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Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-6-michigan-wolverines
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-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 6: Michigan Wolverines (25 total signees)

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

Where They Got 'Em:

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

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

Areas of Focus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positional Breakdown:

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

AC100 Recruits:

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

Other National Signees:

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

Early Enrollees:

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

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

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

Teaser:
<p> The Michigan Wolverines landed the No. 6 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 05:00
Path: /columns/garage-talk/10-tough-nascar-questions-part-3
Body:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaser:
<p> As the 2012 NASCAR season approaches, Athlon Sports examines 10 controversial issues alive within the sport in the annual five-part, 10 Tough Questions feature, running each day throughout the week.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 17:46
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-5-florida-state-seminoles
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

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

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

Where They Got 'Em:

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

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

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

Areas of Focus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positional Breakdown:

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

AC100 Recruits:

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

Other National Signees:

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

Early Enrollees:

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

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Thur., Feb. 9
7. Fri., Feb. 10
8. Mon., Feb. 13
9. Tues., Feb. 14
10. Wed., Feb. 15
11. Thur., Feb. 16
12. Fri., Feb. 17
13. Mon., Feb. 20
14. Tues., Feb. 21
15. Wed., Feb. 22
16. Thur., Feb. 23
17. Fri., Feb. 24
18. Mon., Feb. 27
19. Tues., Feb. 28
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

Teaser:
<p> The Florida State Seminoles landed the No. 5 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: Florida Gators, Kentucky Wildcats, News
Path: /news/college-basketball-kentucky-dominates-florida-keep-home-winning-streak-intact
Body:

By David Schuman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

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

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

Where They Got 'Em:

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

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

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

Areas of Focus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positional Breakdown:

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

AC100 Recruits:

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

Other National Signees:

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

Early Enrollees:

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

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

2. Texas Longhorns
3. Florida Gators
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
5. Wed., Feb. 8
6. Thur., Feb. 9
7. Fri., Feb. 10
8. Mon., Feb. 13
9. Tues., Feb. 14
10. Wed., Feb. 15
11. Thur., Feb. 16
12. Fri., Feb. 17
13. Mon., Feb. 20
14. Tues., Feb. 21
15. Wed., Feb. 22
16. Thur., Feb. 23
17. Fri., Feb. 24
18. Mon., Feb. 27
19. Tues., Feb. 28
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

Teaser:
<p> The Ohio State Buckeyes landed the No. 4 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 - 05:40
Path: /college-basketball/duke-louisville-west-virginia-and-kentucky-lead-roundtable
Body:

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

1. Who had the most damaging loss last weekend?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MLB Mt. Rushmores

by Charlie Miller

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

 

New York Yankees Mt. Rushmore

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Mariano Rivera

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

 

Close Calls

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

 

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

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

 

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


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

 

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

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

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

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 3: Florida Gators (23 total signees)

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

Where They Got 'Em:

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

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

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

Areas of Focus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positional Breakdown:

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

AC100 Recruits:

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

Other National Signees:

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

Early Enrollees:

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

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

2. Texas Longhorns
3. Florida Gators
4. Tues., Feb. 7
5. Wed., Feb. 8
6. Thur., Feb. 9
7. Fri., Feb. 10
8. Mon., Feb. 13
9. Tues., Feb. 14
10. Wed., Feb. 15
11. Thur., Feb. 16
12. Fri., Feb. 17
13. Mon., Feb. 20
14. Tues., Feb. 21
15. Wed., Feb. 22
16. Thur., Feb. 23
17. Fri., Feb. 24
18. Mon., Feb. 27
19. Tues., Feb. 28
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

Teaser:
<p> The Florida Gators landed the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 6, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /columns/garage-talk/10-tough-questions-part-2
Body:

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

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

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

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

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

Teaser:
<p> <span>As the 2012 NASCAR season approaches, Athlon Sports examines 10 controversial issues alive within the sport in the annual five-part, 10 Tough Questions feature, running each day throughout the week.</span></p>
Post date: Sunday, February 5, 2012 - 16:57
Path: /nfl/which-super-bowl-team-was-better-1986-or-2011-ny-giants
Body:

By RALPH VACCHIANO

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

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

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

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

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

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

And none was more dominant than the one in 1986.

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

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

EDGE: ‘86

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

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

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

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

EDGE: 2011

QUARTERBACK

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

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

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

EDGE: 2011

COACHING

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

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

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

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

EDGE: Even

OVERALL

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

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

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

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

EDGE: 1986

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Jordan Coleman

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

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

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

This year’s 15 modern-era finalists are:

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

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

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

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

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

Tier 1 – Tickets to Canton punched

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

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

Tier 2 – Win again and you’re in

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

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

Tier 3 – On the bubble for a bust

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

Tier 4 – Fast start, but miles to go

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

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

Tier 5 – Hall of very good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaser:
<p> <span>As the 2012 NASCAR season approaches, Athlon Sports examines 10 controversial issues alive within the sport in the annual five-part, 10 Tough Questions feature, running each day throughout the week.</span></p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 16:19
Path: /nfl/giants-or-patriots-our-super-bowl-selections
Body:

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

Which team wins Super Bowl XLVI?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— by Mark Ross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Nathan Rush
 

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

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

New England Patriots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Giants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction:
Giants by 1

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

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

Teaser:
<p> A breakdown of the New England Patriots' and New York Giants' offense, defense, special teams and coaching.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 11:54
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-2-texas-longhorns
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 2: Texas Longhorns (28 total signees)

Big 12 Rank: 1st
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 7
National Signees: 17

Where They Got 'Em:

As is the case with every Burnt Orange signing class, the state of Texas supplied the majority of the talent. The Lone Star State provided 24 of the 28 total signatures delivered to the 40 Acres on Wednesday. Despite missing on top in-stater Mario Edwards, Mack Brown signed six of the 11 Athlon Consensus 100 recruits from Texas.

Louisiana provided the most excitement as Texas stole top-100 defensive end Torshiro Davis (AC100 No. 77) right out from underneath LSU on National Signing Day. Arizona provided a potential quarterback of the future — a position the Horns need to solidify if they expects to compete for the Big 12 title — and Mississippi supplied a pair of junior college prospects.

