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Path: /college-football/notre-dame-football-are-irish-top-25-team-2012

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Will Notre Dame Be a Top 25 Team in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Notre Dame should flirt with the top 25 for most of the season, but the Irish may have trouble stringing together signature wins to have true staying power. This may be a team that wins eight games during the regular season and then has a chance to finish in the top 25 with a bowl victory. The easiest stretch of Notre Dame’s season will come in November with Pittsburgh, Boston College on the road and then Wake Forest, but those three games are sandwiched between road trips to Oklahoma (Oct. 27) and USC (Nov. 24), both of which should start the season in the top five. With eight starters returning on offense and playmakers likes Manti Te’o and Aaron Lynch on defense, Notre Dame has the ability to be a top 25, but if the Irish go on turnover binges like they did a year ago, all bets are off.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Notre Dame is an interesting beast. They never play an easy schedule — you won't find any Sam Houston States or Montanas on this year's slate — but the Irish are consistently overrated by the pollsters. So an eight-win Notre Dame is most likely a Top 25 team over an eight-win Iowa or North Carolina or Cal. But getting to eight wins with this schedule won't be easy for a team that still needs to find a quarterback. Boston College and Navy are the two easiest games on the schedule. Home tests against Purdue, Wake Forest, Miami (in Chicago), BYU and Pitt all have to be wins if Brian Kelly wants to go bowling. Road games against USC and Oklahoma appear to be the only two guaranteed losses while Michigan State, Michigan and Stanford look like true swing games.

The amount of talent Kelly has stockpiled in the front seven should allow the Irish to match-up with more physical teams like Michigan State and Stanford. And the offense has plenty of depth along the line, and, despite losing Michael Floyd, loads of talent at the skill positions too. Should Kelly find a stabilizing force to run his offense, a 10-win season is well within reach. Otherwise, the NFL-esque front-seven and ground game should carry this team to eight wins...and a Top 25 ranking.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think Notre Dame is definitely one of the top 25 teams in college football. I was a little surprised the Irish did not win more than eight games last season, but turnovers and inconsistent quarterback play prevented this team from making a BCS bowl appearance. Brian Kelly is definitely the right coach to lead Notre Dame, but I think this team might be a year away from making a push to get 10 wins and a BCS bowl.

The biggest question mark facing the Irish in 2012 will be quarterback play. Tommy Rees is the team’s returning starter, but Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel will all get a chance to unseat him this spring. Rees can be productive, but he’s not a difference maker. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Golson or Hendrix take the first snap of the season. Outside of the quarterback position, the offense is in good shape. Cierre Wood is back after rushing for 1,000 yards last season, and tight end Tyler Eifert is likely a first-team All-American selection. The line also returns three starters.

While the offense has its question marks, the defense is starting to assemble some nice pieces. The line should be one of the best in college football, while linebacker Manti Te’o is back after recording 128 tackles last season. The secondary needs some work, especially at cornerback where Gary Gray and Robert Blanton depart.

The schedule is a key obstacle when examining Notre Dame’s chances of finishing in the top 25. The Irish play nine bowl teams, including USC, Michigan, Michigan State and Oklahoma. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Notre Dame pull off an upset or two, but 8-4 or 9-3 seems to be the most likely record, which places them anywhere in the 15-25 range of most preseason polls. 

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
It’s fashionable at this time of year to talk about how overrated Notre Dame will be in the upcoming season, but I strongly believe the Fighting Irish will be a top-25 team in 2012. There are some issues to be resolved — who will be the starting quarterback is chief among them — but Brian Kelly has assembled a talented roster that is capable of winning nine games against a very difficult schedule.

The Irish will no doubt miss receiving Michael Floyd, but I believe the offense will be better this fall thanks to the return of 1,000-yard rusher Cierre Wood, outstanding tight end Tyler Eifert and a solid nucleus on the offensive line. The defense, led by All-America candidate Manti Te’o, should be strong once again.

A big key for Notre Dame will be cutting down on its turnovers. Last year, the Irish committed a total of 10 turnovers in their first two games, a three-point loss to South Florida and a four-point loss to Michigan. Some turnovers are bad luck and some are the result of poor play by the offense. Luck, even at Notre Dame, can’t be controlled, but you’d have to think Kelly, one of the game’s top offensive guys, will have his team taking better care of the ball in 2012. And if that’s the case, you can expect to find the Fighting Irish in the top 25 all season long.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
My answer would be barely. Notre Dame looks like an 8-4 team, but I see the Irish potential as closer to 9-3 than 7-5. Obviously the biggest ND question for the 2012 season involves another quarterback battle between Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, and Everett Golson, and it could possibly include heralded freshman Gunner Kiel. There are plenty of solid skill players back (Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, TJ Jones, Tyler Eifert), but Brian Kelly must get more out of his signal callers. The defense should be a strength, especially in the front seven. Senior linebacker Manti Te’o and sophomore end Aaron Lynch will lead a unit that should keep the Irish in most games, especially if an inexperienced but talented secondary develops. Notre Dame got off to a rough start last season, losing two games that it controlled and should have won. If Kelly's bunch can avoid the costly turnovers from a year ago and settle on a quarterback, the Irish will be a dangerous team. Despite road trips to Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC, I still think ND finishes in the lower half of the Top 25.

Where will Athlon predict Notre Dame to finish in the 2012 final standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day. 

Related Notre Dame Content

2012 Notre Dame Spring Preview
2012 Athlon Recruiting Rankings: No. 17 Notre Dame

College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

Early Top 25 for 2012

College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Will Notre Dame be a top 25 team in 2012?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 06:58
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/10-coaches-replace-bobby-petrino-if-hes-fired

The future of Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is uncertain. Although Petrino sports an impressive 34-17 record in four seasons with the Razorbacks, he could be in danger of losing his job, after lying to athletic director Jeff Long about the details of his motorcycle wreck last week. Petrino did not inform Long that Jessica Dorrell – an Arkansas athletic department employee – was riding with him, despite indicating so in the police report.

Taver Johnson has been selected as Arkansas’ interim coach, but what if Bobby Petrino is fired? The Razorbacks likely won’t hire a full-time head coach until the end of the 2012 season, but it’s always interesting to ponder the possibilities.

If Bobby Petrino is fired, here are 10 coaching candidates Arkansas could target at the end of the 2012 season –

Mario Cristobal, head coach, FIU – Even though BCS programs have attempted to lure Cristobal away from FIU, he has yet to leave Miami. Cristobal inherited an awful situation and the Golden Panthers went 1-11 in his first season (2007). However, FIU has made steady progress since then, winning 15 games over the last two years and making back-to-back bowl appearances. As a Miami native, it will take a great opportunity for Cristobal to leave the state of Florida. However, there’s no question Cristobal is ready for the opportunity to lead a BCS program.


Dave Doeren, head coach, Northern Illinois – Doeren did a nice job with Northern Illinois in his first season, leading the Huskies to the 2011 MAC Championship with an impressive 11-3 record. Doeren has made stops as an assistant at Montana, Kansas and Wisconsin and so far, has been a good hire for Northern Illinois. With just one year of head coaching experience, Doeren may be too green for the Arkansas position if it comes available at the end of the 2012 season.


Sonny Dykes, head coach, Louisiana Tech Dykes enters his third season at Louisiana Tech with a 13-12 record, with an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl last season. The Bulldogs return much of the core that won the WAC title last season and are expected to begin the year as the favorites to claim the conference title. Dykes has built a solid resume, making stops as an assistant at Kentucky, Texas Tech and Arizona. Inexperience is really the only concern about Dykes, as he hasn’t been a head coach at a BCS program and has only two years of head coaching experience. Dykes has Louisiana Tech on the rise and it’s only a matter of time before he jumps to a BCS program.


Skip Holtz, head coach, South Florida – The last name Holtz is certainly one that Arkansas’ fans are familiar with. Lou Holtz coached at Arkansas from 1977-83, leading the Razorbacks to a 60-21-2 record. Skip Holtz has made stops as a head coach at Connecticut, East Carolina and South Florida and has an overall record of 85-62. The Bulls are just 13-12 under Holtz, but the team could be ready to turn the corner in 2012 with a handful of key players returning. Holtz has the reputation of running a clean program, which has to appeal to Arkansas after dealing with Petrino’s incident.


Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette – Hudspeth is a rising star in the coaching ranks and likely won’t be with the Ragin’ Cajuns for much longer. After compiling an 86-21 record in seven years with North Alabama, Hudspeth worked as an assistant with Dan Mullen at Mississippi State from 2009-10. He inherited a Louisiana-Lafayette team that went 3-9 prior to his arrival and led the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 9-4 record and a victory over San Diego State in the New Orleans Bowl. There’s very little downside to Hudspeth. He’s a proven winner at two different stops, has some experience in the SEC and is only 43 years old.


Gus Malzahn, head coach, Arkansas State – Arkansas fans are certainly familiar with Malzahn, but would he want to return to Fayetteville? Malzahn was a successful high school coach at three stops – Hughes, Shiloh Christian and Springdale. Houston Nutt picked Malzahn as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator for the 2006 season, but the pairing never worked. Malzahn left after one season with the Razorbacks and joined Todd Graham’s staff at Tulsa. After two years with the Golden Hurricane, Malzahn became the offensive coordinator at Auburn and helped to lead the Tigers to a national title in 2010. Malzahn is making his first stop as a head coach in 2012 with Arkansas State. After the way his first stop in Fayetteville transpired, it would not be a shock if Malzahn does not want to coach at Arkansas. However, if the job is open, the Razorbacks should do everything possible to lure Malzahn to Fayetteville.


Paul Rhoads, head coach, Iowa State – Prying Rhoads away from Iowa State won’t be easy. The Iowa native has led the Cyclones to an 18-20 record and two bowl appearances through three seasons. Winning at Iowa State is not easy, but Rhoads has made the Cyclones a tough out each and every week in Big 12 play. In addition to his experience at Iowa State, Rhoads has worked as a defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh and Auburn.


Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama – Smart’s name has been circulated on many coaching lists over the last two years, but he has decided to remain in Tuscaloosa. Smart has no head coaching experience, but has worked as an assistant at LSU, Georgia and with the Miami Dolphins. He has also served under college football’s top coach (Nick Saban) for the last five years. Although Smart will get his chance to run a BCS program, the lack of success by Saban assistants Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley could work against him.


Charlie Strong, head coach, Louisville – Strong may not be a perfect fit at Arkansas, but he’s pretty close. He was born in Batesville, Ark., and played at Central Arkansas. Strong also has SEC coaching experience, making stops as an assistant at Ole Miss, Florida and South Carolina. Although Strong’s record is just 14-12 in two years with Louisville, the program was in bad shape when he arrived, and Louisville is expected to be the frontrunner for the Big East title in 2012. If the Arkansas job opens up, Strong will probably be near the top of the wish list.

Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Just like fellow Sun Belt coaches Mark Hudspeth and Mario Cristobal, Taggart did not inherit a good situation. However, in just two years, he has turned the Hilltoppers into a Sun Belt title contender. After going 2-10 in Taggart’s first year, Western Kentucky rebounded with a 7-5 record and finished second in the Sun Belt standings. Taggart worked for three seasons (2007-09) under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and is one of college football’s youngest head coaches.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on twitter)

Related Arkansas Content

Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012
Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

<p> 10 Coaches to Replace Bobby Petrino If He's Fired at Arkansas.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 06:50
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-49

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

The first weekend is in the books.

No, the New York Mets are not going to finish 162-0 and David Wright will not lead the majors in hitting (.667). No, the Red Sox and Yankees are not going to go winless and finish tied for last in the AL East. No, the Rangers will not finish 12th in the American League in runs scored. No, Miguel Cabrera and Matt Kemp won’t finish as the No. 1 and 2 fantasy players in baseball – okay, well, that one could be 100% true.

So the first weekend of action is more about kicking back and enjoying the fact that America’s pastime is back in action. So be sure to take the current fantasy baseball rankings with a grain of salt. Yet, it doesn’t mean that we can learn a few things to tweak our rosters.

Each weekend, Athlon will analyze the hottest names from around the fantasy diamond and break down who needs to be added to your roster or who needs to be ignored. Here is how the rankings shake out after one weekend of action:

Week 1's Top 25 Hitters:

  Name Pos. Team R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Matt Kemp OF LAD 6 2 8 1 .412 1.213
2. Miguel Cabrera 1B DET 5 3 8 0 .455 1.806
3. Carlos Pena 1B TB 3 2 7 0 .500 1.654
4. Yoenis Cespedes OF OAK 3 3 7 0 .308 1.477
5. Eric Hosmer 1B KC 5 2 4 1 .286 1.000
6. Carlos Beltran OF STL 4 2 3 1 .389 1.143
7. Rafael Furcal* SS STL 3 0 3 2 .526 1.234
8. Alex Avila C DET 4 2 5 0 .417 1.500
9. Corey Hart OF MIL 3 3 4 0 .444 2.101
10. Jay Bruce OF CIN 3 3 5 0 .273 1.341
11. Nick Markakis OF BAL 3 2 4 0 .556 2.111
12. Starlin Castro SS CHC 2 0 1 4 .385 .847
13. Prince Fielder 1B DET 4 2 3 0 .417 1.346
14. Cameron Maybin OF SD 4 1 2 2 .294 .839
15. Adam LaRoche* 1B WAS 3 2 4 0 .417 1.379
16. David Freese 3B STL 2 1 6 0 .421 1.000
17. Dustin Ackley 2B SEA 4 1 3 1 .316 .790
18. Austin Jackson OF DET 5 0 2 0 .571 1.482
19. Emilio Bonifacio OF FLA 3 0 1 3 .333 .777
20. Zack Cozart SS CIN 4 1 2 0 .545 1.765
21. Evan Longoria 3B TB 4 1 1 0 .600 1.792
22. Kelly Johnson 2B TOR 5 1 2 0 .357 1.097
23. Shane Robinson* OF STL 2 1 4 0 .667 1.834
24. Chone Figgins* 3B SEA 2 0 4 1 .412 1.000
25. Dee Gordon SS LAD 3 0 1 3 .222 .578

* - unowned in the Athlon Sports Fantasy League

Find Your Middle Infield Help Now

Cincinnati’s Zach Cozart is had a top 25 weekend after hitting in the two-hole all three games of Opening Weekend. That puts the rookie directly in front of Joey Votto, Scott Rolen and Jay Bruce. Don’t buy Top-10 shortstop value just yet, but he certainly has the bat to be an adequate producer at a shallow position all season long.

Washington’s Ian Desmond also had a key weekend, hitting with a .385/.429/.462 line for the weekend. He led off all three games and has a chance to provide big return on investment when it comes to stolen bases and runs scored in a much-improving line-up. But he could also easily get to double-digit dingers and a sound slash-line.

St. Louis’ Rafael Furcal might have been the biggest surprise of the weekend, however, don’t go wasting a top waiver priority on the aging shortstop. He has topped the 400 at-bat mark only one time since 2007 and has failed to top the 200 AB plateau in three of the last five years. He should be helpful when in the line-up, but like much of the Cardinals' batting order, he needs to stay fully healthy to be valuable.

