws 95 with a 12-mph separation from his deluxe change-up, but he has had little command and a recent encounter with back problems. The others were sinkerballer Burke Badenhop (from Miami) and power-armed kid Josh Lueke (from Seattle). Southpaws vying for a role include former closer J.P. Howell and ex-elite prospect Jake McGee (neither of whom has recouped pre-surgery form), as well as the underwhelming Cesar Ramos.

Middle Infield
Ben Zobrist gave his defensive GPS a rest last season and settled in as the regular second baseman with just an occasional detour to right field. He split the difference between his All-Star breakout of 2009 and all-out pratfall of 2010 — still enough to brand him one of the better bats around at his position. He’s also a Gold Glover without the hardware to show for it. Likewise, the leather doesn’t come much smoother than what Reid Brignac flashes at shortstop. But because he bears zero resemblance to the hitter who put up promising numbers in the minors, he often cedes time to Sean Rodriguez. The latter hasn’t hit much, either, but anyone with his bat speed must stay in the mix.

While teams with “real” money in the bank were rasslin’ over the likes of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, the Rays blew their projected budget by re-signing Pena for $7.25 million. Powerful, popular and ecstatic to be back, he’s worth 20 more home runs than they got from Casey Kotchman in 2011, and is just as slick defensively. At the other corner is franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria. If he can stay healthy and put two halves together, neither of which he did in 2011, he’s capable of supplying Pujolsian production at 20 cents on the dollar.

It was only two and a half months, but in Desmond Jennings’ trial spin as the Tampa Bay leftfielder, he was everything Crawford was — and sometimes more. Though a late slump depressed his stats, the rookie revealed expectation-exceeding pop and patience to go with his searing speed and scintillating glove. He’s a center fielder playing left — if or until the Rays desaddle from B.J. Upton. A seven-year vet at 27, Upton is as enigmatic as ever. Skilled enough to be a two-time 20-20 man, he gives away far too many at-bats, as his .240 average since 2009 corroborates. No question he can outrun the ball and throw it as well as anyone at the position. In right, Matt Joyce made the All-Star team, then scuffled. It was, on balance, a nice step forward for another high-ceiling hitter who’s also a defensive standout. If he still can’t solve lefties (.196 career avg.), his platoon partner will be Brandon Guyer, an overachieving ’tweener of a prospect with a strong minor league résumé.

The Rays feel they got a free agent steal in Jose Molina to replace John Jaso, who was dealt for Lueke. Certainly the defensive upgrade was colossal. One’s been the toughest catcher on whom to steal the last four years (39.0 percent caught stealing) the other among the easiest. One treats the job as “an art,” according to his former manager, John Farrell; the other never really got the hang of it. Molina, though, is 36, offensively challenged and without a 300-at-bat season.

A deep, versatile bench is Maddon’s lifeblood. Zobrist, Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson can play almost anywhere, enabling the manager to conjure all sorts of matchup edges. Utility outfielder Sam Fuld is a treasure, especially defensively and attitudinally. “There are a lot of average Americans who can identify with this fellow,” extols Maddon. Jeff Keppinger brings a solid right-handed bat and can play three infield spots. Youngsters Jose Lobaton and/or Robinson Chirinos will be Molina’s caddy. Luke Scott, fresh off shoulder surgery, will be the primary DH. The powerful former Oriole, who also could see spot play at first or in left, seems always to be in either a torrid groove or a subterranean slump.

Friedman, Maddon, team president Matt Silverman and owner Stu Sternberg enjoy a symbiosis that’s rare in sports. Their skills, smarts, sophistication and sensibilities fuse to make the franchise more than the sum of its parts. The challenge is to keep the “fab four” together. Sternberg must wrangle a new stadium or pack up and move to stay financially viable; Friedman already has been approached by other teams; but Maddon’s contract has been extended through the 2015 season.

Final Analysis
The Rays’ offensive muscle is well south of average, but they have pitching to be plundered, speed to spare and defense to die for. That may not be good enough in their treacherous division, since it took a scenario that Maddon called “beyond fiction” to get them into the playoffs last year. Still, there’s an X-factor about this bunch that can’t be minimized. “I dig the way the Rays play baseball,” Maddon says. And while Sternberg laments that, fiscally, “there are 29 other teams passing us like we’re going in reverse,” he hastens to add, “except on the field.”




Batting Order
LF Desmond Jennings (R)
Only player in baseball with 10 homers and 20 steals from July 23 (his 2011 season debut) forward.
CF B.J. Upton (R)
Sole player with at least 50 home runs and 100 stolen bases over the last three seasons.
3B Evan Longoria (R)
His 401 RBIs represent an AL record for a third baseman in his first four seasons.
1B Carlos Pena (L)
Led NL qualifiers by ripping 52.2% of his hits for extra bases, but had the second-lowest average (.225).
2B Ben Zobrist (S)
Has hit .221 or lower at The Trop in five of his six seasons, but .285 on road since 2008.
RF Matt Joyce (L)
Just three career HRs vs. lefties — all in a span of 13 trips against them last year.
DH Luke Scott (L)
Ex-Oriole is the only player to launch six HRs onto Eutaw Street beyond the Camden Yards fence.
C Jose Molina (R)
Two-time AL caught-stealing percentage leader who’s nabbed two of every five in his career.
SS Reid Brignac (L)
Eighth-lowest average among players with 200 PAs in 2011, but Rays went 46–30 in his starts.

INF Sean Rodriguez (R)
Per ESPN Home Run Tracker, scorched the hardest-hit longball (118.4 mph) of 2011.
OF Sam Fuld (L)
Was the AL batting leader at .366 on April 22, then collapsed to .203 in his final 87 games.
INF Jeff Keppinger (R)
Made 82 starts at second base for Astros and Giants last season. Brings a career .281 average to the Rays.
OF Brandon Guyer (R)
Acquired with Sam Fuld from the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal a year ago.
UT Elliot Johnson (S)
Highest shortstop fielding percentage (.993) among players with at least 50 games there in 2011.
C Jose Lobaton (S)
Raked .307 in minors (career high by far) in 2011, but is only 7-for-51 as a big leaguer.

LH David Price
First pitcher since Tom Glavine to start a playoff, All-Star and Opening Day game before turning 25.
RH James Shields
Each 2011 triple crown stat (16 wins, 2.82 ERA and 225 SOs) was second-best in Rays annals.
LH Matt Moore
Led short- or full-season minor leaguers in strikeouts per nine innings each of last four seasons.
RH Jeremy Hellickson
Topped the AL with a .167 opponents batting average with runners in scoring position.
RH Wade Davis
Held hitters to .161 average with RISP/two outs in 2010-11 — No. 1 among AL starters.
RH Alex Cobb
Shown to be major league ready, but may get squeezed out this year. Owns a 2.41 ERA over 34 starts a Double-A and Triple-A the past two seasons.

RH Kyle Farnsworth (Closer)
Second-lowest career ERA (1.87) at The Trop among relievers with at least 50 IP there.
RH Joel Peralta
Led major league relievers by limiting first batters to an on-base percentage of .099.
RH Fernando Rodney
Saddled with highest WHIP (1.55) in the majors since 2008 among pitchers with at least 200 outings.
RH Jeff Niemann
Second-highest winning percentage (.623) in history by a 6'9" or taller pitcher, behind Randy Johnson’s .646.
RH Brandon Gomes
Limited right-handed batters to 18 hits in 83 at-bats (.217 average).
LH J.P. Howell
Allowed .169 average with runners in scoring position in 2008, but .308 in his other five seasons.
RH Burke Badenhop
Ranked 10th in the majors (min. 60 IP) with a 58.5 percent ground ball rate.


Other teams' 2012 Previews:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Arizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians Cincinnati Reds
Detroit Tigers Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins Miami Marlins
New York Yankees Milwaukee Brewers
Oakland A's New York Mets
Seattle Mariners Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa Bay Rays Pittsburgh Pirates
Texas Rangers San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays San Francisco Giants
  St. Louis Cardinals
  Washington Nationals

<p> You can count the 30 million dollars conserved in 2011 by lopping off the seven-highest paid players from their payroll. You can count all the franchise-record stats that departed with Carl Crawford, the homers and RBIs Carlos Pena left behind, the runs Jason Bartlett saved at shortstop and the 86 percent attrition of bullpen appearances the club overcame in its improbable 91-win season. But the one thing you can’t ever do is count out the Tampa Bay Rays.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 12:58
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-14-matt-kuchar

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.


No. 14: Matt Kuchar

Born: June 21, 1978, Winter Park, Fla.  | Career PGA Tour Wins: 3 | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,233,920 World Ranking: 15


Brandel Chamblee's Take:

The 2010 Vardon Trophy winner had another huge year in 2011. In the 24 events he played, he posted 19 top-25 finishes and had nine top 10s, although he didn’t manage a victory. In the past two years the swing changes that he’s made have resulted in his becoming one of the most reliable players, especially in must-make situations late on Sunday, where inside five feet he has few equals. 
His few weaknesses and swing characteristics nevertheless hurt him in the game’s biggest events. His swing is too flat and his angle of attack too shallow to get out of the thicker rough in the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA. At Augusta, where there is little rough, the one place you can’t play from is left, and that is Matt’s tendency. Like Luke Donald and Steve Stricker, Matt is not a great driver, but his short game has made him rich.


Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 25
Wins: 0

2011 Performance:
Masters - T27
U.S. Open - T14
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T19

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T21 (1998)
U.S. Open - T6 (2010)
British Open - T27 (2010)
PGA Championship - T10 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 2
Top-25 Finishes: 7
Missed Cuts: 14

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter. 

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Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 12:27
Path: /nfl/randy-moss-signs-san-francisco-49ers

“Straight gold, homey?”

Randy Moss has agreed to a one-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers following a workout with coach Jim Harbaugh — who threw passes to Moss after picking up the 35-year-old future Hall of Famer from the airport.

“I was very appreciative of him doing that,” said Moss, regarding Harbaugh’s chauffer service. “I mean, the head coach picking a guy up — think about that.”

Not only did Harbaugh shuttle Moss from the airport to the 49ers’ team facilities, the 15-year NFL veteran signal-caller-turned-coach showed that Captain Comeback has a few bullets left in his 48-year-old right arm, serving as Moss’ personal combine quarterback.

“We had a lot of fun,” said Moss. “It’s just a pleasure to be able to get back in the league, and really get back to what I want to do and that’s play football.”

The previously retired Moss sat out the 2011 season following a disastrous 2010 campaign in which he recorded a combined 28 catches for 393 yards and five TDs for the Patriots (4 games), Vikings (4) and Titans (8). Now, the greatest deep threat in history — a wideout who has amassed 954 catches for 14,858 yards and 153 TDs since exploding onto the scene in 1998 — is set to run a few more go-routes, after taking a year off.

“I’m not a free agent. I’m a guy straight off the couch, straight off the street,” said Moss. “They’ve done their homework on me or they wouldn’t have brought me in here.”

After posting a 13-3 regular season record and advancing to overtime of the NFC Championship Game before losing to the eventual Super Bowl XLVI champion Giants last year, San Francisco hopes Moss adds a vertical, over-the-top threat to the passing attack without bringing an over-the-top distraction into the locker room.

The 49ers are in a no-lose situation, however. Their one-year commitment is risk-free. If any problems arise, Harbaugh will slap Moss on the back like he’s Jim Schwartz and tell him to take a hike like he’s Braylon Edwards. But if everything works out as planned, a motivated Moss could be the missing piece in San Fran’s solid gold Super Bowl puzzle.

“I know this organization wants the Super Bowl,” said Moss. “With all the success they’ve had (in 2011), hopefully we can keep it going and give these 49ers fans something to keep screaming about.”

Moss gives the 49ers flexibility in the draft and free agency. With tight end Vernon Davis fresh off of a Jerry Rice effort in the playoffs — with 10 catches for 292 yards and four TDs in two games — and fourth-year wide receiver Michael Crabtree struggling to get downfield separation, Moss will give quarterback Alex Smith a legitimate deep target that (in theory) will open up the field and keep defenses from stacking the box to stop Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore. The 6’4”, 210-pound Moss also brings his springs, as a legendary leaper capable of dominating in the red zone and capitalizing on jump ball opportunities in the end zone — no matter how old he may be.

“I’ll hurry up and know what my role’s going to be and hopefully that’s catching touchdowns,” said Moss.

“I’m here to play some football. I know there’s a great core of guys here and they’re young. By me being 35 years old, hopefully they don’t buy a wheelchair, or no rocker or no old man stuff, because I’m still young. I feel it.”

<p> The San Francisco 49ers agree to a one-year deal with wide receiver Randy Moss after a successful workout in which coach Jim Harbaugh played quarterback and threw passes to Moss.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 12:23
Path: /mlb/new-york-yankees-2012-preview

New York Yankees

The Yankees fell short of the World Series for the seventh time in eight seasons, but this remains a formidable team. A deep lineup returns, and so does ace lefty CC Sabathia, who fronts a rotation fortified by the additions of veteran Hiroki Kuroda and 23-year-old All-Star Michael Pineda. With those arms, all those hitters, a stingy bullpen, and the money and prospects to have plenty of trade options, the Yankees are poised for another turn in October.

The Yankees avoided the doomsday scenario of losing their ace when Sabathia agreed to a one-year contract extension, with a vesting option for a second year, instead of opting out of his contract to explore free agency. Sabathia could end up making $50 million over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, but the Yankees can afford it, and they had no other options. Sabathia is 64–24 in three years with the Yankees, including a 5–1 mark in the postseason, and at 31, he is still squarely in his prime. He settles a rotation that was much sturdier than expected last season and got a boost in mid-January with the signing of Kuroda and the trade for Pineda, a hard-throwing righty with five years remaining before free agency. Ivan Nova returns after going 16–4 as a rookie, leaving Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia – once a hard thrower, now a craftsman — to compete for the final spot in the rotation. That gives the Yankees plenty of depth, and they also have a crop of prospects at Class AAA to plug holes during the season.

Despite losing Joba Chamberlain and Pedro Feliciano to injuries — and with Rafael Soriano sidelined for much of the season — the Yankees still posted the best bullpen ERA in the American League, at 3.12. Mariano Rivera was his usual incomparable self, passing Trevor Hoffman for the career saves record and blowing only one save opportunity in the second half. Rivera turned 42 in November, and as he enters the final year of his contract, he has made no commitment about his future. That will be an ongoing storyline, as will the performance of Soriano, who was signed with the notion that he might replace Rivera in 2013. Soriano has a player option for next season, but he must first prove he can repeat his success as a closer while pitching in a setup role. Last season, David Robertson was the Yankees’ most effective setup man, earning an All-Star spot, fanning 100 batters in 66.2 innings and posting a 1.08 ERA. Boone Logan returns to neutralize lefties, and Chamberlain could be back at midseason if his recovery from Tommy John surgery goes as planned.

Middle Infield
Derek Jeter was a daily soap opera for months after the 2010 season, with contentious contract negotiations, a sluggish first half and a disabled list stint for a strained calf. But once Jeter zoomed past 3,000 hits — having reached the milestone on a home run off Tampa Bay lefty David Price, as part of a 5-for-5 day — the questions about his age and salary subsided, and Jeter reverted to his status as the revered and reliable Captain. His range at shortstop will never be great, but he makes few mistakes, and at 37, he has a capable backup in Eduardo Nunez. Jeter made 10 starts at DH last season, a career high, and will probably make more in 2012. Second baseman Robinson Cano, meanwhile, flashed a terrific glove in the field while leaving no doubt that he was the Yankees’ best offensive player. Cano finished second in the league in extra-base hits and ranked among the top four in total bases for the third year in a row. He set career highs in runs (104) and RBIs (118), although his walks fell and his strikeouts increased, a trend he must reverse as he tries to extend his prime. At 29 years old, with free agency in his sights after the 2013 season, expect Cano to continue his ascent.

