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Path: /nfl/biggest-busts-nfl-draft-history

The biggest busts in recent NFL Draft history — from Tony Mandarich to JaMarcus Russell, and the infamous Mike Mamula, Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith and Charles Rogers swings-and-misses in between.

1989 – 2. Green Bay Packers
Tony Mandarich, LT, Michigan State

Sports Illustrated cursed the roided-up man-child by featuring a shirtless Mandarich on the magazine’s draft issue cover and declaring “The Incredible Bulk” as “the best offensive line prospect ever.”

The larger-than-life 6’6”, 315-pound Mandarich idolized Arnold Schwarzenegger, rocked out with Axl Rose and told David Letterman that he wanted to fight Mike Tyson. And after inking a four-year, $4.4 million rookie deal, Mandarich did become the first $1 million-per-year O-lineman.

But the Mandarich tall tale quickly came crashing down. He has since admitted to a career built on anabolic steroids — Dianabol, Winstrol and Anavar — and demolished by painkillers — Vicodin, Valium, Percocet and Percodan.

It doesn’t help that Mandarich was surrounded by future Hall of Famers — UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman (1. Dallas Cowboys), Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders (3. Detroit Lions), Alabama edge rusher Derrick Thomas (4. Kansas City Chiefs) and Florida State cornerback Deion Sanders (5. Atlanta Falcons) — in the 1989 NFL Draft. The Packers belly-flopped with a “can’t miss” left tackle.

1994 – 5. Indianapolis Colts
Trev Alberts, LB, Nebraska

“Who the hell is Mel Kiper?” Colts GM Bill Tobin infamously asked, after being called out by ESPN’s helmet-hair-gelled draft expert as a result of his selection of Alberts.

Kiper thought Indianapolis should have drafted Fresno State quarterback Trent Dilfer rather than Alberts, going so far as to say moves like this were why the Colts were “the laughingstock of the league year-in and year-out.”

“I think it’s a typical Colts move. I mean, here’s a team that needs a franchise quarterback. There are two (Tennessee’s Heath Shuler and Dilfer) out there. They have a chance at two; they don’t take them,” said Kiper, on the draft day telecast in 1994.

“They take an outside linebacker. And not even a true outside linebacker, somebody that has to learn coverage in Trev Alberts. … To pass up a Trent Dilfer, when all you have is Jim Harbaugh. Give me a break. That’s why the Colts are picking second every year in the draft and not battling for the Super Bowl like other clubs in the National Football League.”

Alberts was indeed a bust during his short three-year career in Indy. Meanwhile, Dilfer went on to lead the Baltimore Ravens to a win in Super Bowl XXXV — although some have given him the oxymoronic label as “worst quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl.” In fairness, the Colts did draft San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk, a Hall of Famer, with the No. 2 overall pick in 1994.

1995 – 7. Philadelphia Eagles
Mike Mamula, DE, Boston College

The original workout warrior weighed in at 6’4”, 250 pounds, ran a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash, skied 38.5 inches in the vertical leap, ripped off 26 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and reportedly aced the Wonderlic test with a score of 49 out of a possible 50 at the annual Scouting Combine. As a result, the screaming Eagle soared up draft boards, while future stars like Miami defensive tackle Warren Sapp fell farther than expected once Commissioner Paul Tagliabue began mispronouncing names on draft day.

Mamula was mediocre for five seasons, but never lived up to the massive expectations that his massive biceps and calves caused at the Combine. To this day, self-loathing Philly fans claim Sapp was the guy they wanted over Mamula, while the beefed-up BC ‘tweener has become the poster boy for the potential dangers of relying too much on numbers at the Combine, a.k.a. the underwear Olympics.

1996 – 6. St. Louis Rams
Lawrence Phillips, RB, Nebraska

The Rams front office — led by Georgia Frontiere, the only female owner in the NFL —fell in love with Phillips, who was reportedly the No. 1 player on the team’s draft board despite a high-profile domestic assault case for which he was still serving probation.

To make matters worse, Phillips’ predecessor in St. Louis, Jerome Bettis, was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers to make room for the Cornhusker star. “The Bus” went on to win Super Bowl XL in his hometown of Detroit; Phillips went on to play four seasons in the NFL, before bouncing around the Arena Football League, Canadian Football League and ultimately landing in the Los Angeles prison system — receiving a 31-year sentence for several felonies, notably multiple assault charges against his girlfriend and for running down three teens with his car following a sandlot football game gone wrong.

1998 – 2. San Diego Chargers
Ryan Leaf, QB, Washington State

People forget how heated the “Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf” debate was back in 1998. Many so-called experts thought Leaf had a superior arm to Manning and an intangible swagger Archie’s boy did not have. The Chargers traded up from No. 3 overall to acquire the Cardinals’ No. 2 overall pick in order to ensure a shot at either Manning or Leaf. That year, ESPN: The Magazine concluded that Leaf “possesses an ‘I don’t give a crap’ attitude that has proven essential to Super Bowl quarterbacks from Stabler to McMahon to Favre. Come 2018, Ryan Leaf, not Manning, will be strutting up to a podium in Canton.”

Manning’s bust will certainly be on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, five years after his retirement. Leaf is just a bust — having posted a 4–17 record with 3,666 yards, 14 TDs and 36 INTs over 25 games with the Chargers and Cowboys. Leaf was a team cancer on and off the field, alienating San Diego veterans such as Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison, and getting caught on tape threatening local reporters.

The story has only gotten worse since Leaf left the NFL. He is currently accused of breaking into homes and stealing prescription painkillers; he faces four felony counts in Montana, including burglary and criminal possession of a dangerous drug. In 2010, Leaf faced similar accusations as a golf coach at West Texas A&M; he was given 10 years probation as part of a plea bargain, a deal which is now in jeopardy pending the outcome of his new case in Montana.

1999 – 3. Cincinnati Bengals
Akili Smith, QB, Oregon

After only 11 college starts at Oregon, the athletic Smith — who was also a minor league baseball prospect — was selected behind Kentucky’s Tim Couch (No. 1 Cleveland Browns) and Syracuse’s Donovan McNabb (No. 2 Philadelphia Eagles), as the third quarterback taken in a class that was set to rival the 1983 crew that included John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino. The Class of 1999 had five quarterbacks taken in the first dozen picks — Couch, McNabb, Smith, UCF’s Daunte Culpepper (11. Minnesota Vikings) and UCLA’s Cade McNown (12. Chicago Bears).

The Bungles missed the mark yet again, as Smith reportedly struggled to learn the playbook and partied his way out of the league — posting a 3–14 record with 2,212 yards, five TDs and 13 INTs over 22 games in Cincinnati.

2000 – 1. Cleveland Browns
Courtney Brown, DE, Penn State

The original Jim Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens in 1996. The expansion Courtney Browns were dropped in Cleveland by Paul Tagliabue in 1999. Mistakes by the lake have followed ever since.

With back-to-back No. 1 overall picks to start the franchise over from scratch, the Browns selected Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch in 1999 and Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown in 2000. Injuries kept Brown off the field and a sputtering motor kept him from making plays when he was on the field. Brown’s surname grade and Combine measurables were off-the-charts, but it was obvious to every brown-paper-bag wearing fan in the Dawg Pound that Brown was a classic case of “look like Tarzan, play like Jane.”

2003 – 2. Detroit Lions
Charles Rogers, WR, Michigan State

The local product was the first of four first-round receivers selected over a five-year span by Matt Millen — who picked Rogers at No. 2 overall (one spot ahead of Miami receiver Andre Johnson) in 2003, Texas’ Roy Williams at No. 7 in 2004, USC’s Mike Williams at No. 10 in 2005 and Georgia Tech’s Calvin Johnson at No. 2 in 2007.

Rogers suffered back-to-back broken collarbones to miss the majority of his first two seasons. Then, a failed drug test and coaching regime change in Detroit effectively ended the lanky wideout’s career after only 15 games, 36 catches for 440 yards and four TDs. Rogers was also forced to return much of his salary, since a failed drug test violated the terms of his rookie contract.

Recent run-ins with the law have included a DUI arrest, possession charge, driving with an open container, conspiring to commit a crime and making malicious phone calls.

2007 – 1. Oakland Raiders
JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU

After the longest holdout since Bo Jackson chose baseball over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1986, Russell broke the bank with a six-year, $61 million contract with $29 million guaranteed. It was all down hill after that. The theory that money makes a person more of whatever they already were was never more true that with Russell — who lived up to his reputation as lazy and out of shape, but failed to live up to his undeniably enormous potential.

Al Davis’ dreams of revitalizing the Raiders’ vertical passing attack were based on a mountain of a man (6’6”, 260) who could throw a football over 60 yards from his knees. The problem was, Russell couldn’t throw the ball from the pocket while on his feet. He also couldn’t stay awake in meetings or keep his weight in check. After going 25–4 as a starter at LSU, Russell struggled to a 7–18 record in the NFL with 4,083 yards, 18 TDs and 23 INTs in three seasons.

Sleep-walking through his highly paid NFL career, Russell was implicated in a codeine syrup drug bust in his native Mobile, Ala., but was not indicted by a grand jury for possession of the main ingredient in “purple drank” — a club concoction Russell unintentionally took from the Southern rap scene and introduced into mainstream sports talk. Russell has also faced six-figure tax debt and the foreclosure of his six-bedroom, $3 million Oakland mansion.

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades
2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer
2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Positions
2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals
2012 NFL Draft Busts: Ryan Tannehill and Dontari Poe
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

<p> The biggest busts in recent NFL Draft history — from Tony Mandarich to JaMarcus Russell,&nbsp;and the infamous Mike Mamula, Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith and Charles Rogers swings-and-misses in between.</p>
Post date: Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 19:30
Path: /college-football/nfl-mock-draft-our-first-round-projection

The 2012 NFL Draft takes place April 26-28 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Fans from all 32 teams are eagerly awaiting the annual event to see their squad add some new and exciting talent. Here’s our prediction for the first round from the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly.

1. Indianapolis Colts — Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Heir to Peyton Manning is safest quarterback prospect since John Elway.

2. Washington Redskins — Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Heisman Trophy-winning RG3 a perfect fit for Mike Shanahan’s offense.

3. Minnesota Vikings — Matt Kalil, T, USC
Latest blindside bodyguard from Troy is most talented since Tony Boselli.

4. Cleveland Browns — Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
T-Town’s finest opens floodgates for Crimson Tidal wave in first round.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Bayou Bengal corner/returner follows in Patrick Peterson’s top-5 footsteps.

6. St. Louis Rams — Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Jeff Fisher trades down from No. 2, still gets new toy for Sam Bradford.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars — Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
Schematically versatile hybrid end/backer is disruptive wherever he plays.

8. Miami Dolphins — Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Former receiver reunites with old A&M coach, Miami OC Mike Sherman.

9. Carolina Panthers — Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Poor man’s Julius Peppers comes at cheaper price than fellow Tar Heel.

10. Buffalo Bills — Riley Reiff, T, Iowa
After shoring up D-line in free agency, Buffalo turns to O-line in draft.

11. Kansas City Chiefs — Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Ex-Patriots Scott Pioli, Romeo Crennel hope Poe is next Vince Wilfork.

12. Seattle Seahawks — Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Sideline-to-sideline tackling machine flies from coast-to-coast after draft.

13. Arizona Cardinals — David DeCastro, G, Stanford
Traditionally too early for a guard, but DeCastro is a once-a-decade talent.

14. Dallas Cowboys — Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Draft’s top safety unable to work out due to hernia; game tape says it all.

15. Philadelphia Eagles — Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Draft-eligible sophomore has raw tools to play inside or outside at next level.

16. New York Jets — Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
Edge-rushing sledgehammer perfect for Rex Ryan’s attacking 3-4 defense.

17. Cincinnati Bengals — Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Lanky cover man excels in zone coverage, may eventually move to safety.

18. San Diego Chargers — Nick Perry, DE, USC
Showed flashes for Trojans, but Bolts hope best is yet to come.

19. Chicago Bears — Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Golden Dome’d red zone threat a nice complement to Brandon Marshall.

20. Tennessee Titans — Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Nation’s leader in sacks (16), forced fumbles (9) brings hits to Music City.

21. Cincinnati Bengals — Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia
A.J. Green’s former teammate is a mauler inside, with feet to kick outside.

22. Cleveland Browns — Jonathan Martin, T, Stanford
Andrew Luck’s left tackle on The Farm will play on right side by the lake.

23. Detroit Lions — Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Any young corner will benefit from having Suh, Avril and Co. up front.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers — Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Happy Valley’s lone bright spot has Steel Curtain-caliber 3-4 end skills.

25. Denver Broncos — Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Peyton Manning may disagree, but Denver needs best player available on D-line.

26. Houston Texans — Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
RG3’s go-to guy takes electric playmaking ability from Waco to Houston.

27. New England Patriots — Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Talented problem child transfer from Florida has most volatile draft stock.

28. Green Bay Packers — Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
Rangy end has athleticism, frame to play outside linebacker for Packers.

29. Baltimore Ravens — Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
Ray Lewis will be 37 years old this season. Lieutenant Hightower is 22.

30. San Francisco 49ers — Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
Jim Harbaugh’s former Cardinal playmaker stays in Bay Area with 49ers.

31. New England Patriots — Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Tom Brady’s “Boston TE Party” needs a speedy, deep threat like Hill.

32. New York Giants — Mike Adams, T, Ohio State
With few glaring needs, champs replace Kareem McKenzie on right side.

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades
2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer
2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Positions
2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals
2012 NFL Draft Busts: Ryan Tannehill and Dontari Poe
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

<p> 2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First Round Projection</p>
Post date: Saturday, April 21, 2012 - 09:16
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/ask-athlon-sports-baseball-hall-fame-0

Q: Brett Butler was one of the best leadoff batters and bunters in baseball history. Shouldn’t he be in the Hall of Fame? What is he doing now?

— Sarah Newland, Catlettsburg, Ky.

A: Butler — who, incidentally, was the first batter Roger Clemens faced in his big league career — was a great player and one of the better leadoff hitters of his era, although his career numbers don’t quite put him in Hall of Fame territory. Six times he scored more than 100 runs in a season; he led the National League in triples four times; and he stole 558 bases in his career, ranking 24th all-time in that category. A bout with cancer, which he blamed on his use of smokeless tobacco, shortened his career, leaving him with 2,375 career hits for five different teams and a career .290 batting average. Since his retirement, he has coached for the Diamondbacks and managed at the minor league level, while also dedicating time to Christian and pro-life causes. He enters the 2012 season as the manager for Reno Aces, the D-backs’ Triple-A affiliate, a position he has held since the team’s inception in 2009. Butler led the Aces to a Pacific Coast League Northern Division title in 2011.

— Charlie Miller, Editorial Director

Have a question? Email us with any sports-related questions at
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.

<p> Baseball Hall of Fame</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 16:19
All taxonomy terms: Arizona Cardinals, Oakland Raiders, NFL
Path: /nfl/ask-athlon-sports-nfl-records

Q: What player holds the NFL record for the longest fumble return for a touchdown?
— D. Francis, Round Rock, Texas

A: Actually, two players share the record: The Raiders’ Jack Tatum returned a fumble 104 yards for a touchdown on Sept. 24, 1972, against the Packers, and the Cardinals’ Aeneas Williams duplicated the feat against the Redskins on Nov. 5, 2000. The hard-hitting Tatum, who died in 2010, had 37 career interceptions, but that fumble return was his only career touchdown. Of course, there have been longer returns in NFL annals. Antonio Cromartie of the Chargers recorded the longest return of any kind when he took a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown against the Vikings in 2007. The Packers’ Randall Cobb (2011) and the Patriots’ Ellis Hobbs (2007) both had 108-yard kickoff returns. And the Ravens’ Ed Reed took an interception back 108 yards for a score against the Eagles in 2008. Reed, the master of touchdown returns, was the first player in NFL history to score touchdowns via interception, punt, blocked punt and fumble return.

— Rob Doster, Senior Editor

Have a question? Email us with any sports-related questions at
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.

<p> NFL Records</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 16:16
All taxonomy terms: Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /golf/ask-athlon-sports-tiger-woods

Q: What was the reason Tiger Woods fired his longtime caddie, Steve Williams? Was it over money when Tiger was in his slump?

— Bill Dombo, Yuba City, Calif.

A: During his tenure as Tiger Woods’ caddie, Steve Williams was no ordinary looper. Part enforcer, part bodyguard, part motivator, Williams ran interference for Tiger for a decade-plus of stunning success, becoming that rarest of sport rarities: the superstar caddie. Williams was on Tiger’s bag for 13 major championship wins and was always there with an awkward high-five or fist bump after every hero shot or clutch putt; he was also more than happy to protect his man from over-eager fans, once confiscating a camera from an amateur photographer and depositing it in a nearby pond. Their relationship extended off the course; they were in each other’s weddings, and their wives became friends. Williams also stood by his man in the wake of Tiger’s personal scandal, but as Woods sought to rebuild his life, Williams was a constant reminder of his fall from grace. The firing really shouldn’t have come as a surprise given Tiger’s inclination to reboot his inner circle from time to time, especially when members of that inner circle start grabbing too big a share of the spotlight. After all, Woods fired instructor Butch Harmon, who guided him on his ascent to superstardom, and he also fired Hank Haney, who helped Tiger maintain his status as the greatest player in the world. Williams’ behavior since the sacking — he essentially has had an ongoing public tantrum — would seem to validate Woods’ decision. Tiger made him rich and famous. It may sound cold, but he doesn’t owe him anything else.

