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Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-12-auburn-tigers

-by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on twitter)

No. 12: Auburn Tigers (21 total signees)

SEC Rank: 4th
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 4
National Signees: 12

Where They Got 'Em:

Auburn concentrated on three key states to bring in this year’s No. 12 recruiting class. Gene Chizik and staff signed 16 of their 21 student-athletes from the talent-filled states of Alabama, Georgia and Florida. That total includes the transfer back home of former Illinois fullback Jay Prosch, who played his high school ball at UMS-Wright in Mobile. The Tigers top-rated player was offensive lineman Avery Young (No. 53 in the AC100) from Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High School. He was the second-highest ranked offensive lineman in the Sunshine State. Auburn also went south for receiver Ricardo Louis of Miami Beach (Fla.) High School. He had 23 receptions for 412 yards and four touchdowns as a senior, while also rushing for 765 yards and 13 scores.

The Tigers usually have recruiting success in Georgia, and this year was no exception. Ricky Parks from Callaway High School was one of the top tight ends in the nation, and he was athletic enough to rush for 555 yards and 4 touchdowns this season. Receiver JaQuay Williams from Sandy Creek High School caught 47 passes for 972 yards and nine scores as a senior, while also adding three touchdowns on returns.

Areas of Focus:

Auburn definitely focused on the offensive line, adding six news blockers in this class. Along with Young, the Tigers reached into Illinois to ink Jordan Diamond (No. 88 in the AC100) from
Chicago’s Simeon High School. They also got a nationally-ranked lineman in Patrick Miller from Palm Beach power Dwyer High School in Florida. Miller will be one of two O-linemen to participate in spring practice, along with Shane Callahan from Parker (Colo.) Chaparral High School.

New Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, who has a solid reputation for developing quarterbacks, will have two new pupils in this class. Zeke Pike from Edgewood (Ky.) Dixie Heights High School passed for 1,964 yards and 13 touchdowns, while rushing for 728 yards and 16 scores as a senior. Instate commitment from Jonathan Wallace of Phenix City Central High School ran for 891 yards and an eye-popping 28 touchdowns this season. He also had 1,761 passing yards and 12 TD tosses.

The Tigers added three new members to the secondary, including national signees Joshua Holsey from Fairburn (Ga.) Creekside High School and T.J. Davis of Tallahassee (Fla.) Godby High School. Holsey had 73 tackles and five interceptions as a senior. He also scored 10 touchdowns on offense. Davis compiled 40 tackles and intercepted three passes during his 2011 campaign.

Auburn returns running backs Onterrio McCalebb and Tre Mason this season, but there will an opportunity for carries with Michael Dyer leaving the program. The Tigers inked a big back from Memphis (Tenn.) Wooddale High School in Jovon Robinson, who rushed for 1,069 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior. The Tigers’ backfield will also be bolstered by the transfer of Prosch, a solid lead blocker with collegiate experience.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 2, RB: 2, WR: 2, TE: 2, OL: 6, ATH: 0
Defense: DE: 1, DT: 1, LB: 2, DB: 3, K/P: 0

AC100 Recruits:

53. Avery Young, OL (6-6, 292), Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High
88. Jordan Diamond, OL (6-6, 290), Chicago (Ill.) Simeon
90. Ricky Parks, TE (6-4, 235), Hogansville (Ga.) Callaway
99. JaQuay Williams, WR (6-4, 204), Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek

Other National Signees:

121. Ricardo Louis, WR (6-2, 210), Miami Beach (Fla.) High
144. Joshua Hosley, DB (5-11, 175), Fairburn (Ga.) Creekside
153. Zeke Pike, QB (6-6, 225), Edgewood (Ky.) Dixie Heights
201. Tyler Nero, DT (6-2, 290), Atmore (Ala.) Escambia County
226. Gimel President, DE (6-4, 250), Mt. Pleasant (S.C.) Wando
237. T.J. Davis, DB (6-1, 180), Tallahassee (Fla.) Godby
239. Patrick Miller, OL (6-7, 275), West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer
244. Jovon Robinson, RB (6-1, 220), Memphis (Tenn.) Wooddale

Early Enrollees:

Zeke Pike, QB (6-6, 225), Edgewood (Ky.) Dixie Heights
Patrick Miller, OL (6-7, 275), West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer
Shane Callahan, OL (6-6, 285), Parker (Colo.) Chaparral
Javiere Mitchell, LB (6-2, 209), Leeds (Ala.) High
Jay Prosch, FB (6, 250), Mobile (Ala.) UMS-Wright

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Auburn Tigers
13. Mon., Feb. 20
14. Tues., Feb. 21
15. Wed., Feb. 22
16. Thur., Feb. 23
17. Fri., Feb. 24
18. Mon., Feb. 27
19. Tues., Feb. 28
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

<p> The Auburn Tigers landed the No. 12 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 17, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-predicting-field

By Mitch Light

Selection Sunday is just over three weeks away. Here's a conference-by-conference projection at the NCAA Tournament's Field of 68.

ACC (6)
Duke Florida State, Miami, North Carolina NC State, Virginia
Worth a mention: None
Notes: Six of NC State’s eight losses have come against teams ranked in the top 40 of the RPI and top 30 of KenPom’s ratings. The Pack also have two wins away from home against teams in this week’s projected field, vs. Texas and at Miami. They could have all but wrapped up a bid last night but could not hold a 20-point lead in the second half at Duke. The Hurricanes have only one good win — but it was very good, at Duke. They also have no bad losses.

American East (1)

A-10 (3)
Saint Louis, Temple, Xavier
Worth a mention: Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, UMass
Notes: Xavier continues to be one of the most difficult teams to evaluate. The Musketeers’ best win was at Vanderbilt, but that was in November when the Commodores were playing without Festus Ezeli. They have lost their last four games vs. top-100 RPI teams. Ultimately, this team likely will do just enough to get in. Dayton has three top-35 RPI wins, but also had two losses to teams ranked in the 200s. The Flyers have seven top-100 RPI wins — a solid number for a bubble team.

A-Sun (1)

Big 12 (6)
Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas
Worth a mention: None
Notes: Five of Texas’ nine wins have come against North Carolina, Kansas, Baylor and Missouri (twice). The only thing close to a bad loss for the Horns was a neutral-court two-OT setback vs. Oregon State. They have a win over Temple on their résumé, too. Iowa State doesn’t have a top-100 win away from home, but they have dates at Kansas State and Missouri looming.

Big East (9)
Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Syracuse, West Virginia
Worth a mention: Pittsburgh, South Florida
Notes: Cincinnati is a tough case. Most doubters will point to an RPI of 93, which is admittedly very high, but that is a product of a very soft non-conference schedule that included nine games vs. teams ranked 200 or worse in the RPI. Keep in mind that the Bearcats are ranked No. 43 by KenPom and have three top 100 wins away from home. Seton Hall is back in the field after winning three straight games. The Pirates will be in great shape if they win at Cincinnati this weekend. Pittsburgh is on life support. South Florida has a nice Big East record (9–4) but only one top-75 win (vs. Seton Hall, at home).

Big Sky (1)
Weber State

Big South (1)

Big Ten (9)
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Worth a mention: None
Notes: It was very difficult to put Illinois, which has lost four straight and seven of eight, into the field, but the Illini have two wins vs. top-10 teams and three vs. top-20 teams. No bubble team can come close to that. So, for the time being, Illinois is still alive. Northwestern’s ongoing quest for its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance took a hit with a loss at Indiana on Wednesday night, but there is really no shame in losing in Bloomington. It was more of missed opportunity than a bad loss. Minnesota’s profile is shaky, but the Gophers have done just enough to sneak in — for now. Their win at Indiana on Jan. 12 is by far their top accomplishment.

Colonial (1)
Worth a mention: George Mason, VCU
Notes: George Mason boasts a gaudy 14–2 mark in the CAA but has no wins vs. top 60 RPI teams. Its best wins are at home against Bucknell and VCU. The Rams have played a good schedule but failed to beat any of the good teams on their slate.

C-USA (2)
Memphis, Southern Miss
Worth a mention: UCF
Notes: The Knights are close, thanks to wins vs. Memphis and UConn (on a neutral court). Plus, four of their seven losses have come against teams ranked in the top 35. The RPI (55) likes this team more than KenPom (89).

Horizon (1)

Ivy (1)

MAAC (1)

MAC (1)

MEAC (1)
Norfolk State

MVC (2)
Creighton, Wichita State

MWC (3)
New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a mention: Colorado State
Notes: New Mexico picked up a huge win on Wednesday night, knocking off San Diego State on the road. Colorado State has a solid RPI (33) but is No. 109 in KenPom and doesn’t have a win away from home vs. a team ranked in the top 175 of the RPI.

Northeast (1)
Long Island

OVC (1)
Murray State

Pac 12 (1)
Worth a mention: Arizona, Washington
Notes: I tried to find a reason to include either Arizona or Washington. Couldn’t find one — for either team. Washington’s best win is at Arizona. Arizona’s only top-70 win is at Cal. Both teams have the talent to play in the NCAA Tournament, but for now they both lack the résumé.

Patriot (1)

SEC (5)
Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt
Worth a mention: Ole Miss, Tennessee
Notes: Alabama is an interesting case. The Crimson Tide are trending in the wrong direction, but they haven’t been playing with a complete roster. Now, how will the Selection Committee treat self-inflicted wounds (suspensions)? Not quite sure. If the Tide get all of their parts back, they are more than good enough to secure a spot in the next few weeks. Tennessee has a ton of work to do — the Vols RPI is 107 and they are 66 in Ken Pom — but gets on this list after winning four straight. Ole Miss missed an opportunity Thursday night against Vanderbilt, losing badly at home to the Commodores.

Southern (1)

Southland (1)

Summit (1)
Oral Roberts

Sun Belt (1)
Middle Tennessee

SWAC (1)
Mississippi Valley State

WAC (1)

WCC (3)
BYU, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s
Notes: BYU has solid numbers (31 KenPom/45 RPI) and two wins vs. teams projected to make the field, Gonzaga and Nevada. Three of the Cougars’ four remaining games are against teams ranked 150 or worse. They need to win them all.

<p> Athlon Sports predicts the Field of 68 with just over three weeks remaining until Selection Sunday.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 22:13
All taxonomy terms: SEC, News
Path: /news/sec-coaches-meeting-creates-awkward-photos

Who doesn’t love a good awkward photo? Some of the best photos are the ones where it’s supposed to be a serious shot. And that’s where we can thank the SEC for creating a bit of offseason humor.

The 14 coaches of the SEC met in Birmingham this week and took two rather awkward photos. What’s worse than trying to smile your way through a photo with some of your top rivals and fellow coaches around?

Some observations:

While most of the coaches are wearing a suit jacket or button-up shirt, the two coaches from Mississippi (Dan Mullen and Hugh Freeze) decided to wear a school-affiliated shirt. Hey, nothing wrong with always keeping the logo and team in the spotlight.

And it looks like Freeze missed the memo on where to place his hands. Dooley, Petrino, Spurrier, Miles, Pinkel and Phillips all chose the legs, while Freeze decided to fold and place in his lap.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik recently had shoulder surgery, which would help to explain his odd pose in this photo. If you didn’t know Chizik had surgery, it looks like he is ready to give Les Miles a slap to the back of the head.

Speaking of Chizik, we are normally used to seeing him rock the leather jacket. However, Florida’s Will Muschamp upstaged him this time, wearing the black jacket over a blue polo. Certainly an interesting look.

Vanderbilt’s James Franklin looks quite ecstatic to be there. And wouldn’t that be the case for any coach coming off a bowl season and a top recruiting class with the Commodores?

And here’s the SEC’s newest coaches: Missouri’s Gary Pinkel and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin.

This photo is awkward thanks to the beam in the middle. Why not have the coaches stand with the helmets and instead of cutting them in half?

And needless to say, Pinkel doesn’t look too excited to be here. 

<p> The SEC coaches meeting in Birmingham provided a few awkward photos.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 20:12
All taxonomy terms: Cleveland Cavaliers, mascots, Overtime
Path: /overtime/cleveland-cavaliers-mascot-fail

Nobody said it was easy putting on a dog costume and entertaining thousands of fans. Just ask the Cavs mascot Moondog, who, while trying to work the crowd into a frenzy of drum-beating excitement, took a nasty fall. Of course, his pain is our entertainment. Kids, don't try this at home. Well, unless you have a dog costume.