The Yankees are still in the first half of the massive contracts for their corner infielders, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. And while both remain feared hitters in the middle of the lineup, they are coming off possibly their worst seasons. Teixeira, the first baseman, hit a career-low .248 with an .835 OPS, the lowest figure for him since his rookie season. Rodriguez, the third baseman, had an even lower OPS, .823, his worst since he turned 20. Rodriguez turns 37 in July, and while the three-time MVP vows to work extremely hard every winter, his body keeps betraying him. Rodriguez has not played 140 games in a season since 2007, and he is signed through 2017 at an average annual salary of $27.5 million. That means Nunez or Eric Chavez could see increased playing time at third, with Rodriguez seeing more time at DH. Teixeira remains an elite power hitter, but while he hit .302 from the right side last season, he slumped to .224 as a lefty. That must change, and at 32 this April, Teixeira is still young enough that his 2011 season can be considered more of a fluke than a trend. At least, that is what the Yankees must believe, because at $22.5 million per year through 2016, they have no other choice.

The aging infielders carry more star power, but the Yankees get a lot of production from their younger outfield. Centerfielder Curtis Granderson, 31, led the team in runs, homers and RBIs, and became the first player ever with 40 homers, 10 triples and 25 steals in the same season. His speed helps him patrol a lot of ground in center field, and leftfielder Brett Gardner can track down a lot of balls Granderson might not reach. Gardner is one of the majors’ fastest players, and his 49 steals tied for the league lead. Gardner’s walk rate declined last year, though he made more contact at the plate and — depending on which advanced defensive metrics you believe — he might save more outs than any other outfielder in the league. Rightfielder Nick Swisher has been anemic in the postseason as a Yankee (.160 average), but the organization was smart enough to look past that and see the value in his ability to get on base and hit home runs. Swisher is much more dangerous as a right-handed hitter, but he is capable as a lefty. He plays a decent right field, and while Swisher is a bit of a showman, he genuinely loves playing in the Bronx, and the fans appreciate his effort. Newcomer Raul Ibañez will likely take some of Swisher’s at-bats against right-handed pitching.

A team rich in catching prospects did not seem like the ideal fit for Russell Martin, but the Yankees were thrilled to add the former Dodger All-Star last winter. He’ll be back again in 2012, and not just as a stopgap for Austin Romine or Gary Sanchez. The Yankees loved the way Martin managed the pitching staff, and with 18 homers and 65 RBIs, he was more than adequate as a run producer. Martin can be a free agent after the season, and at that point the Yankees must decide if Romine is ready for full-time duty as the heir to the position held with such dignity by Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada.

With aging superstars like Jeter, Rodriguez — and, to a lesser extent, Teixeira — needing time at designated hitter, Nunez becomes a pivotal piece for the Yankees. Nunez could start for a lot of teams, but the Yankees have resisted trading him because of how easily he slides into the left side of the infield when Jeter or Rodriguez need a break. Nunez was prone to defensive mistakes (20 errors), but all the tools are there to be a solid fielder, and he stole 22 bases last year as a fill-in. Ibañez and Andruw Jones will start most often as the designated hitter. Among bench options, Jones gives the Yankees a strong power bat against lefties and Chavez against righties.

Joe Girardi, who enters his fifth season, excels at the two most important facets of managing this team: maneuvering a deep bullpen to compensate for a so-so rotation, and getting the most from his veterans by knowing when to rest them. Girardi has the firm backing of the Steinbrenner family and general manager Brian Cashman, who re-signed for three more years and has wisely used the Steinbrenner money to build a fearsome major league roster and a strong farm system.

Final Analysis
The Yankees’ bats went cold in the playoffs, but over the long season, this lineup will produce. The Yankees won 97 games last season, and with the improvements to their rotation, they should crack 100 this year and fend off the Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays for yet another AL East crown.




Batting Order
SS Derek Jeter (R)
Quieted critics with a second-half surge that evoked the Jeter of Old, not the Old Jeter.
CF Curtis Granderson (L)
No longer struggles against lefties, with a .272 average and a .597 slugging percentage in 2011.
2B Robinson Cano (L)
A free swinger (just 38 walks), but what a swing it is; seems to hit everything hard.
3B Alex Rodriguez (R)
Midseason knee surgery ended his record streak of 13 seasons with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs.
1B Mark Teixeira (S)
Hit just .239 on balls in play, suggesting bad luck or better defensive positioning against him.
RF Nick Swisher (S)
Mark it down: good for 20+ homers, 80+ RBIs and .360 on-base percentage every year.
DH Raul Ibañez (L)
Hit just .245 with a .289 OBP (.211/.232 vs. LHP), but Yankees hope his power (20 HR) will translate well at Yankee Stadium. Will most likely platoon with Andruw Jones.
C Russell Martin (R)
Professionalism and power give Yanks a big boost and buy time for prospects to mature.
LF Brett Gardner (L)
Yanks love the way he sets the table for the top of the order.

C Francisco Cervelli (R)
Solid hitter, but has caught only 13 of 92 potential base-stealers in last two years.
INF Eduardo Nunez (R)
Made 83 starts at various spots last year; allows Jeter to ‘rest’ as the DH.
3B Eric Chavez (L)
Solid left-handed option at third and is strong defensively.
OF Andruw Jones (R)
Former home run champ can still mash, with a .923 OPS against lefties last year

LH C.C. Sabathia
Eleven MLB seasons, all with a winning record, and he’s only 31 years old.
RH Hiroki Kuroda
Made 11 quality starts in 14 post-All-Star break starts for the Dodgers last season.
RH Ivan Nova
Hard to believe the Yankees once lost him in Rule 5 draft — and Padres gave him back.
RH Michael Pineda
Fastball averaged 94.7 mph last year, fourth-best among starters in the majors.
RH Phil Hughes
Has proven he can start or relieve at the big-league level, but struggled for consistency.

RH Mariano Rivera (Closer)
Had 7.5 strikeouts for every walk, the second-best ratio of his storied career.
RH David Robertson
AL-best 13.50 strikeouts per nine innings for pitchers with at least 65 innings pitched.
RH Rafael Soriano
Before his May elbow injury: 5.40 ERA; after his July return: 3.33.
RH Freddy Garcia
Veteran has value as a long man or reliable insurance policy for rotation.
RH Cory Wade
Former Dodger surfaced as useful middle man with curveball/changeup mix.
LH Boone Logan
Lefties and righties had the same OBP off him last season: .328.
RH Joba Chamberlain
Underwent Tommy John surgery last June, which puts him on track to return in midseason.

Other teams' 2012 Previews:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Arizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians Cincinnati Reds
Detroit Tigers Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins Miami Marlins
New York Yankees Milwaukee Brewers
Oakland A's New York Mets
Seattle Mariners Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa Bay Rays Pittsburgh Pirates
Texas Rangers San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays San Francisco Giants
  St. Louis Cardinals
  Washington Nationals
<p> The Yankees fell short of the World Series for the seventh time in eight seasons, but this remains a formidable team. The Yankees’ bats went cold in the playoffs, but over the long season, this lineup will produce. The Yankees won 97 games last season, and with the improvements to their rotation, they should crack 100 this year and fend off the Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays for yet another AL East crown.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 12:02
Path: /columns/horsepower-rankings/nascar-horsepower-rankings-9

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Greg Biffle  Biffle’s team was the one under the Roush Fenway banner that laid low during the offseason. The result has been third-place finishes across the board. Bristol is usually good to them, too.

2. Jimmie Johnson  It’s highly unlikely Chad Knaus’ appeal is overturned, but by appealing, Hendrick Motorsports bought Johnson a pair of top-5 finishes. Win or lose with the committee, this team remains a lock for the Chase.

3. Denny Hamlin  We’ll take the 20th-place finish at Vegas as a hiccup. Although, after fourth- and first-place runs at Daytona and Phoenix, the dip at an intermediate track was notable.

4. Tony Stewart  “Hey Darian, anything you can do, I can do better!” One week after Stewart’s former pit boss earned his first win with Hamlin, Stewart and new boss Steve Addington even the score.

5. Kevin Harvick  Worst finish so far this season is 11th. Harvick and the re-tooled No. 29 team have an uncanny knack for always being “there.” A couple wins in the next month or so could be on tap.

6. Matt Kenseth  Kenseth was on the business end of a Carl Edwards late-race move once again. For some reason, those never work out too well for the 2003 champ.

7. Carl Edwards  “The Aggressor” raced on to a fifth-place finish, his second top 10 of the year. Strangely, Edwards has yet to lead a lap this season. Is another hangover in store for last season’s championship runner-up?

8. Mark Martin  Says he’s OK with Dale Earnhardt Jr. after their dust-up in Vegas. The odds of anything spilling over to Bristol would have already been long — and those odds are off the board since Martin won’t even run there.

<p> Greg Biffle tops Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 11:17
Path: /mlb/baltimore-orioles-2012-preview

Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles have undergone a number of significant changes, but they’re mostly confined to the front office and scouting department. Unfortunately, this team needs more than just a few minor adjustments to the roster. They added quantity more than quality to the pitching staff — the big signing being 26-year-old Taiwanese lefthander Wei-Yin Chen — and the lineup was still missing a big difference maker. They’re strong up the middle with Gold Glove catcher Matt Wieters, shortstop J.J. Hardy and center fielder Adam Jones, but they aren’t set up to overtake anyone in the treacherous American League East Division.

Righthander Jeremy Guthrie, the ace of the staff the last two seasons, was traded to Colorado. The Orioles gave Chen a three-year deal to occupy Guthrie’s spot at the front end of the rotation. Chen, the first Taiwanese-born player in Orioles history, went 36–30 with a 2.48 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 117 games (88 starts) over the last four seasons with the Chunichi Dragons in the Central League of Nippon Professional Baseball. The Orioles also signed Japanese lefthander Tsuyoshi Wada to a two-year deal with a club option for 2014, but some scouts question whether a soft-tossing lefty with no big league experience can compete in the division as a starter. He’s a strike-thrower with a wide assortment of pitches, but that includes a mid-80s fastball. Tommy Hunter joins can be a staff innings-eater. Hunter went 3–3 with a 5.06 ERA in 12 games after being acquired from the Rangers. Jake Arrieta finished second on the team with 10 victories, but he underwent surgery in August to remove a bone spur from his elbow. He has shown no ill effects this spring. There is a chance manager Buck Showalter could hand him the ball Opening Day. Lefthander Zach Britton should stay in the rotation after going 11–11 with a 4.61 ERA as a rookie. He posted a 5.76 ERA after the break. After losing his spot in the Rockies’ rotation, Jason Hammel pitched well the final month, including two starts. The Orioles acquired Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom in exchange for Guthrie. Hammel he has shown promise before but never delivered. Baltimore would love to see former first-round pick Brian Matusz blossom in 2012. He was 1-9 with a 10.65 ERA in 12 starts last season.

Kevin Gregg began last season as the closer, but his seven blown saves in 29 chances and 40 walks in 59.2 innings tested the patience of Showalter. Former setup man Jim Johnson was closing games in September and could remain in that role, though there’s also been talk of making him a starter. Pedro Strop, claimed off waivers from the Rangers, posted a 0.73 ERA in 12 games and looks like a quality late-inning arm. Another former Ranger, lefthander Zach Phillips, could work in middle relief. Submariner Darren O’Day — yes, a former Ranger — also figures in the bullpen plans. Lindstrom — who has never been a Ranger — has appeared in 312 games over the past five seasons. Wada, Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken, Alfredo Simon, Luis Ayala and lefthander Troy Patton also are candidates to work out of the bullpen.

Middle Infield
Former GM Andy MacPhail pulled off one of the best trades last winter when he sent two minor league pitchers to the Twins for Hardy, who hit a career-high 30 home runs and played outstanding defense. Hardy also tied his career high with 80 RBIs despite spending a month on the disabled list with a strained oblique. His .990 fielding percentage and .491 slugging percentage led AL shortstops. The Orioles signed him to a three-year extension on July 18. His double-play partner remains a mystery. Second baseman Brian Roberts didn’t play after May 16 because of concussion-like symptoms that are threatening his career. He has two years and $20 million left on his contract. Robert Andino filled in admirably for Roberts, but Showalter wants to use him in a super-utility role. Other second base candidates include Triple-A infielder Ryan Adams, Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty and minor league free agent Matt Antonelli.

Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis are expected to be the corner infielders barring a trade, but their exact positions must be determined. Reynolds committed 26 of his 31 errors at third base, and he looked much more comfortable at first. His 37 home runs look good at either corner, and the Orioles seem to be leaning toward keeping him at first. Davis also can play both positions, but he’s still trying to establish himself in the majors. The Orioles are giving him that chance after acquiring him from the Rangers in July. Both players have tremendous power. They also strike out a lot. Antonelli and Flaherty also are being considered at third base.

Nick Markakis finally won a Gold Glove in right field after going 160 games without committing an error. However, his streak of consecutive seasons with at least 40 doubles ended at four, and he posted the lowest average (.284) in his six major league seasons. Jones didn’t win a Gold Glove, but he was outstanding in center field. He wasn’t too bad at the plate, either. Jones hit .280 with 26 doubles, 25 homers and 83 RBIs, and was named Most Valuable Oriole. Left field isn’t quite as settled. Nolan Reimold is the early favorite to win the job. Reimold, a former second-round draft pick, hit 13 homers in 87 games. The Orioles signed veteran Endy Chavez as a free agent to back up Jones in center and maybe platoon with Reimold in left. They also traded for Jai Miller, 27, who batted .276 with 32 home runs, 88 RBIs and 16 stolen bases without being caught in 110 games for Triple-A Sacramento in 2011.

The Orioles’ pitching staff is in good hands with Wieters, who played in his first All-Star Game and won his first Gold Glove. Wieters, the fifth overall selection in the 2007 draft, was charged with only one passed ball, posted a .992 fielding percentage and led AL catchers by throwing out 37 percent of runners attempting to steal. He also hit 22 home runs, 11 more than his career high. He’s got superstar talent and it’s rising to the surface. The Orioles traded for Taylor Teagarden, another former Ranger, to back up Wieters. Teagarden is limited offensively, but the Orioles like the way he calls a game, handles a pitching staff and controls the opponents’ running game.

The Orioles need to find a DH. Roberts is one possibility. The bench will include Teagarden as Wieters’ backup and Chavez as the fourth outfielder. Miller also will be given a long look as a backup at all three outfield positions, especially because he’s out of options. Flaherty, the Rule 5 pick, has a good chance to make the club out of spring training and back up at multiple infield positions. The Orioles also like Antonelli, the former Padres infielder who played at Triple-A Syracuse last season. Andino will be a super-utility player if he isn’t starting at second.

The front office has taken on a decidedly different look with the hiring of Dan Duquette as executive vice president of baseball operations. Duquette was a former GM with the Expos and Red Sox, but he hadn’t worked for a major league club since being fired after the 2001 season. He twice traded for Pedro Martinez, and his commitment to scouting, player development and the international market could be exactly what the Orioles need after 14 straight losing seasons. However, his absence from the game for such an extended period of time could work against him. If nothing else, he figures to be more aggressive than MacPhail, whose deliberate pace and reluctance to spend money frustrated fans. Showalter has a track record for turning around clubs and bringing them to the threshold of the World Series. He’ll need to maintain his patience with this team.

Final Analysis
The Orioles have a nice nucleus of players that Duquette wants to build around. The trick is acquiring the necessary pieces while still holding onto Wieters, Hardy, Jones, Markakis and his young starters. The Orioles still lack depth in their farm system, preventing them from making the kinds of trades that brought frontline starting pitchers to the Reds (Mat Latos) and Nationals (Gio Gonzalez). Duquette has a lot of work to do, and not just with his 25-man roster. It’s difficult to envision the Orioles getting out of last place this season. They’re trying to borrow the Rays’ blueprint, but a turnaround won’t happen overnight.




