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Path: /mlb/reds-first-baseman-joey-votto-raises-everyones-average
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We often hear baseball pundits talk about the value of hitters being surrounded by other feared hitters in the lineup. It’s easy to see the impact of not having protection behind hitters in the lineup. We learned the importance of that nearly a decade ago watching Barry Bonds walk 232 times in 2004, with 120 of those intentional.

But what about the table-setters hitting in front of the big guns? A clear example is happening right before our eyes in Cincinnati.

Shortstop Zack Cozart is hitting.196 batting leadoff and .354 batting No. 2. Similarly, when center fielder Drew Stubbs bats leadoff, he’s a paltry .107. But put him second in the order and his average jumps to .373. Stubbs also struggles in the seventh spot at .182.

That is what you call the Joey Votto Effect. Votto is the Reds’ No. 3 hitter, and this helps explain why Cincinnati has committed more than $200 million to their first baseman.

- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)

Teaser:
<p> Joey Votto's presence in the Reds' lineup boosts the batting averages of Reds' No. 2 hitters.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 16:36
All taxonomy terms: Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees, MLB
Path: /mlb/mariano-rivera-vows-come-back
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Mariano Rivera vows that he will come back next season, telling reporters last week, “I am coming back,” and to “write it down in big letters.” So…MARIANO RIVERA IS COMING BACK NEXT SEASON.

There. Mo obviously does not want his career to end this way.

But how else could we expect Rivera’s career to end? We don’t expect him to lose the effectiveness of his cutter. It doesn’t appear that he will ever wear out by pitching. So how else could baseball keep Rivera from answering the call to the bullpen?

A knee injury while shagging flies during BP. Yeah, that’s the only way to stop the Sandman — the best relief pitcher in the history of the game. Rivera may never be too old to pitch. He may never be too old to break bats with his devastating cutter. But maybe he is too old to shag flies during BP.

But Rivera resolves to come back and has no regrets.

“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen doing something I love to do,” explains Rivera. “And shagging I love to do. I’d do the same thing, without hesitation. The reasons why it happen, you have to take it as it is. You know, just have to fight.”

His illustrious Hall-of-Fame career began inconspicuously enough. There was no fanfare like we’ve seen recently with Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg. None of that, “he’ll be the next whomever.”

Very quietly, on May 23, 1995, Rivera took the mound as the starting pitcher — that’s right — starting pitcher for the Yankees at Anaheim against the Angels’ Chuck Finley. His manager was Buck Showalter and his catcher was Mike Stanley, the Yankees’ cleanup hitter that day.

Rivera didn’t last long. He struck out Tony Philips swinging, then caught Jim Edmonds looking. After that, the Angels began to catch up to the Sandman. The future New York closer gave up a three-run jack to Edmonds, then walked Tim Salmon on four straight and Showalter was out of the dugout with the hook. Bob Macdonald was summoned from the Yankees’ bullpen but the damage was done. Joe Ausanio and Scott Bankhead followed Macdonald, but Finley was too good.

In 3.1 innings, Rivera gave up eight hits, three walks, five runs and struck out five. Of his 89 pitches, 50 were strikes. There is no record of how many bats Mo may have broken that day.

He made seven more starts, winning three of them, before making his first relief appearance on Aug. 1. And even that beginning was nondescript. He gave up three runs over two innings, blowing a save in relief of Andy Pettitte before the Yankees scored three runs of their own to make Rivera the winner.

Rivera completed his rookie season with a 5.51 ERA and 1.507 WHIP and looked like anything but a Hall of Famer.

But in 1996, the idea of starting was scrapped for good. He was John Wetteland’s setup man for the world champs in 1996, appearing in 67 games and tossing 107.2 innings. He had five saves and 26 holds and blew just three save chances. He had a more Rivera-like ERA of 2.09 and 0.994 WHIP in his second season. He finished third in Cy Young voting and 12th in the MVP race. By the fall of 1996, everyone knew the name Mariano Rivera.

Rivera’s first save came at Yankee Stadium on May 17, 1996. He induced the Angels’ Garret Anderson to ground into a double play turned by Derek Jeter in a game won by Andy Pettitte. His last — make that his most recent — came on April 30 of this season vs. Baltimore. That was save No. 608 for his career. His next save will come sometime in April of 2013 at the age of 43.
 

  Mo's Milestone Saves
No. Date Opponent Winning Pitcher
1 May 17, 1996 Angels Andy Pettitte
100 June 11, 1999 at Marlins Orlando Hernandez
200 Aug. 1, 2001 Rangers Sterling Hitchcock
300 May 28, 2004 at Devil Rays Javier Vazquez
400 July 16, 2006 White Sox Jaret Wright
500 June 28, 2009 at Mets Chien-Ming Wang
600 Sept. 13, 2011 at Mariners A.J. Burnett
608 April 30, 2012 Orioles Hiroki Kuroda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What they’re saying about Mo...
“Rivera has shagged entire pro career. In Single-A in ’91, his mgr Brian Butterfield watched, said, ‘This guy’s our best outfielder.’”
— Tweet by Joel Sherman of the New York Post

“I saw it all go down. It’s hard even to talk about it tonight. I mean, Mo has meant so much to us on a personal level, and his significance on the field, on the mound. But the bottom line is we’re the New York Yankees, and nobody is going to feel sorry for us.”
— New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez

“You have freak injuries, and this is one of them. We had a guy carrying a box down the stairs that broke his foot. You can fall off a curb. You have to allow him to be an athlete and a baseball player and have fun out there. I’ve never seen Mo do anything recklessly, or seen Mo dive to try to rob a home run. It’s the way he exercises.”
— Yankees manager Joe Girardi

“I always argued he was the best pitcher of all-time. Not just the best reliever, but the best pitcher of all-time.”
— New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira

Teaser:
<p> When the great Mariano Rivera suffered a serious knee injury last week, it first appeared his career may be over. But Mo promises to be back.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 15:22
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-may-8
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Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2012 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire every Monday and a Weekend Rundown every Thursday.

As we enter our second month of the 2012 season, these weekly rankings updates will switch gears a bit. Thus far, we have looked at the best players across the board for the season up until this point. Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton are still pacing the field and have justified thier lofty draft status. Yet, starting next week, we will only be ranking the best players of the week to show owners excatly what has taken place over the last weekend. So you Bryan LaHair and Jose Altuve owners will have one more list to gloat about...

Here are your current Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters:

  Name Team Pos. R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Matt Kemp LAD OF 29 12 27 2 .406 1.320
2. Josh Hamilton TEX OF 21 10 28 2 .376 1.138
3. Carlos Gonzalez COL OF 22 7 26 5 .320 .998
4. David Ortiz BOS UTL 21 7 23 0 .380 1.128
5. Adam Jones BAL OF 23 8 17 5 .297 .917
6. Derek Jeter NYY SS 22 5 15 1 .397 1.034
7. Edwin Encarnacion TOR 1B/3B 17 9 25 4 .279 .931
8. Carlos Beltran STL OF 21 8 20 5 .280 .925
9. Starlin Castro CHC SS 15 1 19 11 .350 .825
10. Jay Bruce CIN OF 18 9 21 3 .298 .980
11. Ryan Braun MIL OF 18 9 19 4 .288 .974
12. Ian Kinsler TEX 2B 29 5 17 2 .287 .884
13. Rafael Furcal STL SS 22 2 15 6 .342 .905
14. Freddie Freeman ATL 1B 21 6 26 0 .291 .848
15. Jason Kipnis CLE 2B 19 5 19 6 .287 .875
16. Bryan LaHair CHC 1B/OF 14 8 17 0 .388 1.279
17. Curtis Granderson NYY OF 20 9 18 0 .284 .973
18. David Freese STL 3B 14 7 26 0 .307 .933
19. David Wright NYM 3B 18 3 16 3 .374 1.031
20. Michael Bourn ATL OF 20 0 7 11 .333 .809
21. Andre Ethier LAD OF 15 6 30 0 .278 .880
22. Jose Altuve HOU 2B 18 2 13 5 .351 .920
23. Hunter Pence PHI OF 18 6 20 3 .267 .780
24. Jason Heyward ATL OF 17 4 13 9 .269 .849
25. Mike Aviles BOS 2B/SS 20 5 19 4 .261 .750

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

DL Watch

-Ryan Zimmerman has been activated from the DL while Jayson Werth will miss roughly 12 weeks after having surgery on his broken wrist. I guess Bryce Harper isn't headed back to Triple-A ball anytime soon.

-Nolan Reimold continues to frustrate with solid numbers and missed at-bats. He landed on the DL with a bulging disc in his neck. He was hitting .313 with a .960 OPS and five homers in 67 ABs so he might be worth stashing if you have the space. 

-The Giant's Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval, was hitting .316 when he broke his left hand. He had surgery and is supposed to miss at least four weeks.

-Josh Beckett is questionable for his start on May 9th against Kansas City.

-Brett Gardner is slated to make his rehab starts in Triple-A this week and could be ready shortly thereafter for the Yankees.

-Jemile Weeks is questionable for Tuesday's start after tweaking his groin injury recently. The A's two-sacker has struggled mightily this season thus far. 

-Cliff Lee is schedule to come of the DL on Wednesday against the Mets. BE SURE TO ACTIVATE HIM TODAY IF YOU HAVE TO!

- The Cardinals are supposed to welcome back Lance Berkman this weekend. Be sure to monitor closely and adjust your line-up accordingly.

-Kevin Youkilis is on the disabled list for the forseeable future. Will Middlebrooks might be the long-term solution at the hot corner for Boston.

-Scott Downs didn't last too long in the closers' role in L.A. He underwent an MRI on his knee on Sunday but the test showed little damage. He should be held back for a week and could be ready by the weekend.

-Justin Morneau has finally landed on the DL — again — with a wrist issue. The tendinitis is on his left wrist, the same one which needed stabilization surgery last September. He may never return to his AL MVP form.

-Desmond Jennings is questionable for Wednesday's game with a knee injury.

-Rueben Tejada is DLed with a quad injury for the near future. 

Current Top 20 fantasy starting pitchers:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Jered Weaver LAA 50.2 5 47 1.60 0.79
2. Lance Lynn STL 38.2 6 37 1.40 0.85
3. Felix Hernandez SEA 52.1 3 51 1.89 0.94
4. Jake Peavy CHW 45.1 3 39 1.99 0.75
5. Gio Gonzalez WAS 36.2 3 41 1.72 0.90
6. Johnny Cueto CIN 41.1 4 26 1.31 0.99
7. Stephen Strasburg WAS 38.0 2 38 1.66 0.84
8. Jason Hammel BAL 38.2 4 38 2.09 0.98
9. Matt Cain SF 45.1 1 40 2.38 0.73
10. Cole Hamels PHI 40.1 4 44 2.45 1.02
11. Justin Verlander DET 45.1 2 42 2.38 0.86
12. Ted Lilly LAD 32.0 4 21 1.41 0.88
13. Brandon Beachy ATL 39.0 3 27 1.62 0.95
14. David Price TB 38.1 5 35 2.35 1.12
15. Kyle Lohse STL 38.1 4 24 2.11 0.94
16. C.J. Wilson LAA 41.1 4 39 2.61 1.04
17. Chris Capuano* LAD 36.2 4 36 2.21 1.12
18. Brandon Morrow TOR 41.2 3 29 2.38 0.91
19. Madison Bumgarner SF 39.0 5 22 2.31 1.08
20. Matt Garza CHC 33.2 2 36 2.67 0.89

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

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

1. Doug Fister, Detroit: at Oakland (Sat.)
Ho-hum seven scoreless innings on Monday debut off DL.

2. Carlos Zambrano, Miami: at NY Mets (Sun.)
Lowered ERA to 1.98 after complete game, three-hit shutout on Monday.

3. Eric Bedard, Pittsburgh: Washington (Wed.)
Posted 11 strikeouts against Cardinals last time out.

4. Jonathon Niese, NY Mets: at Miami (Sun.)
Has 29 Ks in 33.2 IP with five quality starts in six trips to the mound this year.