Kelly Johnson, Aaron Hill, Chris Getz and Rueben Tejada all had solid first weekends that require more observation time.

Yoenis Cespedes is For Real

Normally, it takes time for imports to get acclimated with the speed, control and raw talent of big league pitching. Well, Cespedes is putting that myth to bed as he stroked three home runs in his first four games. He has seven RBIs and has the raw athletic ability to swipe some bases too. I cannot imagine the Cuban defector didn’t get drafted in your league, but if he happens to be sitting on your wire, do not hesistate to snap him up.

Week 1's Top 25 Pitchers:

  Name Team IP W SV K ERA WHIP
1. Chad Billingsly LAD 8.1 1 0 11 0.00 0.48
2. Jared Weaver LAA 8.0 1 0 10 0.00 0.50
3. Roy Halladay PHI 8.0 1 0 5 0.00 0.25
4. Frank Francisco NYM 3.0 0 3 4 0.00 0.67
5. Jeff Samardzija* CHC 8.2 1 0 8 1.04 0.46
6. Fernando Rodney TB 1.2 0 2 1 0.00 0.00
7. Zack Greinke MIL 7.0 1 0 7 0.00 0.57
8. Lance Lynn* STL 6.2 1 0 8 1.35 0.45
9. Clayton Richard* SD 7.0 1 0 3 0.00 0.29
10. Lucas Harrell HOU 7.0 1 0 4 0.00 0.43
11. Justin Masterson CLE 8.0 0 0 10 1.12 0.38
12. Justin Verlander DET 8.0 0 0 7 0.00 0.38
13. Duane Below* DET 2.2 2 0 3 0.00 0.38
14. Jake Arrieta* BAL 7.0 1 0 4 0.00 0.57
15. Kyle Lohse* STL 7.1 1 0 3 1.23 0.27
16. Johnny Cueto CIN 7.0 1 0 4 0.00 0.71
17. Aroldis Chapman CIN 3.0 1 0 5 0.00 0.33
18. Brandon League SEA 3.0 0 2 2 0.00 0.67
19. Jeremy Hellickson TB 8.2 1 0 4 0.00 0.81
20. Jason Hammel* BAL 8.0 1 0 5 1.12 0.63
21. Javy Guerra LAD 2.0 0 2 2 0.00 0.50
22. Ryan Dempster* CHC 7.2 0 0 10 1.17 0.65
23. Josh Lindblom* LAD 4.0 1 0 3 0.00 0.50
24. Jim Johnson BAL 1.2 0 2 2 0.00 1.20
25. Luis Perez* TOR 4.0 1 0 3 0.00 0.75

* - unowned in the Athlon Sports Fantasy League

Bullpen Happenings

It wasn’t a good weekend for bullpens. Boston’s group is in complete disarray and I would not be rostering any of the names (Alfredo Aceves, Mark Melancon, Franklin Morales, Vincente Padilla) who could get the potential save chances. Look for the Red Sox to go after a rental in early summer — aka Jonathan Broxton, Huston Street, Frank Francisco, Matt Thornton, etc. Speaking of...

Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain and Addison Reed were all preseason picks to land in the closing role on the Southside of Chicago. Yet, it appears that Hector Santiago, who pitched a perfect ninth on Saturday to earn his first career save, might be the guy to close games for the White Sox. Robin Ventura still might play the match-ups, but Santiago is worth an add this week. 

With Drew Storen still a few weeks away from returning to action — should his elbow injury not be (gasp) anything worse — it appears that Davey Johnson’s decision to platoon Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez was no empty threat. Both Lidge and Rodriguez were effective this weekend, combining for 2.0 scoreless innings with five total strikeouts and one save for each.

-by Braden Gall


<p> Athlon looks back at another weekend of fantasy baseball action.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 10:44
Path: /college-football/acc-2012-quarterback-rankings

The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the quarterbacks in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel. 

Here's how Athlon ranks the 12 quarterbacks in the ACC for 2012:

1. Tajh Boyd, Clemson (JR)
Passing Stats:
3,828 yards, 33 TDs, 12 INTs, 59.7%
Rushing Stats: 218 yards, 5 TDs

The combination of coordinator Chad Morris, Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins quickly helped to turn Clemson’s offense into the best in the ACC last year. In his first year as the starter, Boyd threw for 33 touchdowns (best in the ACC) and averaged 273.4 passing yards per game. He posted at least three touchdown scores in seven games, but threw nine interceptions over his final six games. With another offseason to pickup Morris’ scheme, Boyd should be more comfortable with the offense in 2012. The Tigers also return running back Andre Ellington and the ACC’s top receiving corps. The offensive line has a few holes, but Clemson’s offense shouldn’t miss much of a beat in 2012.

2. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech (JR)
Passing Stats: 3,013 yards, 19 TD, 10 INT, 59.8%
Rushing Stats: 153 att., 469 yards, 11 TD

This monster athlete enters his second full season under center after finishing No. 2 in the ACC in total offense a year ago (248.7 ypg). In fact, his 3,482 yards of offense broke Tyrod Taylor’s Hokie single-season mark set the previous year. Checking in at 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds, Thomas conjures up slightly less explosive visions of Cam Newton with his ability to move the pile on the ground — he might be the best QB sneaker in the nation. He will be breaking in a new offensive line and running backs, so if Virginia Tech is going to win its fifth Coastal Division in six years, the junior quarterback must be an ACC Player of the Year candidate.

3. EJ Manuel, Florida State (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,666 yards, 18 TDs, 8 INTs, 65.3%
Rushing Stats: 151 yards, 4 TDs

Injuries derailed Manuel from fully capitalizing on his potential last season. After tossing six touchdown passes in his first two games, he was injured against Oklahoma and missed the following game at Clemson. Manuel came off the bench against Wake Forest and started the remaining eight games, but he seemed to be dealing with the shoulder injury off and on throughout the 2011 season. Combine Manuel’s health, a shaky offensive line and young receiving corps, and you start to see why Florida State ranked eighth in the ACC in total offense. With a full offseason to recover and a full complement of emerging weapons at receiver, Manuel should easily surpass last season’s totals. Manuel has always had the talent and should put everything together to have a monster season in Tallahassee.  

4. Mike Glennon, NC State (SR)
Passing Stats:
3,054 yards, 31 TDs, 12 INTs, 62.5%
Rushing Stats: -110 yards, 1 TD

Coach Tom O’Brien had to make a difficult choice entering spring practice last season. Although Russell Wilson was one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks, he spent the spring playing baseball, which allowed Glennon to get all of the work with the first team. Although Wilson decided to return to the gridiron, O’Brien made an interesting and risky decision, choosing to go with Glennon as the starter for the 2012 season. Although Glennon had zero career starts going into last year, O’Brien’s confidence in the 6-foot-6 passer was rewarded. Glennon ranked second in the ACC with 31 touchdown tosses and completed 62.5 percent of his throws. NC State loses receiver T.J. Graham and tight end George Bryan, but the offense is expected to get better with Glennon going through another spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback. It’s a tight battle between Manuel and Glennon for the third spot on this list – and both could be worthy of all-conference honors at the end of the 2012 season.

5. Bryn Renner, North Carolina (JR)
Passing Stats:
3,086 yards, 26 TD, 13 INT, 68.3%
Rushing Stats: 57 att., minus-88 yards, TD

The strong-armed junior enters his second full season as the starter in Chapel Hill after leading the ACC in efficiency a year ago (159.44). Renner was the only ACC passer to complete more than 66% of his passes and he finished second in passing yards behind only Tajh Boyd. Losing star wideout Dwight Jones will hurt, but right-hand man Giovani Bernard returns to the backfield to carry the football and take the pressure off Renner. In the face of NCAA sanctions, this Tar Heels team has a chance to push for the best record in the division, but much of it hinges on Renner’s continued — and expected  — development in Larry Fedora’s new offensive scheme.

6. Tanner Price, Wake Forest (JR)
Passing Stats:
3,017 yards, 20 TDs, 6 INTs, 60%
Rushing Stats: -53 yards, 1 TD

Price showed tremendous progress in his second year as Wake Forest’s starting quarterback, throwing for 3,017 yards and 20 scores, while tossing only seven picks. He threw for at least 200 yards in each of the first seven games and completed 20 of 32 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-10 rout over Maryland. Price’s numbers were a big improvement from a freshman season that watched him throw for 1,349 yards and seven scores. There’s no question Price is one of Wake Forest’s best players, but his top target (Chris Givens) departed early for the NFL Draft. With four starters gone on the offensive line, Price may not have as much time to throw this year, and Wake Forest’s coaching staff has to be worried about him taking too much upon his shoulders. As long as Price keeps his completion percentage around 60 percent and keeps his interceptions under 10, the Demon Deacons figure to be in the mix for a bowl bid.  

7. Tevin Washington, Georgia Tech (SR)
Passing Stats:
1,652 yards, 11 TD, 8 INT, 49.3%
Rushing Stats: 243 att., 987 yards, 14 TD

Washington got his first taste of the starting lineup at the end of the 2010 season when he filled in for the injured Joshua Nesbitt. He started off last season on a (relative) tear by throwing for over 200 yards per game in the first four contests. He then failed to top the 100-yard mark in five of his last seven games and completed no more than six passes per game until the final game of the season. However, he posted four 100-yard games over those last eight contests and showed signs of life in the passing game in the season finale (11-of-15, 137 yards, TD, 0 INT). Life will be tougher without wideout Stephen Hill, but this system only needs one or two big passing plays per game to succeed. As a senior in his second full season as the starter with four offensive line starters back, Washington should be poised for his most productive, most efficient season yet.

8. Sean Renfree, Duke (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,891 yards, 14 TD, 11 INT, 64.9%
Rushing Stats: 58 att., minus-58 yards, 4 TD

Tajh Boyd and Bryn Renner were the only two ACC quarterbacks who were more efficient than Renfree in 2011. And the Blue Devils quarterback did it with much less around him. Renfree only won three games a year ago, and certainly his stats might be padded by a few garbage-time situations, but Duke was competitive against bowl eligible teams North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. Renfree loses one of his top targets now that Donovan Varner is gone but will have leading pass-catcher Conner Vernon back for his final season. With QB guru David Cutcliffe drawing up plays, Renfree has a chance to top the 3,000-yard mark in his final season.

9. Michael Rocco, Virginia (JR)
Passing Stats:
2,671 yards, 13 TD, 12 INT, 60.7%
Rushing Stats: 40 att., 20 yards, 2 TD

In his first year as the starter, Rocco did one thing no Cavs quarterback was able to do since 2007: Get his team to a bowl game. His efficiency — both completion percent and TD-to-INT ratio — need to show marked improvement if the Wahoos expect to return to the postseason once again. Yet, coach Mike London has this team humming at a level unseen in Charlottesville in a decade and the talent around Rocco the junior is only getting better. Yes, it was a blowout against a horrible Auburn defense, but the UVa quarterback posted his best game as a passer in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl when he completed 26-of-41 for his only career 300-yard game (312) and a career-high two touchdowns.

10. Stephen Morris, Miami (JR)
Passing Stats:
283 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT, 70.2%
Rushing Stats: 11 att., -2 yards, TD

Morris lost the starting battle with Jacory Harris last season but still saw action in five contests where he completed over 70% of his passes. But most of his production came in the Labor Day night showing against Maryland where he threw for 195 yards and scored his only touchdown. Considering his lack of playing time last year, Morris really hasn’t seen the field much since 2010. As a freshman, Morris got plenty of action down the stretch in relief of the injured Harris. He threw for 1,240 yards in six games and many thought had done enough to earn the starting job in 2011. With Harris gone, and a very young roster around him, the job appears to be Morris’ to lose. The junior will miss most of spring practice with a back injury, but is expected to return 100 percent in time for fall camp.

11. Chase Rettig, Boston College (JR)
Passing Stats:
1,960 yards, 12 TDs, 9 INTs, 53.6%
Rushing Stats: -84 yards, 1 TD

Rettig has taken his lumps over the last two years and could be ready to climb higher on this list in 2012. As a freshman, Rettig threw for 1,238 yards and six touchdowns, but tossed nine picks. Last year, he threw for 1,960 yards and 12 touchdowns, but threw for less than 200 yards in 10 out of 12 games. New coordinator Doug Martin did a good job of resurrecting New Mexico State’s offense last year and should bring improvement to Boston College. However, a new scheme won't fix all of the issues, as Rettig also needs help from the receiving corps and rushing attack. Although the coaching staff expects a better year out of Rettig in 2012, backup Josh Bordner could figure more into the gameplan. Bordner is a better runner, but does not have Rettig’s experience. 

12. C.J. Brown, Maryland (JR)
Passing Stats:
842 yards, 7 TDs, 6 INTs, 49.4%
Rushing Stats: 79 att., 574 yards, 5 TDs

Not much went right for the Terrapins last season. The offense ranked 10th in the ACC in scoring and passing and scored more than 21 points only once over the last six games. Brown made five starts last season and finished the year with 842 passing yards and seven scores, while adding 574 yards on the ground. His best performance came in a loss against Clemson, recording 339 total yards and four touchdowns. With Danny O’Brien transferring to Wisconsin, Brown is Maryland’s only scholarship quarterback this spring and any injury to him during the season would be costly. New coordinator Mike Locksley will incorporate more pro-style looks, which will require some adjustment on Brown's part for the upcoming season. Although Brown showed flashes of promise last year, he still has much to prove and begins the year ranked as the worst quarterback in the conference.

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

Related ACC Content

ACC Head Coach Rankings for 2012
College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

<p> Athlon ranks the quarterbacks in the ACC for the 2012 season.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 08:33
Path: /news/can-california-beat-stanford-and-washington-2012-pac-12-north-standings

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Can Cal Beat Stanford and Washington in the 2012 Pac-12 North Standings?

Scott Chong,, (@GoldenBlogs)
Cal, UW, and Stanford all have some big question marks heading into this next year.  Generally speaking, going with the best quarterback is a good starting point for predicting how the Pac-12 will shake out.  If he can stay healthy, Keith Price might be one of the top QBs in the league.  He'll have new WRs and a shaky defense, however.  It's hard for me to consider Stanford as a contender because they'll be breaking in a brand new quarterback.  As much as I hate to say it, Luck made that offense look a lot better than their talent-level, particularly at the skill positions.