Batting Order
DH Brian Roberts (S)
Status in the air after concussion symptoms limited him to 39 games in 2011.
SS J.J. Hardy (R)
Hit career-high 30 home runs and tied career high with 80 RBIs.
RF Nick Markakis (L)
Joins Ichiro as only AL players with at least 180 hits in each of past five seasons.
CF Adam Jones (R)
Team MVP led major league CFs with 16 assists; added career-high 25 homers.
C Matt Wieters (S)
Made first All-Star team and was the first Orioles catcher to win a Gold Glove.
1B Mark Reynolds (R)
Led team in home runs (37), RBIs (86), runs (84), walks (75), strikeouts (196).
3B Chris Davis (L)
Hit .368 with 24 homers in 48 games at Triple-A Round Rock before trade to Orioles.
2B Robert Andino (R)
Could be utility player if Roberts plays second base, which is club’s preference.
LF Nolan Reimold (R)
Hit .321 with five homers, 16 RBIs, nine walks and 16 runs in last 17 games.

C Taylor Teagarden (R)
Considered a huge defensive upgrade over previous backup catchers.
OF Endy Chavez (L)
Hit .301/.323/.426 with five homers and 27 RBIs in 83 games with Texas.
INF Wilson Betemit (S)
Made 80 starts at third base for Royals and Tigers last season and hit. 303, slugged .500 vs. RHP.
INF Ryan Flaherty (L)
Rule 5 pick has played second, third, shortstop, left field and right field.
INF Matt Antonelli (R)
The 17th-overall pick by Padres in 2006 draft can play three infield spots.

LH Wei-Yin Chen
Was 36–30 with a 2.48 ERA, 1.06 WHIP in last 117 games with the Chunichi Dragons.
LH Zach Britton
Rookie was 4–1 with a 2.84 ERA in April; 2–1 with a 2.60 ERA in August.
RH Jake Arrieta
His 10 wins ranked second on team; could be No. 1 by the end of spring training.
RH Jason Hammel
Went 3–1 with 2.63 ERA in first six starts and 4–12 with 6.44 ERA in next 19 for Rockies in 2011.
RH Tommy Hunter
Went 3–3 with a 5.06 ERA in 12 games after being acquired from the Rangers.

RH Jim Johnson (Closer)
Former setup man closed in September and went 7-for-7 in save opportunities.
RH Kevin Gregg
Signed to be the closer, but his seven blown saves and 40 walks were an issue.
RH Matt Lindstrom
In Colorado began 2011 with 1.16 ERA in first 26 appearances; 4.40 in final 37 games.
LH Tsuyoshi Wada
Japanese import, known for his control and pitching to contact, not his velocity, is being given a chance to start.
RH Pedro Strop
Didn’t allow a run in his first nine appearances after being claimed off waivers.
RH Brad Bergesen
Had a 5.78 ERA in 12 starts and 5.59 ERA in 22 relief appearances; out of options.
RH Darren O’Day
Submarine-stylist was 0–1 with a 5.40 ERA in 16 games with the Rangers.
RH Luis Ayala
In 56 IP for Yankees last season, he had a 2.09 ERA and allowed just 51 hits, but 20 walks. Won 24 games in relief for Expos/Nats from 2003-05.
RH Alfredo Simon
Logged 115 innings as a part-time starter for O’s last season.
LH Troy Patton
Faced 41 batters in September and allowed a .325 OPS. Has proven to be as tough against righties as lefties.


Other teams' 2012 Previews:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Arizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians Cincinnati Reds
Detroit Tigers Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins Miami Marlins
New York Yankees Milwaukee Brewers
Oakland A's New York Mets
Seattle Mariners Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa Bay Rays Pittsburgh Pirates
Texas Rangers San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays San Francisco Giants
  St. Louis Cardinals
  Washington Nationals
<p> The Orioles have undergone a number of significant changes, but they’re mostly confined to the front office and scouting department. Unfortunately, this team needs more than just a few minor adjustments to the roster. It’s difficult to envision the Orioles getting out of last place this season. They’re trying to borrow the Rays’ blueprint, but a turnaround won’t happen overnight.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 11:13
Path: /college-football/big-ten-2012-football-schedule-analysis

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

College football spring practice is already underway and it won't be long until Athlon's 2012 preseason annuals are hitting the shelves. The top 25 countdown will begin in May, but until then, Athlon will be taking a look at some of the schedules and some of the key games facing each team in 2012. The Big Ten should be one of the most competitive conferences in college football next year, especially with a loaded Legends Division featuring Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska.


Sept. 1 Indiana State
Sept. 8 at UMass
Sept. 15 Ball State
Sept. 22 Bye Week
Sept. 29 at Northwestern
Oct. 6 Michigan State
Oct. 13 Ohio State
Oct. 20 at Navy
Oct. 27 at Illinois
Nov. 3 Iowa
Nov. 10 Wisconsin
Nov. 17 at Penn State
Nov. 24 at Purdue

* Indiana has averaged 3.3 wins per season over the last four and the Hoosiers should hit that number in 2012. Three very winnable non-conference games start year two of the Kevin Wilson era. For Indiana fans to feel confident with the direction of the program, Wilson must win his first three contests in 2012. Especially considering…

* After the bye week, there isn’t a winnable game on the schedule. Certainly, it is still very early, but it is hard to see a game in which Indiana will be favored. Games that would appear like their best chance at a W — Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern, Navy — will all take place on the road.

* Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa visits during the year has to have at least the athletic department accountants in Bloomington excited.

* The crossover slate doesn’t offer much help as home games against Iowa and Michigan State will be tough for IU. A road test at Northwestern is the “easiest” game in the crossover slate.


Sept. 1 Western Michigan
Sept. 8 at Arizona State
Sept. 15 Charleston Southern
Sept. 22 Louisiana Tech
Sept. 29 Penn State
Oct. 6 at Wisconsin
Oct. 13 at Michigan
Oct. 20 Bye Week
Oct. 27 Indiana
Nov. 3 at Ohio State
Nov. 10 Minnesota
Nov. 17 Purdue
Nov. 24 at Northwestern

* For a new head coach and offense that completely fell apart a year ago, two non-conference tests against Arizona State in Tempe and WAC champion Louisiana Tech at home won’t be easy. Yet, with four of its first five games at home, Tim Beckham knows he needs to build positive momentum heading into a nasty Big Ten slate.

* The bye week couldn’t come at a better time following a brutal three-game stretch against Big Ten powers Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan — even if it used to simply lick its wounds. Back-to-back trips to Camp Randall and The Big House could end the Illini’s Big Ten season right out of the gate as those will likely be the preseason picks to play in the Big Ten title game.

* Two tough road trips to Ohio State (Nov. 3) and Northwestern (Nov. 24) dot the final month of the schedule that should prove to be much easier than Ron Zook’s 0-7 season-ending record. Assuming a win at home over Indiana and a loss at Ohio State, Illinois finishes with three very winnable games. While all three will be tricky (and are showing improvement), Illinois has to point to the final month of the schedule as an opportunity rather than simple survival. Should Illinois finish 4-1 down the stretch, it’s not out of the question that they would be in the Leaders’ Division title hunt.

* Crossover games with the Legends Division: at Michigan, Minnesota, at Northwestern.


Sept. 1 Northern Illinois (Chicago)
Sept. 8 Iowa State
Sept. 15 Northern Iowa
Sept. 22 Central Michigan
Sept. 29 Minnesota
Oct. 6 Bye Week
Oct. 13 at Michigan State
Oct. 20 Penn State
Oct. 27 at Northwestern
Nov. 3 at Indiana
Nov. 10 Purdue
Nov. 17 at Michigan
Nov. 23 Nebraska

* The Hawkeyes will open the 2012 season with a neutral site game against Northern Illinois. This is the second time in the last six years Iowa has opened with the Huskies in Chicago. These two teams met in 2007, with the Hawkeyes winning 16-3.

* Revenge game. After losing 44-41 in three overtimes to Iowa State last season, you can bet the Hawkeyes have the Sept. 8 matchup circled on their calendar. Iowa is 3-1 in its last four meeting with the Cyclones and has won four straight at home in this series.

* For a team that will be breaking in a new running back and needs to find some new faces on the defensive line, the first part of the schedule sets up very favorably. Northern Illinois is a dangerous team, but will be replacing a handful of key contributors. Assuming the Hawkeyes can get past the Huskies and Cyclones, they should be 5-0 going into the bye week on Oct. 6. And Iowa won’t have to play its first true road game until Oct. 13 against Michigan State.

* The Hawkeyes didn’t catch a break with the Big Ten schedule, as they have to go on the road to face Michigan State and Michigan – arguably the top two teams in the Legends Division next season. However, Iowa does host Nebraska on Nov. 23 and has manageable road trips to Northwestern and Indiana.

* Crossover opponents with the Leaders Division: Penn State, at Indiana, Purdue


Sept. 1 Alabama (Arlington)
Sept. 8 Air Force
Sept. 15 Massachusetts
Sept. 22 at Notre Dame
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 6 at Purdue
Oct. 13 Illinois
Oct. 20 Michigan State
Oct. 27 at Nebraska
Nov. 3 at Minnesota
Nov. 10 Northwestern
Nov. 17 Iowa
Nov. 24 at Ohio State

* If Michigan wants to be a national title contender, beating Alabama on Sept. 1 is a must. The Wolverines are 20-6 in previous meetings against the SEC, including two wins over Alabama (1988 and 2000). Even though the Crimson Tide has some heavy losses on defense, it’s going to be a tough task for Michigan to beat Alabama in the season opener.

* As if preparing for Alabama in the opener isn’t difficult enough, Michigan has a quick turnaround to face Air Force in Week 2. The Falcons’ option offense is difficult to prepare for in a week, so expect defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and coach Brady Hoke to devote some time in the fall to getting the defense acclimated to Air Force.

* Massachusetts is transitioning to FBS status and will play a full MAC schedule in 2012.

* Michigan has controlled the recent series with Notre Dame, winning five out of the last six matchups. The Wolverines claimed a 28-24 victory over the Irish in South Bend in 2010 and won a 35-31 thriller in Ann Arbor in 2011.

* Revenge game. Michigan State has won four in a row against Michigan, including a 34-17 victory in Ann Arbor in 2010. With quarterback Kirk Cousins out of eligibility for the Spartans, the Wolverines should be favored to snap the four-game losing streak. Throw out the revenge factor and it’s still a huge game in the Big Ten Legends race, especially since the Wolverines, Spartans and Cornhuskers will be neck-and-neck in the standings.

* Letdown alert? Although the Wolverines desperately want to get revenge against Michigan State, they can’t overlook the next opponent on the schedule – Nebraska.

* The Wolverines snapped a seven-game losing streak to rival Ohio State last year, but winning in Columbus won't be easy. Michigan has not defeated the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe since 2000. 

* Crossover opponents with the Leaders Division: at Purdue, Illinois, at Ohio State

Michigan State

Aug. 31 Boise State
Sept. 8 at Central Michigan
Sept. 15 Notre Dame
Sept. 22 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 29 Ohio State
Oct. 6 at Indiana
Oct. 13 Iowa
Oct. 20 at Michigan
Oct. 27 at Wisconsin
Nov. 3 Nebraska
Nov. 10 Bye Week
Nov. 17 Northwestern
Nov. 24 at Minnesota

* The Spartans open the 2012 a day earlier than most, hosting Boise State on Friday night. The Broncos have a plethora of losses on both sides of the ball, but are still a dangerous team. This will be the first meeting between Boise State and Michigan State.

* Michigan State has played in-state foe Central Michigan eight times, but this will be its first trip to play at Mount Pleasant. The Chippewas are coached by former Michigan State assistant Dan Enos, who has recorded a disappointing 6-18 record through two seasons.

* The matchup with Notre Dame won’t mean anything in the Big Ten standings, but this game is huge for momentum purposes. With Boise State rebuilding and Central Michigan coming off a 3-9 season, the Irish figure to give the Spartans their best gauge of where they stand going into Big Ten play. Michigan State has won the last two meetings against Notre Dame in East Lansing.

* The Spartans open Big Ten play with a date against Ohio State on Sept. 29. Michigan State has not defeated the Buckeyes in East Lansing since 1999.

* Michigan State’s Legends Division title hopes will reside on a three-game stretch, beginning with an Oct. 20 date at Michigan, followed by a trip to Madison on Oct. 27 and a home date with Nebraska on Nov. 3.

* The Spartans have won four in a row against Michigan, including a 34-17 win over Ann Arbor in 2010. The Wolverines are back on the rise and there’s no doubt they have revenge on their mind after last season’s 28-14 loss to Michigan State.

* Crossover opponents with the Leaders Division: Ohio State, at Indiana, at Wisconsin


Aug. 30 at UNLV
Sept. 8 New Hampshire
Sept. 15 Western Michigan
Sept. 22 Syracuse
Sept. 29 at Iowa
Oct. 6 Bye Week
Oct. 13 Northwestern
Oct. 20 at Wisconsin
Oct. 27 Purdue
Nov. 3 Michigan
Nov. 10 at Illinois
Nov. 17 at Nebraska
Nov. 24 Michigan State

* The Golden Gophers finished 2011 with some momentum, knocking off Illinois in the season finale and beating Iowa 22-21 on Oct. 29. The second year of the Jerry Kill era in Minneapolis should see an improvement in the win column, especially with a favorable start to the season. Minnesota should be favored to win its first three games and a victory over Syracuse wouldn’t be surprising.

* Minnesota and Syracuse have met only three times, with the Golden Gophers holding a 2-1 series edge. Minnesota won the last meeting between these two teams, a 23-20 matchup in Syracuse in 2009.

* Although Minnesota is riding a two-game winning streak over Iowa, it has not won in Iowa City since 1999. Is this the year that losing streak ends?

* If the Golden Gophers want to get to a bowl game, beating Northwestern on Oct. 13 is going to be crucial. Assuming Minnesota begins the year 4-0, a win over the Wildcats would put them within one victory of bowl eligibility.

* Minnesota didn’t catch a break in its November slate, as it has to play the three best teams from the Legends Division in the final month. The Golden Gophers host Michigan and Michigan State, but have to travel to Nebraska on Nov. 17.

* Crossover opponents with the Leaders Division: at Wisconsin, Purdue, at Illinois


Sept. 1 Southern Miss
Sept. 8 at UCLA
Sept. 15 Arkansas State
Sept. 22 Idaho State
Sept. 29 Wisconsin
Oct. 6 at Ohio State
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 at Northwestern
Oct. 27 Michigan
Nov. 3 at Michigan State
Nov. 10 Penn State
Nov. 17 Minnesota
Nov. 23 at Iowa

* The Cornhuskers kick off their 2012 season against Southern Miss, a team Nebraska fans are certainly familiar with. The Golden Eagles upset the Cornhuskers 21-17 in Lincoln in 2004. Although Southern Miss is a quality non-BCS team, don’t expect Nebraska to fall victim to an upset this time around. The Golden Eagles have a new coaching staff and must replace quarterback Austin Davis.

* With a new coaching staff taking over at UCLA, it’s going to be a guessing game for Nebraska when it takes on the Bruins on Sept. 8. The Cornhuskers and Bruins have not played since 1994, with Nebraska owning a 6-4 edge in the series. UCLA takes on Rice in its season opener, so there will be a lot of unknowns as Nebraska prepares for what the Bruins might throw at them on Sept. 8.

* Upset alert? Nebraska should beat Arkansas State, but it’s a game that could give the Cornhuskers some headaches. The Red Wolves are led by first-year coach and former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, while quarterback Ryan Aplin is quietly one of the nation’s most underrated signal-callers. Arkansas State is a dangerous team and one that the Cornhuskers can’t afford to take lightly.

* The Cornhuskers didn’t get any breaks in the Big Ten schedule. A brutal five-game stretch (Sept. 29-Nov. 3) will decide whether Nebraska can knock off Michigan or Michigan State for the division crown. Nebraska’s Big Ten schedule kicks off with a matchup against Wisconsin on Sept. 29 and it must travel to Columbus on Oct. 6. After a bye, the Cornhuskers travel to Northwestern, then back home to take on Michigan, followed by a road trip to Michigan State. Yikes.