— Rob Doster, Senior Editor

Have a question? Email us with any sports-related questions at
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.

<p> Ask Athlon Sports: Tiger Woods</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 16:06
All taxonomy terms: Boston Red Sox, MLB
Path: /college-football/athlons-essential-eleven

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 20.

• Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe has the Beantown perspective on Fenway Park turning 100 years old.

• Cedric Golden breaks down the Oklahoma State quarterback derby. Will Clint Chelf or J.W. Walsh replace Brandon Weeden?

• 1,050 slices of bacon on one sandwich?! This picture is amazing.

• Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel reacts to the soap opera of Magic star Dwight Howard, who will miss the postseason because of back surgery.

• Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution previews the Georgia Tech spring game, which will take place on Friday night.

•  Mechelle Voepel has a wonderful column on Pat Summitt’s rainmaker effect on women’s basketball.

• ESPN SEC blogger Edward Aschoff looks at the challenges facing Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze in his first year in Oxford.

• BC Interruption is embarrassed by the lack of attendance at the Eagles spring game.

• Andy Glockner of looks at the effect of SMU hiring 71-year-old Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown.

• Scott Miller of CBS has a great piece on Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary. Love the line “…Fenway Park is as beautifully sturdy as Ted Williams' timeless legend.”

•  College Gridiron 365 shows us how Arkansas is following Mississippi State and Michigan in displaying a “hashtag” on its field.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 19.

• The Knoxville News Sentinel looks back at the amazing career of legendary Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt, who will step aside as head coach after eight national titles and 1,098 wins over 38 seasons.

• reports that the Colts have made up their mind and will draft quarterback Andrew Luck of Stanford with the No. 1 overall pick.

• Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report breaks down the SEC championship odds for the 14 teams in America’s toughest conference.

• Jeff Potrykus of the Journal Sentinel looks at the national criticism that Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan is receiving for restricting the transfer of Jarrod Uthoff.

• details the latest issue for a new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis. Let the Los Angeles rumors continue…

• PhilliesNation.con looks back at the stellar pitching duel between Matt Cain and Cliff Lee, which ended with the Giants defeating the Phils, 1-0, in 11 innings.

• Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post has a moving column on her good friend, Pat Summitt.

• Jon Gold of Inside UCLA summarizes the Bruins spring practice at the halfway point. When will the UCLA staff decide on a starter at quarterback?

• Jim Young of looks at C.J. Leslie’s decision to shun the NBA and return to NC State.

• ESPN Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell chronicles at the football rollercoaster ride for Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn.

• The 700 Level in Philadelphia has the video of Sixers star Andre Iguodala pranking teammate Lou Williams.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 18.

•  Campus Rivalry details how an outfitter for Texas A&M gear makes a huge geographical mistake, with North Carolina added to the SEC states.

•  The Blitzburgh Blog shows the new (and awful) throwback Steelers uniforms – a replica of the 1934 version - and predicts sickness around the Steel City.

• Mark Ennis of Big East Coast Bias has an in-depth look at the Louisville spring game. Coach Charlie Strong has the Cardinals looking like the overwhelming favorite to win the conference title in 2012.

• Tom Verducci of has a very interesting column questioning the modern bullpen. Do baseball franchises need to rethink the way they structure pitching staffs?

•  Dave Miller of National Football Post takes a good look at what new LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger could mean to the Tigers offense.

•  Pro Football Talk has some compelling notes on all 32 teams with the release of the NFL schedule.

• Troy Renck of the Denver Post has the details on Rockies starter Jamie Moyer, who last night became the oldest pitcher (49 years, 150 days) to ever win an MLB game.

•  ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg reports that Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell has a sprained right knee and could miss the Spartans spring game on April 28.

•  Chris Bahn of has the details on Jessica Dorrell, the Razorbacks staff member involved in an affair with former coach Bobby Petrino, resigning her position.

•  Jason King of ESPN Dallas reports that 71-year-old Larry Brown has agreed to become the next SMU basketball coach, even though the longtime bench boss denies it.

•  ESPN AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky says the Colts are now a “1 pm EST kickoff” team, and that Indy has season tickets available for the first time since 2003.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 17.

• Jon Solomon has quotes from a roundtable of conference commissioners discussing the BCS, new Playoff proposals and athletes being paid.

•  Deadspin has the details on Delonte West of the Mavericks earning a technical foul for giving Utah’s Gordon Hayward a “wet willie”.

•  Jake Martin of Bleacher Report has an interesting comparison between former LSU Tiger cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Mo Claiborne on the eve of the NFL Draft.

• ESPN Big 12 Blogger David Ubben sits down with West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who says "We didn’t really leave the Big East. It left us."

• On the heels of Alabama’s BCS title trophy being destroyed, Bleacher Report SEC Blogger Barrett Sallee is surprised that crystal trophies do not break more often. We’ll be surprised if the Tide does not try to claim another national title when the new trophy arrives.

•  Lisa Horne of Fox Sports ranks the strongest college football schedules for this season. Poor Ole Miss.

•  Lost Letterman shows Oregon quarterback Bryan Bennett taking us on a tour of the lavish, two-story Ducks’ locker room. Apparently, Nike is doing all right.

•  Matthew Osborne of has a recruiting roundup from spring games around the South, including multiple commitments for Missouri, Alabama, Auburn and South Carolina.

•  Garry Paskwietz of details a new deal where ESPN radio will broadcast USC home football games nationally.

•  Freddie Vickers of takes an in-depth look at Clemson’s spring practice. Can the Tigers repeat in the ACC?

•  Former NFL and college coach Steve Mariucci tells that he has had no contact with Arkansas about its head coaching position.

--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 16.

Here is the final column for longtime Clarion Legder writer Rick Cleveland, who is leaving after 40-plus years in the business to lead the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

   Utah Jazz announcer David Locke goes bonkers, and basically starts speaking in tongues, after Derrick Favors misses a layup. SportsGrid has the audio.

• Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston covers the ongoing soap opera with the Red Sox, with new manager Bobby Valentine questioning fan favorite Kevin Youkilis’ commitment to the game.

 Here are some interesting thoughts from Travis Reier of after Alabama’s A-Day Game. Will receivers Christion Jones and Kenny Bell lead to more explosive plays in the passing game for the Tide in 2012?

• Pedro Moura of ESPNLosAngeles recaps the USC spring game, where the Trojans chose not to tackle. (You can just hear the Pac-12 jokes from Big Ten and SEC country)

• Michael David Smith of details Giants owner John Mara saying that the NFL Competition Committee has talked about eliminating kickoffs. Really? Where would the game start?

• Richard Langford of Bleacher Report features the Wolverines who stood out during Michigan’s spring game, and his early prediction for UM’s record is 10-3.

• Timothy Rapp of Bleacher Report looks at how Jackie Robinson Day was celebrated around baseball.

• Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has the Browns taking Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon in her latest mock draft. Should Cleveland go with Alabama runner Trent Richardson instead?

• Brent Zwernaman of the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle details the planned renovation of Kyle Field as Texas A&M prepares for SEC play.

• Jeff Svoboda of recaps Ohio State’s practice where students were allowed on the field.

<p> Rounding up the web's best sports links from the NFL, college football, MLB, the NBA and college basketball so you don't have to.</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 12:00
Path: /nascar/michael-waltrip-racing-hitting-nascar-stride

In its sixth full season of Sprint Cup competition, Michael Waltrip Racing is making a push at becoming a powerhouse on NASCAR’s premier circuit.

MWR’s three-team operation has combined for five top 5s and 12 top 10s thus far in 2012. Spearheaded by Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 56 NAPA team, MWR finds its two full-time drivers — Truex and Clint Bowyer — in the top 10 in the point standings.

Third-year MWR driver Truex and crew chief Chad Johnston concluded the 2011 season on an uptick, recording four top 10s in the final five races. That momentum carried through the offseason as the duo have yet to finish worse than 17th this year. Included are finishes of third (Bristol), fifth (Martinsville) and sixth (Bristol) and a fourth-place spot in the championship standings.

“It’s been a good start to the season for us,” Truex says. “Everybody at MWR has done a nice job. For us, it’s just about coming here and trying to keep it rolling.

“We’ve had about 10 or 11 good races in a row going back to last year. That feels good. We just need to continue to build on that.”

Bowyer, a high-profile free-agent hire from Richard Childress Racing, has found immediate chemistry with new MWR crew chief Brian Pattie. Leading the No. 15 team, they have managed runs of sixth (Bristol) and fourth (Las Vegas) and sit 10th in the point standings. Their consistent start is the difference between an organization that once contended for wins three or four times a year, but now, each weekend.

“When I started at RCR, there was nothing to prove there,” Bowyer says. “As a driver, the only thing you can do is not screw up the opportunity. Here, I’m going to have to be part of moving on with a championship-caliber organization. That’s exciting. That’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.”

Key to the turnaround, though, was the hiring of former Richard Childress Racing crew chief and competition director Scott Miller as the organization’s Vice President of Competition.

Miller is a NASCAR veteran, having sat atop the pit box for both Bowyer and Jeff Burton while at RCR. He brought a level of expertise and confidence to his new role at MWR when he signed with the company late in the 2011 season.

“I was very, very pleasantly surprised with what I found when I came in the door,” Miller told the Associated Press. “Obviously, there are still things we are working on, but MWR was not in bad shape at all when I got here. They had started working on new cars and new chassis in the summer. We just needed to clean up and get a little more efficient at what we do.”

Mark Martin, one of the most respected drivers in the sport, also brought a level of professionalism not seen at MWR when, shortly before the season began, he agreed to pilot the No. 55 car for 25 races in 2012.

“What strikes me the most about Mark is, he’s like a kid in a candy store — he’s ready for a new challenge,” Miller says of the driver who finished third in Texas last weekend. “He thrived in that part-time schedule he was in (2007 and ‘08) and I think he really enjoyed himself doing that — not necessarily getting caught up in the Chase race or the championship thing — but just enjoying his craft of driving a racecar.”

Martin’s absence in two races so far has given way to one of the feel-good stories of the 2012 season: Brian Vickers.

A casualty of Red Bull Racing’s departure from NASCAR, Vickers will drive the car in eight Cup races while team co-owner Waltrip picks up four others.

Using his first appearance in the No. 55 as an audition (and a statement), Vickers led 125 laps at Bristol en route to a fifth-place run. Between Vickers and Martin, the No. 55 team has yet to finish worse than 18th, with four top 10s to its credit. Those performances find the team — along with the Nos. 15 and 56 — ranked in the top 10 in the all-important owners standings, guaranteeing their place in the starting lineup each weekend.

That’s a far cry from MWR’s first full season on the circuit in 2007, when its three teams stumbled through a miserable debut effort that found it going home after qualifying a total of 39 times.

“You see all the championship organizations — they don’t just have one bullet, they have two, three or four,” executive vice president Ty Norris says. “We have three bullets every week.

“I still pinch myself because it’s so hard to believe that we’ve got these great people working on the cars, a great attitude and great drivers to get it done. It’s a very exciting time for us.”

And of course, there’s Waltrip, whose two Daytona 500 wins make up for an otherwise unimpressive Cup Series record.

It was Waltrip who founded the organization, placing its first car in what was then the Busch Series in 1994 — finishing third at Bristol with fellow Owensboro, Ky., native Jeff Green at the wheel.

Waltrip’s passion for racing, marketing savvy and business sense — he brought in car enthusiast and Fortress Investment Group founder Rob Kauffman as an investor and co-owner in 2007 — have taken the program from a backyard operation to the thriving, multi-million dollar entity it is today.

“Michael has a lot of passion to give,” Norris explains. “Whether it’s a charitable event or NASCAR racing, the things he cares the most about he just pours his heart into it. He just becomes obsessed with it and the energy he brings when he talks about this (MWR) that gets everybody excited.”

At the rate Waltrip’s teams are going, there will plenty more to be excited about in the very near future.

by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter:


<p> Michael Waltrip Racing's three-car team is putting up impressive numbers early in the 2012 NASCAR season.</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 11:28
Path: /college-football/michigan-or-ohio-state-which-team-will-have-more-wins-2012

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Michigan or Ohio State: Which Team Will Have More Regular Season Wins in 2012?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Urban Meyer has never won fewer than eight games in his debut season at any school in his career – he went 8-3 at Bowling Green, 10-2 at Utah and 9-3 at Florida. He should hit that mark again at Ohio State, even without the benefit of a bowl or a potential Big Ten title game appearance. I look at Ohio State’s schedule and I don’t see any game that’s a definite loss. The Buckeyes aren’t going to go undefeated – road trips to Michigan State and Wisconsin, plus home dates with Nebraska and Michigan are swing games. I could see Ohio State splitting those four games. That gives the Buckeyes a nine-win season heading into the Michigan game. On the other hand, the Wolverines have the tougher schedule. Michigan opens with Alabama in Arlington and must visit Notre Dame and Nebraska before heading to Columbus for the finale. I know others are buying into Ohio State – with Meyer on the sideline and a full season of quarterback Braxton Miller – being a Big Ten contender in all but name. I still like Michigan as the better team with the defense continuing to improve and Denard Robinson and the offensive coaching staff spending another season together. Even though Michigan will have a tougher road than Ohio State, the Wolverines seem headed to a higher win total.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
If we are strictly debating the regular season win totals of Michigan and Ohio State, I will have to go with the Scarlet and Gray in a tie-breaker. There are five total "losable" games on the Buckeyes' schedule. That said, road trips to Michigan State and Penn State are not all that scary for an Urban Meyer-coached, Braxton Miller-quarterbacked squad. The Bucks likely would have beaten Nebraska on the road last fall had Miller not gotten hurt, so a visit from the Huskers to start October shouldn't be too menacing either. That leaves the final two weeks of the regular season in which Ohio State visits Wisconsin and hosts that team from up north. While the road trip to Madison seems daunting, there is nothing special about this Badger team that forces me to pencil in a loss for Ohio State — especially coming off a bye the week before. Finally, it feels like an awfully tall order for Michigan to walk into the Horseshoe and beat a team that knows it will be playing its final game of the season with a chance to ruin the lofty goals of its rival — be it a Big Ten title, BCS bowl bid or more. Keep in mind, the worst Ohio State team in more than a decade nearly beat the best Michigan team in five years on the road last fall. On the conservative side, I will go with a 10-2 record for Ohio State and a win over Brady Hoke.

I will also give Michigan a 10-2 record for the 2012 regular season. The Wolverines will exercise some in-state demons by beating Michigan State for the first time in five seasons and will exact some revenge on an underwhelming Iowa team. And while I would love to pick Denard Robinson to upset the defending champions and their totally reworked defense on a lighting fast tract in Dallas in Week 1, I just can't see the Maize and Blue line of scrimmage holding up against Alabama. That leaves the trip south to Columbus in the season finale as the tie-breaker. An Ohio State win gives both teams a 10-2 record (in my scenario) and thus the Bucks get the nod via tie-breaker.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s tough to gauge where Ohio State stands as a team going into 2012. The Buckeyes underachieved last season, largely due to the coaching situation and overall uncertainty surrounding the program. However, Ohio State still has one of the Big Ten’s best rosters, and new coach Urban Meyer has been a winner at every stop. Meyer has also produced immediate results, which bodes well for Ohio State's record in 2012. The Buckeyes have a few question marks on offense - offensive line and receiving corps - but return quarterback Braxton Miller, a perfect fit for Meyer's spread attack.

Michigan had a tremendous first season under coach Brady Hoke, but suffered two key losses on the lines (center David Molk and tackle Mike Martin) and play in the tougher division. The Wolverines should score plenty of points, thanks to the return of quarterback Denard Robinson and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Michigan’s defense made huge strides under coordinator Greg Mattison last year, and should continue to show improvement in 2012.

There’s a good chance both teams finish with a 10-2 record, but I will give Ohio State a slight edge over Michigan for the most wins in 2012. The Wolverines have a tougher non-conference slate, facing a neutral site game against Alabama and a road test against Notre Dame. The Buckeyes have an easier road in non-conference play, taking on Miami (Ohio), UCF, California and UAB. Ohio State does have a tough Big Ten slate, as it will take on Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska in crossover games with the Legends. Considering how weak the Leaders Division is this year, the Wolverines should be able to sweep their crossover games, with the exception of the matchup against Ohio State. Expect the battle between rivals for the best record in the regular season to come down to the final weekend, with the Buckeyes edging the Wolverines in Columbus. 

