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Path: /college-football/michigan-wolverines-2012-team-predictions
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The Michigan Wolverines check in at No. 7 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Denard Robinson, QB (SR)
How could it be anyone else? The statistical resume is downright historic. And if the Maize and Blue win their first Big Ten title since 2004, it will be because of Robinson’s electrifying play-making ability. There is no more explosive athlete under center in the nation, so improved decision-making could send Shoelace to New York in December this fall.

Trap Game: Iowa
One could argue that every game played the weekend before the Ohio State game should be considered a trap game. This year the Hawkeyes’ come to town to attempt to upset the division favorite while they are supposedly looking ahead to the Buckeyes. Back in 2001, Michigan led this series 37-8-4 all-time. Since then, Iowa has won five of seven and three straight, including the 24-16 win a year ago and the 38-28 victory the last time they visited The Big House.

Upset Alert: at Purdue (Oct. 6)
The Boilermakers have been known to pull an upset or two in West Lafayette and they are coming off their first bowl season since 2007. Should Purdue stay healthy, it is certain to pull more than one upset this year. Purdue has only beaten Michigan four times since 1985, but two have come in the last four years and three of those have come at home.

Unsung Hero: Craig Roh and Jibreel Black, DL
Roh may never live up to his lofty recruiting status, but he has consistently showed up to play every Saturday. He has missed only one game in his three-year career (37 games) and will be playing his fourth position (strong-side end) in as many years this fall. Black, too, will be playing a new position as he slides inside to the 3-technique nose tackle position. This D-Line is the biggest area of concern and solid play from these two will go a long way to alleviate the loss of three starters.

Biggest Game: at Ohio State (Nov. 24)
Alabama may define this season early on, but there is no mistaking which game is the most important. And in 2012 it carries even more weight than usual. A Legend’s Division championship, subsequent Big Ten title game berth, BCS bowl, Heisman Trophy or more could all be riding on the trip to Columbus to end the season. Throw in the fact that it is guaranteed to be the Buckeye’s season finale, and, that these are likely the league’s top two teams, this rivalry game should realize its potential for the first time since 2006.

Revenge Game: Michigan State (Oct. 20)
The story is well documented: The Spartans have spanked the Wolverines four straight years (only one by less than a touchdown) en route to a Big Ten title as well as the league’s first Legend’s Division championship. The fact that Michigan State now annually boasts the league’s top defense and has thumped big brother from Ann Arbor by at least two touchdowns in three of those four wins only adds to the motivation for Michigan.

Co-Freshmen To Watch: Ondre Pipkins, DT and Joe Bolden, LB
There is a plethora of talent to choose from in what turned out to be a top ten recruiting class nationally for Brady Hoke’s Freshman to Watch. Should Pipkins reach his potential, few will play as imperative a role as the massive nose guard from Missouri. He is as game-ready as there is in the nation and the Athlon Consensus 100 prospect will be asked to stabilize the reworked defensive line — which could be the difference in a Big Ten title or not. The linebackers need depth and will likely be asked to lead this defense this fall. Bolden could push Kenny Demens outside or slide into a reserve role. Either way, expect both names to get a lot of playing time this fall.

Comeback Player: Roy Roundtree, WR (SR)
If completely disappearing from an offense counts as an injury, then Roundtree is a perfect bounce-back candidate. In 2010, Roundtree was the team’s top receiver, catching 72 passes for nearly 1,000 yards en route to second-team All-Big Ten honors. Last year, the milk carton special totaled 19 receptions for 355 yards, despite starting all 13 games. The senior should be poised to become Denard Robinson top target once again in 2012.

Defensive MVP: Blake Countess, CB (SO)
In only one short year, Countess has established himself as arguably the most talented defender on the roster. He will lock down one side of the defense which will free-up veteran leaders Jordan Kovacs and Kenny Demens to make more plays — which will be needed considering the weaknesses up front on this defense. The domino effect of Countess’ emergence last fall may not be measurable.

Newcomer To Watch: Jerald Robinson, WR (SO)
Technically, Robinson played in 11 games as a freshman last fall. But since he failed to record a statistic of any kind, he will be considered a newcomer. Offensive coordinator Al Borges has had plenty of glowing things to say about the 6-foot-1, 206-pounder this spring. He could be the best vertical threat on the roster — something that this Wolverines offense will be looking for all season long.

Season Defining Moment: Alabama (Sept. 1, Arlington, Texas)
Yes, the Big Ten title means more. Yes, the game against that team from down South is the biggest. But a win over the defending national champions could do more than simply define a season. If the Michigan defensive line is capable of slowing the Tide’s elite rushing attack and Robinson is able to move the football on the lightning fast track of Cowboys Stadium against the totally rebuilt Nick Saban defense, then the ceiling for this team will go up a few floors. A win over Bama in Week 1 puts Michigan directly on track for South Beach.

Related Michigan Content

Michigan Wolverines 2012 Team Preview
Michigan Wolverines Top 10 Players for 2012

Will Denard Robinson Be a Heisman Finalist in 2012?
Michigan Wolverines Top 10 Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Michigan Football History

Michigan Wolverines Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Michigan Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Michigan Wolverines 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Friday, May 25, 2012 - 05:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, jokes
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-michigan-rivals
Body:

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

• What happens when Urban Meyer takes Viagra?
He gets taller.

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

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

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

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

• Why is Michigan State replacing the turf in its stadium with cardboard?
The Spartans always look better on paper.

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

• How do you get a Michigan State graduate off your front porch?
You pay for the pizza.

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

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

Related Michigan Content

Michigan Wolverines 2012 Team Preview
Michigan Wolverines Top 10 Players for 2012

Will Denard Robinson Be a Heisman Finalist in 2012?
Michigan Wolverines Top 10 Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Michigan Football History

Michigan Wolverines Cheerleader Gallery

Michigan Wolverines 2012 Team Predictions

Teaser:
<p> Jokes About Michigan Rivals</p>
Post date: Friday, May 25, 2012 - 02:11
All taxonomy terms: College Football, College Basketball, NFL, NBA, MLB
Path: /college-football/athlon%E2%80%99s-essential-eleven-links-day-1
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This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for May 25.

Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla is glad to see the Tim Tebow circus leave town.

• New Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is ready for the SEC, telling Will Muschamp to worry about his own team after the Florida coach criticized College Station.

• We saw the Cardinals' "Bad Tuxedo Day" last week, and now the Rays have become "Nerds!"

• Veteran NASCAR pit reporter Dick Berggren will retire after next weekend’s race at Dover.

• The Mark Sanchez-Tim Tebow Jets QB dynamic will be crazy enough in New York, and the incumbent’s agent is already stirring the pot.

• Should the ACC follow the Big 12 and form a bowl game with the SEC?

• The controversial Warren Sapp will not be back on Inside the NFL.

• The rumor that Charlie Sheen bought Lawrence Taylor’s Super Bowl ring is apparently not true.

• The Heat won three in a row to close out the Pacers, with play almost as scorching as Dwyane Wade’s pants.

• The red-hot Reds take over first place in the NL Central.

• We are all appreciative of those who have served in the military. On this Memorial Day weekend, we look back at a sports hero who became an American hero — Pat Tillman.

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


May 24

• The New York Daily News has the Big Apple buzzing with the report that the Steinbrenners could sell the Yankees.

• Kellen Winslow Jr. has many critics for his out-of-control ego and “soldier” rant back in the day. Now, the man who was just released by the Buccaneers is being sued for trashing a $9,000-month rental in San Diego that had “a putrid stench of animal waste.”

• Mandatory.com has a great slideshow of the craziest places the Stanley Cup has traveled.

• Ohio State will already not play for the Big Ten title or in a bowl game this season, but are there more NCAA violations on the way?

• CBS’ Tony Barnhart discusses facing SEC defenses with Missouri and Texas A&M coaches.

• Gizmodo says beware of buying these gadgets right now, including the iPhone.

• Arizona football will already change significantly this fall with Rich Rodriguez taking over. But copper helmets?

• It’s amazing how many bobbleheads look nothing like the celebrities they represent. When did the Philles’ Roy Halladay get weird teeth and an Ervin Santana chinstrap beard?

• Clemson’s board of trustees will meet today to discuss conference affiliation. The ACC-Big 12 rumors have taken over the offseason.

• Check out Ben Wallace’s ride, a “T-Rex.”

• I think more people have seen “Uncle Drew” than saw Cavaliers games this season. “Don’t reach young blood” — here’s our Video of the Day…

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


May 23

• Olympic hurdler (and major hottie) Lolo Jones tells HBO’s “Real Sports” that remaining a virgin is much harder than graduating college or training for this summer in London.

• Raiders cornerback Ron Bartell tells the Contra Costa Times that he will not wear the league-mandated knee and thigh pads in 2013.

• To celebrate Robert Moog’s birthday, Google gives us a synthesizer to play.

• Did TCU athletic director confirm the Big 12’s expansion interests?

• Speaking of conference expansion gone wild, could we see a six-day Big East basketball tournament? CBS’ Gary Parrish hopes not.

• Bleacher Report’s Adam Kramer has some humorous ideas for other schools after Stanford renamed its offensive coordinator the “Andrew Luck Director of Offense.”

• Some early NFL win total propositions have been set in Vegas. The Packers and Patriots lead at 12 victories, while the Colts, Jaguars and Browns bring up rear at 5.5.

• CBS’ Mike Freeman has some interesting thoughts from Saints players who feel they are being “railroaded” by the NFL.

• Maybe golf is not the game for certain Redskins like offensive lineman Trent Williams.

•Could longtime Jazz coach Jerry Sloan return to the NBA bench with either the Magic or Bobcats?

• It’s difficult to find Cubs highlights this season (they’re getting an early start on that “Completely Useless By September” thing), but this Tony Campana dive into third base is awesome…

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


May 22

• Mitch Vingle of the Charleston Gazette has a moving piece on the passing of former West Virginia coach Bill Stewart.

• Michael Felder remembers Stewart at his brightest moment, WVU’s convincing 48-28 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.

• How much of the MLB season will Phillies slugger Ryan Howard miss?

• CBS’ Jeff Goodman has the story of Dick Vitale raising millions of dollars for cancer research.

• John Hoover of the Tulsa World has an interesting column on Eric Dickerson. The star runner says he would have gone to Oklahoma, but his mother did not trust Barry Switzer.

• You may have heard over the weekend that NASCAR is the first professional sports league to partner directly with Twitter. What will trend worldwide first: #shakeandbake, #spidermonkey or #DaleJrWins?

• David Shaw was already the “Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football” at Stanford, and now offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has changed titles to the “Andrew Luck Director of Offense.”

• Dave Teel of the Daily Press in Virginia details how his state’s ACC athletic directors believe in the stability of the conference despite national rumors.

• Reds’ reliever Aroldis Chapman was arrested for driving 93 MPH and for driving with a suspended license. Don’t the police know that 93 is slow for Chapman?

• Oh to have expensive lawyers on your side. The Jets’ Kenrick Ellis will serve 45 days in jail this summer, but that sentence will be perfectly situated between the team’s minicamp and training camp.

• Being the ball boy at an MLB game seems pretty cool, unless you miss a play and fall victim to a sunflower seed shower from Braves pitcher Livan Hernandez . Here’s our Video of the Day…

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 


May 21

• The oldest-known Babe Ruth jersey nets over $4 million at auction, breaking the record for a piece of sports memorabilia.

• Speaking of auctions, Giants defender Osi Umenyiora falls short on Twitter followers and does not buy Lawrence Taylor’s Super Bowl XXV ring.

• Could a Florida State move to the Big 12 cause the ACC and Big East to get poached by the powerful SEC and Big Ten? Clay Travis of Outkick the Coverage thinks so.

• How’s your Facebook stock faring?

• The Angels fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, but CBS’ Jon Heyman says that longtime manager Mike Scioscia should not be next.

• Dave Miller of the National Football Post looks at five college football players who had breakout springs and could become stars in the fall.

• Former Bengals runner Pete Johnson guarantees that Ohio State rookie Daniel "Boom" Herron will start at running back in the first game of the season for Cincinnati.

Mandatory.com brings us some awful celebrity tattoos, including the Nuggets’ Chris Andersen and Hall of Famer Reggie Miller.

Pro Football Talk has the latest on Ray Rice and a possible contract extension from the Ravens.

• Could the new SEC-Big 12 bowl agreement affect Notre Dame?

• Perhaps inspired by Will Farrell’s character, Ashley Schaeffer, from Eastbound and Down, Lakers star Pau Gasol gives Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka a “love tap” in an interesting place. Here’s our Video of the Day…

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

---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
 

Teaser:
<p> Sports links from the NFL, College football and basketball, MLB, the NBA and entertainment</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 20:54
All taxonomy terms: Tim Tebow, NFL
Path: /nfl/5-questions-surrounding-tebow-0
Body:

There may be no pairing in the history of sports with more explosive potential than New York and Tim Tebow. Not LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Not T.O. and, well, anybody else. Not even Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner.

Take a team struggling to recover from a disappointing season that featured poor play and late-season drama, add in a new backup quarterback with a rock-star following and pour it all into a 24/7 media cycle in the world’s most supercharged city, and you get the potential for an unparalleled spectacle.

But what does it all mean, really? From the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly, Michael Bradley has the answers to some of the more intriguing questions surrounding the Jets-Tebow marriage.

1. Would Tebow have still been the main man in Denver?

It’s possible that the Broncos would have been able to attract better quarterback talent than Caleb Hanie, Adam Weber and draft choice Brock Osweiler to challenge Tebow, had Peyton Manning not chosen Denver as his landing spot. But it wouldn’t have been easy.

The Broncos could have taken a serious run at former Packer backup Matt Flynn, but even though Flynn was great against the Lions last year, he is unproven. Seattle signed him, but the Seahawks guaranteed Flynn a relatively modest $10 million over the three-year duration of his contract and then showed limited faith in the quarterback by drafting Russell Wilson in the third round. The Dolphins, who desperately needed a passer (and ended up selecting Ryan Tannehill in the first round of the draft), low-balled Flynn, demonstrating that the market for a two-time starter might have been soft.

There is no secret that Denver executive John Elway and head coach John Fox were not staunch Tebow supporters, and judging by some of the comments by Broncos in the wake of Tebow’s move to New York, some of his teammates weren’t too thrilled with him, either. But two factors — besides the lack of available challengers — point to Tebow’s being the 2012 starter in Denver, had he stuck around.

First, he did win in 2011. Denver entered the season as a huge long-shot to sniff the playoffs, and the Broncos not only reached the postseason but also did so as the AFC West winner, which guaranteed a divisional round home game. (Denver beat the Steelers in OT on an 80-yard TD pass from Tebow to Demaryius Thomas.) Say what you want about Tebow’s numbers, but he won, and that is the bottom line in the NFL. He would have entered training camp as the starter and would have competed hard to keep his job.

Second, the city loved him. If the Broncos had pushed him aside for Flynn or some other unproven commodity, there might have been an insurrection. And insurrections cost money. Unless Tebow was horrendous in the preseason, he would have started the Sept. 9 rematch against Pittsburgh.

2. Is Tebow merely an insurance policy in New York, or a legitimate option to start?

Tebow may be spouting all the right things about wanting to help the team and that he’ll do whatever he is asked, but make no mistake about it: He wants to start. That’s the best news the Jets could hear, because it might just force Mark Sanchez to step up and become a reliable producer.

Everybody wants to know why the Jets went after Tebow, when Sanchez signed a three-year extension in March. A closer look reveals that while Sanchez will earn a guaranteed $20.5 million in 2012-13, the next three years come in at a modest $12.5 million, making him easy to trade or cut. In other words, if the Jets want to go with Tebow, they can.

But will they? It’s unlikely they’ll do it in the short run, unless Sanchez is absolutely awful. New York is recommitting to the ground game in 2012 (the Jets had 443 rushes in 2011, down from 534 in ’10 and 607 in ’09) and will depend less on Sanchez to make plays. It’s clear Sanchez isn’t the type of passer who can throw for 300 yards every week, so asking him to air it out consistently makes no sense.