* The Oct. 6 date against Ohio State is a homecoming of sorts for Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. The Cornhuskers’ head coach was born in Youngstown, Ohio and played at Ohio State from 1987-90.

* Crossover opponents with the Leaders Division: Wisconsin, at Ohio State, Penn State


Sept. 1 at Syracuse
Sept. 8 Vanderbilt
Sept. 15 Boston College
Sept. 22 South Dakota
Sept. 29 Indiana
Oct. 6 at Penn State
Oct. 13 at Minnesota
Oct. 20 Nebraska
Oct. 27 Iowa
Nov. 3 Bye Week
Nov. 10 at Michigan
Nov. 17 at Michigan State
Nov. 24 Illinois

* The Wildcats open the 2012 season with a trip to Syracuse. Northwestern played at Syracuse in 2009, losing in a 37-34 shootout. The Orange own a 5-4 edge in this series and has not lost at home to Northwestern since 1940.

* Northwestern’s tricky, but manageable non-conference slate continues in Week 2 with a date against Vanderbilt. The Wildcats have played the Commodores only three times, with the series tied at 1-1 with a tie in 1952. Northwestern defeated Vanderbilt 23-21 in 2010 and these two teams have not played in Evanston since 1952.

* If Northwestern wants to make its fifth consecutive trip to a bowl game, it’s critical to sweep the non-conference portion and knock off Indiana on Sept. 29. Although Syracuse and Vanderbilt will be swing games, those are matchups the Wildcats should have a chance to win. With Penn State, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State coming up after the first five games, Northwestern could need an upset or two to get bowl eligible.

* How’s this for a back-to-back slate of games in November: Nov. 10 at Michigan and Nov. 17 at Michigan State. Ouch.

* Could the Nov. 24 date against Illinois be for bowl eligibility for both teams? Both schools should be right around the 5-7 win mark in 2012, which could add some extra importance to the season finale.

* Crossover opponents with the Leaders Division: at Penn State, Iowa, Illinois

Ohio State 

Sept. 1 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 8 UCF
Sept. 15 Cal
Sept. 22 UAB
Sept. 29 at Michigan State
Oct. 6 Nebraska
Oct. 13 at Indiana
Oct. 20 Purdue
Oct. 27 at Penn State
Nov. 3 Illinois
Nov. 10 Bye Week
Nov. 17 at Wisconsin
Nov. 24 Michigan

* The non-conference slate doesn’t feature any national showcases like Texas, USC or Miami of recent years, but a visit from Cal will be intriguing. Jeff Tedford could save his job if they can miraculously go into the Horseshoe and get a win. Having said that, it appears that a 4-0 start heading into Big Ten play is all but certain for the Napoleonic new football coach in Columbus.

* Urban Meyer will get his baptism into Big Ten play very quickly. A road trip to East Lansing and a home game against Nebraska kicks-off the Buckeyes’ conference schedule. You can bet revenge will be on the mind of Scarlet and Gray nation as Ohio State lost to both of those teams last fall.

* The Ohio State revenge tour will undoubtedly continue through the middle of the schedule that features only minor speed bumps for Braxton Miller and company. A four-game stretch against Indiana (road), Purdue, Penn State (road) and Illinois simply does not look daunting enough to cause OSU any real trouble. The road trip to Happy Valley might be the only losable game in the bunch.

* Meyer and Ohio State will have two weeks to prep for a brutal two-game finish to its 2012 season. A trip to Madison and a home game against that team from up North is no easy way to end the 2012 season. Without any bowl or Big Ten title to play for, however, the Buckeyes could easily spoil a few seasons along the way and wins over UW and Michigan could knock one or both out of the championship game.

* If there is going to be a year to play the best three teams from the other division — like Ohio State does in 2012 — it might as well be the fall you are not eligible.

Penn State 

Sept. 1 Ohio
Sept. 8 at Virginia
Sept. 15 Navy
Sept. 22 Temple
Sept. 29 at Illinois
Oct. 6 Northwestern
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 at Iowa
Oct. 27 Ohio State
Nov. 3 at Purdue
Nov. 10 at Nebraska
Nov. 17 Indiana
Nov. 24 Wisconsin

* Bill O’Brien certainly didn’t walk into the easiest non-conference schedule. Ohio, Virginia, Navy and Temple wouldn’t normally scare too many PSU teams but this isn’t your ordinary Nittany Lion team. Those four teams combined for 32 wins a season ago and the Owls came up four points short of a monumental upset of rival Penn State. If the Lions can emerge from this tough non-conference slate unblemished, fans in State College should be ecstatic.

* The first two weeks of the Big Ten schedule will teach fans a lot about the make-up of this Penn State team. A tough non-con slate previews a winnable start to the Big Ten season that features a road trip to Illinois and a home game against Northwestern. Penn State has the talent to start 6-0 but has big enough questions (on and off the field) to start 3-3 as well. Heading into the bye week at the halfway mark, PSU fans will know exactly where they stand.

* If Penn State wants to get to a bowl, it needs to get work done early in the year because the second half of the schedule features one “easy” game. Road trips to crossover opponents Nebraska and Iowa will be tough while home tests against the best two teams in the division, Ohio State and Wisconsin, won’t be any easier. A road trip to Purdue could swing this season from acceptable to worrisome or vice versa.

* Missing Legend’s Division favorites Michigan and Michigan State is one major positive.


Sept. 1 Eastern Kentucky
Sept. 8 at Notre Dame
Sept. 15 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 22 Bye Week
Sept. 27 Marshall
Oct. 6 Michigan
Oct. 13 Wisconsin
Oct. 20 at Ohio State
Oct. 27 at Minnesota
Nov. 3 Penn State
Nov. 10 at Iowa
Nov. 17 at Illinois
Nov. 24 Indiana

* The Boilers returned to the postseason for the first time since 2007 last fall, but will need to pull an upset or two in order to return in 2012. Three of the four non-conference games are winnable but a road win at Notre Dame might be asking too much.

* This means that Purdue must win at least three games in conference and its start to the Big Ten slate is downright impossible. Michigan and Wisconsin, the two teams likely picked to head to the conference championship game, visit West Lafayette in the first two weeks of Big Ten play before Purdue ventures into the Horseshoe the following weekend. An 0-3 start in conference seems to highly likely.

* Purdue has been picked as an early sleeper in the 2012 Big Ten title race. The Boilermakers will find out pretty quick how they stack up, especially with that brutal conference slate to start the year.

* The good news is the second half of the Purdue schedule offers some intrigue. Home games against Penn State and Indiana are certainly winnable with not-so-daunting road trips to Illinois and Minnesota mixed in. A tough road trip to Iowa is really the only time in the second half of the season that Purdue is a clear underdog. Three wins in those final five isn’t out of the question.

* Crossover opponents with the Legends Division: Michigan, at Minnesota and at Iowa


Sept. 1 Northern Iowa
Sept. 8 at Oregon State
Sept. 15 Utah State
Sept. 22 UTEP
Sept. 27 at Nebraska
Oct. 6 Illinois
Oct. 13 at Purdue
Oct. 20 Minnesota
Oct. 27 Michigan State
Nov. 3 Bye Week
Nov. 10 at Indiana
Nov. 17 Ohio State
Nov. 24 at Penn State

* With a relatively easy non-conference schedule, Wisconsin could head into its Big Ten opener without a loss. A trip to Oregon State to face a coach with his back against the wall could prove interesting for an offense that is missing all-everything quarterback Russell Wilson. But if the dairy-fed Big Red can get through the first four weeks unscathed, it will set up a monumental showdown with the corn-fed Big Red of Lincoln, Neb. Bret Bielema, and his entirely reworked coaching staff, will have its hands full when it heads to Memorial Stadium for the first time since 1973.

* The crossover opponents once again will not help Wisconsin return to the Big Ten title game in 2012. The Badgers will face Nebraska, Michigan State and arch-rival Minnesota. The Huskers and budding rival Michigan State will be picked to challenge the Wolverines in the Legends Division. Of course, that means Big Red gets a small break by not having to face their Big Ten Achilles Heel Michigan.

* The final two weeks of the regular season will likely determine if Wisconsin will be able to defend its Big Ten title. Ohio State visits in the penultimate weekend while a trip to Happy Valley wraps-up the 2012 slate. The good news for UW is that they should be “rested” heading into the final two games as the bye week and pseudo-bye week (Indiana) lead-up to the Buckeyes visiting Camp Randall.

* With the Leaders Division wide open due to Ohio State’s sanctions, the round robin between Penn State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Purdue could prove very interesting. The Badgers will play two of those games on the road at Purdue and Penn State. 

Related Content Links:

2012 Very Early Big Ten Predictions
Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Athlon takes a look at some of the key games and interesting notes on tap for the 2012 Big Ten schedule.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 07:11
Path: /college-football/south-carolina-gamecocks-2012-spring-preview

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

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

South Carolina Gamecocks 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC

Spring practice: Mar. 13-Apr 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 6

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Connor Shaw, 65.4%, 1,448 yards, 14 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Marcus Lattimore, 163 car., 818 yards, 10 TD
Receiving: Ace Sanders, 29 rec., 486 yards, 3 TD
Tackles: D.J. Swearinger, 80
Sacks: Jadeveon Clowney, 8
Interceptions: D.J. Swearinger, 3

Redshirts to watch: OL Brandon Shell, DT Phillip Dukes, LB Edward Muldrow, TE Drew Owens, LB Cedrick Cooper, W Shamier Jeffery, FS Sheldon Royster

2012 Schedule

SEC 2012 Schedule Analysis

Sept. 1 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 8 East Carolina
Sept. 15 UAB
Sept. 22 Missouri
Sept. 29 at Kentucky
Oct. 6 Georgia
Oct. 13 at LSU
Oct. 20 at Florida
Oct. 27 Tennessee
Nov. 3 Bye Week
Nov. 10 Arkansas
Nov. 17 Wofford
Nov. 24 at Clemson

Offensive Strength: It may just feel weird to say this, but the running backs are the clear strength of Steve Spurrier's offense. Assuming Marcus Lattimore returns to form, Spurrier will boast the most talented running back in the nation as well as a rising sophomore who posted three 100-yard games in Lattimore's absence last fall. Toss in a quarterback who carried 135 times and, according to NCAA stats, technically led the team in yards per game (52.5), the 'Cocks have plenty of people to carry the football.

Offensive Weakness: Just how productive those backs will be depends on filling some holes along the offensive line. There is plenty of talent here to work with, but replacing 31 starts up front, including first-team All-SEC left tackle Rokevious Watkins, won't be easy.

Defensive Strength: It only took South Carolina two decades, but this defensive line has a decisively SEC-feel to it. It has turned into a year-in, year-out strength for a program that has only been to one SEC title game. Despite losing Melvin Ingram and Travian Robertson, this defensive line is stacked. Combine that with only one departing linebacker, and Carolina boasts one of the best front sevens in the nation.

Defensive Weakness: The secondary will have to be almost completely reworked, however, that may not be as terrible as it sounds. Stephon Gilmore was a solid player but never built on his solid early production. C.C. Whitlock and Marty Markett also depart at corner.

Spring Storylines Facing the Gamecocks:

1. The health of Marcus Lattimore. The guy who will get the most attention this spring for Carolina might not play a single down in spring practice. The former National Freshman of the Year and likely first-team preseason All-American running back is returning from ACL surgery. He will begin to push the knee more this spring — with lateral movements and cutting — but it isn't worth risking a setback with any contact or team drills. This team went 5-1 with him out of the lineup last year, but with the best back in America fully healthy, this team could easily challenge for an SEC title.

2. Lorenzo Ward is now the sole owner of the defensive coordinator position in Columbia after two very successful campaigns with the Cocks. With Ellis Johnson moving on to take the Southern Miss head coaching position, the onus to continue South Carolina's stellar play falls to Ward. The bad news is the departure of leaders Melvin Ingram, Rodney Paulk and Antonio Allen. The good news is the defensive line is abosolutely stacked, the secondary is deep and the linebackers are talented. Finding a new 'Spur,' filling voids at corner and linebacker will be key. How will Ward put his stamp on a defense that finished third nationally in total defense (behind only Alabama and LSU) and 11th in scoring defense — or should he change much at all?

3. Despite the loss of Allen, D.J. Swearinger, the team's leading returning tackler and intercepter, returns with DeVonte Holloman to form a solid safety tandem. Holloman should slide into the Spur position vacated by Allen because there is loads of depth behind them. Look for redshirt Sheldon Royster to get plenty of reps with Swearinger still recovering from foot surgery. Yet, the cornerback position lost Gilmore, Whitlock and Markett, so filling these voids is key this spring. Getting Akeem Auguste back healthy on the field will help, but much will be expected from names like Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree — who shifts over from safety. Even linebacker Edward Muldrow could see time in the secondary. There is plenty of upside and potential in this group, but it also features a lot of moving parts at the moment. This spring should go a long way to fitting the pieces together.

4. A.J. Cann and T.J. Johnson return to the offensive line and will control the interior of the trenches, be it at guard or center for Johnson. The other three spots on the offensive line must be solidified this spring. Cody Gibson and Will Sport will likely compete for the right tackle job while Kyle Harris, Kaleb Broome and freshman Clayton Stadnik should add plenty of depth to the interior. Stud recruit Brandon Shell is the guy the coaching staff is likely rooting for to win the left tackle gig. With Mike Matulis, Brock Stadnik and Travis Ford all missing time with injuries, finding depth and organizing the offensive line two-deep will be important. This is the portion of the team that seems to have held Carolina back over the last decade, so an SEC title could, literally, be on the line.

5. The development of the passing game. With the running backs healthy, and should the offensive line develop, the passing game then becomes the focus. Connor Shaw has had his share of struggles but also proved late last fall that he is clearly the future of the position. His athletic ability was never the problem, but as the season progressed he proved his arm was developing as well. Through his first five starts A.G. (aka After Garcia), Shaw tossed 44 incompletions while connecting on just over 60% of his passes. Over the final three contests, he threw only 14 incomplete passes for a completion rate over 75%. He will enter his junior season as the unquestioned starter and brings stability to a position that has lacked maturity for years. Look for Shaw to filter through a talented but undistinguished receiving corps this spring, and, most importantly, stay healthy. He and his receivers will have to prove this fall they can win games when teams stack the box to stop Lattimore.

Related Content Links

SEC 2012 Schedule Analysis

2012 Very Early SEC Predictions

Athlon's Very Early Top 25 for 2012

2012 Recruiting Rankings: No. 19 South Carolina

College Football's Top 10 Spring Storylines for 2012

<p> South Carolina Gamecocks 2012 Spring Preview</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 07:09
Path: /college-football/boise-state-broncos-2012-spring-preview

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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

Boise State Broncos 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 12-1, 6-1 Mountain West

Spring practice: March 12-April 16

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 1

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Joe Southwick, 23 of 30, 198 yds., 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: D.J. Harper, 115 car., 557 yds., 9 TDs
Receiving: Matt Miller, 62 rec., 679 yds., 9 TDs
Tackles: J.C. Percy, 46
Sacks: Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, 2
Interceptions: Jerrell Gavins, 3

Redshirts to watch: QB Jimmy Laughrea, K Jake Van Ginkel, DL Robert Ash, DB Eric Agbaroji, DE Sam Ukwuachu, DT Jeffery Worth, DB Darien Thompson, RB Jay Ajayi

Early Enrollees: LB Tyler Gray, DL Elliot Hoyte, DL Demarcus Lawrence, QB Nick Patti, TE Connor Peters, TE Hayden Plinke

JUCO Transfer to watch: DL Demarcus Lawrence, TE Connor Peters

2012 Schedule

Aug. 31 at Michigan State
Sept. 15 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 22 BYU
Sept. 29 at New Mexico
Oct. 6 at Southern Miss
Oct. 13 Fresno State
Oct. 20 UNLV
Oct. 27 at Wyoming
Nov. 3 San Diego State
Nov. 10 at Hawaii
Nov. 17 Colorado State
Nov. 24 at Nevada

Offensive Strength: Even with Doug Martin departing to the NFL, the Broncos should have no issues running the ball in 2012. D.J. Harper has rushed for 1,642 yards and 24 scores in his career, but has struggled to stay healthy. The receiving corps should be one of the best in the Mountain West next year, thanks to the return of Matt Miller, Mitch Burroughs and Geraldo Boldewijn.