5. Ricky Nolasco, Miami: at NY Mets (Sat.)
Picked up fourth win on Monday, dropping ERA to 2.72 and WHIP to 1.11

Current Top 15 fantasy relief pitchers:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Fernando Rodney TB 13.2 1 9 12 0 0.66 0.66
2. Aroldis Chapman CIN 14.2 2 0 25 3 0.00 0.61
3. Jim Johnson BAL 12.2 0 8 11 0 0.00 0.87
4. Steve Cishek* MIA 14.1 4 0 15 3 0.63 0.91
5. Alexi Ogando* TEX 15.2 1 1 16 6 0.57 0.38
6. Pedro Strop* BAL 17.0 3 2 15 2 1.59 1.00
7. Henry Rodriguez WAS 12.1 1 6 16 0 1.50 1.00
8. Robbie Ross* TEX 11.2 4 0 10 1 1.54 0.69
9. Kenley Jansen LAD 16.2 2 2 27 7 2.70 0.96
10. Chris Perez CLE 12.2 0 11 9 0 2.84 1.11
11. Duane Below* DET 13.1 2 0 9 0 0.00 0.60
12. Jonathan Papelbon PHI 12.0 0 9 13 0 3.00 1.00
13. Brett Myers HOU 8.2 0 7 6 0 1.04 0.58
14. Logan Ondrusek* CIN 13.1 2 0 11 3 0.00 0.83
15. Huston Street (DL) SD 9.2 0 4 13 0 0.93 0.52

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Closing Carousel

Heath Bell. Carlos Marmol. Jordan Walden. Javy Guerra. Huston Street. These are all highly-thought of closers who entered the season with the ninth inning in their hands. And for a variety of reasons, all of them are now sitting on the pine when the ninth frame rolls around.

Bell and Walden are likely to return to the closer role at some point in the near future. They are their teams best options and simply need to iron out the current control issues that have plagued each in the early going. For the time being, Steve Cishek will get the ninth in Miami while look for recently acquired Ernesto Frieri — and his 22 strikeouts in 13.2 innings — could be the sneaky pick-up out in Anahiem.

Marmol and Guerra may have a tougher time returning to the ninth inning. Marmol has been downright atrocious. He has blown two of his three save chances and has 15 walks in 10.2 innings. Look for Rafael Dolis and James Russell to get the call in the ninth inning. Guerra started hot but Kenley Jansen has way too much ability to keep in the eighth. Guerra and Marmol may never see the ninth inning again — at least, not in 2012.

Street, shockingly, went on the DL this weekend. Andrew Cashner, Dale Thayer and Luke Gregerson could all get chances to close while Street is out. Cashner has a closers' pedigree and strikeout stuff but has struggled with control thus far. Look for a day-to-day decision process for Bud Black.

Keep this link handy as Athlon keeps its Closer Grid up to date all season long.

-by Braden Gall

 @bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: May 8</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 13:27
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-notre-dame-no-20-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

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

To celebrate the Notre Dame Fighting Irish being named No. 20, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish continue the countdown at No. 20 with two players being tabbed as preseason All-Americans. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“There are huge expectations for Brian Kelly’s program in his third season in South Bend,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “The Fighting Irish defense should be a solid unit, and the key to Notre Dame navigating a tough schedule will be finding stability and production at quarterback.”

Two Notre Dame standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with tight end Tyler Eifert and linebacker Manti Te’o being voted to the first team. In addition, the Fighting Irish offensive line and linebackers units were ranked No. 9 in the country.

Notre Dame Team Preview

Notre Dame's Top 10 Players of 2012

Notre Dame’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports Names Notre Dame No. 20 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 09:59
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-football-can-brian-kelly-lead-irish-bcs-bowl
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 20 Notre Dame. The Irish enter the year with uncertainty at quarterback, but should be solid on defense.

Can Brian Kelly Lead Notre Dame to a BCS Bowl?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Considering the BCS likely ceases to exist in two years, Kelly’s under some pressure here. The bigger question is if Kelly will be the coach who returns Notre Dame to national prominence and to a level where the Irish are playing meaningful postseason games. In that sense, Notre Dame still has a long way to go. The closest Notre Dame has come to playing at that elite level in recent years was the 31-13 win over Big Ten Legends champ Michigan State in September last season. At the same time, Notre Dame lost by multiple touchdowns to USC and Stanford and then by 4 in the bowl game to a weakened Florida State team. Turnovers were a major culprit in last year’s 8-5 season, but it’s not like Notre Dame was an otherwise dominating team – the Irish were 35th nationally in total offense and 30th in total defense. With the quarterbacks continuing to struggle in the spring combined with the sudden departure of defensive end Aaron Lynch, it’s tough to see Notre Dame improving drastically from last season. However, I’m a believer in Kelly. If he can’t bring Notre Dame back, the probably might be with Notre Dame, not the coach. Kelly has won at every stop, including two Division II national championships at Grand Valley State. He’s won at programs where most of his predecessors have not – Central Michigan and Cincinnati. There’s too much of a track record here for me to think Kelly suddenly will be a failure in South Bend. It’s going to take a few years, but Kelly deserves time to get his chance.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The initial luster has certainly worn off of the Brian Kelly hiring in South Bend, but I am still a believer that the offensive guru will be able to return Notre Dame to national prominence. It just won't happen in 2012. Kelly stepped onto campus in northern Indiana with as much fanfare as a Jimmy Clausen commitment ceremony and he had quick success by winning eight games in his first year. With high expectations swirling last fall, the Irish lost two heartbreakers to start the season that should have been wins. Clearly, the Irish were a overrated by the preseason prognosticators — e.g., us here at Athlon Sports. But Kelly's bunch then finished the season 8-2 with their only losses coming at the hands of 10-2 USC and 11-2 Stanford.

The bowl loss to Florida State was tough to watch, especially for anyone who has seen a Brian Kelly offense click on all cylinders. But the defense has clearly been upgraded since the Charlie Weis days and quarterback savior, Gunner Kiel, is, in fact, on campus. The quarterback position has weighted this program down with Kelly at the helm, but Kiel should be able to remedy the situation. Again, it just won't happen in 2012. This team will lose key pieces at the end of the season — Te'o, Eifert, Wood, Watt, Martin, etc — but has a chance to continue to improve after what could be three straight eight-win seasons. Kelly has recruited at an elite level, will have a stellar defensive line coming back and may finally have his quarterback in 2013 — if Kiel can develop. One huge if.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Considering the success Brian Kelly had at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati, I’m a little surprised Notre Dame has recorded back-to-back eight-win seasons. Going 16-10 in two years isn’t awful, but there are high expectations at Notre Dame, and many, including myself, thought Kelly would have this team in contention for a BCS bowl last season.

I still think Kelly is one of the best coaches in college football, but I think this team might be a year away from contending for a BCS bowl. The Irish should be solid on defense, but losing end Aaron Lynch to a transfer will impact the pass rush. The secondary also suffered some key losses and could be an issue early in the year.

While the defense should be solid, Notre Dame’s offense remains a question mark. Who will start at quarterback in 2012? After Tommy Rees’ arrest in early May, Kelly’s decision under center may be easy – Everett Golson or Andrew Hendrix. Rees can be steady, but he’s not a difference-maker at quarterback. Finding consistency and jumpstarting the offense has to be the top priority for Kelly this fall.

Even if the Irish find a quarterback, getting to 10 wins won’t be easy. Notre Dame has road tests against Michigan State, USC and Oklahoma and home dates against Michigan, Stanford and BYU. With the personnel question marks and tough schedule, it seems 2013 may be the year Notre Dame returns to the BCS. And considering the upcoming changes to college football’s postseason, who knows what the BCS and Notre Dame’s bowl options will look like in 2014. The Irish won’t be left out, but getting into one of the BCS bowls isn’t going to get any easier. 

Mark Ross
When Brian Kelly replaced Charlie Weis as Notre Dame's head coach in December 2009, the general consensus is that it would only be a matter of time before he had the Fighting Irish back in contention for the national title with annual appearances in BCS bowls. Two seasons into Kelly's tenure Notre Dame fans are not only still waiting for that BCS bowl appearance, they would probably just like to see their team play in a bowl game in January, period.

Kelly's first two Notre Dame teams have each gone 8-5, ending the 2010 season with a victory over Miami (Fla.) in the Sun Bowl and concluding last season with a disappointing 18-14 defeat to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. The Irish played in back-to-back BCS bowls in the 2005-06 seasons, but those appearances in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl and 2007 Sugar Bowl probably seem even further away than they actually are.

So back to the present, can Brian Kelly take Notre Dame back to the promised land that is the BCS? Yes, as long as he's given enough time to continue to build the roster and the team according to his style of play, because I certainly don't see it happening this year. For starters, Notre Dame's schedule this year is full of BCS conference contenders, not to mention a few national title contenders, along with some other potential pitfalls.

Notre Dame opens its season against Navy in, appropriately, Dublin, Ireland. Whether the luck of the Irish travels across the ocean remains to be seen, but Kelly's team is well aware of how the season-opener can set the tone for what's to come. Look no further than last season's stunning 23-20 opening loss to South Florida in South Bend. Notre Dame will be back at it the next Saturday getting Purdue at home before it faces Michigan and Michigan State, two teams expected to contend for the Big Ten title, in consecutive weeks.

The Irish finally get to catch their breath the last weekend of September to prepare for their Oct. 6 game against Miami at Soldier Field in Chicago. Although they haven't played in the regular season since 1990, these two have plenty of history between them. Notre Dame's next four opponents are Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh. They are home for all but Oklahoma, who is considered to be a national title contender this season, but all that really matters is who your matching up with on the other side of the field, and there isn't a cupcake among this quartet.

Notre Dame's final three games are much more manageable, at Boston College, home against Wake Forest, but the Irish conclude their season on the road against USC, another of their traditional rivals and a team that could open, and very will finish, the season at No. 1. For Notre Dame to get to a BCS bowl, it has to finish in the top eight of the BCS standings. Last year, that meant 10 wins. I don't see 10 wins for the Irish with this slate. I'm not sure I see any more than eight. So while I think Notre Dame's football program is in good hands with Kelly at the helm, I still think a return to elite status is at least a year or two away. For the time being, Irish fans should view a return to any January bowl game as a step in the right direction, especially should that happen this year.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I do not see the Fighting Irish making a BCS bowl this season, and Brian Kelly must find an elite quarterback before they get back to an elite level. ND’s talent level projects to an 8-4 or maybe even a 9-3 record, but a big-time signal caller must emerge to navigate the Irish through a tough schedule. Returning starter Tommy Rees’ status is in question in lieu of his recent arrest, so Andrew Hendrix or Everett Golson will battle through August to be that difference maker at quarterback. The skill positions are solid with Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, TJ Jones and All-America candidate Tyler Eifert, and the defense has some major potential — especially in the front seven.

Notre Dame must avoid the costly turnovers that prevented a 10-win season a year ago. It will be interesting to see if Kelly can find the quarterback to get his offense running the way it did at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. Road trips to Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC highlight a very difficult slate for the Irish, but I think Notre Dame has recruited well enough to reach eight or nine wins. However, a BCS-type season will not happen until the offense becomes a major force in South Bend.

Related Notre Dame Content

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2012 Team Preview
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Top 10 Players for 2012

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2012 Team Predictions

The Greatest Moments in Notre Dame Football History

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

Notre Dame Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Notre Dame Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Can Brian Kelly Lead the Irish to a BCS Bowl?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 05:41
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-fighting-irish-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish check in at No. 20 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Tyler Eifert, TE
Any quarterback certainly loves a good security blanket – and that’s the role Eifert will be expected to play and more in 2012. With uncertainty at the quarterback spot, and Michael Floyd finishing his eligibility in South Bend, Eifert will be targeted frequently in 2012. He posted 63 receptions for 803 yards and five touchdowns last season, which were all career highs. Eifert is coming off a solid performance in the Champs Sports Bowl, catching six passes for 90 yards, and he could expect to see 10 to 12 passes in his direction each game this year.

Trap Game: Purdue (Sept. 8)
It’s not often you see a trap game in Week 2, but the Irish need to be on upset alert against the Boilermakers. Notre Dame has a long flight to play in Dublin, Ireland in Week 1 and has a date at Michigan State on Sept. 15. Purdue hasn’t won in South Bend since 2004 and will be an underdog in this game. However, with a game in Dublin in Week 1 and a revenge matchup against Michigan State in Week 3, the Irish need to be careful not to overlook the Boilermakers. 

Upset Alert: BYU (Oct. 20)
Notre Dame will likely be favored to win at least eight of its games in 2012, but there are a few potential landmines on the schedule. BYU started 1-2 last year but finished 9-1 over its final ten games. The Cougars didn’t play a particularly difficult schedule in the second half of last season but seemed to jell as a team during that stretch. Quarterback Riley Nelson settled into the starting job, while the defense did not allow an opponent to score more than 21 points in each of the final four games. The Cougars have the offensive firepower to test Notre Dame’s secondary and won’t be pushed around on defense. This will be the first meeting between these two schools since 2005.

Breakout Player: Everett Golson, QB
It’s anybody’s guess who will start the season opener for Notre Dame at quarterback. However, it’s a good chance it won’t be Tommy Rees after his off-the-field incident, and freshman Gunner Kiel probably needs another year to develop. Golson has yet to play a down, but his dual-threat ability could be a much-needed spark for the Irish offense. The redshirt freshman needs more seasoning as a passer, but if he gets the start against Navy, he may not relinquish the job the rest of the year.

