Articles By All

All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/penis-sign-pops-suns-post-game-show

You've got to love crazy sports fans with colorful poster boards, fat magic markers and no fear of public humiliation. Apparently there are a few in Phoenix, who gathered for the Suns post-game show to display their love for their team and Steve Nash, who may have played his final game as a member of the Suns. Fans made signs that included "Go Suns," "Let's Get Nashty" and a giant penis drawing. Well done, Phoenix. Well done. Video is below.

Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 21:48
Path: /nascar/best-nascar-has-offer

Richmond, Talladega, Darlington and Charlotte stretch unequalled on Cup schedule

Much was made of the first five races of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule being run on diametrically diverse tracks. From the season opening restrictor plate Daytona 500, to the bumper-car bonanza that made up the closing laps at Martinsville, and the intermediate downforce contests in Las Vegas and Fontana.

Now that those races are in the books, the series begins to transition into the meat of the season. The next four weeks are held at equally unique racetracks as the season begins to take shape and winnow out the weak. The following is a preview of the next month of Sprint Cup competition and where to place your fantasy picks — or place an ill-advised wager if you’re one who happens to frequent such establishments.

There are many images that come to mind when one mentions racing at Richmond. From Rusty Wallace punting Jeff Gordon in 1997, Kevin Harvick and company stomping on Ricky Rudd’s hood in 2003, or Kyle Busch’s brush with mortality after getting into Dale Earnhardt, Jr. while racing for the win in ’08 — it’s like somebody had the bright idea to mash Martinsville and Michigan together into a three-quarter mile oval and ended up with the perfect track. That said, what I am about to declare may be proof that the Mayans are right on target with the 12-21-12 end date:

The winner this weekend will almost certainly be a Michael Waltrip Racing entry.

While that may have been a funny quip a couple of years ago, it’s an undeniable fact that in 2012, this team is for real. MWR has had a long and storied — and at time notorious — history at Richmond. Who can forget Michael Waltrip jacking up a hapless Casey Mears the entire length of the frontstretch in 2008 after the two had made contact? Considering it was one year ago here that Martin Truex Jr. went Tim Daland in Days of Thunder and summarily fired the entire pit crew, it’s fair to say it would be more than fitting if the No. 56 NAPA Toyota found its way to Victory Lane on Saturday.

Truex has been on a tear this year, notching six top 10s in the first eight races, while his three top 5s already match what he achieved in all of 2011. His late-race fade at Kansas was indicative of a team that has the speed and performance to win, but has not been in that position before, and therefore, is still learning how to seal the deal. Yeah, I know … bad set of tires, the sun came out, it was cold. Truex may have made his banzai video game pass attempt on Denny Hamlin about a lap too early, before he went all Carl Edwards 2008, but he was a legit contender — and no doubt had the best car of the day up until that point

Teammate Clint Bowyer has always had speed at Richmond, having won there in 2008 to go along with five other top 10s in 12 Cup starts. Mark Martin will be back in the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine after finishing a season low 33rd in Kansas courtesy of a blown engine with 12 laps to go while running sixth. Martin has 24 top 10s and 17 top 5s in an amazing 52 starts at RIR, with just one win, which came in 1990. (The circumstances surrounding the resulting controversial fine are still a point of contention and a reason for most Martin fans to go.)

Driving in a part-time capacity this year, Martin has been at worst a top-10 car at every race, with Brian Vickers guiding the No. 55 to a top 5 at Bristol. There’s no reason to believe anything would be different this weekend, as the 55 was the fastest car on the track the last 20 laps at Texas Motor Speedway two weeks ago.

Prediction: A win for one of Mikey’s three teams in the Year of the Mayan. After all, there’s a reason that Dick Clark passed away the year there’s not supposed to be a New Year’s Eve.

Rick Hendrick has got to be sick and tired of lugging around all of those “Hendrick Motorsports 200th Cup Win” commemorative hats. HMS has gone goose egg since the October race at Kansas last year, which was won by Jimmie Johnson. Hendrick has since had to endure allegations of trying to build a fast superspeedway car, keep sharp objects away from Kasey Kahne, and find new ways for Jeff Gordon to communicate that, “We have to qualify better.”

After the Martinsville incident that saw a guaranteed one-two finish go up in smoke — which, prior, had been most recently witnessed in my last season in career mode playing NASCAR Thunder 2003 for PS2 — the 200th win question has loomed large, nearly overshadowing the 600-pound dancing bear in the room: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s winless streak that dates back to a time when Greece was solvent and Secret Service agents were, uh, secretive. While Junior has been doing a commendable job, these hats need to be distributed, so that means all eyes were on “Five Time” at Texas Motor Speedway — just as Greg Biffle set a pick and subsequent slide job on Johnson exiting Turn 4 with 30 laps to go.

Cut to another scene of Mr. Hendrick slowly removing his headset and dismounting the No. 48 war wagon.

At Talladega, this all will change. Daytona was a disaster, with Johnson getting turned into the wall after just one lap and Gordon blowing the bottom end out of the powerplant of his No. 24 machine. Kahne was involved in a late-race dust up, which meant that Earnhardt had to take on the Ford tandem of Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth in the final laps by his lonesome. Junior did what he could en route to a second-place finish, which should provide hope for Junior Nation, as well as the HMS brain trust.

With any luck, two droughts will be wiped out at Talladega, and if there is one track more perfectly suited for Junior to make a difference, they haven’t built it yet.

Prediction: Earnhardt ends a 138-race winless streak and Hendrick disposes of what now must be an irritating hat collection. Junior Nation then goes Soccer Fan, demolishing every Occupy rally across North America, tipping over their own vehicles and lighting them ablaze.

OK, what are the chances that some scumbag tries to make a lame tie-in with “The Lady In Black” and Danica Patrick making her first attempt at “The Track Too Tough to Tame”? Hmm … sounds like the basis for another commercial. Well, in that case, I demand some royalty monies for planting the seed.

But I digress. They simply don’t make them like Darlington anymore. A track whose shape was determined by a minnow pond and whose reconfiguration has been limited to some soft walls and moving the start/finish line to the other side and doing away with the backstretch pits. To many, Turn 2 will always be Turn 4, but what is for certain, the only race that deserves to be called The Southern 500 is the one held here the second week of May.

So who will be the one to claim triumph at the original superspeedway over Mother’s Day weekend? I’ll tell you who you can forget: Anything or anybody coming out of the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing stables. If there is one organization that continues to baffle, this is the one. A solid Chase contender in ’09, a perennial threat at Indy and the restrictor plate tracks, and a showcase for Jamie McMurray’s renaissance in 2010, EGR has been seemingly out to lunch at every single event dating back to the 2011 season. It has even regressed after most of the old guard departed in the offseason, including longtime competition director Steve Hmiel, founding team member Tony Glover and crew chief Brian Pattie.

The net result? Juan Pablo Montoya sits 16th in points and McMurray 19th. Not exactly the rebound to the 2011 season that team principal Chip Ganassi deemed “pathetic.”

Those that stand a reasonable chance of contending for the win are those who have managed their miserable luck thus far, performed well here last year and are gaining momentum the last couple of races. Kahne faded to fourth last year after leading 124 laps — after walling it in the final stages of the race. Edwards was a close second to first-time winner Regan Smith (well, second-time if you happened to see the fall 2008 race at Talladega), and is part of a Roush contingent that is a top-5 threat each and every weekend. Roush Fenway Racing has won two races in 2012 and currently occupy first (Biffle), third (Kenseth) and ninth (Edwards) in the points standings.

Prediction: Flip a coin between the No. 5 of Kahne and No. 99 of Edwards, but I’m calling heads for Kahne.

The original 1.5-mile tri-oval that served as the model for such cookie-cutter copycats as Texas, Kansas, Chicago, and to some extent, Atlanta. A resurfacing in 2005 provided a dire warning to anyone who dared futz with a perfectly good racetrack, and helped introduce a word that should be forever banished from the lexicon of motorsport: Levigation. Upon completion, Mark Martin lamented, “They took the greatest racetrack in the world and ruined it.” Upon painting the walls a hideous shade of yellow, they’ve somehow made it worse.

However, it’s still Charlotte, and still the best intermediate track on the circuit. Where else are you going to see a gigantic spark plug do donuts in a roadster after fast-roping out of a Blackhawk or a school bus jump through a wall of fire?

Held on Memorial Day weekend, the Coca-Cola 600 is desert on the table of the greatest feast in motorsports. Things get kicked off early with Formula One’s Grand Prix of Monaco as an appetizer, followed by the main course, The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500. NASCAR’s endurance race is held in the hub of the industry, capping off a two-week stint that includes the All-Star Race and Pit Crew Challenge. The official start of summer is also the unofficial start to the Summer Stretch, an eight-week stint that essentially dictates who’s going to be contending for the championship in the fall and who’s going to be burning through old inventory to make way for the new 2013 Car of Tomorrow.

The race still needs to be run, however, yet the recent races at downforce tracks might not be the best indicator of who will be the team to beat as night falls on Concord, N.C. While the Roush cars have certainly been the class of the field for much of the season on these type of tracks, there’s a reason that Johnson and Chad Knaus once referred to CMS as “our house” – and not just because sponsor Lowe’s held the naming rights for the facility at the time. The No. 48 team has six wins there, having won all but one race during the 2003-05 seasons.

Johnson’s teammate, Kahne has three wins, and has been fast all year despite having the kind of luck that only Kahne … er, Cain … would wish upon Abel.

While his finish at Kansas may not have been indicative of my pick for a Coke 600 win, the qualifying results and ultimate winner are guiding my direction here. There seems to be some newfound oomph! in the Toyota camp, even though they popped a few TRD engines last weekend (would that make them TuRDs?), which will likely be ironed out in time for the 600. TRD-powered machines qualified third through sixth at Kansas, and took the top two spots at race’s end.

That said, there’s one driver who’s been notoriously absent up front and a bit too quiet for my liking this year — and Charlotte is the perfect two-week test session to try some new technology. The All-Star Race is a go-for-broke-dash-for-cash-and-crash event, while the 600 dictates that a car must be drivable during the day, and dialed in when it’s dark. For both of those events, I’d put my money on one car in particular …

Prediction: In the 2010 All Star Race, he declared that somebody better keep him away from his teammate or he’d kill the (insert two-word derogatory phrase here). In 2011, he achieved 128 mph in a 45 mph zone driving a Lexus LFA. In 2012, however, Kyle Busch will get his season righted with a win at the Coca-Cola 600 … and the All-Star Race.

So after struggling through an at-times mind-numbing month on the Sprint Cup circuit, enjoy the fruitful May stretch that lies ahead.

by Vito Pugliese
Follow Vito on Twitter:

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese notes that NASCAR's month of May — with races at Richmond, Talladega, Darlington and Charlotte — is the best of the season.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 19:56
Path: /college-football/texas-football-can-longhorns-win-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.

Can Texas Win the Big 12 in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Texas is probably closer to winning the Big 12 title than it is to finishing 8-5 again, especially if we’re to believe what we saw from quarterback David Ash in the bowl game. If Texas can win eight games (and finish 11th in the country in defense) in its back-to-the drawing board season after the 5-7 debacle, the Longhorns certainly can complete the rebuilding job in two years. The question is if the offense is ready to compete for the Big 12 title. I think it will be. The run game is proven, and the young offensive line will have another year to develop. Provided Jaxon Shipley is healthy and Ash can cut his turnovers, Texas has the potential for a balanced offense. On the other side of the ball, Texas could have the best pass defense in the league, a critical cog in winning the Big 12. Texas won’t be a national title contender, but the Longhorns could be good enough to win the Big 12. Oklahoma probably will be the favorite, but the Sooners have lingering questions in the passing game with Ryan Broyles gone. Landry Jones and receivers Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds seemed lost without the all-time reception leader on the field. As a conference favorite, Oklahoma may be vulnerable. If Texas can repeat the strides made last year, the Longhorns will be a worthy contender.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Without question the Texas Longhorns will compete for a Big 12 title in 2012. Manny Diaz enters year number two on the 40 Acres with clearly the best defensive unit in the conference. There is elite level talent on every level of the Burnt Orange defense after leading the Big 12 in rushing, passing, pass efficiency and total defense a year ago. With Robert Griffin III, James Franklin, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden all gone from the schedule in 2012, there is no reason to think this side of the ball won't get even better for Mack Brown.

Bryan Harsin and the Longhorn offense, however, is a totally different story all together. Harsin, also entering his second year on campus, should have no concerns about his offensive playmakers in the backfield or on the edge. The stable of backs and trio of talented receivers give quarterback David Ash plenty to work with in 2012. Yet, the sophomore's development and consistency are still major question marks. We think he solidified himself in the bowl win over Cal and we think he locked down the starting job in spring practice last month. But we won't know anything until the bright lights at DKR Memorial Stadium click on in September. While quarterback play is huge for Texas, the offensive line could actually be the lynchpin for any Longhorn success this fall. If Ash can turn around and trust his talented tailbacks to pick-up key yards, his job will be that much easier. The O-Line has to lead the offense this year.

The schedule sets up nicely for the Horns to challenge for a conference title as well. Gamey Big 12 newcomers TCU and West Virginia both have to come to Austin while road trips against road trips to Lubbock and Lawrence shouldn't be too difficult. Brown catches a break by facing Oklahoma State (in Stillwater) early in the year as true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt will be facing a pass rush the likes he has never even dreamed about. As usual, the trip to the Texas State Fair on October 13 will likely determine the Big 12 champion — that is, if Texas can exercise some purple demons on the final weekend of the season in Manhattan, Kansas.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think Oklahoma has to be the favorite to win the Big 12, but the gap between the Sooners and Texas is very narrow. Losing receiver Ryan Broyles certainly had a huge impact on the offense late last season, but Oklahoma’s passing attack should be better with a full offseason to scheme to make changes to its scheme to compensate for the personnel losses. Trey Metoyer should be a breakout player at receiver for quarterback Landry Jones, but the offense also needs a full year from running back Dominique Whaley. Oklahoma’s defense has a few holes but will benefit from the return of Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator.

Its not crazy to think Texas’ Big 12 title hopes could rest on one person – quarterback David Ash. The Longhorns have a deep stable of running backs and the best defense in the conference, but won’t win the league if the passing game doesn’t improve. Ash doesn’t have to be Robert Griffin, but he can’t throw more interceptions than touchdowns.

I am picking Oklahoma to win the Big 12, but would not be shocked if Texas ended up as conference champs. The Longhorns improved their win total by three last year and improving the quarterback play could mean another two victories. If Ash develops consistency and allows Texas to open up the offense, there’s no reason why the Longhorns can’t win the Big 12 – especially if Oklahoma struggles to get its passing attack in order. Regardless of which team finishes No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference, the Big 12 should have a good shot to get two teams into BCS bowls in 2012.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Longhorns have the talent to get back on top of the Big 12, but I think Oklahoma has to be the favorite. Texas will be led by a stingy defense, featuring a pair of ferocious ends in Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat. The secondary will be excellent as well, with safety Kenny Vacarro and corners Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs leading the way. The obstacle that Mack Brown’s club faces to regain league supremacy is getting the offense back to the high level it enjoyed under Vince Young and Colt McCoy. The running game improved last season with Malcolm Brown toting the rock, but the Horns must find some stability at quarterback. Davis Ash looks to be the leading candidate to improve the Texas passing game, and the Longhorns must find a way to score more points in a conference that gives up a lot defensively. The UT roster is loaded, but I still see the Sooners as the class of the Big 12.

Where will Texas 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.

Related Big 12 Content

How Will West Virginia Fare in the Big 12 in 2012?
How Will TCU Fare in the Big 12 in 2012?

Big 12 Running Back Rankings for 2012

Big 12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012

Can Kansas State Repeat Last Season's Success?

Ranking the Big 12 Head Coaches for 2012
College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 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> Texas Football: Can the Longhorns Win the Big 12 in 2012?</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 19:15
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy, News
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-weekend-rundown-apr-26

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

Another Week, Another Elite Third Baseman Hurt
Two weeks ago it was David Wright, who fractured his right pinkie finger, last weekend it was Adrian Beltre, who strained his left hamstring in the first game of Saturday’s double-header against Detroit. This week it’s Ryan Zimmerman, who hasn’t played since last Friday because of a shoulder issue.

The good news for Washington Nationals fans and his fantasy owners is that a MRI done on Wednesday revealed no structural damage. That does not mean, however, Zimmerman won’t avoid the disabled list, so you probably should plan accordingly.

As far as your replacement options go, I would steer away from Zimmerman’s fill-ins as Nationals manager Davey Johnson will probably go with some sort of committee approach with the trio of Mark DeRosa, Chad Tracy and Stephen Lombardozzi. Of the three, Lombardozzi who’s just 23 years old and is hitting .364 in limited action so far, offers the most upside, but you should be able to find better options on your waiver wire.

For one, Zimmerman wasn’t off to the greatest of starts at the plate, posting a .224-1-7 line in 15 games so far. Another third baseman who’s already been injured this season, but is still producing when he’s in the line up is Chipper Jones. The venerable Brave has just 36 at-bats on the season, but he’s already hit three home runs and driven in 10 with a .913 OPS. He may be worth a look if you are willing to accept that he’s no longer an everyday player. Jones’ backup, Juan Francisco also has three home runs and .957 OPS in just 30 at-bats, but his playing time is tied directly to Jones’ health.

Some other hot corner hitters worth taking a look at include Cleveland’s Jack Hannahan, who’s hitting .333 with 13 RBIs on the season. Hannahan has only scored three runs, but if he keeps getting on base, you would have to think that number will increase. Seattle’s Kyle Seager has out-performed Zimmerman to this point as well with a .267-1-7 line to go along with two stolen bases. All of the players mentioned above are owned in 36 percent or less of Yahoo! leagues, meaning there’s a good chance you can find them on the waiver wire in your league.

Another Week, Two More Pitchers Gone for the Season
Before the season even started, Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria went down with elbow injuries that required Tommy John surgery. Brian Wilson was the next to fall and he had the surgery last week. This week, the Yankees’ Michael Pineda and Brewers’ Chris Narverson became the latest to see their season come to an early end.

Pineda, who was traded to the Yankees in January for Jesus Montero, has yet to throw a pitch for his new team as he was sidelined during spring training. On Wednesday, the team announced the young right-hander will undergo surgery next week to repair a labrum tear in his throwing shoulder and is done for the year.

Pineda’s loss is a big blow to the Yankees’ pitching depth, although help could be on the way soon as 39-year-old Andy Pettitte is continuing his comeback after a one-year hiatus in the minor leagues. The Yankees’ starting rotation has not performed well so far this season, as the starters have a collective 5.73 ERA and .303 opponent’s batting average to this point.

Naverson was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff and he will undergo surgery as well. There also are plenty of pitchers who are currently on the disabled list for different ailments including starters Cliff Lee (strained oblique), Daniel Hudson (shoulder impingement), Ryan Dempster (strained quadriceps) and closer Sergio Santos (strained shoulder).

Fear not, however, as you should be able to find suitable short-term replacements on your league’s waiver wire. And in some cases, some of these pitchers could be worth a longer look in your rotation. Consider:

Ross Detwiler, WAS – The Nationals’ starting rotation has been the best in all of baseball so far this season, with a sparkling 1.71 ERA and a 8-2 record through 18 games. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman have pitched up to their billing, but Detwiler, has matched them start-for-start. The 26-year-old left-hander has given up one earned run in three starts with nearly as many strikeouts (15) as innings pitched (16). When Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson named Detwiler the fifth starter and the team sent John Lannan down to AAA, many around baseball were surprised. At this point, though, it appears the skipper made the right call as the Nationals currently have the National League’s best record at 14-4 entering Thursday’s action.

Jason Hammel, BAL – Hammel picked up this third win on Wednesday when he pitched seven scoreless innings against the Blue Jays. The 29-year-old righty has seemed to find a home in the Orioles’ rotation after struggling the past two seasons with the Rockies. Hammel’s early season success can be attributed to his 25:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio and and the fact he has allowed just one home run in 26 innings so far. Last season he gave up 21 home runs in 170 1/3 innings, or one every eight innings pitched.

Philip Humber, CWS – By now everyone knows what Humber did this past Saturday, pitching the 21st perfect game in major league history against Seattle. Humber’s ERA and WHIP both stand at 0.63 right now and he has more strikeouts (16) than innings pitched (14 1/3). The right-hander was serviceable last year, going 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA, but he only struck out 116 in 163 innings pitched. No one’s expecting Humber to throw a perfect game every time he’s out on the mound, but if he’s able to continue his increased strikeout rate and consistently throw his slider like he did against the Mariners, he could be more than just a serviceable fantasy option in 2012. His next start comes tonight against the Red Sox, which even though they have been struggling to start the season, are certainly a more formidable line up than what the Mariners have to offer.