Offensive Weakness: How do you replace a quarterback that threw for 14,667 yards and 142 touchdowns in his career? That’s the question coach Chris Petersen and new coordinator Robert Prince must answer this spring. Kellen Moore was one of college football’s most productive quarterbacks over the last four years and will be difficult to replace.

Defensive Strength: The secondary had its issues last season, finishing 43rd nationally in pass defense and was a big reason why Boise State lost to TCU in mid-November. This group should be better in 2012, especially with the return of Jerrell Gavins and Jamar Taylor at cornerback. Both players were limited due to injuries last season, but will be expected to anchor the secondary in 2012.

Defensive Weakness: The Broncos have done a good job of reloading, but their depth will be put to the test in 2012. A handful of key contributors from last season’s defensive line are gone, including All-Mountain West performers Billy Winn, Tyrone Crawford and Shea McClellin. There’s some returning experience, but Boise State may find it difficult to finish 17th nationally in rush defense once again.

Spring Storylines Facing the Broncos

1. Once again, Boise State saw its coaching staff raided in the offseason. Although Chris Petersen was approached by a couple of BCS schools, he showed no interest in leaving Boise State. However, offensive coordinator Brent Pease left for Florida, defensive backs coach Marcel Yates departed for Texas A&M and special teams coach Jeff Choate left for Washington State. Peterson did a good job of filling the voids, bringing in former Oregon State star Jonathan Smith to coach quarterbacks, former player Andy Avalos to work with the defensive line and NFL assistant Jimmy Lake to coach the secondary. Although there’s turnover on the coaching staff, as long as Petersen sticks around at Boise State, the Broncos should be in one of the nation’s top 25 teams.

2. It’s never easy replacing a starting quarterback, especially one that was one of the most productive in college football. Kellen Moore departs after four terrific years as Boise State’s starting quarterback, throwing for 14,667 career yards and 142 scores. Moore also completed 69.8 percent of his passes and tossed only 28 picks. Four players will battle to fill the void under center this spring, with junior Joe Southwick as the early frontrunner. Southwick completed 23 of 30 throws for 198 yards and one score in limited action last year. Grant Hedrick is also in the mix, bringing excellent good mobility to the offense after rushing for 70 yards and one score on eight attempts last season. Redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea and true freshman Nick Patti will also get an opportunity to shine this spring. Patti is undersized (5-foot-11), but has the talent to start right away. Southwick is the favorite, but this will be one of college football’s top quarterback battles to watch this spring.

3. There’s plenty of weapons at receiver for the new quarterback, but the depth at running back could be an issue. D.J. Harper should be one of the top running backs in the Mountain West this year, but he has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. If Harper is injured again, there’s not a ton of experience. Drew Wright had 218 yards in a backup role last season, but the Broncos need freshmen Jay Ajayi, Devan Demas and Jack Fields to contribute carries in 2012.

4. As highlighted in the strengths and weaknesses section, Boise State has some issues to address on defense in spring practice. The Broncos return only one starter on this side of the ball and there’s not a ton of proven depth returning up front. The line loses five significant contributors, and will lean on tackles Mike Atkinson and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe to anchor things up front. Tyler Horn will be charged with generating the pass rush from the outside, while junior college transfer Demarcus Lawrence also needs to make a significant contribution. The linebacking corps loses Aaron Tevis and Byron Hout, but senior J.C. Percy is back to lead this group. The secondary was a source of concern last year and must replace safeties George Iloka and Cedric Febis. However, cornerback could be a strength if Jamar Taylor, Jerrell Gavins and Ebenezer Makinde stay healthy.

Related Content Links

College Football's Top Spring Quarterback Battles for 2012
Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Boise State has a ton of personnel losses, but the Broncos are still expected to be among the top 25 teams in the nation for 2012.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 07:05
All taxonomy terms: AC100, College Football, Recruiting
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-recruiting-rankings-ol

- by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

The next batch of in-coming college football All-Americans have inked their respective letters of intent. Recruiting is the life blood of the greatest sport on the planet, and, while coaching stills plays the biggest role in winning a championship, having better players can go a long way to earning a trip to the BCS.

Recruiting is an inexact science by definition. It is virtually impossible to accurately peg the mental make-up of any 17-year old child -- much less high-profile, over-coddled 17-year-old athletes. But team recruiting rankings offer the best indication of which team has the best ingredients each coach has to work with each season.

Related: Athlon's Top 25 Recruiting Classes of 2012

Offensive Positional Rankings: QB | RB | WR/TE | OL
Defensive Positional Rankings: DL | LB | DB | ATH

The position with the highest washout rate of any in football is the offensive line. This occurs for a variety of reasons. First, more offensive linemen are signed than any other position on the field — five are needed to start obviously — so the sheer numbers game means more busts. Second, raw size is more of a factor with offensive line rankings than any other position and this tends to lead to lead to more "misses" in the evaluation process. Level of competition, killer instinct, future growth and work ethic are all massive wildcards when trying to evaluate blockers.

That said, it is almost assured that the Stanford Cardinal will possess one of the best offensive lines in the nation in the coming years. They signed three of the top five blockers in the nation and seven overall. What David Shaw did along his offensive front is nearly unprecedented.

Here are the best incoming offensive linemen in the nation:

  Name HT WT Hometown AC100 College
1. D.J. Humphries 6'6" 271 Charlotte, NC No. 3 Florida
2. John Theus 6'6" 292 Jacksonville, FL No. 13 Georgia
3. Andrus Peat 6'7" 305 Tempe, AZ No. 22 Stanford
4. Kyle Murphy 6'7" 278 San Clemente, CA No. 25 Stanford
5. Josh Garnett 6'3" 305 Puyallup, WA No. 30 Stanford
6. Isaac Seumalo 6'4" 290 Corvallis, OR No. 40 Oregon State
7. Kyle Kalis 6'5" 305 Lakewood, OH No. 45 Michigan
8. Jordan Simmons 6'5" 335 Inglewood, CA No. 47 USC
9. Zach Banner 6'9" 335 Puyallup, WA No. 50 USC
10. Kennedy Estelle 6'7" 300 Pearland, TX No. 51 Texas
11. Avery Young 6'6" 292 Palm Beach Gardens, FL No. 53 Auburn
12. Jessamen Dunker 6'4" 320 Boynton Beach, FL No. 64 Florida
13. Erik Magnuson 6'6" 275 Carlsbad, CA No. 73 Michigan
14. Max Tuerk 6'6" 295 Trabuco Canyon, CA No. 75 USC
15. Curtis Riser 6'4" 285 DeSoto, TX No. 80 Texas
16. Jordan Diamond 6'6" 290 Chicago, IL No. 88 Auburn
17. Evan Boehm 6'3" 290 Lee's Summit, MO No. 103 Missouri
18. Dan Voltz 6'4" 295 Barrington, IL No. 114 Wisconsin
19. Joey O'Connor 6'4" 295 Windsor, CO No. 120 Ohio State
20. Brandon Greene 6'5" 292 Ellenwood, GA No. 135 Alabama
21. Camrhon Hughes 6'7" 320 Harker Heights, TX No. 139 Texas
22. Patrick DeStefano 6'4" 275 Spartanburg, SC No. 147 Clemson
23. J.J. Denman 6'6" 310 Yardley, PA No. 159 Rutgers
24. Ronnie Stanley 6'6" 285 Las Vegas, NV No. 172 Notre Dame
25. Vadal Alexander 6'6" 315 Buford, GA No. 176 LSU
26. Ryan Ward 6'5" 275 Dublin, OH No. 177 Iowa
27. John Michael McGee 6'4" 275 Texarkana, TX No. 178 Oklahoma
28. Taylor Decker 6'8" 315 Vandalia, OH No. 179 Ohio State
29. Ty Darlington 6'3" 275 Apopka, FL No. 184 Oklahoma
30. Jay Guillermo 6'2" 287 Maryville, TN No. 190 Clemson
31. Chris Muller 6'6" 315 Perkiomenville, PA No. 197 Rutgers
32. Ereck Flowers 6'6" 312 Miami, FL No. 204 Miami
33. Evan Goodman 6'4" 290 Lakeland, FL No. 211 Arizona State
34. Issac Hayes 6'2" 275 Brooklyn Park, MN No. 212 Minnesota
35. Brock Stadnik 6'5" 287 Greensboro, NC No. 221 South Carolina
36. Paul Thurston 6'5" 275 Arvada, CO No. 230 Nebraska
37. Mike Matthews 6'3" 260 Missouri City, TX No. 238 Texas A&M
38. Patrick Miller 6'7" 275 West Palm Beach, FL No. 239 Auburn
39. Freddie Tagaloa 6'8" 312 Richmond, CA No. 261 Cal
40. Brandon Fanaika 6'3" 320 Pleasant Grove, UT No. 264 Stanford
41. Caleb Peterson 6'5" 310 Auburn, AL No. 269 North Carolina

2012 Athlon Sports Positional Recruiting Rankings:

College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Running Backs

College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Linebackers

College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Defensive Linemen
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Defensive Backs
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Offensive Linemen
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Quarterbacks
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Athletes

<p> 2012 College Football Recruiting Rankings: OL</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-2012-athlons-bracket-cheat-sheet

So you've been pulled into your office's NCAA Tournament bracket picks game and you have no clue which teams to choose. Athlon Sports is here to help. We put together these handy cheat sheets of bracket picks—starting with the Sweet 16 on down—from three of our college basketball experts. Each editor has their own bracket picks, so you can choose one or use the cumulative knowledge of each to create your own unique picks. Either way, it will likely save you the office humilation of picking Norfolk State to win it all. 

Mitch Light's Picks


Braden Gall's Picks


Nathan Rush's Picks

<p> Athlon editors give their Sweet 16 picks and beyond.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 22:44
All taxonomy terms: Free agents, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-free-agency-10-players-watch

The NFL’s new league year officially starts today. One of the first orders of business will be free agency, which starts up at 4 E.T. this afternoon. With about 600 free agents on the market, there will be lots of activity and business should be brisk from the outset.

Here are 10 key players that everyone will be keeping an eye on in anticipation of where they will end up signing. All of these players are unrestricted free agents, meaning they can sign with whichever team they want to or makes them the best offer.

1. Peyton Manning, QB
Even though he turns 36 in less than two weeks, Manning is the hottest commodity on the market. Released by Indianapolis last week, Manning has crisscrossed the country since then visiting different teams to gauge their interest in signing him so he can resume his NFL career.

There’s no shortage of interest in the four-time NFL MVP despite the questions surrounding his physical condition following three neck surgeries in 19 months and not playing in a single game all of last season. At this stage in his career Manning clearly wants to go to a team that will turn over the offense to him from the start and that has the pieces in place to be a Super Bowl contender.

Interested teams: Manning has already visited Arizona and Denver and teams like Miami, Kansas City, Seattle, Tennessee and Washington have all expressed interest in some form or fashion. I don’t think you should rule out San Francisco either, especially if the 49ers don’t re-sign Alex Smith.

Where he ends up: At this point, it sounds like it’s a two-team race between Arizona and Denver, although Manning is reportedly meeting with both Miami and Tennessee over the next couple of days. Denver, Miami and Tennessee each would allow Manning to stay in the AFC, something he seems to prefer. Miami has the biggest need at quarterback of those three, but Manning's meeting with the Broncos was said to have gone well and Titans owner Bud Adams has said he will do whatever it takes to sign the former University of Tennessee quarterback. Arizona doesn't have a lot of cap space to work with, but the Cardinals can free up some by cutting players, starting with incumbent quarterback Kevin Kolb. Arizona also appears to have the offensive personnel and game plan that fits better with Manning, especially when it comes to one Larry Fitzgerald. In the end, I think Manning will follow in Kurt Warner’s footsteps and relocate, fittingly enough, to Phoenix where he will look to resurrect his career out in the desert. ARIZONA

UPDATE: Manning informed Denver on March 19 of his desire to sign with the Broncos. On March 20, prior to his introductory press conference, Manning and the Broncos agreed on a five-year, $96 million contract.

2. Mario Williams, LB
Houston could have applied the franchise tag to Williams in order to keep him with the team, but they chose not to, making the former No. 1 overall pick a free agent. The Texans instead committed big money to re-signing running back Arian Foster and have several other key free agents and very little cap space to work with, so the chances are Williams will be wearing a new uniform in 2012.

Injuries have limited Williams the past two seasons as he played just five games last season due to a torn pectoral muscle. Still, he is a two-time Pro Bowler who is just 27 years old and he averaged nearly 11 sacks a season from 2007-10. There figures to be a large market for an athletic, dynamic pass-rusher who can play either linebacker or defensive end.

Interested teams: Pretty much any team that can afford Williams would love to add him to their roster. Teams like Dallas, New England and Tennessee will surely reach out to gauge his interest, as could Chicago, Jacksonville, Seattle and Tampa Bay. I also wouldn’t rule out Denver, especially should the Broncos not manage to bring Manning into the fold. Broncos coach Mike Fox had a fair amount of success in Carolina with a player similar to Williams by the name of Julius Peppers.

Where he ends up: Titans owner Bud Adams has already gone on record that he wants Manning on his team. But who is team really needs is Williams, a dynamic defensive player who has an established track record of being able to get to the quarterback. The Titans finished 31st out of 32 teams in sacks last season and have several free agents of their own along the defensive line. Williams fills both needs and the Titans also offer the added bonus of facing his former Texans’ teammates twice every season. TENNESSEE

UPDATE: Williams signed a six-year contract with Buffalo on March 15 that could be worth as much as $100 million.

3. Vincent Jackson, WR
San Diego chose not to use the franchise tag on Jackson a second straight season, granting the Pro Bowl wide receiver the free agent status he has been yearning for. Now’s the opportunity for Jackson, who bounced back from a disappointing 2010 season with 60 catches for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011, to finally cash in.

There are about 60 wide receivers in this year’s free agent class, but Jackson’s combination of size, speed and athletic ability will probably make him the most sought after at the position. He would fill the bill for any team looking for a No. 1 wideout, especially one that has a quarterback that likes to throw the ball deep down the field.

Interested teams: Teams like Chicago, Cleveland, Jacksonville and Washington all need a bona fide No. 1 wide receiver. San Diego fits that bill as well and don’t rule out a reunion with the Chargers, who have some cap space to work with. Buffalo, St. Louis and Tampa Bay are possibilities as well. And there’s teams like Carolina, Minnesota and New England who could look to add Jackson as a complement to what they already have. Can you imagine Jackson lining up beside or opposite of Wes Welker with Tom Brady pulling the trigger or Cam Newton having Jackson and Steve Smith as options?

Where he ends up: Jackson wants to get paid and I think he also wants to be the clear-cut No. 1 guy wherever he lands. Jay Cutler likes to throw the ball downfield and the Bears haven’t had a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver since the days of Willie Gault. Or at least that’s the way it probably feels like to Bears fan. Either way, this makes too much sense to me to not happen. CHICAGO

UPDATE: Jackson signed a five-year contract with Tampa Bay worth more than $55 million on March 13.

4. Carl Nicks, OL
New Orleans’ preference would have been to apply its franchise tag to Nicks rather than quarterback Drew Brees. But the Saints were unable to come to terms with Brees on a new contract before the deadline, so they tagged Brees, making Nicks a free agent.