Defensive MVP: Manti Te’o, LB
From the moment he stepped on campus, Te’o has been a leader and one of Notre Dame’s top defensive players. He has started 36 games in his career and has topped at least 100 tackles in each of the last two years. Te’o also recorded 13.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks last season. He should be a first-team All-American in 2012 and is likely to be a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Te’o’s decision to return to South Bend was huge for Notre Dame’s defense, which may have to carry the team with question marks at quarterback.

Unsung Hero: Louis Nix III, NG
Anchoring the interior of a 3-4 defense isn’t a glamorous position. The nose tackles don’t garner much in the way of stats and are often used just to plug the gaps. Nix started 11 games last season and recorded 45 tackles. He also registered 4.5 tackles for a loss and broke up one pass. With Aaron Lynch transferring out of Notre Dame, Nix will be counted upon even more for leadership and opening up the lanes for the rushers in 2012.

Biggest Game: at Michigan State (Sept. 15)
If Notre Dame wants to return to a BCS bowl, it’s important to set the tone early in the year. The Spartans defeated the Irish in dramatic fashion in 2010, but Notre Dame returned the favor with a 31-13 victory in South Bend last season. The Irish have not won in East Lansing since 2006. Although it’s only the third game of the year, this matchup will go a long way to determining where Notre Dame stacks up nationally. Michigan State has some key personnel losses, but will still be a top 25 team. If the Irish can win on the road, Brian Kelly’s team just might have a shot to get to 10 wins.

Revenge Game: Michigan (Sept. 22)
Michigan-Notre Dame provided one of the most memorable finishes of the 2011 college football season, and this matchup should be close once again in 2012. The Irish led 24-7 going into the fourth quarter, but a 16-yard touchdown pass from Denard Robinson to Roy Roundtree capped a 28-point fourth quarter by Michigan to win 35-31. The Wolverines should be the better team in 2012 and have won two out of the last three matchups in South Bend. Considering Notre Dame dominated for three quarters last year, there will certainly be plenty of motivation to avenge last season’s fourth-quarter collapse.

Freshman to Watch: Gunner Kiel, QB
Kiel was committed to Indiana, but switched to LSU and appeared set to join the Tigers for the spring. However, he had a change of heart and jumped to South Bend in mid-January and will have an opportunity to compete for the starting job this year. Kiel ranked as the No. 24 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100, but drew mixed reviews from scouts. The freshman has some work to do in order to win the starting job, but he will be awarded every opportunity to play this year.

Freshman to Watch II: Davonte Neal, WR
With Michael Floyd no longer catching passes in South Bend, the Irish desperately need a go-to target to emerge at wide receiver. Neal (5-foot-9) lacks Floyd’s height, but could be a dangerous playmaker. Although TJ Jones, John Goodman and Robby Toma are the likely starters, there’s plenty of room for Neal to work his way into the mix in the fall.

Comeback Player: Braxston Cave, C
The Irish didn’t have many major injuries last year, but Cave missed the final four games due to foot surgery. He started all 13 games in 2010 and was named to the Rimington Trophy watchlist before the 2011 season. Cave’s return should help Notre Dame boast a solid offensive line in 2012.

Offensive Newcomer of the Year: DaVaris Daniels, WR
In addition to settling the quarterback position, the Irish have to find a new go-to receiver. TJ Jones, John Goodman and Robby Toma appear to be the early favorites for the starting receiver positions, but true freshman Davonte Neal and Daniels will figure into the mix. Daniels did not see playing time last year, but was regarded as one of the top receivers coming out of high school in 2011.

Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Ishaq Williams, LB
With Aaron Lynch’s decision to transfer to South Florida, the Irish need Williams to help boost their pass rush in 2012. He played sparingly last year, recording six tackles in 11 games. Williams enters fall behind Prince Shembo on the depth chart, but he is expected to see significant playing time each week.

Position Battle: Quarterback
If the Irish can fix the quarterback position, contending for a BCS Bowl will be within reach. However, the offense left spring practice with few answers under center. Tommy Rees has started 16 games over the last two years, but hasn’t developed into a difference maker. He also ran into legal trouble in early May, which could cloud his availability for the first few contests of 2012. Redshirt freshman Everett Golson and sophomore Andrew Hendrix bring dual-threat potential to the position, but both are inexperienced. True freshman Gunner Kiel enrolled for the spring and will have a chance to earn playing time in the fall. Rees is the safe pick, but for the Irish offense to improve in 2012, it’s likely Golson needs to take the reins.

Related Notre Dame Content

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2012 Team Preview
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Top 10 Players for 2012

Will Brian Kelly Lead Notre Dame to a BCS Bowl?
The Greatest Moments in Notre Dame Football History

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

Notre Dame Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Notre Dame Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 05:39
Path: /nascar/nascar-horsepower-rankings-2
Body:

1. Greg Biffle   Found himself in roughly the same position at Talladega as he was in at Daytona ... which isn’t bad when you’re clicking off top 5s like it’s the ARCA Series.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Doesn’t seem able to finish outside of the top 10 if he tries, but this is Dale Earnhardt Jr. we’re talking about, so only a win will keep the critics at bay.

3. Matt Kenseth   Kenseth has roared to within five points of Biffle’s lead in the standings on the strength of four top 5s in the last five races.

4. Denny Hamlin   Hamlin was running in the top 5 at Talladega when he was the victim of a block-gone-bad. It’s hard to factor the resulting 23rd-place finish into these standings, so I will not.

5. Brad Keselowski   He may not have the most consistent team on the circuit, but it’s one that has proven capable of winning on any given weekend. Bristol and Talladega are proof of that.

6. Tony Stewart   Like Hamlin, it’s hard to fault Stewart for a mid-20s finish at Talladega. Unlike Hamlin, Stewart was in position to win despite running out of fuel twice and battling overheating issues throughout the day.

7. Jimmie Johnson   The roll-of-the-dice tracks at Daytona and Talladega are the only ones that can consistently keep Johnson from a top-10 finish. Take plate racing as the anomaly it is and move on.

8. Kyle Busch   Consecutive runs of first (Richmond) and second (Talladega) find Rowdy’s stock on the rise. Could this be the beginning of a scorching summer run?

Teaser:
<p> Brad Keselowski earned his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win of the year at Talladega, but Greg Biffle holds serve atop Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 04:55
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-notre-dame-rivals
Body:

Here are some of our favorite jokes about Notre Dame's biggest rivals.

• What happens when Lane Kiffin takes Viagra? He gets taller.

 

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

 

• What's the difference between a litter of puppies and USC fans? Eventually puppies grow up and stop whining.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Teaser:
<p> Because sometimes it's good to make fun of the other team</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 03:29
Path: /mlb/2012-major-league-baseball-power-rankings-may-7
Body:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for May 7, 2012.

1. Dodgers - Lost seven of last 13.

2. Rangers - Lost five of seven and headed to Baltimore.

3. Rays - Orioles suddenly a huge series this weekend.

4. Braves - Freddie Freeman getting it done with bat and glove.

5. Cardinals - +62 run differential is best in baseball.

6. Yankees - Still in shock over losing Mariano Rivera.

7. Nationals - Nattitude alive and well in DC.

8. Orioles - Took five of six in New York and Boston.

9. Blue Jays - Need to gain ground at Oakland and Minnesota this week.

10. Indians - Won four of five with only loss in extra innings to Texas.

11. Tigers - Vaunted offense managed just 12 runs over last four games.

12. Reds - Mired within two games of .500 for past two weeks.

13. Diamondbacks - Need Paul Goldschmidt to unleash his power.

14. Phillies - Starting pitching will be good enough to keep them in hunt.

15. Giants - Leading run-producer Pablo Sandoval out for at least a month.

16. Mets - Frank Francisco has won or saved last four games.

17. Marlins - Giancarlo Stanton is beginning to heat up.

18. Brewers - Ryan Braun enjoyed three-homer day at San Diego.

19. A’s - Getting outhit and outscored, but still better than .500.

20. Angels - Pujols breaks through with homer, but hitting below .200.

21. Mariners - Kyle Seager providing most of the offense.

22. Rockies - Swept by Atlanta as three different pitchers got saves.

23. Astros - Jose Altuve should be NL All-Star second baseman.

24. Red Sox - Baltimore’s DH Chris Davis shut down hitters for two frames.

25. White Sox - Adam Dunn leads team with 23 RBIs.

26. Pirates - Batting .228 and averaging 2.8 runs per game.

27. Cubs - Cards’ Lance Lynn ended both of Cubs’ two-game win streaks.

28. Royals - Haven’t lost a series in two weeks.

29. Padres - Only National League team with single-digit wins.

30. Twins - Have won back-to-back games only once this season.

 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's weekly look at baseball's best and worst teams</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 01:00
All taxonomy terms: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, Overtime
Path: /overtime/dallas-cowboys-cheerleaders-bikini-shoot-seems-have-gone-well
Body:

We love the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. And we really love it when they put on bikinis and go to some exotic land and take pictures for their 2013 Swimsuit Calendar. The best part is that in the past week they've shared tons of behind-the-scene shots of their escapades in Mexico on Twitter and Facebook. To save you the time of looking at the less bikini-clad shots, we rounded up our favorite shots from their fun in the sun. If this is any indication, the calendar is going to be amazing.

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Monday, May 7, 2012 - 22:46
Path: /college-football/stanford-football-how-many-pac-12-games-will-cardinal-lose-2012
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 21 Stanford. The Cardinal must replace three NFL first-round draft picks, including No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck. Despite the losses, Stanford remains a contender to push Oregon for the Pac-12 North title, but it will face a challenge from Washington and California. 

How Many Pac-12 Games Will Stanford Lose in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I predict the Cardinal will go 6-3 in Pac-12 play. Stanford did suffer some major personnel losses in quarterback Andrew Luck, top offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro, tight end Coby Fleener and safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas, but David Shaw — and Jim Harbaugh before him — have recruited well enough to keep the program in the top 25. A physical running game and stingy defense should carry the weight this season while Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes develop into a Pac-12 signal caller.

The front seven on defense should be excellent, led by a stellar group of linebackers that includes All-America candidate Chase Thomas. Running back Stepfan Taylor has surpassed the 1,100-yard mark in each of the last two seasons, and he will be the focal point of the Cardinal offense this season. Stanford will be an underdog to USC and Oregon, and I think Shaw’s crew will drop one other game during the league slate. Many pundits may expect the Cardinal to fall off the national scene with the departure of Luck and other stars, but Stanford has formed an expectation of winning over the last few years. I see that Cardinal staying in the top 25 and near the top of the Pac-12 pecking order.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
I will go with three — which is one more than the Cardinal have lost over the last two seasons combined. But Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck aren't walking back onto The Farm anytime soon, so a step back should be expected in 2012. There appears to be two certain losses on the schedule as the Pac-12 slate gets kicked-off in brutal fashion as the Men of Troy visits Palo Alto in Week 3 of the season. Much later in the year, November 17, the Cardinal will have to visit Eugene to face North Division favorite. It's tough to see David Shaw's bunch upsetting either of those two West Coast powers this year.

Given those two losses and the much-improved nature of the Pac-12 North, it is hard to see Stanford finishing the rest of its conference schedule unbeaten. Washington State and Arizona have dramatically upgraded their sidelines and offensive schemes. Road trips to Washington, UCLA and Cal should all feature opponents who are better this year than last. Toss in an improving Oregon State team and this conference slate is littered with major land mines that will provide plenty of shrapnel. A 6-3 record in the league this fall should be considered a major success considering who recently traded a Saturday timecard for a Sunday paycheck.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Without quarterback Andrew Luck and two of college football’s best offensive linemen (David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin), there’s no question Stanford will take a step back in 2012. The Cardinal returns a solid core, but there’s a lot of pressure on new quarterback Brett Nottingham to keep this team in the mix for a North title.

Games against San Jose State and Duke in the first two weeks of 2012 should give Nottingham a chance to get comfortable as the starting quarterback. With USC in Week 3, Stanford needs Nottingham to be up to speed and ready to open up the passing attack. The Trojans will also test a rebuilt Cardinal secondary, but the defense could get a boost if linebacker Shayne Skov (torn ACL and likely suspension from off-the-field incident) returns to action by Week 3.

Although the schedule begins favorably, an 0-2 start in Pac-12 play is very likely. After playing USC on Sept. 15, Stanford heads to Washington for a Thursday night showdown on Sept. 27. The Huskies should challenge the Cardinal for second in the North, and the winner of this game will have an early edge for positioning within the division.

After opening up with USC and Washington in Pac-12 play, the schedule lightens for Stanford. The Cardinal should be favored in their next five games (Arizona, California, Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State), before taking on Oregon at Autzen Stadium on Nov. 17. Stanford has lost its last two games against the Ducks by at least 20 points and the outcome likely won’t be much different in 2012.