Areas of Focus:

With Manny Diaz now steering the ship, Texas fans have to be excited about the development of the defense moving forward — especially considering what the Horns have returning in 2012. Never satisfied, however, Brown helped his rising star coordinator in a big way by signing 12 front-seven defenders.

This group is the strength of the class and features two nationally ranked linebackers, defensive ends and defensive tackles. The headliner is the nation’s No. 3 defensive tackle in the nation Malcom Brown. He is joined by AC100 end Davis and a pair of stud tacklers in linebackers Peter Jinkins and Dalton Santos. Jinkins, ranked at No. 105 nationally, barely missed landing in the AC100 and should slide to the outside while Santos, at 250 pounds, is built for the middle of the defense. Nose guard Alex Norman and end Hassan Ridgeway were also nationally rated and provide incredible depth to the front seven heading into the future.

The secondary should also be well represented as at least four prospects will be heading to the defensive backfield. Nationally ranked athletes Duke Johnson and Adrian Colbert are already listed as a cornerback and defensive back respectively by Texas while Bryson Echols and Kevin Vaccaro are tagged as DBs as well. Athlete Daje Johnson is the only official “ATH” listed by the Longhorns, so his position is only one yet to be determined.

Quarterback Connor Brewer was, at one point, during this cycle an AC100 prospect but slipped outside of the top-100 and finished as the No. 7-rated signal caller in the nation. While his stock dipped a bit late in the process, Brewer is still the only quarterback in Arizona prep football history to win three state championships and holds the state record with 100 touchdown passes. Athlete Jalen Overstreet is slated to start his career as a quarterback, giving Brown a couple of new options at the biggest position of concern heading into the summer.

The offensive line, as usual, is also loaded with massive upside — in all senses of the word. Three of the four future blockers were nationally rated with blockers Kennedy Estelle and Curtis Riser landing in the AC100. Estelle and Camrhon Hughes both stand 6-foot-7 and both tip the scales at over 300 pounds.

The offensive skill positions have to get coordinator Bryan Harsin excited to get to work this summer. The nation’s No. 1 tailback and prized jewel of the class, Jonathan Gray, holds the national high school record with 205 touchdowns scored and finished his career with 10,889 yards rushing and 1,244 yards receiving. He claimed National Gatorade Player of the Year honors in 2011 after rushing for 3,888 yards and 65 touchdowns in Aledo’s 14-2 state championship. Once packaged with Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and D.J. Monroe, the Longhorns could boast the best running back corps in the nation. Gray marks the second straight season that Texas has signed the nation’s No. 1 running back (Brown).

A pair of AC100 wideouts should give whomever is playing quarterback some talent play-making options on the outside. Cayleb Jones is the No. 7 wide receiver prospect in the nation while Kendall Sanders finished as the No. 11 wideout in the country. Jones, more of the pure pass catcher, finished his prep career with 213 receptions, 3,025 yards and 27 touchdowns. Sanders was utilized in a more unorthodox manner as he rolled-up at 1,000 yards receiving and rushing over the last two seasons. He also played plenty of defense as he earned Defensive MVP honors at the U.S. Army All-American bowl. Along with lower-rated Marcus Johnson, the duo provides new blood to a position that Texas has missed on of late.

Positional Breakdown:

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

AC100 Recruits:

7. Jonathan Gary, RB (5-11, 202), Aledo (Texas) High
10. Malcom Brown, DT (6-4, 285), Brenham (Texas) High
51. Kennedy Estelle, OL (6-7, 300), Pearland (Texas) Dawson
59. Cayleb Jones, WR (6-3, 198), Austin (Texas) High
77. Torshiro Davis, DE (6-3, 220), Shreveport (La.) Woodlawn
79. Curtis Riser, OL (6-4, 285), DeSoto (Texas) High
87. Kendall Sanders, WR (6-0, 175), Athens (Texas) High

Other National Signees:

105. Peter Jinkins, LB (6-1, 200) Dallas (Texas) Skyline
134. Connor Brewer, QB (6-2, 200) Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral
138. Bryson Echols, DB (5-10, 165) DeSoto (Texas) High
139. Camrhon Hughes, OL (6-7, 320) Harker Heights (Texas) High
155. Alex Norman, DT (6-4, 275) Dallas (Texas) Bishop Dunne
163. Duke Thomas, CB (5-11, 170) Killeen (Texas) Copperas Cove
181. Adrian Colbert, DB (6-2, 191) Mineral Wells (Texas) High
194. Dalton Santos, LB (6-3, 250) Van (Texas) High
217. Hassan Ridgeway, DE (6-4, 255) Mansfield (Texas) High
255. Daje Johnson, ATH (5-10, 175) Pflugerville (Texas) Hendrickson

Early Enrollees:

Connor Brewer, QB (6-2, 200), Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral
Alex De La Torre, LB (6-1, 230), Denton (Texas) Ryan
Donald Hawkins, OL (6-5, 310), Tunica (Miss.) Northwest Miss. C.C.
Camrhon Hughes, OL (6-7, 320, Harker Heights (Texas) High
Brandon Moore, DT (6-5, 335), Montgomery (Ala.) East Miss. C.C.
Duke Thomas, CB (5-11, 170) Killeen (Texas) Copperas Cove

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Teaser:
<p> The Texas Longhorns landed the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 11:00
Path: /mlb/st-louis-cardinals-mt-rushmore
Body:

MLB Mt. Rushmores

by Charlie Miller

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

St. Louis Cardinals Mt. Rushmore
The Mt. Rushmore for the team nearest and dearest to my heart also proves to be the most difficult for me to select. There are six strong candidates — five Hall of Famers and one who will be — and a handful of others who would make most teams’ mountains. One of the most storied and tradition-laden franchises in baseball, the Cardinals have enjoyed more success than any other National League team. They won six World Series and lost three in the 21 seasons from 1926-46. Since that time, it’s been a little bit of every-other-decade success for the Redbirds. No World Series appearances in the 1950s; three in the ’60s, winning two. None in the ’70s; three in the ’80s, winning one. None in the ’90s; two in the ’00s, winning one, before winning another in 2011. With 11 titles, the Cardinals rank second all-time, a distant second behind the Yankees. The organization has been loyal to managers. Since 1965 (47 seasons), only four men — Red Schoendienst, Whitey Herzog, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa — have managed more than 91 percent of the Redbirds’ games. Obviously, the discussion begins with Stan the Man. Musial is the No. 1 name on all Cardinals fans’ lists. After that, it becomes a tough choice.