Tommy Milone, OAK – The 25-year-old lefty came over to Oakland in December as part of the trade that sent the aforementioned Gonzalez to Washington. Gonzalez (2-0, 1.52 ERA) has certainly done his part for the Nationals and the same cane said for Milone, who earned a spot in the starting rotation out of spring training. Milone is 3-1 after tossing eight scoreless innings against the White Sox on Tuesday. His WHIP currently stands at 0.85 and he’s only allowed 17 hits (just one home run) in 27 innings. If there’s any reason to pause about Milone’s long-term sustainability it’s the fact he doesn’t strike many batters out, with just 13 so far, meaning he will need to continue to limit base-runners to maintain his early-season success.

Weekend Series to Watch

Detroit at New York
The Yankees just dropped two of three to the Rangers in Texas and will welcome Detroit to the Bronx for a three-game set starting Friday. Justin Verlander (2-1, 1.72 ERA) will be paired against Ivan Novoa (3-0, 3.79 ERA) in the series opener. Verlander has picked up where he left off last season, but has been victimized by a lack of run support and some late-inning comebacks early on. Novoa has been the Yankees’ most consistent starter so far, but will need his teammates to get to Verlander as he will try and limit Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and co. Fielder went 2-10 with a RBI last season when the Brewers came to New York to face the Yankees in interleague play.

Even though Robinson Cano has just one home run three RBIs through 18 games, the Yankees trail only Texas in home runs (29) and are currently third in the majors in runs scored (100). Derek Jeter (.420-4-13) has been on a tear to start the season, while Curtis Granderson has shaken off a slow start and has put together a .300-6-12 line in his past 13 games.

Tampa Bay at Texas
The current AL East-leading Rays travel to Texas to face the Rangers, who at 15-4 have the best record in all of baseball entering Thursday. Texas’ offense leads the majors in runs, hits, home runs and batting average, thanks in large part to Josh Hamilton’s ridiculous .390-8-19 start. Ian Kinsler (.304-5-12) has been the catalyst atop the lineup with Mike Napoli (.271-7-14) providing the thunder behind Hamilton.

Texas also has been extremely solid pitching-wise as both Matt Harrison (3-0, 1.66 ERA), who will take the mound in Friday’s opener, and Colby Lewis (2-0, 2.03 ERA) have been spectacular to start the season. Yu Darvish got into the act on Tuesday, holding the Yankees scoreless through 8 1/3 innings, giving up seven hits with just two walks and 10 strikeouts.

Tampa Bay’s trio of James Shields (3-0, 2.76 ERA), who will oppose Harrison on Friday, David Price (3-1, 2.63 ERA) and Jeremy Hellickson (3-0, 2.84 ERA) have done their part, while the Rays are still waiting for young lefty Matt Moore (0-1, 5.12 ERA, 12 BB, 11 SO) to settle into his new role.

Offensively, the Rays were powered early by Carlos Pena (.297-4-13), while Evan Longoria (.328-3-14), Matt Joyce (.309-4-7) and Luke Scott (.298-4-15) have been doing more of the hitting as of late. Tampa Bay also welcomed back B.J. Upton, who was placed on the DL after colliding with teammate Desmond Jennings during a spring training game, and hope his bat will get going soon. Upton is just 3-of-14 since his return, although one of those hits is a home run and he already has six RBIs. The Rays also are looking for Ben Zobrist, who’s currently hitting a measly .180, to start turning things around at the plate as well.

Washington at Los Angeles Dodgers
Besides being a matchup between two current division leaders, the Nationals vs. Dodgers three-game series in Los Angeles features some strong pitching matchups. On Friday, young left-hander Ross Detwiler (2-0, 0.56 ERA) will face off with 2011 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw (1-0, 1.61 ERA). Saturday’s pairing is Stephen Strasburg (2-0, 1.08 ERA) versus Chad Billingsley (2-1, 3.04 ERA) and the series concludes on Sunday afternoon with a lefty-lefty duel between Gio Gonzalez (2-0, 1.52 ERA) and Chris Capuano (2-0, 3.52 ERA).

The Nationals’ starting pitching has been the stingiest in all of baseball to start the season, but will face a tough task in keeping Matt Kemp (.449-10-23) and Andre Ethier (.288-4-22 off of the bases.

— by Mark Ross, published on April 26, 2012

<p> Athlon Sports offers some news, notes and other things to watch to get you ready for this weekend's fantasy action on the baseball diamond</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 13:01
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-richmond

This weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Richmond International Raceway for some good ol’ fashioned short track racing in the hopes of putting on an exciting race — something many fans are clamoring for after a dull month. Typically one of the more action-packed tracks on the schedule, Richmond has averaged 10.8 cautions since 2007 and last year's September race saw a total of 15 yellow flag periods.

In short, expect more action Saturday night under the lights in the Capital City 400 than the last five weeks combined.

Sunday's race in Kansas primarily featured green flag racing, yet came down to a good battle to the checkered flag. Michael Waltrip Racing's Martin Truex Jr. was the dominant car on the day, leading 173 of the 267 laps.

However, Denny Hamlin and his Darian Grubb-led crew were in position in the end to jump out front with 31 laps to go. Clearly the best car of the day, Truex's Toyota didn't work well on the final set of tires, allowing Hamlin to take advantage.

This weekend, the Virginian driver-crew chief duo head to their home state with momentum, confidence and the advantage of two race wins already under their belts.

To say Hamlin considers Richmond his home track would be quite the understatement. Hamlin is from nearby Midlothian, the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown is held at RIR and he has two wins, six top 5s and eight top 10s in 12 Sprint Cup starts on the three-quarter mile oval. He is also the defending champion of the Nationwide Series race, a title he will attempt to defend this weekend.

Hitting its stride early in the season, the No. 11 team is fifth in points, with two wins, three top 5s and four top 10s through the first eight races. Hamlin has been the class of the JGR field in 2012, a trend that will continue this weekend in Richmond.

With an average finish of 7.6 at RIR, plus the momentum from last week's win and the excitement of heading back to Virginia, Hamlin, Grubb and the No. 11 crew are this week's overwhelming fantasy favorites.

Frustrated on missing out on last week’s win, Truex's disappointment is a testament to how far the No. 56 NAPA team has come. Throughout the first part of the season, the group has been on its game, as it sits second in points with three top 5s and six top 10s in the first eight races while chasing a winless drought that dates back to June 2007.

While Truex’s results are not noteworthy at RIR through his two seasons with MWR — he has only one top 10 (seventh, 2010) — he and the team are running well regardless of track at the moment. Given the strong start, Truex could disappoint Hamlin's hometown crowd Saturday night by cashing in on the win that is coming.

Also keep an eye on Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch. Currently 14th in points, Busch has not had the greatest of starts to the season. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota has only one top 5 and three top 10s to go along with three finishes of 23rd or worse.

Busch holds the best average finish of any active driver at RIR (5.0), with three wins, 11 top 5s and 12 top 10s in 14 starts. Dating back to ’09, Busch has won each of the spring races and is looking to continue that trend Saturday night. In fact, Busch has never finished worse than fifth (2006) in the spring race at RIR.

Five Favorites: Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart

The Hendrick Motorsports brigade has been hot on the heels of that elusive 200th win for team owner Rick Hendrick of late. Unable to capture the historic win over the last 14 races, they’ll soldier on at Richmond this weekend.

HMS has 10 Cup wins at Richmond, the last of which came in 2008 when Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag. Since then, Hendrick cars have been shut out of Victory Lane, but perennial fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. could fly under the radar this weekend and end two winless streaks that many fans would like to see come to an end.

Earnhardt has three wins on the short track in Richmond, but has struggled to produce the results of late. Since his last win in ’06, Earnhardt has only on top-5 finish and nine finishes of 15th or worse. Yet, the No. 88 team has been one of the best Hendrick cars throughout the early part of the 2012 season. Fourth in points, Earnhardt appears to be on the verge of snapping a winless skid that dates back to June 2008 nearly ever week. Running well seems to have rekindled a fire in both Earnhardt and the No. 88 team, led by crew chief Steve Letarte.

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 12:09
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council-4

What makes for good racing ... and would "phantom" cautions help NASCAR?

Ask a NASCAR fan a question about the sport and you’ll likely get a strong opinion. Ask the Backseat Drivers Fan Council about the sport and you get many strong opinions — especially when the questions focus on the racing.

Fan Council members were not shy with their feelings when asked if NASCAR should throw a caution to break up a long green-flag run in a race, a topic that has garnered considerable debate this season. Here’s what Fan Council members said about that issue and others this week.


79.8 percent said No
20.2 percent said Yes

What Fan Council members said:
• I may stop watching NASCAR if that's what they go to. If anyone says yes to this question they are not a true fan of NASCAR or racing. Period the end.

• Strung out racing is boring. The most exciting points are restarts — so why not have more of them?

• NO, dear Lord. Please, please, please DO NOT start creating "phantom" cautions to bunch up the field or do anything to change the outcome of the race. I firmly believe that if you do not have enough of an attention span to watch a race from green to checkers, with the chance there may be little or no caution laps, then I'm sorry but NASCAR may not be your cup of tea. I want to watch racing not wrecking. Please take this opportunity to exit NASCAR and go to the local demolition derby if you are in this for nothing but wrecks.

• Yes, I'd definitely like to see more cautions but there is a difference between hoping for cautions and looking for wrecks. Don't lump us all in together — there are those who like cautions because they bunch up the pack and those that want cautions because they want to see wrecks. Too often those two thoughts are combined into one.

• Of course not! No way should NASCAR cheat. I can't believe anyone would want NASCAR to throw a fake caution after all the complaints over the years blaming them for cautions that benefited various drivers. That just proves that the fans who complain are only complaining to complain.

• Everyone wants a late caution to bunch the field... unless their favorite driver is the one with the 10-second lead.

• Once the race is under green I want NASCAR to stay out of the “show making” business. A race, like every other sporting event, is an organic event that needs to play out on its own. NASCAR needs to let the teams and drivers determine the outcome. Not every race is going to come down to a last-lap pass with a win by 0.001 seconds, just like not every baseball game ends in a walk-off grand slam. What NASCAR can/should do is work on ways to encourage more passing and competition in the field by somehow finding a way to reduce the influence of clean air.

• People complained about their artificial debris cautions, now they complain about NASCAR not finding a reason for a caution. You can't please everyone all the time, and I, for one, am loving the racing this season. Feels much more real, it accentuates the drivers’ real talents behind the wheel. I'd much rather see two drivers and their styles clash to see who comes out on ahead.

• They do need to do something to make these races a little more exciting. I know I have turned off the last two.

• HELL NO! If NASCAR starts artificially manipulating races, then I am out. I prefer to see how the race unfolds naturally. If a driver manages to get out to a great lead, so be it. If a driver leads the whole race, that is okay with me.

• NASCAR's number one purpose is to entertain. Without fans in the seats and fans watching the races on TV, there would be no NASCAR. But if NASCAR wants to turn this into WWE and fabricate the results, I will no longer be a fan. Arbitrarily throwing a caution to add entertainment value is wrong.

• The restarts were the exciting part of this week’s race, so for entertainment purposes, yes.


54.8 percent said passing throughout the field
19.4 percent said a close battle for the lead at the end of the race
13.6 percent said Other
10.4 percent said many lead changes
1.8 percent said numerous cautions

What Fan Council members said:
• Just good hard racing makes the race more exciting to watch. It gets boring when the cars get strung out and there is really no side-by-side racing.

• Battling for the lead is what I remember most from watching on TV. You see more passes back in the pack when you attend live, but passing for the lead is what makes a race exciting.

• A good race to me is many lead changes, passing throughout the field, and a close battle for the lead at the end. I don't ask for much. When I am at the track I only need the sights, sounds, and smell.

• What every fan wants is drama, which always seems to be missing at California, Michigan and multiple cookie cutters.

• In my mind, auto racing should be a combination of human skills and equipment quality and endurance, the perfect blend of human and mechanical structures organized into a symphony action, reaction with an unknown outcome.

• I love good side-by-side racing, especially at the tracks that make up the bulk of the schedule (the 1.5- and 2-mile tracks). It’s exciting and you stay tuned to see who is going to prevail. There is an exception though, at the short tracks (Bristol, Martinsville, Richmond, etc.). That's when I like to see beating and banging and cautions because that is what short track racing was built upon.

• Not just a close a battle at the end but throughout. Making sure the pit crews do their job, the crew chief calls a good strategy all race long. All that stuff makes up a good race. I also like seeing many cars going for it, not just two or a few. A little sideways to watch now and then doesn't hurt either, but I don't watch for wrecks.

• I would like the teams to have a chance to work on their cars under caution and give more drivers a shot to drive up through the field and contend for the lead. Such few cautions don't allow for drivers to work on anything and pretty much the top 10 stays the same from qualifying to the finish.

• The battle between Hamlin & Truex was very exciting (at Kansas) and kept me on the edge of my seat. Neither are my favorite drivers, but I was cheering for Truex at the end to pass Hamlin.

<p> The Backseat Drivers Fan Council debates whether NASCAR should throw cautions to spice up the racing and grade the STP 400 from Kansas Speedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 10:21
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-look-first-round-trades

The 77th annual NFL Draft is upon us.

Tonight will be the culmination of decades of hard work for players, months of laborious scouting for NFL front offices and weeks of preparation for talking TV heads who have to fill three hours of dead time with highlights and graphics.

However, the not-quite news, pseudo-entertainment extravaganza tonight is all about the fans. Jets and Eagles fans will finally have something to boo about again after a three-month hiatus. Packers, Giants, Patriots, Steelers and Ravens fans will quietly sit by and watch their teams select under the radar All-Pros with little fanfare. And months of excitement for Colts and Redskins supporters will finally come to fruition.

Andrew Luck will be the first pick and Robert Griffin III will be the second. After that, however, fans should be in for plenty of fireworks.

There were 13 first-round NFL trades in the 2009 NFL Draft. There were 11 first-round trades over the last two drafts. And there has already been one blockbuster in 2012 involving the rights to RG3.

With the new rookie salary wage cap, conditions are much more conducive for first-round trades than ever before.

NFL mastermind Jeff Fisher has already landed a small bounty for his St. Louis Rams in the form of three first-round picks — 2012, 2013, 2014 — and the 39th overall pick this year when he dropped four spots from No. 2 to No. 6. He may not be done yet, either.

If the last two years are any indication, fans can anticipate half-a-dozen more first-round swaps tonight. In fact, the last two drafts have provided some of the most explosive first rounds in recent memory.

The biggest splash, of course, came only six picks into the 2011 NFL Draft when the Atlanta Falcons mortgaged their future on wide receiver Julio Jones. Atlanta sent it’s first round (27th overall), second round (59th) and fourth round (124th) selections in 2011, along with its 2012 first rounder (22nd) and fourth rounder (118th), to Cleveland for the sixth overall pick. The Falcons took the game-changing wide receiver from Alabama in a trade that appears to have worked out for both teams.

In 13 games, Jones caught 54 passes for 959 yads and eight scores. It’s fair to say the 6-3, 220-pound wideout has lived-up to the hype. No NFL franchise is one wide receiver from a Super Bowl, but, with its NFC South foe, the New Orleans Saints, in utter turmoil, Atlanta is poised to win its division in 2012 with Jones opposite All-Pro Roddy White.

The Browns landed defensive tackle Phil Taylor with the 21st pick (after trading up from No. 27), wideout Greg Little with the 59th pick and do-everything back Owen Marecic with the 124th selection. Marecic started four games and played in 13. Little’s 61 receptions trailed only A.J. Green amongst NFL rookies. Taylor started all 16 games, registering 59 total tackles and four sacks. With three of top 37 picks and six of the top 118 thanks to the Jones deal, Cleveland has a chance to totally rebuild with one trade.

While it wasn’t as high-profile as the Atlanta-Cleveland exchange, Washington did its best Browns impersonation, moving back six spots from No. 10 to No. 16, when it flipped picks with Jacksonville. The Redskins got Ryan Kerrigan — who posted 64 total tackles and 7.5 sacks as a rookie — and proceeded to turn the 49th pick it got from Jacksonville into five additional draft picks when all was said and done. Washington ended up with wideouts Leonard Hankerson (79th) and Aldrick Robinson (178th), tailback Roy Helu (105th), defensive back Dejon Gomes (146th) and offensive lineman Maurice Hurt (217th).

Hankerson earned his way into the starting line-up and posted a 100-yard game in only his second career start before his season ended with a hip injury. Helu played in 15 games (five starts) rushing for 640 yards while catching 49 passes for 379 yards and scoring three total touchdowns. Gomes posted 32 tackles in five starts while Hurt started eight games in place of the injured Kory Lictensteiger.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars got Blaine Gabbert, a quarterback who barely completed half  of his passes, tossed nearly as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns (12), and averaged less than 150 yards passing per game. This, in a year when Cam Newton broke records and Andy Dalton led the Bengals, of all teams, to the playoffs.

Those weren’t the only moves in the first round however. The Saints traded their 2012 first rounder (27th) and their 2010 second rounder (56th overall) to the Patriots for the right to draft Mark Ingram with the 28th overall pick a year ago. The former Heisman winner missed six games and totaled 520 yards from scrimmage. The Pats selected Cal tailback Shane Vereen in the second round last year and will pick twice in the first round this year. The Pats also landed stud tackle Nate Solder with the first-round pick they acquired from Oakland when they traded Richard Seymour to the West Coast at the start of training camp.

The 2010 first round was no different. Except two years ago, it was all about the Mile High City.

Denver infamously selected Demaryius Thomas with the 22nd pick and Tim Tebow with 25th. Yet, most forget the Bronocs started the 2010 draft with the 11th overall pick and it took four trades to land the tandem that won them a Wild Card game last year.

First, Denver dropped two spots to No. 13 when San Francisco moved up to snag Rutgers offensive tackle Anthony Davis. The Broncos then dropped to 27th when the Eagles moved up to pick Brandon Graham at No. 13. Denver got three additional picks (70th, 87th, 113th) with those two trades.

They weren’t done yet, however, as they shipped the 24th and 113th picks to New England for the right to draft Thomas at 22. New England then flipped the 24th pick to Dallas for the 27th and 90th picks, allowing the Cowboys to take Dez Bryant. Meanwhile, with the very next pick, Denver jumped back into the first round by sending their 43rd, 70th and 114th overall picks to Baltimore for Tim Tebow.

You got all of that?

San Francisco got Davis. The Eagles got Graham. New England dropped twice from No. 22 to No. 27 and netted Devin McCourty (27th), Taylor Price (90th) and Aaron Hernandez (113th). Baltimore got Sergio Kindle (43rd), Ed Dickson (70th) and Dennis Pitta (114th) for the 25th pick. Denver moved back twice, moved up twice and drafted Thomas (22nd), Tebow (25th) and Eric Decker (87th) after all of the dust had settled.

John Elway still wasn't finished.

After all of that, Tebow, the most talked about player in the NFL last fall, was worth a grand total of two late-round picks. Elway shipped him and the Broncos' seventh-round selection to New York for a fourth- and sixth-round draft pick. So in reality, the Broncos got Thomas, Decker, a fourth, a sixth and one playoff win out of the deal (Peyton Manning aside, of course).

It’s amazing how a few slots in the draft can dramatically shift the NFL’s balance of power.

With two extra picks in the first four rounds the Browns have the chance to completely rebuild their franchise in two drafts. The Falcons are the team to beat in the NFC South because they made the move last year to go up and grab Jones. The 49ers have one of the best offensive lines in the league. The Pats have two All-Pros in Hernandez and McCourty. And the Ravens replaced Todd Heap with ease and are expecting big things from Kindle this fall.

The rich get richer.

So far in 2012, we know that the Redskins have their guy in Griffin III. Fisher and the Rams will either take star wideout Justin Blackmon to help Sam Bradford or continue to move back in an effort to stockpile picks. Either way, there figures to be plenty of war room phone calls on draft night.

Who will sell the farm to snatch Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill at No. 3? Will anyone move up to grab the only game-changing safety in this class in Alabama's Mark Barron? Which team vaults back into the first round to secure one of the few solid offensive tackles left on the board?

And, as usual, there figures to be plenty of Tyson Alualu/Darrius Heyward-Bey/Hank Hill “Do What?” moments tonight.

Sit back and enjoy.

-by Braden Gall

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 Draft: First-Round Trades</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: history, NFL Draft, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-history-busts-sleepers-and-solid-picks-part-2

The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft will commence on Thursday night, marking the 77th installment of what is officially called the “NFL Player Selection Meeting.” From Thursday through Saturday 253 college players will hear their names called, adding their name to the NFL history books, regardless of whether they ever make it on the field.

