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Path: /nfl/colts-set-to-release-peyton-manning
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— by Mark Ross

Peyton Manning's last pass in an NFL game came on Jan. 8, 2011. It also represents his final game as an Indianapolis Colt as the team is set to release its long-time quarterback.

The official announcement ending Manning's 14-year career with the Colts is expected to come in a press conference this afternoon. The decision to release the former No. 1 overall pick and four-time NFL MVP coincides with the $28 million roster bonus Manning was due come Thursday.

Besides not paying the roster bonus, the decision to release Manning also means the Colts are not picking up the four years remaining on his contract, making him a free agent. That contract is the five-year, $90 million extension Manning signed last July, just days after the NFL lockout ended. Now, less than eight months later, Manning is looking for a new team. 

Make no mistake about it, the Colts' decision to release Manning is all about the future, both Manning's and the franchise's. Manning has had three different surgeries on his neck in 19 months and will turn 36 in less than three weeks. Although he has been medically cleared to resume his career and is reportedly making progress to that end, it remains to be seen if he is physically capable of playing in an actual game.

Meanwhile the Colts are in full rebuild mode following last year's 2-14 disastrous season with a new general manager and head coach in place. The team's focus now shifts fully and entirely to the upcoming draft. Just like they did with Manning 14 years ago, the Colts hope they will be selecting their next franchise quarterback on April 26 when they are expected to take either Stanford's Andrew Luck or Baylor's Robert Griffin III with the No. 1 overall pick.

For now, Manning has made it clear he fully intends to be under center come Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season. So the question then becomes which uniform will he be wearing this fall? What sort of market exists for a Super Bowl-winning quarterback who took his team to the playoffs 11 times in 14 seasons? Let's take a look.

For starters, forget about teams who already have established quarterbacks on their roster. As good as Manning has been in his career, teams like Green Bay, New England, New Orleans, the New York Giants, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Dallas are already in pretty good shape at quarterback. So you can forget about any dreams of the Manning brothers playing together in the Big Apple.

Then you have teams who either appear to be fully committed to their current starter, like Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia, or those who think they already have their franchise quarterback on their roster, like Carolina, Cincinnati and St. Louis.

That still leaves 16 teams, or half of the NFL, technically still in the running. Here’s how those teams stack up:

Nice Idea But…

Buffalo Bills
Current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick signed a six-year, $59 million contract extension in October, which includes $24 million in guaranteed money. Ironically enough, Fitzpatrick struggled after signing his extension, throwing just 12 touchdown passes with 17 interceptions in his final 10 games with the Bills going 2-8 in that same stretch. That said, the Bills already have invested a lot in Fitzpatrick and appear to be fully committed to “The Amish Rifle”

Denver Broncos
This is just what Tim Tebow and Denver needs, another quarterback controversy. While Tebow’s NFL future is anything but certain, he has earned his standing as the Broncos’ starting quarterback headed into training camp. The last thing he needs is another Hall of Fame quarterback to worry about. He’s already got that in his boss, Broncos Executive Vice President of Operations John Elway.

Houston Texans
Houston would have to appeal to Manning if anything because the Texans are ready to win now and he would be guaranteed two shots each season against Irsay and the Colts. However, Matt Schaub is the entrenched starter and is expected to be fully recovered from last season’s foot injury by the time training camp starts and the Texans also have capable backup Tyler Yates on their roster.

Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings drafted Christian Ponder in the first round of last year’s draft and handed the starting reigns over to him in late October. The rookie went 2-8 in 10 games as the starter, while the Vikings finished with a 3-13 mark overall. Despite Ponder's struggles in his first season, the team appears to be committed to him moving forward, not to mention the fact that it has plenty of other holes to fill on the roster. The bottom line: this Vikings team does not present the same opportunity to Manning that it did to Brett Favre back in 2009.

Oakland Raiders
The Raiders already have a 30-something quarterback on their roster, Carson Palmer, and they paid a hefty price to get him. Oakland sent a 2012 first-round draft pick and a conditional second-round pick in 2013 (that could end up being a first-rounder) to Cincinnati last October to get Palmer, who played adequately (13 TDs, 16 INTs) in 10 games for the Raiders. Oakland also is a team in transition as Dennis Allen was hired in January as the Raiders’ seventh head coach in the past 10 seasons.

Tampa Bay
Josh Freeman had a disappointing 2011 season following a breakout 2010 campaign during which he led the Buccaneers to the playoffs. His touchdown passes fell from 25 to 16, while his interceptions increased dramatically from just six in 2010 to 22 last season. However, Freeman is just 24 years old and will enter just his fourth season as the Bucs’ starter this fall. New Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano will lean heavily on Freeman as he makes the transition from the collegiate head coaching ranks to the NFL.

Tennessee Titans
It reads like a fairy tale – former University of Tennessee star returns to his adopted home state to lead the Titans back to postseason glory, no doubt some of that coming at the expense of his former team and division rival, the Colts. Titans and UT fans can dream all they want, but it’s not going to happen. For one, the Titans already have a 36-year-old quarterback on their roster in Matt Hasselbeck. More importantly, they also believe they have their franchise quarterback of the future waiting in the wings in Jake Locker, the No. 8 overall pick in last year’s draft.

Now You’re Talking:

Cleveland Browns
Although he is signed for two more years, Colt McCoy’s future in Cleveland is uncertain at best. While Manning would appear to be an upgrade, the Browns will probably look to the draft to find their future franchise quarterback. With two picks, Nos. 4 and 22, in the first round, Cleveland is seemingly in prime position to select Baylor’s Robert Griffin III early or wait for either Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill or Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler later. Besides, I’m not sure Manning’s that thrilled about having to play the Ravens and Steelers twice each season.

Kansas City
Yes, Kansas City was a nice landing spot for Joe Montana in 1993, but I don’t see history repeating itself. The current incumbent is Matt Cassel, who is under contract through 2014 and the Chiefs have already invested a good deal of money in him. This is a team looking to establish its identity under new head coach Romeo Crennel and bringing in a new quarterback does not appear to be part of his plan.

New York Jets
Peyton and Eli in the same city? I can just hear the New York media types and football pundits everywhere salivating at the sheer thought. However, I suggest you go ahead and wipe that drool from your mouth because I don’t see this happening. For one, that would mean the departure/demotion of the Big Apple’s current favorite whipping boy, Mark Sanchez, who is signed for two more years and put up his best numbers yet last season. Second, I don’t think Peyton longs to play in New York and he is certainly aware of the ramifications that would come with it, for him personally and his family as a whole.

San Francisco
This appears to be an appealing destination because the 49ers are a team on rise under the leadership of head coach and former Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh. However, Manning doesn’t seem to fit what Harbaugh is looking for in a quarterback, as Alex Smith made plays with both his arm and his legs last season. Smith is a free agent, but even if he does not return, the 49ers still have 2011 second-round pick Colin Kaepernick on their roster.

Here’s Where It Gets Interesting:

Arizona Cardinals
Why it could work: Two words – Larry Fitzgerald. Just the thought of Manning throwing to Fitzgerald is enough to get anyone, other than Arizona opponents, excited. Manning has played with some Hall of Fame-caliber wide receivers in Indianapolis, most notably Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, but Fitzgerald tops them all. Arizona being in the NFC West also presents an opportunity to possibly return to the playoffs right away. And don’t forget that Kurt Warner had a decent five-year stretch in the desert after arriving in 2005 at the age of 34.
Why it won’t happen: Two other words – Kevin Kolb. The Cardinals traded Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second-round pick to the Eagles for Kolb last July and then promptly signed him to a five-year, $63 million contract, $21 million of it guaranteed. Kolb is signed through 2016 and even though he struggled last season (9 TDs, 8 INTs in just nine games), the Cardinals have a lot invested in him and it’s probably too soon to simply cut ties.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Why it could work: Blaine Gabbert (50.8 completion rate, 12 TDs, 11 INTs, 65.4 passer rating) struggled mightily in his first NFL season with the Jaguars, so Manning would not only represent an upgrade under center, he also could help develop his young backup. New head coach Mike Mularkey comes from an offensive background and spent the past four seasons working with and developing Matt Ryan in Atlanta.
Why it won’t happen: The Jaguars are several years away from competing for a playoff spot. Besides a new head coach and uncertainty at quarterback, the Jaguars have plenty of holes to fill, including wide receiver, and it remains to be seen if the team’s long-term future is even in Jacksonville. This is not the ideal situation for Manning to resume his NFL career.

Miami Dolphins
Why it could work: The Dolphins hired Joe Philbin as their new head coach in January. Before landing his first NFL head coaching job, Philbin served as Green Bay’s offensive coordinator for five seasons working first with Favre and then Aaron Rodgers, who won a Super Bowl in 2011 and was the NFL MVP last season. The only quarterback under contract right now is Matt Moore, the Dolphins have an appealing target to throw to in Brandon Marshall, and an All-Pro, franchise left tackle in Jake Long.
Why it won’t happen: The weather may be nice in South Beach, but I don’t see Manning taking his talents there should the opportunity present itself. The Dolphins play in AFC East, the same conference that the Patriots and Jets are in, and both teams appear to be ahead of them from a competitive standpoint in both the present and immediate future. The Dolphins have a new head coach taking over and appear to be a team in transition. I don’t think Manning will want to take his lumps at the hands of Tom Brady/Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan under these circumstances.

Seattle Seahawks
Why it could work: Seattle’s current quarterback is Tarvaris Jackson and the Seahawks, like the aforementioned 49ers and Cardinals, play in the NFC West and could potentially be back in the playoffs with Manning at the helm. Owner Paul Allen doesn’t lack for money and seems like the type who would be willing to spend it for someone like Manning to make his team better.
Why it won’t happen: Earlier this week the Seahawks took care of some important business when the team re-signed running back Marshawn Lynch. Even with Lynch entrenched in the backfield, however, Seattle has some question marks at wide receiver and this just doesn’t feel like a fit for Manning. And if you’re into conspiracy theories there’s also this: head coach Pete Carroll may be looking to “tank” this season so he will be in prime position to draft Matt Barkley, his former quarterback at USC, in 2013.

Washington Redskins
Why it could work: Whenever Redskins owner Dan Snyder is involved you never rule anything out. This man has shown time and time again that money is no object when it comes to getting who he wants. Albert Haynesworth anyone? The Redskins clearly have a need at quarterback, as John Beck is the only one under contract. Mike Shanahan is no stranger to coaching Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks (Elway) and desperately wants to win after posting an 11-21 mark in his first two seasons in Washington.
Why it won’t happen: The Redskins may be targeting the aforementioned Griffin or another quarterback in the draft, looking to land their next franchise signal-caller instead of trying to win now with Manning. Snyder’s free-spending days also may be a thing of the past. Otherwise, the Redskins appear to be the one of the best possible landing spots for Manning should he become a free agent.

NFL teams can sign free agents beginning at midnight ET on March 13. All indications at this point are that Manning fully intends to play for another team, arguably making him the most sought-after player on the market. At the very least, he will be the most-watched player as free agency plays out, which is saying something considering he didn't even throw a single pass last season.

Teaser:
<p> A look at possible fits for Peyton Manning, who is expected to be released by the Colts and become an unrestricted free agent</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 20:09
Path: /columns/garage-talk/long-and-short-it-new-crew-chief-engines-and-outlook-working-logano
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by Dustin Long

Joey Logano says he’s worked with the same sports psychologist teammate Denny Hamlin has, but that’s not the only reason why Logano could do something in Sunday’s Las Vegas race that he hasn’t in more than a year.

After finishing ninth in the Daytona 500 and 10th last weekend at Phoenix, Logano will seek to score his third consecutive top-10 finish — something he hasn’t done since his late-season charge in 2010.

A new attitude is important, as Logano admits, but it also helps to have better equipment, which Joe Gibbs Racing is providing.

If Logano’s early success continues, it could take some of the pressure off. He’s in a contract year and knows he needs to deliver on the potential that led Gibbs to put him in a Cup car full time when Logano was 18 years old.

Now 21 and able to legally walk through the Las Vegas casinos, Logano is learning what it takes to be a successful driver. He understands a key part is mental.

On the advice of Gibbs last year, Logano began talking with sports psychologist Bob Rotella. Hamlin credits Rotella for giving him a better outlook after his struggles last year. Logano also has seen the benefits after his talks with Rotella.

“(It) just kind of gives you some more answers and gives you some tools to be able to deal with certain situations and how to talk to people in a positive way, in a motivating way to keep everyone going,’’ Logano said. “All that stuff there is very, very important. It's people skills really, leadership skills.’’

That’s an area that Logano admits he was not prepared for when he moved to Cup. Then again, how many 18-year-olds are?

Logano’s struggles, compounded by the problems his team had last year, beat him down. He’s learned from talking with Rotella, known for working with several top PGA golfers, how to better handle such situations.

“The thing is you’ve got to show up at the race track with the right mindset and knowing that you can go out there and win the race and not going out there to finish in the top 10,” Logano said. “When you’re goal is to finish in the top 10, the best you’re ever going to finish is 10th. You need to focus in on winning.”

Better equipment also helps.

Engine woes saddled Gibbs’ team last year. Logano had to start at the rear of last year’s Daytona 500 because of an engine change and then blew an engine at Phoenix the following week. It started a season-long slide for the team. He finished on the lead lap twice in the first 11 races and by then was all but out of Chase contention. With Gibbs getting its engines from Toyota Racing Development this season, things seem to be better so far.

Logano helped Gibbs place all three cars in the top 10 at Phoenix with Hamlin winning and Kyle Busch placing sixth — something Gibbs did not do last season.

This year, Logano is one of only five drivers to open the season with consecutive top-10 finishes (the others are Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin).

Two races doesn’t guarantee anything and Logano understands that. Still, it’s a good way to start the season with a new crew chief, as Jason Ratcliff takes over after Greg Zipadelli left in the offseason to be the competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing.

One of the things Logano mentioned in the offseason was that the crew chief change would allow him to take on more leadership with the team. With what he’s learned talking to a sports psychologist, Logano says he’s taking a greater role this year.

