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Path: /mlb/oakland-2012-preview-1

Oakland A's

Billy Beane's offseason left little doubt among A's fans that the team was shifting its focus beyond 2012. Beane traded away Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey, the only three players who have represented Oakland as All-Stars over the past three years. In return, the A's received a handful of prospects whom they plan to use to build toward the opening of their new ballpark, whenever that may be. Oakland did make a small splash by signing Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36-million deal. Unless you count signing Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal knowing he must serve a 50-game suspension before being active, the A's were quiet in the free agency market. Beane has said he has no choice but to operate under the assumption that the A's will eventually be moving into a ballpark that produces enough revenue to let them compete. In the meantime, he's got a team with a skimpy payroll and almost no chance to contend in 2012.

The Opening Day starter will be Brandon McCarthy, a nomadic righthander whose career had been floundering until he busted out with a 3.32 ERA in 25 starts for the A's in 2011. The two true “aces” will likely start the season on the disabled list. The A's were optimistic about Dallas Braden's rehab from shoulder surgery, but shoulders are always tricky, so they'll be cautious with him, especially in a rebuilding year. But he will be ready months before Brett Anderson, who isn't expected back until midseason at best after undergoing Tommy John surgery last July. They bought some insurance with veteran Bartolo Colon, who was a revelation in the first half for the Yankees last year. If Colon's 2011 season, which came after being out of the big leagues for a year, wasn't a total fluke, which it may have been, he can eat innings and allow the A's not to rush so many young pitchers. The A's essentially have five pitchers fighting for the final two spots in the rotation (three if Braden starts on the DL). Graham Godfrey and Tyson Ross come back after bouncing between Triple-A and the majors with the A's, and Tom Milone and Brad Peacock who each had impressive cameos in the bigs last year before the A's acquired them this winter. If even two of those five can establish themselves as better-than-average big league starters sometime in 2012, the A's have a shot at a decent rotation in 2013 and beyond.

The A's could afford to deal Bailey and Craig Breslow (to Arizona, in the Cahill deal) because they still have Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour, two veterans who have track records of late-inning success in the majors. Fuentes has 195 saves since 2005. Balfour has a 2.85 ERA over the past four seasons. Those two pitchers will each be free agents at the end of 2012, so they'll simply be holding the late innings warm while the A's figure out who their next young closer will be. One of the leading candidates is Fautino De Los Santos, who showed electric stuff at times in his rookie year in 2011. Joey Devine might also be a candidate. He missed two years because of Tommy John surgery, but he came back last year with a 3.52 ERA in 26 games. Ryan Cook was a closer in the Arizona system before he came to the A's in the Cahill deal.

Middle Infield
There were reports that Beane went into the winter with only one player on his untouchable list: Jemile Weeks. The second baseman came up in June and wasted little time establishing himself as someone who could hit and make an impact on the bases. His defense isn't quite what the A's had come to expect with Mark Ellis, though. Across the bag, Cliff Pennington is a very good defensive shortstop who has some offensive shortcomings. Pennington's numbers in 2010 and '11 were eerily similar - his OPS was .687 both years. It's a safe bet that he'll be somewhere in that range again, which makes him a below-average hitter, even for a shortstop.

Daric Barton looked like the long-term answer at first base after he showed significant defensive and offensive improvement three years in a row, but last season he started terribly and got hurt. He was a candidate to be non-tendered, but the A's re-signed him for $1.1 million, signaling that they plan to let him have a crack at getting back into their good graces. He is still recovering from shoulder surgery. They have plenty of candidates in Brandon Allen and Kila Ka'aihue (both acquired in trades since July) and the tantalizing Chris Carter, whose raw power allows him a long leash while the A's hope for him to put it together. Carter will start the year at AAA, but will return if he shows more consistency. At third, the A's seemed settled on Scott Sizemore as the answer, for the short term anyway, that is until he tore an ACL early in the spring and will miss the season. That left the A's scrambling a bit, but Adam Rosales and Josh Donaldson are the best options.

Halfway through the winter, the A's had an entire outfield worth of unproven players, but then in a two-week span in January, they re-signed Coco Crisp to play center and traded for Seth Smith to play left, then signed Cespedes in mid-February to complete the group. Cespedes offers good speed and power, but is still a little raw. He may look overmatched at times, but the A's will allow him to learn at the big-league level. A word of caution could be his maturity. That seemed to scare off a few teams. Crisp is an above average defender and he can be a dynamic player at the top of the lineup, but he's had injury problems over the past few years. With Weeks slated to lead off, and considering the dearth in the heart of the order, Crisp will be forced into the No. 3 hole. Smith has been a fairly consistent performer over his three full seasons in Colorado, but if he hit only 15-17 homers there, he's not likely to do better in Oakland. Smith is not such a proven commodity that the A's couldn't slide him to the bench if more than one of the young players proves worthy, though. Josh Reddick, who came from Boston in the Bailey deal, is the top of the pack. He's solid defensively and has some pop, but, like Smith, probably not enough to be a long-term answer in a corner outfield spot. The A's also have Collin Cowgill, who will get just enough of a shot in 2012 to show whether he can be a part of the long-term solution. The real budding star, top prospect, Michael Choice, also could be ready to make his debut sometime this year.

Kurt Suzuki appeared to be on his way to becoming one of the best young, two-way catchers in baseball. The A's were betting on it when they gave him a four-year, $16.25-million deal early in 2010. But he has struggled in the two seasons since. The A's don't have any alternatives in the short term, so they'll hang with Suzuki and hope that he can figure out what went wrong offensively and defensively. They may have to drop him into the middle of their young lineup, though, which is only going to add more pressure.

Whoever doesn't get the bulk of the playing time out of the first base jumble - Barton, Allen and Ka'aihue- is going to get a good crack at the DH spot. The odd man out in the outfield sweepstakes will see some time there as well. Smith is the most likely candidate given that Reddick is better defensively. If the A's are going to punt this season and look to the future, there's no reason not to let Carter (49 Triple-A homers the past two years) see what he can do.

When Beane hired Bob Melvin to replace Bob Geren last June, it marked the first time in his tenure as a GM that he'd hired a manager with any big league managerial experience. Perhaps it's a sign that Beane is yielding more power to his on-field boss. Melvin has been widely heralded by his players for his touch with a team, but he's going to have a big job with this bunch. In any case, don't expect much pressure on Beane or Melvin this season. Ownership most likely understands exactly what's happening here. As long as Beane and Melvin can show some development among the young players, their jobs will be safe. Beane also owns a small piece of the club, so that never hurts.

Final Analysis
The A's have some pieces to have a passable pitching staff. Between the guys coming back and the prospects coming in, this team should be in the middle of the pack in pitching. The problem is going to be scoring runs. They didn't score much last year, and the guys who provided what little pop they had (like Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui) are gone. Weeks and Cespedes are still unproven and the A's best offensive prospects (Choice and Green) are not likely to see the majors until late this season, at the earliest, so it's hard to imagine how this team is going to avoid being one of the lowest-scoring teams in the majors again. The A's have managed to win at least 74 games in the five seasons since their last playoff berth, and they'd probably be ecstatic to win that many this year. More likely they'll be fighting to crack 70 victories.




Batting Order
2B Jemile Weeks (S)
Picked a bad year to be a rookie; got no votes for Rookie of the Year despite hitting .303.
SS Cliff Pennington (S)
Slick fielder with a cannon arm who will hit in the .260 range.
LF Coco Crisp (S)
His .693 OPS in '11 was second-lowest of his career, but he led the AL with 49 stolen bases. Is out of place hitting in the middle of the order.
RF Josh Reddick (L)
A nice fourth outfielder on a good team - but he will be forced to start in Oakland.
CF Yoenis Cespedes (R)
Cuban outfielder is expected to prop up A's lineup immediately - a tall order.
DH Seth Smith (L)
Served as Eli Manning's backup at Ole Miss; has a chance to play everyday in Oakland.
C Kurt Suzuki (R)
Should be a 15 HR, .270 hitter, but slumped badly last two years; he's expensive, too.
1B Brandon Allen (L)
Hit .354 in first 13 games after July trade from Arizona, then .133 in last 28. Has an opportunity to prove himself with Daric Barton recovering from shoulder surgery.
3B Eric Sogard (L)
Batted .200 and hit two homers in 27 games for the A's last season.

1B Daric Barton (L)
Hit zero homers in 280 PAs in the majors in '11; not good for a first baseman. Coming off shoulder surgery.
1B Kila Ka'aihue (L)
Former Royal spent parts of four seasons at Triple-A, with a .412 OBP.
C Anthony Recker (R)
Hit double-digit HRs every full season in the minors, including 16 in 345 ABs in 2011.
INF Adam Rosales (R)
Probably the fastest HR trot in the majors; played five positions in 2011.
OF/DH Manny Ramirez (R)
Manny will be available in June after serving a 50-game suspension.
OF Jonny Gomes (R)
Redundant once Ramirez becomes available.
C/3B Josh Donaldson (R)
Primarily a catcher, he has 53 games of experience at third base in the minors, none in the majors.

RH Brandon McCarthy
Had a 3.32 ERA in '11 but better known for his cult following on Twitter (@BMcCarthy32). Already named as Opening Day starter.
RH Bartolo Colon
Was out of the majors for a year but returned to throw 164.1 innings for the Yankees in 2011.
LH Tom Milone
Not the most talented, but probably the most polished of the pitchers acquired this winter.
LH Dallas Braden
Has eight wins and one shoulder surgery since May 2010 perfect game. Likely not ready Opening Day.
LH Brett Anderson
Ace of the staff had Tommy John surgery in July, so a midseason return is optimistic.
RH Tyson Ross
Definite major leaguer (2.75 ERA in limited duty last season) who could start or relieve in 2011. Will get opportunities to start with Braden and Anderson on the shelf.

LH Brian Fuentes (Closer)
Established veteran will be trade bait in July; will be a major surprise if he lasts the season in Oakland.
RH Grant Balfour
Fiery Australian is a dependable setup man who only gave up 44 hits in 62 innings in 2011. Will also be used as a closer.
RH Joey Devine
Has the stuff to be a closer, and he might get a chance to prove it late this season. He will begin the season on the DL with minor biceps injury.
RH Fautino De Los Santos
Could help make the Nick Swisher trade look like one of Billy Beane's best.
RH Ryan Cook
Power righty with some potential to be a set-up type reliever.
LH Jerry Blevins
Has held left-handed batters to a .232 BA in his career.

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> The A's have managed to win at least 74 games in the five seasons since their last playoff berth, and they'd probably be ecstatic to win that many this year. More likely they'll be fighting to crack 70 victories.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 2, 2012 - 12:16
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournaments-biggest-upsets-and-closest-calls

While none of the 112 No. 16 seeds has won a game in the NCAA Tournament (more on that below), six No. 15 seeds have shocked No. 2s since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. And two of them took place during this year's March Madness. Here's our look at the biggest upsets and closest calls from college basketball's NCAA Tournament. 

THE BIGGEST UPSETS: No. 2 vs. No. 15 (6-106)

Norfolk State 86, Missouri 84 (2012)

The Missouri Tigers were a chic pick to make it to the Final Four in 2012 after winning the Big 12 tournament. But Mizzou failed to make it out of the first round despite shooting 52.7% from the floor and making 13 three-pointers. It wasn’t enough to top the MEAC tournament champs from pulling off the monumental upset. Kyle O’Quinn led the Spartans with 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting and 14 rebounds. A big reason the guard-heavy Tigers got beat? Norfolk State dominated the glass 35-23 in the two-point victory.

Lehigh 75, Duke 70 (2012)

The Mountain Hawks entered the tournament as Patriot League champions, led by superstar guard C.J. McCollum. The junior finished with 30 points, six rebounds and six assists in the startling upset of the powerhouse Blue Devils. Making the upset even more improbable was where the shocker took place: Greensboro, N.C. Duke missed 20 of its 26 three point shot attempts in the five point loss.

Hampton 58, Iowa St 57 (2001)

The Pirates of Hampton became only the fourth 15-seed to win in the first round when Tarvis Williams made a four-foot jumper with less than seven seconds left in the game. The Cyclones’ Jamaal Tinsley went the length of the floor and missed a point-blank lay-up to give Hampton the historic win. One of college basketball’s most memorable images is Hampton head coach Steve Merfeld sprinting around the court and being hoisted into the air, legs flailing wildly, by backup David Johnson.

Coppin St 78, South Carolina 65 (1997)

The Eagles of Coppin State entered their first-round tilt against South Carolina as a 30-point underdog. After Coppin State took the lead with just over six minutes left, the Gamecocks crumbled. For a team that, to this day, has not reached the second round of the tournament since 1973 — much less the Final Four — the loss to Ron “Fang” Mitchell’s upstart Eagles was especially painful.

Santa Clara 64, Arizona 61 (1993)

A Canadian freshman point guard by the name of Steve Nash knocked down six of eight free throws down the stretch to key the Broncos’ upset win over the Wildcats. Arizona, featuring a roster littered with future NBA players — Reggie Geary, Damon Stoudamire, Chris Mills and Khalid Reeves — put together a 25–0 run that spanned the end of the first half and the opening minutes of the second half. The Broncos answered with their own 19–7 run, and Pete Eisenrich’s jump shot gave them the lead late in the game before Stoudamire missed a three at the buzzer. Nash would go on to win two WCC Player of the Year awards.

Richmond 73, Syracuse 69 (1991)

The Spiders, led by 18 points and six assists from Curtis Blair, pulled off the first upset by a No. 15 seed in NCAA Tournament history. Billy Owens and the Syracuse zone were ineffective, as Richmond never trailed during the game. A Michael Edwards 3-point attempt that would have tied the game fell short with four seconds remaining, and 12-year coach Dick Tarrant had his signature moment as the Spiders’ head man.



It’s been well-documented that a No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but there have been some extremely close calls. Did you know that five teams have nearly pulled-off what might be considered the biggest obstacle in mainstream sports?

Here are five 1 vs. 16 games decided by four points or less.

Purdue 73, Western Carolina 71 (1996)

The Southern Conference champs, coached by first-year head man Phil Hopkins, employed a zone defense that stymied Purdue for most of the game. The Catamounts actually had two chances to put themselves in a category all their own, but both the potential game-winning 3-pointer by Joel Fleming and the possible game-tying Joe Stafford 15-footer hit off of the back of the rim in the final seconds. Ironically, this Boiler team had to forfeit 18 of its 26 wins, including this game, the most recent near-miss by a 16 seed. Another interesting sidenote: Hopkins’ top assistant at the time, Thad Matta, is now the head coach at Ohio State.

