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Path: /columns/nascar-monday-recap/tony-stewart-hits-jackpot-vegas

by Matt Taliaferro

It took 27 races for Tony Stewart to find Victory Lane in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series last year. Four additional wins followed in the remaining nine weeks and Stewart earned his third Cup championship in one of the more dramatic finales in the sport’s history.

Stewart made it known on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that his No. 14 team will not only be a force in the Chase, but in NASCAR’s 26-race regular season, as well. Stewart dominated the Kobalt Tools 400, leading a race-high 127 laps, holding off all challengers through three restarts in the final 34 laps to score his first win of the 2012 season.

“It seemed like if we could get six or eight laps under our belt, we could start building that margin out again,” Stewart said of leading the field in the closing laps. “As soon as you started pulling away, the caution would come out again. You hate having to reset it like that, knowing for the first three laps you had to be spot on and not let them take advantage of a restart like that.

“You sit there and go, ‘How many times are we going to risk losing this race because of a restart? Something is going to get taken away from us because of this.’ It's very nerve-wracking.”

Stewart’s eventual race-winning move came on the first of the final three restarts. When the green flag waved with 34 laps remaining, Stewart, lined up in row three, shot his car to the tri-oval apron and around Brad Keselowski for the lead in Turn 1.

“The big thing was, that was when Matt (Kenseth) and Jimmie (Johnson) had taken four tires and we had taken two. We knew if we could clear those guys, it would give us a little bit of a buffer and have some lap cars that would keep them occupied. We didn't know we were going to have three or four restarts after that. It was key to get out front right away and try and build a gap.”

Johnson held on for second, his second straight top-5 finish after a disappointing 42nd in the Daytona 500. Greg Biffle inherited the lead in the point standings with his third consecutive third-place run. Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 5.

The win was notable for Stewart in that it was his first career Cup triumph as Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Darlington Raceway and Kentucky Speedway (which was added to the Cup schedule last season) are the only two active tracks where Stewart has yet to notch a Cup win.

“I take a lot of pride in being good in different types of cars, at least being competitive in different types of cars, being competitive at different racetracks,” Stewart said. “This is one we've been close a couple times and it got away. To finally check this off the list … that's what makes today so special — not so much the time of year we're getting it, just the fact we finally got this one.”

Encouraging run for Earnhardt  Dale Earnhardt Jr. started second in the Kobalt Tools 400. By the exit of Turn 2, he wrested the lead from teammate Kasey Kahne and held it for the next 43 laps. So dominant was his Chevy that Earnhardt chose to not report a tight condition on his car because the speed was so good.

“Knowing how it drove that first run, even though it was really fast, we should have worked on it and I should have told Steve (Letarte, crew chief) more about it,” Earnhardt said. “I should have let him understand what was going on.”

The car tightened up further once in traffic, and he was never able to fight back to the point. He finished 10th. Still, his 70 laps led bested the 52 he led in the entirety of the 2011 season.

Watch what you say  Brad Keselowski saw a good run go bad when his car appeared to run out of fuel on a restart with 17 laps remaining while running second.

Keselowski was fined last year for criticism of NASCAR’s new Electronic Fuel Injection system.

“We're not doing this because it's better for the teams,” Keselowski said in November. “I don't think we're really going to save any gas. It's a media circus, trying to make you guys happy so you write good stories. It gives them something to promote. We're always looking for something to promote, but the honest answer is it does nothing for the sport except cost the team owners money.

“Cars on the street are injected with real electronics, not a throttle body (like in NASCAR). So we've managed to go from 50-year-old technology to 35-year-old technology. I don't see what the big deal is.”

Following the 32nd-place finish in Vegas, Keselowski took to Twitter, noting that the problem he experienced was not an empty gas tank, but a lack of fuel being delivered to the engine: “Just to be clear. On the last restart the engine ran out of fuel, the fuel tank still had gas. This means the fuel system had a problem.”

Play nice, teammates  Roush Fenway Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards may need to have a meeting of the minds before drivers take the gloves off at Bristol.

Edwards dove beneath Kenseth on the race’s final restart with four laps remaining while both ran in the top 5. The move put Kenseth in a precarious middle-lane position as the bunched-up field maneuvered through Turns 1 and 2. Kenseth’s car broke loose on corner exit and sideswiped the wall. Edwards drove on to a fifth-place finish while the damage dropped Kenseth to 22nd.

“Carl just laid back and got me three-wide, and it just didn’t seem there was a lot of room getting into (Turn) 1,” Kenseth said. “And then I did get clear behind him and he just stopped in the middle of the corner. I don’t really know what happened.”

“Matt spun his tires a little bit (on the restart) and I got a run on him, “Edwards explained. “And then Greg (Biffle) and I went around him and he ended up getting wrecked. I feel terrible.”

Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro

<p> Tony Stewart won the Kobalt Tools 400 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Sunday, March 11, 2012 - 22:25
Path: /mlb/boston-red-sox-2012-preview

Boston Red Sox

If you navigated last September without shaming yourself, your family, your employers and the city you call home, congratulations! You had a better month than the Red Sox. When September began, they led the AL East and owned the best record in baseball. When it ended, they owned the greatest collapse in baseball history, and the fallout swiftly claimed their manager, GM and training staff — not to mention their good standing with Boston sports fans. The task in 2012 will be rebuilding their image and reclaiming the postseason berth that has eluded them for the past two seasons. They’ll do so with a new manager, Bobby Valentine, who’s no stranger to controversy, and a new GM, Ben Cherington, who wants the team to get younger and more dynamic. They have the talent to win it all, but there are holes, too. About all we can say with certainty is that any beer and fried chicken will be consumed on the players’ own time.

If there’s a group to blame for last year’s clubhouse shenanigans, it’s the starters. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz were the ones drinking beer during games, and they collectively have something to prove. Lester is the ace and pretty close to a sure thing, though he’s coming off a 2011 that saw his innings and strikeout totals decrease by about 10 percent each. Beckett was an All-Star last year, but he was considered the ringleader of wrongdoing, so he’ll have a target on his chest. Lackey is out for the year following offseason Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Buchholz is an outstanding No. 3 — provided the stress fractures in his back that limited him 82.2 innings last year are healed. Reliever Daniel Bard is hoping to make the leap to the rotation after two dominant seasons as a setup man, and the fifth spot is up for grabs, with winter pickups like Carlos Silva, Aaron Cook and Vicente Padilla fighting it out.

Eighties hair rockers Cinderella warned us, “Don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” The Red Sox will soon discover whether they’re living those words after watching closer Jonathan Papelbon sign with the Phillies. They replaced him by acquiring righthander Andrew Bailey from the A’s. Bailey may not be Papelbon, but he’s a two-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year who has been taking the ball in the ninth practically from Day 1 in the big leagues. With Bard shifting to the rotation, another acquisition — former Astros closer Mark Melancon — becomes the primary setup man. Jack-of-all-trades Alfredo Aceves returns to provide an invaluable multi-inning power arm with the added ability to make the occasional spot start. From there, one player to keep an eye on is rehabbing (Tommy John) left-handed specialist Rich Hill, who hasn’t allowed a run since 2009.

Middle Infield
Dustin Pedroia will continue to battle New York’s Robinson Cano for the title of game’s best second baseman. He’s coming off a Gold Glove season that saw him set career-highs in homers (21) and RBIs (91). He’s also coming into his own as the heart and soul of the team and a true leader with veteran Jason Varitek now retired. Mike Aviles played just 14 games at shortstop last season, but will get the first crack at playing everyday this season. That is until the 22-year-old Jose Iglesias can prove he can hit big league pitching. He’s shown he can play Gold Glove defense, but his bat isn’t ready yet. Newcomer Nick Punto is Plan C at short.

Where once there was Manny and Big Papi, the Red Sox hope to have A-Gon and Youk. Few 3-4 punches in the game are as potent as first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and third baseman Kevin Youkilis — provided Youkilis stays healthy. Gonzalez nearly won the batting title in his Red Sox debut, and another year removed from shoulder surgery, he should have the power to top 40 homers again. Youkilis has steadfastly refused to alter the all-out way he plays — “I’d rather retire,” he says — and as a result, he hasn’t topped 136 games since 2008. When healthy, both he and Gonzalez are guaranteed .950 OPS types with the ability to grind at-bats and leave the park.

The Red Sox are pretty much guaranteed to receive above-average production from their outfield — because Jacoby Ellsbury is in it. The game’s newest superstar returns for an encore as one of the most dynamic players alive. The Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner did everything en route to a second-place finish in the MVP voting, and matching his 30-30 totals will be a challenge. The challenge is entirely of a different sort for left fielder Carl Crawford. The $142 million man is out to show that last year’s woeful season was an aberration born of acclimating himself to Boston. While it can’t help his confidence that owner John Henry admits he opposed the signing, Crawford is a man on a mission. That mission, however, might be delayed a bit; Crawford underwent surgery on his left wrist in the offseason and is not expected to be ready for Opening Day. As for right field, newcomers Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross should form a nice platoon.

Among the victims of September’s collapse was the second-longest-tenured member of the Red Sox — catcher Jason Varitek, who retired this winter. The Sox seemed ready to move on after signing Kelly Shoppach to back up starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and with young masher Ryan Lavarnway waiting in the wings. Saltalamacchia is looking to build on a fine 2011 season, his first as a full-time starter and one that saw him hit 16 homers and slug .450. Those numbers would look even better, but he withered in September, hitting just .162. Shoppach is here to hit lefties (.909 lifetime OPS) and throw out base-runners (league-leading 41 percent caught stealing last year).

In an organization that aims to rate as far above the league average as possible at every position, Ortiz represented the greatest single advantage in the game. He hit 29 homers (28 as the DH). No other DH reached 20. His OPS of .964 ranked more than 100 points higher than No. 2 Victor Martinez. He made his seventh All-Star team and won his fifth Silver Slugger. The 36-year-old is supposed to be on the downside, but outside of a brief interleague slump and a mediocre September (.769 OPS), he was a beast. He accepted arbitration rather than test the market, and the Red Sox will happily return him to the heart of their order. As for the bench, the Sox will have Punto and right-handed outfielder Darnell McDonald, as well as Shoppach, and possibly Lavarnway, who can serve as a right-handed DH.

Theo Epstein’s departure for the Cubs marked the end of an era in Boston. Over his nine seasons, the Red Sox won a pair of World Series and became one of the model franchises in the game, last September notwithstanding. Epstein’s replacement, Cherington, brings a similar intellect to the position, but with a slightly different focus. Whereas Epstein eventually became seduced by the idea of flexing the team’s formidable financial muscle, Cherington is a player development guy at heart. That approach was reflected in his first two major deals, acquiring young arms Melancon and Bailey. Valentine will make for good copy, and though it remains to be seen how his approach will play in Boston, he’s universally regarded as a brilliant strategist. The Cherington-Bobby V. partnership could be the perfect marriage — or end in a War of the Roses divorce. But it will not be blah.

Final Analysis
If the leaders in that clubhouse have any pride whatsoever, the Red Sox will bounce back in a big way. Outside of Ellsbury, every player on the roster has room to improve, and all of New England — not to mention the rest of baseball — will be watching hawkishly to see how they respond. In a tough-as-nails American League that now includes Albert Pujols, the Red Sox will not skate to the postseason. The key will be the health and conditioning of the starting rotation, with all eyes on Beckett and Buchholz. The Sox have circled the wagons and proclaimed that they’re not the freak show everyone thinks. Now comes their chance to prove it.




Batting Order
CF Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
Talk about options. Ellsbury could bat third, too, after his monster 2011. But why mess with a good thing?
2B Dustin Pedroia (R)
With the pin out of his foot, Pedroia is poised to follow up a bounce-back 2011 with an even better 2012.
1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
With his shoulder fully healed a year after labrum surgery, ready to challenge for the Triple Crown.
3B Kevin Youkilis (R)
If Youk could stay healthy, the Red Sox would be in a lot better shape.
DH David Ortiz (L)
Ortiz was far and away the best DH in baseball last year, and even at age 36, that trend should continue.
RF Ryan Sweeney (L)
Is battling with Cody Ross for at-bats.
LF Carl Crawford (L)
Prefers to bat second; Sox could drop Ellsbury to third and hit Pedroia leadoff if Crawford regains form. Slow coming back from wrist surgery.
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)
The man they call Salty hit for surprising power last year (16 HRs).
SS Mike Aviles (R)
Phenom Jose Iglesias is still not ready for major league pitching, so Aviles will keep this job for now.

C Kelly Shoppach (R)
He can still pound lefties and throw, which is what the Sox need.
OF Darnell McDonald (R)
Will have to fight to win his job in spring training. A strong September helps his cause.
OF Cody Ross (R)
Most likely will be part of a platoon in right field. But if Crawford continues to heal slowly, Ross will be ready to play in left.
C Ryan Lavarnway (R)
Even if he opens the season in Triple-A, he’ll end it in the big leagues.
INF Nick Punto (S)
The Sox acquired the former Twin and Cardinal for his leadership and solid defense.

LH Jon Lester
Ace hasn’t quite put together a Cy Young-caliber season yet. Maybe 2012 will be his year.
RH Josh Beckett
Talk about a man with something to prove after being at the center of the beer and fried chicken controversy.
RH Clay Buchholz
He has something to prove, too, after a back injury ended his season in June.
RH Daniel Bard
One of the X-factors will be Bard’s ability to transition to the rotation.
RH Aaron Cook
The Rockies’ all-time wins leader gets a chance with a new organization.

RH Andrew Bailey (Closer)
The New Jersey native is East Coast through and through, which should help his transition.
RH Mark Melancon
He closed in Houston, but if he can set up in Boston, the Sox could be in business.
RH Alfredo Aceves
Also a candidate to start, the rubber-armed Aceves is a huge weapon as a multi-inning reliever.
LH Felix Doubront
The Sox expected big things out of Doubront last year, and he fizzled. It’s make-or-break time.
RH Matt Albers
The 95 mph-throwing Albers was a revelation in the sixth and seventh.
LH Franklin Morales
A second lefty never hurts, which gives Morales an edge to get the last roster spot.

Other teams' 2012 Previews:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Arizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians Cincinnati Reds
Detroit Tigers Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins Miami Marlins
New York Yankees Milwaukee Brewers
Oakland A's New York Mets
Seattle Mariners Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa Bay Rays Pittsburgh Pirates
Texas Rangers San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays San Francisco Giants
  St. Louis Cardinals
  Washington Nationals
<p> When September began, they led the AL East and owned the best record in baseball. When it ended, they owned the greatest collapse in baseball history, and the fallout swiftly claimed their manager, GM and training staff — not to mention their good standing with Boston sports fans. If the leaders in that clubhouse have any pride whatsoever, the Red Sox will bounce back in a big way.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 9, 2012 - 19:05
Path: /college-basketball/coaching-candidates-replace-bruce-weber-illinois

One of the most intriguing coaching positions in college basketball became available when Illinois dismissed Bruce Weber on Friday morning after nine seasons in Champaign. Some consider Illinois one of the elite jobs in the sport. The school has a strong history of success and is located near the hoops hotbed of Chicago. Others, however, believe this job is overrated. This faction contends that it’s very difficult to win at a high level unless you are willing to swim in murky recruiting waters.