Tebow comes to New York to fill a Wildcat role, provide some excitement for a team that must contend with a city rival that won the Super Bowl and remind Sanchez that nobody’s job is safe in the NFL. But he is not in Gotham to replace Sanchez.

Yet.

3. Can a two-quarterback system work in the NFL?

Go ahead and recite the list of teams that have thrived in the NFL with a two-quarterback system.

Maybe you remembered Miami’s “WoodStrock” combination of David Woodley and Don Strock that brought the Fish to Super Bowl XVII. But that was 29 years ago.

Teams that try to make it through a season with two quarterbacks are courting disaster. It’s one thing to have a Wildcat package that throws a changeup at defenses and forces them to prepare for something extra, and quite another to succeed every game without a set starter.
Denver’s decision to jettison Tebow was to avoid any controversy at the quarterback position. Even though Manning is a legend, his recent injury problems have made him susceptible to a slow start. Elway and Fox were not interested in having fans chant for Tebow, nor did they want to start a carousel under center.

Going with both Tebow and Sanchez in anything other than a starter/Wildcat format will do more than just go against historical precedent; it could also mess with Sanchez’s delicate psyche, which has been well documented. If Tebow is going to do anything more than take a few snaps a game at quarterback, the Jets are courting disaster.

4. Pardon the interruption, but how will Tebow’s presence affect the dynamic of the Jets’ locker room?

Last season ended for the Jets with wideout Santonio Holmes nearly getting into a scrap with offensive tackle Wayne Hunter during the finale against Miami, and Holmes and Sanchez sniping at one another — and the Jets’ missing the postseason. The defense feuded with the O. And the Rex Ryan Show, which seemed so fun in 2009 and ’10, appeared to have jumped the shark.

Even though Holmes and Sanchez have been offseason BFFs, going to Knicks’ games together (and getting booed) and working out in Orlando, all it will take is a game or two when the passing attack struggles for that conflagration to reignite. Bringing in a divisive character like Tebow, who can segment a locker room in so many ways (performance, religion, celebrity), can’t be a positive. Even if he becomes a great Wildcat weapon in Tony Sparano’s offense, Tebow could well cause big problems simply by being there.

The Jets’ offense ranked 25th in the NFL last season, and the rededication to the run, coupled with Sparano’s Wildcat musings, is supposed to invigorate things. But a splintered locker room, not to mention an impatient fan base that could turn on Sanchez after his first preseason incompletion, could give Ryan a huge headache. And let’s not forget that Sanchez’s feelings are easily bruised; witness the flap last November when Ryan gave backup Mark Brunell some practice reps with the first team.

The decision to trade for Tebow seems to have come from above, not from Ryan’s mind. He can deal with that. If the Jets need a P.R. boost to fight the Giants’ success, so be it. But if this is a nod to Sparano’s presence on the staff and his need to have a top-flight Wildcatter (hello, jump pass), then that could be worse for Ryan, who will now face an assistant with a little too much power. No matter what, Tebow’s arrival will create more commotion, something Ryan definitely does not need.

5. Bright Lights, Big Drama: How will Tebow respond to New York?

It can be safely assumed that half of New York (and New Jersey and Connecticut) will dislike Tebow, simply because he isn’t a Giant. That’s what happens in a two-team town.
But Tebow’s troubles are likely to be less about his green-and-white uniform and more due to the expected media eruption once he starts playing ball. No matter how crazy things were in Denver, Tebow was still somewhat insulated from the real media furor. That won’t happen in New York, where the convergence of local and national outlets will create a daily avalanche. Already, Big Apple newspapers are discussing assigning individual reporters to cover Tebow and only Tebow, much like what ESPN did in 2010-11 with the Miami Heat. His progress will be charted, dissected and analyzed, and any possible controversy will be celebrated.

Thanks to his strong religious roots, it’s unlikely Tebow will crack under the enormous expectations and start hitting the town with a Namath-like vengeance. The impact of the furor will likely be more subtle and could impact his play, as he tries to live up to the high expectations that will arise. Since he’s the backup quarterback, it’s likely he’ll be pretty popular among the fan base, but should he get onto the field as a starter, either due to injury or Sanchez’s poor play, Tebow will be scrutinized heavily, and if he struggles to produce magic, he will feel the full force of an angry fan base and carnivorous media.

Want more Tebow? Check out Athlon Sports’ exclusive slideshow of the QB through the years.

Teaser:
<p> How Will Tim Tebow and New York Get Along?</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 20:47
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-charlotte
Body:

A happy Memorial Day weekend to all the fantasy NASCAR racers out there. This week it’s the most demanding 600 miles on the schedule, the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The annual tradition dating back to 1960 tests the best of driver, equipment and team. Coming one week after the All-Star Race, the Coke 600 also marks the next phase of the NASCAR season.

Teams have ebbed and flowed thus far over the season, but with a week of practice under their belts on the 1.5-mile speedway in Charlotte, this Sunday’s 600 miles provides an opportunity to make a statement, maintain consistent finishes, or turn a difficult season around before it is too late.

One team that certainly made a statement in Saturday night’s All-Star Race was the No. 48 team of Hendrick Motorsports. Driver Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus knew if they won the first of the five segments, the night would fall into their laps.

Starting from the sixth spot, Johnson was able to make his moves to the front in the first 20-lap segment. After taking the caution flag for the break, it was all about avoiding trouble in the back of the pack and making adjustments to the racecar throughout the night. Restarting in the lead for the final 10-lap segment, Johnson powered out front on the green flag and never looked back.

While the format of the All-Star Race is dramatically different from the one we'll see Sunday afternoon and evening, there are a lot of things that will transfer over. Primarily, the fact the No. 48 is the team to beat.

Coming off an historic 200th career win for Hendrick Motorsports in Darlington, the No. 48 team beat the two-time defending champion No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing pit crew for the 2012 Pit Crew Challenge. That momentum carried over into the All-Star Race, where the 48 Chevrolet was the dominant car on the evening.

Enjoying the extended time in the Charlotte area these past two weeks, Hendrick Motorsports enters the Coca-Cola 600 weekend with a ton of momentum, loads of confidence, and the rest of the field looking up at Johnson.

All told, Johnson has six career wins at Charlotte Motor Speedway, including three consecutive Coca-Cola 600 wins from 2003-05. However, Johnson has not found Victory Lane at Charlotte since 2009.

The win Saturday night gives the No. 48 team confidence heading into Sunday's marathon race, but Johnson knows it will not be easy.

“Even though we won the race, I saw a lot of strong cars tonight,” Johnson said following his third All-Star Race win. “I think track position at the end of the 600 is going to be key. Two or three pit stops from the end, being in the right position, having the right strategy, if it's fuel, two tires, four, none, whatever it might be, that’s going to be key.”

While Johnson will be this week’s fantasy favorite, also keep an eye on a few guys that had solid cars in Saturday's All-Star Race.  

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 14:37
Path: /nascar/oh-brother-where-art-thou
Body:

On Tuesday, Toyota became the latest manufacturer to unveil its 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup racecar. It is the second generation of the Car of Tomorrow, which debuted in the 2007 season to jeers and sneers — that is until Michael McDowell walked away from a head-on impact at 200 mph, tumbling down the three stories of banking and emerging unscathed. Since then, most have been on board with the new car, more so following the early 2010 refresh that saw the spoiler and the splitter going the way of the Convertible Division.

Toyota also confirmed that it has inked extensions to be the engine provider and car make for Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and JTG-Daugherty Racing for the foreseeable future. You can cross out these teams as potential candidates for Dodge, which is scrambling to find a team — and an engine provider — for 2013 and beyond. Toyota, in fact, is poised to add more teams to the fold, though not necessarily more organizations.

“We’re happy with the guys we’ve got,” Toyota Racing Development president Lee White says. “I would hope the economy turns around a little bit and we very easily could get back to eight or nine cars.”

One of the teams that Dodge was rumored to have been interested in was that of Joe Gibbs Racing. Gibbs had fielded Chevrolets and Pontiacs since its arrival in the sport 20 years ago, its first win coming one year after its debut in the 1993 Daytona 500. JGR’s move to Toyota in 2007, in part, set the stage for a departure by then two-time champion Tony Stewart. Stewart’s replacement was a driver who many had predicted would be the next Jeff Gordon: Joey Logano. To date, Logano has one race win in the iconic No. 20 Home Depot machine — compared to five championships by the other big-box home improvement chain retailer, Lowe’s.

It has long been a point of contention with the HD brass that Sliced Bread isn’t exactly cutting the mustard in the results department; cutting the cheese is more like it.

With the manufacturer side of things sealed up for JGR, which no longer has to worry about manning an engine shop with TRD now the sole supplier for all Toyota Cup teams, might Coach and J.D. be looking to test the free agent market for a replacement for their No. 20 machine? After all, it was about a year ago that many had penciled in Carl Edwards to be the heir apparent to the No. 20, but after Ford Motor Company scratched a big check and a ton of stock for Edwards, Logano received a reprieve. Logano currently sits 15th in points, however the No. 20 has finished no better than 16th in points since Stewart jumped ship following the ’08 season.

Following the departure of long-time JGR crew chief Greg Zipadelli to become competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing — while monitoring the progress of Danica Patrick in her limited Cup appearances — the performance of the No. 20 seems to be slowly picking up. But will it improve enough to retain Logano, or will the sponsor wield the whip hand and demand a change be made with one of the available free agent drivers for 2013?

Ryan Newman has been mentioned as a viable candidate for the No. 20 car, which is an ironic choice following his run-in with Logano at Michigan in the August 2010 event. The timing makes a bit of sense as the Senate Armed Services Committee this week added an amendment to next year’s spending bill that would ban all military sponsorship of motorsports — which includes Newman’s US Army affiliation — leaving a sizeable hole to fill at SHR. Would Stewart forsake his friend and fellow Hoosier, Newman, if a supplement to the Army sponsorship does not materialize?

With Patrick waiting in the wings, expecting to announce a full-time 2013 campaign in the Cup Series shortly, it may come down to dollars and common sense. If SHR does not have the funding to prepare a third team for Patrick, the GoDaddy.com colors might only end up on the No. 10 next year, keeping the organization at a two-car level.

That leaves one other option on the table — one that could be deemed “The Nuclear Option.” Kurt Busch.

The stars have aligned seemlessly with this one. Busch is a free agent, serving his penance in post-Penske purgatory, driving on a handshake deal for James Finch’s Phoenix Racing team, an 18-employee independent team that receives cars and engines from Hendrick Motorsports. Think of it as a poor-man’s Stewart Haas Racing. A damn-near-broke man’s Stewart Haas Racing. For the most part, Busch has kept his legendary temper at bay, until a self-inflicted flat tire in the closing laps of the Southern 500 at Darlington dashed any hopes of a top-10 finish.

Might Busch be JGR and Home Depot Toyota material?

Think back to 2011 and the biggest story of the summer stretch: Busch and Jimmie Johnson feuding following some last-lap dicing at Pocono. Busch had been taken out by Johnson at Pocono a year earlier in a vicious backstretch crash, as well as at Sonoma and Chicago in ’09. That sort of anti-48 sentiment might play well with Home Depot, which has been less-than-pleased watching Lowe’s garner the lion’s share of the championships over the last six years. In fact, Smoke’s last two titles bookend those by Johnson, the latter with a different Depot on the hood.

Kurt’s brother Kyle is currently in the No. 18 at Joe Gibbs Racing, and having migrated his Kyle Busch Motorsports team to Nationwide this season, helped his brother out by essentially splitting the schedule with him in his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota — an appropriate sponsor given their struggles with respective inner green-rage monsters.

The matte black Toyotas have been fast, with Kyle narrowly clearing the last-turn pile-up at Daytona before getting hooked into the outside wall, and Kurt capturing the team’s first win at Richmond just a few weeks ago over the other JGR pilot, Denny Hamlin. Hamlin had his own run-in with the No. 48 team two years ago, and chucked his own bottle of water at his No. 11 in frustration following a fuel mileage foul-up at the penultimate race at Phoenix that prevented him from winning his first Cup title. Think back to Busch throwing a bottle of water of his own at the Miller Lite Dodge at Bristol in 2009, when he declared there were 41 other driver’s he’d rather finish second to, rather than that No. 48 car.

Might JGR be the perfect home for Busch — and, more important, Home Depot the ideal sponsor?

HD was more than patient with Stewart during his most volatile and petulant years. The sport had much more attention back then, and though Stewart nearly lost his ride at JGR during a tumultuous 2002 campaign, winning his first Winston Cup title went a long way to cure those ills. This was during a period when Stewart had to be physically restrained from going after NASCAR officials, kicking reporter’s tape recorders under trailers and allegedly pushing a fan. Kyle Busch faced a similar fate last season after turning Ron Hornaday Jr. head-on into the wall during a Truck Series race (albeit in a KBM rig, not Gibbs equipment); NASCAR sat him out for the Sunday Cup race.

It left the younger Busch reeling, wondering if he would even have a job in 2013. Message: delivered. And received.

Kurt went through a similar situation with both Roush and Penske Racing. An incident involving a traffic stop for suspected impaired driving on race weekend in Phoenix in 2005 saw Roush suspend Busch for the final two races of the year, even while being a Chase driver, while the team issued the release that Roush Racing was “done being Kurt Busch’s apologists.” Busch was noticeably moved by the incident, barely holding back legitimate tears when interviewed about it. What followed at Penske Racing were six seasons of salty salutations over the team radio, indicating everyone from the crew chief, engineers and the owner himself, addressing revered team owner Roger Penske not be his well-known nickname, but rather as “Dude.”

The Captain did not abide.

Things came to a head during the 2011 Chase with Busch melting down during driver intros and issuing a terse response to ESPN reporter Jamie Little en route to his car — a car that did not pass tech inspection initially — at Loudon. He followed that up with the now famous YouTube video of Busch being less than cordial with ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch following an early exit at the season finale at Homestead. Actually, everything got off to a poor start as soon as the 2011 Chase began. Following the final race of the regular season at Richmond, Busch went after NASCAR.com reporter Joe Menzer in the garage, slapped away a member of his PR camp, and then got into it with AP writer Jenna Fryer, tearing up a Dodge press release in the media center following a disagreement over a quote about getting inside Jimmie Johnson’s head.

The real question is, could Joe Gibbs get into Kurt’s head the way he has his brother, and the way both Roush and Penske were unable to? There are already signs of cracking on the surface after the incident on pit road at Darlington, as well as a colorful meeting with the press outside of his hauler at Charlotte last week.

This is not meant to pick apart Busch with the well-documented history of a short temper and manic outbursts. He remains a championship-winning (and contending) driver, who clearly gets more out of the equipment than virtually anyone else in the series — short of his brother. His one step forward/two-steps back anger management program seems to stall out every few months, and the new dynamic of a smaller team this season was to be an audition to prove to the racing world that he is a changed man, not the acid-tongued driver on the verge of meltdown.

His Nationwide ride with KBM has provided him with some brotherly love and proved that he’s still a race winner — not that it was ever really in doubt. Could a partnership with Gibbs, an owner well known for being both a man of faith and having the patience of a saint, provide Kurt with just the place to be born again?

It very well might be the type of environment that he needs to get back to the form that saw him win the first Chase in 2004.

Now if only the sponsor would sign on …


by Vito Pugliese
Follow Vito on Twitter:
@VitoPugliese 

Teaser:
<p>  </p> <p class="p1"> As Kurt Busch works to rebuild his image and NASCAR Sprint Cup career, there may be an opening with a team and a sponsor that helps him come full-circle.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 13:18
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-georgia-no-8-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

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

To celebrate the Georgia Bulldogs being named No. 8, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs continue the countdown at No. 8 with two preseason All-Americans and nine players selected as All-SEC performers. Athlon Sports predicts Georgia will finish first in the SEC’s Eastern Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Heisman candidate Aaron Murray and one of the best defenses in the nation will lead the Bulldogs this season,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “As long as the running game is sound, Georgia will be the team to beat in the SEC East.”

