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Path: /nfl/super-bowl-xlvi-hall-famers

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee will meet in Indianapolis on Feb. 4, the day before Super Bowl XLVI, to debate and vote on the 2012 Hall of Fame class — which will be the 50th class honored in Canton, Ohio. This year’s field has been narrowed down to 15 modern-era finalists and two senior nominees.

In order to be elected, a finalist must receive 80 percent of the vote from the 44-member panel. According to Hall of Fame rules, “no more than five modern-era nominees may be elected in a given year and a class of six or seven can only be achieved if one or both senior nominees are elected.”

This year’s 15 modern-era finalists are:

- Jerome Bettis, RB, Rams (1993-95), Steelers (1996-2005)
- Tim Brown, WR, Raiders (1988-2003), Buccaneers (2004)
- Cris Carter, WR, Eagles (1987-89), Vikings (1990-2001), Dolphins (2002)
- Dermontti Dawson, C, Steelers (1988-2000)
- Edward DeBartolo Jr., Owner, 49ers (1977-2000)
- Chris Doleman, DE, Vikings (1985-93, ’99); Falcons (1994-95), 49ers (1996-98)
- Kevin Greene, OLB, Rams (1985-92), Steelers (1993-95), Panthers (1996, ’98-99), 49ers (1997)
- Charles Haley, DE, 49ers (1986-91, ’99), Cowboys (1992-96)
- Cortez Kennedy, DT, Seahawks (1990-2000)
- Curtis Martin, RB, Patriots (1995-97), Jets (1998-2005)
- Bill Parcells, Coach, Giants (1983-90), Patriots (1993-96), Jets (1997-99), Cowboys (2003-06)
- Andre Reed, WR, Bills (1985-99), Redskins (2000)
- Willie Roaf, T, Saints (1993-2001), Chiefs (2002-05)
- Will Shields, G, Chiefs (1993-2006)
- Aeneas Williams, CB, Cardinals (1991-2000), Rams (2001-04)

Of the 15 modern-era finalists, only Parcells and Shields are new additions to the ballot, on which a player may not appear until he is five years removed from his playing career.

The two senior nominees are Jack Butler, CB, Steelers (1951-59) and Dick Stanfel, G, Lions (1952-55), Redskins (1956-58).

But the question is, how many future Hall of Famers are the New England Patriots and New York Giants bringing to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis?

The following is a tiered rundown of where the best of the best teams in football stand in proximity to Canton:

Tier 1 – Tickets to Canton punched

Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
A win in Super Bowl XLVI would tie Brady with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for most titles ever, with four; he’s already tied with John Elway for most big game appearances, with five. Brady has thrown for 39,979 yards and 300 TDs in essentially 10 seasons — technically 12, but he played just one game apiece in 2000 and ’08. The three-time Super Bowl champ, two-time Super Bowl MVP and two-time league MVP also posted the greatest single season in ’07, tossing 50 TDs en route to the only 16–0 regular season in history. The only debate with Brady is how long will the locks be on his bronze bust in Canton?

Bill Belichick, Coach, Patriots
Since winning two Super Bowls as Bill Parcells’ defensive coordinator with the Giants, Belichick has gone on to win three more rings (in four years, from 2001-04) as coach of the Patriots. The hoodied genius has nine AFC East titles in 12 years, five Super Bowl appearances, a 175–97 regular season record and 17–6 mark in the postseason. At this point, no one even remembers Belichick’s 36–44 run with the Browns from 1991-95 or his surreal one-day stint as the “coach” of the Jets in 2000. At this point, Belichick has surpassed even Parcells on the list of all-time great coaches.

Tier 2 – Win again and you’re in

Eli Manning, QB, Giants
A second Super Bowl win in five years would make Manning the 11th quarterback in history with multiple rings. Of the previous 10, only Jim Plunkett and Ben Roethlisberger are not in the Hall of Fame — and Big Ben, a 2004 draft classmate of Eli’s, isn’t eligible yet. Manning has thrown for 27,579 yards and 185 TDs in eight years, playing in all 16 games in each of the last seven seasons.

Tom Coughlin, Coach, Giants
Once a grumpy old man on the verge of being run out of town, Coughlin has aged like a fine wine in New York and is on the verge of joining Parcells as a two-time Super Bowl champ. Prior to his days with the Giants, Coughlin was the first coach in Jaguars history. Overall, Coughlin has nine playoff trips in 16 seasons, a 142–114 regular season record and 11–7 mark in the playoffs.

Tier 3 – On the bubble for a bust

Vince Wilfork, DT, Patriots
The 325-plus-pounder is the anchor of the Patriots defense, with the versatility to dominate as a zero-technique nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme, a three-technique tackle in a 4-3 or anywhere in between. Numbers don’t tell the whole story of the impact Wilfork has on a game, collapsing the pocket and drawing double- and triple-teams. With one Super Bowl win (as a rookie) and one loss on Super Sunday, Wilfork is hoping the third time’s a charm.

Tier 4 – Fast start, but miles to go

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
The Gronk had the greatest single season a tight end has ever produced — with 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 TDs (and one rush TD) in 2011. Through two seasons, the 6’6”, 265-pound superfreak has 27 receiving scores; Tony Gonzalez has a tight end record 95 TDs over 15 seasons.

Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
Another physical marvel, JPP has Gronk-like size (6’6”, 278), speed and agility. But his upside may be even greater. Pierre-Paul is just scratching the surface, becoming a legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate in just his second season (16.5 sacks, 86 tackles).

Tier 5 – Hall of very good

Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants
Michael Strahan’s former partner in crime has notched 69 sacks and 30 forced fumbles in eight years.

Chad Ochocinco, WR, Patriots
A six-time Pro Bowler, the wideout formerly known as Chad Johnson has 11,059 yards and 67 TDs.

Wes Welker, WR, Patriots
Brady’s go-to slot receiver on underneath routes has 7,226 yards and 32 TDs but no Super Bowl rings.

Justin Tuck, DE, Giants
A beast when healthy, Tuck has 45.5 sacks, 18 forced fumbles and a 41-yard pick six in seven seasons.

<p> Will another Super Bowl win punch Eli Manning's ticket to the Hall of Fame in Canton? A rundown of this year's 15 Hall of Fame finalists as well as the potential future Hall of Famers competing in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 19:13
Path: /columns/garage-talk/10-tough-questions-part-1

What was the reason for the rash of 2011 postseason crew chief changes on championship-caliber teams?

A perfect storm of circumstances and a desire to stay ahead of the competition at all costs.

Steve Addington had been berated enough, thank you, and saw greener pastures with one of the few more talented drivers in the sport. Darian Grubb’s fate was sealed prior to the Chase and no one — including his shopmates — saw a championship coming. Once on the market, Grubb, along with Nationwide Series mainstay Jason Ratcliff, were Joe Gibbs’ solution to the puzzling dilemmas that are the Nos. 11 and 20 teams. Of course, there were more, but these elite-level talent-swaps illustrate what happens when the competition is so tight. What was once thought of as radical — changing pit bosses on championship-caliber teams in December — is now a necessary step for success.

Why? As NASCAR forces teams into a smaller box in which they can operate from a mechanical perspective, they’re left with few alternatives to gain an edge on the competition. One, though, is dabbling with team chemistry. And with most sponsor contracts tied into the driver’s long-term deal, he’s not going to get the heave-ho — after all, the driver is the face of the corporate entity. Therefore, it’s hard for team owners (or drivers) to not fall in love with the successful head wrench across the way.

Will 2011 stand as a watershed moment in today’s NASCAR? Will true December offseason, headline-grabbing moves become the norm? A definitive and hard-lined “yes,” may be presumptuous, but it seems headed that way. 

<p> <span>As the 2012 NASCAR season approaches, Athlon Sports examines 10 controversial issues alive within the sport in the annual five-part, 10 Tough Questions feature, running each day throughout the week.</span></p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 16:19
Path: /nfl/giants-or-patriots-our-super-bowl-selections

It’s almost here. The New England Patriots and New York Giants will meet in another Super Bowl on Sunday, and the two stalwart franchises seem very evenly-matched. Both squads have old-school coaches in Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin, and each will have his team well-prepared for a game that will probably be decided by a couple of key plays. The G-men won a very memorable Super Bowl XLII over the Pats in February 2008, and Eli Manning’s crew also won a dramatic 24-20 decision in New England earlier this season. Not many Patriots are left from that 2007 team, but core guys like Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, Matt Light and Logan Mankins would love to get revenge for ruining their perfect season four years ago. America’s most-watched event will kick off Sunday evening, and hopefully it will be as dramatic as the fourth quarters of the previous Patriots-Giants matchups.

Which team wins Super Bowl XLVI?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I have to go with the Patriots for one reason: Bill Belichick. While many around football put an asterisk by New England’s three Super Bowl wins because of videotaping opponent’s practices, Belichick is still a master schemer and personnel man. He has set up a system of “team” with the Patriots, and they are always prepared to play in all three phases of the game. Heck, Belichick’s system is so good that he took a quarterback who never started a game in college — Matt Cassel — and won 11 games with no time to prep the inexperienced signal caller. I just see the Hoodie coming up with a game plan to slow down the momentum of Eli Manning and the Giants’ wideouts. The 49ers hit Manning several times two weeks ago, and the Patriots defense (which finished 10 spots ahead of the Giants in scoring defense this season) has been playing well lately. The Giants’ defense is also playing well but could barely cover tight end Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship. I see Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski having huge games in New England’s short passing attack, which will keep Tom Brady from having much pressure. There is also the intangible factor of the Patriots always seeming to benefit from a blown call or opponent’s mistake, so I’ll take them to get revenge on the Giants. Patriots 24 Giants 20

Rob Doster
Given the lingering sting of Super Bowl XLII, when the Giants denied the Patriots a shot at unbeaten immortality on the strength of a miracle catch, it seems unthinkable that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will squander this opportunity. Throw in the fact that the Giants have been doing a surprising amount of unseemly woofing while the Patriots have quietly gone about their business, and conditions are favorable for a reckoning for the G-men and a revival of the Patriots dynasty starting at 6:30 pm ET on Sunday. “I’m going to work as hard as I can these next two weeks to be prepared and to hopefully go out there and play my best game, hopefully the best game I’ve ever played,” Brady said after the AFC Championship Game. “That’s what I expect to do. I know that’s what my teammates expect of me.” And it’s what I expect, too. Patriots 27 Giants 21

Mark Ross
Call me a purist, or perhaps somewhat out of touch with the present game, but I tend to side with the team that can play defense. Granted, neither the Giants nor Patriots were all that strong this season, at least statistically speaking, as the G-Men finished the regular season 27th in total defense and the Pats ranked next-to-last. In fact, I believe this Super Bowl matchup features the two worst defenses (again, statistically speaking) in the game's 46-year history. However, while I am expecting a fair amount of points to be scored, I still believe that defense will have a say in who wins. To that end, I believe more in the G-Men than the Patriots when it comes to their respective defensive units.

Although I am not convinced that the Giants' pass rushers are in Tom Brady's head, I do think they will spend a fair amount of time in the Patriots' backfield and, just like they did in Super Bowl XLII four years ago, will bring enough pressure and either sack/hit No. 12 enough to disrupt the Pats' offense. I'm also concerned about how effective Rob Gronkowski will be dealing with his ankle injury. Playing hurt is noble, but if Gronk is not his usual self, then that's one huge weapon (Gronk has caught 20 of Brady's 45 touchdown passes this season) missing from the Patriots' arsenal. On the other side, I think Eli Manning and his receivers will be able to take advantage of the Pats' porous pass defense, especially downfield, but I'm also looking for Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs to get a fair amount of touches with the goal of trying to wear down New England's defensive line. If the Giants can get to Brady and take care of the ball on offense, I think they will pull away in the fourth quarter and earn their second Super Bowl victory over the Patriots in four years. Giants 34, Patriots 24

Nathan Rush
The Giants will beat the Patriots, a top-heavy team whose flaws will be exposed on Sunday. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are the best in the business today — and maybe all time. But the Giants have the deeper, more talented team peeking at the right time. This year's Patriots squad is overly dependent on Brady and the offense. And heading into Super Bowl XLVI, Brady's blindside bodyguard (left tackle Matt Light) and top target (tight end Rob Gronkowski) have missed practice and likely will be substantially less than 100 percent at kickoff. Defensively, there's only so much scheming Belichick can do with his patchwork secondary; at the end of the day, the Pats don't have the talent to run with the G-Men. It was a fortuitous season for the Patriots — who have only defeated one team with a winning record (Ravens in AFC title game) this year — but it will end in defeat in Indianapolis. The Big Blue Wrecking Crew defense will harass Brady all night, while Eli Manning stretches the New England secondary until it snaps to give up big plays to Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and/or Mario Manningham. Eli will win his second Super Bowl in Peyton's (old) house against his brother's (and now his own) biggest rival. Couldn't script a better ending to the 2011 season. Giants 24, Patriots 20

<p> Giants or Patriots: Our Super Bowl Selections</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 13:08
Path: /nfl/super-bowl-xlvi-numbers

The New England Patriots and the New York Giants will face one another in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday in Indianapolis. As football fans across the country, not to mention the world, get ready for the “Big Game,” here are some numbers to whet your appetite.

1 – Times Indianapolis has hosted the Super Bowl. The game will be played in Lucas Oli Stadium, which is home to the Indianapolis Colts, and it will have a Manning playing in it. Only it’s Eli, and not Peyton.

3 – Times Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin have coached in the same Super Bowl. This will be the second time they have faced each other as head coaches, but the two also were part of Bill Parcells' staff when the Giants played the Bills in Super Bowl XXV in 1991. Belichick was the defensive coordinator, while Coughlin served as the wide receivers coach for that Giants team, which beat the Bills 20-19. Ironically enough, both would leave the Giants for head coaching jobs — Belichick with the Cleveland Browns and Coughlin with Boston College — following that Super Bowl victory, only to meet up once again on the same stage 17 years later.

4 – Years since these two teams faced off against each other in Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3, 2008 in Glendale, Ariz. The Giants upset the heavily favored and previously undefeated Patriots 17-14 in one of the most exciting Super Bowls in recent history. It also represents the number of consecutive decades each team has played in a Super Bowl. The Giants and the Patriots have each played in at least one Super Bowl during the 1980s, ‘90s, 2000s and now 2010s. They are the only two teams in the NFL to boast such a streak.

5 – Super Bowl rematches in the game’s 46-year history. Besides the Giants and the Patriots, the most frequent Super Bowl match ups have been Pittsburgh vs. Dallas (Super Bowls X, XIII and XXX), Miami vs. Washington (VII and XVII), San Francisco vs. Cincinnati (XVI and XXIII) and Dallas vs. Buffalo (XXVII and XXVIII).

9 – States that have hosted the Super Bowl with Indiana becoming the ninth this year. Florida has hosted the most Super Bowls with 15, followed by California (11), Louisiana (9), Texas (3), Arizona (2), Georgia (2), Michigan (2). Minnesota and Indiana have each hosted one.

17 – Combined sacks by the two teams in their five playoff games. The Giants have tallied nine sacks in wins over the Falcons, Packers and 49ers, while the Patriots have eight in their victories over the Broncos and Ravens. Which team is able to consistently pressure the opposing quarterback will be something to watch for on Sunday. The teams combined for eight sacks (Giants 5, Patriots 3) in Super Bowl XLII.

19 – Players (12 from the Giants, seven from the Patriots) who will be on the field Sunday and also played in Super Bowl XLII in 2008.

24 – Combined turnover differential of the two teams in the regular season. The Patriots were second in the NFL with 23 interceptions and forced a total of 34 turnovers, while giving the ball away only 17 times for an AFC-best +17 differential. The Giants forced 31 turnovers (20 interceptions, 11 fumbles) and committed 24 for a differential of +7. In the playoffs, the Giants have forced six turnovers and only committed one, while the Patriots have committed more (four) than they have forced (three).

44.4 – Percentage of Tom Brady’s touchdown passes caught by tight end Rob Gronkowski this season. “Gronk” has caught 20 (17 in the regular season, three in the playoffs) of Brady’s 45 total touchdown passes to this point. He also is dealing with an ankle injury he suffered in the AFC Championship Game that put him in a walking boot and limited his practice time. While he’s fully expected to play on Sunday, questions surrounding his mobility and effectiveness have been one of the key storylines.