Indeed, as history will tell, some past drafts have become more known for the players who were selected and did not enjoy success in a NFL uniform than those that did. There are also those players who did not hear their names called in the draft, but signed on with a team as an undrafted free agent and would eventually become solid players, if not All-Pros.

Here is a look back at the 1998-2007 drafts, as we reminisce and see which picks panned out for teams (Solid Picks), and those that failed miserably (Busts), as well as acknowledging those players that didn’t let disappointment on draft day get in the way of fulfilling their dreams of playing in the NFL (Sleepers).

Note: Part 1 will cover drafts from 1998-2002, Part 2 will cover the 2003-2007 drafts.

2003 NFL Draft
Cincinnati tabbed Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer with the first overall pick. Palmer didn’t play at all in his rookie season but was the Bengals’ starter in 2004 and enjoyed seven fairly productive seasons there. Injuries took their toll on him starting with a significant suffered in the 2006 AFC Playoffs and later an elbow issue that resulted in him missing most of the 2008 season. Palmer’s tenure in Cincinnati came to a messy end as the team began the 2011 season without him before eventually trading him to the Oakland Raiders.

Solid Picks: They don’t get more solid than Andre Johnson, who Houston took with the second overall pick. The wide receiver from Miami is not only solidly built, but he’s a solid and steady contributor, with five 1,100-yard receiving seasons and a total of 706 receptions in nine seasons with the Texans.

The Panthers took Jordan Gross, who has established himself as a franchise tackle, with the eighth pick, and the Ravens found another defensive star in the first round, this time Terrell Suggs (No. 10). The Steelers also did pretty well in taking Troy Polamalu at No. 16, while the Raiders drafted their own All-Pro defensive back in Nnamdi Asomugha with the second-to-last pick in the first round.

Offensively, the Colts took tight end Dallas Clark (No. 24) in the first round, while the Cowboys took fellow tight end Jason Witten (3rd, No. 69) in the third round. Wide receivers Anquan Boldin (Cardinals – 3rd, No. 54) and Brandon Lloyd (49ers – 4th, No. 124) also came out of this draft.

On the defensive side, some of the stalwarts that were drafted in 2002 include Osi Umenyiora (Giants – 2nd, No. 56), Lance Briggs (Bears – 3rd, No. 68), Asante Samuel (Patriots – 4th, No. 120), and Robert Mathis (Colts – 5th, No. 138).

Busts: Detroit’s lack of successful first-round picks continued in 2003 when they selected Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers with the second pick. Unfortunately, the local collegiate hero never grew up and his lack dedication and maturity combined with some bad luck with injuries sabotaged his brief time in the NFL. In three forgettable seasons with the Lions, Rogers caught a grand total of 36 passes and scored four touchdowns in just 15 games. Dewayne Robertson (No. 3) never really had the impact of a top 5 pick in his six-year career, but he lasted longer than fellow defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, whom New Orleans took with the fifth pick. Sullivan had 1.5 sacks in 36 games in his three seasons with the Saints.

In fact, of the eight defensive linemen taken in the first 15 picks of the 2003 draft more washed out than panned out. Suggs, Kevin Williams (Vikings – No. 9) and Ty Warren (Patriots – No. 13) all worked out in one degree or another, while Robertson, Sullivan, Jimmy Kennedy (Rams – No. 12), Michael Haynes (Bears No. 14), and Jerome McDougle (Eagles – No. 15) never really lived up to their first-round billing.

Sleepers: After the draft, San Diego signed a college basketball player as an undrafted free agent and it’s arguably one of the best moves the franchise has ever made. The Chargers took a chance on Antonio Gates, who was a forward on the Kent State basketball team, but has developed into one of the NFL’s top tight ends. Gates was named first-team All-Pro from 2004-06 and has 593 receptions, 7,783 yards receiving and 76 touchdowns in nine seasons. The Chargers found another hidden gem in 2003 in offensive lineman Kris Dielman. Dielman retired in February, after a nine-year career in which he was a two-time All-Pro selection and was invited to four Pro Bowls.

Similar to San Diego, Dallas took a chance on a small-college quarterback by the name of Tony Romo. Romo joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and after watching from the sidelines for two seasons, became the starter in 2006. Outside of injury, Romo has been under center since then and has earned three trips to the Pro Bowl in his six seasons as the starter. One of the most criticized quarterbacks in the league, by analysts, fans and even teammates alike, Romo has thrown for nearly 21,000 yards with 149 touchdowns and 72 interceptions in 105 career games, 77 of those starts.

2004 NFL Draft
The 2004 draft will probably go down in history as the Eli Manning draft. When Eli and his famous father, Archie, made it known that the younger Manning had no desire whatsoever to play for San Diego, the holders of the No. 1 overall pick, the Chargers orchestrated a trade with the New York Giants.

The Giants got the rights to the No. 1 pick in exchange for their first- and third-round pick in the 2004 draft and their first- and fifth-round selections in 2005. The Giants got Manning, who has since won two Super Bowls, and the Chargers took Philip Rivers with the fourth overall pick.

The Chargers also selected kicker Nate Kaeding with the 2004 third-round pick they got, and took Shawne Merriman in 2005 with the first-round pick (No. 12 overall) they received from the Giants. The Chargers ended up trading the extra fifth-round pick to Tampa Bay for offensive lineman Roman Oben. Oben was a reliable starter for about two seasons for the Chargers before retiring from football in 2008. All in all, this ended up being a win-win trade for both teams, although Rivers has yet to enjoy the postseason success that Manning has.

Solid Picks: Arizona took Larry Fitzgerald with the third pick and the former Pitt Panther has certainly thrived out in the desert. The 2004 NFL Draft could end up being known as one of the best quarterback drafts of all time as besides Manning and Rivers, Pittsburgh got Ben Roethlisberger at No. 11. Manning and Big Ben combined have already won four Super Bowls. Matt Schaub (No. 90) was taken by Atlanta in the third round and after being traded to Houston in 2007, he has developed into one of the top starters in the league.

Later in the first round, New England took Vince Wilfork (No. 21) and St. Louis drafted running back Steven Jackson (No. 24). The Chargers also got reliable center Nick Hardwick in the third round (No. 66) and defensive end Shaun Phillips (No. 98) in the fourth round of this draft, adding to an impressive haul.

Kansas City drafted Jared Allen (No. 126) in the fourth round, who has become a four-time All-Pro and one of the most productive pass rushers with first the Chiefs and now the Vikings. San Diego’s 2004 draft bounty continued with running back Michael Turner in the fifth round (No. 154). The backup to LaDainian Tomlinson his first four years, Turner signed with the Falcons as a free agent in 2008 and has rushed for more than 5,200 yards 50 touchdowns in four seasons in Atlanta.

Busts: Considering he started 12 games for Seattle last season, it may be too harsh to label Robert Gallery a “bust.” Still, no one can really argue that the offensive lineman has not lived up to his billing when he was drafted No. 2 overall by the Raiders in 2004. A trio of wide receivers never developed into the first-round talents they were drafted as, headlined by Roy Williams, who the Lions took at No. 7. In fairness, Roy was not as bug a bust as Reggie Williams, who the Jaguars took with the ninth pick, or Michael Clayton (Buccaneers – No. 15). Unlike, Manning, Rivers and Roethlisberger, J.P. Losman (No. 22) did not pan out as an NFL quarterback, which was bad news for the team that drafted him in the first round, the Bills.

Sleepers: One wide receiver that didn’t get drafted, but certainly panned out was Wes Welker. The diminutive Welker from Texas Tech was signed by San Diego as an undrafted free agent, but was released before the 2004 season even started. Just think how good the Chargers’ ’04 draft would have been if they had kept Welker?

Welker signed with Miami where he was used mostly on special teams. He finally started seeing action at wide receiver in 2005 and prior to the 2007 NFL Draft was traded to New England for second- and seventh-round picks. All Welker’s done with the Patriots so far is catch 554 passes in five seasons, including leading the NFL three different times, along with 6,105 yards and 31 touchdowns.

The Dolphins ended up with Samson Satele and Abraham Wright, the two players they drafted with the picks they got from the Patriots for Welker, and in many instances a front-row seat to the damage Welker and Tom Brady have done together. Welker is 7-2 in career meetings against his former team, with 75 receptions for 981 yards and four scores in those games.

2005 NFL Draft
Alex Smith went No. 1 overall to the San Francisco 49ers, a decision that up until last season seemed to have “bust” written all over it. Prior to the 2011 season, Smith had gone 19-31 as the 49ers’ starter, with more interceptions (53) than touchdown passes thrown. In 2011, however, he turned things completely around, tossing 17 touchdown passes to just five interceptions and more importantly, leading his team to a 13-3 record, the NFC West title and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Smith also showed he could make plays with his legs, which not only earned him the confidence of head coach Jim Harbaugh, but a new contract that should secure his status as the 49ers' starting quarterback moving forward.

Solid Picks: Similar to Smith, Cedric Benson seemed like a bust early, but he has since proven otherwise. Chicago took Benson out of Texas with the fourth overall mark in 2005, but the running back lasted just three tumultuous seasons in the Windy City. The Bears released Benson during the 2008 offseason due in large part to two alcohol-related incidents. Cincinnati took a chance on Benson before the start of the ’08 season, and Benson responded by rushing for 747 yards, or more than he previously done in any of his seasons with the Bears, in just 12 games. However, he was just getting started. Benson followed up his first season with the Bengals by rushing for a career-high 1,251 yards, the first of three straight 1,000-yard campaigns.

As far as the 2005 draft went, the majority of the impact players that were taken came outside of the top 10. At No. 11 Dallas took sack-master DeMarcus Ware, followed by the Chargers selecting the aforementioned Merriman with the first-round pick they received in the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers trade, and Kansas City tabbed linebacker Derrick Johnson at No. 15.

The big prize, however, of the first round was none other than Aaron Rodgers, who Green Bay took at No. 24. At the time, the decision was largely criticized, if for no other reason the presence of one Brett Favre. Three seasons later, however, when Rodgers took the reins from the departed Favre, the Packers were the one getting the last laugh as the quarterback won a Super Bowl and was named the NFL MVP within his first four seasons as a starter. Atlanta and Pittsburgh also have gotten great returns out of their 2005 first-round picks in wide receiver Roddy White (No. 27) and tight end Heath Miller (No. 30).

The second round saw both Vincent Jackson (San Diego – No. 61) and Frank Gore (San Francisco – No. 65) go off the board, with the New York Giants landing defensive line stalwart Justin Tuck (No. 74) in the third round.

Busts: Ronnie Brown (Miami – No. 2) has been hampered by injuries throughout his career, while Braylon Edwards (Cleveland – No. 3) has no one to blame but himself for failing to capitalize on his talents and lost potential. Tennessee also learned a hard lesson when it comes to players with lots of upside but character question marks galore when the Titans selected Adam “Pacman” Jones with the sixth pick. Jones has since ended up in Cincinnati and appears to have gotten his act together and is well aware of the opportunity he wasted in Tennessee.

Busts among the top 10 players drafted also included wide receivers Troy Williamson (Minnesota – No. 7) and Mike Williams (Detroit – No. 10). For the Lions, Williams represented the third straight wideout taken with a top 10 pick that did not pan out, not to mention the selection of Joey Harrington with the third overall pick in 2002. No wonder the Lions didn’t make to the playoffs at all during the 2000s.

Sleepers: Cleveland signed Joshua Cribbs, their dynamic return specialist and versatile offensive weapon as an undrafted free agent, while New England signed kicker Robbie Gould. Gould never kicked for the Patriots, but he has for the Bears the last seven seasons, making it to the Pro Bowl and earning All-Pro honors in 2006.

2006 NFL Draft
Houston decided to take Mario Williams No. 1 overall in 2006, bypassing 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, who went to New Orleans with the second pick. Tennessee followed at No. 3 by taking quarterback Vince Young. Young went on to win 2006 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, Williams made the Pro Bowl in 2008 and ’09, and showed flashes of his amazing athleticism and play-making ability in isolated moments early on with the Saints.

However, entering the 2012 season, none of the three are still with the team that drafted them. Bush signed with Miami as a free agent in 2011, Williams became the first defensive player to sign a $100-million contract as he left the Texans for Buffalo in March, and Young, who was with Philadelphia last season following his release by the Titans, is still looking for team to join. How quickly things can change in the NFL.

Solid Picks: After the first three, teams fared a little better with their early first-round selections. The Jets took dependable tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson with the fourth pick, followed by linebacker A.J. Hawk to Green Bay, and tight end Vernon Davis to San Francisco. At No. 11 Denver selected quarterback Jay Cutler, who put up decent numbers with the Broncos before being traded to Chicago in March 2009. Baltimore got one of the centerpieces of their defense at No. 12 when they picked Haloti Ngata. Carolina and Indianapolis both used their late first-round picks on running backs and neither team came away disappointed with DeAngelo Williams (No. 27) or Joseph Addai (No. 30).

Second-round standouts from the ’06 draft include Roman Harper (New Orleans – No. 43), Greg Jennings (Green Bay – No. 52), Devin Hester (Chicago – No. 57) and Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville – No. 60). Players taken in the fourth round included All-Pro offensive lineman Jahri Evans (New Orleans – No. 108) and Brandon Marshall (Denver – No. 119), who is now reunited with Cutler in Chicago after being traded from Miami.

Busts: Bush was not the only Heisman winner taken in the top 10 in 2006 as Matt Leinart, the ’04 recipient, was drafted by Arizona with the tenth pick. Leinart’s yet to make any sort of impact in the NFL, first with the Cardinals and now in Houston where he’s the backup to Schaub. Defensive back Tye Hill didn’t play like the top-15 player he was drafted in his brief 40-game career with St. Louis.

Sleepers: Although he was drafted, I am still labeling Cortland Finnegan as a sleeper. Tennessee selected the relatively unknown defensive back from Samford in the seventh round (No. 215) and no one really had any idea what to expect from the small-college prospect. All Finnegan did was develop into an All-Pro cornerback and he cashed in as a free agent this offseason, signing a five-year, $50 million deal to reunite with Jeff Fisher, the head coach who drafted him, in St. Louis.

Dallas wide receiver Miles Austin and Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes both went undrafted in ’06, but have since established themselves as standouts at their respective positions with the teams that took a chance on them.

2007 NFL Draft
Oakland took JaMarcus Russell, the tall, athletic quarterback with a big arm out of LSU, with the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 and there’s no question it’s a decision they would love to take a mulligan on. Following a lengthy hold out that extended into Week 1 of his rookie season, Russell signed a six-year contract worth more than $60 million with nearly half of that guaranteed. Russell proceeded to play in just four games in ’07 and a total of only 31 in his oh-so-brief NFL career. Russell never took advantage of his seemingly endless potential, which coupled with his well-earned reputation for being lazy and undisciplined, cemented him as the biggest bust in NFL history this side of Tony Mandarich.

Solid Picks: At least Detroit finally got a top 10 pick right. After years of swings-and-misses, the Lions finally hit one out of the park in taking Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson with the second overall pick. Besides quickly establishing himself as one of the league’s premier pass-catchers, CJ also seemingly ended the Lions’ “curse” with first-round picks, as evidenced by quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009 and Ndamukong Suh, who they took with the second pick in 2010.

After Johnson, Cleveland took franchise left tackle Joe Thomas with the third pick and four selections later Minnesota chose running back Adrian Peterson, who’s worked out pretty well, wouldn’t you say? The impact talent didn’t stop there, however, as San Francisco tabbed Patrick Willis, the heart and soul of their defense, at No. 11, Marshawn Lynch went to Buffalo with the 12th pick, Darrelle Revis to the Jets at No. 14, Dwayne Bowe to Kansas City at No. 23, and the 49ers hit paydirt once again with tackle Joe Staley at No. 28.

Pittsburgh took LaMarr Woodely (No. 46) and Carolina chose Ryan Kalil (No. 59) in the second round. Green Bay got reliable kicker Mason Crosby in the sixth round (No. 193), while the New York Giants waited even longer, using a compensatory pick at the end of the draft, to select running back Ahmad Bradshaw (7th – No. 250).

Busts: Even though Russell is by far and away the biggest bust of the 2007 draft, if not all time, he was not alone. Other first-round picks that didn’t pan out included Jarvis Moss (Denver – No. 17), quarterback Brady Quinn (Cleveland – No. 22), and wide receiver Craig Davis (San Diego – No. 30). At least Davis has an appropriate nickname in regards to his NFL performance, “Buster.”

Sleepers: No real stand out among the crop of undrafted free agents, but this year did produce running back Pierre Thomas (signed with New Orleans), wide receiver/return specialist Eric Weems (signed with Atlanta, now with Chicago), and quarterback Matt Moore (signed with Dallas, now with Miami).

by Mark Ross, published on April 25, 2012

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> Athlon Sports takes a look back at some recent NFL drafts to see which picks worked out and which ones didn't</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 06:58
Path: /college-football/pac-12-2012-football-schedule-analysis

College football's 2012 season is still a couple of months away, but it's never too early to take a look at the schedules and highlight some of the key games. The Pac-12 slate once again features nine conference games for each team, while there are some intriguing non-conference matchups.

Here's a team-by-team look at schedule analysis for each of the teams in the Pac-12 for 2012:

North Division

Cal Golden Bears

Sept. 1 Nevada
Sept. 8 Southern Utah
Sept. 15 at Ohio State
Sept. 22 at USC
Sept. 29 Arizona State
Oct. 6 UCLA
Oct. 13 at Washington State
Oct. 20 Stanford
Oct. 27 at Utah
Nov. 2 Washington (Fri.)
Nov. 10 Oregon
Nov. 17 at Oregon State
Nov. 24 Bye Week

* Few teams in the nation will finish the first month of the season in tougher fashion than the Golden Bears. Jeff Tedford has the unenviable task of leading his team on road trips to the Horseshoe and the Coliseum. Both USC and Ohio State should be ranked in the Top 10 nationally in the preseason and should be unbeaten when they face them. Best of luck Coach Tedford.

* In addition to USC, the crossover schedule also doesn’t give too many breaks. Cal misses Colorado (likely picked sixth in the South) and Arizona (likely picked third or fourth in the South) from the South. This means they play the top three teams in the other division this fall.

* The good news for Cal fans is the home slate within the division. Cal gets the top three teams in the North — Oregon, Stanford and Washington  — all at home. If Tedford wants to keep his job, he may have to pull an upset of one of those three teams and getting them all at home might give him the best chance.

* Could the bye week come at a worse time? If Cal was the clear pick to the win the North — and they could still surprise — then the bye week falling during the last week of the regular season might provide some value. But if Cal does anything other than play in the Pac-12 title game, this bye week is essentially worthless. So the Bears get nine weeks to prepare for a bowl game against Kansas State instead of eight? So what.

Oregon Ducks

Sept. 1 Arkansas State
Sept. 8 Fresno State
Sept. 15 Tennessee Tech
Sept. 22 Arizona
Sept. 29 at Washington State
Oct. 6 Washington
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 18 at Arizona State
Oct. 27 Colorado
Nov. 3 at USC
Nov. 10 at Cal
Nov. 17 Stanford
Nov. 24 at Oregon State

* Noticeably absent from the Ducks schedule is a marquee non-conference tilt. The Ducks are used to playing LSU, Tennessee, Boise State or some other preseason top-15 team. Arkansas State is a solid team, but the trio of non-conference matchups this season should provide little competition. This could be a good thing for an offense that is replacing Darron Thomas, LaMichael James and most of the pass-catchers.

* This year’s Game of the Century will also take place on the first weekend in November, but it will happen in Los Angeles instead of Tuscaloosa. The first of what could be two meetings between USC and Oregon will take place Nov. 3. All eyes in college football will be focused on the Coliseum as the winner will likely host the rematch in the Pac-12 title game. And it could decide a berth in the national championship.

* Other than USC, the crossover schedule for Oregon is fairly easy. The Ducks miss both Utah and UCLA (likely picked second and third respectively in the South) and instead face the bottom three teams in the division. In fact, Colorado and Arizona both visit Autzen Stadium making the crossover schedule that much easier. Look for Oregon to be, worst-case scenario, a cool 3-1 against the South.

* In key North Division contests, the Ducks get a nice break by hosting both Stanford and Washington. If either of those teams expects to challenge the three-year reign of Duck Pac-12 dominance, then they will have to pull the upset on the road in Eugene. No easy task.

Oregon State Beavers

Sept. 1 Nicholls State
Sept. 8 Wisconsin
Sept. 15 Bye Week
Sept. 22 at UCLA
Sept. 29 at Arizona
Oct. 6 Washington State
Oct. 13 at BYU
Oct. 20 Utah
Oct. 27 at Washington
Nov. 3 Arizona State
Nov. 10 at Stanford
Nov. 17 Cal
Nov. 24 Oregon

* It may not be as tough as Cal’s daunting early season slate, but Oregon State have two very tricky non-conference tests against Wisconsin (who beat them 35-0 in Madison last year) and a road trip to face BYU. Unless the Beavers show marked improvement on defense, they will hard pressed to be anything by 1-2 in non-conference action.