That, however, is a debate for another day.

Right now, let’s take a look at some of the coaches that the school likely will target.

Top Tier

Shaka Smart, head coach, VCU

Smart emerged as a star in the coaching world when he guided VCU to the Final Four last season. This season, the Rams are back in the NCAA Tournament despite losing most of their key contributors from the Final Four team. He has a 38–16 record in the CAA in his three seasons at VCU. Smart, who has plenty of Midwest ties, would be a home run.



Brad Stevens, head coach, Butler

Stevens is perhaps the most respected head coach in the sport not named Mike Krzyzewski. Butler reached to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four seasons as a head coach, highlighted by back-to-back trips to the national title game. Stevens has made it clear that he is very happy at Butler, but he might have to listen if Illinois came calling.


Chris Collins, associate head coach, Duke

Collins is an Illinois native who starred at Duke in the mid-'90s and has served on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff at his alma mater since 2000. He has no experience as a head coach, and his candidacy might be hurt due to the fact that several of Coach K’s assistants have not enjoyed a high level of success as head coaches.

Other possibilities

Anthony Grant, head coach, Alabama

Grant, a former Billy Donovan assistant, has been a head coach for six seasons, three at VCU and three at Alabama. He took VCU to the NCAA Tournament in 2007 (and beat Duke in the first round) and 2009 and is on the verge of taking Bama to the NCAAs for the first time since 2006. Alabama is good job. Illinois is a better job.

Kevin Stallings, head coach, Vanderbilt

Stallings is in his 13th season at Vanderbilt and will have the Commodores in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the past six seasons and the sixth time in nine seasons. Stallings is an Illinois native who played at Purdue and served as the head coach at Illinois State for six seasons. He is happy at Vanderbilt, but could be ready for another challenge.

Chris Mack, head coach, Xavier

Mack has been very successful in his two-plus seasons at Xavier, but he reputation took a hit early this season when his team was involved in a post-game brawl with rival Cincinnati.

Scott Drew, head coach, Baylor

Drew will be taking Baylor to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in the past five seasons. He has done a tremendous job recruiting to Baylor, but isn’t regarded as an elite strategist. He is a native of Valparaiso, Ind.

Buzz Williams, head coach, Marquette

Williams’ name has come up for several Big 12 jobs in recent season, but he has elected to remain at Marquette. He has taken the Golden Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in five straight seasons.   

Gregg Marshall, head coach, Wichita State

Marshall has a 303–142 record in 14 seasons as a head coach. He took Winthrop to the NCAA Tournament seven times in nine seasons and will have Wichita State in the field this year (as a high seed) for the first time in his five seasons. 

-by Mitch Light
<p> Looking at the likely crop of candidates to take over for Bruce Weber</p>
Post date: Friday, March 9, 2012 - 12:25
Path: /nfl/rob-gronkowski-really-wants-be-madden-13-cover

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, aka "Gronk," is throwing his hat into the ring for The Madden NFL 13 Cover in a big way. Gronk recently put together a video of himself "getting jacked at all times, going crazy" in a bid to win votes. BTW, we're loving the retro work out pants worn by his brothers. 

<p> Gronk is REALLY campaigning to be the game's cover boy. Check out his awesome video.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 9, 2012 - 11:21
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/bracket-breakdown-field-68-1

By Mitch Light

Selection Sunday is just days away. Here's a conference-by-conference look at the Field of 68, as of Friday morning.

ACC (5)
In: Duke, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia
Worth a mention: NC State
Notes: NC State is over .500 in the ACC (9–7) and technically has no top-50 RPI wins. But it does have two wins over Miami (No. 55) and one over Texas (No. 52) — and two of those came away from home. The Pack need to beat Virginia in the ACC quarters to have a chance. The biggest intrigue in Atlanta surrounds Duke and North Carolina. The Tar Heels appear to be in decent shape to land a No. 1 seed, but Duke could play its way into that spot if it wins the ACC Tournament.

American East (1)
Stony Brook

A-10 (4)
Dayton, Saint Louis, Temple, Xavier
Worth a mention: Saint Joseph's
Notes: Xavier and Dayton were the two final teams in the field as of Friday morning. It’s tough to differentiate between these two rivals. Xavier’s computer numbers are a bit better, but Dayton has better wins. Xavier did win at Vanderbilt, but the Commodores were missing center Festus Ezeli at the time. Dayton has wins over Alabama (at full strength), at Temple (not at full strength), vs. Saint Louis and vs. Ole Miss. This debate will be settled on the court, however, as these two rivals play in the A-10 Tournament tomorrow night in Atlantic City. The winner should be in decent shape. The loser could still be in, but it will be very close.

A-Sun (1)

Big 12 (6)
In: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas
Worth a mention: None
Notes: Texas picked up a huge win over Iowa State Thursday in the Big 12 Tournament. The Horns are in good shape.

Big East (10)
Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, South Florida, Syracuse, West Virginia
Worth a mention: None
Notes: West Virginia is still in decent shape, even after blowing a lead vs. UConn in the Big East Tournament. Seton Hall, with seven top-100 RPI wins, is on shaky ground; beating Louisville Wednesday night would have ended any doubt. South Florida was impressive in its win over Villanova on Wednesday, but let one get away vs. Notre Dame on Thursday. Seton Hall and South Florida will be sweating Selection Sunday.

Big Sky (1)

Big South (1)

Big Ten (6)
Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Worth a mention: Northwestern
Notes: Northwestern’s chances took a huge hit with the OT loss to Minnesota on Thursday. Simply put, it’s hard to put a team that is only 1–10 vs. RPI top-50 teams into the field. The Wildcats have had ample opportunities to get that ‘big’ win, but only did so once — vs. Michigan State at home.

Big West (1)
Long Beach State.

Colonial (2)
In: Drexel, VCU
Notes: Drexel snuck in on Thursday night after Mississippi State lost to Georgia. The Dragons don’t have the profile of an NCAA team — they have one win over a top-80 RPI team (VCU at home) and have three losses to teams ranked 120 or lower — but Bruiser Flint’s club did win 27 games and dominate the CAA. This one is tough.

C-USA (2)
Memphis, Southern Miss

Horizon (1)

Ivy (1)

MAAC (1)
Worth a mention: Iona
Iona is 25–7 with an RPI of 40. The Gaels have four top-100 wins but also have two losses to teams ranked 220 or worse. It’s hard to pick between Iona and Drexel.

MAC (1)

MEAC (1)
Norfolk State

MVC (2)
Creighton, Wichita State

MWC (4)
Colorado State New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a mention: None
Notes: Colorado State picked up a convincing 81–60 win over TCU in the MWC quarterfinals on Thursday. The Rams are in.

Northeast (1)
Long Island

OVC (1)
Murray State

Pac 12 (1)
Worth a mention: Arizona, Oregon, Washington
Notes: Washington suffered a crushing blow in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament, losing to Oregon State. The Huskies won the regular season but do not have a win vs. a team ranked in the top-80 of the RPI. That is stunning. 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. Oregon (RPI 63, KenPom 63) played well down the stretch but lost to Colorado in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. The Ducks are done.

Patriot (1)

SEC (4)
Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt
Worth a mention: Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee
Notes: Mississippi State played its way out Thursday night with a loss to Georgia — its second of the season to the Dawgs — in the opening round of the SEC Tournament. Crushing. Tennessee has two wins over Florida and a win at home vs. Vanderbilt, but there also several warts on the résumé. They are 17–13 overall (win vs. Chaminade doesn’t count) and have four losses to 100+ RPI teams. This is a good team that might have to reach the SEC semis to warrant serious consideration. Ole Miss will have to beat Tennessee on Friday night to remain in the picture. The Rebels have some solid wins — Alabama (with JaMychal Green back in the lineup), Miami, Mississippi State — but also has a lot of losses (12).

Southern (1)

Southland (1)

Summit (1)
South Dakota State
Worth a mention: Oral Roberts
ORU’s résumé looks similar to Drexel’s and Iona’s — a lot of wins, but not a lot of good ones. In a normal year, this team wouldn’t have much of a shot at an at-large bid. But this isn’t a normal year.

Sun Belt (1)
Western Kentucky

SWAC (1)
Mississippi Valley State

WAC (1)

WCC (3)
In: BYU, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s
Notes: BYU has solid numbers (RPI 46, KenPom 48), and six of the Cougars’ eight losses have come against teams ranked in the RPI top 30.

<p> Selection Sunday is just days away. Here's a conference-by-conference&nbsp;look at the Field of 68, as of Friday morning.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 9, 2012 - 09:48
Path: /college-football/oklahoma-sooners-2012-spring-preview

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.

Oklahoma Sooners 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 10-3, 6-3 Big 12

Spring practice: March 5-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Landry Jones, 355 of 562, 4,463 yards, 29 TD, 15 INT
Rushing: Dominique Whaley, 113 att., 627 yards, 9 TD
Receiving: Kenny Stills, 61 rec., 849 yards, 8 TD
Tackles: Aaron Colin, 84
Sacks: Corey Nelson, 5.5
Interceptions: Tony Jefferson, 4

Redshirts to watch: DT Jordan Wade, DT Jordan Phillips, DT Marquis Anderson, DE Nathan Hughes, OT Dylan Dismuke

2012 Schedule

2012 Big 12 Schedule Analysis

Sept. 1 at UTEP
Sept. 8 Florida A&M
Sept. 15 Bye Week
Sept. 22 Kansas State
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 6 at Texas Tech
Oct. 13 Texas (Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas)
Oct. 20 Kansas
Oct. 27 Notre Dame
Nov. 3 at Iowa State
Nov. 10 Baylor
Nov. 17 at West Virginia
Nov. 24 Oklahoma State
Dec. 1 at TCU

Offensive Strength: The line has to be considered the most stable position on the offensive side of the ball. Only one departing player needs to be replaced while five players with playing experience return, including multiple All-Big-12 performers Gabe Ikard and Tyler Evans.

Offensive Weakness: The biggest issue on offense has to be with the pass-catchers. The loss of Ryan Broyles, the NCAA's all-time leading receiver, was painfully obvious over the last month of the 2011 season. Tight end James Hanna and wideout DeJuan Miller are gone as well. Running back could be an issue, especially if Dominique Whaley doesn't return 100 percent from an ankle injury.

Defensive Strength: The back seven of the defense has to be considered the strength. The linebackers return a pair of all-conference tacklers and the secondary is absolutely loaded with upside talent. However, the coaching staff needs to get them to perform up to their potential.

Defensive Weakness: The defensive line will be the area of focus for new (and old) defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Replacing the conference's "co-best" defensive player as well as another first-teamer at the end position will be key this spring. The Sooners lost 113 total tackles, 14 sacks and 32 tackles for a loss along the defensive line.

Spring Storylines Facing the Sooners:

1. Which Landry Jones will show up for the Sooners this fall? One wouldn't think that a 12,000-yard quarterback who is approaching 100 career touchdowns would be an issue. However, the numbers are well-documented and well-scrutinized. Jones showed major development from 2009 to 2010. He increased his completion percentage - 58.1% passing to 65.6% - and significantly dropped his interception rate - one every 32.1 attempts versus one every 51.4 attempts. Yet, 2011 saw Jones regress in both categories (63.1% and 37.5 attempts/INT). Additionally, his road record has been a major issue. He is 7-8 on the road as a starter and is 19-1 in Norman. Finally, he limped to the finish in 2011, going without a single touchdown pass in the final three games of the regular season (with five interceptions nonetheless). There is no reason to think Jones won't bounce back as a senior and the unquestioned leader of Crimson and Cream nation, but questions still hang over his head. This team will go as far as Jones takes them — which could be an eighth conference championship in 13 years.

2. A month of spring practice developing and organizing the wide receviers will go a long way to helping Jones return to form this fall. Without Broyles, this unit struggled mightily down the stretch. Kenny Stills has NFL ability and should be the go-to target for Jones this fall. Jaz Reynolds looks to be second in line but has to stay healthy. After those two, names like Kameel Jackson, Trey Franks and Sheldon McClain need to prove they can be contributors this fall. Trey Metoyer did not qualify last season, but is expected to be a key contributor in Oklahoma's receiving corps. Junior college recruit Courtney Gardner will also push Jackson, Franks and McClain for playing time. 

3. The return of Mark Stoops has to have Sooners fans excited about their defense. Stoops helped build the BCS National Championship unit of 2000 — one of the greatest defensive teams ever assembled — and will be charged with refiring a stagnant unit. Brent Venables left for Clemson after a two uncharacteristically poor showings on defense: 55th nationally in total defense in 2011 and 53rd in 2010. There is uber-talent in the secondary and linebacking corps and those two areas should be the strength of this unit. But Stoops first order of business will be to develop a defensive line that watched Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year Frank Alexander and first-team All-Big 12 end Ronnell Lewis depart for the NFL. Look for former elite recruit R.J. Washington, as well as David King and Geneo Grissom, to stablize the end position. Stacy McGee, Jamarkus McFarland, Casey Walker and Torrea Peterson should solidify the interior of the line.

Related Content Links:

2012 No. 11 Recruiting Class: Oklahoma Sooners
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 Big 12 Predictions

2012 Big 12 Schedule Analysis

<p> Oklahoma Sooners 2012 Spring Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, March 9, 2012 - 07:20
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-mountaineers-2012-spring-preview

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.

West Virginia Mountaineers 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 10-3, 5-2 Big East

Spring practice: March 11-April 21

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 6

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Geno Smith, 346 of 526, 4,385 yds., 31 TD, 7 INTs
Rushing: Dustin Garrison, 136 car., 742 yds., 6 TDs
Receiving: Tavon Austin, 101 rec., 1,186 yds., 8 TDs
Tackles: Darwin Cook, 85
Sacks: Terence Garvin, 3.5
Interceptions: Four players tied with 2

Redshirts to watch: DL Kyle Rose, LB Jared Barber, DB Terrell Chestnut, WR Dante Campbell, LB Isaiah Bruce

Early Enrollees: DL Imarjaye Albury, QB Ford Childress, S Karl Joseph, WR Jordan Thompson, S Sean Walters

JUCO Transfer to watch: OL Mark Glowinski

Transfer to watch: DL Derrick Bryant (UCLA)

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Marshall
Sept. 15 James Madison (Washington, D.C.)
Sept. 22 Maryland
Sept. 29 Baylor
Oct. 6 at Texas
Oct. 13 at Texas Tech
Oct. 20 Kansas State
Nov. 3 TCU
Nov. 10 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 17 Oklahoma
Nov. 24 at Iowa State
Dec. 1 Kansas

Offensive Strength: In the first year executing coach Dana Holgorsen’s spread attack, the Mountaineers averaged 346.9 passing yards per game last season. With another spring to pickup and tweak the pass-first attack, West Virginia should be even more comfortable with the offense in 2012. Quarterback Geno Smith should contend for All-American honors, while Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin form one of the top receiving duos in the nation.