Stan Musial
Stan the Man is on the short list for MLB’s Mt. Rushmore, and no doubt would be a unanimous choice among Cardinals fans. Musial dominates the Cardinals’ all-time leaderboard, even leading in triples. He spent his entire career in St. Louis and remains an icon. He made 24 All-Star teams, was MVP three times with four runner-up finishes, won seven batting titles, is fourth all-time in the majors in hits, second in total bases, ninth in runs and sixth in RBIs. That’s quite a resume. He also was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian.

Bob Gibson
Gibson had as intimidating a mound presence as any pitcher ever. The menacing righthander spent his entire career with the Cardinals and was instrumental in the three pennant winners in the 1960s. There are the two Cy Young awards and 1968 MVP, but Gibson’s World Series performances were off the charts. In three Series he made nine starts with nine complete games, going 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA. He had 92 strikeouts in 81 innings and a 0.889 WHIP.

Lou Brock
Known for his stolen base records, Brock was much more than a one-dimensional player. Other than establishing season and career stolen base records, Brock had 3,023 hits — 2,713 of them with the Cardinals. He scored 1,427 runs for St. Louis and drove in 900 runs in his career, 640 of them from the leadoff spot. He is as beloved in St. Louis now as the day he retired.

Ozzie Smith
The Wizard came to St. Louis in 1982 as a .230-hitting defensive shortstop and retired as one of the greatest shortstops to play the game. During his 15 years in St. Louis, Smith made 14 All-Star teams, won 11 Gold Gloves and even a Silver Slugger in 1987 to go with his runner-up finish in MVP balloting. He had 1,944 hits, 991 runs and 433 stolen bases for the Cardinals in addition to saving more than 1,000 runs with his glove.

Close Calls
Had Albert Pujols re-upped with the Redbirds and finished out his career in St. Louis, there is little doubt that he would have ended up on the mountain. King Albert completed the most astonishing 11 seasons in team history in 2011.

It’s equally painful leaving off Rogers Hornsby, one of the best hitters in the game prior to 1930. From 1921-25, the Cardinals’ second baseman averaged .402 with 29 homers, 120 RBIs and 123 runs. But by most accounts he wasn’t the most popular teammate and he bounced from team to team after spending 12 years in St. Louis to start his career.

During the 1980s and ’90s, Red Schoendienst was always alongside greats Musial, Gibson and Brock donning red blazers at every major Cardinal event. In addition to his Hall of Fame career, Red managed a couple of pennant winners in the 1960s and remained an influential presence as a special coach for several years after his managerial career ended.

In terms of popularity and impact on the franchise, Whitey Herzog deserves consideration. He took over a franchise in 1980 that was drawing just over one million, had drug problems and hadn’t won in 11 years. Over the next decade, “Whiteyball” accounted for three World Series appearances, lifted attendance to three million for the first time and turned the franchise down the path it travels now.

August “Gussie” Busch Jr. bought the team in 1953, and nurtured it as an iconic franchise that became Cardinal Nation, bringing six pennants and three World Series titles in the 1960s and ’80s.

For his emotional post-9/11 speech alone, Hall of Famer Jack Buck deserves some mention as the Cardinals’ long-time broadcaster.

When Dizzy Dean was in his prime, he was right there with Babe Ruth as the biggest star in the game. It was just short-lived.

Best Current Player
Few players have captured the hearts of fans in St. Louis the way that Yadier Molina has. Tony La Russa refered to him as the most indispensable player on the 2011 championship team, a club that included Pujols. Redbird pitchers will tell you that he deserves an MVP trophy.

 

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

 

Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:

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

 

Teaser:
<p> The Mt. Rushmore for the team nearest and dearest to my heart also proves to be the most difficult for me to select. There are six strong candidates — five Hall of Famers and one who will be — and a handful of others who would make most teams’ mountains. Stan the Man Musial is the No. 1 name on all Cardinals fans’ lists. After that, it becomes a tough choice.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 10:05
Path: /nfl/super-bowl-prop-bets
Body:

Super Bowl betting — and prop bets, in particular — attract sharks and suckers alike who can’t afford a $3.5-million, 30-second commercial spot on NBC’s telecast or a $2,500 nosebleed seat at Lucas Oil Stadium, but do have a some lunch money to wager on Super Sunday.

Here’s a quick look this year’s popular Super Bowl bets, along with advice on where the smart money should play. For consistency’s sake, all odds and lines are courtesy of Bovada.lv — the online gambling website formerly known as Bodog.com.

(For the average Joe who doesn’t speak in Vegas tongues, when the odds are -150, you must wager $150 in order to win $100; when the odds are +150, your $100 bet nets $150. Just FYI.)

NATIONAL ANTHEM

How long will it take Kelly Clarkson to sing the National Anthem?

Over 1:34 (-120)
Under 1:34 (-120)

Last year’s over-under on Christina Aguilera’s now infamous “Star-Mangled Banner” was 1:54. This year, Kelly Clarkson will do justice to the Francis Scott Key classic, show off her American Idol-winning voice, hit all the notes, remember every last lyric and take longer than 1:34 to do so.

COIN TOSS

Heads or tails?

Heads (-105)
Tails (-105)

Heads has a 23–22 all-time edge. Tails will even the score this time around. After all, “tails never fails” — unless you are the old man at the gas station in No Country For Old Men; he was lucky to have called “heads.”

Which team will win coin toss?

Giants (-105)
Patriots (-105)

The NFC has won 14 consecutive coin tosses and carries a 31–14 all-time advantage. Look for the G-Men to keep the streak alive — especially if Peyton Manning tosses the coin for a few free hand-tossed Papa John’s pizzas.

HALFTIME

Will Madonna wear an NFL jersey or shirt at any point during the Super Bowl halftime show?