“My attitude’s different,” Logano said. “I feel like I walk around with a lot more confidence in myself. That carries through the whole team. Granted, we’re only two races into this deal. But we need to stay focused and keep our eye on the prize like we’ve been doing.”

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 17:11
All taxonomy terms: Kurt Warner, Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/kurt-warner-pokes-fun-football-comeback-vide0
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Quarterback great Kurt Warner recently popped up in a video poking fun at his desire to return to the game.  Kudos to Warner on his acting chops and his sense of humor. 

Teaser:
<p> Apparently he's been thinking about it&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 14:09
Path: /columns/nascar-news-notes/entry-list-nascars-kobalt-tools-400
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Kobalt Tools 400 Entry List
Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Entry list for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Driver, Number, Make, Team
Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
Robby Gordon, No. 7 Dodge, Robby Gordon Motorsports*
Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports
David Reutimann, No. 10 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
Casey Mears, No. 13 Ford, Germain Racing
Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing
Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
Joey Logano, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
Trevor Bayne, No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers*
AJ Allmendinger, No. 22 Dodge, Penske Racing
Scott Riggs, No. 23 Chevrolet, R3 Motorsports*
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
Josh Wise, No. 26 Ford, Front Row Motorsports*
Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
David Stremme, No. 30 Toyota, Inception Motorsports*
Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
Ken Schrader, No. 32 Ford, FAS Lane Racing
Brendan Gaughan, No. 33 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
David Ragan, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports
Dave Blaney, No. 36 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing*
Timmy Hill, No. 37 Ford, Max Q Motorsports*
David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports
Ryan Newman, No. 39 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing
Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports
Bobby Labonte, No. 47 Toyota, JTG Daugherty Racing
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
J.J. Yeley, No. 49 Toyota, Robinson-Blakeney Racing*
Kurt Busch, No. 51 Chevrolet, Phoenix Racing
Mark Martin, No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
Martin Truex Jr., No. 56 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
Regan Smith, No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing
Landon Cassill, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing
Joe Nemechek, No. 87 Toyota, NEMCO Motorsports*
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
Travis Kvapil, No. 93 Toyota, BK Racing
Michael McDowell, No. 98 Ford, Phil Parsons Racing*
Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing

 

*Not in Top 35 in Owner's Points. Must qualify on speed.

Teaser:
<p> Entry list for the NASCAR Kobalt Tools 400 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 11:26
Path: /columns/horsepower-rankings/nascar-horsepower-rankings-8
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by Matt Taliaferro

Like every other NASCAR landing page on the web, Athlon Sports has a little fun each week ranking the drivers and teams of the Sprint Cup circuit. Our rankings go beyond how each finished the weekend prior and/or where they sit in the official championship standings.

The rankings you’ll see here represent what we (read: I) think are the strongest overall teams on tour, from top to bottom, based on performance, resources, strength of team/organization, overall talent of driver and, yeah, a tip of the cap to a job well done if they won the last race. Think of it as Athlon’s NASCAR version of the college basketball Top 25.

Keep in mind these are subjective, and often done somewhat tongue-in-cheek (depending on my mood), so have some fun with them and take them for what they are: a weekly spin around the circuit, highlighting the best teams and their drivers.

Oh, and our rankings have a cool name … why no one thought of “Horsepower” Rankings before is beyond me. That said, kick back for five minutes of leisurely reading that require no real thought on your part. Agree? Disagree? Have a better witty comment for any given driver? Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the page.


1. Denny Hamlin  Let’s not overreact here, but Hamlin and new crew chief Darian Grubb led the most laps at Daytona prior to finishing fourth and followed it up with his first win since June 2011. Solid start for a team that needed one.

2. Greg Biffle  Consecutive third-place runs to start the season from a team that had only three top 5s all season in 2011. And with Vegas on the horizon, it’s no stretch to think that Biffle may improve upon those results.

3. Kevin Harvick  Seventh- and second-place showings for the driver some have made a championship favorite this year (ahem, myself included). That’s all the more impressive considering he has a new crew chief and retooled pit crew.

4. Matt Kenseth  On SPEED’s post-race show following Phoenix, Kenny Wallace told Hamlin that his fourth- and first-place finishes to start the season were “unprecedented.” I bet Kenseth’s 2009 season would take exception to that.

5. Jimmie Johnson  Johnson and the boys did what they needed to do at Phoenix (fourth) after a disastrous Daytona — which included wrecking on Lap 2 and possibly losing the crew and car chiefs to NASCAR-mandated vacations.

6. Mark Martin  Back to a partial schedule, Martin has kicked off his tenure with Michael Waltrip Racing is style, with finishes of 10th (Daytona) and ninth (Phoenix). Don’t kid yourself, a big part of that is the driver.

7. Joey Logano  Logano, also with a under the guidance of a new crew chief, is getting off to the start he needed in a contract year. His ninth- and 10th-place runs are the best results to start the season in his young career.

8. Kyle Busch  Rowdy was strong at Daytona — leading 52 laps — before finishing 17th when the craziness started near the end. A sixth at Phoenix was a respectable follow-up. Dare I say … Kyle is flying under the radar?

9. Carl Edwards  Edwards and company will find their footing soon enough, but having led zero laps with eighth- and 17th-place finishes to their credit is a little more quiet a start than anyone expected.

10. Brad Keselowski  Much like Busch, Keselowski’s shot to win the Daytona 500 was ruined late but he rebounded nicely with a fifth-place run in the desert.
 

Teaser:
<p> Denny Hamlin leads the Sprint Cup Series pack with a strong run out of the gate to begin the 2012 NASCAR&nbsp;season.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 10:25
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-players-year
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By Mitch Light

Athlon Sports is in the business of preseason prognostications, so let’s look back at who we tabbed as the preseason Player of the Year in the nation’s top conferences and who deserves the award in the postseason.

ACC
Preseason Pick: Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
Postseason Pick: Tyler Zeller, North Carolina
Barnes has been very good as a sophomore, and Virginia’s Mike Scott has been great as a senior, but Zeller has been the most impactful player in the league. The senior center is averaging 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds and has been a force on defense for the Tar Heels. Barnes and point guard Kendall Marshall make more headlines for UNC, but Zeller has been the team’s best player.

Atlantic 10
Preseason Pick:
Tu Holloway, Xavier
Postseason Pick: Ramon Moore, Temple
A senior guard from Philadelphia, Moore has been superb in his final season with the Owls. He is second in the A-10 in scoring at 17.8 points per game and is also chipping in 4.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per night. Moore is part of a senior class that will be playing in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season. St. Bonaventure big man Andew Nicholson was a close second.

Big 12
Preseason Pick:
Perry Jones III, Baylor
Postseason Pick: Thomas Robinson, Kansas
A role player last season as a sophomore on a star-studded Kansas roster, Robinson emerged this season as arguably the finest player in the nation. The 6'9", 247-pound power forward is averaging 18.0 points and a Big-12-best 11.9 rebounds for a Jayhawk team that won its eighth straight league championship.

Big East
Preseason Pick:
Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh
Postseason Pick: Jae Crowder, Marquette
West Virginia’s Kevin Jones was outstanding as a senior, but the nod goes to Crowder, whose team had a better season. The former junior college transfer is the heart & soul of the Golden Eagles, who finished in second place in the league standings. He averaged 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting .512 from the field and .361 from 3-point range.

Big Ten
Preseason Pick: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Postseason Pick: Draymond Green, Michigan State
Sullinger has been very good for the Buckeyes, but Green might be the most valuable player in the country. He has been very productive on the court (16.2 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 3.5 apg), and has also provided great senior leadership for a Michigan State program that had some chemistry issues last season.

Mountain West
Preseason Pick:
Drew Gordon, New Mexico
Postseason Pick: Drew Gordon, New Mexico
This came down to San Diego State guard Jamaal Franklin and a pair of transfers from UCLA, Gordon and Mike Moser of UNLV. Gordon gets the nod for his strong play late in the year. In a four-day stretch in mid-February, he averaged 22.0 points and 18.5 rebounds as the Lobos beat MWC rivals San Diego State (by 10 points) and UNLV (by 20). Then, on the final Saturday of the regular season, Gordon scored 30 points and had 12 rebounds in a win over Air Force.

Pac-10
Preseason Pick: Josh Smith, UCLA
Postseason Pick: Jorge Gutierrez, CaliforniaHis stats won’t overwhelm you (12.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.0 apg), but Gutierrez is one of the best all-around players in college basketball. Known more for his defense earlier in his career, Gutierrez has developed into a more-than-adequate offensive weapon for the Bears, who are headed to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season.

SEC
Preseason Pick:
Terrence Jones, Kentucky
Postseason Pick: Anthony Davis, Kentucky
Davis has been productive on offense as a freshman (14.4 ppg), but he has done his best work on the defensive end of the court. He leads the nation in blocked shots (4.7 bpg) and has altered countless others. He is the primary reason why Kentucky is the most feared defensive team in the nation.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports is in the business of preseason prognostications, so let’s look back at who we tabbed as the preseason Player of the Year in the nation’s top conferences and who deserves the award in the postseason.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 10:13
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Recruiting
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-recruiting-rankings-lbs
Body:

- by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

The next batch of in-coming college football All-Americans have inked their respective letters of intent. Recruiting is the life blood of the greatest sport on the planet, and, while coaching stills plays the biggest role in winning a championship, having better players can go a long way to earning a trip to the BCS.

Recruiting is an inexact science by definition. It is virtually impossible to accurately peg the mental make-up of any 17-year old child -- much less high-profile, over-coddled 17-year-old athletes. But team recruiting rankings offer the best indication of which team has the best ingredients each coach has to work with each season.

Related: Athlon's Top 25 Recruiting Classes of 2012

Offensive Positional Rankings: QB | RB | WR/TE | OL
Defensive Positional Rankings: DL | LB | DB | ATH

When it comes to projecting talent, the linebacker position is by far the most versatile and ambiguous. Differences in schemes can create hybrid backer-ends and backer-safeties. The size and skillsets needed to be successful varies across a wide array of talents, everything from pass-rush specialists to man-to-man pass coverage. Traditionally, linebackers are broken up by inside or outside, but with the proliferation of hyrbrid roles, the game has evolved to include much more than simple Mike, Sam and Will players.

Here are the best incoming freshman linebackers in the nation:

  Name HT WT Hometown AC100 College
1. Josh Harvey-Clemons 6'5" 208 Valdosta, GA No. 20 Georgia
2. Dante Fowler Jr. 6'3" 261 St. Petersburg, FL No. 28 Florida
3. Jordan Jenkins 6'3" 245 Hamilton, GA No. 31 Georgia
4. Reggie Ragland 6'2" 247 Madison, AL No. 44 Alabama
5. Jabari Ruffin 6'4" 230 Downey, CA No. 46 USC
6. Noor Davis 6'4" 235 Leesburg, FL No. 49 Stanford
7. Ifeadi Odenigbo 6'3" 217 Centerville, OH No. 66 Northwestern
8. Markuss Eligwe 6'3" 225 Stone Mountain, GA No. 71 Florida State
9. Kwon Alexander 6'2" 200 Oxford, AL No. 82 LSU
10. Ryan Anderson 6'2" 250 Daphne, AL No. 84 Alabama
11. Dillon Lee 6'4" 240 Buford, GA No. 94 Alabama
12. Peter Jinkins 6'1" 200 Dallas, TX No. 105 Texas
13. Kwontie Moore 6'2" 243 Norfolk, VA No. 106 Virginia
14. Joe Bolden 6'3" 230 Cincinnati, OH No. 108 Michigan
15. Vince Biegel 6'3' 225 Wisconsin Rapids, WI No. 132 Wisconsin
16. Raphael Kirby 6' 207 Stone Mountain, GA No. 133 Miami, Fla.
17. Tyler Hayes 6'3" 215 Thomasville, AL No. 143 Alabama
18. Otha Peters 6'2" 225 Covington, LA No. 149 Arkansas
19. Brian Nance 6'2" 210 Euless, TX No. 150 Baylor
20. Royce Jenkins-Stone 6'2" 215 Detroit, MI No. 152 Michigan
21. Nick Dawson 6'3" 228 Charlotte, NC No. 156 Louisville
22. Denzel Devall 6'2" 236 Bastrop, LA No. 158 Michigan
23. James Ross 6'1" 215 Orchard Lake, MI No. 161 Michigan
24. Joshua Perry 6'3" 230 Lewis Center, OH No. 174 Ohio State
25. Scott Starr 6'3" 230 Norco, CA No. 182 USC
26. Dalton Santos 6'3" 250 Van, TX No. 194 Texas
27. Jordan Richmond 6'3" 225 Denton, TX No. 206 Texas A&M
28. Leonard Floyd 6'4" 215 Eastman, GA No. 214 Georgia
29. Michael Rose 6' 230 Kansas City, MO No. 216 Nebraska
30. Ronnie Feist 6'2" 225 Edgard, LA No. 227 LSU
31. Keith Brown 6'1 225 Miami, FL No. 241 Louisville
32. Lorenzo Phillips 6'2" 200 Patterson, LA No. 242 LSU
33. Quanzell Lambert 6'1" 230 Sicklerville, NJ No. 243 Rutgers
34. Camren Williams 6'2" 215 West Roxbury, MA No. 256 Ohio State

2012 Athlon Sports Positional Recruiting Rankings:

College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Running Backs

College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Linebackers

College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Defensive Linemen
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Defensive Backs
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Offensive Linemen
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Quarterbacks
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Athletes

Teaser:
<p> 2012 College Football Recruiting Rankings: LBs</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 06:50
Path: /college-football/2012-usc-trojans-spring-preview
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

USC Trojans 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 10-2, 7-2 Pac-12

Spring practice: March 6-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 7

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Matt Barkley, 308 of 446, 3,528 yds., 39 TD, 7 INTs
Rushing: Curtis McNeal, 145 car., 1,005 yds., 6 TDs
Receiving: Robert Woods, 111 rec., 1,292 yds., 15 TDs
Tackles: Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey, 81
Sacks: Hayes Pullard and Wes Horton, 4
Interceptions: T.J. McDonald, 3

Redshirts to watch: DT Antwaun Woods, DE Charles Burks, WR Victor Blackwell, RB Javorious Allen, DE Greg Townsend, DT Christian Heyward, CB Ryan Henderson

Early Enrollees: LB Scott Starr, DE DeVante Wilson, DE Morgan Breslin, OT Chad Wheeler

JUCO Transfers to watch: DE Morgan Breslin, S Gerald Bowman

Transfers to watch: DB Josh Shaw – may not be eligible until 2013

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Hawaii
Sept. 8 Syracuse (East Rutherford)
Sept. 15 at Stanford
Sept. 22 California
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

Offensive Strength: Thanks to the return of quarterback Matt Barkley and two of the top receivers in college football, USC will have one of the top passing attacks in the nation. Running back Curtis McNeal also returns after rushing for 1,005 yards and six scores last season, while the offensive line is in good shape with four starters returning.