83.3 – Combined percentage of made field goals by Giants’ kicker Lawrence Tynes (6 of 8) and Patriots’ kicker Stephen Gostkowski (4 of 4) this postseason. Both have picked up their games from the regular season, during which Tynes made 19 of 24 (79.2) and Gostkowski 28 of 33 (84.9) field goal tries. Most importantly, the two were on target when it counted the most – Tynes hitting from 31 yards away in overtime in the Giants’ win over the 49ers and Gostkowski nailing all three of his attempts against the Ravens – in their respective conference championship games.

156 – Passing yards Tom Brady needs to break Kurt Warner’s record for most career passing yards in Super Bowl history. Warner had 1,156 passing yards in his three Super Bowls. Brady, who already holds the Super Bowl record for career completions (100), will tie John Elway with his fifth Super Bowl start on Sunday. With a win, he will tie Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only starting quarterbacks with four Super Bowl victories, further cementing his legacy as one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks.

8,785 – Combined passing yards allowed by the Giants’ and Patriots’ defenses in the regular season. That averages out to 274.5 yards per game. The two teams also surrendered a total of 54 touchdown passes and combined allowed opponents to complete nearly 62 percent of their passes. The Giants finished the regular season as the 29th-ranked passing defense in the NFL, while the Patriots came in second-to-last in that category.

10,258 – Combined passing yards of Tom Brady (5,235) and Eli Manning (4,933) in the regular season, to go along with 68 touchdowns. When the two met back in Week 9, a game the Giants won 24-20, the duo combined for 592 yards through the air.

$3.5-$4 million – Average cost of a 30-second commercial spot during NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl XLVI, according to TIME magazine. While that’s no small chunk of change, consider this: last year’s Super Bowl drew an average audience of 111 million viewers, making it the most watched American television program ever.

— by Mark Ross

<p> A look at some numbers and statistics related to Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 12:09
Path: /nfl/game-set-rematch

The greatest battles in sports often produce the greatest rematches. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. All are classic rivalries with multiple spellbinding chapters.

And now, the New England Patriots and New York Giants — the last two teams left standing, as champions of the AFC and NFC, respectively — look to join those historic ranks.

The Patriots defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 23–20, in a game that ended with Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff missing a 32-yard chip shot field goal that would have sent the contest into overtime.

“It’s a kick I’ve kicked a thousand times in my career,” Cundiff said, in disbelief with watery eyes following the game. “You know that Ray Lewis has poured his heart out, and you don’t know how many years he has left. To let him down is pretty tough.”

On the other side, the Giants eaked out a 20–17 overtime win on the road and in the rain against the San Francisco 49ers, following a fumbled punt by Kyle Williams, who was subbing for an injured Ted Ginn Jr. Williams’ second turnover of the game put the Giants in field goal range, allowing Lawrence Tynes the opportunity to hit the second sudden-death, game-winning, NFC title-clinching field goal of his career.

“You hate to be the last guy that had the ball, to give it away in that fashion and to lose a game of this magnitude,” said Williams, who sat dazed with cameras and microphones surrounding his usually vacant locker space after the game.

As a result of the costly mistakes made by Cundiff and Williams, Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will be a rematch of Super Bowl XLII at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, where the Giants upset the previously unbeaten Patriots, 17–14, in one of the most exciting Super Bowls of all time.

Although there are many new faces, both head coaches (New England’s Bill Belichick and New York’s Tom Coughlin) and high-profile quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Eli Manning) are back for another showdown on Super Sunday.

Brady and Manning are only the third pair of quarterbacks to play each other in multiple Super Bowls. Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw beat Dallas’ Roger Staubach in Super Bowls X and XIII, while Dallas’ Troy Aikman bested Buffalo’s Jim Kelly in Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII.

Obviously, Brady will look to buck that trend by becoming the first losing QB to win his Super Bowl rematch. Manning, however, will aim to recreate the magic he had on the Giants’ epic 12-play, 83-yard game-winning drive that featured three clutch third-down conversions — including the miraculous 32-yard “helmet catch” by David Tyree on 3rd-and-5 — and was capped by a 13-yard scoring strike to a wide open Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds remaining.

“You can’t write a better script,” said Manning, after winning his first Super Bowl in dramatic fashion. “There were so many big plays on that drive.”

This will also be a rematch of the Week 9 matchup between the Pats and G-Men. The Giants also won that meeting, 24–20, with Manning hitting tight end Jake Ballard for a one-yard touchdown with 15 seconds remaining — in a play reminiscent of Manning’s Super Bowl-winning touchdown pass to Burress as well as the incredible Tyree grab four plays earlier on the final drive.

“I’d rather be down by three with a minute-thirty than up by four with a minute-thirty with Tom Brady, with their offense on the field,” Manning echoed, with an eerily similar reaction after the Week 9 victory. “You like those situations where you have an opportunity to go win the game.”

New England has won 10 straight games since losing to New York, a team riding a five-game win streak of its own.

“We’ve had five straight single-elimination games,” said Coughlin. “Somehow, some way, we’ve found a way to scratch our way to a win.”

During that five-game winning streak, Manning has been arguably the best quarterback in football — passing for 1,494 yards, 12 TDs and two INTs in wins over the Jets, Cowboys, Falcons, Packers and 49ers. Meanwhile, the Big Blue Wrecking Crew defense has been running on all cylinders, allowing an average of 13.4 points per game, notching 20 sacks and forcing 11 turnovers along the way.

In Super Bowl XLII, Brady was dogged by the Giants’ defensive line, taking five sacks and losing a fumble. In this year’s postseason, Brady has posted day and night performances, with 363 yards and a record six TDs in a blowout of the Broncos before tossing two INTs and failing to throw a TD for the first time in 36 games in a nailbiter against the Ravens.

“I sucked pretty bad,” Brady said after the AFC Championship Game. “I’m gonna go out and try to do a better job in (the Super Bowl).”

The three-time Super Bowl champ and two-time Super Bowl MVP even went so far as to make a promise to Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

“He said to me, ‘I promise you I’m going to play a lot better,’” said Kraft, whose wife Myra passed away this season and whose team has worn tribute patches with her initials, “MHK,” since her death.

“He’s still pretty good in my book. I’ll take him over any quarterback. I’ve been watching the NFL for a long time, and there’s no quarterback I’d rather have.”

History backs up Kraft’s opinion. Brady tied Joe Montana’s all-time playoff wins record, with 16. Just by going to the big game again Brady has tied John Elway for most Super Bowl appearances by a starting quarterback, with five. A victory over the Giants would give Brady the all-time playoff wins mark outright and tie him with Montana and Terry Bradshaw for most Super Bowl wins all-time by a starting quarterback, with four.

“It’s incredible,” said Brady. “You pinch yourself to get this opportunity. It’s really a privilege.”

by Nathan Rush

<p> Super Bowl XLVI is a Patriots-Giants rematch of Super Bowl XLII and Week 9 this season.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 12:09
Path: /nfl/super-bowl-xlvi-breakdown

Super Bowl XLVI
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
Sunday, Feb. 5, 6:30 p.m. EST on NBC

New England Patriots

Tom Brady opened this postseason with his finest playoff performance ever — throwing for 363 yards and a record six TDs in a 45–10 blowout of the Broncos. But the three-time Super Bowl champ followed that up with one of his worst outings ever — with 239 yards, zero TDs and two INTs for a 57.5 rating in a 23–20 nailbiter over the Ravens in the AFC title game. Brady was mediocre in the Patriots’ loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, passing for 266 yards, one TD and zero INTs. He did, however, take five costly sacks.

Record-breaking touchdown machine tight end Rob Gronkowski is coming off an ugly ankle injury and will need to be full strength come Super Sunday. Tight end Aaron Hernandez has been used more as a change-of-pace running back during the playoffs and slot receiver Wes Welker is Brady’s security blanket across the middle.

The man in the middle is 325-plus-pound nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who has easily been the most disruptive player in this year’s playoffs. Wilfork commands constant double-teams, which he has been able to fight through for 2.5 sacks and several key tackles for a loss in wins over the Broncos and Ravens.

With Wilfork pushing the pocket and attracting attention, young linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes are free to make plays. Spikes has proven to be a difference-maker during the playoffs — with 15 tackles, one sack and one INT returned 19 yards.

The New England secondary is a patchwork unit pieced together with smoke, mirrors and position changes — such as cornerback Devin McCourty moving to safety and wide receiver Julian Edelman playing nickel corner. Pass coverage is the elephant in the room.

Special Teams:
Although Adam Vinatieri no longer kicks for the Pats, Stephen Gostkowski has proven to be a reliable weapon. But he doesn’t have the Super Bowl-winning kicks on his resume that Vinatieri does. Punter Zoltan Mesko is a booming left-footer who can change a game by flipping the field.

Bill Belichick is viewed by most as the best coach in the game and arguably the greatest of all time. Belichick has won five Super Bowls — three as a head coach and two under Bill Parcells.

New York Giants

Eli Manning has been the best quarterback in football over the past five weeks — all of which have been elimination games for the Giants. The Super Bowl XLII MVP has passed for 1,494 yards, 12 TDs and two INTs in victories over the Jets, Cowboys, Falcons, Packers and 49ers. Manning’s top targets have been Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, two wideouts with the size to win a jump ball battle — as Nicks famously did at the end of the first half at Green Bay — and the speed to win a footrace down the sideline.

A sturdy O-line is anchored by center David Baas, left tackle David Diehl and coach Tom Coughlin’s son-in-law, guard Chris Snee. That group paves the way for a running game featuring a one-two punch of 264-pound power back Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, who have combined to rush for 327 yards in three playoff wins.

The Big Blue stop-unit starts up front with arguably the deepest and most talented defensive line in the game. Veteran Osi Umenyiora, freak athlete Jason Pierre-Paul, versatile Justin Tuck and hybrid end-linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka headline a pass rush that specializes in collapsing pockets and sacking quarterbacks.

The secondary is led by outspoken safety Antrel Rolle, who played in Super Bowl XLIII three years ago as a member of the Cardinals. Rolle, safety Kenny Phillips and cornerbacks Aaron Ross and Corey Webster will have their hands full with the Patriots’ pass-catchers.

During the playoffs, coordinator Perry Fewell’s crew has allowed just 13 points per game — with nine sacks, four turnovers forced and a safety. Big Blue will be looking for a repeat of Super Bowl XLII, when they held the Patriots to just 14 points.

Special Teams:
The third side of the ball was the difference against the 49ers. Jacquian Williams’ forced fumble put the Giants in position for Lawrence Tynes to kick the second NFC title-winning FG of his career. Tynes has proven to be a cool customer with the game on the line. Ross and Cruz are capable return men.

Coughlin is a proven, Super Bowl-winning coach. The 65-year-old has mellowed with age, relying more on a solid staff led by playcaller Kevin Gilbride and rising star Fewell.

Giants by 1

Fifth Quarter:
Brady and Manning won’t be the only stars in Indy. Kelly Clarkson will sing the “Star Spangled Banner,” Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton will perform a duet of “America the Beautiful,” and Lenny Kravitz and The Fray will rock out the pregame festivities.

At halftime, Madonna will be joined by special guests Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. in a highly anticipated mini-concert. And, as always, the commercials — which reportedly cost $3.5 million for a 30-second spot — will be just as talked about as the game itself.

<p> A breakdown of the New England Patriots' and New York Giants' offense, defense, special teams and coaching.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 11:54
Path: /college-football/2012-recruiting-rankings-no-2-texas-longhorns

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

No. 2: Texas Longhorns (28 total signees)

Big 12 Rank: 1st
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 7
National Signees: 17

Where They Got 'Em:

As is the case with every Burnt Orange signing class, the state of Texas supplied the majority of the talent. The Lone Star State provided 24 of the 28 total signatures delivered to the 40 Acres on Wednesday. Despite missing on top in-stater Mario Edwards, Mack Brown signed six of the 11 Athlon Consensus 100 recruits from Texas.

Louisiana provided the most excitement as Texas stole top-100 defensive end Torshiro Davis (AC100 No. 77) right out from underneath LSU on National Signing Day. Arizona provided a potential quarterback of the future — a position the Horns need to solidify if they expects to compete for the Big 12 title — and Mississippi supplied a pair of junior college prospects.

Areas of Focus:

With Manny Diaz now steering the ship, Texas fans have to be excited about the development of the defense moving forward — especially considering what the Horns have returning in 2012. Never satisfied, however, Brown helped his rising star coordinator in a big way by signing 12 front-seven defenders.

This group is the strength of the class and features two nationally ranked linebackers, defensive ends and defensive tackles. The headliner is the nation’s No. 3 defensive tackle in the nation Malcom Brown. He is joined by AC100 end Davis and a pair of stud tacklers in linebackers Peter Jinkins and Dalton Santos. Jinkins, ranked at No. 105 nationally, barely missed landing in the AC100 and should slide to the outside while Santos, at 250 pounds, is built for the middle of the defense. Nose guard Alex Norman and end Hassan Ridgeway were also nationally rated and provide incredible depth to the front seven heading into the future.

The secondary should also be well represented as at least four prospects will be heading to the defensive backfield. Nationally ranked athletes Duke Johnson and Adrian Colbert are already listed as a cornerback and defensive back respectively by Texas while Bryson Echols and Kevin Vaccaro are tagged as DBs as well. Athlete Daje Johnson is the only official “ATH” listed by the Longhorns, so his position is only one yet to be determined.

Quarterback Connor Brewer was, at one point, during this cycle an AC100 prospect but slipped outside of the top-100 and finished as the No. 7-rated signal caller in the nation. While his stock dipped a bit late in the process, Brewer is still the only quarterback in Arizona prep football history to win three state championships and holds the state record with 100 touchdown passes. Athlete Jalen Overstreet is slated to start his career as a quarterback, giving Brown a couple of new options at the biggest position of concern heading into the summer.

The offensive line, as usual, is also loaded with massive upside — in all senses of the word. Three of the four future blockers were nationally rated with blockers Kennedy Estelle and Curtis Riser landing in the AC100. Estelle and Camrhon Hughes both stand 6-foot-7 and both tip the scales at over 300 pounds.

The offensive skill positions have to get coordinator Bryan Harsin excited to get to work this summer. The nation’s No. 1 tailback and prized jewel of the class, Jonathan Gray, holds the national high school record with 205 touchdowns scored and finished his career with 10,889 yards rushing and 1,244 yards receiving. He claimed National Gatorade Player of the Year honors in 2011 after rushing for 3,888 yards and 65 touchdowns in Aledo’s 14-2 state championship. Once packaged with Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and D.J. Monroe, the Longhorns could boast the best running back corps in the nation. Gray marks the second straight season that Texas has signed the nation’s No. 1 running back (Brown).

A pair of AC100 wideouts should give whomever is playing quarterback some talent play-making options on the outside. Cayleb Jones is the No. 7 wide receiver prospect in the nation while Kendall Sanders finished as the No. 11 wideout in the country. Jones, more of the pure pass catcher, finished his prep career with 213 receptions, 3,025 yards and 27 touchdowns. Sanders was utilized in a more unorthodox manner as he rolled-up at 1,000 yards receiving and rushing over the last two seasons. He also played plenty of defense as he earned Defensive MVP honors at the U.S. Army All-American bowl. Along with lower-rated Marcus Johnson, the duo provides new blood to a position that Texas has missed on of late.

Positional Breakdown:

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

AC100 Recruits:

7. Jonathan Gary, RB (5-11, 202), Aledo (Texas) High
10. Malcom Brown, DT (6-4, 285), Brenham (Texas) High
51. Kennedy Estelle, OL (6-7, 300), Pearland (Texas) Dawson
59. Cayleb Jones, WR (6-3, 198), Austin (Texas) High
77. Torshiro Davis, DE (6-3, 220), Shreveport (La.) Woodlawn
79. Curtis Riser, OL (6-4, 285), DeSoto (Texas) High
87. Kendall Sanders, WR (6-0, 175), Athens (Texas) High

Other National Signees:

105. Peter Jinkins, LB (6-1, 200) Dallas (Texas) Skyline
134. Connor Brewer, QB (6-2, 200) Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral
138. Bryson Echols, DB (5-10, 165) DeSoto (Texas) High
139. Camrhon Hughes, OL (6-7, 320) Harker Heights (Texas) High
155. Alex Norman, DT (6-4, 275) Dallas (Texas) Bishop Dunne
163. Duke Thomas, CB (5-11, 170) Killeen (Texas) Copperas Cove
181. Adrian Colbert, DB (6-2, 191) Mineral Wells (Texas) High
194. Dalton Santos, LB (6-3, 250) Van (Texas) High
217. Hassan Ridgeway, DE (6-4, 255) Mansfield (Texas) High
255. Daje Johnson, ATH (5-10, 175) Pflugerville (Texas) Hendrickson

Early Enrollees:

Connor Brewer, QB (6-2, 200), Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral
Alex De La Torre, LB (6-1, 230), Denton (Texas) Ryan
Donald Hawkins, OL (6-5, 310), Tunica (Miss.) Northwest Miss. C.C.
Camrhon Hughes, OL (6-7, 320, Harker Heights (Texas) High
Brandon Moore, DT (6-5, 335), Montgomery (Ala.) East Miss. C.C.
Duke Thomas, CB (5-11, 170) Killeen (Texas) Copperas Cove

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

<p> The Texas Longhorns landed the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation in 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 11:00
Path: /mlb/st-louis-cardinals-mt-rushmore

MLB Mt. Rushmores

by Charlie Miller

We believe that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. Even two guys sitting in a bar can figure that out, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.