For Cal, the biggest question marks are the offensive line, new inside linebackers and safeties, and consistent quarterback play.  Normally, you would expect a senior quarterback with a season of starting experience to be solid.  But Zach Maynard was so inconsistent last year that we still don't know which guy we'll get.  If we get the happy-feet, locking-on, turn-over machine, it'll be another 7 win (+/-1) season.  If we get the steady and accurate game manager that we saw during the late season win streak, then we have a shot to be competitive with UW.  Of course, quarterback play won't matter if we don't solidify our offensive line play.  We'll have at least two new starters, and might also need a new center if last year's starter can't learn to snap the ball consistently.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Cal can challenge for second place in the Pac-12 North, but I’m not sure if that’s a reflection on the Bears’ own merits as a contender or potential flaws with Stanford and Washington. Stanford likely will stumble without Andrew Luck. The question is how far. Will Stanford win nine games or take a nose dive? For Washington, the assumption is the defense will improve, but what if the Huskies continue to perform like the team that allowed 777 yards to Baylor in the bowl game? Cal might not be a contender for the Pac-12 championship, but the Bears could at least make things interesting in the division if Zach Maynard plays like he did in September. And don’t forget: Cal lost by single digits on the road to both Washington (by 8) and Stanford (by 4). Both of those games are back in Berkeley this year.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Absolutely, Cal can challenge in the Pac-12 North this fall. But quarterback Zach Maynard will have to play better football if the Bears are going to compete for anything in 2012. Through the first eight games last fall, he tossed 10 interceptions against only 12 touchdowns. He showed better care of the football over the final five games, throwing only two interceptions to go with five touchdowns. Cal turned to the running game over that stretch and went 3-1 to finish the regular season because of it. The rapport Maynard has with superstar wideout, and half-brother, Keenan Allen is obvious and the connection should be one of the nation's best combos. But Jeff Tedford needs his quarterback to play within the offense and undoubtedly wants to lean on the ground game.

Filling the gap left by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks will be difficult. More pressing might be the rebuilt coaching staff. Tedford had to replace some of his brightest and best young minds when Washington pilfered his regime of Tosh Lupoi and Eric Kiesau. With his rear end firmly placed on the hot seat, motivation should not be an issue for the winningest coach in Cal history. The good news? The Bears get Stanford, Washington and Oregon — the top three teams in the division — in the shadows of Tight Wad Hill this fall. 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
With Stanford losing Andrew Luck and the uncertainty surrounding Washington's defense, I think the door is open for California to challenge for second place in the North. There’s no question 2012 is going to be an important season for head coach Jeff Tedford. The Golden Bears are just 12-13 over the last two years and have not posted a double-digit win total since 2006. There’s a lot to like about California going into 2012, as the renovations to Memorial Stadium are complete and the roster has some quality talent waiting to step into playing time after back-to-back top-15 recruiting classes. The schedule features tough non-conference matchups against Nevada and Ohio State, but division foes Washington, Oregon and Stanford will all visit Berkeley. The biggest question mark facing California will be quarterback Zach Maynard. Although he finished the year with more touchdowns (17) than interceptions (12), he needs to be more consistent. The offense also needs to develop more receivers outside of Keenan Allen. Although the defense loses six starters, this unit has plenty of talent and shouldn’t be an issue. The opportunity is definitely there for California, but I’m going to guess this team won’t be much better on offense and will fall short of finishing second place in the Pac-12 North.

Ted Lee, Staff Writer,
Although the Bears finished 7-6 last season – they played some of their best opponents very well on the road for a half last season – Washington, Oregon, Stanford – but as was the case with Solomon Grundy, sometimes a half just isn't good enough. This season, the Bears return all of their top offensive playmakers while other top teams in the Pac-12 North have suffered major losses, and at long last, they'll get to break in a newly refurbished California Memorial Stadium – something that's been on the boards to various degrees since head coach Jeff Tedford began in 2002.

Following a topsy-turvy offseason which saw the California Golden Bears on the verge of landing three five-star recruits and a top 10 recruiting class only to see it slip away with the departure of defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi to the Washington Huskies, the Bears have a lot to look forward this season. On offense, they return starting quarterback Zach Maynard, who threw for 2,990 yards last season and 17 touchdowns, and tailback Isi Sofele, who ran for 1,322 yards. Perhaps the biggest offensive weapon the Bears have will be 6-foot-3 wide receiver Keenan Allen, Maynard's half-brother, who had 98 catches for 1,343 yards and will be highly watched by NFL scouts this season. But if the Bears are to improve upon last season's record, they'll have to find successful replacements on defense as they have to replace two starting defensive lineman, both inside linebackers, including Pac-12 defensive player of the year Mychal Kendricks, and both starting safeties as well. They can take some encouragement from the fact that defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast rotates his personnel frequently during the game so that many of this year's replacements will have had substantial playing time. Add to that kicker Vince D'Amato, whose extra points should be far less adventurous than they were last year, and the Bears are well-positioned to pull off a few surprises in 2012.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Cal has a chance at 2nd place in the Pac-12’s North division with Stanford losing Andrew Luck and Washington still trying to fix its defense, but I would not predict the Bears to finish that high. They do return some exciting skill players in potential All-America wideout Keenan Allen and running back Isi Sofele, but there were some key personnel losses that Jeff Tedford’s club suffered from last season. Cal lost its best offensive lineman (Mitchell Schwartz), defensive lineman (Trevor Guyton), the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year (linebacker Mychal Kendricks), both starting safeties (Sean Cattouse and D.J. Campbell) and two solid specialists (kicker Giorgio Tavecchio and punter Bryan Anger). That’s a ton of experience to be without when the Bears make September trips to Ohio State and USC. Cal does get division foes Oregon, Stanford and Washington at home, but the gap between the Bears and the Ducks and Cardinal still looks large to me. Stanford will have a nasty defense, and Washington should be improved with a revamped coaching staff that includes two Cal defectors - Tosh Lupoi and Eric Kiesau. If quarterback Zach Maynard can play less erratic, like he did last November, then the Bears have a chance to be very good on offense. However, the defense will take a step back after losing its best players.  I see Cal as a 7-5 club overall, finishing third or fourth in the North.

Where will Athlon predict Cal to finish in the 2012 Pac-12 standings? Check back in May as Athlon's 2012 Top 25 will be released starting on May 1.  

Related Pac-12 Content

2012 Recruiting Rankings: No. 25 California Golden Bears

College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012

2012 Stanford Cardinal Spring Preview

2012 Washington Huskies Spring Preview

Ranking the Pac-12's Head Coaches for 2012

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Can California Beat Stanford and Washington in the 2012 Pac-12 North Standings?</p>
Post date: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 08:30
Path: /college-football/big-east-2012-quarterback-rankings

The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the quarterbacks in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel. 

Here's how Athlon ranks the eight quarterbacks in the Big East for 2012:

1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville (SO)
Passing Stats:
2,129 yards, 14 TDs, 12 INTs
Rushing Stats: 89 att., 66 yards, 4 TDs

Bridgewater was one of Louisville’s top incoming freshmen last season, ranking as Athlon’s No. 6 quarterback for the 2011 recruiting class. He took over as the Cardinals’ starting quarterback against Marshall and led the team to a share of the Big East title and victories over Rutgers, West Virginia and South Florida. Bridgewater finished with 2,129 yards and 14 touchdowns, but showed his inexperience by tossing 12 picks. The Cardinals should be the favorites to win the Big East title in 2012, and Bridgewater should build off a solid freshman performance with a sophomore campaign.   

2. B.J. Daniels, South Florida (SR)
Passing Stats:
2,585 yards, 13 TDs, 7 INTs, 58.9%
Rushing Stats: 132 att., 601 yards, 6 TDs

It’s a close call between Daniels and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib for the No. 2 spot. Daniels threw for a career high in passing yards last season (2,604) and added 601 yards and six scores on the ground. He also tossed only seven picks and posted a career best 58.9 completion percentage. Although Daniels has been up and down throughout his career, the senior could have his best statistical season in 2012. The Bulls have surrounded Daniels with a solid cast of weapons and it certainly helps to have the same offensive scheme in place for the third consecutive season.

3. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse (SR)
Passing Stats:
2,685 yards, 22 TDs, 9 INTs, 62.4%
Rushing Stats: 65 att., 39 yards, 2 TDs

Nassib and South Florida’s B.J. Daniels are neck-and-neck for the No. 2 spot among Big East quarterbacks. Nassib had a solid junior campaign, throwing for 2,685 yards and 22 scores. He also completed 62.4 percent of his passes, while averaging 224 yards through the air per game. Nassib will have to shoulder more of the offensive workload in 2012, as running back Antwon Bailey has finished his eligibility and there's no proven player ready to handle the workload on the ground. Syracuse will also have to replace receivers Van Chew and Dorian Graham, along with tight end Nick Provo, but regain the services of receiver Marcus Sales. If the Orange want to return to the postseason, Nassib needs to have a similar statistical year, while keeping his interceptions under 10 once again.

4. Gary Nova, Rutgers (SO)
Passing Stats:
1,553 yards, 11 TDs, 9 INTs, 51.1%
Rushing Stats: 23 att., -114 yds., 0 TD

Nova and Chas Dodd shared the quarterback duties last season, with both players throwing for over 1,000 yards and 10 scores. Nova played in 10 games and tossed 11 touchdowns, but also threw nine picks and completed only 51.1 percent of his throws. Nova and Dodd are locked into a tight battle this spring for the starting job, but the guess here is that Nova emerges as Rutgers’ No. 1 quarterback. Considering Nova has yet to play a full season and is only a sophomore, there will be a few ups and downs. Rutgers also has a new offensive coordinator this year, which will require some adjustment from both quarterbacks. Although Dodd has the edge in experience, Nova has more talent and brings the necessary arm strength to help stretch the field.

5. Munchie Legaux, Cincinnati (JR)
Passing Stats:
749 yards, 5 TDs, 4 INTs, 47.4%
Rushing Stats: 41 att., 185 yards, 2 TDs

Legaux was thrown into the fire last year and despite his inexperience, kept Cincinnati in the thick of the Big East title race. Starter Zach Collaros suffered an ankle injury against West Virginia, forcing Legaux to start the next three games. The Bearcats went 2-1 in Legaux’s three starts, and he finished the year with more touchdowns (five) than interceptions (four). However, Legaux is far from a finished product, as indicated by his 47.4 completion percentage. The junior has talent and his experience should help him emerge as a solid quarterback in Big East play.

6. Chris Coyer, Temple (JR)
Passing Stats:
463 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INT, 60%
Rushing Stats: 69 att., 562 yards, 3 TDs

With Temple moving from the MAC to the Big East, it’s tough to figure out where Temple’s players stack up in the new conference. After all, the Owls have been playing MAC competition, and the defenses in the Big East should provide a tougher test each week. Coyer is a promising quarterback, but there needs to be a bigger sample size to rank him higher on this list. He threw for just 463 yards in limited action, but displayed his value as a runner by recording 562 yards and three touchdowns. With a rebuilt offensive line and running back Bernard Pierce off to the NFL, the Owls need Coyer to carry the offense in 2012.

7. Tino Sunseri, Pittsburgh (SR)
Passing Stats:
2,616 yards, 10 TDs, 11 INTs, 64.2%
Rushing Stats: 154 att., 86 yards, 4 TDs

Sunseri has been the source of frustration for Pittsburgh fans over the last two years. In his first season as a starter in 2010, Sunseri threw for 2,572 yards and 16 scores. He didn’t improve those numbers by much in 2011, throwing for 2,616 yards and 10 touchdowns. In fairness to Sunseri, Pittsburgh’s offensive struggles last year were largely due to the scheme not fitting the personnel. New coach Paul Chryst should do a better job of adapting his scheme to Sunseri and the offensive line can’t be any worse than it was in 2011. Expect Sunseri to play better in 2012, but for now, he checks in as the No. 7 quarterback in the Big East.

8. Johnny McEntee Connecticut (SR)
Passing Stats:
2,110 yards, 12 TDs, 8 INTs, 51.3%
Rushing Stats: 55 att., -148 yards, 0 TD

The race to start the season opener for Connecticut is wide open, with five quarterbacks competing for snaps. The edge in this space goes to McEntee after starting all 12 games for the Huskies last season. McEntee had virtually no experience going into the 2011 season and certainly struggled to move the ball through the air for the Connecticut offense. He finished with 2,110 yards and 12 touchdowns, but also tossed eight picks and posted a disappointing 51.3 completion percentage. There’s no guarantee McEntee wins the job this spring, as junior college recruit Chandler Whitmer and incoming freshman Casey Cochran will push for playing time. Considering how little McEntee improved last year, if he wins the job this spring, it would seem to be a bad sign for the Huskies’ offense. 

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related Big East Content

Ranking the Big East Coaches for 2012
Ranking College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012

Big East 2012 Schedule Analysis

College Football's Top Quarterback Battles to Watch

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

<p> Athlon ranks the quarterbacks in the Big East for 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 08:27
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/bobby-petrino-motorcyle-club-t-shirt

Last week Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino got in hot water after he wrecked his motorcycle and didn't mention to school officials that he had a hot 25-year-old blonde riding on the back. The blonde had been hired by Petrino to work at the university and was also having an "inappropriate relationship" with the old, married ball coach.

To mark the occasion of massive stupidity/awesomeness, someone has created a T-shirt. The front says, "Bobby Petrino Motorcyle Club" and the back says "Fayetteville, AR — For Now," noting the likelihood that Petrino could be out of a job.

Personally, we think the back should say, "If you can read this, the blonde fell off." T-shirts are below, and can be bought for $32 here

<p> We're not sure we want to join this club.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 06:07
All taxonomy terms: Fred Couples, Golf
Path: /golf/classic-masters-moment-fred-couples

In honor of Fred Couples' turn-back-the-clock performance this week at The Masters, we look back at the classic moment of Couples' career: the 12th hole of the 1992 Masters.

Nursing a slim lead on Sunday, Couples comes to the diabolical par-3 12th, the scene of so many disasters, and narrowly averts one himself when his mis-clubbed tee shot somehow clings to the bank instead of trickling down into Rae’s Creek. Using a masterful chip shot, Couples saves par and goes on to beat Ray Floyd for his only major championship.

Post date: Friday, April 6, 2012 - 16:15
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/arkansas-suspends-bobby-petrino-whats-next-razorbacks

Arkansas has been a team on the rise under coach Bobby Petrino. The Razorbacks have 21 victories in their last two years and have closed the gap on Alabama and LSU in the SEC West. Although Arkansas has some question marks on defense and with a rebuilt receiving corps heading into the 2012 season, it has been touted as a possible darkhorse national title contender, especially with the Crimson Tide and Tigers visiting Fayetteville.

But is all of Petrino’s progress at Arkansas about to fall apart? Petrino’s motorcycle wreck on Sunday was a serious incident, but the story took a turn for the worse after it was revealed he had a 25-year-old female passenger. Jessica Dorrell – also an Arkansas athletic department employee – was mentioned in the police report as a passenger, despite Petrino insisting he was riding solo.

As a result of failing to notify athletic director Jeff Long that Dorrell was a passenger, Petrino has been placed on administrative leave and it’s uncertain if he will return to Arkansas in 2012.

Although Petrino’s inappropriate relationship with Dorrell is certainly not the news Arkansas needs at this time, the bigger issue is lying to your athletic director. Had Petrino come clean from the beginning, the damage would have been bad, but it’s always the cover-up that is worse in any incident.

Long will review Petrino’s status, but there is no indication on when a decision on his future with the school will be determined. Assistant Taver Johnson, in his first season with Arkansas, will serve as the interim coach for now.

What does this mean for Arkansas in 2012?