Kevin Noon,
I am not sure if this is a totally fair question based upon the fact that Ohio State could play in as many as two fewer games with a bowl ban and a B1G Championship Game ban. It is safe to say that Michigan will make a bowl game and I do think it is one of the favorites in the Legends Division to go to Indy. So if you are counting the potential "postseason" games for Michigan, I will say the Maize and Blue wins more games. Yet, I believe that Ohio State's schedule sets up well for a 10-2 season with tricky games at Madison (Wis.) and East Lansing (Mich.) and a tough home game with Nebraska. I see Michigan going 9-3 during the same timeframe with losses to Alabama, Ohio State and either Michigan State or Nebraska. The Wolverines struggled to the end last season with one of the poorest performing Ohio State teams in recent memory, Buckeyes get the edge this year at home. Ohio State posts more regular season wins, but Michigan finishes with more due to NCAA sanctions in Columbus.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think the Buckeyes will win more than the Wolverines during the regular season, mainly because of an easier out-of-conference schedule. Michigan might be able to catch up in wins during the postseason, since Ohio State will not be eligible for the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game. Urban Meyer might have inherited a sanctioned program, but he also is walking into a talented roster in Columbus. The defense should be excellent, led by John Simon, Johnathan Hankins and Christian Bryant. On offense, quarterback Braxton Miller looks like the perfect fit for Meyer’s dual-threat system. With linemen Andrew Norwell and Jack Mewhort clearing the way, the Buckeyes could put up enough points to win double-digit games this season. Michigan will also score big this year, with the electric Denard Robinson leading the way. The Wolverines did lose a couple of key linemen on each side of the ball, and that will hurt in trying to repeat last year’s 10-win regular season. OSU should go 4-0 outside of the Big Ten, while UM has games against Alabama and at Notre Dame. I think the Buckeyes will be greatly improved and have a good shot at 10 wins, while the Wolverines will battle a tougher slate and finish with eight or nine victories.
<p> Michigan or Ohio State: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/sec-football-running-back-rankings-2012

The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the running backs in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel. 

Here's how Athlon ranks the running backs in the SEC for 2012:

1. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (JR)
Rushing Stats:
163 att., 818 yards, 10 TD
Receiving Stats: 19 rec., 182 yards, TD

If healthy, there is no running back in the nation with more physical talent than Marcus Lattimore. In 20 career games, he has averaged over 100 yards rushing and has scored 30 total touchdowns. Not counting the Florida State bowl game in which he got hurt early on, he has failed to reach paydirt in only four career games. Lattimore can move the pile with power, can get to the edge with speed and will make defenders look silly trying to cover him in the passing game. He has averaged an absurd 130.5 yards from scrimmage for his career and has topped 170 yards rushing five times in 20 games. He has missed time in both seasons due to injury, mostly due to his incredibly physical running style, and he was held back in spring ball this year. However, Lattimore appears ready to lead the Gamecocks in 2012 and, needless to say, he is the complete package in the backfield.

2. Knile Davis, Arkansas (JR)
Rushing Stats:
Receiving Stats: None

Arkansas was dealt a tough blow in preseason workouts last year when Davis suffered a season-ending ankle injury. As a sophomore in 2010, he rushed for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns, while catching 19 passes for 136 yards and one score. Davis earned all-conference honors for his breakout sophomore campaign, but was unable to build off of that due to the ankle injury. Davis is expected to return at full strength for the 2012 season and should emerge as Arkansas’ go-to back once again. The junior will have to knock off a little rust after missing an entire season, but he should finish among the SEC leaders in yards.

3. Eddie Lacy, Alabama (JR)
Rushing Stats:
95 att., 674 yards, 7 TDs
Receiving Stats: 11 rec., 131 yards, 0 TD

Trent Richardson will be missed, but Alabama should have no trouble replacing his production in 2012. Lacy served as Richardson’s backup last year, rushing for 674 yards and seven touchdowns. He recorded 161 yards and two touchdowns in the 41-0 win over North Texas and posted 96 yards and two scores on 11 attempts against Mississippi State. Lacy doesn’t quite match Richardson in terms of talent, but he’s still one of the best running backs returning in the SEC for 2012. The junior is averaging 7.2 yards per carry, which could go down with more touches this season, but he should easily approach 1,000 yards and 10 scores in 2012. 

4. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt (SR)
Rushing Stats:
201 att., 1,193 yards, 14 TD
Receiving Stats: 20 rec., 106 yards

Over the first five games of the 2011 seasons, Stacy averaged eight carries per game. Over the final eight games of the season, he posted 20.1 attempts per game — and he flourished behind a developing offensive line. He topped the century mark in rushing yards in four of the Commodores final seven games. Stacy also put plenty of points on the scoreboard by scoring 13 of his 14 touchdowns over that span as well. At the end of the year, one could argue Stacy produced the best single-season by a running back in Vanderbilt history as his yardage and touchdown totals set single-season school benchmarks. After dealing with some injury issues early in his career, Stacy proved to be more than capable if healthy. Look for another stellar year from the Vandy tailback.

5. Spencer Ware, LSU (JR)
Rushing Stats:
177 att., 707 yards, 8 TD
Receiving Stats: 11 rec., 73 yards, TD

Sorting through and ranking the LSU running backs is virtually impossible. They are all extremely talented, extremely physical and very productive. Ware got the most carries in 2011, posted 10 starts on the year and was the star of the running game early in the season. He topped the 20-carry mark in five of the team’s first seven games, including two of the entire team’s four 100-yard efforts for the season. The 233-pound back is a bulldozer on third downs and rarely goes down on first contact. The fact that Ware got only 33 carries in the final five games is more of a testament to the talent on the depth chart rather than any struggles by No. 11. However, three rushing attempts against Alabama in the national title game does seem inexplicable.

6. Isaiah Crowell, Georgia (SO)
Rushing Stats:
185 att., 850 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 8 rec., 59 yards, TD

The amount of recruiting hype surrounding Crowell was almost unfair when the freshman stepped onto campus. Yet, the in-state product posted one of the best true freshman rushing season in school history. He topped the 100-yard mark four times and earned AP SEC Freshman of the Year awards. His raw physical talent is clearly SEC-ready, but Crowell could finish this season much higher on this list if he matures and commits to being a leader on his team. The youngster’s report card likely includes “does not work well with others” and “distracts class often.” These are easily correctable issues that could vault Crowell in stardom — if the UGA offensive line can come together and create space for the sophomore in 2012.

7. Christine Michael, Texas A&M (SR)
Rushing Stats:
149 att., 899 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving Stats: 8 rec., 35 yards, 1 TD

If he can stay healthy, Michael has a chance to be one of the top five running backs in the SEC. Unfortunately for Texas A&M, Michael’s last two years have been cut short by injury. He suffered a broken leg in late October during the 2010 season, and tore his ACL in the 41-25 defeat to Oklahoma last year. Michael had four efforts of over 100 yards last season, including a 230-yard effort against Arkansas. All signs point to the senior returning at full strength for the 2012 opener, but coach Kevin Sumlin may take it slow with Michael’s recovery. The senior has the talent to rush for 1,000 yards, but his health will largely determine how much playing time he can receive.

8. Onterio McCalebb, Auburn (SR)
Rushing Stats:
112 att., 641 yards, 5 TDs
Receiving Stats: 32 rec., 344 yards, 2 TDs

McCalebb has been a solid change of pace option in his career, but is expected to be the No. 1 running back in 2012. With Michael Dyer transferring to Arkansas State, the senior should top 200 carries for the first time in his career. McCalebb rushed for 641 yards and five scores last year, but also added 32 receptions for 344 yards and two touchdowns. In his Auburn career, McCalebb has 2,016 career rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, while catching 45 passes and scoring once on special teams. The senior weighs only 174 pounds, so Auburn will have to be careful not to overload him in 2012. Tre Mason and Mike Blakely will spell McCalebb as backups, but the senior could approach 200 carries and over 1,000 yards this year. 

9. Michael Ford, LSU (JR)
Rushing Stats:
127 att., 756 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 4 rec., 10 yards

Over the course of the entire season, Ford might have been the most consistent player in the backfield. He never topped 20 carries but received at least 10 attempts in eight games. He finished second on the team in attempts but first in rushing yards and tied for second in touchdowns. He made the biggest play of the season on an option pitch in overtime against Alabama. His six yards per carry were third in the SEC for any back with at least 100 carries. The 215-pound senior is a physical player who is looking to build on his two starts from last year in 2012.

10. Kenny Hilliard, LSU (SO)
Rushing Stats:
62 att., 336 yards, 8 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 13 yards

It took a couple of months for Hilliard to earn his spot in the backfield rotation, but he might have been the best running back on the team down the stretch last fall. While Ware and Ford were racking up stats against lowly competition, Hilliard saved his best performances for the likes of Auburn, Arkansas and the SEC championship game against Georgia. The nephew of former LSU and New Orleans Saints great Dalton Hilliard, the 240-pound back posted five carries in the first seven games of his career. Yet, he exploded for 65 yards and two scores against Auburn, 102 yards and a score against the Hogs and 72 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulldogs. His eight touchdowns paced the Bayou Bengals — and he scored all of them in the final seven games of the year. In one short season, the massive tailback proved he belongs on the field with the Wares and Fords of the world.

11. Mike Gillislee, Florida (SR)
Rushing Stats:
56 att., 328 yards, 2 TD
Receiving Stats: None

Will Muschamp is looking for a three-down feature back and it appears that the 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior will get the call. Gillislee has played in 36 career games making him the most experienced back on the roster. The good news is he showed flashes of ability last fall by posting his two best career games with 79 yards and a score against UAB and 84 yards and a score against Kentucky. The bad news is he showed flashes against UAB and Kentucky. With an offensive line that struggled mightily a year ago, Gillislee will need to prove he can produce against front sevens from Athens, Columbia, and Baton Rouge to be considered a success in 2012.

12. LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State (JR)
Rushing Stats:
87 att., 422 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving Stats: 13 rec., 59 yards, 2 TDs

With Vick Ballard out of eligibility at Mississippi State, all signs point to Perkins emerging as the new No. 1 back for coach Dan Mullen. The junior has shown flashes of ability in limited action, rushing for 422 yards and two touchdowns on 87 attempts and recording 566 as a redshirt freshman in 2010. Nick Griffin should be Perkins’ biggest competition for carries and may split time in the backfield. However, Perkins has waited his turn and is in for a breakout year in 2012. 

13. Alfred Blue, LSU (JR)
Rushing Stats:
78 att., 539 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., -3 yards

Possibly the toughest player to peg of the four elite LSU backs, Blue showed the ability to make big plays in the ground game. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry and was the lead back in the SEC title game with 96 yards and two scores. His 119-yard effort against Western Kentucky was just one of four total 100-yard games by any Tiger a year ago. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder can appear to be the forgotten man in the Bayou backfield, but fans can be sure that Les Miles knows exactly what he has in No. 4. Blue, who is at best third on the LSU depth chart, would likely start for Tennessee, Mississippi State, Auburn, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Florida, Missouri and possibly Georgia.

14. Jeff Scott, Ole Miss (JR)
Rushing Stats:
116 att., 529 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving Stats: 15 rec., 99 yards, 0 TD

If Ole Miss wants to improve upon last season’s 2-10 record, improving the offense is at the top of the priority list for coach Hugh Freeze. Scott is one of the Rebels’ few proven offensive weapons, rushing for 529 yards and six touchdowns last season. He rushed for 118 yards and three scores against Southern Illinois and posted 138 yards and two touchdowns against Vanderbilt. Scott doesn’t have the size to be an every down back, but should be the Rebels’ leading rusher in 2012.

15. Kendial Lawrence, Missouri (SR)
Rushing Stats:
119 att., 566 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 14 rec., 77 yards

Lawrence earned the starting tailback job heading into last season but saw his year come to a screeching halt in the form of a cracked fibula after Week 1. He missed three games and returned to find Henry Josey torching defenses to the tune of 116 yards per game. Against Texas, however, Josey also suffered a severe injury and Lawrence was called upon once again. He got 75 touches in the season’s final four games and he produced more than 100 yards from scrimmage in three of those games — including games against the defensively stout Longhorns and Tar Heels. He also scored three times over that span, indicating that he is capable of toting the rock should Josey not be able to return in 2012. Sledding will undoubtedly be tougher in the SEC, but senior-to-be has the talent to be successful.

16. Ben Malena, Texas A&M (JR)
Rushing Stats:
67 att., 259 yards, 4 TDs
Receiving Stats: 10 rec., 52 yards, 1 TD

Christine Michael’s ACL injury opened the door for Malena to earn playing time late last season. In the final two games of 2011, he recorded 83 yards against Texas and rushed for 77 yards and two touchdowns in the bowl win over Northwestern. Malena has only 67 career attempts, but he has shown that he has the talent to be Texas A&M’s No. 1 running back if Michael is slow to return from his injury.

17. Marlin Lane, Tennessee (SO)
Rushing Stats:
75 att., 280 yards, 2 TD
Receiving Stats: 17 rec., 161 yards, 2 TD

If you wore Orange and White a year ago and wanted to pick up yards on the ground, you likely found life extremely difficult. A still-young offensive line struggled to block, the offense lost its top playmaker in Justin Hunter and had to play the heart of the schedule without its starting quarterback. But the running backs didn’t help the case much either. Lane has a chance to change all of that this fall. The highly-touted tailback has plenty of talent and versatility in the passing game to be successful. Additionally, he should be running behind a better collection of blockers this fall. Lane is first in line to snag the Vols starting job but will have to constantly battle to keep Raijon Neal at bay. With Hunter and Tyler Bray healthy for a full season, fans can expect an improvement in the ground game in Knoxville. Because, let’s face it, there is only one way to go after ranking 116th in the nation in rushing.

18. Dennis Johnson, Arkansas (SR)
Rushing Stats:
106 att., 670 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving Stats: 24 rec., 255 yards, 2 TDs

After missing most of 2010 with an abdominal injury, Johnson bounced back to lead Arkansas with 670 rushing yards last season. He scored only three rushing touchdowns, but caught two passes for scores and took a kickoff return for a touchdown. With Knile Davis back in the mix, Johnson likely won’t lead the team in rushing yards in 2012. However, he should be one of the SEC’s best all-around backs, contributing on the ground, in the passing game and on returns.

19. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (FR)
With Eddie Lacy, Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler returning, Alabama is loaded with options at running back. However, this group got even deeper with Yeldon’s arrival this spring. He ranked as the No. 32 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and recorded 179 overall yards in the spring game. Yeldon may not see a ton of carries this year, but he’s a name to keep an eye on if an injury occurs to Lacy in 2012. 

20. CoShik Williams, Kentucky (SR)
Rushing Stats: 118 att., 486 yards, 3 TD
Receiving Stats: 19 rec., 70 yards

The diminutive tailback (5-foot-9, 178 pounds) missed three of the team’s first six games last fall but injuries forced Williams into the lineup. The former walk-on — he earned his scholarship after his sophomore season — took over for the injured Raymond Sanders and Josh Clemons in Week 7 of the season. In his first start of the year, he rushed for 148 yards on 22 carries in a rare win for the Cats. He went on to average 16.8 carries and 67.7 yards rushing per game while scoring all three of his touchdowns. Williams, arguably the toughest player on the Big Blue roster, has dealt with shoulder issues this spring but is considered the clear starter heading into his final season.

21. Kenny Miles, South Carolina (SR)
Produced in the final two games of the 2011 season and is listed as the No. 2 back on the depth chart.

22. Raijon Neal, Tennessee (JR)
Possibly better suited for the traditional feature back role than Lane, but possesses less physical ability.

23. Warren Norman, Vanderbilt (JR)
Dores active all-purpose yardage leader redshirted last fall due to leg injury. Gives Vandy tremendous depth behind Stacy.

24. Tre Mason, Auburn (SO)
With Michael Dyer choosing to transfer to Arkansas State, Mason will be the top backup to Onterio McCalebb this season. With Dyer and McCalebb entrenched as the go-to backs last year, he only registered 28 attempts for 161 yards and one touchdown. However, Mason showcased his upside with 64 yards and one score on nine attempts in the Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Virginia. 

25. Brandon Wilds, South Carolina (SO)
Topped 20 carries three times in Lattimore’s absence and posted three 100-yard games over that span.

Others to Watch

Mike Blakely, Auburn
Jalston Fowler, Alabama
Dee Hart, Alabama
Jeremy Hill, LSU
Ken Malcome, Georgia
Keith Marshall, Georgia
Raymond Sanders, Kentucky
Brandon Wilds, South Carolina

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


Other SEC Spring Preview Content:

Georgia or South Carolina: The SEC East's Best Team in 2012?
Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

Missouri or Texas A&M: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?

Tennessee or Vanderbilt: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012

College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> SEC Football: Running Back Rankings for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 08:01
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /college-football/college-football-fields-gets-social

The newest trend on college football fields is the use of Twitter hashtags. Three teams have added hashtags to their field in recent times. The newest is the University of Arkansas, who joins Michigan and Mississippi State. Check them out below. (It's hard to believe universities would be so self-serving. By the way, follow us @AthlonSports.)

The University of Arkansas just added #GOHOGS to Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in time for their spring game.


Mississippi State painted #HAILSTATE in an end zone during a game against Mississippi last fall.


Michigan painted the hashtag #GOBLUE in two places on the field for its annual spring football scrimmage.