Considering the personnel losses, an 8-4 season with a 6-3 record in Pac-12 play is my expectation for Stanford in 2012.

Mark Ross
Andrew Luck no longer wears cardinal and white, having swapped it for the blue and white of the Indianapolis Colts, and to me the change at quarterback will directly translate into fewer wins in 2012 for Stanford. This stance is only further strengthened by the fact that head coach David Shaw will not determine who Luck's replacement will be until the fall.

That said, this is still a Cardinal team that will be heard from, thanks to a strong running game led by Stepfan Taylor and a pretty solid defense. In Pac-12 play, however, is where the inexperience under center will come to the forefront. I just don't think Stanford will have the offensive firepower to keep up with some of their conference brethren, who in turn will be able to eventually wear down a tired Cardinal defense.

Stanford certainly didn't get any breaks when it comes to their conference schedule, either. The Cardinal open Pac-12 play by hosting USC, who will no doubt be looking to exact some payback for last season's 56-48 triple-overtime defeat. Stanford then gets a week off before its next game, a road trip to Seattle, followed by a home contest against an Arizona team that will look and play completely different since they are now coached by Rich Rodriguez. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Stanford starts its Pac-12 slate 1-2 or even 0-3, especially if Arizona's new offense is clicking by Oct. 6.

The Cardinal return to Pac-12 play two weeks later against California after hosting Notre Dame the previous Saturday. The final six conference games appear to be more manageable, outside of a Nov. 17 visit to Autzen Stadium to face Oregon, but that doesn't mean there aren't any potential pitfalls remaining either. One game that certainly bears watching is Oct. 27 against Washington State. Like Arizona, Washington State is under new leadership as Mike Leach has brought his Air Raid offense to the Cougars. Although Stanford has a clear advantage when it comes to the defensive match up in this game, Washington State's pace and attacking offensive style could cause problems if Stanford is unable to put up some points of its own.

In the end, I think Stanford is looking at a 5-4 Pac-12 record this season, as a difficult opening conference schedule and offensive disparity translate into three more losses compared to last season. But look at it this way Cardinal fans, that's still probably more wins than your beloved and departed former quarterback and his new team will be able to claim in 2012.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I predict the Cardinal will go 6-3 in Pac-12 play. Stanford did suffer some major personnel losses in quarterback Andrew Luck, top offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro, tight end Coby Fleener and safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas, but David Shaw — and Jim Harbaugh before him — have recruited well enough to keep the program in the top 25. A physical running game and stingy defense should carry the weight this season while Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes develop into a Pac-12 signal caller.

The front seven on defense should be excellent, led by a stellar group of linebackers that includes All-America candidate Chase Thomas. Running back Stepfan Taylor has surpassed the 1,100-yard mark in each of the last two seasons, and he will be the focal point of the Cardinal offense this season. Stanford will be an underdog to USC and Oregon, and I think Shaw’s crew will drop one other game during the league slate. Many pundits may expect the Cardinal to fall off the national scene with the departure of Luck and other stars, but Stanford has formed an expectation of winning over the last few years. I see that Cardinal staying in the top 25 and near the top of the Pac-12 pecking order.

Related Stanford Content

Stanford Cardinal 2012 Team Preview
Stanford Cardinal Top 10 Players for 2012

Stanford Cardinal Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

Stanford Cardinal 2012 Team Predictions

The Greatest Moments in Stanford Football History

Stanford Cardinal Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Stanford Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Stanford Football: How Many Pac-12 Games Will the Cardinal Lose in 2012?</p>
Post date: Monday, May 7, 2012 - 05:55
Path: /college-football/stanford-cardinal-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The Stanford Cardinal check in at No. 21 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Stepfan Taylor, RB
Taylor has topped the 1,100-yard mark in each of the last two seasons, and he could threaten Darrin Nelson’s school record of 4,033 rushing yards with a solid 2012 campaign. The Texas native has 30 total touchdowns in his career, and he should become the focus of the Cardinal offense with the departure of All-America quarterback Andrew Luck.

Upset Alert: Oregon State (Nov. 10)
The Beavers struggled mightily last season, but Mike Riley’s crew should be much-improved this year. The OSU contest at home should be a win for David Shaw’s Cardinal, but he must make sure that his team is not looking ahead to the following week’s trip to Oregon. The Ducks are the North favorites, but Stanford must take care of business against Oregon State first.

Trap Game: Arizona (Oct. 6)
The Wildcats will present a challenge with Rich Rodriguez’ offense coming to the Pac-12. Stanford has a trip to Washington at the end of September, and then road games with Notre Dame and rival Cal in the middle of October. In between those contests, the Cardinal will host an interesting Arizona squad that cannot be overlooked.

Defensive MVP: Chase Thomas, LB
Thomas was a first-team All-Pac-12 defender last year, and he will be up for All-America honors in 2012. Stanford’s outside linebackers do a quality job at getting into opponents’ backfields, and Thomas led the team last season with 17.5 tackles for loss while also forcing five fumbles. He will need similar big plays this year with the Cardinal inexperience in the secondary.

Breakout Player: Ty Montgomery, WR
Stanford lost its three leading pass catchers in Griff Whalen, Coby Fleener and Chris Owusu, and Montgomery is the top candidate to fill that void. The native Texan had 24 receptions for 350 yards and two touchdowns last season, and he should put up big numbers in 2012 if the Cardinal can find stability at the quarterback position.

Unsung Hero: Terrence Stephens, NG
The linebackers get much of the credit – and deservedly so – for Stanford’s productive defense, but someone has to tie up the blockers so the LBs can make plays. Stephens is that type of hard-working player. He does not show up much on the stat sheet but plays an important role in the Cardinal top rushing defense.

Biggest Game: at Washington (Sept. 27)
USC and Oregon may be the Pac-12 favorites, but the road trip to Seattle may hold the key to the season for the Cardinal. A loss to the favored Trojans would not derail Stanford’s shot at the North division, but losing to an improving Huskies club would be tough. A victory against UW could provide the confidence that the Cardinal need to have another special season.

Revenge Game: Oregon (Nov. 17)
With all of the success that Stanford has enjoyed over the last couple of seasons, there is not much in the revenge department. However, the Ducks have won two straight over the Cardinal by a combined score of 105-61. Oregon will be breaking in a new quarterback as well, and a win in Eugene would be very sweet for David Shaw’s club.

Freshmen to Watch: Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy, OT
Stanford will find it difficult to replace left tackle Jonathan Martin, but one of this pair of highly-touted recruits could claim the job in August. Both tackles were ranked in the top 25 overall players in the AC100, and they could make the unusual jump to playing time as true freshmen.

Comeback player: Shayne Skov, LB
The 2010 leading tackler suffered a severe knee injury in last season’s third game at Arizona. His healthy return will add even more playmaking to a loaded linebackers unit. Skov had 84 tackles and 7.5 sacks during that ’10 campaign, but it’s difficult to know how much burst he will have when he returns to the filed in the fall. After a brief suspension, Skov should provide a lift to the Stanford defense.

Position Battle: Quarterback
This one is obvious, as Stanford has the monumental task of trying to replace All-America signal caller Andrew Luck. Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes are the top two candidates, and coach David Shaw said the competition was still even after spring ball. Nottingham has the stronger arm, while Nunes seems to excel at managing the game. The winner of the QB derby will be a major factor in deciding if Stanford will remain a top team in the Pac-12.

Related Stanford Content

Stanford Cardinal 2012 Team Preview
Stanford Cardinal Top 10 Players for 2012

Stanford Cardinal Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

How Many Pac-12 Games Will Stanford Lose in 2012?

The Greatest Moments in Stanford Football History

Stanford Cardinal Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Stanford Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Stanford Cardinal 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Monday, May 7, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-do-recruiting-rankings-matter
Body:

Football recruiting is an inexact science.

It is nearly impossible to evaluate the motivation, maturity and integrity of 17- and 18-year old kids. However, I personally believe that recruiting rankings are outstanding indicators of how a prospect will turn out.

Yet, there are still plenty of non-believers out there. The Athlon Consensus 100 rankings consistently raise a question that is always a hot-button issue within the walls of the Athlon Sports headquarters: Do recruiting rankings really matter?

In an effort to shed some light on this long-debated argument, I examined the recently completed first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. What better way to truly evaluate talent than with a list of the best players selected by NFL talent gurus and personnel wizards.

Before I dive into the 2012 first round, the full scope of college football recruiting must be understood. Trying to rank American high school football prospects is an expansive enterprise that is extremely time consuming.

Here is an excerpt from a piece I wrote about the 2008 NFL Draft explaining the depth and breadth of prep football rankings:

Using a 3,000-player pool for any given year (25 scholarships x 124 FBS teams = 3,100 prospects), here is how an average recruiting class looks:

Five-Stars: 25-30 per year
Four-Stars: 275-325 per year
Three-Stars: 700-800 per year
Two-Stars: 1,600-1,800 per year

This means that only the top one percent of high school football players receive that coveted fifth star. The top 10 percent get a fourth star. If a prospect is ranked in the Rivals 100 — or the Athlon Consensus 100 — he is ranked in what is roughly the top three percent of high school prospects.

That is rarified air.

Those are just the ones that get evaluated and receive the subsequent star ratings, however. According to MaxPreps.com, there are roughly 15,000 high school football teams in this country. That is approximately 300,000 senior football players in any given year (15,000 teams, 20 seniors per team). Those aforementioned percentages become microscopic when applied to the true player pool.

One-thousandth of one percent of high school senior football players will ever receive a five-star rating. Keep that in mind.

Now that all of that is out of the way, the following is a look at the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft — according to how there were ranked as high school seniors:

RELATED: NFL Draft 2012: Grading the First Round

Note: For the sake of consistency, star rankings will come from Rivals.com

1. Andrew Luck, QB (2008, AC100) ****
The Houston Stratford quarterback was the No. 4-rated passer in the nation by Athlon Sports and Rivals.com. He was the No. 6-rated player in the state of Texas and was No. 47 in the AC100.

2. Robert Griffin III, QB (2008) ****
The Copperas Cove (Texas) product was ranked by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat quarterback and the Lone Star State’s No. 42 player.

3. Trent Richardson, RB (2009, AC100) *****
The Pensacola (Fla.) Escambia tailback was the No. 20-rated player in the nation in the 2009 AC100, the No. 3-rated running back in the nation and the No. 2-rated player in the state of Florida.

4. Matt Kalil, OT (2008, AC100) *****
The big blocker from Anahiem (Calif.) Servite was the No. 2 offensive lineman in the nation back in 2008. He finished as the No. 18-rated player regardless of position nationally and the No. 3 player in the state.

5. Justin Blackmon, WR (2008) ***
A three-star recruit from Ardmore (Okla.) Plainview, Blackmon ranked as the No. 91 wide receiver in the nation and the No. 10 player in the state by Rivals.com.

6. Morris Claiborne, CB (2008) ***
Was ranked as the No. 21 player in the state of Louisiana and the No. 58-rated athlete in the nation by Rivals.com. Claiborne was a three-star player from Shreveport (La.) Fair Park where he played QB.

7. Mark Barron, S (2008, AC100) ****
The Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul safety was the No. 58-rated player in the AC100 and the No. 5 player in the state of Alabama. He was the nation’s No. 6 defensive back in the nation behind names likes Patrick Peterson, Brandon Harris, Rahim Moore, BJ Scott and Dee Finley.

8. Ryan Tannehill, QB (2007) ***
From Big Spring High School, the Aggies quarterback was the No. 23-rated dual-threat quarterback prospect in the nation and the No. 88-ranked prospect in the state of Texas.

9. Luke Kuechly, LB (2009) ***
This Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier tackler was the No. 44 outside linebacker in the nation and the No. 37 player in Ohio.

10. Stephon Gilmore, CB (2009, AC100) ****
The No. 88 overall prospect in the nation, Gilmore signed with South Carolina from Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe. He was ranked as the fourth-best player in the state and was the No. 16-rated defensive back in the nation.

11. Dontari Poe, DT (2008) **
The lowest-rated prospect in the first round was an unknown coming out of Memphis (Tenn.) Wooddale. He was the No. 19-rated player in the state of Tennessee by Rivals.com.

12. Fletcher Cox, DT (2009) ****
The Yazoo City (Miss.) grad missed the AC100 (No. 179) but landed in the Rivals’ version of the Top 100 at No. 94. The recruiting site ranked him as the No. 2 player in the state and the No. 5 weakside defensive end in the nation.

13. Michael Floyd, WR (2008, AC100) *****
This one was pretty unanimous. Floyd was easily the top player in the state, hailing from famed St. Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall. He was the No. 2 wide receiver in the nation and finished as the No. 13-rated prospect in the entire country regardless of position.