Two Georgia standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with linebacker Jarvis Jones being voted to the first team and defensive back Bacarri Rambo to the third team. In addition, the UGA linebackers unit was ranked No. 1 nationally. The quarterbacks unit was rated No. 4 in the country and best in the SEC. The defensive line was tabbed No. 7 in the nation, while the wide receivers unit was voted No. 8 in the country.

Nine Bulldogs earned preseason All-SEC honors, including Jones, Rambo and quarterback Aaron Murray on the first team. Running back Isaiah Crowell, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, offensive lineman Chris Burnette, defensive lineman Abry Jones, linebacker Alec Ogletree and defensive back Shawn Williams garnered third-team honors.

Georgia Team Preview

Georgia's Top 10 Players of 2012

Georgia’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> <strong><span>Athlon Sports Names Georgia No. 8 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></strong></p>
Post date: Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 09:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Georgia Bulldogs, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/georgia-bulldogs-2012-team-predictions-0
Body:

The Georgia Bulldogs check in at No. 8 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: QB Aaron Murray
Last season Murray posted his second-straight 3,000-yard campaign, while setting the Georgia single-season record for touchdown passes (35) and touchdown responsibility (37). The junior was a second-team All-SEC selection as he finished second in the conference in passing yards and fifth in passing efficiency. Murray is already third on Georgia’s career touchdown passes list with 59 and fifth in total offense. He needs just 14 touchdown passes in 2012 to break David Greene’s career mark for touchdown passes and another 3,000-yard season would place him third all-time in Bulldogs’ history in total offense. If Murray needs to improve in any area, it would be to cut down on his interceptions. Besides leading the SEC in touchdown passes in 2011 by a wide margin (Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson was second with 24), he also led the conference in interceptions with 14.

Upset Alert: at Missouri (Sept. 8)
Missouri would like nothing better than to beat Georgia in its first game as a member of the SEC. It’s the second game on both team’s schedules and a win for the Tigers would not only serve as “proof” that they belong in the SEC, but it also would give them an early leg up on the Bulldogs in the East Division standings. The Georgia defense will be missing a few key players in its secondary due to suspension, so Missouri’s offense, which ranked No. 12 in the country in 2011, is not the ideal opponent to face. It also doesn’t hurt the Tigers’ chances that the game is in Columbia. Since 2005, Missouri is 35-8 at Memorial Stadium under Gary Pinkel, and the Tigers are 11-1 at home over the last two seasons.

Revenge Game: at South Carolina (Oct. 6)
Georgia went into last season’s game against South Carolina coming off of a disappointing opening loss to Boise State in the Georgia Dome. The Gamecocks then proceeded to add to the Bulldogs’ misery by capitalizing on three turnovers in a 45-42 win in Sanford Stadium. The back-to-back losses had everyone talking about head coach Mark Richt’s job security. Fortunately for Richt, those conversations stopped after the team rolled off 10 straight wins to capture the SEC East crown and a trip to the SEC Championship Game. Still, Richt and the rest of the Bulldogs remember all too well how last season’s meeting was decided and would like to return the favor to the Gamecocks on their home turf the first weekend in October. If the Bulldogs want to leave Columbia with a win, the defense will need to do a much better job against the run. In last season’s contest, South Carolina rushed for 253 yards, 176 of those courtesy of Marcus Lattimore, which was the most Georgia gave up in a game in 2011.

Trap Game: vs. Georgia Tech (Nov. 24)
Unless Georgia Tech emerges as the top team in the ACC’s Coastal Division, Georgia will have more on the line by the time the two in-state rivals meet up Thanksgiving weekend. If all goes according to plan, Georgia will head into this contest knowing that it has another game the following Saturday – the SEC Championship. If that’s the case, then the Bulldogs’ BCS fate will be decided by the outcome of their next game and not this one against the Yellow Jackets. However, there’s also the possibility that Georgia could head into the SEC title game undefeated or with just one loss. Under that scenario, the Bulldogs would not be able to afford a loss to Georgia Tech if they wanted to even remain in the national title discussion headed into the SEC Championship Game. A Yellow Jackets’ win under these circumstances would be the epitome of a “stinging” loss for Georgia fans, no?

Biggest Game AND Season-Defining Moment: SEC Championship (Dec. 1)
If all goes according to plan this fall, Georgia should come out on top in the SEC East and make a second straight trip to the conference championship game. If that happens, the Bulldogs will be presented with a golden opportunity to put the struggles of 2009 and ’10 and the disappointing end to the ’11 campaign behind them if they are able to knock off the best of the SEC West, presumably LSU or Alabama. Besides defeating one of the nation’s top teams and being crowned as the champion of the nation’s toughest conference, Georgia would secure no worse than its first BCS bowl invitation since the 2007 season. In fact, if everything were to fall into place (see Trap Game), a win in the SEC Championship Game could potentially result in Georgia getting the opportunity to win its first national title since 1980.

Defensive MVP: LB Jarvis Jones
Jones had to sit out the 2010 season following his transfer from USC. If his 2011 campaign is any indication, he was well worth the wait. In his first season at Georgia, Jones wreaked havoc on the SEC as he became the school’s first position player to be named a consensus All-American since 2005. Jones also was a Butkus Award finalist who led the SEC and finished fifth in the nation in sacks per game, while also leading the conference in tackles for loss (16th nationally). Jones’ total of 13.5 sacks in 2011 was a half-sack shy of David Pollack’s school single-season record of 14, which he set in 2002.  And he did all of this as a sophomore. The good news for the rest of the SEC is chances are he will only be around for one more season, as he considered leaving early for the NFL this year. The bad news is he will be around for one more season.

Unsung Hero: DE Abry Jones
Georgia’s other Jones went from a part-time starter in 2010 to a full-time starter in 2011 and certainly produced like one. The senior posted career bests across the board last season, finishing with 48 tackles (28 solo), seven tackles for loss, four sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble. At the conclusion of the season, Jones was named one of the recipients of the team’s Most Improved Player Awards on the defense. Jones’ presence on the defensive line and his production from his defensive end position was one of the reasons why the Bulldogs finished fifth in the nation in total defense and 11th in rushing defense in 2011.

Newcomer to Watch: TE Jay Rome
Rome has seen more action on the basketball court rather than the football field to this point, but that figures to change this season for the redshirt freshman. Rome played in seven games for Georgia’s basketball team last season, during which he scored a total of two points, pulled down seven rebounds and two steals in 17 minutes of court action. The production coaches are hoping for this fall is in terms of catches, yards and, hopefully, touchdowns as Rome and junior Arthur Lynch will get the first crack at replacing the production of Orson Charles. Charles, who earned first-team All-SEC honors and tied for second on the team with 45 catches and five touchdown receptions in 2011, was Georgia’s lone early entry into this year’s NFL Draft. The Cincinnati Bengals took Charles in the fourth round and now quarterback Aaron Murray is hoping Rome or Lynch will be able to develop into a reliable target in the Bulldogs’ passing game. Lynch may have more experience than Rome, but he has caught a total of two passes in his two previous seasons, whereas Rome was a highly regarded in-state tight end prospect coming out of Valdosta High School. Perhaps as a sign of things to come, Rome hauled in a 66-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Christian LeMay in the spring game.

Comeback Player: OL Kolton Houston
Houston sat out last year due to NCAA “eligibility issues” and entered spring practice fighting for playing time at one of the guard positions on Georgia’s revamped offensive line. By the end of spring practice, however, the sophomore from Buford, Ga., was the starter at right tackle. Offensive line coach Will Friend apparently saw enough from the former Under Armour All-American to not only switch him from guard to tackle, but to also tab him as the presumptive starter headed into fall practice. Whether Houston is able to retain the starting assignment by the time Georgia opens its 2012 season against Buffalo on Sept. 1 remains to be seen. However, given the fact that the Bulldogs are looking to replace three starters, all of whom were taken in this year’s NFL Draft, the opportunity is clearly there for someone to emerge and lay claim to one of these jobs. And it appears Houston is already on his way to doing just that.

Freshman to Watch I: RB Keith Marshall
Even though Georgia is returning four of its top five rushers from last season, led by reigning SEC Freshman of the Year Isaiah Crowell (850 yards rushing, five TDs), don’t be surprised if Marshall gets his share of touches before the 2012 season is finished. Marshall was one of the top running back prospects in the nation coming out of Millbrook High School in Raleigh, N.C. He enrolled in January to participate in spring practice, but suffered a hamstring injury that limited his involvement and kept him from participating in the spring game. However, Marshall, who rushed for 1,891 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior, still figures to be a part of what should be a spirited competition once fall practice begins. Besides Marshall and Crowell, others vying for carries in the Bulldogs’ backfield in 2012 include senior Richard Samuel, junior Brandon Harton, sophomore Ken Malcome and incoming freshman Todd Gurley. Gurley, like Marshall, is also a highly regarded recruit from North Carolina, and it was actually Marshall who helped convince Gurley to sign with Georgia.

Freshman to Watch II: LB Josh Harvey-Clemons
Georgia’s top recruit on the defensive side, Harvey-Clemons was rated one of the top linebacker prospects in the nation and one of the top players in Georgia after starring at Lowndes High School in Valdosta. The Bulldogs are in great shape at linebacker with All-American Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Christian Robinson and others, but the coaching staff is already thinking of ways to get Harvey-Clemons on the field, despite the fact that he hasn’t even arrived on campus yet. There has already been talk that the talented freshman will see time at both linebacker and safety on defense, and perhaps even make an appearance on offense lined up as a tight end or receiver, especially once the Bulldogs are in the red zone.

Position to Watch: Offensive Line
Georgia saw three offensive linemen — Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson — taken in April’s NFL Draft, which means there will be several new faces along the line come this fall. Combined those three made 125 starts for the Bulldogs, meaning quarterback Aaron Murray and the running game will be relying on a relatively inexperienced unit in 2012.

The returning starters are juniors Chris Burnette (right guard) and Kenarious Gates (left tackle). After that is where things get interesting as evident by the fact that sophomore Kolton Houston, who missed all of last season due to “eligibility issues,” is currently penciled in as the starter at right tackle. Another sophomore, David Andrews appears to have an early hold on the starting assignment at center.

There is no lack of candidates for the final spot, left guard, including juniors Austin Long and Dallas Lee and sophomores Mark Beard and Watts Dantzler. There’s also incoming freshman John Theus, the No. 2 offensive lineman prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports.

Whoever the starting five end up being come Georgia’s Sept. 1 opener against Buffalo, the coaching staff is hoping that it’s a unit that can come together and do its part to help the Bulldogs reach their goals for the 2012 season, namely a SEC championship.

Related Georgia Content

Georgia Bulldogs 2012 Team Preview
Georgia Bulldogs' Top 10 Players for 2012

Can Georgia Win the SEC Title in 2012?

Georgia Bulldogs' Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Georgia Football History

Georgia Bulldogs Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Georgia Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Georgia Bulldogs 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 05:51
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Georgia Bulldogs, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/georgia-football-can-bulldogs-win-sec-title-2012
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 8 Georgia. The Bulldogs are the defending SEC East champions and return quarterback Aaron Murray and one of the conference's best defenses. However, Georgia must replace a couple of key players on the offensive line, along with navigating suspensions in the secondary.

Can Georgia Win the SEC Title in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Optimism sure runs high in May. I believe I’ve talked myself into at least five teams with a chance to win the SEC if everything breaks right. Deep down, I know it’s going to be LSU, Alabama or possibly South Carolina. So here’s the case for Georgia anyway: The defense led by Jarvis Jones and Bacarri Rambo will be nasty, but I’d like to see how Georgia holds up against teams like Florida and Tennessee playing a little closer to form on the offensive side of the ball. Georgia even faced Vanderbilt before the Commodores fully committed to quarterback Jordan Rodgers. On offense, Aaron Murray could be the SEC’s top quarterback if he can cut down on his 14 picks. Despite Isaiah Crowell’s issues last season, he still managed to rush for 850 yards as a freshman. And of course, you have to love that schedule. The SEC West offers up Ole Miss and Auburn. Georgia took advantage of the lucky schedule last year, using wins over Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn to clinch the East while South Carolina went undefeated against the division. If Georgia can win the East, sure, I’ll give the Bulldogs a shot to defeat the West champion in Atlanta, despite what LSU did to Georgia in the second half of last year’s SEC title game. Here’s the case against Georgia: South Carolina may be the better team, and the Gamecocks face Georgia in Columbia. The Bulldogs’ SEC opener at Missouri for the Tigers’ first game as a member of the new league is worrisome, too. James Franklin, the quarterback not the coach, can throw the ball around, and he’ll do it against secondary hindered by suspensions, including Rambo. By Oct. 6, Georgia could be facing two losses – Missouri and South Carolina on the road. That might be enough to take a good Georgia team out of the race.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The SEC East in 2012 feels nearly as wide open as it has been the last years. I fully expect South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee to be improved from a year ago. The league has added Missouri (and for some, Texas A&M) to the schedules in the East. And Vanderbilt should be as good — at least, on offense. The new landscape in the SEC East makes it only that much more tenuous a hold on the division for the Georgia Bulldogs. Especially, considering the losses along the offensive line and the pending suspensions on defense. So CAN the Dawgs win the East? Most assuredly. But WILL they?

Let's start with the good. This team claims arguably the top quarterback in the league in Aaron Murray, who lapped the SEC field statistically (with the exception of Tyler Wilson) a year ago. They have a deep and electric skill corps that boasts elite talents at running back and wide receiver. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has one of the nation's stingiest defensive units and arguably the top front seven in the East — a bold statement considering the talent at South Carolina and Florida up front. The Dawgs also get some fortuitous scheduling as LSU, Alabama and Arkansas are notably absent from the slate (again) this year. Meanwhile, chief contender South Carolina visits LSU and hosts the Hogs. Last but certainly not least, Georgia is the defending champion. There is little that can take the place of championship experience.

Now, for the bad. The offensive line is a mess. There is plenty of talent, but this group has to gel quickly after its top three blockers moved on from Athens. Running the football and protecting Murray against some of the nation's top D-Lines could prove to be difficult this fall. This team must also deal with a big chunk of the early schedule — which includes a key road trip to Mizzou in Week 2 — without most of its talented defenders. Many of the suspended names — Ogletree, Rambo, Smith, etc — should be around for the heart of the SEC schedule, but there is little depth in the defensive backfield. Should anything else go wrong, on or off the field, it could spell doom for the Dawgs back-seven. Georgia is also the 'hunted' now as the defending champs and will need to face heightened expectations the likes haven't existed in Athens since 2007. And frankly, I believe that, by a razor's edge, South Carolina is the better overall football team.

WIth such heavy scheduling disparity, it is hard to count more losses for UGA than for South Carolina. And while the Dawgs likely won't have to go into Columbia and win to repeat as division champs, it might have to win every other game. For now, I am picking the Georgia Bulldogs to win the East — almost by default — but their grasp upon the SEC East crown is slippery at best.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think the gap between the top of the SEC East and West Divisions has closed, but still think Georgia will have a tough time knocking off Alabama or LSU in Atlanta this season.  

The Bulldogs return one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks in Aaron Murray, who is primed for his best season after setting a school record with 35 touchdown tosses last year. Murray will be throwing to a deep group of receivers, but the offense will need to find a replacement for tight end Orson Charles. The rushing attack should be better this year, as Isaiah Crowell is healthy, and freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley arrive to inject some depth and talent into the backfield. The biggest question mark will be an offensive line that has to replace stalwarts Cordy Glenn (left tackle) and Ben Jones (center). Three starters are back, but losing an All-SEC left tackle and center won’t be easy to replace.

Nine starters are back on defense, and this unit should rank near the top of the SEC. The linebacking corps could be the nation's best, especially with the return of All-American Jarvis Jones. However, the secondary could be an issue early in the year – especially against Missouri on Sept. 8 – as starters Bacarri Rambo and Sanders Commings are suspended. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell spent the spring practicing at cornerback and will have to play on both sides of the ball at least through the first four games of the season.