Yes (+250)
No (-400)

Madonna is the first female Super Bowl halftime act since Janet Jackson’s nipple slip “wardrobe malfunction” midway through the Patriots’ Super Bowl XXXVIII win. And while she may have a British accent and guns bigger than Wes Welker, there’s no way she wears any of Roger Goodell’s gear during her Cirque du Soleil show.

Will Madonna be wearing fishnet stockings at any point during the Super Bowl halftime show?

Yes (-120)
No (-120)

It’s the Super Bowl, the 53-year-old Material Girl will do something new, right? Maybe wear a torpedo bra or a wedding dress? That’s fresh.

BIG GAME

Total touchdowns scored in game

Over 6.5 (Even)
Under 6.5 (-130)

Before last year’s Packers-Steelers 31–25 seven-TD shootout, there had not been as many trips to the end zone since the Patriots-Panthers epic fourth-quarter flurry of Super Bowl XXXVIII. The Giants and Patriots combined to score four TDs in Super Bowl XLII and five in Week 9 this season.

Total field goals made in game

Over 3.5 (+135)
Under 3.5 (-165)

Although Adam Vinatieri is the greatest clutch kicker in NFL playoff history, the Patriots have kicked a grand total of four field goals in their four Super Bowl trips under Bill Belichick.

In 19 games this year, Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes has made zero or one field goal 11 times, two field goals seven times and three field goals exactly once — at Green Bay in the Divisional Round.

Will the team that scores last win the game?


Yes (-180)
No (+150)

I believe (hope?) it will be that kind of Super Bowl.

Will the game go to overtime?

Yes (+650)
No (-1200)

There has never been an overtime game in Super Bowl history. Ofer-45. Go ahead and bet $1,200 to make a sweet $100 profit that there will be no free football. Seriously, don’t do that. Put all your money on the coin toss.

Will the game be decided by exactly three points?

Yes (+325)
No (-450)

It is true that all four Super Bowls started by Tom Brady have been decided by a three-point margin — a 20–17 win over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, 32–29 win over the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, 24–21 win over the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX and 17–14 loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. But don’t bank on a fifth straight field goal difference.

POSTGAME

What color will the Gatorade (or liquid) be that is dumped on the head coach of the winning Super Bowl team?

Clear/Water (3/2)
Orange (5/2)
Yellow (5/2)
Red (13/2)
Green (13/2)
Blue (10/1)

The Giants dumped clear/water on coach Tom Coughlin after beating the Cowboys in a playoff play-in in Week 17 and following Super Bowl XLII. The Patriots did not dump anything on Bill Belichick — don’t want to ruin the hoody — after Super Bowls XXXVI or XXXVIII, but hit him with a little clear/water after XXXIX.

Who will be named Super Bowl MVP?

Tom Brady (7/5)
Eli Manning (9/4)
Victor Cruz (8/1)
Hakeem Nicks (12/1)
Rob Gronkowski (12/1)
Wes Welker (12/1)
Aaron Hernandez (16/1)
Ahmad Bradshaw (20/1)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (25/1)
Jason Pierre-Paul (25/1)
Field (25/1)
15 Other Players (35/1 to 100/1)

Since Tom Brady won the MVP as the then-youngest Super Bowl-winning quarterback, six of 10 MVPs have been QBs. The other four were comprised of three receivers and Ray Lewis.

BOTTOM LINE

New York Giants (+3) (+115)
New England Patriots (-3) (-135)

The Giants pass rush will give Tom Brady trouble, especially if Rob Gronkowski is limping around like he was on Tuesday’s Media Day. The Patriots’ secondary will finally fall apart, with Eli Manning finding Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham downfield enough times to win a second Super Bowl in five years.

Over 54 points (-105)
Under 54 points (-115)

The Big Blue Wrecking Crew defense holds strong and Elite Eli makes a few plays when it matters, as the Giants pull out another close victory over the Patriots — just like Super Bowl XLII (31 combined points) and Week 9 this year (44).

by Nathan Rush

Teaser:
<p> Super Bowl prop bet advice on gambling on the spread, over-under, coin toss, Kelly Clarkson's National Anthem, Madonna's halftime show, the winning coach's Gatorade shower, Super Bowl XLVI MVP and more.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 2, 2012 - 21:08
Path: /nfl/eli-manning-or-tom-brady-tough-quarterback-choice
Body:

There has been a major trend in sports media over the last 10-15 years to give quarterbacks singular credit for team success. The signal caller that is probably the most debated in this fashion is Tom Brady of the Patriots. Some people believe he is an all-time great, while others believe that New England’s three Super Bowl titles were much more due to Bill Belichick’s scheming and a nasty defense than QB play. New York quarterback Eli Manning has always been in the shadow of his all-universe older brother, but that seemed to change a little when the Giants beat the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The G-Men and Pats will meet again this Sunday, and many around football are wondering which team actually has the edge at the media’s “hero” position.

Which quarterback would you want in this Super Bowl?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I think this question breaks down two different ways. As far as just quarterback play, I would take Eli Manning. His numbers on third down and in the fourth quarter this season have been staggering. Manning’s play was clutch in Green Bay and San Francisco as the Giants earned another Super Bowl trip the hard way. As far as the team around the quarterback, coaching and good playoff fortune, I’d take Tom Brady. The Patriots’ point guard has Bill Belichick and staff on his side, which usually means the best-prepared team in the NFL. The New England defense ranked 15th in points allowed this season, while the Giants ranked 25th. I think Brady has better components around him, who pulled out an AFC title win over the Ravens when their QB had zero touchdown passes, two interceptions and a passer rating of 57.5. This Super Bowl should be another close game in the 20s with one or two key plays determining the outcome. While I like Manning’s game better, recent history says Brady and the Patriots are much more likely to be the benefactor of an opponent’s mistake, a blown call or a fortunate big play.