<p> Arkansas, Michigan and Mississippi State add field hashtags</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 07:02
All taxonomy terms: Alex Rodriguez, Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning, NBA
Path: /nba/it%E2%80%99s-european-medical-vacation

Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez and Peyton Manning are among a growing number of athletes who have gone abroad to seek treatments that are not yet approved for use in the United States. From the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly, Michael Bradley has the details.

When Kobe Bryant’s cranky knee was bothering him too much to ignore during last offseason, he did what any top-shelf professional athlete would do: Turn to Hollywood.

Actually, Bryant turned to Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, the one with all the movie industry friends. Vitti had heard from “several” people he knew in the biz that arthritis pain — the kind Bryant was suffering from in his right knee — could be relieved with a process invented by an orthopaedic surgeon from Dusseldorf, Dr. Peter Wehling. After speaking with Vitti and recommending that another Laker head abroad to undergo the procedure, Vitti encouraged Bryant to do it as soon as Dallas dispatched L.A. in last year’s playoffs. So, Bryant flew to Germany and received an Orthokine injection in his knee.

“When our season ended early last year, I pushed Kobe to do it right away,” Vitti said in an e-mail. “In case we didn’t get a favorable result, we would have enough time to do something else.”

Given the length of the NBA lockout, Bryant would have had sufficient time to undergo a knee replacement had the Germany junket not gone well. But, according to Vitti, it did, and by heading to Europe, Bryant became one of a growing list of athletes who have gone abroad to seek treatments that are not yet approved for use in the U.S. In the past six months, Bryant, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and former NFL receiver Terrell Owens — among others — have sought to relieve pain and facilitate healing by undergoing Orthokine and stem cell therapies — with mixed results. In the process, they have agitated some members of the American medical community, who fear that decisions made by high-profile athletes will lead ordinary folks to pursue similar avenues that could be burdensome financially, provide false hope for recovery and, worse, lead to some unhealthy side effects.

“Inadvertently, athletes who claim to have gotten better doing these things, while I’m sure their intentions are good, will fuel this sort of behavior in others,” says Dr. Larry Goldstein, a neuroscientist and director of the Stem Cell Program at the University of California San Diego. “I wish they would be more cautious and think about what they say.”

In reality, Bryant and others are not crowing about the magically restorative powers of the treatments they have received, although they are not hiding the fact that they have sought them, either. The fear for many in the medical community is that as more and more players seek relief overseas, especially big names like Bryant, Manning and A-Rod, people will think the treatments are indeed panaceas, when they remain largely in the experimental stage and have limited evidence of success — not to mention their lack of the necessary governmental imprimaturs in this country.

If you read or hear anything said by Wehling, the molecular scientist who created the Orthokine treatment, it’s hard not to be sold. Wehling announced in late 2011 that he had “found a way to cure arthritis,” a fairly brazen claim, given the years and countless dollars that have been devoted to eliminating the joint scourge. A steady stream of athletes and celebrities has flowed toward Wehling — including Bryant and A-Rod — giving him tremendous cachet and more than a little notoriety.

Wehling’s procedure is based on his belief that arthritis is not a degenerative condition, but rather a disease caused by Interleukin-1, a protein in the body that promotes joint inflammation and a breakdown of cartilage. Wehling reports that he has discovered that another protein, Interleukin-1RA (Interleukin-1 receptor antagonist), can offset arthritis’ effects and bring about healing. So, he isolates the Interleukin-1RA from a patient’s blood and injects it into the afflicted area.

To do that, Wehling removes blood from a patient and incubates it (at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit) for a day, “spinning” it in a centrifuge to isolate the Interleukin-1RA. He then injects it into the affected area. “He has a tight handle on the technology,” says Dr. Steve Yoon, an orthopaedic surgeon who is part of the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Southern California. When Bryant was searching for relief of his aching knee, Vitti listened to his celebrity friends, did some research and referred Bryant to Wehling.

“(It’s) always better to go to the source,” Vitti said in a second e-mail. “He invented the procedure and has done more than anyone in the world. … He’s simply the best!”

Bryant was so pleased with the results that he gave Rodriguez Wehling’s number. Before heading to Germany, Rodriguez checked with the Yankees, who contacted Major League Baseball for a ruling to make sure Rodriguez would not return to a storm of accusations that he was blood doping or using another unapproved treatment. Dr. Gary Green, MLB’s medical director, expressed no trepidation, provided the treatment did not violate local or state laws.

It doesn’t, although there is concern from some corners regarding the process that separates the receptor antagonist from the blood. In late 2011, the Food and Drug Administration issued some extremely direct advisories that warned orthopaedists not to engage in any procedures that incubate blood for more than a couple hours. Despite those directives, Wehling has started an Orthokine clinic in Los Angeles, with among others, Dr. Chris Renna, who provided the “cream” to notorious BALCO founder Victor Conte. That doesn’t mean Orthokine has any relation to performance-enhancing drugs, but it does bring into question Wehling’s choice of associates. Further, since the FDA has not approved daylong incubation of blood to enhance its ability to heal, any Orthokine treatments done in SoCal could be considered unlawful.

People also sometimes confuse Orthokine with platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections, which are done fairly regularly throughout the U.S. and are usually more successful on the tendon and ligament problems in the elbow and shoulder, although they have also been used in athletes’ ankles and knees. The process involves removing about 30 cc of a patient’s blood and spinning it in a centrifuge for about 15 minutes to separate approximately 3 cc of plasma with a high platelet concentration. This hazy “buffy coat” is then injected into the affected area. The goal is to let the platelets’ powerful growth and restorative properties trigger healing in a far less invasive way than surgery would provide. But it is not a generic cure-all.

“The bottom line is that it will work for certain indications, but it won’t work for others,” says Dr. Allan Mishra, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at Stanford University, and a pioneering researcher in the field.

When Manning went abroad, he wasn’t looking for Orthokine or PRP. Desperate for relief from the disk problems he was experiencing in his neck and impatient with the progress he was making after his latest surgical procedure and subsequent physical therapy, he underwent late last summer an experimental stem-cell injection that had no substantive track record of providing relief for patients with his problem. The results were not favorable.

“There is some evidence that transplantation of some stem cells into joints could improve conditions, but in humans, it’s all experimental at this point,” Dr. Goldstein says.

“By and large (Manning) was participating in unknown medical experimentation.”

The optimism about stem cells is that they can be manipulated to take the form of many different cells in the bodies and “programmed” to direct cells to behave in a certain way. Manning had stem cells taken from one part of his body and injected into his neck, in the hopes a healing chain reaction would occur. It didn’t, and Goldstein isn’t surprised. He has been working with stem cells in mice since 1993 and in humans since ’98. He says the field is still in its nascent days and that despite some successes related to stem-cell treatments, it’s still unknown whether injections like the one Manning had were directly responsible for good outcomes or merely a small part of a larger picture that included surgery, rehab and the body’s own natural healing process.

“When there is a new medical area that has a lot of potential, fraudulent claims can spring up all around,” Goldstein says. “The real danger is that if (an athlete) does something and claims that he got better but doesn’t really know, kids in high school and college will say, ‘It worked for (the athlete), so I’m going to do it.’”

Even if they don’t have big-time Hollywood contacts.

<p> Prominent athletes like Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning and A-Rod seek treatment abroad.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 19:20
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-draft-stock-watch

Up until the moment Commissioner Roger Goodell starts announcing picks from the podium at Radio City Music Hall in New York on Thursday, April 26, the draft stocks of NFL prospects will fluctuate like the NASDAQ. From the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly, here’s a rundown of the blue chips, risers and fallers in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Can’t Miss Blue Chips
Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are this year’s pre-draft cover boys, but there are other players with a chance to make it to the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Matt Kalil, LT, USC
A dancing bear with the requisite size (6'7", 306), arm length, athleticism and pedigree (older brother, Ryan, is a Pro Bowl center in Carolina) to experience both immediate and sustained success as a franchise left tackle.

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
A 5'9", 228-pound bowling ball with a rare combination of power, speed, balance and vision. Plus, the two-time BCS national champ still has tread on his tires after splitting carries with Mark Ingram early in his career.

Bullish First-Round Risers
Due to Combine success, position scarcity and/or team needs, these prospects may hear their names called earlier than expected.

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Last year’s draft saw four quarterbacks selected within the first dozen picks of the draft — several of whom had supposed late first-round grades. After Luck and RG3, Tannehill should be the next passer off the board.

Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
The 6'4", 346-pound 3-4 nose tackle made himself a rich man at the Combine — running a 4.98 in the 40-yard dash, ripping off 44 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and skying for a 29.5-inch vertical leap.

Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Hill burst onto the scene at the Combine — running a 4.36 in the 40 after weighing in at 6'4" and 215 pounds — and now hopes to follow in the footsteps of fellow Yellow Jackets Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas.

Bearish First-Round Fallers
Once thought to be candidates to go in the top 10, these players are beset with concerns that may result in a longer than anticipated wait on draft day.

Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
A former Florida standout who was kicked off the team following his second drug arrest, Jenkins also has a bar fight and four children by three different women on his rap sheet résumé. But …he’sshown remorse and off-the-charts talent.

Jonathan Martin, T, Stanford
Labeled “soft” by many, Martin had a subpar Pro Day that did nothing to help his draft stock. Playing alongside the top guard (David DeCastro) and quarterback (Andrew Luck) prospects may have inflated Martin’s perceived value.

Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
He was compared to Ray Lewis after his Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year season, but Burfict’s inconsistent play, abrasive personality, lack of discipline and poor conditioning may result in “undrafted free agent” status.

Other NFL Draft-Related Content

2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer
2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Positions
2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals
2012 NFL Draft Busts: Ryan Tannehill and Dontari Poe
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III

2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

<p> These football prospects will define the NFL Draft's first round.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 17:19
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-texas-0

Typically known for dealing with the thunderous roar of tornadoes, this weekend the Sprint Cup Series storms into Kansas for the STP 400.

Sunday’s race will be the 12th for the Sprint Cup Series at the Kansas Speedway, and the last on the current surface. Following the 400-miler, the track will be repaved prior to the series returning for its mid-October Chase date.

The aged surface causes tires to wear dramatically over the course of a run, meaning drivers and crew chiefs will be working all weekend to find the perfect balance over the long run as the tires begin to fall off.

Be sure to keep an eye on the two practice sessions Friday afternoon — especially those teams that concentrate on longer runs. A key factor nearly every week — especially on a track with excessive tire wear — is the best 10-lap average. Look for that statistic and make your picks accordingly.

Five Favorites: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards

Veteran Jeff Gordon took the first two checkered flags at Kansas Speedway in 2001 and ’02, and is looking to take the last before the surface is replaced.

Aside from the four-time series champion’s two Kansas wins, Gordon has an additional six top-5 finishes on the Plains. Although he succumbed to an engine failure in Kansas last October, Gordon is always a favorite.

The No. 24 team has been a consistent threat throughout the early portion of the 2012 season, as well. However, the finishes don’t show it. The team's fourth-place run Saturday night in Texas was its first top 5 and only second top 10. Gordon currently has three finishes of 26th or worse.

Those statistics aside, the team has been producing consistently fast racecars. That fact has allowed Gordon, who is 17th in the series standings, to remain confident they can win races.

The team heads to Kansas this weekend with that goal in mind.

Gordon has the fourth-best average finish (10.2) among active drivers at Kansas. Not to mention, team owner Rick Hendrick is on the verge of earning his 200th career Sprint Cup Series win. This weekend, Gordon will be looking to give his long-time car owner that milestone victory.

In order to do so, he will have to beat teammate Jimmie Johnson.

The five-time series champion has the second-best average finish (8.4) among active drivers at Kansas, and was the driver celebrating in Victory Lane when the series last visited the facility in October.

All told, Johnson has two wins, three poles, four top 5s and nine top 10s in 11 starts on the 1.5-mile track. His two worst finishes at Kansas are 14th (2006) and 32nd (’04), his only DNF.

These two champions have duked it out on the track before for the win, and expect them to both be in contention Sunday afternoon. Also keep in mind Hendrick leads all team owners with four wins at Kansas.

“Whenever it happens is going to be very special for the company," Johnson said of the 200th win. “Again, I just want to win. I don’t care where it is, whatever reason. There are 36, 38 of these things a year, and I want to take home a bunch of trophies. Second is nice, but winning is everything.”

While the Hendrick teammates are focused on giving Hendrick Motorsports its 200th win, the rest of the field will be doing their best to keep it from happening — especially points leader Greg Biffle.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver is fresh off his first victory of the season last weekend in Texas, and is now heading to one of his best tracks. With two Kansas wins, six top 5s and eight top-10 finishes, Biffle leads all active drivers in average finish (8.3). Despite his dismal 2011 season, Biffle still recorded top 10s (10th, eighth) in both Kansas races last year.

This is a new year for the Biff, and his sixth-place average finish through the first seven races have given him the points lead. Carrying that momentum into one of his best tracks, Biffle will also be one of the drivers to beat in the final laps of Sunday’s race.

“I’m ready for Kansas,” he said. “Kansas is a great track and I have two wins there. We are coming off the win at Texas and I’m ready to go. Kansas and Texas might be the same distance, but they are extremely different tracks. Kansas is much flatter and the track is more uniform from one end to another. Hopefully we can follow up our Texas win with another victory in Kansas with our 3M Novec 1230 Ford.”

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 12:18
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-weekend-rundown-april-19

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

Ailing Outfielders
It’s been a tough week for outfielders around MLB, with Arizona’s Chris Young, Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner of the Yankees going on the disabled list. Young was off to a superb start, hitting .410 with five home runs and 13 RBIs in his first 11 games, but he injured his shoulder making a catch against the Pirates. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks and fantasy owners, his teammate Justin Upton is battling a thumb injury and could miss time as well.

There are several other highly-drafted outfielders who have not hit up to expectations yet. Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton is still waiting for his first home run, Matt Holliday of the Cardinals has struggled to a .182 average, .538 OPS start, and Kansas City’s Alex Gordon is hitting a meager .149 after recording a .303 average for the 2011 season. Additionally, Boston’s Carl Crawford, Washington’s Michael Morse and Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton have yet to see the field this season, so there’s a good chance you are looking for some short-term help.

Nolan Remold of the Orioles, Jon Jay of the Cardinals, Jordan Schafer of the Astros, Shelly Duncan of the Indians and Alejandro De Aza of the White Sox are owned in less than half of Yahoo! leagues, and they are worth a look if you have any of the aforementioned injured or struggling batters. Reimold has been especially hot lately, hitting a home run in four straight games earlier this week. He’s batting .341 in 10 games this season.

Jay is hitting .350 in a loaded St. Louis attack, including going 8-for-20 in his last eight games. Schafer has six stolen bases and 10 runs scored while batting .279 this season, and Duncan could provide some temporary pop with his 6 RBIs and a .980 OPS in 31 at-bats. De Aza has three bombs and an .864 OPS in 11 games, and he did hit over .300 in limited duty over the last two seasons.

Anyone got Ricky Vaughn’s number?
Injuries and ineffectiveness have been the story for closers so far this year. Cincinnati’s Ryan Madson, Kansas City’s Joakim Soria and San Francisco’s Brian Wilson are out for the season, while Tampa Bay’s Kyle Farnsworth, Washington’s Drew Storen and Boston’s Andrew Bailey are on the DL. Other stoppers like Heath Bell of the Marlins and Sergio Santos of the Blue Jays have already blown multiple saves. Keep an eye on the closing situations of the White Sox, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Indians and Nationals. High ERAs by the incumbents could lead to more opportunities for other relievers like Arizona’s Bryan Shaw, Addison Reed or Matt Thornton of the White Sox and Cleveland’s Vinnie Pestano. The Athlon closer grid is a valuable tool to help you keep up with bullpen changes around baseball.

He may not be a closer (yet), but Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman (0.00 ERA with 15 Ks in 8.0 innings pitched) already has two wins and a hold. The dominating fireballer can help your ratios greatly and could move into a closer role if Sean Marshall struggles in the 9th inning. Pick him up if available. Also, Henry Rodriguez of the Nationals has yet to allow a run while picking up three saves in a time share with Brad Lidge. It would not be surprising to see the hard-throwing Venezuelan take over the 9th-inning gig on a more regular basis.

Weekend Series To Watch

St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates have the worst offense (just 26 runs in 12 games) in baseball, and they will face Lance Lynn on Friday, Jake Westbrook on Saturday and Kyle Lohse on Sunday. That St. Louis trio is off to a scorching start, with each having two wins and an ERA of 1.50 or lower. Some fantasy owners have been hesitant to pick up the veteran duo of Lohse and Westbrook, who have traditionally been .500 pitchers with low strikeout rates. However the Cards' hurlers will help you in every category except Ks, and look for their current success to continue in the Steel City.

New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox
It always interesting when these two rivals get together, as long as you have five or six hours to watch the game. Boston is currently mired in last place in the AL East, and there isn’t much to believe in fantasy-wise other than David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez. The BoSox are already off to a terrible start with an MLB-worst ERA of 6.20, and Bobby Valentine will send the trio of Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard to the mound this weekend. Even if any of the starters fare well, the Boston bullpen (24 ER in 34.2 IP with a 1.47 WHIP) has been awful. Expect the Bronx Bombers to light up some fireworks in Fenway. Time to bring beer back to the clubhouse?