* Crossover play won’t kill Oregon State this year. The Beavers miss the potential National Championship contender USC and get Utah at home. Early road trips to UCLA and Arizona could be swing games for all three teams in terms of bowl eligibility. Oregon State also gets Arizona State at home on the first weekend in November.

* Mike Riley’s bunch will need to get work done early if he wants to get his team back to the postseason — and potentially keep his job. Because the month of November will be absolutely brutal to finish the year. The final three games of the season feature a road trip to Stanford and back-to-back visits from Cal and Oregon to wrap-up 2012. A 1-2 record to finish the season would be considered a success.

Stanford Cardinal

Sept. 1 San Jose State
Sept. 8 Duke
Sept. 15 USC
Sept. 22 Bye Week
Sept. 27 at Washington
Oct. 6 Arizona
Oct. 13 at Notre Dame
Oct. 20 at Cal
Oct. 27 Washington State
Nov. 3 at Colorado
Nov. 10 Oregon State
Nov. 17 at Oregon
Nov. 24 at UCLA

* Year one A.L.H — After Luck and Harbaugh — will place the magnifying glass directly above David Shaw. And the Pac-12 schedule doesn’t get started easily for the Cardinal. USC comes to town very early on (Sept. 15), and following a bye week, Stanford visits Washington (Sept. 27). The trip to Seattle should decide the pecking order in the North and will set either the Cardinal or Huskies into the drivers seat to challenge Oregon. That said, the bye week is strategically placed between these two tough games. Yet, Shaw could start 0-2 in conference play — which would be as many Pac-12 losses as Andrew Luck experienced over the last two seasons.

* Cardinal fans should just leave their bags packed after the October 6 home game against Arizona. Stanford finishes on the road in five of its final seven games of the 2012 season. This includes a huge non-conference tilt against Notre Dame as well as divisional games against Cal (Oct. 20) and Oregon (Nov. 17). Colorado is the only road trip in those five games where Stanford will be a clear favorite.

* Stanford must face all three North contenders — Oregon, Washington, Cal — on the road in 2012.

* Crossover play, with the exception of USC at home, isn’t all that treacherous. Arizona at home and a road trip to Colorado is not daunting at all. Visiting UCLA could be sneaky tough on the final weekend of the year — depending on how the new coaching staff in Westwood gels. Missing Utah is a small blessing.

Washington Huskies

Sept. 1 San Diego State
Sept. 8 at LSU
Sept. 15 Portland State
Sept. 22 Bye Week
Sept. 27 Stanford
Oct. 6 at Oregon
Oct. 13 USC
Oct. 20 at Arizona
Oct. 27 Oregon State
Nov. 2 at Cal
Nov. 10 Utah
Nov. 17 at Colorado
Nov. 23 at Washington State (Fri.)

* The Huskies have one of the most intriguing and exciting opportunities in the nation this fall when they visit LSU in Week 2. The Keith Price-led passing attack will test the Bayou secondary, but the lines of scrimmage will likely be dominated by the Tigers. There are very few positives that come from early season losses, but Washington could win a moral victory if they can keep it close in Baton Rouge. Additionally, the LSU defensive line will be the best Washington faces all season and the challenge could help prepare U of W for Pac-12 play. Again, if they can keep it close.

* A three-week span early in the season will likely determine the entire outlook of the 2012 campaign for Washington. In consecutive weeks, the Huskies will host Stanford, visit Oregon and welcome USC to Seattle. If Washington wants to continue its upward trajectory under Steve Sarkisian, it must defeat the Luck-less Cardinal at home. A 1-2 record over that span might be good enough to earn second place in the North. Anything more would be a pleasant surprise.

* Crossover play features the best two teams in the South, but both USC and Utah have to come to Seattle. The road trips in South Division play, at Arizona and at Colorado, are games Washington must win in order to continue trending upwards.

* Three of the final four games, including a key test against Cal as well as the Apple Cup, will come on the road for the Huskies. The renewed energy in Pullman, as well as the hot seat in Berkeley, will make for tough, albeit manageable, sledding down the stretch for Washington.

Washington State Cougars

Sept. 1 at BYU
Sept. 8 Eastern Washington
Sept. 15 at UNLV
Sept. 22 Colorado
Sept. 29 Oregon
Oct. 6 at Oregon State
Oct. 13 Cal
Oct. 20 Bye Week
Oct. 27 at Stanford
Nov. 3 at Utah
Nov. 10 UCLA
Nov. 17 at Arizona State
Nov. 23 Washington (Fri.)

* It is never fair to place the entire weight of a season’s outcome on the first game, but making it to a bowl game for the first time since 2003 may be determined in Week 1. A trip to Provo to take on BYU is not easy task, but for a Mike Leach coached team, it is a winnable game. If Wazzu wins its opener, fans should be in for a great first season under Leach. A loss will make it tough to reach the postseason. UNLV and Eastern Washington are must wins if Leach wants to go bowling.

* Helping Wazzu’s case for bowl eligibility is the crossover play. There is no USC and no Rich Rodriguez on the schedule this fall. Road trips to Utah and Arizona State won’t be easy, but home tests against Colorado and UCLA could provide bowl help. A 3-1 record against the South and Washington State should land in a bowl game.

* In order to reach a bowl, the Cougars will need to pull a home upset or two in 2012. Cal, UCLA and Washington provide tough but winnable conference games in Pullman. If the Cougars can win two of those games, they will all but locked into postseason play.

* The bye week is nicely placed after four Pac-12 games and just before two tough road trips to Stanford and Utah. It is virtually dead in the middle of Pac-12 play and should provide a perfect respite for a team fighting for a bowl game.

South Division

Arizona Wildcats

Sept. 1 Toledo
Sept. 8 Oklahoma State
Sept. 15 South Carolina State
Sept. 22 at Oregon
Sept. 29 Oregon State
Oct. 6 at Stanford
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 Washington
Oct. 27 USC
Nov. 3 at UCLA
Nov. 10 Colorado
Nov. 17 at Utah
Nov. 23 Arizona State

* Arizona should be in the mix for a bowl, but the non-conference schedule certainly doesn’t help its quest to get to six wins. South Carolina State is a cupcake, but Toledo and Oklahoma State aren’t guaranteed wins. Even though both teams have some losses, neither will be an easy out for the Wildcats.

* Rich Rodriguez didn’t catch a break either, as his first Pac-12 game is at Oregon. The Ducks have won four in a row over Arizona, including a blowout 56-31 win in Tucson last year.

* In addition to playing Oregon in crossover games with the North, the Wildcats also catch Stanford and Washington – the likely No. 2 and No. 3 teams.

* USC is the clear favorite in the South, but second place is up for grabs. Utah is the early preseason frontrunner for the No. 2 spot, but Arizona has a chance to push for a finish in the top three of the division. The key game will be against UCLA on Nov. 3, which could decided whether or not the Bruins or Wildcats finish third in the South.

* There’s no doubt there may be a few ups and downs during Rodriguez’s first season, but he could make a lot of people happy in Tucson with a victory over Arizona State on Nov. 23. The Sun Devils also have a new coach (Todd Graham), so there’s a lot of new energy surrounding this rivalry. Arizona has won three out of the last four against Arizona State.

Arizona State

Sept. 1 Northern Arizona
Sept. 8 Illinois
Sept. 15 at Missouri
Sept. 22 Utah
Sept. 29 at California
Oct. 6 Bye Week
Oct. 11 at Colorado
Oct. 18 Oregon
Oct. 27 UCLA
Nov. 3 at Oregon State
Nov. 10 at USC
Nov. 17 Washington State
Nov. 23 at Arizona

* Todd Graham’s first season in Tempe should get off to a good start with the opener against Northern Arizona. However, the rest of the non-conference schedule is challenging. The Sun Devils host Illinois and hit the road to play Missouri. Arizona State will probably be favored to beat the Fighting Illini, but a trip to Columbia against the Tigers won’t be easy.

* If Arizona State wants to reach the postseason, the Sept. 29 date at California will be a key swing game. The Sun Devils have lost eight out of their last nine games to the Golden Bears and this year’s matchup is on the road in Berkeley.

* The Sun Devils close out 2012 with three of their final four games on the road.

* Arizona State has a favorable crossover slate with the North. Although the Sun Devils have to play Oregon, they do not play Washington or Stanford.

* The intensity in the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry should be on the rise in 2012. With Rich Rodriguez taking over in Tucson, both programs will have new coaches. And adding a little more spice to the mix – Graham coached under Rodriguez at West Virginia from 2001-02.

Colorado Buffaloes

Sept. 2 Colorado State (Denver)
Sept. 8 Sacramento State
Sept. 15 at Fresno State
Sept. 22 at Washington State
Sept. 29 UCLA
Oct. 6 Bye Week
Oct. 11 Arizona State
Oct. 20 at USC
Oct. 27 at Oregon
Nov. 3 Stanford
Nov. 10 at Arizona
Nov. 17 Washington
Nov. 23 Utah

* For a team coming off a 3-10 season, the Buffaloes need to build some momentum early in the year. Colorado faces off against Colorado State in Denver and should be favored to win this game. The Buffaloes have won four out of the last five in this series, including a 28-14 victory last season.

* Assuming Colorado handles Sacramento State in Week 2, it will have another chance to pickup a non-conference victory in Week 3 against Fresno State. The Bulldogs have a new coaching staff, but are loaded with talent on offense. If Colorado is struggling to get its new quarterback (likely Connor Wood) on track, Fresno State could upset the Buffaloes.

* The Buffaloes finished 97th nationally in pass defense last season and the secondary will be put to the test in the Pac-12 opener against Washington State. The Cougars return quarterback Jeff Tuel and receiver Marquess Wilson, which will be one of the top pass-catch duos in the nation.

* Could Colorado have one of the most difficult back-to-back road trips in the nation? The Buffaloes play at USC on Oct. 20 and at Oregon on Oct. 27. Ouch.

* Finding wins in Pac-12 play could be difficult with a team full of question marks, but Colorado’s best opportunities would appear to be at home against UCLA on Sept. 29 and on Nov. 23 against Utah. Although the Utes are the better team on paper, the Buffaloes won in Salt Lake City last year. 

UCLA Bruins

Aug. 30 at Rice
Sept. 8 Nebraska
Sept. 15 Houston
Sept. 22 Oregon State
Sept. 29 at Colorado
Oct. 6 at California
Oct. 13 Utah
Oct. 20 Bye Week
Oct. 27 at Arizona State
Nov. 3 Arizona
Nov. 10 at Washington State
Nov. 17 USC
Nov. 24 Stanford

* UCLA opens the season in Texas for the second consecutive season. The Bruins played at Houston last year and open against Rice in 2012.

* The Bruins will meet Nebraska for the first time since 1994. UCLA is 4-6 all-time against the Cornhuskers, but only one of those wins has come in Lincoln.

* This will be the third consecutive season UCLA has played Houston during the regular season. The Bruins won the 2010 matchup, but lost last season.

* Two of UCLA’s first three conference games will be on the road. However, the Bruins will be heavily favored to win against Colorado and beat California last season.

* The matchup with Arizona on Nov. 3 is expected to be an important one for the final standings in the Pac-12. The Wildcats and Bruins will likely be picked by most to finish third or fourth in the South, so this game could decide which team goes to a bowl or which team stays home in the postseason.

* The final two games of the season offer an interesting barometer for UCLA. New coach Jim Mora wasn’t the most popular selection as head coach, but has pieced together a good staff. Stanford and USC easily handled the Bruins last year, and keeping the score closer this time would be a good sign for Mora heading into 2013.

USC Trojans

Sept. 1 Hawaii
Sept. 8 Syracuse (East Rutherford)
Sept. 15 at Stanford
Sept. 22 California
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 4 at Utah
Oct. 13 at Washington
Oct. 20 Colorado
Oct. 27 at Arizona
Nov. 3 Oregon
Nov. 10 Arizona State
Nov. 17 at UCLA
Nov. 24 Notre Dame

* The biggest game on USC’s schedule is clearly the Nov. 3 showdown against Oregon. The Trojans won 38-35 in Eugene last year and it’s likely this game will decide which team has homefield advantage in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

* The Trojans open the year against a familiar face. Norm Chow worked as USC’s offensive coordinator from 2001-04 and 2012 will be his first year as Hawaii’s head coach. The Trojans beat the Warriors 49-36 in Honolulu in 2010, but it would be a major surprise if Hawaii kept the opening week matchup within 30 points.

* After opening up at home with Hawaii in Week 1, the Trojans will rack up some frequent flyer miles in Week 2. USC makes the long flight to the opposite coast, taking on Syracuse in East Rutherford. The Orange are coming off a 5-7 season, but as we have seen in the NFL, teams making long flights across the country often turn in a sluggish effort that week.

* The Trojans open Pac-12 play with a road date at Stanford. USC has lost four out of the last five games to the Cardinal, including a 56-48 shootout last season. With Andrew Luck no longer at Stanford, this matchup should favor USC.

* USC has won eight in a row over rival California. The Trojans won last year’s matchup 30-9 and won 48-14 in 2010.

* A key part of USC’s 2012 schedule will be a difficult two-game road trip in early October. The Trojans travel to Salt Lake City for a Thursday night matchup against Utah and hit the road again the following week for a matchup against Washington. Although USC will be favored, Utah held its own in Los Angeles last year, and the Huskies have won two out of the last three games against the Trojans.

* Trap game? With a date against Oregon the following week, USC should be on upset alert against Arizona on Oct. 27. The Wildcats have defeated the Trojans only once since 2001, but this could be a case of looking ahead on the schedule creates an upset possibility.

* Crosstown rivalry? The USC-UCLA series has been a one-sided affair in recent years. The Trojans have won five in a row and most of the matchups haven’t been close. Will that change in 2012 with Jim Mora taking over at UCLA?

* USC has won nine out of the last ten meetings against Notre Dame.


Aug. 30 Northern Colorado
Sept. 7 at Utah State
Sept. 15 BYU
Sept. 22 at Arizona State
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 4 USC
Oct. 13 at UCLA
Oct. 20 at Oregon State
Oct. 27 California
Nov. 3 Washington State
Nov. 10 at Washington
Nov. 17 Arizona
Nov. 23 at Colorado

* Utah has not played in-state rival Utah State since 2009, but owns a 12-game winning streak over the Aggies. Although the Utes should win this matchup once again, Utah State won’t be a pushover, which will give Utah a good test just before playing BYU and opening up Pac-12 play.

* The Utes crushed BYU last season, winning 54-10 in Provo. However, the loss to Utah sparked the Cougars, as they won nine out of their last 10 games. Revenge will certainly be on BYU’s mind this year, but the Utes have not lost to the Cougars in Salt Lake City since 2006.

* The Oct. 4 date against USC will have major ramifications in the South Division. The Utes held their own against the Trojans last year and this season’s matchup is in Salt Lake City. If Utah can knock off USC, it will have a huge early advantage in the South title race.

* Utah catches a huge break in Pac-12 scheduling once again, as it does not play Stanford and Oregon in crossover games with the North.

* The Pac-12 opener against Arizona State is one of the Pac-12’s most intriguing early season matchups. The Utes are the better team on paper, but the Sun Devils are a mystery. With a new coaching staff, who knows how much Arizona State will show in the non-conference portion of its schedule. 

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

Related Pac-12 Content

Pac-12 Running Back Rankings for 2012
Washington or Stanford: Better 2012 Record?

Pac-12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012

Can California Beat Stanford and Washington in the 2012 North Standings?

College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Head Coaches for 2012

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Pac-12 2012 Football Schedule Analysis.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 06:56
Path: /college-football/rutgers-football-can-scarlet-knights-win-big-east-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.

Is Rutgers Still a Big East Title Contender Without Greg Schiano?

Mark Ennis, Manager of Big East Coast Bias (@Mengus22)
Rutgers is definitely a Big East contender despite Greg Schiano's departure for the NFL. First, Greg Schiano never won the Big East title outright as a coach at Rutgers, anyway. So while I've always respected the amazing job he did at Rutgers in building that program from almost nothing, it's not as though he was a championship coach that needs replacing. We may very well come to find that Flood and his made over staff are better managers of big games.

Second, Rutgers will compete for the Big East title because it has as much talent as Louisville, the main contender, and more than the rest of the conference. One thing Schiano did well was recruit, and Kyle Flood did a good job holding on the last recruiting class once he departed. Most of the starters from last year's defense, which was the best in the Big East, return and will be buttressed by the addition of a number of highly rated freshmen. Flood's got a talented and now experienced offensive line, a blue chip running back in Savon Huggins, and is determined to settle on one quarterback.

Third, Rutgers is a Big East title contender because it gets Louisville at home in the final game of the regular season in what should be a de facto Big East championship game. Having the home field advantage in a game of that magnitude, especially if it is especially cold that time of year, could be the difference between winning and losing and heading to a BCS Bowl in 2012. 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Let’s face it: Rutgers was a marginal Big East contender with Schiano. That’s not a knock against the new Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach; he built that program essentially from scratch, and I’d bet Rutgers eventually would have won the Big East had he stayed. Still, Rutgers is 16-19 in the Big East since going 11-2 overall in 2006. If Schiano remained in Piscataway in 2012, Rutgers would be a sleeper for the Big East title, and since none of the players have changed, I suppose the Scarlet Knights still are. That said, a sleeper pick usually means everything has to break right. For Rutgers, that means the Scarlet Knights need some long-awaited stability at quarterback, they running game to stabilize under Jawan Jamison and perhaps a healthy Savon Huggins, and the offensive line to come together after two difficult years. In addition to all those questions on offense, Rutgers will miss Schiano’s touch on defense. With Schiano, Rutgers probably would need a few breaks to contend for the Big East. Without him, his defensive acumen and the other changes on the staff, the margin of error is even slimmer. Rutgers probably goes to a bowl game, but asking the Scarlet Knights to challenge Louisville might be too much to ask in Kyle Flood’s first season.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
In the short term I would say yes. It is impossible to totally eliminate Greg Schiano's influence on Rutgers football in a matter months. This team is three classes of tough-nosed, defensive-minded Schiano-coached athletes, so there will be a certain residue left over from more than a decade of teaching. The Knights boasted not just the Big East's top defensive unit a year ago, but one of the nation's stingiest groups. They won't forget how to play football because one man has departed campus. And there is more good news: Rutgers expects the most talented signing class in school history to join the party this summer.

And it's the mostly highly-touted class in program history where questions begin to arise about the future of Scarlet Knights football. Kyle Flood learned under Schiano for six years and undoubtedly will attempt to maintain as much continuity as possible within his community. He had a great talent to learn from and should able to keep Rutgers at certain level of competition for the time being. Yet, a major facet of his hiring had to be tied somewhat to keeping intact the historic haul of prospects. His long term coaching talents are a relative unknown.

This team should be very competitive in year one after Schiano, especially with the schedule setting up the way it does. The Knights could start 7-2 or, with a win at South Florida, 8-1 (loss coming at Arkansas). But the ability of Flood to get Rutgers in competition for a BCS bowl is still left in question. He could very easily be the right coach to lead this program for the next decade. Although, if he were to reach a BCS bowl, I suppose he would have already outperformed Schiano, right?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Before Greg Schiano left Rutgers, I thought the Scarlet Knights had a chance to be considered one of the top two teams in the Big East. Without Schiano, I don’t think this team can win the conference title in 2012. Kyle Flood seems like a good fit at Rutgers, but is he more of a short-term solution or can he continue to build off of what Schiano started? Considering Flood has no head coaching experience, you really have to wonder how this hire will work out for Rutgers.

In addition to the concerns about the coaching change, the Scarlet Knights have some question marks on offense. Will a quarterback settle into the job and bring stability to the position? Gary Nova and Chas Dodd alternated time last year and neither stepped forward in spring practice. The running game, led by backs Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins, certainly has potential, but the offensive line has only two returning starters from a so-so group last year. The good news for the Scarlet Knights is the defense could be the best in the Big East with eight starters returning.

Outside of a date at Arkansas, Rutgers should easily handle the opponents in its non-conference schedule. Road dates against South Florida and Pittsburgh and the season finale against Louisville will be the toughest games in Big East play.