A First-Team All-Pro last season, the Saints’ top priority is to re-sign Nicks, who is certain to draw plenty of attention. If anything, re-signing Nicks could serve two purposes. Besides keeping the Saints’ stout offensive line intact, bringing Nicks back would figure to make Brees, who Nicks helps protect and keep upright, happy and possibly more amenable to working out their differences regarding a new, long-term contract.

Interested teams: Which team wouldn’t want to add an All-Pro left guard like Nicks? That said, New Orleans is going to do everything it can to keep him, but I expect teams like Buffalo, Dallas, Denver, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Minnesota, Seattle and even Washington to be involved and if anything, drive up the bidding.

Where he ends up: Unless some team with a lot of cap space decides to throw a ridiculous amount of money Nicks’ way, I just don’t see the Saints letting him get away and risk ticking off Brees even more at this point in their contract negotiations with him. NEW ORLEANS

UPDATE: Nicks signed with Tampa Bay for five years and a reported $47.5 million.

5. Stephen Tulloch, LB
Probably not a name many would expect on this list, but Tulloch has been one of the best middle linebackers in the entire league the past three seasons and like the aforementioned Williams, he is just 27 years old. Tulloch didn’t miss a beat in his first season with Detroit after being with Tennessee the previous five as he collected 92 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and recovered three fumbles.

Interested teams: Detroit would like nothing more than to bring Tulloch back as he is a perfect fit for head coach Jim Schwartz’s, who also coached him in Tennessee, defensive system. However, young, productive middle linebackers who can cover a lot of ground and are available like Tulloch are few and far between. Don’t be surprised to see teams that need help at linebacker, like Buffalo, Philadelphia, Seattle and Tampa Bay to be in play either.

Where he ends up: Of these candidates, the Eagles probably have the biggest need, but given how much they spent in free agency last season, probably won’t be able to last long should a bidding war develop. If the Eagles aren’t seriously involved, I don’t see Tulloch wanting to leave a situation like he has in Detroit and some Lions’ players have already restructured their contracts to free up more cap space to help keep last season’s roster intact. DETROIT

UPDATE: On March 20, Tulloch agreed to a new five-year contract to remain with the Lions.

6. Marques Colston, WR
Colston (6-4, 225) has the look of a No. 1 wide receiver, but is probably best suited for a team where he can share the load, and not tote it on his own. He has certainly produced like a top wideout, with five 1,000-yard receiving seasons and an average of eight touchdown receptions during his career.

He also has missed at least one game in four of his six seasons and a pretty extensive medical history for someone under 30. Colston also is more of a slot or possession-type of receiver who is perfectly suited for his role in New Orleans’ passing attack.

Interested teams: I’m pretty sure New Orleans would gladly welcome Colston back, but it would have to be at their price given their other free agents and available cap space. Outside of the Saints, Colston seems to a good fit for teams like Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Minnesota, San Francisco, Tampa Bay or Washington, who could use a possession/slot receiver to help bolster their corps. Chicago could be a player if they are unable to sign the aforementioned Jackson, and Indianapolis and St. Louis are two other teams to keep an eye on.

Where he ends up: The Saints are the best fit for him and who wouldn’t want to catch passes from Drew Brees? I’m just not sure the Saints are in a position to afford him and will be hard-pressed to match any offers made by teams with more cap space. If a bidding war does ensue for Colston, then it may come down to who offers him the most money, even if it means going to a team that doesn’t have the look of a contender next season or even in the immediate future. This may seem a little far-fetched, but we know for sure that there will be a new quarterback in place here and most likely the top two receivers from last year will not be back, so why not the Colts? INDIANAPOLIS

UPDATE: New Orleans re-signed Colston before the start of free agency on March 13 to a four-year contract worth around $40 million.

7. Matt Flynn, QB
Flynn has served as Aaron Rodgers’ back up in Green Bay the past four years. His apprenticeship under the 2011 NFL MVP is similar to Rodgers’ three-year stint as the backup to Brett Favre.

Now does that mean Flynn is going to be a Super Bowl champion and NFL MVP within the next four years? Not likely, but at the very least it does look like he’s going to get his chance at being some team’s starter. Several teams appear to have a need at the position and Flynn could serve as Plan B for these teams if they are not able to lure Manning to their city.

Interested teams: Cleveland, Miami and Seattle appear the most likely destinations for Flynn, and two of these three seem be out of the running for Manning’s services. The Dolphins’ new head coach is Joe Philbin, who served as the Packers’ offensive coordinator the past five seasons.

Where he ends up: Familiarity with the head coach and the offensive system he most likely will implement are no doubt appealing, but let’s not forget about the south Florida climate. Where would you rather play in December – sunny Miami or on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field? Come on now. Be honest. If the Dolphins are unable to lure Manning's talents to South Beach, then I think Flynn is Plan B. MIAMI

UPDATE: Flynn reached agreement with Seattle on a three-year contract on March 18. The deal is reportedly worth $26 million.

8. Brandon Lloyd, WR
After a breakthrough 2010 campaign with Denver, Lloyd started off slowly last season while being caught up in the Broncos’ quarterback controversy. Lloyd was traded to St. Louis after just four games and was fairly productive (51 rec., 683 yards, 5 TDs in 11 games) considering the Rams ranked 30th in the league in passing offense.

Lloyd will be 31 by the time the 2012 season rolls around, but still looks to have plenty left in the tank as he came up just shy of his second consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season in 2011. He would be a perfect sidekick for a team that already has an established No. 1 wide receiver.

Interested teams: The same teams that figure to go after Jackson and Colston will more than likely keep tabs on Lloyd as well. That means teams like Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Minnesota, San Francisco, Tampa Bay and Washington will probably at least kick the tires. Then there's New England, where Josh McDaniels is the offensive coodinator running a system that Lloyd has already had success in at both Denver and St. Louis. Lloyd appears to be a perfect complement to Welker should New England be willing.

Where he ends up: Lloyd’s breakout season in Denver came when McDaniels was the Broncos’ head coach. The two were reunited last year in St. Louis, where McDaniels was the Rams’ offensive coordinator, after Lloyd was traded to the Rams. McDaniels is now back with New England as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator. So guess where Lloyd has already started he would like to end up? NEW ENGLAND

UPDATE: Lloyd and the Patriots reached agreement on a three-year, $12 million deal on March 17.

9. Cortland Finnegan, DB
Tennessee and Finnegan were unable to agree on a long-term contract and the Titans used their franchise tag on safety Michael Griffin, placing the former All-Pro cornerback on the market. The cost of the franchise tag for cornerbacks (more than $10.2 million for a one-year deal) is one of the reasons why the Titans didn’t tag Finnegan, who is certainly looking to be paid like one of the top cornerbacks in the league.

The former seventh-round pick has played with a chip on his shoulder from the start of his rookie season in 2006 and has established a reputation for his physical style of play. Any team looking to shore up its secondary and add some fire to its roster will probably take a close look at Finnegan.

Interested teams: Detroit and St. Louis, two teams with ties to Finnegan already immediately come to mind. Schwartz, the Lions' head coach, previously served as the Titans’ defensive coordinator. Then there are the Rams, now coached by Jeff Fisher who was the Titans’ head coach when Finnegan was drafted through 2010. Cincinnati and Tampa Bay are two other teams that could show interest and I wouldn’t rule out Dallas or Washington either.

Where he ends up: Detroit and St. Louis both bear watching if nothing else for their connections to Finnegan and need for a top-flight, tough cornerback. The Rams are in better shape cap-wise, but the Lions appear to offer the better opportunity to make it to the postseason and possibly contend for a Super Bowl. However, Finnegan has made it clear he wants to be paid and paid well, so I think he will end going to the team that makes him the best offer, which usually brings Dallas and Washington into play. However, on Monday the NFL announced it was taking away millions of cap space from both the Cowboys and Redskins for front-loading contracts during the uncapped 2010 season, which could take both teams out of the running for Finnegan and any of the other marquee free agents for that matter. That leaves the Bengals and Buccaneers, both of which have plenty of cap space to make Finnegan a big offer. On the surface, the Bucs seem to be the better fit and have the more pressing need for Finnegan, who is reportedly trying to convince a certain free agent wide receiver with the last name Jackson to join him in Tampa as a package deal. If this happens that would be quite the housewarming gift for new Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano.TAMPA BAY

UPDATE: On March 13, Finnegan signed a five-year deal worth approximately $50 million with St. Louis on where he will be reunited with Jeff Fisher, his former head coach when he was wtih the Titans.

10. Reggie Wayne, WR
Wayne, who will turn 34 in November is on this list for the same reason that I could have put fellow Indianapolis cast-off tight end Dallas Clark. They both were very productive playing with Peyton Manning and it's not out of the realm of possibility that either of them could be reunited this fall.

Wayne has already put together a Hall of Fame-worthy resume with 862 receptions, 11,708 receiving yards and 73 touchdowns in 11 seasons. The majority of that came with No. 18 throwing the ball to him. Wayne's days as a true No. 1 wide receiver are probably behind him, but he could be a very productive complementary wide receiver for some team who also could serve as a mentor for young players at his position.

Interested teams: The ties to Manning connection shouldn't be overlooked, but when you consider the teams Wayne's former quarterback has either visited or is scheduled to visit, only Denver and Miami seem to fit. Arizona has cap space issues to negotiate and other needs they will need to fill other than wide receiver, while I don't think Tennessee is that interested in a Manning-Wayne reunion. If Wayne is willing to play with another quarterback than I think his market could increase quite a bit and teams like Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, San Diego, Seattle, Washington and possibly even New Orleans could get involved.

Where he ends up: As I said earlier, I think Manning ends up in Arizona, but I don't see Wayne joining him there. I actually think Clark would have a better chance of ending up with the Cardinals in that scenario than Wayne for what it's worth. If he can't play with Manning then I think Wayne will look to either get back to Miami, where he played in college, or to New Orleans, where he's from. The Saints will more than likely lose Colston to another team, so Wayne would be a nice replacement. And if he can't catch passes from Manning, I think Wayne would "settle" for Brees. NEW ORLEANS

UPDATE: On March 13, Wayne agreed to a new three-year deal to return to the Colts.

— by Mark Ross, published on March 13, 2012, updated at 2 p.m. CT on March 29

Related NFL Free Agency Content:

2012 NFL Free Agency Primer
2012 NFL Free Agent List

<p> <font id="yui_3_2_0_17_13315952532584354"><span class="yui_3_2_0_17_1331595253258257" id="yui_3_2_0_17_13315952532584353">A look at 10 of the most interesting NFL free agents available and where they may end up</span></font></p>
Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 21:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, MLB
Path: /college-basketball/how-baseball-fan-fills-out-his-ncaa-tournament-bracket

I spend a lot more time watching baseball than I do college basketball, but it’s a law that everyone — sports fan or not — must fill out a bracket. And I must obey the law. So knowing what I know about baseball, here’s my bracket.

1 Kentucky vs. 16 Mississippi Valley State/Western Kentucky
8 Iowa State vs. 9 UConn

Iowa State alum Buster Brown was 51-103 with a 3.21 ERA in the majors. Just how bad was his run support? So the Cyclones lose in a low-scoring affair. Scott Burrell, former fifth-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays, and UConn won it all last year, but will lose to Kentucky this year. No one from Mississippi Valley State has played in the major leagues. A handful of players have made it to the Show from WKU, and 11 Hilltoppers were drafted in the past two years, so that’s an easy call. I know just enough about college basketball to know that WKU can’t keep the Cats out of the Sweet 16.

5 Wichita State vs. 12 VCU
4 Indiana vs. 13 New Mexico State

Wichita State has been to seven College World Series, winning it all in 1989. VCU has never been. So that settles that. Indiana is synonymous with basketball, New Mexico State not so much. If this were about basketball, the Hoosiers would advance to the Sweet 16, but Joe Carter wins this one with a walk-off for the Shockers.

Wichita State has Darren Dreifort and Braden Looper, but I like Cy Young winner Brandon Webb to send UK to the Elite Eight.

6 UNLV vs. 11 Colorado
3 Baylor vs. 13 South Dakota State

UNLV, Colorado, Baylor and South Dakota State have a combined three CWS appearances — all three by Baylor. Former Baylor Bear and Hall of Famer Ted Lyons has 356 complete games, 27 shutouts and 23 saves in the majors. The Bears will cruise. Oh, to complete the bracket, take UNLV over Colorado.

7 Notre Dame vs. 10 Xavier
2 Duke vs. 15 Lehigh

Crash Davis, an infielder not a catcher, played in 148 games over three seasons for Connie Mack during WWII. Basketball All-American Dick Groat won NL MVP in 1960. Two-sport star Quinton McCracken played defensive back for Steve Spurrier before playing 999 games in the majors. With those three stars, Duke takes this bracket rather easily, although Notre Dame’s 6’5” righthander Ron Reed, who doubled as a forward on the hardwood, will give the Blue Devils a battle.

I’ll ride Groat, Quinton and Crash over Baylor into the Elite Eight.

1 Michigan State vs. 16 LIU Brooklyn
8 Memphis vs. 9 Saint Louis

Michigan State wins easily over LIU Brooklyn. Brooklyn hasn’t played good baseball since the 1950s. Let’s see, Saint Louis and Memphis should be a blowout. Duh. Memphis Redbirds, Saint Louis Cardinals; Triple-A, Majors. Why does the University spell out Saint? The Spartans enjoyed a trip to the College World Series in 1954, and although they didn’t win or finish second, Tom Yewcic was named the Most Outstanding Player. The Saint Louis Bilikens earned a spot in 1965. They didn’t win, finish second or have the MOP. Spartans advance.

5 New Mexico vs. 12 Long Beach State
4 Louisville vs. 13 Davidson

The Dirtbags of Long Beach State played in four CWS from 1989-98, so a first-round win is a cinch. Same for Louisville, who was in college baseball’s final eight as recently as 2007. So edge to the Cardinals. Besides, the Cardinals’ nickname means something in baseball right now.

Can’t stop thinking about Tom Yewcic. Michigan State over Louisville and into the Elite Eight.

6 Murray State vs. 11 Colorado State
3 Marquette vs. 14 BYU/Iona

There’s very little tradition here, but BYU’s Danny Ainge will lead the Cougars into the Sweet 16. I understand VCU found its way into the Final Four from the First Four last season. Why can’t BYU do that? After all, Jack Morris is a big-game pitcher. I’ll go with Murray over Colorado in the battle of the first-round State schools. But BYU will march into the Sweet 16.

7 Florida vs. 10 Virginia
2 Missouri vs. 15 Norfolk State

Mizzou, with seven CWS appearances and one title, rolls past Norfolk State. Florida and Virginia both visited Omaha last summer and have played in the CWS a combined four times since 2009. Don’t sleep on a school that produced both Eppa Rixey and Ryan Zimmerman, but the Gators have a stronger tradition than UVa. Following David Eckstein’s lead, the Gators will do all the little things to defeat Missouri and play in the Sweet 16

Okay, I’m allowed to do this once. I flipped a coin and Florida won, so the Gators are in the Elite Eight.

1 Syracuse vs. 16 UNC-Asheville
8 Kansas State vs. 9 Southern Miss

I love the Asheville Tourists nickname and their tradition at the Single-A level. But there has been only one major leaguer from UNCA, Ty Wigginton, which is no match for Syracuse and its 26 big leaguers, not to mention the fact that the Syracuse Chiefs have competed at the Triple-A level since 1961. Southern Miss was in the CWS a few years ago, but will be taken down by the Orange.

5 Vanderbilt vs. 12 Harvard
4 Wisconsin 13 Montana

Harvard has played in the CWS four times, but had just one alum drafted in the first round of the regular June draft. Vanderbilt has played in just one CWS (2011) but has had 12 players selected in the first round in June, seven since 2007. Harvard may have a slight edge in SAT scores, but the Commodores have the athletic advantage. Wisconsin, behind Hall of Famer Addie Joss, cruises by Montana, then loses to VU’s David Price. Buster Olney, Tyler Kepner and Lee Jenkins are among those covering the Commodores’ run.