Right now, it’s really too early to tell how it affects the Razorbacks’ chances of winning the SEC West. Most early predictions had Arkansas pegged for third place in the division, but a top-10 team nationally. Without Petrino, the Razorbacks are probably still picked to finish third, but could slip to the 15-25 range in most preseason polls.

Although Petrino made a huge mistake in lying to his boss and having an inappropriate relationship with a member of the athletic department, the odds seem to be favorable that he does return to the sideline in 2012.

Long could choose to suspend Petrino for a couple of games, which would certainly have an impact on Arkansas’ national title hopes with a game against Alabama on Sept. 15. Another possibility is a suspension that lasts the spring and summer, but Petrino would return in time for fall practice.

Even if Petrino returns to Arkansas, there’s no question his reputation is going to take another hit. Petrino has always been questioned and criticized for his commitment, as he spent only one season with the Falcons before bolting to Arkansas and many around the SEC haven’t forgotten the infamous jetgate incident with Auburn in 2003.

Considering the commitment issue could come up again, Arkansas and Petrino agreed to a long-term contract last May, which had a large buyout and prevented him from leaving for another SEC school. Armed with a long-term contract and a program that is ready to challenge for the SEC West title every year, Petrino appeared to be entrenched in Fayetteville for the next 10 years and finally ready to erase the criticism of being a job hopper.

However, thanks to the motorcycle wreck on Sunday night and the revelations on Thursday night, Petrino and Arkansas are facing an uncertain future. Petrino has been very successful in four years with the Razorbacks, leading the team to a 34-17 record with an appearance in the Sugar Bowl. Being a successful coach certainly doesn't hurt Petrino's chances of returning to Fayetteville, as the conversation could be quite different if this was a coach with a 10-20 record facing the same type of issues.

Although Petrino is going to be heavily scrutinized (and rightfully so), the focus now shifts back to Long and the athletic department. Can Petrino still be a successful coach with this in the rearview mirror? Could this hurt Petrino on the recruiting trail? Those are just two of the questions Long and Arkansas have to answer over the next couple of weeks. 2012 was shaping up to be a year where the Razorbacks could contend for the SEC title, but now there's a cloud of uncertainty hanging over this team.

Related Arkansas Razorbacks Content

Ranking the SEC Head Coaches for 2012

Arkansas Razorbacks' 2012 Spring Preview

<p> Arkansas has indefinitely suspended head coach Bobby Petrino. What's next for the Razorbacks in 2012?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 6, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /mlb/nl-central-predictions

NL Central
1. St. Louis
2. Milwaukee
3. Cincinnati
4. Pittsburgh
5. Chicago
6. Houston

The St. Louis Cardinals seemed to be riding a magic carpet for two months last season, turning a 10.5-game deficit in the wild card chase into a World Series win. At least some — if not all — of that magic left town with Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa. But the Cardinals have enough talented veterans to win the division. Catcher Yadier Molina is the heart and soul of this team now, and the return of Adam Wainwright certainly helps. Due to Lance Berkman’s age and Carlos Beltran’s recent history and David Freese’s only history, the second, fourth and fifth hitters in the lineup are huge injury risks. If the Cardinals stay reasonably healthy, new manager Mike Matheny will enjoy his first ride at the helm.

NL MVP Ryan Braun will miss the presence of Prince Fielder in the Milwaukee lineup, no doubt. Having Aramis Ramirez on deck while you’re hitting just isn’t the same. But the Brewers have a solid rotation and proven bullpen and cannot be counted out.

The Reds signed closer Ryan Madson to a one-year deal, seemingly going all-in for 2012. But Madson needs Tommy John surgery and suddenly things don’t look so bright. Cincinnati made a huge ($225 million) commitment to keep Joey Votto in town for what could be his entire career. The Reds learned from the proceedings in St. Louis and Milwaukee this winter and were determined to keep their star first baseman.

Pittsburgh is still young and some of its hyped position players are beginning to blossom. But where are the pitchers? GM Theo Epstein has the huge task of rebuilding the Cubs in front of him. The Astros are young and building for their move to the AL West in 2013.

Best Starting Pitcher: Zack Greinke, Milwaukee
Best Hitter: Joey Votto, Cincinnati
Best Manager: Dusty Baker, Cincinnati
Rising Star: Shelby Miller, St. Louis

Most wins next five years (2013-17)
1. St. Louis
2. Cincinnati
3. Milwaukee
4. Chicago
5. Pittsburgh

— Charlie Miller

Follow Charlie on Twitter @AthlonCharlie

<p> With Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder no longer in this division, it's there for the taking.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 14:45
Path: /mlb/nl-east-predictions

NL East
1. Philadelphia
2. Atlanta (wild card)
3. Washington
4. Miami
5. New York

With cracks appearing in the Philadelphia offense, the NL East has become the most competitive division in baseball. The Phillies have the most daunting rotation in the National League with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. But without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard for much of the season, the Phillies will struggle to score runs. There will be tremendous pressure on Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence to carry the offense. We may see the Phillies manufacturing runs with speed this season.

The door is open — or at least ajar — for the Braves, Nationals and Marlins to enter. Atlanta will have the pitching to compete, but the offense may struggle unless Jason Heyward can hit at 2010 levels, and not what we saw last season. You have to wonder how long catcher Brian McCann can continue to carry such a huge offensive load.

The Nats are up and coming, and fast. With Stephen Strasburg back and Bryce Harper on the way, the Nats are the team of the future. Expect Harper to show up as the team’s centerfielder by mid-May.

The Marlins’ spending spree and move into a new stadium made them winners over the offseason, but there are still a few parts needed in order to be winners during the season. Outfield defense could spell trouble in their spacious park. The Mets simply have no chance in this division.

Best Starting Pitcher: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
Best Hitter: Hanley Ramirez, Miami
Best Manager: Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia
Rising Star: Bryce Harper, Washington

Most wins next five years (2013-17)
1. Miami
2. Philadelphia
3. Washington
4. Atlanta
5. New York

— Charlie Miller

Follow Charlie on Twitter @AthlonCharlie

<p> With cracks appearing in the Philadelphia offense, the NL East has become the most competitive division in baseball. The door is open — or at least ajar — for the Braves, Nationals and Marlins to enter.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 14:39
Path: /mlb/nl-west-predictions

NL West
1. San Francisco
2. Arizona (wild card)
3. Los Angeles
4. Colorado
5. San Diego

The NL West is the home of some of the game’s brightest stars in Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum of San Francisco and Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki. But the teams are not so great. San Francisco with its pitching, and Arizona with its grit, should fight it out for the division title. The loser will get one of the two wild cards.

The Giants will trot out Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner every five days. Add to that Ryan Vogelsong — if 2011 was too much of an aberration — and Barry Zito. The bullpen is stingy; led by closer Brian Wilson and setup man Sergio Romo. But who will generate the offense? Good question.

Manager Kirk Gibson did a masterful job in his first full season as skipper in Phoenix. He has two horses atop his rotation in Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. The bullpen is a little iffy and other than Justin Upton, there is no fear in this lineup either.

The recent sale of the Dodgers should begin the transformation of one of the game’s most storied franchises. The Giants and D’backs need to win while they can before the big blue monster is unleashed. Kemp and Cy Young winner Kershaw are impressive cornerstones.

Colorado actually has a chance to compete this year, but will need better-than-expected seasons from its starting pitching. San Diego has no chance.

Best Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
Best Hitter: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado
Best Manager: Bruce Bochy, San Francisco
Rising Star: Dee Gordon, Los Angeles

Most wins next five years (2013-17)
1. Los Angeles
2. San Francisco
3. Arizona
4. Colorado
5. San Diego

— Charlie Miller

Follow Charlie on Twitter @AthlonCharlie

<p> San Francisco with its pitching, and Arizona with its grit, should fight it out for the division title. The loser will get one of the two wild cards.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 14:33
Path: /mlb/al-west-predictions

AL West
1. Texas
2. Los Angeles (wild card)
3. Seattle
4. Oakland

While the Los Angeles Angels upped the ante in the AL West by signing the ultimate free agent, Albert Pujols, and by signing away the Rangers’ best pitcher, C.J. Wilson, the Rangers didn’t blink. Texas remains the best team in the division with a lineup featuring Michael Young, Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler, although the gap is narrowing. Texas invested $111.7 million to replace Wilson in the rotation with Yu Darvish from Japan. They also moved Neftali Feliz, their closer the past two seasons, into the rotation.

Pujols provides a huge presence in the Angels’ lineup, but with little support he may find himself trotting to first base, or chasing less desirable pitches this season. But the Angels won 86 games without King Albert and with a bullpen that blew 25 saves. Expect a much-improved bullpen this season. The rotation, of course, is one of the best if not the best in the American League. Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Wilson are all Cy Young candidates.

The Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s are miles behind their competitors.

Best Starting Pitcher: Dan Haren, Los Angeles
Best Hitter: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles
Best Manager: Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles
Rising Star: Mike Trout, Los Angeles

Most wins next five years (2013-17)
1. Los Angeles
2. Texas
3. Seattle
4. Houston
5. Oakland

— Charlie Miller

Follow Charlie on Twitter @AthlonCharlie

<p> The Angels upped the ante with two major free agent signings, but this is still the Rangers' division.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 14:21
Path: /mlb/al-central-predictions

AL Central
1. Detroit
2. Cleveland
3. Kansas City
4. Minnesota
5. Chicago

There is very little debate about who is the best team in the AL Central. The Detroit Tigers have a healthier bullpen, a deeper rotation and a more potent lineup than they played with for most of last season, when they won the division by 15 games. Case closed. They replaced the injured Victor Martinez with slugger Prince Fielder, and will have the services of Delmon Young for a full season. What is lacking is defense. Pitchers like Justin Verlander may need to rely more on strikeouts and popups this season. Don’t be surprised if shortcomings on defense haunt this team in the postseason.

Cleveland surprised most fans last season and should continue to improve. The Tribe’s bullpen is terrific, but the rotation and lineup have serious questions. It will take a return to good health by Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore (expected back midseason) and steady improvement by young players for the Indians to chase down the Tigers.

Kansas City is still young and waiting for its uber prospects to break out. Injuries to catcher Sal Perez and closer Joakim Soria were tough blows.

The Twins found out last season just how bad they can be without playing sound baseball. The healthy return of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will help, but not nearly enough. The White Sox were a colossal flop last season — with little improvement expected in 2012.

Best Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander, Detroit
Best Hitter: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
Best Manager: Jim Leyland, Detroit
Rising Star: Eric Hosmer, Kansas City

Most wins next five years (2013-17)
1. Detroit
2. Kansas City
3. Cleveland
4. Minnesota
5. Chicago

— Charlie Miller

Follow Charlie on Twitter @AthlonCharlie

<p> <br /> There is very little debate about who is the best team in the AL Central.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 14:12
Path: /mlb/al-east-predictions

AL East
1. New York
2. Tampa Bay
(wild card)
3. Boston
4. Toronto
5. Baltimore

It’s official. The Tampa Bay Rays are consistently competing with the rich boys up north. Make no mistake, the Yankees are clearly the team to beat in the AL East, but the Rays have a better rotation, play solid, fundamental defense and score just enough runs to win.

The Yankees’ lineup is stacked once again, even as New York’s stars are aging. Second baseman Robinson Cano of the Yankees is quickly becoming the game’s best all-around player. Curtis Granderson is a threat at the top of the lineup and Mark Teixeira shares duties with Cano the duties of anchoring the middle. At this point, the production the Yankees get from their older stars Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter is almost a bonus.

With James Shields and David Price leading a strong rotation, the Rays pose a tough challenge every night. Carlos Peña is back to bolster the lineup and support Evan Longoria, but offense is not how the Rays win.

The Boston Red Sox have a new manager in Bobby Valentine, who has accepted the challenge of forging a new culture in Boston. There are still a few too many questions in the rotation, and with closer Andrew Bailey out for an extended period, the bullpen as well. When good health is on the Red Sox side, this lineup is dangerous. But even though Boston is younger than New York, the injury issues are about equal.

Poor Toronto. The Jays are capable of competing in any other division. The second wild card will at least give them a chance. The Orioles may be the worst organization in baseball right now.

Best Starting Pitcher: David Price, Tampa Bay
Best Hitter: Robinson Cano, New York
Best Manager: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay
Rising Star: Matt Moore, SP, Tampa Bay

Most wins next five years (2013-17)
1. New York
2. Tampa Bay
3. Toronto
4. Boston
5. Baltimore

— Charlie Miller

Follow Charlie on Twitter @AthlonCharlie

<p> It’s official. The Tampa Bay Rays are consistently competing with the rich boys up north.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: Monthly
Path: /tweet-this-caption

September's Tweet This Caption (PLAY NOW)

Can you think of a funny caption for the photo above? If so, follow us on Twitter @AthlonSports, tweet a funny caption with the hashtag #athloncaption and we'll select our favorite to win a $200 Athlon Sports Collectibles gift certificate.


August's Tweet This Caption Winner

Congratulations to Phillip Freeman Jr. who won August's Tweet This Caption contest in Athlon Sports—the nation's largest sports magazine.

The winning caption:

Even dropping players from planes could not stop Newton & the Panthers that day.


July's Tweet This Caption Winner

Congratulations to Rich Nestor of Chicago who won July's Tweet This Caption contest in Athlon Sports—the nation's largest sports magazine.

The winning caption:

The side-effects of painting your football field blue


June's Tweet This Caption Winner

Congratulations to Phillip Thomas Duck of Red Bank, N.J., who won June's Tweet This Caption contest in Athlon Sports—the nation's largest sports magazine.

The winning caption:

Who would've known Mitt Romney had such bad seats...




May's Tweet This Caption Winner

Congratulations to Paul Matthies of Gatesville, Texas, who won May's Tweet This Caption contest in Athlon Sports—the nation's largest sports magazine.

The winning caption:

"Say it ain't so, Shirtless Joe!"



April's Tweet This Caption Winner

Congratulations to Dedric Boys of Chicago, who won April's Tweet This Caption contest in Athlon Sports—the nation's largest sports magazine.

The winning caption:

"My head's just not in the game."


March's Tweet This Caption Winner

Congratulations to Brad Hughes of Jonesboro, Ark., who won March's Tweet This Caption contest in Athlon Sports—the nation's largest sports magazine. 

The winning caption:

"Hey Tony, this guy said he was your father!"

<p> And the winner is...&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 13:41
Path: /nascar/nascars-comers-and-goers-0

Taking Stock of the 2012 Sprint Cup at the Easter Break

Six weeks into the 2012 NASCAR season, the Sprint Cup Series heads into the first of only two off-weekends of the year. With no race this weekend, and thus no fantasy picks to make, let’s take a look at some of the biggest surprises thus far, which drivers and teams are on track for a solid season and which need to turn their season around before it is too late.

There is no doubt the hottest team in NASCAR is Stewart-Haas Racing. The defending series champion, Tony Stewart, has had an uncharacteristic start to the year, winning two races (Las Vegas, Fontana), while teammate Ryan Newman used an aggressive move during a green-white-checker finish to score his first career Cup win at Martinsville.