Michigan St 75, Murray St 71 (OT, 1990)

The Ohio Valley champions, led by sophomore center Ronald “Popeye” Jones, pushed the vaunted Spartans to overtime by drilling a 3-point basket at the end of regulation. Jones’ game-high 37 points and 11 rebounds were not enough to slow MSU’s Steve Smith, who posted a team-high 22 points, including six of his team’s 10 overtime points. With 26 seconds left, Jones missed an interior shot and the Spartans snatched the rebound and held on to win the only 1-vs.-16 matchup ever to go to overtime.

Oklahoma 72, ETSU 71 (1989)

In the first of four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament for ETSU, the Buccaneers’ starting lineup featured three sophomores and two freshmen. Point guard Keith “Mister” Jennings, a 5'7" dynamo, led the Bucs to a 17-point lead over OU. The Sooners’ defense led the comeback, and after Jennings fouled out, Oklahoma found itself with the ball and a one-point lead shooting a one-and-one with four seconds left. Oklahoma’s Mookie Blaylock missed the front end, giving ETSU one final heave at the buzzer. The half-court air ball fell short, and Oklahoma escaped the historic upset.

Georgetown 50, Princeton 49 (1989)

In Pete Carril’s 22nd season as the Princeton head coach, the Tigers nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. With Princeton trailing by one with eight seconds left, Georgetown center Alonzo Mourning blocked two Princeton shots — one by Bob Scrabis and the other by Kit Mueller — to preserve the Hoya victory. To this day, Princeton fans still claim Mueller was fouled.

Michigan 59, Fairleigh Dickinson 55 (1985)

Head coach Tom Green spent 26 seasons leading Fairleigh Dickinson, but it was in his second year when he almost made his biggest mark. Despite losing four players to fouls, the Knights took the top-seeded Wolverines to the wire. Two late Roy Tarpley free throws sealed the win for the Maize and Blue. Villanova, the lowest-seeded team ever to win the title, proceeded to beat Michigan in the second round by the exact same score — 59–55 — en route to its famous upset of Georgetown in the finals.

By Braden Gall  (@BradenGall on Twitter)

<p> While none of the 112 No. 16 seeds has won a game in the NCAA Tournament, six No. 15 seeds have shocked No. 2s since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Monday, April 2, 2012 - 10:39
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-list

Now that it's Masters week, it's time to decide who this year's major players will be, and we've done that for you. They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2012 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Throughout the month of March, we unveiled Athlon Sports’ 20 players to follow for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee. Below, our list of the players to watch, starting on Thursday in Augusta.

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

No. 1: Tiger Woods



No. 2: Rory McIlroy



<p> From Tiger to Furyk, Athlon Announces the 20 Golfers to Watch for Majors Season</p>
Post date: Monday, April 2, 2012 - 08:36
Path: /college-football/washington-huskies-2012-spring-preview

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.

2012 Washington Huskies Spring Preview

2011 Record: 7-6, 5-4 Pac-12

Spring practice: April 2-April 28

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 6

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Keith Price, 242 of 362, 3,063 yds., 33 TD, 11 INTs
Rushing: Jesse Callier, 47 car., 260 yds., 1 TD
Receiving: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, 41 rec., 538 yds., 6 TDs
Tackles: Sean Parker, 91
Sacks: Josh Shirley, 8.5
Interceptions: Sean Parker, 4

Redshirts to watch: WR Marvin Hall, DE Jarett Finau, WR Josh Perkins, S James Sample, OL Dexter Charles, DE Corey Waller

JUCO Transfers to Watch: K Travis Coons, DT Josh Banks

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 San Diego State
Sept. 8 at LSU
Sept. 15 Portland State
Sept. 27 Stanford
Oct. 6 at Oregon
Oct. 13 USC
Oct. 20 at Arizona
Oct. 27 Oregon State
Nov. 2 at California
Nov. 10 Utah
Nov. 17 at Colorado
Nov. 23 at Washington State

Offensive Strength: Quarterback Keith Price had a standout season in his first year as the starter and he should build upon that success in 2012. Price finished with 3,063 yards and 33 scores last season, while completing 66.9 percent of his throws. USC’s Matt Barkley is locked into preseason first-team All-Pac-12 honors, but Price should be the conference’s No. 2 quarterback in 2012. Even with the departure of Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, the Huskies have plenty of options at receiver and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be an All-American at the end of the year.

Offensive Weakness: There’s no doubt running back Chris Polk will be missed, and making matters worse is the fact the Huskies have no clear replacement on the roster. Polk rushed for at least 1,113 yards in each of his three seasons in Seattle and finished with 79 receptions and 30 overall scores. Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey will compete for the No. 1 position this spring.

Defensive Strength: After finishing 106th in total defense last season, the Huskies certainly have some work to do on this side of the ball. However, there are some bright spots, including the secondary and linebacking corps. Although the secondary gave up a lot of big plays, cornerback Desmond Trufant and safety Sean Parker are two solid building blocks. A handful of key contributors are back at linebacker, including John Timu and Josh Shirley.

Defensive Weakness: There’s certainly talent for defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to work with in 2012. However, each level of the defense has concerns. The line must replace two key contributors, including tackle and run stuffer Alameda Ta’amu. The linebacking corps loses second-team All-Pac-12 selection Cort Dennison, while the secondary must replace Quinton Richardson. No loss will be overwhelming, but for a defense that is struggling to find its footing, the Huskies need all of the help they can get.

Spring Storylines Facing the Huskies

1. Coach Steve Sarkisian has Washington on the right track, but after three seasons in Seattle, his record is just 19-19. Progress has been steady under Sarkisian and he took an important step in the offseason by firing defensive coordinator Nick Holt. The Huskies never showed much defensive progress under Holt and turned in an embarrassing performance in the bowl loss to Baylor. New coordinator Justin Wilcox should be an immediate improvement over Holt, while linebacker coach Peter Sirmon and defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi were two of the top assistant coach hires this offseason. The Huskies aren’t ready to challenge Oregon as the Pac-12 North champion, but with Stanford replacing Andrew Luck, the door is open for Washington to finish second in the division this year.

2. With Chris Polk’s decision to enter the NFL Draft, the biggest offensive spring battle will focus on the running backs. Jesse Callier rushed for 260 yards and one touchdown last season, but has never recorded more than 10 carries in a game. Bishop Sankey posted 187 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman last year and trails Callier on the depth chart entering spring practice. Sophomore Deontae Cooper has missed the last two years with a knee injury, but if healthy, will compete with Sankey and Callier for snaps. The wildcard to watch in the backfield will be Antavius Sims. The coaching staff is intrigued by the junior college transfer and he will get an extended look in the backfield this spring. With the uncertainty facing the backfield, true freshman Erich Wilson II could get a look for carries this fall. Washington may not replace Polk’s yardage by one player, but overall, this shouldn’t be a huge concern for this team in 2012.

3. Outside of finding a replacement for Polk, the biggest question for the Huskies’ offense will be the line. Left tackle Senio Kelemete earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season, but has finished his eligibility in a Washington uniform. Four starters are back, but guard Colin Porter is coming off shoulder surgery and will sit out spring practice. Fellow guard Colin Tanigawa is recovering from ACL surgery and won’t return until the fall. Right tackle Erik Kohler may also miss time this spring, which means the Huskies will be short-handed up front. If all three players return 100 percent and in time for fall practice, Washington’s offensive line should be fine. However, this group needs time to jell and asking all five players to come together with no practice time before the season opener is a tall task and a concern for Sarkisian and the offensive staff.

4. With Wilcox taking over as the defensive coordinator, Washington is expected to use more 3-4 looks in 2012, which will require a little adjustment in personnel. The line will miss tackle Alameda Ta’amu, who was a key presence in the Huskies’ rush defense. However, Hau’oli Jamora returns after playing in only four games due to an injury and the coaching staff expects big things from sophomore Danny Shelton in the middle. Josh Shirley recorded 8.5 sacks last season and should be a perfect fit as the linebacker/rush end in the Huskies’ 3-4 scheme. With some players moving around and a new scheme, don’t be surprised if there are a few growing pains early in the season. However, the key to the rush defense will be the play of Shelton and if Jamora returns at 100 percent early in the season. 

5. While showing improvement on defense is crucial to pushing Oregon in the Pac-12 North, the special teams suffered some key losses with kicker Erik Folk and punter Kiel Rasp finishing their eligibility. The Huskies have three kickers competing for time – Mihai Ion, Jacob Dunn and Travis Coons – but none have attempted a kick on the FBS level. Freshman Korey Durkee seems to have the inside track at punter after averaging 45.9 yards per kick as a high school senior.

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related Pac-12 Content

Ranking the Pac-12's Head Coaches for 2012
012 Recruiting Rankings: No. 21 Washington Huskies

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

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

<p> Athlon previews spring practice for the Washington Huskies.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 2, 2012 - 07:26
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/goodys-fast-relief-500-martinsville-speedway-starting-lineup

The 2012 NASCAR season continues on Sunday with a trip to Martinsville Speedway. This will be the sixth race of the year, with Hendrick Motorsports' Kasey Kahne starting on the pole for the second time this season.

The green flag for the Goody's Fast Relief 500 is set for Sunday at 1:13 ET. 

Starting Position Driver Car Number Make Speed
1 Kasey Kahne 5 Chevrolet 97.128
2 Kevin Harvick 29 Chevrolet 97.048
3 Denny Hamlin 11 Toyota 97.003
4 Clint Bowyer 15 Toyota 97.003
5 Ryan Newman 39 Chevrolet 96.988
6 Brian Vickers 55 Toyota 96.765
7 Brad Keselowski 2 Dodge 96.75
8 Kyle Busch 18 Toyota 96.746
9 Jeff Gordon 24 Chevrolet 96.731
10 Joey Logano 20 Toyota 96.706
11 Paul Menard 27 Chevrolet 96.701
12 Marcos Ambrose 9 Ford 96.627
13 Martin Truex Jr. 56 Toyota 96.583
14 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 88 Chevrolet 96.43
15 Tony Stewart 14 Chevrolet 96.322
16 Bobby Labonte 47 Toyota 96.215
17 Regan Smith 78 Chevrolet 96.2
18 Jeff Burton 31 Chevrolet 96.18
19 Aric Almirola 43 Ford 96.049
20 Jamie McMurray 1 Chevrolet 96.049
21 Matt Kenseth 17 Ford 95.971
22 Jimmie Johnson 48 Chevrolet 95.854
23 Michael McDowell 98 Ford 95.849
24 David Ragan 34 Ford 95.83
25 Casey Mears 13 Ford 95.796
26 Greg Biffle 16 Ford 95.743
27 A J Allmendinger 22 Dodge 95.738
28 Carl Edwards 99 Ford 95.607
29 David Reutimann 10 Chevrolet 95.607
30 Josh Wise 26 Ford 95.583
31 Landon Cassill 83 Toyota 95.511
32 Juan Pablo Montoya 42 Chevrolet 95.477
33 Scott Riggs 23 Chevrolet 95.352
34 Travis Kvapil 93 Toyota 95.347
35 Reed Sorenson 74 Chevrolet 95.223
36 Ken Schrader 32 Ford 95.127
37 Joe Nemechek 87 Toyota 94.936
38 David Gilliland 38 Ford 94.78
39 David Stremme 30 Toyota 94.609
40 Kurt Busch 51 Chevrolet 94.567
41 Hermie Sadler 33 Chevrolet 94.486
42 Dave Blaney 36 Chevrolet 93.18
43 J.J. Yeley 249 Toyota 93.212

<p> Starting lineup for Sunday's Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.</p>
Post date: Saturday, March 31, 2012 - 16:46
Path: /college-basketball/greatest-kentucky-basketball-team-ever

John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats play Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals in the Final Four on Saturday in a game that will determine the best team in the Commonwealth this season. But even if UK crushes the U of L, as expected, will Pitino still have bragging rights over Calipari?

This UK team appears to have transcended contemporary comparisons, moving on to the ranks of the all-time greats. But where do Calipari’s 2012 Cats stack up against Pitino’s national championship winning 1996 Untouchables?

Which is the best Kentucky basketball team ever? There are seven national champions — 1998, 1996, 1978, 1958, 1951, 1949 and 1948 — with an eighth (2012) possibly on the way.


2012: 36–2 overall, 16–0 SEC; suffered losses at Indiana and to Vanderbilt in the SEC title game. Advanced to the Final Four, where Louisville awaits.

1996: 34–2 overall, 16–0 SEC; suffered losses to No. 1 UMass, a team coached by Calipari and led by Marcus Camby, and Mississippi State in the SEC title game. Defeated Syracuse in the national championship game.

Edge: 1996. Both losses came against teams that ultimately made the Final Four, with Pitino’s Wildcats getting revenge against Calipari’s Minutemen in the national semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. The 1996 squad cut down the nets; only time will tell whether the 2012 team will win it all.


2012: The National Player of the Year, freshman Anthony Davis, averages 14.3 points on 63.3 percent shooting from the field and 71.2 percent from the free throw line, while adding 10.1 rebounds, 4.6 blocked shots and 1.3 steals per game. With a wingspan that seemingly stretches from end line to end line, Davis is the most intimidating defensive presence the college game has seen since Patrick Ewing. Eloy Vargas is essentially an emergency option with five free fouls to give.

1996: Senior Mark Pope played his role on a loaded roster, averaging 7.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots. Freshman big man Nazr Mohammed played a major role on Tubby Smith’s 1998 title team, but was a raw backup for Pitino in 1996.

Edge: 2012. Davis has been historically great, as the Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and likely No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.


2012: Freshman phenom Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and enigmatic sophomore Terrence Jones provide Coach Cal with a pair of versatile NBA talents capable of overpowering the opposition in the paint or dribble-driving from the perimeter. Kidd-Gilchrist averages 12 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and is generally perceived as the No. 2 prospect in the 2012 NBA Draft — behind only teammate Davis. Jones adds 12.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots to the mix; his ability to man up and take over stretches of games is undercut by his oft-immature nature and semi-frequent run-ins with Calipari. Off the bench, senior Darius Miller brings defensive intensity and veteran leadership, while underrated freshman Kyle Wiltjer — who was a McDonald’s All-American out of high school — has a high basketball IQ dangerous outside shot.

1996: Antoine Walker was in his prime as a sophomore. The athletic point-forward who was a terror in the full court press — kicking balls on inbounds plays and trapping ball-handlers in corners with his lateral quickness — in no way resembled the overweight 3-point-happy ‘Toine from late in his NBA career. Walker averaged 15.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game as UK’s top all-around player since Jamal Mashburn. Senior Walter McCarty averaged 11.3 points, 5.7 boards, 2.6 assists and 1.4 blocked shots per game while teaming with Walker to give Pitino a dynamic duo capable of taking over at either end of the court. Freshman Ron Mercer was the consensus third-best prospect in his high school senior class, behind Chicago’s Kevin Garnett and New York’s Stephon Marbury. Mercer exemplifies the Cats’ otherworldly depth, averaging 8 points and 2.9 rebounds as an open court terror with a polished mid-range halfcourt game.