Mark Ross
I have no problems siding with Eli here, although I'm probably in the minority. Everyone knows about Tom Brady's playoff results (16-5, three Super Bowl rings), but his counterpart on Sunday is no slouch when it comes to the postseason. The younger Manning is 7-3 in the postseason and his completion percentage (59.8), touchdown-interception ratio (16-8) and passer rating (87.5) all compare favorably to Brady's playoff numbers. What's more, Eli comes into Sunday playing his best football of the season. Going back to the regular-season finale against Dallas, Manning has completed 100 of 156 passes (64 percent) for 1,269 yards (317.3 per game) and 11 touchdowns with just one interception in his past four games. Remember, this is a New England team that had the second-to-worst pass defense (294 yards per game) in the regular season. Besides, the game's in Indianapolis, so you have to take a Manning, right?

Rob Doster
Let's see — if I had one postseason game to win, what quarterback would I want leading my team? How about the winningest postseason quarterback in history? Tom Brady is 16–5 as a starting quarterback in the NFL playoffs, tying him with Joe Montana for most postseason wins but a few ticks ahead of him in postseason winning percentage (.762 to .696). Brady is 3–1 in Super Bowls, and the one loss in Super Bowl XLII was a fluke. Yep, I said it. Eli's been excellent, but remember: His seven career postseason wins have been compressed into two bursts — the 4–0 run culminating in the aforementioned fluke, and this year's 3–0. In other words, in six of Eli's eight seasons in the league, his teams either failed to make the playoffs (2004, 2009, 2010) or were one and done when they did (2005, 2006, 2008). Eli's the flavor of the moment, but I'll stick with the greatest postseason quarterback of this generation.

Nathan Rush
I'd take today's Tom Brady over a healthy Peyton Manning in his prime. But this year, Eli Manning is playing better than Peyton ever did in the playoffs. So this is a legitimate debate as far as I'm concerned — especially because I think Elite Eli will beat Tom Terrific (again) on Super Sunday. Eli has thrown for 923 yards, eight TDs and one INT for a 103.1 passer rating in victories over the Falcons, Packers and 49ers. But Brady has three Super Bowl rings and has established himself as this generation's Joe Montana. I'm going with Brady, no doubt; but Eli is closing fast.
 

Teaser:
<p> Eli Manning or Tom Brady: Tough Quarterback Choice</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 2, 2012 - 14:12
Path: /nfl/what-makes-grumpy-bill-belichick-smile-surprisingly-its-giants
Body:

By RALPH VACCHIANO

There isn’t much that can get a rise out of Bill Belichick, the stoic, unemotional, coach of the New England Patriots. He’s been to four Super Bowls as a head coach, won three, and built himself a dynasty in New England. But talking about the power he’s built rarely elicits a smile.

It’s different, though, when Belichick is asked about the past – specifically the great New York Giants teams he was a part of in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. He was the genius defensive coordinator back then under the future Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, helping to guide one of the NFL’s greatest teams.

Ask Belichick about that if you want to see him smile. Talk to him about those teams if you want an expansive answer. Even as his Patriots prepare to face the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, he was peppered with questions about his days as an assistant with the Giants. That is something he could talk about for hours.

That was an experience he described as “awesome.” It was a enough to make him smile.

“It was a great job,” Belichick said. “It was awesome. I loved that job. I loved coaching the Giants’ defense. Being in New York, being a part of that great organization and those great players I had the opportunity to coach.

“In all honesty, I wasn’t thinking then about if this was what I was going to do at some other point. We were trying to win there. We won in 1986, and it was a great year. We rebuilt the team, and we won again. I was consumed with that. I really just try to live in the moment.”

It was a great moment in time, of course, and Belichick was a major part of it. The Giants’ defense, choreographed by Belchick led the way to Super Bowl titles in 1986 (XXI) and 1990 (XXV). It helped that he had great players like Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, Carl Banks, George Martin, Leonard Marshall, Jim Burt and so many more.

Belichick, though, is the one that put them together. Belichick is the maestro who made them sing.

“We had a great staff and great players,” the Patriots coach recalled. “One of the biggest things I learned, that I can’t do today, but I know, is how tough those players were. We practiced every day in pads -- every single day in pads. There were years that we practiced every single day on the turf before we had the grass practice fields up there on the hill

“We did 9-on-7 -- which is a good-tempo running drill -- on a regular basis. In training camp, we went out in pads every day. We hit every day. We did 9-on-7 every day. There was no way Bill (Parcells) would go out on the field without doing 9-on-7. We’d skip stretching before we’d skip 9-on-7.”

Times, of course has changed and so have the rules, which has forced Belichick to – reluctantly – change, too. Still, he made sure to have his Patriots practice at least once in pads during Super Bowl week. The lessons he learned from Parcells and those great Giants teams were not easily forgotten.

And the biggest lesson he learned is that football players – really great football players – are supposed to be unbelievably tough.

“When you get those guys crashing into each other – Jumbo (Elliott) and Mark Bavaro blocking (Lawrence) Taylor, (Carl) Banks, (Jim) Burt and all them – they just lined up and played football,” Belichick said. “I know it was a different era, but it will never be like that again. I learned players can be tough, they can be physical, they can do more than they think they can do.”

He tried to take that approach with him in his first job as a head coach with the Cleveland Browns. But when the results weren’t good, he was criticized for being too tough on his players – something he even still finds a little hard to believe.

“Maybe I took it a little too far in Cleveland, I don’t know,” Belichick said. “It was kind of the same thing when I got there. People said that we were too demanding and we were doing too much. I was thinking to myself, ‘I was with the Giants for 12 years. I saw this every day for 12 years. Don’t tell me we can’t go out there and have 9-on-7 two days in a row. I know we can.’ ”

Now, all these years later, he finds other ways to get the toughness out of his players. It’s his responsibility now, and he’s the undisputed king of the coaching fraternity. He won’t talk much about that during the run up to Super Bowl XLVI, but he will gladly talk about where all his strengths came from. He was once a Giant, and he still considers that one of the best jobs he ever had.

Teaser:
<p> The Patriots coach looks back on his time with the Giants</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 2, 2012 - 10:31
Path: /college-football/arkansas-and-nebraska-among-signing-day-struggles
Body:

-by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on twitter)

We all know recruiting rankings are very subjective, but it is also true that every fan base would like a highly-ranked class. A star-studded haul is no guarantee of future success, but the odds increase greatly with the more talent your team inks on National Signing Day. Here is a look at some teams that finished with a whimper at the end of the long recruiting process. These teams may end up with good classes, but they barely scratched or completely missed the AC100 and/or a top 25 class ranking.