I think Rutgers is still a threat to win the Big East crown, but I’m hesitant to pick them first or second in the conference without Schiano. Flood did a good job of keeping the recruiting class intact, but it’s difficult to know what to expect from a first-year coach.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Scarlet Knights are not the favorite in the league, but I think they can compete with Louisville for the conference crown. The Cardinals probably return the most talent, but Charlie Strong’s club should be challenged by Rutgers, USF and possibly Pittsburgh. Greg Schiano will be missed, especially since the key to Rutgers success will continue to be its defense. Eight starters return on that side of the ball, led by all-league linebacker Khaseem Greene. That unit carried the Scarlet Knights to nine wins a year ago, and the defense will need to be a force once again in 2012. New coach Kyle Flood will try to find some stability at the quarterback position, and that would give RU a chance to compete for the title. If the Scarlet Knights’ defense can win low-scoring, close games early while the offense develops, they will have a chance to do some damage late with a season-ending slate of at Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh and home against Louisville. I would project Rutgers for third in the Big East, but the Flood’s crew has a shot if the defense carries the weight one again.

How will Athlon predict the Big East standings for 2012? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day. 

Related Big East Content

Can Pittsburgh Challenge for the Big East Title in 2012?
Ranking the Big East Running Backs for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Quarterbacks for 2012
Who Is Louisville's Biggest Challenger in the Big East for 2012?

Ranking the Big East Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 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> Is Rutgers a Big East Title Contender Without Greg Schiano?</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 06:55
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Overtime
Path: /mlb/2012-beer-prices-mlb-ballparks-infographic

If you want to grab a beer at a ballpark you better bring your wallet, especially if you're heading to Boston. Fenway Park has the highest coster per ounce of sudsy brew and a 12 oz plastic cup will set you back $7.25. By comparison, Chase Field—home of the D-Backs— charges $4. Look below to see the rundown of every MLB team across the country. Cheers!

<p> Better bring your wallet if you're going to Boston</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 14:11
Path: /college-football/2012-nfl-mock-draft-first-round-projection-0

The 2012 NFL Draft starts Thursday night, and the prime time first round has become a must-see event for football fans everywhere. Hope always springs eternal at the draft, and here’s my projection for the opening round.

1. Indianapolis Colts — Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
There was no need for the Colts or any of us to overanalyze this pick. Luck will try to carry Indy back to its Peyton Manning heights, and he is the best quarterback prospect in the draft since No. 18.

2. Washington Redskins — Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Mike Shanahan has had success with quarterbacks who could roll out, and he’ll get a supreme athlete in Griffin. The Heisman Trophy winner will have an interesting transition to the sack-happy NFC East.

3. Minnesota Vikings — Matt Kalil, T, USC
The former Trojan is a prototypical left tackle with his size and agility. The Vikes took a chance on Christian Ponder in last year’s first round, and Kalil will be the perfect blindside protector.

4. Cleveland Browns — Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
The franchise that passed on LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson in the top 10 will not break the Dawg Pound’s hearts again. Richardson is a complete back and supplies the Browns with a much-needed star.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The Bayou Bengal is the clear-cut best cornerback in the draft and was the best player on LSU’s SEC Championship defense. The Bucs need secondary help in a division with Brees, Ryan and Newton.

6. St. Louis Rams — Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Jeff Fisher inherits a team with many needs, including a top receiver like Blackmon for Sam Bradford. A Bulldog-to-Yellow Jacket works in Detroit, and a Sooner-to-Cowboy should play well in St. Louis.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars — Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
The Jags will look to trade down, but getting a pass rusher like Ingram would meet one of Jacksonville’s top needs. The former Gamecock scored three touchdowns to go with his 15 tackles for loss last season.

8. Miami Dolphins — Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
The Fins struck out with Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn in their search for a signal caller. Miami gets a smart and athletic quarterback in Tannehill, who will be reunited with new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.

9. Carolina Panthers — Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
The Panthers’ defense struggled mightily in 2011, and a pass-rushing tackle like Cox will provide a major upgrade on the line. He had 14.5 tackles for loss last season playing in the SEC.

10. Buffalo Bills — Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
This will be a tough decision for the Bills, who could go with offensive line help or a receiver like Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd. In the end, Buffalo takes a battle-tested corner with size and speed.

11. Kansas City Chiefs — Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
It is rare to take an inside backer this high, but Kuechly’s tackling and leadership credentials warrant his selection. The former BC star will upgrade a KC run defense that rated 26th a year ago.

12. Seattle Seahawks — Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Pete Carroll’s bunch needs help in the pass rush department, and Coples had 15 tackles for loss last year. There have been some questions about his motor, but the former Tar Heel should flourish in Seattle.

13. Arizona Cardinals — David DeCastro, G, Stanford
Many pundits question taking an interior lineman this early, but DeCastro’s play is worthy of this selection. His top talent will be aided by offensive line coach and Hall of Fame guard, Russ Grimm.

14. Dallas Cowboys — Mark Barron, S, Alabama
The former Tide star is an elite talent and would solve a huge hole at safety for the ‘Boys. There is a good chance that another team tries to trade up for Barron, so Dallas may need to make a move to get him.

15. Philadelphia Eagles — Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Philly needs interior help, and Brockers was a force on the star-studded Tigers’ defense last season. Some will project Memphis’ Dontari Poe here, but the young LSU product is a safer pick.

16. New York Jets — Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
Rex Ryan will be as excited as ever to bring the hybrid pass rusher to New York. Upshaw is a perfect fit for the Jets attacking style, and he had 18 tackles for loss for the national champions last year.

17. Cincinnati Bengals — Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Cincy probably has more pressing needs, but a talented receiver like Floyd is too much to pass up. His addition to A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham would give Andy Dalton a scary amount of weapons.

18. San Diego Chargers — Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia
The former Bulldog has the versatility to play guard or tackle and would provide a talent upgrade for the Chargers’ offense. A pass rusher will be tempting, but San Diego needs O-line help as well.

19. Chicago Bears — Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
RG3’s favorite target would provide a dynamic complement to Brandon Marshall. Chicago can look for offensive line help later and give Jay Cutler another playmaker to keep up with the Green Bay and Detroit attacks.

20. Tennessee Titans — Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Mike Munchak’s crew finished next to last in sacks in 2011, so Mercilus would be a welcome addition in Music City. The former Illini led the country in sacks and forced fumbles last fall.

21. Cincinnati Bengals — Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Leon Hall is recovering from injury and Nate Clements is a fading veteran, so the talented corner would be a solid fit for the Cincy defense. The flood of Bama defenders continues.

22. Cleveland Browns — Riley Reiff, T, Iowa
Pat Shurmur would love to see the former Hawkeye available here. Reiff could play right tackle, and his addition – along with stud RB Richardson – would greatly improve the Cleveland offense.

23. Detroit Lions — Jonathan Martin, T, Stanford
The former All-Pac-12 lineman can play either tackle spot in Detroit. The Lions offense will put up big points as long as Matt Stafford stays protected, and Martin is an excellent fit in the Motor City.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers — Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
There has been much debate over this workout warrior, but his immense size and athleticism make Poe very tempting. With a year to learn from Casey Hampton, the Steelers have their future nose tackle.

25. Denver Broncos — Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
There is a good chance the Broncos look to trade down, but defensive tackle is a priority with the loss of Brodrick Bunkley. Worthy can stuff the run and also has the ability to play multiple line positions.

26. Houston Texans — Mike Adams, T, Ohio State
Many prognosticators have the Texans adding a receiver here, but the offseason attrition from a quality offensive line must be addressed. The former Buckeye’s athleticism makes him a great fit in Houston.

27. New England Patriots — Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
Bill Belichick is always a top candidate to trade down, but Jones is a solid pass rusher. The Pats need help on defense, and the former Syracuse star has the versatility to fit well in New England’s scheme.

28. Green Bay Packers — Shea McClellin, LB, Boise State
The sack total in Green Bay decreased dramatically a year ago from the Super Bowl season of 2010. The edge-rushing McClellin had 12.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions last year for the ultra-successful Broncos.

29. Baltimore Ravens — Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
The Tide’s leading tackler may not still be here, but he would be a perfect fit in Baltimore. The Ravens could look at a center like Wisconsin’s Peter Konz, but the Bama sledgehammer is the correct play.

30. San Francisco 49ers — Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
This may seem like a strange selection with Vernon Davis on the roster, but Fleener’s athleticism would form a dynamic tight end duo. Jim Harbaugh knows him well and keeps the former Cardinal in NorCal.

31. New England Patriots — Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut
Once again, there is a high probability that this pick is traded. However Reyes had 13.5 tackles for loss last year and would be another good fit in the multiple looks employed by the Patriots.

32. New York Giants — Nick Perry, DE, USC
The champs could use O-line help, but a pass-rushing talent like Perry is too good for the G-men to pass up. New York has shown a penchant for edge rushers early in past drafts, and the former Trojan is the latest.

--Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)

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: First Round Projections</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 11:16
Path: /mlb/25-best-baseball-players-under-25

If you were trying to win a championship this season, would you rather have youthful talent? Or seasoned experience? Consider a roster of players age 25 and younger vs. a roster of veterans age 35 and older. Here’s my 25-man roster of players who were age 25 or younger on Opening Day (April 4). Next week, I’ll showcase the veterans.

Buster Posey, San Francisco
The former Rookie of the Year is hitting .361 and has allowed just three stolen bases in 80 innings behind the plate.

First Base
Eric Hosmer, Kansas City
Hosmer is the cornerstone of the Royals’ future offense. Although he’s struggling so far this season, Hosmer hit .293 with 19 homers after arriving in early May last season.

Second Base
Jemile Weeks, Oakland
The rising star for the A’s hit better than .300 and stole 22 bases in less than 100 games as a rookie last season. He should be the offensive catalyst for the A’s for years to come.

Third Base
Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco
Records show that Kung Fu Panda won’t turn 26 until August, so he qualifies by a few months. Once he proved he could keep his weight down, he’s kept his batting average up.

Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs’ rising star may look lackadaisical at times, but he led the National League in hits last season, and he covers a lot of ground at short.

Left Field
J.D. Martinez, Houston
Astros fans can look forward to Martinez hitting in the No. 3 hole for several more seasons. He was Houston’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2010 while at Double-A, and hasn’t been overmatched in the bigs.

Center Field
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
It seems like he’s been patrolling center field for the Bucs forever, but he won’t be 26 until October.

Right Field
Justin Upton, Arizona
A thumb injury has derailed Upton this season. The right fielder missed just three games last season, hitting 31 bombs and stealing 21 bags.

Starting Pitchers
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
There’s no surprise that the reigning National League Cy Young winner would lead this rotation.
Stephen Strasburg, Washington
It appears that he has completely recovered from Tommy John surgery. Now if the Nationals will just turn him loose, we could see just how good the flamethrower can be.
Felix Hernandez, Seattle
King Felix turned 26 just after this season started, although it seems like he’s been Seattle’s ace since Ken Griffey’s first tour with the Mariners.
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco
After the first three spots in our rotation, the choices get much tougher. Bumgarner pitched through tough luck last season, with just three runs or less of support in 16 of his 33 starts.
Jaime Garcia, St. Louis
In a razor-thin close call, Garcia is chosen over Yu Darvish of Texas and Ivan Nova of the Yankees. Garcia went 26-15 over 60 starts in 2010-11 and has postseason experience.

Matt Moore, Tampa Bay
We’re going with a traditional 10-man pitching staff and we like having a lefthander who can eat innings and miss bats.
Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay
Moore’s teammate is the right-handed version of our long man.
Setup Men
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati
Officially, Chapman is only 24. He also throws 100-mph gas for multiple innings from the left side. Valuable asset.
Neftali Feliz, Texas
Developed as a starter in the minors, then converted to one of the best closers in the game, Feliz has returned to the rotation this season.

Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta
Kimbrel was lights out last year until he ran out of gas late in the season. Manager Fredi Gonzalez plans to take it easy on Kimbrel this season.

Matt Wieters, Baltimore
We won’t lose much when one of the best catchers in the game subs for Posey.
Elvis Andrus, Texas
Due to his experience, Andrus gets the bench spot over Dee Gordon of the Dodgers.
Carlos Santana, Cleveland
With the same birthday as Hernandez, Santana barely makes it eligible. The switch-hitter can hit and gives us a third emergency catcher.
Billy Butler, Kansas City
The hitting machine really doesn’t have a position, but he can rake.
Austin Jackson, Detroit
Jackson is proving what a complete player he can be. We love his speed and defense off the bench.
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami
A quick glance at his split stats shows that he has much more power going by Mike than Giancarlo.
Brett Lawrie, Toronto
We need another infielder and Lawrie plays the game with the kind of gusto and confidence we like.

—By Charlie Miller, follow him on Twitter @AthlonCharlie.

<p> Baseball's top young stars age 25 and under.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 10:28
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-draft-first-round-primer

The first-round of the 2012 NFL Draft begins Thursday night and although the Indianapolis Colts have the first pick, there's no mystery where the Colts or Washington, who have the second selection are going.

Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson confirmed on Tuesday what everyone already knew — that the Colts would take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick. It's also pretty much a done deal that the next name NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces from his podium will be Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Baylor that the Redskins have had in their sights for some time.

Even though the identity of the first two picks in this year's draft is known that doesn't mean there's no reason to follow the rest of the first round. In fact, here are some story lines, players and teams to keep an eye on as the remaining 30 picks play out.

The Fun Starts at No. 3
Since it’s well known what direction the Colts and Redskins are going with the first two picks, that means the Minnesota Vikings, who have the third pick, are on the clock. It also means that what the Vikings decide to do with the pick – use it or trade it – could significantly impact or even alter how the first round plays out.

The Vikings are picking third because they finished 3-13 last season and are a team with plenty of holes to fill, so they could certainly use the pick to meet one of these needs with the player that’s at the top of their draft board at that position. Minnesota is reportedly considering three players with this pick – tackle Ryan Kalil from USC, cornerback Morris Claiborne from LSU or Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.

If presented with the offer, however, I think the Vikings would gladly move down from the No. 3 pick, in hopes of acquiring additional picks along the way. Again, the Vikings have many needs, and stockpiling picks would allow them the opportunity to address several of them.

Of the teams most likely to swing a deal and move up, I think you can put Miami, Jacksonville, Seattle and possibly Tampa Bay in that group. I also don’t think you can rule out New England, who has two first-round picks it can use as trade ammo, or Dallas, if anything because of Jerry Jones.

I the think the chances that the Vikings trade down are better than 50-50 at this point. However, if Minnesota doesn’t get the offer they are looking for and decided to keep the pick, I think the choice will be Kalil.

What Will the Browns Do?
Cleveland has the fourth pick, the first of its team’s 13 selections in this year’s draft, which is the most of any team. That’s the good news for Browns fans, the bad news is your team also has numerous holes to fill.

If the Vikings decide to trade down and get out of the third spot, then the teams that didn’t put in the winning bid for the pick could turn their attention to the Browns to get their guy at No. 4. However, the Browns are in a unique situation in that they have two first-round picks, Nos. 4 and 22, and 11 more after that, so they will probably only move out of the fourth spot if they are blown away with a package that greatly improves their positioning for the rest of the draft or nets them early future picks.

Since it appears the Browns will be staying put at No. 4, the question then becomes who do they take? Depending on what happens at No. 3, the Browns conceivably could have their pick of Ryan Tannehill, considered to be the best available quarterback on the board, running back Trent Richardson, far and away the top running back in this year’s draft, Blackmon, largely considered the No. 1 wide receiver option, or perhaps even Kalil, the best offensive lineman available. Any of these four would fill a significant need for the Browns.

In the end, I think it comes down to choosing between Richardson or Blackmon, depending on which player the front office and coaching staff likes best. Even though NFL teams are shying away from taking running backs with early first-round picks, I don’t think the Browns will let Richardson slide past them. Production in the running game was a big problem for the Browns’ offense last year, and Richardson by all measures is one of those unique talents that a team shouldn’t pass on.

Where Will Tannehill Land?
The aforementioned Tannehill, and not Luck or Griffin or anyone else, has arguably received the most buzz and attention in recent weeks. The wide receiver-turned-quarterback’s stock has intermittently soared and plummeted on respective draft boards, depending on who you ask.

Teams reportedly seriously interested in the former Texas A&M signal-caller include Cleveland, Jacksonville, Miami and Seattle. All of these teams are slotted in the top 12, but the consensus among draft pundits is that Tannehill will be off the board as early as No. 3 and no later than the eighth pick.

Minnesota has the third pick and they took a quarterback (Christian Ponder) in the third round last year, so the only way Tannehill goes at No. 3 is if the Vikings trade out of that spot. Miami is currently in the eighth slot and are said to be the team that’s highest on Tannehill. The fact that Tannehill’s former college coach, Mike Sherman, is the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator does nothing to diffuse this idea.

If the Dolphins do want Tannehill, do they want him bad enough to trade up to either the third or fourth spot, currently held by Cleveland, to ensure that they get him? In my opinion the Vikings seem more likely than the Browns to trade down in this draft, but either way the price is sure to be high for the Dolphins.

Miami has eight picks in this year’s draft, including an additional third-round selection they got from Chicago in the Brandon Marshall deal. If they do trade up, it more than likely will cost them either a first- or second-round pick in next year’s draft to get a deal done. If that’s the case, the Dolphins’ front office has to decide whether that’s a price their willing to get Tannehill, who is anything but a can’t-miss prospect, or do they take their chances and see if he’s still there at No. 8?

The bigger question is if the Dolphins don’t take Tannehill, then who does? Do the Browns, Jaguars or Seahawks like him enough to pull the trigger early? Or does Tannehill do his best Brady Quinn imitation and become the last man waiting in the green room?

I would be surprised if Tannehill slips past No. 8 and I think in the end, he will be taking his talents to South Beach. After all, the last time the Dolphins drafted a quarterback in the first round was in 1983. The quarterback they took 19 years ago with the 27th pick in the first round? Dan Marino. That worked out pretty well for the Dolphins didn’t it?

Players to Watch

Mark Barron, S, Alabama
LSU’s Claiborne is considered the best defensive back prospect in this year’s draft, but Barron isn’t too far behind and he’s the No. 1 safety. His size and overall skill set could be tempting enough for a team with a need at the position to trade up in order to get him. Barron is projected by most to go somewhere in the 12-17 range.

Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
This year’s workout warrior at the Scouting Combine, Poe’s stock seems to have fallen just as quickly as it rose back in February. Poe appears to be the complete package on paper, it’s the lack of production on the field that’s causing teams to think long and hard about calling his name early in the first round. Plenty of teams have a need for a defensive tackle, and Poe is considered among the best available at the position. But if Poe makes it past the teens, he could be waiting until the end of the first round to hear Commissioner Goodell announce his name.

Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Fellow linebacker Von Miller went No. 2 overall last year to Denver. Kuechly won’t go that high, mainly because the Redskins are taking Griffin with the second pick, but the tackling machine should be the first linebacker to come off the board, most likely in the 10-15 range. Like Barron, Kuechly is another player that a specific team could trade up for to grab.

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
As has already been mentioned above, he could go as early as third overall if the Vikings decide to trade down or the Dolphins could wait to see if he’s still there at No. 8. If he gets past Miami, it will be interesting to see which team decides to pull the trigger and when.

Teams to Watch

Cleveland Browns
The Browns have 13 picks in this year’s draft, the most of any team. Cleveland has two first-round picks (Nos. 4 and 22) and five of the first 100. The Browns have many needs to fill and should be in a position to address several of them, especially in the early rounds.

Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota has the No. 3 pick and because the entire world knows the first two picks are going to be Luck and Griffin, all eyes are on them. The Vikings can either use the pick to address one of their most pressing needs or they can trade out of the spot in hopes of improving either their position in this year’s draft or a future draft. What the Vikings end up doing could dictate how the first round plays out.

New England Patriots
For once, the Patriots don’t have an abundance of draft picks to work with as they have a total of six in 2012. However, that doesn’t mean Bill Belichick and co. won’t be heard from this year as they have two first-round choices (Nos. 27 and 31) and a total of five in the first 100 picks. New England could use some young talent and fresh blood to help revitalize a defense that finished next-to-last in the league in 2011.

Don’t rule out the hooded one from doing what he’s done better than anyone in the draft – working with what he has to improve his draft position to get who he wants. In this case, don’t be surprised if New England tries to package some of their picks together to move up and take one of the impact defensive players, like a Barron or one of the defensive linemen.

St. Louis Rams
The Rams are also in an interesting spot, having already traded down from No. 2 with the Redskins. The Rams got an extra second-round pick in this year’s draft as well as the Redskin’s first-round picks in 2013 and ’14. It’s not out of the question that the Rams could trade down again in order to stockpile even more picks as new coach Jeff Fisher looks to remodel the roster to his liking.

Washington Redskins
Yes, the Redskins are getting Griffin, the guy they wanted all along, but it also cost them a lot – a second-round pick this year, along with their first-round picks the next two years. During Daniel Snyder’s tenure as Redskins’ owner, the team’s success in the draft has been spotty at best, thanks in large part to focusing more on free agency rather than the draft as the means to improve their roster.