Typically slow starters, both SHR drivers have hit the ground running after last year's impressive showing in the Chase. Stewart currently sits third in points, while Newman climbed two spots to eighth after last week’s victory.

The mood is soaring at Stewart-Haas, the strong finishes and wins keep coming, the new partnership between Stewart and crew chief Steve Addington continues to roll on smoothly, but can that momentum continue through the summer months and into the Chase?

While the SHR brigade has been scoring wins and making headlines, Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle has quietly and consistently raced his way to the points lead. After starting the season with three consecutive third-place finishes, Biffle took command of the series standings after Las Vegas and has yet to relinquish the spot.

Frustrated and clearly upset with his team’s 16th-place points finish in 2011, Biffle had high expectations coming into this year and his performances to date have shown the changes made behind the scenes at Roush Fenway Racing have made all the difference.

Although The Biff has yet to hit Victory Lane, he hasn’t finished worse than 13th, with three top 5s and a sixth-place run to his credit. Determined to put last year's disappointing results behind him, expect Biffle and his No. 16 team to continue to lead the way at RFR as the season rolls on in two weeks in Texas — a track at which Biffle could easily break his 49-race winless skid.

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell reviews the first six NASCAR Sprint Cup races of the 2012 season as the series takes its first off-weekend.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 13:33
Path: /mlb/san-francisco-giants-2012-preview

San Francisco Giants

The Giants are trying to get back into the postseason after a post-World Series season in which almost nothing went right. Once again, they will rely on their pitching, just as they did to win the World Series in 2010 and to win 86 games and stay in contention last year. Their 3.20 ERA was second in the NL in 2011, and they return every key pitcher except Jonathan Sanchez, who did not have a good year. The upgrades to an offense that was the worst in the league are mostly “incremental,” which is GM-speak for “moves that probably won’t make much difference.” The most significant newcomers are Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera, neither of whom is an impact player. A bigger boost could come from Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez bouncing back from injuries, or from Aubrey Huff continuing the every-other-year pattern of his career.

It doesn’t get much better than the top two in this rotation, with two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and the quietly dominating Matt Cain. Lincecum was just as good as he’s ever been, except he was victimized by criminal run support. The Giants scored 2.8 runs per start for Lincecum. Cain is used to that sort of thing, as his career 69–73 record, with a 3.35 ERA, attests. Young Madison Bumgarner is certainly better than most No. 3s. The 22-year-old cracked the 200-innings barrier last year, despite worries that his workload in 2010 might cause him problems. Ryan Vogelsong was the surprise of the staff, making the All-Star team after coming back from a three-year detour to Japan and another year in the minors. One of the big questions for the Giants will be whether Vogelsong was a one-year wonder. Finally, the most expensive No. 5 starter in the majors: Barry Zito. He has teased the Giants with good work for three or four weeks at a time, but not much more over his disastrous five years in San Francisco. At this point the Giants would just be happy if he could soak up league average innings.

Traditionally it’s hard to put together back-to-back good years out of a bullpen without changing the personnel because relievers, by their nature, are so inconsistent year to year. The Giants bucked the trend last year, though. Despite All-Star closer Brian Wilson missing the start of the season with an injury and having a few more struggles than usual (he still saved 36 games with a 3.11 ERA), the Giants posted a relief ERA of 3.04, second-best in the league. Sergio Romo emerged as a lights-out setup man, at one stretch retiring 30 consecutive batters over 14 games. Lefties Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt held lefties to a combined .154 average. Santiago Casilla, who seemed sure to come back to earth after a 2010 that was so much better than the rest of his career, posted a 1.74 ERA. Perhaps the Giants are pressing their luck, but they will essentially have the same bullpen for a third consecutive season.

Middle Infield
The Giants acquired Sanchez in a 2009 deadline trade, but they still haven’t seen a full season from the former batting champ. He’s been injured every year. Last year’s separated shoulder was so severe that it’s no sure thing Sanchez will be fully recovered by midseason. When he has been out there, he’s been consistent at the plate, hitting between .284 and .292 in each season with the Giants. Shortstop will once again be an issue, as it has been every year since Omar Vizquel left after the 2008 season. Brandon Crawford is in line to get the first shot at the job, even though his résumé doesn’t show any reason to believe he can hit in the majors. He’s a career .266 hitter in the minors, and he hit .204 in the majors last year. The Giants couldn’t afford to get an upgrade, so they’ll take Crawford’s above-average defense and hope he can be a respectable No. 8 hitter.

Pablo Sandoval saved his career with his bounce-back season in 2011, hitting .315 with 23 homers and earning an All-Star berth. His defense went from abysmal to above average. Funny what the loss of 40 pounds can do for you. Now, the challenge for Sandoval is to keep it going. If he relaxes at all, the weight will surely come back. On the other side of the diamond, the Giants could use another revival from Huff. Like Sandoval, Huff fell victim to poor conditioning during his down season. The difference is that Huff is now 35, so he’s got that going against him, too. His career has been marked by alternating good and bad years, but no one is assuming a rebound for him because of his age. The Giants are still hopeful than Brandon Belt will blossom, which could push Huff to left field or to the bench.

None of the starters from the World Series team is back. There’s also not much depth, because the only true outfielders are the three starters, with converted infielders as the backups. Right and center figure to be manned by two newcomers, Cabrera and Pagan. The alignment is going to be determined in spring training, but Pagan will probably get the first crack at center. Both players are coming off years that may have been aberrations, and the Giants are hoping that’s the case for Pagan (.694 OPS with the Mets) and not Cabrera (.809 OPS with the Royals). If either is motivated by money, that will benefit the Giants, as both are eligible for free agency after the 2012 season. If Nate Schierholtz proves he can hit big league pitching consistently, his glove will keep him in the lineup in right, switching Cabrera to left field. An excellent defender but not a prototypical corner outfield bat, Schierholtz has a career .727 OPS, and he’s never hit more than nine homers. The most likely scenario has Belt at first and Huff in left, Cabrera in right and Pagan in the middle.

Posey is going into his third year, but he’s played only one full season between his first two years in the majors. His sophomore year was cut short by a horrific ankle injury in May. Posey’s long rehab kept him mostly off the field until the fall, when he began doing some hitting and catching in Arizona. The Giants need Posey to be the offensive force he was in 2010, but that’s a lot to ask from a catcher. We’re still only assuming he can be that player over the long run, because he hasn’t done it yet.

Belt is the Giants’ most intriguing bench player, because ideally he won’t be on the bench at all. The Giants envision him as the long-term answer at first base. Belt or Huff could play in the outfield if the Giants want to get both bats in the lineup, but either would be a defensive liability. Ryan Theriot is a solid pro who can play multiple infield positions. He’s the primary fallback if Crawford can’t cut it. Emmanuel Burriss was rushed to the big leagues and never panned out as the middle infield starter the Giants had hoped, but now he’s become a valuable utilityman, able to play a few positions, switch-hit and run. He’ll likely fill in for Sanchez at second. Hector Sanchez has the potential to be an everyday catcher. That’s not necessarily good news since he’s blocked by Posey.

Manager Bruce Bochy and GM Brian Sabean are entering their sixth year working together. Both have ultimate respect for each other and a seemingly solid understanding of each other. There are always questions around both men about a perceived reluctance to let young players play, but the farm system hasn’t exactly churned out players who forced their way into the lineup. They will be challenged this year with how to handle youngsters like Crawford and Belt, and how to maximize Posey’s value without wearing him down.

Final Analysis
You have to assume that the Giants are going to be better offensively than they were in 2011, simply because of the return of Posey and Sanchez. However, neither is a lock to be an impact player, Sanchez because of his injury history and Posey because he hasn’t proven himself over a full major league season. Most of the position players are journeymen, aging veterans or unproven youngsters, so it would be wrong to count on more than a couple of them being above average. That means it’s likely the pitchers who will have to carry this team again. They are good enough to keep the Giants in contention, but it will be up to the hitters to push them over the top.





Batting Order
CF Angel Pagan (S)
OPS declined two years in a row, but still hit better than Andres Torres in ’11.
RF Melky Cabrera (S)
Only 27, so there’s still reason to believe his ’11 breakout (.809 OPS) was for real.
3B Pablo Sandoval (S)
Career back on track after 2010, now must string two good years together.
C Buster Posey (R)
Catch-22? His value is behind the plate, but greatest risk of injury there too.
LF Aubrey Huff (L)
He has never had back-to-back full seasons with an OPS below .800, so he’s due to bounce back. Maybe.
1B Brandon Belt (L)
Has to find a way to lay off the high fastballs to hit consistently.
2B Emmanuel Burriss (S)
Speed and plays multiple positions. Perfect sub at second until Freddy Sanchez is healthy.
SS Brandon Crawford (L)
Hey, Omar Vizquel was overmatched at the plate when he first got called up, too.

2B Freddy Sanchez (R)
Has hit .290 since coming to the Giants, but hasn’t stayed healthy for a full season.
C Hector Sanchez (S)
Only 21 years of age and owns a .295 average in 319 minor league games.
OF Gregor Blanco
Dependable extra outfielder.
OF Nate Schierholtz (L)
Giants love his D, but just doesn’t have the pop to be an everyday right fielder.
INF Ryan Theriot (R)
Proved to be better at second than short for St. Louis last season.
UT Brett Pill (R)
A late bloomer, the 27-year-old provides some pop off the bench.

RH Tim Lincecum
Two years in a row he’s overcome a rough stretch to remind you how good he is.
RH Matt Cain
One of the most underrated players in the majors, period. The Giants believe enough to make him $200 million richer.
LH Madison Bumgarner
First Giant pitcher since Mike McCormick (1960) to pitch 200+ innings in age 21 season.
RH Ryan Vogelsong
What does he do for an encore after being one of baseball’s best stories in ’11? Should be off the DL by mid-April.
LH Barry Zito
If he can just be average, the Giants come out well ahead of most teams in the No. 5 spot.

RH Brian Wilson (Closer)
Leads major league baseball with 163 saves since start of 2008 season.
RH Sergio Romo
Before his teammate stole his thunder, he had the most famous beard in the bullpen.
LH Javier Lopez
Five of the past six years, Lopez has had an ERA of 3.10 or better.
LH Jeremy Affeldt
Lefties hit .144 against him in ’11; also had career-best WHIP of 1.15.
RH Santiago Casilla
The hardest thrower in the Giants bullpen had a 1.74 ERA in ’11.
RH Guillermo Mota
Long reliever has 50 plate appearances in 13 years — and two home runs.
RH Clay Hensley
Provides some veteran depth in pen.

<p> The Giants are trying to get back into the postseason after a post-World Series season in which almost nothing went right. Once again, they will rely on their pitching, just as they did to win the World Series in 2010 and to win 86 games and stay in contention last year.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 12:48
Path: /mlb/los-angeles-dodgers-2012-preview

Los Angeles Dodgers

For Dodgers fans, the long nightmare is over. Last year was one of the darkest in the storied franchise’s long history. A Giants fan was brutally beaten in the parking lot outside Dodger Stadium. The team’s owners, Frank and Jamie McCourt, engaged in a tacky and embarrassing divorce battle. Frank also took the team into bankruptcy, battling with TV rights-holders and MLB hierarchy in the process. An organic boycott grew out of fans’ disgust with the franchise’s management, and attendance dipped below three million for only the second time in the past 16 years. McCourt eventually sold the team to a group headed by Magic Johnson and former Braves executive Stan Kasten, giving those fans hope for the future. The new owners inherit two very valuable assets in Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp — two of the best young players in baseball. Unfortunately in the short term, though, GM Ned Colletti has been handcuffed by the franchise’s financial problems and surrounded those two stars with cheap spare parts. The Dodgers’ biggest offseason acquisition was starter Aaron Harang, signed as a free agent for two years and $12 million. But the sleeping giant has been awakened. The dark days are over and good times are coming.

The Dodgers had hoped by now to have one of the best 1-2 punches in the National League at the front of their rotation. They’re halfway there. Kershaw has blossomed into one of baseball’s best pitchers. He won the NL’s pitching Triple Crown in 2011, tying for the lead league in wins (21) and leading the NL in ERA (2.28) and strikeouts (248) while running away with the Cy Young Award. However, righthander Chad Billingsley has yet to take his next step forward. Since winning 16 games back in 2008, the 27-year-old Billingsley has been basically a .500 pitcher (35–33) with a rising ERA (a career-high 4.21 last year) and slipping K-rate. The rest of the Dodgers’ rotation is an uninspiring group of middling veterans, placeholders for a wave of young talent led by injured Rubby De La Rosa. Harang and lefthander Chris Capuano were signed as free agents (at half the cost of departed free agent Hiroki Kuroda) to join Ted Lilly.

Jonathan Broxton’s four-year roller-coaster ride as the Dodgers’ closer ended with elbow surgery and free agency last year. In his place, Javy Guerra has stepped in as the last link in a young bullpen featuring only two veterans (Matt Guerrier and Mike MacDougal). Guerra was a godsend, making his major league debut in May and quickly laying claim to the closer’s role. As a rookie, he converted 21 of 23 save opportunities with a 2.31 ERA. He’ll team with hard-throwing Kenley Jansen as the finishers in the Dodgers’ bullpen. After a dynamic debut in 2010, Jansen got off to a rough start in 2011 before righting himself in a big way. From mid-June until the end of the season, Jansen retired 97 of the 120 batters he faced — 61 by strikeout. Though inexperienced, the Guerra-Jansen combo is a formidable hammer for manager Don Mattingly to wield at the back end of games. He’ll sort through a passel of young arms (including Josh Lindblom, Scott Elbert and Nathan Eovaldi) to build the rest of the pen.

Middle Infield
Rookie shortstop Dee Gordon breathed some life into the Dodgers last season, batting .304 in 56 games after his big league debut in early June. Gordon was particularly dynamic in September, when he led all National Leaguers with 42 hits and stole 12 of his 24 bases (tied for the NL lead among rookies). The still-developing Gordon is a mixed bag (particularly defensively) at this point in his career. But the Dodgers will insert him at the leadoff spot and hope the spark he provides will outweigh the blunders. Alongside him at second base, meanwhile, will be a pair of veterans on the downside of their careers. Mark Ellis, 34, figures to get most of the playing time with Adam Kennedy in a utility role.

As he rose through their farm system, the Dodgers envisioned first baseman James Loney developing into a Mark Grace clone, providing defensive range at first with doubles power, high average and run production at the plate. Those visions have yet to be realized. Loney’s power has not emerged; he has driven in fewer runs each of the past two seasons, and his average seems stuck in the .280s. The Dodgers would like to see more punch from Loney to give them a complementary offensive piece behind Kemp. The other side of the infield was an even bigger disappointment in 2011. Casey Blake is gone, but Juan Uribe and his three-year, $21 million contract live on. Injured, out of shape and ineffective, Uribe hit just .204 in 77 games last season. With few alternatives, the Dodgers will give Uribe another chance to earn his salary at third in 2012.