Offensive Weakness: The offensive line was a source of criticism and frustration for the coaching staff last season, and the jury is still out on this group in 2012. Three starters return up front, but left tackle Don Barclay – a first-team All-Big East selection – and right tackle Tyler Rader are gone. Center Joe Madsen is a good building block for this group, and guard Josh Jenkins is back after missing all of last season with an injury. However, the line is still one of West Virginia’s biggest question marks going into 2012. Running back is also an issue, especially with Dustin Garrison recuperating from a torn ACL suffered in Orange Bowl practices.

Defensive Strength: Despite the loss of cornerback Keith Tandy and safety Eain Smith, West Virginia’s secondary is in relatively good shape. Pat Miller and Brodrick Jenkins will get the nod at cornerback, while Darwin Cook and Terence Garvin should be one of the Big 12’s top safety combinations.

Defensive Weakness: New co-defensive coordinators Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest have some rebuilding to do in the front seven. Ends Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin combined for 14.5 sacks last season and will be missed. Linebacker Najee Goode is another departed standout on defense, as he recorded 87 stops and picked up first-team All-Big East honors last year.

Spring Storylines Facing the Mountaineers

1. Goodbye Big East. Hello Big 12. Change is in the air in Morgantown this spring, as West Virginia has left the Big East in favor of the Big 12. The Mountaineers are somewhat of an odd geographic fit for the Big 12, but that could change with more expansion in the next few years. Regardless of geography, West Virginia should be a good addition to the Big 12 and will be in the mix to claim the league title in 2012. Change wasn't relegated just to the Mountaineers' conference, as defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel departed to Arizona, forcing the Mountaineers to bring in Joe DeForest from Oklahoma State and Keith Patterson from Arkansas State to share the co-defensive coordinator title. Holgorsen and DeForest have experience coaching in the Big 12, which will certainly come in handy as the Mountaineers adjust to life outside of the Big East.  

2. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for the Mountaineers in 2012. Quarterback Geno Smith should surpass last season’s yardage mark (4,385), while receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will both push for first-team All-Big 12 honors. Ivan McCartney had a strong sophomore year in 2011 and will build upon that success in 2012. However, the offense isn’t without concerns, especially on the line where two starters are gone. The offensive line was considered a weakness last season, but the return of guard Josh Jenkins from injury and the second year in Holgorsen’s scheme should be enough to expect some improvement from this group. While the offensive line won’t be an issue against most teams in the Big 12, the play of this unit will be an issue once Texas, Oklahoma and TCU come calling.

3. Outside of the offensive line, the biggest question mark on offense will be the rushing attack. Dustin Garrison had a solid freshman year, rushing for 742 yards and six touchdowns, but suffered a torn ACL in Orange Bowl practices. With Garrison’s status uncertain for preseason workouts, the Mountaineers need to figure out a contingency plan for the 2012 season. Shawne Alston ranked second on the team with 416 rushing yards last year and would figure to be the early frontrunner to replace Garrison. Sophomore Andrew Buie is also in the mix for playing time. The Mountaineers don’t need a 1,000-yard rusher to emerge, but they have to have someone who can help to take the pressure off quarterback Geno Smith. With Garrison sidelined indefinitely, it’s important for Alston and Buie to have a strong spring.

4. With a new defensive scheme and a change at coordinator, preseason workouts is an important time for the Mountaineers to find the right mix on defense for 2012. DeForest and Patterson have a tough rebuilding job up front, as ends Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller have finished their eligibility. The linebacking corps will miss Najee Goode, but there’s experience returning with Jewone Snow, Doug Rigg and Jared Barber back in teh mix. With the move to a 3-4 scheme, the linebackers will be a greater area of focus, especially in establishing a pass rush. The secondary ranked 35th nationally in pass defense last season, but that will be put to the test with better quarterbacks and receivers in the Big 12. With six starters returning, there’s plenty for Patterson and DeForest to work with. However, the Mountaineers need to quickly adjust to the new defensive scheme if they want to contend for the Big 12 title. 

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 Big 12 Predictions

2012 Big 12 Schedule Analysis

<p> West Virginia is on the move from the Big East to the Big 12. Athlon previews what's in store for the Mountaineers as spring practice begins in Morgantown.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 9, 2012 - 07:17
All taxonomy terms: AC100, College Football, Recruiting
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-recruiting-rankings-wrte

- 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

No receiving class will ever compare to the 2008 haul that included top-100 talents like Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Michael Floyd, Jonathan Baldwin, DeAndre Brown, DeVier Posey and Joe Adams. But the 2012 group can make the case that it has the most highly-touted wide recevier to enter the collegiate ranks in years. He is the nation's all-time leading prep receiver and is the No. 1 prospect in the nation. And he is going to Missouri.

Here are the best incoming wide receivers in the nation (tight ends below):

  Name HT WT Hometown AC100 College
1. Dorial Green-Beckham 6'6" 220 Springfield, MO No. 1 Missouri
2. Eddie Williams 6'3" 204 Panama City Beach, FL No. 12 Alabama
3. Nelson Agholor 6'1" 180 Tampa, FL No. 26 USC
4. Thomas Johnson 5'11" 180 Dallas, TX No. 29 Texas A&M
5. Shaq Roland 6'1" 173 Lexington, SC No. 41 South Carolina
6. Chris Black 5'11" 180 Jacksonville, FL No. 42 Alabama
7. Deontay Greenberry 6'3" 185 Fresno, CA No. 52 Houston
8. Amari Cooper 6'1" 185 Miami, FL No. 58 Alabama
9. Cayleb Jones 6'3" 198 Austin, TX No. 59 Texas
10. Durron Neal 6'1" 195 St. Louis, MO No. 74 Oklahoma
11. Germone Hopper 6' 170 Charlotte, NC No. 81 Clemson
12. Kendall Sanders 6' 175 Athens, TX No. 87 Texas
13. Bryce Treggs 5'11" 171 Bellflower, CA No. 92 Cal
14. Joel Caleb 6'3" 205 Midlothian, VA No. 95 Virginia Tech
15. JaQuay Williams 6'4" 205 Tyrone, GA No. 99 Auburn
16. Sterling Shepard 5'11" 185 Oklahoma City, OK No. 100 Oklahoma
17. Aaron Burbridge 6'1" 190 Farmington Hills, MI No. 104 Michigan State
18. Ricardo Louis 6'2" 210 Miami Beach, FL No. 121 Auburn
19. Jordan Payton 6'2" 205 Westlake Village, CA No. 124 UCLA
20. Darreus Rogers 6'2" 195 Compton, CA No. 125 USC
21. Domnique Wheeler 6'1" 176 Crockett, TX No. 127 Texas Tech
22. Gabriel Marks 5'11" 175 Los Angeles, CA No. 131 Washington St
23. Eugene Lewis 6'2" 185 Wilkes-Barre, PA No. 151 Penn State
24. Avery Johnson 6'2" 180 Pompano Beach, FL No. 166 LSU
25. Darius Powe 6'2" 186 Lakewood, CA No. 168 Cal
26. Malcolm Lewis 6' 194 Miramar, FL No. 173 Miami, Fla.
27. D'Vario Montgomery 6'3" 210 Winter Park, FL No. 174 USF
28. Drae Bowles 6'1" 198 Jackon, TN No. 180 Tennessee
29. Leonte Carroo 6'1" 190 Edison, NJ No. 185 Rutgers
30. Justin Ferguson 6'2" 205 Pembroke Pines, FL No. 186 Notre Dame
31. Reginald Davis 6'1" 185 Tenaha, TX No. 187 Texas Tech
32. Quinshad Davis 6'4" 185 Gaffney, SC No. 195 North Carolina
33. Latroy Pittman 6' 195 Citra, FL No. 203 Florida
34. Brandon Shepard 6'1" 195 Creve Coeur, MO No. 205 Oklahoma St
35. Corey Coleman 5'11" 180 Richardson, TX No. 208 Baylor
36. Derrick Woods 6'1" 185 Inglewood, CA No. 210 Oklahoma
37. Dwayne Stanford 6'5" 185 Cincinnati, OH No. 213 Oregon
38. Alton Howard 5'9" 180 Orlando, FL No. 219 Tennessee
39. Cedric Dozier 5'11" 175 Lakewood, WA No. 232 Cal
40. Kwinton Smith 6'4" 206 Hamer, SC No. 235 South Carolina
41. Jason Croom 6'5" 200 Norcross, GA No. 240 Tennessee
42. Jaydon Mickens 5'11" 175 Los Angeles, CA No. 257 Washington

Here are the best incoming tight ends in the nation:

  Name HT WT Hometown AC100 College
1. Kent Taylor 6'5" 225 Land O'Lakes, FL No. 65 Florida
2. Ricky Parks 6'4" 235 Hogansville, GA No. 90 Auburn
3. Colin Thompson 6'4" 252 Warminster, PA No. 136 Florida
4. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick 6'5" 260 Rocklin, CA No. 145 USC
5. Pharaoh Brown 6'6" 220 Lyndhurst, OH No. 168 Oregon
6. John Thomas* 6'5" 245 Bossier City, LA No. 220 LSU
7. Taylor McNamara 6'5" 235 San Diego, CA No. 234 Oklahoma
8. Sean Price 6'3" 235 Citra, FL No. 236 USF

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: Defensive Linemen
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
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

<p> 2012 College Football Recruiting Rankings: WR/TE</p>
Post date: Friday, March 9, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-16-rickie-fowler

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. 16: Rickie Fowler

Born: Dec. 13, 1988, Murietta, Calif.  | Career PGA Tour Wins: 0 | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,084,681 World Ranking: 36


Brandel Chamblee's Take:

One might wonder how Rickie could end up on a list of potential major winners for 2012 when he has never won a tournament on the PGA Tour, or how he could be ranked ahead of players who have far more experience and success in the game’s biggest events. The answer lies not so much in the stats but in the feeling one gets when watching him play, a feeling that was validated in the fall of 2011 in Asia when he won the Kolon Korea Open by six shots over Rory McIlroy. His undeniable talent is much respected by his peers, and his ability to embrace adversity was evident in the difficult conditions of the final round of last year’s British Open, where he finished tied for fifth. In any one event it is very difficult to predict a winner, but in predicting success over a career for a player of Rickie’s talent and attitude, it’s not hard to look like a soothsayer.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 8
Wins: 0

2011 Performance:
Masters - T38
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - T5
PGA Championship - T51

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T38 (2011)
U.S. Open - T60 (2008)
British Open - T5 (2011)
PGA Championship - T51 (2011)
Top-10 Finishes: 1
Top-25 Finishes: 2
Missed Cuts: 2

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

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Post date: Friday, March 9, 2012 - 05:30
Path: /columns/garage-talk/how-do-you-stop-nascar-monopoly

by Tom Bowles

After five years of skydiving downward in both ratings and relevance, 2011 appeared to be the season NASCAR pulled out the parachute. A white-knuckle championship battle, ending in a tie between Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart, led to a double-digit audience increase in the Chase. Five new first-time winners showcased the parity of competition, while the upcoming car models for 2013 are reported to put the “stock” back in stock cars. (What do we call them again? The Car of Tomorrow, Tomorrow?) Even with a disastrous start to 2012, courtesy of Mother Nature, the rain-delayed Daytona 500 pulled an 8.0 in the Nielsens, with a total of 36.5 million people tuning in for at least some portion of the event — making it the second-most watched stock car race in history.

But as evidence mounts that NASCAR is headed in the right direction on-track, its position in company boardrooms across America remains in a precarious position. Last year’s Daytona 500 champion, Trevor Bayne — despite being charismatic, youthful (21), and trouble-free — failed to secure a primary backer to run the Cup Series full-time this year. Even now, he’s positioned to start no more than 12 races, despite being paired with the legendary Wood Brothers while watching funding for his AAA-baseball type Nationwide ride dry up completely.

Matt Kenseth, this year’s 500 champion and a top-5 finisher in last year’s Cup Series point standings, remains without funding for a whopping 41 percent of this season’s schedule. Even teammate Edwards, who fell just short of the title, lost full-time backer AFLAC and is using a potpourri of a half-dozen primary sponsors to make it through.

Why does the financial bleeding refuse to stop? All other major sports continue to rake in the dough for everything from stadiums to postseason tournaments, watching their “recession revenues” skyrocket. According to Forbes’ yearly evaluations in the four major stick-and-ball sports, the average value of a franchise went up over the past 12 months: 7 percent in MLB, 6.5 percent in the NBA, 5 percent in the NHL and 4 percent in the NFL. And NASCAR? Its average value within the top nine teams declined 3 percent, down to $141 million — a number that pales in comparison to even the $240 million average value of a hockey franchise. So if “it’s the economy, stupid,” as many NASCAR executives like to claim, why are people and advertising dollars beefing up elsewhere? Money still makes the world go round, and even in the cases where there’s a limited amount, people are choosing to spend it in other places.

It’s because fixing the sport’s business model is harder than it looks. Every organization is a private contractor, meaning the sport has no control over everything from how they spend their money to how many races they enter. During NASCAR’s “boom” years, in the 1990s, that was a good thing: any Joe Schmo off the street with a license could come in with a racecar and attempt competition at even the sport’s top level. But as the price to play increased, NASCAR’s lack of leverage bit it as a “country club” level of elite owners gathered exorbitant amounts of money and resources to compete. Opening up their own engine shops, chassis centers and hiring the Best Buy geek squad of aerodynamic specialists, their price to play became bloated compared to the $5 million it took to win in the mid-’90s. Suddenly, $25 million for a sponsor was what a small, single-car team needed to match the amount a four-car organization was paying its glutton of 400-plus employees.

That’s important, because as the sport enters 2012 a decline in both owners and revenues continue to give us one crucial exception to the rule. Take a look at how the top 5 NASCAR race teams in value have evolved over the last five years since Forbes first rated them in mid-2006:

Forbes’ Most Valuable NASCAR Teams: 2007
1) Roush Fenway Racing - $316 million
2) Hendrick Motorsports - $297 million
3) Joe Gibbs Racing - $173 million
4) Evernham Motorsports - $128 million
5) Richard Childress Racing - $124 million

Total value of the top 9 teams in the sport: $1.444 billion
No. 1 Team (Roush Fenway Racing): 21.8 percent of that total

Forbes’ Most Valuable NASCAR Teams: February 2012
1) Hendrick Motorsports - $350 million
Percentage Difference: +17.8 percent

2) Roush Fenway Racing - $185 million
Percentage Difference: -41.5 percent

3) Joe Gibbs Racing: $155 million
Percentage Difference: -10.4 percent

4) Richard Childress Racing: $147 million
Percentage Difference: +15.6 percent

5) Stewart-Haas Racing: $108 million
Percentage Difference: N/A

Total value of the top 9 teams in the sport: $1.267 billion (8.7 percent decline)
No. 1 Team (Hendrick Motorsports): 27.6 percent of that total

You’ll notice that Hendrick, which was second before Jimmie Johnson racked up the first of five straight titles, now has nearly double the value of any other Cup Series organization. That’s not unusual in sports; in baseball, for example, the Yankees’ value ($1.7 billion) is almost twice that of the second-place Boston Red Sox. But in baseball, where every team is franchised, the Yankees pay a penalty for spending too much money, a luxury tax that benefits other teams and helps keep the sport’s competitive balance intact.