Georgia’s schedule is very favorable, which should allow it to edge South Carolina for the SEC East title. The Bulldogs do not have to play LSU, Alabama and Arkansas, but must matchup against Missouri, Auburn and South Carolina on the road. If Georgia can successfully fill the voids on the offensive line, this team will have a chance to beat Alabama or LSU in the SEC title game. Helping the Bulldogs' case to win the SEC is the line will have 12 games to jell before the conference title game. However, while the gap has closed, the power of the SEC is still tilted in favor of the West. 

Mark Ross
I think Georgia is just as capable of winning the SEC this year as any team coming from the West. The Bulldogs should be pretty strong on offense led by quarterback Aaron Murray, it's just a matter of figuring out a crowded backfield and seeing if an inexperienced offensive line can come together.

The defense also should be fairly stout, provided their best players stay on the field. Three starters in the secondary, most notably All-American safety Baccari Rambo, along with a starting linebacker, already have been suspended for at least one game this fall. Georgia should be fine without these guys for the short term, but the team can't afford many personnel losses of this type if it wants to contend for the conference title.

As far as the SEC East goes, Georgia's toughest opposition should come from South Carolina. If the Bulldogs can go to Columbia on Oct. 6 and take care of business, the path to the division crown and a spot in the SEC Championship Game should be pretty clear, especially since the Bulldogs don't have to play Alabama, Arkansas or LSU from the West.

Speaking of those three, should Georgia win the SEC East, then chances are the Bulldogs will play one of those three for the SEC title on Dec. 1 in Atlanta. These three have question marks of their own — Alabama lost a lot on offense (Trent Richardson) and defense (just four starters return), Arkansas has had to deal with former head coach Bobby Petrino's unexpected dismissal, and LSU will have a new quarterback among a total of 11 new starters on both sides of the ball — so it could come down to which team has the most answers come that Saturday in December.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Bulldogs can definitely win a league title with the tried-and-true formula of a stingy defense and top quarterback, but I do believe there is still a gap between UGA and the top two teams in the Western division — LSU and Alabama. The Dawgs defense can play with anyone, and there is a ton of skill on offense because Mark Richt and staff have recruited so well. The difference between the Bulldogs and the Tigers and Tide this season looks like the offensive line. UGA lost three starters in NFL draftees Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson, and the unit’s development this year will hold the key to the season.

Todd Grantham’s bunch ranked fifth nationally in total defense in 2011, and this year’s group — led by the best linebackers unit in the country — could be even better. The defense should keep Georgia in every game. Aaron Murray tossed 35 touchdowns a year ago, but he still tends to have some lapses in play against tougher opponents. The junior quarterback will have plenty of weapons with promising runner Isaiah Crowell and a solid set of receivers. The Bulldogs have an easier league schedule than fellow East favorite South Carolina, so a repeat trip to Atlanta in December is likely. UGA has the defense and overall roster to win the nation’s toughest league, but I’ll say the favorite still lies in the West.

Related Georgia Content

Georgia Bulldogs 2012 Team Preview
Georgia Bulldogs' Top 10 Players for 2012

Georgia Bulldogs 2012 Team Predictions
Georgia Bulldogs' Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Georgia Football History

Georgia Bulldogs Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Georgia Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Can Georgia Win the SEC Title in 2012?</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 05:50
All taxonomy terms: College Football, jokes
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-georgia-rivals
Body:

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

• What's the difference between a Georgia Tech football player and a dollar?
You can get four quarters out of a dollar.

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

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

• How many Florida freshmen does it take to change a light bulb?
None. That’s a sophomore course.

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

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

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

• How do you get a Florida graduate off your front porch?
You pay for the pizza.

• The Foo Fighters are playing at Bobby Dodd Stadium this fall.
They're 10-point favorites.

• You know you’re from Florida if:
You’ve ever climbed a water tower with a bucket of paint to defend your sister’s honor.

Teaser:
<p> Jokes About Georgia Rivals</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 02:04
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-weekend-rundown-may-24-0
Body:

Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2012 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire every Monday and a Weekend Rundown every Thursday.

Should I stay or should I go?

One of the most difficult decisions that fantasy managers face each season is what to do with a top draft pick who is underperforming. Patience can pay off through a bad April, but sometimes players just never come around. Here are eight tough calls:

Albert Pujols – Los Angeles Angels
Obviously this has been the most talked-about slump in MLB history. You know the pain (.213, 4 HR, .589 OPS) if you own King, Prince, Duke, Dogcatcher Albert, but you also know the past greatness. After 58 games in 2011, he was hitting .265 with nine homers. Pujols hit .320 with 28 long balls the rest of the way. Stay patient.

Mark Teixeira – New York Yankees
Much like Pujols, there is enough past accomplishment to stay with Tex. You knew at draft time that the first four to six weeks would be a grind. His batting average may never go north of .260, but the homers and RBIs should increase for Teixeira as the summer continues. 

Eric Hosmer – Kansas City Royals
It’s probably time (or it was three weeks ago) to give up here unless there are keeper/dynasty factors. Hosmer showed a lot last season with 19 home runs and a .293 average, but there is not enough of a track record to suffer this long with a .191-hitting first baseman. In 1,006 minor-league at-bats, he hit 29 dingers.

Rickie Weeks – Milwaukee Brewers
The hope here is that you dropped him a few weeks ago, but go ahead and get that .155 average out of your lineup. Weeks peaked in 2010 with 29 homers and 83 RBIs, but those numbers are looking more like outliers as time goes on. In only 155 at-bats this season, he has struck out a league-leading 58 times.

Alex Rodriguez – New York Yankees
As last year showed us, A-Rod is just never going to approach his past greatness. But with the rash of injured third basemen (Longoria, Sandoval, Youkilis, Zimmerman, etc.) this season, Rodriguez is still a solid producer at the position. Just get that average season in New York from 2004-10 (.296, 38 HR, 120 RBIs) out of your head.

Ryan Zimmerman – Washington Nationals
He showed major potential in 2009-10 but has been injured and ineffective since. The Nationals ownership obviously feels Zimmerman will turn it around with the franchise-player contract they gave him this offseason, but fantasy owners may not see those 2009 results (or even 550 at-bats) again. There is more bark than bite here.

Jimmy Rollins – Philadelphia Phillies
The Phils’ shortstop looks to be in major decline. The signs have been there for the past few seasons, but his usually-solid power for a SS has disappeared (one home run in 166 ABs). You never expected a high average with Rollins, but .229 with a below-.300 OBP is going to hurt his stolen base totals as well. Find another solution.

Howie Kendrick – Los Angeles Angels
The power tease of last season (18 home runs) has already faded somewhat this year, and the .256 average has fantasy owners frustrated once again. The batting average should come around (.292 career hitter from 2006-11) when the Angels get going as a lineup. You’ve probably heard this with Kendrick before, but stay patient here.
 

Youthful Exuberance

There is nothing in fantasy baseball like having a stud prospect join your lineup in the middle of the year and produce like an All-Star. Here’s a look at a six-pack of prospects (three currently in the bigs and three in the minors) who could help your club.

Matt Adams – St. Louis Cardinals
With the injuries to Lance Berkman and Allen Craig, the champs have installed the husky Adams at first base. The former Slippery Rock slugger hit .300 or better in all four of his minor-league seasons, while clubbing 32 homers last year and nine in 141 at-bats this season. Adams should produce in a solid lineup and be a crowd favorite.

Will Middlebrooks – Boston Red Sox
The BoSox third baseman has done nothing but produce since Kevin Youkilis went on the DL. Middlebrooks has the stat line of a big-time fantasy starter (.296/.889 with five home runs and 17 RBIs in only 81 at-bats), and Boston would be nuts to take him out of the lineup. Even if that happens with Youk back, hold on to this solid third sacker.

Josh Bell – Arizona Diamondbacks
The former big-time Orioles prospect has seen his expectations fade over the last couple of years. Now in the desert, Bell may just have needed a change of scenery to bring out his potential. In Triple-A Reno, he hit .381 with 30 RBIs in just 26 games. The D-backs are giving him a shot at third, so keep your eyes on his progress.

Trevor Bauer – Arizona Diamondbacks
The third-overall pick in last summer’s draft is on the fast track to the bigs. After dominating Double-A hitters (7-1, 1.68 ERA, 60 Ks in 48.1 IP) to start this season, he has a 1.38 ERA and 16 Ks in 13 IP in his first two Triple-A starts. Arizona may not need him immediately, but Bauer’s talent will have him there soon enough.

Wil Myers – Kansas City Royals
Much like Bauer, Myers began this season by starring in Double-A (.343, 13 HRs, 30 RBIs, 1.146 OPS in 35 games). He’s now moved to Triple-A Omaha and has a .417 average with two home runs in first seven games. With the struggles of the Royals, the 21-year-old could be in K.C. soon.

Anthony Rizzo – Chicago Cubs
He had a rough MLB debut in San Diego last year, but Rizzo is crushing Triple-A pitching again this season. In 44 games at Iowa, Rizzo is hitting .355 with 16 homers, 43 RBIs and an OPS of 1.130. Despite a great April by Bryan LaHair, Rizzo is the Cubs future at first base. Look for him to arrive at the Friendly Confines in June.

Weekend Series to Watch

Tampa Bay at Boston
The Red Sox have been hot lately, and they have won four of six over the Rays this season after struggling against Joe Maddon’s bunch the last two years. The Josh Beckett-David Price matchup on Saturday will be worth the high Fenway admission.

Washington at Atlanta
The Nationals have the only ERA below three (2.90) in all of baseball, while the Braves have scored the second-most runs in the National League. Atlanta had been hot until the trip to Cincinnati this week, while the Nats are still looking for any offense. This will be the first matchup of the season for the NL East rivals.

Philadelphia at St. Louis
This NLDS rematch will see two big-time organizations just looking for some healthy players these days. The Phils have struggled mightily for offense outside of catcher Carlos Ruiz, and the Cards seem to be suffering injuries on a daily basis. The Halladay-Wainwright duel on Sunday should have a postseason feel.
 

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Weekend Rundown</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 21:02
Path: /mlb/best-rookie-baseball-bryce-harper-or-mike-trout
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Mike Trout or Bryce Harper?

Proposing the question to most casual fans as to who the top rookie in baseball is this season, most answers will include Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals, either at the top or near the top of their lists.

If you watch the baseball highlight shows, you know Harper has a cannon arm, swings a powerful bat from the left side, has tremendous speed and is daring on the basepaths, enough so his first major league stolen base was a steal of home off the Phillies’ Cole Hamels, as the lefthander was throwing to first. Whether it’s throwing or running (or even losing a fly ball in the lights), the 19-year-old phenom has been a lead part of the highlights many nights. The media throng for his major league debut in Los Angeles against the Dodgers was unreal.

But there’s a 20-year-old outfielder on the other coast who is upstaging the Nats’ rising star. Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels made his debut last season as a teenager and didn’t have great success, but wasn’t exactly overmatched either. And after a strong start at Triple-A this season, Trout was recalled the day before Harper made his ballyhooed debut. But Trout’s recall was quickly and easily buried by Harper’s debut.

Sometimes the substance of a good steak gets lost in the sizzle on another plate. Trout’s substantive exploits on the West Coast have been overshadowed by Harper’s sizzle on the East Coast. And it’s understandable given fans’ thirst for the spectacular. A Bryce Harper pop out in his debut somehow seems more exciting than an RBI double off the wall by a 20-year-old in his second season.

Teaser:
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Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 16:46
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-8
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Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council don’t hold back on their opinions but the comments this week were as sharp and direct as they have ever been. They also weren’t afraid to express their opinions about their fellow fans — good and bad.

Fan Council members had a lot to discuss this week. They were asked about how much input they feel they have in creating change in NASCAR. They also were asked about the fan videos used to introduce drivers before last week’s All-Star Race, and they were asked about that race and the final segment. 

Here’s what members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council said about those issues.


HOW MUCH INPUT DO YOU FEEL FANS HAVE IN AFFECTING CHANGE IN NASCAR?

45.8 percent said Just Right
27.8 percent said Too Much
26.3 percent said Not Enough

What Fan Council members said:
• Hard to say. But I feel like fans are never satisfied and complain so much that NASCAR is constantly changing things and is losing its credibility that way. I understand they want to please the fans, but no other sport is that reactive to the fans. I’m really not sure if it’s a good or bad thing. I will say that NASCAR has the biggest crybaby fans! Suck it up and enjoy the racing in front of you. It’s fantastic what these drivers are doing. So spoiled.

• NASCAR does a great job — heck, they change rules mid-season to tweak things. What other sport does that? NASCAR fans have such a diverse opinion on a wide variety of topics — someone will always be happy or unhappy with SOMETHING. We are a high maintenance vocal group!

• Why is it I feel like NASCAR is listening to the wrong “fans”?

• I think NASCAR listens. When I first became a fan, it seemed as though they didn’t care about what they heard. Now, five years later, I have a different impression.

• I wonder, if NASCAR REALLY listened to the fans, if we would still have “the Chase” and the Top 35 rule?

• I feel between the Fan Council and Twitter, there are plenty of avenues to reach NASCAR with questions and concerns. I know they do listen to what they are hearing.

• We are spectators. I do not feel like we need any input as to how the business known as NASCAR is run. It really upsets me when I hear people say that there need to be changes because they are not “entertained.”

• NASCAR/Brian France is incredibly stubborn when it comes to listening to the fans. They have been waging war on us fans this year, saying we’re not fans if we like crashes; saying we’re needy if we want to see the debris that causes debris cautions. They are doing a great job at making people less interested in our sport.

• It’s important to keep the fans happy, but I think NASCAR has gone too far giving so much control to the fans. Fans don’t understand everything it takes to run this show. Some of their requests are ridiculous.

• Most fans are knowledgeable and have good ideas. NASCAR should listen to them more.

• It’s disconcerting to me that NASCAR is very quick to make adjustments based on fans’ complaints. From my experience, a lot of fans are biased and largely uninformed. I do not think that watching every race necessarily means you know enough to affect change.


GRADE SATURDAY NIGHT’S ALL-STAR RACE

43.9 percent called it Good
25.8 percent called it Great
19.9 percent called it Fair
10.4 percent called it Poor

What Fan Council members said:
• The first 80 laps were awesome. I was at the race and for those first 80 laps we got to cheer drivers who were driving their asses off and putting on a good race. But as someone who was actually rooting for the 48 at the beginning of the race, the way they won it left me completely disappointed. I get it was perfectly legal, and I get it in points racing, but for the All-Star? You can’t be bothered to race for the whole 90 laps? I’ll be finding someone else to root for next week.

• It was the best All-Star Race that I’ve seen in years. The 10-lap shootout was a little disappointing, but the rest of the segments were action-packed. There was racing going on all over the track at once — that is awesome.

• Stupid! Someone should have realized that the tactic of riding around in the back would come into play. Plus having the option for a stop-and-go only for the final pit stop — who’s dumb idea was that?

• The 20-lap segments were awesome. I just wish the last 10 was more exciting. It was a letdown after so much great racing

• Jimmie Johnson said they KNEW if they won the first segment, they had it in the bag. Really? Then why should we bother watching it? I’m pissed I wasted a Saturday night on that lame show. Jimmie Johnson may have won the million, but he can’t possibly be proud of the way he won that race. Way to go NASCAR.

• The racing itself was great, but I recommend an incentive for the segment winners to stay in the racing action. Say must finish top-10 each segment or they lose the advantage of pitting 1-4 before final segment. 

• IMO part of the fun of the All-Star Race is seeing what strategies teams will use to try to win. And to those fans complaining about Jimmie (or Matt or Brad, who employed the same strategy once they won their segments) laying back (they were being smart staying out of trouble and at the same time adjusting their cars) during the middle segments a reminder of one of racing’s rules: To finish first, first you must finish, and Jimmie made sure he was going to be there at the end to finish.

• I finally saw drivers really racing for once. And even doing it without wrecking!

• This was the BEST RACE of the season. It had a little of everything and the drivers seemed to drive hard each and every lap.

• Too much sandbagging by the winners of segments 1-3. It’s NOT strategy, it’s sandbagging, which I abhor.