1. Arkansas
The Hogs could have crept into the top 25 of most ranking services if they could have landed the top prospect in the nation, receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. Instead, the country’s top-rated pass catcher stayed in-state with the Missouri Tigers. Bobby Petrino’s signing class is still fairly solid, but Arkansas fans would have liked to have finished better after an 11-win season and a Cotton Bowl victory. The Hogs will rank in the bottom half of America’s toughest conference, looking up at division rivals Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M and Mississippi State. Arkansas did get some good news with the last-minute flip of Louisiana linebacker Otha Peters, but the lack of star power stands out in the rough and tough SEC.

2. Nebraska
The Cornhuskers also have a fairly solid class, but it was definitely a disappointment to miss on five-star offensive lineman Andrus Peat. The top tackle, whose brother Todd plays for the Huskers, opted for Stanford over NU. Bo Pelini could have also used some secondary help with Devian Shelton, who also went to the Pac-12 with USC. We should recognize that Nebraska did not always have top-rated recruiting classes when Tom Osborne’s clubs were dominating in the ‘90s, but this class will be on the cusp of the top 25 while Legends rival Michigan will be in the top 10. The Huskers did fairly well but signing a Peat or Shelton would have helped greatly.

3. Michigan State
There was just not much recruiting buzz around Lansing this year despite an 11-win season and Big Ten Legends Division crown. The Spartans got a couple of the state’s top prospects in receiver Aaron Burbridge and pass rusher Jamal Lyles, but they saw the hated Wolverines winning most of the in-state battles. Despite the quality season and holding on to defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, this MSU class is not anywhere near the top 25 of the team rankings. That fact especially hurts when Michigan will be in the top 10 and seems to have much more momentum around the program.

4. Cal
No team’s recruiting effort was affected more by a coaching defection than the Bears. Tosh Lupoi, the defensive line coach and ace recruiter, severely damaged the Cal’s class with his move to Washington in January. At the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, three highly-rated prospects —safety Shaq Thompson (whose brother Syd'Quan starred at Cal), defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy and receiver Jordan Payton — committed to the Bears. However, that trio as well as top defensive end Arik Armstead, who had once had Cal as his leader, all signed elsewhere in the Pac-12. Those changes are especially painful in light of Bay Area and Big Game rival Stanford vaulting into the top 10 classes with an amazing close on National Signing Day.

5. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys failed to capitalize on the school’s best season ever, a 12-1 campaign that resulted in a Big 12 championship and Fiesta Bowl victory over Stanford. OSU will rank in the bottom half of the conference, and that’s even with Missouri and Texas A&M moving on to the SEC. Mike Gundy’s staff tried to flip top Texas safety LaDarrell McNeil to no avail and also struggled within the Sooner State. Much like the Spartans above, the Cowboys might not crack the top 30 classes while their rivals, Oklahoma and Texas, will be in the top 10.
 

Teaser:
<p> Arkansas and Nebraska Among Signing Day Struggles</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 19:08
Path: /college-football/2012-recap-national-signing-day-storylines
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

This was easily one of the more entertaining National Signing Days in history.

And in stark contrast to years past, the dramatics had nothing to do with the nation’s top class. In fact, there was a noticeable absence of hype, conversation and overall excitement surrounding the reigning national champions’ No. 1-rated class. It’s almost as if Nick Saban has turned recruiting into a business or something? Alabama's ho-hum collection of five-star future All-Americans aside, there was still plenty of interesting, bizarre, baffling and intense happenings from coast to coast.

Here are the most memorable moments from Signing Day (with a distinct west coast feel):

The Nation’s No. 1 Player Signs With Missouri

Deontay Greenberry Shocks The Nation

Fresno (Calif.) Washington Union wide receiver Deontay Greenberry is ranked as the No. 52 player in the nation. He was a long-time Notre Dame commitment whose best friend and cousin, fellow Athlon Consensus 100 talent Tee Shepard, is already enrolled in class in South Bend. All signs pointed to the duo continuing their friendship on the football field as Irish teammates. But after a very late visit to the Houston Cougars, Greenberry pulled the biggest shocker of National Signing Day by signing with the CUSA-turned-Big East program. The 6-3, 190-pound wideout is the first AC100 signee in Cougars’ program history and the twittersphere nearly exploded when his LOI arrived in Houston. New head coach Tony Levine was one of the toasts of NSD '12.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was apparently as shocked as the rest of us at the news. Kelly likely regrets letting his emotions get the better of him with this commentary on Greenberry, "I used to have a saying about players like that and that was I'd rather play against him for four games than with him for four years," he told UND.com. Sounds an awful lot like message board trolls who scream sour grapes when star recruits sign elsewhere.

The Great Tosh Lupoi

Washington hired former California defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi on January 16. The Bears featured the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12 and were ranked just outside of the top-10 in recruiting after landing Shaq Thompson, Ellis McCarthy and Jordan Payton at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl two weeks earlier.

Since Lupoi was hired in Seattle, Washington has stolen Thompson, the No. 1 defensive back in the nation (and rightly so), and landed nationally-rated SoCal athletes Jaydon Mickens and Brandon Beaver. The Huskies also held onto the No. 4 quarterback in the nation Cyler Miles and stole Patterson (Calif.) defensive end Pio Vatuvei from USC. McCarthy and Payton (more on him in a moment) switched to UCLA and the No. 8-ranked player in the nation, Arik Amstead, sited the loss of Lupoi as part of the reason he landed elsewhere. Armstead signed with Oregon on Wednesday. 

Cal is currently ranked outside of the top 25 in recruiting by every major service and is leaking water on the talent trail. It's hard to see how one young, energetic defensive line coach could have such a huge impact on a conference, but that is exactly what the 30-year old Lupoi has done to the Pac-12. New offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau probably deserves some credit too.