Texas Rangers at Detroit Tigers
This ALCS rematch should make for a very entertaining series in Motown. The Tigers offense has been very solid with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder leading the way, but the Rangers have the best staff ERA in the American League by a wide margin. Texas also has a formidable offense, but Comerica Park can be a tough place to hit. Texas’ Matt Harrison will face Rick Porcello on Friday night, Neftali Feliz will take on AL Cy Young winner and MVP Justin Verlander in a Saturday matinee, while Colby Lewis will battle Tigers rookie southpaw Drew Smyly (0.90 ERA in two starts) on Sunday afternoon. Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz belted six home runs against Detroit in the ALCS last October, while Cabrera hit .400 with three dingers in the six-game series.

--Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)


<p> Fantasy Baseball Weekend Rundown: April 19</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 12:14
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, winless streaks, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/nascar-sprint-cup-series%E2%80%99-longest-winless-skids-0

Last year, one of the biggest stories surrounding the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was the prevalence of first-time winners. From the start of the season, when Trevor Bayne surprised everyone in the Daytona 500 to David Ragan’s July triumph five months later, new faces in unfamiliar places were popping up virtually everywhere. By the end of the season, the series witnessed five first-time winners — Bayne, Ragan, Marcos Ambrose, Paul Menard and Regan Smith — and the parity within the sport was on in full force.

But for every new wheelman to make a breakthrough, someone else is watching his time away from Victory Lane increase significantly. Now, in 2012, with a dearth of new drivers entering the sport the story has shifted from “who hasn’t won?” to “when is Driver X going to win again?” In some cases, veterans who once dominated have gone several seasons without adding to their win total while watching others rise to the top, claiming a slice of the fame and fortune that was once theirs.

Some are obvious, like the sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., yet others have quietly built with little fanfare. Let’s take a closer look at the longest droughts, brought into tighter focus after point leader Greg Biffle snapped his own 49-race winless streak Saturday night. Of course, that’s nothing compared to the agony these triple-digit winless sufferers have been through. Note: Only the top 25 drivers in Sprint Cup points were considered (i.e., teams that actually have a chance of finishing first every Sunday).

Bobby Labonte
Winless Streak:
295 races
Last Victory: November 2003, Ford 400 (Homestead-Miami Speedway)
Synopsis: At 25th in the standings and driving for a single-car team, it’s easy to forget Labonte still exists in the series, let alone that he’s nursing a drought week-to-week that’s lasted well over eight years. No one would have predicted this sorry ending to a promising career that includes the 2000 Cup Series title — certainly not the last time Labonte used luck to speed by Bill Elliott’s flat tire on the final lap at Homestead to claim victory in ’03. But two years later, after a serious slump at Joe Gibbs Racing, he left to join a floundering Petty Enterprises to be “the savior” of a legendary franchise … that just kept floundering. It was a career-killer of a decision, one that led to disastrous finishes, a release after financial problems gripped the team and the sorry decision to start-and-park before JTG Daugherty Racing picked him up.

Now in his second year driving the No. 47, Labonte remains stuck in mediocrity with this single-car team, unable to recreate the magic that once had him contending for victories each week, while the team “rebuilds” after splitting off from being the satellite team for Michael Waltrip Racing (how about the bad timing on that). In fact, since the start of the 2004 season, Labonte’s led just 218 laps and has yet to lead one — or collect a top-10 finish, for that matter — this season.

Best Chance: If there’s ever to be one last miracle for Labonte, Daytona or Talladega would be the place. In February 2011, his push of Trevor Bayne was responsible for the No. 21 heading to Victory Lane, and a fourth-place finish for Labonte, his only top 5 of the season. I guess a guy can dream…

Martin Truex, Jr.
Winless Streak:
174 races
Last Victory: June 2007, Autism Speaks 400 (Dover International Speedway)
Synopsis: Truex’s last Sprint Cup victory is also his only one, taken during a time when he was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s right-hand man at the company once founded by Dale Sr. Months later, that popular son was off to Hendrick Motorsports, leaving Truex in the awkward position of assuming a leadership role never meant for him. After a merger and subsequent pairing with Chip Ganassi, the once-cozy confines of his friend’s former organization had been shattered; faced with executives that favored Juan Pablo Montoya, Truex chose to pick another opportunity and spearhead the driver effort at the growing Michael Waltrip Racing.

The first two seasons were filled with underachievement: zero Chase appearances, just four top-5 finishes and the firing of championship-level crew chief Pat Tryson. But just when it looked as though Truex, a two-time Busch Series champ, would be listed a permanent flop, new head wrench Chad Johnston found some innovative setups that appear to have salvaged a career. Fourth in points, Truex is on pace to lead more laps (525) than any season since 2007, the year that also produced his only Chase appearance. At this point, anything less than breaking the streak this season would be considered a huge disappointment.

Best Chance: Dover. It’s where Truex broke into the win column the first time, and in four starts with the No. 56 team, he’s already captured two poles there. One of a group of drivers who attended a Goodyear tire test at Dover this week, all the pieces are in place for him to break through in that track’s June event. 

<p> Athlon Sports contrtibutor Tom Bowles highlights the current longest winless skids in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/oregons-deanthony-thomas-ranks-pac-12s-top-running-back

The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the running backs in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel. 

Here's how Athlon ranks the running backs in the Pac-12 for 2012:

1. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon (SO)
Rushing Stats:
55 att., 595 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 46 rec., 605 yards, 9 TD

Few players in the nation bring more explosion or elusiveness to an offense than the Black Mamba of football. Toss in other adjectives like versatile, speedy and big play and it might begin to explain what Thomas can do on a football field. After 2,235 all-purpose yards, Thomas claimed Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year. Lining up as both a running back and a receiver, Thomas posted nearly 12 yards per touch last fall on offense, including a 31.5-yard clip in the first Rose Bowl victory in school history. In the third phase of the game, he can flip a game’s momentum instantly. He scored twice on special teams and averaged 27.3 yards per kick return (and a sneaky 17.3 yards per punt return on three returns). Expect much of the same from Thomas in 2012 — except fans can bet that Chip Kelly will get him the ball more than his 10.0 total touches per game last year.

2. Kenjon Barner, Oregon (SR)
Rushing Stats:
152 att., 551 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 17 rec., 184 yards, 3 TD

The career backup enters his final season in Eugene with a shot at being the primary ball carrier in one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. Doak Walker winner LaMichael James missed three games over the last two years and Barner proved he could be more than capable. Try 58 carries, three receptions, 433 yards rushing, 102 yards receiving and eight total touchdowns in those three starts. In 36 career games, 33 as a backup, he averaged over 60 yards from scrimmage. The only thing that will keep Barner from a massive 2012 campaign will be, that’s right, De’Anthony Thomas. Because it certainly won’t be Pac-12 defenses.

3. John White, Utah (SR)
Rushing Stats:
316 att., 1,519 yards, 15 TDs
Receiving Stats: 13 rec., 44 yards, 2 TDs

White ranked as one of the top 25 junior college recruits in the signing class of 2011 and didn’t disappoint last year. He ranked third among all running backs in FBS play with 316 carries and finished with 1,519 yards and 15 scores. He also caught 13 passes for 44 yards and two touchdowns. White’s best performance came in a 27-8 victory over Oregon State, recording 205 yards on 35 attempts, but he also posted 115 yards and a touchdown in the bowl victory over Georgia Tech. White’s numbers are even more impressive when you consider Utah lost starting quarterback Jordan Wynn to a shoulder injury early in the year and was never really able to establish a consistent passing attack after that. With the arrival of junior college transfer Kelvin York and the emergence of sophomore Harvey Langi this spring, White probably won’t see over 300 touches again. However, he should easily surpass 1,000 yards and earn All-Pac-12 honors.

4. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (SR)
Rushing Stats:
242 att., 1,330 yards, 10 TD
Receiving Stats: 25 rec., 182 yards, 2 TD

The senior-to-be has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons as the starter in the Stanford backfield. He has 13 100-yard games over the last two seasons and has scored a total of 28 touchdowns. He has had no fewer than 13 carries in 23 straight games and finished last fall with a career high 35 attempts and 177 yards in the bowl loss to Oklahoma State. Few players are as consistent as Taylor has been, as he hasn’t missed a game in his 39 career contests. There is one giant ‘however’ for Stanford this fall and it involves four potential first-round NFL Draft picks. Gone is superstar quarterback Andrew Luck and a pair of all-everything hog mollies in Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro. Most running backs in the Pac-12 would be successful behind that trio, so Taylor could find sledding much tougher in 2012.

5. Isi Sofele, California (SR)
Rushing Stats:
252 att., 1,322 yards, 10 TD
Receiving Stats: 6 rec., 33 yards

Cal and Jeff Tedford have been churning out stellar tailbacks for the better part of a decade and, after a slow start, Sofele is emerging as the next in line. The diminutive ball carrier stands 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds but has yet to miss a game in his career (38 games). When Tedford refocused midseason a year ago on running the football, Sofele answered the bell to the tune of three 100-yard games in the final four contests. Cal went 3-1 over that span and made it to the postseason because of Sofele’s solid play. In fact, he posted his three best career rushing totals (190 yards, 145 and 138) and scored in six of the final seven games of the year. With Zach Maynard and Keenan Allen keeping defenses honest this fall, Sofele is a great bet to post his second straight 1,000-yard season.

6. Cameron Marshall, Arizona State (SR)
Rushing Stats:
230 att., 1,050 yards, 18 TDs
Receiving Stats: 24 rec., 188 yards, 0 TD

Although new Arizona State coach Todd Graham wants to increase the offensive tempo and keep a spread offense in place, Marshall’s role isn’t likely to be diminished in 2012. Marshall was Arizona State’s No. 1 back last season, rushing for 1,050 yards and tying a school record with 18 rushing scores. With 11 rushing scores in 2012, the senior would own an Arizona State career touchdown record. Deantre Lewis is back after missing 2011 with an injury, but Marshall should still see 200-240 carries. Arizona State has some pieces to replace on the offensive line, but the senior should earn all-conference honors in 2012.

7. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA (SR)
Rushing Stats:
166 att., 976 yards, 5 TDs
Receiving Stats: 9 rec., 74 yards, 1 TD

Franklin isn’t going to garner national attention like Utah’s John White or Oregon’s Kenjon Barner could this year, but he is quietly one of the Pac-12’s most productive running backs. He rushed for 976 yards and five touchdowns last year, including 162 yards and one touchdown in the 45-6 blowout win over Colorado. Franklin’s 976 last season yards were a slight drop from his 1,127 yards as a sophomore in 2010, largely due to Derrick Coleman’s expanded role in the backfield. With Coleman out of eligibility, Franklin should see over 200 carries in 2012 and top the 1,000-yard mark.

8. Curtis McNeal, USC (SR)
Rushing Stats:
145 att., 1,005 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 19 yards, 0 TD

McNeal has experienced an up and down career at USC. He recorded six carries as a freshman in 2009, but was academically ineligible in 2010. After sitting out a year, McNeal emerged as USC’s No. 1 running back, finishing with 1,005 yards and six touchdowns. He was used sparingly through the first five weeks of the year (24 carries), but recorded four 100-yard games in USC’s final six contests. McNeal is only 5-foot-7, so the Trojans may not be able to rely on him for 250 carries. However, the senior gave the rushing attack a spark last year and should lead the team in yards in 2012.

9. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona (SO)
Rushing Stats:
91 att., 425 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving Stats: 15 rec., 203 yards, 2 TDs

Carey ranked second among Pac-12 freshmen running backs with 425 yards, while posting an impressive 4.7 yards per rush attempt. He did not record a 100-yard game, but finished with 92 yards on 13 attempts in the 31-27 win over rival Arizona State. With Keola Antolin departing, Carey should be the workhorse for new coach Rich Rodriguez. The Wildcats are shifting from a pass-first offense to more of a run-spread, which figures to be a huge benefit to Carey. Expect this sophomore to be one of the Pac-12’s top breakout players in 2012.

10. Jesse Callier, Washington (JR)
Rushing Stats:
47 att., 260 yards, TD
Receiving Stats: 7 rec., 65 yards

Callier has the unenviable task of replacing one of the program’s greatest running backs in the departed Chris Polk. Polk touched the ball 878 times over his career in Seattle, producing 4,732 yards from scrimmage and scoring 30 times. While Steve Sarkisian will use more than just one back in 2012, Callier figures to get the bulk of the carries. The SoCal product posted a historic prep season as senior by rushing for 3,010 yards and 43 touchdowns at Warren High School. The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder is lighter than Polk but loves the contact like the former Husky tailback. He has proven himself on special teams — he ranks No. 2 all-time in UW history with 1,309 return yards — and will have his chance to prove it in the backfield this fall.

11. Malcolm Agnew, Oregon State (SO)
Rushing Stats:
89 att., 423 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 8 yards

Under Mike Riley, Oregon State has seen some ridiculous rushing numbers posted by the likes of Steven Jackson, Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers. A fact that makes Agnew’s startling team leading totals (carries, yards and touchdowns) that much more shocking. Even more shocking is 223 of his team-best 423 yards came in the first week of the season. In his first career game, Agnew rushed 33 times and scored three touchdowns against Sacramento State. However, like most of the 2011 Beaver campaign, the loss overshadowed a fine statistical performance. In only six games, the 5-foot-8, 204-pound runner conjured up images of Rodgers with his tiny frame and tough-nosed attitude. The key for the sophomore, who nursed a tender hamstring this spring, will be staying healthy. Expect Riley to steal a page out of cross-state rival Oregon’s book and use Agnew (and a host of other backs) in a variety of ways this fall.

12. Rickey Galvin, Washington State (SO)
Rushing Stats:
114 att., 602 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 28 rec., 242 yards, TD

No Mike Leach tailback has ever been considered a workhorse, but Galvin has a chance to give the new head coach exactly what he looks for in a tailback. Speed, quickness and the ability to catch the football. Galvin was strong down the stretch last fall, receiving double-digit carries in four of the last five games. Most importantly, the smallish runner caught 17 of his 28 passes over that stretch as well. In only six career starts, Galvin has proven he has the skillset to excel in Leach’s spread attack. You PPR fantasy players might want to give this sophomore a look in 2012.

13. Tony Jones, Colorado (SO)
Rushing Stats:
78 att., 297 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving Stats: 27 rec., 168 yards, 2 TDs

With quarterback Tyler Hansen and running back Rodney Stewart out of eligibility, there are few proven offensive weapons returning for Colorado in 2012. Making matters even worse was the loss of receiver Paul Richardson to an ACL tear in spring practice. Jones was a spring standout for the Buffaloes and will get the first opportunity to replace Stewart at running back. He rushed for 297 yards and two scores last year, but also caught 27 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Jones is only 5-foot-7, but might see 200 carries for Colorado this season.

14. Bishop Sankey, Washington (SO)
Coach Sark isn’t committed to any type of set rotation at tailback so Sankey should see the field plenty this fall.

15. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford (SR)
Not many teams feature a 215-pound senior backup who scored eight times and averaged over six yards per carry last year.

16. C.J. Anderson, California (SR)
Anderson will serve as the top backup for Isi Sofele. As a junior college transfer last year, he rushed for 345 yards and eight touchdowns. 

17. Nelson Agholor, USC (FR)
With NCAA sanctions still limiting the amount of players USC can have on scholarship this year, depth is going to be an issue at almost every position. Agholor was signed as a receiver, but could play a hybrid running back/wide receiver role, especially after Tre Madden was lost for the year with a knee injury in spring practice. Agholor is too talented to keep on the sidelines and he could see around 50 touches at running back this year.

18. Deantre Lewis, Arizona State (SO)
Arizona State already has one of the Pac-12’s top running backs (Cameron Marshall), and now the depth gets a boost in 2012 with Lewis’ return from injury. As a freshman in 2010, he rushed for 539 yards and four scores, while catching 23 passes for 370 yards. However, a gunshot wound prevented him from suiting up in 2011, but all signs point to a full recovery and significant playing time in 2012. Lewis may not record 500 rushing yards this year, but he should be an excellent change of pace option to Marshall. 

19. Carl Winston, Washington State (SR)
Winston actually carried the ball (123 times) more than Galvin a year ago, so expect him to see plenty of playing time.

20. D.J. Morgan, USC (SO)
With Tre Madden suffering a torn ACL in spring practice, Morgan will once again serve as Curtis McNeal’s backup this season. The sophomore recorded two games of at least 50 or more yards, posting 56 against Colorado and 70 against Minnesota. Morgan was a top 100 recruit coming out of high school, but he needs to stay healthy to make an impact in 2012.

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

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<p> Athlon ranks the running backs in the Pac-12 for the 2012 season.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 06:55
Path: /college-football/tcu-football-how-will-horned-frogs-fare-big-12-2012

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

How Will TCU Fare in its First Season of Big 12 play?