IS 10 LAPS THE PROPER LENGTH FOR THE FINAL SEGMENT OF THE ALL-STAR RACE?

59.4 percent said No
40.6 percent said Yes

What Fan Council members said:
• It’s not a shootout if its longer. We certainly don’t need another segment. If they change this, they’ll have to tweak everything else too.

• I think it should be 20 laps just like all the other segments.

• I suggest a full fuel run for the final segment or at least 25 laps.

• If you’re not in a position to do it in 10 laps ... ya ain't gonna do it.

• I think 10 laps keep fans more interested since drivers will be racing hard for all 10 laps instead of driving conservatively for 20-40 laps.

• Three segments of 30 laps each would be good. Why do you need a 10-lap shootout? Makes no sense. Most of the cars are just getting dialed in good on a restart at 10 laps. Make it at least 20.

• Johnson’s car was so fast I don’t know if 20 laps would have made a difference.
 

Teaser:
<p> The Backseat Drivers Fan Council weighs in on the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race from Charlotte Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 10:38
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-florida-state-no-9-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
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Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, continues the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at www.athlonsports.com. The countdown commences every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To celebrate the Florida State Seminoles being named No. 9, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Jimbo Fisher’s Florida State Seminoles continue the countdown at No. 9 with three preseason All-Americans and 11 players selected as All-ACC performers. Athlon Sports predicts Florida State will finish first in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“The Seminoles return a stingy defense that was playing elite football at the end of last season,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “If the young weapons continue to develop around veteran quarterback EJ Manuel, Florida State will be the favorite to win the ACC.”

Three Florida State standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with punt returner Greg Reid being voted to the second team and defensive lineman Brandon Jenkins and kicker Dustin Hopkins making the third team. In addition, the FSU defensive line was ranked No. 2 nationally and best in the ACC. The secondary was rated No. 3 in the country and tops in the conference, while the wide receivers unit was tabbed No. 7 in the nation.

Eleven Seminoles earned preseason All-ACC honors, including Jenkins, Hopkins, defensive back Lamarcus Joyner and Reid at punt returner on the first team. Wide receiver Rashad Greene, tight end Nick O’Leary, defensive lineman Bjoern Werner and defensive backs Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid were named to the second team, while quarterback EJ Manuel, defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan and linebacker Christian Jones garnered third-team honors.

Florida State Team Preview

Florida State's Top 10 Players of 2012

Florida State’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> <strong><span>Athlon Sports Names Florida State No. 9 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></strong></p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 10:15
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Overtime
Path: /mlb/tony-campanas-awesome-hurtle-miss-tag-gif
Body:

The Chicago Cubs' Tony Campana put on quite a base-running display yesterday against the Astros. While heading to third, Campana, a pinch runner, dove over Matt Downs to reach third base safely. It was awesome, as you can see below from two different angles.

 

Teaser:
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Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 08:35
Path: /college-football/ranking-college-footballs-top-25-coaches
Body:

Ranking the coaches in any college football conference is a difficult task. Many factors play into just how successful a coach is at any school. How well are the assistants paid? Are the facilities up to par with the rest of the conference? Can the coach recruit or is he more of an x's and o's manager? Are there off-the-field or age issues to take into consideration? Has a coach built a program or continued the success from a previous coach? How is the resume outside of their current position? These questions and more were posed to the editors at Athlon Sports, as they were asked to rank the coaches of each of the six BCS conferences. One thing to keep in mind - the record is not always indicative of where a coach should rank in a conference or nationally among the top 25. 

Ranking the Coaches: ACC
Ranking the Coaches: Big East
Ranking the Coaches: Pac-12
Ranking the Coaches: Big 12
Ranking the Coaches: Big Ten
Ranking the Coaches: SEC

1. Nick Saban, Alabama (5 years)
Alma Mater:
 Kent State (1970-72)
Overall: 146-54-1 (16 years)

There’s not much debate about this: College football’s top coach resides in Tuscaloosa. Saban has led the Crimson Tide to two national titles and four straight seasons of at least 10 victories. Saban’s track record is impressive, going 48-16 in five years at LSU, 34-24-1 in five seasons with Michigan State and a 9-2 mark in 1990 with Toledo. Saban is certainly one of the most demanding coaches in college football, but there’s no question he knows what it takes to succeed. Saban has returned Alabama to national prominence and has brought in some of college football’s best recruiting classes over the last five seasons. As long as Saban sticks around in Tuscaloosa, expect Alabama to be ranked among the top 10 teams every preseason. And after winning two titles in five seasons, expect the Crimson Tide to only add to that total in the near future.

2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State (First year)
Overall Record: 104-23

The resume is as complete as it gets: Two BCS National Championships, four conference titles, three conference Coach of the Year awards, one Heisman Trophy, one national Coach of the Year honor and the Sports Illustrated Coach of the Decade (2000-2009). Meyer’s success is unquestioned; he wins and he wins big. He built Bowling Green into a conference contender in only two seasons before taking Utah to a BCS bowl in two short years in Salt Lake City. In his second year at Florida, he earned his first BCS Crystal Ball. After a second title with the Chosen One under center, Meyer took a brief respite from the sideline in 2011. He returns to the coaching ranks renewed and reinvigorated — and back in his home state at the Big Ten program with the most natural and financial resources in the league. His ability to recruit was on full display at the close of the 2012 cycle and his offensive game plan is as proven a system as there is in the collegiate playbook. The only crack in his armor is the health concerns — aka his dedication. He coached only six years at what could be considered the second-best job in the nation, won championships, and simply walked away. Other than his long-term commitment, there are not too many better options in America.

3. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma (13 years)
Overall Record: 139-34 (1999-present)

The Sooners have had a few down years under Stoops, but since his arrival in Norman, Oklahoma has emerged once again as a national power. Stoops’ tenure has been a picture of success, leading the Sooners to 10 double-digit win seasons and eight BCS bowl appearances. The biggest knock on Stoops has been the lack of success in BCS bowl games, as Oklahoma is just 1-5 in its last six BCS bowl appearances. And that criticism of Stoops always stirs this debate: Would you take a coach that struggles to get to a BCS bowl and wins one every eight years or take a coach that consistently gets there, but has a disappointing BCS record after six years? Regardless of whether or not Stoops wins three BCS bowls in a row or loses the next three, it’s going to be hard to knock him off the top spot in the Big 12.

4. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech (25 years)
Overall Record: 251-121-4 (31 years)

Born in the Commonwealth, playing in the Commonwealth and coaching the Commonwealth, “Beamerball” has been a fixture of Virginian football for more than four decades. Prior to his arrival in Blacksburg, the Hokies had been to six bowls games. After six years and a 24-40-2 record, Beamer broke through with his first bowl appearance in 1993. He has been to 19 straight bowl games since, including a Michael Vick-led chance at the 1999 national championship against Florida State. Beamer has claimed three Big East Championships (1995, 1996, 1999), four ACC titles (2004, 2007, 2008, 2010) and five conference Coach of the Year honors. He is the longest tenured and winningest active FBS coach in the nation and has had at least 10 wins in eight straight seasons and 11 of the last 13. Beamer was there to usher in two new eras of Hokie football as he transitioned his team from Independent status to the Big East in 1991 and then into the ACC in 2004. Virginia Tech has won the Coastal Division five times in its seven-year history and will likely be the preseason favorite once again in 2012. There are few better in the nation than Beamer.

5. Chris Petersen, Boise State (6 years)
Overall Record: 73-6 (2006-present)

Few coaching careers have begun like Petersen’s has at Boise State. After learning under Mike Bellotti at Oregon, Petersen began his Bronco career as Dan Hawkins’ offensive coordinator. For five years, Petersen churned out one of the nation’s most powerful offenses under Hawkins. When Hawkins left for Colorado, Petersen was given the reins to the Smur-ffense and has taken the program to a new level. In his first year, Petersen led Boise State to its first undefeated season and the memorable Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma. It would be his first of two BCS bowl wins. He has never won fewer than 10 games in a season and just watched the 2011 graduating class finish 50-3 over their four-year career. Kellen Moore quarterbacked those four teams and is now the winningest quarterback in NCAA history. Most importantly, Petersen has elevated Boise State football to a BCS conference as he will usher the Broncos into a new era of football when they join the Big East in 2013. He has had multiple opportunities to take “better” jobs and has come within two missed field goals of playing for a national championship.

6. Chip Kelly, Oregon (3 years)
Overall Record: 34-6 (2009-present)

No coach in NCAA history has seen a rise from FCS coordinator to competing for National Championships in quicker fashion than Kelly. His meteoric rise from New Hampshire offensive coordinator to winning three straight Pac-12 titles is virtually unheard of in big time college football. In fact, Oregon had two outright conference championships between 1958 and 2008, giving Kelly more outright titles in three years as the program posted in the previous 50. He has two Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards on his mantle, the Ducks’ first Rose Bowl win in school history last year over Wisconsin and a trip to the 2010 BCS National Championship game. Kelly has created an offense that is the fastest in the nation and possibly the most difficult to stop. He’s had one tailback win the Doak Walker Award, finish as a two-time Heisman finalist and nation’s leading per game rusher in LaMichael James. He just had another claim Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year and reset the Oregon freshman scoring record with 18 touchdowns in De’Anthony Thomas. With the help of flashy uniforms and Nike dollars, Kelly has raised the brand image of his program more in the last three years than any coach in the nation. Two issues could remove Kelly from the Pac-12 coaching pedestal: Looming NCAA questions about potential recruiting violations involving Texas “handler” Willie Lyles and the lure of the NFL. Otherwise, there is one man who stands above all other Pac-12 coaches. 

7. Gary Patterson, TCU (12 years)
Overall Record: 109-30 (2000-present)

Patterson coached at 10 different programs over a 16-year period before given the chance to lead TCU in 2000 (one game). The hard-nosed defensive guru went to bowl games in three straight seasons to start his career and needed only two years to register his first 10-win season. It was only the second 10-win season for the Horned Frogs in the Post-World War II era. He has rattled off eight such seasons over the last 10 years in Fort Worth, including a current streak of four straight. He has won the program’s first BCS Bowl (Rose in 2010) and has elevated TCU to a BCS level as the Frogs will join the Big 12 in 2012. In 11 full seasons on the job, Patterson has five conference championships, three conference Coach of the Year awards and was the unanimous 2009 National Coach of the Year (AFCA, AP, Walter Camp, Boddy Dodd, Eddie Robinson, Liberty Mutual). TCU has experienced one losing season under Patterson (2004), but has been to a bowl every year since, winning seven of those eight post-season games. TCU has gone 36-3 over the last three years with 13 NFL Draft picks over that span and two BCS bowl appearances.

8. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (7 years)
Alma Mater:
 Florida (1963-66)
Overall: 197-75-2 (22 years)

It has taken some time, but Spurrier finally has South Carolina into contention for the SEC title. The Gamecocks won at least six games in each of Spurrier’s first five years, but have combined for 20 over the last two. Spurrier also led South Carolina to its first appearance in the SEC title game and a top 10 finish in most polls last year. Spurrier has had plenty of success outside of South Carolina, finishing with a 122-27-1 record at Florida and leading Duke to a 20-13-1 mark from 1987-89. Building a program into a consistent challenger for an SEC title is no easy task, but Spurrier seems to have South Carolina on the right path, and the Gamecocks are positioned for another run at the East Division title in 2012.  

9. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame (2 years)
Alma Mater: 
Assumption (1979-82)
Record: 16-10 (2010-present)
Record: 34-6 (Cincinnati, 2006-09)
Record: 19-16 (Central Michigan, 2004-06)
Record: 118-35-2 (Grand Valley State, 1991-2003)
Overall: 187-66-2 (22 years)

Kelly has built an impressive resume, making stops as a head coach at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and now at Notre Dame. He led Grand Valley State to two Division II titles and took Central Michigan to a bowl game in 2006. After coaching with the Chippewas for three seasons, Kelly made the jump to Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to back-to-back BCS bowls. Although Kelly provided quick turnarounds at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, the wins have been tougher to come by at Notre Dame. The Irish are a solid 16-10 under his watch, but were picked by many to push for a BCS bowl last year. Notre Dame has not won more than eight games since posting 10 victories in 2006. Kelly certainly has some work to do in order to turn the Irish back into a consistent top-10 team. However, there’s a solid foundation beginning to take shape, and Notre Dame is assembling solid recruiting classes under Kelly’s watch. Although more was expected out of Kelly two years into his tenure in South Bend, his track record is too successful to ignore. 

10. Lane Kiffin, USC (2 years)
Overall Record: 25-13 (3 years)

Considering he is just 36 years old, Kiffin has already had quite a career as a head coach. After spending two years with the Oakland Raiders (5-15), Kiffin landed on his feet as Tennessee’s head coach in 2009. The Volunteers went 5-7 in the season prior to his arrival, but posted a 7-6 record in Kiffin’s first year in Knoxville. However, Kiffin bolted Tennessee for a better job, choosing to succeed Pete Carroll at USC. The Trojans posted an 8-5 record in Kiffin’s first year (2010), but finished with a 10-2 mark last year. With the postseason ban lifted, USC is expected to be one of the frontrunners to win the national title in 2012. Kiffin drew headlines at Tennessee for his recruiting practices and comments about other SEC coaches, but has toned down his act since coming to Los Angeles. The Trojans are still dealing with scholarship reductions for the next three years, so Kiffin won’t have a full cupboard to work with during that span. However, Kiffin appears to have positioned the Trojans for a run at the national championship in 2012, while leaving the team in good shape to compete for the Pac-12 South crown in 2013 and 2014.

11. Brady Hoke, Michigan (1 year)
Alma Mater: 
Ball State (1977-80)
Overall Record: 58-52 (9 years)

Deciding between Hoke and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio as the top coach in the Big Ten Legends Division is no easy task. Hoke has done a good job of resurrecting two programs that did not have much success prior to his arrival. In six seasons with Ball State, Hoke recorded a 34-38 mark, including an appearance in the MAC title game in 2008. The Cardinals also made two bowl games under Hoke’s watch. After a solid stint at Ball State, Hoke left for the West Coast, choosing to coach at San Diego State. The Aztecs won just nine games in the three years prior to his arrival, but led San Diego State to a 9-4 record and an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2010. After Rich Rodriguez was fired at Michigan, Hoke was an easy choice to become the Wolverines’ next coach, especially considering he coached in Ann Arbor from 1995-2002. Considering he was born in Ohio, Hoke isn’t necessarily a “Michigan Man.” However, he is a great fit for the Wolverines, has done a good job of rebuilding two struggling programs (Ball State and San Diego State) and led the Wolverines to a BCS bowl in his first season.

12. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (6 years)
Alma Mater:
 South Carolina (1976-78)
Overall Record: 62-39 (9 years)

If Brady Hoke is the top coach in the Legends Division, Dantonio is really 1B. In six seasons in East Lansing, Dantonio has turned the Spartans from underachiever to Big Ten title contender. The Spartans won 22 games through his first three years, but has posted back-to-back seasons of 11 victories. And there’s one more feather in the cap for Dantonio and Michigan State to brag about – the Spartans own a four-game winning streak over rival Michigan. Dantonio has yet to lead Michigan State to a Rose Bowl appearance, but with the program on the right track, it’s only a matter of time before the Spartans make the trek to Pasadena. Dantonio’s success isn’t just limited to Michigan State, as he posted an 18-17 record in three years with Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to two bowl trips. Dantonio seems to be a perfect fit at Michigan State and should keep this program among the best in the Big Ten as long as he sticks around in East Lansing. 

13. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State (7 years)
Alma Mater: Oklahoma State (1986-89)
Record: 59-30 (2005-present)

Gundy has been slowly moving up the Big 12 coach rankings over the last few seasons. After posting 18 victories through his first three seasons in Stillwater, Gundy has led the Cowboys to four consecutive years of at least nine wins. Oklahoma State is coming off its first BCS bowl appearances and was one win away from playing for the national championship. The Big 12 isn’t getting any easier with the arrival of West Virginia and TCU, but Gundy has the Cowboys well-positioned to remain a conference title contender for the foreseeable future.