14. Michael Brockers, DT (2009) ****
From Houston (Texas) Chavez, Brockers was ranked as the No. 10-rated strongside defensive end in the nation, the No. 23-rated player in the state of Texas and finished at No. 201 overall.

15. Bruce Irvin, DE (2010, JUCO) ****
Irvin went the junior college route after dropping out of high school before his junior year. He turned into a four-star JUCO talent after excelling at Mt. San Antonio C.C. in Walnut, Calif. He was the No. 6 overall JUCO prospect in the 2010 class.

16. Quinton Coples, DL (2008) ****
After playing at Hargrave Military Academy, Coples finished as the No. 6-rated strongside defensive end in the nation and the No. 4 player in the state of Virginia. He just missed the Rivals100 (No. 105).

17. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (2009, AC100) *****
The Gadsden City (Ala.) star was the No. 1 cornerback in the nation. He was the No. 1 player in the state of Alabama. And he was the No. 10 player in the AC100.

18. Melvin Ingram, DE (2007) ****
Out of Hamlet (N.C.) Richmond County, Ingram was the No. 10-rated player in the Tar Heel State. He was the nation’s No. 21 outside linebacker, listed at 6’2” and only 224 pounds.

19. Shea McClellin, OLB (2007) **
This Maring (Idaho) product was the No. 7-rated player in the state of Idaho and had no national ranking of any kind.

20. Kendall Wright, WR (2008) ***
The Pittsburg (Texas) native was ranked as the No. 64 “athlete” in the nation and was the No. 81 overall player in the state of Texas by Rivals.

21. Chandler Jones, DE (2008) **
The third two-star prospect taken in the first round, Jones was a unranked tight end recruit from Endicott (N.Y.) Union.

22. Brandon Weeden, QB (2002) N/A
We knew Weeden was old but I bet you didn’t know he is older than Rivals.com recruiting rankings? He played baseball from 2002-07 and pre-dates the star system.

23. Riley Reiff, OL (2008) ***
The Parkston (S.D.) product was a three-star strongside defensive end prospect by Rivals.com.

24. David DeCastro, OG (2008) ***
This mauler was the No. 6-rated player in the state of Washington (Bellvue High School). He was rated as the No. 11 center in the nation by Rivals and picked Stanford over Washington, Oregon State and Washington State.

25. Dont’a Hightower, LB (2008) ****
From Lewisburg (Tenn.) Marshall County was ranked as the No. 3 player in the Volunteeer State and the No. 15 player at his position nationally.

26. Whitney Mercilus, DE (2008) ***
Relatively unknown, the nation’s leading sack master (14.5) hails from Akron (Ohio) Garfield High School. He was ranked as the No. 39 prospect in the state of Ohio and the No. 28 weakside defensive end in the nation by Rivals.

27. Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin (2008) ***
Scout rated this Milwaukee (Wis.) Lutheran blocker as the No. 22 offensive guard in the nation. He was the No. 3-rated player in the state of Wisconsin.

28. Nick Perry, DE (2008, AC100) ****
The Detroit MLK pass rusher was the No. 95-rated player in the AC100. He was the No. 5 defensive and the No. 4 player in the state of Michigan.

29. Harrison Smith, S (2007) ****
The Notre Dame safety hails from Knoxville (Tenn.) Catholic and was the No. 25-rated “athlete” in the nation and the No. 7-rated player in the state of Tennessee.

30. A.J. Jenkins, WR (2008) ***
The Jacksonville (Fla.) Terry Parker product was the No. 53-rated wide receiver in the nation by Rivals.com.

31. Doug Martin, RB (2007) **
The fourth two-star prospect in this draft came to Boise State as an unranked tailback from Stockton (Calif.) St. Mary’s.

32. David Wilson, RB (2009) ****
The talented tailback from Danville (Va.) George Washington was the No. 4-rated running back in the nation, the No. 40 overall player in the nation and the No. 1 player in the state of Virginia.

RELATED: Early 2013 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings

  Top 100 5-Stars 4-Stars 3-Stars 2-Stars Pos. Top 5 State Top 10
Total Number: 10 4 13 10 4 9 18
% of 1st Rd: 31.3% 12.5% 40.6% 31.3% 12.5% 28.1% 56.3%

 

CONCLUSION: On the surface, it appears that a five-star recruit is just as likely to get drafted in the first round as the two-stars, considering that four of each were taken this year. But that isn't using math correctly. There are only 25-30 five-star recruits in any given year while there are roughly 1,600-1,800 two-stars each cycle. Therefore, if you are rated as five-star, you have roughly a 13.3% chance to get drafted in the first round (4/30). But if you are a two-star prospect, you have a 0.2% chance of being drafted in the first round (4/1,800).

A pretty massive difference. 

If you are a four-star prospect, you have a 4.3% chance of being drafted in the first round (13/300), and as a three-star recruit, you have a 1.3% chance of going in the first round (10/800). It's safe to say, that the higher-ranked prospects have a dramatically better chance of landing in the first round.

These numbers are not an end-all be-all. There are simply a look at one round of one draft. But as the industry of college football recruiting rankings continue to grow, fans can expect these self-proclaimed talent evaluators to continue getting better at predicting the future.

So as a special service announcement to all the recruiting haters out there, PAY ATTENTION!

Recruiting is the lifeblood of the sport we all love so much.

-By Braden Gall

@bradengall

 

Other NFL Draft Related Content:

NFL Draft 2012: First-Round Review
NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades

NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1

NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2

Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History

2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III
2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

Top 25 Undrafted Free Agents of Last 25 Years

NFL Draft 2012: Grading All 32 NFL Teams

Teaser:
<p> NFL Draft: Do Recruiting Rankings Matter?</p>
Post date: Monday, May 7, 2012 - 05:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, jokes, Stanford Cardinal
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-stanford-rivals
Body:

Here are some of our favorite jokes about the Stanford Cardinal's biggest rivals.

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

 

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

 

What's the difference between a litter of puppies and Cal fans? Eventually puppies grow up and stop whining.

 

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

 

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

 

• What happens when Lane Kiffin takes Viagra? He gets taller.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

• Things you will never hear an Oregon fan say: I have reviewed your application.

Teaser:
<p> Because sometimes it's good to make fun of the other team</p>
Post date: Monday, May 7, 2012 - 01:10
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/global-comparison-sports-leagues-and-their-dominant-teams
Body:

This is a cool visual that gives some historical comparisons of sports leagues around the world and each league's dominant teams. It's amazing to see how the Yankees have dominated MLB, and the Montreal Canadiens have dominated the NHL over the years. And let's not forget that the Bayern Munich appear to be unstoppable in the German Bundesliga...whatever the heck that is.  

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE

Source: Reddit

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, May 4, 2012 - 10:37
All taxonomy terms: TCU Horned Frogs, Big 12, News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-tcu-no-22-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

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

To celebrate the TCU Horned Frogs being named No. 22, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Gary Patterson’s TCU Horned Frogs continue the countdown at No. 22 with six players selected as All-Big 12 performers. Athlon Sports predicts TCU will finish fifth in the Big 12 Conference. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Gary Patterson has established a tradition of winning at TCU that will have the program prepared for Big 12 competition,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “The Horned Frogs are known for their defense, and rightfully so, but the offense should be very good with Casey Pachall in his second season at quarterback and a very deep collection of tailbacks.”

Six Horned Frogs earned preseason All-Big 12 honors, including defensive lineman Stansly Maponga on the first team. Wide receiver Josh Boyce and offensive lineman Blaize Foltz were named to the second team, while running back Ed Wesley, linebacker Kenny Cain and punt returner Brandon Carter garnered third-team honors.

Links to TCU 2012 Team Preview Content

TCU Team Preview

TCU's Top 10 Players of 2012

TCU’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

Teaser:
<p> <strong><span>Athlon Sports Names TCU No. 22 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></strong></p>
Post date: Friday, May 4, 2012 - 10:13
All taxonomy terms: Kentucky Derby, Triple Crown, Union Rags, News
Path: /news/kentucky-derby-primer-road-triple-crown
Body:

The three-year track to the fastest, most exciting two minutes in sports can have conditions ranging anywhere from fast-and-good to slow-and-sloppy. Phyllis Wyeth, the owner of Chadds Ford Stables, has seen them all en route to the 2012 Triple Crown season — when the Kentucky Derby (May 5), Preakness Stakes (May 19) and Belmont Stakes (June 9) are run in a frenetic five-week stretch. After taking a circuitous detour through the mud, Wyeth has come out clean on the other side and has hit full stride with the nation’s top three-year-old thoroughbred racehorse, bay colt Union Rags.

Born and bred near Philadelphia at Chadds Ford Stables, Union Rags — sired by Dixie Union out of Tempo — was sold by Wyeth for $145,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Selected Yearlings Sale in 2010. But the sale didn’t sit well with the wife of famed painter Jamie Wyeth. She could not cope with a serious case of seller’s remorse. So six months later, Wyeth bought back her colt for $390,000 — or $245,000 more than she had sold him for.

Despite taking one step back financially, Wyeth and her team led by trainer Michael Matz are aiming to take 10 furlongs (1 1⁄4 miles) forward historically in the “Run for the Roses” at Churchill Downs. After racing in Louisville, the schedule shifts to Pimlico Race Course (1 3⁄16 miles) in Baltimore two weeks later and then to Belmont Park (1 1⁄2 miles) in New York two weeks after that.

Since Wyeth’s risky rebuy, Union Rags has earned well over $1 million and appears poised to contend in, and possibly win, one or more of the season’s big three races.

This is not the first time Matz has trained the early favorite, having guided Barbaro to a win in the 2006 Kentucky Derby before a false start in the Preakness Stakes resulted in a broken leg and ultimately euthanization. Matz, however, has never been one to let tragedy slow him down. In 1989, he and future wife D.D. Alexander were passengers on United Flight 232, which crash-landed in Sioux City, Iowa, killing 111 on board. Matz not only survived the sudden impact but also heroically saved four children — three siblings and an 11-month-old baby girl — from the subsequent wreckage.

Matz’s perseverance is matched by Wyeth. A former model, Wyeth was working in President John F. Kennedy’s administration when she suffered a permanently crippling car accident in 1962. She has since gone on to a decorated career of public service, philanthropy and, of course, horse breeding. After listening to her own instincts, Wyeth is coming down the stretch with Union Rags.

There have been only 11 Triple Crown winners in history — Affirmed (1978), Seattle Slew (1977), Secretariat (1973), Citation (1948), Assault (1946), Count Fleet (1943), Whirlaway (1941), War Admiral (1937), Omaha (1935), Gallant Fox (1930) and Sir Barton (1919). But that doesn’t stop every owner, trainer and jockey from chasing the carrot of Triple Crown immortality.
 

Teaser:
<p> Kentucky Derby 138:The Road to the Triple Crown</p>
Post date: Friday, May 4, 2012 - 08:14
Path: /news/bob-bafferts-journey-kentucky-derby-138
Body:

Bob Baffert is the most recognizable man in horse racing. With his signature silver hair, sunglasses and smile, the 59-year-old is the face of the sport of kings.

The Hall of Fame trainer has won the Kentucky Derby three times (1997, 1998, 2002), the Preakness Stakes five times (1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2010) and the Belmont Stakes once (2001) to lock up the career Triple Crown.

A large part of Baffert’s legend stems from his near misses in the sport’s ongoing quest for the first Triple Crown-winning horse since 1978. Baffert has won two of the three legs of the Triple Crown on four separate occasions — winning both the Derby and Preakness in consecutive years with Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998), taking the Preakness and Belmont with Point Given in 2001, and earning the Derby and Preakness with War Emblem in 2002.

Recently, shockwaves were sent through the racing community when news broke that Baffert had suffered a heart attack on March 26 while in Dubai preparing for the $10 million Dubai World Cup. Baffert had a total of three stents placed in two arteries but was said to be in good spirits following the surgery.

The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, visited Baffert in the hospital. One of the world’s foremost investors in racehorses, Sheikh Mohammed — who won the 2006 Preakness Stakes with Bernardini and has Triple Crown aspirations this season with Alpha — has worked closely with Baffert over the years and guaranteed the finest care for his friend and business associate.

“When you have Sheik Mo come visit you … this is when you know you are being well taken care of,” joked the affable Baffert, in a 13-second cell phone video taken from his hospital bed.

This season, Baffert has a handful of horses primed to contend in the Triple Crown, with Bodemeister and Liaison making the field of 20 in the Kentucky Derby. Health permitting, Baffert will bring his usual swagger to the paddock and track. Regardless, Baffert’s shadow will continue to loom large over the sport.
 