Sir Wesley Willis,
Well, we're apparently losing Gary Patterson to the Curse of the Cell Phone Arkansas gig, so I suppose wins and losses are the least of our worries, no?  In all seriousness though, I'm not sure anyone truly knows what to expect.  Even before the overblown drug-related events of the spring, Patterson was tight lipped about his team's performances in practice, closing them to the public and media alike; after that, the man was practically a sealed vault, offering only the most cryptic of insights.  Offensively, at the skill positions the Frogs should be set to go toe-to-toe with any other offense in the Big 12.  The three headed rushing attack of Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James returns fully intact and QB Casey Pachall has old favorite Josh Boyce still in tow plus new toys like Brandon Carter, Cam White, David Porter and the elusive Ladarius Brown to pick apart the always questionable Big 12 defenses. The O line is a little thin where depth is concerned due to injuries so for my money OL Coach Eddie Williamson is the most important assistant on the coaching staff, at least for this year.  Stay tuned...

Speaking of questionable defenses, TCU should be right at home in year one because if you call yourself a TCU fan and aren't a little concerned then you haven't been paying attention.  Linebacker, typically a strong point for the Frogs, is particularly thin due to graduation and the extracurricular activities of Tanner Brock and it sounds like the spot opposite Kenny Cain is absolutely ripe for the taking.  Same goes in the secondary where CB Jason Verrett seems to be the only guy with his position locked down.  The defensive line isn't as thin as it seems, but you can't discount losing bonehead DJ Yendrey to suspension and rising star David Johnson to a spring injury.  D Line is our deepest position on defense, but it may take contributions from true freshmen to fill in the holes, a rarity for a GP defense.  After all these years it's hard not to trust Patterson as a defensive mastermind, and the defense last year steadily improved after a slow start,  but those guys are going to have to grow up quickly before Big 12 play.  Fortunately opening week opponent Grambling State doesn't have a Heisman candidate dark horse under center that I'm aware of.

Again, it's hard for me to make an actual prediction based on the lack of solid information leaking out of the spring, but I'd say TCU should conservatively go 9-3 in Year 1, and maybe even 10-2.  Not that the Frogs aren't as talented or more so than their Big 12 opponents, but it's going to take a season or two to build the depth needed to compete at the highest level on a week-to-week basis.  Talent wise, I'd put TCU up against anyone in the Conference, but if on-paper talent won games, UT and OU would win the Big 12 every single year so clearly it takes a little something else.  It's going to be a bit of a learning curve this year as far as gauging how to keep your team energized and healthy when you're playing top quality opponents each week, but I have full faith in this coaching staff and maybe they'll shock the college football world and win the thing, who knows?  One thing I'm certain of, though - it's going to be a hell of a lot of fun.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
TCU is in a similar spot to a handful of other Big 12 teams between Oklahoma (the favorite) and Kansas (the cellar dweller): The Frogs will be difficult to figure out in the preseason. TCU’s in a mix with teams like Texas, West Virginia, Kansas State and Oklahoma State who all could finish in any spot in the top half of the league. That said, I’m not totally optimistic about TCU finishing in the top three or four. The defense may lag behind the Casey Pachall-led offense next season. A defense that’s already losing linebacker Tank Carder also must absorb losses from the drug bust scandal earlier this year. The learning curve of moving from the Mountain West to the Big 12 is bound to catch up with the Horned Frogs, especially late in the season when the Frogs play every Big 12 contender – and only Big 12 contenders – after Oct. 27.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
First, all Big 12 fans need to understand how Gary Patterson has constructed his teams at TCU. He builds them from the inside out with a heavy focus on defense. This is how the most powerful BCS conference teams are constructed and thus gives the Horned Frogs a unique set-up for a mid-major program jumping to BCS play. On the offensive side of the ball, TCU already looks exactly like a Big 12 program — great passing quarterback, deep running back stable and electric wide receivers. And there is nothing on the schedule that indicates that Patterson won’t have success in his first romp through the Big 12. Until November. The purple amphibians could very easily be 7-0 entering Halloween weekend (Oct. 27), but the rest of their schedule is filled with freaks and ghouls that don't reside in the Mountain West. The Horned Frogs finish: At Oklahoma State, at West Virginia, Kansas State at home, at Texas and Oklahoma in Ft. Worth. Should the Frogs win three of their last five, 2012 will be considered a major success and fans should be amped about their future in the league. But a 2-3, 1-4 or, gasp, 0-5 run would push TCU down the Big 12 pecking order significantly. It would indicate that the jump in competition was much steeper than anticipated and that conference contention is still a couple of seasons away.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
After dominating the Mountain West, TCU is ready for its next challenge of contending in the Big 12. The move to a BCS conference isn’t going to be easy, but there’s also a lot to like about TCU in 2012. The offense returns only five starters, but the backfield is loaded with options and the receiving corps is one of the best in the Big 12. Quarterback Casey Pachall should contend for all-conference honors after throwing for 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns last year. However, there are question marks about an offensive line that loses three starters.

Considering the Big 12 is an offensive-minded league, TCU should fit in just fine in 2012. However, a usual strongpoint – the defense – is a concern. Although the Horned Frogs return five starters, gone are linebacker Tank Carder, safety Tekerrein Cuba and defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey. The secondary ranked 60th nationally last season and a handful of key contributors have finished their eligibility. With the talent returning at quarterback and receiver in the Big 12, the personnel turnover and last season’s so-so play has to worry coach Gary Patterson. The schedule isn’t too overwhelming, but road trips at Baylor, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas could all easily be losses.

It’s certainly possible TCU finishes with 10 wins, but the Big 12 is a much tougher conference than the Mountain West. The week-to-week grind of playing in a BCS conference could cost the Horned Frogs a game or two, which leads me to my projection of an 8-4 or 9-3 season. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I see the Horned Frogs finishing fourth or fifth in league play, with a Big 12 record in the 6-3/5-4 range. Most quality non-BCS teams can beat the big boys on a given Saturday, but the challenge is when you have to play four quality opponents in a six-week span. There will definitely be an adjustment for Gary Patterson’s club, but the veteran coach has built a solid program that expects to win.  The TCU offense loses three starters on the offensive line but returns top-notch skill players in quarterback Casey Pachall, receiver Josh Boyce and a trio of quality backs. The Frogs did lose offensive coordinator Justin Fuente to Memphis, but they should still put up points in their new league. The toughest obstacle for TCU competing in a BCS conference will be improving a defense that lost several contributors and gave up too many passing yards last season. The offenses in the Big 12 can air it out, so Patterson and veteran coordinator Dick Bumpas will have their work cut out. Even with the step up in competition, I think TCU has the type of program that can handle the week-in, week-out rigors of the Big 12 and finish with a winning record in conference play.

Where will TCU finish in the 2012 Big 12 standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

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<p> How will TCU fare in its first year of the Big 12?&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 06:53
Path: /college-football/virginia-tech-football

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Which Team Will Be Virginia Tech's Biggest Challenger in the ACC Coastal?

Jim Young, (@ACCSports)
Virginia Tech has its flaws, but so does everyone else in the Coastal Division - BIG flaws in some cases - which makes it hard to find a truly credible challenger to the Hokies. After hemming and hawing for a while, I've settled on Georgia Tech. The O-line returns much of its experience and should have better depth. Tevin Washington is in year two of running the offense. B-back David Sims has looked good in spring practice and Johnson has added a shotgun option wrinkle to his potent rushing attack. Meanwhile the defense, which returns six starters, will be in the third year of its transition to a  3-4 unit and should finally be getting the hang of Al Groh's scheme. A key for the D - mammoth nose guard T.J. Barnes has been impressive this spring. 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
By process of elimination, this pretty much has to be Virginia, right? The Cavaliers were a different team after Mike London ditched the quarterback rotation and stuck with Michael Rocco as his starter. I like the depth at the running back and receiver, as well. The Cavs’ defense is going to be a major question after losing some key players up front and a shutdown corner, Chase Minnifield. And beyond that, this is a team that lost 38-0 at home to Virginia Tech last season (and followed that with a 43-23 loss to Auburn in the bowl game). If not Virginia, then North Carolina may be a sneaky team in the division. New coach Larry Fedora – whose Southern Miss team beat Virginia in Charlottesville last year, mind you – has a good foundation on offense with quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard. North Carolina also has a beneficial schedule (no Clemson, no Florida State, Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill). Those are two awfully shaky contenders, including one that is barred from playing for the ACC title. If Virginia Tech has another 1,000-yard running back up its sleeve and finds stability on the offensive line, the Hokies could win this division without much drama.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Miami is too young and Duke just doesn’t have the horses to compete. That leaves North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia as the top competitors to Hokie dominance in the Coastal Division. I really want to pick North Carolina, which looks like the most talented team on paper and won’t have to face Clemson or Florida State in crossover play. They have the most offensive skill talent of the three teams and possesses arguably the top offensive line in the league. Yet, winning a division (aka claiming the best record) with a whole new coaching staff while on sanctions seems a tall order. The Wahoos took major steps forward into prominence last fall by beating North Carolina and Georgia Tech. Virginia also misses the Tigers and the Seminoles in Atlantic Division play. But they are limited offensively and got hammered by 57 combined points at the hands of Virginia Tech (with the ACC title game trip on the line) and Auburn to end the 2011 season.

With 16 starters back, one of the league’s best coaches, a deep and talented running back corps that features a returning starter under center and stellar offensive line comparable to that in Chapel Hill, I will take the Yellow Jackets to be the top challenge for the Hokies. Paul Johnson’s bunch will face a brutal first month to its season that features road trips to Virginia Tech (Labor Day night) and Clemson to go with home divisional tests against Miami and Virginia — all within the first six games of the year. If the Jackets can escape that stretch with only one conference loss, they will be in a great position to compete for another ACC title. That loss better be to Clemson, however, as the first weekend match-up with Virginia Tech will likely decide the entire season. The winner of the Tech-mo Bowl has gone on to win the Coastal Division every year of its existence — and Beamer’s bunch will have all summer to prepare for the triple option.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Barring a huge surprise, Virginia Tech is going to be the only ranked team out of the Coastal Division. The Hokies are clearly the top team in the division, and there’s really not much separating Virginia, Georgia Tech and North Carolina for second place. Considering how close all three are, it wouldn’t be a shock to see all three potentially tie at 5-3 or 4-4 in ACC play.

Even though North Carolina is ineligible for a bowl and is going through a coaching transition, I like the Tar Heels to finish second in the Coastal. Out of the three teams most likely to finish second, North Carolina has the best quarterback-running back combination and perhaps the best offensive line in the ACC. The Tar Heels also have a favorable schedule, missing Florida State and Clemson from the Atlantic, while hosting Virginia Tech, NC State and Georgia Tech. North Carolina suffered some key losses on defense, but coordinator Vic Koenning did a good job at Illinois and his arrival should help this unit from struggling too much in 2012. I like the direction Virginia is headed and think Georgia Tech will be solid once again, but the Tar Heels will find a way to edge out second in the Coastal.  

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think the choice is North Carolina. Georgia Tech and Virginia will be contenders as well, but a new direction in Chapel Hill will be beneficial for a talented UNC roster. There will be an adjustment period with new coach Larry Fedora and staff, but the Tar Heels return a solid offense led by All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard and quarterback Bryn Renner. With four offensive linemen back, Fedora should be able to engineer plenty of points. UNC’s main challenge will be replacing several quality defenders, but Vic Koenning and Dan Disch should get the most of out of that unit. North Carolina catches a break in not having to face Florida State or Clemson from the Atlantic, and the Tar Heels get Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and NC State at home. Virginia also misses the Seminoles and Tigers, but I see UNC playing well in Fedora’s first ACC season and finishing second to the Hokies.

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<p> <strong>Which Team Will Be Virginia Tech's Biggest Challenger in the ACC Coastal?</strong></p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 06:50
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-3

Hall of Fame Nominees, Grading Texas and a Return to "The Rock"

With NASCAR’s recent announcement of the 25 nominees for its next Hall of Fame class, members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council selected the five people they think should be inducted next and why. They didn’t stop there, though, adding suggestions on who deserves to be nominated but hasn’t yet so far.

Fan Council members also discussed Rockingham’s return to the NASCAR schedule and what’s next there and dissected the racing at Texas. There’s much to debate this week, so here’s what the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had to say:

Fan Council members were asked to select five of the 25 nominees for their ballot. Here’s the five people they would vote into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the percentage of votes each received:

Fireball Roberts ... 52.4 percent
Leonard Wood ... 50.0 percent 
Benny Parsons ... 44.3 percent
Wendell Scott ... 41.9 percent
Red Byron ... 39.9 percent


Buck Baker ... 37.5 percent
Raymond Parks ... 31.8 percent 
Rick Hendrick ... 18.2 percent
H. Clay Earles … 17.9 percent
Rusty Wallace ... 17.2 percent
Curtis Turner ... 16.2 percent 
Richard Childress ... 15.9 percent
Tim Flock ... 14.5 percent
Fred Lorenzen ... 13.2 percent
T. Wayne Robertson ... 13.2 percent
Anne B. France ... 12.6 percent
Ray Fox ... 12.5 percent
Cotton Owens ... 10.1 percent
Herb Thomas ... 9.8 percent
Jack Ingram ... 9.1 percent
Joe Weatherly ... 6.1 percent
Ralph Seagraves ... 5.4 percent
Jerry Cook ... 4.7 percent
Les Richter ... 1.7 percent
Bobby Isaac ... 1.0 percent

What Fan Council members said:

• I think this is the year to recognize the very early days of NASCAR. The one thing really lacking at the Hall of Fame is an appreciation of the stars of the 50s and early 60s. Curtis Turner was really the first superstar of stock car racing, and should be recognized. His accomplishments in stock car racing were great, plus you need to consider the great record he had in NASCAR's convertible series, as well as in road racing. He was also the man who had the vision to build the Charlotte Motor Speedway, an icon in this sport. 

• Wow that's tough to only pick 5 from that list ... so many are deserving. I think Childress and Hendrick are no-brainers as far as the current. Turner and Fireball should be the two recognized from the past because of what they accomplished in their time, and having the pleasure to work with him, I think Benny is just as deserving as a driver as he is for his broadcasting work.

• Without Ralph Seagraves and Winston, we may not even be talking about a Hall of Fame. Flock, Baker and Fireball's records speak for themselves and Cotton Owens is my pick for his success with Pearson and Buddy Baker. 

• My choices were Leonard Wood, Raymond Parks, H. Clay Earles, Red Byron, and Buck Baker. Reasons being Wood deserves to be in the HOF for all they have done for this sport everything from fielding winning cars for anyone and everyone that has ever been a factor in this sport, they also changed the way pit stops were completed. Byron was the very first series champion and that stands for itself; Earles because he founded a wonderful facility that helped BUILD this sport; Parks for being the first championship car owner. Baker was one of the best drivers in his era and like everyone else on my list he helped BUILD this sport. If you take anything from my votes these people helped BUILD this sport.

• Wendell Scott ABSOLUTELY must make it to the Hall this year. First and ONLY African American to win a Cup series-level race at the time when he was running? This really needs to happen — now rather than later.

• I'm not buying Wendell Scott deserves a spot over people who helped build the sport to what it is today. H. Clay Earles founded a track that is still here today. Raymond Parks, first champion car owner and helped behind the scenes. Both deserve a spot first. I understand the need to show that he broke a barrier but would he have broke that barrier without others in this nominee class stepping up?

• Wendell Scott should be inducted since it must have been an incredibly difficult thing to compete the stock car racing as an African American in the time period that he did it. He did it on a shoestring and won. IMO, that achievement should be recognized.

• The shoe-ins were covered by the first 3 classes. Now it's time to catch up on the founding fathers

• You cannot tell the meteoric rise of NASCAR without T. Wayne. Shame they skipped over Leonard Wood last year.

• In my mind the early members of the Hall of Fame should have changed the sport. Anne B. France — Big Bill couldn't have, wouldn't have, done it without her. All of the previous members have stressed how much their families sacrificed for the sport. Anne B. France is the first representative of that group.

• Why is Anne B France on this list? I guess anyone that worked in the office in the beginning of NASCAR deserves to be in the Hall of Fame?! How about the first ticket collector?

• I believe Raymond Parks should have been in the Hall of Fame in the first or second class due to his contributions to keeping the sport alive in its infancy. Fred Lorenzen is one of the greats of the sport and health has deteriorated, which means this might be his last chance to enjoy the spoils of making the Hall. Since Glen Wood made the Hall of Fame last year, his brother Leonard coming in the following year makes perfect sense. Just like the Petty family over the first three years, the Wood brothers have a chance to take their place in the Hall. Buck Baker is the first repeat champion in Cup racing and having Buddy Baker up there would be a great representation for the building and for NASCAR. I chose Jack Ingram because they should incorporate the other series greats as well and The Ironman was a legend in Nationwide.