14. Mack Brown, Texas (14 years)
Alma Mater: 
Vanderbilt, Florida State
Overall Record: 227-113-1

Senator Brown has seen better days but still must be considered one of the league’s best options. After learning the coaching ropes at FCS power Appalachian State and Tulane, Brown rebuilt the North Carolina program. He posted three 10-win seasons in Chapel Hill and went to six straight bowls before taking the best job in college football. All Brown did in his first 13 seasons on the 40 Acres was win at least nine games and finish no worse than second in the South Division every year. After seven seasons, including three Big 12 South titles, Brown broke through with his first conference title in 2005. Behind the leadership of Vince Young, Texas won one of college football's greatest games ever played against USC in the Rose Bowl and the National Championship returned to Austin for the first time since 1970. Despite another trip to the national title game in 2009, Brown’s program eroded in 2010. He posted his first losing season since 1989 as a head coach and was forced to fire multiple assistants. The Horns returned to their winning ways last fall and 2012 will go a long way in proving whether or not Brown has gotten complacent or should be ranked No. 1 on this list. Texas is the single best coaching job in America with more natural and financial resources than any other program in the nation. Therefore, recruiting and on-the-field success should be measured with more scrutiny — especially for a man who has, for some reason, dealt with retirement rumors of late.

15. Bill Snyder, Kansas State (20 years)
Alma Mater: William Jewell (1959-1962)
Overall Record: 159-83-1 (1989-2005), (2009-present)

Prior to Snyder’s arrival in Manhattan, the Wildcats had struggled to find much success on the gridiron. From 1985-88, Kansas State posted an awful 3-40 record and had only one winning season from 1971-82. Snyder won only one game in his first season, but recorded at least five in every season from 1990-2003. Under his watch, the Wildcats have made two BCS bowl appearances and won or shared the Big 12 title four times. The one concern about Snyder is his age. Although he shows no signs of slowing down, he will be 73 at the end of the 2012 season. If you are an athletic director looking to make a hire and Snyder is one of three available candidates – you have to wonder how many years he will stick around. However, Snyder understands the culture and what it takes to win at Kansas State. It’s not an easy job, but Snyder has transformed the Wildcats from a laughingstock to a consistent contender in the Big 12.

16. Mark Richt, Georgia (11 years)
Alma Mater: Miami
Record: 106-38 (2001-present)

The longest tenured coach in the SEC (tied with Gary Pinkel) has had one losing season in his entire head-coaching career. The Bulldogs, under Jim Donnan and Ray Goff, failed to realize an opportunity to grow into the SEC power in the 1990s. While Alabama and LSU toiled, Florida and Tennessee took advantage and won titles. Goff and Donnan claimed seven seasons of six wins or fewer and the program posted only two 10-win seasons from 1984 to 2001. Richt entered the game in 2001 and proceeded to win the programs’ first conference title in 20 years in 2002. Richt posted two conference titles, six 10-wins seasons in his first eight years and won two SEC Coach of the Year Awards. However, Dawgs’ faithful watched its team get worse four straight years from 2007 to 2011 while Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Florida were winning national titles and returning to national prominence in a big way. Richt adapted, though, by finally making sweeping coaching changes that have saved his job. Todd Grantham reinvented the Georgia defense and Richt got to his fourth SEC Championship game in 2011. He has his team poised to be the favorite to win the East once again this fall.

17. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern (6 years)
Alma Mater: 
Northwestern (1993-96)
Overall Record: 40-36 (2006-present)

Fitzgerald is the perfect coach for Northwestern and barring something unexpected, will likely be here until he retires. As a Northwestern graduate, Fitzgerald is well-aware of the culture and what it takes to win in Evanston. The former Wildcat linebacker has led Northwestern to four consecutive bowl games and just one losing season. Fitzgerald’s overall record over the last six seasons is a solid 40-36, but is still searching for his first bowl victory. Northwestern is not an easy place to win, but Fitzgerald has found the right formula and will continue to make the Wildcats a yearly threat to reach a bowl and pull off an upset or two along the way. 

18. Mike Leach, Washington State (First Season)
Alma Mater:
 BYU
Record: 84-43 (Texas Tech, 2000-09)

From 2000 to 2009, there were few things as guaranteed as Texas Tech’s quarterback throwing for 3,000 yards. Leach was the architect behind Tim Couch’s huge numbers at Kentucky and carried his lightning-quick spread passing attack to Lubbock. Leach-led quarterbacks B.J. Symons and Graham Harrell own the top two single-season passing marks in NCAA history with 5,833 and 5,705 yards respectively. Graham Harrell (3rd: 15,793 yards) and Kliff Kingsbury (15th: 11,931) are both in the top 15 in NCAA history in passing yards. Until 2011, Harrell was the NCAA record-holder for career touchdown passes with 134. Needless to say, Leach’s passing attack had reached unprecedented levels of success before his questionable firing. There were six total 10-win seasons in Texas Tech history and Leach posted a school-record 11 wins in 2008. His winning percentage of 66.1% trails only Pete Cawthon (69.3%) in Tech history — who won all of his games between 1930 and 1940. The highly-publicized divorce with Texas Tech (and mentally unstable Craig James) likely cost Leach a couple of years on the sideline, but is not enough to keep any athletic director from hiring him. His teams produce big numbers, his athletic departments make bigger money, his stadiums grow and subsequently sell out and, most importantly, he wins games. Look for a similar program-wide impact from Leach in Pullman. 

19. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State (3 years)
Alma Mater:
 Ursinus
Record: 21-17 (2009-present)

In Athlon’s meeting to rank the SEC coaches, Mullen and LSU’s Les Miles were the most difficult ones to rank. Mullen is only 39 years old, so his best coaching years appear to be ahead of him. However, his overall record is just 21-17 and his only SEC West victories came against rival Ole Miss. While winning the in-state battle is crucial, the Bulldogs need to start beating some of the other teams in the division. Mullen has also led Mississippi State to back-to-back bowl victories and should be in position to reach the postseason once again in 2012. Considering the depth of the SEC, winning big in Starkville is no easy task. Give Mullen the resources of what Alabama or LSU has and he can take Mississippi State even higher. The Bulldogs have ranked higher than ninth in the SEC in recruiting only once in the last six years, yet have a better record over the last three seasons than Tennessee (18-20) — a team that consistently recruits better than Mississippi State. While the record suggests Mullen is only a .500 coach, expect him to continue pushing the Bulldogs to eight or nine win seasons, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he left for a better job in the next couple of years. An overall record isn't always a good judge of how effective some coaches are and Mullen is the perfect case, as he has helped to turn Mississippi State into a consistent bowl team in a very difficult SEC West.

20. Les Miles, LSU (7 years)
Alma Mater: 
Michigan
Overall: 103-39 (11 years)

Inexplicably, LSU, a program with as many built-in advantages as anyone in the nation, laid dormant for three decades. LSU won two conference championships from 1971 to 2000 and only three bowl games from 1971 to 1995. However, the name atop this list of SEC coaches entered the picture in 2000 and reestablished the Bayou Bengal brand. Nick Saban won more games in his first year (8) than LSU had won the two previous (7). He had LSU back in the SEC title game by 2001, giving the Tigers their first outright conference title since 1986. By his fourth season, Saban had returned the Tigers to the promised land by delivering their first national title since 1958. Enter Les Miles. The Hat has maintained an elite level of success with four 10-win seasons in six years, including the 2007 National Championship. He brings energy, intensity and an internal rallying cry to his locker room. The players love him, and he is certainly an entertaining character. He is a fantastic recruiter who has assembled arguably the best roster in America. However, he has also developed another reputation based on bizarre eating habits, poor end-game management, vocal gaffes, and now, the worst BCS performance in the series’ 14-year history. Questions about his teams’ mental focus, discipline and overall ability to adjust were beginning to subside after the 13-0 romp through the regular season last fall. However, those issues resurfaced after the most under-prepared, poorly game-managed title game of the BCS era. Miles and Saban will be eternally linked the annals of SEC football, and relatively speaking, Miles is one of the better coaches in the nation. But in the Southeast, the stakes — and standards — are higher (sometimes unfairly so), and after LSU became the first and only two-loss team to win a BCS title, Saban has been the far superior coach. Miles has lost 12 games to Saban’s six since 2007, and with what could be perceived as the best roster in the nation, three losses per season isn’t getting it done.

21. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech (5 years)
Alma Mater: Western Carolina (1979), Appalachian State (1982)
Overall Record: 140-58 (15 years)

After two I-AA National Championships at Georgia Southern, Johnson completely reinvented the Naval Academy before bringing his patented triple-option attack to the big leagues. Navy had been to nine bowl games in over 100 years of football when they hired Johnson. He led them to five bowl games in six seasons, including two wins. At Georgia Tech, there were doubts about whether or not the antiquated system would work in the ACC. After five seasons, two division championships and one ACC crown (2009), the answer is most definitively yes. The Jackets have led the ACC in rushing all four seasons under Johnson and finished no worse than fourth nationally on the ground. Georgia Tech enters 2012 as the top contender to Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division.

22. Art Briles, Baylor (4 years)
Alma Mater: 
Houston, Texas Tech, Abilene Christian
Overall Record: 59-53

After a very long and very distinguished Texas high school coaching career from 1979 to 1999, Briles got his break at his alma mater. At Houston, Briles designed one of the most prolific passing attacks in NCAA history. Under the two previous regimes, (Kim Helton and Dana Dimel) the Cougars won an average of 3.2 games per year from 1993 to 2002 for an overall record of 32-79. Briles won more games (34) in his five-year stint at Houston as well as one conference title in 2006. He landed at Baylor after two straight C-USA West division titles and was charged with leading a dormant program into the new Big 12 era. After back-to-back 4-8 seasons, Briles (with a little help from Robert Griffin III) led the Bears to its first bowl game since 1994. Over the last two seaons, Baylor won its first postseason contest since 1992 and more games (17) over a two-year span than it has since 1985-1986 (18). Griffin III claimed the first Heisman Trophy in school history and will likely be the second pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Can Briles maintain the Bears’ current level of success without the most valuable player in the nation and most popular player in school history? This is what Briles is charged with in 2012.

23. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin (6 years)
Alma Mater: 
Iowa
Record: 60-19 (2006-present)

Hand picked by Wisconsin legend Barry Alvarez, few imagined Bielema had the talent to maintain the Badgers’ level of success. After six years of Meyer-esque winning percentages, those concerns have definitively been squashed. His back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances were the first for Wisconsin since 1998 and 1999, and despite not winning either game, the Badgers can hang their hats on back-to-back conference titles. In fact, Bielema’s bowl record might be his only weakness. He is 2-4 in postseason play and is likely the only thing keeping him from being ranked higher on this list. That, and the fact he was handed the keys to a program that functions in a vastly different manner than it did in late '80s. Alvarez took UW from an also-ran, bye week program and turned it into a $100-million Midwest football powerhouse. Bielema hasn’t recruited at an elite level — aka Top 25 nationally — but has done an incredible job evaluating and developing talent. Without a single top-25 recruiting class to his name, the Badgers’ head man has sent 11 players into the first three rounds of the NFL Draft since 2006. He has never experienced a losing season as a head coach and earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors back in 2006 when he led Wisconsin to a 12-1 record in his first season. Iowa Hawkeye leg tattoo aside, fans in Madison are very happy to have transitioned so seamlessly from Alvarez to Bielema.

24. Gary Pinkel, Missouri (11 years)
Alma Mater: 
Kent State
Overall: 158-91-3 (21 years)

Not many people can say they started their football careers rooming with Jack Lambert and playing with Nick Saban while learning from Don James. But that is how Pinkel broke into this business when played tight end at Kent State under James. He spent nearly twenty years, most of it under James at Kent and Washington, before landing his first head coaching job in 1991 at Toledo. He earned one MAC championship, three MAC East Division titles and the 1995 MAC Coach of the Year honor before the Mizzou Tigers came calling. In his 11 years since, Pinkel has led Missouri to unprecedented heights of football success. His 85 wins are third all-time in school history. From 1983 to 2001, the Tigers went to two bowl games. Since Pinkel landed in Columbia, MU has eight bowls in 11 years, winning four of them. Prior to the former MAC guru tenure, Missouri posted two 10-win seasons in 111 years of football. He has won at least 10 games three times in the last five years. Eight of the Tigers nine top scoring teams have been ruled by Pinkel. He now has accomplished arguably his greatest achievement in Tigers football history by ushering his program into the nation’s best conference. There will be a major adjustment period, but for the SEC’s longest tenured head coach (tied with Richt), this has to feel like a juicy opportunity to continue the Tigers rise up the college football food chain.

25. Al Golden, Miami (1 year)
Alma Mater: Penn State (1987-91)
Overall Record: 33-40 (6 years)

After spending time on Tom O’Brien’s staff at Boston College and Al Groh’s Virginia staff, Golden was plenty familiar with ACC football when he got the call from Coral Gables. He landed at Miami after building Temple into a MAC contender (he claimed 2009 MAC Coach of the Year honors). Despite the scrutiny from the Nevin Shapiro scandal and potential NCAA sanctions, Golden appears to have Miami trending back towards conference contention. After only its third non-winning season since 1979, Miami decided to withdraw itself from bowl contention due to the ongoing NCAA investigation in Golden's first year. The strong-willed, brutally honest head man recruited incredibly well in 2012 in the face of possible sanctions. His tribute to Howard Schnellenberger — his dress shirt, tie, slacks and jacket gameday combo — has once again become an iconic symbol on the Hurricanes’ sideline. The sky is the limit for Golden and Miami should they avoid heavy-handed NCAA sanctions.

The Best of the Rest:

Mike London, Virginia (2 years)
Alma Mater: Richmond (1979-82)
Overall Record: 36-18 (4 years)

Virginia wanted to keep it in state in all senses of the word when it hired Mike London away from Richmond. He has completely reinvigorated the Cavalier brand name within the state as Wahoo recruiting has sky-rocketed since London took over in 2010. In only two seasons at the helm, London returned Virginia to posteason play for the first time since 2007 and has his program back near the top of the ACC recruiting hierarchy. The Cavaliers improved from 10th in the ACC in total and scoring defense in 2010 to third in total defense and fifth in scoring defense. London has constructed an excellent staff and has himself positioned for long-term success in Charlottesville.

Kyle Whittingham, Utah (7 years)
Alma Mater:
 BYU (1978-81)
Overall Record: 66-25 (7 years)

Even after leading the Utes to six consecutive seasons with at least eight wins, Whittingham probably hasn’t received the national respect he deserves. Utah went 33-6 from 2008-10, which included a win over Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Whittingham has done a good job of guiding the Utes through their transition into the Pac-12 and nearly won the South Division with a backup quarterback last season. Whittingham is a solid coach who should continue to win consistently at Utah. The Utes have stepped up their recruiting since coming to the Pac-12, which is another testament to Whittingham and his staff continuing to build the program. The biggest hurdle Whittingham could face over the next few seasons is keeping his staff intact. Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake is a highly-respected assistant and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is a rising star in the coaching ranks. With Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State all making coaching changes this offseason, keeping Whittingham happy and his assistant coaches in Salt Lake City will be crucial to Utah's success.

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (First Season)
Alma Mater: 
West Virginia (1981-84)
Overall Record: 120-84-2 (18 years)

After an unsuccessful stint with Michigan, Rodriguez is hungry to prove he is still among the top coaches in college football. Rodriguez posted a 60-26 record with West Virginia, but recorded a disappointing 15-22 mark in three seasons with the Wolverines. Although he deserves some of the blame for the failed tenure in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez was simply a bad fit and Michigan never embraced him as its coach. Don’t expect any of those issues to arise at Arizona, as Rodriguez seems to be a good fit and should have the Wildcats in contention for a bowl game in 2012. Arizona had three winning seasons under former coach Mike Stoops, but Rodriguez is capable of taking this program even higher. 