In NASCAR, there is no such thing, meaning as other teams fall further behind Hendrick can still charge top dollar for everything from advertising space to engines and chassis. Its equipment has now won six straight titles; even Stewart’s win last year, with his Stewart-Haas Racing team, came through the grace of Hendrick sheet metal and horsepower slapped on the side. As revenues increase, there are no consequences for Hendrick to consider cutting spending or streamlining its business. In fact, with the SHR partnership throwing an assist to “satellite” organizations, it only increases its value. And it’s A-plus marketing department, with statistics to sell, continues to rack up worldwide deals: they’re on the verge of getting a Chinese company, Trina Solar, to back Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 for nine events.

Does that mean money buys championships? Not necessarily, but the important thing is it appears that way to the owners who matter. Kenseth is the perfect example: he already has three sponsors in Best Buy, Zest (a new company) and Valvoline that, if Roush Fenway Racing lowered its operating costs could back him in all 36 events. Their presence is a sign the Fortune 500 isn’t completely ignoring the sport, they’re just putting their foot down and saying, “We’re not giving you a blank check anymore.”

But with the top team still pushing the envelope, how could Roush lower the price tag? No wonder Edwards has more logos on the side of his uniform than that guy with the pieces of flare in Office Space. Broken apart, then sold on particular drivers’ talent, that fleet of companies could back nearly 25 percent of the 43-car grid. But the price to play, uncontrolled, remains high enough that RFR believes the strategy must be to filter funding straight to their sponsor’s dream.

The same applies to an owner looking to enter the sport from the outside. No one wants to enter racing to run second, and right now, the impression is to run first, based on stats, you need to spend at a rate that creates a $350 million NASCAR organization. Even beyond Hendrick, the value for a team like Richard Childress Racing suggests an operating cost per team approaching $50 million.

Certainly in Hendrick’s case, considering Johnson left Daytona with negative points, the actual truth to that statement – money buys championships – is far from a guarantee. But the one place where NASCAR is right about the economy is too much money scares potential owners away, from Red Bull Racing bailing back to Europe to former Cup champion Robert Yates, who chose to retire rather than fall further behind the country club crowd.

This year, Forbes stopped short of ranking the top 10 NASCAR franchises because it only found nine that stood above the fray. What’s the solution? Some say franchising — the first step towards some sort of “salary cap” or “luxury tax” model the other major sports have employed. Others say an expansion of NASCAR’s one rule it tried to use to stop uncontrolled growth: a four-team “limit” per owner. Reducing that to two, plus outlawing the sales of engines and chassis to teams you do not own could limit information sharing, although it would do little to nothing to cut costs. Others feel like putting creativity back in the hands of the mechanics, like relaxing rules for the 2013 model and reducing dependence on aerodynamics, will give underdogs the ability to compete once again at the fraction of the cost. If it’s proven they can win — consistently, to the point a single-car team is making the Chase — perhaps the economics would magically reverse themselves.

There is no perfect solution out there right now. But it’s clear there’s a problem, and the quicker NASCAR stops denying it, blaming a dragging economy and starts working towards long-term fixes, the better off it’s going to be.

Follow to Tom on Twitter: @NASCARBowles

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Tom Bowles examines the economics of NASCAR, where corporate funding makes the cars go 'round.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 15:34
Path: /columns/garage-talk/backseat-drivers-fan-council-0

by Dustin Long

The Backseats Drivers Fan Council is back! While NASCAR and tracks have their own fan councils, most people don’t see the results of what fans are asked. That’s why I started a fan council last year where anyone could answer questions about the sport and see the results, along with comments fellow council members made.

Was NASCAR’s punishment of Chad Knaus fair? Do car brands matter anymore to NASCAR fans? Will rising gas prices force some fans to attend fewer NASCAR races? Those were among the topics members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council debated in this week’s survey.

There’s much to discuss, which Fan Council members did, so, let’s get to what was said:

NASCAR announced that it would suspend crew chief Chad Knaus six races, fine him $100,000 and dock Jimmie Johnson 25 driver points, among other penalties after issues were found with Johnson’s car at Daytona in the first day at the track. Fan Council members were asked what they thought of the penalties, which Hendrick Motorsports is appealing.

44.4 percent said the penalty was appropriate
41.4 percent said the penalty was too harsh
14.2 percent said the penalty was not severe enough

What Fan Council members said:

• It's about time that they start looking at the body of work and not individual events for the 48 bunch. Has a year gone by in recent history when they weren't caught trying something? They were warned not to mess with the body and they have repeatedly. Time to drop the hammer and let the chips fall where they may.

• NASCAR officials seemed to talk a lot in the off-season about being more transparent and consistent with the fans, but I don't think this decision is very transparent. I believe that this punishment is about more than just C-posts. It's no big secret that NASCAR has been unhappy with how far Knaus has pushed the limits of the rules, so it appears to me that they are trying to 'put him back in place' with the suspension and fine, rather than just respond to the C-post issue.

• Innovation has always been part of racing, why kill it altogether. Not a 48 fan, but come on NASCAR, give the teams a break.

• I feel like there is either more to this story we don't know or this is too harsh.

• I think NASCAR is way out of line on this one. I figure what makes a good crew chief is a natural talent for figuring things out. Their goal isn't to cheat, but to figure out how to go faster. NASCAR believes its job is to rein them in, but I believe it's wrong for NASCAR to penalize them for being innovative. Tell them no, we don't like that, go change it, but a suspension and penalty like this is just way over the top.

• Chad is a repeat offender. He didn't learn from his previous penalties so it is only right that NASCAR make these penalties more severe. Bottom line is that Chad Knaus was cheating and he got caught and he was punished appropriately.

• Should 100% be overturned on appeal.

• It's impossible for fans to know the true violation without some kind of evidentiary support. Until NASCAR does a 5-minute video presentation on why it was illegal or not, fans will never completely understand what was wrong and how bad it was or wasn't. Have to trust the sanctioning body on this one.

<p> The Backseat Drivers Fan Council gives its opinion on NASCAR's penalty and manufacturer importance.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 12:26
Path: /columns/garage-talk/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-las-vegas

by Jay Pennell

While our 2012 fantasy season got off to a great start in Daytona, last weekend's race at Phoenix International Raceway proved even the hands-down favorite — in this case Kasey Kahne — can find trouble and ruin a fantasy day.

Anything can, and will, happen throughout the course of a race, making NASCAR one of the toughest fantasy sports to predict.

This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hits the desert for the second time in as many weeks, as the early season schedule rolls into the Sin City for the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Simply looking at the statistics, it is easy to see which team will head into Sunday's race the favorite. In a town built on gambling, this weekend's safe bet is Roush Fenway Racing. In the speedway's 14-year history, no organization has had more success than the Roush cars.

The “Cat in the Hat” Jack Roush has had one of his drivers celebrating in Victory Lane in seven of the 14 Sprint Cup events held at the venue. Carl Edwards earned his lone victory of the 2011 season on the 1.5-mile track, beating an otherwise dominant Tony Stewart in the process. Edwards was coming off two impressive performances at Daytona and Phoenix, although a wreck at PIR led to a 28th-place finish. This year, another Roush Fenway Racing driver finds himself in a similar situation.

Greg Biffle has a renewed confidence in 2012, after an extremely disappointing performance last year. He has been candid in his comments and criticism of the team’s 2011 showing and also outspoken about its upcoming trip to Vegas. With consecutive third-place finishes to open the season, Biffle seems poised to make his return to Victory Lane this weekend at a 1.5-mile venue where he’s clicked off five top 10s in eight starts. Biffle tops the list as this week’s fantasy favorite.

While Biffle’s teammate, Edwards, went to Victory Lane in last year’s Vegas race, his No. 99 Ford was not the most dominant car that day. That honor went to the aforementioned Stewart.

Leading 163 of the 267 laps, Stewart had to come through the field after a pit road penalty sent him to the back of the pack. Taking two tires to regain track position, Stewart was forced to take four tires on the final pit stop while Edwards took two.

Las Vegas is one of only two tracks currently on the Cup schedule where the defending series champion has yet to win (the other being Kentucky Speedway). After last year’s disappointing second-place finish, Stewart is eager to knock Vegas off his yet to win list.

Stewart was on par for a strong finish last Sunday in Phoenix, but an issue with the Electronic Fuel Injection system led to a 22nd-place finish (following a 16th at Daytona). Given their disappointing finish last weekend, I expect Stewart and his Steve Addington-led crew to put up a solid finish this week, making the defending champion my safe play of the weekend.

<p> Fantasy NASCAR predictions for the Kobalt Tools 400 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 10:50
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-17-fredrik-jacobson


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. 17: Fredrik Jacobson

Born: Sept. 26, 1974, Gothenburg, Sweden | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 (3 on European Tour) | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,488,325 World Ranking: 40

Brandel Chamblee's Take:

Outside of the heavy favorites with obvious attributes that separate them from the masses in the middle, there are two things that matter most: attitude and the ability to hole a putt. 
Fredrik Jacobson gets the most out of his scrappy game because he doesn’t beat himself up and rarely gives away strokes on the greens. Long known as a player who could scramble, in recent years he has put together solid ball-striking weeks to go with his considerable skills around the greens. In 2011 he broke through with a win at the Travelers Championship to go with solid weeks at the U.S. and British Opens, where he finished tied for 14th and 16th respectively. In the fall at the WGC-HSBC, he led most of the week before finishing second. I have no doubt that 2011 has set up this 37-year-old Swede for his best year in the majors, starting with The Masters, where he will be playing for the first time since 2005.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 22
Wins: 0

2011 Performance:
Masters - DNP
U.S. Open - T14
British Open - T16
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T17 (2004)
U.S. Open - T5 (2003)
British Open - T6 (2003)
PGA Championship - T17 (2004)
Top-10 Finishes: 2
Top-25 Finishes: 8
Missed Cuts: 10


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

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Post date: Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 10:45
Path: /college-basketball/10-greatest-college-basketball-freshmen-all-time

Freshmen have led teams to national championships. They’ve won National Player of the Year honors and Defensive Player of the Year honors. Even more rookies have gone on to be top picks in the NBA Draft.

Kentucky’s Anthony Davis could be in position to do all those things this season. If he checks two or three of those boxes, he’ll be in the conversation for the best freshman season of all time. But where does Davis stand now, before he’s had a chance to make his mark in the postseason? Simply put, he’s already having one of the best freshman seasons in college basketball history.

Here are Athlon Sports’ picks for the top 10 greatest freshman seasons:

1. Kevin Durant, Texas 2006-07

Stats: 25.8 points, 11.1 rebounds

His case for top freshman: In the first season impacted by the NBA’s rule to require draftees to be a year removed from high school, Durant showed what a new breed of precocious freshmen could do in college. He swept the National Player of the Year awards and remains the only freshman to do so. In his only college season, Durant was the only player in the country to finish in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding – he finished fourth in both. Despite Durant’s prolific season, his play didn’t translate to postseason success. Texas lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to USC, led by another freshman, O.J. Mayo. The Longhorns also couldn’t solve Kansas, who won the Big 12 regular season title and defeated the Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament final in overtime. Durant was the second pick in the 2007 NBA Draft behind the oft-injured one-and-done Greg Oden.

2. Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse 2002-03

Stats: 22.2 points, 10 rebounds

His case for top freshman: Some freshman-led teams have come close, but Anthony became the first rookie since Pervis Ellison in 1986 (Louisville) to lead his team to a national title. Anthony was a second-team All-American in his only college season, but none were better in the NCAA Tournament. Anthony was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, helping Jim Boeheim to his first national championship. In the final against Kansas, Anthony scored 20 points with 10 rebounds and seven assists. A game earlier in the national semifinal against Texas, Anthony had 33 points and 14 rebounds. His elite play led Syracuse to a title, but it wasn’t limited to March. During the regular season, Anthony finished with 22 double-doubles, the most for a freshman since Virginia’s Ralph Sampson in 1980.

3. Anthony Davis, Kentucky 2011-12

Stats: 14.1 points, 9.8 rebounds

His case for top freshman: Carmelo Anthony won a national title, Durant was the consensus Player of the Year, Derrick Rose was the No. 1 overall draft pick, and Greg Oden was the National Defensive Player of the Year. Davis has a realistic opportunity to be the only freshman to do all of the above. If he does, the debate for best freshman season might be a race for No. 2. For now, Davis may be the best freshman to play for John Calipari, which is quite the statement. Davis’  7’4” wingspan changes the game on both sides of the court, contributing to his nation-leading 4.7 blocked shots per game. As much as Davis is indiscriminate on the defensive end, he’s choosy on offense. He’s shooting 66.1 percent from the field, second only behind Missouri forward Ricardo Ratliffe’s potential record-setting rate.

4. Chris Jackson, LSU 1988-89

Stats: 30.2 points, 2.5 rebounds

His case for top freshman: Jackson, who later changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, turned in one of the all-time best freshman seasons nearly two decades before it became commonplace for first-year players to rewrite record books. Jackson averaged 30.2 points per game, which remains a Division I freshman record. It also remains the seventh-highest scoring average in SEC history. Since Jackson’s freshman season, only two SEC players have topped 25 points per game in a season – Jackson as a sophomore, and LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal in 1991-92. Jackson finished the season as a consensus All-American, but the Tigers lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to UTEP.

5. Wayman Tisdale, Oklahoma 1982-83

Stats: 24.5 points, 10.3 rebounds

His case for top freshman: Tisdale was the forefather to the great freshmen of the 2000s. It’s fitting, then, his name is on the National Freshman of the Year award. In 1983, Tisdale was the first freshman to be a first-team All-American while also earning Big Eight Player of the Year honors. He accomplished both feats again as a sophomore and a junior.

6. Kevin Love, UCLA 2007-08

Stats: 17.5 points, 10.6 rebounds

His case for top freshman: During better times for Ben Howland at UCLA, the coach relied primarily on veterans. Love was the exception during the Bruins’ run of Final Fours. Love led UCLA in scoring and rebounding in the Bruins’ last of three consecutive appearances in the national semifinal. He also finished the season with 23 double-doubles; Michael Beasley is the only other freshman to amass more. Love was a consensus All-American and the Pac-10 Player of the Year, one of only two freshmen to earn the honor.