Edge: 1996. The length and skill set of Walker, McCarty and Mercer was amplified by the trio’s reliability, compared to the home run or strikeout quartet of Kidd-Gilchrist, Jones, Miller and Wiltjer.


2012: Sophomore combo guard Doron Lamb is the stabilizing influence on this year’s UK crew. A natural shooter with an instinctual feel for the game, Lamb averages 13.6 points while shooting an eye-popping 47.1 percent from the field, 47.1 percent (73-of-155) from 3-point range and 82.9 percent from the free throw line. The New York native is also a suffocating perimeter defender and capable point guard when the situation calls for him to become the primary ball-handler. Freshman Marquis Teague may be the X-factor where the 2012 squad’s national title hopes are concerned. A streak shooter with a ball hog streak, Teague averages 10 points and 4.8 assists; but tends to freelance at inopportune times more than any other player in blue.

1996: Senior bomber Tony Delk as named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after hitting a record-tying seven 3-pointers against Syracuse in the national title game. A long-armed, pressing menace, Delk averaged 17.8 points while shooting 44.3 percent (93-of-210) from long range. Athletic junior wing Derek Anderson played his role to smooth perfection, averaging 9.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.7 steals as a coast-to-coast fast break finisher and athletic defender. Junior Jeff Sheppard, freshman Wayne Turner and junior Anthony Epps were bit players off the bench in 1996 but played larger roles in the 1997 runner-up team that lost to Arizona in overtime of the national title game in Pitino’s last game as coach of Kentucky.

Edge: 1996. Delk and Anderson have the edge in experience, production and athleticism over Lamb and Teague. Depth also is in favor of 1996, with Sheppard, Turner and Epps all capable of producing in big game minutes.


2012: John Calipari is in his coaching prime. No one in the country is better.

1996: Rick Pitino was in his coaching prime. No one in the country was better.

Tie: The 2012 Calipari and 1996 Pitino are nearly mirror images of each other — a fact that fuels the pair’s ongoing personal and professional feud.


The 2012 Kentucky Wildcats may be better at the very top, but the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats were undeniably deep and had a habit of wearing down their opponents with a suffocating full court press on defense and a wide open, bombs away offense that was nearly unstoppable in the open court. Nine players from the 1996 roster went on to play in the NBA; seven saw action in the title game victory.

This year’s UK team is one of the best in the history of college basketball; it’s just not the No. 1 team in the rich history of Kentucky basketball.

<p> The greatest Kentucky basketball team ever? John Calipari's 2012 Kentucky Wildcats or Rick Pitino's 1996 Kentucky Wildcats?</p>
Post date: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 18:16
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/broncos-go-all-peyton-manning

"Plan B? I don't have a Plan B. We're going with Plan A."

Those were the words uttered by Denver Broncos executive vice president John Elway at Peyton Manning’s introductory press conference on March 20. Plan A is to hand the team over to Manning and ride his right arm to the Super Bowl.

That may seem like a lot to ask of Manning, who turned 36 years old a couple of days ago and last played in a NFL game in January 2011. Manning, however, made it clear he and Elway are on the same page as to why he chose Denver over the other teams interested in him, namely San Francisco and Tennessee.

"I'm very excited to begin the next chapter of my playing career with the Denver Broncos," Manning said. "This truly is a special football environment, and I'm glad to be a part of it. ... I'm thrilled to be here. I'm looking forward to meeting my new teammates, and doing whatever I can to help this franchise win another Super Bowl."

On the surface, having Manning, the four-time NFL MVP and future Hall of Famer, as your Plan A is a nice position to be in and no one can fault Denver owner Pat Bowlen, Elway or general manager Brian Xanders for going all in with No. 18.

That was certainly the strategy employed by Indianapolis when the Colts took Manning with the first pick of the 1998 NFL Draft. Manning was immediately handed the starting job in Week 1 of his rookie season and he never relinquished it.

In Manning's 13 seasons as the Colts’ starting quarterback, he led the team to 150 wins (including playoffs), eight divisional titles, two AFC crowns and a win in Super Bowl XLI in 2007. He also didn’t miss a single game, playing in 227 in a row including playoffs, basically making the Colts’ backup quarterback nothing more than a hat-wearing, clipboard holder on the sidelines.

That was until 2011, when a neck injury finally did to Manning what opposing defenses were never able to do – knock him out of the game. For the first time since the final game of the 1997 season, the Colts had to go to Plan B at quarterback.

In Week 1 against Houston that was 38-year-old Kerry Collins. Three weeks later after Collins was sidelined by a concussion, the Colts turned to Curtis Painter, their sixth-round pick in the 2009 draft. Eight losses later, Dan Orlovsky, who was originally drafted by Detroit in the fifth-round of the 2005 draft, took over the reigns for the rest of season.

Collectively, the trio led the Colts to a 2-14 record, the worst in the NFL. In early January, Colts owner Jim Irsay fired head coach Jim Caldwell, vice chairman Bill Polian, vice president/general manager Chris Polian and the vast majority of the coaching staff in the first phase of what has become an extreme makeover of one of the league’s most successful franchises since the arrival of Manning in 1998.

After hiring Chuck Pagano as the Colts’ new head coach and installing Ryan Grigson as the new general manager, Irsay moved on to reconstructing the roster first by parting ways with Manning on March 7 and two days later cutting several other long-time Colts, including running back Joseph Addai, linebacker Gary Brackett and tight end Dallas Clark.

The Colts have since been active in free agency, re-signing veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne and several other players, but the most significant acquisition will come on April 26.

That’s when the Colts, just as they did in 1998, plan on taking their next franchise quarterback, either Stanford’s Andrew Luck or Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, with the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Whether or not they end up starting right away like Manning did, whoever the Colts end up selecting becomes their new Plan A.

In Denver, the current Plan A is fully in place, secured by the five-year, $96 million contract Manning signed with his new team, and in motion. Since Manning’s introduction, the Broncos have made several other moves, including adding wide receiver Andre Caldwell and tight ends Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme, a former Colts teammate, to the offense.

As for Plan B? Initially, Plan B was expected to be Tim Tebow, who replaced Kyle Orton as the Broncos’ starting quarterback after a 1-4 start to the 2011 season. With Tebow under center, the Broncos went 8-5 the rest of the way, winning the AFC West title and defeating the Steelers in the Wildcard round of the playoffs.

However, Tebow’s future in Denver was immediately placed in doubt when news broke that Manning would be signing with the Broncos. And it was sealed the day after the press conference when Elway traded Tebow and a seventh-round pick in the upcoming draft to the Jets for New York’s fourth- and sixth-round picks.

So with no Tebow, who is Manning’s backup? It’s not Orton, who earlier this month signed a three-year deal with Dallas after finishing last season with Kansas City.

No, Manning’s backup is none other than Caleb Hanie. Hanie signed as a free agent with Denver after three seasons with the Bears. An undrafted free agent out of Colorado State, Hanie went 0-4 filling in for an injured Jay Cutler last season. In those four games, Hanie completed 50 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and nine interceptions.

For all the criticism of Tebow’s passing ability and the doubts raised about him developing into a successful NFL quarterback, his numbers are considerably better than Hanie’s. Especially when it comes to the most important category – wins. Tebow is 9-7 in his career as a starter. Hanie is still looking for his first NFL win.

Granted, opportunity plays a big part into a quarterback’s statistics, and Tebow, a first-round pick in 2009, has a significant advantage over Hanie in that respect. Regardless it doesn’t change the reality of the Broncos’ backup quarterback situation. It could have been Tebow, but instead the front office has decided to go with Hanie. Showing once again, that there is no Plan B.

Just like the Colts did in 1998, the Broncos are pinning all of their hopes on Manning. Back then, Manning was 22 and had just finished his career at the University of Tennessee. Now, Manning is 36 years old, has already played in 228 NFL games, has had three different neck surgeries in less than two years and hasn’t been under center in a game since January 2011.

In Indianapolis, Plan A, whether it ends up being Luck or Griffin, is about the future. In Denver, Plan A is all about the present as Manning himself made clear at his press conference.

"I realize I don't have 14 years left, by any means," Manning said. "This isn't something where I'm just building a foundation to do something in two years or three years. This is a ‘now’ situation. We're going to do whatever we can to win right now. That's all I'm thinking about right now."

It’s clearly Super Bowl or bust for the Broncos with Manning leading the way. Everyone from Bowlen to Elway to Xanders to the players is on board with Plan A, which rests largely on the shoulders of No. 18.

“I believe that he's got a lot of great football left in him,” Elway said of his new QB. Broncos fans sure hope he’s right because, just as he said, “I don’t have a Plan B.”

— by Mark Ross, published on March 30, 2012

<p> Denver Broncos' Super Bowl hopes begin and end with Peyton Manning</p>
Post date: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 11:33
All taxonomy terms: Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-1-tiger-woods


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. 1: Tiger Woods

Born: Dec. 30, 1975, Cypress, Calif.  | Career PGA Tour Wins: 72 | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $660,238 World Ranking: 6


Brandel Chamblee's Take:

Watching Tiger Woods play golf when he is even remotely close to his best is like watching LeBron James play a pick-up game with high school kids. Even amid scandal, injuries, massive swing changes and having to sit out two majors in 2011, Tiger has more top-10 finishes in golf’s biggest events over the last three years than anyone in the world. 
His good play late in 2011 and his dominant win at Bay Hill show that his swing changes have taken root and that the magic is back. That magic comes from a poise that is the hallmark of mental strength, and it’s the reason he is the only one on the planet currently playing professional golf who’s won 14 majors, and why he is the best bet to win a major in 2012.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 62
Wins: 14

2011 Performance:
Masters - T4
U.S. Open - DNP
British Open - DNP
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1st (1997, 2001, 2002, 2005)
U.S. Open - 1st (2000, 2002, 2008)
British Open - 1st (2000, 2005, 2006)
PGA Championship - 1st (1999, 2000, 2006, 2007)
Top-10 Finishes: 35
Top-25 Finishes: 49
Missed Cuts: 4

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

<br />
Post date: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 10:04
Path: /college-basketball/top-teams-2000-not-win-national-championship

The one-and-done format of the NCAA Tournament often leads to the best team going home without a title. Amazing seasons tend to crash and burn in the maelstrom that is March Madness. From the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly, we look at the best teams — since 2000 — to not win it all.

1. 2002 DUKE (31-4)
After beating Arizona for the 2001 national championship, Duke was on a mission to repeat. Led by Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy and Chris Duhon, Mike Krzyzewski’s team was ranked No. 1 heading into the NCAA Tournament. But eventual national runner-up Indiana, a No. 5 seed, stunned the Blue Devils 74–73 in the Sweet 16.

2. 2005 ILLINOIS (37-2)
There had not been a No. 1 vs. No. 2 national title game since 1975 until top-ranked Illinois played next-in-line North Carolina. Deron Williams and the Fighting Illini took aim at the school’s first national championship. Instead, the UNC won the school’s fourth title all-time, beating Illinois, 75–70.

3. 2006 CONNECTICUT (30-4)
Rudy Gay led a group of five UConn players who were selected in the 2006 NBA Draft. Even with all that talent, the Huskies didn’t reach the Final Four — falling to No. 11 seed George Mason, 86–84, in overtime of the Elite Eight, in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history.

4. 2008 MEMPHIS (38-2) 
John Calipari’s club won its first 26 games and set the NCAA record (since vacated) for victories in a single season. The maturation of freshman point guard Derrick Rose elevated the play of the Tigers in the NCAA Tournament, but poor free throw shooting doomed Memphis. Kansas rallied from a nine-point deficit in the last two minutes of regulation and won the national championship 75–68 in overtime.

5. 2008 NORTH CAROLINA (36-3)
The Tar Heels made their 17th Final Four appearance, and coach Roy Williams made his fourth trip to the national semifinals in seven seasons. But Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Co. were unable to beat Williams’ old school, losing 84–66 to Kansas.

6. 2008 UCLA (35-4)
Thanks to top talent like Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, Russell Westbrook and freshman Kevin Love, coach Ben Howland’s Bruins made their third consecutive Final Four appearance. UCLA fell short of the title yet again, however, losing to Memphis, 78–63, in the national semifinals.

7. 2003 KANSAS (30-8)
The Jayhawks couldn’t get past freshman sensation Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse in the title game. Kansas missed 18 free throws, Syracuse made 11 3-pointers and the Orange won 81–78, ending the KU careers of Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich. One week later, coach Roy Williams left Kansas for North Carolina.

8. 2007 OHIO STATE (35-4) 
The Buckeyes helped usher in the one-and-done era of college basketball with a team that included freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook. The No. 1-ranked Buckeyes carried a 22-game winning streak all the way to the national title game before losing to Florida, 84–75.

9. 2004 DUKE (31-6) 
Coach K seemed to have found perfect offensive balance with J.J. Redick hitting 102 3-pointers and Shelden Williams doing the heavy lifting inside. The Blue Devils reached the Final Four and led eventual champion Connecticut by seven at halftime before losing, 79–78.

10. 2010 KENTUCKY (35-3)
John Calipari’s first team at Kentucky consisted of a record five NBA first-round picks, including freshmen John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Although they were immensely talented, the young Wildcats’ inexperience — and cold shooting — proved to be their downfall in a 73–66 loss to West Virginia in the Elite Eight.

<p> Top Teams since 2000 to Not win a National Championship</p>
Post date: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 10:03
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-relief-pitcher-rankings

Opening Day is next week and Athlon Sports has all the fantasy baseball rankings you need to get ready for the upcoming season.

Athlon Sports has combined nine fantasy baseball big boards from around the web to compile an updated consensus Top 200 as well as positional breakdowns.

No position has been impacted by injuries more during spring training than relief pitching, or more specifically, closers.

Ryan Madson (No. 10 RP, No. 122 overall) and Joakim Soria (No. 17 RP, No. 157 overall) are both out for the season after tearing ligaments in their pitching elbows that will require Tommy John surgery to repair. Their loss is a blow for the Reds and Royals, their respective teams, but also presents an opportunity for someone else.

To this point, Reds manager Dusty Baker has said he's leaning towards going with a closer by committee. Sean Marshall figures to get the first shot at the save opportunities for the Reds, but others to watch include Bill Bray, Aroldis Chapman and Nick Masset. To add even more uncertainty to the Reds' bullpen situation, both Bray and Masset are dealing with injuries and the team has already said that Masset will start the season on the DL.

With the Royals, Jonathan Broxton, who saved 36 games for the Dodgers in 2009, could be first in line to replace Soria, but he's not only candidate. Greg Holland and Aaron Crow are two young pitchers who bear watching and could seize the closer's job and not relinquish it.

Drew Storen (No. 5 RP, No. 91 overall), who saved 43 games for the Nationals last season, is another closer dealing with elbow issues. In Storen's case, his does not seem to be serious, but he will start the season on the DL. The Nationals hope to have him back by the middle of April.