Offensive Weakness: With the Trojans dealing with scholarship reductions, depth is an issue on the offensive line and at running back. Even though four starters are back on the line, losing left tackle Matt Kalil to the NFL Draft was a huge blow for this group.

Defensive Strength: The Trojans showed improvement last year on defense and seven starters return for 2012. The linebacking corps is led by sophomores Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard and both are expected to challenge for first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012. Cornerback Nickell Robey and safety T.J. McDonald anchor a secondary that ranked 102nd nationally in pass defense, but should be improved in 2012.

Defensive Weakness: It may seem like a tired cliché, but the success to any defense starts up front. Unfortunately for USC, three starters are gone, including first-team All-Pac-12 end Nick Perry and tackles Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris. The cupboard isn’t completely bare, but this unit will be a concern for coordinator Monte Kiffin. 

Spring Storylines Facing the Trojans

1. The postseason ban is over, and USC should begin 2012 as one of the top contenders for the national title. The Trojans are still dealing with scholarship reductions, but this year’s team is loaded for a run at the preseason No. 1 ranking. Coach Lane Kiffin’s biggest recruit wasn’t a freshman, but rather the return of quarterback Matt Barkley. Although Barkley was considered one of the top prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft, he decided to return for his senior year and will be among the preseason favorites to win the Heisman and first-team All-American honors. The Trojans also caught another break with the NFL Draft, as safety T.J. McDonald also decided to stay for his senior year. The news wasn’t all positive in relation to the roster, as left tackle Matt Kalil and defensive end Nick Perry decided to bolt for the NFL. Although there’s still the sting of scholarship reductions, Barkley’s return and the finish of the 2010 season have USC on the rise going into 2012.

2. Kalil’s departure leaves a mammoth hole on the left side of the line, but there is promising talent ready to step into action. Right tackle Kevin Graf started all 12 games last season and is the early favorite to fill Kalil’s old spot. Guard Aundrey Walker could figure into the mix, but he could fill Graf’s vacated right tackle position. The Trojans could receive immediate help from incoming freshmen Jordan Simmons (No. 47 on the Athlon Consensus 100), Zach Banner (No. 50) and Chad Wheeler on the line this fall. There’s no question Kalil will be missed, but USC has enough returning talent to keep the offensive line playing at a high level.

3. With Robert Woods and Marqise Lee returning next season, there’s no shortage of weapons for Matt Barkley. However, the Trojans could be even more dangerous on offense next year if two wildcards (George Farmer and redshirt freshman Victor Blackwell) step up at receiver. Farmer moved between running back and receiver last season, but has settled at receiver for 2012. With little depth behind running back Curtis McNeal, keep an eye on incoming freshman Nelson Agholor. He won’t arrive until the fall, but the freshman ranked as the No. 26 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and could split snaps at receiver and running back.

4. Just like the offense, the focus on defense this spring will be the battle in the trenches. Three key contributors from last season are gone, leaving end Wes Horton as the team’s lone returning starter. Horton collected second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season, registering 22 stops and four sacks. Senior Devon Kennard moved back to defensive end from linebacker last season and picked up 29 tackles and two sacks. With another spring practice at end under his belt, expect Kennard to make an even bigger contribution to the line next year. Kennard and Holton is a solid combination at end, but there’s not much in the way of proven depth. Redshirt freshman Charles Burks, junior college transfer Morgan Breslin and incoming freshman Leonard Williams will figure into the mix this year. Depth at tackle seems to be a little better, but George Uko is the only proven commodity. Needless to say, the Trojans need big contributions at tackle from redshirt freshmen Antwaun Woods, Christian Heyward and Cody Temple. It’s not unrealistic to think the progress of the defensive line could be the difference between playing for the national title or the Rose Bowl.

Related Content

2012 Recruiting Rankings: No. 10 USC Trojans
Athlon's Early Top 25 for 2012

Athlon's Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2012
College Football's 10 Biggest Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat
College Football's Transfers to Watch for 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews USC's spring practice and some of the key questions facing the Trojans in 2012.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 05:53
Path: /college-football/arizona-wildcats-2012-spring-preview
Body:

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Arizona Wildcats 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 4-8, 2-7 Pac-12

Spring practice: March 5-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 4

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Matt Scott, 66 of 93, 776 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT (2010)
Rushing: Ka'Deem Carey, 91 att., 425 yards, 6 TD
Receiving: Dan Buckner, 42 rec., 606 yards, 2 TD
Tackles: Marquis Flowers, 68
Sacks: Four tied with one
Interceptions: Shaquille Richardson, 4

Redshirts to watch: DE Dame Ndiaye, RB Jared Baker, WR Patrick Onwasor, WR David Richards

Back From Injury: LB Jake Fischer, S Adam Hall, CB Jonathan McKnight

Transfer to watch: LB Brian Wagner (Akron)

2012 Schedule

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. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 20 Washington
Oct. 27 USC
Nov. 3 at UCLA
Nov. 10 Colorado
Nov. 17 at Utah
Nov. 23 Arizona State

Offensive Strength: Is Rich Rodriguez an eligible answer? His ability to out-scheme most defensive coordinators is a game-changer in and of itself. His spread-zone-read-option attack has leveled many-a-playing field in the past and should do so once again in the defensively challenged Pac-12. Aside from their new scheme, Zona fans have to be excited about 55 starts from 2011 returning to the offensive line. But they must run the ball better this fall.

Offensive Weakness: Offensive skill depth. Since the running game — which ranked 114th in the nation last fall — will be vastly improved under the tutelage of Rich Rod, the depth on the outside and in the backfield has to be the biggest concern. Quarterback Matt Scott, tailback Ka'Deem Carey and wideout Dan Buckner are the only proven options on the entire roster after leading rusher Keola Antolin, passer Nick Foles and receiver Juron Criner all graduated. Look for RichRod to give his skill players plenty of opportunity to prove themselves this spring.

Defensive Strength: It is tough to find a strength for a unit that lost one third of its starting line-up to injury and ranked 10th or worst in the Pac-12 in nearly every major statistical category. But the secondary, bouyed by the return of safety Adam Hall and corner Jonathan McKnight, offers some talent and versatility. Shaquille Richardson and Marquis Flowers have all-league potential and Tra'Mayne Bondurant earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention a year ago. Replacing Robert Golden and Trevin Wade won't be easy, but this unit has plenty of depth and should fit perfectly into the new 3-3-5 scheme.

Defensive Weakness: The defensive front seven. This unit was downright atrocious last fall. The Wildcats finished last in the league with only 10 quarterback sacks a year ago, were 102nd nationally in tackles for a loss and allowed a Pac-12 worst 298.9 yards passing per game. Improving the front line will be priority No. 1 for a defense that says goodbye to its top sackmaster in C.J. Parish and top two tacklers in linebackers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo.

Spring Storylines Facing the Wildcats:

1. Can Matt Scott survive the season and excel as the starting quarterback? Rich Rod enters spring camp with only one quarterback on scholarship and will actually use wide receiver Richard Morrison under center to take the load off the redshirt senior. Scott appears to be a perfect fit for the zone read attack Rodriguez perfected at West Virginia and Michigan. Scott has played in 18 games in which he received at least one rushing attempt and posted 632 yards rushing and two scores in those games. He has the tools needed to succeed in this offensive system, but keeping him healthy throughout spring practice will be important.

2. A successful rushing attack, something Rich Rod has had at every stop, will go a long way to protect Scott. This unit ranked 114th in the nation and 11th in the Pac-12 last fall at only 94.5 yards per game. Leading rusher Antolin has moved on and left very little depth at running back. The good news is the lone returning ball carrier is rising sophomore star Ka'Deem Carey. Additionally, Carey and Scott will be running behind one of the more veteran offensive lines in the league. All five starters return to this group, including all-league center Kyle Quinn and tackle tandem Mickey Baucus (who is dealing with his own injury issues) and Fabbians Ebble. It raises the age old question about a unit that returns most of its experience but struggled mightily the previous year: Is it a good thing that all of those guys are back? This should be the strength of the Arionza offense in 2012, so keep an eye on how the ground game develops over the course of spring camp.

3. The defense has to improve as a whole if Arizona expects to compete in the South. This group finished last in Pac-12 in total defense, pass defense and sacks. So finding someone who can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks will be huge for new defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. This team returns a total of four quarterback sacks from a year ago. It falls to end Kirifi Taula and tackle Justin Washington to lead an inexperienced group along the D-Line. Of course, staying healthy will go a long way to fixing some of the Wildcats defensive woes. Injuries were such a well-documented aspect of this team's struggles a year ago and getting safety Adam Hall, corner Jonathan McKnight, linebacker Jake Fischer and defensive tackle Willie Mobley back to form in 2012 will be paramount for Casteel.

4. Defensive Injury Update from Rich Rod. Here is how the head coach has explained each's progress at the start of camp:

Fischer: “Jake Fischer is a full go. He’s worked so hard, without question (he) is going to be one of our leaders defensively and I can see why the coaching staff missed him so much last year. He’s a tough guy.”

McKnight: “(He) is on schedule, will be limited this spring. He’s doing most of the workouts though.”

Hall: “Adam is doing everything now, he had a foot issue but he’s doing everything.”

Mobley: “He’s limping around but he should be doing everything this spring.”

Related Content Links:

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

2012 Very Early Pac-12 Predictions

Teaser:
<p> Arizona Wildcats 2012 Spring Preview</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 05:52
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Recruiting
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-recruiting-rankings-rbs
Body:

- by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

The next batch of in-coming college football All-Americans have inked their respective letters of intent. Recruiting is the life blood of the greatest sport on the planet, and, while coaching stills plays the biggest role in winning a championship, having better players can go a long way to earning a trip to the BCS.

Recruiting is an inexact science by definition. It is virtually impossible to accurately peg the mental make-up of any 17-year old child -- much less high-profile, over-coddled 17-year-old athletes. But team recruiting rankings offer the best indication of which team has the best ingredients each coach has to work with each season.

Related: Athlon's Top 25 Recruiting Classes of 2012

The running back position might be the single easiest position on the football field to transition from high school to college. Marcus Lattimore, DeAnthony Thomas and others have proven that running in and around defenders is as much instinct as it is preperation. Learning blocking schemes and blitz pick-ups are major areas of work for most incoming freshman, but once the ball is in hand, it's all natural ability.

Here are the best incoming freshman running backs in the nation:

  Name HT WT Hometown AC100 College
1. Jonathan Gray 5'11" 202 Aledo, TX No. 7 Texas
2. Keith Marshall 5'11" 190 Raleigh, NC No. 16 Georgia
3. Trey Williams 5'8" 175 Spring, TX No. 19 Texas A&M
4. T.J. Yeldon 6'2" 210 Daphne, AL No. 32 Alabama
5. Rushel Shell 6'1" 210 Aliquippa, PA No. 33 Pitt
6. Randy Johnson 5'9" 183 Miami, FL No. 36 Miami, Fla.
7. Mario Pender 6' 190 Cape Coral, FL No. 37 Florida State
8. Mike Davis 5'9" 216 Lithonia, GA No. 54 South Carolina
9. Alex Ross 6'1" 205 Jenks, OK No. 78 Oklahoma
10. Barry Sanders, Jr. 5'10" 185 Oklahoma City, OK No. 79 Stanford
11. Todd Gurley 6'1" 195 Tarboro, NC No. 83 Georgia
12. D.J. Foster 6' 190 Scottsdale, AZ No. 97 Arizona St
13. Bri'onte Dunn 6'2" 220 Canton, OH No. 98 Ohio State
14. Kenyan Drake 6'1" 204 Powder Springs, GA No. 130 Alabama
15. J.C. Coleman 5'7" 170 Chesapeake, VA No. 140 Virginia Tech
16. Byron Marshall 5'10" 195 San Jose, CA No. 148 Oregon
17. Matt Jones 6'2" 213 Seffner, FL No. 165 Florida
18. Kei'Varae Russell 6' 177 Everett, WA No. 167 Notre Dame
19. Brian Kimbrow 5'8" 170 Memphis, TN No. 170 Vanderbilt
20. Wes Brown 6'1" 210 Olney, MD No. 191 Maryland
21. Greg Garmon 6'1" 200 Erie, PA No. 223 Iowa
22. Drew Harris 6'1" 220 Dowington, PA No. 228 Virginia Tech
23. Jovon Robinson 6'1" 220 Memphis, TN No. 244 Auburn

Teaser:
<p> 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: RBs</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 05:50
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-19-trevor-immelman
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 19: Trevor Immelman

Born: Dec. 16, 1979, Cape Town, South Africa | Career PGA Tour Wins: 2 (4 European Tour) 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,165,604 | World Ranking: 144

Brandel Chamblee's Take:
The 2008 Masters champion has been relatively absent from leaderboards for the last few years because of an injury to his left wrist and a subsequent surgery and rehab. As 2011 wore on, however, his wrist became flexible enough that he could, for the first time in years, set the angle completely at the top of his swing. This means that his inaccurate driving over the last few years is on the mend, and the results bear this out. Trevor tied for 12th at the PGA Championship and posted a fifth and a sixth at the last two events of the Fall Finish. 
More important, he was one of the most accurate drivers of the ball in the last few months of 2011. It looks as if Trevor will finally have his health, his confidence and one of the best swings in the history of the game to start the 2012 majors season.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 31
Wins: 1

2011 Performance:
 Masters - T15
 U.S. Open - Cut
 British Open - T38
 PGA Championship - T12

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1st (2008)
U.S. Open - T21 (2006)
British Open - T15 (2005)
PGA Championship - T6 (2007)
Top-10 Finishes: 3
Top-25 Finishes: 12
Missed Cuts: 8

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter. 