Charlie Strong, Louisville (2 years)
Alma Mater: 
Central Arkansas (1980-83)
Overall Record: 14-13 (2 years)

It has taken Strong only two years to emerge as one of the top coaches in the Big East. After spending over 20 years as an assistant with stops at Florida, Ole Miss, Notre Dame and South Carolina, Strong has led the Cardinals to a 14-12 record and two bowl appearances. Even with one of the youngest rosters in college football, Louisville claimed a share of the Big East crown in 2011. The future looks bright for the Cardinals with Strong at the helm, as they should be the early favorite to win the conference in 2012. The biggest question for Louisville is whether or not it can keep Strong if one of the top programs in the SEC open up, but for now, he should have the Cardinals knocking on the door of a finish in the top 25 this season.

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

How does your coach rank? Check out how Athlon Sports ranked the coaches in each of the BCS conferences:

Ranking the Coaches: ACC
Ranking the Coaches: Big East
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Ranking the Coaches: SEC

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<p> College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 07:00
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The Florida State Seminoles check in at No. 9 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: EJ Manuel, QB
There’s no question Florida State has to be better in offense in 2012. Spring practice concluded with question marks remaining about the offensive line and rushing attack – two areas that plagued the Seminoles last year. Manuel didn’t have a bad first season as the starter (2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns), but more was expected out of him. A shoulder injury suffered against Oklahoma hindered the offense’s development, and Manuel never seemed to be comfortable behind a shaky offensive line. The senior has the talent, but it’s time to put everything together. If Manuel plays up to expectations, Florida State’s offense should show improvement on the stat sheet.

Upset Alert: at NC State (Oct. 6)
Florida State’s last trip to Raleigh didn’t go so well. The Seminoles lost 28-24 to the Wolfpack in 2010, which was their second defeat at NC State in the last three matchups. Florida State will be on upset alert once again this season, as the Wolfpack return quarterback Mike Glennon and most of the key players from a defense that forced 39 turnovers last season. NC State lost 34-0 in Tallahassee last season, but this matchup should be much closer in 2012.

Revenge/Biggest Game: Clemson (Sept. 22)
Not only is this a revenge game for Florida State, but this matchup will have a significant impact on the race to win the ACC Atlantic. The Seminoles were without quarterback EJ Manuel in last year’s contest and lost only 35-30 to the Tigers in Death Valley. Clemson’s biggest question mark is an offensive line that loses three starters, which figures to be an issue against Florida State’s loaded defensive line. The Seminoles are 2-5 against the Tigers in their last seven matchups. However, both of Florida State’s victories came in Tallahassee and it should be favored to get revenge on Sept. 22. 

Defensive MVP: Brandon Jenkins, DE
The Seminoles are loaded on defense, so there’s no shortage of candidates for this honor. Jenkins has been one of college football’s top pass rushers over the last two years, recording 21.5 sacks and 36.5 tackles for a loss. His numbers declined slightly from 2010 to 2011, which can be blamed on receiving more attention from opposing offenses. Jenkins should threaten 10 sacks, while leading one of the top defensive lines in the nation.

Trap Game: at USF (Sept. 29)
A week after the matchup with Clemson in Tallahassee, the Seminoles hit the road for a stop against in-state rival South Florida. These two teams have met only once, with the Bulls winning 17-7 in Tallahassee in 2009. Considering the magnitude of the game against Clemson, and a hungry South Florida squad looking to earn bragging rights with the state’s top programs, this is a dangerous trap game for Florida State.

Breakout Player: Rashad Greene, WR
Some could say Greene broke out last season after catching 38 passes for 596 yards and seven touchdowns. However, an ankle injury forced him to miss four games and he was never 100 percent when he returned to the lineup. Greene’s numbers were solid for a freshman, but can only get better with a full complement of snaps in 2012. Don’t be surprised if Greene approaches 60 receptions with 1,000 yards and 10 scores this year.

Bounce Back Candidate: Xavier Rhodes, CB
After a standout freshman season, big things were expected of Rhodes in 2011. He played in all 13 games, but picked off only one pass after recording four interceptions in 2010. Rhodes did not earn all-conference honors and his play left a lot of room for improvement. The junior needs to have a big season to work his way back into the mix for the first round of the NFL Draft, and his play in 2012 should closely resemble his freshman campaign.

National Title Defining Moment: at Virginia Tech (Nov. 8)
It’s not going to be easy for the ACC to get a team into the national championship this year, but this game will have major top 25 implications. While neither team’s schedule is clear of potential land mines, it’s not unreasonable to think Florida State and Virginia Tech could enter the Nov. 8 matchup unbeaten. The Seminoles have lost two out of the last three matchups to the Hokies and have not won in Blacksburg since 1989. Virginia Tech also has a huge advantage with this game scheduled on Nov. 8, as this will give the Hokies plenty of time to sort out their offensive line and running back concerns. With both teams expected to win their division, this should be an ACC Championship Game preview.

Freshman to Watch: Mario Pender, RB
A freshman led Florida State in rushing last year and it wouldn’t be a surprise if that happened again in 2012. Devonta Freeman and Chris Thompson hold the early edge in the battle to start at running back, but Pender will get another opportunity to earn playing time in the fall. He ranked as the No. 37 overall player in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and will be expected to contribute significant snaps this season.

Comeback Player: Chris Thompson, RB
The rushing attack was almost non-existent for Florida State last year, as it ranked 104th nationally by averaging just 112.2 yards per game. Finding a spark on the ground does rely on an improved offensive line, but the Seminoles are hoping the return of Thompson can help. He rushed for 83 yards and one touchdown through the first five weeks of last year, but suffered a broken back in the loss to Wake Forest. He missed most of spring practice with a broken hand, so rust could be an issue early in the year. Even if Thompson doesn’t lead the team in yards, having a veteran presence and his pass-protection out of the backfield will be a boost to an offense that struggled to establish anything on the ground last year.

Newcomer to Watch: Karlos Williams, S
Safety hasn’t been a position of strength for Florida State’s defense in recent years, but Lamarcus Joyner stepped up and solidified one spot last season. Is it Williams’ turn in 2012? Junior Terrence Brooks left spring practice with a slight edge, but it will be difficult for the coaching staff to keep Williams off the field. He was ranked among the top 25 players in the 2011 signing class by most scouting services and recorded eight stops in 12 games last year. Even if Brooks starts, Williams should play a key role in Florida State’s secondary this season.

Position Battle: Offensive Line
This unit was a mixture of inexperience and overall bad play last season. The Seminoles started 10 different players up front, including a handful of freshmen. This group played well in the second half of the Champs Sports Bowl against Notre Dame, but can they find that same rhythm for the entire 2012 campaign? Line coach Rick Trickett and head coach Jimbo Fisher may have found a solution to some of the line’s problems, as Cameron Erving switched from defensive tackle to left tackle and solidified that position in the spring. The front five is going to be young and could decide whether or not Florida State wins the ACC Championship in 2012. 

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<p> Florida State Seminoles 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 05:44
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Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 9 Florida State. The Seminoles were expected to challenge for the ACC title last season, but came up short. Florida State is loaded on defense, but the offense has question marks.

Is Florida State Back as an Annual National Title Contender?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I always contend teams like Florida State aren’t truly “back” until they’re competing for national championships. That’s the bar the Seminoles have set, and claiming FSU is back for merely finishing in the top 25 in each of the last two seasons doesn’t do the program’s history justice. Certainly, Florida State is back on the right track. Arguably, the Seminoles have the most upside of any program in the state, with Florida being the only real competition here – and FSU defeated the Gators 21-7 last season in Gainesville. FSU’s 19 wins in two seasons under Jimbo Fisher are the most in a two-year span since 2003-04. The Seminoles are in better shape than they’ve been in several years, but the goal here isn’t to play in Champs Sports and Chick-fil-A bowls. FSU hasn’t even won the ACC since 2005. The Seminoles have a chance to end that streak this year. They had a ton of bad luck last year, starting with EJ Manuel’s injury against Oklahoma, which made the following game against Clemson that much more difficult. Florida State’s defense should be tremendous and the offense a little more steady, but enough questions remain – is Manuel the elite quarterback he’s hinted he’d become? Is the young offensive line ready for the prime time? Can Florida State overcome missteps against teams like Virginia and Wake Forest? Florida State may be good enough to win the ACC, but that’s not good enough to be the elite team FSU should be before we declare the Noles “back.”

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Define back? Is Florida State about to go on a decade-long run of dominance that sees the Noles win 9 conference titles in 10 years, finish in the top five nationally every season and visit the BCS National Championship game three times? Absolutely not. But that run of ACC terror will likely never be replicated by any team in any league ever again. However, can the Seminoles win their first conference championship in seven years? Absolutely.

I will argue that the 2012 defensive unit is the closest thing Tomahawk Nation has seen on that side of the ball since the Mickey Andrews glory days of the mid-to-late 90s. Along with an efficient year from EJ Manuel in his final attempt to validate his lofty recruiting status, the Noles have as good a chance since 2005 to claim an ACC crown. They get top divisional challenger at home and Miami could potentially have one of its youngest — and worst — teams in decades. Two road trips to NC State and Virginia Tech will be key. That said, FSU can lose on the road in Blacksburg on November 8 and still win the Atlantic if it can slow the Tajh Boyd-led Tigers' attack in Doak Campbell on September 22.

Either way, Jimbo Fisher has reestablished the Seminole name brand on the recruiting trail. And despite what the Board of Trustees in Tallahassee wants you to believe, the Garnett and Gold is still the most powerful football program in the league. Fisher just needs to go out and prove it on the field.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This question seems to come up every preseason when discussing Florida State. In fairness to the Seminoles, their run from 1987-2000 is going to be very difficult to repeat. However, everything in college football seems to come in cycles, and while the program slipped at the end of the Bobby Bowden era, Florida State is trending back in the right direction.

Jimbo Fisher has won 19 games in his first two years, while landing some of the nation’s top recruiting classes. Although the Seminoles will always have some of college football’s best talent, the depth is finally starting to get back to a level where this team can compete for national championships.

Is Florida State ready to win the national title this year? I don’t think this team is ready to beat any of the teams in the top five this season, but the Seminoles should be favored to win the ACC. There’s some talented youth on this team and as long as Fisher continues to reel in top-five recruiting classes, the Seminoles will be back in the national title mix in the next couple of years. The first step for Florida State is to win the ACC – something they haven’t done since 2005. Once the Seminoles win the conference title and a BCS bowl game, then it will be easier to see where they stack up nationally. Florida State is on its way back, but it may take another year or two to become an annual top 10 once again.

Mark Ross
Did Florida State ever leave? Look, I know that it was the '90s when the Seminoles dominated the ACC and won their two national championships, the last one coming in 1999. And I know that this is 2012, which means it's been more than a decade since the mighty 'Noles were on top of the college football mountain and six seasons since they made their last BCS bowl appearance (2006 Orange Bowl), but it's not like they've plummeted to the bottom of the rankings either. Overall, Florida State has won its last four bowl games and in Jimbo Fisher's first two years as head coach, the 'Noles have won 19 games combined and were ACC Atlantic Division champions in 2009.

In the end, I think it comes down to expectations, and it's clear that the bar is set pretty high when it comes to Florida State, and that's from both the fans' and outsiders' perspectives. That said, Fisher's team this year should have a pretty decent shot at getting "back" to that expected level of success, but to do so the 'Noles will have to finish ahead of Clemson and North Carolina State and the rest of the Atlantic Division. The easiest route back to a BCS bowl, and a potential shot at a national title, is to get the automatic bid by winning the ACC Championship game, something Florida State has done just once (2005) in the game's seven-year history.

Florida State brings back 16 starters, seven on offense and nine on defense, and its defense should be among the best in entire nation. As long as the offense, led by senior quarterback EJ Manuel, can put enough points on the board and the defense can hold up, the Seminoles are as big a threat in the ACC, if not the country, of any other team. The non-conference schedule is certainly manageable with a trip to South Florida (Sept. 29) and the season-finale vs. in-state rival Florida the only potential trouble spots, and in the ACC, the 'Noles two key games are when they host Clemson (Sept. 22) and go to Blacksburg, Va., to face Virginia Tech on Nov. 8.

If Florida State can defeat Clemson when the Tigers come calling in September, the Seminoles should be in excellent position to win the Atlantic Division and go to Charlotte, N.C., to play for the ACC title. If they win that game then it's back to a BCS bowl and maybe even a spot in the national championship game, which no doubt would be a welcome sight for Florida State fans. Otherwise, they will just have to be happy with another nine- or 10-win season, which is apparently the new "normal" for the Seminoles, which also happens to be a measure of annual success the fans of the vast majority of college football programs around the country would happily accept. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think it’s fair to say FSU is back, at least to the point where the Seminoles look like the favorite in the ACC. Since Jimbo Fisher took over in Tallahassee, the recruiting has been at an elite level so the roster is loaded on both sides of the ball. Florida State should be led by a stingy defense that really came together at the end of last season. From the middle of October to the bowl victory over Notre Dame, no opponent scored over 20 points on the athletic FSU unit.

The key to the Seminoles title chances rests with senior quarterback EJ Manuel and the development of sophomores Devonta Freeman and Rashad Greene. The talented duo led FSU in rushing and receiving as freshmen, and both players could be set for a breakout 2012. I don’t think even the most optimistic Noles fan can expect the program to repeat the accomplishments of the ‘90s — when Florida State claimed two national championships and won the league crown every season from 1992-2000 — but Fisher has FSU primed to compete for the ACC title each season in the near future.

Related Florida State Content

Florida State Seminoles 2012 Team Preview
Florida State Seminoles Top 10 Players for 2012

Florida State Seminoles 2012 Team Predictions

The Top 10 Greatest Florida State Seminoles Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Florida State Football History

Florida State Seminoles Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Florida State Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Is Florida State back as an annual national title contender?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 05:40
All taxonomy terms: College Football, jokes
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-florida-state-rivals
Body:

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

• What happens when Will Muschamp takes Viagra?
He gets taller.

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

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

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

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

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

• Did you hear what happened to the Florida fan when he found out that 90% of all car accidents occur within 5 miles of home?
He moved.

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

• You know you’re from Gainesville if:
You’ve ever climbed a water tower with a bucket of paint to defend your sister’s honor.

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

Related Florida State Content

Florida State Seminoles 2012 Team Preview
Florida State Seminoles Top 10 Players for 2012

Florida State Seminoles 2012 Team Predictions

The Top 10 Greatest Florida State Seminoles Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Florida State Football History

Florida State Seminoles Cheerleader Gallery

Is Florida State Back as an Annual National Title Contender?

Teaser:
<p> Jokes About Florida State Rivals</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 02:58
Path: /nascar/keselowski-rolling-kahne-gaining-hall-fame-voters-voting
Body:

Brad Keselowski was smiling but you could sense the resolve in the 28-year-old after he finished second to Jimmie Johnson in last weekend’s Sprint All-Star Race.

“I think we’re a really young team that’s growing and getting better every week, every day and every hour,” Keselowski said moments after climbing from this car. “We got beat by a five-time champ. I think we’re doing pretty good, but I want that one more spot.”

Considering where Keselowski was a year ago, he and his team have made tremendous gains.

A year ago, Keselowski was 24th in the NASCAR championship point standings heading into the Coca-Cola 600 with zero wins, one top-five and one top-10 finish — and that came in the Southern 500 when he didn’t pit late, using the same strategy as race winner Regan Smith, and finished third.

This season, Keselowski is 12th in points with two victories, three top-five and five top-10 finishes.

Go back to last year’s Coca-Cola 600 and only one driver has more wins than Keselowski in that time. Tony Stewart has seven victories to Keselowski’s five. Just as impressive is that Keselowski and his team have won two races since the abrupt departure of Kurt Busch after last season. The team brought in AJ Allmendinger to replace him, making Keselowski the de facto No. 1 driver at Penske Racing. He has accepted and handled those responsibilities well.

Certainly, the team’s performance could have been better this season had both Keselowski and Allmendinger not been saddled with problems with the fuel pickup system. Both teams seemed to have solved those issues and the All-Star Race showed how strong both can be with Allmendinger going from last to second in the preliminary race to make the All-Star event and Keselowski winning the third segment before finishing second in the final 10-lap shootout.