7. Michael Beasley, Kansas State 2007-08

Stats: 26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds

His case for top freshman: Like Durant’s college career, some of his Big 12 records didn’t last long. A year after Durant lit up the Big 12, Beasley did the same a year later. Beasley set a Big 12 single-season record by averaging 26.2 points per game, breaking Durant’s record of 25.8. Beasley finished with 13 30-point games, the most for any Big 12 player in a season (Durant had 11). Beasley’s 28 double-doubles also remains a national freshman record. Unlike Durant, Beasley didn’t pick up any National Player of the Year awards – that hardware in 2008 went to North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough. Like Durant and Texas, Beasley and Kansas State failed to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, losing to Wisconsin in the second round.

8. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State 2010-11

Stats: 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds

His case for top freshman: Ohio State has had more success with star freshmen in recent years than any other Big Ten team. Sullinger may have been the best of a group that includes Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. Unlike Oden, Conley and big men B.J. Mullens and Kosta Koufos, Sullinger elected to stay for his sophomore season. As a freshman, Sullinger was a consensus All-American and the Big Ten’s first National Freshman of the Year since Michigan’s Chris Webber in 1992. Though Ohio State spent the entire season ranked in the top four, Sullinger and the Buckeyes finished their season in the Sweet 16 with a loss to Kentucky.

9. Derrick Rose, Memphis 2007-08

Stats: 14.9 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds

His case for top freshman: Hard to believe as it is, Rose wasn’t the most decorated player on his own team as a freshman. That distinction went to All-American and Conference USA Player of the Year Chris Douglas-Roberts. Rose belongs on this list, though, as the point guard of a team that played for a national title before falling 75-68 in overtime to Kansas. Rose averaged 20.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game in the NCAA Tournament, but his missed free throws late in regulation of the title game sealed Memphis’ fate. Months later, Rose was the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

10. John Wall, Kentucky 2009-10

Stats: 16.6 points, 6.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds

His case for top freshman: John Calipari started at Kentucky the same way he finished his time at Memphis – with an elite one-and-done point guard. Wall followed in the footsteps of Rose and Tyreke Evans at Memphis and preceded Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague at Kentucky. In leading Kentucky to a 35-3 season, Wall was the National Freshman of the Year and the Associated Press and coaches’ pick for SEC Player of the Year (Oddly enough, teammate DeMarcus Cousins was the coaches’ pick for SEC Freshman of the Year). Wall was blocked for most National Player of the Year awards by Ohio State’s Evan Turner, but Wall did earn the Adolph Rupp Trophy. Go figure.

Honorable mention: Greg Oden, Ohio State 2006-07

Stats: 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds

His case for top freshman: For a least a year, Oden vs. Durant was a heated debate. Durant was the consensus Player of the Year, but Oden and fellow freshman Mike Conley Jr. helped Ohio State reach the national championship game. Oden ended up going first in the NBA Draft, but it was the last time he’d have the edge over Durant, who became an NBA superstar while Oden’s pro career has been derailed by injuries. As a college player, Oden holds the distinction of being the only freshman to win National Defensive Player of the Year honors by averaging 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game.

—Story by David Fox

<p> And yes, Kentucky's Anthony Davis made the list.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 06:52
All taxonomy terms: Temple Owls, News, Big East
Path: /college-football/temple-football-gets-redemption-whats-next-big-east-expansion

The Big East has arguably been college football’s most active conference with it comes to realignment, but it appears the final piece (at least for now) is in place. Temple will move its football program from the MAC to the 

Big East in time for the 2012 season. The Owls will bring the rest of their sports to the Big East in time for 2013-14. Temple’s exit fee from the MAC will be paid for by the Big East.

With the defection of West Virginia to the Big 12, the Big East was left with only seven football members for 2012. With most of the teams in the conference having trouble filling out their schedule, bringing in an eighth team for Big East play was the only logical option. Boise State was rumored as a candidate to join a year early, but the Broncos chose to stick around in the Mountain West for another season.

Considering the history between Temple and the Big East, it’s certainly strange to see the Owls helping to bail the conference out of a jam.

Temple joined the Big East for football in 1991, but never found success. The Owls won just overall eight games from 1991-96 and never managed more than four wins in a season during its original tenure in the Big East.

With the lackluster performance on the field and sluggish attendance, Temple was booted from the Big East and forced to play as an Independent in 2005-06 with disastrous results. The Owls won one game during those two seasons, but eventually found their footing with the hire of Al Golden as head coach and the move to the MAC.

While Temple never won a MAC title, the program has made significant progress from where it was in 2005. The Owls have won at least eight games in each of the last three seasons and posted two bowl appearances – 2009 EagleBank Bowl and the 2011 New Mexico Bowl.

Considering where Temple was in 2005 (0-11), the school deserves a ton of credit for working its way back into the Big East and becoming relevant on the national scene in football. Sure, the Big East isn’t going to threaten the other five BCS conferences in any preseason power ranking, but it’s an upgrade over the MAC. And with a boost in funding thanks to the Big East revenue, Temple isn’t going back to the days of finishing 0-11 or 1-10. The Owls are sitting in a good area for recruiting, and playing games in Lincoln Financial Field is much more appealing than Veterans Stadium.

How Will the Owls Fare in 2012?

Although the Owls are on the rise, it might be too much to ask for this team to contend for the Big East in 2012. Running back Bernard Pierce decided to bolt early for the NFL and the offense loses four key senior contributors on the offensive line. The defense should be solid, but must replace end Adrian Robinson. Coach Steve Addazio has done a good job recruiting, and while a conference title is probably out of reach, playing in a bowl game isn’t out of the question.

The Big East Does What It Needs To Do

While commissioner John Marinatto has taken his share of heat for the defections of West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, his expansion decisions have been the right ones for the future of the Big East. Although the conference would have been thrilled to land BYU or Air Force, gaining Boise State, Houston and UCF on the football side is a huge positive, while Temple and Memphis are two solid additions for hoops. The Tigers and Owls also have potential on the gridiron, and their improvement will be critical for the league’s overall standing in the next couple of seasons.

SMU and San Diego State have each had its struggles, but both appear to be back on the right path. The Mustangs have made three consecutive bowl appearances, while the Aztecs are coming off back-to-back bowl bids. Both teams reside in good media markets, and have the potential to grow should they continue to have success on the field.

Expansion was long overdue for the Big East, but this will be an intriguing conference when 2013 rolls around. Boise State has emerged as a national power and will anchor the Western Division. UCF and Houston have proven capable of finishing with 10 wins, but moving to the Big East is a step up in competition. The pieces are in place for both teams to do well in the new conference. And with 12 members, the Big East tentatively plans on having a conference championship game in New York City.

What’s Next For the Big East? More Expansion?

The addition of Temple certainly addresses a major hole in the Big East schedules for 2012, but the conference may not be done with expansion. Commissioner John Marinatto mentioned the Big East would like to get to 14 football members, creating two divisions of seven teams. Team No. 14 is likely to be located out west, which keeps the door open for Air Force or BYU to join.

But there’s another curveball that could be thrown Marinatto’s way. Louisville is believed to be the Big 12’s No. 1 expansion target and could be invited in the next couple of years. With the Cardinals on the rise once again in football, their departure would be a huge blow.

If Louisville leaves, the conference could look at bringing Villanova up to the FBS level. The Wildcats have been exploring the possibility of making the jump, and according to the press release announcing Temple’s move to the Big East, the conference is willing to waive the entry fee if they join within the next three years. The Big East is also offering some financial help to Villanova as it continues to explore moving its football program up to the FBS level.

If the Wildcats don’t work out, East Carolina would seem like a logical fit to become team No. 14.

Pittsburgh and Syracuse

Although Marinatto has pledged to hold Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the Big East’s 27-month exit agreement, there have been signs both teams will be allowed to leave for the ACC before the start of next season. Barring a complete change of heart, 2012 will be the Orange and Panthers last season in the Big East. With the conference bringing in six teams next season, losing Syracuse and Pittsburgh would give the Big East 12 football members.

Here’s a scorecard of the Big East’s expansion moves:

The Big East’s football members for 2012

South Florida

The Big East’s football members for 2013:

Boise State
* Pittsburgh
San Diego State
South Florida
* Syracuse

Navy is expected to join the conference in time for the 2015 season.

* Syracuse and Pittsburgh are expected to leave for the ACC in time for the 2013 season.

<p> After being kicked out of the Big East in 2004, the Owls are back in the conference for the 2012 season.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 06:18
Path: /college-football/clemson-tigers-2012-spring-preview

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.

Clemson Tigers 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 10-4, 6-2 ACC

Spring practice: March 7-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 8

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Tajh Boyd, 298 of 499, 3,828 yards, 33 TD, 12 INT
Rushing: Andre Ellington, 223 att., 1,178 yards, 11 TD
Receiving: Sammy Watkins, 82 rec., 1,219 yards, 12 TD
Tackles: Rashard Hall, 89
Sacks: Malliciah Goodman and Stephone Anthony, 2
Interceptions: Jonathan Meeks, 3

Redshirts to watch: OG Spencer Region, DE Roderick Byers, OT Joe Gore, TE Eric Mac Lain, LB B.J. Goodson

2012 Schedule

2012 ACC Schedule Analysis

Sept. 1 Auburn (Georgia Dome, Atlana, Ga.)
Sept. 8 Ball State
Sept. 15 Furman
Sept. 22 at Florida State
Sept. 29 at Boston College
Oct. 6 Georgia Tech
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 Virginia Tech
Oct. 25 at Wake Forest
Nov. 3 at Duke
Nov. 10 Maryland
Nov. 17 NC State
Nov. 24 South Carolina

Offensive Strength: There might not be a better collection of offensive skill players anywhere in the nation than at Clemson. The pass-catching lawfirm of Watkins, Hopkins, Bryant, Brown, Humphries and Peake is as deep a collection of wide receivers as there in America. When quarterback Tajh Boyd steps to the line, he has to be giddy with anticipation when he sees the weapons lined up next to him.

Offensive Weakness: Rebuilding the offensive line will clearly be the top priority for offensive coordinator Chad Morris. All-conference tackles Phillip Price and Landon Walker, as well as guard Antoine McClain, have all departed campus and have left a major void in Tajh Boyd's main line of defense.

Defensive Strength: Since both the linebackers and secondary offer plenty of depth, talent and potential, it is hard to decide on one specific area of strength. The safeties are outstanding and the linebacking corps is deep and has loads of upside.

Defensive Weakness: After losing the top three, and four of the top six, the defensive line has to be considered the area of concern on this side of the ball. There are also question marks atop the defensive hierarchy, but more on that in a moment.

Spring Storylines Facing the Tigers:

1. The No. 1 issue facing Dabo Swinney and Boyd as the two unquestioned leaders of this Tigers program is mental toughness. The Tigers are the defending ACC champs, but certainly didn't play like it down the stretch last season. Clemson lost four of its last six games by a combined margin of 98 points. Losing by 25 points per game does not a champion make. Obviously, the most important game was the 38-10 drubbing of Virginia Tech in the ACC title game, however, the victory likely only added to the preturbed nature of the Clemson fan base. The team has the ability to repeat as ACC champs and potentially push for an even bigger prize, but this program has to prove that it can handle the stresses of championship caliber football. Consistency and composure has to come from the top - aka Boyd and Swinney.

2. New defensive coordinator Brent Venables lands in Death Valley after essentially being run out of town at Oklahoma. The Crimson and Cream fanbase had Venables under heavy scrutiny after multiple years of underacheivement - something with which the Tigers' fanbase is all too familiar. Old defensive guru Kevin Steele saw his unit surrender 169 points on those four losses, which included the 70-point Orange Bowl embarassment at the hands of West Virginia. The depth, talent and potential is dripping off this Clemson defense, but Venables has to prove that he still has what it takes to be an elite level BCS coordinator.

3. Finding some quality pieces to replace major holes left along the defensive line will go a long way in helping Venables rediscover his defensive spark. Andre Branch, Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore combined for 220 total tackles and 16.5 sacks a year ago and all three have moved on. Malliciah Goodman will stablize one end position while Corey Crawford, Tavris Barnes, Tyler Shatley and DeShawn Williams organize their rotation this spring. Finding and developing quality pieces in the defensive line two-deep will be argubaly the most important aspect of Clemson's spring practice.

4. The other line of scrimmage isn't in much better shape. The good news is that All-ACC center Dalton Freeman returns to campus for another year as the fulcrum of the Tigers' offensive line. The bad news is that he is basically the only experienced blocker on the roster. Brandon Thomas has some game action under his belt and will be counted on to take on a more prominent role this spring as offensive wizard Chad Morris attempts to rebuild his front line. There is a lot of Sunday talent on this offense, so protecting his cavalcade of skill weapons has to take top billing for Morris and his staff this spring.

Related Content Links:

2012 No. 16 Recruiting Class: Clemson Tigers
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 ACC Predictions

2012 ACC Schedule Analysis

<p> Clemson Tigers 2012 Spring Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 06:15
Path: /college-basketball/temple-great-get-big-east

By Mitch Light

Conference realignment is being driven by football. That is undeniable. And for the most part, college basketball will suffer. We are losing the twice-annual Border War between Kansas and Missouri. We are losing Pittsburgh and Syracuse at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament — and gaining schools like SMU, UCF and Houston.

But finally, we are seeing some moves that will actually improve the college basketball landscape. First, Memphis was added to the Big East for all sports beginning in 2013. This proud program has dominated Conference USA in recent years and will bring a national brand to the Big East. And then, on Wednesday morning, the league extended an invitation to A-10 power Temple, which will be making its 30th NCAA Tournament appearance this season — most for any school not currently in a Big Six power conference.

This most recent move was done to give the Big East eight football-playing schools for the 2012 season after West Virginia bailed for the Big 12 earlier than expected. It’s a good move for Big East football (Temple has improved dramatically since being kicked out of the league after the ’04 season). But it’s a great move for Big East basketball. 

This storied league has taken a few hits in recent years. Expansion has watered down the product. Yes, Louisville and Marquette are quality programs who are consistently in the NCAA Tournament. But South Florida, DePaul and Rutgers have done nothing to improve the overall quality of play in the league.

The impending loss of both Syracuse and Pitt to the ACC will be a crushing blow. These are two outstanding programs that have routinely competed for league championships. Pitt is suffering through a rare down season — the Panthers will miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001 — but Syracuse is as good as ever, with a current No. 2 national ranking.

The recent wave of Big East expansion resulted in the addition of SMU, Houston and UCF for football and basketball and San Diego State, Boise State and Navy for football only. This news, to no one’s surprise, was not greeted too fondly by the league’s basketball fans. SMU, Houston and UCF hardly even move the needle in their own markets, let alone the Northeast, home to the majority of the league’s teams.

Now, however, some good news. Memphis and Temple are outstanding programs that will add some intrigue to Big East basketball. We are still stuck with SMU, UCF and DePaul (to name a few), but we can now look forward, beginning in the 2013-14 season, to some great matchups in the future. Memphis vs. Louisville (or Cincinnati) on Big Monday will be appointment viewing. As will Temple vs. Villanova or Georgetown.