Potential turned into reality with Kemp in 2011. The supremely gifted center fielder emerged as the best all-around player in the NL, just missing out on a 40-40 season and finishing second to Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun in the NL MVP voting while leading the league in home runs (39), RBIs (126) and runs scored (115), winning a Gold Glove, stealing 40 bases and batting .324. More of the same is expected after he signed an eight-year, $160 million contract extension. Simply more is expected from his outfield neighbors, particularly Andre Ethier in right. After a scorching start, Ethier finished the season with a .292 average, 11 home runs (matching a career-low) and 62 RBIs. If he rebounds, the Dodgers will have a robust 1-2 punch in the middle of their lineup. If not, the offense will continue to sag as it did in 2011. While Ethier and others were failing to support Kemp in the Dodgers’ 2011 lineup, Juan Rivera was a valuable midseason find, batting .274 with five home runs and 46 RBIs in 62 games with the Dodgers. That was enough to get him a new contract (one year with a club option for 2013). Tony Gwynn Jr. lurks, ready to take away playing time.

The Dodgers moved on from Russell Martin last season, trying to combine the talents of Rod Barajas and Dioner Navarro to fill the vacancy at catcher. That didn’t work out very well. A.J. Ellis gets the chance now to lay claim to the primary catcher’s job with veteran Matt Treanor backing him up. The best asset Ellis has shown in his career is an ability to get on base — he has a career OBP of .406 in the minors and .360 in 87 major league games.

Colletti’s spare-parts approach to team-building (necessitated by the team’s uncertain finances) will be most evident on the bench, where the Dodgers’ roster thins out rapidly. It may take a year or so for the effect of new ownership to show here, but at least there are resources to add necessary parts during the season. Hairston Jr., a veteran utility man, and Kennedy offer versatility but little else. Treanor is a reliable backup at catcher. Only Gwynn threatens to be more than minimal role players.

In his first year as manager, Mattingly proved that he was up to a challenging situation, getting his team to finish strong (45 wins in the final 73 games) despite being out of the race. He proved to be a more hands-on presence than predecessor Joe Torre, getting the most out of the Dodgers’ best player, Kemp, who chafed under Torre and did not mesh well with his old-school coaching staff. If the Dodgers overachieved by finishing with a winning record (82–79) in Mattingly’s first season, he’ll have to milk more of the same out of a limited roster once again in 2012.

Final Analysis
The NL West has been a difficult division to get a handle on. Four of the five teams have made the playoffs at least once in the past three seasons (the Padres being the only ones left in the cold) with a different division winner each of those years. The Dodgers’ best hope in 2012 might be for a similar open casting call extending deep into the season. That would allow time for new ownership to free Colletti’s hands for some midseason moves that could prove the difference in a close division race. Perhaps now the Dodgers can start performing like the big-market team they really are.




Batting Order
SS Dee Gordon (L)
Had more hits in September (42) than any hitter in the National League.
2B Mark Ellis (R)
OPS of Dodgers second basemen in 2011 (.627) was lowest in NL, 28th of 30 MLB teams.
CF Matt Kemp (R)
Monster year could herald arrival of mega-talented Kemp as MLB’s best all-around player.
RF Andre Ethier (L)
30-game hitting streak in April-May was one short of franchise record set by Willie Davis in 1969.
LF Juan Rivera (R)
Hit only two homers in final 28 games but still had 22 RBIs in September.
1B James Loney (L)
With settled ownership, Dodgers might have bid for free agent Prince Fielder.
3B Juan Uribe (R)
Three-year, $21 million contract given to Uribe looks like another costly mistake.
C A.J. Ellis (R)
Emerges from last year’s Rod Barajas-Dioner Navarro muddle to get first shot at every-day job.

UT Jerry Hairston Jr. (R)
Played five positions (second, third, shortstop, left field and center field) for Nats and Brewers in 2011.
INF Adam Kennedy (L)
Made 58 starts batting third, fourth or fifth for offense-starved Mariners last season.
C Matt Treanor (R)
Career .225 hitter better known for his defense — and his wife (beach volleyball star Misty May).
OF Tony Gwynn Jr. (L)
Could surface in left field again if Rivera reverts to 2010 form.
INF Justin Sellers (R)
Made 17 starts across three infield positions last season, but hit just .203.

LH Clayton Kershaw
Dodgers’ first 20-game winner since 1990 was 12–2 vs. NL West teams, 5–0 vs. rival Giants.
RH Chad Billingsley
Dodgers still waiting for Billingsley’s breakout season despite career 70–52 record.
LH Ted Lilly
Has averaged less than six innings per start — but WHIP is just 1.11 in season-and-a-half as Dodger. Will begin the season on the DL, but not expected to miss a start.
RH Aaron Harang
Cautionary note: ERA jumped from 3.05 to 4.70, WHIP from 1.21 to 1.65 away from Petco Park in 2011.
LH Chris Capuano
Went 11–12 with 4.55 ERA for Mets in 2011, his first full season after Tommy John surgery.

RH Javy Guerra (Closer)
Went from Double-A to Dodgers’ closer in 2011, but Jansen lurks as potential successor.
RH Kenley Jansen
Set major league record by averaging 16.1 strikeouts per nine innings last year.
RH Matt Guerrier
Lone veteran in young pen allowed 16 of final 28 inherited runners to score in 2011.
RH Blake Hawksworth
Had career-high 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings last year but let half his inherited runners score. He’ll miss at least two months nursing a sore elbow.
LH Scott Elbert
Held lefties to .191 average (13 for 68) with 18 strikeouts in 2011.
RH Josh Lindblom
23 strikeouts, 20 runners allowed in final 19 innings with Dodgers last year.
RH Mike MacDougal
Posted 2.05 ERA in first year wearing blue; re-signed to one-year deal with club option in offseason.
RH Jamey Wright
The 16-year vet is now playing for his ninth franchise.
RH Todd Coffey
Allowed only 55 hits in 59.2 innings with the Nationals last year.

<p> For Dodgers fans, the long nightmare is over. Last year was one of the darkest in the storied franchise’s long history, but good times are coming.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 12:32
Path: /mlb/arizona-diamondbacks-2012-preview

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks are in it to win it, again, although they will no longer be able to sneak up on the NL West after their stunning worst-to-first run to the division title in 2011. General manager Kevin Towers made several key offseason moves, trading for quality starter Trevor Cahill and signing free agent outfielder Jason Kubel to a team that returns virtually all of the other elements that produced a 29-game improvement from the previous year. The D-backs must be considered a top contender to repeat.

The D-backs benefited from career years from the top four in their starting rotation last year, and there is no reason to believe that after a slight remake they cannot put up a reasonable facsimile this time around. Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Joe Saunders, Josh Collmenter and newcomer Cahill fit Towers’ M.O. — they throw strikes and are not afraid to use their defense. Kennedy, who was one of three 20-games winners in the majors last season at 21–4, finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting, and discerning voters could have moved him up a notch considering that he pitches in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the majors. Hudson, acquired in a 2010 trading deadline deal from the Chicago White Sox, won 16 games in his first full season in a major league rotation and finished eighth in the league in fewest walks per nine innings. Cahill, acquired from Oakland for prospects Jarrod Parker, Collin Cowgill and Ryan Cook, has won 40 games in his three major league seasons, and he is only nine months older than Parker. Cahill won 18 games in 2010 before falling to 12 last season, which he believed was a direct result of getting away from a curveball that he plans to throw more often this year. Saunders was re-signed to a one-year deal in January. He went 12–13 with a 3.69 ERA and tied a career-high with 33 starts in 2011. Collmenter, a funky righthander whose ultra-overhand delivery is a result of throwing hatchets as a youngster in the woods of Michigan, won 10 games despite not entering the rotation until May 14. Collmenter commands an 87 mph fastball and a 78 mph change with devastating effectiveness.

Everything Towers has touched recently has turned to gold, and the retooled bullpen is the prime example. Closer J.J. Putz had a career-high 45 saves after signing a two-year, $10 million free agent deal in the winter of 2010. He proved to be a steal, and his numbers might have been even better had he not missed a month with right shoulder tendinitis. When Putz, a sinker-changeup guy, was out, setup man David Hernandez filled in seamlessly, converting all seven of his save opportunities during that stretch. He and Putz were the principal reasons the D-backs’ bullpen ERA dropped more than two runs from 2010 to 2011. Towers did not stand pat, signing free agent Takashi Saito, who will start the season on the DL, and acquiring lefthander Craig Breslow in the Cahill deal. Saito missed half of 2011 with a variety of ailments but was his normal effective self when he got on the mound, although he is more of an every-other-day pitcher at age 42. Breslow gives the D-backs a second lefthander to pair with specialist Joe Paterson, who set a franchise record with 19 consecutive scoreless appearances to start the season last year. Breslow is considered a one- or even two-inning guy. Sidearmer Brad Ziegler will begin his first full season with the D-backs after coming over at the trade deadline. Righthander Bryan Shaw, one of seven D-backs who made the jump from Double-A Mobile to the major leagues last season, enters spring training expected to contribute in the seventh after a strong finish.

Middle Infield
Shortstop Stephen Drew suffered a fractured right ankle when his spikes caught in the dirt around home plate against Milwaukee on July 20, and his status is still uncertain on Opening Day. Willie Bloomquist, who stabilized the infield after coming over from Kansas City to replace the injured Drew, will fill that role again to start the season. He can run and gets the job done on defense. Second baseman Aaron Hill will begin his first full season with the D-backs after making a big splash following his acquisition from Toronto last August. Hill improved the D-backs’ middle infield defense, and his bat was a plus. He may not be a 36-homer guy any longer, but his line drive bat plays well at Chase Field.

Paul Goldschmidt will take over first base full time after continuing his power ascent with a strong two months following his promotion from Double-A Mobile last Aug. 1. Including the playoffs, Goldschmidt hit a combined 40 homers last year. But unlike many power hitters, he’s not pull-happy, and his triple that clinched the NL West title last year came to right-center field. Third baseman Ryan Roberts put up a career year — 19 homers, 18 stolen bases — in his first full season in the majors after making the team when Geoff Blum suffered a knee injury in spring training last year.

Justin Upton looks to build on his breakout season, and there is no reason to believe he cannot. With the help of hitting coach Don Baylor, Upton tweaked his batting approach on a day off in Houston late last May and took off afterward, finishing fourth in the NL MVP balloting. With a rare combination of power and speed, he set career highs in almost every offensive category in his first 30-homer, 20-stolen base season. He also grades out high in outfield range. Chris Young is another superior defender, especially valuable in spacious Chase Field, and has a franchise record three 20-20 seasons, reaching that level despite a thumb injury that he played through in the second half last year. Kubel, who signed a two-year, $15 million free agent deal in the offseason, will add stability to what has been a revolving door in left field. His bat is his best asset, and his all-fields approach should work better at hitter-friendly Chase Field than at Minnesota’s Target Field.

Finally healthy, Miguel Montero put up a career year, both offensive and defensively. Montero settled into the cleanup spot midway through the season, and strong offensive numbers helped him to his first All-Star Game. Somewhat overshadowed was a significant improvement in his mechanics behind the plate, especially in his footwork. Montero threw out 36.8 percent of the runners who attempted to steal on him, the best percentage in the majors last year.

Gerardo Parra, who won his first Gold Glove in left field last year, will be a handy fourth outfielder after the offseason acquisition of Kubel. Parra has the best outfield arm on the team, and the D-backs expect him to fill in at all three outfield spots. Bloomquist is a reliable multi-tasker who can play the middle infield and every outfield position. Once Drew returns, Bloomquist will immediately improve the bench. John McDonald is another veteran shortstop whose glove is his primary asset. Veteran catcher Henry Blanco had eight homers in 100 at-bats last season and proved to be a strong clubhouse presence, and he also is credited with helping Montero on the defensive side. Veteran Lyle Overbay returns to mentor Goldschmidt and provide a left-handed bat when the D-backs want to load up against a righthander.

Managing partner Ken Kendrick and president/CEO Derrick Hall have put the right pieces in place. Towers added exactly the right pieces on the field and brought an immediate change to the clubhouse chemistry in his first full season. His best move was retaining manager Kirk Gibson, who spent the last half of 2010 as the interim manager. Gibson’s all-baseball, all-the-time approach was a night-and-day change from the laissez-faire approach of the previous regime, and the 27-out mindset helped the D-backs record 48 come-from-behind victories. Gibson justly deserved his NL Manager of the Year award. Ownership has shown a willingness to spend money at the trade deadline, and Towers always seems to find a good fit.

Final Analysis
The D-backs are in a great position to defend their NL West title. They have no bad contracts, a youngish group of core position players and pitchers, and a minor league farm system that is deep in prospects, especially pitchers. Career years from a half-dozen players certainly played into their unexpected 2011 success, but with Gibson calling the shots you can be sure that there will be no complacency moving forward. This is a team with its best days still ahead.




Batting Order
SS Willie Bloomquist (R)
Hit safely in 46 of 57 starts at shortstop; added 20 stolen bases, second-most in his career. Filled in after Drew’s injury last season, and will pick up there now.
2B Aaron Hill (R)
Hit .315 with 12 doubles and 16 RBIs in 33 games after joining the D-backs in August.
RF Justin Upton (R)
A two-time All-Star who could be on the cusp of superstardom; turns 25 in August.
C Miguel Montero (L)
Led National League catchers with 36 doubles, 86 RBIs and .471 slugging percentage in 2011.
CF Chris Young (R)
Added a more discerning eye to his toolbox by drawing a career-high 80 walks last year.
LF Jason Kubel (L)
Averaged 19 home runs, 79 RBIs in last five seasons as an outfielder/DH in Minnesota. His shortcomings on defense may allow Parra more playing time.
1B Paul Goldschmidt (R)
Two of first three major league homers were against Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee.
3B Ryan Roberts (R)
The most unexpected surprise a year ago, when he set career highs in virtually all categories.

OF Gerardo Parra (L)
Great arm, good range; should see time at all three outfield spots after 2011 Gold Glove year.
1B Lyle Overbay (L)
The only member of both the 2001 and 2011 D-backs’ NL West division winners.
SS John McDonald (R)
Smooth glove man who gives the D-backs a third option at shortstop.
C Henry Blanco (R)
Has thrown out a remarkable 41.3 percent of potential base-stealers in his career.
UT Geoff Blum (S)
Can play anywhere and will be valuable off the bench.
SS Stephen Drew (L)
Still not recovered from bad ankle injury that limited him to 86 games, a career-low since becoming a regular in 2007.

RH Ian Kennedy
Went 10–0 against NL West, including 3–0 against both San Francisco and Los Angeles.
RH Daniel Hudson
Had 16 victories and won a Silver Slugger in his first full year in a major league rotation.
RH Josh Collmenter
Rookie season included three stretches of at least 13 consecutive scoreless innings.
RH Trevor Cahill
Has 40 major league victories before reaching his 24th birthday, all with the Oakland A’s.
LH Joe Saunders
Re-signed with th Diamondbacks in January; pitched over 200 innings, with a 1.31 WHIP, in 2011.