While Storen is out, the Nationals appear to be leaning towards handing closing duties to Brad Lidge. Lidge was one of the top closers in the game from 2004-10 when he was with the Astros and Phillies, averaging more than 31 saves a season during that time. Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Henry Rodriguez also could get a chance to close, especially should Lidge struggle finishing games.

Be sure to consult Athlon Sports' MLB Fantasy Closer Grid throughout the season to keep track of every team's bullpen situation.

Fantasy Baseball is coming... and the 25th Anniversary Edition of Athlon Sports' Baseball Preview Magainze is already here. Click here to order yours today!

Rank Position ranking
Overall ranking on The Big Board
LR — Last Ranked, where player was ranked on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012
NR — Not Ranked, means player did not appear on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012

AS – Athlon Sports (updated 3/19/12)
CBS – (as of 3/16/12)
ESPN – (updated 3/13/12)
FOX – (updated 3/7/12)
MLB – (as of 3/15/12)
RC – (updated 3/18/12)
RS – (updated 2/27/12)
USA — (updated 2/13/12)
Y! – Yahoo! Sports (updated 2/24/12)*

*Yahoo! ranked only 120 players on their list, while Athlon's Big Board contains 200. The aggregated scores of the other eight big boards were used to extrapolate Yahoo!’s rankings to 200 players.

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

1 49 45 Craig Kimbrel ATL RP 30 39 62 75 52 57 65 63 56
2 76 80 Jonathan Papelbon PHI RP 32 112 87 74 71 82 79 73 77
3 79 78 Mariano Rivera NYY RP 56 110 73 88 57 85 82 84 76
4 85 88 John Axford MIL RP 36 92 93 108 70 127 96 82 78
5 91 89 Drew Storen WAS RP 50 93 89 96 78 141 107 110 82
6 110 112 Matt Moore TB RP 115 104 74 221 140 79 95 130 91
7 114 109 Brian Wilson SF RP 84 133 106 122 92 189 106 118 112
8 120 116 Jose Valverde DET RP 61 154 125 117 90 171 124 120 131
9 121 111 Heath Bell MIA RP 92 94 148 151 83 165 117 139 108
10 122 127 Ryan Madson CIN RP 129 120 99 182 108 132 118 107 113
11 125 144 Joel Hanrahan PIT RP 135 134 119 170 103 155 128 104 136
12 132 128 J.J. Putz ARI RP 149 113 142 145 102 120 130 168 138
13 134 135 Cory Luebke SD SP/RP 144 135 130 174 134 67 136 177 137
14 139 140 Andrew Bailey BOS RP 130 143 158 - 109 119 179 112 143
15 153 182 Rafael Betancourt COL RP 150 159 114 - 172 118 141 - 146
16 155 160 Sergio Santos TOR RP 176 155 - 178 131 123 151 137 159
17 157 151 Joakim Soria KC RP 196 142 152 169 119 187 135 160 162
18 170 188 Jason Motte STL RP 178 172 136 197 136 175 156 194 178
19 171 170 Jordan Walden LAA RP - 171 163 163 125 183 143 - 173
20 175 174 Carlos Marmol CHC RP 198 - 183 - 127 148 146 182 174
21 177 179 Joe Nathan TEX RP - 156 - 195 128 181 164 170 184
22 180 159 Neftali Feliz TEX RP - 187 141 - - 121 181 - 168
23 188 162 Daniel Bard BOS RP 185 - 185 - - 99 - - 165
24 197 NR Huston Street COL RP - - 176 - 157 186 167 - -
25 201 202 Kyle Farnsworth TB RP - - 172 - 147 184 195 - 196
26 202 NR Brandon League SEA RP - - 191 - 149 172 188 - 198
27 219 NR Matt Thornton CHW RP - - - - 189 159 - - -
28 221 192 Kenley Jansen LAD RP - - - - 190 161 - - -
29 226 NR Sergio Romo SF RP - - - - - 158 - - -
30 230 226 Jonny Venters ATL RP 166 - - - - - - - -
31 233 225 Francisco Cordero TOR RP 167 - - - - - - - -
32 235 224 Rafael Soriano NYY RP 168 - - - - - - - -
33 241 NR Frank Francisco NYM RP - - - - 173 - - - -
34 243 NR Tyler Clippard WAS RP - - - - - 174 - - -
35 248 185 Chris Perez CLE RP - - - 183 - - - - -
36 250 NR Javy Guerra LAD RP - - - - 185 - - - -
37 255 NR Mike Adams TEX RP - - - - - 190 - - -
38 261 NR Koji Uehara TEX RP - - - - - 195 - - -

— By Mark Ross, updated on March 30, 2012

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012
2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers


For more fantasy baseball help, visit our friends at the Fantasy Baseball Hub.

<p> Athlon Sports has updated its consensus relief pitching rankings to help get your bullpen ready for Opening Day</p>
Post date: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 09:45
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-starting-pitcher-rankings

Opening Day is next week and Athlon Sports has all the fantasy baseball rankings you need to get ready for the upcoming season.

Athlon Sports has combined nine fantasy baseball big boards from around the web to compile an updated consensus Top 200 as well as positional breakdowns.

There's a new No. 1 atop the starting pitching depth chart as Roy Halladay edged out Clayton Kershaw in the updated rankings. They are followed by fellow Cy Young winners Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez, who rounds out the award-winning top 5. The rest of the top 10 is the same except for the No. 10 spot as Dan Haren replaces David Price.

Outside of the top 10, most of the movement was related to position in the Top 200 as there wasn't a lot of change in the starting pitching rankings themselves. Some of the biggest risers in the Top 200 included Adam Wainwright (No. 100, up from No. 110), who looks to be progressing well in his comeback from Tommy John surgery, Ubaldo Jimenez (No. 147, up from No. 158), and Jeremy Hellickson (No. 156, up from No. 172), last year's AL Rookie of the Year.

Some of the fallers included Ian Kennedy (No. 78, down from No. 63), Tommy Hanson (No. 92, down from No. 82), Michael Pineda (No. 95, down from No. 85), and Tim Hudson (No. 168, down from No. 133).

Hudson's decline is health-related, as he is recovering from offseason back surgery and another pitcher to watch along those lines is Chris Carpenter (No. 124 overall). Carpenter has been dealing with nerve issues in his neck and shoulder during spring training. He will certainly not be ready by Opening Day, and he could be out until late May or early June, if not longer.

Further down the rankings, the pitchers who made large jumps to break into the Top 200 were Ted Lilly, Brandon Morrow, Brandon McCarthy and Chris Sale.

Fantasy Baseball is coming... and the 25th Anniversary Edition of Athlon Sports' Baseball Preview Magainze is already here. Click here to order yours today!

Rank Position ranking
Overall ranking on The Big Board
LR — Last Ranked, where player was ranked on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012
NR — Not Ranked, means player did not appear on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012

AS – Athlon Sports (updated 3/19/12)
CBS – (as of 3/16/12)
ESPN – (updated 3/13/12)
FOX – (updated 3/7/12)
MLB – (as of 3/15/12)
RC – (updated 3/18/12)
RS – (updated 2/27/12)
USA — (updated 2/13/12)
Y! – Yahoo! Sports (updated 2/24/12)*

*Yahoo! ranked only 120 players on their list, while Athlon's Big Board contains 200. The aggregated scores of the other eight big boards were used to extrapolate Yahoo!’s rankings to 200 players.

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

1 13 12 Roy Halladay PHI SP 10 6 12 19 23 10 12 22 18
2 14 11 Clayton Kershaw LAD SP 9 7 20 13 19 8 22 21 15
3 16 13 Justin Verlander DET SP 8 10 17 17 22 17 21 17 16
4 20 19 Cliff Lee PHI SP 20 11 22 21 27 14 24 26 24
5 25 23 Felix Hernandez SEA SP 24 21 28 28 28 31 32 35 30
6 27 26 Jered Weaver LAA SP 15 25 31 38 33 25 39 45 35
7 29 28 Tim Lincecum SF SP 25 27 32 32 30 51 42 32 28
8 31 31 CC Sabathia NYY SP 67 22 43 25 38 28 31 33 31
9 33 27 Cole Hamels PHI SP 23 24 39 40 31 46 36 66 32
10 41 37 Dan Haren LAA SP 47 31 41 61 41 65 34 46 49
11 42 35 David Price TB SP 21 34 53 48 47 56 54 53 50
12 43 41 Zack Greinke MIL SP 66 28 48 57 46 55 50 44 40
13 51 46 Matt Cain SF SP 37 70 61 73 48 36 59 77 54
14 56 50 Jon Lester BOS SP 49 50 56 55 61 98 78 62 58
15 58 55 Stephen Strasburg WAS SP 35 58 75 84 81 20 68 108 57
16 60 60 Yovani Gallardo MIL SP 54 40 65 85 58 90 92 48 59
17 68 62 James Sheilds TB SP 76 36 64 78 72 103 62 72 81
18 72 75 Madison Bumgarner SF SP 46 49 79 94 67 72 88 87 80
19 73 70 C.J. Wilson LAA SP 101 61 68 70 51 69 75 80 88
20 78 63 Ian Kennedy ARI SP 90 35 72 86 76 70 69 122 79
21 88 91 Mat Latos CIN SP 111 47 94 103 62 104 84 119 100
22 92 82 Tommy Hanson ATL SP 77 62 116 131 80 68 86 142 97
23 93 95 Josh Johnson MIA SP 53 59 128 124 91 66 108 132 101
24 94 96 Daniel Hudson ARI SP 109 63 85 109 89 116 99 94 102
25 95 85 Michael Pineda NYY SP 91 60 96 116 105 74 101 116 116
26 97 103 Matt Garza CHI SP 114 71 101 119 93 107 109 86 104
27 100 110 Adam Wainwright STL SP 78 64 97 143 126 89 100 134 99
28 101 99 Ricky Romero TOR SP 65 82 81 90 118 134 113 127 124
29 107 100 Josh Beckett BOS SP 75 51 108 121 107 145 119 128 126
30 111 105 Yu Darvish TEX SP 108 80 124 186 148 76 105 129 87
31 119 117 Brandon Beachy ATL SP 123 81 123 137 132 80 137 165 110
32 124 122 Chris Carpenter STL SP 132 136 103 114 100 - 97 159 133
33 126 124 Gio Gonzalez WAS SP 118 73 132 115 160 - 125 161 109
34 134 135 Cory Luebke SD SP/RP 144 135 130 174 134 67 136 177 137
35 136 131 Jordan Zimmerman WAS SP 131 115 110 184 138 - 122 125 139
36 137 134 Anibal Sanchez MIA SP 134 96 137 173 137 125 133 191 141
37 144 138 Johnny Cueto CIN SP 87 162 151 134 180 163 152 149 152
38 147 158 Ubaldo Jimanez CLE SP 151 121 105 141 158 - 140 174 144
39 150 145 Shaun Marcum MIL SP 147 186 122 - 114 142 129 179 148
40 156 172 Jeremy Hellickson TB SP 160 164 91 165 164 - 161 156 158
41 164 166 Doug Fister DET SP 174 175 144 196 163 108 148 - 163
42 168 133 Tim Hudson ATL SP 133 189 139 132 - 179 174 - 166
43 169 181 Jaime Garcia STL SP 199 163 154 139 179 144 180 183 180
44 173 173 Max Scherzer DET SP 190 188 134 185 130 - 178 171 169
45 181 206 Ted Lilly LAD SP 191 - 164 - 159 151 147 - 192
46 183 191 Hiroki Kuroda NYY SP 193 174 147 - - 170 150 196 193
47 184 152 Ervin Santana LAA SP 148 - 161 156 - - 176 187 197
48 187 NR Brandon Morrow TOR SP - 176 170 154 161 - 198 175 -
49 189 184 Wandy Rodriguez HOU SP - 137 166 199 194 185 184 189 186
50 193 197 Justin Masterson CLE SP - 158 159 153 - - 200 - -
51 194 214 Brandon McCarthy OAK SP 170 200 179 188 - 147 - - 189
52 198 204 Chris Sale CHW SP 183 - 177 - - 143 199 - 187
53 205 199 Jhoulys Chacin COL SP - 178 - - 146 - 185 - 194
54 206 NR Colby Lewis TEX SP - 173 173 - 184 - 173 - -
55 208 195 Scott Baker MIN SP - - 157 - 165 - 187 - -
56 211 215 Vance Worley PHI SP 184 177 - - - 157 - - -
57 212 209 Clay Buchholz BOS SP 195 165 187 193 - - - 181 -
58 224 NR Derek Holland TEX SP - 190 - 191 - - 193 185 -
59 228 208 Jair Jurrjens ATL SP 197 - - 166 - - - - -
60 234 NR Bud Norris HOU SP - - 198 - 170 - - - -
61 239 NR Chad Billingsley LAD SP - - - 175 197 - - - -
62 242 NR Tim Stauffer SD SP - - 181 - - 194 - - -
63 244 218 Roy Oswalt SP 179 - - - - - - - -
64 245 217 Alexi Ogando TEX SP 180 - - - - - - - -
65 246 210 Trevor Cahill ARI SP - 180 - - - - - - -
66 252 NR John Danks CHW SP - 199 - - 195 - 196 - -
67 257 NR Gavin Floyd CHW SP - - 193 - - - - - -
68 260 NR Mike Minor ATL SP - - 195 - - - - - -
69 262 NR Henderson Alvarez TOR SP - - - - - 196 - - -

— By Mark Ross, updated on March 30, 2012

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012
2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers

For more fantasy baseball help, visit our friends at the Fantasy Baseball Hub.

<p> Athlon Sports' updated consensus fantasy rankings reveal plenty of starting pitching to go around</p>
Post date: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/penn-state-nittany-lions-2012-spring-preview

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.

Penn State Nittany Lions 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 9-4, 6-2 Big Ten

Spring practice: March 26-April 21

Returning Starters: Offense – 3, Defense – 4

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Matt McGloin, 1,571 yards, 8 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Silas Redd, 1,241 yards, 7 TD
Receiving: Justin Brown, 35 rec., 517 yards, 2 TD
Tackles: Gerald Hodges, 106
Sacks: Sean Stanley and Gerald Hodges, 4.5
Interceptions: Five tied with one

Redshirts to watch: OL Angelo Mangiro, DT Anthony Zettel, OL Donovan Smith, DE Deion Barnes, LB Ben Kline, OL Ryan Nowicki

2012 Schedule

Big Ten 2012 Schedule Analysis

Sept. 1 Ohio
Sept. 8 at Virginia
Sept. 15 Navy
Sept. 22 Temple
Sept. 29 at Illinois
Oct. 6 Northwestern
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 at Iowa
Oct. 27 Ohio State
Nov. 3 at Purdue
Nov. 10 at Nebraska
Nov. 17 Indiana
Nov. 24 Wisconsin

Offensive Strength: Silas Redd. The second-team all-Big Ten tailback proved as an underclassmen in his first season as the starter that his recruiting hype was warranted. He hit a wall down the stretch but Redd is a great piece for new head coach Bill O'Brien to build his offense around.