The Big East can never go back to its glory days of the 1980s and 1990s when Georgetown, St. John’s and Syracuse created some of the great matchups in the game. But the league is still very good — and it just got better with the addition of Temple.

<p> Temple was added to the Big East to give the league eight football-playing members, but the Owls will be a great addition for men's basketball.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 06:11
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-deep-sleepers

— by Mark Ross, published on March 8, 2012

When it comes to fantasy baseball, you pretty much know what you’re getting in players like Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Roy Halladay, and other sure-fire lottery picks. However, only one owner in a given league can lay claim to each of these fantasy studs.

With 30 teams and 25 players on each roster come Opening Day, there’s more than enough supply to fill out a roster. Here are some names at each position that you won’t find on Athlon Sports’ consensus Top 150 that may be worth a look later in your draft as well as some that you may want to keep your eye on once the season starts.

Note: Players are listed at the position(s) they are currently eligible. Some of these players may gain eligibility at additional position(s) once season starts, depending on your league's eligibility requirements.

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

2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers


Late-Round Target
Wilson Ramos, WAS, C
Washington acquired Ramos as part of the trade that sent Matt Capps to Minnesota in July 2010. In 2011, all the 24-year-old backstop did in his first full season with the Nationals was hit .267 with 15 home runs and 52 RBIs in 113 games. He should get even more plate opportunities this season and a .270-20-80 line is entirely possible.
Other candidates: J.P. Arencibia (TOR, C), Jonathan Lucroy (MIL, C), Geovany Soto (CHC, C)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Ryan Doumit, C, MIN
Doumit is known more for his bat than his glove, which has limited his opportunities. However, when he has been given the chance to play, he's produced. In 2008, he posted a .318-15-69 line along with 34 doubles and 71 runs scored in just 116 games. Injuries have been an issue for Doumit, who played in just 77 games last year for the Pirates, but now he’s in the American League with Minnesota so he should get a fair amount of at bats as the Twins’ DH. He’s also another Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau injury away from even more plate opportunities.
Others worth considering: Devin Mesoraco (C, CIN), Sal Perez (C, KC)

First Base:

Late-Round Target
Gaby Sanchez, MIA, 1B
In 2010 and '11 Sanchez scored the exact same number of runs (72) and hit the same number of home runs (19) each season. He also finished each season with  roughly the same number of hits, doubles and RBIs. He has been steady, but not spectacular, so the question becomes is .270-19-80 his ceiling? Perhaps not considering he posted a .293-13-50 line, along with 22 doubles and 46 runs scored in the first half of 2011 before cooling off considerably (.225-6-28) after the All-Star break. If anything, he’s certainly worth late-round consideration and could become a steal should he take that next step in 2012.
Other candidates: Carlos Lee (HOU, 1B/OF), Justin Morneau (MIN, 1B), Mark Trumbo (LAA, 1B/OF)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Mitch Moreland, 1B/OF, TEX
Moreland was bothered by a wrist injury the second half of last season that greatly hampered his production at the plate. After hitting 11 home runs in the first half, he managed just five in his final 56 games. He underwent surgery on the troublesome wrist in late November and should be good to go by Opening Day or shortly thereafter. Texas ended up passing on free agent Prince Fielder, so the starting job at first base should still be Moreland's, which also guarantees him a spot in the Rangers’ potent line up.
Others worth considering: Brandon Belt (1B/OF, SF), Mike Carp (1B/OF, SEA), Lucas Duda (NYM, 1B/OF), Adam LaRoche (1B, WAS)

Second Base:

Late-Round Target
Jemile Weeks, OAK, 2B
Rickie, Jemile’s older brother, most likely will be the first Weeks sibling drafted this year, but that may not be the case in 2013. Jemile more than held his own after making his major-league debut last June, batting .303 with 26 doubles, eight triples, 22 stolen bases and 50 runs scored in 97 games. Oakland’s offense will probably be among the worst in baseball next season, but Weeks should still serve as a valuable source of steals and runs scored, just the sort of production you are looking for in a middle infielder taken late in the draft, no?
Other candidates: Danny Espinosa (WAS, 2B), Aaron Hill (ARI, 2B), Ryan Roberts (ARI, 2B/3B)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Johnny Giavotella, 2B, KC
Giavotella got his first taste of the majors last August and is penciled in as the Royals’ starting second baseman in 2012. A career .305 hitter in the minors with good plate discipline, Giavotella did a little of everything (20 R, 9 2B, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 5 SB) in his 46-game debut. Over the course of a full season, he could be a sneaky source for runs and possibly stolen bases.
Others worth considering: Jose Altuve (2B, HOU), Mike Aviles, (2B/SS/3B, BOS), Alexi Casilla (2B/SS, MIN)


Late-Round Target
Stephen Drew, ARI, SS
Drew produced a .278-15-61 line in 2010 and was on his way to even bigger numbers in 2011 before a broken ankle ended his season shortly after the All-Star break. At the time, Drew was on pace to score more than 80 runs and drive in more than 80 with about 40 doubles. It remains to be seen if Drew will be ready to go on Opening Day, but even if he isn’t any shortstop capable of hitting more than 20 home runs (21 in 2008) is someone worth monitoring.
Other candidates: Jhonny Peralta (DET, SS), Marco Scutaro (COL, SS)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Zack Cozart, SS, CIN
Cozart got off to a hot start (.324, 2 HR in 11 games) after making his major league debut last summer before suffering a season-ending elbow injury on July 23. He ended up having Tommy John surgery, but is expected to be the Reds’ starting shortstop come Opening Day. A .270 hitter in the minors, the 26-year-old has also shown decent power and speed, as he hit 17 home runs and stole 30 bases in AAA in 2010.
Others worth considering: Mike Aviles, (2B/SS/3B, BOS), Willie Bloomquist (SS/OF, ARI), Alexi Casilla (2B/SS, MIN), Jed Lowrie (SS/3B, HOU), Tyler Pastornicky (SS, ATL)

Third Base:

Late-Round Target
Mike Moustakas, KC, 3B
Moustakas was brought up from the minors about a month after Eric Hosmer, but didn’t enjoy the same kind of early success as that of his fellow left-handed hitting teammate. In June and July, Moustakas hit just .198 with one home run and 10 RBIs. He started figuring things out in August (.283) and really turned it on in September, batting .352 with four home runs in his final 22 games. Hosmer will most likely post better overall numbers for the Royals in 2012, but don’t be surprised if Moustakas out-homers him. The former No. 2 overall pick hit 10 in 55 games in AAA prior to his call up last June.
Other candidates: Chipper Jones (ATL, 3B), Martin Prado (ATL, 3B/OF), Ryan Roberts (ARI, 2B/3B)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Ian Stewart, 3B, CHC
Last season (.156, 0 HR, 6 RBI in 48 games) was an utter disaster for Stewart no matter which way you look at it. He now gets a chance to start over in Chicago and new Cubs’ manager Dale Sveum has told everyone willing to listen that Stewart is his everyday starter at the hot corner. Stewart is not going to hit for a high average, but he could be a sneaky source for power as he clubbed 25 home runs two years ago for the Rockies and now calls Wrigley Field his home ballpark.
Others worth considering: Pedro Alvarez (3B, PIT), Mike Aviles, (2B/SS/3B, BOS), Mat Gamel (3B, MIL), Jed Lowrie (SS/3B, HOU), Brent Morel (3B, CHW)


Late-Round Target
Mark Trumbo, LAA, 1B/OF
Trumbo is a little behind the rest of his teammates this spring training thanks to a stress fracture in his right foot. He’s also trying to make the transition to third base, a move necessitated by the signing of Albert Pujols. Whether it be third, first, the outfield or DH, the Angels are going to do whatever they can to get Trumbo’s bat in the lineup as soon as he’s ready to go. Last year Trumbo finished second in the voting for AL Rookie of the Year as he led the Angels in both home runs (29) and RBIs (87). Anyone who has the ability to go 30-100 and play multiple positions is worth taking a chance on late.
Other candidates: Melky Cabrera (SF, OF), Jeff Francoeur (KC, OF), Torii Hunter (LAA, OF), Carlos Lee (HOU, 1B/OF)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Jose Tabata, PIT, OF
Before a quadriceps injury in June ruined his season, Tabata was off to a respectable start (.265, 39 R, 14 SB, .351 OBP in 71 games). He’s still just 23 years old and if healthy, should maintain his starting spot in right field and near the top of the Pirates’ line up. He’s definitely worth keeping an eye on this spring and once the season starts.
Others worth considering: Alejandro De Aza (CHW, OF), Brandon Belt (SF, 1B/OF), Mike Carp (SEA, 1B/OF), Chris Heisey (CIN, OF), Bryan LaHair (CHC, OF), Cody Ross (BOS, OF), Alfonso Soriano (CHC, OF), Denard Span (MIN, OF), Eric Thames (TOR, OF)

Starting Pitching:

Late-Round Target
Derek Holland, TEX, SP
C.J. Wilson is gone and Yu Darvish is getting all of the hype, but Holland could end up being the Rangers’ ace this season. A 16-game winner in 2011, Holland was at his best after the All-Star break. He went 9-1 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in the second half of the season and went 2-0 in four postseason starts, including 8 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 2 of the World Series against St. Louis. If he can build off of his second half performance and improve upon his numbers at home (4.69 ERA, 1.56 WHIP in 16 GS in ‘11), he could be an extremely valuable fantasy contributor.
Other candidates: Jhoulys Chacin (COL, SP), Doug Fister (DET, SP), Jaime Garcia (STL, SP), Jeremy Hellickson (TB, SP), Ubaldo Jimenez (CLE, SP), Ervin Santana (LAA, SP), Max Scherzer (DET, SP)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Carlos Zambrano, MIA, SP
No one needed a change of scenery more than Zambrano, who will get another chance in Miami pitching for his friend and fellow Venezuelan, Ozzie Guillen. His volatile temperament is well documented, but this is also a guy who’s only 30 years old and once won 18 games. He may not throw as hard as he used to, but he has averaged more than six innings as a starter in his career with a 3.57 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. He still has the talent to go along with his temper, but if he’s able to harness the former while controlling the latter for his new team, he could pay big dividends for both the Marlins’ and your fantasy rotation.
Others worth considering: Erik Bedard (PIT, SP), Zach Britton (BAL, SP), Clay Buchholz (BOS, SP), Trevor Cahill (ARI, SP), R.A. Dickey (NYM, SP), Phil Hughes (NYY, SP), Jonathan Niese (NYM, SP), Jarrod Parker (OAK, SP), Brad Peacock (OAK, SP), Johan Santana (NYM, SP)

Relief Pitching:

Late-Round Target
Jordan Walden, LAA, RP
Walden may have led the majors with 10 blown saves last season, but he also was successful 32 other times and he’s just 24 years old. Walden struck out 67 in 60 1/3 innings and if he improves his command (26 BB) chances are his other numbers (2.98 ERA, 1.24 WHIP) will go down. One stat that’s likely to go up this season is his saves total as the Angels improved their offense by signing Albert Pujols and also could get Kendrys Morales back. A 40-save season is not out of the question.
Other candidates: Rafael Betancourt (COL, RP), Kyle Farnsworth (TB, RP), Carlos Marmol (CHC, RP), Joe Nathan (TEX, RP), Joakim Soria (KC, RP)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Andrew Cashner, SD, RP
Cashner started last season as a starter for the Cubs and promptly lasted all of 5 1/3 innings before suffering a rotator cuff injury that sidelined him until September. He was sent to San Diego in the Anthony Rizzo trade and although his future with the Padres may be as a starter, he will most likely work out of the bullpen this season. A power arm with 58 strikeouts in 65 innings, Cashner could end up as either the setup man for Huston Street or possibly the Padres’ closer should Street stumble.
Others worth considering: Grant Balfour (OAK, RP), Javy Guerra (LAD, RP), Kenley Jansen (LAD, RP), Jason Motte (STL, RP), Addison Reed (CHW, RP), Sergio Santos (TOR, RP)

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: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012

<p> Who are some players that may be worth a late-round flier in your fantasy baseball draft?</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 06:02
All taxonomy terms: AC100, College Football, Recruiting
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-recruiting-rankings-dl

- 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

The defensive line might be the most important aspect to any championship caliber football team. Certainly, the quarterback is the most vital single position, but the D-Line might be the most important unit. Just ask Tom Brady what it is like to play against the Giants defensive line. Alabama and LSU boasted the top two DLs in the nation a season ago and it led to a national championship showdown. Whether it's a 3-4 or a 4-3, ends or tackles, pass rush specialists or run stuffers, a great defensive line wins championships.