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Monday, March 5, 2012 - 15:49
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /columns/monday-musings/rory-phil-and-tiger-show
Body:

They say that golf season doesn't really start until the Masters. This year, they're wrong, whoever they are. 
A stunning flurry of early-season PGA Tour action reached a crescendo at the Honda Classic, where new world No. 1 Rory McIlroy fended off an epic charge from Tiger Woods to win a tournament that boasts the cachet of the greatest player of them all, Jack Nicklaus. Throw in Phil Mickelson's stellar play out west, and Kyle Stanley's meltdown-slash-turnaround, and 2012 is shaping up to be the greatest golf season in recent history. 

This weekend, at the Nicklaus-toughened PGA National Champion Course, McIlroy didn't simply back into the top spot in the world rankings. He went out and grabbed it by the throat, shooting four rounds in the 60s and showcasing a newly burnished short game that, coupled with his peerless ballstriking, could carry him to a legendary career. 
Mickelson shook off a sluggish start to the season to post great back-to-back performances at the AT&T Pebble Beach and Northern Trust that stamped him an early favorite at Augusta. 
Then there's Tiger. All he did was shoot the lowest final round of his career, an electric 62 that featured a spine-tingling birdie-eagle finish punctuated with a vintage double-fist-pump on the 72nd green that could portend that the comeback is complete. 
The Masters can't get here fast enough. 

Tiger Watch
Some eye-opening numbers for you to digest this morning:
The current leader on the PGA Tour in Total Driving? Tiger Woods, and it's not even close. He's 14th in distance and fifth — fifth! — in driving accuracy. Basically, he's driving the ball better than he ever has. Of his eight rounds of stroke play in 2012, he's shot in the 60s in six of them. He's third on Tour in adjusted scoring average, at 67.93, behind only Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood. 
All this from a guy who we've been told has lost his mojo. 
Reality check for the Tiger haters: The guy's close. Very close. 

Welcome to the Party
Thanks to the participation of Jack and Barbara Nicklaus, the Honda Classic has taken its place with the greatest non-major events of the golf season. Despite the relentless pimping by the golf commentariat of the Bear Trap — the stretch from 15-17 that actually offered little resistance this weekend — the Honda has something priceless: an identity. Throw in the presence of Tiger Woods, who'll almost certainly add this event to his permanent calendar, and the Nicklauses have themselves a winner.

— by Rob Doster

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 5, 2012 - 10:57
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-transfers-watch-2012
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Transfers can make a big impact on the college football scene and 2012 is full of players that can make an instant contribution. Several quarterbacks could start for their new team next season, including Dayne Crist at Kansas and Garrett Gilbert at SMU. Quarterback isn't the only position with impact transfers, as Baylor's Lache Seastrunk could be a dynamic running back in the Big 12 next season, and Brian Wagner is expected to contend for a starting job in Arizona's linebacking corps. 

Here's a look at some of the key transfers in 2012, as well as others to watch:

Quarterbacks

Austyn Carta-Samuels, Wyoming to Vanderbilt – Carta-Samuels was Wyoming’s starting quarterback from 2009-10, throwing for 3,655 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also added 758 yards and six scores on the ground. Carta-Samuels will have two seasons of eligibility remaining and is expected to compete with Jordan Rodgers for the team’s starting quarterback job in the spring.

Dayne Crist, Notre Dame to Kansas – Charlie Weis’ biggest recruit for 2012 wasn’t a freshman. Landing Crist as a transfer from Notre Dame was a huge coup for Weis, as Kansas ranked ninth in the Big 12 in passing offense. Crist has never started a full season, as injuries to his ACL and patella tendon have limited his playing time. Crist threw for 2,327 yards and 16 touchdowns during his career at Notre Dame and should be an upgrade over Jordan Webb at quarterback for the Jayhawks. However, Kansas needs more receivers to emerge, and the offensive line has to keep Crist healthy if this team wants to challenge for a bowl appearance in 2012.

Tyler Gabbert, Missouri to UCF – Gabbert was believed to be neck-and-neck with James Franklin for Missouri’s starting quarterback job exiting spring practice last season, but decided to transfer and finally resurfaced at UCF on Signing Day 2012. Gabbert has an excellent opportunity to earn playing time, as Jeff Godfrey decided to transfer and while Blake Bortles played well in limited action last season, he has yet to make a start. Even if Gabbert doesn’t win the job, he will provide valuable depth for UCF.

Garrett Gilbert, Texas to SMU – Gilbert showed flashes of promise at Texas, but never lived up to the hype as one of the top quarterback recruits in the class of 2009. After Colt McCoy was injured against Alabama in the 2010 National Championship game, Gilbert showed poise leading Texas back into the game, but completed only 15 of 40 passes and tossed four picks. He also never seemed to get comfortable as the starter in 2010, finishing with 2,744 yards and 17 picks and got off to a sluggish start in 2011, before injuring his shoulder and missing the rest of the year. Gilbert played in a wide-open passing offense under Chad Morris (Clemson’s offensive coordinator) at Lake Travis High School and landing at SMU under June Jones should be a good fit. With J.J. McDermott finishing his eligibility and Kyle Padron transferring, Gilbert is considered the frontrunner to start for SMU in 2012.

Cody Green, Nebraska to Tulsa – With G.J. Kinne finishing his eligibility, Tulsa will be breaking in a new starting quarterback for 2012. Green, a Nebraska transfer, will battle with Kalen Henderson to replace Kinne and keep Tulsa’s offense among the best in Conference USA. Green started four games for Nebraska during his two seasons in Lincoln and finished with 657 passing yards and five touchdowns over that span. He also added 254 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in his Nebraska career. Although Henderson has more experience at Tulsa, look for Green to take the first snap in 2012.

Jacob Karam, Texas Tech to Memphis – With Seth Doege firmly entrenched as Texas Tech’s starting quarterback, playing time was going to be limited for Karam. Since he already graduated from Texas Tech, Karam is eligible to play right away at Memphis and will have two seasons of eligibility remaining. The Tigers ranked as the worst passing offense in Conference USA last year, but with the addition of Karam and new coach Justin Fuente, Memphis should be a much-improved offensive attack in 2012.

Ryan Katz, Oregon State to San Diego State – Katz was considered a rising star after his sophomore season at Oregon State, throwing for 2,401 yards and 18 scores in 2010. However, he got off to a slow start last year and was benched early in the season in favor of Sean Mannion. Katz ended his Oregon State career with 14 starts and completed 59 percent of his throws over three seasons. Katz will compete with Adam Dingwell for San Diego State’s No. 1 quarterback spot and is considered the frontrunner to take the Aztecs’ first snap of 2012.

Danny O’Brien, Maryland to ? – O’Brien spent only two years at Maryland, but his time in College Park was quite a roller coaster ride. He threw for 2,438 yards and 22 scores and earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors as a freshman, but followed that up with a disappointing sophomore effort (1,648 yards, 7 touchdowns and 10 interceptions). O’Brien's struggles in 2011 were largely due to a lack of help around him, as Maryland’s receivers were inconsistent and the team struggled to adapt to new coordinator Gary Crowton. O’Brien is believed to be heavily interested in Vanderbilt, but Penn State, Michigan State, Arizona, Oklahoma State and Wisconsin have all been mentioned as possible destinations. Maryland hit Vanderbilt coach James Franklin with a tampering allegation, so expect O’Brien to wait on announcing a destination until the investigation has finished.

Ryan Williams, Memphis to Miami – With Stephen Morris sidelined with a back injury for spring practice, Williams will have an opportunity to close the gap and make his case for the No. 1 job. Williams started 10 games as a true freshman at Memphis in 2010, throwing for 2,075 yards and 13 scores. He is a native of Pembroke Pines, Fla. and played his high school ball just down the road from Miami in Miramar. At 6-foot-6, Williams has the size to develop into a solid pocket passer and figures to push Morris for a starting job in the fall. 

Connor Wood, Texas to Colorado – Wood made a push for playing time last spring with Texas, but eventually fell behind David Ash, Garrett Gilbert and Case McCoy in the fall. With playing time unlikely in Austin, Wood transferred to Colorado and will be expected to contend for the starting job this season. He ranked as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation coming out of high school, but never found his way onto the field with Texas. Wood will have to compete with Nick Hirschman for the No. 1 job, but Hirschman might miss spring workouts with a foot injury, giving the Texas transfer an early edge in the quarterback battle.

Others to watch

Terrance Broadway, Houston to UL Lafayette
Jeremy Higgins, Utah State to Hawaii
Ross Metheny, Virginia to South Alabama
Kevin Newsome, Penn State to Temple

Running Back

Mike Blakely, Florida to Auburn – Blakely ranked as the No. 67 overall player in the 2011 Athlon Consensus 100 and as enrolled at Florida for the spring semester. However, he chose to transfer in early May and was granted a release to Florida. Blakely should be able to contend for playing time in 2012, especially with Michael Dyer transferring to Arkansas State. Expect Blakely, Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason to share the workload for the Tigers this season.

Storm Johnson, Miami to UCF – The Knights were already deep at running back for 2012 with the return of Brynn Harvey and Latavius Murray. However, the backfield added another potential standout with Johnson transferring in from Miami. Johnson was rated among the top 150 players coming out of high school, but received only nine carries as a freshman in 2010. Johnson may not start this year, but expect him to figure into UCF’s gameplan.

Lache Seastrunk, Oregon to Baylor – Art Briles has Baylor on the move in the Big 12, and while quarterback Robert Griffin will be missed, the Bears aren’t going to slip back to 3-9 or 4-8 next year. Seastrunk was a huge catch for Baylor, as he has a chance to become a difference-maker in the backfield. He ranked as the No. 11 overall prospect and the No. 3 running back in the class of 2011 by Athlon Sports. The Temple, Texas native was also an elite high school track athlete, recording a time of 10.3 in the 100 meters. Seastrunk spent one year at Oregon but did not play a snap. The Bears have two solid backs returning in Glasco Martin and Jarred Salubi, but Seastrunk will get his opportunities in every game this year.

Others to watch

Jeremiah Bryson, Pittsburgh to MTSU
Drayton Calhoun, LSU to MTSU
DeLeon Eskridge, Minnesota to San Jose State
Hunter Furr, North Carolina to East Carolina
Corey Grant, Alabama to Auburn
Daquan Hargrett, West Virginia to FIU
Mister Jones, Texas A&M to Colorado State
Austin White, Michigan to Central Michigan
Toney Williams, Tennessee to Ball State

Wide Receivers

DeAnthony Arnett, Tennessee to Michigan State – Arnett spent one season at Tennessee, catching 24 passes for 242 yards and two scores in 2011. He is petitioning the NCAA for immediate eligibility at Michigan State, but there has been no announcement of his status for 2012. If Arnett can get eligible for this upcoming season, it would be a huge boost to a Michigan State offense that not only has a new starting quarterback, but a receiving corps that loses its top three receivers and No. 1 tight end.

Brice Butler, USC to San Diego State – The Aztecs could have two Pac-12 transfers make a significant contribution to the offense in 2012. Oregon State transfer Ryan Katz is locked in a tight battle for the starting quarterback job, while Butler figures to work his way into immediate playing time with the receiving corps. He caught 41 passes for 554 yards and three touchdowns over the last three years while at USC and should push Dylan Denso and Colin Lockett for playing time in San Diego this year.

Chris Dunkley, Florida to South Florida – If Dunkley lives up to his high school billing, he could become a difference-maker in the receiving corps for South Florida. He redshirted with the Gators in 2010 and transferred before playing a down in 2011. Dunkley was rated by Rivals.com as a top-10 receiver coming out of high school, but he has no playing experience at the FBS level.

Josh Gordon, Baylor to Utah – If the Utes want to push USC for the Pac-12 South title, jumpstarting the passing attack is priority No. 1 for coach Kyle Whittingham and new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. Even though Gordon had off-the-field issues at Baylor, he’s a huge addition for the Utes’ passing game. Gordon caught 42 passes for 714 yards and seven scores in 2010, while averaging 17 yards per catch. As long as Gordon doesn’t get into any incidents off the field, he will be one of 2012’s top impact transfers.

Javares McRoy, Florida to Texas Tech – McRoy’s transfer resembles former Florida teammate Mike Blakeley, as he decided to leave Gainesville following spring practice last year. McRoy has excellent speed, and his quickness will be a valuable asset for quarterback Seth Doege this season. McRoy is expected to challenge for playing time at one of the inside receiver positions during preseason workouts.

Bryce McNeal, Clemson to Connecticut – The Huskies desperately need to find some improvement in the passing game in 2012, but it looks like coach Paul Pasqualoni has taken steps to get the offense back on track. Connecticut will bring in two quarterbacks to compete for the starting job, and the team picked up McNeal as a transfer from Clemson. In two years with the Tigers, McNeal caught 19 passes for 187 yards. He should bring some much-needed speed to the receiving corps and will have an opportunity for playing time with the Huskies losing their top two receivers.

Tyson Williams, West Texas A&M to Texas Tech – Williams is one of the most intriguing transfers of 2012. He dominated the competition in two years at West Texas A&M, catching 162 passes for 2,168 yards and 13 scores. The Red Raiders are counting on Williams to be an impact player at one of the inside receiver spots and rank among the Red Raiders’ leading receivers in 2012. If Williams is able to translate his production to the FBS level, Texas Tech's receiving corps will be dangerous, especially with Eric Ward returning and Darrin Moore back to 100 percent.