--By Nathan Rush

Teaser:
<p> Kentucky Derby 138<strong>: </strong>The Road to the Triple Crown</p>
Post date: Friday, May 4, 2012 - 08:09
Path: /college-football/tcu-horned-frogs-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The TCU Horned Frogs check in at No. 22 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Casey Pachall, QB
Pachall showed last season he was capable of taking the reigns from Andy Dalton, who now quarterbacks the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL. In his first year as the starter, Pachall broke Dalton’s single-season records for completions, completion percentage and yards passing in leading the Horned Frogs to 11 victories and a win in the Poinsettia Bowl. Now TCU begins play as a member of the Big 12 conference, and for the Horned Frogs to be successful the team will need Pachall and the offense to pile up the yards and put plenty of points on the board. Pachall’s leadership and poise in the pocket will be even more critical this year with a relatively inexperienced offensive line protecting him.

Trap Game: vs. Texas Tech (Oct. 20)
This Homecoming contest against the Red Raiders will come on the heels of TCU’s much-anticipated rematch against Baylor in Waco the previous Saturday. The Horned Frogs fell to Baylor 50-48 in last season’s opener and want nothing more than to exact some revenge this time around and earn a Big 12 victory in the process. It’s hard enough to prepare for and slow down Texas Tech’s offense as it is, let alone having to worry about the potential emotional letdown.

Upset Alert: at SMU (Sept. 29)
SMU shocked TCU at home last season, beating the Horned Frogs 40-33 in overtime and ending their 22-game home winning streak in the process. The Mustangs will look to make it two in a row on their home turf. Even though TCU faces Virginia the weekend before SMU, motivation should not be an issue for the Horned Frogs. Stopping the Mustangs’ offense, however, will be. SMU racked up 461 yards of total offense in last season’s win and two of the Mustangs’ biggest weapons that day – wide receiver Darius Johnson (152 yards receiving, 2 TDs) and running back Zach Line (120 yards rushing) — are back and will be looking for an encore come Sept. 29.

Biggest Game: at West Virginia (Nov. 3)
The newest members of the Big 12 will meet for the first time the first weekend in November in Morgantown. TCU will have just faced Oklahoma State in Stillwater the previous weekend prior to playing the Mountaineers, making it back-to-back Big 12 road games in loud, raucous environments. Besides serving as an indoctrination to Mountaineer Field and being faced with the challenge of having to slow down West Virginia’s high-octane offense, this game sets up the most difficult stretch of the Horned Frogs’ 2012 schedule. Following West Virginia, TCU plays Kansas State at home and then gets a week off before traveling to Austin to face Texas. TCU then closes out its regular season the following weekend by hosting Oklahoma on Dec. 1. How successful TCU’s inaugural Big 12 season is will likely depend on the outcome of its final four games.

Revenge Game: at Baylor (Oct. 13)
Last Sept. 2, Baylor defeated TCU 50-48 in a season-opening shootout that catapulted Bears’ quarterback Robert Griffin III into the Heisman spotlight. TCU would like nothing more than to return to Waco and exact some payback. The Horned Frogs have to like their chances even more since Griffin, wide receiver Kendall Wright and running back Terrance Ganaway, all of whom put up big numbers in last season’s meeting, have all departed for the NFL. This also represents the first time the long-standing, in-state rivals will face off as Big 12 foes.

Defensive MVP: Stansly Maponga, DE
The junior born in Zimbabwe who has 25 career starts entering the 2012 season will be called on even more to wreak havoc along the line and put pressure on the quarterback. Maponga will anchor the Horned Frogs’ defensive line, which is the most experienced unit on the defense. Maponga’s size, strength and big-play ability will set the tone for the rest of the defense. He and the rest of the defensive line must be successful in disrupting opposing offenses’ timing to help take the pressure off of an inexperienced linebacker corps and secondary.

Season-Defining Moment: Oct. 27-Nov. 10
TCU’s first season in the Big 12 will more than likely come down to how the Horned Frogs fare in a three-game stretch that takes them from the end of October through the middle of November. TCU has to travel to Stillwater, Okla., and Morgantown, W.Va., in back-to-back weekends before hosting Kansas State at home on Nov. 10. Besides giving the Horned Frogs their first taste of two of their new conference’s toughest road environments, this three-game stretch also will set the tone for how the Horned Frogs will close the regular season. After the Kansas State game, TCU gets a week off to prepare for its Nov. 24 trip to Austin to face Texas and will conclude its inaugural Big 12 season by hosting Oklahoma the following Saturday.

Unsung Hero: Ross Forrest, DE
If Stansly Maponga is TCU’s Batman on defense, there is no reason that Forrest can’t be Robin. The senior, who will start at the other end position on TCU’s defensive line, is a former walk-on with nine career starts under his belt. Eight of those came in 2011 when he compiled 32 tackles, six tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. The strength of the Horned Frogs’ defense in 2012 is along the line and with Maponga likely to attract plenty of attention on the left side; it will be up to Forrest to make an impact from the right.

Newcomer to Watch: LaDarius Brown, WR
Brown, a four-star recruit from Waxahachie, Texas, was the jewel of TCU’s 2011 recruiting class, called by several publications and ranking services the best in school history. Brown redshirted last season, but is primed to make an immediate impact on offense at wide receiver in 2012. The athletic Brown has the size (6-4, 220) and speed to be a factor in the passing game and could develop into a dependable and productive target for quarterback Casey Pachall.

Freshman to Watch: Devonte Fields, DE
Fields is the jewel of TCU’s 2012 recruiting class, as the Under Armour All-American from Arlington, Texas decided to stay close to home, picking the Horned Frogs over Oklahoma, Michigan, Tennessee and Texas A&M. The four-star recruit was considered to be one of the top defensive end prospects in the country and the freshman should get the opportunity for significant playing time in his first year. TCU returns three starters from its defensive line, led by Stansly Maponga, but the line’s overall depth is relatively young and inexperienced, opening the door for Fields. His chances to play right away are also helped by two other factors – the dismissal of projected starter D.J. Yendrey in February following his arrest on drug charges and the fact that TCU will be in its first season in the Big 12 this season. TCU Head coach Gary Patterson and defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas will use every able body on defense they have to try and slow down the high-powered offenses the Horned Frogs will be facing from the Big 12, including the likes of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and West Virginia, once again providing Fields a golden opportunity to shine in 2012.

Related TCU Content

2012 TCU Horned Frogs Team Preview
TCU Horned Frogs Top 10 Players for 2012

How Many Big 12 Games Will TCU Win in 2012?

TCU Horned Frogs Cheerleader Gallery

TCU Horned Frogs 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in TCU Football History

Jokes about TCU Rivals

Teaser:
<p> TCU Horned Frogs 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Friday, May 4, 2012 - 05:29
Path: /college-football/tcu-football-how-many-big-12-wins-will-horned-frogs-have-2012
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 22 TCU. The Horned Frogs are on the move, making the switch from the Mountain West to the Big 12. TCU's offense is loaded, but a rebuilt defense and increased competition will determine just how high this team can climb in the top 25.

How Many Big 12 Games Will TCU Win in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
TCU’s goals in its first season in the Big 12 should be to break even in conference play and to impress the home crowd. As successful as TCU was in the Mountain West and on the national stage when the opportunity was there, the Horned Frogs are probably looking at so-so season as a Big 12 team. The defense is rebuilding without Mountain West defensive player of the year Tank Carder and four starters in the secondary. That’s not a good recipe in a powerhouse offensive league. TCU probably is looking at losses at Oklahoma State, at West Virginia, at Texas and at home against Oklahoma. Meanwhile, the Horned Frogs should feel OK about their chances at Kansas and at home against Iowa State and Texas Tech. That leaves Baylor on the road and Kansas State at home as potential swing games, mainly because those two teams are going to be tough to read in the preseason. I’m going to split those two games for TCU and say the Frogs have a good shot to finish 4-4. If TCU is going to finish any better than that, the Frogs’ defense will have to reload before a brutal final stretch after Oct. 27 (at Oklahoma State, at West Virginia, Kansas State, at Texas, Oklahoma).

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The start to the season offers some intriguing tests but is very manageable. In fact, if TCU can get past Virginia in Week 4, they could be unbeated (7-0) heading into the final five games of the year. This would include wins over Kansas and Baylor on the road as well as Texas Tech and Iowa State at home. The Frogs should be heavy favorites in all four of its first Big 12 games. Come Halloween, however, the Horned Frogs will be dealing with freaks and ghouls for the remainder of its 2012 season. Back-to-back road trips to Oklahoma State and West Virginia starts November in brutal fashion before a home game against Kansas State. A 1-2 mark in that stretch puts TCU at 5-2 in league play heading into its second bye week — the only thing Gary Patterson has to be happy about in his final five games. The off weekend will allow the purple toads to lick their wounds before having to face the two Big 12 powers to finish the season. A trip to Texas and hosting Oklahoma gives the Frogs as brutal a final stretch as any team in the nation. TCU will pull-off one upset along the way (at Okie State?) and will beat the teams it is supposed to but won't topple the league's elite. If I was a Frogs fan, a 6-3 mark in my first trip through the Big 12 schedule should be considered a huge success.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
With a move from the Mountain West to the Big 12, TCU is going to be one of the most intriguing teams to watch in 2012. The Horned Frogs dominated in Mountain West play, but the Big 12 is going to present a tougher week-to-week challenge. The good news for TCU is the schedule is very manageable early in the year. The Horned Frogs open against Grambling and play Kansas in their first Big 12 contest. TCU will likely be favored in each of its first seven games, but will likely be an underdog in the final five contests. The Horned Frogs have tough matchups at Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas and host Kansas State and Oklahoma during that stretch. With a rebuilt offensive line and defense, catching the Big 12’s top teams late in the year is the best-case scenario for TCU. However, I think it will be tough to go 9-3 or 10-2 with the personnel question marks this team has in 2012. The Horned Frogs will likely pull off an upset or two, but could also lose an unexpected contest. Finishing 8-4 with five wins in Big 12 play is a solid debut season in the Big 12 for TCU and coach Gary Patterson.

Mark Ross
I think TCU will find a way to get to five wins in its first season in the Big 12, meaning the Horned Frogs should finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in the conference. Ironically, in many ways this year's TCU team is built like a Big 12 team - high-powered offense, questionable defense, which has not been the case in recent years for Gary Patterson's squads. From 2008-10, TCU was No. 1 in the nation in total defense each and every year. Last year, the Horned Frogs slipped to No. 32 overall, and I think the trend will continue this year, especially given the fact that past Mountain West foes like Colorado State, New Mexico and UNLV, have been replaced on the schedule by the likes of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

As tough a transition as it figures to be going from the Mountain West to the Big 12 this year, it appears the defense will experience more growing pains than the offense in 2012. On offense, the Horned Frogs should be able to keep up with the rest of the offenses in the conference with quarterback Casey Pachall, wide receiver Josh Boyce and the three-headed backfield of Waymon James-Ed Wesley-Matthew Tucker leading the way.

The defense, on the other hand, already lost some key players through graduation and then lost a few more - namely linebacker Tanner Brock, defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey and safety Devin Johnson - in February following their arrests related to a drug scandal that has left a black eye on the program. All three players who were dismissed were expected to start this fall, meaning the Horned Frogs' defense will be even younger and more inexperienced than initially projected. That coupled with untested depth behind the starters will lead to some high-scoring affairs once TCU starts Big 12 play.

TCU actually opens up Big 12 play pretty favorably, starting with Kansas as its second game of the season and then hosting Iowa State on Oct. 16. After that, however, is where things get interesting. TCU's next five games are at Baylor, vs. Texas Tech, at Oklahoma State, at West Virginia and then home for Kansas State. The Horned Frogs then get a week off before ending their inaugural Big 12 season by going to Texas and then hosting Oklahoma on consecutive Saturdays. Not the warmest of welcomes, wouldn't you say?

I expect TCU to get out to a 2-0 start in conference play, but it's those final seven games, especially the last five, that are going to define the Horned Frogs' 2012 season. The offense should keep them in every game, but an inexperienced and untested defense is going to take its share of lumps and give up plenty of yards and points along the way. In the end, the Horned Frogs win one they probably shouldn't, which allows them to finish above .500 in their first year in the Big 12, giving their fans plenty of reasons to, ahem, croak, this fall.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I have the Horned Frogs going 5-4 in league play in their Big 12 debut. Gary Patterson has built a tradition of winning in Fort Worth, but TCU will definitely face an adjustment in playing big-time teams on a week-in, week-out basis. The defenses during Patterson’s tenure have been excellent, but last year’s unit ranked 60th in the country against the pass. That will have to change as the Horned Frogs will now face high-octane passing attacks consistently in the Big 12. The offense has a great group of skill players, led by quarterback Casey Pachall, receiver Josh Boyce and a trio of top running backs, but there are concerns with experience on the offensive line. TCU’s league slate is very backloaded, so a good start will be necessary to finish the season with a winning conference record. I’ll predict the Horned Frogs to start 4-1 in the Big 12, but then drop three of the final four contests. TCU is used to winning and has solid talent, and I believe Gary Patterson’s crew will finish above .500 in league play.