Offensive Weakness: Where to begin? The quarterback position has been the issue in Happy Valley for years and it appears, barring massive development from an incumbent, that 2012 won't be any different.

Defensive Strength: State College has been referred to as Linebacker-U for years and this Penn State squad will do nothing to dispel that. A deep and talented group returns seven of the top eight tacklers and could be one of the best in the Big Ten — if it can stay healthy.

Defensive Weakness: The defensive line has to be rebuilt this spring without Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Devon Still and top sack artist Jack Crawford. However, the secondary must replace all four starters and could see a scheme change (what will happen to the Hero position), so the back end of this unit is the likely weak spot.

Spring Storylines Facing the Nittany Lions:

1. The healing process in State College has to continue and getting back onto the field is a step in the right direction. O'Brien has to insulate his team and create an internal rallying cry in order to build unity in the face of what will most assuredly be a very public and lurid trial of Jerry Sandusky. All while dealing with a fanbase that is seeing a new coaching staff on the practice field for the first time in nearly 50 years. Athletic competition can possess overwhelming rejuvenating powers and Nittany Lions fans have to be happy to see their team practicing for the first time since the end of the darkest season in Penn State history. For a coach who has yet to see most of his players practice, anything — and anyone — goes this spring in Happy Valley.

2. The former Patriots offensive coordinator's first order of business is finding a quarterback to run his offense. While installing his offense, he has made it clear that the position is up for grabs and he has two experienced options in Matt McGloin and Robert Bolden. Uber-recruit and upside athlete Paul Jones, who has yet to play a snap due to academic issues, will also figure heavily into the mix. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder might have the most raw ability but lacks time under center. Both Bolden and McGloin have had opportunities to seize the starting job over the last two seasons and both have failed to make a statement. Which is probably why O'Brien hosted former Maryland passer Danny O'Brien on the first day of spring camp. However, O'Brien chose to sign with division rival Wisconsin shortly after his visit to Happy Valley. There are options on this roster — how good they are remains to be seen.

3. Three All-Big Ten honorable mention offensive linemen have departed the roster and filling these holes will play a huge role in getting better quarterback play. There is no lack of talent but center Matt Stankiewitch is the only returning blocker with extensive starting experience. This could be a totally reworked group and finding the right pieces to protect his quarterback and star tailback will be priority No. 2 for O'Brien this spring. Mike Farrell, Donovan Smith, Adam Gress and John Urschel need to step into bigger, more prominent roles for a unit that, frankly, is a large unknown as this stage of the season.

4. There will be four new starters in the defensive secondary so settling on a defensive back rotation is at the top of the defensive wish list. The cornerback position appears to be in better (or more stable) shape than safety. Senior Stephon Morris will slide into one starting spot while super-sophomore Adrian Amos, who exhibited tremendous upside in 12 games as a true freshman, will snag the other job. Receiver Curtis Drake was moved to cornerback this spring, which figures to help with the depth and competition. But at safety, defensive back coach John Butler knows little after junior Malcolm Lewis. This is clearly the biggest unknown on the defensive side of the ball for Penn Staters.

5. Replacing Still and Crawford up front on the defense will be tough. However, Sean Stanley (30 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and Jordan Hill (59 tackles, 3.5 sacks) form a solid 1-2 inside-outside punch. Talented names like C.J. Olaniyan, Evan Hailes, DaQuan Jones and James Terry need to grow into the highly-touted recruits scouts projected. The Nittany Lions will also get some help in the form of end Pete Massaro, who missed all of last season due to an injury. 

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

Related Content Links:

Big Ten 2012 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 Big Ten Predictions

<p> Penn State Nittany Lions 2012 Spring Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/texas-am-aggies-2012-spring-preview

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.

Texas A&M Aggies 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 7-6, 4-5 Big 12

Spring practice: March 31-April 28

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 4

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Jameill Showers, 4 of 5, 40 yds., 0 TD, 0 INTs
Rushing: Christine Michael, 149 car., 899 yds., 8 TDs
Receiving: Ryan Swope, 89 rec., 1,207 yds., 11 TDs
Tackles: Jonathan Stewart, 98
Sacks: Sean Porter, 9.5
Interceptions: Steven Terrell, 2

Redshirts to watch: QB Johnny Manziel, WR Mike Evans, S Devonta Burns

Early Enrollees: QB Matt Davis, DB Tremaine Jacobs, DB Kenneth Marshall, WR Derel Walker

JUCO Transfers to Watch: DB Tremaine Jacobs, WR Derel Walker

2012 Schedule

Aug. 30 at Louisiana Tech
Sept. 8 Florida
Sept. 15 at SMU
Sept. 22 South Carolina State
Sept. 29 Arkansas
Oct. 6 at Ole Miss
Oct. 20 LSU
Oct. 27 at Auburn
Nov. 3 at Mississippi State
Nov. 10 at Alabama
Nov. 17 Sam Houston State
Nov. 24 Missouri

Offensive Strength: Moving from the Big 12 to the SEC won’t be easy, but Texas A&M has some pieces to build around in 2012. The offensive line should be one of the best in the conference, as tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews will both contend for All-SEC honors. In addition to the strength up front, there’s plenty of depth at receiver and three talented running backs on the roster.

Offensive Weakness: Quarterback play. Ryan Tannehill was solid during his tenure as Texas A&M’s starter and will likely be one of the first 10-15 picks off the board in the 2012 NFL Draft. Four candidates are in the mix to replace Tannehill this spring and the battle may go up until the final week of fall practices. Although the Aggies have three quality running backs, they have to be worried about the health of Christine Michael coming off a torn ACL in early November.  

Defensive Strength: Even with Damontre Moore expected to move to defensive end, the Aggies should feel good about the group of returning linebackers. Sean Porter recorded 79 tackles and 9.5 sacks last year, while Steven Jenkins pitched in 61 stops. Jonathan Stewart earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last season and chipped in 98 tackles and three sacks.

Defensive Weakness: The play of the secondary was a constant concern last year, and the coaching staff still has plenty of issues with this group heading into spring practice. The Aggies allowed 276.3 passing yards per game last season in the Big 12 and lose a couple of key contributors. Although the passing attacks in the SEC aren’t nearly as dynamic as the ones in the Big 12, the Aggies need to shore up this area in preseason workouts.

Spring Storylines Facing the Aggies

1. Goodbye Big 12. Hello SEC. That’s the theme in College Station this spring, as the Aggies are on the move to the toughest conference in college football. Texas A&M has all of the resources necessary to eventually compete in the SEC, but the transition period will certainly have a few bumps in the road. As if changing conferences wasn’t enough, the Aggies will have a new head coach and schemes in 2012. Kevin Sumlin takes over Texas A&M after a successful tenure at Houston and should be a great fit in College Station. Sumlin is certainly aware of the expectations at Texas A&M, as he coached under R.C. Slocum from 2001-02.

2. The biggest on-field question mark facing the Aggies in 2012 rests under center with the quarterback battle. Ryan Tannehill departs after throwing for 3,744 yards and 29 scores last season, leaving four inexperienced candidates to compete for time this spring. Jameill Showers tossed five passes in a backup role last year and has the most experience of any quarterback on the Texas A&M roster. He will face competition from Matt Joeckel, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel and true freshman Matt Davis. With a deep receiving corps, Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury won’t be afraid to throw it around this year. However, the Aggies have to find and settle on a starting quarterback for the offense to take off. Although Showers has the most experience, this is really a wide-open battle that could be decided late in fall camp.

3. Outside of the quarterback battle, the running backs will probably get the most attention in spring practice. Christine Michael was off to a terrific start last year (899 yards and eight touchdowns), but suffered a torn ACL in the early November loss to Oklahoma. Although Michael is expected to return to full strength for the opener, this is his second major leg injury in three seasons with the Aggies. Kingsbury will slowly work Michael back into the rotation in the fall, which makes spring practice even more important for Ben Malena. The sophomore fared well in limited work, adding 83 yards against Texas and 77 yards and two touchdowns against Northwestern. Incoming freshman Trey Williams ranked as the No. 19 prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and should work his way into the mix as the No. 3 back this year. Even if Michael is slow to return to 100 percent, Malena and Williams is a solid one-two punch to begin the year. However, it’s important for all of the running backs get into the mix this preseason and get comfortable with the new schemes.

4. New defensive coordinator Mark Snyder should be a good fit in College Station, but he will have his work cut out for him from the opening snap of spring practice. The Aggies previously ran the 3-4, but plan to switch back to the 4-3. The defensive line must replace end Tony Jerod-Eddie and tackle Eddie Brown, but return honorable mention All-Big 12 selection Spencer Nealy and linebacker Damontre Moore (8.5 sacks) is moving back to end. The linebacking corps is solid, but needs to be better in pass defense. The secondary is a glaring concern for Snyder, as cornerbacks Terrence Frederick, Lionel Smith and Coryell Judie and safety Trent Hunter have expired their eligibility. The coaching staff dipped into the JUCO ranks to help solve the question marks in this area, bringing in Tremaine Jacobs to help add to the depth and competition. The Aggies finished 2011 ranked 109th in pass defense, but won’t have to face as many pass-happy offenses in the SEC. However, shoring up the secondary and keeping the pass rush among the best in college football has to be the top priority for Snyder this spring. 

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related SEC Content

2012 Athlon Recruiting Rankings: No. 14 Texas A&M Aggies
College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

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

<p> Athlon previews spring practice for the Texas A&amp;M Aggies.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 06:59
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/kansas-ohio-state-forgotten-final-four-matchup

While all the Final Four hype seems wrapped around the David-Goliath plotline behind SEC’s powerhouse, Kentucky Wildcats, and their in-state rival, Louisville; the overshadowed match-up between Ohio State and Kansas will be quite the game as well. Though there is little rivalry between these two, the talent and tenacity of both teams—and readiness to avenge a loss for Ohio State— will make it nearly impossible for any fan painted head-to-toe in blue and white, or sporting black and red; or any fan for that matter, peel away from their seats following the first game. Both two seeds have surpassed impressive teams to make it to this point and neither is ready to go home anytime soon.

Ohio State defeated 1 seed Syracuse 77-70 last Saturday to earn their first trip to Final Four since 2007 where they lost in the Championship game to Joakim Noah and the gang at Florida.  The Buckeyes overcame adversity when Jared Sullinger was called for two early fouls in the first game and sat for the remainder of the half. Upon his return, he scored 19 points and pulled down seven rebounds in the win over Syracuse. Sullinger’s performance was supplemented with Deshaun Thomas’s 14 points and nine boards; as well as, the team’s impeccable free-throw percentage down the stretch. The Buckeyes went 13 for 14 from the line within the final 68 seconds.

While it seems that Ohio State’s offense that helped them make the Final Four, it was Kansas’ hellacious defense that stunned UNC and booked them a trip to New Orleans.  Elijah Johnson’s back court presence overwhelmed the Tar Heels’ back-up point guard, Stilman White as the Jayhawks claimed the 80-67 victory.

While Sullinger’s performance seems to the key to the Buckeyes taking the game, he will have his hands full against Jayhawks’ inside presence.  Forward Thomas Robinson and Center Jeff Withey have both caused havoc in the paint on both ends of the floor all season long. If those two come to play, they will definitely give Sullinger a run for his money.

These teams met in December at Kansas, and while the Jayhawks defeated Ohio State; the absence of the Buckeye’s Sullinger was definitely not overlooked. If Sullinger can stay out of foul trouble, this game will surely to be a fight to the finish. 

by Jordan Coleman

<p> Kansas-Ohio State is the forgotten Final 4 game in New Orleans.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 06:52
Path: /nascar/its-long-way-top-michael-waltrip-racing

by Vito Pugliese

“I’m sorry guys, I just … can’t drive my racecar …”

Those words, tinged with embarrassment, pain and reservation, served as both the low point and springboard for Michael Waltrip Racing. Sitting in his crumpled Camry on the backstretch at Charlotte after wrecking on his second lap of qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 in 2007, Michael Waltrip’s transition from racecar driver to team owner was going anything but smooth. From crashing out during time trials and having to head home on Fridays, shoddy performance and reliability, to a divorce and a much-publicized incident that saw him barefoot and beating a hasty retreat from the scene of a tipped over truck, the upstart organization that Waltrip started to coincide with Toyota’s arrival in the Cup Series has long since been referred to as a “second-tier” team.

But, while once said with a bit of condescension and hesitation, it appears safe to finally say it with assurance: Michael Waltrip Racing is for real.

Last year, Robby Gordon deemed his fledgling racing operation “a marketing company that races.” Despite two wins with former driver David Reutimann, that same observation so wryly stated could have been attributed to MWR not that long ago — but no longer. Don’t believe me? Watch any NASCAR race (or NASCAR-related programming), and tell me how many commercial breaks are absent a 5-Hour Energy commercial with Clint Bowyer, a NAPA spot without Waltrip or Martin Truex Jr., or an Aaron’s commercial without Mark Martin and Waltrip.

You’d be hard pressed to find a team owner that is as big a piece of marketing his racing operation as the two-time Daytona 500 champion. Waltrip is now also a commentator alongside Chris Myers during FOX race broadcasts, and last year was one of the hosts of Showtime’s “This Week in NASCAR.” It is that popularity and familiarity with die-hards and casual fans alike that has helped Waltrip’s race team bridge the gap from pretender to contender in the span of a few short years.

MWR suddenly boasts, along with Roush Fenway Racing, perhaps the best-balanced driver line-up in the sport. After Carl Edwards declined overtures from Joe Gibbs Racing in 2011, Bowyer became the next most-eligible driver at the end of his contractual rope. Sponsor 5-Hour Energy came a-calling — which in today’s world of finding a ride is as essential as having a helmet. When Richard Childress Racing could not honor Bowyer’s salary demands, it was MWR that offered him a home, much to the bewilderment of many in the media.

Was one of the hottest properties in NASCAR taking a step backward? After all, it was Bowyer who, after being involved with a wreck with Waltrip at Bristol in 2008, deemed him, “The worst driver in the history of NASCAR. Period.”

Bowyer is a driver who has made the Chase for the Championship three times in his six-year Cup career, as well as a Nationwide Series championship in ’08.

As it turns out, his defection to MWR has been anything but a step backward. His No. 15 has been fast weekly, albeit with a couple of stumbles with some blown tires and wall contact at Phoenix, but has since rebounded with a sixth at Las Vegas, fourth at Bristol, and a 13th in California. Sitting eighth in points, just 38 markers out of first, Bowyer’s Chase chances — and opportunities to win — are materializing quicker than most had suspected.

Think of his team as the No. 5 of Kasey Kahne without the hype or horrendous luck.