St. Louis Cardinals Mt. Rushmore
The Mt. Rushmore for the team nearest and dearest to my heart also proves to be the most difficult for me to select. There are six strong candidates — five Hall of Famers and one who will be — and a handful of others who would make most teams’ mountains. One of the most storied and tradition-laden franchises in baseball, the Cardinals have enjoyed more success than any other National League team. They won six World Series and lost three in the 21 seasons from 1926-46. Since that time, it’s been a little bit of every-other-decade success for the Redbirds. No World Series appearances in the 1950s; three in the ’60s, winning two. None in the ’70s; three in the ’80s, winning one. None in the ’90s; two in the ’00s, winning one, before winning another in 2011. With 11 titles, the Cardinals rank second all-time, a distant second behind the Yankees. The organization has been loyal to managers. Since 1965 (47 seasons), only four men — Red Schoendienst, Whitey Herzog, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa — have managed more than 91 percent of the Redbirds’ games. Obviously, the discussion begins with Stan the Man. Musial is the No. 1 name on all Cardinals fans’ lists. After that, it becomes a tough choice.

Stan Musial
Stan the Man is on the short list for MLB’s Mt. Rushmore, and no doubt would be a unanimous choice among Cardinals fans. Musial dominates the Cardinals’ all-time leaderboard, even leading in triples. He spent his entire career in St. Louis and remains an icon. He made 24 All-Star teams, was MVP three times with four runner-up finishes, won seven batting titles, is fourth all-time in the majors in hits, second in total bases, ninth in runs and sixth in RBIs. That’s quite a resume. He also was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian.

Bob Gibson
Gibson had as intimidating a mound presence as any pitcher ever. The menacing righthander spent his entire career with the Cardinals and was instrumental in the three pennant winners in the 1960s. There are the two Cy Young awards and 1968 MVP, but Gibson’s World Series performances were off the charts. In three Series he made nine starts with nine complete games, going 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA. He had 92 strikeouts in 81 innings and a 0.889 WHIP.

Lou Brock
Known for his stolen base records, Brock was much more than a one-dimensional player. Other than establishing season and career stolen base records, Brock had 3,023 hits — 2,713 of them with the Cardinals. He scored 1,427 runs for St. Louis and drove in 900 runs in his career, 640 of them from the leadoff spot. He is as beloved in St. Louis now as the day he retired.

Ozzie Smith
The Wizard came to St. Louis in 1982 as a .230-hitting defensive shortstop and retired as one of the greatest shortstops to play the game. During his 15 years in St. Louis, Smith made 14 All-Star teams, won 11 Gold Gloves and even a Silver Slugger in 1987 to go with his runner-up finish in MVP balloting. He had 1,944 hits, 991 runs and 433 stolen bases for the Cardinals in addition to saving more than 1,000 runs with his glove.

Close Calls
Had Albert Pujols re-upped with the Redbirds and finished out his career in St. Louis, there is little doubt that he would have ended up on the mountain. King Albert completed the most astonishing 11 seasons in team history in 2011.

It’s equally painful leaving off Rogers Hornsby, one of the best hitters in the game prior to 1930. From 1921-25, the Cardinals’ second baseman averaged .402 with 29 homers, 120 RBIs and 123 runs. But by most accounts he wasn’t the most popular teammate and he bounced from team to team after spending 12 years in St. Louis to start his career.

During the 1980s and ’90s, Red Schoendienst was always alongside greats Musial, Gibson and Brock donning red blazers at every major Cardinal event. In addition to his Hall of Fame career, Red managed a couple of pennant winners in the 1960s and remained an influential presence as a special coach for several years after his managerial career ended.

In terms of popularity and impact on the franchise, Whitey Herzog deserves consideration. He took over a franchise in 1980 that was drawing just over one million, had drug problems and hadn’t won in 11 years. Over the next decade, “Whiteyball” accounted for three World Series appearances, lifted attendance to three million for the first time and turned the franchise down the path it travels now.

August “Gussie” Busch Jr. bought the team in 1953, and nurtured it as an iconic franchise that became Cardinal Nation, bringing six pennants and three World Series titles in the 1960s and ’80s.

For his emotional post-9/11 speech alone, Hall of Famer Jack Buck deserves some mention as the Cardinals’ long-time broadcaster.

When Dizzy Dean was in his prime, he was right there with Babe Ruth as the biggest star in the game. It was just short-lived.

Best Current Player
Few players have captured the hearts of fans in St. Louis the way that Yadier Molina has. Tony La Russa refered to him as the most indispensable player on the 2011 championship team, a club that included Pujols. Redbird pitchers will tell you that he deserves an MVP trophy.


Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him


Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:

American LeagueNational League
Baltimore OriolesArizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red SoxAtlanta Braves
Chicago White SoxChicago Cubs
Cleveland IndiansCincinnati Reds
Detroit TigersColorado Rockies
Houston AstrosMiami Marlins
Kansas City RoyalsLos Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles AngelsMilwaukee Brewers
Minnesota TwinsNew York Mets
New York YankeesPhiladelphia Phillies
Oakland A'sPittsburgh Pirates
Seattle MarinersSan Diego Padres
Tampa Bay RaysSan Francisco Giants
Texas RangersSt. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue JaysWashington Nationals


<p> The Mt. Rushmore for the team nearest and dearest to my heart also proves to be the most difficult for me to select. There are six strong candidates — five Hall of Famers and one who will be — and a handful of others who would make most teams’ mountains. Stan the Man Musial is the No. 1 name on all Cardinals fans’ lists. After that, it becomes a tough choice.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 10:05
Path: /nfl/super-bowl-prop-bets

Super Bowl betting — and prop bets, in particular — attract sharks and suckers alike who can’t afford a $3.5-million, 30-second commercial spot on NBC’s telecast or a $2,500 nosebleed seat at Lucas Oil Stadium, but do have a some lunch money to wager on Super Sunday.

Here’s a quick look this year’s popular Super Bowl bets, along with advice on where the smart money should play. For consistency’s sake, all odds and lines are courtesy of — the online gambling website formerly known as

(For the average Joe who doesn’t speak in Vegas tongues, when the odds are -150, you must wager $150 in order to win $100; when the odds are +150, your $100 bet nets $150. Just FYI.)


How long will it take Kelly Clarkson to sing the National Anthem?

Over 1:34 (-120)
Under 1:34 (-120)

Last year’s over-under on Christina Aguilera’s now infamous “Star-Mangled Banner” was 1:54. This year, Kelly Clarkson will do justice to the Francis Scott Key classic, show off her American Idol-winning voice, hit all the notes, remember every last lyric and take longer than 1:34 to do so.


Heads or tails?

Heads (-105)
Tails (-105)

Heads has a 23–22 all-time edge. Tails will even the score this time around. After all, “tails never fails” — unless you are the old man at the gas station in No Country For Old Men; he was lucky to have called “heads.”

Which team will win coin toss?

Giants (-105)
Patriots (-105)

The NFC has won 14 consecutive coin tosses and carries a 31–14 all-time advantage. Look for the G-Men to keep the streak alive — especially if Peyton Manning tosses the coin for a few free hand-tossed Papa John’s pizzas.


Will Madonna wear an NFL jersey or shirt at any point during the Super Bowl halftime show?

Yes (+250)
No (-400)

Madonna is the first female Super Bowl halftime act since Janet Jackson’s nipple slip “wardrobe malfunction” midway through the Patriots’ Super Bowl XXXVIII win. And while she may have a British accent and guns bigger than Wes Welker, there’s no way she wears any of Roger Goodell’s gear during her Cirque du Soleil show.

Will Madonna be wearing fishnet stockings at any point during the Super Bowl halftime show?

Yes (-120)
No (-120)

It’s the Super Bowl, the 53-year-old Material Girl will do something new, right? Maybe wear a torpedo bra or a wedding dress? That’s fresh.


Total touchdowns scored in game

Over 6.5 (Even)
Under 6.5 (-130)

Before last year’s Packers-Steelers 31–25 seven-TD shootout, there had not been as many trips to the end zone since the Patriots-Panthers epic fourth-quarter flurry of Super Bowl XXXVIII. The Giants and Patriots combined to score four TDs in Super Bowl XLII and five in Week 9 this season.

Total field goals made in game

Over 3.5 (+135)
Under 3.5 (-165)

Although Adam Vinatieri is the greatest clutch kicker in NFL playoff history, the Patriots have kicked a grand total of four field goals in their four Super Bowl trips under Bill Belichick.

In 19 games this year, Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes has made zero or one field goal 11 times, two field goals seven times and three field goals exactly once — at Green Bay in the Divisional Round.

Will the team that scores last win the game?

Yes (-180)
No (+150)

I believe (hope?) it will be that kind of Super Bowl.

Will the game go to overtime?

Yes (+650)
No (-1200)

There has never been an overtime game in Super Bowl history. Ofer-45. Go ahead and bet $1,200 to make a sweet $100 profit that there will be no free football. Seriously, don’t do that. Put all your money on the coin toss.

Will the game be decided by exactly three points?

Yes (+325)
No (-450)

It is true that all four Super Bowls started by Tom Brady have been decided by a three-point margin — a 20–17 win over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, 32–29 win over the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, 24–21 win over the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX and 17–14 loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. But don’t bank on a fifth straight field goal difference.


What color will the Gatorade (or liquid) be that is dumped on the head coach of the winning Super Bowl team?

Clear/Water (3/2)
Orange (5/2)
Yellow (5/2)
Red (13/2)
Green (13/2)
Blue (10/1)

The Giants dumped clear/water on coach Tom Coughlin after beating the Cowboys in a playoff play-in in Week 17 and following Super Bowl XLII. The Patriots did not dump anything on Bill Belichick — don’t want to ruin the hoody — after Super Bowls XXXVI or XXXVIII, but hit him with a little clear/water after XXXIX.

Who will be named Super Bowl MVP?

Tom Brady (7/5)
Eli Manning (9/4)
Victor Cruz (8/1)
Hakeem Nicks (12/1)
Rob Gronkowski (12/1)
Wes Welker (12/1)
Aaron Hernandez (16/1)
Ahmad Bradshaw (20/1)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (25/1)
Jason Pierre-Paul (25/1)
Field (25/1)
15 Other Players (35/1 to 100/1)

Since Tom Brady won the MVP as the then-youngest Super Bowl-winning quarterback, six of 10 MVPs have been QBs. The other four were comprised of three receivers and Ray Lewis.


New York Giants (+3) (+115)
New England Patriots (-3) (-135)

The Giants pass rush will give Tom Brady trouble, especially if Rob Gronkowski is limping around like he was on Tuesday’s Media Day. The Patriots’ secondary will finally fall apart, with Eli Manning finding Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham downfield enough times to win a second Super Bowl in five years.

Over 54 points (-105)
Under 54 points (-115)

The Big Blue Wrecking Crew defense holds strong and Elite Eli makes a few plays when it matters, as the Giants pull out another close victory over the Patriots — just like Super Bowl XLII (31 combined points) and Week 9 this year (44).

by Nathan Rush

<p> Super Bowl prop bet advice on gambling on the spread, over-under, coin toss, Kelly Clarkson's National Anthem, Madonna's halftime show, the winning coach's Gatorade shower, Super Bowl XLVI MVP and more.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 2, 2012 - 21:08
Path: /nfl/eli-manning-or-tom-brady-tough-quarterback-choice

There has been a major trend in sports media over the last 10-15 years to give quarterbacks singular credit for team success. The signal caller that is probably the most debated in this fashion is Tom Brady of the Patriots. Some people believe he is an all-time great, while others believe that New England’s three Super Bowl titles were much more due to Bill Belichick’s scheming and a nasty defense than QB play. New York quarterback Eli Manning has always been in the shadow of his all-universe older brother, but that seemed to change a little when the Giants beat the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The G-Men and Pats will meet again this Sunday, and many around football are wondering which team actually has the edge at the media’s “hero” position.

Which quarterback would you want in this Super Bowl?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman
I think this question breaks down two different ways. As far as just quarterback play, I would take Eli Manning. His numbers on third down and in the fourth quarter this season have been staggering. Manning’s play was clutch in Green Bay and San Francisco as the Giants earned another Super Bowl trip the hard way. As far as the team around the quarterback, coaching and good playoff fortune, I’d take Tom Brady. The Patriots’ point guard has Bill Belichick and staff on his side, which usually means the best-prepared team in the NFL. The New England defense ranked 15th in points allowed this season, while the Giants ranked 25th. I think Brady has better components around him, who pulled out an AFC title win over the Ravens when their QB had zero touchdown passes, two interceptions and a passer rating of 57.5. This Super Bowl should be another close game in the 20s with one or two key plays determining the outcome. While I like Manning’s game better, recent history says Brady and the Patriots are much more likely to be the benefactor of an opponent’s mistake, a blown call or a fortunate big play.

Mark Ross
I have no problems siding with Eli here, although I'm probably in the minority. Everyone knows about Tom Brady's playoff results (16-5, three Super Bowl rings), but his counterpart on Sunday is no slouch when it comes to the postseason. The younger Manning is 7-3 in the postseason and his completion percentage (59.8), touchdown-interception ratio (16-8) and passer rating (87.5) all compare favorably to Brady's playoff numbers. What's more, Eli comes into Sunday playing his best football of the season. Going back to the regular-season finale against Dallas, Manning has completed 100 of 156 passes (64 percent) for 1,269 yards (317.3 per game) and 11 touchdowns with just one interception in his past four games. Remember, this is a New England team that had the second-to-worst pass defense (294 yards per game) in the regular season. Besides, the game's in Indianapolis, so you have to take a Manning, right?

Rob Doster
Let's see — if I had one postseason game to win, what quarterback would I want leading my team? How about the winningest postseason quarterback in history? Tom Brady is 16–5 as a starting quarterback in the NFL playoffs, tying him with Joe Montana for most postseason wins but a few ticks ahead of him in postseason winning percentage (.762 to .696). Brady is 3–1 in Super Bowls, and the one loss in Super Bowl XLII was a fluke. Yep, I said it. Eli's been excellent, but remember: His seven career postseason wins have been compressed into two bursts — the 4–0 run culminating in the aforementioned fluke, and this year's 3–0. In other words, in six of Eli's eight seasons in the league, his teams either failed to make the playoffs (2004, 2009, 2010) or were one and done when they did (2005, 2006, 2008). Eli's the flavor of the moment, but I'll stick with the greatest postseason quarterback of this generation.

Nathan Rush
I'd take today's Tom Brady over a healthy Peyton Manning in his prime. But this year, Eli Manning is playing better than Peyton ever did in the playoffs. So this is a legitimate debate as far as I'm concerned — especially because I think Elite Eli will beat Tom Terrific (again) on Super Sunday. Eli has thrown for 923 yards, eight TDs and one INT for a 103.1 passer rating in victories over the Falcons, Packers and 49ers. But Brady has three Super Bowl rings and has established himself as this generation's Joe Montana. I'm going with Brady, no doubt; but Eli is closing fast.

<p> Eli Manning or Tom Brady: Tough Quarterback Choice</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 2, 2012 - 14:12
Path: /nfl/what-makes-grumpy-bill-belichick-smile-surprisingly-its-giants


There isn’t much that can get a rise out of Bill Belichick, the stoic, unemotional, coach of the New England Patriots. He’s been to four Super Bowls as a head coach, won three, and built himself a dynasty in New England. But talking about the power he’s built rarely elicits a smile.

It’s different, though, when Belichick is asked about the past – specifically the great New York Giants teams he was a part of in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. He was the genius defensive coordinator back then under the future Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, helping to guide one of the NFL’s greatest teams.