Stanford’s New Recruiting Cachet

Jim Harbaugh is still rubbing off on the Stanford Cardinal. After landing AC100 star tailback Barry Sanders Jr. (No. 80) back at the start of the 2012 calendar year, head coach David Shaw landed Puyallup (Wash.) offensive lineman Josh Garnett (No. 30). He hasn’t slowed down either as he has convinced the nation’s No. 1 quarterback Jameis Winston to rethink his Florida State commitment and signed a trio of AC100 lineman on Wednesday.

Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol’s Andrus Peat is the No. 3 offensive lineman in the nation and his older brother just finished his first collegiate season on the Nebraska roster. Yet, somehow Shaw overcame the legacy factor and lured the stud blocker to Palo Alto. Late Wednesday afternoon Stanford also got signatures from the No. 4 offensive lineman in the nation, San Clemente (Calif.) High’s Kyle Murphy, and the No. 6-ranked defensive tackle in the nation, Atwater (Calif.) Buhach’s Aziz Shittu.

This is a top-10 class that features three of the top five offensive lineman in the nation. Toss in Sanders, star linebacker Noor Davis and top-100 defensive back Alex Carter, and Shaw has assembled a Cardinal class of unprecedented proportions. Only Alabama’s 10 top-100 signatures top the seven Stanford signed. The Cardinal's national appeal has never been higher.

Kiffin’s Quality over Quantity

Lane Kiffin is picking up right where Pete Carroll left off and NCAA sanctions appear to have had little effect on the USC's ability to recruit. The Trojans entered National Signing Day with 13 commitments. There were only two three-star prospects in the group, one of which is fullback Jahleel Pinner — who is rated as the No. 1 blocking back in the nation. The quality of USC's classes has been astounding for over a decade and the 2012 group is no different.

Despite losing Vatuvei to the Huskies, USC once again won the day by landing Sunshine State talents Nelson Agholor (No. 26) and Leonard Williams (No. 68). Additionally, the Trojans stole Inglewood (Calif.) cornerback Devian Shelton from Oregon State. Kiffin has built an entire staff full of former recruiting coordinators who know how to pound the trail and it shows. Only Alabama has more AC100 signees than the Trojans’ seven.

The offensive line class is one of the best in the nation. Three of USC's seven top-100 signees will play along the offensive line with Zach Banner (No. 50) leading the way. The 6-9, 310-pound Lakewood (Calif.) Lakes product is the son of former NFL star Lincoln Kennedy and could compete for playing time at left tackle right away now that Matt Kalil has moved on to the NFL.

Texas Actually Closes Strong

This is much less of an indictment on Mack Brown’s ability to close as much as it's a testament of his talents for locking down an incredible class earlier than everyone else, but the Texas Longhorns closed on NSD better than they have in years. Brown offered and landed Daje Johnson and Dalton Santos very late in the process and then pulled one of the biggest upsets of the day by stealing Louisiana's own Torshiro Davis away from LSU. It appears that maybe Brown and his staff is beginning to realize that they can now slow the process down a bit — which is strange coming from the program that has accelerated the recruiting calendar more so than any other university in the nation. Brown is showing his ability to adapt and it could lead to a 10-win season in 2012.

Jordan Payton Better Be Good

There are always a few recruiting stories that simply take the cake. Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian wide receiver Jordan Payton announced on national television at the U.S. Army All-American on January 7 that he would be attending Cal. On Tuesday, however, Payton switched his verbal commitment to Washington following star recruiter Lupoi to Seattle. However, where did he send his signed letter of intent the very next day? Yup, you guessed it, the UCLA Bruins? There are few stories that have had as many twists and turns as Mr. Payton’s and he better be prepared to put his head down and work hard because there will be more than a few fanbases watching his development over the next few seasons.

Delayed Signatures

The nation’s No. 1 athlete, Olney (Md.) Good Counsel star Stefon Diggs, is the latest on a long list of recent recruits who decided to postpone their signing until well after National Signing Day. He is the No. 5 player in the nation, is considered a strong Florida lean, has friend and former teammate Jelani Jenkins in Gainesville and would be a perfect fit on a roster that is in desperate need of a play-maker on offense. What is left to decide? Why does he have to wait until Feb. 10 to sign? Fellow AC100 prospects Davonte Neal and Jordan Diamond also failed to sign on Wednesday.

Bryce Brown, Terrelle Pryor, Latwan Anderson, Seantrel Henderson, Orson Charles, Cyrus Kouandjio and Vidal Hazelton are just a few of the names that delayed their signings. And for the most part, it has appeared like a mistake as Charles, Pryor, Brown, Hazelton and Anderson have failed to live up to the recruiting hype — or got kicked out of school prematurely. Is signing late a serious issue that indicates the maturity and focus levels of young kids? The evidence, at least in a broad sense, certainly points in that direction.

The biggest name still waiting to sign, however, is the nation’s No. 1 quarterback Jameis Winston. The Hueytown (Ala.) passer is also a stellar baseball prospect and has gotten cold feet after being committed to Florida State since the first week of August. He is considering a late push by Stanford and could wait until Friday to make his decision.

I understand it is an incredibly complex decision, but if 18 years isn't enough time to make up your mind, I can't imagine how an extra week will help. And a late signing is not the same thing as a flip-flop...

The Flip Flops

Every year there are loads of names that seem to be destined for one location only to land on another campus. Athlon Consensus 100 talents Dante Fowler (Florida State to Florida), the aforementioned Greenberry (Notre Dame to Houston), Torshiro Davis (LSU to Texas) and apparently Josh Harvey-Clemons (Georgia to ??? - all in one day) are just a few. Nationally-ranked Bralon Addison (Texas A&M to Oregon) and Jordan Payton (everywhere to UCLA) are just a couple of other highly-touted names to switch on NSD.

At first glance, it can be easy to get frustrated with the flip-flopping and waffling involved with some recruitments. But fans need to remember that this is the single most important decision most of these 17-year olds have ever made and that maybe a touch of patience is necessary.

I think Compton (Calif.) Dominquez cornerback Brandon Beaver said it best at 1:09 p.m. ET Wednesday on his twitter account (@B_2times): “Never been so unsure in my life.” Beaver committed to Washington roughly six hours later.