<p> Nobody said it would be easy.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 15:00
Path: /columns/nascar-news-notes/2012-daytona-500-entry-list

2012 Daytona 500 Entry List
by Matt Taliaferro

Forty-nine teams are entered for the 54th annual Daytona 500 on Feb. 26. Forty-three cars will qualify for The Great American Race. The front row for the event will be determined in qualifying on Sunday, Feb. 19. Positions 3-39 will be set in the Gatorade Duels on Thursday, Feb. 16. The final four spots will be based on Pole Day qualifying speeds of cars that have not already earned a starting position. If there is an eligible Sprint Cup Series past champion entered who has not already qualified, that past champion will receive the 43rd and final position. If there is more than one past champion eligible for this berth, it goes to the most recent champion.

Driver, Number, Manufacturer, Team
Kenny Wallace, No. 09 Toyota, RAB Racing
Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
Robby Gordon, No. 7 Dodge, Robby Gordon Motorsports
Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports
Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
Casey Mears, No. 13 Ford, Germain Racing
Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing
Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
Joey Logano, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
Trevor Bayne, No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers
AJ Allmendinger, No. 22 Dodge, Penske Racing
Robert Richardson III, No. 23 Chevrolet, R3 Motorsports
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
Tony Raines, No. 26 Ford, Front Row Motorsports
Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
David Stremme, No. 30 Toyota, Inception Motorsports
Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
Terry Labonte, No. 32 Ford, FAS Lane Racing
Elliott Sadler, No. 33 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
David Ragan, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports
Dave Blaney, No. 36 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing
Mike Wallace, No. 37 Ford, Rick Ware Racing
David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports
Ryan Newman, No. 39 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing
Michael Waltrip, No. 40 Toyota, Hillman Racing
Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports
Bobby Labonte, No. 47 Toyota, JTG Daugherty Racing
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
J.J. Yeley, No. 49 Toyota, Robinson-Blakeney Racing)
Kurt Busch, No. 51 Chevrolet, Phoenix Racing
Mark Martin, No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
Martin Truex Jr., No. 56 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
Regan Smith, No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing
Landon Cassill, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing
Joe Nemechek, No. 87 Toyota, NEMCO Motorsports
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
David Reutimann, No. 93 Toyota, BK Racing
Bill Elliott, No. 97 Toyota, NEMCO Motorsports
Michael McDowell, No. 98 Ford, Phil Parsons Racing
Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing


<p> The Entry List for the 2012 Daytona 500.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 14:42
All taxonomy terms: crossword, Monthly
Path: /monthly/2011-december-crossword-puzzle-solutions

Post date: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 12:16
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-11-oklahoma-sooners

-by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on twitter)

No. 11: Oklahoma Sooners (26 total signees)

Big 12 Rank: 2nd
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 3
National Signees: 7

Where They Got 'Em:

Oklahoma went to three recruiting hotbeds for 15 of its 26 new student-athletes. It’s no surprise that the Sooners inked seven players from Texas, but Bob Stoops and staff also signed four prospects each from the power states of Florida and California. One member of the Lone State State crew is receiver Trey Metoyer, who signed with OU a year ago before spending last season at Hargrave Military Academy. He was ranked No. 21 in the 2011 AC100 after catching 108 passes for 1,540 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior at Whitehouse High School in 2010. OU also inked San Antonio Ronald Reagan High School quarterback Trevor Knight, who threw for 2,092 yards and 27 touchdowns while running for 943 yards and 15 scores as a senior.

While the Sooners found success all over the nation, they also signed two of the top three instate players. Running back Alex Ross from Jenks High School ran for 676 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior. He was also the 2011 Oklahoma 6A state champion in the 200 meter dash with a time of 21.97. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard from Heritage Hall had 73 receptions for 1,243 yards and 17 touchdowns during his senior campaign, while also adding 303 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.

Areas of Focus:

Oklahoma definitely focused on adding weapons for its spread passing game, inking five wide receivers in this class. The Sooners top-rated signee was Durron Neal (No. 74 in the AC100) of St. Louis (Mo.) De Smet Jesuit. He totaled 35 receptions for 825 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior. Neal also rushed for 716 yards and 11 scores. Another national signee was receiver Derrick Woods from Inglewood (Calif.) High School.

The Sooners also added depth at the tight end position, led by nationally-ranked Taylor McNamara of San Diego (Calif.) Westview High School. He had 526 receiving yards and seven touchdowns during the 2011 season. OU also showed its national recruiting prowess by signing tight ends Sam Grant from Saint Edward (Ohio) High School and Laith Harlow (although his football future is now in question with medical issues) from Tallahassee (Fla.) Godby High School.

The offensive line was another area of emphasis, with four new blockers signed in this class. The O-line group is led by national signees John Michael McGee of Texarkana (Texas) High School and Ty Darlington, the class Valedictorian of Apopka (Fla.) High School. The Sooners added two other 315-pounders in 6-foot-5 tackle Will Latu from the College of the Canyons in California and 6-foot-6 Kyle Marrs from San Antonio (Texas) Brandeis High School.

Only eight players in this 26-man class were signed on the defensive side of the ball, but three of those are early enrollees. That trio consists of cornerback Kass Everett from Pierce College, defensive end Chaz Nelson of Garden City Community College and defensive tackle Jordan Wade of Stony Point (Texas) High School. Nelson was a JUCO All-American after compiling 96 tackles, with 15.5 tackles for loss, last season.

Positional Breakdown:

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

AC100 Recruits:

74. Durron Neal, WR (6-1, 195), St. Louis (Mo.) De Smet Jesuit
78. Alex Ross, RB (6-1, 205), Jenks (Okla.) High
100. Sterling Shepard, WR (5-11, 185), Oklahoma City (Okla.) Heritage Hall

Other National Signees:

178. John Michael McGee, OL (6-4, 275), Texarkana (Texas) Texas
184. Ty Darlington, OL (6-3, 275), Apopka (Fla.) High
210. Derrick Woods, WR (6-1, 185), Inglewood (Calif.) High
234. Taylor McNamara, TE (6-5, 235), San Diego (Calif.) Westview

Early Enrollees:

Trey Meteyor, WR (6-2, 198), Whitehouse (Texas) Hargrave Military
Taylor McNamara, TE (6-5, 235), San Diego (Calif.) Westview
Kass Everett, CB (5-11, 195), Philadelphia (Pa.) Pierce College
Brannon Green, TE (6-4, 260), Altamont (Kan.) Fort Scott C.C.
Chaz Nelson, DE (6-3, 240), Columbus (Ohio) Garden City C.C.
Jordan Wade, DT (6-4, 290), Stony Point (Texas) High

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Oklahoma Sooners
12. Fri., Feb. 17
13. Mon., Feb. 20
14. Tues., Feb. 21
15. Wed., Feb. 22
16. Thur., Feb. 23
17. Fri., Feb. 24
18. Mon., Feb. 27
19. Tues., Feb. 28
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

<p> The Oklahoma Sooners landed the No. 11 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 06:10
Path: /columns/garage-talk/10-tough-nascar-questions-part-5

As the 2012 NASCAR season approaches, Athlon Sports examines 10 controversial issues alive within the sport in the annual five-part, 10 Tough Questions feature, running throughout the week.

Kyle Busch: Will fallout from “The Texas Incident” tame the rowdy youngster?

For someone to learn from a mistake, the consequences must always be strong enough to make them think. Is that what really happened in the case of Kyle Busch after he intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday in the fall Texas Truck event last season?

Sure, there was a one-race parking on the Sprint Cup level, but Busch’s title hopes were slim to none by then and Joe Gibbs Racing was already in the midst of a Chase implosion. And when sponsor M&M’s made a statement by pulling its funding for the final two races of the year, Interstate Batteries stepped right in as the sponsor superhero. “Don’t worry, Kyle! We’ll save you … and take all the publicity that comes with it!”

Now, M&M’s full-time return to the fold in 2012 looks cheap, like it just jumped on a Christmas discount. And in the midst of it all, unlike brother Kurt, there is no sports psychologist or stripping of a top-tier ride for Kyle to think about. Instead, it’s only the prospect of starting the slate clean at Daytona, going after another championship and a “wink, wink” from the powers that be who, while scolding of such aggressive behavior, seemingly reminded Busch he adds an extra zero to their paychecks, so it’s all good.

The educated guess is that under the tutelage of Joe Gibbs, we’re likely to see a slightly milder version of Busch going forward — if not for the near-loss of a major sponsor. But did Tony Stewart, put in similar hot water at JGR in 2002, transform overnight? Absolutely not, and in some ways, because of these similar circumstances, never did.

If Busch avoids any 2012 probation over 50-some odd races in the Cup and Nationwide series this year, it should be considered a surprise.

Has NASCAR’s “wave-around” rule made earning a solid, lead-lap finish too easy?

Think nothing in life is free anymore? You haven’t seen a NASCAR race, where “gift laps” are given out more cheaply than product samples at an at-track display.

It used to be that losing a lap, at anytime, constituted a crisis. Under the old double-file restart rule, some of the best competition surrounded those cars trying to desperately muscle their way back into contention. But now? You can lose a lap in the first three-quarters of the race, choose not to pit with everyone else during a late caution and take a wave-around to get back on the lead lap. A few moments later, another yellow flag comes out and you’re suddenly in contention for a top-5 finish after spending all day running 25th.

That loophole, parlayed into top finishes by everyone from Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Carl Edwards in 2011, eliminates any advantage a dominant leader has early in the race. Why try to pull out to a 10-second lead, lapping as many cars as possible, when they’ll all be back in contention at the end, anyway? It contributes to a growing NASCAR problem: no sense of urgency for much of the race’s first two hours, which leads to single-file “stroking.”

So how about keeping the sport’s real “free pass,” giving the first car off the lead lap one back every caution but limit it to one per opponent, per race. And if a car doesn’t pit under a caution flag? Let ’em start in front of the leader like the old days. If a fan can’t figure out who the leader is after watching the whole race they should probably give back that elementary school completion certificate.

Visit each day throughout the month of February for exclusive preseason coverage of the 2012 NASCAR season. 

<p> As the 2012 NASCAR season approaches, Athlon Sports examines 10 controversial issues alive within the sport in the annual five-part, 10 Tough Questions feature, running each day throughout the week.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 18:30
Path: /nba/nba-rising-stars-challenge-mock-draft

NBA All-Star Weekend is taking it back to the playground this year, with Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley picking sides for the Rising Stars Challenge — formerly the Rookies vs. Sophomores Game (2000-11) and the Rookie Game (1994-98) — on Thursday, Feb. 16, on NBA TV. The actual game will be played on Friday, Feb. 24, in Orlando.

The Big Aristotle and Sir Charles will have their choice of 18 rookies and sophomores (nine apiece). Unfortunately, barring injury, there will be no Linsanity in the Rising Stars Challenge. New York Knicks star Jeremy Lin had not taken over Google and Twitter prior to the Feb. 8 deadline for all 30 teams to submit their ballot.


MarShon Brooks, G-F, Nets
Kyrie Irving, PG, Cavaliers
Brandon Knight, PG, Pistons
Kawhi Leonard, G-F, Spurs
Markieff Morris, PF, Suns
Ricky Rubio, PG, Timberwolves
Tristan Thompson, F, Cavaliers
Kemba Walker, PG, Bobcats
Derrick Williams, F, Timberwolves


DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kings
Landry Fields, G, Knicks
Paul George, G-F, Pacers
Blake Griffin, PF, Clippers
Gordon Hayward, G-F, Jazz
Greg Monroe, C, Pistons
Tiago Splitter, C, Spurs
Evan Turner, G-F, 76ers
John Wall, PG, Wizards

NBA Rising Stars Challenge Rookie-Sophomore Mock Draft

Rather than Team Shaq and Team Chuck, Athlon Sports’ editors Mitch Light and Nathan Rush decided to do a mock draft. Here are the results of our draft along with a breakdown of Team Light and Team Rush:

1. Blake Griffin, PF, Clippers
Mitch Light: This was like winning the Lottery in 1985, when the Knicks grabbed Patrick Ewing. Griffin was the clear-cut No. 1 pick.

2. John Wall, PG, Wizards
Nathan Rush: The No. 1 overall pick in 2010, Wall was the MVP of the rookie-sophomore game last year, with a record 22 assists in victory.

3. Ricky Rubio, PG, Timberwolves
Light: Who better to throw alley-oops to Blake Griffin than Rubio, who is the best young passing point guard in the NBA.

4. DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kings
Rush: Wall’s college teammate at Kentucky had 33 points and 14 rebounds in this game last season, and the volatile big man is primed for a repeat.

5. Greg Monroe, C, Pistons
Light: The second-year product from Georgetown will be a nice complement to Blake Griffin on my front line.

6. Paul George, G-F, Pacers
Rush: An electric open floor dunker who can run with Wall and a 3-point bomber to balance out DMC in the post.

7. MarShon Brooks, G-F, Nets
Light: I needed a scorer on the perimeter, and the Nets’ first-round pick out of Providence has proven that he can put the ball in the basket — when healthy.