Both teams seem to be headed in the right direction as summer approaches with Keselowski virtually locked into the Chase courtesy of his wins at Bristol and Talladega. Both Keselowski and Allmendinger will be worth watching the coming months.
 

Teaser:
<p> Following Jimmie Johnson's victory in the NASCAR All-Star Race, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 17:51
Path: /nascar/jimmie-johnson-dominates-nascar-all-star-race
Body:

Prior to Jimmie Johnson’s win in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 on May 12, it seemed Hendrick Motorsports would never get that elusive 200th Cup win. Its 16-race slide in between wins was relative in NASCAR terms, but for an organization lugging around tractor trailer loads of “200 Wins” caps and assorted other merchandise, it was time to hit the milestone and move on.

It turns out, moving on is just what Hendrick Motorsports has done.

Johnson once again led the HMS charge on Saturday, becoming only the third driver to have earned three All-Star Race victories with a dazzling performance at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The No. 48 team’s strategy, flawless execution and pure speed harkened back to a time when it was all but unbeatable at the track then known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

Over a scintillating four-year period from 2003-06, the group led by crew chief Chad Knaus won five points-paying races, finished second twice and third once. It also recorded two All-Star wins (2003, ’06), to boot.

In Saturday’s exhibition race, Johnson and Knaus were not only the fastest, but the smartest, in a 23-car field. Having won Friday’s Pit Crew Challenge, the 48 team was awarded the final stall on pit road — the preferred choice. They easily won the first of the five-segment event, then dropped to the rear of the field for the proceeding three 20-lap runs, guaranteed of the first-place spot when the field stopped for a mandatory visit prior to a final 10-lap dash.

Johnson’s stop-and-go pit appearance allowed him to retain the lead, and from there it was only a matter of mashing the gas on the restart — which he did when second-place Matt Kenseth spun his tires. From there, he cruised to a .841-second victory.

“If you won the first segment, it was very easy what you could do,” Johnson said of the strategy. “There was just as much importance — not as much, but very close — amount of importance to win the second (segment). We felt like the winner would come out of the front row (on the 10-lap shootout), unless these guys got crazy and crashed or something.

“To make your odds work in your favor, being on that front row is key. First or second segment was the goal to win.”

Knaus echoed the thought.

“The biggest thing you have to do in any event is you have to limit your risk,” the crew chief noted. “That’s what we needed to do. We were fortunate that (Jimmie) was able to get out there that first segment and attack and get the win. From that point on, all you want to do is maintain and make sure you’re there at the end.”

Another Hendrick team, the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr., also enjoyed a successful night. Earnhardt won the Sprint Showdown, a transfer race for those not already qualified for the All-Star Race. He then won the fourth 20-lap segment before settling for fifth in the feature.

“I think we showed what we are capable of doing here next weekend,” Earnhardt said of the Coca-Cola 600, also held in Charlotte. “We are probably going to bring the same car. We have a couple of ideas on how to make the car even faster, especially for qualifying, that I hope will work out. I am real pleased with our effort.”

Hendrick will look for his 10th win in that race, a contest of endurance that is considered one of NASCAR’s crown jewel events.

“I think track position at the end of the 600 is going to be key,” Johnson said. “Two or three pit stops from the end, being in the right position, having the right strategy — if it’s fuel, two tires, four, none, whatever it might be — that’s going to be key.”

If Saturday’s race proved anything, it was that strategy was key. If that indeed is what it comes down to once again, figure Johnson, Knaus and the 48 team as the overwhelming favorite.


by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro 

Teaser:
<p> Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus put together winning strategy to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race in Charlotte.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 17:18
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-south-carolina-no-10-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

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

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

Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks continue the countdown at No. 10 with two preseason All-Americans and four players selected as All-SEC performers. Athlon Sports predicts South Carolina will finish second in the SEC’s Eastern Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Heisman candidate Marcus Lattimore and a stingy defense will lead the Gamecocks this season,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “If Connor Shaw continues his solid play from late last season, South Carolina will be in the hunt for an SEC East title.”

Two South Carolina standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with running back Marcus Lattimore and defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney both being voted to the first team. In addition, the USC running backs unit was ranked No. 4 nationally and the defensive line was rated No. 5 in the country.

Four Gamecocks earned preseason All-SEC honors, including Lattimore and Clowney on the first team. Offensive lineman T.J. Johnson and defensive lineman Devin Taylor garnered second-team honors.

South Carolina Team Preview

South Carolina's Top 10 Players of 2012

South Carolina’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports Names South Carolina No. 10 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/south-carolina-football-what-record-will-gamecocks-have-sec-play-2012
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 10 South Carolina. The Gamecocks should be in the hunt for the SEC East, but need a healthy year from running back Marcus Lattimore.

What Will South Carolina's SEC Record Be in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The more I look back at South Carolina’s 2011 season, the more impressive the Gamecocks’ year looks. Despite only seven games from Marcus Lattimore, a subpar year from Alshon Jeffery and inconsistent quarterback play until the second half of the season, South Carolina still managed to win 11 games, including routs over Clemson and Nebraska to finish up the season. Once he became the full-time starter, quarterback Connor Shaw stabilized the offense in the second half of the season. I’m looking forward to what the Gamecocks look like with him and Lattimore running the show full-time next season. Shaw and Lattimore only started two games in the same backfield last season, both wins, over Kentucky and Mississippi State. The defense should be top-notch again, though in the SEC, it’s probably a notch behind LSU, Alabama and Georgia. Even if South Carolina has a shot to win 10 or more games this season, the schedule is going to be difficult – especially compared to fellow SEC East contender Georgia, which again catches a break by missing LSU, Alabama and Arkansas while the Gamecocks visit Baton Rouge and host the Razorbacks. The Gamecocks are probably looking at a loss at LSU plus another game, at home against Georgia or Arkansas on the road against Florida, with potential to trip up the Gamecocks. I’d pick South Carolina to finish 6-2 again in the East.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Before Bobby Petrino got run out of town at Arkansas, I had South Carolina going 5-3 in the league. Not even the most diehard South Carolina fans honestly expect to go into Baton Rouge and beat LSU. An upset win certainly isn't impossible, it just can't be expected. A home loss to Arkansas was penciled in as well. The Hogs have crushed the Gamecocks three straight times by a total of 118 to 64 with no game decided by less than 16 points. And the Gamecocks are always good for at least one unexpected loss — let's call it the Clemson effect. The 2012 candidates for this year's Auburn would be road games at Vanderbilt and Florida as well as home games against improved Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri teams. It's this brutal schedule that has forced Athlon Sports to pick the Dawgs to win the East the last two years.

Having said all of that, I think Carolina is the better team than Georgia this fall. And now that John L. Smith is leading the Hogs into Williams-Brice, I feel comfortable picking the Cocks to end their losing ways against cross-over rival Arkansas. The East is improved around the Cocks at almost every turn and will provide loads of speed bumps, so I still have to call for the lone unexpected disappointing performance. This leaves Steve Spurrier's bunch at 6-2 for the season in SEC play — which easily could be enough to win the East, especially should they beat the Bulldogs at home on October 6.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Gamecocks are coming off their best two-year stretch in school history, so the expectations are high going into 2012. The pieces are in place to contend for the SEC East title once again, but South Carolina does have a few key question marks to answer.

Quarterback Connor Shaw played well at the end of last season, but can he carry that momentum into a full year? The receiving corps also needs to replace Alshon Jeffery, while running back Marcus Lattimore is recovering from a torn ACL. The defense brings back six starters, but must replace lineman Melvin Ingram (first-team All-SEC in 2011), while cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Antonio Allen are departing from the secondary.

Despite the question marks, South Carolina has a chance to win 10 games. The opener against Vanderbilt won’t be easy, but the Gamecocks should escape Nashville with a close victory. After taking on the Commodores in Week 1, South Carolina should improve to 5-0 before taking on Georgia on Oct. 6, LSU on Oct. 13 and Florida on Oct. 27. Those three games should define the Gamecocks’ position in the SEC East. Win all three and South Carolina should cruise to the East title. However, losses in two of those games and the battle with Georgia likely won’t be decided until the SEC finale against Arkansas. The Gamecocks also take on rival Clemson in Death Valley on Nov. 24, which is not a guaranteed win.

I think the Gamecocks go 6-2 in SEC play and finish with a 9-3 or 10-2 overall record. Considering Georgia does not play LSU, Alabama or Arkansas, South Carolina desperately needs to beat the Bulldogs on Oct. 6 to take an early lead in the battle to win the SEC East. I give a slight edge to Georgia in the division, but wouldn't be surprised if South Carolina represents the East in Atlanta.

Mark Ross
I think South Carolina will go 5-3 in the SEC this season. Georgia is the best in the East in my opinion and I expect the Bulldogs to beat the Gamecocks in Columbia on Oct. 6. The other tough games on SC's conference schedule in 2012 are at LSU (Oct. 13), at Florida (Oct. 20) and home to Arkansas (Nov. 10). Having to play in Baton Rouge and Gainesville in the same season is bad enough, but back-to-back just adds to the degree of difficulty. And then there's Arkansas, who the Gamecocks get in Columbia, but it's not like this Hogs team is UAB or Wofford, who South Carolina also hosts this season. Arkansas will be one of the more potent offenses in the entire SEC and should the Hogs be able to put points on the board against South Carolina's defense, I'm not so sure the Gamecocks' offense has the firepower to go point-for-point with them.

Bottom line is I see Steve Spurrier's crew dropping at least two of the three games against LSU, Florida and Arkansas, which coupled with the loss to Georgia, puts them at 5-3 in the SEC. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me that much if they lost all four of these. And that's before the Gamecocks end the season at in-state rival Clemson, who could have one of the most potent offenses in all of college football. Considering all five of these games occur in about a stretch of 50 days, it could be a long seven weeks for South Carolina's defense by the time October rolls around.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I predict Steve Spurrier’s squad to go 6-2 in league play. The Gamecocks may have the best team in the East division, but the schedule is very difficult. September games against Vanderbilt and conference-newcomer Missouri will not be easy, but then a brutal October slate will decide SC’s chances for winning a division crown. The Gamecocks take on Georgia, have back-to back trips to LSU and Florida and then host an improved Tennessee bunch. After a bye week to begin November, South Carolina hosts an Arkansas squad that has beaten the Gamecocks three years in a row by a combined score of 118-64.

The return of All-America running back Marcus Lattimore will be a huge boost to the SC offense, and quarterback Connor Shaw was playing great football at the end of last season. The main question mark on offense will be at wideout, where only Ace Sanders has significant experience. The defense should be excellent once again, led by stellar rush ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. If Lattimore returns to his previous form and some answers emerge at receiver, South Carolina will be in the hunt for a December trip to Atlanta.

Related South Carolina Content

South Carolina Gamecocks 2012 Team Preview
South Carolina Gamecocks Top 10 Players for 2012

South Carolina Gamecocks 2012 Team Predictions

South Carolina Gamecocks Top 10 Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in South Carolina Football History

South Carolina Gamecocks Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About South Carolina Rivals

Teaser:
<p> What will South Carolina's SEC Record be in 2012?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/south-carolina-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The South Carolina Gamecocks check in at No. 10 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Marcus Lattimore, RB
The Heisman candidate may be the best running back in the nation. Lattimore has run for over 2,000 yards and has scored 30 total touchdowns in just 20 career games. Of course, he must return to form after a knee injury cut his season to seven games last year. Lattimore should be healthy in the fall and right back to being an All-America-level superstar for the Gamecocks offense.

Upset Alert: Florida (Oct. 20)
The Gamecocks have handled the Gators over the last two seasons, but Will Muschamp’s bunch has a ton of talent — especially on defense. Besides this game taking place in the tough environment of The Swamp, it comes at a tough point in the schedule. USC will take on Georgia two weeks prior, and then travel to LSU on October 13. Back-to-back trips to Baton Rouge and Gainesville are just plain cruel.

Trap Game: Tennessee (Oct. 27)
Once again, here’s a tradition-laden program that the Gamecocks have handled the last two years. Derek Dooley’s squad has some serious offensive weapons in Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers, so South Carolina cannot let down after the brutal three-week stretch of taking on Georgia, LSU and Florida. If USC can make it through October, look out.

Defensive MVP: Jadeveon Clowney, DE
The uber-talented Rock Hill native came to campus as the nation’s No. 1 recruit before last season, and he did not disappoint during a solid freshman campaign. Clowney had 36 stops, including 12 tackles for loss, and an eye-opening five forced fumbles. With a year of experience and an offseason to hit the weight room, Clowney could be an All-America pass rusher in just his sophomore year of 2012.

Breakout Player: Ace Sanders, WR
With the departure of leading receiver Alshon Jeffery, Sanders is the most likely candidate to become a force on the outside. The Sunshine State speedster was the team's second-leading receiver last season with 29 catches for 383 yards and two touchdowns. Sanders was also a weapon at punt returner, averaging 9.3 yards per return and scoring once. His development will be a key to the growth of the South Carolina offense this season.

Unsung Hero: T.J. Johnson, C
The SEC had outstanding centers last season like William Vlachos of Alabama and Ben Jones of Georgia, so Johnson’s name may not be known as well as it should. The three-year starter has had to deal with many changes in offensive personnel but still has been a force inside. He will be counted on this season to lead a talented but young offensive line through a challenging group of SEC defenses.

Biggest Game: Georgia (Oct. 6)
The Gamecocks had to be thinking about a return trip to Atlanta after beating UGA, 45-42, in Athens. Of course, South Carolina ran the table in the East while the Dawgs benefited from an easier West-opponent slate. That happens again this season, with Georgia facing Auburn and Ole Miss while the Cocks travel to LSU and host Arkansas. Consequently, USC will need to take care of business at home versus Georgia.

Revenge Game: Arkansas (Nov. 10)
This one is simple. The Razorbacks have had the Gamecocks’ number over the last three seasons, winning all three games by a combined score of 118-64. Arkansas will travel to Williams-Brice Stadium this year, and South Carolina will have an extra week to prepare for the Petrino-less Hogs. Steve Spurrier’s crew should be primed to stop the current three-game skid.

Freshman to Watch: Shaq Roland, WR
The Lexington native could become the next stud receiver from the Palmetto State.  Roland was rated the No. 41 overall player in the nation in the AC100, and won Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina. He will follow in the footsteps of fellow highly-rated instate products like Stephon Gilmore, Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney, and Roland should compete for early playing time.

Comeback player: Devin Taylor, DE
After a stellar sophomore season in 2010 (13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks), many projected Taylor as All-SEC and even All-America last year. He fell short of those expectations in 2011 but still had a solid season with 42 tackles and six sacks. He and Clowney will form a scary pass rush combination, and look for Taylor to have a very productive senior campaign.

Position Battle: Wide Receiver
The aforementioned departure of Bears second-round selection Alshon Jeffery creates a huge void at this position. Ace Sanders has shown that he can produce at the SEC level, but there are questions marks after him. The candidates to step up for the Gamecocks include senior D. L. Moore and sophomores Nick Jones and Damiere Byrd.  Jeffery's brother, redshirt freshman Shamier, and true freshman Shaq Roland could also join the receiving rotation.

Related South Carolina Content

South Carolina Gamecocks 2012 Team Preview
South Carolina Gamecocks Top 10 Players for 2012

How Many SEC Games Will South Carolina Win in 2012?
South Carolina Gamecocks Top 10 Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in South Carolina Football History

South Carolina Gamecocks Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About South Carolina Rivals

Teaser:
<p> South Carolina Gamecocks 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 05:37
All taxonomy terms: College Football, jokes
Path: /college-football/jokes-about-south-carolina-rivals
Body:

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

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

• What's the difference between a Clemson football player and a dollar?
You can get four quarters out of a dollar.

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

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

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

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

• How do you get a Clemson graduate off your front porch?
You pay for the pizza.

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Jokes About South Carolina Rivals</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 03:30

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