Ask Belichick about that if you want to see him smile. Talk to him about those teams if you want an expansive answer. Even as his Patriots prepare to face the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, he was peppered with questions about his days as an assistant with the Giants. That is something he could talk about for hours.

That was an experience he described as “awesome.” It was a enough to make him smile.

“It was a great job,” Belichick said. “It was awesome. I loved that job. I loved coaching the Giants’ defense. Being in New York, being a part of that great organization and those great players I had the opportunity to coach.

“In all honesty, I wasn’t thinking then about if this was what I was going to do at some other point. We were trying to win there. We won in 1986, and it was a great year. We rebuilt the team, and we won again. I was consumed with that. I really just try to live in the moment.”

It was a great moment in time, of course, and Belichick was a major part of it. The Giants’ defense, choreographed by Belchick led the way to Super Bowl titles in 1986 (XXI) and 1990 (XXV). It helped that he had great players like Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, Carl Banks, George Martin, Leonard Marshall, Jim Burt and so many more.

Belichick, though, is the one that put them together. Belichick is the maestro who made them sing.

“We had a great staff and great players,” the Patriots coach recalled. “One of the biggest things I learned, that I can’t do today, but I know, is how tough those players were. We practiced every day in pads -- every single day in pads. There were years that we practiced every single day on the turf before we had the grass practice fields up there on the hill

“We did 9-on-7 -- which is a good-tempo running drill -- on a regular basis. In training camp, we went out in pads every day. We hit every day. We did 9-on-7 every day. There was no way Bill (Parcells) would go out on the field without doing 9-on-7. We’d skip stretching before we’d skip 9-on-7.”

Times, of course has changed and so have the rules, which has forced Belichick to – reluctantly – change, too. Still, he made sure to have his Patriots practice at least once in pads during Super Bowl week. The lessons he learned from Parcells and those great Giants teams were not easily forgotten.

And the biggest lesson he learned is that football players – really great football players – are supposed to be unbelievably tough.

“When you get those guys crashing into each other – Jumbo (Elliott) and Mark Bavaro blocking (Lawrence) Taylor, (Carl) Banks, (Jim) Burt and all them – they just lined up and played football,” Belichick said. “I know it was a different era, but it will never be like that again. I learned players can be tough, they can be physical, they can do more than they think they can do.”

He tried to take that approach with him in his first job as a head coach with the Cleveland Browns. But when the results weren’t good, he was criticized for being too tough on his players – something he even still finds a little hard to believe.

“Maybe I took it a little too far in Cleveland, I don’t know,” Belichick said. “It was kind of the same thing when I got there. People said that we were too demanding and we were doing too much. I was thinking to myself, ‘I was with the Giants for 12 years. I saw this every day for 12 years. Don’t tell me we can’t go out there and have 9-on-7 two days in a row. I know we can.’ ”

Now, all these years later, he finds other ways to get the toughness out of his players. It’s his responsibility now, and he’s the undisputed king of the coaching fraternity. He won’t talk much about that during the run up to Super Bowl XLVI, but he will gladly talk about where all his strengths came from. He was once a Giant, and he still considers that one of the best jobs he ever had.

<p> The Patriots coach looks back on his time with the Giants</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 2, 2012 - 10:31
Path: /college-football/arkansas-and-nebraska-among-signing-day-struggles

-by Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on twitter)

We all know recruiting rankings are very subjective, but it is also true that every fan base would like a highly-ranked class. A star-studded haul is no guarantee of future success, but the odds increase greatly with the more talent your team inks on National Signing Day. Here is a look at some teams that finished with a whimper at the end of the long recruiting process. These teams may end up with good classes, but they barely scratched or completely missed the AC100 and/or a top 25 class ranking.

1. Arkansas
The Hogs could have crept into the top 25 of most ranking services if they could have landed the top prospect in the nation, receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. Instead, the country’s top-rated pass catcher stayed in-state with the Missouri Tigers. Bobby Petrino’s signing class is still fairly solid, but Arkansas fans would have liked to have finished better after an 11-win season and a Cotton Bowl victory. The Hogs will rank in the bottom half of America’s toughest conference, looking up at division rivals Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M and Mississippi State. Arkansas did get some good news with the last-minute flip of Louisiana linebacker Otha Peters, but the lack of star power stands out in the rough and tough SEC.

2. Nebraska
The Cornhuskers also have a fairly solid class, but it was definitely a disappointment to miss on five-star offensive lineman Andrus Peat. The top tackle, whose brother Todd plays for the Huskers, opted for Stanford over NU. Bo Pelini could have also used some secondary help with Devian Shelton, who also went to the Pac-12 with USC. We should recognize that Nebraska did not always have top-rated recruiting classes when Tom Osborne’s clubs were dominating in the ‘90s, but this class will be on the cusp of the top 25 while Legends rival Michigan will be in the top 10. The Huskers did fairly well but signing a Peat or Shelton would have helped greatly.

3. Michigan State
There was just not much recruiting buzz around Lansing this year despite an 11-win season and Big Ten Legends Division crown. The Spartans got a couple of the state’s top prospects in receiver Aaron Burbridge and pass rusher Jamal Lyles, but they saw the hated Wolverines winning most of the in-state battles. Despite the quality season and holding on to defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, this MSU class is not anywhere near the top 25 of the team rankings. That fact especially hurts when Michigan will be in the top 10 and seems to have much more momentum around the program.

4. Cal
No team’s recruiting effort was affected more by a coaching defection than the Bears. Tosh Lupoi, the defensive line coach and ace recruiter, severely damaged the Cal’s class with his move to Washington in January. At the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, three highly-rated prospects —safety Shaq Thompson (whose brother Syd'Quan starred at Cal), defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy and receiver Jordan Payton — committed to the Bears. However, that trio as well as top defensive end Arik Armstead, who had once had Cal as his leader, all signed elsewhere in the Pac-12. Those changes are especially painful in light of Bay Area and Big Game rival Stanford vaulting into the top 10 classes with an amazing close on National Signing Day.

5. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys failed to capitalize on the school’s best season ever, a 12-1 campaign that resulted in a Big 12 championship and Fiesta Bowl victory over Stanford. OSU will rank in the bottom half of the conference, and that’s even with Missouri and Texas A&M moving on to the SEC. Mike Gundy’s staff tried to flip top Texas safety LaDarrell McNeil to no avail and also struggled within the Sooner State. Much like the Spartans above, the Cowboys might not crack the top 30 classes while their rivals, Oklahoma and Texas, will be in the top 10.

<p> Arkansas and Nebraska Among Signing Day Struggles</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 19:08
Path: /college-football/2012-recap-national-signing-day-storylines

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

This was easily one of the more entertaining National Signing Days in history.

And in stark contrast to years past, the dramatics had nothing to do with the nation’s top class. In fact, there was a noticeable absence of hype, conversation and overall excitement surrounding the reigning national champions’ No. 1-rated class. It’s almost as if Nick Saban has turned recruiting into a business or something? Alabama's ho-hum collection of five-star future All-Americans aside, there was still plenty of interesting, bizarre, baffling and intense happenings from coast to coast.

Here are the most memorable moments from Signing Day (with a distinct west coast feel):

The Nation’s No. 1 Player Signs With Missouri

Deontay Greenberry Shocks The Nation

Fresno (Calif.) Washington Union wide receiver Deontay Greenberry is ranked as the No. 52 player in the nation. He was a long-time Notre Dame commitment whose best friend and cousin, fellow Athlon Consensus 100 talent Tee Shepard, is already enrolled in class in South Bend. All signs pointed to the duo continuing their friendship on the football field as Irish teammates. But after a very late visit to the Houston Cougars, Greenberry pulled the biggest shocker of National Signing Day by signing with the CUSA-turned-Big East program. The 6-3, 190-pound wideout is the first AC100 signee in Cougars’ program history and the twittersphere nearly exploded when his LOI arrived in Houston. New head coach Tony Levine was one of the toasts of NSD '12.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was apparently as shocked as the rest of us at the news. Kelly likely regrets letting his emotions get the better of him with this commentary on Greenberry, "I used to have a saying about players like that and that was I'd rather play against him for four games than with him for four years," he told Sounds an awful lot like message board trolls who scream sour grapes when star recruits sign elsewhere.

The Great Tosh Lupoi

Washington hired former California defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi on January 16. The Bears featured the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12 and were ranked just outside of the top-10 in recruiting after landing Shaq Thompson, Ellis McCarthy and Jordan Payton at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl two weeks earlier.

Since Lupoi was hired in Seattle, Washington has stolen Thompson, the No. 1 defensive back in the nation (and rightly so), and landed nationally-rated SoCal athletes Jaydon Mickens and Brandon Beaver. The Huskies also held onto the No. 4 quarterback in the nation Cyler Miles and stole Patterson (Calif.) defensive end Pio Vatuvei from USC. McCarthy and Payton (more on him in a moment) switched to UCLA and the No. 8-ranked player in the nation, Arik Amstead, sited the loss of Lupoi as part of the reason he landed elsewhere. Armstead signed with Oregon on Wednesday. 

Cal is currently ranked outside of the top 25 in recruiting by every major service and is leaking water on the talent trail. It's hard to see how one young, energetic defensive line coach could have such a huge impact on a conference, but that is exactly what the 30-year old Lupoi has done to the Pac-12. New offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau probably deserves some credit too.

Stanford’s New Recruiting Cachet

Jim Harbaugh is still rubbing off on the Stanford Cardinal. After landing AC100 star tailback Barry Sanders Jr. (No. 80) back at the start of the 2012 calendar year, head coach David Shaw landed Puyallup (Wash.) offensive lineman Josh Garnett (No. 30). He hasn’t slowed down either as he has convinced the nation’s No. 1 quarterback Jameis Winston to rethink his Florida State commitment and signed a trio of AC100 lineman on Wednesday.

Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol’s Andrus Peat is the No. 3 offensive lineman in the nation and his older brother just finished his first collegiate season on the Nebraska roster. Yet, somehow Shaw overcame the legacy factor and lured the stud blocker to Palo Alto. Late Wednesday afternoon Stanford also got signatures from the No. 4 offensive lineman in the nation, San Clemente (Calif.) High’s Kyle Murphy, and the No. 6-ranked defensive tackle in the nation, Atwater (Calif.) Buhach’s Aziz Shittu.

This is a top-10 class that features three of the top five offensive lineman in the nation. Toss in Sanders, star linebacker Noor Davis and top-100 defensive back Alex Carter, and Shaw has assembled a Cardinal class of unprecedented proportions. Only Alabama’s 10 top-100 signatures top the seven Stanford signed. The Cardinal's national appeal has never been higher.

Kiffin’s Quality over Quantity

Lane Kiffin is picking up right where Pete Carroll left off and NCAA sanctions appear to have had little effect on the USC's ability to recruit. The Trojans entered National Signing Day with 13 commitments. There were only two three-star prospects in the group, one of which is fullback Jahleel Pinner — who is rated as the No. 1 blocking back in the nation. The quality of USC's classes has been astounding for over a decade and the 2012 group is no different.

Despite losing Vatuvei to the Huskies, USC once again won the day by landing Sunshine State talents Nelson Agholor (No. 26) and Leonard Williams (No. 68). Additionally, the Trojans stole Inglewood (Calif.) cornerback Devian Shelton from Oregon State. Kiffin has built an entire staff full of former recruiting coordinators who know how to pound the trail and it shows. Only Alabama has more AC100 signees than the Trojans’ seven.

The offensive line class is one of the best in the nation. Three of USC's seven top-100 signees will play along the offensive line with Zach Banner (No. 50) leading the way. The 6-9, 310-pound Lakewood (Calif.) Lakes product is the son of former NFL star Lincoln Kennedy and could compete for playing time at left tackle right away now that Matt Kalil has moved on to the NFL.

Texas Actually Closes Strong

This is much less of an indictment on Mack Brown’s ability to close as much as it's a testament of his talents for locking down an incredible class earlier than everyone else, but the Texas Longhorns closed on NSD better than they have in years. Brown offered and landed Daje Johnson and Dalton Santos very late in the process and then pulled one of the biggest upsets of the day by stealing Louisiana's own Torshiro Davis away from LSU. It appears that maybe Brown and his staff is beginning to realize that they can now slow the process down a bit — which is strange coming from the program that has accelerated the recruiting calendar more so than any other university in the nation. Brown is showing his ability to adapt and it could lead to a 10-win season in 2012.

Jordan Payton Better Be Good

There are always a few recruiting stories that simply take the cake. Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian wide receiver Jordan Payton announced on national television at the U.S. Army All-American on January 7 that he would be attending Cal. On Tuesday, however, Payton switched his verbal commitment to Washington following star recruiter Lupoi to Seattle. However, where did he send his signed letter of intent the very next day? Yup, you guessed it, the UCLA Bruins? There are few stories that have had as many twists and turns as Mr. Payton’s and he better be prepared to put his head down and work hard because there will be more than a few fanbases watching his development over the next few seasons.

Delayed Signatures

The nation’s No. 1 athlete, Olney (Md.) Good Counsel star Stefon Diggs, is the latest on a long list of recent recruits who decided to postpone their signing until well after National Signing Day. He is the No. 5 player in the nation, is considered a strong Florida lean, has friend and former teammate Jelani Jenkins in Gainesville and would be a perfect fit on a roster that is in desperate need of a play-maker on offense. What is left to decide? Why does he have to wait until Feb. 10 to sign? Fellow AC100 prospects Davonte Neal and Jordan Diamond also failed to sign on Wednesday.

Bryce Brown, Terrelle Pryor, Latwan Anderson, Seantrel Henderson, Orson Charles, Cyrus Kouandjio and Vidal Hazelton are just a few of the names that delayed their signings. And for the most part, it has appeared like a mistake as Charles, Pryor, Brown, Hazelton and Anderson have failed to live up to the recruiting hype — or got kicked out of school prematurely. Is signing late a serious issue that indicates the maturity and focus levels of young kids? The evidence, at least in a broad sense, certainly points in that direction.

The biggest name still waiting to sign, however, is the nation’s No. 1 quarterback Jameis Winston. The Hueytown (Ala.) passer is also a stellar baseball prospect and has gotten cold feet after being committed to Florida State since the first week of August. He is considering a late push by Stanford and could wait until Friday to make his decision.

I understand it is an incredibly complex decision, but if 18 years isn't enough time to make up your mind, I can't imagine how an extra week will help. And a late signing is not the same thing as a flip-flop...

The Flip Flops

Every year there are loads of names that seem to be destined for one location only to land on another campus. Athlon Consensus 100 talents Dante Fowler (Florida State to Florida), the aforementioned Greenberry (Notre Dame to Houston), Torshiro Davis (LSU to Texas) and apparently Josh Harvey-Clemons (Georgia to ??? - all in one day) are just a few. Nationally-ranked Bralon Addison (Texas A&M to Oregon) and Jordan Payton (everywhere to UCLA) are just a couple of other highly-touted names to switch on NSD.

At first glance, it can be easy to get frustrated with the flip-flopping and waffling involved with some recruitments. But fans need to remember that this is the single most important decision most of these 17-year olds have ever made and that maybe a touch of patience is necessary.

I think Compton (Calif.) Dominquez cornerback Brandon Beaver said it best at 1:09 p.m. ET Wednesday on his twitter account (@B_2times): “Never been so unsure in my life.” Beaver committed to Washington roughly six hours later.

<p> 2012 Recap: National Signing Day Storylines</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 18:33
Path: /college-football/alabama-crimson-tide-wins-recruiting-national-championship

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

It didn’t take long for the dust to start settling on what has turned out to be one of the most entertaining National Signing Days in history.

At 8:15 a.m. ET, Nick Saban landed his first big unknown when Lynchburg (Va.) Brookville defensive tackle Korren Kirven (No. 198 nationally) signed his paperwork for the Crimson Tide.

And the Tide just kept on rolling to the 2012 recruiting national championship.

Alabama entered NSD ’12 with a virtual stranglehold on the mythical recruiting national title. It was going to take some minor miracles in Austin, Gainesville, Columbus or Tallahassee to knock Saban’s bunch off that top slot in the rankings.

But Athlon Consensus 100 safety Landon Collins from Geismar (La.) Dutchtown stuck with his initial (and bizarre) pledge to the Tide, essentially sealing the recruiting national championship for Alabama.