Others to watch

D.J. Banks, Tulane to Louisiana Tech
Neal Barlow (Arkansas basketball) to Kansas
Bradley Brown, Northwestern State to UL Lafayette
Brandon Felder, North Carolina to Pittsburgh
Devin Figaro, Tulane to UL Lafayette
Austin Fuller, Virginia Tech to SMU
James Louis, Ohio State to FIU
Shakim Phillips, Boston College to Connecticut
Je'Ron Stokes, Michigan to Bowling Green

Tight Ends

Brock DeCicco, Pittsburgh to Wisconsin
Michael McFarland, Florida to South Florida

Offensive Linemen

Brent Benedict, Georgia to Virginia Tech – With four starters gone from the offensive line, Benedict will have an opportunity to earn playing time with the Hokies in 2012. The Jacksonville, Fla. native was ranked as a top 100 recruit by Rivals.com, but suffered a knee injury in high school that required rehab during his freshman year at Georgia. Benedict has three years of eligibility remaining and will likely contend for snaps at tackle in 2012.

R.J. Dill, Maryland to Rutgers – Dill was a staple on Maryland’s offensive line over the last three years, collecting 33 starts and appearing in 37 overall contests. Dill started at right tackle in 2011, but is capable of playing on the left side. With the Scarlet Knights needing to replace three starters up front, look for Dill to emerge as one of the anchors on the line in 2012.

Others to watch

Tayo Fabuluje, BYU to TCU
Cam Feldt, Arkansas to North Texas
Cameron Fordham, LSU to NC State
Sam Longo, Ohio State to Cincinnati
Alex Mateas, Penn State to Connecticut
Jordan Prestwood, Florida State to Notre Dame
Tom Ricketts, Penn State to Pittsburgh
Phil Smith, Georgia Tech to UCF

Defensive Lineman

Forrest West, Colorado to NC State – West’s transfer to NC State didn’t gather much fanfare, but this was quietly a solid pickup for the Wolfpack defense. West registered 19 tackles and 5.5 sacks with Colorado in 2010 and contributed valuable snaps to the defense as a freshman in 2009. The Wolfpack have good depth returning at defensive end, but West should work his way into the rotation.

Brandon Willis, North Carolina to UCLA – Willis has transferred from North Carolina to UCLA twice, but finally appears to be staying with the Bruins and will be eligible in 2012. Willis has yet to play a down of college football, but ranked as one of the top defensive linemen coming out of high school. Willis is expected to contribute to the UCLA defensive line rotation this season.

Others to watch

Derrick Bryant, UCLA to West Virginia
Gerrand Johnson, Missouri to UL Monroe
James Kittredge, Vanderbilt to Michigan State

Linebackers

Brian Wagner, Akron to Arizona – Wagner didn’t gather the fanfare of some of the transfers on this list, but he could end up being one of Arizona's most productive defensive players in 2012. He was a tackling machine in his three seasons at Akron, collecting at least 100 stops in every year. Wagner also picked up All-MAC honors in two out of his three seasons with the Zips.

Others to watch

Ryan Donahue, Maryland to Connecticut
Jonathan Newsome, Ohio State to Ball State
Ryan Paxson, Cincinnati to Buffalo
Uani Unga, Oregon State to BYU
Taylor Walstad, Arizona to UNLV

Defensive Backs

Jonathan Dowling, Florida to Western Kentucky – Coach Willie Taggart has done a terrific job turning around the Hilltoppers and landing players like Dowling will only help this program continue to climb the ladder in the Sun Belt. Dowling was rated as a four-star prospect coming out of high school, but played in only two games at Florida in his freshman year. Dowling certainly has the ability and figures to immediately crack Western Kentucky’s defensive depth chart in 2012.

Shamiel Gary, Wyoming to Oklahoma State – After two successful seasons at Wyoming, Gary transferred back home to Oklahoma to play with the Cowboys in 2012. The Tulsa native picked up 192 tackles and four interceptions during his time with Wyoming. Gary will have two seasons of eligibility and will be counted upon to help ease the loss of first-team All-Big 12 safety Markelle Martin.

Demetri Goodson, Gonzaga to Baylor – Goodson may not make a huge impact at Baylor, but his story to play college football is noteworthy. He started 68 of 69 games during two seasons with Gonzaga’s basketball team, while averaging 5.2 points a game in 2010-2011. Goodson has two seasons of eligibility remaining, but hasn’t played football since his sophomore year in high school. Baylor has been trying to upgrade its speed, depth and athleticism in the secondary, and Goodson should help the Bears’ depth in this unit.

Others to watch

E.J. Banks, Notre Dame to Pittsburgh (may play quarterback this spring)
Darius Barksdale, Jacksonville State to UL Lafayette
Cullen Christian, Michigan to Pittsburgh
Vlad Emilien, Michigan to Toledo
Jay Fullam, Vanderbilt to Air Force
Kolby Gray, Pittsburgh to Baylor
Jordan Haden, Florida to Toledo
Jajuan Harley, Florida State to MTSU
Lazarri Middleton, Nebraska to SMU
Robert Nelson, UL Monroe to Arizona State
Marcus Trice, Oklahoma to North Texas
Ray Vinopal, Michigan to Pittsburgh

A Look Ahead to the Top Transfers to Watch for 2013

QB Daxx Garman, Arizona to Oklahoma State
QB Jake Heaps, BYU to Kansas
QB Tom Savage, Arizona to ?
QB Pete Thomas, Colorado State to NC State
QB Scotty Young, Texas Tech to ?
RB Amir Carlisle, USC to Notre Dame
RB Tra Carson, Oregon to ?
RB Michael Dyer, Auburn to Arkansas State
RB Crusoe Gongbay, New Mexico to Maryland
RB Brandon Williams, Oklahoma to Texas A&M
WR Robert Clark, Florida to Louisville
WR Josh Doctson, Wyoming to TCU
WR Marcus Grant, Iowa to Boston College
WR Justin McCay, Oklahoma to Kansas
WR Matt Milton, Tennessee to Louisville
WR Kyle Prater, USC to Northwestern
WR Darius White, Texas to Missouri
TE Gerald Christian, Florida to Louisville
OT Max Garcia, Maryland to ?
LB Jordan Whiting, Ohio State to Louisville
DB Josh Shaw, Florida to USC

Related College Football Content

Athlon's Early Top 25 for 2012
Grading College Football's New Coaching Hires for 2012

C
ollege Football Coaches on the Hot Seat: Spring Practice Edition
College Football's Top 10 Spring Storylines to Watch

 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon takes a look at some of college football's top transfers for 2012 and a look ahead to 2013.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 5, 2012 - 07:24
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Recruiting
Path: /college-football/college-football-2012-team-recruiting-rankings
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

The next batch of in-coming college football All-Americans have inked their respective letters of intent. Recruiting is the life blood of the greatest sport on the planet, and, while coaching stills plays the biggest role in winning a championship, having better players can go a long way to earning a trip to the BCS.

Recruiting is an inexact science by definition. It is virtually impossible to accurately peg the mental make-up of any 17-year old child -- much less high-profile, over-coddled 17-year-old athletes. But team recruiting rankings offer the best indication of which team has the best ingredients each coach has to work with each season.

Here are the Top 25 Recruiting Classes, based on averages of all the major recruiting internet services, for the Class of 2012:

Related: View the complete Athlon Consensus 100 here

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Total Signees: 26, Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 10, National Signees: 16

2. Texas Longhorns

Total Signees: 28, AC100 Signees: 7, National Signees: 17

3. Florida Gators

Total Signees: 23, AC100 Signees: 6, National Signees: 13

4. Ohio State Buckeyes

Total Signees: 25, AC100 Signees: 6, National Signees: 11

5. Florida State Seminoles

Total Signees: 19, AC100 Signees: 7, National Signees: 10

6. Michigan Wolverines

Total Signees: 25, AC100 Signees: 3, National Signees: 10

7. Stanford Cardinal

Total Signees: 22, AC100 Signees: 7, National Signees: 8

8. Miami Hurricanes

Total Signees: 33, AC100 Signees: 3, National Signees: 9

9. Georgia Bulldogs

Total Signees: 19, AC100 Signees: 6, National Signees: 8

10. USC Trojans

Total Signees: 16, AC100 Signees: 7, National Signees: 10

11. Oklahoma Sooners

Total Signees: 26, AC100 Signees: 3, National Signees: 7

12. Auburn Tigers

Total Signees: 21, AC100 Signees: 4, National Signees: 12

13. LSU Tigers

Total Signees: 22, AC100 Signees: 1, National Signees: 10

14. Texas A&M Aggies

Total Signees: 19, AC100 Signees: 2, National Signees: 6

15. UCLA Bruins

Total Signees: 25, AC100 Signees: 2, National Signees: 5

16. Clemson Tigers
Total Signees: 20, AC100 Signees: 3, National Signees: 7

17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Total Signees: 17, AC100 Signees: 3, National Signees: 9

18. Oregn Ducks

Total Signees: 21, AC100 Signees: 1, National Signees: 7

19. South Carolina Gamecocks

Total Signees: 25, AC100 Signees: 2, National Signees: 5

20. Tennessee Volunteers

Total Signees: 22, AC100 Signees: 0, National Signees: 4

21. Washington Huskies

Total Signees: 25, AC100 Signees: 2, National Signees: 5

22. Virginia Tech Hokies

Total Signees: 28, AC100 Signees: 0, National Signees: 4

23. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Total Signees: 20, AC100 Signees: 1, National Signees: 5

24. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Total Signees: 26, AC100 Signees: 0, National Signees: 3 

25. Cal Golden Bears

Total Signees: 17, AC100 Signees: 2, National Signees: 5

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports' College Football 2012 Team Recruiting Rankings</p>
Post date: Monday, March 5, 2012 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC South, Indianapolis Colts, News
Path: /news/peyton-manning-close-full-strength-and-ready-return-2012
Body:

Peyton Manning’s health has been one of the most-discussed topics of the NFL’s offseason and barring a change of heart by Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay, No. 18 won’t be suiting up for the Colts in 2012. Manning’s recovery from neck surgery has been slow and reports from earlier this offseason weren’t positive about his arm strength and ability to throw to his left. However, some interesting footage has appeared online and you can bet the Redskins, Dolphins and Seahawks are taking notice.

The short (27 seconds) video appears to be of Manning throwing at Duke University last week. The clandestine shot doesn’t provide a clear picture of Manning’s rehab, but there are encouraging signs. Manning appears to be showing good zip and arm strength in the short clip, which is certainly a positive sign in his recovery.

Related: Where Will Peyton Manning Play in 2012?

Although the neck injury has been a slow rehab process for Manning, all signs point to him returning to the NFL in 2012 and with a team other than the Colts – especially if the quarterback in this video continues to improve:

Teaser:
<p> Peyton Manning Close to Full Strength and Ready for Return in 2012?</p>
Post date: Monday, March 5, 2012 - 06:05
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-studs-avoid-2012
Body:

— by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

Every year there are sure-fire, can't-miss fantasy studs who go in the first couple of rounds and end up, for a variety of reasons, costing a GM a chance at a fantasy championship. Owners of Hanley Ramirez in 2011 know all about what I am talking about. It is imperative that your first three picks are sound. Without production from your first couple of picks, be it injury or otherwise, it is very difficult to compete for a fantasy championship.

Using Athlon Sports’ consensus Top 150 as the barometer, I asked the Athlon editors which Top 40, or first three round, player are you staying completely away from?

Athlon Sports Fantasy Rankings: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

Debate: Which Top 40 player are staying away from?

Mark Ross:
I would not take either Josh Hamilton (No. 32 overall) or Carlos Santana (No. 33) in the first three rounds. There's no denying both can put up big numbers, but to do that they of course have to be on the field, and that has been anything but a sure thing when it comes to Hamilton. In 2010, the Rangers' outfielder won the AL MVP playing in just 133 games. The only other season he's played in more was 2008, when he posted MVP-worthy (.304-32-130) numbers in 156 games. Otherwise, he has averaged 100 games played in his three other seasons. I know this is a contract year and all, but that's too much risk and uncertainty in the first three rounds for me. As far as Santana goes, even with his dual eligibility at catcher and first base, which helps his playing time, you are more than likely drafting him as your catcher and the first three rounds is entirely too early for that. He did hit 27 home runs last year and will turn 26 once the season starts, but he also hit just .239 with just 79 RBIs. He could very well develop into a top 36 player at some point in his career, and it could possibly happen this season, but I am not going to be the one who drafts him as such.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman):
A player I will avoid from the top 36 of our Big Board is Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. His production is still solid when he’s on the field, but the former MVP seems like too much of an injury risk for me to select him in the first three rounds of a draft. Over the last three seasons, Hamilton has played 89, 133 and 121 games. His numbers in 2011 were still quality — .298, 25 HR, 94 RBI, 80 runs, .882 OPS — just not top 40 quality. I’d rather get a more reliable star in round three, and then find the above numbers with another outfielder deeper in the draft. It might in round four with Matt Holliday or Hunter Pence, or much later with a guy like Carlos Beltran, whose numbers — .300, 22 HR, 84 RBI, 78 runs, .910 OPS — in two pitchers’ parks were almost as good as Hamilton’s. If the Rangers’ slugger slips to round four or five, he would be worth the risk. However, I would avoid Hamilton in the top 36 picks.

Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie):
I don’t see any egregious inclusions in the top 40. But one player I would stay away from longer than the rest would be Carlos Santana of Cleveland. I like that he will get 500+ at-bats while qualifying for catcher, but other than home runs, he doesn’t bring much to the table for a middle-of-the-order hitter. Not afraid to take a walk, Santana misses out on RBI opportunities and we haven’t seen anything from him that makes us believe he can hit higher than .250. His OBP will give his OPS a boost, but he is a drain on batting average. He doesn’t score enough runs either to be an elite player.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall):
I will go with the King of the Northwest and Seattle's Felix Hernandez. There is no doubting his stuff, it is electric. But a closer look at the numbers indicates that his sub-par (as compared to ADP) 2011 really shouldn't have been a surprise. Through 1,388.1 career innings pitched, Hernandez has a career ERA of 3.24 and career WHIP of 1.22. His numbers last year (3.47 and 1.22) seem to line up perfectly with his career output. Yes, he had two sub-3.00 seasons in a row, but his three previous seasons were 3.45, 3.92 and 4.52 with a low WHIP of 1.34 - all in seasons of at least 190 innings. His delivery has always looked "dangerous" and he has averaged 241 innings over the last three seasons. You cannot argue with the strikeouts, but he has averaged 13.5 wins per season since his first full stint in the majors (six years) and only 12.4 wins/year if the 19-win outlier is removed. I would have no problem taking King Felix in the 5-7 round range, but 23rd overall? Not a chance.