Here are the best incoming defensive linemen in the nation:

  Name HT WT Hometown AC100 College
1. Mario Edwards 6'4" 290 Denton, TX No. 2 Florida State
2. Noah Spence 6'4" 245 Harrisburg, PA No. 4 Ohio State
3. Arik Armstead 6'8" 280 Elk Grove, CA No. 8 Oregon
4. Eddie Goldman 6'4" 310 Washington, DC No. 9 Florida State
5. Malcom Brown 6'4" 285 Brenham, TX No. 10 Texas
6. Jonathan Bullard 6'3" 263 Shelby, NC No. 11 Florida
7. Darius Hamilton 6'4" 260 West Paterson, NJ No. 14 Rutgers
8. Ellis McCarthy 6'5" 326 Monrovia, CA No. 17 UCLA
9. Chris Casher 6'4" 240 Mobile, AL No. 24 Florida State
10. Adolphus Washington 6'5" 245 Cincinnati, OH No. 27 Ohio State
11. Channing Ward 6'4" 250 Aberdeen, MS No. 38 Ole Miss
12. Jonathan Taylor 6'4" 315 MIllen, GA No. 55 Georgia
13. Eli Harold 6'4" 215 Virginia Beach, VA No. 57 Virginia
14. Ondre Pipkins 6'3" 320 Kansas City, MO No. 60 Michigan
15. Aziz Shittu 6'3" 275 Atwater, CA No. 63 Stanford
16. Tommy Schutt 6'3" 300 Glen Ellyn, IL No. 67 Ohio State
17. Leonard Williams 6'5" 270 Daytona Beach, FL No. 68 USC
18. Javonte Magee 6'5" 265 San Antonio, TX No. 69 Baylor
19. Toshiro Davis 6'3" 220 Shreveport, LA No. 77 Texas
20. Se'Von Pittman 6'5" 245 Canton, OH No. 86 Ohio State
21. Carlos Watkins 6'4" 275 Forest City, NC No. 89 Clemson
22. Quay Evans 6'3" 305 Morton, MS No. 93 Mississippi St
23. Jarron Jones 6'6" 298 Rochester, NY No. 101 Notre Dame
24. Tyriq McCord 6'3" 212 Tampa, FL No. 107 Miami
25. Issac Gross 6'3" 270 Batesville, MS No. 109 Ole Miss
26. Sheldon Day 6'2" 275 Indianapolis, IN No. 116 Notre Dame
27. Devante Fields 6'4" 240 Arlington, TX No. 122 TCU
28. Dante Phillips 6'6" 270 Venice, FL No. 129 Florida
29. Justin Shanks 6'3" 310 Prattville, AL No. 137 Florida State
30. Michael Starts 6'4" 282 Waco, TX No. 146 Texas Tech
31. Jelani Hamilton 6'5" 262 Fort Lauderdale, FL No. 154 Miami
32. Alex Norman 6'4" 275 Dallas, TX No. 155 Texas
33. Chris Wormley 6'5" 250 Toledo, OH No. 157 Michigan
34. Alex Balducci 6'4" 262 Portland, OR No. 164 Oregon
35. Tom Strobel 6'6" 265 Mentor, OH No. 196 Michigan
36. Korren Kirven 6'5" 292 Lynchburg, VA No. 198 Alabama
37. Tyler Nero 6'2" 290 Atmore, AL No. 201 Auburn
38. Shaq Lawson 6'3" 240 Central, SC No. 207 Clemson
39. Danielle Hunter 6'5" 245 Katy, TX No. 209 LSU
40. Hassan Ridgeway 6'4" 255 Mansfield, TX No. 217 Texas
41. John Atkins 6'4" 300 Thomson, GA No. 218 Georgia
42. DeForest Buckner 6'7" 230 Honolulu, HI No. 224 Oregon
43. Gimel President 6'4" 250 Mt. Pleasant, SC No. 226 Auburn
44. Nick James 6'4" 330 Long Beach, MS No. 229 Mississippi St
45. Ryan Watson 6'3" 275 Olney, MD No. 233 Purdue
46. Quinteze Williams 6'5" 255 Tyrone, GA No. 247 Florida
47. Caleb Azubike 6'4" 250 Nashville, TN No. 248 Vanderbilt
48. Greg McMullen 6'5" 255 Akron, OH No. 249 Nebraska
49. Dalvin Tomlinson 6'2" 266 McDonough, GA No. 251 Alabama
50. Mario Ojenmudia 6'2" 220 Farmington Hills, MI No. 254 Michigan
51. Jaleel Johnson 6'4" 300 Lombard, IL No. 262 Iowa
52. Pio Vatuvei 6'3" 272 Patterson, CA No. 265 Washington
53. Faith Ekakitie 6'3" 275 Brampton, Ontario No. 266 Iowa
54. Mike Moore 6'4" 260 Hyattsville, MD No. 270 Virginia

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: Defensive Linemen
College Football 2012 Positional Recruiting Rankings: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
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

<p> 2012 College Football Recruiting Rankings: DL</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-18-keegan-bradley

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. 18: Keegan Bradley


Born: June 7, 1986, Woodstock, Vt. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 2
2011 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,758,600
World Ranking: 20


Brandel Chamblee's Take:

If you’re only as good as the company you keep, then Keegan Bradley is destined for blue skies on the PGA Tour. Jack Nicklaus, Jerry Pate and Hal Sutton, like Keegan, all won majors as rookies. Willpower is tied to belief, and Bradley showed plenty of both as he walked off the 15th hole in the final round of the PGA Championship. Keegan had just made a triple bogey and was trailing by five, but he would become only the third player in history to overcome that deficit so late in a tournament. That tenacity, coupled with one of the best tee balls on Tour, should keep him from suffering from a sophomore slump and make him an exciting player to watch as he tries to become the first current player in his 20s to earn multiple major wins.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 1
Wins: 1

2011 Performance:
Masters - DNP
U.S. Open - DNP
British Open - DNP
PGA Championship - Won

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - n/a
U.S. Open - n/a
British Open - n/a
PGA Championship - 1st (2011)
Top-10 Finishes: 1
Top-25 Finishes: 1
Missed Cuts: 0

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

<br />
Post date: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/baseball-and-nicknames-go-together

What is it with nicknames and baseball? In high school I played with Doggie, Bird, Soup, Clone, Rooster, T and White Legs. Nicknames and baseball players just seem to go together like bat and ball. For as long as young boys and men have been batting baseballs around, they have given each other descriptive nicknames for facial features, deformed body parts, the way they played the game, hair color and, the most popular, shortening their surnames. In fact, some players with nicknames were given nicknames for their nicknames. 

Here are the 50 best—and often very politically incorrect—nicknames in baseball history.

50. Don Mossi
also The Sphinx)
Perhaps you had to see Mossi to really appreciate the name. In Ball Four, Jim Bouton said Mossi “looked like a cab going down the street with its doors open.”

49. Ernie Lombardi

Not to allow Mossi and his ears steal all the thunder, the catcher who was also known as the world’s slowest human had a beak of monumental proportions. But the catcher hit his way into the Hall of Fame.

48. Nick Cullop
Tomato Face

Cullop spent 23 years in the minors, hit 420 home runs and had 2,670 hits, both minor league records when he retired.

47. Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown
Three Finger

Known more commonly as Three Finger Brown than by Mordecai, Brown capitalized on losing most of his index finger in a childhood farming accident. Apparently that helped him throw a devastating curveball described by Ty Cobb as the toughest in baseball.

46. Don Zimmer
The Gerbil

Despite the success for the Red Sox in the late 1970s, Zim is blamed for the team’s collapse in 1978, ultimately losing a playoff game at Fenway Park (commonly known as the Bucky Dent game). Because of this, lefthander Bill Lee, with whom Zimmer often sparred, gave him the name Gerbil.

45. Bill Lee

And speaking of Lee, it wasn’t as though he was a mental giant himself. The lefthander’s outrageous, often irreverent personality and his fearless rhetoric earned him the name Spaceman, allegedly, from John Kennedy (the Red Sox utility infielder, not the former President). Just being left-handed in Boston was probably enough.

44. Jim Grant

Grant, who became one of the most successful African-American pitchers in the 1960s, was the roommate of his boyhood idol Larry Doby when he first came to Cleveland. It was the veteran Doby who dubbed him “Mudcat”, saying that he was “ugly as a Mississippi mudcat.”

43. Jim Hunter

Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finely often seemed more interested in flashy P.R. than winning baseball games. Evidently, this nickname was a product of the PR-conscious Finley more than any angling the Hall of Fame pitcher might have done in his home state of North Carolina.

42. Randy Johnson
Big Unit

Okay, get your mind out of the gutter. Former Expos teammate — yes, Johnson was originally a member of the Expos — Tim Raines once collided with him during batting practice, looked up at the 6’10” hurler and proclaimed, “You’re a big unit.”

41. Mark Fidrych
The Bird

The affable righthander enjoyed talking to the baseball while on the mound and manicuring the mound on his hands and knees between innings. But it was because of his resemblance to Big Bird of Sesame Street fame that Fidrych was given his name.

40. Marc Rzepczynski

Some surnames scream for nicknames, like Yastrzemski with Yaz, and Mazeroski with Maz. But there are few names that could earn more points in the famous word game than this lefthander’s.

39. Doug Gwosdz

Ancestors of the former catcher of the San Diego Padres must have misspelled this name somewhere down the line. But as astute teammates surmised, his jersey resembled those charts hanging on walls in optometrists’ offices.

38. Johnny Dickshot

First of all, that is his real name. And secondly, he referred to himself as the “ugliest man in baseball.” So, we have no qualms about Dickshot making the list.

37. Luke Appling
Old Aches and Pains

Dubbed by teammates, it’s unclear whether the name was given in jest. But it is clear that Appling didn’t mind complaining about the physical demands of the job all the way to the Hall of Fame.

36. Roger Bresnahan
The Duke of Tralee

Nothing really unusual about this name; after all many players were named in honor of their hometowns. Earl Averill was the Duke of Snohomish after his hometown in Washington. But, Bresnahan was from Toledo. For some reason he enjoyed telling folks he was born in Tralee, Ireland.

35. Bob Feller
Rapid Robert

Taking the American League by storm as a teenager led to this nickname as well as The Heater from Van Meter (Iowa).

34. Edward Charles Ford
The Chairman of the Board

Well known as Whitey because of hair color, the lefty dominated the American League for 16 seasons as a member of the Yankees. As a tribute to his calm, cool demeanor in tough situations, he became known as the Chairman of the Board.

33. Leon Allen Goslin

Several sources agree on how Goslin acquired his name. Evidently, he waved his arms as he chased fly balls, had a long neck, and was not the most graceful player.

32. Willie Mays
Say Hey Kid

There is no definitive agreement on how Mays acquired this classic name.

31. Mickey Mantle
The Commerce Comet

Mantle, a star athlete from Commerce, Oklahoma, was offered a football scholarship by the University of Oklahoma, but wisely chose baseball.

30. Joe Medwick
(also Muscles)
According to, fans called Medwick Ducky-Wucky more than merely Ducky, presumably because of his gait, or perhaps the way he swam. Teammates, seemingly out of self-preservation, never called him Ducky-Wucky, but chose instead the name, Muscles.

29. Brooks Robinson
Vacuum Cleaner

If you ever saw Brooksie do his work around the hot corner, you would quickly understand the moniker. Teammate Lee May once quipped, “Very nice (play)...where do they plug Mr. Hoover in?”

28. Aloysius Harry Simmons
Bucketfoot Al

With an exaggerated stride toward third base. Bucketfoot Al bashed major league pitching at a .334 clip on his way to the Hall of Fame.

27. Lynn Nolan Ryan
Ryan Express

No one readily admits giving him the name, but any hitter who stood in the box against Ryan is keenly aware of what the name means.

26. Darrell Evans
Howdy Doody

One look at the famous puppet and a glance at the power-hitting lefty, and you’ll know why.

25. Dennis Boyd
Oil Can

Born in Mississippi (where beer may be referred to as oil), the colorful righthander carried the nickname on to the major leagues.

24. Johnny Lee Odom
Blue Moon

Reportedly, a classmate in grade school thought Odom’s face looked like the moon. Really?

23. Frank Thomas
Big Hurt

Given to Thomas by White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson. Thomas put the big hurt on American League pitching for 19 years.

22. Garry Maddox
Minister of Defense

If you watched Maddox patrol center field for the Phillies in the 1970s, you immediately get the name.

21. Mike Hargrove
Human Rain Delay

And you think Nomar Garciaparra invented the step-out-of-the-box-and-adjust-your-batting-gloves routine. Nope. Seasons changed between pitches when he was at bat.

20. Daniel Joseph Staub
Le Grand Orange

Known as Rusty by the Texans while with the Colt .45s, he became Le Grand Orange in Montreal as a member of the original Expos.

19. Jimmy Wynn
Toy Cannon

His small stature and powerful bat led to this moniker.

18. Steve Balboni

Presumably, Balboni was given the name because of his propensity to hit home runs. It may also be noted that a double meaning could be bye-bye, as in “He gone” back to the dugout because of his propensity to strike out.

17. Joakim Soria
The Mexicutioner

When the Royals’ closer took the mound, it was usually lights out for the opponent’s offense. He has since requested another, less violent name.

16. Frank Howard
The Capital Punisher

While playing in the nation’s capital, Howard punished AL pitching for 237 home runs in seven seasons, twice leading the league with 44, and finishing second in 1969 with 48.

15. Carl Pavano
American Idle

After signing a four-year, $38 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2005 season, Pavano made just nine starts in four seasons, going 3-3 with a 5.00 ERA.

14. Lawrence Peter Berra

Evidently when Berra sat with arms and legs crossed a friend suggested he looked like a Hindu yogi. Now the term Yogi is associated with malaprops more than Hindu.

13. Mariano Rivera
The Sandman

Good night batters.

12. Rickey Henderson
Man of Steal

One look at his stats and you understand this one: 1,406 career steals and a record 130 in 1982.

11. Shane Victorino
The Flyin’ Hawaiian

Victorino plays the game with endless energy and spunk, but his heritage rules the day.

10. Vince Coleman
Vincent Van Go

A true artist of the stolen base.

9. Ken Reitz

Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon marveled at how the St. Louis third baseman could pick up everything.

8. Pablo Sandoval
Kung Fu Panda

The loveable Giant Panda.

7. Fred McGriff
Crime Dog

One of ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman’s nicknames that actually stuck. Thanks McGruff, the cartoon Crime Dog.

6. Kenny Rogers
The Gambler

“Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser. The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”

5. Jose Bautista
Joey Bats

Bautista was terrific as Joey Bats in “The Hitman” on YouTube. He’s been even better as himself for the Blue Jays.

4. Harry Davis

Poor Davis lost his job as Detroit first baseman to some kid name Hank Greenberg in 1933.

3. Ron Cey
The Penguin

Playing for Tommy Lasorda in the minor leagues must have had its pros and cons. Having your manager dub you Penguin because of your awkward running style would probably fall on the con side.

2. William Ellsworth Hoy
Dummy Hoy

As if anyone needed reminding, here’s a clear indicator of just how far political correctness has come in 100 years. William Ellsworth Hoy lost his hearing and ability to speak as a result of childhood meningitis. At only 5’4”, he was difficult to strike out and was the first player to hit a grand slam in the American League. He died in 1961, just five months shy of his 100th birthday.

1. George Herman Ruth
(also the Bambino, Sultan of Swat, The King of Sting, The Colossus of Clout)

Babe was the only major leaguer large enough for five larger than life nicknames.


Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie.

<p> From Ears to Babe, here are our 50 favorite</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 - 07:29
Path: /college-football/alabama-crimson-tide-2012-spring-preview

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.

Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 12-1, 7-1 SEC

Spring practice: March 9-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 4

Returning Leaders:

Passing: AJ McCarron, 219 of 328, 2,634 yds., 16 TD, 5 INTs
Rushing: Eddie Lacy, 95 car., 674 yds., 7 TDs
Receiving: Kenny Bell, 17 rec., 255 yds., 2 TDs
Tackles: Nico Johnson, 47
Sacks: C.J. Mosley, 2
Interceptions: Dee Milliner, 3

Redshirts to watch: RB Dee Hart, WR Marvin Shinn, WR Bradley Sylve, RB Brent Calloway, TE Malcolm Faciane

Early Enrollees: LB Ryan Anderson, DB Deion Belue, WR Chris Black, WR Amari Cooper, DB Travell Dixon, LB Dillon Lee, DL Alphonse Taylor, RB T.J. Yeldon

JUCO Transfers to watch: DB Travell Dixon, DB Deion Belue

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Michigan (Arlington)
Sept. 8 Western Kentucky
Sept. 15 at Arkansas
Sept. 22 FAU
Sept. 29 Ole Miss
Oct. 13 at Missouri
Oct. 20 at Tennessee
Oct. 27 Mississippi State
Nov. 3 at LSU
Nov. 10 Texas A&M
Nov. 17 Western Carolina
Nov. 24 Auburn

Offensive Strength: AJ McCarron entered last season locked into a battle with Phillip Sims for the starting job, but clearly emerged early in the year as Alabama’s No. 1 quarterback and should be one of the SEC’s top passers in 2012. Although running back Trent Richardson could be one of the first 10 picks off the board in the NFL Draft, Alabama won’t miss much of a beat on the ground. Eddie Lacy rushed for 674 yards and seven scores last year, while Jalston Fowler chipped in 385 yards, and the running back corps will get a boost with the return of Dee Hart from a knee injury. Replacing center William Vlachos won’t be easy, but the line is in good shape with first-team All-SEC lineman Barrett Jones returning.