Truex has been in a similar situation as Bowyer. Since winning what was the Busch Series championship in 2004 and ’05, his Cup pursuits have been left wanting. He joined what had been Dale Earnhardt, Inc. as driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet as it was devolving from Earnhardt’s business built for his children into a diluted conglomeration of other teams that were both failing and floundering.

Truex has one NASCAR Cup win — a Monday running of a rained-out Dover event on the day that Bill France Jr. passed away — and Chase appearance to his credit, both of which were in 2007. Since joining MWR, Truex has little to show beyond having the most appearances in a commercial break.

However, in the last five races of 2011, Truex and crew chief Chad Johnston strung together four top-10 finishes and built upon that with runs of seventh, third and eighth in 2012. And this from a team that, prior to its hot streak, taped together only three top 5s and 15 top 10s in nearly two seasons. 

<p>  </p> <p class="p1"> Michael Waltrip Racing’s renaissance of 2012 has been one of the biggest stories of this NASCAR season. Just how far has this team come from the depths of despair? Vito Pugliese takes a look.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 17:42
Path: /college-basketball/final-four-preview-clark-kellogg

Athlon Sports’ Mitch Light caught up with CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg earlier this week to chat about the Final Four.

Athlon Sports: You’ve been involved in the sport for a long time, both as a player and broadcaster. Can you remember a Final Four matchup as juicy as what we have with Kentucky and Louisville?

Clark Kellogg: No, I can’t. When you consider what that rivalry means to the folks in Kentucky and also to people that follow college basketball closely, it’s way up there in the regular season — highly intense and extremely passion-driven. Now you factor in the stage that it is being played on and what is at stake, then it goes to a level that we haven’t seen in a Final Four matchup, quite honestly. This will be my fourth year calling the national championship game, and I spent 12 years as a studio analyst before that and watched it for a number of years before that, and I don’t know if we’ve ever had this kind of a matchup — a rivalry that has teams of this type of tradition, like Louisville and Kentucky.

Kentucky is the favorite. If you are looking at it from a Louisville standpoint, other than the obvious of making shots, what do the Cardinals need to do well to win this game? What’s a matchup that Louisville might need to win?

It is really too hard to lock into a particular matchup. The point you made, and it’s very simplistic and an obvious one, but shot-making is huge. It has such a big impact on everything, being able to set up your defense, being able to keep pressure on Kentucky. I think Louisville will be able to get good shots. They’ve got to be able to knock a high percentage of them down. Kentucky is without weaknesses, so being able to score the ball is one of the elements you have to bring to the table. I just don’t think you can out-defense Kentucky or slow them down enough to beat them just in a defensive battle. Scoring the ball and making shots is a huge, huge part of the equation for any team to beat them.

Looking at Kansas, I think a popular storyline this year has been Kansas’ relative lack of elite talent. They have good players, but they might not have a bunch of future pros on the team. Is that accurate?

It’s not elite compared to some of the recent teams that Kansas has had, particularly the 2008 national championship team, and even last year’s team when you had the Morris twins. So I can understand why people would say that. The jury is out what is going to happen in the post-college careers of players like Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson, even a guy like Jeff Withey. That being said, I think it is being overstated a tad, but compared to recent Kansas teams, yes, this is not a team that jumps out at you with a bunch of players with obvious pro potential. That being said, you don’t have to be in the pros to get to the Final Four. You just have to be able to handle the landscape in front of you, and Kansas has done that with really good defense and the play of Thomas Robinson and the improved play of Jeff Withey and the brilliance of Tyshawn Taylor for the last third of the season.

Looking at your alma mater, Ohio State, what is the key to defending Jared Sullinger? You have to kind of push him off the block and out of his comfort zone, right?

I think that is one of them. You want to be able to defend Jared Sullinger effectively one-on-one, but Kansas likes to double-team the post, and they do it aggressively and hard. If they determine that is the strategy that they want to go with, they will have to rotate well on defense. The key is you have to make it tough for a guy like Jared Sullinger. Don’t allow him to get a steady diet of a certain defense. Don’t allow him to get a rhythm. You want to minimize his deep post touches and you want to attack him at the other end of the court as well. The key matchup for me for Kansas will be Deshaun Thomas. They really don’t have a natural defender for him among their starters. I am interested to see how they deal with him. He is a scorer in the truest sense of the word. He can make threes. He can post you up. He can hit a mid-range shot. He is an elite scorer at the college level. How Kansas deals with him may be more important than what they do with Jared Sullinger.

Got to you ask about a team that is not in the Final Four, but how much fun was it for you to have your son, Nick, and his team, the Ohio Bobcats, enjoy so much success in the NCAA Tournament?

It is a thrill and a sense of pride and gratitude that I can’t adequately describe in words because of how full it makes you as a dad, as a mom, and as a sibling, to see your son or your brother out there. Just a tremendous run and an exciting run of fun for our family, and I was full beyond a measure of pride because of how Nick handled himself off the floor. He’s been grounded. He’s worked hard, and he’s been a good teammate.

I know you are involved with the Capital One Cup. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how you got involved?

Certainly can. I am an advisory board member for the Capital One Cup and have been for two years. Capital One is committed to the achievement of student-athletes, both on and off the court or field, and that dedication and drive to be the best is really the reason why the Capital One Cup was created. It rewards Division I athletic programs for their cumulative on-field performance across men’s and women’s sports with over $400,000 combined student-athlete scholarships. I couldn’t be happier to be associated with the Capital One Cup. And fans have an opportunity to follow their university of choice in the Capital One Cup simply by going to You can find the standings at and And all four of the Final Four teams have an opportunity to win as many as 60 points by winning the National Championship.

<p> CBS Analyst Clark Kellog discusses the upcoming Final Four.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 16:29
Path: /nascar/backseat-drivers-fan-council

by Dustin Long

Five races into the season and a few drivers expected to make the Chase are struggling. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne both are outside the top 20 in points. Last year’s runner-up, Carl Edwards, has not shown the strength he did last season just yet. Kyle Busch, a regular in the Chase, is 14th in points.

While there’s plenty of time to reverse course for those drivers — the Chase field won’t be set for more than five months — members of the Backstreet Drivers Fan Council are not confident all those drivers will be among the top 12 when the Chase field is set after Richmond in September.

This week, the Fan Council looks at who will make the Chase and who won’t, along with grading last weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway.

After five races last year, nine of the top 12 (if you factor in the wildcard spots) went on the make the Chase. Backseat Drivers Fan Council members were given a list of the 12 drivers who would make the Chase (if it started today with the top 10 and two wildcard drivers) and asked which ones would make the Chase. Here’s how they voted:

98.3 percent picked Tony Stewart (4th in points but has 2 wins)
97.0 percent picked Kevin Harvick (2nd in points)
95.0 percent picked Jimmie Johnson (9th in points)
90.0 percent picked Matt Kenseth (6th in points with 1 win)
89.0 percent picked Brad Keselowski (would be 11th via wildcard with 1 win)
85.7 percent picked Greg Biffle (points leader)
83.4 percent picked Denny Hamlin (7th in points with 1 win)
76.4 percent picked Dale Earnhardt Jr. (3rd in points)
45.2 percent picked Ryan Newman (10th in points)
25.6 percent picked Clint Bowyer (8th in points)
18.3 percent picked Martin Truex Jr. (5th in points)
4.7 percent picked Paul Menard (11th in points)

What Fan Council members said:
• Hamlin and Newman are simply not showing the consistency and I don't think they will recover. If they make it, it will be by wildcard only. Truex, Bowyer and Menard are simply not strong enough in their current situations to make the Chase this year, though I do believe all three will (be a) threat and all will possibly get wins this season.

• Think the switch to Ford from Dodge is going to impact (Brad Keselowski) toward the end of the season. Not sure (Martin Truex Jr.) and (Paul Menard) still have the consistency needed.

• MWR cars (Truex and Bowyer) will not make it into the Chase. Their luck will run out.

• Junior still has his summer swoon coming. I think ultimately that and the fact that he doesn't win will keep him out. Truex will not be able to sustain nor will Menard or Bowyer.

• It's really too early to tell.

• Sorry, I just don't see Jr. having the consistency needed to make the Chase

• Believe it or not, I think it's Jimmie's year to miss it

• Not convinced on either Jr. or Menard, and I have Newman falling out too.

• The Biff will fade in time. The 39 has never really showed any strength. Martin Truex has a good team this year and will make it in.

<p> The Backseat Drivers Fan Council gives its input on the rain-shortened Auto Club 400 and which drivers they believe have a shot at making the Chase five races into the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 13:05
Path: /college-basketball/march-madness-needs-gus-johnson

March Madness has lacked some excitement this year, and one reason seems obvious. Besides badly-officiated contests, a lack of shooters and no buzzer-beaters, the missing ingredient has to be the absence of Gus Johnson announcing games. We have compiled some of his past tournament gems, along with some other great calls from the man who gets buckets.

2006 – UCLA 73, Gonzaga 71

We start with a dramatic comeback that ended an amazing season for Gonzaga. UCLA trailed by 17 points but scored the game’s final 11 points to win a Sweet 16 thriller. Seeing Adam Morrison face down on the floor and crying at the end of the game is one of the more lasting images of past tournaments. It was truly “Heartbreak City!”



2007 – Ohio State 78, Xavier 71 (OT) 

The drama in this classic contest was at the end of regulation, when Ohio State’s Ron Lewis hit a three to force overtime against Xavier. You can truly feel the excitement of March with “We’re going to overtime…in Lexington. Ha Ha!” The Buckeyes survived the second round and went on to a title game loss to Florida.


1999 – Gonzaga 73, Florida 72

Gonzaga was not always a fixture in March Madness. The Bulldogs had only been in the tournament one time prior to 1999, and they had beaten Minnesota and Stanford to get to the Sweet 16. The Zags kept the momentum going against Florida, as a Casey Calvary make and subsequent Eddie Shannon miss led to one of Gus’ more famous calls, “Gonzaga! The slipper still fits.”


2005 – Vermont 60, Syracuse 57 (OT)

Who can forget the stunning upset of No. 4 seed Syracuse by Vermont in 2005? The underdog Catamounts held down Orange stars Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick, and they provided the dagger with a minute to go in overtime when “Sorrentine hit that one from the parking lot!”


2005 – Gonzaga 64, Oklahoma State 62

This was not a March Madness matchup, but it is definitely one of my favorite buzzer-beater calls and reactions from Gus and Bill Raftery. Oklahoma State had traveled to Seattle to play Gonzaga in Key Arena for this thriller. The nation’s leading scorer, Adam Morrison, banked in the game-winning three ball in the final seconds as the Bulldogs pulled it out. The classic aftermath went from “What a game!” to “Larry Bird….maybe?” to “Major Onions!” from the entertaining Raftery.


1996 – Princeton 43, UCLA 41

Gus got a classic assignment in his first season doing the tournament, as Pete Carril’s Tigers upset the defending national champions from Westwood. The video is rough, but the audio is great. This is a long version, so fast forward to the 6:45 mark unless you’re a complete old-school hoops fan like me. This upset was simply “Unbelievable!” and it led the famous headline in the Daily Princetonian, “David 43 Goliath 41.”


2009 – Denver Broncos 12, Cincinnati Bengals 7

It’s not college basketball, but I had to add in this game-winning catch by Denver’s Brandon Stokley in '09. The Broncos trailed the Bengals, 7-6, with 28 seconds to go in an otherwise boring game. However, Stokley caught a tipped pass from Kyle Orton and raced 87 yards for the improbable game-winning score, “Oh my goodnees, what a play!”


2009 – Tennessee Titans 30, Jacksonville Jaguars 13

One more NFL clip. Chris Johnson went for over 2,000 yards in ’09, and this run produced a hysterical call. As the Titans’ burner breaks off a 52-yard touchdown run against the Jags, Gus describes a new level of fast - “Gettin’ away from the cops” speed.


2010 – Kansas State 101, Xavier 96 (2OT)

It’s back to the NCAA Tournament, and this was an all-time March Madness thriller. K-State was leading near the end of regulation and the first overtime, but Xavier’s Terrell Holloway and Jordan Crawford each made huge plays to keep this war of attrition going. In the end, Wildcats star Jacob Pullen shows “He’s in shape!”

<p> Athlon adds some 'Rise and Fire' to a lackluster tournament.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 13:03
Path: /nascar/pennell%E2%80%99s-picks-fantasy-nascar-trends-martinsville

by Jay Pennell

Few sports crisscross the United States quite like NASCAR, and with that, the Sprint Cup Series returns to the East Coast this weekend for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Rain got the best of the series last weekend in Fontana, Calif., with defending champion Tony Stewart scoring his second win of the season in an event shortened by weather. Just five races into the year, Stewart and his Steve Addington-led crew have hit their stride early as others are simply struggling to get their season started.

With momentum and confidence on his side, Stewart returns to the site of one of his most dramatic runs of the 2011 Chase.

After struggling for the majority of the event last fall, Stewart was able to fight to hold on to a lead lap position and eventually worked his way through the field and to the front of the pack. Besting Jimmie Johnson on the final restart of the day, Stewart went to Victory Lane and kept his title hopes alive. That race would have as much to do with his eventual championship as the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

On a roll already this season and coming off one of the most impressive performances in recent memory, Stewart is among this week’s stronger plays, but is not the overall favorite.

That honor belongs to none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr.

While Stewart was methodically working his way to victory at Martinsville last October, Earnhardt Jr. was beating and banging his way to a seventh-place finish. His aggressive style was an enjoyable sight to the fans, but also evidence of his ability to score a solid finish on the paper-clip short track.

Last spring, Earnhardt nearly broke a winless streak that dates back to 2008. However, Kevin Harvick was able to capitalize on a late-race charge to make the pass for the lead with four laps to go and score the win, relegating Junior to a second-place finish.

Entering this weekend, Earnhardt is enjoying a strong start to the season with two top 5s, three top 10s, and sitting third in the championship standings. Winless in his last 134 starts, Earnhardt is on the verge of snapping that streak and giving team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.

That opportunity could not come at a better facility. The Hendrick cars have been among the strongest at Martinsville since they began showing up. Geoffrey Bodine scored the team’s first victory here in 1984, while Hendrick cars have a total of 18 wins — second only to Petty Enterprises — as drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson lead the active duty drivers in wins at Martinsville with seven and six, respectively.

Yet this weekend, it won't be “Five-Time”' or “Four-Time” that will be earning another Grandfather clock trophy. With the numbers adding up, momentum on his side and a string of strong performances at Martinsville backing him up, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is this week’s fantasy favorite.

Five Favorites: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart

While Gordon has been one of the most successful drivers at Martinsville over the years — he leads all active drivers in wins (seven), top 5s (25), top 10s (31), laps led (3,094) and lead-lap finishes (30) there — his 2012 season has gotten off to a rocky start.