Nathan Rush:
Steer clear of Mets third baseman David Wright, who was limited to 102 games last year with a back injury. Worse than the risk of injury is the miserable lineup in Queens — sans table-setter Jose Reyes — as well as the negative attitude and energy permeating Citi Field. Under different circumstances, Wright would be worthy of the high round pick. He's been loyal to the Mets to a fault and appears to be willing to go down with the ship by riding out the rest of his contract. Unless Wright gets traded to a contender, you're better off investing in Bernie Madoff — which the Mets did, not so long ago

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: The Big Board
2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings

2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid

2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield

2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitchers
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers

2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers

Teaser:
<p> Who are the top-40 fantasy players to stay away from in 2012?</p>
Post date: Monday, March 5, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /columns/nascar-monday-recap/desert-redemption
Body:

by Matt Taliaferro

The second race of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season — the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway — served as a weekend of redemption for Denny Hamlin.

Fuel-strategy-gone-bad at PIR wrecked his championship hopes in 2010, when Hamlin's tank ran dry and he fell from first to 12th on the pylon. It was a blow from which Hamlin would not recover, as he lost the title to Jimmie Johnson the following week and a 2011 hangover that cost crew chief Mike Ford his job, ensued

So Hamlin took a different approach to the 2012 season by seeing a sports psychologist and getting out of the NASCAR hub that is Charlotte, N.C. Ironically, it was to the Phoenix area that Hamlin retreated, spending a relaxing offseason on the golf course and basketball courts for a warm winter away from all-things NASCAR.

And after a strong fourth-place showing in the Daytona 500, Hamlin and new crew chief Darian Grubb — who won the 2011 championship with Tony Stewart — put the series on high alert that their pairing may be a potent one. Hamlin conserved just enough gas in the waning laps at Phoenix on Sunday, outlasting Kevin Harvick to grab his first win of the 2012 season.

“This is as good as it can get for me,” Hamlin said. “I consider this my offseason second home. I’ve got a lot of friends and whatnot out here now, and so coming back to the track where essentially we did lose the championship in 2010 … it just feels so good to come out and be competitive again.

“We’ve been non-existent for 14 months, and now, here we come.”

Jimmie Johnson led 55 laps and was the dominant player through the event’s halfway point. However, a loose wheel dropped him deep in the field and he spent the rest of the afternoon methodically working his way through it. Instead, it was Hamlin and Harvick that battled for the win over the final 60 laps. When Harvick’s fuel tank ran dry with one-and-a-half laps remaining, Hamlin cruised to his 18th career Cup win.

Greg Biffle, who ran third in Daytona, Johnson and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top 5.

“I don’t know that I could get to him,” Harvick, who led a race-high 88 laps, said when asked if he could have gotten by Hamlin if not for the fuel issue. “Our cars were so evenly matched. He was a little bit better on the restarts than I was. If I could get out front on the restart and have enough room to slide my car around, then I could take off after that. But he was able to get out there and get in front of me.”

As the series stays out west for a trip to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Hamlin, Grubb and their Joe Gibbs Racing team look to be the early-season squad to beat — a surprising and scary notion considering they have all of two points-paying races together.

“We haven’t even gotten some things in our racecars that Darian wants to put in them,” Hamelin said. “The chemistry and all is still so new — Darian is still learning the system within JGR. There’s a lot of reasons why we’re going to be going forward even more in the next few weeks. So to start out a year like this with a fresh new relationship with him … it’s just a great feeling. I can’t really put it into words.”

Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

Teaser:
<p> Denny Hamlin and new crew chief Darian Grubb win the Subway Fresh Fit 500 from Phoenix International Raceway.</p>
Post date: Sunday, March 4, 2012 - 20:01
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-25-cal-golden-bears
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 25: Cal Golden Bears (17 total signees)

Pac-12 Rank: 6th
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 2
National Signees: 5

Where They Got 'Em:

Jeff Tedford used his home state with tremendous efficiency in 2012. He landed 13 stellar prospects from inside The Golden State's borders, including the state's top quarterback prospect. He then picked and choosed from talent rich states Oregon, Washington, Texas and Florida for one prospect each to round out his class.

Areas of Focus:

Cal fans likely feel a bit like a jilted lover when discussing the 2012 Bears' recruiting class. It is a top 25 group with unbelievable talent in all levels of the offensive passing game. Yet, as Tedford watched his assistants bolt for Seattle, Wash., Cal fans watched as top level prospects decommitted for Pac-12 rivals Washington, UCLA and Oregon. This is an excellent class, but likely would have finished in the top 10 nationally had they kept names like (cover your eyes Bears fans) Shaq Thompson, Ellis McCarthy and Jordan Payton.

The biggest area of concern with this class would be the defensive line. Missing out on McCarthy and Arik Armstead can be attributed to losing one particular defesnive line coach to the Huskies — whose name (shh, Tosh Lupoi) will likely never be spoken around Tight Wad Hill ever again. Cal failed to sign a signal defensive lineman of any kind and will undoubtedly be looking to hammer this position in the 2013 class.

Despite the negative story lines to cap the recruiting calendar for the embattled Tedford, Cal still boasts arguably the top passing-game class in the nation — meaning quarterback, receviers and offensive lineman. Zach Kline vaulted to No. 3 in the quarterback rankings following an excellent showing at the Under Armour event. And rightly so, as he appears to be possibly the nation's most polished pro-style prospect in this class. His lightning quick release will get him onto the field and into Tedford's QB-friendly offense very soon. He finished his final year with 3,630 yards, 36 touchdowns, a 129.0 QB-rating and only seven interceptions.

And Kline will have some amazing options to throw to once he gets onto the field. After the quarterback, the next three highest rated prospects in this class will play wide receiver. Bryce Treggs brings explosive play-making ability and tremendous bloodlines to Berkeley. His father, Brian, left Cal with the school record for career receptions back in 1991 (167). The younger Treggs posted a 70-catch, 1,377-yard, 11-TD season in his final prep campaign.

Darius Powe is the next pass-catcher in the rankings. He brings a traditional receiver's skillset to the game: great size, speed and fluidity. Do-everything performer Cedric Dozier helped lead his powerhouse high school to four straight 11-1 seasons and three state championships.

The offensive line got four stellar new recruits, led by the mammouth 6-foot-8, 312-pound Freddie Tagaloa. He helped Salesian High to a 45-7 record in four years, including a 21-0 unblemished Bay League mark. Steve Moore and Chrisitan Okafor both stand 6-foot-6 and Matt Cochran is listed as a 6-4, 320-pounder.

With five receivers, four offensive lineman and one stellar signal caller coming to campus, Tedford has plenty of talent to work with to re-energize his once-potent passing attack.

The defense got very little help with only two linebackers and two defensive backs joining Cal's ranks. Again, the lack of any prospects up front could cause major issues down the road but is not an immediate problem.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 1, RB: 1, WR: 5, TE: 0, OL: 4, ATH: 1
Defense: DL: 0, LB: 2, DB: 2, K/P/LS: 1

AC100 Recruits:

39. Zach Kline, QB (6-2, 210), Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley
92. Bryce Treggs, WR (5-11, 171), Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco

Other National Signees:

168. Darius Powe, WR (6-2, 186), Lakewood (Calif.) High
232. Cedric Dozier, WR (5-11, 175), Lakewood (Wash.) Lakes
261. Freddie Tagaloa, OL (6-8, 312), Richmond (Calif.) Salesian
262. Raymond Ford, DB (5-11, 174), Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. LSU Tigers
14. Texas A&M Aggies
15. UCLA Bruins
16. Clemson Tigers
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
18. Oregn Ducks
19. South Carolina Gamecocks
20. Tennessee Volunteers
21. Washington Huskies
22. Virginia Tech Hokies
23. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
24. Texas Tech Red Raiders
25. Cal Golden Bears

Teaser:
<p> The Cal Golden Bears landed the No. 25 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Sunday, March 4, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-24-texas-tech-red-raiders
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 24: Texas Tech Red Raiders (26 total signees)

Big 12 Rank: 3rd
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 0
National Signees: 3

Where They Got 'Em:

The state of Texas supplied 14 of the Red Raiders' 26 total signees in this class. If Tommy Tuberville is going to be successful at Texas Tech, it goes without saying that the bulk of his roster should come from the Lone Star State. In fact, the only three nationally rated prospects in this class signed with Tech from in-state.

The state of California was also very kind to Tuberville this cycle. Certainly, when you sign nine junior college players, the Golden State will likely figure prominently in your plan. Six new faces come to Lubbock from the talent-rich state of California.

South Carolina provided a pair of signees while Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and North Carolina each sent one player to West Texas.


Areas of Focus:

This was a key class for a coach who is dealing with issues on a variety of fronts. The past life and lawsuit from his previous stop at Auburn is lurking, the home life has created some unique stresses, but most importantly Tech has struggled to win football games. So landing a top 25 class in 2012 was a must for Tuberville.

Texas Tech landed 16 players for the defense — a side of the ball that clearly needed some help. Defensive lineman Michael Starts leads a five-man D-Line haul. The nationally rated prospect is a "big-time run stopper" and "a very powerful player" according to Tuberville. Starts' versatility plays both inside and out along the defensive line. Anthony Smith and J.J. Lollar will likely land on the interior. Chase Robison and junior college athlete Lee Adams are most likely landing at end.

Defensive back is the deepest position in this class with six signees heading to the secondary. In a league where quarterbacks reign supreme, it's a great move for Tuberville to add six — potentially more should any of the three athletes land on defense — new faces to the defensive backfield. In-stater La'Darius Newbold has the most upside of the deep group, while juco prospect Austin Stewart brings a tremendous frame (6-2, 200) to the safety position. In fact, this is one of the taller defensive back classes in the nation as four of the six stand at least six feet tall.

Four linebackers shore up the middle of the Tuberville defense. Lone Star speedster Ryan Flannigan leads the group with the type of sideline-to-sideline atheltic ability needed in a pass-heavy conference like the Big 12.

Athletes SaDale Foster, Casey Gladney and Keenon Ward all produced big numbers as a return specialist, wide receiver and quarterback respectively in high school. They could land at a variety of positions making either the defensive backfield or the receiving corps that much deeper.

Speaking of the pass-catchers, the wide receiver portion of this class might be the most talented of any position. Dominique Wheeler and Reginald Davis are the No. 1 and 3-rated prospects in this class. Wheeler offers a unique skillset that makes offensive coaches ecstatic. He posted 1,523 yards from scrimmage — 753 receiving and 770 rushing — and 15 touchdowns as he was utilized more in the passing game. He posted 1,164 yards rushing and only 153 receiving in 2010. Meanwhile, Davis also excelled in the backfield. He rushed for 1,915 yards on 171 attempts for a yards-per-carry average north of 11 as a senior while scoring 35 touchdowns. He led his team to the Class 1A state championship as a junior. These two will only get better as they learn the nuances of the wide receiver position and should be the gems of the '12 Texas Tech class.

The only other position on the offense that got as much attention as the receivers was the offensive line. Three new faces are headed to the offensive trenches with big Trey Keenan leading the way. The other two, Rashad Fortenberry and Jared Kaster, are already on campus working with the team in spring football.

Clayton Nicholas, the lone quarterback in this class, checks in at 6-3 and 205 pounds. He played at a big-time program in Abilene-Cooper, and Tuberville likes that he is a West Texas prospect. He threw for 2,956 yards and 26 scoring strikes during his playoff run as a senior.

All-purpose dynamo Quinton White is the lone running back in this class — at least for now.

This is an extremely deep and versatile group that should build a strong foundation for future Texas Tech defenses, while the offensive skill positions could actually end up being the most talented in this class. And with nine of the 26 already enrolled in class, a large chunk of this group could contribute right away.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 1, RB: 1, WR: 3, TE: 0, OL: 3, ATH: 3
Defense: DL: 5, LB: 4, DB: 6, K/P/LS: 0

AC100 Recruits:

None

Other National Signees:

127. Dominique Wheeler, WR (6-1, 176), Crockett (Texas) High
146. Michael Starts, DL (6-4, 282), Waco (Texas) La Vega
187. Reginald Davis, WR (6-1, 185), Tenaha (Texas) High

Early Enrollees:

Lee Adams, DL (6-1, 264), Corona (Calif.) Centennial/Riverside C.C.
Javon Bell, WR (6-0, 175), Jacksonville (Fla.) Ribault/Miss. Gulf Coast C.C.
Rashad Fortenberry, OL (6-4, 271), Tylertown (Miss.) High/Miss. Gulf Coast C.C.
SaDale Foster, ATH (5-8, 180), Riverside (Calif.) JW North/Riverside C.C.
Jared Kaster, OL (6-4, 268), Altair (Texas) Rice
Thierry Nguema, DB (6-0, 180), Corona (Calif.) Santiago
Chris Payne, LB (5-11, 191), Columbia (S.C.) High/Miss. Gulf Coast C.C.
Will Smith, LB (6-3, 220), Riverside (Calif.) Notre Dame/Riverside C.C.
Austin Stewart, DB (6-2, 200), Matthews (N.C.) Butler/LA Pierce J.C.

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. LSU Tigers
14. Texas A&M Aggies
15. UCLA Bruins
16. Clemson Tigers
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
18. Oregn Ducks
19. South Carolina Gamecocks
20. Tennessee Volunteers
21. Washington Huskies
22. Virginia Tech Hokies
23. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
24. Texas Tech Red Raiders
25. Sun., Mar. 4

Teaser:
<p> The Texas Tech Red Raiders landed the No. 24 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Saturday, March 3, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/bracket-breakdown-field-68-0
Body:

The first Automatic bids will be handed out this weekend. Selection Sunday is just over a week away. Here is our look at the Field of 68.