8. Kemba Walker, PG, Bobcats
Rush: A slight reach, maybe. But Walker will bring a spark off the bench and can score or create from either guard spot.

9. Evan Turner, G-F, 76ers
Light: I needed a jack-of-all-trades to round out my starting five. Hopefully, Turner can be that guy.

10. Gordon Hayward, G-F, Jazz
Rush: Versatile and unselfish, Jimmy Chitwood has the high basketball IQ and passing skills to thrive in this All-Star environment.

11. Kyrie Irving, PG, Cavaliers
Light: The No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft is scoring at a higher clip than expected (18.0 ppg) and will provide this club with some offensive punch off the bench.

12. Tristan Thompson, PF, Cavaliers
Rush: Someone has to guard Blake Griffin and the Canadian rookie thrives on defense and dirty work — even on All-Star Weekend.

13. Derrick Williams, F, Timberwolves
Light: This hard-working rookie could get the starting assignment for this team if I wanted to go big up front and pair him with Griffin and Monroe.

14. Kawhi Leonard, G-F, Spurs
Rush: Another above the rim athlete to run with Wall and catch alley-oops on fast breaks.

15. Landry Fields, SG, Knicks
Light: Jeremy Lin wasn’t available, so I went with the next smartest New York Knick.

16. Tiago Splitter, C, Spurs
Rush: Brazilian big man is an underrated passer and a solid backup for foul-prone Cousins.

17. Brandon Knight, PG, Pistons
Light: Not bad for a third-string point guard.

18. Markieff Morris, PF, Suns
Rush: Last man standing adds depth in the post.

Team Light

C – Greg Monroe, Pistons
PF – Blake Griffin, Clippers
SF – Evan Turner, 76ers
SG – MarShon Brooks, Nets
PG – Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves

SF – Derrick Williams, Timberwolves
SG – Landry Fields, Knicks
PG – Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers
PG – Brandon Knight, Pistons

Team Rush

C – DeMarcus Cousins, Kings
PF – Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers
SF – Paul George, Pacers
SG – Gordon Hayward, Jazz
PG – John Wall, Wizards

C – Tiago Splitter, Spurs
PF – Markieff Morris, Suns
SF – Kawhi Leonard, Spurs
PG – Kemba Walker, Bobcats

<p> With Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley set to pick sides for NBA All-Star Weekend's Rising Stars Challenge, Athlon Sports' editors Mitch Light and Nathan Rush do their own mock draft of the rookies and sophomores.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 18:08
All taxonomy terms: TCU Horned Frogs, Big 12, News
Path: /news/tcus-drug-scandal-hampers-2012-big-12-title-hopes

What a difference a day makes. Just one day after TCU’s basketball team scored a huge victory over UNLV and the schedule for its inaugural season in the Big 12 was released, the athletic department is dealing with a significant drug scandal.

On Wednesday, 17 TCU students were arrested in a drug bust at the school, which included four football players: Linebacker Tanner Brock, defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey, cornerback Devin Johnson and Ty Horn. The four players were later dismissed by head coach Gary Patterson.

But the trouble may not end with the four players arrested and dismissed.

According to the arrest affidavit, the TCU coaching staff required all players to take a drug test on Feb. 1, 2012, and Brock told the informant “about 60 people would be screwed.” Johnson allegedly told an informant that 82 players from the team failed the drug test administered on Feb. 1. There's nothing that's been confirmed true about those two numbers thrown out, but it is something that will hang over the program until any further suspensions or dismissals have been announced or TCU clears the rest of the football team.

Needless to say, this is a black eye for a program on the rise. The Horned Frogs were poised to make a lot of noise in their first season in the Big 12 and was widely-regarded as one of the top 25 teams for 2012. However, the four player dismissals were a huge loss for this team and if those statements by Brock and Johnson are true, Patterson and his coaching staff may have to suspend some players for the start of 2012.

Brock missed nearly all of 2011 due to an injury, but was expected to return as one of the leaders for the defense. He led the team with 106 tackles in 2010 and gathered first-team All-Mountain West honors. With Tank Carder finishing his eligibility, Brock was expected to be the anchor and a likely All-Big 12 performer in 2012.

Yendrey was coming off back-to-back seasons of earning honorable mention All-Mountain West honors and was expected to anchor the interior of the defensive line. He recorded 39 tackles and three sacks last season, while starting 12 games. Without Yendrey, Jon Lewis, Ray Burns, David Johnson and Chuck Hunter will have to take on a bigger role on the interior of the line.

The secondary was a weakness for the defense in 2011 and Johnson’s dismissal was a big loss for a team already losing cornerback Greg McCoy and safeties Tekerrein Cuba and Johnny Fobbs. Johnson recorded 47 stops last year and collected 2.5 sacks.

Horn was the least decorated of the players dismissed, starting only one game in 2011. However, he was expected to contend for a starting spot in 2012.

What does this mean for TCU going forward? There’s still a lot to sort out, but this is a down moment for a program that waited and fought hard to get into a BCS conference. The Horned Frogs will be fine in the long run under Patterson, but there will be an impact on the field. The defense has ranked near the top of college football in the Mountain West, but will take a step back facing the high-powered offenses in the Big 12. And this group only has five returning starters, so there’s a lot of pressure on the new faces in the linebacking corps and secondary to step up.

Until all of the allegations are sorted out, it’s too difficult to say whether or not TCU will remain in the preseason top 25. However, there is still a talented core returning to Fort Worth in 2012 and the schedule isn’t too overwhelming to expect a season with eight or nine wins.

TCU’s 2012 Schedule

Sept. 8 Grambling State
Sept. 15 at Kansas
Sept. 22 Virginia
Sept. 29 at SMU
Oct. 6 Iowa State
Oct. 13 at Baylor
Oct. 20 Texas Tech
Oct. 27 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 3 at West Virginia
Nov. 10 Kansas State
Nov. 24 at Texas
Dec. 1 Oklahoma

Related: Athlon's Early College Football Top 25 for 2012
Related: Athlon's 2012 Early Big 12 Predictions
Related: Big 12 2012 Schedule Analysis

<p> TCU's Drug Scandal Hampers 2012 Big 12 Title Hopes.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 16:41
Path: /mlb/hanley-ramirez-will-bounce-back-2012

The Marlins appear to be starting from scratch in 2012. But the reality is that the 15-year-old team with two World Series titles has a flashy new, eye-catching paintjob but will be powered by the same engine once again this year.

Owner Jeffrey Loria’s club has a new name (officially changing from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins), new state-of-the-art $515 million ballpark, new South Beach style colors, new art deco logo, new eccentric manager in Ozzie Guillen and a wave of new All-Star players led by shortstop Jose Reyes and closer Heath Bell.

But, more than anything, Miami hopes what was old is new again, that Hanley Ramirez will return to his status as an MVP candidate and fantasy baseball statistical stud.

Granted, Han-Ram is central to the new age Miami movement. The 6’3”, 230-pound 28-year-old is pulling a Cal Ripken and Alex Rodriguez, taking his talents to third base after playing his entire career at shortstop. Ramirez was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2006, a three-time All-Star from 2008-10, and the NL batting champ (.342) and MVP runner-up in 2009 while manning short.

In a year of transition, Miami needs the face of the Fish franchise to seamlessly slide over to a new position, while also bouncing back from an injury-plagued 2011 season that resulted in career-low production at the plate.

Last season, Ramirez struggled to hit .243 with a .712 OPS, 10 HRs, 45 RBIs, 20 stolen bases and 55 runs in 92 games, battling through a nagging left shoulder injury that sent him to the disabled list after Aug. 2 and required season-ending surgery on Sept. 15.

Prior to 2011, Han-Ram was one of the most dynamic players in the game during the five-season stretch from 2006-10:

Single-season highs (2006-10)
Games: 158
AVG: .342
HR: 33
RBI: 106
Runs: 125
SB: 51

Single-season lows (2006-10)
Games: 142
AVG: .292
HR: 17
RBI: 59
Runs: 92
SB: 27

Five-season averages (2006-10)
Games: 152
AVG: .313
HR: 25
RBI: 78
Runs: 112
SB: 39

The Marlins have added a table setter in Ramirez’s speedy shortstop replacement Reyes; and emerging 22-year-old right fielder Mike Stanton — a 6’5” action hero with off the charts power on the 20-80 scouting scale — provides more than enough protection in the cleanup spot behind Ramirez, who bats third. The pieces are in place for Han-Ram to reestablish himself as one of the premier players in the big leagues.

“Hanley Ramirez can be one of the best players in the National League,” said Guillen, who arrives in the NL after managing the AL’s Chicago White Sox from 2004-11. “That’s a lot to say, because there are a lot of good players here.

“But he has to want to be.”

Obviously, Ramirez’s attitude is key. Ramirez is no longer the only good player on a bad team, he is now surrounded by a talented roster on a franchise willing to put its money where its mouth is in order to contend. Fair or not, Ramirez has earned a reputation as an uber-talented prima donna who isn’t above sulking when things don’t go his way — or jogging to a booted ball if he feels the outcome of a game has already been decided.

“You can be the best player in the game, but when you’re losing, it’s not fun coming to the ballpark. That happened to Hanley a lot,” explained Guillen. “I hope this year, when he is driving to the new park, with his new teammates and a new attitude, he just gets out of the car and has a big smile on his face.”

The obvious cause for concern is Ramirez’s bruised ego following a forced position change from shortstop — arguably the most glamorous position in sports other than quarterback — to the hot corner of third base, a position he has never played. But Ramirez isn’t the first All-Star who has changed positions during his prime.

“A lot of good players move,” said Guillen. “Bad players, they get released or traded, or they play in Mexico. Good players, they move to another position.

“Look at the players being moved. Good players. Michael Young. Miguel Cabrera. A-Rod. Robin Yount. Cal Ripken. You’re not talking about Pedro Perez. You’re talking about good ones. That is for a reason.”

All eyes will be on Ramirez when the Marlins’ position players report for spring training on Feb. 26. Guillen cautioned, nearly pleading, that media and fans alike should “let him be” while Ramirez adjusts to his new position and continues to work his way back to 100 percent physically.

And although Ramirez has not made any public comments during the offseason, he has gone on the offensive with a new Powerade commercial that has been running (en Espanol) in Latin America.

“To all those who sent messages criticizing me, I want to apologize for not having replied yet. I was busy with this bat and this marker, writing your names. The response is on its way. Sincerely, Hanley Ramirez,” he says via voiceover, while writing names on the wood bat he uses while training.

Ramirez’s talent has always been there — since he was signed by the Boston Red Sox out of the Dominican Republic in 2000 and traded to the Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell in 2005. And by all accounts, health is no longer an issue. The supporting cast is clearly in place. If Ramirez is as motivated as a player on the diamond as he is as a pitchman over the airwaves, look out.

“Powerade, they may know something that we don’t know,” said Guillen. “You invest money in people you think are going to be good.”

When it comes time for your fantasy baseball draft, follow Powerade’s lead — invest money in Hanley Ramirez, who will bounce back in a big way in 2012.

by Nathan Rush

<p> Ozzie Guillen and Powerade expect Miami Marlins third baseman Hanley Ramirez to return to fantasy baseball superstar, National League MVP candidate status. So should baseball fans.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 13:38
All taxonomy terms: kate upton, Overtime
Path: /overtime/kate-uptons-si-swimsuit-video

The always-fabulous Kate Upton is gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated's 2012 Swimsuit Issue. And we love that. But what we love even more is that SI also has a video of Kate Upton during one of her photo shoots. So the question is, why are you still reading this? 


Be sure to check out Kate's entire SI Swimsuit gallery.

<p> Need we say more?&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 11:32
All taxonomy terms: Jeremy Lin, New York Knicks, NBA
Path: /nba/jeremy-lin-knocks-down-game-winning-shot

With time ticking down, basketball sensation (and former bench warmer) Jeremy Lin made a clutch 3-pointer last night to help his team, the New York Knicks, top the Toronto Raptors 90-87. The game-winning shot continues the "Lin-sanity" that's been sweeping the NBA the last week as the 6-3, 200-pound point guard has been on fire, taking his team on a six-game winning streak.

<p> A Lin-sational ending</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 10:35
All taxonomy terms: AC100, College Football, Recruiting, USC Trojans
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-10-usc-trojans

-by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on twitter)

No. 10: USC Trojans (16 total signees)

Pac-12 Rank: 2nd
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 7
National Signees: 10

Where They Got 'Em:

USC has the luxury of being located in one of the best, if not the best, recruiting “backyards” in the entire country. Despite scholarship limitations, Lane Kiffin and staff put together a solid class of 16 new signees — with 12 hailing from California. Two of the Trojans top three commitments were stars in Los Angeles County, linebacker Jabari Ruffin from Downey High School and massive offensive lineman Jordan Simmons from Crespi High in Encino. Ruffin compiled 99 tackles during his senior season, while also adding 745 total yards and seven touchdowns on offense. Simmons is one of the best O-line prospects in the nation and rated No. 47 in the AC100.