Pedro Alvarez of Vanderbilt awakens just in time to knock a game-winning double off Dave Giusti of Syracuse to send the Black and Gold to the Elite Eight.

6 Cincinnati vs. 11 Texas
3 Florida State vs. 14 St. Bonaventure

It makes no sense that Texas and Florida State are in the same group. Who does this seeding anyway? Since WWII, Texas has had an alum in the majors leagues every season but 1961. Florida State can claim an alum in the majors all the way back to include 1961. Texas has played in 34 College World Series, winning six championships. Florida State has played in 20, but never taken home the hardware. But I’m going with the Seminoles in an upset and move FSU into my Sweet 16. If this game were played 15 years ago, I’d go with Roger Clemens, but I like Buster Posey and the Drew brothers (J.D. and Stephen) now over Brandon Belt and Huston Street.

7 Gonzaga vs. 10 West Virginia
2 Ohio State vs. 15 Loyola (MD)

Ohio State should dominate this regional (or whatever the basketball folks call these four-team groups). The Buckeyes are the only team that can claim an appearance in baseball’s big, big dance, having won a championship in 1966. But they haven’t made it to the CWS since 1967. Of the 25 West Virginia alums in the majors, none have appeared in an All-Star Game, so I’ll give the edge to Gonzaga’s Jason Bay.

Posey just keeps getting stronger and leads the Seminoles into the Elite Eight.

1 North Carolina vs. 16 Lamar/Vermont
8 Creighton vs. 9 Alabama

This is as strong of a quartet as there is in the tournament. Creighton has experience in the CWS, which is played near its home in Omaha. Alabama has been five times, twice a runner-up (Texas 1983, LSU 1997). The Tar Heels have been nine times, five times since 2006. UNC was runner-up back-to-back years to Oregon State. The Creighton Bluejays can bring some heat when Bob Gibson is on the mound. But there’s no offense. Of the 18 Creighton alumni in the major leagues, nine are position players, and Gibson is third among all those players in hits, runs and stolen bases, second in home runs. Lamer has three alums that played in the bigs last season. Vermont hasn’t been represented since Kirk McCaskill retired after 1996. Edge to Lamar. I have the Tar Heels advancing past Alabama. B.J. Surhoff is the all-time leader among big league alumni of North Carolina. Since his dad, Dick Surhoff, played in the NBA, I like North Carolina as a threat to win it all.

5 Temple vs. 12 California/South Florida
4 Michigan vs. 13 Ohio

All of these teams have visited the CWS except for South Florida. There have been 16 appearances from this group with four titles. California and Michigan each have two championships, but none since 1962. So, it’s easy to take Cal and Michigan into the second, uh, make that third round. Cal played in the CWS last June. We love the distinguished alumni list of Wolverines: Three Hall of Famers, Charlie Gehringer, George Sisler and Barry Larkin, plus Jim Abbott, Bill Freehan and J.J. Putz. But the two that stand out above all of them are Moses Fleetwood Walker and brother Welday Wilberforce Walker. Google those guys and you’ll learn why they’re special. Wolverines march on.

The Tar Heels have excellent tradition in both the CWS and NCAA tournament. We couldn’t find any information on the football tournament. Evidently there is a real confusing bracket that’s not really a bracket at all. But we like the sky blue Heels in both basketball and baseball. On to the Elite Eight.

6 San Diego State vs. 13 NC State
3 Georgetown vs. 14 Belmont

Of the 35 Georgetown alumni to play in the majors, 21 of them left the game by 1916. And only one player has made the show since 1960. I think the Hoyas are primed for an upset by the upstart Belmont Bruins. Perhaps the best game of the first (or is it second?) round might be the San Diego State-NC State game. The Aztecs are led by point guard-turned baseball coach Tony Gwynn, who incidentally had 3,000 knocks in between. The Wolfpack features the play of power forward Tim Stoddard, who holds the distinction of starting an NCAA Final and winning a championship as well as relieving in the World Series and earning a ring. We believe Stephen Strasburg’s elbow will hold up and pitch the Aztecs into the Sweet 16.

7 Saint Mary’s vs. 10 Purdue
2 Kansas vs. 15 Detroit

Kansas claims James Naismith as its first basketball coach. I’m going to editorialize for my own benefit; since he was officially hired as a physical education instructor, he must have coached baseball there at some point. Detroit claims Dick Vitale as a former coach. Advantage KU. Purdue and Saint Mary’s have a combined zero College World Series appearances. The Purdue Boilermakers list Bob Friend and Archi Cianfrocco among their 20 alums in the bigs. Saint Mary’s claims Hall of Famer Harry Hooper and Icehouse Wilson as two of its 60. Saint Mary’s defeats Purdue, but falls to Naismith and Kansas.

A part-time baseball coach like Naismith can carry a team only so far. Backing up the Gwynns (Tony, his brother Chris and son Tony Jr.) and Strasburg are Mark Grace and Graig Nettles. Aztecs keep rolling into the Elite Eight.

Elite Eight Games
So, who will play in the Final Four? One of my colleagues, Mitchell Light, a college basketball expert, might have you believe that Kentucky, Marquette, Syracuse and North Carolina will make it to New Orleans. But he thinks baseball is better with the DH, so what does he know?

Down by one in the bottom of the ninth, Duke’s Groat hits a two-run homer with McCracken on base to shock the Wildcats and send Kentucky home. (Or some scenario such as that.)

Spartans Kirk Gibson and Steve Garvey played a little football, so they can probably play a little basketball as well. Behind Hall of Famer Robin Roberts and a little help from Mark Mulder, Sparty puts the chomp on the Gators.

Florida State’s 20 CWS appearances trump Vanderbilt’s one. But that’s all right, that’s okay….

The Tar Heels have had 27 players drafted in the past five years. And 14 of them went in the first seven rounds.

In the Final Four, Kirk Gibson hits a miracle shot to catapult the Spartans into the finals against North Carolina, as Florida State proves once again that it can’t quite win the big one.

I understand from colleagues that former Chicago White Sox farmhand Michael Jordan was a decent basketball player at North Carolina, so just as we predicted in our College Basketball magazine, the Tar Heels will win the National Championship.

<p> We're pretty sure we knocked these picks out of the park.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 18:27
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-upsets

The brackets are out, and the NCAA Tournament begins in just days. The editors at Athlon Sports are debating some of the hot topics regarding the Field of 68.

Name two double-digit seeds that you believe will win at least one game.

Mitch Light: I realize I’m not the only member of the Long Beach State bandwagon, but I really like this team to beat New Mexico in the 5 vs. 12 matchup in the West Region. The 49ers feature an elite guard in Casper Ware and a solid cast of role players. They don’t have great size, but senior forward T.J. Robinson is averaging a double-double and shooting over 50 percent from the floor. This team also won’t be spooked by the big stage; Long Beach has played at Pittsburgh, San Diego, Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina and also played Xavier, Auburn and Kansas State on a neutral court.

I also like Ohio University in a 4 vs. 13 game against Michigan in the Midwest Region. Ohio defends the 3-point shot very well — opponents only shoot 30.3 percent — and Michigan relies heavily on the 3-point arc. Keep an eye on junior guard D.J. Cooper, who scored 23 points as a freshman two years ago when the Bobcats pounded Georgetown 97–83 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Mark Ross: Long Beach State (No. 12 in the West) will have its hands full with Drew Gordon and No. 5 New Mexico, but this is a veteran team that starts four seniors and one junior and won’t be intimidated by the higher-seeded Lobos. The 49ers’ non-conference schedule this season included eight teams — Creighton, Kansas, Kansas State, Louisville, Montana, North Carolina, San Diego State and Xavier — that are in this year’s field of 68. And although Long Beach State went 1–7 in these games (beat then-No. 15 Xavier on a neutral court in December), the 49ers’ margin of defeat was a respectable 7.4 points. This is a team that has been working toward this point all season, and not only do I think they will upset New Mexico, I also sixth-seeded think they have good shot at beating Louisville, should the Cardinals take care of business against Davidson, and advancing to the Sweet 16.

Speaking of Xavier, the Musketeers (No. 10 in the South) have been inconsistent throughout the season, but played well in the A-10 Tournament before falling to St. Bonaventure in the championship game. Xavier gets No. 7 seed Notre Dame in the first round, and I think the Musketeers will be too much for the Fighting Irish to handle. Notre Dame was hit hard early by injuries and had a remarkable season going 13–5 in the Big East, but most of its big wins came at home. The Fighting Irish have struggled against athletic, guard-oriented teams that can defend, and Xavier seems to fit the bill here.

Nathan Rush: West Virginia (No. 10) and Belmont (No. 14) are the double-digit underdogs with the best chance of winning at least one game. The Mountaineers are playing Gonzaga (No. 7) in Pittsburgh, which is less than two hours away from their home in Morgantown. Along with a “homecourt” edge, WVU also has senior leaders in Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant as well as a Tournament-tested coach in Bob Huggins; “Huggy Bear” is 15–4 all-time in the first round of the Big Dance. The Bruins are a longshot against Georgetown (No. 3), but Rick Byrd’s team is well-coached, experienced and more athletic than most realize. Plus, the Hoyas are fresh off of back-to-back losses in the first round, making John Thompson III’s squad vulnerable for late-game “deja vu all over again” jitters against a smart Belmont team hungry to earn the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory.

Patrick Snow: I have been a fan of San Diego State all season, but the 6th-seeded Aztecs are ripe for an upset versus lower-seeded NC State. Steve Fisher’s bunch lost four starters from last year’s Sweet 16 club, but SDSU still won 26 games. Even though sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin has been on fire lately, I believe NC State will be able to pack it in on defense against the Aztecs, a team that only shot 34 percent from 3-point range (T-182nd in the nation) this season. For the Wolfpack, sophomore forward C.J. Leslie can be a force inside and played well down the stretch. Guard Lorenzo Brown is one of the more underrated players in the country, as he contributes in all areas of the game. That duo is part of five NC State players who average double-digit points, and Mark Gottfried’s team should share the ball well enough to beat San Diego State.

Saint Mary’s had a solid year in winning the West Coast Conference and breaking Gonzaga’s decade-plus stranglehold on WCC regular-season league titles. However, Purdue showed improvement late — winning five of its last seven regular-season games — and Robbie Hummel has been playing back to his 2009-10 form. The senior forward is a great story of perseverance after multiple ACL tears, and he forms a trio of top treymakers with Ryne Smith and D.J. Byrd. The Gaels will be led by a formidable duo in Aussie guard Matthew Dellavedova and burly Rob Jones inside, and Randy Bennett’s club should control the boards. But Purdue’s veteran group should be able to control the tempo, and I see Matt Painter’s Boilermakers pulling the upset over Saint Mary’s.

Braden Gall: I will go with St. Bonaventure (No. 14) and Long Beach State (No. 12). In an East Region loaded with hot teams — Vanderbilt won the SEC tourney, Florida State won the ACC tourney and Montana has won 14 straight — St. Bonaventure enters having won five straight and the Atlantic 10 tourney. The Bonnies are an excellent offensive team (38th in Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings) with stud big man Andrew Nicholson playing like a lottery pick. He has averaged 26 points and 10.6 rebounds per game over his last seven, and the Bonnies are 6–1 over that span. Something has to give against a team that plays stellar defense like Florida State, which also lacks a true point guard.

New Mexico also plays excellent defense, but Long Beach State can really score and certainly won’t be scared of the Mountain West champs. Dan Monson’s bunch has played Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina, Xavier, Kansas State, San Diego State, Pitt and Creighton in non-conference action. The 49ers lost to Kansas by eight, North Carolina by six, Creighton by two and the Aztecs by four in overtime. They have won 18 of their last 20 and are as prepared to make a Sweet 16 run as any mid-major squad in the tourney.

<p> Athlon Sports editors discuss the NCAA Tournament. Which double-digit seeds are most likely to win at least one game?</p>
Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 17:10
All taxonomy terms: ACC, North Carolina Tar Heels, News
Path: /news/how-will-ncaa-penalties-affect-north-carolina-2012

The verdict is in and the news is not good for North Carolina. A NCAA investigation regarding improper benefits and other violations under former coach Butch Davis has concluded, with the NCAA levying some significant penalties against the program. North Carolina was found to have committed multiple violations, including academic fraud, failure to monitor, ineligible participation of players and impermissible agent benefits.

As a result of the violations, the Tar Heels were slapped with a one-year postseason ban (2012), placed the program on three years probation and penalized the team with a reduction of 15 scholarships. In addition to being ineligible for a bowl game in 2012, if North Carolina wins the Coastal Division, it won’t be allowed to participate in the ACC Championship.

North Carolina will be the second team banned from postseason play next year, as Ohio State was already barred from competing in the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game. Miami and Oregon are still awaiting an announcement from the NCAA on investigations into its programs and both could be hit with a bowl ban for 2012.

Although losing 15 scholarships over three years is going to hurt the program, it’s not a significant blow (30 over three years) like USC received from the NCAA. The Tar Heels will have to be a little more selective in the recruiting process and depth could be an issue in certain spots, but overall, North Carolina shouldn’t suffer too much on the field due to the scholarship reductions.

The Tar Heels will also be forced to vacate wins from the 2008 and 2009 seasons, while former assistant coach John Blake has been hit with a three-year show-cause penalty. The investigation concluded Blake was paid by an agent for access to players on the North Carolina roster . The show-cause penalty will likely end any hope Blake has of returning to the collegiate coaching ranks. Former head coach Butch Davis was fired before the start of the 2011 season and will work as an assistant with new Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano. Davis was not hit with a show-cause penalty.

With this unknown finally removed from the program, North Carolina can move forward and turn the focus back to the field. But how will these sanctions and NCAA penalties affect this team in 2012?

Considering the Tar Heels were building some momentum with the hire of Larry Fedora as their new coach, along with the return of quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard, it’s a huge blow not being able to compete in a bowl or the ACC title this season. North Carolina was going to be picked anywhere from second to fifth in the unpredictable Coastal, but was expected to be one of the ACC's bowl teams and contend for at least eight wins next year.

With no bowl or conference title to play for, it’s fair to wonder if the expectations should be lowered for North Carolina in 2012. A NCAA investigation hung around the Miami program last year, and the Hurricanes finished with a disappointing 6-6 record. The Tar Heels clearly know what’s ahead and the obstacles facing the program in 2012, 2013 and 2014. However, with some talented pieces returning on offense, it’s a setback not being able to compete for the conference title. With no bowl or conference title on the line, it's all about pride for the Tar Heels in 2012.

The real danger for North Carolina is not allowing the scholarship reductions and bowl ban put the program into a slide. However, with Fedora’s solid track record at Southern Miss, it’s hard to imagine the Tar Heels slipping too far in the Coastal and this team should be back in a bowl in 2013.

Considering none of the sanctions were on Fedora’s watch, the bowl ban and scholarship reductions should buy him more time. Knowing he would need some time to drive the program out of potential sanctions, Miami made a clear and long-term commitment to coach Al Golden at the end of 2011. North Carolina’s case isn’t as severe as the Hurricanes, but Fedora will need time to restock the 15 lost scholarships. After undergoing a lot of turmoil recently, the Tar Heels need to focus on giving Fedora whatever he needs to win and bring some stability to a program that is capable of being a contender in the ACC Coastal.

Related Content Links:

College Football's Top Spring Quarterback Battles
Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

Early Top 25 for 2012

College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> How Will the NCAA Penalties Affect North Carolina in 2012?</p>
Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 15:54
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/bracket-breakdown-pick-60-60k

Think you've got what it takes to make the right picks in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament? If so, Athlon has the game for you. No drafts. No rosters. No trades. Simply pick the winners of each game and start earning points. Everything you need to help with your decision is right at your fingertips, including the Athlon Sports StatCast™ - which gives you real-time statistical data on team matchups and who the rest of your competition is picking. PLAY NOW!