RH J.J. Putz (Closer)
Converted first 16 save opportunities, later had a run of 24 straight.
RH David Hernandez
Hard thrower held opponents to .193 batting average; lefties hit only .171.
RH Takashi Saito
Offseason selling point? He shut out the D-backs in three playoff appearances.
LH Craig Breslow
Has averaged 73 appearances in the last three seasons, almost all with Oakland.
RH Brad Ziegler
Held opponents scoreless in 19 of his 23 appearances after joining the D-backs.
LH Joe Paterson
Made 19 consecutive scoreless appearances in his first major league season.
RH Bryan Shaw
Conversion to the bullpen two years ago has paid dividends for the 2008 second-round pick.

<p> The Diamondbacks are in it to win it, again, although they will no longer be able to sneak up on the NL West after their stunning worst-to-first run to the division title in 2011. The D-backs must be considered a top contender to repeat.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 12:17
Path: /mlb/colorado-rockies-2012-preview

Colorado Rockies

Press releases, not press conferences, have been the offseason norm for the Rockies in recent years when introducing new players. But after their hugely disappointing 2011 season, the Rockies uncharacteristically splurged in the free agent market by signing right fielder Michael Cuddyer to a three-year, $31.5 million contract and held a press conference at Coors Field to celebrate his arrival. Cuddyer will strengthen the offense and bring some veteran accountability and a team-first outlook that the clubhouse could use to help the Rockies move past a dismal 2011. But if the Rockies are to contend this season, it will be because their starting pitching moved beyond potential to genuine production. Last year at the trade deadline, GM Dan O’Dowd dealt Ubaldo Jimenez, the Rockies’ erstwhile ace but a very ordinary pitcher since the 2010 All-Star break, to the Indians for four players, including pitchers Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. Offseason deals brought pitchers Jeremy Guthrie from Baltimore, Kevin Slowey from the Twins, Tyler Chatwood from the Angels and Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman from the A’s. The Rockies need at least one of these pitchers to step forward this season. But they also need Jhoulys Chacin, whose performance was spotty over the final three-and-a-half months last year, to find the fastball command that was elusive and led to his inconsistency after a brilliant start. If the starting pitching comes together, the Rockies could contend in a division that is by no means overwhelming. But if it doesn’t, the Rockies won’t be playing in October, despite the contributions of Cuddyer on and off the field.

Guthrie led the Orioles with 16 quality starts, but his 17 losses in 26 decisions tied for the sixth-most in club history. He hasn’t posted a winning record since 2007, but he’s been a victim of poor luck and run support. The Rox are counting on him leading the staff on and off the field. While the Rockies are waiting on their young starters to mature, they have the ageless Jamie Moyer following Guthrie to the mound. Coming off Tommy John surgery that cost him last season, Moyer is set to become the oldest pitcher to win a major league game. Veteran lefthander Jorge De La Rosa, who underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2010, is due back around the All-Star break, maybe sooner. Chacin, 24, has the stuff to pitch near the front of the rotation but needs better fastball command, which can come with more consistent mechanics, to reach his lofty potential. Juan Nicasio, who suffered a broken neck on Aug. 5 when he was hit on the right side of the head with a line drive, has made a remarkable recovery and is expected to be in the rotation. Moscoso, acquired from the A’s in January, held opponents to a .212 average in 23 games (21 starts) with Oakland last season. Pomeranz was impressive during a September call-up. White, Chatwood and Esmil Rogers will contend for the rotation at some point this season.

Rafael Betancourt filled in for injured closer Huston Street for two weeks in August and supplanted Street with what became part of a dominant second-half stretch. The Rockies are confident Betancourt can close, something he has never done to enter a season, and freed up $7 million by trading Street to the Padres for a minor leaguer. The bullpen was a strength last year and should be again — assuming Betancourt continues to close effectively — with lefthander Rex Brothers along with Matt Belisle available for late-inning work. Outman, part of the Moscoso deal, was terrific against left-handed batters last year with the A’s. Middle relief arms include White, Chatwood and Rogers, assuming they don’t win a rotation spot, and Josh Roenicke.

Middle Infield
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is one of the best players in the game, a productive clean-up hitter and a Gold Glove winner. He’s 27, so there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to be a force on both sides of the ball. Marco Scutaro was brought over from Boston to play second. He brings a veteran presence and some offense, having hit .299 last season for the Red Sox. He’s steady in all phases and unafraid of big situations, as his 10 lifetime walkoffs suggest.

Todd Helton is 38 but had a nice comeback in 2011, and the Rockies will hope he can give them similar output this year. He doesn’t hit a lot of homers anymore but hits his share of doubles, draws walks and makes pitchers work. Helton’s defense remains superb. Back soreness idled him for most of September and is an ongoing concern. Jordan Pacheco, originally a middle infielder who was converted to catcher in 2008, is now back in the infield. He made starts last season at first, second, third and catcher. He will keep third base warm until the arrival Nolan Arenado, one of the organization’s top prospects. Arenado played High-A ball last year and will have a chance to make the Rockies in spring training but seems destined to begin the season at Double-A and not arrive in the big leagues until August or September, if he gets there at all this season.

Left fielder Carlos Gonzalez and center fielder Dexter Fowler are very good defensive players, which can’t be said for Cuddyer. But Cuddyer gives the Rockies an impact right-handed bat and veteran leadership. Upon his return from a one-month stay in the minors, Fowler was very productive after the All-Star break, and the Rockies are hopeful he can finally sustain that consistency over a full season as he enters his fourth season in the majors. Gonzalez had a decent season but not as robust as 2010 because of a slow start and a July 3 collision with a wall at Coors Field that resulted in a lingering right wrist issue. When healthy in 2010, Gonzalez was a five-tool threat and one of the best all-around players in the game.

The Rockies signed free agent Ramon Hernandez to a two-year, $6.4 million contract and traded Chris Iannetta to the Angels for Chatwood. Hernandez, who turns 36 in May, will help mentor prospect Wilin Rosario, who came up in September from Double-A and will be given more than a typical backup’s share of starts. Hernandez is likely to hit for a better average with similar power to Iannetta but will walk less.

Jason Giambi gives the Rockies a left-handed power-hitting threat off the bench, and he can spell Helton at first base. Newcomer Tyler Colvin and switch-hitter Eric Young Jr. will be used often off the bench. Chris Nelson will be the primary reserve infielder.

Coming off a hugely disappointing season, O’Dowd had a busy offseason, trading Iannetta, Street, third baseman Ian Stewart, infielder Ty Wigginton, outfielder Seth Smith and signing free agents Hernandez and Cuddyer, whom the Rockies have been interested in since the middle of last season. One of O’Dowd’s objectives was to change the mix in the clubhouse, but he realizes that newcomers can only have so much of an effect. “I don’t think anybody we bring in from the outside is going to change our culture, our environment,” he says. “Our players internally are going to have to make their mind up about what kind of clubhouse and what kind of environment and what kind of team they want to be part of day in and day out.”

Final Analysis
The addition of Cuddyer will help an offense that already had Gonzalez and Tulowitzki, two of the better players in the game. If Fowler finally fulfills his potential — which he showed could be the case in the second half of 2011 — the offense has an element of speed and is that much more effective. But ultimately, if the Rockies are going to contend, they are going to need some of their young starters to step forward and pitch effectively and hope De La Rosa can hit the ground running when he returns around midseason.





Batting Order
CF Dexter Fowler (S)
Must reduce strikeout rate, which was one every 3.7 at-bats overall and one every 3.3 batting left-handed.
2B Marco Scutaro (R)
Scutaro’s a luxury in that he can bat atop the order or at the bottom of it.
LF Carlos Gonzalez (L)
Set franchise record with an RBI in 11 straight games (and 21 total) from Aug. 15-27.
SS Troy Tulowitzki (R)
In 1,486 career plate appearances in second half of season, has .321 average, .944 OPS.
1B Todd Helton (L)
Last hit 20 homers in 2005; 14 last year were lowest total in a season with 400 at-bats.
RF Michael Cuddyer (R)
Hit 10 homers in 151 at-bats against left-handed pitchers and 10 against righthanders in 378 at-bats.
C Ramon Hernandez (R)
Threw out 37 percent of runners attempting to steal last year.
3B Jordan Pacheco (R)
Second player in franchise history with a seven-game hitting streak in first 10 major league games.

2B Chris Nelson (R)
Made 39 starts last year, including 23 at second base, 14 at third base and two at shortstop.
1B Jason Giambi (L)
Ranks 42nd all-time with 428 homers, 39th all-time with 1,314 walks and 71st all-time with 1,397 RBIs.
C Wilin Rosario (R)
The catcher of the future has some power.
INF Jonathan Herrera (S)
Two errors in 247 chances at second base, three errors overall at second, third and shortstop.
OF Tyler Colvin (L)
Acquired from Cubs with DJ LeMahieu for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers.
UT Eric Young, Jr. (S)
Bring speed and versatility.

RH Jeremy Guthrie
Has pitched 200 innings or more last three seasons, but is 47–65 lifetime.
LH Jamie Moyer
Amazing comeback story at age 49. With his first victory he will become the oldest pitcher to record a win.
RH Juan Nicasio
Held righthanders to .205 average and two homers, but lefthanders hit .313 with six homers.
RH Jhoulys Chacin
Led NL with 87 walks or average of 4.04 per nine innings, but limited opponents to .231 average.

RH Rafael Betancourt (Closer)
Held opponents to .203 average with eight walks, 73 strikeouts and 46 hits allowed in 62.1 innings.
LH Rex Brothers
Opponents hit .221 against him in 77 at-bats at Coors Field and .213 in 75 at-bats on the road.
RH Matt Belisle
Made 74 appearances following 76 in 2010 with total of 30 walks and 149 strikeouts in 164 innings.
LH Matt Reynolds
Lefthanders hit .292, and righthanders hit .217 against him.
RH Tyler Chatwood
Was 6-11 in 25 starts for the Angels last season.
RH Esmil Rogers
Was 6-6, but allowed 110 hits in 83 innings with a 7.05 ERA.
RH Josh Roenicke
Earned a spot in the bullpen with good spring training.

<p> If the starting pitching comes together, the Rockies could contend in a division that is by no means overwhelming.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 12:01
Path: /mlb/san-diego-padres-2012-preview-0

San Diego Padres

Just when it was looking like the Padres were building for the future, new general manager Josh Byrnes made two moves in late December that should at least give the Padres some hope in 2012, even if they’re still long shots to win the NL West. Byrnes made a New Year’s Eve splash when he acquired All-Star slugger Carlos Quentin from the Chicago White Sox for two prospects, bringing the left fielder to his hometown. The addition of Quentin, who’s had four straight 20-homer seasons, is an immediate upgrade for a weak offense. Two weeks earlier, Byrnes swapped mercurial starter Mat Latos for starter Edinson Volquez and first baseman Yonder Alonso, plus two prospects. The two moves showed that Byrnes and CEO Jeff Moorad are willing to take on some salary and acquire established major leaguers in exchange for some of the prospects the franchise has been stockpiling for two years. In another notable deal, Byrnes traded Anthony Rizzo, one of three prospects obtained for Adrian Gonzalez a year earlier, for reliever Andrew Cashner.

With Latos gone to the Reds and 14-game winner and local product Aaron Harang off to the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, the Padres’ rotation should still be solid, even if it doesn’t have a marquee name. The starting five is expected to be Tim Stauffer, Volquez, Cory Luebke, lefty Clayton Richard and Dustin Moseley. The low-key Stauffer has carried the Padres in big situations before and was the Opening Day starter in 2011. Richard and Moseley are both coming off shoulder surgeries and are expected to be ready to go by spring training. Volquez is trying to bounce back from a disappointing season. An All-Star in 2008, he still hasn’t regained the form he had before having reconstructive elbow surgery. Of the five, only Stauffer came close to double-digit wins last season; he went 9–12 with a 3.73 ERA.

Byrnes had to do some tweaking to the bullpen. He didn’t make an attempt to keep closer Heath Bell, and setup man Mike Adams was traded to Texas for prospects in late July. Bell signed with Miami for $27 million over three years, the kind of money the Padres say they’d never spend on one player. Byrnes responded by trading for closer Huston Street from the division rival Colorado Rockies. The 28-year-old Street had 29 saves in 33 chances in 2011. He says he’s looking forward to pitching at sea level in pitcher-friendly Petco Park rather than at mile-high Coors Field. Luke Gregerson, the opening salvo in what had been a 1-2-3 punch with Adams and Bell, is expected to retain his seventh-inning role. Cashner, obtained when Rizzo was sent to the Cubs, is expected to be the setup man. Ernesto Frieri is solid.

Middle Infield
Shortstop Jason Bartlett and second baseman Orlando Hudson could very well be in their second and final seasons with the Padres. Bartlett hasn’t regained his 2009 All-Star form while with Tampa Bay, and Hudson showed too many lapses in judgment in the field. In one game, Hudson lost track of the number of outs and tossed a live ball to a ball girl, who tossed it into the stands. At least twice he remained on the ground instead of hustling up to grab a live ball, allowing base-runners to advance. Each player will make $5.5 million this year. Hudson got a sweet deal from the Padres, whose CEO, Moorad, represented Hudson during his days as an agent.

After getting their wish for the Padres to promote Rizzo last spring, fans watched as Rizzo had a few good games, then struggled mightily with his big, looping swing. The Padres acquired Alonso in the deal for Latos, and he immediately becomes the leading contender for the starting job at first base. Alonso, the seventh overall pick in the 2008 draft, was stuck behind Joey Votto with the Reds and was moved to left field briefly last season. He batted .330 with five homers and 15 RBIs in 47 games. Chase Headley remains the third baseman, although there’s never a shortage of rumors that he’ll be moved. Headley continues to lack decent power numbers at spacious Petco Park. He missed 39 games with a broken left pinkie, hit only four homers and struck out 92 times.

Until the addition of Quentin on New Year’s Eve, the emerging star of this group had been center fielder Cameron Maybin. Maybin is exciting in the field, at the plate and on the base paths. He set career-highs in nearly every offensive category in his first year with San Diego, including games (137), runs (82), hits (136), doubles (24), triples (8), home runs (9), RBIs (40) and stolen bases (40). He led the team in runs, triples, stolen bases and posted a career-high 37 multi-hit games. His 40 stolen bases ranked tied for fourth-most in the majors and tied for second-most in the National League. After recovering from knee surgery, which should be by the end of May, Quentin will start in left and provide badly needed power in the middle of the lineup. A two-time AL All-Star, the hometown product has had four straight 20-homer seasons, including 36 in 2008. Rightfielder Will Venable struggled so badly last season that he was sent down to the minors to work on his swing, and still finished with a .246 average. Jesus Guzman, who will see significant time in the outfield, especially until Quentin is completely healthy, hit .312 after his promotion, ranking 13th-best in the National League from June 16 through the end of the season.

Nick Hundley has established himself as the front-line catcher. He started a career-high-tying 73 games, his third straight season of 70 or more starts. He had two trips to the disabled list, the first for a strained muscle in his right side and the second after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow. He also showed nice pop with the bat, setting career-highs with nine homers, a .288 average, .347 on-base percentage and.477 slugging percentage. The backup will be John Baker, who missed most of last season after having elbow surgery. He had only two hits in 16 games with the Marlins but has a career on-base percentage of .356.