The Trojans seem to always have success recruiting in Southern California, but they were also able to lure a pair of top Florida ballers to the west coast. The Sunshine State duo is led by the top-rated player (No. 26 in the AC100) in USC’s class, receiver Nelson Agholor from Tampa’s Berkeley High School. During his prep career, Agholor had a staggering 4,732 rushing yards, 921 receiving yards, 12 interceptions on defense and eight kickoff return touchdowns. The other Florida signee is also a top 100 player, defensive lineman Leonard Williams from Daytona Beach, who collected 19.5 tackles for loss (10.5 sacks) during his senior season.

Areas of Focus:

USC definitely had less room for evaluation error with this class, due to ongoing NCAA sanctions where the Trojans lose 10 scholarships per year for this group and the next two seasons. Lane Kiffin, who has garnered some negative attention regarding his recruiting, should still be able to put together highly-rated classes because of USC’s tradition and location. However there will be some sacrifices, like not adding a quarterback to the roster this year.

One huge — and we mean huge — area of focus for the Trojans was the offensive line. Besides the 335-pound Simmons, USC inked two other AC100 prospects on the line in 6-foot-9, 335-pound Zach Banner from Puyallup (Wash.) Lakewood High School and 6-foot-6, 295-pound Max Tuerk from Santa Margarita High School. Where does Banner get his size? He is the son of former Oakland Raiders All-Pro lineman Lincoln Kennedy. Tuerk paved the way for Santa Margarita to win the CIF Pac-5 and CIF Division I state titles in 2011.

The Trojans also added three new players to the defensive line. Along with Williams, USC will bring in a pair of solid defensive ends in JUCO Morgan Breslin (Diablo Valley C.C.) and DeVante Wilson from Corona High School. Breslin had 13.5 sacks last year at Diablo, while Wilson originally signed with USC in last year but tore ligaments in his knee and sat out last fall. Both Breslin and Wilson are already in school and will participate in spring practice.

USC inked three new members to the secondary, highlighted by AC100 prospect Kevon Seymour from Muir High School in Pasadena. Seymour had 51 tackles and five interceptions (three touchdowns) on defense last season, and he added 33 catches for 653 yards and nine scores as a receiver. One impact player not listed in this class is Florida transfer Josh Shaw. A former AC100 defensive back, Shaw played in 10 games for the Gators last season and plans to apply for a hardship waiver from the NCAA to become immediately eligible.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 0, RB: 1, WR: 2, TE: 1, OL: 4, ATH: 0
Defense: DL: 3, LB: 2, DB: 3, K/P: 0

AC100 Recruits:

26. Nelson Agholor, WR (6-1, 180), Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley
46. Jabari Ruffin, LB (6-4, 230), Downey (Calif.) High
47. Jordan Simmons, OL (6-5, 335), Inglewood (Calif.) Crespi
50. Zach Banner, OL (6-9, 335), Puyallup (Wash.) Lakewood
68. Leonard Williams, DL (6-5, 270), Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland
75. Max Tuerk, OL (6-6, 295), Trabuco Canyon (Calif.) Santa Margarita
96. Kevon Seymour, DB (6, 170), Pasasdena (Calif.) Muir

Other National Signees:

125. Darreus Rogers, WR (6-2, 195), Compton (Calif.) Carson
145. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, TE (6-5, 260), Rocklin (Calif.) Whitney
182. Scott Starr, LB (6-3, 230), Nocro (Calif.) High

Early Enrollees:

Scott Starr, LB (6-3, 230), Nocro (Calif.) High
Chad Wheeler, OL (6-6, 265), Santa Monica (Calif.) High
DeVante Wilson, DE (6-4, 235), Corona (Calif.) High
Morgan Breslin, DE (6-3, 255), Walnut Creek (Calif.) Diablo Valley C.C.

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. USC Trojans
11. Thur., Feb. 16
12. Fri., Feb. 17
13. Mon., Feb. 20
14. Tues., Feb. 21
15. Wed., Feb. 22
16. Thur., Feb. 23
17. Fri., Feb. 24
18. Mon., Feb. 27
19. Tues., Feb. 28
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

<p> The USC Trojans landed the No. 10 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/big-12-2012-schedule-analysis

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Finally. After a long wait and rumors of its release for the last few weeks, the Big 12 schedule for 2012 has been distributed. The conference has experienced a handful of changes over the last two years, with Nebraska, Texas A&M, Missouri and Colorado departing, and TCU and West Virginia joining. After an expensive settlement with the Big East, the Mountaineers were cleared to join in time for the 2012 season and should be one of the frontrunners to claim the conference title. After winning at least 11 games over the last four seasons, the Horned Frogs are ready for the increased challenge and the week-to-week grind of playing in a BCS conference.

Related: Athlon's Early College Football Top 25 for 2012
Related: Athlon's 2012 Early Big 12 Predictions


Sept. 1 SMU
Sept. 15 Sam Houston State
Sept. 22 at UL Monroe
Sept. 29 at West Virginia
Oct. 13 TCU
Oct. 20 at Texas
Oct. 27 at Iowa State
Nov. 3 Kansas
Nov. 10 at Oklahoma
Nov. 17 Kansas State
Nov. 24 Texas Tech (Arlington)
Dec. 1 Oklahoma State

* With a new quarterback taking over, it’s good news for Baylor the first conference game is on Sept. 29. Barring an upset, the Bears should start 3-0 and build some momentum with the new pieces on offense for Big 12 play.

* The Baylor-TCU matchup was one of college football’s best games of 2011. With Robert Griffin no longer taking snaps in Waco, a 50-48 shootout victory is probably unrealistic. However, this is a big test for both teams midway through the 2012 season. And of course, there’s plenty of bad blood between these two teams. With the Horned Frogs in the Big 12, this should become a good rivalry.

* The Bears will play two out of their last three games at home and the other contest is a neutral site affair in Arlington against Texas Tech. Considering Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are all winnable games, it’s a favorable draw for Baylor’s hopes of reaching its third consecutive bowl game.   

Iowa State

Sept. 1 Tulsa
Sept. 8 at Iowa
Sept. 15 Western Illinois
Sept. 29 Texas Tech
Oct. 6 at TCU
Oct. 13 Kansas State
Oct. 20 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 27 Baylor
Nov. 3 Oklahoma
Nov. 10 at Texas
Nov 17 at Kansas
Nov. 24 West Virginia

* If the Cyclones are going to make their third bowl appearance under coach Paul Rhoads, they will need to get a good chunk of their wins in the first half. Iowa State should get at least two victories in the non-conference portion, with winnable games against Texas Tech and Kansas State in Ames before the midpoint of 2012.

* The back half of the schedule isn’t too kind for Iowa State. The Cyclones play arguably the top three teams in the Big 12 for 2012 – Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia – in November. Ouch.

* Revenge game. After knocking out Oklahoma State from the ranks of the unbeaten in 2011, it’s a safe bet the Cowboys will be hungry for revenge on Oct. 20 in Stillwater.

* New members. The Cyclones are 0-3 in three previous matchups against TCU and have never played West Virginia.


Sept. 1 South Dakota State
Sept. 8 Rice
Sept. 15 TCU
Sept. 22 at Northern Illinois
Oct. 6 at Kansas State
Oct. 13 Oklahoma State
Oct. 20 at Oklahoma
Oct. 27 Texas
Nov. 3 at Baylor
Nov. 10 at Texas Tech
Nov. 17 Iowa State
Dec. 1 at West Virginia

* The Charlie Weis era should get off to a quick start, as the Jayhawks will be favored to start 2-0.

* Kansas’ first Big 12 game will be against new member TCU on Sept. 15. The Jayhawks have not played the Horned Frogs since 1997. After going winless in conference play last year, the Big 12 didn’t do Kansas in favors by scheduling a top 25 team for its conference opener.

* Bragging rights in Kansas. Weis will be looking to make some noise in his first year as the Jayhawks’ head coach and what better way to do that than to beat Kansas State on Oct. 6. Kansas will be big underdogs, but it’s a key game for this team in 2012.

* The Jayhawks have one of the most difficult two-game stretches in the Big 12: at Oklahoma on Oct. 20 and Texas on Oct. 27.

* The Jayhawks close out 2012 with a road date against West Virginia. With no interest in scheduling Missouri for a non-conference series, it will be an odd sight to see Kansas playing the Mountaineers or any other team on the final regular season weekend.

Kansas State

Sept. 1 Missouri State
Sept. 8 Miami (Fla.)
Sept. 15 North Texas
Sept. 22 at Oklahoma
Oct. 6 Kansas
Oct. 13 at Iowa State
Oct. 20 at West Virginia
Oct. 27 Texas Tech
Nov. 3 Oklahoma State
Nov. 10 at TCU
Nov. 17 at Baylor
Dec. 1 Texas

* A rematch with Miami highlights the non-conference portion of the schedule. The Wildcats defeated the Hurricanes 28-24 last season, and with the Hurricanes rebuilding, Kansas State should have a good shot at winning this matchup.

* The Wildcats didn’t catch a break for the Big 12 opener, as they have to travel to Norman to take on Oklahoma.

* The Wildcats and Jayhawks renew their annual rivalry on Oct. 6, with Kansas hoping to snap a three-game losing streak in this series.

* Kansas State and West Virginia have met only two times – 1930 and 1931.

* A difficult November will likely make-or-break the Wildcats’ Big 12 title hopes. Kansas State hosts Oklahoma State, then hits the road for games against TCU and Baylor, before closing the regular season with a home game against Texas. All four games are winnable, but none should be considered guarantee wins.


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

* Revenge? After losing to Texas Tech last season, expect the Sooners to be motivated for the rematch on Oct. 6 in Lubbock.

* Trap game? After playing Notre Dame on Oct. 27, Oklahoma has to travel to Ames to take on Iowa State on Nov. 3. We’ve already seen one Oklahoma team have trouble against the Cyclones in November.

* Backloaded schedule. If the Sooners are going to win the Big 12, they will have their work cut out in the last stretch of the season. Oklahoma faces West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU in its final three games – with two of those on the road.

* Red River Rivalry. Texas is getting better, but are the Longhorns ready to challenge the Sooners (the likely preseason favorites in the Big 12) on Oct. 13?

Oklahoma State

Sept. 1 Savannah State
Sept. 8 at Arizona
Sept. 15 UL Lafayette
Sept. 29 Texas
Oct. 13 at Kansas
Oct. 20 Iowa State
Oct. 27 TCU
Nov. 3 at Kansas State
Nov. 10 West Virginia
Nov. 17 Texas Tech
Nov. 24 at Oklahoma
Dec. 1 at Baylor

* The Cowboys couldn’t have picked a better opening opponent. Savannah State was 1-10 last year and gave up 40.2 points a game last year. Yikes. Look for Oklahoma State’s new quarterback to have a field day against this defense.

* The second game of the year is an intriguing non-conference matchup against Arizona. The Wildcats have to adjust to new coach Rich Rodriguez, but won’t be an easy out in Tucson.

* The Cowboys’ first Big 12 matchup is against Texas on Sept. 29. Oklahoma State has won back-to-back games against the Longhorns after winning only twice in the previous 24 matchups.

* Upset potential? Don’t sleep on Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 15. The Ragin’ Cajuns had a respectable showing in a loss against the Cowboys in 2011 and return much of their core for 2012.

* Former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator (now West Virginia head coach) Dana Holgorsen makes his return to Stillwater on Nov. 10.

* Three of Oklahoma State’s final four games are at home. However, the Cowboys have to hit the road for their annual matchup against Oklahoma. After last year’s thumping in Stillwater, you can bet the Sooners will be looking forward to that matchup on Nov. 24.


Sept. 8 Grambling State
Sept. 15 at Kansas
Sept. 22 Virginia
Sept. 29 at SMU
Oct. 6 Iowa State
Oct. 13 at Baylor
Oct. 20 Texas Tech
Oct. 27 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 3 at West Virginia
Nov. 10 Kansas State
Nov. 24 at Texas
Dec. 1 Oklahoma

* The schedule sets up favorably for a quick start, as the Horned Frogs should sweep their non-conference games and will likely be favored against Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor and Texas Tech in the Big 12 portion.

* Revenge? After losing to SMU in Fort Worth last season, the Horned Frogs will no doubt circle the Sept. 29 matchup against the Mustangs.