With eight early enrollees, Bama already had a huge head start on NSD as AC100 names like T.J. Yeldon and Ryan Anderson have already been to a few freshman English classes. But after finishing with a nation-leading 10 AC100 signees and second-best 16 nationally rated recruits, there is little doubt that this Crimson haul is the best in the nation.

It starts with the linebackers. This five-man group is the best in the country bar none and couldn’t come at a better time after losing stars Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw as well as starter Jerrell Harris. Madison (Ala.) Bob Jones tackler Reggie Ragland is the No. 2 linebacker in the nation and is the No. 44 overall player in the AC100. Ragland proved at the Under Armour event that his size-speed combination is one of the best in the nation. Anderson is the No. 8-rated linebacker, and Dillon Lee checks in as the No. 9-rated LB in the nation. All three are top-100 prospects.

Add to it Taylor Hayes (No. 15 linebacker, No. 143 nationally) and Denzell Devall (No. 20 linebacker, No. 158 nationally) and Saban should have plenty to work with in the middle of his defense. Anderson and Devall, at 6-3, 250, and 6-2, 240, respectively, will fit perfectly in his 3-4 scheme that features a variety of hybrid end/backer combo players.

The secondary, which loses Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie and Mark Barron, is also well represented with five potential athletes landing in the defensive backfield. Collins, Panama City (Fla.) Arnold star Eddie Williams and Atlanta (Ga.) St. Pius X corner Geno Smith are three of the top seven defensive back prospects in the nation. Both Collins and Williams rank in the top-21 nationally and could grow into one of the most imposing safety tandems in the country. Collins is listed at 6-2, 210 while Williams checks in at 6-4, 205. That is serious strength at the backend of Saban’s defense. Smith is the No. 3-rated coverman in the nation.

The big news on NSD for Saban, however, came along the defensive line. He got the day started with the 6-4, 275-pound Kirven and followed that up almost immediately with McDonough (Ga.) Henry County nose guard Dalvin Tomlinson. Packaged with a trio of three-star defensive tackles, Alabama has added incredible depth to the middle of its defensive line.

The only blemish on the day for the Crimson Tide was the loss of Atlanta (Ga.) Washington tailback Justin Taylor to Kentucky. Yet, with Dee Hart returning from injury and Yeldon already enrolled — to go with incoming Powder Springs (Ga.) Hillgrove speedster Kenyan Drake — the Alabama running game should be in great hands for years to come.

A pair of Sunshine State AC100 wide receivers, Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast’s Chris Black and Miami (Fla.) Northwestern’s Amari Cooper, should help replenish a receiving corps that saw Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks depart due to graduation. Do-everything top-100 athlete Cyrus Jones could also contribute in a big way on the offense as well.

In all, Alabama signed at least one player ranked in the top five nationally at his position at five different spots on the field: LB, RB, DB, ATH, WR. It signed three of the top seven defensive backs nationally, three of the top nine linebackers and two of the top five wide receivers.

The Yellowhammer State has always provided the Tide with loads of talent, and generally speaking, it’s arguably the most territorial state in the nation. Saban signed seven in-state players in this class. Florida (3) and Louisiana (2) also provided some elite talents as well. However, the Peach State was the biggest surprise for Alabama during this cycle. The Tide signed eight players from the state of Georgia, including two AC100 prospects.

In short, this is an extraordinarily talented, deep and balanced collection of players heading to the Capstone. Saban won a recruiting national title back in 2008 and finished third nationally in 2009, and those two classes laid the foundation for his third BCS national championship. Of the 22 starters in the BCS title game win over LSU, 15 signed in either 2008 or 2009.

So while Will Muschamp, Les Miles, Mark Richt, Gene Chizik and Bobby Petrino sat in nervous anticipation for names like Dorial Green-Beckham, Eddie Goldman, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Tracy Howard, Torshiro Davis, Avery Young and Dante Fowler to sign their letters of intent with other programs, Saban coolly sat back and collected another stellar 26 signees.

Needless to say, Alabama football isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Athlon Consensus 100 Signees (in order of national rank):

12. Eddie Williams (Panama City, Fla.): No. 2 DB
21. Landon Collins (Geismar, La.): No. 4 DB
32. T.J. Yeldon (Daphne, Ala.): No. 4 RB
42. Chris Black (Jacksonville, Fla.): No. 3 WR
44. Reggie Ragland (Madison, Ala.): No. 2 LB
48. Cyrus Jones (Baltimore, Md.): No. 4 ATH
58. Amari Cooper (Miami, Fla.): No. 5 WR
61. Geno Smith (Atlanta, Ga.): No. 7 DB
84. Ryan Anderson (Daphne, Ala.): No. 8 LB
94. Dillon Lee (Buford, Ga.): No. 9 LB

Other Nationally Rated Recruits:

130. Kenyan Drake, RB (Powder Springs, Ga.)
135. Brandon Greene, OL (Ellenwood, Ga.)
143. Tyler Hayes, LB (Thomasville, Ala.)
158. Denzel Devall, LB (Bastrop, La.)
198. Korren Kirven, DT (Lynchburg, Va.)
251. Dalvin Tomlinson, DT (McDonough, Ga.)

<p> Alabama Crimson Tide Wins Recruiting National Championship</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 16:52
Path: /nfl/super-bowl-rematch-giants-versus-patriots

The underdog New York Giants surprised the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, a memorable 17-14 decision to complete the 2007 season. Four years later, the two stalwart franchises will meet for NFL supremacy once again. This Sunday’s game will be the fifth time that two NFL clubs have battled in a second Super Bowl — while the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys are the only two franchises to meet more than twice in the big game. Here’s an historical look at previous Super Bowl rematches:

1.     Super Bowl X — Pittsburgh 21, Dallas 10 (January 1976)
        Super Bowl XIII — Pittsburgh 35, Dallas 31 (Jan. 1979)
        Super Bowl XXX — Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 17 (Jan. 1996)

The first two games were classic confrontations as the Steelers and Cowboys battled to become of the decade. Pittsburgh won its second straight Super Bowl to finish the 1975 season, as a nasty defense carried the way against Dallas. Three years later, the rematch was one of the best Super Bowls in history. MVP Terry Bradshaw threw for four scores, and the Steelers held off a late Cowboys’ rally to win 35-31. Despite the great game, perhaps its most famous play was the dropped pass by wide open Dallas tight end Jackie Smith in the end zone. The two popular franchises met again 17 years later, as the Cowboys finally defeated the Steelers in football’s ultimate game. Cornerback Larry Brown won the MVP with his two interceptions, and Dallas won its third championship in four seasons.

2.     Super Bowl VII — Miami 14, Washington 7 (Jan. 1973)
        Super Bowl XVII — Washington 27, Miami 17 (Jan. 1983)

The undefeated 1972 Dolphins finished their perfect season by beating the Redskins in Super Bowl VII. Miami’s ferocious defense led the way, as safety Jake Scott won the MVP with his two interceptions. The ground game of Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick was very formidable in carrying the Dolphins to their first title. The Redskins would return the favor a decade later with their own physical running game. Bruising runner John Riggins won the MVP with a then Super Bowl-record 166 yards on the ground as Washington won its first NFL title since 1942.

3.     Super Bowl XVI — San Francisco 26, Cincinnati 21 (Jan. 1982)
        Super Bowl XXIII — San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16 (Jan. 1989)

The legendary Bill Walsh carried the 49ers to their first Super Bowl victory to cap off the 1981 season, beating a gritty Bengals bunch 26-21. San Francisco built a 20-0 lead at halftime, but Cincinnati quarterback Jim Anderson rallied his club with two touchdown passes and another score on the ground in the second half. Ray Wersching's four field goals were huge for the Niners, while Joe Montana won the MVP with 157 yards passing. Seven years later, San Francisco would defeat Cincy again to win its third Super Bowl of the decade. MVP Jerry Rice had 11 catches for a Super Bowl-record 215 yards, but it was John Taylor’s touchdown catch with less than a minute to go that sealed the win.

4.     Super Bowl XXVII — Dallas 52, Buffalo 17 (Jan. 1993)
        Super Bowl XXVIII — Dallas 30, Buffalo 13 (Jan. 1994)

The only back-to-back rematch in Super Bowl history happened after the 1993 season, with Dallas blowing out Buffalo for a second-straight year. These were the third and fourth of the Bills’ four-straight title games, but they unfortunately ran into Jimmy Johnson’s juggernaut after losing closer games in Super Bowls XXV and XXVI. The Cowboys were led by the trio of Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, plus an athletic defense. Buffalo played a better game in the rematch, holding a 13-6 lead at halftime. However the Cowboys responded with 24 unanswered points in the second half to win going away.

5.     Super Bowl XLII — New York Giants 17, New England 14 (February 2008)
        Super Bowl XLVI — ??? (Feb. 2012)

Most pundits thought the unbeaten Patriots would easily beat wild card Giants and join the ’72 Dolphins with a perfect season. Instead, Eli Manning would toss two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to lead the G-men to the crown. The New York defense sacked Tom Brady five times in the victory, and that ability to pressure the quarterback will be a key in this year’s title game. The Giants beat the Pats, 24-20, earlier this season, so New England will enter the Super Bowl especially motivated. Not many Patriots playing Sunday were on the ’07 team, but the core of Brady, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, Matt Light and Logan Mankins would love to get revenge for ruining their perfect season four years ago. Hopefully, Sunday’s game will be as dramatic as the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII.

<p> Super Bowl Rematch: Giants versus Patriots</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 16:20
Path: /nfl/new-york-vs-boston-rivalry

When the New York Giants and New England Patriots kick off Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the game won’t be just a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, it will be a renewal of the greatest sports town rivalry and culture clash in the country — New York vs. Boston. Which city has the edge heading into Super Sunday? The following is a tale of the tape:

Ruthian shadow:
Sultan of Swat vs. The Bambino
The 1919 sale of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees is a good place to start. After winning three World Series in four years (1914-16, ’18), Red Sox owner Harry Frazee — a New Yorker — sold Ruth to the rival Yankees for $100,000. Then, as the disputed legend has it, Frazee invested the money in a Broadway production of “No, No, Nanette.” The Sultan of Swat hit 659 of his 714 career home runs in pinstripes and the Yankees won 26 World Series titles before Boston finally crushed the “Curse of the Bambino.”
Edge: New York

Miraculous title run:
Super Bowl XLII vs. 2004 ALCS
Eli Manning and the Giants ended Tom Brady and the Patriots’ quest for an undefeated, incomparable 19–0 season in dramatic fashion — winning 17–14 on a last-minute drive that included a “Helmet Catch” by David Tyree. But New York’s underdog story pales in comparison to Boston’s comeback in the 2004 American League Championship Series. The Red Sox trailed the Yankees 0–3 heading into Game 4 of the ALCS before winning eight straight games — four elimination contests against the Evil Empire in the ALCS and a sweep of the Cardinals in the World Series — to win their first World Series championship in 86 years.
Edge: Boston

Maniacal genius:
Bill Parcells vs. Bill Belichick
The Big Tuna had Belichick as his defensive coordinator on the Giants’ championship squads that won Super Bowls XXI and XXV — the latter title team also had current Big Blue coach Tom Coughlin as receivers coach. But after Belichick hit the road, Parcells never won it all again — although he did lose Super Bowl XXXI as coach of the Patriots. Belichick belly-flopped as the mistake by the lake in Cleveland, but bounced back in New England, winning three (maybe four) Super Bowls in five trips to the big game. Wearing a gray cutoff hoody, as opposed to a Tuna-tight blue sweater, Belichick has become the modern standard.
Edge: Boston

“Overrated” playboy:
Derek Jeter vs. Tom Brady
Two of the most envied men in the world, Jeter and Brady have been labeled “overrated pretty boys” by many. But the duo has been laughing all the way to the bank with a hand full of championship rings and a supermodel starlet on their arm. The king of New York since 1996, Jeter has five World Series titles and has been linked to every girl in Manhattan — Minka Kelly, Mariah Carey, Jessica Alba, etc. Meanwhile, Touchdown Tom is making his record-tying fifth Super Bowl appearance, is married to Brazilian bombshell Gisele Bundchen and has a baby by stateside sweetheart Bridget Moynahan.
Edge: New York

“Overachieving” champ:
Eli Manning vs. Larry Bird
Peyton’s little brother and the NBA’s great white hope both possessed off-the-charts talent but were underrated for various reasons. Elite Eli’s confused “Manning face” expression and Larry Legend’s blonde mullet-mustache combo were part of the problem. Bird won three titles, three MVPs and three 3-point crowns; Manning is working on winning his second Super Bowl in five seasons and, at 31, still has plenty of time to build a resume that rivals his brother’s.
Edge: Boston

Edible nickname:
Big Apple vs. Beantown
The term “Big Apple” was 1920’s horse racing slang that went mainstream thanks primarily to local scribe John J. Fitz Gerald. “Beantown” was slathered with molasses and baked beans back in colonial times of yesteryear.
Edge: New York

Clam chowder:
Manhattan vs. New England
Cream-based or tomato-based? Potatoes or no? Old school or new wave?
Edge: Boston

Scorsese flick:
Goodfellas vs. The Departed
The 1990 East Brooklyn, Italian mafia tale of Henry Hill draws down against the 2006 South Boston, Irish mob story of Frank Costello. Both films are Martin Scorsese classics based on true stories. But do they amuse you? Like a clown? I heard things.
Edge: New York

Iconic fighter:
Mike Tyson vs. Rocky Marciano
Born in Brooklyn, Iron Mike was a 5’10” pit bull, the youngest champ in history (20 years, 4 months, 22 days) and the most feared man on the planet before he became a Phil Collins’ karaoke singer on the silver screen. Four decades earlier, the Rock from Brockton (Mass.) was a 5’11” sledgehammer who went 49–0 with 43 KOs, including a win over Joe Louis in 1951.
Edge: Split decision

It looks like Super Bowl XLVI is a winner-take-all showdown for bragging rights in the New York vs. Boston debate — unless Tyson and Rocky somehow find a way to fight in their heavyweight championship primes.

<p> The Big Apple and Beantown have nation's best sports town feud and culture clash, going toe-to-toe for bragging rights over Babe Ruth, Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, Larry Bird, Eli Manning, Mike Tyson, Rocky Marciano, Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, Martin Scorsese and clam chowder.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 15:57
Path: /college-football/recruiting-trail-dominated-urban-meyer-ohio-state

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

It helps to have two coaching staffs.

While Luke Fickell's Ohio State staff prepared for the bowl match-up with Florida, new head coach Urban Meyer and his staff plowed through the recruiting trail in true General Sherman fashion.

This story began on November 27 rather than National Signing Day. In reality, Meyer had a rather quiet Signing Day, landing only the one big name (Kyle Dodson). But he had a monstrous two months leading up to Wednesday for the Buckeyes. Meyer stepped onto campus in Columbus and wreaked havoc almost instantly by pilfering powerful Midwestern classes for elite level talent.

Meyer landed 11 of his 25 total signees after taking over late in November including a number of former Penn State commitments, one Michigan State verbal, a former Wisconsin commitment and a Notre Dame pledge. He flipped Athlon Consensus 100 talents Glen Ellyn (Ill.) Glenbard West defensive tackle Tommy Schutt (No. 67) and Canton (Ohio) McKinley defensive end Se’Von Pittman (No. 86) from PSU and MSU respectively. He also pulled nationally-rated defensive back Armani Reeves from Penn State and landed the No. 3 player in the nation in Harrisburg (Pa.) Bishop McDevitt defensive end Noah Spence. Spence is the No. 1 defensive end in the nation and was considered a Penn State lock before Meyer took over at Ohio State.

Finally, Meyer stole a pair of offensive lineman in Vandalia (Ohio) Butler’s Taylor Decker and Cleveland (Ohio) Cleveland Heights’ Kyle Dodson. Decker had previously been committed to the Irish and Dodson has been set to go to Madison, Wisc.

With elite Cincinnati (Ohio) Taft defensive end Adolphus Washington (No. 27) on board as well, Meyer boasts four AC100 defensive lineman. It is one of, if not the, best defensive line class in the nation. He has clearly brought his SEC theories on rushing the passer to the Big Ten.

The last piece to the masterful Meyer puzzle will fall into place on Friday, February 10 when Olney (Md.) Good Counsel athlete Stefon Diggs makes his decision. Florida has long been the leader for the No. 5 player in the nation, but Ohio State made a late push for the do-everything talent. Meyer can simply pop in the tape of Percy Harvin and show Diggs exactly how he would be used in Columbus. Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chapparell play-maker Davonte Neal is a player with a similar skill set to that of Diggs and is also waiting until past NSD to make his call. Those are the only two names left on the Scarlet and Gray's board for the class of 2012.