I provided a list — not a complete list certainly — of people to be considered for the NASCAR Hall and Fame. Here’s how the Backseat Drivers Fan Council voted:


Ken Squier .. 46.6 percent
Barney Hall ... 45.6 percent
Smokey Yunick ... 43.9 percent
Alan Kulwicki ... 37.8 percent
Davey Allison ... 35.4 percent


Humpy Wheeler ... 34.0 percent
Chris Economaki ... 32.0 percent
Sam Ard ... 29.6 percent
Bruton Smith ... 28.2 percent
Tim Richmond ... 21.1 percent
Janet Guthrie ... 19.7 percent
Ray Evernham ... 18.7 percent
Hershel McGriff ... 17.0 percent
Jake Elder ... 16.7 percent
Ralph Moody ... 11.9 percent
Rex White ... 11.2 percent
Harold Brasington ... 5.4 percent
Paul Sawyer ... 3.7 percent

What Fan Council members said:

• Maurice Petty seems to always be forgotten, yet, accomplished more than most listed above

• Moody & Yunick because of their work on car development. Hall, Squier & Economaki because without their voices, the sport would not be the same ...

• Humpy Wheeler was one of the first promoters in this sport to truly understand the concept of what fans wanted from a racetrack besides just the race.

• To me, Barney Hall is the voice of NASCAR. I am 59 years old and went to my first NASCAR race when I was 12. Barney Hall was there and has been there ever since. Along with Chris Economaki and Ken Squier. These three men helped build the fan following of NASCAR and without the fans we wouldn't have NASCAR!!!!!!!!!

• Barney Hall has always been the voice of NASCAR for me. There will never be a better NASCAR announcer period. You can't have that Hall without him being in it. Squier, too. Davey, Ard and Richmond had their careers cut by tragedy. Who knows what kind of numbers they would have put up.

• Harold Brasington is also not given the credit he deserves. People don't stop and think how risky and pioneering it was to build a superspeedway for stock cars at the time; and out in the middle of nowhere to boot.

• Many of the early stories I can recall reading about in regards to NASCAR involved stories of “Suitcase” Jake Elder. He was a man who had influence in many drivers’ careers, and is usually mentioned in connection with those drivers as opposed to getting his own mention. It’s time to tell his story. It is amazing what Janet Guthrie was able to accomplish in what was considered a man's sport. Her story is an inspiration and deserves recognition.

• I want to add Harry Hyde to this list also! 

• Red Vogt, one of the founding fathers of NASCAR, the man who coined the term NASCAR, and championship winning crew chief deserves to be in the HOF.


41.0 percent called it Fair
33.2 percent called it Good
20.0 percent called it Poor
5.8 percent called it Great

What Fan Council members said:

• It was boring. Too many green flag laps — we needed some phantom yellow flags to bring the field back together. Nice race for Biff but not much excitement for the rest of us.

• I'm glad there was no phony caution at the end just to add excitement.

• I like what Dave Despain said about viewers expecting blow-ups and excitement every lap: long green flag runs “IS RACING!” If there had been caution after caution, fans would have bitched about THAT, too. I enjoyed the race. Was I enthralled every single moment? Well, I had my heart in my throat praying Kasey Kahne would not have another night of bad luck, so I was watching intently, but no, I simply enjoyed it. That's all I ask of a race!

• Very little passing. I'm OK with long green flag runs if lots of guys are passing. This was not the case on Saturday. I felt like it was an Indy follow-the-leader type of race.

• You're going to get a lot of “OMG that was so BORING” comments, but I thought it was fine. Sometimes in sports there are blowouts, but only NASCAR can essentially wipe out a three-touchdown lead with a wave of the flag. It is to NASCAR's credit (and credibility) that they didn't throw a sketchy caution to bunch up the field, because the two cars that deserved to battle for the win did so.

• 224 green flag laps at Texas is just not what I wanted to see...

• YAWN. I had to force myself to stay awake just in case anything happened in the last 10 laps. Racing thus far in 2012 has been boring. I think Goodyear needs to change the tires so they will wear more.

• I hate to say this, but it was the most boring race I have seen in the last three years. At the same time, it’s good to have a clean race, unencumbered by wrecks and long delays. Basically, it just lacked good fender banging competitiveness.

• I guarantee a lot of folks will say poor, but I didn't mind the long, green-flag runs. The race was not boring, as many will say. I can remember watching races back in the day that went caution free for long periods of time. The best drivers with the best teams usually do well in these races. That's what we saw on Saturday night

• It was decent. It was nice to watch Jeff Gordon's drive from deep in the field to fourth. It would have been nice to have a caution with under 10 to go to see if he had anything for the 16 or 48.

<p> The Backseat Drivers Fan Council elects their members for the NASCAR Hall of Fame and weigh in on racing from Rockingham and Texas.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 18:10
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/pujols-ramirez-and-others-still-homerless-2012

After last night, 59 players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title are homerless so far this season. Some like infielders Daniel Descalso and Ruben Tejada may not hit one all season. And, yes, we know it’s less than a month into the season, but we like to have fun anyway.

Here are some notable players yet to go yard:

Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs
Forget the $79 million the Cubs have already sunk into this guy. But they still owe him $54 million to cover this season through 2014. I think there’s been a heist on the North Side.

Jayson Werth, Washington
We’re giving Werth a break because he’s hitting .347. But the Nats are paying him handsomely to produce runs. He has just six RBIs and four runs scored.

Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
The poster boy for this list. How can King Albert not have any home runs two weeks into the season? Although this is the longest drought to start a season in his career, we’re betting on Pujols to finish north of 35.

Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
We know. We know. He’s a notorious slow starter, so leave him alone, right? Why? He’s a .238 career hitter prior to May 1 and .289 after. He’s driven in just 10 percent of his runs in April. Maybe the Yankees should pay him only half his salary in April.

Ryan Zimmerman, Washington
Over the winter, the Nats gave Zim what is essentially a lifetime contract, which is guaranteed through 2019 with a team option for 2020. We’re not giving up on Zimmerman being a terrific player, just merely pointing out that hs hasn’t homered since inking a huge deal.

Mark Reynolds, Baltimore
The Orioles might be able to stomach the 15 whiffs in only 36 at-bats if they were just one home run to show for the big swings.

Justin Upton, Arizona
He now has a jammed thumb, which could land him on the DL. Prior to that, the D’backs’ No. 3 hitter had just two extra-base hits and no RBIs.

Giancarlo Stanton, Miami
We’re reverting to Mike until he hits at least one bomb.

<br />
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 16:58
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-must-see-match-ups

The NFL released its 2012 regular-season schedule on Tuesday night, laying out the slate of 256 games that will start in September and carry through December. Here are some of the games that caught our attention.

2012’s Must-See NFL Regular-Season Match Ups
(listed in chronological order)

Sept. 9, San Francisco at Green Bay
The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants get the spotlight on Wednesday, opening up the 2012 NFL regular season by hosting Dallas at home, but the game to watch in Week 1 may just be this one. The top seeds from last season’s NFC playoffs meet in Green Bay as the Packers (No. 1) welcome San Francisco (No. 2) to Lambeau Field.

This figures to be a contrast of strengths as reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense (No. 1 in the NFL in scoring in 2011) will face off against All-Pros Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman and the rest of the 49ers’ stout defense (No. 4 in total defense). The game also features a battle of coaching acumen between Mike McCarthy, who was the 49ers offensive coordinator before becoming the Packers’ head coach, and Jim Harbaugh, the NFL’s Coach of the Year in 2011.

Sept. 9, Pittsburgh at Denver
Peyton Manning will make his Denver Broncos debut at home on Sunday night, which is a must-see event in and of itself, but the NFL didn’t do him or the Broncos any favors with their opponent. Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers come back to Sports Authority Field at Mile High, where their 2011 season came to a stunning end, thanks to a 80-yard Tim Tebow-to-Demaryius Thomas connection just 11 seconds into overtime.

Tebow is now with the New York Jets, but the Broncos replaced him with Manning, the four-time NFL MVP. With Manning under center, the Broncos’ offense figures to be more dynamic and dangerous in the passing game, but may not be clicking on all cylinders come Week 1. The Steelers’ defense, which was No. 1 in the NFL in both total and scoring defense last season, will not only offer a good barometer of what Broncos’ fans can expect in 2012 from the revamped offense, it also will apply all the pressure it can on Manning to see if he’s fully recovered from his neck injuries and lengthy absence from the field.

Sept. 30, Buffalo at New England
On the surface this Week 4 encounter may not seem like a must-see match up, considering New England is the defending AFC Champion and Buffalo finished 6-10. However, remember that the AFC East foes split their two meetings in 2011. The Bills won the first game in Week 3 of last season, overcoming a 21-0 second-quarter deficit and kicking a game-winning field goal with no time left on the clock to secure the 34-31 thrilling victory at home. The win also snapped the Bills; 15-game losing streak to the Patriots.

The Patriots got even in the regular-season finale, but it wasn’t easy. This time it was Buffalo who jumped out to a 21-0 lead in Foxboro in the first quarter before Tom Brady and the Patriots answered back. And they answered back in a big way, out-scoring the Bills 49-0 in the final three quarters to become the first NFL team in history to win a game by 20 or more points in which they trailed by 20 or more points.

The Bills finished the season ranked No. 26 in the league in total defense, but signed former Houston Texan Mario Williams as a free agent to help fix that. The former No. 1 overall pick signed a six-year contract that could be worth up to $100 million, the first-ever such pact for a defensive player. The Bills added Williams to show their serious about defense and getting back to postseason and this first match up against Brady and Patriots’ offense, which finished No. 2 in the NFL in total offense in 2011, in Foxboro will be as good a test as any.

Sept. 30, New Orleans at Green Bay
The winners of the previous two Super Bowls heading into last season served as the opening act for the 2011 regular season last September, a game won by the Packers 42-34. The Saints return to Lambeau again this September and fans can expect plenty of offensive fireworks.

The Saints finished 2011 No. 1 in total offense, with the Packers coming in at No. 3 and both teams averaged more than 34 points per game. This Week 4 meeting also means the Saints will have already played three games, so hopefully by the time they play the Packers they will have completely shifted their focus from their tumultuous offseason to on-the-field business.

Oct. 7 Denver at New England
Yes, it’s Manning vs. Brady, although No. 18 will be a different uniform this time around, but this game offers much more than that. First there’s the matter of the 45-10 beat down the Patriots gave the Broncos in last year’s playoffs. Denver gets to return to the scene of the crime, if you will, and try and exact a little payback.

There’s also the Josh McDaniels factor. McDaniels left the Patriots in 2009 to become the Broncos’ head coach. Among the things McDaniels did while he was leading the Broncos was trade then-quarterback Jay Cutler to the Bears, ship Brandon Marshall off to the Dolphins and then trade up back into the first round to draft Tim Tebow in the 2010 NFL Draft.

McDaniels never found success on the field as Denver went 11-17 in his two seasons before being fired following the end of the 2010 season. McDaniels resurfaced last season as the St. Louis Rams’ offensive coordinator, but was let go after the season following the dismissal of head coach Steve Spagnuolo.

The Patriots brought him back into the fold during last season’s playoff run, during he served as an offensive assistant coach. When Bill O’Brien left to become the head coach at Penn State, Bill Belichick tabbed McDaniels once again as his offensive coordinator. You have to think McDaniels has definitely circled this game on his calendar.

Oct. 7, San Diego at New Orleans
Three seasons ago, the Chargers finished 13-3, which tied for the second-best record in all of the NFL. Seemingly a team on the brink of putting it all together, Norv Turner’s squad has missed the playoffs the past two seasons. Both times they were done in by slow starts, struggling to a 2-5 start in 2010 and suffering a crushing six-game losing streak following their bye week last season.

Turner is still calling the shots and the Chargers, led by quarterback Phillip Rivers, appear to have the pieces in place to contend in the AFC West, although they did lose wide receiver Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay in free agency. If the Chargers are to be taken seriously, they must get off to a better start. This match up against Drew Brees and the Saints in the Big Easy, along with a Sept. 23 visit from the Falcons will serve as early indicators of whether they are contenders, or once again, pretenders, in 2012.

Oct. 14, Green Bay at Houston
The Giants and the Patriots played each other in Week 9 of last season, and at the time few people, if any, thought we would see them face off again in Super Bowl XLVI. Could this Week 6 Sunday night contest between Green Bay and Houston serve as the precursor for Super Bowl XLVII?

It’s entirely possible, but even if they don’t see one another again the rest of the way, this figures to be a highly entertaining game as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will travel to Houston to face the Texans, a team that appears to be on the cusp of taking that next step as a contender. The match up of the Packers’ offense versus the Texans’ defense (No. 2 in total defense in 2011) will be a fun one to watch, as will Clay Mathews, Charles Woodson and company trying to slow down Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson on their home turf.

Nov. 4, Carolina at Washington
This Week 9 offering is all about the quarterbacks. If everything goes according to plan in next week’s NFL Draft, the last two Heisman Trophy winners should be under center. The Panthers’ Cam Newton, who won the Heisman in 2010 and followed that up by being named Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, will have the experience edge over the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III, the reigning Heisman Trophy recipient, who is expected to be the starter by this point.

Both quarterbacks are similar in style, as they can beat you with their arm and their legs, and the Redskins and coach Mike Shanahan would like nothing more than for Griffin to follow in Newton’s footsteps in his first NFL season. Last season, Newton set numerous records, including most passing yards by a rookie (4,051) and the single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (14).

Nov. 22, Houston at Detroit
The first-game in a stuffed Thanksgiving triple-header (Washington at Dallas, New England at New York Jets are the other games), Detroit’s successful 2011 season, which ended the Lions’ 11-year playoff drought, adds even more significance to this game against Houston. Besides being a match up of two teams who will more than likely be in the thick of the playoff hunt in their respective conferences, this game features several of the NFL’s rising stars.

Both teams have potent offenses and while Houston’s defense (No. 2 in total defense in 2011) may have been more productive, the Lions’ defense is already pretty nasty in one sense, and has the pieces and potential to be fairly stingy in the other.

The Texans’ offense includes quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Arian Foster, while the Lions counter with quarterback Matthew Stafford, but all eyes will be on the wide receivers. It’s a Johnson vs. Johnson face off as the Lions’ Calvin and the Texans’ Andre will get the chance to steal the spotlight from the other on Thanksgiving Day.

Nov. 25, Green Bay at New York Giants
The last two Super Bowl winners face off in this Week 12 Sunday night affair as the Giants welcome the Packers. The reigning champs ended the Packers’ 2011 season with a convincing 37-20 victory in Lambeau in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs, and Green Bay would like nothing more than to return the favor this time around in MetLife Stadium in the Big Apple.

Besides the payback factor, the outcome of this game could go a long ways to deciding playoff seeding in the NFC, if not much more. Remember last year the Giants defeated the Cowboys in Week 17 to win the NFC East and get into the playoffs. Had they not won that game, they wouldn’t be hosting the Packers in this game as the defending Super Bowl champions.

Nov. 26, Carolina at Philadelphia
It remains to be seen if this Week 12 contest will have any playoff-related implications or not. But one thing this Monday night game does offer is a great quarterback pairing. It could be the passing of the guard as Michael Vick and his Eagles welcome Cam Newton and the Panthers to Lincoln Field.

Besides representing Newton’s inaugural appearance in the coveted Monday night time slot, this could serve as a passing of the guard between the two signal callers whose style of play appear to mirror one another. Vick burst on the scene after the Falcons drafted him No. 1 overall in 2001 and immediately dazzled and thrilled with his athleticism, dual-threat abilities and numerous highlight-reel plays.

Vick will be 32 once the 2012 NFL season starts, while Newton, who the Panthers took No. 1 overall in the 2011 draft, is nine years younger. Despite the critics and skeptics, Newton put together arguably the best statistics of any rookie quarterback in NFL history, shattering numerous records along the way with both his arm and his legs. There’s no more fitting backdrop than this Monday night to witness the passing of the torch between these two dynamic quarterbacks.

Dec. 10, Houston at New England
AFC supremacy, including possibly the top seed in the playoffs, could be on the line in Week 14 when Houston travels to New England for this Monday night contest. New England captured the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs last season thanks to a 13-3 mark and rode home-field advantage to the Super Bowl.

The Texans, meanwhile, won the AFC South with a 10-6 mark, earning the first playoff berth in the franchise’s 10-year history. The Texans defeated the Bengals in the Wildcard Round only to fall to the Ravens 20-13 in the Divisional Round. If Houston wants to take that next step toward becoming a legitimate championship contender, a victory over the Patriots in New England would go a long ways, for both 2012 and beyond.

Dec. 16, Pittsburgh at Dallas
Winners of a combined 11 Super Bowls will meet up in the regular season in Week 15 when Dallas hosts Pittsburgh. The two have actually faced each other in the Super Bowl three times with the Steelers claiming victory in Super Bowls X and XIII, while the Cowboys won the most recent title game match up, a 27-17 victory in Super Bowl XXX in 1996.

The Cowboys hold a 14-13 head-to-head advantage over the Steelers in regular-season meetings, but Pittsburgh has won the last two (2004 and ’08). Given the history and winning tradition associated with these two proud, long-standing franchises, this is a game that’s sure to attract plenty of attention.

— by Mark Ross, published on April 18, 2012

<p> Athlon Sports presents its list of NFL regular-season games you don't want to miss in 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 12:44
Path: /mlb/new-york-yankees-boston-red-sox-still-avoiding-cellar-0

Regardless what the standings look like now, with the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox teetering near the bottom of the AL East, they are not likely to end the season there. The Baltimore Orioles are bad enough that they won’t let it happen this season, but just in case you’re wondering, the last time the Yankees and Red Sox finished last and next-to-last in their division/league was in 1966. The only other time was way back in 1925.