Teaser:
<p> 2012 Recap: National Signing Day Storylines</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 18:33
Path: /college-football/alabama-crimson-tide-wins-recruiting-national-championship
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

It didn’t take long for the dust to start settling on what has turned out to be one of the most entertaining National Signing Days in history.

At 8:15 a.m. ET, Nick Saban landed his first big unknown when Lynchburg (Va.) Brookville defensive tackle Korren Kirven (No. 198 nationally) signed his paperwork for the Crimson Tide.

And the Tide just kept on rolling to the 2012 recruiting national championship.

Alabama entered NSD ’12 with a virtual stranglehold on the mythical recruiting national title. It was going to take some minor miracles in Austin, Gainesville, Columbus or Tallahassee to knock Saban’s bunch off that top slot in the rankings.

But Athlon Consensus 100 safety Landon Collins from Geismar (La.) Dutchtown stuck with his initial (and bizarre) pledge to the Tide, essentially sealing the recruiting national championship for Alabama.

With eight early enrollees, Bama already had a huge head start on NSD as AC100 names like T.J. Yeldon and Ryan Anderson have already been to a few freshman English classes. But after finishing with a nation-leading 10 AC100 signees and second-best 16 nationally rated recruits, there is little doubt that this Crimson haul is the best in the nation.

It starts with the linebackers. This five-man group is the best in the country bar none and couldn’t come at a better time after losing stars Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw as well as starter Jerrell Harris. Madison (Ala.) Bob Jones tackler Reggie Ragland is the No. 2 linebacker in the nation and is the No. 44 overall player in the AC100. Ragland proved at the Under Armour event that his size-speed combination is one of the best in the nation. Anderson is the No. 8-rated linebacker, and Dillon Lee checks in as the No. 9-rated LB in the nation. All three are top-100 prospects.

Add to it Taylor Hayes (No. 15 linebacker, No. 143 nationally) and Denzell Devall (No. 20 linebacker, No. 158 nationally) and Saban should have plenty to work with in the middle of his defense. Anderson and Devall, at 6-3, 250, and 6-2, 240, respectively, will fit perfectly in his 3-4 scheme that features a variety of hybrid end/backer combo players.

The secondary, which loses Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie and Mark Barron, is also well represented with five potential athletes landing in the defensive backfield. Collins, Panama City (Fla.) Arnold star Eddie Williams and Atlanta (Ga.) St. Pius X corner Geno Smith are three of the top seven defensive back prospects in the nation. Both Collins and Williams rank in the top-21 nationally and could grow into one of the most imposing safety tandems in the country. Collins is listed at 6-2, 210 while Williams checks in at 6-4, 205. That is serious strength at the backend of Saban’s defense. Smith is the No. 3-rated coverman in the nation.

The big news on NSD for Saban, however, came along the defensive line. He got the day started with the 6-4, 275-pound Kirven and followed that up almost immediately with McDonough (Ga.) Henry County nose guard Dalvin Tomlinson. Packaged with a trio of three-star defensive tackles, Alabama has added incredible depth to the middle of its defensive line.

The only blemish on the day for the Crimson Tide was the loss of Atlanta (Ga.) Washington tailback Justin Taylor to Kentucky. Yet, with Dee Hart returning from injury and Yeldon already enrolled — to go with incoming Powder Springs (Ga.) Hillgrove speedster Kenyan Drake — the Alabama running game should be in great hands for years to come.

A pair of Sunshine State AC100 wide receivers, Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast’s Chris Black and Miami (Fla.) Northwestern’s Amari Cooper, should help replenish a receiving corps that saw Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks depart due to graduation. Do-everything top-100 athlete Cyrus Jones could also contribute in a big way on the offense as well.

In all, Alabama signed at least one player ranked in the top five nationally at his position at five different spots on the field: LB, RB, DB, ATH, WR. It signed three of the top seven defensive backs nationally, three of the top nine linebackers and two of the top five wide receivers.

The Yellowhammer State has always provided the Tide with loads of talent, and generally speaking, it’s arguably the most territorial state in the nation. Saban signed seven in-state players in this class. Florida (3) and Louisiana (2) also provided some elite talents as well. However, the Peach State was the biggest surprise for Alabama during this cycle. The Tide signed eight players from the state of Georgia, including two AC100 prospects.

In short, this is an extraordinarily talented, deep and balanced collection of players heading to the Capstone. Saban won a recruiting national title back in 2008 and finished third nationally in 2009, and those two classes laid the foundation for his third BCS national championship. Of the 22 starters in the BCS title game win over LSU, 15 signed in either 2008 or 2009.

So while Will Muschamp, Les Miles, Mark Richt, Gene Chizik and Bobby Petrino sat in nervous anticipation for names like Dorial Green-Beckham, Eddie Goldman, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Tracy Howard, Torshiro Davis, Avery Young and Dante Fowler to sign their letters of intent with other programs, Saban coolly sat back and collected another stellar 26 signees.

Needless to say, Alabama football isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Athlon Consensus 100 Signees (in order of national rank):

12. Eddie Williams (Panama City, Fla.): No. 2 DB
21. Landon Collins (Geismar, La.): No. 4 DB
32. T.J. Yeldon (Daphne, Ala.): No. 4 RB
42. Chris Black (Jacksonville, Fla.): No. 3 WR
44. Reggie Ragland (Madison, Ala.): No. 2 LB
48. Cyrus Jones (Baltimore, Md.): No. 4 ATH
58. Amari Cooper (Miami, Fla.): No. 5 WR
61. Geno Smith (Atlanta, Ga.): No. 7 DB
84. Ryan Anderson (Daphne, Ala.): No. 8 LB
94. Dillon Lee (Buford, Ga.): No. 9 LB

Other Nationally Rated Recruits:

130. Kenyan Drake, RB (Powder Springs, Ga.)
135. Brandon Greene, OL (Ellenwood, Ga.)
143. Tyler Hayes, LB (Thomasville, Ala.)
158. Denzel Devall, LB (Bastrop, La.)
198. Korren Kirven, DT (Lynchburg, Va.)
251. Dalvin Tomlinson, DT (McDonough, Ga.)
 

Teaser:
<p> Alabama Crimson Tide Wins Recruiting National Championship</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 16:52

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