Meyer has put together the best class in the Big Ten and a top five group nationally.  However, should they land Diggs next week, the Buckeyes could finish as high as No. 2.

And he did it in less than three months. Vintage Meyer.

<p> Since taking over in Columbus, Meyer's impact on Buckeye recruiting has been astounding.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 14:40
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Missouri Tigers, News
Path: /college-football/dorial-green-beckham-signs-missouri-tigers

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

One of the best-kept recruiting secrets in years came from Athlon’s No. 1 player in the nation, Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.

The top name in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 took only three visits — to Texas, Arkansas and Missouri — and kept his recruitment incredibly quiet and impossibly impenetrable. After his visit to Fayetteville, Hogs fans felt great about their chances to land the superstar wideout. Yet, Gary Pinkel and the Tigers got the last opportunity to impress DGB when he visited the beautiful Columbia campus just before Signing Day.

And Pinkel capitalized.

Eventually, the star treatment from the in-state school proved to be too much, and Green-Beckham signed with Missouri in front of a circus of cameras and reporters at his high school on Wednesday morning.

His resume makes him a once-in-a-lifetime prospect for the ShowMe State. The Calvin Johnson clone caught 119 passes for 2,233 yards — the fourth-highest total in history — and 24 touchdowns as a senior. In the process, his astounding 6,353 career receiving yards broke Shreveport (La.) Evangel Christian Abram Booty’s national record of 5,867 yards. His 300 career receptions rank fourth all-time, and his 75 career touchdowns rank third all-time in American high school football history.

The impact of landing the nation’s top prospect is immeasurable for the Missouri Tigers.

As Pinkel leads his squad into the shark-infested, murky waters of the SEC, Green-Beckham could prove to be a program-changing recruit — not just on the field, but off of it as well. DGB's immense talent will obviously play in that high-flying Mizzou offense, but, much in the way Kevin Jones' signing impacted the Virginia Tech Hokies brand image back in the class of 2000, the recruiting clout gained off the field from the DGB signing should elevate the Tigers’ cachet on the recruiting trail. Especially considering they are now competing with the likes of Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina within their own division every year.

Rising star quarterback James Franklin will feel the immediate impact of signing Green-Beckham the most as he now has an elite target who is only a freshman. Once the Tigers integrate former elite recruit Darius White, who is transferring in from Texas, Mizzou's passing attack in 2013 could downright impossible to stop.

Only time will tell, but February 1, 2012, could go down in the Mizzou annals as one of the most influential days in Tigers football history.

<p> Dorial Green-Beckham Signs With Missouri Tigers</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 10:44
Path: /news/it%E2%80%99s-national-signing-day-anything-possible

By David Schuman

 Alabama beat LSU for the national championship 23 days ago, but for the true diehards, the second season was just getting underway. I’m talking about the offseason, the recruiting season. For those who consume college football in a manner similar to the way Morris Claiborne gobbles up an entire half of the field, today is Christmas and the Super Bowl all wrapped up into one glorious bonanza.

It’s the holiday known as National Signing Day.

Do you feel that? That tingly feeling in your gut? How about the lightheadedness? We call that hope, my friend. Hope that with this recruiting class, your program is ready to take that next step. Hope that college football’s next star just signed his letter of intent to walk on your campus. Hope that your prayers have been answered.

Nowhere is all of this a bigger deal than in SEC country. Being a Vanderbilt student originally from New York, I have only recently been introduced to the rowdy institution that is football in the South. The enormity of National Signing Day became clear pretty quickly though. Legions of fans, including grown men and women who have jobs and families, unashamedly hang on every word of 18 year olds they have never met. You can now add the Twitterverse to that as well, which brings a whole new dizzying quality to the hysteria.

I say “hysteria” because there is a potent measure of irrationality about the whole thing. You know how it goes. If your archrival picks up a commitment from a guy you wanted, the first assumption is that the rival must have bent the rules. You pull out all your defense mechanisms, saying things like, “Well, if he’s susceptible to being seduced by Rival U, he’s not the kind of kid we want anyway. We’re probably better off without him.”

Anyone who follows the recruiting battles even a little can see how heated it gets. The controversy even manages to wedge itself between families. The most recent example is what happened with Landon Collins this year. At the Under Armour All-America game, the five-star safety from Geismar, Louisiana committed to Alabama in front of the national TV audience. His mother proceeded to…well, check it out for yourself.

Now, some may say the hype has gotten out of control. With top prospects now holding press conferences to announce their choices, there is justified criticism that these teenagers are being celebrated before they have accomplished a thing. Remember Jimmy Clausen with his limousine and rings? The image still makes me nauseous, but the fact is National Signing Day has become a spectacle because there is a demand for it. Websites such as Rivals and Scout have made recruiting a year-round event that doesn’t look to be waning in popularity any time soon.

Basically, we obsess over Signing Day because of the rush. The unbeatable thrill of reeling in the big fish after months on the recruiting trail. For an Auburn fan, beating out Alabama for a prized recruit can feel almost as good as winning the Iron Bowl. And you’re not paying attention if you don’t think Michigan fans, after the insufferable Rich-Rod era, are outright giddy about their Top 5 class.

So sit back and enjoy today, the day where the wellspring of hope runs eternal. Even for non-SEC fans. Well, let’s be real. They don’t have a shot.

<p> Every college football team has a little hope today</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 08:08
All taxonomy terms: AC100, College Football, Recruiting
Path: /college-football/green-beckham-diggs-top-list-uncommitted-prospects

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

One glance at the Athlon Consensus 100 will prove that it should be an electric ride through National Signing Day 2012. In total, 18 players ranked in the AC100 are left uncommitted and a few massive names could pull the old flip-flop. Teams like Auburn, Florida, Florida State, USC and Ohio State could all experience major gains — or major heartbreak — once those faxes start rolling in tomorrow at 7 a.m. ET.

Related: National Signing Day Craziest Stories
Related: Team Rankings Heading Into Signing Day

Here are the Top Players left on the board (in order of AC100 ranking):

1. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR (6-6, 220)
Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest
Announcement: NSD at 10:15 a.m. ET

The nation's top prospect, who conjures images of Calvin Johnson, took three official visits to Texas, Missouri and Arkansas. Rumors were that his visit to Arkansas gave the Hogs a clear advantage. That is, until he visited Mizzou last weekend. The M-I-Z-D-G-B chants rang through the rafters of Mizzou Arena during the weekend's hoops contest in Columbia. It appears that DGB wants to stay closer to home and reports have been the Tigers and Hogs will be his final two choices. Gary Pinkel has the luxury of holding the final visit, offers an in-state campus (Arkansas is actually a few miles closer to home) and now carries that all important "SEC" patch on their shoulder pads. Prediction: Missouri

5. Stefon Diggs, ATH (6-0, 185)
Olney (Md.) Good Counsel
Announcement: Friday, Feb. 10

Diggs will not sign on Wednesday so don't hold your breath. He has a scheduled visit to Maryland coming in the near future and is slated to announce two Fridays from today. The Florida Gators have long been the favorite but Ohio State has made a late push for the do-everything dynamo. Urban Meyer has promised to use the talented Diggs much like he did Percy Harvin. Randy Edsall and Mike Locklsey will make a strong push for the local product during the visit but it appears to be a rematch of the 2006 BCS title game for Diggs. Prediction: Florida

9. Eddie Goldman, DT (6-4, 305)
Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate
Announcement: NSD 10:05 a.m. ET

The star defensive tackle has taken four visits thus far to Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and Miami. It has appeared to be a two-team race between the Crimson Tide and Seminoles but Auburn has made a strong push. The Seminoles are still the top team to beat for his services as almost all experts are in agreement that Goldman will pick FSU on NSD. Auburn's class has to be consider a slight disappointment, so you can bet Gene Chizik's staff is working the phones hard for Mr. Goldman. Prediction: Florida State

18. Tracy Howard, DB (5-11, 175)
Hollywood (Fla.) Miramar
Announcement: NSD 9:35 a.m. ET

Howard has long been considered a heavy Florida Gator lean and the smart money is still on Will Muschamp. However, the Miami Hurricanes have come out of nowhere and made a huge push. Alabama, Florida State, West Virginia and USC might still be in the mix, but it appears to be a Gators-Canes battle. Howard played well in the U.S. Army Bowl and figures to be an instant impact coverman. The Hurricanes, possibly his original team of choice, appears to have made a huge run at the talented DB. Prediction: Miami

20. Josh Harvey-Clemons, LB (6-4, 205)
Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes
Announcement: NSD 9:15 a.m. ET

This rangy linebacker (potential defensive end) has Florida, Georgia, Louisville and Florida State as his finalists with the Gators and Dawgs leading the charge for his services. He has visited Florida, Georgia and Florida State and has long been thought of as a heavy Georgia lean. All of the experts have lined-up behind Athens as the landing spot for this versatile front-seven defender. Prediction: Georgia

22. Andrus Peat, OL (6-6, 295)
Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol
Announcement: NSD 1:35 p.m. ET

The big blocker was excellent in the Under Armour game and has proven his stock is warranted. His older brother, Todd, and cousin Avery Moss either play at or will play at Nebraska. So heading for a NSD announcement, the Huksers have the edge over his other three finalists. Peat has visited his four finalists — Nebraska, USC, Florida State and Stanford — and has them all technically listed even. That said, Bo Pelini has to be considered the clear leader. Prediction: Nebraska

25. Kyle Murphy, OL (6-6, 270)
San Clemente (Calif.)
Announcement: N/A

Murphy is down to four: Stanford, USC, Florida and Oregon. He visited those four programs over the last few months and has not set a time for his announcement. At this point, Stanford and USC look to be his true finalists with David Shaw and the Cardinal looking like the team to beat for his services. Most would be shocked if he landed at Florida or Oregon. Prediction: Stanford

26. Nelson Agholor, ATH (6-0, 180)
Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep
Announcement: NSD 12:05 p.m. ET

Agholor is a young player who is wise and mature beyond his years and it shows on the field. He is dynamic and will be an immediate impact player on the next level – be it at running back, wide receiver or special teams. Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and USC are his finalists with the Gators and Trojans leading the way. He was considered a strong Gators lean, but USC has made a huge final push and may be the team to beat. This is one of the more intriguing recruitments in the nation — and could be one of the most important. Prediction: USC

29. Thomas Johnson, WR (6-0, 180)
Dallas (Texas) Skyline
Announcement: NSD 12:20 p.m. ET

Johnson decommitted from the Texas Longhorns the day after playing in the Under Armour game (strangely, with a big number of future teammates). After nearly one full calendar year as a Texas verbal, Johnson now looks to be picking between Cal, Oregon, Texas A&M and TCU. He visited all of his finalists except Cal and looks like all signs are pointing to him staying in the Lone Star State. The lure of the SEC will be too strong for Johnson. Prediction: Texas A&M

34. Ronald Darby, DB (5-11, 175)
Oxon Hill (Md.) Potomac
Announcement: NSD 2:30 p.m. ET

The longtime Notre Dame commitment reopened his recruitment and has Arizona, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, Notre Dame listed as his finalists. Of those final choices, Darby visited Clemson, Maryland, Florida State and Auburn. Look for Auburn and Florida State to battle it out for this talented speedster's athletic ability. Prediction: Florida State

53. Avery Young, OL (6-5, 275)
Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Palm Beach
Announcement: NSD at 2:00 p.m. ET

Young has trimmed his list to four: Auburn, Georgia, Florida and Miami. His mother is from Georgia and he will be announcing on TV in Atlanta on Signing Day. With Georgia and Auburn listed as his final two choices, his announcement time and location could this be a positive omen for Mark Richt and the Dawgs? Prediction: Georgia

56. Davonte Neal, ATH (5-9, 175)
Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral
Announcement: N/A

Neal can play anywhere on the field and could still play anywhere in the nation. His list of finalists includes Arizona, Arkansas, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Ohio State. He has visited all five and has told everyone that he will not be deciding until, for whatever reason, after National Signing Day. This one appears to be wide open but the home state program might be the team to beat. Prediction: Arizona

63. Aziz Shittu, DT (6-3, 275)
Atwater (Calif.) Buhach
Announcement: NSD at 5 p.m. ET

If there is an interesting recruit who could pull something very interesting out of the hat on NSD, it might be the intriuging Shittu. Stanford, Cal, USC and UCLA are his finalists, but appears all but locked into a Palo Alto scholarship. Prediction: Stanford

68. Leonard Williams, DE (6-5, 255)
Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland
Announcement: NSD, TBD

Florida, USC, Auburn and Florida State will be the four teams holding their breath for Mr. Williams come NSD. He has visited all four but USC and Florida look like the two teams to beat. Lane Kiffin is all but assured of pulling at least one or two upsets and landing Williams could be considered one of them (Agholor would be the other). Where Kyle Murphy ends up could impact Williams decision. Prediction: USC

82. Kwon Alexander, LB (6-2, 210)
Oxford (Ala.) High
Announcement: NSD 11:05 a.m. ET

Alexander is down to three schools and the BCS Championship game could have played a large role in helping him to decide. The talented tackler has visited Auburn and LSU thus far but has interestingly enough not visited Alabama. He is currently rehabbing from a knee injury he suffered back in October and Auburn never backed down — and has new DC and strong recruiter Brian VanGorder working hard to land him. Prediction: Auburn

88. Jordan Diamond, OL (6-6, 290)
Chicago (Ill.) Simeon
Announcement: Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. ET

Diamond has tripped to all of his five finalists: Arkansas, Auburn, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin. He has decided to postpone his decision to just beyond National Signing Day and will make his final call on Friday at 8 p.m. The Badgers got the all-important final visit and may be in the lead after losing a few offensive line prospects of late. Prediction: Michigan

95. Joel Caleb, ATH (6-2, 205)
Midlothian (Va.) Clover Hill
Announcement: NSD at 8:30 a.m. ET

Caleb has officially listed three programs as his finalists. Ohio State, Virginia Tech and West Virginia are his programs of choice, but the Hokies have long been rumored as the team to beat. The talented athlete missed some of this season with a torn meniscus and has been rehabbing hard in order to be ready for 2012. Prediction: Virginia Tech

<p> Who are the best players left on the board and where will they land on National Signing Day?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/can-national-signing-day-save-auburns-class

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

The Auburn Tigers won the 2011 BCS National Championship. But you wouldn't be able to tell it from looking at the team recruiting rankings. and has the Tigers ranked No. 20 in the nation and 247Sports has Auburn ranked 21st in the nation. That is nothing to sneeze at and provides enough talent to any roster to compete for conference championships.

Yet, those rankings put the Tigers in the bottom third of the SEC. Eighth to be exact.

Certainly, having to replace two coordinators for the first time in years hasn't helped Gene Chizik maintain his astounding recruiting momentum from recent years. But with Scot Loeffler and Brian VanGorder, he has put together a fantastic new staff and could close the 2012 class with a flourish on National Signing Day.

Will Auburn land most of the names listed below? Probably not. But the Tigers need to pull a couple of upsets in order salvage a top-20 class — and keep up with that other in-state SEC school that currently owns the recruiting trail.