Despite high hopes and great expectations leading into his 20th season in the Cup Series, the four-time champion is 25th in points and has only one top-10 finish on the year (eighth, Phoenix).

An ill-timed miscue on pit road last weekend in Fontana cost the No. 24 team a strong finish and the ability to move up the standings and back into contention. So has the season has gone for Gordon, crew chief Alan Gustafson and the entire No. 24 team.

Yet through it all, Gordon is encouraged by the fast racecars he has each week and knows all the team needs to get back on track is one “complete” race. And what better place for that to happen than at Martinsville?

Gordon is the type of driver that can hit a streak of solid runs and race for wins. After a slow start to the season, this is the weekend it turns it around for the No. 24 team.

Five Undervalued Picks: Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle

Martinsville is a track in which veterans such as Gordon are supposed to excel, not the young guys. But this week’s underdog pick goes to 21-year-old Joey Logano.

In six starts at Martinsville, Logano has completed all but five laps, has one top 5, two top 10s, zero DNFs and an average finish of 13.8 in six starts. While he has yet to set the world on fire or take home the trophy at Martinsville, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver did finish second to the ever-present favorite at Martinsville, teammate Denny Hamlin, in 2010.

Already in 2012, Logano has shown he has Chase potential. Through the first five races of the season, Logano has two top 10s and his worst finish was 24th last weekend in Fontana.

If he can keep the fenders on the car and avoid trouble throughout the day, Logano should score solid fantasy points for your team. He might not be the one celebrating the win, but he could give you those extra points needed.

Three Underdog Picks: Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, AJ Allmendinger

Best Average Finish at Martinsville (Wins):
1. Jimmie Johnson — 5.4 (6)
2. Denny Hamlin — 6.5 (4)
3. Jeff Gordon — 6.9 (7)
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 13.0 (0)
5. Tony Stewart — 13.4 (3)
6. Joey Logano — 13.8 (0)
7. Ryan Newman — 14.4 (0)
8. Brad Keselowski — 14.5 (0)
9. Jeff Burton — 14.6 (1)
10. Juan Pablo Montoya — 14.7 (0)

Follow Jay on Twitter: @JayWPennell

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 12:07
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-catcher-rankings

Opening Day is next week and Athlon Sports has all the fantasy baseball rankings you need to get ready for the upcoming season.

Athlon Sports has combined nine fantasy baseball big boards from around the web to compile an updated consensus Top 200 as well as positional breakdowns.

There's no change among the top eight catchers with Carlos Santana leading the way followed by Mike Napoli and Brian McCann. Buster Posey and Joe Mauer, both of whom are trying to rebound from disappointing 2011 seasons impacted by significant injuries, round out the top five.

Alex Avila is the biggest riser among the catchers, as he went up 11 spots on the Big Board from No. 119 to No. 108. After Avila, the next five catchers on the list all experienced drops of at least 10 positions on the Top 200.

Two of the biggest fallers, were J.P Arencibia and Russell Martin. The two AL East catchers each dropped at least 25 spots, which resulted in them barely maintaining their Top 200 status.

Fantasy Baseball is coming... and the 25th Anniversary Edition of Athlon Sports' Baseball Preview Magainze is already here. Click here to order yours today!

Rank Position ranking
Overall ranking on The Big Board
LR — Last Ranked, where player was ranked on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012
NR — Not Ranked, means player did not appear on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012

AS – Athlon Sports (updated 3/19/12)
CBS – (as of 3/16/12)
ESPN – (updated 3/13/12)
FOX – (updated 3/7/12)
MLB – (as of 3/15/12)
RC – (updated 3/18/12)
RS – (updated 2/27/12)
USA — (updated 2/13/12)
Y! – Yahoo! Sports (updated 2/24/12)*

*Yahoo! ranked only 120 players on their list, while Athlon's Big Board contains 200. The aggregated scores of the other eight big boards were used to extrapolate Yahoo!’s rankings to 200 players.

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

**Positional rankings will be updated throughout the week

1 36 33 Carlos Santana CLE C/1B 52 17 52 30 35 32 46 40 41
2 38 38 Mike Napoli TEX C/1B 57 43 47 27 39 30 41 36 53
3 44 44 Brian McCann ATL C 48 41 69 46 43 47 44 39 83
4 67 73 Buster Posey SF C 62 52 127 51 75 44 87 61 75
5 77 76 Joe Mauer MIN C/1B 43 48 131 58 66 77 85 93 95
6 82 86 Matt Wieters BAL C 60 65 84 69 88 106 93 74 90
7 96 97 Miguel Montero ARI C 69 53 117 125 113 86 103 89 122
8 108 119 Alex Avila DET C 122 44 121 99 120 130 126 91 127
9 179 169 Yadier Molina STL C - 132 186 140 - 193 191 164 179
10 196 171 J.P. Arencibia TOR C - 125 - - 178 - - 199 181
11 200 161 Russell Martin NYY C - 116 - - - - - - 171
12 213 201 Wilson Ramos WAS C - 160 - 158 - - - - -
13 225 203 Geovany Soto CHC C - 166 - - - - - 192 -
14 258 NR Kurt Suzuki OAK C - 193 - - - - - - -
15 268 205 Devin Mesoraco CIN C 200 - - - - - - - -

Other names to consider (in alphabetical order): John Buck (MIA, C), Ryan Doumit (MIN, C), Ramon Hernandez (COL, C), Nick Hundley (SD, C), Chris Ianetta (LAA, C), Jonathan Lucroy (MIL, C), Salvador Perez (KC, C), A.J. Pierzynski (CHW, C), Carlos Ruiz (PHI, C), Jarod Saltalamacchia (BOS, C)

— By Mark Ross, updated on March 29, 2012

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012
2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers


For more fantasy baseball help, visit our friends at the Fantasy Baseball Hub.

<p> Athlon Sports has updated its consensus fantasy rankings for catcher</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 11:50
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-outfield-rankings

Opening Day is next week and Athlon Sports has all the fantasy baseball rankings you need to get ready for the upcoming season.

Athlon Sports has combined nine fantasy baseball big boards from around the web to compile an updated consensus Top 200 as well as positional breakdowns.

Matt Kemp still leads the way among the outfielder rankings, but Ryan Braun is nipping at his heels. Braun, who was ranked No. 71 overall on the previous Big Board, soared up the Top 200 this time around and now checks in at No. 4.

It's no secret that the reason for the drastic change in his rankings is because his 50-game suspension for violation of MLB's drug policy was overturned in late February. Now that we know Braun, if healthy, will be eligible to play a full season, it's a matter of if the reigning NL MVP can repeat or come close to last season's numbers without Prince Fielder hitting behind him.

Outside of Braun, the only change among the first fifteen outfielders has nothing to do with rankings. Giancarlo Stanton (No. 32 overall, No. 10 OF) is the Marlin  formerly known as Mike Stanton. The 22-year-old slugger announced in late Februray that he wanted to be called by his given first name, rather than Michael/Mike, which he started using in the fifth grade.

Carl Crawford and Corey Hart are the two among the top 30 that saw their stock drop the most as both are dealing with injuries. Hart (No. 104 overall, down from No. 93) had knee surgery in early March, but there's still a chance he could ready by Opening Day or shortly thereafter. That does not appear to be the case for Crawford (was No. 17 OF, now No. 24), whose recovery from offseason wrist surgery has taken longer than initially expected.

Among the top 50 outfielders, Andre Ethier (No. 130, up from No. 150), Martin Prado (No. 140, up from No. 157), Melky Cabrera (No. 143, up from No. 165), Carlos Lee (No. 172, up from No. 200) and Angel Pagan (No. 185, up from No. 213) were the biggest risers.

Fantasy Baseball is coming... and the 25th Anniversary Edition of Athlon Sports' Baseball Preview Magainze is already here. Click here to order yours today!

Rank Position ranking
Overall ranking on The Big Board
LR — Last Ranked, where player was ranked on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012
NR — Not Ranked, means player did not appear on The Big Board that was published on Feb. 20, 2012

AS – Athlon Sports (updated 3/19/12)
CBS – (as of 3/16/12)
ESPN – (updated 3/13/12)
FOX – (updated 3/7/12)
MLB – (as of 3/15/12)
RC – (updated 3/18/12)
RS – (updated 2/27/12)
USA — (updated 2/13/12)
Y! – Yahoo! Sports (updated 2/24/12)*

*Yahoo! ranked only 120 players on their list, while Athlon's Big Board contains 200. The aggregated scores of the other eight big boards were used to extrapolate Yahoo!’s rankings to 200 players.

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

**Positional rankings will be updated throughout the week

1 3 2 Matt Kemp LAD OF 6 4 3 1 1 4 2 1 2
2 4 71 Ryan Braun MIL OF 5 5 4 8 5 2 1 2 6
3 5 4 Jose Bautista TOR 3B/OF 11 2 5 6 3 6 5 5 5
4 8 6 Jacoby Ellsbury BOS OF 19 8 8 2 8 9 6 12 12
5 11 10 Justin Upton ARI OF 14 18 9 14 7 21 10 11 10
6 12 14 Carlos Gonzalez COL OF 12 19 16 18 15 12 11 16 11
7 21 18 Curtis Granderson NYY OF 38 15 23 22 13 23 17 20 22
8 26 25 Andrew McCutchen PIT OF 40 38 26 20 26 29 28 30 27
9 30 32 Josh Hamilton TEX OF 26 46 40 35 36 49 25 27 34
10 32 34 Giancarlo Stanton MIA OF 83 68 25 33 25 22 30 25 25
11 37 39 Matt Holliday STL OF 42 57 30 36 65 45 33 28 36
12 40 40 Hunter Pence HOU OF 45 77 37 66 56 24 29 34 44
13 47 47 Jay Bruce CIN OF 63 90 38 62 34 40 55 38 51
14 50 52 Ben Zobrist TB 2B/OF 93 72 51 41 45 64 43 51 52
15 54 54 Nelson Cruz TEX OF 94 76 44 56 37 95 48 37 37
16 61 65 Michael Bourn HOU OF 80 74 35 72 87 84 51 42 67
17 63 68 Shin-Soo Choo CLE OF 51 75 77 80 85 58 64 49 63
18 64 58 Desmond Jennings TB OF 99 85 104 68 50 54 61 50 43
19 65 69 Alex Gordon KC OF 82 87 50 81 60 73 66 59 66
20 66 77 Shane Victorino PHI OF 102 69 55 65 79 78 58 56 65
21 70 79 Michael Morse WAS 1B/OF 103 83 71 53 82 42 70 83 62
22 80 84 B.J. Upton TB OF 106 99 80 82 73 87 60 64 69
23 83 87 Lance Berkman STL 1B/OF 105 78 59 77 96 52 77 99 86
24 84 67 Carl Crawford BOS OF 79 67 70 29 59 - 71 52 103
25 87 92 Adam Jones BAL OF 86 117 78 102 110 63 83 88 89
26 90 90 Howard Kendrick LAA 1B/2B/OF 85 119 118 79 84 88 91 101 72
27 99 101 Brett Gardner NYY OF 110 109 90 105 104 124 89 78 107
28 102 106 Chris Young ARI OF 117 88 107 110 116 93 81 98 125
29 103 102 Drew Stubbs CIN OF 113 129 112 87 95 136 102 79 92
30 104 93 Corey Hart MIL OF 107 89 100 97 176 114 80 96 93
31 105 108 Ichiro Suzuki SEA OF 116 84 88 120 121 129 90 106 106
32 106 115 Jayson Werth WAS OF 121 140 82 98 94 113 104 100 114
33 112 120 Michael Cuddyer COL 1B/2B/OF 96 152 92 123 156 139 98 121 70
34 113 114 Jason Heyward ATL OF 119 153 109 92 106 182 111 102 85
35 117 104 Nick Markakis BAL OF 88 128 145 111 139 48 112 176 130
36 129 130 Cameron Maybin SD OF 143 139 143 138 99 160 155 81 140
37 130 150 Andre Ethier LAD OF 137 130 140 127 174 100 166 109 120
38 131 132 Carlos Beltran STL OF 128 196 115 135 - 111 120 95 105
39 135 125 Emilio Bonifacio MIA SS/3B/OF 124 114 213 83 - 109 142 172 119
40 140 157 Martin Prado ATL 3B/OF 152 122 168 128 150 115 162 157 150
41 141 149 Nick Swisher NYY 1B/OF 163 170 150 146 115 137 158 114 153
42 143 165 Melky Cabrera SF OF 164 141 149 149 151 102 138 173 157
43 148 142 Logan Morrison MIA OF 146 - 153 118 - 75 171 133 145
44 149 156 Jeff Francoeur KC OF 189 151 180 136 124 133 144 146 164
45 154 154 Torii Hunter LAA OF 172 - 146 159 198 94 149 131 154
46 163 NR Coco Crisp OAK OF - 146 138 167 199 112 153 169 170
47 172 200 Carlos Lee HOU 1B/OF 161 - - 147 - 150 183 123 175
48 176 189 Austin Jackson DET OF 177 148 - 179 144 - - 136 182
49 185 213 Angel Pagan SF OF 187 167 178 187 154 - 163 193 -
50 186 NR Delmon Young DET OF 155 195 - 162 177 177 169 - 200
51 191 187 Matt Joyce TB OF - 150 - 192 - 164 194 163 199
52 192 175 Carlos Quentin SD OF 194 - - 126 - - - 166 183
53 195 NR Josh Willingham MIN OF - - 184 - 183 167 190 158 -
54 204 177 Peter Bourjos LAA OF - 194 - - 155 - 186 167 -
55 207 NR Lucas Duda NYM 1B/OF - - - - - 173 - 143 190
56 209 155 Mark Trumbo LAA 1B/OF - - - 155 - - 177 - 185
57 210 NR Brandon Belt SF 1B/OF - 197 - 190 186 192 - 154 -
58 215 178 Seth Smith OAK OF - - - - - 128 - - 195
59 216 219 Colby Rasmus TOR OF 175 - - - - - - 152 -
60 217 NR Alex Rios CHW OF - - 197 - 175 - 172 186 -
61 222 NR Yoenis Cespedes OAK OF - - - - - 153 - - -
62 223 216 Yonder Alonso SD 1B/OF 181 - - - - 176 - - -
63 227 NR Jose Tabata PIT OF - 184 - - - 178 - - -
64 231 NR Dexter Fowler COL OF - - - 177 - - - 190 -
65 232 NR Mike Carp SEA 1B/OF - - - - - 166 - - -
66 237 223 Jason Kubel ARI OF 169 - - - - - - - -
67 240 221 Jason Bay NYM OF 173 - - - - - - - -
68 249 NR Brennan Boesch DET OF - - - - 196 - - 188 -
69 251 212 Mike Trout LAA OF 188 - - - - - - 200 -
70 254 NR Bryan LaHair CHC OF - - - 189 - - - - -
71 263 NR Ben Revere MIN OF - - - - - - - 197 -
72 264 NR Jon Jay STL OF - - - - - 197 - - -
73 266 167 Alejandro de Aza CHW OF - - - - - 198 - - -
74 267 NR Jason Kubel ARI OF - - 199 - - - - - -

— By Mark Ross, updated on March 29, 2012

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012
2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers


For more fantasy baseball help, visit our friends at the Fantasy Baseball Hub.