* While TCU could get off to a quick start, the last five games are going to test this team. The Horned Frogs have a difficult closing stretch, starting with a date at Oklahoma State on Oct. 27 and closing on Dec. 1 at home against Oklahoma. If the finale against the Sooners wasn’t tough enough, TCU has to play at Texas the week before.

* The new-member bowl. TCU and West Virginia have played only once (1984 Bluebonnet Bowl), but will play every year – provided there is no more expansion – in the Big 12.

* One interesting tidbit to consider about TCU in 2012. Its defenses have ranked near the top of college football under coach Gary Patterson. But will that continue with an offensive-minded Big 12?


Sept. 1 Wyoming
Sept. 8 New Mexico
Sept. 15 at Ole Miss
Sept. 29 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 6 West Virginia
Oct. 13 Oklahoma (Dallas)
Oct. 20 Baylor
Oct. 27 at Kansas
Nov. 3 at Texas Tech
Nov. 10 Iowa State
Nov. 24 TCU
Dec. 1 at Kansas State

* With an offense that needs time to improve, the first three games are a good wakeup call for Big 12 play. The Longhorns will be heavily favored to start 3-0 and figure to roll up some big offensive numbers along the way.

* The Longhorns will play their first Big 12 game on Sept. 29 against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have won the last two meetings in this series.

* The Nov. 24 date against TCU is rumored to be moving to Thanksgiving for 2012. It’s not Texas A&M-Texas, but it’s a solid (and likely) top 25 matchup next season.

* Is this the year the Longhorns snap a four-game losing streak to Kansas State? Texas has to travel to Manhattan for the regular season finale on Dec. 1, and it’s a game that could have significant implications in the Big 12 bowl pecking order.

* West Virginia and Texas have played only once (1956), with the Mountaineers winning 7-6.

Texas Tech

Sept. 1 Northwestern State
Sept. 8 at Texas State
Sept. 15 New Mexico
Sept. 29 at Iowa State
Oct. 6 Oklahoma
Oct. 13 West Virginia
Oct. 20 at TCU
Oct. 27 at Kansas State
Nov. 3 Texas
Nov. 10 Kansas
Nov. 17 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 24 Baylor (Arlington)

* After a disappointing 2011 campaign, the Red Raiders should have an opportunity to build some early momentum. Texas Tech should start 3-0 and has a good chance to beat Iowa State and move to 4-0 before taking on Oklahoma on Oct. 6.

* The middle of the schedule is going to define Texas Tech’s 2012 season. The Red Raiders have a brutal stretch, starting with Oklahoma on Oct. 6 and closing with Texas on Nov. 3. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Texas Tech 4-5 going into the final three games of the season.

* Bowl eligibility could be on the line when the Red Raiders play Baylor in Arlington on Nov. 24.

* The Red Raiders have not played TCU since 2006, a game they lost 12-3 in Fort Worth.

* Texas Tech’s only meeting with West Virginia occurred in 1938. The Red Raiders knocked off the Mountaineers 7-6 in that game.

West Virginia

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

* The Mountaineers open their first season in the Big 12 with a date against Baylor – a team they have never played before. A favorable non-conference slate should have West Virginia at 3-0 before they play in the Bears on Sept. 29.

* After playing Baylor, West Virginia has to travel for back-to-back games against Texas and Texas Tech.

* Mark it down: Nov. 3 is the meeting of the Big 12’s newest members, as TCU visits Morgantown.

* Nov. 10 – The Dana Holgorsen Bowl. West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen served as Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator in 2010.

* Although the Mountaineers draw a difficult start to the final stretch of the season – TCU, at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma – they close with games against Iowa State and Kansas.

* Seeing a West Virginia schedule with no Pittsburgh is certainly strange, but closing the year with a game at Kansas is even more bizarre. However, that’s the price of realignment, as rivalries across college football are disappearing. 

<p> Athlon breaks down the Big 12 schedule and highlights some of the games to watch, potential upsets and tidbits to keep in mind for 2012.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 12:32
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-9-georgia-bulldogs

-by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on twitter)

No. 9: Georgia Bulldogs (19 total signees)

SEC Rank: 3rd
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 6
National Signees: 9

Where They Got 'Em:

Georgia always has a tough fight with the best programs around the South and the nation recruiting the Peach State with heavy emphasis, but Mark Richt and staff were able to keep the state’s top two players at home. Linebackers Josh Harvey-Clemons from Valdosta’s Lowndes High School and Jordan Jenkins from Harris County High School headline 11 signees from the state of Georgia. The Bulldogs also signed three players from fertile Florida, including top offensive lineman John Theus (the No. 13 player in the AC100) from Jacksonville powerhouse The Bolles School.

UGA also found success recruiting in North Carolina, inking two highly-rated running backs in Keith Marshall (Raleigh) and Todd Gurley (Tarboro). Marshall left Millbrook HS with the career record for yards (4,552) and points (332), and he rushed for 1,891 yards and 25 touchdowns during his senior campaign. Gurley was named the North Carolina Associated Press Player of the Year after scoring 38 touchdowns during his senior year and leading Tarboro to a third consecutive 2A State Championship.

Areas of Focus:

The Bulldogs definitely focused on the front seven of the defense, including five new linebackers to rush the passer in Todd Grantham’s aggressive 3-4 scheme. Along with Harvey-Clemons and Jenkins, Georgia signed three other instate linebackers in Leonard Floyd (Dodge County HS), Josh Dawson (Tucker HS) and James DeLoach (Jenkins County HS). UGA also inked a very important player in DeLoach’s Jenkins County teammate, defensive tackle Jonathan Taylor, who should be a solid run stuffer.

Georgia got a quality freshman season from running back Isaiah Crowell in 2011, and the Tar Heel duo of Marshall and Gurley should provide quality competition and depth at that position. In addition, Richt signed instate fullback Quayvon Hicks from Pierce County High School. Already at 245 pounds, Hicks should be a strong lead blocker for UGA’s top tailbacks.

Quarterback Aaron Murray had a solid year as a sophomore, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 35 touchdowns. However, big-time programs are always grooming their next signal caller. The Bulldogs were able to ink quarterback Faton Bauta from one of Florida’s top programs, Dwyer High School in Palm Beach County. Bauta has already enrolled in school and will go through spring practice.

Georgia has been very good in the kicking game over the last few seasons but lose both kicker Blair Walsh and punter Drew Butler. Richt showed a commitment to special teams by signing punter Collin Barber from Cartersville and kicker Marshall Morgan from Fort Lauderdale’s (Fla.) American Heritage High School.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 1, RB: 3, WR: 1, TE: 1, OL: 3, ATH: 1
Defense: DL: 2, LB: 5, DB: 0, K/P: 2

AC100 Recruits:

13. John Theus, OL (6-6, 292), Jacksonville (Fla.) Bolles
16. Keith Marshall, RB (5-11, 190), Raleigh (N.C.) Millbrook
20. Josh Harvey-Clemons, LB (6-5, 208), Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes
31. Jordan Jenkins, LB (6-3, 245), Hamilton (Ga.) Harris County
55. Jonathan Taylor, DT (6-4, 315), Millen (Ga.) Jenkins County
83. Todd Gurley, RB (6-1, 195), Tarboro (N.C.) High

Other National Signees:

188. Sheldon Dawson, ATH (5-11, 180), Memphis (Tenn.) Ridgeway
214. Leonard Floyd, LB (6-4, 215), Eastman (Ga.) Dodge County
218. John Atkins, DL (6-4, 300), Thomson (Ga.) High

Early Enrollees:

Keith Marshall,
RB (5-11, 190), Raleigh (N.C.) Millbrook
Faton Bauta, QB (6-3, 225), West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer
Mark Beard, OL (6-4, 290), Adamsville (Ala.) Coffeyville C.C. (Kan.)

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Georgia Bulldogs
10. Wed., Feb. 15
11. Thur., Feb. 16
12. Fri., Feb. 17
13. Mon., Feb. 20
14. Tues., Feb. 21
15. Wed., Feb. 22
16. Thur., Feb. 23
17. Fri., Feb. 24
18. Mon., Feb. 27
19. Tues., Feb. 28
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

<p> The Georgia Bulldogs landed the No. 9 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 05:45
All taxonomy terms: Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /golf/lefty-loose-tiger-tight-pebble-beach

By winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Phil Mickelson earned his 40th career PGA Tour victory and proved he still has the mojo to win another major championship — having already won three times at The Masters (2004, ’06, ’10) and once at the PGA Championship (2005).

Final round playing partner Tiger Woods was helplessly unable to stay stride-for-stride with Lefty on Sunday; wife Amy watched beaming beautifully just behind the rope greenside at No. 18; and even tournament host Clint Eastwood lightened his mood in the booth with CBS’s Jim Nantz one week after making news with his shadowy somber Chrysler “It’s halftime, America” Super Bowl commercial.

The rest of the golf world sat back and marveled as Phil the Thrill dismantled Pebble Beach and Tiger disintegrated, uncharacteristically yipping his way through the round, turning short par putts into bogeys while displaying the type of body language only Jay Cutler could appreciate.

Although Woods wore enough of his signature Sunday red — with a Nike polo under a black vest — to indicate he believed himself to be a contender in California, Sunday’s version of Tiger in no way resembled the cutthroat 14-time major champion fans were hoping to see go toe-to-toe with Mickelson.

But no one told Phil that the Michael Jordan of golf faded away after Tiger limped to the 2008 U.S. Open (and may have been crushed completely when Woods’ gated-community life ran off the road Thanksgiving weekend 2009).

Mickelson played as if he were up against a roaring No. 1-ranked twentysomething wunderkind with Steve Williams bullying on the bag — not the player he was actually facing, a currently middling doppelganger wearing a TW hat and old man golf shoes with average Joe LaCava caddying.

“I just feel very inspired when I play with (Tiger),” said Mickelson, after shooting 8-under 64 on Sunday to overcome a six-shot deficit against 54-hole leader Charlie Wi.

“I love playing with (Tiger), and he brings out some of my best golf. I hope that he continues to play better and better. And I hope that he and I have a chance to play together more in the final rounds.”

While Mickelson basked in the afterglow of victory following the only bogey-free round Pebble Beach saw all day, Tiger could only stew in his second straight Sunday slide from contention, after a similar — albeit lower profile — slip at Abu Dhabi on the European Tour last week.

“I putted awful,” said Woods, who missed five putts from within five feet, with 31 total putts en route to posting a disappointing 3-over 75 final round.

“Anything I tried to do wasn’t working. Consequently, I made a ton of mistakes on the green.”

With Tiger headed back to the driving range (or better yet, the practice green) to tweak his game, Phil offered insight from his unique perspective. Yet, Mickelson’s vantage point is the same sightline as those fans bellied up to the bar or reclining on the couch.

As much or more than anyone, Phil is hopefully optimistic — bordering on wishfully thinking — that Tiger is in the process of turning the proverbial corner.

“I know the score wasn’t what (Tiger) wanted and I know he didn’t putt the way he wanted to,” said Mickelson.

“But you could tell that he’s really close.”

by Nathan Rush

<p> Phil Mickelson won his 40th PGA Tour event with a dominant effort at the AT&amp;T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, while final round playing partner Tiger Woods struggled to miss five putts within five feet.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 13, 2012 - 20:22
Path: /columns/garage-talk/10-tough-nascar-questions-part-4

As the 2012 NASCAR season approaches, Athlon Sports examines 10 controversial issues alive within the sport in the annual five-part, 10 Tough Questions feature, running throughout the week.

Did Kentucky Speedway do enough to appease dissatisfied fans after its Cup debut disaster? And how will this affect its future on the circuit?
Kentucky Speedway fought for years to land a coveted Sprint Cup Series race, only to be blocked with every shot it took. So when Speedway Motorsports, Inc. bought the venue, then awarded it a date formerly housed at Atlanta Motor Speedway, it was a slam dunk, a Bluegrass bonanza for hardcore Southern supporters who waited over a decade. But for 100,000 ticketed fans, their dream come true turned into a hellish nightmare on July 9, 2011. Traffic flow and infrastructure shortcomings plagued the inaugural Cup date to the point that Kentucky Speedway may hold the title of having hosted the most disastrous major sporting debut in history. Traffic was so bad some estimates claimed as many as 20,000 people never made it to the speedway, while others sat idle for up to seven hours, then parked three miles away to get in.

SMI’s response? An apology two days later and a ticket-exchange offer to any of the remainder of its 2011 dates (including upcoming Truck Series and IndyCar events at Kentucky Speedway) or free admission to this season’s Kentucky date.

Did that heal the wound? Not even close. What SMI CEO Bruton Smith failed to understand was that for many, that weekend was it. That was the vacation, the time off from work, the hotel reservation, the gas money, the time, effort and planning … that weekend — not one seven weeks later at Bristol — that many hard-working fans saved for and invested in.