Here are the Athlon Consensus 100 targets Auburn has left on its board:

5. Stefon Diggs, ATH (6-0, 185)
Olney (Md.) Good Counsel
Announcement: Friday, Feb. 10

Diggs will not sign on Wednesday so don't hold your breath. He has a scheduled visit to Maryland coming in the near future and is slated to announce two Fridays from today on the 10th. The Florida Gators have long been the favorite but Ohio State has made a late push for the do-everything dynamo. Urban Meyer has promised to use the talented Diggs much like he did Percy Harvin. Randy Edsall and Mike Locklsey will make a strong push for the local product during the visit but it appears to be a rematch of the 2006 BCS title game for Diggs. Auburn is a heavy long-shot in the race for Diggs, but his inability to make up his mind only helps the upset cause. Prediction: Florida

9. Eddie Goldman, DT (6-4, 305)
Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate
Announcement: NSD 10:05 a.m. ET

The star defensive tackle has taken four visits thus far to Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and Miami. It has appeared to be a two-team race between the Crimson Tide and Seminoles but Auburn has made a strong push. The Seminoles are still the top team to beat for his services as almost all experts are in agreement that Goldman will pick FSU on NSD. Auburn's class has to be consider a slight disappointment, so you can bet Gene Chizik's staff is working the phones hard for Mr. Goldman. Prediction: Florida State

34. Ronald Darby, DB (5-11, 175)
Oxon Hill (Md.) Potomac
Announcement: NSD 2:30 p.m. ET

The longtime Notre Dame commitment reopened his recruitment and has Arizona, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, Notre Dame listed as his finalists. Of those final choices, Darby visited Clemson, Maryland, Florida State and Auburn. Look for Auburn and Florida State to battle it out for this talented speedster's athletic ability. Prediction: Florida State

53. Avery Young, OL (6-5, 275)
Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Palm Beach
Announcement: NSD at 2:00 p.m. ET

Young has trimmed his list to four: Auburn, Georgia, Florida and Miami. His mother is from Georgia and he will be announcing on TV in Atlanta on Signing Day. With Georgia and Auburn listed as his final two choices, his announcement time and location could this be a positive omen for Mark Richt and the Dawgs? Or will the new coordinator and sheer desire of the Auburn staff win out? Prediction: Auburn

68. Leonard Williams, DE (6-5, 255)
Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland
Announcement: NSD, TBD

Florida, USC, Auburn and Florida State will be the four teams holding their breath for Mr. Williams come NSD. He has visited all four but USC and Florida look like the two teams to beat. Lane Kiffin is all but assured of pulling at least one or two upsets and landing Williams could be considered one of them (Agholor would be the other). Where Kyle Murphy ends up could impact Williams decision. Prediction: USC

82. Kwon Alexander, LB (6-2, 210)
Oxford (Ala.) High
Announcement: NSD 11:05 a.m. ET

Alexander is down to three schools and the BCS Championship game could have played a large role in helping him to decide. The talented tackler has visited Auburn and LSU thus far but has interestingly enough not visited Alabama. He is currently rehabbing from a knee injury he suffered back in October and Auburn never backed down — and has new DC and strong recruiter Brian VanGorder working hard to land him. Prediction: Auburn

88. Jordan Diamond, OL (6-6, 290)
Chicago (Ill.) Simeon
Announcement: Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. ET

Diamond has tripped to all of his five finalists: Arkansas, Auburn, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin. He has decided to postpone his decision to just beyond National Signing Day and will make his final call on Friday at 8 p.m. The Badgers got the all-important final visit and may be in the lead after losing a few offensive line prospects of late. Prediction: Michigan

Other Nationally Rated Names to Watch:

Alex Kozan, OL (6-4, 295)
Castle Rock (Colo.) Valor Christian
Finalists: Auburn, Iowa, Michigan

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR (6-4, 205)
Hutchinson (Kan.) C.C.
Finalists: Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee

Ricardo Louis, WR (6-2, 190)
Miami Beach (Fla.) High
Finalists: Auburn, Florida State

<p> Auburn's 2012 class has been a disappointment, but can National Signing Day save the day?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - 16:11
Path: /college-football/recruiting-florida-gators-ready-huge-national-signing-day

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

The Florida Gators need some good news these days.

One of the best jobs in America — and the best job East of the Mississippi — has featured four different coordinators in four seasons in Gainesville and eleven losses in two seasons. And shockingly, it is the lack of play-makers on that side of the ball that is so startling absent from the Gators' roster.

That could all change on Wednesday, however, as National Signing Day could be a huge day for second-year head coach Will Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Brent Pease. There are eight Athlon Consensus 100 targets left on the Gators board and two of them in particular could add some offensive spark to an otherwise dormant offense. Landing all eight is highly unlikely and virtually impossible, but if three or four of the names listed below pick Florida, Muschamp could actually push Alabama and Texas for the No. 1 class in the nation. Right now, the class currently sits at No. 3 in the Athlon Sports team rankings.

Here are the names Florida is waiting for:

5. Stefon Diggs, ATH (6-0, 185)
Olney (Md.) Good Counsel
Announcement: Friday, Feb. 10

Diggs will not sign on Wednesday so don't hold your breath. He has a scheduled visit to Maryland coming in the near future and is slated to announce two Fridays from today. The Florida Gators have long been the favorite but Ohio State has made a late push for the do-everything dynamo. Urban Meyer has promised to use the talented Diggs much like he did Percy Harvin. Randy Edsall and Mike Locksley will make a strong push for the local product during the visit but it appears to be a rematch of the 2006 BCS title game for Diggs. Prediction: Florida

18. Tracy Howard, DB (5-11, 175)
Hollywood (Fla.) Miramar
Announcement: NSD 9:35 a.m. ET

Howard has long been considered a heavy Florida Gator lean and the smart money is still on Will Muschamp. However, the Miami Hurricanes have come out of nowhere and made a huge push. Alabama, Florida State, West Virginia and USC might still be in the mix, but it appears to be a Gators-Canes battle. Howard played well in the U.S. Army Bowl and figures to be an instant impact coverman. Prediction: Florida

20. Josh Harvey-Clemons, LB (6-4, 205)
Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes
Announcement: NSD 9:15 a.m. ET

This rangy linebacker (potential defensive end) has Florida, Georgia, Louisville and Florida State as his finalists with the Gators and Dawgs leading the charge for his services. He has visited Florida, Georgia and Florida State and has long been thought of as a heavy Georgia lean. All of the experts have lined-up behind Athens as the landing spot for this versatile front-seven defender. Prediction: Georgia

25. Kyle Murphy, OL (6-6, 270)
San Clemente (Calif.)
Announcement: N/A

Murphy is down to four: Stanford, USC, Florida and Oregon. He visited those four programs over the last few months and has not set a time for his announcement. At this point, Stanford and USC look to be his true finalists with David Shaw and the Cardinal looking like the team to beat for his services. Most would be shocked if he landed at Florida or Oregon. Prediction: Stanford

26. Nelson Agholor, ATH (6-0, 180)
Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep
Announcement: NSD 12:05 p.m. ET

Agholor is a young player who is wise and mature beyond his years and it shows on the field. He is dynamic and will be an immediate impact player on the next level – be it at running back, wide receiver or special teams. Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and USC are his finalists with the Gators and Trojans leading the way. He was considered a strong Gators lean, but USC has made a huge final push and may be the team to beat. This is one of the more intriguing recruitments in the nation — and could be one of the most important. Prediction: USC

53. Avery Young, OL (6-5, 275)
Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Palm Beach
Announcement: NSD at 2:00 p.m. ET

Young has trimmed his list to four: Auburn, Georgia, Florida and Miami. His mother is from Georgia and he will be announcing on TV in Atlanta on Signing Day. With Georgia and Auburn listed as his final two choices, his announcement time and location could this be a positive omen for Mark Richt and the Dawgs? Prediction: Georgia

68. Leonard Williams, DE (6-5, 255)
Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland
Announcement: NSD, TBD

Florida, USC, Auburn and Florida State will be the four teams holding their breath for Mr. Williams come NSD. He has visited all four but USC and Florida look like the two teams to beat. Lane Kiffin is all but assured of pulling at least one or two upsets and landing Williams could be considered one of them (Agholor would be the other). Where Kyle Murphy ends up could impact Williams decision. Prediction: Florida

<p> National Signing Day 2012 could be a huge day for Will Muschamp and the Florida Gators.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - 15:06
Path: /college-football/recruiting-signing-days-craziest-stories

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

Children are complicated, fickle, naive creatures who seldom have any perspective on the trappings of adult life. Few 16-year old kids in this country are clued in to the rise of democracy in the Middle East, the emerging debt issues in Europe or the far-reaching effects of upcoming elections in South America. Hell, most of them have never even done their own taxes.

It’s why uniform colors, shoes, weather, license plates and even a coin flip have been used to select a university in the recent past. And I don’t expect National Signing Day 2012 to be much different.

The 2012 cycle has already provided one of the most bizarre recruiting stories I have ever witnessed. Geismar (La.) Dutchtown safety Landon Collins, the No. 21-rated player in the Athlon Consensus 100, announced on national television for the University of Alabama much to the chagrin of his mother, April Justin. Justin, just moments after her son committed to the Tide, was not only visibly upset but openly cheered for “her” LSU Tigers:

"I feel like LSU is a better place for him to be," Justin said at the time. "LSU Tigers, number one. Go Tigers.”

Collins’ girlfriend, Victoria Lowery, is reportedly going to Alabama and wants her significant other to come with her. Apparently, Justin and Lowery got into an altercation just before the announcement about who should be on set when Collins made the big decision. Well, Collins is still committed to Alabama and Lowery was on camera standing just behind her man at the Under Armour game.

Lowery 2, Mom 0.

But Mama isn’t going down without a fight as she has recently accused Nick Saban and Alabama of a recruiting violation. She claims Lowery has been offered a job in the football office by Saban – and obvious NCAA violation. Alabama has denied the accusation as it would be virtually impossible to cover-up such a blatant disobedience.

Les Miles and the Tigers are still recruiting Collins hard and nothing is certain with this saga until the ink is actually dry on Wednesday.

Collins is just one of many interesting, bewildering and sometimes hilarious recruiting decisions. My personal favorite came from Florida State signee Fred Rouse. On our national radio show on Sirius, he was asked, where are you going to college? And Mr. Rouse responded with “You know, a lot of people want me to go here or there. But I had to think, you know, what Fred wanna do? And Fred want to go to Florida State.” I think I have replayed that clip a thousand times since. The first-person, verbally illiterate announcement was absolutely hilarious. Unfortunately for everyone involved, his career wasn’t nearly as entertaining on the football field as it was on radio airwaves.

Rouse and Collins are just two of many memorable tales from the trail…

Related: 2012 Team Recruiting Rankings Heading Into Signing Day

The Imaginary Scholarship

As bizarre as the Collins’ girlfriend-mother feud is, nothing compares to Kevin Hart’s story. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive lineman at Fernely (Nev.) High wanted so badly to play college football that he wrote his own fairytale ending complete with press conference. On February 1, 2008, Hart held a historic announcement at his high school in which he picked Cal over Oregon. “Coach Tedford and I talked a lot, and the fact that the head coach did most of the recruiting of me kind gave me that real personal experience,” Hart said at the announcement.

There was only one problem. Jeff Tedford had never spoken too, visited or contacted Mr. Hart. Neither had Oregon, Washington or Oklahoma State, his other finalists, for that matter. Eventually, Hart admitted the entire recruitment was fictitious and apologized to all parties involved.

The Forged Signature

April Justin isn’t the first parent to disapprove of their son’s educational choices. Just last year, Reserve (La.) East St. John defensive back Floyd Raven had decided that Texas A&M was the right school for him. There was only one issue, however, his letter of intent had already been sent to Ole Miss. The Rebels admissions department couldn’t read the signature and asked for a second copy. Raven’s mother wanted him to go to Ole Miss so badly, that she had forged the signature and sent it to Oxford without her son’s knowledge. Eventually, Floyd learned of his mother’s “betrayal” and sent the appropriately signed paperwork to Texas A&M.

The Coin Flip

It takes thousands of hours of labor and thousands of dollars to recruit athletes at the highest level. But in 2009, Atco (N.J.) Winsow Township linebacker Ka’Lial Glaud trimmed the entire process to a few cents. After taking five school-funded official visits, Glaud had narrowed his list to West Virginia and Rutgers. But the linebacker was still so torn he couldn’t make up his mind. So naturally, he decided to let chance decide his fate as he literally flipped a coin between the two programs. Heads he goes to WVU, tails he goes to Rutgers. He has posted 47 total tackles in three seasons for the Scarlet Knights.

The Five-Minute Flip-Flop

Flip-flops happen in recruiting all the time – especially, as national signing day draws near. The recruiting picture gets clearer for all parties involved, while schools get desperate to fill needs with late scholarship offers. The nation’s No. 2 player in 2011, however, Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, made heads spin in record time last year. Kouandjio, whose older brother was/is a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide, announced on ESPN that he would be attending Auburn. Yet, five minutes after the bright TV lights had gone out, the younger Kouandjio, recanted his pledge to Auburn. He never sent in his letter of intent to the Tigers and three days later it was revealed he had officially signed with Alabama via twitter. Longtime commitments are snaked away at the last minute every season, but never has a kid committed on national television only to decide to sign with someone else five minutes later. The venom of the Yellowhammer rivalry only added to the drama of the Kouandjio signing.

The Announcement Props

I am not one who enjoys recruiting announcements. They are filled with superfluous rhetoric from coaches, analysts and handlers. They go on too long and rarely does a recruit offer any pertinent news or information other than his college of choice. Every now and then, however, if done with style, an announcement can be fun – or infuriating. Georgia’s Isaiah Crowell made fans coo when he pulled out an actual Bulldog puppy last year to signify his decision to play for Mark Richt in Athens. Andre Smith sent the Crimson Tiders into hysterics when he pulled out the houndstooth hat at his announcement for Alabama.

But Antonio Logan-El’s live announcement back in 2006 was met with a slightly harsher response. The Forestville (Md.) High offensive lineman had been committed to Maryland for the better part of a year. While dressed in Maryland red in front of a Terps crowd at the ESPN Sportszone in Maryland — including head coach Ralph Friedgen’s wife — Logan-El first pulled out a Florida hat before tossing it to the ground. He then pulled out a Tennessee hat. That, too, was tossed aside before picking up the Terps black and red headgear. After a few nice words, Logan-El threw his Maryland hat to the ground and held up a picture of Joe Paterno and announced he would be heading to Penn State. The decision was met with screams of “traitor” and violence nearly resulted. Logan-El, much to the pleasure of Terps fans, washed out at Penn State after only one redshirt year.

At least he actually made a decision, however, as the worst recruiting press conference in history has to belong to Greg Little. The peculiar wide receiver held a press conference in October of his senior year to announce what school he would be attending. Fans waited with anticipation while Little huddled with his family and coaches for a long period of time. He emerged from the mini-summit to announce that he had narrowed his list to Notre Dame and North Carolina. It’s the only news conference I can remember where a recruit officially announced that there was nothing to announce.

The Slimy Mentor

The most recent trend for elite recruits, for some reason unbeknownst to me, is to wait until after National Signing Day to make a decision. Terrelle Pryor, Orson Charles, Latwan Anderson, Vidal Hazelton, Seantrel Henderson, Kouandjio and last year’s top prospect Jadeveon Clowney all signed their LOIs well past signing day. But Wichita (Kan.) East running back Bryce Brown, and his handler/mentor/coach/agent/leech Brian Butler, set a new low for recruiting sludge.

Brown, whose older brother Arthur was enrolled at Miami, had been committed to the Hurricanes from the early stages. He did not sign on NSD and instead took a couple of extra visits to Tennessee and LSU after Signing Day. While Brown watched the calendar flip to March without a decision, Butler, who was a convicted felon and fledgling rapper, set up a website in order to charge $9.99 per month for recruiting updates on his protégé.

Threats from Butler about Brown potentially skipping college for the Canadian Football League only further exemplified how ridiculous the handler’s influence was over Brown. Meanwhile, Miami (and others) stopped recruiting the troubled tailback until halfway through March, when Brown got “a sign from god” to sign with Tennessee. Arthur left Miami for Kansas State (where he will be a standout senior in 2012) shortly thereafter. Bryce lasted one year in Knoxville before transferring back to Kansas State as well. He played in two games this season, got three carries and comically declared for the 2012 NFL.

Obviously, most of the names who waited until beyond signing day to sign have had major trouble getting their careers started on the next level (with the potenial exception of Clowney).

So there does appear to be a fairly simple and obvious lesson to be learned here: Sign the stinking papers and get to work because nothing is guaranteed on the next level.

Who knows what National Signing Day 2012 will bring. Will Shaq Thompson switch from Cal to Washington? Will Andrus Peat see a Nebraska license plate on the road in Tempe, Ariz., and therefore pick the Huskers much like his older brother did last winter? Which woman has more influence on Landon Collins? And how long will peacock playmaker Stefon Diggs wait to sign his papers?

Love or hate the press conferences and high-profile visibility of high school students, National Signing Day has become appointment viewing for all college football fans.

<p> National Signing Day has always provided plenty of bizarre, hilarious and eye-opening stories.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - 07:04
Path: /college-football/2012-team-recruiting-rankings-signing-day-targets

-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)

National Signing Day is upon us!

Tomorrow coaches, parents, fans and media members alike will be starring at fax machines (yes, they still use those) in anticipation of building a championship roster.

You can’t win football games without good players – and having better athletes than the next guy normally helps with the winning process. The Alabama Crimson Tide won the 2008 recruiting national championship and it turned into an actual national championship four years later. Additionally, the 2009 Alabama class was ranked No. 3 in the nation by Athlon Sports.