<p> Take part in real March Madness and play our bracket game!</p>
Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 12:35
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/tiger-woods-achilles-heel

The golf world is breathlessly awaiting news this morning about the health of Tiger Woods, last seen limping into a golf cart after his tee shot on the 12th hole at Doral's Blue Monster. Tiger's re-emergence was only one storyline of what has been a compelling 2012 PGA Tour season, but it was a big one. The Tour needs a healthy, competitive Tiger, a player who stirs emotion - both positive and negative - and draws in casual fans in a way that the Rory McIlroys of the world simply cannot.

But let's face it - Tiger is 36, and it's an old 36. Years of strenuous workouts, not to mention the inhuman level of torque and twisting that he's put his body through in transforming golf into a power game, have taken a significant toll. What once seemed a leisurely stroll to 19 majors and the all-time record has become a death march. 

So, as we await word on what is being called a left Achilles injury by the Woods camp, it's worth chronicling what is becoming an extensive injury history for Tiger. Here are the various and sundry body parts that have been tweaked, treated or dinged during Tiger's career:

Left Knee/Leg
2011 - Sprain of medial collateral ligaments in left knee and minor strain of his left Achilles.
June 2008 - “As far as the procedure, it was an ACL reconstruction of my left knee. They did take a graft, basically a tendon out of my right hamstring, and implemented it into my left knee and made it into my new ACL; and they fixed a little bit of cartilage damage I had in there.” — Woods, who fought through an injured ACL and a stress fracture of his left tibia to win the 2008 U.S. Open
April 2008 - Surgery so secret even Tiger’s swing coach Hank Haney didn’t know until after the fact. Widespread speculation that the injury occurred during a fist-pumping celebration in the ’07 PGA Championship at Southern Hills.
December 2002 - Fluid from around ACL drained, Benign cyst removed
1994 - Benign tumor removed

May 2010 - "I've been playing with a bad neck for quite a while. I might have a bulging disk."
September 2004 - Thoracic (chest, rib area) spine pain and stiffness
April 1995 - Injured during practice round at The Masters
September 2004 - “I’ve never had that pain in my life.” — Woods, after developing soreness on a cross-country flight
May 1995 - Injured during Stanford Intercollegiates

June 1995 - Exited U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills after five holes of the second round, injuring left wrist hitting out of rough 

Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 11:26
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-15-bill-haas


They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.



No. 15: Bill Haas

Born: May 24, 1982, Charlotte, N.C.  | Career PGA Tour Wins: 4 | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,088,637 World Ranking: 14


Brandel Chamblee's Take:

The 2011 FedExCup champ has never finished in the top 10 in a major, but he was one of the few in the world to make the cut in every major in only his sixth year on Tour. It has taken him awhile to find his footing, but at 29 years old he should, over the next decade, be one of the premier players in the game. His top-5 ball-striking rank coupled with his ranking of third in putting from inside five feet explains his success last year and point towards great things in 2012. It looks like Haas might not know how good he is, but simultaneously lifting the Tour Championship trophy and the FedExCup should give him the confidence to contend and perhaps win a major in the very near future.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 9
Wins: 0

2011 Performance:
Masters - T42
U.S. Open - T23
British Open - T57
PGA Championship - T12

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T26 (2010)
U.S. Open - T23 (2011)
British Open - T57 (2011)
PGA Championship - T12 (2011)
Top-10 Finishes: 0
Top-25 Finishes: 2
Missed Cuts: 3

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter. 

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Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 10:47
Path: /college-basketball/abc%E2%80%99s-ncaa-tournament

by David Fox (@DavidFox615 on twitter)

An unfortunate fact for college basketball is that many fans are just getting acquainted with the sport around tournament time.

Athlon Sports won’t judge.

For those about to get a heavy dose of college hoops over the next three weeks, we’ll help you get caught up. We broke down the NCAA Tournament field A to Z, highlighting some key teams, coaches, players, statistics and trends to watch.

It’s an exhaustive list, so some hardcore college basketball aficionados may learn a thing or two as well.

Alaska. With South Dakota State making the field by way of the Summit League’s automatic bid, Alaska and Maine are the only states never to have a team in the NCAA Tournament. The Dakotas were two of the last three states in the Lower 48 to join the field with North Dakota State earning a bid in 2009. The wait for Alaska to join March Madness may be a while, though. Alaska does not have any Division I basketball teams.

Burgess, Bradford. A year after advancing from the First Four to the Final Four, VCU won’t catch anyone off guard. Neither will its prolific wing Burgess. A year ago, Burgess averaged 15.7 points and 7 rebounds during the Final Four run. Like the rest of the Rams, Burgess got hot from 3 on the way to the national semifinal, hitting 17 from beyond the arc in six games. He’s one of two starters back to defend the Final Four along with center D.J. Haley.

Charity stripe. Any Memphis fan can stress the importance of free throw shooting in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers that year were one of the worst teams from the line in the country in 2008, a deficiency that bit Memphis in the finals seconds against eventual national champion Kansas. Be nervous watching these teams from the free-throw line: Cincinnati (64.1), Kansas State (66.6), Connecticut (66.1). On the other hand, teams to like at the free-throw line: Missouri (76.5 percent), Indiana (76.2), Wichita State (75.1), Baylor (75.1) and Harvard (74.6). As for John Calipari’s current team, Kentucky led the SEC by shooting 72 percent from the line.

Defense. Be cautious of teams vulnerable on defense in the NCAA Tournament. Some teams that worry us include: Creighton (101.8 points allowed per 100 possessions according to, 183rd nationally), Davidson (98.7 points), Florida (98.3 points) and Saint Mary’s (97.4 points).

Eustachy, Larry. The return of Larry Eustachy to the NCAA Tournament is one of the major redemption stories for the coach and his program. He left Iowa State in disgrace in 2001 after he was photographed with beer in his hand among students at a campus party in Columbia, Mo. The AP National Coach of the Year admitted he had problem with alcohol and set out to solve it. He landed at Southern Miss in 2004 and rebuilt the program for its first Tournament appearance since 1991.

Fathers. Where would Creighton and Detroit be without good genes? Both teams’ star players – Doug McDermott at Creighton and Ray McCallum at Detroit – happen to be the sons of their head coaches. Both took different routes to play with their fathers. Greg McDermott, then the struggling head coach at Iowa State, didn’t think Doug had the size to flourish in the Big 12. The McDermotts reunited in the Missouri Valley where Doug became the league player of the year. Elsewhere, Ray McCallum Jr. could have played just about anywhere but he ended up in the Horizon League. The son spurned Arizona, Florida and UCLA to play for his father Ray McCallum Sr. at Detroit.

Green, Draymond. Few players in the country are as NCAA Tournament-tested as Michigan State forward Draymond Green. He came off the bench for the Spartans’ Final Four runs in 2009 and 2010 and had his best career tournament game in his only start last season with 23 points and 11 rebounds in a round of 64 loss to UCLA. In 12 NCAA Tournament games, Green has averaged 9.8 points and 6.3 rebounds. Look for him to exceed those averages as the centerpiece for the Spartans this season.

Harvard. Between Jeremy Lin and Ryan Fitzpatrick, Harvard has had a couple of opportunities to brag about its alums in the sports world. Finally, the Crimson can brag about current players in the NCAA Tournament. After falling short in a one-game playoff with Princeton for the Ivy League title last season, Harvard avoided such drama this season by winning the Ivy and earning its first NCAA Tournament since 1946.

Injuries. A handful of injuries could dampen teams’ hopes in the Tournament. Start with a torn ACL for Indiana point guard Verdell Jones. North Carolina also will be concerned with a wrist injury for ACC defensive player of the year John Henson. Injuries to Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, Duke’s Ryan Kelly and Florida’s Will Yeguete will put pressure on role players for each team.

Jayhawks. Kansas continued the longest active streak for NCAA Tournament appearances at 23 straight years in the field. Since losing to Bucknell and Bradley in the first round in back-to-back years, Kansas has won at least one game in the last five Tournaments, including the 2008 national championship. Mid-majors, though, still seem to have a hex on Kansas as the Jayhawks lost to VCU in the Elite Eight last season and Northern Iowa in the second round in 2010.

Kentucky. The Wildcats enter the tournament as the prohibitive favorite after losing only a buzzer-beater to Indiana on Dec. 10 and Vanderbilt this past weekend. Kentucky reached the Elite Eight in the first season under Calipari and the Final Four in the second season. Big Blue Nation is expecting the next step with good reason: Kentucky is stocked with future NBA talent, and it might have the best player in the country in Anthony Davis. Still, youth is a concern with freshmen and sophomores making up six of its top seven players. Kentucky won’t out-shoot many teams from 3-point range, either.

Lopsided losses. North Carolina is on the short list of teams capable of winning the national title, but the Tar Heels still have the 33-point loss to Florida State from Jan. 14 on their resume. Here are the worst losses for other top title contenders: Kentucky (by 7 points to Vanderbilt), Syracuse (9 points at Notre Dame), Kansas (10 points to Kentucky in Maui), Michigan State (15 points at Indiana), Ohio State (11 points to Kansas), Duke (22 points at Ohio State), Missouri (16 points at Kansas State).

Majerus, Rick. This season will mark the return of Saint Louis to the NCAA Tournament. The Billikens have been absent since 2000 under now-Washington coach Lorenzo Romar. This is also a return to the Tournament for Rick Majerus, who last coached in the Big Dance with Utah in 2003. The coach who led the Utes to the national championship game in 1998 left Utah citing health reasons partway through the 2003-04 season. After working with ESPN, he took the USC job for four days before leaving the Trojans due to health concerns.

New Orleans. The Final Four returns to New Orleans for the fifth time in the last 30 years, a fact a handful of top teams hope brings good mojo. North Carolina won the title twice here in 1982 and 1993. Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to a championship in the Superdome in 2003. The Orange also played for a title in New Orleans in 1987 when they lost to Indiana. Kansas has reached the Final Four twice in New Orleans (2003, 1993). Kentucky has done it once (1993).

Orange. Syracuse first fought through the Bernie Fine scandal to start the season. Then came the Yahoo! Sports story that indicated Syracuse since 2001 played at least 10 players who failed tests for banned substances. Distractions don’t seem to be a problem for this group, though. If there’s another potential distraction to add: Since the 2003 championship, Syracuse has been eliminated by lower seeds in four of its last six appearances, including to sixth-seeded Marquette in the round of 32 last year.

Patsos, Jimmy. The NCAA Tournament is a great vehicle for drama and nail-biting, but it’s also a great vehicle to introduce basketball’s most interesting personalities to the mainstream. Loyola (Md.) coach Jimmy Patsos will be one of those this season. He picked up part-time work as a bartender while coaching under Gary Williams at Maryland, he loves the Grateful Dead, and he’ll talk and talk and talk. He can coach a bit, too. Loyola went 29-140 from 1999-2000 through 2004-05, his first season. This year, Loyola won 24 games and won the MAAC tournament for the Greyhounds’ first NCAA bid since 1994.

Quincys. Pierre Jackson is Baylor’s leading scorer, and Perry Jones is Baylor’s biggest star. That said, Baylor wouldn’t be the contender it is without its Quincys, particularly Quincy Acy. The forward is Baylor’s heart and motivator on the floor. The freshman Quincy Miller is far from a finished product, but he’s valuable contributor.

Rants. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin and Lamar coach Pat Knight weren’t shy in delivering blunt assessments of their teams in front of the cameras. They must have been just as effective in the locker room. Cincinnati’s brawl with rival Xavier was one of the low points of the season, but the Bearcats turned around their season after Cronin clearly expressed his embarrassment after the incident. The Bearcats lost that day, in addition to losing to Presbyterian and Marshall weeks earlier. Cincinnati went 19-7 and reached the Big East tournament final after the brawl. After a Feb. 22 loss to Stephen F. Austin, Knight evicerated his seniors. Lamar went 6-0 since, winning the Southland tournament for the school’s first Tournament bid since 2000.

St. Bonaventure. The NCAA slapped the Bonnies with the “lack of institutional control” in 2004, setting up a major reclamation project for coach Mark Schmidt. By defeating Xavier for the Atlantic 10 tournament final, St. Bonaventure earned its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2000 and knocked a bubble team out of the field. The country now will get to know senior Andrew Nicholson, one of the nation’s best-kept secrets. Against Xavier, Nicholson had one of the best games of his career with 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks.

Tigers. Missouri hasn’t made the most NCAA Tournament appearances without a trip to the Final Four. That distinction belongs to BYU with 27 Tournaments without a Final Four. Missouri is right behind with 25 appearances without reaching the national semifinals. Led by Jimmer Fredette, BYU had one of its best shots last season before falling in the Sweet 16 to Florida. Missouri is in perhaps its best position to end that drought this year with its best seeding since being a No. 1 seed in 1994 (the Tigers lost to Arizona 92-72 in the Elite Eight that season).

USF. The Bulls may be a shining beacon to the likes of UCF, SMU and others, moribund basketball powers who will soon join a basketball-centric conference. The Bulls went 1-15 in their first season in the Big East before navigating a weaker Big East schedule this year to reach its first NCAA Tournament since 1992.

Valleys. As in the Missouri Valley and Ohio Valley conferences. Since 2008, the MVC’s only tournament wins were Northern Iowa’s run to the Sweet 16 in 2010. Could the Valley make another major statement in this tournament? History says it could be. When the Missouri Valley is a multi-bid league, as it is this season with Wichita State and Creighton in the field, it tends to succeed. In 2007, Southern Illinois reached the Sweet 16 when the MVC was a two-bid league. In 2006, the MVC had four bids with Bradley and Wichita State advancing to the Sweet 16. Meanwhile, the Ohio Valley, a traditional one-bid league, has scored upsets in the last two tournaments with Morehead State upsetting fourth-seeded Louisville in 2011 and Murray State upsetting fourth-seeded Vanderbilt in 2010. This year, the OVC will be favored in its first tournament game with 30-1 Murray State in the field.

Western Kentucky. Western Kentucky was one of the most unlikely teams to clinch a spot in the field when the Hilltoppers won the Sun Belt tournament. Western Kentucky was 5-11 when it fired head coach Ken McDonald on Jan. 6. Then-interim coach Ray Harper went 4-7 before the Hilltoppers elevated him to permanent head coach on Jan. 19 after a loss to South Alabama. That loss was the last under Harper. Western Kentucky won its final six games, including the regular-season finale against Sun Belt champ Middle Tennessee and the conference tournament. At 15-18, Western Kentucky is the only team in the field with a losing record.

Xavier Thames. San Diego State’s third leading scorer, Thames started his career at Washington State. He’s one of a handful of transfers who could make an impact on this year’s field: Mike Moser (UCLA to UNLV), Drew Gordon (UCLA to New Mexico), Matt Carlino (UCLA to BYU), Rob Jones (San Diego to Saint Mary’s), Brandon Wood (Valparaiso to Michigan State), Chris Allen (Michigan State to Iowa State).

Yarou, Mouphtaou. We’ll use this spot – and the name of the Villanova forward – to note two major absences from the NCAA Tournament. The state of Pennsylvania has two teams in the field (Lehigh and Temple), but not Pittsburgh and Villanova. Pitt had made 10 consecutive tournaments, and Villanova made seven. Both were the longest active Tournament streaks in the Big East. That honor now falls to Marquette with seven consecutive trips to the Tournament.

Zellers. Expect a handful of sick days back in Washington, Ind., with hometown favorites Tyler and Cody Zeller playing a major role in the Tournament. Tyler anchors the frontcourt of a team with title hopes in North Carolina. If that could be upstaged, at least in Indiana, Cody helped pull the Hoosiers out of the cellar with their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008.

—by David Fox (@DavidFox615 on twitter)


2012 NCAA Tournament – South Region Preview
2012 NCAA Tournament – West Region Preview

2012 NCAA Tournament – East Region Preview

2012 NCAA Tournament – Midwest Region Preview


<p> For those about to get a heavy dose of college hoops over the next three weeks, we’ll help you get caught up. We broke down the NCAA Tournament field A to Z, highlighting some key teams, coaches, players, statistics and trends to watch.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 10:00