Mark Kotsay, signed as a free agent in November, will be a backup outfielder but, more important, a veteran presence for a young club. Outfielder Chris Denorfia has been solid in his two seasons with the Padres. The Padres continue to have hopes for shortstop Everth Cabrera, who’s been up and down after joining the club as a Rule 5 draftee. He’ll start 2012 in the minors. Guzman’s bat is too valuable, so he’s expected to see time in both the outfield and at first.

Moorad, the CEO and minority owner, got what he wanted during a management shuffle that saw Jed Hoyer leave for the Cubs, where he’s been reunited with Theo Epstein. That allowed Moorad to promote Byrnes to GM. Byrnes was GM when Moorad was an executive with the Diamondbacks, and was fired the season after Moorad left to buy the Padres. Finances will force Byrnes to continue the philosophy of building the farm system to restock the big league club. Moorad is still in the process of purchasing the team on the installment plan from John Moores.

Final Analysis
While the rival Dodgers gave Matt Kemp a $160 million contract and the neighboring Angels gave Albert Pujols a $250 million deal, and division rival San Francisco ponied up more than $200 million to keep starter Matt Cain, the Padres will operate with a player payroll now in the upper $50 million range. The willingness to acquire Quentin, Volquez and Alonso changed the complexion of the club and shows that the Padres are looking for something a little quicker than a total rebuilding job. A change from those boring, low-scoring nights at Petco Park would be a good thing for San Diego’s long-suffering fans.




Batting Order
CF Cameron Maybin (R)
Padres’ most exciting player could be face of franchise for years.
RF Will Venable (L)
Homegrown talent struggled at plate so badly last year he was sent to minors to work on swing.
3B Chase Headley (S)
Low power numbers, development of prospect Jedd Gyorko have people wondering how long he’ll be around.
LF Jesus Guzman (R)
Came from nowhere to become Padres’ most consistent hitter and earn a roster spot for this year. Team may face a tough decision when Quentin returns.
1B Yonder Alonso (L)

Is expected to make people forget Rizzo-mania — at least for the time being.
C Nick Hundley (R)
Impressive offensive year included career-best nine homers, .288 average, .347 OBP, .477 SLG.
2B Orlando Hudson (S)
Brain cramps on defense had people wondering why Padres gave the O Dog a big contract.
SS Jason Bartlett (R)
Solid if not flashy with glove, batting average continued downward trend at .245.

OF Carlos Quentin (R)
Brings his power to Petco Park after four straight 20-homer seasons with White Sox. Knee surgery will keep him out until at least mid-May.
OF Mark Kotsay (L)
Signed for his clubhouse leadership as much as his left-handed bat off the bench.
C John Baker (L)
Left-handed hitter missed most of 2011 with Marlins after having right elbow surgery.
OF Chris Denorfia (R)
Can play all three outfield spots; made 72 starts in 2011 and is solid backup with nice bat.
1B/OF Kyle Blanks (R)
The .219 career hitter has yet to show the potential displayed in the minors.
1B/OF Andy Parrino (S)
Hit .327 in a partial season at Triple-A last year. In 1,547 prior minor league at-bats at lower levels, he hit just .258.
OF Jeremy Hermida (L)
Made the team as a non-roster player after injuries opened some spots.

RH Tim Stauffer
Opening Day starter set career-highs in starts (31), wins (9), innings (185.1) and strikeouts (128).
RH Edinson Volquez
2008 All-Star still struggling to regain form after 2009 reconstructive elbow surgery.
LH Cory Luebke
Recorded a career-high 154 strikeouts, in 139.2 innings, second-most by a Padres rookie.
LH Clayton Richard
Made 18 starts before undergoing season-ending arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder on July 29.
RH Dustin Moseley
Had career-bests in starts (20), innings (120), ERA (3.30) and strikeouts (64) before shoulder surgery.

RH Huston Street (Closer)
Former Longhorn had 29 saves in 33 chances for division-rival Rockies in 2011.
RH Luke Gregerson
Only one of big three left; worked scoreless ball in 48 of 61 outings, including 23 of 30 at home.
RH Ernesto Frieri
Middle relief workhorse had 76 strikeouts in 63 innings over 59 appearances, all career bests.
RH Andrew Cashner
After missing bulk of ’11 with rotator cuff injury with Cubs, is expected to assume setup role.
LH Joe Thatcher
Made 18 appearances in final two months after having surgery on left shoulder in early May.

<p> Just when it was looking like the Padres were building for the future, new general manager Josh Byrnes made two moves in late December that should at least give the Padres some hope in 2012, even if they’re still long shots to win the NL West.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 11:47
Path: /nascar/nascar-throwing-caution-wind

Exploring the lack of yellow flags in the Sprint Cup Series this season

by Tom Bowles

For years, NASCAR has given new meaning to the phrase “contact sport.” With 43 cars in close proximity at tracks as little as a half-mile in length, it’s hard to run mistake-free, as one bad bump between two combatants can lead to SportsCenter highlights for the sparks that fly afterwards. Heck, as we’ve seen this season, even the jet dryers aren’t immune to danger when someone – or something – breaks.

Those types of scenarios that cause the field to bunch up under yellow, from the bizarre to the mundane (a hot dog wrapper can cause a caution for debris), have played into the sport’s strategy and unpredictability for decades. But as the story of NASCAR 2012 continues to unfold, one of the biggest storylines continues to be how Sprint Cup racing has “cleaned up” its act.

Through six events — even with the Daytona explosion — the sport has seen just 38 caution flags, the fewest number in nearly a dozen years. Half-mile ovals like Bristol and Martinsville, once known for their Demolition Derby status, each had two green-flag runs of well over 100 laps. At Fontana, Mother Nature was the only thing stopping the first caution-free race since 2002. Even crashfest Daytona, with its 10 yellow flags, saw that number drop sharply from 16 the previous year.

So what gives? For one, NASCAR’s Chase system appears to be backfiring early in the regular season. The new rules state that to make the playoffs, a driver must do one of two things: finish inside the top 10 in points or earn one of two “wild card” positions by having the most victories among those not already qualified. The only caveat there is you have to be inside the top 20 in points; however, with only about 30 fully-funded cars running this season that’s not exactly a major obstacle to overcome. Case in point: Jeff Gordon, whose year has already included more bad breaks than the North Carolina backcourt in the NCAA Tournament, yet he sits 21st in the standings, just seven outside of the magical cutoff. One win — as early as Texas next weekend — and the No. 24 will have all but qualified for the playoffs.

That sets the bar low for the sport’s top drivers, and as Jimmie Johnson has proven in recent years, they certainly know it. More and more, teams are developing the five-time champ’s mentality to treat the regular season like a “test session,” accumulating points when possible but not overdoing it for fear of what amounts to a points penalty by pushing your car to the ragged edge. This system also rewards consistency, not risk, which means a 35th-place effort for wrecking while gunning for the lead in the final few laps could be devastating. It’s a culture where “hanging out” in seventh place has been cultivated as the ultimate reward — have a B-plus day and you’ll have a shot for the A-plus trophy by making the playoffs in September.

This creates a domino effect on the racetrack. When drivers get conservative, they won’t push the issue and run side-by-side. That lessens the chances for contact and, ultimately, a wreck that would cause a caution. Riding, not racing, has never been more prevalent — and it’s a growing problem NASCAR will have to address with its constituents never feeling a sense of urgency.

Of course, NASCAR has helped its own “caution-free” cause by virtually wiping out any for “debris.” A growing complaint among longtime fans, that the sport is manipulating those yellow flags to keep the field bunched up, seems to have fallen on the right ears. The temptation to interrupt the flow of Fontana, where each car had the equivalent of the Mojave Desert between them, had to be overwhelming at times, but officials respected the integrity of the race and didn’t allow a piece of plastic to alter the way strategy naturally played out.

There’s another side to this whole green-flag flow to be aware of, and it’s perhaps the most important factor: This year’s caution flag total is nearly identical to 2004, the first year of the Chase that also suffered from a lack of competitive teams on race day. Only 36 fully-funded teams, at times, attempted races and there were a similar number of start-and-parkers filling the field like the Cup Series today. Then, like now, some of the sport’s biggest names were struggling for sponsorship while there appeared to be a lack of both new ownership and cash flowing its way into the sport.

When faced with that scenario, it’s easy for drivers to get conservative because, simply put, there isn’t any money to fix wrecked racecars. We’ve seen that in the Nationwide Series the past couple of years already. Drivers readily admit their sole course of action is survival because their ride doesn’t even come equipped with a backup. If you’re about to run side-by-side with a rival, and it’s a risky move and you don’t have the money to fix mangled sheet metal … would you do it? The “short-term pain for long-term gain” theory applies, as drivers are content to ride around simply because they need to be financially secure that his or her same ride will be around the next week.

So is a breakout of green-flag competition a good thing? It depends on what the drivers do with it. Racing clean is what everyone — fans and competitors alike — would like to see, but there’s a difference between that and staying conservative. In the end, as we’ve discussed many times in this space, sports is entertainment, and a single-file procession in the name of getting to the next regular season event doesn’t exactly light up a viewers’ smile on the couch. When drivers literally can’t afford to get aggressive, the only way you force it out of them is through the proximity of double-file restarts after cautions. So does that mean NASCAR should start waving yellow flags for any old reason, like the aforementioned mystery debris? That’s not the right answer, either.

The ultimate solution lies in the boardroom, not the racetrack. But until we see greater financial stability, the “survival style” racing may be the norm – not the exception — for the foreseeable future.

Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles

<p> Athlon Sports contributor Tom Bowles examines the lack of caution flags in NASCAR in 2012 and why teams and drivers are not being more aggressive.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 10:20
All taxonomy terms: Golf, News
Path: /golf/masters-tv-schedule

MastersCue the piano music — it's time for A Tradition Unlike Any Other. Here's the schedule for Masters television coverage.

Thursday — ESPN 3-7:30 p.m. & 8-11 p.m. (re-air) 
CBS — 11:30-11:45 p.m. (highlights)

Friday — ESPN 3-7:30 p.m & 8-11 p.m. (re-air)
CBS — 11:30-11:45 (highlights) 

Saturday — CBS 3:30-7 p.m. 

Sunday — CBS 2-7 p.m. 


<p> Cue the piano music — it's time for A Tradition Unlike Any Other.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 10:02
Path: /college-football/ucla-bruins-2012-spring-preview

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

UCLA Bruins 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 6-8, 5-4 Pac-12  

Spring practice: April 3-May 5 

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 8

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Kevin Prince, 126 of 224, 1,828 yards, 12 TD, 8 INT
Rushing: Johnathan Franklin, 166 att., 976 yards, 5 TD
Receiving: Joseph Fauria, 39 rec., 481 yards, 6 TD
Tackles: Patrick Larimore, 81
Sacks: Datone Jones, 3
Interceptions: Andrew Abbott, 4

Redshirts to watch: QB Brett Hundley, NT Kevin McReynolds, WR Devin Lucien, OG Ben Wyscoki, DE Sam Tai, NT Brandon Tuliaupupu

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 at Rice
Sept. 8 Nebraska
Sept. 15 Houston
Sept. 22 Oregon State
Sept. 29 at Colorado
Oct. 6 at Cal
Oct. 13 Utah
Oct. 20 Bye Week
Oct. 27 at Arizona State
Nov. 3 Arizona
Nov. 10 at Washington State
Nov. 17 USC
Nov. 24 Stanford

Offensive Strength: There is a bit of tie between the offensive line and skills players. Both lost quality starters but both return deep and versatile groups with upside. Johnathan Franklin, Joseph Fauria and Malcolm Jones should provide plenty of playmaking ability behind what could be a solid offensive line.

Offensive Weakness: The quarterback position has been a major issue for the Bruins for the better part of a decade. Does this sound familar? This roster has lots of talented depth at the position but lacks a consistent, driving force under center.

Defensive Strength: By all accounts, this defensive line has a chance to be one of the best in the conference. The collective star-rankings of names like Cassius Marsh, Owamagbe Odigizuwa, Brandon Willis and Datone Jones as recruits looks real pretty on paper. The depth and talent of this group is too much not to be the strength of this unit.

Defensive Weakness: Leadership and development. This unit is loaded with elite recruits at nearly every position. Yet, somehow this group finished 92nd in the nation in scoring defense at over 31 points allowed per game and 89th in total defense at over 417 yards per game. With a totally new coaching staff, finding leaders on this side of the ball will be key. Can the defensive line be both the strength and weakness of a defense?

Spring Storylines Facing the Bruins:

1. Building cohesion on a brand new coaching staff. Mora is hungry to prove he can win and he started by building a deep and talented coaching staff around him. He hired former Arizona State coordinator Noel Mazzone to run his offense and former Washington Redskins linebackers coach Lou Spanos to manage the defense. With the crosstown rival USC rising once again into national prominence, this coaching staff has to get acclimated with Westwood and its roster in a hurry this spring. After the Trojans, the South is wide open and UCLA is as talented as any other team in this league. It will be all about the coaching. 

2. Mazzone's first order of business is to implement his up-tempo scheme and find someone to run it with consistent efficiency. The quarterback position has been a complete failure for the Bruins since...Cade McNown? But UCLA has not been without talent at the position and this roster will be no different. Incumbents Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut need to adjust more to the new speed of the offense (think Oregon Ducks) rather than the new formation as it shifts from a true pistol to a hybrid spread attack. Redshirt freshman Brett Hundley and true frosh T.J. Millweard should also press for reps this spring as well. Prince will get the first crack as the most experienced player on the team, but Mazzone should have no loyalties when deciding who will run his offense in 2012.

3. Organizing the offensive line will go a long way to developing a signal caller. Three contributors are gone from the front line, but there is plenty of talent returning. Greg Capella (14), Jeff Baca (11), Alberto Cid (6), Chris Ward (4) and Wade Yandall (3) all got starting experience a year ago and will be champing at the bit to earn a starting spot. What could make this a special group is former uber-recruit Xavier Su'a Filo. He returns from his two-year Mormon Mission after flashing elite ability as a true freshman in 2009. Should he be ready to go at a BCS championship level, this group could turn into a strength of a team that was able to move the football on the ground last fall — third in the Pac-12 (178.4 ypg).

4. Spanos has a glut of riches to work with along the defensive line and three linebackers returning with a total of 218 tackles last year. But this unit finished 11th in the conference in rushing defense (190.6 ypg, 96th nationally) and was 112th nationally in quarterback sacks. If this defense is going to improve — which it needs to do across the board — stabilizing the front seven will be paramount this spring. There is too much talent on the front line and too much experience in the linebackers for this group not to show marked improvement in 2012. Spanos should have fun installing his system.

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

Related Content Links:

Ranking the Pac-12's Head Coaches for 2012
Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

2012 Very Early Pac-12 Predictions

<p> UCLA Bruins 2012 Spring Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 07:00