Of the Crimson Tide’s starting 22 in the BCS national championship destruction of LSU, 15 signed in either the 2008 or 2009 classes. It's safe to say recruiting is the lifeblood of the college football machine.

Certainly, the evaluation, development and scouting process plays a bigger role in eventual wins and losses. And yes, the star-ranking system is an imperfect science. But as the years go by, the evaluation process becomes more accurate and more predictable. So the current recruiting rankings, e.g.. the Athlon Consensus 100 where all the internet rankings are averaged together, are as perfect a system as we have ever had.

Who will land the top collection of players in the 2012 haul? There will be fireworks a plenty come NSD, but here is how the team rankings stand with less than 24 hour until players can sign (7:00 AM ET, Feb. 1).

Note: A national recruit is a prospect who is ranked in the top 150 by one of the six recruiting services. Athlon’s “national” recruits are roughly the top 300.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (27 commitments)
AC100: 10, National Recruits: 14
National Targets: Dorial Green-Beckham (No. 1), Eddie Goldman (No. 9), Tracy Howard (No. 18), Kwon Alexander (No. 82), Korren Kirven, Dalvin Tomlinson, Ricardo Louis

Green-Beckham is the nation’s top player but it appears that race might be over with Missouri holding a slight edge over Arkansas. Tracy Howard looks like he will be selecting the Florida Gators. Nick Saban could still miss on all six national recruits left on the board and still land the top class in the nation. Alabama leads the nation by a wide margin with 10 AC100 verbal pledges at this point. Holding onto star safety prospect Landon Collins might be his top focus during the final hours of this recruiting cycle. It appears that, barring a small miracle, that Alabama will earn its second recruiting national championship in five years under Saban.

2. Texas Longhorns (26)
AC100: 6, National Recruits: 16
National Targets: Dorial Green-Beckham

Mack Brown had most of his work done nearly a year ago when they entered March of 2011 with 12 commitments already. Roughly a year later, Brown has an outside chance to push for the top slot. He landed two national recruits, defensive back Daje Johnson and linebacker Dalton Santos, to push their total to a nation-leading 16 national recruits. With DGB the only big fish left on the block, Horns’ fans should actually have one of the more stable NSD.

3. Florida Gators (21)
AC100: 5, National Recruits: 12
National Targets: Stefon Diggs (No. 5), Darius Hamilton (No. 14), Tracy Howard (No. 18), Josh Harvey-Clemons (No. 20), Kyle Murphy (No. 25), Nelson Agholor (No. 26), Avery Young (No. 53), Leonard Williams (No. 68)

No team may have a better finish to the 2012 class than Will Mushcamp. With six player ranked in the top-26 nationally still listing Florida as a finalists, Gators fans should have plenty of excitement to look forward to on Wednesday. Diggs, Hamilton, Howard and Williams look to be Florida leans with Agholor likely choosing between USC and the Gators. With Harvey-Clemons leaning towards Georgia and Young likely picking between Auburn and Georgia, landing all of the coveted names above is virtually impossible. However, if Muschamp can land three of four AC100 targets, Florida could push Alabama and Texas for the top slot.

4. Ohio State Buckeyes (24)
AC100: 5, National Recruits: 11
National Targets: Stefon Diggs (No. 5), Davonte Neal (No. 56), Jordan Diamond (No. 88), Joel Caleb (No. 95), Kyle Dodson

Few coaches have ever impacted a recruiting class in such short order as Urban Meyer has in Columbus this winter. He has landed eight prospects – a number of whom were former Penn State, Notre Dame or Michigan State verbals – since being presented as the head coach and this weekend stole Armani Reeves from Penn State. He is making a serious late push for the No. 1 athlete in the nation in Stefon Diggs and has a chance to land three other AC100 recruits as well. Should Meyer pull Diggs, Neal, Diamond and Caleb, the Buckeyes might have an outside chance to push for the top slot.

5. Michigan Wolverines (23)
AC100: 3, National Recruits: 10
National Targets: Jordan Diamond (No. 88), Alex Kozan

Brady Hoke has done an excellent job in his first full year on the job in Ann Arbor. Landing Diamond or Kozan would merely be icing on the cake. The Maize and Blue are basically set heading into National Signing Day and won’t be waiting to hear from too many big names. Certainly, Hoke was to keep Diamond away from fellow Big Ten rivals Ohio State and Wisconsin, but signing the big offensive lineman might give Michigan the top class in the conference.

6. Florida State Seminoles (16)
AC100: 6, National Recruits: 9
National Targets: Eddie Goldman (No. 9), Tracy Howard (No. 18), Andrus Peat (No. 22), Nelson Agholor (No. 26), Ronald Darby (No. 34), Leonard Williams (No. 68), Colin Blake, Ricardo Louis

One thing is certain about NSD 2012, one team from the state of Florida is going to make big waves. Be it the Gators or the Seminoles, a Sunshine State program will push Alabama for the top slot in the nation. The Noles rank second in the nation with six AC100 commitments and Jimbo Fisher seems to be in a shape for the nation’s No. 1 defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and fellow elite level prospect Ronald Darby. If Fisher can pull an upset or two on NSD, the Noles could easily push into the top five, but possibly the top two.

7. Miami Hurricanes (32)
AC100: 2, National Recruits: 8
National Targets: Tracy Howard (No. 18), Avery Yong (No. 53), Leonard Williams (No. 68)

With only two AC100 commits, Miami lands in the top-10 based on the depth of a potential 32-man class. And in the face of the issues surrounding the Nevin Shaprio scandal, Al Golden has done a fantastic job attracting talent. With one of the largest classes in the nation already intact, Canes fans shouldn’t expect too much movement on Wednesday despite still being mentioned by four AC100 recruits as a finalists. It would be an upset if Miami landed any of the AC100 targets left on the board.

8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17)
AC100: 3, National Recruits: 9
National Targets: Nelson Agholor (No. 26), Ronald Darby (No. 34), Davonte Neal (No. 56), Ken Ekanem

Brian Kelly won his biggest recruiting battle two weeks ago when the nation’s No. 2 quarterback, Gunner Kiel, enrolled in class in South Bend. With another stellar group of defensive lineman coming to Notre Dame, Kelly’s haul should once again be one of the nation’s best. If Kelly can pull an upset or two with Agholor, former commit Darby and Neal, this group has a chance to land in the top five.

9. Oklahoma Sooners (20)
AC100: 3, National Recruits: 7
National Targets: Dorial Green-Beckham (No. 1), Nelson Agholor (No. 26), Brandon Beaver, Colin Blake, Will Latu

There is still plenty of work to be done for Bob Stoops but it appears that landing the country’s top player is an unlikely proposition. And the Sooners also look like a long shot for Agholor and Banner as well. That said, the Crimson and Cream always does something exciting on signing day and that could include names like Beaver or Latu. Regardless of what happens on NSD, this Oklahoma haul will likely land it he top-10 nationally.

10. Georgia Bulldogs (16)
AC100: 5, National Recruits: 7
National Targets: Josh Harvey-Clemons (No. 20), Avery Young (No. 53), JaQuay Williams (No. 99), Cordarrelle Patterson

This isn’t one of the bigger classes in the SEC, but it has some serious star power. With two of the top 16 prospects in the nation heading to Athens, the quality of this class is elite and likely underrated nationally. With Harvey-Clemons looking like a UGA lock, Mark Richt would claim four of the top-31 players in the nation. Young will be picking between Auburn and Georgia with the Dawgs a slight favorite in that race. Should Richt land both, the Bulldogs could finish No. 2 in the nation with 7 AC100 signees and would lock the Dawgs into the Athlon top-10.

11. Clemson Tigers (20)
AC100: 3, National Recruits: 7
National Targets: Eddie Goldman (No. 9), Ronald Darby (No. 34)

12. South Carolina Gamecocks (24)
AC100: 2, National Recruits: 5
National Targets: None

13. Texas A&M Aggies (22)
AC100: 1, National Recruits: 7
National Targets: Thomas Johnson (No. 29)

14. USC Trojans (13)
AC100: 5, National Recruits: 9
National Targets: Tracy Howard (No. 18), Andrus Peat (No. 22), Kyle Murphy (No. 25), Nelson Agholor (No. 26), Zach Banner (No. 50), Aziz Shittu (No. 63), Kyle Dodson

15. LSU Tigers (20)
AC100: 1, National Recruits: 9
National Targets: Kwon Alxander (No. 82), Cordarrelle Patterson

16. UCLA Bruins (25)
AC100: 2, National Recruits: 4
National Targets: Aziz Shittu (No. 63), Brandon Beaver, Deaysean Rippy, Bryce Treggs, Javon Williams

17. Cal Golden Bears (18)
AC100: 3, National Recruits: 7
National Targets: Stefon Diggs (No. 5), Shaq Thompson (No. 6), Eddie Goldman (No. 9), Thomas Johnson (No. 29), Aziz Shittu (No. 63), Kenny Lawler, Raymond Ford

18. Stanford Cardinal (16)
AC100: 4, National Recruits: 5
National Targets: Andrus Peat (No. 22), Kyle Murphy (No. 25), Aziz Shittu (No. 63)

19. Auburn Tigers (15)
AC100: 2, National Recruits: 9
National Targets: Stefon Diggs (No. 5), Eddie Goldman (No. 9), Ronald Darby (No. 34), Avery Young (No. 53), Leonard Williams (No. 68), Jordan Diamond (No. 88), Kwon Alexander (No. 82), JaQuay Williams (No. 99), Alex Kozan, Cordarrelle Patterson, Ricardo Louis

20. Oregon Ducks (19)
AC100: 1, National Recruits: 6
National Targets: Kyle Murphy (No. 25), Thomas Johnson (No. 29), Jaydon Mickens

21. Tennessee Volunteers (20)
AC100: 1, National Recruits: 6
National Targets: Richie Brown, Quinshad Davis, Korren Kirven, Cordarrelle Patterson

22. Texas Tech Red Raiders (25)
AC100: 0, National Recruits: 5
National Targets: None

23. Virginia Cavaliers (26)
AC100: 1, National Recruits: 4
National Targets: None

24. Virginia Tech Hokies (27)
AC100: 0, National Recruits: 4
National Targets: Joel Caleb (No. 95), Ken Ekanam, Korren Kirven

25. Mississippi State Bulldogs (25)
AC100: 1, National Recruits: 2
National Targets: Richie Brown, Alonzo Moore

<p> Who has the top class heading into Signing Day and which teams will close hard?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/notre-dame-and-iowa-state-wins-among-weekends-best

Which team had the best weekend, as far as improving its NCAA profile?

Nathan Rush: Notre Dame’s 50–48 victory at Connecticut on Saturday was another impressive win for the Fighting Irish’s NCAA Tournament résumé. Coach Mike Brey’s club also boasts wins over then-No. 1 Syracuse, Pittsburgh and at Louisville in double-overtime. ND hopes those triumphs overshadow its lopsided losses to Missouri (87–58), at Gonzaga (73–53) and at Cincinnati (71–55). There is still work to be done down the stretch in Big East play, but Notre Dame’s chances improved with this weekend’s win at UConn.

Mitch Light: Iowa State played its way into most mock brackets this week with a 72–64 win over Kansas in Ames. It was the first top-50 RPI win of the season for the Cyclones, who are 15–6 overall and 5–3 in the Big 12. Fred Hoiberg’s club has some wins that look good on paper — vs. Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma State at home and at Texas A&M — but of that group, only Texas at No. 59, is in the top 100 of the RPI. Iowa State still has plenty of work to do, but it’s always nice to have a win over a top-10 team in your back pocket on Selection Sunday.

Mark Ross: Notre Dame has posted quality wins the past two weekends. Last Saturday, the Fighting Irish welcomed No. 1 Syracuse to South Bend and handed the previously undefeated Orange their first loss of the season and paired that by defeating UConn, 50–48, on the road this past Sunday. Mike Brey’s team has won its last three Big East games to put them near the top of the crowded conference standings. Notre Dame struggled with injuries and inconsistency early on, but seems to have found its identity and is starting to put together a respectable NCAA Tournament résumé. The Irish’s next opportunity to make a statement comes on Saturday when they host Marquette, one of the teams they currently trail in the Big East standings.

Name a mid-major team that you are most confident can win at least one game in the NCAA Tournament. And pick a true mid-major — not a team like Gonzaga, Memphis for Xavier.

Mitch Light: I’ll take Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders missed an opportunity for a huge résumé-building win last weekend — dropping an 84–77 decision at Vanderbilt — but this is a team that is built for success in March. Kermit Davis’ club boasts one of the best big men in the mid-major ranks in Iowa State transfer LaRon Dendy (14.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg), and the Raiders feature a solid guard rotation led by Marcos Knight, Bruce Massey and Raymond Cintron. This team can score, but its forte is on the defensive end of the court. The Blue Raiders are allowing an average of 60.3 points per game and opponents are shooting 38.4 percent from the field. Middle Tennessee’s at-large hopes aren’t great, but I fully expect this team to win the Sun Belt Tournament title and emerge as a popular upset pick in the NCAAs.

Nathan Rush: Murray State has raced out to a 21–0 record, including an impressive win at Memphis in December. No team from a big six BCS conference wants to draw the Racers in the first round of the NCAA Tourney. First-year coach Steve Prohm’s team is capable of making a mini-run in March. The pride of the OVC has a reliable veteran backcourt duo of junior Isaiah Canaan (18.7 ppg, 3.8 apg) and senior Donte Poole (14.7 ppg), and a solid post presence with 6’7" senior Ivan Aska (12.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg) — a trio that shoots a combined 84.5 percent from the free throw line.

Mark Ross: I’m going to take Long Beach State, who you could argue is one of the West Coast’s top teams. The 49ers are 16–6 overall and a perfect 9–0 in the Big West. This is a veteran team that hasn’t shied away from playing top-notch competition and has had its fair share of success in those games. Long Beach State defeated then-No. 9 Pitt on the road in its second game of the season and followed that up by taking San Diego State to overtime on the Aztecs’ home court before losing by four. The 49ers played Kansas and North Carolina in back-to-back games on the road in the first part of December and held their own, losing to Kansas by eight and to the Tar Heels by six. The 49ers have also played Louisville and Kansas State, and have a late December neutral court win over Xavier on their résumé, which currently finds them ranked in the top 40 of the RPI. The 49ers need to stay focused on their immediate goal, which is to win the automatic bid out of the Big West, but should they come up short this is certainly a team worthy of at-large consideration. An NCAA Tournament bid would be the program’s first since 2007, and this is the type of team no one wants to face in March.

Which player impressed you the most over the past weekend?

Mitch Light: We’ve been waiting for Terrence Jones to break out, and that’s exactly what happened Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge. Kentucky’s sophomore forward, a preseason first-team All-American by many media outlets, scored 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds as Kentucky cruised to an easy win over LSU. Jones averaged 15.7 points and 8.8 boards as a freshman, but is down to 12.4 and 6.5 as a sophomore. He has been overshadowed by the newest wave of elite UK freshmen — most notably Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — but Jones is still a very important part of this team and a guy who will have to play well for the Wildcats to win a national championship.

Nathan Rush: Arizona lost a heartbreaker to Washington, 69–67, on Saturday night, but Solomon Hill did all he could to lead the Wildcats to victory. The underrated junior from Los Angeles scored 28 points — going 9-of-10 from the field, 8-of-9 from the free throw line and 2-of-2 from 3-point range, including a game-tying trifecta with 6.9 seconds remaining. The 6’6", 226-pound Hill also added 11 rebounds and committed only one turnover in a game-high 37 minutes. But the effort wasn’t enough and, for the third time in five games, Zona lost a contest by two points or less.

Mark Ross: Ten minutes into Saturday’s Marquette vs. Villanova game, the Golden Eagles were down 28–10 to a Wildcats team that had just 10 wins the entire season. Halfway through the first half, Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette’s senior guard and leading scorer, had managed just one made three throw. In the 30 minutes of action that followed, Johnson-Odom poured in 25 points, along with six rebounds, five assists and two steals, as Marquette outscored Villanova, 72–50, and escaped the Wildcats’ home floor with a hard-fought 82–78 win. Even though Marquette is well on its way to an NCAA Tournament bid, the Golden Eagles could ill afford a slip up against a reeling Villanova team whose only hope to make it to March Madness probably lies with winning the Big East Tournament.

<p> Notre Dame and Iowa State Wins Among Weekend's Best in College Basketball</p>
Post date: Monday, January 30, 2012 - 16:10