ACC (5)
In:
Duke, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia
Worth a mention: NC State
Notes: NC State is over .500 in the ACC (8–7) and technically has no top-50 RPI wins. But it does have two wins over Miami (No. 52) and one over Texas (No. 54) — and two of those came away from home. The Pack will need to get something done in the ACC Tournament. Miami remains in the field after beating Florida State at home (without Reggie Johnson) and then losing by four at NC State. The Hurricanes’ win at Duke is the difference-maker. Virginia has lost four of six, including Thursday night’s buzzer at home to Florida State. The Cavs might start to sweat if they lose at Maryland on Sunday.

American East (1)
In:
Stony Brook

A-10 (2)
In:
Saint Louis, Temple
Worth a mention: Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, UMass, Xavier
Notes: Xavier is out after failing to protect a 10-point lead at the half vs. Saint Louis. The Musketeers haven’t won two straight games since mid-January. Dayton has three top-30 RPI wins, but also had two losses to teams ranked in the 200s.

A-Sun (1)
In:
Belmont

Big 12 (6)
In:
Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas
Worth a mention: None
Notes: Six of Texas’ 11 losses have come against North Carolina, Kansas, Baylor (twice) and Missouri (twice). The only thing close to a bad loss for the Horns was a neutral-court two-OT setback vs. Oregon State. They have a win over Temple on their résumé, too. Iowa State removed any doubt by winning at Kansas State last week.

Big East (10)
In:
Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, South Florida, Syracuse, West Virginia
Worth a mention: None
Notes: It was a good week for South Florida, which beat Cincinnati on Sunday and won at Louisville on Wednesday — despite scoring a total of 104 points. Despite a 12–5 Big East record, the Bulls still aren’t safe, though. Beating West Virginia at home on Saturday would help. West Virginia is trending in the wrong direction, but there is still enough meat on the bone (wins vs. Georgetown and K-State) to keep the Mountaineers in the field.

Big Sky (1)
In:
Montana

Big South (1)
In:
UNC-Asheville

Big Ten (7)
In:
Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Worth a mention: Illinois,
Notes: It was another painful loss for Northwestern, but there is no shame in losing by one point to Ohio State, even at home. The game at Iowa on Saturday is enormous — quite possibly the biggest game in school history. Win and the Cats are likely in. Lose and they will need to win several games in Indy. Illinois’ late-season slide continued with a loss at home to Michigan on Thursday night.

Big West (1)
In:
Long Beach State.

Colonial (1)
In:
Drexel
Worth a mention: George Mason, VCU
Notes: VCU’s profile has received a boost by South Florida’s recent surge. The Rams beat USF by 23 points in November. They will be tough to keep out, especially if they reach the CAA finals. George Mason boasts a gaudy 14–4 mark in the CAA but has no wins vs. top 50 RPI teams. Its best wins are at home against Bucknell and VCU.

C-USA (2)
In:
Memphis, Southern Miss
Worth a mention: UCF
Notes: The Knights have lost three of their past five, including a damaging setback at Rice. The RPI (66) likes this team more than KenPom (94).

Horizon (1)
In:
Valparaiso

Ivy (1)
In:
Harvard

MAAC (1)
In:
Iona

MAC (1)
In:
Akron

MEAC (1)
In:
Savannah State

MVC (2)
In:
Creighton, Wichita State

MWC (4)
In:
Colorado State New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a mention: None
Notes: Colorado State has wins at home over UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico, but has done nothing on the road. The Rams are 29 in the RPI but 79 in KenPom. They have a lot of losses (10), as well. Last team in for now.

Northeast (1)
In:
Long Island

OVC (1)
In:
Murray State

Pac 12 (2)
In:
California, Washington
Worth a mention: Arizona, Colorado, Oregon
Notes: Washington is in as the projected Pac-12 Tournament champion. Arizona has only one win to brag about, at Cal in early February. The Cats might have to win the league tourney to get in. Colorado has some decent wins but has done very little away from home. Oregon (RPI 44, KenPom 71) has won five of six games and is now 12–5 in the Pac-12. The Ducks are in the hunt.

Patriot (1)
In:
Bucknell

SEC (5)
In:
Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt
Worth a mention: Tennessee
Notes: Mississippi State stopped the bleeding with an overtime win at South Carolina on Wednesday night. The Bulldogs’ RPI is 60, and they are ranked 72nd in KenPom. Those are dangerous waters. They have to beat Arkansas at home on Saturday. Tennessee has an opportunity to be the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament (the Vols have to beat Vanderbilt), but is still a longshot for an at-large bid. Cuonzo Martin’s club has two great wins over Florida, but not much else to brag about. They are 16–13 overall and have four losses to 100+ RPI teams.

Southern (1)
In:
Davidson

Southland (1)
In:
UT-Arlington

Summit (1)
In:
Oral Roberts

Sun Belt (1)
In:
Middle Tennessee

SWAC (1)
In:
Mississippi Valley State

WAC (1)
In
: Nevada

WCC (3)
In:
BYU, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s
Notes: BYU has solid numbers (RPI 46, KenPom 37) and two wins vs. teams projected to make the field, Gonzaga and Nevada. Saint Mary’s bounced back from a two-game slide to beat Portland and San Francisco on the road.
 

Teaser:
<p> Selection Sunday is just over a week away. Here is Athlon Sports Field of 68, if the Tournament started today.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 2, 2012 - 09:57
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Virginia Tech Hokies
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-22-virginia-tech-hokies
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 22 Virginia Tech (28 total signees)

ACC Rank: 4th
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 0
National Signees: 4

Where They Got 'Em:

Frank Beamer signed one of the deepest classes in the nation, and a majority of the class comes from within the Commonwealth of Virginia. In fact, 17 of the 28 total signees hail from in-state — great news considering how well Mike London and the rival Cavaliers have been recruiting within the state. The Hokies landed two of the top four players in the state this cycle.

Georgia (3), North Carolina (2) and Pennsylvania (2) were the other states to send multiple players to Blacksburg while South Carolina, Florida, Maryland and Tennessee all sent one prospect to VPI.

Areas of Focus:

With as much depth as Beamer signed, all positions on the field got a nice boost from the 2012 haul. This class is also perfectly balanced, as it looks like 14 players will head to the defense and 14 to the offense. The gem, and lone AC100 signee, of this class is the state of Virginia's top wide receiver Joel Caleb. The dynamic prospect played six different positions as a senior at well-known Clover Hill High School. He leads a deep six-man receiving class that helps replenish a pass-catching corps that saw Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale depart campus. Mark Irick and Thomas Smith bring large 6-4 frames and potential vertical, big-play ability.

After watching Darren Evans, Ryan Williams and David Wilson all leave school early over the last two seasons, Beamer ball was in need of some talented runners. He got them in the form of four (potentially five) new ball carriers. In fact, two of the four nationally ranked recruits in this class will line up in the backfield as J.C. Coleman and Drew Harris lead this group. Despite missing three games to an ankle injury in 2011, Coleman finished with 1,488 yards and 20 touchdowns at national prep power Oscar Smith. He is already enrolled in class and will compete in spring football for touches.

A three-man offensive line class will restock a line that is replacing four starters off of last year's squad. Beamer also signed one of the top in-state signal callers in 6-3, 195-pound Brenden Motley.

On defense, the front line — a staple of any good Bud Foster defensive unit — got the most attention as six new faces show up on campus. The pedigree for this group is astounding, as former Hokie great and NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Smith sends his son, Alston Smith, to Blacksburg. At 6-3, 270 pounds already, the younger Smith could easily end up playing inside — along with fellow signee Nigel Williams (also listed at 6-3, 270). The four other D-linemen are slated to play on the outside as Woody Baron (6-2, 258), Seth Dooley (6-5, 230), Jarontay Jones (6-2, 240) and Ken Elkanem (6-3, 240) are all listed as defensive ends.

Linebacker Trey Edmunds has his own quality bloodline as his father, Farrell Edmunds, was a Pro Bowl tight end in the NFL. Edmunds and the speedy Deon Clarke lead a solid four-man linebacking class at a position that always seems to overachieve under Foster.

Nationally rated early enrollee Donaldven Manning is the top-rated defensive back in this class. He is the lone Sunshine State prospect in this class and brings Miami speed to the Hokies. He and Davion Tookes restock the corner position, while the 6-2 Desmond Frye and 6-0 Donovan Riley could end up playing safety.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 1, RB: 4, WR: 5, TE: 1, OL: 3, ATH: 0
Defense: DL: 6, LB: 4, DB: 4, K/P/LS: 0

AC100 Recruits:

95. Joel Caleb, WR (6-3, 205), Midlothian (Va.) Clover Hill

Other National Signees:

140. J.C. Coleman, RB (5-7, 170), Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith
228. Drew Harris, RB (6-1, 220), Downington (Pa.) High
253. Donaldven Manning, DB (5-9, 155), Miami (Fla.) Central

Early Enrollees:

J.C. Coleman, RB (5-7, 170), Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith
Donaldven Manning, DB (5-9, 155), Miami (Fla.) Central

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. LSU Tigers
14. Texas A&M Aggies
15. UCLA Bruins
16. Clemson Tigers
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
18. Oregn Ducks
19. South Carolina Gamecocks
20. Tennessee Volunteers
21. Washington Huskies
22. Virginia Tech Hokies
23. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
24. Sat., Mar. 3
25. Sun., Mar. 4

Teaser:
<p> The Virginia Tech Hokies landed the No. 22 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 2, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/2012-miami-hurricanes-spring-preview
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Miami Hurricanes 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 6-6, 3-5 ACC

Spring practice: March 3-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 5

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Stephen Morris, 26 of 37, 283 yds., 0 TD, 2 INTs
Rushing: Mike James, 72 car., 275 yds., 7 TDs
Receiving: Allen Hurns, 31 rec., 415 yds., 4 TDs
Tackles: Denzel Perryman, 69
Sacks: Anthony Chickillo, 5
Interceptions: Three players tied with 1

Redshirts to watch: DB Dallas Crawford, DE Ricardo Williams

Early Enrollees: QB Gary Crow, QB Preston Dewey, DE Dwayne Hoilett, CB Larry Hope, OL Ereck Flowers, OL Taylor Gadbois, LB Raphael Kirby, DB Ladarius Gunter, LB Josh Witt

JUCO Transfer to watch: DB Ladarius Gunter (JC)

Transfer to watch: QB Ryan Williams (Memphis)

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 at Boston College
Sept. 8 at Kansas State
Sept. 15 Bethune Cookman
Sept. 22 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 29 NC State
Oct. 6 Notre Dame (Chicago)
Oct. 13 North Carolina
Oct. 20 Florida State
Nov. 1 Virginia Tech
Nov. 10 at Virginia
Nov. 17 South Florida
Nov. 24 at Duke

Offensive Strength: There is a lot of turnover surrounding Miami’s offense in 2012, but the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Mike James, Eduardo Clements and Duke Johnson will be a capable trio at running back, while Allen Hurns is a promising receiver. The offensive line should benefit immensely with a healthy year from tackle Seantrel Henderson.

Offensive Weakness: While the cupboard isn’t bare, Miami has several question marks to answer. Jacory Harris has finished his eligibility, leaving an open quarterback competition this spring. Although Hurns, Phillip Dorsett and tight end Clive Walford is a good start in the receiving corps, there’s not a ton of depth.

Defensive Strength: Even with the departure of All-ACC member Sean Spence, the Hurricanes should have a solid linebacking corps. Denzel Perryman had a solid freshman year, collecting 69 tackles and six tackles for a loss. Ramon Buchanan started the first four games, but missed the rest of the year due to an injury. Jimmy Gaines capped off a steady sophomore year with 58 tackles and made nine starts. The Hurricanes also have to be excited about the potential of sophomore end Anthony Chickillo with another spring practice under his belt.

Defensive Weakness: The Hurricanes are losing some key contributors from last season’s group, including Spence and defensive linemen Olivier Vernon, Micanor Regis, Marcus Forston and Adewale Ojomo. Depth up front could be an issue, as well as replacing the leadership from the departed players.

Spring Storylines Facing the Hurricanes:

1. Jacory Harris took a lot of criticism (and rightfully so) throughout his career, but he turned in a solid senior year. Harris finished with 2,486 yards and 20 scores, while tossing nine picks. The battle to replace him wasn’t expected to be sorted out until the fall, but the most likely replacement (Stephen Morris) will miss spring practice due to a back injury. With Morris sidelined, Miami will get an extended look at Memphis transfer Ryan Williams and incoming freshmen Preston Dewey and Gary Crow. Williams started 10 games as a freshman at Memphis in 2010, throwing 2,075 yards and 13 touchdowns. With Morris sidelined, it’s unlikely the Miami coaching staff will develop a ton of clarity related to the quarterback battle. However, the door is open for Dewey, Crow and Williams to make an impression. In addition to the quarterbacks stepping up, the coaching staff needs to find a few more playmakers in the receiving corps.

2. Lamar Miller’s first season as the No. 1 running back proved to be quite a success, rushing for 1,272 yards and nine scores and earning second-team All-ACC honors last year. Miller decided to bolt to the NFL, but Miami doesn’t lack options at running back. Veteran Mike James is back for his senior year and has 719 yards and 11 scores through his first three years. Junior Eduardo Clements was among the top running backs coming out of high school and should capitalize on the opportunity for more playing time. Miami will also get an extended look in preseason workouts at incoming freshman Duke Johnson and redshirt freshman Dallas Crawford. Johnson won’t join the team until the fall, but ranked as the No. 36 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. Miller will be missed, but Miami’s rushing attack shouldn’t suffer much of a drop in production this year.

3. Three starters are gone from an offensive line that gave up an average of 1.6 sacks per game and paved the way for rushers to average 4.4 yards per carry. Center Tyler Horn earned second-team All-ACC honors last year and will be missed. Brandon Washington was expected to be one of the top linemen in the conference in 2011, but was a disappointment and chose to enter the NFL Draft a year early. Harland Gunn also departs after making 12 starts. While this group loses some key cogs, this unit shouldn’t be a weakness. Guard Brandon Linder started 12 games last year, while Jon Feliciano started eight games at tackle. Seantrel Henderson had offseason back surgery and never appeared to be 100 percent last season. However, assuming Henderson returns to full strength, he should become one of the ACC’s top linemen and the anchor of the front five. Malcolm Bunche, Shane McDermott and Jermaine Johnson will also figure into the mix and have previous experience. With any turnover on the line, it’s important to develop some cohesion throughout preseason workouts – especially with a new quarterback taking over.