Related TCU Content

2012 TCU Horned Frogs Team Preview
TCU Horned Frogs Top 10 Players for 2012

TCU Horned Frogs 2012 Team Predictions

TCU Horned Frogs Cheerleader Gallery

TCU Horned Frogs 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in TCU Football History

Jokes about TCU Rivals

Teaser:
<p> TCU Football: How Many Big 12 Wins Will the Horned Frogs Have in 2012?</p>
Post date: Friday, May 4, 2012 - 05:28
All taxonomy terms: College Football, TCU Horned Frogs
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-tcu-rivals
Body:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

• What's the difference between a litter of puppies and Texas fans? Eventually puppies grow up and stop whining.

 

• Why don’t Texas Tech fans eat barbecue beans? Because they keep falling through the holes in the grill.

 

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

 

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

 

• Did you hear that Texas Tech's football team doesn't have a website? The Red Raiders can't string three "Ws" together.

 

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

 

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

Related TCU Content

2012 TCU Horned Frogs Team Preview
TCU Horned Frogs Top 10 Players for 2012

TCU Horned Frogs 2012 Team Predictions

TCU Horned Frogs Cheerleader Gallery

TCU Horned Frogs 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in TCU Football History

How Many Big 12 Games will TCU Win in 2012?

Teaser:
<p> Because sometimes it's good to make fun of the other team&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Friday, May 4, 2012 - 01:13
All taxonomy terms: Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees, MLB, News
Path: /mlb/end-mariano-rivera
Body:

Getting carted off of the field before the game even starts. That’s not how anyone wants to end their career, but that could be the case for Mariano Rivera.

Rivera, the New York Yankees’ sure-fire future first-ballot Hall of Fame relief pitcher, saw his 2012 season, and quite possibly his career, end unexpectedly on Thursday afternoon before his teammates took on the Royals in Kansas City, Mo. Rivera was in the outfield of Kauffman Stadium shagging fly balls during batting practice, something he had routinely done throughout his 18-year career, when he slipped awkwardly on the warning track.

Stunned teammates and others present all looked on in disbelief as the 42-year-old closer clutched his right knee and grimaced in pain. Following the game, a 4-3 Yankees’ loss, everyone’s worst fears were confirmed – Rivera tore both the ACL and meniscus in his right knee.

With season-ending surgery almost a certainty, the biggest question is this – has baseball’s all-time saves leader thrown his last pitch?

Before the 2012 season even started, retirement was a hot topic surrounding Rivera during spring training. Rivera himself stopped any immediate speculation by saying he knew if this would be his last season or not, he just wasn’t ready to tell anyone.

That was back in February, but what about now? Will we see one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball back on the mound in 2013?

"At this point, I don't know. At this point, I don't know,” is what the understandably distraught Rivera told ESPNNewYork.com’s Wallace Matthews.

Surgery to repair the extensive damage is just the first step Rivera will need to undergo if he plans to pitch next season. The rehabilitation process involved with ACL injuries is grueling and painstaking in and of itself, and that’s before you consider that Rivera will turn 43 in November has pitched in 1,051 games (8th most in baseball history) in his career.

There’s no doubting Rivera’s competitive fire and determination. After all this is a guy who has thrived as a closer, arguably the most pressure-oriented role in all of baseball, for the Yankees, baseball’s highest-profile team, in New York, the media capital of the world.

But you know how the saying goes, the spirit’s willing, but the body is weak. And in Rivera’s case, his body may just not be able to do what he wants to in his mind.

Whether this is the end to Rivera’s Hall of Fame career or not, we won’t know for sure until several months down the road. For now, let’s focus on the present and what Rivera’s loss means to the Yankees.

For starters, as Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Thursday night even before the severity of Rivera’s injury was confirmed, “You lose a Hall of Famer… If that’s what it is, that’s as bad as it gets.”

In his career, Rivera is 76-58 with a 2.21 ERA, which is first among active pitchers and 13th all-time in baseball history. He is a 12-time All-Star whose 608 saves are the most in baseball history and is a total that is all but certain to stand forever.

For all his regular-season success, the postseason is where Rivera cemented his legacy, winning five World Series titles with the Yankees and dominating opposing hitters in October.

In 32 postseason series (16 AL Division Series, nine AL Championship Series and seven World Series), Rivera is 8-1 with a microscopic 0.70 ERA and 42 saves to go along with 110 strikeouts in 141 innings pitched. He also was named the World Series MVP in 1999 and the ALCS MVP in 2003.

This year, Rivera was 1-1 with a 2.16 ERA and five saves in six opportunities prior to his injury. After giving up two runs on three hits and two walks in a 1/3 of a inning against Tampa Bay in his season debut on April 6, Rivera had only surrendered three hits and nary a run with seven strikeouts and no walks in his last eight innings pitched.

So now that Girardi can’t hand the ball off to Rivera in the ninth inning with the game on the line, whom does he turn to? The Yankees have two viable candidates in right-handers David Robertson and Rafael Soriano.

Robertson has developed into a highly productive and reliable set-up man for Rivera as he has not allowed a run in his last 24 1/3 innings pitched, dating back to Sept. 1 of last season. Soriano, who the Yankees signed to a three-year, $35 million deal last year, has closing experience, saving a combined 72 games in 2009-10 with Atlanta and Tampa Bay. However, he was mostly ineffective (2-3, 4.12 ERA, 2 saves) in his first season in pinstripes in 2011 and has been relegated to seventh-inning duty for the most part this season.

Regardless of which direction Girardi decides to go, this much is clear – neither of these options are Rivera and his mere absence results in a shuffling of the bullpen that could find more than one pitcher in a role they are not accustomed to.

It’s just like Girardi said, losing a Hall of Famer like Rivera is bad as it gets, and this is a devastating, potentially season-altering loss for him and the Yankees. It’s also a loss for baseball as a whole, however, especially if Rivera is unable to return in 2013 or decides to call it a career.

And if that’s the case, then it’s truly a shame that Rivera will have ended his career in the back of a cart, rather than saying good-bye the way he wanted to, most likely walking off of the mound after closing out another Yankees’ win.

— by Mark Ross, published on May 4, 2012

Related Content:

Baseball's Best Players 35 and Over
Mariano Rivera to Retire?
Mariano Rivera is Saves Leader and One of the Greatest Pitchers Ever
New York Yankees Mt. Rushmore

Teaser:
<p> Freak accident before Thursday's game could mean the end of New York Yankees' closer Mariano Rivera' s Hall of Fame career</p>
Post date: Friday, May 4, 2012 - 01:00
Path: /nascar/whats-new-old-nascar%E2%80%99s-aging-population-problem
Body:

Quick, what do the names Kevin Conway and Andy Lally have in common? Are they:

A) Two prominent Wall Street investment bankers
B) Battling for the same role in One Life To Live
C) Americans running in the Tour de France
D) The 2010 and 2011 Sprint Cup Rookies of the Year

Did it take you a minute to come up with the answer? (It’s not completely a joke — there really is a “Kevin Conway” in One Life To Live). Well, you’re not alone, especially considering NASCAR’s last two “top freshmen” are currently outside the sport altogether nine races into the 2012 season. It’s a troubling trend, where for every Joey Logano there’s been about nine Conways who come into the sport with sponsor money, run mediocre at best and then disappear without even getting as much as a cursory glance from the Jack Roush’s and Rick Hendrick’s that hold the keys to NASCAR’s continued existence. Or, there’s the Lally’s of the world, successful drivers changing series without the benefit of money or equipment to support their transition. Patience isn’t a virtue in those scenarios, leaving them kicked to the curb faster than Donald Trump can say, “You’re fired!” on Celebrity Apprentice.

Sounds silly that a few “average Joes” with funding should make a difference. But more than ever, people like these could be influencing the top levels of stock car competition, at a time when side-by-side racing and future sponsorship are getting called into question. With long green-flag runs the norm, not the exception, in 2012 and drivers content to run single file, the blame has been passed around like a hot potato: the Chase, the Car of Tomorrow, tires with no give, too much dependence on aerodynamics. However, could the conservatism of today’s driving corps come from the simple fact there’s no one in position to replace them?

Just take a look at the current top 10 in NASCAR Sprint Cup points. In a sport that was once concerned with twenty-something “young guns” unseating the veterans, they’re nowhere to be found. Instead, what you find is a collection of people that could be confused for fathers attending their kids’ Little League games: there’s no one under age 30, three over age 40 and the average is a gaudy 35.8. Can you imagine an NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB team with that number? Chances are they’d be struggling to finish above last place in their division, let alone earn a .500 record or attempt to qualify for the playoffs.

Yes, stock car racing — a sport that has witnessed great success stories of drivers in their 40s — can be different. But those tales also happened at a time when it didn’t cost $20 million to build a competitive team. That number brings in the involvement of Fortune 500 companies, with marketing departments that care just as much about target demographics as top-5 finishes. Trust me, they’re on to the trend: just look at the hesitance to sponsor Daytona winner and former champ Matt Kenseth (age 40) despite his 2012 success. Even 37-year-old Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport’s Most Popular Driver and one of the sport’s best storylines of the season, no longer fits within the 18-34 male demographic that was once magnetically attracted to cars turning left. Jimmie Johnson, the sport’s most successful driver of the last decade is 36. Its ambassador, Jeff Gordon, is turning 41, outside the top 10 in points and closer to hosting Kelly Live! than contending for the fifth title his fans crave. The driver once thought “key to the sport’s future,” Logano, hasn’t won in nearly three years and at 22, finds his future employment in jeopardy. The youngster’s “Sliced Bread” moniker is turning stale, a cruel irony considering the recent complaints flooding the sport.

With age comes experience, and it’s no surprise those current top-10 drivers have settled into their current organizations. Everyone on the preceding list has been driving for the same car owner for at least three seasons; 60 percent have been doing it for seven or more. That type of longevity builds consistency in relationships, creating chemistry that makes it easy to rise to the top. But the downside for the fan base is that it’s the same old, same old. Silly Season leads to changes that keep people tuned in during this 24/7-news-cycle world we live in. Take the NFL as an example: Peyton Manning, after a whole career with the same organization, is moving to Denver because a young upstart named Andrew Luck was available. In his mid-30s, a superstar athlete was pushed out because of the natural evolution of his sport — there’s someone younger and potentially just as talented available.

That transition has stopped within a world where money, not developing drivers, now moves mountains. Instead, we have the Conway’s, capable of buying rides in desperate organizations for a chance to live their dream, to race at stock car’s top level. But their spotty resumes can’t make up for boardroom success. We’ve seen plenty of these “development projects” fail, making even a struggling driver like Jamie McMurray seem like a five-time champ by comparison. It’s telling that one of the few plum openings for 2012, the No. 55 of Michael Waltrip Racing, went to someone who’s 53 years old. Yes, Mark Martin has a lifetime worth of talent … but he also had limited competition for the spot. Experience leads to knowing how and when to push the right buttons on the racetrack. With so many veterans up front and their place in NASCAR history secure, it’s no wonder the caution flags are down. After all, the sport puts the rookie stripe on back bumpers for a reason.

So is young talent dead on the vine? That’s a topic for another day, as the age question doesn’t completely answer NASCAR’s sponsorship conundrum. (Last year’s Daytona 500 winner, Trevor Bayne, also remains without a full-time ride in the Nationwide Series, at age 21.) But it does explain why drivers are stuck in their rides, the only pressure coming from keeping sponsorship in a world where the NASCAR economy is stagnant at best. That usually comes by making the Chase, and here’s where the current point system steps in. With a limited number of drivers capable of making it, it’s easy to “coast” through the 26-race regular season only to collect your wins mid-summer and ensure yourself of a playoff spot. In the sports landscape of America that’s defined as dynamic, its most successful leagues defined by a consistent level of change, NASCAR’s best have put on the brakes and become content with the “status quo.”

That’s great when you’re looking to work in a corner cubicle for 20 years. But typically in entertainment (what sports are), the “status quo” means “the end of the line.” NASCAR is busy working on a new car for 2013, but while it’s at it, maybe it’s time to find the cast for “Young Guns: Part II” — beyond Danica Patrick, herself 30 — before it’s too late. The last time NASCAR had an entire top 10 in points with no one under age 30 was 1993 — but back then, the sport was poised to be flooded with the likes of Gordon, Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte.

Where will the next generation of drivers come from? How can NASCAR’s natural evolution restart again? These are questions that need to be answered, quickly, with millions in future revenue at stake.