And just because they made the trade to secure Griffin at No. 2 doesn’t mean this stance is going to change anytime soon. After they make it official and take Griffin with the second overall pick, the Redskins won’t be on the clock again until early in the third round (No. 69) and then have five picks after that, including two fourth-round selections.

Remember, this is a team that was originally slotted to pick No. 6 because they were just 5-11 in 2011. The Redskins have a lot of holes to fill, and while Griffin addresses their biggest need, they still have a lot of work to do, which must be accomplished with the inventory of picks they have to work with. This puts even more pressure on those who will be in the Redskins’ war room to target and draft those players in the later rounds who best fit their needs. This is a team that can’t afford many “misses” in this year’s draft.

— by Mark Ross, published on April 25, 2012

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> Athlon Sports looks at some story lines, players and teams to watch as the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft unfolds on Thursday night</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL Draft, NFL
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-draft-ranking-positions

Each and every NFL Draft is a totally unique experience. Draft day trades, team needs, rookie salary caps and positional trends all play major roles in who takes what player with which pick.

Positional depth may play the biggest role of them all in helping teams organize their big boards. Knowing when to reach for scarcity or pass because of quality second choices is key for any NFL GM on draft day.

So what positions are the deepest in the 2012 NFL Draft? Athlon ranks each position in this year’s draft complete with potential first-rounders, quality mid-round options and deep sleepers that are sure to surprise.

1. Wide Receiver

The 2008 recruiting class of wide receivers might have been the best collection of pass catchers to enter college at one time ever. Julio Jones and AJ Green have already provided a solid foundation for that assumption. But the rest of the ’08 wideout class will provide plenty of firepower for NFL teams across the country. There were 27 and 28 wideouts taken in the last two drafts respectively and this class could surpass those numbers with ease.

Potential First-Rounders (4):
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (6-1, 207), Michael Floyd, Notre Dame (6-2, 220), Kendall Wright, Baylor (5-10, 196), Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech (6-4, 215)

Day Two Picks (14):
Rueben Randle, LSU (6-3, 210), Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina (6-3, 216), A.J. Jenkins, Illinois (6-0, 190), Brian Quick, Appalachian State (6-3, 220), Joe Adams, Arkansas (5-11, 179), Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma (5-11, 192), Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers (6-1, 211), Nick Toon, Wisconsin (6-2, 215), TY Hilton, FIU (5-9, 183), Keshawn Martin, Michigan State (5-11, 188), Tommy Streeter, Miami (6-5, 219), Chris Givens, Wake Forest (5-11, 198), Danny Coale, Virginia Tech (6-0, 201), Marvin McNutt, Iowa (6-3, 216)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
DeVier Posey, Ohio State (6-2, 211), Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M (6-4, 223), Juron Criner, Arizona (6-2, 2224), Dwight Jones, North Carolina (6-3, 230), Eric Page, Toledo (5-9, 186), Greg Childs, Arkansas (6-3, 219), Devon Wylie, Fresno State (5-9, 187)

2. Cornerback

With the advent of intricate three-, four- and five-wide sets in the NFL, the need for talented covermen has pushed the cornerback position squarely into the first round. The bigger, less-fluid, less-agile cornerbacks can be easily converted into speedy safeties (see Dre Kirkpatrick or Stephon Gilmore) in case they aren't capable of man-up coverage. And much like the offensive tackle position, there is a high washout, or bust, rate at this position. More risks are taken at this position in the first round in an effort to find the next Darrelle Revis. The 2012 collection of covermen features some pure studs (Claiborne), plenty of mid-round depth and talent (Hosley, Johnson, Minnifield) and a couple of seriously talented late-rounders (Menzie, Harris). Expect a lot of CBs to go off the board in the first 100 picks.

Potential First-Rounders (4):
Morris Claiborne, LSU (5-11, 188), Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina (6-0, 190), Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama (6-1, 185), Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama (5-10, 193)

Day Two Picks (10):
Josh Robinson, UCF (5-10, 199), Dwight Bentley, UL Lafayette (5-10, 182), Trumaine Johnson, Montana (6-2, 204), Brandon Boykin, Georgia (5-9, 182), Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska (5-10, 204), Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina (6-0, 197), Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech (5-10, 178), Chase Minnifield, Virginia (5-10, 183), Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt (5-11, 192), Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma (5-10, 206)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
DeQuan Menzie, Alabama (5-10, 195), Sean Prater, Iowa (5-10, 190), Cliff Harris, Oregon (5-11, 175), Keith Tandy, West Virginia (5-10, 202)

3. Defensive Tackle

The value of this class is clearly in the first round. Interior defensive lineman are a rare commodity — like a book-end tackle, shutdown corner or great quarterback — and teams will reach for them. This group (other than possibly Dontari Poe) is well-deserving of its first-round grade. The SEC features two can’t-miss products while the Big Ten will provide two superstars within the first 40 picks or so. If Poe were to pan out as a sound first-round value, albeit an unlikely proposition, this class could provide five or six bona fide All-Pros.

Potential First-Rounders (6):
Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State (6-4, 298), Michael Brockers, LSU (6-5, 322), Jerel Worthy (6-2, 309), Kendall Reyes, UConn (6-4, 299), Dontari Poe, Memphis (6-3, 346), Devon Still, Penn State (6-5, 303)

Day Two Picks (7):
Brandon Thompson, Clemson (6-2, 311), Alamdea Ta Amu, Washington (6-2, 348), Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati (6-5, 318), Mike Martin, Michigan (6-1, 308), Mike Daniels, Iowa (6-0, 291), Billy Winn, Boise State (6-4, 294), Josh Chapman, Alabama (6-1, 316),

Athlon’s Sleepers To Watch:
DaJohn Harris, USC (6-3, 306), Loni Fangupo, BYU (6-1, 323), Marcus Forston, Miami (6-1, 301), Kheeston Randall, Texas (6-5, 293)

4. Offensive Guard

Guards are not first-round selections. They can be had in any round in the draft and traditionally are a big part of the middle rounds (3-5). There have been a total of three guards selected in the last three NFL Drafts, but 22 have been taken in rounds 3-5 over that same span. The depth and value in this class could come in the much-later rounds, however, as big-time recruits turned long-time starters on a BCS level will fly off boards. Names like Ryan Miller, Lucas Nix and Brandon Washington could all dramatically out-perform their draft status.

Potential First-Rounders (2):
David DeCastro, Stanford (6-5, 316), Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin (6-4, 314)

Day Two Picks (8):
Jeff Allen, Illinois (6-4, 307), Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State (6-5, 333), Amini Silatolu, Midwestern State (6-3, 311), Tony Bergstrom, Utah (6-5, 313), Adam Gettis, Iowa (6-2, 293), Brandon Brooks, Miami-OH (6-4, 353), James Brown, Troy (6-3, 306), Joe Looney, Wake Forest (6-3, 309)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
Brandon Washington, Miami-Fla. (6-3, 320), Ryan Miller, Colorado (6-7, 321), Lucas Nix, Pitt (6-5, 317), Markus Zusevics, Iowa (6-5, 303)

5. Quarterback

This is a unique position to evaluate. It is the most important position on the field and it’s also the position with the most specific skillset in the game — mental make-up, arm strength, pocket presence, work ethic and more. Over the last three years, the NFL Draft has featured no fewer than 11 and no more than 14 signal-callers drafted. This season should feature a number that could top 14 easily. What makes this QB class special is the two names atop the list who are as sure-fire as any prospects in decades and the depth in the second and third round. There are more than half-a-dozen productive, big-framed winners in this group that each have a chance to start on the next level. This is the year to take a mid-round chance on a quarterback.

Potential First-Rounders (3):
Andrew Luck, Stanford (6-4, 234), Robert Griffin III, Baylor (6-2, 231), Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M (6-4, 221)

Day Two Picks (6):
Kirk Cousins, Michigan State (6-3, 214), Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State (6-3, 221), Brock Osweiler, Arizona State (6-7, 242), Nick Foles, Arizona (6-5, 243), Ryan Lindley, San Diego State (6-3, 229), Russell Wilson, Wisconsin (5-11, 204)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
Kellen Moore, Boise State (6-0, 197), Case Keenum, Houston (6-1, 208), Darron Thomas, Oregon (6-3, 220), Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois (6-2, 219)

6. Running Back

The biggest shift in drafting philosophy has taken place at the running back position. The modern version of the NFL will grind the life out of even the best backs in the nation in very short order. The physical nature of the game gives the average NFL runner a three- to five-year life span. This means investing first-round money on a running back is a much riskier proposition. To this end, only one back should be taken in the first round this weekend — and he is special and deserves it. Yet, the value at this position has been clearly defined as the second, third and fourth rounds. Look at the NFL’s leading rushers from last fall? Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy finished one, two and four in rushing last year and all three were second-round picks. Michael Turner was third and he was taken in the fifth. Arian Foster was fifth and was undrafted while Frank Gore was sixth and was taken in the third round. This class should match these trends and will produce some excellent runners — this is a much better running back class than experts are acknowledging.

Potential First-Rounders (1):
Trent Richardson, Alabama (5-9, 228)

Day Two Picks (14):
Doug Martin, Boise State (5-9, 223), David Wilson, Virginia Tech (5-9, 206), Chris Polk, Washington (5-10, 215), Lamar Miller, Miami-Fla. (5-10, 212), LaMichael James, Oregon (5-8, 194), Edwin Baker, Michigan State (5-8, 204), Bernard Pierce, Temple (6-0, 218), Robert Turbin, Utah State (5-10, 222), Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati (5-10, 197), Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State (5-8, 200), Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M (5-10, 206), Tauren Poole, Tennessee (5-10, 205), Terrance Ganaway, Baylor (5-11, 239), Chris Rainey, Florida (5-8, 180)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
Dan Herron, Ohio State (5-10, 213), Davin Meggett, Maryland (5-8, 222), Lennon Creer, Louisiana Tech (5-11, 219), Vick Ballard, Mississippi State (5-10, 219), Darrell Scott, USF (6-0, 231)

7. Inside Linebacker

The role of the inside linebacker has avoided the massive paradigm shift that the outside linebacker is undergoing at the moment. A three-down inside tackler who can play both against the pass and the run is a rare commodity. The middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense and must be involved in everything that a defense does. From rushing the passer, filling against the run, dropping into zone or man coverages or chasing ball-carriers to the edge, the middle backer is the defense’s heart and soul. So it makes grading a prospect as a first-rounder that much more difficult. Luke Kuechly, however, might be the least risky prospect in the entire draft. He led the world in tackles and is a three-time all-everything middle linebacker. The intrigue and value at this position, however, is in the second and third rounds. Names like Kendricks, Wagner, Lewis, Burfict and Carder have Lofa Tatupu or Curtis Lofton written all over them.

Potential First Rounders (2):
Luke Kuechly, Boston College (6-3, 242), Dont’a Highower, Alabama (6-2, 265)

Day Two Picks (7):
Mychal Kendricks, Cal (5-11, 239), Bobby Wagner, Utah State (6-0, 241), Travis Lewis, Oklahoma (6-1, 253), Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State (6-1, 248), James Michael-Johnson, Nevada (6-1, 241), Tank Carder, TCU (6-2, 236), Emmanuel Acho, Texas (6-1, 238)

Athlon’s Sleepers To Watch:
Audie Cole, NC State (6-4, 246), Najee Goode, West Virginia (6-0, 244), Chris Marve, Vanderbilt (6-0, 239), Marcus Dowtin, North Alabama (6-1, 228), Jerry Franklin, Arkansas (6-1, 241)

8. Outside Linebacker

The proliferation of 3-4 schemes and unique defensive line-ups have increasingly blurred the lines between outside linebacker and defensive end. Courtney Upshaw, for example, could play either positions — as could Andre Branch, Shae McClellin, Bruce Irvin or Ronnell Lewis. Lavonte David is the top pure outside backer who fits into the traditional 4-3 role for an outside tackler. Once the big names are off the board at this position, 4-3 teams will find plenty of talent, value and upside in the mid-to-later rounds. Names like Bradham, Spence, Trevathan and Manning are all traditional strong and weakside backers. The pass-rushing OLB/DE hybrids will go much earlier.

Potential First Rounders (3):
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama (6-1, 272), Shea McClellin, Boise State (6-3, 260), Lavonte David, Nebraska (6-1, 233)

Day Two Picks (5):
Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma (6-2, 253), Zach Brown, North Carolina (6-1, 244), Bruce Irvin, West Virginia (6-3, 245), Keenan Robinson, Texas (6-3, 242), Nigel Bradham, Florida State (6-2, 241),

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
Sean Spence, Miami (5-11, 231), Terrell Manning, NC State (6-2, 237), Danny Trevathan, Kentucky (6-0, 237),

9. Defensive End

There are some intriguing options at this position but GMs will likely have to take a risk if he wants a pure pass-rusher in the first round. Names like Coples and Ingram feel like future stars but there are loads of question marks surrounding other names like Mercilus, Branch and Perry. The middle of the class isn’t very deep either. So for a position that ranks behind only the QB and the LT in importance, 2012 looks like a week year for ends. Much like the safety position, however, your team could pass on a defensive end this year in hopes of getting in on a loaded 2013 DE draft class that should include Sam Montgomery, Alex Okafor, Barkevious Mingo, Jackson Jeffcoat, Devin Taylor, John Simon, William Gholston, Ronald Powell, Dion Jordan, Corey Lemonier and Kareem Martin.

Potential First-Rounders (6):
Quinton Coples, North Carolina (6-5, 284), Melvin Ingram, South Carolina (6-1, 264), Chandler Jones, Syracuse (6-5, 266), Nick Perry, USC (6-2, 271), Whitney Mercilus, Illinois (6-3, 261), Andre Branch, Clemson (6-4, 259)

Day Two Picks (5):
Vinny Curry, Marshall (6-3, 266), Olivier Vernon, Miami, Fla. (6-2, 261), Tyrone Crawford, Boise State (6-4, 275), Trevor Guyton, Cal (6-2, 285), Cam Johnson, Virginia (6-3, 268)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
Jake Bequette, Arkansas (6-4, 275), Malik Jackson, Tennessee (6-4, 284), Taylor Thompson, SMU (6-6, 282)

10. Center

The quarterback of the offensive line is the least drafted position on the football field as roughly half-a-dozen centers are taken each year. The 2012 NFL Draft should be no different as only one prospect appears to be a first-round talent. There have been a total of 11 centers drafted in the last two years, including five in rounds six or later. However, if your team needs a center, there is some excellent value in the mid-rounds. The Big Ten claimed the top three centers in the nation last fall and all three should go relatively early this weekend. And all three should be excellent pros. If seven centers are drafted it will be the most since 2009.

Potential First Rounders (1):
Peter Konz, Wisconsin (6-5, 314)

Day Two Picks (4):
Ben Jones, Georgia (6-2, 303), David Molk, Michigan (6-1, 298), Michael Brewster, Ohio State (6-4, 312), Phillip Blake, Baylor (6-3, 311)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
William Vlachos, Alabama (6-0, 306), Quentin Saulsberry, Mississippi State (6-2, 304)

11. Offensive Tackle

The tackle is easily the most highly sought-after offensive line position. And based on salaries, protecting the blind side is the second most valuable skill in the NFL to throwing the football. This is why left tackles like Matt Kalil are selected in the top five each and every year. In fact, over the last three drafts, more tackles are taken in the first round than any other round in the draft. Fourteen tackles have been taken in the first round over that span. This is certainly a much weaker OT class than in recent memory, but it doesn’t mean that teams won’t move on a bookend if they feel he has what it takes. Upwards of six names could jump into the first round due to the lack of depth in the middle at this position. Once the top six or seven names are taken, look for the position to be non-existent until the much later rounds.

Potential First Rounders (6):
Matt Kalil, USC (6-7, 306), Riley Reiff, Iowa (6-5, 313), Cordy Glenn, Georgia (6-5, 345), Mike Adams, Ohio State (6-7, 323), Jonathan Martin, Stanford (6-5, 312), Bobby Massie, Ole Miss (6-6, 316)

Day Two Picks (4):
Mitchell Schwartz, Cal (6-5, 318), Zebrie Sanders, Florida State (6-5, 320), Donald Stephenson, Oklahoma (6-5, 320), Brandon Mosley, Auburn (6-5, 314)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
Nate Potter, Boise State (6-6, 303), Matt Reynolds, BYU (6-4, 313), Marcel Jones, Nebraska (6-6, 316), Tom Compton, South Dakota (6-5, 313), Jeff Adams, Columbia (6-6, 306).

12. Safety

Needless to say, this isn’t a strong safety class. Mark Barron is the only sure-thing at the position as one SEC assistant coach told me that the Alabama safety was the best player in the SEC last year. He is the only dominant player at his position in this draft and should be the only player taken in the first round. There are some intriguing options in the middle rounds but there is very little depth at safety this year. Expect teams who may need a safety to pass this year and wait for 2013 — which will feature a loaded draft class of free and strong safeties that could include TJ McDonald, Eric Reid, Matt Elam, Ray-Ray Armstong, Tony Jefferson, Robert Lester, Kenny Vaccaro, Bacarri Rambo, Isaiah Johnson, Hakeem Smith and John Boyett.

Potential First-Rounders (2):
Mark Barron, Alabama (6-1, 213), Harrison Smith, Notre Dame (6-2, 213)

Day Two Picks (6):
Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State (6-0, 207), Brandon Taylor, LSU (5-11, 202), Antonio Allen, South Carolina (6-1, 201), George Iloka, Boise State (6-3, 225), Brandon Hardin, Oregon State (6-2, 222), Charles Mitchell, Mississippi State (5-11, 202)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
Trent Robinson, Michigan State (5-10, 195), Sean Richardson, Vanderbilt (6-2, 216), Kelcie Mccray, Arkansas State (6-2, 202), Eddie Pleasant, Oregon (5-10, 211)

13. Tight End

The tight end is one of the most interesting positions in the draft. Rarely does more than one tight end every get selected in first round. In fact, only one has been taken in the first frame in each of the last three years. Yet, nearly 40 total tight ends were taken overall in the last two drafts (39). In the modern spread, pass-happy NFL, the versatile tight end has become a dangerous weapon that every team acknowledges are important. But no one is willing to pay for them with high picks. Because this is a weaker TE class, it may not be the best Petri dish, but where tight ends are taken could be a trend to watch over the next few years. If more two tight end sets continue to crop-up around the league, the tight end will begin to move up into the first round.

Potential First-Rounders (1):
Coby Fleener, Stanford (6-6, 247)

Day Two Picks (7):
Dwayne Allen, Clemson (6-3, 255), Orson Charles, Georgia (6-2, 251), Michael Egnew, Missouri (6-5, 252), Ladarius Green, UL Lafayette (6-5, 238), James Hanna, Oklahoma (6-3, 252), Deangelo Peterson, LSU (6-3, 243), Adrien Robinson, Cincinnati (6-4, 267)

Athlon’s Sleepers to Watch:
George Bryan, NC State (6-5, 265), Kevin Koger, Michigan (6-3, 262), Evan Rodriguez, Temple (6-1, 239)

-by Braden Gall


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 Draft: Ranking the Positions</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/nebraska-football-can-cornhuskers-win-big-ten-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.

Can Nebraska Win the Big Ten Title in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Here’s a shocking number: Since Nebraska led the nation in turnover margin in 2003, the Cornhuskers have finished on the plus-side of that statistic only once. Nebraska was plus-five in 2009 and even in 2006, but in the other six seasons, Nebraska coughed up the ball more than the Cornhuskers took it away from opponents. Turnover margin is the biggest predictor of team performance, and Nebraska’s trend of being on the wrong end of the turnover margin is a major reason the Cornhuskers haven’t been able to move out of the nine- and 10-win range into nationally elite territory. The 11 conference champions last season averaged plus-7.7 in turnover margin. Conference champions in the six major conferences averaged plus-11. If Nebraska is going to win the Big Ten, that’s where Nebraska’s going to need to make its turnaround. Now a veteran, Taylor Martinez should be less likely to turn the ball over, though his 15 interceptions in two seasons as a starter aren’t terrible. Rex Burkhead fumbled only once last season, albeit in the loss to Northwestern. The defense on the other hand forced only 18 turnovers last season. Only Indiana and Minnesota forced fewer in the Big Ten. Nebraska still won nine games and was in the Big Ten race before the Northwestern loss on Nov. 5, so that speaks well of the rest of Nebraska’s team a year ago. In 2012, Michigan will be the favorite in the Big Ten Legends Division, but Nebraska has the pieces to contend for the Rose Bowl if the Cornhuskers start to get some long-awaited breaks.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Absolutely. But it will come down to two major overriding factors: Taylor Martinez' ability to complete key passes and new defensive coordinator John Papuchis' ability to get stops. After a fairly strong freshman season, Martinez entered last fall needing to show mental maturity and toughness. He did that as he became the leader of the offense and master of the Huskers playbook. The next step in his development as he enters his third season under center will be improving his accuracy and efficiency. He must be able to keep defenses away from the line of scrimmage by completing third down, fourth quarter passes on a regular basis. With Rex Burkhead carrying the load, and arguably the best collection of receivers in the Big Ten as his disposal, there is no reason to think T-Magic doesn't continue to blossom as one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league.