4. Five starters return on defense in 2012, but this group will be missing some key contributors. Linebacker Sean Spence earned first-team All-ACC honors last season and was one of leaders for this unit. The defensive line loses a couple of key contributors, but sophomore end Anthony Chickillo is a rising star. The secondary returns two starters and could get a boost if safety Ray-Ray Armstrong lives up to his potential. Miami ranked 17th nationally in points allowed and 45th in total defense last season. However, considering the losses in the front seven, this unit could be more susceptible to the run in 2012. Also, there’s not a ton of depth returning, so this will be an important spring for coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. The defense will also get a boost in the fall, as top cornerback recruit Tracy Howard will join the team. Howard ranked as the No. 18 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100.

5. There is one dark cloud hanging over the Miami program as spring practice kicks off. The NCAA has yet to rule on any penalties as a result of the Nevin Shapiro scandal, leaving the administration and coaching staff uncertain as to what will happen. The Hurricanes chose to sit out a bowl game in 2011 and could be forced to do the same in 2012. Miami may also have to give up some scholarships over the next few seasons as a result of the investigation. However, coach Al Golden and his staff continue to do a good job on the recruiting trail, and the Hurricanes have a lot of promising young talent in the pipeline. There has been varying degrees of reports on any possible sanctions, but until something is decided, its going to be something that hangs over the program.

Related Content Links

2012 ACC Schedule Analysis
Early Top 25 for 2012

College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

2012 Recruiting Rankings: No. 8 Miami

2012 Very Early ACC Predictions

Teaser:
<p> Can Miami rebound after a 6-6 record in 2011? Athlon takes a look at the Hurricanes biggest question marks and storylines for spring practice.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 2, 2012 - 06:59
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-sleepers-and-busts-closers
Body:

— by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter), published on Mar. 2, 2012

Who are the biggest sleepers and busts to watch out for on the fantasy diamond?

Using Athlon Sports’ consensus Top 150 as the barometer, here are some potential sleepers to keep an eye on and some possible busts to be wary of when it comes to drafting your fantasy teams this season.

Be sure to check out the Athlon Sports Fantasy Closer Grid as we keep fantasy GMs updated all season long.

Athlon Sports Fantasy Rankings: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

2012 Fantasy Baseball Closer Sleepers:

Jordan Walden, Los Angeles Angels
If you are looking for the next ace closer on a team that will win loads of game and will be available after the tenth round, then Walden is your guy. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound righty excelled in his first full season in L.A. He should be able to maintain his 10.0 K/9 rate and will be much better suited to withstand a full season this year — he struggled in the second half last season. Look for a similar line with improved walk and hit rates from a guy with loads of upside.

Sergio Santos, Toronto Blue Jays
The talent is obvious as the former first round pick has all the tools needed to be an excellent closer. He improved his WHIP from 1.53 to 1.11 in only his second major league season and finished last year with a 30-save season under his belt. His 13.1 strikeout rate likely won’t be replicated but a 10-11 ratio is within reach. The biggest stat to cling to is his improved hit rate — it dropped from 9.2 H/9 to 5.8 H/9. He could be the 15-18th closer taken, so his value is through the roof.

Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Why else would you let a 28-year old closer who is under contract for six years go? That is what the Sox did with Santos in favor of Matt Thornton and Addison Reed. Thornton will likely begin the season as the closer, but Reed’s make-up and K-rate mean he is tabbed as the future. He struck out 155 batters in 108.1 minor league innings and was effective once called up last season. Look for more from the 23-year old righty.

Javy Guerra, Los Angeles Dodgers
The youngster proved last season in short order that he belonged in the majors. He converted 21 of his 23 save chances and posted a nasty set of ratios: 2.31 and 1.18. Kenley Jansen will be competing for the closer’s role and could be considered a solid sleeper as well, so keep an eye on this battle and be ready to snag the other one. And in holds leagues, drafting both isn’t a bad maneuver.

2012 Fantasy Baseball Closer Busts:

Heath Bell, Miami Marlins
The big fella has always carried a little extra weight and it might have caught up with in 2011. He was never fully healthy and that could have led to his 34% reduction in strikeout rate (11.1 to 7.3 K/9). Additionally, with a career ERA of 3.06, a return to his 1.93 of 2010 seems highly unlikely. The move away from PETCO will only hurt his numbers as well.

Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals
Since taking over as the full-time closer (four years), Soria posted career lows in ERA, saves and strikeouts. Can the Royals ninth inning man rebound or will his slide continue? The best bet is a little bit of both. He was erratic and lost his job last season for a short period and with Aaron Crow and big Jonathan Broxton waiting in the wings, the leash will be rather short for Soria. And the fact remains, whether he returns to form or not, he will likely be traded to become a quality setup man for a contender.

J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
Closers are easily the most volatile fantasy commodities and Putz exemplifies this fact. He has three seasons of 36 saves and five season of 15 saves or fewer. He has two seasons with an ERA below 2.80 and four above 3.60. While he has strung two solid seasons together in a row, I am not willing to pay much at all for that kind of headache.

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: The Big Board
2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitchers

Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012
2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers</p>
Post date: Friday, March 2, 2012 - 06:59
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-23-rutgers-scarlet-knights
Body:

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 23 Rutgers Scarlet Knights (20 total signees)

Big East Rank: 1st
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 1
National Signees: 5

Where They Got 'Em:

Six players from New Jersey were considered "nationally rated" prospects in the 2012 class. Rutgers signed the No. 1, No. 5 and No. 6 players in The Garden State. Putting up a fence around New Jersey has been the one recruiting issue keeping the Scarlet Knights from regualarly competing for BCS bowl bids. With 11 of this year's 20 signees hailing from in-state, the Knights not only claimed one of the best classes in school history but also won the Big East recruiting championship.

Pennsylvania (6), Maryland (2) and Florida (1) supplied the rest of the class as Greg Schiano's lasting impact on the program will be his ability to comb these four states for talent. In fact, Rutgers needed only four states to sign one of the best classes in program history.

Areas of Focus:

Rutgers had to deal with a late coaching change less than a month before Signing Day when Schiano left for the NFL. In short order, the Scarlet Knights elevated seven-year assistant Kyle Flood to the top spot. Only time will tell if he was the right man for the job long-term, but his hiring certainly kept together one of the best classes in school history. That said, it can be a terrible mistake to hire a coach simply to hold together a recruiting class.

The top prospect in the state and in this class is local defensive lineman Darius Hamilton. The 6-4, 260-pound lineman has every imaginable resume bullet point: Productive, talented and a champion with an NFL pedigree. Famed Don Bosco Prep won 46 straight games and four state titles during his time there. His father, Keith, played 12 stellar seasons for the New York Giants. And he is considered the fourth-best player at his position in the nation, whether it's tackle or end. He is a sure-fire all-conference-type player.

Hamilton speadheads a small four-man front seven class. Nationally rated linebacker Quanzell Lambert leads a LB class that's small as well. He helped Creek High to its first Group III state title in school history with 102 tackles and three sacks. The 6-5, 250-pound Julian Pinnix-Odrick joins Hamilton on the D-Line, and in-state tackler Steve Longa is the other linebacker. Despite this group being small in numbers, two of the top five players in this class will land in that section of the defense.

Jevon Tyree (5-11, 180) and Davon Jacobs (6-0, 170) are the only defensive backs to sign with Rutgers in this class.

On offense, the offensive line was the clear area of focus — and fans in Piscataway know all too well about the O-Line issues at Rutgers. Two of the top five players in this class, J.J. Denman (6-6, 310) and Chris Muller (6-6, 315), will land along the offensive line. These two big hog mollies lead a deep, six-man OL class. Massive tackle prospect R.J. Dill (6-7, 310) is already enrolled and preparing to contribute. This is one of the best offensive line classes in the nation and should go a long way to improving an area of weakness for the Knights.

The major area of depth in this class is at wide receiver. Nationally ranked Leonte Carroo, from the same program as Hamilton, leads four wideout signees into Rutgers. He won four state titles with Hamilton and finished with 82 receptions, 1,548 yards and 18 touchdowns in his final two seasons. Carroo also anchored the state 4x400 title-winning relay team as well.

Carlton Agudosi brings a massive frame (6-6, 200) that will excel in the vertical passing game and in the redzone. Ian Thomas (6-1, 200) and Ruhann Peele (6-1, 190) round out the stellar pass-catching class.

Athlete Delon Stephenson, younger brother of current Scarlet Knight Daryl, could land at defensive back, receiver or even tailback.

Should Stephenson lands in the backfield, he will be joined by one other tailback and one future signal-caller. Blake Rankin (6-4, 190) is the lone quarterback signee after an incredibly productive dual-threat season at Bloomsburg High in the Keystone State. He posted 2,129 yards and 20 touchdowns passing to go with 1,476 yards and 28 touchdowns rushing in 2011. He did, however, break his ankle in the district championship game.

Tailback Desmon Peoples (5-8, 175) started for three seasons on a team that went 27-2 over that span, including the school's first Class AAA state title.

Positional Breakdown:

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

AC100 Recruits:

14. Darius Hamilton, DL (6-4, 260), West Paterson (N.J.) Don Bosco

Other National Signees:

159. J.J. Denman, OL (6-6, 310), Yardley (Pa.) Pennsbury
185. Leonte Carroo, WR (6-1, 190), Edison (N.J.) Don Bosco
197. Chris Muller, OL (6-6, 315), Perkiomenville (Pa.) Boyertown
243. Quanzell Lambert, LB (6-1, 230), Sicklerville (N.J.) Timber Creek

Early Enrollees:

R.J. Dill, OL (6-7, 310), Mechanicsburg (Pa.) Trinity
Kyle Federico, K (6, 185), Ponte Verda (Fla.) High

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. LSU Tigers
14. Texas A&M Aggies
15. UCLA Bruins
16. Clemson Tigers
17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
18. Oregn Ducks
19. South Carolina Gamecocks
20. Tennessee Volunteers
21. Washington Huskies
22. Virginia Tech Hokies
23. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
24. Sat., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

Teaser:
<p> The Rutgers Scarlet Knights landed the No. 23 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 2, 2012 - 06:50
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-games-watch-weekend
Body:

Saturday, March 3

West Virginia at South Florida
It’s a matchup between two Big East bubble teams that would love to close the regular season with a win. It’s hard to say which team needs this game more.

Pittsburgh at Connecticut
The Big East schedule-makers probably didn’t envision that these two teams would have a combined 21 league losses (at least) on the final weekend of the season.

Oklahoma State at Kansas State
Kansas State followed up wins at Baylor and Missouri by losing at home to Iowa State. The Cats rebounded with a win at A&M on Tuesday. Frank Martin is begging for more consistency from his team.

Southern Miss at Marshall
Southern Miss is on the verge of its first NCAA  appearance since 1991. Winning at Marshall isn’t a must, but the Golden Eagles could use another solid victory away from home.

Washington at UCLA
Washington will be tough for the Selection Committee to evaluate. The Huskies have plenty of talent but lack quality wins.

Georgetown at Marquette
Marquette’s five-game winning streak ended Wednesday night at Cincinnati. Georgetown has the size to punish the Golden Eagles in the paint. This is an intriguing matchup.

Cincinnati at Villanova
The Bearcats have been living life on the bubble for the past two months. They should be in good shape after beating Marquette and Louisville at home in the past 10 days.

Northwestern at Iowa
This could end up being the most important regular-season game in the history of Northwestern basketball. No pressure, Wildcats.

Vanderbilt at Tennessee
The Commodores rolled past Tennessee with ease in Nashville, but the Volunteers have been a tough out in Knoxville.

Alabama at Ole Miss
Bama heads into the final week of the regular season playing its best basketball of the season. Anthony Grant will have the Tide in the NCAAs for the first time since ’06.

Louisville at Syracuse
Louisville had Big East bully Syracuse on the ropes at the Yum Center, but committed some costly turnovers late in the game. The Cards will have to be nearly perfect to win in the Dome.

Arkansas at Mississippi State
The Bulldogs’ late-season slide has put them in must-win mode. Arkansas beat State by 10 in Fayetteville, but the Hogs have struggled mightily on the road.

Seton Hall at DePaul
This is a tough spot for Seton Hall. A win at DePaul does nothing to enhance its NCAA Tournament profile, but a loss would prove fatal.

San Diego State at TCU
Fort Worth has suddenly become one of the tougher places to play on the MWC circuit. The Frogs have defeated Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico in consecutive home games.

North Carolina at Duke
The stakes couldn’t be higher when these two arch-rivals get together Saturday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The winner will be the outright ACC regular-season champ and earn the No. 1 seed in the league tournament.

Texas at Kansas
Texas can wrap up an at-large invite with a win over Kansas in Lawrence. That, obviously, is no easy task. The Longhorns most likely will head to the Big 12 Tournament needing to win a few games to feel good about their NCAA chances.

Sunday, March 4

Kentucky at Florida
Kentucky has already wrapped up the SEC title, but it’s always fun when the Wildcats and Gators get together in Gainesville. Florida could improve its seed a spot or two with a win.

Illinois at Wisconsin
The Fighting Illini's slide continued Thursday night at home vs. Michigan. A win in Madison is always nice, but Illinois probably needs to win the Big Ten Tournament to make the NCAAs.

Virginia at Maryland
It's not quite time to panic for Virginia, but the Cavs aren't playing their best ball of late. Selection Sunday will be a lot less stressful if they win this game.

Ohio State at Michigan State
Michigan State has already clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title. The Spartans will win the outright title with a win over the Buckeyes.

Purdue at Indiana
Purdue has played its way into the NCAA Tournament by winning four of its last five games. The Boilers would love to get some revenge after losing to IU in West Lafayette in early February.

NC Sate at Virginia Tech
NC State is showing signs of life after beating Miami at home on Wednesday night. The Pack needs to win this game in Blacksburg and then win a few games at the ACC Tournament.

Teaser:
<p> This is the final weekend of regular-season play in many conferences in college basketball. Here's a look at some of the big games of the weekend.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 20:42

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