Perhaps it's hard for a billionaire to comprehend. Regardless, Smith offered no ticket refunds in a rambling, bizarre press conference the following weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Instead, he laid blame on everyone from the state and local police, the company hired to direct traffic in the parking areas, local and state officials who did not bend to his roadway demands, local residents who parked cars on their property to — get this — the fans themselves for not planning properly!

The scary part of this mess was that Smith had traffic and parking issues at his Las Vegas and Texas tracks on opening Cup weekends in the past, plus Kentucky track officials had concerns going into the July date. Did SMI know what was coming? Would it allow a debacle on this scale to unfold simply to force state officials to invest in roadway reconstruction around the track? It certainly felt that way.

As to how this will affect Kentucky’s future events, it’s impossible to foresee. SMI has made improvements to the facility with expanded parking areas, additional restroom facilities and plans to widen the interstate and ease incoming traffic to the track itself. Time heals all wounds and, obviously, NASCAR did not yank its 2012 date. However, 100,000 fans were treated not like paying customers, but more like pawns in a multi-million dollar game of chicken, pitting SMI against the Kentucky state legislature. Let’s hope no one — even those who did not suffer that day — forgets that.

What steps should NASCAR take to curb start-and-park efforts?
In 2009, NASCAR referred to start-and-park teams as a “passing phase.” But as we enter year four of the collect-a-check experiment dominating the back of the Sprint Cup pack, it’s clear these profiteering teams aren’t going anywhere. In fact, the practice is only getting worse. As many as eight cars pulled in early during races last fall — that’s nearly 20 percent of the grid showing up with no intention of competing.

And why should they? In the last three years, Joe Nemechek has only finished five of his 97 starts but collected a cool $7.8 million in purse money. While saving on engine, pit crew and chassis costs, the only penalty the driver/owner may get is an occasional teardown as being selected for post-race inspection. Even then, a rebuild three or four times a year isn’t enough to wreck the profit margin. It’s become a big enough business that those who were initially putting up an honest effort, like Robby Gordon’s No. 7 outfit, have decided to join in.

That disturbing trend is why NASCAR needs to act. Either come up with a system of paying on a per-lap basis — reducing the profiteering of these teams — or simply reduce grid size to represent the number of cars showing up to compete. Dropping from a field of 43 to 36 increases the purse for each participant, ramps up the qualifying competition (maybe drop from 35 to 25 locked-in spots?) while better reflecting the number of fully funded cars. You can always expand back over time, as the NASCAR economy improves, right?

The question, of course, then becomes whether the sport’s television deal allows it to do that — a question that’s been disputed for years and whose answer lies within a contract no one’s allowed to see.

Visit each day throughout the month of February for exclusive preseason coverage of the 2012 NASCAR season. 

<p> As the 2012 NASCAR season approaches, Athlon Sports examines 10 controversial issues alive within the sport in the annual five-part, 10 Tough Questions feature, running each day throughout the week.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 13, 2012 - 18:59
Path: /college-basketball/kentuckys-davis-and-kansas-robinson-lead-national-poy-candidates

Each college basketball weekend is taking on more meaning with less than a month to go until league tournaments begin. Saturday saw several big-time clashes, highlighted by Kentucky surviving in a great SEC game at Vanderbilt, Michigan State going into Columbus and beating Ohio State by 10 and Missouri easily handling Baylor in Columbia. Wichita State had an impressive win at Creighton, while UNLV topped San Diego State in a great matchup of top 20 teams from the Mountain West. As we look ahead...

1. Who is your choice, at this point of the season, for National Player of the Year?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman) : I would go with Kentucky’s Anthony Davis at this point in the year. While some may not vote for Davis because of his controversial recruitment, there is no doubt that the freshman from Chicago has impacted the college game as much as anyone this season. His defensive presence, including a national-best 4.9 blocks per game, has allowed UK to smother opponents on the perimeter and is a huge factor in the 25–1 Wildcats being ranked No. 1. Davis also leads the Cats in scoring and rebounding, averaging 14.0 points and 9.9 boards per game. Additionally, the nation’s top frosh has been very efficient on the offensive end — shooting 65.1 percent from the field and 70.6 percent from the free throw line. While Thomas Robinson of Kansas, Draymond Green of Michigan State and Kevin Jones of West Virginia have had stellar seasons, Anthony Davis has been the National Player of the Year.

Mark Ross: In one year, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson has gone from top sixth man to the best player in the Big 12 and, in my opinion, the nation. Last year, Robinson averaged 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds as the first man off of the bench for Bill Self. This year the junior has more than doubled his point production to 18.1, which is second in the Big 12, and is averaging 12.1 rebounds per game, which is second in the entire country. He already has posted 17 double-doubles to this point, and is the main reason why this Kansas team is a viable threat to not only win an eighth straight Big 12 title, but also make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Robinson’s dominance in the post has also allowed fellow junior and frontcourt mate Jeff Withey develop his game. In the past two games, Withey has put up a combined 43 points, 25 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in Kansas wins over then No. 6-ranked Baylor on the road and against Oklahoma State.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): I love what Thomas Robinson is doing for Kansas, but I’ve got to go with Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. The big man from Chicago is dominating games on the defensive end like a young Patrick Ewing did for Georgetown in the 1980s. And like with most great shot-blockers, you can’t just look at the number of shots Davis blocks — 4.9 per game, the most in the nation — but you also have to take into account the amount of shots he alters and the times his presence in the lane deters players from driving toward the basket. Davis is also making contributions on the offensive end of the floor with a 14.0-point average, and he leads the Wildcats in rebounding with 9.9 per game. He is, quite simply, a special player.

2. What is the biggest game on the schedule this upcoming weekend?

Mitch Light: I am very intrigued by Ohio State’s trip to face Michigan in Ann Arbor. This great rivalry isn’t quite as intense on the basketball court as it is on the football field, but it is always an important game for both schools. And the stakes will be very high Saturday night, with both Ohio State and Michigan very much in the hunt for a regular-season Big Ten title. The Buckeyes won in Columbus in late January despite a subpar performance from Jared Sullinger (13 points, five boards). Thad Matta’s team will need its All-America big man to play well at Crisler Arena, which figures to be at a fever pitch for the hated Buckeyes.

Mark Ross: Murray State hosts Saint Mary’s on Saturday in the only BracketBusters match-up of ranked teams. Both teams had long winning streaks snapped by second-place conference foes on Feb. 9 as Saint Mary’s was beaten by West Coast rival Gonzaga 73–59 on the road, while Murray State suffered its first loss of the season in a 72–68 home loss to Ohio Valley foe Tennessee State. Both bounced back with wins two days later and will play conference games on Wednesday prior to Saturday’s showdown. Even though Murray State has just the one loss on the season, the Racers appear to need this win more than the Gaels do when it comes to NCAA Tournament résumés. Saint Mary’s is ranked in the top 25 of the RPI and, for now, is more secure in terms of at-large consideration should the Gaels not win the WCC Tournament. The Racers also have a strong résumé, boosted by a December road win against then-No. 20 Memphis, but a home victory Saturday over the Gaels would probably move them into “lock” territory for an NCAA Tournament bid, regardless of what happens in the OVC Tournament.

Patrick Snow: I see Xavier hosting Dayton as a huge game on Saturday. The Musketeers were seen as a top-20 team and probable Atlantic-10 champions in the preseason. However Chris Mack’s club was involved in the infamous brawl with city-rival Cincinnati in December, and the subsequent suspensions led to Xavier losing five of its next six games (after an 8–0 start). The Musketeers seemed to right the ship in mid-January with four straight wins, but they have now lost four of the last seven contests. There is no reason that a team with veteran guards like Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, as well as experienced big men Kenny Frease and Andre Walker, should miss the NCAA Tournament, but that is now a possibility. The Musketeers still have tough road games at UMass and Saint Louis, so this weekend’s home game with Dayton — an 87-72 victor over XU in January — is paramount to Xavier finishing strong and not missing March Madness.

<p> Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson lead National POY Candidates</p>
Post date: Monday, February 13, 2012 - 14:48
Path: /columns/nascar-news-notes/2012-budweiser-shootout-eligibility-list

2012 Budweiser Shootout
by Matt Taliaferro

Thirty three drivers are eligible for NASCAR's 2012 Budweiser Shootout. The Shootout, which unofficially kicks off Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, will be televised on Saturday, Feb. 18 on FOX at 8:00 pm EST. Those eligible for the event this year include all drivers within the top 25 in the final 2011 championship standings, past Bud Shootout winners and past Daytona point-race winners.

Eligible Drivers, via top 25 in 2011 standings (Car number):
AJ Allmendinger (22)
Marcos Ambrose (9)
Greg Biffle (16)
Clint Bowyer (15)
Jeff Burton (31)
Kurt Busch (51)
Kyle Busch (18)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88)
Carl Edwards (99)
Jeff Gordon (24)
Denny Hamlin (11)
Kevin Harvick (29)
Jimmie Johnson (48)
Kasey Kahne (5)
Matt Kenseth (17)
Brad Keselowski (2)
Joey Logano (20)
Mark Martin*
Paul Menard (27)
Juan Pablo Montoya (42)
Ryan Newman (39)
David Ragan (34)
Tony Stewart (14)
Martin Truex Jr. (56)
Brian Vickers*

Also eligible:
Trevor Bayne (2011 Daytona 500 winner)*
Geoff Bodine (past Daytona 500 and Shootout winner)*
Derrike Cope (past Daytona 500 winner)*
Bill Elliott (past Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400 and Shootout winner)*
Terry Labonte (past Shootout winner)*
Jamie McMurray (past Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 winner)
Ken Schrader (past Shootout winner)*
Michael Waltrip (past Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 winner)

The few notable drivers that do not meet eligibility requirements include Dave Blaney, David Gilliland, Robby Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Casey Mears, David Reutimann and Regan Smith.

* Not entered as of Feb. 13th.

<p> Eligibility list and entered drivers for the 2012 Budweiser Shootout at Daytona.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 13, 2012 - 14:02
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-8-miami-hurricanes

-by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on twitter)

No. 8: Miami Hurricanes (33 total signees)

ACC Rank: 2nd
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 3
National Signees: 9

Where They Got 'Em:

The Hurricanes have always been at their best when south Florida players stay near home. With all of the changes around the Miami program the last few years, other schools have been able to find more success in the fertile recruiting ground of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Al Golden and staff were able keep more local talent home this year with a monster signing class of 33 student-athletes, with 26 of those hailing from the Sunshine State.

Miami scored big by inking three members of the AC100. Miramar defensive back Tracy Howard was the top signee, choosing the “U” over Florida and Florida State. Ranked as our No. 3 DB in the country, Howard had over 50 tackles and 10 interceptions during his senior year. Randy “Duke” Johnson is a speedster at running back, and he led Miami’s Norland High School to the Florida Class 5A Championship with his 1,957 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns. The third member of the top 100 trio is Palm Beach Central athlete Angelo Jean-Louis, who had eight touchdown catches this season and should play wide receiver for the Hurricanes.

Areas of Focus:

Golden and staff were able to address many concerns in signing 33 new players, and one of those was getting more bodies on the roster for spring practice. Miami had nine early enrollees, including national signees Raphael Kirby at linebacker and Ereck Flowers on the offensive line. Flowers was a teammate of Duke Johnson at Norland, paving the way for the superstar back. Miami also brought in two of their three quarterback signees early, with Preston Dewey of Austin (Texas) and Clearwater’s Gary Crow already on campus.

The Hurricanes will look to add to their stellar wide receiver legacy after signing five wideouts along with the aforementioned Jean-Louis. Malcolm Lewis, a teammate of Tracy Howard at Miramar, highlights this group after a senior campaign with 716 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Robert Lockhart is another wideout to watch. He attended West Boca Raton High School before spending last season at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy.

Another huge area of focus for Miami was the defensive line. Seven new players were inked in this group, including national signees Tyriq McCord from Tampa’s Jefferson High School and Jelani Hamilton from Fort Lauderdale powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas. McCord was one of the top pass rushers in the Sunshine State, while Hamilton was a longtime Canes commit who lost much of his senior season to a knee injury.