The defense might be the bigger issue. After straight crushing opponents in 2009, the Black Shirts have been pushed around. And it starts at the line of scrimmage. Three contributors, including the injured Jared Crick, have moved on from a D-Line that has allowed over 150 yards rushing per game since '09 — where they averaged 93.1 yards allowed per game with a Boy Names Suh leading the way. But Papuchis has plenty of talent to work with in the front seven. Baker Steinkuhler and Will Compton lead a group that needs to slow the run with more toughness and get more pressure on the quarterback than 1.62 sacks per game (84th nationally in 2011). Fixing the front seven will go a long way to competing for a Big Ten title.

The schedule gives the Huskers a few opportunities for revenge as Michigan and Wisconsin visit Lincoln this fall, while road trips to Michigan State and Ohio State could be the toughest tests of the season. There is no dominate, undefeated type of team in this league this fall so the Huskers could survive a loss to Ohio State with ease. And since no one will have to face the Buckeyes in the title game, the winner of the Legends Division will likely claim the trip to Pasadena. How Nebraska fares against the state of Michigan should determine how far this team can go in 2012.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Michigan is getting most of the preseason hype as the favorite in the Legends Division, but the gap between the Wolverines and Michigan State and Nebraska is very narrow. Brady Hoke did a good job of moving Michigan back onto the national scene last year, but this team suffered some key losses, including center David Molk and defensive tackle Mike Martin. Denard Robinson is back for a run at the Heisman, but filling the voids in the trenches is crucial to winning the Big Ten title.

I give Nebraska a slight edge over Michigan State for second place in the Legends Division, but again, the margin is very, very small. For the Cornhuskers to improve on last season’s win total, quarterback Taylor Martinez has to get better as a passer, while the defense has to stop the run. Losing quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy will be difficult for the Spartans to overcome. Coach Mark Dantonio has done a good job of building up Michigan State’s depth, but Cousins and Worthy were two of the best players in the Big Ten last year. The schedules are essentially even, as Nebraska and Michigan State play Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Leaders Division, while the Spartans host the Cornhuskers on Nov. 3.

If Michigan struggles to replace Molk and Martin, the division race will be wide open. I think 10 wins is a realistic goal for the Cornhuskers in 2012, but to win the division, they have to beat Michigan in Lincoln on Oct. 27. The Wolverines handled Nebraska 45-17 last season, but this could be a different game in Lincoln.

While I think it’s certainly possible for Nebraska to win the division crown, I think a second-place finish is more likely. However, if the Cornhuskers can get to 10 wins, a BCS bowl appearance is certainly within reach.

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

Related Big Ten Content

Michigan or Ohio State: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?
Ranking the Big Ten's Running Backs for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Nebraska Football: Can the Cornhuskers Win the Big Ten in 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 08:05
Path: /nascar/dennys-win-brutons-bristol-plan-and-juniors-geneology-0

If Denny Hamlin can win races now, it makes one wonder what he’ll do later this season as the communication with new crew chief Darian Grubb improves and Grubb puts more of his stamp on the team’s cars being built.

Hamlin is one of only two drivers with multiple wins this season after eight races (Tony Stewart is the other) and Hamlin could be the first driver to win three races this season with the series heading to Richmond this weekend. He has won two of the last five races at his hometown track.

Even with the success, Hamlin has had his ups and downs. He won at Phoenix and Kansas but finished 20th at Las Vegas and Bristol. Since Bristol, he’s not finished worse than 12th. That’s helped Hamlin climb to fifth in the points.

“It's hard to analyze your program by a one-week performance,’’ Hamlin said after his Kansas victory, the 19th of his career. “You look at it in the grand scheme of things. (At Texas) on a mile-and-a-half (mile track), we went almost a lap down, but we ... hung around 10th place for most of the day.

“I'm not going to analyze and say that everything is good, we just need to make 10 race cars just like this one and we'll be fine. There's always things, areas that you need to work in. We feel like we've identified those areas and we've gone to work on them. So right now I feel like we're bringing better race cars to the race track than what we have, and it's still going to take time. There's still things that myself and Darian need to work on with communication, things like that, but he's still working within Joe Gibbs Racing trying to get cars that he feels like can be better to the race track, and all that stuff takes time. You just can't do it — it's a big process now.’’

Says Grubb: “My confidence in Denny's feedback is getting better and better. I know when to take what he says with what inflection in his voice, what it means.’’

This also has been an adjustment period for Grubb in how things are done at Joe Gibbs Racing after moving over from Stewart-Haas Racing. That also takes time.

“The technology is drastically different between the organizations, so the actual lessons you learn and things, it's probably more the style of working and being able to manage people and get the best out of the people that are there,’’ Grubb said. “Now that I'm at Joe Gibbs Racing I'm starting to learn those personalities and what I can get out of them.’’

This team will be worth watching as the season progresses.

NEW LOOK  Bruton Smith, Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Chairman and CEO, is scheduled to announce Wednesday his plans for changing the track surface at Bristol. The work will be completed before the August race and is in reaction to fan complaints about the racing there.

Bristol will mark the fourth track this year that will have a new surface, joining Michigan, Pocono and Kansas. Work on Kansas’ track began after Sunday’s race. Since 2010, six of the 23 tracks that host at least one Cup race will have had new surfaces by the time the series races at Kansas in October. Phoenix was reconfigured and repaved last year and Daytona was repaved in time for last year’s Daytona 500 after a pothole delayed the 2010 race.

Jeff Gordon says that in some cases, the track is not as much the problem, especially Bristol.

“The drivers love it,’’ Gordon said. “It’s a great racetrack I think. I thought they made huge improvements. Now we hear they want to go back to the old way. 

“Tracks are getting too much of the blame or even credit sometimes. This car for the last five or six years has sort of put Goodyear, the tracks, everything into a different box. I’m looking forward to the 2013 car, but I look forward to cars down the road to sort of take some of the things in this car that are in there we can’t take out. It will help the racing; things that are going to help Goodyear to make it better tire that is more suitable for the car.’’

<p> Following Denny Hamlin's win at Kansas Speedway, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 17:03
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/baseball-numbers-humber-yaz-and-moyer

Career complete game by Phil Humber of the Chicago White Sox. The 29-year-old, who has been claimed off waivers twice in his career, had never pitched into the ninth inning before his perfect game against the Mariners on Saturday.

Run differential for the Texas Rangers, who are 13-3 on the season. Texas has three one-run losses to the White Sox, Mariners and Tigers.

Hits by Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski at Fenway Park, the most of any player in the stadium’s 100-year history.

Games started at catcher by the trio of Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek and Ivan Rodriguez, who all retired since last season. They combined to play in 228 postseason games, including 48 World Series games, winning seven championships.

Age of Colorado’s Jamie Moyer, who became the oldest pitcher to win a major league game with a victory over San Diego on April 17. Moyer tossed seven innings and allowed no earned runs to lower his ERA to 2.55. It was win No. 268 for the veteran lefthander.

Players who participated in Moyer’s historic win who were not born at the time the veteran pitcher made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs in 1986. Cameron Maybin, the first batter Moyer faced in the game, Anthony Bass, the opposing pitcher, Wilin Rosario, Moyer’s catcher, Rex Brothers, who relieved him and Yonder Alonso, who later pinch-hit for the Padres, were all born after Moyer made it to the big leagues. Eric Young, Jr. pinch-hit for Moyer. Young’s father, Eric Young, Sr., a 15-year major league player himself, was just age 19 and still six years away from his major league debut with the Dodgers, when Moyer first pitched for the Cubs on June 16, 1986.

<p> Phil Humber's perfect game, the Rangers' offense, Fenway's 100 years and fascinating numbers from Jamie Moyer's historic win.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 11:44
Path: /mlb/baseballs-best-rotation-washington-nationals

After three times through the rotation (and four starts for ace Stephen Strasburg), the Washington Nationals’ rotation has been dominant. Extremely dominant. All five starters boast a WHIP below 1.00, allowing less than one base runner per inning. While the numbers are staggering (1.82 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, two home runs in 98.2 innings, .186 batting average against), the success of the group isn’t that shocking. All five starters have, at some point in their careers, been projected as top-of-the-rotation aces.

Certainly, they will come down to earth and cough up a few bad outings, but the Nationals’ plan to build around starting pitching is coming together nicely.

Ace Strasburg has been hyped as a Hall of Famer since the Nats made him very rich as the first overall draft pick in 2009. After missing about 12 months recovering from Tommy John surgery, the fireballer is dominating again. Over 25 innings, he's allowed just three runs. The Nats have won all four of his starts, but he has two no-decisions, one after pitching six scoreless innings against Miami. Imagine how good this guy can be once the Nats decide to turn him loose. Strasburg has been allowed to pitch into the seventh inning just once this season.

Ross Detwiler, who leads the staff with a 0.56 ERA, was the team’s first round pick out of Missouri State in 2007. The organization thought enough of Detwiler to promote him to the big leagues three months after he was drafted.

Jordan Zimmermann was taken in the second round in 2007, and in four seasons of minor league pitching, he allowed just 182 hits in 235 innings. He was named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2008, and blossomed last season with a 3.18 ERA in 26 starts for Washington.

Gio Gonzalez was a first-round pick by the White Sox in 2004 and was subsequently traded three times before Oakland dealt him to Washington this winter. In two full seasons with the A’s, Gonzalez was 31-21 with a 3.17 ERA and gave up 346 hits in 402.2 innings with 368 Ks.

Edwin Jackson was once considered by Baseball America (2004) as the No. 4 prospect in baseball. The 2001 sixth-round pick of the Dodgers never turned the corner in the minor leagues, but his major league numbers have been much better. This season, he tossed a two-hit complete game against Cincinnati, then had a horrendous first inning against the Astros, before settling down. He tied James Shields for the team lead in wins for the Rays in their historic pennant-winning season in 2008, and was a part of the world champion Cardinals’ staff down the stretch last season.

This weekend, the best rotation in baseball will take on the senior circuit’s best offensive player in Matt Kemp as the Nationals visit the Dodgers. Detwiler will get the ball for the opener on Friday night against the reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. Strasburg will be on the hill on Saturday against Chad Billingsley. Two lefties, Gonzalez and Chris Capuano, will take the stage for the finale on Sunday.

- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)

<p> The Nats' plan to build around pitching is coming together nicely.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 10:51
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/arkansas-makes-bizarre-coaching-choice-john-l-smith

If you were surprised at the announcement Weber State’s John L. Smith would be Arkansas’ head coach for 2012, you certainly weren’t alone. Many reports over the last two weeks linked a number of names, including UAB coach Garrick McGee, former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer or expected Arkansas to pick an assistant on staff. 

Although Smith was a bizarre hire, the Razorbacks could have done worse. Sure, this isn’t a home-run hire by any means, but what choices did Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long have?

Staying the interim route was a strong possibility, but Taver Johnson or Paul Petrino had no head coaching experience. Petrino has a good resume and would have made a lot of sense to be the next coach, but his last name may have prevented him from getting the job. Taking Johnson or Petrino out of their current roles would have had a ripple effect on the rest of the staff, as responsibilities may have been shuffled. Bringing in Smith helps keep the status quo in Arkansas for 2012.

Make no mistake – this is not a long-term solution for Arkansas. Smith is a safe pick for 2012 and will allow the school to conduct an extensive search for its next coach. Although Long could have hired McGee or made a run at Arkansas State head coach Gus Malzahn, there’s no need to rush an important search or make a rash decision that could hurt the school in the long run.

While this will be Smith’s first and likely only season as Arkansas’ head coach, he has the experience necessary to guide this program through the 2012 season. He served as Idaho’s head coach from 1989-94, recording a 53-20 record. After six years with the Vandals, Smith took over at Utah State and posted a 16-18 mark with one bowl appearance in three seasons. He left the Aggies for Louisville, leading the Cardinals to a 41-21 record with five bowl appearances. Smith didn’t have tremendous success at Michigan State from 2003-06, but his overall career record is 132-86.

Perhaps the most important factor in Smith landing the job was his experience from 2009-2011 as the special teams coach at Arkansas. Although he wasn’t the head coach, Smith knows the players and schemes, which should provide for a seamless transition. Hiring Smith as the head coach allows Taver Johnson to continue focus on his duties on the defensive side of the ball.

Although losing Petrino has certainly changed the outlook for the Razorbacks in 2012, Smith brings a sense of familiarity and some stability to the program. Arkansas still ranks behind Alabama and LSU, but no longer seems to be in a free fall. Considering what has transpired this spring, the Razorbacks are going to be a hungry team. The players certainly want to prove they are capable of winning a SEC title, while the coaches could be working for a job on Arkansas’ staff for 2013 or auditioning for another school.

Replacing a head coach in the middle of spring practice is no easy task – especially one that was as successful as Bobby Petrino was at Arkansas. Although McGee or Malzahn make more sense from a long-term perspective, it’s difficult to ask a head coach at a FBS school to leave just after spring practice.

After Smith’s rocky tenure at Michigan State, it’s surprising to see him back on the sidelines at a BCS school. And it’s a bizarre fit at Arkansas considering what has transpired this offseason.

However, considering the circumstances, the marriage of Smith and Arkansas is one that makes a lot of sense. The Razorbacks aren’t going to win the SEC West, but bringing Smith from Weber State allows for the assistants to stay in their roles and the players to have a coach who certainly has some familiarity with them and life in the SEC.

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related SEC Content:

Ranking the SEC Running Backs for 2012
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> Arkansas Makes Bizarre Coaching Choice with John L. Smith.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 07:52
All taxonomy terms: history, NFL Draft, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/nfl-draft-history-busts-sleepers-and-solid-picks-part-1

The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft will commence on Thursday night, marking the 77th installment of what is officially called the “NFL Player Selection Meeting.” From Thursday through Saturday 253 college players will hear their names called, adding their name to the NFL history books, regardless of whether they ever make it on the field.

Indeed, as history will tell, some past drafts have become more known for the players who were selected and did not enjoy success in a NFL uniform than those that did. There are also those players who did not hear their names called in the draft, but signed on with a team as an undrafted free agent and would eventually become solid players, if not All-Pros.

Here is a look back at the 1998-2007 drafts, as we reminisce and see which picks panned out for teams (Solid Picks), and those that failed miserably (Busts), as well as acknowledging those players that didn’t let disappointment on draft day get in the way of fulfilling their dreams of playing in the NFL (Sleepers).

Note: Part 1 will cover drafts from 1998-2002, Part 2 will cover the 2003-2007 drafts.

1998 NFL Draft
We start with 1998 because of the obvious synergy with this year’s draft involving No. 1 picks, quarterbacks and the Indianapolis Colts. In 1998, the Colts took Peyton Manning No. 1 overall over Ryan Leaf. While Manning is no longer with the Colts, no one can say the franchise didn’t make the right pick as Manning led them to 150 wins, eight divisional titles, two AFC championships and a win in Super Bowl XLVI in 2007. The Chargers didn’t have near the same success with Leaf, who lasted just three seasons in the league and won a total of four games in his short-lived career. To make matters worse, Leaf has had his share of personal and legal issues since his NFL playing days.

Just like what happened with Manning in 1998, the Colts are hoping history will repeat itself 14 years later as they have informed Andrew Luck they will take him with the No. 1 overall pick on Thursday night. The Colts have decided to go with Luck over Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, who will presumably go to the Washington Redskins at No. 2. Whether Luck becomes the second coming of Manning for the Colts remains to be seen, but the Redskins certainly hope that Griffin doesn’t follow in the forgettable footsteps of Leaf.

Solid Picks: The Colts weren’t the only team to draft a franchise player in 1998. The Raiders took Charles Woodson with the fourth overall pick and the Vikings took a chance on Randy Moss that turned out pretty well for them. Fred Taylor and Alan Faneca also were taken in the first round. Other players selected include Olin Kreutz (3rd – No. 64), Hines Ward (3rd – No. 92), Matt Birk (6th – No. 173), and Matt Hasselbeck (6th – No. 187).

Busts: While Leaf is certainly the headline in terms of busts from the 1998 draft, he was not alone as many recall the career of Andre Wadsworth, who went No. 3 overall to the Arizona Cardinals, and Bears’ fans are still trying to forget Curtis Enis, who was taken with the fifth pick.

Sleepers: Besides a franchise quarterback, the Colts also ended up with an All-Pro offensive lineman from the class of 1998. Jeff Saturday, Manning’s long-time center, originally signed as an undrafted free agent with Baltimore. He ended up in Indianapolis in 1999 and went to become a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro in his 13 years with the Colts. London Fletcher and David Akers also went undrafted, but ended up on an NFL roster and both made the Pro Bowl and earned All-Pro recognition in 2011.

1999 NFL Draft
Although this draft is probably remembered more for the New Orleans Saints trading all of their picks in 1999 plus two more in 2000 to the Redskins for Ricky Williams, it also represented the last draft in which the first two players taken were quarterbacks. In fact, quarterbacks were taken with the first three selections as the Cleveland Browns took Tim Couch, the Philadelphia Eagles took Donovan McNabb and the Cincinnati Bengals took Akili Smith.

Everyone knows what happened after that, Couch never panned out, lasting just five seasons and finishing his career with more interceptions (67) than touchdowns (64). Smith fared even worse, as he was in the league for four seasons, but only played in a total of 22 games. McNabb clearly had the best career of the three and now will wait to see if his overall body of work (37,276 passing yards and 234 passing touchdowns, 3,459 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns) is worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame.

Solid Picks: After the Saints took Williams fifth overall, the St. Louis Rams selected Torry Holt and the Redskins took Champ Bailey. Holt retired as a Ram earlier this month after a productive 11-year career, while Bailey, an 11-time Pro Bowler, is entering his 14th year in league, ninth with the Denver Broncos, this fall. The Steelers took both Joey Porter (3rd – No. 73) and Aaron Smith (4th – No. 109), while the Green Bay Packers drafted Donald Driver in the seventh round (No. 213), who has since become the Packers’ all-time leading receiver.

Busts: Couch and Smith weren’t the only quarterbacks taken in the first round who didn’t pan out. The Bears took Cade McNown with the twelfth overall pick. McNown’s career was even shorter than Smith’s, as he was done after the 2000 season after winning three games in 15 career starts under center.

Sleepers: I’m not so sure two punters (Chris Hanson and Brian Moorman) qualify, although both had careers that lasted more than 10 years and earned at least one Pro Bowl invitation.

2000 NFL Draft
Let’s face it, the first draft of the 21st century will forever be known as the Tom Brady draft. The Patriots took Brady, a relatively unknown quarterback from Michigan with 199th overall pick in the sixth round. Three Super Bowl rings, nearly 40,000 yards passing, 300 touchdowns, 124 regular-season wins and counting, this is arguably the greatest value pick in the history of the NFL Draft.

Solid Picks: That’s not to say Brady was the ONLY player taken in the 2000 draft, mind you. The Ravens took running back Jamal Lewis, who had just the fifth 2,000-yard season in NFL history in 2006, with the fifth overall pick, and the Arizona Cardinals selected fellow back Thomas Jones seventh. Jones has rushed for more than 10,000 yards in his career. The Pittsburgh Steelers took Plaxico Burress with the eighth overall pick, but unfortunately Burress’ career will always be overshadowed by what took place off the field, rather than on it.

Chicago got Brian Urlacher with the ninth pick and he quickly became the next great Bear linebacker, following the likes of Hall of Famers Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary. The New York Jets got more than lucky with John Abraham at No. 13, while the Seattle Seahawks took Shaun Alexander from Alabama with the 19th pick. All Alexander did was earn NFL MVP honors in 2005 as he led the league in both rushing (1,880 yards) and touchdowns (27) as the Seahawks rode his legs all the way to the Super Bowl.

Also let’s give some credit to the Oakland Raiders, who have earned more than fair share of criticism when it comes to draft decisions. In 2000, however, they got two picks right when they selected kicker Sebastian Janikowski with the 17th overall pick and punter Shane Lechler in the 5th round (No. 142). All these two have done is form the NFL’s most valuable kicking duo for 12 years running. Too bad their success and productivity hasn’t rubbed off on the team as a whole.

Busts: The Browns missed big on Courtney Brown, who they took No. 1 overall. Brown never adjusted to the pro game, lasting just six forgettable seasons. The Bengals didn’t fare much better with Peter Warrick, who they took with the fourth overall pick, and Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, who was selected by the Giants at No. 11, was never able to establish himself in the NFL.