Offensive Weakness: Although there are some significant losses (Richardson, Vlachos and receiver Marquis Maze), Alabama shouldn’t slip too much in offensive production. The biggest question mark will be getting receivers Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White and a cast of talented freshmen acquainted with McCarron. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland has plenty of talent up front, but has to find the right mix. New coordinator Doug Nussmeier likely won't make many changes to the scheme, but there's always concern about transition. 

Defensive Strength: Only four starters are back from the best defense in college football last season, which means coordinator Kirby Smart has some work to do. However, there’s plenty of talent ready to step into key positions. The defensive line is in good shape with the return of ends Damion Square, Jesse Williams and Quinton Dial. Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley will anchor a young, but talented linebacking corps.

Defensive Weakness: Considering how successful the Crimson Tide was on defense last year, it’s going to be nearly impossible to repeat those statistics with seven starters gone. While the front seven should be solid, the secondary is going to miss safety Mark Barron and cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie. 

Spring Storylines Facing the Crimson Tide

1. Repeating as national champs is never an easy task. However, the mission for Alabama is even more difficult when you consider the personnel losses. The Crimson Tide lose four first-team All-SEC players and three that earned second-team honors. The good news? Alabama has recruited as well as any team in college football, with each of its last five hauls ranking in the top five of Athlon Sports’ top 50 signing classes. In addition to player losses, Alabama had to replace offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, who departed to become the head coach at Colorado State. There's no lack of talent in Tuscaloosa, but could the youth and inexperience be too much to overcome in 2012? The schedule isn’t overwhelmingly difficult, but two road trips – at Arkansas and at LSU – could make or break Alabama’s hopes of repeating.

2. With AJ McCarron ready to take the next step in his development at quarterback, Alabama’s receivers will be under the microscope this fall. Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks depart, while tight end Brad Smelley is also gone after catching 34 passes for 356 yards last season. Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones are the top returning targets at receiver, but this year’s crop of incoming freshmen will provide competition in preseason workouts. Eddie Williams, Chris Black and Amari Cooper each ranked among the top 60 prospects of the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. Highly-touted redshirt freshmen Marvin Shinn and Bradley Sylve will also figure into the mix. The 2012 group of Crimson Tide receivers might have more overall talent than the 2011 bunch, but there could be a few growing pains until they gain more experience.

3. Who will fill the shoes of running back Trent Richardson? The answer probably doesn’t rest with one player, but rather a committee approach. Eddie Lacy will miss spring practice due to an injury, but is expected to anchor Alabama’s rushing attack in 2012. Lacy may finish with the team lead in rushing yards, but Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler will contribute. Hart missed last season due to a knee injury, but will give the backfield a different element with his speed and elusiveness. True freshman T.J. Yeldon enrolled for spring practice and could also figure into the mix. Although Alabama will certainly miss Richardson, there’s plenty of talent and options to keep the rushing attack among the best in the SEC.

4. Odds are stacked against Alabama finishing as the nation’s best rush, pass, total and scoring defense. However, that doesn’t mean this defense will slip back to the pack in the SEC. While coordinator Kirby Smart has a lot of work to do this spring, the defense won’t be a weak link. The line is strong, thanks to the return of Jesse Williams, Quinton Dial and Damion Square. The biggest question up front will be finding an anchor in the middle, as Josh Chapman and Nick Gentry have both finished their eligibility. The linebacking corps loses three contributors, but there’s plenty to work with thanks to the return of Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley. Sophomores Trey DePriest, Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson are future stars and will figure prominently into the rotation.

5. While the front seven appears to be in good shape, the secondary will be under the spotlight early in 2012. Cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie and safety Mark Barron will be missed, especially with the Crimson Tide visiting Arkansas on Sept. 15. Dee Milliner has 17 career starts and is expected to anchor one of the open cornerback spots. The other side is up for grabs, but keep an eye on junior John Fulton and incoming junior college recruits Deion Belue and Travell Dixon. This unit will eventually figure things out, but an early season matchup against Arkansas will give the secondary an early baptism by fire. 

Related College Football Content

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

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

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis
2012 Recruiting Class Rankings: No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide

<p> The defending national champions have some holes to fill, but expect Alabama to be back in the national title picture once again in 2012.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 - 07:10
Path: /college-football/missouri-tigers-2012-spring-preview

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.

Missouri Tigers 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 8-5, 5-4 Big 12

Spring practice: March 6-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 5

Returning Leaders:

Passing: James Franklin, 2,865 yards, 21 TD, 11 INT
Rushing: Henry Josey, 1,168 yards, 9 TD*
Receiving: T.J. Moe, 54 rec., 649 yards, 4 TD
Tackles: Andrew Wilson, 98
Sacks: Brad Madison, 4.5
Interceptions: E.J. Gaines and Zaviar Gooden, 2

* - Josey is recovering from a torn ACL and may miss some or all of 2012

Redshirts to watch: DL Shane Ray, OL Michael Boddie, LB Kentrell Brothers, LB Clarence Green, CB Cortland Browning, WR Wesley Leftwich, DB David Johnson

Injury Watch: RB Henry Josey, LT Elvis Fisher and LB Will Ebner

2012 Schedule

SEC 2012 Schedule Analysis

Sept. 1 Southeastern Louisiana
Sept. 8 Georgia
Sept. 15 Arizona State
Sept. 22 at South Carolina
Sept. 29 at UCF
Oct. 6 Vanderbilt
Oct. 13 Alabama
Oct. 20 Bye Week
Oct. 27 Kentucky
Nov. 3 at Florida
Nov. 10 at Tennessee
Nov. 17 Syracuse
Nov. 24 at Texas A&M

Offensive Strength: The quarterback-head coach combination of Gary Pinkel and James Franklin should be in complete control of the offense after a sterling first season together. Franklin's skill set fits Pinkel's offense perfectly as the junior-to-be finished fourth in the Big 12 in QB rating — in a league that featured Robert Griffin, Brandon Weeden and Landry Jones.

Offensive Weakness: Offensive skill depth could be an issue for Mizzou. The Tigers watched tight end Michael Egnew and receivers Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson graduate. And the return of leading rusher Henry Josey is still up in the air. T.J. Moe returns but finding a ball-carrier and pass-catchers will be key for Pinkel's staff this spring — at least, until Dorial Green-Beckham shows up.

Defensive Strength: Despite losing Luke Lambert's 82 tackles, the Mizzou linebacking corps should be the strength of this unit. Andrew Wilson and Zaviar Gooden combined for 178 total tackles last year and this group will be bolstered by the return of starter Will Ebner from injury. And top reserve Donovan Bonner would start for most teams. The secondary isn't far behind the linebackers in terms of experience and depth. It is safe to say that the back seven of this defense should be fairly stout.

Defensive Weakness: The defensive line has to overcome injuries and losses to graduation as a whole, but defensive tackle specifically is thin and green. Sheldon Richardson is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and there are six career starts from the four names that will rotate this spring. While Brad Madison is nursing his own shoulder surgery, the end position is in slightly better shape than tackle.

Spring Storylines Facing the Tigers:

1. How does Missouri adjust to life in the SEC? No team will likely see a bigger shift in their team stats than the Tigers. After finishing 94th in the nation in pass defense, Pinkel can expect his deep and talented back seven to provide much better coverage against the pathetic SEC passing attacks. By the same token, don't expect Mizzou to finish third in its league in rush defense like it did a year ago. Solidifying the defensive line will be paramount this spring as MU prepares to face the stellar rushing attacks of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Offensively, the Tigers led the Big 12 in rushing a season ago at 244 yards per game. In a league where defensive lines reign supreme, it is hard to believe that Franklin will be able to match those rushing statistics in 2012. How will Pinkel and Franklin tweak their run-first system to excel in the toughest league in America? The biggest adjustment Missouri will have to make in the SEC will be along the line of scrimmage. Pinkel has to stablize the trenches on both sides of the ball this spring if he expects to compete in the East.

2. How the major injuries play out this spring will be key to determining '12 success for Mizzou. The defensive line combo of Madison and Richardson will have to be at full strength come August if Pinkel expects to slow names like Lacy, Crowell, Stacy and Lattimore. If Will Ebner can return to full strength, the linebackers could be one of the best groups in the nation. Left tackle Elvis Fisher was a preseason first-team All-Big 12 selection before an Achilles injury ended his season. His return to form could boost a group of blockers that has some experience but watched three All-Big 12 honorable mention performers depart. In fact, the health and development of the offensive line could be the most important offensive issue facing this team in the spring.

3. All eyes will be on Franklin to lead this team into the SEC era of Tigers football and finding consistent, depenable receiving options this spring will only help him ease into the new defensive-minded conference. Moe is locked into one starting spot but there are plenty of unknowns behind him on the depth chart. Fans likely have high expectations for big-play junior-to-be Marcus Lucas and would like to see him earn the spot opposite of Moe. Finding a tight end, likely Eric Waters, and third weapon, possibly L'Damian Washington, is something Pinkel undoubtedly wants to have ironed by the end of spring. Of course, they all might just be keeping the seat warm for uber-recruit Green-Beckham.

4. The aformentioned rushing attack will be under heavy scrutiny once SEC play opens in Week 2. The first two SEC games will feature two of the best rushing defenses in the nation (with Alabama looming in Game 4 of conference play) and will certainly challenge a ground game that will likely be without its leading rusher. Franklin cannot carry the load in the SEC like he did in the Big 12 — he wouldn't last six games. And with Josey possibly looking at another knee surgery, Pinkel and the offense must find a true workhorse back. Additionally, the offensive line is rebuilding after three starters who claimed all-league mentions moved on. Pinkel has had strong lines of scrimmage in the Big 12, but whether or not he can elevate that talent to SEC-calibur remains to be seen.

Related Content Links:

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

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 SEC Predictions

<p> Missouri is on the move from the Big 12 to the SEC. How are the Tigers shaping up in the SEC East race for 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-primer-first-base

The 2012 baseball season is just around the corner. As players gets loosened up at Spring Training, we thought we'd pull from Athlon’s 2012 MLB Preview Magazine to catch you up on some of the top players at each position and help you win your 2012 fantasy baseball league. Today, we look at first basemen, starting with the top tier players and work our way down.



1. Albert Pujols, Angels (A) Let’s say you signed Pujols to a 10-year contract back in 2002. Your fantasy crew would have gleaned 47 BA points, 187 homers, 440 RBIs, 466 runs and even 63 steals more than the median first baseman with 2,000 more plate appearances in that decade. And as for 2012, Angel Stadium plays better for right-handed hitters than Busch. Heck, Albert fractured his wrist last June and still only missed 14 games. Incomparable and indestructible.


2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (A) Cabrera is now one of three active players to have won a league title in each of the triple crown categories, joining Pujols and A-Rod. The gap between him and first base preeminence is this: no 40-homer and two 120-RBI seasons to six of each for Albert. Not a bad consolation prize, though.


3. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox (A) We jumped Gonzalez 34 spots in our 2011 preseason top 100 after he signed with Boston, and even that played out as a bit conservative. He wound up leading the bigs in AVG on contact to the opposite field (.500) and the AL in opposite-field homers (10) — a Fenway effect that makes him a top-10 roto hitter.


4. Joey Votto, Reds (A) Votto’s power is a tad short of the first base elite, but he’s likely going to hit .025 higher than anybody on the list below him. No player laced line drives at a higher rate (26%) last year, and his .363 AVG with runners in scoring position since 2009 is 25 points higher than anyone else in the majors.


5. Prince Fielder, Free Agent (A)  Fielder is so feared that only 38.0% of pitches to him were in the strike zone — lowest among regulars. There’s a good reason for that; only Pujols matches his hits-homers-ribs triumvirate since 2006. If he relocates to a friendly venue, slip him ahead of Votto.


6. Mark Teixeira, Yankees (A) Teixeira’s AVGs have regressed from .308 to .292 to .256 to .248, yet he’s kept his HR sum steady from 33 to 39, and his RBIs between 108 and 122. His BAbips imply there’s no cause for alarm; he should settle in the .280-.285 window.



7. Eric Hosmer, Royals A .357 AVG and .965 OPS in his last 34 games tells us that Hosmer’s the real deal. Just 34 walks all year tells us that he has work to do, but also that there’s tons more upside. We’re actually projecting Hosmer ahead of Teixeira, but the raw numbers must be tempered by the fact that Tex has been doing it eight years longer.


8. Paul Konerko, White Sox (E) With two of his five best seasons occurring at ages 34-35, Konerko has proven to be a durable commodity. He is, however, edging toward DH-dom, and his lineup protection is evaporating.


9. Freddie Freeman, Braves Hosmer’s NL doppelganger…six weeks older, a highly analogous stats overlay and almost indistinguishable promise (although we lean a bit to Eric). No 21-year-old first baseman since Orlando Cepeda in 1959 had as many hits (161) or homers (21).


10. Ryan Howard, Phillies (F) A guaranteed full year of Howard would bounce him into the bottom of the first tier, so this will be the most-watched Achilles since the Trojan War. Whenever he returns (estimates range from Opening Day to June), keep in mind his 2010-11 HR-RBI totals were off an average of 18-31 from 2006-09, and that his five-year AVG is merely .266.


11. Ike Davis, Mets (C,F) Davis was off to a big start before a mysteriously persistent ankle injury wiped him out in May. He purports to be 100% now, but since he declined surgery, there’s some unease. The out-of-sight/out-of-mind effect could make him a bargain at your draft, so you’d have to be out of your mind not to have him in your sights.


12. Justin Morneau, Twins (F) Morneau’s missed roughly half of each of the last two schedules with numerous maladies, but when last seen completely healthy (July 2010), he was playing at an MVP level. His spring training will be a page-turner.

13. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (C) The Minor League Player of the Year in some circles and Double-A Hitter of the Year in others, he showed power, patience and poise during his two-plus months in Phoenix. Not enough contact to be a high-average hitter, but he’s a future 30-100 type.



14. Mark Reynolds, Orioles A home run machine (fifth in the majors since 2008) who comes with his usual disclaimer (118th in AVG).

15. Lance Berkman, Cardinals (E) Berkman is a sho-nuff hitter’s hitter whose OPS stands in the all-time top 20. He’s also a 36-year-old injury time bomb who no longer has Pujols hitting in front of him.

<p> Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and the rest...</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 - 06:47
Path: /nfl/colts-set-to-release-peyton-manning

— 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.

<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