The Hurricanes also added seven new players to the secondary, highlighted by Howard and Deon Bush from Miami’s Columbus High School. Rated as one of the top safeties in the country, Bush had 40 tackles and seven interceptions during his senior season. Rayshawn Jenkins played quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive back at St. Petersburg’s Admiral Farragut Academy and looks to be another impressive athlete who should improve the Miami secondary.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 3, RB: 2, WR: 5, TE: 0, OL: 3, ATH: 1
Defense: DL: 7, LB: 5, DB: 7, K: 0

AC100 Recruits:

18. Tracy Howard, DB (5-11, 170), Miramar (Fla.) High
36. Randy "Duke" Johnson, RB (5-9, 183), Miami (Fla.) Norland
85. Angelo Jean-Louis, ATH (6, 182), Wellington (Fla.) Palm Beach Central

Other National Signees:

102. Deon Bush, DB (6-1, 179), Miami (Fla.) Columbus)
107. Tyriq McCord, DL (6-3, 212), Tampa (Fla.) Jefferson
133. Raphael Kirby, LB (6, 207), Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson
154. Jelani Hamilton, DL (6-5, 262), Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas
173. Malcolm Lewis, WR (6, 194), Miramar (Fla.) High
204. Ereck Flowers, OL (6-6, 312), Miami (Fla.) Norland

Early Enrollees:

Preston Dewey, QB (6-2, 203), Austin (Texas) St. Andrew's Episcopal
Gary Crow, QB (6-3, 233), Clearwater (Fla.) Countryside
Ereck Flowers, OL (6-6, 312), Miami (Fla.) Norland
Taylor Gadbois, OL (6-7, 292), Dallas (Ga.) East Paulding
Raphael Kirby, LB (6, 207), Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson
Ladarius Gunter, LB (6-2, 196), Montgomery (Ala.) Fort Scott C.C. (Kan.)
Josh Witt, LB (6-2, 206), Weston (Fla.) Cypress Bay)
Larry Hope, DB (5-11, 160), Miami (Fla.) American
Dwayne Hoilett, DL (6-3, 217), Vero Beach (Fla.) High

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Miami Hurricanes
9. Tues., Feb. 14
10. Wed., Feb. 15
11. Thur., Feb. 16
12. Fri., Feb. 17
13. Mon., Feb. 20
14. Tues., Feb. 21
15. Wed., Feb. 22
16. Thur., Feb. 23
17. Fri., Feb. 24
18. Mon., Feb. 27
19. Tues., Feb. 28
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

<p> The Miami Hurricanes landed the No. 8 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 13, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, SEC, News
Path: /news/kentucky-vanderbilt-highlights-big-weekend-college-basketball-action

by Jordan Coleman

This Saturday, thousands of college basketball fans will flood arenas and sports bars in order to catch some of the greatest games of the season. While this week has been full of conference rivalries, this weekend’s competition is sure to liven up the social calendar of any college basketball fan. Though this may be a social gathering for fans,  For these teams, these games are not only an opportunity that can either make or break their chances of dancing in March, but also an opportunity to claim (or reclaim) bragging rights within their conference. Here is a preview of some of the most anticipated match-ups this weekend:

Kentucky at Vanderbilt - Vanderbilt has yet another opportunity this weekend to prove they are a force to be reckoned with in the SEC as they take on the nation’s top contender, the Kentucky Wildcats. Coming off a disappointing week of two losses to Arkansas and Florida, Kevin Stallings and the Commodores are itching for a win. However, the good ole’ shellacking the Wildcats put on the Gamecocks last weekend, followed by the thumping of No. 7 Florida on Tuesday night, have propelled Calipari’s Wildcats to a perfect 10-0 conference record. Therefore, slowing the momentum of the Kentucky’s high-powered offense, while maintaining offensive flow against their hellacious defense, won’t be an easy feat for the Dores. 

Connecticut at Syracuse- While the 2011 National Champion Huskies have experienced a few lulls in their season—losing games against UCF and Seton Hall— they must bring their ‘A’ game against the No. 2 ranked Orangemen this weekend. Regardless of the location, the contest between these two teams is always hotly contested; therefore, Orange and Huskie fans alike should be in for a treat Saturday.

Michigan State at Ohio State- All-American Jared Sullinger fueled his team passed the Badgers last Saturday with a double-double, adding 24 points and 10 rebounds to secure the 58-52 win in the Kohl Center. While the Buckeyes took on their conference rival last weekend, Draymond Green and the No. 12 Spartans salivate at their opportunity to stun Big Ten’s top dogs and tie-up their conference records. Sullinger and the rest of the Buckeyes will have to muster up some intestinal fortitude in order to top Michigan State.

Baylor at Missouri – Coming off an incredible win against their border rival, the Kansas Jayhawks, the Tigers must regain focus fast in order to take on yet another fierce conference competitor, the No. 6 Baylor Bears. While the Tigers escaped the Ferrell Center with a 1-point victory over Baylor in their last meeting earlier this season, they will have to use their experience and team coalesce to pull-off another win over Pierre Jackson and the Bears.

Miami at Florida State –Reggie Johnson’s career-high of 27 points lead the Hurricanes to their first victory over Duke at Cameron Arena. Despite this commendable feat, their in-state rival, No. 17 Florida State, who not only have a win against Duke, but impressive wins over North Carolina and Virginia to as well, will definitely have their number. It will be interesting to see whether Miami’s momentum on the road can carry them past the Seminoles, or will the co-conference leaders make a statement as to who really dominates the ACC.

<p> Athlon previews the top action in college basketball this weekend.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 10, 2012 - 14:02
Path: /college-football/grading-college-footballs-new-coaches-2012

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

When the 2012 season kicks off, 27 teams will have a new coach roaming the sidelines. Athlon examines each hire and grades the moves by each school. Grading new hires is never an exact science, but one can get a good snapshot of a coach by looking at his resume and previous experience. 

Related: Athlon's Early College Football Top 25 for 2012

Best BCS Coaching Hires

Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh – Chryst lacks head coaching experience, but this is still one of the top hires of the offseason. He served as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator from 2005-11, and has made other stops at Oregon State and in the NFL with the Chargers. Under Chryst’s direction, the Badgers led the Big Ten in scoring offense in each of the last three seasons. For a team that needs stability – after having three head coaches over the last year – and a much-needed jolt on offense, Chryst seems to be a perfect hire for Pittsburgh.

Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss – For the first time since 1946, the Rebels are coming off a season with just two victories. And the SEC isn’t getting any easier, especially with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri. Freeze was an important hire for Ole Miss, and while the track record is limited, he has proven to be a winner at each stop. He led Lambuth to a 20-5 record from 2008-09 and recorded a 10-2 mark as Arkansas State’s head coach in 2011. Freeze has a lot of work ahead of him, but he’s young (42), energetic and a bright offensive mind. The only downside in Freeze’s short tenure was not assembling a top-notch coaching staff.

Mike Leach, Washington State – In 10 years at Texas Tech, Leach led the Red Raiders to an 84-43 record, 10 bowl appearances and some of the top passing attacks in the nation. Leach had a rocky end to his tenure in Lubbock – largely not his fault – but don’t expect that to have any impact on his time at Washington State. The Cougars showed small progress under previous coach Paul Wulff, and the pieces are in place for Leach to lead this team to a bowl game in 2012. Out of the 27 new coaching hires for 2012, Leach landing at Washington State has to be considered one of the best fits for any new coach.

Urban Meyer, Ohio State – Perfect fit. Terrific hire. That’s the easy way to sum up Meyer landing at Ohio State. Health issues prompted Meyer to leave Florida, but after a year away, he appears to be refreshed and ready to go once again. The Buckeyes won’t be eligible to compete for the Big Ten title in 2012, but Meyer is stockpiling talent for a run at the national title in 2013. Expect the Buckeyes to show improvement in the win column in 2012, and it won’t be long until Meyer has a chance to build upon the two national championships he earned while at Florida.

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona – The easy way to sum up Rodriguez’s tenure at Michigan: Good coach, bad fit. After compiling a 60-26 record in seven seasons at West Virginia, Rodriguez posted a 15-22 mark in three years with the Wolverines. While his teams improved their win total by two games each season, it wasn’t enough to keep Rodriguez around in Ann Arbor. Rodriguez needs time to implement his system, as well as recruiting the talent necessary to run his spread offense. Much of the struggles at Michigan were due to bad fits in the personnel, but Arizona has some pieces in place that should allow this team to compete for a bowl game in 2012. The only downside? Rodriguez has never coached west of Michigan, so it will be important to establish recruiting pipelines right away.

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M – Change is in the air in College Station. The Aggies are moving from the Big 12 to the SEC, and Sumlin takes over as head coach after Texas A&M compiled a 25-25 record in four seasons under Mike Sherman. Sumlin is no stranger to College Station, as he spent two years as an assistant (2001-02) with the Aggies and coached in the Big 12 at Oklahoma from 2003-07. Texas A&M will need some time to get acclimated to life in the SEC, but Sumlin’s 35-17 record at Houston suggests the Aggies will be in good shape for the future.

Above Average Marks

Tim Beckman, Illinois – As an Ohio native and someone that has worked at Ohio State, Beckman is certainly familiar with life in the Big Ten. He spent the last three years as the head coach at Toledo, registering a 21-16 record and a share of the MAC West title in 2011. Beckman has worked with top-notch head coaches, spending time with Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Jim Tressel at Ohio State and Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State. Beckman pieced together an interesting coaching staff, especially on the offensive side where Billy Gonzales and Chris Beatty will serve as co-coordinators and neither have much experience as a play-caller.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina – After a successful four-year stint as the head coach at Southern Miss, Fedora lands in a very good situation in Chapel Hill at North Carolina. The Tar Heels are still waiting to hear about possible penalties from an NCAA investigation, but the cupboard isn’t bare, especially on offense, which is Fedora’s specialty. In four years at Southern Miss, he compiled a 34-19 record and led the team to a 2-2 mark in bowl games. The Tar Heels have not won more than eight games since 1997, but this is a program that should consistently compete for the ACC title.

Todd Graham, Arizona State – The criticism of how Graham left Pittsburgh is certainly warranted. And a 6-6 regular season record last year wasn’t exactly a hit with Panther fans either. However, the personnel wasn’t in place to run Graham’s schemes and the offense struggled to find any consistency. Despite the rocky end to his short tenure at Pittsburgh Graham is actually a solid coach, as evidenced by his 49-29 record over the last six years, and should do well over time at Arizona State.

Jim Mora, UCLA – At the time of his hire, this seemed like a strange fit and a bad move by UCLA. However, Mora acquired a solid staff and brought in one of the Pac-12’s top recruiting classes. Considering Mora has spent most of his career in the NFL, it will be interesting to see how he transitions to the college game. This hire could backfire, but Mora is off to a good start and deserves a chance to prove he can turn the Bruins into a Pac-12 title contender.

Best non-BCS hires

Terry Bowden, Akron – After winning just two games over the last two years under Rob Ianello, the Zips made one of the top coaching moves of the offseason by getting Bowden from North Alabama. In 18 years as a head coach, Bowden has recorded a 139-63-2 mark, including two bowl appearances while at Auburn. Considering his success, it’s strange that Bowden has not landed back on the FBS radar until now. However, this a good fit and a solid hire by Akron – and one that should have this team moving back into MAC East contention in the next few seasons.

Matt Campbell, Toledo – At 32 years old, Campbell is college football’s youngest head coach. However, he’s spent the last eight years as an assistant at Mount Union, Bowling Green and Toledo. Campbell’s head coaching career is off to a good start, as he led the Rockets to a 42-41 victory in the Military Bowl over Air Force. Considering this is his first head coaching gig, there will be a few bumps in the road for Campbell. However, he fits the mold of a good up-and-coming coach, and his high-scoring offenses will continue to keep Toledo near the top of the MAC West.

Justin Fuente, Memphis – Larry Porter’s two-year stint was a disaster, but the Tigers picked a terrific replacement by plucking Fuente from TCU. This will be Fuente’s first head coaching position, but he has built a solid resume, serving as an assistant at Illinois State from 2001-06 and working as TCU’s offensive coordinator for the last three seasons. Fuente’s coaching experience in Texas should help with recruiting and his background on offense should help jumpstart a Memphis offense that averaged just 16.3 points a game last year.

Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State – Malzahn has been one of the top assistant coaches in the nation over the last five seasons, leading Tulsa and Auburn’s offenses among of the ranks of the best in college football. Considering Malzahn’s name popped up in BCS job searches, it was a little surprising he chose to land at Arkansas State. However, this is a good position for Malzahn to gain head coaching experience, as he coached at three Arkansas high schools (Shiloh Christian, Springdale and Hughes), and the Red Wolves are positioned to be one of the top teams in the Sun Belt in 2012.

Jim McElwain, Colorado State – After helping Alabama win two national titles over the last three years, McElwain is ready to lead his own program. This is his first head coaching gig, but McElwain has worked under one of the top coaches in college football (Nick Saban) and has experience out West, playing and coaching at Eastern Washington and coaching at Montana State and in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. Although Colorado State has been down recently, don’t be surprised if McElwain engineers a quick turnaround in 2012.