Sleepers: As has already been mentioned, Brady is probably the biggest draft sleeper of all time, but he was drafted. That was not the case for offensive linemen Shaun O’Hara and Brian Waters. O’Hara won a Super Bowl with the Giants, while Waters is a two-time All-Pro and been named to six Pro Bowls in his career.

2001 NFL Draft
The Atlanta Falcons and the San Diego Chargers swapped first-round picks, a trade which gave the Falcons the No. 1 overall pick in exchange for a third-round pick in 2001, second-rounder in 2002 and a player (wide receiver Tim Dwight). All in all, it was a trade that worked out for both sides as the Falcons took Michael Vick with the first pick and the Chargers ended up with LaDainian Tomlinson at No. 5. Vick took what was a moribund franchise to new heights and helped usher in a new era of athletic, mobile quarterbacks, while Tomlinson, who is currently third on the all-time touchdowns list and fifth in rushing yards, will go into the Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible.

Solid Picks: Besides Tomlinson, Richard Seymour (No. 6 overall) and Steve Hutchinson (No. 17) could both end up in the Hall of Fame eventually. Other notable first-round selections include Justin Smith (No. 4), Santana Moss (No. 16), Deuce McAllister (No. 23), Reggie Wayne (No. 30) and Todd Heap (No. 31). Drew Brees (No. 32) was taken by the Chargers with the first pick in the second round and Chad Johnson was taken by the Bengals four picks later. The New England Patriots took Matt Light (No. 48) later in the second round. Light is expected to retire at some point this offseason after a 10-year career as the Patriots’ left tackle otherwise known as the blindside protector for the aforementioned Brady. In the third round, the Carolina Panthers selected Steve Smith (No. 74), who holds all of the franchise’s receiving records.

Busts: While Wayne, Johnson and Smith were hits for their respective teams, there were several wide receivers drafted in 2001 that ended up being big misses. In the first round alone, the Bears whiffed on David Terrell (No. 8 overall), the Redskins with Rod Gardner (No. 15) and the Eagles with Freddie Mitchell (No. 25). Mitchell was known more for what he said (including his infamous “FredEx” nickname) than what he accomplished on the field. Not what you want in any draft pick, let alone a first-rounder.

Sleepers: The Redskins signed linebacker Antonio Pierce, who would go on to make the Pro Bowl as a Redskin in 2006, as an undrafted free agent, while the Tennessee Titans (Rob Bironas) and Buffalo Bills (Shayne Graham) signed reliable kickers. Bironas was named first-team All-Pro in 2007, while Graham would only be with the Bills for one season before eventually becoming a Pro Bowler with the Bengals. Several other solid players got their start as undrafted free agents in 2001, including offensive lineman Stephen Neal (Patriots) and Rich Seubert (New York Giants).

2002 NFL Draft
Another draft with quarterbacks taken early that didn’t pan out. This time it was David Carr, who the Houston Texans took with the franchise’s first-ever No. 1 overall pick. Carr spent most of his five years with the Texans running around for this life, as he was sacked a NFL-record 76 times in his first year. It didn’t get much better in the years that followed as in many ways Carr was a victim of a lack of support. Detroit took Joey Harrington third, who in four years with the Lions won just 26 games and finished with more interceptions (62) than touchdown passes (60).

Solid Picks: In between the two quarterbacks, the Carolina Panthers selected defensive end Julius Peppers with the second overall pick. The athletic freak of nature was named the 2002 NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year and racked up 81 sacks and 37 forced fumbles in his eight years with the Panthers. He signed with the Bears as a free agent in 2010 and is still one of the NFL’s most-feared defensive players. The Colts also selected a defensive end with their first-round selection, Dwight Freeney (No. 11), and like Peppers, Freeney is a three-time, first-team All-Pro and has 102.5 sacks in his career.

While Peppers and Freeney could end up enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Canton when their careers are over, one player who’s already secured his spot is Ed Reed. The Ravens drafted the dynamic ball-hawk from Miami with the 24th overall pick and he has not disappointed. Reed is an eight-time Pro Bowlers, been named first-team All-Pro five times and is ninth in career interceptions with 57. The 2004 AP Defensive Player of the Year, Reed is the record-holder for longest interception return in NFL history, 108 yards.

The 2002 NFL Draft also had Clinton Portis (No. 51) and Brian Westbrook (No. 91) taken in the second and third rounds, respectively.

Busts: Besides Carr and Harrington, other first-round picks that didn’t exactly work out included defensive tackle Ryan Sims (Chiefs – No. 6), running back William Green (Browns – No. 16), wide receiver Ashely Lelie (Broncos – No. 19), and quarterback Patrick Ramsey (Redskins – No. 32).

Sleepers: The Steelers and the Ravens both found hidden gems among the undrafted free agents as the Steelers signed James Harrison and the Ravens brought in Bart Scott. Harrison was the 2008 AP Defensive Player of the Year, while Scott was a key member of the Ravens’ defense, which consistently ranked among the NFL’s best, for seven seasons.

Part 2: 2003-07 NFL Drafts

— by Mark Ross, published on April 23, 2012

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
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> Athlon Sports takes a look back at some recent NFL drafts to see which picks worked out and which ones didn't</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 06:58
Path: /college-football/clemson-or-florida-state-which-team-wins-acc-atlantic-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.

Clemson or Florida State: Which Team Wins the ACC Atlantic in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Both programs are reliving the same story each season. Even in a year when it won the ACC, Clemson still had an inexplicable late season swoon and an even more shocking loss in the bowl game. In Tallahassee, another season went by without Florida State turning the corner back into a national contender. I’m inclined to believe Florida State is more likely to win the Atlantic and reclaim ACC dominance. The Seminoles not only had a rash of injuries early last season, including quarterback E.J. Manuel, they allowed the loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 17 turn into three losses. So much emphasis was put on the game against the Sooners, that the loss to Oklahoma, combined with all the injuries, seemed to throw Florida State into disarray early. Clemson’s lapses were more unforgivable. The offense fell apart in October and November, and the defense bottomed out in the bowl game. I’ll take Florida State to rebound from its bad luck. Both Clemson and Florida State will be good teams, but I’ll pick the Seminoles in this one.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The traditional belief that defense wins championships tends to hold true in college football. In that sense, the Florida State Seminoles have a clear advantage over the Clemson Tigers. The Noles defense returns nine starters from the ACC's top unit and claim a potpourri of star-studded recruits — both freshman, redshirt freshman and sophomores — stepping into bigger roles this fall. Most importantly, FSU boasts one of the best secondaries in the nation, something required to even attempt to stop the Tajh Boyd-Sammy Watkins-DeAndre Hopkins high-octane passing attack.

The Tigers can score point in bunches, but as fans saw in the second half of the season, it couldn't stop anyone. And it led to one of the worst collapses in the nation last fall. In four losses down the stretch, Clemson allowed 43 points per game. In seven conference games against non-Virginia Tech competition, Dabo Swinney's bunch allowed 31.9 points per game. If Boyd and company want to repeat as ACC champions, new coordinator Brent Venables must produce dramatic improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

From a scheduling standpoint, Florida State hosts the all important head-to-head battle that was decided by only five points last fall in Death Valley. With a fully healthy EJ Manuel, and improved skill talent on offense, I will take Florida State to win the Atlantic Division. Clemson and Florida State are clearly the most talented teams in this half of the ACC, but don't be surprised if NC State, who crushed Clemson 37-13 last fall, impacts this race in a big way.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The overriding question in the ACC over the last few years has been: Is this the year Florida State returns to national prominence? The Seminoles have won 19 games over the last two years, but still hasn’t emerged as a threat to win the national title. Clemson has had its own issues of underachieving, but finally broke through to win the ACC Atlantic last season. The Tigers have the necessary pieces to win the division once again in 2012, but a reworked offensive line and the defense are huge question marks.

There’s not much separating Clemson and Florida State in the Atlantic, but I give a slight edge to the Seminoles. Florida State’s defense is starting to build some impressive depth in the trenches, and the secondary has two solid corners in Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes. Virginia Tech’s defense is strong, but I think Florida State’s will be the best in the ACC. The biggest question mark for the Seminoles is on the other side of the ball and finding ways to rejuvenate an offense that ranked 77th nationally in yards per game last year. With EJ Manuel and a talented group of receivers returning, Florida State should have one of the top passing attacks in the ACC. However, the offensive line and rushing attack remains an issue.

Although I think Florida State will win the division, there’s a lot to like about Clemson. The offensive firepower is impressive, but how will the line respond with three new starters? The defense loses four key contributors from the line, but the back seven should be in good shape. The biggest obstacle for the Tigers to overcome could be the Sept. 22 date in Tallahassee. With a young offensive line still coming together, Florida State’s defensive front is not what Clemson needs to see early in the year.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think Florida State will surpass Clemson in the Atlantic this season because of the talent and depth of the Seminoles defense. From the middle of October to the bowl victory over Notre Dame, the FSU defense performed at an elite level and that momentum should carry into this year. Senior quarterback EJ Manuel found some weapons last year in freshmen Devonta Freeman and Rashad Greene, and that talented duo should put up more points as sophomores. Clemson will flourish on offense with quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, but the Tigers did lose three starters on the offensive line. The defense is a concern once again, so former Oklahoma coordinator Brent Venables faces a tough challenge in his first Clemson season. Most of the back seven returns, but linemen Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson will be missed. The Tigers will challenge ACC defenses, but I see Florida State as the more complete team and the one that will advance to Charlotte.

Where will Clemson and Florida State finish in the 2012 ACC standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

Related ACC Content

Who Will Challenge Virginia Tech in the ACC Coastal in 2012?
ACC Running Back Rankings for 2012

ACC Quarterback Rankings for 2012

ACC Head Coach Rankings for 2012

College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Clemson or Florida State: Which Team Wins ACC Atlantic in 2012?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 06:57
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-football-how-will-mountaineers-fare-big-12

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 West Virginia Fare in the Big 12 in 2012?

Tony Dobies, (@DOBIEST on Twitter)
Many people look past some of the statistics when evaluating West Virginia’s high-powered offense. Sure, the Mountaineers put up 70 points vs. Clemson in the Orange Bowl, but realistically it was underwhelming throughout the 2011 regular season. While the talent is there, more talent is waiting on Big 12 defenses, and it will be key for the Mountaineers’ best playmakers to stand out. West Virginia’s new defensive scheme is better suited for many Big 12 offenses that it will face. The biggest question to me is how WVU’s defensive talent will stand up to Big 12. The Mountaineers have proven in the past in BCS games and regular season games vs. teams like Auburn and LSU that it can keep up in a one-game situation. But, will that change in an entirely new league? WVU could have some troubles there. I see West Virginia with a legitimate chance at winning the Big 12 title in its first year; it has a better chance than many of the other teams who switched conferences a year ago, because the Mountaineers have true Big 12 ties on its coaching staff. However, the overall depth and talent might not be there yet. A top-three finish in the conference is expected, and I’d say that’s what will happen. But, there isn’t a team in the Big 12 that would finish in the bottom half of the Big East. This up in competition will give WVU trouble.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
West Virginia is built for quick success in the Big 12, just how quick is the question. A former assistant at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen knows the territory. As does his new defensive coordinator from Oklahoma State, Joe DeForest. Behind quarterback Geno Smith and his stable of returning receivers, West Virginia is ready to move up and down the field like a Big 12 team. The Mountaineers could lead the league in a handful of offensive categories. However, while West Virginia has the personnel to finish in the top three in the Big 12, I’m a believer that a conference move can trip up any good team. Just consider Nebraska and its loss at home to Northwestern last season. As well as Holgorsen and his staff know the league, all those new venues and new matchups could catch up with the players. I wouldn’t be shocked if West Virginia looks like a Big 12 champion one week, but ends up on the wrong end of an upset in its first trip to Texas Tech or Iowa State.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
You have to have offense to succeed in the Big 12 and West Virginia has a coal mine full of explosives on that side of the ball. In Geno Smith and his wideouts, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, Dana Holgorsen has arguably the best QB-WR combination in the conference. And Holgorsen has experience in the Big 12 at both Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, so he should be able to ease his team into the new conference on a day-to-day operational standpoint. That said, winning the Big East and winning the Big 12 are totally different obstacles. The step-up in competition will require not only a high-flying offense but power and strength in the trenches and on defense. Both the offensive and defensive lines will be key question marks heading into conference play this fall.

The schedule is intriguing for the Mountaineers and their bid to return to a BCS bowl bid. The first four games are winnable and are at home in Morgantown, so the Mounties should be unblemished heading into their toughest road test of the season in Austin. Key swing games against Kansas State and TCU come at home and West Virginia should be favored in two important road trips to Texas Tech and Iowa State (strange things tend to happen in Ames and Lubbock). This leaves the state of Oklahoma as the deciding factor for WVU in back-to-back weekends in mid-November. Holgorsen will visit his former employer in Stillwater before hosting the conference favorite in the Sooners. The Mountaineers must win at least one of those games, without slipping up anywhere else, in order to get to 10 wins.

West Virginia will find it tough to defeat Texas and Oklahoma. But if it can beat the teams it is supposed to (Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas State, TCU) and pull-off an upset (at Oklahoma State), a 10-win season isn't out of the question. However, if the offensive line can't get movement and the defense doesn't show improvement, the Mounties will fall victim to at least one or two tough losses along the way. I will go with 9-3 for the Mountaineers first romp through the Big 12 — a record WVU fans should probably be proud and excited about as it heads into a much tougher conference.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Although Oklahoma is the preseason favorite to win the Big 12, I think the conference is more open than some may believe. The Sooners are vulnerable and Texas is still rebuilding, which gives West Virginia a chance to contend in its first season in the Big 12. The Mountaineers finished last season on a high note, scoring 70 points in the bowl rout over Clemson. The offense returns plenty of firepower, including quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. However, the offensive line and rushing attack is a concern. The Big 12 is an offensive-minded conference, so there’s little doubt West Virginia will be able to adapt to its new league without much of an issue. If the Mountaineers want to beat Oklahoma and Texas for the conference crown, the defense has to adapt to life in the Big 12. West Virginia returns six starters, but has to replace ends Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin, along with cornerback Keith Tandy and linebacker Najee Goode. The Mountaineers are also changing schemes, but new co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest comes from Oklahoma State and his experience in the Big 12 should help West Virginia transition from the Big East.

Although West Virginia might have the best offensive trio (Smith, Austin and Bailey), I have concerns about the offensive line and how the defense will hold up in the new league. The schedule features road trips to Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, while the Mountaineers host Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma. Any time a team transitions to a new league, there’s always a game that ends up as a surprise loss. I think West Virginia will be in the mix for the Big 12 title, but will fall short and likely finish third behind Texas and Oklahoma.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think the Mountaineers will hit the ground running — actually, passing — in their new league. Many times when a school moves into a tougher conference, the week-in, week-out grind can be quite the challenge. However West Virginia’s transition will not be as severe having played in a BCS conference and having a top passing offense with veteran leaders. Senior quarterback Geno Smith and elite receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will continue to put up big points in the pass-happy Big 12, and head coach Dana Holgorsen has a familiarity with the league from his time at Oklahoma State. The WVU defense has some questions with the loss of top players like defensive end Bruce Irvin, linebacker Najee Goode and cornerback Keith Tandy, so new coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson will have their work cut out. That being said, I see West Virginia finishing the regular season with nine or 10 wins and challenging Oklahoma and Texas for the Big 12 supremacy.

Where will West Virginia 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.

Related Big 12 Content

How Will TCU Fare in the Big 12 in 2012?
Big 12 Running Back Rankings for 2012

Big 12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012

Can Kansas State Repeat Last Season's Success?

Ranking the Big 12 Head Coaches for 2012
College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 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> West Virginia Football: How Will Mountaineers Fare in the Big 12?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 06:54
Path: /college-basketball/7-coaching-replacements-seth-greenberg-virginia-tech

Virginia Tech has fired men's basketball coach Seth Greenberg after nine seasons with the Hokies. With that news, we compiled a list of possible replacements to take over in Blacksburg.


Blaine Taylor, head coach, Old Dominion

Taylor has a 378–192 record as a head coach, with stops at Montana (1991-98) and Old Dominion (2001-current). He has built ODU into a consistent winner in the competitive Colonial Athletic Association, with nine straight winning league seasons. He made the NCAA Tournament in 2005, ’10, ’11 with the Monarchs.



Jeff Capel, assistant coach, Duke

Capel enjoyed a successful four-year run as the head coach at VCU from 2002-06, guiding the Rams to a record of 50–22 in CAA games and a berth in the 2004 NCAA Tournament. He then served as the head coach at Oklahoma, recording an overall mark of 96–69 from 2006-11.


Dino Gaudio, analyst, ESPN

Gaudio was fired after three seasons at Wake Forest in 2010 despite an overall record of 61–31 and an ACC mark of 27–21. He also has experience as a head coach at Army (1993-97) and Loyola (Md.) (1998-00). Gaudio is an outstanding recruiter.


Ron Hunter, head coach, Georgia State

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


Scott Sutton, head coach, Oral Roberts

The son of former Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton has put up gaudy numbers in 13 years at Oral Roberts. His record in the Summit League is 163­–59, including a 17–1 mark this season. ORU has made three trips to the NCAA Tournament on Sutton’s watch.


Orlando Antigua, assistant coach, Kentucky

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


Dan Muller, assistant coach, Vanderbilt

Muller, a 1998 graduate of Illinois State, recently completed his 12th season on Kevin Stallings’ staff at Vanderbilt. He was reportedly in the mix for head coaching vacancies at Mississippi State, Miami (Ohio), Southern Illinois and Stanford following the ’11-12 season. Muller serves as the Commodores’ recruiting coordinator.  

--Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)

<p> A look at possible coaching fits for the Hokies basketball program.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 17:50
Path: /nascar/denny-hamlin-wins-stp-400-kansas

It seemed a formality that once Martin Truex Jr. had fended off a vicious challenge from Jimmie Johnson that Michael Waltrip Racing would score its first Sprint Cup Series win since 2010.

Truex had led 173 laps and seemed on virtual cruise control as the laps ticked away in the STP 400 from Kansas Speedway. He pulled away for chunks of laps at a time after green flag pit stops — 45, 81 and 43 consecutive laps led on successive occasions — separating himself from the runner-up competitor by whole seconds.

Then, with about 35 laps to go, something happened to Truex’s Toyota.

According to team co-owner Michael Waltrip, the sun came out and changed the track, loosening up the car. Truex, however, was unhappy with the last set of tires that he reckoned did not agree with his machine.

Whatever the reason, a charging Denny Hamlin caught Truex and got by shortly after the final round of green flag pit stops to score his second win of the season.

Hamlin’s race-winning pass came on lap 237 of 267, and despite a last-ditch banzai effort with three laps remaining by Truex to reclaim the lead, the aero advantage Hamlin enjoyed carried him to the win.

“I knew that the only advantage that I had is when his (Truex’s) car got so loose that last run, I was able to make up a lot of time on entry and a lot of time on exit (in and out of the corners) because he was really fighting his car,” Hamlin said. “So really, as the driver behind, you can manipulate his car and make it worse for him by getting up close to him — and that’s what I kind of did a few laps leading up to when we passed him, is that I tried to run as close up to him on entry as I could and as close on exit. It takes away rear grip, and to a car that was as loose as what his was, they have no choice really but to back off and not wreck their car.”

The win at the 1.5-mile intermediate oval was somewhat of a surprise, in that Hamlin’s best finish on a comparable track this season was 11th.

“We just need to make 10 race cars just like this one and we’ll be fine,” Hamlin said. “There’s always things, areas that you need to work in. We feel like we’ve identified those areas and we’ve gone to work on them.

“So right now I feel like we’re bringing better race cars to the racetrack than what we have, and it’s still going to take time.

As for Truex, he and crew chief Chad Johnston continue to knock on Victory Lane’s door. Six of his finishes have been eighth or better this season and he has yet to finish outside of the top 20. That performance — he has averaged a 4.8-place finish in the last five races — places him second in the Sprint Cup point standings.

“The NAPA team was phenomenal today,” Truex said. “Just not really sure what to think about that last set of tires. (The) car had been really good all day, (then we) put the last set on and I was wrecking loose for the first 20 laps of that last run and Denny was able to get by me and once he did the race was over.

“(The) car got better longer in the run and I was able to get back to him, but I’d get three, four car lengths from him and pick up the aero push.”

Johnson held on for third after pit strategy forced him to climb out of a late-race hole. Matt Kenseth and points-leader Greg Biffle rounded out the top 5.

by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter:

<p> Denny Hamlin passed Martin Truex Jr. with 30 laps remaining to win the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 17:30