<p> Athlon Sports' updated consensus fantasy rankings reveal plenty of options in a deep outfield</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 11:45
All taxonomy terms: Rory McIlroy, Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2012-majors-no-2-rory-mcilroy


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. 2: Rory McIlroy

Born: May 4, 1989, Holywood, Northern Ireland  | Career PGA Tour Wins: 3 (2 on European Tour) | 2011 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2011 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,905,609 World Ranking: 2


Brandel Chamblee's Take:

Winning a major at a young age is proof of uncommon maturity and gives a player decades of opportunities armed with the confidence that he has what it takes to win on golf’s biggest stage. Winning a major by a wide margin says that a player has another gear that few have ever known in this game, and it follows that he can win with less than his best stuff. Rory McIlroy did both when he won the 2011 U.S. Open, a victory made more impressive by the fact that it was on the heels of a horrific Sunday meltdown at Augusta. 
The Northern Irishman has his peers predicting stratospheric accomplishments, and I see no reason why those predictions won’t come true. In my opinion there are three distinct levels of talent in the game: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and the rest of the world.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 13
Wins: 1

2011 Performance:
Masters - T15
U.S. Open - Won
British Open - T25
PGA Championship - T64

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T15 (2011)
U.S. Open - 1st (2011)
British Open - T3 (2010)
PGA Championship - T64 (2009)
Top-10 Finishes: 5
Top-25 Finishes: 8
Missed Cuts: 2

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

<br />
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 11:33
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-buckeyes-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.

Ohio State Buckeyes 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 6-7, 3-5 Big Ten

Spring practice: March 28-April 21

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 9

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Braxton Miller, 85 of 157, 1,159 yds., 13 TD, 4 INTs
Rushing: Braxton Miller, 159 car., 715 yds., 7 TDs
Receiving: Devin Smith, 14 rec., 294 yds., 4 TDs
Tackles: C.J. Barnett, 75
Sacks: John Simon, 7
Interceptions: Two players tied with 3

Redshirts to watch: OL Tommy Brown, OL Chris Carter, DL Chase Farris, DL Kenny Hayes

Early Enrollees: OL Jacoby Boren, RB Bri’onte Dunn, QB Cardale Jones, LB Joshua Perry, DB Tyvis Powell, WR Michael Thomas

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 8 UCF
Sept. 15 California
Sept. 22 UAB
Sept. 29 at Michigan State
Oct. 6 Nebraska
Oct. 13 at Indiana
Oct. 20 Purdue
Oct. 27 at Penn State
Nov. 3 Illinois
Nov. 17 at Wisconsin
Nov. 24 Michigan

Offensive Strength: Quarterback Braxton Miller was thrown into the fire as a true freshman last season and that experience should pay big dividends in 2012. Miller totaled nearly 2,000 yards of offense, while posting 20 overall scores. With another offseason under his belt and new coach Urban Meyer bringing a spread attack to Columbus, Miller will easily surpass last season’s numbers and should be among the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks.

Offensive Weakness: There’s some concern about the running backs and wide receivers, but Ohio State’s biggest issue on offense is the line. Two starters are back up front (tackle Andrew Norwell and guard Jack Mewhort), but there’s very little depth and last season’s group allowed 3.5 sacks a game. In addition to the personnel questions, the line must learn a new scheme.

Defensive Strength: 2011 wasn’t exactly a banner year for the Ohio State defense, but it wasn’t awful either. The Buckeyes should be solid in all three levels of the defense next year, but the line has potential to be one of the best in college football. End John Simon picked up seven sacks last year and will benefit from the return of Nathan Williams from a knee injury. Tackle is in good hands with Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel returning. The Buckeyes will also get some help from a talented freshman defensive line class, which will be key in replenishing the depth up front.

Defensive Weakness: With nine starters back, co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers should feel good about this group. However, there are a few things this defense needs to shore up in the spring. The pass rush generated just 1.8 sacks a game last season, while the defense forced 20 turnovers. Both of those numbers could improve in 2012.

Spring Storylines Facing the Buckeyes

1. Change is in the air in Columbus. After a messy season of distractions and a coaching change, things have finally settled down for Ohio State. New coach Urban Meyer is one of the best in college football and should lead the Buckeyes to a quick turnaround in the win column. Meyer also hired a top-notch staff, bringing in Everett Withers from North Carolina to help Luke Fickell coordinate the defense, while one of the rising stars in the assistant ranks (Tom Herman) will help call the shots on offense. Although Herman is listed as the offensive coordinator, expect Meyer to play a significant role in calling plays and developing the offensive gameplan. After Meyer dealt with health issues at Florida, it was important for Ohio State to hire a top-notch coaching staff, which it seems to have accomplished. However, it’s important for this group of coaches to jell, especially with some key question marks facing the roster in 2012.

2. Although there’s a lot of positive momentum going for Ohio State, the Buckeyes are ineligible to play for the Big Ten title and a bowl game in 2012. Although Meyer is a terrific coach, will the postseason ban have any effect on the team? With no postseason possibilities, it’s all about pride for Ohio State in 2012. If the pieces fall into place, it’s not of the question the Buckeyes can finish among the top 10-15 teams in the final postseason poll. However, with nothing to play for, Meyer and his coaching staff will have to work a little overtime to keep this team motivated and ready to play each week.

3. Michigan’s Denard Robinson should be the Big Ten’s preseason first-team all-conference quarterback, but Ohio State’s Braxton Miller should get the No. 2 spot. Miller had a solid freshman year and should flourish under Meyer. A key question facing the Ohio State offense is the playmakers around Miller. Daniel Herron departs at running back, leaving Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith as the top three options going into spring practice. True freshman Bri’onte Dunn will also be one to watch in spring workouts. The receiving corps was a disappointment last year, but there’s a lot of young talent and this group should be improved in 2012. Although there’s plenty of options at both positions, the coaching staff would like to see a pecking order develop and go-to options emerge this spring. 

4. If there is one area on offense that will likely give Meyer a reason to lose sleep at night, it’s clearly the offensive line. Tackle Andrew Norwell and guard Jack Mewhort both garnered honorable mention All-Big Ten honors, but they are the only two returning starters on the offensive line. Marcus Hall started five games last season and will be expected to emerge as one of the starters this spring. After those three, the battle to replace center Mike Brewster and tackles J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams is the biggest issue facing Ohio State. In addition to the personnel losses, the Buckeyes are switching from a pro-style approach to a spread attack. Settling the front five and developing some depth could be the difference between finishing with seven wins and another disappointing season or 10 victories and a finish at the top of the Leaders Division.

5. Linebacker Andrew Sweat and safety Tyler Moeller will be missed, but Ohio State’s defense should be one of the best in college football this season. The defensive line is stocked with talent, including potential All-American end John Simon. This group also got an infusion of talent through recruiting, as recruits Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt and Se’Von Pittman all ranked as a top 100 recruits in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. Outside of building the depth on the line, the biggest priority for Fickell and Withers needs to be sorting out the linebacking corps. Etienne Sabino, Ryan Shazier and Storm Klein all have experience, but there’s very little depth. Curtis Grant figures to be the top option off the bench, but more options need to be found.

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<p> Ohio State Buckeyes 2012 spring preview.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 07:13
Path: /college-football/danny-obrien-picks-wisconsin

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

It is a perilous balancing act, but for the time being, Bret Bielema and the Wisconsin Badgers have their starting quarterback.

Redshirt junior-to-be Danny O’Brien announced on Wednesday that he intends to transfer from Maryland to Wisconsin following his graduation this spring. After a very public divorce from Terps head coach Randy Edsall, O’Brien will be eligible to play right away for a team that will feature a transfer under center for the second consecutive season.

And for the second consecutive season, the Badgers will likely be predicted to play in the Big Ten title game because of it.

Athlon Sports will sit down and hash out its 2012 NCAA Football predictions in the coming weeks. There are always heated arguments and flying office supplies. But with O’Brien’s decision to head to MadTown, one tough resolution has been made for us.

Ohio State and new head coach Urban Meyer have easily the best roster in the Big Ten Leaders Division. There is no reason to think that the Buckeyes won’t finish with the best record in their half of the conference. However, since the Buck-Nuts are not eligible to play in the Big Ten Championship or go to a bowl game, the second place finisher will be sent to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on December 1.

This leaves Penn State, following the darkest scandal in NCAA history and a coaching change for the first time in nearly half-of-a-century, Illinois and Purdue left to compete with the Big Red of the Dairy State. With only seven returning starters in Happy Valley, Bill O’Brien has a steep slope to climb. Illinois returns plenty of talent but is dealing with its own regime change following one of the worst collapses in recent history. Purdue, which will host the Badgers on October 13, returned to the postseason for the first time since 2007 last year and might be the top challenger in the division.

So for the time being, let’s assume Wisconsin returns to the Big Ten title game. Just how good can O’Brien and Heisman finalist Montee Ball be in 2012? Can Bielema win his third straight conference title and get to a third straight Rose Bowl  — something that has never happened to Wisconsin? Or are they simply a Leaders Division placeholder in the Oil Drum?

Unfortunately, with or without Danny O’Brien, this will not be an elite U of W team. It will not return to Pasadena. And it will not beat Michigan in the title game. Not without offensive genius and Badger alum Paul Chryst, who left to become the head coach of the Pitt Panthers, calling the plays. Not without three first-team All-Big Ten offensive lineman. Not without top wideout Nick Toon.

And O’Brien is not Russell Wilson.

Wilson was a rare leader who was poised and forced others around him to elevate their game to a championship level — and if not for two blown pass plays in the secondary, the Badgers would have been undefeated in the regular season. He owns basically every single-season, and many career, school passing records at Wisconsin in only one year. His 191.78 QB rating was a single-season NCAA record and he currently owns the NCAA all-time record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (38 games).

Here were his stats when he left NC State to sign with Wisconsin:

36 games played
Passing: 8,545 yards, 76 TD, 26 INT
Rushing: 362 att., 1,083 yards, 17 TD

Wilson is second all-time in ACC history with 93 total touchdowns, and, after 39 more trips to paydirt and 3,513 yards of total offense, Wilson ended his college career with 13,141 yards of total offense and 132 total touchdowns.

Here are O’Brien’s stats with two years left in his career as he heads to State Street:

22 games played
Passing: 4,086 yards, 29 TD, 18 INT
Rushing: 64 att., 9 yards, 3 TD

O’Brien lost his starting job at Maryland (partly due to a terrible coaching hire by Edsall and the offense certainly missed Torrey Smith) and accounted for one touchdown in his final five games as a Terrapin. He threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (7) and, most importantly, his team went 2-10. Wilson was a team captain, topped the ACC in total offense and led the Pack to a 9-4 record in his final season in Raleigh.

Undoubtedly, the Wisconsin offensive line and backfield offer O’Brien a fresh start and a dramatically better situation for success. And this Big Red team should now be the favorite to represent the Leaders Division once again in 2012.

But if Wisconsin fans are going to hold O’Brien to a Wilson-esque standard of statistical and scoreboard success, they will be sorely mistaken.

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<p> Danny O'Brien decides to transfer to Wisconsin, making the Badgers the favorites in the Big Ten Leaders Division.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 07:10
Path: /nascar/long-and-short-it-kasey-kahne-looking-rebound

by Dustin Long

Kasey Kahne is not panicking about the start to his season. He’s relieved, in a way, heading into this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway even though he’s 27th in championship standings.

Kahne feels better after a season-best 14th at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday. A poor finish might have dropped him outside the top 35 in the car owner standings, meaning he would not have been guaranteed a starting spot at Martinsville.

“I was a little worried at California,” Kahne said Tuesday afternoon. “If we had one more bad race there, we would have been fighting for a (starting) position at Martinsville, which would have been unheard of for us.”

While Kahne has not had the results in his first year with Hendrick Motorsports, his car has shown speed. That provides hope. Success will come when he can avoid trouble.

His season, so far, has been a litany of misfortune.

His Daytona 500 ended early because of a crash and he placed 29th. He hit the wall early at Phoenix and limped to a 34th-place finish. He crashed early at Bristol and finished 37th. His best finish before Sunday was 19th at Las Vegas.

Even after Sunday’s finish, Kahne wasn’t thrilled, writing on Twitter: “Pissed I ran bad. Happy my car is in one piece.”

Kahne, who started fifth at Auto Club Speedway, began sliding back in the pack shortly after the green flag flew.

“I started off really loose and was sliding around a lot and the race got over too quick,” Kahne said. “We didn’t have enough time to get the car right. By the end of it we were running probably seventh-place lap times, but we were so far behind because of all the green-flag laps. We were getting better. We had made a lot of gains. We just needed 200 laps. The rain came and we didn’t get it.”

He finished and that’s something considering his early woes.

Kahne heads to Martinsville 68 points out of 10th place in the points — the last spot guaranteed to make the Chase. A year ago, Brad Keselowski was 50 points out of 10th at this point. Keselowski fell further back during the summer and still made the Chase via the wildcard.

So there’s no reason yet for Kahne to panic.

“I’ve handled it pretty well,” he said of his struggles. “The biggest reason why is how fast our cars are and the way they feel. I think everything is there. The engines run incredibly good compared to what I have had in the past.

“I knew going in just because I was going to Hendrick Motorsports didn’t mean I was going to start winning more races. It’s still a huge team effort. There’s still a lot of things you have to do right in order to run up front and contend for those wins. It takes a little bit of time. I think we’re pretty good as a team. Hopefully, we can start running in the top 10.”

NEW FORMAT  The Sprint All-Star race, which will be held May 19 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, will have a new format this year.

The 90-lap race will be divided into five segments. The first four will be 20 laps each with the final segment 10 laps.

Gone is the 10-minute break before the final segment. Instead, there will be a mandatory pit stop — with a twist.

The winners from the first four segments will move to the front of the field and be the first four cars to enter pit road for this stop. They’ll be followed by the rest of the field. The move was made to encourage drivers to race more for a win in the previous segments.

So the winner of the first segment will enter pit road first, followed by the winner of the second segment and so on. Should there be a repeat winner of segments, the second-place finisher in that segment moves up. Thus, if a driver wins the first two segments, he’ll be the first car in pit road (for winning the first segment) and the second-place car in the second segment will be the second car on pit road.

There will once again be a fan vote to add a driver to the All-Star Race. Also, the pit crew challenge on May 17 again will determine the order teams pick their pit stall for the all-star race.

<p> Following a wet weekend in Southern California, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 13:41