Garrick McGee, UAB – McGee has been a rising star in the assistant ranks over the last 10 years, making stops at Toledo, UNLV, Northwestern and Arkansas. With low fan support and a stadium in bad shape, UAB isn’t an easy place to win. However, McGee’s experience in the Southeast should pay dividends in recruiting, and at 38 years old, he should breathe some much-needed life into the program.

Wait and See

Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State – DeRuyter is a California native, so landing at Fresno State was a good spot for his first head coaching position. DeRuyter is known as a solid defensive coordinator, and led Texas A&M to a victory over Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in December. The Bulldogs seemed to hit a plateau under former coach Pat Hill. Is DeRuyter the guy to take them to the next level?

Kyle Flood, Rutgers – With Greg Schiano’s decision to depart Rutgers a week before Signing Day, filling this coaching void was especially difficult for athletic director Tim Pernetti. Flood does not have any head coaching experience, but has been a solid asset on the recruiting trail and helped to keep the 2012 class intact. Only time will tell whether Flood can keep the momentum going from Schiano’s tenure or if Rutgers will slip back to the bottom of the Big East.

Curtis Johnson, Tulane – The Green Wave has struggled to find success in recent years, with their last winning record coming in 2002 under Chris Scelfo. Johnson is a curious hire, as he has no head coaching or coordinator experience. However, he is from New Orleans and has coached with the Saints for the last six years. Johnson is regarded as a good recruiter, which should be a valuable asset for Tulane as it looks to get back into bowl contention.

Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss – Johnson has a wealth of experience as an assistant and served as The Citadel’s head coach for three years (2001-03) and one year at Gardner-Webb (1983). Although his resume is solid, Johnson isn’t the youngest hire (60) and posted a 12-22 record in his tenure at The Citadel.

Charley Molnar, UMass – This is Molnar’s first head coaching gig, but he’s compiled a wealth of experience from stops at Illinois State, Kent State, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. As a native of New Jersey, Molnar should be familiar with the Northeast and the recruiting grounds for the Minutemen. Considering 2012 will be the first year for UMass on the FBS level, the first two or three seasons could be a real challenge for Molnar.

Failing Marks

Norm Chow, Hawaii – As a native of Hawaii, this is the perfect spot for Chow to land after spending all of his career as an assistant coach. However, that’s exactly the problem. Why is Chow getting his first head coaching gig at age 65? Chow’s offenses at Utah and UCLA were underwhelming, but he has the potential to put together some prolific attacks in the Mountain West.

Bob Davie, New Mexico – After Mike Locksley’s disastrous tenure, this is a good hire in the sense it should bring some stability to the program. However, Davie’s last head coaching gig came in 2001 and he posted a 35-25 record in five seasons at Notre Dame. Davie’s ability to recruit Texas certainly helped his ability to land this position, but after sitting out the last 10 years, this is a strange hire.

Tony Levine, Houston – Levine is well-liked by the players and is certainly familiar with the team after spending the last four years as an assistant with the Cougars. However, Levine has zero head coaching experience outside of the TicketCity Bowl win over Penn State. Also, Levine has never been a coordinator on the college level. Former coach Kevin Sumlin has laid the groundwork for the Cougars to be successful in the next few seasons and now it's up to Levine to continue that momentum. While neither experience guarantees success, Levine is a curious hire for a program moving up to the Big East in 2013.

Bill O’Brien, Penn State – Considering the circumstances at Penn State, there wasn’t many top coaches willing to jump to Happy Valley. However, O’Brien is largely unproven and other New England assistants (Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels and Charlie Weis) haven’t exactly done well away from Bill Belichick. O’Brien has a difficult job ahead of him and following a legend like Joe Paterno won’t be easy.

Carl Pelini, FAU – Considering FAU has won just five games in the last two years, Pelini is going to get a chance to rebuild and put his stamp on the program. However, he has no head coaching experience and has not coached in Florida before. The Owls have the ability to pluck some solid talent from the area, but it may take Pelini time to build the recruiting pipelines, especially after getting off to a rough start with one area coach. Also, Pelini was listed as the defensive coordinator at Nebraska, but how much control did he have over the gameplan with his brother (Bo) one of the top defensive minds in college football? Good coaches can come from anywhere and with a variety of backgrounds, but this is a strange fit for a program that could have used a higher-profile assistant, especially one with ties in Florida.

Charlie Weis, Kansas – After a disastrous two-year stint under Turner Gill, the Jayhawks desperately needed a new face of the program and someone who could get this team back on the map. Mission Accomplished. Weis has raised the profile of Kansas football, but now has to prove he can win in a stacked Big 12. Weis compiled a 35-27 record in five seasons at Notre Dame, but slumped to a 16-21 mark in the final three years. Landing transfers Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps have immediately boosted the Jayhawks’ quarterback play for the next couple of years. However, can Weis recruit well enough on defense to turn Kansas into a consistent bowl team? The results from South Bend suggest that won’t be the case.

<p> Athlon grades college football's best and worst new coaching hires for 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 10, 2012 - 07:12
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-7-stanford-cardinal

-by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on twitter)

No. 7: Stanford Cardinal (22 total signees)

Pac-12 Rank: 1st
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 7
National Signees: 8

Where They Got 'Em:

David Shaw and staff signed an excellent class of 22 student-athletes from all over the nation. The future Cardinal hail from 14 different states, including three each from California, Texas and Arizona. Stanford also inked a pair of signees from Florida and Washington, as well as one player each from the states of Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia and Utah.

Perhaps no team in the nation closed better on Signing Day than the Cardinal, who signed seven players rated in the top 79 in the country. Another interesting note is that seven players in this star-studded class have fathers who played in the NFL. The most famous surname in that group belongs to Barry Sanders Jr., son of NFL Hall of Famer Barry Sanders. The young running back amassed 5,037 yards and 70 touchdowns during his career at Heritage Hall in Oklahoma City.

Areas of Focus:

Stanford signed one of the top offensive line groups ever seen in one recruiting class. With All-Americans David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin headed to the NFL, the seven new Cardinal blockers could compete for early playing time. The o-line crew includes three players who ranked in the top 30 of the AC100. Andrus Peat was thought to be a Nebraska lean with his brother playing for the Cornhuskers, but the son of former NFL lineman Todd Peat chose to matriculate in Palo Alto. Kyle Murphy was ranked as the top offensive lineman in the state of California, while Josh Garnett was the best blocker from the state of Washington. Brandon Fanaika (Pleasant Grove, Utah) was ranked as a top 10 offensive guard in the country, but he is expected to take a two-year church mission before enrolling at Stanford in 2014.

The defensive line was also a priority for the Cardinal, and the new crew is led by AC100 defensive end Aziz Shittu. The Atwater native decided to play his college ball close to home, and Shittu registered 101 tackles and eight sacks as a senior at Buhach Colony HS. Luke Kaumatule (Honolulu, Hawaii) and Jordan Watkins (Decatur, Ga.) were also highly-rated pass rushers.

Stanford also focused on the wide receiver position, signing four new pass catchers. Conner Crane (Lantana, Texas), Dontonio Jordan (Hickory Creek, Texas) and Michael Rector (Gig Harbor, Wash.) will be joined by Cardinal legacy Kodi Whitfield (Los Angeles) at wideout. Whitfield is the son of former Stanford offensive tackle and 15-year NFL veteran Bob Whitfield.

Along with Peat, Murphy, Garnett, Shittu and Sanders Jr., the two other AC100 signees are linebacker Noor Davis (Leesburg, Fla.) and cornerback Alex Carter (Ashburn, Va.). Davis was the recipient of this year’s High School Butkus Award as the nation’s top prep linebacker, and he is the nephew of NFL Hall of Famer Andre Tippett. Carter was named Virginia’s Gatorade State Player of the Year.

Positional Breakdown:

Offense: QB: 0, RB: 1, WR: 4, TE: 0, OL: 7, ATH: 1
Defense: DE: 3, DT: 1, LB: 2, DB: 3, K: 0

AC100 Recruits:

21. Andrus Peat, OL (6-7, 305), Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol
25. Kyle Murphy, OL (6-7, 278), San Clemente (Calif.) High
30. Josh Garnett, OL (6-3, 305), Puyallup (Wash.) High
49. Noor Davis, LB (6-4, 235), Leesburg (Fla.) High
63. Aziz Shittu, DE (6-3, 275), Atwater (Calif.) Buhach
76. Alex Carter, CB (6, 195), Ashburn (Va.) Briar Woods
79. Barry Sanders Jr., RB (5-10, 185), Oklahoma City (Okla.) Heritage Hall

Other National Signees:

Brandon Fanalka, OL (6-3, 320), Pleasant Grove (Utah) High

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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

5. Florida State Seminoles
6. Michigan Wolverines
7. Stanford Cardinal
8. Mon., Feb. 13
9. Tues., Feb. 14
10. Wed., Feb. 15
11. Thur., Feb. 16
12. Fri., Feb. 17
13. Mon., Feb. 20
14. Tues., Feb. 21
15. Wed., Feb. 22
16. Thur., Feb. 23
17. Fri., Feb. 24
18. Mon., Feb. 27
19. Tues., Feb. 28
20. Wed., Feb. 29
21. Thur., Mar. 1
22. Fri., Mar. 2
23. Sat., Mar. 3
24. Sun., Mar. 4
25. Sun., Mar. 4

<p> The Stanford landed the No. 7 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 10, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Eli Manning, New York Giants, NFL
Path: /nfl/eli-manning-hall-famer


Like it or not, Eli’s “Manning face” will be immortalized in bronze when his bust is unveiled at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. And it will only take five years after he retires — Manning is not only a Hall of Famer, he’s a first-ballot lock.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft — a class that also included Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers — Manning has quickly established himself as one of the most durable signal-callers and one of the most dependable passers under fourth-quarter and playoff pressure. That combination has made Manning one of the most productive quarterbacks the game has ever seen.

Manning has played 119 consecutive regular season games, the longest active streak in the post-Peyton and really-retired-Favre era. Manning has thrown for 27,579 yards, which is good for 51st all-time — with 14 of the names ahead of him already in the Hall and a few more (Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Tom Brady) waiting their turn. Manning’s 185 career TD passes rank 42nd all-time — with 17 ahead in the Hall and the aforementioned usual suspects already writing their speeches for Canton.

But Manning doesn’t need to compile stats; he’s already punched his ticket with his fourth-quarter and playoff heroics. Manning has an 8–3 record in the playoffs, with two Super Bowl MVP awards and a pair of Vince Lombardi Trophies. In Super Bowl XLII, Manning led a 12-play, 83-yard game-winning drive; in Super Bowl XLVI, Manning led a nine-play, 88-yard game-winning drive.

And Manning doesn’t just produce in crunch time on Super Sunday; Eli threw an NFL record 15 fourth-quarter TDs in 2011. When it matters most, Manning is at his best. And his best ranks among the best of all time.

Manning may not be the smoothest New Yorker living in Manhattan, but it doesn’t take Joe Namath to guarantee Eli’s place among history’s elite.

– Nathan Rush


God bless you, You make the case against Eli Manning’s Hall of Fame candidacy better than I ever could. On each individual player’s page, the good folks at PFR provide similarity scores, listing those players whose careers are most similar to the player in question. Here are the players to whom Eli Manning is most analogous: David Garrard, Jake Delhomme, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, Chad Pennington, Stan Humphries, Tony Romo, Aaron Brooks, Daryle Lamonica and Doug Williams. Not exactly Unitas, Montana and Marino, is it?

Statistically, Manning doesn’t even compare very favorably to his peers, much less the all-time greats. His career passer rating of 82.1 ranks 21st among active quarterbacks. His career completion percentage is 58.4 in an era when anything below 60 is unacceptable. His record as a starting quarterback is a rather pedestrian 69–50 in the regular season, a winning percentage of .579 that ranks below Delhomme’s .583.

I can anticipate the protests: Eli’s won two Super Bowls. Well, so has Jim Plunkett, and no one’s clamoring for a Plunkett bust in Canton.

Manning’s eight career postseason wins have been compressed into two bursts. In six of Eli's eight seasons in the league, his teams either failed to make the playoffs (2004, 2009, 2010) or were one and done when they did (2005, 2006, 2008). And let’s not forget the considerable contributions of his teammates to his success; in his two Super Bowl campaigns, his receivers saw to it that his frequent prayers were answered.

As with all New York athletes, Manning’s highs are inflated, and his lows are magnified. Coming off a Super Bowl win, it’s natural for fans and media to blow his career accomplishments far out of proportion. Once the dust settles, the perception of Eli will nestle in where it should: as a very good quarterback. But there is no Hall of Very Good.

– Rob Doster

<p> Does winning a second Super Bowl in five seasons make Giants quarterback Eli Manning a Hall of Famer?</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 16:28