Now in 1966, the Red Sox were a year away from winning the pennant in 1967, and the Yankees were just two years removed from winning five straight from 1960-64. Boston had stars like Carl Yastrzemski, George Scott, Jim Lonborg and a young Tony Conigliaro. The Yankees had Elston Howard behind the plate, Bobby Richardson at second and an outfield of Roy White, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Howard, Mantle and Maris were all former MVPs. Mel Stottlemyre and Al Downing led the pitching staff that included an aging Whitey Ford.

But with all that star power, somehow the Red Sox managed to finish ninth, 26 games back of the Orioles (who swept the Dodgers in the World Series) and the Yankees a half game behind the Sox. I wonder how Mickey, Maris and Whitey felt about finishing last.

Back in 1925, the Red Sox were a collection of no-name players, so it’s understandable that they would finish last, 49.5 games out of first. The BoSox had the worst offense, pitching and defense — last in batting average, last in runs, last in ERA, last in fielding percentage and made the most errors. It takes a microscope to find anything positive about that team.

But there was no excuse in New York. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Earle Combs led the Yankees’ lineup. You know, guys most fans have heard of. You would think that would be enough firepower to support a pitching staff of Herb Pennock, Urban Shocker, Waite Hoyt and Sad Sam Jones. And the Yankees were 21 games better than the Red Sox, but still finished seventh in the eight-team league. Must have been why Sam was so sad.

- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)

<p> Both teams having sub-par seasons at the same time is rare indeed.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 12:24
All taxonomy terms: Dallas Cowboys, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2012-dallas-cowboys-schedule

The 2012 NFL schedule for the Dallas Cowboys has been released. Here's a weekly look that includes dates, times and television information.

Week 1—Sept. 5: @ New York Giants, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Week 2—Sept. 16: @ Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 3—Sept. 23: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 4—Oct. 1: Chicago Bears, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Week 5—Oct. 7: BYE WEEK

Week 6—Oct. 14: @ Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 7—Oct. 21: @ Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 8—Oct. 28: New York Giants, 4:15 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 9—Nov. 4: @ Atlanta Falcons, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

Week 10—Nov. 11: @ Philadelphia Eagles, 4:15 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 11—Nov. 18: Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Week 12—Nov. 22: Washington Redskins, 4:15 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 13—Dec. 2: Philadelphia Eagles, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

Week 14—Dec. 9: @ Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 15—Dec. 16: Pittsburgh Steelers, 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS

Week 16—Dec. 23: New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 17—Dec. 30: @ Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

<p> The 2012 NFL schedule for the Dallas Cowboys.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 10:05
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-schedule-highlights

The 2012 NFL season is still more than four months away from kicking off, but the path to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans is set. The NFL released its 2012 regular-season schedule on Tuesday. Here are some highlights of the upcoming slate.

Heavy is the Schedule For the Team That Wears the Crown
Seven teams have won consecutive Super Bowls in NFL history, the last being the New England Patriots in 2004-05. The New York Giants will aim to accomplish this feat this season, but the road back to the Super Bowl will be anything but easy. The Giants open the 2012 season by hosting the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 5. Besides their NFC East division games against the ‘Boys, Eagles and Redskins, the G-Men’s schedule includes games against seven teams that made the playoffs last year.

The Giants’ other games against NFC opponents include trips to both Atlanta and San Francisco, and a home game against Green Bay, the three teams they defeated to get to the Super Bowl last year. The Giants also host New Orleans, who won its division last season, and all four AFC North teams – Baltimore (road), Cincinnati (road), Cleveland (home) and Pittsburgh (home).

Rough Ride Ahead for Manning, Broncos
Welcome to Denver Peyton. I hope you are taking full advantage of the uninterrupted offseason to get acclimated with your new surroundings and team because the league sure didn’t do you or the Broncos any favors schedule-wise. Year 1 for Manning in Denver opens in Pittsburgh. The Steelers would like nothing more than to exact a little revenge for last season’s stunning overtime playoff loss in Denver. That’s followed by a trip to Atlanta and a visit from Houston, Manning’s former AFC South divisional foe who are coached by former Bronco assistant Gary Kubiak.

It just wouldn’t be right if Manning and Tom Brady didn’t face one another at some point during the season, and this year’s match up comes Oct. 7 in New England, where the Broncos’ 2011 campaign ended unceremoniously in a 45-10 playoff beat down provided by the Patriots. The Broncos then fly back west to meet Phillip Rivers and the Chargers in San Diego on Monday Night Football in their last game before their Week 7 bye.

After the bye, the Broncos host the Saints on Sunday night, and go to Cincinnati and Carolina the next two Sundays. The final seven games include four divisional contests, including trips to Kansas City and Oakland, along with a Week 15 visit to Baltimore to play the Ravens.

Welcome to the League Rookies
Barring something unforeseen happening, quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are fully expected to be the first two picks in next week’s NFL Draft, where they will be taken by the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins, respectively. It's also possible that both will be under center starting in Week 1. So what lies ahead for the two first-year signal callers?

The Colts took Peyton Manning No. 1 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft and inserted him as the starter in Week 1. If history repeats itself in 2012 the former Stanford star will need every bit of Luck he can muster as he will make his NFL debut in Chicago against Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and the rest of the Bears defense. Luck also will have the opportunity to observe some of the league’s premier quarterbacks in action as the Colts’ schedule includes a home game against reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and his Packers on Oct. 7 and a Nov. 18 visit to Gillette Stadium, home to Tom Brady and the defending AFC champion Patriots.

Luck’s other inaugural NFL road tests include games against the Jets in the Big Apple, the Lions in Detroit and the Chiefs in Kansas City. The Colts and Steelers also have the earliest bye week, coming in Week 4, meaning Luck’s first season will have him dealing with a stretch of 13 straight games. Luck and Stanford played 13 games in 2011, but not in a row, and nearly 40 days separated the Cardinal’s regular-season finale from their appearance in the Fiesta Bowl.

If Redskins coach Mike Shanahan inserts RGIII as his starting quarterback right away, the Heisman Trophy winner will start his NFL career on the road in New Orleans against the defending NFC South champion Saints. His home debut would come in Week 3 against Cincinnati and the Skins’ three games leading up to their bye in Week 10 have them on the road in back-to-back weeks facing the Giants and Steelers followed by a home date with the Carolina Panthers in a match up featuring the last two Heisman winners – Griffin and Cam Newton.

Following the bye, Griffin will familiarize himself with his NFC East rivals as the Redskins will play five of their six divisional games in the final seven weeks of the season. Their post-bye slate opens up with the Eagles on Nov. 18 with a trip to Dallas just four days later. The Giants come calling the first Monday in December followed by the Ravens that next Sunday. Washington concludes the regular season with a trip to Philadelphia and a Dec. 30 home date versus the Cowboys.

Turkey Day Trifecta
Thanksgiving and football go hand in hand. This season the NFL has done its part, serving up three mouth-watering match ups for fans to feast on. The appetizer will be Houston at Detroit. Not only will this game feature two of the league’s up-and-coming teams, but it also will have two All-Pro wide receivers named Johnson – Calvin and Andre – in action.

The main course, if you will, is a NFC East showdown between Washington and Dallas in the house that Jerry Jones built. This is always a tasty match up, regardless of the records, but the presumed presence of the aforementioned Griffin in a Redskin uniform only adds to the intrigue. Griffin won the Heisman last year playing for Baylor and went to high school in Copperas Cove, which is about three hours away from Cowboys Stadium in Arlington making this somewhat of a homecoming for him.

And to finish things off, the NFL Network will serve up New England at the Jets on Thursday night to round out this football feast. This won’t be the first time these AFC East divisional rivals will have met during the regular season, but still it’s the Patriots vs. Jets, Bill Belichick vs. Rex Ryan, Tom Brady vs. Tim Tebow, oops, I mean Mark Sanchez. What better way to end a day that’s all about family, friendship and food than to watch two teams that absolutely, positively can’t stand one another leave it all on the football field?

Monsters of Monday Night
The Chicago Bears have already reunited wide receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler through an offseason trade and the duo will get plenty of chances to showcase their chemistry in a coveted time slot. The Bears are the only team scheduled to make three appearances on Monday night. Contrast that to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants and the New England Patriots, who the Giants defeated in Super Bowl XLVI, who each have just one Monday night game on tap.

Chicago will travel to Dallas on Oct. 1 to play the Cowboys, host Detroit in a key NFC North match up on Oct. 22, and face off against former Bear and current San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh and his 49ers on their home turf on Nov. 19.

Coach, I Don’t Think You’re in Piscataway Anymore
Tampa Bay reached into the collegiate ranks to fill its head coaching vacancy, luring Greg Schiano away from Rutgers. The Bucs then presented free agent acquisitions Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright as housewarming gifts to their new coach.

Once the season starts, however, the Bucs’ early season opponents will be more than willing to pull the welcome mat out from under Schiano’s feet. He will make his NFL head coaching debut at home against NFC South foe Carolina and then instead of the Big East, he will get a full helping of the NFC East, as Tampa Bay’s next three games are on the road against the Giants and Cowboys, followed by a home date with the Redskins.

Schiano and the Bucs will get to catch their breaths in Week 5 with a bye, which also will allow them the chance to prepare for the rest of their slate which includes home games against the Chargers and Eagles, along with a trip to Denver and two games against both Atlanta and New Orleans. There isn’t a Tulane or Howard, Rutgers’ first two opponents this season, anywhere to be found on this slate.

What We Won’t See
Those who were hoping for a New York Giants vs. New England Patriots rematch this year are out of luck. Next January? We’ll have to wait and see. Speaking of Luck, while Andrew and RGIII will most likely go Nos. 1 and 2 in the upcoming NFL Draft, they won’t get the chance to size each other up on the field as the Colts do not play the Panthers in 2012.

The Jets and Broncos don’t meet up in the regular season either, meaning any Tebow reunion with his former teammates will have to wait until the playoffs, if it even happens at all. We also won’t see Sean Payton on the sidelines this entire season as he serves his one-year suspension handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his role in the Saints’ defense’s bounty system.

What you will see is a full 17 weeks of NFL action that will carry you from September to the end of the year and set the stage for another exciting postseason starting in January. Now we just have to wait a mere 140 days for the games to begin. Sept. 5 can’t come soon enough.

— by Mark Ross, published on April 18, 2012

<p> Athlon Sports offers its observations and impressions of the 2012 NFL regular-season schedule</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 09:38
Path: /college-football/tennessee-or-vanderbilt-more-sec-wins-2012

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Tennessee or Vanderbilt: More SEC Wins in 2012

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The reaction to the 2011 season for Tennessee and Vanderbilt says everything about the two programs. In Nashville, coach James Franklin is a rock star after going to a bowl in his first season at Vanderbilt. In Knoxville, coach Derek Dooley is sweating even though his team finished only one game behind Vanderbilt in the standings. That’s with good reason. It’s probably tougher to take Vanderbilt to a bowl game than to go 1-7 in the SEC at Tennessee. I think the Volunteers will overtake Vanderbilt again, despite all the momentum and mojo at Vandy. If Tennessee gets full seasons from a healthy quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receiver Justin Hunter, the Volunteers are probably a bowl team. Bray started the season with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions in the first four games, three of those with Hunter. Vanderbilt should continue to improve under Franklin, but I wonder if this might be a year when the Commodores take a dip. They’ll be better with Jordan Rodgers as the primary quarterback teaming with running back Zac Stacy all year, but they won’t catch anyone off guard either. My biggest concern about Vanderbilt is the loss of some key defensive players – Tim Fugger, Chris Marve and Casey Hayward. Tennessee and Vanderbilt are going to compete for a lower-tier SEC bowl, so there’s not much separation here. I’m still picking Tennessee to be marginally better.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The Dores get the big leg up in the crossover scheduling department. Vanderbilt will not face Alabama, LSU or Arkansas in 2012 and instead visits Ole Miss and hosts Auburn. Tennessee, on back-to-back weekends, must visit Mississippi State before hosting the defending champions on the Third Saturday in October.

Unfortunately for the Commodores, however, they have a brutal early conference slate. South Carolina comes to town to open the season on Thursday night before the Dores have to visit Missouri and Georgia all in the first five games of the season. It doesn’t get any easier with Florida and Auburn then visiting West End by October 20. How good — and healthy — will Vanderbilt be in the final four weeks of the season could be crucial to returning to the postseason. They have winnable games against Ole Miss, Kentucky and Tennessee to start November.

Tennessee does have to travel to Nashville to face the Commodores and fans on both sides can bet James Franklin hasn’t let his team forget how the Vols celebrated the overtime win in Knoxville last season. Tennessee’s schedule is tougher in the middle but has winnable games at the backend as well. The two swings games in this debate are the head-to-head at Vanderbilt Stadium and each’s contest with SEC newbie Missouri. Tennessee gets the Tigers late in the year at home, while Vandy has to visit Mizzou.

I will pick the Vols to beat Mizzou at home and Vandy on the road. This will give Tennessee a one-game edge in the standings over the Dores.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
No matter which way you want to rank the teams, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina seem to be the clear top three in the SEC East for 2012. Missouri, Tennessee and Vanderbilt can each make a case to be ranked fourth and there’s not really much separation between the three teams.

This is really going to be an interesting season for Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Coach Derek Dooley has his back against the wall with the Volunteers, especially after losing to Kentucky and missing out on a postseason berth last year. The Commodores are on the rise under second-year coach James Franklin, but they were hit hard by key losses on defense.

If quarterback Tyler Bray can stay healthy and become a better leader for Tennessee, I like the Volunteers to barely edge Vanderbilt for the better record in SEC play. The crossover schedule with the West slightly favors the Commodores, playing Ole Miss on the road and hosting Auburn. And Vanderbilt hosts South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee, so there is the potential for a few upsets. Tennessee hosts Florida and Missouri, which is a good opportunity to pickup two key conference wins. I wouldn’t be shocked to see both teams tie in SEC wins at the end of the season, but a desperate Tennessee team will edge Vanderbilt in the final East standings. 

Chris Lee, (@ChrisLee70)
Tennessee is primed for improvement, returning 20 starters, and perhaps most importantly, gets quarterback Tyler Bray and receiver Justin Hunter back healthy. Combine that with receivers Da’Rick Rogers, and newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson, and UT’s passing attack is lethal. The defense isn’t dominant, but it did finish 27th a year ago, and has one of America’s more experienced secondaries.

While Vandy quarterback Jordan Rodgers and receivers Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews can’t match UT in talent, but the trio makes tons of big plays. The ‘Dores are loaded at running back with Zac Stacy and Warren Norman, and perhaps the fastest freshman in America in Brian Kimbrow. Defensively, VU returns most players from America’s 18th-best defense, coached defensive genius Bob Shoop.

Vandy finished a game ahead of UT last year, but lost to the Vols head-to-head. The Commodores have two small scheduling advantages, too: they play Auburn and Ole Miss where Tennessee plays Alabama and Mississippi State, and they get the Vols in Nashville. Still, I think UT’s explosive offensive talent puts the Vols just a notch ahead – but given the off-field problems with players and the revolving door of assistants under coach Derek Dooley, I wouldn’t bet money on it.

Barrett Sallee, Lead SEC Blogger for Bleacher Report (@BarrettSallee)
Tennessee will have a better record than Vanderbilt, but it'll be close. The pressure is on in Knoxville, and head coach Derek Dooley knows that. Injuries really hampered the Vols last season, but with quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receiver Justin Hunter back, that offense is set to be explosive yet again. New defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri is finally getting a break and getting his shot at being a coordinator at the FBS level, and the addition of junior college transfer Darrington Sentimore on the defensive line should help the Vols as they transition to the 3-4.

Color me skeptical on Vanderbilt. I know James Franklin is a rock star in Nashville, and the Commodores were a couple of bad breaks away from being an eight-win team, but I think that six or seven wins may be the ceiling there.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Both teams will probably be in the 4-4/3-5 range in league play, so this answer comes down to the head-to-head matchup I think Tennessee wins at Vanderbilt Stadium (or Neyland West to Vols fans), so Derek Dooley’s club gets the nod. Everything went wrong for Tennessee in 2011, but a healthy Tyler Bray at quarterback and Justin Hunter at receiver could mean big offensive numbers in 2012. Receiver Da’Rick Rogers can be a star, and the running game will be better with an improved offensive line under Sam Pittman’s leadership. There is talent on the Vols defense, but the adjustment to new coordinator Sal Sunseri’s 3-4 scheme may take time. Vanderbilt should have a solid offense led by running back Zac Stacy and quarterback Jordan Rodgers, but the defense lost some high-end talent and experience with the departures of Tim Fugger, Chris Marve Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson. The Commodores have a schedule advantage by drawing Auburn and Ole Miss from the West, but I’ll still take the Vols to be much-improved and finish better than the Dores.

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<p> Will Vanderbilt or Tennessee have more wins in SEC play in 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 08:08