Average Age of Sprint Cup Top 10: 35.8
Average Age of Sprint Cup Chase: 34.4

Point standing, driver, age, first year with current team
1. Greg Biffle (42), 2003
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (36), 2008
3. Denny Hamlin (31), 2006
4. Matt Kenseth (40), 2000
5. Martin Truex, Jr. (31), 2010
6. Jimmie Johnson (36), 2002
7. Kevin Harvick (36), 2001
8. Tony Stewart (40), 2009
9. Carl Edwards (32), 2004
10. Ryan Newman (34), 2009

(WC) Kyle Busch (27), 2005
(WC) Brad Keselowski (28), 2010


by Tom Bowles
Follow Tom on Twitter:
@AthlonBowles
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Tom Bowles explores a NASCAR Sprint Cup field that may have grown stagnant as its competitors have aged and become familiar with one another.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 20:21
Path: /college-football/athlon%E2%80%99s-essential-eleven-links-day-april-30
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for May 4.

• Peter Berg confirms a Friday Night Lights movie, and he is not a fan of Craig James.

• Baseball fans are hoping that Mariano Rivera’s knee injury doesn’t end his incredible career.

• The NFLPA has filed a grievance against Commissioner Roger Goodell, questioning his authority to suspend current and former New Orleans Saints after their bounty scandal.

• ESPN SEC blogger Chris Low details the league’s top prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft.

• SB Nation has your Kentucky Derby 138 preview.

• Greg Wallace of OrangeAndWhite.com has the latest on the arrest of Clemson star receiver Sammy Watkins.

• Utah State and San Jose State are moving from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West in 2013.

• Jon Gold if Inside UCLA says the Bruins spring game will be scaled back because of injury concerns.

• Can Miguel Cotto challenge 42-0 Floyd Mayweather Jr.?

• The Cubs and Reds game had an MLB first yesterday: a shared birthday for the starting pitchers.

• Ahh, the life a Browns fan. Somehow I don’t think the new draftees will change the feeling in Cleveland. Here’s a Video of the Day…

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


May 3

• San Diego reacts to the death of Chargers legend Junior Seau.

• Because if venue disagreements, Indiana and Kentucky will not play in basketball next season.

• The Orange County has an interesting look at Jered Weaver’s family after the Angels ace tossed a no-hitter against the Twins.

• SB Nation has a great recap of college conference realignment.

• Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune has the latest on the Notre Dame football arrests.

• ESPN Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett looks at the league’s “Top 6” requirement for a four-team college football playoff.

• Rick Bozich of the Louisville-Courier Journal has an interesting Kentucky Derby column on “Take Charge Indy” trainer Patrick Byrne.

• CBS’ Gary Parrish details how the Grizzlies bounced back from a crushing Game 1 loss to the Clippers.

• Did Colt McCoy’s father hurt his standing with the Browns?

• Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star has the details on Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby taking over as Big 12 commissioner.

• Umpire Tim Welke gives us one of the worst calls of all time in our Video of the Day…

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


May 2

• The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a classy move today by signing the inspirational Eric LeGrand.

• Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News brings us some funny Saturday Night Live promos from Eli Manning, who will host the this weekend.

• SB Nation looks at the harsh NFL penalties that were handed down to four Saints players for their part in the New Orleans bounty scandal.

• The high school coach of former Alabama backup quarterback Phillip Sims says that the Virginia native lost the QB derby because he was an out-of-state kid.

• ESPN Big 12 blogger David Ubben looks how Kansas and new coach Charlie Weis fared this spring.

• Complex has a flowchart of when your NBA team will win a title.

• ESPN Boston has the details on BC running back Montel Harris being dismissed from the team.

• Butler is leaving the Horizon League for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

• Rest easy, state of Iowa. The new Cy-Hawk trophy has been designed, and both Herky the Hawk and Cy the Cardinal are featured.

• The Bears wasted no time in signing their second-round pick, South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.

• What’s a teenager to do in the nation’s capital? Washington Nationals phenom Bryce Harper plays some pickup softball in our Video of the Day…

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


May 1

• Ravens coach John Harbuagh says the Patriots titles are "stained" because of cheating.

• Roto Professor lucks at the fantasy baseball ramifications of the Rays losing third baseman Evan Longoria for 6-8 weeks.

• Lisa Horne of Fox Sports has an exclusive with Arizona State coach Todd Graham, who says ASU is a destination job and that he never should have gone to Pittsburgh.

• CBS' Brett McMurphy has the details on Conference USA adding six schools in 2013.

• Sharp Football Analysis has an interesting study on Overs/Unders in the high-scoring NFL.

• ESPN Big East blogger Andrea Adelson shows us some much different uniforms for Rutgers football this season.

• Will the recently-retired Hines Ward coach at Georgia one day?

• The Big Ten Network unveils an All-Big Ten Spring offensive team.

• Could Vince Young be the new backup in Buffalo?

• SB Nation breaks down “Amar'e Stoudemire versus the Fire Extinguisher.”

• Nebraska and Cal State Bakersfield have one of the most entertaining dance-offs/improv acts/rodeo impersonations/Greco-Roman wrestling matches/method acting/etc. that you have ever seen during a rain delay. Here’s our Video of the Day…

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


April 30

• Will Brinson of CBS has NFL Draft winners and losers.

• Arkansas wide receivers Jarius Wright and Greg Childs played high school and college ball together, and both were drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.

• New idea for the bathroom in your man cave

• Despite having two of the top four overall selections, ESPN Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller says the league had a rough NFL Draft.

• SB Nation in Virginia has the latest on (former) Alabama quarterback Phillip Sims transferring back to his home state to play for the Cavaliers.

• SEC blogger Barrett Sallee looks at how the league’s championship pedigree plays well during the NFL Draft.

• SI’s Stewart Mandel details the favored plan for a college football playoff.

• Miami had the most ACC players selected in the NFL Draft, but no Hurricanes or Florida State Seminoles were selected in the first two rounds.

• Bleacher Report has a slideshow on the NFL’s Draft’s most head-scratching picks.

• Halos Heaven says the Angels are “unclutch” so far this season.

• Rich Eisen of the NFL Network struggled during the first round broadcast on Thursday, and then he went nuts for a punter on Friday night in our Video of the Day…

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

Teaser:
<p> Rounding up the web's best sports links from the NFL, college football, MLB, NBA so you don't have to.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 20:11
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-talladega-2
Body:

Nine races in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season and each team in approaching Sunday's Aaron's 499 with varying goals in mind. Often viewed as a “wild card” race, teams will be working on different agendas as the field jockeys for position inches away from each other — and the “Big One” — lap after lap.

The entire course of a race, not to mention fantasy weekend, can change in one instant, so choose carefully and look for those drivers that are good at avoiding trouble.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle continues to lead the series standings, with teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards sitting fourth and ninth, respectively.

Many expect Sunday’s race to play out similarly to February’s Daytona 500, given the rules package NASCAR has in place. Don't expect to hear a lot of complaining out of the Roush camp there. Kenseth scored the win in the 500, while Biffle finished third and Edwards came home eighth.

The Roush organization has been on its game in the early stages of the 2012 season, but none of its three drivers have ever been to Victory Lane at Talladega. In fact, between Biffle, Edwards and Kenseth, the Roush Fenway camp has 13 DNFs on the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

With all three cars in the top 10 in points, the Roush Fenway teams have a lot on the line at a critical part of the season. A solid finish for all three would mean an early-season bullet was dodged.

However, for the man second in points, there is really only one thing on his mind: winning.

There are really only two words that are synonymous in NASCAR: Earnhardt and Talladega. And this weekend, the NASCAR fantasy season rolls into Earnhardt Country — otherwise known as Talladega, Ala.

Despite a 138-race winless streak hanging over his head, Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads to his so-called home away from home second in the Cup standings, just five points behind Biffle.

Throughout the season, the No. 88 team has proven to be the lead Hendrick car, scoring four top 5s and seven top 10s in nine races. Yet last time the series was in Talladega, Earnhardt and his Hendrick teammates took the calculated and cautious approach, finishing 25th, 26th and 27th.

Following the race, Earnhardt admitted the tandem racing did not fit his style of driving.

This season, NASCAR made changes to the superspeedway package in advance of the Daytona 500, and as a result, created more traditional pack racing — you know, the style of driving that led to five Talladega victories for Earnhardt and a second-place finish in this year’s Daytona 500.

The other Hendrick cars have all been snake-bit thus far in 2012, despite a promising preseason. Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon have had strong cars, but poor luck throughout the year, while Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt continue to search for Victory Lane and that historic 200th Sprint Cup Series win for team owner Rick Hendrick.

While that milestone is a big deal for the Hendrick orginization, it would certainly take a backseat if Earnhardt could end his winless streak dating back to 2008 in front of his most loyal crowd on the schedule.

Carrying momentum and confidence, which builds more and more each week, Earnhardt Jr. is this week's fantasy favorite.

While Earnhardt may be the overwhelming fantasy favorite, Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer is also a solid pick. Entering the weekend 12th in points, Bowyer has won two of the last three Talladega races, while finishing second in the third.

This weekend, Bowyer is not only rolling for his third win in four starts, he's rolling for the Crimson Tide of Alabama with a special paint scheme honoring the 2011 National Championship football team. His car will carry the colors of the Crimson Tide and display each of its 14 titles, and he will also have an image of legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant riding along on the back of his helmet.

Winning is a tradition in Alabama and they will expect Bowyer to deliver as such. Look for him to be a contender throughout the day.

Five Favorites: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin

The Earnhardt name may be synonymous with Talladega, but the driver with the best average finish is none other than Joey Logano. In just six starts, the soon-to-be 22-year-old has two top 5s, four top 10s and only one DNF, leading to an average finish of 14.5.

This season, however, Logano has struggled to find consistency. After back-to-back top 10s to open the season in Daytona and Phoenix, Logano and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team have yet to score another top-10 finish. Logano had a solid Speedweeks in Daytona, and I expect him to have a strong fantasy day on Sunday.

Also consider Phoenix Racing’s Kurt Busch as an undervalued pick. Busch and Phoenix Racing started the season with high hopes and realistic expectations, but after four finishes of 28th or worse, the organization sits 26th in points and in search of wins.

Heading into the year, the team knew the superspeedway races were among its best opportunities to compete with the larger teams for wins. Phoenix Racing has one win at Talladega, when Brad Keselowski took it to Victory Lane in the dramatic 2009 finish with Edwards.

Busch currently holds the second-best average finish (14.9) amongst active drivers at Talladega, but has never been to Victory Lane. In fact, Busch only has two top-10 finishes in his last eight starts here.

The self-proclaimed “old-school” team could be an undervalued pick this weekend, just be cautious when making that final lineup decision.

Back in the car this weekend will be team owner and former Talladega winner Michael Waltrip. Mikey makes no secret of his love for plate racing, and MWR has been putting out fast racecars week-in and week-out. Waltrip could get up there and shock the world — as pack racing is more his forte than tandam drafting — so consider the No. 55 as an undervalued pick, as well.

Five Undervalued Picks: Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Michael Waltrip, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman

Talladega has been known to produce darkhorse winners in the past, and Sunday's race could do the same. This week's darkhorse pick comes in the form of Landon Cassill. Driving for BK Racing this season, Cassill has demonstrated his talent behind the wheel, working with veteran crew chief Doug Richert.

Although the team's best finish came last week with a 20th in Richmond, the potential for a solid fantasy day at Talladega is certainly there. Keep in mind, Cassill finished 16th at Talladega last October driving for Phoenix Racing.

Tommy Baldwin Racing's Dave Blaney is another darkhorse driver to consider for this weekend's race. Blaney has two top 5s at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, including a third-place finish last October.

Five Darkhorse Picks: Landon Cassill, Dave Blaney, Paul Menard, Regan Smith, Jamie McMurray

Keep in mind while you are setting your fantasy lineup that anything can happen at Talladega. The “Big One” is always lurking, and some of the biggest contenders could be eliminated in a single incident. With drivers and teams approaching this race with varying agendas, make sure to pick wisely and hope to make it through the day unscathed.

Best Average Finish at Talladega (Wins)
1. Joey Logano — 14.5 (0)
2. Kurt Busch — 14.9 (0)
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 15.0 (5)
4. Brad Keselowski — 15.0 (1)
5. Kevin Harvick — 15.1 (1)
6. Tony Stewart — 15.2 (1)
7. Jeff Gordon — 16.3 (6)
8. Clint Bowyer — 16.4 (2)
9. Jimmie Johnson — 16.8 (2)
10. Juan Pablo Montoya — 17.1 (0)

by Jay Pennell
Follow Jay on Twitter: @JayWPennell

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's Aaron's 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 13:16

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